Friday, August 19, 2005

Small Town Boys - Chapter 16

Chapter 1
Chapter 2, Part 1
Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 2, Part 3
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15

A History Lesson – 1992

The address was a secluded little restaurant in Beverly Hills. Donny parked his truck three blocks away and walked past the entrance twice before he saw the sign and the street number. The greeter, a small woman of indeterminate age, repeated his name softly, checked a list, and motioned for a waiter, a young man dressed in a Mexican-style vest and toreador pants. Even though it was still full daylight outside at six p.m., the place was very dimly lit and Donny almost had to feel his way as he followed him to an alcove in the back. He guessed by the few pieces of visible décor that it was a Mexican restaurant. Soft guitar music played in the background.

Paul Jeffries was seated alone at a small table. He was dressed impeccably in a dark summer suit with a cream-colored shirt and a dark red tie. Donny felt underdressed in his polo shirt and khakis. Paul stood up to greet him, shook his hand firmly, and gestured for him to sit. “They make a great margarita here. Would you like one?”

“Sure.” He showed his ID to the waiter and settled into the chair. There was a small basket of chips and salsa on the table, but he decided to wait and see what his host did before he took one.

“I’m really glad you could make it tonight. I’m sorry about the last-minute call.”

“Oh, no problem.”

“It’s just that I’m in town for a couple of days and I thought we’d catch up.”

“Sure,” Donny replied, a little mystified. He’d barely met Paul out at the Villa, so why would a movie producer want to “catch up” with him?

“I’m also sorry about all the skullduggery, but this is a small town and gossip is the lifeblood of the place. That’s why I asked you to keep this just between us.”

“Yeah, I didn’t even get a chance to call Mike. He’s in the middle of all that shooting.”

Paul nodded. The waiter brought the drink, and Paul lifted his glass. “Cheers,” he murmured, and Donny nodded. The margarita was good.

“So,” Paul said, “you’re probably wondering what this is all about.”

“Well, yeah, a little.”

“Well, I just wanted to touch base with you, that’s all. I know that you and Mike are close and I thought I’d just take the time to get to know you, too.”

Donny blinked several times. “Me?”

“Yes.” He put down the drink. “What are your plans?”

“Plans for what?”

“Your career.”

Donny shrugged. “Just keep doing what I’m doing. Our company just announced today that we’re releasing a software program for database and project management.”

Paul picked up a chip. “But tell me about what you plan to do in the business.”

Donny shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jeffries....”

“Paul. Please.”

“I’m sorry, uh, Paul, but I’m not in the business.”

“You’re not?”


“So this job you have with McKay-Gemini...that’s your career.”

“Well, yeah. It’s a good company and the guys I work for are great.”

Paul look a little puzzled. “Most actors when they’re not acting have jobs outside the business so they can make a living until they break in. Granted, most of them are waiting tables or working temp jobs, but they don’t think of them as their career. But you....”

“Yeah. I’m just a regular guy with a regular job.”

“And no interest in show business.”

“No. Well, other than how Mike does. I mean, I want him to do well in it ‘cause that’s what he wants.”

“Hmm,” Paul said, sounding impressed. “Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know.”

The waiter came back and quietly cleared his throat to get their attention. Donny noticed that in spite of his Mexican attire he was a perfect example of a California blond beach boy, right down to the broad shoulders, highlighted hair, bronze tan, dimpled cheeks, and a dazzling smile. “Good evening, gentleman, my name’s Marc and I’ll be your server this evening. Tonight we have a special spinach enchilada with New Mexico chile rojo and frijoles refritos made with cilantro, as well as fish tacos and a black bean with wild rice combination. I’ll give you a few moments to look over the menu and I’ll be right back to take your orders.” He bowed slightly and went away.

“Well,” Paul said as he put on reading glasses and nodded in the direction of the absent Marc, “speaking of temp jobs.” He looked over the menu, then closed it and looked at Donny. “So tell me about yourself.”

Donny gave him a short history of where he was from, his family, and how he got to California. Paul listened politely. “Can I ask you something?”


“Why not?”

“Why am I not interested in the business?”


“Never really thought about it. I don’t know anything about acting or movies.”

“Neither do half of the people in the business. A lot of them are living off looks or contacts or just plain greed.”

Marc reappeared and took their orders. Donny got the combo platter off the menu and Paul had the spinach enchilada special. Marc murmured his assent and bowed his way out of the alcove. After he left Paul put away his glasses. “How much has Mike told you about his early years out here?”

“Not much other than he started out slowly, got a few commercials, some small parts, and worked his way up.” Donny got a sudden chill. In a moment an entire scenario ran through his head of Mike not telling him the truth; that he had actually worked his way into the movies and TV by sleeping around or doing porno. “Why, isn’t that ... isn’t that what happened?”

Paul nodded slowly. “Yes, pretty much. Mike’s been fortunate in that he’s been blessed with good looks and a good head on his shoulders. He’s also had the right people looking out for him.”

“Like Marty.”

Paul grinned a little. “Marty Simmons.” Just the way he said the name told Donny that he didn’t like him very much. “Marty is a pretty good agent, I’ll grant you. He knows a lot of people and he can cut a good deal for his clients.” He let the words dangle there while he sipped his drink. “But that’s only part of it. Do you mind if I share a little history with you?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“I met Mike about a year after he arrived here from Michigan. That was about ten years ago. He was about your age, I guess, twenty-one or so, and he was staying with a friend of his college roommate who worked for an airline. He was sleeping on his couch, I think, in this little apartment complex about five minutes from LAX. Every time a plane took off the walls shook. Anyway, Mike was doing all the things that young actors do to try to get attention from casting directors or agents or anybody that has any pull to look at his head shots and help him get his foot in the door. It was pure coincidence that I happened to be in the office of a casting director who was looking for young guys for an industrial film – you know, one of those in-house things that companies use to train their employees and such – and Mike, along with about twenty other guys, had come in for a cattle call. There was something about him that was different.”

“Like what?”

“All the other guys were very good-looking. They all had perfect teeth, clear skin, great hair, nice bodies, and they all had the right moves. Charm out the ass, so to speak.” He nodded in the direction of the front door. “Like our friend Marc here. But Mike wasn’t like them. He was good-looking, true, but he had a certain lack of polish to him that was very appealing. His hair wasn’t perfect, his teeth didn’t look like a commercial, and his body didn’t look like he’d spent the last six months on a Bowflex. It was all very natural, not something you see very often in Hollywood. He just looked like a guy you could trust, and he looked...well, I guess affable is the word I’m looking for.”

“Friendly?” suggested Donny.

Paul nodded. “Yes. I’ve seen it before in just a few actors. Harrison Ford comes to mind. You know he’s a tough guy, but he’s also got a soft spot. I guess all of it comes from being from a small town. Well, Mike didn’t get the job, but I grabbed a copy of his resume, and I kept an eye out for him.” Paul leaned forward a little. “Now in spite of what you might hear, I can’t just pick up the phone and get someone cast in a movie. I’m a producer, not a miracle worker. But I did let a few friends know there was this kid from Michigan named Mike with a Polish last name who was new in town and he looked promising. Well, I went to Europe for a couple of months to talk up some projects, and when I came back I asked about him. Nobody could place the name. I figured he’d given up and gone back to Michigan or wherever. But one day this casting director happened to stop by and mentioned that Marty Simmons had this new kid he was pushing named Lance Michaels. I took a look at the head shot and there he was: Mike Lankowski was now Lance Michaels. He was doing okay; some commercials, callbacks for guest spots on some series, and he’d even gotten a non-speaking role in a feature over at Paramount; ‘Guy In Bar’ I think. But the casting director said something interesting about him.”


Paul took the swizzle stick out of his drink and laid it next to his napkin. “He told me that two days before, Mike had walked out of a final call-back for a featured role in a project at Universal. This was a part that would have gotten him a good foot in the door and that he might have even had billing in the title sequence if he’d gotten it. But he turned it down and nobody knew why. He was running the risk of screwing up his career before it even started. I made a couple of calls and found out what had actually happened.” Paul glanced around, then lowered his voice. “One of the associate producers had gone to Mike and basically told him the part was his – for a small favor.” Paul looked at Donny knowingly, and Donny knew exactly what that favor was. He nodded and Paul continued. “Yes. Well, Mike wouldn’t do it, and the A.P. said, ‘Well, you can forget about the part,’ and Mike said, ‘Forget it, then,’ and left. I heard that it was all Marty could do to keep Mike from leaving town, and the A.P. got his head handed to him. He’s lucky if he’s working on promotional videos for the Universal Studio tour now. At any rate, people found out that Mike was an honest kid who wouldn’t play certain games.”

“What did that do for his career?”

Paul smiled gently. “Well, you can see it hasn’t hurt it. In some ways it became part of his charm – he was a nice kid, he was a hard worker, but as far as anyone could tell, he didn’t have a social life. No one ever saw him going out with anyone, male or female, no one knew whether or not he was straight or gay, and no one asked him – or if they did, he’d just smile and let them know in that goddamned Midwestern charming way of his that it was personal. So you can imagine the buzz that got around when the word leaked out that this mysterious young man was seen over at Lance’s house at an after-shoot picnic last spring. Nobody knew who this guy was. All they knew was that he was in his early twenties, good-looking, and drove a truck with Ohio plates.”

Donny was stunned. “Me?”

Paul laughed. “Yes, you. Whether you know it or not, you’re Hollywood’s latest man of mystery. There was even a rumor that you and Mike were considering buying a honeymoon cottage up in the mountains.”

“Jesus,” Donny whispered.

“So you can see why I wanted to get to know you.”

Marc brought their meals, cautioned that the plates were hot, asked if everything was all right, then beamed with pleasure when Paul nodded at him and said, “Fine, thanks.”

Donny was halfway through his meal when he said, “I just think of him as Mike. I don’t care about all that other stuff.”

“You know that ‘other stuff’ is a big part of his life. You may find out that you’ll have to care about it to some degree.”

“Yeah, I already did.” Donny gave Paul a brief synopsis of the attempt at living together. “Marty wasn’t wild about it.”

Paul shook his head. “Marty has a point. The next year or so is going to be a very busy time for Mike.” Paul put down his fork. “But – and this is strictly my personal opinion – I can’t see the harm in you and Mike spending as much time together as possible. I think everybody needs a reality check; someone to be with who doesn’t care about that ‘other stuff,’ and besides, I don’t think he’s to the point where the paparazzi are going to be lurking outside his house. There may come a time when that happens, but when it does, he’ll deal with it.” Paul smirked. “I also think Marty needs to get over himself.”

When he finished his meal, Donny excused himself to the men’s room. He was at the urinal when the door opened and Marc came in. He said “Hi.” Donny waited until he was finished and had moved to the sink to wash his hands before he nodded silently to him in the mirror. Marc waited until Donny was drying his hands before he said, “Excuse me, but isn’t that Paul Jeffries you’re having dinner with?”

Donny was a little surprised, but he recovered quickly and nodded. Marc pulled out a small postcard and handed it to him. “If you could just slip this to him, man, I’d really be grateful.”

Donny looked at the card. It was a miniature headshot with a short resume and contact information on the back. He had never seen anything like it, and he flipped it back and forth several times. Marc apparently took this as a good sign. “Thanks, man. Here,” he added, pulling out another one, “keep one for yourself.”

“Uh... I’m not...I’m...” Donny stammered, but Marc was looking so eager that he grinned foolishly and said, “Sure, thanks.”

“Yeah, anytime.”

Donny made a hasty exit from the men’s room and went back to the table. Marc was right behind him to clear the table, giving no indication that of the previous encounter. They ordered flan and coffee. When Marc was gone, Donny pulled out the card and pushed it to Paul. “He gave me that in the men’s room.”

Paul chuckled and glanced at the card before putting it in his coat pocket. “I had a feeling he might do that. He had his eye on you and followed you. Surprised he didn’t offer to do you right there in the stall.” Donny looked sharply at Paul, who chuckled again. “Not to imply you’d take him up on it.”

“It was weird. Right in the men’s room.”

“Happens all the time.”

“No shit.”

“Yes. It takes guts, but...nothing ventured...”

“Does it ever work?”

Paul shrugged. “It’s one way of networking, I suppose.”

“So, what will you do with his card?”

“Give it to my secretary and have him check out the guy’s connections. Never know...he might be the next Kevin Costner. Odds are he’ll end up in the file with the hundreds of other names and faces. Is it true you’re looking at a house up in Idyllwild?”

“We just looked at a couple of pieces of property.” Echoing Mike, he added, “Strictly for investment.”

“It’s a nice place.”

“Kind of far away.”

“Well, if you can afford it, it’s never too early to invest in real estate.”

“I guess. I don’t know much about it.”

Paul stirred some Equal into his coffee. “Let me know how it goes. I know some people up there.”

“Ben and Julian?”

“That’s right, you met them, didn’t you, out at the Villa. Yes.” He looked at Donny for a moment. “You have a twin brother, isn’t that right?”



“Where’s he? What’s he do?”

“Colorado Springs. He’s a cadet at the Air Force Academy.”

“I’d like to meet him sometime.”


It was still bright daylight when they left the restaurant. Paul gave his ticket to the valet parker and offered Donny his hand. “I really enjoyed this. Let’s do it again sometime.”

“Sure, anytime.”

“I’m glad to see Mike’s found a nice guy.”


“Tell him I said hello,” Paul said as his Mercedes came to the curb and the valet hopped out.

“Will do,” said Donny. Paul nodded and almost had the door closed before Donny said, “I thought he didn’t know we were getting together.”

Paul nodded sagely, closed the car door, waved, and drove off.



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