Of course the beginning of their separate ways was back down the hall and through the door to reception, which opened from this side quite easily. Gil and Richard waited a few moments until the thundering herd had departed, laughing and talking excitedly to each other. Then the two of them followed suit and soon they were in reception where Rosie was still sitting behind the desk obviously without much to do.
“Hi,” Gil ventured upon seeing her. “It’s me again.”
Rosie looked up and said brightly, “Oh hi, Mr. Hall. Meeting over?”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “I guess you could probably tell from the mass exodus. By the way, it’s Gil, remember?”
“Oh,” she said thoughtfully, “that’s right, I remember.”
“Say,” said Gil as a new thought struck him, “where’s Georgie?”
“Georgie?” she repeated blankly.
“Yeah, you know, your immediate superior? The office manager?”
“Oh, you mean Ms. Jordan? I think she’s down the hall in the production office. She wanted to run off some copies and get some mailing ready. Said she’d be back in a couple of hours.”
“Okay,” said Gil. “If you get any phone calls, just take messages. If it’s urgent, call Ms. Jordan. If not, just give her the messages when she checks back in. Got that?”
“Sure thing, Mr.—I mean Gil.”
“All right then,” he said. “Richard and I are going out to lunch.”
And before she could say “Have a nice lunch” they were out the door. Once outside they went around through the parking lot so Gil could check on his T-bird. There she was, just as he had left her, the Turtle Wax finish gleaming in the sunlight and the club still securely fastened to the steering wheel. Gil couldn’t resist patting a rear fender as they passed the car.
“You really love that car, don’t you?” remarked Richard.
“Yeah,” Gil admitted. “She’s my baby.”
“Funny,” said Richard, “I never felt that way about a car.”
“Well,” said Gil, “that’s probably because you drive a ’90 Toyota Corolla. It’s hard to get romantic about a car like that.”
Richard shrugged, “Well, it gets me where I want to go. And it’s low maintenance. And it gets good mileage. What more can I ask for?”
Gil mused, “You know, that’s the way Natalie used to talk about her old VW bug. Wonder where that car is now?”
“Probably in some junk yard by now,” Richard replied as they reached the sidewalk.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Gil agreed a little sadly.
The Cat Richard had mentioned in the conference room was the Cat & Fiddle. It was a nice bar/restaurant with kind of a British pub motif, but the main attraction was the outside seating area in a gated enclosure between the restaurant building and the street. It was only about a hundred yards west on Sunset from the parking lot they had just left, and they reached the courtyard entrance in no time. Entering through its open gates, they quickly found an empty table way over to the side, slightly removed from the other dozen or so. It was a solid stone table in the center of which was a large umbrella which affectively warded off the intense noonday sun.
They had just settled themselves on stone benches opposite each other when Gil noticed a waitress already hurrying toward them.
“That’s another thing I like about this place,” he told Richard. “Attentive but unobtrusive service. Some places you go, you’re lucky if a waitress even checks the outside patio every fifteen or twenty minutes.”
As he finished saying this, the waitress was already at the table handing them menus which they both refused, having been here many times before.
“We already know what we want,” said Gil, “don’t we, Richard?”
Richard nodded in assent as the waitress stood, poised with her pad and pencil at the ready.
“I want the turkey club with fries,” said Richard, “and a pint of Sierra Nevada.”
“Very good,” the waitress said, repeating his order. Then turning to Gil she asked, “And you, sir?”
“I think I just want the vinaigrette salad, but put some bay shrimp in it, and bring me a glass of chardonnay. What do you recommend?”
The waitress thought for a moment. “We have a nice Sutter Home, reasonably priced,” she suggested.
“Sounds good,” said Gil, “that’ll do it.”
Smiling she said, “I’ll be back with your drinks in just a few minutes.” And then she hurried away.
“Where do you put it all, Dick?” Gil remarked after the waitress had left.
Richard leaned back and patted his rotundity with satisfaction. “Right in here, m’boy, right in here. But seriously you know, I’m gonna be sixty in a few years. I figure why go to all that trouble to try to stay slim? I don’t chase the ladies anymore, and you know what the old saying is, don’t you? A waist is a terrible thing to mind.”
Gil nodded in assent as he looked down somewhat ruefully at his more embryonic bulge.
“Anyway,” continued Richard, “I figure that at my age fat and happy is where it’s at.”
“I can’t argue with that,” admitted Gil. “But personally I’m still trying to watch my weight. Unlike you, I haven’t given up on the ladies.”
“So I’ve noticed,” remarked Richard drily. “I saw you eyeing that little cutie in the office just now.”
Gil gave a nervous chuckle. “Well, it never hurts to look, does it?”
By this time the waitress was back with their drinks and they refrained from any more weight-related banter until she had departed again after assuring them that their food was on the way.
“Yeah,” continued Richard, “I’m kinda lookin’ forward to that old rockin’ chair in a few years. I’m doin’ all right, and since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of creative challenge working for you guys, I figure I’ll just hang it up.”
At that Gil turned slightly pale, this being the first time he’d heard Richard talk this way. “No, no!” he exclaimed. “Don’t say that! What would I do without you? You’ve been my right arm for nearly twenty years now. You know, ever since we did that weird beach picture for Gorman?”
“Yeah,” chuckled Richard, “how could I forget?”
“Anyway,” Gil continued, “seriously, all the other people we’ve got are really good at what they do. But you’re the guy I depend on.”
“Good to hear,” replied Richard sarcastically. “Say, can I get a transcript of that? I’d like to use it when my contract comes up again next year.”
Gil laughed insincerely. “That’s what I like about you, Dick, haven’t lost your sense of humor. Just like that chicken thing during the meeting.”
Richard laughed heartily. “Yeah, you were pretty good, Gil. Ought to hire yourself out to Pollo Loco or somebody.”
At that they glanced up and noticed the waitress returning with their food. She placed Richard’s sandwich and fries and Gil’s shrimp salad in their proper places, said, “Enjoy,” and hurried away again.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, Richard heartily and Gil diffidently. Richard could tell there was something on his mind.
“Well,” said Richard a bit hesitantly, “since this is supposed to be a business lunch, I guess it’s time for the magic words.” With the air of a magician intoning an incantation he said solemnly, “Raising Ezekiel.”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “don’t remind me.” Then he continued musingly, almost to himself, “Gotta figure out some way to make this dog sit up and do tricks.”
“No easy task,” agreed Richard sympathetically.
“Wonder who Nat is going to get to play the leads? God, I hope it’s not that Jessamyn Lane. I’ve had trouble with her before. That woman scares me.” He put his forefinger close to his temple and whirled it around saying, “I don’t think she’s playing with a full deck.”
“Why?” asked Richard innocently. “What’s wrong with her? She’s pretty popular, got a good rep in Hollywood.”
“Don’t you remember?” Gil asked, then answered his own question. “That’s right, you were only in and out on that one. He leaned across the table. Wanna hear a real Hollywood horror story?”
“Sure,” said Richard cheerfully. “Nothing I like better.”
“Okay,” said Gil. You remember when we were doing An Unpredictable Woman about five years ago? As I recall, you pretty much turned that one over to your assistants.”
“Yeah,” agreed Richard. “Not much of a challenge. Really routine. Came out looking good though, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, sure.” Gil brushed that aside. “But that’s why you don’t really know what went on during the shooting.”
Richard leaned back and stopped gobbling fries for a moment. “Go ahead,” he said with the air of a child expecting a bedtime story. “Enlighten me.”
“Natalie cast Jessie as the neighbor woman. You remember that the lead was played by Sheryl Strieb. Nice woman. Very good to work with. Anyway, in the script Jessie’s character was only supposed to be the neighbor, you now, just a sounding board more or less for the Sheryl character to talk about her lousy husband. But Jessie had other ideas. She flat-out told me, ‘I only got four lousy scenes. I’m gonna make the most of them whether you like it or not.’ So immediately she starts going over the top. She starts really haranguing Sheryl, saying what she would do in her place… The problem artistically was that she was totally blowing the suspense angle, you know, mousy little woman gets her revenge unexpectedly… Well anyway, we must’ve done half a dozen takes of those scenes they were in together. Every time I tried to rein her in, she’d get wilder and more emotional, totally upstaging Sheryl.”
“Wow,” commented Richard. “So what finally happened?”
“Well, I took it to Nat. I complained to her about Jessie. As you may recall, this was just after we bought the house on Mulholland and one of the rooms is a nice big screening room. You know, you’ve been there several times.”
Richard nodded. “Yeah, go ahead.”
“Well, like I said, I took my case to Nat. As you know, she doesn’t like to be involved with the production process or the technical issues. That’s why she doesn’t come to the meetings. She always says, ‘Here’s the script, just do it.’ So mostly that’s what we do, and everything turns out more or less all right. But in this case I took the dailies of those scenes home and showed them to Nat. And you know what she said?
“No idea,” said Richard.
“She actually liked it. She told me that it really improved the film, that the drama was just great. She seemed to have no idea that the ending was not only being foreshadowed, but telegraphed in a big way. So I had no choice but to eat crow, let Jessie undermine my authority, do whatever the hell she wanted. So that’s the story.”
“Wow,” said Richard again. “I can see why you’d rather not work with her in the lead.”
“You bet your ass,” said Gil. “But you haven’t even heard the worst part. Jessie got an Oscar nomination for Supporting—the only nomination the picture got. Boy, was I pissed.”
“Well,” commented Richard, “that’s quite a story. But it kind of brings us back to the present.” And he leaned over and patted Gil kindly on the shoulder. “I just want to know one thing. How long are you gonna carry that damn briefcase around before you get up the courage to open it and even take a passing look at your loving wife’s script?”
Gil was embarrassed but he knew Richard was right. He had been carrying the thing around with him, ever since he’d left the house in fact, much like an umbrella you unconsciously carry when you think it might rain. “You’re right, Dick,” he said in a small voice. “I guess it’s now or never.” Gingerly he began to open the briefcase which he’d placed beside him when he’d sat down. Carefully, as if it might be an unexploded bomb, he took the script out and laid it in front of him on the table.
Richard provided the needed comic relief by giving him a round of sarcastic applause. “Tell you what,” he said, “while you’re doing that why don’t we get dessert?” By this time they had both finished their lunches and Richard was obviously hungry for more.
“Sure,” Gil said, “knock yourself out. Whatever you want.”
“Hmmm,” said Richard. “The chocolate cake here is really good.”
“Yeah,” Gil agreed. “Whatever you want,” he said again, eyeing the script suspiciously. “I think I’ll pass though and just get another glass of wine.” He tried to make a joke of it. “You know, to steady the nerves.”
Richard gave him the obligatory chuckle and raised his arm to signal their waitress, who was lurking behind an umbrella not far away. When she saw his signal she hurried over immediately and they placed their order.
Gil was now riffling through the script looking at various passages and partial scenes seemingly at random. “Look at this,” he complained to Richard, stabbing his finger onto a particular page. “This is her idea of a transition. “They’re in their living room talking, right, so you know what the next thing is?”
Richard shook his head complacently.
“It says right here ‘Two hours later in the doctor’s office’. I ask you, what the hell were they doing for two hours? Why doesn’t she tell us?”
“Beats me,” replied Richard, putting his folded hands across his belly and beaming like some beatific Buddha, probably in anticipation of the chocolate cake.
Just then in fact the promised cake and wine did arrive. “Want some?” offered Richard.
“Maybe just a bite or two,” relented Gil, reaching across the table and cutting off a piece with this fork. Chewing thoughtfully he continued once again, “No action, no juice, practically no exteriors. How the hell am I supposed to direct something like this and still keep my sanity?”
“I guess that’s your problem,” mumbled Richard, his mouth full of cake. “All I have to do is light it which, considering the fact that I’ve read the script, doesn’t seem too difficult at all.”
Gil regarded Richard enviously. “That’s what I like about you,” he said. “You’re always so easygoing and a really good listener too.”
“Well thanks,” he responded. “I figure it’s your dime, you know, you, I mean the company, has bought me this fine lunch. Least I can do is lend a sympathetic ear to your troubles.”
Sighing Gil said, “You know, I’ve been directing her pictures for over fifteen years now. I’ll probably be doing it for another twenty. In all that time we’ve never had one fight scene, one weapon fired, not even a car chase, or people running down the street after each other. Even in Unpredictable Woman all the violence and abuse was off-screen. Natalie said it would send the wrong message, like we were glorifying it or something.” He gave Richard an almost pleading look. “I mean, it’s not like I want to be another Michael Mann here, just give me something to work with.” He cast his eyes heavenward as if perhaps it was his god who was responsible for this god-awful script.
“As our president says,” Richard replied, “I feel your pain. But unfortunately there’s not much either of us can do. As for me, well, I’m nearly sixty. I’m thinking about hanging it up in a few years. I mean, I’ve had a good life, a good career, respect of my peers and all that. I don’t need glitzy flashy stuff. I just do my job and work with what I’ve got, the script, the budget, the equipment, the people, you know.” He gave Gil a smile. “One thing about our association together all these years,” he joked, “it’s done wonders for my golf game.”
They fell to musing about old times and then Richard pulled out his script and they started languidly going through it together.
“Maybe,” said Richard, “I could use a green filter in the welfare office. You know, to kind of indicate the impersonality and all that.”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “and you could use a blue filter in the doctor’s office to indicate sterile conditions.”
“Hmm, that’s an idea.”
“Well, for my part,” Gil said, “maybe I could pull the cameras back, do a long shot, you know, give it an air of anonymity, distance, you know, that sort of thing.”
“Yeah,” agreed Richard, “that might work, and in the house scenes, especially the living room, I could give a kind of warm amber glow to indicate a feeling of warmth and security.”
At this point Gil leaned across the table with his chin in his cupped hands and sighed, “Let’s face it, Dick. At this point we’re just phoning it in.”
“Sure,” admitted Richard, “that’s what I always do on one of Natalie’s ‘dysfunctional family’ epics.”
They both laughed briefly and hollowly at this then Richard said, “But Gil, what about that idea Nan had? You know, maybe an accident, a near miss, do some crane shots, open it up a little?”
At this Gil brightened a bit. “That’s right Dick, I’d almost forgotten about that. You know, I think I’m gonna work on that this weekend. Maybe I can come up with some stuff that’s not exactly in the script that Natalie won’t object to.”
“Sure,” said Richard who by now had finished his cake. “Go for it! What have you got to lose?”
“There’s one problem,” Gil frowned. “I hate trying to revise her scripts at home. I always get the feeling she’s looking over my shoulder. Even when I’m alone in my study I feel like a kid who’s trying to read a comic book in class and afraid the teacher will catch him at it.”
Richard thought for a moment then snapped his fingers. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you go away for the weekend? You know, take a little working weekend vacation?”
“You know,” Gil said musingly, “that’s a good idea. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been out of LA County. When Natalie and I go on vacation we usually go up the coast, you know, Big Sur, Monterey, she likes that area. Hell, when we were younger we used to go all the way up to Santa Cruz, you know, goof around on the boardwalk like a couple of kids, eat hot dogs, watch the hokey old rock and roll shows?” He sighed wistfully. “We haven’t even done that in ages. Getting too old I suppose. Anyway,” he continued, snapping back to the present, “I wouldn’t want to go someplace where Natalie and I have been together. It would be great to go somewhere where I could just work, not be recognized and not be bothered.” He drained the last of his wine. “Got any ideas?”
“As a matter of fact,” Richard replied, “I do. There’s a little town up in the San Gabriel Mountains, it’s only about a two-hour drive from here, less if the traffic’s decent. They’ve got some great hotels, restaurants, and bars on a strip up there. You know, kind of like Vegas or Reno? There’s just enough to do but not too much to do. They’ve got some really nice hotels. I go up there mainly to play a different golf course every now and then. I sort of collect them,” he admitted.
“So,” said Gil, “Don’t keep me in suspense. What is this place and how can I get to it?”
In reply Richard took out of his jacket pocket the notepad that had been thoughtfully supplied to him at the meeting and spent a few minutes scribbling on three or four pages. Then he tore them out and handed them to Gil. “The town,” he said, “is called Las Claritas. I wrote down instructions on which roads to take after you get off the freeway. Just get on the strip, it’s kind of cut between two mountains, you’ll recognize it immediately. I hope you’ll find what you’re looking for there because that’s pretty much all there is but as I say, I like it.”
“Thanks buddy,” said Gil, folding up the pages and putting them in his jacket pocket. “I think I’ll take you up on that. Sounds like just what I need. So,” he concluded, “I guess we’re done here. Want anything more?” he teased.
Richard shook his head. “No,” he said affably, “that was enough, even for me.”
Gil signaled to the ever-present but unobtrusive waitress and she quickly brought the check. After a few minutes she returned with his credit card and the check and Gil signed it, leaving a generous tip for the perky but competent and unfortunately unnamed waitress. Then they walked out of the courtyard and back to the office parking lot. Gil got into his T-bird, took the club off the wheel, started the engine, and turned the car back toward Mulholland. He had, he knew, some ‘spainin’ to do to Natalie but on the whole he felt better than he had all day.