Chapter 5—A Curious Roundtable
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They ran, rain blinding them. Carrie clutched her bag to her chest as she splashed through puddles. She hadn’t packed a raincoat. Dumb, she knew, but who planned on running down a fake street in a downpour? Now her new travel outfit clung to her like long johns, the sodden jacket stretched and slapping her thighs, the cuffs of her pants flopping over her shoes.
“It’s the next one,” Giles yelled over another crack of thunder. “D Block.”
They dodged sensible folk with umbrellas and dashed into a two-story extension off one of the studio’s big stages.
“Y’should’a taken my coat, Yank,” Giles panted, water streaming. “Christ! Y’look like fuckin’ Marley’s Ghost, draggin’ yer shroud behind ye.”
“Pot,” she said, eying him. “Kettle. Black.” She raked dripping hair out of her face. “Come on. We’re late.”
Giles flapped down the collar of his coat. “This way.”
They hurried down a central hallway, past open office doors and meeting rooms more upscale than their little Bates’ Motel room. Carrie glimpsed enormous conference tables and lots of mauve.
“We need a strategy,” Giles whispered.
“The new pages are good,” she told him, matching his tone. “We saved Frank, and the story, and made concessions. I’d say we’re genius, but that’s your line.”
“We are genius. And Daniel will toss it all in the rubbish bin.”
“But, why?” Wet socks inside wet shoes squeaked as Carrie scurried to keep up.
“I don’t know. I’ve not been able to get anything understandable out of him.”
She stopped to kick off her shoes and stuff the sodden socks inside. Ringing water out of her pants’ cuffs, she rolled them up enough to keep from tripping.
“He’ll have to run with our version for the read-through, right?” she asked, pealing off her jacket.
Giles watched her, fascinated, like a witness to a train wreck. “Aye,” he finally answered. “There’s no time to muck it about now.”
“So, the actors will see what we’ve done. Robert will see.” She plucked at the front of her blouse, transparent from the wet. “He knows how important Frank’s arc is to the story. He’ll fight for it with us.”
“You’ve a lot to learn about the movie game, Yank.” Giles picked up her bag. “And Mr. Daniel Mann.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Carrie held her shoes and dripping jacket out from her as they continued down the hall. “Let’s just see what happens.”
“I’m missin’ something. I don’t know what. Somethin’ Daniel’s not sayin’.”
“Writers’ Paranoia,” Carrie determined. “Not everything is about the story. We’ll figure it out.”
They had been working together every day for three weeks—by email, phone and a few Skype sessions—while Carrie waited for her passport. From the beginning, they fell into such an easy rhythm that she worried about meeting Giles face to face. Nothing could be that easy. But, just as they found their groove at the Bates’ Motel, Carrie felt a clicking into place of something fundamental as they squished along the hallway.
She glanced at his pink, worried face, not trusting that click for a second. She was tired, and cycling, and even her underwear was soaked. This bosom-buddy connection her mind wanted to make was nothing more than crazy-batter whipped into cupcakes. Tempting as it was to shove one into her gob, she knew better.
“Here.” Giles flapped his hand at an open door.
A petite woman with short, magenta-tipped hair charged out of it. Blue-tooth in one ear, cell phone clamped to the other, she paused long enough to whisk dark eyes over them.
“There you are,” she scolded. “Come on, then.”
She marched double-time down the hall, Carrie and Giles squelching behind at a trot. This, of course, had to be Fiona.
“The foreman’s estimate is too low, I told you, Gregor,” the little woman continued her conversations. “No, Sven, one and a half short tons…”
She straight-armed a fire door and ran up a flight of service stairs. “I have to go. Call you after the read.”
Giles took the stairs two at a time to catch up. Carrie hitched up her wet pants and did her best.
Too much running in this business, she grumped to herself.
“Carrie!” the sprinting woman called over her shoulder. “So glad you finally found your way to us, but we’re late.”
“Sorry,” Carrie panted. “The morning didn’t go like we planned.”
“Oh, I know! Poor Giles!” Fiona yanked open the door at the top of the stairs. “But we’ve got the new pages now. Well done, you two.”
She swept down the hall and into a long, narrow conference room packed with people. They milled around a gigantic oak table laden with snacks, squeezing past each other in a square dance do-see-do of schmooze. A large group huddled in the back with the hot beverage urns. Laughter and energetic conversation bounced around the room.
Carrie recognized one of the actors in the back and hiccupped a gasp.
Natalie Danby! Her brain fluttered. And… oh, god! Colin Naismith!
She bit her lips to keep from squealing and grabbed a handful of Giles’ coat. These were Stars, Big Stars. Danby was one of those actresses who could play anything, be any age, any nationality. Carrie went to every movie she made, no matter how small or quirky. Naismith came from a celebrated theater background. Like Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins, he found character gems and turned them into Oscars. Carrie had no idea this movie had attracted such talent.
She recognized other faces. Oh, the guy in that one series… and Ooo! She played that one girl’s mother in that thing.
Giles reached around and untangled his coat from her fist. “Yer not gonna faint, are ye?”
“Shut up.” She shoved him. “I’m entitled to a squee or two.”
A young girl, college-aged by the look of her scrubbed excitement, wove her way through to them. She clutched a sheaf of papers to her chest.
“This is Becca, my intern,” Fiona said, distracted. “I’ve put her in charge of you, Carrie, so tell her what you need, hmm?”
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Miss Severide,” the girl bubbled as Fiona disappeared. “And you, Mr. MacFayden. I think Moments is a wonderful story. Gracious, you’re both soaked.”
She reached for Carrie’s hair, but stopped herself, blinking. Carrie wondered just how bad it was.
“I’ll find some towels, shall I?” The girl smiled and exchanged two copies of the script for her soggy jacket.
“Thanks.” Carrie relinquished her shoes as well.
Watching the girl bustle out, she blinked at Giles. “My, what a bright, shiny, young thing.”
“Aye, this place is full of pretty pennies,” he muttered, pointing to empty chairs against the wall. “All of them with sharp little teeth. My guess is she fancies herself a writer, so watch she doesn’t gnaw yer ankles.”
Clucking, Carrie took her bag so he could shrug out of his mackintosh. “It’s so sad when a great talent is brought low by cynicism. Ooo! Are those sandwiches? I’m going in.”
She dumped everything into her chair and shouldered her way to the table. A tray with triangles of bland bread looked promising, but the pink stuffing was unrecognizable. She decided on the pineapple cubes instead.
“Tiny tomatoes!” A hand reached from the other side of the table. Carrie looked up at a square woman with gray blonde hair scraped up into a messy bundle. The woman smiled, and her face folded into deep seams.
“Ludmilla Korso,” she said, popping a tomato in her mouth and thrusting out her hand. “Cinematographer.” The east European accent turned the word into a sentence.
“Carrie Severide. I’m… well… I’m not sure what they call me.”
Korso pumped her hand once, then let go. “American? Ah.” She twiddled her fingers around her head and smiled again. “The crazy one.”
Carrie couldn’t help but smile back. “That’s right.”
“Good. Good. You are at my hotel. We will talk, I think.” She pointed at Carrie as another tomato disappeared. “Come with us tomorrow to the hospital. We will need you.” She rummaged through the food and grabbed up a handful of vegetables. “I will tell the girl. Becca.”
Carrie opened her mouth to answer, but the weather in the room suddenly changed. At least that’s what it felt like. The barometric pressure just dropped, she thought, looking up and over the people around her to the front of the room.
An aging linebacker in jeans and a jade cardigan blocked the doorway, dwarfing Fiona who twittered beside him. As he bent his head to hear her, a silvered wave of dark hair fell over his forehead. Thick fingers scrubbed a bearded, diamond-cut jaw.
Robert slipped his hand around the big man’s shoulder and eased him aside. Carrie realized it was the other man’s muscle mass next to tiny Fiona that made him seem gigantic. Beside long, lean Robert, his proportions shrank to nearly normal. Still, there was something.
It was like being caught in a gravity well. The planetary convergence of the two men in the doorway turned faces, quieted conversations. Carrie noticed that some took an unconscious step toward the door.
Whoa, she smiled to herself as she glanced around at the expectant faces. What is this? Charisma? Authority? What? She held her breath, waiting.
“All right,” Daniel Mann said quietly from the doorway. “Can we have the principles at this end, please?”
The spell didn’t exactly break, but it cracked a little as everyone found chairs around the table. Natalie Danby and Colin Naismith snaked upstream to the head of the table, as did the actor Carrie almost recognized. Two vaguely familiar teenagers brushed past her on their way to the front.
Carrie pressed her fingers to her mouth. They must be playing Frank’s children. She drank in every detail as the kids passed, nodding approval at the girl’s dark hair and the boy’s beaky nose. The girl held herself stiffly, fierce in her nervousness. She was perfect.
They went to Robert, who squeezed the boy’s shoulder and beamed at the girl. Natalie Danby joined them, and the estranged family was complete.
Carrie stumbled back to Giles empty-handed.
“I thought you went for sandwiches,” he grumped, shoving a big paper cup of coffee into her hand. “Tastes like horse piss, but it’ll do the job.”
“Natalie Danby is playing the ex?” Carrie managed.
“Aye, great casting, that.” Giles sipped his own sludge and made a face. “Saint Robert’ll have to bring it in those scenes, won’t he?”
“And Colin Naismith?”
“Oh.” Carrie wiped her hand over her face. “I can’t… perfect… those kids…”
Giles nudged her hand holding the coffee. “Down a bit o’that. You’ll come ‘round.”
It was scalding battery acid and hit Carrie’s empty stomach like an instant ulcer. “Augh,” she protested, peering into the cup, then at Giles. “I thought you liked me.”
“Yes,” Daniel said, cutting through the new conversations that had sprung up. “We’ll do a quick round of introductions. Just your name, please, and the name of your character.”
Carrie could only see the back of the director’s head and the curve of his considerable back. He nodded at Robert, who sat across from him. Robert sat up straighter and looked around the table. His face gave away nothing.
“Robert Bierce,” he said, pitching his voice to the back of the room. “I play Frank Devereaux.”
Carrie’s heart thudded in her throat. It was really happening. As the actors took turns around the table, she pictured them saying the words she and Giles sweated onto paper. Some of the choices disappointed her—the woman playing Frank’s sister-in-law seemed too fragile. And the factory foreman didn’t look mean at all.
They’re actors, she reminded herself. Just wait.
“Miss Severide?” Becca whispered beside her.
Carrie looked up at a flowery dish cloth.
“I’m sorry.” The girl looked pale. “This is all I could find.”
Carrie smiled as she took the scrap of linen. She’d almost forgotten about being soaked. She wasn’t sure how a towel could help now anyway unless she sat on a pile of them and squeezed the wet out that way.
“Thank you,” Daniel was saying. “Now let’s hear from the crew.”
A small, dark-skinned man pushed away from the wall down from Giles. “Dev Mukherjee. Second Unit Director.”
Giles turned to her. “Ready?” he whispered.
The man sitting next to Giles stood up. “Philip Gleeson, First A.D.”
Giles got up and Carrie went cold. She thought they would just sit in the back and be invisible.
“Giles MacFayden,” he said. “Screenwriter.”
A few people clapped at that, then the rest of the room joined in. Polite, but sincere. Giles responded with a tight smile as his pink face turned red.
Why, he’s nervous, Carrie realized. This project means more to him than he lets on.
She twisted the dishcloth in both hands as she rose. “I’m Carrie Severide,” she said, forcing herself not to touch the rats’ nest of her hair. “I guess I’m a consultant.”
“Oh, you’re more than that, Miss Severide,” Daniel said, leaning back to see her. He paused as his eyes travelled over her. Carrie dug her bare toes into the carpet. “She’s done enough work on the script for full credits, wouldn’t you say, Giles?”
“Aye. It might be my story, but you lot will be speaking Carrie’s poetry.”
Tears sprang to Carrie’s eyes. Bastard.
“Carrie is our expert in bipolar disorder,” Daniel continued. “She’ll be working closely with Robert, but I suggest you all go to her with your questions. Would that be all right, my dear?”
The actors peered at her like an interesting wet bug, and Carrie started to swallow her tongue. But then her eyes fell on Robert at the head of the table. His forehead pinched in sympathy as he nodded encouragement. She forced herself to remember the space he always created for her and took a deep breath into it.
“I’m here to help any way I can,” she said and sat down.
“Well done,” Giles whispered, “for someone who looks like the back-end of a drowned cat.”
She pinched his arm, hard enough to make him squeak, but no one noticed as the introductions continued. Carrie missed the rest of them. Her ears were singing.
“Scene One,” Daniel announced as scripts around the table rustled. “Interior. Willoughby Cookware Factory…”
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