It Was Midnight
by Unovis

There never was a golden age of Hollywood. Bronze, arsenic, salt, maybe but gold? Gold is incorruptible, gold ennobles everything adjacent to its glow. Gold isn't foolish and fleeting. Gold doesn't break your heart.

Methos stopped and smiled at the screen. He lifted his bottle, downed a slug of Evian Orange, and re-read the paragraph eight times. He liked it. It was good. He cracked his knuckles. It would get better.

Still, the place had its moments and rewards; it had its saints and devils, its hells and sheltered confines, its holy ground. Take one blessed spot, take those few pink stuccoed acres on Sunset that I called home, before the War. It's gone now, pilgrims. It was pounded to rubble in 1959 and the ground sown with fast-food joints. I don't know if any ghosts lingered, whether there's a whiff of wit over the fry pit or demons sharpening the knives at night. I ate at the wretched McDonald's once, but all I sensed was grease and plastic and the dying burps of ketchup packets. The only one haunting the ruins that day was me.

He tapped the mouse and deleted some lines; typed, and deleted more. Transitions were tricky. First-person flashbacks, he was discovering, were worse. He frowned and dove in again.

Does that sound sentimental, does that sound like nostalgia for a vanished age? It's the people I miss, not the times. The people, and their stories...I can close my eyes and see them, hear them, clearer than those shadows they threw on the silver screen. I remember, sharp as glass, plain as lead. I remember especially one summer night. It was July. It was 1937.

It was midnight in the Garden of Allah, and the air was warm as blood. We were sitting around the pool, drunk as skunks and angels, telling jokes. "A man walked into a bar," said Hemingway, and Scott shot tequila through his nose.

"What nonsense is this, now," said a voice over his shoulder, and Methos jumped.

"Bugger off, MacLeod!" He slammed down the laptop lid.

"Hemingway? Fitzgerald? You're kidding, right?"

"I said, mind your own business. Fuck off. Move along."

"I think your date's screwy. And you spelled ketchup wrong."

"You suffer from a fatal lack of imagination." The computer beeped in distress. Mac crossed his arms and leaned against the back of Methos's chair. Comfortable. Rooted. "Is this a Hammett I see before me, the ham turned toward my hand?...Or art thou but a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?"

"A butchered clench."

"But one that scans." He nodded at the laptop, which was flashing an amber light. "Did you save before you closed that?"

Methos weighed loss against artistic pique. "Hell." He raised the lid and waggled the mouse; the screen blinked back to life, his precious few paragraphs smiling and alive. He saved. He sighed. "It's a work in progress."

"Scott didn't like tequila; you should change it to gin. And Hemingway..."

Methos faced the machine, away from Mac. "My facts. My fiction." He felt a weight lift from his back. "Your loss. Show me, when it's worth looking at. Dinner in an hour."

Methos ignored him. He highlighted, deleted, typed, deleted, and typed on.

...drunk as skunks and angels, telling jokes. It was too hot to sleep. We lounged in cane and bamboo chairs, on gaudy canvas cushions. Dottie waved a palm-leaf fan in front of her face. Bob wore an ice cube twisted in a bandanna on his head. Citronella candles made yellow pools of light on a table and a few torches burned by the pool. The moon was a sliver and the stars were faint. We talked like children, smoking, drinking, bawdy, careless children, in the dark. The others, like most of the Garden's denizens, were clever men and women of early middle age. They were migrants, lured from the great Northeast to labor at the mills of the gods. Most were successful, or at least employed. The Garden didn't bar failures, but somehow they didn't find the way in--Scott notwithstanding. They were writers, and actors, and comics, and Micky: that's me.

Methos took another drink of orange-flavored water, and cleared his throat. Yowsa. Howdy-do.

You know me. You know a dozen guys like me. Then, there, I was a shooter for a studio press office. Not an artist, just the guy behind the camera, who says "Smile." I rented a room in the hotel part of the Garden. The guest rooms were dark, and cheap, and less popular than the bungalows; mine was comfortable enough for me. The others didn't pry. I didn't have a name, but I knew all of theirs. We got along.

A hand settled behind his neck, warm and broad. He leaned back into it, and moved his head, side to side. "Still working. Go away."

"You can't sell this."

"Didn't plan on it."

"Might give Joe a laugh." Mac put a plate down on the desk. "You spill, you get it fixed, this time."

Methos grunted, and typed on.

[insert more clever dialogue here; Bob's cab story; Dottie's herring pun]

"So much for your vaunted memory."

"Beat it. Scram."

He walked in from that night of blood and velvet, after the moon had set. I could feel him, I swear, I smelled his scent; I knew him before he stepped into the light. He walked with a limp, one foot unwieldy, like the devil's hoof crammed in a shoe. On him, it was a swagger. His hair was long and brushed his collar. He was jacketless in the heat, his shirt open at the neck; he wore a silk tie as a belt over linen slacks, and leaned on a malaga stick. He bowed, a little flourish, to the group. "May I join the party?" Dottie pricked up her ears and licked her canines. David smoothed his moustache. Bob handed him a bottle. He took it with a grin, raised it to his mouth, and drained it dry; four fingers of gin, downed smooth as water. He dropped the empty bottle on the grass, limped to a chair, and sat. He set his stick tenderly on the tiles, then turned to me, at last. "What's up, Doc?"

"Oh, no."

"Go away."

"This broke your heart?"

"You're being too literal; go away."

"Oh, never, now. This I have to read."

"My executor will send you a copy. Stop that." Calloused fingers under his shirt, puffs of laughter in his hair; the author was under siege.

"No, no. Keep going."

"And that." He flinched, he tingled. He'd suffered worse. Methos gritted his teeth, and soldiered on.

They recognized him, of course. He'd streaked across the London sky, then Broadway's; a firedrake, a comet, trailing applause, soaring over the jaws of critics and creditors. He'd failed spectacularly as an actor, at first; he was magnetic, but unable to sublimate himself to another's words. He rose from his own ashes as a playwright, acting, directing himself. His plays were brilliant, their productions riotous and doomed. He could only come to Hollywood.

"Micky, you didn't tell us you knew Gordon!" said David.

'Gordon' smirked. "Doc knows everyone. He's the hanger-on par excellence, the perfect acolyte. He's the original fuck of fame; he'll suck at your neck, at your cock, at your nether lips, ladies, he'll lick you honeyed wet then dry, all for the pleasure of your company."

"I can't type with your hand there." Methos squirmed. Couldn't give his best effort to the plot, either.

"I'm not near your hands." In a voice that was husky and, somehow, wet, Mac pushed on. "You could sit on my lap."

"It's rude to grope the writer in denouement."

"Finish it off. Kill that sorry son of a bitch. Write it on your knees."

We had a past. We had a parting, for good reason as I damn well knew. His eyes were on me, blazing like a torch, and he talked on. Dangerous to know. Dangerous addiction for us both; but he was right. The fruit is rotten, the serpent's eyes shine as he wraps around the vine in the Garden. Or, as Dottie said, "That's not your leg he's pulling, Mick."

"You've had fun with your friends, but you're mine, Doc."

And that damn fast, he had me again. I was hooked, I was bought. I craved the fire. I had more to offer than sex, and he knew it, but truth was no brake on a neat phrase. I'd leave the safe dark room, the laughing talk, the clever minds, for the blaze and blood and him.

A siren howled down Sunset. A false dawn lit the sky, and birds

"Birds? Kill him!"

"Stop, damn it. No biting."

birds began their morning orisons. I leaned toward him. Bob moved his chair for a better view; David cracked the seal on a new bottle; Dottie flicked her fan.

A man screamed, and broke the spell. "You bastard! I'll kill you!" A madman shot through the shrubbery, stumbled over the brickwork, and fell on the patio. His seersucker suit was stained with sweat and torn open at one knee.

"Ah." Gordon waved at him, at us. "Ladies and gentlemen, my agent."

The man scrambled to his feet, gasping. "You lunatic! You killed Lassie!"

"The bitch bit me." Gordon retrieved his stick and stood.

"You stabbed her with a fucking sword! You hit her trainer with a vodka bottle. You maniac! You monster! You'll never work in this town again!" He foamed, he fulminated, he screamed as Gordon ran him through the leg and pushed him into the pool.

"Alas." He turned to me and shrugged. "Well, off to Paris. Another time, Doc."

"You...hack," panted Mac.

Methos, beyond words, saved; then arched back, falling on the body of his favorite reader, critic, murderer, and voyeur.

 

He stifled the opening beep with his sweater. A breeze ruffled Methos's hair as he opened the program and file. Venus set in the sky, the windows stayed dark at his back, as he blocked, deleted, blocked, deleted, and typed on.

He looked at me. There are no facts, there is no truth: What's it worth to you?...

 

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