FEATURED AUTHOR: GABRIEL VALJAN
ABOUT THE BOOK
Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.
The right name.
When Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside the dead script-fixer’s handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game.
Author: Gabriel Valjan
Genre: Crime fiction, mystery
Series: The Company Files series, book 2
Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing (May 1, 2019)
Print length: 169 pages
On tour with: Partners in Crime Book Tours
IFs ANDs OR WHATs INTERVIEW WITH GABRIEL VALJAN
IfsIf you could talk to someone (dead), who would it be and what would you ask them?
It’d have to be the actress Carole Lombard, whom I adore and admire. She was called ‘The Profane Angel’ because she’d let fly profanities and yet be hilarious at the same time. She helped a lot of people during the Depression, especially those close to her without any of them ever knowing that she was paying their bills. I think I’d just bask in her company, observe her, and ask her about her sense of timing, which is everything in comedy.
If you could live in any time period which would it be?
I think the Roaring Twenties would be interesting. Not so much for Prohibition and speakeasies, but rather to experience the edginess of the era. Experimental art, music, and fashion. Art Deco architecture. Women were involved in progressive causes and yet were also carefree and sexual, and sometimes androgynous. Hemlines migrated north of the knees. People moved to the city and people had discretionary income. There was a recklessness in the air as a reaction to the horrors of World War I.
If you could step back into a moment or day in time, where would you go?
I’d like to experience a day on the set of a major Hollywood studio in the Thirties. I love films from that period because dialogue was witty, often double-edged and satirical. Have a looksee at any of the movies from The Marx Brothers, or one of Lombard’s screwball comedies.
Her most popular film My Man Godfrey is an indictment of class distinctions and indifference that the wealthy had for the Have-Nots. You can see the same criticism in Holiday, a film with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. The film is a remake of an earlier film and it is based on a Philip Barry play. Carole Lombard’s last film, To Be or Not to Be, which was released posthumously, is about an acting troupe putting on a play called Gestapo for Nazis in Warsaw. Pretty daring stuff to put in front of an audience and sneak past the censors.
If you could be anything besides a writer, what would it be?
A veterinarian because I love animals. Let’s face it: you have to really know your stuff because the patient can’t talk.
If you could meet any author for coffee, who would you like to meet and what would you talk about?
This is really a tough question. My biggest fear with meeting someone I admire on the page is that they turn out to be a real jerk. The French poet Rimbaud, for example, used to lace food for his guests with arsenic, just to see how they’d react. Truman Capote was vicious and verbally abusive. Raymond Chandler was known to be prissy and petty. I’ve been fortunate to have met authors who were both kind and generous, who listened and treated me with kindness. Sara Paretsky. Hank Phillippi Ryan. Megan Abbott. Louise Penny. The late Elie Wiesel and Geoffrey Hill.
Ands5 favorite possessions
1. A Carole Lombard autograph I own and yes, it is authentic.
2. A congratulatory letter from the writer Herman Wouk on one of my short stories.
3. Kind words from Elie Wiesel in my copies of his Night and Twilight.
4. An unpublished letter written by Flaubert, where he mentions Salammbô.
5. Sara Paretsky signed my copy of Hardball.
5 things you need in order to write:
1. A computer is a must. I dislike my handwriting, and often can’t decipher it.
2. A quiet place. I can tune things out, but I’d prefer silence.
3. A room. I need space to pace because I walk and talk to myself. Another reason, I prefer solitude is most people might think I was nuts. I act out my dialogue.
4. A small notebook to pencil in an idea or a phrase. Sometimes I send myself an email, if I don’t have pen and paper.
5. Coffee in the morning and cold water to drink throughout the day.
5 things you love about writing:
1. Learning what I think/feel about ‘something.’
2. When a character or a plot takes an unexpected turn.
3. Sense of pride when I see my name in print.
4. When a reader tells me they have enjoyed my story/novel.
5. A sense of accomplishment that comes with typing The End.
5 things about you or 5 words to describe you:
1. Organized. Calm the chaos and start somewhere, anywhere, but start.
2. Observant. I enjoy watching people, noticing their body language and how they talk to each other. You can learn a lot about human nature by sitting and watching people.
3. Empathetic. I feel all my emotions intensely, though I’m good at hiding them.
These three are essential for a writer.
4. Kind. I like helping people.
5. Drive. I’m a goal-oriented person. If I say I’ll do something, it will get done.
5 things that drive you crazy:
1. People who walk without looking where they’re going because they’re so preoccupied with their cell phone.
2. People who insist on talking LOUDLY on their phone in public. I really don’t want or need to hear you.
3. When someone insists that they have to be first through the door, on line.
4. People who demand preferential treatment because they think (or believe) they are superior to everyone else.
5. Condescending people. I’ve seen many instances where a person made assumptions about another person’s education, income, occupation, or political or sexual orientation. Never assume you know a person, or their journey in life.
WhatsWhat are some things that very few people know about you?
1. I can shoot, throw, and write well with both hands.
2. English was not my first language and I’m hearing-impaired, so I’m self-conscious about my grammar and how I pronounce words. A gun to my head and I can’t spell ‘rhythm’ without Spell-check. I wear hearing aids.
3. Being hearing-impaired has made me reliant on observation and reading lips. I guess I should’ve added that pet peeve: when people don’t look at me every once in a while, during a conversation. They look up, down, and away. Drives me nuts because I work very hard to understand what people are saying; it’s the worst when they mumble. For years, people assumed I was arrogant or stuck-up because I was a) quiet or b) didn’t answer them, only to realize that I was neither. If I didn’t answer them, it was because I didn’t hear them. I can’t, for instance, hear anything behind me.
4. Another quick fact about me is that I can’t talk for very long because only one of my vocal cords works, and my voice becomes gravelly when I talk for too ling. Think of the actor Jason Beghe (Voight on Chicago PD). I sound like him.
5. I’ve worked as an applications engineer, as an RN, and I’ve competed in several triathlons.
What’s your favorite time of day?
Early morning. Nothing beats getting things done before 9am.
What’s your favorite meal?
Beef Wellington (Gordon Ramsay’s recipe).
What’s your favorite ice cream?
What’s your favorite quote?
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” —Mark Twain (quoting an asylum inmate)
What’s your latest recommendation for:
Food: Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon on a Cauliflower Pizza crust
Music: Bach, Cello Suites
Movie: My Man Godfrey (classic). Hell or High Water (contemporary)
Book: Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano series, or Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novels.
Audiobook: Bruce Robert Coffin’s Beyond the Truth (read by Adam Verner)
TV: Blue Bloods
Netflix/Amazon Prime: Ozark (Netflix) The Americans (Amazon Prime)
Miscellaneous: Awkward (Hulu)
"Is this Jack Marshall?"
"This is William Parker. Is the line secure?"
"It is," Jack replied, his hand opening a desk cabinet and flipping the ON switch to start recording the conversation.
"I don't know you Mr. Marshall and I presume you don't know me."
"I know of you, Chief Parker."
"Were you expecting my call?"
"No and it doesn't matter." Jack lied.
"Fact of the matter, Mr. Marshall, is an individual, whom I need not name, has suggested I contact you about a sensitive matter. He said matter of security so I listened."
"Of course. I'm listening."
"I was instructed to give you an address and have my man at the scene allow you to do whatever it is that you need to do when you arrive there."
"Pencil and paper are ready. The address, please."
Jack wrote out the address; it was in town, low rent section with the usual rooming houses, cheap bars, about a fifteen-minute drive on Highway 1 without traffic.
"Ask for Detective Brown. You won't miss him. Don't like it that someone steps in and tells me how to mind my own city, but I have no choice in the matter."
Jack ignored the man's defensive tone. He knew Detective Brown was a dummy name, like Jones or Smith on a hotel ledger. Plain, unimaginative, but it would do. Most policemen, he conceded, were neither bright nor fully screwed into the socket. A chief was no different except he had more current in him. The chief of police who ruled Los Angeles by day with his cop-syndicate the way Mickey Cohen owned the night must've swallowed his pride when he dropped that nickel to make this call.
"Thank you, Chief Parker."
Jack hung up and flipped the switch to OFF.
Whatever it was at the scene waiting for Jack was sufficient cause to pull back a man like Bill Parker and his boys for twelve hours. Whoever gave this order had enough juice to rein in the LAPD.
Jack took the folder he was reviewing and walked it across the room. He opened the folder once more and reread the phrases 'malicious international spy' and, in Ronald Reagan's own choice of words, 'Asia's Mata Hari', before closing the cover and placing it inside the safe. His review will have to wait. He put on his holster and grabbed a jacket.
Betty came out on the porch as he was putting the key into the car door.
"I won't be long. Please kiss the children good night for me."
"Can't this wait, Jack? The children were expecting you to read to them tonight. Jack Junior set aside the book and you know Elizabeth will be crushed."
"It can't wait. I'm sorry. Tell them I'll make it up to them."
"You need to look them in the face when you tell them sorry."
He opened the door as his decision. She understood she dealt him the low card. "Want something for the road?"
"No thanks. I'll see you soon."
He closed the door with finesse. He couldn't help it if the children heard the car. He checked the mirror and saw her on the porch, still standing there, still disappointed and patient, as he drove off.
Detective Brown, sole man on the scene, walked him over to the body without introducing himself. Jack didn't give his name.
At six-fifteen the vet renting a room down the hall discovered the body. Detective Brown said the veteran was probably a hired hound doing a bag job - break-ins, surveillance, and the like. Recent veterans made the best candidates for that kind of work for Hoover, Jack thought. Worked cheap and they went the extra mile without Hoover's agents having to worry about technicalities like a citizen's rights going to law.
"What makes you think he was hired out?" Jack asked.
Brown, a man of few words, handed Jack his notebook, flipped over to the open page he marked Witness Statement and said politely, "Please read it. Words and writing are from the witness himself."
"The man was a no good 'commonist'."
"Nice spelling. A suspect?"
"No, sir. The coroner places the death around early afternoon, about 2ish. Our patriot was across the street drinking his lunch. I verified it."
Jack viewed the body. The man was fully dressed wearing a light weave gabardine suit costing at least twenty-five. The hardly scuffed oxfords had to cost as much as the suit, and the shirt and tie, both silk, put the entire ensemble near a hundred. Hardly class consciousness for an alleged Communist, Jack thought.
The corpse lying on his side reminded Jack of the children sleeping, minus the red pool seeping into the rug under the right ear. The dead man wore a small sapphire ring on his small finger, left hand. No wedding band. Nice watch on the wrist, face turned in. An odd way to read time. Breast pocket contained a cigarette case with expensive cigarettes, Egyptian. Jack recognized the brand from his work in the Far East. Ten cents a cigarette is nice discretionary income. Wallet in other breast pocket held fifty dollars, various denominations. Ruled out robbery or staging it. Identification card said Charles Loew, Warner Brothers. Another card: Screen Writers Guild, signed by Mary McCall, Jr. President. Back of card presented a pencil scrawl.
"Find a lighter or book of matches?"
Detective Brown shook his head. Jack patted the breast pockets again and the man's jacket's side-pockets. Some loose change, but nothing else. The man was unarmed, except for a nice pen. Much as he disliked the idea Jack put his hands into the man's front pockets. Nothing. He found a book of matches in the left rear pocket, black with gold telltale lettering, Trocadero on Sunset. Jack flipped the matchbook open and as he suspected, found a telephone number written in silver ink; different ink than the man's own pen. Other back pocket contained a handkerchief square Jack found interesting, as did Detective Brown.
"What's that?" he asked, head peering over for a better look.
"Not sure," answered Jack, unfolding the several-times folded piece of paper hidden inside the hanky. The unfolded paper revealed a bunch of typewritten names that had bled out onto other parts of the paper. It must have been folded while the ink was still wet. It didn't help someone spilt something on the paper. Smelled faintly of recent whiskey. Jack reviewed what he thought were names when he realized the letters were nonsense words.
"Might be a Commie membership list. Looks like code." But Brown zipped it when Jack folded the paper back up and put it into his pocket.
"The paper and the matches stay with me. We clear?"
"Uh, yes sir. The Chief told me himself to do whatever you said and not ask questions."
"Good. Other than the coroner - who else was here? Photographers, fingerprints?"
"Nobody else. Medical pronounced him dead, but nothing more. Chief had them called off to another scene - a multiple homicide, few blocks away. We're short-staffed tonight. The Chief said he'd send Homicide after you leave. They'll process the scene however you leave it. They won't know about the matches or the paper. Chief's orders."
Jack checked his watch. Man down, found at six fifteen. Chief called a little after seven. He arrived not much later than seven forty. The busy bodies would get the stiff by eight or eight thirty, the latest. Perfectly reasonable Jack thought. He squatted down to see the man's watch, noticing light bruising on the wrist and the throw rug bunched into a small hill near the man's time hand. Intriguing.
"Thank you, Detective. I'll be going now. If I speak to the chief I'll let him know you've done your job to the letter."
"You're welcome. Night."
Jack knew he and the chief would be speaking again.
Outside on the street, Jack pulled out his handkerchief and wiped both hands for any traces of dead man as he headed for the parked car. Compulsive habit. He pulled up the collar on his jacket. It was cold for late May.
The street sign said he was not far from Broadway. In this part of town thousands lived crowded in on themselves as lodgers in dilapidated Gothic mansions or residence hotels, working the downtown stores, factories, and offices, riding public transit and the other funicular railway in the area, Court Flight, a two-track railway climb towards Hill Street.
Los Angeles changed with the world. The war was over and there was a new war, possibly domestic, definitely foreign. Court Flight is gone, ceased operations. Its owner and his faithful cat had passed on. His good widow tried. In '43 a careless brush fire destroyed the tracks and the Board of Public Utilities signed the death warrant; and now Jack was hearing whispers Mayor Bowron planned to revitalize the area International Style, which meant dotting the desert city with skyscrapers.
Jack opened the door and sat behind the wheel a moment. He took the family once to nearby Angels Flight. Junior wondered why there was no apostrophe on the sign. Betty tolerated the excursion, indifferent to Los Angeles because she preferred their home in DC. He released the clutch. Betty disliked LA because it changed too much without reason. She might have had a point. He shifted gear. Pueblo city would level whole blocks of thriving masses just to create a parking lot. He pulled the car from the curb.
Excerpt from The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2019 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.
OTHER BOOKS BY GABRIEL VALJAN
The Company Files: 1. The Good Man
The Roma Series
Roma, Underground, book 1
Wasp’s Nest, book 2
Threading the Needle, book 3
Turning to Stone, book 4
Corporate Citizen, book 5
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabriel Valjan is the author The Company Files and the Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing. His stories have appeared in numerous publications, including several Level Best anthologies. He has been short-listed for the Fish Prize in Ireland, the Bridport Prize in England. His novella, Monday’s Mirage, won an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Prize. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and you can find him at Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. He enjoys the local restaurants in his corner of Boston’s South End.
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