Famous Last Words
Part One

by Sara Hammel

The CelebLife reporters go hunting for a scoop, while the powerhouse publicists protect their A-list clients. 2,475 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

Quinn clicks a button and up comes someone I once met, a lanky boy with innocent eyes, freckled cheeks, and a shy smile.

“Tristan Catlin,” Tracey narrates. “What the hell happened to him?”

I don’t know. The shy lanky boy I met on the ice that day no longer exists, and I don’t know what did it to him, Hollywood or life. His eyes are puffy, he’s got a hint of alcohol bloat (I know from bloating), and he’s had his normal-looking nose whittled down to please the cameras.

Tristan became the darling of independent film a few years after I interviewed him. The world was introduced to “Tristan Tears” when he cried in every other scene in And She Played On, a movie in which his piano-genius wife threw herself in front of a car to save his life. It earned him an Oscar nod but no award. Marrying America’s sweetheart, Josephine Jansen, put him on the A-list and secured him a role in an action franchise. But his marriage to Josephine began to crumble. She held on for a long time, after co-star affairs and rumors of various addictions, but now they’re embroiled in a messy split.

“We’re hearing Tristan is still living at the house. He’s been seen there,” I say. I’m Augusta Noble, a freelance reporter for CelebLife, one of the world’s most read media outlets. I ended up in the Los Angeles bureau after the London office was shut down abruptly due to budget cuts.

“Great,” Maguire Carnaby, the conniving L.A. bureau chief and my bitch of a boss, nods to me. “Is Ivan confirming?”

“Does he ever?”

I get a hit of nausea in the middle of the morning editorial meeting from just the mention of hyper-controlling powerhouse publicist Ivan “The Deceiver” as the staff picks over fresh paparazzi shots of his clients. He’s both a thorn in CelebLife’s side and a mythical beast spoken of in hushed tones. He’s also someone who might remember me; I’m still not sure if he got a good look before I ran out on his client’s coke-doused hundred dollar bill.

“Right. So how’s he doing?” Maguire asks.

“I’m hearing from sources that Tristan’s pulling away from Josephine for good this time,” Esdee says. “But he still wants to be seen as a family man. He can’t be the guy who leaves his family when Josephine Jansen’s a saint.”

“A doormat, you mean,” someone mumbles.

“Look,” Maguire says, “this couple is priority Number One. His big premiere is Thursday. Augusta’s doing the Red Carpet.”

“He’s not going to talk that night,” Uvula sniffs. “If he even shows up.”

“We know that,” Maguire snaps. “Tracey’s inside the after party and Esdee’s on sources. We’re covered.”

“Let me know if you need any help,” I chime in. “I’m happy to pitch in.”

“Do you have sources?” Maguire turns an icy gaze on me.

I have to shake my head no.

“Didn’t think so,” she replies. “Stick to the carpet and get all the color you can. If Tristan so much as looks at a female for more than two seconds, report back. That said, he might skip the entire thing. But we need to be ready. Now, other assignments for the day. Esdee?”

Esdee nods. “I need someone good for this sexual abuse charity gala tonight. It’s sensitive. In other words, no cub reporters.” She throws a look my way. “Augusta, you free?”

I nod. “Sure.”

“Speaking of events,” Tatiana says to Maguire, “I’ve been getting complaints from stringers. They need more work and gripe that, apparently, we’ve been doling out too many events in-house.”

I want to crawl under the table.

Maguire looks at me. “I’ll take that under advisement,” she says.

On the way out of the meeting, Maguire waits for me at the door. “Walk with me,” she says without looking up from her phone. She strides down the hall alongside Uvula while I nip at their heels. “You’re doing a decent job in the office,” Maguire says tightly. “But if you can’t start producing sources, I’m not sure how much more I can use you.”

Use you. Such an apt turn of phrase. She works her thumbs on her phone.

“Everyone’s on the same footing in this bureau, Augusta. No sources, no job. That’s how it works.”

She looks up. I see a glint of enjoyment in her eyes as I squirm. “If our loyal stringers — all people we’ve known for years — don’t have enough assignments to keep them busy, that doesn’t work,” she adds.

We’re at her office door. Uvula walks into the office next to hers, not even noticing me, let alone remembering me from London.

“I get it,” I lie. “That’s why I volunteer to go out so much at night. I’m always working to build sources.”

“Talk to me when you have actual sources”

With that, I am dismissed.

Great. I’ll just sidle up to Lady Gaga’s gardener and try to get some intel without her calling the cops on me.

I head back to my cubicle. London seems farther away than ever.

That evening, i dress like it’s the Oscars for the Tristan Catlin premiere, donning my prettiest yet most painful un-scuffed heels, two layers of body-shapers, and a flattering black dress.

On the Red Carpet, I get a bad crick in my neck from swiveling around every few minutes to look for Tristan. He’s the key to my making it at CelebLife — if I can get him. The young Tristan liked the teenaged me, but I’m doubtful he’ll even notice me tonight. Remember the Jeff Goldblum Rule, I remind myself, “Never assume a celebrity will remember you, because they probably won’t." But a part of me is desperate for him to recall catching me on the ice.

Massachusetts, 1999

I pull open the heavy door and step into the Farnsboro Skating Rink, recoiling at the blast of smelly chilled air hitting me in the face. It’s like being in a refrigerator full of teenage boys’ sneakers. I pad across the foam floor and remind myself to act interested in this so-called “celebrity” charity hockey game which, in this part of the world, usually means a vicious blood match between the Bison Lodge and the local Knitting Club.

I’m two weeks away from heading off to college, and it’s been a tough summer at a two-week summer internship with the Suburban Boston Times Daily. I’m getting paid in gas money and tuna sandwiches from the newsroom vending machine. A sandy-haired man in a blue hockey uniform rushes up to me as I approach the ice.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m here for the event — Augusta Noble with The Boston Suburban Daily Times?”

I stand at the edge of the rink as athletic males whizz along the ice and mill about at the edges with fetchingly sweaty tendrils of hair pasted to their faces.

“You’re going to want Matthew Perry,” the guy’s saying.

“Matthew Perry? Ha,” I chuckle. “Same name as the guy on Friends.” Same as the guy on the wall behind my bed, along with the rest of the cast.

He turns to me with an odd look on his face. “You’ll also want to talk to Jason Priestley, I assume.”

“Yeah,” I chuckle again. Jason Priestley is also on my wall.

Come to think of it, none of the guys on the ice look like members of the Landesboro Bison Lodge. I take another look around and there, halfway across the ice, is Chandler Bing.

I’m instantly nervous bordering on freaking out.

Bulked out with protective pads, Matthew Perry races in our direction, gripping his hockey stick in both hands. I flinch as he barrels at me, but at the last second he whooshes to a sexy ice-stop, expertly twisting to the side and kicking up a cloud of crystals.

“Hey,” Matt says.

“Hey,” I say.

My interview with one of the biggest TV stars in America is off to a cracking start. I picture the ghosts of Martha Gellhorn and Nellie Bly shaking their heads. I work hard to focus. I manage to ask about the charity Matthew is here to raise money for.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he replies, smiling shyly, not a cocky Chandler vibe to be felt. “It’s an honor. I grew up in Ottawa, skating on the canal through the city, so this is where I feel my best.”

And suddenly, I’m Augusta, girl reporter.

“So, you’re good?” I name the only Canadian hockey player I know. “Like, Wayne Gretzky good?”

He cocks his head. “Why don’t you give it a try? I’ll keep you upright. Come on.”

He holds my hand tight, it seems I’m OK and, stupidly, I let go of his hand. I take one step and I’m falling, waving my arms like a windmill to right myself, and Matt can’t help because he’s in front of me and he’s on skates, and as I’m toppling backwards to my certain death, I feel arms catch me, envelop me, and set me upright.

Whoever it is holds me up until I’m safely off the ice. I turn and find a tall lanky guy with shaggy sandy-blond hair. “Thanks,” I say. He has great eyelashes, dark and long, framing emerald-green eyes. And I almost fall over again because his eyes are connecting with mine like we’re the only people here. He’s not much older than I am; somewhere between nineteen and twenty-five, I’d say. My hero cocks his chin..

A young woman with a clipboard is with the guy who caught me. He needs a haircut. He’s staring at me.

“This is Tristan Catlin,” the PR woman tells me. She consults her clipboard. “The Boston Globe didn’t want him… Associated Press, that’s a no… The Worcester Telegram said nope, too. I’m assuming you don’t want to talk to him either…”

Ouch. Tristan is looking down at the ice.

I say loudly, “I’d love to interview Tristan. Our readers are always excited to know about up-and-coming stars.”

She shrugs, nods, and reads in a monotone from a press release: “‘In the pilot for situation comedy He’s On Fire, newcomer Tristan Catlin plays the foil for main character Buster McGraw (Ashton Kutcher), a Texas oil heir who loses everything to a wildfire.’”

I have nothing to ask this guy. I’m unnerved by the look he has in his eyes — if I didn’t know better, I’d say he kind of likes me. I’m left alone with Tristan, who smiles and says, “Ask me anything.”

I’m wavering under his intense gaze, but I manage to scrabble together a question. “What’s harder: Ice skating or acting?”

He throws his head back and laughs. “You know what?” he says, growing serious, “It’s acting — by far. People think it’s easy, that you just need a pretty face, but it’s a tough thing to do well. I can only hope I’m lucky enough to make it in this business.”

I nod and noticed he’s moved a few inches closer to me. As I’m thinking about something else to ask him, the PR woman tells, “Jason has three minutes before his Globe interview.”

“I’m sorry,” I say to Tristan.

“My loss,” he says. He waves at me and skates off alone, and I feel a pang, because I know what it’s like to be leftovers.

On my way out, I see Tristan skating alone. He’s racing, gliding, and taking corners gracefully, moving like an athlete. He’s quite sexy from afar, but I forget about him as soon as I start the car because I’ve got an exclusive Matthew Perry story to write up.

I strain again to check for Tristan on the Red Carpet, but the hipster reporter standing next to me guesses who I’m after and shakes his head. “Not yet. You’ll know,” he reassures.

I yawn, stretch my legs, check my phone. Out of boredom, I tap hipster on the shoulder. “I’m Augusta, by the way,” I smile. “I don’t think we’ve properly met.”

He smiles back and offers his hand for me to shake. “I’m Lance.” A few minutes go by, and then a roar builds in the crowd.

The photographers go ape shit, screaming and competing for a nugget or a smile. “Over here! This way! Tristan — look to your right!”

All eyes are turned toward the top of the carpet. Here he comes, cosseted by suited men and hurried women, and I’m shocked by how much smaller he is than I remember without the skates and the pads. And there he goes. He’s fast. He’s staring straight ahead, stone-faced. I am screwed. I was holding out a flicker of hope he might recognize me, whisk me away, save my gig at CelebLife. No one’s going to be impressed with my reporting tonight: Tristan walked by me in five seconds flat. He looked mad. The end.

“Fuck,” says hipster reporter, I mean Lance, as Tristan’s entourage disappears into the venue. “That sucked. Literally one word from Tristan and we’d have a cover.” He stares after the actor and sighs, “At least I’ll have another chance inside the party.”

“Exactly,” H. Mark Liu, a Red Carpet veteran I’m planted next to now and then, nods. “I know this club well. The VIP section is relatively accessible.”

Not for me it’s not. Tracey’s covering the party, and, speak of the devil, a familiar figure in a red knockoff bandage dress is sashaying toward the party entrance. Tracey is showing mountains of cleavage and carrying the one fancy clutch she owns, a baby pink Lally Lamay she pretends she bought but which everyone knows was comped after Tracey wrote a positive story about the designer’s line, which is a no-no. But there it is. Anyway, Tracey’s in and I’m not. The photographers start dismantling their equipment and Lance and H. Mark start walking away. H. Mark turns back to ask me, “You coming?”

“I’m not inside.” I shrug like I don’t care.

“Aw, sorry,” he says. “I’m sure it will be lame anyway. Have a good night!”

I wave, then decide I’m happier getting off my feet and back into my own bed anyway. I hike my handbag over my shoulder, step over someone’s camera bag, and jump when I hear my name.

“Augusta Noble,” a silky female voice says firmly. “CelebLife magazine?”

I turn back. “Yes?”

A short stocky woman with a tight orange ponytail streaked with white like a creamsicle is standing calmly in my Red Carpet spot. She extends a sparkling wristband.

“Put this on,” she says, then bobs her head toward the party entrance. “Go inside, wait an hour, and I’ll find you.”

“I’m sorry? Do I know you?” Wind comes up and whips her ponytail.

“Go in, or don’t,” she shrugs, her voice like honey. “If you do, I’ll see you in an hour.” Naturally, I take the wristband. I love a good mystery. She turns and walks away.

Part Two

About The Author:
Sara Hammel
Sara Hammel has written about entertainment celebrities, crime, sports, the military and women’s issues for People, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, UK Sunday Times Magazine, Glamour and more. Her self-published second novel, Famous Last Words, set at the fictional CelebLife, is out now.

About Sara Hammel

Sara Hammel has written about entertainment celebrities, crime, sports, the military and women’s issues for People, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, UK Sunday Times Magazine, Glamour and more. Her self-published second novel, Famous Last Words, set at the fictional CelebLife, is out now.

  One comment on “Famous Last Words
Part One

  1. It’s like the clouds parted and the celeb world is clear to me now! Thank you, Sara Hammel–can’t wait to read your book (which I’m sure is totally fictional, wink-wink). Does a guilty-pleasure read about a guilty-pleasure magazine cancel out the guilt?

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