Author: Barry Creyton
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 05/02/2023
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, actor, suspense, murder, mystery, blackmail, revenge, identity scam, horse farm, family drama
Jack McCauley is at a dead end. He’s run out of money, luck, and love. There’d be no one to mourn him if he died tomorrow. Out of the blue, he’s given the chance to begin anew—another identity, another life, another chance at love. Should he take it? Should he start over?
Jack is young, good-looking, and desperate for his next acting gig. His boyfriend is history, his rent is unpaid, and his agent isn’t returning his calls. He’s offered one chance at redemption—a small part in a western being shot in Arizona—if only he can make his way there from LA by noon the following day.
Hitching a ride with Martin Brenner seems just the ticket. Martin is on his way to a new life in Phoenix and seems pleased to pick up an extra passenger.
Little does Jack know that a simple pickup will lead to the acting job he least expected—the role of a lifetime. But nothing in Phoenix is what it seems on the surface. Can Jack act his way out of an intricate jigsaw of lies, blackmail, and murder?
Barry Creyton © 2023
All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, July 13
The voice came from somewhere beyond the glare of the lights. It was deep, resonant, and weary.
A pinpoint of light reflected from the camera lens; Jack smiled at this tiny beacon—a warm, open smile with a hint of vulnerability, as he’d learned in drama class. He held up the slate bearing his name and said, “Jackson McCauley.”
There followed a weighty silence broken by a gurgle as Jack’s stomach protested a skipped breakfast. He hoped the mic hadn’t picked it up. Not that breakfast was beyond what he had in his wallet, but when it came to auditions and screen tests, the void in his gut admitted a butterfly or two.
He sneaked a glance into the gloom and saw a tight closeup of his face on a floor monitor. He was shiny from the heat of the lamps, but it was an evenly proportioned face with strong bones, piercing blue eyes, and a shock of carefully casual sandy-blond hair—a handsome face, a face, he’d been told, that would take him far.
It had taken him as far as this ancient, rundown sound stage in the back blocks of Hollywood.
“Jackson McCauley?” The weary man intoned the name as if trying to place it.
Jack turned his gaze back to the camera lens. “Most people just call me Jack—Jack McCauley. But, professionally…
There was a terse rustle of paper. “How old are you?”
“It’s on my résumé.”
The man sighed and said as if to a kindergarten dropout, “We’d rather like to hear your voice.”
Silence. Jack grabbed another look at his image in the monitor. He’d worn what he thought was appropriate to test for a western—a neat, sky-blue, long-sleeved denim shirt with tabbed pockets, faded 501s, and cowboy boots that were only slightly down at heel, a souvenir from a gig as an extra on a TV series; they added an inch or so to his lean six feet.
“Profile.” A female voice—the voice of the casting director who’d called him out of the blue that afternoon—Michelle? Nicole? Something French sounding. That was about thirty minutes before the phone company ended their bumpy relationship with him and killed his cell account.
He turned to his left, offering what he considered to be his best side to the camera. Across the dark stage in the yellow glow of a work light, he saw a bored grip gazing at the floor. Even from this distance, Jack could tell the only thought on the guy’s mind was getting the hell out of there for a cigarette.
Jack did a one-eighty. His view from this angle was even more depressing: Another actor around Jack’s age stood in the dust-defined beam of a grid, rigid with nerves. His glance shifted back and forth from Jack to a page of script.
“Jack—Jackson—whatever…” Her voice had a husky, tough edge but sounded young; he could see nothing of her except the glint of a bracelet as she moved her hand in a casual, dismissive wave. “Tell us something about yourself.”
Jack turned back to the lens. “Okay. Um, I was born right here in LA. I always wanted to act, I guess. Always.”
“How about your folks?”
He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, unaware he’d done so, but this subtle movement, coupled with a second’s hesitation, was enough to suggest to anyone with the most elementary knowledge of psychology that this was a painful subject.
“I never knew my mom.” He let this sit for a moment, then added, “She, um, she left when I was just a month old. And—my dad died when I was twelve. My grandmother took care of me until—”
“Any other family?”
“No, no one.” What had his drama coach advised? Use it! Use the emotion! He lowered his eyes, subtly suggesting loss. This was good. He was getting to give them a range of expression without having read a word of the script.
“What’ve you done?” the baritone asked.
“Uh, let’s see…I did a spot in Girl About the House for Disney. That was a while back. I did an ep of Sands of Time—”
“That was canceled a year ago.” Now the baritone sounded impatient; his precious time was being wasted by the nonevent of Jack’s career.
But the woman sounded interested. “How about recently?”
“I was in True West. HBO.”
“Oh?” This elicited a hint of interest from the man. “Which character?”
“Um, day player.”
The interest evaporated. “An extra.”
“Yeah, but I’m good with horses, so they wrote up the part a bit.”
“But no lines.”
Jack shook his head.
“You want to know about the theater I’ve done?”
“God no,” the man said. “Just give him the copy.”
A disembodied hand darted into Jack’s pool of light and thrust a page at him.
“Can I have a minute…?”
“From sight,” the man said. “I’ll cue you.” He read in a monotone: “‘You wouldn’t mind living in the nicest house in town. Buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, going to New York on a business trip a couple of times a year. Maybe to Europe once in a while?’”
Jack’s eyes darted over the page trying to find the place. He realized he was squinting and eased the tension from his face.
Keep it simple.
“‘I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and next.’” The words were familiar. They triggered a faint memory of something rare and bright in a shadow-filled childhood. He couldn’t pin it down without losing concentration, but the emotion it generated was a gift to an actor. “‘And I’m going to build things! I’m going to build airfields! I’m going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high! I’m going to build a bridge a mile long!’”
“Okay, that’ll do,” the man said.
Jack turned the page over and back, then peered into the void beyond the camera with a puzzled frown. “Isn’t this from It’s a Wonderful Life?”
“We just want to see how you handle dialogue,” the man said.
Jack smiled his easy, all-American smile. “Can I take it again?”
The request was ignored. There was a whispered exchange in the dark. He strained to catch the voices.
First the baritone: “…strictly an under five…”
Then the woman: “…exactly what I want…”
A little more muttering and then a firm “I know what I want!” from the woman.
“You’re a good-looking guy,” the man said. It sounded more like an accusation than a compliment. Jack lowered his head modestly anyway. “Can you be in Flagstaff by noon tomorrow?”
The baritone sighed. “It’s the only Flagstaff I know. It’s not a big part. You’ll have to get there on your own.”
Realization hit—he’d got the part!
A chair scraped as the woman rose, and Jack heard the sound of her high heels as she crossed the concrete floor to an exit. A stagehand opened the door, and Jack saw her trim silhouette as she left the stage.
“Be there twelve noon on the dot, or we’ll have to cast a local,” she said as she vanished into the light.
The office that fronted the dilapidated sound stage was a sterile recent addition. No boastful movie posters adorned the walls, but the extravagantly tattooed girl at the desk more than compensated for the absence of decoration. Having ascertained Jack was “between agents”, she shoved a basic agreement across the desk. The money wasn’t great, but given his circumstances, food stamps would’ve been a plus.
Jack winced a little as he noted the girl’s pierced tongue and wondered if it got in the way when she kissed or ate. It certainly made a mush of the rote information she imparted.
“Twelve noon for makeup and wardrobe.”
Jack was relieved he was not expected to provide his own costume.
“Sign here, initial here, and here.”
He wanted to tell someone about his good fortune but realized, with no rancor, there was no one. Everyone to whom he’d been close had deserted him—his actor boyfriend for a good-looking realtor with an income, his roommate for a fringe theatrical production in Riverside, and his agent, who had cut him loose three weeks ago with spurious sympathy and a brief observation on “the state of the business.”
Fuck them all! He had a job. With dialogue. No billing, but maybe this could lead to something. He signed “Jackson McCauley” with a flourish. The girl provided a call sheet and directions to the location and the one-star motel where they would accommodate him during his week’s work.
Done with the formalities, he took the crisp, new-looking script and hurried out of the office into the searing Southern Californian sun. He punched the air and shouted a joyous, “Yesss!” as he ran into the street to the shady spot he’d found to park his car.
The spot was there, but the car was gone.
Meet the Author
Barry Creyton has worked extensively in British and Australian theatre and television as actor, playwright and director. His plays are produced in more than twenty languages. Awards include the prestigious Kessell Award for his outstanding contributions to Australian theatre, the L.A. Ovation Award, and the Noel Coward International Writing Award. He resides in the United States. Find out more on his Website.
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