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Coldheart Canyon

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘How difficult can it be?’ Maxine said. ‘You’re a great star. We just need to get people focussed on you again.’ She pondered for a moment. ‘You know what? We should set up a lunch with Gary Eppstadt.’

‘Oh Jesus, why? You know how I hate that ugly little fuck.’

‘An ugly little fuck he may be. But he is going to pay for Warrior. And if he’s going to put twenty million and a slice of the back-end on the table for your services to art, you can make nice with the son of a bitch for an hour.’

Chapter 3

It wasn’t simply personal antipathy that had made Todd refer to Eppstadt so unflatteringly. It was the unvarnished truth. Eppstadt was the ugliest man in Los Angeles. Charitably, his eyes might have been called reptilian, his lips unkissable. His mother, in a fit of blind affection, might have noted that he was disproportioned. All this said, the man was still a narcissist of the first rank. He hung only the most expensive suits on his unfortunate carcass: his fingernails were manicured with obsessive precision; his personal barber trimmed his dyed hair every morning, having shaved him first with a straight razor.

There had been countless prayers offered up to that razor over the years, entreating it to slip! But Eppstadt seemed to live a charmed life. He’d gone from strength to strength as he moved around the studios, claiming the paternity of every success, and blaming the failures on those who stood immediately behind him on the ladder, whom he promptly fired. It was the oldest trick in the book, but it had worked flawlessly. In an age in which corporations increasingly had the power, and studios were run by committees of business-school graduates and lawyers with an itch to have their fingers in the creative pie, Eppstadt was one of the old school. A powermonger, happiest in the company of somebody who needed his patronage, whom he could then abuse in a hundred subtle ways. That was his pleasure, and his revenge. What did he need beauty for, when he could make it tremble with a smiling maybe?

He was in a fine mood when he and Todd, with Maxine in attendance, met for lunch on Monday. Paramount had carried the weekend with a brutal revenge picture that Eppstadt had taken a hand in making, firing the director off the project after two unpromising preview screenings, and hiring somebody else to shoot a rape scene and a new ending, in which the violated woman terrorized and eventually dispatched her attacker with a hedge-cutter.

‘Thirty-two point six million dollars in three days,’ he preened. ‘In January. That’s a hit. And you know what? There’s nobody in the picture. Just a couple no-name TV stars. It was all marketing.’

‘Is the picture any good?’ Todd asked.

‘Yeah, it’s fucking Hamlet,’ Eppstadt said, without missing a beat. ‘You’re looking weary, my friend,’ he went on. ‘You need a vacation. I’ve been taking time at this monastery –’

‘Monastery?’

‘Sounds crazy, right? But you feel the peace. You feel the tranquillity. And they take Jews. Actually, I’ve seen more Jews there than at my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. You should try it. Take a rest.’

‘I don’t want to rest. I want to work. We need to set a start-date for Warrior.’

Eppstadt’s enthusiastic expression dimmed. ‘Oh, Christ. Is that what this little lunch is all about, Maxine?’

‘Are you making it or not?’ Todd pressed. ‘Because there’s plenty of other people who will if you won’t.’

‘So maybe you should take it to one of them,’ Eppstadt said, his gaze hooded. ‘You can have it in turnaround, if that’s what you want. I’ll get business affairs on it this afternoon.’

‘So you’re really ready to let it go?’ Maxine said, putting on an air of indifference.

‘Perfectly ready, if that’s what Todd wants. I’m not going to stand in the way of you getting the picture made. You look surprised, Maxine.’

‘I am surprised. A package like that … it’s a huge summer movie for Paramount.’

‘Frankly I’m not sure this is the right time for the company to be making that kind of picture, Maxine. It’s a very hard market to read right now. And these expensive pictures. I mean, this is going to come in at well north of a hundred thirty million by the time we’ve paid for prints and advertising. I’m not sure that makes solid fiscal sense.’ He tried a smile; it was lupine. ‘Look, Todd: I want to be in business with you. Paramount wants to be in business with you. Christ, you’ve been a gold-mine for us over the years. But there’s a generation coming up – and you know the demographics as well as I do – these kids filling up the multiplexes, they don’t have any loyalty to the past.’

Eppstadt knew what effect his words were having, and he was savouring every last drop of it.

‘You see, in the good old days, the studios were able to carry stars through a weak patch. You had a star on a seven-year contract. He was being paid a weekly wage. You could afford a year or two of poor performance. But you’re expensive, Todd. You’re crucifyingly expensive. And I’ve got Viacom’s shareholders to answer to. I’m not sure they’d want to see me pay you twenty million dollars for a picture that might only gross … what did your last picture do? Forty-one domestic? And change?’

Maxine sighed, a little theatrically. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Gary.’

‘Look, Maxine, I’m sorry to be having to say it. Really I am. But numbers are numbers. If I don’t believe I can make a profit, what am I doing making the movie? You see where I’m coming from? That simply doesn’t make sense.’

Maxine got up from the table. ‘Will you excuse me a minute? I’ve got to make a call.’

Eppstadt caught the fire in Maxine’s voice.

‘No lawyers, Maxine. Please? We can do this in a civilized manner.’

Maxine didn’t reply. She simply stalked off between tables, snarling at a waiter who got in her way. Eppstadt ate a couple of mouthfuls of rare tuna, then put down his fork. ‘It’s times like this I wish I still smoked.’ He sat back in his chair and looked hard at Todd. ‘Don’t let her start a pissing competition, Todd, because if I’m cornered I’m going to have to stand up and tell it like it is. And then we’ll all have a mess on our hands.’

‘Meaning what?’

‘Meaning …’ Eppstadt looked pained; as though his proctologist was at work on him under the chair. ‘You can’t keep massaging numbers so your price looks justified when we all know it isn’t.’

‘You were saying I’d been a gold-mine for Paramount. Just two minutes ago you said that.’

‘That was then. This is now. That was Keever Smotherman, this is post-Keever Smotherman. He was the last of his breed.’

‘So what are you saying?’

‘Well … let me tell you what I’m not saying,’ Eppstadt replied, his tone silky. ‘I’m not saying you don’t have a career.’

‘Well that’s nice to hear,’ Todd said sharply.

‘I want to find something we can do together. But …’

‘But?’

Eppstadt seemed to be genuinely considering his reply before he spoke. Finally, he said: ‘You’ve got talent, Todd. And you’ve obviously built a loyal fan-base over the years. What you don’t have is the drawing power you had back in the old days. It’s the same with all of you really expensive boys. Cruise. Costner. Stallone.’ He took a moment, then leaned closer to Todd, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. ‘You want the truth? You look weary. I mean, deep down weary.’ Todd said nothing. Eppstadt’s observation was like being doused in ice-cold water. ‘Sorry to be blunt. It’s not like I’m telling you something you don’t already know.’

Todd was staring at his hand, wondering what it would feel like to make a fist and beat it against Eppstadt’s face; over and over and over.

‘Of course, you can have these things fixed,’ Gary went on chattily. ‘I know a couple of guys older than you who went to see Bruce Burrows and looked ten years younger when he was finished working on them.’

Still idly contemplating his hand, Todd said: ‘Who’s Bruce Burrows?’

‘Well, in many people’s opinion he’s the best cosmetic surgeon in the country. He’s got an office on Wilshire. Very private. Very expensive. But you can afford it. He does it all. Collagen replacements, lifts, peels, lipo-sculpture …’

‘Who went to see him?’

‘Oh, just about everybody. There’s nothing to be ashamed of: it’s a fact of life. At a certain age it’s harder to get the lovehandles to melt. You get laugh-lines, you get frown lines, you get those little grooves around your mouth.’

‘I haven’t got grooves around my mouth.’

‘Give it time,’ Eppstadt said, a touch avuncular now.

‘How long does it take?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never had any of it done. If I went in there, I’d never get out again.’

‘Too much to fix.’

‘I think it’s bad taste to jump on somebody else’s self-deprecation, Todd. But I forgive you. I know it hurts to hear this. The fact is, I don’t have to have my face out there fifty feet high. You do. That’s what they’re paying for.’ He pointed at Todd. ‘That face.’

‘If I was to get something done …’ Todd said tentatively, ‘about the lines, I mean?’

‘Yes?’

‘Would you make Warrior then?’

He had opened the door to Eppstadt’s favourite word: ‘Maybe. I don’t know. We’d have to see. But the way I look at it, you haven’t got much to lose getting the work done anyway. You’re a heart-throb. An old-fashioned heart-throb. They want to see you kick the shit out of the bad guy and get the girl. And they want their heart-throb perfect.’ He stared at Todd. ‘You need to be perfect. Burrows can do that for you. He can make you perfect again. Then you get back to being King of the Hill. Which is what you want, I presume.’

Todd admitted it with a little nod, as though it were a private vice.

‘Look, I sympathize,’ Eppstadt went on, ‘I’ve seen a lot of people just fold up when they lose their public. They come apart at the seams. You haven’t done that. At least not yet.’ He laid a hand on Todd’s arm. ‘You go have a word with Dr Burrows. See what he can do for you. Six months. Then we’ll talk again.’

Todd didn’t mention his discussion about Dr Burrows to Maxine. He didn’t want the decision process muddied by her opinion. This was something he wanted to think through for himself.

Though he didn’t remember having heard of Burrows before, he was perfectly aware he was living in the cosmetic surgery capital of the world. Noses were fixed, lips made fuller, crow’s feet erased, ears pinned back, laugh-lines smoothed, guts tucked, butts lifted, breasts enhanced. Just about any piece of the anatomy which gave its owner ego problems could be improved, sometimes out of all recognition. Traditionally of course, it had been women who were the eager and grateful recipients of such handiwork, but that had changed. One of the eighties muscle-men, who’d made a fortune parading a body of superhuman proportions some years before, but had begun to lose it to gravity, had returned to the screen last year looking more pumped than ever, his perfect abdominals and swelling pectorals – even his sculpted calf muscles – surgically implanted. The healing had taken a little while, given the extensiveness of the remodelling. He’d been out of commission for five months – hiding in Tuscany, the gossip went – while he mended. But it had worked. He’d left the screen looking like a beaten-up catcher’s mitt, and come back spanking new.

Todd began by making some very circuitous inquiries, the sort of questions which he hoped would not arouse suspicion. The word came back that the procedures were far from painless. Even legendary tough guys had ended up wishing they’d never invited the Drs to mess with them, the process had been so agonizing. And of course once you began, if you didn’t like what you saw you had to let Burrows make some more fixes; wounds on wounds, pain on pain.

But Todd wasn’t discouraged by the news. In fact in a curious way it made the idea of undergoing the procedures more palatable to him, playing as it did both into his machismo side and a deep, unexplored vein of masochism.
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