by Willard Manus
"Somebody down there wants to kill me."
They were sitting on the deck of Frank's house, which was located on a
hillside not far from the Hollywood sign. Charles looked closely at his
"What's going on, man?"
"A lot of bad shit."
Charles waited for Frank to explain himself but was met with silence instead.
They sat over their breakfast Bloody Marys, eyes averted. The crows in
the trees raised a racket. The sun was out but it wasn't strong enough
to burn off the smog that obscured all of the nearby Hollywood sign.
A girl came out of the house; she was naked except for a tiny maid's apron.
She had lustrous skin the color of maple syrup. In her hands was a serving
"Does master require something to eat?" she inquired, in an
exaggeratedly coquettish manner.
Frank answered her in the gangster's voice he had cultivated in his last
film, Death Merchants. "Yeah, you! Lie down and spread your legs,
The girl laughed and turned away, showing the perfect globes of her bare
ass as she sashayed out.
Frank looked at Charles and said, this time in his own voice, "She's
something, isn't she?"
Frank smiled and touched Charles' glass with his. "I'm glad you finally
wised up and got the hell out of New York. Thought you'd never make the
"What can I tell you. Things were going pretty well there. I was
working steadily, doing a lot of theatre."
"Theatre," Frank said, with a frown. "Theatre is for losers."
* * *
There was another girl living in the house, also young and sexy, with
curly blonde hair, green eyes and pink skin. Her name was Sheree, she
said, as she put down a mat and started doing exercises not far from where
Charles was sitting and smoking a cigarette in the now-stronger sunlight.
"Frankie said you were his oldest friend."
"That's right. We grew up together."
"Brooklyn. Sheepshead Bay. Where's home for you?"
"Right here in L.A. I'm that rare thing, a native Angeleno,"
she said with a trace of a smile. Then she leaned over, stretched out
her arms, and tried to touch her toes.
"You an actress, Sheree?"
"How'd you guess? I was in Frankie's last film. Played a hooker,
of course. I'm always cast as a hooker or a biker babe."
"You okay with that?"
"Hell, yes. I'll vamp it up all they want, as long as they pay me
my standard fee: five thousand a day, minimum three days' work."
Loud male voices, one of them Frank's, were heard coming from the house.
As the argument continued, partially in English, partially in Italian,
the mock-French maid reappeared, shaking her head. "It's getting
hairy in there," she said. She had traded her frilly apron for jeans
and a faded Pink Floyd T-shirt. Her feet were bare.
"I'm Barika," she said, turning her lounge chair around so that
she faced Charles and Sheree. She dropped half a dozen celebrity magazines
down on the table beside her.
"You're Italian, like Frankie, aren't you?"
"How can you tell?"
"You've got the same black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Of course,
he's a lot more buffed than you are. You've obviously never lifted a weight
in your life."
"That's not true. I once picked up a copy of War and Peace."
"Funny," she said, with a sideways look at Sheree. "He's
very funny, isn't he?"
"Hilarious," Sheree said as she turned on her side and began
paying attention to her hamstrings.
"You oughta get serious about working out," Barika said to Charles.
"Muscle men do well in Hollywood. Look at Steven Seagall, Arnold
Schwarzenneger and, of course, Frankie's hero, Sylvester Stallone."
"I hate working out," Charles said. "It reminds me of high-school
phys ed--painful and boring."
"I agree," said Sheree from her exercise mat. "But if you
want to make it here, you gotta have a bella figura."
"For a guy, it's abs and pecs," Barika explained. "For
a gal, tits and ass."
* * *
Frank paced around in his small den, a dark, constricted look on his face.
"The sons of bitches won't give me a break," he said to Charles.
"They're really breaking my cojones, man."
Again, Charles waited for an explanation; this time it was forthcoming.
"I went to the Moustache Petes for the seed money for my new film.
I've done business with them before. Usually, I pay them back once the
film's been released. This time, though, they moved up the due date."
"The production's in trouble. Two of the pre-sale deals we had with
foreign distributors fell apart. The goombahs are afraid the film won't
get made and they'll lose their money."
"What'd you tell them?"
"I tried to convince them that I'd find other distributors to help
fund the project. I just need a little more time."
"Which they won't give you."
"Give that man a cigar!"
Charles eyed his friend.
"So what's your next move, Francesco?'
"Francesco? The last person who called me that was my sainted mother,
when she was on her deathbed!"
"May she rest with the angels," Charles said. Then: "How
much money do you need?"
"Jesus. That's a scary number."
"Not really. But the goombahs are acting like it's the U.S. mint.
They are real pissed, Carlos. Like I said, somebody down there wants to
"How'd you get yourself into such a jam? You're an actor, man."
"I'm a lot more than just an actor. I've got my own production company.
I produce and direct as well."
"Why? Because if you want to keep from gettin' screwed in this town,
you gotta become a business man. You gotta learn how to wheel, deal and
"But is all the hassle worth it?"
"What are you saying? How else could I promise you a role in my new
movie, bring you out here and all, if I weren't a player?"
"I understand. But what good's being a player if it gets you in trouble
with the Moustache Petes?"
"It's too late for regrets. I gotta take action, man, or those fuckin'
guineas are gonna jam a redhot poker up my ass!"
"What kind of action are you talking about?"
"I'm gonna have to pay a visit to some spics in East L.A."
"I don't understand."
"It's very simple. They control a big piece of the drug trade in
"Jesus, Frankie, is that a smart thing to do?"
"Of course it ain't smart. Don't you think I'd rather be dealing
with Warner Brothers or Universal Pictures? But since all the studios
have turned me down, I gotta deal with
the Mexicans again."
"How do you think I was able to form my company, make my first feature?
I raised the money by buying coke in East L.A. and then re-selling it
"Why are you so shocked? Cocaine's the best business in the world,
man. You can mark it up a hundred, five hundred percent, ifyou need to."
"But what happens if these people try to double-cross you?"
Frank reached into a nearby drawer and brought out a large, silver-plated
a Colt .45.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I know how to protect
* * *
Later that day, while waiting for Frank to return from East L.A., Charles
stretched out on his bed for a nap. About ten minuteslater came a knock
at the door. Half-asleep, Charles
raised himself with some difficulty and forced his eyes open.
It was Sheree and Barika. They entered the room together, both wearing
mini-shorts and no tops. Barika had a cigarette in her hand, Sheree a
plastic bottle of water. They sat down on either side of him.
"Frankie said we should look after you while he was gone," Barika
said, with a sly little smile.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" asked Sheree, with mock-innocence.
Moments later they crawled into bed with him. As they snuggled up against
him, giggling, Charles could smell their perfume, their body-lotion as
well. He could also feel the late-afternoon sunlight falling on him.
Even though the sun had moved further west, toward the horizon, it now
beat down on the Hollywood sign with a scorching intensity that made it
look as if it were about to burst into flames.