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

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CHAPTER 27 – THE FINISH

Finding Ilima is easy. The new production coordinator, Kevin, tracks her down in Orange County living with cousins, babysitting during the day and working as a Baskin Robbins ice cream scooper in the afternoon. Trent and Jodi turn up in a residence hotel in the bowels of Hollywood. They work as bar-backs and janitors at two clubs on Santa Monica Boulevard, Club Focker and The Extreme Dream.

Now Joel must convince the tribe to let cameras back into their lives while Paul’s job is to find Duncan and make sure the shoot happens before Saturday. Joel gives Paul a Ford Escort rental car to search Los Angeles, along with a company cell phone so that he and Kevin can call him every hour with progress reports on pre-production.

Paul starts his search for Duncan at the vats and finds twenty homeless men living there, and they throw glass bottles at him and chase him out of the building.

Paul gets another call from Joel. Ilima, Trent and Jodi are happy to have the cameras back in their lives again, but they are savvy enough to know that they don’t have to do anything for free anymore. Ilima’s cousin, a big Hawaiian guy named Kai, acts as her agent and says that Ilima will do it for three thousand, and Joel must pay for Ilima’s dental work. That’s easy enough -- Joel puts her on the network payroll, gets her medical and dental insurance, and lines her up with a Century City dentist who fills all her cavities.

Paul looks through all the homeless shelters and shows everyone a photo of Duncan taken from the footage. Street people, Catholic nuns, and counselors all shake their heads -- no one knows him or has seen him.

Paul worries that someone will ask him why he’s searching for him. What is he supposed to answer? “I’m doing a TV movie and we need him for a shoot on Friday?” But no one asks; everyone assumes he is either a private eye or a social worker.

Paul searches for Duncan in Union Station when Kevin calls for the tenth time. Trent and Jodi finally agree to do the shoot, but they want more than Ilima. Trent and Jodi want free rent for a year in a one-bedroom apartment in a secure building on Franklin Avenue. Joel negotiates them down to six months, and insists that his name be on the rental agreement so he can kick them out if there is any trouble. He also insists that the final scene be shot there, so he can write the apartment off as a production location. Paul then sits down in Union Station and strategizes with Kevin over the phone about what props they’ll need to transform a one-bedroom apartment into a passable hospital room.

Paul then searches Hollywood Boulevard back alleys, bars, and all the nightclubs. Paul felt a certain kinship with Duncan during shooting, an unspoken connection that Paul believes will now somehow help him find Duncan. But by 2 a.m. on Thursday, Paul suggests they hire a private detective to help track him down, but Joel refuses.

“I’m already paying you five thousand. You can find him.,” Joel says over the phone.

On Thursday, Paul scours downtown and all the city parks where homeless people squat, with no luck. On Thursday night, Paul tries the parks nightclubs next, but. people are there to dance and drink and pick each other up; they aren’t interested in looking at his photo printout and answering questions. Paul gives up at 4:30 Friday morning and goes home to eat, shower and change his clothes.

He needs rest, but if he lies down now he will sleep for twelve hours, which he can’t afford. Instead, he writes checks while eating cereal. The $3500 from Joel went into his bank account yesterday. He seals and stamps the envelope for his car payment and stares at it, amazed. One trip to the post office and that hassle will be over. He showers, and then tries to be quiet while digging through the closet.

Maggie wakes up and rolls over in bed. “How’s it going?“.

“Not good.” He finds a dark blazer and puts it over a clean white shirt.

“I haven’t seen you in four days. We’re still going to Hawaii, right?”

Paul crawls onto the bed in the dark, pinning her underneath the covers, tucking her in on all sides with the comforter.

“I will be here on Sunday morning at six a.m. with my bags packed, waiting for the shuttle with you, whether this show is finished or not,” Paul says. He stands up and opens his arms. “These are they only clean clothes I have left. How do I look?”

“Like a cop.”

“Good. That might help,” he says. He pecks her cheek and leaves again.

Paul drives his rented Ford Fiesta to the post office and drops his bills through the mail slot, which makes him feel ten pounds lighter. The he drives out to the punk club in North Hollywood, which is boarded up and closed for renovations. Then he drives down to the Hillbilly Girl pancake house, but the owner says he hasn’t seen Duncan in weeks. Paul is now too sleep deprived to keep driving and goes back to Maggie’s to sleep for a few hours. He calls Kevin from the car and pushes the shoot to Saturday.

Paul sets three alarms and pushes Maggie’s open suit cast to the corner of the bed and falls face first into the pillow. He has another eight hours to find Duncan, otherwise he’ll have to design over-the-shoulder shots with a lookalike stand-in, or maybe he can cheat an extreme close-up of Duncan from some other tape…and he drifts off to sleep.

The alarms go off a second later, it seems. Paul puts on his jacket, darts out of the apartment, bounds down the stairs -- and spots the brown Cutlass parked just outside the gate. Paul does a cartoon stop and darts back behind the wall before they spot him.

Damn, this is bad timing. The car is paid in full, postmarked today, but they’re never going to believe his check is in the mail, and with only eight hours to find Duncan, he doesn’t have time to argue with them. He must dodge them until the finance company gets his check, then the whole misunderstanding will be over.

Paul crosses the courtyard, opens a door and goes downstairs into the building’s basement and into the laundry room. An older lady from the back apartment, Sarah, folds hot towels coming out of the dryer. Paul stands on a stepladder and opens the steel grating that covers a basement window.

“If you leave that open, thieves will get in,” Sarah says.

“I was hoping you could close it for me after I crawl out,” Paul says.

“You’re nothing but trouble. I told Maggie that she could do a lot better than you.”

“You’re probably right, and I’m trying to be a better person. But I must dodge some repo men for just a few more days and then my life will change completely. Will you close the window after I squeeze out?”

Paul jumps up and squeezes his upper torso through the basement window.

Sarah keeps right on talking. “She’s better off with that handsome British boy, Rupert. He treats her much better than you do.”

Paul pauses with his body halfway through the window, wondering what Sarah means by that. The lawn sprinklers go off soaking him. Paul squeezes the rest of the way through, streaking his dress pants and blazer with grass and mud.

Rupert? He hasn’t seen that pompous British prick for weeks, he’s supposed to be in the Caribbean on some movie shoot, playing a pirate. Did something happen between Maggie and Rupert? Paul pushes his anger back down. He’s sure Rupert hit on Maggie, but there’s no proof that she took him up on his offer. Even if she did, Paul can’t fault her, knowing what he’s put her through in the past six months. All he can do is keep every promise to her, make her proud and win her back.

Paul darts down the back alley past two buildings before heading back to the street. He parked his rental car a few doors down from Maggie’s building just in case this happened. The repo men are still in front of Maggie’s building, a hundred yards away.

He creeps up to the Ford Escort from the street side, opens the door and gets behind the wheel without being noticed, but when he starts the engine both repo men turn. The Enforcer starts lumbering down the street towards him. The Escort is stuck between two parked cars and Paul twists the wheel as hard as he can. The Enforcer is almost there. Paul hits the “lock” button and seals all the doors.

A hand touches Paul’s shoulder. He screams and spins around and sees Duncan lying down in the back seat.

“What are you doing there?” Paul screams.

Duncan grins. “I heard you were looking for me.”

“I am. We need you for some more shooting for the TV show.”

“Okay. That’s cool.”

The Enforcer yanks on the driver’s side door then pounds on the glass.

“I paid three months already! And the check for the rest is in the mail!”

“It’s too late for that, we want the car back!” the Enforcer screams. He keeps pounding on the glass, trying to break it. The glass cracks. Paul looks at Duncan, still grinning in the back seat.

“Can you make these guys go away?”

Duncan opens the passenger door and jumps out just as the Businessman walks up. Duncan kicks him in the stomach, pulls his leather jacket over his head and pushes him down between two parked cars. The Enforcer steps around the car and swings a fist at Duncan, who easily dodges the punch and kicks the big man in the balls. The Enforcer gasps and falls to his knees, holding his crotch. Paul nudges the Escort’s front bumper out in the street, Duncan jumps in, and they drive off.

Paul glances in the rearview mirror to see if the repo men are following him, then laughs out loud. Duncan sees Paul laughing so he laughs too.

“Where have you been for the last two months?” Paul asks.

“Around. I’ve been living in a school bus.”

“Well maybe we can change that. How does that sound?”

“Whatever. Can you buy me lunch?”

“Hang on a second,” Paul says. He grabs his cell phone and hits the redial button.

Kevin answers on the other end. “Did you find him?”

“We’re on our way. Can you order lunch for us?”

“Food will be waiting by the time you get here. There’s a guard holding a parking spot for you out front. The set decorator is on her way.”

Paul hangs up, impressed by Kevin. Maybe he’ll get a chance to work with more people like Kevin in the future.

Thirty minutes later, Duncan wolfs down a hamburger while Paul checks out what will soon be Trent and Jodi’s new apartment. It’s a small one-bedroom with an ugly chocolate marble rug, and a view of the Hollywood freeway.

“I don’t see how this is going to work as a hospital room.”

“Tell you what, Mr. Director. You do your job and I’ll do mine, okay?” Kevin says. “Trust me, you won’t even recognize this place.”

Workmen arrive with the discarded hospital set from the network soap opera “Malibu Promises,” When Kevin and Joel heard the show was getting a production upgrade, they “bought” the old set from the studio lot. A dozen people move in a hospital bed, machines, lamps, and plants. They hang vertical curtains and fake art work. They hammer bookcases into the walls, and wheel in a big green oxygen tank with a mask and medical tubing. Gaffers hang fluorescent hospital lights from the ceiling.

Watching it all happen, Paul feels something that he has never felt before -- the invisible support of a TV network that wants its show done on time. There is nothing special or personal about the support, however; in fact, Paul feels almost superfluous as the workers flow in and out of the apartment. Kevin is the controlling the show, yelling and pointing and barking into his cell phone while all the madness whirls around him. Paul’s little shoot is just one of Kevin’s jobs this week.

A woman offers Paul a clean shirt. She takes his dirty blazer and shirt to be dry-cleaned and hands him a moist rag to wipe the mud off his dress pants.

A craft service zone appears in the kitchen, with tables and counters covered with every conceivable fruit and snack, with foods for carnivore, vegetarian or vegan. Duncan sits himself down in the kitchen and devours fistfuls of candy, beef jerky, and apples, and downs it all with a tall bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water.

Jodi and Trent walk in wearing huge grins. “Is this our new place?” Jodi asks. They spot Duncan and they all run into each other’s arms for a group hug, jumping up and down, screaming.

Trent sees Paul and sticks out his hand. Paul smiles and offers his, and Trent pulls him in for a big bear hug. Jodi punches him in the arm.

“Dog, it’s so good to see you,” Trent says. “I didn’t think I’d miss you guys, hassling us with your microphones and batteries and cameras, but I do, I really do.”

“I missed you guys too.”

“Where’s Dwight? And crazy Victor?” Jodi asks/

“That’s a long story.” Trent and Jodi look confused. Kevin steps in and interrupts before they can ask anything more.

“Jodi? Trent? Hello, I’m Kevin, your production coordinator,” he says, shaking

each of their hands. “We need you in makeup right now in the hallway. Paul? The gaffer tells me they’ll be ready to shoot in half an hour.”

“What about Ilima?” Paul asks.

Kevin’s clicks his walkie-talkie. “This is Kevin on set. Can I get an ETA on Ilima please?” He listens patiently to the buzz in his headset and turns to Paul.

“She’s getting into the limo now. She came out of anesthesia about an hour ago.”

“Anesthesia?”

" She just had all fillings done and her wisdom teeth pulled. Joel thought it would add to the effect you wanted.”

Thirty minutes later Ilima arrives. Fifteen people pause and watch as her cousin Kai and her limo driver lead her across the room and help her crawl into bed. Her eyes are red and her cheeks are so swollen, she looks like a chipmunk who’s been mugged. She pulls up the covers and smiles and waves, and the whole room applauds. The makeup woman sidles up to Paul.

“There’s nothing for me to do, I think she looks great,” she whispers.

Paul looks around -- the only thing missing now is the camera crew. Right on cue, two men walk through the doorway and nod to Kevin, who starts yelling.

“Camera and Audio are here! If you’re not camera, audio, lighting, the director, or a cast member, please clear the set and go outside! Thank you!” he yells, and then looks at Paul. “I’m also an assistant director. Just got my union card.”

The cameraman and the audio mixer are tall sturdy men who look like

Special Forces soldiers. The cameraman pushes through the departing crowd and shakes Paul’s hand.

“Sorry we’re late, our plane just landed an hour ago. I’m Mike Lewis, this is my sound mixer, Sandy Cramer.”

“I’m Paul Franti. Where are you guys coming from?”

“From Belize. We just finished shooting the second season of ‘Paradise Games’ yesterday and the network and Joel flew us back early for this. Where do you want the camera?”

Paul looks around the room. Ilima is in bed asleep with puffy cheeks. Trent and Jodi sip coffee next to the bed and stare at him with suspicious eyes. The gaffer, some bald guy he hasn’t even spoken to, keeps changing light bulbs. Duncan is back in the kitchen eating more food. Paul points to the foot of the bed.

“We’ll start here. The whole show is hand-held, so we don’t need any sticks. We’ll start on Ilima’s face, then pull out to reveal that Duncan is in the chair next to her. Then we’ll pan over and pick up Trent and Jodi as they walk in the door. Then just cover the scene as it plays.”

“What about audio?” Sandy asks.

“You can boom it, but put radio mics on Trent and Jodi.”

While Mike sets up the camera and Sandy prep microphones for Trent and Jodi, Paul tries to prepare Duncan. Paul motions for him to put down the beef jerky.

“Duncan? This is just like we did before, when you carried Ilima to the ambulance. All you do is look at Ilima and hold her hand. Okay?”

“Just like before. And if Ilima wants to hold hands, I hold hands,” he says.

Paul tugs him to his feet, pulls him into the fake hospital room and puts him in the chair next to the bed. Paul taps on Ilima’s arm and wakes her up. She smiles.

“Ilima, we’re ready to start shooting. You close your eyes, and when you hear me say ‘action,’ you open your eyes and look at Duncan and smile, just like you’re smiling at me now. Okay?”

Ilima nods and closes her eyes again. Jodi and Trent look at him and shrug.

“What do we do?“.

“Just stand in the doorway. When I point at you, just walk up to the bed.”

“And that’s it?” Jodi asks. “We don’t say anything?”

“If you want to say something, tell Ilima that the doctor told you she’s going to be all right.”

Paul gets into position in the corner of the room. Mike and Sandy both nod. Duncan stares out the window into space.

“Roll tape.”

“We have speed,” Make says.

“Action.”

Ilima opens her eyes. She sees Duncan and smiles. He smiles back. She reaches out and touches his hand. He takes it. Mike moves in and gets two-shots and single shots of each of them, then a cutaway shot of them holding hands. Paul points to Trent and Jodi in the doorway. They walk in slowly, and go to the other side of the bed.

“The doctors said you’re going to be okay,” Trent says.

Ilima smiles. She looks at Trent and Jodi and nods her thanks. She reaches out with her left hand to Duncan and with her right hand to Trent. All four tribe members form a circle and hold hands. Mike moves around the circle, still shooting.

“Okay -- cut, but no one move,” Paul says, “just hold hands and keep looking at one another.” The tribe freezes, all still holding hands. Mike glances at Paul, ready for whatever is next.

“Give me long singles on each of their faces, and then drop back for a wide shot of the whole room with them in the middle,” Paul says.

Mike nods and keeps rolling, catching smiles, glances and empty blank faces. Then he drops back, stands on a chair and gets the whole group in a wide shot.

“Cut. We’re done.”

Kevin walks back in the room. “That’s a wrap folks, we need all this furniture broken down and out on the truck in thirty minutes!”

“Can’t we keep it?” Jodi asks.

Joel Cuvney walks into the room. He must have arrived in the middle of shooting. “You want your living room to look like this?” he asks Jodi. “With a hospital bed in it?”

“It’s the only furniture we have,” she says.

“Fine. Keep everything.”

“Who are you?” Jodi asks.

“I’m the guy who signed the lease for you, so be good,” he says to her. He has no desire to meet her or know her. She’s just a cast member who wants something. He turns to the shooter. “Mike, I need that videotape.”

Mike ejects the tape and hands it to Joel, who slides it into his bag. Joel turns to Paul. “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, sir.” Joel offers his hand and they shake. “Enjoy your vacation. We’ll be in touch,” he says, then leaves.

Kai comes back in and helps a groggy Ilima out of bed and out the door. Mike and Sandy pack up and leave next, the gaffer takes down his lights, the craft service evaporates from the kitchen, and the makeup chairs disappear from the hallway. Paul notices that Duncan is gone too. He’s like a cat; if you leave the front door open, he’ll sneak outside and disappear. Soon it’s just Trent and Jodi standing in their new living room, an exact replica of the hospital room on “Malibu Promises.”

“That was weird,” Paul says.

“Weird and unreal,” Trent says. “But cool. Thanks, Paul.”

“When’s this thing going to be on TV?” Jodi asks, as she throws herself on her new hospital bed.

“Sometime in the next two weeks. There will even be commercials. Call Joel, he’ll tell you.”

“Who’s Joel?” Trent asks.

Kevin sticks his head back in. “Paul, you can leave the keys to your rental car with me. A production assistant will drive you back home.”

Paul realizes it’s over. He looks at his watch. It’s six p.m. In twelve hours, he and Maggie will be sitting in an early shuttle on the way to the airport.

We’ll probably never see you again, huh Paul?” Trent says.

“You never know.”

“But probably not,” Jodi says.

“Like I said, you never know. Thanks guys. It’s been real.”

They laugh as Paul walks out. A production van is parked in front of the building with its doors open, waiting for Paul. The woman who offered him the clean shirt now stands holding Paul’s freshly dry-cleaned shirt and blazer. He changes back into his clothes while standing in the street, then climbs in the van. They pull away.

At the stop light at the end of the street, Paul spots Duncan sitting on a bench at the bus stop. He rolls down his window.

“I was looking for you. Why did you leave?”

“I was bored. I have to be somewhere,” Duncan says.

“Don’t you want to hang out with Trent and Jodi?”

“They don’t want me around anymore. I’m going back to the school bus.”

“Do you want a ride?” Paul asks. Duncan shakes his head. The streetlights change and the cars behind them start honking. Paul motions for the production assistant to pull over into the bus stop.

Paul digs through his wallet and pulls out two hundred dollars and hands it through the window to Duncan. “Take this. And you know where I live, right?”

Duncan nods. He jams the cash into his front pocket like it’s tissue.

“If you get into trouble, you come find me, okay?” Paul says

Duncan points to the scar on the side of his head, and then points to the scar on the back of Paul’s head, and smiles. Full circle. The car pulls away.

“That guy’s weird,” the production assistant driver says. “I can’t believe you guys did a TV show about him.”

“Neither can I.” Paul wonders if Duncan cares or even understands that the show is going to air soon. He can’t help thinking that Duncan won’t live very long either.

The production assistant drops Paul off at the front gate of Maggie’s building then speeds away. Paul is about to let himself through the front gate when he hears hammering from the side driveway of the building.

Paul peeks around the corner just in time to see the Businessman smashing off the lock and lifting the door to Maggie’s garage. The Businessman gets behind the wheel of Paul’s Toyota Corolla, and starts it with a magical pass key and backs it down the driveway of the apartment building. He sees Paul standing on the curb and slows down just long enough to flip him off before driving away.

“Shit,” Paul says. That was ten thousand dollars, gone forever.

He hears a noise and spins on his heel. The Enforcer punches Paul in the nose. Paul falls to his knees and holds his hands up to catch the blood gushing from his nostrils. He stays down on the cement until he hears the brown Cutlass Impala driving away.

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