The screenwriter’s career is going gangbusters again. There’s just one last complication. 3,002 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
After three more weeks of intense procrastination, screenwriter Gavin Falconer jumped in his Mercedes and rocketed to his favorite Palm Springs haunt. He handed his iPhone, iPad, wallet and car keys to the concierge and told him to lock them up. He had the TV removed from his room. With the help of cigarettes, Kettle One, and vials of amphetamines, Gavin was able, without stopping, to crank out a draft in eleven straight days. He smelled foul and looked like shit, his hair and beard wild. He was half-blind from eye strain and could barely walk. But he managed to hit send by the deadline.
His agent Kurt McCann read the script and told Gavin he’d hit it out of the ballpark. Then Precious Chaing-Lee, the assistant to the producer Lana Meisel, called to set a notes meeting before the script went to studio executive Brent Burnham. Now Gavin was being escorted to Lana’s office where she was waiting along with Precious. Lana started the meeting with praise. Then she expressed concern that he’d failed to ramp up sufficient tension after the mid-point.
But mostly it was smooth sailing. Until Gavin suddenly said that he’d like to made a suggestion.
“Wait, a writer with a note?” Lana laughed uproariously. Within seconds, she’d tweeted what Gavin said, then held up her phone to show him the fast growing tally of ‘likes’ and retweets.
“Listen,” Gavin insisted. “I was just wondering whether to beef up the role of Monique.”
“Monique?” Lana said. “She’s in two scenes as eye-candy for the preteen boys who will want to jack off to her meme.”
Gavin needed his neighbor and now girlfriend Lucinda to play Monique. Soon after revealing the video footage, she’d moved into his house and read the draft of the script. Then she announced that she must play Monique — once Gavin beefed up the role. “I want work,” she’d said. “I want to be famous. And no, don’t tell me to do some reality show. I want a movie.”
“And if I tell you to go fuck yourself?”
“I have copies of everything. All the footage of you killing that guy.”
He saw in her eyes the sort of naked ambition he’d seen staring back at him in his own mirror. He also knew that successful acting was based not solely, sometimes not even remotely, on talent or hard work or even good fortune but on a hard-to-define killer instinct and the ability to capitalize on opportunity. Gavin told her that, as the writer, he’d have no say over casting. Lucinda refused to listen. Now Lana and Precious were insisting that he leave the Monique scenes alone. But he was fearful how Lucinda might react.
Lucky for Gavin, Haven was soon the location for a video shoot, and the director owed Dmitri a favor. Lucinda was hired mostly because she fit the bill of the twentysomething hottie who looks like sex personified and seduces the band’s lead singer. Nor did it surprise Gavin that Lucinda knew which camera angle was her best and how to hit her marks exactly. When the video was screened, it was suddenly like nobody else was on screen.
“I have some important info.” Kurt told Gavin after the waiter took their orders. Only months earlier, Gavin had been panicked that his agent was about to fire him.
“I had drinks with Brent last night. He’s ninety-five percent certain Jules is going to greenlight the movie. They have that slot to fill. And a major actor who for now shall remain nameless is sniffing around, as is a major actress. And the Chinese are happy after you included those scenes in Beijing. So we need to go out with something new the minute the trades come out. How’re you doing on that Netflix pilot?”
“I need to confess, I never started it.”
“They paid you some cash so you have to write something.”
“What about another pitch?”
“You got one?”
Gavin smiled and happily dug into his steak tartare.
Later that night, lying next to Lucinda who was sleeping soundly, Gavin was restless. He headed to his office and started a file, “Pitch Ideas.” When nothing came, he pulled out the flash drive from Dale’s apartment. Again, Gavin read the magical fable about a little boy, his twin sister and their grandmother. It was soft but very commercial. He began the process of honing it into something he could sell.
Didi Tomasis filed a missing person’s report on her twin brother Dale. But time passed with no word. She found a part-time job to pay the rent on Dale’s apartment for another month. And she continued combing through Dale’s files in search of clues. Sh found a folder of printed reports labeled “Project Notes.” On one movie the studio was going to make was a writer’s name: Gavin Falconer – the same initials “G.F.” written on Dale’s calendar the night he went missing.
“You think ‘G.F.’ could be Gavin Falconer?” Didi later asked Marjorie.
“I remember Dale was asked to do notes on a number of drafts for a movie Gavin was writing. I don’t think they were friends though.”
“Can you get me his number?”
Marjorie gave her the info for Gavin’s agent.
Didi placed the call immediately and was told Kurt McCann wouldn’t give out his clients’ numbers to strangers. But Sergeant Martinez came through for her. He not only had a current phone number for Gavin Falconer, but an address and some bank records. He wouldn’t turn them over until she’d meet him for a drink at a nearby bar.
He was out of uniform, in faded Levis and a shirt unbuttoned enough so she could see the curly black hairs on his chest. She smiled at him and laughed at his jokes, all along trying to figure out how to get what she needed and then escape.
“I really could use that number now,” Didi said as he dropped her off in his pickup truck.
“You always in such a big hurry?”
Martinez pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. Didi thought she might be home free, but she was wrong. He just dangled it in front of her.
“One kiss,” he said.
Sensing she would get nowhere without giving him something, she said. “I know what you really want. If I touch it, will you give me that piece of paper?”
“With your mouth?”
“No. I’ll give you a hand job.”
Yes, Didi was learning that everything in L.A. had a price.
“Did you get the news about the movie?” Lucinda asked Gavin, who was sprawled on a chaise on the deck. He squinted up at her. She wore the top half of a very tiny bikini, and tight cut-offs torn in all the right places.
“They budgeted it. And they closed a director deal for this Brit, Tommy McKewan, who does these mega-budget trilogies.”
“You’re on a roll, Falconer,” Lucinda complimented him.
It was true. Everything about this project was easy-going, for him and for Lucinda, too. She had, in short order, acquired an agent, a publicist, a manager and a small part in a popular sitcom. Gavin had watched her do a recent interview, where she was asked about her big break. He half-expected her to say, “Well, I witnessed a brutal murder, and now I’m blackmailing the killer, who I’m also fucking!” Instead she quoted from her newly manufactured bio.
Lucinda was still talking about the movie. “I bet the part of Monique hasn’t changed. It’s not as big as I’d like.”
“Talk to the director.”
“I might just do that,” Lucinda said. “Maybe he’ll be there tonight. Come help me figure out what to wear.”
She was going to the opening of some boutique in Beverly Hills. Lucinda stripped off the bikini top and shorts and yanked a short black dress from a hanger. She slipped it over her head. He could see nothing but cleavage and thigh. “It’s good,” Gavin complimented.
Her phone chirped. “Car’s here. You sure you won’t come?”
“I’ve got work to do.”
Gavin carried his laptop out to the deck. He rehearsed his new pitch. “We open with a tight shot on the eyes of a young boy. We pull back and see a look of pure terror on his face. He’s afraid of something we can’t yet see. He opens his mouth to scream as we CUT TO…”
Gavin paused. He returned to the laptop because he couldn’t remember the next beat. Then he began again.
Later, Gavin met studio exec Brent Burnham for a drink. Their movie now was like an unstoppable train, churning relentlessly toward production. “I hear you’re coming out with a pitch. Gonna give me first crack?” the studio exec asked.
“We’ll see,” Gavin said, savoring the sense of power.
Neither Lucinda nor Gavin noticed when they left the house that a car was parked just up the street. Inside sat Didi. She had examined Gavin’s bank records and the balance prior to the date when Dale was last seen was mostly negative. Then, a short time after Dale disappeared, there was a wire transfer so massive it made Didi gasp.
Slowly she exited the car and made her way down the hill. At the bottom she saw that the sliding glass door on the deck was open. So she gripped one of the posts and slowly clawed her way up to it. Then she climbed over and froze — for there, sitting calmly but softly growling, was a large brown dog.
“Hi!” Didi said, trying to contain her panic. The Doberman snarled. Didi had to get inside that house. She suddenly recalled something she and Dale used to do with their own dog when they were kids.
“Squirrel!” she screamed, pointing to a corner of the deck.
To her surprise, the dog bounded off toward the corner. Didi bolted through the sliding glass door and quickly slammed it shut.
Now inside the house, she spotted a laptop and woke it from sleep mode. On screen was a file marked “New Pitch.” She read it and started to feel ill. She knew this story, had heard it straight from the mouth of her twin who’d created this magical fable about himself, Didi and Gran as a way of lulling her to sleep after their parents had died. He had told it so many timestwi she could recite it.
She was so absorbed in her reading that she failed to hear Gavin’s Mercedes roll into the garage. He entered the house, then saw Didi, and their eyes met. For what seemed like an eternity they stared at each other. “You son of a bitch,” Didi finally shouted.
Gavin flinched, as if she’d struck him.
“Where’s my twin brother?” she screamed. “He’s dead isn’t he?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But if you don’t leave now, I’ll call the cops,” Gavin countered.
“Good idea. I’m sure the LAPD will want to know why my brother’s work is in your computer, and how, just a day after he vanished, you made a very big movie sale. In fact, maybe I’ll call the cops myself.”
She was reaching into her pocket for her cell but instead let out a small shriek. Because standing there was Lucinda, and Buster was by her side, growling. Lucinda gave the command, “Not now.” She turned to Didi and Gavin and said, “What’s going on?” so calmly that Gavin realized she was a better actress than he’d thought.
“He murdered my brother!” Didi screamed.
“My God,” Lucinda said, her face a convincing mask of shock. “Gavin, that’s just not true, is it?”
Lucinda moved to Didi’s side. “Start at the beginning,” Lucinda said. “Tell me everything.”
Didi suddenly sensed danger. “I’m going to leave,” she said.
What happened next, happened in an instant. Didi moved fast toward the door. Lucinda turned to Buster. “Now!” she ordered.
The dog leapt forward and tackled Didi to the ground. When she tried to escape, Buster tore at her flesh with his bared fangs and blood was suddenly everywhere. When she managed to briefly escape, Lucinda grabbed a vase and brought it down hard in one ferocious blow to the front of Didi’s skull. Now Didi crumpled to the ground and lay there, lifeless.
Lucinda turned to Gavin and hissed, “I need your help.”
Gavin didn’t help. He fled from the house. He drove for hours up Interstate 5, north through Central California, then east toward the Bay Area. On one long straight stretch he went pedal to metal, and the throaty engine roared, bringing the Mercedes way over one hundred in seconds. He considered slamming the beast into a pillar. But he didn’t.
He’d programmed into his GPS his now divorced ex-lover Barbara Pearlstein’s new address in Sonoma and left a message that he was on the way. He steered the Benz to a mission-style house that looked down over Tomales Bay and was set amid vineyards.
Barbara led him into the living room. She poured them both drinks.
“This place agrees with you,” Gavin said. “You seem relaxed.”
“I wish I could say the same for you.” She was looking at him appraisingly. “Remember, I told you to beware, didn’t I? That unless you got away, you might rot?”
“I think I knew then it was too late. So if you’ve come here for some kind of redemption, you’re not going to find it.”
“You knew I was bad the minute you laid eyes on me.”
“True,” Barbara said. “I was no saint either. But my hunch is you’ve crossed an invisible line, and now there’s no going back.”
Then she asked him to leave.
He headed south, but close to home he detoured toward Point Dume and wound up at the gate that led down to the little pristine stretch of beach. He waited until someone unlocked the gate and he slipped in. Gavin followed the dirt path to the ocean. The waves were bigger this day, the current stronger, and at first he just watched because the truth was he was a little afraid of the sea. But Barbara once told him that fear was good for clarity. It would get the adrenalin pumping. It would clear his mind and get it to focus, and then he would know what he had to do.
Gavin stripped off his clothes and buried his wallet and cell beneath. He waded into the churning water, then plunged further into the depths. Now the water was at his neck. He could feel his heart pounding. Part of him yearned to run back to the safety of the sand. But he pushed forward, fighting the panic, until the water was over his head.
Less than a year after his last stratospheric sale, Gavin landed a seven-figure deal for a thirteen episode Netflix series based on his latest pitch. The streaming service had seen the potential for the fanciful tale, with hints of magic, about a boy, his twin sister and their grandmother, that could go on for many seasons. Not only was he the creator but also the producer as well. A few months later, Gavin earned a generous production bonus on the movie, which financed the downpayment on Barbara’s old place on Point Dume.
Now, as a hybrid SUV ferried him toward the movie’s full-frills premiere, Gavin considered offering his screenwriter rival Trish Danaher a lift from the parking lot. But she looked so sour off her latest failure that he decided she’d cast a pall over his good vibe.
“Tell me again what your publicist said?” Gavin asked Lucinda, who was seated next to him looking drop-dead gorgeous as always. She’d not only snagged the part of Monique but talked the director into making it bigger.
“I’ve said it three times, Gavin. He’s seen the tracking which is predicting an epic-sized opening.”
The SUV in front of them unloaded studio boss Jules, his executive Brent, the producer Lana and her underling Precious. Now Gavin and Lucinda were ready to walk the Red Carpet. He considered a smile but decided on a blank facade of disaffected ennui instead.
Standing just outside the doors to the lobby, Gavin released his grip on Lucinda and turned to look back at the crowd. They’re all here because of me. One idea and now all this. That the idea was never his no longer entered Gavin’s mind. He had clarity about that ever since that day on the beach when the churning surf spit him back onto the sand. He lay there, naked and shivering, struggling to catch his breath but also laughing. He had done what he needed to do. He had achieved his goal. Now Gavin stepped through the doors and accepted the hands of all the well-wishers.
The movie opened. As predicted, it did epic business all over the globe. Parts two and three of the trilogy were now underway.
Gavin got offered projects constantly these days, so when he spotted a plain manila envelope outside the gate to his house, he figured it was one more to add to the pile. Inside was a script. He began to read. It was a murderous tale about a killer screenwriter, a hapless story analyst, and a starlet actress with a lust for blood. He flipped to the end. The writer and the actress die in the bedroom of a mansion by the sea. He wondered who could have written it. There was one person he could think of, but she…
Before he finished the thought, Lucinda walked in. Gavin just stared at her. “What?” she asked.
“You need to read this.”
“I have people who do that for me,” she reminded him.
He tossed the script to her. She caught it with one hand. She opened her mouth to protest, but Gavin cut her off.
“Shut the fuck up and read!”