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Friday, September 17, 2010


FBI Memorandum, May 26, 1947: Communist Infiltration Of The Motion Picture Industry: "With regard to the picture 'It's A Wonderful Life', [redacted] ... the film represents obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a "scrooge-type" so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This is a common trick used by Communists."

"I've got this really weird idea," Chris said.

"How unusual," I replied, rather dryly. "Last I checked, that's how we made our living."

But Chris was in no mood for banter. Although the day had just started, he was worked up, twisting the ends of his hair, chewing on his mustache, smoking up a storm. Either he was at the edge of a nervous breakdown, or in the throes of the Muse.

I chose Choice Number Two: "Okay, have at it."

"I know this might seem ridiculous," Chris said, pulling a paperback from his briefcase. "And it probably IS ridiculous. But I can't get the fucker out of my head."

I read the title: Enemy At The Gates: The Battle For Stalingrad, by William Craig.

There was only one thing to do when one of us got an idea stuck in his noggin. No, two things: (1) Fetch the Metaxa, even if it was only 10 in the morning. And (2) Listen to the idea. More often than not, an idea that started out seeming ridiculous turned into gold - or, some reasonable facsimile of same.

I poured us a couple of shots, and said, "Let's hear it."

"No rocks?" Chris said.

"No rocks," I agreed.

Another Rule Of Two: For a successful writing partnership, you must, (1) Check your ego at the door; (2) Do not throw rocks at thy collaborator's ideas. Violation of either rule will doom the partnership.

Chris tapped the book and said "Craig did an amazing job with this. Puts you right in the middle of the fight. Maybe you already know this, but the battle for Stalingrad was probably one of the biggest engagements in history. Thousands of tanks and artillery, millions of soldiers and civilians caught up in it.

"Not only that, it was a fucking siege that lasted for months. From July, 1942 to February, 1943, the city was ringed with Nazi steel. The weather was miserable. Hot as an oven, pissing rain, with mud up to your nuts. Going to freezing cold, with hail and snowstorms up the wazoo. People starving. The city reduced to ruins. But the Russians held the fuck on. Two million casualties. Maybe more."

Chris knocked back the shot. I did the same, then made with the refills.

He said, "Basically, it was the turning point of the whole war. The Russians broke the Germans' back at Stalingrad and Hitler and his generals were never able to recover."

"That's interesting as all hell," I said. "Nothing weird about it. We're not that far along with Sten, maybe we can work in a sci-fi version of Stalingrad. If not this book, maybe one down the line." As all Sten readers know, we used many an historic battle in the series - wars from the days of Alexander to modern times.

"No, no, not for Sten," Chris said. "I mean for a movie."

"A movie?" I goggled. Okay, he was right. This WAS weird. I said, "Never mind who the fuck is going to make a movie about one of the biggest battles in history. Riddle me this: how in Hell do we tell the story?"

"Sure, sure. All that's true," Chris said. "But hang on a minute. There's more. And it is fucking fantastic. An absolute through-line that solves the whole thing. Well, everything but the money part."

I took a breath. "Tell me."

Chris said, "The movie I've got in mind isn't about the battle, exactly. It's mainly about two guys going mano-a-mano. One's a Russian kid - a farmboy from Georgia. The other's German nobility. A Nazi baron, for Christ's sake."

This grabbed my interest. I waved - Go on.

Chris riffled pages of the book. "It was like this: the Russian kid was a sniper. Probably the best sniper ever seen on the Russian Front. Or any other front, for that matter. And like any good sniper, he concentrated on German officers. He'd stalk them for days. Lie in wait. Then, bam! One dead mother fuckin' Nazi!"

"I like this kid, already," I said.

Chris went on. "It got so bad, that German morale - already in the pits - really went to shit. Especially for the officers. And on the Russian side, it was a rare bright note in a pretty bleak situation. So, the Nazis, being Nazis, decide to fight fire with Sturm und Drang. I mean, Mein Gott! Who is this little Russian shit? Probably a God Damned peasant. Maybe even Jewish. Which, by the way, he was.

"So, the Germans haul out one of their very best shots - if not, THE best shot. German nobility. A fucking Baron! He was a major, or something. Big sportsman before the war. Stalked and murdered every kind of Big Game imaginable. Rhinos, lions and elephants, oh my! Everything. Which made him a hell of killer of men when Hitler started invading other people's countries."

Chris' voice was sounding hoarse, so I fed him more Metaxa.

After lubricating his throat, and lighting another smoke, he said, "Anyway, with great panoply and newsreel hoopla for the homefolks, the Germans put this guy on a train and send him to the Eastern Front. To Stalingrad. And then he and the kid start to stalk each other.

"With the whole fucking battle raging around them... cannons... and tanks... machineguns... and artillery... bayonet and grenade charges... here are these two sons of bitches solely focused on killing each other."

"Jesus Christ," I said. "What then?"

Chris grinned. "The kid won. Bam! He got the German."

Now this was really something. Weird idea or not, it was a fabulous story that had the added advantage of being absolutely true.

"And get this," Chris said. "The guy is still alive and well in Georgia. A major hero in the good old USSR. Plus, we have a legit movie Love Interest. Kid had a girlfriend. Another sniper. They had a very mad affair and all. She's also still alive - emigrated to Israel after the war."

Better and better. Except...

I say, "Yeah, but how do we get something like that made? I mean, the good news is we can probably get the rights cheap from Mr. Craig. Mainly because movie possibilities are slim to non-existent. Also, there's no American angle. The Majors aren't going to pony up money for a movie about a Red Army hero. And there's no way an Independent could come up with that kind of dough, even if we convinced them. Shit, you'd need a cast of fucking hundreds. Thousands, even. The uniforms and costumes alone would break the bank.

"Plus, you'd need all those WWII weapons. Germany lost, last I heard, and we blew hell out of all their tanks. And the Russian stuff? How do we do that?"

"Well, that's the weird part of my idea," Chris said.

I was flabbergasted. "How much weirder can you get, Bunch?"

"Really, really weird," Chris said. He braced himself with more Metaxa, then said, "We could maybe get the Russians to do it."

Imagine me on the floor. Imagine Chris scraping up my remains, then reviving me with heavy doses of Greek cognac.

But then, after a bit, I started to see what he was talking about. I forget who the president was - probably Ronnie - but we were enjoying a brief thaw in Soviet/American relations. So, if we could get the Russian government behind this, we just might be able pull in some Hollywood types.

Chris could tell what I was thinking. He said, "Shit, the Russians would probably turn out the whole army for us. Dig up everything we need. I mean, this sniper kid was a huge hero. Huge! This would be their chance to let the world know how one little commie saved Western Civilization from Hitler's Hordes."

He started to say more, but I signaled time-out with a raised hand. "Let me catch up," I said, and started running everything over in my mind.

As it happened we were a few weeks into a Writers' Strike. Don't remember which strike, but the point is that we had a little more time than usual. We were working away on the next Sten - Number Five, I think... Revenge Of The Damned. Plus, we were picking up a few extra bucks writing animation for Stan Lee. (The strike didn't include Animation.)

Sure, there was not a chance in hell we could get a movie of this scope - and subject matter - made. But it would be fun to try. And what the fuck - what if we succeeded?

"We've got nothing to lose," I said.

Chris laughed. "Shit, Cole - as Butch said to Sundance: the fall will probably kill us anyway."

Then he frowned and all his story-pitch adrenalin drained out and he became despondent. Writers are all basically Bipolar. When an idea hits, we get higher than an upper atmosphere weather balloon. When that high ends - and it usually ends in a heartbeat - all the devils in Hell couldn't dig a hole any deeper.

A bitter laugh. "I'm such a fucking idiot," he said. "Just forget what I said."

But now my bennies were cutting in. "Hang on, partner," I said. "What the hell is the harm trying? Worse they can do is say, Nyet."

Chris glowered at me. "Yeah? Try how?"

I picked up the phone and dialed long distance information. When the operator came on I said, "I'd like the number of the Soviet embassy in San Francisco, please."

Chris laughed. "You're fucking with me, Cole," he said.

But I was writing down the number. I hung up and said, "Help me figure out a pitch. It's gotta be short and sweet and designed not to trigger any Yankee-Trickster alarm bells in the mind of a Soviet bureaucrat."

We figured it out. I called, talked to a nice lady with only a trace of a Russian accent. She took my number and said somebody would call back - probably in the afternoon. We went to lunch, and upon our return there was a voice on the answering machine from a guy with a somewhat thicker accent.

I called. Made the pitch. The guy got excited. Shit, this was looking good! He said he'd have to talk to somebody in Washington and they'd get back to us.

"Think it was a brush-off?" Chris said.

Maybe. Maybe not. The following day when we returned from lunch, there was a message from a person at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. I returned the call. Repeated the pitch. And, damn, if that guy didn't sound excited too. Another promise of a call back.

When I hung up, Chris said, "What's happening?"

"He's probably checking us out," I guessed. "You know damn well the guy in San Francisco vetted us before he kicked it upstairs. Now this guy is likely doing the same thing."

It didn't take long. That was either on a Thursday or a Friday, if I recall correctly. Monday afternoon the guy called back, said he'd talked to the head of production at Sov-Film in Moscow and that guy wanted us to give him a call. So, now it was on to Moscow, and after several conversations, the guy at Sov-Film expressed a definite interest. He said he'd talk to his bosses, called back a day or so later, and said they were just as excited as he was.

They asked for some pages. We said we'd get them some.

And there it stood when the strike suddenly ended and the phone started ringing off the hook and we were soon scrambling with a plethora of script orders. We also sold a TV series to CBS - Finders, Keepers - and got busy writing the two-hour pilot.

Time passed. The Russian project dimmed in our minds.

I got sick. Hospital-type sick. Then I was recuperating at home, writing little bits in between long naps.

One day, as I was thinking about getting off my back and plopping my butt in front of a computer monitor (the age of the desktop had finally dawned), I heard a tap at my bedroom door. I said, come in, and my teenaged son appeared. (Check out his new book - 50 Rooms.)

I was startled to see that Jason looked scared. Face pale. Eyes wide as a Keane orphan. What the hell?

He said, "Dad, there's a couple of guys at the door."

I swung my legs onto the floor. "Okay... What guys?"

His voice quavered as he replied, "They say they're from the FBI."

Now, it might seem odd to a few of you, but his announcement didn't faze me. My heart did not quicken its pace. I did not break out in sweat from imagined guilt. It wasn't that I was expecting the FBI, or that the FBI had ever visited me before.

I suppose it was because I was raised in the CIA - had spent most of my youth following my father on various missions abroad - that very few things, even a couple of guys at the door claiming to be from the FBI, surprised me. Fourteen years as a newsman had added to the calluses. If you had suffered through a one-on-one interview with an astonishingly flatulent Gov. George Wallace, you'd be startle-proof too.

Besides, my father and his buddies thought FBI agents were little more than trumped up knuckle draggers in suits. Below even the spy-riddled State Department in brain power.

I told my son there was nothing to worry about and to tell the gentlemen I'd be there in a minute. When he left, I put on my pants, pulled on sweatshirt, shoved my feet into Zoris, and padded out to see what was what.

The front door was closed, but there was a large glass pane set in the upper section. We had a hippie-era stained-glass rendition of a Peacock dangling from a chain over the door. It was a translucent blue, so the look I got at the men as I approached was somewhat psychedelic. Definite Mutt & Jeff types - one quite tall, the other about my height - 5'11.

I opened the door, asking "Can I help you?"

The shorter of the two was obviously the boss. He was middle-aged, wore suit pants, with a white short-sleeve shirt tucked in around desk-bound spare tires. Open collar, but with tie creases. I guessed that he'd shed his coat and tie in the car, trying to look relaxed. The other posed behind him, like a bodyguard. He was much younger, probably only recently out of FBI school. He was wearing pressed jeans, sensible black cop shoes, and was displaying rather impressive muscles in a tight T-shirt with a collar.

Displaying his ID, the shorter of the two said, "We're from the FBI. I'm Agent Kelly, and this is Agent..." I don't remember what Muscle's name was. But he was showing me an ID as well.

Agent Kelly said, "We'd like to come inside and chat with you for a few minutes, Mr. Cole."

I didn't ask him what about, I just waved the men through and escorted them to a large, glass top table we had in the dining area - it was an open plan front room. There were four comfortable leatherette chairs set around the table. I waved them into seats and sat across from them. I offered them coffee, they accepted and Jason, still looking weirded out, fetched it. He retired to his room, but I noticed that he left the door cracked so he could big-ear the conversation.

I started. "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

Agent Kelly made with a nice, friendly smile. "There isn't any trouble, or anything," he said, no doubt trying to put me at ease.

I smiled back and said, "I didn't think there was."

Agent Kelly glanced at Agent Muscles, then back at me. They seemed a little nonplussed that I wasn't. "We're just here for a little conversation," he said.

I nodded, encouraging him to continue. "Sure."

He said, "It's our understanding that you... and Mr. Bunch?" He looked at Agent Muscles who nodded. "Yes... Mr. Bunch... have a film project with the Russians."

Ah, so that's what this was about. If I hadn't have been sick and out of it for so long, I'd have guessed right off.

"Not exactly," I said. "We were in discussions about a project. Nothing has come of it so far."

He said, "Enemy At the Gates, I believe. Based on that book..." And he pointed past me.

I turned and saw that he was indicating my bookshelves. Off the living room was the kitchen, a recent and rather odd remodeling job made by my landlord. On one side - the side we could see from the table - there was a wall that ran about forty feet. Beyond, was a step down rec room that we'd turned into an office. Along that wall, and three of the office walls, was most of my book collection - well over three thousand volumes, both paperback and hardback.

Agent Kelly said, "It's by William Craig, isn't it? An excellent book on the Battle of Stalingrad in World War Two... Well, we call it World War Two. The Russians call it The Great Patriotic War."

He pointed again, "There's the book right there. Third shelf from the bottom."

Now, I was mildly surprised. But, I didn't show it. Instead, I got to my feet and went into kitchen area. And, sure enough, there was the paperback - third shelf from the bottom. And maybe ten or eleven books in. One out of three thousand. Hmm...

I pulled it out, thinking, how in hell... Then I glanced behind me and saw the window over the kitchen sink. You could see the books through that window, which was off a driveway that ran along the house. We didn't use it as a driveway - it was too long and narrow and backing out of the carport would have guaranteed scraped fenders. There was zip room between the house and our neighbor's high cement-block fence. Instead I'd turned it into a rather elaborate container garden, growing mainly veggies.

Okay, so somebody could have snuck along the driveway and peered through the window with binoculars, or something. (They'd be hidden from the street by the pea and bean vines) Or, maybe they just broke into the house and pawed through the place when we were at a meeting and Jason was at school. Except we had a pretty sophisticated alarm system. Snort! Don't be stupid, Allan. This is the fucking FBI. They may be clueless clods - in your dad's opinion - but they could certainly bypass a residential alarm, no problemo.

Either they spied on us through the window, or broke into the house, or both. A mental shrug - So, what? I retrieved the book and returned to my guests.

I grinned at Agent Kelly. "How did you know about the project?" I asked.

Looking self-satisfied as all get out, Kelly returned the grin. "Come on, Allan," he said. "With your background you have to ask?"

Mentally noting that we had gone from Mr. Cole to Allan, I made him say it:

"My background?"

"Your father," he said. "That background."

And he was right - I didn't have to ask. The first flare had gone up the minute I called the Soviet Embassy in San Francisco - which they'd be fools not to monitor. I mean, everybody does it. Our enemies, as well as our friends. Then they would have become even more interested when I called the embassy in D.C. And triply so, when the discussions with Sov-Film in Moscow commenced.

All those conversations took place with an ever-widening audience of guys crouched over listening devices. For better or worse - mostly for worse - it's the way of the Actual World. Hell, it was quite likely my phone was bugged as well. No big deal. Long ago my dad had cautioned me from ever saying anything on the phone that you didn't want to broadcast to the world.

I thought his ghost was probably laughing at the whole scene from whatever place in Purgatory that spies dwell. A spy's ghost? A Spook's spook? Don't get funny, Cole. Pay attention to business.

Breaking in, Agent Kelly said, "Now, we don't want you to get the wrong idea, Allan. We don't want to interfere with your project. Not by any means." He exchanged looks with Agent Muscles, who shook his head. No. Never. Absolutely not.

"In fact," Kelly went on, "we want to encourage you to continue your efforts to get the film made."

He had finally surprised me. "Really?" I said.

"Really," he replied. Let it sink in, then: "You could be a big help to us."

I wasn't liking where this conversation was going. But I hid my displeasure.

"Help? How so?"

He said, "There's this gentleman with Sov-Film that we're interested in. He's a Cultural Attaché based at the San Francisco embassy. But, as you can imagine, he spends a great deal of time here in Los Angeles."

"I suppose he does," I said.

Agent Kelly leaned closer, lowering his voice as if Others Might Be Listening. "We think he's actually KGB."

"And?" I prodded.

He said, "Well, considering the nature of your project, you'll probably become acquainted with him down the road... Hollywood parties... meetings about the film... things like that... And we'd like your take on him."

"My take?"

"Yes. We'd like your opinion on whether he's a KGB Agent, as we suspect." Agent Kelly said. "We'll pay your expenses. Kick in a little per diem so you can buy dinner and drinks. If you have to travel, we'll pay for that too."

"What kind of a guy is he?" I asked, playing for time.

"He's quite charming," Agent Kelly said. "Sophisticated. Widely read. Speaks English like he went to Oxford."

"His teacher probably did," I said, keeping the ball in play.

"That's what we think," he said, glancing at his silent companion, Agent Muscles, who nodded solemnly, as if Agent Kelly's words were weighted with gold.

I couldn't help but tease. "How about you?" I asked.

Agent Kelly was puzzled. A little taken aback. "Me?" he said.

"Minor in Russian literature?" I guessed. "Or history?"

He seemed oddly relieved. "History," he confirmed.

It was a good time to end this. I said, "Well, Agent Kelly, you gentlemen have certainly given me quite a bit to think about. And I'll have to discuss it with my partner, of course."

"Of course," Agent Kelly agreed.

He slipped a card out and put it on the table. "We're looking forward to your call," he said.

I nodded, rose from my chair, which got them to their feet as well. Shook hands, then escorted them to the door. I watched them walk down the street to a newish Chevy Impala; neutral color, big engine compartment. I thought it was mildly interesting that they hadn't parked in front. Agent Muscles got in on the driver's side, while Agent Kelly opened the passenger door. He retrieved his suit coat from a backseat hanger, put it on, then looped a tie around his neck.

Got in the car, shut the door, turned the driver's mirror so he could tie his tie. Settled in his seat and let Agent Muscles return the mirror to its proper place. They exchanged a few words, I saw Agent Muscles make with one of his hagiographic nods, then start the car and drive away.

Jason came out as I walked away from the door. "You're not going to do it, are you Dad?" Obviously he'd been listening in.

"Not a chance," I said and I was pleased when I saw the look on his face. The Old Man hadn't let him down.

The next day I felt well enough to work and when Chris showed up I told him about our visitors. And, man, was he pissed.

"Shit," he said, "what the fuck do they think we are? A couple of their bum boys, creeping and crawling around the bushes and snooping on people?"

"Well, maybe not bushes," I said. "Cocktail lounges, more likely."

"The point is," Chris said, "We're writers, not fucking finks. I don't care if the guy is KGB."

"He most certainly is KGB," I said.

Chris gave me a questioning look. "No way would the Russians let the guy out of the country to cruise decadent Hollywood if he hadn't already been vetted," I said.

"Besides, that's the kind of job they give spooks at embassies. Either you're a Political Officer, or Cultural Affairs Attaché. That's what we do. It's what the Russian do. Hell, it's what everybody does. The Cultural Affairs Attaché at the Israeli embassy is more than likely Mossad."

Chris saw the sense in that. They he frowned, "Yeah, but if everyone knows, how come the FBI doesn't?"

"But, they do know," I said.

"I don't get it," Chris said. "Why ask us to check on the guy? Give them our opinion?"

I shrugged, "My dad always said that if you want to hook somebody, you get them to do one little thing. Something easy. Something you already know the answer to. You appeal to their patriotism. Cross their palms with silver."

"The per diem," Chris nodded. "And travel allowance."

"Right," I said. "And once we do that, they can ask - no, they can demand - that we do other 'Little Favors.' And if we refuse, and try to dig in our heels, they can bring all kinds of pressure to bear."

"Like tell the whole town," Chris said. "Embarrass the shit out of us. Hell, a lot producers would freeze us out. Thinking we were spying on them for the FBI. Or, with the dope epidemic going on in Tinsel Town, if not for the FBI, it'd be the DEA. One look at us and they'd think - Bust City!"

"You got it," I said.

Chris thought a minute, then asked, "So, when do we call and tell them to fuck off?"

"We don't," I said. Adamant. "You never say no to the FBI. Or, the CIA. Or any of those alphabet soup Fascists."

Before Chris got the wrong idea, I pushed on: "We don't tell them, No. And we don't tell them, Yes. We just make vague noises, and keep kicking the can down the road until people get transferred, priorities change, whatever."

Chris liked that. He'd used similar tactics with great success during his Army days. "Just get yourself a clipboard," he used to say, "and walk around looking busy. Nobody will ever ask you what the fuck you are doing."

"One other thing," I said. "I'd better touch bases with them now, so they don't think we're ignoring them."

Chris nodded agreement.

"Besides," I said, "I want you to talk to Agent Kelly too."

Chris looked alarmed. "Just bullshit him a little," I urged. "You're good at that. Besides, nobody is going to fucking believe me without a witness. If I tell them about the FBI putting the arm on us, they'll start looking for the aluminum foil cap on my head."

He laughed. "I would have thought the same thing," he said, "if I hadn't known you half my life."

I got Agent Kelly's card. Made the call. There was no waiting. He picked up right away.

"Allan," he said, full of good fellowship. "Nice to hear from you."

I told him that I'd just filled my partner in on our conversation. Then made a joke. "Chris has been sitting here looking at me like I've turned into a fruit cake," I said. "So, I'd really appreciate it if you spoke to him. Tell him, Yes, Virginia, there really is an FBI Agent named Kelly."

Agent Kelly chuckled. I gave the phone to Chris and he bullshitted the guy up one side and down the other. Chris was a past master of bullshitting Authority Figures.

After he hung up, I got us some coffee. When I returned, I could see he'd been thinking a little more on it.

"You know," he said, "one thing still bothers me. The FBI has a lousy reputation in this Town. Back in the day, they were accusing everybody of being a commie. Shit, J. Edgar was sneaking around everybody's place. Getting ammunition on them. Getting them hauled before HUAC. (The infamous House Un-American Activities Committee) Getting them blacklisted, or put in prison, or both."

"Yeah? So?"

Chris said, "So, how'd they know you wouldn't blow the whistle on them? How'd they know you wouldn't complain to the Guild, or call the LA Times and accuse them of trying to infiltrate Hollywood. Accuse them of attacking our First Amendment Rights, and shit?"

I said, "I thought of that too. I mean, face it, writers are weird. Maybe I'd freak out. Blow all kinds of whistles."

"Yeah, they were taking big chance with you, weren't they?" Chris said.

I shrugged. "Agent Kelly said it right from the start," I said. "When I asked him how come the FBI knew we were flirting with the Russian movie people he told me..."

Laughing, Chris broke in, finishing it: "'...Come on, Allan, with your background you have to ask?'"

Postscript #1 At the time we talked, Agent Kelly was head of the LA Bureau. Which, when you think about it, made it even more bizarre that he'd hit up a lowly writer. Why not just send one of his field agents?

Postscript #2 and #3: A year or so later he was made head of the West Coast FBI and transferred to Dallas. A few years after that, he was called to Washington D.C. where he became the Number Three man in the FBI. (Eventually he retired and is no longer among us. Probably playing cards with my Dad and the Devil.)

Postscript #4 & 5: Chris and I never did pursue the project - for lack of time. The film was finally made, however, in 2001 - after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Enemy At The Gates starred Jude Law and Ed Harris.

Postscript #6: We never heard from the FBI again.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, September 10, 2010


Old Mafia joke: A dying Don calls his grandson to his bedside. Tells the kid, "I want you should have my favorite gun, so you'll always remember me." The kid protests: "But, grandfather, I hate guns! Leave me your Rolex instead." The old Don pats his hand, says, "Listen, to me, boy. Some day you're gonna have a big house, lots of money, some nice bambinos, a pretty wife - the whole thing. Maybe you come home one day, unexpected like, and you find some son of a bitch in bed with your wife. Whaddaya gonna do? Point to your watch and say, 'Times Up?'"

The room was dimly lit, but the guy behind the desk was plain to see. He was big and fat and expensively dressed and he looked like he ate little writers like us for desert after triple helpings of the macaroni and gravy. When he moved, his Nero Wolfe-sized chair moaned in despair.

Why, oh why, I thought, had Chris left his gun in the car?

Then the big man made with a smile - or, maybe he was just passing gas - and he said in a low, raspy voice, "Freddy says you're good boys. Talented boys. Boys I can use." He looked over at Freddy - the producer/director who had brung us to this dance - and said, "Isn't that right, Freddy?"

Freddy, who, like us, was dressed in the customary faded jeans, raggedy sweat shirts and expensive cowboy boots favored by writers and directors and aped by pressed-jean wannabees, nodded, saying, "They did great work for me, Tony. And they got a rep in This Town that's out of this world."

Okay, now you have to bear with me a sec for a little BG. First, I've changed the names to protect not so much the innocent, so much as myself. Tony's name wasn't really Tony. And Freddy's name wasn't really Freddy. With me so far?

When we met with Freddy a few days before the sit-down with Tony, he'd said: "Now, listen boys, Tony's a funny kind of guy. Don't get the wrong impression."

I said, "Funny how?"

Freddy replied, "He looks like a tough guy, you know?" He pressed a finger to his nose, bending it over by way of "tough guy" demonstration.

"Like maybe he's an Italian Mob boss or something." A nervous laugh from Freddy. "But he's not Italian. He's Greek. Changed his name a little in honor of the big shot producer who gave him his start." He told us the name of the producer, and he was indeed a big shot.

"What about the Mob shit?" Chris wanted to know.

Freddy shrugged. "Never been indicted."

That wasn't the answer we were looking for. Chris pressed, "Is this guy legit?"

"More importantly," I said, "is his money legit?"

"Sure, sure, his money's good," Freddy assured us. "And he's as legit as can be. He's made some big fucking movies the past few years."

He named some of the movies, and, yeah, they were big action-adventure films that sold a helluva lot of popcorn and Coke and Ju-Ju-Bees.

The reason we were suspicious is because we'd asked our producer/mentor, Al Godfrey about this Tony guy, and Al had said the man had just suddenly appeared in Town with a big credit line and some Studio Business Affairs types to vouch for him. "He's also supposed to have a certificate for more than a million bucks worth of raw diamonds in a safe deposit box for extra collateral," Al told us.

"What did he do before he made movies?" I asked Freddy.

Freddy looked uncomfortable. Then, said, "He was sort of a labor organizer in San Francisco. Down on the docks."

This was a plus for Chris, whose grandfather had been a labor activist. He said, "Down on the docks? You mean the Longshoreman's Union?"

"Yeah, like that," Freddy said. "Longshoremen. Teamsters. All those guys." Warming to the subject he added, "He was the go to guy for Labor Peace. You wanted to do some big project in San Francisco, like make a movie, you saw Tony first. He made sure everything stayed copasetic with the boys."

"And if you didn't see Tony," I guessed, "things might happen? Slashed tires? Heavy things falling out of the sky?"

"Well, you know, the docks can get pretty dangerous," Freddy said. "Accidents can happen, if, like, some cheap bastard skimps on the overtime, or the number of guys needed. That sort of thing. Guy gets tired from too many hours, not enough help, not enough respect, he can get careless."

Chris and I were okay with all that. Go to any big city - New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, wherever - and you have to grease certain palms to get things done. Labor Peace is a valuable, and usually expensive service for the movie business. And the studios routinely budgeted for it. (Labeled, Misc Expenses on the books)

"What kind of movie does he want us to write?" I asked.

"A sci-fi thing," Freddy said. "You guys have the science fiction books, right? The Sten series?"

We said he was dead on. The fourth Sten was well underway and our publisher - Del Rey Books - reported that first three were selling like hot cakes.

"He wants it to be about motorcycles. But in the future, like. And I told him you guys know all about motorcycles, too." He looked at us anxiously. "I told him right, yeah?"

Spot on. Although I'd done some freelance magazine pieces on motorcycles, Chris was the real expert. He'd edited several major bike magazines, and written for them all - from Big Bike to Chopper Magazines to Easy Rider.

"He's got that big rock and roll kid to play the lead," Freddy put in as an added enticement.

We asked him what big rock and roll kid and he gave us the name. "But don't tell anybody," he cautioned.

"How come?" Chris asked.

Freddy shrugged. "Tony hasn't told the kid, yet."

We chewed on that, then made with our own shrugs. Not our problem.

Chris said, "How much?"

We were in the process of firing our current agency - unbeknownst to them - and interviewing new possibilities. So we were making the deal ourselves.

Freddy said, "Sixty grand. Ten on signing. Ten when you deliver the story. Fifteen for the first draft screenplay. Twenty-five for the final draft."

He showed us a proposed contract. We reviewed it. Writer's Guild Boiler plate. Plus, the producer was a WGA signatory.

I said, "No checks in the mail thing, right? We personally deliver the pages. This Tony guy personally writes us a check."

"That's how Tony likes to do business," Freddy said.

Chris and I exchanged looks. Sounded good to us.

Freddy correctly interpreted the exchange as being positive. "Okay, are we on, then?" he asked. "Should I set the meet?"

We said go right ahead.

But the day of the meet we started having second thoughts when we approached Tony's production company. First off, it was at the ass-end of Culver City in an industrial zone. Secondly, the buildings were mostly metal structures, with towering bays for big trucks to enter and exit. There was a warren of loading docks, and a non-descript cement block Admin building. All in all it looked more like a Bekins Moving And Storage facility than the home of a movie company.

As we neared the guard shack entrance, Chris said, "Fucking thing's surrounded by more razor wire than Fort Ord."

He wasn't exaggerating. Also, the razor wire looked sharp and shiny new. This was backed up by the hard looks we got from the uniformed gate guards. One guy called in to check our names, while the other stood in the doorway, hand resting on the gun at his hip. Guns? Man, were these guys serious, or what?

We were buzzed through a heavy door to a tiny reception office. Whitewashed cement block walls. A couple of paint-by-numbers seascapes for decoration. Two plastic LA-County-Jail-type bucket chairs for our behinds. And a steely-eyed receptionist behind glass so thick it had to be bullet-proof, with a little slot to bend over and talk through, and shove your ID in to be double checked.

She snarled for us to sit and wait so we sat and waited. Minutes later there was a buzzing sound, locks snicked, and two men came through the front door. They wore ill-fitting suits and both had suspicious-looking bulges under their arms.

Chris chuckled, then whispered, "Maybe I shouldn't have left the .45 in the car."

I started to laugh, but was cut off when the guys with the .38 Coconuts in their armpits gave me a cold look. Then they were buzzed through a second door, which, no doubt, led to the inner sanctum.

Then Freddy was buzzed in, said, "Hey, boys," stooped to address the little hole in the glass window and soon ushered us down a darkish hallway.

Freddy knocked at a heavy door and one of the guys with the .38 Coconuts opened it and after studying us, he held the door, and jerked his head to enter.

As we scooted by, we saw his buddy rise from a chair in front of an enormous desk, and heard him say, "Done and done, Tony."

Then he joined the second guy and they exited, while Freddy led us forward to meet the big man sitting behind the desk. He didn't rise, but gave us a good looking over, then nodded and waved us into seats.

"Some coffee?" he said in a low, raspy voice. "Maybe some cake?"

Without asking us, Freddy said, "Sure, that'd be nice, Tony," probably figuring that it would be rude to whack people after they ate his food and drank his coffee.

Coffee and sweet rolls were fetched and we got down to business.

Tony said, "Did Freddy fill you in on the movie?"

We said, only that it was a futuristic motorcycle thing.

Tony nodded. "Sure, in the future. Science fiction. And motorcycles. Had some guys do some, whatcha call... audience testing... they said the kids will love it, long as we put a famous pretty boy in the lead. The girls will come for the pretty boy, the guys for the motorcycle, sci-fi action business."

He gave us a look. "Course, you'll want to put some pretty girls in there, too. One for our hero and one for Pony."

I said, "Who's Pony?"

Tony waved an enormous hand with thick fingers. "In a minute."

No problem. We'd wait as many minutes as he pleased.

Then he said, "Had any ideas so far, boys?"

Chris said, "Maybe set it around motorcycle races. Kick it 50 years in future and build some really trick bikes."

Tony nodded, saying, "I like the racing angle."

Chris larded it on. "A lot of people don't realize," he said, "but motorcycle racing is the biggest spectator sport in America. People think it's basketball, or football, or even car racing. But, motorcycle racing has them all beat. Ten million tickets sold in just one season, according to the AMA." He translated: "That's the American Motorcycle Association."

Tony liked that. He looked at Freddy, who was beaming. "You were right," he said. "They're good boys."

Then he turned back to us. "You boys know your business, so I'm not gonna tell you what to do. That's not my style. If a guy knows what's what, I give him his head and trust he won't disappointment me."

He leaned back, smiling a little now, and cracked his knuckles. It's like gun shots going off. "Very rarely have I been disappointed," he said. He paused, as if for emphasis, and added, "Very rarely."

We could understand why.

"So, I'm giving you guys your head, okay?" he said.

We said okay.

He indicated Freddy, "Just check it with Freddy regular like. The deal is, he's gonna, direct, so the three of you should, like confer, you know?"

We did.

Then a deep frown creased his forehead. Like he had a bad case of indigestion. But maybe it was a headache, because he rapped those thick knuckles against his skull.

"But, you know, I got a couple of real strong thoughts in my head," he said. "Thoughts I just can't get out so good. My girl says it's my artistic side. Maybe, yes. Maybe, no. The point is I can see a couple of things real strong, like. Things I want you guys to do."

The frown deepened and he looked at us. "You get my meaning?"

"Sure," I said. Although I hadn't the foggiest. "Tell us what you want and we'll make sure it's in the movie."

Tony's frown vanished. He seemed happier. "Okay, okay. Here's the first thing. The opening. I know it might sound kinda strange but I got real strong feelings about this."

He closed his eyes, and made sweeping motions with his hands. "We open," he intoned, "with a black screen. Not one fucking bit of light. Totally dark. And then... And then... we hear sounds. Heavy breathing. Movement. Almost like people are having sex."

He opened his eyes, and said, "You know, fucking."

We said we understood.

Tony said, "But then we let in some light and we see - big surprise, it's not people fucking, but two guys lifting weights in a gym."

"Ooookayyy," Chris said dubiously. Then the sixty grand price tag kicked in and he said, more firmly, "Gotcha."

"One other thing," Tony said. "I want that our hero should have a best friend. A pal he's known since he was a little shit."

"That would be Pony?" I guessed.

"Yeah, Pony," he confirmed. "And at one point - maybe at the, you know, Second Act Close - I want that Pony should get sick."

We had no idea what the hell he meant - Pony gets sick? What? Cancer sick? Influenza sick? Bubonic Plague sick?

But we said, no problem, boss. Pony gets sick. Second Act Close!

Then, remembering the parting comment from the .38 Coconut boyo, I said, "Done and done, Tony."

Tony gave a grin that split the huge melon that was his face. "Hey, I really like you boys," he said. "You get it right away."

Freddy chimed in with much enthusiasm. Tony shoved over a contract, I checked to make sure it was the same thing Freddy had shown us before and we signed - maybe a little tentatively. What the hell were we letting ourselves in for? But then our attitudes brightened immensely when Tony hefted out a big business-office style checkbook. He gave Freddy a wink, then popped the book open, did some scribbling with a pen, then tore out a check.

He offered it to me. I took it, then looked down. The first promised - On Signing - payment: Ten Thousand Dollars!

Tony said, "I left the payee whatchamacallit blank. Put your names in. Or whatever you want. Cash for all I care."

After a round of hand shaking, we left - two very happy dudes. We even smiled at the .38 Coconut guys who were lurking in the hallway. Gave a cheery "byeeee" to the grim receptionist. Waved Sayonara to the Gateguards as we pulled out.

Chris said, "First, let's drive quick like two bunnies to the bank and see if the fucking check clears."

And we did. And it did. And soon after we got busy with the story.

The story was a helluva lot of fun to write. We kicked the whole thing to 2050 A.D., then came up with futuristic gear to match. Super hi-tech motorcycles with frictionless bearings, holographic displays and engines that could practically break the sound barrier. Motorcycle pit stops equipped with stuff modern crews could only dream about. We created an international racing circuit to test our hero's mettle, and bad guys to end all bad guys. Man, this movie was gonna smoke!

The motorcycle racing hero was easy. The rock star kiddie probably couldn't act his way out of a paper bag, so we'd make him cool - a man of few words. We figured his crewchief and best pal, Pony, would be more of a pro, so we made him somebody who'd crack wise and carry the dialogue scenes. (For Amateur Actors, The Handling Of, See: Let's Hear It For The 'S' Word)

Then we hit the sticking point. And a major damned sticking point at that. "What the hell did Tony mean?" I asked Chris. "Pony gets goddamned sick?"

He didn't know either. We kicked it around Still no good. Got out the Metaxa, had a couple of shots. Then light began to dawn.

Chris said, "It's like all those movies where, at a point late in the flick, the hero's best buddy tells us his dreams. If the big fight is coming up, he tells our hero about the place in the burbs with the wife and kids he's always dreamed about. If it's a caper film, he tells our hero how he plans to spend the money."

"Yeah, yeah," I said. "You got it partner. Then, in the next big scene he's killed, or wounded, and this gives-"

Chris broke in - "Now, our hero is motivated to really fuck with the bad guys. They violated the dignity of the fucking Shaolin fucking Temple, man, and he's so pissed off he can chew nails and spit 'em out like a machine gun."

We used to call this sort of thing our "Lawyers, Guns And Money Moment." From the Warren Zevon song that goes: "I'm stranded in Hondurus/I am a desperate man/Send lawyers guns and money/ 'Cause the shit has hit the fan."

Alright! Now we knew why Pony must get sick. Then we figured out the how part. And who the hell Pony was that we were going to make so sick. More Metaxa and solutions made themselves known.

After checking with Freddy, who loved the story, we drove to Culver City and personally delivered the pages to Tony. He wrote us another check for Ten Grand. Said, he loved how we made Pony get sick, then told us to go thou and write the first draft screenplay, boys. So we did. Everybody liked that draft too, so after getting notes for fixing this and that from Tony, he wrote out a big fat check for Fifteen Grand.

Man, this was looking good. Really, really good. Turned in the Second - and Final - Draft. We were busy, and our guard was down after the first three checks cleared the bank no problem, so we messengered the script to Tony. Freddy called a little later and said Tony was a happy man, and should he mail us the last check - the check for Twenty Five Thousand Dollars - or did we want to come and get it?

Chris said, "Tell him no checks in the fucking mail, Cole."

I put this a little differently to Freddy, but not too differently. It was a Friday, so he set it up for us to take delivery of the last check on Monday.

Come Monday morning. Drinking coffee and reading the LA Times. I always read my horoscope first. I think Astrology is stupid, but the old slot man who broke me in on the copy desk many years ago said to read the horoscope first, so I still did things that way - even though my newspaper days are long over.

Then I check out the Front Section, the Local Section, and the Entertainment Section. I throw away the Sports Section, because I think Corporate Sports are bullshit and a ripoff and they bore the snake snot out of me. However, if we had a lot of meetings, I read the Sports Section so I didn't look UnAmerican if the producer asked, "How about those Dodgers?" Or Rams. Or Lakers. Or Whatever.

That day I threw away the Sports Section and went to the Business Section. Scanned the front page. And although lunch was hours away, I almost lost it in advance.

Because... Stretched across the entire bottom of the front page was a big, brazen, eight-column headline that read:

"FBI Probes Hollywood Producer's Mob Ties."

No, no, no. It can't be. Quickly I look at the lead. Search for the name of said Hollywood Producer. Surely, it can't be... Total coincidence... Never in a million years... Never in ten million years...

And then, fuck, fuck, fuck...

There it is...

Tony's name!

I hear a knock at the door. It's Chris. He comes in, pale, with white streaks on his lips from chewing antacids all the way from Manhattan Beach to Venice.

Voice quivering, he says, "Did you see?"

"Yeah, I saw."

"Fucking Tony!"

"Fucking Tony," I agreed.

"The Fucking FBI!"

"The Fucking FBI," I groaned.

"Shit and fall back in it," Chris said.

I tried to make light. "You first," I said.

Chris was in no mood. "There goes our fucking Twenty Five grand."

"If I were Tony," I agreed, "I'd probably get way the hell out of town until things cooled down."

Chris slumped in his chair. "Same here," he sighed.

"What about our meeting?" I said. "We're supposed to pick up the check this morning."

Chris' face turned to stone. "I say we still go," he said.

"What if there's trouble?" I asked. Stupid question, as it turned out.

Chris leaned over and patted a fat bulge just at boot-top.

"This time you're bringing the gun," I said - another rather pointless remark.

"Let's go, Cole," Chris said, rising.

So we went. Drove to the ass-end of Culver City yet one more time. Got to the razor wire and then the guard shack. It was a tense moment, but the guys waved us through. Cut to the Grim-Receptionist. Grimmer than ever. But, she buzzes us through.

We get to Tony's door. Knock. One of the guys with the .38 Coconut in his armpit opens the door. Chris gives him a hard look. For a moment, I think the guy is sort of surprised at the look, but he backs away and opens the door wider.

Chris and I enter, prepared for the worst.


Three surprises. First, Tony is sitting behind his desk as big as life. Second, Tony is smiling the biggest, brightest smile we had ever seen on his face.

"Boys, Boys!" he enthuses, waving us over to his desk.

Third Surprise: Tony has the heavy check book on his desk. He opens it, picks up a pen and scrawls. Rips out the check. Offers it.

As I take it with rather numb fingers, he says, "Sorry we can't chew the fat today, boys. I'm pretty busy, you know?"

Chris, surprised as I was, croaked, "No problem, Tony."

I looked at the check. It was for by-god Twenty Five Thousand Fucking Dollars! I gave Chris a look that said, Guess what? Everything's cool.

Tony said, "About the movie, boys. Great script. Fantastic script. But some things have come up, you know? I gotta go out of town and set things straight. So, I'm puttin' it off a couple of three months... Capice?"

We capiced.

Shook hands, said bon-voyage and got the hell out of there.

As we headed back to Venice, Chris said, "You know, we've been screwed, blued and tattooed in This Town so many times I lost count. But this time... This time..."

I held up the check. Gave it a good look. Yep, still there - Twenty Five Thousand Dollars. I folded it up, and put it away, saying, "Even with the Justice Department hanging over his head, he was as good as his word."

Chris laughed. "The Mafia has been very, very good to us," he said.

He came to a halt at a stoplight. Looked over at me, then patted the .38 coconut in his boot.

"And Pony didn't even have to get sick," he said.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, September 3, 2010


Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
- George Burns (January 20, 1896 - March 9, 1996

We were cruising along Hollywood Boulevard, squinting through the smog at the passing buildings, when Chris said, "Isn't this the second damned time we've gone by Grauman's?"

He was speaking of the famed Grauman's Chinese Theater, where stars have left footprints and palm prints in wet cement for lo these many. I rolled down the window to get a closer look, waving at the smog as if shooing away smoke. Sure enough, the familiar facade of the Grande Dame of movie houses made itself known.

"This is totally screwed," I said, shutting out the polluted air and breathing in the fresh BMW air conditioner breeze. "Somebody ripped off the corner of Hollywood and La Brea."

"Okay, okay," Chris said. "Let's slow way the fuck down and look."

And so we slowed way the fuck down, ignoring the complaining horns behind us. I was under the apparently false impression that I knew the area well. I used to walk this way after school to an afternoon cleaning gig at my Aunt Rita's place, a popular night spot - Sancho Panza's - near the corner of Hollywood and La Brea.(I attended Hollywood High the last semester of my junior year.) And after Sancho's, there was a gas station, whose owner also ran a Homes Of The Stars bus tour, along with a newsstand that sold maps of same.

I knew Sancho Panza's was long gone, replaced by a succession of nail parlors, beauty salons and antique clothing stores. But the little one-story building that had housed it was absent. As was the gas station/star tour business. And across La Brea - where a rather palatial Christian Science Reading Room had once stood - was a gray, multi-storied parking lot.

"I don't get it," I said. "Everything's different."

"Holy shit!" Chris said, as he reached the end of the block, then squealed around the corner. "Looks like Stevie Poo has gone and done it."

The "Stevie Poo" in question was none other than Stephen J. Cannell, creator and co-creator of such classics as The Rockford Files, Great American Hero, The A-Team and so on.

Our mission that day was to meet with Steve and his partner, Frank Lupo, our old producer buddy from Galactica 1980. The objective: a gig writing an episode of their new show, Hunter, featuring former NFL star Fred Dyer. Lupo had called a few days before, said come on in, boys, the water's fine, then followed up with a messengered draft of the pilot.

"What's Steve gone and done?" I asked, trying to see what the hell he was talking about.

"He's built himself a fucking building," Chris said, pulling up to a red curb. He pointed upward. "Look!"

I looked. And finally saw. Where the source of my teenage income had once stood, was a tall, tastefully gray building. It towered over the whole corner, which is why we hadn't seen it. We were looking down, not up. And, oh, I did mention the eye-smarting smog didn't I?

"He's even got a big-damned sign with his name on it," Chris said.

I craned my head back and sure enough, there was a huge sign fixed to the top of the building: Cannell Studios.

"Take that, Fucking Universal," Chris said. (MCA/Universal had forever become Fucking Universal to Chris during our brief days of slavery there.)

It was said that Cannell had been ill-treated by the Black Tower - and who in "The Biz" hasn't? - and struck off on his own taking an amazing string of successes with him. "Sort of a Glen Larson with God Damned class," is how Chris put it.

After discovering the building, it now became clear that the matching parking structure across La Brea went with it. Chris whipped over the wheel of his BMW and aimed for the entrance.

"You know, about half the people in town got their break at Fucking Universal," Chris said as he smoothed over the speed bump guarding the entry.

"Including us," I pointed out.

"Including us," he agreed as he began his search for a nice safe spot to put his nice new car. "And yet, everybody hates the damned place. Instead of warm and cuddly teddy bear feelings, we all give the Black Tower the finger when we pass on by."

He found a spot where the car was least likely to get its sides or fenders scraped and pulled in. "They piss all over you and screw you for every dime they can, so in the end - when you've made a rep for yourself - you take your best stuff elsewhere."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," I said. "There oughtta be a law."

"There is one," Chris said as we shut the doors and locked the car. "And a pretty fucking important one, at that."

"Like what?"

Chris stopped and fixed me with his Great Wiseman look. "It just so happens, Cole, that in Hollywood it is totally illegal to drive a flock of more than two hundred sheep down the boulevard."

"No shit?" I said.

"I shit thee not," Chris said. "Look it up. It's on the books."

With that factoid to chew on, I followed Chris across the street and into the new Cannell Channel Building.

We met Steve in his spacious penthouse office, whose floor-to-ceiling windows rivaled any of those occupied by the Guys With The Big Telephones over at Universal. Lupo was with him, perched on an identical long-legged director's chair.

They were a study in contrasts. Steve had dark blonde hair, a short beard - almost a goatee - and a leading man's profile. Frank was dark Italian, with a heavyset, muscular build. Frank always had the look of a guy who has a deep secret, and an amusing one at that. He wore his usual sardonic grin and his eyes were bright with intelligence. Chris and I liked him a lot.

"Hey, guys, how ya doin'?" Frank said. "Done with the book yet?"

He was referring to our Vietnam novel, A Reckoning For Kings. And he knew very well it was done and that we were on to our next book - Sten #4, I think. (See "promised, promised" scripts in Towtruck Boogie & The EatAnter) His comment was meant for Steve, to goose his partner's interest in one of Lupo's favorite writing teams. Namely, Bunch & Cole.

It worked, because Steve's interest was immediately piqued. From merely polite, he went to: "That's right. Frank mentioned you boys were Real Writers." (His emphasis - and, yeah, mine as well.)

He came off his chair and started showing us his little office treasures. Mementos from shows he'd worked on, like Colombo and The Rockford Files. (which he also co-created) Various impressive awards. His battered typewriter, which he said he'd had for two small forevers. He also confessed that he was dyslexic and that his longtime assistant was "the only one in the world" who could translate the seeming nonsense words that he poured out into actual English.

His prize office toy was a new brass telescope mounted on a tripod. It was pointed at the rooftop garden on the building opposite. "The secretaries over there," he said, "are incredible. They take sun-tanning lunch breaks almost every day." He shook his head. "I didn't know bikinis could get that small." He waved an inviting hand. "Go ahead, take a look."

Chris stepped up and peered through the telescope. Suddenly, his face lit up. "Holy, shit," he said. "She's taking her top off!"

"Let me see, let me see," Cannell said, pushing in to look.

Frank chuckled - he knew Chris' evil ways. Then shook his head in amusement when he saw the look on Cannell's face when he realized he'd been had. Nary a chick in sight, much less a topless one.

"Better have some great fucking stories, guys," Frank advised, then led us back to the directors' chairs.

But Cannell wasn't ready to get down to business. Instead he pressed us on novel writing. What was our schedule like? How did we juggle books with our Hollywood chores? And how did two guys go about writing a book?

"With scripts," Chris said, "one guy sits at the typewriter and types, while the other paces, and we pitch stuff back and forth. All the dialogue is spoken aloud, so we know an actor can deliver the lines."

"They write great dialogue," Frank testified. "I used to hear them go at it when my office was down the hall from theirs."

"With books," I put in, "we make a really thorough outline. Then split up the chapters. We don't go - here, you take chapter one, two, three, and I'll take four, five and six. We split things by subject and story lines. Things we like best, or know best."

"If there's a preacher in the story," Chris said, "I stick Cole with the sermons. He gives great fucking sermon."

"I hate sermons," I said. "But I do them anyway. Then Chris feels guilty and I can toss him scut work scenes."

Chris said, "When we're done with our sections, we swap them. Then rewrite the other guy. And blend in the writing styles so the whole thing is seamless. That way, when we're done with our first draft, it's more like a second draft. And a polished second draft at that."

"It's a lot more satisfying writing books than scripts," I said. "For better or worse, a book is all yours. But soon as you hand in a script, it no longer belongs to you."

Cannell appeared a little wistful. I saw him glance over at a picture on his desk - it was of him and his family standing in front of a large yacht. Handsome family. Expensive-looking yacht.

He sighed. "I really envy you guys," he said. "Maybe someday..."

Then it was to work and we started pitching Hunter stories. As mentioned before, the series was headed by former NFL star Fred Dyer as Sgt. Rick Hunter. The story they finally chose was one we called The Legacy.

The basic idea was that the son of a mob boss, who is also an old friend of Hunter's, is killed in what appears to be a burglary. But Hunter (who has a suspicious past) is unconvinced. Despite pressure from above he goes after the real killer, preventing an all out mob war in the process. Not particularly original, but with tons of action, lots of fun and a plethora of plot twists.

Cannell and Lupo said go thou and write. And so we did - after retrieving Chris' BMW from the lot and picking up a bottle of scotch to wash out the taste of smog.

As we were driving home, Chris said, "Poor son of a bitch."

"Who's a poor son of a bitch?" I asked.

"Steve Cannell, is who," he replied. "Did you see the look on his face when he asked about writing books? He was practically weepy. He'd really, really rather write books than be a big time producer."

"Yeah, I saw," I said. "But he's stuck. Probably has two or more houses - expensive houses, at that. And you saw the yacht. Then there's the family. Plus, he's got a whole string of shows on the air. People relying on him. All those payrolls to make."

Chris sighed. "Money has got to be the ultimate Jones," he said. He stared at the traffic a moment, then added, "Wonder if he'll ever be able kick the habit?"

I shrugged. "Probably not."

As it happens, we were dead wrong. Years later, Cannell shook the Jones, broke out of Hollywood and became the best-selling author of the always intriguing Shane Scully Series. Good on you, Steve.

We got to work on the script. It came pretty easily, although it was a good thing we were no longer wet behind the ears. This was the kind of a job that took a couple of guys with experience.

Our star - Fred Dyer - was a six-foot six former defensive end who was not only a Super Bowl champion, but was also the only guy who had ever made two safeties in a single NFL game. But the jury was still out on whether he could actually act. Hell - could he even memorize his lines?

Frank had warned us to keep it stupid, simple, until he and Steve sussed out their new star. To that end we tossed the main lines - and acting chores - to his two co-stars: Stephanie Kramer as Lt. Dee Dee McCall and Charles Hallahan as Capt. Charles Devane. If you check their creds, you'll see that they were already experienced hoofers when they were hired for Hunter.

That's the trick smart producers like Frank and Steve used when dealing with amateur stars. Surround them with pros. Tell your writers to give the pros the main lines, the heavy lines. Then give the star the Button, or last line. And the pros will react in ways that will make the audience think the amateur is a bloody genius. (We used that trick later on shows like Walker, Texas Ranger, starring Chuck Norris, which Lupo also produced.)

Within a couple of weeks we wrote Fade Out, punted the script forward and got back to writing Sten #4 - Fleet Of The Damned. A few days later we got the call to come on in for our second draft notes.

I don't remember who we met with - by now Frank and Steve had a full crew on board and were busy with their Executive Producer chores. Maybe it Jo Swirling Jr... I'm not sure. I do know that ours was the first episode they bought after the pilot and it ended up running the fifth week of the first season. The point being - these were early days. Everybody was feeling their way into the show, which ran for seven very successful seasons.

Swirling (or whomever) said, "Good first draft, boys. Got a few things we have to change because the situation has changed. And a few suggestions for this and that."

Chris and I nodded. Pens poised over notepads.

"Shoot," I said - rather unfortunately, as it turned out.

"The first thing," Swirling (or whomever) said, "is a cover note." He tapped the face of the script for emphasis. "A really important cover note."

We said go ahead.

"Now, this is going to sound really stupid," Swirling (or whomever) went on. "But we want you to go through all of Fred's lines - all his dialogue - and change any word that begins with the letter 'S'"

We both reacted. "What the fucking fuck?" Chris said for both of us.

"Sorry about that, guys," Swirling (or whomever) said. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "You know that Fred was a football star, right?"

We said, yeah, we did.

"Well, in one of his last games he got his two front teeth kicked out," Swirling (or whomever) said. "He got some new ones. But it turns out they don't fit real well.

"And whenever he says a word that starts with the letter 'S' he spits his fucking teeth into the camera."

As you can imagine, we were nearly knocked out of our seats. Swirling (or whomever) said, "That going to be a problem boys?"

Chris said, "Other than the fact that our bad guy is named Sam, and the Vic has a boat named, Silverado, and a dog named, Sunshine, plus a fucking sister, named Sue - no... we've got no goddamned problem at all."

Swirling (or whomever) sighed. "Yeah, I saw that. Guess you're going to have the retype every page of the entire script from the Fade In to the Fade Out." (This was in the pre-Search & Replace days)

"Aw, shit," I said.

Swirling (or whomever) raised a warning finger. "You mean, Aw, Thit, right?"

We both nodded. "Right."



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.