PART III: AFTER // Chapter Nine: How He Got Back Again: 6

Being left alone with his thoughts for Gil traditionally meant going as quickly as possible to the nearest bar and this occasion was no exception. After giving Rosie the mandatory eight-count to make sure she had cleared the stairs and was well on her way, he quickly checked his pockets, making sure he had room key and other various necessities, and then quickly left the room.

Upon entering Winnie’s Wild West Saloon he noticed that Jimmy was in his usual place behind the bar, but he also noticed that there were considerably more customers than there had been the previous evening. Since the bar itself was not crowded, Gil found a stool near one end, and as he sat down Jimmy looked up and grinned.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Hall,” he said, and then added a touch diplomatically, “all recovered from last night then?”

Gil waved his hand at Jimmy as if it were merely a trifle. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “don’t worry about me, Jimmy. I can hold my liquor.”

“I’m sure you can, sir,” said Jimmy, this time repressing a grin rather than featuring it. “So, what’ll it be this fine afternoon?”

Gil scratched his head thoughtfully. “You know,” he said, “you’re right about one thing. I guess I did kind of overdo it last night. I think maybe I’ll stick to something a little less potent. Any suggestions?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “there’s always beer.”

“Hmm,” said Gil as if this were a novel suggestion indeed. He had not really experienced the pleasures of beer since his early days with Natalie. After they had come into money and were in the process of desperately trying to be seen in all the right places, she had cautioned him against being seen with something as plebeian as beer, so he had quickly latched onto the joys, not to mention the potency, of single malt scotch. Now however in a rustic hotel bar in the middle of nowhere with no possibility of being noticed by Very Important People, he decided he might as well let his hair down, so to speak. “Sure,” he replied, “that sounds pretty good. What have you got?”

“Well, that depends,” Jimmy said. “Are you a standard American beer guy, or are you one of those newfangled microbrew guys?”

Gil realized he was at a loss, as he didn’t really know what a microbrew was, the beer revolution of the mid-eighties having completely passed him by. However, not wishing to admit even to a person as low on the pecking order as Jimmy that he was ignorant of the term he said cautiously, “Well, if you mean beers like Budweiser and Miller, frankly, they don’t do anything for me. Anything a little stronger and with more flavor would be right up my alley.”

“Say no more, Mr. Hall,” said Jimmy, immediately turning his back and quickly and successively manipulating the handles of four taps. Then he turned and set down in front of Gil a tray containing four shot glasses apparently filled with different kinds of beer. Jimmy pointed them out. “This one is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it’s a nice medium bodied beer, only slightly hopped. This next one is a Lagunitas Pils, it most closely resembles a German or eastern European beer, being light and crisp. The third one,” he said, “is Lagunitas IPA, which stands for India Pale Ale. It’s a stronger beer, highly hopped, and with a decidedly distinctive flavor. This one,” he indicated a glass that contained a liquid that was much darker than the rest, “is Anderson Valley oatmeal stout. It’s a dark heavy beer. I suggest that you taste them in this order: Pils, Sierra Nevada, IPA, stout.”

Intrigued, Gil did as he was told, swallowing each in one mouthful.  “Hm,” he said again. “This is nothing like the beer I used to drink. But then,” he admitted, “I haven’t really drunk much beer in the last ten years or so.”

“So,” Jimmy persisted, “which do you prefer? If any, that is?”

“You know,” he said, “that IPA is really mellow. Why don’t you give me a pint of that?”

“Coming right up, sir,” said Jimmy, quickly removing the tray and the now empty glasses and just as quickly setting a freshly drawn pint in front of Gil. “Enjoy,” he said, and then moved down to the other end of the bar, where some obvious tourist types were loudly demanding his attention.

Gil sipped at his beer reflectively, deciding that this was not at all a bad way to spend a sunny summer afternoon. As if to verify this, he looked towards a nearby window, from which the golden sun was streaming in. He reached into his side pocket and grasped his sheaf of bills, then checked his wallet and found that his company credit card and his personal credit cards were all nestled reassuringly in their accustomed places. He was beginning to feel like his old self again—a Hollywood big shot, master of his own fate and securely in control. Except that he wasn’t. After his incredibly wild weekend, whether real or imagined (he decided he wouldn’t get into that just now) and the several hours he had spent excitedly dictating his film script to Rosie, he didn’t feel even remotely like the Gil Hall who had impatiently entered this hotel less than twenty-four hours ago real-time. He felt that he was somehow more solid, more anchored, more… serious about things somehow. As he neared the bottom of his pint glass, he began to realize just how much of his life and actions for the past fifteen years or so had been controlled by Natalie’s desire for fame and publicity at all costs. Sure they were making money, sure he was now rich and even maybe because of Natalie’s machinations even slightly respected as a Hollywood director, but he also realized something else.

Finishing the last swallow of his beer, he flagged down Jimmy and said, “Another of the same, please.”

Jimmy without comment took away his empty glass, filled a new one and set it down in front of him. Jimmy, being a professional bartender with many years of experience, had the sensibility and intuition to know when to talk, when to listen, but most important of all, when to leave a customer alone with his own thoughts.

The other thing that Gil realized, as he took a large swallow of his fresh pint, was that for nearly the same length of time he had been using alcohol as a device to prevent himself from thinking—totally the opposite of what he was doing now. He had originally thrown in his lot with Natalie for two obvious reasons, the more obvious one that he had fallen in love with her, it being really his first experience, sexual or romantic, with a woman. Secondly, she had given him the means to do the only thing he had really wanted and prepared himself for in life, directing feature films. He realized now that while he was directing feature films, there had been few instances when he had really felt good about the films he was directing. And even fewer times when these films had received any kind of ego-boosting approval or praise from the major film critics.

His grip tightened around the pint glass as he took another large swallow. Only now, he thought, did he have the means—the tools—to make a meaningful film, the kind he had always wanted to make but had never had the ability to adequately conceive.

This set him thinking about Rosie. What a marvel she was! Not only was she extremely fun to be with and certainly really good to look at, during their session that morning and early afternoon she had been remarkably receptive to his description of what he wanted his film to be, and extremely inventive and intuitive when it came to various scene work and dialogue. He vowed that he would try to get her under contract and use her exclusively for as long as he could. No, he corrected himself. “Use her” was not the correct term. Collaborate with her—even perhaps learn from her.

His beer glass was now nearly empty and he looked at his watch. Since it was not yet six o’clock, he decided he had time for one more. He found that, unlike his previous drinking sessions, this time his thoughts were becoming more and more clear rather than fuzzier and fuzzier. He signaled Jimmy for another one, achieving the same results. Resuming his unusual introspective session, he realized what he was going to have to do. By Sunday night he and Rosie would get the script into presentable condition, not good enough really for a shooting script, but good enough for a pitchable script. He knew and dreaded that he would have to pitch this to Natalie and he would have to make this film. Ironically, he thought, I may have simply changed one master for another. For now, he was a director being directed not by his wife, whom he still loved, but by the all-powerful and enigmatic Norns, who apparently had made him the method of saving Hollywood from the shlock old Gil had so vehemently related to him on their only day together.

By six-fifteen he had finished his third pint and realized that not only was he feeling pleasantly buzzy but he was still in full control. His only problem was that his bladder desperately needed relieving so he trotted off to the bar’s men’s room. Upon his return he signed the check, leaving Jimmy a huge tip and then, thanking him profusely for the beer seminar, left through the swinging doors.

He was about to mount the stairs and return to the room when he realized that since he had returned last night he had not even ventured as far as the hotel lobby. Checking his watch, he thought that he had plenty of time to make a quick check on how things were going in the rest of the world and still have time to beat Rosie back to the room.

Striding into the lobby he noticed that the two old hillbilly guys were back in their accustomed places once again peacefully snoring away. He shook his head in wonderment thinking, Nice work if you can get it, then strolled past the front desk where Fast-Draw Frankie Melson was shuffling papers on the desk, brow furrowed in concentration.

As he slowly walked toward the desk he remarked, “I see they’ve got you working weekends, huh?” His tone was amiable but Melson gave him a piercing look, then drew himself up to his full height, obviously in some sort of a huff.

“Oh, it’s you again,” he exclaimed. “I’ll have you know,” he said, rather haughtily Gil thought, “that hotels traditionally do most of their business on the weekends. And therefore they assign their best and most responsible employees to work those hours. It’s the same with high-class restaurants, bars, theaters, and other places where you rich bastards go to get your entertainment and spend your money.”

Gil was completely taken aback by the man’s tone and sheepishly replied, “I’m sorry. On behalf of all of us rich bastards I apologize for any aspersions I might have unwittingly cast.”

“Well,” said Melson softening a bit, “I guess that’s all right. I may have my little jokes and my little retorts, but that’s the only thing that keeps me sane on this job.” Seemingly eager to expand upon this theme he continued, “You have no idea the kind of people I have to put up with.” He leaned over the counter and lowered his voice confidentially. “Why only last week some old bag came running down the stairs here screaming that the hotel maids had stolen her diamond ring. There were two or three clients in the lobby at the time and I had to do some quick talking to keep them from canceling their reservations. Immediately I called security and sent them up to her room where they very quickly found the aforementioned ring lying in plain sight in the drain of the bathroom wash basin. And you know what that old witch had to say when we gave the ring back to her?”

“No,” muttered Gil. “No idea.”

“She accused the security people of having somehow lifted it from the hotel maid in question and hushing the whole thing up. Can you beat that?”

“No,” said Gil. Rather lamely he added, “Well, I guess it takes all kinds, huh?”

“Look, Mr. Hall,” Melson said, on the verge of apologizing for his attitude, “the bottom line is, I’m here to serve you and you’re here to be served. You expect me to do my job efficiently and politely, and to fulfill any reasonable requests that are within my job description. I expect of you that you behave properly with some measure of civility and that you make no unreasonable demands on the hotel or its employees and that you uncomplainingly pay your bill in full when you leave. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure,” said Gil, now completely humbled. He stuck out his hand and said, “That suits me just fine.”

Melson shook it and said, “No hard feelings. After all, I don’t have to either like or dislike you and you don’t have to either like or dislike me. Strictly business. Okay?” Then he released Gil’s hand and turned his head back to the papers on the desk. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have work to do.”

“Sure,” said Gil again. “Have a nice day.” The only response he got was a rather peremptory wave of the hand.

What a funny guy, he thought to himself. And then he strolled past the sleeping hillbillies and out the front door, thinking he would get a breath of fresh air. Even through it was just past six-thirty, the surrounding mountains had already brought on the long twilight period and as a result it was becoming decidedly chilly. He quickened his stride and briskly walked around to the parking garage, thinking that he might as well check on his baby. After all, he hadn’t seen her for a good twenty-four hours.

Upon entering he walked over to the little office cubicle and rapped on the door. Within a few seconds the old guy opened it and said, “Waddaya want?” Then he looked again and his tone changed. “Oh it’s you, Mr. Hall. Your car’s right where you left it. Hasn’t been touched, been keepin’ my eye on it like a mother hen does her chicks. Want me to take you over there and show you?”

“No, that’s all right,” said Gil, “I can find it. I’ll take your word for it. Uh, George, isn’t it?”

“That’s right, sir. George Utley at your service.”

Gil thanked him again, and then as the old man closed the door Gil strode over to check on his car and found the cherry red vintage T-bird to be in exactly the same spot he had left it, obviously untouched since the previous afternoon. Glancing over the car’s interior, for the top was still down, Gil noticed the manila envelope lying in the small storage space behind the front seat and picked it up. He opened it and then immediately recalled that it was the publicity package given to him by the two old hillbillies now snoring in the lobby.

Opening it he pulled out two 8×10 glossies, both pictures of relatively young men, lean, shaven, and with appropriately styled hair. They were grinning back at him with actors’ expressions if ever he had seen them. One had hair that was darker than the other. He turned the picture over and on the back was written David Mendoza, 34, and there followed a string of minor credits, mainly LA stage work, with some unnoticed movie roles as well. The information on the other picture said Paul Gottlieb, 42, with a similar string of credits. Their contact was a name and phone number Gil didn’t recognize.

He replaced the pictures in the envelope and returned to the lobby. Pausing, he tapped one of the old guys on the shoulder.

The old (or not so old) guy quickly went into his act—the same one he had performed for Gil yesterday, grabbing corncob pipe and stonewear jug, then straightening his floppy straw hat. “You want pictures, mister?” he said in his hillbilly accent, then looked more closely and said in a more normal voice, “Oh it’s you, Mr. Hall. Anything I can do for you?”

“Yeah,” Gil said. “Wake up your friend, huh?” And when he had done so Gil continued. “Listen, I think I might have parts for you boys. I’m making a picture next spring on location in the Midwest and I need a couple of Midwestern farmer types. You boys interested?”

They both vigorously replied that they were. “Well then,” Gil said, “it’s kind of far in the future yet. I probably won’t start filming till next spring but I thought I’d give you boys a chance at it if you want it. You get free travel and expenses to a small Midwestern town, which one we haven’t decided yet. But you’ll be paid very well for not too much work. If you’re interested, why don’t you have your agent contact my office. Do you still have my card?” They assured him that they did. “Give us a call sometime early next year after the holidays and we’ll see if we can put together some kind of agreement. I’ll have my office manager and my casting director put your names in the suspense file. Now how does that sound?”

“Great, Mr. Hall,” they said almost in unison. Then the one Gil took to be David continued, “We’re always looking for some kind of work, you know.”

“Sure,” replied Gil, “I know how it is.” He gave them a wave. “Be seeing you boys.”

They waved back, “See you, Mr. Hall.”

Gil decided that he probably should go on up to the room as Rosie was due back within a few minutes. He felt better now that he had taken the first step—although admittedly a small one—in declaring to himself that his script and the forthcoming movie would be a reality. Whistling, he went through the double doors and up the stairs to his suite.

By seven Rosie had not yet returned and Gil, looking around for something to do, switched on the TV for Entertainment Tonight. More than ten minutes later the ultra feminine host of the show was still gushing about the latest doings of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie when Gil heard a commotion outside the door. He switched off the TV and went over to see what was going on.

Just as he was about to open the door a key turned in the lock and Rosie burst in, followed by the always helpful Walter, with a luggage cart containing three large shopping bags that were crammed full of what were evidently Rosie’s purchases.  This time she tipped Walter and he saluted deferentially, took his luggage cart and left, closing the door behind him.

When he had gone Rosie burst out breathlessly with her news. “Just wait till you see all of the goodies I was able to find!” she said all in a rush. “And can you believe I still have thirty dollars left?”

Gallantly, Gil agreed that it was indeed amazing, and stooped to pick up a couple of the bags which he transported to the bedroom, Rosie following with the other one. At the door she told him, “Now you just settle yourself, Gil, I’m going to give you a fashion show.”

Gil gave her a rather lecherous smile, rubbed his hands together and said, “Oh goody, I can’t wait.” Then he went over and settled himself on the couch, assuming what he hoped to be a sufficiently anticipatory posture.

Rosie did not disappoint him. Every few minutes she came out in another in a stunning variety of beautiful and perfectly-fitting costumes, some of which took Gil’s breath away, and he had to remind himself of his paternal feelings towards this lovely young woman. This continued until just after eight–thirty, when she finally ran out of costumes and said, “Gosh Gil, what time is it anyway? I’m starving to death.”

“Yeah,” Gil said, looking at this watch, “we’d better get down there. We’ve got less than half an hour before they stop serving.”

“Okay,” she said brightly, “be with you in a minute.” In a scant few moments she was ready, dressed to the nines in one of her new ensembles and ready for anything.

Upon entering the dining room Gil noticed that it was Saturday Special night and that the special on the menu this evening was Frontier Barbecue Platter for Two. “How about it?” he asked Rosie.

As she quickly indicated her assent, Gil motioned to the hovering waiter and put in his order.

Within only about ten minutes the waiter reappeared with a gigantic platter which he set down on a portable stand near the table. The platter contained a full rack of ribs, half a chicken, and generous portions of both pulled pork and brisket surrounded by several bowls containing pint-sized portions of cole slaw, potato salad, ranch style beans and two ears of fresh corn on the cob.

Half and hour later the bones had been discarded and they were each rubbing their bellies and belching contentedly. They decided to forego a rich dessert this evening and instead ordered two pieces of grandma’s apple pie to go. Then taking the pie up to their suite, they settled down on the couch. It was just after nine-thirty and Rosie, checking in the TV listings, found that HBO was showing the premiere television appearance of the recent film Pretty Woman at ten o’clock. She asked him if he wouldn’t mind if she watched it, having not seen it when it had been in the theaters.

He said no, he didn’t mind at all, and in fact he was a little tired himself after last night and might just as well stay in and watch it with her.

“I do need a little something to help me relax though,” he said, “so I’m going to call room service and have them send up some whiskey. Anything for you?”

“No, that’s all right,” she replied. “I’ve still got a few cans of Diet Pepsi in the fridge left over from this afternoon. That will do me just fine.”

So Gil picked up the phone and within five minutes a new guy Gil had not seen before, evidently Walter’s night replacement, a ganging but affable young man named Kenny delivered a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, several small bottles of Perrier, and a bucket of ice. As usual Gil tipped him generously and they sat down together to wait for the movie to start, Gil already with drink in hand. They fell to talking about Rosie’s dreams and aspirations and why she was studying acting. Gil reminded her that he would give her her choice of parts in the upcoming epic, Raising Ezekiel, and she said that would be great.

“But,” she continued, “frankly, my heart is not in being a Hollywood movie actress. The few major parts that I got in productions in high school and college only whetted my appetite for stage work and the few minor film parts I’ve had so far haven’t done anything to change my mind.” She turned and looked at him squarely in the eye and, now warming to her subject, continued, “When you have a major part in a stage play you get to develop the character and see the action continuously from beginning to end. You can do little things from night to night to try to improve it, try to rework the character, anything you want. Essentially after opening night when the director leaves, hopefully satisfied with the production, you are your own boss. You can do whatever you like as long as it serves the play.” She shrugged her shoulders dramatically. “But when you do film work,” she said with a sigh, “the director sometimes makes you do the same thirty seconds over and over again. I mean really. After the first five or six times you say ‘May I take your order sir?’ You start to feel really self-conscious about it. You find yourself trying to make it somehow better by consciously or unconsciously varying the emphasis like, May I take your order, sir? May I take your order, sir? You get the idea. Sometimes you just want to scream and go—“ and here she screwed up her face in a comical way and in a high nasal voice produced a pure Okie accent— “Well now, whatcha want?”

Gil laughed heartily at that, but it was a revelation and a sobering thought to him. As a director working primarily for Natalie as he had for the past seventeen years or so, he hadn’t really thought about the actor’s point of view, even though he was not one to demand perfection or a lot of retakes. He had never considered the point of view of the actors. On the films he had directed they more or less came in when they were supposed to, delivered their lines more or less as they were supposed to and, mostly uncomplainingly, did a reasonably professional job. But he now realized that he had never really known or even cared what was on the actor’s mind.

By this time it was nearly ten and Gil obligingly turned on the TV and tuned in HBO. As if on cue Rosie sent to the refrigerator, brought them each back a piece of apple pie on a plate, set them down on the coffee table in front of the couch, and then surprised Gil by snuggling up to him on the couch, much the way a child would to her favorite uncle.

Gil drank rather sparingly throughout the running time of the movie, only occasionally refilling his whiskey glass. He wasn’t really that interested in the movie, which he had seen a couple of times before, it being one of Natalie’s favorites, so his mind drifted to other things. Tomorrow, he told himself sternly, you will, with Rosie’s help of course, finish the script for Water Over the Bridge, then you will be armed with what we Hollywood creatures call A Property. However, not being given the freedom of freelancing, you will have to pitch it to the toughest audience in the world, your wife. He felt somehow like a little kid who was daring himself to go somewhere and do things that his parents had forbidden him to do, half bravado, half fear. He would, he knew, feel much better once the script was finished and he could take it back to Hollywood, The City of Illusions, that had been his reality for half his life.

Rosie shifted suddenly and Gil was startled to see that the movie was over and the final credits were rolling. Rosie yawned. “Gosh,” she said, “that was such a great movie. I really felt for Julia Roberts, didn’t you?”

“No,” said Gil in a mocking tone, “I really felt for Richard Gere.”

She gave him a playful swat. “Oh stop that,” she said, then yawned again. “Well, I guess I’ll go to bed.” She looked at him somewhat apprehensively. “Uh, thinking of going out on the town or anything?”

Gil shook his head vigorously. “Nope,” he said. “Not me. Learned my lesson after last night. Now my motto is early to bed, early to rise, gets the script finished and makes us look wise.”

She laughed out loud at this. “Why Mr. Hall, you’re a poet, and you don’t know it.”

Gil grinned back. “Sure I do, and my feet show it.” He stuck out a big foot. “Look,” he said, “Longfellows.” They both laughed lightly at this little joke. 

Then Rosie spoke seriously. “Let’s get up by eight-thirty.” She frowned. “I guess I’m going to have to call down and get that irritating desk clerk to give us a wakeup call.”

“No need,” said Gil, “my Rolex has an alarm. I’ll set it and sleep with my watch on. That way I’ll be sure to hear it.”

“Great,” she said, then got up and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Night-night,” she said, heading for the bedroom. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Gil gave a mock frown. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll sue their pants off if they do.”

She laughed again, then went through the bedroom door and closed it, leaving Gil once again alone with his thoughts.

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