NOAH WATCHED THE PRODUCER’S ASSISTANT PLACE HER PURSE DOWN ON THE STOLEN RED COUCH. He’d taken everything in the apartment, all of it part of another man’s life that he now pretended to lead. The full-wattage smile she gave him never left her face, clear evidence she hadn’t been in the City long, the opposite of a native New Yorker like Nevie Wyeth. Nevie, with her panther-black hair and need for Fast—or any other drug someone had to offer. He was only reminded of Nevie because he’d been waiting endlessly for her to call. He was about to give up hope that she ever would.
“Kristy Edson,” the woman said, shaking his hand. She gave two quick pumps. “Mr. Bronfeld sent me over from the L.A. office.”
Noah knew that a guy like Barry Bronfeld was too much of a power player to ever appear in person, even though Apex Studios was giving Noah a gigantic deal for a novel and for a film based on that novel. The problem was that he hadn’t written a word yet.
“Kid, I can’t wait much longer,” Mr. Bronfeld had yelled on the phone the other night. “Just get it done, whatever it takes. I’m scouting locations already. We’re already spending a fuckload of money.”
They had decided to say that the novel and subsequent film were “based on a true story” to avoid any legal ramifications. They would change all the names, but at the end of the day Mr. Bronfeld wanted as much of the truth in there as possible. The Lee Matthew Goldberg
public craved answers and those answers sold books—reality sold books. Now the terrible things Noah did to make it in this business would be revealed in the guise of a story. Sins that nibbled at his soul more and more until all that remained were crumbs.
“So you’re here to…facilitate this?” he asked Kristy, nodding for her to take a seat on the red couch. He took out a pack of cigarettes and flipped one between his lips. His habit had ballooned from zero to two packs a day.
“Think of me as your cheerleader,” she said, smiling so hard that her back molars showed. He knew she was hungry for this “tell-all” coup, this bad boy bankroll in front of her. She pointed at his T-shirt that asked Who Am I?
“So who are you?”
“Why don’t you tell me when all this is done?”
Yesterday Mr. Bronfeld had threatened that Kristy would be Noah’s last chance; he’d be sued for breach of contract if the book wasn’t finished on time. He’d have to dictate his “novel” to her and then clean it up later on.
“The girl is in love with me,” Mr. Bronfeld had told him. “She can be trusted. And she stands to move up a bunch of rungs if she can get you to open up. She has no reason to go selling your story to some rag. Like I’ve told her some dark stuff. Shit I did at parties in the 80s that would get me arrested today. A hobo I once hit off the Pacific Coast Highway. Anyway… you’re damn young, Noah, but not for too much longer. This is your fucking time to shine. All you gotta do is get me that goddamn book.”
“I’m ready whenever you are,” he heard Kristy say. She removed a digital recorder from her purse and placed it on the glass coffee table between them.
“I’m trying to think of the best way to start,” he said, his mind racing.
“How about when you first met Dominick?”
He put on a pair of sunglasses. There was no need for her to keep looking directly into his eyes.
“Listen, we have an expiration date here.” She was still smiling, but it seemed strained. “Gossip only lasts for so long and then people stop caring. They forget.”
It was hard for him to concentrate on what she was saying. He didn’t know if it was because his brain had turned to mush from all the Fast he’d done the year after college ended, or if it was something else.
“I’m a little on edge,” he said, checking his cell. “I’m waiting for a call, an important call.”
“Forget about everything else right now,” Kristy said, and motioned for him to put away his phone. “And it’s normal to be on edge. So how are we gonna get you to calm down?”
She placed her hand on his knee. He noticed she had a tiny gap between her front teeth. He pictured her ten years ago: getting off the bus in Hollywood with an overstuffed suitcase, overfed on impossible dreams.
“I have to say that Slow Down was robbed at the Oscars,” she said. “You totally deserved Best Director.”
She hadn’t taken her hand off his knee, rubbing it now and casting her spell.
“How can I be sure that you won’t screw me over?” he asked.
She stopped rubbing to put a hand over her heart.
“Why would I ever do that?”
“I promise you’ll have a different opinion of me after we’ve finished.”
“I have too much to lose if we don’t deliver your book. Barry is financing most of your deal himself, and he’ll attach me as producer. He’ll give me the world.”
“You do know he’s married.”
She pouted her lips and shrugged her shoulders.
Noah felt his cell ring. He fumbled around in his pocket and picked it up after the first buzz.
“Hello,” he said, chewing on his lip.
“Noah!” a gruff voice shouted through the receiver. “Barry Bronfeld here. How’s it working out with Kristy so far?” Noah pictured this bigwig on the other end. Manatee-sized and wearing globular rings filled with cocaine that he’d snort in between meetings. The only bastard in Hollywood that promised double anyone else’s offer.
“Tell me we got a fucking masterpiece here, kid.”
Noah took another drag and exhaled the smoke through his nose.
“We’ve got a fucking masterpiece here, kid.”
“Noah, you are a hil-a-ri-ous son of a bitch. You hand me a goldmine and I’ll give you carte blanche with the entire project, even forget about any of these delays. Ah shit, I got Tommy Cruise on the other line…Ciao.”
Noah tossed the cell from one hand to the other, rubbing his tired eyes.
He glanced down as if willing it to ring again.
“Sometimes I think about taking a permanent vacation. Away from all the paparazzi.”
He looked out of the window toward a crowd of photographers below.
“Is it like this everyday?”
“With the film being so big, and of course after what happened….”
“So how true are all the rumors?”
He noticed her staring at the giant painting hanging on the wall. A blank white canvas with a yellow circle in the center and traces of red splattered across the bottom in the shape of a handprint.
“The painting caught your eye?”
“Yes…I’m trying to understand the significance of the red handprint, obviously the yellow circle represents–”
“Not everything has to have a meaning.”
“No, of course not, it’s just the yellow circle resembles the tattoos the different girls had in Slow Down, so I thought the red handprint might symbolize blood or death–”
“I’m ready to begin,” he said, more forcefully than he intended.
“Right….absolutely. Time is money.”
She turned on the digital recorder, her fingers lightly shaking. The apartment remained silent for a long, drawn-out minute.
“I met Dominick Bambach four long years ago.” He let out a laugh that sounded like he was gagging. “And I can’t help but wonder, what if I never had? Where would I be now? Who would I be? Sometimes I feel like the real me died a long time ago, or at least whatever part of me was worthwhile.”
He took a deep breath, one last moment of quiet before the purge. He knew that once he’d begin, he wouldn’t allow himself to stop until he reached the brutal end. He sucked in a last hit of smoke and crashed the butt into an ashtray filled with a pile of other snuffed casualties.
“So here it goes….”