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

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CHAPTER 29 -- BLISS INTERRUPTED

Paul and Maggie eat breakfast in their hotel room and plan what to do with the last three days of their vacation -- take a boat to some other island? Explore a dormant volcano? Visit a flower farm? -- when the room phone rings. They look at one another with fear and confusion. The phone hasn’t made a noise in eleven days, why is it ringing now?

“Don’t answer it,” Maggie says.

But the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Paul picks up. “Hello?”

“Damn, you’re a hard man to find. Have you heard the news?”

It takes Paul a second to place the voice. “I’m on vacation, Joel.”

Maggie hears the name, rolls her eyes and falls back onto the bed, and covers her face with both arms.

"“The Tribe is a hit,” Joel says.

"“The Tribe?’” Paul asks. “What’s ‘The Tribe?’”

“That’s what we renamed the movie. Not only did the kiddies win their time slot, they pulled in a twenty-share. We were in the top ten for the week.”

That’s not what Paul wanted to hear. The show was supposed to air and be forgotten by the time he gets back to Los Angeles.

“Those promo guys did an amazing job. They ran two twenty second promo spots twice a night for the full week prior. By the time Tuesday night rolled around, even I was dying to see it.”

“Congratulations.” He covers the phone. “Maggie, the show was a hit.”

“I figured.”

Paul turns back to the phone. “What was Dwight’s reaction?”

“He saw the promos and went ballistic. I told him about your version -- ”

“You told him? Why?” Paul yells so loud his nose hurts for the first time in days.

“He’s no idiot, Paul. He knew right away that it was you. Relax, he blames me. He knows you were just following your producer’s orders, which I told him that he should have just done in the first place, instead of ignoring me. That’s when he demanded to have his name removed from all the credits and he threatened to kill me.”

“He threatened to kill you?”

“I don’t care, they’re moving me to an office on the studio lot and he can’t get past security anyway. What should make him furious is how well the show did and his name isn’t even on it. I’m more concerned about his agent, who keeps calling me. He’ll be the head of CAA one day, so I can’t afford to piss off.”

“Whose name is on it?” Paul winces, scared to hear what is coming next.

“Yours, of course.”

Paul takes the phone from his ear and hits himself in the forehead with it, which he instantly regrets. He hears Joel yelling his name through the receiver.

Paul puts the receiver back to his ear. “I told you I only wanted an audio credit. You should have asked me first, Joel.”

“The network insisted. I tried reaching you, but you were nowhere to be found. I had to drive by your place and find out from your neighbor, some tall Brit with a tan. He told me right away that you were thinking about Kauai and switched it to Kaanapali on Maui. Even gave me the name of the hotel.”

Hearing that Rupert knew more about his holiday vacation than he did darkens his mood. Maggie sees the sour look on his face and shoots him a confused “what?” shrug.

“How soon can you get back here? Joel asks.

“I’m on vacation, I’m not coming back until Sunday.”

Maggie sits up and points at him, warning him to proceed with caution.

“No good. Jedidiah Kincaid wants to meet with us Friday.”

“Jedidiah Kincaid, the head of the network, wants to meet with us Friday,” Paul repeats for Maggie’s benefit. She grabs a pillow, covers her face and screams into it. Paul motions for her to keep quiet. She twists the sheets and pounds the mattress in a silent mock seizure of frustration.

“He wants to meet with us? What for?”

" He wants to expand The Tribe into a series to air in the new year.”

“A series?” Paul asks. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about thirteen hours of prime-time television that you will be directing and I’ll be producing.”

“How is that possible? The tribe doesn’t even exist anymore.”

“So? We’ll bring them back together again.”

“And we’ll do what? Shoot them while they pretend to be homeless? What kind of documentary is that?”

“This show stopped being a documentary a long time ago,” Joel says. “So how soon can you get back here?”

Maggie sits on the edge of the bed and stares up at him with anxious fear, as if Paul were standing on the ledge of a skyscraper, ready to jump. Paul hangs up the phone. Maggie smiles with relief. The phone starts ringing again. Maggie reaches behind the end table and unplugs it from the wall.

“We have to change hotels.”

“No, we don’t. Just ignore him.”

“But what are we going to do?”

“Today we’re visiting a dormant volcano. The bus leaves in twenty minutes.”

Maggie showers and dresses while Paul hurries to the lobby store and buys film, magazines, some Japanese snacks (shredded mango, salted seaweed chews) and bottled drinks. Back in the room, Maggie blow dries her hair while Paul throws the purchases in a satchel.

“Pack a sweater. That volcano is high,” Maggie yells over the noise of the hair dryer. “It’s supposed to be cold up there.”

Paul throws two sweaters into the satchel and they run out of their hotel room. They dash through the lobby and grab their bus tickets from the excursion desk. The concierge sees them as they ran past the front desk and yelled. “Mr. Franti! You have an urgent message!” Paul and Maggie escape out the front doors and onto the tour bus just before the doors close.

They put on their dark glasses and sink low into their seats as the bus pulls away.

“Don’t worry,” Maggie says. “We’re on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He’ll never find us.”

She kisses him and they hold hands and gaze out the window at the lush green hillsides, the bright blue ocean, and the fields of sugar cane streaking by. But Paul is not reassured. For the rest of day, he imagines the lengths to which Joel will go to try and reach him. Hours later, as they stare down into a volcano crater the size of Manhattan, Paul wants to crawl inside one of its cinder cones and hide. He wants to hide because he feels a tug of interest, and Joel knows it, and will probably get on a plane to find him and tug harder.

What good could ever come out of a crazy idea like this? There is no way it could ever work. Can’t anybody see that? Yet Jedidiah Kincaid himself wants to meet him.

Jedidiah Kincaid, the mad TV prophet, is the grandson of Welsh coal miners and the son of a self-made man who made his first million pounds selling advertising on bus benches and in London Tube stations. Jedidiah took his father’s business and transformed it into a billion dollar company that owns newspapers, TV stations, a film studio and a TV network. He should at least go and meet the man, Paul thinks.

He keeps his mouth shut, but Maggie senses that the walls of their castle of bliss has been breached. He is with her inside the volcano, but his thoughts are elsewhere.

The bus stops at a tropical flower farm and coffee plantation on the way back down the twisting road of the volcano. Maggie and Paul and two dozen other tourists wander past strange flowers and learn about the sex life of the coffee plant. Inside the roasting room, Maggie pulls Paul aside.

“You’re not leaving. You earned this vacation, remember that.”

Paul calms down. He remembers that Joel, and every boss he has ever had, could always make him feel like he owed them something, which is why Paul always agrees to every crazy task he gets handed. Paul knows he can say “no” to all of this. In fact, it’s crucial that he learn to say “no,” because if they can sucker him into saying “yes,” he’ll be stuck doing that work that no one else wants.

When they get back to their hotel room there is a pile of urgent call messages the hotel staff slid under the door. Maggie tosses them all away, then they both stare at the phone, still expecting it to ring even though it’s not even plugged in.

“We’ll be fine,” she says, and stroking his arm. “Let’s change your nose bandage.”

“Should I do it?”

Maggie doesn’t answer. She cuts off a new strip of surgical tape, lifts off the old piece and lays the new tape across the bridge of his nose. “You’re healing, I think.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I can’t answer that for you. It’s your life.”

“I think I need an agent.”

Maggie sighs. “If you want, I can ask the Screaming Asshole for advice. Crushing network producers like Joel is one of his favorite hobbies.”

Maggie stares at him with a blank face, the kind of empty look that he can use in an edit bay, because it can mean anything – anger, hunger, disdain, fear -- but not love. He is not feeling love emanating from her right now.

If he pursues this, his life will change.

He’d be riding a rollercoaster, alongside Jedidiah Kincaid and Joel Cuvney, with Trent, Jodi, Ilima and Duncan (if he could ever find him again). The Screaming Asshole will probably want to jump on board and get a piece of it, while Dwight would try to destroy it completely. Not a fun ride.

What could he gain? Financial freedom, maybe. No more worries about repo men, broken noses, which bills to pay first, or if he could afford a car or a vacation. He could hire people to help him finish his film, instead of doing every job himself.

What could he lose? Time. His life wouldn’t be his own. He wouldn’t take another vacation anytime soon. He might not even have time for Maggie, and he didn’t want to lose her.

One thing is certain, however; this show will happen, with or without him. The network feels like it has a hit on its hands, and if he turns it down, they’ll find someone else to do it within a day. This is the Hollywood brass ring, and it’s right in front of him. It’s not the ring he’s dreamed of grabbing – it’s not a prestigious movie or TV drama, but it is still a brass ring, and one that he created. He is the one who found a story within the hours of footage, and connected with Duncan and saw that he could be a star. He’d be a fool to walk away and let someone else take it.

He wants both. With Maggie, he had a warm, loving, solid partner – a life partner. This could be their first success together as a power couple. Duncan is “watchable,” with endless potential camera charisma. If Paul can find a way to harness that charisma, he could turn Duncan into a movie star. Hell, he could run for public office.

He must try to do it. When you get an invitation to the casino, you play. But the idea terrifies and nauseates him. He clutches his gut.

Maggie stands up from the corner of the bed and holds Paul’s hands in hers. “How do you feel right now?” Maggie asks. “Deep down inside?”

“Sick to my stomach.”

“Like you did the entire time you were working on the show before?”

“Except worse.”

“What makes you think it will be any different this time?”

Paul stares at Maggie. She isn’t pushing him one way or the other. She’s trying to get him to feel and know and be sure of what he really wants for a change, instead of being impulsive and reactive and just picking the path that’s in front of him.

“Like leads to like,” Paul says.

Maggie nods and lets go of his hands. “Right. Like leads to like.”

It’s true in any career. Accounting leads to accounting, law leads to more law, medicine leads to medicine, comedy leads to comedy, and crazy unhinged fake reality shows lead to more unhinged fake reality shows. This could be his life.

Paul glances over his shoulder and sees the beautiful sun sinking behind the island of Lanai. He has had more fun and more real moments in the past two weeks than he has had since coming to Los Angeles, and he hasn’t watched TV or movies or thought about his own film the entire time. He feels alive – or, he did until the phone rang this morning.

He has his answer. It’s “no.” It’s time to crawl out of the cave and blink at the sun and choose real life instead of movies and TV and mad insane plate-spinning drama, that gets whipped up into a frenzy for no good reason.

Maggie believes in him. There are a hundred careers for him, not just this one. Opportunity will knock again, and when it does it won’t make him feel sick to his stomach. He doesn’t know what it is yet, but it will make him feel open and happy and challenged and ready to take on the world, like he does when he’s with Maggie. Like he feels right now.

“I’m not doing it.”

Maggie smiles, and wipes away a tear. “I’m glad.”

“I won’t have a job. I don’t know how I’ll pay my share of the rent.”

“We’ll figure that out.” She laughs and sniffles and wipes more tears away.

He takes her hands and pulls her to him and gives her a very light kiss on the forehead, then the eyes and then her lips. “I chose you, instead of ‘it.’ You’re it for me.”

“And you’re it for me,” she says.

They face each other in the middle of the hotel room, laughing, almost awkward with each other, living a moment they will both remember forever as the moment when they decided. When their real life begins.

“Let’s go eat dinner. We have a lot to talk about.”

“Let me blow my nose and wash my face,” Maggie says. She pecks him on the lips and goes into the bathroom.

Paul walks out onto the balcony and stares at the setting sun. He feels something he’s never felt before. He feels as if he’s outside of himself for once. He feels part of the world, and it feels nice.

He looks down at the people walking along the meandering garden path that runs between the different hotels. One man stands in the middle of the path, blocking people until he can make them look at a photograph in his hand. They all shake their heads “no” and push past him.

The man is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, more appropriate to Los Angeles than Hawaii. His body language seems familiar, but he can’t place it…

The man glances up and sees him on the balcony. It’s Dwight.

The sick feeling returns. Paul wants to step back, but he’s frozen. Dwight points at him, and makes a motion with his thumb like he’s firing a gun.

The End of Book 1

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