Copyright ? 2006 by Jeff Povey All rights reserved. Warner Books Hachette Book Group 237 Park Avenue New York, NY 10017 Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com. The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc. First eBook Edition: June 2007 ISBN: 978-0-446-19660-4 Contents COPYRIGHT PROLOGUE: CLUB SERIAL KILLER DOUBLE DECAP SUDDENLY THE NON-PLAN PLAN CAROLE LOMBARD HI, BETTY WELL EXECUTED WILLIAM HOLDEN APB: MISSING SERIAL KILLER THE LIST TALLULAH BANKHEAD TETCHY TATTOOED TERROR NEEDLE GUN MURDER RAP TENSE WITHOUT TALLULAH RICHARD BURTON LIBRARY OF LOVE WADING IN BITCHFORK BURT LANCASTER RECAP ON DECAP HOLDING, NOT FOLDING HEADLESS CHICKEN CHER DEAD RINGER KENTUCKY-FRIED CHICAGO IT LIVES JAMES MASON A SLIGHTLY SMALLER MEETING SEX TIME
THE LAST LIST COLD CHAMOMILE SON OF SUDDENLY KENTUCKY DEBUT HOMO SAPIENS ALONE CHUCK, NORRIS, MYRNA, LOY, LOBSTER ON MY MIND JETTY MINUS BETTY BETSY GRABLE FAMILY-SIZE MEAL AMERICAN HERO GERONIMO EPILOGUE: FEDERAL AGENT ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
you are all I will know for truth. On tue un homme, on est un assassin. On tue des millions d’hommes, on est un conquérant. On les tue tous, on est un dieu. Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone and you are a god.
—Jean Rostand 1894-1977 Pensées d’un biologiste
(Thoughts of a biologist, 1939)
PROLOGUE: CLUB SERIAL KILLER
I guess it’s not every day you end up with a dead serial killer lying at your feet.
There I was, going about my life, when right out of the blue this lunatic is leaping out of theshadows, coming at me with a big knife, and screaming that he was going to cut my heart out. Atthe time I was working on a dockyard, tossing goods on and off ships, and was packing a lotmore muscle than people—and serial killers—realized. I fought like a man possessed, andsomehow or other he was the one who wound up with a knife sticking out of him. I guess I don’tknow my own strength sometimes.
I can’t remember every last detail—we are talking four years ago—but after the shock hadfaded a little, I know I was intrigued enough to want to learn a little more about my would-bekiller, and it seemed only natural to go through his wallet. What I found—apart from a fewmeasly dollars—were news clippings detailing his killing career. He obviously liked theattention cutting people’s hearts out had granted him, because each clipping was immaculatelyfolded and pressed into a see-through vinyl credit card holder so that if he wanted to, hecould open his wallet at any given time and get a little buzz from reading about himself. Healso had copies of boastful messages that he had sent to the media and had signed them all“Yours sincerely, Grandson-of-Barney.” I have to admit that this sent a big tingle down myspine. Grandson’s exploits had been reported on television—watched by millions, Iimagine—and there I was, sharing quality time with the guy.
I figured out I would have been Grandson’s sixth victim, and I think it was this realizationmore than anything else that proved to be an epiphany in my life. Epiphany isn’t my word, bythe way; I got it from federal agent Kennet Wade, this great guy I hooked up with for a time. Isort of felt privileged. I know that probably sounds crazy, but after a largely anonymous lifeit gave me a big rush to think I’d attracted the attention of such a notorious serial killer.To be singled out from God knows how many thousands was pretty awesome, and I think this wasthe true nature of my epiphany. The sheer euphoria of finally being noticed. I could havehugged Grandson there and then.
Not that I did, I hasten to add.
The last thing I found in Grandson’s wallet was a clipping from the “Lonely Hearts” sectionof the local newspaper. It was ringed heavily and read something like “GOB, We know you’reout there, so why not come in from the cold and share a pastry with us? Yours, Errol Flynn.”
I couldn’t believe it.
Why would Errol Flynn of all people want to write to a serial killer, and how could he do thatwhen as far as I knew, he had been dead for close to fifty years?
I have to admit, I was intrigued. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Errol Flynn is one of the finestactors ever, and here he was posting messages to me. Not that he knew it was me, but in my bookit was close enough.
I truly didn’t want to be investigated by the police for the killing of Grandson. Chances are,with the way my luck pans out sometimes, I would’ve been accused of murder and hanged on thespot. So after locking Grandson’s body in a trunk and stowing it aboard a South Africa-boundship along with various other trunks belonging to a theatrical troupe, I sat back and monitoredthe papers for another message from Errol. But two weeks passed and there was nothingforthcoming. I couldn’t believe it; why didn’t Errol post another message? It started to getme down. I was so close to establishing what I felt would be a lasting friendship with thegreat man, and all of a sudden he clams up. But just as I was debating whether or not to sendan angry letter to his fan club, it hit me—maybe Grandson hadn’t replied to the firstmessage, and maybe, just maybe, Errol was still waiting to hear from him! I raced to thenearest library, grabbed all the backdated evening editions I could find, and scoured thepersonals column to see if Grandson-of-Barney had responded. There was nothing. My heartstarted pounding—I still remember that very clearly—and before I could help myself I’dposted a reply on GOB’s behalf: “Errol, I’d love a Danish, Barney’s Boy’s Boy.”
I spent the next ten days going out of my mind waiting for a response, when all of a suddenthere it was in timeless black and white. “BBB, Do you like Chicago? Take a flight if you wantto know more. Warmest Regards, Errol.”
Chicago? That was at least two thousand miles away, maybe more. I was devastated. What sort ofperson travels two thousand miles in the hope of making a new friend?
No one’s that lonely.
I can still remember the gorgeous woman I sat beside on the Chicago-bound flight; she must’vebeen a film actress, although despite my repeated questioning she never actually came out andadmitted to it. She was beautiful, though, easily the most stunning woman I had ever set eyesupon, and as I sat there telling her my life story, I knew that my luck had changed. Being inthe presence of a creature this compelling was like a message from the Great Above; she was anangel guiding me along my path, and to this day I sincerely regret taking down her phone numberwrong. The one she gave me turned out to be a fish factory on the outskirts of the city, and Iguess in all the excitement I didn’t hear her right.
So there I was, all of four years ago, setting foot in the Windy City for the first time, notknowing where my life was going but knowing instinctively that something good was about tohappen.
There was a message waiting in the personal ads as soon as I touched down: “GOB, The Clubawaits you. Bring plenty beer money. As Ever, Errol F.”
I quickly posted another ad, just something like “I’m here, now what?” The reply I got threwme because this was from none other than Tony Curtis: “Gobby, Let’s meet, let’s eat. TonyCurtis.” I hadn’t been expecting someone else to be involved—let alone another moviestar—and then remembered that there was mention of some club and couldn’t imagine what sortof club would let me—in the guise of a world-famous serial killer—join up. Then it dawned onme—this was some sort of police operation; they were trying to entice Grandson out into theopen with promises of pastries and Hollywood celebrities, just waiting to pounce the moment heshowed. I felt pretty pissed off, I can tell you. Two thousand miles for this?
But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed pretty crazy to lure Grandson all the wayto Chicago, where, according to his news clippings, he hadn’t actually killed anyone and wouldtherefore possibly be outside the Chicago Police Department’s jurisdiction. So maybe thatwasn’t it after all.
I still couldn’t figure it, though. Why invite a killer to a club? I’d heard about womenwriting to, and then eventually marrying, serial killers while they sit out their days on deathrow, and I wondered if maybe some sort of fan club had sprung up to honor Grandson-of-Barney.Now wouldn’t that be something? I admit the idea excited me, and I kind of got carried awaywith it, thinking it might be fun to pose as this killer and maybe even find a future wife intothe bargain. When you spend a lot of time on your own, you tend to find yourself grabbing atthings without really thinking them through. And I guess I was up there grabbing with the bestof them.
I posted another ad, Tony replied, and a coded small ads dialogue started up over the nextmonth or so. I was still wary, though, trying to ask as many veiled questions as I could, andeventually discovered that there were not two but eighteen members of the Club, both male andfemale, which boosted me no end, and that they were very, very keen to meet me.
While this was happening, I managed to find myself some work at the city zoo of all places,cleaning out the cages and generally making the life of the imprisoned jungle cat that littlebit more comfortable. This turned out to be the job I was born to do and would find hard toreplace should I ever get fired—or mauled.
I also rented a small furnished apartment—a place where the landlord had taken it upon himselfto bolt every piece of furniture to the floor—and started to settle into the Chicago way oflife, which is pretty similar to any other type of life, only wetter.
The final ad the Club posted listed the name and address of a bar and grill that I shouldattend on the following Monday evening—Grillers Steak House. Everyone would be there, and Iwas guaranteed a fun night out or else Tony Curtis would personally pay any expenses Iincurred. I like a money-back guarantee as much as the next person, and that helped swing itfor me. Also, their presuming me to be a serial killer would make me a pretty formidable forceif things weren’t entirely to my satisfaction.
Obviously I hadn’t the faintest idea as to what I was letting myself in for, but I had comethis far and there was no turning back. Besides, if the Club didn’t meet with my expectations,then I’d never go back. Plain and simple.
I rented a suit for the occasion—a cotton three-piece, yellowy beige—which I rounded off witha red shirt and a dark blue tie. The guy at the rental company even complimented me on mystylish arrangement.
When the taxi dropped me off it was raining heavily, and even in the short walk to the bar andgrill entrance the yellowy beige turned brown, so that by the time I got inside I knew I had acolor clash on my hands.
Grillers was one of those all-wooden affairs—mahogany benches running along under windows,teak paneling covering every square centimeter of wall, a worn and unpolished floor, maybe roomenough for eighty diners, a large bar in the middle of the restaurant, again made from wood—itwas like they’d used half the rain forest to build the place. Framed prints of English castleswere nailed to the walls, the lighting was low, a little country and western music drifted froma jukebox over the heads of the few diners who were in that night.
As I stood in the doorway, peering into this wooden maw and clutching a soggy copy of theevening edition—my identifying sign—a shout went up, a big bearlike voice grabbed myattention, and as I turned to a far corner of Grillers I saw them for the first time, alleighteen of them, sitting there like an office party spilling out of control. All their faceswere turned toward me, and I suddenly realized that this was it, the moment of truth. I hadtaken the precaution of memorizing everything I could from Grandson’s clippings and hoped I’dbe confident enough to pass myself off as him. I was lucky that there had been a televisiondocumentary on him (no pictures of Grandson, thank God, apart from a blurred closed-circuit TVimage that could just as easily have been a Sasquatch wearing dungarees) two weeks earlier, andthis television psychiatrist had given a quite brilliant profile of him—“a rodent-lovingvegetarian who works irregular hours.”
The owner of the bearlike voice stood up, waved a thick slab of hand, and clicked his fingersloudly, his large body rippling underneath his tight white short-sleeved shirt. “Over here. Wesaved you a place.”
I looked down at my hand, the hand that was holding the evening edition, and saw that I wastrembling. I quickly dumped the paper onto the nearest vacant table and shoved my hands deepinside my trouser pockets. I didn’t want anyone seeing that I was nervous. After taking analmighty breath, I straightened my back, stood as tall as I could, and walked toward the Clubmembers. In my head I went over and over all the stuff I had learned about Grandson. Hateslowlifes, likes vegetables . . .
“Nice suit.” I still remember someone saying that as I passed, nodding and smiling to thefaces that looked up at me. I think it must have been Chuck Norris, but I couldn’t say forsure.
The big guy who waved me over offered his hand to shake as he belched into my face. “I’mTony.” I offered my trembling hand and watched it disappear inside his huge fist, and as Istood there, my arm being pumped furiously, all I could think was that Tony Curtis hadballooned to enormous proportions and lost all his looks into the bargain. I could feeleveryone staring at me, weighing me up, and again I tried to stand as straight and as tall as Icould.
“Uh-uh—no names. Not real ones.”
“Oh. . . .”
Tony waved his huge arm at the others sitting there. “You ain’t gonna remember none of this,but from the left that’s Cher, Burt Lancaster, Roger Moore, Rock Hudson, Richard Burton,Tallulah Bankhead, Chuck Norris, James Mason, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, ErrolFlynn, William Holden, Carole Lombard, Humphrey Bogart, Stan Laurel, and Laurence Olivier. Hooboy, didn’t think I’d remember all that.”
Some said hi, some just nodded; all looked pleased to see me, though. I could sense theanticipation hanging in the air. And I remember scanning the excited faces and being just a taddismayed that the female element of the group was by and large not the kind of woman I had seenmyself settling down and having children with.
“Hi. . . .” I nodded to the Club, smiling. “Glad to have made it.”
Tony slapped me hard on the back. “Welcome to the Club, Gob.”
“That short for Goblin?”
A woman said this, but I couldn’t see which one, and a few people laughed, which made me relaxa little. It already looked like being the fun night Tony had promised.
A big, powerful-looking black guy—Tony called him Stan Laurel—pushed out a seat, and itdragged along the wooden floor. Stan winked at me. “Come and sit here, little guy. You want meto get you a cushion so you can reach the table?”
Laughter erupted again, and I found myself laughing along with them. I remember theatricallyslapping my thigh as I took a seat beside the hilarious Stan.
“You wanna high chair instead?”
Tony banged the table, brought things to order.
“I’m gonna let you know a few things about us first, Gob, but after that the stage is allyours.” Tony sat down, swiping a lump of bread from a plate belonging to the woman he calledCher.
Despite the huge grin spreading inside me, I tried my best to look earnest and attentive asTony spoke.
“For the uninitiated—which is you, Gob—this little Club of ours has been going some threeyears now. And we’ve got Rock and Roger to thank for that.”
Tony glanced over to Rock and Roger, two handsome blond men clad in black turtlenecks. Iwondered if they were twins as a small ripple of applause ran the length of the table. I wasstarting to relax, enjoying the overriding feeling of goodwill emanating from everyone present.I even found myself clapping along with them.
“Thanks,” said Roger.
“Thank you,” said Rock.
Roger and Rock took the applause like old pros, and I immediately sensed that I was going tolike these guys a lot.
“If they hadn’t broken into some student’s pad—without realizing they had both selected theexact same victim on the exact same night—then all of this might never have happened.”
I remember the word victim banging like the Liberty Bell against my forehead, and my whole headseemed to arc back, recoiling from the blow. I sat there, hoping that someone was going tocorrect Tony and make him say the word he really meant to say.
No one said a thing.
“Anyways, as they both stood there, rooted to the spot, the dumb-ass student woke up, raisedthe alarm, and the next thing Rock and Roger are escaping together. Rock’s rental car had aflat, and Roger tells him to jump in his sedan and they drive clean across the state line.”
My eyes bulged wider and wider.
“They walked into where we are seated now—this very same bar and grill. . . .” Tony againwaved his thick arm as if he were showing a group of tourists around famous Hollywoodlandmarks. “Even the name—Grillers—was telling them something in a rhyming couplet sortaway.”
I couldn’t shake the roar building inside my head. It didn’t come out as words, but if it haddone, then it would have told me: “Get out of here! Now! Get the hell out, you stupid—”
“And they went to one of those two-man booths over there, ordered a meal and a couple ofbeers.”
“Buds.” Roger nodded at me, making sure I got every detail.
“I had the chicken, Roger had the fish,” Rock added.
I was sure I was going puke.
“So they got talking and decided that they should maybe tell each other the next time theyselected a victim—just in case they overlapped again.”
My rented suit felt like it was tightening around me by the second, squeezing the life out ofme.
“They talked a lot about why they did what they did, who they really blamed for being turnedfrom ordinary decent people into vicious serial killers.”
serial killers, and I had to force myself to swallow aMy cheeks puffed out at the words
surging torrent of bile. I looked around to see if there was anyone in the restaurant who couldhelp me. Apart from a couple of large ladies and an elderly man seated with his grandson, therewas no one. The wooden walls were closing in on me, and I felt like I was in a giant coffin andI couldn’t catch my breath.
“Now this is where the real fun started, because”—Tony laughed at this, shook his head—“Istill get a kick out of this—on that exact same night I happened to be sitting in the boothdirectly behind R and R. I had just finished my shift—and dammit if I didn’t lean over thetop of the divider and let them know we sure had a heckuva lot in common.” Tony kept shakinghis head, dabbing beads of sweat from his top lip as he did. He looked me right in the eye, andall I could do was let out a faint whimper. “Pretty soon after that, we started making it aweekly thing. And after a while we decided that we should set up a club. Just a place forserial killers to come and go, to reveal their stories, and to get off on knowing like-mindedpsychopaths. Hey, it’s like all minority groups—there really is nowhere to meet these days.”
The room spun around me like a fairground ride on full power. I couldn’t see anything but thisevil blur of serial killers. I gripped the edge of the table hard until my fingers ached.
“We made contact with as many killers as we could. Being a cop sure came in handy there, I cantell you. And all told we didn’t make too bad a job of it.”
“You did great, Tony.”
“Better than great.”
“I tell you—this is the best goddamn club I’ve ever been a member of.”
Killers were looking at me, vouching their agreement with eager, nodding heads. I looked at themembers—my eyes running over each one in turn—and all I could think was, This is a joke,right? It’s a setup. There’s a hidden camera somewhere. Christ almighty, tell me it’s ajoke!
“Anyway, that’s enough about us, Gobby.” Tony sat down, swiped some grilled chicken fromsomeone else’s plate. “Now let’s hear about you.”
“Yeah—give us your story.”
“Never heard a goblin talk.” I could hear the voices but didn’t know who they were comingfrom.
“You cut out hearts, right?”
“As in lonely hearts.”
“Then bake them.”
“How many you done?”
“He’s small time—five at most.”
“He’s certainly small.”
Tony snapped his fingers loudly, and gradually the voices faded. He then turned and lookeddirectly at me. I whimpered again.
“We’ll need a name first.”
My jaw was clamped so tight, I really didn’t think I could speak.
“C’mon, Gob, spit one out.”
I had no idea who was speaking, but I knew I had to say something, anything.
All I can remember now was mumbling something about this actor I’d always admired. Thisdashing, handsome mirror image to myself.
“Kirk Douglas? Michael Douglas?”
“Fairbanks. Junior. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.” How I got those words out I’ll never know, but itseemed to satisfy them.
Tony clapped his hands loudly. “Okay then, Dougie . . . let’s hear your story.”
I don’t know how I did it, but I somehow regurgitated stuff from the documentary on Grandson-of-Barney. I told them I usually went after lonely, loveless deadbeats, and one of them—Chuck,I think—asked if I’d ever considered suicide. I still don’t know what he meant by that, buthe sure got a big laugh for it.
I embellished about cutting out hearts and using them to make personalized Valentine’s Daycards, got a little carried away, and somehow made the outrageous claim that a major greetingcard company was interested in buying the copyright. I found that once I started talking Icouldn’t stop. They asked me why I did what I did, and I said it was all down to my mother.She had starved me of love from an early age. This was only half-true. My father had alsostarved me of any emotion other than contempt and anger. So there I was, repaying thecompliment by starving other people of love—in the shape of removing their hearts.
God alone knows how I got through the evening.
And now here I am, four years later. And still a day rarely passes without my reliving thathorrifying night. Four long and hard years that have seen me rise to the prominent position ofClub secretary.
Just last month I managed to get a response from an ad I posted in the Tribune. There’s a new
killer out there, and we’re hoping to get her to join up. The membership has been dropping offalarmingly since that fateful night—in fact, excluding myself, out of the original eighteenand the few others who joined in the interim, there are now only ten members left, and there’sbeen a big drive on recently to try to arrest the decline. Tony is really cut up about the fallin numbers, and being chairman, he has taken it more personally than most.
I have tried to tell him that people just get bored and move on, but he won’t listen to me.
“Something’s not right, Dougie . . . something stinks. All these members who left. Why d’youthink they went? It’s a fucking great club, and those freaks leave without so much as a good-bye?”
I give Tony the same shrug I’ve been giving for the past few years now. “Hell if I know.”
It’s not the best answer.
Truth is, it’s not even an honest one.
Really love it, I mean. Okay, it wouldn’t be everyone’s first choice,I really love the Club.
but to me it’s the only ticket in town. Trouble is, over these past four years some membersworked out that maybe I wasn’t who I said I was—obviously me not being a real serial killermeans that Grandson-of-Barney hasn’t killed anyone new since I joined the Club. I mainly toldthe Club that I was going through a killer’s block, which is sort of like writer’s blockminus the typewriter. But despite what I thought was a perfectly acceptable explanation, a fewof them still got a little antsy about me. Some challenged me in private, others made it prettyuncomfortable for me at Club nights. And I hate to admit this, but I had no choice but to shutthem up before they outed me as a nonkiller. Eleven times in four years I’ve had to do this.I’m not proud of myself—not one bit—but like I say, I absolutely love the Club, and I’ll doanything to keep my membership going. To be honest, I doubt there’s a better night to be hadanywhere in the world.