Don Juan Fights a Duel
Although they’d offered to pay for the gas, Jack Warner had refused them the use of a company car. So they’d filled the Nash with oil and water and offered a little prayer that it would survive the long haul from Hollywood to Lone Pine.
“Lovely drive if you like sage,” Johnny said.
“Don’t overlook the mountains.” Ed said. “You can almost make them out under those thunderheads.”
“Is there anything lovelier than wind-blown sage? I thought I’d seen lovelier things, but the more hours I have to glim the wind-blown sage, the lovelier it gets.”
“Oh, well,” Ed said. “We’ve got a job anyway.”
“At long last,” Johnny said.
The Nash sputtered. It sputtered again, then it stopped making any sound at all. Ed let it coast to the side of the road. The wind seemed to pick up in intensity. It made a keening sound as it passed through and around the car. True fatalists where the Nash was concerned, the boys got out without comment. As Ed lifted the hood the rain started. It fell in hard, icy sheets. The late summer warmth of Los Angeles was only hours behind them, but it felt like another lifetime.
“Fan belt,” Ed said.
Johnny just nodded.
They got back in the car. It was raining so hard that they could no longer see anything through the windows.
“Any idea where in hell we are?” Johnny asked.
Ed nodded toward the east. “If we could see anything through your window we’d see a ridge there. Over that ridge, I believe, is the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake.”
“Oh, that’s swell,” Johnny said. “Maybe they’ll lob some guided missiles this way.”
“I hardly think they test new weapons on Highway 6.”
“Oh, no? You ever met a swabbie could aim a bomb?”
“I think I hear a car!” Ed boomed.
They spilled out of the Nash. A Rolls Royce was approaching. Ed and Johnny leapt up and down and waved their arms. The car passed. They turned to see a familiar face peering out from the rear window. Then the Rolls was screeching to a halt and a door swung invitingly open.
The boys ran and piled into the car. The brims of their hats spilled water like eaves. “Hey, Errol,” Ed said. “Thanks for stopping!”
“You’re those rewrite fellows, aren’t you?” Errol Flynn said. “Just the lads I was hoping to see!”
When Primo Concordato, Jack Warner’s yes-man, had called to inform the boys of the job, he’d made it perfectly clear that they were only being given the assignment because Errol Flynn had asked specifically for “those rewrite boys who did the last draft.” Had it been up to J.L., he went on to say, they wouldn’t have been hired to swab out the toilets. Further, it was to be understood from the start that they were being retained to touch up the dialogue and nothing else. And he’d repeated the word ‘nothing’ three times, by which the boys were forced to conclude that a pitch meeting was not in the offing.
“Nice car,” Johnny said.
“That Warner,” Flynn said. “Nothing but the best. Drink?”
The boys nodded. Errol filled two snifters from a cut-glass decanter. The boys sampled it.
“Jesus Christ and all the apostles,” Johnny said. “That’s liquor.”
“So we’re the lads you were hoping to see, eh, mate?” Ed said.
“You won’t let me down, will you?” Errol said, flashing that grin of his. “I’m not saying you didn’t hand in a peach of a script, but I know you were still in the shadow of that Mississippi mucker. Give my lines more vim, eh? I want more en gardes. More 'knaves.' An 'en garde, knave,' would be lovely."
“Check,” Ed said.
“And you’ve just got to do something about the blandishments. My God, not even Errol Flynn could get laid with lines like these, and what Flynn can’t do Don Juan could never dream of. Give me a little of that oomph, eh?”
“That we’ve got in spades, Errol, “Ed said.
“Oomph he means, “ Johnny said.
The rain soon abated and they saw that they were cruising past a long range of hills made up entirely of tumbled boulders. Johnny was shocked to discover that such a strange sight could be found in California, for they looked just like the hills in Gunga Din, and he’d always thought he’d have to travel to India to see anything so exotic. Errol regaled them with stories of his wicked ways until they pulled into Lone Pine, a little town at the foot of the mountains. There wasn’t much to see. A hotel. A greasy spoon. A train station. Lots and lots of rocks. Lone Pain, Errol called it. The moment the Rolls stopped in front of the hotel and he climbed out he was surrounded by a knot of people, most of whom Ed and Johnny recognized. A few of them recognized Ed and Johnny as well, because they quickly left Flynn’s side and ambled over.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Alan Hale said. He led the contingent that included another actor, Ray Burr, and a couple of crew members. “I didn’t know you boys were along for the ride.”
“Let’s hear some of those ideas that have made you famous, boys,” Burr said. A tall, deep-chested man, he had the booming voice of a trial lawyer.
“Why shoor,” Ed said. “Johnny, tell them the idea you had for a Don Juan picture!”
Johnny opened his mouth, then he snapped it shut again. On the first day of his first job in months that didn’t involve picking fruit, he wasn’t going to risk anyone finding out he was airing more of his “alarming” ideas. Besides, he was starting to smell something fishy about all these people demanding to hear them. What were they after, anyway?
“Not now,” he said. “I haven’t worked out all the kinks yet.”
“Well, then I’ll tell it,” Ed said. “Okay, there’s this guy who gets locked up in the loony bin because he thinks he’s Don Juan, see, and he makes friends with this headshrinker…”
Johnny whumped Ed on the back hard enough to silence him. “We better get to our room and start working,” he said. Awareness dawned in Ed’s eyes, and he saluted goodbye to the others and followed.
“Man, oh man,” he heard Alan Hale yelling behind him. “Just think how good it’ll be when Johnny gets all the kinks worked out!”
“Too bad we’re stuck working on this piece of junk!” said Harry, the grip.
Their room was on the top floor of the hotel, set at the far end of the hall. They opened the door and at a glance took in the bunk beds, the two straight-back chairs, and the washstand on which sat an ancient typewriter.
“Welcome to Tehachapi,” Johnny said.
“Tehachapi’s a woman’s prison,” Ed said.
“My point exactly. This cell is too small for a couple of men.”
Ed walked over to the washstand. “Where the hell are my legs supposed to go when I sit down to type?”
“Type standing,” Johnny said. “You could use the exercise.”
“You’re a funny guy,” Ed said. “Did anybody ever tell you that, that you’re a funny guy? You should write for the movies.”
“Aw, nuts,” Johnny said. “I can’t come up with any oomph in this dump. Let’s go down to the bar and get some distraction.”
The bar brought distraction, but not the sort that the boys wanted. Flynn was monopolizing all the local skirts, while the local roughnecks gripped their whiskeys in calloused hands and glared at him in murderous rage. The movie crew seemed to be entirely male, and none of them were happy about it. The only ones who wanted to talk to Ed and Johnny were determined to worm more movie ideas out of them, and Johnny refused to cooperate. The only local who took an interest in them was a bearded desert rat who could have been the inspiration for every comical sidekick in every B Western ever made, who kept winking and asking if it was true what they said about Mary Astor. Ed tried to look the other way, but every way he looked he found himself eye-to-glass-eye with another of the animal heads that festooned the walls. Big-horn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, and wild boars, each one looking to Ed like another reminder of death and failure and the desiccated future of the man who didn’t make it in Hollywood.
“What is this place?” Ed said. “The Blue Hotel?”
“What’s that?” Johnny said.
“A story by Ambrose Bierce.” Ed threw back his drink and said, “Let’s get out of here and go make some oomph.”
The desert rat winked ferociously and giggled at that. Johnny bought a bottle of rye off the bartender, and he and Ed retreated to their room. There they paced and typed and drank until the wee hours, dredging oomph somehow from the oomphless sludge of their souls and tossing it onto the page.
* * *
By the time Johnny became fully conscious the next morning, he was drinking his third cup of coffee and bracing himself against a frigid wind. Beside him, Ed stood gazing into space, apparently unaware that the paper coffee cup he was crunching in his hand had sprung a leak and was dribbling its pale brown contents onto his numbed fingers. In front of him, a camera crew filmed Errol Flynn in a sword duel with a stuntman, tossing out with obnoxious élan assorted “knaves” and “blackguards” that Johnny vaguely remembered slurring out the night before. Above him, the sky was a leaden sheet, pressing them all to the earth. And all around were those weird hills.
“It’s unearthly,” Johnny said.
“Like standing on the surface of Jupiter,” Ed said.
“I’ll bet even Jupiter’s got more dames,” Johnny said.
Johnny had heard that Ann Rutherford was signed to the picture and was looking forward to meeting her because he’d always thought she was cute in those Andy Hardy movies. But Faulkner, the bastard, hadn’t written any scenes for her character that required her to make the trip to Lone Pine. At the outskirts of the shoot sat Viveca Lindfors, the high-class Swedish import who played the main dame, and one frumpy hair stylist, and that was it for women on the set. Unless you counted Percy the make-up man, which neither Ed nor Johnny did.
“I guess I’ll have to take my chances with her,” Ed said.
Johnny thought Ed was seeing something he wasn’t, until he followed his gaze and found it leading straight to Viveca Lindfors. “The Swede?” he said. “You’re screwy.”
“They say she’s an intellectual. Does all that Strindberg and Ibbetson stuff. Just the type that always falls for me.”
Johnny just looked at Ed. He knew he ought to crack some wise, but somehow in that gray coldness he couldn’t find it in himself. He turned back to the shoot, not really looking at anything, his ears picking up the occasional “scoundrel” and “jackanapes” over the eternally howling wind.
Then he heard a car engine purring to a stop and the crunch of tires on the sand behind him. He turned to see the giant chrome face of a Lincoln Zephyr rolling up behind him. The back door swung open. A high-heeled sandal descended to the ground, and after it a perfect calf in a nylon stocking. A long pause followed, when Johnny could only watch and wait. Then Leona Sands lifted herself from the car.
Suddenly all Johnny cared about the leaden sky was how it set off Leona’s tangerine suit and all he cared about the wind was how it tousled her hair. He called her name and hurried toward her. Then he stopped. She was looking at him the way she might have looked at a run in her stocking as she was about to enter a cocktail party.
“They got you working on this shlemozzle too, eh?” he asked.
She looked around herself. “Evidently.”
“Swell,” Johnny said. “Um. Helping keep the history straight I’ll bet, huh?”
She only stared at him.
“That’s great,” he said, licking his lips nervously. “Me and Ed are here because Errol needed us to punch up the dialogue.”
“Oh,” she said. “And here I assumed you were hot on the trail of the Lone Pine Communist Cell.”
Then Johnny got it, and his face split in a grin. He laughed, and when she frowned he enlightened her on what had transpired with Howie Moffitt and Agent Hough, only slightly exaggerating Ed’s reluctance and his own moral courage. Leona was transformed. What had been ice in her eyes melted instantly to dew. She pressed for more details and he found more to give her, then they both started in telling each other everything that had happened between then and now, and by the time they’d caught up to the present their eyes were locked on each other’s and their noses were only five inches apart.
Suddenly Ed was whacking Johnny in the back. “Gotta get back to work, chum,” he said.
Johnny was startled to realize where he was. “Oh. They need new dialogue?”
“They will in a minute,” Ed said, and led him to the far end of the shoot. Once there, however, he just stood and looked at Flynn, who was arguing with a cameraman and demonstrating something vigorously with the epée in his hand.
“When’s this minute going to be up?” Johnny said, keeping his eye on Leona, who was checking in with Vin Sherman, the director.
“Soon,” Ed said. “I can just tell from the look on Flynn’s face that he’s about to need a rewrite.”
Johnny shot him a suspicious look. “They don’t need a rewrite,” he said. “You just wanted to get me away from Leona.”
“I just don’t want a bunch of research-department crap muddying the purity of our scenes, that’s all.”
“The purity of my ass! You just don’t like Leona ‘cause she was right about that government stooge before we were!”
“This has nothing to do with any woman,” Ed said tightly. “I just believe that when a man has been hired to stand by for rewrites, then his job is to attend to the dialogue.”
“Jesus Christ!” Johnny snapped, casting a dark look at Ed as he walked back to Leona. Ed remained rigidly in place, not even looking at him.
During the next scene, Johnny teased Leona about her clipboard with the historical notes and turned the tale of the Nash’s broken fan belt into a laugh-filled romp and bragged about the oomph that good old Errol knew he alone (he and Ed, that is) could bring to a swordfight. But as Errol launched into one particularly oomphy bit of dialogue, she frowned deeply.
“Did he just say, ‘You have stained the alabaster hand of maidenhood, varlet’?”
Johnny grinned. “Do you like it?”
Although Johnny didn’t understand much of what she said over the next two minutes, he understood clearly that she did not, in fact, like it.
“It’s not my fault,” he said. “Errol wanted it like that.”
She turned to him and took his hands and burned her eyes into his. “You can’t let these people make you less than you are. Would Moliére have let some specious soubrette turn Le Misanthrope into a sham?”
“But it’s Errol’s picture,” Johnny said, wishing he knew who this “Moe” was.
“And they’re your words, Johnny. Whatever you write, you’ve got to write it like fire in the sky. Don’t write a syllable unless you know it’s true, all the way down. That’s how you’re going to make this industry come crawling to you.”
This was heady stuff, and when Leona was called back to talk to the director, he had to sit down. No canvas chairs had been provided for the rewrite men, so he had to walk a ways to find a large boulder to sit on. After the blood had returned to his brain, he looked back to see if Leona had finished with Sherman and was free. She was finished with Sherman, all right. But she wasn’t exactly free. Errol Flynn was talking to her, and he was giving her the works. Teeth, eyebrows, dimples, the whole ball of wax. And she was hugging her clipboard to her breasts. And laughing. And blushing.
Johnny’s first impulse was to horn in, but instead he sauntered back over to Ed and made out like he had work to discuss. Ed showed him a grim smile.
“What’s this?” he said. “I thought you’d be over challenging our Tasmanian cocksman to a duel.”
“Ah, hell,” Johnny said. “Flynn’s the only reason we’ve got this job. He’s just bored like the rest of us. I’m not worried about him and Leona.”
“Ha!” Ed said. He was glaring at Leona and Flynn.
Johnny waited until Flynn was back in front of the cameras, then he drifted over to Leona again. She was flushed and strangely animated, and there was a challenge in her eyes that Johnny hadn’t seen before.
“You should have heard some of the stories Errol was telling me,” she said.
“I’ll bet I’ve heard ‘em,” Johnny said.
“There was one…”
“Hey, Leona,” Johnny said. “You want to go out with me or what?”
He collected himself. “Would you like to go to dinner with me tonight? I’ll take you to the best place in Lone Pine.”
“Why, Johnny, I’d love that,” she said, and there was a smugness to her smile.
He wanted to make charming small talk with her, but then he saw Flynn winking at her in the middle of his duel and he couldn’t come up with anything to say.
* * *
“Say, buddy,” said Johnny to the desk clerk. “What’s the best place to take a girl in Lone Pine?”
“The cemetery’s good,” the desk clerk said. “But they say it’ll rain tonight.”
“No, I mean a place to wine her and dine her,” Johnny said. “Someplace nice. With milieu.”
“If the lady likes steak, the Railway Grille usually won’t burn ‘em.”
“Swell. And what if she doesn’t like steak?”
The clerk laughed. “How’s your cookin’?”
Johnny hadn’t brought clothes for a date, but he had Vaseline for his hair, at least, and he was able to bum a magenta silk tie off Ray Burr. He felt as confident as he could expect to as he knocked on the door of Leona’s hotel room, and when she opened it in a little red cinch-waisted number and a hat like a crimson dinner plate he knew no eyes were going to be on him anyway.
“Hiya, baby,” he said. “You like steak?”
“I love steak,” she said.
As Johnny led her down the stairs, he knew nothing could go wrong tonight. As he entered the lobby, he knew different. Right in front of the door, between him and the street, between him and happiness, stood Errol Flynn. He was regaling a cameraman and a gaffer with a story, but when he saw Leona he broke off mid-sentence.
“Hello, love,” he said. “Where are you off to this blustery evening?”
“We’re going out,” Johnny said.
“I was just about to hop in the Rolls,” Flynn said, “and thinking how much warmer it would be to have a bit of charming company. I don’t suppose I could persuade you to join me?”
Johnny knew Flynn wasn’t talking to him, but he said, “We got plans already.”
“My friend Bob Mitchum’s shooting a crime picture in Bridgeport,” Flynn said, as if Johnny hadn’t spoken. “Apparently that’s some sort of town. I thought we’d go out for dinner and drinks. The director might come along too, a French chap, one of the cultured ones. You can’t say no.”
Leona turned to Johnny. She had a gleam in her eye that he didn’t like. “It does sound awfully fun,” she said.
“Oh, and of course your friend is welcome to come too,” Flynn said to Leona. “I hope he won’t feel too out of place.”
Johnny looked at Flynn with blood in his eye. But he didn’t say anything.
“Of course, if you’d rather not,” Leona said to Johnny.
Johnny knew what he wanted to say. It just wasn’t coming out.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to monopolize you on the ride, though,” Flynn was saying. “I have some costume questions to ask you. Wardrobe keeps insisting I wear one of those ridiculous collars just because we’re set in old Spain. You know the kind I mean, they strangle me…”
“A golilla?” she asked with a thrill. “In the sixteenth century?”
“Say, if we’re gonna get those steaks…”
“We can’t let them do that!”
“No, we can’t!”
“Oh, but Johnny did make plans…”
“Naw, that’s okay,” Johnny heard himself saying. “Sounds like you got work to do. And you’ll have a great time anyway. Mitchum’s a real card.”
“But aren’t you coming?”
“Ah, heck, me and Ed’ve got writing to do,” Johnny said. “Seeing Errol here reminded me of all the oomph we’ve gotta shoot into the rest of the script.”
“That’s what I like to hear, laddie,” Flynn said, and winked at him.
Johnny turned white. Then he forced a hideous smile, as if someone had pulled back the corners of a corpse’s mouth, and said, “You kids have a great time. I’ll be up oomphing with you-know-who.”
Leona hesitated just a moment as Flynn began to lead her to the door. She gave Johnny a look that stabbed right through his gut and kept going, a look that had all the contempt and disappointment in it that Johnny had ever felt toward himself. But then he wondered if he’d just imagined it. Because an instant later Leona flashed him her warmest smile and said, “Thanks, Johnny! I’ll see you at the shoot tomorrow!”
Then she was gone.
On the way back to his room he braced himself for Ed’s gleeful cackle and “I told you so.” But Ed’s eyes grew dark when Johnny told him what had happened. Through a constricted throat he growled, “So she’s out there with that weasel?”
“It’s eatin’ me up inside,” Johnny said.
“Just ‘cause he’s the star he thinks he can take whatever he wants.”
Johnny looked at him. “Thanks,” he said.
“For the support. It means a lot. Especially knowing how you don’t like Leona.”
Ed looked away from him. “Hell, I’m your friend, aren’t I? I just don’t like thinking about what you must be going through, knowing she’s out there with that Tasmanian cocksucker.”
“It’s hell,” Johnny said. “Especially knowing I let her go. I shoulda stopped her, damn it.”
“You sure as hell shoulda!” Ed roared.
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “Yeah!” He began to pace around the room. The windows rattled. A wind was rising. Johnny began to talk about what he should have done, the choice words he should have hauled out for Mr. Don Juan. As the first raindrops began to hit the windows, he started talking about what he was going to do when he saw Flynn again. For a while he just stared out at the sheets of rain whipping down the dark highway through the middle of town. He went down to the bar and talked the bartender out of another bottle. He came back up. Ed was lying on his bed staring sightlessly at the wall.
“Don’t you worry,” Johnny said. “I’m taking her away from him. Leona Sands is gonna be Johnny’s girl! You can bet on that!”
Ed didn’t answer. Johnny paced. Johnny drank. Johnny swore. Johnny watched the water raging down the street. At last the rain began to lessen. The wind kept howling, now blowing the storm through. Moonlight broke through the clouds, giving a silver glint to the torrent in the gutters. And just then, the Rolls Royce cruised up to the hotel.
When Errol Flynn led the pretty little research girl into the empty lobby, he expected one of two outcomes. Either the girl would surrender to his guiding hand and come straight to his room, or the girl would resist a little for self-respect’s sake and then surrender. What he did not expect was for a half-drunken rewrite hack to come thundering down the stairs and yell, “Leona! I’m gonna talk to you—and you’re gonna listen!”
Leona lit up at the sight. Somehow she looked thrilled and angry and amused all at once. “I’m listening,” she said.
“But he’s not!” Johnny said, and shouldering Flynn out of the way he pulled Leona through the front door. He wished he had somewhere more romantic to bring her, or warmer at least, but the only place he could think of to get any privacy was outside on the empty main street. The wind knocked her hat off and he caught it. It whipped her hair across her face so that her eyes and lips flickered in and out of view as quickly as her expressions changed, now quizzical, now irritable, now touched. And over the howling of the wind Johnny began to roar.
“You can’t let this guy do this to you! You know what he’s like. You’ve heard the stories. You remember those two seventeen-year-olds on his yacht. He’s had a million gals, Leona—but you’re one in a million. I don’t know how the math comes out when you tally those two up, I only know the answer would leave less of you. Hell, I know he’s hard to resist. I know if Lana Turner turned the charm on me like he’s done to you, I’d go goofy too. But that’s what’s wrong with this screwy business. Just ‘cause they have their mugs up on celluloid they think they live by a different set of rules. But not the rest of us. We live in the real world, we have to live by the rules. We can’t leave our mistakes on the cutting room floor. You deserve so much more than a slob who’d use you and toss you aside like an empty bottle. You deserve a man who’ll treasure you, Leona. Not rob you of your treasures.”
The shadow of a scudding cloud hid her face as he finished speaking. Then the moonlight broke through and lit her with a diamond light, and she was glowing.
“Oh, Johnny!” she breathed. “That was magnificent!”
“It had everything. Vivacity, poignancy, pathos, fervor. Metaphors cut straight from the common clay of America. Grand romance spun by the naïve tongue of the working man. Imagine Henry Fonda delivering those lines!”
“But that was straight from the heart, Leona. Jesus, that was no scene I was dictating.”
“An artist can’t help but always be an artist, Johnny.”
“You have greatness in you, Johnny. You may not realize it yet, but when I get through with you, you will. You could be the Byron of the masses. The Swinburne of Main Street. The…”
But Johnny wasn’t listening anymore. There was another light breaking through the clouds, and this one wasn’t the moon. All of a sudden, everything was clear. Sure, it was nice that Leona believed in him when nobody else would take him seriously. But around this girl he could never be himself. He could only be the writer she wanted him to be, some high-falutin’ joker walking down Main Street in sideburns. It hurt like hell to admit it, but it was suddenly as undeniable as a lead pipe against the back of his head. He could never be happy with this woman.
Then he noticed that Leona had finally wound down and was gazing at him expectantly. “Was there something else you wanted to say, Johnny?”
“Uh, no, that’s about it,” he said. “I guess I just want you to watch out for the crumb-bum Flynn.”
“But…weren’t you about to tell me what sort of man I should be with?”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. You should be with a nice guy. Sure! That’s what I was going to say. I’m sure a gal like you meets a lot of nice guys. Stick with one of them.”
Leona’s face had lost all its expectancy. Her eyes, as Johnny continued to gaze into them, seemed to congeal into hard little pellets.
Johnny said, “Well, see you in the A.M.,” and got the hell of there.
* * *
Ed apparently hadn’t moved. But when Johnny announced that it was all over with Leona, he sat up abruptly and stared him straight in the eye. “I’ve heard that one before,” he said.
“I mean it this time. She ain’t the lass for this lad.”
“So you mean you’re not going to be seeing her.”
“How can I not see her? She’s working with us on this picture, isn’t she?”
“But you mean there’s nothing between you.”
“Nada. Bupkis. Ipzay. How much plainer can I make it?”
“So where is she now?”
Johnny flopped on the bed and started unbuttoning his shirt. “I don’t know. None of my business.”
“Is she in her room?”
“Unless she’s in Flynn’s room.”
“She’s a big girl. She knows what she’s getting into. Probably make a great story for her grandkids.”
Suddenly Ed was getting out of bed and putting on his shoes.
* * *
Although Errol Flynn had not expected the rewrite man to appear and deliver his little grandstand performance, he always prided himself on his ability to adjust quickly to changing circumstances. He’d immediately found the pay phone and gone down the list of local girls who had given him their numbers until he found one who didn’t have parents or a husband to object to him dropping by in the Rolls at three in the morning. But just as he was turning toward the door, he saw the rewrite man charge through it, heading for the stairs. Alone. And a few moments later, in came the research girl, quite fetchingly tousled, windburned, and, if he knew his women (which he did), spurned. He felt an instant of remorse for the waitress who would be sitting by the door of her lonely little apartment until the sun rose, but he was able to dismiss it by the time the grin had finished spreading across his lips.
“Hello, my love,” he said.
The rage smoldering in the eyes she turned on him promised a most entertaining hour or two, and it was with a happy heart that he took her elbow. Then he heard a voice. A booming voice.
“Varlet! Knave! Blackguard!”
It was the other rewrite man, the big one, and his face was twisted in rage. That in itself was strange to see, but even stranger was the fact that the man had somehow procured a pair of dueling swords from the prop department.
“You have stained the alabaster hand of maidenhood!” the man thundered, and he tossed one of the swords to Flynn. “For that, I challenge you to a duel!”
Flynn saw the other rewrite man emerging from the stairs above, screaming, “Ed, no!” He heard the research girl squeal. Then he saw a flash of metal.
* * *
Johnny parked the car right in front of the hospital. That was one nice thing about being in the boondocks. Lots of parking.
“So I hear they’re letting you out tomorrow,” he said to Ed when he got to his room.
“They say as long as I don’t move too quickly and change the dressings every day, I should be fine,” Ed said.
“I had a bet going with the desk clerk at the hotel,” Johnny said. “Whether you or the Nash would be fixed first. I guess stab wounds take longer than a fan belt.”
“Did you win or lose?” Ed said.
Johnny shrugged. “You know my luck.”
Ed chuckled. “I’m just glad I got one poke in at that Tasmanian rat,” he said.
“Mighta been better if you hadn’t cut his face, though,” Johnny said. “They’ve had to shelve the picture for months, it’s costing Warners a fortune, and J.L. has sworn that not only won’t we get any credit for this job but we’ll never get any work out of him ever again.”
“Oh, well. There’s plenty of other studios.”
Johnny wondered what studios Ed could be referring to, but he let it slide. “He also refused to pay for the fan belt. Which eats up nearly everything we made off this job.”
Ed was silent for a minute. “Sorry,” he said at last.
“Just promise me one thing,” Johnny said. “This doesn’t mean you’ve gone whacky for that Leona babe, does it? I mean, it’s bad enough one of us stepped in that tar pit.”
“Hell no,” Ed said. “Jerks like Flynn just burn me up, that’s all. I just had to strike a blow for womanhood at large.”
“Hokay,” Johnny said. And he tried to buy it. He even tried to ignore that big bouquet on the windowsill with the card reading, “Merci, mon chevalier,” in a very feminine, and very neat, hand.
Be here October 1st when the boys' lives take a sudden turn for the better (or is it worse?) in "It's a Minsky!"