(Go here to see the first chapter of this novel, soon to be a major mini-series event on the Dumont Television Network, starring Jack Carson as "Buddy", Gloria Grahame as "Joan", and Walter Pidgeon as the "Ancient Mariner".)
Next day Joan started in.
“Y’know, Bud,” she said, “Stephen would be good for the part of the detective lieutenant.”
Buddy was in pre-production on Triggerwoman II. They had signed Sally Fenster and Milt Dickens for the leads, but they hadn’t cast this one part yet.
“Stephen who?” said Buddy, even though he knew damn well Stephen Who.
“You know who. Stephen. My teacher.”
“Oh. Well, a police lieutenant with a ponytail? I dunno, Joan.”
“What about Steven Seagall? He’s played cops with his ponytail.”
“Yeah, but he’s always like the undercover special agent crapola cop; this guy’s supposed to be like the regular detective boss-type cop, not --”
“You know, not the bullshit zen hero fuckin’ samurai ninja Steven Seagall caftan-wearing --”
“He could cut it. I’m sure he would cut his ponytail.”
Oh I’ll bet he would...
“Bud, you could at least give him a reading.”
“As a favor to me.”
“Hey, listen, babe, we got a very good chance to get Bob Forster for this part. We can’t get him I think we can get Mike Parks. These guys owe me back from when they couldn’t get arrested. But I am not gonna cast --” now, now, don’t be nasty -- “your acting teacher. He would sink the movie.”
“He would not.”
So of course, the way these things go, a couple of days later the Ancient Mariner came in to read for the part.
Buddy and his partner Harvey had a ground-floor suite of offices at Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas, and besides Buddy and Harvey that day there was Iggy Cochran, who was directing the show, and Harvey’s daughter Heather, who was their regular line-producer. The way their outfit usually worked, Harvey came up with the stories, Buddy turned them into scripts, and they both produced, laying as much of the boring work as they could on their production manager, a girl named Debbie Greenberg who never bothered with crap like auditions.
Buddy had warned the crew about the Mariner, and they had deliberately scheduled him for 3:00 p.m. so they could all have a nice long lunch beforehand down the street at Musso’s, during which, and over his fair share of wine, Buddy had them all laughing in their sauerbraten with his story of the night at the little theatre and the after-show party at the Mariner’s. So they were all prepared, and they even shared a joint out back before heading in to Harvey’s office.
It was a rainy day, and the Mariner made his entrance in an enormous navy-blue 19th Century frock coat and this great dripping slouch hat. He looked like a cowardly Union general who’d just suffered a disastrous defeat and was looking to shift the blame. Marlene -- Harvey and Bud’s office manager -- just rolled her eyes and shut the door behind him.
“Not a fit day for man or beast,” said the Mariner, shaking the great folds of coat.
“Here, Stephen,” said Buddy, “let me take your coat.”
“Thank you, Buddy,” intoned the Mariner.
“Looks like this chumpy really keeps the wet out,” said Buddy. The fucking thing weighed about twenty pounds.
“Yes, it’s a Breton sea-captain’s coat actually.”
The Mariner swept off his hat and shot a spray of rainwater across the room.
“Really,” said Buddy, “a friend of yours?”
The Mariner lowered his big balding but ponytailed head and gazed at Buddy over his yellow-lensed wire-rim glasses.
“No. Not one particular captain’s. Just a captain’s.”
“Oh, I gotcha.” Buddy tried to hang the thing up on the coat stand but it was so heavy the stand started to keel over so he just draped it over a chair. “Bet you there’s a story behind that hat, too.”
“There is actually --”
The Mariner passed the hat with what seemed like reluctance to Buddy’s outstretched hand. Buddy tossed it unceremoniously onto the chair and said, “So, let’s get to work.”
“Oh; yes --” said the Mariner.
Buddy introduced everyone and the Mariner looked with guarded obsequiousness on Harvey, with naked lust on Heather, and with provisional disdain on Iggy.
(Iggy was only thirty or so but he was good, they’d hired him right out of film school as an AD and he’d already directed three pictures for Bud and Harvey, Probable Cause with Mike Madsen and Valerie Bertinelli, Browning Hi-Power III with Cynthia Rothrock and Eric Roberts, and the first Triggerwoman, with Selma Blair and Billy Zane.)
“So,” said the Mariner. “This is the team.”
“Yeah,” said Buddy. “The Royal Shakespeare Company West.”
“And Joan tells me you have need of un homme d’un certain âge.”
“I am so thrilled that you are giving me this opportunity, Buddy.”
“Cool, but, Steve --”
“I’m sorry. Stephen.”
“Thank you. I have never -- felt like a Steve.”
“Right. But -- what was I saying -- oh, yeah, it’s just, you know, we are considering some other good actors for this part --”
“Certainly. Certainly. I quite understand. I have been in this business for a very long time, and I must say that as a director myself -- albeit in the theatre -- I have done a fair bit of casting myself. That is, not casting myself, necessarily, although that has often been the case, faute de mieux, but casting others. And so I know how -- how excruciating it can be.”
“Right,” said Buddy. And, trying to cover his ass a little on the Joan front, “But also, Stephen, I got to say we at this company believe the director runs the show, so the final decision on casting is Iggy’s.”
Iggy made a face like What? Since fucking when? but the Mariner said:
“Yes, of course. And as it should be,” and he darted a glance at Iggy full of the reverence that had formerly been concentrated on Harvey and Buddy.
“Okay, where’s the goddam sides?” said Harvey.
“Here ya go, Dad,” said Heather.
“I did prepare a monologue --” said the Mariner.
“Ah, that’s okay,” said Buddy, and he took the sides from Harvey and passed them to the Mariner.
“Well, if you say so.”
The Mariner removed his tinted granny glasses, put them away somewhere under his elbow-patched tweed jacket and took out another pair with identical frames but with clear lenses.
“You wanta glance through that for a minute, Stephen?”
“Yes, if I may.”
“You’re Lieutenant Broadridge.”
“I see. A police captain, Joan said.”
“Well, lieutenant actually.”
“That’s right. Grizzled old --” Buddy wanted to say fart -- “uh, tough old veteran.”
“Hmmm. Hmmmm,” said the Mariner. “Hmmm,” and so on. “Hmmm.” Finally, “May I ask a question?”
“Sure,” said Buddy.
“Where is the man from?”
“Where’s he from? I have no idea. I mean we’re shooting here in L.A. He’s from L.A. I guess.”
“Yes, but so many of us Angelenos are from elsewhere, aren’t we? Especially those no longer quite in the first blush of youth.”
“Okay, so --”
“Perhaps a bit o’ the Irish brogue? Just a wee lilt mind you.”
“Well, maybe, but Broadridge, that’s more like an English name, isn’t it?”
“Oh. Perhaps a touch o’ the Cockney then.”
“Just do it in a regular American voice,” said Harvey.
The Mariner seemed stricken.
“I mean just for starters,” said Harvey.
“Very well,” said the Mariner. “But --”
“Yeah, Stephen,” said Buddy.
“Just one more question.”
Iggy took out his cigarettes and offered them to Harvey and Heather, who each took one.
“I can see there is a certain -- animus -- between Broadridge and, uh,” the Mariner glanced at the page, “Palmer.”
“Animus,” said Buddy.
“Yes, a certain --”
“Yeah,” said Buddy, not saying I know what fucking animus means, you turd, “you see, he suspects this Nikki Palmer, this female private eye, is really a hitwoman. He’s grilling her. At the police station. Like it says in the script. In the interrogation room. He supposedly thinks she’s just killed two of his detectives. You know, that’s why he says --” Bud glanced over at the set of sides that Heather held -- “uh, that’s why he says, ‘You killed them. I know you did. Those boys were like sons to me and you shot them down like mad dogs. You bitch.’”
“Ah, I see. So we want -- hostility --”
“Uh, right,” said Buddy.
“But also -- and this is my question -- do I sense a subtext here of -- well, of sexual attraction?”
“A certain sexual undercurrent.”
“What -- like Broadridge wants to -- to --”
“Oh, not just him. You see, I think it’s reciprocal.”
“You mean she wants to fuck him?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it as such in mixed company --”
“Where -- how -- what?”
“You see, here, right here, where, oh, yes, here, she says, ‘You’re a hard man, Broadridge. A very hard man.’”
“Oh,” said Buddy.
“So you see,” said the Mariner, “she’s saying --”
“He’s a hard man.”
“Yes. Quite. And she likes that. A hard man.”
“So,” said Harvey, after thirty seconds of silence, “let’s do it. Heather here will read Palmer. Ig, you wanta man the camera?”
They had a video camera already set up on a tripod.
“Oh, right,” Iggy got up and went over to the camera, and Heather stood a little to his side. Iggy pressed a button. “Ready to roll,” he said. He and Heather both had cigarettes hanging out of their lips.
“Where should I stand?” asked the Mariner.
“Come a little closer to me,” said Iggy. “Okay, stop.”
“Okay,” said Buddy, “You ready, Iggy?”
“Right. Stephen McGurk, reading Lieutenant Broadridge. Any time, Stephen.”
“Um, should I look into the camera?”
“Just look at Heather,” said Buddy. “Whatever feels right.”
“Okay, but -- just so we’re on the same page here --”
“What I mean to say is, I should play this by way of being shall we say a love scene.”
Another silence fell over the office, broken only by the sound of rain pattering against the windows.
(Continued here, unless the network pulls the plug. Please refer to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Selmur Production.)