The Universal Grill at Universal Studios was crowded, and Stan was fifteen minutes early. Erik, the maître ’d, had been kind enough to seat him anyway and the wait was made more tolerable by the companionship of a vodka on the rocks. He nodded now and then to familiar faces, willing them not come over to the table. He was in no mood to have a forced conversation.
The only person he wanted to talk to now was Jennie, the one person who would understand—a fact that would sound strange to anyone who knew him for the dyed-in-the-wool chauvinist that he was. He wasn’t sure if the film business bred them, or if chauvinists were attracted to the business because the multitude of beautiful, untalented, ambitious, so-called actresses made it easy for men to use and discard them like so much soiled toilet paper. On second thought, it was undoubtedly the same in any business.
If women thought they could get what they wanted by making themselves available for their boss or forced themselves to put up with unwanted advances out of fear of losing their jobs, then that’s what some women were going to do. They would make it rough for decent, hardworking women like Jennie. Of course, he could never reveal that kind of traitorous thinking to Sonny and Maury and the rest of the New York contingent at the studio. With those guys, the only accepted mode of behavior was getting loaded after work, hitting on barhops, and talking macho bullshit all evening before going home to the wife and passing out. Bedding down an occasional actress who wanted her SAG-AFTRA card in the worst way was par for the course. He himself had enjoyed introducing several actresses to the Screen Actors Guild—a practice he had cut down on drastically since he married Lila.
No, having a meaningful discussion about your fears and insecurities was not something you did with Sonny and the rest of them unless you wanted to become the butt of jokes for the next ten years. Better to talk to Jennie, who he knew would understand and care. He smiled to himself. If his best friend was a woman, maybe he wasn’t the chauvinist they thought he was or used to be. The slim possibility was there.
As an actress, Jennie was mediocre; as a friend, there was no one better. She would do a lot better in the business if she would just concentrate on her behind-the-camera skills and forget about acting but she wanted too badly to perform, and he had stopped trying to dissuade her. He wanted her to be happy, so whenever a small, undemanding role came up, he would let her audition and hope she wasn’t too disappointed that he never considered her for the larger parts she craved.
Stan glanced anxiously at his watch. He had to be back on the set in an hour and a half. They were shooting the last few location scenes of the season of his cop show, Tanner, in a nightclub downtown and traffic on the Hollywood freeway would be murder. Moe Tayler, his transportation captain, had volunteered to take him back to the studio to look at dailies and have lunch. Moe could give you a heart attack the way he wove in and out of traffic, but you knew you would get where you were going on time and this way he could spend more time with Jennie.
Moe had also witnessed the ugly scene in Stan’s trailer this morning when Howard had caught Stan taking a hit. The self-righteous bastard had exploded and threatened to fire Stan off the feature and reveal the reason why, if he had to. Howard was making a big deal out of nothing. Stan had made sure there was no one around before taking out the cocaine. It had just been bad luck that Howard had chosen that moment to look for him and had seen him slip surreptitiously into his mobile home. Moe had been following Stan to ask a question about one of his drivers and had heard every word. But he was no problem since, up until last week, it had been one of Moe’s relatives from Las Vegas who was his main supplier. This was before Lila went ballistic in front of everybody. Howard, however, had the power to destroy him, and Stan had to beg and plead and call on all their years of friendship to get him to agree for Stan to stay on. On top of that, he had to promise to lay off cocaine as long as they were in production, and Stan knew that was impossible. He would just have to be a lot more discreet and not get caught next time.
For a guy who used to have a habit ten times worse than Stan, Howard had turned into a real narrow-minded prick, but the two of them had worked together on a lot of TV shows. Howard knew Stan had made a lot of shitty shows and scripts better because he knew how to get the best out of their writers. Together, they were going to finally get the break they had been waiting for. Stan could hardly wait to find out if the actors he wanted would accept the offers that had already gone out. The two stars were set, but Stan loved getting the most out of character actors who usually were the heart of the movie. The only iffy part about the whole deal was Lila. He’d heard her practicing her song and it was pathetic. He only hoped that Josh could work with her and then Stan would have the impossible job of making her look like a band singer. If Howard nixed her, Lila would raise holy hell and probably leave him—not a bad outcome, actually.
Lila. He needed to find out what Jennie knew about Lila. He had suspected for months that she was seeing someone and toyed with the idea of hiring a private detective to find out. But that seemed too pathetic and insecure, so he dismissed the thought immediately. Maybe Jennie’s friend, Vanessa, had told her who it was. Vanessa knew Lila from acting class and you never knew what women might talk about. But first, he needed to talk to Jennie about this morning. She would know how to reassure him and lay his fears to rest, if only for a few moments.
He finally saw her approach the maître ‘d, who directed her in Stan’s direction. Her face lit up with genuine pleasure when she saw him wave to her. It was this sweetness in Jennie that had drawn him to her, not just her pretty face…the sweetness he had thought that Lila possessed in the beginning, but which had proved to be a short-lived cover-up for her all-consuming ambition.
He stood up and hugged her in greeting, longer and harder than he usually did, and she looked at him questioningly when he released her. He took her hand and didn’t let go, even as they sat down. Soon, he would tell her how he felt about her, but right now, there was too much to be resolved.
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