diary of a professional antagonist
You’ll Never Work in This Town Again
I started life as an actor, a jobbing, useless motherfucker desperate for attention and cursed to serve my more supple skin days in the car parks outside parties I wished to be invited to. I did it all, park cars, take tickets, find keys, keep wives at bay while their director husbands had their cocks sucked on by my coat-check girl colleagues – all of whom found careers in the spotlight, even if they still bow down before they get the green light. Me, I took the hard road into the light and had to pave that same road in blood before I got my shot… and then blew it.
It was a cold, crisp December night. The Ritz looked prettier than a supernova and I felt like shit. 2:30am and only one set of keys was left. I told the others to go, hoping on a big tip but really waiting on the owner for something else, an introduction. Then he staggered out, the director of what would turn out to be one of the greatest movies of all time. The 70’s were already flying but this was going to change things. I helped him to his car, he fell in before vomiting all over my shoes, then apologized. I played it cool, said I was waiting for an excuse to get a new pair of brogans anyway. I told him I was an actor and would love to work for him.
“Drive me home, kid, I’m late.”
The wait was worth it, I had a foot in the door and one of the icons of the 70’s now owed me. Then we got to the house he was staying at in the hills and things changed. A black sedan was parked outside. I helped him to the door, it was already open. Something was off, the air was dead and I didn’t like the way the floorboards creaked inside. Deliberate. Expectant. He pushed the door open to reveal an abyss of darkness beyond.
“Come back tomorra’, kid. We’ll work something out.”
“Thanks, Mister –”
Suddenly, an electrical cable whipped through the air behind him, wrapped around his throat and dragged him inside. I ran – into an elbow. When I woke I had a view of the stars I hadn’t asked for and a gun pointed at my head. The director was on his knees, begging for his life, saying I was his nephew and that we would do anything to live. These weren’t the kind of guys you fucked with. These weren’t actors, these weren’t Hollywood. This was a different ball game that jumped the fence and invited itself to the party. Nobody was going to tell these guys ‘no’, not the cops, not their wives and, as piss leaked into my shitty brogans, I realized I wasn’t going to say it either.
They told the director to fuck off back to New York and never look back unless he wanted me, his ‘nephew’, to experience the digestive system of a fish. Naturally he agreed and after he crashed his car twice trying to get out the front gate they took me as collateral into the dregs of the city’s slum in the back of a car, despite my pleas of mistaken identity. A couple of seconds later I knew life was about to change in a very real way when a .38 revolver was placed in my hands. The fingers that pressed it into my grip were colder than the devil’s and harder than the bit of a jackhammer.
“Get a feel for it, kid.”
They raised it, forced me to point it at the back of the driver’s head.
“Go ahead. Pull the trigger.”
The driver flashed a look at me in the rear-view, his black eyes filled with dead fury and burning intensity. He winked at me then said –
“What’cha waitin’ for?”
I looked at the man in the shadows next to me. The brim of his hat bobbed ever so slightly and I caught a brief reflection of silver light in the black coals where his eyes once used to be. I couldn’t tell which of them said it, but someone whispered –
“Snap back the hammer, then squeeze. It’s that easy.”
I admit, I thought twice about putting it in my own mouth and doing just that, then a hard *snap* jolted me to my senses as a blade jabbed me in the ribs and cut the skin. I pulled back the hammer and held my breath. Time stood still. Snow flakes seemed like they were floating for an eternity toward the front windshield.
The gun was empty. A booming laugh filled the car, my arm was still locked forward. Something like post-traumatic stress was setting in but then I noticed what they noticed –
“Look at that.”
My arm, unflinching, holding that weapon like it had been born with it. The man in the shadows started to clap, he stopped when I pulled the trigger a second time, then a third and my eyes locked on those black coals of his.
“I’m hoping for your sake four, five and six are just as hollow.”
He didn’t move, but the driver did. I had his attention, he was worried. He knew how to count and knew the score.
The tires screeched, we hit an embankment then slammed through a wall. The accelerator was still down when I came to, blood dripped from my face, none of it my own. The man in the shadows stood outside looking in and I could feel cold steel against the skin on my neck.
“That was a first, kid. You’ve some nerve, but you’ve got balls, too.”
“I don’t know what I was –”
“You’re workin’ for me now.”
He pointed at the driver.
“I’m a man short and the work’s backed up.”
“What kind of work.”
It wasn’t long before another car pulled in beside us. He got in but before he left threw the .38 to one of his goons and pointed at me. I was left with an edgy, semi-psychotic looking waif.
“When you’re ready, kid. Let’s do this.”
He took me to a warehouse where this fat bastard was tied to a chair with a bag over his head. This was to be my training. Over the course of the next eight hours he showed me the how’s and where’s of the trade then made me finish the job. Details aren’t important, suffice it to say my stomach was long since gone and the shred of sanity that remained was going to leave me on the breadline or in bottom dollar jobs for the rest of my life. Somehow I made it through and they set me up in an office on the strip with nothing more than a phone and a poster of the ocean – one a reminder of where they wanted me at all times, the other a reminder of where I’d end up if I tried to run.
So, for four years I sat there, took the odd call and rid the world of one more scumbag. I started to decorate the place, decided if I was going to have an office on the strip I might as well act the part, so I had a guy engrave my name on the door and put ‘productions’ after it. I never made it as an actor, fuck that game, I was going to be top dog, hot as shit producer, no credits to his name but a shit load of firepower backing me up. They dropped in once or twice, thought the idea was funny then realized there was an angle and put some money behind me. I was legit, I was making porn, but I was legit. They ran drugs, guns, everything through that little office, made connections they couldn’t have before and introduced me to all the wrong people. It wasn’t to last and the fun was about to come to a dead stop.
Word had spread about an indie producer who kept a low profile, they were billing me as a Howard Hughes type and some buzz started to build. The guys didn’t like it and I got the feeling they were about to send me to the ocean for a long swim. A knock on the door saved my life. A hero of mine, a real life, big shot producer walked in the room, introduced himself and said –
“What’s your story, kid? You’re starting to steal my thunder.”
I had the cover story down but my mistake was underestimating this guy, a guy who had heard every bullshit pitch from A to Z and knew a phoney when he saw one. Somehow, all that blood and firepower made me forget that I was stupid. He had heard things, names of people seen up here and knew I was knee deep in shit so rancid I’d leave a stink on the strip that would outlast the next four generations of my seed. Then he dropped a bomb on me, he was talking to the feds and guaranteed that if I gave up what I knew there would be a way out. The weight of the last four years buckled my knees and I finally gave up.
They moved hard and fast. It was a blitz, and before I could breathe the first breath of the next morning all my employers were behind bars or full of lead. With nowhere else to go I went back to the office and found my hero waiting with a big, fat cigar in his mouth, directing the removal men as they cleared out all of my shit.
“You did a good job, kid, but I promise you this – you’ll never work in this town again.”
He patted me on the back on his way out. A fed took me out of town then dumped me in Salt Lake City to lie low. I stayed there for a few years, living out a shitty, boring existence and to fill in the time started to write. Lucky for me my hero’s promise didn’t have the legs to outrun cancer. He sank into the dirt a few years back and the door to the strip opened once more. Sure, I’m a hack, a bum, a screenwriter, the lowest of the low, surviving on that one shred of sanity, but that’s all they ask in Hollywood, and if you last long enough someone will make a movie about you, too.