Reality Road Kill (work in progress!!!!)

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Joel tells Paul to meet him in the Souplantation restaurant on Third Street. Paul finds him in a side booth nursing a bowl of clam chowder and a side salad. Joel jumps to his feet and pumps his hand. He’s wearing a tracksuit and hasn’t shaved in weeks.

“Paul! Thanks for coming. Do you want anything? Grab a tray and help yourself. The corn bread here is amazing.”

“That’s okay, I just ate.”

Joel sits back down and digs in with his spoon. “I know what you’re thinking -- I’m eating food off a tray. Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this, but now I’m eating three meals a day in here. That’s how bad things have gotten. Seven days a week, for weeks now. I’m a regular here, along with all the movie matinee retirees. I have the whole fucking menu memorized.”

“So where are you editing?”

“Next door, in the Third Street Executive Suites. Ever been in there?”

“Oh yeah, many times,” Paul says. “I call it the Habitrail.”

The Third Street Executive Suites are one hundred one-room offices laid out in a grid inside a large warehouse. For $300 a month you get a 12′ by 12′ windowless office, a phone, a bathroom key, access to meeting rooms, and a parking pass. Four women in the front of the building field phone calls and run a mail room for all one hundred offices. Small companies with TV and film projects will rent an “office” and make a footprint. They either succeed and outgrow the space or fail and dissolve away.

Joel pushes his tray away and rubs his eyes. “I sit in that edit bay with that prick Dwight and the editor fifteen hours a day, except when I escape in here to wolf down my food and go back. You can’t imagine what it’s like.”

“Yes, I can. I worked with Dwight eighteen hours a day doing audio, remember?”

Joel dismisses him with a wave of his hand. “That’s different. At least you were moving around. I’m in a tiny dark room with two assholes who both think they’re geniuses, looking at tape after tape, cut after never ends. And all we need is ninety minutes. It’s hell, Paul. I swear to God, it’s just like that play that French guy wrote.”

"’No Exit.’”

“That right, No Exit. Except I do get to leave three times a day to listen to the canned Lionel Ritchie music here in the Souplantation.”

Paul decides not to tell him about his current job working in the tape vault. He had to pay The Zigster a hundred dollars to cover for him this afternoon.

“Have you heard anything from the kids?” Paul asks.

“Kids? What kids?” Joel asks with his mouth full, honestly confused.

“The homeless kids. The ones you’re doing a show about? Remember them?”

“I didn’t know who you were talking about. I hardly think of them as kids.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“Nope. We paid Ilima’s hospital bills and I paid off that kid Xander again, who Duncan almost killed. Then they disappeared. That’s the last I heard from any of them. The city still doesn’t know we were shooting there.” Joel waves his hands in front of his face. “Poof! It’s like it never even happened.”

“Except for those two thousand tapes in there.”

“Don’t remind me.” Joel hangs his head in his hands.

“Don’t you wonder about them? Even a little bit?” Paul asks.

Joel shakes his head. “Not in the least. Do you?”

“Yeah. I wonder if they’re okay.”

“I just want this project to be over.” Joel hangs his head in his hands again.

“So how far are you in editing? Do you have a rough cut yet?”

“Rough cut? We’ve got three rough cuts, all different and they all suck. They’re boring.”

“It was a pretty boring shoot most of the time,” Paul says.

“Fine, so it was boring! You take all the boring stuff out and leave the interesting stuff! That’s editing, right? The verb is ‘to edit,’ to remove! To ‘get rid of!’ Dwight’s in there in love with every tiny nuance in that damn pancake house. He edits these long montages where they just stare off into space and do NOTHING. He says he’s trying to capture their hopelessness.”

“What about the fight with Xander? Or the begging on Hollywood Boulevard, or Jodi and Trent having sex, or Ilima being sick?”

Joel raises his arms in frustration. “I have two thousand tapes in there. I have no idea where any of that is. And even if I found it, I can’t force Dwight to use any of it.”

“What about the editor? Who’s he?”

“Rick Raden. He edited two seasons of Survivor. He edited all the team competitions, that was his specialty.”

“Is he any good?”

“I have no idea,” Joel says, shaking his head. “Everything he edits Dwight changes anyway. He came in excited, but he’s so beaten down he’s just pushing the buttons now. For weeks Dwight hovered in his chair behind him, literally breathing down his neck. It got so bad that Rick put a piece of white tape on the ground and said if Dwight ever crossed it again he’d kill him.”

“I’m surprised he hasn’t quit.”

“He wants to, but the holidays are coming up and there’s not a lot of people hiring right now. I heard him on his cell phone in the garage. He’s just putting in his time until he gets another gig. He’s got some Survivor spinoff that starts in January.”

Joel rests his face in his hands and sighs. Paul looks around the restaurant. It’s still busy, even though it’s close to three o’clock. Back at tape vault, Hank is probably just noticing that is gone, and Paul is hoping that The Zigster is a decent liar. Probably not, Paul thinks to himself. If Joel doesn’t offer him a job, Paul needs to get back and salvage the one job he has.

That’s when Paul notices that Joel is asleep, propped up on his elbows with his head still in his hands. Paul taps him on the knuckles with a soupspoon and Joel snorts awake.

“Sorry. I’m back.”

“I have to get back to work.”

“Work? You’re working? Since when are you working?” Joel seems genuinely stunned, which pisses Paul off.

“Since when? Since I have bills and rent due like everyone else, so I found a job. And I took time off work to come here to listen to you, but now I have to get back to work.”

Paul stands up to leave and Joel grabs his arm. “You can’t go back to work. You have to work for me.”

“As what?”

“As an assistant editor.”

Paul shakes his head and walks out. He blinks away his fury while searching his pockets for bus fare, when Joel catches up with him.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Joel says, grabbing his arm. “I didn’t mean it that way. I’ll call you an assistant editor, but you’ll be doing a lot more than that.”

“I’ve already had that job,” Paul says. He tries to get on the bus but Joel grabs him off the bottom step and waves the bus on.

“You’re pissing me off, Joel,” Paul says. “I don’t need this anymore.”

“Yes, you do! I have a plan. Just listen to this -- I fire Rick. I have to, he’s just punching a clock right now. Then I tell Dwight he can edit the show himself, any way he wants. Then I hire you as his assistant editor, just digitizing footage and arranging material for him. It makes sense, because you know the footage and can find it a lot easier than Rick could.”

“I don’t want to be in the same room as Dwight,” Paul says.

“You don’t have to be! You’ll be in another room preparing material for him to work on, and in the edit bay when he’s not there.”

Paul shrugs. “I have no desire to help Dwight on his show. I’d rather just forget the whole thing ever happened.”

Joel smiles. “But that’s only half the job. I’ve just rented another editing system one hallway over that Dwight doesn’t know about. When you’re not digitizing material for him, I want you to be working in the other bay, editing the show the way you think it should be, like we talked about.”

“You want me to cut a different show behind Dwight’s back?”

Joel neither says yes or no, he just shrugs. “I have a contractual obligation to give Dwight sixteen weeks of editing time to deliver the cut he wants. I’m doing that right now. But the network owns the footage, not Dwight, and I have an obligation to deliver the best show possible. You know the footage and you’re a filmmaker. I think you’re the only person who can deliver that show for me.”

Paul sits down on the bus stop bench to think. The sky is dark blue with white clouds moving in a crisp autumn breeze. A tiny jet leaves a white trail high in the sky, and Paul suddenly envies the pilot. There’s a person in that tiny speck, and that person has skills and talents that opened the world to him or her. Paul missed the joys of summer while doing audio for Dwight, and now he’s missing beautiful autumn days like today, locked in that vault. Then again, if he takes Joel up on his offer he’ll be locked away in a dark edit room for months, cut off again from the outside world again, never seeing the sun or the blue sky filled with speeding pilots.

Paul watches the white speck disappear behind the Beverly Center and his reverie ends. He turns to Joel.

“What’s the salary, and what’s the credit?”

“The salary is $1800 a week,” Joel answers.

“I need $3000 a week.”

“But you’ve never edited a network show,” Joel says. “That’s not fair.”

“You said I was the only person in the world who could do this for you.”

“I’ll pay you $2500 a week. No more.”

“I want $2750 for every five days of work. That’s $550 a day, no matter what. If I work ten days straight, that’s $5500. And if my version airs I need story editing, editing and co-producer credits. And I need that written down in a deal memo.”

Joel smiles. “If you write up the deal memo, I’ll sign it and send it to the network honchos.” Joel sticks out his hand and the two men shake. “You’ll have your name on as an editor, story editor, producer -- whatever you want.”

“If I decide to take the job, you’ll get the deal memo tomorrow.”

“Do it and you can start work the next day.”

Paul nods. It’s not film, it’s not stellar material, but it’s a real show, for a real network. It would be Hell, but no worse than the other hells he’s endured already. But what’s most important is that he’ll be able, in one week, to pay Maggie everything he owes, and maybe – just maybe – pay enough back car payments to make the repo men go away. But going back into Hell won’t be easy, and he must convince Maggie; after all, this is not the job she envisioned for him when she gave him his ultimatum.

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