Chapter 4—Out of the Frying Pan
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“So lightning hits the mobile tower, yeah?” Giles waved his arms, sloshing tea out of his mug. “I see it! I see the bolt fly out of the sky! Everybody sees it. Immediate smash-up—bloody lookie-loos. Livestock carrier goes tits-up. Ripped open like a sausage tin. Cattle not dead stampede the ones that are.”
“Christing fuck!” Giles wiped the towel Bea had given him over the coppery spindles of his hair. “Smash up in front of me, Wrath of God on one side, kamikaze Herefords on the other! Shite and steak tartar everywhere! It was the bloody Apocalypse!”
“Oh, laugh you heartless tosser! I’m a vegetarian!”
Helpless, she leaned into him, hee-hawing like a donkey. Robert chuckled from Carrie’s former sleeper-chair.
“You, too, now?” Giles pointed a warning finger. “Think my time of trial is just a bit of good fun? Remember, my friend, I can rewrite your script. I’ll have you sounding like Graham Norton before you can say “abattoir”!
Carrie didn’t know who Graham Norton was, but it caused Robert to laugh out loud, which only made it worse. She couldn’t stop. Laughter rocketed out of her like merry vomit. She kept pushing on Giles to make him stop, but he was on a roll, too.
“And there I sit, bonnet o’ my car covered in excrement, bobbies waving their caps at hysterical cows, and all I can think of is you entering this asylum with no one to hold yer straight jacket.”
Carrie feared she’d lose urine soon.
“So, what do I find, eh?” The more worked up he got, the thicker his brogue.
“Yer tucked in cozy with a cuppa, Saint Robert squiring yer royal arse! Ach!”
“Ach!” Carrie squealed. Tears ran down her face. In self-defense, she pulled him into an embrace. “Giles! Oh, Giles! Me poor bonnie lad!”
“Oh, now that’s it,” he said darkly. “Impersonating a Scot! And doin’ a piss-poor job of it. Have y’not heard Sean Connery ever in yer pitiful life?”
“My Hero.” Carrie kissed his ruddy face. “Braver than Sean Connery on his best day.” Her fit seemed to be winding down, finally. She felt a little light-headed.
“Ah, lay off it now.” Giles pulled away, straightening his glasses. He nodded at Robert. “There’s yer hero. Flyin’ to yer side like Fitzwilliam-bloody-Darcy.”
A slow smile spread across Robert’s face. “I will take that as a compliment, Mr. MacFayden,” he said in a perfect imitation of Sean Connery. “Though I doubt Jane Austen would approve, eh?”
Carrie and Giles gawped at him, stunned to silence. Robert’s eyebrow arched Connery-like.
“Cheeky bastard.” Giles lifted a pale eyebrow in reply. “Oh, yer on, laddie.”
Robert shifted in the chair. No overt change—same black jeans and tee-shirt, same leather jacket—but with a slight adjustment in posture and placement of his feet, he became elegant and lethal. In other words, Sean Connery. Again the dark brow arched. A challenge.
Giles leaned forward, forearm to knee, and glowered back. Carrie thought he looked more like Hamish in his litter box than James Bond. She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from braying out loud.
Robert leaned forward in response. Always lean, he had lost some weight to play Frank and cropped his dark hair close, so the angles of his face seemed sharper, hungrier. His nostrils flared. His eyes never wavered.
“Aye,” Giles growled, “but can y’pull off wearing the costume from Zardoz?”
Robert held a moment longer, then dropped his head, laughing. It was a deep, throaty sound—a baritone’s laugh. His shoulders shook as it rolled out of him.
“Yeah, thought not.” Giles grinned at Carrie, victorious. “I, on the other hand, can work a nappie like nobody’s granny.”
Bea brought them another pot of tea. The men settled into a more temperate discussion of the day’s agenda, but Carrie still felt light-headed and giddy. The round, delicate lines of the teapot fascinated her as she poured—dusky tea falling from a pure white spout, hot porcelain handle in her hand, a smell like wet bark.
Giles’ voice rose and fell, rolling consonants and stretching vowels like bread dough. The rhythm seeped into her, as did the tympanic undertones of Robert’s responses.
Cloves, she thought. Cardamom.
She looked up at them, suddenly lost.
“Daniel wants to see us before the first read-through,” Giles was saying to her. “And that’s… when?”
“One,” Robert answered, checking his watch. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
“He’ll have ripped the new pages to shreds, though,” Giles sighed. “Not that we can’t patch them with our brilliance. But I can show you where we’ll be doing that—our closet behind the trash bins.”
“He didn’t like what we did with the factory?” Shame and failure swallowed Carrie whole. Oh no. She watched herself sink into the dark. Not now…
“Not to worry. He will.” Giles drained his mug and popped the last pastry in his mouth. “You need to get back, mate?”
“Yeah.” Robert rubbed his palms on his thighs. “I was in wardrobe when Fi called. They wanted to finish today.”
“Do you mind if we go in your car, then?” Giles asked as they stood. “I’m off driving.”
Robert smiled. “Not at all.”
Carrie trailed behind as they crossed the lobby. She glanced at Bea behind the counter, but the clerk turned away, one hand on her phone earpiece.
We were too loud, Carrie concluded. An ugly American making a scene.
She saw Robert waiting for her, holding the door. She hurried to catch up.
“Sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry I’ve been so much trouble.”
Outside, the rain had stopped, but he sky continued to grumble. Giles waited for them under the canopy.
“Trouble?” Robert let the door close behind them. “What trouble?”
“You had to leave work.” She could barely get the words out. “And I was such a poop.”
They started around the building to the parking lot. Carrie watched her feet as the silence stretched out. Finally, Robert rumbled a little noise of understanding.
“When you woke me up…”
“That was mild—nothing.” He pulled keys out of his jacket. A BMW tooted and blinked its lights. “But, you think you were harsh?”
“That was my brother,” Giles said. “His sense of himself never matched what we saw. Perceptual dissonance, they call it.”
Robert rounded the car, considering. He looked back at Giles as he opened the car door and started to ask a question. But, Carrie walked into him, making them both stumble.
“This way, Dorothy,” Giles said from the other side of the car. “Yer not in Kansas anymore.”
Carrie blinked stupidly. She realized she’d followed Robert around to the right side of the car, the passenger side, of course. Except she was in England now, and that was the driver’s side. She stared at Giles, stuck.
“Ach,” Giles grunted, coming around the car to get her. “Here it comes.”
“Come on, Yank,” he said kindly, trundling her into the front seat.
Robert got in next to her and shut the door like it was a sick room.
“I guess I’m not tracking very well,” she said, passing a hand over her face.
“She’s tryin’ to say she’s over the eyeballs,” Giles translated from the back seat. “It’s all right, luv. You can be potty with us.”
Carrie squeezed her eyes shut. If he’d just shut up.
“Yes,” Robert said. “Of course, you can.”
Her hand found the sleeve of his jacket and gripped it. “It’s just… I didn’t expect…”
“You didn’t?” Giles declared. “What part of flyin’ across the world wouldn’t sink ye, if I may ask?”
“Giles! Shut UP!” she barked, half-turned in her seat. “Quit it. You’re not helping.”
Giles leaned forward. “Oh, I think I am, luv. You call it ‘naming names’ in your book. I call it cutting through the shite. There was no bloody chance this day would play out any other way for you. None. The sooner you face up to that simple truth and fucking trust us, the sooner we can get on with it.”
A sound like rushing water filled her head. Parts of her fell off into it—hands, feet, legs. She locked onto Giles’ stern, pink face, but even that shimmered.
“That’s hard for me,” her voice said. “Trust.”
Her eyes creaked in their sockets, traveling to Robert. “I can’t fall apart in front of you.”
His face was unreadable. It terrified her.
“You don’t have a choice, do you?” he asked.
His arm twisted, pulling his sleeve out of her hand. But she couldn’t really feel it. Or when he gripped it hard. It was like someone else sat in the car, one hand caught, the other fumbling with the door latch.
“You’re safe,” Giles said over her shoulder.
And just like that, the hard knot in her chest filled her throat. Like her hysterical laughter, it flew up and out. Sobs rocked her. Like shouts, like a terrible song, they hit the windshield and bounced back, shoving her against the head rest. She heard the animal sounds coming out of her, felt the sheet of tears. She also felt Robert’s hand grinding the bones of her hand, and Giles arms reaching around her seat.
It didn’t matter what she wanted. It didn’t matter what she pretended. This was who she was. This.
And like all the waves she rode, this one crested and fell. The sobs slowed to hitched grunts and eventually gave back her voice.
“Crap.” Carrie lifted the hem of her jacket and wiped her face with it. “Oh, well.”
Robert started the car, a satisfied Buddha-smile on his face. She turned to Giles. He pushed her purse between the seats.
“Okay,” she said, facing front. She found tissues in a side pocket. “Okay.”
“It’s official,” Giles smiled. “She’s fair arrived.”
Trees lined the roadway—dripping, sagging, shaking off their wet like a pack of long-haired dogs.
“Afghans,” Carrie muttered.
“Pardon?” Robert asked.
“How far to the studio?”
“This is it.”
She sat up. “What—all this?”
“It’s the edge of the Heath backlot. It joins with the woodlands farther south.”
Deep at first, the barrier of trees broke for access roads and what looked like vacation cottages. Brief glimpses of parking lots and a village of buildings flashed through the gloom—and through subtle security fencing.
They turned into a wide double drive covered by a weird, lighted structure. To Carrie it looked like a giant Ouija board planchette on stilts. Modern, she supposed, back in the ‘60s, maybe. Was that when the studio was built?
A crossbar blocked them from going any further. Robert parked and handed up a card to the square-headed guard leaning out of his booth. He swiped it on a computer screen.
“Mr. Bierce,” he nodded, handing back the card. “And you’re with…”
He ducked his head to see Giles, who slapped his ID against the window.
The guard’s eyes locked on Carrie.
“Miss Severide should be on your list,” Robert told him.
Taps on the guard’s computer. “Yes,” he confirmed. “You’ll need to step inside to register, madam.”
Giles poked his head between the seats. “Leave us off. I’ll get her sorted.”
Carrie smiled a little. It was the question he always used when they talked on the phone. This was familiar. This, she could do.
“Remember when we talked about capacity?” she asked him.
He nodded. “The shrinking and expanding cup.”
“That’s right. There’s another part to it.” Carrie paused, fumbling for words. She had never tried to explain this before.
“It’s like the cup flattens out into a saucer.” She curled her fingers, then straightened them. “So whatever the cup holds—whatever capacity I have to walk and talk and act like a normal person—when the container flattens out, any little bump sloshes out some of my ability to function.”
“And those bumps could be anything.”
His comprehension always surprised her—the details he remembered from their talks and the conclusions he drew from her ramblings. She wondered what he did with it all.
Robert stared out the windshield, his face very still. “An unfamiliar procedure, like getting this pass or meeting too many new people…” He looked at her. “… or a distortion in your own thinking.”
“Right. Exactly right.”
“So, how is it now?”
“I’m not as flat as I was at the hotel. Does that make sense?”
“Ah. Yes.” He studied her. “You’re not as vulnerable.”
She tried to smile. “I think you and Giles helped me with that.”
“Ah,” he said again, more quietly.
Another car pulled up behind them. The guard leaned out his booth.
“You’ll have to move along,” he said.
“Right,” Giles said, opening his door. “C’mon, luv.”
“I want to talk more about this,” Robert said, his brow puckered. “I’ve not quite grasped it.”
“Sure.” Carrie climbed out her side and stooped to look back at him. “See you later.”
He looked serious, his mouth a tight, thin line. But he lifted his hand as she closed the door. She watched the BMW turn and disappear into a mammoth parking lot. She closed her eyes for a second, feeling the breath move in and out, then walked behind the other car to the curb where Giles waited for her.
“Did you call your wife?” Carrie asked him. “When you were stuck in traffic this morning, did you call her?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “She hadn’t heard the news—couldn’t figure out why I was screaming like a little girl. She just told me to get the car washed before I brought it home. Why d’ya ask?”
“Does she get you, your wife? Does she understand you? Appreciate you?”
“Yeah, she does.” He scowled at her. “What’s all this?”
Carrie shook her head, shrugged. “I want to meet her. Sometime.”
“Yeah, all right. She’d love that, actually. What’s going on in that yampy head of yours?” He crossed his arms. “That was quite a speech in the car. Did Saint Robert kick something loose?”
She smiled at him. “No more than usual. Come on. Let’s get this done.”
It was a combination of Heathrow’s border control and renewing a driver’s license—show passport, show Daniel’s letter of sponsorship, fill out a form, sit for the picture. Carrie opted for a lanyard in professional black and hung her new status around her neck. When they left the security office, Giles angled them through one parking lot after another.
“We’ve got a couple hours before the read-through,” Giles said, checking his watch. “We ought to be able to scutter through the rest of the rewrites, don’t ya’think?”
“There’s not much left, really.” She squeezed between two Mercedes and trotted to catch up. “Did we decide to keep that last bit with the kids?”
It felt good to give her brain something concrete to chew on and just as good to be walking. Tears and worry took a step back.
“I like it, don’t you? Gives the ending a nice question mark—which is what we wanted. I’ve got to warn ye though. Daniel will probably toss it.”
“What’s that all about? If he keeps picking at the story, it will get mushy.”
“I’ve told him as much.” Giles reached inside his coat and pulled out a pack of Marlboros. “I’ve told him he’s turning Frank into someone else.”
Carrie watched him light up and take a deep drag. The last time they talked on the phone, he told her he had quit smoking. She didn’t say anything. She knew all about resolutions and willpower.
“Who?” she asked instead. “Who is Frank turning into?”
Giles made a face and picked a bit of tobacco off his tongue. The muscles in his jaw bunched. “A coward.”
She strode along beside him for a moment, anger rushing up her frayed nervous system and burning out the last fragments of helplessness and uncertainty. At least for the time being. Her teeth squeaked as they ground together.
“Well,” she said, holding her palm out, “we can’t have that, can we?”
Giles looked at her hand, then met her eyes. He gave her the red and white pack, then yanked the lit fag out of his mouth and tossed it to the pavement.
“No, we bloody well can’t.”
He pointed to a walkway between trees and a long, low building. They marched past a series of garage doors to a street. Golf carts zipped past them. A bicycle cut close, a long cardboard tube strapped to the rider with bungee cords. People with skinny umbrellas hurried about with great purpose.
Carrie skirted a puddle without breaking stride. It wasn’t that the story was precious. She had written enough to stop being offended by editors and critics. And Giles had been a screenwriter longer than that. He told her final script was never final—it evolved and flowed like a living organism. They both expected changes.
But every script had a POINT—the bottom line story thread or character arc that everything else hung on. The point of their story—the one Giles wrote with his suicidal, bipolar brother in mind, the one Carrie shaped with her own insight into the illness—was the main character’s courage. Giles gave Frank the resources his brother never had. He gave Frank one more chance to save himself. With Carrie, he showed how one pause, one deep breath, might be the most courageous act a man could perform.
And if Daniel Mann took that away from Frank, then the whole story was POINTLESS.
They came to another parking lot filled with golf carts lighting and taking off like fireflies. Their electric motors whirred in a high, irritating whine like George Jetson’s space car. A strip of doors lined one side of the lot. Giles led her to one near the end of the row and unlocked it.
The little office looked like an emptied hotel room—bland walls, bland carpet, one streaked window next to the door. A big desk had been shoved against the window with cheap office chairs on either side. A laptop, a cup of pens and markers, and a bleeding copy of the script took up one half of it.
A partner’s desk, Carrie surmised and smiled a little. That’s what she and Giles were now. Partners.
She saw a printer, a phone, a wastebasket and, against the back wall, a blonde side table with a mini-fridge tucked underneath. Behind that wall another door stood ajar. Bathroom.
She looked at Giles. He shrugged.
“Do we have coffee?” she asked, dropping her big bag on the far side of the desk.
“Pods,” Giles grumped, jerking his head at the side table. “But cream in the fridge—the real stuff like you wanted. Not powdered ass-wipe.”
“Good.” She inspected the little brewer and took the pot into the bathroom. “Okay, factory scene?”
“Right.” She heard him rustle around while water from the bathroom tap filled the pot. “Got it. Scene 37. Exterior. Frank’s beat-up Volvo pulls into the factory lot.”
“Read me Daniel’s notes.” Carrie shoved the pot into the brewer, tossed a dark roast pod into the holder, and flipped the switch. “I need to hear what we’re up against.”
She pulled her laptop out and set it up. As it came to life, she glanced over the screen at Giles. He squinted at her.
“Have I told you lately I’m glad yer here?”
“Yeah.” She punched up the script on her screen. “I think you say it every time you curse.”
“Fuckin’ right, yampy girl.”
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To read Chapter 5—A Curious Roundtable, click here.