Monday, March 28, 2005

Chapter 3

When Schwartz and I weren’t working a case, the daily schedule was rigidly fixed. Monday through Friday, everybody in the house was up by 7:30 a.m. for breakfast at eight. After breakfast, Schwartz would head with Mia to his large basement garage to work on his classic car collection. During this time, Beverly would do her gardening or housework or prep work for lunch while I wrote or edited in my room. By 10:00 a.m. Schwartz would make his first visit to his study to handle any of the day’s obligations, and on Mondays he would get together with Beverly to plan the menu for the week. We would all break from our tasks at 11:30 to gather in the dining room for lunch.

After lunch, Schwartz would take appointments or meet potential clients, and he would return to his garage at two in the afternoon. His afternoon garage time was usually approximately two hours, though he would occasionally sacrifice some of this time when circumstances dictated.

From four until the six o’clock dinner gong, Schwartz kept his schedule loose. Sometimes when he was working a case, these were the only two hours he would devote to doing actual investigative work. After dinner, Schwartz usually retired to his large library to read, or surf the Internet, or watch an old comedy movie. The only exception was the frequent movie nights he allowed himself which often fell on weeknights when the theaters were less crowded.

This was his unflagging schedule six days a week, but this day was Sunday. Sunday’s were different.

On Saturday night, Mia would borrow one of Schwartz’s cars and drive out to Bloomfield to spend Sunday with her grandmother. Schwartz would rise early Sunday morning, but Beverly and I would sleep-in while he prepared a starchy breakfast for us. After breakfast, we would read the Sunday papers, and then the three of us would climb into one of Schwartz’s cars, and we would drive Beverly to her old Irish/Catholic neighborhood to attend church services while Schwartz and I found a good brunch or explored antique shops or enjoyed a flea market. Any of a myriad possibilities. Eventually, we would retrieve Beverly from her old haunt downtown and head back to Hazelwood Avenue.

We would then spend the day doing nothing of substance, and at about four o’clock, Schwartz would head outside to his barbecue. What time we ate would depend on what he was cooking, but whatever he had prepared would be two things -- guaranteed; it would be meaty, and it would be unhealthy. Dinner on Sundays would last a couple of hours as Schwartz, Beverly and I entertained one another with stories and good-natured ribbing which eventually found us on the enclosed back porch where we would all continue our repartee over mixed drinks and sweet deserts until Mia returned and joined us at about eight-thirty. By eleven o’clock, we would usually wind down our evening and retire to start the weekly process over again at half-past-seven the following morning.

But this Sunday would be different -- at least for me. I was miffed. Schwartz had stolen my thunder at the movie theater the day before. I had absolutely zero desire to go antiquing or brunching or anything else with him that day.

To clarify, it wasn’t just that he had made a grander gesture than I had. That was just him. He never did things small when large was available. So the fact that my own protest against the dictatorial policies of movie theaters across America had been overshadowed by his own demonstration against line-cutters was only part of the cause of my pique. The real basis of my perturbation came after his fanfare when he had had to pay for several dozen movie tickets with my credit card.

Schwartz refused to carry either a credit card or a cell phone. As a result, we had entered into a bargain wherein I would lend him the use of mine when the need arose, and he would reimburse me with interest. Normally, this was satisfactory to us both as he was a wealthy man and had ready cash at his disposal with a simple trip to any of several local banks. However, I had just made a point of implicitly informing all assembled that I would not be coerced into acquiescing to unreasonable edicts, nor to financially supporting a food vendor masquerading as a playhouse whose product’s purchase amounted to a ransoming of a captive patron’s cravings. My feeling was that I had come to see and enjoy a movie, not to be blackmailed by my appetite into purchasing overpriced puffed grain and sugar water.

However, in under two minutes Schwartz had managed both to exceed my protest, and to undermine my moratorium on financial support of this cinematic fiscal terrorism. With free tickets in hand, every patron had extra money to spend on high-priced popcorn, overvalued soda and inflated candy. It was a feeding frenzy at the concession stand all thanks to my good credit rating.

And they still wouldn’t let me take in my hot chocolate!


I was still in my pajamas when I curled up in front of the television set in the den to watch the talking-heads shows that dominated the airwaves on Sunday mornings. As I flipped through the channels, I was lured in by the sight of the Overlord logo on the blue-screen behind Kent Calvin’s shoulder. I concentrated my attention in an attempt to catch up with what I had missed of his opening salvos. “... today is the producer of that program, Todd deMarc,” Calvin said, and I decided that I had probably not missed anything significant. I settled in to hear the rest of the segment.

As I watched, the camera widened to a two-shot, and at the dais next to Calvin was the producer himself, Todd deMarc, sitting in his usual posture with both arms folded nervously across his chest, his large hands tucked self-consciously out of sight. “Mr. deMarc has also produced such well known game shows as The Final Problem, Buzz On, Plot It Yourself, and Another Gambit. However, it is his latest sensation, Overlord, that has everybody talking,” Calvin was saying. “Now I should note that we had scheduled this interview with Mr. deMarc before the recent incident at the Overlord compound. But since the incident did occur, I would be remiss not to mention it at this time.” The host turned his attention to his guest.

“Mr. deMarc, welcome to Broadview.”

“Thank you, Kent,” deMarc said.

“I suppose the first thing we should discuss is the status of Overlord. I imagine that with the death of one of the contestants, the show will be preempted.”

“Not at all,” deMarc said with some urgency in his tone. “In fact, I just met with my attorneys, and they assure me that the courts have granted us a stay on any warrants or other court ordered documents which might interfere with the successful completion of our game.”

“I don’t understand,” Calvin said, and I was glad he said it because I didn’t understand what I was hearing either. “Doesn’t a murder investigation override any other concerns?”

“Well, I’m not a lawyer,” deMarc said, “but as I understand the law, it hasn’t been proven that a murder has even taken place.”

“Well, according to today’s Times, the coroner was able to show that Myron Lefkowitz had ingested a lethal dose of the pokeweed root that is growing wild on the Overlord set.” Kent Calvin was holding up a copy of that morning’s paper. “According to the article, the root was probably ingested as part of his dinner that evening.”

“Correct,” deMarc said, “and we’re still not sure how that root got into his food, but it seems very unlikely that anybody else put it there. The whole meal is on videotape. Our theory is that he poisoned himself.”

“Well, still, shouldn’t the police investigate the possibility that somebody else put it there?”

“They are investigating that possibility,” deMarc said reassuringly looking into the camera. “However, since every instant of Myron’s life was video-taped for weeks leading up to his death, and since he signed a waiver that holds us liable only for gross negligence, and since we don’t know that he didn’t die either of suicide or an accident, the judges in the circuit court agreed with our position that it would be unfair to the other contestants to interrupt the game at this point. Not to mention the fact that the network and their advertisers have invested quite a considerable sum.”

“But somebody may have been murdered,” Calvin said.

“Look at it this way,” deMarc said. “If somebody is found dead on the tracks in the New York subway, and they don’t know if it was an accident or a murder, until they find out do they stop all of the trains if they can help it? Of course not. It would inconvenience too many people. We are giving the police complete access to all of our videos and to the outside perimeter. We are also letting them interrogate the contestants privately through the use of the confessional.”

“The confessional?” Calvin asked.

“That’s what we call the private room that the contestants use to videotape their personal thoughts which we then edit into the program. The confessional is also the room where we communicate with the overlord to tell him how to sabotage the games, so while whatever goes on in that room is video-taped, it is not all broadcast. That makes it different from all of the other rooms which are available to watch on the Internet twenty-four/seven. The contestants are called into the room one at a time, and while they are there, the police can ask them anything they want. During the interrogations, our technicians will leave the room, and the police will have complete privacy and privilege with the contestants.”

Only in Hollywood -- I thought, and I flipped the station. I stopped again a few channels down the dial when I spotted Dale Martin’s artificial-looking yet strangely handsome face. He was on another network discussing Overlord with Clark Uberman of the news program About Entertainment. The camera was in a tight close up on Martin allowing the viewer a dentist’s eye view of the game show host’s constant smile. “I was very thorough in my examination of the situation before I ever agreed to take the job,” Martin was saying. “My agent was concerned that if there was another situation like the one back in sixty-eight, it could affect my career.”

“By situation, I assume you are speaking of the New Deal fiasco,” Uberman said.

“That’s right,” Dale Martin said.

“Wasn’t that also a Todd deMarc production.?”

“That’s why Mr. deMarc is so careful to assure that there can be no tampering with his games these days. He doesn’t want another repeat of the New Deal incident.”

I knew what the fiasco (as Uberman had called it) and the incident (as Martin had referred to it) was, because I had seen the movie based on the game show investigation. During the late nineteen-sixties, deMarc had produced a game show called The New Deal, hosted by an adept, nimble-fingered card dealer. The host dealt a poker hand and asked each contestant trivia questions, and based on their correct answers he would allow them the option to stay or draw. One of the shows gimmicks to build tension was that the dealer would shuffle the cards the entire time that he was quizzing the contestants. The problem was that the dealer had secretly gotten in cahoots with some of the players, and he had rigged a way that he could pass them the correct answers based on how he shuffled the cards. He was also able to manipulate which cards went to which players so that the games had more drama while his cohorts would always win.

Todd deMarc had been shown to have had no idea that this was going on behind his back. The dealer had tried to deflect the blame by claiming that deMarc had master-minded the whole thing, but his accusations wouldn’t stick and in the end just made the dealer look more cowardly. However, deMarc still faced criticism that he had been too hands-off thus allowing the atmosphere for the cheating to occur. When it was announced that deMarc was going to produce Overlord, there had been speculation that the premise of the show had been designed specifically to evoke memories of New Deal since the saboteur would be scheming how the game would be played with the production staff. However, since the object was to determine who the overlord actually was, this concern was moot.

There was still, however, the concern that the show’s host might select a favorite contestant to pass information to. “The way we have arranged things, I have no idea who the overlord is. There are accounting firms policing every facet of the show’s production. Everybody is bonded, and it’s all very very closely monitored. Frankly, it would be easier to sneak secrets out of the Pentagon.”

The camera cut to a new picture, a live shot of Clark Uberman in different clothes, and that was when I realized that I had been watching old video. “That was Dale Martin three years ago before the premier of Overlord. Joining me now is Dale Martin today to discuss the recent situation on the Overlord set. Welcome, Mr. Martin.”

“Thank you, Clark,” Martin said, his smile all but a memory.

“Mr. Martin, I understand that you are here today to make an announcement on behalf of the network,” Uberman said.

“That’s right, Clark,” Martin said. “I have been asked by ABS, the network that holds the rights to Overlord, and by the Los Angeles County police to announce a one-hundred-thousand dollar reward for anybody who can demonstrate how Myron Lefkowitz, a contestant on the current series of Overlord, was able to ingest a lethal dose of pokeweed.”

I sat bolt upright. Here was the opportunity I had been waiting for. It had all of the elements that made for a great story. There was a mystery, a promise of monetary reward, and I had the inside track. I knew the entertainment writer at Gamut magazine personally, and he owed me a favor. Now all I had to do was convince Schwartz.

Continue to Chapter 4