“Gin! You owe me six thousand dollars!” Fifty-seven-year-old, silver-haired Olga Mostad slapped her cards down on the coffee table and placed her plump white hand palm up in front of her boss, who was seated on the couch opposite her in the small reception office of Stan Levy’s bungalow at Universal. Glasses filled with ice cubes and Coke sat on the table. Olga picked up a glass and drank hers down.
Stan tried to weasel out. “You cheat,” he accused half-heartedly.
But his secretary couldn’t be dissuaded. “Six thousand dollars!” She waggled her fingers in front of his nose.
Stan decided to get devious. “How about a part in my new picture instead, baby?”
Olga looked like she was considering the offer. “Can we do the casting couch bit?”
Stan shook his head. “No way! You and your female activist friends would have me tarred and feathered and thrown off the lot. I’m on to you, lady.”
Olga sat back in her chair and folded her arms. It was clear she would show him no mercy. “Then forget it. That’ll be six thousand dollars.”
“All right, all right. You’ll get it all, with interest, as soon as my feature grosses its first five million.”
Olga was not excited by the offer. “Sure, boss. Bring it to me out at the motion picture home, if I’m still alive by then.”
Stan shook his head sadly. “Oh, ye of little faith. And I thought you believed in me.”
“Oh, I do, boss.” She was gathering the cards off the table. “But as they say, money talks and bullshit you-know-what.”
He picked up his drink and took a couple of short sips. “It’s broads like you who give grannies a bad name. You know that?”
The opening of the front door cut short their sparring and the man they had been expecting walked in, out of breath, and smiling diffidently. He was tall and blond and already going to seed in his thirties. His bloodshot eyes and the dark circles underneath them detracted from what had once been a very handsome face. Probably booze, possibly drugs. Stan was all too familiar with the signs of self-abuse.
He and Olga stood up and Stan offered his hand. “You must be Josh. I’ve heard a lot of nice things about you…really liked the demo Jennie sent me.” Josh nodded and thanked him. Stan’s handshake was firm and his manner confident despite his modest demeanor. He wrapped an arm around Olga’s waist. “And this is Olga, my secretary. Hang on to your wallet around her. She’s dangerous.”
Olga pooh-poohed and pushed him away affectionately. “I’ll go see if Howard is still on the phone.” She disappeared down the hallway.
Stan indicated a chair. “Sit down, relax. I’ve got to return a call. Won’t take a second.”
As soon as Stan stepped into his office, he closed the door and headed for the bathroom, then closed the door and locked it. Olga would kill him if she knew about this. As for Lila, God only knew what she would do. If she found out he hadn’t stopped using, she’d probably leave him. He knew Olga had heard the rumors about him being an occasional party user but she hadn’t confronted him about it yet. His habit was no worse than some of his friends. Kicking it would be easy. As soon as he finished production on Run for the Money, he would check himself in somewhere, tell Lila he was fishing with his buddies, or come up with some better excuse. If Howard had been able to do it, he sure as hell could.
He patted his shirt pocket and felt the familiar packet. It had only been a half hour since his last hit, but he figured he deserved to indulge himself. His regular supplier from Vegas had cut him off since the big blowout with Lila, when she caught the guy slipping a packet of coke into Stan’s pocket at a party. She had gone berserk and screamed obscenities in a house full of people, including his supplier, who was now terrified of being exposed by her. Stan had been frantic to make a connection for two days. Then, this morning, peace, lovely peace. Chuck Barenhaus, an out-of-work key grip, had stopped by with a fresh supply and had left with a promise of a job on the feature.
He dug his spoon out of his wallet and took the cocaine from his pocket. He inhaled deeply of the pure white powder and leaned against the sink to enjoy the rush. He knew it wouldn’t last long. It was taking more and more hits to get him to the same place. But that was cool; after production, he’d get right.
He studied the face staring back at him in the mirror. He looked at least ten years older than his thirty years and the brown hair was sprinkled heavily with grey. But looking old didn’t bother him. It was getting old and dying that filled him with dread and gave him nightmares. Ever since he was five and his father had taken him to his mother’s funeral and forced him to kiss her cold, waxy face, the inevitable black, pitiless specter of death had never been far from his mind. Even now, he still couldn’t sleep without the flickering light of the television being on. It had driven Lila crazy, until someone suggested she wear a sleep mask (she discovered it made her feel like a thirties movie star); but then, most things about him drove Lila crazy. Maybe the movie would appease her for a while.
Josh was relieved to have a few minutes to himself. He sat down and took his guitar out of the case with shaking hands. The piece of crap he called a car had broken down again and he’d had to run the last several blocks to the studio. Even when he started out early, he ended up late.
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