I'd been pacing for precisely twenty three minutes when the phone first rang. Stopping immediately, I answered. The caller spoke quickly, and I listened, offering no response. When she had finished, I replaced the phone and resumed pacing.
"That was one Audrey Valentine. She'll be thirty minutes late."
"She's already fifteen minutes late."
It was Sandy who spoke, and she was right, but I still felt it was imprudent of her to say it aloud. We were talking about a lady. And not just any lady. Our leading lady. A business acquaintance had that very morning stressed to me the importance of having a really top-notch leading lady. Someone with class, he'd said, someone who'll really light up that screen. And by God, that's who I'd found.
"If there's one thing I hate more than auditions, it's callbacks!" I waved my wine glass to add an air of dignity to the statement, noting with annoyance it was already empty. "Where the hell is that girl?"
"You just said she-"
"Don't start putting words in my mouth now," I extended my glass, "here, fill this."
The downtown loft was the perfect venue for phase two of an audition process. It was unlikely that our alcohol stores could be depleted in a single night, and, even if such an event transpired, two bars and liquor store operated out of the adjacent building. If our leading lady was an alcoholic (and I heavily suspected her to be), we'd be well provided for. I'd selected her personally out of a list of dozens, dozens, wading tirelessly through a pile of applicants who actually had no desire to partake in the film. It struck me as unusual that anyone would go to casting call when they had no wish to be a performer, but actors are a mysterious lot. Who knows what dark and perverse engine drove those minds of theirs?
My aim tonight was discovering any cracks in the otherwise pristine surface of my players. They had impressed in auditions, but I'd been burned in the past by those who put out during initial casting, and petered out when it came to actual filming. If I'd been honest with these people over the phone, I'd have told them they already had the parts. There was no one else of note, and if things fell apart during the callbacks, say, for example, if Audrey revealed herself to be nothing short of a holy terror on set, I'd be hard-pressed to find a replacement. The entire casting process would have to begin again from scratch, and that was one experience I hoped to not revisit anytime soon.
"Where the hell is that girl?"
The other players had already arrived. The younger two members of the group, a Mr. Thomas Ripley and Mr. Fred Lansing, had been selected for their fine stock. Sturdy bones are a must for an action-heavy film like this. I wasn't concerned with lawsuits. Anyone dragging me into court for money was sure to end up with a miserable surprise. No, my thoughts were of fractures, lost shooting days, and the great, fiery failure this movie could turn into at a moments notice. Yes. Sturdy bones were of utmost importance.
"Ten minutes,"Sandy made note.
The second, one Ian Kingsley, had studied theatre at Oxford and recently fallen unto hard times. I first encountered him while panhandling young students for change at the university downtown. He'd given me some helpful tips at the time, and I felt nothing said thank you like a potentially dangerous role in an obscure film.
The last was a man who went by the stage name "Chunky". He attended my second casting call, and, as my instincts had warned me would happen, he had presented me with Osama Bin Laden's disembodied head at the conclusion of the event. After fighting down the reflexive nausea, my heart had swelled with nationalistic pride, and I offered him the part of a crazy woodsman right there and then.
"Her thirty minutes are up," Sandy reminded, tapping her watch.
A madness seized me, and I came at the cast with a broom, as one might the errant family dog.
"Son of bitch. Out! All of you out! Don't let me see your faces around here again."
They scattered in my path, and I could hear the thudding footsteps as retreat was made down the back stairwell. Sandy threw her arms up in frustration.
"Now you've done it. We're starting from scratch."
I snarled at the the thought. Like hell. Leaning from the window, I shouted down to street level, letting everyone know they had the parts. It would have been my preference to discuss salary, but they were running by then and nearly out of earshot. There would be time for negotiations later. I shut the window, and set my mind to screenwriting.