As Dog Is My Witness Another Aaron Tucker Mystery - By Jeffrey Cohen

Chapter One

“Does it have to be New Jersey?” Glenn Waterman, tan, tall, flaxen-haired, and handsome—damn him!—was leaning back in his leather chair, resisting the impulse to put his feet up on his enormous modern desk, the one with the state-of-the-art flat screen computer monitor on it. For the sake of our conversation, he had removed the telemarketer-style headset from his ear, but he kept glancing at it, like a dog commanded to stay with a piece of red meat just barely out of reach.

“Yes,” I said patiently. “It has to be New Jersey. I wrote the script about New Jersey because I know New Jersey. In fact, I think New Jersey pretty much becomes a character in the script. If you move it to, say, Oregon, it’s not going to make sense that people act or talk that way.”

Glenn had summoned me to Los Angeles, as far off my normal turf as you can get without leaving the continent entirely, to discuss the twenty-fifth screenplay I’d written, The Minivan Rolls For Thee, a lighthearted murder mystery that . . . well, I’ve told that story already. Trust me, it was necessary for the proposed movie to take place in New Jersey.

Waterman’s company, Beverly Hills Films, was not, in fact, headquartered in Beverly Hills, which makes sense if you’ve ever dealt with anyone in the movie business. It was in Santa Monica, in as nondescript an office building as you could find in Southern California. But his office, in a corner with lots of windows, naturally, was impressive, much as Waterman intended it to be.

If he liked the script, Glenn’s company would purchase what in the movie business is called an “option,” which is something akin to a rental agreement. The production company gets to take the script to studios to beg for money to produce it, and the writer (that’s me) can’t let anyone else do the same for the term of the option agreement. In return, the production company (that’s them) gives the writer (that’s me) money. That’s the theory, anyway.

Since Waterman had paid my airfare from Newark to L.A. and put me up in a nearby hotel, I figured he had some interest in the script. He was now “giving notes,” which means he was telling me everything that was wrong with the script he had told me, almost a month ago on the phone, was “brilliant.” Things change quickly in Hollywood. If you’ve ever been there during an earthquake, you know exactly what I mean.

“I guess,” he admitted finally. “Would be cheaper to shoot it in town, though.”

“Anybody around here ever heard of the backlot?” I asked.

“They never use the backlot anymore,” he said with a sneer. “Movies for The Disney Channel use the backlot. Feature films go on location.”

“So go on location to New Jersey,” I suggested.

“We usually go to . . . other areas,” Glenn said.

“Yeah. Usually to Canada, because films are cheaper to make up there. But I’m willing to bet you can find a part of Alberta that looks just like New Jersey.”

He brightened. “I’ll bet you’re right.”

“It’s movie magic, Glenn,” I told him.

As producers go, Waterman wasn’t a bad guy, which is like saying that the shark felt really bad about eating you, but, hey, he was hungry and you were a mackerel. Waterman didn’t brutalize his assistant in front of me (I can’t vouch for anything that went on outside my presence), always offered me a Diet Coke when I got to his office, and only made me sit in the chair in front of his intimidating desk when someone else was involved in the meeting. Otherwise, I could use the couch, which itself was larger than the living room of my Midland Heights, New Jersey home.

“Aaron, on page 64 . . . Waterman was moving on to another note, and we’d been at this for three straight days.

“Is this a big one, Glenn? I have a plane to catch in . . . I checked my watch dramatically. “An hour and a half.” I was lying; my flight was actually in two hours, but I’d heard enough nitpicking already—things that wouldn’t make the script one iota better, but would still be changed as evidence of the producer’s “brilliant creative input.” Besides, I was worried about making my flight. This was Los Angeles, and driving from the parking lot to the next traffic light could take a half hour.

“Go,” he said. “Go home to your wife and kids. And do the rewrite