The screenwriter is being watched and followed. Will a woman expose his crime or blackmail him? 2,546 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
In the dream, screenwriter Gavin Falconer struggled again with story analyst Dale Tomasis. They were in the dirt at the base of the deck. Dale threw Gavin to the ground, and then Gavin couldn’t move, as if he’d been paralyzed. He screamed and woke up, covered in sweat. He took a moment to catch his breath, then rose, naked, from the bed. He walked through his silent house. In the kitchen he downed a Xanax with a slug of Kettle One. He grabbed his laptop and headed outside. He took some deep breaths and gazed at lights twinkling up from below. It was dead silent in the hills, a good time to start writing.
He typed a slug line: EXT. DEEP SPACE – NIGHT.
He sat back and stared at the words and thought about his pitch of story analyst Dale’s idea. The first act covered so much ground, he wasn’t sure how to begin. He paced the length of the deck several times, then sat back down and began stabbing at the keys again.
“Lame!” he said out loud, deleting the opening paragraph.
He tried again. “Fuck!” he shouted, because these new words sucked, too. Then he remembered the flash drive from Dale’s desk. Gavin headed inside, found it and plugged it into his computer. Dale’s “Movie Ideas” came up on the screen. Gavin scanned through them but couldn’t find notes or even an outline. Jesus, Gavin thought, was that all this fucker had?
An hour later Gavin was still scrolling. Most of the ideas he dismissed with a this sucks or been done. But one caught his attention, a magical fable about a boy, his twin sister and their grandmother. Gavin read it to the end, slowly stroking the stubble on his chin.
Didi Tomasis had a pillow clamped over her ear and the covers pulled tight over that to drown out the noise. But the shouting just outside her motel window only grew louder. It was an argument between a man and a woman, something about money, but the voices stopped abruptly at the sound of a police siren. At least they’re paying attention, Didi thought as she crawled back into bed. Because she had been to the LAPD station and gotten nowhere.
When it had been her turn to speak to an officer, she’d blurted out, “Something horrible has happened to my twin brother Dale!” Then she’d burst into tears.
“Start at the beginning,” said the officer, handing her a Kleenex but barely looking up from his computer. As she explained, he asked questions. “Any signs of a struggle?” “Anything missing from the apartment?” “How do you know his things are even there if you couldn’t get in?” “Is his car there?” “Maybe your brother decided to move?”
“I don’t think so, but…” Didi kept responding.
“Look, with no evidence of a crime, there’s not much we can do,” the officer concluded.
Didi felt like a part of her had been severed. Back in bed, she was about to drift off to sleep when the sensation that her skin was on fire made her bolt upright. But when she closed her eyes again and tried to force her mind to go blank, all she could see were flames.
Near MacArthur Park, a passerby called 911, and the firefighters came. The car smoldered. Soon there was nothing left but a hissing burned out shell. The driver of the tow truck hauled the charred hulk of what once was Dale’s Prius to the impound lot downtown.
Gavin barely breathed as Dr. Gladstone jabbed the needle into a spot on the forehead. The Botox injection lasted just a second and the line on Gavin’s brow vanished. Dmitri had been telling him for months he looked like shit, and after Gavin inspected his face during yet another restless night, he realized damage control was in order. Dr. Gladstone completed four more injections.
“For the next day or so,” the plastic surgeon said, “try not to smile.”
Gavin figured that wouldn’t be hard.
Later Gavin was having lunch with his agent Kurt McCann who said, “You seem distracted. Everything’s okay, right?”
“Everything’s great,” replied Gavin, even though he still hadn’t written a word on the new script, and the first draft was due in just eight weeks.
Kurt continued. “They’ve started talking to directors. I don’t suppose you’d want to start turning in pages now?”
“No,” Gavin said. “It’s distracting and slows the process down.”
Gavin tried to eat, but his stomach was in knots. That morning, the local TV station had flashed “Breaking News!” accompanied by a helicopter shot of a wooded canyon in the Angeles National Forest, a coroner’s van, and an oblong object covered by a white tarp. Gavin was able to breathe again after the news anchor announced that the body belonged to a female, the latest victim of a serial rapist.
Gavin glanced across the patio as Kurt paid the bill. He spotted his screenwriter rival Trish Danaher at a corner table with her rep. They seemed to be arguing. Trish’s movie just had the lowest per-screen-average of any wide release over the weekend which meant sad half-empty theaters. Gavin couldn’t hide a small smile.
“C’mon, I drove all the way here. Let me in,” Gavin said into the intercom at the gate of his married lover Barbara Pearlstein’s house on Point Dume.
“This isn’t a good time,” Barbara’s voice came crackling back.
“I’ve got something for you. It won’t take long.”
The gates swung open. Just as he was getting out of the Mercedes, Barbara came out the front door in a gauzy sundress and large straw hat. Stripped of make-up, expensive jewelry and designer clothes, she looked fresh as the cool breeze sweeping in from the ocean.
“I was headed to the beach,” she said. They walked to where the road ended at a locked gate. Barbara produced a key, then they descended a steep set of stairs, followed a narrow dirt path, crossed a small bridge and arrived at the Pacific. As always, this stretch of beach was mostly empty.
“So,” Barbara said, “what do you have for me, Gavin?”
He pulled an envelope from his pocket. Inside Barbara could see a hefty stack of new $100 bills. She arched an eyebrow.
“I told you I’d pay you back.”
“You could have written me a check.”
“Nothing makes a statement like a big fat wad of crisp cash.”
Barbara laughed. Then she tucked the envelope into her bag. “Thank you, Gavin. I had faith in you. And in your talent.”
For a moment he felt like confessing that he was a fraud, and worse. “Right,” was all he said as he gazed at the ocean.
“Anyway, now I can say goodbye. Because I’m leaving, Gavin.”
“No. I’m leaving town and I’m leaving Alan. I filed for divorce. That’s why I called you the other night. I made the decision and wanted to tell you. I was born in L.A. and I’ve spent my whole life here. I need a change of scenery.”
“Where will you go?”
“North, I think. There’s a property in Sonoma I’m looking at with a vineyard. Hell, I drink enough wine so I might as well make some of that money back.”
Gavin smiled. He tried to picture her surrounded by grapes, this pampered beauty, so much a product of Southern California.
“Don’t you ever get to a point where everything about your life just gets on your nerves, and you either need to get away or else something horrible might happen?”
“Sure,” Gavin said, knowing exactly what she meant.
“You could come with me if you want,” Barbara said and it actually sounded genuine.
“I can’t. Not now.”
“Why not? Your business corrupts people. One day you might wake up and find you’ve gone rotten to the bone.”
Gavin had no answer to that.
Back at home, Gavin carried his laptop out to the deck again. This time, he settled into a chaise, opened up his script file and stared at the screen. Slowly he began to type but this time he let his imagination wander and didn’t stop until he had a full first page. Then he rose to stretch and do a few push-ups. Down went Gavin, then up, then down. And then he froze.
He peered closely at the house below. Mounted at each corner of the iron gate that surrounded his neighbor Lucinda’s place were two security cameras pointed directly up at Gavin’s home and backyard.
Gavin slowly backed away as a chill ran up and down his spine.
Didi Tomasis was finally inside her twin brother’s apartment after paying the delinquent rent to the landlady. She surveyed the tiny rental which was so different from what Dale had led her to imagine.
She found instructions for his voicemail. One caller’s voice increased in urgency. “Dale? Hello? It’s Marjorie. You’re not answering texts or emails or calls. We’re all freaking out here. Call the office. Please?”
Didi scanned Dale’s desk and found his calendar. The last entry showed “Premiere” and then, under it, “Haven” and then the letters. “G.F.” She looked for an address book, keyed in Marjorie Thornhill’s number and left a message.
Two seconds later Didi’s cell rang. “Where the hell is Dale?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
“Where are you?”
“At his apartment.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Marjorie ended the call before Didi could even respond.
Fifteen minutes later Didi opened the door and Marjorie wrapped Didi in a hug. “Dale talked about you all the time. I’ve always found twins intriguing.”
“Did Dale really talk about me?” Didi asked, because deep down she wasn’t sure if he really cared.
“Oh sure,” Marjorie said, heading straight to the kitchen and pulling out a bottle of wine. “So where is that brother of yours?”
“I was hoping you would know.”
“We’ve worked together for 10 years. I’m a story analyst, too. I saw him at the office on Wednesday. Then he didn’t show up for work,” Marjorie said. “That’s when we all started to worry. My boss even called the cops, but they said he probably just took off and that it happens it all the time.”
“That’s what they told me, too. Does the word ‘Haven’ mean anything to you?”
“There’s a club in Hollywood called Haven. But it’s all hipsters, models and actors. Not exactly Dale’s crowd.”
“Can you take me there?”
Soon they drove past Haven’s entrance. Marjorie looked at the long line and said, “Sorry, Didi. We’re not getting in there tonight. Or, actually, ever.”
Didi nodded. She was watching a big black Mercedes pull up to the valet and a couple emerge: a pretty young woman and an intense-looking man. Didi realized he was looking at her as if he knew her.
Gavin tried to erase that young woman’s face from his mind, but she looked so familiar it was unsettling. And she’d been staring right at him outside the entrance to Haven.
The club was packed with bold-face names, and his agent cornered him by the bar. “You’re out partying, dude? Aren’t you supposed to be writing?”
“I’m taking a break,” Gavin said. “You’ll get your pages.”
Gavin spent the rest of the night getting his date and neighbor Lucinda wasted and then into her house. Now as she slept, Gavin moved toward the bedroom door. He pulled it open slowly. Her big brown Doberman was sprawled on the hallway floor, staring at him, ready to pounce. Gavin glared back, let out a low grunt and then, as per Lucinda’s previous instruction, whispered, “Not now, Buster.” The dog rolled onto his back and accepted a tummy rub. Gavin stepped over him.
Downstairs he had to orient himself in the dark. He began his search, by pulling open drawers and closets.
“You looking for something, Gavin?”
Lucinda was standing at the threshold to the living room, now in a nightgown so sheer he could see her nipples and the gentle taper of her thighs.
“You tell me,” he said after a moment of silence.
She reached for a key and explained, “My aunt had this obsession with security ever since a lady down the road was murdered by robbers.” Lucinda unlocked a concealed door. “So she had this safe room built to hide in.”
She indicated to Gavin to join her inside. It was barely big enough for them both, windowless, its walls lined with steel. She moved to where a hidden cabinet housed a bank of video monitors.
“Cameras cover every inch of the house, inside and out,” she said. “Take a seat, Gavin, this will get a second to cue up. I started fooling with this stuff and pointed the cameras up at your place because I thought you were hot. Then I saw this.”
She hit “play” and Gavin’s struggle with Dale unfolded. “At first it was, like, two dudes fighting. Typical testosterone,” she narrated. “But then I rewound it.” Gavin was confronted with the scene where he slammed the hammer into Dale’s skull.
Lucinda hit “pause” and the video froze. “The same day I found your wallet, I saw the trade articles about you making some big movie sale. It was his idea, wasn’t it? That’s why you killed him?”
All sorts of lies, half-truths and justifications briefly danced through Gavin’s mind. “Yeah,” he finally said. “I was doing that fuck a favor! But things spun out of control. You want money to keep quiet?”
All she did was smile cryptically.
Didi Tomasis walked into the police precinct again and asked for the officer she’d spoken to before. “Any sign of your bro?” Sergeant Omar Martinez asked.
She unfolded the registration to Dale’s Prius.
“Now we can run it through our computers,” he said, typing at the keyboard. But he had to keep repeating strokes. “Listen, our system is down. Why don’t you leave me a way to get in touch with you. Soon as I get any info on the Prius, I’ll let you know, okay?”
“I learned something else,” she said. “On the night of the last day anybody saw him, I think he went to a club called Haven.”
Later, in bed and dreaming, Didi saw herself and Dale as children, and their mother and father were still alive. They were in the family wagon. It was night, and Didi and Dale amused themselves by trying to name constellations. And then a giant hole opened in the sky, and Didi suddenly found herself in the clouds, looking down at the family car, which was speeding towards a cliff. Didi opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. And just as the wagon was about go airborne, she bolted awake and realized the door bell was ringing.
“Maybe we should sit,” Sgt Martinez said when she opened the door.
“Just tell me,” Didi said.
“Your brother’s car is at an impound lot. It was found near MacArthur Park. On fire. No human remains.
Somehow Didi’s nostrils filled with the smell of burning flesh. She sprinted to the bathroom just in time and vomited.
It was like she was rotting from the inside.