A stuntwoman turned realtor is suspicious when she finds out A-list celebs are buying from her. 2,937 words. Illustration by John Mann.
"Sorry I’m late," he said.
He walked in holding a stack of binders under his left arm and a coffee in his right hand. He looked sweaty. It was air conditioned in the half-finished showroom almost to the point of catatonia yet Spader was sweating big buttery bullets.
"What’s with the stacks?" said Nicole. She shot him a disgusted look. She could smell him from where she was sitting, and she hated that he could somehow bleed into multiple senses. Nicole had the face of a Midwestern blonde beauty queen but the demeanor of a drill sergeant. She had moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis to become a stuntwoman, but had fractured her leg in multiple places falling down a flight of stairs for a movie shoot five years ago. The filmmakers hadn’t even kept the take. But she’d been left with a limp and been forced to abandon her stunt career. There had been flowers and a brief mention in the press at the time that she had been at fault. She’d since learned to swallow the memories of that whole past life of hers. She rarely thought about Hollywood the same way, and kept her head out of the industry trades. Luckily for her bank account, she had taken to selling real estate like a shark in shallow water. She sometimes wondered what she’d say if the producers of the movie ever tried to buy from her.
Nobody around the table that morning liked Spader except for Pete and even that friendship was tenuous at best, with conversations revolving mostly about the Dodgers’ team troubles. But there would be no talk of baseball today. Out of the four of them, Nicole was the most talented at actually selling. Until this contract was over, they were stuck in this trailer from 10 to 6 every day, without fail.
"These," said Spader, "are for the meeting at 11."
"It’s 11:22, Spader," Nicole said.
"Yeah I know. I had to go and get them. And then make sure they were the right ones." Pause. "I also stopped to get coffee," said Spader, almost out of breath. The table groaned "But I think you’ll find that I did good on finding all these."
Spader was confident, and this was new.
The four of them were sitting in a trailer on the site of the yet-to-be-built Wonderland Towers, a proposed luxury condo development in the heart of the entertainment district. The trailer had been their workspace for the past several months. It was supposed to be a showroom of what a finished apartment might look like, although only the dining room and living room had been completed, lending the trailer a tangible sense of unprofessionalism with the gravity of a porn set. It was hot outside, and the AC unit in the trailer was on full blast. There was some relief at this time of day, though: for an hour every morning they were in the shadow of the nearby high-rise.
Spader hung in the air like a bad joke for a few seconds before taking a chair, leaving the stack of binders innocuously enough on the table. Pete, Brian and Nicole began to hover over them like hyenas.
Pete and then Brian picked up binders and began to flick through them – blue industrial, some three inches thick and stacked with papers. Nicole held back, her elbow resting on the table and her hand perched halfway over one of the binders as if it were about to pounce.
"They’re the names of people within each trust. All the information on all the owners," said Spader with an air of triumph. "So we know who’s actually buying our properties."
"Jesus fucking Christ," said Brian, "That’s incredible. Sorry for swearing."
"No, no," said Spader, "I think swearing is appropriate for such an occasion."
Nicole picked up a binder and began to leaf through it. There were names, and lots of them. And then she began to notice what made the binders truly special. There, on the front page of each file, printed in Times New Roman bold letters, was the name of the client who had bought the trust. She flipped to another, and then another. If you knew where to look, these binders read like the glossary of a tabloid magazine. And even if the realtors couldn’t use the famous names for marketing and advertising purposes, they could pass them around quietly via word-of-mouth. Civilians always wanted to live near show people, Nicole knew, and on top or below them in a high-rise even better. This would make her job easier.
"When a trust buys a condo," Spader explained, although he didn’t have to, "they do so anonymously. They do so on behalf of individuals. People who have a lot of money don’t necessarily want their name on the title." He took an emphatic swig of his coffee. It was lukewarm, but he had subconsciously decided for it to be his talisman. “And if we sell 60% of these condos, then the building has to go ahead as planned.”
"This is good work, Spader," said Nicole, a little shocked to find herself saying it, "If this is real, I mean if this is correct, then it’s not bad at all."
Nicole found herself rummaging through her pockets for a Nicorette and thinking that something about this didn’t seem right. Spader’s joviality. These blue binders that came out of nowhere.
"An Oscar-winning actress? A Grammy nominee rapper? An NFL star quarterback? This is incredible," Brian marveled. "They all own apartments, at least on paper, in the Wonderland Towers. It doesn’t matter if they ever move in. It’s enough that they own property here. This is going to do such good business for us. There’s goddamn A-list celebs in here! Hot damn! We’re gonna be rich!"
"How did you get hold of these?" asked Pete.
"I just did," said Spader, pushing a strand of his greasy hair back to the top of his head the way a cow might swat a fly with its tail.
"How did you get them?" said Nicole, harshly, "Why is this extra form on the front, this cover letter-looking thing, with the name behind the trust clearly marked? Who exactly gave them to you and where?"
"I found them."
"Found them wh–”
"It doesn’t matter," said Spader, cutting her off.
"Nobody buys that you… seemingly out of nowhere… walked in with a fucking bombshell and dropped it in the middle of the room, Spader. You haven’t done one good thing for this company in 18 months and then this happens?" said Nicole.
Spader now enraged turned to face her. He had never liked Nicole, mostly because he had long ago ceased to trust women due to decades of pornography coupled with a general malaise of insecurity. His explosion, while certainly unplanned, was hardly surprising to the rest of the group.
“You know what, Nicole? Fuck you. Fuck you. Every time I have an idea you stand on it with your high heeled shoes and belittle me. Fuck you. Fuck. You. You’re SUCH,” he said, taking a deep breath, “a BITCH, Nicole."
"I don’t even wear heels!" said Nicole. Her face showed she was laughing but her tone didn’t match. "You just lash out at me because I’m a woman. You NEVER get critical at the guys," she said, "So shut the fuck up."
"YOU shut the fuck up," said Spader.
The fight escalated quite quickly. There was some more yelling, and it was oddly cathartic for both of them. Eventually, they quieted down. When the word "cunt" was uttered by Spader, it shut down the whole room.
"Over the line," said Nicole, pronouncing it “oover” with her Minnesotan accent whether she knew it or not.
"I’m sorry," said Spader, almost shaking, and genuinely meaning his apology to an almost perverse degree.
"All of you calm the fuck down," said Brian. Unlike the rest of them, he was a Southern Californian native and he spoke with a drawl that made him almost sound Texan. He was older than Nicole by 10 years, but due to either his cigarette habit or his deep Inland Empire upbringing his skin had taken on the patina of a traveler’s wallet. He had been the singer in a garage band in high school and had always equated that band to the people in his current job. Just a bunch of misfits trying to be somebodies and not getting very far. He called himself an entrepreneur rather than a realtor. That fact remained highly debatable. As a musician, he was quietly thrilled to see well-known recording artists among the list of trusts.
"Do you know what this means? Once you get celebrities in here you’re gonna get the normal people. The rich normal people," Brian noted
“Right," said Pete. "Brian’s point is that if we get celebrities in here, it will become a hot property. Everyone else will follow."
"You do realize we’re building these high-rise buildings on a fault line, correct?" said Nicole, "Celebrity won’t mean shit when they’re dead."
"Look, pretty much every elected official in the district has signed off on the Wonderland Towers project to go ahead," said Brian, "We should be fine."
"Can we get back to the fact that Sandra Bullock wants one of the penthouses?" said Spader, pointing at a page in one of the blue binders. It said the first and last names of the Oscar-winning actress quite plainly in bold capital letters. No middle name. ”That’s $8 mil right there. We wouldn’t have to work another day in our lives if we pulled this off."
He leafed through the first few pages of another binder. "Steve McQueen…"
"The actor or the director?" asked Pete.
"I’m not sure," said Spader, not looking up from studying the pages. "Probably the actor." He’s wasn’t as well-versed in showbiz as Nicole.
"Spader, where did you find these again?" said Nicole, "I’m asking seriously, and nicely, and politely. I feel that we deserve to know."
Spader tugged on his neckline. "I got a tip," he said.
"A tip?" asked Pete.
"Like a film noir tip? Are you a gumshoe now, Spader? Trading in that tie of yours for a comically large magnifying glass and a trenchcoat?" scoffed Nicole. She knew instinctively that she had crossed a line, but she had ceased to care.
"It’s my lucky tie," said Spader defensively. "Why can’t you just accept that I did something right? Why do you have to be such a bitch about it?"
Brian interrupted them. "I’m going to make a call real quick. And smoke a cig. Y’all work this out." He got up and closed the door to the trailer. For a second it was quiet but for the air conditioning and the far off sound of Mexican radio playing what sounded like the end of a soulful ballad. The shadow from the high-rise next door had lifted and the room was stifling.
"I’m sorry, Spader. It’s just that we’ve been plugging away at this development for four months on-site and nothing big like this has happened. We’ve sold five floors to mostly Middle Eastern and Russian businessmen. It’s frustrating. There’s always some fucking committee somewhere in some fucking room we don’t know about making fucking decisions that will affect us but that we have no control over. That’s sort of the lay of the land here. It’s also how Hollywood works. It’s just fucked.”
“Why don’t you move back to Minnesota?” asked Brian, “I don’t mean that rudely. Since you just don’t like it here.”
“Because…” said Nicole. But beyond breathtaking sunsets and affordable produce she couldn’t think of a good enough reason on the spot. "Because here is where I learned to stand up for myself."
She was quite calm as she said it, and Spader seemed to relax a little.
"You were a stuntwoman," said Spader, "Was it because of that?"
"We don’t have to talk about that here," said Nicole. She’d known men like Spader in entertainment. Men who never stopped looking at women as either bitches or bimbos. There’s a wide variety of us. Some of us are cunts. Some of us are great. We’re actual people, she thought to herself.
"I found the binders in a shopping cart," sputtered Spader. "I got a tip in the form of a text message and I was told to pick them up in the parking lot. I didn’t see anybody. Just found these where they said they would be. Figured it would help."
"Who did you get the tip from?" asked Pete, intrigued.
"Any idea who texted you?"
"Call the number," Pete suggested.
"It’s ringing," said Spader. "The area code is 424. That’s South Bay."
"Put it on speaker," Pete ordered
The phone call went straight to voicemail.
Brian entered, and the door let in a blast of hot air they all felt. "What did I miss?" he said.
"A major breakthrough," said Pete. "We’ve got the number of the guy that gave the files to Spader here."
"Good lord," said Brian. "Do you just need to verify that what’s in the binders is legit?"
"Well, yeah," said Nicole.
"They certainly look legit," said Brian.
"But we need to verify that," said Nicole, matter-of-factly. "Spader was told to find the binders in a shopping cart. It’s all pretty suspect."
Brian sighed. "Can’t we just accept a good thing? And if we just need to verify that they’re real, couldn’t we do that by calling the quarterback?"
"That’s one hell of a Hail Mary pass," said Pete.
"What’s a Hail Mary?" asked Spader, chiming in.
"It’s a football term," said Pete, "For when the quarterback throws a pass down the field as far as he can and the receivers just run in a straight line. Maximum yardage. There’s very little finesse and it’s kind of a last resort. But if you can pull it off…"
"It’s what people in Hollywood do all the time. When they’re desperate,” noted Nicole.
"It just might work," said Brian. "Let’s call the actress."
"You can’t be fucking serious," said Nicole.
"I know her agent. I mean attorney. I mean business manager. I mean real estate partner," said Brian, hesitantly. "I can call him." Brian picked up his phone and began to dial the number with his sausage like fingers. "Hello? Jerry? This is Brian. Hey, any chance you can verify your client bought one of our condos?" The voice on the other end of the line was compliant judging from Brian’s smile. "He’s in the neighb. He’ll be here in five."
"Bullshit you were on the phone with someone close to her," snapped Nicole. "And since when have you ever said ‘neighb’?"
Brian whipped his head around and glared at Nicole. "You’ve been awfully accusatory. Ganging up on Spader and now me. If you want to be liked, Nicole, I would suggest that you stop belittling men that threaten you."
"I never said anything about wanting to be liked," said Nicole, coolly.
"I’m just saying," said Brian, "It’s unprofessional."
There was a knock on the trailer door soon enough.
The door handle turned and a short man walked in. Brian was beaming at the sight of him. He was balding and in some way managed to be the focus of the room while simultaneously being the least noticeable thing in it. It was as if Nicole and Pete were simply watching a blank space.
"Hello there, Jerry," said Brian.
"And I’m Nicole," she said, extending her hand. "Have we met, you and I?"
"I don’t believe so," said Jerry. Brian chose at that moment to close the door and the silence hung in the air like a forced truth.
Nicole smiled. "We met on the set of a movie you were visiting which Sandra co-produced. I was the stunt double. I fell down some stairs. That was when I badly fractured my leg. I had to leave the business because it.”
Jerry’s mind began to kick into gear. After a few false starts a light of recognition seemed to go on behind his eyes. "Oh, right, right, right, right. That was such an alarming day. Everybody on the set felt terrible about it."
Nicole was nodding as if she were recalling a rather fond memory.
"She sends her regards," said Jerry.
"Oh, that’s nice," said Nicole. "How’s her kid?"
"He’s good. Great," said Jerry, sighing almost benevolently, "You never know what he’s going to get into next."
"Do you two really know each other?" Pete asked
"We go way back," said Jerry, who then turned to Brian and asked, "So what did you need me for?"
"We were wondering if she was buying one of our condos," said Brian. "We need to settle something, and we need some verification, you see. Which is why I called you."
"Of course she’s buying one," said Jerry. "Of course."
"I think that settles it. Don’t you?" Brian said to the others. He clapped and rubbed his hands together. It was a bad tell. He would make an awful poker player, thought Nicole. Brian patted Jerry’s shoulder.
"Hey, before you leave, can I ask one more question?" Nicole asked.
"Sure," said Jerry.
“Nicole,” said Brian, his voice threatening, “Let’s just go home. This is over. You don’t need to do this.”
Jerry turned to face Brian, who looked nervous. Then at Nicole, who cleared her throat. It had a been a long day.
“Surely you can answer just a really simple question about your client before you go, Jerry. Are you ready?”
"Ok," said Jerry, straightening himself, "Hit me."
"What’s her fucking middle name?"
This short story first posted here on September 15, 2015.