by Kaleb Tuttle
My given name is not Malcolm Stone but my agent said it would be good for my career. So far, on the whole, she’s been right.
I decide to drive all the way down Sunset to Laurel Canyon even though it would be faster to just hop on the 101. I do this because Billie (Billie’s assistant, actually) gave me a tip that Sony had bought a billboard for my new film near Sunset and Fairfax. I drive past the billboard for Guns Drawn, the second-rate action flick I took to help fend off the blow – financially, at least – of the divorce. I can’t help but stare at my unnaturally smooth skin and my enhanced jawline. I avoid looking in the rearview so as not to invite the direct comparison, but my mind’s eye can’t help but imagine the pockmarks on my face and the graying stubble that comes in little patches.
I whip through the canyon at a good clip, familiar to its sharp turns and sudden bumps. Though it’s only late afternoon, the sun is already behind the mountains, casting an orange glow and deep shadows.
I used to be embarrassed about living in Valley Village, feeling my cheeks flush a bit red when I mumbled something about it being a good investment to a costar. It was Lori’s idea and, like many of Lori’s ideas, it’s proved to be a good and sensible choice. In all likelihood, I’ll be selling the house in the next few months and splitting the money with her and the kids.
I hit the button to open the gate to our mini-mansion and I get a rare pang of nostalgia as I pull into the driveway. I open the door and my footsteps echo as I walk through the Spanish-style entryway to grab an ice cold beer. I open it and sink into a kitchen chair, emitting an involuntary satisfied grunt.
“Don’t freak out,” a voice echoes from the living room. I don’t freak out, as instructed, because enough people have a key to the place that it’s likely some innocent explanation. I did let go of my housekeeper a few weeks ago, though it’s unlikely that Natalie would do anything to compromise my safety.
“Hey, I thought you were sober,” the voice says. This time, I see the man pop into the room. Loose-fitting pants, an army surplus coat and tousled brown hair. The only thing extraordinary about him is the gun in his right hand, which is pointed somewhat lazily at me.
“The hell is this,” I ask, mustering the slightly deeper voice I adopted for Guns Drawn. “Who are you?”
“Do you mind if I sit?” the man asks politely. I gesture to the chair across from and he sits, still pointing the gun at me. “Wait, I thought you were sober.”
“You already said that.”
“Just a bit surprised to see you drinking.”
“Long day,” I say warily. It’s true, I shouldn’t be drinking. Any talk of Lori makes me want to immediately crack open a beer and I’ve had a lot of Lori talk this morning.
“Do I know you from something?” I ask as my brain pores through blurry images of bygone acquaintances – maybe a college friend whose life has fallen apart or a washed up co-star looking to make a buck.
But the man shakes his head.
“No, sorry – so rude of me. My name is Bryan Thompson,” he says. “I am a huge fan of yours. It’s really nice to meet you.”
“Noble Trouble was always my wife and I’s favorite movie,” Bryan continues.
“It’s my favorite, too,” I hear myself letting my guard down a bit. Noble Trouble is everyone’s favorite. I was 31. I’d done a few dumb pilots that didn’t get picked up and a national commercial or two to pay the rent. My brother Sammy was 27, fresh out of grad school and crashing on my couch. We wrote the script together and Billie helped us get just enough money for a tiny budget production.
We were nominated for three Oscars that year and Sammy and I were the talk of the town. I went my own way after that, taking the first three shitty movie offers that came my way before settling into the WB show North Shore for the better part of the next decade. Sammy had a few projects that never quite got off the ground before his accident two years later.
“Shame what happened to Sammy,” Bryan’s voice snaps me back.
“Who are you?” I ask. “You never answered my question. You know you’re breaking and entering right now?” I’d say don’t you know who I am but I think therein lies the problem.
“Bryan Thompson,” he repeats. “I’m here to see you and make you a little offer.”
“What’s the gun for?”
“Insurance,” he says. “I would never want to hurt you.”
I make a point of letting my gaze linger on the gun but I say nothing.
“Would you like to hear my offer?” he asks.
“I want to offer you a role.”
I blink a few times before responding. “Oh?”
“Sammy’s role in the sequel to Noble Trouble. And all the other ones too, but it’s mostly just the two of us.”
“And you’ll play me,” I say.
Bryan nods, a goofy grin forming. “Exactly!”
“Come on, man. Screw you.”
I see Bryan’s eyes get glassy. “It’s my dream role. Ever since I was little–”
“Alright, alright, I get the picture. I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I say, though this is an absurd thing to say. I wouldn’t mind making this guy upset, but the gun in his hand gives me pause. “Can we just talk? I’m sure we can figure something out. Most of my assets are tied up but I’ve got some great North Shore merch that I’d be willing to part with.”
He shakes his head. “You think I want an autographed script from a second rate teen soap?”
“You didn’t even end up with Hillary. The writers got too cute. Stupidest finale of all time.”
The writers had wanted my character to end up with Hillary, everyone did. I steadfastly refused to do any scenes with her after we broke up during the filming of season four. But I don’t say any of that.
Instead I say, “So you did watch.”
Bryan shrugs. “I just want to make the movie.”
“There was never a sequel script. Sammy and I worked on a little something, but we never got anywhere.”
He shakes his head. “I wrote my own. In the style and voice of the original.” He pulls out a massive script from his bag and places it in front of me. I can already tell from here that the script is formatted incorrectly and seeing this psychopath’s name next to my brother’s (Bryan tackily gave Sammy a posthumous co-writing credit) pisses me off.
“Come on, man. What is this? Why don’t you go home and submit to my agent like a normal person?”
“I tried,” he says. “I swear, I did! Billie won’t return any of my calls.”
You and me both. “Am I supposed to read this with a gun pointed at my head?”
Bryan smiles gratefully and puts the gun on the table. “Let me know what you think.”
“But don’t be staring at me every second wondering if I’m laughing at your jokes. I hate when writers do that shit.”
He puts his hands up deferentially but his doe-eyes tell another story. I roll mine but dutifully open the script. For the next hour or so, I read in relative silence though Bryan makes solicitous noises throughout, even once saying “What?” when he mistook a cough for a laugh. The script is clunky and way too long with whole sequences seemingly adding nothing to the plot. But it’s also heartfelt and adventurous and the end of the script has a heartfelt sendoff to Sammy’s character which makes me tear up, despite myself. I finally finish the 220-page monstrosity and close it. Bryan is looking at me desperately but he doesn’t dare say anything.
“You’ve lost someone too.” It’s not a question.
“My wife,” Bryan says. “Two years ago.”
“It’s good. It’s raw and it’s way too long. But it’s good.”
He bursts into tears and I feel embarrassed for him. I let him do his thing for a few minutes, only making eye contact once or twice accidentally.
“This is for her,” he finally says.
“So, what do you think?”
“It’s not ready to film,” I say. “Not even close.”
He nods. “I understand.”
“But if you’re not going to cry every time I criticize you, we can work on a new draft.”
He nods, blithering and sniffling and smiling. It’s the most joy I’ve seen in a long time. His eyes are too blurry to notice the pocket knife that I’m slowly unfolding under the table.
* * *
Kaleb Tuttle is an executive and producer at a production company in Beverly Hills. Along with many others, he has worked on “Defending Jacob” and “13 Reasons Why.” Originally from the Bay Area, he now lives by the Hollywood Reservoir, where he likes to run when the weather is good (which it usually is). This is his debut short story.