The first time Buck stared into the eyes of his future wife, she was very much the same as she had been when she had first arrived in Hollywood only four months before. He spotted it at a glance, because he understood the feeling. It was the same sensitivity to the stares of others that he had when he first came to the city. Then, Buck Trapp had been Bacchus Trapp - the unpolished country boy, who entered studio offices and arrived for screen tests and rehearsals convinced he would be sent back on the next train. He was afraid to say anything for fear of revealing his ignorance, and afraid of being too quiet. He smiled graciously because he had been taught to do so in adult company, but only a few stale words came from him until he understood that no one was, as yet, out to discover the terrible secret that he didn’t know what he was doing.
Olivia was the same, he felt. She still had that small town look on her face, the look of a girl teetering on a pair of heels she wasn’t used to wearing.
But she was gorgeous. That too was apparent. The studio hadn’t yet polished her, which was good because she didn’t possess that air-brushed, gauzy glamour look the studios cherished. The studios were corporations and they appreciated women who looked like corporations - attractive, aloof, dangerous and only vaguely human. There was something about her that reminded him of strawberries still on the vine, fresh and wet and deeply red. Her flesh was rosy and she looked as though she was blushing as she offered her hand. Though he didn’t notice what she was wearing, it was white and made her blonde hair shine. She glowed in the light hanging over their table.
“Are you Olivia?” he asked.
“You must be Mr. Trapp.”
“Buck, please. That’s me.” He held her seat until she sat back down.
“Well I must say. I’m feeling way under dressed.”
“Don’t mind me. I’m from the country. They tell you to get dressed up and you figure they mean it.” She laughed at him. It was a tantalizing laugh, because it meant she understood he was empathizing with her. Here they were, two kids who just happened to be in this place where they made moving pictures for a living. It meant they had to stick together. “You been here long?”
“No,” she said. “Well, yes. I got here thirty minutes ago. I was afraid of being late.”
“What are you drinking there?”
“Water. I wasn’t about to start drinking anything stronger. I was afraid I might blow the whole thing.”
She was careful. And smart. Buck thought to himself that perhaps she hadn’t been picked to come here to Hollywood, like he had, but had sought this life out. And maybe she wasn’t afraid to show weakness to him.
So he would try flattery. “You’ve been at this awhile, haven’t you?”
“No. No, I haven’t.”
“Really? That’s quite impressive. I would have thought, since you have that much figured out, that you had been in town at least a year or so…”
Her expression changed, and Buck felt, for some reason, that he had overplayed his hand. “They probably told you I just got into town a few months ago, Mr. Trapp. But I guess you’ve been at this thing awhile, haven’t you?”
Now he felt like he was blushing. He motioned for the waiter and fiddled with the flower in his lapel and stammered out the only response he could think of. “That’s right. They said this was your first picture.” He was careful to avoid her eye.
“This is your seventh, isn’t it?”
“Oh, come now,” she said. She had education, at least. Probably better than most. She seemed older than he had been told.
“I’m not joshing. I’ve lost count. I’d like to forget some of the ones I’ve been in.”
“I’ve probably seen one of your pictures.”
“Bet you haven’t.”
“Bet I did. Name them.” Her tone was of the schoolyard know-it-all spoiling for a fight.
Buck recited the list. When he got to “The Dead Don’t Mourn,” the one where he played a Caribbean tourist in an unlikely voodoo trance, she pointed at him. “I remember that one.”
“Go on. You don’t.”
She put her arms out, bulged her eyes, and performed a passable impersonation of his trance. “Let me sleep,” she said, like the undead herself, and he knew instantly she had seen it.
“Incredible! I wasn’t aware anyone paid to sit through that.”
“Oh yes. My girlfriends and I did three times. We love scary pictures.”
“Lord. I’ll never be able to work with you now. Of all the things for you to see…”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad. It was quite entertaining. You were very good in it.”
“You think so?”
“I remember it, don’t I?”
“There’s that. I forget sometimes about how many of these things they’re turning out every week. Like I told you, it’s easy sometimes to forget what you’ve been in. That was the one I wanted to forget.”
“That’s your worst? That’s probably better than a lot of people in this town.”
Usually, it took the new ones awhile to realize that the waiters, waitresses, bellhops, mechanics, taxi drivers, dancers and store clerks around town who populated the backgrounds of every public place had usually once been would-be actors off the train from Somewhere Else, with expectations of box office glory that lasted only so long. That explained the blank stares and long faces.
He laughed, taking out a cigarette case. “Listen,” he said, his eyes still avoiding hers, “I’m sorry about that earlier.”
“I don’t want you to think I was snowing you. Buttering you up.”
She smiled the kind of grin he had seen on the faces of mothers when he came to pick up their daughters for dates. A knowing recognition of danger, mixed with an appreciation of boyish charm. There was even a little longing, he could hope, mixed in. “You’ve got a reputation, Mr. Trapp.”
“It’s Buck, please. Do I?”
“I’ve been warned about you, let’s just say that.” Her smile wasn’t disappearing. There was a little self-regard there, and some embarrassment. She probably felt like she was holding some of the cards, but not all of them. “It’s no big deal though. I’m a big girl, even if I’m new in town. I want this picture to work just as badly as you do.”
“I respect that. I really do.” He was patting his jacket for his lighter, then his pants’ pockets, when she produced a lit match. He puffed away and then thanked her.
“No,” she said, and blew out the match.
“I’ll admit, I was wrong about you. When I saw you, I thought you were green.”
“Not the same thing. Can I call you Olivia?”
“Sure thing, Buck. Is that your real name?”
“It is now. No, I mean, when I saw you, I thought you one of those types that need helping. Shelter.”
“I’m a type?”
“I mean, well, you know what I mean.”
“You thought I couldn’t wait to run into those big strong arms of yours and find relief.”
He winced as he drew a puff from the cigarette. “Where’s my drink?”
“You haven’t ordered one yet.” She was really good. Too good, in fact. He was wondering if she might not chase him off the set.
She was quiet for a second as he began picking flakes of tobacco from his tongue. Then he gestured again for the waiter.
“Listen, maybe I should apologize,” she said. “I just met you, Buck. I feel like I’m already fighting it out with you. I am a little nervous. I’m probably trying to hide it.”
He smiled and laughed generously. At least he thought he sounded that way. “Don’t worry about it.” He put both palms up, as though surrendering. He would try to regain some of his position, hopefully get control of this conversation before she wrestled it away from him again. “I have a sister. Our conversations are a lot like this sometimes.”
“Younger or older? What’s her name?”
“Diana. She’s five years younger than me. Smarter than me too. What about you?”
“Yeah, I figure I’m probably smarter than you,” she said. When he realized what she had said, they both convulsed into laughter.
“You know, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun on this shoot,” he said. He reached across and gave her hand, resting on the table, a pat. That was all. Just a touch. He couldn’t gauge any reaction from her. “When did you find out they wanted you for this picture?”
“Got the call a couple of days ago. Mr. Heller called me himself. To tell the truth, I could barely understand what he was saying.”
“Don’t worry. You spend enough time around him, he starts making sense. Then you start speaking with the accent.”
She smiled again, only this time, he thought he detected her trying deliberately not to laugh. “When did you find out?”
He coughed. “Well, they wanted somebody else at first, but he was unavailable.”
“Don’t sound so sad,” she said. “I’m sure they would have wanted you just as much.”
The words did many things to him. He was touched by the almost maternal tone in her voice. But his pride was wounded because she felt she needed to reassure him. Not wounded much, but he still felt as though she was in control.
“Where did they say Otto was?” he said finally, putting the cigarette out when he was only halfway done. He stubbed the butt out as though it had personally offended him.
“They said he telephoned ahead to say that he was running late,” she said. Then her voice dropped a little above a whisper. “But I think Mr. Heller is that gentleman sitting right over there at that table. The one who isn’t reading that newspaper.”
Buck glanced over. There was a bald headed man in sunglasses, and he indeed held a paper at an odd angle which made it hard to believe he was reading it. Especially by the light of the lamp over his table. Though he only knew Otto from reputation, he was pretty sure the joker was wearing a false beard.
“You don’t miss much, do you?” he said. “What do you think we should do?”
“What do you think he would do if we left? Just now. Just got up and walked out?” Her face had no smile on it, just a tempting, teasing look that he recognized from his sister, though with an added refinement. She didn’t look like she was prepared to ignore everything he said, just yet.
“Let’s do it. If I keep waiting for that guy at the bar, I’m going to die of thirst.” He grabbed her water glass and drained it of what was left before she might protest. He then leapt up in a deft move and withdrew her chair as she rose. She thanked him with a breathy, voiceless move of the lips and the two of them began walking out of the bar. They did not look in Heller’s direction. They let him draw his own conclusions.
Without thinking it through, the two walked to the hotel elevator. When the doors opened, the two of them expected a hotel man to be there to push the buttons for guests, but there was no one. The two glanced at each other as they got on. Olivia pressed the button for the eleventh floor. After a second, Buck pressed the nine button.
“What’s your room?” he asked. “Hope you don’t think I’m forward.”
She named the room. I don’t think you’re forward. But my door is going to be locked, Buck.”
“What a coincidence. I’m exactly two floors below you.” The passing of each floor was indicated by a bell.
“Nice to know.”
“And my door is going to be locked too,” he added, smiling in self-satisfaction. The elevator doors opened.
“Good. But if I were you, I’d pay attention.”
“To the fact that this is your floor.”
He looked over and saw a large brass “9” hanging in the wall just beyond the double doors.
“Well, I guess this is good night,” he said. He carried the same expression as a child who has just learned his mother isn’t taking him to the park today. It was as if he suddenly realized her ploy to leave the director behind also involved getting rid of him. He stepped from the car as though he half expected her to follow him. The seconds passed for Buck like stones heaved from the top of a tall building. She hardly even twitched in his direction.
“Good night then,” she smiled.
Then Buck stepped forward to hold the elevator. “Of course, we do need to get to know more about each other, so we can have a good relationship on screen.”
“That’s true, but I think that’s why Otto wanted us together with him. I’d feel something wasn’t right if we cooked up something on our own.” Her voice sounded so innocent, as though she had no idea that men and women occasionally were alone together in varying states of intimacy. But when he looked in her eyes, he saw something else. She was reveling in this! She wanted to see him abase himself.
“Well, you shouldn’t trust the director too much to know what he wants. That’s why they hire us,” he said, with the sound of a man who has toiled in a business so long he knows all the ins and outs.
“We’ve got plenty of time to fill in the details,” she said.
His mind, working feverishly now, understood the rest of her plan. She had arranged the whole thing. Otto would believe that the two of them went off and figured out which room to spend the night in together. Then it would put the director’s fears about casting chemistry to an end, as well as frustrate Buck’s momentary interest in her.
Because, he did have to admit to himself – now he was very intrigued by this woman. He desperately wanted to impress her somehow, but he seemed to be growing steadily more unsure of whether this was possible.
So he stepped forward again and stopped the car, just as the doors were about to close again. The doors noisily buffeted his hard body.
“You want me to say it?”
“Say good night? You already did.” Again, the voice was innocent, almost ignorant, while the eyes were steely and arrogant.
“No. I mean. Well…”
“Surely we can’t just end up this way?”
“There’s always tomorrow, Buck,” she said. Somehow, the fact that she used his first name thrilled him.
“But what about now?” he asked.
“You ever read the Bible, Buck?” she said.
He nodded, and had another understanding - she had perfectly sized him up, right down to the country boy who was born and bred in a pew.
“Be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves. Good night.” The greeting was nearly cut off by the closing doors.
“You haven’t heard the last of me,” he said, and he really wished she could have heard him say it.
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