On his way out through the reception area he stopped at Georgie’s desk. She was reading a newspaper but looked up when he entered.
“So, that guy was all right then?” she inquired. “I mean, he didn’t give you any trouble?”
Gil, preoccupied with his own thoughts, didn’t realize for a moment what she was talking about. “Him?” he said. “Oh, that guy. Yeah, I guess I must have met him in a bar or something.” He gave a little self-deprecatory laugh. “You know me, I meet so many people I sometimes forget.” Then his expression became serious. Pulling a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase he handed it to her and said, “Do me a favor will you, and run off a copy of this. Then lock the original in the file drawer where we keep the original scripts, okay?”
“Sure thing,” she said, taking the manuscript from him and starting toward the production office. “What is it, revised version of Raising Ezekiel?”
“No,” he said, “it’s my baby. It’s an almost finished screenplay that I wrote myself.” He paused as if waiting for applause.
“Wow,” she said, anticipating his mood. “So, you finally finished one, huh? Been a long time comin’.”
He frowned a little at that. “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled, “rub it in, why dontcha? Anyway, feel free to read it if you want to.”
“Great,” she said, “maybe I will,” and exited the reception area toward the production office.
Gil sat down on one of the couches and, while he was waiting, picked up today’s edition of Variety. Quickly glancing at the front page he saw that The Flintstones, City Slickers II and Beverly Hills Cop III were the top grossing movies that week. “Hm!” he said aloud with a slight air of disapproval, “so that’s the best the big boys can come up with this year, huh? Look at that,” he said to the empty room, tapping the publication with knuckles. “Nothing but empty-headed so-called summer blockbusters.” He raised his eyes heavenward. “No wonder the norns have given me this sacred mission.”
Within a few minutes Georgie returned and handed him the photocopy. “Here you go, boss,” she said. “Nice and shiny.”
“Thanks, Georgie,” he said, getting up and slipping it into his briefcase. “And now, I will take my leave. Now I’ve got to sell this script to the lovely Natalie.”
Georgie shook her head and clucked in sympathy. “Don’t envy you that one,” she said. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” he said, pressing the button for the elevator. “Hope I don’t need it.” And with that, the elevator door opened and he exited the office, then the building, striding quickly and now grimly through the lobby and out to the parking lot. Locating his T-bird he quickly got into the car, took the club off the steering wheel, and glanced at his gold Rolex. It was now well after three. “Damn,” he said, “at this rate I’m not going to get home until nearly four. Hope Natalie isn’t too far in the bag and able to have a relatively sober discussion.” Then he shrugged his shoulders and thought, “Well, nothing I can do about that.”
On the way home he thought a lot about what role the norns had cast him in. Apparently he was supposed to be the guiding light for cinema’s immediate future. But, he reflected, things weren’t really that bad, were they? What could possibly happen in the next twenty years or so that would make Hollywood degenerate to such an extent that it needed a savior? Well, no use puzzling over that, he told himself. I’m sure I will find out as I go along. On a more personal note, he noticed that he was beginning to feel alive again. He was feeling something that he hadn’t felt for nearly twenty years. He felt somewhat like an animal coming out of a long hibernation and wondered at himself. Had he really become such a hack? If so, he hoped there was a version of AA for hackaholics. He envisioned himself standing up before a roomful of pompous mediocre directors and saying, Hi, I’m Gil hall and I’m a hackaholic. “Whatever,” he said aloud. “I guess the cure is the same, I’ve got to take it one film at a time.” He searched his memory until he had a more or less firm grip on the half dozen or so films (his films, he reminded himself) that he had either seen or dreamed (he had not ruled out that possibility quite yet) in his brief sojourn in the future. He thought that perhaps he could make some notes and then recreate them as he went along. And who knows, he thought, maybe I’ll even get good at this sort of thing.
By this time he was rounding the curve that lead onto Mulholland and the last steep quarter mile to the sprawling two-story mansion he and Natalie called home. He turned onto his driveway and entered through the massive iron gates which were always left open during the day when someone was at home. Driving around to the spacious four-car garage he noted that the other three were parked in their accustomed places. That meant of course that Natalie was home. Which was normal as she rarely went anywhere on a weekday afternoon if she could help it. Afternoons were her Me Time, consisting mainly of margaritas, sun, and batting her eyes at Hector the pool boy.
Parking his car, he picked up his briefcase and sports bag and walked around to the front entrance, letting himself in with his key. He walked through the huge living room to the boundary between it and the equally huge dining room, then made a left through an interior door and walked several paces down a long hall until he reached the winding staircase which ascended to the upper floors where the bedrooms and utility rooms were located. Reaching the top of the stairs, he walked down another long hall and entered the master bedroom which he and Natalie inhabited during their increasingly infrequent nights of lovemaking. On other nights they each slept in their own private smaller adjacent bedroom.
Entering, he tossed his sports bag into a corner near the sexy king-sized bed and went over to his portion of the spacious walk-in closet. Then removed and hung up his lucky brown corduroy jacket. Stripping off the shirt he had worn for the last three days, he tossed it into a nearby hamper, the contents of which would be picked up by the laundry service within a few days. Then he selected and put on a loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt which had a dark blue background and was decorated with pink flamingos and green palm trees. Then he picked up his briefcase and left the bedroom. He retraced his steps down the stairs, this time turning right and proceeded until he reached the small room he called his office. There he put the briefcase on his desk and patted it reassuringly. Then he went back up the hall and out again into the living room.
All this time there had been no one around and he had heard no sound. This was not peculiar, since Mrs. Sibolboro invariably stayed in her domain, the kitchen, when she was on duty and was not engaged in the other light housework she so much enjoyed doing.
He turned left and walked through the dining room and into the aforementioned kitchen where sure enough Mrs. S. was seated at the kitchen table reading her latest issue of Philippine Screen Love, shaking her head and chuckling over the latest antics of Gabby Concepcion and Zsa Zsa Padilla.
As Gil entered she looked up and said, “Ah, welcome back, Mr. Hall. Have a nice weekend?”
“Yup,” he said, “and boy, am I glad to be home.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “So, what’s for dinner?” he inquired, rolling his tongue and rubbing his stomach in what he hoped was a comic manner. “Boy, am I starved. Had nothing but plain old Midwestern food over the weekend. You know, steaks and barbecue and like that. I could sure use one of your exotic meals.”
She laughed at that as if he had made a funny joke. “Yes,” she said, “you can eat expensive out but to cook in the home is the best thing. Tonight I will make for you kaldereta, beef stew. It’s good.”
“Sounds great,” he said, then he dropped his voice to a more or less conspiratorial whisper. “And how is Mrs. Hall today, might I ask?”
Mrs. S. shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes upwards. “She is outside by the pool as usual. She has had only four or five margaritas so I think she is now in her happy place.” She gave him a wink. “A good time I think if you wish to speak to her.”
“Thanks for your advice,” he said. “See you later.” And then composing himself he exited the kitchen door toward the pool.
As he advanced towards the regal chaise lounge he had a feeling of deja vu, as if it were the preceding Friday again long before the subsequent mishegoss had started. There she was, resplendent in her dazzling white bikini, half-empty margarita glass in hand poised and lip ready. She was engaged, or so it seemed to him, in batting her eyes winningly at Hector, who sat at the other end of the pool from her, swishing his legs slowly and rhythmically in the water and grinning his usual wide grin that exposed a perfect set of gleaming white teeth which complemented his otherwise deeply tanned smooth and muscular body. He was clad as usual (if you could call it that) in skin-tight denim cutoff shorts and a battered floppy straw hat.
During his approach Gil accidentally bumped the chaise lounge adjacent to her, which caused a slight grating noise loud enough to make her tear her gaze from Hector and look in his direction. “Well, well,” she remarked, “the prodigal returns.” She once again turned her head towards Hector and said, “Look Hector, Daddy’s home! Isn’t that wonderful?”
In response, Hector grinned even wider than Gil thought could be possible, doffed his hat in a comic gesture and exclaimed, “Hola, Señor Hall.” Then, replacing his hat, his face turning serious for a moment, he muttered something about mucho trabajo, picked up a long handled net from beside where he was sitting, and began to scoop stray fallen leaves out of the pool.
Returning her attention to Gil, Natalie placed her drink on a small table beside her seat and stood up. She began to brush off his shirt as if to free it from any imaginary foreign detritus that might be clinging there and said, “Let me look at you.” She did, then screwed up her face and, in a perfect imitation of Carol Kane’s Simka on the old television sitcom Taxi she screeched, “You did it with another woman!”
Gil was not perturbed at this for it was a running joke between them. Every time he came back from any kind of a business trip he had taken without her, she invariably came up with the same tired joke. Which, he admitted (but only to himself) was sometimes true and sometimes not. In this case, however, he felt himself to be as blameless as an altar boy. He chuckled, “Yes, you’re right, I did with another woman. Sue me.”
Natalie became almost serious for a moment. “Anybody I know?” she inquired mildly.
“I don’t think you do,” he said. “She’s a new temp at the office. She’s replacing Marcy who’s apparently out on maternity leave.”
This time she decided to channel her late father. “So,” she said, “is she a looker or what?”
“Yeah,” Gil said, “she’s a looker all right. But believe me, I swear to God, I didn’t touch her once. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it.”
She patted him on the shoulder. “Such a brave boy,” she crooned, “you deserve a reward.” Then she stretched up on tiptoes as he inclined his head toward her and allowed her to kiss him full on the lips.
When they had both finished the kiss and had settled themselves on adjacent chaise lounges Gil stretched himself out, put his hands behind his head and said, “You know, I had a really remarkable time. We went to this little town way up in the mountains and it was…I dunno, kind of different.”
Once again Natalie turned her attention full on Gil. “That reminds me,” she said, “I believe if I recall correctly, the last thing you said to me before you left—in extremely high dudgeon I should add—was that you were going away for the express purpose of fucking with my script. So pray tell, how did that come out?”
Now is the time, Gil thought, that tries men’s souls. Summoning up his best Hollywood bullshit concealment expression he ventured, “You know Natalie, I’ve gotta confess. When I was talking to you the other day I hadn’t really read through the script sufficiently to know what it was all about.” This much was true. In fact, he hadn’t even looked at it at that point. “But you know,” he continued in the same ingratiating manner, “when I got up there and in the quiet and peaceful surroundings of this rustic hotel—”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Natalie interrupted, “you— staying at a rustic hotel? Whatsamatter, no five stars up there?”
“Okay,” Gil replied humbly, “you got me I admit, it was the only place available, and we were tired, so we took it. But you know,” he now resumed his former manner, “it was great, it was, like, different. Every now and then it’s great to get away from it all, you know?”
She nodded her head. “I see. This is getting interesting. Please continue.”
“Well, to be really honest with you—“ (and of course this is the universal signal for not being honest with anyone)— “when I actually settled down after a good dinner and read through your script I was amazed at the subtlety and the wonderfully true characterizations that really brought out the theme…you know…that you were trying to convey…”
She waved a halting hand at him. “All right, all right, don’t go all Roger Ebert on me. Just cut to the chase.”
“Well, the bottom line is, I mean, I thought it was really, really good. So I didn’t change a word of it. Now how do you like that?”
She threw up her hands and raised her head as if addressing God in His heaven. Then she clasped her hands together and intoned, “Will wonders never cease. This—this man, the man I’m married to, for once, for once in his life, he didn’t fuck with my script. Will such wonders ever be explained to mere mortals such as I?”
By this point Gil had had about enough of the histrionics. “Oh can it, Nat. You know that about half the stuff you’ve done in our long and somewhat illustrious association I haven’t touched, so why is it so hard to believe about this one?”
Dropping the pose she said seriously, “Well, it’s just that I more or less expected a big fight this time. You know, you were pretty upset when you left here Friday.”
“Yeah,” he mused, “I guess I was. But that’s all over now. Listen, here’s the best part. What I haven’t told you yet is that for some strange reason when I was up there I got, I dunno, some kind of clarity. I did something I’ve never been able to do before.”
“What’s that?” she said with Groucho-like sardonicness. “Have sex with two topless dancers at the same time?”
“No,” he replied stiffly, then pleaded, “come on, be serious, Nat. I’m talking about some kind of epiphany here.”
“Okay,” she said clasping her hands demurely. “I’m serious. Tell me your epiphany.”
“Well,” he said shyly, “I’ve finally was able, with the help of Rosie that is—oh, she’s the temp I was telling you about—anyway, with her help I was finally able to write and pretty much finish a screenplay that both of us thought was pretty good. And, I can’t wait to show it to you. You know—” and now he was back to laying it on thick— “get your expert opinion, maybe some help with the dialogue, you know, that voodoo that you do so well?”
She chuckled a little at this. “Okay,” she said. “You don’t have to sweet talk me. Seriously, I’m glad you finally wrote something. God knows you’ve been trying to long enough. So, when do I get to see this masterpiece?”
“I thought maybe we’d talk about it after dinner. Mrs. S. is making us something she calls, uh, a stew, a kal…”
She gave him a pitying look. I think you mean kaldereta, light of my life.”
“Yeah, yeah, I think that’s it.”
She shook her head. “Over twenty years in LA and you still don’t know any Tagalog.”
This pretty much ended the conversation about which Gil had been terrified and they fell to talking about more mundane matters, like who was going to get the next round of drinks from Mrs S.
And so they drank and conversed amiably until the summer solstice sun began to shade the patio and pool area, the air became noticeably cooler and Mrs S. called from the kitchen, “Last call for alcohol before dinner.”
So, after drinking the obligatory Welcome Home once more, they both trouped in for dinner. Gil walked behind Natalie, the better to gauge his wife’s mood and level of inebriation. He was gratified on two accounts: one, that she was swaying only slightly, and two, that she seemed to be a relatively happy and receptive drunk this afternoon. Gil had seen the booze work both ways on his beloved, whose happy hour on the days on which she was not working stretched from just post-lunch to just pre-dinner. Sometimes, as in this case, she seemed full of the goodness of life. And at other times she would complain about what seemed to Gil the most trivial annoyances.
As they entered the house through the kitchen and seated themselves at the large dining room table, Gil attributed Natalie’s good mood not only to his agreement not to tamper with Raising Ezekiel but in fact also his rather forced praise of it. His plan seemed to be working well as Mrs. S. brought in steaming platters of tonight’s culinary masterpiece, kalderetang baka—tender chunks of beef braised and simmered in a spicy sauce and liver paste with baby carrots, pearl onions, peas, potatoes and minced chilis.
When the meal was over and they had both finished their thick slices of homemade apple pie for dessert, they were both feeling much more grounded and quite a bit more sober. It was at this point that Gil decided it was now or never and proceeded to lead Natalie to his office where he had left the rough draft copy of his screenplay Water Over the Bridge.
His office was located on the main floor of the mansion, about halfway down the long hall and situated between the screening room on one side and Natalie’s office on the other. Upon entering, Gil ceremoniously handed his script to Natalie saying, “Take a seat. Read it and tell me what you think. But please, remember it’s only a first draft.”
“I know,” she replied, “and I will. First, let me say I think it’s marvelous that you’ve gotten even this far. As to whether or not it’s any good—well, we could certainly work on it if necessary, couldn’t we?”
“Sure thing,” said Gil enthusiastically, and then sat in a chair behind his desk, nervously waiting while Natalie settled herself on a small couch opposite and began to pour over his manuscript. As he waited with increasing anxiety, he recalled the time nearly twenty years ago when the shoe was on the other foot. He had been the one pouring over Natalie’s screenplays in her small apartment in Los Feliz soon after they had met. He recalled her waiting impatiently and even pacing around the room while waiting for his judgment, steeling herself. Silently he promised that he would not demean himself by showing a similar level of tension.
At last, after what seemed like many hours but was in reality only about twenty minutes, she looked up, smiled at him and said, “You know, this is not bad. It has definite possibilities.” Then she couldn’t help adding, “Not bad for a beginner, that is.”
Gil ignored this last and said, “But what do you really think? Is it filmable? Would you stoop to producing it?”
She frowned a little at that and said, “I don’t see why not. The only thing I would say is of a purely practical nature.”
“Such as?” he prompted.
“Such as,” she repeated, “that the whole thing seems to be on location in the Midwest. That’s probably gonna cost us, right?” She eyed him suspiciously. “You haven’t by any chance talked to Money about this have you?”
“Well, to be frank, I did sort of mention it to him this afternoon, and he seemed to think that if you gave it the green light we could probably afford five, even ten mil, to do it right. He said that he could shift some things around you know, yadda yadda financial talk, and probably free up that kind of money without having to go outside to help finance it.”
“That’s a good thing,” she agreed. It’s been at least ten years, you know, since I’ve had to hustle anyone for money. So I’m kinda out of practice.” She gave a slight chuckle as she said that and Gil did the same.
“But seriously,” she continued, “do you think we’re up to doing a location film? After all, we haven’t really done anything much outside of LA since Running Against the Wind. And that was, what, six, seven years ago?”
Gil changed the subject. “What do you think of the ensemble approach, Nat? Do you think that we can do it without any highly paid established stars? That after all is my main idea for keeping down production costs.”
“I don’t see why not,” she said again. “In fact, the ensemble approach and the message behind it—that everyone is equal at a time of crisis—is really what I like about your script. It has so many of my ideas about political and social message, but opened up in a way that admits of more possibilities than most of my stuff. So I’ll tell you what. You cast who you want, use a lot of local people as extras, and I won’t interfere.”
Gil started to say something but she held up her hand. “Let me lay down my conditions first.”
“Okay,” said Gil. “I’m all ears.”
“First, we go ahead with Raising Ezekiel as scheduled—that is, we film it this summer and have post completed in time to release it for the holidays. Agreed?”
“Sure,” he replied. “No problem. We’ll get right to work on that and that gives us all winter to fix up Water Over the Bridge and get it in shape for filming next spring. I want the reality of filming it during the flood season in the Midwest, which is usually around April and May.”
“Sounds good,” she said with a yawn. “Now, are we done here? I feel a need for one or more nightcaps.”
Gil winked at her. “Sounds good to me, my dear. Mind if I join you?”