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Escaping the heat in a hotter clime

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Charlie Bonner went to the closet and shoved his wife's clothes aside, a small fortune worth of chic rags she'd never worn twice. He opened the safe and reached for his passport, two bundles of cash and the address of the dancer from Jumbo's Clown Room on Hollywood Boulevard.

Carmen the dancer knew too much, so what choice did a man of Bonner's stature have but to call Ernesto and instruct him to pay a visit to her apartment in Reseda?

Bonner threw his things into a small black satchel and stood in front of the mirror, brushing back hair that was going fast despite the herbal supplements he'd flown in from Shanghai. What a fraud that was. And hadn't he told the hairdresser to tone down the reds, for crying out loud? He was starting to look like Schwarzenegger.

The phone rang as Bonner finished packing. Probably another bill collector chasing after his wife, Genie.

What a fool he'd been. It was beneath his standards to marry a reality show flash in the pan, even if he was the producer. But that was back when Bonner's little problem had made him weaker than ever, and he barely recalled the quick trip to Vegas.

"Who was on the phone?" he asked when Genie walked into the bedroom.

"I didn't pick up, but he left a message," said Genie, munching on flax seed crackers. "Some congressman, or maybe he said councilman. Sounded kind of jumpy, whoever it was."

Falco, Bonner thought. He'd never met an elected official with bigger appetites or a smaller brain, and Bonner had no intention of letting the hapless politician trip up his perfectly planned scheme. He'd have to make sure to keep him plied with all the usual treats from his Hollywood candy jar.

"You ready?" Bonner asked.

Genie plopped onto the bed and sighed. Pouty lips on a strawberry blond less than half his age.

"We're going where, exactly?" she asked.

Bonner opened the curtains, silk with a moire finish, and blue Malibu light streamed in. He lived in a glass house high on the hill above Big Rock, a cash transaction two years ago. On a day like this -- early burn-off, view halfway to Maui -- Bonner knew there was not a supreme being. No self-respecting God would put an unrepentant sinner like Charlie Bonner in a nest this close to heaven.

"Like I told you," he said to Genie. "It's a surprise. Let me check this message, and then I'll bring the car around."

Bonner had told Falco never to call him at home, the moron. He dialed him back to remind him.

"We've got to talk," Falco blurted, and Bonner could almost see the sweat on the congressman's pallid face.

"Not now," Bonner said. "You already talked too much last night. To a pole-dancer, no less. Jesus, Falco."

"It can't wait, Charlie. Can you meet me at the Venice Pier?"

"Don't get hinky on me, Falco, and don't forget who's working for whom. We'll talk after my meeting in Cabo."

"I swear I'm being followed."

Bonner slammed the phone down and walked into the living room, where he'd just hung the new chandelier fashioned from two Emmys, three Golden Globes and his Pac-10 golf tournament trophy. Charlie Bonner had come too far in life to be ruined by a panicky politician.

He checked his watch.

"Genie? Let's move it."

She sauntered out, still sulky.

"I don't like surprises," she said.

"Don't worry," Charlie Bonner told his wife. "I swear this will be the last one."

Chapter 2

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