He must make a choice: become the out-of-control young starlet’s BFF – or her babysitter. 2,778 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jimmy Sakamuru talked a lot about art, but he cared more about money. It’s the only way a director can get anything done. Jimmy would try to stick to dollars and cents around Barney but he was sure to look for a chance to tell us how his movie was like Italian neo-realism or some damn thing. He had directed a few studio pictures but none of them had been hits. It meant that now he could make a studio distribution deal but he’d have to find his own financing. Jimmy had lost his pipeline to studio financing. To claw your way back from that took a fierceness that wouldn’t be denied. The ins and outs of this were tricky.
And now Jimmy was bringing Caitlin Harper to our office. We mostly got business people coming through our doors. This would be our first pop diva.
Barney was wearing his best suit — a blue pinstriped double-breasted model that he wore to bank meetings. He seemed a little anxious. It hadn’t occurred to me to dress for the occasion. I was in my usual khakis and an old grey herringbone jacket. Jimmy was dressed in leather, jacket and trousers, though not the James Dean-Marlon Brando biker sort. Jimmy’s leather was buttery and so tight that it must have caused pain. He was wearing Japanese running shoes that had air pumps in them. The shoes looked like the 1980s to me but, as I came to see, those shoes and much else with Jimmy were worn in an ironic manner that mostly went over my head and certainly over Barney’s.
Jimmy showed up solo with a song and dance about Caitlin being ill. Her absence was an unmistakable sign of how things would go if we got in the Caitlin Harper business. Jimmy was full of assurances about how well he could handle her. Before Barney could throw him out, we were treated to a disquisition on the finer points of the shooting scheme for Overdrive. "I don’t want to just tell the story. Not a biopic, you know?" Barney knew what a biopic was but not much more. “The influence here is the nouvelle vague," Jimmy added with an aggressive French accent that irritated Barney.
"Jimmy, skip the film school stuff," I said. Barney was never quite sure when to tell one of these guys to shut up. "The numbers are acceptable. We believe you can shoot the picture on the schedule we’ve seen."
"Damn right I can," Jimmy said. "In her other pictures, she was a kid. Overdrive makes her a woman. The world’s going to see a new Caitlin Harper."
He had worked up a speech and he was going to deliver it whether we wanted to hear it or not. "Jimmy…" I said, holding up a palm in the universal signal to stop.
"So are you going to write the bond?" he asked, finally ready to talk business.
I knew that Barney would now take over. "It’s ten points," Barney said. "Two hundred K when we see the above-the-line paper. The rest on start of principal photography."
“Ten?" Jimmy said, genuinely surprised. "What happened to the six?"
"It went bye-bye when your star didn’t show up today," Barney said.
"She’s in bed. The doctor’s with her."
"We’ll send her a get-well card," I said.
"What else?" Jimmy asked, apparently tabling the ten percent for now. It was an outrageous price for the bond. Barney had the upper hand. And he was squeezing Jimmy hard.
"She has to have a minder," Barney said. "With her all the time. Somebody acceptable to us."
"Me," Jimmy said. "I’m the minder. I’m with her all the time as it is."
Barney suspected that Jimmy was sleeping with her. Barney might be a little wobbly on French cinema but he knew about directors and actresses. And he knew that whatever the hell romance was going on, he would bleed Jimmy Sakamuru before putting expensive risk behind Overdrive.
“You’ve got a full plate," I said. "We need somebody else in addition. All the time."
“If I have to pay ten points for the bond, the picture gets fucked," Jimmy argued.
"The movie is going to be fine," I said. "You can keep all your nouvelle vague style. Those guys shot cheap. On the fly. They were famous for It."
"You want to make the picture, those are the terms," Barney said.
"I’ll have to cut scenes," Jimmy whined. "That script is right and tight and I don’t want you messing with it."
"We’re not trying to produce your picture," I said. "We don’t give script notes. We assess your chances of bringing it in on time and on budget. We establish our price based on that."
"I’m never over budget. I’m famous for it. Why are you sticking it to me like this?"
"You’re not the problem," I said. "Caitlin Harper put one bond company out of business. She’s spent time in jail."
"I have to talk to my people."
"Sure," I said. "Talk it over. And we still have to meet her."
"When she’s feeling better," Barney said.
Jimmy looked like he wanted to escape. I gave him a jaunty little wave as he was leaving. I knew I’d come to regret my flippancy.
Barney sensed what had happened. He might not know much about how movies are made but he knew how business meetings operated and he knew l had taken some pleasure In sticking It to Jimmy.
"Careful with that guy,” Barney said after Jimmy had left. "We’re going to need him.”
"Okay, but he needs us more."
I vowed not to let anything get in the way of what would be mine if Barney and I could make this fabulously lucrative opportunity pay off.
Caitlin Harper doesn’t go to offices. Or maybe she doesn’t go to Century City. There was some back and forth about where we might convene until we settled on the Chateau Marmont where she kept a suite which Jimmy called her office. She also had a house in the hills above the hotel. The girl had a lot of real estate. She was in a penthouse, which is what the Chateau called anything on the top floor. There were a couple of these penthouses up there. I knew her rooms would have a deck that looked out on Sunset Boulevard and then wrapped around with a view of the hills behind the hotel. Maybe she chose it because it had a view of her house.
I met Barney in the lobby so we could go up together. I think he was nervous. I could have told him he should expect to be kept waiting. Jimmy met us at the door. And what do you know the lady wasn’t quite ready. She was there, Jimmy assured us, but not in the room we were in. I told him we expected regular reports on her progress dressing. He didn’t realize it was a joke, which was a sign of just how nervous he was. He opened a better bottle of wine than I was used to drinking.
After twenty awkward minutes of sipping and small talk that was becoming miniscule, Caitlin made her entrance. One minute of lateness for each year of her young life.
She was wearing threadbare jeans with one knee gone and a lot of white threads across her well curved bottom and a red silk blouse that was more unbuttoned than not. She was smaller than I expected and her strawberry-blonde hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail. She wore a minimum of makeup and had a large mouth with pillowy lips and startling green eyes that were taking in everything. She had a little baby fat on her face. At least she wasn’t a cosmetic surgery victim like so many of her older colleagues. Even in her casual getup, she exuded a carnal rawness .
“Oh, you’ve got something to drink," she said as if it was a surprising idea that might interest her. I was about to pour her a glass when she took the bottle from Jimmy and starting swigging. The oddest part of it was that even though she was guzzling straight from the bottle, she managed to give off a sense of decorum. I wondered if that was an act for Barney and me. She might have been playing at adult behavior, but I knew that whatever else she was, she was a kid, and the manners wouldn’t last long.
Jimmy, in a surprising display of authority, retrieved the bottle, filled a glass for her and said, "So this is Barney and Cal."
"Which one are you?" she asked, looking at me.
"I’m Cal. And you would be?"
She giggled at that, a teenager’s laugh, and said, "I think I’m Caitlin."
"I’m sure you are," I said, lobbing the ball right back to her.
”Are you gay?”
"My girlfriends say no."
“What do your boyfriends say?”
"They won’t return my calls."
Barney looked like his head was spinning. Jimmy, to his credit, laughed and said, "You two could take this on the road. CAA can book you."
Then Caitlin’s manager and mother, Lynne Harper, arrived apologizing for being late. She was an older version of her daughter, and if less hot, she seemed tougher. Lynne sucked the air right out of the bantering mood that Caitlin and I had been enjoying. I could see that Lynne Harper could be trouble and I had better be on my toes with her.
"So what did you think of the script?" Caitlin asked, taking over the business side of the conversation, surely her manager’s domain.
"I thought it was just awesome," I said, taking a chance that I could use that word without sounding too sarcastic. I don’t think I succeeded because Lynne scoffed and Caitlin giggled again. I had definitely been doing better before Lynne arrived.
"They’re not here about the script," Lynne said.
"This is about bonding the picture," Barney added, making an attempt to assert some sort of presence.
"Right," Caitlin said, losing interest in this little gathering. Her mind was wandering. Insurance does that to people.
I knew I had to explaln it briefly or Barney would sta rt telling her the details of the completion bond business, which would send her out of the room In a hurry. I had better be careful about this because I had no Idea how much Lynne knew of these matters. I had to inform them but please, God, don’t let me sound condescending.
"We guarantee that the picture comes in on budget and on time."
"I know. You think I’m going to get In trouble and like wreck it."
”We’re not accusing you of anything," Barney said.
"I know about completion bonds," she said. "No bond, no movie, right?"
"Right," I said, hoping to leave it at that. She might be young, but she wasn’t a fool. Barney looked as if he was cranking up to start pontificating. "Caitlin, Lynne," I said cutting him off. "We have the same interest here that you do. We want to help Jimmy help Caitlin to a great performance."
“And make sure I don’t like kill anybody. I know my badass reputation. If I forget, there’s somebody to remind me."
That was a dig at her mother. I pretended I didn’t notice and plowed ahead. "As you said, without a completion bond there’s no movie.”
"And you want me to have a minder. It’s pretty insulting, not that you care. I had some bitch on Summer High living in my ass-crack. We all know how that worked out."
"We’ll find somebody you can get along with," I said.
“A good one is like a professional friend," Barney said.
“We need someone there to protect our Interests as well as yours," I said. “We can find two or three candidates. You can meet them and pick the one you dislike the least."
“How about none? None works for me. It’s a good number. None. None. None. Got it?"
“Caitlin, we have to get something straight here. If you don’t have a minder who is acceptable to your insurers, not only will this movie not get made, there won’t be any more movies for you."
"Oh, bullshit, I’m not doing it. N-0. No."
Her mother broke in and said, "Caitlin, stop acting like that."
"It’s a stupid idea. I don’t want some creep following me around and saying what I should do all the time."
"Okay, Caitlin," I said, about to roll the dice. "We understand your position. I’m sorry this didn’t work out. Jimmy, you’re going to have to recast the part. Prepare a list of possible replacements."
"Now wait a minute here," Jimmy said, looking pale.
Barney saw what I was doing and to his credit went along with it. He said, "Our business here is concluded."
"What happened to the open mind?" Lynne asked.
“The trouble with an open mind," I said, "is that everybody wants to put things in it."
With that, I got up to leave. Barney followed. I don’t know what he was feeling, but my heart was in my throat. An odd silence hung In the air until Caitlin pointed at me, as if this was a game of hide-and-seek, and said, “You do it. You be the minder."
That was a curve ball I wasn’t expecting. "I’m flattered that you think I could do it, but it’s not for me."
"Why not? You’re pretty cool."
"It’s not the sort of thing I could do at all. I’m in the bond business."
"Just don’t order me around or talk about insurance."
I could feel my throat getting dry.
"That’s a great idea," Jimmy said. "Cal used to be a screenwriter. He knows the budget. He’s perfect."
A glimmer of amusement traced across Lynne’s face. As manager and mother to this kid, she knew first-hand how tough such an assignment would be. I could see on Barney’s face that he thought this was a workable idea. I felt myself shrinking, trying to disappear.
Caitlin sensed the power struggle here and knew that she had just moved the goalposts, as the agents said when they were making an outrageous last minute change of terms. Her big eyes all but lit up as she said, "You’re the guy for it. Sexy-ass finder."
"Minder," Barney said, taking an unlikely interest in her language.
“You’re the ones insisting on it," Lynne said. "You should do it. It’s the smart move.”
”You’d be cool at it," Jimmy said, piling on.
“I sell and service bonds. That’s why we’re here. You go to clubs or whatever the hell you do. I don’t even know where they are."
"You or nobody," she said with a finality that wasn’t typical of twenty-year-olds, unless of course they happen to be international stars. "We’ll hang. You and me. I’ll teach you some tricks."
I knew one thing with an awful certainty: she believed she could wrap me around her finger and twist me into any shape she wanted. The terror I felt was because I knew she might be right.
And then she was gone. She had made a decision and her mother declared it workable. I could see where this would end. Barney, who could be so poker-faced in a negotiation, was grinning. He saw it as a way to solve a problem. Jimmy saw his picture moving forward.
I did a quick accounting in my mind. The bond was two million. Barney would take at least a million, maybe more. A big chunk would go to costs and overhead and an under-the-table payment to an insurance broker to write the personal policy. That left the rest for Barney to distribute any way he cared to. He’d put some of that into the company. I’d get a bonus over my draw. It could be as much as a hundred K, a useful sum of money — if I survived to see it. I said, "Let me think about it," which is what I always said when I wasn’t sure of my next move.