PART III: AFTER // Chapter Ten: How He Ended the Beginning and Began the Ending: 6

That evening Gil felt somehow lighter of heart and in a much better mood than he had been in for weeks. It was as if a great weight had been lifted. Rosie was now firmly and contractually by his side— or to put it more bluntly, on his side. He didn’t really know against what but he felt comforted nonetheless.

That afternoon they had gone shopping for an apartment and with the help of Rosie’s money and Gil’s stature in Hollywood, had easily found a suitable one-bedroom furnished apartment for her in a building that sported all the bells and whistles—private parking, pool, cable TV hookups, et cetera. In fact, Gil reflected, it was only a few blocks from the apartment he and Natalie had occupied for over a decade before their move to the Mulholland mansion in ’89.

When he returned home that evening, however, his growing affection for Rosie seemed in some strange way not to interfere with his relationship with Natalie. In fact, oddly, it seemed to have at least for the moment brought them closer together. After another of Mrs. Sibolboro’s bang-up dinners, he and his wife of nearly eighteen years had shared a bottle of outstanding vintage pinot noir and the mood was exceedingly mellow. She seemed softer and more receptive to Gil’s banal chatter and as the evening progressed, they ended up in Natalie’s bedroom where they made love for the first time in months and even slept together in Natalie’s big double bed.

The next morning Gil had pried himself away from Natalie’s encircling arms and had kissed her lightly on the lips before getting up, her only response being an unintelligible mumble. Gil did not press the issue. Going back to his room he showered, shaved and dressed before proceeding downstairs for a large plate of Mrs. Sibolboro’s country cured ham and fried eggs.

Then at about nine-thirty Gil, attired in Hawaiian shirt, light gray linen slacks and his lucky brown corduroy jacket, strode jauntily out the kitchen door and, being in such a good mood, was even able to grin widely at the ever-present, ever-grinning Hector, who sat in his accustomed place on the edge of the pool opposite the patio and walkway.

Continuing out towards the garage Gil noticed that the sun was brightly shining (not unusual for southern California in mid-June) and it was already pleasantly warm. Removing his jacket and folding it under his arm he thought, The big guy’s in the big chair and all’s right with the world. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I’m off to make another one of Natalie’s terrible movies. But the thought for some reason did not distress him for he knew he had two aces in the hole, so to speak, one of course being Rosie. The other was the rough draft of his—his—virgin script, Water Over the Bridge.

Literally whistling a happy tune as he came to the edge of the landscaped area he noticed Mr. Vargas already busy on his hands and knees pulling up clumps of weeds from the bordering flower bed. Mr. Vargas, noticing him, looked up then stood up, brushed dirt from his hands and knees, took off his battered straw hat and said respectfully, “Buenos dias, Señor Hall. You go make movie today?”

:Si, Señor Vargas,” Gil responded cheerily, “you bet. I go make movie now.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Vargas thoughtfully. “More problem movie, no?”

“More problem movie, si,” responded Gil.

Mr. Vargas scratched his head thoughtfully. “When movie ready?” he wanted to know.

“This fall,” said Gil, “tell your friends.”

“Muy bueno,” said Vargas. “I come, my friends come, we all have good cry, no?”

Gil nodded. “Si, Señor Vargas, you have good cry. I give you and all your friends free tickets.”

“Gracias, Señor Hall.” Then, noticing that Gil was already halfway to the garage, Mr. Vargas called out, “Hasta la vista!”
To which Gil responded with a cheery, “Hasta lumbago!”

Then he opened the garage door, got into his fabulous 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible, and sped out the open gate.

Arriving at his office building on Sunset, Gil parked in his private space and strode briskly into the lobby. Barely pausing to wave at DeVon who waved back, being unable to speak, his mouth full of Egg McMuffin at the moment, Gil entered the elevator, keyed in the tenth floor, and when the elevator doors opened, walked confidently into the reception area. What he saw there however made him freeze in his tracks. There at the reception desk which only yesterday had been occupied by his sweet Rosie was a large busty blonde girl who, to Gil’s estimation, couldn’t be a day over nineteen. With open mouth he glanced over towards the other side of the office where the office manager Georgie Jordan was riffling through a stack of actors’ resumes. He gave her a questioning look and obligingly she came to his rescue.

“Gil,” she said in a formal tone, “this is our new temp Brianna Benton. Do something with that mouth of yours and introduce yourself to the nice young woman.”

Gil opened and shut his mouth a few times, then forced his eyes upward to her face and said, “Uh, glad to meet you Ms., uh, Benton was it? I’m Gil Hall. The director and vice-president of FineHall Productions.” He said this last part as impressively as he could manage but it came out with more of a pleading rather than confident tone.

Brianna batted her eyes and stood up, apparently to give Gil a better look at her lush figure. “Well, Mr. Hall, this is quite an honor.” She seemed to breathe rather than say these words as if she fancied herself the second coming of Marilyn. “It’s so awesome to be working in a real movie production office,” she said, giving her hips a slight wiggle and thrusting out her breasts slightly as she extended her hand to be shaken.

Gil took it gingerly as if it might contain some explosive device and shook it perfunctorily before quickly letting it go again.

“By the way,” she breathed, settling herself back into the chair again, “I’m a real good worker and I take dictation really good too. So if you have any, you know, special dictation that you need to give me I don’t mind working late.”

At this Gil turned away, faking the necessity to cough while he considered how to respond to this blatant come-on.

Seeing this, Georgie again came to his rescue. “Brianna, dear,” she said sweetly, “could you please run down to the storeroom? I think the production office is low on copy paper. Could you put a couple reams by the copy machine and then check and see if we’re low on any other supplies?”

Brianna looked a little disappointed but got up saying, courteously, “Yes, Ms. Jordan, right away.” As she left the desk however she turned her head and winked at Gil saying, “See you later, boss.” Then as she moved slowly and languidly toward the door, Georgie went over to the desk and buzzed her through.

When she had shut the door behind her, Georgie looked at Gil and shook her head. “Wow,” Gil responded. “Where on earth did you find her?”

Georgie shrugged her shoulders fatalistically. “I got her from TempSolutions. Apparently she was the only one they had left. Well, I guess that’s the nature of temp roulette. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you get Brianna. Seems to me they’ve probably been pulling their hair out trying to find her work.”

“I see what you mean,” said Gil.

“I’ll tell you one thing, said Georgie, going back to the desk where she had been working. “If that girl doesn’t type any faster than she moves, I’m taking her back to TempSolutions at the end of the week and see if I can get store credit. Hopefully they’ll have someone else a little more, shall we say, office suitable by then. That is,” and she couldn’t help giving Gil a sly look, “unless you want her for any, uh, extracurricular activities?”

Gil shook his head violently. “Not me,” he assured her, “I’m swearing off for the duration.”

“Well now,” said Georgie with a big smile, “isn’t that special.”

Right about then the elevator doors opened again and Rosie strode in.

Looking around her for a few seconds she said brightly, “Hi Gil, Ms. Jordan. Am I early?”

“Well, yes and no,” said Gil. “Yeah, you’re a little early for he meeting but you’re right on time. I wanted you here early because…” Here he made a grand gesture with his hands that he hoped would be impressive. “I wanted you and me to make a grand entrance after everybody else has come in and been seated.” He gave her a wink. “That okay with you?”

Rosie nodded her head somewhat mystified and said, “Sure, whatever you say. What do you want me to do?”

“Well, I thought…” He looked at his watch then continued. “The others should start arriving in about fifteen or twenty minutes so I thought what we’d do is go to my office. We’ll kind of hide in there with the door closed and Georgie, you can call me on the intercom when everybody else has arrived and gone to the Conference Room. Then we’ll wait another few minutes and make our grand entrance.”

Rosie grinned, now feeling more like a co-conspirator. “Sure thing,” she said. “Whatever you say, boss.”

And without further ado, they went over to the door and Georgie buzzed them in. Proceeding a few doors down the hall Gil opened one of them and ushered Rosie in. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said. “It should be less than half an hour.”

Rosie settled herself in one of the two luxurious leather armchairs facing the large bare polished mahogany desk behind which Gil seated himself. “So,” she said, “are we going to do anything special while we wait, or what?”

“Well,” Gil said, “there is one thing I thought we’d talk about kind of in private, you know. I’m going to introduce you to all the others and I want you to be clear on what I’m going to say, okay?”

“Sure,” she said, “you’re paying my salary. Tell me what to do and I’ll go along with it.”

“Well, first of all we have you listed as a Script Consultant. But what I’m going to do is, I’m going to bring up the subject of your acting and I’m not sure how they’re going to react. I’ve never signed an actor to this kind of deal before. In fact, there are only eight other people that are more or less the same status as you and they’re all technical people in one way or another. You know, lights, sound, publicity, et cetera.”

“With you so far,” replied Rosie, stretching a little as if waiting for him to get to the point.

“Well,” Gil now sounded a little hesitant, “you, uh, remember what I promised you, you know, back when we were at that hotel?”

Rosie looked puzzled. “I’m not quite sure what you mean.”

  “Um, I promised to give you a part in this movie, you know, the script you read, Raising Ezekiel?”

Rosie gave a slight chuckle and threw up her hands. “Oh that,” she said. “I’m not holding you to that. After all, you’ve done enough  for me already. Fifty thousand a year ain’t chicken feed.”

Gil laughed nervously. “But really, I still want you in this movie if, you know, you still want some small part, some part you feel you could play. After all, a casting director is going to be there and she’s going to start filling in all the small parts probably next week. So I need to get it clear with her and also tell her that you’ve had, you know, a lot of stage experience, a lot of acting experience…” He ended on sort of a pleading note.

“Hmm,” said Rosie knitting her brows in concentration. “From what I remember in reading that script, none of the female parts, particularly the young ones, are all that difficult. Heck, if I were old enough I could even play the mother, no sweat. But as to my experience, if you want to pad it that’s your business. But if you remember in the car on the way up when I was telling you about, you know, my life story I told you then I had little acting experience outside of high school and college.”

“Okay,” Gil agreed hastily, “we’ll forget that part. I mean, I’m not going to try to promote you as the world’s greatest actress. But tell me seriously, is there any part you might want to play? I mean, I really want to do this for you, you know?”

Rosie softened at that and said, “Thanks Gil, I do appreciate the sentiment.” She mused for a few seconds. “Tell you what. Right at the end of the script there’s this scene where the kid’s dying, he’s like, twenty, twenty-one by now—“

Gil nodded his head vaguely. “Yeah, I guess I do, but to tell you the truth I didn’t pay that much attention.”

Rosie shot him a brief reproving look. “And you’re supposed to be the director,” she said. “Anyway, in that scene there’s this young nurse that comes out of the hospital room and tells the mother that, you know, her kid’s on the way out, and there’s this touching little scene where the mother breaks down and the young nurse sort of comforts her? I think I’d have fun with that part. That is, if it’s really okay with you.”

Gil gave her a relieved look. “Sure,” he said, his face brightening. “Anything you want. That’s okay with me. In the meeting we’ll tell LouAnn—she’s the casting director—that I want you to have that part. And she’ll take it from there and tell you what you have to do and when. I don’t think there’s going to be a problem. Most of the small parts are pretty interchangeable. LouAnn will do a week of cattle calls and get them all set.”

By now it was nearly eleven and from outside the closed office door they could hear footsteps coming down the hall together with some brief conversation and scattered laughter. “Sounds like the troops are assembling,” said Gil. “We should be getting our intercom call in just a few minutes.”

Sure enough, not too many minutes later the intercom buzzed and Gil picked up the phone receiver, listened for a minute and said, “Okay, that’s everyone Georgie? Thanks. We’ll take it from here.” He hung up the phone. “Well,” he said, “are you about ready to meet the gang?”

Rosie stood up, brushed herself off and straightened her skirt a bit. “I hope I look okay,” she said a little nervously. “You didn’t tell me what to wear for the meeting so I settled for a simple blouse and skirt.” She did a little pirouette. “Is this okay?”

“Sure,” said Gil, standing up. “We don’t dress for these things. I mean, my God, Dick sometimes comes in torn cutoffs, sandals and a Grateful Dead T-shirt.”

“Dick?” said Rosie questioningly.

“Yeah, Dick,” he said. “That’s Richard Ellsworth, my lighting guy. You know, cinematographer. Oh don’t worry, we’ll introduce you to everybody, and in no time you’ll have their names straight. After all, there’s only eight of them. So, are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said. And with that they left the office and proceeded down the hall towards Conference Room A.

Upon their entrance to Conference Room A the aforementioned Richard Ellsworth was the first to notice their arrival and respond thusly: “Hey Gil, I didn’t know it was bring your daughter to work day!”

That stopped Gil in his tracks. He frowned at Richard and replied, “Can it, Dick. That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.” Then putting a smile on his face, he addressed the entire gathering. “Gang, this is Rosie Batista. She is the newest member of our little moviemaking group. Say hello, Rosie dear.”

Rosie gave a big stupid grin and responded, “Hello, Rosie dear,” which got a big laugh from everyone and suddenly the ice was broken.

Gil motioned her to a seat (added by the ever-vigilant office manager Georgie) between him and Nancy Cheney his assistant director, who usually sat at his elbow.

“Now I know you’re going to think this is a little strange,” Gil continued, “but we’ve hired Rosie as a, well, sort of script consultant and all around inspiration, you might call her. She’s been a great help to me the past several days and I’m sure that she will be a great asset to our company. Even though,” he said in a lower tone, “she considers herself to be primarily an actor.”

This brought a round of oohs and ahhs from the assembled. They had never had an actor in their midst before. Usually they considered actors as part of the unpleasant but necessary process of making a movie.

“So,” ventured Margo McGee, the ever-talkative publicist, “where’d you find her, been raiding the little theaters for talent, have you?”

Gil drew himself up as stiffly as he could manage in a sitting position and replied, “No, Margo. If you must know I found her right here. She’s been working for us as a temp secretary for the past couple weeks. But she demonstrated that her talents extended to much more than mere office work. So,” he waved his hands to keep them from responding, “let’s cut the chitchat and introduce yourself to Rosie. We’ll go round the table,” he said, pointing at Dick.

Getting into the spirit of things Dick stood up (he actually was wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt, Rosie noticed), bowed slightly, as much as his large stomach would permit, and said, “Richard Ellsworth, cinematographer, lighting director, et cetera, et cetera.” Then sat down again.

The young man on Richard’s right stood up hesitantly and nervously as was apparently his natural state and mumbled, “Carl Pohler. Music, sound design, sound effects, you know, that kind of stuff.”

Next was Sheila Robinson. “I take care of costumes, makeup, hair, anything involving the actors’ body.”

Next was Theodore J. Mooney whom everyone called Money. He stood up gracefully and said, “We need no introductions, Rosie my dear, since we have already met. You know what I do and I know what you do.” And he sat down again.

Next was LouAnn Wright who said, “I’m this organization’s hotshot casting director. We’re probably going to have a talk, Rosie dear, that is if you’re actually an actor.” Rosie briefly agreed that she was and LouAnn left it at that.

Next was Tommy Thompson who stood up, resplendent in her usual garb of overalls and workshirt, dripping noserings, earrings and decorated with many tattoos. She said, “I’m Tommy Thompson, set construction, set design, set decoration, set—whatever,” and sat down again.

The next woman to stand up was smartly dressed and quite well-preserved for her not-so-obvious age. I’m Margo McGee,” she said distinctly. “Head of publicity, press releases, anything else having to do with—“ and she shot Gil a smile— “trying to gain an audience for Natalie’s godawful pictures.” Gil winced but said nothing.

The last to introduce herself was the woman whose place Rosie had taken and was now on her left. The woman, young and attractive and obviously bursting with vitality, stood up and said, “I’m Nancy Chaney. I’m Gil’s assistant director, script girl, continuity monitor, stage manager—” and she shot Gil a sharp glance— “and anything else that Gil doesn’t want to dirty his hands with.” This produced an appreciative chuckle from the assembled.

“Well,” said Gil, “now that you’ve met everyone we can start the meeting. First of all, the script. As you may or may not know I—and with not inconsiderable help from Rosie here—struggled with this script over the weekend and could think of nothing really to substantially improve it. So, let’s table that for awhile at least until we start actual shooting. By then we may have some ideas for minor changes. Now, as to ways and means. You all pretty much have your assignments, so what I want today is brief progress reports and a discussion of any problems that you might foresee in your particular specialties. So, anybody want to start?”

Surprisingly enough Tommy Thompson, who was usually reticent at these meetings to the point of surliness, spoke up. “Well Gil,” she said, “I’m not sure how you’ll take this but I’ve just happened on to what I think is a terrific opportunity.”

Gil raised his eyebrows at this. “Oh? Well, let’s hear it.”

“Okay, it’s this way,” she continued. “As you know, whenever we do one of these movies that requires mostly interior shots, I’m always stuck with shopping around to see where we can actually shoot these scenes, whether we can rent a place that’s already set up to work for us, or whether it needs to be built to order. Usually it’s a little bit of both.”

“So,” said Gil, now a little impatient. “What’s your point?”

“Well, I was talking to some people and I found out that there’s this old guy who owns—he’s practically the sole owner—of an independent production company. Now this old guy is getting ready to retire, apparently he’s in poor health and his doctor wants him to move to someplace dry—you know, Arizona, New Mexico, whatever—so he is in effect selling out. And what he’s got that would interest us I think is a terrific deal. He’s got this huge complex of sound stages in Burbank that he’s willing—the building, the property, everything—he’s willing to let it go for a real cut-rate price.”

At this Money looked up interested for the first time. “Oh? Did he mention a figure?”

“Not anything definite. I get the feeling that he’s open to negotiation and if someone would give him a lump sum payment he would go pretty low. So—what do you all think?”

Gil looked at her in a new light. “That sound terrific to me. I’ve been trying to convince Natalie for years that we ought to invest in our own complex and now it sounds like we can maybe get it cut rate. So, who is this guy anyway?”

“Well, his company is called Stupendous Productions and I think the guy’s name is DeVol, DeVille, something like that. I’ve got the information written down.”

This rang a definite bell for Gil if for nobody else. “You don’t mean—“ he said— “Oscar DeVille of Stupendous Productions?”

“Yeah, I think that’s what his name was. I’ve got it here somewhere.” She searched in her backpack and came out with a small notebook. “Yeah Gil, you’re right. Oscar DeVille, Stupendous Productions.”

Gil was tempted to go down memory lane but figured this might not be the time or the place. “So look,” he said, “why don’t you get in touch with DeVille and have Money negotiate with him, set up an appointment or whatever, or maybe it would be better if you just give the information to Georgie and let her make the arrangements. After all, that’s what she’s there for. So Money, what do you think?”

“Well,” he said, “I can’t really render an opinion until I get at least a ballpark figure. But I’ll go on record as saying I don’t see why we couldn’t afford it, particularly if it’s as good a bargain as Tommy says it is.”

“Okay then,” said Gil. “Next?”

Next to speak was Sheila Robinson. “I talked to my makeup specialist about aging the principals slightly for the end of the film, and she said she didn’t think it would be a problem or inconvenience the actors or hold up the shoot any. So that’s taken care of. Otherwise, costuming in this case is going to be a breeze—regular late twentieth century street clothes, no problem.”

“Great,” said Gil, “anybody else? Carl, how about you? Do you foresee any problems in your area?”

The young man, shy as always, mumbled, “No, don’t think so. Some incidental music in the middle, instrumental theme for the beginning and credits, otherwise just regular movie sound effects.”

  “Okay,” said Gil, “that sounds good to me. What about you, Margo? Any ideas for some hotshot publicity which I think we’re probably going to need.”

Margo stood up composed as always and replied in her businesslike but pleasant contralto, “Well Gil, as I told you last Friday, I’m going to hit publicity on two fronts. One, of course is interracial adoption which as you know is hot stuff right now, particularly with Brad and Angelina. That should be good for some needed buzz. The other front is I’m going to try to tie this in with a campaign for better care of children with congenital diseases and birth defects. I’m also trying to establish a link with the First Lady’s proposal for health care reform, better facilities for caring for these unfortunate children to relieve their parents of the burden both of horrendous expenses and work time lost caring for the child. I’ll keep you updated on how things proceed.”

“Wonderful,” said Gil. “Sounds like a winner.”

Then LouAnn stood up and was recognized by Gil. “As far as the casting goes,” she told him, “next week is going to be crazy. I’m going to be doing cattle calls Monday through Friday. If you want the schedule I’ll give it to you.”

“Sure,” said Gil, “go ahead.”

“Well, Monday is gonna be black babies. Wednesday is gonna be black kids. Friday is gonna be black adolescents. Tuesday and Thursday I’ve got reserved for the various minor roles which mostly consist of doctors, nurses, bureaucrats, office people, et cetera, et cetera. You know what’s needed, having read the script by now I’m sure?”

“Yeah I’m familiar with it, and don’t rub it in, okay? Anyway, that reminds me,” said Gil, “here’s what I want to do. I’m gonna give Rosie a part in this film.” He put his hands up as if expecting a protest. “Just a small part, you understand, nothing difficult. We’ve already decided on what it will be. Have you got your script handy?”

“Sure,” said LouAnn, reaching into her voluminous tote bag and procuring the script.

“Go to page ninety-seven, towards the end, there’s a nurse, a young nurse who’s taking care of the kid as he’s dying. She witnesses the death and then comes out and consoles the mother. It’s a touching little scene, or gives you diabetes, depending on which way you look at it.” This produced another slight chuckle.

LouAnn frowned a little in concentration and paged through the script. “Oh yes,” she said, “here it is. Umm, yeah, touching little scene, huh?” Then she looked directly at Rosie. “Um, the character is nurse Bradley. You’re, uh, Hispanic, aren’t you my dear?”

“Um, yeah,” admitted Rosie. “Does that make a difference?”

“I don’t see why it should,” replied LouAnn. She spent another minute or two reading the scene. “Nope, it’s just the name. She doesn’t say or do anything that’s specifically white girl. But I tell you what. Just to be on the safe side let’s change her name to a Hispanic one. Got any ideas?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Rosie. “Off the top of my head, let’s see. How about Villanueva?”

“Sure, why not?” agreed LouAnn. We’ll even get you a nice name tag and everything. But,” she said, “I understand you have no actual film experience. Is that true?”

Rosie admitted that it was.

“Tell you what,” said LouAnn. “Why don’t you come in later the week. There’s a small studio right on this floor that we sometimes use for short promo films and interviews. We’ll give you kind of a screen test, mostly to see how the camera likes you and what kind of makeup you should wear and how you should move and speak. That okay with you?”

“Sure,” said Rosie. “I’ve got no problem with that.” 

“So,” LouAnn continued, “you really think you might be cut out to be film star?”

Rosie shrugged her shoulders. “That’s not for me to say,” she said. “It’s for you and—“ she shot Gil a look— “my director to tell me that.”

LouAnn clapped her hands. “Spoken like a true pro,” she said. She turned to Gil. I don’t think there’s going to be any problem.”

“Good,” said Gil. “Now, here’s the big one. Nancy, I think the time has come for you to get your feet wet. How would you like to direct most of this picture?”

The group, including Nancy, stared at him mouth open in stunned silence. Gil had never to their knowledge relinquished his position as sole director on any scene before, much less an entire film.

Gil snapped his fingers and said, “Earth to group. Come on! It’s not that big a deal. I think it’s time for Nancy to show us what she can do. Whaddaya say, Nan?”

“I think it’s terrific. Thanks, Gil. I really appreciate this. I won’t let you down. But,” she frowned a little, “who’s going to assist me?”

“Well,” said Gil, “how about Rosie here? That okay with you, Rosie?”

“Sure, I told you I was yours for the duration, remember? Anything you want me to do as long as it doesn’t interfere with, well, you know, we talked about that.”

“And I’m going to direct your scene. Otherwise I’m going to leave it up to Nan as long as she feels she can handle it and the dailies turn out okay.”

Richard spoke up for the first time. “You probably know what you’re doing, Gil,” he began rather tentatively, “but might I ask what brought this on? I mean, I’ve been with you guys for fifteen years now and this is the first time you’ve ever relinquished any kind of control. What’s up your sleeve anyway?”

“That’s my business,” Gil said. But if we’re finished here anybody who’s interested can go to lunch with me at the Cat and I’ll explain further. Don’t worry,” he added. “Business luncheon. I’m—or rather the company—is paying.”

Most of the members of the group begged off however, being too highly paid for the offer of a free lunch to tempt them overly. So Gil was left with only a foursome—himself, Richard, Rosie, and Nancy Chaney.

“On the way over,” Nancy remarked to Rosie, “we might as well get to know each other if we’re going to be working together.”

“Sounds good to me,” replied Rosie, and no other words were exchanged until they had reached the Cat & Fiddle and had been seated at a table large enough for four in the middle of the spacious courtyard. Fortunately for all concerned, the table was equipped with a large umbrella to shield them from the rays of the noonday sun which was already becoming uncomfortably hot.

The group exchanged pleasantries and small talk for a few minutes before everyone’s favorite waitress came over to briskly and efficiently take their orders. Then more small talk was exchanged during the few minutes until their orders had been placed before them and the waitress had hurried away to attend to other customers.

“So Gil,” Richard began as soon as he had assured himself of the correctness and quality of his lunch order, “before we get to your cryptic statement about not directing this film, tell me, what was all that about this guy who’s apparently selling his off his sound stages? You acted like you knew him from somewhere. If so, it must have been before we met, so c’mon, what’s the story, if there is one?”

“Well,” said Gil, “for me it’s kind of a wallow down memory lane. I mean, I hadn’t thought about this guy—Oscar DeVille is his name—since the seventies, nearly twenty years ago. He was a weird old guy even then and he must be well into his seventies by now. But I’ll say one thing for him, he knew his business, no matter how eccentric he was and, well, from a personal standpoint, I have to sort of thank him.” Here Gil held up a hand. “But it’s not really what you think I would thank him for. Yeah, he sort of gave me a start in Hollywood pictures, I’ll tell you about that later, but what I really have to thank him for is he’s the reason I met Natalie. Back almost exactly twenty years ago this coming Thanksgiving, we met for the first time at a party DeVille was throwing at his house. It was one of the weirdest parties I’ve ever been to.” Gil paused and looked around expectantly and couldn’t help noticing that Richard seemed to be the only one listening so he decided to drop it.

“Well,” Richard said after realizing Gil was going to say no more on the subject, “I guess that’s all pretty interesting the way you and Natalie met up and everything, but what I’m dying to find out is, what are you going to be doing while Nancy directs this picture, if anything? I mean, are you burned out? Gonna take a long vacation, what?

“Yes and no,” Gil said. “It’s no secret to you or probably any of the others that I have been getting just a little tired of the kind of movie we’ve been having to make from Natalie’s pretty claustrophobic and predictable scripts. So—“ He spread his hands as if to introduce some dramatic moment of his own devising— “I, uh, took it upon myself to actually write my own script.”

With this Gil managed to gain both Rosie’s and Nancy’s attention while Richard said, “Good for you, Gil. So you finally did it, huh? You’ve been threatening to do this the last several years. So, was there anything like specific that made it happen for you? C’mon, tell us all.”

“Well, in a way,” said Gil, “I have you to thank. If Rosie and I hadn’t gone last weekend to that little mountain town you recommended, I probably never would have been able to write it.”

At this, Rosie gave him a hard look.

“Oh yeah,” said Gil, picking up his cue from her, “I could never have done it without the help of Rosie here. In fact,” he said rather too expansively, “you might say we co-wrote the script together. Isn’t that right, Rosie dear?”

“Yes, that’s right, Uncle Gil,” Rosie said perhaps a little sarcastically.

“At any rate,” said Gil hurrying on, “that’s what I’m going to be doing the rest of the year and probably well into the winter. Rosie and I—and would you believe it, Natalie—are all going to work on the script together. It’s gonna be great.” And he continued, “I was thinking specifically of you, Richard, when we wrote this. There’s gonna be so much juicy stuff in it you wouldn’t believe—special effects, special cinematography. Stuff I know you can do and that you can really get your teeth into.”

“Sounds terrific,” said Richard. “Might even make me think twice about taking early retirement.”

“I hope so,” said Gil. “Stop by the office after lunch and I’ll show you the rough draft. You’re gonna be impressed.”

By this time Rosie and Nan had turned deaf ears to Gil’s gushing promo and had begun conversing between themselves. “So,” said Nan, “I hear that you’re going to be, or at least want to be, primarily a stage actor?”

“Yup, that’s right,” admitted Rosie. “I really like the challenge of creating a character and seeing a play through from beginning to end. I mean, when you do film, it’s all, you know, short scenes, short takes, sometimes too many takes out of sequence. It’s really hard to get a feel for your character.”

“Yeah,” agreed Nan, “I know what you mean. Before I hooked up with FineHall I used to be a little theater director, did that for maybe five years after I got out of college. I must say that I enjoyed it immensely. It’s just that, well, at my level the money wasn’t too good.”

“That’s why I’m so thrilled to get this job,” said Rosie. “Gil has assured me that I can do stage work anytime I want and that he’ll schedule my stuff around his stuff and everything will work out okay.”

As if this reminded her of something she elbowed Gil. “Huh?” he said, turning to look at her in surprise.

“Isn’t that right, big guy?”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I was just telling Nan that you had promised to schedule my activities with the company around my stage work. Isn’t that right?” Rosie finished meaningfully.

“Why, uh, that’s right,” said Gil. “That’s what I said, that’s what I meant.”

“So,” Rosie continued, “you’ve got me down as assistant director and actress in this film you’re going to shoot. So, how long do you figure it’s going to take?”

Gil thought for a moment. “Not that long, really,” he said, “we’re gonna start in about three weeks right after the fourth, everything’s gonna be in place, we’ve got no location shooting. Natalie wants the picture up by the holidays so I figure we should wrap in about three months, early October, that gives us time to do whatever post we need to do and still get it out there by mid-November.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Rosie. “Summer’s the slow time for theater anyway and if I can start auditioning in September, I can get in on the ground floor of most of the little theaters’ seasons.” She turned to Nan once more. “Now that I’ve got this job I can actually afford to go and audition at the little theaters.”

Gil, who was still listening, remarked, “Huh? I don’t quite get you, Rosie. I mean, don’t you audition at theaters to get a job, to make a living?”

  Rosie turned back to him again. “Not the theaters I want to work for,” she said. “The best new plays and the best roles are at the little theaters scattered all around the Los Angeles area. The 99-seaters we call them. And,” she continued, “those theaters pay little or nothing. So it’s almost like you pay them for the privilege for doing new and exciting work that the big commercial theaters don’t do.”

Gil was fascinated by this but he said, “It seems to me that you guys have got something called Equity. I mean, I never heard of a union that lets you work for free or practically nothing. So, what gives?”

“Well, that’s the best part,” said Rosie. “Some of the teachers at Stella Adler were telling me that about five years ago Equity made an agreement with a lot of the little theaters in Los Angeles that allows their members to work under what they call an Equity Waiver. That means you’re totally on your own as far as any financial considerations or working conditions with these theaters. So you see as long as I can afford to work there I’ll have no problem with Equity once I join, and that’s what I want.”

“I don’t know much about the theater,” Gil admitted, “but I do know this. That if you do some roles in our movies, people that have been in movies are always in demand for local stage productions. Management thinks that the publicity from the movies will sell more tickets. If they can advertise you as someone who has movie credits…”

“Great!” said Rosie. “So I win both ways. I’ll do your movies and that will make me more likely to get the kind of stage work I want.”

At this, Gil turned to Richard, who had been toying with his chocolate cake while this was going on. “And, Dick,” he said magnanimously, “we owe it all to you. If you hadn’t turned me on to that weird little town in the mountains…“ He turned to Rosie. “What was the name of that town? I’ve forgotten already…”

“Las Claritas.”

“Yeah, that’s the one, where there was this weird little hotel. Anyway, I can’t thank you enough.”

Richard looked perplexed. “What was that you called it?” he said. “Las Claritas? Never heard of it. I directed you up to Lake Arrowhead. Didn’t you follow my instructions?”

Now it was Gil’s turn to be perplexed. “Follow your instructions? Yeah, you even wrote them down for me. I gave them to Rosie.” He turned to her again. “You still got those instructions?”

Rosie shrugged. “I don’t know, Gil,” she said, “what with just getting back and then the move to the new apartment… If it’s really important, I’ll go through my luggage when I get home and see if I can find them.”

Gil shook his head dismissively. A light was beginning to dawn. He said to Richard in a voice that attempted to indicate that the matter was of no importance, “Never mind Dick, we must have gotten mixed up on the road somehow. No big deal.”

“Well,” said Richard, “I’m just glad you had a good time. And apparently got inspired.”

“Yeah, you could say that,” said Gil. He was thinking rapidly now. So, the norns had had their hooks in him from the beginning. One of them must have impersonated Richard and given me directions to their lair. God, what a chump. Realizing that everyone was looking at him he refrained from smacking himself in the forehead. Oh well, he thought, what does it really matter? The norns are masters of the universe. After all, I suppose I should be flattered that they’ve taken an interest in me. And you can’t make somebody do something he wants to do. He looked up toward the part of the sky the table’s umbrella wasn’t covering. You want movies, boys? his thoughts continued. I’ll give you movies out the ass.

Everyone was looking at him a little strangely now but he took no notice. From somewhere in the past—or was it the future?—he remembered someone saying, Be the best Gil Hall you can be. And this is what he decided to do.

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