The Next to Die

Prologue

Without having to wait, Jim Gelder secured a cozy window table in one of Portland’s swankiest restaurants that Thursday night. If only the maître d’ had sat Jim somewhere else, the thirty-two-year-old salesman from Seattle might not have met such a gruesome death.

Jim was good-looking, and he kept in great shape. He still weighed the same as he had in college: 170 pounds, perfect for his six-foot frame. His hair was usually slicked back with gel that made the straw color appear a shade darker. He had blue eyes, a strong jaw, and the kind of self-assured smile that drew people to him.

He felt lucky that Thursday night. His waitress was cute and friendly, a redhead in her early twenties. Amid the white tablecloths, candlelight, and polished silverware, she seemed like the only waitperson there without a snooty attitude. She even flirted a little when she delivered his tangueray and tonic. Jim had never been unfaithful to his wife, but he wasn’t opposed to some innocent flirting—especially during lonely business trips like this one.

He poured on the charm every time the waitress returned to his table. After the meal, when she came by with his decaf, she brushed her hip against his shoulder. “You’ve been my favorite customer tonight—just thought you should know. Be right back with your check.”

Smiling, Jim watched her retreat toward the kitchen, Just then, someone strode into the restaurant. Nearly everybody noticed him, but no one gawked; this was much too ritzy a place for the late dinner crowd to fuss over a movie star.

Tony Katz seemed smaller in person, not quite as brawny as he appeared on the screen, but every bit as handsome. Women just loved his wavy, chestnut-colored hair and those sleepy, sexy aquamarine eyes. Jim had heard that Tony Katz was in Portland, shooting a new movie.

He tried not to stare as the maître d’ led Tony to a table next to his. Tony threw him a smile. Jim kept his cool and smiled back. Very nonchalant.

The maître d’ left a menu at the place setting across from the film star. Jim hoped he’d get to see Tony’s wife, Linda Zane, a model, whose appearance in a Victoria’s Secret catalog last year was still etched in his brain. But Tony was joined by a balding, middle-aged man who must have been parking the car. He staggered up to the table, all out of breath, then plopped down in the chair. He wore a suit and tie. In contrast, Tony Katz had on a black turtleneck and jeans. He looked annoyed with the guy. “I’m having one drink with you, Benny, that’s all,” he grumbled.

“Okay, okay.” The man took off his glasses and wiped them with the napkin. “Now, where were we?”

“I believe I was calling you a scum-sucking weasel,” Tony Katz said.

Jim couldn’t stifle a laugh, and this caught Tony’s eye. The movie star smiled at him again. “Excuse me,” he said to Jim. “Can I ask you something?”

Dumbstruck, Jim nodded. Tony Katz was actually talking to him.

“If you were a serious actor, what would you think of an agent who wanted you to star in a crappy movie sequel instead of a Tennessee Williams revival on Broadway?”

Jim shrugged. “I’d say he was a scum-sucking weasel.”

“Benny, I think I love this guy.” Tony gave Jim an appreciative grin.

Benny studiously ignored Jim and glanced at his menu. The waitress approached their table and told Tony how much she absolutely adored his latest movie. Tony politely thanked her and ordered a mineral water. His agent ordered scotch. For the next few minutes, the two of