‘I can read, thank you,’ snapped Cameron, running her eyes down the page. ‘And someone finds someone in bed with someone in the first episode. Jesus, and you’re expecting this shit to go out as wholesome family entertainment in Middle America, where we haven’t seen a nipple on the network for years.’
‘Don’t listen to Cameron,’ said Ronnie. ‘She needs a muzzle in the office to stop her savaging her colleagues.’
‘Shut up and let me read it.’
Ronnie then proceeded to update Tony on the recent changes at NBS. ‘They axed twenty people last week, good people who’ve been there fifteen years. The new business guys are running the place like a supermarket.’
But Tony wasn’t listening. He was watching this incredibly savage girl with her skirt rucked up round her thighs. Christ, he’d like to screw all that smouldering bad temper out of her.
As if aware of his scrutiny, she glanced up.
‘There’s too much air in this glass,’ she said, holding it out for a refill.
‘You’re too old for TV at twenty-five these days,’ Ronnie rattled on obsessively. ‘I work with a guy of fifty. He lives in such constant fear of his age getting out, he keeps on having his face lifted.’
Ronnie looked desperately tired. Beneath the butterscotch tan, there were new lines round the eyes. Cameron chucked the presentation booklet back on the glass table.
‘Well?’ Tony raised his eyebrows.
‘Schmaltz, schlock, shit, what d’you want me to say? It’s utterly provincial, right, but the dialogue’s far too sophisticated. If you’re going to appeal to Alabama blacks, Mexican peasants and Russian Jews in the same programme, you can’t have a vocab bigger than three hundred words. And I don’t know any of the stars.’
‘No one had heard of Tim Piggott-Smith, or Charles Dance, or Geraldine James before “Jewel”.’
‘They’d heard of Peggy Ashcroft. Your characters are so stereotyped. And you’ve got the wrong hero, Johnny’s the guy the Americans will identify with. He’s got drive, he comes from a poor home, he’s going to make it. The Hon Will’s got it already. What’s an Hon anyway?’
‘A peer’s son,’ said Tony.
‘Well, make him a Lord. Americans understand Lords. And they’re all far too wimpish. Americans are pissed off with wimps. We’ve seen too many guys crying in pinnies. You can’t wear your sensitivity on your silk shirtsleeve any more.’
Tony, who’d never done any of these things, warmed to this girl.
‘Go on,’ he said.
‘As a nation, we’re getting behind the family and the strong patriarch again. There’s a large part of the population that want men to reassert themselves, be more aggressive, more accountable, more heterosexual. And you’ve got a marvellous chance with four guys in a house together to explore friendship between men, I don’t mean faggotry; I mean comradeship. It was a great Victorian virtue, but no one associated it with being gay. Today’s man shoots first, then gets in touch with his feelings later.’
‘Is that how you like your men?’ said Tony, getting up to put the video into the machine.
‘Shit no, I’m just talking about the viewers. You’ve got one of the guys ironing the girl’s ball gown for her; yuk!’
Tony filled up her glass yet again.
‘Have a look at this.’
Up on the screen came a honey-coloured Cotswold village, an ancient church, golden cornfields, then a particularly ravishing Queen Anne house.
‘We plan to use this as Will’s father’s house,’ said Tony.
‘Bit arty-farty,’ snapped Cameron, as the camera roved lasciviously over a lime-tree avenue, waterfalls of old roses, and a lake surrounded by yellow irises.
‘Beautiful place,’ said Ronnie in awe.
‘Mine,’ said Tony smugly.
‘Don’t you have a wife who owns it as well?’ said Cameron, feminist hackles rising.
‘Of course; she’s a very good gardener.’
‘Looks like fucking Disneyland,’ said Cameron.
Switching off the video machine, Tony emptied the bottle into Cameron’s glass and said, ‘Corinium did make more than twelve million pounds last year selling programmes to America, so we’re not quite amateurs. Some of the points you made are interesting, but we do have to appeal to a slightly more sophisticated audience at home.’
‘We ought to eat soon,’ said Ronnie. ‘You must be exhausted.’
‘Not at all,’ said Tony, who was looking at Cameron, ‘must just have a pee.’
Alone in the bathroom, he whipped out his red fountain pen and in the memo page of his diary listed every criticism Cameron had made. Then he brushed his hair and, smiling at his reflection, hastily removed a honey-roast peanut from between his teeth. Fortunately he hadn’t been smiling much at that bitch.
Even in a packed restaurant swarming with celebrities Cameron turned heads. There was something about her combative unsmiling beauty, her refusal to look to left or right, that made even the vainest diners put on their spectacles to have a second glance.
Immediately they’d ordered, Ronnie went off table-hopping. ‘Nice guy,’ said Tony, fishing.
‘Very social register,’ said Cameron dismissively. ‘Watch him work the room, he makes everyone feel they’ve had a meaningful intimate conversation in ten seconds flat.’
‘Seems a bit flustered about the blood-letting at NBS.’
Cameron took a slug of Dom Perignon. ‘He needs a big success. Both the series he set up last year have bombed.’
‘Given him an ulcer too.’
Cameron looked at Tony speculatively.
‘I guess you’ve never had an ulcer, Lord Ant.’
‘No,’ said Tony smoothly. ‘I give them to other people. How do the NBS sackings affect you?’
Cameron shrugged. ‘I don’t mind the sackings or the rows, but now the money men have moved in, I figure I’ll have less freedom to make the programmes I want.’
‘How d’you get into television?’
‘My mother walked out on my father at the height of the feminist revolution, came to New York hell-bent on growth. The only thing that grew was her overdraft. She was too proud to ask for money from my father, so I went to Barnard on a scholarship, and got a reporting job in the Vac to make ends meet. After graduation, I joined the
New York Times
, then moved to the NBS newsroom. Last year I switched over to documentaries, as a writer/producer. At the moment I’m directing drama.’
‘Your mother must be proud of you.’
‘She thinks I’m too goal-orientated,’ said Cameron bitterly. ‘She’s never forgiven me for voting for Reagan. I don’t understand my mother’s generation. All that crap about going back to Nature, and open marriages, and communes and peace marches. Jesus.’
Tony laughed. ‘I can’t see you on a peace march. What are your generation into?’
‘Physical beauty, money, power, fame.’
‘You’ve certainly achieved the first.’
‘Sure.’ Cameron made no attempt to deny it.
‘How d’you intend to achieve the rest?’
‘I aim to be the first woman to run a Network Company.’
‘What about marriage and children?’
Cameron shook her head so violently she nearly blacked her own eyes with her satellite dish earrings.
‘Gets in the way of a career. I’ve seen too many women at NBS poised to close a deal, being interrupted by a phone call, and having to rush home because their kid’s got a temperature of 104.’
The waiter arrived with their first course. Escargots for Cameron, gulls’ eggs for Tony. Ronnie, who hadn’t ordered anything, returned to the table, buttered a roll, but didn’t eat it.
‘Anyway,’ went on Cameron angrily, ‘what’s the point of getting married? Look at the guys. New York is absolutely crammed with emotionally immature guys quite unable to make a commitment.’
‘They’re all gay,’ said Tony. He peeled a gull’s egg, dipped it in celery salt, and handed it to Cameron.
‘Bullshit,’ she said, accepting it without thanking him. ‘There are loads of heterosexuals in New York. I know at least three. And what makes it worse, with the men being so dire, is that New York is absolutely crawling with prosperous, talented, beautiful women in a state of frenzy about getting laid.’
‘Give me their telephone numbers,’ said Tony lightly.
‘Don’t be fatuous,’ snarled Cameron. ‘Guys are turned off by achieving women; they make them feel inferior. What beats me is why women are so dependent on men. You see them everywhere, with their leather briefcases, and their dressed-for-success business suits, rabbiting on about independence, yet clinging onto a thoroughly destructive relationship rather than be without a guy.’
Furiously she gouged the last of the garlic and parsley butter out of her snail shells. The lady, reflected Tony, is protesting too much.
Ronnie was off table-hopping again. The head waiter was now making a great song and dance about cooking Cameron’s steak Diane at the table, throwing mushrooms and spring onions into the sizzling butter. The champagne having got to Cameron’s tongue, she was also spitting away like the hot fat:
‘TV people have no idea what’s important. Ask them about their kids, they just tell you what private schools they’re enrolled in. That’s a very subtle way of telling you how well they’re doing. What’s the point of having kids? Just as a status symbol.’
‘You’re a bit of a puritan at heart. ’ Tony filled her glass yet again. ‘Your ancestors didn’t come over on the
by any chance?’
‘No, but my father was British. I’ve got a British passport.’
Better and better, thought Tony.
The head waiter was pouring Napoleon brandy over the steak now and setting fire to it. The orange purple flames flared upwards, charring the ceiling, lighting up Cameron’s hostile, predatory face. Another waiter served Tony’s red snapper, which was surrounded by tiny courgettes, sweetcorn and carrots.
‘They employ one guy here to sharpen the turnips,’ said Cameron, pinching a courgette from Tony’s plate. For a second, she looked at it. ‘Tiny,’ she added dismissively. ‘Like the average New York cock.’ And with one bite she devoured it.
Tony laughed, encouraging her in her scorn.
‘Enjoy your meal,’ said the head waiter, laying the steak in front of Cameron with a flourish.
I wonder if I’m reading her right, thought Tony; anyone that aggressive must either be desperately insecure or impossibly spoilt. Maybe her mother had felt guilty about splitting up from her father, and let Cameron get away with murder.
Ronnie’s sole was cold when he returned to the table, shaking his head. ‘I hear you had a row with Bella Wakefield this afternoon.’
Cameron raised her eyes to the charred ceiling. ‘She’s so fucking useless.’
the Vice-President’s daughter.’
‘She pisses me off. Every time she’s got a line, which is about once a year, she teeters up on her spike heels, saying, “Cameron, what’s my motivation in this scene?” So finally I flip and say: “Pay day on Friday.” She went kinda mad.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ said Ronnie disapprovingly.
The head waiter glided up. ‘Everything all right, sir?’
‘Perfect,’ said Ronnie, who hadn’t touched his sole.
‘Steak as madam likes it?’
Cameron tipped back her chair. ‘If you want the honest truth, it tastes like moderately flavoured socks.’
The smile was wiped off the waiter’s face. ‘I beg your pardon.’
‘Cameron,’ hissed Ronnie.
‘Like chewing my own laundry. I cannot figure why you waste such expensive ingredients producing something so disgusting. I’d rather drink the brandy straight.’
The head waiter looked as though he was going to cry.
‘Would madam like something else?’
‘I’ll pass,’ said Cameron, ostentatiously putting her knife and fork together. ‘It’s not even worth a doggie bag.’
As they came out of the restaurant, limos for Ronnie and Tony glided up. Cameron paused between the two.
‘I haven’t seen your deb programme yet,’ said Tony. ‘Why don’t we go back to the Waldorf and look at it?’
Ronnie shook his head. ‘You guys go. I’m pooped.’
Back in Tony’s suite, an almost unbearable tension developed between them. Having poured large brandies, Tony removed his coat. Despite the air conditioning, he could feel damp patches of sweat forming under his arms and trickling down his spine. In silence they watched Cameron’s tape. Within five minutes, Tony realized its outstanding quality.
The commentary was cut to a minimum; Cameron had let the debs and their mothers speak for themselves. But you could feel her fierce egalitarian scorn, in the way she had highlighted their silliness and pretension, and the compassion she displayed for the
who tried to break in, and for the wallflower who sat unfêted through ball after ball.
Despite the fact that Cameron had been vile about ‘Four Men went to Mow’, Tony knew when to be generous.
‘They’ll adore it in England,’ he said at the end. ‘I’ll ring the Film Purchasing Committee tomorrow and insist they look at it.’
‘Thanks.’ Cameron got up to rewind the tape. ‘I’d better go. I got up at six this morning, and you must be reeling from Concorde lag.’
With that sleek Eton crop, thought Tony, it’d be like making love to a boy. Putting out a hand to halt her he encountered a huge shoulder pad.
‘Sit down. I want to talk to you. You got a regular boyfriend?’
‘Until three months ago.’ She sat down on the far end of the leather sofa.
‘What did he do?’
‘He was a threat analyst. Spent all day looking at the Soviets, and saying: “They’re a threat”.’
Tony laughed, edging down the sofa.
‘I don’t need a man to look after me,’ said Cameron defensively. ‘Just someone to make the sparks fly. If I’m not having a good time, I quit. Are you happily married?’
‘She a dog?’
‘Not at all. It’s a marriage of extreme public convenience. We get on very well when we don’t see too much of each other. ‘