The Talk Show Murders

The Talk Show Murders
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Al Roker Entertainment

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

D
ELACORTE
P
RESS
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Roker, Al
The talk show murders : a Billy Blessing novel / Al Roker and Dick Lochte.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-345-52930-5
1. Blessing, Billy (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Television personalities—
Fiction. 3. Celebrity chefs—Fiction. 4. Ex-convicts—Fiction.
5. Extortion—Fiction. 6. Murder—Fiction. I. Lochte, Dick. II. Title.

PS3618.O537T35 2011
813′.6—dc23      2011028264

www.bantamdell.com

Jacket design: Carlos Beltran
Jacket art: Ben Perini

v3.1

Contents
Chapter
ONE

At roughly six-thirty on a Thursday morning that dawned bright and clear, members of the Chicago Police Department’s Homicide Division and Forensic Services were lured to the city’s Oak Street Beach by a body that had been deposited on the sand by Lake Michigan’s ebbing tide. A drowning in the lake, accidental or otherwise, was not exactly remarkable. But this one was clearly unique, though that fact was not presented immediately to the public.

The CPD had dropped a cone of silence over the discovery. Even the hapless early-morning jogger who’d nearly stumbled over the corpse was being forced to pursue his cardio perfection in seclusion somewhere off the grid.

Surprisingly, in this era of instant information, where members of the media are as persistent as they are plentiful, the news blackout lasted for nearly thirty hours. It was broken by a gray-haired, ill-tempered former cop named Edward “Pat” Patton. Since his retirement, Patton had begun a second career with a blog,
Windy City Blowdown
, devoted primarily to outspoken and often outrageous political
critiques, right-wing rants and, adding a much-needed patina of credibility to his efforts, an ex-lawman’s insider take on the city’s criminal activity.

Blowdown
’s popularity had led to Patton’s frequent appearances on local talk shows and on a few network offerings, such as
Midday with Gemma
, where the eponymous hostess Gemma Bright had just welcomed him to share a periwinkle-blue couch with her previous guest, Carrie Sands, a young vibrantly blond actress who was starring in a new motion picture filming in the city.

When the applause of the primarily female audience began to subside, Patton plopped down on the couch. He leaned in close to the actress and whispered something in her ear that caused her smile to lose its perk. Then he turned his attention toward the show’s hostess, adjusting his face in what he probably believed resembled a Gene Hackman–Popeye Doyle half-grin. “Okay, Gemma, I’m here,” he said in his familiar, gruff voice. “So what d’ya wanna talk about today?”

“Oh, I think you
know
, Pat.” Gemma Bright’s Australian accent was elaborate, slightly nasal, and made more distinctive by her odd habit of emphasizing words and syllables in a seemingly random fashion. This, combined with her fortysomething zaftig but stylish good looks, an extroverted personality, and an ability to convey what seemed like genuine interest, had positioned her as the second-most-popular television personality in the Second City. “We want some
dish
on that mysterious body that washed ashore yesterdye.”

“Dish, huh? Well, lemme tell ya, babe, it ain’t all that appetizing.”

“Death rarely is,” Gemma said.

“That’s probably why all those health-conscious wimps kept jogging past the body without stopping,” Patton said. “Or could it be that they were just too caught up in their own petty little lives to wanna get involved?”

“That’s not fair,” Carrie Sands chirped, evidently feeling he was talking about her people. “When you jog you get in the zone and you block out a lot of what’s happening around you.”

“That explains why most of you bubbleheads voted for our illustrious illegal-alien president. You were in the zone.” Patton winked
at the audience, which, surprisingly, rewarded him with scattered applause and laughter.

“Holy shit, Billy,” my assistant, Kiki Owens, said. “Who is this trog?”

“You know as much about him as I do,” I said, which was the truth at the time.

“After the president’s release of his full, authenticated birth certificate, this guy must be the last idiot spewing the birther crap. On our network!”

“Oh that pesky First Amendment,” I told her.

We were in the studio-six greenroom of Worldwide Broadcasting’s Chicago affiliate, WWBC, watching the midday show unfold while I awaited my turn on camera. We were sharing the space with a pale, undernourished-looking guy in his twenties. His black hair was bowl-cut in what may have been an homage to the late Moe Howard, may he rest in Three Stooges Heaven. His concave chest was wrapped in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the statement “Down is the New Up” in yellow letters. His faded black jeans had slipped low enough on his hips to show an inch or two of candy-striped boxers, which in its way complimented his oversized pink high-top canvas shoes.

“Patton’s a local celebrity,” he said. “A real asshole who treats his employees like dirt.”

“You work for him?” I asked.

He frowned. “Me? I’m Larry Kelsto. Why would I work …? I’m a comic,” he stated, adding defensively, “I’ve been on a bunch of network shows.
Last Comic Standing, Comedy Brew, Last Call with Carson Daly
. Anyway, if you want to know about Pat Patton …”

He then went on to provide a Wikipedia-lite explanation of Pat Patton’s semi-fame, concluding with, “The guy never met anybody he didn’t hate. He’s the opposite of Roy Rogers.”

“I think you mean Will Rogers,” I said.

“Who the hell is Will Rogers?”

“Roy’s father,” I told him, dismayed that a comedian, even a young one, would have to ask that question.

Larry Kelsto was not really interested in any of the Rogerses, including,
I assumed, Kenny or the late Mister. Lowering his voice, he said to Kiki, “You’re an actress or a model, right?”

Kiki stared at him. She’s an attractive, diminutive black woman who seems as fragile as an orchid, but, as I once witnessed, she can make a six-foot-four, 290-pound Russian Mafia enforcer break down and cry like a baby. Her best weapon is a British accent with which she can draw blood faster than a buck knife. Judging by the look she was giving Larry, she didn’t seem to be into younger guys. Or maybe it was the candy-striped boxers. Or the shoes. Probably just Larry.

“Stick to comedy,” she said, and focused her attention on the monitor.

That didn’t seem to improve her disposition. “I’m picking up a really toxic vibe from Mr. Patton. We should leave now, Billy.”

“Are you kidding? What business are we in, again?
Show
business. And what’s the cardinal rule? The show must go on.”

“I can fill for you,” the comedian said.

“Thanks, Larry, but I think I can handle it.”

Kiki shook her head. “Big mistake, Billy.”

“Relax,” I said. “It’s just a talk show. After sharing a couch with Carrot Top, listening to him expound on the joy of weightlifting, and Sean Hannity just being Sean Hannity, this will be a breeze.”

“Really? Listen to the guy. He’s rancid, Billy. He makes Hannity sound like Walter Cronkite.”

“Bite your tongue,” I said.

On the monitor, Patton’s face had turned a sanguine shade as he replied to something the young blond actress had said. “Okay, I give you that, missy. Out of a couple hundred self-absorbed, gotta-stay-in-shape me-firsters, one little wimp shows some sense of civic responsibility by pressing a button on his cute little iPhone to call the CPD. Give ’im the friggin’ key to the city, why not?”

“We
tried
to get him for the show,” Gemma said, diluting the man’s vitriol by choosing to ignore it. “But the police are treating this as if Homeland Security were being threatened. We couldn’t even find out his name.”

“All you had to do was ask me, Gemma,” Patton said. “It’s
Shineman. Carl Shineman. They got him locked up tight in his million-dollar high-rise apartment on Elm.”

“Why all the seecrecy?”

“Ah. If I told you that, Gemma, you’d know as much as me.”

“How is it, Pat, that you
allways
seem to be in the
know
on every
crime
story?”

“Honey, as I’ve told you before, I put in a lotta long, hard years with the CPD, and I was payin’ attention every minute. I understand how things work and where to go to get the info that citizens have a right to know.”

“Then maybe you should
tell
us why the police are being so
see
cretive.”

Patton hesitated, then said, “It’s … all about the corpse, Gemma.”

“The
corpse
?” It was our hostess’s turn to address the camera. “This
bad
boy will never even give me a
clue
about what he’s going to say once he’s out here.”

“Where would the fun be in that?” Patton asked with a guffaw. “I get a kick out of seeing your reactions.” He faced the audience. “You like to be surprised, too, am I right?”

Applause and giggles.

“Point made, Pat. So what’s the big
see
cret about the
corpse
?”

“The police don’t want to look like clowns, but the fact is, even with all their state-of-the-art computer toys, they’re having the devil’s own time making an ID.”

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