Life blood, p.4
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       Life Blood, p.4

          

  Chapter Four

  Lou took the next few days off to spend by Sarah's side, but nothingmore happened. I repeatedly called him at the hospital to check on her,though it was becoming clear her brush with consciousness had only beenan interlude. Finally, I decided to show Carly's rushes to David (heloved them) and try to concentrate on postproduction for the rest ofthe week and the weekend, anything to make me not have to dwell onSarah's ghostlike, soundless cry of anguish.

  Postproduction. When you're shooting a picture, you have to make allkinds of compromises; but in post, with luck and skill, you cantransform that raw footage into art. You mix and cut the takes till theperformances are taut; you loop in rerecorded dialogue where necessaryto get just the right reading of a line; the Foley guys give you clearsound effects where the production sound is muddy; and you balance thehues of reds and blues, darks and lights till you get just the rightcolor tone.

  All of the polishing that came with post still lay ahead. The firststep was to go through the rough cut and "spot" the film, markingplaces where the sound effects or dialogue would need to be replacedwith rerecorded studio sound--which meant several days, maybe weeks, oflooping to edit out background noise and make the dialogue sound richand crisp. For some of it, the actors would have to come back in andlip-synch themselves, which they always hate.

  It was daunting, to have to work back and forth between productionsound tracks and loop tracks, blending alternate takes. You had tofigure on only doing about ten minutes of film a day, and then, afterall that, you had to get the "opticals" right, the fade-outs anddissolves and, finally, the credit sequences.

  Normally, once I started post, I would have exactly ten weeks toaccomplish all that before the executive producer, David, got his handson my picture. That was the prerogative that was part of the standarddirector's contract. Now, though, I figured that was out the window.With the money going fast, I had to produce a rough cut and get thepicture sold to cable in six weeks, period.

  But first things first. I deeply needed at least one moreinterview--Carly's was too much of a happy one-note--which was why Ineeded to shoot Paula Marks. It was now on for Thursday, today.

  The appointment had taken all weekend, including a Sunday brunch, toset up, but by that time I was sure this second mother would beperfect. She was a tall, willowy woman, forty-three, who had let herhair start going to gray. Honesty, it was right there in her pale browneyes. She wrote children's books, had never married--she now believedshe never would--and had decided to adopt a child because she had a lotof extra love she felt was going to waste. Different from Carly Grove,maybe, but not in the matter of strength, and fearless independence.

  We arrived around ten A.M. to discover her apartment was in one ofthose sprawling prewar West Side monoliths, thick plaster walls and arabbit's warren of halls and foyers, legacy of an age before "lofts"and open spaces. Terribly cramped for shooting. But Paula agreed to letthe blue-jeaned crew move her old, overstuffed couch out of the livingroom, along with the piles of books that lined the walls.

  Another issue was makeup. At first Paula insisted she didn't want any.Never wore it, it was deceitful, and she didn't want to appear oncamera looking like Barbie. (Small chance of that, I thought. A littlewar paint now and then might help your chances of landing a father forthis child.) Eventually Arlene persuaded her that cameras lie and theonly way to look like yourself is to enhance those qualities that makeyou you. It was a thin argument, but Arlene came from a long line ofapparel proprietors who could unload sunlamps in the Sahara.

  Paula's adopted daughter Rachel, who was a year and a half old, wasrunning around the apartment, blond tresses flowing, dragging a dollshe had named Angie. Except the name came out "Ann-gee." She wasimmediately adopted by the crew, and Erica, the production manager, wassoon teaching her how to play patty-cake. Then Rachel wanted todemonstrate her new skills at eating spaghetti. In five minutes she wascovered head to toe in Ragu tomato sauce.

  When the Panaflex was finally rolling, the story Paula spun out wasalmost identical to the one told by Carly Grove. She'd spent hours withall the legal services recommended by NYSAC, New York Singles AdoptingChildren, listening to them describe a scenario of delays and paperworkand heartache. It could be done, but it could take years. Look, she'ddeclared, I'll cash in my IRA, do anything, just give me some hope.Okay, they'd replied, tighten your belt, scare up sixty big ones, andgo to see Children of Light. We hear stories. . . .

  Soon after she called them, the skies had opened. A New Age physicianand teacher there, a man with striking eyes named Alex Goddard, hadmade it happen. Rachel was hers in just four months, no paperwork.

  Sure, she declared, Children of Light was expensive, but Alex Goddardwas a deeply spiritual man who really took the time to get to know you,even practically begged you to come to his clinic-commune and gothrough his course of mind-body fertility treatment. But when sheinsisted she just wanted to adopt, he obligingly found Rachel for her.How could she be anything but grateful? She was so happy, she wantedeverybody in the world to know about him.

  As she bubbled on, I found my attention wandering to Rachel, who'd justescaped from the crew keeping her in the kitchen and was runningthrough the living room, singing a song from Sesame Street. Somethingabout the way she moved was very evocative.

  Where've I seen her before? Then it dawned on me. Her walk made methink of Kevin. Actually, everything about her reminded me of Kevin.Were all kids starting to look the same? God, I wanted them both.

  Yeah, I thought, daydreaming of holding her, she's Kevin all overagain, clear as day. She's a dead ringer to be his older sister. Itfeels very strange.

  Or maybe I was just seeing things. To some extent all babies lookedalike, right? That is, until you have one of your own.

  I had to swallow hard, to try to collect my thoughts. Carly and Paulascarcely even knew each other. If Rachel really was Kevin's sister,they'd never know anything about it.

  Incredible . . . it was just too big a coincidence.

  But still. . . and what about the film footage? Show close-ups of thekids, and anybody not legally blind was going to see the similarity. .. .

  Why would somebody give up two children for adoption? I found myselfwondering. Giving up one was tragic enough.

  "Cut." I waved at everybody. "Take ten. We need to recharge here, takea break and stretch."

  Paula was caught off guard, in the middle of a sentence, and she lether voice trail off, puzzled.

  "Hey, I'm sorry Rachel came barging in," Paula finally said. "Guess shebroke everybody's concentration, huh?"

  "Yeah, well, sometimes we all need to lean back and take a fresh run atthings." I called to Rachel, who came trotting over, spaghetti saucestill on her face, and picked her up. I felt at a loss about what todo. Tell Paula her daughter had a younger brother in the Village, andshe might fall apart. "I was actually curious about something. Do youknow anything about Rachel's birth mother?"

  "I don't want to know. It would disrupt my life. And my peace of mind."Her eyes acquired a kind of sadness mingled with anxiety. "I'mreconciled to the fact she probably got into some kind of trouble, maynot have exactly been Nobel Prize material, but I'm a big believer innurture over nature. That's why I write books for kids. So I thinkRachel's going to end up being a lot more like me than like her realmother."

  Brave words. But I'll bet you anything the story of Rachel's mother isa lot more complicated than you imagine.

  I glanced at my watch, the hour pushing four-thirty. Time to call it awrap. Besides, if we shot any more today, the crew would end up onovertime, and David was getting increasingly nervous about my extracosts.

  I also needed a little downtime to reflect.

  "Look, I think I've got enough footage to work with for now. Let mejust get the release signed take this film downtown, and get itprocessed. Maybe we can come back for another shoot when I figure outexactly where this is going."

  "Anytime. Just give me some notice and I'll try to have the placecleaned up more next time."

  "Don't worry. I like it to look real. Just sign the release and I'lltake it from there." I was about to set Rachel back on the floor whensomething caught in my sweater. Looking down, I realized it was a tinycharm bracelet, with two little medallions on it. One was a little redplastic likeness of Pocahontas, the Disney character, and the other wasa silver face of a cat, long and stylized. And on the back, thosecurious lines and dots again, only these were arranged differently fromthose on the one Carly's boy Kevin had.

  "Paula, what's this? This cat. Where'd you get it?"

  "Oh, that." She smiled. "She was wearing it when I got her, on a littlesilk cord around her waist, under her diaper. They told me it was agift from her real mother, a keepsake. Sort of breaks your heart, butthe way they said it, you want to keep it forever. . . ."

  At that moment Erica was just plugging the phone back in, and thesecond she did, the old, black Panasonic cordless began to ring.

  "Hang on a sec," Paula said. "Let me get that. My agent is supposed--"She'd picked up the phone and was plopping back onto the couch. "Hi."

  Then her look turned blank. "No, of course not." She fell into anuncomfortable pause, looking around at everybody. Then she continued."Nobody's contacted me." She halted again, her face white, and stareddirectly at me. I abruptly sensed that I was the topic of theconversation. "Sure I'm sure. . . . Yes, I remember signing. . . .Don't worry. I'd have no reason to. . . . Okay, sure, I'll let youknow."

  She clicked off the phone and looked up with startled eyes. "It wassomebody who said they worked for Children of Light. She wanted to knowif you'd contacted me." Her face collapsed. "You. She asked mespecifically about _you_. By name. How did--?"

  "I have no idea." My hands were growing cold. Had Carly told them aboutme? Why would she do that? "Anyway, you handled it okay."

  Which made me wonder. If Children of Light was such a perfectorganization, why was Paula so frightened she immediately feltcompelled to lie, to swear she hadn't broken their rules?

  "Right." Her composure was slowly coming back. "Look, now that I thinkabout it, why should they care? It doesn't make any sense. They gottheir money." She turned to me. "Let me have that release."

  She seized the paper and endorsed it with a flourish.

  My pulse was still in overdrive, but I hugged her, then signaled thecrew that shooting was over for the day.

  "Okay, everybody. Time to wrap."

  The gang immediately began striking the lights and rolling upelectrical cords. They would take the equipment back downtown anddeliver the film to the lab, while I would head home. It had been along day and lots of thinking was needed. Besides, it was starting torain, a dismal spatter against Paula's grimy windows, as the grayspring afternoon had begun darkening toward sullen evening.

  "Listen, I enjoyed this." Paula had taken Rachel in her arms and wasstroking her blond hair. "I really love talking about her. She'schanged my life."

  I gave her another hug. "You're great. And you're going to be wonderfulin the film." If I used her. The whole thing was getting unnerving."You have no idea how much you've helped." Then I said good-bye toRachel, who responded with a perfect "Bye, bye" through her haze ofspaghetti sauce.

  Okay, get the superintendent. Crank up the freight elevator. Get out ofhere.

  Scott Ventri, key grip, took charge of handling the gear, dictatingwhich equipment got loaded on first. I watched long enough to make sureeverything was going okay, and then I joined Arlene, old friend andqueen of outrageous makeup, on the other elevator.

  "You notice it?" she whispered. The door had just closed.

  "Notice what?" I knew full well what she was talking about. But it justfelt too bizarre.

  "Those kids could almost be twins. That little boy last week, and thisgirl. They look just alike. It's spooky."

  "Guess their parents couldn't figure out what was causing thosepregnancies. So they just kept having more babies." I decided to try toinsert some humor, deflect the conversation. "Maybe we should tellPaula and Carly."

  "Very dumb." Arlene bit at a long, red, false fingernail, a perennialhabit for as long as I'd known her. "We should mind our own business,that's what we should do."

  "Works for me. But it also proves we were smart not to shoot anyfootage of the kids. The whole world would realize something's funny."Then I had an idea. "Want to come downtown to my place after we unload?Have some deep thoughts over what all this means?"

  First the kids, then the call. What was this guy Alex Goddard, whoeverhe was, up to? Definitely time to talk to somebody. . . .

  "Gee, I'd love to," Arlene was saying, "but I can't. I gotta go out toKew Gardens for my mom and dad's anniversary tonight. Theirthirty-fifth, can you believe? Of course, I was a very late baby." Sheblinked her dark, languid eyes, as though rehearsing the line for adowntown club.

  "A miracle of modern fertility science, right?" Shit. Arlene, I needyou.

  "Right." She giggled, then seemed to study the flashing lights on theelevator's control panel. "God, those kids, they're too good to betrue. I'd love to have one like that." She impatiently pounded thenumber one a couple of times, perhaps hoping to speed our creakydescent. "I can get bonked every night of the week, but I can't get aserious boyfriend. New York's clubs aren't exactly brimming with thevine-covered-cottage-and-picket-fence type. And as for the pickings atwork, given the kind of pictures David makes, forget it. Last thing Ineed is some twenty-year-old pothead who thinks with his wang."

  "I'm afraid I'm not helping you much with this one." I'd cast _BabyLove_ mostly with Off-Broadway unknowns. The actress Mary Gregg was aveteran of Joseph Papp's original Public Theater, the experimentalenterprise downtown. The few male parts all went to guys who wereeither gay or married.

  "Oy, what can you do, right? If it happens, it happens." Arlene watchedthe door begin to stutter open as we bumped onto the lobby level. Thenshe zeroed in on me. "You really want a kid too, don't you? I mean,that's why you did this script, right? Which, by the way, is great. Imean the script."

  "I think most women do, down deep."

  She smiled. "Well, if I ever have one, it's going to be theold-fashioned way. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than adopting." She washeading out, into the front foyer. "Not to mention more fun gettingthere."

  On that I definitely had to agree.

  The lobby's prewar look was gray and dismal, and as we emerged onto thestreet, the rain had turned into a steady downpour. Lou was off againtoday, down at the hospital with Sarah, so I'd engaged a doorman from anew co-op across the street to keep an eye on our vans. A crisp twentyhad extracted his solemn promise to do just that. At the moment,however, he was nowhere to be seen. Proving, I suppose, David's theorythat we needed our own security guy at all location shoots.

  Lou, I thought, I hope you're finally getting through to her.

  "No limo, but at least we get first call on the vans," Arlene observed,her voice not hiding the sarcasm. "Just once I'd

  like to work for somebody who had serious VIP transportation."

  "David would walk before he'd get a limo."

  We were headed down the street, me digging out my keys, when I noticedthe man standing in the rain. He was just behind our lead van, athree-year-old gray Ford, waiting for us.

  My first thought was he must be connected to Nicky Russo, David'swiseguy banker, here to bust my chops over the Teamster issue. Screwhim. Just my luck he'd send somebody the very day Lou was not on hand.But then I realized I'd guessed wrong. The man was more Hispanic thanItalian. He also was short, solidly built, late fifties maybe, withintense eyes and gray hair that circled his balding pate like the dirtysnow around a volcano's rim. As he moved toward us, I thought Idetected something military in his bearing, not so much the crispnessof a soldier but rather the authoritative swagger of an officer. Well,maybe a retired officer.

  "The paper on your windshield says you are filming a movie," came avoice with a definite Spanish accent. No greetings, no hiya, how're youdoin'? Just the blunt statement. Then, having established what wasalready clear to all at hand, he continued. "It says the title is _BabyLove_. Why are you making this movie here?"

  That was it. I glanced at Arlene, who'd turned white as a sheet. Youget a lot of onlookers around a location shoot, but not too many whochallenge your right to exist, which was exactly what was comingthrough in his menacing tone.

  I handed Arlene the keys. "Here, go ahead and open up. I'll handlethis."

  Then I turned back to him. "What you saw in the windshield of the vansis a New York City Film Board permit. That's all the information we arerequired to provide. If you read it, you know everything I'm obliged totell you." I returned his stare. "However, if people ask nicely, I'mhappy to answer their questions."

  "Are you making this movie about a person in this building? Your otherfilms have been documentaries."

  God help me, I thought. Is this what my fans are like?

  Then it hit me. I don't know how I'd missed the connection, but now itjust leapt out. First the phone call, then this hood. Somebody wastracking me.

  "I'm scouting locations," I lied, feeling a chill go through me. "We'resecond unit for an action film, shooting some prep footage for theproducers. Does the name Arnold Schwarzenegger mean anything to you?"

  "Then why is the film about babies?"

  "That's meant to be a joke. Remember the movie _Twins_? It's a joketitle. Do you understand?"

  At that moment, Paul Nulty came barging out the door with a huge klieglight, followed by several other members of the crew carrying soundgear. Our cordial tete-a-tete was about to be disrupted.

  My new Hispanic friend saw them and abruptly drew up. That was when Inoticed the shoulder holster under his jacket, containing some sort ofsnub-nosed pistol.

  Jesus, I thought, this must be what some kind of hired killer lookslike. That gun's not a prop.

  "I think you are lying." He closed his jacket and, ignoring my crew,bored in relentlessly on me, his eyes dead and merciless. "That is abig mistake."

  It was the first time in my life I'd ever stood next to a man who had agun and was deeply ticked at me. He'd wanted me to see his piece, justto make sure I took him seriously. He wasn't threatening me, per se.Rather he was letting me know how strongly he cared about what I wasdoing.

  Well, damn him, but I still was scared. I might have managed to bluffNicky Russo, but he was a guy who operated by an age-old set ofSicilian rules. This thug didn't strike me as the rule-book type.

  Hand shaking, I pulled out my cell phone, flicked it open, and punchedin 911.

  "Listen, if you're threatening me with a gun, I'm calling the cops.Whatever problem you have with the New York film industry, you canexplain it to them."

  New York's police emergency number was still ringing as he abruptlyturned and strode away.

  I clicked the phone shut and moved to get out of the way as a trolleyloaded with more gear was rolled past me down the sidewalk.Unfortunately, I also took my eyes off him for a second, and when Ilooked up again, he seemed to have disappeared into the rain, though Idid notice somebody who could have been him get into a long black carwell down the block and speed off toward Broadway.

  "What did that creep want?" Arlene asked, coming back with the keys.

  I was only slowly returning to reality, and it took me a few moments toform a coherent answer through all the adrenaline surging into my brain.

  "I . . . I don't know. But I think I'd better warn everybody to keep aneye out for strangers. He's . . . he's wound a little tight, to put itmildly." I was still shaking, which she fortunately failed to notice.At that point, there seemed no great reason to spook her with mentionof the gun.

  "Boy, he wasn't just some homeless junkie," she said. "He looked like aheavy in one of David's old action pictures. All he needed was aMack-10."

  "Right." Jesus, Arlene, I think he might have had one. "So let's getmoving."

  As I watched the vans being loaded, slowly calming down, I keptthinking about him. He was undoubtedly connected to the phone call, butwhy would anybody be so worried about what I was doing? I couldn'tthink of any serious reason.

  Half an hour later we were all headed downtown. Along the rain-sweptstreets the "All Beef" hot-dog vendors cowered under theirred-and-yellow striped umbrellas, while departing office workers,briefcases perched above their heads as makeshift protection, scurriedalong the edges of buildings searching for cabs. While Arlene continuedto chat nonstop, I tried to do a little mental processing. And my mindkept drifting back to the sight of little Rachel, and Kevin. Whatperfect kids. The way she was running. . . .

  Hey, wait a minute. How could they be siblings? Brother and sister?Rachel was almost exactly half a year older than Kevin. Biology didn'twork that way. No way could they be related, but still . . . theylooked so alike.

  I realized Arlene hadn't put it together about the ages. Thebrother/sister theory made absolutely no sense. Those kids were bornsix months apart.

  If that wasn't strange enough, why did they both have those tiny catmedallions with the lines and dots on the back? Which were actuallykind of creepy, more like sacred amulets than little toys.

  Talk to Lou. He might have some insights.

  No, better yet, go to the source. Children of Light. Call AlexGoddard's adoption agency or clinic or whatever it is and make anappointment.

 
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