A Death in Vegas
By Christopher Meeks
Publisher: White Whisker Books (August 15, 2014)
Available in: Print & ebook, 176 Pages
In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth-and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him-and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.
**This book would be rated R for some profanity and adult situations**
CHAPTER TWO (Day One)
The day before had been his birthday, his forty-second. With more than eight hours on the convention floor and only Cheetos and a ham sandwich taken from the Scotts Miracle-Gro booth for fuel, the first day’s work was done. Along with his sales crew, Patton had shown beneficial bugs to industry buyers at Las Vegas’s Lawn and Garden World, part of the National Hardware Show. His company, BenBugs, “The Organic Choice,” had a large and cherished corner display area with no tables. It stood at the intersection of two green-carpeted aisles, which, like two intersecting rivers, had brought people steadily to his shore. Two more days to go, but the first day of selling had ended with a bang. After a phone call, it was time to get himself a celebratory dinner at Envy, a nearby elegant steakhouse. He could feel it: his life was about to change.
As he stepped outdoors from the Convention Center, the heat slammed into him. Even in May after five p.m., Vegas was hot. He didn’t want to walk far, after all, and Envy was in the Renaissance Hotel just across the lot. He was originally going to go to the Stratosphere because he loved the view as well as the food, but fuck it; a juicy expensive steak nearby was in order. As he walked across the huge parking lot toward it, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled the phone out and saw it was his wife.
“Tess,” he said, feeling particularly happy.
“Great news,” she said, equally bright.
“You got Birnam to fund our expansion?”
“Venture capitalists always think they can own you.”
“A problem?” he said.
“What the fuck, Patton? Why do you assume I create problems? I said good news.”
“So tell me.” He shook his head. Sometimes she did create problems, but she’d never admit it.
“I hammered out all the final details today.”
“Do we still have controlling interest?”
“Who was the one who insisted on that?” she said.
“So you did it?”
“Yeah. Hey, hey.”
“When do we get the money?”
“He has to go over the terms with his accountant and attorney. Papers should be drawn up in days. After that, very quickly. He’ll wire it. Ten days tops. It’s done.”
“Wow. You’re amazing,” he said. Good. It’d been his idea to get a partner to grow nationally. They had deals throughout the West, but now with this and what just happened at the Convention Center, they might even go public someday.
“There’s always the unexpected, but, yeah, we’re done,” she said confidently. “Consider it your birthday present, my handsome man.”
“I have something better, my love.” He could picture her sitting with her evening glass of wine in their living room. She was probably in one of her elegant pantsuits, having kicked off her spiky heels. Thirty-eight, four years younger than he, she still looked great, often working out at the gym, and she shared his love of snow- and water-skiing. Her clothes gave her command in her sales calls. She sold with the tenacity of a boxer with the cheer of a game show host. He knew she thought of herself as running the company, but the fact was, BenBugs was his idea, which she originally thought was silly. “Chemicals are what made our food supply great, and you should stay in chemicals,” she had said then. “The tried and true.” She was pushing modems in those days and was the top salesperson in her company. She had always been tops in sales. She also could be wonderfully sexual.
“How’s the convention going?” she now asked. “How’s the ladybug girl turning out?”
He knew she wanted him to say her “sex sells” idea worked. What the hell. Compliments were free. “All right, she’s fabulous. She drew in the guy from Target, Wayne Jones-Bradbury.”
“That fat fuck?”
“I took him through our line, gave him our brochures, and he agreed to meet us next week in Los Angeles to consider our bugs for all their stores with nurseries nationwide.”
“Shit. Next week is fabulous. I can’t believe both of these things happened at once. And good things come in threes.”
“We both did well.” He wanted some acknowledgement.
“I could kiss you all over,” she said.
“Really? Is that my present?” Perhaps these fortunes would translate at last to the bedroom. He’d stopped initiating of late because she kept saying she wasn’t in the mood or was tired. Change of life, she said. A guy can take only so many no’s, even from his wife. Perhaps these business wins would be a kick to her hormones. That would be a third good thing. “I haven’t eaten all day. I’m going for a steak,” he said.
“Try Envy. It’s in the Renaissance right by the convention center.”
“I’m already headed there.”
“Good minds think alike,” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “Might you make it to the convention tomorrow?”
“Let me finish up with our lawyer tomorrow for Birnam. Maybe I can make the last day. If I can’t, the staff will help you, right?”
“See you when I see you,” he said.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Just tired. Your news is good, though.”
“Maybe you should go play your guitar,” she said. “I love listening to you play.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Sleep well.”
When he stepped into Envy, the restaurant cheered him up more: red patterned chairs, cherry wood paneling, and big basket lights that made him blink.
There at the curved bar in a lounge chair sat a ladybug—or, rather, Chatterley, the woman they’d hired to be a ladybug at his booth all day. He smiled. Her costume was designed like a sleeveless French maid’s outfit with black platform shoes. Her long red stockings that ended mid-thigh and the tight red bodice each featured black dots. A black tutu spread like a lace umbrella from her waist, and her shoulder-length dark hair curled like a movie star’s. Chatterley had pulled in many people all day. The booth’s traffic was the best ever. Even the geeks at the electric-death rat zapper booth across the aisle had stared at her continuously. Sex sold.
(Please go to http://saphssteamybooks.blogspot.ca/ for the continuation of this excerpt.)
It is my pleasure to welcome Christopher Meeks, author of A Death in Vegas, to Room With Books.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Like many other writers, I wear several hats. I teach creative writing, composition, and literature at Santa Monica College. I also teach creative writing at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. My students work hard and keep me on my toes with their drive and interests. Teaching adds a lot to my life.
I run a small publishing company, White Whisker Books, where I publish five other authors. There are great writers and novels out there, and I love being able to guide their works into the marketplace. I once was a senior editor at a publishing company, so I’ve taken what I learned there to create my own business.
I started it when my agent didn’t want to send out my manuscript of short stories. He said there was no money in short stories, only in novels, and so White Whisker Books became a labor of love right from the start. I was smart enough to hire a great editor and a book designer. My first book, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, was reviewed in the Los Angeles Times and then mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. It found its audience.
Perhaps my biggest distraction—but a necessary focus—is book marketing. There are ads to buy, tweets and newsletters to write, blog tours to join, readings to give, and, recently, a small movie to star in. (If you haven’t seen the movie, click here.) I’m also working with an audio engineer to create my first audio book, which is my reading The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.
I happened to meet with a marketing expert this week who suggested I join LinkedIn, become more involved in Facebook, and more. Marketing can be a black hole when it comes to time. No one ever has enough marketing time. Still, I owe it to my books and my authors to get the word out.
At the top of this all is my family and friends. If we don’t have time for the people we love, what’s the point? My wife, son, and daughter are all creative, driven, and lively in their own unique ways.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Influence keeps on happening. I just taught a great novel I found this year, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. We follow a young man, John Bartle, who voluntarily joined the Army and then fights in Iraq, forced to ask big questions about his life and others. In a few weeks, I’ll be teaching Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, a fabulous collection of short stories. I like teaching books where I can learn new things, too. To teach is to learn.
Growing up, I found Kurt Vonnegut’s books, which influenced me a great deal in that they were odd, funny, and philosophical. It showed me that books didn’t have to be as boring as the ones in English class. Ironically, I now teach English, but I remember the younger me and look for works that my students might identify with and be inspired by. I rarely teach the same book twice as I like to keep things fresh.
Some of the authors I love and have taught: Margaret Atwood, Alice Walker, Sara Gruen, T.C. Boyle, Walter Mosley, and Michael Cunningham among many others. I’ve created a Listmania list on Amazon of my best-loved books I’ve used in teaching English. You can see it by clicking here.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
My first books were not challenges as they were commissioned. My assistant editor at the publishing company I worked for moved to another publisher where he commissioned books for teenage readers—things to inspire them. Thus, I wrote two short biographies, a book on skydiving, and another on Japan. My first fiction—my love—however was hugely challenging. When my agent wouldn’t represent my collection, I had to create my own publishing company. I wanted my book to be taken seriously, which meant it couldn’t be simply uploaded to Lulu.com and hope for the best—but be highly polished, marketed, and publicized. After the design and printing process, I found a publicist in New York to help me.
I wrote about those many challenges back in 2006, when printing on demand (POD) was the new thing. Thanks to the Internet keeping everything, you can read about it more in-depth by clicking here.
If you could have any superpower what would you choose?
To always have good health—which probably means having a super immune system.
What was your first job?
Dishwasher at a steak house. Instead of air conditioning in the kitchen, we were given salt pills.
What types of books do you write?
Meeksian books. That’s to say, I’ve followed my interests, and my voice has organically evolved. While I write on serious subjects, humor comes out. I can’t help it. Life’s absurdities emerge.
Who’s your main audience?
For people who discovered my books early, my readers tend to be literary i.e. people who like my interests and style. They’ve moved from my short story collections into my first novel The Brightest Moon of the Century, which follows a Minnesotan from the age of fourteen to forty-something as he tries to find the love of his life. They followed me through my comic novel, Love at Absolute Zero, about a top physicist who, with three-days off from his research, is determined to find his wife and soul mate using the Scientific Method.
The last two books are crime novels, Blood Drama and A Death in Vegas. Thus, people discovering me now think of me in this genre.
Out of all of your characters, which is your favorite?
I love all my characters, I do. Perhaps I impressed myself the most with Gunnar Gunderson, the protagonist of Love at Absolute Zero, because I had to research deeply what a quantum physicist does. It helped that Dr. Nils O. Anderson, director of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, first guided me. At the time, my girlfriend, now wife, also worked at Caltech, where I met a few physicists. Then I eventually met Dr. Mark Saffman, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin, where the novel takes place. He had the same interests as Gunnar in what happens to matter near absolute zero.
What does your writing schedule look like?
I write best in the mornings before the demands of the day take root.
Do you use your OWN experiences?
Absolutely. My first two novels revolve on experiences that happened to me (including Love at Absolute Zero.) I moved to crime novels because I ran out of primary experiences, and I came up with possibilities of experiences. Still, much of it is peppered by things I’ve seen, heard, and felt. To get to the truths of your characters requires using the truths of your life.
Was it easy to pick the title for your book?
No. My original title of this new book was 10 Days to a Bad Habit, which I thought was funny and interesting for a crime book. The book designer, though, had a good point that it might be mistaken for a weird self-help book. She suggested A Death in Vegas, which I instantly loved. It riffs off of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
If you could choose one profession, other than author, which would you choose?
Originally in college I was a chemistry major. I loved science. After a year, though, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and I became a film major. If I wasn’t an author, I’d be somewhere in the arts, perhaps film director. I dropped that idea, though, when I came to Los Angeles and discovered how difficult that was in terms of getting a film funded and shot. I take the movies in my head and make novels.
What are you currently working on?
My next novel is in Iraq. I’m co-writing it with a former student who fought in Iraq.
Thank you for taking time to chat with our readers, and for allowing Room With Books to be part of your tour.
Praise for Blood Drama by Christopher Meeks:
“What sets this novel apart from other thriller is the development of the characters. Not only is Medina more complex than the stereotypical FBI agent found in many suspense novels, but Nash is a new type of victim. His theater and academic background give him an interesting perspective. This is definitely a suspenseful, can’t-put-it-down thriller. Clear your calendar in order to have time to read this from start to finish!” – Tammy, The Self-Taught Cook
“Blood Drama was highly entertaining and extremely enjoyable. It is a combination black comedy and crime novel. The characters of Ian and Aleece are memorable, quirky, and unique. I reveled in Ian’s quoting David Mamet (or some other playwright or work of literature) to deduce and interpret the information he had to ascertain where the clues were leading them. Meeks is a gifted writer. He has a pleasing way of propelling the action forward while developing his plot and characters. I enjoyed Meeks Love at Absolute Zero quite a bit, but I liked Blood Drama even more. I’m hopeful that Meeks will bring back Ian and Aleece to solve another crime.” – Lori, She Treads Softly
“This is one action packed thriller that you don’t want to put down. The author doesn’t waste time with the trivial, he gets right to the action and stays there. Just when you think things are as bad as they possible could get…wrong!
This was different from most thrillers I read in that it also has a little humor, I absolutely loved that aspect of the book. The characters are well written, they seem like real people, flaws and all. There’s also romance in this book, which gives you a little relief from the gripping adventures. I liked this book very much and so I will be checking to see what other books this author has written.” – Vicky, I’d Rather Be At the Beach
“This story had me hooked just out of pity for the poor guy, but when things turned from bad to worse I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what was going to happen next. This was far from the typical suspense/thriller. Yes, it does follow the MOs you expect in some areas but the characters make it so unique. I loved these characters. They were so unique that I could see them as real. They had their quirks and secrets that revealed their flaws and their vulnerabilities Nothing is really too farfetched. Yes, there is one character you might argue is but I live in a huge city. Trust me, it is not farfetched. Can’t say more or I let a big secret slip which is a no-no in reviews. If you love suspense/thrillers that have some humor, you’ll love this book. Yes, it kept me riveted. You have to read this book. You’ll enjoy it and want more. Plus you’ll learn to appreciate your own days a little bit better.” – Rebecca Graf, A Book Lover’s Library
“Having read and reviewed every book and play written by the gifted Christopher Meeks it was with some trepidation to pick up a novel with a title BLOOD DRAMA packaged by a cover that suggested he’d joined the au courant genre of spy and murder and intrigue army of writers, forsaking his own quirky and deliciously entertaining usual topics of onstage interpersonal relationship scenarios of his previous books. Had he sold out to the bigger market of bestseller yet rapidly transient airport books? Happily, after getting attached to his satisfyingly rather strange hero in the first chapter and the fear that he had abandoned his signature warmth and tasteful dissection of ordinary people, the pages practically turned themselves.
Meeks has the gift to mold characters with such extensive backstories that after only a few pages as each new character is introduced they become part of the surround-sound family into whose story we have wandered.
The book is so rich in feisty humor, in theatrically enacted derring-do as the pursuit of the quartet of bank robbers ensues, some fine psychological insights into these strange but likeable folk from the Southern California setting Meeks knows and lives so well – well, so rich, period, that it begs to be read. Meeks may have daringly (for him) stepped into new territory, but the fact that he continues to remain in the rarefied atmosphere of fine contemporary authors is secure.” – Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer
About Christopher Meeks:
Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, “Blood Drama.” His novel “The Brightest Moon of the Century” made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. “Love at Absolute Zero” also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.
He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections “Months and Seasons” and “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, “Who Lives?” had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.
Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design.
To read more of his books visit his website, or at the Red Room.