Denny “Stonecold” Mercer slipped out of his trenchcoat, damp from the showers of some little-known tropical capital, and hung it neatly over a bamboo chair. He removed his battered, “if this hat could talk, the stories it could tell” fedora and tossed it on the rack in the corner. All without taking his eyes off the woman on the bed: dark-skinned, exotic, of primordial, pre-whiteman breeding.

He’d completed his mission, against improbable odds, and brought home the bacon, squeal and all. He brushed the pleats on the front of his khakis, then undid the tricky knife/camera/buckle and let them fall to the floor. She was looking at him, ancient eyes staring out from the hard young body. He moved across to her, sat on the bed, checking around for snares, eye-holes, or listening devices. He reached to touch her soft, mounded breast and she sighed and rose towards him. mayancalendargirls.com “Aren’t you going to turn off the television?” Lluvia moaned softly.

So he turned off the television and tossed a yellow towel over the lamp. And once again sat down beside Lluvia, old eyes in a young body in an obscure tropical capital. Slowly, shyly, she reached up to him. And in the moment her soft hands touched his face he felt a shift inside himself, a deep, tectonic psychic shift, two worlds grinding into accommodation. Here he was. He eased down beside her, drinking in her touch and diving deep into a world where there was just no need to be anybody but himself.

She didn’t much like the looks on Tuan’s face as he viewed the screen of a “VIP” computer in the Presidents’ Lounge. Yes, THOSE Presidents in the Houston airport. He glanced at her, blank, and said, “There’s only one file here, Mei.”

“There should be at least six shots. Things got a little confused there, but…”

“It’s a video.”

That set her back. How could that be? Well, one thing to do. “Let’s have a look.”

He started to shuffle his chair to one side, but she perched on his knee with an arm around his neck and peered at the screen as he clicked the file. There was the usual bevy of idiot Window’s questions and kvetching, then Media Player opened on a close-up on the face of Aphra Alisandra.

“Uh-oh.”

Tuan turned up the volume. Aphra, looking into the camera in a mixture of faux embarrassment and possibly semi-valid sincerity, said, “Hey, Chinatown. Hope you’re not in Mexico watching this in a holding cell. Yeah, I took your camera. Beat Townsend to it by a nanometer. Sorry, kiddo. mayancalendargirls.comBut I really need this stuff and I’m not into chasing down that yacht asshole. Thanks for everything and maybe I can return the favor some day. Give me about a six month lead with this shit, okay? Then some day you’ll get an email from “Black Adder”. Respond and I’ll send you your stuff, is that cool? I figure you’re not going to be back up to speed in academia before then, anyway. And I’m going to see if I can make some of your troubles in Mexico go away. Good luck. Hope it works out with the little Flip. I thought he was pretty cute, actually. I mean, you know, considering. I’d nab him myself, but I don’t do short. Or smart. Hasta la vista, baby.”

They both stared at the screen until Tuan moved to shut it down before it repeated. They both sat, MeiMei leaning her head on his. “I gotta admit, she’s kind of cool,” she said. “For a back-stabbing, amoral bitch.”

Tuan nodded absently, obviously lost in thought. Finally he said, “Do you think she can really sort out Mexico for you?”

“I really doubt it. I told you who that asshole is.”

“Then there’s the Old Assholes Network, Mexico Chapter.”

“I don’t know. I really want to know what’s on that thing. Think maybe hypnosis might help? Recovered memories?”

“Aren’t those always about sex abuse by parents and satanic cults?”

“You know what? I’m actually not too keen to get back to work right away. I’ve always been a workaholic but…” she turned to kiss his brow. “I never had any reason to goof off before.”

“An excuse for procrastination and laziness. Few men could aspire to a higher calling.”

“So what’s this O.B. place like?”

“Ocean Beach? You’ll love it. It’s got a special beach for dogs.”

“You’d enjoy Seattle, too. Until it starts raining.”

Tuan reached into his carry-on and pulled out two boarding passes. “Two first class to SeaTac,” he said. “I figured you’d want to touch base with your family.”

MeiMei turned in his lap to hug his neck. And whisper in his ear. “I agree with that bitch on one thing: I hope this works out, too.”

“It has to,” he said. “We already did the honeymoon.”

She was a hundred yards outside the reef, and pushing deeper with every dive. She felt slow and awkward with the strap-back SCUBA fins, but was getting some serious depth. Between recover spells, lying still on the surface with her hands and legs pointing downward, her mind and oxygen metabolism slowed with the meditation Royal had taught her years ago on Roatan. She started to ramp up another hyper-ventilation cycle and series of breath packs and there they were, like she’d known they would be. Knew they would be.That’s the way it was now, for some reason.

Bruto was there first, rocketing past her in his coarse way, shouldering her roughly aside. Her heart jumped. They’d come for her then, and they came to her now!

mayancalendargirls.comShe felt Pinoccio bump her feet, two other bodies slide along her legs, then Caruso made a pass at her waist as she shifted to an upright position, her head up as she laughed and whooped. When Bruto barged back through she caught his muzzle with cupped hands and he dragged her ten yards before diving and shaking her off. By the time she was back to the surface, Chido and Xochil had both nosed by, spinning her around.

Caruso nuzzled his beak into her crotch and she reached down to lean her hands over it. He reacted with a powerful ripple of his frame, powering him into what would have been a surface-clearing leap if she hadn’t been leaning on his nose. She shot up out of the water, balancing on him like the cross stroke of a “T”, then sailing off to splashdown with a happy yelp.

Okay, fellahs, she thought to them, let’s get down and get rowdy. It didn’t hit her right away, not until she was back on shore meeting Gareth and Kenny at the Paraiso, but she felt nothing sexual with the streaking black beasts. Not even a tingle. It had all been like rough-housing with her brothers, or playing co-ed basketball at college. One of the guys. And her guys had come through, had her back.

She lay on her back in the water, with her head lolling back, looking up at the sky. Waiting for one of those scamps to bump by her butt with a fin. And suddenly, out of nowhere, she remembered lying like that on top of an ancient pyramid. And feeling the body, seeing the face, of a man who wanted to offer her heart to the Gods.

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Bannock had dropped them off in the rented, dented van, as far up the rutted trail as he could navigate. And would wait for them there as long as it took. He sat on the ground, leaning back on a tire and just listening to the rain forest breathe and twitter. Funny how you didn’t hear the world making its little sounds until you decided to listen. He inhaled the scent of pine and primordial rot and decided he was better off here than back in that motel with Tuan and Ganzo. That had to be a fairly one-way conversation.

But it had still been a long hike and some of the girls offered to spell Curtsy, carrying the duffle of gear Tuan had hastily rented from that shady tour operator in Placencia. But now, as they trod carefully in the shadows of what seemed like a totally different world, that seemed meaningless. They were here in this egg-shapedmayancalendargirls.com cavern with a floor of blue water and tiny ceiling of sunlit leaves.

Curtsy, with the pack slung across her back, was the last one down the rope and even though she was no stranger to cenotes she was subdued by the cathedral air of this one. She moved quietly up beside the other girls and looked down into water as clean and clear as the air up above.

There hadn’t been any discussion when Loris told them about it. Aphra was hot to get back to the States, but Copper was dying to come with them and each of the six girls who had been in the hot tub that night had deeply felt that they should be here. MeiMei had realized, though not mentioned, that having everybody present meant six people who would know about the place, could come back and seek out the power or just money. But she had a feeling nobody would do that. Just a feeling.

Curtsy was sizing up the cave and the water at the bottom, definitely impressed. She asked Loris, “How did you know this was here?”

Loris laughed and said, “How do you think?”

Then she reached into her backpack, pulled out the bundle of soft cotton, and unveiled oXo. The skull seemed almost matte in the cavern’s filtered light, a primal green dancing with a sphere of gold light from the sinkhole overhead.

Aphra stepped over to stroke the gleaming occipital. “Way I hear it, those two dorks paid you a good chunk of change for that thing. Now you playing Indian giver?” Just to fuck with Miss Bettysue PerfectCenter. She nodded towards Xchab and mimed embarrassment, “Scuse me, there honey.”

Xchab regarded her impassively as Loris buffed oXo with the shroud cloths then looked at Aphra and said, “You heard wrong then. They paid Bannock. Who took him from me, and now I just stole him from those guys. But that’s meaningless, really. There’s no ownership where something like this is concerned. We’ve all done our part to bring oXo home. Including those film guys financing it.”

“Fine with me. Information wants to be free, and all that,” Aphra shrugged. “Long as it don’t get too free and there’s no market for it.”

Curtsy opened the bag duffle and started passing around masks. No snorkles needed, she’d pointed out, since they weren’t going to be cruising the surface. She pulled her mask on and started pulling off her work shirt.

“Okay, everybody gotta get totally nekkid for this one,” Aphra said in the same tone of finality they associated with Loris.

MeiMei, unbuttoning her blouse, looked at her suspiciously and asked, “Why?”

“Because we look so much hotter that way, of course!” Aphra whooped and was almost instantly nude. Copper stripped down just as quick, and pulled the mask over her unruly red mop. The other girls all laughed and started following suit. Except Xchab, who merely undressed and stood naked and flatfooted, waiting for the next move. Aphra looked around and gave a whistle, but something in the way the high pitch echoed in the cave silenced them again. mayancalendargirls.com Curtsy knelt at the edge of the pool, closely examining the bottom in the green/gold twilight, then smiled at the others and pitched forward into the water. She was at the bottom, peering further back into the subterranean lake, as five other splashes sounded around her.

She surfaced and looked around at the other girls. “I see some light back there,” she said, “But it’s a long damn ways.”

“I think I heard about that light at the end of the tunnel shit before,” Aphra sneered.

“If there’s light, there’s air,” Curtsy returned flatly, and once again Aphra had that awareness of being in a new element where she wasn’t the prime player. Loris glided over to Curtsy and held oXo out, half of his dome above the water. “You take him. You’re the one who can make it all the way.”

Curtsy nodded and told them all about how to relax and rebreathe to get a maximum lungful of air. Then she dropped out of sight and kicked off powerfully into the long tunnel that ran through the bedrock. She held oXo in both hands, stretched out in front of her, zooming through the water with a crystal figurehead out front.

The other girls were behind her, each of them moving as well as they could. And each of them reached a point that they knew was as far as they could push it. They would each stop, hover in the water, look down the tunnel to the faintly lit chamber at the end, then turn back. The last one to rein up was Loris, who stared ahead at what she knew she would see, a hemispherical dome in the rock, illuminated in yellow glow from above. And in the center of it, a broken off stalagmite created a low plinth. She turned back, pulling her way along the roof of the grotto, but looked back to see Curtsy flash into the chamber, her gold/white body fluorescing in the filtered sunlight, and place oXo gently on the little pedestal before kicking the bottom once to rise up and breathe.

Five girls paddled in place in the deep end of the pool by the entrance to the tunnel, not looking at each other, just waiting for Curtsy to break the surface. Then she was there, bounding out of the water like an orca, whipping water out of her hair, laughing like a little girl at recess.

All six of them were quiet then, a circle of heads in the water. Without conscious thought, they extended their arms and found their hands on each other’s napes.

Copper broke the calm, almost reverential silence. “Think we could get oXo to spring for one more metagasm?”

“If he won’t, it’s on me,” Aphra purred and the other girls laughed.

They broke the circle and climbed out of the water. MeiMei looked around, wondering when was the last time people were here. Had the Mayans placed oXo there? Or had he been there for millennia awaiting them? mayancalendargirls.comAnd somebody must have come to take him out and put him into circulation. She’d buy about anything at that point.

They dressed without much chatter, Curtsy quietly collecting the masks and fins and tossing them back in the bag. On the way out, Loris stopped at the bottom of the rope and looked back. She called out, “See you, oXo. I love you,” and nobody even thought it was silly. In fact each one of them had a sudden thought in the same moment. One of those little mental jingles that makes no sense at all. “The Love loves to love you all.”

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The parking lot was a bustle of people, luggage and conflicting itineraries. Tuan noticed an inverse proportion of luggage: the nobodies who’d paid to come touch the hem of Hollywood’s garment looked like they’d packed for a safari, luminaries like Cage and Black had single carry-ons. He and Mei had, of course, the clothes on their backs and two small packs of gizmos and necessories.

No lack of ground transport, as it’s called in the trade. A couple of cabs out of Belize City, driven by evil-looking RastaNefarious villains who broke into a lyrical Creole and engaging smiles when spoken to. A shuttle bus from Maya Island Airlines and the Lodge’s own combat Proven veteran of Camel Trophy wilderness racing Range Rover for those heading for Belize City, and buses to the border or the Cayes.

“No helicopters, though,” Aphra condescendingly observed to Copper.

Copper squinted up through the rainforest canopy and said, “Yet.”

The various guests and staff were sorting out into the vehicles, most heading for the airport, a few to Caye Caulker to unwind after three days in paradise. mayancalendargirls.com

Winston and Cage had vanished, presumably “bowling” at the 420 Lanes. Shane Black was pointing out some odd arm and shoulder movements to Loris, telling her how she’d eliminated the whole carpal/zygoid glitch he called “writer’s wrist”, and asking if he could make an appointment with her back in California.

Warm farewells and promises to exchange emails were being made with all the assurance of people who believed they would actually continue to correspond. The “interloper” cadre stood somewhat apart, marked by general lack of luggage and the somewhat preoccupied expressions they’d worn all day. They spoke softly among themselves, both avoiding the subject and wanting to sort it all out.

“It’s… I don’t know. Like a ship hits a hurricane and things shift around down in the hold.” Copper nodded blankly, but Aphra kept after it. “You know it’s different, but might not find out until you start unloading. But definitely some differences.”

Definitely. Some differences Copper would never really notice. And it would be almost three months before it suddenly dawned on her that she had no interest in renewing her explorations of the non-world of Ketamine anymore. Pharmaceuticals in general seemed uninteresting, like artificial lures. And it would be almost a year before she realized that she hadn’t dumped her lover and started scouting around: an all-time record.

“I don’t really notice anything different,” Tuan said, looking down as if he’d spot some change in his posture. “I mean, it blew my mind like never before. But I’m still me.”

“Probably because you’re so normal anyway,” MeiMei teased. Like she should talk about people being normal.

“Salvia and mescaline are like that,” Copper volunteered. “The more fucked-up you are, the more you notice it.”

“In that case,” Curtsy said, “How are you doing, there, Aphra?”

Aphra shot her an eye, but tossed her hands up and gushed, “I’m queer no mo’! Bless gracious and praise the lord, I’se free at last. All I can think about anymore is big old dicks. And I’m thinking of donating my time and money to working with Retarded Unwed Manatees.”

Loris looked up and caught her eye and Aphra toned it down a little. “Yeah, there’s something happening. But nothing I want to talk about. Don’t want to jinx the mojo.”

Much of what shifted below decks in Aphra had to do with what Loris had noted in her, the conquest obsession with sex. The mighty orgasmablitz had shaken a lot loose inside her, and she felt a lingering effect every time she came, clutching Copper to her in a torrent of sensation with no thought of anything but feeling it more and passing it on. She was also, though it would have alarmed her to know it, developing a rudimentary conscience.

But she looked back at Curtsy and pointed with her chin to where Ganzo was sitting in front of Xchab, talking to her non-stop. “Now right there’s a change you might take note of, Barbie. Looks like you might wind up short one boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.”

“I’d say it be like that .”

Everybody looked at the Mayan pair. You could spot something different about Xchab right away; there was no longer the shadow of subservience or abnegation in her pose or manner. She sat up, looked sharply, took account. And as for Ganzo…

“It’s like he just woke up,” Curtsy said. “Came out of some kind of coma. I could never figure him out before. He wasn’t stupid or gorked out: he just wasn’t really around. And now…”

At that particular “now”, Ganzo was telling Xchab, “So you see. You are who you are, you have your place to be.”

“I see that,” she said. “I just wanted… But who am I, then? Where do I belong? Do you have answers to that?”

Ganzo’s steady gaze never wavered. “You’re like me. You belong with me. We’ll leave here and go find the place where we should be.”

Xchab stared at him. This was one different guy than the one she’d seen around before. And he seemed to know exactly what he was saying. She looked at him and tried to weigh him against Winston, against the tantalizing promise of the glittery world she’d been moping around the edges of. She said, “Those men want to put me in a movie.”

“Good. Maybe that will happen. Here’s what I think. You should come with me. I feel that very strongly. I want you to come with me. Stay with me.”

There was plenty of room for a girl to be thinking, Come where? Stay where? But Xchab looked at this sturdy, open young man of her own people and mold and slowly nodded her head.

“Tell you what,” Bannock said, when people seemed done with gawking the young Indian couple, “I’ve had more remodels and refits in my head the last couple weeks than I can really deal with. Right now I just sorta feel the way I did after eating those mushrooms. Except maybe more so. I’m just… I’m up for it. That’s it, I guess: I’m all for it.”

“That’s it!” Curtsy blurted. “That’s it right there. Bring it on.”

“When I was a little girl,” MeiMei said softly, getting everybody’s attention with her soft tone of voice, “My mother would always say, When you get old enough you’ll know better. Right now, I feel like I know better.”

“That’s what I would say about it,” Loris said. “I feel like I’m charged, informed.”

“Back in my ‘hood,” Aphra told her, “When peeps informed it worked out bad for ’em.”

MeiMei and Bannock laughed and Loris smiled wide, but went on, “I have knowledge. Knowledge isn’t just information, it has it’s own intelligence.”

Aphra and Townsend both nodded at that, caught each other and looked away.

“There’s only a certain amount of knowledge in the world and nobody can have all of it,” Loris continued. “But it wants to flow out and know everyone. That’s what the Call is: to know with total certainty who we are and what the world is, what we mean.”

“And now you on top of all that? Got the inside skinny?” Aphra wasn’t adverse, but wanted to hear her answer.

“It’s coming to everybody and everything in the world,” she said. “We have each been called to a task and our task is to prepare the next call, which will come in one year.”

“Fine with me,” Aphra grinned. “I’m still shakin like a jellyroll from the last one.”

“And the purpose of the Second call will be to bring people together to amplify the next Call, each one affecting more people, more meaningfully than the one before.”

“And the final one is in 2012? What’s its purpose?”

Loris stopped, looking at her–or through her–for a long moment, then she said, “The Final Call is its own purpose. Which the purpose for everything alive, everything that exists.”

“Hey, I heard last calls before,” Aphra cracked. “Means you don’t gotta go home, but you gotta get your ass out the door.”

There were smiles. but it fell a little flat. Then Townsend spoke quietly and simply. “All I notice is, I feel more like me. Trouble is, I don’t really recognize myself.”

“But you will,” Loris told him, looking at him intently. “We all will. That’s why this is happening. Why everything happened in the first place.”

“Wow, cool.” Winston muttered. Then straightened up and looked right at her. “But nothing you said makes any sense.”

“It will,” Loris said. “It’s what sense is for in the first place.”

“Tell you what I’m wondering here,” Aphra said, and everybody turned towards her as she said, “What is the sound of one hand pulling your leg?”

Everybody laughed, including Loris. But then she said, “You already know the sound. You just heard it. The First Tone.”

As more revelations of inner alterations trickled out of the waiting passengers, testimonials Aphra thought of as “Change You Can’t Help But Believe In”, Copper suddenly started laughing and motioned her closer. She leaned over and the redhead said. “God, you know what this sounds like?”

“What, child? What?”

“The obligatory character arc.”

Both of them clutched their cheeks and screamed, “Oh, noooooooooo!”

“First Tomb Raider, then Crystal Skulls,” Aphra said, pursing her long-suffering lips. “Now we’re Raiders of the Lost Arc.”

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Breakfast at Blancaneaux was delicious as ever, and the feeling on the open deck as delightful. But the big table surrounded by the twelve “interlopers”, as they’d been dubbed by the conference staff and paid attendees, wasn’t awash in taste or sensation. They huddled together trying to both come to grips with and avoid examining what had happened to them the night before.

“I wish you’d just tell us the whole works,” Copper pouted behind her freckles. “I’d say we’re all pretty involved in this by now.”

“And if it’s the end of the world you’re talking about, I’d like to cancel some engagements and break a few dates,” Aphra added, only halfway smiling.

“My guess, anybody you date or are engaged to is already broken,” Townsend said, but without any real spite.

MeiMei was more on beam. “When you talked about that… whatever it was… being the First Tone,” she asked, “Do you mean ‘tones’ like the date glyphs on the Mayan calendar? Because if so…”

“I’m telling you everything I know,” Loris said. “As it comes in.
I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m not questioning it.”

“Hard to question getting your ashes hauled that thoroughly,” Winston tossed out, pausing to burp. “Best safe sex I ever had.”

That was the first time any of them had made a direct reference to the most spectacular part of their evening soak in such terms. The general, unspoken, feeling in the group was that nobody had ever had such a sweeping, explosive, wringing, pyrotechnic, obliterating orgasm before, and maybe nobody would ever again. There was a pause, nobody making eye contact, then Loris spoke again.

“Oh, sorry. There’s also this. The four ‘tones’ are also known as ‘calls’. What we heard was the First Call, and each of the future ones will be stronger and felt by more people, until the final one which will be of universal scope.”

That produced another silence until Aphra piped up. “Well, if they’re going to be stronger than that, I’ll definitely keep them on Call Forwarding.”

“Just a call girl at heart,” Copper chuckled, tapping her thigh to Aphra’s under the table.

“Each one of us has been changed. Or more like… oriented. I get the impression of something like a magnet with a field around it. And each of us will in some way help to bring about the Second Call.”

“Ah, a Second Coming,” Tuan said, straight-faced. “I assumed there are no dates and venues announced?”

Loris shook her head as if embarrassed not to have the press kit ready to hand out, then they all looked up because Francis Coppola was approaching the table.

He walked up, nodded around the circle of expectant faces, said, “About last night…” and gave it the beat any straight line needs to breathe.

“Mr. Coppola,” MeiMei said with mock severity, “By your age you must have learned never to utter that phrase to a woman over breakfast.”

He laughed with the rest, but obviously retained curiosity. Which Loris nipped in the bud. “I hope you’re ready for your massage, Mr. Coppola?”

He smiled back, “Is anybody ever not ready for a massage?”

“You’d be surprised.”

And if there are surprises to be had, I’m sure you and your little bunch will be the ones to provide them, he thought. “You know,” he said in an avuncular manner, as if veering off into some old-timer’s reminiscence, “You shoot all these miles of film, and most of it gets left in the cutting room. Not really on the floor, I’m sure you understand. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to take all those cuts and splice together a picture. The same cast, same setting, most of the same scenes, but a very different film from what everybody gets to see.”

“Sort of a ‘defector’s cut’?” Tuan ventured.

Coppola nodded absently then said, “I just look at you people and get a sense of you and that comes to my mind. Some other picture than the one that we’re seeing.”

Nobody had a quip for that so he stepped back and made a courtly, old world gesture. “There will be transportation at the parking lot at one. If anybody wants to arrange something more spectacular than a bus or house van…” he looked at Townsend, “…there’s a satellite phone at the concierge. Thank you for coming. I have to say, you’ve made this one of the more memorable conferences.”

“Thank you Mr. Coppola,” Loris said. “I know we’re party crashers, but your hospitality has been wonderful and your place here is simply magnificent.”

He turned and gave her a deprecating gesture of his fingers, straight out of Brando, and said, “It’s been my pleasure to be your host. You’ve entertained me, as well. And an old maxim of entertainment is, ‘Give ’em what they want, then beat it for the wings’.”

And he turned to make an exit worthy of any stage trouper, leaving a dozen people charmed, but still totally unsure what to make of what had happened at the Lodge or why they were even there in the first place.

But there was no doubt of the “why” in the minds of Gareth and Kenny as they waited until Coppola had left the building then jumped up and buzzed over to the twelve-top burning with guarded outrage. “Where is it?” Gareth snapped without warm-up or intro. “It’s not in the pool and not in your room.”

“And definitely not in our room, where our property belongs,” Kenny snipped.

Everybody just looked at them except Loris and Bannock, who knew exactly what they meant. “He,” Loris emphasized, “Is in a safe place.”

“Well then would it be safe to say…” Kenny started up, but Gareth finished.

“…that since he is ours and we paid you a large sum of money…”

“…plus expenses…”

“…that you’re going to be honorable…”

“…not sneak thieves…”

“…and return him to us?”

Bannock set down the English muffin he’d been spreading with black Mayan honey and said, “No.”

The simple finality stopped the two harried producer-hyphenates, as it was meant to.

Gareth immediately dropped into a whining competition with Kenny, no easy contest. “But listen, you guys… We can work something out.”

“Maybe. Some time,” Loris said. “But for now, oXo wants to go home so that’s where he’s going.”

“Listen, you two.” Kenny actually managed to snivel and bluster at the same time. “There are laws, even in this God-forsaken place…”

Almost everybody at the table turned their heads, taking in the simple grace of the dining deck, the teeming green beauty of the morning rain forest. But Kenny plunged on.
“We paid for that thing, it’s part of our film, and we are going to have it back.”

“No,” Bannock said. “You’re not.”

“Well you make your tactics pretty obvious,” Kenny sniffed. “Mr. Inedible Hulk sitting there threatening to turn us into brunch. But things don’t work like that in the real world.”

“Sure they do.”

“Okay, they do,” Gareth practically sobbed. “But couldn’t you just talk about this?”

“We’ll talk.” Loris’ calm statement astonished the rest of the table, who regarded talking to the Van Niseguys as being as fun and useful as self-administered dentistry. “Back in L.A. We’ll call Curtsy when the time comes. She’s on your picture, right?”

What picture?” Gareth practically shrieked. “You stole our picture, remember?”

“Director-nappers!” Kenny snarled.

“Roasting Flesh,” Loris said. “The festival brochure said you start shooting next month.”

“Is it a cooking show?” Aphra asked. “Or one of those celebrity roast things gone horribly wrong?”

“It’s a teen-aged grindhouse fucking flasher/slasher!” Gareth moaned. “We can do better. But you stole our director.”

“And our buzz,” Kenny glared accusingly. “You snatched Entertainment Tonight right out of our jaws.”

“So it’s ‘ET meets Jaws’?” Copper asked with feigned innocence.

“I think Curtsy would be practically type-casting for some co-ed getting naked before some ugly freak takes a jackhammer to her,” Aphra announced, drawing a scowl from Curtsy.

“Cut the shit, you crooks,” Kenny spluttered. “We’re going to…”

“You’re going to shut up and get lost,” Bannock said without inflection, but it was enough to stop Kenny in mid-spittle-spray. Bannock raised a battered hand and made a shooing gesture and the two producers started backing away, glaring as they bumped into waiters and chairs.

“You haven’t seen the last of us, Chuckie,” Gareth shot back as the two wheeled and fled the room.

Now that’s a dire warning,” Aphra said. “I’d just as soon see Hannibal Lector for being overweight”

“You know what really sucks?” Loris said. “He’s right.”

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