Scootie could swear this was something his mind was making up: a trail bike in the lobby of the Swan Theater – running, in fact, filling the tiny room with exhaust. The rider wore two long Indian braids, a cloth vest trailing streamers of brown and gold, and war-paint makeup, his eyes circled in layers of glittery purple and tar black. The man next to him listened to a pair of headphones, held up three fingers, two, then one, kicked open the doors and slapped the rider on the back. He rode at a safe but steady pace down the center aisle, up a ramp to the stage, where a large man with a gray beard and biker jacket greeted him by waving a six-pack of beer. They embraced heartily and exchanged salutations in British-sounding dialogue.
Well, of course, thought Scootie. The trail-biker is Prince Hal (“wild, effeminate boy”), the Hell’s Angel is Sir John Falstaff, and this is Henry IV, Part One. He got the details from Jackie Simmer, confiding in sideways whispers as she scooped out bags of popcorn for the concession stand.
“It’s sorta Vietnam-era? They wanted to hang an actual wrecked-up helicopter from the mansion, as if it had just smashed into the roof. Good thing they ran outta budget.”
“You make me very happy I’m just the publicity director, Jackie.”
“Well thank you for your support. They’re talkin’ about a post-apocalyptic Titus Andronicus next year, and it’s givin’ me the shakes already.”
“You got a couple minutes, Jackie?”
Scootie led her to the mansion’s side entrance. They jogged around a stairwell and into the ballroom, filled with large pieces of previously unseen furniture.
“Well, shit mah pants and buy me licorice!”
“It’s the film company,” said Scootie. He perched on the edge of a Jazz Age sofa, its arms rolling out like the shoulders of a great beast. “I think they did all of this just this morning.”
“They must have,” said Jackie, studying a gilt-edged mirror. “I sure as hell didn’t see this last night.”
“I hear they store all this stuff in L.A., kind of a furniture library. This lamp here” – he ran a finger through the fringe of a floral lampshade – “first used in The Sting.”
“No shit!” Jackie plopped into a navy blue armchair and grinned. “So my butt could be touchin’ a cushion that Paul Newman sat on. ‘Bout as close as I’m ever gonna get, too. So how do you know all this stuff?”
Scootie did some quick calculations. “The studio publicist. Had a chat with him Friday.”
“By the way,” said Jackie, leaning forward. “Does any of this have anything to do with...”
“Stephen Swan. Yes. I’ve been wondering the same thing. I know he and Cal Westley have done some films together.”
“I’d bet my back forty on it.” She stood and checked her watch. “Whoops! Gotta cue the five-minute warning. Thanks for the tour, sweetie.”
Scootie followed Jackie toward the exit. “So how come you’re not signed up as an extra?”
“My. You know all the dirt.”
Jackie stopped to study the hand of a bronze nymph. “It’s funny. I get so much shoo-biz rubbed off on me, I guess I don’t feel the need to be right there inside of it. You know?”
“You prefer to be the secret power.”
“That’s about it. What about you? Why do you want to be an extra?”
“Something new. Couple frames of immortality. I just hope I don’t end up on the cutting-room floor.”
“You’ll get in somewhere. Be sure to catch the second half here – some rather explosive combat scenes.”
Jackie headed outside. Scootie slipped out the back, where the workmen were rolling patio tables onto the courtyard lawn.
What Scootie enjoyed most was the concept of continuity. For the cafe scene, he was expected to construct a sequence of innocuous events for his “character” – a waiter in a very cheesy red vest – then repeat those actions in precise detail for each subsequent take. That way, when they got around to editing the scene, nothing in the background would reveal a jump in detail from one take to another. It was a bit of mindplay that John Cage would have enjoyed.
At the first call of “Background... action!” Scootie counted to seven (as instructed by his assistant director, Raul), then proceeded through the maze of tables holding a bottle of apple juice masquerading as white wine. He arrived at his assigned table, waited for an older Japanese lady to finish a mimed conversation with her lunch partner, a striking redhead teenager, then made the basic movements of beverage inquiry. Scootie filled her glass, then laughed at an imagined joke from the redhead. After a pause, he pivoted to the table behind and informed Virginia Mendheart that, whether she was done or not, he was going to remove the food from her table – which successfully elicited the desired smile. He retraced his steps back to the “kitchen,” nodding to a waiter passing in the other direction. Five seconds after achieving the shelter of a redwood lattice, he heard, “And... cut!”
“Yes. But the next time through, I discovered that my Japanese customer had done nothing with her wine, so I was pouring into an already-filled glass. From then on, I had to dash back after each take and empty her glass onto the lawn.”
Scootie and Juliana were sprawled across Miguel’s bed, exchanging war stories. Juliana was thrumming her fingers over Scootie’s chest.
“So how did your walk-across go?”
Juliana raised her head. “How did you know about that?”
“The wannabe actors were extremely jealous that you were getting such a prime spot.”
“Prime nothing! I had to pretend that Garth was my husband.”
“Ooh! That’s painful. Did you make it to the cafe? I didn’t see you.”
“Oh, I saw you,” Juliana teased. “Most handsome waiter I ever did see. I made it part of my continuity to ogle you. And you gave all your attentions to that bitch Virginia!” She gave him a gentle slap to the cheek. He took her hand and kissed it, then rubbed her fingers one by one.
“I had my instructions,” said Scootie. “In any case, I only got into that one shot. Once they started shooting the villains, they dismissed our whole side. But I guess you saw that. What the hell was that scene about, anyway?”
“Not sure. Cal was conferring with his partner, Frank Platten, then he went to Sasha Carbeau’s table, made some threatening comments, and put his cigar out in Sasha’s salad.”
“Another great Hollywood moment,” said Scootie, laughing.
“From what I hear, this is the cheesy movie Cal is obligated to make in between his pet projects. At least, according to Stephen.”
“I knew it!”
“Yep. Stephen and Cal were golfing in Carmel a couple months ago, and Stephen naturally mentioned his big homecoming – and Fetzle Mansion. Which is how I ended up on the phone with a living legend. But please, don’t tell anyone. This thing’s such a stinker, Stephen wants no connection whatsoever. He’s rather scrupulous that way.”
“So, I can’t share this juicy Hollywood gossip with anyone?” Scootie complained.
Juliana ran a fingernail along her forehead. “You can tell one person. But it has to be someone you absolutely trust.”
“So she is.”
“But enough show-biz chatter,” said Juliana, nibbling Scootie’s ear. “Let’s roll the comforter in front of the fire and get warm.”
Scootie framed the swells of Juliana’s hips in his hands, and decided his film career was over.