Catalogue


Making a killing /
by Warren Dunford.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
Los Angeles : Alyson Books, 2001.
description
323 p.
ISBN
1555836577 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Los Angeles : Alyson Books, 2001.
isbn
1555836577 (alk. paper)
catalogue key
4619484
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Lambda Literary Awards, USA, 2002 : Nominated
First Chapter


Excerpt

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9

If you read this and I have become a New Age cult zombie, please help me.

Being of sound mind and body as I type these words, I declare that I do not intend to join Ramir's cult tonight. And if I do join Ramir's cult through brainwashing or sheer force of peer pressure--then whoever reads this note has my full endorsement to kidnap and deprogram me as soon as possible.

Not that having a free will is doing me much good. But at least I have my own neuroses and not some wacko cult leader's.

For more than two months now, Ramir has been begging me and our friend Ingrid to come to an intro night for the Seven Gateways to Spiritual Success. We've always managed to politely yet firmly decline.

But I guess I've been particularly vulnerable lately--after getting fired from Five Fun Fish, the pseudo-educational kids' TV show that's been my main source of income for the past two years.

They always say cults prey on the weak.

Anyway, last night Ramir, Ingrid, and I were out for dinner at our habitual Hungarian restaurant, and I admit I might have been whining--worrying yet again about the wreckage of my career. "My agent just signed me up to write for another kids' show--something about a spunky cat who explores the world. Travels with Willie."

"That could be fun," Ing said, always eager to be optimistic. Then she winced.

"It gives me the willies even to think about it," I said. "I don't want to get permanently stuck in kiddy schlock. I keep wondering if I'm a one-hit wonder. One movie. One book. And it's not as if either was a big hit in the first place."

"They were both really good," Ingrid said for the ten-thousandth time, and Ramir nodded in agreement the way he always does.

The three of us have been best friends for the last four years--supporting each other through various career ambitions, love affairs, and other personal traumas.

"But the cat show doesn't start until next month," I explained, "and that means I've got four weeks to myself. And I've realized that I need to jump through my window of opportunity before it closes for good."

"So what are you going to do?" Ramir asked.

"I'm going to write the best screenplay of my life. Something totally commercial. A shameless box-office smash that'll help me get rich quick. Because a big-budget movie can pay a writer a million dollars. And once I have some cash behind me, I won't need to feel insecure like this all the time."

I could tell Ingrid was doubtful of my strategy. "So what are you going to write?"

"I'm still not sure about that part. I want to come up with a really catchy plot. Some sure-fire hook. But I can't think of anything. It's like I've hit a wall."

That's when Ramir lunged in for the kill. He set his raspberry soda on the table and radiated an expression of serene wisdom. "You know, Mitch, a lot of people say Dr. Bhandari has given them a creative breakthrough. You should really come to a meeting."

"Okay, I'll go," I said. I don't know what made me say it.

Ingrid glared at me as if I'd gone insane. Then Ramir grabbed hold of her hand. "You should come too."

"Tomorrow's no good," she said. "I have to finish another painting for the show."

Damn her quick thinking. Because in five minutes Ramir is picking me up to escort me to the cult.

I will now print out this document and stick it to my fridge--in case I inadvertently participate in a ritual mass suicide.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9

--LATER--

The house looked spooky.

It didn't help that the raging thunderstorm was a cliché right out of a horror movie. The sky was black and pelting down rain. And there was not a soul to be seen on the winding Rosedale street lined with stately old mansions, ominous trees, and lampposts with moon-like globes.

As Ramir climbed out the driver's side of his Land Rover, I tilted back my umbrella and examined the house. Full-blown Victorian Gothic--like Dracula's castle or some gloomy mansion in a book by a Brontë sister. Three storeys of dark red brick topped by a steeply angled roof of gables, turrets, and chimneys.

"You're sure they don't do devil worship?"

"It's phenomenal, isn't it? Some famous architect built it back in the 1880s."

"You'd think a cult would pick a headquarters that's a bit more cheerful."

"Mitch, I told you, the Seven Gateways isn't a cult."

"No cult ever admits it's a cult."

We hurried up the circular driveway, leaping over puddles in the chilly autumn damp. The path was lit with old-fashioned gas lamps. Tiny flames danced in the raindrops.

"I wish you'd calm down," Ramir said. "You're going to have a great time. I've got a special surprise all set up."

"I don't want any surprises tonight."

"Have I ever steered you wrong?" In fact he had. Hundreds of times. But he smiled in that way that's so infectiously enthusiastic, you can't help but go along.

We climbed the stone steps to the front entrance. A brass plaque on a pillar gleamed in the rain:

THORNFIELD MANOR

NINE THORNFIELD ROAD

I'd never been in a house with a name.

Ramir opened the massive carved door as casually as if he were entering his own home.

"Don't you think it's sort of suspicious that a spiritual guru lives in such an expensive place?" (Ramir had finally confessed Dr. Bhandari's price list: $250 an hour for psycho-spiritual therapy, plus an additional $5,000 to learn each of the Seven Gateways.)

"Dr. Bhandari used to be one of the top psychiatrists in Toronto. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with making money, Mitch. If you believe there is, then you'll never make any yourself."

"You don't have to join a cult to learn that. You can just watch Oprah."

We stepped through a small vestibule into a massive front hall painted ivory. A grand staircase rose before us, and a marble fireplace was angled in the corner. Doors led off in every direction. This was the kind of house that had inspired the game of Clue.

"It really is incredible," I had to admit.

"Wait until you see the rest," he said, smiling with more proprietary pride. Ramir is 30--blessed with boyish good looks and a café-au-lait complexion. He was born in Trinidad, but he moved to Canada when he was 5, and deep down he's just as suburban as I am. But as an actor, he's always playing up his ethnic versatility and exotic allure.

"I warn you," I said, "I'm still not signing up for anything."

"You just have to relax and get into the flow of the universe, Mitch. Once you do that, I bet you'll get a great idea for your script right away."

A young man rushed toward us from one of the many doors. Short with reddish-blond hair, freckles, and a tight-clipped reddish beard--a cute Jesus. He wore a snug black sweater that showed off a gymnast's physique.

He stopped two feet in front of us--just a bit too close for comfort.

"Say it," he said to Ramir, nodding and grinning. He had an adorable tiny nose. "Come on, say it."

Was there some kind of secret password?

"Greetings from KerrZavia," Ramir nasally droned. His standard opening line on Station Centauri.

Jesus laughed in appreciation. "I love it when you say that."

Ramir flashed his winning smile. Unfortunately, on the TV show in which he stars, all his best features are buried beneath an inch of latex and makeup.

Jesus was still nodding and grinning. "So how are things going on the show?"

Ramir went into his standard PR mode. "Terrific. We just finished the last episode of the season. We don't start shooting again until April."

"I even watch the reruns," Jesus said. "Do it one more time?"

"Only because it's you." Ramir returned to his nasal alien voice: "Greetings from KerrZavia."

"That's so great!" He hugged Ramir energetically, and they glowed in mutual joy.

"Kevin, this is my friend Mitchell Draper. It's his first time at a meeting."

"Welcome, Mitchell," Kevin said, and he immediately engulfed me in an identical hug, his short muscular body pressed tight against my tall gangly one. Which actually felt extremely good. He looked me in the eyes, warmly and steadily. "Tonight has the power to change your future."

"Terrific," I said, hoping to sound a tad cynical. But in truth I sort of liked the idea of changing my future.

More cult zombies were coming in behind us. Kevin took our jackets and rushed off for more hugs.

I whispered into Ramir's ear, "Have you had sex with him?"

"He's straight."

"That's never stopped you before."

Ramir put his arm around my shoulders. "No need to be jealous, Mitch. You know I love you the most." (The two of us slept together once back when we first met, and Ramir likes to keep up the pretense of flirting.)

I shook his arm off.

"Who is Kevin anyway?"

"Dr. Bhandari's personal assistant. He lives here in the house."

"They live together?"

"Not like that. Dr. Bhandari is straight too."

"So when do I get to meet the mysterious Dr. Bhandari?"

"He stays up in his meditation room until just before the meeting. Come on, everybody else is in the back."

Ramir guided me toward the stairs, then to the left and through a maze of rooms and hallways. We stepped through tall double doors and entered, to my amazement, a grand ballroom--already abuzz with 50 or 60 disciples.

The room was stunning. The extra-high ceiling was detailed with a multilayered pattern of squares and diamonds--all white. Rows of elegant white chairs covered the hardwood floor. The left wall was a line of French doors adorned with sheer curtains.

"Can you believe somebody built a room like this in their own home?"

"I've never seen anything like it," I said.

The disciples stood in intimate clusters of three and four, some hugging, some clutching each others' hands in earnest confessions. A few loners were seated with their eyes closed--reliving past lives or astrally projecting to Pluto.

Actually, they all looked remarkably uncult-like. No shaved heads or violet robes. Most wore business suits or expensive designer casual wear. It made sense when I thought about it. They'd have to be rich to afford Dr. Bhandari.

  "Am I the only new recruit?"

"Of course not. But most of the people here have gone through the Gateways already. They just like to come to the intro nights for sharing."

"I'm an only child. I hate sharing."

From the far side of the room, a woman came sailing toward us. Luxurious auburn hair, intelligent wide-set eyes, luscious mouth.

Gabriella Hartman.

My heart leapt to my throat. For years Gabriella Hartman had been a sex symbol on nighttime soap operas and TV movies. She'd starred in a bad sitcom and was the spokeswoman on an infomercial for hair-care products. Now, in her late 40s, she'd risen to the status of cult figure as Commodore Lisa Rutledge on Station Centauri.

Ramir loves dropping her famous name, but in two years he'd never found an opportunity for Ingrid and me to meet his illustrious costar.

Gabriella enveloped Ramir and pressed him to her breast. "Darling, I am so delighted! You convinced him!"

Did "him" mean me?

"And he does look like a young Bruce Dern," she said. "Only with more hair."

She was talking about me.

Then Gabriella turned and clenched both of my hands in hers. "Mitchell Draper," she said, "it is such a pleasure to finally meet you."

"I'm Mitchell Draper," I said, not believing she'd actually uttered my name.

She clapped in delight. "Now I'll never forget you."

"I see you on TV every week. Ramir talks about you all the time." I was in my babbling mode. I'm always easily starstruck.

"He talks even more about you," she promised. "Isn't it ridiculous that we haven't met before now? Ramir tells me you're a brilliant writer. Now, what was the name of your film?"

I cringed. "Hell Hole. It was a horror movie. It came out last year."

"I think I've heard of that," she said. Which is what everyone says who's never heard of it.

"It only played for a week in movie theatres. But it's supposed to be doing better on video."

"And you wrote a novel as well?"

"Sort of a roman à clef. Nobody's heard of it either."

"Mitchell, my dear new friend, I know exactly how you feel. Ramir was saying you're trying to come up with your next script. Those follow-up efforts can be the most daunting. The notorious 'sophomore jinx.' So much at stake. So much fear and self-doubt. I know from personal experience. That's why I think it's so wonderful that you're going through the Gateways."

"Actually, I haven't made an official decision."

"But Mitchell dear, you must."

"I'm just here to check things out."

"May I tell you the absolute truth, Mitchell? I credit Nigel Bhandari for reviving my entire career. And no actress has been washed up more times than I have, as the tabloids so love to report. Would you believe that I received my role on Station Centauri the very day I went through the Second Gateway?"

"What happens in the Second Gateway?"

She winked at me. "I know what you're up to."

"What am I up to?"

"You won't trick me into giving away any secrets! And I hope our gorgeous Ramir Martinez hasn't been spilling the beans." She tweaked Ramir's chin.

"Not a word," he swore.

"And tonight will be particularly powerful, Mitchell," she said, "because I'm going to be making a special announcement about a creative breakthrough of my own. Are you burning with curiosity?"

I nodded eagerly, as I was supposed to.

"We'll chat again later, do you promise?"

I promised. She flitted off.

"Did you like your surprise?" Ramir asked, grinning. "You always said you wanted to meet her."

"Is she always like that?"

"Like what?"

"So...larger than life."

"Mitch, you're being a bitch." Ramir loves to say that.

"Sorry. It's nice that she was so supportive." But I never dreamed I'd be getting the high-pressure sales treatment from one of Entertainment Weekly's 101 Stars Who Just Won't Give Up. "Do you really talk to her about me?"

"Of course. All the time."

"What do you say?"

"That's personal," he said, flirting again.

"I bet you called her this afternoon and coached her. So anyway, what do you learn in the Second Gateway?"

"I can't tell you."

"Of course you can tell me."

Ramir primly shook his head. "You have to sign a nondisclosure agreement."

"Now that's really creepy."

A gong donged. I noticed Kevin standing at an old-fashioned cymbal dangling on a cord--like a butler summoning us to dinner.

"It's time to get started," Ramir said, and he took me by the arm.

There was no escape now.

I

"Let's sit near the front," Ramir said, leading me to the third row.

At the head of the room, a massive white marble fireplace was framed by slender windows. A white lectern and a single white chair waited for our leader.

"There's not going to be any audience participation, is there?"

"They might ask a few questions."

"They're not going to drag me up to the front, are they? I won't have to levitate or walk on burning coals?"

"Mitch, I wouldn't have brought you if I didn't think it was worthwhile. I'm not a total flake, you know."

"I'm sorry. I guess I've been going too far."

"Just listen to what they have to say."

"But I'm really not going to enroll in anything. I couldn't afford it even if I wanted to."

"Don't worry about the money," Ramir said, implying personal financing. Station Centauri pays him $10,000 per episode--22 episodes per year.

"I couldn't let you..."

"It's just that you haven't been yourself since Ben left."

That caught me by surprise.

At the end of August, my boyfriend Ben had moved to Vancouver to go back to university. It was a total shock. He hadn't even told me he'd applied. Admittedly, I was sort of a mess for a while. "But I'm over that now," I said.

"I've been worried about you."

It was strange to think of Ramir being worried about me. I thought it was Ingrid and I who were worried about him. "There's nothing the matter with me."

"I just know how helpful Dr. Bhandari can be. Honest to God, Mitch, the Seven Gateways are changing my life."

"Your life was great already. An amazing job. You bought a new house. You have a new boyfriend every two weeks."

"You know all that stuff doesn't matter."

"At least you're a legitimate success, not some permanent wannabe."

Ramir stared me in the eye. "Mitch, I have to tell you something important. I should have told you this before, but I didn't want to talk about it to anybody when it happened."

"What is it?" I knew it must be serious.

"Back in the summer, they almost fired me from Station Centauri."

I felt my throat clench and my stomach sink--just a fraction of what Ramir must have felt. "Why?"

"It was after my father died. I couldn't memorize my lines. I was always late. I was fucking up all the time."

I remembered that period well.

"So the producers gave me a warning. Then Gabriella dragged me into her dressing room and told me about Dr. Bhandari. I came with her to an intro night. And I straightened out the next day."

We sat in silence for a moment.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I couldn't. My whole world would have fallen apart if I lost the show."

I stared straight ahead. I hadn't had a clue.

"So listen to what Dr. Bhandari has to say, OK?"

The rest of the crowd took their seats, and silence quickly settled. I noticed that everyone else had closed their eyes. Including Ramir. So I succumbed to the peer pressure and shut mine too.

I was still shaken by Ramir's revelation.

After his father had the heart attack, Ramir fell into a frenetic depression, obsessively going to the gym, taking steroids, then ecstasy, then various other illegal substances. That's why Ingrid and I thought the Gateways were just another crazy addiction.

I felt a rush of guilt. What if Ramir were right? What if the Seven Gateways to Spiritual Success really were the answer? Why did I automatically want to presume the whole thing was a fraud?

I opened my eyes and glanced around at all the peaceful, meditating faces.

I checked my watch. We'd only been sitting there for two minutes. I closed my eyes again.

I thought back to the stack of anticult pamphlets my mother had given me when a Mormon family moved in down the street. She'd given me a similar series of pamphlets when I told her I was gay.

I thought about Ben, who was now enrolled in Environmental Studies at the University of British Columbia.

For a brief moment, after he told me his plans, I'd imagined moving to Vancouver with him. There's lots of TV and film production out there. Maybe I'd have more luck.

Then Ben said he intended to go by himself, and I realized he was dumping me. He pointed out that he'd been suggesting we move in together for more than a year, and all that time I'd kept saying I needed to live alone so I could write. I thought living together had become a mutual running joke, but it turned out he'd been deadly serious.

At first, I was noble and understanding, and we carried on as normal. But about a week before he left, we had a huge yelling match during which he implied that I have unrealistic ambitions and that maybe I should reconsider my career.

We decided not to communicate for a while.

I checked my watch again. Six minutes.

But what if Ben had been right about my writing? I couldn't help wondering, after my dismissal from Five Fun Fish. The producers said they wanted to "try a fresh approach." Which was a polite way of telling me I'd lost my flare for witty repartee between a macho shark and a slutty tuna.

I've written three other scripts since Hell Hole, and my agent hasn't been able to get a producer interested in any of them.

And now I'm destined for Travels with Willie.

I was hit with a fresh wave of panic. The pressure to come up with a brilliant screenplay idea. The meditation obviously wasn't working.

Actually, I've occasionally experimented with meditation on my own to help deal with my chronic neuroses and panic attacks. But after five minutes, I get bored and turn on the TV instead. I watch The Shopping Channel. Even though I never phone in to buy anything. But somehow the incessant chatter seems to drown out the chatter of my mind.

The gong sounded again. My eyes immediately popped open.

And there, at the lectern, was Dr. Nigel Bhandari. At least I presumed it was him.

His skin was a soft brown--just slightly darker than Ramir's. Thick black hair, lightly flecked with grey at the temples. He wore a camel-coloured cashmere turtleneck.

"Welcome to each and every one of you," he said. His speech had a formal British/East-Indian rhythm. His face was sensual and calm, his cheeks almost cherubic.

I leaned forward in eager anticipation. Finally I'd find out what made Ramir and Gabriella so devoted to this man.

"I would like to begin this introduction to the Seven Gateways as we always do. I would like to invite those of you who are already experiencing the gifts of the Gateways to please tell us of your current successes and to make decrees for the future."

He smiled--no, actually he beamed--at his audience. And he sat on the white chair beside the lectern. Was that all he was going to say?

Automatically, a woman in the front row stood up. "This morning when I was washing the dishes, I felt so happy. Normally, when I'm washing the dishes, I get bored or annoyed. But today I just washed the dishes--and it was so peaceful!"

She sat. And everyone applauded.

Hmm. Wouldn't a woman rich enough to see Dr. Bhandari be able to afford a maid to do the dishes? Or at least she could buy a dishwasher.

A man stood. "I decree that within six months I'll be CEO."

Short and to the point. Everyone applauded.

"I called my father today." Everyone craned their necks to see Kevin standing at the back of the room. "If any of you remember the story, my father was really angry when I left my teaching job to volunteer here at the Gateways. But I decreed I was letting go of all that. And we got along really well today. At the end of the conversation, he said, 'Maybe those Moonies are doing you some good after all.' "

People laughed with knowing condescension and applauded. Kevin sat.

Then Ramir stood, and the crowd gazed attentively upon his tall, leanly muscular frame--built through five sessions a week with Kristoff, one of Toronto's hottest personal trainers. "I decree that I am starring in a major feature film."

The crowd applauded and Ramir sat. I gave him the supportive pat on the leg you're supposed to give when someone beside you stands up and says something.

An eager young male executive explained that being fired from his job meant that his Higher Power must be saving his time for something more valuable. Then an eager female executive announced that she'd had her first short story accepted by an obscure literary 'zine. As if that would actually help her publishing career. But I shouldn't be so bitter.

This went on for an hour--numbing to both mind and buttocks. People decreed about business deals and being reunited with adopted daughters. They spoke about the beauty of leaves turning red on a maple tree and receiving unexpected cheques in the mail. They made new decrees and explained the results of old decrees, while Dr. Bhandari sat there at the front, nodding sagely.

Not a single person made a single reference to the Seven Gateways.

Then, after a long, oddly peaceful silence--maybe it was over?--Gabriella stood in the front row. She turned and gazed meaningfully into every corner of the room.

"As many of you know, I am not only an actress, I'm also a singer. I did a few Broadway shows in my time--Luther and Nobody Loves an Albatross. And of course I had a number-one hit on the radio."

The crowd applauded. Gabriella's smiling lips performed facial calisthenics.

I remembered her big single from the mid '80s--a wailing middle-of-the-road ballad called "Babe, You Make My Heart Break."

Gabriella placed a hand over her famous breast. "In the past few months, I've been feeling called to bring the power of song back into my life. I've always been fascinated by Celtic music. And now, I decree that the music of the Emerald Isles is flowing across the ocean and pouring right from my heart."

After Gabriella had been applauded, Dr. Bhandari stood again. "Thank you, everyone, for your generosity this evening in sharing your experiences. I would now like to announce a very special upcoming event. On Friday, October the 30th, we will be hosting our annual gala for The Centre for Spiritual Success. Tickets will be $500 per person. And the highlight of the evening will be a special musical performance by Gabriella Hartman."

Gabriella rose again and nodded graciously to incite more applause.

"I haven't been to one of their parties yet, but I've heard they're amazing," Ramir whispered. "You'll have to come."

There was no way I was spending $500 on a ticket.

"We will now have a 10-minute break," Dr. Bhandari said, "and then we will reconvene for meditation--each according to your own Gateway. The new guests are invited to join me for a special introduction."

Everyone stood and began to mill about.

I pulled Ramir to a quiet spot by the French doors. Rain was still streaming down the panes.

"What were all those people talking about?"

"It's subtle. You're supposed to see the simple changes the Gateways bring to your life," Ramir said. "That's what it's about. Helping you appreciate what's wonderful about your normal everyday existence."

"I thought Dr. Bhandari would give a better explanation of the whole thing."

"He does that in the next section."

"Is that when he starts the hard sell? When he's got us locked in a tiny room?"

"Mitch, there's no hard sell. You should have realized that by now."

"So how does he get people to join his cult?"

"The Seven Gateways is not a cult," said Dr. Bhandari. He'd been standing right behind me.

My stomach lurched. "I was just teasing Ramir," I said. "I know it's not a cult."

"It's not a word we care to repeat."

"Sorry. Sorry."

Ramir took charge. "Dr. Bhandari, this is my best friend, Mitchell Draper."

He shook my hand. "Good evening, Mitchell." His rich brown eyes seemed heavy with wisdom, but strangely sealed off. "May I tell you, Mitchell, my explanation of why these evenings are so powerful?"

It was a rhetorical question, but he seemed to expect an answer. "Please," I said.

"Everyone receives precisely what he has come for."

"That's great," I said, not really sure what he meant.

"The second part of the evening should tell you more of what you want. But, Mitchell, if there is anything further you wish me to explain, please feel free to call or drop by the house for a visit."

"Thanks. That's nice of you."

"I sense you would benefit greatly from the Seven Gateways."

I bet he says that to all the boys.

"Now, Ramir, I would be grateful if you would do me a special favour."

"Of course," Ramir promised, prematurely.

"It's a very large favour, in fact. I would like you to help organize our upcoming gala."

Clearly, Dr. Bhandari didn't know that Ramir had a hard enough time coordinating his sex life.

Ramir seemed taken aback. "Uh, umm, it'd be an honour."

"Perhaps we can discuss this on the phone tomorrow morning."

Dr. Bhandari moved on to his other devotees.

Ramir turned to me, sparking with excitement. "You have no idea what a compliment that is."

"Asking you to volunteer is a compliment?"

"It is when you're in charge of an event like that. You wouldn't believe all the famous people who've gone through the Gateways. And Gabriella's manager will be flying in from L.A. He's got connections to everybody in Hollywood."

"So there's a business angle to it too."

"Of course there's a business angle. I mean, I love Station Centauri, but I still want to get into a movie. I don't want to be stuck in sci-fi for my whole career. It's like you and your kids' shows."

"Intergalactic Travels with Willie."

Gabriella rushed to Ramir's side. "You said yes, I hope? Oh, how wonderful! It's going to be an absolutely magical evening." She grabbed my hands again. "You'll come too, won't you, Mitchell? I'll need everyone to send their positive energy."

"I'll send you all I've got."

Gabriella's arm flailed into the crowd, and she drew a woman toward her--a Chinese woman, clad in black leather, with jet-black hair frizzed out in a perm. Fuchsia lipstick burst against her golden skin. She looked like a groupie with a rock band.

"I want you to meet Jane Choy, one of the world's absolute best psychics and a dear, dear friend of mine."

"Nice to meet you," Jane said. While her fashion sense was garishly North American, her accent was distinctly Chinese. She looked fidgety, restless to get away. She barely glanced at me.

"Jane is guiding my singing career. I never make a decision without her."

Jane nodded as if she'd heard this before. "Gabriella's always trying to butter me up so I'll give her better predictions."

Suddenly, Gabriella and Ramir were yanked away by another Station Centauri admirer, and Jane and I were left in that awkward cocktail-party situation--suddenly missing the mutual friends who had provided our communication link.

"So is this your first time at a meeting?" I asked.

Jane finally focused on me. Her eyes locked on my face. Then her gaze lifted upward. She became transfixed, staring at something above my head.

"Is there something in my hair?" I asked, raking my fingers through the clump. "I'm always getting stuff stuck in there."

Jane shook her head, like a dog shaking off water.

"You should come see me for a reading," she said. "I'm getting very strong vibrations."

"Vibrations?"

"I feel a mystery around you."

"A mystery?"

She let out a burst of manic laughter, as if I'd said something hysterically funny. "You think this is some big line, right? Some gimmick to get new clients."

"No, not at all." Though clearly she could read my mind.

"I don't do this for everybody." She handed me a business card. "You call this number. Tell Vilma I said you should come see me right away. But don't expect a discount!"

"I'd never dream of it," I said. Now I was being pursued by two New Age quacks. "So, are you sticking around for the second part?"

"No way. I want to get out of here. This house spooks me."

As Jane rushed from the ballroom, I slid her business card into the back pocket of my pants.

Ramir came back to my side. "Isn't she wild?"

"She wants me to come see her for a psychic reading."

"That's weird. I wonder why she didn't ask me."

The gong sounded again, and Dr. Bhandari spoke to the crowd from beside the double-door entrance. "Would all our first-time guests please join me here?"

I looked at Ramir in a panic.

"It's going to be fine," he promised and gave me a shove.

I

Ten sacrificial lambs congregated around Dr. Bhandari. We smiled nervously at each other--all harbouring secret loathing for the friends who had brought us.

Dr. Bhandari smiled placidly. "If you would all come with me to the drawing room."

He set out through the maze of the house, and we followed our shepherd obediently. Once we'd made it back to the front hall, he opened a door to the most normal-looking room I'd seen so far. The furniture looked genuinely antique, but the fabrics were bright and contemporary--lavender and chartreuse. White walls. The ceiling was a weave of plaster diamonds with ornate cornice mouldings. Hanging in the centre was an old-fashioned gold chandelier.

A dozen white chairs from the ballroom were lined up in four short rows facing yet another fireplace. I sat at the back.

Dr. Bhandari stood before us. He closed his eyes and breathed. He opened his eyes and smiled beatifically. "The Seven Gateways to Spiritual Success are actually seven techniques of meditation, corresponding to the seven chakras of the body. Using these seven meditations, I have developed the first methodology for making dreams come true. By aligning internally, we connect with the universe and transform thoughts into physical reality." He smiled again, demonstrating his enlightenment.

"Before we discuss the details of business, I want each of you to enjoy a taste of the Seven Gateways. To begin, I would like you each to make a decree to the universe. State your dream, in the present tense, as if you are experiencing your dream right now. For example, 'I decree that I am flying my own airplane,' or 'I decree that I enjoy a loving and supportive relationship with my spouse,' or 'I decree that I possess cosmic consciousness.' "

The biggest suckers chuckled at Dr. Bhandari's cosmic in-joke.

He motioned to a woman in the front row. She hesitated a moment and cleared her throat. "I decree that I will learn to speak Spanish."

"In the present tense, please."

"I decree that I am speaking Spanish."

"Good."

Was I the only one who found that odd?

"I decree that I am living a healthy nonsmoking lifestyle."

"I decree that I am facing my fear of driving a car."

Being in the back row, I was the last to decree.

"Mitchell?" Dr. Bhandari prompted.

I was reluctant. I felt silly. My decree would sound ridiculous. But it was the reason I'd come. "I decree that I am writing an exciting blockbuster screenplay."

"Are you certain that is what you genuinely want, Mitchell? Or is there something deeper that you feel is missing from your life?"

"No, that's what I want."

Why was he picking on my dreams and nobody else's?

"Very good, then. Now, I would like to lead you in a brief, most basic meditation. Everyone, please, sit up straight. Uncross your legs. Hands on your knees. Close your eyes. Now simply follow your breath. Feel it coming in your nose, down your windpipe, filling your lungs, expanding your chest. Now let it go..."

He repeated himself.

Oh God, no wonder he was giving this away for free. This was Meditation 101, available in any how-to book or early-morning yoga show. Any minute he'd be swinging a pendant on a gold chain, intoning, "You're getting sleepy, ver-r-ry sle-e-epy."

I wasn't concentrating. I wasn't relaxing. I was thinking about how much money Ramir was wasting on this overprocessed spiritual pabulum. And how there's no way he'd listen to any serious critique. I felt worried about him all over again.

I opened my eyes and looked around at my fellow neophytes, all with eyes closed. Dr. Bhandari's eyes were closed as well, the model of peaceful enlightenment. I gazed around the lavishly decorated room. Clearly, this house had cost a fortune. A lot of people must have walked through the Gateways to pay for all these antiques.

I wondered about the home's previous owners--the decades of WASPy Rosedale matrons sitting in this very room for afternoon tea parties. How bewildered they'd have been if they'd known someday people would be sitting in the same room discussing chakras.

I looked at the ceiling and examined the chunky gold chandelier--the kind with five arms, each holding a glass dish. Four arms held white dishes with stripes, but the fifth dish was decorated with a floral pattern.

Dr. Bhandari caught me gazing around. He made a gentle motion with his hand, bringing his fingers down over his eyes, indicating that I should shut mine.

So I obeyed and followed the rest of his instructions. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

CUT TO:

INTERIOR. DARK ROOM--NIGHT

Looking up at the fine crack of light at the top of a door frame. From the angle, the viewer must be lying down. Restless camera motions. The sound of heavy, rapid breathing.

A TALL FIGURE steps into frame, looming above. The room is so dark, the TALL FIGURE's face can't be seen.

A low grunting sound.

The TALL FIGURE bends forward, swiftly lowering a hand.

The camera jerks and everything goes black.

CUT TO:

My head snapped up.

Everyone in the room was staring at me.

I could only have been asleep for a moment.

"Was I snoring?" I asked no one in particular.

"You grunted," a revolted woman informed me.

Dr. Bhandari stood at the front of the room, eyeing me with an expression of concern. "Are you all right, Mitchell?"

"I had a dream."

"Dreams are often the voice of the subconscious mind, responding to what we decree. Was the dream related to your decree?"

I thought about what I'd seen. "No. No, I don't think so."

"Would you like to tell us your dream?"

"Um, I don't think I remember it."

Dr. Bhandari nodded patiently. "See if it comes back to you in a moment." And he moved on to somebody else.

Of course, I remembered the dream perfectly. I just felt too stupid to talk about it. It was so odd. Like a flashback scene in a horror movie.

I wanted to get up and leave. But Ramir would never forgive me for being so rude. And I didn't want to walk home by myself in the rain.

Still, something about Dr. Bhandari definitely made me uneasy. The whole place gave me the creeps.

Then I remembered what Jane Choy had said about feeling a mystery around me. And what Dr. Bhandari had said about why the meeting tonight would be so powerful: "Everyone receives precisely what he has come for."

And I started to wonder if I might have the makings of a screenplay after all...

Excerpted from Making a Killing by Warren Dunford. Copyright © 2001 by Warren Dunford. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-09-17:
Dunford's immensely satisfying sequel to last year's Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture picks up several years later with the same appealing characters. Soon found fledgling Toronto screenwriter Mitchell Draper and his friends Ingrid and Ramir in a sendup of crime dramas and Mafia Princess potboilers. This latest venture is a smart and self-aware parody of gothic murder mysteries, complete with a bevy of suspects, hidden staircases in a spooky mansion ("the kind of house that had inspired the game of Clue"), ancient secrets and even a giant party at the end that brings all the suspects back to the scene of the crime. Alert readers will catch references to Rosemary's Baby, The Haunting of Hill House and Scooby Doo. The biggest surprise is the book's gradual slide from hilarious homage to an honest-to-goodness locked-door mystery. Few will guess the outcome of the clever twists that tantalize until the final pages. Mitchell's idea that a 20-year-old father-son murder-suicide would make a blockbuster movie script finds him investigating the long-closed case and discovering new facts that may endanger him and his cohorts. Meanwhile, Ingrid is attempting reconciliation with her ex-husband, and Ramir has joined a charismatic cult whose leader was intimately involved in the tragedy. New characters are especially well drawn, notably dying designer Cortland McPhee, aging sexpot Gabriella Hartman ("one of Entertainment Weekly's 101 Stars Who Just Won't Give Up") and her Thelma Ritter-like psychic adviser Jane Choy. While some readers will be eager to see what genre Dunford turns his comedic talents to next, others will hope he settles into mystery for good. (Nov.) Forecast: The campy jacket photo of a screaming woman plays directly to Dunford's hip, mostly gay target audience. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, September 2001
Booklist, November 2001
Globe & Mail, May 2005
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Description for Library
Mitchell Draper is on the lookout for material to create a blockbuster film script. His search leads him down a bizarre path travelled by real-life characters and full of clues that suggest a real murder is likely to take place.
Main Description
When we left him at the end of Soon to be a Major Motion Picture, struggling screenwriter Mitchell Draper was happy to have escaped with his life from his last assignment. But that doesn't stop him from digging into a 20-year-old murder-suicide as meat for a new screenplay that might net him $800,000 from a sexy movie producer who seems just as interested in Mitchell as in his story. Once again, novelist Warren Dunford has created a hilariously satirical study of celebrity culture that pokes good-natured fun both at the insiders and those on the outside desperate to get in. Also Available by Warren Dunford: Soon to be a Major Motion Picture TP 12.95, 1-55583-582-1 USA

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