It becomes clear that the scheming student filmmaker’s only talent is for blackmail. 2,602 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
As the evening was drawing to a close, Danny Shields began to question his plan. Would he ruin his chances of being accepted at the USC School Of Cinematic Arts in the traditional way in the event the admissions office came to their senses and recognized his genius? If he replaced his cousin Chuckie with real actors, Danny was certain his movies would more than hold their own with the early works of notable auteurs.
It was now 9:30 p.m. and many of the alumni and a few of the prospective students were beginning to leave. At the buffet, Danny reached for the last of the salmon and maguro sushi that had been exposed to the air too long. It was that precise moment when Danny caught J.T. Quinn’s mirrored reflection approaching in a stainless steel tray. As Danny slid a few inches sideways, the Admissions Office executive absentmindedly stepped behind him, hovering only a few inches away, still indecisive on whether he would indulge himself with the picked-over platters.
Danny was on autopilot since he had envisioned a version of this very scenario at least fifty times from twenty different angles when he initially hatched the idea. He took out his refurbished iPhone and held it over his shoulder, as if he was casually photographing the gathering in a master. Danny reversed the lens, pivoted to his left, pressed record, then suddenly stepped backwards into Quinn, as if momentarily losing his balance, squishing his face in victim mode, the same way he had been rehearsing on the bus. J.T. reflexively mumbled, “Excuse me” and wandered off. Danny hit pause as Quinn steered his wife to the door, oblivious to what had just happened that would change his life forever.
A lover of old movies and their stars spends the day up close to a legendary actress. 3,450 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
All she had left were her cigarettes. All I could give her was a light.
I wasn’t some dimple‐chin Holden dying for a dip in her pool. And she wasn’t gunning for some big comeback. She already had plenty. Mostly horror. By then, it was typecasting. The face was half-frozen and lifted, more like yanked. I don’t know what she was going for but whatever it was, the doc didn’t get there. She wore these high ruffled old maid collars to hide the sailor’s knot of a neck and shoulder pads jutting out like a Chinese pagoda so you’d think she was sitting up straight. Top it off with a saucer hat sitting sideways on the wig like it was just flying by and got stuck.
I might’ve felt bad for her. But she wasn’t like that. You got the feeling if she could’ve lifted anything heavier than a lipstick she would’ve plugged you with it. Still, there was something between us, something more than just the chipped cocktail table crammed with gin‐fizzes and stacks of old Photoplays wrapped in plastic. Like I said, I wasn’t some glamour boy thumbing for a ride to nowhere. I was drawn to her, that’s all.
And just so you know, it was up and up, vice‐versa. Maybe she took to me because I was young. Youngish. And she could tell I was fascinated. They could always tell. But you had to be careful with those old Hollywood types. Those ancient little dolls held together with dim hope and enough rouge to paint the side of a barn.
Make no mistake, they could still suck the oxygen outta you if you weren’t watching your step.
They’d start with the favors.
“Could you hand me my bag, dear?”
Then it was making it so you’d cancel a date or two just to see ‘em.
“It gets so lonely in that dentist’s waiting-room.”
Set up phony appointments to give you a leg up.
“I know a Zanuck.”