As Gil drove the T-bird through the gate and up the long driveway, he parked just in front of the garage. He decided to check the garage anyway and found that the other three cars were still there indicating that Natalie was probably still on the premises somewhere. She wasn’t much of a walker and anyway up here in the Hollywood Hills there was really no place to walk to.
He entered the house through the front door and after several minutes of looking for Natalie without success, he heard the sounds of the housekeeper Mrs. Sibolboro doing something in the kitchen, probably cleaning up. Entering the kitchen he greeted her in the normal way and asked about Natalie’s whereabouts.
“Oh, I think she’s out by the pool, Mr. Hall,” she said, glancing up from a pile of dishes in the sink.
“Ah,” said Gil. Since they had moved to the big house on Mulholland Natalie had become quite the sun worshipper and spent most afternoons, when she wasn’t busy writing or shopping, out by the pool. He held his hand up and made a drinking motion to Mrs. Sibolboro.
“Yes,” she said, easily discerning his meaning. “But I only gave her the second one a few minutes ago, so she is probably all right.”
Gil knew what that meant. Natalie often started her cocktail hour several hours in advance of what most people thought of as the normal cocktail hour. Glancing at his watch he saw that it was only a few minutes after two. Well, he thought, he’d better confront her now, because as the afternoon and the number of cocktails progressed, she would be less likely to be able to handle any serious conversation.
Thanking his housekeeper, he grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and went out toward the pool area where he indeed found his wife lounging on a plastic chaise longue near the edge of the pool, margarita in hand. Her body, he noted with approval, was still something to behold. She was as slim and trim as she had been when they had met nearly twenty years ago, the only signs of age being the browning and coarsening of her skin and the addition of more lines in her face due probably, he thought, to excessive time spent in the almost constant Southern California sun. She still looked great, stretched out there in her white bikini and nothing else, and Gil impetuously hurried over to her and kissed her warmly on the cheek before she had even noticed his arrival.
Startled she quickly turned, slopping a little of her drink on the cement as she did so. “Gil,” she exclaimed, recognizing him, “you bad boy. Look what you made me do.” She indicated the small pool of liquid quickly evaporating in the heat of the sun. “How nice of you to honor me with your presence.”
Gil stood there for a minute, the beer in his hand open but as yet untasted. “I want to talk to you for a few minutes,” he said seriously, “but can we go into the house?” He glanced over to the pool where Hector the pool boy was still sitting in much the same pose as when Gil had left almost four hours earlier. His only concession to the now midday sun was the addition of a floppy straw hat with a wide brim. He was staring at Natalie with that toothy grin of his masking any other emotion he might be feeling. The guy, Gil admitted to himself, sometimes gave him the creeps.
“What’s wrong with right here?” Natalie asked. “Pull up a chair.”
“I don’t like the way Hector keeps staring at you,” Gil admitted, “and besides, I have no idea how much English he knows. I’d rather talk inside.”
“Oh, Hector,” Natalie said dismissively, waving a hand towards him, who waved back without changing his expression. “He’s harmless and besides, what would a beautiful young boy like that want with an old lady like me?”
Probably more than I do, Gil thought to himself, but only replied, “I just feel better talking to you in the house, if you don’t mind.” That last part had come out a little haughtily he noticed and he immediately regretted it.
“Oh, all right,” said Natalie a bit huffily. She stood up and began to accompany Gil as they moved towards the side door of the house which led into the kitchen. Gil noticed that she was still moving normally. A good sign, he thought.
They entered the house and passed through the kitchen, taking no notice of Mrs. Sibolboro, who was now busily scrubbing the sink and taking no notice of them. They went into the cavernous living room and settled themselves across from each other on a couple of plushly upholstered overstuffed armchairs.
“Well,” she said after they had settled themselves and each had taken a few sips of their respective drinks, “how did the meeting go? What does everybody think of my latest?”
Gil wondered, not for the first time, how to phrase in the kindest possible way what he wanted to say and still get his meaning across. “The plus side,” he ventured with a smile that even to him felt false, “is that Money says our production budget is probably only going to be a couple of mil. That is of course not including what you’re paying the main talent.”
“Oh, not so much,” said Natalie. “I’m going with a couple of actors who don’t demand top dollar. But that I think would be the best suited for the parts.”
“That’s good to hear,” said Gil with a genuine smile this time. This meant thankfully no Jessamyne Lane. He almost went over to kiss her again for that but decided not to because he was now coming to the hard part. “The only thing is,” he said with a slight stammer, “you aren’t giving us too much to work with, are you?”
She stiffened a little at that and took a large gulp of her now nearly empty drink. “We’ve been over this before, Gil,” she said evenly. “It’s supposed to be about the message, not about you technical boys getting your kicks.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “I know. But really, Nat, we’ve got to do something to open this up a little bit. Make it something other than a multi-set stage play.”
“You know the deal,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Say it with me. As long as you don’t change the message or the characters in any substantial way”—she smiled wryly as she noticed that Gil was mouthing the words with her like a schoolboy mocking his teacher—”and number two, you can open it up any way you want as long as it’s not gratuitous, as long as it’s relevant, and as long as it doesn’t change the plot in any important way.” She looked at him seriously. “And of course number three. You cannot cut any scene or dialogue from a scene, you can only add.”
Gil answered with a bad imitation of Bill Murray’s old character Todd on Saturday Night Live. “Yes, Ms. Fein,” he intoned, “we’re all here to do your bidding.”
She chuckled a little at that and then said in mock reproof, “Well, see that you do.” A sardonic smile suffused her lips. “Besides,” she said, “if my screenplay isn’t good enough for your obviously brilliant directorial talent, you can always write your own.”
This considerably blunted Gil’s thrust. He gulped noticeably. Unfortunately she had him there. He had in fact been attempting to write such a screenplay for the last several years without success and what’s more, she knew it. He was no good at putting his ideas down on paper in screenplay form. In fact the very action and exterior scenes that he conceived to be necessary ironically, when he read them, became even to his mind gratuitous and self-serving. He offered a silent prayer that his attempts this weekend would be more successful.
As it was, he felt he had no choice but to bluster. He put his beer can down on an end table and stood up. “But honestly, Nat,” he burst out, “sometimes your lack of action and exteriors drives me up the wall.” He clenched his fist. “It’s enough to make me want go to all Alan Smithee on your ass rather than have my name on something that mediocre.”
Natalie stood up as well. She glared at him saying, “You do and you’ll never work in this town again.”
They stood there glaring at each other for a moment and then burst out laughing. This almost ritual exchange had been going on for nearly the last decade, and even in its repetitiveness it never failed to be cathartic for them both.
“Anyway,” said Gil, sitting back down and finishing his beer as Natalie did the same with her drink, “I’ve got some ideas for a compromise on this one that I think will at least somewhat satisfy us both. Only thing is,” he said, attempting a lighter tone, “I kind of want to do it in private. I’m thinking of going away for the weekend, maybe some little town in the mountains”—he was careful not to mention its name—”where I can work on it alone and still have some fun. You know, a change of scenery, a working vacation.” He held out his hands in a kind of supplication.
To his relief she responded, “Sure Gil, do what you have to do. I think maybe some time by yourself would do you good. You’ve been looking a little tense lately.”
That’s because I haven’t been lubricating myself lately like you have my dear, he thought, but instead replied, “That’s very good of you. I’ll be back in a couple of days, midday Monday at the latest, and we’ll go over what I’ve done.”
“That sounds good to me,” said Natalie, rising and picking up her empty margarita glass, already heading to the kitchen for a refill and then back to the pool. “Besides,” she said, wanting to get one more dig in, “I’ll have Hector to keep me company while you’re gone.”
I’ll just bet you will, Gil thought, but didn’t lower himself by rising to the bait. “Yeah,” he replied lightly, “have a great time. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
A hint of the old Natalie winked at him and she said lasciviously, “I doubt that that’s possible, Gil.” Then she walked toward the kitchen and the audience was over.
Gil turned and climbed the stairs to the master bedroom, opened the walk-in closet, and quickly threw some clothes into a canvas sports bag. Then he went to the bathroom just off the bedroom and added to the bag his shaving equipment and necessary toiletries. Then, carrying the bag and the all-important briefcase which held the all-important script, he hurried out through the kitchen, saying a quick goodbye to Mrs. Sibolboro who was now sitting at the table eating a lunch which consisted of some Filipino concoction with which Gil was unfamiliar. He left the house by way of the pool where Natalie had resumed her seat and, with a fresh margarita in hand, was busily surveying the pool and winking at Hector, who still had the same expressionless grin on his face as he swung his legs in the water and alternatively flexed other parts of his smooth, tanned, muscular body.
Gil pretended to take no notice and, kissing Natalie lightly on the cheek said, “I’ll call you tomorrow sometime, probably in the afternoon, and let you know how it’s going.”
“You do that,” she said dreamily without looking at him, sipping her drink with her eyes still fixed on Hector.
Without further ado Gil hurried out to where he had parked the T-bird and, opening its trunk, stowed his bag and briefcase, then jumped in the car, started the engine, turned it around, and drove back out through the open gates and down the hill toward Sunset. He knew what he wanted and after all, how could she refuse? He was after all her boss.