A screenwriter’s stolen pitch earns him a huge payday. Who can stop the film? 2,653 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. llustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Usually screenwriter Gavin Falconer drove down the hill toward Sunset like a maniac, tempting fate, but this time he took the blind curves with care.
Moving a corpse was harder than he imagined. He’d debated calling for help. It was an accident, he’d swear. Instead, he moved to the deck, picked up the hammer and returned to the kitchen where he turned on the hot water and watched as blood and stray bits of hair and skin eddied down the drain.
Then he popped the trunk of the Mercedes and found a huge roll of plastic left over from a roof leak. He used it to carry the broken body, twisted and impaled. Gavin managed to roll Dale Tomasis onto the plastic, then sealed the package with duct tape.
An hour later Gavin was winding his way through the Angeles National Forest. He pulled to the side of a small service road and cut the engine. He looked over the edge of a steep ravine. He grabbed the plastic package and dragged it from the trunk. One strong push, and Dale’s body was gone into the abyss.
Back at home, Gavin could think of nothing but sliding into bed, But then he saw Dale’s Prius. “Fuck me!” Gavin hissed.
He had Dale’s keys, though. He drove the Prius to Dale’s apartment, where Gavon headed straight to the story analyst’s computer. Soon Gavin was scrolling through a folder Dale had marked “Movie Ideas.” He discarded several as poorly thought out. He copied one with merit onto a flash drive he fished from a drawer. He found the pitch idea he had stolen from Dale, copied this as well, and deleted all the film files. Then Gavin slipped out the door.
He left Dale’s Prius next to MacArthur Park, with the windows cracked open and the keys on the seat. He headed to the Metrorail station, stepped up to a ticket machine, dug into his back pocket and his heart skipped. His wallet wasn’t there. Gavin recalled having it earlier. A small jolt of panic washed over him. From his front pocket he dug out Dale’s wallet. He opened it to find Dale staring back at him, a dorky smirk for the DMV. He pulled out some singles to buy a ticket to Union Station. He buried the wallet in the trash.
He got off at Union Station. He hit speed dial.
“What kind of trip did you go on with no luggage?” his married lover Barbara Pearlstein asked Gavin as her Tesla whispered them west.
“A short one,” said Gavin with a tight smile, hoping he sounded light and casual. “Very spur of the moment. And I’m gonna pay back the money I owe you. I swear, this time for real.”
“Alan working late?” he asked.
“Alan’s in New York this week.”
“Don’t take me home then. Take me to your place.”
“I don’t think so, Gavin.”
This was starting to piss him off. “Are you fucking somebody else?”
“I’m not married to you, am I?”
“All right. Fine.”
But Barbara continued on toward Trousdale, and her sleek mid-century home way at the top of a hill. Inside her bedroom, Gavin pumped and thrusted hard. He bit her ears and moved around to nibble her neck. He held her arms over her head until he exploded, hoping to release all the anxiety and revulsion over what happened in one climactic spasm. When he was done, he rolled off and stared up at the ceiling. Barbara was silent.
“Jesus Christ, Gavin,” she finally said. “You in some kind of trouble?”
He thought for a moment he might tell her everything
“No,” he finally answered. “Everything’s really looking up.”
Gavin’s deal made headlines on the home pages of all the trades. He read every word of every article about the sale of his theft of Dale’s idea without any pang of conscience. Then Gavin scanned the Los Angeles Times in search of any news about a corpse or a missing person. He watched the local morning news, too, but there was nothing. All of this helped Gavin pretend that none of it had ever happened.
He headed outside when he noticed a gorgeous young woman with a Doberman on a leash standing nearby. She was tall, maybe 25, wearing frayed cut-off shorts and a white t-shirt with, Gavin was fast to notice, nothing on underneath. She wasn’t moving.
“Can I do something for you?” Gavin asked.
“You’re Gavin Falconer,” she said. He was suddenly on guard until he noticed she was holding his wallet. “I’m staying down the hill. I heard noises last night and this morning I found your wallet near the back gate. I checked inside it to see if there was a driver’s license.”
Gavin grabbed it. “Thanks. It must have fallen off my deck.”
She smiled and started to head off.
“Wait,” Gavin said. “You want to tell me your name?”
She turned back, smiling. “Lucinda Penmar.”
“You staying with friends?”
“No. The house belonged to my great aunt. She died. My mom sent me up from El Centro to clean out fifty years of junk so we can sell.”
“You’ll get a fortune. Hey, maybe we can grab a beer or something.”
“You know where to find me.”
Again she turned to leave. He watched her ass.
Later he furiously scrubbed blood spatters off the stucco outside his house, then used white paint to cover the whole exterior wall.
But suddenly he had the sense he was being watched. He walked to the edge of the deck and checked out the house below at the base of the hill — a 1950s traditional badly in need of repair. Gavin thought a face looked back at him from an upstairs window.
His phone chirped. “Hey, rich boy,” Dmitri said, “saw the news. Lunch is on you today, eh?”
“Fuck you, you still have more money than me.”
“Maybe not for long. The club was half-empty last night.”
Another call interrupted. “Gavin?” a high-pitched female voice he didn’t recognize asked. It’s Precious Chaing-Lee!”
“Who?” said Gavin.
“I’m Lana Meisel’s Director of Development?”
Just hearing Lana’s name produced a surge of nausea in Gavin’s gut.
“I’m calling because Lana’s stuck down on the Great Barrier Reef where she’s taking part in this super important coral rescue? Anyway, she texted me to welcome you aboard.”
“Welcome aboard to what?”
“The studio assigned your new project to her. She is so looking forward to working with you again and will send a gift basket the very minute she gets back. But you and I should definitely set up a coffee or breakfast or lunch or drinks.”
“I’ll call you back.”
Gavin still blamed Lana Meisel’s meddling for the fact his first big project had gone nowhere. He got Kurt on the phone.
“How could you let them screw me like this? Lana fucking Meisel?”
“Look, Gavin, calm down. Her last movie made the studio a billion dollars globally. She’s very important to them right now. The other thing,” Kurt continued, “is she’s hooked into Chinese money and she may, in fact, be blowing the studio boss Jules LaVine. Finally, they’re gonna pay you a truckload of cash to write the fuck out of this idea. So eat it and shut up. Oh, and you owe me a big dinner. Which must be paleo and vegan, FYI.”
Didi Tomasis settled into her seat on the bus and thought how exciting it was to be visiting Hollywood for the first time. After numerous attempts to reach her twin brother Dale by phone, Didi decided to surprise him for their birthday. It must be because he’s so busy, she thought, that’s why he hasn’t returned my calls. Gran wasn’t happy to be left alone, but tough nuggies. Dale had barely lifted a finger to help except for occasionally sending checks. Sometimes Didi got angry about it, but she always sought the good in people and not the bad. Yet some people were just downright mean. She fixed her eyes on the view as the bus rattled west.
“You know, in the early part of Act Two, I think it’s important that we ramp up the tension,” said Lana Meisel.
Precious Chaing-Lee nodded furiously. “That is such an excellent idea, Lana,” Precious said. “Definitely ramp it up.”
Studio exec Brent Burnham said, “Do you think it should be closer to the mid-point, like right after the alien invasion?”
All of them now turned to Gavin. He smiled, nodded and wrote the note on a yellow legal pad.
“We need to have a creative meeting before you start,” Brent had said that morning in a conference call, three days after the sale. Gavin had spent most of those days holed up in his house, expecting the police to arrive at any moment. But no news of the crime surfaced. So Gavin now was focused on his movie.
When he ran into Lana in the reception area, Precious in tow, all of the resentment resurfaced. A fast-moving blonde bundle of nervous energy, Lana simultaneously shook Gavin’s hand, mouthed the word “genius” in his direction, barked orders to her nanny at home, scanned her iPad and texted furiously on her cell.
The meeting was going well. Gavin had sweated a little when Precious suddenly piped up that somebody, she couldn’t remember whom, gave a similar pitch at a tracking meeting she’d attended. Relief came when Lana cut her off.
"How about this third act problem,” Lana said now, looking at Brent. “Is our hero redeemed sufficiently?”
“Does he have to be?” Gavin asked. “This is a trilogy. Maybe redemption should be in the final chapter?”
“Here’s the thing, Gavin,” Lana replied. “Let’s treat each chapter of the trilogy as a stand-alone. At least for now. And if we want our dude to be The Man, likable and relatable and all that, yeah, we should redeem him. But how about a little respect for our heroine? Because what year are we in? She can be a force of power, too. She doesn’t have to be just eye-candy. That’s so last century.”
Brent interrupted. “Of course she has to stay hot too, right?”
“Well, duh,” Lana stated.
Again, Gavin took the notes and nodded.
Then Brent’s door opened, and studio boss Jules LaVine poked in his head. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” he asked, knowing nobody would say he was. Lana, Brent and Precious were on their feet before Gavin could set down his pad. “How’s it going?”
“Terrific,” said Lana.
“Excellent,” said Brent.
Precious just stood there, smile frozen in place.
Jules said, “You are very important to this studio, Gavin. We have a slot nineteen months from now. This movie can fill that. We need it to happen, and you’re gonna make it happen, right?
Gavin laughed nervously. He knew Jules was saying the same thing to twenty other writers on twenty other potential tentpoles. Still, visions of giant summer grosses could be blinding.
The meeting ran several more hours. By the time they were done, the pitch was significantly changed. Gavin was determined to be accommodating but also felt a proprietary sense of ownership. By day’s end, it was agreed that Gavin could begin to write.
He was nearly home when Gavin still had an eerie sense that he was under surveillance. He pulled up in front of that crumbling 1940s traditional and, from the street, he could see his house clearly. For a brief second, he saw a flash of Dale suspended in mid-air. He pushed that image from his mind, then a tap at the window startled him.
“Looking for me?” Lucinda asked. It was her aunt’s house.
“I wanted to thank you again for returning my wallet, saving me the hassle of canceling everything. How about you let me take you out to a club?”
“That’d be nice,” Lucinda said, smiling again.
“Okay if I swing by around nine?”
Inside his house the cell chirped. It was Barbara. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. The other night, you seemed a little on edge.”
“I’m good. You don’t have to worry.”
“Well, Alan’s extended his time in New York. You want to meet me up at Little Dume?”
“Your other boyfriend dump you?”
Barbara said nothing. Gavin could hear her take a drag off her cigarette.
“I’ve got plans,” said Gavin.
“Who are you fucking?” Barbara asked.
“Hey, you’re the one who said we’re not married.”
She ended the call. Gavin walked back out to the deck and looked down at Lucinda’s house. Again, he could swear a face was peering from an upstairs window. Then, just as quickly, it was gone.
It was dark when Didi Tomasis arrived in Hollywood. One hour and two stops later on yet another bus, she was heading west on Wilshire surrounded by mostly grim faced passengers. She tried to recall the last time she’d seen her twin. Two years ago? Three? They used to be so close.
She reached the end of a long block, negotiated her way across a busy boulevard, then proceeded to Dale’s address which she knew by heart. She saw it was a unit over the garage. But when she got there, she stopped short. A big padlock bolted the front door shut.
Didi rang the bell and called her brother’s name, but she got no response. Then she heard voices coming from the building at the base of the stairs, voices chattering in some foreign language.
“Excuse me,” Didi interrupted them, “I’m looking for my brother. Dale Tomasis.”
“I am looking for him, too,” one of the women answered in halting English. “He owes me two months’ rent. Then, poof, he’s gone. So I lock him out until he settles up. In one week, I begin eviction.”
Didi just stared. Dale was supposed to be a big success and this made no sense. “My brother would not just up and disappear.”
The landlady shrugged. Didi stood there, flummoxed.
“This is nice,” said Lucinda Penmar. She settled into the butter soft leather of the Mercedes as Gavin steered the car down the hill.
“I thought we’d go to a club that a friend of mine owns. Haven.”
“Really? I’ve been wanting to go but didn’t think I could get in.”
“You’ll get in,” Gavin said, and Lucinda grinned.
Inside Haven, Gavin steered her through the crowd and up the stairs to the VIP section where Dmitri threw his arms around Gavin. “Hey money bags!” he said and then planted a big sloppy kiss on Gavin’s neck while looking Lucinda up and down.
“Say hello to Lucinda.”
Dmitri led them to the bar and ordered drinks. “So which gutter did you find Gavin?”
“Actually it was his wallet I found. In the dirt behind my aunt’s house,” she replied.
Dmitri raised an eyebrow.
“It must have fallen off my deck,” Gavin explained
When Lucinda excused herself to go to the bathroom, Dmitri said to Gavin, “I don’t trust her. Dump her immediately.”
“You don’t even know her.”
“I know enough.”
But Gavin didn’t have time to respond because Lucinda returned, grabbed his arm and led him downstairs to dance.
Lucinda didn’t let Gavin into her aunt’s house when they returned. She did let him kiss her, a long deep exploratory one. But when he moved his hands to her ass, she pulled away. “I’m really kind of beat,” she told him. “I’ve got realtors coming to look at the house first thing in the morning and there’s still a lot of cleaning left to do.”
Gavin went to pet her dog. Buster sprung forward, snarling and spitting. “Not now, Buster,” Lucinda said and the dog instantly obeyed. “See you later,” she said to Gavin, then went inside and locked the door. Gavin could hear the dog barking and yelping as he headed to his car.