Art by Ron Chironna
by James L. Ross
Lights came up, and the screenwriter Mark Elliot Tedescu rose as applause rattled through the private theater. “The movie hasn’t been scored yet,” he said.
“It doesn’t need music,” said his agent, who stood beside him. “Mark, it’s the best thing you’ve written.” For a moment he seemed to want to say more, but his eyes misted.
Tedescu smiled. “Thank you, Jeremy.”
A handful of seats away, a young woman whispered to an older man beside her, whose name was Hugh Brewster, “Enjoy the movie?”
Hugh kept his eyes on the people surrounding Mark Tedescu. He said, “I stayed awake.”
The young woman remained slumped in her leather chair. She said, “All that’s missing, besides music and popcorn, is a fresh idea.”
Her name was Jennifer Stiles. Her role in the film they had watched had ended forty minutes in, when her character either was murdered or committed suicide. She had yawned watching the bathtub scene, with its drip-drip-drip homage to Hitchcock. The gravitas of the script, she had told Hugh Brewster, was that the questions of how she had died, and why she had died, were never taken up in the remaining hundred minutes of the film. “I’m a political casualty, collateral damage,” she explained, “and that makes me unimportant. That’s Mark’s theme. How the little people are thrown away.”
The comment, which had come several hours ago at lunch, could have been an invitation for Hugh or the director, who was also present, to assure her that her portrayal of the doomed character was superb. Hugh had let the moment pass, and she was good enough at the game that she didn’t seem to notice. The director, a half-famous Frenchman named Carlos Gassion, didn’t need to coddle second-string American actresses.
Most of the people in the screening room were standing. It wasn’t clear whether they were delivering a belated ovation or were removing kinks from backs and knees. Hugh Brewster unbent himself from his chair more slowly than the others. He was sixty-seven years old, nine of those years a detective for Western States Security. He offered a hand to Jennifer Stiles. “You can’t sleep here,” he said.
“I can if I’m asked.”
She wasn’t being asked anymore. Mark Tedescu, who owned the screening room and the Malibu house that surrounded it, had moved on emotionally in the middle of shooting the film. In the five weeks since then, Jennifer Stiles had been living in her Venice Beach apartment and—she’d confided to Hugh—dating hardly at all.
Hugh leaned close to her. He whispered, “Are you sure you don’t plan to murder anyone?”
He tried to read her eyes, which were pretty. “It’ll embarrass the heck out of me if you do.”
“Sure . . . where would you get another job?” READ MORE
Art by Ally Hodges
by Deborah Lacy
The private airplane lurched. Joan dropped the novel she was reading and grabbed both sides of her seat. God, she hated flying.
The small plane made each bump worse. It felt like her body was riding a roller-coaster, and her stomach was one car behind.
“Aloha!” a man’s voice said over the speaker system. “This is Keoni, your captain. We’ve hit a little turbulence. Relax and keep your seat belts fastened for a few more minutes until we can get to smoother air.”
The plane lurched again. She hoped she wouldn’t be sick. Her recently discovered German half brother, Johan, chuckled at her from across the aisle. The two sets of seats faced each other on the small aircraft.
“Tell me you’re not afraid of flying, little girl,” Johan said with a faint German accent and his superior attitude. His English was perfect, idiomatic phrases and all, but that didn’t make him any less annoying. “Flying is supposed to be in our blood,” he said waving his bottle of beer at her, Johnny, and Yohanna. “Four mothers, one father, and an estate so screwed up that it binds four strangers together forever. Wheeee!”
Of course, Johan was drinking Passport to Canada, the beer Johnny created, instead of her baby, Passport to America. When Johnny insisted that Passport to Canada be flavored with maple, she worried that the beer would be too sweet. But the result delighted customers and sold as quickly as they could manufacture it. Even so, their dysfunctional family brewery was far from profitable, and the animosity between the half-siblings that had known each other less than a year was growing.
She looked out the airplane window to distract herself. No clouds today, nothing but miles and miles of deep blue sea. Her Canadian half brother Johnny, who sat beside her, retrieved the novel from the floor. “Agatha Christie, Death in the Clouds,” he read the title out loud. “Nothing beats Agatha Christie.” He handed the book back to Joan. Of all her newly minted siblings, Johnny was the hardest to figure out. He seemed nice and all, but he gave her the willies every time he touched her. She didn’t trust him. She didn’t trust any of them.
“Maybe instead of reading novels, you two should spend more time on our joint business,” Johan said. “Maybe we’d be profitable.”
She wished that Johan had something nice to say just once. Everything in his life was conveniently someone else’s fault, and it all started with our mutual father’s abandonment of him. That fault had now been transferred to Johnny, Yohanna, and Joan. They couldn’t do anything right.
“We spend more time than you do,” Johnny said.” And the American and Canadian beer products are profitable. Passport to Germany is losing money.”
“If Joan hadn’t misspent a hundred thousand dollars on useless ads, my ale would be the best seller.”
“The ads would have worked if you’d met your production schedule.”
“Not once the customers tasted that beer,” Johnny said. “Can we just admit that flavoring it with sauerkraut was a mistake and move on?” READ MORE