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First pages

Chapter 1

The Fugitive

Trent Cary couldn’t take his eyes off the posters in the alley, even though someone hunted him in the night. The studio spent millions on each movie, which boasted the most famous actors and lavish special effects money could buy. Good posters could really sell them, no matter the season.

Cheap thrills and discarded movies that tested poorly with audiences dumped in January and February. Movies with potential but little studio confidence in March and April. Blockbusters with nine-figure budgets hoping for ten-figure returns during the summer movie season. Sputtering franchise-starters in late August. Quieter movies and horror flicks in September and October. Bigger movies, family fare, and award season hopefuls in November and December.

The studio system.

Trent knew it well. He wanted out.

Many of the posters cast aside artistic merit in favor of Photoshopped monstrosities. What happened to hand-drawn perfection? Why did he care so much about this right now? The sound of approaching footsteps broke the posters’ spell of airbrushed stars and fake smiles.

Jackson Kane was coming for him.

Trent had made it farther than anyone had made it before, leaving behind some good people to do it. They wanted him to go. They said he needed to get out there and tell their story. Someone had to know where the real movie magic came from. Trent wouldn’t let them down.

He couldn’t.

He nailed every line and every mark during rehearsals and filming. He put the same meticulous preparation into his escape. Just as it had on the big screen, the effort paid off. But the movie posters, the lure of stardom on the silver screen, temporarily distracted him. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder to know Kane stood right behind him, his goon squad right beside him.

“Stop right there, Cary,” Kane whispered the command like a battle-hardened grunt from central casting. “Put your hands up.”

Trent did as ordered but couldn’t hide his smirk. He’d play this one like Presidential Pardon. “I’m not going back, Kane. You know where I come from, what I am. I don’t want to be that anymore.”

“You don’t have a choice,” Kane said. Five agents stood next to him in dark tactical armor, stun batons charged and ready. Kane towered over them. “Come with us.”

“I’m not going back.”

“Hannah will miss you,” Kane said.

The comment stung. Trent would miss Hannah most of all. She should’ve made it out by now, if all went according to plan.

“I will not let you intimidate the president,” Trent said.

Kane gripped his stun baton tighter, but it was his number two, Quinn, who spoke next. “What are you talking about?”

“That’s not the line,” Trent said. “Let’s try this again. I will not let you intimidate the president.”

“What’s he talking about, boss?” Quinn asked.

Kane didn’t take his eyes off his quarry. “It’s from Presidential Pardon. Came out in 1960 with Trent Cary and Betty Garrett. He played the secret service agent hell-bent on protecting the president, she played the first lady. There’s a near romance, but the agent’s devotion to his job ultimately trumps it. It’s considered a classic. Mr. Cary’s running lines with us now, it appears.” Kane hit Trent on the side of the head with his stun baton.

Trent saw stars but stayed on his feet. He shook his head to clear it. “I can’t believe you guys don’t know your lines, but then again, I can’t remember mine. Maybe it’s time for some improv.”

Quinn tucked away his stun baton, unholstered his sidearm, and pointed it right at Trent’s face. “Here’s some improv. The hero gets shot.”

“Our orders are to bring him in alive,” Kane reminded his second-in-command. “Mr. Golden wants his asset returned unharmed.” Kane took his eyes off Trent momentarily as he forced Quinn to lower his weapon.

Trent exploited the opportunity, pushing Kane into his minions. An errant shot from Quinn’s gun pinged off the wall, shredding the poster for Police School 4: Criminals on Parole.

He ran for what seemed like forever, his head throbbing, lungs and muscles burning. He stood, hunched over with his hands on his knees, relieved to see no sign of Kane or his team. The City of Angels could be a tough place, he knew, but he’d almost gotten out. He could go anywhere now and be anyone—and not in that fake, green screen world the studio loved so much. He could taste all the different foods of the world and enjoy a brisk night anywhere his legs could take him.

In his mind’s eye, he saw fields of endless grain and corn. Grass greener than any he’d ever laid eyes on in California, where a drought made the grass brown and dry. It crunched and crackled when he set foot on it.

He didn’t want that anymore.

Soft grass, rich soil. Fresh air free from smog. They always said L.A. was beautiful all year round, but the summer heat could melt you. He imagined a brisk fall Friday night at a high school football game, the grass wet with dew under the bright lights. He could coach the football team and fall in love with one of the local teachers.

Then he realized he wasn’t thinking his own thoughts—the images of the high school football game were straight from First and Forever, a well-received but patently schlocky tale of a burned-out football coach who returned to his hometown and rekindled a romance with his high school sweetheart.

He gazed at the stars, desperate for a thought he could call his own.

That thought finally came.

Pain.

He fell to his knees and clutched his head. He tried to remember… who hit him? A distant name—Kane—came to mind, but he lost it immediately. His thoughts were jumbled, disconnected. He had somewhere to go. Where was it?

He didn’t know the answer, but he knew when a death scene didn’t fit the narrative. He regained his strength and got back on his feet. He had someone to meet. He simply couldn’t remember who it was.

Chapter 2

Clerks

“I get that a lot.” Will checked the discs for scratches, applied some polish, and rubbed the reflective surface with a soft cloth. The scratches on these particular discs were merely cosmetic and wouldn’t require use of the disc buffer. “But I assure you, I’m not Trent Cary, ma’am. He died in 2005 when he was eighty-one years old. Flattered that you think I look like him in his prime, though.”

The customer, a woman in her mid-sixties, flashed a smile. “I had the biggest crush on him when I was a teenager. His performance in Came the Moon still makes me swoon! That beach scene!”

Will gave the discs one last look and placed them in their protective plastic cases. “What about Omaha Beach? Now there’s a beach scene.”

“That is such a sad movie. Probably Trent Cary’s most heroic role, though. I lose it every time he stays behind while the rest of his team marches on. When I see that scene, I tell him not to do it, but I can’t get him to listen.” She sighed. “Oh, listen to me going on like some old biddy. You have better things to do than listen to me prattle on about movies.”

“This is Reel Time, ma’am, and we’re all about movies. Not sure these would’ve been my first picks for you, though. Elvie’s Winterland Adventure, Death Blow Two: Death by Fire, and Samba of Love. All completely different movies.”

“Grandchildren, my dear,” the woman said. “The first one’s for my granddaughter. Death Blow is for her older brother. And Samba of Love is for me to watch once their parents come to pick them up. Love having the kids over, don’t get me wrong, but I need a cooldown period once they leave. A little ‘me’ time. Is that selfish?”

Will scanned the movies into the system and asked the woman for her phone number.

She offered a delighted smile. “Teenage me is pretending Trent Cary just asked me for my phone number.”

He waited for the system to load the account. “And let’s see… for all three, for five nights, that comes to eight dollars.” The woman handed over a crisp ten dollar bill and told him to keep the change. He informed her that he couldn’t, and her spirits sank just a bit. He opened the register, plucked out two crumpled dollar bills, and handed them over. “Do you need a bag for these?”

“I can carry them.”

He handed over the discs as she walked past the secure partition. “Have a nice night, ma’am.”

She smiled sweetly. “I already have.”

#

Raquel “Rock” Morrison reached inside her jacket pocket for a hundred-dollar bill and handed it to the woman, who in turn gave her a cell phone. She swiped through several pictures as she sat inside her beat-up Charger. “You were right when you said he looks like Trent Cary. These pictures came out a little blurry, though.”

The woman took the money and stuffed it in her pocketbook. “I wouldn’t call that well-lit. Plus, you didn’t say you wanted good pictures. You just said you wanted pictures. There you have it. I hope it was worth your hundred bucks. What kind of investigation are you doing exactly?”

“We’ve had a lot of reports of bootleg movies lately. I want to know if Reel Time is part of it.”

The woman offered up the movies she’d rented. “You want to take a look at these?”

Not really, Rock thought. She accepted the cases, pretended to scrutinize the labels, and gave them back. “Those are all authentic. No one can fabricate the color-coding on the edges. It’s just too hard.”

“I’m glad to know my local video store isn’t renting out bootleg movies.”

“I’m amazed a place like this is even in operation,” Rock said.

“Oh, they closed all the Blockbusters a long time ago. We had a Hollywood Video, too, and that went under. I think my husband bought every superhero movie in existence during their liquidation sale. How many copies of Captain America does a person need? I can tell you the answer is three. Thank God he gave the other two copies to our sons. I don’t know what I’d do with three copies of Captain America.” The woman sighed. “But Reel Time has a few stores around here. The prices are always good and they have free movies for kids, so it works out nicely when the grandchildren come over.”

“I take it Death Blow Two wasn’t in the children’s section,” Rock said.

“As a matter of fact, it wasn’t. But I like the store. My sons stream all of their movies these days. I bought my youngest, Jamie, a copy of the new Mission: Impossible movie on Blu-ray, and he looked at me like I had three eyes. ‘No one watches discs anymore,’ he told me. ‘It’s all streaming now.’ The only thing he was happy about was that the movie came with a download code. I don’t even really know what that means, but—”

“Right,” Rock said. “Thank you for your help, Mrs. Rogers. Obviously, with the cash I gave you, the next several rentals are on me.”

“I didn’t do anything illegal, did I?” the woman asked.

“Of course not,” Rock said. “I wouldn’t have asked you to do it if it would’ve gotten you in trouble.”

“Why couldn’t you do it yourself?”

“Mrs. Rogers, I’m the one who asks the questions in these situations, understand?”

“I guess.”

“And the question I have on my mind right now is this: why are you still sitting in my car?”

“I thought you wanted to talk about the store clerk.”

“We talked about him. You have your money, and you upheld your part of the bargain. Now, ride off into the sunset, okay?”

In a huff, the woman opened the car door and set off for her own vehicle.

Glad to be rid of her amateur accomplice, Rock reached into her inside jacket pocket and pulled out a pack of Lucky Strike. She kept telling herself she’d stop one day, but she also kept telling herself she’d stop taking these insane P.I. gigs. She lit up, took a drag, and let the smoke out through her nostrils.

Some things are just too good to give up.

She allowed herself to enjoy the moment for about thirty seconds before making the call to her client, who would be ecstatic to know a promising lead had paid off.

#

Some nights Will brought home a stack of movies from Reel Time, one of the perks of the job his manager boasted about. He figured every other employee got the same treatment, but sometimes he wondered about that when he considered how she looked at him. Nevertheless, on this particular night he decided he’d find something to watch by channel surfing.

This was, he soon realized, a mistake. He didn’t have a particularly diverse channel selection in his cable package, and he bypassed several cooking shows as well as some sort of lumberjack competition on ESPN. He didn’t consider himself the world’s biggest sports fan, but he did have a weakness for NFL and college football. He didn’t know the top-ranked team or which ones played in which conference, but if he came across a football game, he’d watch it. He became particularly enamored with some of the on-demand football offerings that featured lesser-known teams from smaller conferences and even the occasional Division II game.

Instead, the “worldwide leader in sports” offered up a lumberjack competition on one channel and NBA basketball on the next. He just wasn’t into it.

He did a few more laps around the channels before he realized he wouldn’t find anything to suit him. He reluctantly got off the couch, selected his pirated Blu-ray of the original, unaltered Star Wars, and popped it into the player. Within a few seconds, the familiar Twentieth Century Fox fanfare played and the Lucasfilm Limited logo—the old-looking green one—appeared on the screen. The trumpets blasted the main theme as “Star Wars” raced toward the back of the screen before the yellow opening crawl began.

Some of Will’s co-workers had fond memories of Star Wars and loved the movies growing up as kids. A few of the younger workers experienced the prequel movies first, which the older workers said they weren’t worth anyone’s time. The argument became heated at times, though the more experienced Star Wars fans would ultimately triumph by invoking Jar Jar Binks. His most trusted friend at work, Sam, told him not to bother with the prequels. Sam had good taste in movies, so Will ignored them.

But something struck him when his coworkers talked about the movies, Will recalled as Imperial Stormtroopers and Rebel soldiers exchanged blaster fire on the Tantive IV. He didn’t have any fond memories of his childhood. He had no memories of his childhood at all, in fact. Will was convinced he’d been born an adult, from a certain point of view. He’d worked at Reel Time for at least a year, but the details of his life before that were hazy. He remembered taking a train from out west—the ticket stub said Los Angeles was the point of origin—to Indianapolis. He worked a few temporary jobs before settling on his current one at a video store on the city’s southeast side.

He lived in an apartment that was within walking distance of the store, meaning he didn’t have to own a car, pay for car insurance, or buy gas. On the other hand, he never traveled anywhere. That was fine with him, as he enjoyed his job at the video store even though everyone compared him to Trent Cary, vaunted star of the golden age of cinema. He didn’t discount the resemblance, but every single person he met in his life just had to point it out as if they were the first ones to realize it. Sometimes he had the irrational urge to punch them in the face.

The identifying documents he carried with him—he remembered having them on the train—said his name was Will Evans. He was born in 1985 in Modesto, California, although he didn’t remember anything about elementary school or high school. He held a high school degree from Modesto High School and had apparently enrolled in film school at USC.

He remembered none of these things. In fact, if not for his social security card, driver’s license, and a few utility bills, Will might have questioned if he even existed at all.

Memories did flash occasionally: the train taking off from Los Angeles, the ride from the west to Indianapolis, and the job search that drew him to the video store. He remembered his job interview and his first paycheck. There had to be more to him and his past, but a voice deep in the back of his mind warned him not to dig any deeper each and every time. If he even tried so much as a Google search about “Will Evans,” his hands shook. He couldn’t bring himself to press the enter key. A quick trip to the IMDB always made him feel better.

If he knew anything about himself, he knew he liked movies. Posters of classics adorned the walls of his small apartment. He watched Star Wars at least once a month. Other frequently viewed films included Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, Chinatown, The Searchers, Rocky, The Sound of Music, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and The Godfather.

He also had an affinity, much to his dismay, for old movies featuring Trent Cary. Some of them were excellent, like Omaha Beach and Came the Moon, but he found himself inexplicably drawn to some of Cary’s flops. He had seen Treasure of the High Seas (a regrettable pirate film) more times than he’d like to admit. Cary’s atrocious Danger in Mongolia (in which Cary played an Asian warlord bent on revenge, terrible makeup and embarrassing accent included) sat in a prime spot among his movie collection. Perhaps more unforgivable were the frequent viewings of Death Strike: The First Revenge, an “action thriller” Cary made in his waning years. He played a transit cop named Flint Rage who takes matters into his own hands after his family dies in a horrific crime. The movie, for whatever reason, led to six sequels. By Death Strike Seven: The Final, Final Revenge, Cary was seventy-one years old and could barely hold his character’s signature shotgun. Movie lore said the production company provided him with a much lighter prop for most scenes.

But no one needed to rely on “movie lore” when it was clear Flint Rage was armed with a plastic gun. The movie was an affront to cinema, making Death Strike: The First Revenge look like Citizen Kane (a remarkable cinematic achievement but a horrible bore, in his opinion) in comparison.

Someone knocked on his door. He looked at the clock: nine-thirty. He decided he didn’t want to be bothered and watched as C-3PO and R2-D2 argued in the Tatooine desert. Soon, Jawas would capture Artoo, and the pair would be reunited and sold to a farmer named Owen Lars. The rest, of course, was Star Wars history.

The pounding intensified, but he held firm.

“Sheriff’s office!” a gruff voice yelled.

He was certain they had the wrong address. Or maybe some deadbeat or malcontent lived in the apartment before Will moved in. Police were relying on old records—they probably hadn’t done their homework. It would only take a few minutes to iron it out. He’d even let them take a look around if they wanted. He had nothing to hide.

At least nothing that he knew about.

He couldn’t see very well through the door’s worthless peephole, but he caught a silhouette that appeared to be indicative of a law enforcement officer. He took a deep breath, undid the deadbolt, and cracked open the door. “May I help you, officer?”

The officer quickly flashed a badge. To his surprise, it was a woman. “Name’s Deputy Glenda Watt. I’m here to check out a disturbance.”

“No disturbances here, deputy.” Will opened the door to get a better look at his visitor. He quickly realized this was no sheriff’s deputy. She didn’t wear a uniform at all, just a tan trench coat and a fedora. She could’ve come straight out of one of Trent Cary’s old Stone Samson private eye movies had it not been for the smartphone. The flash went off as she snapped a photo with the camera, temporarily blinding him. Before he knew what was happening, she was in his apartment, the door was shut and locked behind him, and he lay on the floor.

He managed to grab her ankle, and she ended up falling on top of him. He stared at her through the sunspots in his eyes. Not one to let the moment linger, the visitor pushed herself up and smoothed out her jacket. “Don’t do that again, Will.”

He sat up on his elbows. “I would never disobey an order from a sheriff’s deputy. Too bad you aren’t one.”

“Sharp hombre, I see.” She removed her hat and twirled it between her hands. “How on earth did you get here? And why? The posh Los Angeles life suits a man of your talents. You shouldn’t be in the middle of corn and soybean country making video recommendations.”

The sunspots finally started to disappear as he blinked them away. “Oh, God. An obsessed fangirl. Look, I’m not Trent Cary. I just happen to look a little like him, that’s all. Every woman who comes into the store—”

“Wants to do unimaginable things to that body of yours,” the woman interrupted.

Will swallowed. “No, they tell me I look like Trent Cary. Then they give me the look.”

“You know what the look means, right?”

“It means they think I look like him, and they’re trying to figure out if they’re crazy.”

“No, you idiot, it means they want to screw you. How do you think a video store manages to stay open in the Netflix era, you dolt? It isn’t because the clientele loves late fees and rent three, get one free specials. They’re coming there because they want to see you in the off chance you’ll hop in their bed.”

Will got to his feet. “You have an awfully active imagination. Now what are you doing here?”

“I’m here to get you to a safe place.”

“Safe place? Are you kidding? I could leave my apartment unlocked if I wanted to. This is as safe of a neighborhood as you’ll find in Indianapolis.”

“That may have been the case, but I’m not the only one looking for you. Kane and his goons are hot on your trail. You don’t want to go back with them.”

The name sounded distantly familiar, but Will couldn’t say why. “What’s your name? It clearly isn’t Deputy Glenda Watt.”

His visitor tossed her hat in the air, and it fell into place atop her head. “Name’s Raquel Morrison. My friends call me ‘Rock.’”

“You have friends?”

“Funny. Real funny,” the woman said. “Listen, I have a client who paid a not unsubstantial amount of money for me to track you down. Her name’s Hannah Mallory.”

Will laughed at that. “Hannah Mallory, the siren of the silver screen? She’s been dead for decades. I don’t know what deluded person hired you to find me, but you should leave.”

“What if I don’t?”

Will slid his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll call the police.”

“Go ahead and do that,” Rock insisted. “Bring them here with squad cars and a SWAT team. Tell them you’re being held hostage. We’ll have a good time sorting it all out. They know I’m in town. They know I’m a licensed private investigator. They’ll figure it out real quick-like and we’ll be right back where we were, except we’ll have a better story to tell about how we first met.”

Will shrugged, unlocked the screen, and dialed nine. Then he looked at the woman, realized she meant business, and exited out of the dial pad. “Why does Hannah Mallory want some random video store clerk?”

“You’re not some random video store clerk,” Rock said. “But it’s probably best if you let someone who cares tell you what’s going on because I honestly don’t give a shit.”

“You are a ray of sunshine,” Will said. “I swear you stepped right out of the pictures.”

“I don’t think I’m suitable for the silver screen.”

Will tilted his head. “I disagree. You’d make a good character actor.”

“You’re saying I don’t have the face of a leading lady?”

“Hard to tell with the sunglasses, babe. I’m going on pure screen presence alone here. You know, a lot of character actors have made great careers for themselves. Shows and movies always need people who can give their worlds a little texture. You’ve got texture.”

“That’s a compliment?”

“It’s not an insult.”

Rock took off her glasses and smiled. He’d have to reconsider that leading lady remark. Before he got the chance to say anything, the front door flew off its hinges and crashed to the floor. Rock drew her revolver.

Chapter 3

Citizen Kane

A tall, thin man with broad shoulders and dark tactical armor stood in the doorway with a gun pointed right at Will. Several others in tactical gear stood behind him on the porch. “Trent Cary. Damn, you really did make it this far.”

“Do I know you?” Will asked.

“Don’t do this, kid. You wanted to get away, you got away, and you had some fun. At least I hope you did, because you’re coming back with me. How you got away in the first place, I’ll never understand. Actors.” He gave a sideways glance toward Rock. “You can put the gun down, sweetheart. We’ve got you outnumbered and outclassed. Let me take the kid, we’ll get out of your hair and send you a nice fee for your trouble.”

Rock looked at Will and back at their would-be captor. She sighed and holstered her weapon. “I’m a private investigator, not a gunslinger. No reason for a gunfight at the okay apartment. I thought I had more time, Kane. Guess I wasn’t as elusive as I thought.”

“Don’t pin this one on yourself, Raquel. You covered your tracks. It was Quinn who got the bright idea about the video store. The manager gave us the address with a little friendly prodding.”

“I swear, if you’ve hurt Mrs. Henson—”

“Just a turn of phrase. Quinn went into the store and said he thought you were in trouble. Mrs. Henson—did you know it’s actually Miss Henson? She’d probably like you to know that—was more than happy to give us your contact information. I think she’s sweet on you, stud.” Kane gestured toward the door. “Now, if you’ll please leave with us.”

Will looked at Rock, who jerked her head toward Kane and his subordinates. “Go on, Will. They got us licked this time.”

He took a deep breath and headed toward the door. Rock watched for a few more seconds, and then made her move.

She shoved Kane in the back, and he went down, hard, dropping his sidearm in the process. His goons had clustered on the narrow porch, and all it took was a punch in the jaw to knock down Quinn, sending him into a couple other members of the team. A quick backward kick landed solidly in the groin of one of their would-be captors, and he went down clutching himself, knocking over another in the process. She leaped over the railing, relieved that Will lived on the second floor instead of something higher, and yelled at him to follow. She saw the hesitation on his face and screamed as authoritatively as possible. Her stunned target snapped into action and executed an effortless leap over the railing. Together, they ran across dewy grass toward the parking lot, and she was never more excited to have an automatic starter. At the press of a button, her Charger was ready to roll and the doors were unlocked.

She climbed behind the steering wheel, made sure Will was in his seat, and threw the car into reverse before he could close his door.

“Easy!” he yelled.

“Would you mind closing the door, sweetheart?” she deadpanned while looking through her rear window. She narrowly avoided clipping one of the cars parked across from her, put the car into drive, and rocketed out of the parking lot. They had a good head start on Kane, but he was crafty and she knew she’d never be able to put enough distance between them. Within a few minutes, they were on the interstate. She couldn’t take him directly to her employer, not yet.

For now, they needed a place to lie low.

She knew exactly where to go.

#

They stopped off at a Denny’s located at a truck stop several miles south of Indianapolis.

“I’ve never been to one of these,” Will said as they sat in their booth. The server took their drink orders and went on her way. “But shouldn’t we get as far away as we can? Why are those people chasing me?”

“Keep your voice down,” Rock said.

“I’d like some answers.”

“And I’d like some good, stiff bourbon, but they don’t serve that here. You’re the job, Will, do you understand? Hannah Mallory is my employer, and my instructions are for me to get you to her.”

“Hannah Mallory? She was gorgeous, a legend on the silver screen. She died when she was thirty-three years old, long before her time.”

“You’re a living Hollywood encyclopedia, aren’t you?”

“Movies are my passion, Miss—”

“Rock. I told you to call me Rock.

“Miss Rock.”

“No, you nitwit. Not Miss Rock or Mrs. Rock or Detective Rock. Just Rock.”

“Okay, Rock.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. Fortunately for him, their server returned with a pair of sodas, and Rock decided not to punch him in front of her.

“You say Hannah Mallory’s dead and has been for years. I tell you she has a new movie coming out in a few weeks.” Rock opened the YouTube app on her phone, performed a search, and handed it to Will. “For a movie buff, I’m surprised you didn’t know about this. It seems like something a person with an appreciation for the cinema would know.”

“The trailer just came out today,” Will said, noting the video’s posting date. He hit play and turned up the volume. Several images flashed by of foreign locations, including London, Morocco, and Paris. Other locales also appeared: the Gobi Desert, the Amazon jungle, and the Egyptian pyramids.

“The Eye of Ramses could change the world,” Hannah Mallory said. She wore a leather jacket with cargo pants and heavy boots. A satchel was slung over her shoulder and a glimmering silver sidearm sat in a holster. “And we have to find it before they do.” The trailer showed airplane battles, some sort of boat chase, and a tense showdown involving Hannah Mallory and the “heavy.” The movie’s title, Eye of Ramses, flashed across the screen with a release date of summer.

“She doesn’t look so dead now, does she?”

Will did a quick search and turned the phone so Rock could see it. “See this news article? Golden Pictures used computer graphics to bring her back to the big screen. The studio got the approval of her estate. It’s all right here.”

Rock swiped the phone from Will and scrolled through the article, which said Golden Pictures had acquired the rights to use the likenesses of several actors and actresses who’d been dead for years. Soon, the studio would churn out new adventures featuring everyone from John Wayne to Elizabeth Taylor to Marlon Brando and Lauren Bacall. According to the article, sequels were in the works for several movies, including Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather.

Rock shook her head and erupted in laughter. “Computer graphics, right! Those bastards sure know how to spin it. I’ve met Hannah Mallory, okay? I’ve talked to her and accepted her money for this job. She’s a flesh-and-blood person, got it?”

“You don’t have to talk tough all the time,” Will said. “It’s okay to talk like a real person every once in a while.”

Rock scowled. “I’m as real as they get.”

“Well, for a person who calls herself ‘Rock,’ at least.”

“Listen, golden boy, I contemplated taking the cash and letting Kane and his people whisk you away, but it didn’t seem like a nice thing to do. I’m being paid to keep you safe, but there’s no doubt Kane would’ve paid more. Keep that in mind before you insult me.”

“I’m sorry.” Will didn’t get the chance to expound because their server returned. Rock ordered for him, much to his chagrin. On the other hand, a hamburger did sound pretty good.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Matt Adams graduated from Indiana’s Franklin College in 2003 with a degree in journalism. He lives and writes in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his patient wife and a (possibly) man-eating turtle named Willy. He has worked in television news for more than a decade.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I've always been a big fan of Michael Crichton, master of the techno-thriller. I've also always been a big fan of movies. This book melds those two passions and adds a hard-boiled detective for flavor.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
We've seen a lot of attempts in movies recently to resurrect or de-age actors digitally. Some of those attempts haven't worked very well--they're unconvincing. How do you make those digital actors seem real? What would happen if a movie studio decided it needed the real thing?