Cold Open, A Tale of Modern Hollywood // Chapter 10. The Luau

Two hours later as the sun was slowly setting into the ocean and twilight was beginning to settle on the hills above Malibu they turned off the Pacific Coast Highway toward Leslie Braverman’s estate.

“I think I’d better warn you,” Teddy said. “Braverman’s parties have really changed since the last one we went to together.”

“How could they get any wilder?” said Nina. “The night we were here Dennis Hopper drove a motorcycle into the swimming pool.”

“We-ell, not wilder. But bigger. A lot bigger.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.”

Nina thought no more about Teddy’s remark until some minutes later when she saw ahead of them what appeared to be flames about halfway up the hill.

“Teddy, my God!” she exclaimed. “It’s the house, it’s on fire!”

Teddy laughed. “Oh, that’s right, I didn’t tell you about the torches.”

“Torches? What torches?”

“He’s got torches at the luau now. And some other new features.”

As they neared the end of the road and approached the entrance to Braverman’s home Nina saw what Teddy was talking about. To the left and right of the iron gate were two enormous blazing torches held aloft by two gigantic statues of Polynesian tiki gods. The effect was overwhelming.

The double iron gate was thrown open wide but a uniformed security guard wearing a lei and carrying a walkie-talkie was obviously checking out the arrivals. He peered into their car and when he recognized Teddy he waved him in.

As Teddy slowly drove up the brick driveway toward the front door Nina noticed that it was lined on both sides by more blazing torches, miniatures of those at the gate.

Then she asked, “Do you hear jungle drums?”

Teddy shrugged, but as they approached the front of the palatial house she could make out what appeared to be, quite incongruously, a couple of what appeared to be African natives in colorful loincloths situated at either side of the circular marble steps. They were beating a sinuous rhythm on large drums.

Teddy stopped the car near the steps, turned to Nina and said, “Well, this is it.”

Nina reached over and tucked the straying tip of his collar under his sweater. “Now remember, dear, stay focused. We’re not here to have fun, okay?”

“I think I can handle it,” he answered.

They got out of the car and walked toward the steps. As they passed the African drummers they saw one of them pull out a cell phone from his loincloth and take a picture of himself.

Teddy went over to him and said, disapproval in his voice, “Put that away, buddy, don’t break character.” Then rejoining Nina he remarked, “Dumb kids from USC film school.”

They ascended the steps and were confronted by another uniformed guard also wearing a lei and carrying a walkie-talkie.

Teddy went up to him and announced, “Teddy Sunnegaard and date.”

The guard spoke into his walkie-talkie. “Got a guy named Sunnegaard here with a girl, Mister Braverman.”

There was a pause, then Teddy and Nina heard a familiar voice on the walkie-talkie. “Sunnegaard… Sheesh. All right, let the schmendrick in.”

The guard shrugged. “Okay, the valet will park your car.” Then he flung the door wide open and intoned in a low baritone voice, “You may enter.”

The jungle drums continued their steady beat behind them as Nina, with a little trepidation, took Teddy’s hand and they slowly stepped inside. Then the great door closed behind them.

It was a living room as large as a ballroom, filled with little groups of casually but smartly attired guests who gave them no more than a passing glance before continuing their subdued conversations. On one side of the room was a long buffet table laden with all types of delicacies, manned by about six or seven uniformed servers. Alongside it was an open bar presided over by a white-jacketed bartender. Here and there, under the potted Mexican fan palms, more guests sat, their glasses and silverware gently clinking as they ate, drank and mingled.

As Nina took in the opulent surroundings a powerfully-built man with a shiny bald head and chocolate complexion, wearing khaki shorts and a bright Hawaiian shirt and carrying a walkie-talkie, approached them with a purposeful stride.

“Manolo! Long time no see!” said Teddy.

“I’m sorry, Mister Sunnegaard,” he answered scowling, “but I’m going to have to frisk you.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

Through Manolo’s walkie-talkie Braverman spoke. “If he puts up a fuss, eighty-six him.”

“Yes, Mister Braverman.”

Before Manolo turned off the speak button Teddy leaned over and said into the walkie-talkie, “Is this completely necessary, Leslie?”

“You were caught by the police in that girl’s bedroom waving a pistol, for chrissake,” said Braverman. “You think I want that kind of mishegoss around here? Now spread ‘em! And don’t think I’m not watching your every move because I am!”

Manolo pointed to the other side of the room. Nina looked up and saw that about halfway into the room against the opposite wall was the familiar figure of a small man, also dressed in a bright Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts and seated on an elevated marble platform in a large throne-like rattan chair. She could swear he was looking back at her through a pair of binoculars.

Teddy, grinning broadly, waved in his direction. As he did, Manolo thrust his walkie-talkie into his pocket with one hand and with his other raised Teddy’s other arm, then bent down and expertly spread his legs apart and began to pat him down thoroughly. By this time Teddy had become the center of attention for the crowd.

“He’s clean, boss,” said Manolo into the walkie-talkie. “But look at this!” He pushed back the right sleeve of Teddy’s jacket and held Teddy’s wrist high, revealing the handcuff.

“So, Sunnegaard,” said Braverman through the walkie-talkie. “Escaped from your dominatrix again, did you?” At this, the crowd laughed. “Take care of it, will you, Manolo?”

“Sure thing, boss,” he replied. Manolo unclipped a ring of keys from his belt, selected one, and fit it into the handcuff lock. In a few seconds the handcuff clattered to the floor.

“Um,” began Teddy, “would you mind…” He pulled up his left pant leg, revealing the other handcuff around his ankle. With a grunt, Manolo bent down and removed that shackle as well. Then he picked up the two cuffs and tossed them into an out-of-the-way corner.

“Hey, Houdini!” said Braverman, not into the walkie-talkie but loudly across the room. “Get over here.”

Hand in hand Nina and Teddy walked over to Braverman while Manolo, who had been following closely behind them, went over to one side of the rattan chair and stood there, feet planted wide apart and arms crossed.

Rubbing his wrist, Teddy spoke first. “Thanks, Leslie. I really was going to take care of that on Monday.”

Braverman raised his hand. “Don’t mention it. We can’t have you alarming my guests, you know. They’re here to relax!” He turned to Nina and crooked his finger. “Now you, get over here and give us a kiss.”

Nina smiled shyly. “Leslie, do you really remember me?”

“What are you talking? You were my greatest star,” said Braverman.

She went over to him and he leaned down and embraced her. As he did so, she craned her neck upwards and kissed him on the cheek. While in this intimate embrace, out of the corner of Nina’s eye she noticed a full-figured tanned woman with a short silver pixie haircut sauntering toward them. She was wearing a clingy one-piece swimsuit under a short terry robe and had obviously just emerged from the pool in the glass-enclosed solarium at the opposite end of the room from the entrance.

A little embarrassed, Nina pulled away while the woman went up to Braverman, who took her hand and squeezed it.

“Enjoy your swim, sweetie?” he asked.

“Terrific. Fitzgerald was coaching me on the backstroke.”

Nina noticed that following behind her was a tall, muscular young man with pale freckled skin and shocking red hair, wearing an outfit similar to Manolo’s. He took his place on the side of Braverman’s throne opposite Manolo and copied his stance. The two husky men flanking Braverman on his rattan throne made him look a little like a jungle warlord.

Nina started to stammer to the tanned woman, “I, um, Leslie and I are friends from way back, and I just…”

The woman frowned at her and shook her head. “You don’t remember me, do you, darlin’?” she said.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” answered Nina in a small voice.

She broke out into a broad smile and opened her arms wide. “Nina, it’s me. Arlene Bocock. Your hair and makeup on Setting Sun.”

Nina’s eyes grew large and she too broke out in a smile, exclaiming in recognition, “Arlene!” The two women embraced each other warmly. “Arlene, what are you doing here?”

“I live here, girl. Leslie and I are engaged.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Well, we’ve been kind of an item for a few years now. Everyone in town knows it. We’re gonna produce together.”

“Yeah, the old broad finally pinned me down,” quipped Braverman.

Arlene gave him a playful swat, then sat on the platform by his legs and gestured for Nina to sit beside her. Quick as a wink, Fitzgerald fetched them a couple of small velvet pillows.

“Thanks,” said Arlene, taking one and tucking it under herself and giving the other to Nina. “This is something, isn’t it? So how long’s it been, twenty-three, twenty-four years?”

“Twenty-five,” said Nina.

“Married?” asked Arlene.

“Divorced.”

“Kids?”

“A son,” said Nina. “He’s all grown up now.”

“We have got a lot of catching up to do, girl,” said Arlene, stroking her arm and shaking her head in wonderment. “So you’re back in Hollywood? “

“I just came to help out Teddy,” Nina answered, pointing at him.

Teddy grinned inanely as Arlene stared at him.

“Oh darlin’,” she said to Nina, “I know all about your boyfriend there.” She looked directly at Teddy. “Don’t I?”

“Excuse me?” he said.

“You don’t recognize me, Mister Director, do you?”

Tentatively, Teddy went up to her and stared into her face. Then he gasped, “Bebe?”

“It’s the wig, right?” she said. “You don’t recognize me without the wig. And the fact that I don’t look like the saintly grandmother of a minister’s daughter in this Saint-Tropez getup.” She turned to Nina. “Listen, you watch TV, don’t you?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” she confessed.

“Bebe here plays Grandma Evergreen,” offered Teddy. “But I thought your name was Bebe Blossom.”

“Not anymore. Played is the word,” said Bebe stonily. “And did you really think I was born with the name Bebe Blossom? You didn’t even recognize me from Setting Sun the first time we met on Melody Evergreen.” She snorted and said to Nina, “When the news hit Wednesday morning I saw what was coming, even before Henry Halsingthorp called to say production was shut down.”

“Henry called you?” said Teddy. “He never called me.”

“And why should he?” Bebe retorted. “Why would you need a phone call? You’re the cause of the whole thing.”

Braverman stood up and scowled at Teddy. “You see what kind of trouble you’re causing just by being here? This is supposed to be a night of calm and tranquility. In twenty-four hours half the people in this room are going to be sweating in the hot glare of the spotlights at the Oscars. They need calm.” His scowl deepened. “But your very presence tonight is reminding each and every person here of the grisly murder of that poor young girl.”

Nina reached over and touched Braverman’s arm. “Leslie, please. He’s really going through a bad time.”

Braverman gave her a reassuring pat on her hand and sat back down.

“So, um,” began Teddy, “I don’t suppose this would be a good time to talk about my script — ”

Before Teddy could finish, Braverman leaped to his feet again and held up his hand threateningly. “Hold it right there, Sunnegaard. You’ve been to enough of these things to know that we never talk business. If there’s anything you want to say to me, hang around maybe and say it after the party. You probably won’t get anywhere, but if I’m in a good enough mood I might listen.” He winked at both Bebe and Nina. Then he waved his hand at Teddy as if he were brushing away a fly and sat down again. “Eh, maybe you can’t help it. Maybe you’re just a born nebech. Who can tell? Go, go, have some fun already.”

Teddy shot Nina a pleading look but she simply shrugged. “Sounds like a plan, dear,” she said. “Come on, we can wait around a bit. Besides, you promised me dinner, didn’t you?”

“Dinner? Oh, yeah, I guess I did.”

“So how about going over and bringing me back a plate?”

“Yeah, Teddy,” added Bebe, obviously relishing her position over him, “how about feeding this girl?”

“Oh, okay, I guess. So…you’re staying here, Nina?”

“Of course!” she said brightly. “I’m going to catch up with some old friends.”

Teddy rubbed his hands together as if preparing for an arduous task. “Well! That’s that. If you’ll excuse me, ladies…and Leslie…I think I’ll go over and see what’s to eat.” And with that he shuffled off to the other side of the room.

“Now, where were we?” Bebe said to Nina.

At the buffet table Teddy surveyed the delicacies and checked out the chafing dishes and the huge platters of fish, chicken, and suckling pig. To the left and right of him were other guests, several of them actors and producers he knew and had worked with. But each time he tried to greet them with his warmest voice and most winning smile he was met with a guarded response in return before they drifted away.

Sighing, Teddy focused his attention on deciding what to bring back to Nina, unaware of the young man in the tweed jacket who was sidling up to him.

The young man leaned close to Teddy and said in a quiet, English-accented voice, “The poi is especially fresh tonight.”

Teddy turned to him, wondering if this was some sort of spy code. “Excuse me?”

“The poi is especially fresh tonight,” he repeated in the same confidential tone. Then in a normal tone he continued, “Or so the server just informed me. I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m Milo Binney. And if I’m not terribly mistaken, you’re Teddy Sunnegaard, director of one of the best films of the eighties, Setting Sun.”

He thrust out his hand and Teddy shook it. “Always glad to meet a fan,” Teddy grinned. “Especially these days.”

“I’m not above admitting you impress me,” Milo continued. “I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to some of the most talented personages in Hollywood tonight, but I feel especially fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with a man of your directorial talent.”

“Well, thank you! You’re an actor I suppose.”

“Good of you to say so, but I primarily write and direct,” Milo answered. Teddy looked at him more closely and saw that he had the baby face of a young Orson Welles. “Perhaps you’ve some slight familiarity with Dark Satanic Mills, my own debut directorial effort? I also wrote the script, you know.”

Teddy whistled. “Whoa. Congratulations. I just read that movie made a shitload of money this weekend.”

“But have you had the opportunity to view it?” asked Milo. Teddy shook his head. “I’ll make it a point to provide you with a screener.” Milo lowered his voice again. “You know, I was being absolutely truthful when I expressed my admiration for you. What say we find somewhere more private so we can have a chat?”

“Chat?” repeated Teddy.

“Yes, chat, if you take my meaning,” said Milo, gazing directly into his eyes.

Teddy cleared his throat nervously. “Well, that’s very flattering, Milo, but you ought to know I’m not — ” Then he noticed Milo slyly putting a finger to his nose. “Oh!” he said. “Yeah, actually, that sounds great.”

“I take it you’ve been a guest here before,” said Milo, “and that you perhaps know of some little nook or cranny to which we might slip away unobserved?”

Teddy broke into a sly grin. “Buddy, I know just the place. See those stairs behind you? Don’t turn, don’t make it obvious. Braverman’s got his binoculars.”

Milo swiveled his head as nonchalantly as he could. “You mean the stairs across from the bar?”

“Yeah. Come on, let’s get a couple of drinks. Once we get to the stairs he won’t be able to see us through those damn palm trees. Then I’ll show you a room I don’t think I’ve visited in a while. What’s your poison?”

“I usually take a gin and tonic. But since they obviously don’t have Boodles here, I suppose Bombay Sapphire will have to do.”

Teddy took Milo by the elbow and steered him toward the bar. “Let’s go, my treat. But you know, I don’t think one drink will last us very long up there. I’ve got an idea.” He whispered something in Milo’s ear and Milo smiled and nodded.

As they approached the bar Milo and Teddy parted ways, Milo going left to the end where the barman was serving drinks to several guests, Teddy going right to the opposite end where the shelves containing a profusion of liquor bottles stood. When it was Milo’s turn to order, he said something to the barman, who immediately began to concentrate on mixing two rather elaborate banana daiquiris. As the barman peeled two bananas and tossed them in the blender, Milo grinned and gave Teddy the high sign. Upon seeing this, Teddy nodded back and immediately leaned over the bar, snaking his arm around one of the shelves until he came up with a quart bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, which he immediately hid under his lucky brown corduroy jacket. Whistling nonchalantly, he strolled back towards Milo, who was just then receiving the two daiquiris he had ordered. With an innocent smile, Milo handed one of the daiquiris to Teddy and they both ceremoniously clinked glasses and simultaneously downed their drinks in one gulp, replaced their glasses on the bar, Teddy tipping the barman a dollar. Then they turned and, arm in arm, sauntered casually toward the aforementioned stairs.

Several minutes passed. Nina was still sitting and talking leisurely with Bebe and Braverman at the rattan throne, more comfortable now that Fitzgerald had taken away her jacket and boots. Suddenly she remarked, “I wonder what’s keeping Teddy with my dinner. I’m a little hungry.”

Braverman raised his binoculars and scanned the room. “I don’t see him anywhere.”

At that moment Nina’s stomach rumbled. She made a face. “Excuse me.”

Bebe exclaimed, “My God! What has that man been doing, starving you in a cellar?”

“What would you like to eat, my dear?” asked Braverman.

“Some fish, maybe a little white wine…?” answered Nina wanly.

Braverman gestured to Fitzgerald. “You hear that? Food and drink for the lady!” In a flash, Fitzgerald went to the buffet table and returned with a heaping plate of mahi-mahi, rice, and a glass of chardonnay. And in a second flash Nina wolfed it down as if she indeed had been starving in a cellar.

Her plate and glass empty, Fitzgerald took them away and she leaned back contentedly on the marble platform.

“I hope that makes you feel a little better,” said Braverman.

“A lot better,” she replied. “I don’t know why, but I feel relaxed for the first time in days. Mmm!” She sat up and gave herself a satisfied shake and stretched her arms. “You know, right now I think I could get up and sing and dance.”

“Well, you’re in luck.” Bebe glanced over her shoulder at the several craggy, fleshy men who were filing past the bar and buffet table toward a temporary stage which been erected in the far right corner of the room. They climbed up on the stage and started to tune their instruments. Obviously they were the musicians back from their break.

Bebe pointed their way. “You recognize them, don’t you?”

Nina turned to look. “I don’t think so. No, wait. Wait — that can’t be — omigod, that can’t be — ”

Bebe broke into a knowing smile. “Yes it is.”

“You’re kidding me!” exclaimed Nina. “Dick Dale and the Del-Tones!”

“The one and only.”

Nina sprang to her feet and started hopping up and down like a teenager at a ’64 Beatles concert. “Omigod, Dick Dale! King of the Surf Guitar! Here! I can’t believe it!”

Bebe looked up at Braverman, who seemed to share a wordless understanding with her. For the first time since Nina arrived, Braverman stood and stepped off his marble platform to go over and speak personally to the famed guitarist.

She couldn’t hear what he said, but Dale looked over directly at Nina, then nodded to Braverman, who returned to his throne.

Dale took the microphone. “Friends,” he said, “may I have your attention.” The crowd grew quiet. “I understand that we have a celebrity here tonight,” he continued. “The world knows her as the one true love of surfing legend Jake Einstein. Ladies and gentlemen, the Queen of the North Shore, Miss Nina Lee!”

There was applause as Nina squealed with delight, then covered her face with her hands in ecstatic embarrassment.

“Nina, this is for you!” said Dick Dale, and immediately launched into a familiar number.

“It’s ‘Pipeline’!” Nina shrieked. “Omigod, it’s ‘Pipeline’!”

Bebe got up, took Nina by the hand, and led her to the floor in front of the band. “Come on, honey!” she said loudly. “Let’s show these kids what a couple of old broads can do!”

Meanwhile, upstairs in a small room in the back of the house, Teddy and Milo, seated on the edge of the chenille-covered bed, could faintly hear the music through the closed door.

“Sounds like the band is back,” said Milo, who sniffed sharply, then passed the velvet pouch and tiny spoon to Teddy. “More?”

“Yeah,” said Teddy, “I’ll have another toot.”

“This is absolutely pure and uncut, straight from the lab at Medellin.”

Teddy nodded. “Oh yeah, it’s good. But I’ve gotta tell you, it’s cut.”

“You say it’s cut?” exclaimed Milo. “Are you absolutely certain?”

“Absolutely. Take my word.”

“Well, this is dreadfully embarrassing,” Milo muttered. “I do so apologize. I’ll have a word with my supplier first thing.”

Teddy dipped in the spoon, took out a generous spoonful, pressed one nostril shut and with the other one deeply snorted in the spoon’s contents. “Whoo!” he yelled and shivered. “Don’t worry about it. It’s great. Oh, yeah, it’s great.” Then he licked his finger, dipped it into the bag and massaged his teeth and gums with the white powder.

“Where did you learn to do that?” asked Milo, his voice filled with admiration.

“From Bob Evans,” answered Teddy. “He showed me a lot of other great stuff you can do with it.”

Milo, wide-eyed, shook his head in wonderment. “I think you’re probably the most fascinating person I’ve met all night. I mean, you were there, with the greats. I mean you were there with them.”

“Oh yeah, I hung out with ’em all. Billy Friedkin, Tony Bill, Beatty, De Palma… I was the new kid on the block but pretty soon I got a movie of my own. The result, as you know, was the multiple Academy Award-nominated Setting Sun.”

“Which I saw in film school, and have loved ever since,” Milo said. “It’s always been one of my favorites.”

“That’s very kind of you to say,” said Teddy modestly. “But speaking of the old days, this is the very room where I snorted my first line back in ’79. You want to know who cut it for me? Yup, it was Evans.”

Milo reached over to the nightstand for the bottle of Bombay Sapphire and held it up. “Then I propose we name this room in his honor. The Bob Evans Memorial Coke Room!” He took a swig and handed the bottle to Teddy.

“To you, Bob,” he said, holding aloft the bottle. “You’re the guy who started me on my way.” And he took a swig himself.

Back downstairs the party was heating up. Nina had pulled off her socks and sweater and was happily dancing barefoot in her bra and jeans, not only with Bebe but with three of the youngest and handsomest men there.

The band had kicked into a Beach Boys medley. “I’m only sorry that Teddy’s missing this!” said Nina loudly to Bebe. “He used to be able to party all night!”

“Well, a lot of people aren’t what they used to be,” she answered.

“That’s what I’ve been hearing lately. And I’m sick of it!” Nina said, laughing, then starting to clap her hands in rhythm and sing the words to “Surfin’ Safari”. So infectious was her energy that some of the other guests started to join in singing, clapping, and dancing.

Bebe however finally stopped, panting exaggeratedly as she broke away from the crowd around Nina. “Okay, that’s it for me! It’s all yours, honey. I’m going to go back to the pool and take one last dip.” She went up to Braverman and tugged at his sleeve. “How about you come along, Daddy?”

He rose. “Yeah, why not? Must be after nine. I think I can leave these merrymakers alone for a while.” He removed his binoculars and walkie-walkie and laid them on the rattan throne, then turned to Manolo and Fitzgerald. “Boys, take a break. Go enjoy yourselves.” Without changing expressions, Manolo and Fitzgerald stepped away from their posts and went over to the buffet and bar.

Upstairs Teddy and Milo were continuing their coke-and-gin-fueled conversation.

“The trouble with people,” said Milo, waving his coke spoon, “is they don’t know how to have fun anymore.”

“You said it,” agreed Teddy. “But not everybody, it’s old farts like Braverman. Man, you should have been here when the scene was really wild. Then starting about fourteen, fifteen years ago Braverman seemed to get a bug up his ass and started eighty-sixing anyone who made these luaus really swing. First Hopper, then Evans, then finally Nicholson — ”

“No!” groaned Milo. “Not Nicholson!”

“Braverman really cleaned house back then,” said Teddy, taking Milo’s spoon and dipping it into his bag. “He told everybody to straighten up and get serious again. He said it was time for Hollywood to regain its dignity and stature.” Teddy snorted more coke, and its resulting burst of energy made him get up and start pacing around the small room, spitting out his words like bullets. “Bull-fucking-shit. Back in the seventies, back when Hollywood made great movies, that’s when it had dignity and stature. That’s the fucking irony. I’ve got a great script, a classic script. But he refuses to touch it.”

Milo, who had been listening to Teddy’s spiel with wide-eyed fascination, turned when he heard a knock at the door.

“Hey, Milo, is that you in there? ’Cause it sounds like you! Come on, open up!” called out a familiar voice.

Milo went over to unlock and open the door. To Teddy’s surprise, Paul Pittsburgh burst in, his arm around the shoulder of a small, blond, and drunk young man. They both tumbled onto the bed, ending up flat on their backs.

“Thank you, my friend,” said Paul, his voice slurred. “We were out near the tennis court celebrating this little one’s birthday.” He gave his companion a squeeze. “Did you know he turns eighteen tomorrow?”

Milo returned to his place on the edge of the bed and with an indulgent smile looked down at them both.

“Teddy, let me introduce you to one of the stars of Dark Satanic Mills. This inebriated youngster happens to be Eric, and this is — ”

“Oh, Paul and I have met,” he interrupted impatiently.

“And we meet again,” said Paul with a flourish. “So, how did it go with Rodenko? Did you find your one-armed man?”

“I’ll bet you can guess what happened, you little creep. Rodenko’s no more a suspect than the head of William Morris.”

“Ah, quel dommage,” sighed Paul. “Well, as long as he didn’t rope you into participating in one of his crazy films, I’m sure you got away unscathed.”

Teddy didn’t answer, only glared at him for a moment, then continued his pacing around.

“What’s this about a suspect?” asked Milo.

“Oh, nothing,” said Paul. “Teddy had to see a man about a murder yesterday.”

“Murder!”

“Um-hmm,” he answered. “Unless you haven’t been reading the paper, watching the news, or cruising the internet, you probably know that Teddy here is the prime suspect in the Dennie Dearman murder case.”

Milo shook his head. “Dearman… Yes, that young actress. Bad business, that.” He looked up at Teddy. “So you’re suspected of the murder?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it. These things pass.”

“She’s still dead,” said Paul, reaching over Eric to the nightstand for the gin bottle and taking a swig.

“Please, help yourself,” said Milo expansively, then continued speaking to Teddy. “I didn’t mean it that way. I mean, well, scandals just don’t have the same impact they used to. You’ll bounce back, I’m certain of it. By the way, you wouldn’t happen to have an inkling who the real culprit is?”

Teddy shook his head. “Been trying to find out since Wednesday. But all I seem to be doing is making waves. And that’s the last thing anyone should be doing in Hollywood these days, making waves.”

“I take it your inquiries have been somewhat compromising your career.”

“You said it.”

“Well, that’s not surprising. Considering what a significant piece of property the Melody Evergreen package was.”

“Package?”

“Perhaps you might not quite understand the worldwide implications of Dearman’s demise. You were aware that Melody Evergreen is the number-one television show in East Asia and parts of South America, weren’t you?” Teddy shook his head in wonderment. “And that its newfound fame is attracting quite a lot of interest by certain competitive investment groups?”

“I had no idea.”

“In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some sort of conspiracy surrounding Dearman’s death.”

Teddy stopped pacing. “Conspiracy! Of course! Of course! I knew some sinister cartel had to be behind it.”

“Precisely!” said Milo. “Eliminate the package’s main part and the whole package becomes worthless. Then its competitors can move in and take over without fear of its competition. You might even consider yourself lucky you weren’t eliminated that night as well. You know, as a witness.”

Teddy shuddered. My God, he thought, he’s right! “I guess I should be grateful then,” he said. “I’ve got my life, my health and my looks. But that’s it! I’m broke and out of a job. But hey, I’ve got a script.”

“Welcome to Hollywood,” chuckled Paul.

“But Braverman’s dropped it like a hot potato.” Teddy went back to the bed and sat next to Milo. “You know, just between you and me, I think Braverman used this whole murder thing as an excuse to drop me. Gimme another toot.”

Milo passed him the spoon and bag. Teddy took another snort and handed them back to Milo, who took a helping of his own, then looked down at Paul and Eric.

“Care to partake?” he asked.

“We’re good,” said Paul. “Thanks, though.”

Milo turned to Teddy. “Listen, Teddy. I’m going to give you the best advice I will ever give you in what I hope will be our long and profitable relationship. I can sum it up in three words — Indian hedge funds.”

“Indians?” asked Teddy. “You mean like woo-woo Indians?”

“No,” said Paul and sighed. “He means like Mumbai-Hyderabad-Bangalore Indians. Mon Dieu, Sunnegaard, for a soi-disant Hollywood player, you still have a lot to learn.”

Teddy was rapidly becoming annoyed with Paul but Milo vigorously nodded his head. “Paul is right. When it comes to making movies these days, you have to know where the money is. Is it in the studios? The agencies? The distributors? The banks won’t touch us. No, it’s in international investment.”

Now it was Teddy’s turn to be wide-eyed. “Is that how you did it?”

“Of course! How else could I get Christopher Plummer to do a cameo in Dark Satanic Mills?”

“Wow. You got Christopher Plummer?”

“He plays the old man in the woods who eats small live rodents,” said Milo. “He was quite brilliant in the part but he wanted prime dollar. With the Indian hedge fund I partnered with, I was able to cement his commitment.”

Teddy got up and started pacing frantically again. His head began to throb with possibilities. He could afford to get Jennifer Aniston to play Virginia — better, Angelina Jolie! And her doughty working-class husband Hugh could be played by Brad Pitt! With a cast like that, he’d be on top again in no time!

“I wouldn’t need Paramount. I wouldn’t need Braverman!” he said loudly.

Now you’re thinking,” said Milo.

Teddy stopped pacing. “In fact, I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing here like a schmuck with hat in hand. I’m better than this!”

“Yeah!” exclaimed Paul unexpectedly.

Teddy went on, now seemingly unable to control his flailing arms. “You know, I’ve got a good mind to tell that turdmeister to go fuck himself. Dropping my script like that. How dare he! After all I’ve done for him!”

“Yeah!” echoed Milo, and he stood up and punched his fist in the air. “That’s it, Teddy! Go down there and give him what’s what! Do it for art! Do it for independence! Do it for Bob Evans!”

“Who’s Bob Evans?” Eric mumbled, but he was ignored in the general excitement.

Suddenly Teddy stood stock still and seemed to gaze at some far-off vision. “You’re right, Milo! This time the kid stays in the picture — only it’ll be my picture!”

From the bed Paul suddenly began to chant, “Ted-dy! Ted-dy! Ted-dy!”

It was a chant that was immediately taken up by Milo and even Eric, who still lay in Paul’s arms.

“Come on, who’s with me?” exhorted Teddy as they continued their chant.

“I’m with you, comrade!” declared Milo.

“Then let’s go down and kick some ass! You guys coming?”

“No, thanks,” Paul replied, “I hope you’ll excuse us, but we’d like some private time, I think you can understand. Just leave the bottle, will you? And close the door behind you.”

Saluting them, Milo followed Teddy out of the room and down the stairs.

In the main room the band was playing their hit song “Misirlou” and Nina, now dancing by herself in the middle of the room, was undulating ecstatically to the crowd’s enthusiastic approval.

“Hey, do that Uma Thurman thing from Pulp Fiction!” someone yelled, and as she began to imitate Uma, Teddy and Milo had reached the foot of the stairs and were striding boldly through the assembled throng.

Teddy went up to Nina, grabbed her by her arm and sternly announced, “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”

“Teddy!” said Nina, startled. “What are you talking about?”

“We don’t need this Hollywood bullshit. Go find your clothes, baby, I’ll only be a minute. I’ve got some unfinished business with your friend Leslie Braverman.” He turned and glared at one of the young men who only a moment ago had been eagerly applauding Nina. “Where’d he go?” he demanded.

The young man looked at him in open-mouthed astonishment and merely pointed toward the swimming pool.

“Right,” said Teddy and, pulling Nina by the arm, marched them both into the solarium, Milo and several of the curious onlookers following close behind.

The solarium was unoccupied except for Braverman and Bebe, who were reclining comfortably side by side on deck chairs near the edge of the pool. Teddy let go of Nina, went over to Braverman and pointed his finger at him.

“I’ve finally got you down,” said Teddy in a loud, threatening voice. “I know who you are, and you stink.”

“Jesus!” answered Braverman, startled. “Take that finger away, you stupid schmuck. What are you going on about?”

“What am I going on about? What am I going on about?” said Teddy, starting to pace up and down in front of the deck chairs and flailing his arms. “This! This garbage heap! This goddamned cesspool!”

“Listen,” began Braverman, “you don’t come into a man’s house — ”

“I don’t mean this house, I mean Hollywood!” said Teddy. “You and those cronies of yours! What you and those other fascist dinosaurs have done to Hollywood is a crime, you know that? A goddamn war crime! All of you ought to stand trial and be shot!”

“Oh yeah, and you’re Nuremberg, is that right?” said Braverman with a sudden frightening stoniness.

“Damn straight,” sneered Teddy.

Nina exchanged a look of concern with Bebe.

“Uh-oh, I’d better get the boys.” Unnoticed by the two men, Bebe slipped quietly out of the solarium and back into the main room.

Nina meanwhile took Teddy by his arm and gave it a little tug. “Hey, honey, didn’t you say you were taking me home? I think I’d like to go now.” But Teddy, still focused only on Braverman, shook her off.

Braverman slowly, majestically rose to his complete height of five-foot-six and, hands on his hips, glared up at Teddy. “Listen, sonny. I don’t know what bug’s gotten up your ass — or your nose. If you’ve decided that you don’t want work with me, that’s fine. You think you’re still some hot young buck out to tame Hollywood? For chrissakes look at yourself! You’re fifty-two with a handful of flops and what, two, maybe three TV gigs a year?” He jabbed a finger into Teddy’s chest. “You don’t come into my house and insult the business that puts food on my table — and your table, for that matter.”

Teddy turned his head toward the small group of curious onlookers and intoned piously, “There was a golden time in Hollywood. A golden time.” Turning back to Braverman, he thrust out an accusing finger. “And you murdered it!”

“Again with this bullshit!” roared Braverman. “What golden time? Hairy apes on motorcycles? All that toilet language? Good kids killing themselves with drugs? I should’ve eighty-sixed you along with Hopper and Nicholson!”

“Go ahead, old man,” said Teddy defiantly. “Who needs your shitty luaus? What have they got to do with anything anyway? You wouldn’t know a good movie anymore if it sucked your dick. Your time is over.”

Braverman planted his finger in Teddy’s chest again and glared up at him with a look that was truly terrifying. “Listen, you.” His voice was low but powerful. “My time is a still a golden time. I’ve worked with Grant. Gable. Monroe. Kazan. You don’t dare call it garbage. A talentless punk like you doesn’t deserve to be in the same breathing space with our kind.”

For a moment Teddy was speechless. Then he spluttered, “Get your hand off me,” and tried to push Braverman away.

“Oh, cool off, you little schmuck,” answered Braverman, and with one shove toppled Teddy into the swimming pool.

“Teddy!” shouted Nina.

“I — I can’t swim — ” he gasped, uselessly flailing his arms.

Braverman sat back down and waved his hand dismissively. “Feh! It’s only eight feet of water.”

But without a moment’s hesitation Nina, unaware that Bebe had just then returned with Manolo and Fitzgerald, made a perfect dive into the pool. As she put her arm around Teddy and began to drag him toward the shallow end, Bebe motioned to the two men to go around to that side.

They crouched at the edge and when Nina managed to get Teddy close enough Manolo reached down, grabbed Teddy by his arms and pulled him up onto the tile, while with one easy motion Fitzgerald placed his massive hands on Nina’s sides, hoisted her up from the pool and placed her gently on her feet near Teddy.

Nina immediately bent down to look at him. “My God, he’s not moving!” she exclaimed.

“Don’t worry, he’s just passed out,” Manolo assured her.

“He just needs to sleep it off,” said Braverman. “Manolo! Take him up to the guest room. Get him out of those wet clothes and tuck him in nice.”

“Sure thing, boss,” he replied, then grabbed Teddy by the ankles and unceremoniously slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Fitzgerald, meanwhile, had fetched a large fluffy terry robe and had draped it over Nina’s shoulders. Nina shot a look of dismay over at Braverman.

For the first time that evening he actually seemed embarrassed. “Well, Nina,” he said quietly, “if you’re really ready to go Fitzgerald can take you.”

She sighed and shook her head. “I’m staying, Leslie. You know I have to.”

Braverman called to Manolo, “Put him in the second-best guest room!” Then Fitzgerald took Nina gently by the arm and led her through the assembled crowd and out of the solarium, closely following Manolo, who was carrying the still passed-out Teddy through the main room and toward the stairs.

As soon as they had left, Bebe frowned at several people in the crowd who were checking their cell phone cameras.

“I’m warning you,” she said in an ominous tone, “this better not be in Gawker tomorrow morning.”

TO BE CONTINUED EVERY FRIDAY 13 MAY — 12 AUGUST 2022

NEXT: CHAPTER 11. THE MORNING AFTER

© Cantara Christopher 2012, 2022

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