Life blood, p.2
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Life Blood, p.2

          

  Chapter Two

  Moving on, my next stress-point was to meet with my young boss, theafore-noted David Roth, who was CEO and First Operating Kvetcher ofApplecore Productions, a kinda-sexy guy whose heart was deeply engaged,often unsuccessfully, with bottom lines. The issue was, I'd donetoday's shoot, the interview with Carly, without troubling to securehis okay. Without, in fact, telling him zip--the reason being I wasafraid he wouldn't green-light the idea. Now my next move was to try toconvince him what I'd just done was brilliant.

  Actually I liked David a lot, and hoped the occasional tangles we'd hadover the film wouldn't stand in the way of a friendship. The truth is,you don't meet that many interesting, stable men in my line of work.Our artistic goals weren't always in sync, but all the same, he'd donean enormous favor for somebody close to me and for that I'd vowed towalk through fire for him.

  When I marched into his cluttered, dimly lit office, my mind stillchurning over Carly's strange adoption story, what I saw sent myproblem-detector straight into the red. There, sitting across from him,was Nicholas Russo, a five-seven smoothie in a charcoal Brionidouble-breasted, the gentleman David sometimes referred to as Nicky thePurse. Another land mine in my life. He operated off and on asApplecore's "banker" when cash flow got dicey and real banks gotnervous. It was an arrangement of last resort, since Nicky's loans hadto be serviced at two percent a week. Do the numbers: He doubled hismoney in a year. I knew too that putting money out to independentfilmmakers was part of Nicky's attempt at a legitimate front; the realcash went onto the streets of Hell's Kitchen, just outside our door,where he got five percent a week. And Nicky's overdue notices were notsent through the mail.

  He also had a piece of a video distributorship, Roma Exotics, thatreputedly specialized in . . . guess what. It was all stuff I tried notto think about.

  I had a strong hunch what was under discussion. The $350,000 David hadborrowed to finish my picture. We'd gotten the loan three months ago,when cash was tight, and we both figured we could pay it back later inthe year, after we got a backup cable deal (though I was ultimatelyhoping for a theatrical distribution, my first).

  Shit! What did Nicky want? Were we behind on the weekly juice? I'dsigned on with David partly to help his bottom line. Was I insteadgoing to cause his ruin?

  At the moment he had his back to Nicky, seemed to be meditating out thewindow he loved, its vista being the grimy facades that lined the farwest of Fifty-eighth Street. His office, with its wide windows andforest of freshly misted trees, told you he was a plant nut. Outside itwas early April, the cruelest month, but inside, with all the trees,spring was in full cry. The place also felt like a storage room, withpiles of scripts stacked around every pot. The office normally smelledlike a greenhouse, but now the aroma was one of high anxiety.

  David revolved back and looked across the potted greenery, then brokeinto a relieved smile when he saw me. I could tell from his farawaystare that he was teetering on the verge of panic.

  "Hey, come on in," he said. "Nicky's just put a brand-new propositionon the table."

  David had a keen intelligence, causing me to sometimes wonder if he wasin a line of work beneath him. (For that matter, maybe I was too.) Hewas dark-haired, trim, with serious gray eyes and strong cheekbones.This morning he was wearing his trademark black sweater, jeans, andwhite sneakers, a picture of the serious go-for-broke New Yorkindy-prod hustler. He'd already made and lost and made several fortunesin his youthful career. My only sexual solace since Steve left was anoccasional glance at his trim rear end. I also saluted his fiscalcourage. His congenital shortfall, I regret to say, was in the matterof judgment. Exhibit A: Nicholas Russo's funny money.

  "Nicky, you remember Morgan James, the director on this project."

  "Yeah, we met. 'Bout four months back." Nicky rose and offered hismanicured hand, a picture of Old World charm. His dark hair was parteddown the middle and his Brioni, which probably fell off a trucksomewhere in the Garment Center, had buttons on the cuffs that actuallybuttoned. "How ya doing?"

  "Hi." I disengaged myself as quickly as possible. The slimeball.

  Again, why was he here? The way I understood it, we'd signed alegitimate, ironclad note. Nicky wasn't exactly the Chase ManhattanBank, but I assumed he was a "man of honor," would live by any dealDavid had with him. "Do we have some kind of problem?"

  "Nah," Nicky said, "I'm thinking of it more in the way of anopportunity. Dave, here, showed me some of your picture this morning,and it ain't too bad. Got me to thinking. You're gonna need a videodistributor. So maybe I could help you out."

  Oh, shit and double-shit. I looked at him, realizing what he had inmind. "How's that? Applecore already has a video distributor. We use--"

  "Yeah, well, like I was telling Dave, I got a nose this picture's gonnado some serious business." He tried a smile. "Whenever I see one ofthese indy things that don't add up for me, like this one, I alwaysknow it's a winner. What I'm telling you is, I think you got somethinghere. He says you're figuring on a cable deal, and maybe a theatricalrelease, but after that you gotta worry about video. I'm just thinkinga way I could pitch in."

  Pitch in? The last thing I needed was some skin-flick wiseguy gettinghis sticky hands on my picture. Forget about it.

  "Well, I don't really see how. I'm shooting this one by the book. I'vegot a standard Screen Actors Guild contract, and everything is strictlyby the rules. If we're current on the loan, then . . ." I looked atDavid, who appeared to be running on empty. Maybe, I thought, I didn'tunderstand what was at stake. What had Nicky said to him? This was aman who could make people disappear with a phone call to guys nicknamedafter body parts. "Look, let me talk to David about this. I don't knowwhat--"

  "You two're just gonna 'talk' about it?" Russo's penetrating eyesdimmed. "Now that's a little disappointing, I gotta tell you, since Isent for my business manager, Eddie down there in the car, hoping wecould reach a meeting of minds right here. Sign a few things. Roll thatnote I'm holding into a distribution deal and give everybody one lessworry." He turned in his chair, boring in on me. "Like, for instance, Ichecked out your locations and I noticed there ain't no Teamstersnowhere. All you got's a bunch of fuckin' Mick scabs driving them vans.Now that can lead to circumstances. Inadequate safety procedures. Ofcourse, that wouldn't have to be a concern if we was partners together.Then you'd have good security. The best."

  I looked at David, who seemed on the verge of a heart attack. Why washe letting this even be discussed? Get in bed with Nicky Russo and thenext thing you know he's got somebody hanging you out the window byyour ankles.

  Besides, ten to one the guy was bluffing, seeing if he could scare us.

  I refocused. "Mr. Russo, it may ease your mind to know that oursecurity is managed by a former agent for the FBI. He was with themhere in New York till about a year ago, when he came to us full time.His name is Agent Lou Crenshaw. You're welcome to check him out. He'sfamiliar with union issues, and he carries a .38. He also has plenty offriends down at 26 Federal Plaza. So if you have any lingering concernabout our security procedures, why don't you run it by him?"

  The mention of Lou seemed to brighten David's listless eyes. He leanedback in his chair and almost smiled.

  He had good reason. The favor he'd done for Lou, and indirectly for me,was enough to inspire eternal loyalty. Lou would face off against halfof Hell's Kitchen for David Roth.

  "That ain't the point, exactly," Russo said, shifting uncomfortably."Thing is, Roma could do good distribution for you. We work with a lotof people."

  "Then why not submit a formal proposal? In writing. I'm in charge andthat's how I do business. If your numbers work, then we can talk."

  "Just trying to be helpful." He glared at me, then seemed to dismiss mypresence. I disappeared from his radar as though lifted away by analien spacecraft, and he turned back to David. "You know, Dave, me andyou've kinda drifted apart lately. Old friends oughtn'ta do that. Weought to keep more in touch. I think we get along okay."

  In other words, get this pushy broad out of my face.

  "It's just business, Nicky," David said, trying to conjure an emptysmile. "Business and pleasure don't always mix."

  Yes! David, tell the creep to leave us alone. Tell him.

  "Doing business with me ain't a pleasure?" Nicky Russo asked, hurtfilling his voice. He'd brought out a large Havana and was rolling itin between his thumb and forefinger. "I figured we was best friends._Paisans_."

  "We're not _not_ friends, Nicky. We've just got different goals inlife. You know how it is."

  I worked my way around behind his desk and glanced out the window. Thelingering day was beginning to cloud over, a perfect match for my stateof mind. After this I had a late appointment with Dr. Hannah Klein. Ifeared she was going to end my baby hopes.

  "Yeah, well," Nicky Russo said finally, rising, "I gotta be downtown ina little while, so I guess we can talk about this later."

  "Okay, sure." David made a shrugging sign. Like: Women! What can youdo? Then he got up too. "Look, Nicky, let me chew on this. Maybe I'llget back to you."

  "Yeah, you think about it, all right?" He rose without a further wordand worked his way out the wide double doors, stumbling through theficus forest as he struck a match to his cigar.

  "David, don't sign anything with him. Don't. I'll handle the Teamsterstuff if it comes up. I know how to talk to them."

  "Okay, okay, calm down. He was just seeing if he could push me. I knowhim. You called his scam with that talk about Lou. By tomorrow he'llforget about the whole thing." He looked at me, his eyes not quite yetback in focus. "Thanks. You can say things to him I'd get cement shoesfor. Nicky's not really ready for people like you. He has this machofront, but he doesn't know how to handle a professional woman withballs."

  "You're welcome. I guess." Balls? I adored those vulnerable male bits,but I preferred not to think of myself in those terms. Truth was, NickyRusso played a large part in my personal anxieties. "But I mean it. N.O."

  "I hear you," he said, sighing. Then he snapped back to the moment. "Sowhere do things stand otherwise?"

  I'd come for an after-the-fact green light of the day's shoot, butalready I was thinking about Hannah Klein. "David, I'm going to findout in about an hour whether Steve and I are ever going to have a baby.But truthfully I don't think I'm pregnant. I think it's over." It hurtto say it. He knew about Steve and me--I'd written some language onmaternity leave into my contract--and I think he was mildly rooting forus. Or maybe not.

  "Could be it's all for the best," he declared. He'd sat back down,picked up a pencil off his desk to distract himself, and was whirlingit pensively, one of his few habits that made me crazy. "Maybe you weredestined to make movies, not kids."

  I listened to his tone of voice, knowing he often hid his real feelingswith safe, sympathy-card sentiments. He rose to eloquence only whennothing much was at stake. He'd even sent me flowers and a mea-culpanote twice as a makeup after we'd had a disagreement over costs andscheduling. And one of those times, I should have sent him flowers.Sometimes I wondered why we worked so well together. The truth was, weoperated on very different wavelengths.

  Some history to illustrate. Over the past eight years, before I teamedup with David, I'd done three "highly praised" documentaries. Butgetting to that point meant busting my behind for years and years atthe lower end of the professional food chain. After NYU, I toiled as ascript supervisor on PBS documentaries, about as close to grunt work asit comes. Eventually I got a fling as a production assistant,assembling crews, but then the money dried up. (Thank you, JesseHelms.) Whereupon I decided to try capitalism, working for three yearsas an AD on the soaps: first Guiding Light, then As the World Turns,then Search for Tomorrow. I can still hear the horrible music. Then aconnection got me a slot at A&E as a line producer. Eight months laterthe series got canceled, which was when I decided the time had come totake my career into my own hands. I hocked every last credit card, wentto Japan, and made a documentary. The result: I was an "overnight"success. Men started addressing me by my name.

  My first film was about the impact of Zen on Japanese business. As partof my research, I shaved my head and lived three months at a Kyototemple, eating bean curd three meals a day, after which I had enoughcredibility to land long interviews with Tokyo CEOs. I then sold theedited footage to A&E. When it became a critical hit, they financed asecond film, about the many gods of India and how they impacteverything about the place. There, I also got caught up in the mysticalsensuality of ragas, Indian classical music, and took up the violin(one of my major professional mistakes). Next I moved on to Mexico'ssouthern Yucatan to film a day in the life of a Maya village for theDiscovery Channel. They wanted me to add some footage from Guatemala,but I scouted the country and decided it was too scary. Instead, Ispent several months in Haiti filming voodoo rituals, again for A&E.And met Steve.

  Then one day I checked my bank account and realized that, financiallyspeaking, I was a "flop d'estime." I was doing the kind of work thatdoes more for your reputation than your retirement plan. I decided togo more mainstream and see what happened. But to do that I needed acommercial partner, a backer.

  Ironically enough, when I first teamed up with David, he hadbottom-line problems too, but from the opposite direction. He was busydisproving the adage that nobody ever lost money underestimating thetaste of the American public. He knew something was wrong, but what?

  Apparently, when he started out, somebody told him cable audiencespossessed an insatiable appetite for bare-skin-and-jiggle. Hey, hefigured, that stuff he could grind out in his sleep. His first, andlast, epic in the skin genre was _Wet T-Shirt Weekend_, whose titlesays it all. He explained the economics to me once, still baffled whythe picture hadn't worked. He'd assumed all you had to do was find abunch of nineteen-year-olds who looked like they're sixteen, gononunion someplace down South with a beach, and take care the wardrobetrailer has nothing but string bikinis. "Cost only a million-eight tomake," he declared with pride, "but every penny is on the screen."

  He insisted I watch it, perplexed that it was universally regarded as aturkey. It was a painful experience, so much so I actually began towonder if his heart was really in it. (The great schlockmeisterssecretly think they're Fellini; they're operating at the top of theirform, not consciously pandering.)

  Chastened financially, he decided to move into low-budgetaction-adventure. His efforts, most notably _Virtual Cop_, had carchases, blue-screen explosions, buckets of fake blood. Somebody diedcreatively in every scene.

  They did business in Asia and Southern Europe, but he was dumbfoundedwhen nobody at HBO or Showtime would return his calls. It gnawed at hisself-esteem.

  That was the moment we found each other. He'd just concluded he neededsomebody with a quality reputation to give

  Applecore an image makeover, and I'd realized I needed somebody whoknew more than I did about the mechanics of making and distributingindependent films.

  We were an odd couple. I finally shook hands on the partnership afterhe caved in and agreed I could do anything I wanted, so long as itlooked mainstream enough to get picked up by Time-Warner or somebodyelse legit. Well, quasi-legit. We both agreed on no more bikinis and nomore films about places that required cholera shots. It was somethingof a compromise on both our parts.

  Thus far, though, we were getting along. Maybe luck was part of it, but_Baby Love _was still on schedule and on budget. And I already had adeal nearly in the bag with Lifetime, the women's channel, that wouldjust about cover the costs. Everything after that would be gravy.Again, hope hope. Maybe not the theatrical release I'd been prayingfor, but good enough--so he had to smile and not give me a hard timeabout the money I'd just spent. Had to, right?

  I took a deep breath.

  "David, I did a little extra shooting this morning that's kind of. . .outside the plan. But it's really important. Want to hear about it?"

  "What! I thought you were finished with principal photography." Helooked disoriented, the deer in the headlights. Hints of extra crewtime always had that effect on him. "You're saying this wasn't in thebudget?"

  "Just listen first, okay?" Like a politician, I avoided giving him adirect answer. I told him about the interview with Carly and the reasonfor it.

  "Nice of you to share the news with me." His eyes narrowed. "I thinkwe've got some big-time communication issues here."

  "Look, don't worry. I'll figure out how to save some money somewhereelse."

  "Morgy, before we continue this unnerving conversation, we've got tohave a serious review of the matter of cash flow." He frowned, thenwent back to whirling the pencil, his hair backlighted from the widewindow, his eyes focused on its stubby eraser as though he'd justdiscovered a new strain of bacteria. "So let me break some newsregarding the current budget."

  He put down the pencil, adjusted its location on his desk, and lookedup. "I didn't want to have to upset you, since the picture seems to begoing so well, but we've drawn down almost all our cash. I actuallythink that's why Nicky was here today, sniffing around, wanting to seea rough cut. He's got a keen nose for indy cash-flow trouble."

  "What are you saying?" It was unsettling to see David turning soserious. "Are we--?"

  "I'm saying we can cover the payroll here, all our fixed nut, evenNicky's vig, for maybe six more weeks, if you and I don't payourselves. Of course, if we can get an advance on some kind of cabledeal, that would tide us over more comfortably till this thing is inthe can. But right now we're sailing pretty close on the wind. I've betApplecore on your picture, Morgan. We can't screw this up."

  I swallowed hard. I knew we were working on the edge, but I didn't knowthe edge was down to six weeks.

  "David, I'm all but ready for postproduction. I'm just thinking I mayneed one more interview. Just a one-day shoot. I'm going to make thispicture work. You'll see."

  He sighed. "All right, if you think it's essential, get the footage.Maybe I can even shake another fifty out of Nicky, if I string himalong about the distribution deal--don't look so alarmed, I won't gothrough with it. Anyway, I can tell he's impressed with the picture sofar. Happy now?"

  No, I wasn't happy. What was I going to do if Hannah Klein had badnews? Adoption? I finally was facing the fact I'd possibly been makinga movie about myself all this time. Like Yeats, penning his owntombstone. "Cast a cold eye, on life, on death. ."

  So why not give him the whole story?

  "David, if it turns out Steve and I can't have a baby, I've begunthinking about trying to adopt." There it was. More pain. "Maybe I'mabout to become the heroine of my own picture."

  He stared at me incredulously.

  "Morgy, you of all people should know by now that adopting would takeup all your energy, like a giant sponge. Come on. I've seen yourdailies. I got it, about how hard it is. You telling me now you didn'tget it?"

  He was right. Righter than he realized. But then I thought again aboutCarly Grove, who'd found Kevin in no time at all, with zero hassles.The only troubling part was that it was all so mysterious. . . .

  After I left David's office, I remembered I hadn't actually had lunch,so I grabbed two hot dogs with sauerkraut (okay, it was junk, but Isecretly loved kosher franks) and a Diet Pepsi to go, from one of thestriped-umbrella vendors, then hailed a cab clutching the grungy brownbag.

  I was heading for Hannah Klein's office on the Upper West Side. And nowI had another clock ticking in addition to the biological one. The bigmoney clock in the sky was suddenly on final countdown.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment