This is the fifty-sixth chapter of an ongoing series. I have appreciated all the comments, questions and encouragement I've received from readers and hope to continue hearing from you.
I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressure of work or my somewhat demanding travel schedule.
Andrew has continued to give much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as quickly as I've been doing without his invaluable assistance.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I've posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists. If you'd like to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.
When I woke the room was illuminated by a gentle glow coming through the sliding doors which opened from Nita's bedroom to the rear deck. I thought the glow was moonlight.
I was lying on my back, naked and uncovered and Nita, equally bare, lay beside me, her body pressed against mine and her arm akimbo over my chest.
My first impression of her body, the day we'd met, had been correct. She had a narrow waist and rather wide hips. Her breasts were large, as I'd thought, giving her an almost Gibson Girl figure. I turned slowly onto my side and looked at her.
She was not a beautiful woman, but certainly a striking one. Her mouth was open slightly and she breathed slowly and deeply in her sleep.
I slid from under her arm and then from the bed, walked to the patio doors and out onto the deck.
The source of the mystical light became apparent. It was not the moon at all but the reflected glow of a million lights from the vast city spread below, reaching out as far as I could see to the south. To my right, the lights ended abruptly with a gentle curve which I realized was the coastline.
I stood naked on the deck, leaning on the wooden railing, amazed by the sight. The night air felt cool and reviving but I quickly became chilly. Despite the slight discomfort, I stood for a long time, leaning against the deck railing, looking off into the distance, at the vast city below me.
My mind was filled with errant thoughts but I didn't let them surface. I'd work through them later but not now; the evening with Nita, sitting beside her on the sofa in the living room after we'd eaten, the fire in the fireplace, smoldering as she was, wanting what we both knew was coming, but taking it slowly. The first touch, the first tentative kiss, the easy progress from touch to grasp, from living room to bed.
The night became still cooler and I remembered Nita saying I should bring a sweater. Where was it, I wondered. It was too cool to stand on the deck any longer but the fresh air felt good, clean, caressing my body.
I went back in and gathered my clothes, found my shoes and quietly dressed. Then, sitting on the edge of her bed, I stroked Nita's hair and felt her rouse.
"I need to go."
"Um," she moaned again. I bent over her and kissed her forehead the way you'd kiss a child. "Call me," she managed to say as I rose.
"Not tomorrow, Sunday" I whispered, "not tomorrow."
The yellow Firebird started quickly with a deep, sullen rumble. I glided away from the curb, down the silent street, turned left at the corner, working my south, down the hills toward Pasadena, through Alhambra and on toward home.
When I stopped at the corner of Valley Boulevard and Soto a black and white cruiser sat silently at the curb. The two cops in it were sipping coffee from paper cups. The one behind the wheel turned and smiled. I returned his smile and nodded and pulled on though the intersection.
The clock on the dashboard said two o'clock.
I stayed on Valley to Mission, then onto Sunset and on home. The streets were silent and there was little or no traffic. Despite its reputation as the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles seemed to go to bed at a reasonable hour, even on Saturday nights.
Alvarado Court was silent. I parked in my carport space and walked by the deserted pool. Beer cans littered the area and it looked as if a bunch of my fellow residents had had a party. Nobody had bothered to clean up.
In my apartment I emptied my pockets
onto the dresser and quickly stripped off my clothes, tossing them into
the hamper and stepped into the shower. The water was cold but I didn't
mind. It gradually warmed up as I soaped my body. When I'd adjusted the
water temperature I rinsed off and then lathered up again. Finally clean,
I dried myself and tumbled naked into bed.
The telephone work me at some point around nine o'clock but I just rolled over and ignored it. If anyone wanted me they could leave a message. Finally at eleven I got up and walked, still naked, to the kitchen. I started coffee and then walked back toward the bedroom to get some shorts. I'd subscribed to the Los Angeles Times but certainly couldn't go out looking for the Saturday paper without at least minimal coverage. Yes, it was LA, but even here I could horrify the neighbors. As I passed the little Stickley desk I saw the telephone message light was blinking and remembered hearing the phone a couple of hours earlier. When I pressed the button to listen to the message I was not too surprised to hear a familiar voice.
"Good morning, Mr. Ballinger," Roger
Bardwell said. "Dex says you're coming to his orgy this evening but I was
hoping we might meet before going out there. How about lunch?" He'd left
his room number at the Chateau Marmont Hotel.
"Roger Bardwell," he said, picking up the phone on the second ring.
"Dr. Bardwell," I said, my voice clearly revealing my excitement.
"Hello, Rob. You're no longer my student, remember. Now it's Roger, if you don't mind," he responded before I'd identified myself. "So how about lunch?"
"That would be great," I said. "Dex said I'd see you this evening but I'd love to have a chance to see you alone first."
"Great then. Let me tell you how to get here."
The hotel where Roger was staying was only a short drive from Alvarado Court, north to Sunset and then west along the foothills. The Chateau Marmont Hotel, I learned that afternoon, was one of the true Hollywood landmarks. It had been built in the 1920s and had been a haunt of stars and studio bigwigs ever since.
After first going up to Bardwell's room, he took me back down to a lushly landscaped courtyard where we sat at a small table in the shade of an old jacaranda tree.
"This place is spectacular," I said after the waiter had seated us.
"Too spectacular for my budget," he smiled. "NSB is paying the tab."
I looked across the table at him, wondering again about the nature of his relationship with Dex Cohen. "So are you doing some work for them?" I asked, thinking it was a reasonably tactful way to broach the subject.
"Yes, as a matter of fact." He looked over the menu for a moment, laid it down as if he'd made up his mind, and added, "I've known Dex for quite a while, you know."
"I thought so."
"He sometimes tosses me an assignment or two when he knows I have the time for them."
"You aren't teaching this summer?"
"No, I rarely do, not summers I mean."
"So what are you up to for Dex now?"
Rather than answer directly, Roger pointed to the menu and said, "have you made up you mind about lunch?"
"No. What would you recommend?"
"I'm eating light. I'm going to have the Cobb salad, but you're a growing boy, Rob. You should have something more substantial."
"Actually, a salad sounds great."
"Well, you can bet there'll be a ton of food at Dex's orgy so you can fill up then if you're still hungry."
I looked across at him, raising an eyebrow, and said, "that's the second time you've called his party an 'orgy.' Is there something I should know?"
Roger smiled. "Dex has interesting tastes, rather diverse tastes, I should say."
"Are you saying he's gay?"
"Dex is married, Rob. Besides, I don't think the labels really apply," he said with a smile.
"I know, to Laura Lambert, it was big news two years ago."
"Laura's one of NSB's biggest stars and I think they both benefit from the marriage."
"So it's a marriage of convenience, is that what you're saying."
"Well, Dex has a home, an estate, actually, up at Tahoe. When she isn't working on a film, Laura spends most of her time up there." The waiter returned and took our orders. Only when he'd gone did Roger continue. "Laura has her friends and Dex has his. I think they get together every couple of weeks for some social event or a charity function. As far as I can tell, they really are the best of friends."
"They've both been married before, right?"
Roger laughed, a deep amused laugh, as if I'd just told a really funny joke. "Yes, Rob, they've both been married before."
I blushed at my own naivety.
He sensed my embarrassment and said in a more measured tone, "I think it's number three for Dex and maybe number four for Laura." Then, after a moment, he added, "at any rate, you should find this evening interesting."
"So what should I expect?"
"Well," Roger grinned, "for starters, there won't be any women."
"It's a swimming party and barbecue, right? At least that's the impression I got."
"Yes, a swimming party with a lot of very pretty boys in the pool and a few dozen older studio executives having drinks, a lot of drinks usually, watching them."
"Yes, just watching. Of course there will be a lot of mixing at the bar and over dinner. It's civilized enough and there may be some pairing off later in the evening."
"The boys, are they studio employees?"
"Some of them are, aspiring young actors, maybe some dancers, a few guys from technical crews."
"Dex asked me to bring my Speedos, Roger."
"Good," he said, giving me a bad imitation of a Groucho Marx leer, "I bet you'll look like a million."
"Well, after what you said, I do feel a little like part of the merchandise."
"Would you feel better if I got in the pool, too?"
"Yeah," I grinned, trying to do my own Marx imitation, "I've always wanted to see you in a skimpy pair of shorts.
"I remember," Roger said, his voice more serious. "I think it was your freshman year when you gave me a very tempting invitation."
"Yes, and you turned me down very tactfully. You politely put me in my place, letting me know you didn't mess around with students under any circumstances."
"Well, things have changed."
"I've graduated, you mean."
I looked at him for several seconds, wondering where the conversation was going then, thinking it might be safer to return the discussion to the evening ahead, said, "but there won't be any pressure on the younger guys to leave with the older men if they don't want to?"
"No, Rob. Dex's parties aren't meat markets, if that's what you mean."
"Good," I smiled. "I guess I can relax and enjoy it."
"You bet." He gave me a sly grin and added, "if you'd like, we can go together."
"And leave together?"
"If you want."
"Yes," I responded quickly, "I'd really like going with you. I have my car and I'm ready to go from here."
"Got your Speedos packed?" he grinned.
"Yeah, Speedos and towel and a few other things all neat and tidy in my gym bag."
"I'll have to go back to my room
for mine but that won't take much time."
"Well, then, after lunch," I said, looking at my watch and remembering that Dex had said it was fine to come on up to his place whenever I wanted.
Our food came and we delayed any further discussion while the waiter hovered.
He was followed by another waiter or bartender who brought the effervescent Italian mineral water Roger had ordered.
When the waiters had departed Roger said, "I gather you've made quite an impression on Martin Basingstoke."
"Do you know Basingstoke, too?"
"I've met him a few times but, no, I don't really know him."
"Who told you I'd impressed him, then?"
"You know Peg?"
"Yes, Peg and I are old friends. If fact, it was Peg who introduced me to Dexter Cohen."
"So I guess you know Dex assigned me to Basingstoke's team, working on the adaptation of Call the Dark Waters."
"Yes, I knew that."
"Did you know Peg has some wild idea of sending me to England on some sort of weird mission connected with the script?"
"Actually," Roger said, and then suddenly paused as if he'd said more than he'd intended.
"Yes?" I eventually asked.
"Sending you to England wasn't exactly Peg's idea," Roger said, looking down at his plate.
"No, Rob, it was mine."
It took me several minutes to recover from the shock.
Roger just smiled as we both worked on our lunch, then finally took mercy on me and said, "I guess I'd better explain."
"Yeah, Roger, I'd really appreciate it if you would."
"Okay then, here goes. I've known Peg since graduate school days. She was often hauled in to give guest lectures on the business of film, you know, the nitty-gritty day-to-day realities of film making."
"She's got to be a lot older than you so I was assuming you two weren't actually at university together or something like that."
"I'll be thirty in December, Rob, not exactly a young man."
"Aren't they still calling you the boy wonder around Oxford, Roger?"
"Well, not for much longer."
"Yeah," I grinned, "you are clearly over the hill." I couldn't help remembering that Hank Shear had said he was thirty-six and he'd definitely proved he wasn't an old man yet.
"Well . . . " he grinned.
"Anyway, we got to know one another and once I'd finished my doctorate she began to call me from time to time to pick my brain." He paused again, seeming to consider his words, and then continued. "I've recommended books to her a few times, books or stories I thought could be made into interesting films."
"So let me guess," I said, putting down my fork, "it was you who recommended Bell Corley's novel."
"Did you realize what a problem it would be getting it produced?"
"And I guess you anticipated the solution Peg has proposed."
He looked across the table at me for several seconds, then said, "do you remember how I teach, Rob?"
"Sure, you lead us students to make up our own minds on things, never telling us what was right or wrong, what was great writing or bad, letting us find our own way."
"Exactly. A sort of contemporary adaptation of the classic Socratic Method."
"Ask the questions, let the students come up with the answers," I volunteered.
"It's the only way for students to really learn. You can lecture them, fill them up with information, try to give them facts, most of which aren't really facts at all, but really your own or somebody else's half baked opinions, and in the end they forget ninety-nine percent of it anyway. To really learn students have to make the leap to understanding. They have to make the subject their own."
"Well, Roger, of all the professors I had at Ole Miss, I have to say I learned more in your classes than in all the others put together."
He paused again and then said, "Thank you, Rob. I consider that a real compliment."
"Well, let me pay you a compliment in return."
"You don't have to."
"This isn't a mutual admiration session, Rob. I've wanted to tell you this, or at least part of it, for quite a while."
"I recommended you for the Nathan Fellowship because I really feel you have a great future in films. You can be a successful writer or even a director. In fact, Dex tells me he wants to get you in front of a camera for screen test."
"Well, Roger, you'd better tell Dex not to hold his breath. He may want me to do a screen test but, believe me, that will be the day."
"Well, screen test or no screen test, you have a real future. Beyond all that, if you ever got the teaching bug you could be a wonderful addition to any university faculty lucky enough to get you."
"You'd better stop, Roger. You're going to give me a big head."
"It's true. That much I could have told you a year or two ago. But I've been talking with Peg and I must admit you've made me very proud."
"Oh, come on, Roger."
"You asked me if I'd foreseen the problems of getting Call the Dark Water produced. Of course I had."
"Peg says Dex has no balls where anything the least bit controversial is concerned."
"She's right. I love Dexter to death but at times he can be a gutless wonder. But the truth is, he's made NSB what it is today. He's led it from the old days of the contract players studio-owned theater chains and made it into a major conglomerate. Actually, NSB is now a collection of independent production companies.
"In a lot of ways, NSB has become something which is too big for Dex or anyone else at the top to control. There is a lot of talent there, as you'll discover, and a lot of independent people scattered around in the various production units who will get the difficult jobs done."
"I guess Patrick Langston is one of them."
"Paddy's a genius, Rob. I hope you have a chance to really get to know him."
"But you're saying there are a lot like him."
"Not like him, nobody's like Langston,
but there are a lot of creative people who understand that film making
isn't just about the bottom line. That's why I knew it was NSB which should
buy the rights to Dark Waters."
We both sat silently for a few minutes while the waiter took away our plates and returned with coffee.
"Did I foresee the problems with Call the Dark Waters?" Roger eventually said, returning our conversation to the issue we'd been discussing before. "I saw the problems and I have to admit I didn't know all the answers. It was just like the position I'm often in with my students. I had to trust that a bunch of bright people would figure it out."
"The actual writing was the easiest part, once we got onto the idea of dividing the monologs into dialog between the two main characters."
"Yes, but it took somebody with special insights to see that, Rob, and I was very impressed when Peg said it had been your idea."
"Well, if I hadn't gotten there, somebody else on the team would have figured it out."
"That still makes you the fastest kid on the street."
I didn't respond, figuring any further protestations on my part would seem like a sort of reverse boasting.
"In any case, I'd not thought through the way of turning a very subjective novel into a workable script, but I had foreseen the solution to the production dilemma," Roger said.
"So the idea of selling the script to a British director and then buying back the distribution rights was your idea, not Peg's."
"Not entirely mine. I'd suggested selling the script but it was Peg's idea to finance the overseas production in exchange for distribution."
I should say here that while the idea of global production associations was not new in 1972, it was a real innovation to finance a film the way NSB financed Dark Waters. If you look at the opening credits of films made in the sixties or early seventies you usually see the name of one studio.
More recent films often give credit to several production and distribution companies. That's why you see a film begin with "Such and Such Film, a production of ABC Films, in conjunction with DEF Productions, a Subsidiary of GHI Studios . . ." sometimes the list goes on and on.
Film-making has become so complex and so expensive that it takes a veritable army to get one producttion made. Often locations for a single film are chosen all over the world and the logistics and financing issues are as complex as the bureaucracy of a small country.
In some ways the increasing complexity of film-making led to the rise of the smaller independent film companies, but that's another issue and really a later development, although the roots of the INDIES were already discernible in the early 1970s.
"And I suppose you're going to tell me you have a British producer in mind," I said.
"Yes, Anthony Bourke-Davis. I've already talked with him."
"By telephone, but the deal is more or less struck."
"So that's why you suggested sending me to London?"
"Not just sending you, Rob. I'm going
over to meet with Bourke-Davis and I want you to come along as my assistant."
To be continued.