Monday, 23 April 2012

Fiction Installment #18. Chapter 7: Marta and Jake

   Winking at Marta, Lora picked up the receiver. “Your one o’clock appointment, Dr. Spëk, has arrived, Mr. Nugent.” She hung up and drew an arrow in the air toward Marta’s destination. “Your meal will be along in a heartbeat,” she said, “Question: You still like Thai, I hope.”
    With thoughts settling on caged factory farm chickens and habitat destruction caused by Malaysian prawn farms, Marta answered with a smile. “Oh yes, thank you.”
Furnished by a the same budget office equipment leasing firm, Jake’s office—a painted metal desk with imitation wood grain top, gray filing cabinets, spun-nylon chairs—matched Lora’s exactly. The functionality and sparseness, so at odds with Marta’s imaginings, served to assure her that filmmaking was above all a bottom-line business with deadlines, responsibilities, lists of hourly goals, and a high risk of failure.
    “It’s good to finally meet you, Professor Spëk.” Jake stepped from behind the desk to offer a firm hand. “Please make yourself comfortable.” That smile opens doors for him, Marta thought, cowed by the well-tended edifice of impervious masculinity. Well-proportioned and aware of the fact, she surmised, here’s the strutting cock of the henhouse. At least he possessed the manners to not chew gum.
    “Marta, please. ‘Professor’ makes me feel one hundred.” Sitting, Marta fussed; the cuffs of the new blouse were a shade long. Jake’s carnivore watchfulness was disconcerting, recalling the momentary eye-squint—instantaneous assessment and dismissal—of SRLFI’s industry cronies. Stiff-backed in the wheeled chair, she watched Jake’s flitting eyes and imagined a low-charisma figure reflected in them, strangely invisible despite festive colours.
    “Sounds good. Marta, I’m Jake. Jakob was my granddad’s name, and it makes me feel about the same age.” He sat and pushed into the chair’s adjustable back. “I suppose you’d like a clearer picture of why we’ve invited you here.”
    Lora knocked, stacked Styrofoam-encased lunches in hand. “Lady and gentleman, luncheon is served.”
   Jake laid out the basics of the production with veteran efficiency. He dabbed a spring roll in shared plum sauce, bit off a third, and said, “If I’m going too fast, just say the word.” Pencilling bullet points on a pad of yellow paper, he sketched the contractual particulars of the consultancy, and broke between each to lift pad thai noodles steaming in the container. “This stuff tastes like crap when it gets cold.”
   Marta, surprised to be warming to the unusual intimacy of a meal with a virtual stranger, wrote in a notebook and asked questions, relieved that the anticipation of a hard-nosed exchange of terms was completely unfounded. She’d sat through seminars with greater antagonism.
   Jake’s answer to Marta’s unasked question, “Why me?” deflated her excitement considerably. “You know,” he said “there’s no one in the entire region—well, no one else alive anyway—that knows a thing about this Lady Hester Stanhope. She’s no Marie Antoinette.” Marta hadn’t been vetted, then. No, her presence was a convenience. And local, far cheaper than flying in a biographer from England.
    Unaccustomed to bargaining, Marta judged the terms of employment to be exceptionally generous; demanding greater compensation was uncalled for.
    Jake likewise felt confident about their negotiation. Unaware that scholars often spent years writing one volume and received a pittance in royalties, Jake was stoked that Marta’s expertise had been leased at an attractively low price; that would keep the bean counters off his back.
    “We’re looking forward to your input, Marta.”
    “Yes, I’m keen to help out.”
    Jake handed Marta a copy of the script—“Nothing’s nailed down, so think of it as a work-in-progress, okay?”—and recommended flipping through it.


   Stepping across the yellow safety line and into the deserted return car, Marta stood before the vista. Past concrete, asphalt, and mottled rooftops, she caught a glimpse of the dwindling streaks of snow on backdrop mountain peaks. With the system’s precautionary gong sounding, she slid into a seat.
   The Prophet of Djoun—and accompanying penciled notes—demanded surprisingly little effort. She'd filed the script in the valise well before transferring to the last bus connection.

[That's the end of both the chapter and Part I. There's a change of scenery next, since the location shoot takes place in Oliver, BC.]

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