« Chapter Seven | Main | Chapter Nine »

December 08, 2004

Chapter Eight

Secretive Agent

Tom Stein is the hottest young agent in Hollywood. So why is he acting so damned weird?

By James Van Doren

At first glance, Tom Stein doesn't seem like your typical Hollywood millionaire. Maybe it's because he's lugging a five gallon bottle into his car. The bottle is filled, he says, with sulfurous waters from an out-of-the-way desert spa the agents at Lupo Associates go to whenever they're feeling a little stressed-out. The fact that Stein is hauling this into his car tells you two things: first, he's stressed out. Second, he doesn't have time to feel stressed out right now.

And who can blame him? Last week, Stein pulled the biggest coup of his young agentorial career, when he managed to pull a $12.5 million paycheck out of the hat for client Michelle Beck, for her return to the Murdered Earth series. There have been larger paychecks for an actress, but not many, and certainly not so soon: Michelle's most recent paycheck for a supporting role in the just-wrapped Scorpion's Tail, was a mere $650,000 -- a twentieth of her next. Or, to put it another way, Stein's 10% is worth almost twice as much as his client's previous highest salary.

Stein's success is another example of hard-nosed Hollywood capitalism -- but the question becomes: at what price? For shortly after Stein's magic trick with Michelle Beck, friends and colleagues started noticing the normally affable Stein has become more closed and secretive. And his clients are discovering the oddest behavior of all: without warning, Stein has dropped them onto a subordinate agent, whose inexperience and (some allege) incompetence could send their careers into cinematic limbo. What have they done to deserve this, they ask? And what secret is gnawing away at Tom Stein? Is his red-hot career over just as it begun?

(Continued on page 65)

  The story itself would have been funny, if it had been written about anyone else. Van Doren, in the absence of reality, spun out a fascinating tale of stress and paranoia that speculated that I was suffering from everything from conflicted sexuality to drug use to a "late-blooming Oedipal conflict," with my agent father -- my making my first million apparently being a way to "claim my father's crown" in my chosen field, according to the psychologist Van Doren managed to dig up.

The Biz being the pariah magazine it is, the quotes about me from colleagues and friends were unusually skimpy -- the attributed quotes coming largely from high school acquaintances and college dorm-floor residents who generally described me as "friendly" and "driven," -- nothing to get worked up about, since they were true, and blandly non-specific; these folks could have been describing a ski rescue dog with the same words, with equal results.

The unattributed quoters, of which there two, were not that hard to figure out. The first, the "Lupo Associates Insider", was obviously Ben Fleck. Ben, no doubt relishing a chance to take a whack at me, described me as a "shark with Brylcreme" who was "insanely secretive, to the point of forbidding his assistants to even talk with other agents." The latter I found amusing, the former, inscrutable -- I don't put anything in my hair, much less Brylcreme. I suspected Ben didn't actually know what Brylcreme was. I had Miranda send him a tube with my compliments.

The second was a "strongarmed client" who described Amanda as a "shrieking virgin" and myself as a "fucking overlord of ego," and then went from there. It was pretty clear that Van Doren got more than he expected from Tea Reader, since by the end of it, even he noted that it seemed this particular client "was on her own personal vendetta against the universe, and Tom Stein happens to be the closest moving object."

Be that as it may, Van Doren took Tea's grudge against Amanda and ran with it, taking a bat to the poor girl. Van Doren dug up the Mexican soap star, who complained, through an interpreter, that Amanda had found her no work in the big Hollywood productions. The actor who revived her at the marathon described how they met, which made Amanda appear both sickly, for passing out in the first place, and then flaky, for representing the first passing jogger who happened to administer mouth-to-mouth.

Ben Fleck then reappeared in his Lupo Associates insider guise to make dismissive comments about the practice of bringing up agents from the mailroom (Ben got his job through nepotism: his step-father was a senior agent before keeling over, corned beef in hand, at Canter's Deli), and mentioned, darkly, that I had come up from the mailroom myself. Obviously we mail-room types were looking out for each other, like frat brothers or Templars.

Amanda read the story and burst into my office, flinging The Biz onto my desk and then collapsing into the chair, moody. "I want to die," she said.

"Amanda, no one reads The Biz," I said. "And those that do generally know enough to realize that it's full of shit."

"My mom reads The Biz," Amanda said.

"Well, all right, almost everyone knows it's full of shit," I said. "Don't worry about it. Next week they'll find some more naked pictures of celebrities and they'll forget all about it. Don't be so upset."

"I'm not upset, I'm pissed off," Amanda said, whispering the words pissed off like she was worried about being punished. I wondered again how she ever managed to become an agent. "I know who talked to The Biz. I know who that unnamed source is. It's that bitch Tea." She stumbled over bitch, and then she gave me a bitter smile. "You know, I just got her a part in that new Chevy Chase film, too. A good part. Guess it doesn't matter."

"I'm sorry, Amanda," I said. "I shouldn't have unleashed Tea on you unawares. I should have let you know she's a high riding bitch. It's my fault."

"No, it's all right," Amanda said. "It's okay. Because I know something Tea doesn't know."

"What's that?"

"That she got a part in a Chevy Chase movie."

"Amanda," I said, genuinely surprised. "You star. And here I was beginning to worry about you."

Amanda smiled like a five year old who had gotten her first taste of being naughty and realized it was something she would enjoy doing. A lot.

Amanda ended up getting the best of it; the worst of her problems were over with Tea right then. My problems with my clients had just begun. For the next week, I was in Agent Hell.


"Mind the light," Barbara Creek said.

The light she was referring to was a huge klieg light, which lay on the set of her son's sitcom, Workin' Out! The light casing was heavily dented and the lens was shattered and strewn like jagged jewels across the floor, nestled up to the weights and exercise equipment that made up the health club locale set .

"I'm guessing that light's not supposed to be on the set," I said.

"Of course it's not," Barbara said, and then raised her voice so everyone on the set could hear her. "It's on the set because some damned fool UNION light hanger doesn't know how to do HIS DAMN JOB! And he wouldn't HAVE a JOB unless HIS DAMN JOB was protected by his DAMN UNION!" Barbara's voice, a commanding boom in normal conversation, reverberated through the set like the aftershock of a particularly nasty quake. From the corners and the rafters, members of the crew glared down at her. Something was telling me this was not going to be a frictionless set.

"Shouldn't someone come and pick this up?" I asked.

"Hell, no," Barbara said. "It's staying where it is until the Union president gets here. I want him to see what sort of job his IDIOT UNION BROOM PUSHERS" -- once again Barbara pitched her voice to the cheap seats -- "have been doing around here. No one here is going to do a DAMN THING until he gets here."

That much was true. There were forty people on the set, mostly crew, ambling around aimlessly. The cast seemed to be missing, with the exception of Chuck White, who played Rashaad Creek's best friend on the show. Chuck was working out on one of the set decorations.

"How long have you been waiting?" I asked.

"Six long, unproductive hours," Barbara said. "And I'm going to keep waiting, and everyone here is going to keep waiting, until the Union president gets here. Anyone who leaves before he gets here is fired, UNION OR NOT."

Directly behind Barbara, one of the cameramen gave her the finger.

"But I didn't ask you here to talk about the lights, Tom," Barbara said, strolling over to the audience seats. "I want to talk to you about the future of Rashaad's representation."

I followed Barbara. "Has there been a problem, Barbara?" I asked.

Barbara took a seat on a bleacher. "Not as such, Tom -- here, sit down a minute," she patted the seat next to her, "but I have to tell you, I'm hearing some very disturbing things."

I took a seat. "This wouldn't have anything to do with that article in The Biz," I said.

"It might," Barbara said. "You know, that reporter Van Doren gave Rashaad and me a call. Asked us if we've been noticing if you've been acting strangely lately. And then he told us that you had dropped so many of your clients. As you might imagine, we found this very disturbing. I found it very disturbing."

"Barbara," I said, "you really have nothing to worry about. Yes, I transitioned a number of my less-important clients, but I certainly have no intention of doing that with Rashaad. He's on his way up, and I intend to keep him going there."

"Tom," Barbara said, "are you on drugs?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you on drugs," she repeated. "That reporter mentioned something about a health spa and sulfur treatments. To my ear, that sounds like detox. You know how I feel about those drugs. I won't have them anywhere near my boy. You know I had everyone here on the set take a urine test before they could work here. If they had the slightest hint of anything in their system, they're gone."

After Workin' Out! was greenlighted, Rashaad threw a little party for himself and 30 of his most geographically immediate friends at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. One of Rashaad's "pals" arrived with more cocaine than was in the final scene of Scarface. But then, Rashaad wasn't the one having to pee in a cup.

"I'm clean, Barbara," I said. "The last time I smoked anything illegal was my junior year in college. You don't have to worry about it."

"Then what is wrong, Tom? I --" she stopped as someone approached us. It was the assistant producer of the show. "What do you want, Jay?" she asked.

"Barbara, we really have to get a move on. Another forty-five minutes and we have to start paying overtime. And we still haven't shot half of the episode. We're going to be here all night if we don't start now."

"Then we'll be here all night," she said. "Nothing's happening until that damned Union man gets his lazy ass over from Burbank."

"Barbara, we have to get this show in the can. We're already two days behind schedule."

"I don't give a damn about the schedule," Barbara said, building up a head of steam. "What I give a DAMN about is that my son's show is being held hostage by MORONS WHO CAN'T SCREW IN A LIGHT BULB. And if these boys think they're getting overtime, they are seriously mistaken, Jay. It's their fault we had to stop. If anything, at this point, they ought to pay me."

Jay the assistant producer threw up his hands. "You're the boss, Barbara."

"That's RIGHT," Barbara said, looking around. "I AM the BOSS. You'd all do VERY VERY WELL to remember who's signing your DAMN PAYCHECKS. Now leave me alone, Jay, I've got to talk business."

Jay split. Barbara turned back to me. "Do you see what I have to put up with around here? Now I know why Roseanne was so hard on her crew. You have to be. These folks are nothing but a bunch of lazy assed slackers. Do you know, that light almost killed me. Another two feet and it would have landed right on my head."

I strongly began to suspect it wasn't an accident.

"Now, enough about this," she said. "What's your problem, Tom? Something's up with you, and it has us worried. How can you be my son's agent if you're falling apart over there?"

"I'm not falling apart, Barbara," I said. "The Biz piece had nothing to it. Everything is fine. Really."

"Is it?" Barbara said. "I wonder. I've been thinking about where my son is at, and I truly wonder if this is where he should be at this juncture of his career."

"Well, hell, Barbara," I said, "He's got his own show on a national network. I say that's pretty good for a 23-year old."

"At 23, Eddie Murphy had made 48 Hours, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop," Barbara said. "and his show was on a real network."

"Not everyone can have Eddie Murphy's career," I said.

"See, this is what I'm worried about," Barbara said. "I think Rashaad can have Eddie's career. You think he can't."

"I didn't say that," I said. "But now that you mention it, I don't want Rashaad to have Eddie Murphy's career. It includes Harlem Nights and A Vampire in Brooklyn, too, you know."

"But this is all academic, isn't it?" Barbara said. "Because the fact is, Rashaad's not even in film at all. All he has for himself is one little show on one little network."

I started to reply, but there was a rap on the railing. We both turned to see Rashaad, in a hooded sweatshirt, surrounded by his lackeys. Someone had apparently forgotten to tell Rashaad that gangsta went out when Notorious BIG got perforated in Los Angeles.

"Say, yo, ma," Rashaad said. "the boys and I are going to get something to eat. You want we should, you know, bring you something or something?"

Rashaad finished in the top fifth of his private boarding school, with a verbal SAT of 650. He majored in English at University of California, Berkeley, before dropping out in his second year to become a standup comedian. Back then, his name was Paul.

"Rashaad, honey, where are your manners," Barbara said. "Say hello to Tom."

"Hey, yo, Tom," Rashaad said. "What's the word?"

"The word is 'abrogate,' Rashaad." This was an inside joke between us, my reminder to him that I remembered his GPA. He'd ask me what the word is, and I'd give him the most obscure one I could think of at the moment. Then he'd give me the definition back in street talk.

Except this time he looked surprised and shot his mother a quick look. Barbara gave him an almost imperceptible slightest shake of her head. He turned back to me. "Good to see you, Tom. I'll catch you later." He and his stooges slunk out, followed enviously by the eyes of the trapped crew. I watched him until he slipped out of the studio.

"So, Barbara," I said. "Who did you get to replace me?"

"What?" Barbara said.

"After you decided that you were going to can me," I said. "You must have had someone in mind to get your son's career into high gear. I can't imagine you'd fire me without having someone else already lined up."

"I didn't say you were fired, Tom," Barbara said.

"'Abrogate -- to annul, or repeal,'" I said. "Your son knows what it means, of course. That's why he looked so surprised when I used it. It's sort of funny, because I didn't use it to mean anything -- it was just the first word that came into my head. But his reaction says to me that you didn't really call me over here to express your concerns about your son's career. You had me come over here to fire me. Right?"

"I'm looking out for the best interests of my son," Barbara said. "I don't know what it is you're going through at the moment, Tom, but you need to work out those issues, and my son can't wait for you to do that."

"Really?" I said. "Did you actually ask Rashaad if he wanted to drop me? Or did you just tell him after the fact? For that matter, did you ask him if he wanted to wait for the Union boss, or if he wanted to just get someone to sweep up with a broom? It is his show, after all."

Barbara bristled. "I'm the producer. And I'm his manager. These things are my job -- to look after this show and to look after him. I don't make any apologies for that, Tom, not to you or to anybody."

"One day, you might have to make an apology to him, Barbara. But I bet you didn't think about it that way."

Barbara glared at me but said nothing.

"So," I said, "who did you get to replace me?"

"David Nolan at ACR."

"He's not bad," I said.

"I know that, Tom." Barbara said. She got up and walked back towards the set. She began yelling at the assistant producer before she even got off the bleachers.

I sat there for a few moments, watching her go. One of the crew came over.

"Hi," he said. "You wouldn't have been talking to her about when we could leave, right?"

"Nope, sorry," I said. "I just came to get fired."

"Wow," he said. "Some guys have all the luck." He started off.

"Hey," I said. The guy turned. "Next time, don't miss."

He grinned, gave me a salute, and went backstage.


The next day, on the way to the Pacific Rim set, I got a phone call on my cellular. It was Joshua.

"Ralph and I are going on a hike," he said. "Ralph smells something interesting out back of your house, and I'm worried about him if he goes alone. He's pretty old."

"Joshua," I said, "Think about what you're saying, here. If Ralph has a little doggie stroke, it's not like you're going to be able to rush to the nearest street and flag down a passing motorist. Why don't you guys wait until I get home? Then we can all go together."

"Because I'm bored, and so is Ralph, and you're no fun anymore," Joshua said. "Ever since that article came out. It's like living with a cardboard cutout of a formerly interesting person. Remember the good old days, when we'd have fun? It was just three days ago. Boy, those were times. Let me tell you."

"I'm sorry, Joshua," I said. "But I need these guys."

"Tom, I respect and admire you greatly, but I think you may have your priorities slightly out of order," Joshua said. "You're representing an entire alien culture. I think you shouldn't sweat the occasional television actor."

I pulled into the set and waved at the security guard, who let me through. "Thanks for the tip, Joshua. But I'm already here. Might as well go for the save."

"All right, fine," Joshua said, "We'll try to be back before you get home, then."

"Joshua, don't go. It'll only be a couple of hours. Really."

"La la la la la la la," Joshua said. "I'm not listening. Bye."

"At least take a phone," I yelled, but he had already hung up. Which was just as well. I didn't know how he would carry a phone, anyway. Probably the battery would leak into his insides. I parked, got out, headed towards the set.

Pacific Rim was nominally supposed to take place in Venice Beach, but the majority of it was filmed in Culver City. One day a week, the cast and crew decamped to Venice Beach for location shots. Today was one of those days. It made for an interesting set, if only because the vast majority of extras were in bikinis and Rollerblades. On one end of the set, a blocked-off section of the Venice boardwalk, an assistant director was blocking a shot with a pair of buxom Rollerbladers -- apparently Rollerblading was harder than it looked. On the other end, Elliot Young had his script out and was conferring with the director, Don Bolling. Their conversation became more intelligible, as it were, the closer I got.

"I don't understand what I'm doing here," Elliot was pointing to a page in the script. "See, look. I'm running after the girl, screaming, 'Helen! Helen!', right? But Helen's dead. She was killed in the aquarium scene on page 5. Isn't that a continuity problem?"

"Elliot," Don said, "I know that Helen gets killed on page 5. The reason you're running after this woman, screaming Helen's name, is because you think she's her. And, as it happens, it's not Helen, but it is her identical twin sister. Which you would know, if you ever bothered to read the script before we shot it."

"But don't you think that's confusing?" Elliot said. "You know, this identical twin sister thing."

Don let out an audible sigh. "Yes, I do. That's the point, Elliot. It's called a plot twist."

"Well, that's just it," Elliot said. "It's a plot twist, but now I'm having a hard time following the plot at all. I want people to be able to follow what I'm doing on the show when I'm doing it."

"All right, Elliot," Don said, "what do you suggest?"

"Well, it's obvious," Elliot said. "When he chases the other woman, the other woman shouldn't look like Helen. It clears up the confusion."

"If we do that," Don said, "then it doesn't make any sense that you're running down the street, calling her Helen. She would just be another woman."

"They could still be sisters," Elliot said.

Don looked pained. "What?" he said.

"Sisters. They could still be sisters. Sisters look a lot alike. They're related. They could even still be twins, just not the kind that look alike. What are those called?"

"Fraternal," I said. They both looked at me. I waved, cutely.

"Yeah, fraternal," Elliot said, turning back to Don. "Personally, I think that makes a lot more sense."

"Tom," Don said, "Please help me out here."

"I don't even know what's going on," I said. "Except that it involves sisters."

"In this episode, a marine biologist named Helen that Elliot's dating witnesses a mob hit and gets killed," Don said.

"She's thrown in with the electric eels," Elliot said.

"....Right," Don said. "So Elliot's despondent, and then several days later, he sees another woman who looks just like Helen. So of course he's confused," -- Don whipped the word at Elliot, who took no notice -- "since he knows she's supposed to be dead. It turns out to be her twin sister."

"Who is of course also seen by the mob killers, so he has to protect her from them, and during the process he falls in love with her as well," I said.

"How about that, Elliot," Don said to his star. "Your agent figured out what was going on, and he didn't even have to read the script. My count shows him two up on you."

"You don't find that confusing at all?" Elliot asked me.

"It is confusing," I admitted. "But it's a good kind of confusing. It's the sort of confusing that viewers actually like, especially as I assume it gets explained at some point during the action. I'm right about that, Don?"

"It happens not far past the place where you stopped reading the script, Elliot," Don said.

"Well, there it is, then," I said. "It works out well for everyone."

From the other end of the set there was a wail followed by a crash. One of the buxom Rollerbladers had careened out of control and impacted against a Steadicam operator. The resulting collision managed somehow to dislodge her bikini top. The Rollerblader appeared momentarily flummoxed, deciding whether to cover her nipples or to grab at the rapidly swelling knob on her forehead, where her skull connected with that of the cameraman. Her right arm switched between both locations, dealing with neither very effectively. In the wash of pain and embarrassment, she seemed to have forgotten that she had a whole other arm that she could deploy.

The Steadicam operator lie sprawled on the pavement, out cold. None of the predominately male crew was paying even the slightest bit of attention to him.

"Oh, look," Don said. "An actual legitimate crisis." He turned to Elliot. "When I get back, I would really like to shoot this scene. Please try to have all your philosophical problems with it resolved by then." He sauntered toward the scene of the accident, angling towards the girl rather than the cameraman.

"Exciting day," I said, to Elliot.

He was gnawing on a thumb, still looking at the script. "Are you sure that this isn't going to be a problem with this? I'm still sort of lost."

"It'll be fine, Elliot. Stop worrying about it. And stop gnawing on your thumbnail. You're going to make your manicurist miserable. Look, you said you wanted to talk. Here I am."

"Yeah, okay," Elliot said. He seemed distracted as we went back to his trailer.

As we entered his trailer, I was greeted by a life-size cutout of Elliot in his "beach volleyball" costume and shades, grinning toothily and holding a bottle of cologne. I had a brief flashback to my earlier conversation with Joshua. "Who's the handsome guy?" I said.

"Oh, that," Elliot said. He bent down to get a bottle of water out of his refrigerator. "The production company thinks we ought to branch out into other markets. So we're making a Pacific Rim cologne."

"Well, if Baywatch can do it, so can you," I said.

"Ours is different than the Baywatch cologne. It's made with real human pheromones."

"You're kidding," I said.

"No, man, really." Elliot reached up into an overhead compartment, grabbed a sample-sized cologne bottle, and handed it to me. "They're actually my pheromones, too."

I unscrewed the top and took a whiff. It smelled like I expected Joshua would smell like if he was left out in the sun too long. "Powerful," I said. "How did they get your pheromones, if you don't mind me asking?"

"They put me on a treadmill and then collected my sweat," Elliot said.

"Sounds delightful," I said.

Elliot shrugged. "It wasn't so bad. They let me watch videos while I exercised. Listen, I think we should see other people."

"What?" I said.

"I think we should see other people," Elliot said.

"Elliot, we're not going steady," I said, putting the top on the cologne and placing it on the near table. "Shucks, we've never even dated."

"You know what I mean," he said. "I've been thinking a lot about my future recently, and I sort of want to explore my options. See what else is out there. Tom, you know there's a lot of wild rumors going around about you at the moment."

"Great," I said, flopping into a chair. "The one week everyone reads The Biz is the week I'm on the cover."

"The Biz?" Elliot said.

"Yes, Elliot," I said. "You remember, the place where you read all those wild rumors."

"I didn't read anything about it," Elliot said. "I heard about most of it from Ben."

I sat up. "Who?"

"Ben," Elliot said.

"Ben Fleck?" I asked.

"Yeah," Elliot said. "You know him?"

"I can't believe this," I said. "I've been cherry-picked by Ben Fleck."

"He said that you've cracked up lately," Elliot said. "That you've been handing all your clients to other agents because of the stress. So I figured, if you're doing that anyway, might as well at least stay in the same company, where they know me."

"Elliot," I said. "I'm not cracking up. I'm fine. And I still want to be your agent. Look where you are now, Elliot. You're doing pretty well for yourself. Which means that I did pretty well for you. You don't just chuck that away because Ben Fleck calls you up and tells you I'm cracking up. You don't even know Ben, Elliot. He's an incompetent agent. Trust me on this one."

"Yeah," Elliot shrugged again. "Well, he says that he can get me into film, that I'm ready for the big film roles."

"Of course he would say that, Elliot. He knows that's what you want. That's what everybody wants."

"Well, what do you think? You think I'm ready for film roles?"

"Sure, some," I said, conveniently ignoring my previous plan to keep him strictly on television for the next season. "But you still need to build your base. You remember what happened to David Caruso when he jumped too soon. He had two flops and then he was squashed."

"Uh-huh," Elliot said. "Look, Tom. I know you don't think I'm a rocket scientist, but I'm not totally dumb. I'm 32 years old. I'm only making $50,000 an episode. I've got another four seasons on my contract. Where does that leave me?"

"With five million dollars?" I said.

"I can make that off of one movie, man," Elliot said. "32 is prime time in the movie business. I've got to strike now. Ben's ready to back me up on this, and I think I ought to take him up on that. You're right, it is what I want. I'm sorry, Tom."

There was a knock on the door. "We're ready, Elliot," Don said, through the door. "Put down that MENSA test and get on the set."

"Elliot," I said. "Think about this, all right? Don't decide anything right now."

"I got to go," Elliot said. "No hard feelings, Tom? It's just business."

It was my turn to shrug. I could see where this was going. "Sure, Elliot. No problem."

"Great," he said, and opened the door. "You know, you can keep that bottle of cologne."

"Thanks," I said. He smiled, closed the door behind him. I picked up the bottle of cologne and stared at it for a minute before I threw it against the far wall of the trailer. It shattered quite nicely.


Ben's administrative assistant, Monica, beamed at me prettily as I strode up.

"Hi, Monica," I said. "Ben wouldn't happen to be in at the moment, would he?"

"He is, but he's with a prospective client."

"Really," I said. "Anyone I know?"

"Do you know any Playmates on a personal basis?" Monica asked.

"Afraid not," I said.

"Then you don't know her," Monica said.

"I'll learn to get past the disappointment," I said.

"That's the spirit," Monica said. "You want me to tell him you dropped by?"

"That's all right," I said. "This will just take a minute." I stepped past her desk and walked into Ben's office.

Ben was sitting at his desk with the aforementioned Playmate in the guest chair. He smiled expansively at me. "Tom," he said. "What a surprise. Have you met Leigh? She's a Playmate."

"Not yet," Leigh piped, "Not until November."

"Something for us boys to look forward too, then," Ben said.

"Hello, Leigh," I said, shaking her hand. "It's pleasure to meet you. Excuse me for just one second, please." I turned, leaned over the desk, and sucker-punched Ben in the nose. I turned back to Leigh, who sat, stunned, watching as Ben yodeled in pain at his desk, holding his bleeding nose in his splayed fingers. I sat on the edge of Ben's desk and smiled winningly.

"So," I said. "Found an agent?"

Leigh ran screaming from the room. I turned back to Ben. He had fingers jammed into his nostrils to staunch the bleeding.

"You fucker," he said. "You broke my fucking nose!"

"You cherry-picked Elliot Young from me, Ben. I don't appreciate that very much. I also don't appreciate what you said about me in The Biz. Those were hurtful words. I was bothered. Since you don't have any clients I want, and I'm not planning to talk to the press, I had to do something to even up our ledgers. I think we're about even now, don't you?"

"You're totally fucking insane," Ben said. "Enjoy your last day as an agent, you asshole."

"Ben, let me make this clear to you," I said. "If you ever stick your nose in my business again, I'm going to work you over with a sledgehammer. I don't mean that figuratively. I literally mean that I will walk into this office, lock the door behind me, pull out a sledgehammer and work on you until your bones resemble gravel. Are we clear?"

"You're out of your fucking mind, Tom," Ben said.

"Ben, are we clear?"

"Yes," Ben glared at me through the beginnings of bruises. "Yes, we're fucking clear, already. Get out of my fucking office, Tom. Just get out."

I walked to the door. A crowd was waiting on the other side. I stared at them.

"Congratulate Ben," I said. "He's the proud father of a bouncing baby nosebleed."

Ben started screaming for Monica. I walked the short distance to my office.

Miranda followed me in. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"No," I said, "I am in so much pain. I think I broke a finger."

Miranda slipped her notepad under her arm. "Let me see," she said. She reached over. I gave her my hand. She palpitated my middle finger.

"Ouch," I said.

"It's not broken," Miranda said. "it's not even sprained. But you clearly don't know how to throw a punch."

"I'll do better next time," I said.

Miranda pinched down hard on my finger. I screamed.

"Don't you ever do something like that again," she said, "or I'll kill you myself. I like my job, and I'm not going to have you risk it just because you're my boss. Got it?"

"Yes!" I said. "Let go." She did.

"Now," she said, pulling her notepad back out. "Messages. Jim Van Doren called."

"The hell you say," I said.

"No lie," she said. "he says he's working on another story and wanted to see if you wanted to comment this time."

"I can't comment," I said. "I already promised you I wouldn't punch anyone else."

"That's my boss," Miranda said. "Amanda called. She says she wanted you to know she made Tea 'grovel like the she-dog she is' for the part in the Chevy Chase film. Says that she and Tea have come to an understanding and that she doesn't expect too many more problems."

"And here you thought you were going to have to do a lot of hand holding," I said.

"No kidding," Miranda said. "I think we created a monster. Carl called. He wants to know if you're available for lunch tomorrow."

"This is a question?" I asked.

"That's what I thought you might say," Miranda said, "So I told him you'd be free at 12:30. Meet him at his office."

"Got it," I said.

"Last message," Miranda said. "Someone I've never heard of, but says he knows you. Didn't leave his last name."


"That's him," Miranda said. "Sort of cryptic message. Said you'd understand."

"What is it?"

"He said, 'Something happened. I'll be late.'"

Posted by john at December 8, 2004 11:04 PM