Authors: Elmore Leonard
“You know why it doesn't work?” Harry said. “I mean even before I find out you don't know how it ends. There's nobody to sympathize with. Who's the good guy? You don't have one.”
Chili said, “The shylock's the good guy.” Sounding surprised.
Harry said, “You kidding me? The shylock's the heavy in this. Leo's the victim, but we don't give a shit about him either. You don't have a good guy, you don't have a girl in it, a female lead .Â .Â . you have a first act, you're partway into the second.”
Chili said to him, “I guess I better tell you about my coat getting ripped off and this guy named Ray Bones I shot one time and wants to pay me back.”
Harry said, “Jesus Christ.” He said, “Yeah, I think you better.”
They were still in the kitchen, three a.m., drinking coffee now and smoking Chili's cigarettes till he ran out and Harry found a pack of Karen's menthols.
“That's everything?” Harry said.
“You have scenes that appear to work, but don't quite make it,” Harry said, wanting to know more about this guy without encouraging him too much. “The one in the casino, for example, at the roulette table. You don't do enough with the bodyguard.”
“The scene,” Harry said, “that type of scene in a picture, should build a certain amount of tension. The audience is thinking, Jesus, here it comes. They know you're a tough guy, they want to see how you handle the bodyguard.”
“Yeah, well in real life,” Chili said, “you start something in a casino, you get thrown out and told don't come back. What I didn't mention, the next day it was the bodyguard, Jerry, told me Leo got on a flight to L.A. I had to find him first, check the different companies rent out bodyguards.”
“You have to threaten him?”
“You want me to say I beat him up,” Chili said, “this guy bigger'n I am. What I did, I took him out to breakfast. I even asked him how Leo did. Jerry goes, âOh, not too bad. I put him on that airplane with four hundred fifty-four thousand dollars, that's all.' “
“Why would he tell you that?”
“The kid was dying to tell me, it made him feel important. It's like saying you know where a movie star lives, being on the in.”
Harry said, “I know where all kinds of movie stars live. It doesn't do a thing for me.”
Chili said, “Yeah? I wouldn't mind driving past some of their homes sometime.”
“You know who used to live right here? Cary Grant.”
“No shit. In this house?”
“Or it was Cole Porter, I forget which.”
Harry was lighting another one of Karen's menthols, tired, getting a headache now, but staying with it.
“So you have no idea where Leo is, other than he's in L.A.”
“I don't even know that for sure. Fay, his wife, still hasn't heard. I called her again, she gave me a name to check, some broad she knows Leo met at a drycleaners' convention. It's why I'm staying at the motel over on Ventura Boulevard. It's near Hi-Tone Cleaners, the broad's place, but she's out of town. I'm hoping she's with Leo and they'll be back sometime.”
“Say you find him, then what?”
Chili didn't answer right away and Harry waited. He saw the guy himself having far more possibilities than his idea for a movie.
“There are different ways I could go with it,” Chili said. “Basically, you might say it's the wife's money. It was paid to
“Basically,” Harry said, “it's the airline's money. That doesn't bother you?”
“Bother meâI didn't cop it, they did.”
“Yeah, but you're talking about going halves with the wife.”
“No, I said that's what she offered. I never said anything else about it. There might even be a few things, Harry, I haven't told you.”
Starting to get cagey on him.
Harry had to think a moment, go at it another way. He said, “The plot thickens, huh? You have a girl in it now, even though she doesn't do much. See, it gets better the more details you give me. So you're
at the roulette table, he pays off his debt .Â .Â . You didn't discuss the wife?”
“He realized I must've talked to her. That's what brought him back to earth.”
“I mean you didn't say anything about basically it was her money.”
“It looked like management was gonna get involved, so I left. But I told him, yeah, he better call her.”
“So then you took the twenty gees in your hot little hands,” Harry said with some pleasure, “and blew it.”
“I dropped a little over seventeen,” Chili said, “before my brain started working again. But the thing that got me about Leo, he looks me right in the eye and goes, âWhen I'm through here I'll write you a check.' Like he's telling me he'll do it when he has time, so get off my back. This drycleaner, been on the hook to us for years, talking to me like that. I couldn't believe it.”
Harry said, “He must've thought you ran into him by accident.”
“Yeah, like I don't know he's suppose to be dead. But what I'm talking about,
knows he's six weeks behind on the vig. That has to be right in the front of his head. But what's he do, he cops an attitude on me. I couldn't believe it. He comes on to me like there was no way I could touch him.”
“It made you mad,” Harry said.
“The more I thought about it, yeah. At the time, it surprised me. I never saw him act like that before. Then after, I got pretty mad thinking about it.”
“That kind of attitude,” Harry said, “is called delusions of grandeur, or, trying to play the power
game. Having the bodyguard carry his bag was the tip-off. Out here it's very common. You see it in actorsâguy making a hundred grand a picture gets lucky, his next one turns out to be a hit and his price goes up to a million. Pretty soon he's up to several million a picture plus a cut of the gross. He's the same schmuck who made it on his tight pants and capped teeth, but now all of a sudden he knows everything there is about making pictures. He rewrites the script or has it done. He tells the director how he's gonna play his part, and if he doesn't like the producer he has him barred from the set. But directors, producers, anybody can play the power game, especially agents. You keep score by getting so many points for being seen with the right people, driving a Ferrari or a Rolls, what table you get at Spago or The Ivy, what well-known actress blew you on location, how many of your phone calls to the real power players in town are returned, all that kind of bullshit.”
Harry paused. He was getting off the track, wasting time.
“But when Leo tried to play the game, you pulled it out from under him. That was pretty neat, it's a good scene.”
Harry paused again and was aware of the refrigerator humming in the silence. It was too bright in here, uncomfortable and his head ached. He didn't want to move, though. Not now.
“I like the coat story, too, you mentioned. It plays, but would work better if it wasn't a flashback. What it does, though, it shows you know how to handle yourself in that kind of situation. I imagine in your line of work there were other times .Â .Â .”
“I'm out of that now.”
“But there were times, right, you had to get tough? Say one of your customers stopped paying?”
“They always paid,” Chili said. “Oh, I've smacked guys. Smacking was common, just an open-hand smack. I'm talking to a guy trying to get my money, he looks away and I smack him in the face. âHey, you look at me when I'm fuckin talking to you.' Like that, get their attention. See, the kind of people we were dealing with, a lot of 'em thought they were tough guys, you know, from the street, guys that were basically hustlers, thieves, or they were into drugs. We had them besides the legit people, who ordinarily didn't give us any trouble, always paid on time. I think what you're getting at, Harry, you have the same attitude as some of the legitimate people I did collection work for. Like a car dealer, or a guy runs a TV store .Â .Â . They're carrying a deadbeat, they want you to get the money and they don't care how, break his fuckin legs. That's the first thing they think of, come up with that statement. I say to 'em, âHow's he gonna pay you he's in the hospital?' They don't think of that. They want a piece of the guy
Harry said, “Well, you've been in some tight spots. The business with Ray Bonesâthat's a good name for a character. I meant to ask you, you weren't arrested for shooting him that time?”
“Bones had the idea of doing me on his own,” Chili said. “He told the cops it happened out on the street, an unknown assailant come up to him. He still wants to do me, it's on his mind.”
“And you still have to pay him?”
“Yeah, only we have a different arrangement now. I talked to Tommy Carlo on the phone. .Â .Â . You
have to know Tommy, his personality, he gets along with everybody. Jimmy Cap I mentioned, Capotorto? He always liked Tommy. But he has to go along with Ray Bones up to a point, Ray's his guy. So Jimmy Cap says split what the dead guy owes, me and Tommy, fuck the running vig, a flat eight grand each and that's it, forget it.”
“You spoke to Tommy,” Harry said, leaning over the table on his arms. “So now he knows Leo's still alive.”
“Did I say that?”
Harry sat back again, questions popping in his mind along with the headache, but wanting to appear relaxed, the producer showing a certain amount of interest in a story.
“So you didn't happen to mention it to him,” Harry said and grinned at the deep-set eyes staring at him. “You want Leo Devoe for yourself.”
want,” Chili said, “is Ray Bones finding out. Tommy, he'd think it's pretty funny, this drycleaner taking an airline. He'd swear he wouldn't tell a soul, but I know he would. So why put him in that position?”
“But you still have Ray Bones to think about.”
Chili moved his shoulders. The deep-set eyes didn't change.
“You gonna pay him?”
“Maybe, when I get around to it.”
“What if he comes looking for you?”
“It's possible. The guy's got a one-track mind.”
“Have you been involved in any shootings since Ray Bones?”
Chili's eyes moved and he seemed to be thinking about it or trying to remember, looking off for a moment.
“Well, there was one time, it was when me and Tommy were running a club in South Miami, a guy came in looking for another guy, not me, but I was in the way.”
“Nothing. He shot the guy and left.”
Now Harry paused. Chili Palmer had been sent to him from heaven, no question about it.
“You were running a club?”
“Belonged to Momo. We had entertainment, different groups'd come in; catering mostly to the younger crowd.”
Harry had the next question ready.
“You pack a gun?”
Chili hesitated. “Not really.”
“What does that mean?”
“Not ordinarily. Maybe a few times I have.”
“You ever been arrested?”
“I've been picked up a few times. They'd try to get me on loan-sharking or a RICO violationâyou know what I mean? Being in what they call a racketeering kind of activity, but I was never convicted, I'm clean.”
“Racketeering, that covers a lot of ground, doesn't it?”
“What do you want to know?”
Harry hesitated. He wasn't sure.
“Why don't you get to the point, Harry? You want me to do something for you, right?”
Here was a man had made forty-nine movies and named a bunch of them earlier, when he was making coffee. Chili remembered having seen quite a few. The one about the roachesâguy turns on the kitchen light, Christ, there's a fuckin roach in there as big as he is. He had seen some of the
movies, about the escaped wacko who'd been in a fire and was pissed off about it. The one about the giant ticks trying to take over the earth. The one about all the people in this town getting scalped by an Indian who'd been dead over a hundred years,
.Â .Â . Forty-nine movies and he looked more like a guy drove a delivery truck or came to fix your air-conditioning when it quit, a guy with a tool kit. When he'd gone over to the range to get the coffee in his shirt and underwear showing his white legs, skinny for a fat guy, he looked like he should be in detox at a booze treatment center. Chili had seen loan customers in this shape, ones that had given up. Harry's mind seemed to be working okay, except all of a sudden he wasn't as talkative as before.
“Tell me what you're thinking, Harry.”
Maybe he didn't know how to say it without sounding like a dummy.
“Okay, you want me to help you out in some way,” Chili said. “How do I knowâoutside of your asking me questions here like it's a job interview. I happened to mentionâwe were in the other roomâI said when I came out here I talked to some people and you kept saying âWhat people?' having a fit. You remember that? Well, they were a couple lawyers I was put in touch with. I told you I talked to Tommy Carlo .Â .Â .”
Harry was listening but making a face, trying to understand everything at once.
“What's he got to do with it?”
“I go to your apartment, your office on Sunset, ZigZag Productions, you're not either place and nobody knows where you are. So I call Tommy, now in tight with Jimmy Cap, and ask him, see if he can get me a name out here, somebody that knows somebody in the movie business. Tommy calls back, says, âFrank DePhillips, you're all set.' You ever hear of him?”
Harry shook his head.
“Don't go to sleep on me, okay?”
“I got a headache, that's all. Who's Frank DePhillips?”
“He's to some part of L.A. what Jimmy Cap is to South Miami. But I don't meet with him, he's on a level only talks to certain people. I meet with one of his lawyers down at the courts, criminal division. Young guy, he comes running out of a courtroom loaded down with papers and shit, looks at me, says, âWhat do you want?' Fuckin lawyers, they're always rushing around the last minute. I remind him Mr.
DePhillips set this up, also I happen to represent one of the biggest casinos in Vegas. That gets me about two minutes of his time. He says, âI'll see what I can do. Gimme a phone number.' I tell him I'll call him, otherwise I'd never hear. Also I don't want him to know I'm staying at this dump on Ventura. Two days later I meet him and another lawyer in a restaurant in a hotel that's Japanese. I mean the entire hotel, not just the restaurant, a Japanese hotel right in the middle of downtown L.A.”
Harry said, “Yeah, the Otani.”
“Right by the city hall. These two lawyers eat there all the time. I watch 'em dig into the raw fish, suck up bowls of noodles .Â .Â . The noodles weren't bad. So this other lawyer gives me addresses and phone numbers, yours and anybody you ever been intimate with on a single sheet of paper. He says, âYou're not the only one looking for old Harry Zimm,' and mentions your investors have been trying to find you for two months. I said, âOh, what's the problem?' Guy says, âIt looks like Harry skipped with two hunnerd thousand they put in one of his movies.' “
Harry was shaking his head. He looked worn out.
“That doesn't surprise me. This town loves rumors, everybody knows everything, just ask them. My investors have been trying to find me for two months? I spoke to them, it wasn't more than two weeks ago.”
Chili said, “You mention the PistonÂLakers game?”
Harry said, “Look, these guys came to me originally, I mean before. They already put money in two
of my pictures and did okay, they're happy. Which you can't say about most film investors, the ones that want to be in show biz, get to meet movie stars and they find out, Christ, it's a high-risk business.”
Harry was easing into it, watching his step.
Chili said, “Yeah? .Â .Â .”
“These guys already know movie stars, celebrities; they run a limo service. So they come in on another participation dealâthis was back a few months ago when I was planning what would be my next picture. About a band of killer circus freaks that travel around the country leaving bodies in their wake. The characters, there's a seven-hundred-pound fat lady who wouldn't fit through that door, has a way of seducing guys, gets them in her trailerâ”
Chili said, “Harry, look at me,” and waited to see his watery eyes in the kitchen light, fizzed hair standing up. “You're trying to tell me how you fucked up without sounding stupid, and that's hard to do. Let's get to where you're at, okay? You blew their two hunnerd grand on a basketball game and you haven't told 'em about it. Why not?”
“Because they're not the type of guys,” Harry said, “would take it with any degree of understanding or restraint.”
“They scare you.”
“What'd I just say?”
“I'm not sure. You want to say something to me, Harry, say it, don't beat around the bush.”
“Okay, they scare me. I keep thinking the first thing they'd do is break my legs.”
“You got that on the brain. What's the second thing?”
“Or they'd have it doneâyou don't know these guys. They're not exactly financial types.”
“Harry, I prob'ly know 'em better than you do. What you're telling me,” Chili said, “they got more out on the street than limos. They're dealing, huh? Selling dope to movie stars and using you to launder their dough. Put it in a Harry Zimm production, take it out cleaned and pressed.”
Harry eased back. The chair creaked and that was the only sound.
“You don't know or you don't want to or you're not saying,” Chili said. “But from what you tell me, that's what it sounds like.”
He smiled, wanting Harry to relax.
“You have my interest aroused. I wouldn't mind knowing more about these guys, if they're real hard-ons or they're giving you a buncha shit. Or what their connections are, if they have any. But what I want to know first,” Chili said, “is why you took their two hunnerd grand to Vegas, put yourself in that kind of a spot. I mean if you're scared of these guys to begin with .Â .Â .”
“I had to,” Harry said, sounding pretty definite about it. “I've got a chance to put together a deal that'll change my life, make me an overnight success after thirty years in the business. .Â .Â . But I need a half a million to get it started.”
“A movie,” Chili said, wanting to be sure.
“A blockbuster of a movie.”
“You don't want to ask your limo guys?”
“I don't want them anywhere near it,” Harry said. “It's not their kind of deal, it's too big.” Harry was hunching over the table again. “See, what happened
.Â .Â . This's at the time I'm getting
ready for production. I've got a script, but it needs work, get rid of some of the more expensive special effects. So I go see my writer and we discuss revisions. Murray's good, he's been with me, he wrote all my
pictures, some of the others. He's done I don't know how many TV scripts, hundreds. He's done sitcoms, westerns, sci-fi, did a few
.Â .Â . Only now he can't get any TV work 'cause he's around my age and the networks don't like to hire any writers over forty. Murray has kind of a drinking problem, too, that doesn't help. Likes the sauce, smokes four packs a day .Â .Â . We're talkingâget back to what I want to tell youâhe happens to mention a script he wrote years ago when he was starting out and never sold. I ask him what it's about. He tells me. It sounds pretty good, so 1 take the script home and read it.” Harry paused. “I read it again, just to be sure. My experience, my instinct, my
tells me I have a property here, that with the right actor in the starring role, I can take to any studio in town and practically write my own deal. This one, I know, is gonna take on heat fast. The next day I call Murray, tell him I'm willing to option the script.”
“What's that mean?”
“You pay a certain amount to own the property for a year, take it off the market. It's an option to buy. I paid Murray five hundred against twenty-five thousand if I exercise the option, then another twenty-five at the start of principal photography.”
“That doesn't sound like much.”
“It's an old script, been shopped around.”
“Then why do you think you can get it made?”
“Because on the other hand it's so old it's new. The kid studio execs they have now had just come into the world when Murray wrote it.”
“So you don't buy it,” Chili said, “till you know you have a deal. Is that right?”
“Or raise the money independently,” Harry said, “which is the way I prefer to go. You retain control. But with the actor I have in mind, I know I'm looking at a twenty-million-dollar picture, minimum, and that means going to one of the majors. Otherwise I wouldn't go in a studio to take a leak.”
“You're so sure it's a winner,” Chili said, “what's the problem?”
“I told you, I need a half a million to get started,” Harry said. “See, the guy I want is the kind of star not only can act, he doesn't mind looking bad on the screen. Tight pants and capped teeth won't make it in this one. If I could get Gene Hackman, say, we'd be in preproduction as I speak. But Gene's got something like five pictures lined up he's committed to, I checked.”
Chili thought of his all-time favorite. “What about Robert De Niro?”
“Bobby De Niro is possibly the finest actor working today, right up there with Brando. But I don't quite see him for this one.”
“Wonderful young actor, but that's the problem, he's too young for the part. I'll have to show you my list, the ones I've considered are at least good enough and the right age. Bill Hurt, Dreyfuss, who happens to be hot at the moment, Pacino, Nicholson, Hoffman .Â .Â . Dustin I saw as a close second choice.”
“Yeah? Who's your first?”
“Michael Weir, superstar.”
Chili said, “Yeah?” surprised. He said, “Yeah, Michael Weir,” nodding then, “he's good, all right. The thing I like about him, he can do just about anything, play a regular person, a weirdo .Â .Â . He played the mob guy in
that turned snitch?”
“One of his best parts,” Harry said.
Chili was nodding again. “They shot that in Brooklyn. Yeah, Michael Weir, I like him.”
“I'm glad to hear it,” Harry said.
“He's a different type than your usual movie star. I think he'd be good,” Chili said, even though he didn't know how to picture Michael Weir in this movie, whatever it was about. “Have you talked to him?”
“I took a chance, sent the script to his house.” Harry sat back, brushing a hand over his frizzy hair. “I find out he not only read it, he flipped, absolutely loves the part.”
“You found outâhe didn't tell you himself?”
“Remember my saying I need half a mil? I have to deposit that amount in Michael's name, in a special escrow account before he'll take a meeting with me. This is his fucking agent. You have to put up earnest money to show you're serious, you're not gonna waste his time.”
“That's how it's done, huh? Make sure you can handle it.”
“It's how this prick does it, his agent. He says, âYou know Michael's price is seven million, pay or play.' That means if he signs and for any reason you don't go into production, you still have to pay him the seven mil. You make the picture, it's released, and now he gets ten percent of the gross. Not the net, like everybody else, the fucking gross. Hey, but who cares? He loves the script.”
“How'd you find out?”
“From the guy who's cutting the picture Michael just finished, the film editor. We go way back. In fact, I gave him his start on
He calls, says Michael was in the cutting room with the director, raving about a script he had with him,
how it's the best part he's read in years. The cutter, the friend of mine, doesn't know it's my property till he notices
on the script. He calls me up: âYou're gonna do one with Michael Weir? I don't believe it.' I told him, âWell, you better, if you want to cut the picture.' I don't know yet who I want as my director. Jewison, maybe. Lumet, Ulu Grosbard .Â .Â .”
Chili said, “What's it called,
“That's Murray's title. It's not bad when you know what it's about.”
Chili was thinking it sounded like a TV series,
about this faggy guy raising a bunch of kids of different nationalities and a lot of that canned laughter. He wondered if they got people to come into a studio, told them to go ahead, laugh, and they recorded it, or if they told them jokes. He remembered a TV program about how movies were made that showed people kissing their hands, the sound of it being recorded to go in a love scene the hand kissers were watching on a screen. Movies were basically fake. The sounds in a fight scene weren't anything like what you heard nailing some guy in the mouth. Like the fight scenes in the
movies, Stallone letting some giant asshole pound him, he'd be dead before the end of round one. But there were good movies too, ones that had the feeling of real life .Â .Â .