Love & Theft

Love & Theft is a novel-in-progress. Hopefully ready for submissions by early 2019.

from Chapter 8

The three of them walked a few buses down, to the makeup trailer, where Sylvie and Karla went inside. Boustrophedon waited outside. For a university, the school was small, just two long New York blocks made into a quad with some mismatched classroom buildings in the same architectural style as the rest of Fort Greene. After-hours in summer, there were no students shouldering bookbags or professors with briefcases, and there were no quads with Frisbee-throwing dudes. A woman in a business suit walked past—the lone sign of life. After standing along the iron fence for a while, Boustrophedon walked up to the market at the corner and got some gum and water.

It wasn’t much longer that Sylvie and Karla emerged—Sylvie in her blouse and skirt in a brunette wig, conservative like Jackie Kennedy’s bob. PAs and crew were swirling now, circling Sylvie. They went into the building, down a wide hall with stone tiles, and into a wainscoted and mahogany library room. It had a courtly sized Persian rug; a crystal chandelier; built-in shelves holding globes and bound sets of cloth-spined books; windows with stained glass, wingback chairs, and actuarial lamps. There were statues, some corny fictional college pennant, framed diplomas and sailing artifacts such as an actual ship in a bottle.

The lights and director’s chair were set up in the south corner. PAs were erecting light screens and positioning heavy battery packs in handled cases. Boustrophedon saw Reed and Chimister, makeup artists, a beautiful black-haired woman that he knew to be a set designer, and several others whom he recognized.

Boustrophedon stood by the director’s chair, and watched Karla move about, trailing around the room looking at things, as if weighing every element’s impact on Sylvie. So Boustrophedon did something similar, inspecting elements of the set as if weighing their impact on his charge’s spiritual well-being. Karla seemed content with the marble ashtrays, the bear-skin rug. She looked at framed photographs on a shelf of the built-ins, took one down, and crossed the room, calling to the set designer.

Boustrophedon settled in. He wasn’t worried about his place on set or his status as Sylvie’s dubiously titled Spiritual Advisor. Film was a tense but casual business—nothing like Boustrophedon’s office work, which was tense and formal. He’d been to a few shoots now and seen that the grips and soundmen and assistants—everyone—were too busy to notice him, though once he was visible to the camera in a mirror, and was asked to move. He stood now leaning against a bookshelf (Dickens, Proust, watching Chimister, who again wore his trademark black stocking cap, began a tilt-a-whirl walk towards the directing area, being engaged by crew from all sides, people handing him things, pointing to areas of the room, showing him readouts on light meters. The man did have a large aura, and was of the equine breed of handsome, with a long narrow face and a sharp-crested nose like a snout. His mouth was set in a firm line, neutrally. In moments, it changed to in a tight, tidy smile of sensual contemplation. His brown hair curved like a tidal wave off his forehead and bunched in oily curving prongs like hooked fingertips. Sometimes he passed his fingers behind his ear in a practiced gesture. It was like a roan’s mane.

Soon Chimister plopped into the director’s chair and called, “Okay, let’s do it!”

Several kliegs clapped on, and an assistant gripped the rolling dolly. Bathed in light, Reed appeared in a cardigan and designer jeans standing beside a leather club chair in which Sylvie sat very upright. Her strong legs were crossed, and one high-heeled foot hung like a fig on a branch. The actor playing the mark, named Derringer, the tycoon investor, sat behind a walnut desk the size of a deep freezer. His hair was bouffant, but at least they didn’t have him, Boustrophedon thought, in a clichéd double-breasted blazer. A black girl in denim overalls stepped into the center of the room, faced the camera, and holding a written-upon clapboard before her chest called, “Act nine, scene one, take one!”

The camera swept in from high to low.

“The only thing I love more than money is sailing,” said Reed, playing less brutishly, less like Vaugh.

This was the scene where they won the mark’s confidence by playing the part of fellow millionaires. This was banter leading to the transition.

“Be careful of admitting in front of woman what you love,” Derringer said, striding suavely across the Persian rug.

“Why’s that?” Sylvie said severely, as if she’d judge the answer on her pretend husband’s behalf and decide for him whether he would be allowed to laugh.

“Because she’ll take from you the very thing that you love most,” Derringer said, turning on his heels.

Reed chuckled.

“Everyone knows love is theft,” Sylvie said. “Even Henry knows that.”

“Now, Cora,” Reed scolded gently.

Boustrophedon stood by watching. Sylvie was impressive out there; she had irrecusable presence, a stern femininity like Joan Crawford, and she restrained her more forceful charms, as if daring you to impress her enough to release them. The men actors—Reed and the actor whom Boustrophedon did not know—were like lapping dogs to a puddle. Boustrophedon had a hard time turning away, but he did, slowly (no one moved on set during filming except hands who had to). He turned and he watched Chimister, motionless in his director’s chair. His stare was stygian and keen, void of pretension.

“Cut!” Chimister yelled. “Okay, good, good. Reed…” and he called out an instruction in his considerate, deferential but clear tone.

Then, just as Boustrophedon looked on admiringly, a young man in colored wingtips tiptoed behind Chimister soundlessly and hooked a canvas strap over the back of Chimister’s chair. Just as quickly he was gone, and hanging from the chair was a floppy messenger bag, flap open, with a red binder spine showing like gums through a smile. It had silver rivets like eyes. It was the script.

Boustrophedon swallowed a large mouthful of spit, returned to watching the action on set as they did take two. Maybe he could just ask for it on a pretense of being Sylvie’s spiritual advisor, facing down this esteemed artist? Excuse me, Mr. Chimister… His focus fixed on Sylvie—an anchor of familiarity, somehow his battered muse. Wasn’t she–? No, no. Don’t stray. Freedom was the call. Washington Heights. Why even bother getting out of the frying pan, Boustrophedon thought, if you’re going to leap into that fire?

He’d have to just walk to Chimister’s chair and remove it. Or would he have to take the whole bag? Would there be a better time? During a shot, Chimister would be sitting. After shooting, Boustrophedon would have to leave with Sylvie. She always bolted immediately once she was let go. She said it helped her image.

The crew was astir now between shots. A makeup woman attended to Sylvie. Reed was checking his hair in a mirror held by an assistant. The cameraman spoke into his headset, and his chair and camera mount glided up, then back.

Suddenly there was a crash on the far side of the room. A few people yelped and squealed. An embarrassed grip set down his mike boom and quickly lifted a long oar back onto mounting arms attached high to the wall between lamps. He had the thing righted in no time, and a woman came out onto the floor and eyeballed it for straightness. “Be careful over there,” Chimister said. Work quickly resumed, and Chimister was consulting a script advisor.

“Okay, from ‘Everyone knows…’ Action!”

“Everyone knows love is theft,” Sylvie said, with a menacing laugh.

All the while, Boustrophedon stared at the oar. It was an eight-foot sculling oar gleaming with varnish, an oval blade on one end, a worn wooden grip on the other shaped like a whale’s fluke, just like one that hung on the wall of Pamela’s father’s house—a house he hoped to never step inside again.