Friday, 21 March 2014

Fade To Black - 21 March 2014

Welcome back to Elmeaux Originals. And so… now that we've completed the introduction to FADE TO BLACK, it’s time to dive into the story. We've met Annalee MacDonald, the young, budding actress who is about to attend her first movie audition. And we've also met Allan Baird, the eccentric, flamboyant dandy who is off to meet with an executive team called “Coleman - Kopanski.” Ah, but who exactly are these execs, and why is Allan interested in meeting with them? We shall see right away.

By the way, I thought this trivia might interest you. FTB consists of SIX ACTS and a bunch of CHAPTERS. Each ACT is named after a part from my original short story, entitled APRIL RAIN. As the story progresses, APRIL RAIN will be featured, and the ACT titles will make more sense to you.

The CHAPTERS are all named after excerpts from various works of Poe. You’ll probably recognise most of them.

And awaaaay we go!


NOTE:

FADE TO BLACK IS FOR ADULTS. IT CONTAINS ALL MANNER OF DEBAUCHERY, NASTY LANGUAGE, MATURE CONTENT, DEPICTION OF ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES, ETC. IF IT'S NOT TO YOUR TASTES, YOU'LL KNOW PRETTY QUICKLY.

FADE TO BLACK IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. AT ALL. EVER.

IF YOU ARE AN ADULT, AND WISH TO DIVE INTO THIS CRAZY WORLD, PROCEED. IF YOU ARE A CHILD, GO AWAY IMMEDIATELY.
_____________________________________________________________________

Fade to Black

© 2008 CL Seamus



ACT ONE

A STORY IN THE VILLAGE




SUDDENLY THERE CAME A TAPPING

      Coleman-Kopanski was a partnership holed up in a glassed-in mezzanine, some fifty feet above an open warehouse soundstage in the recently opened complex known as Conversion Films. Because the front glass wall sloped forward to a view of the open spaces below, the office had been nicknamed The Box, due to a resemblance to those media broadcasting boxes that perched above arena floors  The place had been a dock-front processing plant, bought in 1996 by a group of ambitious men looking to produce lower-budget films, or even just to rent space and equipment to those who came with their own financing. The name Conversion had come simply because of the huge rebuilding project. During construction, the work had been referred to as The Conversion and it stuck.

     Ted Coleman was a tall towhead, a self-involved loudmouth of burly stature. Just shy of forty-five, he’d been in commercial real estate for twenty years. His nose for deals had led him to the top of his game with little competition. He was the one who’d dealt with the scruffy group that wanted to buy the warehouses, and had found their ambition both original and promising. He’d spoken to Dan Kopanski, an always-optimistic thirty-six-year-old producer who’d been elected by his cohorts to inquire about terms.

      As part of the schmooze to get Dan to drop money on the table, Ted bought lunch. As they spoke, he found himself drifting from the idea of selling the place to a thought that he might like to join the partnership. Dan's associates nixed the offer, fearing Ted was just some fat cat trying to muscle his way into a position of power over something he’d not lifted a finger to build. They understood he came with big money, but with big money usually came big demands for big control. No thanks. We have all the partners we need. Once the facility was bought, however, Ted approached Dan privately and offered partnership to his own interests. He’d be part of Dan’s share only, with no interference to the other offices. It meant they’d start with solid financing, and probably get better pictures going right away. Dan accepted.

     When work was completed in late 1997, and space divided up, fear of Ted’s intentions faded - he’d demanded nothing when the name Conversion Films was chosen. It wasn't going to be Ted Coleman Incorporated as some had worried. It became four film-making enterprises of mutual but self-contained ambitions: Avian Flight, Rivers & Hoffman, Dockworker, and Coleman-Kopanski.

      It turned out Ted never wanted control of the warehouse. Apparently, all he wanted control of was Dan. The man was experienced in the world of film, and by hitching his wagon to that star, Ted was able to leave the less than glamorous world of real estate and call himself Executive Producer. His endless list of contacts meant he could get the best deals on any location shoot; he knew who owned every piece of property for five hundred miles. But he knew nothing of movies. He also knew he’d not be the best at making decisions of an artistic nature. To that end, Dan would be the creative voice in the partnership.
__________

      Dan Kopanski had been married ten years - he was father to an eight-year-old boy and three-year-old girl.

Diaper changer and snot wiper

      He’d produced four small indie films prior to starting with the Conversion group, and had a reputation as a man of aplomb and patience to the extreme. Who cared if Coleman appeared before Kopanski on the door? It sounded better anyway. Dan was like a teacher in a room full of children, clapping his hands and saying, “All together now.” Peacemaker in the middle of loud movie-making bravado, Dan smoothed things over, relaxed the temperamental, fed hungry egos, and made it work in the trenches. And he pulled it off without grouch or resentment - a man of soothing calm. He was also nicely tempered in matters of finance. People liked dealing with Dan because he combined his disciplines with an open-minded willingness to let the art flow freely. With his nose always to the wind, he’d been the first to get the lowdown on an underground writing talent being whispered about in certain circles - a strange creature named Allan Baird, who’d apparently been writing for a campus paper in Woodland, making waves in the world of noir-fiction, until scandal arose over the increasingly anti-social content of his work. Tired of always having to fight to have his stories printed, Baird eventually quit.

     This information had come by way of magazine editor, Tim Wallace, who’d been among Allan’s inner circle at school. Tim was a narrow, six-four beach boy, with streaked blond hair clipped into an upper class frat-house style. He also had fangs - implants, but daunting nonetheless. He ran a rag called Vampire Life, the bastard child of Woodland’s underground paper, Night Times. VL had sprung up to declare war, back when the first hints of censorship started keeping good work from appearing in the Times. Men with fangs were not usually fond of censorship. Like its parent, VL did cult and horror film reviews, but it also printed the censored stories, and conducted its business without any of the restraints placed on the Times - restraints that always crept in when you had institutions financing your product. VL had avoided such censorship by obtaining its financing from the contributors themselves. Allan Baird had shouldered a lot of that weight during VL’s early days. Between him, Wallace, and a handful of others, they managed to keep the patient alive until it started breathing on its own.

     Advertising began to show up from Wiccan supply shops, Goth clothing stores, tattoo parlours, arthouses - money trickled in at first, but eventually grew enough to relieve pressure from the contributors. There was extra interest because of the previously verboten work, of course, but in reality the entire rag was better than the Times.

     The whole thing finally exploded into what was best described as Mainstream Underground when they started printing interviews with covens, cults, snuff and porn film makers - anybody with a kinky bent. VL had pulled out all the stops in its effort to suck the life out of the Times. As writer, Tim had enjoyed a certain measure of success with a multi-issue project on vampire sexuality. He interviewed the Unclean, those who claimed insights into vast expanses of existence. They reported that everything in the universe was actually one sex and the true soul was without gender, so vampires could enjoy relations with whomever they pleased, without consideration of male or female. Apparently, living among the Undead was a lot like being in Hollywood.

     At first, Tim printed Allan’s stories as revenge against the Times, but the more he read, the more he came to enjoy the work on its own merit. Allan wasn't a vampire, but he was a man of tremendous style and skill. One of those works was called Haircut, a short story in which an ugly murder takes place after two boys have an argument about hair length. Once printed, it brought Baird himself to the forefront of this so-called Mainstream Underground. The fan base was a devoted colony of vampires, cultists, and lovers of all things dark and broody - generally broad-brushed as Goth culture. Despite every effort to disavow himself as a member of said culture, Allan found his admirers among them, and so learned to embrace them as friends. But according to Tim, Allan hadn't submitted anything in three years. When the magazine had been taken off life-support, he’d backed out and returned to his own ambitions. Payback was a small percentage of VL’s bottom-line, but it was income hardly noticed as anything more than a topping-up of his already hefty bank account.

     The last Tim heard, Allan had buried himself in his basement and was writing screenplays. It hadn't surprised him, since the kid had taken a strong interest in film some years ago. He described to Dan a man of outrageous personal habits, undeniable writing prowess, and a highly theatric sense of art. The term “outrageous” coming from the mouth of someone with implanted fangs made Dan wonder what sort of man Baird could possibly be, but when Tim said, “You ought to be turning Allan’s writing into pictures,” Dan got interested for real. He was gunning to get things going at Coleman-Kopanski, and so decided to have a look.

     Tim mailed him VL back-issues, highlighting early college interviews he and co-conspirators, Stuart Gold and Howard Spence, had done with Allan at Woodland. Along with these, Dan also read the deeply frightening Haircut, and its evil twin sister, Bloodletter, about a junkie who sells blood to a cult in exchange for drugs. The work was brash and unapologetic, as seemed the author himself, but Dan read Allan as someone with an insightful, artistic mind. If this haughty upstart had screenplays, they might be worth a once-over.

     All would be revealed when Dan left a message on Ted’s phone saying Allan had returned his call and would be bringing his work to the office for a meeting


NO TIME TO DOTE OR DREAM

     Dan was due to sit in on auditions with director Michael Hope, another of Coleman-Kopanski’s new efforts. Hope had a story called Togetherness, about the struggles of a family of children after the death of their mother - the breadwinner since Dad had been wheelchair bound after a crippling traffic accident.

A real gut-wrencher, that

     But his mind was on the Baird-Coleman meeting. He wanted it to go well since he’d been the one to recommend the eccentric writer. He’d met Allan himself earlier in the week and had been impressed. After a brief glad-hand in the office, Allan had invited Dan to breakfast, where he indulged him with bagels and cream cheese, lots of coffee, and a well-researched understanding of Conversion’s beginnings and progress in the world of indie film making. Allan knew the dates that things had been done; he knew the names of the backers. He knew what was in the hopper, and what negotiations were on the table. He had an insider’s take on everything, which meant he read trade papers. He was studying his craft and in learning mode. Impressive. Plus he was social and gregarious. He had a huge, infectious, shit-eating grin and was playfully affected in his mannerisms. Dan recalled Allan didn't eat much though; how could he and remain so thin? He’d only picked through half his bagel, so Dan finished it, along with two more of his own.

     Allan’s own opinion was that Dan was a real softie, someone who liked to laugh and get to know people. This was the one he’d get close to if the project was undertaken. He’d identified him as Field Man for Coleman-Kopanski, and reasoned that if this guy was the sweet one, Coleman would have to be the prick.

     Reciprocally, once they finally faced each other across the desk, Ted found Allan to be the difficult task. He’d never before met anyone who rivaled his own level of self-involvement. Even if he was talented, Ted wanted this one at arm’s length, wanted Dan to handle it. After all, Dan was the one who’d sent the memo saying they’d be fools to give this guy the bum’s rush, then cry when the films were made elsewhere. But Ted knew right off the bat he’d never want to deal with anyone like Allan day-to-day. He didn’t even want the meeting, but Dan was with Michael, so he got the weirdo.

     Neither was prepared to make concessions. Allan was a bored writer with inherited wealth and a bag full of screenplays. Ted was a real estate agent with a sign on the door that read Producer. And so there they sat, Ted more than a bit uncomfortable with the diminutive creature who faced him squarely with his purple-shadowed eyes. Allan just smiled, bathed in lorazepam patience. Even if nothing else happened, he’d probably be content just to sit with Ted all morning. Maybe they could sip tea and compare dick sizes or something. The young man’s smile grew in sedated amusement.

     Ted read the synopses. Dirt appeared to be a nasty-scary thing about some sort of dangerous, vampire-like persona, prowling the happy streets of a peaceful town in 1940. Something about reincarnated souls found in children. Art and fancy. Metaphysical-visual, the likes of which he didn’t understand. Were the other stories like this, too? Everything in the room smelled like fresh paint - Ted, Allan, and the walls themselves.

A stalemate of inexperience - best reason there is to jump in with both feet

     Dan had negotiated Togetherness. This one was Ted’s deflowering. Across the desk, Allan knew no investors outside this building would ever sink their financial teeth into his films, yet yield to him the creative control he wanted. He’d learned all too well with college Shorts and years of trying to take his work to the mainstream culture that nobody above in the light of day would bite. If his work was to be made at all, it would have to be made here. These men needed each other.

     “I’m not prepared to commit to all five,” Ted finally offered. “You come with a lot of baggage, you know.”

Baggage?

     Many seconds passed.  “How so?” was all that finally came out in the form of a bored sigh.

     “Woodland,” Ted gave back. He’d done research, too.

     Allan nodded patiently. “But you’ll put out for ‘Older than Dirt’.” To him, it was a given.

     “I’ll let you know on Monday.” That meant he wanted to run it past Dan.

     “Monday.” Allan stood, offered his hand like a lady waiting to have her knuckles bussed. Ted encased the delicate hand - without kissing it - but felt neither chill nor nervous dampness in the touch

     Allan sensed Ted’s frustration and chalked one up to himself.

Allan Baird - 1 Coleman-Kopanski - 0

     Ted felt like slapping the pretentious grin from Allan’s lips. His distinctive height advantage - if not his commanding air - usually gave him control of a room, but Allan reclined like a purring cat upon the impressive package of screenplays, and knew he was a foot taller than the businessman before him. Ted’s research told him how Allan had thrown enough cash at VL magazine to help bring down its parent, Night Times. He didn’t believe for one minute that Allan could bring down Conversion Films, but he did believe it was important at this early stage to have their logo on as many films as possible. If they turned him down for financing, Allan would likely just rent space and pay for it himself. Then the name Conversion would simply appear as a courteous thank you at the end of the picture. Filmed at Conversion Studios. Not Coleman-Kopanski presents up front. Did it matter? They’d make a lot of money on rentals. If they financed and it washed out, they’d lose. If they met Allan’s offer that the five scripts came as a package deal, they’d have serious trouble if any one of them went sour.

     Time to put Baird on ice and talk to Dan. He opened the door. “Thanks for coming. We’ll call you Monday.”

You do that, honey

     “Thank you,” was all the small man said. He seated sunglasses on his nose and paraded out the door.

     The hallway was crowded. Allan spotted Dan chatting up a teenaged girl. Actually, as he looked around, he became aware that there were teenaged girls all over the place. He peered over the lenses of his dark specs. An A-board around which they all gathered read Togetherness Open Auditions. Allan pocketed his glasses and scanned faces in the line. Girls returned scrutiny of his elegantly gaunt persona. With his work now in the office, Allan knew he’d soon have to think about his own auditions. There was a small but special part in Dirt for a sixteen-year-old girl, so this harem of young ladies held his attention. The kind of girl he needed had to have a naturally melancholy face. Dark and brooding. Not likely such a face among the giddy teens.

     As he neared the front of the line, he heard the impatient sigh of one tired of waiting. He smiled at its heavy melodrama and knew it’d been timed to happen as he passed. Someone thought him in charge and in a position to get things moving. He turned to see who the impatient one might be. The sigh had been meant for him all right. Fixed on him was a set of intensely frustrated eyes. Allan stopped - a soft noise hung in his throat. He seized her entirely in one glance. Dark shaggy hair, fair skin, arms folded defiantly in a demand for justice. No perk, no sass, no tits and ass. In a sea of cleavage and cameltoe stood this rare beauty, her temper an extreme contrast to her soft white sweater and pink clamdiggers. Allan exhaled and clicked his teeth. Just like that he’d found his brooding sixteen-year-old. He winked at her and strolled into the screening room.

     The young lady kept eyes on the space where he’d been. He was slick and Goth and he’d winked at her. She knew he’d picked up on her deliberate sigh - the amusement of that eased her mood a little. Whoever he was, he had the softest eyes she’d ever seen. Safe eyes. And he’d gone into the screening room, which meant he was likely a man of importance. She’d made an impression, and even though the wait dragged on, for a moment she didn’t notice.
__________

     The screening room was a fifty-seat mini-theatre with low lights and a half-sized screen on the wall. A conference table had been set up down front and people milled about with head shots and résumés. A twenty-something male fussed to keep order. A second boy passed out script sides and assigned numbers to several girls waiting to read. In the audience sat Dan and two others, one male, one female, all with clipboards and notebooks.

     When Allan quietly took the seat next to Dan, the producer leaned to him and whispered, “How did it go? The meeting.”

     Allan offered a normal handshake. “Monday. Shall I now sit by the phone and worry? Is that how it’s done?”

     Dan squeezed his arm. “Now, now.” He pointed to the man seated on his other side. “Michael Hope, Allan Baird.”

     Allan again offered the bussable hand. “Oh, hello,” he exhaled in perfectly bored snobbery.

     Michael took the lady-like shake. “Pleased to meet you. Dan’s mentioned that you like to write scary stories. With a little luck, you’ll have a job here soon, eh?”

Choke on my log, you useless motherfucking hack

     “With a little luck, yes,” he smiled sweetly.

     As a girl began her lines, Dan and Michael watched and made notes. Allan couldn't care less about dyed blonde hair and perky giggles. He was waiting for the shaded lady who’d sighed at him in the hallway; the more he thought about her, the more his enthusiasm grew.

     As one girl left and another took her place, Dan leaned close. “Did you want to see me about something?”

     Allan just shook his head, then whispered very softly, so Motherfucker wouldn't hear. “A maiden in the line - I want her for my picture.”

     Dan scrunched up his shoulders and grimaced. “You’re here to steal a girl from the audition?”

     A playful wink. “So it seems.” He tapped fingernails to his teeth and leaned back in the chair.

     “Um, you know you don’t even have a deal yet.”

     Allan waved him off. “Details.”

     Dan lifted an eyebrow. What balls. But he was curious about the girl who’d captured Allan’s eye. “Which one?”

     Allan grunted with excitement. “You’ll know her when you see her.” His heart thumped. The girl outside would make an impression on them all. He had to get her first. Considering he didn’t even have a deal yet, and Hope did, his wheels turned quickly to find his edge. If they had a better offer, he’d supplement his with money from his own pocket. What if she wasn't interested in his picture?

Don’t be ridiculous

     How could a girl like that settle for a ham-handed, overblown tear-jerkoff snoozer like Togetherness? The girl had spoken to him with her eyes. She’d sighed loudly enough to get his attention. She wanted to be noticed. He’d grab her before she read. That was it. Get her before she read. Before Hope even saw her.

     He was about to stand when the door opened and in there stepped his stately raven. The girl passed her folder to the assistant and stood quietly while he made an entry in the logbook. Allan sighed when she shook back her hair.

     Dan patted his hand. “Great poker face, son.”

     Allan slapped limply at him. “Shh,” he scolded.

Don’t jinx me

     Michael motioned for her folder, and the assistant passed it down. She’s out of the Avalon,” said Michael to Dan. “I like her look. Dark hair. Annalee MacDonald.”

It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, that a maiden there lived, whom you may know, by the name of Annabel Lee And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me

     Allan’s heart knocked loudly, so moved was he by her visual presence. He had to talk to her right now.

     “We’re doing a cold read,” said Dan softly to the inexperienced younger man. “We give the kids a few sides - they have only minutes to prepare. Jerry will read with them while Arthur makes video. Whoever's good gets a callback.”

     They all listened as the girl and a scene partner played out a quick thing where two teens discuss one’s plan to quit school. Annalee, so frustrated and fiery with her hallway sighing routine, became the patient sister who reminded her brother that quitting school was not going to make his hang-ups go away. The old “You can’t run from your problems” gig.

     Allan watched silently, as did the others, Annalee a touching presence felt by all. When it was over, she blinked the near-tears from her eyes and slowly brought herself back. Dabbed her nose with a tissue and waited.

     Allan sat forward. This time she winked at him, and he collapsed in his shit-eating grin.

Completely fuckable, part two

     This was the hard part. Michael liked her. She seemed to have something the other girls lacked, and he wanted to see her again. Part of Dan thought to agree. The other part was tempted to shrug her off so she’d be free to be approached by Allan. Dan sensed Allan would make better use of her. Michael's picture was...nice. Allan’s was dangerous. Creatively, Allan needed her more.

     Michael cleared his throat. “Annalee, that was great. Thank you so much. You okay there? You need more tissues?”

     A shuffle of her feet. “I’m fine.”

     “Steve? Give her those other sides. Annalee, we’re going to look at our tapes and narrow down our choices, but I definitely want you back on Monday. It’ll only be about five girls. Can you come back on Monday?”

     Her face lit and she erupted in youthful enthusiasm. She must have thought Allan was involved with the picture because she gave him an excited thumbs-up. “Sure I can.”

     The assistant passed her an envelope. “Ten a.m. Monday. Learn this, please. Still the part of Tracy.”

     She turned to find Allan again. The seat was empty.
__________

     In the hallway Annalee examined the sides, her face no giveaway to the excitement within.  Allan came from behind. He calmed and stepped to face her.  Then he bowed politely, took up her hand, and playfully nipped her knuckles. “Good morning, Annalee.”

     She was stuck for words. His smile held her whole.

     He drew her fingers again, this time only to kiss them. “I’m Allan Baird. These people are making my movie. Would you like to be in it? I’ll hire you right now.”

     She bubbled and shook the envelope at him. “I might already get it. I got a callback.”

     He chuckled. “Don’t be absurd, darling. You read for ‘Togetherness’. It’s a terrible waste of time. My picture is called ‘Older than Dirt’. Vampires and old souls. Evil and innocence. Something worth your time. Something as juicy as this is dry.”

     She blinked, not quite sure what was happening. “What about the callback?”

     He sucked his bottom lip and played for drama. “Why don’t you give this ‘callback’ the big wet middle finger and come with me? You belong in my picture.”

     She laughed easily. He was so odd. But the eyes she had seen before were still there. “You want me?”

     He flattened his palm to his chest to still his beating heart. “More than I’ve ever wanted anything. Can I buy you breakfast? We’ll talk, okay?”

     She tipped her head to the side. Cute, he was. Charming, he was, too. But Annalee always had to remember to be cautious. “You’re playing with me.”

     “If there’s a God in heaven.” He gave her the grin.

     Their eyes locked and stayed locked. One of his eyebrows waggled suggestively. Finally, she banged her fist to the elevator button, shrugged, then threw up her hands. “Why the fuck not?”

     He scrunched up his eyes and pointed a finger at her. “Exactly.” He put on his sunglasses and followed her into the elevator.

Why the fuck not?





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