I’ve been keeping my next book hush-hush, but you can have a sneak peak at it.
Setup: none. I’m not even giving out the title. All you get is the first six pages. That’s what I’ll be sending to agents. See if it hooks you enough to want more.
“Good to see you, Mano” Karl said, stepping into the apartment. Drug deals were not to be conducted in the hall. He’d been here dozens of times though he hadn’t come by in two years.
Mano turned aside but it wasn’t to let Karl in. The dealer twisted his arm back then tripped him. Karl went down. In an instant he had the drug dealer on top of him and a gun against the back of his head.
“I don’t know you, mang.”
Karl could barely breathe. The fall had knocked the wind out of him. All he could manage was a croak. “Karl … Director.”
The gun pressed harder.
“Movies. I make movies. You know me.”
The gun moved away and Mano wrenched Karl’s head around by pulling a fistful of hair.
“Fuck, mang, Karl Priam. Is that you? Where you been three years?”
Karl rolled up, rubbing his wrist. He was a lover not a fighter, a director not a choreographer, and since he hadn’t been working, he wasn’t much of anything. He gave Mano a pleading look.
“Was a time you invited me to premiers,” Mano said. “Hooked me up with big stars and all.”
“I washed up,” Karl said, ashamed. “No money.”
“That’s cool, mang, but you and me go way back. Shoot me a text once.”
They did go way back. Karl had been an unpaid production assistant on Mano’s biggest acting gig. He’d been set to become the lead of his own series playing a Latino cop: fighting crime and bridging communities. Serious stuff with two shootouts and one chase per episode. Mano was Richard Umber then, but his acting was as white as his name. He was replaced after the pilot.
“You still selling?” Karl asked.
“Course, mang. I hook you up. What you need?”
“Coke. Good. One eight ball coming up.”
Mano looked like a tough immigrant but Karl still remembered when a Midwestern accent and ivy-league thespian training were hurting his test screenings. The series that dropped him went on to be a huge success with a much more Hispanic bent and Richard Umber went on to other pilots. That was as far as he ever made it: Season One, Episode One, then discarded. Hired for diversity, dropped for ratings. Everything he launched got picked up for more seasons, but not with him.
It wasn’t until Richard Umber switched to selling drugs that he embraced method acting. No one liked to deal with an angry-looking but clean-cut Latino. Thus he invented Mano based on a famous movie Puerto Rican played by a white guy. It was impressive how far he’d carried it.
Mano’s apartment had evolved, too. Karl looked around. Paraphernalia and empty bottles littered the living room. The extra mag for his gun resting on top of a glossy tit-mag made a tasteful balance to the overflowing ashtray perched on the arm of the couch. An X-Box shootout was paused on the seventy inch flatscreen. Set dressers couldn’t have captured the stereotype any better.
“What brings you back to using?” Mano asked as he returned with a tiny, sealed food-bag packed with white powder.
“I give up. I haven’t had a job in two years. I’m going out with a blast.”
“But Indignant was big,” Mano said, referring to Karl’s latest movie.
Karl held up his hand displaying a tiny gap between his finger and thumb. “I was this short of twenty mill on opening weekend. Then, stupid me, I turned down one project. One damn movie and no one’ll return my calls.” This was a lie: there were no job offers.
“I feel for you, Karl. Hell, I been there.” Mano knew the real reason better than anyone. He’d been supplying the career-ending festivities.
Karl had burst into Hollywood with a low-budget flick he’d swindled into a film festival. Fifth Wheel Studios picked him up for a three film contract and his life was changed. Each movie he made was bigger and better, earning more money, filling more seats, but he was also partying harder on every production.
It wasn’t like he couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t like anyone got hurt, but the producers and the backers didn’t like it.
Indignant, the movie that finished his contract, did great. Karl reckoned such tidy profit would wipe away the memory of his excesses. The executives thought otherwise. Apparently there were sober directors who could get the job done while staying out of the tabloids.
As a result, Karl hadn’t worked since.
He pulled out a huge wad of bills. “How much?”
“Shit, mang, don’t you be flashing that around!”
Karl frowned. “It’s the last of my money. No, it’s beyond the last of my money. I sold everything that’s not nailed down. This,” he said, fanning the bills out, “is off my line of credit. At fifty bucks a month I’ll pay it back when I’m seventy.”
“You borrow money to buy coke? Fuck, I push the stuff and I’m not that reckless.”
“Relax. It’s from a bank, not some loan shark. This is my fuck-Hollywood money. One more party like the old days. By the time I recover, they’ll kick me out of my condo.” He made this prediction with defiant pride.
“Hollywood: it would be nicer if it was run by criminals. Not to worry, friend. I help people hit rock-bottom all the time. How about a bump to get things started?”
“Nah, I been clean too long. I plan to eat and drink first. Then start slow.”
“What do I owe you?”
Karl unfurled a hundred and fifty dollars. Mano folded the money into his pocket.
“That mean you done? No more directing?”
“I don’t want to be. I’ll do anything to make a real big movie, anything, but I can’t get a used car commercial.”
“Your reputation precedes you,” Mano said sympathetically, letting some Richard Umber into his voice. “That’s too bad. You’re good. Artist and a workhorse, and you can talk any actor into their best work. They’re a bunch of fools, not wanting you. You’d be set if the drug lords started making movies. They like it when you party.”
Karl let out a brief but manic laugh, pulling his ragged hair off his eyes. “If you know anybody looking, call my agent.”
“What you doing after you binge?”
“I don’t know. Suicide. Homelessness. Manual labor.”
“None of those look good. Tell you what, come see me again: I’ll put you to work. The studios don’t put me on the screen no more, but they good customers. You still know people, right?”
“Yeah. You come work for me. I set you up good. You keep the crazy life.”
“I don’t know, Mano. Dealing sounds rough.”
Mano clapped him on the shoulder. “No, no. You got the shit, mang.”
“I’d do any goddamn thing to make a movie again,” Karl said, enthusiastically. “I just need one more shot. I’ll make the biggest hit yet.”
“Fuckin’ A, mang, you got passion. But if that don’t happen, you see me, yeah? Mano take care of you.”
* * *
A glass fronted convenience mart was on the way home, three blocks closer than the grocery store. Karl didn’t have the patience to walk ten extra steps let alone half a mile. Drugs beckoned. Any delay was torture.
The food here wasn’t what he wanted but anything solid would do the trick. He needed a full stomach before he got started. A bag of chips, a couple tubes of mystery meat from the heated rollers, and some wine to chase it down would work.
Karl smiled at the Middle-Eastern woman at the cash register then took an immediate right. He walked past the magazines, scanning ahead.
He was keeping his hands in his pockets, enjoying the feel of the drugs and the money. Two years was too long. With these ingredients he could throw a hell of a party.
Glass-door coolers filled the far wall. The ones closest to the outside wall were filled with cases of beer. Next to them was the wine. Next to that the cheap spirits. He tapped his toes until he decided to upgrade from a box of wine to some rotgut whiskey. This was the day to throw away caution. Tonight he would party away his dreams of ever making another movie. Two extra dollars was an extravagance he could afford.
As he pivoted he saw the next cooler door. Here sat cans and bottles of sugary, pre-mixed, hard-liquor drinks. The choice of the next generation. Karl scoffed.
The entrance door jangled a real physical bell as someone left. How charming. It jangled again as another new customer entered. Karl wished he was tall enough to see over the display stands to determine if it was a cop.
The new arrival turned out to be a Latino teen. He crossed the far end of Karl’s aisle, grabbing a bag of chips as he passed, and stepped up to pay. Karl frowned. It didn’t seem right that someone entering after him would be leaving before.
He heard the bell again. Then he heard the heart-stopping crack of a gunshot
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