In Your Dreams is very much a book of our times. The main character is a screenwriter who, when we meet him, is not doing too well .. but things improve and then they change in ways that even his imagination could not encompass. In Your Dreams is not only a thriller about bling, about the transitory glitter of these times, but it's also about aspiration, love, and perhaps above all... about confusion! Confused? Good, now read on, half the book is here for you to gauge it's flavour, described by the literary television programme 'City' as being...

 

" One of the finest, perhaps the most powerful, most existential thriller, of our Turn-of-this-Millennium world."

 

 

bookstreet is proud to announce a publishing event:

 

 

 

I N Y O U R D R E A M S

 

Frank Lauder

 

   a bookstreet book

© Frank Lauder MMVI

 

All persons, situations and places in this book

are imaginary, and references to persons living or

dead is unintended and coincidental

 

The right of Frank Lauder to be

identified as the author of

this work has been asserted

in accordance with sections 77

and 78 of the Copyright Designs

and Patents Act 1988

 

 

 

Chapter 1

'Bout de souffle'

It was a warm afternoon, the sort that dwell heavily in the mind, the humidity high because the sea winds were still that day, such that sweat pearled quickly on the brow.

At length Frank Mailer put down his note pad, rubbed his forehead, stopped the printer, clicked the switch at the back of the computer console off, cut the power, and sat with his head in his hands for a long, exhausted minute.

He was silent. The background hum of city traffic faded into a distant blur. The foreground pushed the background into unfocussed unknowingness.

A glimmer. There was that feeling in him that, though tired, he could identify the quick sparkle of second breath. You see, he felt, though only with exhausted intuition, that for some unknown reason a really 'great' idea was upon him, his second breath was almost there. Though this was exhausting, it was also incredibly positive; here in the ghetto of the city. There was something left to carry him through, hope.

What a pleasant surprise: he was not as burned out as he thought!

The facts were simple: it was possible for him to spend hours at the Screen, waiting for something to come into an otherwise empty head; yet, now...

All this time, he'd been collating the papers in front of him. Finally the wad was made, and the edges clipped down into a simple sheaf.

Luxury!

He got up, stretched his legs, untwisted his neck a few times experimentally, and then banged the manuscript of 'Nine Mens Carol' down on the worn tabletop with a finally satisfying 'Thud!'.

What a moment: fabulous: the screenplay - finished at last, and what was more wonderful - he had another cast-iron plot in his head: the idea coming up in his mind now: a new idea, like a wellspring: with the roar, the animal pleasure, the power, of a gusher roaring up the pipe at you at some absurd speed.

Original, dynamic: Dynamite!

How was he to get it down fast?

A few lost torn shreds of the broken edges of 'Nine' still floated in the deep gold, afternoon air for a moment, the ripped microperforated edges creating bright lit mobile sectors of yellow and white against the sunlight.

This was a moment of birth, not of loss. A moment of intense hope. The King is Dead, Long Live The King!

He took a long moment to take one luxuriously fleeting deep breath:

"Well, thank God I've finished that... I never want to see that script again as long as I live!"

This is the context in which all this was happening. One thing he knew, among too many.

Time is never friendly, you had to keep that in mind, and Frank Mailer had been sitting at the old computer for months, beavering away - and now, finally the umpteenth re-write of the bloody script was finished - and he could get back to normal life. Normal Life?

Normal life, of course, being, for him, among other things - the divorce. Can that word ever leave anyone alone? He felt suddenly grey.....very very.. old.

The room was old, the carpet was worn, and the computer console itself was for its time an antique: even his scuffed shoes were worn. Near worn out.

He looked around him - this place looked like a reject shop! Well, divorced people were a sort of reject, weren't they? A sort of unpleasant by-product?

A 'plane approaching Los Angeles International, wildly out of line and far too low, gave a flatulent gasp as it dipped out of the landing path over this suburb, and the tiles on his roof seemed to rattle.

Then, almost as if it were reading his thoughts, the battered 'phone gave a gasp, then rang.

He reacted, managing to knock the receiver to the floor. He found it and swivelled it round in one jittering hand, to speak.

"Sorry, I dropped the 'phone"

"Hi, Frank". Menace in the caramel- smooth tones of Susie's lawyer.

"Oh, Hi.. Allen!"

"It's about Susie", (Susie was his erstwhile wife.)

"I expected so." Flat, but not detected.

"We expect to have the paperwork finished on Thursday".

Allen was always droll. The point was that Allen was himself several times divorced, which gave the whole performance rather the veneer of the third repeat of a familiarly sneered-at soap opera. Courts are, after all, offices of one sort or another. Everyday.

So rather than give-in to the tail-end of the angst which had at one time threatened to tear him apart, Frank rose up against it. There was a lump in his throat though, as he said, in a studied, disinterested sort of way:

"Right"

"I'm sorry to be giving you a headache.. I know what it's like myself." Understatement.

"Divorce is a continuing disease" Overstatement. Foley. Stereo, though. Digital, Dolby: crackling in the ears.

"Glad you're seeing the philosophical side of it - one positive thing .. she isn't asking for any money!" Logical.

"Well, just as well, or she could have half the overdraft!" Misfortune.

"Sorry, Frank!" Facetiousness. Polish.

"Oh, it's just one of those lousy things", a moment of introspection, a beat - "..well that's all I can say!" Rubbish.

"I'll be writing to you again, soon." Tension. Right in the guts.

"Right, OK." Relief, of a sort.

"Goodbye". The 'phone clicked off. End.

His heart was suddenly as heavy as lead. Clunk, thud.

..

Frank Mailer sat there in his worn seat by the battered worktable, for all like Buster Keaton's straight man, all in Pan - Stick, waiting for the third assistant director to call him onto the shooting stage.

But there was no-more time for rehearsals now: the time for play acting was well and truly over.

Dammit! Think of something dramatic: something like:

 

HOLLYWOOD HILLS: DAY: INT:

FX: A GREY VEIL SEEMS TO SLIDE OVER THE FACE OF OUR CHARACTER AS HE:

He scrapped the line, not even consigning it to 'Sack' his computer mailbox.

Now that the screenplay for 'Nine Mens Carol' was finished and gone, he had decided that he would press ahead with the new 'In Your Dreams' with as much speed as possible.

(There was nothing else to do anyway.)

Fate loomed ahead of him like the Santa Monica Freeway. All twelve lanes of it. He coughed.

He sat for hours, looking out of the window, hearing the neighbours rowing, and then the bed creaking as they made up. Dammit, no woman to work it out on! 'I could use a fuck!' Where did that come from?

Days went by. Time flows slowly when there's nothing happening.

And then, quite by chance one lonely morning, he had a conversation with someone from Warner's: that made some sort of breakthrough: well, that was how it felt, though it could be just a flash in the pan, another damn Chimera. It was a scrambled conversation, serving just to give him a modicum of hope. A straw to a drowning man. A scrambled conversation, something about 'Nine Mens Carol' being cleared for a producer to look at.

"No promises, though!"

Then silence. Well, that was normal.

Life continued in this vein: that's how it always had been, anyway. Kind of slow.

 

One morning, he decided to make a definite start on the plot of the new screenplay 'In Your Dreams': he found the saver disk, called it up on the screen, examined the various parts: all shattered and bearing little resemblance to any recognisable story.

He scanned the display of fragments on the screen, files with unlikely names like: DEC.1 and SIN.000.

There was no order in it, yet.

N.B: One thing. The Mix. Any screenplay has to contain, in varying percentages: sex, a relationship, some sort of crime, murder being useful as a crowd-puller; some sort of sympathy gradient, for example an unborn child; and finally, something that John Doe could get hold of - vengeance, jealousy, amusement, children's viewpoints, passion, sex.

Sex. He'd written that twice.

Well, that was very much the plot of 'Nine Mens Carol'- and that script was getting some interest!

What the hell, it paid for you to eat, whatever that meant.

He was getting cynical: didn't have any great hopes for 'Nine'. How could he? In the interim after all he'd lost his innocence: now in more ways than one, perhaps he was becoming dangerously sober, immovable, even stable.

Stodgy?

God!, No! He got up and stretched himself.

And the challenge for a screenwriter is the zing, the sharp ice edge of reality, fantasy. Excitement.

How do you generate excitement on a sheet of copier paper? Particularly when you're happy, stodgy, content? Happy? Stodgy? Content? Frank Mailer? No! - was this was the wrong file out of 'Sack'? Unlikely!

But what a luxury, to be thickening around the middle and to happy about it, to be confident, loved, loving, happy, supported, settled. He wished he were.

But, back to the nub of it; just to push it past straight mundane reality any good piece needs, whatever pretences it has, whatever it is to be, some other, some lateral interest: some new vein of tension: another layer of story.

Screenplay writing is, ultimately, the art of making Dagwood Sandwiches. Sandwiches so delicious that you're impelled to come back for another helping: another skein in the plot: a repeat ticket, another screen. More money.

He could use more money. Shit!, back to that!

About the only dynamic thing in his life was his overdraft. And unfortunately it was not the only thing that frightened him

The phone rang while he was lost in his musing. Dreaming. Drowsing in the window, inventing shapes where there were no shapes, thinking of the girl on the carpet next door.

 

He gave a violent start, almost knocked the receiver handpiece off the rest; struggled with it for a moment.

"Hey Franko !"

He slowed right down: stood up to clear his chest. Sat down back with his legs up on the stool.

This was an unexpectedly friendly voice! For a moment he sat in deep suspicion, head slowly clearing.

He held the 'phone away from him for a minute, trying to visualize the caller.

"Hey, Frank!" Like a tape loop or something.

"Hello?" Out of focus, pull back to:

"David Sargent...remember Warner's?"

"Yeah"

"From a million years ago?"

"Uh huh!"

"Well, when I was there last week I saw one of your latest pieces - it was with the producer, Zac Greenwald... and they're crazy about it... I think it's your latest eh?...'Nine Mens Carol'?"

"Right!" He'd suddenly snapped awake: a sudden 'Swoosh!' of cold water. What?

"Anyway, they're up in the air about it: already doing a pre-shoot recce for locations!"

"Are they ?" Frank Mailer became even more suspicious; on the knife-edge between insane happiness and paranoid despair.

What was this all about, anyway?

"One thing, Franko, boy?"

"Yes?"

"We should have lunch together.. when are you free.. make it soon!"

"Just one thing David.."

"Yes, Frank"

"I was your client... you were my agent.. you fired me.... and that was a long time ago."

Six months, no, more, a year. That's why Frank was sending out his own scripts now: at the bottom of the pile, on 'spec'.

This was absurd though: there was no stopping the effulgence of the voice, like a bubble trying to burst:

"Frank... Frank, boy.. really, I can explain everything: I had problems over my divorce.. you were having problems over yours..we never could see eye to eye over anything.. Frank, the point is..." his ex-agent struggled with an indigestible mouthful of words: obviously desperate to think of something: "..the point is, Frank.. all the nightmares are over and you and I can get down to some great work.. really great work.. together.. some really great work together!"

Bastard!

"Well! this is a change of tack for you."

There was a gobbling noise on the other end of the line, as if a Turkey from the backwoods had suddenly entered David Sargent's office, a muttered imprecation, too.

 

A beat. then:

"Life's like that, Frank, take it from me..I'm older than you, I should know after all - best friends sometimes become enemies for short periods - but don't let it affect you: our relationship went through ups and downs, but it's built to last - I knew that as soon as we shook hands for the first time, believe me! I..I.. never expected that our separation would last; I'm surprised you never called me... but marriage is here to stay, Frank, believe me, they won't be annulling this one!"

Had David Sargent known more about his marriage, even been interested more in his marriage (End Of), there wouldn't have been so much jollity in his voice.

Anyway - there was little clouding Frank's mind on this point: after all hadn't Warner's dumped a script of his before?

And yes, there was some talk of his new script going up to them: but not through David Sargent's agency.

He left the conversation at that: no need to go any further because he was sure something would happen now that David Sargent was chasing him for his percentage.

"Listen David - look, thanks for the call, I promise I'll get back to you.. OK?"

"Well,, sure, just remember that we have a good understanding between us, Frankie boy"

"Sure, David"

"Sure, Franko?"

Now, why had David Sargent rung? There must be money in it, and agents have a star system just like writers, or anyone else in the movie business.

 

He found out later what had happened. It was simple, not at all what he would have thought.

Now this is pre-history, and it goes like this: no, the screenplay had been referred internally, probably accidentally, across companies: some excuse he heard on a bad 'phone line from a rude script editor, seven weeks after he'd sent the screenplay of 'Nine Mens Carol' in.

As far as he knew the first thing that happened was that he'd received a reject slip - but no script arrived: so he 'phoned and heard the script editor/general gofer talking:

.."..No interest from us here...not dealing in that sort of thing..anyway", the script editor (at UA) said, with rare indulgence: "...Look, I'll do you a favour and hand it across to Warner's on the internal - but I'll tell you my expert opinion: it's crap and won't turn over a plugged nickel: but I'll do it anyway." An air of worn patience.

Charity, eh?

Now they were giving him charity. Mind you, he needed it. Dammit. Anything that involved dollars, and his bank account.

 

And to return to David Sargent: why should he cut him in on this one, anyway?

"I'll give you a call back David, I promise."

"Righto, Franko, boy. Righto."

There was a deal of tension working itself out on the line.

David Sargent cut it.

For a moment there was the blare of background sound, Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'- as the switchboard came back on the line, and then that cut out too.

 

So Warners had seen the script! - obviously passed to them by UA having traversed MGM on it's journey. Now how had that come about? Because that was how it was. He wasn't sure whether the sensation was pleasant or unpleasant; it just gave him a tingle in his feet.

He 'phoned back, fearing the usual rejection.

It took him a little while to cut through the bureaucracy, to zigzag the extensions and find the relevant script editor at Warner's: by this time he had quite a sore throat -

"Have you dealt with a script by Frank Mailer?"

"Who?". They were not overly gifted with either wit or humour at Warners.

"Frank Mailer ?"

"Never heard of it"

"Him!"

"Who?"

"Frank Mailer is the writer!"

"You his agent or something ?"

"No I'm.."

Because if you send in unsolicited stuff we chuck it on one side and probably read it in two years time!"

"No, it's a script... the name of a script:

"Run that one by me Buddy, I've only chucked five today so far!"

"'Nine Mens Carol'"

"Oh, .. wait!" The voice clicked off the line.

A million years of waiting. He was sweating for some reason: he drank a sip of the cold coffee to quench a rising thirst.

The line clicked on again.

"'Nine Mens.'." he started, his voice hoarse by this time, almost a whisper of despair..

"Hello? ", said an almost polite voice "Who am I speaking to?"

"Frank Mailer..'.Nine Mens-'"

"Ah! Mr Mailer, what an unexpected pleasure!"

For a moment he was absolutely shocked: he had never been treated like this by anyone in any company so far: they were usually short tempered and rude, normally both things at the same time. Filmic, normal. What's the expression? - Polite But Firm.

"I-", he said, suddenly short of breath... was this real?

"Oh, Hullo Mr Mailer.. my extension is two-five-four, and I am Miss Leaming: L-e-A-m-i-n-g , excuse me spelling it to you but it's for future reference....all your scripts will in future be retained at this office: in all future connexions please always ask for me, or the extension... and additionally, for reasons of total security,in future all your scripts will be handled by our appointed courier service, so there'll be no problem with material being lost in the post..."

She coughed and Frank Mailer seized the opportunity to take a long draught of the coffee to clear a terminally blocked throat.

"...just phone them on extension 21552 - I will tell them so today, and they will come round and pick-up; whatever you wish to send!... page by page is always a very secure way of doing it: just address it to me. The service is unlimited and twenty-four hours a day, by the way."

"Well, by all means!", he said, breathless.. "..What does..?" he stopped because she had continued almost without drawing breath.

"And.. Mr Mailer, may I Personally congratulate you on a perfect script: I haven't enjoyed anything so much in years!"

"You may.. eh..I.."

This had taken the wind completely out of his sails.

If he hadn't been sitting down, he would have had to sit. As it was, he had already taken his feet off the table in some sort of surprise. They were shaking, independantly. Pins and needles too.

"And I expect you'll want to be put through to Mr Pelling: unfortunately he isn't in this afternoon, you probably know he's shooting 'Red Duster' (that's it's running title anyway) - but I could get him to call you when he has a break for editing at the week-end."

"I.. well..of course: I'm at 555 4237: you might know that from the flyleaf of the script.."

"Yes I can see that right here.." Miss Leaming was obviously leafing through the script at that moment: "I have you on the autodialler now, so that's OK - no trouble: and remember, if you have any problems at all, just 'phone me and I'll be right on to it, after all the production of 'Nine mens Carol' (that is its running title isn't it?) mustn't be spoiled in any way at all! It'll be a smash, I'm sure of it"

"Thank you for your help Miss Leaming!"

"Not at all, Mr Mailer".

He sat back to try to muzzle his mad head.

He went into the dank, slowly decaying bathroom and had a cool shower. Suddenly he brightened.

Despite his generally downcast condition it had suddenly occurred to him that he had some sort of a hit on his hands.

 

EXT: DAY:

TOM

(Who is trying to straighten-out the plastic bag and get the corpse into it)

Dammit all, Ulla, this is no way to fix this

thing... we'll never get it straightened out

if we get ourselves in such a mess: after all the cops'll see what we've done immediately.. the evidence is all there..

ULLA

Not if you just do what I said: there's no reason to panic: they're not looking for this creep, so they'll never find him-anyway, the world is better-off without an arsehole like that..

TOM

I just hope you know what you're doing honey,

I just hope it.. that's all

WE FREEZE ON THAT:

CUT TO:

INT: SOUTH HOLLYWOOD: DAY

He played around with the idea, juxtaposed it, cut it, hiked it over the page, split-screened it - and despaired of it.

Finally, for the hundredth time he put the paper down.

One more page: and the plot was meandering all over the map!

He put the spellcheck on and let the machine run over the numerous misspellings. Then he ran the style check, which told him that he had too many broken vowels and used the word EXT and INT too much.

Hopeless thing, that pretentious stylechecker: he'd dump it just as soon as the piece was finished.

When, despairing, he went into the kitchen to make another cup of instant coffee, he noticed a dense square yellow vellum envelope on the floor just inside the front door. He opened it and saw that it contained a heavy gold-rimmed ivory-card

'Zac Greenwald requests the pleasure of the company of Frank Mailer at a dinner party at 276 Ellington Place,

Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles,

California

........ R.S.V.P'

An invitation from Zac Greenwald, the producer-to-be of 'Nine Mens Carol', at his place on Sunset Boulevard.

"Interesting."

 

 

Chapter 6

Eating

The traffic was stacked-up clear into central L.A. that night, and the flow on the freeways was immense.

After exploring the ill-lit bye-ways and the concrete backstreets of the east side of town he found an empty highway, then changed further along to a freeway with only eight lanes. By this time the engine was overheating slightly, and the smell of hot metal aggravated his worries.

But then, finally, the environment changing gradually to sweeping parkland and dense shrubberies, he was there.

He pulled the Red Pontiac up outside a wide sweeping park-like set of grounds, each large front garden walled off from its neighbours to ensure total privacy and bounded by it's own high white wall, partly hidden by foliage and densely overgrown greenery.

Twin security cameras winked dully, and regarded him with magisterial indifference, hardly moving to traverse along their rails as the bonnet of the Red Pontiac lined itself up with the driveway.

He waited a moment before a huge black security guard, of mien pugilistic, poked his face into the car:

""Invite?" But this was no request, rather an examination.

Frank showed his invitation card.

He was ushered in, and the car parked by a waiting attendant, on a patch of unused front lawn with the others, not many of them, around a dozen. The attendant took a torch and a mirror on a stalk and checked under the car for he knew not what.

"Hiya, Frank - sorry about the security; we've always got problems at this end of Sunset" It was Zac Greeenwald's pallid secretary, acting as gofer.

"Yeah, I can see that."

He walked through a large marble atrium and then through a richly carved, antique arched way before being ushered into a long low room, with subdued, concealed lighting lined with deep long luxurious settees and a variety of low tables.

Around the sides of the room the decorations were composed of an exquisite and eclectic variety of different artworks, from Warhol through to a marble bust of a balding, entonsured Roman, with the added gaudiness of an irrelevant gilded semi-circle of oak leaves upon the marbled, bald pate, denoting, he thought prestige. Whose prestige?

One long wall was filled with the emptiness of a modern painting, consisting of dribbles of Red and Chrome Yellow, and crossed by a line in a shade of vague Cerulean, changing swiftly to a chorus of shades of Prussian Blue.

Along the last two thirds of the opposite wall ran a line of glass doors, which were folded back to reveal an equally long patio, flanked by lights, which entered the gardens at one landscaped level, before reaching down to the garden proper.

The swimming pool, the obligatory shape of a kidney, or suchlike was pulled in at an easy remove from one end of the patio, almost contacting the long table itself. There was a succession of gilded chairs, dressed with perfect napery and lit by a line of candelabra.

The effect was glittering and Cinemascopically perfect, especially as the sky was now beginning to darken, and the cicadas to slow their song.

Time can be a luxury, and there was not time sufficiently to appreciate this.

The guests assembled were gathered mainly in a crowd, only one of whom he recognized, Zac Greenwald, the producer of the big box-office hit of the last year 'The Flames'. Yesterday turns rapidly into history, in Hollywood.

"Frank ! It's wonderful to see you!", said Zac, with Technicolor effusiveness, proffering a tanned and manicured hand.

"Nice to see you Zac", he proffered his hand and it met Greenwald's for a second.

"We hardly know each other", said Greenwald, ignoring the fact that they were total strangers:

"Let me introduce you to some of my friends!...what are you drinking?"

"A Martini Bianco with ice".

A lackey hovered.

He got a glass of champagne. Well, it was lightish yellow, too.

"Well, I'll have to live with it!", he said to himself.

A chorus of faces were introduced, and forgotten immediately.

"Gathering material for your latest 'Ouvre' Frank?", said a voice, attaching to a face whom he did not know. He smiled; this was something like celebrity.

"Sure am!"

"Hey Frank!" someone he did not know obviously knew him very well, well, for tonight at least. Obviously his fame was spreading faster than he'd thought possible.

The conversations meandered on, lubricated by martinis or coke, or whatever took one's fancy.

After a time he found himself sitting in one of those deep sofas somewhere in the living area away from the patio and the table and the pool, flanked by another producer, Anthony de Winter, and de Winter's wife, Geraldine.

"It's a good way to spend time", he said, a little dazzled.

"It certainly is fun", said Geraldine, looking charming.

"A perfect way to make business!", said de Winter; Zac is always so accommodating when it comes to dinner parties, though his spread is just a little small."

"Well, at least he has a nice pool... we had a pleasant afternoon here last week didn't we, Darling", said his wife, turning to him.

"Oh, the script conference.. that new story"

Frank's ears perked up.

"You married?" Enquired Geraldine

"I was, until yesterday". He looked at his watch to check the date. "Yes. Today it's was." Iron, in the Soul.

"So this is by way of a tardy celebration!", said Geraldine, cheerful, polished.

"I suppose you could say that."

"And you've just become the flavour of the month, too!" Maybe she meant it - through the gloss, he couldn't tell.

The point was that that was the first he'd heard of it, but he dare not ask further, for fear of seeming too pushy, so he waited his opportunity.

On the basis of that, he took another glass at random from a passing vassal, this time of some sort of white wine.

Then Zac suddenly stood on the other side of the table:

"Come here, Frank, don't sit there - here, let me introduce you to someone you ought to know" There was a certain brusque rudeness in the speech.

He rose with unexpected, alcoholic effort from the depths of the upholstery.

"Here, Frank, meet Greg Dyke: Greg, this is the writer I discussed with you yesterday: the guy who wrote 'Nine Mens Carol' Frank Mailer"

"Great to meet you, Frank", said the short fat man with the cigar, making it sound as if he really was, ".. I was looking at your script last week and I was.. well, favourably impressed, let's put it that way - I particularly enjoyed the way the storyline turned on the idea of the wife's dishonesty.... nice writing - very nice... I'd like to talk further (of course this is absolutely the wrong place), but look..", he patted him on the shoulder, and sought in his pocket for a card;"...give me a call on my private line in the next day or two, and we'll talk further."

"Sure, that sounds interesting."

"Interesting is hardly the word, Frank", said the fat man; "..hardly the word".

Now Frank realized that this fat man, Greg Dyke, was with a tall, beautiful, shapely, willowy blond, with an extraordinarily pure, elegant face, and that she was pulling Greg Dyke away by his other arm. She gave Frank an disinterested look, looked down her nose in his general direction. Unconcerned.

"Excuse me. Frank".

They moved away across the room, playing the same game, though not exactly together - perhaps merely for that night.

He glanced at the card: it bore only a phone number. He put it away somewhere safe.

A silver bell tinkled; some kind of warning.

A black suited butler appeared, bearing a silver salver: upon it a set of name-cards: he offered the salver to the assembled guests: when it came to Franks turn he took the little card:' Frank Mailer' and in tiny letters underneath: 'writer - Nine Mens Carol.'

"Hiya, Frank", said an unknown face:"...I'm John's cameraman - I guess we'll be working together soon!"

They were ushered out to the main table, where the butler was still pouring out the last of the champagne into the glasses at the table settings.

The party sat down. In front of each setting there was a little silver fork-shaped stand for their name cards.

There were around twenty guests at table: the cards made it easy: now he could see who he was surrounded by.

Zac Greenwald had arranged it so that each woman sat next to a man: one thing was, he noticed, that most of the people present were single: even the de Winter's were involved in conversations with people who were not their partners.

Not particularly unusual. So Far.

But before he could collect his thoughts enough to become a camera as was his habit, he became aware that his dinner companion on the left hand side was someone he hadn't seen previously: a blond woman of around thirty - an angular face.

For a moment his senses swayed menacingly: the scent of Chanel No.5 combined with the strong fragrance of her armpits was almost overpoweringly sexual. An unexpected sensation.

"Someone told me you were a writer".

Her voice was soft and confident.

"That's right"

"What have you written apart from 'Nine Mens Carol'?"

"Oh, too many to care about !", he said with a laugh. (In fact the champagne was making him quite light-headed.)

"Widescreen", he said.

"What was that"

"Oh, just thinking about work.. I shouldn't really"

"Not this evening you shouldn't - after all we're here to have fun, aren't we!" The famous Technicolor smile.

"Sorry"

"Oh, don't worry.. everyone here's got business to mull-over."

"Naturally". She smiled at him again, slowing everything down for a minute, like a video reeling as the capstan slows it. Then she turned away quite quickly to talk to someone on her other side.

They started on the first course: Gazpacho: not imaginative, but delicious.

He found himself thinking about this group: here they were on the edge of the Hollywood hills, some way along a wooded canyon. Right there in the distance he could see a set of twinkling lights, and in the far distance the occasional beacons of a light aircraft making it's final approach to Burbank Airport with a soft modulated drone, almost noiseless.

The sky like a huge friendly dome overhead.

"What are you thinking,?", said the blonde on his left:

"Who's the blond with Greg Dyke?"

"Oh her..!" the voice wavered on the edge of a controlled laugh for a moment, and unexpectedly hardened slightly, gaining a quick edge: "....she's called Carol van Camp..sort of an actress, works for my agency sometimes... well, used to, anyway!."

"Sort of?"

"On her back"

"Oh - I get it" She laughed, only it was not quite a laugh. He hadn't fully understood that speech.

They ate on for moments, the heavy cutlery clicking deliciously against the porcelain crockery.

"What are you thinking, now?"

"About the beauty of the sky, that's all."

"Oh, a romantic!"

"Definitely not a banker"

"Oh,I dunno"

"You can believe me there!"

"Well, we can drink to that ", she said, raising her glass.

"Sure can!", he said.

A voice broke in from across the table:

"Oh, Frank: I've no manners: let me introduce you!"- It was Zac Greenwald. "You're next to Fiona Rydell, Fifi, on your left, and Tony Vincent on your right."

Tony Vincent was dark haired, insecure: she said:

"Nice to meet you." And almost bobbed. With the maddening reflex of the voyeur, he noticed that her fingernails were chipped and uneven.

Zac Greenwald was effusive, though controlled:

"Girls, this is our latest find: Frank Mailer .... writer extraordinaire!"

Tony Vincent dropped her spoon and Frank Mailer automatically began to wipe her dress clear with his napkin.: it took a moment before he realized what he was doing.

"Oh, sorry... I'm so used.."

"Oh, thank you anyway... it's real nice meeting a real Gentleman!".

He had become so used to this sort of informal intimacy during his years of marriage that he hadn't realized that by doing that he would be touching a strangers breasts, or her belly. A strangers breasts?

Apart from that the remark seemed oddly out of keeping. But he continued anyway.

"There"

"Thank you, Frank".

"Are you in the film business too?"

"Sort of - friend of Zac's", said Tony.

"Oh, yeah". He said.

"What do you do?" She said.

"Writer"

"Oh, really!"

"What do you do?"

"Oh, act around,like. Bodies. You know."

"Oh, yeah." He had no idea what she meant, sitting behind a word-processor all day sapped the imagination.

Now, the Gazpacho was finished, and the butler dispensed freezing dry white wine from a napkin-draped bottle into one of the battery of glasses in front of each of them.

Fiona, on his left, had lit a Gitane.

"You don't mind if I smoke between courses, do you ?"

"Well, of course not". Nobody had ever asked him that question before. In fact the thought had never crossed his mind. "Why do you ask?"

"I figured that it would be just good manners"

"Well, perhaps", he said. "But don't worry about me."

"Righto", she said, with the beginnings of a rye smile on her celluloid lips.

Conversations rolled on around the table, and the second course was served, ushered in with a delicate Claret.

"I like Bordeaux wines". It was Fiona.

"Delicate sort of aroma"

"By the way..." the next course was arriving on huge silver plate dishes and the hired vassals whipped the domed covers off with huge, filmic, relish. The food was delicious anyway.

"Yes...?"

"By the way...(oh isn't that wonderful!)..I just know you from somewhere.."

"Oh, I doubt it..writers don't get much air"

"Well,it's one of those feelings that you get... know what I mean... I just know that I've met or seen you somewhere before"

"Really?"

"Yes, for sure -certain"

"Well, after this dish, I promise to think about it."

A very long moment, the cutlery clinking against the crockery amidst the gorgeous napery, conversation tinkling prettily among the crystal glasses.

"Writers are pretty dry, aren't they!".

"Hey, take it easy"

Fiona laughed and wrinkled her nostrils a little.

"That, was a wind-up!"

The alcohol had loosened his control; despite himself that nightmare that had happened to him so recently, that he had spent so much time forgetting, had come to visit him again.

Dammit!

That caught him: below the belt - uncomfortably, quickly, his consciousness seeming to zoom: now he remembered those precious little intimacies with Sandra, with any other lover he had had: these little things that are so quickly forgotten, so bitterly missed: the crease of a breast against the sculptured, elegant, marble, hollowness of a shaven armpit.

He'd forgotten them all, quietly. In order to survive.

Time. Little, loving details.

He'd blanked them out: now they came back at him in a mob, like a Tiger Shark in a fast current, dangerous, prescient, predatory, allowing him no time.

No time for that now; reaction time gives you Survival, and survive, you must.

Caramel. Laughter.

"How long have you known Zac?"

Fiona Rydell was gently probing: somehow not content; creating a reaction;

"Not long: through my latest script, actually... apparently he wants me to write the next one for him" He stopped thinking, the alcohol was getting to him.

"Well, that's good money"

"Money is what this business is about"

"It's what all our businesses are about!"

Now he in his turn, was seized by curiosity:

"What is your business - anyway ?"

"Oh, I'm an agent - for low budget stuff... not one of the Mega one's", she laughed, as if this was all irrelevant.

"But there's work"

"Always work, in my neck of the woods"

"Well, good"

"Sure". Fiona wrinkled that pretty nose up again in some semblance of a smile.

"So, you mean... that you're not here entirely for fun"

"Well, I wouldn't say that exactly... but my business is finding the right faces.. and bodies.. for the right people .."

"Right movies"

"I guess so". Fiona took a draught from her glass. "Anyway, we shouldn't talk so much shop!"

"I'm sorry, of course".

"No problem."

That was the cutoff.

 

"Brandy...?" Zac was flourishing a huge decanter of brown liquid around the table.

The diners sat back, now replete.

On Frank Mailer's right, Tony giggled with alcoholic glee of some sort.

The cigars passed along the row.

"Smuggled in", said a voice.

"Real Havana's!"

"So you smoke, too", said Fiona on his left.

"Sure" He turned the cigar admiringly in his fingers, as if it were a work of art. "This here is a work of Art."

"I thought smoking was dying out among writers and screen people?"

"Obviously not very fast."

"Actors dare not touch the stuff!"

"That's about the only set of problems they have - clean living"

"That and coke...you could say that!" Fiona said this with some irony, and a little laugh.

"Really?" said Frank: not knowing where this conversation was going, but anyway uncomfortable about the outcome.

"Well, you should know that... listen I don't want to be boring but I've begun to work out where it was that I saw you - somewhere down the strip perhaps?"

"It's possible: I go there sometimes, doesn't everyone?"

"Not everyone"

Perhaps she knew more than he'd reckoned for - mind you, the people here were far from angels themselves - and that meant that the voice and the idea were becoming uncomfortably close: almost united.

"I guess I scout around for Ideas: my latest screenplay, it's called 'In Your Dreams', is about life hereabouts"

"Gosh, that's interesting." Frank found it hard to believe that remark or the fact that, despite the alcohol and the lateness of the hour Fifi Rydell seemed genuinely interested.

"You find that interesting?"

"Really!"

"Well, good"

"Why?"

"Well, nobody ever seems remotely interested in what I spend all day grinding away at." That was the truth.

"It's pretty hard, isn't it?"

A few moments to ponder on the relevance, or not, of that.

And then she returned the unexpected:

"Oh, no, I've always been interested: more in the process than anything... how do you get all those words out, for a start?"

He was going to say, 'Desperation, Hunger, Fear' but instead made up a little story: this came easily to hand after all:

"Oh, I guess it's a thing to think about life, think about situations - sort them out - deal with them: you know what I mean!"

"A sort of therapeutic process?"

"That could be it."

She smiled.

Anthony de Winter came around the table, whispered something in her ear and she excused herself and vanished with him.

Frank Mailer sat in silence, enjoying the cigar, the brandy, the background tittle-tattle, the stars, the cicadas, the hum of a Beechcraft approaching Burbank, and the lapping of the water round the pool. And the darkness of the night. From time to time he could see the stars wink at him. The immensity of the sky.

It wasn't for a while that he realised that he and Fiona Rydell had monopolised each other for most of the evening. He looked at his watch: it was pushing two already.

..

Thursday was their next meeting: the day was dusty, and inexplicably cold. He put it down to the sea wind that had been blowing all day long, bringing that cool damp air with it.

Originally he had arranged to meet her in the city: but around seven o'clock, just when he was beginning to think about dressing, the phone rang:

"I'm sorry to throw you out: but I'm expecting an important call- could we meet at my place? it's at Benedict Canyon- I've got some food, we can eat there."

He bought a two bottles of Freixenet, and drove slowly through the falling traffic flow in the Santa Monica suburbs.

He reached the house on the knoll around nine - it was unusual in those plush parts, a semi-detached: some sort of crazy, now forgotten thought; you can get anything built in California, even your craziest fantasy. He drove along the canyon-like driveway and parked.

The lights were on all over the house: through the blinds he could dimly see a shadow move in Fiona's half.

When he rang the bell, before she opened the door, he sensed a brief flurry of activity of some sort.

Fiona was a little flushed as she stepped back behind the door, her manner the assured one he associated with her, that velvety voice, that overall confidence.

There's something about people whose manner is assured that makes them immediately attractive.

As the door clicked shut he heard the sound of an engine spluttering into life on the parking space in the sandy grass. That meant nothing.

The sky was unusually clear and bright -

"It's the wet air, keeps the traffic smog right down".

She wore a short twin-strap black dress. Barefoot. Bare legs too. Monochrome. He thought Dior? ..her breasts packed nicely into the straight-edge of the bust-line, the squeeze of which emphasised their fullness and shape.

They looked each other full in the face: remembering.

"How nice it is to meet you!"

"I'm so thirsty - I've got to have some Freixenet" He brandished a bottle.

"So have I"

"Well, we have instant agreement, here."

"God! You don't know how thirsty I am... I've spent the whole day thinking about a cool fizzy drink!"

He gave her a big squeeze.

"I need to be squeez..oof"

"Hey, pour your guest a drink!"

"Hey, put that in the fridge!"

"I have a bunch here already"

"Never mind!"

"Liar!"

He kicked his loafers off.

"Hate shoes."

"Love shoe shops, though."

"How'd you know?"

"About liars?"

"I just know... writers.. they can make it up as they go along: they're experts at twisting words"

"I suppose that could be true."

"Could be?"

"I'd be fired from the Screenwriter's Guild if I told you that one."

 

The cork popped, and disappeared into the shadows.

The living room itself was long, perhaps twenty-five feet long, twenty feet wide; slightly oblong, low.

The two lamps which lit it were set centrally, equidistant from the back wall, so that they created two separate pools of light, and at the same time gave the room shape and depth, which the almost square space otherwise belied.

The main seat was against the centre of the longest wall, and looked directly out through the long window in the opposite wall. The door from the kitchen was on the corner of one of the shorter walls. There were pictures on the wall, but he could not identify them, the dusk was too intense..

The bedroom was the room which faced out back, onto the area of grass overlooked by the knoll itself.

It was wonderfully quiet, away from the hum of the city:

"It's the effect of the knoll."

The fizz in the glasses dispelled any sort of anxiety which he might have had: when the second bottle was due to be opened, Fiona disappeared into the archway at the end of the room for a moment, returning with a blanket, but made no move to use it..

"I'm a bit cold". She made no move to unfold it, just left it there, rather neatly. For himself, he was perfectly comfortable: the air temperature being almost at the limit of comfort - no more than that, though.

 

The fizz had by this time gone to his head.

He could not remember the last time that he had felt so light-hearted.

He felt as if he could laugh for hours.

"But I know you from somewhere...I know I do." She said.

"You'll find out eventually."

"Never!"

"Film set?"

"Maybe"

"UA?"

"No"

"Warner's?"

"Nuh-huh!"

The glass clinked against her teeth.

"You have a certain way of laughing....!" he said.

"Do I?"

"A very special way..!"

"Oh?"

More Freixenet.

"Space!"

He lay on his back and laughed a little: "Bloody, space!"

"Is that what you needed?"

"It's what I haven't had - for all my life!"

"it's everyone's problem"

"I guess it is."

Darkness.

"Down on the strip near Hollywood and Vine?"

They kissed. Her mouth was wet, yet strong: demanding, yet relaxed; exciting yet delicate; a whole catalogue of pleasures.

"Hooker territory.. deep hooker land..!"

"Oh, you know that.. eh?"

"Doesn't everyone know where you can get a cheap jump?"

"Why, do you believe in expensive ones?"

"Only if you can't get one for free!"

They were embracing for long enough for the shadows to deepen. They were clothed all over in darkness.

"We kiss in a shadow."

"Don't be corny...!" She pushed away from him:

"I'm not corny... I'm not a writer.... that's your problem..

"Ha-ha!"

"Let me have another" she scrabbled for her glass. "A refresher."

The glass clinked against the bottle, a long moment.

"I've been thinking"

He smoothed his hand against her side; her body was warm - like a horse which has just been for an early morning run: ready for activity: relaxed yet a little tired; expectant. Balanced. Excited.

"By the way... what do you do in the business..?"

"I told you - I'm an Agent."

"Oh, yes.. but I've never heard of you... is that the wrong thing to say ?"

"Wrong neck of the woods."

"Oh yeah?"

"Sure"

"What neck of the woods is that, then?"

"Blue Movies."

"Seriously ?"

"Sure -seriously"

"Never thought about it"

Glass tinkled prettily against glass as he struggled to sit up. A 'plane flew low in on it's finals to Santa Monica Field.

They stopped for a moment while it cleared the high ground. Before he could move she said:

"Serious cash in skin flicks"

"So that girl.. eh, Tony Vin-"

"Tony's in them alright. Player."

"Gosh!" . He was beginning to see an awkward end to this - Greenwald, the de Winters, the cameraman..what was his name? - and a bunch of porno players and people - Well, what the hell!

"Well, it's cash I guess."

"Pays for the dresses!"

"I advise you to pay by the yard - it'd be cheaper!"

"Not at a thousand bucks a trick it ain't."

She leaned over him and her breasts were wide-screen, filling his eyeline: wonderful. He all at once grasped one and gave it a friendly sort of, caress.

"That was nice."

They rolled over on the floor.

"Can I put my hand up your skirt?"

"Not just yet"

"Go on!"

"Wait a little!"

They both laughed a great deal, it was funny, all over again, light. Very light.

They lay on their backs, looking at the ceiling:

"Tell me one thing?"

"Yes?"

"Do they write scripts for those numbers... I mean..?"

Curiosity.

"There's a lot of ad-libbing!"

"Yes, I figured that!"

"And the extra's - the extra's are where the big cash is!"

"You run 'em too - tarts"

"When they want me to - you could say it's a part of the business - only business, know what I mean?"

He laughed for ages. She did too. It was funny.

The 'phone rang while they were kissing and she crawled over to where it was..

What a sensation! For again, for another first time for a long time, he was really moved by this, really filled with a new spacey feeling, not one of the dead feelings he had hauled around about Susie - it was such an unexpected set of sensations that at first he was unable to analyse his feelings about it.

Context: it was simple really: throughout the long endgame with Susie he'd forgotten such feelings - everything had become dried up, distorted, overloaded. Now any feeling he had was beginning to be natural, unthought of - no anxieties, no memories or fears.

Fiona spoke on the 'phone for several minutes. At some point, almost unconsciously, he began to caress her back, and then automatically to play with the fine zip on the dress.

When he slid it open he expected to find something under it, some other garment of some feminine kind, a brassiere, panties.... She wore nothing.

She put the 'phone on the rest, sat back a moment, apparently thinking: began to unbutton his jeans.

Suddenly, automatically with the music he was unhitching the straps of the dress.

"How delicious you are." Not reality, rather, truth.

She stood up and allowed the dress to slide away to the floor, brushing it aside with a careful hand. A well written line, such capacity, such unexpected grace.

"You are beautiful, you really are."

Her body was good enough to eat.

He ran his mouth over her breasts, her thighs, between her legs over the tight cropped hair.

 

In the darkness the green dots on his watch face were cold neon close to his nose, when he opened his eyes.

The air was cool, and the background sound of the distant metropolis merely a gentle hum.

Near dawn in the sky. That moment when the temperature seems to drop before it begins to rise to make the day.

Fifi Rydell lay akimbo, her knees open and frozen in the midst of a movement.

Now he snuggled down in the luxury of the warmth between her legs.

This was a fragrant moment of his, only his, with the scent of her. Something which he had forgotten that he could ever have the right to know.

He broke off thinking for a moment as she moved, and moaned a little something in her sleep.

'...I have to know, my greed is to know, and I must know in order to survive.'

"What?" She'd woken suddenly, sharply.

"Nothing"

"Oh, I thought you said.."

Dawn was come. The room was full of the light tips of blue and yellow that began to filter in with the change of dark to light.

"Oh" she sat up in bed and her breasts showed ovals as she moved, the nipples hard and pink.

"You're hard", she said, fixing his cock with a seeking glance, moving around and crouching by him, stroking it with her fingers as if it were some mysterious pet.

She moved over him and he could feel her hand and her mouth begin the rhythm around his cock. She certainly knew how to do what she was doing.

She was crouched over him, her legs splayed to allow him whatever access he required. He opened his eyes and his sight was filled by her crotch; pink inner lips and swollen outer lips nestled between her thighs, and the shaven shadow-edges of hair framed her vagina with a symmetry that had its own elegant, functional beauty.

Now he looked along her and saw the crown of his cock distending her cheek as if she were sucking some heavenly toffee-apple.

Her eyes were closed and she had bent her head slightly as if this were all an immense sacrament of pleasure. Then she sat back on him and he tasted the clear water of her lips and clitoris with his tongue.

He ran his fingers along the close cropped pubis and sucked gently at her, as she began to move in ancient rhythm with him.

She broke off and watched his caressing of her with some mystery: only for a moment:

"Where did you learn that?"

"Oww!"

Now,elegantly, somnambulantly as if extending her dream - lazily, slowly, she arched her belly as if stretching luxuriantly, and then the orgasm rippled from her, engulfing his nose as the lips ripened and softened.

"I'm sorry if I'm drowning you"

The knowing hand on his cock increased its rhythm.

"Oh God, I'm so tired," she said suddenly, moving crookedly and mechanically, sliding her crotch to one side.

Without thinking, in one movement she turned and sat on his stomach and her breasts scooped towards him then, so that he seized them and pulled the nipples in towards one another.

"Mmm..." she said, with deep contentment; as the ocean held her in its thrall, and she had to say it finally: "I'm coming.... Ooh"

She sagged her chest towards him and her eyes appealed for mercy. He was tired too, so early in the morning, besides, his cock was slipping out of her.

He stopped the motion.

"I have no manners", she said, and curled up all of a sudden and slept, fragrant and warm, just like that.

 

Such moments, they say, are rare.

They lay back on the blanket, a long moment.

"You knew that would happen, didn't you?"

"Actually, I hoped that-I didn't know it."

Her eyes reflected the distant lights of L.A.

"All we need now is a blazing log fire"

She gave a little delighted, in-drawn, 'Yes'.

Chapter 11

 

Hollywood Ills

 

Early morning, the sun just peeking over the hills;

Clicketty Clicketty, Click.

Who could he murder?

HOLLYWOOD HILLS: EXT:/INT: NIGHT: (F.X.):

The Camera sees TOM and ULLA

They are pulling something heavy, wrapped in an old rug: we know it is the body of IVAN:

TOM

(Pauses for breath)

Christ!... he's heavy: how much further

we got to go...

ULLA

It's just along here (she tugs pack)

God! He was such a lousy fat bastard..

TOM

Well, he woulda got you if the gun hadn't

slipped... that's one lucky..

(he breaks off at this point)

HOLLYWOOD HILLS: EXT: NIGHT:

CRANE SHOT: HIGH P.O.V:

We see lights: the mob is out looking for them, but they are still tugging the rug in F.G:

HOLLYWOOD HILLS: EXT: C/U: ULLA:

She hears the vehicles.

ULLA

Dammit! They've nearly got us!

TOM

Keep moving we're almost there!

WIDE ANGLE; FX: THE CAMERA: looks out of a hole in the ground as they come up to it:

CRANE SHOT: FX: they are standing in a construction site and looking down into a deep foundation for some tall building.

SOUND: F.X: a horrible thumping as the rug and its grisly cargo slide away into the hole

ULLA

Oh! Tom!

TOM

Never mind, Ulla, they won't find that

bastard for a thousand years!

HOLLYWOOD HILLS: NIGHT: F.X: turning to DAY:

LONG P.O.V: establishes that TOM and ULLA are being watched by an unknown watcher.

INCUT: on a video lens: we see that the cassette is turning.

 

Christ! He awoke with a start.

He felt violently sick, nauseous, covered with fine. hot, pickling, salty sweat.

What was that! Had something moved? - it was a warm dry morning outside: the sun coming up nicely, rhythmically, like soft rock-'n'-roll, or the Brandenburg's.

He'd dreamed badly, violently: a good page for a piece.

Now he rolled out of bed commando-style and checked the door, yawning.

Nothing there: as usual Falcons View was quiet, hardly anything moving outside, graveyard quiet, only a few little birds twittering away, and only the two girls next door having some sort of an argument as usual.

Quietly, muffled. Too early to get really noisy, passionate, whatever.

So what was the noise. 'Oh, just another bad dream.'

He snuggled back into the pillow, feeling the warmth flooding back at him.

He was there a long moment then, all at once, on an impulse, he sat up.

A car was manoeuvring outside, on the dusty grass. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he arrived at the window.

Through the haze of dust, Fifi Rydell walked towards him.

"Fifi!"

"Hullo", she said, with that slow drawl of hers.

"I like your dress"

"All the better to..", she said, and winked.

"Come for breakfast?"

"Sure", she flourished a bag of croissants and bread.

She offered him her mouth.

"Hey, you're still asleep."

He made instant coffee and they munched in silence by the edge of the pool.

One of the girls from the next apartment rushed out of their back door, and straight into the water. Like a fish.

"Whoosh!"

"You could have a swim?"

"I haven't got a suit"

"Oh, I've got an unused one in the cupboard... left-over's, you know" That was a lie: he'd bought it for Tony.

"Next time". She adjusted her seat so that she sat in the shade:.."..I get too much sun sometimes: I'd rather be a delicate brown!"

"Shady days, shady ways."

"You bet!"

A Falcon swayed in the gusty wind directly overhead, body moving, head absolutely still.

He watched as it began to gather it's wings for the plunge.

"There's one thing about... you know what"

It had had to come, so he wasn't surprised.

"Go on."

"It's strictly a Mob problem: and there's no trace back to us, believe me: even the tyre tracks of the car were of his car: so don't worry about it. If anyone should ever mention it, remember that you weren't even there: I doubt if you know where it is anyway."

He knew the area vaguely, but it was true: he'd never find it unaided. South of the city he always got lost.

"Northern Boy!" He shrugged.

"What?"

"I don't know the south end of the city:... it's an absolute mystery to me....too big....after all, I only moved here a couple months ago."

"Well, that's good".

She sat back.

There was a long pause: the girl from next door hurtled into the far end of the pool again, a dive so slick that there was merely a round slap and a small tame after-wave, hardly a splash.

"Perfect!"

"Neuf Pointe"

She laughed. He knew he'd doubt this for ever - but: he leaned forward conspiratorially:

"I don't even believe it... was it my screenplay... or was it real?"

"It was the screenplay.. keep it that way"

"Sure."

The Falcon was back at his perch, high in the sky, some little creature in his beak.

 

A beat, then:

"Listen, I've got to go." There was a carefully balanced judgement in the voice.

"Right"

"Sorry if we can't.. you know.. make it, or spend this morning together or something." What'd she say that for?

"That's not essential"

"It could be a good idea if we don't see each other for a while.. I'm thinking about you know what.." Suspicion.

"I'd like to do it with you, though" For the last time.

"Sure" Amelioration.

"Well, not too long, I mean, maybe a week or so". For some people a week is more than a lifetime, and a lifetime spells forgetfulness - they could just be entering history, but not knowing it..

"Fine"

"You're very taciturn?" Relaxed.

"That's Falcons View: the effect!""

"I'm waiting for the sequel!" Filling up time.

"That'll be next week."

"What is it today ?" She looked at her watch. It was Thursday.

"Till say, Tuesday!" Checking.

"Tuesday will be great."

"Long enough?" Stretching.

"Long enough!"

"Hey your nipples are still really tight"

"Hey! Shut up stupid, you're turning me back on.. and I don't have time!"

"A quickie, that's all, ten crowded minutes!"

She began to undo her dress.

Zip... zzippp..

"Just hike it up"

Ouch!

"No"

Now she had hiked the tight skirt up:

"Look, really quick then: how do you want me?"

He'd heard that before, it had an unfortunate ring, but:

"Look, squat on that chair with your arse to me"

"You like it that way?"

She climbed onto the chair. Balanced there.

"Oh!" She wasn't wet.

"You will be" he brought a pack of butter from the kitchen.

"It makes me feel like one of my models"

"Posing?"

"Oof", she began to answer as he penetrated her, the sphincter nicely ringed and tight as he pushed past the threshold. "Oh, that's a lot better than croissants for breakfast!"

"Mmmm" That was shared.

"And you'll taste nice afterwards too."

"Only if you toast me first!..Oof!"

 

Then later:

Oh, that was so nice".

Fifi was standing by the desk, unmoving, cream and butter lightly slicking her thighs, up high - he could see the the slickness of it reflected in the light from the window, and reflected from her excited vulva. Maybe.

She began to wash, and then dress, stalking around the apartment, picking her things up and sniffing them first, as if they would tell-tale.

"I'm sorry.. but we really mustn't see each other for a while".

 

In the morning: Zac Greenwald called him.

"Hey, listen Frank.. you got the contract for 'Nine' yet?"

"Yeah"

"What'd you think of it.?"

"It's fine."

"Great!" The voice was visibly relieved.

He'd got the contract several days previously: had hastily engaged a lawyer to read it (Five-hundred dollars) and to make changes (the same again- but that was just the beginning of the saga and he knew it).

Anyway, the gist of the contract was that the writer gave away all his rights. The lawyer brought this to his attention: in response he asked the lawyer to re-negotiate that segment, whereupon the other side capitulated. As quickly as that. Perhaps 'Nine Mens Carol' wasn't going to be so big - or on the other hand perhaps it was expected to be a big burner and they could pick up enough from the English (American) version only to pay the bills.

There would be a problem when it came to renegotiating the foreign rights, and the payments for re-drafts: but that would come later.

Anyway the taster on this one was another hundred thousand:

"Not much - but a good start !", the lawyer said, playing with his Patek-Phillippe and twiddling his little feet in shiny slick Gucchi shoes. You'd think he was a ballroom dancer.

"You'll get re-write money of at least twenty K.- ask for six hundred a page/day!"

 

Zac Greenwald was still talking: Frank's mind came back to the phone:

Buzz..burrp

"....fuck this technology ...the re-drafts?"

"Yes?" The clicking was affecting Frank's concentration.

"A thousand a page".

"Well, that sounds OK to me... so long as that means per page and not per page/time"

"Standard"

"Per page/day - right."

"I'll get a letter to you on that point, Frank: we'll send a flyleaf: send it back signed: OK Franko, boy ?"

"Right, Zac... by the way.. how about a drink?... something to eat."

"Later.. you see I was coming to that Franko - there's a sort of crew party: cameraman, his sidekick, you know. Down in Burbank; bit rough but they're OK. I figured you'd like to come down and bring a floozie... it's only so we can get together with the fella's and chat... they'll mostly be the next crew for 'Nine'

"Sure, great"

"It'll be Friday..I'll send you the address with the letter... gotta go.. see ya!" Buzz.

The radio phone pinged dryly and sweetly at the same time.

 

"How'd I spell your name Franko? I mean like... Fran-C- or ..." This was Tony on the phone. It took him a few seconds to establish it.

"That's nice.. why's that?"

"I was thinking of writing to you"

"'Phone's easier"

"No... but I kinda feel a bit romantic.. you know, nice smelling pages and all"

"That's the first time I've heard anyone say anything human for an age."

"What?"

"F-r-a-n-c-i-s-c-o"

"Wow!... Spix eh?"

"I was Christened by a Dominican Friar."

"Hey! That's romantic!"

"Hey... get off the line and write me that letter.. OK"

"OK, Spix tough-guy." She threw a kiss over the phone as he clicked it off.

Later in the evening, the 'phone sounded.

He was watching Channel 9 news: something pretty lurid about multiple killings up in Northridge, close to the old apartment which he shared with Susie for one single happy year, on the 'Avenida del Sol'...

"Uh huh?"

"Hey Hombre!" It was Pablo:..".... what you up to.. I'm in the city."

"Can you get here easy ?"

"I'll be past there with my friend Patricio: about an hour."

An hour later, to the minute, Pablo was sitting by the pool. They drank 'Cuba Libre', but used a dry version of the usual, tastelessly sweet, coke; it was crisp and pleasant. Pablo had brought it with him from downtown. Pablo's friend had pushed off (running some sort of errand), promising to return later.

The moon was beginning to rise, and the last tendrils of sun still hung in the air, as if it itself were in some way burning.

The water worried against the stones.

Dusty, the girl from next door went and sat by the pool on the far side: she waved; Frank hoped she wouldn't come over.

"One thing Hombre...", said Pablo, looking at the blue and red sky reflected in the water, "..In life, , if you bite off more than you can chew, you'll get burned."

"Yeah"

"Know what I mean?"

"What's all this leading too, then"

"We don't live in leisured times", Pablo was sometimes surprisingly literate, perhaps that's what the mutual attraction was between them.

"Uh, huh?"

"I got some information from people downtown"

"Oh, yes?"

"It's about some small Mafia man who's missing... I guess that means he's been put out."

"Sounds like it"

"Nothing unusual about that"

"Yeah, right"

"Cop's aren't interested, nothin' in the papers - I just heard it."

"Uh, huh"

"Remember the woman you were screwing?"

"Well, I haven't forgotten, yet"

"The short guy she was with, with the blond peluca?"

"Uh, huh"

"That was the guy."

"Shit, really"

"I figured it, when some Number's Game runner showed me a pic of him.. know what I mean?"

"Yes?"

"Well, I thought I'd tell you"

"Thank's Pablo"

"You got anything to do with that arsehole?"

"Nothing that I know"

"Good. I wouldn't like to see my best friend with a hole in him.. know what I mean?"

"Sure, thanks, Pablito".

The moon wound up the sky and a wisp of cirrus wiped across it for a moment.

That was a shadow"

"We got full moon, Chico"

They sat, now in the shadows.

Next door, the lights had come on. One of the girls came to the door:

"Hey, neighbour?"

"Hullo"

"We're having a little party... want to join in?"

"That would be great, it is getting just a bit cold now, out here".

Five minutes later they were sitting in the next door lounge. Long, low, cool. Empty. Not a book anywhere: ten people sat around talking. A tall man wearing a pillbox hat sniffed cocaine off the surface of a mirror.

"It's the actor's curse" hissed Dusty.

"It could be the writers curse too!"

"Want some?"

"No, thanks, I prefer rum."

The pillbox hat looked at him as if he were mad;

"Hey, you a suit or something?"

"No, I'm just a scribbler"

"What's that..?"

At this moment the door opened, and Tony came in.. obviously looking for him:

"Hey!, Francisco!"

"Hi, Guapa!"

He saw the expressions of the girls next door, Dusty mouthing: "Two women in one day?"

"Damn Spix", someone said, jealous about the obvious charms of Tony.

"Hey, baby, don't make waves", said Pablo, used to this sort of thing.

"Honey.. I got something to say", Tony was composed: "...listen", she waited until interest and the general conversation had drifted away, and then, in a lower tone, "..is it alright to speak?"

"Yes, Honey".

By this time her voice had become sepulchral - she whispered in his ear:

"It's someone I met today.. this afternoon: she said she knew you, said she'd seen you today.. wanted to speak to you so I gave her your 'phone.. she's a writer.. like a journalist kind of writer", she said, "... figured it'd be OK for you".

He didn't dare mean the little hymn: it was the flourish of his feelings grasping towards someone, something - out of cowardice and loneliness, for all the wrong reasons - to save him from drowning. It was a wish, spoiled, and all gone wrong.

It was the sad reflex of the drowning man.

 

 

Chapter 12

Erasure

A week passed, and it was Tuesday morning again.

Frank rose absurdly early: mangled with sleep, exhausted, still he would catch up with his sleep later: he had seen Pablo that last night and they'd drunk themselves into the ground, laughing and playing a indescribably impossible Mexican card game, which consisted of throwing the cards down flat upon the table and shouting.

Pablo scored for him because he didn't know what he was doing and Pablo it was who, also impossibly, unaccountably lost. He scratched his head:

"Hey Gringo?"

"The hand is faster than the eye, Mexie!"

That was last night; now Pablo lay curled up foetus-like, on the sofa while he worked away at the corner of the window where he had simultaneously, soft light and some sort of outlook. Watchful, perhaps.

It was still dark; and once again the Sun was beginning to lance the air over the Hollywood Hills with spears of red through the lingering brown smog and the wet grey ground mist.

He clicked the wall switch to bring the computer to life; the new machine seemed to purr away comfortably, securely: the screen display switching occasionally and telling him that it was saving.

He began to write almost feverishly:

just a scrap, not knowing where it was coming from - maybe a root of the old piece;

 

V.O:

I watch the movie 'Four Days of a Dreamer'.

It's on a screen so wide I have to crane my

neck. The Image is very sharp, almost no

grain. Now, a man with a matelot jacket is killed.

He has plenty of time, you see his

moment of death is determined only by edited time; there can be no excuse to rush, as will nature when it comes to be my turn and I have

too much to say, [it is only celluloid

dreaming].He reaches into his pocket and takes from it a picture of his mistress. He kisses the picture. The camera stays on the bloody hand. It falls to the ground.

 

Pablo stirred. Frank went into the kitchen and prepared some things to eat.

Pablo sat up suddenly:

"Hey, what's the time?"

"Five-thirty"

"Hey, I got to move, I start at seven."

"I'll run you down to the highway."

"Thanks, Compadre."

 

He dropped Pablo at the turnpike entrance where he could easily get back into town, and drove back across the already sweating landscape. He drove along concrete and Tarmac strips, across superhighways, past tall concrete car parks, alongside huge supermarkets, still closed. He even saw a late hooker: God knew why, patiently waiting for a john on the shoulder of the road.

"Boy, what a way to push a buck!"

This was California: madness motivated by millions of rusty heaps of tin called automobiles, driving into only one future, The Scrapheap.

Everything along the coastal strip is dominated by the automobile, everything. There are drive-in banks, pharmacies, baby-product retailers, whore-houses. You can drive in for anything, so long as you have the money.

 

He was at the keyboard at eight-thirty, yawning, smoking a cheap cigar, ploughing through a turgid and fatally flawed page, when the 'phone rang.

A woman's voice:

"I'd like to talk to you: Tony Vincent gave me your number."

"Right - Hey, do I know your voice?"

"No", the voice was cool, Californian maybe, maybe disguised too. Why?

"Pardon Me."

"Maybe I'd better fax you something first?" The voice had something to prove, and that left him uneasy.

"Right.. well go ahead."

"OK"

The voice was flat, not friendly. He turned the fax machine on, and waited, but nothing came through.

Well, it would eventually.

But of course, eventually too, he forgot it.

 

It was several days later before the next call came in.

He recognised it immediately for some unconscious, anguished reason: the same female voice; humourless.

"I have information about your association with Fiona Rydell"

"Well - so what?"

"I have information about your association with her and a certain man who wore - and I say that advisedly - a blond toupee"

The alarm bells were ringing loudly.

"I have no idea what you're talking about". His throat was suddenly full of earth or sand: when he looked at the screen he fancied he saw the line TECHNICOLOR BLOOD written on the screen.

He erased the line, but the scar of red seemed to stay an unearthly long time before it faded away.

"So what would you advise?" He stilled his heaving throat with a tight hand.

"I'd advise you to look at the video tape which you'll be getting pretty soon!"

"Arsehole!", he said.

"Naughty, naughty", said the voice, and put the 'phone down.

He phoned Tony Vincent immediately, but there was no answer, no answering machine. Nothing. Anyway, he wasn't sure he even had the number: perhaps it was a lie, made up, fiction: nowadays he was beginning to confuse everything. Why was he 'phoning Tony Vincent? What could a multi-penetrated whore do with his salvation?

Dammit! He sat in a corner, in a shadow.

Dammit! Now this woman had his number: she could dump him with the mob. Jesus!

"I didn't do anything...or did I?"

His confusion was complete: he was being blackmailed - or something: how on earth had this happened: who was she, anyway?

He went next door and asked Dusty, who happened to be in, if she had any coke: he took a line, gave her all the money he had in his pockets: he had to keep going, keep his head up, couldn't let this thing wreck his success just as he was getting lift off!

What was it for, for Chrissake?

He took a long line, which cleared his head somewhat.

Anyway, in the end he didn't have long to wait, to find out.

 

He found the package by his door in the cool smog of morning. How it had got there he just didn't know.

During the night, of course. At dead of night.

So this woman knew his address? Well, of course she would, wouldn't she?

His stomach was tying itself in knots, had been, the live-long night. Ghastly.

He went hot and cold.

He opened the package slowly, as if it were booby-trapped, but of course it wasn't. Illogical. No point blowing-up the bringer of good news.

The video cassette was old and scuffed: at the very end of its life, and had been scrubbed, or so it seemed, all over with sand - so much so that the gloss was entirely gone.

He put the reel in his machine, which itself was antique: used mainly for viewing pieces of movies in production.

The first pictures were the beginning of some dreadful, humourless, hard-core epic, the credits lost among a fine rain of magnetic haze: but then the tape fizzed-over black dots, and suddenly he realized that the camera was moving in darkness: and then daylight: the timecode playfully winking out the time a few days ago... the first cut was of him and Fifi, making love using the easy chair in the kitchen: he cursed himself: it was easy to leave a curtain open when one imagined oneself alone: and not only that, there was a dangerous edge to it because he found it almost fascinating - until he remembered that this was blackmail, not some kind of perverse fun.

Then the hard-cut dropped in with a few untidy electronic smears, the timecode established it's playful prescience, and he realised that he had been watching some kind of an establishing shot, for the aspect and the date and time had changed, and the new shot was made at a distance, using one of those zoom lenses with autofocus that come as a part of the standard package: and then as it moved it picked out somebody, the lens shivered, then cleared.

It was him! Clearly, pinsharp, recognisably him - he was standing in a doorway, the doorway: now his outline disappeared and there was a long gap until the microphone registered a harsh flat report, like a heavy book falling on a sheer surface.

Another cut, a different time on the ever running clock - and he saw himself and Fifi- pinsharp again: struggling, falling, pulling a blood smeared plastic bag into the trunk of a car. Fascinated, no, rooted, he watched the tenths of a second roll away at speed, the minute or so click by.

And then, for a second, his face came into perfect, pinsharp reprise, before the lens swung away and the autofocus reeled out to catch another something.

"Jesus!"

That would be plenty enough to have him put away for fifteen-to-life. Jesus!

A few minutes later, as he was sitting there, rocking back and forth in some sort of anguish, Fifi 'phoned. He gave her no choice: there was indeed no time.

"Hey look", he said: "I've got to talk.."

Any residue of jollity in her voice or her manner was immediately stifled.

"Where, when?"

 

The same evening they met at Maxies Mexxies.

He gave her the video tape: take it to your place, or better, your office, and view it!"

Suddenly, the veneer of friendly bon-homie that she had radiated towards him had fallen away: now he saw the aggressive person behind the mask. It was another moment of 'Iron in The Soul'. Pure philosophical angst as described by Heideggar. Why was he tempted to drift into theories, now?

That pointless word 'angst' cropped up too often in his thoughts, he must re-model it, change the expression to rid it of negative emotions.

What about 'Zeitgeist'?

Such Aspirin dissertation was lost when the 'phone rang later.

It was Fifi: apparently tense, he could imagine her face; there was obviously someone else in the office as she spoke:

"I'll get it back to you by messenger... look, take the material off and get the tape scanned for timecodes or anything: maybe we can trace the material".

He hadn't thought of that.

"Good Idea!"

 

An hour later a messenger dropped the tape at his apartment.

He blanked it, running the signal over it several times, even recording a programme over the five minutes or so before blanking it once more.

With the tape was an address in Orange County, it fell from the padded bag as he drew the cassette out..

He drove along the freeway, fear tugging at his guts, for miles, twenty or so.

Along the road he suddenly recognised a place: he had never (consciously) been there before, but it was almost as if it were in his minds eye: a place where added construction was taking place.

He drove the car up an abutment and jumped out, cresting a little hillock and coming-out where huge road machines were processing the desert soil to develop a new string of concrete and Tarmac for some reason beyond his understanding.

With an uncanny shudder he realised that he was standing under the massive concrete arms and elbows of a new stretch of freeway: and there, just yards away, a digger was pounding up hard-core to fill the foundation diggings.

He recognised with intuition, rather than memory, the harsh shattered shapes of the reinforced foundations, and looked with awful fascination at the hole where he and Fifi had dumped the mobster.

To his unending relief a huge concrete tanker was dumping perhaps thirty tonnes of grey sludge and stones into the hole.

"Hey, buddy!"

A warning voice.

"You wanna die?"

"Sorry, I'm f-"

"Stay away from the machines, OK!"

His thoughts were interrupted by a large brown arm and a grey-haired navvy in a padded shirt.

"Hey, John!"

The man was obviously talking to him.

"It's dangerous here, you'll get yourself killed."

He looked squarely at the man.

"Could you tell me something?"

"Listen I'm a grunt, don't know nothing"

"The excavations there: are they... how deep are they"

"Deep... maybe fourty feet sometimes: we're topping that one up... first you put a couple feet hard-core.. then broken blocks and stuff, then maybe hundred tonnes a concrete"

"Wow"

"Then you're at ground level: then you pack it around the steels; see what I mean", the man made an explanatory series of shapes with his hands: surprisingly delicate shapes with such hard hands, as if modelling the body of a woman out of clay:

"Then we put the leg of the flyover on it and then the roadstead.. get it?"

"I didn't know..."

"Takes months: the concrete is like, technological.. takes months to get the combination right"

"So you're all here for months"

"Hey - you know that!"

"Yeah, course I do..sorry"

"You better get off the site now - come back at night... there's no-one here and you can look around if you want"

"Thanks"

The navvy had already turned and strode away.

Now he knew where the body was: under a couple of hundred tonnes of concrete.

The Sign said:

"Orange County Roads Authority: Freeway Development: County Surveyors Dept. Orange County Upper Freeway Interchange: Open:...." The date had been changed several times, and the numbers lay jumbled-up on the rocky ground.

He drove towards the address on the slip of paper: so concrete technology kept those excavations open for months? Well, interesting. Something ticked in his mind.

He had recognised the juxtaposition of that flyover: it was only a few minutes, a few miles from the house, wherever that was: and - of course - he hadn't thought about that! The Red Pontiac swerved slightly and the tyres screeched. Of course! - that place was Fifi's place: it could be traced through her, he was sure of that.

But she was so rational that night: it was likely that she had removed any trace of blood or anything else from the house by now.

That could be the only explanation for her actions, coldness, silence. Or was it that he was just a ride, something to settle the pangs?

"My God! I'm becoming so cynical!"

Why hadn't she - ?

There was a question mark in his mind that had not previously been there.

He was close to the Canyon Road.

He turned off, onto Highway 25, and found the address very quickly.

"Hey man, what's this for?" The technician, in a tartan shirt, looked at him questioningly.

"I'd just like to know if there are any marks or codes on the tape."

The Technician looked at the media.

"Somebody scratched everything off of the cassette to lose it's ID: so it must've had something on it"

"Oh, yeah?"

The Technician put the cassette into a grey metal machine and a monitor flickered.

"There's a time code running on the stripe!"

The code suddenly appeared on the screen, segmenting the time. It was around a year and a half back. That would have been the blue movie, 'Down Deep'. He had no idea where he remembered that from.

Then the code changed: the date was that date of the murder: and the time was segmented in tenths of a second: the tape counted through.

"If you record blank over a tape the timecode usually stays because you haven't accessed the stripe!"

The technician was being explanatory.

"Nothing else... ?"

He rewound it:

"If I take it apart there'll be some manufacturers signs on it, somewhere, inside: but these tapes're made in millions."

"Oh?"

There was a blank of understanding or perhaps misunderstanding: then;

"Just a minute!"

The beginning of the tape: for just a millisecond, he saw it begin to flicker.

The Technician stopped the player, cranked the capstan backwards past zero, and he heard the tape begin to protest - now the screen fastened, as much as it could, on some shattered, scarcely readable, letters: 'The Rydell Company: sampler #3384. Not for Unauthorized Viewing'

"What does that mean?"

"It's an Internal, that's all."

He paid the man, took the cassette and threw it in a skip along the street.

Then he drove back to 'Falcons View'

Chapter 14

Subtraction

In the darkness now, nothing stirred.

Way down on the freeway a quarter of a mile away, he could see the scattered lights of cars passing. Sweeping along with their characteristic aerodynamic whooshes.

For a while, only the wind stirred the tall grasses at the verge of the road. Frank Mailer shivered, though not with cold.

Whoever she was had picked her spot carefully: not a car had come along this road for at least an hour.

It was now ten-thirty. The ticking of the clock on the instrument panel of the Pontiac varied constantly: sometimes loudly, then more modulated, softer. He hadn't noticed that before.

He had become increasingly worried about the money: some passing tramp could easily take it. Then they'd be in even greater Shit!

He left the Red Pontiac, sombre and near invisible in the brown darkness silently now, and made his way back towards the sign post.

At last he located it: there was the Safeways's bag still crumpled-up in the grass.

He made to reach out for the bag in the dense darkness: suddenly a voice - high-toned, almost a falsetto:

"Hey!"

He panicked -grabbed the bag and began to run back along the road: insanely, in the wrong direction.

Suddenly he was screeching through a sort of flat wasteland of cacti and tumbleweed, falling, staggering, falling again.

The Colt had worked itself loose: he almost dropped it, it flew out of his waistband and he caught it somehow, with a staggering twist at speed, like a baseball player making a particularly tricky catch in the World Series: the roar of the crowd was all around him, the echoes soaring up to the sky.

He stopped. Sand whirled up, one shoe had worked loose and had taken quite a lot of sand.

Total silence.

Even the sound of the cars on the highway had disappeared. It was like listening to the acoustics of a Foley, dubbing studio. Soft blank.

Total silence, in the indent that this basin formed.

Darkness.

He sat down in the relative security of a cactus-like tree in the sand and poured the sand back out of his shoe, fastening it - looked around him, trying to still his pounding heart.

What had he done?

Now there were footsteps: sounding strong and heavy, as if on some sort of a sound-stage, the footsteps first veering off to the left, coming back, sounding off to the right, bounding back.

He crouched back beneath the shade of the tree, even at midnight.

Now he dimly saw a shape about ten metres away.

Total blackness, while both of them, both panting in fear, or greed, or both, tried to still their breath, and listen.

 

He waited, clutching the Colt and the plastic bag in the same grimy hand.

He'd by this time almost lost his bearings, and the darkness of a heavily overcast night was not helping at all.

He crept forward.

Suddenly, he had fallen right over his blackmailer: or at least the other person. They fell over together in the sand. His mouth was now full of sand.

They struggled, comically almost, a mad Last Tango: but now the shape of the other, tall, willowy almost, except for the baggy, grease-stained overalls came at him with both hands in the air, and a piece of titanium bootstrap cutting blade caught him on a diagonal between the top of his left eyebrow, and the base of his right eye.

The pain of the blade biting into his face, and the realisation that this was meant for his windpipe caused him to react like a maniac: he jumped back, only to have whoever it was blunder in closer, this time catching his left hand against his face whilst finally and correctly targeting his throat.

The sudden slice through his flesh had caused him to react without thinking at all, he brought the other hand, with the money and the Colt up, and the pain caused him to violently close his right hand.

Without warning, the Colt blammed a bullet clean through his assailant: he heard it ricochet wickedly off a rock a hundred yards away.

This person had fallen against him, like a rather light, off-centre, sack of potatoes. They both fell-over. It was the uneven ground.

Now he extricated himself, and found that his foot had skidded on something sheer. Not a rock, though the ground was a confusion of sand, scrub and stone as well as rock, but an address book.

Now he had to pull himself together.

His hands shook as if he had the ague. He had to sit down for a moment, the wounds throbbed almost uncontrollably.

He searched the body at the next break of cloud but couldn't find any trace of the 8mm video-tape on it.

When he ran his hands over the body, still sweating and warm as if alive: searching in the loose overalls, he was revolted to find that it had breasts, mons Veneris.

It was a woman, after all!

"Jesus!"

It had been a woman.

She was dead!

"Oh, no!"

He turned the body over and it flopped, loosely against his hands, as if it were a plastic bag containing elements whose various weights had begun to work against each other.

His fingers slipped: there was blood all over him, his hands - at first he didn't know where from, but then he realised just whose it was. His.

His blood.

He was bleeding profusely, cut to the bone over his wrist and with a tear several inches long, and deep on his face.

It all hurt like hell.

 

"Jesus!" Now he was really in it!

He grabbed the corpse by it's collar and found that he could tow it through the sand, but still it took him the best part of twenty minutes to get it back to the roadside.

Now, he ran back along the road for all he was worth.

The Red Pontiac was still there, the key dangling in the ignition.

He reversed and turned, and managed to run back along the road without light, in the darkness.

Wild manoeuvring, onto the verge. Screech, screech, skid.

Thud! Springs slightly down, front wheels a little light. The corpse in the boot.

Who was she? Though the idea had occurred to him, he hadn't been able to steel himself to look.

He checked everything: the money: damn, some of the smaller notes had been torn away and were probably orbiting Orange County, circulating in the wind - he must have lost a few thousand: but most of it was there.

The address book? He had it now, down the front of the windscreen.

He stopped the car at the end of the intersection, on the high section of the road leading down on to it, looking down at the highway.

A Speed cop came past with the blue patrol lights flashing.

He clicked his headlights on, and started along the highway: where to put the body?

Then it hit him: the new Orange County Freeway construction.

"Shit!"

 

There were no lights on, in the construction yard. For some reason there were no night staff either. Labour costs, he figured.

The traffic on the highway screeched through the darkness trailing their streaks of rear lights and occasionally making lightning-flashes of headlight.

Down in the yard by the nightmare flashes of the lights of the procession of automobiles on the highway, the scene resembled some sort of concrete hell.

Huge piles of gravel and sand, enormous deep holes sunk for the pilings.

Again, he trickled the Red Pontiac down the slope with the lights off but with the engine ticking-over.

He opened the trunk and eased the body out: face down, it dragged shiny, well-kept newly-rinsed black hair along the ground.

To the edge of an excavation; a huge pile of pebbles and stones waiting to be toppled over into the sump.

He hefted the body over; as it slid out of sight and began it's long fall into nowhere, the Moon suddenly cleared a cloud before ducking back into darkness for the rest of the night, and the face turned up giving him a stark Xerox of itself.

At first he could not remember where he'd seen the face: the context was out, the build, though, was in his memory: who could it be?

Just who could it be?

 

The Red Pontiac ran through a belt of rain, and he swished the tyres in the surface pools of water at high speed to wash them clear of any evidence.

Then it came to him, as he skirted Santa Monica - a sudden shock to his stomach: the face was, no had been, that of Carol van Camp, the 'actress' he knew from Zac Greenwald's dinner party more than an age ago.

Now he stopped at a motorway station. He hunched at the bar, over a coffee. They left him alone, the passing trucker next to him having a complicated conversation about the benefits of the new White against the new Mercedes.

The address book was in his hand, the plastic cover scratched, smeared: nearly empty: scribbled messages, torn out pages.

On the flyleaf the sad description:

Carol van der Camp

84 Berkshire Heights

Northridge.

 

It had to be done. It had to be.

He steeled himself, feeling sick and lonely, bile in his throat.

The Avenida del Sol at Northridge around one in the morning, was deserted and almost bland in it's tired gentility, its suburban identity.

He'd washed his face at a small truckstop, and stuck some plaster over the worst of the wounds, but they still hurt like hell. Throbbed, now.

He turned the Red Pontiac off at Berkshire Heights. His hands had ceased their trembling, probably because he was too tired now - wretched - only the adrenaline of fear drove him.

The building was small, and '84' was a room on the first floor.

He pushed open the battered front door. There was no concierge and no security cameras: this was definitely the un-smart end of town: uptown, looking down on the unfashionable end of an oil refinery or two. The smog in Northridge can be cut with a knife when autumn begins to set in, or when a cool spell breaks a warmer one.

The stairs were equally pitted and wretched, and the door of number 84 looked as if it had been kicked-in several times before: for a moment he felt a twinge of sorrow for someone who had no skills, no education, and lived in abject poverty.

Except that she'd try to blackmail him, bust him, get him filleted by the mob, or just simply kill him.

The lock on the door was so worn, had so-much movement, that a simple credit card opened the ruined Yale.

The actual apartment was tiny, dingy, and smelled of stale underwear and cigarettes.

He looked around on the floor.

There, under the bed he found the camera, complete with two 8mm video-tapes among the litter of old newspapers and dirty underwear, together with a used greeny-yellow condom and most of a box of ex-military aluminium .45 rimless shells for a Colt 45 Semi- Automatic Pistol.

 

The Red Pontiac made short work of the stretch back south. He breathed a sigh of relief as the freeway entry lines dotted themselves firmly under his tyres.

The late night traffic going south was, unusually, quite light, and so he arrived back at Falcon's View at a little after three.

To his amazement, after he had showered and cleaned his wounds and re-bound them, as he was trying to force a stale croissant down his throat on the patio in front of the pool in the semi-darkness, Dusty looked out of the window: he noticed that a few confused birds had started to twitter.

"Hullo!... couldn't you sleep either?"

"You could say that."

He looked exhausted, but she was not to know that. It was after all, still milky dark.

"I like your shirt"

"I always sleep in a shirt"

He looked straight ahead of him, at the pool.

"Hungry?"

"Didn't eat yesterday: trying to."

"Oh."

"Oh, listen, can I have the TV back... just for a minute"

"Well, of course - after all it is yours!"

"No, really! Just for a minute"

The case of the Television banged against the door frame as she brought it out.

He retired into his sitting room and watched the tapes, using the camera for playback - plugged into the back of the TV.

They were the tapes - that was for sure. He felt sick with relief. Or maybe just sick.

He kept the one of him and Fifi in action; that was harmless, and anyway he might need to prove that he had had the tapes, to Fifi: but for the other, he made a pile of the broken bits in the space left for barbecues out on the patio: poured barbecue liquid over them, and watched them splutter away to nothing.

Then he went to bed, delivering the TV back to Dusty en-route.

"What are you doing now ?" Dusty smiled at him, somehow inviting.

"There's only one thing to do"

"Oh?" Pesky. She'd like to do it too: or perhaps that was his mad imagination.

Mad, that wouldn't be any kind of surprise; after all, what was happening to him was more mad, more imagination, than reality.

His face throbbed. He hoped it wasn't still bleeding. That was hardly imaginary.

 

And, just to prove it, later that afternoon he took a turn along the freeway in the Red Pontiac: at length he slowed for the Orange County Freeway Construction: he looked over as he went by, for once mercifully slow, in a long traffic crawl.

The pit where he'd dumped Carol van Camp was filling up slowly with hundreds of tons of liquid concrete: he could see it clearly.

At the junction with Highway 25 he took yesterdays' turning (yesterdays' turning?) and skipped to the edge of the sandy waste.

This must be the edge of the desert fringe that ran all the way south and east of here.

It stretched away to the horizon - no wonder Frank hadn't seen another car: no-one would ever come here!

That must have been why Carol van Camp had brought him here: for the 'Coup de Gras' and to sell Fifi Rydell out to the mob: the car door swung itself open -

"Double your money, and try to get rich

Double your money, without any hitch"

- spilled out from radio into the wind.

"Fuck you".

He flicked the radio off and took a leisurely stroll across the desert wasteland. (At least, that was what it was meant to be.)

The wind was beginning to blow up - and suddenly the air was filled with bits-and-pieces of dirt and odd lost leaves, torn newspaper and packaging - from the freeway, perhaps.

There was bunting, confetti: he narrowed his eyes:

"My God! Money!

Last night's money was blowing up in the wind. Whoosh!

The bitter sand whipped across his face as he fought to keep his eyes clear.

Hundreds of small-denomination bills swooped upward in the warm onshore wind where it met the dry desert air: imagine: like a wave meeting a concrete jetty, curving over ever so gracefully until - Whoosh! Money!

So now Carol van Camp was leagues below and Drake was in his hammock and.......

He was watching the confetti blowing up: waiting for...

"Hey Buddy!"

"What?"

Frank turned to face a traffic cop.

"Hey, buddy... you know what you're doing here? Parking on the edge of a highway at a turn-off?"

"Oh, Jesus!", he said, clutching at a straw "I.. I saw the money up in the air there"; he pointed.

"Well, I'll be jiggered: come on, let's get some" The Cop galloped away towards the rocky horizon.

 

Frank Mailer was too clever for that: it just wasn't cool.

He took off back along the freeway, just as fast as he could.

Clunk... Clunk!

Now there was something clonking around in the cabin, somewhere on the floor, something which gave a double impact whenever he hit a bump or a striation on the highway.

It took him quite a while - and a few miles - to discover what it was: the Colt was still there, rattling about on the floor of the Pontiac: skittering about now that it had freed itself from whatever had prevented its movement hitherto.

He took it in his left hand and examined it while he drove, zig-zagging slightly as a result - : the section where the number had once been had been torch-braised, such that the metal had melted to a pulp, a balloon, at that point.

He opened his window, took the gun, and heaved it over a bridge as he passed one of the storm channels just outside the city. It fell in a wide, unseen, gleam.

Of course, he'd cleaned it first. In and out, with Fifi Rydell's old silk knickers..

The dust swirled up. The wind was up, coming in today, from the sea. It might rain, later.

He took a deep breath, and pulled in to a freeway drive-in chemist, for some plasters and Savlon, which he applied en-route. The throbbing had slowed, mercifully; perhaps the infrared would heal the cuts, slim as they were.

 

He parked the Red Pontiac in the usual place.

Tony was waiting for him: (what a pleasant surprise!).

"Think of all the things we can do now!"

Frank Mailer was thinking about the ninety grand he'd stashed away in the broom cupboard.

"Hey, slow down a mo"

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, let's paint the town tonight sweetie: I'm celebrating liberation - in waltz time!" He did a little dance on the floor and she laughed;

"Oh, that's nice, that's really, really, nice!" She sounded as if she meant it: could she ever, ever again?

They drove into the city: almost to uptown: until he could see the oil refinery chimneys at the northern end: then he turned the Red Pontiac around and they stopped at a swish Greek place.

"It's wonderful isn't it, baby!"

"With you"

"With you, too"

They ate in silence, savouring the lamb and the delicate flavours of the herbs.

"I like it in the city."

"So long you don't meet anyone you know". He shouldn't have said that, he knew he shouldn't, but he was being flippant.

"Oh, sure"

"That's what I meant"

"Oh, sure"

"Where does that bring us to?"

"God knows!"

"I need rhythm"

As if to answer him, the Bazouki music seemed to swell for a time.

He drank a little beer, measuring the time, feeling the rhythm; he was thinking, almost light -

"Umm.. listen, what about a weeks break somewhere?"

"Why, Honey?" Yes, why rush, Honey?

"Well, I've got time to take a break, and I need one, believe me - a couple weeks would be nice: I've almost finished the new screenplay for ' In Your Dreams': well, the basic first draft: and 'Nine' is on the stocks: so I just figure I have a window to take a break... my life is on some kinda roll.. I know it."

"We could go"

"Hey, take the bull by the horns!"

"OK- that would be really nice!"

"We could walk in the mountains... lie on a beach somewhere.. just you and I... we could slow down, make love very, very slowly."

"Oh, Baby!.. That would be great!"

"Well, why don't we arrange something along those lines then?"

"Gosh yes!"

Tony kissed him, and then unpleasantly, froze:

"Hey!"

"What?"

"Don't move now: but I just saw Fifi"

"Where?"

"She's in the other room!" Tony craned forward: "I can just see her leg"

"Shit!"

"What?"

"The rhythm's gone... just as I was beginning to slow down"

"Never mind - we'll go somewhere where we can dance real slow, shan't... we?"

"Oh, like I said, I didn't want to meet anyone I know..!"

"Yeah, sure And I want to dance.. with you."

"Look, let's get out of here by the back door"

He dropped a couple of bills on the table: "Hurry-up... vamoose! - a'la Whisky a'Gogo."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Multiplication

There had been no word from Fifi Rydell for two weeks.

Frank Mailer had telephoned her, and she knew that the 'problem' was solved. But he hadn't heard a thing from her since. She must have trusted him some of the way, anyway. Obviously.

There was a flatness, incompleteness, about murder: for he had murdered Carol van Camp as surely as she had tried to murder him - but it was the manner that was so awful - that had had the effect of starting disturbing deep tremors in his mind.

Then the phone rang again; it was Zac Greenwald again; through a whole circus of operators, the line clicking and tinging, from an obscure set somewhare on location, he could hear the carpenters banging away in the background:

"This script is red-hot! I'm crazy about it and I've only read a dozen pages at random: staggering!... you've got another big one there Frankie boy... my secretary just told me that the screenplay's been seen by the Boss himself: and he's personally crazy about it too: in fact he wants to meet with you and talk about the next one"

"He.. loved it?" Numb.

"He's crazy about it: he said that that we mustn't change a word!"

"Amazing" Even more numb, pins and needles in the legs.

"You realise you're in the Joe Zawinyl stable now... you're up there in the megabucks category... why stop with Zawinyl - you're beginning to show ahead...I want to tell you how great it is to hear that!"

"What!"

 

The men outside looked official in some inexplicably non-benign way: one of them with big flat feet in those wide welted walkers one associates with gauche Americans, dangerous. Frank Mailers spine tingled, an unpleasant sensation .

He eased the door open a touch and enquired after them:

"Detective Harmer..L.A.P.D..." the big man flashed his star "..and Detective Smith".

Detective Smith had those vectoring eyes that seem never to have a moments peace, ceaselessly moving, ever unquiet.

"Come in". They entered. If he hadn't asked them they would have entered anyway, they were that sort.

"Would you like a coffee?"

"No - thanks".

They sat down all awry, and thus occupied half the room: Detective Smith's eyes restlessly shifting across, down, along, gaugeing height, weight, veracity... while Detective Harmer fixed him with some sort of short sighted, blank, glare.

"It's about the disappearance of someone we believe you knew .. Carol van Camp..?"

"Oh, yes?"

"You knew her?"

"Carol Van Camp?" His mouth went dry for a moment, and he sipped a brackish coffee...".. eh, hardly - I vaguely met her at a dinner party once."

Detective Smith's clunking left heel had disturbed something which lay just under the edge of the seat, invisible to the two of them, but very visible to Frank Mailer. He realised with a swell of panic that it was that copy tape...

Invisibly (he hoped) he gulped warm, recently used, oxygen.

"Vaguely"

"Yes, that, just about"

"You've heard about her disappearance, have you?"

"I saw it in the paper a couple of days ago"

"A couple of days ago"

"Oh?"

"Yes". Detective Smith leant forward and by some complex physics his heel tipped the cassette back into the shade under the seat, soundlessly, invisibly.

Detective Harmer continued as if he hadn't required that reply:

...." well, we've picked up numbers from her telephone account and we're having to trace through them: we found yours... have you got any ideas at all about what could have happened? We've got problems here because you're all film people and the clan is pretty tight, if you see what I mean.. you're not a suspect by the way, because we have nothing to be suspicious about: it's just odd that someone like Carol van Camp should suddenly do a.. a runner.."

His words trailed away.

Eyes oscillated.

For 'Not a suspect' read 'suspicious' - for 'Odd' read 'Homicide'.

Frank thought hard, swallowing more foul air. His hands began to shake, so he pushed them deeply into his pockets:

"That could be my next screenplay!" No panic, no sweat.

"What?"

"The Runner.. quite a catchy title!"

"A Screenplay you say?"

The Detective Harmer strained forward to hear his voice, competing as it was with the noise from the window next door, suddenly eased open by a rising wind.

"Yes, I'm a Screenwriter"

"Oh". As if they didn't know that already.

Next door, Dusty was playing her favourite music.

'For once in California..' thought Frank,'...she, of all people has really good taste: perhaps... well perhaps.'.

In a flash he knew it, clear as day:

 

"This world has lost it's Glory

Let's start a brand new story

Now, my love.......

...It's only words

and words are all I have,

to take your heart away."

 

 

 

 

©Frank Lauder MMVI

©Olympia Press, London, MMVI

© bookstreet.net MMVI

 

All Rights for Commercial Use Reserved

email: information@bookstreet.net