Based on a short comic story by Bruce Jones and Mike Hoffman
The train pulled into the station as I adjusted my hat and tie. I was a long way from Hollywood, that was for sure, but I meant to take advantage of this unexpected break in our hectic shooting schedule and take in some of the California countryside. It really is a nice part of the world, and was a heaven on earth for me then; so different from the parched Nevada I grew up in.
We had stopped in a small, agreeable-looking town called Greenwood at just after eight in the evening, and as I looked around me I saw a clean, old-fashioned main street filled with family businesses, conservative and patriotic. American flags hung in almost every window, and every store but one had closed for the night. The sole shop with a light still on was a diner down the path, splendidly ablaze with pink and blue neon: The Atomic Bar And Grill. As I exited the wooden steps of the station, rumbling with the vibration of the leaving train, my thoughts turned to the movie delay, and the reason for it.
The movie was a historical piece, about Robin Hood and his men, and I was an associate producer on it, my first proper gig in Hollywood. Before I had worked mostly on half-assed science fiction and horror movies, but rampaging rubber aliens and scantily clad blondes couldn’t hold my ambition. I wanted to be someone in the industry, to have my own studio, to be a great. I saw this picture as a means to that end.
Freddy James was the producer, the top dog, and he and I had developed something of camaraderie before he disappeared. It was Freddy who had hired me on the flick, explaining later that he had seen something in me that could lead to a glittering career, money, awards, even pussy if I was lucky. We were into the third week of filming when somebody pointed out that Freddy hadn’t turned up that morning. He had something approaching infamy amongst the major studios for his sometimes casual approach to drinking the night before important shoots, so we all assumed he was nursing a split head. It was only when he hadn’t turned up for three days that we realised something was wrong.
The police searched his home and found nothing out of the ordinary but a small stash of reefer in the guy’s bedroom and a bunch of women’s panties in a drawer that didn’t belong to his wife. Nina James herself knew nothing; she said that he often went off for days on end without warning, probably visiting his mistresses and the whorehouses, so she hadn’t raised the alarm. When asked why she put up with his adultery, she answered that she loved him. The more cynical amongst us movie-men suggested it had something to do with the fact that Freddy kept her well supplied with diamonds and fancy dresses.
The more the cops probed, the less it seemed likely that Freddy would be found. He was just gone. Nothing had been taken from his house apart from his Ford and a spare set of clothes. Even though it appeared that he had simply ran away from his wife and his job, rather than been kidnapped or even murdered, he was registered as a missing person five weeks after his disappearance.
Shooting on the movie stopped, and after the lead had been busted by the cops on drugs charges, a development that surprised everyone, least of all the gossip columns, it was postponed indefinitely until either a new producer could be found, or until Freddy turned up. Neither looked very likely.
And so I came to find myself in a small town in central California, stopping off for a bite to eat on the way to a ranch in the middle of nowhere where I would get some rest from the stress of the last month. Rain started to splash lightly down around me, and a rumble of thunder told of a storm on the way. I pulled up the collar of my trench coat and put my head down, wanting to get inside the warmth of the diner due to a bitter wind that had started up.
I reached the polished metal of the Atomic and had a quick glance around the interior through the slightly dirty window. It was a typical small town diner. Stools surrounded a bar well stocked with ketchup, mustard, and advertisements for Coca-Cola and ice cream sodas, while the rest of the interior was filled by small, cosy booths, each with one of those little lights that you turn on to get service. It was like any diner in America.
I pushed through the heavy door, and the plump, jolly woman behind the counter asked me to close the door please, honey, to stop the cold air from getting in. I did so, and sat heavily down on one of the stools. There were only three other people in the place, including the owner. An old guy with a droll-encrusted beard sat in one corner cubicle sat snoozing quietly, while at the other side of the diner there was a guy reading a newspaper. And as the vaguely yellow newsprint was folded and put down on the table, I saw the unmistakable goatee beard and black sunglasses of Freddy James.
Edited by Chickstick, 02 September 2008 - 02:26 PM.