On the way back to their motel, they stopped off to see the horses for the film. Brownie, a mare—the second horse Scanlan would be riding—was snorting and stamping, fighting off flies. Sarah’s mount was a small black mare named Portia. Cimarron and Raindrop were Tom and Jimmy’s horses, respectively. Cimarron was a huge bay, eighteen hands; Raindrop, a roan Appaloosa with black leopard spots in a patch of white on her hindquarters. Neither was a dead ringer for the original, but they were close. When Jimmy and Tom got up into the saddles, riders and mounts looked as near to the originals as Emily could imagine them getting.
She thought of Joanna’s comment about the opportunity that would be lost if they couldn’t make their project work. What opportunity? What did it matter? She remembered standing next to Richard Boone, expressing indignation about a report she’d heard that another actor had been cast in a role she thought Boone should play. Boone had pointed at a television monitor on the sound stage they were working on and said, “Look up there. A little story, acted out in a box. I suppose it is a … fleeting sorta art form. It goes in the side door of our brain and maybe once in a while our sorta art form ends up being … constructive. But, I suspect, most of the time—not so much. I mean, our unconscious is increasingly full of the crap people like you and me busy our little heads with for most of our lives, and oftener than not, it ends up being no more than simplistic, lesson-less mythology.”
She’d said, “Are you that cynical?”
“No, sweetie. I’m not cynical at all. I’m just as pissed off as you about that role. They offered it to me. I didn’t take it. I didn’t want to be the butt of the joke”—he shook his head wryly—“in one of the biggest movies of the year.” He’d smiled and shrugged. “Oh, well.”
Emily looked off beyond the impersonators on their impersonator horses. In the distance (a hundred yards beyond Tom and Jimmy, astride their horses), she saw Solange, with the director of photography and his cameraman, looking out over the wilderness, like lost Bedouins scanning the derelict face of the desert for an oasis. These people were looking for a place to take pictures of a game of “Let’s Pretend.” And one day—if what Boone had said in anger the day after he’d turned down the plum role of Doyle Lonnegan in The Sting was true—those pictures would be tiny flickers, unnoticed in the background on a TV set in some out of the way restaurant or motel; at the shadowy borders of anyone’s real awareness; and, ninety-nine chances out of a hundred, meaningless in any important scheme of things.
She also knew that was the old cynical side of her. It did matter. People love stories. They love to hear them told, they love to read them, and a good case can be made that they love even more to see them. It’s our nature to care about stories. The more effectively stories are communicated to us, the better they do what they’re meant to. Stories help us believe our existence matters. They tell us who we are, and what we can be if we aim high enough. They tell us we can be heroic if we want to, that faced with the inevitable we can do the impossible. They give us perspective and hope. And sometimes—when the story has been told artfully and it hits us at exactly the right moment—it can lead us back to a faith that there’s an all-embracing wisdom beneath the bubble-thin pageant of our lives.
Tom crossed through the lobby of the Trading Post Motel. As he approached the corridor to his room, he glanced to his left and saw a man standing at the door of the third room on the right, down another corridor, turning a key in the lock.
Tom stopped, his face gone still and brittle. He took a step back and saw the man disappear into the room.
He hadn’t seen him for more than two seconds, but he couldn’t help noticing the man’s hard features and the gray-brown hair framing his face in ringlets, like an emperor on a Roman coin.
He walked slowly down the corridor until he stood in front of the man’s room. He stared at the robin’s egg blue door and the brass-plated number: 153.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish