Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Small Town Boys - Chapter 43

Write On

They left town just as the sun was setting. Donny had stopped by the store to pick up some groceries – a couple of steaks, some chicken breasts, vegetables, a loaf of bread, salad makings, desserts, and some beer – then went back to the office to pick up Marc. Traffic was heavy heading east on the Santa Monica to the San Bernardino, but Donny figured by the time they got to Ontario it would thin out, and he was right. There were plenty of cars heading for Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or just the outlying towns, but they were all moving at or above the speed limit.

It had been three weeks since Mike had left for Michigan, and three weeks since Donny had his lunch with Jeremy Dixon. Mike had not called, but he guessed that he had arrived intact. The weather page in the Times showed that cold air had already begun to settle in over northern Michigan, and Donny thought of Mike in one of those heavy tan Carhart hunting jackets and orange caps that were the customary outfit of people up in that climate at that time of year.

Marc was silent the entire drive, which was in keeping with how he’d been for the last three weeks. In fact, other than business and taking his turn at the weekly staff and planning meetings, it was like he wasn’t there, so Donny was very surprised when Marc walked into his office Tuesday morning and said quietly, “That offer about a weekend at Mike’s place still good?”

“Sure,” Donny had said, not trying too hard to hide his surprise. “I’ll see if it’s available.” Marc nodded and left.

It just so happened, Brucie told him when he called, that the renters for that coming weekend had had to cancel because of a family emergency, so the place was theirs. She gave him the combination to the lock box at the real estate office where the key would be since they would be getting there after hours. Donny relayed the news to Marc, who smiled a little and went back to work.

The stream of headlights and taillights began to show spaces between them. Donny glanced over at Marc. He was staring straight ahead, his hands resting in his lap, subconsciously nodding his head to the beat of the music from the CD player, which at this point was Synchronicity by The Police. Donny reset the cruise control to keep up with the traffic and thought back to the lunch with Jeremy Dixon.


He was wearing almost the same outfit he’d worn at the Villa; a light sports coat over an open necked shirt and designer jeans. He was in full charm mode as he stood in the lobby chatting with Irene. Even though she was born and raised in L.A., her husband worked at MGM, and she claimed that celebrities were just ordinary people, she was obviously enjoying his attention as he admired the pictures of Ethan that were on her desk, and he was listening attentively as she told him about the day care center where her son spent his days. It was at a Jewish temple and run by Hispanic women, so her son, who was half-Irish and half-Chinese and baptized as a Catholic, was truly getting a diverse education. Jeremy laughed, his perfect teeth and to-die-for dimples on full display, and he greeted Donny with a firm handshake and pat on the back.

He had driven himself in a red Ferrari 355 Berlinetta. He made no mention of the fact that it was anything special, but as they got in Donny knew he was supposed to compliment it, so he did. Jeremy grinned wryly and said, “Yeah, but in the next couple of months I’ll probably have to trade it in for a Dodge Caravan,” a reminder of his wife’s pregnancy. He tapped the accelerator and the car’s exhaust let forth the rumble of a perfectly tuned engine.

By coincidence or design, they went to the same restaurant that Donny had been to with Aaron and Jack. The valets opened the doors and Jeremy pulled a notebook-sized leather portfolio out from behind the front seat before the valet took the car. The maitre d’ escorted them to almost the same table, and this time Donny noticed that Jeremy sat facing the rest of the crowd, which seemed to have a few more recognizable faces, including some stars that Donny considered to be legends. Jeremy had nodded a greeting to them as he made his way to the table, and once seated, several of them came over to say hello. Each time Jeremy introduced Donny to them, and one of them said, “So you’re the Don Hollenbeck I’ve heard of.”

There were a few changes to the menu since the last time, but Donny stuck with the chicken breast and iced tea. Jeremy ordered the fish – mahi mahi this time – and a club soda. As they waited for their drinks, Donny wondered how Jeremy would open the subject of Small Town Boys – or Just Us Guys. He had meant to tell Aaron that he liked the original title better, but he hadn’t had the chance.

Jeremy sat back in his chair, grinned at Donny, and said, “So, how’s business?”

“Good,” Donny replied.

“That’s great. I’ve heard a lot about your company. A lot of people say you guys are the next big wave, and I hear you’ve got a new product coming out pretty soon; a web browser of some sort?”

“Right, Gemini Control.”

Jeremy nodded. “Keeping you busy, I’ll bet. Did you write it?”

“No, I’m not in the writing end of it any more. I handle personnel and that end of the business.”

Jeremy nodded thoughtfully. “More the behind the scenes kinda guy, are you?”

“Yeah, guess you could say that.”

“So you let the guys who know how to handle the product do the work and you make sure that everything goes smoothly.”

Donny smiled a little to himself; he knew where Jeremy was going with this. “That’s right,” he said with a small nod, “but I also still have a hand in what we put out. I may not be writing code, but I do have a say in the product. I’m a partner.”

Jeremy got a tiny grin for a split second. “Well, that’s good. Good.” He tapped the table, glanced past Donny, and smiled to acknowledge the greeting of someone else across the room. He then looked back at Donny, laid the portfolio on the table, and folded his hands on top of it. The grin was gone. “Well, you see, Don, I hear you aren’t happy with the treatments that Aaron’s come up with for the project.” His tone was businesslike, but there was an edge to it and Donny sensed that Jeremy was sizing him up as someone to spar with.

“That’s right,” Donny replied, trying to match the tone.

Jeremy nodded tightly. “I see. What particularly do you object to?”

Donny knew that Jeremy knew exactly what his objections were; he was sure that Aaron had told him. “The people aren’t the people I had in mind. Eric, Scott, Greg...they’re like every stereotype of gay guys you see on TV all the time. That’s not what I wrote. You put those people on TV and people will laugh at them.”

“It’s a sitcom. They’re supposed to be funny.”

“Well, yeah, but I don’t want people laughing at the characters. And besides, I didn’t want it to be a sitcom in the first place. I wanted it to be more...real. Like thirtysomething.”

Jeremy opened the portfolio and glanced down at some notes. “Thirtysomething’s not real, either, Don. It’s a bunch of stereotypes, too; a bunch of whiney yuppies on the verge of a nervous breakdown. How believable is that?” He pulled out a folder and opened it. Donny recognized it as the first treatment that Aaron had showed him

“Well, I think it’s more believable – and more real – than the people in this show. I mean, look; you’ve got Eric as hairdresser. Come on. And Greg posing and flexing all over the place in a tank top. That’s...” Donny shook his head. “And Bobby is supposed to be gay, too, but now he’s a straight guy who talks about ‘chicks.’ He’s ....” Donny tapped the treatment with his index finger. “That’s not what I wrote.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It was the original treatment he’d written; he’d had the presence of mind to print it out that morning, re-read it, and put it in his pocket just in case. He unfolded it, smoothing out the wrinkles, and laid it on top of the treatment. “This was what I originally wrote up. This is what I gave to Lance, and this is what Aaron saw. And this is what I thought Small Town Boys was going to be.”

If Jeremy was surprised, he didn’t show it. He looked at the original pages and read them quickly, then set them down. He was about to speak when the waiter brought their drinks. He waited until he was gone and then said, “Don, do you want this project to get done?”

Donny shrugged. “To be honest, I really don’t care. I just did that because Mike – Lance – said I should try it. So I did. But...” he shrugged again, “I don’t really give a shit.”

Jeremy grinned to the point where his dimples – both of them – showed. “Oh, really? Then why have you hired an agent? Why have you signed a Writer’s Guild contract? Why are you sitting here having lunch with me? If you didn’t really give a shit, you’d be back in your office doing whatever it is you do there.” Jeremy leaned forward a little. “You want this,” he said, tapping the portfolio. “You do; believe me, I know the feeling. And if you’re that fired up to get it done, then...then maybe you oughta listen to people who are actually in the business who know how to get things done and maybe you’ll accept the fact that not everything gets done the way you want it.” His grin got a hard look to it, the dimples faded, and his eyes were penetrating. “Look, I like this idea. I really want to do it. And I’m here to tell you as a friend, Don, that as much as I respect you and as much as I like your idea, it’s that’s the way it is. Aaron’s a good writer; hell, he’s a great writer. He’s gonna get an Emmy someday. Listen to him. Listen to me.” He leaned back with an air of certainty and waited for Donny to nod, smile, and say, “You’re right. Let’s go.”

For a moment Donny thought about saying, “You’re right. Let’s go.” But there was something in Jeremy’s expression, a smugness; a touch of arrogance that said “I win. I always do.” Donny nodded slowly and Jeremy almost grinned.

“How about this,” said Donny slowly, thinking back to those long nights he and Mike spent hunched over the dining room table going through the scripts. “You say Aaron’s a good writer, right?”

“One of the best.”

“Okay. Well, what if I give it a shot. What if I write the first script?”

Jeremy laughed. It was almost a cheerful laugh, but with a note of hollowness. Then he looked at Donny and said, “Sure. What the hell. Knock yourself out.” He laughed again, and as the waiter brought their plates, he added. “Why the fuck not.”

They ate in silence, Donny’s mind spinning at the amazing task he had just set before himself, wondering where in the world that impulse came from. Maybe Jeremy was right; he really did want the show to go on. One thing he was sure of; he’d have to learn how to write a screenplay in short order. And he’d have to tell Gina what he’d done, and wondered if she’d still want to be his agent; her advice to sit there politely and nod and say “I’ll consider it” was out the window now. He hadn’t even signed the contract; Allen was still looking it over.

He didn’t remember much of the rest of the meal. Jeremy had changed the subject and was talking about something and Donny was nodding and smiling, but he had no idea what was being said. When the check came Donny reached for it but Jeremy grabbed it, pulled out a hundred dollar bill, and left it. He tipped the valet a twenty and drove Donny back to the office.

It wasn’t until they were pulling into the parking lot that Jeremy said anything that snapped Donny awake. “I hear Mike’s taking a little break.”

“Uh, yeah...just a vacation to see his folks back in Michigan,” he replied casually.

“Uh huh,” said Jeremy. “We all need that now and then.”

Jeremy stopped the car by the front door.

“Well, this was interesting,” Jeremy said, his innocent and beguiling grin returning. “Good luck with your script; I’ll be looking forward to seeing what you come up with.”

Donny looked at him, Jeremy’s expression unreadable under the Prada sunglasses. “All right. I’ll get it to you.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll read it.”

“Thanks for lunch.”

“My pleasure.” Jeremy casually patted Donny’s thigh, doing it quick enough that it couldn’t possibly be construed as anything other than a friendly gesture.

Donny started to get out, and Jeremy said, “Oh, hey...I heard that Marc...um... Marc...Paul Jeffries’ assistant works for you now.”

“Marc Griffin. Yeah, he’s our financial guy.”

Jeremy nodded. “Good. He’s a nice kid.”

“Just made partner,” said Donny.

“Really,” said Jeremy, sounding a touch impressed. “Well, good for him.” He grinned and Donny got out. Jeremy gunned the engine a little. “Well, see you later. Good luck.” He expertly took the Ferrari around the turn back to the street, waited a second, and then laid a tiny little patch of rubber as he pulled into traffic, the rumble of the exhaust fading away.

There was an interoffice package waiting for him. It was Gina’s contract back from Allen with a Post-It note on the first page: Looks fine. Good Luck. A. He called Gina and told her would sign the contract. “Good,” she said. “I’ll send a messenger over for it Monday morning.” He briefed her on the lunch and his proposal. There was a short pause, and then she said, “Okay, that wouldn’t have been my first instinct, but give it a shot. Let me see it before he does. Good luck.” The line went dead.

The rest of the day passed in a fog. Donny didn’t remember talking to Greg about end-of-year inventory, or attending the weekly plan-ahead meeting, even though later he saw that he had taken notes. He didn’t remember stopping at the gym and working out although he was sure he did because he had the soreness to prove it when he finally came to sitting alone on the patio.

It was already dark. He was thirsty, hungry and sweaty. He slowly got up from the chair and went into the house, which was dark. He found his way to the empty bedroom, the room where Mike and Danny’s boxes were sitting, each in its own group on opposite sides of the room. He flipped on the light and blinked several times.

This was the only room in the house that had been emptied by the previous owner. As he remembered it from the time Mike had lived there, it had had a small office desk, a chair, some old furniture and several boxes of clothes. Now the only remnants of the previous occupants were indentations in the tan carpet. There was a phone jack in the corner. Donny turned out the light and went to bed.

Early the next morning he went to Office Depot and bought a computer desk, a comfortable office chair, a printer stand, a desk lamp, and some miscellaneous office supplies. The young salesman helped Donny load the boxes in the back of the Tahoe, and with the tools he had stashed in the garage from the toolbox in his old truck, he spent three hours putting the new furniture together.

He made a quick sandwich and then drove down to the office. The building was quiet; only the weekend security guard’s Ford Escort was in the parking lot. He nodded to him, signed in, and then went up directly to the warehouse where he remembered that Eric had stored a new Gateway that had been given to the company on spec. It was still in the original boxes. He loaded them onto the hand cart, wheeled them out to the Tahoe, and drove home. It took an hour to set it up, but by the middle of the afternoon he had moved the empty cartons from Office Depot into the garage, crunched them down to fit in the recycle bin, and he put the computer boxes in the loft space above the garage.

He went to one of Mike’s boxes and found what he was looking for. In addition to the souvenir script from Silver Star, Mike had saved all the shooting scripts from Return to Sender, a couple of scripts from Capitol Hill, including the dog-eared and heavily edited pilot, and a VHS tape of the pilot and the first two episodes. He remembered seeing the pilot at Paul’s house, sitting in the little theatre, watching the somewhat blurry video projection, and then watching the premiere at home with Eric and Rob. Then, hidden under some other files, was a tape of Silver Star. He had seen that in the theatre. He’d gone alone to an afternoon showing the weekend after it had opened. The theatre was half-full.

He got a beer and put the tape in. He followed along with the script in his lap, noting how the directions on the pages matched – or didn’t match – the actual finished product. He ordered a pizza, drank another beer, and then watched it once more, making notes on an old BGSU notebook he had left over from his American Lit class.

The next morning he got up, made a pot of coffee and booted up the computer. For a moment he stared at the blinking cursor in the upper left corner of the blank Word document, and then, slowly at first, but picking up speed, he started writing.

He stopped twice. The first time was to go to the bathroom – the coffee had had its effect – and the second time was to make a sandwich. The clock on the microwave read 1:49.

He kept writing, glancing occasionally through the scripts to check on how to write out a particular stage direction, but never letting up until he noticed that the room had gotten dark. He wondered if there was a thunderstorm approaching, then realized that it was because the sun had gone down. He looked at his watch – it was 6:27. He had been writing for almost ten hours. The page count read 110.

He got up and stretched. His back was aching and his eyes were burning. He went out to the patio. It was a cool evening but not particularly cold, and the pool water was warm to the touch. He stripped off his shirt and shorts, dove in, and swam a few laps, the exercise loosening up the kinks. He sat on the edge of the pool, shook the water out of his ears, then dried off, and got dressed again.

He scrolled through the script, making a few changes and correcting the typos. Then he copied it onto a floppy disc and put it with his car keys to take to the office. He ate the rest of the leftover pizza and fell asleep almost as soon as he got in bed. The next morning he ran off a copy on the laser printer, slipped it into a binder, and along with the signed contract, put it in an envelope addressed to Gina Roscoe and got it out to Irene’s desk in time for the messenger pick-up.

A few days later Gina called.

“You wrote this?”


“How much of it?”

“All of it.”

A pause, then, “Not bad.”


“I’ll send it to D’Angelo,” she said and hung up. A few more days passed and Gina called again.

“They want to meet about your script. The earliest opening that works is Monday the thirty-first.” She chuckled. “Halloween.”

“Trick or treat,” replied Donny.

“I’ll call you later with the time,” she said and hung up. Donny was getting used to her habit of hanging up without saying goodbye.


The traffic was still fairly steady when they got to the turnoff at Banning, but they had the road to themselves as they headed up the mountain. Marc shifted in his seat, glanced over at Donny, smiled for no particular reason, and then settled back again. Donny switched the CD to Billy Joel.

The housekeeping service had left the lights on in the house. There was a little fruit and cheese basket on the kitchen counter with a welcome note from Brucie, and there was a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator. They unloaded the groceries and Donny took his duffel upstairs, Marc following him.

Donny flicked on the light in the master bedroom and dropped his luggage at the foot of the bed. The room looked the same as the last time except Mike had added a couple of personal touches such as a reproduction of an old map of Grand Traverse Bay over the dresser and a birch bark night table.

Marc stood in the doorway. “Nice place,” he said. Donny looked past him to see that he had turned on the light in the guest room across the hall and put his overnight case on the bed; a clear signal that they would be sleeping in separate rooms.

“Yeah,” Donny replied, “It is.” They went downstairs to make dinner.

Afterwards, Donny went out onto the back deck for a cigarette. It had gotten noticeably cooler just since they’d arrived, and small puffs of condensation came out from under the cover of the hot tub. Donny wondered if Marc would be interested in getting in, but Marc, who was still inside tidying up the kitchen, had been nearly silent throughout the meal and yawned once or twice, so Donny decided not to push the issue. A faint whiff of wood smoke drifted in and mixed with his cigarette.

Marc came out onto the deck and gazed up at the sky. “Whoa,” he whispered, “you don’t see stars like that in L.A. I mean the real ones.”

He was right. Other than the dim yellow bug lights in the sconces, there was very little light outside and there were no clouds. Just like last spring, it was like the stars were just overhead, and the Milky Way ran across the sky like a faint trail of tiny paint spatters. Marc went over and leaned over the railing of the balcony, resting his elbows and looking down to the valley below, his shoulders hunched as if he was cold or perhaps to ward off a blow. He let out an audible sigh.

“Everything okay?” Donny asked quietly.

Marc nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Just tired. Been a long couple of weeks.”

This struck Donny as a little odd. The work load had been normal, and other than a brief flurry of activity when the bank had mistakenly deducted a payment on the line of credit from the wrong account, there had been no crisis in the financial end of the company. The only thing that Donny could think of was the quarterly tax statement was due, but Cathy handled most of that now. What else was there?

Marc turned around, his back against the railing, his head thrown back, still looking at the stars. “Y’know,” he mused quietly, “you look at all those stars and it kinda makes you wonder if there are planets around each one of them with as much crap going on as there is down here. Wars, pollution, violence, all that other bullshit... or have they got it all figured out and we’re the ones that are clueless.” He looked at Donny and grinned a little. “Wow. Pretty heavy, huh?”

“Yeah,” Donny agreed. “And maybe on one of those planets there are people looking up at us and wondering if we’re as fucked up as they are.”

Marc snorted. He wandered over to the hot tub, lifted the corner of the cover, let a cloud of steam out, and let it fall back. “Well, whatever,” he said, then came over and gave Donny a quick hug. “I’m gonna head off to bed.”

“Okay. Sleep well.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Marc went inside and up the stairs. Donny finished his cigarette, rinsed out the ashtray in the sink, and turned off the gas in the fireplace, watching the ceramic fake logs cool off for a moment. He turned off the little light on the table in the living room and felt his way up the stairs. Marc’s door was closed.

He wasn’t sure what sound it was that woke him up; perhaps it was the click of a door latch and a moment later the creak of someone on the stairs. His watch read 1:30. He had left his door open, and faint light was coming up the stairs. Marc’s door was open but the room was dark except for the faint square of the window covered with the thin curtains.

He pulled on a t-shirt and went to the landing at the top of the stairs that looked out over the living room. The fireplace was lit, the flames the only light in the room, the soft mutter of the gas the only sound. Marc, wearing only a cut-off t-shirt and briefs, was sitting on the large round leather ottoman next to the hearth. He didn’t move, but he seemed to sense that Donny was watching him so when Donny came down the stairs and softly said, “Hey,” he didn’t seem startled.

“Hey,” he whispered back without moving.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Donny asked.

“New place, different bed. Takes a while.”

“Okay. You want something? Glass of water?”

“No, I’m good.”

Donny went to the kitchen and got a glass of ice water out of the refrigerator door, then came back and sat on the couch. Marc still hadn’t moved; he stared at the flames as if he was waiting for something to happen. Donny slowly drank his water, and when Marc still hadn’t moved by the time he’d drained the glass, he got up, put the glass in the sink, and headed for the stairs. “Well, I’ll see you in the morning, I guess. G’night.”

He was halfway up the stairs when Marc said, “Did you ever find out who sent you those anonymous letters?”

Donny stopped. “No.”

“Never tried to find out?”

“No, not really.” He started to come back down the stairs. “Why? Do you know?”

Marc nodded, and a sense of foreboding rose in Donny, growing, tightening, so that when he was able to finally say “Who?” it came out almost as a gasp.

“Me,” said Marc.

Chapter Guide