A FORGOTTEN SECRET
A Day in the Life:
ADVENTURES IN HOLLOWOOD
DAVID BRUCE BOZARTH
Copyright © 2002
The premier tag team of ERBesque Round Robin writers, Bozarth and Nunez strike again. A tale of treachery and deceit in filmland—and humorous as well!
The six-foot tall man with two swords and a knife at the waist of his brief costume entered the chamber. Fully confident, he was a bit non-plussed to see there were few seats available. Moving through the rows, he eventually found a seat next to a figure in a red body stocking with lightning bolt decorations.
"Is this seat taken?" Carter asked.
"Help yourself," the flashy fellow replied. "Are you here for the audition?
Carter manuevered his swords and sat down. "Sadly, yes. There has to be a better way to make a living."
"I know what you mean. Even my agent says I am merely a flash in the pan. What's your gig?"
"Ouch! That's a tough row to hoe these days."
"Well, one can only hope. And you?"
"Sometimes crime stopper with a gimmick. The gimmick, however, has lost me a few lady friends. I'm too quick, they say."
Carter noted the amused smile. "I've been accused of being too quick as well."
"Sorry to hear that. I really do try to give the lady pleasure and excitement..."
"Er...no," Carter blushed, "I've been accused of being too quick to lay bloody waste to an entire planet."
"Oh! Well, that's a different slant! Good luck on the interview."
"And you, sir." Carter sat quietly for a few moments, then leaned close to his new found friend. "Can you tell me what Hollowood (sic) will do to me?"
The man in the red suit grinned, almost apologetically. "Could be famous, could be Uranus—if you get my drift. All they know is box office. Hang in there. Eventually the producers get it almost right—at least right enough for us to make a living."
Carter sighed. "Well, I suppose we have no choice. Just as long as I get the girl in the end."
"My hope, too," The fellow replied.
There was a commotion near the producer's office. A diminutive girl with a clip board was engaged in heated discussion with a tall, lanky fellow wearing a tweed suit and odd hat. "Mr. Holmes, you will be called. Please sit down! People!" The girl raised her voice. "Looking for naked barbarians and swords..."
The man in red punched Carter in the shoulder. "Sounds like you! Good luck!"
As Carter rose a larger, more massive fellow was already nearing the door. Pausing, he asked his friend, "Who is that?"
"Arnold Schwarzenegger. Box office." The man in the red suit frowned. "Tough row to hoe," he repeated. "Go for cultured and educated instead of barbarian."
"I appreciate your advice," Carter replied, rising. "I've conquered a planet. I can certainly conquer something as simple as a Hollowood film."
"I like your attitude!" the man in red shook Carter's hand 13,202 times in one second. "Go show them what you've got! And," he added as the final stroke of the handshake ceased, "put in a good word for me if possible."
Carter massaged his hand, ignoring the pain, and made his promise. "I will do what I can. Thank you for your advice and help."
"Aw, go on, get outta here! Get a job. Get a job that pays!"
"I will return the favor," Carter replied. "What do you know about Mars?"
"Next to nothing, but I am a quick study...at least all my girlfriends say that."
"I will remember you in negotiations. Now I must go before the Arnold Schwarzenegger makes too great an impression. Be well, my friend."
Carter, back straight, his walk firm, entered the producer's office.
"This will never do," the tall man scowled at the first reading of the script. "Tars Tarkas would never..."
The director, a student of Spielberg, Lucas, and Verhoeven clutched his overlong hair with annoyance. "John, Johnny baby, this is what we have to work with. Work with it!"
"I thought the idea was to be accurate in producing a film filled with Adventure and Romance."
"It is, Johnny!" the director replied. "Good money was spent to produce this script and and it reads like a dream! Give it a chance!"
Carter scowled as he looked at the cast seated around the overlong table in the ready room near the sound stage. The other actors showed expressions ranging from disinterest to pleading, the latter getting his attention. This was the company to which he had given his allegiance and he could not let them down.
"Okay, Tars Tarkas picks a flower and gives it to the princess. I guess that's okay, inaccurate, but okay."
"Good!" the director responded. "Can we continue? Where were we? Lorquas Ptomel, take it up."
Several pages passed then Carter scowled again, uttering a rude word.
"Johnny, baby, what's wrong now?"
"Tharks do not dance or sing."
"Give it a chance! The audience can't take straight drama. They expect to be diverted. Besides, the Thark Rap sequence is one of the keynote scenes. The CGI fellows promise the green Martian break dancing will take your breath away."
Carter again saw the worried and long faces on most of the cast. Again he was reminded of his duty. "I suppose this is better than nothing since the script does not have the Warhoon arena." Turning to the next page, Carter began reading: "I have come to save a world...is this line really necessary? It sounds so contrived."
The director gripped his hair again, this time removing several dozen strands of prematurely gray. "This is film, Johnny. The audience is dense as concrete. We have to tell them what is going on."
"Can audiences be that ignorant?" Carter asked.
"YES!" every member of the cast as well as the director shouted. The director continued. "The audience knows only what we tell them—and because it is film they will believe it. Come on, big guy, work it!"
Carter rubbed his chin, beginning to realize he was no longer in command of his direction. "As you say." Carter commenced reading. "I have come to save a world, a world so steeped in barbarism and war that only the righteousness of good can bring peace, even if righteousness must be imposed by the strength of a sword arm and determination."
The director began to weep. "That was beautiful!" The other cast members enthusiastically applauded. Carter smiled, validated in thinking all assembled were idiots.
"Anymore of this crap and I quit!" Semple slammed the manila-boarded script on the Producer's desk. "This script went through ten rewrites, including Thomas and Chaykin. That damn reject actor from Conan meets Shakespeare is stopping every other scene with complaints! I can't work this way!"
"Lorenzo, baby, sweetie!" The producer began, mopping a balding head with a handkerchief shining as brightly as his horn-rimmed glasses and impossibly white teeth. "The director says the camera loves this guy. Long tall and handsome. Teenaged males will love his look, and their girlfriends will, too. Great date night movie fodder. If pubescent boys can't drag their girlfriends to the theater we have no draw. Now wait a minute!" the producer waved the scriptwriter back into the opulent leather side chair before his desk. "The director has told me this guy is a little difficult—"
"Difficult?" Semple snapped. Jumping up to pace the office the scriptwriter launched into a passionate rant. "This guy makes Shannon Doherty look like a shrinking violet! Scenery problems, character inter-actions, and always harping about accuracy, accuracy, accuracy! And if that wasn't bad enough his simple-assed girlfriend keeps hanging around the soundstage around making remarks about Salma! Can you believe it? She says that one of the hottest female leads today is not the 'right type" to play the Princess of Mars. Worse, that—that—argh!—girlfriend of Carter says that she is the only one who can play Dejah Thoris! I tried to have her ass kicked off the set, but Carter wouldn't go for it. First he said he'd quit, then he started waving that sword around."
"Lorenzo, baby! We should be so lucky to have a lady that fine, she's an idiot and no actress, but—" for a moment the producer became glassy-eyed with imagination. Taking a grip, and ignoring the buzzer from his secretary from the outer office, he continued. "It can't be that bad. As you and the director said, he's perfect for the part. He looks just like the old books."
"That's the creepy part, Phil. I think he thinks he is John Carter."
"Beautiful, sweetie! So, he's a method actor." Phil came from behind the desk, put an arm about Lorzeno's shoulder and began walking the screenwriter to the door.
Lorenzo was not finished. "It's worse than that. Carter truly believes he's done everything already. If something's not right his kilt gets in a bunch."
Agitated, Lorenzo gripped the producer's shoulders, pleading. "In the fight scene with one of the CGI tharks, right here on page 29, Carter is supposed to say 'You'll be whistling Dixie out your ass, you green Yankee.' Do you know what he does each time? He just stops before the line and says: 'A gentleman from Virginia would never say such a thing.' Six times the director yells: 'You got to have a tag line, like Arnie with "I'll be back." But this guy just leans on his sword and proclaims his tag line is 'I still live.' Really, Phil, give me a break! What kind of lame line is that?"
The producer shook off the hands, straightened the lapels of his Armani jacket, picked up the script and slapped it against the lanky scriptwriter's chest. "Lorenzo, sweetie, baby, cupcake! Go with the flow. Are you sleeping well? You look worn out. You got to take it easy. I'll have the director talk with Carter after tomorrow's wrap-up. Meanwhile, take my limo," the door to the office was open and Phil gently ejected Semple from his office.
"Lisa!" The producer glanced toward the young girl wearing too much cake makeup. "Bring up the limo for Mr. Semple." In a softer voice he said to the scriptwriter, as he produced a thick wallet, "Cruise Sunset. Here's a few c-notes, my boy. Find some hottie, or some blow, to take your mind off this. Let's see what happens tomorrow."
"That's nice of you, Phil," Lorenzo replied, a tad astonished at the number of few c-notes thrust into his hand.
"Hey, it's bupkes, baby, bupkes. Meanwhile, I'll call Vince McMahon and see if the Rock's available."
"But, Carter's white, and a Confederate."
"Besides you and me and a couple of hundred has-been fans, who would know that? Picture this—" Phil boxes his hands like a frame— "The Rock, an escaped slave named John Carter, with maybe Chris Rock as his sidekick, get hit by an explosion during the Civil War and it vibrates them to Mars where they set out to free these big green guys from their elite masters. A lot of laughs along the way, some big battles like in the Mummy, only bigger, and you got a summer sensation. It'd be beautiful, baby!"
"Did you actually read the books, Phil?"
"Books, schmooks! Who has time to read? Now, be a good boy and run along. I got a hot tub party with Shannon Tweed and Jenny McCarthy. Go on, get outta here–-but be damn sure you turn in your expense report."
Carter changed positions. Dejah Thoris moved closer, pulling the bed sheets over both of them.
"You need to rest," she said.
"It's nearly 4 am," he growled, rolling erect on the side of the bed. Carter looked at the bedside clock and thumbed off the alarm. He reached back to stroke the woman's delicate shoulder. "I have to get up. The driver will be here in a half hour."
"Okay," Dejah Thoris yawned.
Carter looked over his shoulder. She was so small, so dainty, so delicious, so...!
"Leave me alone, John Carter of Mars and Earth and Here And There!" Dejah Thoris almost laughed as she clutched the bed sheets to her breast. "Wait a minute!" The copper toned woman with black hair wiggled to the bedside table to retrieve a sheaf of papers she handed to her husband.
"What is this?" Carter asked in the darkness.
Dejah clutched his pillow and hers and snuggled into the bed. "Nothing much. Legal papers. Give them to your agent before shooting. G'luck," she snored.
Carter frowned. This was the first morning his wife was not up before he was for the day's shooting. Still frowning he entered the shower, toweled dry, brushed his teeth, then donned cut-off jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Dejah Thoris did not wake when he returned to the bedroom to kiss his wife goodbye. Stuffing the papers into his hip pocket, Carter crossed the green sward between bungalow and street where his recently hired driver Ralph the Mouth waited with the door open to the out of work actor's 1987 Mustang convertible—which was permanently converted since all the necessaries to raise the top had been removed—and what was left was just short of Superfund regulations.
Carter greeted the not quite young man with a grin since hot coffee and donuts were offered. Strapping himself into the vehicle Carter said, "You do not look like the Ralph the Mouth I saw on TV last night."
The man with blue hair almost contained his immediate anger as he slammed the Mustang into first gear burning rubber. "Most of the time I—" second gear squealed— "I don't mind the remarks—" third gear– "but I can't help the red hair, freckles, and doofus face which—" fourth gear approaching 100 miles per hour — "has me type cast as that dork on Happy Days!" Fifth gear settled with a spine jarring thump.
Carter drank what was left of his coffee, jostled out of the cup after each gear change. In a calm voice he said: "Would you like a chance for the Kantos Kan part? Hasn't been cast yet. By the way, you missed the studio entrance—" he bit into a donut, cream-filled! "—a few miles back."
Ralph trod through the gears, slammed on the brakes, and did a 180 with the precision of a government trained agent. The Mustang throbbed at idle. The Pacific Ocean sighed to the right. "Are you jerking me, John Carter?"
Carter washed down a donut bite with what was left of his coffee. "Works for me! Can we get some coffee on the way back?"
"Yes, sir! Damn right, sir! Hang on, sir!"
Carter finished his second cup of coffee only by commanding his driver to keep the Mustang in second gear. A brief consultation with the director regarding Ralph's casting resulted in a difference of opinion that put the makeup stage a half-hour behind. As Carter shed his cut-off jeans he came across the papers Dejah Thoris offered.
"Process these," John told the director as he continued with makeup and costuming.
Five minutes passed then the director exploded.
"John, baby, what the hell is this?"
Carter, regal, adjusting his swords—those that Hollowood thought he needed rather than the swords he used to conquer a world—arched an eyebrow. "Nothing much. A few papers my wife and I determined necessary."
The director tore out more than a few strands of hair. "HIV tests? STD's? My God, John this is only a freakin' kiss!"
Carter stiffened. He was as baffled as the director. He had been anxious to embrace and execute an oscillatory event with the young actress—in the name of making a movie and a buck.
Before Carter could utter a word the director screamed: "Legal! Get Whilcutt and Woodley. Damn it! Strike the set! Send the extras off, oh hell, give them the box lunches. And you, Johnny...damn it! Ralph, take him home to that..."
Ralph jumped before Carter to hold back the mighty warrior. He was dressed in black sweats armed with nary a coffee and only one and half donuts. Looking over his shoulder, The Mouth whined, "Did I get the part?"
The director, seeing dollar signs descending into the sunset, choked as he looked upon the grim length of John Carter.
"You will, if you get that stubborn bastard straight."
"Look, Phil, my therapist says that if this guy makes much more trouble, I'm going to be renting a rubber room for a while," the director said as he watched the producer extricate himself from his stretch limo. Steam from the hot tub gave Phil an ethereal look. His glasses were fogged.
"Joe, sunshine!" Phil began, wiping his glasses on the shirttail of the nearest gaffer. "Just what is the problem here? First, I get Lorenzo all strung out over deviations from the script, and now you are busting my chops about being traumatized by —what? Tell me what is bugging you both about this guy. He's an actor, for crying out loud and an unknown at that. Just because he blew the lid off the numbers in testing doesn't make him Lord of the Jungle, does it?"
"Tarzan is Lord of the Jungle, Phil," Joe pointed out. "This guy is the Warlord of Mars. Get it straight. Come over here and watch him in action. He's got a big battle scene here, part of the attack on Zodanga."
"Sure, baby, sure," Phil followed the hirsute producer to a battery of director chairs. The set had been dressed to look like an ancient city. Extras in leather harnesses, swords, and little else milled about. A few animantronic six limbed green Martians twitched feebly. Outside the set area was a set of trailers, beyond the glare of lights. Joe waved Phil to a seat and a bevy of go-fers appeared with trays of snacks and beverages. Phil grabbed flavored water. Joe pointed to one trailer. Emerging from it, waving away dressers like annoying flies, strode their star. His black leather harness rife with the scintillations of the many devices and jewels attached to it. A long sword, short sword, dagger, and pistol hung from inset rings. The man looked impressive, bronze muscles supple and rolling smoothly as he walked. Phil saw in the flesh what he had before seen in stills and video: A lean face, short black hair, steel gray eyes, the expression of serene confidence. This man did not walk on to the set. He took charge of it. In one hand were a few pages of script. These he handed to an assistant. He recognized Joe and nodded.
"I am ready," he proclaimed.
"I am so glad," Joe mocked. "Let's go! Extras, places! Grips, get the Tharks jump-started! Bring out the flier!"
"He's such a hunk!" Phil breathed. "No wonder he tested better than Val or George."
"You sound gay," Joe griped. "Okay, people, I have speed!"
A thin fellow with a beard and glasses came up with a scene board. "Scene 50, Battle of Zodanga, take one!"
The stage was suddenly a cacophony of swords clashing as the men fought with swords, knives and pistols. Life size Tharks thudded around spastically before they were supposedly cut down and died. "CGI Tharks will be blended in," Joe pointed out. "Way over budget on those green gorillas. Bob did a great job on the heads, though. Okay, here comes the flier. The big bad guy Sab Than is on board with Dejah Thoris."
Lowered down in a slow glide as it hung from hydraulics, a huge boat-like air ship, a cross between a tumblehome French cruiser of the late 1800's and Cleopatra's barge came sailing into the scene. Thirty men were on board, including an evil-looking fellow and a beautiful girl in a lot of jewelry strategically placed.
"Hey, baby!" Phil whistled. "The Death Star! I love it!"
"It's a Zodangan dreadnought," Joe carped. "This is not Star Wars!"
"For this budget, it better make Attack of the Clones look like Pigs in Space," Phil said. "Who is that playing the big bad? Is that Jeremy?"
"That's him," Joe said. "Picked him up cheap after the Time Machine."
Out on the set, the actors were emoting. "John Carter, this is the end," Sab Than spoke gravely. "Though you have a mighty army of Tharks, I have the greatest navy on Batsoom."
"Cut!" Joe hollered. "That's Bar-zoom, Jeff!"
"It is Bar-SOOM," Carter corrected. "He never showed up in this flier in reality."
"It's a bigger effect," Joe explained. "We'll fix the dialog in voice-over. Can we continue?"
"Of course," Sab Than agreed woodenly. "It's Jeffrey, not Jeff."
"I have enough trouble with him," Joe snapped. "Don't you start. Roll 'em!"
"Your fleet will avail you naught," Carter said. "The air fleet of Helium will clean your clocks. God, how trite that sounds!"
"Keep rolling!" Joe ordered.
Suddenly, a cable broke holding the flier. It tilted, throwing its occupants to their knees. Another cable parted and the bow of the ship swung down. Carter grabbed the bow and started to deflect it away from people beneath it. The construct moved, and then crushed him beneath its weight. It broke in two like the Titanic, but Carter's intervention kept anybody from being seriously hurt. Joe and Phil leaped to their feet.
"Jesus, he's dead!" Joe gasped. "The movie's only half done! What am I going to do now?"
"Oy, the lawsuits!" Phil shrieked. "His babe will eat us for breakfast!"
Then, from the rubble, a dirty and disheveled figure arose, His hair was full of shredded foil and wood chips. He bled from half a dozen minor wounds. Carter rose to his full height and raised his long sword above his head. "I still live!" John Carter cried. Then amended, "Though I forgot I am on Earth."
Phil's grin was a mile long. "Were the cameras still rolling? What a scene! What a scene! Now, that's Entertainment!"
Dejah Thoris sat on the couch wrapped in a terry cloth robe nibbling expensive chocolates from a rather large box. The TV was on the Entertainment Channel. John Carter painfully shrugged out of his borrowed jacket and sat on the divan.
"You're late," Dejah Thoris offered a half-hearted kiss, her eyes glued to the idiot box. "Hard day?"
"More than usual. Mind?" Carter asked, reaching for the chocolates.
His wife giggled, pretending to protect the confectionary treasure, then held the box out for his selection. Carter popped one of the candies into his mouth and leaned back on the divan, closing his eyes. The next thing he knew Dejah Thoris was blowing in his ear, "Come to bed," she whispered with romantic promise.
"I'm beat," Carter sighed.
Dejah Thoris tugged her husband off the couch and led him to the bedroom of the bungalow. Peeling off his shirt she saw the bruises and cuts on his back and shoulders. "What did they do to you, John? You conquered an entire world with less damage to yourself! I'm calling Adrian!"
Adrian was the agent. Carter gripped his wife's arm before she could pick up the telephone. "He's in Aspen and it won't make any difference in the long run. I'm going to take a hot shower. Go to bed."
Carter leaned into the near scalding water which eased the ache in his muscles. He did not quite jump when he felt delicate hands on his back, but he did turn to bend low to kiss eager lips.
Ralph showed up early the next morning—arriving in time to breakfast with Carter and his wife. "Damn fine eggs, Mrs. C!" Ralph exclaimed. "Like nothing I've ever had before!"
"Yes," Dejah Thoris replied, looking a little rumpled and happy at the same time. "I've been exceptionally fertile these days."
Carter chuckled while scowling at his wife. "Forget it, dude! Time to go."
In the car Ralph chattered. "Turns out I can't get the Kantos Kan part but thanks for trying, but I did get a role on Seventh Heaven as consolation but it ain't much but I love you, man!"
Ralph hugged Carter as the Mustang screamed down the highway. Carter briefly acknowledged then put the man's hands back on the steering wheel. "I'd like to arrive in one piece."
Shooting movies made no sense to the Warlord because scenes were apparently never shot in sequence. Today they were on location for the Apache segment. Make up was minimal. Carter emerged from the trailer in Confederate uniform. The production company was back in one of the canyons and wranglers had horses on hand. The half-naked Apache extras looked like white men in red dye make-up.
Carter approached the director. "This won't work," he said, tossing the script to the ground as he took the reins of a horse brought to him. "Film what I do, not what it says."
"Johnny! You can't mean that!"
Carter turned his horse around and mounted. The animal discharged its bowels on the script as Carter sank spurs into the horse's ribs. Carter's "Ya-hoo!" echoed in the canyon.
"Film it! Film it! Film it!" the director screamed. In his excitement the director stepped onto the script, slipped, and grabbed the gaffer's shoulder as the cloud of dust rose.
Two minutes later Carter drew rein at the director's location. With negligent effort he threw the Powell stunt double's "dead" body from the saddle and dismounted. Removing his dust-covered gloves, Carter put his nose inches away from the director's.
"You best have had cameras rolling. I will do a re-take if you ask, but before you do, look at the video tape first. I'll be in my trailer. Oh, what did Whilcutt and Woodley say?"
"Uh, no worries. No. Nothing. Script has been rewritten. No kiss. Hugging is okay, right? Rewind the tape. On the monitor! Later, Johnny? Thanks!"
Carter almost grinned at the director's frantic energy as he entered his trailer, then did grin at the young sort-of-dressed lady inside. "I'm married," he said by way of introduction.
"That's okay. So am I. Coke?"
"I'm not thirsty."
The woman laughed. "Not that kind of Coke, silly! My name is Fay Dior."
"Oh," Carter tossed the gloves to one side and removed his hat. "Out. One Phaidor in my life is enough. And clean up that dusty mess."
"Well! I say!" the girl replied and snorted both rows. "I never!"
"Neither will I," Carter gently urged the unsteady woman down the trailer steps and shut the door.
Ralph knocked on the door. Carter answered almost instantly. "Thanks for coming on short notice on your day off," the Warlord said. He quickly closed the door behind him then threw an arm about the actor's shoulder, heading for the curb.
"What's up, Mr. Carter?" Ralph asked.
"I need your help. Teach me how to drive. I can't afford any more cabs."
"Oh! Yeah, I understand. Sorry the job got in the way of chauffeur. I mean, I really liked driving you around. So, dude, you really don't have a license?"
"Not for automobiles."
Ralph drove to the back canyons well above the L.A. basin. Winding dusty roads winding to nowhere. "Okay, Jack, your turn." Ralph bailed and took the passenger seat. Carter settled behind the wheel and, for the next forty minutes, demonstrated his ability to pilot an automobile with more than exceptional skill.
"Whoa! Dude! Rocket jockey! Damn! Never seen driving like that before!"
"Thanks. Let's get my license."
Carter—the Warlord of a planet, aviator, inventor, and military officer—failed the California written test. Ralph commiserated as they had lunch at MacDonald's. "You was robbed! We'll get 'em next time. Want the rest of your fries?"
The afternoon gone and twilight approaching, Carter thanked Ralph for the ride home. As the Mustang sped away, Carter stood looking up into the sky. There were no stars, there was no Red Eye of Mars, but there was a pit bull running without a leash. The Warlord barely keyed the door to the bungalow as the creature charged. He closed the panel behind him.
Dejah Thoris, in robe and bunny slippers, descended upon Carter in an instant. "You bastard!" the daughter of 10,000 Jeddaks shrieked. "I never want to see you again!"
Carter sagged as the woman continued her rant. "What did I do?"
"You know damn well!" the imperious princess screamed, throwing a copy of the Notional Enquirer in his direction.
The front page had a large photo of Carter, the trailer in the canyon, and a too-loose-to-trek girl leaving the trailer with Carter on the steps. Secondary photos, fabricated and composited from studio stills, illustrated a raging story of infidelity, sex, and drugs. Also on the front page James Coburn's Mysterious Death by aliens occupied the lower quarter panel along side the recurring Michael Jackson's burqa babies article. Among the follow up Carter stories on pages 8, 16, and 32 one contained a "I Carry Carter's Love Child" story—which had a large photo spread of the young lady who confessed she could not help herself "because he is so handsome and insistent" and that she and her husband were in counseling and working on reconciliation.
The phone rang. Carter ignored it, choosing instead to break the seal on a bottle of Scotch. He had not had strong spirits since undertaking the film project but there seemed to be sufficient reason to imbibe. He tried TV for a few minutes, but found that the photos of the girl exiting the trailer were all the news that the news channels wished to show. He turned off the television and tried the radio. He slowly sipped the Scotch.
Carter opened his eyes. A Dire Straits Retrospective came through the cheap speakers of the small stereo system. His wife was not in robe or bunny slippers. She was not in much of anything at all. Draping herself across his lap Dejah Thoris attempted to kiss the Virginian.
"Adrian called. Movie marketing, he said. His apology he called too late. Occupied with a snow bunny, he said. Charged against your earnings to cover the coke for the bimbo, he said. He said..."
John Carter hugged his wife. "This is a strange world, my love. I thought Barsoom was extraordinary, but Hollowood is incomprehensible! I don't cheat. Don't believe anything you might read or hear. I love only you."
Dejah Thoris sighed as her husband carried her to the bedroom. She kissed his neck and cheek. "I know how much trouble it has been getting to work since Ralph became employed. I asked Wynona–you know her friends still shun her?–to help me get a driver's license. She's very sweet. Should have been cast for the slave girl part. Anyway," Dejah Thoris giggled as her husband tossed her onto the bed and began undressing, "just so you know, we now own a PT Cruiser. Best we get some sleep if I'm going to drive you to the studio in the morning."
Sleep was a while in coming.
Dejah Thoris pulled the PT Cruiser to the curb outside the studio and demanded a kiss from her husband. "I have the cell phone. Call me if you finish shooting before eight."
"I will. Where will you be?"
"Out with Wynona."
"You're not going shopping, are you?" Carter asked.
Dejah Thoris laughed. "Goodness no, Silly! A drive down the coast, lunch, then a drive back. I need the experience. What is that horrible term they use? Break a leg!"
Carter would have said more, but photographers and reporters seemed to appear from nowhere. "Later!" The Warlord sprinted to the studio gate and let the burly security officer deal with the howling mob of reporters.
"Yes, Jack, no, Jack, OK Jack!" Phil stammered into the phone. "It's done, baby! Ciao!" He snapped the phone together and jammed it in his coat pocket. "That stingy son of a bitch. Lisa!" The shapely secretary appeared at his bellow. "Get me Lorenzo and Joe, right away. Its second unit day anyway, so they're probably sleeping off whatever they used to keep Carter from driving them crazy. I want them in here in half an hour. Order some lunch, restock the booze and get me the budget figures for JC: Mars, or whatever its called this week."
Phil used the intervening time to examine the budget line by line, going to the bathroom three times, and having his doctor change his prescription once. After the courier arrived with his new pills, he threw down a handful chased by Pernod and drummed his fingers on his polished desk while surveying a wall lined with autographed photos and awards, including his only best picture award, for Hellraiser: the Musical. Lorenzo showed first, rumpled, eyes red-rimmed. He promptly fell into a leather chair and was snoring noisily by the time Joe appeared. Joe's temples looked a little swollen and he hadn't shaved. He leaned close over the desk to Phil.
"This better be good," he said, breath making Phil's abundant nose hairs curl. "This is the first day off I have had in four weeks. Four weeks of Hell with that maniac and his girlfriend. Do you know that the little under-dressed strumpet showed up on the set yesterday to see if Salma had any recipes for Spanish omelets?"
"Sit, Joe, sit," Phil waved, indicating another chair. "What'd you do, pay some prostitute to crap down your throat?" He gulped when he saw Joe flush with embarrassment. "Hey, don't sweat it, baby! There's lots of booze. Pour yourself a stiff one with lots of ice and dump it on Lorenzo. He probably needs a direct dose."
Joe settled for the seltzer bottle and shot a liberal dose down Lorenzo's throat, causing him to gasp and retch. Lorenzo retaliated by grabbing a cold can of Foster's, shaking it, and unloading the contents in Joe's face. Phil jumped up, waving his arms as if he expected to take off.
"Boys, boys!" He hollered. "Are you both meshungina? Sit down! You are ruining my furniture! Lisa! Call the cleaners! Put that crap down, you two. Listen, we got problems, bigger then your leading boy bringing in his girl. So she shows her pupick and her legs? You got Salma showing hers!"
"But, Phil," Joe explained, pouring some jack and wiping off the foam from the Foster's with one finger and dumping it in the same glass, "that's the problem. She ain't got no pupick. That ain't all. Her boobettas, they ain't got nips, either. It's creepy. I don't want that scary bitch on the set."
"Again, the least of our worries," Phil said, fussily, bringing out his hanky to wipe his balding head. "The big guy called. That's right, Jack himself. He's looked at the rushes, and he is ticked, meta-ticked. We have spent over 50 million on this flick and he says it looks like crapola. He wants a total re-write. He's making it a comedy and bringing in Babaloo to massage the script."
"Babaloo!" Lorenzo howled, grabbing another Foster's and downing the contents in long, bobbing gulps. "Oh, jeez, Phil, that guy's a bigger hack than me! I've got the track record for this kind of movie! King Kong, Flash Gordon, Never Say Never, for God's sake! What's he done? Comedies, and lame-ass comedies at that. Did you like City Slickers 2? What about Multiplicity?"
"Hey, you're preaching to the choir, here," Joe growled, pouring more Jack and chasing it with peppermint schnapps. He gargled on that, swallowed, and grabbed a bottle of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. "I just can't wait to see the Tharks doing slapstick."
Lorenzo's expression took on that of a snarling orluk. "If he's in, I'm out. I want the rest of the money you owe me and my name off the script or I'll sue the seersucker right off you."
"OK, boys, OK," Phil held up his hands. "I'll level with you. It's not so much that JC: Mars is such a bad flick, it ain't. Jack's got other problems. The studio is facing a leveraged hostile take-over if he can't raise enough cash to fight it off. We are over-budget and a month behind schedule, mostly thanks to our temperamental superstar. There has been an alliance between the French/Kenyan consortium D'arnot/Oparcon and Mammoth Studios."
"Oh, God, kill me now," Joe moaned, exchanging the Captain Morgan for Peachtree Schnapps that he gargled and spit into Lorenzo's empty Foster's can. He then scrounged around for some vintage Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. "D'arnot/Oparcon took over Vivendi. Mammoth pictures? That's the company that that oil baron guy bought back in the 60's."
"You got it, baby," Phil pointed, grin evaporated, though his glasses were starting to steam. "They are talking about having Bodine direct."
Joe spit all over Lorenzo, who promptly puked in Phil's trash can. Feeling better, he switched to Red Wolf. "Bodine! That big oaf barely graduated sixth grade. Say it ain't so, Phil!" Joe slapped his head and killed the bottle of Strawberry Hill.
"What would it take to get this picture done before that happens?" Lorenzo asked.
"Replace Carter," Joe said. He then started turning a little green and holding his stomach.
"His contract is ironclad," Phil whined. "Something would have to happen to him."
Lorenzo's eyes narrowed. "Then, for the sake of the nation, this JC must die."
Phil and Joe nodded, just before Joe grabbed the trash can and puked heartily.
Early morning Carter greeted Ralph with a nod. Gesturing to the donut shop's thick-ankle waitress a cup of coffee and a dunker was produced. "What do you have?" Carter asked.
"They plan to off ya, Jack. Collins and I got pretty close on the set and he heard some things from others who heard some things from others who heard some things. They don't like you."
"Suits me," Carter grinned. He finished his donut, drained the coffee in his mug and beckoned for more. "Costa Rica this time," he said.
Ralph looked nervous. "What are you gonna do?"
"You've been a good friend." Carter dipped a too-sugared donut into his coffee. "Leave before you get in trouble. I'm sure they are watching me."
Ralph grabbed his donut and rose. "Good luck!"
"Luck has nothing to do with it. We'll get together after this is over."
Carter leisurely consumed his coffee, paid the check for both, then entered the PT Cruiser. Skillfully piloting the vehicle down L.A. streets he stopped at a small office on Ventura and spoke briefly with an officer of the family-owned corporation. The conversation over they shook hands. Carter drove to a different destination.
"Hello, Nephew," Carter said as the door of the small house opened. "I see the reports of your death are greatly exaggerated."
"And better continue to be that way. I like my life these days. Is it done?"
"Will be. Dejah sends her love."
"Tell her to fix me up with a girl friend. You take care, John."
"I always do."
Carter's next destination was a local precinct where he met with Detective "Fats" Arbuckle. Arbuckle closed the door to his office and gestured to a chair. Resuming his seat behind the desk the perspiring detective asked: "You got it?"
"Tapes, photos, letters from various sources. Witnesses. More importantly, I have a date and time."
"I've been waiting all my life to bag the bastards who did my great-granddaddy wrong. I know just the little chickie to wear a wire. Do you need police protection?"
Carter scowled, gently. "Fats, do I look like I need protection?"
Fats gulped. "Uh, er, that is—no, sir!" Detective Arbuckle looked at the pile of evidence Carter had provided. "What about your wife?"
"If they come after me that's okay. I'm a big boy. If they come after my wife they are dead. I believe they know that. Best you follow up on what I have provided and nip this in the bud before it gets ugly."
"Do I have to explain?"
"Not at all, Mr. Carter." Arbuckle blanched because of what he saw in the eyes of the actor. "We'll get this done ASAP."
"See you do." Carter rose. "By the way, I had the privilege of knowing your great-grandfather. He was a tremendous talent and got a raw deal."
Arbuckle processed that astonishing information as Carter left the office. He lifted the phone to make calls.
Carter drove to the studio. The director did not look happy. Carter embraced the man with a smile. "We're nearly done. It's almost over. Put a smile on." Carter headed toward make-up calling for the day's blue sheets. The filming finished with no objections from Carter, who cuddled most convincingly with the female star—cuddled to the point of achieving an x-rating.
"Cut!" the director screamed, chugging an antacid.
"Another take!" the female lead breathlessly begged—ignored by all except the crew, the commissary, and the on-lookers who felt her heated desire and desperate anguish.
"John! Mr. Carter!" the director wailed. "We can't use this! Reset. Positions!"
"Wish I could. Meeting with Phil." Carter left the set.
Arbuckle and several of L.A.'s finest met Carter outside the studio office. "Got it!" Arbuckle declared. "The chickie got it all on tape."
"You don't want to know, but if the tape is ever aired in court moans and groans will be 90% of the recording."
Carter arched an eyebrow. "Was she injured?"
Arbuckle laughed. "She had a great time. But that's beside the point. Ready?"
Fifteen minutes after entering the studio offices two arrests of lackeys were made. The studio made an offer to John Carter to avoid legal problems: $15 million dollars to make that happiness work as well as promising to shelve forever the film and script. Two weeks later, with documents and lawyers and more documents rising like a blizzard, Arbuckle dropped by the Carter's bungalow with an update.
"You won. You know they lie. You out-foxed them all," he said.
"Yes," Carter replied, unsurprised.
"Watch yourself, they want you dead."
"But they also know they would die if they try," the Warlord replied. "That's why I still live."
Ralph and one of the girls from Seventh Heaven came over that night for an omelet dinner and cards. During a potty break for the girls Carter and Ralph went to the kitchen for another round of Coors Light in long necks. Ralph twisted caps on two and the men returned to the card table. Munching a corn chip drenched with salsa dip Ralph sipped his beer.
"I'm confused, Mr. Carter. What made you do it? I mean, you got a job on the hottest film in Hollowood, uncovered all kinds of nefarious deeds, and managed to sabotage the film from the get go. Why?"
"To save a world, my friend. To save a world."
Before Ralph could query that response Dejah and the little blond came from the back rooms of the bungalow. Within minutes the two couples were again playing cards and laughing. Carter shuffled and dealt cards. "Oh, by the way," he said to his wife. "Ed sends his love."
Dejah Thoris folded her cards and smiled. "I love him, too. He sent me you."
Carter laughed then asked: "Cards?" with a grim playing smile on his lips.