Mary Mary Quite Contrary

by Howard Jay Klein

A newly promoted movie exec must meet the big boss who may want sex with her. 2,541 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“What’s the matter, broke your finger?” Saul Desh barked into his iPhone.

“Dad? Everything OK?” asked Amanda Desh, a surge of apprehension rising in her voice. “How did your annual physical go? I was going to call you but…”

“Is this a bad time? It’s always a bad time with you,” he said, insisting on rubbing the guilt into an open wound. “You haven’t called me in five weeks, Mandy.  Everything’s great for a guy seventy-five. I eat good, I get laid, the only ailment I have is a Hollywood daughter who was recently promoted and who can’t find a lousy few minutes to call her old man.”

“Dad, sorry, it’s been crazy ever since they made me President of Production,” she pleaded.

“You have to blow anybody to get it?”

She sighed, shaking her head at his idea of humor. “Not yet,” she played along. “Listen, I have to get back to this meeting. Why don’t you fly out?  It’s been, what, a year? You can spend time with the kids…”

“I’ll think about it. I have a life, too," Saul said. His Florida condo sat on the apron of the golf course and, as he talked, he waved to a foursome of neighbors playing past his patio.  "So what’s this new job you have?"

“Simply put, it’s my job to pick the seeds out from the tons of scripts they dump into this place and try to water a few of them into flowers that make tons of money.”

“Where are the flowers? All I ever see are movies with car crashes and humping scenes or cartoon animals talking like teenagers. They expect you to develop that crapola?"

“Well, that’s why the guy before me got fired and I’m here,” she replied.

“You a good seed finder?”

“They think so. I have a very fat four-year deal, Dad.”

“OK, go back to your horseshit sifting. I’ll let you know if I’m coming," he said, punching off. Of course he was coming. He was a true believer in the Woody Allen aphorism that eighty percent of life was just showing up.

The next day, while Saul’s Southwest flight descended into Burbank, Monarch Studio head Ken Zentz and his new boss, Charter Oak International Chairman Stanley Grubberman, relaxed at the company’s Malibu beach house and reviewed their movie executives.

“Was Jed Strauss pissed he’d been passed over?” Stanley asked Ken.

“He heard that Mandy got the job because the board felt we were way too white and way too male,” Ken replied. “It was the same message I got at the last board meeting when we decided to make the change. Was I wrong?”

“It was a passing comment, not a mandate,” Stanley said, taking a long swig of Voss water. “Frankly, the only people of color I’m devoted to are the green faces on the U.S. currency.”

“Naturally. But look, Stanley, Mandy’s smart as hell. She’ll do fine. And if she doesn’t, we can slide Jed right into the spot. It would be seamless. People will understand. if we’re forced to can her before her deal ends.”

Ken was bemused by his own crisp logic. Not only had he worked out Amanda’s rise but he’d already scripted her fall if her projects tanked. Inside his dolphin skin lay the heart of a barracuda.

“So Jed’s on deck if she fails?” Stanley pressed.

“And he knows it. I’ve told him to just sit tight.”

Stanley curled his fingers into an OK sign. “Listen, Ken,” he said, leaning forward. "We need another fifty million in cash flow from your division this year. Our cable business is going into the shithouse fast. The print division is on life support. The digital business generates fucking bitcoins. Frankly, I think we should have gone with Jed. But as I told you when I took over, Monarch’s your show. What’s in her pipeline now? I‘m not impressed with the pile of crap left by the last genius.”

“She’s shaped a great first pass script for the It Happened One Night remake from the kid who wrote a Fox film last year that did seventy million on a very low budget. And we’re excited about a Mary Shelley biopic pumped up with a ton of CGI.”

“Mary Shelley? The Frankenstein Mary Shelley?”

“That one. It’s a whole feminist message. Mary Shelley was a huge pioneer in women’s rights. But, trust me, it’s going to have a Frankenstein monster sequence that will blow away the fanboys.”

“It’s period,” Stanley said, narrowing his eyes. He reached into his memory. “I think Frankenstein is set in the 17th century.  And who the fuck under 60 knows who Mary Shelley was?” Stanley shook his head as he paced the room. “Young women don’t care jack shit about feminist heroines anymore.”

“Well, that’s the subtext. The movie is really about the monster. He’s an avatar of the Victorian era. Legal female slavery to monstrous husbands was common then”.

Stanley glanced out the huge bay window looking onto the rough Pacific waves. “Well, I guess we’ll get brownie points if it tanks,” he shrugged.

“Mandy delivers, she stays. She stubs her stiletto, she’s gone,” Ken concluded.

"I want to talk to her tonight. Here. Just me and her. That OK with you?"

“I’ll make it happen,” Ken said.

Across town at Monarch Global, Amanda discussed notes for the screenwriter on the Mary Shelley project with her staff in the conference room .  “Okay — enough. Now who should play Mary Shelley?” Amanda asked.

“I like that English girl, the one who plays Lady Edith on Downton Abbey,"  suggested Rick Wanerman, the assigned producer. "There’s a portrait of her on Wikipedia. Its uncanny. That actress could be her twin, no shit.” Rick slid his iPad across the table to Amanda. “And Laura Carmichael can act.”

Amanda nodded, enthused. “Let’s talk to her agent. Now, about the monster CGI in the dream sequences…"

Eventually, Mandy looked at her watch and gave everyone their marching orders except Rick.  When they were alone, he embraced her. “I had a text from my lawyer. It’s official – my divorce will be final next month. Let’s talk timing. Tonight.”

Before she could answer, her cell buzzed. “Hi Ken,” she said, pivoting away from Rick and toward her inner office with the sweeping view of the Hollywood Hills.

“Stanley’s in town. He wants to have dinner with you tonight at the Malibu house. A get-acquainted-with-you session. Around seven. Also, email Stanley your original memo on the Mary Shelley project.”

“Do I need to bring anything or anyone?”

“Just your gorgeous self. By the way, Stanley scrolled your images on Google. He wants you to know he thinks you have a great ass,” Ken laughed.

“Does that mean I should expect to get hit on?” she replied sharply. “If he’s expecting to get laid…”

“Don’t be stupid. Stanley’s just a harmless ass man, that’s all. Look at it this way: it’s a helluva insurance policy you got back there.“

Amanda frowned. She found Rick back in his office, mouthed "I’m sorry" and explained she had to meet the big boss. Rick pressed a kiss on her lips and plunked  a finger on her nose. ”Knock him dead.”

Amanda drove home and wiggled into her plum Leger bandage dress. She’d been blessed with a body unfathomably defiant of the slow but certain gravitational destruction of the female corpus, despite two kids. Swirling around the mirror to check on her back view, she brushed back her chestnut hair, stepped into her Louboutins, and was about to leave when the phone rang. Her son answered it.

“It’s Grandpa. He’s at Burbank Airport,” the youngster said, excited.

She took the phone. “Dad! Why didn’t you tell me…”

“Never mind," Saul said impatiently. "Where are we eating tonight? I’m dying for chicken chow mein and shrimp with lobster sauce. You got any decent Chinese places out here?”

“Three ptomaine palaces near the house, and they deliver. Dad, I have a major meeting with the new CEO of our parent corporation at Malibu tonight. I’ll arrange a car to pick you up and take you here. You can eat with the kids. I won’t be too late. Gotta run.”

“You always gotta run, for crissakes. You sleep in sneakers?”

That evening at Malibu, Stanley invited Amanda to sit beside him on the deck facing the waves as they waited for the Nobu delivery driver. Stanley was fiftyish, bald, divorced, and dressed in a blazer with jeans and sockless in Tod loafers. She hoped he wouldn’t make a pass at her. Instead, he immediately got down to business.

“So tell me about Mary Shelley.”

“For me it’s a conviction project. I think it will resonate with core demo women and still have lots of goodies for the fanboys. I really believe in this project.”

“And you’re sure you can bring it in for under sixty million?”

“It all pencils out. Most of the money is in the Frankenstein dream sequences. Instead of dull footage of Mary sitting at her desk scratching out lines of the novel, we have her dreaming it. The monster, well, imagine a creature twelve feet tall — The Hulk meets Boris Karloff meets King Kong rolled into one. We show the mad scientist’s lab, the misty test tubes, the sturm und drang of lightning striking the creation, the creature exploding alive and wreaking havoc on the Mittleeuropa village."

“Thinking about a Mary yet?”

Amanda broke into a grin. “We’re going to approach the Downton Abbey sister first. The idea came out of our development meeting today.”

“Lady Mary? She’s too cold, isn’t she?”

“No, the other sister. Lady Edith. She’s a dead ringer for Mary Shelley."

“Where’s Jed on this project?”

“He’s assigned to the It Happened One Night remake. I think he’s out with Jennifer Lawrence’s agent and manager tonight.”

“He’s had a good track record. You might want to bring him in on this Mary Shelley project,t too. Just to bounce your ideas off him.”

Amanda had heard that Jed was rumored to be distantly, or perhaps not so distantly, blood-related to Stanley. Jed had never alluded to it, nor had Ken, nor had anyone else in the division. But she stayed cautious around the very political Jed and had never bonded with him from day one. He’d been pleasant enough, seemingly cooperative and very adept at disguising his irritation at being passed over for the top development job. Though she thought it was wrong to involve him on this movie, she decided to play it safe.

“Of course. I’ll meet with him tomorrow.”

The food arrived and the houseman set the dining table for Stanley and Amanda.  They had the seafood ceviche, warm mushroom salad, and Chilean sea bass with dry miso accompanied by two superb bottles of Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc from Napa.

“We’ll take tea in the living room, please,” Stanley told the houseman after dinner, putting his hand in the small of Amanda’s back and settling them both into a deeply cushioned leather sofa. Amanda kicked off her high heels and curled her legs under her as they talked movies. She soon became aware that Stanley was scanning his eyes across her body.

She conceded feeling paranoid after having climbed the Hollywood ladder and cracked the glass ceiling in spite of a sustained need to defend herself against too many horndog men who ran the Industry and too many years fighting off their lunges. But this was the CEO, her boss of bosses. She had to strategize the rest of the evening.

"Excuse me. Where’s the powder room?” Amanda suddenly asked,, getting up. As she walked past Stanley, she had a terrible feeling of having been set up for sex tonight. She was at a loss whether to play dumb or finesse any moves he might make by shaming him with her wit, or just politely beg off by saying she was spoken for.

Just as she left the bathroom and headed back toward the living room, her cell buzzed. It was Rick.

“I’m still at this dinner with Stanley. What?”

“Listen, Mandy, I’m just leaving your house. The kids called me. Your  Dad had a heart attack”.

Is he alive?” Her anguish brought Stanley off the sofa and running to her side.

”Yes, thank god. The EMTs think it’s mild but we won’t know for a few hours. Meet us at Cedars. I left the kids next door with the neighbors.”

Mandy couldn’t speak anymore. She slid against a wall, then slowly collapsed down to the floor, weeping. Stanley rushed over.

“Amanda  — what’s happened?” he asked, crouching down and putting his hands on her shoulders to steady her. She gave him an arm and slowly he lifted her so she was standing.

"I’ve got… to go… to Cedars," she stuttered. "My Dad…"

“Let me drive you, please.”

She nodded mutely. Stanley gathered up her purse and jacket, led her outside and helped her into the front passenger seat of her Cayenne. Stanley started driving to the hospital and tried to think of something soothing to say. “You want a Xanax or something?”

He dropped her off at the emergency room entrance. “Shall I come in with you?”

“No, Stanley. That’s so nice of you. Can you just leave my car here?”

“Of course. I’m sure all will be well. Keep me informed, please. ”

“I will. You’ve been wonderful..” And she meant it. He’d surprised her. But she also realized that the crisis had done more than get her out of a difficult situation with him tonight. It had bonded them.

When she reached the cardiac ward, she saw Rick huffling with the doctors.

"He’s lucky, Mandy.”

“How bad? On a scale of one to ten?” she anxiously asked.

“Probably a three. Almost no damage. He’ll do fine,” a specialist said, detailing her father’s condition. “He’s in good shape for his age.”

“Can I see him?”

Saul was in a private room, his bed elevated amid a jungle of monitoring ganglia. She took his hand, squeezed it and smoothed it against her cheek, then leaned over and kissed his forehead. “You terrible, terrible man,” she whispered. “Unfortunately, the doctors said you’ll probably make it.”

As she stroked his grey hair, Saul grabbed for her hand. He brought it to his own lips and kissed it. His voice was soft. "So I had to have a fucking heart attack to get to see my little girl.”

She smiled and gave him a gentle nudge at the elbow. “I always said a Chinese food delivery guy would be your angel of death.”

“How did your meeting with the big shot go?”

“Actually, Dad, you might have actually saved me. I can’t be sure, but I was probably either about to get a cheap feel of my ass or a request to join the boss in bed.” She drew up a chair and gazed into Saul’s tired eyes. “I’ve never let anyone lay a hand on me, Dad. So far. But a very big salary check gets wired to my account every week."

“So what’s your move, Ms. President of Production of Monarch Studios?”

She was surprised he knew her exact title by heart.

About The Author:
Howard Jay Klein
Howard Jay Klein is a 25-year executive and consultant in the Atlantic City casino industry. He oversaw marketing, operations and entertainment for Caesar's and Trumps' Taj Mahal and created Grandstand Under The Stars for outdoor concerts with Sinatra, Bennett, Dylan, Chicago, Springsteen and others. He publishes Casino Management Review and writes novels.

About Howard Jay Klein

Howard Jay Klein is a 25-year executive and consultant in the Atlantic City casino industry. He oversaw marketing, operations and entertainment for Caesar's and Trumps' Taj Mahal and created Grandstand Under The Stars for outdoor concerts with Sinatra, Bennett, Dylan, Chicago, Springsteen and others. He publishes Casino Management Review and writes novels.

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