Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Fiction Installment #30: (Part II, Ch 4, Jake) "Grunt Work"

   Jake picked up the phone and dialed Nicos once he and Lora brought their schedules into synch. He watched his assistant’s bustling stride toward the frontmost desk.
   After the morning’s first outburst—“C’mon, Jake. This is going to be an ordeal, and you know it”—she’d been puffed up and radiating annoyance. Wise with experience, Jake and Chaz hung back as Lora spent her energy on drop-ins, whose questions were met by a cyclonic fury. Earlier, Jake had pointed out the necessity of striking the morning’s appointments: no, he wouldn’t put off the tour any longer, and no, he wasn’t being superstitious. The location inspection—the physical walk-through of both camera-ready sites—demanded full attention. Now, not later. He’d scrolled through plenty of site photos and renderings, but like porn the images were a passable substitute only when the real material wasn’t within grasp.
   Though stomping around on site and kicking the proverbial wheels was reassuringly physical, it was also smart: a slim volume of gut-souring moments in Jake’s career had hammered home the fact that each level in the hierarchy of delegated activities called movie-making was a fuck-up in the works. The unambiguous instruction—“Find a cliff-side crash site and build a partially buried spacecraft there”—might seem like a no-brainer, but between the executive mouth from high above and a crew ear a few notches below, everyday air currents sheltered anarchic long-chain molecules of Murphy’s Law whose very essence guaranteed sound wave distortions. The cliff might not measure up, the crash scene look too this, not enough that, or the alien craft put together somehow wrong—it wasn’t difficult to mangle proportion, colour, shape, or style. Jake’s concern was with when and where, not if the fatal failure of communication would occur.
   There was no production—not anywhere in all of a century of history—in which an idiotic decision had not hobbled easy progress. Jake would wager a month’s salary on that. Things going sideways was as much a fundamental of moviemaking as water cooler small talk was to office towers. Virtually every veteran accepted that as the nature of the beast and grew cautious—the philosophical crux: Watch your ass—in order to stave off the sort of disastrous miscalculation that stole time and money from the demanding string-pullers who signed pay cheques.
   Jake had witnessed the results of even one wrong step and understood the consequence: having your professional competence questioned was the first sure razor cut of career suicide. Six months or so later you’d be telling anyone in earshot that you’d “had it with the game” while handing out freshly printed business card—Certified Real Estate Agent—and throwing catch-phrases like “seller’s market,” “no better time than now,” and “investment in your future” with a televangelist’s wheedling intimacy and undercurrent of desperate threat.
    “Hey Nicos,” Jake said. “Yeah, I’m settled. The place? Fine, no complaints. Good views and quiet. Comfy bed. Where are you? Where’s that? Okay, how close?” He held the receiver away to muffle Nicos’ barked instructions.
    “For sure, fifteen minutes is fine,” Jake said, “Finish your breakfast and then haul ass. Don’t bother with parking, I’ll come out when I see you there. Yeah, yeah, I know, just honk if you don’t see me.”
    “Where’s the crash site, by the way? Close to the Swinburne compound?” Jake leaned forward to study the map on the desk. “Right, what’s that? Hold on a sec, I’m looking. Never mind, the address means nothing to me. Christ, it’s like varicose veins. There’s a million half-assed roads around this town, God knows why. That location might as well be Timbuktu.”
    The urge to crumple the map into a tight insignificant ball flashed like anger, but Jake let it pass. He’d always despised last-picked-for-the-team scenarios and avoided involvement in practically anything—golf, tennis, karaoke, poker—that he could not master: there was no point in showing up if he didn’t have a hefty chance of dominance. Love of the game was bullshit.
    Map reading, a subset of sense of direction, was another item he could add to a steer-clear-of-it list. It embarrassed him to realize that in a dire situation—being lost in the wild during winter with no food or matches, vultures circling, and a supreme urgency to find a way home—he’d be a lousy person to get paired with: trudging forward with gung-ho bravado, he’d be convinced he was the top dog walking a straight line due south toward warm safety when a lazy spiral culminating in hypothermia and birds feasting was the geometric truth.
   And Nicos, Mr. Know It All, was salt in the wound. He possessed senses on par with one of those mystifying dogs that shows up at a distraught family’s front door an entire year after being forgotten at a camp site one thousand miles distant. Jake could see no advantage to disclosing that information. He’d let Nicos lead the way because that was part of a LM’s job description, an obligation reflecting nothing except a lesser rank on the totem.
   “Anyway, Swinburne’s compound for a walk-through, then the crash site. See you in fifteen,” Jake said, eager to stop Nicos from speaking; he’d hear plenty from the motormouth inside the cab of the pickup.
    “Right, I’m sure it is,” Jake said. Nicos was griping about a rubbery breakfast omelette, the result no doubt of inferior Canadian chickens, eggs, or kitchen talent. “Let’s keep it at fifteen anyway. I have a few loose ends here."

[Part 1 of 6, "Grunt Work" ]

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