Voodoo River - Robert Crais

Robert Crais - Voodoo River


I met Jodi Taylor and her manager for lunch on the Coast Highway in Malibu, not far from Paradise Cove and the Malibu Colony. The restaurant was perched on the rocks overlooking the ocean, and owned by a chef who had his own cooking show on public television. A saucier. The restaurant was bright and airy, with spectacular views of the coast to the east and the Channel Islands to the south. A grilled tuna sandwich cost eighteen dollars. A side of fries cost seven-fifty. They were called frites.

Jodi Taylor said, "Mr. Cole, can you keep a secret?"

"That depends, Ms. Taylor. What kind of secret did you have in mind?"

Sid Markowitz leaned forward, bugging his eyes at me. "This meeting. No one is to know that we've talked to you, or what we've discussed, whether you take the job or not. We okay on that?" Sid Markowitz was Jodi Taylor's personal manager, and he looked like a frog.

"Sure," I said. "Secret. I'm up to that."

Sid Markowitz didn't seem convinced. "You say that now, but I wanna make sure you mean it. We're talking about a celebrity here." He made a little hand move toward Jodi Taylor. "We fill you in, you could run to a phone, the Enquirer might pay you fifteen, twenty grand for this."

I frowned. "Is that all?"

Markowitz rolled the bug eyes. "Don't even joke about that."

Jodi Taylor was hiding behind oversized sunglasses, a loose-fitting man's jeans jacket, and a blue Dodgers baseball cap pulled low on her forehead. She was without makeup, and her curly, dusky-red hair had been pulled into a ponytail through the little hole in the back of the cap. With the glasses and the baggy clothes and the hiding, she didn't look like the character she played on national television every week, but people still stared. I wondered if they, too, thought she looked nervous. She touched Markowitz's arm. "I'm sure it's fine, Sid. Peter said we could trust him. Peter said he's the best there is at this kind of thing, and that he is absolutely trustworthy." She turned back to me and smiled, and I returned it. Trustworthy. "Peter likes you quite a bit, you know."

"Yes. It's mutual." Peter Alan Nelsen was the world's third most successful director, right behind Spielberg and Lucas. Action adventure stuff. I had done some work for him once, and he valued the results.

Markowitz said, "Hey, Peter's a pal, but he's not paid to worry about you. I wanna be sure about this guy-"

I made a zipper move across my mouth. "I promise, Sid. I won't breathe a word."

He looked uncertain.

"Not for less than twenty-five. For twenty-five all bets are off."

Sid Markowitz crossed his arms and sat back, his lips a tight little pucker. "Oh, that's just great. That's wonderful. A comedian."

A waiter with a tan as rich as brown leather appeared, and the three of us sat without speaking as he served our food. I had ordered the mahi-mahi salad with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Sid was having the duck tortellini. Jodi was having water. Perhaps she had eaten here before.

I tasted the mahi-mahi. Dry.

When the waiter was gone, Jodi Taylor quietly said, "What do you know about me?"

"Sid faxed a studio press release and a couple of articles to me when he called."

"Did you read them?"

"Yes, ma'am." All three articles had said pretty much the same thing, most of which I had known. Jodi Taylor was the star of the new hit television series, Songbird, in which she played the loving wife of a small-town Nebraska sheriff and the mother of four blond ragamuffin children, who juggled her family with her dreams of becoming a singer. Television. The PR characterized Songbird as a thoughtful series that stressed traditional values, and family and church groups around the nation had agreed. Their support had made Songbird an unexpected dramatic hit, regularly smashing its time-slot competition, and major corporate sponsors had lined up to take advantage of the show's appeal. Jodi Taylor had been given the credit, with Variety citing her "warmth, humor, and sincerity as the strong and loving center of her family." There was talk of an Emmy. Songbird had been on for sixteen weeks, and now, as if overnight, Jodi Taylor was a star.

She said, "I'm an adopted child, Mr. Cole."

"Okay." The People article had mentioned that.

"I'm thirty-six years old. I'm getting close to forty, and there are things that I want to know." She said it quickly, as if