Cold Open, A Tale of Modern Hollywood // Chapter 9. The Close-Up

It was a little after twelve-thirty when the cab pulled up to the Frink Building. The driver, who seemed to be unfamiliar with the block, asked Nina as she paid the fare and got out, “You sure you gonna be okay, lady?”

Nina looked up and down the dark street and was relieved to see a bright neon sign on the corner which proudly proclaimed “24 Hr Tacos”.

“I’m just going to see a friend,” she told the man. “He’s expecting me.” The cab drove off and Nina went up to the front entrance. To the left were four buzzers. The top one was labeled “Rodenko Productions”, but remembering what Teddy had told her over the phone — that he was chained to a bedpost — probably meant that he was unable to let her in. So she pressed the bottom buzzer for the super.

Within a minute, a cranky male voice responded. “Yeah? Make it quick. Conan just started his monologue.”

“I’m awfully sorry to bother you,” said Nina in her most sincere and helpless voice, “but a friend called me from here and I’m afraid he’s in terrible trouble.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Could you just let me in and tell me how to get to Rodenko Productions?”

There was a deep sigh, then he answered, “Okay, lady, I’ll let you in, but I gotta take you up there myself.”

“Thank you! I really appreciate it.” A second later she heard the buzzer sound and pushed open the door.

Inside, she stood in the dim lobby looking around for a couple of moments. Then she heard the clanking of what sounded like the world’s oldest elevator slowly creaking its way up from the basement. The elevator gate opened, and out stepped a cute young black man.

“Are you the super?” she asked.

“Who do you think I am, Dave Chappelle? Yeah, I’m the super.” He gestured toward the elevator. “C’mon, let’s make it quick. I’m missing my show.” He escorted her inside, closed the gate, pressed the button for number four, and with much clanging and clanking the elevator grudgingly began its ascent.

As they approached the fourth floor, the super turned to Nina and asked, “Did you hear that?”

“No,” she said. “What?”

“That weird sound. Like in a Boris Karloff movie.” He turned his head sharply. “There it is again.”

Nina cupped her hand to her ear. “I hear it too. It sounds like someone moaning upstairs.” Her heart began to race. “It’s Teddy!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t sound like no teddy bear to me,” said the super.

“His name is Teddy Sunnegaard. Oh my goodness, he really is in trouble!” she said, as the elevator finally reached the fourth floor and stopped, and its doors opened.

Through the darkness past the gate there was another loud moan and a familiar voice pleading, “No, no more! I loved your script! I’ll get you Michael Mann!”

“Why do we need Michael Mann?” the super asked Nina.

“Teddy!” she wailed. “Oh please, unlock that gate now!”

“Gotta ring the bell first,” said the super. “Rules.” He switched on the entrance light, rang the bell that was on the side, but waited only a few seconds before he took out his set of keys, found the right one and quickly opened the gate.

They dashed in. “Teddy!” Nina called loudly.

“In here,” said a voice through one of the doors in the rear of the loft.

With the super following, Nina rushed to the bedroom and flung wide the door. He pushed on the dimmer so that all at once they saw Teddy handcuffed to the bed, his trousers still in disarray.

Nina glared at his unhitched Dockers with dismay as the super remarked, “Aren’t you a little old for this kind of thing, dude?”

“Believe me, this wasn’t my idea,” said Teddy, grimacing with disgust. “Now get me out of here before they come back.”

The super looked down at the handcuffs. “Damn!” he exclaimed. “Now I’m gonna have to go down and get my bolt cutters.”

“Would you?” asked Nina in her most vulnerable tone.

“Might as well,” said the super, making a face. “I’ve already missed Conan’s monologue.” He exited the bedroom and moments later Teddy and Nina heard the clunk of the elevator as it began to descend.

“I thought you were Justin and his friends coming back to torture me,” said Teddy.

“So this is how you spent the evening, with these stupid party games?” Nina sighed. “I thought you were really in trouble.”

“You don’t call being doped and handcuffed to a bed trouble?”

She shook her head disapprovingly. “You haven’t changed in twenty-five years, you know that? I don’t even know why I came.”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, why don’t you just leave now?”

“You didn’t even try to get anything out of Justin, did you?”

“Baby, I tried! But before I could get anything out of him one of his gorillas jumped me and took my gun! You know, the one Vic Miller, creator of LA Centurions, gave me for Christmas!” He raised his right hand. “Look what they did to me!”

Nina carefully inspected his swollen hand and wrist. “That’s some bruise,” she said, starting to soften.

“Now do you believe me?” Teddy whined.

Just then they heard the clanking of the returning elevator and a few moments later the super came back into the bedroom, carrying a gigantic pair of bolt cutters.

“Thanks for doing this,” Nina told him. “I know you’re missing your program.”

“Shit, don’t worry about it. Now he’s talking with some actor named Ethan Hawke.”

“Oh, Ethan?” said Teddy. “I directed him back when he did TV. I used to let him stay in my guest house — back when I had a house with a guest house.”

“So you’re a director,” said the super. “I’ll bet you know a lot of important people in Hollywood.”

“Um, yeah…” answered Teddy tentatively, sensing what was coming.

“Like Michael Mann. Michael Mann’s the guy who gave Jamie Foxx his big break, you know. Went straight from standup to A-list movie star!”

“Are you an actor?” asked Nina.

“No, I’m a standup,” he said. “You ought to come and see me next week at The Comedy Union. I’m in the Monday afternoon lineup.”

“Love to,” said Nina.

“Actually, I’m going to be out of town next week,” said Teddy. “I’m directing the series finale of Naval Maneuvers starring Maura Kilburn. It’s a great honor, you know.”

Nina and the super exchanged glances.

“Aw, that’s a shame,” said the super. “You know, I’d really love you to catch my act.” He paused, then asked Teddy in a low confidential tone, “Hey, man, you got a few minutes?”

“What do you think?” said Teddy, rattling his handcuff.

The young man looked slightly abashed. “Look, I appreciate your position. But when does a guy like me ever get a chance like this?”

“What are you talking about!” exclaimed Teddy.

“I think he’d like to do some of his act for us,” Nina told Teddy helpfully.

“You mean now? Didn’t I just tell you they’re coming back to kill me?”

“Aw, man, don’t worry, we’re here,” said the super. “They try anything funny I got the bolt cutters. C’mon, five minutes.”

Nina sat on the edge of the bed. “It’s only five minutes, Teddy.”

“Yeah, Teddy,” said the young man.

Teddy rolled his eyes toward the ceiling in exasperation. “All right, let’s have it, Mister Funnyman.”

“What is your name anyway, dear?” asked Nina.

He put down his bolt cutters on the dresser and drawled in his best W.C. Fields voice, “I’m glad you asked me that, little lady. The name’s Harris. First name Horace. Think how that would look on a marquee. So naturally I had no choice but to change my name. Easiest thing I could think of was to shorten my first name. Now there’s two obvious choices here, but needless to say I chose the second one. So,” he said, sticking out his hand to Nina, “shake hands with Race Harris!”

After a second of knitting her brows, Nina said brightly, “Oh, I get it!” and laughed.

“Well, I don’t,” said Teddy sullenly. “What was that about a race horse?”

“Shut up, Teddy,” she told him kindly. “He’s on a roll.”

“That reminds me, folks, a funny thing happened on my way to The Comedy Union the other night. Guy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, dude, I haven’t a bite for two days. Could you help me out?’ Noticing his fishing rod I tell him, ‘You’re probably not using the right bait.’” At this, Race drummed the edges of his fingers on the dresser to imitate a rimshot.

“And you know, folks, everything happens to me. The other night I just got paid, I didn’t have anything else to do so I decided to go to Musso & Frank and have myself a great meal. But when the waiter brought the soup, I noticed something funny about it. So I called him back and I said, Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup? And you know, he came over to me in a said in a very confidential way, Don’t worry, sir, I used to be a tailor.”

At this Teddy groaned quite audibly, but Nina grinned and said, “Wonderful! You’re like a young Rodney Dangerfield.”

Race beamed at her and replied, “Thanks, lady, he’s my hero.”

Turning to Teddy, he said, “Hey, I’ve got one I bet you’ll like. The other day I got this letter in the mail, it was from the NAACP inviting me to join. Now I’m not much of a joiner, and I definitely wouldn’t join such an unhip organization as the NAACP. I mean look what its letters stand for. I mean, man, we haven’t called ourselves ‘colored people’ in like fifty years. I thought some more about it though, and I see their point. I mean, imagine if they changed their name to National Association for the Advancement of African-Americans. I mean, who’d want to join an organization with initials that spell out NAAA?”

“Hm. Not bad,” said Teddy.

“Oh, and I gotta tell you, folks, I’m not just a local standup guy, you know. Why, I get gigs all over the country. Couple of weeks ago I was in Philadelphia and everything was going good but then I ran into a little trouble. The manager of the club actually called the cops on me. He said he was gonna charge me with harrissing the audience!”

Nina worked this out in her mind before declaring, “Harris, harass. Oh, that’s good!” She laughed again.

“Well, folks, I see my time is about up, you’ve been a great audience and drive home safely. Thank you, thank you.” He bowed and Nina applauded.

“Did you really like it?”

“Oh, yes! Very good,” said Nina.

“You know, I do impressions too. I do The Lone Racer and Speed Racer, you know, that Japanese cartoon?” He turned and said to her in a fakey Japanese accent, “Ah — you — nevah — win — Speed — Rrracer!” At this Nina laughed the longest.

Teddy rattled his handcuffs again. “Um, excuse me,” he broke in, “aren’t you two forgetting something?”

“Oh yeah, man, sorry!” said Race. Nina got off the bed while he picked up the bolt cutters. “Okay, can you hold up that cuff?” Teddy lifted his left hand, pulling the chain as taut as possible. In a few seconds Race had cut the chain, leaving one part of the cuff still attached the bedpost, the other part still attached to Teddy’s wrist. Then he repeated the process with the cuff on his right ankle. “Now hold still,” Race told him. “Don’t want to mess up your Skechers.”

Free at last, Teddy sat up and was finally able to fasten his trousers. Then with a groan he stood up, or tried to.

“Whoa, careful there, pardner,” said Race, steadying Teddy as he started to wobble. “What’d you take?”

“Just pomegranate juice…and a couple of Quaaludes.”

Nina frowned. “Oh, Teddy.”

“Not my idea,” he said languidly.

“How do you feel?” asked Race.

“Tired. Just damn tired.”

“We’ll get you downstairs, pardner. Fresh air oughta do it.” He put his arm around Teddy’s midsection and led him to the elevator, Nina following with the bolt cutters.

In a few moments they were back in the lobby. Nina returned the cutters to Race, while Race let go of Teddy.

“I can take it from here,” said Teddy, as they walked to the door.

“Well, Race,” said Nina, “how can we ever thank you?”

“Hey, no problem. But if you’re not doing anything next week, come see me at The Comedy Union for the Monday afternoon lineup. I’ll put you on the guest list. Bring a friend.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” she said. “The name’s Nina Lee.”

“Awesome!” said Race, opening the door for them. “Awright, see you there!”

They stepped onto the sidewalk as Race shut and locked the door behind them.

“How are you doing, can you walk?” asked Nina.

“I feel a little bleary, but I think I’m okay.”

“Do you remember where you parked your car?”

“See that taco stand? Right around the corner. Figured it would be safe there.”

“Fine. Let’s go.”

Arm in arm Nina gently guided Teddy down the dark and quiet street. When they got to his car he went over to the driver’s side and, wincing, pulled out his keys with his right hand and carefully opened the door. Then he slid in and reached over to open the door for Nina.

Just as Nina got in and settled herself Teddy leaned back against the seat and declared, “You know what? I’m starving!”

“Great,” said Nina. “When we get back to your place you can make yourself some eggs or cereal or whatever you want.”

“There’s nothing in the house.”

“So we’ll stop at a 7–11.”

Teddy gazed past her out the window. “You know what I’d like right now? Some tacos.”

“Are you joking?” she exclaimed. “Right now?”

“Look, do you realize I haven’t had a thing to eat all day? C’mon, we’ll split it.”

“I’ve already had a wonderful dinner, thank you.” As she looked at Teddy, so worn and beaten by the day’s events, the memory of that wonderful dinner gave her a pang of guilt. “Okay, okay. What do you want?”

“Get a dozen assorted,” he told her as he patted his jacket pockets. “Look, I’m tapped out. Would you take care of it? I’ll pay you back.”

Deeply irritated, Nina got out of the car, walked over to the taco stand, and returned several minutes later with a huge sackful of tacos, tortilla chips, and a Coke. Back in the car, she watched Teddy with more irritation as he took out one taco after another, wolfing them down along with the tortilla chips and taking huge gulps of the Coke.

In five minutes he had finished three tacos, dropping a sheath of crumbs on the driver’s seat. Then he sighed. “God, that hit the spot.”

“Great,” said Nina. “Can we go now?”

He turned to her with an inane grin. “Look, I figured out something while you were getting the tacos. I don’t think I can drive.”

“Why not?”

Teddy held up his right hand. “They really worked me over, baby.”

Nina reached over and gently touched his wrist. “It doesn’t feel broken. Do you need to go to emergency?”

“I just need to go home. I’m tired. I don’t think that junk’s all out of my system yet. I just feel so…bleary.”

“Right,” answered Nina curtly. “We’ll just call a cab. We’ll wait in the taco stand, he’ll drop me off then he’ll drop you off. It’ll be fine.”

“No way,” said Teddy. “I’m not leaving my Beemer to be broken into. I’m not going through that ordeal again. Look, baby, you’re going to have to drive.”

“What!?” Nina fairly shouted at him. “Teddy, I am not driving. I haven’t driven in years. I don’t even have a license!” An agitation she hadn’t felt in a long, long time was starting to return. As calmly as she could, she opened the door and started to get out. “Okay, look. If you won’t call a cab, I’m going to go back in there and call one myself — ”

With surprising agility he reached over with his good hand and grabbed her. “Nina, come back here!” She stopped and sat back down. “Nina, please. You can do this. You’ve done this before. I know you can do this.”

Nina took a few deep breaths. Finally she said quietly, “All right. Come on, let’s switch.”

Almost at the same time they each got out of the car and traded places. Opening the driver’s side door, she fiercely swept Teddy’s crumbs into the street and climbed in, muttering, “I don’t even know how these things work anymore…”

“Listen,” Teddy assured her, “this car handles like a dream. If you want to adjust the seat, the lever’s right under you.” He pointed. “And there’s where you can adjust the wheel.”

Nina felt for the lever, brought herself forward, then adjusted the wheel to a comfortable level and buckled up. Teddy did the same.

“I’m not taking the Freeway,” she said firmly.

“No need to. We’ll make it as simple as possible. Get on First, First becomes Beverly, turn on Virgil, go up Melrose, then keep going on Melrose till I tell you to turn just before Fairfax. You don’t have to worry about a thing except the traffic lights.”

“I think I can do that,” answered Nina, nervousness seeping into her tone.

“I trust you,” crooned Teddy.

Puzzled by the soft sincerity of his tone, Nina looked over at him. He was gazing at her tenderly, and somehow his gaze was making her feel more centered and calm. She smiled at him.

“You know what, Teddy?” she announced with new confidence, “I’m going to get you home safe and sound.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he answered.

She turned the key, started the car and pulled away from the curb. As she did, she remembered the last thing Bennett had said to her that evening: We’re not as young as we used to be.

That’s right, thought Nina. We’re not. I’m not that silly little girl I used to be.

“Which way?” she asked Teddy, who told her.

There was little traffic as they drove and the night was clear. Looking out of his window, Teddy suddenly gave a short quiet laugh.

“What is it?” said Nina.

“The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.”

He didn’t need to say more. She knew Teddy was recalling that the Dorothy Chandler was where the both of them would have been together, at the Oscars, almost exactly twenty-five years ago — if it hadn’t been for the accident.

Nina made no reply and they were both silent for several minutes. Then, following Teddy’s directions, she turned onto Melrose and remarked, “You know, I just remembered. I don’t think you ever saw my first two movies.”

Teddy gave a snort of derision. “What, those surfer flicks?”

“Listen, those ‘surfer flicks’ are still being shown all over the world. Wherever Jake runs his competitions.”

“Who’s Jake?”

“Jake Einstein, King of the North Shore,” said Nina with wistful affection. “He’s the one who taught me how to ride the left at Pipeline.”

“Ride the what?”

“It’s a wave, the most beautiful wave you’ve ever seen.”

He snorted again. “Well, I guess I never knew you were the Chinese Gidget.”

Teddy’s derision was starting to irritate Nina again, but she quickly decided it would be useless to try to explain to him just how dangerous and thrilling that experience had been. Especially now, when the most dangerous and thrilling thing she was doing was trying to avoid being pulled over while driving a doped-up murder suspect through the streets of nighttime Los Angeles.

So Nina remained quiet. She even remained quiet when they passed a familiar imposing-looking gate.

Teddy turned around and looked back. “Wait a minute. Was that Paramount?”

“I think so,” she said noncommittally.

“So we’re still a couple more miles. Can’t you hurry it up a little bit?” he whined. “I’ve really gotta go.”

Oh for heaven’s sake, thought Nina with annoyance. The car was already filled with the odor of uneaten tacos, now Teddy’s flatulence was adding to it. Finding the power control, she opened the window a crack.

A few minutes later he pointed toward the left and told her, “Turn here.”

Nina turned onto a quiet street that she recognized from a couple of days ago and in a moment they were driving through the open entrance way of Casa del Fuentes and into Teddy’s parking space.

As soon as Nina shut off the engine Teddy, without a word, jumped out of the car and dashed up the walkway before Nina could even grab the taco sack and lock the car. By the time she got to the entrance Teddy was nowhere in sight and the automatic door was about to close.

Pushing it open, she entered the building and, remembering that his apartment was on the second floor, she followed his thundering footsteps up the stairs to his place. She was just behind him as he unlocked the door, flicked on the light, and sprinted through the bedroom and into the bathroom.

Nina stood uncertainly at the threshold as she heard loud and terrible noises immediately begin to emanate from behind the bathroom door. Finally with a sigh she went inside, shut the apartment door quietly behind her, put the sack on the kitchen table and sat down on one of the high stools.

Teddy emerged ten minutes later, looking completely drained. “Oh God,” he muttered hoarsely as he stumbled past her. Awkwardly he shed his jacket and glasses, tossing them onto a nearby box, kicked off his shoes, then threw himself onto the futon, pulling up the duvet.

Nina stood over him. “So how do you feel now? How’s your hand?”

“I took two Vicodin,” he said, his back to her. “I think I’ll be fine.”

“Good. Because I’ve got to go. Look, I don’t see a phone. Let me use your cell to call a cab.”

As she knelt down and reached under the duvet to feel in his pants pockets for his cell phone he gently took her hand and drew it to his chest.

“Don’t leave yet,” he murmured.

“Teddy, I have to. I have things to do,” she told him softly.

“Not now. Stay here. I promise I’ll drive you home tomorrow.”

“Oh, I don’t know…” She tried to take her hand away but he only gripped tighter. “All right, Teddy, all right,” she said finally. She was beginning to feel as dead tired as he was. “As long as you get me back in the morning.”

“No problemo,” he said drowsily.

Nina pulled back her hand and he grunted. “Don’t worry, I’m not going, I’m coming to bed,” she told him. She got up and took off her jacket and draped it across the back of the kitchen stool, kicked off her boots and placed them underneath. Noticing with dismay his rumpled jacket, she removed her socks, jeans, and sweater, folded them neatly, and placed them on top of a nearby box. Then she went over, switched off the light, and crawled under the duvet.

In the dark Teddy again reached for her hand and drew her arm around his chest so that they lay there, her body spooning his.

“We’re just sleeping, all right, Teddy?” she whispered.

“Right,” he whispered back.

After another moment, Nina whispered to him again. “Teddy…I’m sorry I wrecked your car.”

“No…you didn’t,” he mumbled.

“I don’t mean now. I mean before.”

“…No, you didn’t.”

Another moment passed and his breathing became slower and deeper and Nina guessed that he had fallen asleep. Useless to try to bring up the past now, she thought. Tenderness overwhelmed her as she held Teddy, who began to snore softly, and in a few minutes she was asleep herself.

//

Nina awoke the next morning to a strange clinking noise. Totally disoriented, she slowly sat up and surveyed her surroundings. Noticing the packing boxes, she remembered that it was Teddy’s place. She also had a bizarre memory of the night before, of finding Teddy in a strange downtown loft handcuffed to a bed.

But there he was, sitting at the kitchen table in a terrycloth robe, munching on the rest of last night’s cold tacos and reading The Hollywood Reporter. The strange clinking sound that had awakened her came from the handcuff on Teddy’s left wrist striking the tabletop as he turned the pages.

Shaking off the last of her drowsiness, Nina got up from the futon and ambled over to him, asking, “What time is it?”

“Two-thirty,” answered Teddy between mouthfuls.

“What!” exclaimed Nina, now fully awake. “You promised to drive me home this morning!”

He shrugged and kept on reading and eating.

“Where’s your cell phone? I’ve got to make a call.”

Without looking up he pointed to the oak desk. Nina went to it, picked up the phone, and punched in a number.

After a few rings she heard, “Hello, this is Bennett — ”

“Bennett? It’s Nina. I am so sorry — ”

“ — Sung-Flores. I’m not here at the moment, but leave your name and number — ”

Nina lowered the phone and muttered, “Damn!” Raising it again she left a message on Bennett’s voicemail. “Honey, it’s me. I am so sorry. Something’s come up. I’ll try to reach you this afternoon to explain.” She paused, then added, “I love you.” Then with a sigh she hung up and put the phone back on the desk.

Teddy looked up at her. “That your fiancé?”

“After today, I’m not so sure.”

“Well, I bet it’ll be fine. Come on, sit down.”

As she went over to sit at the table, she noticed that Teddy’s loosely-tied bathrobe was covering only Teddy and nothing else.

“Here,” he said, “I saved the last one for you.”

“What kind?”

He peered into the bag. “Fish.”

Nina sighed again. “Okay.”

Teddy took the taco out and placed it in front of her. Gingerly she picked a crumb off and nibbled at it. It was rubbery beneath its layer of congealed grease.

She pushed it toward Teddy. “It’s all yours.” Without comment he picked it up and popped it into his mouth. “But how about you, how do you feel?” she asked him. “Been up long?”

“I’m fine. Got up an hour ago. I was on my way to take a shower when I got hungry again.” He looked up at her and grinned. “Look, don’t sweat it. I’ll take you home soon.”

“There’s no hurry now,” she answered glumly.

After that neither of them seemed to have anything to say for a few moments. Finally Nina, wanting to break the silence, pointed to his paper. “Well! What’s the news on the home front?”

Teddy glanced down at the page. “Hmm…it says that that new horror movie Dark Satanic Mills is still in theaters for an unprecedented eighth week… There’s an item about increased security at the Academy Awards tomorrow… Oh, here’s something about Melody Evergreen.” He paused to read it. “Oh.”

“What?”

“The Halsingthorps are shutting down production on Melody Evergreen for good.” He looked up, scowling. “Thanks a lot, guys, for not telling me personally.”

“Teddy, how awful.”

“Awful isn’t the word for it. Do you realize how much I was counting on getting at least two episodes a year from that show?” He shook his head fiercely. “Oh, it’s my own damn fault. If I hadn’t gotten so wasted Tuesday night this never would have happened.”

“Teddy, you’re not responsible. It was her house and she had a right to let anyone in she wanted. Even if it turned out to be her killer.”

He threw back his head and groaned. “I just couldn’t keep up with her. I just couldn’t. And she was such a great kid, she wanted to do everything. God, I hope they find whoever did this.”

“Does this mean you’re giving up the chase?”

“You said it. Who am I to go around hunting down murder suspects? Let the police handle it. The only thing is…”

“Yes?”

“Well, you know, it’s not like on TV. They’re not going to wrap this up before the last commercial. Forensics take time. Vic Miller did a lot of research when he was creating LA Centurions and he told me that forensic investigations can take months, years even. Meanwhile the cops have got one suspect they can fix at the scene of the crime with a history of drugs and alcohol. Look, I’m not gonna lie, I’ve got a couple of DUIs in my past. And Dennie and I… Well, anybody can make anything they want about our relationship.” He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, then continued, “So while the cops are taking their sweet time with scrapings and lab tests or whatever, I’m stuck in this hellhole of a town where I’ll probably never work again and prohibited from going where I can work. Fuck. Fuck. I deserve it.”

As Teddy spoke, all of Nina’s irritation dissolved and her heart went out to him unreservedly. She reached across the table and grasped both his hands. They sat there for a moment, gazing at each other wordlessly.

Then Teddy wrinkled his nose at her. “Aren’t you cold?”

At this, Nina realized that she was still clad only in her bra and panties. She wrinkled her nose back. “Aren’t you?”

Teddy laughed. “Yeah, I guess I better go take that shower, maybe shave, put on some clothes that don’t smell.” As he let go of her hands the handcuff clinked across the tabletop again. “Then, what do you say, I’ll take you out to eat. My treat this time. Anywhere you want.”

“Even the Little Sweden Smorgasbord?”

“Even Rodeo Drive if you want.”

“And you won’t mind going out in public?”

“I’m gonna have to face the mob sooner or later.” He rose from the table. “Listen, can you amuse yourself while I clean up? I might be a while.”

“I’ll be all right,” she called out to Teddy, as he went into the bedroom and closed the door.

After she heard the shower being turned on, Nina went over to the box where her clothes lay neatly folded, picked up her sweater and pulled it on. Then next to her jeans and socks she noticed a bound script splayed open. It was no different from any of the other scripts strewn about the living room except for the name on the cover — Teddy Sunnegaard.

Curious, Nina picked up the script, brought it over to the kitchen table, sat down and scrutinized it. It was short, under a hundred pages, and there were notes scrawled all over the margins, but it was clearly a completed work. Intrigued, Nina turned to the first page and began to read.

About forty minutes later Teddy emerged from the bedroom, groomed and dressed in jeans, T-shirt and his lucky brown corduroy jacket. Looking up, Nina quietly announced with deep emotion, “Teddy, this is one time I wish I weren’t Chinese.”

He asked her apprehensively, “What are you talking about?”

“Because I would love to play Virginia.”

“Hey, what’s that you’ve got there?” he said sharply, going over to her.

“It’s your screenplay, An Ordinary Couple.”

He reached out to take it from her but she held it away from his grasp. “I’m not finished yet. A few more pages. I have to see how it ends.”

“So how do you like it so far?” he asked nervously.

“I’ll tell you when I’m done. Give me five more minutes.”

Teddy nodded and without another word plunked himself down on the other chair, watching her intently for the entire five minutes. When Nina finished, she closed the script, laid it down on the table, unselfconsciously wiped a tear from her eye and sat there quietly.

“Well!?” said Teddy finally.

Nina sighed with satisfaction. “It’s beautiful. It’s the best script I’ve read since — well, since Setting Sun.”

“You really think so? This one’s my own baby, you know.”

“Yes, I really think so.” Nina wiped her face with her hands and began to walk around. “I didn’t know you could write, Teddy. And your two characters, Hugh and Virginia… Such plain decent people, but you’ve made them so intriguing and sympathetic… Did you really know anyone like that?”

He answered quietly, “Well, yes, as a matter of fact, my parents.”

“Ah,” said Nina, nodding with respect. “I didn’t mean — ”

“No, I know what you mean. They weren’t anybody special, really. They weren’t rich and they weren’t glamorous, just working people who lived all their lives in Los Angeles. But you know, when I told them I wanted to get into movies they didn’t try and stop me.” He shook his head slowly. “Wonderful people. Wonderful people. I only started to understand them after they died. And what a story they had!”

She went over and pulled her chair beside his and sat down. Leaning close to him, she spoke in a low serious tone. “Teddy, you’ve got to do this picture. This is what you were meant to do. In fact, I’d like to know why you keep on directing schlock on television when you could be making a beautiful film like this.”

“Hey, gotta make that living. Or else how can I live in such high style?” he said with a sweep of his hand that made the handcuff jingle again. He paused a moment to think. “You know that Braverman still has a studio deal to do any script he wants. Any script.”

“And he said he was going to do yours.”

“That was the understanding we had before what happened to Dennie. Then Thursday he called and — I think I told you the rest.”

“Well, I think you should go and talk to him personally.”

“Impossible. Do you know the phalanx of office Nazis I’d have to go through just to get a lousy ten-minute appointment?”

“But there must be a way to get to him,” said Nina.

Teddy considered again and then began to grin broadly. “Oh, no. This is too good. I can’t believe I almost forgot. Do you remember what day this is?”

“Saturday, I think.”

“It’s the day before the Oscars.”

“So it’s the day before the Oscars.”

“And what happens on the day before the Oscars?”

Nina thought a moment, then her face lit up. “Oh my goodness. Leslie Braverman’s — ”

“ — pre-Oscar luau!” they said together.

“So he’s still hosting them? And you’re invited?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve never been thrown out yet. Okay, he did call me a two-bit murdering punk over the phone but I don’t think that means I’m not welcome. Want to come?”

“Of course! I’d love to see the old dear again. I’ll bet he doesn’t even remember me.”

Teddy checked his watch. “So…the luau started at three… It’s after four now, if we hurry we can get to Malibu by six o’clock latest. Are you hungry?”

“Now I am,” said Nina enthusiastically.

“Great. When we get there you can fill up on roast suckling pig or mahi-mahi or poi or whatever you want while I do some major sucking up. I owe you a dinner anyway.”

TO BE CONTINUED EVERY FRIDAY 13 MAY — 12 AUGUST 2022

NEXT: CHAPTER 10. THE LUAU

© Cantara Christopher 2012, 2022

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