The coyote walked nonchalantly down the middle of the road. A family of raccoons, fighting over a torn bag of potato chips, scampered out of its way. The diffused dawn light, filtered through the sparkling, wet tree leaves, revealed sheen on the road, caused by the sprinkling of overnight rain. The winter rains had cleared the smoggy summer skies of Los Angeles.
The Hollywood Hills were quiet after the late-night holiday parties. The only noise that chilly morning was a bird singing in the tree next to the silent bungalow with the blue shutters. The woman inside didn’t hear its song as she lay on the bed in a long, white gown in the white bedroom. The only color in the room was the red that soaked the pillow under her head. The bird’s song ended.
Damn. My blouse is going to be ruined.Kay was hot, irritated by her car’s inadequate air conditioner, and worried about being late. The car windows were up to save her lungs from the belching fumes of the tour bus in front of her. She could feel sweat pooling under her arms and lamented the October continuation of Southern California’s hot, dry season. She longed for the rain that would arrive in a month or so, heralding winter. Meanwhile, her silk blouse suffered with her and her sunglasses kept slipping down her nose because of perspiration.
Normally, she liked the drive from Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH as it was known locally, along Sunset Boulevard toward West Hollywood and her office. She particularly enjoyed laughing at the life-sized statues with their painted genitals on the front lawn of a sheik’s mansion. This morning, however, she didn’t glance at them: she had been late leaving Trev’s beach house. She briefly wondered why she never questioned meeting at his house rather than at her Westwood apartment. Pushing the question aside, she thought about the night with him. A workday “date night” was unusual, but he was leaving again on business tomorrow.
The operator of the tour bus, which was filled with sightseers eager to gaze at stars’ homes, signaled to turn left to enter the elite enclave of Bel Air by its west gate at Sunset and Bellagio. Before the bus turned Kay noticed a man at the back window taking a picture of her.
He probably thinks I’m someone special because of the Mercedes. Ha! It’s ten years old. Just for fun, Kay lowered the window and let the wind toss her long, strawberry blonde hair as she smiled at him. She knew what the tourist didn’t: she was just a talent agent working in the town’s entertainment industry and worried that her boss, Max Steiner, owner of the Steiner Talent Agency, would comment on her late arrival. She liked her work at the boutique agency. It was satisfying to find work and negotiate contracts for directors, performers, and script writers that didn’t want the impersonal handling they received at the mega agencies. Kay liked her colleagues, too, and knew that they wouldn’t comment on her late arrival; however, a few of the other agents would be silently pleased if Max made a point of it: being Max’s “star agent” had its draw backs. It was a competitive business.
Without realizing it, she had passed U.C.L.A.’s campus where she had received her theatre arts degree and the turn-off to her apartment close to Westwood Village.How small my world is. For more than twelve years this town has been the extent of that world…first college here, then a very brief acting career in films, and now my work here as a talent agent.
Finally, after waiting for a break in the traffic, she made a left turn from Sunset into the underground parking garage next to Hamburger Hamlet near the intersection of Doheny Drive. Because of her status in the agency, she had a free, designated parking space. Most of the other agents had to pay a hefty monthly parking fee or hike from a parking spot on a distant side street.
Kay parked, took out her brief case filled with contracts she hadn’t looked at last night, grabbed her purse, and locked her car. The underground garage gave her the creeps. Every sound echoed in it, and she worried about crazies from the street lurking in the shadows. Just yesterday, a woman had been mugged leaving Hamburger Hamlet. It worried Kay that the parking attendant always seemed to be on a break from his booth. Instead of taking the garage elevator to the third floor, she took the grimy stairs as usual; although, after a morning run on the beach with Trev, she didn’t think her body was in any danger of losing its Hollywood requisite trimness.
When Kay walked through the agency’s doors into the reception area she was grateful for the air conditioning. The morning ritual included a greeting to Faith, the perky, young British receptionist who responded with a friendly, clipped, “Good Morning!” The woman was another Hollywood requisite: her accent and beauty showcased the elegant environment of black leather chairs, knock-off “Persian” rugs, David Hockney prints, and the perfectly arranged trade papers on the glass-topped table.
After five years of being an agent, Kay still felt it strange to see her nameplate, “Kay Randall”, on her office door. She was no longer a nervous young actress seeking representation, but an agent who could make a performer grateful or disappointed. There were moments when she wanted to sit on the other side of her desk and have that feeling again that anything was possible. People outside the industry might think that thirty-one was too young to give up on a dream, but Kay knew that her age was deemed a little too old in the film actress business. The young adult market for films with youthful stars was the “flavor of the month” now.
After five years of being an agent, Kay still felt it strange to see her nameplate, ‘Kay Randall’, on her office door. She was no longer a nervous young actress seeking representation, but an agent who could make a performer grateful or disappointed. There were moments when she wanted to sit on the other side of her desk and have that feeling again that anything was possible. People outside the industry might think that thirty-one was too young to give up on a dream, but Kay knew that her age was deemed a little too old in the film actress business. The young adult market for films with youthful stars was the ‘flavor of the month’ now.
Five years ago she had burned out on the auditions and rejections. She realized that her dream of becoming a respected actress had changed to accepting a career as a good actress with a few lines in several well-received films. It was a cliché, but she knew this was a town filled with dreams, some tarnished, some abandoned, like hers, and only a few, a very few, realized. She didn’t have the determination and stamina that the successful actors and actresses possessed. That self-knowledge, her degree, and the contacts provided by her entertainment lawyer father had brought her to the agency. Now her hard work kept her there.
Kay put her briefcase next to her desk and turned to the small espresso coffee machine on the credenza. Given to her by Max, her boss, after she had signed a major star, she had originally considered it an affectation. Now it was a necessity in her morning routine. As she started the brewing procedure, she knew the sound would bring Max into her office.
He entered as the last whooshing sounds subsided and the heady aroma filled the room. As usual, his slender five-foot, eight-inch body was perfectly groomed, from his styled salt and pepper hair to his bespoke navy blazer, Oxford blue shirt, crisp khakis, and soft English loafers. His tanned, handsome face usually looked open and friendly, as it did now. Kay knew, however, that it hid a ruthless, cut-throat attitude toward money that executives from studios, record companies, and performance venues discovered during contract negotiations.
His greeting was cheerful. “Hey, Supergirl! Lengthy breakfast meeting?”
“No, Max. Just a late start and then stuck on Sunset behind a tour bus. Grab a cup.”
He took “his” cup, the one with the English hunting scene on it, from the credenza, poured his coffee, and perched on the side of her desk. Kay, with her blue cup, went around him and sat behind her desk, waiting for him to speak. He looked around her office as if he had never spent hours there before, discussing client deals. He gazed at the few pictures on the walls and, switching his cup to his left hand, picked up the one framed picture on her desk. “I like this picture of your parents.” He put it and his cup down before adding, “And the seaside pictures on the walls, too.”
“The pictures keep me calm, Max. I’m trying to cut down on my smoking and I can’t very well bring my yoga mat out during negotiations.”
“Yoga, smoga. I’ve been thinking: you should have a few of your clients’ pictures hanging on your wall. You should promote yourself more. And here’s another thought: you and the agency might find it profitable if you mingled a little more with the talent in this town.”
“Oh, Max, you know me, I’m not tuned into the party circuit. Not like you. It works for you, but, as you’ve told me, my strength lies in my negotiation skills and my one-on-one meetings.”
“Sure, but a little schmoozing at the right parties with the right people wouldn’t hurt. Hell, you might even enjoy it!”
As Kay started to speak, Max held up his hand to stop her. “Before you say anything, I want you to think about a certain party tomorrow, Saturday. Don’t say you have plans. I’m inviting you…just you, not Trev… to go with Liz and me to a dinner party at Craig Harris’ house. It’s his regular fall dinner party to clear his social obligation slate before the holidays. Older A-listers will be there and a few more recent additions. Liz and I need a third person along so that we can get through the evening avoiding a commitment conversation.”
“You mean you need one, not Liz. Oh, boy…you’ve hit the six-month ‘so long, it’s been good to know you’ phase again. And, no, I’m not booked for tomorrow night because Trev will be away on business, but I really don’t feel like getting all dolled-up to just run interference for you.””
“Okay,” Max answered with a smile, “Here’s the deal: you and Trev can have my Lake Arrowhead condo for a long weekend. Ah, maybe in a month or so. One of my ex-wives, Barbara, has a daughter, Sheila…I think you met her once... who’s camped out there for a while. She thinks she’s a singer and needs the quiet to work on her material. And, by the way, I’m your boss and I say there’s going to be the three of us entering Craig’s house.”
“Jeez, Max. You always play hard ball when a ‘please’ might suffice.”
“Well, I’ll stick with what works. We’ll pick you up about six-thirty. It’ll be an early night. Some of the guests there will say they’re filming and have an early call Sunday morning. It might be true for a few of them. Now get back to work, Supergirl.”
As Max was almost out the door, Kay said, “Hey, Boss, how about ‘Superwoman’ instead of ‘Supergirl’?”
Max didn’t turn around. He just gave a dismissive wave over his shoulder.
The rest of Friday was business as usual for Kay. Lunch had been an after-thought: a sandwich delivery from Hamburger Hamlet. When six o’clock finally arrived her left ear was numb from her lengthy phone calls. She realized she should put the telephone on speakerphone mode more often. Optimistically, she put a few film contracts into her briefcase to look at over the weekend, adding to those already there; grabbed her purse, and left her office. The perky Brit had long departed, as had the other agents. It was Friday, after all. She passed Max’s office and saw that, as usual, he was still on the telephone. “‘Night, Max,” she called out. He gave no response.
Kay was feeling wrung out, but grateful for the planned evening with her friend Carla, knowing it would be relaxing. She blessed the day, several years ago, when she had entered Carla’s shop as a customer and had left as a friend. Each week, if they were dateless, they debated where to have their ritual Friday-after-work-wine. Carla’s clothing boutique was in Beverly Hills, as was her small, by the neighborhood’s standards, house. Kay’s apartment was in Westwood. They usually decided to meet at one or the other’s place because Westwood Village would be filled with the U.C.L.A. crowd; Beverly Hill’s watering holes would be stacked with industry people, and the Century City bars with legal types. Tonight it was Kay’s turn to be hostess. She was short on white wine, though, and one of her last calls had been to Carla asking her to pick up a bottle.
When she stepped out of the office building elevator into the underground parking garage the residual heat from the day hit her. The building management dimmed the garage lights at five-thirty, and she found the half-light unnerving as she walked to her car, key in hand. The sound of her high heels tapping the concrete floor made her uneasy, and she glanced over to the parking attendant’s booth for reassurance. He wasn’t there. Kay quickened her pace as she approached her car. Suddenly, she saw a shadow separate itself from the pillar near Max’s car. It was a man, and he began walking toward her as she quickly unlocked her car, jumped in, and relocked it. She started the car just as the man’s dirty, bearded face appeared at her window and he began knocking on it. Shaking her head and mouthing “No!” she pulled away from her spot and drove to the garage entrance past the empty attendant’s booth.
Well, so much for building security. Maybe if I hadn’t put that fear into my mind this morning this wouldn’t have happened. Then Kay smiled at her “New Age” thinking as she waited for a break in the Sunset Boulevard traffic before pulling onto the street.
(End of Chapter One)