« Chapter Ten | Main | Chapter Twelve »

December 08, 2004

Chapter Eleven

Carl looked at his watch. "Damn," he said. "I've missed my 4:00."

"The Call of the Damned premiere was four months ago, Carl," I said. "What have they been doing between now and then?"

"Grilling Joshua, I'd imagine," Carl said. "Remember, he's got my memories -- it's better than having me there, really, since I don't know that I'd be up for a daily brain-sucking. It's with Joshua that the Yherajk came up with the idea of using us to be their agents."

"I don't get that," I said. "If they have all your knowledge, I don't see why they would need you or me to do anything for them."

"Well, they are still gelatinous cubes," Carl said, "which does limit their ability to blend. But I think there's something else to it. I think they have a plan already, but they wanted to see what I, and now you, would come up with. For them, It's not simply a matter of the most efficient way of doing something, otherwise Joshua would be addressing the UN right now. But there's that notion the Yherajk have of surrendering to the crucial moment, burned right down into their reproductive strategies. I think that once again, they're surrendering the moment to us -- they're saying, here, we trust you to take this, the most important moment in the history of both our races, and make it work."

"That's a lot of trust," I said.

"Yes, well, frankly it's also annoying," Carl said. "I'm not saying that we should refuse the responsibility, not at all. But we're carrying the entire load -- if it gets messed up, the failure is entirely on our shoulders. All the pressure is on us. On you, actually, Tom, since I foisted it on you. Have you, since we started this, really thought on what we're doing here?"

"I've tried to avoid doing that," I said. "It just makes me sort of dizzy. I try to concentrate on the smaller things, like hoping that Joshua will turn up sometime today."

"That's probably the right attitude to have," Carl said. "Now, I think about it quite a bit. It's monumental and exhilarating -- and I wish it were already done with."

"It's going to work out fine, Carl. Don't worry about it," I said. I was taken aback by Carl's comment -- it didn't sound like the Carl Lupo we all knew and feared.

Carl must have realized it, because he sudden gave a wolflike grin, true to his name. "I can tell you these things, Tom, because we're both in on the biggest secret anyone's ever had -- no one else would believe me. Or you. Who else are we going to tell these things to?"

"That's funny," I said. "Joshua once said the very same thing."

"Like father, like son," Carl said, and stood up. "Now, come on, Tom. We have to head back. I can't keep Rupert Murdoch waiting much longer. He gets testy when he's stood up."

*****

"Three and a half hours for lunch?" Miranda said, as she followed me into the office. "Even by Hollywood standards, that's a little extravagant. Your boss would kill you, if it weren't for the fact you had lunch with him."

"Sorry, mom," I said. "I'll do all of my homework before I go out tonight."

"Don't get fresh," Miranda said, "or you'll get no dessert. Would you like to hear your messages, or do you want to give me more lip?"

"Oh, I'd like messages, pretty please," I said, sitting.

"That's better," Miranda said. "You have six, count them, six messages from Jim Van Doren. In one two hour-period before your lunch. I think that qualifies as stalking by California law."

"I should be so lucky," I said. "What does he want?"

"Didn't say. Didn't sound particularly happy, however. I suspect if he hasn't been raked over the coals by his editors at The Biz, he may be in the process of being torched right now. Carl called me this morning to get some information on the mentor program of yours. He mentioned that he was planning to rip Van Doren and The Biz new assholes in the Times. Not promising for either of them, if you ask me."

"God," I said. "That's just going to make them both more annoying. Anyone else?"

"Michelle called. She's apparently having some sort of difficulty with the Earth Resurrected folks. She said something about a latex mask. It didn't make much sense to me. She also said that Ellen Merlow is definitely out of Hard Memories, and that she now felt she was up to the role, because she read 'Iceman in Jerusalem'." Miranda looked up at me, confused. "She can't possibly mean Eichmann in Jerusalem."

"Give her a break, Miranda," I said. "She got two-thirds of the title."

Miranda snorted. "Yeah, well, and I bet she's averaging that for the rest of the words, too. Anyway, she'll be calling back later. Last message, from your mysterious friend Joshua. He says he's fine now, and not to call, he's busy at the moment but he'll be there when you get there, whatever that means. Dealing with shady characters again, Tom?"

"You have no idea," I said. Why wasn't I supposed to call? Despite Joshua's reassurance, I was worried. I fought the urge to grab the phone right off. I decided to think about another entirely futile task instead. "Miranda, could you get Roland Lanois on the horn for me?"

"Absolutely. Who is he?"

"Miranda," I said, pretending shock. "You're so low class. He's the director and producer of the Academy Award-nominated motion picture The Green Fields, and also of the upcoming Hard Memories. His production company is on the Paramount lot, I believe."

"What?" Miranda said. "Tom, you can't be serious. You're not really going to try to get Michelle that part."

"Why not?" I said. "It's not totally outside the realm of possibility that she could get the role, you know."

Miranda rolled her eyes and looked up, with upturned palms. "Take me now, Jesus. I don't want to live here no more."

"Oh, stop it, and get Roland for me."

"Tom, the gods of common decency implore me to stop you from making this call."

"There's a ten percent raise in it for you if you get Roland on the phone for me, right now."

Miranda blinked. "Really?"

"Got it approved by Carl at lunch. So you have a choice. Common decency or a raise. Your call."

"Well, I've done my part for humanity for today," Miranda said. "Time to cash in."

"That's what I love about you, Miranda," I said. "Your firm bedrock of moral values."

Miranda did a little step as she exited the office. I smiled. Then I grabbed the phone and made a quick call to Joshua's cel phone.

No answer.

*****

Roland was in a meeting but his assistant said that he'd be happy to chat if I wouldn't mind dropping by the offices in an hour. "Roland hates talking business over the phone," the assistant said. "He says he likes to have people within stabbing distance." It was already past 4:30; if I was going to make it to the Paramount lot in an hour, I'd have to leave at that moment. I left instructions with Miranda to call me immediately if Joshua called, and then headed out.

About halfway there, on Melrose, I realized that I was actually being tailed. A white Escort three cars behind me remained three cars behind me constantly; whenever one of the cars between us changed lanes, the Escort would swerve dangerously into another lane, let another car pass, and then swerve dangerously back into the lane, properly spaced. The constant honking that these maneuvers caused were what brought the car to my attention in the first place. In a way it was a relief -- if it had been the Government or Mafia hit men, they wouldn't have been so inept.

I was coming up at a light; I purposely slowed down to miss the yellow -- the first time that I could recall ever doing that -- and when the light turned red I took the car out of gear, set the parking brake, popped the trunk, switched on my hazard lights and got out of the car. I reached into the trunk just as the driver behind me, in a rusted-out Monte Carlo, started yelling at me in Spanish. He stopped when he realized I pulled out an aluminum softball bat, left over from last season.

The guy in the white Escort didn't even see me coming; as I walked down the road, he was furtively talking into a cellular phone. The guy's white, pudgy features became recognizable as I got closer. It was Van Doren, of course.

I stopped at the driver-side window, flipped the bat around so I was holding the thick end, and rapped hard on the window with the handle end. Van Doren jumped at the noise and looked around, confused. It took him about five seconds to realize exactly who it was banging at his door. He spent another three seconds trying to figure out how to make a break for it before he realized he was boxed in. Finally, he smiled sheepishly and rolled down the window.

"Tom," he said, "isn't this a small world."

"Get out of your car, Jim," I said.

Van Doren's eyes made a beeline for the bat. "Why?"

"As long as you're following me, you're a danger to other motorists," I said. "I can't have anyone's death but yours on my conscience."

"I think I'll stay in my car," Van Doren said.

"Jim," I said, "If you don't get out of the car in exactly three seconds, I'm going to take this bat to your windshield."

"You wouldn't dare," Van Doren said. "You've got a whole street full of witnesses."

"This is LA, Jim," I said. "No one's going to whip out a camcorder unless I'm wearing a badge. One. Two."

Van Doren hastily opened his door and undid his seat belt.

"All right," I said, once he had gotten out of his car. "Let's go. We'll take my car."

"What about my car?" Van Doren said. "I can't just leave it here."

"Sure you can," I said. "The police will come by any minute now to pick it up."

"Please," Van Doren said. "I can't. It's a company car."

"Should've thought of that earlier. Come on, Jim. Less talk. More walk. The light's changed already." I nudged him with my bat. He went. We got in my car and made it through the tail end of the next yellow, thus restoring my traffic karmic balance.

Van Doren watched as his Escort faded in the distance. "I want you know, this qualifies as kidnapping," he said.

"What are you talking about," I said. "There I was, at a light, minding my own business, when you open my passenger side door and plop yourself into my car. You started asking me harassing questions. A real pain in the ass. But, of course, you've done this before. You left six messages at office just today, in fact. I'm driving you around just to humor you. After all, you are acting erratic. If anyone's in danger here, Jim, it's me."

"You're forgetting the witnesses again," Van Doren said.

"Oh, come on," I said, getting into a left turn lane. "Anyone who was there has now gotten out from behind your car and driven off into the sunset. The only thing anyone's going to see is a deserted car in the middle of a major traffic artery. If I were you, Jim, I'd start making up a cover story right about now. Normally, I'd suggest saying you were carjacked, but no one's going to believe that. You were driving an Escort."

Van Doren stared at me for a few seconds, then buckled himself in, almost as an afterthought. "I think I was right," he said. "You are completely off your rocker."

I sighed and turned north. "No, Jim, but I am tired of you. Your story about me was a tissue of lies from start to finish. It caused two of my most important clients to bolt. There's not a single thing in it that's true, and you caused my career a lot of damage. I could probably sue you and The Biz for libel and get away with it."

"You'd have a hard time proving malice," Jim said.

"I don't think so," I said. "After all, you did come looking to profile me, and then, after I refused, this thing came out. Given the amount of utter bullshit that floats to the surface of your magazine each week, I think a good lawyer could probably convince a jury you were gunning for me. Bet our lawyers are better than your lawyers."

"Why are you threatening me?"

"Simple. I want you to leave me alone. I haven't ever done anything to you, or anything other than try to be the best agent for my clients. I don't use crack cocaine. I don't have sex with little boys. I don't cut up animals for fun. There's no story, Jim. Just leave me alone."

"Well, there's one problem here, Tom," Van Doren said. "I don't believe you. Maybe you're not losing it, though I doubt that at the moment. But you are up to something, and something weird." He held up a hand and started ticking off points. "First, my boss got a phone call from the Times this morning about your 'mentor program.' They say Carl Lupo said that this program has been in place for a while. But I know for a fact that this isn't the case -- my guy inside your company told me so."

"This wouldn't be the same 'inside guy' who used your story to snake one of my clients, would it?"

"I don't know anything about that," Jim said. "Though I have heard you broke another agent's nose the other day."

"It's not broken," I said. "Merely bruised."

"Second," Van Doren continued, "you had lunch with Carl Lupo today for over three hours. Three hours, Tom. The last time Carl Lupo did lunch for three hours, he joined Century Pictures as their president. Something is definitely up between the two of you."

"You watched us for three hours, having lunch?" I said. "Jim, you need to get a life."

Van Doren cracked a smile. "This may be so. Or maybe I have a life, chasing the biggest story in Hollywood, one that will actually get me away from writing lousy little pieces about agents that no one really cares about. You could just make it easy for me and tell me what it is, and then I'll leave you alone."

"Fine," I said. "Carl and I are laying the groundwork for an encounter between humans and space aliens. He even went up to their ship. I've got one of them boarding with me at home. His best friend is a dog."

"Uh-huh," Van Doren said. "I'm buying that one. A spaceship. Was Elvis there with Jim Morrison and Tupac Shakur?"

"Of course not," I said. "That's just plain silly."

"Right. I don't mind if you don't tell me, Tom," Van Doren said. "Just don't expect me not to follow it up. Something's going on and I'm going to find it out. I work for a shitty magazine, but I'm not a shitty journalist. I'm actually good at what I do, whatever you might think."

"If you're so good, how come you did such a bad job of tailing me just now?"

"Oh, that," Van Doren said, smiling again "I'm just a really bad driver."

I pulled over. Van Doren looked around. "Where are we?"

"The place where you get out of my car," I said.

"You're just going to leave me here?" he asked.

"Well, you didn't think I'd actually take you where I was going, did you?" I said.

"Man," Van Doren said. "You're just plain evil." He got out of the car, then turned around and held onto the door for a minute. "By the way, Tom. There are no sulfur spas around here. And your father is dead and your mother lives in Arizona, which would have made having dinner with them difficult in one case and impossible in the other. If there's no story here, why did you start lying to me from the beginning?"

I didn't answer. He closed the door, put his hands in his pockets, and walked away.

*****

Roland Lanois poked his head out of his office. "Sorry, Tom," he said, "I ran a little late on that last one and I had to finish up some paperwork."

"No problem," I said. "I was running late myself. I had to drop someone off."

"Well, then," Roland said, opening his office door. "We're both forgiven. Come into the sanctum, Tom."

Roland Lanois, Montreal born, Eton and Oxford-educated, was cultured, sophisticated, witty, had great taste and an industry-wide reputation for being the most polite producer in the business. Most people who met him assumed he was gay. In fact, he cut a swath through his leading ladies like a harvester through a wheat field. Hollywood folks just aren't used to heterosexual men having any sort of culture.

"Can I get you anything, Tom?" Roland said. "A drink? I was just sent a very nice 18-year old Glenlivet from Ellen Merlow's people. I'd be honored if you'd help me break it in."

"Thanks," I said, settling on Roland's couch. "Neat, please. With a touch of water, if you would."

"Ah," Roland said, cracking open the bottle. "A man of refinement. I have some Evian that should do the job. Ideally, of course, you'd have a bit of the water that the scotch is made from, but we must make do. Anyway, most people in this town put ice in their scotch. Savage, really." Roland poured the scotch.

"Why did Ellen's people send you the scotch?" I asked.

"Oh, come now, Tom," Roland said, glancing over with a slight smile. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't already know that Ellen's dropped out of Hard Memories. It appears she's going to be taking on a more regular -- and lucrative -- gig on television." Roland said television like it hurt his teeth to form the word.

"I hope you know I am sorry to hear about that. She would have been great for the role."

"Yes, indeed," Roland has gotten out the Evian and was delicately administering a drop to both our glasses, "she was perfect. Brilliant actress of course, the right age, and she appeals to the core audience we were going for. But she's going through that divorce of hers, and it doesn't look like her pre-nuptial is going to withstand scrutiny. She's worried about whether her post-nuptial worth is going to allow her to maintain her lifestyle choices. A working horse farm apparently takes more money than you or I would suspect."

Roland handed me the scotch and took a seat in the other side of the couch. "And as you know, we're not working with a very large budget for Hard Memories. So she's jumping ship to play a suburban mother whose butler is an alien. $250,000 an episode. NBC has committed to a 44-episode buy. She keeps her horse farm, and I'm left with my project's arse hanging in the wind. Cheers." Roland reached over to clink his glass. We sipped.

"Damn, that's good scotch," I said.

"Yes, quite good," Roland said. "Which is why it was sent along to soften the blow. Oddly enough, it came along with a Hickory Farm sausage assortment. Strange, isn't it? I suspect they have a new assistant over there who's not quite used to how these things work. At least it didn't come with one of those fruit baskets with a balloon and a stuffed animal. I think I might have killed myself."

"Balloons aren't that bad," I said.

"No, it would be the stuffed animal that would send me over the edge," Roland said. "Now, Tom. You didn't come over to commiserate with me over my project, though you have been very gracious to do so to this point. What's on your mind?"

"Well, I'll get right to it," I said. "I have a client who is very interested in pursuing the role Ellen Merlow's vacated in Hard Memories. Michelle Beck."

"Oh, yes, right," Roland said. "She's been calling here nearly every day, following up on it. Become quite good friends with my assistant Rajiv, in fact, up to the point where the poor lad is practically falling over himself to tell her all the things that are supposed to be production secrets. Really a problem, but you're aware of the effect someone like Miss Beck will have on young males. He's probably impressing the hell out of his old friends from university. I haven't the will to fire him for it."

"You're a good man, Roland Lanois," I said.

"Thank you, Tom. I don't hear that nearly enough." We clinked glasses again, and then Roland sat back, hand to his chin. He looked as if he was considering something weighty, and actually had the intellectual wherewithal to do it. "Tell me, Tom. What do you think of Michelle Beck for the part?"

"I guess that depends if you're asking me as an agent or as a lover of film," I said.

"Really," Roland said, an amused glint in his eye. "I'd like to hear the agent response first."

"She'd be great," I said. "She's hot, she's a draw, she'll absolutely guarantee you a $15 million opening weekend plus strong foreign openings."

"And as a lover of film?"

"You'd have to be out of your mind to give her the role," I said.

"Well," Roland said, sounding impressed. "That's something you're not going to hear out of the mouth of every agent."

I shrugged. "I'm not telling you anything you don't already know," I said. "And I'd look like an idiot if I said anything else."

"What I find interesting," Roland said, "is that you think I'd be mad to give her the role, and yet here you are, about to ask me to do just that. It's a near-Orwellian example of doublethink. I'm fascinated to hear how you are going to reconcile the two."

"There's no need for reconciliation," I said. "I think she'd probably be no good for the role. I'll be honest about that. But -- and here's something you're not going to hear an agent say much of, either -- I could be wrong, and wrong in a big way. I can name you any number of actors and actresses that no one suspected would be able to take on a role, who have turned around and made it work. Sally Field was Gidget for years. Now she's got two Oscars. Hell, Ellen Merlow's first film role was a straight-to-video horror flick."

"I didn't know that," Roland said.

"Blood City III: The Awakening," I said. "It also features Ellen's first and currently only nude scene."

"Really. I'll have to find that."

"Now Ellen has two Oscars as well. My point here is, just because I think Michelle is wrong for the part, doesn't mean she is."

"All right, point noted," Roland said. "But there is the complication of Miss Beck not being the right age or, let's put this delicately as possible, having the right amount of intellectual stamina."

"We have 40 year old actresses who move heaven and earth to make themselves look 25," I said. "I think we have the cosmetic technology to go the other direction as well. We might have to reel back the age of the character half a decade or so, but that's not going to make a real impact on the thrust of the story. As for the intellectual end, it may surprise you to know that Michelle has recently been reading Hannah Arendt."

"It does surprise me," Roland said.

"She and my assistant Miranda were discussing the book just this afternoon," I said. I left out the part about Michelle mangling the title of the book.

Roland put his arm on the top of the couch and sipped his scotch, thoughtfully. Then he shook his head. "I'm sorry, Tom," he said. "But I just have a very hard time seeing any way that Michelle Beck could work this role. I wouldn't want to give it to her, just to have it be a fiasco for both her and me. You can see the position I'm in."

"I'm not asking you to give her the role," I said. "All I'm asking is that you give her a reading. If she flubs it, fine. But she'll know she had a shot at it. She'll know I made the effort for it. Knowing Michelle, it'll make her work harder for the next thing that she does. And again: we could both be wrong about this. It couldn't hurt to cover the bases. Roland, what's the status of the movie right now?"

"It's been pushed back, of course," Roland said. "We were in the process of hiring crew and now we've had to let them all off. It's damned inconvenient -- I'm going to lose Januz, my cinematographer, to another project. Some child's film. About primates." He grimaced. "Those things never do well. I don't know what he's thinking."

"Do you have any other actresses lined up?"

"Not any of the really good ones," Roland said. "Once we selected Ellen, they all went off to other commitments. The earliest we'll have any of our A-list choices open is nine months from now. We have some B-listers who could do it, but this isn't the sort of film that will succeed without an established name."

"Well, then," I said. "You've got nothing to lose."

Roland did his thoughtful thing again. "Even if Michelle confounded our expectations," he said. "I don't see how we could afford her. You know that the studios don't throw any sort of money at all to these things."

Inwardly, I did a victory dance. When a producer starts talking about money, it means he's cleared off any philosophical problems he might have with your client. We were now moving through the final steps of the dance. Outwardly, of course, I showed no change in emotion. "Michelle's not looking to do this picture for the paycheck," I said. "I think that, should she confound us, we could come to an accommodation concerning salary."

One more minute of the thoughtful thing. "All right, fine," Roland said. "I don't suppose it could hurt to give her a look. And if, God forbid, she pans out and we get this production on track, all the better. To tell you the truth, Tom, I was thinking of abandoning Hard Memories altogether for another project, which is actually along the same lines -- Holocaust drama, that is."

"Really," I said.

"Yes. Well," Roland ducked his head in what I suspected was his version of a shrug, "it's not really a project yet. It's just a script -- came into our slush pile by a student at NYU, but it's marvelous. It's about a Polish poet, a Catholic, who is put in a Nazi concentration camp for helping Jews during World War II."

"Krysztof Kordus?" I asked.

Roland looked surprised. "Yes, right, that's the man. Again, Tom, I'm impressed. Most people in this business don't know about anything they didn't read in Variety. Anyway, this script is brilliant, really moving. They did a thing on this Kordus fellow a couple decades back on television," -- again, the word was almost spat -- "but this script is far beyond what they did with that. The problem now, of course, is getting clearance to use the man's works in the film. I'm going to have Rajiv chase down who's in charge of Kordus' literary estate, and see what we can come up with. Probably will charge us an arm and a leg for clearance. That's the way these things work."

"You don't have to have Rajiv track anything down," I said. "I can tell you who administers Krysztof's literary estate. You're looking at him."

Roland slipped his arm off the couch and leaned forward. "Get out," he said. "You can't be serious."

"I am," I said. "My father was Krysztof's agent. When Krysztof died, he named my father administrator of his literary estate. When my father died, I inherited the role. I tried to place Krysztof's estate with a real literary agent, but his family asked me to continue on. They wanted to keep it in the family, as it were. I couldn't very well say no, so I stayed with it. It's really not very difficult, since the deals for his books are already in place. All I do is sign off on the current arrangements and mail his daughter a check every three months."

"Tom," Roland said. "I am so very glad you dropped by. Hold on a moment, and I'll get you the script for this project. Read it and let's talk."

"Two scripts, if you don't mind," I said. "Remember why I came here in the first place."

"But of course," Roland said. "By all means, let's set up the screen test. Will a week from today be good? Say, noon?"

"That would be just fine."

"Brilliant," Roland said, and got up. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be back in a flash." he went out to get the scripts from his assistant. I finished my scotch. It was very good scotch.

*****

I called Michelle with the good news as soon as I got home. She squealed like a happy pig, which in my mind didn't bode well for her chances for the role.

"Thank you, Tom, thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said. "I'm so happy! I can't believe it!"

"Settle down, Michelle," I said, not unkindly. "All you're getting at this point is a reading. You haven't got the film yet. You could go in only to find out they hate you." This was my subtle way of getting her ready for the disappointment.

It wasn't working. "Oh, I don't care," she said. "I'm ready. I've been doing my reading. They're going to be surprised. You'll see. You'll be there, right, Tom?"

"Uh...," I said. "Oh, what the hey. I'll be there."

"Tom, I could just kiss you," Michelle said.

"Let's not try to ruin our client-agent relationship," I said. Michelle giggled. I cringed inwardly and changed the subject. "Miranda tells me you called earlier with a problem with the Earth Resurrected folks. Something about a latex mask?"

"Oh, that," Michelle said. "Tom, they want to pour latex on my head so they can make a stand-in dummy, or something. I don't want to do it."

"Michelle, it's not that bad. They have to make those masks so they can get shots of your head doing things it doesn't normally do, like having veins pop out or your eyes explode. Things like that. All the great action stars have to have them made. Arnold Schwarzenegger has done it. Really, you're not an action star until you have one made."

"But they pour goo on your head, and then you sit there for hours." Michelle said. "How do you breathe through that?"

"As I understand it, they stick straws up your nose," I said.

"No way," Michelle said.

There was a scratching at the back door. I looked over and saw Ralph the retriever standing on the other side of the door.

"Michelle, hold on a second, I have to let my dog in," I said.

"Tom, I can't do the latex mask thing," Michelle said. "I don't want straws in my nose. What if I have a cold? What if they fall out? How am I going to breathe?"

"Michelle, let me just, oh, just hold on a sec." I placed the phone down, ran over the door and slid it open. I ran back to the phone. Ralph walked through the door.

"Michelle, you still there?" I asked.

"I'm not going to do it, Tom," she said again. "I'm claustrophobic. I can't even put a blanket over my head without freaking out. I don't care if they fire me or not."

"Don't say that," I said. "Listen, when are you supposed to have your mask made?"

"A week from today," she said. "3 in the afternoon. I have to go to Pomona."

"Damn," I said. "That's the same day as your reading."

"Well, then," Michelle said. "I can't get the mask made."

Ralph walked over to me and sat. I started knuckling his head, absently. "How about this," I said. "I'll go with you to both. I'll pick you up, we'll go to the reading. Once the reading is done, we'll go to have the mask made, and I'll make sure the straws stay in place. Okay?"

"Tom...," Michelle began.

"Come on, Michelle," I said. "We'll go to Mondo Chicken afterwards. I'm buying."

"Oh, all right," Michelle said. "You always know the right thing to say, Tom."

"That's why you love me, Michelle," I said. I hung up, set the phone down, and knelt down to rub Ralph's ears and coat.

"Hey, there, Ralph," I said, in the goo-goo voice you use with dogs,."Where's your little friend Joshua? Yeah? Your little friend? The one that I'm gonna kill for heading off into the woods when I told him not to go? Huh? Where is the little bastard, Ralphie?"

"Why the hell are you asking me?" Ralph said. "I'm just a dog."

I screamed for a really long time.

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