Somebody Down There Wants To Kill Me

SHORT STORY by Willard Manus

"Somebody down there wants to kill me."

They were sitting on the deck of Frank's house, which was located on a hillside not far from the Hollywood sign. Charles looked closely at his friend
"What's going on, man?"

"A lot of bad shit."

Charles waited for Frank to explain himself but was met with silence instead. They sat over their breakfast Bloody Marys, eyes averted. The crows in the trees raised a racket. The sun was out but it wasn't strong enough to burn off the smog that obscured all of the nearby Hollywood sign.

A girl came out of the house; she was naked except for a tiny maid's apron. She had lustrous skin the color of maple syrup. In her hands was a serving tray.

"Does master require something to eat?" she inquired, in an exaggeratedly coquettish manner.

Frank answered her in the gangster's voice he had cultivated in his last film, Death Merchants. "Yeah, you! Lie down and spread your legs, bitch!"

The girl laughed and turned away, showing the perfect globes of her bare ass as she sashayed out.

Frank looked at Charles and said, this time in his own voice, "She's something, isn't she?"


Frank smiled and touched Charles' glass with his. "I'm glad you finally wised up and got the hell out of New York. Thought you'd never make the move."

"What can I tell you. Things were going pretty well there. I was working steadily, doing a lot of theatre."

"Theatre," Frank said, with a frown. "Theatre is for losers."

* * *

There was another girl living in the house, also young and sexy, with curly blonde hair, green eyes and pink skin. Her name was Sheree, she said, as she put down a mat and started doing exercises not far from where Charles was sitting and smoking a cigarette in the now-stronger sunlight.

"Frankie said you were his oldest friend."

"That's right. We grew up together."


"Brooklyn. Sheepshead Bay. Where's home for you?"

"Right here in L.A. I'm that rare thing, a native Angeleno," she said with a trace of a smile. Then she leaned over, stretched out her arms, and tried to touch her toes.

"You an actress, Sheree?"

"How'd you guess? I was in Frankie's last film. Played a hooker, of course. I'm always cast as a hooker or a biker babe."

"You okay with that?"

"Hell, yes. I'll vamp it up all they want, as long as they pay me my standard fee: five thousand a day, minimum three days' work."

Loud male voices, one of them Frank's, were heard coming from the house. As the argument continued, partially in English, partially in Italian, the mock-French maid reappeared, shaking her head. "It's getting hairy in there," she said. She had traded her frilly apron for jeans and a faded Pink Floyd T-shirt. Her feet were bare.

"I'm Barika," she said, turning her lounge chair around so that she faced Charles and Sheree. She dropped half a dozen celebrity magazines down on the table beside her.

"You're Italian, like Frankie, aren't you?"

"How can you tell?"

"You've got the same black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Of course, he's a lot more buffed than you are. You've obviously never lifted a weight in your life."

"That's not true. I once picked up a copy of War and Peace."

"Funny," she said, with a sideways look at Sheree. "He's very funny, isn't he?"

"Hilarious," Sheree said as she turned on her side and began paying attention to her hamstrings.

"You oughta get serious about working out," Barika said to Charles. "Muscle men do well in Hollywood. Look at Steven Seagall, Arnold Schwarzenneger and, of course, Frankie's hero, Sylvester Stallone."

"I hate working out," Charles said. "It reminds me of high-school phys ed--painful and boring."

"I agree," said Sheree from her exercise mat. "But if you want to make it here, you gotta have a bella figura."

"For a guy, it's abs and pecs," Barika explained. "For a gal, tits and ass."

* * *

Frank paced around in his small den, a dark, constricted look on his face.

"The sons of bitches won't give me a break," he said to Charles. "They're really breaking my cojones, man."

Again, Charles waited for an explanation; this time it was forthcoming.

"I went to the Moustache Petes for the seed money for my new film. I've done business with them before. Usually, I pay them back once the film's been released. This time, though, they moved up the due date."

"How come?"

"The production's in trouble. Two of the pre-sale deals we had with foreign distributors fell apart. The goombahs are afraid the film won't get made and they'll lose their money."

"What'd you tell them?"

"I tried to convince them that I'd find other distributors to help fund the project. I just need a little more time."

"Which they won't give you."

"Give that man a cigar!"

Charles eyed his friend.

"So what's your next move, Francesco?'

"Francesco? The last person who called me that was my sainted mother, when she was on her deathbed!"

"May she rest with the angels," Charles said. Then: "How much money do you need?"

"Two million."

"Jesus. That's a scary number."

"Not really. But the goombahs are acting like it's the U.S. mint. They are real pissed, Carlos. Like I said, somebody down there wants to kill me."

"How'd you get yourself into such a jam? You're an actor, man."

"I'm a lot more than just an actor. I've got my own production company. I produce and direct as well."


"Why? Because if you want to keep from gettin' screwed in this town, you gotta become a business man. You gotta learn how to wheel, deal and steal."

"But is all the hassle worth it?"

"What are you saying? How else could I promise you a role in my new movie, bring you out here and all, if I weren't a player?"

"I understand. But what good's being a player if it gets you in trouble with the Moustache Petes?"

"It's too late for regrets. I gotta take action, man, or those fuckin' guineas are gonna jam a redhot poker up my ass!"

"What kind of action are you talking about?"

"I'm gonna have to pay a visit to some spics in East L.A."

"I don't understand."

"It's very simple. They control a big piece of the drug trade in L.A."

"Jesus, Frankie, is that a smart thing to do?"

"Of course it ain't smart. Don't you think I'd rather be dealing with Warner Brothers or Universal Pictures? But since all the studios have turned me down, I gotta deal with
the Mexicans again."


"How do you think I was able to form my company, make my first feature? I raised the money by buying coke in East L.A. and then re-selling it in Hollywood."


"Why are you so shocked? Cocaine's the best business in the world, man. You can mark it up a hundred, five hundred percent, ifyou need to."

"But what happens if these people try to double-cross you?"

Frank reached into a nearby drawer and brought out a large, silver-plated pistol,
a Colt .45.

"Don't worry about me," he said. "I know how to protect myself."

* * *

Later that day, while waiting for Frank to return from East L.A., Charles stretched out on his bed for a nap. About ten minuteslater came a knock at the door. Half-asleep, Charles
raised himself with some difficulty and forced his eyes open.

It was Sheree and Barika. They entered the room together, both wearing mini-shorts and no tops. Barika had a cigarette in her hand, Sheree a plastic bottle of water. They sat down on either side of him.

"Frankie said we should look after you while he was gone," Barika said, with a sly little smile.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" asked Sheree, with mock-innocence.

Moments later they crawled into bed with him. As they snuggled up against him, giggling, Charles could smell their perfume, their body-lotion as well. He could also feel the late-afternoon sunlight falling on him.

Even though the sun had moved further west, toward the horizon, it now beat down on the Hollywood sign with a scorching intensity that made it look as if it were about to burst into flames.