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The Real Deal
Posted on Jan 28, 2011
Later, in his tent, he would think about that airplane, how small and fragile it was, tilting on one wing, sliding silently back to the world. It was like the stone—heavy and solid, just as likely to fall out of the sky and disappear in the dark water. All the people on board would be lost. It could not be predicted or edited: It would just happen. Five weeks earlier they’d found his wife’s car at the bottom of a ravine in the Angeles National Forest. The car had burned, killing her and the man she’d left him for. Their bodies—bones and muscle and hair and nails—were fused into the upholstery and springs. They’d had to identify them by their teeth.
In his private quarters, the producer powers the monitors on the bedroom wall, logs into the system and punches up the afternoon’s footage: a crossbow hunt gone terribly wrong. Already his inbox overflows with stern emails from Legal. But no word from Boby. His assistants wave off his growing concern, but the producer thinks he knows what’s happening: the new VP, this twenty-something hair-gel addict in alligator shoes, this absinthe-sipping, Twitter-loving Wharton-grad thumbsucker, is sweating him. And he’s right.
“La plus ça change,” Armand says over the phone. “Remember when we were the young Turks?”
“I remember when you were a young Greek. Come to think of it, I remember when you were an old Greek.”
“Wasn’t that fun? Now I’m just another saggy gringo. But at least I have a tan. And my español is getting major.”
“Terrific,” the producer says. “Next season, Mexico?”
“The Deserted?” He hears Armand light a cigarette and wearily blow out the smoke. “I don’t think so. They couldn’t stand the isolation.”
For an hour he runs searches in the database—conversations about caves, about bats, about poetry, corporate lawyers, dentistry. Season Two: the Deserted shelter for a night in a cave in the Maghreb. Season Eight: the Deserted, blindfolded, search a cave in the Tetons for new iPod Shuffles. Season Ten, a college baseball coach named Steve LeBlanc: “I wish I could crawl into a cave somewhere and die.” Also Season Ten, a lawyer gives a cop a hand-job in a freshly dug trench. “Caveat emptor,” says an insurance adjustor, Season Eleven, after cheating a pediatrician out of dinner. There have been five previous lawyers, one dentist, one periodontist, a grantwriter who once published a chapbook of poetry. Results related to bats take up four screens. The new software records the producer’s search terms, runs them through statistical analyses, cross-references with recent performance evaluations, Nielsen ratings, quarterly assessments by his therapist. A report is being generated as we speak.
On the monitors, Walter Bernatelli, the Marine, is scrubbing bamboo plates in a barrel, conspiring with Stan, the mechanic. “What do you want to do about Shaneequio?”
“What about him?”
The ex-Marine shrugs. Cut to Shaneequio, the gang-outreach counselor, strolling down the beach with Candy, the corporate lawyer.
“We’re gonna need the muscle,” Stan says.
“You think he won’t stab you in the back when he gets a chance? I’ve seen guys like him at Pendleton. Always got something to prove. You tell them, ‘There’s no I in team’ and they look at you like they’re gonna rape your sister.” He puts the last plate into the basket, leans closer to Stan. “Where do you want to be when a guy like that’s got a weapon in his hands?”
“I hear you,” says Stan.
What the producer had felt in the cave was bigger than the darkness, the eerie drawings, the guano. A stillness, a focus. It reminded him of meditation, those too-rare moments when the noise drops away, the sense of yourself—the hardness of the floor, awareness of sounds, the feeling of being bound by a mortal sack of meat and viscera—starts to dissolve. He misses that feeling. Lately, when he tries to meditate, he is overwhelmed by the sense of himself. He can see himself standing on that Washington beach, face raised toward the sky. He can hear the shriek he’d held back, imagine himself doubling over and collapsing, rocking himself on the hard ground. A vision so pathetic it jolts him right out of his quiet, Ujayyi breathing gone to shit, squeezing the stone in his pocket to keep from kicking something.
“There’s a long game to be played,” Bernatelli tells Stan.
Candy trots up and puts her hands over Bernatelli’s eyes. “Guess who?” she says.
“Heidi Klum?” Bernatelli says in a bored voice.
Stratus clouds speed overhead. Gloria Hamm sits splay-legged in the sand, peeling a lemon.
An errant bolt from someone’s crossbow had grazed Alejandra’s cheek, opening a nasty but shallow gash that drenched her tank top and painted her hands like a scene from a slasher movie. One player fainted at the sight of it, fell eight feet out of the tree in which he’d been hiding. An audio tech jumped into the frame and tried to give First Aid. That tech is now unemployed.
The producer rewinds the edited segment, trying to figure out who took the shot, who was the actual target. He examines the ISO feeds at more angles and speeds than the Zapruder film, but it’s impossible to determine.
It hardly matters. By the end of the week it will have been resequenced, the audio sweetened, the lighting recast to create the right mood. Someone will add an incriminating flashback, stolen shots in slo-mo, until they’ve created the story they want to tell—and to hell with what really happened. “What really happened gets about a four share,” Armand used to say.
The producer has taught his team well. If it moves the story forward, there’s no one who couldn’t be the shooter. More troubling, there’s no one who wouldn’t be the shooter, if they thought it would raise their profile, separate them from the pack.
Though no one would buy Gloria Hamm as the shooter.
There she is again, he thinks, watching her pluck thorns from her socks. What is it that draws his attention to her? She seems completely uninterested in what happens to the others. She barely speaks, never makes a scene, seems not to care if she gets on camera at all. She’s nondescript, a dud—just the kind of thing they can’t afford. Not this season.
“Better shape up, kid,” he breathes.
“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…” Her voice starts out shy, reedy, but slowly gains confidence, turning sultry and operatic. “Anything your heart desires will come to you…”
Alejandra touches the thick bandage on her cheek. “Who does she think she is?” she whispers to Candy.
Candy glowers. “Seriously. What show does this bitch think she’s on?”
“Look up,” says the producer.
But no one looks up.
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