In a few minutes Harry had driven them out of the parking lot and back west towards the Hollywood Freeway. By a little after five they had arrived at Hollywood Billiards—a large all-purpose eatery with a bar, billiard room, and several small intimate areas where people could eat and have a quiet conversation. Gil and Harry chose one of the smaller rooms away from most of the noise of the jukebox, televisions, and pool players. When the waitress came to take their order Gil, without hesitation, ordered the large burger combo with a glass of draft beer, and Harry ordered the same, but with a 7-Up instead of a beer.
“I’m not much of a drinker, Mr. Hall,” he explained. “A couple of beers gets me flying. Besides, I’m driving. And if anything happened and we got pulled over, if I had beer on my breath I’d get fired for sure.”
They spent the next fifteen minutes or so concentrating on their burgers and fries until Gil, grinning and belching with deep satisfaction, signaled a passing waitress for another beer.
Upon its arrival, Gil took a few hearty gulps and then turned to Harry, who had finished his burger by now and was stretched out on the upholstered chair, sipping his 7-Up thoughtfully.
Gil, who was by now beginning to feel the unaccustomed effect of even a small amount of alcohol on his system, turned to Harry and said expansively, “So Harry, here we are. That was just about the best burger I ever had. And,” he said, raising his glass with a little giggle, “the beer ain’t bad either.” He took another gulp and then turned to Harry again, this time with a sincerity verging on sadness evident in his face. He said, “Thanks for bringin’ me here. And thanks for just bein’ you.”
Harry, still maintaining his professional attitude with help from the 7-Up, replied, “Quite all right, Mr. Hall. Just doing my job. If you’re happy, DeVille’s happy. And if DeVille’s happy, I’m happy.”
“You don’t have to call me ‘Mr. Hall’ anymore,” Gil continued. “Just call me Gil. I mean, we’re pals now, right?”
Harry nodded agreeably but maintained his reserve. “I’m glad you feel that way, Mr. Hall,” he said somewhat guardedly. “But I have to maintain our professional relationship. If it ever got back to DeVille that I was being familiar with the people he assigns me to serve, I’d be fired on the spot.”
Gil was now totally intrigued. “What is it with this guy DeVille, anyway? He seems like a real character, and what has he got on you anyway? It sounds like you’re some kind of slave or something.”
In answer, Harry looked at his watch. It was only a little after six. Turning to Gil he said, “Do you really want to hear the truth about DeVille? And about me as well?”
Gil took another gulp of beer, which almost emptied his glass. Then he nodded eagerly, saying, “Yes, Harry. C’mon, tell me.”
“Okay then,” said Harry, moving his chair closer to Gil’s and, leaning over, he spoke almost in a whisper. “What I’m about to tell you, you must promise not to tell anyone else or even in any way indicate your knowledge of it. Do you agree?”
Somewhat sobered by this turn in the conversation Gil nodded and said seriously, “I promise, Harry.”
Harry drew back a little, looked around casually to make sure there was no one else in the little room, then settled himself comfortably and, taking another sip of his 7-Up, began. “You know, Mr. Hall, how some guys in Hollywood try to make believe they’re a lot bigger and more important than they really are. You’ve probably run into those types already, right?”
“Right,” agreed Gil. “Hollywood’s full of ’em, I guess.”
“But DeVille,” Harry continued, “is almost exactly the opposite. He’s the only producer I know in Hollywood that has had so much success while making so little fuss about it. He’s been in the business, I guess, about twenty years now. No one that I know really knows where he came from or how he got started. You’ve been to his office, right?”
“Well, that’s really all there is. Just him, his secretary, and the crews he hires on the cheap. Any financial analyst in Hollywood will tell you that his profit margins are some of the biggest. He is the absolute master of grossing a million dollars on a one hundred thousand dollar film and having practically no overhead beyond production costs.”
Gil’s head was beginning to swim a little with all this technical talk. “C’mon, Harry,” he implored, “tell me about the guy himself. What’s he really like?”
Harry chuckled. “Well, anybody that knows DeVille will tell you he’s a real eccentric, real one of a kind. The guy must be worth millions. He’s got this big mansion in Brentwood where all of us live together, him and the rest of us, the ones he calls his boys.”
“You mean,” said Gil in astonishment, “you live with the guy? You and some other people? He’s not married or anything?”
Harry gave a little snort. “Married? No,” he said. “Not bloody likely. Right now there’s four of us living in the house with him. Of course, don’t get me wrong, we all have our own rooms. Like I said, it’s a mansion. Let’s see.” He looked at the ceiling reflectively. “There’s me, I’m the guest driver, there’s Tom, he’s DeVille’s personal driver, the guy you probably saw driving the Caddy when DeVille showed up this morning. Then there’s Dick, he’s the houseboy. He basically sticks around the house, runs errands, cleans up, that sort of thing. Sort of like a maid. He likes his boys all to be about the same type, early twenties, rugged, Hollywood handsome.” He finished modestly, “Sort of like me, if you get my meaning.”
Gil thought for a moment. “But you said there was four of you. Who’s the other guy?”
“Oh, that would be the French chef, Anatole. He’s the only one living there that’s really got his own life. The rest of us—” and here he bent closer to Gil again, and lowered his voice— “sometimes I don’t know if we’re servants or a harem. Do you get my meaning?”
Gil was astounded. “You mean—he’s that way?”
“Yes,” agreed Harry. “He’s that way. Big time.”
“But what about you? How did you get in the picture, so to speak?”
In response, Harry took off his jacket to reveal a form-fitting polyester shirt which nicely showed off his biceps, pecs and abs. “Well,” he said modestly, “I’m his type. I came to Hollywood about three years ago. I’d just gotten out of college in a little place called Muncie, Indiana. They all told me that with my looks I ought to be in movies. By the way, my real name’s not Harry, it’s Robert McElroy. So, not having much luck with finding a decent job, I decided to go to Hollywood. I wound up auditioning for one of DeVille’s pictures, I think it was called Blood and Sand, one of his desert epics. Anyway, he took one look at me, took me into his private office and, cutting to the chase as they say, I got the part.”
“Well, that’s terrific,” said Gil. “So why aren’t you a big-time actor now?”
A pained look crossed Harry’s face. “That’s the funny part,” he admitted. “Or the tragic part, depending on how you look at it. We went into rehearsal for that film. I had a minor but substantial role as a desert bandit of some type, I forget the story exactly. You see, I’d had no experience with cameras, and I found out to my horror that they scared the shit out of me. Every time that red light came on, I completely dried up and started to stutter and stammer. Well, DeVille was patient with me at first, but after a day or so even he, as much as he liked me, realized I was crippling the production schedule. So I was fired and quickly replaced. DeVille, however, as he obviously had some feelings for me, gave me this job, and said he would work me into other productions in walk-on roles to see if I could gradually overcome my stage fright.” He grinned at Gil a little sheepishly. “So far, the longest speech I’ve been able to master has been ‘May I take your order, sir?'”
“Gosh,” breathed Gil, “I really feel for you.”
Harry waved it away. “That’s okay,” he said, chuckling again. “I wouldn’t have missed this experience for anything. I mean, DeVille is one in a million. Have you seen how he dresses?”
“Yeah,” said Gil. “I was wondering about that.”
“The man’s got an absolute clothing obsession or fetish, whatever you call it. He’s got, I swear to God, a large room upstairs in his house that has nothing but walk-in closets all the way around the room. He’s got outfits for anything. There’s this dry cleaner down on San Vicente that I swear that he singlehandedly keeps in business. Either me or Tom is all the time running down there to deliver or pick up a whole carful of costumes.”
Harry looked at his watch again. Pulling himself back to immediate reality, he put on his professional attitude once again. “So Mr. Hall, does that satisfy your curiosity?”
“I’ll say it does,” said Gil. “There’s a whole movie just in that story.”
“Well,” said Harry, “I’m glad you enjoyed it. But you didn’t hear it from me, if you get my meaning. And now, it’s almost seven. Ready to go, or you want some more beer?”
“No, it’s starting to go to my head a little,” Gil admitted. “I guess I’m not much of a drinker either.”
“No problem, Mr. Hall. Let’s go pay the bill and I can have you back home in about forty-five minutes. Just lean back, relax and, like they say in the commercials, leave the driving to us.”
“Thanks, Harry,” said Gil and getting up a little unsteadily. “Good idea. I need to be sharp on the set tomorrow.”
They walked back through the maze of rooms until they got to the counter where Gil paid the bill, noting with satisfaction that even with the two-dollar tip, it came to only fifteen. They turned and walked out into the cool and dark evening air to the Mercedes, where Harry helpfully opened a rear door and poured Gil in. Then he walked around, got in the car himself and started the engine.
“Seven-thirty tomorrow, Mr. Hall?” he remarked casually.
“You bet, Harry,” said Gil, somewhat sleepily. “And thanks again.”
Harry’s only reply was to start the engine and smoothly head out of the parking lot, turning on Hollywood Boulevard, then heading east towards Gil’s humble home.