Cold Open, a tale of modern Hollywood by Cantara Christopher // Chapter 3. The Old Flame

12 min read

Stage 9, Paramount Studios, summer 1981. She had never worked on a real sound stage before. This was nothing like the way they did it back home with surfing movies. Everything there was practically all shot on the beach with friends, free and easy. If the day was cloudy they still shot. Even if the waves didn’t come they improvised a scene and shot anyway.

Oh God, the beach. She was missing the North Shore badly. She was missing her friends badly. This place was like a big frightening cavern, and her costume was starting to itch.

The director was approaching. He was a big guy, although only a couple of years older than she was. Why oh why did the first day of principal shooting have to start with her?

“Well, here we go! How do you feel?” he asked.

“Nervous.”

“Great. Okay, we’re going to be doing scene twelve now. You know what it’s all about. Brother brings home his Vietnam war bride to meet his brother. Real brother-brother confrontation. I want you to be big about it and give this scene to the guys.”

“I only have one line in this scene.”

“Great, great. How do you feel?”

“Well, you know, in the first place, I’ve been wondering why you have to shoot an outdoor garden indoors anyway.”

He pointed up at the elaborate grid near the ceiling. “Because I need that — and that — and that. And I need them to be where I want them, when I want them.” Suddenly he threw his arms wide apart and bellowed, “Let there be light!” And to her astonishment, the klieg lights were thrown on.

“Okay, this is it. Take your place,” he said, and clapped her on the shoulders.

As he started to walk away, she muttered under her breath, “You’re not God, you know.”

Catching her remark, he wheeled around and pointed at her.

“Oh yes I am,” he said.

“Nina, are you there?”

The memory dissolved. “I heard, Bunny.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him. Well, I guess it’s been, what? Twenty years?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Wow, that long. Look, do you want to come over and see the news at noon? It’s going to be the top story.”

“Okay. Sure. I’ll change and be right over.” In a few minutes Nina was knocking at her front door.

“Come on in!” called out Bunny. Nina threaded her way through the rooms crowded with angels until she reached the angel-free den in the back where Bunny was sitting. Angels of all types, from paper to plastic to wooden to ceramic, were crammed everywhere in the bungalow, in cabinets, on shelves, lining the walls up to the ceiling, dangling from the ceiling. But in the den was simply an office chair and desk with a computer, and near the desk was a couch, in front of which was a wooden folding tray with a small television set on it.

Nina came in, sat down on the couch, and fixed her attention on the small screen. Bunny was sitting at the desk but watching the TV, every so often turning back to her computer.

“They’re already posting about the murder on the Channel 6 News Forum,” she said. “And of course on the fan gossip sites. I never go to those websites though. Too trashy. And full of mean people.”

Bunny spent a couple of minutes reading some of the posts out loud to Nina — the usual expressions of shock and outrage — then the noontime news came on. The top story was, indeed, about the tragic shooting in Laurelwood Canyon. There was a recap and a shortened replay of the videotape from that morning.

“I don’t completely buy it,” said Bunny over the newscast. “It’s too easy for him to be guilty. Nina, what do you think?”

“He didn’t do it,” said Nina quietly.

Bunny said, “You’re sure.” Nina nodded. “You think you know him that well.” She nodded again.

The noon anchorman continued. “After being questioned by homicide investigators, Sunnegaard was released. Investigation is still under way — ”

Bunny turned to her desktop computer and started typing.

“Well, there we go! You hear that? He’s out. But I bet your friend’s still in big trouble till they find the killer.” She looked up. “Here’s his number, why don’t you give him a call?”

“What do you mean, here’s his number? How did you get it?”

“On the Internet Movie Database.” Bunny pointed to the computer screen by way of explanation. “It might just be a voicemail, but why don’t you give it a try anyway?”

“I can’t do that.”

“Come on. I’ll bet he could use an old friend. Here, use my cell. I’ll dial.” She picked it up, pressed the numbers, listened, and handed it to Nina. “It’s ringing.”

Reluctantly, Nina took it. The other end picked up just as she put her ear to the receiver. “Hi,” said the recording in a woman’s sexy-sounding voice. “This is Seesaw Productions. We’re not here right now, but leave your name and number and we’ll get back to you.” The voicemail prompt beeped.

“Teddy? It’s…It’s Nina. Nina Lee. I…just wanted to let you know I saw you on the news, and I know you’re in trouble… I just wanted to say I’m thinking about you…and good luck.”

She hung up. Before she even put it down the phone rang in her hand. She stared at Bunny for a moment, then clicked it on. “Hello?”

There was that boyish lilt. “Nina? I pressed callback. Nina, is that you?”

Nina sighed. “Teddy?” A strange thought came into her mind. Was her face like Lana Turner’s at that moment, listening to her lover the louse’s voice over the extension at the end of The Bad and the Beautiful?

“Nina, this is incredible.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s been awhile. How long has it been, twenty-five years?”

“I mean, it’s really incredible. They think I killed Dennie. Dennie Dearman. Have you seen the news?”

Oh yes, it was Teddy. The whole impact of Teddy was crashing in on her again.

“Yes, I did see the news, dear,” she said patiently. “That’s why I’m calling.”

“Look, I’m in big trouble and I need your help. No one else can do this. Could you come over?”

“What do you mean, could I come over? Where are you?”

“I’m living near Rosewood Park. It won’t take long to get here. Where are you?”

“In Pasadena.”

“It won’t take long to get here.”

“Teddy, I’m afraid that — I’m afraid that — ”

“Afraid?” he said loudly into the phone. “What have you got to be afraid of? Hey, who’s the one in a jam here?”

Bunny, who had been listening, got Nina’s attention and mouthed some words.

“What — ? Sorry, Teddy, I got distracted. Hang on.” She lowered the cell phone and cupped it.

“I’ll drive you,” Bunny repeated.

“Are you sure?” Bunny nodded firmly. Nina spoke into the phone. “Okay, give me your address.” He told her. Nina repeated it while Bunny wrote it down.

“Do you need directions?” he asked. “I want to make it as easy for you as possible.”

“Um, no, no. Just hang on. I guess I can be there in an hour.” He voiced his dismay. “No, I can’t make it any sooner, okay? Okay. See you.” Nina clicked off. “Why did you say you’ll drive me?”

“It sounds exciting. Plus I get to meet a big Hollywood director. I’ve never met one before.”

“Well, I think he does mostly TV now.” Nina thought for a moment. “Look, as long as we get back by five. I’ve got to put dinner in the oven.”

“I’ll get my keys,” said Bunny.

*

How did she get talked into this? All she had to do was say no.

Lucky with the traffic, they got to Teddy’s street in a little less than an hour. After Bunny found a place to park they walked through the open entryway and up the brick path past the parking spaces to the door of Teddy’s apartment house. It was a slightly faded, two-story 1920s hacienda-style building with a wooden sign proclaiming it to be Casa del Fuentes.

They found his number without a name tag, rang the intercom and waited. No answer. They rang again.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” muttered Nina, and leaned on the bell. Within seconds the intercom crackled on. “It’s me, Teddy, Nina. Open up.”

The buzzer sounded and Nina and Bunny went in and up the stairs. It was mustier inside than might have been thought from the sunny exterior. Nina knocked on the door. There was the sound of a shuffle and then it opened.

It was Teddy, looking the same as he had on TV that morning except for rumpled hair. “I was just taking a nap,” he drawled. “Come on in.”

The two women entered the surprisingly small apartment. As they peered into what was apparently the bedroom they could see that it was crammed with furniture and crates. A large antique oak desk dominated the living room. On it was a laptop, printer, several piles of papers and some photographs in frames. Flush against the far corner was a sort of bed, a large black futon laid out on the floor which was covered with a rumpled duvet and a couple of pillows. Near it, also on the floor, was a desk lamp. Books and scripts splayed open were strewn all around the bed. As the room was sparsely furnished, a number of unpacked moving boxes served as additional tables and chairs.

Nina gave Teddy a brief hug. He smelled warm and musky-salty, exactly the way he had years before. It was a familiar, comfortable smell.

She introduced her friend.

“You have a lovely place,” said Bunny.

“Oh yeah, yeah, it’ll do,” answered Teddy.

“How long have you been living here?” asked Nina.

“Not long. Since May…?” He paused, counting mentally. “Ten months. But I don’t need a lot anyway. Busy with work. Swamped. Swamped! I’ve got a couple of proposals making the rounds, shot a pilot last month, cross your fingers, then there’s my screenplay, my own baby. How are you doing?”

“I’m afraid I’m become very boring. I live in Pasadena, I teach yoga.”

“Well, no, actually, that sounds great. Yoga, huh?” he nodded. “I did yoga a while back. Made me feel twenty years younger. Sit down, sit down.” Having nowhere else, they settled on one box each. “You want some coffee? I can make instant.”

“We’re fine,” said Nina. As they were making conversation Teddy was disconcertingly moving about the room, prying boxes half-open and poking through them, looking through the piles of paper and even under the futon. “You called me, Teddy, remember?” she continued after a moment. “You said you needed my help? Um, look, if you want me to go down to the police and make some sort of statement, about your character or something…”

“Police? I’m letting the police handle everything. That’s their job, right? No, I need you to do something important. Very. Very. Important.”

He was concentrating on trying to find something on his desk. As he riffled through his papers, he noticed Nina staring at the photos of a rather handsome dignified-looking woman, a pair of lovely young children, and a glamorous chestnut-haired girl. “That’s my first wife,” he said, pausing from his riffling to point to the photo of the dignified woman. “It’s been about…I think sixteen years. Of course she took the twins when she left. Beautiful kids. Beautiful kids. She came out right after the divorce. Now she’s back East, teaching Women’s Film Studies and living with her lover.” Before Nina could comment, he went on hurriedly. “That’s my second wife, she’s back in Paris. We finalized last Christmas. She got the house. Here we are.” Teddy pulled out a couple of ten-dollar bills from between the papers, took out a sheaf of more bills from his pocket and started counting.

“Here it is, I want you to do something. You’re the only one who can help me. Take this.”

Nina took the money. “What’s it for?”

“It’s for the maid.”

She looked at him quizzically. “The maid?”

Bunny turned to Nina. “You know, I think he means Dennie Dearman’s housekeeper.”

“You got it.”

“I don’t even know where she lives!” Nina protested.

“Not a problem. I got her name and address from Dennie a few months ago. Was going to have her come here and do a little tidying up.” He went back to rummage around his desk, found a piece of paper and gave it to Nina. “Here’s the address. And that’s five hundred dollars. Go on, count it.”

Bunny quietly took the money from Nina and began to count as Nina and Teddy continued talking.

This is what you called me up for? Why can’t you just bring it to her yourself?”

“No, no, I can’t do that. Not after what she’s been through. God, how it must have looked to that poor woman. I’ve probably scarred her for life.”

“Plus she’s now out of a job,” said Bunny.

“Yeah, yeah, that too. Hey, what a world we live in, right?”

Bunny finished counting. “There’s only four hundred eighty dollars here.” Teddy asked Bunny if she were absolutely sure. Bunny, explaining that she was a trained bookkeeper, insisted that that was the amount.

“Well, this sucks. It should be five hundred.”

“Why don’t you just give her the four-eighty?” asked Nina.

“Look, you don’t insult a poor woman like that,” said Teddy with sudden vehemence. “She’s Mexican. These people have enough trouble, you know that? Lousy Bush administration.” He turned to Bunny. “You see why it’s got to be an even five hundred. It just looks better.”

“Okay, dear, okay. We see your point,” said Nina soothingly.

He felt in his pockets. “But that taps me out. I’m completely broke. Nina, gimme the other twenty, would you?”

The two friends exchanged incredulous looks. After a moment, Nina rummaged in her purse. “I think I’ve got it.” She took out a sheaf of ones and fives.

“You wouldn’t happen to have it in a single twenty dollar bill, would you?” asked Teddy.

“No,” said Nina shortly, the little knot in her stomach she remembered so well from the past starting to return.

“Well, I guess that’ll have to do,” he said.

Bunny gave her the stack of bills, to which Nina added her twenty, then stuffed the entire amount in her purse.

“Just make sure you put it in an envelope,” Teddy said. “Make it a nice envelope.” Nina asked him if he wanted to include a note. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

“Anything else?” Nina asked, her voice tightening.

“Nope, that should take care of it,” said Teddy. Suddenly he started circling the room, arms outstretched. “God, how did everything become such a media circus? You know, what gets me is how fast that news truck came sniffing around.”

“Well, from what they said on the Channel 6 Online News Forum,” volunteered Bunny, “once the police cars came, one of the neighbors made a call to the station, which happened to have a truck only about a mile away. They made it in about three minutes, which is really good time if you think about it.”

“So it made the news?”

“It made the network news.”

“Christ, this town!” roared Teddy so loudly it made Bunny flinch. “I knew something was gonna sink my film, I knew it.”

“Mister Sunnegaard,” said Bunny in a disapproving tone, “let’s not forget, a young woman is dead.”

“You don’t think I know that? God, Dennie. A nice girl. She was a nice girl, don’t let anyone tell you different.”

“Yes. Well, I think we’d better get going,” said Nina, rising. “I take it this is all you wanted.”

Teddy gave her a brief tight squeeze. “Hey look, I really appreciate this, you know. Don’t think I’m not going to pay you back for this because I’m going to. I’ll take you out to dinner.”

“Is my fiancé invited?”

“Oh, you’re engaged? Sure, of course. Love to meet him.”

“Nina honey,” said Bunny, once they got outside, “I’ve never seen you so uptight. And you called Bennett your fiancé.”

//

“I have no idea why I said that,” said Nina, then exhaled loudly with relief, as if she were removing a particularly restrictive undergarment. “So! That was your encounter with a big Hollywood director.”

“Oh boy,” said Bunny, shaking her head. They both laughed. “A nice man, but definitely one of those Hollywood liberals who thinks you can solve anything by throwing money at it.”

“He didn’t used to be like that,” said Nina.

They got back to the car. “So what are you going to do, are you going to deliver the cash?”

“Oh sure, of course! Just not today. I already got my day’s ration of excitement.” Nina shook her head. “Of course he knew I’d come running the moment he called. Of course. He was my director, wasn’t he?”

Bunny slipped into the driver’s seat and shut the door. Before starting the car she turned to Nina.

“You know, I never asked you before… I mean, I figured it was none of my business, but now I’d like to ask. You know, way back when you got hurt? Was he with you in your car when you had the accident?”

“It wasn’t my car, it was his. He was drunk so I was driving him home when we crashed.” Nina started to buckle up. “And that’s why I don’t drive anymore.”

© Cantara Christopher 2012, 2022

TO BE CONTINUED EVERY FRIDAY 13 MAY — 12 AUGUST 2022

NEXT: CHAPTER 4. THE MOVIE POSTER

:: SUPPORT MY FREE MINIPRESS AT KO-FI.COM ::

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s