After gallantly walking Rosie back to the Mark Twain on Wilcox, Gil strolled back towards the office where he had parked his car. As he entered the parking lot he decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check in at the office before heading for home. He realized that this decision was partly due to his desire to put off facing Natalie with the news about his screenplay and he thought that some alone time in his office might help him to concentrate and better prepare him for the task ahead. Besides, for some reason he found it difficult to think about Natalie when he was with Rosie.
He strolled into the building and, noticing that Devon the big black security guard was seated at his desk in the lobby reading the sporting news, he quickened his pace. “Hey Devon,” he said upon reaching the desk, “how ’bout those Dodgers, huh?”
Devon looked up from his newspaper and grinned. “Hey, Mr. Hall, they’s lookin’ good all right.” The man offered up a high five salute and Gil slapped his palm energetically.
“Catch you later, man,” he said, then strolled to the bank of elevators and entered one of them. Taking his keys from his pocket, he activated the tenth floor button and pressed it. Within a few seconds the elevator doors opened upon the large reception area which constituted the entrance to FineHall Productions’ suite of offices which occupied the entire floor. Georgie was sitting at her desk as usual but strangely she wasn’t alone. On the other side of the room to Gil’s left seated on the large leather sofa was a small man. He was, Gil estimated, a good six inches shorter than he but was impeccably dressed in a dark blue pin-striped suit, crisp white dress shirt and subdued maroon solid color tie. His feet were enclosed in oxblood wingtip shoes. And the face above the copy of Variety he was reading was clean-shaven, imposing looking, and he had what must have been a two-hundred dollar haircut. As Gil entered, the man put the paper down on a low table in front of the couch and looked up inquiringly but remained silent and made no other move.
Ignoring him Gil went over to Georgie’s desk where she was thumbing through a Rolodex and as he approached she looked up, obviously noticing his presence for the first time. “Well, Mr. Hall,” she said standing up, “welcome back. How was your weekend?”
“Hello Georgie,” he said. “My weekend? Uh, interesting to say the least. Everything ship-shape here?”
“Sure,” she said, “nothing much happening today. As you see, I didn’t even go to the trouble of hiring a temp. There wasn’t that much work and I hate to get them just for one day anyway. I take it Rosie will be back tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Gil said, “bright and early.” Then he said in a confiding tone, “You know, you were really right about that girl. Boy, what a gem!”
“Told you so,” said Georgie with a grin.
It was only then that Gil jerked his head toward the sofa and said nonchalantly, “So, who’s your friend?”
“He’s been waiting to see you,” she said. “He mentioned that you had met over the weekend and he wanted to, I don’t know, firm up some deal or something. He was kind of vague about it.”
Gil looked over towards the sofa. The little man was still sitting there with a neutral expression that indicated he either didn’t know or didn’t care that he was being talked about. “Well, who is he?” Gil demanded. “Any identification? Anything?”
“He gave me his business card when he came in.” She took a small white card off the desk and handed it to Gil. He read, Norenstein Brothers—Worldwide Distribution Company. Contacts in Over One Hundred Seventy Countries Worldwide. At the top of the card was printed three names: W. Norenstein, S. Norenstein, and L. Norenstein.
Gil scratched his head thoughtfully. Then in a low voice he confided to Georgie, “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
“Well, what do you want to do?” she said. “I can always buzz for security and get him out of here.”
Now painfully aware that the little man might be listening, Gil moved to a position in front of Georgie’s desk that obscured her from his view and turned his back to the sofa. “No,” he said, “that’s okay. I’ll see him. But you sit there and be ready. If he tries any funny stuff, I’ll press the intercom button. If you don’t hear me say anything for five seconds, call security.”
“You got it, boss,” she said, seating herself again at her desk.
Gil turned and began to walk toward the sofa, a big false grin on his lips and his hand outstretched in greeting. “Well, well, Mr…. Norenstein, is it?” The little man nodded his head. “I understand you want to see me? Something about being a distributor for my movies?”
At this, the little man finally stood up and shook Gil’s hand. “That’s right, Mr. Hall,” he said. “Someplace we can talk in private?”
“Sure,” Gil said expansively. “Come on, we’ll go to my private office.” They strolled over to the door together and Gil said, “Buzz me in, Georgie.”
She did so and the two men strolled down the hall to Gil’s office. Gil seated himself behind his large solid oak desk and motioned for Norenstein to take one of the leather chairs opposite. “So,” he said, when the man had seated himself and appeared to be waiting expectantly, “I understand from my office manager that we met over the weekend. I don’t seem to recall that at all.”
At this the little man gave Gil a sly smile and a wink. “Oh, you remember me, all right, Mr. Hall. Of course I was dressed a little differently then. You know, Hotel Remington, fifth floor?”
Gil suddenly blanched as he realized for the first time who he was talking to. “You—you—“ he stammered, “you’re that norn guy.”
Norenstein gave a soft chuckle. “In this incarnation I prefer the name Werner Norenstein. Sounds classy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “real classy. What do you want with me anyway? Didn’t you have enough fun with me when you were that—that weird woman?”
Norenstein chuckled again. “Yeah, that was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Didn’t we have a lot of fun together?” But he composed himself. “I’ll come right to the point. We sort of made a deal over the weekend, right?”
“Ye-es,” Gil agreed slowly.
“So,” Norenstein prompted, “what about your screenplay?”
“Oh, you know about that,” Gil said.
“Yeah, you know, the one the two of you spent all weekend writing.” He put his fingers to his temples in a ridiculous imitation of a Hollywood psychic. “We norns know all.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you do.”
“So let’s have it.”
“Oh, yeah, well, I’ve got it here in my briefcase.” He indicated the case he brought in with him. “Uh, it’s not very good yet, it’s really just a first draft—“
“Hand it over,” said Norenstein impatiently. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Gil did as he was told, opening the briefcase and handing Norenstein about seventy-five or eighty typed pages secured with a rubber band. Norenstein took off the rubber band, leafed through the pages at an alarming speed and said, “Hey, not bad. Not bad at all.”
Gil stared at him in amazement. “How the hell did you do that so fast?” he wanted to know.
“Evelyn Wood,” Norenstein deadpanned.
“Anyway,” said Gil, “I’m glad you like it. Now it’s Natalie I’m worried about. I mean, I’ve never even finished a script before. It’s been sort of a joke between us for the last ten years or so. She keeps saying—“ and here he did a perfect imitation of Natalie’s sometimes shrill Jewish voice— “‘If you don’t like my screenplays, write one of your own.’”
Norenstein laughed at that. “Yeah,” he said, “she can be a bitch sometimes, huh?”
“You got that right,” said Gil with feeling.
“But don’t worry,” Norenstein told him. “She’s gonna love it. Would you like a little advice?”
“You bet,” said Gil eagerly. “I’m not looking forward to this, you know.”
The little man leaned across Gil’s desk and put his hand to the side of his mouth as if they were conspiring on a bank robbery. “You wanna know how to get her on your side?” he said. Gil nodded his head eagerly. “First of all, tell her how great that piece of trash Raising Ezekiel is.” He sat back and said in a normal manner, “You didn’t get around to making any changes, did you?”
“No,” Gil admitted, “I was too busy with mine.”
“Well, great. Tell her on second thought how good you think it is, then segue into yours. Get her to help you with some of the dialogue. All the while praising her talent to the skies. Trust me buddy, you can’t lose.”
Gil’s face brightened. “Hey,” he said, “that’s not such a bad idea. Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it,” Norenstein said. “So, we got any other business?”
He started to stand up but Gil stopped him. “You know, I’ve been wondering ever since we, uh, met, you know—why me? Why are you picking on me?”
Norenstein looked at him with a serious expression on his face. “It’s really a long story, but it comes down to this: In the next half-century what Hollywood is going to be doing to themselves and to the general public is a crime against humanity. We need people like you to act as a sort of antidote to what’s going to inevitably happen. As to why you, first of all, as I said when we met, you’re a sensitive. You’ve got a good head for films. You just haven’t had much of a chance. What you do have is an independent film production company with good people that are capable of turning out a lot better stuff than that crap Natalie gives them. So the deal is, you turn out good movies, we’ll take care of the rest. After all, calling myself a film distribution company isn’t far from the truth. You make the films, I’ll make you famous.” He stuck out his hand toward Gil. “Have we got a deal?”
Gil shook the other’s hand vigorously. “You bet we’ve got a deal,” he said.
“‘Cause if we don’t,” the other returned, “I’ve got plenty of alternatives. In your language, we’ve got an infinite budget and an eternal deadline. We can keep doing these takes over and over until you get it right. I mean, where do you think old Gil came from?”
Gil was bewildered. “I, uh, never thought of that.”
“Well, forty-two years before you met him, he was you. Just think about that.” And so saying the man stood up. “Well, I’ve taken enough of your time. So I’ll leave you to it. And as I told you not so long ago, be the best Gil Hall you can be.” Then he turned on his heel, left Gil’s office and, as Gil watched from the doorway, exited into the reception room.
Gil shook his head in disbelief. Was he the director going to be directed for the rest of his life? he wondered. And would one or all of the norns be showing up to run his life from here on out? However, since these questions had no immediate answers available he decided to accomplish something in the real world.
Closing his office door he walked down the hall to an office whose door was marked George Mooney, CFO and Treasurer. Giving it a peremptory knock, he opened it and looked into the small but well-appointed office. There sat Money as usual behind his desk, left hand on a calculator, right hand holding a pen poised above a large legal pad.
As the door opened Mooney looked up. “Oh, hi Gil,” he said, putting down the pen. “Come on in.”
Gil did as he was told, replying, “Hope I didn’t catch you at bad time. Got a few minutes?”
“Sure,” Mooney replied, “no problem.” Then, indicating a large leather chair in front of his desk he said, “Have a seat. I was just going over this quarter’s earnings for the tax boys.”
Seating himself Gil said, “Speaking of that, how are we doing? You know, financially.”
Mooney raised his eyebrows. “Why Gil,” he said, a note of surprise creeping into his voice. “I didn’t know you cared. At least, not in any specific way.”
“Well, you know,” said Gil, attempting a lighthearted tone, generally I like to let you guys handle things by yourselves. But it seems I’m going to have a big project coming up and I wanted to check with you about a couple of things.”
“Sure,” said Mooney again. “Anything you want, Gil, you know that. As long as—“ and here he became the stern financial officer again— “it’s within reason and fiscally sound.”
“Well, the first thing is, I want to hire a new employee under the same kind of contract that the others have. You know, first priority, non-exclusive yadda yadda.”
Mooney frowned slightly. “Uh, how much is this going to cost the company?”
“Well, not that much,” replied Gil, “I was thinking about fifty thousand a year.”
At this Mooney visibly relaxed. “Shouldn’t be any problem,” he said. “That’s only…let’s see, about an increase of five percent of our annual contractual overhead, and probably it only increases our total overhead by around two percent. Um, if I may ask, uh, who is this person and what shall I put in the contract for the position? You know, like Publicity or Marketing or Costuming.”
“Well,” Gil said, “she’s a young woman that I think could really be a help to our organization. In fact, she really helped me over the last weekend on this project I was talking about.” He waved a hand impatiently. “No, no, I’ll get to that later. I’m thinking of calling her job at least for right now Script Consultant.”
“Hm,” Mooney frowned again. “That kind of treads the line between your end of the business and Natalie’s, doesn’t it?”
“Well, not really,” Gil replied. “You’ll see when I tell you about the other thing.”
Mooney leaned forward. “So tell me already. I’m all ears.”
At this Gil became a little bashful. After all, this was a big step for him. Heretofore for the last three days the only person who knew even part of his secret was Rosie. “You see, it’s this way,” he said. “I, well, the long and the short of it is, I think I finally managed to write a decent screenplay and I’m really hot to get it into production as early as next spring.”
“Wow,” replied Mooney. He stood up and offered his hand, which Gil took and they shook vigorously. “Congratulations. You know, I didn’t think you had it in you. I mean, you’ve been threatening to do this for, how long has it been?”
“About five years,” said Gil. “Don’t remind me.”
“So, you think it’s pretty good, huh?” There was a slight undertone of challenge in his voice. “Said anything about this to Natalie?”
“Yes, and no,” Gil admitted. “Yeah, I think it’s a good script. But no, I’m still trying to work up the courage to spring it on Natalie. As soon as I leave the office I’m going right home and tell her about it then. That is, if my courage doesn’t fail me.”
“Well,” Mooney said, “if you want my personal support, I’m all for it. I’ve been noticing the way you’ve acted these past few years ever since the nominations. You haven’t been able to hide the fact that you’re not exactly a happy camper. However,” he continued, “you can understand that I’ve got to hedge my bets until I find out what Natalie as well as the rest of the group think about it. Whether or not they think it has potential.” He waved a hand at Gil. “And it’s no use giving me an advance copy. You know I’m no judge of this stuff. I mean, my favorite films are, like, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.”
Gil chuckled at that. “Yeah Money, we know that you’re just a pre-war kind of a guy.”
Mooney got a faraway look in his eyes. “Yeah, it’s true,” he admitted, “my tastes are a bit old-fashioned. But you know, I’ve never regretted coming out here and taking this position with you people. It’s beautiful out here and the weather really does something for my old bones.”
It was apparent to Gil that he was off on another nostalgia trip but as usual he thought it wisest to nod and smile.
“You know,” Mooney continued, “I was born the same month the stock market crashed in ’29. Maybe that’s how I got into being a financial analyst and consultant in the first place. Looking back on it, I think the best thing that ever happened to me was my association with Natalie’s father. You know, old Abe Feinbergen? He engaged my services right after the war. I was just a young guy at that point with not even an MBA to my name yet. But he had faith in me. And by the late forties we were both getting rich together. Gosh,” he said, extracting a handkerchief from his suit jacket and dabbing at his eyes. “Good old Abe. You know, I don’t miss New York at all. Fact, the last time I went back there was for Abe’s funeral in ’85. You remember, don’t you, Gil. You and Natalie and I all went out there together. Heh. First week of February. Six inches of snow on the ground and our plane was delayed for two hours getting into Kennedy and then it took forever to get into Manhattan.”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Gil, “I didn’t really know Natalie’s father that well, only met him a couple of times. Once at my wedding and a couple more times when Natalie and I went back to New York for a visit. But I understand he was a hell of a guy. You know, he gave us—I mean, really, Natalie—our start in the business.”
“Yeah,” agreed Mooney. “He was a smart old bird. Best cardiac surgeon in New York in his younger days and the living embodiment of a feisty old Jew later on. God, I still miss him.” He visibly pulled himself out of his reverie and said, “That’s neither here nor there. I suppose you’re going to want to have a meeting with our lawyer and have that contract you mentioned drawn up. When’s convenient for you?”
“Well,” said Gil, “I’d like to do it tomorrow afternoon if possible. I’d like to be able to introduce this young woman to everyone at he production meeting on Wednesday and I’d like to have her position a done deal.”
“Okay, I think we can accommodate you. But this other thing, your screenplay. If, and this is a big if, you get approval from Natalie and the support of the rest of the group, what are you thinking of in terms of budget?”
Gil ran it over in his head. “Certainly more than the measly couple of million we’re spending on Natalie’s living room dramas. I was thinking maybe in the neighborhood of as such as ten million.”
“Hm,” said Mooney. “We’ll have to talk about that. We might have to do some selloff to raise the necessary cash. I know we’re worth in excess of fifty million on paper but a great deal of that is invested for maximum return. Anyway, I’ll play with some figures and be able to get back to you on that at Wednesday’s meeting if that’s okay with you. Of course if you don’t get approval, well, then the whole thing’s academic, isn’t it?”
A determined look came into Gil’s eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said firmly. “I’m getting approval. One way or another. I’ve got to.” He stood up and then said, “Thanks for your time, Money. I won’t keep you any longer.”
Mooney stood up and they shook hands again. “Good to see you again, Gil,” he replied, “and for what it’s worth, I’m with you all the way. In principle, of course, I know how you’ve suffered these past few years. Even I can tell that our productions have been pretty mediocre and just barely profitable. In the words of the late Sam Goldwyn, we could sure use a hit.”
Gil smiled. “In the words of Bartles & Jaymes,” he said, “thank you for your support.” Then he turned and walked of the office, closing the door behind him. It was, he realized, now or never.