The Actress - 1
"Crap... Crap... Crap... More crap... Boring crap... Badly WRITTEN crap...Complete, Utter, TOTAL CRAP! Lyn, do you even look at this stuff before you send it on to me? Can't you find something at least half-way good before you make me read it?" Jasper Villante slapped several reams of metal-clipped paper down one at a time on her agent's desk, making a great show of pique.
The agent just smiled indulgently. After more than fifty years in the business, actor tantrums were nothing new. "Jas darling, you don't really expect me to do the reading do you? I have staff for that, and so should you."
"No, I don't have staff, remember? I had to fire George after he let the Bloodbath script go without even asking me about it. And you let him! I would have been perfect for that role, PERFECT! Thanks to the two of you I did not get the Oscar last year."
Lyn knew that Jasper had a point, but she couldn't resist attempting a palliative remark. "That was a substantially different script, you know. I heard that Frank Emerson completely rewrote it without taking any screen credit."
"Really? Can you get me a look at whatever he's doing now?"
"I'll see. Let me talk to his people and get back to you. Don't worry. I'll find you something good."
"Something flashy and contemporary. And not too much makeup, I hate the SF drag."
"I'll see what I can do." Lyn Borysenko winced inwardly. Jasper Villante was indeed becoming famous, but lately it was more for behaving badly in public than for her film work. True, she had starred in that offbeat TV series a few years back, but who remembered that now? She was getting a reputation for having inconvenient 'nervous breakdowns' that somehow usually seemed to end just short of the doors of a rehab clinic. And aside from a short stint as an alien spy in Space Weevils, she hadn't worked in over a year.
"Are you nervous?"
"A little," the small blonde answered.
"Robbie, tell the truth"
"Okay, you know me too well. I am scared witless and I'm pretty sure I will probably stumble on the red carpet and fall flat on my face," Roberta Mackenzie answered her brother.
"It won't be that bad, and if you stumble I am going down with you. Remember... just don't pull a Christine Lahti and be in the restroom when they call your name," her brother teased her as he looked her up and down.
"So big brother-of-mine, are you ready to escort your favorite sister to the Emmys?" she asked with mirth in her voice.
"Considering you are my only sister, I guess I can do that," Michael chuckled as extended his arm for her to take it.
Roberta Mackenzie was a writer for the syndicated cable show Mercy Hospital, and had never expected to be nominated for writing an episode for the show. In fact, her episode almost didn't make the filming schedule but by a stroke of luck, the episode it replaced had legal issues arise. In a last minute decision, executive producer John Hall pushed the script through with very little editing being done on it. As she stood on the set the week of filming, she couldn't believe the late night idea that she frantically typed out had come to life. As the week ended several of the cast members made comments to her about the script, saying it was the best episode they had filmed so far that season. To be complimented by the actors had been reward enough for her, but when she was informed she had been nominated for the Emmy she was on cloud nine for days.
With the nomination had come many outside job offers to write everything from a commercial to a major film. The one that had intrigued her the most was writing a pilot as a vehicle for actress Jasper Villante`.
As the limo slowed to a stop she brought her mind back to the present. Putting on her best smile she took her brother's arm and waved at the team from Performance News as they milled around the area reserved for the press.
They made their way to their seats and let the event wash over them. Robbie tried not to gawk; as an established writer she should be immune to the lure of celebrity by now. But that fact that she had a chance at a big break didn't dim the lights of tinsel-town for her; in fact the reverse was true. She was looking around as the stars began to assemble, when a flash of silver lame caught her eye.
"Pssst! There she is!" Robbie whispered franticly to her brother.
"Who?" Michael wanted to know.
"Jasper Villante! The star of High Heeled Gumshoe! Remember? That crime drama set in the sixties?"
"Oh. THAT. That show you used to drool over every afternoon in secret, when you were supposed to be working," Michael teased. "It only lasted what, two seasons?"
"Four. And I was drooling over her, not the show. It was a forgettable execution of a silly premise, with mediocre has-beens as weekly guest villains. But she was gorgeous, and I had a terrible crush on her."
"No? Really? I'd never have guessed. Just why did you think I schmoozed her agent so hard?"
"Stop it. Yeah, yeah, I had a bigger than life size poster of her plastered on the wall in my bedroom where I could look up those endless legs, so what?"
"Okay, so that was my first clue I was gay," Robbie continued. "All my classmates were in love with her co-star, but I just couldn't get the hots for Barry Lourdes. All I ever dreamed about was her. I can't believe I might get to write for her. Thanks for getting me that, Mike. That really would be a dream come true."
"More than getting an Emmy?"
Robbie tried to catch the actress' eye, but the tall woman slid away like a drop of mercury, moving to her table on the other side of the room, her handsome escort in tow. "I wonder who she's with," Robbie mused. "Do you know the beard?"
"How do you know he's a beard?" Michael teased.
"Wishful thinking. Stop it, before people with cameras start staring at us and not in a good way," she added when her brother hooted with laughter.
Alright. I'll behave." He said, looking suitably dignified as the cameras swept in his direction. "But don't expect me not to cheer when you win."
"IF I win."
Robbie tried to keep the butterflies at bay, and failed miserably. By the time her nomination was read her hands were clammy with sweat and she had to resist looking for some way of wiping them discreetly on the tablecloth. When the envelope was finally opened and the award went to Arthur Fremantle for his work on Murder One, Life In The Subway she didn't even blink, she was so numb with the combination of terror and disappointment.
Still in a daze when the evening was over, she didn't try to catch the eye of her favorite actress, although if she had she might have seen Jasper Villante yawning and peeling the arm of her escort off her torso on the way back to the limo. She also missed the look of sympathy combined with faint speculation that the actress cast in her direction.
Michael had insisted they go to at least three of the after-parties, so Robbie geared herself up, plastered a smile on her face, and tried to hold it in place with gin and tonic. By the time Michael poured her into bed in the smoggy dawn she could hardly remember her own name.
When she woke late that afternoon, it was to a dozen roses from Michael and a reminder that just being nominated made her hot property. She downed four aspirin and a large glass of water, and sat down at the computer. A flash of silver lame flickered across her memory, and still not properly awake, she began to type.
It was several weeks later when the call from Lyn Borysenko, summoning her to a script conference, came at last. Roberta had been kicking around a lot of different ideas for the actress' pilot. It was almost too freeing to be given such a wide-open assignment; usually she had to fit her story into a strict formula. But this time she actually had the ability to write her own bible, and for one of her most idolized performers, too. She was almost as nervous when she walked into the agent's office as she had been at the Emmys, if such a thing were possible. Michael had a last minute emergency, so he bailed on her. He had offered to reschedule, but she was eager to get to work, so she had decided to go by herself. She paused outside the door for a moment, gathering herself, while the young, exaggeratedly gay boy who managed Borysenko's office, buzzed his boss.
From where she was standing she couldn't help but hear the raised voice on the other side of the door.
"What the FUCK is this fucking SHIT and who the HELL is the CUNT who wrote it?"
Robbie faltered a moment before the blast, but anger gave her the impetus to swing the door open with perhaps slightly more force than necessary. Her first impression was that there were far too many people in the room. Her second was that Jasper Villante was dressed to insult them. Her idol was sitting cross-legged in an office chair, knees poking through ripped jeans, her hair in a tangle, one arm pointing accusingly right at the open door and the writer standing in it.
She caught the actress in a full headlight glare, and moved to her seat with all the dignity she could muster.
Lyn Borysenko intervened, smooth as oil on hot pavement, making introductions as if no one had said a word, while Jasper's expression hardened into a scowl. Robbie decided her best strategy was to be sweet and pretend she hadn't thought the actress was talking about her.
It wasn't easy to do when the actress slammed her treatment down on the agent's desk with the comment, "I HATE this SHIT." But Robbie had been around Hollywood for a while and she had a sneaking suspicion the actress was testing her, or perhaps just playing with her to see how she would respond. Would she knuckle under at the first opposition? Could the woman make her cry? Would she back down or suck up? Neither was the right response.
She took her cue from Lyn's calm demeanor and kept her cool as she asked, "And which fresh cloaca has been flowing today?"
She could see that Jasper didn't want to smile, nonetheless a tiny smirk lurked in the corner of her mouth. The suits—all producers, she later found out—simply stared.
Despite its bad beginning, the meeting went on relatively normal lines after that. It turned out that what Jas hated was the idea of a medical drama. Robbie wondered why Lyn had invited her to submit a pilot, in that case, since her Emmy nomination was for just that. When she explained that she was more interested in stories than gore Jasper seemed to relax, but Robbie wondered about Lyn's idea of what was 'suitable'.
"Jasper is just like her name," Robbie complained afterwards when she recapped the meeting for Michael. "She's hard as a stone, nothing but common flint with cheap sparklies applied. And Lyn Borysenko doesn't have a creative bone in her body."
"Well, that's your job, Snookums," Michael replied. "Agents aren't supposed to do that. We just get the best jobs and the most money for our clients."
"But you have to have some imagination or you won't be able to find what's right for your client."
"No, that's casting's job. You're the idea person. Don't sweat the other stuff. Do you want me to tell Lyn to get lost? Shall I make the mean stupid actress go away?"
"No... No. The funny thing is that even though she was so rude, I... I kind of liked her."
"You have a crush on her, doll. That's different."
"No, she was totally different than what I'd imagined, not like 'Greta Gumshoe' at all. But there was something about her I liked. I really do want to write for her. Just... it will have to be something different—a challenge."
"I know how you just loooove those," Michael grinned. "You hated your sixth-grade social studies teacher so much that you wrote your term paper on the cultural implications of sewage treatment."
"I got an 'A', I'll have you know."
"I remember, kiddo. I'm sure you'll get one from Jasper and Lyn too, if that's what you want."
"And your job is to see they pay me well for it, Big Bro."
"Consider it done."
They had several more meetings, both with full representation, although fewer suits, at which Jasper was a different woman; she was charming, polite, attentive—And acting every second, Robbie was convinced. Whoever the real Jasper Villante was, she'd been stuffed away. It made Robbie's teeth ache just to look at her, and her ideas refused to gel.
She finally had a tantrum of her own, and ended up sobbing in the ladies room. She was pouring cold water on her face when the actress came in.
"Are you alright?" Jasper asked.
"Not really, no." Robbie answered. "I can't even begin to have an idea before Michael is doing percentages in his head, and then I can't finish my thought. It just makes me..."
"Frustrated. Yeah, me too. If Michael doesn't interrupt you, Lyn does. You know that line from Cat on Hot Tin Roof?"
Robbie laughed suddenly and her voice took on a deep bass southern drawl. "There's a powerful odor of mendacity in this room," she quoted.
The accuracy of her delivery surprised a laugh out of Jasper. "That's the one." She took up the accent. "And it stinks, Big Daddy. It stinks to high Heaven." She paused before resuming her normal voice. "Listen. I know you're a good writer. Despite what Lyn will tell you, the money isn't in place yet anyway." She scribbled something on a card, and handed it over. "Take my cell number, and give me a call if you want to just talk about some ideas. If not—no big deal. Okay?"
"Sure. Take mine, too."
"So I was thinking, the lawyer bit has been done to death already. I'm sick of playing detective, it's mostly just trying to look scared to spooky music." Jasper held her cell phone in one hand while she doodled on a lined pad of yellow paper. She watched the hummingbirds squabble over their feeder. The last meeting had ended so inconclusively she'd felt compelled to have a recap with the writer. She could have had a meeting at either agent's office, but it was much more pleasant to sit out by the pool.
"Yeah, I hear you. And aliens are out too, right?"
"Yeah, I know Lyn would love to see me in 20 pounds of sponge latex every morning at 4 am, but please, no."
"Hey, remember that book that was such a big seller, about that female fishing boat captain?"
"One word: Wet. You want me to spend the rest of my working life as a prune?"
"Ha, ha. No, I'm sure there's plenty of things a boat captain has to do ashore—find the crew, break up bar fights, deliver the bad news to the widow, you know, things like that."
"Do I get to console the widows too?"
"Do you...What? Did you just ask what I think you just asked?"
"Hey, gay is in right now. Lesbians are hot. I wouldn't mind. I wouldn't mind at all."
"Well, wadda'yah know?'
"More than I'm telling, Miss Fishy. Put that on your rod and play it."
Robbie hadn't been able to stop laughing for the rest of the week.
Lyn and Michael were not amused. Both of them screamed "lawsuit" before the title was read. So it was back to the drawing board—or in Robbie's case, the hard drive.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
Click, crackle, "Yeah?"
"It's Robbie—Roberta Mackenzie."
"Robbie. What's on your mind?"
"I've been thinking. I... well, I got inspired. So I was wondering. Would you like to set up a meeting to read the result?"
"Sure. How about now? I'm not busy."
"Now? Is Lyn free?"
"I don't want Lyn looking over my shoulder. She makes me... she makes me want to behave badly. Why don't you come over here and we'll kick around some more ideas, just the two of us?"
"Ah, you don't want to be without your rep. I can understand that. Never mind, I'll see you Monday week at the regular conference."
"It's not that. I... Are you sure?
"Am I sure of what?"
"That you want a face to face, I guess."
There was a long, static-y silence, followed by a sigh. "Yeah. I do. I like the way you bounce ideas on your feet. It's... it's more creative that way. Lyn and Michael are too controlling. I know they just want to protect us, but I have a hard time thinking that way."
"Good huh, or bad huh?"
"Good, I think. Okay. I'll meet you. Where?"
"Why don't you come over here?"
"Sorry. My home. I don't live far from you, actually."
Directions followed, and Robbie realized she knew the area very well.
"You want me to pick up anything for you?"
"Oh I don't know. Some corned beef from Jerry's Deli? Bagels?"
"Ha! Nah, I'm fine. Just park on the street at the side of the drive and I'll be there to open the gate for you."
When she found the number on the mailbox, Robbie was even more surprised. She'd stopped at Gelson's on the way, and bought flowers—'you may not get the food right, but you can't go wrong with flowers,' she thought—realizing very quickly that Jasper's home was hardly more than two blocks away. But close as it was to the bustling intersection, the property was one that had always fascinated Robbie. Hidden behind high oleander hedges, she knew it must stretch back far from the street, and no houses overlooked it from the bluff above. On the street side, the sidewalk was cracked and the palms shaggy, giving the place an unkempt, abandoned look. She parked and got out, trying to catch a glimpse of anything beyond the privacy gate, and failing. But as soon as she rang the bell the gate slid open and she found herself in something like a Frances Hodgeson Burnett Secret Garden. Hidden behind the dusty unkempt vegetation was a magical world.
A short driveway led to a small and rather shabby garage, where she saw Jasper's Mercedes parked. Jasper herself appeared from the gatehouse on her left, and accepted the flowers with some surprise. As they walked back into the property, Robbie was enchanted by the rather wild, haphazard landscaping. It was as if everything had been crammed together in one lot and allowed to grow unchecked for a hundred years. There were huge agaves, a cedar walk, and enormous palm trees towering over all the other vegetation. Geraniums sprawled and a very old orchard gave off the scent of orange-blossom.
The house, when they reached it, was a simple stucco bungalow-style structure, rather small, with the ubiquitous red tile roof. But a large terrace was beside it, and a strange, black swimming pool, seemingly carved whole out of rock. Ancient live oaks bent over the house and terrace, and from the other side of the pool, spiky bird-of-paradise plants pointed their unlikely blooms back at them. Outlined in sun, a cat was peacefully lapping at the pool.
Catching Robbie's stare, Jasper explained, "No pool chemicals—it's some kind of enzyme. Don't ask me how it works, but if Ozma will drink out of it, I know the water must be fine."
"It's amazing. Did you put it in?"
"Yeah, my one big indulgence. But the animals love it."
"Do you have a lot of pets?"
"Three cats. I like their independence, the way they do what they please. And they keep each other entertained while I'm away at work." The actress sighed. "I had a dog once, but—" she grimaced and suddenly shifted back to being the perfect hostess. "Now. Can I get you something? You needn't drink the pool, I assure you." Jasper laid a soft hand on her arm and a shiver ran down Robbie's spine.
Robbie laughed and accepted a gin and tonic. She felt a sense of unreality drift over her, caused in part by the magical place and partly by the charming woman who seemed to have nothing better to do than to flatter and flirt with her.
She brought up her idea-changing the ship to a girls' school.
Jasper immediately said, "Lucy Snowe."
"Wow. Not too many people read the Brontes in Hollywood." She grinned.
"Oh, I do. It's great when you're waiting around between takes. You know, I always wondered if Lucy Snowe and Madame Heger had something going on the side."
"You mean with each other? That would make for an interesting series. You could play it so many different ways."
"Exactly. And keeping it in the past allows for more—more suggestibility, don't you think?" Jasper's voice dropped. It astounded Robbie how she could infuse simple words with sensuality.
"More erotically charged, you think? When attraction is suggested, more than graphically shown?"
"Ye—esss." Jasper looked at her with what could only be described as a leer, and Robbie felt her body tighten under the taller woman's gaze, as if the glance alone brushed her nipples and caused her stomach to jump. Jasper looked away again, back at the pool, as if Robbie hadn't flushed in response. "Can I freshen your drink?" The actress murmured.
"Sure." Robbie's voice squeaked, her breath catching on the simple word. But Jasper had pulled back again.
Robbie wasn't sure how the afternoon passed so quickly, what they actually talked about, or how many drinks she had. She just kept drinking, laughing, and egging the tall actress on. Jasper was charming and acerbic by turns; Robbie never knew what would come out of her mouth.
To her somewhat foggy perception Jasper seemed to simply sip at the same endless glass of red wine, but Robbie had a moment of clarity when the house-tour paused in Jasper's bedroom, and their eyes met. The moment was electric, and suddenly she couldn't breathe, despite her gasping attempts to suck in enough oxygen for a small hospital. 'In one second she's going to kiss me' Robbie thought. 'And it may never happen again, but I'm going to have the most memorable ride of my life.'
Her predictions proved accurate.
The kiss was possessive and hard, and Jasper was both rude and aggressive, but somehow Robbie found it all the more exciting. The way the actress leered at her and insisted on keeping her 'safe' when opening a box of latex gloves—the way she snapped them as she pulled them on, the way she muttered "Fuck you" when she tried to kiss her back—it was like walking into a room at the zoo, and suddenly finding herself sharing a cage with the panther. Hands moved her, pressed-pulled. She kept gasping for air.
Then her clothes were gone, she was lying down, and skin was rasping on skin, hands pushing, pulling.... The friction made her squirm harder, trying to get the hands to stop, just for a second, to linger—the mouth devouring, and when she least expected it, a little nip took her breath completely away. The hands grasped her buttocks, slid down her thighs, quick, insistent, rough. She pushed back, the impassioned wrestling only increasing her excitement. But when the taller woman's hand slid up the inside of her thigh, it slowed and the touch became strangely gentle. Robbie's soft and delicate tissues found it exactly right. 'I've never been a screamer' she thought, hearing a voice, loud, from a distance. But then thought ended, and she was carried off in a tide of pure sensation.
She was floating in a puddle of sweaty euphoria, completely unable to form a coherent thought, when suddenly it struck her—she was in bed with Jasper Villante, THE Jasper Villante. She looked over and met the blue eyes that were watching her warily. Whatever was in her own eyes, it must not have been good, because the actress gave a moody snort and jumped up from the bed, pulling on her robe and tying it viciously around her waist.
"All right. You got your trophy fuck. Now get out!" Jasper growled.
"You got what you wanted, isn't that enough? Now can I have some peace?"
Robbie noticed that Jasper was shaking, and there were tears starting to form in her eyes, and she had a suspicion that for once the actress wasn't acting.
"Is that what you thought? That I'm here for the boasting rights? That I have some kind of...of...wall of celebrity fluids somewhere? That's not fair!" Robbie was about to burst into tears, and for once she didn't care. She let loose the howls she suddenly realized she had wanted to indulge for a long, long time. Jasper seemed to be caught off guard; she pulled back and waited out the storm. When it subsided, she held out a large print handkerchief. Finally Robbie accepted it, blew her nose and said, "Well, I don't."
"Indulge in trophy fucks."
"No. Well... I made a big mistake once. Everyone's got to make at least one stupid gaffe when they get to LA. Mine was that I thought Bill Plankton really cared about me."
The actress snorted, even though she was still on edge.
"Yeah, well, that's how naive I was when I moved out here," Robbie went on. "I do care about you, Jas. I didn't come over here for boasting rights."
"How can you care about me? You don't even know me. You fell in love with a stupid TV character like everyone else."
"I did not. Okay, I had a crush on you when you were on High-Heeled Gumshoe. So did every lesbian in America. But this isn't like that, I'm not like that, and you aren't either."
"So what am I like?"
"On the surface you are a spoiled bitch who has had too many of her tantrums indulged. Underneath that you are a bruised bisexual who's been taken advantage of by the best in the business. You have intimacy issues you couldn't fit in a fleet of Atlas vans, which is why you only really trust plants and maybe, just maybe, animals, but not, not, not people. It doesn't take a lot to guess how you got here from there. I was one of Billy Plankton's office interns. I know exactly how the business works, now. I sure didn't back then."
There was silence while the actress absorbed the writer's remarks. When Jasper finally spoke, it was in a calm, thoughtful, conversational tone. "Emory Moffit sold my underwear on ebay. And nude pictures."
"My last agent before Lyn. I slept with him too. As soon as the show was a hit he was making more dough off me on the Internet than in agents fees. And you want to know the really sick thing? If he'd gotten me the ad work for the underwear I would have let him."
"But he didn't."
"Do you trust Lyn?"
"Not as far as you could throw her."
"That's not real far, hon." Robbie looked to see if the actress would respond to the endearment. But she simply continued.
"Yeah, that's my point. Do you trust Michael?"
"Explicitly. That's the good part about having an agent who's family."
"Well, Lyn's family too, not the same way; but I know what you mean." Jasper sighed, and there was a brief pause while they sat quietly together, but more comfortably this time.
"Listen, let's try this again." Robbie broke the silence.
"Let's pretend we didn't just have wild sex and go back to having a story meeting."
"Well, why not? Neither one of us is going to be able to sleep. We might as well get some work done."
Jasper gave a heavy sigh. "You're probably right. Okay, where were we? I want an action drama and you want to do a bisexual remake of Villette."
"That about sums it up. Although if I based it on you it would be more like Beastmaster meets Bringing Up Baby."
Jasper laughed, and began to relax, for the first time that evening. "No, it would be more like Cat-Mommie Dearest meets Liquid Sky, I'm afraid."
"Oh, god, you're a drug addict too?"
"Actually, no. But everyone else is, so I'm just going along with the program. It saves explanation when I just want to be alone. I pretend I'm in rehab. It's the only way to keep them off my cunt. So to speak."
They talked on through the night, sharing favorite lines from favorite movies, scenes by favorite writers. The sun found them still sitting on the deck by the pool, the actress in a quilted jacket, the writer wrapped in a large fleece blanket.
"I'll go make some coffee," Jas offered at last. "I guess those bagels you mentioned would come in handy about now, I'm sorry I nixed them. But I do have cereal, and if you want fruit, you can pick it yourself—as you can see I have grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, and if you are in a truly sour mood, some lemons over there." She indicated the orchard.
"Actually I can't drink coffee any more. If you have any tea—"
"Indian or China?"
"China, please. Not too strong."
"Just black—I mean green—please."
"Coming right up. Oatmeal?"
The sun strengthened, and as light and warmth crept over her, Robbie fell asleep in her chair. She was vaguely aware of a large tortoiseshell cat settling in her lap and purring contentedly, and she reached out to stroke her, but fell asleep in the process. By the light it was some time later when Jasper's voice woke her out of a very pleasant dream.
"Ozma doesn't give her paw of approval to just anyone, Robbie. You must be a special human, if you get lappage from her."
"Huh?" Robbie came fully awake, and for the first time in several hours repossessed her wits in complete sobriety. "Did I just have one hell of a dream? Or did last night actually happen?"
"To the best of my recollection, it happened. The marks on your neck appear to provide corroborating evidence."
"I hope you won't be offended if I say I don't usually do things like that."
"No. I don't either. How do you feel?"
"Exhausted. How do you feel?"
"I'm also very embarrassed. I never intended..."
"Let's just skip over this part. Can we? It happened. Neither of us makes a habit of it, it was just one of those things. We got it out of our systems, now we can get on with work without it interfering. Okay?"
Robbie looked up at the actress's brisk summation. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but it seemed best to agree for the moment, so she did. There was a very nicely arranged tray of breakfast on the table next to her, and she helped herself to some melon and cereal.
They ate slowly and in silence, watching the hummingbirds go from flower to flower on the orange trees, the dry scents of cedar and eucalyptus drifting down to them from the hillside. The drone of distant helicopters seemed far away, the traffic and bustle of the busy streets lost somewhere beyond the oleanders. Stirred by a light breeze, the bougainvillea nodded overhead. The peace of the place was beginning to sink into Robbie's bones, and she could understand why the actress had fallen in love with this particular spot; she had enough acreage to make it seem almost like unspoiled country.
The dream almost took hold again, but she knew she must get home in the brief lull before the afternoon rush hour. She got up, kissed Jas on the cheek, collected her purse and began walking back toward the street. Jasper got up and walked with her, linking their arms. They strolled down to the gate and Jas opened it. She turned to Robbie and gave her a solid lingering kiss on the mouth, taking her time but not insisting. It was passionate, yet friendly, a kiss between two people who know each other well, and Robbie sensed she'd arrived in some way.
"You did WHAT?" Michael screamed at his sister, when he heard her answer to his mock serious 'where the hell were you' speech. She'd come home to several increasingly frantic messages on her voicemail, dumped her dying cell onto the charger, and called back on a landline.
"I spent the night at Jasper Villante's," Robbie patiently repeated. "Having a story conference," she added, crossing her fingers hopefully.
"Humph." Michael snorted. "Well, as long as you don't get involved with her. All you have to do is glance at the tabs to know she's trouble. Did you make any progress with the pilot?"
"I think so." Robbie took the subject change with some relief. "I have a whole new idea." Her brother groaned, and after a few more repetitions of the same information, they hung up.
It was only three days later, when an exhausted Robbie typed "The End" on a full two-hour pilot. Somehow she had bypassed the treatment phase entirely, and written a whole screenplay. It was nothing at all like what they had talked about, but inspiration had struck and she just went with it, typing as fast as she could. She printed out a copy, called the messenger service, and sent the script on its way to the prickly actress before collapsing into bed.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?" Jasper's voice screaming in her answering machine drew Robbie out of sound slumber. She stumbled into her living room/ office and picked up the phone.
"I said, who the HELL are you? How did you get this? Who sent it to you?"
"What?" Robbie could tell that Jasper was completely frantic, but she was still disoriented; she had no idea what time it was, or how long she had been asleep.
"This damn SCRIPT! Where did you get it?"
"Jasper, I WROTE it. If you don't like it—"
"You COULDN'T have written it. I just want to know where it came from, that's all."
"Can I take it that you hate this one too?"
"NO! YES! That's not the point."
The actress was hysterical, but Robbie couldn't understand why. She was still half asleep and the woman on the other end of the line was screaming at her incoherently. When she heard the word "lawyer" followed quickly by "restraining order" she hung up.
She sighed. Silently debating whether or not to just get up she roamed into her tiny kitchen and began to make a cup of tea. Rather than soothing her, though, her stomach just rebelled at the idea. She dumped it in the sink and went back to bed, convinced she would never get back to sleep.
Pounding on her door woke her. Disoriented, she fought the blanket and pillow and tried to see the clock. She knocked it to the floor, fumbling in the dark. She slumped back, trying to ignore the noise, hoping it would stop, but it persisted. Finally she got mad enough to get out of bed and into a robe. She stumbled to the security peephole. Unable to believe her eyes, she turned on the porch light. It did not improve the sight of Jasper Villante, unkempt, desperate, alternately leaning on the bell and pounding on the door.
"Am I hallucinating?" Robbie asked herself. Aloud she yelled, "It's no good pushing the bell. It's broken."
"Please. Let me in." Jasper seemed slightly calmer when answered by a real person.
"Jasper. It's the middle of the frickin' night. You're out of control. I'm asleep. What can you possibly have to say that can't wait for morning?"
"Look, I know, I know. It's late. But can't we just settle this? I'll write you a check, I'll do whatever you want."
"I brought bagels."
'This gets more surreal every minute' Robbie thought. "I don't want bagels, I want to go back to sleep." She called.
"You are keeping me and I suspect half the neighborhood up past our bedtimes. Now will you just go home or do I have to call the cops and have you removed?"
"Please. If we can just—I just want to talk. I won't take long, I promise.'
'I am a first class idiot,' Robbie thought as she began undoing locks. 'It's a sign of impaired judgment that I'm even considering this.' She got the door open, and stood aside to let the actress in.
Jasper was looking more of a wreck than usual; her face was dead white, and there were dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was a tangled mess. But she was clearly making an effort to control herself. She came in and took a seat at the one table that served as Robbie's combined desk, counter, and dining table. She dropped a bag on the table and pulled out her checkbook.
"Look." Jasper's tone was businesslike. "I don't know how you know Sandy, or how you figured out who I was. I don't want to make an issue out of it. I just want to make it all go away. How much is that going to take?"
"I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. My god, you really did bring bagels."
"You know Jerry's. Always open." There was a pause. "I'm serious."
"I'm confused. It's the middle of the night; I've been up for two days—more like three days—writing. I have to sleep or I will become psychotic. You, it appears, are already there. Can't you just take your meds like a good girl and let our agents fix it in the morning?"
"NO!" Jasper seemed frightened as much as angry. "No. Please, keep Lyn out of it. Let's just settle. Look, even if the pilot were picked up you wouldn't get more than 35 grand probably, less Union fees and commission. I'll give you fifty clear, we say goodbye, you give Sandy her cut and we never have to speak again. Okay?"
"I don't—who the hell is Sandy?"
"Don't be cute. I don't know how you found her, but that material had to come from somewhere."
"That material, as you call it, came out of my admittedly demented brain and nowhere else. Have you been drinking?"
"No. No, why?"
Robbie leaned over to smell her breath. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. No. I haven't been drinking."
"Good. Wait right there." As Jasper stared at her in bewilderment, Robbie vanished into the bathroom and reappeared a moment later with a glass and a small blue pill. "Now, take this."
"What is it?"
"It's my emergency dental Valium. We cancelled the last cleaning, so I still have it. I think you need it much more than I do."
"You have to take Valium to get your teeth cleaned?"
"Braces, wisdom teeth, long story. The last time I bit him my dentist changed his mind and agreed that giving me something to relax was a good idea."
"Okay." Jasper swallowed the pill. They sat in silence. "Any minute now I'll be feeling much better," she murmured. "I hate that waiting period, when you know it's going to kick in, but hasn't yet."
"Yeah. I think of it as waiting for the chemical police to show up."
Jasper laughed in spite of herself. "The chemical police?"
Robbie smiled. "Yup. The mood cops. The guys in little blue suits who come get your anxieties and haul them off to jail."
"You know, I think there's a skit in that."
"Maybe there is." Robbie paused while they looked at each other, still tense. She desperately wanted to end the moment, and yet she wanted to draw it out at the same time. Finally she spoke again. "More water? I hate that dry mouth feeling"
Jasper shrugged. "Sure." She sat for a moment, still vibrating, when a thought occurred to her. "You bit your dentist? Did you break the skin?"
"Three stitches. And a tetanus shot."
"Oh, god, no wonder you managed to get the info out of Sandy."
"Not for the first time, Jasper, WHO THE HELL is Sandy?"
"The one you called Blanche in your screenplay. Has she changed her name, or what?"
"Jasper. Listen to me very carefully. I wrote a screenplay from my im-ag-in-a-tion. That thing I sent over to you this afternoon? I made it up, every word."
"You made it up? You made it UP? But you couldn't have. That dialogue, nobody else was in the room except Sandy and me, and the damn dead dog. How did you know what we said? And how did you get my name, anyway? Nobody knows that, not Lyn, not Emory—no one."
"Aw, come—" The actress had to stop to yawn, suddenly, "...on." Jasper languidly riffled through the pages of the screenplay she was still carrying. "The vet, name of Florence. That was how I was sh—sure you were blackmailing me."
"WHAT? Jasper, I'm not blackmailing you. You want the script to go away, fine. Hit delete, shred your copy, it's gone forever." Robbie motioned to the computer that occupied half the table.
"You're kidding. Why would you do that? I'm offering money, here."
"Jasper, contrary to local belief, NOT everything is about money. I know you may have a hard time accepting this, but god help me I really wanted to work with you. If that means tossing three days work, so be it. I want to find something YOU want to do. I idolized your TV show, I had a major crush on you, part of me still can't believe I get to work with you. Why is that so hard to understand?"
The actress slumped in her chair, eyes beginning to glaze, and for a moment Robbie thought she might just fall asleep there.
But Jasper cleared her throat, took a sip of water and began to speak.
"I was 16 when I ran away to New York. I was determined to get into Show Business and become famous. I used up the last of my babysitting money on a fake ID. I bummed around the streets on the Lower East Side and hung around the clubs, just sleeping with different guys to have places to stay. Eventually I landed a part in a really dreadful play about war refugees in the Amazon jungle. Ironically enough, I was playing the part of the girl who gets sacrificed and eaten—"
Although she didn't want to interrupt, Robbie couldn't help laughing. "Oh, God I know JUST the Off-Off-Broadway scene you were in. Was nudity involved?"
"Full frontal. And throwing food."
"Yup. You got it. And potatoes. Or turnips, I forget which. And the set was mostly black garbage bags, representing environmental devastation, or something."
"Or no budget," Robbie agreed. "Yeah, go on."
"Anyway, I was getting smeared with lime Jell-O and baring my avant-garde bush five late nights a week when I met Sandy. She was nine years older than I was, and claimed to be working for an agent. We ended up having an affair, and I moved into her apartment. It was great for about, oh, six weeks or so, and then we started to fight about all kinds of things—household stuff, auditions, sex, everything. She used to bring guys over to watch me 'audition'—" Jasper choked.
"Let me guess. Nudity was involved." Robbie's voice hardened.
Jasper nodded and hung her head.
"And sex," Robbie hazarded. "Oh, Jasper—"
Jasper nodded again, and a few tears flowed into her eyes, but did not fall.
"And you thought it was all part of the business."
"I was seventeen pretending to be 21, what the hell did I know?"
"Jasper, I'm so sorry."
"Ahhh, well. In a way, it was good prep for LA. But anyway, I had this dog, a really sweet mutt I'd picked up in the park. Named her Sophie. Sandy hated her at first, but then she wanted to use her in one of our 'scenes'. I just thought that was sick, and refused. It was the first time her control over me had really slipped, and she lost it. She threatened me with a knife, and when I still wouldn't do what she wanted she stabbed the dog—slit her throat, actually. We fought and I got cut. Later I realized that the dog bled to death. By then it was about two o'clock in the morning, and I tried to get out, but she got between me and the door, got me by the hair, and pounded my face into the floor. At last I pretended to give in, but she wouldn't let me up. We sat there all night, her holding me hostage next to the dog's body—"
"Oh, Jasper. Oh, My God. What—How—Did you get away?"
"Well, eventually it got to be morning. I just pretended everything was normal, and offered to go up to the Vesalka and get us some breakfast take-out. She told me to wash my face and change, so I did. I walked out and never went back."
"God, what did you do?"
"On the street I ran into the woman who owned the theatre—she was a really great woman, despite her taste in plays—and she iced my face, taped up the cuts, and loaned me the money for a bus ticket to LA. I dyed my hair, changed my name from Florence Bell to Jasper Villante, slept with a real agent, and got some work. But as you see—"
"Oh, god, I gave you a script about a vet who has to patch up an abused dog—I called my characters Blanche Sands and Florence Graham—"
"Yeah. And you got Sandy's exact words. 'The dog is wise enough to know what's good for it'. I still don't know what your connection to Sandy is, but I promise you she's more trouble than she's worth. Just let me pay you whatever you want and call it quits. Okay?"
"Jasper, you have to believe I didn't know any of this, not with my conscious mind. I had a dream about a serial killer and a dog, blood on an oak parquet floor—" Robbie paused as Jasper gasped. "I didn't put that in the script, but I got that one right too, didn't I?"
Jasper nodded, hand over her mouth.
Robbie knew that the only reason the actress wasn't sobbing was that the chemical police had removed quite a lot of her ability to feel anything at all. She pondered how to handle the situation. Slowly she got up, and took the now-damp script out of the actress's cold, shaking hands. She took off the clips and fed it, clump by clump, into her shredder. Then she went over to her computer and slowly disconnected it, wire by wire. She picked up the computer, carried it out to the sidewalk, and placed it on its side.
Jasper watched her with bemused fascination. When Robbie came back in and began rummaging about under the sink she finally asked, "What are you doing?"
"Some things just shouldn't be allowed to happen, " Robbie said, her voice quavering as she picked up the hammer. "I'm sorry that happened to you. I'm sorry I brought up bad memories. I know I can't make yours go away, but I can keep you from having to re-live them." With that she went out and proceeded to beat her computer to death, while the actress watched in shock.
As pieces of the case flew in every direction and tears flowed down the writer's cheeks, Jasper's drug-muted fear evaporated. After a few minutes, she went out and watched as the writer smashed the lord only knew how many files, how many hopes and dreams, how much potential income—"Wait," She called, too late to stop the damage.
Robbie didn't answer. She just continued sobbing and smashing the defenseless machine.
She was too involved in her own emotions to notice the patrol car until she heard Jasper say, "Uh-oh. Here comes trouble."
"Ladies? Is there a problem?" The officer leaned out of his window while his partner sat at the wheel.
Jasper strolled over to the car, dripping sensuality, a sly smile on her face. "I'm Jasper Villante, officer," she began unnecessarily. "My colleague is a writer from Mercy Hospital, who is developing a new project for me. We were having a difficult script conference, and finally decided to just take the mature approach and blame it all on the computer."
"Is that true, Miss?"
"Yes, officer," Robbie said; now thoroughly embarrassed.
A few minutes later the officers left, still laughing, with autographs from both women.
Robbie turned to Jasper, and watched as the murky sun began to penetrate the haze, outlining the actress in light.
"We have had a night, haven't we?" Jasper observed.
Robbie nodded silently, wiping the tears away as she stood by the pile of debris.
Jasper looked at her. "You really didn't have to do that. I'm sorry I got so wigged. I know it won't make up for everything you lost, but I'll buy you a new computer. About the dream—I believe you. I just—" Jasper struggled to find words.
"No, don't. I'm sorry too. I've never had anything like that happen before. Honest."
"I believe you." There was another pause. "It felt really good to let that out, actually," the actress sighed. "I guess I never realized how much hold on me my past really had. How heavy the secret was. I feel a lot lighter."
"I promise, I won't tell anyone."
Jasper looked closely at her. "I know you won't."
"What ever happened to Sandy?"
"I don't know. As I got more famous I kept being afraid she'd recognize me and show up demanding money, but it never happened. Maybe Gumshoe was never big in the East Village"
"In my dream," Robbie said slowly, "The whole thing took place in Florida."
"You know, Florida executed a female serial killer not long ago, as a matter of fact. She was caught after trying to kill an undercover vice cop. I remember reading about it in the paper...that's partly what gave me the idea, I guess. Do you suppose it could have been—?"
"I don't know, but we can find out. I'd still recognize her picture. If it was really her—If I'm finally free— What's wrong?" Jasper asked.
"Overtired," Robbie sobbed. Jasper opened her arms and Robbie settled into them, relaxing as the actress stroked her back. "Maybe hungry, too. I forget to eat when I'm writing." Robbie mumbled into a warm shoulder.
"How about we go get some food, then? I'll buy, it's the very least I can do, after keeping you up all night doing therapy for me."
After breakfast they parted and Robbie was at last able to collapse. She slept for twenty-six hours, and was just struggling towards her first cup of tea, when someone knocked on her front door. "Oh, no, not again," she sighed. But it was just a delivery person. She let the woman in, only to be completely bewildered by the boxes that spilled over her table and onto the floor. Once opened, she found she had a complete new computer system, including a flat-screen monitor, a DVD player, exceptional speakers, a laptop, and a handheld.
She was still putting it together when another delivery arrived, a dozen roses with a card made of hand-made paper. 'Every time we have a story meeting,' the card said, 'something disastrous happens. So how about coming over here for dinner and a night of wild sex? That way we might actually get some work done. With all my love and apologies, Jasper.' "Jasper!" Robbie muttered. "The woman never does anything half-way, does she?"
She dressed carefully for the dinner, and drove slowly through the back streets to Jasper's home, avoiding the freeway. Dusk was falling; Jasper greeted her warmly and steered her to a beautifully laid table on the terrace. Delicious food released appetizing smells, and chilled wine sat on the bar. They fed each other morsels, and drank very moderately, being more interested in drinking in each other than dulling their senses. Shortly after the chocolate course they retired to Jasper's bedroom, but once there they took their time. They both knew that this was going to be more than a casual affair and neither needed to say a word.
The next morning, after they had been swimming and were lying naked at the poolside, sunning their bodies dry, Robbie said suddenly, "That's IT!"
"The solution for the pilot. It's not a girl's school; it's a mental hospital. You'll be the doctor in charge. You'll use conventional medicine—on the surface—But you'll heal the characters by going into their dream realities. I'll get to use my medical background. You'll get to show a lot of range. We can change guest stars at any time, we can do issues, we can do science fiction, we can do family drama—we can do anything we want.
"I like it. I want it. I want you to write it. I want... you."
Jasper leaned over and kissed her, and Robbie suddenly knew that they were going to have a long future together, one that needed no contract ratification.
"Done." She said.