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Chump
Part One

by Richard Natale

Today’s showbiz somebody was a nobody way back when. 1,481 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


On the third day of production, Dale Beauchamp dragged himself into the hotel just after midnight. He scanned a room that had seen better days. The bedspread was faded and one of the armchairs had an injured foot that caused it to list to one side. In the absence of any four-star accommodations within ninety miles, this was his home for the next four months during filming of his new series for Netflix.

Initially, he’d considered renting a house in a more secluded spot. But WiFi out of town was sketchy and the production office was only a two-minute walk from the hotel. The only decent places to eat – mostly mom and pop diners, and one not half bad “upscale” bistro – were located along the anonymous undulating blue highway outside his window. Otherwise, it was Arby’s or IHOP or other chains as far as the eye could see.

The set caterer, Cindy, was a townie who’d worked a few commercials, an affable young woman whose sewn-on smile never flagged even when she’d stubbed her toe. Yesterday, for the first time since he’d left home in Catesville, he ate sandwiches made with Wonder Bread. While he was far from a Hollywood elitist, Dale was caught up short by the fact that Wonder Bread was still being manufactured.

He made a note to have Lucille, the production supervisor, speak to Cindy but held out little hope. Their catering budget was restrictive. Working for streaming outlets made him nostalgic for the relatively lavish perks of mainstream cable, which were already a far cry from network shows. Every spare penny went to talent and production values. If it wasn’t up there on the screen, there’d be no second season, and he’d be making the rounds again with one of the half dozen film and TV projects his company was developing: working harder just to keep his name visible, praying for a break-out hit to afford him some leverage.

Dale’s unlikely rise from movie usher to distribution executive to running his own production company had been a slow but not overly bumpy ride. He’d kept his head down, nose clean, and just happened to be the most capable person in the room at any given moment. It helped that he’d been born with a nose for intractable temperaments, and a facility for sidestepping them. Having Cora as a wife was pure luck. The soul of pragmatism, she helped smooth his rough edges and he sought her clear-headed advice before making even minor decisions. His only regret was that she refused to partner with him in his endeavor. “The business gives me the yings,” she said. “I prefer to keep it at arm’s length.”

While Cora’s reticence was understandable, her calm demeanor and open arms would have come in handy during the long months on location, broken only by the occasional weekend visit whenever she could convince her persnickety mother to watch the kids. Cora had gone so far as to lift her objections to Dale watching porn while he was away, if only so he might resist the temptation of an on-set romance. “You flatter me,” he laughed. Cora was one of the few who regarded him as Romeo material. He’d never been much of a chick magnet, even before his hairline beat a retreat. He was more the big brother type in whom the ladies felt comfortable confiding their woes about other men.

Having witnessed the long-term damage of such liaisons, he was not about to jeopardize his marriage for a quick tumble. Only rarely was he propositioned, usually by actresses with under-five roles seeking steadier employment or production assistants in search of advancement. The glint of calculation in their eyes was sufficient to extinguish any fire in his loins. In the entertainment business, sexual exploitation can be an equal opportunity employer.

Now what was the name of that free porn site his friend, Roger, had told him about?

Fast forward.

Toward the end of the weather-cursed shoot, one of the camera trucks jack-knifed into a ditch on the way to a wooded location. The driver was okay but some vital equipment was damaged. While Lucille scoured the area for replacements, Dale juggled the recalcitrant insurance agents, forced to bounce from person to person. Each time, he had to start the spiel over again. He could have assigned the unpleasant task to someone else but on fiscal matters, it was wiser to be personally involved.

“Are you on hold?” Lucille said, tapping his shoulder.

“Eternally,” he nodded and wrinkled a nostril.

“I’ve located an ARRI. The guy who owns it is willing to let us have it for free if we hire him to operate it.”

“Does he have any credits?” Dale inquired.

“Local shoots. But he’s union and he emailed me his reel. Not half bad.”

“Show his stuff to the show’s cinematographer. If Percy has no objection, I’m okay. It’s only for a few days. I’ll find the money somewhere.”

An hour and three insurance agents later, he was again on hold when Lucille gave him the high sign, indicating Percy’s approval. “When can he get here?”

“About two hours. Lives in some shithole called Catesville.”

“Young lady, I’ll have you know that I was born and raised in that shithole,” Dale said. He threw in a laugh to reassure Lucille that she hadn’t committed a political boo-boo. “What’s his name?”

Lucille looked down at a piece of paper onto which she’d scrawled: Tate Frawley.

Dale visibly swallowed. “Bring him by as soon as he gets here. Just say ‘the producer wants to see you.’ No names.”

“Well, fuck me! Chump!” Tate said as he was escorted into Dale’s office. “I’d heard that you were some kind of mucky muck.”

Dale put on his affable producer face and extended his hand. “Good to see you, Tate. Thanks for helping us out of a jam. I should mention that, around here, we’re all on a first-name basis. Call me Dale.”

“Oh, I’m afraid you’re going to have to remind me a couple times about that one, Chump,” Tate said with a sly grin.

Dale couldn’t quite suppress a wince. After all these years, why was he not yet inured to Tate’s adolescent taunts. It had begun as “B. Chump” after Dale botched a crucial lay-up, but soon became simply “Chump.” Why did they matter now? His childhood hardly qualified as terrible. Catesville was as good a small town as any to grow up in, mostly working class, homogenous, and relatively crime free. But by his teen years, he’d begun to feel restricted by the town’s limited possibilities for upward mobility. Since departing for college, Dale had visited Catesville exactly once for his aunt Marjorie’s funeral, arriving and leaving on the same day. His parents had since migrated to Florida, his sister now lived in Mesa, and he’d never been close to the scattering of remaining relatives.

“How’re your folks?” he asked Tate who was craning his neck to peer at the photos of Cora and the kids on his desk.

“Mom had a hip operation last month. Dad’s the same old son-of-a-bitch.”

“Does he still own all those Ford dealerships?”

“Most of them.”

“And you? Married? Kids?”

“Divorced. Two boys. I see you got yourself one of each and a good-looking wife. Must be nice out there in El Lay.”

Dale continued to bite his tongue but his chitchat meter was running down. “Well, I won’t keep you. Just wanted to say hello and welcome you aboard. Percy’s a good guy. We’ve worked together for years. I think you’ll like him.”

“We’ll see,” Tate said, tipping the brim of his Pacer’s cap. “Maybe you and me can grab a bite and catch up while I’m here.”

“I tell you, buddy. I’m putting in fifteen-hour days and mostly eating on the run.”

“Got you,” he replied, almost as an accusation.

“Maybe a drink after we wrap,” Dale interjected.

“Okey, dokey. Well, off to work, boss.” Tate said, turning on his heel.

Dale had assumed that Tate would go into his father’s business, the perfect place for his cockiness and almost handsome looks. Growing up, Tate’s only struggle was fitting in as an Average Joe. His peers begrudgingly endured his smug remarks, seeing no reason to alienate a member of one of Catesville’s few prominent families. But if the man Dale had just encountered appeared frayed around the edges, Tate also seemed intent on covering it up behind his usual façade of smarm. Why had Tate ventured into the not especially lucrative profession of local camera operator, though Dale could guess who’d fronted Tate the funds to buy an ARRI.

For the moment, however, Dale decided to put it all aside to focus on the more worrisome problem of dealing with the insurance industry.

Part Two

About The Author:
Richard Natale
Richard Natale is a writer and journalist. His stories have appeared in such literary journals as Gertrude Press, the MCB Quarterly, Chelsea Station, Dementia, Wilde Oats, and the anthologies Image/Out, Happy Hours, and Off the Rocks. His novels include Love The Jersey Shore, Cafe Eisenhower (which received an honorable mention from the Rainbow Book Awards), Junior Willis, the YA fantasy The Golden City of Doubloon and the short-story compilation ISland Fever. He also wrote and directed the feature film Green Plaid Shirt which played at film festivals around the world.

About Richard Natale

Richard Natale is a writer and journalist. His stories have appeared in such literary journals as Gertrude Press, the MCB Quarterly, Chelsea Station, Dementia, Wilde Oats, and the anthologies Image/Out, Happy Hours, and Off the Rocks. His novels include Love The Jersey Shore, Cafe Eisenhower (which received an honorable mention from the Rainbow Book Awards), Junior Willis, the YA fantasy The Golden City of Doubloon and the short-story compilation ISland Fever. He also wrote and directed the feature film Green Plaid Shirt which played at film festivals around the world.

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