Cold Open, a tale of modern Hollywood by Cantara Christopher // Chapter 1. The Establishing Shot

8 min read

It was a chilly February three in the morning. On a dark winding road just off Marmont Crescent Drive in Laurelwood Canyon the lights were still on at the house on the left, a model of faux-Moorish architecture nestled among the jacaranda trees. As the home of television’s newest, loveliest bright light, Dennie Dearman — star and title character of family drama’s runaway hit, Melody Evergreen — it was not only a reward and a prize, but a refuge against the cold, uncompromising world only a mile or two away.

Dennie and her boyfriend Teddy were finally coming down from their all-night party for two, which had moved in the course of the evening from a trendy new restaurant on Robertson, to a venerable old rock club on Sunset, and finally to her sumptuous bedroom with the thirty-three antique mirror panels covering the walls. The invigorating effects of the coke they’d done at the club having faded hours ago, Dennie and Teddy were both sprawled on her enormous bed with the florentina matelasse spread, shoes kicked off but still fully clothed, drinking the last of the wine in the house, still chatting the dozy, drowsy wee hours chat of love. They had started hours ago with a bottle of Margaux but that had long been emptied. Now they were reduced to finishing off some California pinot and Teddy was rapidly growing more drowsy than chatty.

“Anyway,” sighed Dennie, finishing the dregs from her glass, “She’s such a decrepit old bitch. I know it and you know it and I think someone should fire her. I think there’s another bottle in the rack. How about we go look?”

“Honey, if you’ve got a problem with Bebe…” began Teddy before emitting a feeble yawn, “Take it up with the producers… I’m only… I’m only…”

“C’mon, Teddy, don’t fade out on me yet!” Playfully she swung her leg over, stretching her pink spandex club dress until it rode up to her waist, and straddled him. “You want some more wine?” she purred, her face close to his.


“You wanna fuck?”

He was silent. She waited for his answer, then shook his shoulders. “Teddy…”

He replied with a loud snore.

With some dismay, Dennie dismounted him, carefully took the empty wine glass from his hand and placed it on her nightstand, then just as carefully took his aviator eyeglasses from his placid face, folded them and, reaching across his unresponsive bulk, placed them on the nightstand on his side. Relieved finally of these burdens, Teddy slid down onto the bed with a sigh, clutched his pillow and, turning away from her, fell completely to sleep.

There were, thought Dennie, advantages and disadvantages to dating an episode director. He wasn’t on set often enough to get on your nerves, but when he was on the set there was plenty of catch-up flirting time. Plus when they were working on the show together, more often than not their schedules matched (of course they would, she was the star, who else was he going to shoot?), so when there were those rare unexpected days off, like today and tomorrow, there he was at the drop of a hat ready to go clubbing or whatever.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as if he had a lot of power on the show. She’d found that out during the first episode he’d directed a year ago. (Even though she’d heard that once upon a time he’d actually directed real movies.) Then there were those couple of recent experiences with the paparazzi which had finally sold her on what her agent-manager had warned: that for Teddy to be seen with her was more important than for her to be seen with him.

Still, he was a good guy. He could still fill out a pair of jeans. Good build, like a quarterback gone just a little soft. But he was also fifty-two, and there the fun ended.

Sighing, Dennie hopped off the bed. She was still jazzed up from the evening, the cocaine and the wine. She’d expected to round out the night by getting relaxed with a long vigorous bout of lovemaking — and Teddy, when he could rally to it, wasn’t bad in bed — but it was clear that he’d be out for hours. Sex with Teddy was never a sure thing. She’d never known a man who needed so much sleep.

She slipped out of the bedroom and began to flit restlessly from one room to the other, switching the lights on and off absentmindedly. What to do, what to do? Take a swim in the gorgeous oversized pool, play some DVDs in the old-timey projection room? She hated being alone in this big old house, and with Teddy zonked out in the bedroom, that was being alone. The place had belonged to some movie actress from the 1960s she’d never heard of, then a few years later to some weird cult she’d never heard of. Then when the cult met its bloody end — a dramatic shootout with police in ’77 — there were some interesting theories floating around about some curse, but she didn’t believe in that crap, even though the house had been mysteriously abandoned for the next thirty years. She’d only bought the house six months ago at the insistence of her agent-manager, Ruth, who’d found it for her and said ownership of such a stylish piece of Hollywood history would give her career some tone. Her recent purchase certainly got her some welcome publicity. Still, the place gave her major creeps.

So — call for a pizza? Maybe call some friends for late-night games? There were tons of people who swore they’d come over at any hour of the day or night. Christ, this is Hollywood. Nobody sleeps in Hollywood.

Arms folded, she stood in the living room, glaring back at the bedroom. Stupid Teddy. She couldn’t believe he’d left her in the lurch again.


The morning light streaming through the window, reflected thirty-three ways, sent needles through Teddy Sunnegaard’s tender eyelids, forcing him to blink them open. Still on his side and clutching his pillow, he was groggy and sore where he had slept on his keys. Plus, he needed to pee. It was becoming urgent to decide whether or not to summon the strength to get up, get off the bed and shuffle to the bathroom, which in his haze he spotted a distant six feet away from the foot of the bed, or just lie in the sweet soft nothingness forever.

Vaguely he remembered that he was not back safe and warm at home, and that he was in the company of a woman. It had just recently become a point with Teddy to be kinder to the women in his life — the consequence of having acquired a new analyst and undergoing the astonishing new experience of breaking down in sobs during at least two sessions with said analyst. The first step, of course, was to recall each woman’s name correctly. And so it took him a full twenty seconds of a headache-making mental process of elimination before he called out softly to Dennie.

Dennie didn’t answer, although he could feel the weight of her body next to him on the enormous bed. He reached behind him and with his fingertips lightly brushed her leg. It was unusually cool and somewhat sticky. The wine, he thought drearily. You can never successfully get wine out of a matelasse bedspread.

With an effort Teddy got up, shuffled to the bathroom and relieved himself. On his return he concentrated on adjusting his eyes to the morning light and directed his gaze steadily at Dennie’s outstretched form.

Something was not quite right. Dennie, still in her pink spandex mini-dress, was lying there on her back, her arms folded demurely across her chest. But they couldn’t conceal the red stain on the front of her dress that was much, much larger than a simple wine stain. He moved closer to the bed, until he was staring directly down at her.

“Dennie…” he softly called again. She was absolutely motionless.

A sudden wave of nausea gripped the pit of his stomach and forced him to his knees. In his state of disorientation he believed, just for a moment, that he was on the set of one of the many police dramas he directed for TV. This was just another cold open, the scene of the murder at the top of the show.

Wow. Great blood. He had to hand it to makeup. “Nice job,” he blurted out to no one in particular.

As he shifted his leg, studying the form on the bed, he felt something small and hard against his knee. He reached down and picked it up. It was a gun.

He stared at it with wonderment and curiosity. What kind of gun, what caliber, he had no idea. It felt heavy and solid as he passed it in fascination from one hand to the other. He guessed it might be a .32. Weren’t there always .32s in the scripts? Writers had no imagination.

But then the undeniable reality of the situation at last shocked him to his senses. This was Dennie’s home. This was Dennie, and Dennie was dead. Really dead, not TV dead. Dennie. Oh, baby, baby. What the hell happened?

Still awkwardly clutching the gun, its solidity and reality forcing him to focus, he began to pace back and forth in the bedroom, his heart and thoughts racing. How did the evening start? Let’s see… She picked me up, drove us to Rodeo Drive for dinner… Then at the club I wanted to leave before she did and she made me get the car from the valet. And who wouldn’t want to leave? Lousy band. And all that noise, all those people, all that coke. God, no more, I can’t do another line, it just wipes me out. Wipes me out. Then we came back here. What does that little idiot think she’s doing, guzzling a bottle of Margaux ’02 like it was Perrier? What else happened? He wracked his brains. She wants to get Bebe fired. What else? What else…

There was a sound of footsteps, then a rattling just outside the bedroom door. Someone else was in the house! Teddy paused, listening, gulping.

Someone — but who? Killer? Rescuer? Or a witness?

Get a grip, he ordered himself as the doorknob turned. You’re not going to have a heart attack. You’re going to look like you mean business, for crying out loud. Now raise that goddamn gun!

The door slowly, ominously creaked open. Uncertainly, but in the pose he always saw his actors make, he raised the gun.

The breakfast tray clattered to the floor. Esperanza the housekeeper ran screaming from the house, leaving Teddy, in the bedroom, shaking with fright.

© Cantara Christopher 2012, 2022




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