The Empty Glass
In the early-morning hours of August 5, 1962, Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the home of the world's most famous movie star, now lying dead in her bedroom, naked and still clutching a telephone. There he discovers The Book of Secrets - Marilyn Monroe's diary - revealing a doomed love affair with a man she refers to only as "The General." In the following days, Ben unravels a wide-ranging cover-up and some heartbreaking truths about the fragile, luminous woman behind the celebrity. Soon the sinister and surreal accounts in The Book of Secrets bleed into Ben's own life, and he finds himself, like Monroe, trapped in a deepening paranoid conspiracy. The Empty Glass is an unforgettable combination of the riveting facts and legendary theories that have dogged Monroe, the Kennedy's, the Mafia, and even the CIA for decades. It is an exciting debut from a remarkable new thriller writer.
After a while, everything started to blur.
I felt that I’d spent hours, days, lying on the floor of this hotel room with my face against the wood and my eyes open wide as the air came through the vent near my head. The whoosh was all I heard— then the door closing, the keys in the lock, the footsteps on the floor stopping as I turned to see the patent leather shoes before my eyes, the stub of a cigarette dropped between them, burning.
And then there was the gun.
“Wake up.” Captain Hamilton pushed the Smith & Wesson into my neck. “I want you to write me a letter.”
I don’t remember when or how I did it. The three (or was it four? Or five? Or ten? I don’t remember) Nembutals had knocked me out. The captain was out of focus, going double.
He handed me the pen that she had used to write her own last words, and forced me to write mine. Reeling on the bed with his gun at my temple, I thought of the notes written on napkins and doors and windows and carpets that lined the shelves of Suicide Notes and Weapons. Now I was adding my own: Take care of Max for me. Tell him that I loved him. Tell him that whatever else his father did, he loved his son.
“That’s good, Delilah.” He loomed over me. “Now you feel good?”
“Even better.” He handed me the bottle.
I leaned forward, reached for the pills, and ended up with the gun. Ah, his shoulder had been injured, Doc. You know that.
I don’t need to tell you that I shot him. I was on my back, elbows locked. He was bending down when the gun kicked, a black dime smoking on his chest. He reared, touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil on his finger. “Oh, I know what this is,” he said as he fell.
I heard the sound his skull made.
I know what happens when you die.
You sigh and rub your forehead. “All right.” You shake a Chesterfield from your pack and light it with a kitchen match. You drag and blow smoke to the ceiling fan with the bulb above the table, and I notice (not for the first time) how clammy and pitted your skin is. You’re a big man, Doc, like an aging football player, with the face and waist of a small- town cop. “Let’s go over this again,” you say. You adjust your wire- rimmed glasses and check the notes that you are keeping in the book near the Sony reel-to-reel, lying on the desk like a suitcase, rolling at RECORD. “You shot him.”
“In self- defense. You see the bandages. You gave me the Novril.”
“Is it working?”
You sit on one side of the table; I sit on the other. Between us, that reel-to-reel, a stack of used and unused seven- inch tapes, a glass ashtray, a vial of Novril, and your pack of Chesterfields. There is also a box with a label reading “Fitzgerald, Ben, Psych Eval.” It contains what you call “the evidence”:
You pick up Item No. 1. “It had your fingerprints on it.”
“Like I said, I shot him.”
“Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
“The actress. I’ve told you this already.”
“Tell me again.”
So I do:
“I woke to the sound of the knock on the door and sat up in the light from the neon sign that snaked along the wall outside the window,” I say. “An empty carton of moo goo gai pan sat beside me; I hadn’t thrown it out. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the knock or actually heard it. I didn’t have a phone—”
“Hang on.” You are frowning. Something is wrong with the Sony. The wheels have stopped. You hit REWIND, then PLAY, and I hear my voice:
“—touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil
on his finger—”
You hit STOP and look up at me. “Like oil?”
“It glistened like oil, Ben?”
“It’s a simile.”
“Who do you think you are, Edna Ferber?”
But you can’t hear my voice on the tape anymore. This is where the recording stopped. There is nothing but static. You make minor adjustments to the machine and try it again: REWIND, STOP, PLAY.
It doesn’t work. You hit it with the heel of your hand.
REWIND, STOP, PLAY.
My voice: “Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
You pause the tape and look at me. “Now pick up where you left off.”
“Give me a cigarette first.”
“I thought you quit.”
“That was yesterday.”
You give me a cigarette.
And a Novril, too: for the pain.
After a while, everything starts to blur.
“Tell the truth this time,” you say.
“I already told you the truth.”
“So tell it again.”
Praise for THE EMPTY GLASS by J. I. Baker:
“The Empty Glass comes rampaging out of the gate and keeps on roaring and roistering until the sad, salutary shock of its final pages. After I started, the vivid writing and the presence of the unhappy latter-day Marilyn Monroe kept me reading all the way to the end. I want to tell everyone within the sound of my voice to buy this splendid novel. It's really punchy and really good, and you really should read it.”
—Peter Straub, award-winning author of In The Night Room
“J.I. Baker takes a bold run into Cain and DeLillo territory and scores. The Empty Glass is chilled and redolent of a good gin martini, leaving you primed to order another.”
—Barry Gifford, author of Wild at Heart
“Stylishly written and perfectly paced, The Empty Glass is noir fiction re-imagined for the modern era, a novel that is sharp, smart and breathlessly fast-paced, yet somehow manages to convey the slow burn of an old regret. As such, it marks the auspicious debut of a new voice in American suspense.”
—Thomas H. Cook, Edgar Award-winning author of Taken
“[In The Empty Glass] Baker conjures a suitably paranoid atmosphere and crackling dialogue in this look at the seedy intersection of celebrity, politics, and power.”
“The Empty Glass is riveting, brilliant, and endlessly fascinating. Writing from a wholly original perspective, J.I. Baker has combined the history and myth surrounding one of the most intriguing deaths of last century and created a shocking, unputdownable thriller. ”
—Jason Starr, author of The Craving
“J. I. Baker has spun a gripping and pulse-pounding conspiracy. Smart, perfectly atmospheric, and ultimately heartbreaking, The Empty Glass is one not to miss. It will stay with you long after the final page.”
—Andrew Gross, author of 15 Seconds and co-author of six #1 NYT bestsellers with James Patterson
“[An] imaginative 1960s yarn.”
“Marilyn Monroe is dead...by suicide. So why does all the evidence suggest that she was murdered? Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald’s relentless search for answers leads him down a dangerous path away from his sanity—and [he] takes readers along with him....a totally credible imagining of [Monroe’s] uncensored speech: breathy, sparingly punctuated and a little bit lost.... but Baker is totally in control, and watching him lead his hero along a precarious tightrope of reason is scary—and totally exhilarating.”
—Nathalie Gorman, Oprah.com
“It's LA CONFIDENTIAL meets the Bio channel with a little TMZ thrown in for fun.”
“Baker imagines Marilyn Monroe’s death through the eyes of the coroner. Mixing fact and theory, this taut thriller explores conspiracies around her as well as the official’s own psychological turmoil.”
“James Ellroy fans will relish Baker’s impressive first novel, a dark paranoid thriller … barbed prose makes a familiar story fresh. Fluent in the noir idiom, Baker maintains the depressing atmospherics throughout.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
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