(If you've been following this rough serialization of my new horror thriller, I've changed Kristen's name to Ashley. Not sure why…)
“Jumpin’ Jehosophat!” David said.
“What is it?”
“Look at this thing!” David said, laughing.
Jake looked inside the back of Harry Dean’s pickup. There was all kinds of gear in there—picks, shovels, rakes, hedge clippers, a clothes hanger, a lawn moor handle, screens for gold-panning, bags of feed, what appeared to be horse bits and harnesses, and a flat tire—but what David was pointing at was a large, battered ice chest on whose front Jake could just make out a faded, rusty COLEMAN sign.
It was at least twice as large as your average ice cooler.
It had a rusty dent in the lid, as though someone had shot a bullet into it.
“Holy shit,” Jake said.
“You’re gonna have to give me a hand here, slick.”
With effort, they both got the tailgate down. It screeched and barked and then hung badly on one side from a rusted chain. David took the left side of the cooler; Jake took the other side. They lifted, released. The chest thumped loudly back down on the bed of the pickup box.
“Holy shit!” Jake said again. “What the hell you suppose he’s got in this thing?”
David glanced at Jake, glanced over his shoulder at the motorhome. Harry Dean, Otis, and Ashley had gone inside. David looked at Jake again, grinned, tripped the ice chest’s latch, and opened the lid. Cold, sour air wafted up against Jake’s face. The chest was filled with ice and Hamms. A bottle of Fighting Cock bourbon lay to one side atop the glittering mound of blue and gold beer cans.
“Fuck me runnin’,” Jake said. “He’s got enough beer here to keep a regiment drunk for a month!”
“And he’s got two fools to carry it for him.”
Jake and David laughed.
“Ready?” David said, grabbing his handle once more.
“No, but...” Jake’s cell phone jangled in the side pocket of his cargo pants.
“That’s probably Bren,” he said, staring down at the old flip-top.
He didn’t finish saying what it said: Beverly Hills, CA. Instead, he held a hand up to David, indicating he needed to take the call, and opened the lid. As he turned away, heading for the front of the truck, he vaguely heard David say behind him, “Don’t worry that that old mountain man is probably forcing my wife to suck his cock at gunpoint....”
“Hello?” Jake said.
“Jake--that you, my man?”
“Tinsel Town calling. It’s your agent, Roger the Dodger Goldstein.”
“Roger?” Jake said. “What the hell...?”
“Yeah, I know it’s fucked up. You haven’t heard from me in a month of Sundays. That’s the way it rolls out here. Everything’s fucked up out here. But I sold it.”
“I sold it. Your script.”
“What script?” Goldstein laughed. There was static in the connection, and his voice sputtered in and out, but Jake thought he was catching the brunt of the agent’s words despite the man’s heavy East Coast accent. “Last Tango in Denver. What script?” He laughed again. “Based on your novel, remember? Ridley loved it though of course he wants a few changes, and he wants the title changed.”
“Ridley Scott, for cryin’ in the queen’s ale! He loved it! He finally got back to me after sitting on it for two fucking years, but I think he loved it because Jennifer loved it. At least, her agent loved it, and I just talked to Howard last night over dinner. She’s ready to ink a deal. Ryan loves it, too, and he’s ready to throw his own John Hancock on the contract, so....”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” Jake said, pressing the phone to his right ear and holding his left ear closed with his other hand. The breeze was picking up and spitting rain. He glanced back at David who pantomimed a blowjob and then hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the motorhome.
Jake said into the phone, “Who in hell are you talking about, Roger. Jennifer? Ryan....?
“Jennifer-fucking-Lawrence and Ryan-fucking-Gosling, Jake! They both read the script and loved it. Ridley loved it six months ago but I didn’t want to tell you that and get your hopes up only to have it all go south again. I wanted to see if we could get two leads before I broke the news. Jake, you need to get out here and ink this deal. I’m getting together with Ridley and Howard tonight, and a couple of people from Oak Hill and Relativity, and we’re going to draw up the contract. I’ve been assured that Jen’s gonna sign, and Ryan’s gonna sign, and then we just need your signature, and we’re off to the races. Er...at least off to rewrites!”
Goldstein laughed loudly.
“Jake, you there?”
Jake had moved up onto the sidewalk and was pressing his forehead to a window of the lounge, left of the door. He pressed it harder. His heart was turning somersaults, and his ears were ringing. He barely felt the cold rain lashing the back of his neck.
“Jake, did we drop?” Goldstein shouted.
“How much money we talking?” Jake asked woodenly against the cymbals crashing in his head.
“At least six figures. With the names we so far have attached to the project, at least six figures. Don’t worry, I’m gonna negotiate a good deal for you, Jake. This is going to be a big movie. You’ll definitely get a sizeable cut of the pie, and Ridley wants to see more of your work. So get your ass out here, and let’s party like it’s nineteen-eighty-four! You can stay in my pool house. Not to worry--it’s a fucking luxury condo! In fact, Jen gave Jack Nickolson a blowjob in it after last year’s Oscars!”
Goldstein laughed so loudly that Jake had to pull the phone away from his ear.
“Jake, you there? Jake?”
Jake’s knees and hands were shaking. “I’m on a hiking trip, Roger.”
“Hiking, schmiking—get your ass out here as soon as you can!”
“All right,” Jake said, swallowing, clearing his throat, licking his lips. “I’ll be home in four days. I’ll...uh...I’ll make plane reservations...and be there...soon.”
“Call me when you’re back in civilization, John Muir! And, hey, Jake?”
“You’re fucking awesome!”
Goldstein’s raucous laugh assaulted Jake’s ear once more, and then the connection went dead.
Slowly, Jake lowered the phone. He stared down at it, fumbled the lid closed. There was a high-pitched whine in his head, like a racing bike revving its engine. The sidewalk pitched to and fro. He had to take a quick step to one side to keep from falling. He felt weightless, as though the next breeze could pick him up like a kite and send him to the moon.
“Jake, somethin’ wrong, bro?” David asked.
He’d walked up the side of the truck and stood now beside the passenger door, sunglasses on his head, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his camo shorts. He looked concerned.
“Wrong?” Jake said, chuckling as though he were still stoned—which he supposed he partly was. But the chuckling was due to the giddiness of the news. “No. No.”
He stuck his phone in his pocket and decided right then and there not to tell David and Ashley. He wasn’t sure why he shouldn’t tell them, but something told him not to. Something told him that telling them might not only do something weird to their friendship, it might spoil their outing to the falls.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to go on the hike anymore, but he had to.
And telling his friends the news that Ridley Scott was going to film the script he’d written, based on his book, might blow the whole thing. He didn’t know how he was going to keep from telling them—he needed to tell someone, because he felt as though his head were going to explode—but he had to hold his tongue.
“It’s all good,” Jake said, stepping down off the sidewalk.
“Must be,” David said. “That’s one shit-eating grin, F. Scott.”
“That was Chuck. My boss. He just needed to iron the schedule out...wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone...and he was horsing around. The guy’s got quite the sense of humor.”
“Yeah, well, if Ash is ruined in there—if that old man’s been sodomizing her while you’ve been out here yacking on the phone with Chuck—she’s all yours, pal. I don’t take sloppy thirds! Now, get over here and bust a gut with me...”
Vaguely, beneath the drumming in his ears, Jake thought: “Sloppy thirds?”
They managed to get the ice chest over to the motorhome without irreparable damage to themselves. Before they’d even reached the pump island, Jake could hear Ashley laughing inside at something the old man was saying. Red-faced from exertion, David looked at Jake, one brow arched.
“Remember what I said.”
Jake laughed. But he’d have laughed at anything now. He’d have laughed at a car accident. He was amazed at how light the ice chest seemed despite the ache in his shoulder, lower back, and abdomen. Dave opened the door with one hand, swung it back and latched it to the side of the motorhome.
Ashley’s laughter boiled out the door as she said, “Jerry, that’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”
As David backed up the steps and into the rig, he gave Jake another dubious look.
“What’s so damn funny in here?” he said with mock jealousy. Or maybe it wasn’t so mock.
As Jake stepped up into the motorhome behind David, grunting with the weight of his end of the beer chest, he saw that the old fart was sitting across from Ashley in the dinette. Harry Dean—or “Jerry,” as Ash had called him—was holding her hand and staring down at her diamond ring, mumbling something and laughing.
“Jerry’s just doing an appraisal of my wedding ring,” Ashley said.
“Oh, really?” David said.
“Not at all,” Jerry said. “I wouldn’t be that crass. I was just telling your blushing bride here that I bought my third wife a rock that size, maybe a carat or two bigger—had to sell a Harley and a blooded collie to do it, too—and three months later she was down in Mexico bangin’ her dentist. Two weeks after that, they both got caught—oh, shit, there’s the beer!”
Jerry grunted and squirmed his way out of his seat. Otis was sitting beside Ashley, next to the window. Ashley was hugging the dog and grinning like a girl whose boyfriend had won her a new stuffed toy at the carnival.
Otis beamed at her, his tongue lolling down over his lower jaw.
“I love this dog,” she said. “I love you, Otis.”
Jake noticed there was a hide-wrapped flask on the table, and the air was considerably smokier and sweeter-smelling than when they’d pulled up to the pumps.
“Hey, where’s my duffel bag?” Jerry asked David accusingly, popping a beer and setting it on the table before Ashley. He fished another Hamms out of the ice and popped the top on that can, as well.
David looked at Jake, said under his breath as Jerry continued flirting with Ashley, “I think we got here just in time. Fetch the man’s duffel, will you, O. Henry? I’ll fire up this rig so we can get the hell out of here.”
Jake resisted the urge to hop, skip, and jump across the parking lot to the old man’s truck. He opened the passenger door, which squawked like a kicked goose. There was all manner of junk in here, too, including a badly soiled woman’s bra and an empty condom package on the floor—the kind you buy for a buck-seventy-five in truck stop vending machines.
The army-green duffel bag, the name JOHNSON written on it in faded black Magic Marker, lay on the seat. The zipper wasn’t zipped. Jake could see a pistol inside. He glanced guiltily back at the motorhome, and then reached in and pulled out the pistol.
It was a pearl-gripped, silver-plated .357 magnum.
Something else in the duffel bag caught Jake’s eye.
He reached in and pulled out what first appeared a short, camouflage rifle with a scope on it. But then he saw that it wasn’t a rifle. There was a quiver attached to it, bristling with pink-fletched arrows.
It was a crossbow.