Chapter Two of Below the Line, a saga that begins with a prologue—a little life, interrupted
The sun is our enemy.
During the weeks at sea, as we sailed into its maw,
it mocked us for the peace-loving,
ale-quaffing creatures of the land we were.
Implacable, each day that fiery orb
traversed the plain of brine
to end its travel—who knew?—in the steamy forests
of this wretched land.
Once arrived, our duty has been to wander:
across vast alluvial beaches,
then in mountains filled with wondrous creatures,
and now, upon this curious tabletop
of dusty soil the color of our excrement,
we trudge, ever westward,
into the fiery mouth of that witness to our misery.
May our Lord be with us.
________________Fulgencio Baptista y Aragon
cabo, oficial de la armada
At traffic pattern altitude, way past a mile above sea level but barely a thousand feet over the ground, the city that is called Mexico ("belly button" in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs) resembles the poorly administered sand-box of a child giant. Eighteen million people live and work here, somehow managing four rush hours a day, though siesta is practiced only by babies and amorous tourists.
After a mind-numbing three hour flight from the California border, where only an occasional barren mountaintop breaks the monotony of dun-colored soil and brown-green lakes and rivers, the city of Mexico comes upon the traveler by surprise, her shanty towns and scant sky-line ringed by low-lying hills. In actuality, of course, these hills crown a great alluvial table-top. Denver may be the mile-high city, but Mexico, the District Federal, is two thousand feet higher.
Once, historians tell us, there was a family of lakes here. They were connected by narrow natural channels, and the Aztec natives visited each others' cities and towns by means of boats called acáltin, rather like citizens of a rude Venice of the New World.
When the Conquistadores arrived, led by the Spanish hero, Hernán Cortés, they found a grand city—Tenochtitlán—in the very center of this series of lakes, like an omphalos—a belly button—of land surrounded by the clear aquatic runoffs from the many volcanoes in the area.
In less than a hundred years, building structures of wood in their native style, the Spaniards completely denuded the forests on the hillsides surrounding Tenochtitlán. That there were few Aztecs alive to acknowledge this loss was most likely, to their conquerors, irrelevant.
"Sand!" snorted Rand Macintosh in hammy derision. "The whole goddamn country's made of sand!"
He reached roughly across the divider between their first class seats for his Nikon, which Angela hadn't learned to work in twenty years.
"I gotta shoot this sucker! Lookit those shacks for Chrissake!"
Angela Macintosh wished he were not so instantly agitated, but that was Rand's way. It was the thing, she guessed, that audiences paid to see.
Chances are you've paid to see it. Rand Macintosh is That Face you know so well but cannot place: The Villain.
The head like a hologram of an Occidental Ghengis Khan. Very bushy eyebrows that rise nicely in amazement when the hero gets him in the end. Sleek black pompadour, now tending to gray, once the trademark of a leading man in the Warner's B pictures. Strong jaw. Good teeth. The only thing separating this guy from, say, Tony Curtis or Cary Grant, is that he
found it more lucrative to play the bad guy early in his career. Rand Macintosh liked money and the things it bought, so he played the heavy and never lost a night's sleep over missing real stardom.
They had a good life, Rand and Angie Macintosh. A life of friends and travel, full of "the important things," as Rand liked to put it.
Angela's antique Parisian compact mirror gleamed back at her: a still-beautiful high-cheekboned blue-eyed woman of a certain age with blond hair too young for her skin, but other than that....
Rand's motor drive whizzed and rattled as her husband clicked off frame after frame. Back home in Bel-Air they had a closet full of Kodak carousels. Rand could give you a two hour slide-show on half the major cities of the world. Any one of them would put you to sleep in a minute. He was not a good photographer.
Rand and Angela turned together to see a tall grandfatherly gentleman standing in the aisle.
"Laszlo Miljacovich," he said, holding out a large rough workingman's hand. "It's a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Macintosh," He smiled. He had a thinning Hungarian accent, and merry eyes behind designer Santa Claus glasses.
"And here, Lasz," replied Rand. "Admire your work. Introduce m'wife, Angela."
Laszlo stooped, took her hand gracefully, and almost brushed it softly with his lips in a decidedly Old World gesture.
Angela felt a little flush of pleasure and nodded, but before she could speak:
"You ought to be sitting," said Rand, pointing at the seat belt sign. "We're landing."
"I was on my way back from the escusado. Just awoke. Connecting flight from Budapest," Laszlo explained. "I noticed your camera. Used to have one. Leicas too. Traded them in on this."
He held up a little auto-everything Olympus. Seventy-nine dollars at 47th Street Photo.
"It has its own brain so I don't need mine."
"You're kidding," said Rand. This guy was a world-class cinematographer?
"Point and shoot. Eastman loves me. It's the motor drive. You take three pictures when one will do." He took Angela's hand again.
"So good to meet you, Mrs. Macintosh." And he lumbered his way back up the aisle.
"Our D.P.," said Rand, as Angela went happily back to her mirror. "Geezus."
The chartered DC-9 carried 60 members of UNTITLED's cast and crew. Talent and department heads flew first class. There was a general bustle of activity in the forward cabin; a gathering together of personal effects as the plane banked towards the airport.
Aft, a baby cried, her eardrums tortured by the descent.
Gerry Gold's two hundred dollar tennis shoes lay empty atop the latest revised shooting script. His feet hurt and he was in a funk. Judy was on the phone:
"And you made sure Deirdre got the flowers? Good. No, let's just let her rest when she gets in. I'll call this afternoon. Right. Bye."
"So where is she?" Gerry asked impatiently.
"Gerry, it's not even eleven o'clock yet! So she'll be here!"
"Well goddammit I got things to do. I wanna go over to talk to Eduardo. Is the car here yet?"
"The car is due at 11:30. Slow down a little, will you? You're operating on hypertime or something. You want a heart attack before we start shooting?"
"If I got a heart attack, maybe people'd start paying attention to me around here. Pepe! Pepe! ¡Venga aqui!"
Don North poked his head around the corner of the door that separated their two offices.
"Pepe's over in props, Gerry. Looking for your chair."
"Shit!" Gerry's back hurt too. He'd forgotten he'd asked for a more comfortable chair as soon as they'd come back from breakfast.
"Where the fuck is that girl, Don?"
"Beats me, Chief. Maybe she defected or something."
"Goddamn it, my car gets here in half an hour and she hasn't even started my manicure!"
Judy raised her eyes in mock supplication, for Don's benefit.
"Judy, see if you can get the shoeshine guy here ASAP."
"Gerry, you're wearing New Balance."
"Goddammit, I know what I'm wearing! Maybe he knows where the fucking manicurist is! And for your information I'm not wearing any shoes at the goddamn moment! You always gotta second guess me, Judy. Shit!"
Gerry went grumbling into the coffee room for his fifth cup of coffee of the morning.
"I wish you wouldn't drink any mooore!" Judy yelled after him.
"Look!" the producer stormed back in. "I'm having a cuppa coffee. I feel like a cuppa coffee and I will have a cuppa coffee!"
"Good morning, Meester!" It was the manicurist. About a minute early.
"Wait a minute!" growled Gerry. "I'm having a fucking cup of coffee!"
The poor woman looked meekly at Judy. Judy shook her head.
"Nada," she said. "Dolor de cabeza."
"You got that right, Sweepea!" said Don, amused. Don was not the kind of guy to let personality quirks get to him. If you were a boat, you'd want Don North to be your rudder.
"While the cat's away, you think us mice could get some work done in here, Lovebug?"
"Lemme get some coffee, Don." said Judy, smiling. "Seriously. I'll be right there."
Don walked back into his office. There were three desks in there. One was Wendy's and one was Don's and one belonged to Rosita, the very sharp little local girl Don had hired to help them find their way through the Mexican payroll. Don's PC sat on a large worktable of its own with the printer and two ten megabyte hard disks. The only thing that could pass for decor in the room was a large Miami Dolphins calendar over Don's desk. 1984 would soon be just a memory.
"Rosita, Darlin,' can you lemme have a look at the Art Department's shit? I don't know howda work this sucker."
He slapped the computer's terminal.
"You beatht!" he lisped.
Rosita slid her chair quickly across the floor. Don liked to watch her do that. She wore one of those ruffled peasant skirts. White blouse that showed off her shoulders. Her shoulders were brown. Her legs were browner. But she was no peasant.
Rosita Fernandez had an MBA from the University of Mexico. Had she not been star-struck at a very early age, she'd no doubt be climbing her way to the top of a major Mexican corporation, in spite of her nation's fragile economy.
The PC's screen glowed blue and yellow with a text-adventure game some of the office people liked to play, The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy, taken from the Douglas Adams book.
"You want to save your position, Don? You might die on the next turn, so it would be a good idea." Rosita spoke good English.
"That's not me, Sweepea. I think somebody else has been in there this morning."
"I'll call it 'SmbyElse.'"
"There ya go."
The hard disk whirred and the game was quickly replaced by Lotus 1-2-3, the de facto spreadsheet program that was networked with Disc Management's Payroll Accounts back in Burbank.
Film production accounting was like fighting a war by 1984. Computers had insinuated themselves everywhere. It was difficult to make money on the "float" between postings and payments like you used to. Currency fluctuations, however, were a different matter.
With Rosita's skilled input and local connections, UNTITLED had been able to buy pesos at 173 to the dollar in the fall. Already the peso had risen to 185. All per diems, hotels, salaries, the hard costs of shooting down here, were being paid at 168. By spending money they were making money. This situation was likely to blossom into an even more favorable exchange as the production continued. Mexican banks were paying 46 percent interest. The inflation rate was over 50% and climbing. These were interesting times.
"Here you go, Don," said Rosita. "It doesn't look good."
"That's why we're here, kiddo. To win an Oscar for Best Makeup."
"So speak to me." Judy had returned, with a cup of American Decaffeinated.
"I can tell—by the smell—that's a bogus beverage you got there, hon," said Don. "Coffee ain't coffee when there's no caffeine."
"You want me to fly around here like Gerry?"
Don spoke very soberly: "No."
"Then grant me my small idiosyncrasies."
"Have a look, Jude."
Don's big thick fingers danced over the keyboard. He was loading a worst-case what-if scenario.
"It's the Art-sub, Judy," he said. "If we're gonna start knocking this thing down before weather and contingencies get to us, we gotta come up with a game plan that won't break Jacques's heart."
"You think 86ing the statue won't break Jacques' heart?"
"That was a suggestion, Sweepea. It's one way to go. To give Gerry an idea of the magnitude of this thing."
Judy was noncommittal.
"I mean it's his money, babe. Your money. I've done pictures for these dudes before. It's not like they're gonna sit on their hands when the real numbers come in. They'll have the completion guarantors down here quick as snot. It'll come out of your producer's fee, to start. Then they'll start cutting pages. It could get nasty. I'm trying to do my best for Anthony too. I don't want him to get caught in the middle, like the 'artistic' bad guy."
"Not much chance of that," considered Judy. "Anthony's always thought we were crazy to sell them this in the first place."
"I rest my case."
"I say we hold off on this, at least for tonight. There's no sense in freaking every department out from the get-go. Let's see how the first couple of weeks go. Maybe Anthony can pick up a couple of days for us."
Don was unconvinced.
"Bottom line, he'll have to cut three weeks off the shoot. Unrealistic, darlin'. Very."
"It's all below the line, Jude. Every peso."
"What's this?" asked Gerry, returning like a new man and holding the fingers of his left hand in a bowl of soapy water. "We having a wake? I'm a Jew. I don't believe in wakes."
"Nickels and dimes, Gerry," answered Don. "Just looking for some nickels and dimes."
"Pesos," twittered Rosita.
"Hold my calls, Judy," said Gerry, ducking back out of the room. "I wanna think."
"Once Eduardo gets started, we're committed to the Statue, hon." Don whispered. "That's, like, five days in."
"OK," Don said fatalistically. "Back to Hitchhiker, Rosita."
"Just let me see everything below the line, Don," said Judy. "Maybe we can switch labs or something."
"Now that's creative! Let em process down here. You like scratches and green faces?"
"Dailies transportation back and forth to Deluxe is a fortune!"
"I know. We talked about this with the studio. They'll never go for processing down here."
"It worked out ok for DOOM."
"They brought their own guys in from Italy, Judy. Effectively they leased the lab out. And by the way, they went somethin' like twelve million over."
"See? Look on the bright side: it could be worse."
"Your optimism is exceeded only by your naïveté."
"I appreciate a man who speaks his mind."
"Long as I still have a mind, I'll speak it," said Don. "Should be good for about three weeks."
At that moment, out of the bright and humid silence of the Mexican morning, a CRRAAASSSHH! reverberated through the building. It was followed almost simultaneously by:
"SHHEEITT!" from Gerry Gold in the next room.
Judy and Don hurried in to find the manicurist's soapy bowl of water overturned and dripping down Gerry's desk. Gerry and the manicurist were staring gape-mouthed at an immense hole in the floor-to-ceiling bay window. Excited voices burbled in Spanish outside down in the quad. Lying on the floor was a large block and tackle. Glass shards were everywhere.
Gerry stared out of the fractured window to two peones down below who were apologizing profusely in agonizing English.
"What the fuck is going on?" he screamed. Gerry craned his head out of the window. Looking down, then up, he saw Pepe the gofer staring down from the roof, a rope in his hand, his face the color of soggy Rice Krispies.
"Señor," said Pepe. "¡Lo siento mucho, Señor! The chair. She fall."
Don and Judy gazed into the quad. A large, hideous, green, gold and purple chair—some kind of throne apparently—was lying on its side.
"Everybody OK?" yelled Don.
"Si, Maestro," answered a peone as he righted the throne and brushed pieces of glass from its plush-cushioned seat. "She's OK. I build her myself!"
Gerry was flustered:
"Well...Goddammit..." he looked helplessly from Judy to Don to Pepe on the roof. "Somebody get down there and help them!"
Don was guiding the block and tackle gingerly past the broken glass.
"Here you go, Pepe. Give it another try!" The block swung gently through the window and twisted a bit as it hung there. Pepe lowered it.
"Be right back," said Don to Judy. He walked through the outer office where a gaggle of extras and their Mexican production coordinator were staring, fearing the worst.
"It's OK, team," said Don. "No big deal. He lives."
He hurried down the stairs and into the quad. The peones were standing either side of the throne, a mixture of pride and concern on their faces.
"She fall down and go Boom, hey Maestro?" said the smaller man, proud of his mastery of the vernacular.
Don smiled broadly. The throne was six feet high and bejeweled, with a pair of nasty-looking serpents crawling down the sides. Their fanged and feathered heads, with synthetic rubies for eyes, were the throne's arms.
"That," said Don admiringly, "is a hell of a thing."
"The trone of Quetzalcóatl, Señor," said the taller peone, with great pride in his voice. "Por el rey."
"For the King, señor!" said the second. "¡El Rey Gerry!" And then, in harmony:
"¡Por el Rey Gerry!"
"Mighty fine, amigos," said Don, managing to suppress a risita, which would be a Mexican giggle, if not a guffaw. "El Rey Gerry is gonna love it."
Shading his eyes from the sun which was now quite high, though diffused by smog, Don yelled up to Pepe on the roof:
"¡Bueno, Pepe! Good call!" he said, indicating the chair. "You fix the window, right?"
"¡Si maestro! She's so good as feexed in the minute!"
"Hey Gerry!" called Don.
Gerry Gold stuck his head back out the window. He was holding his manicure bowl and for some reason had a towel wrapped round his neck, like a bib. Don figured he'd returned to normal.
"I'm gonna inspect the grounds. Look for snipers 'n stuff. Hold the fort."
Gerry waved him away, soap dripping from his fingers.
"And Gerry! Be kind." Don motioned to the chair. "It's the trone of Quetzalcoddle, whoever the fuck he is."
Airport Harry Golonka chatted in Spanish with the guards outside customs. Like so many international airports, Mexico City had beefed up its security. The Mexicans tolerated the presence of uniforms and machine guns well; something in the national makeup; some memory perhaps of the past, and unwanted intruders. Maybe it was the proximity of Salvador and Nicaragua. The United States.
There was nothing the least bit ceremonial about the guards. They wore ill-cut olive-drab uniforms and slung worn and out-dated automatic weapons over their shoulders. They were young and hard-looking. It was best to befriend them, Harry knew, for they dogged the steps of American film crews wherever they went. And when a picture had lots of guns—as UNTITLED did—well, el ejército, the Army, ran the show.
Harry eased past the customs inspectors as the outside doors opened to the crush of passengers. He recognized many of the Americans by the photos in his dossiers. Also, in general, they were taller and better-dressed than the Mexicans. It was time to go to work.
"¡Bienvenidos Amigos!" he called to the cast and crew. "Welcome! Welcome! This way for UNTITLED! This way."
While the Mexican nationals queued up at Passport Control, Harry and the Americans drifted down the terminal a ways. They would collect their baggage and be processed as a group.
Rand Macintosh was impressed. Though three lines of passengers snaked towards customs and immigration officials, his group, it seemed, would forgo that routine.
"Work permits, please!" called Airport Harry. "Everyone give me his work permit, now." He wound through the swarm of film people, collecting documents as he went.
"Ah, Mr. Brock," said Harry to the actor, who looked shorter in person than he did on the screen. "Welcome to Mexico!"
Jeff Brock smiled. It was the easy grin of a pleasant-looking fortyish man. Brock was one of those actors from the Charles Bronson school: your average kind of guy who had lived a whole life before achieving suc-cess in the movies. As U. S. Marine, stevedore, abalone fisherman in Santa Barbara, short order cook in Barcelona, student of kick-boxing in Bangkok, Jeff Brock didn't need the movies for personal validation. He could always go back to where he'd come from. He was secure as himself, and therefore a rar-ity in a business that traded on insecurities. Audiences realized, in a profound way, that he couldn't care less, and—following in the tradition of guys like Steve McQueen and Bogart—Jeff had made it the hard way: by pulling himself up from the bottom, rumpled and dirty, but all the same.... Jeff Brock was his real name.
Jeff stepped aside, in deference to a positively stunning redhead who didn't even have a carry-on bag. Deirdre Malone was born to be a movie star. God had cast her as the lead in the play of life without even an audition.
"Thank you, Jeffrey," she soothed, speaking in a slight and totally charming make-believe brogue while handing her papers to Airport Harry.
Now Harry had held the hand of a few famous and beautiful women in his time. Elizabeth Taylor had done NIGHT OF THE IGUANA here in Mexico. Ali McGraw, THE GETAWAY. Even Bardot had shot a picture down here years ago when she was young. But Señorita Malone was too beautiful for comparison to all of them. She took your breath away, held it for an eternal moment, and gave it back to you perfumed and suitable for framing.
"Con mucho gusto, Señorita," was all Harry could say, since even his English had failed him.
Deirdre held Harry's hand an instant too long. Harry was aware of the other Americans backing up behind them, but only vaguely. He couldn't get past Deirdre's eyes, which were an impossible green, the color of the plumes of Chalchihuitlicue's cape in the Natural History Museum, greener than jade. Her complexion was as fair and clear as an infant's.
"I am Harry Golonka, Miss Malone. I am at your service."
"Unh, Harry," said Jeff Brock, leaning in with a grin. "Any chance we can get outa here anytime soon?"
"Sure. You bet, Mr. Brock. Everybody follow me!"
He turned and led the group past a customs agent who was similarly transfixed.
"Norteamericanos," said Harry by way of explanation. "De la Pelicula UNTITLED." He waved his little packet of official papers perfunctorily in the agent's direction. The man smiled and nodded his head. He was totally unable to take his eyes off Deirdre. It was getting ridiculous. The whole terminal had started to buzz.
The Macintoshes and Laszlo Miljacovich didn't know exactly what was happening, or how, but apparently they were going through customs without going through customs.
"Nice country you got here," said Rand to the inspector who waved him through.
"Bienvenidos, Señor. Have a Nice Day."
"Y usted," said Mrs. Macintosh, prettily pleased to be someplace to practice her Spanish. "¡Tiene usted el dia bueno tam-bien!" she continued and then, whispering to Rand: "I didn't know how to say 'nice' en Español."
"No matter, honey," answered Rand, who was happy to see a fleet of Ostentoso limousines awaiting. "You'll learn."
Don North had set off in the direction of Transportation. It was a short walk from the office, a couple of hundred feet across some rugged Bermuda grass. Between the grass median and Transportation was a kind of village square, el cuadrilátero, with benches and big concrete checker boards scattered here and there. About fifty extras and studio hangers-on were gathered, many of them playing chess or checkers.
The square at Estudios Azteca reminded Don of the Plaza San Francisco in Seville. The Spaniards loved to hang out in the sun, drinking coffee or aperitifs, talking, watching. Just living, you know? The Mexicans had inherited that national trait. On any Sunday the parks and gardens of the city were packed with families and lovers.
El cuadrilátero, however, was less a societal microcosm than one big outdoor hiring hall. The quad was where the job seekers and the freaks hung out: actors, actresses, balladeers, comedians, snake charmers, part-time hookers, and midgets.
Don especially liked the midgets. And he had no idea why there were so many of them. They might not even have been midgets; some could be dwarfs, or just very short people. Anyhow: the quad was full of little Mexicans this morning, speaking a torrent of Spanish. Some were in full caballero drag—spangled vests and sombreros wide as the wearers were tall. The lady enanas wore Flamenca outfits, some of them. There was a lady bull fighter—a torera?—and a pair of identical twins done up as Apache Dancers, which was really a case of cross-cultural pollination. By the time he reached Transportation, Don had crossed the paths of twenty-three tiny human beings, none dressed as a businessman or a housewife. Life was a carnival.
Transportation was the first office on the left. A number 103 hung suspended above the door, white letters on a bright shiny green reflective background. Other numbers hung similarly all the way down both sides of the unlighted white-tiled corridor. This was the building called Officinas Producciones. It smelled vaguely of urine. There was one over-used commode at the other end of the hall which Don would always try to avoid. Too many dwarfs, not enough shitters. He knocked at the door to 103, which was open. It was a matter of protocol.
The small room had one desk, two chairs and nine Mexicans inside. Miyayah Morone, the only woman present, knew how to draw a crowd: Kohl-blackened eyes, hair like midnight on the oasis, a body that undulated sex and violence.
"Meester North, welcome!" she said. These, apparently, were the only English words she knew. She was Bernardo Ballone's assistant. Ballone was not present. The other men ignored Don. For three days it had gone like this. Before Don could get the question out, Miyayah answered it:
"Bernardo no es aqui."
"¿Donde esta Bernardo, Miyayah?"
"No se," shrugged Miyayah. The Mexicans laughed. It was apparently some kind of running joke they had. Somebody cracked open a bottle of Corona. The room smelled of beer and sweat.
"¿Amigos?" Don queried the men.
They laughed louder and shook their heads. A beer was offered.
In the insular world of Mexican movie teamsters this was considered a social gaffe. The Mexicans mumbled and grunted among themselves. Don felt like he was in a bad movie, a below the border version of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, maybe.
Miyayah rolled backwards in her chair to a grossly over-amplified and therefore illegal CB radio behind her. She wore five inch heels, expensive patterned stockings and a garter belt. She picked up the microphone and held the button down:
"¿Bernardo?" There was nothing but static. "¿Bernardo?" She tried again.
"¡Attencion, Bernardo, venga!"
Miyayah turned pleasantly away from the radio, tugging down her white angora sweater, which was threatening to strangle her breasts like two chihuahuas fighting each other for breathing room beneath it.
The Mexicans glowered protectively, their attention split between Miyayah's breasts and Don North. The breasts pretty much had the upper hand, till Miyayah spoke, holding her palms up to Don plaintively.
"Lo siento, Señor." Her nails—each two inches long—were done in a color best described as Baboon's Vulva. Don wondered how she typed.
"Me too," he said in frustration. "Moi aussi, you saucy wench. "¿Comprendo?"
Everybody shook his head. Don felt like a customer in a bobble-headed doll store.
"Tell Bernardo to call me, OK?" Nine heads bobbed up and down in unison. Another beer was opened. Don figured the message would never get through.
"Paper?" he said. "¿Papele?" He made a writing-motion.
Miyayah leaned over to open the bottom drawer in her desk. The chi-huahuas nearly escaped. Eight heads bobbled over the desk. The girl came up with a pad of stationery. Inhumaciones Cortés—Dia y noche read the letterhead. An ad for a Mexican funeral parlor. Miyayah pulled a pencil out of her elaborately coifed and sprayed beehive and offered it to UNTITLED's accountant.
"Bernardo, you fuck," wrote Don in block letters. "CALL ME!" He handed the note back to Miyayah, who acted like she could read it.
"Call me!" said Don, dialing a telephone in the air.
¡Si, señor!" said Miyayah. The men laughed.
"You guys are all stupid faggots." said Don. The Mexicans laughed and nodded.
"¡Bernardo no es aqui!" said one particularly swarthy muchacho. He reached for yet another Corona.
"Nothing but pussy on a stick!" said Don, invoking a particularly unfortunate and colorful phrase from his Deep South boyhood. The men laughed harder and Don turned and split.
Angela Macintosh fumbled with her purse, trying to get at a Spanish dic-tionary she knew she had stashed inside. All around them porters arrived with little carts piled high with the luggage the company had brought to carry them through four months in Mexico City. Like Americans everywhere, all the time, they had brought too much.
Except for Deirdre Malone. She stood patiently in the midst of the bustle with but a single bag on the ground next to her, enjoying the sights and smells surrounding her: the billboards across the street, unfamiliar Spanish words writ large and colorful; the beautiful blue sky above her, which didn't seem to have a particle of smog suspended in it; the mingled smells of gasoline and diesel exhaust, and the slightly cramped and tired odor of the travelers as they moved back and forth noisily, making sure they had all their stuff. Airport Harry Golonka's voice rang out with instructions now and again, often in perfect Spanish—Angela could tell, she had an ear for language—to the drivers of all those vehicles.
"Somethin', hunh?" Jeff was close by her side.
"It's amazing," she thought aloud. "All of this for us."
"Yeah...." He stood there a minute, absorbing the energy of the tumult. Finally, indicating a black fresh-waxed Ostentoso: "Guess this baby's ours. Whaddaya say?"
The driver held the door for them and the stars of UNTITLED slid into the cushioned air-conditioned silence of the transportation to which they had long since become accustomed.
It isn't a long drive from the airport to the Zona Rosa. Half an hour, maybe, this time of day, the very tail-end of the morning rush hour. There was a bottle of Kristal in the little fridge in the limo. Slightly self-consciously, Jeff cracked it.
"Might as well, hunh?"
"Just a smidge for me," said Deirdre. "I don't want to get started."
"Oh?" said Jeff, filling his glass to the brim. "You don't look like a rummy."
"I put on weight. Like you wouldn't believe. And it makes my eyes puffy in the morning."
"Me too," he answered. He raised his glass to the city, to the driver, to his leading lady. "Here's to."
She clinked. Good crystal. She'd toasted with paper cups on more than one trip from an airport to a hotel. This was starting to look like a First Cabin operation.
"So you never told me," Deirdre said, lazily, settling back and watching the Mexican construction sites whiz by on her side. "Why UNTITLED?"
Jeff downed half his glass, very happily, then sat and thought a moment. She liked him most when he was quiet and thoughtful, it crossed her mind.
"For one thing: you." And he grinned.
"Oh!" She held her glass out for more champagne, chilled to perfection as it was.
"Truly. No lie. I think we'd be good together. But that's only part of it, for the talk shows: 'I wanted to work with Deirdre Malone and I would have paid to do it.'"
Deirdre smiled. Her tongue flicked the white and fine edge of her teeth insouciantly.
"But—I want a series. I wanna make a picture every two years like Sean Connery, and I wanna be paid outrageously for it...and the rest of the time..." he refilled his glass, "I wanna stay as far from this crap as I can."
"I love a professional."
"No offense," said Jeff, "but this is kid stuff."
Deirdre thought a minute, and sipped.
"You know, in Europe we approach it differently. There's a different tradition."
"Olivier, Richardson, Gielgud..."
"It's a profession at home, Jeff. I studied for eight years just to be a part of it."
"Yeah, well it's taken me eight years of doing it to find out I don't want any part of it."
Deirdre's quetzal-jade eyes probed quietly past her co-star's rugged good looks, searching for the source of his discontent. She said nothing. Her actress's sixth sense told her this was going to be one of those affairs you love and hate at the same time.
She drained her glass and gestured for more.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
Six Feet Under
We Were Soldiers