Dead In The Room

 

By Marjory Kaptanoglu

 

The writer across from me says, “Henry steals a motorboat… no, it’s a dinghy… and he takes the body… wait, I forgot, he goes back to the crypt—”

“ONE MINUTE TO CONCLUDE YOUR PITCH.” The announcer’s voice jolts everyone into high gear. My writer amps up, spewing out plot points like her life depends on it.

The place is packed solid with tables, a writer pitching to a film industry pro at each one. Despite attempts to put on a cheerful face, the writers reek of despair. They’ve got five minutes to convince us they’ve written the next Star Wars, or Breaking Bad if it’s a pilot script. When the time runs out, the writers get up and race to other tables, as if the extra few seconds will make a difference. There they recite the same tired pitch to the next producer, manager, agent or story editor on their list. We industry pros stare back with fake-interested looks frozen on our faces. Sometimes we nod or throw an “um-hmm” into the mix. Just to be nice.

But I’m getting dizzy trying to follow Henry’s convoluted storyline. I look down at my lap like I’m contemplating the meaning of his return to the crypt, and fire up my iPhone. Rachel at Disney hasn’t replied to my email yet. I’ll just toss her another quick one.

The cow bell jangles up at the podium. As the cows/writers start to rise, my writer leans forward and gets in my face. “Can you just read my first ten?” she says.

I want to say I’d rather have my naked body dipped in super glue and rolled over her script pages. But “Great pitch, love the zombies,” is what comes out instead.

“Vampires,” she says. “It’s not for me.”

She leaves dragging her dashed hopes like a ball and chain. I sense my next writer hovering by the table, but I keep my eyes lowered, texting Stephen about the game tonight.

The new writer settles into the chair. Out of the corner of my eye I see that he’s a big, solid, self-assured guy. I wonder if he wandered into the wrong place, like maybe he was scheduled to lead boot camp next door. But then he says, “Way to level with her, Rog.”

Most writers are so obsequious they’d let you use their bodies to cross mud puddles. So this guy’s tone surprises me and I look up. His eyes are intense, he wears a sardonic smile, and his beard comes to a sharp point under his chin.

“Do I know you?” I say. Reading my name on the card doesn’t give him the right to shorten it.

“Name’s Gray,” he says. “Take a look under the table.” “Why?” I say.

“Or don’t if you like surprises.”

I’m starting to get a creepy feeling so I figure I better look. I lower my head and find myself staring at the big black shiny gun he’s aiming at me. Freak.

I want to believe it’s a prop, but when I look back up at Gray, I catch a crazy glimmer in his eyes that says otherwise. I sneak a glance at the exit. No question the bullet would reach me long before I got near it. Across the room, the two security guards ogle a hot girl on staff who’s got cleavage deep enough to bury the last writer’s overblown screenplay.

“Go ahead, call for help, we’ll get this over with faster,” Gray says, seeing where I’m looking.

My mouth feels dry. “What do you want?” I say. “Know much about guns, Rog?”

“I’ll read your screenplay.” That’s what he wants. That’s what they all want. “I bet it’s great. What’s it called?”

“Gave you my spiel before,” he says. “It’s your turn to pitch. If I like it, I might not kill you.”

I stare at him. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. “I don’t have any pitches,” I say. If I did, I’d be on your side of the table. Idiot.

He looks at the clock. It’s 2:01.

“Take your time,” he says, “You have four whole minutes remaining.”

Sweat tingles on my scalp. My mind races as I realize I’m going to have to play along. “It’s about a story editor who—”

“What’s his flaw?” Gray says.

“Too soft-hearted.”

“You mean arrogant.”

“He’s being held hostage by a writer,” I say.

“A passive logline? You can do better. Give us the action.”

“An arrogant story editor must defend himself against a… disgruntled writer,” I say. “Really, Rog?” he says. “Let’s try that on The Dark Knight. ‘Batman must defend Gotham City against the Joker, a disgruntled clown.’ You gonna rush out and spend twenty bucks on a ticket and popcorn?”

“A vicious, gun-wielding writer.” I practically shout it but the writers are so involved in their own pitches they don’t notice. Everyone else must be catatonic by now.

“Better,” he says. “Let’s add some detail. Kicked out of the army for torturing the children of enemy soldiers. Couldn’t care less if he lives or dies.”

The hot staff member walks by our table. I lunge and grab her arm. She looks down at me like I’m the one who’s crazy. I’m just about to speak when Gray interrupts.

“We can finish this now… or later at your apartment on Sepulveda.”

I freeze. For chrissake, he knows where I live. I make a split-second decision to settle this now. I’ll finish the pitch; how hard can it be? I release the girl’s arm. She gives me a look but doesn’t say anything. Probably used to a lot of crazy crap going down at these things. Somebody signals her and she leaves.

“What does the writer want?” I say.

“You tell me,” he says.

“Money? A six-figure sale?”

“The story editor can’t deliver that by himself. Which the writer knows, or he’s an idiot, and then he’s an unworthy opponent.”

“What, then? What the hell does he want?” I say.

“It’s your story. But my guess… revenge,” Gray says.

I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. “For what?” My voice sounds like a croak. “If I were to speculate… I’d say the story editor once told him his idea was freakin’ brilliant.

I’d say the writer quit his job thinking his ship had come in. The script got submitted around town. Waiting to hear back, the writer lost his house. And his wife. At last he got a reply. ‘Thrilling story. But it’s not for me.’”

“ONE MINUTE TO CONCLUDE YOUR PITCH,” the announcer says over the loudspeaker.

“P.S., it needs a ticking clock,” Gray says.

I undo the second button on my shirt. What happened to the goddamn air conditioning?

“I’ll give you act two,” he says. “Tell me how it ends.”

I lean forward determined to finish this thing. “The story editor wrestles the writer to the ground. But the writer, who fights dirty, gains the upper hand. He’s about to shoot. Suddenly a security team arrives, tackles the writer. His own gun kills him when it accidentally fires.” Nice irony there, I think.

“Deus ex machina, Rog? He’s saved by the security force? Disappointing. This looks like a pass.” Gray moves his hand under the table.

“NO! I’m begging you…” I can’t believe I’ve got tears in my eyes.

“What does the story editor learn?” he says.

“How to… stand up to terrorists,” I say.

Gray shakes his head. The hammer clicks under the table. “Time’s up,” he says. “WAIT!” I nearly jump out of my seat. “He… realizes he’s been a goddamn douche to writers. Swears to treat them with respect from now on.” This is what he’s been waiting for, the goddamn douche. My hand shakes, and I grasp the table to steady it.

“Congratulations,” he says. He actually laughs. “Hey, take a look.” He gets out the gun and slides it across the table. “It’s not loaded. It’s not even real. Go on, shoot me.”

A shiver of relief runs through my whole body. I pick up the gun. It feels surprisingly heavy. The cow bell jangles. My frazzled nerves spasm. My finger tightens on the trigger.

BLAM!

I recoil backwards in my chair. What the freak? I look up at Gray, still with that same stupid smile on his face. But he’s holding his hand over his chest. Blood oozes between his fingers. People dive under tables. My arms are grabbed, the gun torn from my hand.

“Always end with a twist,” Gray says weakly.

I watch in shock, only vaguely aware of the security guards who wrench my arms behind my back. Gray sinks to the floor. He gazes up at me, life seeping from his eyes.

I can barely hear his last words, but anyway I know what they’re going to be. “Solid pitch, Rog. But not for me.”

 


All rights reserved. Please ask permission of the author to reproduce or use this work in any form.