Читать онлайн «Coldheart Canyon»
Besides, was there any pain on God’s green earth as agonizing as reading Daily Variety and finding that once again you weren’t in its pages? That other actors – names sometimes you’d never heard of – were getting the scripts, the parts and the deals that would once have dropped into your lap as a matter of course? There was no pain as sharp or as deep as the news of somebody else’s success. If it was an actor older than himself that was bad enough. But if it was a contemporary – or worse, somebody younger, somebody prettier – it made him so crazy he’d have to go pop a tranquillizer or three to stop himself getting morose and foul-tempered. And even the happy pills didn’t work the way they had in the old days. He’d taken too many; his body was too used to them.
So: what to do, what to do?
Should he sit on his slowly-expanding ass and start to avoid the mirror, or take the bull by the horns and get an appointment with Dr Burrows?
He remained undecided for about a week. And then one evening, sitting at home alone nursing a drink and flipping the channels of his sixty-inch TV, he came upon a segment from the telecast of last year’s Oscar ceremony. A young actor, whom he knew for a fact was not one of the smartest bunnies in town, was receiving his third Oscar of the night, for a picture he had – at least according to the credits – written, directed and starred in. The latter? Well there was no disputing that. He was in every other frame of the damn picture, back-lit and golden. He was playing a stuttering, mentally unstable poor boy from the Deep South, a role which he claimed he had based on the life of his father’s brother, who had died tragically at the hands of a lynch mob that had mistaken him for a rapist. It was all perfect Oscar-fodder: the ambitious young artist bucking the star system to tell a tale of the human spirit, rooted in his own family history.
Except that the truth was neither so moving nor so magical. Far from having been lynched, the ‘dead’ uncle was still very much alive, (or so gossip around town went) having spent twenty-two years in jail for a rape that he did not to this day contest. He had received a healthy pay-back from the studio that released the picture to stay conveniently quiet, so that his story could be told the Hollywood way, leaving the Golden Boy with his ten-thousand-watt smile to walk off with three Oscars for his mantelpiece. Todd had it on good authority that his directorial skills extended no further than knowing where his Winnebago was parked.
He wasn’t the only one aspiring to snatch Todd’s throne. There were plenty of others, chirpy little cock-suckers swarming out of the woodwork to play the King of Hollywood, when Todd had yet to vacate the role.
Well fuck ’em. He’d knock them off their stolen pedestals, the sons of bitches. He’d have the limelight back in a heartbeat – all that glory, all that love – and they’d be back on the casting couch in a week with their fannies in the air.
So what if it cost him a few weeks of discomfort? It would be worth it just to see the expressions on their pretty little faces when they realized they’d got greedy a decade too early.
Contrary to recent opinions, the King of the Heart-throbs was not dead. He was coming home, and he was going to look like a million dollars.
On the day Todd had booked to see Burrows for a first consultation, he had to cancel at the last minute. ‘You’re not going to believe my excuse,’ he told the receptionist, ‘but I swear it’s the truth.’
‘My dog’s sick.’
‘Well that’s not one we hear very often. So, gold star for originality.’
The fact was that Dempsey, his mutt, was not looking too good that morning; he’d got up to go out into the back yard for his morning piss and he’d stumbled, as though one of his legs was numb. Todd went down to see if he was okay. He wasn’t. Though he still put on a happy face for his boss, his expression looked strangely dislocated, as though he was having difficulty focussing on Todd.
‘What’s wrong with you, boy?’
Todd went down on his haunches in front of the dog, and stroked his ears. Dempsey growled appreciatively. But he felt unsteady in Todd’s arms; as though at any moment he might keel over.
Todd called Maxine and told her he’d be at the vet’s for the next few hours.
‘Something wrong with that flatulent old dog of yours?’
‘You’ll be flatulent when you get to his age,’ Todd said. ‘And yeah. There is something wrong. He keeps falling over.’
He’d had Dempsey eleven years. He’d bought the dog as a pup just before he’d started to shoot Gunner. As a consequence the dog’s first real experience of life beyond his mother’s teat was being carried around a movie studio by his owner and adored; all of which he thereafter took as his God-given right. Dempsey had been with Todd on every set since; the two were inseparable. Todd and Dempsey; Dempsey and Todd. Thanks to those early experiences of universal affection he was a confident dog; afraid of nobody, and–unless somebody was afraid of him–predisposed to be friendly.
The vet’s name was Dr Spenser; an ebullient black woman who’d been looking after Dempsey since puppy-hood. She did a few tests and told Todd that yes, there were definitive signs that Dempsey was having cognitive difficulties.
‘How old is he now?’
‘He’ll be twelve next March.’
‘Oh that’s right – we didn’t know his birthday so we said –’
‘– Oscar Night.’
‘What’s wrong, boy?’ Dr Spenser said to Dempsey, ruffling him under the chin. ‘He’s certainly not his usual happy self, is he?’
‘Well, I’d like to keep him in here for a few tests.’
‘I brought a stool sample like you asked.’
Todd produced a small Tupperware container of dog poop. ‘Well we’ll have that analysed. You want the container back? Just kidding. Don’t look so grim, Todd –’
‘I don’t like seeing him like this.’
‘It’s probably a virus he’s picked up. We’ll give him a few antibiotics and he’ll be good as new.’
‘But there’s something weird about his eyes. Look. He’s not even focussing on us.’
Dempsey had raised his head, knowing full well he was being talked about, but plainly he was having some difficulty fixing his gaze on whoever was doing the talking.
‘This couldn’t just be old age, could it?’
‘I doubt it. He’s been a very healthy dog so far, and it’s my experience that a mutt like Dempsey is going to last a lot longer than some over-bred hound. You leave him with me. Check in with me at the end of the day.’
Todd did that. The news was there was no news. The stool sample had gone to the lab to be analysed, and meanwhile Dempsey was looking weak, perhaps a little disorientated, but there’d been no noticeable deterioration in his condition.
‘You can either take him home tonight or leave him here. He’ll be perfectly fine here. We don’t actually have anybody monitoring the dogs from eleven p.m. till six in the morning, but the chances of –’
‘I’m going to come and collect him.’
Despite Spenser’s reassurances that there had been no deterioration, Todd disagreed. Usually when he arrived at the vet’s after Dempsey had stayed in for a couple of hours, either for a shot, or his six-month check-up, he was greeted by the dog in crazy mode, yapping his delight at seeing his boss again, and ready to be out of the door before they could stick another damn needle in his backside. But today, when Dempsey came round the corner it seemed to take a moment before the dog even realized it was his master at the door, calling to him. And when he came, though some of his old enthusiasm returned, he was a shadow of his former self. Dr Spenser had already gone off-duty for the night. Todd asked if he could have her home number, but there were some things, it seemed, even being Todd Pickett couldn’t get you.
‘She’s got kids to take care of,’ the male nurse said. ‘She likes to keep this place and her home-life very separate.’
‘But if there’s an emergency?’
‘I’d recommend going to the twenty-four-hour animal hospital on Sepulveda. There’ll be doctors there all night if anything were to happen. But honestly, I think it’s some virus he’s picked up out at the dog park, and it’ll just take a course of antibiotics.’
‘Well can I take some antibiotics then?’ Todd said, getting a little irritated with the casual way Dempsey’s case was being treated.
‘Dr Spenser doesn’t want to give Dempsey anything till she’s got some results from the stool sample, so I’m afraid there’ll be no drugs for Dempsey until tomorrow.’
Dempsey didn’t eat. He just looked at the bowl of food Marco had prepared for him, and turned up his nose at it.
Then he went to lie on the back step and stayed there for the rest of the evening.
In the middle of the night Todd was woken by what sounded like the effects track from The Exorcist, a stomach-wrenching series of mumblings and eruptions. He switched on the bedroom light to find Dempsey at the bottom of his bed, standing in a pool of bright yellow puke. He looked horribly ashamed of having made a mess, and at first wouldn’t come to Todd to be petted, but when he did – and Todd had his arms around the dog – it was clear he was in a bad way. Dempsey’s whole body was cold, and he was trembling violently.
‘Come on, m’man,’ he said. ‘We’re gonna take you to get some proper Dring.’
The noise had woken Marco, who got dressed to drive while Todd held onto Dempsey, who was wrapped in his favourite comforter, a quilt Todd’s grandmother had made for her grandson. The dog lay sprawled over Todd’s knee, all one hundred pounds of him, while Marco drove through the almost empty streets to Sepulveda.
It was five minutes after five in the morning when they arrived at the animal hospital, and there were just two people waiting with their pets to be helped. Even so it took twenty-five minutes before a doctor could be freed up to see Dempsey, during which time it seemed to Todd that Dempsey’s condition worsened. His shaking became more violent than ever, and in the midst of one of his spasms, he convulsively shat brown gruel, mostly on the floor, but on Todd’s leg and shoe too.
‘Well now,’ said the night doctor brightly, ‘what seems to be the trouble?’
Todd gave him an exhaustive run-down on the events of the last day. He then asked Todd to pick Dempsey up and put him on the examination table – choosing this particular instant to remark what a fan of Todd’s he was, as though Todd could have given a damn at that moment.
Then he examined the dog, in a good and thorough manner, but making asides throughout as to which movies of Todd’s he and his wife had particularly enjoyed and which they hadn’t. After about five minutes of this, seeing the expression of despair and anger on Todd’s face, Marco quietly mentioned that Mr Pickett was really only interested right now in the health of his dog. The doctor’s mouth tightened, as though he’d just been badly offended, and his handling of Dempsey (at least to Todd’s eyes) seemed to become a little more brusque.
‘Well, you have a very sick dog,’ he said at the end of the examination, not even looking at Todd but talking to Marco. He was plainly embarrassed by his earlier show of fanboy enthusiasm, and was now over-compensating for it wildly.
Todd went to sit on the examination table to cradle Dempsey, which put him right in the doctor’s line of sight.
‘Look,’ he said quietly, ‘I’m sorry if I’m not being quite as appreciative of … your support of my pictures as I would normally be, Doc. It’s nothing personal. I’m sure we could have a great conversation about it under different circumstances. But I’d like Dempsey comfortable first. He’s sick and I want him better.’
Finally the doctor managed a little smile, and when he spoke his voice had also quieted, matching Todd’s. ‘I’m going to put Dempsey on a saline drip, because he’s obviously lost a lot of fluids in the last twelve to twenty-four hours. That should make him feel a whole lot happier. Meanwhile, you said Dr Spenser over at Robertson VCA was doing stool checks?’
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