I’d forgotten about Pricilla. She was Simon’s wife. She opened the door when we knocked. She was from some rich family with old money. She had gone to the same schools as Simon. She really hated our guts.
“Hi Pricilla,” I said, feigning pleasure at seeing her again. I noticed Pricilla didn’t bother feigning back. So much for social protocol. “Simon home?”
“If I tell you he’s not will you go away?”
“Nope. We’ll just come inside and wait.”
“What if he’s in Europe?”
“We’ll make ourselves comfortable.”
She glared at me for a moment. “Yeah, you would, wouldn’t you,” she said. It wasn’t a question. A look of disgusted resignation came over her. “Well, get inside then.” She turned and walked away without waiting. I would’ve checked out her ass but she was, after all, Simon’s old lady. Kind of gave me the willies.
Me and Jimmy entered the house and kicked the caked up snow off of our boots. Good thing all they had in the foyer was one of those Persian carpets. Maybe Simon wasn’t doing so well financially if he couldn’t afford an American made rug. I also found it odd that there would be snow in Wilmington this time of year. Or any time of year for that matter. I was about to ask Jimmy where the hell we had gotten boots from when Simon walked in.
“Hello Dick,” he said. “Jimmy.” Simon was a little shorter than me. Sandy hair, hazel eyes. Shopped at the Gap. Starting to get a little pudge overlapping his belt I noticed. Not much, just a start.
“Good to see you Simon,” I said.
“Hey dude,” Jimmy said meekly.
“I figured you’d be coming to see me any time now,” Simon said. “Come on into the study. Let’s hear what you’re into this time.”
“Looking good yourself, Simon,” Jimmy said. He had been rehearsing responses in the car for the last 15 minutes. Wasn’t hitting his cues perfectly. Didn’t matter, Simon was already out of the room.
We settled into the study and, once again, I related the story of my encounter with one Mr. Jackson Burroughs. I finished and sat back in my chair, satisfied that the impact of this particular assignment was weighing in heavily on Simon. He stared at me for a full five minutes. I sat still but ready, coiled to spring into action should another Kung Fu fight be necessary. Jimmy was apparently also thinking about the episode at his home earlier in the day. He dozed only fitfully.
“Okay. Wait, wait. Wait a minute,” Simon said, holding his hands in the air. “Let’s not go any further here.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” I asked.
“I’m not doing a damn thing until I see the script,” he said.
“Script. I want to see the manuscript.”
“Oh come on, Simon,” I said. “Don’t start up with this again. Would I be here if it wasn’t good?”
Apparently I could have been. Simon didn’t say a word. Just held out his hand. Waiting.
“Ahhh, shit,” I said. “You are such a pain in the ass.” But I opened my briefcase and handed it over. “Why do you always have to make such a stink over everything?”
“Because I’m not officially under contract yet and I owe it to myself to check and see what this is all about. If you were smart you’d have done the same. Too late for you, but not for me.”
With that, he sat back and started reading. I waited impatiently, tapping my fingers, tapping my foot, counting to one thousand out loud, just trying my best to be as annoying as possible. Jimmy was sleeping more soundly now. He had a line of drool running down his check.
“This is it?” Simon said as he finished. “This is all there is?”
“Yeah, that’s it. What’s the problem?” I said.
“What’s the problem? What’s the problem? There’s only four chapters here and part of the fifth. Where’s the rest?”
“There isn’t any more yet.”
“Nothing? Nothing at all? Not a rough draft, a chapter summary? Not even an outline?”
“This guy doesn’t work like that. He – “
“Look, Dick, I know you mean well, and I’d like to help you, I really would. But I’ve got a wife and four kids to support now. I need better material than this.”
“You don’t have any kids, Simon.”
“Okay, that part was a lie. But the rest is true. I’ve got loftier goals than this author will ever be able to push me to.”
“Dammit, Simon. You’ve been in some of the dumbest plots ever to hit paper. Don’t try that shit with me.”
“Exactly my point,” he said, leaning in and pointing his finger at me. “I’m tired of playing bit parts in second rate adventure stories that only come out in paperback. I’m better than that. A good story. That’s all I want. Is that asking for too much? I don’t think so. I mean, I’m not expecting to be in a Faulkner or a Hemmingway or even a Michener, too late for that. But damn it, a Clancy shouldn’t be that difficult. What the hell, I’m even willing to get my arms and legs hacked off to get into a Stephen King. I’m talented enough to do that. But oh no, here I am in yet another unprintable schmuckfest of literary crap. I mean, this story sucks. Spy Moose my ass.” Simon shook his head and rubbed his temples as if in pain.
“Oh chill out,” I said. “I’ve been in worse gigs than this. We can salvage it. We just need to make a few adjustments maybe, that’s all.”
“We need Heather Locklear is what we need,” Jimmy said suddenly.
“Well that’s not an option we have at the moment,” I said.
“Heather Locklear?” Simon asked, “And what in the world would Heather Locklear do for us?”
“What, are you nuts?” Jimmy said, looking at Simon’s big old pizza head in disbelief. “Heather’s like...like Mrs. Goodwrench. She can fix anything. “Melrose Place? Wayne’s World II? Spin City? Any of this ring a bell? Have you been dead for the past decade?”
“Okay, okay, knock it off,” I said. “Granted, Heather would be a big plus, but we’re running on a low budget so it’s out of the question. Why don’t we direct our thoughts to something that we can do, rather than wasting all day on pipe dreams, hmmm?”
“I guess you’re right,” Jimmy admitted.
“Agreed,” said Simon.
“Now,” I continued, “If we do change anything up to this point the first four chapters may have to be revised. I agree, the plot is suspect. But I don’t think we can trust the author to do any major rewrites at this point and still have us making forward progress. He’s obviously an amateur and his editing skills have to be considered as such. So we’ll have to just accept what is already done and make the best of it from this point on.”
“Why should we worry about his editing skills? Isn’t that what a publishing house is for?” Jimmy asked.
“What publishing house? We’re talking small press at best. Limited resources. Won’t happen. Trust me.” Simon informed us.
“So we do nothing? Nothing at all?” Jimmy asked.
“ I really don’t think we can,” I said. “And we’ve all been introduced so there’s no backing out now, Simon.”
“Next time I see my agent I’m gonna shove a toaster up his ass,” Simon said.
“Maybe not the best career move, but that’s your choice,” I replied. The rain continued to batter against the window panes, painting a gloomy mood that echoed our feelings about the current predicament.
“Look,” I said finally, “we’re all good actors. I think if we pool our talents – “
“What about him?” Simon said pointing at Jimmy. “He’s a talented actor? He’s so burned out you shake his head it sounds like a maraca, brain cells bouncing around in there.”
Jimmy looked hurt. And a little defensive. “Hey, man, I’ve had good gigs before. I’ve been a cop, a homosexual dwarf, a pregnant cat, a schizophrenic superhero – “
“Does this author even know how to spell ‘schizophrenic’?” Simon asked rhetorically.
We all looked to see.
“Yeah, I think he does,” I said. “’Rhetorically’ too.”
“Still . . . I don’t think Jimmy’s strong enough to pull his weight,” Simon continued. “What else have you done?”
“Well, I already told you my big roles,” Jimmy said gloomily. “That’s it basically. ‘Cept for that wizard thing.”
“What “wizard thing?”
“Oh, you probably never heard of it. Way back when I was starting out. Before I got into sniffing glue, I played a wizard in a little fantasy story. Big tall old guy named Gandalf.”
Simon and I both sat in stunned silence. My jaw dropped down so far I got carpet burns.
“You were in a Tolkien?” Simon asked softly.
“Tolkien, yeah! That’s the dude’s name! Man, that’s been keeping me up at night, you just don’t know.”
“I don’t believe it. You were Gandalf. That’s got me beat. Man, you were really good,” I said.
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “I was pretty good, now that you mention it. That book was probably the highlight of my career. Wish I could remember what it was called.”
“Book?” Simon exclaimed, “Man, you were in a trilogy! Lord of the Rings is still selling. It’s a movie, a video game; it’s all over the place!”
“Trilogy? You mean, like, three books? Whoa. I must have started sniffing glue sooner than I thought.”
“What do you think about Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn?” I asked Simon.
“He’s good,” Simon replied.
“Yeah, I think so too. But I wasn’t too sure about him at first.”
“Me neither. But by the time Boromir got killed I had kind of warmed up to him”
“Yeah, me too. Boromir went down hard; three arrows. Thick arrows.”
“They were some nasty looking arrows too.”
“But then Aragorn whacked off that dude’s head.”
“Well deserved, if you ask me.”
“Wmmrerglumdmflml”, said Pricilla.
“Hey,” I said, “Who tied up Pricilla and stuffed a gag in her mouth? For that matter, how long has she been here?”
“Oh, don’t worry about her. She’s got some weird habits,” Simon said, looking back at Jimmy. “Damn. Gandalf. Damn!”
“So that’s good right?” Jimmy said. “We can keep going with the story, right?”
“Ah, what the hell,” Simon said. “Why not?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy continued, “maybe this will turn into a cult thing too. Kind of a new Lord of the Rings for the 80’s.”
“We’re a tad past the 80’s Jimmy,” I said.
“Really? Whoa. That would explain a lot.”
“So, you in Simon?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m in.”
“Good. Now maybe we can start actually doing something,” I said.
I leaned back in my chair and took a long pull from my cigarette. When the hell do I keep lighting these things? No matter. All was well now. Simon was in. Jimmy was in. Pricilla was laying on the floor, hardly struggling against her bonds anymore. Simon was right, she was a weird chick.
We were a sly team. And we were ready to roll. First thing in the morning the hunt was on. The silence in the room told me that we were all thinking the same thing.
“I’m hungry,” Jimmy said. “You got any Little Debbies?”
Next Week - Chapter 6