CHAPTER 9 -- THE VATS
They creep through the first room and through a dark cement hallway. “Careful where you walk.” Victor whispers. “There’s broken glass and water everywhere.”
They reach the vast main room of the brewery, which has six metal circles on the floor where the vats once were. Paul looks up and sees moonlight seeping through the greasy windows high above. A maze of pipes is barely visible in the darkness.
They turn a corner into another cement hallway and Paul gets smacked in the face by the stale smell of sweat, beer and urine. They creep towards a light in a doorway. It’s a glowing light bulb hanging in the first of four storage rooms, which are the smallest and warmest spaces in the brewery and the best place to set up house. Paul is surprised there is electricity and wonders if the kids found a rare outlet that still worked or whether the production rigged it for them.
The camera spots Jodi first, lying on the ratty red sofa and popping a zit in the peach fuzz of her underarm hair. She looks up.
“Hollywood’s back. Everyone put their makeup on.”
Trent emerges from a dark hallway, carrying a bowl of fire – a plastic bowl filled with candle wax, wood, cloth and kerosene and all set ablaze. He puts it on a ledge close to a window. He holds up a finger and recites a poem:
“Burn bright, good light,
Bring us warmth, give us sight,
Destroy the dark and make things right.”
Victor jabs Paul in the ribs and points at his ear. Victor is shooting but Paul isn’t giving him any audio. Paul extends his boom pole and aims the microphone towards Jodi.
“Look! It’s a new guy! Hey new guy!”
They spin towards the voice – it’s Ilima. She stares right into the lens and croons.
“Do me, babe-bay. . . do me, babe-bay. . .” She reaches for the microphone, but Paul raises his boom out of her reach. She jumps for it, but can’t reach very high in her tight jeans and platform shoes. Yet she keeps jumping and laughing, like an exuberant five-year-old leaping for candy.
“Come on, new guy. I just want to sing. Let me sing!” Paul doesn’t know what to do; he’s been in the room less than a minute and all the attention is on him. Victor keeps shooting. She finally stops and gasps for breath. She starts to cough, a deep bronchial hawking that brings up heavy phlegm. Ilima spits and readjusts her breasts in her tube top and walks away.
Victor moves to the corner for a wide shot and Paul finally gets a look at the whole room. The ratty red velvet sofa from the casting video is pushed against a wall spattered with red and white paint. Two wooden pallets covered with yellowed newspapers and old clothes are their beds, and a half-dozen hard plastic buckets double both as stools and containers, depending on which end is up.
Trent sits on one of the pallets eating cold French fries out of a paper bag. Ilima picks up a big blue felt-tip marker and draws her name on the wall over and over again. Jodi digs through the sofa cushions until she finds the butt end of a cigarette and lights up. No one speaks.
Paul can only hear the audio coming into his own headphones from the microphones. Victor nods, as if listening to an invisible voice. Dwight must be directing him. Victor shoots wide shots...he circles around each kid slowly...he pans from one to the other...he gets on his knees and shoots their faces from below...he stands on the windowsill and frames the lightbulb in the shot and aims down on them from above...he goes out into the hallway and shoots through the open door, as if spying on them from another room...he shoots their hands moving, their shoes tapping, and extreme close-ups of their pupils dilating. Meanwhile, the kids do nothing.
And, Paul got the sounds of doing nothing: Jodi sucking in the last bit of tobacco in her cigarette butt...Ilima’s felt-tip pen squeaking against the cool cement...Trent scraping the last bits of cold French fry against the ketchup in the bottom of a paper bag.
“I need cigarettes,” Jodi complains, breaking the silence. “And beer.”
“Then go get it,” Trent answers. “You got legs.”
“I want to get a dog,” Ilima says.
“A dog will stink up the place,” Trent says.
“It already stinks,” Jodi counters.
“We’re hungry enough. I don’t want to worry about feeding a dog too,” Trent says.
“Then I want my own room,” Ilima says.
“When we get enough furniture, you’ll get your own room,” Trent says.
A banging noise comes from the hallway. Victor aims towards the open door. Out of the darkness steps Duncan. The light shines off his dirty crewcut, and he has a big smile on his face. He also has a fresh black bruise on the side of his face. He is the only one of the four who looks as big in real life as he does on tape, Paul thinks. He holds up a suitcase. “Look what I found,” he says, holding it straight out. His knuckles are raw and bloody.
The others gather around. Paul extend his boom as Victor moves his camera closer. Duncan unzips the brown vinyl suitcase and flips open the top. Eight hands shoot inside, grabbing white t-shirts, big boxer underwear and wide grey trousers.
“Clown pants!” Jodi shouts. “I’ll wear these!”
They rummage through their new treasures. The girls split up the razors and shaving cream. The boys find dirty magazines at the bottom and tear them open, cooing at the naked skin. Last of all, Ilima finds a deck of cards in one of the side pockets.
“We can play Hearts!” she yells. “I loved playing Hearts when I was little.“’
Jodi spots a hidden zippered pocket on the inside of the open suitcase. Victor moves in for a close-up and Jodi slows down and turns her body so he can get his shot. She carefully unzips the pocket, reaches inside and pulls out a wad of money. “We’re rich!” she says, holding it up.
“Good work, Duncan” Trent says. “Excellent.”
Duncan moves away from the group and sits on the couch, smiling.
Jodi counts out the wad of money, and it’s all one-dollar bills. “Thirty-five dollars. Not much, but it’s enough for pancakes for a while.” Jodi hands Trent the money.
“Put it back in the zippered pocket. It’s a good hiding spot,” Trent says.
“Duncan, where did you find it?” Ilima asks.
“Find what?” he asks from the couch.
“This suitcase,” Jodi says, as she zips the money back inside the pocket.
“In the bathroom at the train station.”
“An effective redistribution of the wealth. I like it,” Trent says.
“Who’d you steal it from?” Jodi asks.
Duncan blinks; he doesn’t understand the question.
“You stole it, Duncan,” Jodi explains. “Suitcases don’t just sit there, it belonged to somebody who was taking a train trip.”
Duncan shifts. “It was just sitting there in the bathroom so I took it, when this fat guy knocked me down in the parking lot and we started fighting. I guess it was his. But I won.”
His squat mates laugh. Ilima opens the playing cards and she and Jodi play Hearts while Duncan watches them and Trent reads. Victor shoots this for an hour until Jodi finally speaks.
“I need cigarettes,” she declares, and Victor and Paul follow her out of the room down a short hall past a storage area filled with metal and trash and into what was once an office. Burning votive candles illuminate a stained mattress surrounded by magazines, clothes, paper and trash. It’s not that different than any teenager’s room, Paul thinks.
Jodi finds her prize -- a pack of Kool Menthol cigarettes. She returns to the main room and lights one up, blowing smoke toward the ceiling. Ilima starts coughing.
Her coughs last a full minute, until she brings up a chunk of phlegm that she spits in the corner. Trent and Jodi look at each other and shrug.
“We need more fire, it’s getting dark in here,” Trent says.
“On it.” Duncan jumps off the couch and Victor backpedals to get a moving shot of him, pausing as Duncan digs through a corner trash pile to find a smoke-blackened Mason jar with its own cloth, wax and kerosene mix. Victor then follows him over to the bowl of fire on the windowsill.
Victor moves close, capturing Duncan’s face backlit in the yellow flames. Duncan wraps his hand with a strip of rag then picks up the fiery bowl and pours a layer of the burning mess into the Mason jar. The mixture lights up fast. Duncan then pours fire from one container to the other, playing mad scientist.
“Check this out,” he calls to his squat mates.
He blows out the fire in the bowl, tests the still hot mixture with his fingers ...then plunges his whole hand in the mess. When he pulls his hand out, it looks like he’s wearing a black glove of greasy wax. He jumps and dances and blows air on it. Victor gets a shot of the steam rising off the black glove while Paul gets the sound of the wax hissing as it dries on Duncan’s flesh. Duncan then holds his black hand up high for all to see, then passes it through the flames in the Mason jar. His hand lights up like a candle.
Trent and Ilima rush forward, but Duncan keeps them back with a sweep of his fiery hand. The fire burns the exterior wax first, and it doesn’t quite reach his pink flesh, so he’s not in pain...yet. He parades around the room like the Statue of Liberty, his hand ablaze, singing his rendition of an Army March. Victor slides in front of him and walks backward to get a face shot, then follows behind him for an over-the-shoulder shot.
“Stop it, Duncan,” Trent says.
“Please, stop, Duncan. Please...” Ilima begs.
Jodi takes another drag of her cigarette and shakes her head. “Idiot,” she mutters.
Duncan’s face contorts, his singing turns to shouting, and he flings his hand down hard, throwing most of the burning wax off his hand and onto the floor. He then pours half a can of flat beer over his red skin, flexing his fingers.
“That was the last of the beer, you moron,” Jodi mutters.
Trent walks around the room stomping out small burning pools of wax left on the floor. “Don’t do that shit anymore, Duncan,” he warns, poking Duncan in the chest. “I don’t want to die in a squat fire.”
Duncan pouts and sits back on the couch, his chin on his chest.
“You want to play?” Ilima asks, holding up the deck of cards.
Duncan shakes his head like a little kid.
“We could teach you. It’s easy.”
Again, Duncan shakes his head.
The kids go back to playing their cards.
“I saw a stray dog that lives close to the river. I think she had puppies,” Ilima says, which makes Trent sigh.
Victor shoots another two tapes of them playing cards. Jodi smokes four more cigarettes, Ilima keeps coughing and talking about dogs, and Trent counts a pile of pennies on the floor. They seem to have forgotten about the wad of dollar bills.
Paul’s neck and back ache. Working audio is much tougher than shooting; he can at least rest a camera on his shoulder, but he must hold the boom pole over his head using all muscle power, and spasms ripples up his back and down his arms, making the boom shake. No one notices, except Duncan.
Duncan stares at the boom vibrating like a peppershaker over his head, then looks up at Paul and smiles. Paul smiles back and tries to steady himself, but can’t.
“Hey, the new guy has a scar,” he announces to the room.
“We’re supposed to be ignoring them,” Jodi reminds him.
“But he’s got a scar, like me. Except his is on the back of his head and mine is on my face. What’s your name?” Duncan asks.
Suddenly, there is no audio. Paul looks down -- his batteries are dead. Victor stops the camera and pulls him out of the room and back towards the fire escape.
“We break for ten minutes.”
“Thank God. My back is killing me.”
Victor tugs open the plywood door, undoes the cord and lest the fire escape sweep to the ground. Dwight is waiting for them at the bottom and gets right in Paul’s face. “I thought you knew what you were doing,” he hisses, revealing a side of him that Paul never saw during his interview in the sleek office.
“I do. It’s a new situation, and these are new batteries--”
“Don’t bullshit me. Your boom volume is way too loud, then too low.”
“It’s first night jitters,” Paul says. He turns to Victor. “I’m keeping up, right?”
Victor shakes his head. “Wrong. You bump into me, then when I move, you’re three steps behind. You’re either in the way or never there.”
“I’m trying to keep up. But they’re doing nothing in there, and we’re shooting all of it.”
“This is the show. Get used to it,” Dwight says. “And what are you doing to Duncan?”
“Nothing. I have no idea why he’s obsessing over me.”
“You’re doing something. Figure out what it is and stop it or I’ll pull you out and take that boom and go in myself,” Dwight warns.
“You’re not touching this gear,” Paul shoots right back. “If you want to pull me, then do it and I’ll take my rig and go home. Find someone else.”
Dwight stares at Paul, frozen, then walks back across the street to the van. Victor obediently follows. Paul called his bluff and now Paul knows just how badly Dwight needs him...but he also sees how that can easily make Dwight hate him.
Paul takes off his audio rig and changes all his batteries. His wet shirt clings to his back and the cool breeze makes him shiver. Fuck him, Paul thinks. He knows he would get a drubbing the first night, but not this bad. And over what? Some dumb kids squatting in an abandoned brewery?
Paul carries his rig around the building and finds the Porto-Potty. The stench inside is revolting that he goes back outside and marks the wall instead, a long slow pee that gives him his only sense of relief so far tonight. He zips himself up and steps back around the building, where Victor waits for him with water and a granola bar.
“He yelled at me all the first week, and then he stopped. He’ll stop with you too.”
He hopes Victor is right -- he doesn’t want to spend six weeks with a boss who is an absolute dick, no matter how famous a filmmaker he is.
Dwight sticks his head out of the van. “They’re on the move! Let’s go!”
Paul stuffs the granola bar in his mouth and wets it with a swig of water. Victor grabs his camera and is already halfway across the street before Paul even picks up his rig. He glances at his watch -- he’d been outside six minutes.