It was the summer of ‘62, and Dick’s first time walking down Hollywood Boulevard. He had left San Francisco with a bitter taste in his mouth. ‘Too many beatniks’ he had told his live-in girlfriend one freezing summer evening. The next day he packed his bags and headed south for the resort town of Los Angeles. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable but when he stepped out of the Greyhound terminal into the LA summer air he felt like he had made the right choice.
Dick reached out to the few people he knew in town. He quickly learned the expression ‘Southern hospitality’ did not apply to Southern California. Fortunately, the Charles Dickens would have him. Truth be told, the Charles Dickens would have anyone brave enough to drag himself through the lobby doors. The room was small, making the bed very easy to find. He was exhausted, but the heat had other plans for him. The city came in through the open window loudly. For a moment he missed San Francisco, then he remembered the beatniks. His girlfriend, Rita, paid a visit to his mind next. She was probably sleeping through the cool night. He hated her. He hated her for being too selfish to quit her job, abandon her blind father, and follow him to the land of dreams. Most of all, he hated her because she was certainly sleeping with the window closed. He could never understand some people. The night came and went, hating this and that, and without major incidents. As the morning heat rose through the building, it became clear someone had committed suicide in the room next door. They did it quietly and respectfully, and if it wasn’t for the stench of rotting flesh the tortured soul might have gone unnoticed. The heat had no mercy for the living let alone the dead. But then again, for all he knew, the Charles Dickens always smelt that way. Escaping to the streets was the only sensible thing to do.
He met Hank at Cafe Formosa. His college buddy was glad to see him. They took a long walk down memory lane, keeping the conversation moving fast to prevent anyone from asking the other for money. The strategy worked, no one did. They split the bill and Hank insisted on showing Dick his office. The studio was right across the street. The guard waved them through as Hank told him all about the great things he was working on. His friend had grown bolder since their schooldays, and Dick resented him for it. The writer’s building was the ugliest one of them all, and Hank’s office was a sad little room that at some point must have functioned as a toilet. Dick took pleasure in noticing Hank was not such a big man after all. Just as the tour was coming to an end, in popped the head of Mr. Smithee, the head writer. ‘I’m gonna need those pages by four today Hanky-boy’
‘I’m almost done sir.’
‘This is my friend Dick. He’s a writer too.’
They exchanged pleasantries.
‘We can always use good writers here at the studio. Tell me Dick, are you any good?’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
Hank cut in. ‘He’s being modest. Back at Berkeley he was the one who got me my start at the school paper.’
‘Is that so…’ Said Mr. Smithee in a very Hollywood way. ‘What brings you to Hollywood?’
‘The beatniks are taking over San Francisco.’
‘I thought they already had, years ago.’ The boss laughed at his own joke. Hank followed suit. Dick didn’t. This was no laughing matter to him.
‘Bring some of your work over to my office kid and I might be able to give you a job.’
‘Hank here can show you the way. So long boys.’
Dick got back to his little cage at the Charles Dickens and contemplated leaving town. If he ran away fast enough, he wouldn’t have to get a job in the movies. He despised the Hollywood machine, with its superstars, its flatterers, and its bootlickers. It did not look real. The thought of becoming part of it was downright frightening. Apart from a few exceptions, he would have done away with the whole artform. Sadly, he couldn’t think of a better place to hide. It must have been around 2 a.m. when Jean started banging at his door. She looked very happy to see him. He was sleepy. She was drunk. ‘I came as soon as Hank told me you were in town. How long are you staying this time?’
‘For good …or until Mexico starts calling.’ He had no idea why he brought Mexico into it.
‘How is Rita?’
‘She left me.’
‘I thought you guys were going to get married.’
‘Sorry.’ Dick felt like he had disappointed her and said nothing more.
Jean was looking for liquor, but he had none. She went out, somehow procured some, and came back. They talked for a few hours about nothing in particular, and before the sun was up Dick was sleeping on the floor and she took the bed. She was a professional extra waiting for her big break. Dick had always liked Jean and despite her most recent incarnation, when he looked at her all he saw was the vivacious midwestern girl who organized the most significant events of their college years. He wanted to make her feel like a star, but didn’t know how. Life hadn’t been very nice to her. She had used college to escape an abusive father and the mediocrity of a small town. Her big dreams had landed her in a merciless town where she was stuck chasing a mirage.
He took her to breakfast the next day. All she had was a glass of grapefruit juice. It sobered her up. She told him how she had been out with a Hollywood big shot the previous night, and how he was going to give her a part in his next production. Dick asked her what she had to give him in return and she took offense. By the time she had finished drinking her second glass of juice she was no longer upset with him. Forgiveness was Jean’s greatest quality.
‘You came down at the perfect time.’
‘I have this great idea for a picture and need someone to help me write it.’
‘I don’t write pictures.’
‘You’re a writer, ain’t ya?’
‘Well, there’s nothing to it. Writing pictures is easy. I’ve seen plenty of screenplays and they are mostly blank spaces.’
The story she had in mind was surprisingly good. Dick felt like he could love Jean hadn’t it been for the fact she had bought into the Hollywood dream. Her ambition would forever stand between them, and there was nothing he could do about that. They walked down the boulevard with no place in particular to go to. It was a very good walk, good enough to clear Dick’s head. He made up his mind to get out of town after saying goodbye to Jean. The plan was to go back to New Orleans. If he stayed in LA, he ran the danger of having to write a movie. He couldn’t let that happen. The corner of Hollywood and Vine seemed as good a place as any to break the news to Jean, but before he could speak she swung around on her heels and planted a wet one right on his lips. ‘There’ she said, ‘I’ve been wanting to do that since we first met and now that Rita’s out of the picture there is no reason why I shouldn’t.’
Dick moved out of the Charles Dickens and into Jean’s bungalow off of La Brea. He took a few pages of his work over to the studio and Mr. Smithee gave him the job he had threatened him with. His office was larger than Hank’s but he had to share it with four other writers, making the working conditions miserable at best. Dick enjoyed writing in isolation, and it never occurred to him that Hank had to work his way up to the converted bathroom. Screenwriting came very easy to Dick, but he was not prepared for what came after. The whole process turned out to be an orgy of words, everyone wrote and rewrote everyone else’s work, testing the limits of artistic decency. Rejection was the lubricant that kept the Hollywood machine working. It was scarier than he had imagined. Things were a lot cleaner when it came to his relationship with Jean, he slept on the couch and would be invited back to her bed only on rare occasions, when the drama of her life was too hard to bear and the liquor wasn’t enough. He could sense she liked him, in another life she might have fallen in love with him, but in this one, she was after social upward mobility and Dick wasn’t going anywhere. She idolized the people plastered on the pages of the gossip magazines and her proximity to them made her feel immortal. He took the role of safety net seriously, when her heroes were done using her and she precipitated back to reality, Dick didn’t mind being there to break her fall. Jean cried a lot. She insisted on keeping him updated on all her intrigues, and she put on a good show reenacting as much of it as she could. She was constantly being betrayed by this or that person. Indulging her was a small price to pay for room and board. Lavish gifts from the hot-shots she frequented kept her, and him by proximity, comfortable enough to forget all about the foolish notion of writing Jean’s screenplay together.
‘Son, I don’t think you take this job seriously.’ Those were Mr. Smithee’s words one sunny winter day. ‘I know you can write so what’s the hold up?’
‘It’s hard for me to write one scene only to have it transformed by ten other writers into something that has no meaning to me.’
‘It’s not supposed to have any meaning to you. It’s supposed to fill up seats in theaters.’
‘I get that Mr. Smithee, but it’s not easy to have your work violated like that.’
‘Look here my boy, this is Hollywood, you better check your feelings at the door. All the studio is interested in is the bottom line. If you wanted to work with Chaplin and Griffith you are about forty years too late.’
‘I’ll try harder.’
He didn’t, so after the Christmas break he was back in the boss’ office for one last time.
‘Look kid, I’ve got to let you go.’
‘I know, I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be, the pictures business is not for everyone.’
‘Thanks for keeping me on this long.’
‘That’s alright. Listen, my brother-in-law works over at the Times. They are always looking for good writers downtown. Why don’t you go see him and show him some of your stuff?’
‘Thank you sir.’
Jean didn’t take the news as well as he had hoped. ‘That’s just swell!’ She said with a stern look on her face. ‘I was counting on you making your way up the ranks at the studio so we could get my movie produced. Why would you go ahead and get fired from a perfectly good job?’ She hadn’t forgotten about her picture idea after all.
‘I’ll get another job soon.’
‘You better! Now that you’re no longer at the studio, rent and food, it’ll cost you.’
She hadn’t forgotten about that either. It never occurred to him that now that he was no longer a picture writer he would have to figure out some other way to pull his own weight in her climb to the top.
The man at the Times wouldn’t give him the time of day. Dick left his pages with the secretary and made it back up to Hollywood just in time to meet Hank for lunch. His friend felt sorry for the out of work writer and tried to make Dick feel sorry for himself. Dick didn’t. In a very uncharacteristic move, Hank insisted on paying for lunch and Dick realized they could no longer be friends. Failure is the one sin Hollywood won’t forgive. Dick walked home feeling small and made up his mind to take his chances down in Mexico as a smuggler, rather than live up here as a loser. Jean had other ideas. She greeted him with her latest social turn of events and concluded by assuring him that this time, the money to produce her picture was already in the bag. All Mr. Gabori was waiting for was the screenplay, so they better get to work. Dick didn’t believe a word of it, but that never stopped him from going along with her. They rolled up their sleeves and put pen to paper. Jean was drunk before they had decided on a title. She laid across the couch waving her glass around as she narrated the adventures of Margaret “Marge” McNeil, LAPD’s first female homicide detective. Dick liberally changed the narrative to suit whatever was left of his self respect. Before Jean’s liver gave out they had a screenplay on their hands.
Mr. Gabori lived in one of those Beverly Hills mansions you only hear about when the authorities have to fish the occasional movie star out of the pool. Dick’s grandmother would have identified Mr. Gabori as “a person of the brown persuasion”. He greeted Jean wearing a red smoking jacket and holding two mixed drinks, one for him and one for her. He knew her well. ‘What’s your poison?’ he asked Dick, but all the pleasantries were poison enough so he declined to partake in the festivities. They got comfortable under the gazebo by the pool and Jean went on to explain how the screenplay she held in her hand was perhaps the best ever written. Dick was pleased to notice how she didn’t let the fact she had never read it interfere with her judgment. Once the glasses had been emptied, refilled and then emptied again, Dick was dismissed as Jean and the sultan disappeared into the house. Walking along Sunset Boulevard in the upper 9000 block offered the same socializing opportunities as crossing Antarctica. Dick had no problem with that and preferred it to having Mr. Gabori’s driver ‘drop you off anywhere, it’s not trouble at all’. Dick had never appreciated just how beautiful the sky was in Los Angeles. Before he knew it he was back where he belonged, among the people those big walls around the Beverly Hills mansions had been built to keep out. He thought about stopping for dinner but decided against it. There was a note taped to the bungalow’s door. The man from the Times had tried to reach him. The next morning, Dick sat across a big desk in a downtown office.
Mr. Schultz was bald, wore black thick-rimmed glasses, did not take personal hygiene too seriously, and cursed profusely as he puffed on a cheap cigar. Dick liked him from the moment he saw him. ‘You see my young friend, there’s enough dirt on the fuckos running and mooching off of show business to fill the mother-fucking Grand Canyon. Gossip belongs in the shitter, where people end up reading it anyway. Fuck gossip!’ He said slamming his hand on the desk. ‘What I am looking for, is someone with enough balls to cover all the homicidal maniacs lining up the Strip night after night. Hollywood perverts have yet to wise up to it. But believe me, they are coming!’
‘Who?’ Dick said without realizing he had said it.
‘The hippies my young friend!’ Another slam on the desk for good measure. ‘The mother-fucking hippies.’ He repeated blowing smoke in Dick’s face. ‘They’re multiplying in the Village in New York, and it’s only a matter of time before they take over this queer town too. We’re a lot more tolerant out here.’
‘What can I do about it?’ Asked Dick frightened.
‘Nothing! There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop counterculture.’
‘I’m sorry.’ Dick said without realizing it.
‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault, you look alright to me. Anyway, these kids have already a foothold on the Sunset Strip. I need someone willing to get down and dirty and cover the whole cultural phenomenon for the Times. The pay is shit, the hours are terrible, and I’ll be sending you all over Southern California on your own dime.’
‘I’ll take it’.
The bungalow was as he had left it. Dick gathered his belongings, left Jean a note, and moved to a small place closer to the madness. The music from the nearby clubs kept him company as he rearranged the furniture in the studio and made himself at home. He had never contemplated a career as an investigative journalist, but it felt a lot more dignifying than screenwriting. All he had to do now was get started. Taped to the wall was the list his new boss had given him with bands to go see and places to hang out in. Before going out, he laid on the bed with the windows open, letting the sounds of the city comfort him. He imagined a life of great writing where everyone loved him and awards were first given and later named after him. Finally he would be able to prove to Mrs. Lewis she had been wrong about him. He had loved her, and went as far as imaging having babies with her even though he didn’t know how. Sadly, she had turned out to be a very lousy elementary school teacher. She was probably dead by now. Things got depressing quickly and he started having second thoughts about having accepted the job. Why should he be the one risking his own skin by exposure to the hippies? What if they were communists? Was communism contagious? What if he got infected? The Senate hearings would kill his mother! That’s it! He was going to march into Mr. Schultz’s office and tell him to take his job and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Now that he was unemployed, it seemed as good a time as any to get started on his memoir. He thought about the first line for a few hours, and realizing he didn’t have enough memories to get started, he got up and headed for the lion’s den. If you were looking for counterculture, the Wilcox was the place to be. The music was loud, the liquor was cheap, and everyone looked straight out of a mad carnival scene. After the first beer, Dick caught his image in the mirrors lining the walls and took great pleasure in looking too old to be in school. He felt euphoric and did the unthinkable, he struck up a conversation with a complete stranger. Mr. Schultz would have hated Hunter. He was the kind of guy the newspaperman had warned him about. Hunter was from Virginia, on his way to Hollywood he had stopped a few years in New York. He was an intelligent man who asked a lot more questions than he answered. The party multiplied when Cindy and Joan joined in. The girls looked too young to be out and about unsupervised but weird enough not to raise any suspicion. Cindy had short messy hair and Indian paint on her face, Joan had straight long red hair and freckles. As it turned out, a guy named Rob knew the girls from when they all used to be cats, and he thought it appropriate to bring his flamboyance over to the table. The little parts of the conversation that could be overheard over the music didn’t make much sense, but no one seemed to mind. Dick hardly got drunk but made up for it that night.
He woke up the next day to what sounded like someone trying to break down his door. He wasn’t alone. Someone was laying next to him. The infernal noise did not appear to disturb her sleep. He opened the door to find Jean on the other side.
‘This place is dump.’ She announced walking in.
‘Goodmorning to you too.’
‘We need to talk about “McNeil’s Road”, that’s the new title of our picture, do you like it?’ She didn’t wait long for an answer. ‘Make yourself decent. We can talk about it over breakfast.’
‘What time is it?’
A grunt came from the bed. Jean was surprised by Cindy’s presence. ‘I see it didn’t take you long to replace me.’
‘It’s nothing like that.’
The girl sat up in bed. She looked confused. ‘Which one of you did I sleep with last night?’
‘This one.’ Said Jean pointing at Dick standing there in his boxers.
Cindy rubbed her eyes, took a good look at Dick and found nothing too objectionable. ‘Did I hear someone say something about breakfast?’
They chose an outside table, hoping the sun would wash away all residue of last night. Jean didn’t seem to mind the presence of the newcomer, she had bigger things on her mind.
‘Mr. Gabori read the screenplay and loved it. They’re putting together the contracts this afternoon. The purchase price won’t be too high but it’s your first picture, if it goes well, the next one will make you rich.’
‘That sounds good, until then, do you think I could get an advance to pay for breakfast?’
‘Don’t worry about that. Breakfast is on me.’
Cindy overheard and quickly intercepted the waitress, ‘I’ll have two orders of steak n’ eggs and a large fudge sundae with extra whip cream. Don’t be shy on the chocolate syrup either.’
‘Lovely.’ Smiled Jean sarcastically. ‘So, where did you guys meet?’
‘At the Wilcox.’ Dick said when he was done putting in his order. All Jean had was a glass of grapefruit juice.
‘Mr. Cool Jazz at the Wilcox? I thought you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in a place like that.’
‘Isn’t that what you left San Francisco to get away from?’
‘I think it is. What in the world could you possibly want with the Wilcox?’
Jean kept pressing and Dick kept dodging. The food came out fast, but it wasn’t fast enough for Dick. Finally, he put his foot down. ‘Can we change the subject?’
‘Sure, we’re here to talk about “McNeil Road” after all. You know, it’s going to make me a star!’
‘You came up with a good story.’
‘Listen to him.’ Jean said looking at Cindy. ‘The writer himself is trying to be modest.’
Cindy paused from stuffing her face and looked up. ‘You a writer? That’s swell.’
Jean turned to Dick. ‘I take it you don’t know each other that well?’
‘Let’s change the subject.’
‘Let’s. Can you meet Mr. Gabori tomorrow at his office to sign the contract?’
‘Perfect. I’ll come get you tomorrow. They may want to change a few things with the story. Can I trust you not to throw a hissy fit?’
‘You got it.’
‘Great! I’m off to make myself pretty for tonight. We’re going to the symphony.’ She patted Dick’s hand and gave Cindy, who actually had eggs on her face, a big patronizing smile. ‘I’ll take care of the bill on the way out. Tata.’
Dick had never seen Jean so happy. For no particular reason, he found himself wishing her happiness would last.
‘Who was that?’ Asked his breakfast companion.
‘A movie star.’
‘She looked like a square to me.’
‘How old are you?’
‘How old is that?’
‘What are you a cop or somethin’?’
‘No, just a concerned citizen.’
She wiped her face, leaned over and kissed him in an inappropriate way given the settings. They ate the rest of the meal maintaining a certain sense of decorum.
‘Let’s get out of here.’ She said taking one last giant bite of her dessert. ‘You should meet Father John.’
It turns out that somewhere in the Hollywood Hills, above Sunset Plaza, lived a man named Father John. Dick’s fear of Cindy bringing him to church quickly dissipated as they walked passed a white Rolls Royce parked in the driveway. Father John was a tall imposing figure with piercing blue eyes, long white hair, and a biblical beard. Being white didn’t prevent him from acting just like an Indian holy man. The house was chock full of young men and women wearing either colorful robes or nothing at all. A man emerged from a pile of flesh, walked up to Dick, and gave him a big hug. Unfortunately, Hunter belonged to the category of people wearing nothing at all. Dick had never felt so awkward until Father John emerged from the pool and led everyone into a chanting session. After the bizarre performance, Cindy insisted on introducing Dick to the man of the house. She greeted her personal savior with a kiss on the mouth. ‘Welcome home my child’ he said.
‘This is Dick, he’s a big time Hollywood writer.’
‘Is that so?’ Smiled the savior.
‘He’s very modest.’ Interjected Cindy.
‘That’s good.’ Said the holy man. ‘Modesty is next to Godliness.’
Dick forced a smile.
‘What’s your story Dick?’
‘Just looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.’ Dick had no idea where that statement came from and could hardly believe he had uttered it.
‘I like that.’
‘He’s great.’ She said and kissed him on the cheek.
Father John looked at Cindy and the conversation took a surreal turn. ‘Do you want him for your husband?’
‘Can I Father?’
‘Of course.’ The ice blue eyes fixed on Dick. ‘What say you, great movie writer?’
‘I go with the flow.’ It sounded just like his voice, but Dick could have sworn someone else had said it. What was happening to him?
Father John smiled, took their hands and joined them together. He then proceeded to take a colored string out of his hair and wrap it around their joined wrists. ‘You are now united as one, man and wife.’
Dick really had to pee.
‘Go forth and multiply.’ Said Father John concluding the ceremony and walking away. And just like that, Dick had arrived. He had married straight into his assignment. For that kind of commitment he felt he deserved a pay increase. He decided to bring it up next time he would meet with Mr. Schultz. His first article took shape in his head as Cindy pulled him down onto the red shag carpet and had her way with him right then and there. No one else seemed to mind or care.
The article detailed the blurred world of eastern religions, Greek hedonism, music and mind-altering substances he had stepped into. It was vague enough not to blow his cover but detailed enough to get Mr. Schultz to stop cursing long enough to read. ‘This is pure gold my young friend! I’m going to send you a bonus. Keep up the good work you beautiful bastard.’ The check came just in time since he had never heard from Jean again. He hoped she was still as happy as the last time he had seen her. Cindy on the other hand was a regular fixture at his place just as he had become a regular fixture at Father John’s. They spent their nights at the clubs listening to the loudest bands in America, and their days solving the world’s problems with love. Nuclear annihilation was a frequent topic of Father John’s sermons. Spewing mostly nonsense didn’t seem to bother his followers. Father John had built himself the perfect army of slaves. They looked after the house, cooked the meals, and some even sold cars for him. As it turned out, Father John was the proprietor of several car dealerships throughout Southern California. One thing was for certain, everyone was always broke, and apart from weed, food, and the roof of the house to sleep under, they all appeared to be completely free of possessions. Hunter, who had joined the club the day before Dick, went as far as saying he no longer believed in money. Dick’s landlord, however, kept on believing in money so the checks from the Times kept him independent. Dick had been invited to move into the house up on the hill, but the need for seclusion to write had provided the perfect excuse to keep his own place without raising suspicion. They took frequent trips to the desert for no reason other than “experiencing” the sunset. It was perhaps those cold nights spent huddled together under a thin blanket, or those psychedelic afternoons chasing her through Joshua trees, that had made him grow fond of Cindy. She was either smiling or stuffing her face with all the food and mind altering substances she could get her hands on. Her lifestyle and youth kept her skinny. She stood in stark contrast with Jean and her melodramatic life.
One sunny afternoon, after one of their chanting sessions, Father John gave one of his sermons. It began like this: ‘There is a spy among us’. ‘Oh shit!’ Thought Dick. The speech went on. ‘One of my children has chosen to betray me.’ The old man scanned the room with his eyes and Dick could have sworn he lingered when it came to him. ‘But I am not here to accuse anyone. My child will come forth voluntarily and repent for his sins.’
‘Fat chance old man.’ Thought Dick.
‘My heart is open and if he wishes to stab me in my sleep, he will find no resistance. My love is eternal.’ The speech went on for a while longer but Dick had stopped listening. He looked at Cindy, high out of her skull, bobbing her head to music that didn’t exist. When Dick got home, he found what looked like a Nazi SS standing outside his door. His heart skipped a beat. The Gestapo man saw him enter the narrow hallway. He stopped in his tracks but it was too late, escaping was no longer an option. The stranger smiled a vicious smile and spoke without taking his eyes off of Dick. ‘Hello Mr. Clement, I’ve been waiting for you.’ The man reached inside his coat pocket and Dick thought of Father John’s eternal love sending an assassin over to his place to eliminate the spy. Uncharacteristic for an assassin, the man pulled out a card instead of a gun. To Dick’s relief, the secret policeman turned out to be Mr. Gabori’s driver delivering a message from his boss. The next morning he was in Mr. Gabori’s office.
‘We really liked your screenplay Mr. Clement.’
‘Call me Dick.’
‘Alright Dick, here’s the contract and here’s the check. I just need you to sign on the dotted line.’
‘What ever happened to Jean?’
‘She’s fine, she’s a producer on the picture and getting very well compensated for it.’
‘Where is she?’
‘She’s spending a few weeks up the coast to relax. I’m afraid all the stress involved with making a picture has gotten to her.’
‘Can I talk to her?’
‘Look here Mr. Clement, I am going to level with you. Jean experienced a “mental episode” and is in a very fragile state right now. She’ll be back next week and you’ll be able to see her then.’
Dick glanced at the contract and the check attached to it. ‘Not bad for a few weeks’ work’, he thought to himself, then he noticed the two extra zeros. It was the most money he had ever seen. He didn’t want to appear too eager to sign so he pretended to look over the contract but was too excited to be able to make any sense of the words. He started making plans for his imminent retirement. Then he spoke, trying to keep his cool.
‘Just out of curiosity, how much of it did you guys change?’
‘Not much, the story is essentially the same. The necessary change was to make the leading character into a man.’
It hit him like a ton of bricks. ‘What? We wrote it for Jean to star in it. How did she take it?’
‘I’ll be honest with you Mr. Clement, she didn’t take it well at first. But then she realized that no one in their right mind would finance a police drama of this scope with an unknown female lead in it. It was either change it, or not getting it produced at all. Ultimately she understood and made the right choice. She’s been very handsomely compensated for her efforts.’
‘So she’s alright with all of this?’
‘Of course, how do you think we got your address? She’s eager for the deal to move forward.’
Dick felt he should have probably consulted with Jean before signing the screenplay’s rights away. Then he remembered Father John’s eternal love. The old man was onto him and he was about to be booted from the gravy train on top of the hill. Mr. Gabori looked professional enough. Why would he lie to him? What had Jean ever done for him anyway? She was probably living it up on the coast. Dick signed the contract and walked out of the office with a new life plan.
Cindy was waiting for him, sitting on his bed smoking a cigarette. She didn’t bother looking for an ashtray. Dick noticed the ashes all over the floor and was annoyed.
‘We need to talk.’ He said, still looking at the mess she had made.
‘Yes, that’s why I am here, I think…’
‘One second.’ He interrupted her. Dick walked over the the phone and dialed. ‘Can I speak with Mr. Schultz? Yes, I’ll hold.’ Cindy innocently put her cigarette out on the floor. Dick gave her a dirty look. She frowned but didn’t understand. ‘Yes, Mr. Schultz, this is Dick. Dick Clement. Fine thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity you given me. It has been fun. I quit.’ Click.
Dick walked over to the closet, pulled out his suitcase and started stuffing it with clothes.
‘What’s going on?’ She asked.
‘I’m getting out of town. I’m retiring to Mexico.’ The news displeased her. He had never seen her sad before. ‘Don’t take it the wrong way, but this town is starting to eat me alive. It’s time to jump ship before the whole thing comes crumbling down.’
His heart skipped another beat. There was a moment of silence before he spoke. ‘Are you sure?’
She stood up and stuck out her belly.
He noticed the small bump on her skinny frame. ‘How far along are you?’
‘Three or four months.’
‘My God! That’s far. You can hardly tell. Well, congratulations. Is it mine?’
‘I haven’t been with anyone else since we’ve met.’ He knew it was his.
‘Jesus kid. That’s a lot to lay on a guy who is trying to escape. Is that what you came to tell me?’
Her demeanor made it clear she didn’t want anything from him, all she wanted was to share the news. She stood there silently, confused and helpless. Her lifestyle stood for everything he was against and yet she might have been the best thing to ever happen to him. He didn’t know the right thing to say in situations such as this. Despite his age, he had never been an adult before. He uttered the only thing that felt natural to him. ‘Well, don’t just stand there silly. Let’s go, you’re coming with me. You’re my wife after all, aren’t you?’
Her smile brightened the room. She turned pensive for a moment. ‘What about Father John and the group?’
‘We’ll send them a postcard.’
All she said was ‘okay’ and that was it, she was on board. ‘Should I go get my stuff?’
‘We’ll just buy you a whole new wardrobe on the way.’
Dick closed his suitcase.‘Let’s go shopping for a car.’
The brand new red Buick convertible sliced the ocean air as it moved along the coast. Dick looked over at Cindy, and for the first time noticed her girly expression fading under her womanhood. They stopped at a motel near the water before crossing the border. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept so well. They woke up to a warm November morning, the water was too cold for him but ‘perfectly fine’ for Cindy. He sat outside their room and thought about when he left San Francisco over a year ago, of Rita, who he had almost forgotten all about, and he thought of Jean with her ambitions and aspirations, about Hank’s office increasing in size each time he had an idea good enough for the other writers to change. He thought about Mr. Schultz and he even thought about Father John and his sermons on the end of the world. Then his eyes found Cindy, playing in the surf without a care in the world. Maybe she had it right all along, life was about dancing to the tune in your own head, even if no one else could hear it. Dick worried about his reputation and about the corrupted politicians. He worried about the military-industrial complex and the erosion of culture at the hand of religious fanatics. Cindy put cigarettes out on the floor rather than look for an ashtray. They were very different. The only world Cindy cared about was right in front of her eyes. He suspected she knew something about life he didn’t. The mind sure was a strange instrument. The more he tried, the less he understood it.
Dick was eager to get his life started south of the border, but Cindy insisted on having pancakes. It took a little backtracking to find the perfect diner. She made it clear she was ‘an expert in these sorts of things’ and ‘you can’t just settle for any pancakes’. The winner was right on Main Street in a picturesque coastal village that could have doubled as a movie set or the next great American painting. Cindy ordered enough pancakes to feed a small army and Dick had a glass of grapefruit juice. He felt an uncomfortable sadness in the pit of his stomach when he thought about Jean. The middle aged heavy set waitress set a giant stack in front of Cindy and wished her luck. Her eyes opened wide and she drowned the plate and part of the table in syrup. Some kind of commotion quickly spread through the diner. People started getting up and soon everyone was crowding around the television set. Dick got up and went over to see what it was all about. Nothing could tear Cindy away from her pancakes. It was unclear what was happening but as the announcement was repeated everyone fell silent. The faces of the patrons and staff at the little diner displayed a mixture of shock and disbelief. Dick felt numb, and before his legs would give out from under him he managed to make it back to the booth.
‘What the matter?’ Said Cindy with syrup dripping from her chin.
‘Someone in Texas shot the president.’
‘Oh my.’ Was all she said before getting back to her food.
The fat waitress broke down in tears. Dick felt bad for her and realized he had to tip extra. The streets outside emptied out and the whole town came to a stand still. Dick figured this was as good a time as any to get out. He left some money on the table and walked out. On the walk back to the car, Cindy marveled at the store windows as Dick wrestled with all sorts of scenarios concerning the future of the country. Before they arrived at the car, Dick was thrown out of his daze by a yank to his arm. ‘What is it?’ He said annoyed.
‘I just saw your friend.’ Said Cindy.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Isn’t that your friend?’ Cindy pointed at the newspaper vending machine. It was the Times, and Jean’s face was right on the front page. Dick scrambled to find change and finally got his hands on a copy. “Young starlet Jean DuBois, escapes sanitarium, kills movie producer Seymour Gabori”. The article detailed the ordeal and went on to speculate on the motive. It labeled it a crime of passion “since the two had been romantically involved unbeknownst to Mr. Gabori’s wife whom he had refused to leave”. The newspaper had it all wrong. Dick knew Jean well enough to know this was no “crime of passion”. This particular movie producer had taken the part away from the wrong actress and for once in Hollywood, rejection came with grave consequences. Jean would have loved the fact that the paper had called her a starlet. If it hadn’t been for the LAPD providing her new accommodations, Dick was certain she’d be sending clippings of the article back home. It dawned on him that maybe this was all his fault, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty. He was no longer sure of what to do next. Should he go back to LA and stand by Jean’s side throughout her trial? Or maybe he would just complicate things since she had probably lost her mind and insanity was her best defense. Either way, she was finally going to be a Hollywood legend. Albeit for the time being, her fame will be short lived now that someone had shot the president. He told Cindy what had happened but she didn’t seem to care much. She told him she felt sorry for Jean, but she didn’t think she was a nice person. Dick knew she was right.
At the border he asked the guard how the president was doing and saw the answer on the man’s face before he opened his mouth. His words confirmed it, ‘the president is dead.’
‘It sure is.’ They observed an appropriate moment of silence since circumstances called for it. ‘You folks be careful now.’ Said the man as he waved them through.
Dick turned to Cindy, ‘My God, the president is really dead. Can you believe it?’
‘What’s Hunter got to do with it?’
‘He told me he loved serving the president.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘He said he worked for the government and loved serving the president.’
‘When did he say that?’
‘Out in the desert, after the man from outer space turned into a tree.’
‘That’s nonsense. You were high.’
‘So what? We both saw it and then Hunter showed me his badge.’
‘He had a badge, and he said I shouldn’t tell anyone, but the government sent him to look into Father John.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. I think he thought Father John was a colonist.’
‘You mean a communist?’
“Yes, that’s it.’
‘Jesus. Did you tell Father John about it?’
‘I did, but don’t tell Hunter because I like him and I promised him I wouldn’t say anything to anyone and I am only telling you because we are married and…’
Dick stopped listening to her and it didn’t take him long to arrive at a new conclusion. ‘That’s the spy Father John was talking about the last time we were up there!’
Dick felt stupid, but it didn’t last long. He was now terribly upset with Cindy. They were silent for a long time and then he was no longer upset with her. He thought about turning back, but the further he moved away from it all, the less things mattered. He felt guilty for leaving behind a wounded nation, but he couldn’t make a difference even if he stayed. In front of him laid the biggest sky he had ever seen. The sun started hugging the hills in the distance and it turned from pink to orange. He felt guilty imagining Jean in a cold cell, without her elegance and her liquor. But somehow he felt like she was going to come out on top. Cindy closed her eyes and let the cool evening air caress her face. She took a deep breath filling her lungs with freedom and simplicity. Looking at her gave him a great sense of peace, something he had never felt before. He couldn’t help but smile.
‘How old are you anyway?’ He asked.
(Dick Goes to Hollywood, an original short story written by Matias Masucci, first published in December of 2015.)