“Do I look like a gladiator?”
“I’ve never seen you in a toga.”
I liked her. “Keep playing your cards right.”
“I give up,” she said with a coy smile.
“Why would you ever want to shorten a name like that?”
“Because it’s impossible to say in the middle of an orgasm.”
After she blinked them, her eyes went wide.
“Have you ever tried?” I asked.
“Max Fuentes!” shouted someone else entirely from outside the dressing room we occupied.
“What is it, Fraulein Kommandant?”
When Gretchen entered, her angel’s face was scrunched up in confusion; but she let that pass before replying, “You’re supposed to be interviewing the star, not the makeup girl.”
“Makeup woman,” I told her.
“Well?” Gretchen tapped her feet to further illustrate her point.
As I stood, the makeup woman said to me, “When you’re done in there, let’s get back to talking about your name.”
“Looking forward to it, Jen.”
“Lynn,” she replied coldly.
I winced. Gretchen snorted.
I let Gretchen go ahead of me, because my dislike of her did not extend to the way her ass swayed when she walked. “I don’t see why I have to be here for this,” I muttered.
“Because you’re the reporter.” She didn’t end the sentence with the word idiot, but it was implied.
Sarcasm was a concept that didn’t exist in her world, so I skipped ahead in the conversation. “I’m a goddamned stenographer. Let me save everyone the time: ‘I’m Curtis McKean, and I’m really excited to be working with Stanley Marshall again. He’s an actor’s director, and he has this vision I believe in that really connects with the audience. Know what I’m sayin’? It’s a dream come true to be working on a movie about the character of Mastermind, because I’ve been a fan of the comics since I was a little kid…'”
She tossed her perfect waves of blond hair and growled, “What the hell is your problem?”
“My problem is that I have to walk through that door and say the words, ‘Rumor has it that you and costar Alysin Perez sizzled off-screen as much as you sizzled on-screen. Any truth to that?'” I held my thumb and forefinger millimeters apart. “I am this close to clawing out my own goddamned tongue.” I muttered, “Not like I’m going to get to use it on Gwen anyway.”
Gretchen looked over her shoulder to the dressing room with a frown. “I thought her name was Lynn.”
“Fuck this,” I told her as I burst into the green room. “Time to be a quote-unquote journalist.”
“Pull yourself together, Max Fuentes!” she scolded.
And the worst part? She was absolutely right. I loved my job. When was the last time I let it get to me like this? When was the last time I forgot a woman’s name like this–especially one I was wooing so successfully? And so, as much as I didn’t want to admit that she was right, I had to. “Okay,” I sighed. “Why don’t you give me a second while you go take some pictures or whatever it is you do.”
“Because I took them already.”
“Even the one where he gazes soulfully out a window?”
“How about the faux-candid shot where he lets down his guard and laughs shyly into his hand?”
“I forgot that one.”
“Well get to it, then!” I demanded.
“You don’t get to tell me how to do my job!”
From the overstuffed couch nearby, Curtis McKean chuckled, “You two need to get a room.”
I was aghast because, while my body would gladly explore a weekend’s worth of sins with her body, my personality found hers intolerably irritating. She was aghast because she’d found out by accident exactly what my personality thought of hers.
“Curtis,” I said. “Can I call you Curtis?”
“Sure!” he replied.
I took a careful, cleansing breath before I said something I might regret. See, I know that I can be a cranky person. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that my job consisted of enabling overpaid narcissism, often on an irregular schedule, and usually at the cost of my sleep and health. Some of this could be attributed to my biggest hobbies, which consisted of sex, drugs, and the acquisition of such. Some–if not most–of this, could be attributed to the fact that I was a New Yorker. Hell, I’m sure that a lot of the blame could go to growing up in a trailer park with a bipolar tomboy as my closest friend.
But today was special. Today marked the eighth time in the two weeks since I met my new neighbor that she called me dude. That’s not what was breaking me. No, what really pissed me off was how much that was getting under my skin.
Curtis McKean didn’t deserve me taking this out on him, but that wasn’t going to stop me from doing so.
“Curtis,” I told him, “if you ever insinuate any kind of romantic chemistry between me and my photographer again…”
“The newspaper’s photographer,” she clarified.
“… this photographer again, I will drop-kick your skull across the Triboro Bridge.”
“What he said,” Gretchen agreed.
Curtis McKean’s perfectly sculpted nostrils flared with a furious veracity that he could never quite bring with him to the big screen. “You can’t talk to me like that!”
The fact that I did was all I needed for me to return to character. I laughed, “Just kidding, Curtis! Can I call you Curtis?”
Curtis McKean’s membership in Mensa was one of those little publicity factoids bandied about as a means of distinguishing him from the rest of the stars dotting screens big and small, but even all that intelligence couldn’t help him comprehend what had just happened. He turned to Gretchen for slack-jawed clarification, but she just giggled, rolled her eyes, and shrugged.
“Before I ask you what it’s like to work with director Stanley Marshall,” I began, “how about letting me in on some of that behind-the-scenes chemistry between you and costar Alyson Perez?”
Hours later, I shuffled up the stairs to my apartment, dreading the inevitable run-in with my neighbor, who always seemed to be waiting to ambush me with that most cruel of cudgels: the word dude. Yet somehow–and I don’t know how–I made it home unscathed.
As I deadbolted and chained the door, my fellow apartment-dwellers waved from the loveseat in front of the television.
Fellow dweller number one, Cameron, said, “Roomie.”
“Roomie,” I said back.
“Just getting in?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Yes, it is.”
Fellow dweller number two, Mitchell, chimed in, “Shorty.”
“Chico,” I chimed back.
“How was work?”
“Crap,” I replied. “Yours?”
“Glad we had this talk,” I told them.
“Same again tomorrow?”
“Probably,” I muttered before stumbling into my bedroom, kicking off my boots, and tossing myself onto my mattress just in time for my cell phone to buzz. I didn’t have to look to know that it was my editor, Myron, who was the only person who ever called me.
“Chief,” I said.
“I hate it when you call me that,” he replied.
“Probably as much as I hate it when you call me on my phone.”
“I don’t really care what you hate,” he said. “Reese Kensington just got arrested again for drunken disorderly.”
“I’m not surprised,” I replied. “Guy can’t hold his liquor.”
“I need you to meet Gretchen downtown and get a statement as soon as he makes bail.”
I whined, “I just got home!”
“Well,” he said, “since you live all the way up in Inwood, it’s going to take you forever to get there, so I suggest you leave now.”
I cried out, “Fuck!” so that the fu part lasted all the way through my ending the call, getting to my feet, slipping on my boots, splashing my face with cold water, and storming through the living room. The ck only occurred when I stepped out of the door, only to see my neighbor in the process of stepping into hers.
“Dude,” she said before disappearing into her apartment.
Great. Now I was going to have to lash out at Reese Kensington, which sucked because I actually liked him…