CHAPTER 15 -- A BUSY NIGHT
Trent keeps the tribe moving and gets them money, and is therefore the father. Jodi decides how the money is spent and who the tribe associates with, and is therefore the mother. When she isn’t dancing, or preening, Ilima whines and pleads for everything, which makes her the daughter. Duncan, on the other hand, is just there.
The truth is, Ilima doesn’t need to have a dog with Duncan around. He is their dog. He is always present and usually does very little...until something sets him off. He might hear or smell something none of the others sense yet, or lash out at anyone threatening them. Like when three street punks tried to corner Ilima in a club in Hollywood and Duncan body-slammed one against the wall and kept kicking him until Trent and the other two punks pulled him off.
Or like a dog, he’ll spontaneously do something in public that is both hilarious and completely inappropriate, like standing up in the pancake house and directly farting at two police officers in the next booth. Or he will shamelessly grab his stiff penis in his pants whenever something arouses him, until Ilima or Jodi slap him and tell him to stop.
It’s coming close to the end of shooting and Dwight is not happy with what they are getting, so Dwight tells them they will work eighteen-hour days until the end of shooting. Paul accepts his fate. It’s Saturday night and he is already counting down...twelve more hours until one day off, and then only five days until shooting ends. Then he can work on salvaging his relationship with Maggie.
That night the kids spend all their money -- about forty dollars -- to go to a late-night punk show deep in the San Fernando Valley. Jodi figures out which bus lines to take and they must leave the vats before the sun set to get there on time.
Paul is surprised at how dressed up they get. Jodi re-bleached the roots of her hair with Clorox and water, Ilima bought makeup, and Trent added more rips to his leather jacket. Duncan is dressed like he’s always dressed.
They board a bus that drives north along a cement section of the L.A. River that hugs Highway 5, then turns left and head deep into the San Fernando Valley. The Valley is always ten degrees warmer in the summer and the blazing sunset heating the bus windows only makes it worse. The tribe is surrounded by dozens of people of all shapes and colors and backgrounds, in suits and in t-shirts, people all too exhausted from the heat to even give them a second look. Trent, Jodi and Ilima are dressed in vinyl and black leather, which must be torture to wear in the summer heat. They look miserable. Ilima’s cheap makeup is already dripping. Being a punk in rainy cold England where punk started is a vacation compared to these conditions. Being a punk in Los Angeles is a true commitment.
Paul squeezes his boom mic between two guys wearing dust covered overalls and gets the sound of Ilima whimpering. She is an island girl at heart; the punk lifestyle isn’t for her, plus she’s sick. But she wants to be with her tribe.
Outside through the window Paul can see Dwight racing alongside the bus in the white panel van. The whole bus smells like tangy human sweat mixed with diesel fuel.
They get to the club after a two-hour bus ride. It’s an old boxing arena that the owners haven’t fixed in years, which makes it perfect for punk shows. Every week the kids would trash the place, and each week new graffiti and blood and puke stains made the place that much more authentic.
It seems odd to be so deep in the suburbs and to see so many punkers, but Paul understands the anachronism, having dabbled in punk himself back home in middle-class Andover. Punk thrives in the suburbs, where every kid must shout to be heard over the mind-numbing hum of avocado-colored refrigerators. And these kids are suburban punks. Their clothes are clean, and the holes in their pants and jackets have been added strictly for effect. They don’t stink, they have no oozing open sores, and none of them have a hacking smoker’s cough or serious bronchitis.
So, when Trent and his tribe walk up to the door, the crowd of suburban punks parts to let them pass. Trent and the tribe aren’t wanna-bes, they are real gutterpunks who squat downtown with the drug addicts and the homeless people. Having the camera crew there adds yet another layer of adoration and for Trent and Jodi the hassle of the two-hour bus ride is suddenly worth it. The tribe is royalty here and they love it.
Paul swings his boom around and catches the whispers.
“I’ve seen them before...he’s the head guy...he’s from New York...I think that’s his band...”
The crowd loves them, but the two USC football players who are the bouncers at the front door don’t care about the kids at all. They are big fullbacks with USC sweatshirts, one is black and the other white, and they both still have baby fat and pimples around their necks.
The bouncers pat the kids down, and wave them into the club. When Victor and Paul try to get in, however, the bouncers insist on examining Victor’s camera and Paul’s audio rig. Victor refuses to hand over his camera, so the bouncers block them at the door. They let Dwight in, however, who promises to solve the issue.
“I’ll go find the owner. You guys just chill.”
Victor and Paul step aside to wait but the bouncers keep bothering Victor. This is the one time when Paul is glad that cameramen get all the attention.
“You got a gun in there? A knife? the white bouncer asks.
“The whole thing might be a bomb,” the black bouncer says.
“You’re not police,” Victor says.
“What did you say?” the black bouncer asks.
“I used to shoot the show Cops, and you’re not police, so quit trying to act like police. You’re just college boys who want to play with someone else’s toy.”
“What kind of accent is that?” the white bouncer asks. “Italian?”
When the bouncers ask a third time and Victor refuses to answer, the white bouncer reaches for the camera. Victor grabs the guy’s thumb and breaks it.
The fullback falls to his knees, howling. When his pal moves forward,
the Russian jabs him in the Adam’s apple, and he falls to his knees too. The crowd cheers.
Then the club owner, a small Persian man in a blue suit, comes out with his son and they are both carrying revolvers. They don’t wave them around, they just hold them in their hands, but that is enough to quiet the crowd. Everyone backs away, leaving a wide semi-circle. They kick the two bouncers out of the doorway, then banish Dwight and Victor to the street. The son now examines IDs and takes money while the owner waves his gun at whoever he thinks should be let in.
Dwight and Victor sit on the curb and Paul walks over to join them. He tests his radio mics, trying to pick up any noise.
“Who’s wearing a microphone?” Dwight asks
“Trent and Jodi, but I’m not getting anything.”
“Did you put in fresh batteries?” Dwight says this in an accusing way.
“Yes, but they may have knocked them, or they’re sweating so much that it shorted the unit out.”
Dwight exhales sharply through his nose. Not good enough.
Paul stares up at the marquee, which lists five punk bands in black letters against a white background-- The Black Door, Nephron, Oscar’s Wild, The Racing Stripes, and Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. In his mind, he tries to rearrange the letters into his name and the name of his movie, but it doesn’t quite work.
Which TV station is this going to be on?”
Paul looks down. Three healthy teenage girls stand in front of them, suburban punks with smooth round skin, all of them pretty, even with their “Friar Tuck” bowl haircuts. They are all in sleeveless t-shirts, with thick cotton shirts tied around their waists, ripped black jeans and Doc Marten boots.
“We’re doing a documentary on four kids who are inside the club right now, but we couldn’t get in,” Dwight answers.
“You want to film me instead?” the second girl asks.
“No thanks, not right now.” Dwight smiles at them.
The third girl flips them off and they walk away, ending all chance at conversation. Paul shakes his head and Dwight spots it.
“What? You don’t like how I handled that, Mr. Welles?”
“We’re going to be stuck out here for another three hours and they wanted to talk to me. What’s the harm in me talking to them?”
“Talking to them is not part of your job.”
Paul grabs his gear and heads down the street.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“To that donut shop over there, to get some coffee and read the paper.”
“Get your ass back here, they’ll be out soon.”
“They won’t be coming out for hours. And if they do, you can fire me.”
Paul turns and keeps walking. His legs are shaking and he is suddenly wide awake. He did it. He stood up to Dwight and the world didn’t cave in.
In the donut shop he orders hot chocolate -- he doesn’t need coffee; his mind is too buzzed all ready. No donuts, though. Over the weeks, he’d grown to cherish the hollow hungry feeling in his stomach. At first, he’d fill that hollowness with junk food and gained five pounds in the first week, all in his gut. So, he stopped eating and kept to coffee. Stay mean and lean, that’s the way to deal with exhaustion.
He sips his drink and tries to read the paper, but he just stares at the same paragraph. He glances out the window and can see Dwight and Victor fifty away sitting on the curb with heads together, then glancing back at him.
They’re talking about me, he thinks. Good. Some part of him wishes that Dwight would threaten to fire him. It would give him an excuse to call Dwight’s bluff, because at this point there is no way they could find another audio man and package willing to put up with this kind of abuse.
Paul glances outside again. Dwight is now yelling at Victor, who gets up from the curb and yells back. That’s new. The dictator is yelling at his most trusted solider, which is a mistake. Victor is loyal, first and foremost.
Paul drinks too fast and burns his tongue. Shit. The burn is bad enough that he’ll taste sandpaper for three or four days.
“You got any ice water?” he asks the Asian grandmother behind the counter.
She points at her tongue and smiles. She’d seen this happen before. She fills up a big cup with icy slush.
“Cup and ice cost twenty-five cents,” she says.
Paul hands over a quarter and sips, letting the ice rest on his tongue. This happened on every production. People push each other too far and then overreact to inane stupid shit. And Dwight isn’t worth it. Just a few weeks ago, he’d known this man only by reputation -- a rebel outsider who crafted singular films of independent vision. Now Paul knows that he accomplished that by being a self-centered prick. Let him do his weird movies; if you are smart, you know not to work with him.
“You a punk?” the grandma asks.
“I’m just following some of them. For a TV show.”
“They’ll be out soon. That’s why we stay open. Good money on show nights.”
“How soon before they let out?”
She glances at the clock on the wall. It’s 2:00 a.m.
“They’ll be out at 2:15. It’s always the same. We got all the donuts ready.”
Paul lets the ice roll across his burnt tongue and hefts up his gear again. Time to end his fluorescent Nighthawks moments and get back to work.
“Would you mind if we shot in here when the kids get out? For TV?”
The grandma shrugs and nods. “Sure.”
Dwight and Victor are back sitting on the curb when Paul walks up.
“You done blowing off steam?” Dwight asks.
“I came back because they’ll be out in five minutes.”
“How do you figure that?”
“I keep my ears open.”
Dwight snickers and Victor joins in. Dwight doesn’t move, so neither does Victor. But Paul notices that Victor did glance at his watch to check the time. Paul powers up his rig and clicks it back into place on his harness.
It is now 2:15, and there is no noise from the club except for the distant throb of the same three-note song. Maybe the grandmother is wrong.
Then it happens. The doors burst open and the whole club spills out into the streets at once, with punks leaping over each other to get clear like it’s a prison break. Paul points his boom and can hear Mozart wafting through the club’s speakers and out the door, pushing the kids out as if classical music comes with a bad smell.
Victor and Dwight scramble to get their gear working in the middle of a river of screaming kids flowing past them.
“Where are they?” Dwight shouts.
Paul spots Jodi talking with a huge black kid dressed in torn plaid, and he pushes her up against a wall, searching for a kiss. Paul waves at Dwight and Victor.
“Jodi, one o’clock. I need to check her mic!”
“Ilima and Duncan behind us! Headed to the donut shop!” Victor shouts, and he takes off with his camera towards the donut shop while Paul runs to corner Jodi.
Paul hugs his gear close to him as he maneuvers through the crowd. Kids scream and whack at his boom pole, sending thumping shock waves through his headphones. He reaches Jodi and her new friend and coughs to let them know he’s there. When the guy turns, Paul freezes -- he has a huge safety pin through his upper lip.
“I need to check your transmitter.”
“It works fine, I just turned it off. I didn’t want you spying on me.”
“Would you mind turning it back on?”
“She’ll turn it on when she’s ready, asshole.” The guy steps forward, chest out. She grabs his shirtfront.
“It’s okay, Xander, he’s one of the cool ones,” Jodi says. She snaps her transmitter back on. “Go ahead, Paul. Spy away.”
“Just doing my job.” Paul steps back and tunes her audio into his headphones.
“Nice weather we’re having wouldn’t you say?” Jodi says.
“Certainly, lovely weather,” Xander laughs.
Paul then hears a sigh through his headphones -- Trent is back on-line somehow, but his signal is crackling. Paul spins around and spots him on the curb a hundred yards away, staring at Jodi and his new rival.
Paul crosses the street. Trent looks up at him, pain in his eyes.
“Do mind if I check your battery?”
“Just give me a fresh one, I know how to switch it,” Trent says. He lifts his shirt, turns off the transmitter and pops out the nine-volt battery. Paul hands him a new one along with a small cloth from his kit.
“You’re sweating salt, just wipe everything off,” Paul says.
Trent wipes carefully while watching Jodi and Xander across the street.
“They’re just talking about the weather,” Paul offers
“Yeah right. She already invited him back to see the vats.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re going to get married.”
“She still might fuck him. And then he’ll know where we live.”
The tone in Trent’s voice reveals that Xander knowing where they live is the most serious threat.
“I’m sure Dwight will help you guys figure something out.”
“Bullshit. Getting overrun by squatters and kicked out of the place would be a great story. You guys would love that.”
“You could always kick us out.”
“It’s too late for that now.”
Paul spots Dwight a hundred yards away, staring at him. He points at his headphones then wags his finger at Paul -- he’d heard the whole exchange. Dwight points at the donut shop.
“Sorry, I have to go.”
“Yeah, right,” Trent scoffs. “I’m not interesting enough right now.”
Paul leaves Trent on the curb and heads to the donut shot. Dwight intercepts him at the door. “You were talking to Trent!” Dwight yells, right in Paul’s face. “And what does Jodi mean, ‘he’s one of the cool ones?’”
“Do not mess with me, Dwight. I don’t need my salary bad enough.”
“You’re ruining my shoot,” Dwight hisses. “You’re fucking with my work.” Paul turns down all his microphones, turning Dwight and the world around him into a silent movie. He stares at Dwight’s screaming face filling the screen, his yelling barely audible outside his headphones. Paul is most intrigued by a bulging vein shaped like a circle right in the middle of his forehead. Dwight would look good in a close-up.
Dwight’s silent screaming face helps Paul see Dwight in a new way. The “integrity of his work” is where Dwight begins and ends, he realizes. Anything else -- romance, friendships, money, basic human decency -- does not exist for Dwight. He sacrifices them all for his “work,” and in exchange he has created a name for himself and has an artistic reputation. Paul wonders what he would do if he were in the same position. He can tell Dwight is almost done yelling and turns up his boom volume again.
“Now, get your ass in there and get a boom on Ilima!”
Paul walks back into the donut shop and blinks to adjust to the harsh fluorescent light. Every plastic booth is packed with fresh-faced kids wolfing down donuts.
Ilima and Duncan are in the middle booth holding court, surrounded by adoring punk wanna-bes impressed by their whole smelly downtown deal, plus there is a camera shooting it all. Victor stands on a table, framing his shot from above. Paul walks over and sticks his boom pole into position.
A freckled face girl in $500 black leather pants leans in to Duncan, who munches on an apple fritter. “Can I have kiss?”
“If you buy me a dozen donuts,” he gulps. Paul can’t help thinking the kid should ask for more than just donuts -- like fifty bucks for real food, medicine for Ilima, or new clothes -- but Duncan doesn’t think that way. The girl kisses him with an open mouth, wipes away the food remnants, then goes up to the counter. Victor’s headset buzzes with direction from Dwight. He swings around for the reaction shot from Ilima. Right on cue, she looks jealous. Duncan stares at her with his mouth full.
Ilima coughs. The profound hacking goes on for three minutes, deep and resonant, like a calling animal. The place falls silent as the crowd at her table leans away. She grabs a napkin and spits up another thick wad of green and red phlegm. The girls at the table grimaces. One guy, a skinny Mexican kid in soiled jeans and a t-shirt smiles at her.
“That’s so cool,” he says.
Ilima smiles back at him. The girl returns with more donuts and Duncan keeps eating. Victor jumps off the table and gets low for the wide shot.
Paul changes position and glances at his watch. It is 3 a.m. Almost quitting time. Almost the weekend, almost his day off, almost time with Maggie again…if these kids would just hurry up.
The door swings open and Jodi steps inside. She nods at Duncan and Ilima. “We got a ride with Xander, you guys. Let’s go.”
Duncan and Ilima hesitate.
“If you don’t come now, you ride the bus back,” she says, and leaves.
Duncan grabs his dozen donuts, looks at his freckle-faced fan in the leather pants and nods at her to come along. Not to be outdone, Ilima grabs the skinny Mexican kid by the shirt sleeve and drags him out too.
“See you next Saturday,” Grandma says. “Bring your friends.”
Xander is behind the wheel of a rusty beat-up Lincoln Continental, Trent is in the back-seat sulking, while Jodi stands in the open passenger door, gesturing for everyone to hurry up.
“Who the hell are these people?” Jodi asks, pointing at Ilima and Duncan’s new friends, not even looking at them.
“I’m Shari,” the leather girl says. She nudges the Mexican kid in the ribs. “Carlton.”
“It’s not cool to show them the vats,” Jodi says.
“What about the guy driving? You’re showing him.” Ilima says.
“Seven people can’t fit in the car,” Jodi says.
“Eight,” announces Dwight, who pulls up in the van. “Victor’s riding too.”
“I’ve had ten people in here!” Xander shouts from the driver’s seat. “Get in!”
That’s all they need. Ilima, Duncan, Shari and Carlton pile into the back seat, crushing Trent while Jodi climbs in the front, squeezing in close to Xander. Victor gets in the front too, rolling down the passenger window and gesturing for Paul to shut the door. Paul pushes the door against Dwight’s back until he hears the door click. The camera is on Victor’s shoulder, but half of it sticks out into open air. Xander revs the engine.
“Lock that door!” Dwight yells.
Paul flicks the switch on Victor’s camera so the audio will come through his camera microphone, then slaps down the passenger door lock just as Xander squeals away from the curb.
Dwight drives up in the white panel van. Paul jumps into the passenger seat and Dwight takes off after them, pushing it to fifty miles an hour just to catch up. Mounted on the ceiling of the van right next to Dwight’s head is a small monitor that receives the microwave broadcast from Victor’s camera, and Dwight glances at it as he weaves through traffic. Paul pushes up the volume on Trent and Jodi’s radio microphones, and he can hear Xander making “beep beep” noises like the Roadrunner cartoon. Jodi laughs hysterically.
“Are you hearing this?” Paul asks. “Xander’s a piece of work.”
“Then you should have put a radio microphone on him,” Dwight says.
“I didn’t have time. That’s why I turned on the camera microphone. It’s three feet away from him.”
Dwight glances up and stares at the monitor while still going fifty, then takes one hand off the wheel to press his walkie-talkie.
“Pan to the back, I want to see Trent’s reaction,” he barks at Victor, his eyes never straying from the monitor. They’re coming up fast on the rear end of a Toyota Tercel.
“Dwight,” Paul says, but there is no reaction. “Dwight...Dwight!” The director sees the car ten yards before impact, swerves across the yellow line into oncoming traffic, dodges a honking Volkswagen, passes the Tercel and gets back in his lane. He looks back at the monitor and hits the walkie-talkie.
“More reaction shots of the new kids -- damn!” The monitor goes fuzzy. “They’re out of transmitter range.” Dwight turns off the monitor and looks around. “If we take Vineland, we can beat them there,” Dwight says and makes a left turn.
Dwight grips the wheel with white knuckles. Paul turns off his rig to save battery power and tries to breathe slowly, and feels a strange wave of emotion run through him. He admires, despises and fears Dwight, all at the same time.
He admires his focused intensity, his absolute refusal to accept anything that wasn’t his way. He despises Dwight for not acknowledging anyone else’s thoughts, feelings, contributions, or the existence of anyone who isn’t directly helping him with his project. But most of all he feels fear -- but not fear of Dwight. He is afraid for himself, because he is more like Dwight than he likes.
Paul already knows he is self-obsessed and self-absorbed -- Maggie reminds him of that all the time. The world is just a backdrop for the film Paul is constantly creating in his own mind, and she makes Paul feel guilty about it. It keeps him separate from the world. Separate from her.
Dwight doesn’t seem to care. Nothing matters except the documentary he is creating and he will run over anyone to get what he wants. And Dwight is only directing a documentary TV movie with a three-man crew and a cast of four. He is semi-successful at best. What kind of madness is required to direct a feature film? Must he become even more like Dwight? Surpass him in self-obsession?
He’d read stories about directors with the personalities of Attila the Hun, who forced a crew of a fifty people to work for days without sleep, until people passed out behind the wheel on the way home and crashed their cars.
Another director carried an unloaded pistol stuck in his belt and would pull it out and point it at any crew person who was too slow for him. He put bullets in the pistol for his second film and when he tried to whip it out to punish a grip who was moving too slow, he shot his own ass off. He almost bled to death because no one would do anything to help him.
Paul wants to be a director, but he doesn’t want to shoot his own ass off to get there. Can’t he be nice? Is being like Dwight required?
Dwight stops at a red light. It is three in the morning and there is no traffic for miles in either direction, so Paul expects Dwight to run the red. But he doesn’t. They sit staring at the red shiny disc. It’s so quiet that Paul can hear the electric buzz of the streetlights through the window.
“What do you and Joel talk about?” Dwight asks.
“Very funny. The guy who gives you rides in his shiny silver Lexus, you smartass.”
“We talked about you, what do you think?”
“That’s bullshit. You don’t work for that suit. You work for me.”
“He’s paying my salary. And you never offered me a ride once in six weeks.”
The light turns green and Dwight takes off, laying the accelerator to the floor.
“You’re plotting against me, is that it?”
“Don’t worry. I lied through my teeth and tell him you’re a joy to work with.”
Dwight extends his middle finger and makes mad angry stabbing gestures, as if it were a knife and he could kill Paul with it.
“Relax, Dwight. I’m not a snitch. He’s just afraid you’re going to take the footage and do whatever you want with it, and ignore him. And I tell him that he’s right, that you probably are.”
“You got that right. And if you mess with me, I’ll fire you.”
Dwight’s short cut works. When they reach the corner where Lankershim, Vineland and Camarillo intersect, Paul looks right and sees the Lincoln coming down Lankershim swerving back and forth across the empty lanes of traffic. He powers his kit back up again and puts on his headphones. Jodi is still laughing, but Trent screams in the back seat.
“Don’t do it, don’t do it!”
The Lincoln swerves across two lanes and runs the red light, right in front of their panel van. Dwight gives the street a quick glance and follows. He clicks his monitor back on and gets Victor’s shot on screen.
“Victor, I’m back. Pan around, show me what’s up.”
Victor zooms in on Jodi laughing as Xander yanks the wheel back and forth. He pans into the back seat and shows Trent pounding his fist into the ceiling in frustration. Ilima is passed out against Duncan, completely gone, while Duncan, as usual, is bothered by nothing and is just eating donuts. The two new kids are frozen in open mouth horror.
Paul adjusts the microphones and looks up -- and sees Xander swerve from the far-left lane to the far right and up onto a freeway onramp.
“Bastard kid, we almost lost the camera!” Dwight screams.
“Then quit chasing him, he’s just doing it to outrun us!” Paul screams back.
“I have to chase him, this is the best stuff we’ve gotten in days,” Dwight says, and he yanks the car onto two wheels and races up onto the on-ramp after them.
They are on Highway 101 speeding towards downtown. Traffic is light, mostly big delivery trucks that came over the hill into pre-dawn Los Angeles from the Central Valley. Xander swerves between the trucks, doing his best to torment Dwight.
Jodi screams. “This is it, this is the exit! This is it!”
Xander swerves into the exit lane and bounces off the side barrier and the front passenger door pop open. The camera flies off Victor’s shoulder and bounces across the asphalt, shooting sparks like a tossed cigarette. Dwight sweeps into the exit lane right behind the Lincoln, and a metal piece of the broken camera bounces up and smashes into the van windshield, shattering it into a spider web. Both men scream.
White noise gushes out of Paul’s headphones. He turns everything down as Dwight slams on the brakes to avoid smashing into the Lincoln -- which is coasting down the off ramp with its passenger door wide open and Victor’s butt hanging an inch above the moving asphalt. Duncan, from the back seat, somehow leaped over the front seat and grabbed Victor’s belt before the cameraman hit the ground. Victor hangs onto Duncan’s arm and two men pull hard to keep Victor from dying.
“We’ve got to get that camera,” Dwight says, as if somehow it still existed.
“They’ll stop down here, they have to,” Paul says.
But Xander doesn’t stop...he runs the stop sign at the bottom and makes a left under the freeway. Dwight pulls the van off to the side and watches the car tear down Silverlake Boulevard, with Victor still hanging out in open space.
“We’re fucked,” Dwight says.
It takes ten minutes to find all the camera remains. The battery is intact but the rest of the camera is destroyed -- the lens was run over, the electronic guts were smashed, but the videotape is still good.
“Whatever is the last thing on this tape is one expensive shot,” Paul says.
“You little prick. You didn’t lock the door.”
“Yes, I did. It popped open when they hit the guard rail.”
“I told you to do it!”
“Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten into the car in the first place!”
When they get back to the vats, Victor is standing outside on the curb next to the Lincoln. His face is ashen. Laughter drifts down from the upstairs windows.
“They’re up there with a case of beer Xander had in his trunk. They’re celebrating putting one over on us.”
“You okay?” Dwight asks.
Victor shakes his head. “It wasn’t fun. I was almost reality roadkill.”
“You okay to work?” Dwight asks.
“With what? The camera is gone.”
“We have the small digital camera. We can hook up a microphone to the top and still get quality audio.”
Victor laughs. Dwight had succeeded in amazing him.
“When will we get another real camera?” Victor asks.
“Tomorrow, if Joel insured the camera like I told him to. Until then, we’re shooting.”
“How can you direct? There’s no transmitter to the monitor.”
“I’ll go in and watch what you’re doing. Hollywood old school style.”
It takes five minutes for Paul to rig a small microphone to the top of a handheld digital video camera, and Victor is ready to go. Because there is no way to transmit video to the van, Dwight must go in with him to see what is happening.
Victor grabs the hanging rope and pulls the fire escape down into place. Victor heads up the stairs, with Dwight right behind him. When Paul tries to follow, Dwight stops him.
“Victor’s got the audio now, you’re not needed.”
“If something happens with the audio, are you going to fix it?”
“Fuck it. You can come in, but just listen. Stay out of my way.”
It had always been two men on the fire escape, never three, and as they walk up another bolt pops out and the whole structure shudders and falls another two inches under their weight. They dart up the rest of the metal stars and dash through the window.
“I’m not using that again,” Victor says. “I already almost died tonight.’
All the fire pots are going in the main room when Victor and Paul walk in.
“Hollywood’s back! Don’t you guys ever give up?” Jodi says. Everyone else in the room laughs.
Victor tracks the length of the room, establishing where everyone is sitting. Speed metal blasts from a small portable boom box that Xander brought, and he dances wildly in the middle of the room. Jodi dances with him, trying to match his frenzy. Trent sits on one of the pallets, staring at the twirling Xander with boredom and hatred, while Shari and Carlton sat on an opposite pallet slowly sipping beer and watching the freak show unfold with wide-eyed wonder.
Paul sneaks past them and goes down the hallway. Ilima is in her room, passed out face down on her bed with Duncan beside her.
“Her breathing sounds real funny,” Duncan says.
“We’ll do something about it as soon as we can,” Paul says.
A crashing noise came from the other room -- Paul darts back in time to see Xander picking himself up off the floor. He’d spun himself and crashed onto a pallet. Jodi falls onto the couch, laughing, and Victor moves in for a close shot.
Xander crawls along the floor and ends up at the couch between Jodi’s legs. She touches his cheek. He smiles and buries his face between her legs. Xander reaches up and grabs her jeans by the belt loops and starts to pull her pants down.
Fear hardens on her face. “Cool it. Not right now.”
Xander sticks out his tongue and waves it at her, showing off a huge bolt through the center of it. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”.
When he tugs harder on her jeans Jodi slaps him, and he bites her on the arm. The punk persona falls away fast, and Jodi looks like a scared high school kid again.
“Get out of here, asshole! Leave!” Jodi screams.
Trent grabs Xander by the back of the jacket and yanks him back on his ass.
“You heard her! Get out!”
Xander, despite being drunk, scissor-kicks Trent and knocks him down to the ground. Unlike Trent and Duncan’s faux fighting on Hollywood Boulevard, this violence is real. Xander is larger and stronger and instantly overpowers Trent, punching him in the chest, then head-butting his skull against the cement floor. Trent is out cold.
Xander stands up and smiles at Jodi. “You like my beer but you don’t like me?” He grabs her wrist and pulls her off the couch. “You liked me fine an hour ago. Or was that just to make your boyfriend jealous?” Xander twists her wrist until Jodi falls to her knees in front of him.
“Do something,” Shari whispers to Carlton, who shakes his head.
“Get the fuck out of here!” Xander yells, and Carlton and Shari run from the room. Xander doesn’t yell at Victor or Dwight, however. He looks at the camera and smiles. “Let’s see you put this on TV,” he says, and brings Jodi’s face close to his crotch.
Paul glances at Dwight and Victor, waiting for the director to tell the cameraman to stop. There are three of them, together they can stop whatever is happening. But Dwight motions for Victor to keep rolling.
Paul knows then he can never be like Dwight. He wants to stop it – he still had time to stop it – but he can’t do it alone, Xander is stronger than he is, and Dwight and Victor won’t help him.
Duncan’s whistling starts in the hallway. He strolls into the room with his hands in his pockets. Victor steps back and gets a panning shot that starts on Duncan’s face in the doorway, then moves across the room and comes to rest on Xander standing in the middle of the room with Jodi at his feet.
Duncan doesn’t move.
“All of you! You too, cameraman! Get out!” Xander screams.
Jodi weeps, all her tough veneer now gone. She looks back at Victor and Dwight, whom she’s ignored or flipped off for weeks. No help is coming from them. She looks over at Paul, and makes eye contact. “Please, Paul...please...”
“Fuck you guys! You want to see me break her neck? For your TV show?” Xander yanks Jodi’s hair. He then turns and kicks Trent in the ribs, waking him up.
Paul looks at Duncan, standing five feet away from this screaming angry violent man. Duncan isn’t scared, and he doesn’t look at Xander as much as scan him, his eyes darting back and forth, taking in every detail.
“Fine! You guys can watch! Unzip me, bitch! Get to work!” Jodi unzips his trousers, her hands trembling. Xander helps her by yanking his pants down over his butt cheeks, and his erect penis springs forth, hitting Jodi in the nose. She sobs, but no noise comes out.
That’s when Duncan moves. He hits Xander full force in the chest with his whole body, and knocks him six feet through the air and onto the cement. Xander tries to gasp, but there is no wind left in his lungs.
Jodi runs to Trent. They grab each other and run from the room.
Xander struggles to get his pants up when Duncan sweeps up one of the hot flaming Mason jars with his bare hands and throws the flaming liquid contents right at Xander’s crotch. Xander screams as his pubic hair and cotton cargo pants light up. He howls, rolling back and forth across the cement floor trying to extinguish the flames. Duncan then smashes him in the back of the head with the empty glass Mason jar, knocking him out completely. Duncan stands looking at Xander’s limp body, his butt cheeks still out, surrounded by tiny spots of waxy fire. Duncan tosses a dirty wool blanket over the remaining flames and stomps them out. Dwight motions for Victor to get a low shot. Duncan stands up tall, turns slightly towards the camera, then looks out the window with his chin up. Paul can’t help thinking what a great shot it is.