He’s famous for his CNN show Larry King Live, but he’s also an accomplished author who has just published his fourteenth book, “Moon Over Manhattan.” The difference is that this is his first novel. Here's an excerpt:
As many of you know I am a born and raised New Yorker (Brooklyn). Over the years, my career has taken me all over the country, and I’ve been living on the West Coast for some time now, but my heart has always remained in New York.
My friend Tom Cook, on the other hand, is a born-and-bred Southerner who now lives in Manhattan and has grown to love his adopted city. Tom is a wonderful writer, an Edgar-Award nominated author, who doesn’t flinch from the darker side of life in his work. Who better to collaborate with? I had wanted to write a mystery for some time. I was turning over a plot about missing children in my mind, a topic very near and dear to my heart. I knew Tom would be the perfect person to work with. For several months we kicked around plots and ideas, toying with storylines.
Then the whole world changed in the blink of an eye on a perfect fall morning. In the dark days after 9/11 we commiserated with each other, along with the rest of the country, over the terrible damage inflicted on our city. Soon we cheered the remarkable, resilient spirit of its indomitable residents and took heart. New York would endure. It was bowed but not broken. My heart swelled with pride as never before for my beloved hometown.
A new seed was planted. There had been more than enough darkness and terror. Tom and I now were inspired to create a lighthearted tribute to all the crazy, wonderful characters who inhabit New York and make it the greatest city on earth. We wanted to write a caper, something light and funny, a celebration of New York and New Yorkers.
A small-time hustler who dreams of crossing the bridge and being a big shot in Manhattan. A sleek, beautiful mistress on Park Avenue. A hard-bitten private eye who bemoans the newly Disneyfied, family-friendly Times Square. A rich, spoiled private-school teenage girl and her dopey boyfriend from the projects. Even (ahem) a rich, famous talk show host. We mixed all these characters and many more up in Manhattan and let them loose.
Moon Over Manhattan is the result. I had a great time working with Tom on it, and he deserves the lion’s share of the credit for his terrific writing style. It is our hope that the love, admiration and affection we both feel for New York and its people shine through. Enjoy.
Goonie could kiss like nobody on earth, Allison decided as she drew her lips away and let her head loll back to rest on his shoulder. Goonie could kiss so well that he’d driven all the other great kissers-even Harrison Dillard whose tongue whipped around like a lizard’s tail-from Allison’s mind. The fact is, she’d rather kiss Goonie than any boy on earth. Well, except for Eminem.
“So, Allison,” Goonie breathed tentatively, his eyes still glazed by that long last interlude, but with clearly more elusive game in mind, “Whadya think?” He paused. “Think,” he repeated.
“Think,” muttered a second time was a syntactical tic Allison had dubbed the “Goonie Echo,” and which she loved because each time Goonie did it, it made her father, the esteemed Arthur Vandameer, host of Speaking Truth to Power, and one of the nation’s best known, and most tragically under-appreciated television commentators, THAT father, wince.
Allison lifted her head. “Oh, Goonie, I can’t,” she purred.
Goonie looked hurt, as usual, looked positively wounded in fact, like a guy who’d gotten his leg shot off…or worse.
Allison released a world-weary sigh. Well, wasn’t that the way it always was? She had that kind of effect on guys. One look at her and they died of hunger. They swooned and died of yearning. Just like Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, a book she’d secretly read because she’d not wanted to give her father the satisfaction of letting him know that she was actually reading a classic, and so a book whose cover she’d carefully switched so that the esteemed Arthur Vandameer had glanced up from the dinner table to observe his only daughter, the sole heir to his intellectual legacy, deeply enthralled in a picture biography of the artist formerly known as Prince.
Yes, she, Allison, was just like Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, the aforementioned Allison repeated to herself, only this time it was the guy who was dying of frustration, which, in Allison’s view, was a lot better.
Anyway, one kiss and they were hers. All manner of men. The doorman was hers. Arthur’s friend Bernard was hers. Any male dinner guest was hers. With a drop of the eyelid and a pucker of her bottom lip, she could make any male do her bidding. She shrugged in resignation to her power. It was a way of life she would have to endure forever, a painful, life-altering force she couldn’t avoid or in any way cast aside. She was a vixen, a femme fatale, the type of girl people wrote about in songs and poems. Romantically speaking, she was the horn of plenty, though she’d never given more than a little nip of the apple. And never would, she concluded, until she met the one guy her father really hated.
Which went a long way toward explaining Goonie. Sure, he was a great kisser, but that wasn’t what kept Allison running her fingers through his at times rather distressingly tangled hair. The great thing about Goonie was that he drove her father nuts.
Her father, Arthur Vandameer, seen every night in eight million homes, interviewing, it seemed to Allison, everyone but God. Worse than that, “Art,” as Allison called him when he wasn’t in earshot, was a history nut who knew all about battles and dates. Which, at the moment, made Goonie even more the perfect choice, since, outside the tiny space of his personal history, Goonie appeared entirely unaware that anything had ever happened anywhere at any time, an ignorance so deep Allison had no doubt that if asked to name an important historical event, the aforementioned Goonie would recount the time he’d thrown-up a corndog on Coney Island.
Best of all, Goonie not only had a ready-to-hand ability to drive Art crazy, he had an almost unlimited potential for doing so in the future. He didn’t plan to go to college. The only book he read (an authorized biography of Tony Orlando, digest version) had lots of pictures, and since it weighed in at nearly a hundred pages, Allison had little fear that Goonie would finish it in his lifetime, or even that of the nearest solar system. And to put the cherry on top, he was utterly clueless when it came to current politic developments, even the most recent ones. He didn’t know the name of the vice president, for example, and the only reason the president’s name came readily to mind was because he sometimes used it to describe a certain female body part.
“But we’re in love, right?” Goonie pleaded. “And when people are in love they…”
That was the Goonie Full Stop, and it occurred each time Goonie lost his train of thought. Which was often, even though the train was never that long to begin with.
“They… you know,” Goonie said.
Allison knew all right, but no way was she giving in to what Goonie wanted, which was sex. But then that was all boys ever wanted, Allison had long ago concluded, at which time she had instantly hatched her strategy in the battle between the sexes: Never give a man what he wants!
“So, whadya think?” Goonie asked. “About it.”
That was the Goonie Mid-Pause, an annoying habit of breaking a sentence into two small parts with a pause in between. That one really drove Art nuts. He practically whirled around in his chair while he waited for Goonie to attach the two emptily rattling cars of his, well, thought-train.
“I mean,” Goonie clarified. “You know.”
Allison squinted. “I can’t Goonie,” she repeated, this time with the firmness requisite to terminate any further discussion.
Thus restricted, Goonie began to sulk.
Allison stroked his face. “You need to write that note, Goonie.”
“That note we talked about.”
Allison bounded from the sofa, marched into her father’s impressively book-lined office, retrieved one of his assorted Mont Blancs and returned to the spacious living room where Goonie sat, mysteriously toying with his pants.
“Did you bring the paper you were supposed to?” she asked as she handed him the pen.
Goonie nodded ponderously, the hard labor that lay ahead of him now resting fully on his shoulders. “How many words?” he asked as he drew the crumpled paper from the back pocket of his vastly oversized jeans.
Allison looked at him scoldingly. “It’s just a note, Goonie,” she reminded him. “Not a manifesto.”
Goonie appeared to think a “manifesto” was something mechanical, a car part, for example.
“Short,” Allison said, trying to contain her exasperation. “Make it short.”
“Yeah, okay,” Goonie said. He flattened the paper out on the antique table that rested before him. “Short,” he repeated, as if trying to find a way to put the word in the note.
“Start with ‘dear,’” Allison said.
Goonie stared at her blankly.
Allison frowned. “Dear,” she repeated. “The one like ‘precious,’ not the one in the headlights.”
Goonie looked as if this had cleared up a momentary confusion. He placed pen to paper, then stopped and looked up, the enormity of the task weighing on him even more heavily. “Do I - (Goonie Mid-Pause) - have to, Ali?”
Mercy fluttered briefly, like a moth in Allison’s head, then was promptly burned to a crisp by a far more urgent need. “It’ll drive Art crazy,” she said.
Goonie nodded. “Okay.” He glanced at the paper, a thin, nearly transparent stationery bordered in bright orange. There was an equally garish drawing at the top, an elephant scratching its head with its trunk as it spoke into a large word-balloon, “If you ain’t an elephant, write it down here.” For a moment, Goonie’s feeble sense of the inappropriate kicked in. “Shouldn’t I write this on nicer paper?”
“No, you shouldn’t, Goonie,” Allison said sternly. “Now write.”
With a shrug, Goonie gave in to the inevitable, and in a halting, jerky script, penned his elopement plan for Arthur Vandameer’s only daughter.
Arthur Vandameer was rich, famous…and miserable. The wealth came from his family fortune, the fame from his nightly televised political commentary, and the misery from his daughter. Through the years he’d grown adept at downplaying his good fortune. He described himself as “homeless” because he lived in a suite of rooms in the Pierre Hotel. His fame was meaningless, he argued, because it was fleeting. He did not make news, he only commented upon it. He would never be president of the United States, or even a lowly senator from New York. His task, and he continually ridiculed it to anyone who would listen, was to “second guess” what the “first guessers,” the ones who really did things, did. This was, he claimed, a wholly fruitless endeavor, a dreary side-line quarterbacking that could only be of service in a world where time went in the other direction, and so you had a chance to correct the error before you made it. The fact that time, in fact, did not go backwards, made him irrelevant, he said, a reverse Nostradamus, the dreadful opposite of a prophet. “I don’t know the point of me,” he told Madelyn Boyd, the only woman who still agreed to have him around, “Or if I even have a point.”
The fact that, physically speaking, Arthur’s “point” had not proven to be in satisfactory good working order on this particular evening had done nothing to enliven Madelyn Boyd’s generally depleted store of human sympathy, and because of that she was in no mood to hear any more from Arthur Vandameer.
“Arthur,” she said, rising from the bed. “Maybe you’d better go. I have a….”
“Headache?” Arthur inquired. “Surely not that, Maddie.”
Madelyn wrapped the red silk kimono around her ample but by no means unattractive frame. “How’s Allison?” she asked.
“What’s the problem now?” Madelyn asked, now seated at the vanity, her brow slightly furrowed as she wrestled with the admittedly thorny problem of multiple combs.
Arthur ticked off his grievances. “Poor grades. Bad attitude. A boyfriend who’s….” Arthur stopped himself immediately, careful that nothing he said about Allison’s latest offering might possibly reflect upon the fact that Goonie was…well…of Hispanic-American heritage. “Who comes from an unfortunate background,” Arthur said. “I mean, educationally speaking.”
“But what about Allison?” Madelyn asked absently, the comb now moving smoothly through her hair. “She’s not on drugs, is she?”
“Never gotten pregnant.”
Clearly Madelyn believed that considering what might befall a teenaged girl, Arthur, with typical undeserved good fortune, was getting off very easily indeed. “So what’s the problem?”
Arthur started to enumerate that very list of problems, then noticed a small blemish on his chest, brown and slightly raised, and thus, incontestably, a harbinger of death.
“I think you’re quite lucky with Allison,” Madelyn added, now reaching for a different comb for the finishing touch.
Arthur fingered the brown spot, trying to recall if he’d ever seen it there before.
“A gem, if you ask me,” Madelyn said.
Arthur looked up, his eyes oddly stricken as he pressed down on the alarming blemish, his mind grimly coming to judgment on the life he’d led so far. “Nasty, brutish and short,” he ruminated darkly.
Madelyn looked at him in the mirror. “What’s the boyfriend’s name?”
Arthur shrugged. “His full name? Joselito Castillo de la Mancha Diaz. But quite appropriately, Allison calls him Goonie.”
Madelyn laughed. “Well, just remember, they thought Einstein was goofy.”
“The difference here,” Arthur said, now running through the names of various physicians, trying to decide if he should first see a dermatologist, or go directly to the oncologist he was certain he’d be sent to anyway, “The difference here is that Einstein wasn’t.”
Madelyn ran the comb through her hair and marveled at just how lovely she was. Forty-three, and gorgeous. A little dot where her nose had once been. And on her face, despite all the work, no more than a look of perpetually mild surprise. “I think you should give the girl a break,” she said.
“And you’ve had how many children?” Arthur asked. “The number ‘zero’ comes to mind.”
Madelyn brought her combing ritual to an abrupt halt. “Let’s not get snotty, shall we?” She glanced at the diamond-studded watch she’d placed on the vanity a few minutes before, a gift from the recently deceased Lawrence Phipps, who, despite that little issue with the pantyhose and black garter-belt, (his, not hers), had been a super lover. And at least, unlike Bridges Blake, he’d never shown up with a suitably elegant Crouch & Fitzgerald briefcase brimming with sexual aids, most of which, as Madelyn now unpleasantly recalled, had required both batteries and some assembly.
“Don’t you have to be home, Arthur?” she asked. “For that reporter?”
Arthur shrugged. “A style page writer is hardly a reporter,” he said.
Or at least not until recently, he thought sourly, because almost anyone could call himself a reporter these days. Jennifer Cattrell swam into his mind, though he hadn’t wanted her to. It was an affront, really, the way he’d been taken in by those perfect teeth and large blue eyes, the fall of her long blond hair, that fawning attitude he’d have easily been able to dismiss had he actually been a great man, rather than what he immediately decided he was, an empty vessel, a bag of hot air, a rich kid who’d accomplished nothing on his own, and so on, forever, in an infinite descent into self-loathing.
“Arthur, cheer up,” Madelyn snapped. “You look positively…depressed.” She jerked open the top drawer of her vanity, retrieved a small plastic bottle and tossed it to Arthur. “Elavil,” she said. “You might ask your doctor for a prescription.”
Arthur placed the bottle on the bed. “I avoid mind-altering drugs,” he said.
Madelyn laughed crisply, then ticked off the incontestably mind-altering drugs Arthur made no effort to avoid. “Vodka. Gin. Brandy. Scotch. B&B, and especially Port. Especially vintage. Especially Dow’s Vintage Port.” She whirled around on the vanity stool. “Anyway, you’d better get dressed for that reporter,” she said a little impatiently, though careful not to mention the fact that Carlton Powers was due to appear in less than an hour. She clapped her hands. “Come now, get dressed,” she said in the same voice she used to discipline Pookie, her mean-faced little Pekinese.
“All right, all right,” Arthur said. He wearily pulled himself from the bed, and in horror realized that, although otherwise completely naked, he was still wearing one sock. Jeez, he wondered, what could his mind have told him at that moment of undressing. Okay, stop it, Art, you’re naked enough, for Christ’s sake. Suddenly the blemish on his chest no longer seemed important. It was senile dementia he worried about now. For a moment he lingered on his approaching madness, years of finding his contact lenses in the freezer, serving steak-in-a-glass to distinguished dinner guests, thinking Allison was his grandmother.
The last didn’t strike Arthur as all that bad. If he could only think of Allison as anything but his daughter, much of his life’s steady ache would instantly vanish.
On that thought, Arthur silently dressed while Madelyn returned to her preening.
They kissed at the door a few minutes later, then Arthur walked out of Madelyn’s sumptuous brownstone and into the glittering New York night. Up the street, he could see the great stone façade of the Metropolitan Museum. A Munch exhibit had just been installed, and standing now in the darkness, facing the great silent building, Arthur Vandameer thought of his daughter, cupped his face in his hands, opened his mouth, and released, in melodramatic imitation, his own silent scream.
Excerpted from “Moon Over Manhattan” by Larry King and Thomas H. Cook. Copyright © 2003 by Larry King and Thomas H. Cook. Published by New Millenium Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.