I stared out the tall floor-to-ceiling window of the office building. The view was of the cloudy, smoggy city. Out there were roofs of buildings; car parks; traffic. Below I heard a wail of sirens. Four, I counted, as I watched two response vehicles and a pair of ambulances zip along the road. Not one of the most attractive views, though to be fair, we were in the waiting area.
I tried to feel less dismal, and less nervous. But everything about that day thus far, the grey skies, the drab decorum, and the worried expressions didn’t help. Jack had been stoic all the way there, letting the coffee I’d brought him go cold. Our fearless director, trembled in the temperature-controlled room. The White Witch looked on with a blank face, perhaps frozen solid. Kate… well, by then she still hadn’t returned from the loo.
And then there was writer Ian Dixon. He’d written many stories that had gone on to become films. Lurking; The Whispers; Rockaway Falls; and Für Elise among others. Now he was the head writer on the show. Out of all of us, he seemed to be the most anxious. His gaunt face was a whiter shade of pale. As white and crooked as his teeth. His nose, normally a bent and broken thing almost seemed scared straight. I don’t know how, but he looked even older and more wrinkled than I’d ever seen him.
Of all my time spent at the studio, and on the set, I’d only met Mr. Dixon twice but he seemed like a decent man. Relaxed, laid-back, with a pen permanently glued behind his ear and his feet on desks. Now he was this gentleman with perfect posture and a grey suit, who was too cold to sweat. So much different now.
A single day had passed since the pilot had wrapped and the footage was passed on to the network. Without any editing having been done, I was told.
Then, during the breakfast meeting with the cast and crew, the Ice Queen answered her phone. Whatever was said, could not have been good. I gathered that she had been requested to meet with the network executive along with Ms. Kensington, and Mr. Dixon. That made sense. But what was less clear was why Jack and I had been brought as well. I asked myself had Jack been summoned too? or had he simply insisted that he come along as well?
The chipper, mousy-looking receptionist peeked above her desk. “Ahem, Mr. Monroe will see you now.”
“Who, all of us?” asked Ms. Anderson.
“No. Just Mr. Lynch and Mr. Dixon.”
Both men rose warily, while the director and the producer looked up, a little puzzled. Jack turned back and stared at Ms. Kensington.
“Are you sure?”
Offended, the receptionist retorted, “Do I look like an idiot?”
The office door opened. Jack and Mr. Dixon stepped inside. The door closed behind them. Somehow, once they disappeared, the room became much cooler and quieter. The skies outside even darkened.
Minutes went by like this. Soon, a half hour. And Kate still hadn’t returned.
Ms. Anderson got up from her chair suddenly, and sat down beside me. I smiled politely and she smiled back. I suspected she wanted something from me, but I hadn’t known her to take so long to ask.
Up close, I could see that she was a pretty woman, not the fire-breathing creature people made her out to be. No wings, no scales, no forked tongue. Her black hair draped down her back, in stark contrast to her fair skin and cream coloured top.
She turned to me again with her dark eyes, flecked with browns and greens and blues, almost independant of her arching eyebrows. She was about to speak but didn’t, ultimately. She frowned and considered her words again. And when she did, I regarded a scar on her neck. It was old and small but raised up quite a bit. I wondered what could have caused it?
“Kamala, isn’t it?” Ms. Anderson said at last.
“Yes,” I answered.
“I don’t think we’ve actually spoken before.”
I nodded no.
“We’ve met before, however. Years back though. I mostly knew your parents. They were teachers… I haven’t thought about them in a while. Mr. Misra taught Maths. Mrs. Misra taught English.” Ms. Anderson chuckled, “It’s funny. Your mum spoke English better than anyone in the class, and your dad… not so much.”
I nodded again, smiling. This time in agreement.
“They were… so good. I remember I could always talk to them. At any time, about anything. Class. Home life. Even if I had nothing to say.” She paused for a moment, almost choking on her words. “Because teenagers rarely have anything to say. It was… so sad when they were... gone.”
Without warning, Ms. Anderson handed me a tissue, out of the blue. And it was only then did I realise I was crying. I accepted it at once, and quickly dried my eyes. She was looking on as her own eyes watered, but didn’t flow.
Then Helena continued, though the subject had changed, “Ian will be alright you know. Maybe he’ll retire, maybe he’ll keep on writing; the network will bring in a new head writer, and they’ll make some revisions to the pilot. And Jack is going to be perfectly fine. He’s not going anywhere. He’s the star of the show. So will Ms. Kensington and I. And so will you. Okay?”
A flood of tears suddenly poured down, and my nose sniffled, as I leant across the arms of our chairs, and rested my head on Helena’s shoulder. Instinctively she wrapped an arm around me to hug me.
“It’s okay. It’s okay…” Helena cooed, “It’s alright. The show isn’t canceled.”
Once I’d had a good sob, I sat upright, and let Helena wipe away a stray tear from my cheek.
“Okay. Kamala? Can you do something for me now?”
“Yeah,” I replied, sniffing and holding back another bout of blubbering.
“Can you check on Kate for me? She’s been gone for quite a while now.”
Shaking my head yet again, I stood up, and headed for the toilets. I watched as Ms. Kensington rubbed her nose.
It did seem strange that Kate had been gone for so long. I just wondered if she was still in the building, let alone the lavatory. She could have gone to the shop across the street. She may even have been distracted by her phone and gotten lost in a corridor. I recall that had happened before.
The door creaked open as I entered. And the fluorescent was dim and flickered ever so slightly. Based on that alone, I half-expected graffiti and shit to be smeared across the walls, the floors flooded, and the sinks overflowing. For a second, I expected the elevator down the hall to empty with blood. Yet, there was no Shining moment. And the lav was completely sanitary.
Noticing only one stall door closed, I assumed that Kate and I were the only ones in the loo. About to call out, I heard retching from inside the cubicle. Was she sick? I wondered. Or is she as upset as I am?
Obviously hearing that I had not proceeded to use the facilities, Kate said, “Take your shit, or fuck off, bitch!”
“Kate!?” I said.
As soon as I did, the sickening heaving and gasping stopped. Kate cleared her throat, and then answered, “Kam?”
“Are you alright? Are you sick?” I stepped closer.
“I’m fine, sweetie! I’m fine! I’m just… I’ll be out in a minute!”
Coming up to the stall, I knocked.
Sounding a little aggravated, she maintained, “I’m fine. Now can you please go away? I need a minute.”
Peering under the stall door, I saw Kate’s dyed-blonde thin figure on her knees and hunched over the toilet. Three of her fingers between her lips covered in saliva.
I sighed, “Kate, let me in.”
“No. Go away.”
“Please fuck off?”
Right then, I considered following through as Kate insisted. But I stayed. Perhaps I had a little courage from Helena’s pep talk.
“Kate… as your friend, I have a right to know everything you know. Now… let me the fuck in!”
For a moment, the stall was quiet while Kate thought about opening the door. Finally, I heard her heel slide along the tile as she stood, and reluctantly unlocked the cubicle.
With a square of toilet paper, Kate cleared away any bile or spittle from her mouth. She looked a little weepy, but I knew she hadn’t. Yet.
“Since when do you curse?”
“Don’t worry. I won’t make a fucking habit of it.”
She held out her arms for a hug, and I obliged.
Both of us returning, I saw Helena was absent from the waiting room. Seeing us look for her, Ms. Kensington gestured toward the office with her head. Helena had apparently been asked to see Mr. Monroe.
I heard once that Howard Monroe was a very cheap and stingy individual with a style all his own. And that he was known for micromanaging television programmes if it was in any way taking a direction he didn’t like.
It made me worried that the show would be mutated into something much different than it was. That Helena would be sacked. That Ms. Kensington would be sacked. That Jack would be fired, and the entire show recast. That the show itself, would be cancelled.
Barely had I sat back down when the writer, the actor and the producer stepped out of Mr. Monroe’s office, and the door quickly shut behind them. The three of them could not have looked more dejected. It wasn’t until we had exited the lift and stepped into the lobby that Ms. Kensington asked, “What happened? What did he want?”
Helena responded in kind, looking Ms. Kensington squarely in the eye, “He wanted a lot. He wanted the wardrobes changed, some of the sets changed. He wanted you gone, Ian gone, and part of the script be re-written. He wanted Jack to have more screen time. And he wanted Aaliyah blackballed and replaced with Rita Severn.”
Upon hearing this, Ms. Kensington, Kate and I stood, mouths agape. Waiting for the final verdict.
Jack continued, “Helena managed to get Mr. Monroe to capitulate on some of his terms. I agreed to a pay cut, so Aussie… you will remain. And so will Miss Greene. But, the budget for the sets and wardrobe have been scaled back significantly, some of the extras have been let go and…”
“Unfortunately,” Mr. Dixon piped up, “I have been released from my contract. Howard has decided to replace me with Caine Khagan-Smith. And some of the pilot may likely be changed, and possibly the rest of Season One.” He smiled, but I could tell he had been crushed.
“Ian, I’m so sorry,” said Ms. Kensington.
“It’s alright. I’m an old man, Alex. It’s a shame I won’t get to work with you again. But my wife tells me I’ll enjoy retirement. And I’m not exactly opposed to it. Besides, Caine is an excellent writer. I have faith that the show will prosper under his tenure.”
Mr. Dixon gave Ms. Kensington a warm embrace, complete with a pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek.
“Jack, it was pleasure to see you again,” he said shaking Jack’s hand.
“Likewise, you old kook! We’ll almost miss you stinking up the place,” said Jack in jest.
Giving up a chuckle, Mr. Dixon reached out and shook Helena’s hand. “Good luck to you, Ms. Anderson. Thanks for sticking up for me in there. Maybe we’ll meet again at a fancy party some day, if I’m still invited to those sorts of thing.”
“That’ll be nice,” and Helena grinned.
“As for you ladies…” said Ian shaking my hand and Kate’s, “It was good to meet you. Give me a call if you ever find yourself looking for a date.”
The group chuckled.
“Okay, all! I’m going to get myself a cab. So long.” With that, the old man left us. He waddled to the revolving door and I was astonished to see how spry he was, as he practically glode over the marble floor.
Looking to Jack and Helena though, I realised that the cuts Mr. Monroe had made to the show was not all the bad news.
Ms. Kensington noticed too so she inquired, “What’s wrong? Was there something else?”
“Two things, in fact,” said Helena. “First and foremost, we only have three weeks to do the necessary re-shoots, and that includes the time it takes Mr. Khagan-Smith to do any re-writes.”
“And the second issue?”
“Well you’ll have to ask Jack or Mr. Schaffer about that. Because only they have worked with our new head writer before.”
Burying his face in his palms for a good half minute, Jack grimaced, “Caine Khagan-Smith is the biggest pain in the ass in the world. He’s a wild card. A loose cannon. He’s bi-polar, he’s got a stick up his ass, he’s off the wall, around the bend, whatever! He flips out over the smallest things. He throws tantrums like it’s no one’s business; his mood swings vary according to the lunar cycles of the moons of fucking Jupiter. He’s so fucking eccentric you’d say he’s on drugs!” Jack took a breath. “God help us!”
“Well, is he?”
“No. But he’s so batshit crazy, he ought to be. I don’t know what mental ward he escaped from, but he’s our problem now.”
Giving each of us a wide-eyed stare Jack warned us, “Be very very afraid. He literally bites people.”