After six very successful novels, Shamus Award and Benjamin Franklin Award winner and LA Times Book Prize nominee David Fulmer is the third acclaimed author to be published by Stay Thirsty Press. In his latest mystery, The Last Time, Fulmer delivers exactly what his legions of loyal fans expect in a riveting suspense novel:
Rough voices mutter in the darkness and a body tumbles from an outcropping of rock to land hundreds of feet below. The night goes still again as a life ends in one sad breath. So begins The Last Time, a mystery intertwined with a tale about the deepest bonds of friendship as it winds to a fevered climax of blood and betrayal, all caught in the glare of one deadly moment.
(photo credit: Bryanna Brown)
Fulmer, the author of Chasing The Devil’s Tail, Jass, Rampart Street, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues, The Blue Door, and Lost River, once again lives up to his reviews:
"Fulmer is both a fine plotter and a marvelously evocative writer with an eye for character."
- The Washington Post Book World (Lost River)
"Fans of hard-boiled writers like Raymond Chandler, Bill Pronzini, and James Lee Burke will enjoy Shamus Award winner Fulmer's latest. Highly recommended."
- Library Journal (Lost River)
“If you love a mystery with some punch, author David Fulmer delivers.”
- Southern Living (The Blue Door)
“David Fulmer is a fine writer.”
- Nelson Demille (Chasing The Devil's Tail)
“Fulmer brings us a novel dripping with detail, environment, and character.”
- Crime Spree Magazine (The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues)
If you are ready for more, we include an excerpt of the first two chapters from The Last Time.
© David Fulmer 2009
All Rights Reserved
Later, after it was all over, I spent some time thinking about how it was for him the last time.
In the dark of night, the shadows between the trees would have been full of ghosts. He would have dreamed of faces, of music and laughter, the smell of sweet smoke and the taste of red wine. The valley, spread out below, would have twinkled with gentle lights as the moon, out from heaven and making the rounds, floated on the river.
Realizing what was happening, he would have held fast to this vision as he went over the edge. Knowing Joey, and how brave he was, he might have shouted I’m flying as he left all the weight behind, escaping, leaving those on the ground with a final fuck you salute to their sick and bitter little souls, as he kept rising.
He started to fall, and I want to believe that before he came down for the last time, some merciful angel draped him in a shade of darkness that held blades of kind light on its horizon.
Isabel came into the kitchen and laid a gentle hand on my shoulder on her way to the coffeemaker. I could hear my daughters arguing as they got ready for school, a bit of busy music from their bedroom down the hall. The sun was butter melting over the rooftops as a start to one of those glorious days that convince you that even a wounded Manhattan is a marvelous place to live.
My wife brought her cup to the table just as the girls came in twittering like sparrows, their dispute resolved. I sat momentarily dazzled by their beauty, their small, oval faces and round, black eyes so full of light and life. They kissed the mom to whom they owed their looks and me and clattered out the door and into the elevator, like miniature humpbacks under packs that threatened to topple them.
In the sudden silence, Isabel left me to my paper and went to stand by the window and watch for them to emerge onto the sidewalk and clamber onto the waiting bus. It was an even day, her turn.
The horn tootled merry notes and the bus pulled away from the curb. Her face was wistful as she released her babies to the world once more. After one sweet sigh, she shifted into career gear, stuffing sketches, photographs, notes, and the other paraphernalia of the designer’s trade into her portfolio, launching her own busy Monday.
Our routine ended when I turned a page and saw the item that was wedged into the bottom corner. I said, “Oh, my God.”
The note in my voice caused Isabel to stop and stare. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t fucking believe it!”
She was starting to look alarmed. “What? What?”
“They sold the rights to ‘She Loves You’ for a TV spot.”
Her brow stitched. “Sold what for what?”
“‘She Loves You,’” I said. “The Beatles song. They sold the rights. They’re going to use it in a fucking TV spot.”
“Oh.” She shrugged and went back to organizing her case. She must have felt my frown over the top of the page, because she turned back around and said, “What?”
“Oh? That’s all?”
“They do it all the time.”
“It’s not a --”
“And you bitch about it all the time.” She snapped her portfolio closed and smiled at me. “Such drama.”
“I know, but this is not just any song. It’s different.”
She regarded me for a bemused moment. “Oh, yeah? How?”
I laid the paper aside. “I remember the very first time I heard it,” I said. “Exactly where I was, who I was with, every detail.” I tapped my forehead. “It’s right here, stopped in time forever, like a photograph. How often does that happen?”
Something in my tone caught her and she took a sip from her cup and cocked her head to one side, waiting for more.
“Don’t you have to get to work?” I said.
“I’ll go in a minute,” she said. “I want to hear this. Go ahead. Tell me your story.”
We were in my room in our half-double on Queen Street. I was sitting at my desk and Joey was sprawled on my bed, his arms folded behind his head as he gazed up at the ceiling. We were doing nothing, talking about nothing, lazing away a long Saturday afternoon. It was too cold to go outside and there was really nothing to do in a little town like Wyanossing, anyway. We were gangly twerps with bad haircuts. Even in those days, I was the serious one and Joey the clown.
The music trickling from my little Philco AM was so bland that it faded into the beige walls of my room, a hypnotic saccharine drone that pitched us into our private musings. What do eleven-year-olds think about? Who knew? Girls and games, mostly. I could see through the window the profile of Nock Hill, the ridge of blue Appalachian granite that ran along the other side of the river. It was a dull mount except for Council Rock. The Susquehannock tribe had regarded the jutting promontory as sacred. Or so went the local history. Winter clouds were hanging dark and low and the three radio towers atop the hill blinked in melancholy rhythm, lonely beacons in the gray afternoon.
Some time went by and I sensed that the DJ’s voice was winding up with a sudden urgency. At first, I thought it was a news bulletin. Then I heard “new combo” and “the British Isles.” By the time he reached a staccato “Liverpool,” “screaming girls” and “huge!” he was almost shrieking.
Joey suddenly cranked upright, flailed his hands in the direction of the radio, and yelled, “Turn it up!”
I jerked to attention and fumbled for the dial, almost knocking the old Philco off the desk and through the window in the process. I twirled the plastic knob just in time to catch the roll of a tom-tom, and then a sudden rush of music gushed from the speaker, jangling guitars, voices in harmony, and a driven rhythm, so much and so fast, strange and familiar at the same time. It was every great song I had ever heard, distilled into the one that crackled with an energy that made the tiny speaker quake.
I lurched from my chair, gaping at the radio as if God himself had taken over the broadcast.
Joey was jumping up and down on my bed, his eyes popping out of his red face as he threw his arms around at crazy angles. Two minutes and twenty seconds later, it was over.
Joey’s body fairly vibrated. He said, “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, did you hear that?”
I heard; we heard: Joey and I.
Isabel had propped her chin on her hand to listen and her gaze remained fixed on mine.
“Something changed,” I said. “It was a goddamn H-bomb and my whole world got knocked off its axis.” I sat back. “I can remember maybe a half-dozen times in my life when that has happened. When everything just broke open and everything changed.” I blushed a little. “One was the first time I met you.”
She blinked and said, “Oh, honey,” and in a sweet daze, laid her hands over mine. I guess work would wait forever if I was going to go on like this.
“And when the girls were born,” I said. She knew that one far better than I ever would, and nodded.
“Anyway, for an twelve-year-old, it was big,” I said, tapping a finger on the paper. “My world was never the same again. It was that important. This one song, in that one moment.” I wiggled one of her fingers and said, “You must have had things happen like that.”
A moment passed and her gaze got dreamy. “I told you I went to Madrid one summer during college. Well, we were at the Prado and I got separated from my friends and wandered into one of the rooms, and there on the wall was the whole triptych of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.’ I sat on the bench for hours and just stared. They had to drag me out. When we got back on the street, it was like a different world.” She rubbed her arms as if she had a chill.
“That’s it,” I said. “And that’s the way I feel when I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Good Lovin’ and –”
“– and the beginning of ‘At Last,’” she said. “Those strings. And then that voice…”
I jabbed the article with my index finger. “Well, this was one of those for me,” I said. “And I remember it so well it could have happened yesterday. It was that clear.” I lifted my hand. “And now they’re going to use it to sell cat food.”
Isabel mused for a few more absent seconds, took another sip of coffee, and rose to her feet. Her day was calling.
I could afford to drift through my memories a little while longer. “I wonder what he’s up to now,” I said.
“Joey. The one who was there that day.”
The name brought a blank glance.
“Joey Sesto. I told you about him. He was my running partner all the time we were kids. And then after I left home, we hung out. At least for a while.”
She grabbed her keys off the hook. “I don’t think you ever mentioned him.”
Was that possible? “Wait, a minute,” I said. “You’re telling me we’ve been married for eight years and I nev –”
“Okay, nine years, and I never once mentioned Joey Sesto?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” she said, kindly declining to add that her memory was better than mine. “But it’s still a good story.”
I picked up the paper again, glared balefully at the headline, then slapped it back down on the table. “You know, the day will come when they get every song, down to the last one. The entire creative output of several generations of musicians will be reduced to jingles.”
She slung her bag over her shoulder and said, “Tell me again what it is you do for a living?”
I gave her a look.
“Sorry. Cheap shot.” She stepped around the table to kiss my forehead. “I’m sorry about your song.” As she went out the door, she said, “You’re cooking dinner tonight.”
After she left, I sat there, mulling the article some more. She was right all the way around. Who cared anymore? Half the spots on TV tried to ram something down viewers’ throats to the tune of a blast from the past. Most of the songs had no connection to whatever was being shilled; either that, or the connection was fractured to the point of inanity. The agencies that committed this fraud were sodomizing consumers’ best memories in order to get into their fat wallets. It was lazy and unimaginative, but it wasn’t a criminal offense. Too bad about that.
Isabel had also nailed me on a shameful truth: that I was an active soldier in the army that was employing this scorched earth policy. For the past two decades, I had worked as an actor and voice talent in the New York commercial world. That’s what I did for a living.
I stood and peered out the window just as my wife hit the sidewalk and headed off on the twelve-block walk to her office. I left my coffee, went into the living room, and thumbed through the CDs. It was the last cut. I cranked it as loud as the neighbors would tolerate. After the final “Yeah!” had faded, I wandered into the bedroom to dress for my day.
That morning, I had a breakfast meeting with my agent at a basement joint on 27th Street called Harper’s.
Sondra James is a rare creature, as agents go, a mama lion who will defend a loyal client to the death. She hates liars and sneaks and bullies. She has been put on the shit list at various times by producers and ad directors who did not like the way she stood her ground. This rarely lasted long, because the problem was never with her. An erring account exec, producer, or director would get spanked, the actor would be back on the shoot, and the production moved forward. Likewise, any client who tried to run something on her would be advised to leave town or make another career choice, because that person would be finished in the Five Boroughs, and Bergen County, too.
She was a direct, no-nonsense woman whose grandparents had migrated from Trinidad to Brooklyn. She was beautiful to my eyes, and had put me in my place when, early on, I tried to add something personal to our business relationship. Specifically, I got drunk and tried to jump her. Sondra was going through a divorce at the time, and I sensed a chance for a vacation on her lush island body.
Fortunately, her sharp wits overcame my wild impulse, and I ended up with a terrific agent and later a terrific wife. Though I admit that I still get jealous pangs whenever I see her with a man.
She made it harder for me by always looking great. On this day, she was wearing a tan skirt, knee-high boots and a black sweater that followed her curves. A headband held back her curls and shades masked her pretty gray eyes. She was some picture, and most of the heads in the place turned as she passed. With those looks and her radiant energy, a lot of people in the business thought she was crazy for not staying in front of the camera. But she knew what she was doing.
As soon as she sat down, Sam, her regular waiter, materialized at her elbow with an Absolüt Bloody Mary, no salt. It was a late morning ritual and she never drank more than one. She would follow it with coffee and a good brunch that would hold her until dinnertime. She placed business lunches on the same level as “meetings,” generally major wastes of time.
She took a sip of her drink and flipped open the folio she used to keep track of all the details of running a successful talent agency.
My mind didn’t often drift when I was with her, but some minutes went by and I felt a fingernail tapping the back of my hand. “Richard? Hello, sir?” I stared at her. “What about the spot?” She waved some papers in the air. “The Gelusite spot. The reason we’re sitting here.” When I didn’t answer, she said, “Were you not listening to me?” I knew she was irritated, because her Brooklyn accent blossomed.
I said, “I was, uh…”
“You were what?”
I shook my head, trying to dispel the mood. “It’s nothing. What was it, again?”
“We were discussing the Gelusite spot. At least I was. Are you on board?”
I thought about it for a moment, then smacked my hand on the table, rattling the silver. She gave me a startled look.
“Of course I am!” I said. “I’ll sell any goddamn thing they want. That’s what I do, right? Stand in front of a camera and pretend to be someone else in order to convince people to buy junk they don’t want or need.”
My voice had gone up, drawing looks from the diners at the next table. Sondra stared at me, puzzled and vexed. I folded my hands before me in a gesture of contrition and said, “Sorry. I read something in the paper this morning that kind of took the wind out of me.”
“Did somebody die?”
“More like something.”
I hesitated to tell her. I had muttered over what the agencies were doing with music before. It was one of those peeves that caused people around me to roll their eyes. But as one of the more senior of the actors on the New York scene, I got to do a certain amount of bitching. I repeated what I’d read in the Times.
“I know I complain about it.”
“All the time.”
“This was different. This one really mattered to me.”
“So what do you want to do?” Sondra said. “Quit the business? Get a law passed to forbid the use of songs that you love in spots?”
I said, “I love that idea.” But she was right. What could I do? No one cared and everything was for sale. I sighed and shook my head. “What were we talking about? Before, I mean.”
“Ah, yes...Gelusite…” I clasped my hands fervently. “Who wouldn’t be happy to use his or her talents to sell products that enhance the elimination of body wastes?”
She gave me a long look. “So is that a yes?”
I raised my hand to the passing waiter and asked for a Bloody Mary to match Sondra’s. And we didn’t discuss the Beatles or the criminal use of songs in commercials or any of the other things about the world that disappointed me. We just left all of it alone and instead went over the projects that were coming along. There was a time when I would have spent a few minutes bugging her about a movie role or some theater work. Not anymore; my face had become too recognizable. The path I had chosen made it next to impossible. No one would hire the funny guy in the Kia commercial.
After we finished, I grabbed a cab to the studio on the Lower East Side where we were doing reaction shots for a spot for… What was it this time? A lawn treatment that was guaranteed to grow greener grass. That was it.
All through the day, I kept flashing back on the Times article, and hearing “She Loves You,” thinking about the afternoon so long ago, and wondering what Joey would say if he could see me now.
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