Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No working title yet

I crossed 20K over the weekend with the new story. As promised, here's one of my cards. This is not from the opening, but from a later chapter. The first chapter needs some work. The tone isn't quite right. It's not as appalling or as funny as it needs to be, which is tough given that it involves a live sex show.

Anyway, the new one involves four primary characters over three time periods. Something bad happens. Something weird happens. It's all related. The following scene is from the earliest time period and doesn't actually introduce any of the main characters, though it introduces two very important secondary character.

Please excuse the mess. This thing still has a long ways to go.

(EDIT) 1982

There was a terse, tense conversation beginning in the station manager’s office. The door was closed and beyond it, on the rest of the floor, the phones weren’t being answered except to pick up the receiver and hang up abruptly to stop the damned ringing. Ed Gaines had his door closed and he wasn’t alone. Any second now, the screaming was going to start. They knew it was coming. Rumors had been going around for a couple of days now, for much longer though no one was going to admit that, not if they wanted to keep their job. Finally it had all come to a head yesterday afternoon with a strange visit from a woman and her five year-old son.

The boy, who everybody now knew as Kyle, had been unleashed on the unsuspecting office just before lunch. Kyle was a vibrant and energetic child. He was hungry, too. In the brief three hours he spent in the kind but frightened care of the television station, he nearly knocked over the water cooler, discovered that a good stapler will dig into metal very nicely and that cigarette butts are edible –at least, in a sense. While six people tried to keep young Kyle entertained and alive, behind Ed Gaines’s closed door, his mother intermittently spoke nervously, screamed and wept.

Everybody walked away a little shell shocked.

Officially, the shit had hit the fan. Shit, in fact, was still being fed into the whirring blades. The only real question was how much of it was going to get on the rest of them.

While the fluorescent bulbs radiated its cancerous light, the man in the full body Armadillo suit was told to sign the short, typed paper on the desk in front of him.

“We want this to happen quietly, you understand?” Gaines told the Armadillo. “We want this to be your idea.”

Champ Robinson, the man in the Pete the Pecadillo costume frowned. He'd had some idea of the trouble he was in, but didn't think it had come to this. He wanted a chance to talk this out, if not explain his side of the story, which, in fact, was almost exactly their side of the story. He believed he should be at least allowed to say he was sorry and promise not to do it again. Everybody deserves a second chance. Sometimes they deserve third and fourth chances. If he could easily sit down in the costume, he’d have slouched and dug in to quietly protest his firing, but the massive tail he dragged behind him made that almost impossible. Pete the Pecadillo didn't not sit.

Champ leaned over and looked at the paper. He read it. There wasn't much to it. The wording was very tight and very specific.

“Nice,” he said. “So, I’m moving on to do more local theater? I want to explore opportunities to write and direct?”

Champ laughed. It was laughable. Men who wore Armadillo suits did not get to direct. There were no great playwrights who came from the minor leagues of playing with puppets and dancing jigs in front of screaming brats. Arthur Miller surely didn't.

The letter simply said he was leaving his position with the station, that he was moving on to pursue other long-held artistic passions, but that he would dearly miss everyone he'd worked with here, particularly the children.

“And if I don’t go quietly,” Champ asked. “What then?”

“Well,” Ed nodded. “We have a problem. You can fight with us and there will be a scandal. A couple of those young mothers you’ve been entertaining, they want to sue. They’re going to sue us and they’re going to sue you. You’ll wreck the station. It will cost us thousands, and we’ll have to lay off who knows, how many.”

Champ shrugged. That wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t blameless, and he knew better than to play like he was, but worse things had happened, he was sure. He couldn't specifically think of any, at least none that were worse than the things he was being called out on.

“Of course, as much as this hurts us, it’s going to hurt you. We’ll make sure that everybody knows you’re being fired for this. We’ve talked with Legal and they say that’ll cover our ass some. Sure, we still take a big hit. Sure, I will probably lose my job. I'll be done with television, but so will you. The owner will have my head on a stick and it will be in the papers, but when it’s all said and done, every dime they take from us, they’ll also take from you.”

Champ looked at him. Ed was really angry about this.

“And one way or another, you’ll never work in television ever again.”

Champ looked at the paper again. So, this was the end of “Play time with Pete,” the kid’s show he’d been hosting for WPTV, channel 11, for the last five years. He shook his head. Well, so what if it was? He'd had a good run. The show was number one in the market, number one for daytime and number one for its time slot. That was something he could take to the bank. If channel 11 didn't want him, he could always take his show across the street.

“And if I decide to go along with this? If I go ahead and step down, what do I get out of this?”

Ed looked up at him.

“You get to stay out of court. We’ll cover the loss. We’ll offer those women you took advantage of a settlement. It will be generous enough to get them off our back. Everyone, not surprisingly, seems interested in money. You know how to pick them, Champ.”

Champ managed a smile. Sure, there were a lot of single, down-on-their-luck women around. A kid with a rosy complexion and a good smile could be useful. Toothpaste, fast food and toy commercials paid real good. Local television exposure didn’t guarantee anything, but it helped build up that portfolio, if the kid's mom had hopes for their son or daughter to break into the real television world.

It all sounded so much sleazier than it actually was. His kind of show tended to attract a certain kind of parent. They were predators. They were climbers. They wanted to use his show for their advantage. So sure, he’d come to an arrangement with a few of them. He got what he wanted. They got their kids on the show. Nobody got hurt. It seemed like a pretty good deal: better than they’d get anywhere else without going to New York or Chicago or some other big city. Of course, some of them just wanted their kids to get a chance to win a bike. Whatever. Everybody has needs. So, Champ decided he was going, but it wasn’t going to be that easy or that cheap.

“Yeah, that’s great,” Champ said. “I really appreciate you looking out for me like that. How much you offering them?”

Ed leaned back in his chair and studied the Armadillo man.

“That’s none of your business. We’ll take care of it. You just sign the form and be on your way.”

“Aw come on,” Champ said. “You’re kicking me out on my ear. The least you can do is tell me how much you’re paying out to these ‘poor, mistreated women’.”

It was virtually impossible for Ed to take a man dressed like an armadillo serious.

“Five grand each. We’re going to offer them three and go up to five, if they turn it down.”

Five grand was substantial. It was more than most of these people saw in a month or three. It was more than he saw in a month and he was the star of the show.

“Then you pay me, too.” Champ told him. “You pay me twice what you’re paying any one of them. I get that in cash and I’ll go. I’ll sign this letter and I’m out of your hair.”

Ed shook his head. No.

"Then you're stuck with me."

"No, I'll fire you and have you ejected from the building. If you give me any trouble, I'll call the cops and I'll have our own news department run the story. Nobody will love me for that, but you won't be able to bum change without someone wanting to kick your ass." Ed shook his head. "Do you have any idea who some of these women are?"

Champ shrugged. Like, he could care.

"The names alone should be a dead giveaway." He rattled a few of them off. "O'Malley, Patrick, Dooley. Fuck, do you even know where you live?"

Champ stared dully at him. They were just names.

"Did you ever think that maybe some of these women might have boyfriends or brothers or father or cousins or who-the-fuck-knows guys who are in tight with the local mob? The God damned Irish mob? You're lucky you still have your balls as it is."

He actually hadn't thought about that. It had never occurred to him. He'd heard about the Irish mob in Philadelphia, but he was from Kansas. He didn't even know how to spot an Irish mobster on the street, if such a thing could even be done.

“Give me ten and I’ll leave town. After this I’m dead here, anyway, right? You give me ten and write me a glowing recommendation.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Ed said, but he was already thinking about it. “You’re staying out of jail probably. Who knows what kind of laws you violated? The FCC might even want a piece of you for this.”

Champ nodded his head, considered quickly. This was his only shot at this, he knew.

“Alright, you give me eight and the letter.”

Ed Gaines had been in television since the early fifties and he’d certainly seen his share of crummy things in almost thirty years of dealing with ‘artistic types.’ Champ Robinson wasn’t the first television personality dismissed for hanky panky behind the scenes, but he might be the first to have done the hanky panky while dressed like a six-foot armadillo. Ed had gotten into local television because he wanted to get away from all of the crazy politics of Big Television. So far, that hadn’t been the case.

“You get five,” he told him finally. “And I’ll write you a God damned letter. I’ll do better and if you do manage to land on your feet somewhere, I swear to tell them about your numbers.”

Champ smiled ridiculously. His numbers were good. He had a lock on the 4 o’clock hour. The kids loved him, even if their mothers only faked it.

He stuck his oversized paw across the desk.

“I believe we have a deal, Ed.”

Ed looked at the armored paw like it was the authentic, dead article. Reluctantly, he shook it.

“Now, fucking sign.”

Champ signed the paper, then bounced out of the office. With the big tail drawn behind him, it was next to impossible for him to naturally stroll. The suit required him to skip. The rest of the room watched him depart almost as gaily as he’d gone in, which was the only way he could be. He bopped down the hall to his dressing room, shivered off the suit and was gone.

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