“A duel is negotiated murder.
Like all deals, it is subject to a certain
inevitable amount of revision.”
“Old Man” Petersunn
“The Myth of The Drifter”
Stanford University Press, 1965
It seems that Charlie Christianstein had gone for lunch that day to a restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in which he would not normally have been caught dead, but which was a favorite of whatever idiots he was having lunch with. It was actors today, or maybe agents or maybe managers or possibly executives. He could barely concentrate, so worried was he. Whover these people were, they could not help him. This he knew. After their sumptuous meal in the dimly lit old restaurant, Charlie pushed away a big white plate on which there had once been a design of sauces making up a picturesque lagoon in which was harbored a ship of veal. They were dribblings of Art, these pictorial sauces. The chefs in the restaurants that Charlie Christianstein patronized dribbled patterns as complex as nature itself and then the patrons destroyed them, ate the islands and lagoons and ships of meat or fowl or fish. Charlie had a momentary urge to light a cigarette and stub it out on the already decimated veal leavings, but he officially did not smoke while working. Was he working still? he asked himself. He thought to himself that he must be, because the hammer had not fallen yet. The hammer must be about two inches above and slightly behind his head and moving toward his fragile skull way too fast.
Edging out into the light, the men and women in his party were immediately blinded by the glaring transition from the fractured light of old sputtering chandeliers (the light bouncing weakly off tucked velvet and heavy silverware and frayed Persians) to the sudden white-blasted reality of Southern California. Blinking madly, shielding his eyes from this assault of sheer light, Charlie had but barely seen something flying right toward him, a flapping white bird, he thought quickly, hurtling at him like a little whirlstorm. Then he saw that it was one of many fluttering white birds that seemed to be rising up from the middle of the busy street. He could only dimly see, far out into the flow of traffic, a fattish man clutching at more of these birds and stomping on others and swearing and cursing at the passing cars as they nearly ran him down. Instinctively, Charlie stuck his left hand up and backhanded the fluttering white bird right into the imaginary glove that he had worn on that hand since those twilight softball games of Maine summers long ago, when the Christiansteins and the Hazelnors and the Weisels’s and those Sweeney people from Pennsylvania with the blonde daughter who wore the sleeveless sundresses would gather like a summering flock of terns at Merrymeeting Bay for the happiest times of what Charlie Christianstein would have thought was his whole life, had he thought about such things, which he hadn’t particularly.
The bird in his hand was only a piece of paper, a page in fact, he could tell because it was numbered. At first, he didn’ teven look to see what was written on it. He was marvelling that the man who had lost it was so filled with a rage that could be heard and felt as they stood, blinking, waiting for their cars to be brought to them under the fringed red awning of the restaurant. The anger struck Charlie Christianstein as akin to his own.
“You god-damn sons of bitches!” He could hear the man yelling at the cars. “Fuck you god-damn California assholes!” Cars honked at him and he kicked at their sleek bodies as they flew past. Charlie Christianstein was angry as well, but for probably different reasons, he thought.
The page itself, when he could finally focus his eyes upon it, seemed as suddenly familiar as the inside of his own head. It was a page from a film script. He laughed an abrupt laugh. What a business, his laugh seemed to say. Every cab or limo driver, every bubba who tended your pool, every mechanic or waiter or dentist or lawyer had a screenplay to peddle in this town, in this business. Charlie watched the little fat man risking his life, desperately trying to gather up the other pages of what must be, he realized, an entire script. Into his head popped the thought that this was a pretty damn good symbol of the business and of this town, an angry man chasing after pages. People said goodbye to him and shook his hand and got into Range Rovers and Bentleys and gunned them back to The Beach or Century City or Beverly Hills or other places he didn’t care about. His long and gleaming studio limousine at last pulled up under the awning, ready to enfold Charlie Christianstein, the most powerful guy in town, at least for today, although today was more than half over.
He stared down at the page. Upon it were, of course, all the various trappings of the amateur screenplay, but a further glance and Charlie reached into his pocket for his reading glasses. He read aloud to himself as he sank into the air-conditioned rear of the huge vehicle:
CONT’D SCENE 127
Oh, Dad! If you die and I marry again, let me be cursed. I would kill you dead a second time if another husband touched me in our bed.
As mean as rabbitbrush, as bitter as sage, she is.
SCENE 128 ON THE DRIFTER
THE DRIFTER writhes around like a crazy person. THE WIFE looks at him sideways out of her eyes with fear.
Still, she is fascinated by the play. THE FOREMAN stares daggers at them.
What do you call this play? It’s just
It’s called “The Gopher Hole.” (laughs insanely)
See? They hear the ravens. The ravens croak for
revenge! Ha ha ha ha ha!
SCENE 129 THE STAGE
On the stage of the Opry House, a COWBOY in black with
a black mask pours FUEL OIL in DAD’s ear and laughs with glee, looking furtively around.
DAD dies like a rat.
THE DRIFTER shouts from the balcony:
See? I’m not making it up! He poisons him on his own spread!
You’ll see next how the murderer marries her!
THE FOREMAN leaps to his feet, knocking over the CHAIRS and drawing both guns.
Boys! Turn on some lights! Set fire to the place!
THE FLASHING of the firing of the guns. The SCREAMING.
Charlie, for a moment, couldn’t believe his luck. He certainly needed luck, because judging from what people were saying around town, he, Charlie Christianstein, the most powerful man in Hollywood, had days that were not only numbered but whose count probably had but a single digit. The hammer descending was ruffling his hair. His mind was racing.
“Hey Bobby,” he had called up to his limo driver. “Back up and pick up that idiot out in the street who’s chasing down all those pages.”
When a startled A. Aaron Baxter, sunk opposite him into the great leather limo seat, a Bloody Mary in his hand, informed him of the authorship of the thing, that the magic word Honeyacre – although preceded by the words Shirley Anne – was involved, he quickly knew that he might yet stave off disaster. He looked calm, but inside, something was gasping with wonderment.
“This Shirley Anne Honeyacre. Mitchell Honeyacre’s …?”
“Ex-sister-in-law,” said Baxter honestly enough. “Once married to Mitchell Honeyacre’s older brother, a guy named Chester Honeyacre.” Baxter was a lawyer, after all, and knew the plain value of the truth. He could tell that all that really mattered to the pony-tailed Christianstein was the name Honeyacre.
“Well, this sure looks like quite a script,” said Charlie as he leafed through the sheaf of out-of-order sheets of paper that Baxter vainly tried to arrange correctly. He read a bit here and a bit there and chuckled to himself. The palm trees whipped along outside as the big car headed back to The Studio.
SCENE 67 EXT. TRAIN
THE DRIFTER (CHIEF SMOATTLE) laughs and turns on his heel and strides away. He jumps up on the speeding locomotive and runs along the side.
There is a HORSE at the smokestack.
THE CHIEF jumps on the horse and rides up into the sky
on the steam and smoke belching forth from the stack of the locomotive.
As Charlie read, chuckling to himself, for a breathless minute, A. Aaron Baxter congratulated himself on this amazing turn in his luck. Not only was he – suddenly – on intimate termswith Charlie Christianstein, the most powerful man in Hollywood, but said Christianstein was obviously interested in the script, he could see that. He took a deep breath and tried not to scream with delight.
No, he thought to himself. No. It’s only Chief Smoattle at work in his mysterious ways. I should never, never have doubted him. He remembered again what he had already seen a thousand times, what he had replayed on his VCR so many times he had needed another copy of the tape, the brief excerpt from one of Shirley Anne Honeyacre’s tapes of the Speakings of Chief Smoattle; what the old man, grunting and chuckling through her adorable body, had said:
“In the end, at the Choosing, as the world ends, some white people will be saved,” the Prophet had intoned, speaking through the comely lips of Shirley Anne, who squatting, her hands on her knees, stared balefully out at the audience, her voice lowered, the old man speaking through her from a thousand years hence or past.
“All will be reckoned on that day, all treaties and promises reviewed, all acts of kindness noted and all acts otherwise revenged; and the worthy dead will walk again. My people will rise and selected white and black and yellow people of good faith will be able to avoid destruction and death and immolation and disease and pestilence and parricide and incest and wailing, as well as howling and sighing, in order to service the needs of my resurrected and holy people. My people will need servants and my people will need good lawyers and doctors and tax accountants; and of course, someone will have to make a big-budget movie about the whole deal.”
This last was what drove A. Aaron Baxter, this and the hope of Shirley Anne’s lips suctioned around his penis someday.