its wake-up call.
Everyone goes a little crazy during Oscar Season the campaigns, the parties, the seductions, the paybacks. Hollywood is never so cutthroat as it is at the turn of each year, when celebrities and their millions of fans across the globe begin their weeks-long, exclusive obsession with the Academy Awards. With so much money, so much power, so many egos, and so much to hide, how surprising is it when Industry players begin turning up dead?
At the heart of Los Angeles Times reporter Mary McNamara's novel, Oscar Season, is the Pinnacle Hotel, the hub of the Oscar maelstrom. Everyone who's anyone winds up under its luxe care and the watchful eye of its PR director, Juliette Greyson. When Juliette begins to suspect that conspiracy,nrather than coincidence, links what some are calling an Oscar Curse, more than just her job is threatened.
But this is Hollywood after all and during Oscar season it's almost impossible to know what is real and what is staged. Even when it comes to murder. Who is lying and who is merely acting? When does murder stop being murder and start becoming really good publicity?
Erudite and whip smart, suspenseful and sexy, Oscar Season is the perfect read to sneak in between red carpet interviews.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.36(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.82(d)|
About the Author
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Staff members of the Pinnacle Hotel in Los Angeles received their Oscar Night Survival Kits at their annual Oscar Season Summit, held three days before nominations were announced. The black leather fanny packs (donated by Coach) contained the following: two pairs of cufflinks, two bow ties (one clip, one traditional), one set of tweezers, three makeup brushes, two compacts each of eye shadow and blush (donated by M.A.C), three lipsticks (one gloss, one matte, one shimmer, all Chanel), four tubes of concealer in various skin tones, a dozen tiny safety pins, a roll of toupee tape (for preventing wardrobe malfunctions), a sewing kit, a tube of hair gel, a lint brush, a tin of breath mints, a bottle of ibuprofen, and a small vial of Xanax.
"The Xanax is, of course, for guests only," Juliette Greyson said as she handed out the packs. "And only in case of emergency."
"Where are the cyanide capsules?" asked Gregory Bridges, director of rooms and entertainment sales. "Where are the tranquilizer darts?"
"You will see in the small outside pocket a laminated card with a list of names and phone numbers for anyone you might possibly need," Juliette continued, pointedly ignoring Gregory. "Hair, jewelry, handbags, physicians, pharmacies, yoga instructors, personal trainers, psychiatrists, animal psychiatrists," she said with emphasis, aiming her words at Gregory, who, with a gleam in his eye, had opened his mouth to remind her of what the staff now referred to as The Strange Incident of the Dog on Oscar Night, when a nominee's Labradoodle had howled from the time she left the hotel until the moment she won her award, "cosmetic stores, perfumeries, aromatherapists, and, of course, the concierge service at Saks, Neiman's, and Barneys. These are all culled from last year's debriefing session and if you have a number you think should be added, please see me after the meeting."
"You're kidding, right?" said Louisa Halston, the head concierge. She hefted her bag without opening it, then tossed it onto the table. "I don't need this, Hans certainly doesn't need this." Louisa nodded at the head chef. "Unless you think he's going to be doing dress repairs in the kitchen. We have all of this available at the concierge desk, except," she added with a smirk, "the mints. But who needs mints during Oscar season? They're in every pocket of every publicist in town."
"Not in adorable tins with the Pinnacle logo," said Gregory sweetly. "Not created from an award-winning recipe by our world-famous pastry chef."
Juliette nodded at him and again ignored the sarcasm in his voice. God knows she was used to it; as the person who decided who got which room in the hotel, Gregory was treated like a prince by every publicist in town and he never let Juliette, or anyone else on the staff, get away with one single thing. But Juliette knew that his sharp tongue was just a camouflage. He quietly doled out the mountains of swag he received to room attendants and bellhops, waiters and custodians, while loudly complaining about the worthlessness of just about everyone. It was what Juliette valued most about him; he kept the staff from taking themselves too seriously.
"These," she said, pulling the tin out of her pack and holding it up so the entire group could see, "are the crack cocaine of breath mints. Everyone will want them and they are only available in one place the lobby of the Pinnacle Hotel. As for the packs, Louisa, you were the one who..." she paused for a moment; "complained" would have been accurate, but no Pinnacle staff member complained; it was against company policy "observed that your staff spent too much time running up and down the stairs last year. While the aerobic fitness of our staff is legendary, these packs will allow each of us to provide our guests with basic support, which should allow Oscar night to run with even more efficiency."
White winter sunlight flickered through the poplar and oleander that grew outside the two-story-high windows of the private dining room, hung like haze over the long Louis XIV dining table around which the staff members were gathered. Christmas had been recently banished from the hotel, the holly and white roses giving way to sprays of orchids, here in a golden forest, there in ribboned clusters of pale pink and violet. The dining room was rose and gilt, with the table at one end and a cluster of velvet- and silk-upholstered chairs and love seats at the other. With its pale pink walls, the room looked like the inside of a jewelry box just opened.
Juliette surveyed the group gathered around the table with quiet satisfaction. Bathed in the forgiving light, her co-workers looked like people in a painting, or, more appropriately, a movie: there sat Hans and Rick, the chef and pastry chef, in their kitchen whites; beside them Louisa, her hair as sleek and black as her concierge uniform, her impossibly handsome assistant diligently taking notes Louisa always insisted on having an impossibly handsome assistant, to make up for, Juliette assumed, all those hours she spent negotiating dinner reservations and hair appointments. Farther down was Gregory, tan and tense in his inevitable Armani, flirting with Marta, the head bartender, whose combination of Eurasian beauty and lyrical profanity made the Pinnacle's bar the hottest, and most photographed, in town.
Across the table, the head of housekeeping looked more dignified than all of them put together in her toast-colored pantsuit, while the head doorman, a young man from Ohio named Barney, was, in his morning gray with his cap on the table, the picture of ruddy-faced mid-American friendliness. We all look so precisely our parts, Juliette thought, considering her own linen skirt and pale blue cashmere sweater, her auburn hair clipped into a demure ponytail. Like the people in that board game, Clue Miss Scarlet did it in the library with the lead pipe. Off duty, Juliette assumed, everyone wore jeans and T-shirts, went grocery shopping, and got their oil changed. But as she looked at them now, such things seemed almost impossible. Impeccable, Juliette thought. How do we do it?
"Um, Juliette," said Doug Barnes, head of security. "You want us to wear those too? Cuz I'm carrying enough gear as it is, but if you think it will help..."
Juliette smiled at "Dog," who had started work at the Pinnacle on the same day she had, and for the same reason. He was not a physically imposing man for a security head; in her heels, Juliette towered over him. But he had the uncanny ability to read guests to know precisely how much exposure they wanted, how much privacy they really needed, no matter what their overly cautious publicists might claim. She had also seen him escort invading photographers and insistent fans off the premises with gentle chatter that belied the firmness of his grip and left the intruder feeling like he had indeed been "escorted" somewhere.
"No, Dog," she answered. "I don't expect you to wear one. But take one anyway. It's a nice bag and your wife might like some of the makeup. God knows, we could all use the Xanax. In fact," she said with a glance at Louisa, "the bags are optional for all of you. I would suggest we try them out this year to see if they help. But you are professionals, and of course we trust your judgment."
"I'll certainly be wearing one," said a voice from a doorway, "though I expected mine to have gold trim, or my initials in diamonds." General Manager Eamonn Devlin never entered a room without a line. The brogue, however, came and went depending on the audience and the need. After working with him for a few months, Juliette had warned him that it was a "tell" the higher the stakes, the thicker the Irish. "This is exactly why I hired you," he had said with a laugh, and afterward Juliette did not hear the hills of Mayo nearly so often in his voice.
Now Devlin headed straight to the sideboard and loaded a plate with spring rolls, crab cakes, and brownies. "Carry on," he said, waving a fork, his mouth full. The room relaxed. Down to the room service runners, the staff of the Pinnacle had been chosen for their friendliness, their flexibility, their dedication to service, and their ability to intuit the needs of their high-profile guests. While this made for a lively, intelligent group of workers, it also meant there wasn't an automaton in the lot, so suggestions carried much more weight than demands.
Juliette had called the first summit three years ago in order to see exactly what she was dealing with, and that was still true. It was good to gather the group in one room, to see that Louisa and Gregory still hissed at each other amicably enough, that Hans and Rick were still joined at the hip, that the food and beverage director had gotten over his crush on Marta, that everyone still circled each other, synchronized but at a proper distance and with distinct personalities, like the planets. This delicate balance was what made the Pinnacle the best hotel in town. Maintaining it was the keystone of Juliette's job.
Juliette's title was Director of Public Relations, but when Devlin hired her he had promised her free rein. They had met ten years before at the Plaza in New York, and since then he had tried to hire her at every hotel he had run, from Bali to Paris. But circumstances, mostly in the form of Josh Singer, Juliette's now ex-husband, never allowed it. Until Devlin came to Los Angeles, where Juliette had been working at the Mondrian.
Devlin was determined to make the Pinnacle the Industry hotel in a town where every major hotel, from the Four Seasons to the Bel Air, had staked out its celebrity territory with the precision of the Conference of Yalta. The Peninsula had the Brits, the Four Seasons the brats (young stars who didn't quite know how to behave), the Bel Air had old Hollywood, the Beverly Hills Hotel drew the money men, dot-com millionaires and trust funders who still believed that movies were a good investment and the Polo Lounge the place to be seen. Raffles L'Ermitage had somehow cornered the rock and rap market, the Chateau Marmont was still first choice among hipsters with the Standard a close second, the Beverly Hilton usually scooped up TV, and the rest of the big hotels just picked at the crumbs.
In less than four years, Devlin had turned the Pinnacle into the hub of it all press junkets, Industry parties, and, most important, Oscar season. Last year, they had hosted more of the Golden Globe and Oscar nominees than any other hotel in town. And though Juliette would not take the credit Dev constantly tried to give her, she did know that her ability to think on her feet and to apply common sense to even the most overwrought situations had helped. Like the survival kit, which would undoubtedly find its way into InStyle and become the standard of every big hotel by this time next year. Louisa would bristle because Louisa always bristled at innovation that did not come directly from her own imagination. She hated the fact that while Juliette and Gregory were known by their names by the hotel's high-powered guests, she was, in most people's eyes, just a lovely uniform or, even worse, a helpful voice on the phone. She didn't like Juliette, whom she saw as direct competition for advancement in the hotel and, perhaps more important, the heart of the general manager.
Watching Louisa pick up the fanny pack, so clearly torn between her irritation and her desire to please Devlin, Juliette smiled to herself. Juliette had no interest in running the hotel and there was no evidence that Eamonn Devlin even had a heart she pitied the woman who would waste her time mounting a search party for it. Not that she didn't like Devlin. She knew her boss as well as she knew this hotel and she found both very comforting. As insane as the weeks ahead would be, there was order here, familiarity. Safety. From the kitchen, there was the faint clatter of the lull between breakfast and lunch, from the lounge the soothing constant tide of voices.
"So," Juliette said. "What do we need to know to make this year even better than last?"
"Well, Lily Mathews had her triplets early this morning," said Gregory matter-of-factly, referring to an A-list actress whose well-documented pregnancy had been difficult and tenuous. He pulled a huge congratulations card from the leather folder he always carried and pushed it to Barney. "I want everyone to sign, and not just names. Sweet little notes. We're sending a Bugaboo built for three, which I had custom-made, full of goodies, including the promise that if she stays here for the Oscars, we'll put aside the Presidential Suite so she'll have room for the babies and the nannies."
"Good God, she wouldn't be coming to the Oscars two months after giving birth to triplets," said Louisa. "She was on bed rest for, what, the last three months?"
Gregory snorted. "They're pushing for her to present Best Picture. If she can wedge herself into a black dress, she most certainly will. Did you see the cover of People a month ago? 'Is Lily's Career Over?' Or Newsweek: 'The Last of the Superstars?'"
"Lord," said Louisa, shaking her head with disapproval. "If she lets them push her around like that, her career really is over."
"I could fire you for that, you know," said Devlin amiably. "No, no, I've sent my own," he said, passing on the card. "Along with a box of Cubans for the new daddy. We'll have to discuss the Presidential Suite, Greg, there may be a situation with that. But we'll make it work," he added, holding up a mollifying hand, "no worries. What else?" He looked around the room.
"We're going to need an extra seamstress this year," said Elena, the head of housekeeping, consulting a list she had in her hand. "Perhaps two."
Juliette nodded. Last year, a nominee had tried on her crystal-encrusted dress four hours before showtime and discovered she had put on some weight. Crystals flew everywhere the woman's stylist took one in the eye that scratched her cornea and Elena had spent three hours sewing them back on while Gregory had filled in as head of housekeeping.
"Don't forget to put the chocolate pudding and risotto back on the menu," said Gregory with a twinkle in his eye. "For the Crew." Hans and Rick groaned, while Juliette and Louisa laughed.
"What crew?" said Devlin.
"The Skeleton Crew," Gregory explained. "All them boney bones with their pointy hips and their pointy shoes. Pudding makes it easier for them to bring their dinners up."
"No," said Hans. "No. I am going to take it off just for that. For that reason alone. It is an insult."
"Now, now," said Devlin, "your worry is how it tastes, not how, or if, it digests. And the person who uses the term 'the Crew' within earshot of any guest will be fined five hundred dollars."
"We're going to need a few more bellmen to run flowers and gifts," said Louisa, adroitly changing the subject. "We'll need to use the banquet room to store them; they were just sitting around in the lobby and hallways last year, which looked terrible."
"And someone needs to act as a gift basket adjudicator," Gregory added righteously. "Some of the things people sent for the Golden Globes were just pathetic. One box of muffins I could not let pass I threw in some of my own Belgian chocolate and an orchid, but I can't be responsible for everything around here."
Juliette listened and took notes and watched the time. The meeting had to come in under an hour or the hotel literally would grind to a halt. Gregory had heard that one longtime movie star couple was splitting, so they would require two rooms, on different floors, in separate wings. Devlin confirmed that two New York-based studio executives currently suing each other would also be staying during the month between nominations and the Oscars, so similar accommodations would have to be made, including constant surveillance by the staff to avoid unpleasant encounters.
About forty-five minutes into the meeting, everyone's cell phones, set on vibrate, were ringing so insistently that the room itself seemed to buzz.
"It sounds like we are under attack from some very large hummingbirds," Devlin said. "I'd say we're on solid ground here. Thanks for coming, everyone. J.," he said, pulling Juliette aside, "I need you for about half an hour."
"Now?" she said, glancing at her BlackBerry, its screen solid with e-mail messages.
"As soon as you ever can."
"Five minutes," she said. "No, ten. I need to do reconnaissance."
"Take fifteen," said Devlin, shouldering his survival kit. "Just because I absolutely love the mints."
At any given time, there were at least a half dozen interviews and photo shoots taking place in the Pinnacle and Juliette did not like any of them to happen without her at least momentary presence. Photographers had to go through her to set up; cameras were allowed only in certain areas of the hotel the garden, the banquet rooms, the guest rooms though photographers, desperate for a different environment, sometimes conveniently forgot this. She had less control over interviews the public rooms, the restaurant, the bar were, after all, public but if the subject was a guest, or a potential guest, Juliette wanted to make sure he or she felt comfortable and safe. On more than a few occasions, she had gotten calls from frantic publicists asking her to make sure that a journalist did not go over his or her allotted time unless the star or Industry exec involved seemed to be enjoying it. Once or twice, she had had to intervene, delicately introducing herself and bringing the interview to a close by drawing the subject away. Juliette was surprised at how shy and uncertain some of the most famous actors and actresses were when caught without their various handlers.
Today, Natalie Portman was being photographed in the garden, Brian De Palma in one of the banquet rooms, while Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench were holding court in the Orchid Suite. In the lounge, a model and a producer were discussing their engagement; at the pool, the cast of an Emmy Award-winning television show was goofing it up for a reporter, throwing a beach ball around and shouting.
"Are they bothering you?" Juliette asked a young man lying on a lounge reading a script.
"Hullo, darling," he said, squinting up at her. "I haven't seen you in ages. I heard you had defected to the Four Seasons." Juliette laughed. David Fulbright had been staying in the hotel for almost six weeks he was shooting a movie over on the Universal lot and wherever Juliette went, he seemed to be. They had closed the bar down last night, testing some of the new drinks the head bartender was trying out for Oscar season.
"Have you recovered from the currant Bellini?" she asked.
"Up at dawn for a run," he said. "My British constitution. I don't suppose," he added after a pause, "that there's any truth to the rumor that Sean Bean has checked in."
"We cannot discuss the identity of our guests," Juliette said primly. "Why? Is he a friend of yours?"
"Well, yes and no." David looked out over the pool. His dark hair was grown out for the role and hung in his eyes, making him look like a high school student. A very sexy high school student, Juliette thought. "I think he's here to replace me," he said. "I think I'm going to be sacked."
"Aaron loves you," Juliette said soothingly. "He told me so not three days ago." Aaron was the film's director, also staying at the hotel, who was currently having breakfast with Sean Bean, who had checked in yesterday.
"I am," David said, watching her face. "Oh, God, I am. And you know it." He pulled himself to a sitting position.
"I don't," she said, reaching out her hand to what? to brush the hair out of his eyes? then letting it fall. "Okay, he is here, and he and Aaron did have breakfast, but Aaron's casting that other movie now, I think, the one about the tennis players. And they were having breakfast in the main dining room. Why would they do that when Aaron knows you're in the hotel?"
David fell back in his chair. "You're right. I hope you're right. Oh, God," he said. "First I lose the lead to Colin bloody Firth, and now this. I cannot bear it." He caught Juliette's hand. "You must help me to bear it."
Juliette reluctantly drew her hand away. "There's nothing to bear. And I've just broken about fifty Pinnacle rules, some of which I wrote myself, so I'd appreciate you saving the dramatics for the camera."
"I do love you," David called out after her. "No matter what happens, my darling, you must remember that."
Juliette ducked her head as she walked, so no one would notice the smile on her face, and ran right into the large and manly chest of Phillip Ramirez, the pool director. "What?" she said, seeing the furrowed brow, the dark eyes almost black with concern.
"She's at it again," Phillip said with an almost imperceptible gesture to the running track that circled behind the pool area. "For the last two hours. I swear to God, she is going to die. On that track. Right in front of my eyes."
"She" referred to a young starlet who had checked in about two weeks before, the daughter of a software billionaire (who always seemed to be financing the films in which she starred) and clearly a card-carrying member of the Crew. At first, the staff had assumed she was a drug addict and hoped she knew better than to check in to the Pinnacle for a spree. "That's what all those Comfort Inns in Palm Springs are for," Gregory had said with a shudder. But it soon became clear that Melissa, or Lissy to her friends, was a bona fide anorexic.
"Listen," Phillip said, "I did something that might be wrong, but I just can't watch her "I don't know "die. So I put some protein powder in her Diet Coke. And some lime syrup. I told her it was Diet Lime Coke. I think they have that now. Anyway, she drank it. Could I get fired for that?"
Phillip was supporting his mother and two younger sisters. Juliette had hired him six months ago; he had been a bellman at the Beverly Regent, so this was a huge leap up the ladder for him and he was obsessively concerned with maintaining Pinnacle standards. Part of Juliette wanted to laugh, but another part knew that if the woman found out, she would surely complain, not only to Devlin but also to Daddy. "I don't think," she said carefully, "that mixing up a drink order is a fireable offense. And you know how I love my Diet Coke with protein powder and lime syrup." She put her hand on Phillip's shoulder. "Just be careful. Protein powder has a pretty noticeable taste. Especially to an anorexic."
She was five minutes late in meeting Devlin, who was standing in the lobby chatting with a PGA champion and his new wife. Dev raised his eyebrows; he was not accustomed to waiting. She shrugged slightly. After introducing her to the couple and then excusing himself, he put a hand under Juliette's elbow and guided her to the elevator.
"It's a good thing you have red hair," he said, pressing the button. "Otherwise you wouldn't get away with half of what you get away with."
"Sorry," she said. "Had to do damage control. David Fulbright heard that Sean had checked in, and he thinks he's going to be sacked."
"He is," said Devlin, stepping into the elevator.
"I know," said Juliette. "I just feel so badly for him. It's been a hard year; this was supposed to be his big comeback after the breakup." David had been engaged to a supermodel who had left him, literally, at the altar, and run away with her personal trainer who was, not that it mattered in the least, a woman.
"Don't get emotionally involved with the guests, J. It's not good for business, and it's not good for you."
"Thanks, Mr. Roarke," she said. "Now, where exactly are we going?"
The elevator stopped at the top floor, which was occupied by three enormous suites, including the Presidential Suite.
"We have a special guest who has requested your personal attention," said Devlin, walking slowly down the hall. "He is receiving medical treatment. Officially he's doing preproduction work in Morocco."
"Treatment for what?" Juliette asked suspiciously. "You are not going to ask me to hold someone's hand after lipo and a lift again, are you? Because that's what Eden Hill is for."
"Cancer," Devlin said shortly. "He has a round-the-clock nurse here, so you won't be expected to deal with anything medical. But he says he knows you from your days at the Plaza and that you are, and I quote, 'one of three people I could stand having in the room, and the other two are dead.'"
Juliette's heart started to pound; she had not talked to Josh, her so recently former husband, and still, despite her best efforts, the love of her life, for months. But she would have heard, wouldn't she? Someone would have called. Wouldn't they?
"Who on earth are you talking about?"
Devlin stopped outside the door to the Presidential Suite. "Now, Juliette, I know as a hotel professional you will not make our guest feel at all uncomfortable about his appearance, which is somewhat...altered."
Juliette put her hand on the door and blocked Devlin. "You are not opening that door until you tell me who is in there."
"Michael O'Connor," Devlin said, and suddenly Juliette could see the lines around his mouth, his eyes, see how tired her boss looked. "And he is in pretty bad shape."
Michael O'Connor. Juliette couldn't believe it. Two-time Oscar winner, megastar, and perpetual ladies' man, with three ex-wives...or was it four? At fifty, he was one of the few bona fide movie stars still standing with better box office than just about any other actor. Action pictures, romantic comedies, psychological dramas there wasn't a role he hadn't tried, nothing, it seemed, he couldn't do. He was an acrobatic pilot, raced sailboats, and rode one year on the Olympic equestrian team. Michael O'Connor had cancer. Jesus. But hadn't she just seen him, beaming up from the pages of Vanity Fair or People, walking down the red carpet in Cannes, or hosting some charity event for, what was his cause, pediatric AIDS? Or was it the rain forest? Didn't he have two movies out this very moment? Michael O'Connor remembered her from the Plaza. God, that was ten years ago, maybe closer to fifteen, though she still remembered it clearly. He had a hit movie out that summer, was doing Shakespeare in the Park, Hamlet or Othello, one of the big ones, and every time he entered the hotel it was as if a meteor had landed. "'And he glittered when he walked,'" Juliette murmured now.
"What?" said Devlin.
"Nothing. God, that's terrible. But I have no idea why he wants me; I haven't seen him except to say hello across a crowded room in fifteen years." Well, there was that night, Juliette thought, that one night when "yes" might have made a big difference in her life, but she had chosen "no" because "no" had seemed to be the only real option.
"Fifteen years is not so long in Juliette time," Devlin said with a grin. "I met you fifteen years ago and look how it changed my life." He knocked softly on the door. A tall bald man in a teal nurse's uniform opened it. "Can you tell Mr. O'Connor that I have Ms. Greyson?"
"Well, tell her to get the fuck in here," called a voice from the depths of the darkened room. "Because life is shorter for some than for others."
"I'll leave you to it," murmured Devlin, withdrawing. Juliette walked through the door. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the light, but then she saw him clearly enough, sitting on a hospital bed, an IV on one side, a box with a monitoring screen on the other. It made a strange silhouette, jarring in the otherwise opulent setting. But that was nothing compared with the man who lay in it. His famous dark curls were smashed and greasy and streaked with gray, his face was lined and hollow around the eyes, and his broad shoulders seemed nothing but bone beneath his pajamas. He watched her watching him and cocked a famous eyebrow.
"Well, you look pretty good for a woman who's been dumped by a hack for a dewy young thing," he said. "Still tall and tawny and the match of a thousand men. I hear you're running this hotel, which is why I came. In the past, I've always preferred the Peninsula."
Any thought of tender loving care had disintegrated at his first words, which she assumed was his intention. His face, that beautiful, utterly famous face, was a ruin. How long had he been sick? How bad was it anyway? She looked right into his eyes, afraid of what she might see there, afraid of the blue gone gray, the milky film that she knew from experience preceded death. But his eyes were clear enough. Amused. Anxious. Angry.
"The Peninsula doesn't have suites with this kind of floor space," Juliette said. Lightly. "And you seem to be requiring even more floor space than usual."
That made him laugh, a strange barking sound that led to a fit of coughing. He held up a hand when she moved toward him. "But enough about you," he said when he could talk. "How about me? Did you miss me? Don't lie, now, I've been lied to by the best and I'll know it." When he spoke, she could hear a dozen of his performances behind his words, the cadence of his speech, was unsure if this was a performance right now, though surely no makeup artist could render his wrists so thin, his skull so pronounced. This was what she hated about actors you could never tell when they were acting. The good ones didn't even know themselves, fiction having melted completely into fact, and life was complicated enough. Which was why she had stuck with the writer. Through thick and thin for all those years, never complaining, even when she came home at night to find him still sprawled on the couch, the only pages written balled up in the trash. And see how wonderfully that turned out.
"You look like hell," she said, trying to meet him on equal ground. "I mean, Jesus, you might have cancer, but surely you also have a comb. Or have you lived in the hands of groomers so long you've forgotten how to shave?"
The actor stared at her and Juliette wondered, for a moment, if this was, perhaps, the wrong tact she remembered him as being a tough-talker who liked women who tough-talked back. But that was a different era, when there were not many rules at all and very different medications involved.
O'Connor stared at her a little longer and then he smiled. A wide-open, sunrise-after-endless-night movie magic smile. The smile that took a handsome man and turned him into a superstar.
"Well, look at that," Juliette said softly. "You haven't forgotten a thing."
"I certainly haven't forgotten you," he said, leaning back. "Have a seat, my Juliette. Rest your long and weary bones."
She sat and kept looking at his face; he seemed to be daring her to look away, daring her to make a sound or a gesture...Of what? Pity, maybe?
"Oh, 'bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang,'" he said softly.
"I've seen worse," she lied. "Hell, since Josh left, I've dated worse," she added, lying even more. "When did you get here anyway, and why did you ask for me?"
"Last night. The extra-sneaky, secret way," he said, raising his eyebrows, widening his eyes. "Officially, I'm doing preproduction in Morocco. We even hired a double to fool the paparazzi. There's already been a picture of 'me' doing shooters at some bar with girls all over my lap. Which I guess beats a picture of me and Rory, the new love of my life." The nurse appeared from the next room. "You remember Rory, don't you?" Michael said. "He was on The Playground, remember? He played the kid with the funny laugh."
"Oh, sure," Juliette said, looking at the man with his salon tan and shining scalp, not remembering at all. The Playground was the television show that had been Michael's breakout role all those years ago; as the jock with the heart of gold, he had launched a cottage industry: T-shirts, lunch boxes, a million posters plastered on the bedroom walls of a million girls Michael O'Connor's face had been everywhere. So when he then took as his first movie role an alcoholic lawyer with an overbite and a missing eye, everyone thought he was crazy. That had led to the first Oscar nomination. The rest of The Playground's cast had, as far as Juliette knew, faded into obscurity. "So you became a nurse?" she asked.
"Honey, I became many things," said Rory, tweaking the IV line. "But I seem to have wound up a nurse."
"I ran into him about a year ago, right, Ror?" Michael said. "So when this whole thing went down, he was the first person I thought of. He quit his job at Huntington Hospital to take care of me. And they say there's no loyalty in show business."
"The half mil doesn't hurt either," said Rory complacently.
"So if you have Rory, what is it you need from me?"
"Juliette, how can it be you even have to ask?" Michael put one hand on his heart. "After all we meant to each other? Or almost meant to each other. Could have meant to each other. Do you know, Rory," he said, raising his voice so the nurse could hear him, "I tried to seduce Miss Juliette way back in the way back and she said no? No. Can you believe it? And me in my prime."
"I had a boyfriend," Juliette said.
"Everyone I knew had a boyfriend," said Michael, "and it didn't stop any of them. You married that boyfriend, didn't you, and now look at what happened."
"Where is your wife, by the way?" asked Juliette. "Sally? Or is it Madeline? It's hard to keep them straight. Is she in Morocco with the double?"
"You need to catch up on your tabloid reading," he said. "We are sep-ar-ated. Irreconcilable differences. Do not press for details. I'm saving them for my autobiography."
"Okay," said Juliette, rising. "For a very sick man, you seem to be having a pretty good time, whereas I have about seven thousand phone calls to return. I'm sure you know that we are all at your disposal. If you need anything at all, just call down and ask for me."
"I understand," Michael said, "I understand. You are very busy, very, very busy. It's Oscar season. I certainly don't want to keep you from your publicists and reporters and nominees who want organic egg whites and seedless watermelon. I am just hoping that you can spare a little time now and then to come visit an old man on his bed of pain, bring him news of the big wide world. Or even just the sight of your pretty face." He sat up, grimaced, and lay back down. Juliette leaned over him, automatically pulling the pillow more firmly under his head, smoothing the blankets, tucking in the sheets. "The chemo I can take," he said quietly, putting his hand on her wrist. "It's the loneliness that's killing me."
"Don't any of your friends know?" she asked, ignoring how large and warm his hand was, how it engulfed her wrist. "Your wife? I mean, how bad could the differences be?"
He shook his head. "My agent, my lawyer, and I only talk to them when I have to in the best of times. You know the drill," he said, cocking the eyebrow again. "If you're going to get sick in Hollywood, you might as well die, because you'll never work again. I intend to work again and without the pleasure of a post-recovery appearance on Oprah."
"Oh, come on," Juliette said lightly. "If anyone's big enough to get sick, you are."
"It's breast cancer," he said after a moment. He laughed shortly. "See, I can't even say it with a straight face and it just may kill me. Because, interestingly enough, it is not only rare in males but incredibly aggressive. But I leave to your sturdy imagination how me and my pink ribbons would play in the trades. I could live my whole life not being the poster boy for male breast cancer, and I intend to do just that, one way or another."
Juliette kept her face steady, holding on to what Dev called her "don't worry, ma'am, the engines are supposed to be on fire" look. She had seen and heard extraordinary things behind hotel doors, had built a career on knowing how to react, but she was at a loss here. Breast cancer. Jesus.
"Green eyes," Michael said, watching her carefully. "Now, you don't see those every day. Though I suppose you do...Juliette." He whispered her name, enunciating the t's so that it sounded like the wind shaking the branches of icy winter trees. He had always been good with t's, she thought, with consonants in general; it was one of his signatures. Then he closed his eyes. She could see the silver bristle of his beard, smell the sour sickness of his breath. The room already seemed more like a hospital room than a suite.
I should send some flowers up, she thought. Lilies, freesia, fragrant flowers. Why didn't Dev do that? Or Gregory? Did he even know O'Connor was here? Turning away, Juliette sighed. Three days until Oscar nominations were announced, so much she had to do, so many needs to meet, and now this. Beneath Michael O'Connor, the world he ruled moved on, churning, anxious, self-centered, and oblivious.
"I'll try to come up around dinnertime," she said as she pulled the door closed behind her.
"You know where to find us," he said.
Copyright © 2008 by Mary McNamara
Juliette took the stairs down, figuring sixteen flights would let her put a little distance between what had just happened and the rest of the day, and help build the stamina she would need for the next month. She put her phone back on ring and it promptly rang the head of housekeeping on the other end.
So instead of returning to her office, Juliette found herself in the bowels of the hotel, in the housekeeping annex, listening to a young room attendant recount her morning's adventures, which, unfortunately, involved Forrest Hughes. For the past ten years, Hughes had been the hottest funnyman in town, commanding astronomical fees, and just about everything else he could think of, for the movies in which he starred. Lately, however, several of his projects had stalled and the celebrity press leapt on this with glee, speculating endlessly that Hughes had finally priced himself out of the market. Far from being humbled or even noticeably worried, Hughes had given pretty much everyone the finger, calling certain studio executives assholes and blaming his longtime, long-suffering writing staff, who many considered the secret of the comedian's success.
Hughes had been at the Pinnacle all of twenty-four hours, but already there was trouble. Apparently he had seen one of the housekeeping staff servicing other rooms and requested extra towels; when she brought them in, he and his female companion had backed her into the bathroom. The woman had tried to kiss her while the star had unzipped his trousers and begun masturbating in front of her. The woman, whose name was Maria, had handled the situation beautifully, Juliette noted, extricating herself from the room and reporting the incident immediately to her superior. There were tears still shining in her eyes now, but she spoke calmly and with an air of professional detachment she knew that what happened would be dealt with accordingly.
Juliette took notes and spoke kindly. "I am very sorry this happened to you, Maria," she said. "And we will ensure that it will not happen again. Do you want us to press charges?" She looked at the young woman, her face blank. Maria answered instantly, if a bit haltingly her English had not been good when she had been hired and she was only halfway through the class the hotel provided for new hires with language barriers. "No," Maria said, "I trust that this hotel will handle the matter "appropriately." Juliette nodded again. "Please feel free to take the rest of the day off," she said. Again the woman shook her head. "I would rather get back to work," she said. "We are very busy." Juliette smiled and nodded, made another note Maria would be receiving a nice bonus in the coming weeks and she wouldn't be working any hours she didn't want to.
Back in her office, Juliette immediately dialed the actor's publicist, Arnie Ellison, a reigning prince of MDB, one of the two biggest agencies in town. Consigliere to Lisa Javelin, one of Hollywood's most powerful and loathed publicists, Arnie had once told Juliette that if she would sleep with him, he would take Josh on as a client and "make magic happen." Juliette had refused, as lightly as possible, and the two had spent the subsequent years pretending it had never happened. When Josh had left her, Arnie had been one of the first to call with condolences.
"Juliette," he said when, after she spent five minutes on hold, he finally got on the phone. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, darling," she said in her sweetest tones, "we've got a bit of a situation and I wanted you in the loop before it gets out of hand." In calm and measured tones, she described what had happened, pausing for a moment to let the ramifications sink in.
"Our employee," she said at last, "is a very discreet and responsible woman and you know how strict we are about protecting the privacy of our clients. From the press. Now, we have assured her that should she choose not to press charges, we will make certain the behavior will not be repeated. That" she paused again "won't be a problem, will it?"
"Not at all," said Arnie brightly, as if they were discussing a table arrangement or a birthday party. "That will be no problem at all. I'm sure there was miscommunication on both ends "
"No," said Juliette firmly, "there was not. In fact, it bore all the hallmarks of that incident with the Australian tennis instructor. Your boy seems to think everyone owes him a 'happy ending,' doesn't he?"
Arnie fell silent his client had paid through the nose for that one and still it was all over the Internet for months.
"But I don't think we need to go to such extremes here," Juliette said. "If you would just speak to Mr. Hughes and let him know that while we appreciate the stress he has been under lately, we will not tolerate the abuse of our staff. Devlin," she added, "is very clear on that. As I think you know."
"Yes, yes," said Arnie, suddenly businesslike. "Of course. It won't happen again. And what else do you want?"
"I beg your pardon?" Juliette said coolly.
"Juliette," said Arnie, switching gears yet again, "I really do appreciate the concern you are showing for my client. You know I think the world of the Pinnacle, which is why I've sent so many of my clients and friends your way over the past year."
"And we appreciate that, Arnie," she said as the conversation fell into precisely the track she had laid for it. "We hope you keep that in mind in the next few days it certainly looks like John and Bill are shoo-ins for Oscar nominations this year, and I don't believe we've had the pleasure of their company. Yet."
For a moment there was silence on the other end. The publicist sighed. "Funny you should say that," he said. "I was just about to call Gregory to see how we could work together. I know John is a big fan of the hotel."
"And the feeling is completely mutual," said Juliette. "I can transfer you to him right now. I'm so glad we're going to be seeing more of you in the next few weeks."
Arnie laughed. "You're something," he said. "You know that, don't you? Has Devlin bought you that Mercedes yet? If he hasn't, I'll give you a job any day of the week."
"Ta, Arnie," Juliette said, smiling into the phone as she hit the transfer buttons. "Merry Christmas, honey," she said when her co-worker, who had been trying to get an in to John and Bill for two years, answered.
After a four-minute phone call with a pair of BBC reporters about whether or not they could follow a famous photographer as he made the pre-Oscar rounds through the hotel, Juliette headed to the kitchen to talk to Hans about the menus for the weekend of the awards Hans had gained a reputation for creating dishes that somehow echoed either the themes, the time period, or the location of those films nominated for Best Picture. He was happiest when at least one was set in Italy or France, though Asia did just as well. This year the front-runners were two Depression-era films and a box office smash set almost entirely in a prison and Hans was a little concerned. "There is only so much one can do with mushroom soup," he said anxiously. "Even my very good and fresh mushroom soup."
To get to the kitchen, Juliette threaded her way through the lounge with its tang of tomato juice and Grey Goose, past the library where the gas fire burned cheerfully and with absolutely no heat. The books, their red leather spines an impressive sight at two stories high, were real, though if you looked closely enough you would see that there were at least a dozen copies of The Iliad and other highly sought-after titles like Pearl Buck's The Time Is Noon and John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. The original decorator had ordered the books by the foot, and Devlin could not be persuaded to change them. ("How many people look on the top shelves, love? And can one honestly have too many copies of The Iliad?") Juliette could not walk by the room without a shiver of disgust.
As she headed across the black marble floor of the lobby, she was struck by the sweet soothing scent of roses and the pleasant front-door buzz of the driveway, where every sort of high-end luxury car purred to a halt with seamless regularity. Only now there seemed to be a bit more buzz than usual; through the beveled glass of the entrance, Juliette could see a woman with long blond hair banging on the window of a large SUV. Stifling a sigh, Juliette made a quick left turn to investigate.
Outside, she realized the woman was Leslie Newcomb, an actress who had just had a baby; her husband, the actor Ted Norman, had been filming in L.A. during the past two months of her third trimester and she came out to be with him, hoping that maybe the sight of an enormously pregnant woman on set would speed up production. It didn't. She wound up giving birth at nearby Cedars-Sinai and bringing the new baby an adorable little boy home to the Pinnacle. Where, of course, he was showered with all manner of gifts, including the hotel's new infant massage and facial. Still, Juliette felt bad that anyone would have to bring their baby home to a hotel, even one as nice as the Pinnacle. The demands the entertainment industry put on even its biggest stars seemed at times outrageous; Juliette regularly saw children and spouses relocate to L.A. for weeks, for months, to be close to the working parent; often they rattled around the hotel, and the city, like trapped tourists. And she liked Ted and Leslie, who had been married for ten years and seemed as down-to-earth as a pair of multimillionaire movie stars could be.
Except right at the moment, Leslie was throwing what could only be described as a tantrum, banging her fists on the glass of the SUV's back seat, pulling at the door handle.
"Relax, sweetheart, relax," said her husband, anxious behind his aviator shades, reaching out to put his hand on her shoulder. She shook it off. "Get him out," she ordered, her voice rising with each word, "get him out of there now. I want my baby out."
"The doors locked automatically when he shut them," said Barney sotto voce to Juliette. "The keys are still in the ignition. We tried the slide on the lock, but it didn't work. There's a locksmith on the way." Raising his voice and speaking to the couple, he said, "We'll have your baby out of there in no time." Ted smiled, but Leslie had her eyes glued on the baby in the back seat. "At least it's not summer," Barney added softly.
Juliette could see the new baby blinking in his car seat. He opened his mouth in a perfect circle, smacked his lips, waved his tiny fists, and began to howl. As if electrified, his mother began to bounce, slapping her hands against the glass. "Why did you shut the fucking door?" she screamed at her husband. "Why did you buy this fucking car with its fucking automatic locks? I hate this car. It's not even a car. It's a fucking death trap! Someone get him the fuck out of there."
As the actress turned toward her, Juliette could see that her breasts were damp with milk. Leslie noticed this as well, pulled her tank top away from her body, and began what could only be described as keening. "Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God," she wailed.
There were at least a dozen people in the midst of arriving or departing the hotel, and a small crowd was knotting itself around the pillar just inside the doorway; Dog appeared out of nowhere, his hand reaching to lower a camera a guest was raising to eye level. It was only a matter of time before the paparazzi appeared and Leslie and her wet breasts would wind up in Us Weekly.
"Okay, this is not good," Juliette said. She bent over and reached beneath one of the miniature cypress trees that twisted away from the hotel's entrance. She picked up one of the imported river rocks that lay around them in a winding Zen-ish design. She unhitched her Hermès scarf and wrapped it around her hand and with a fluid, almost unnoticeable gesture, broke the small side window on the passenger's side, reached in, and unlocked the door.
"Being a new mother is hard enough," she said to Ted, who stood openmouthed as his hysterical wife leapt into the car to reclaim the infant. "Barney," she said, "send the car down to Al's. It will be back to you within the hour," she explained to the actor. "If you need it before then, we'll be happy to provide a car and driver."
"Thank you," said Ted, finding his voice. "And please, just send me the bill."
Juliette held up her hand. "Not at all. We break it, we buy it. That's the Pinnacle policy. Being a new father," she added with a friendly pat on his shoulder, "is pretty hard too."
Then she put her arm around Leslie and the baby and guided them all firmly into the fortress of the hotel.
"That was pretty slick," said Gregory, appearing out of nowhere. "Where'd you learn to do that anyway?"
She looked up at him and grinned.
"Before I got into hotels," she said, "I was a car thief."
"Did you really?" said Michael O'Connor when Juliette told him what had happened.
"Did I what?" she asked, rolling a spear of asparagus in butter, then raising it to her mouth. "Break the window? I can produce witnesses, if you need them."
"Steal cars," he answered, watching her eat the spear, then lick her fingers. His own dinner clear soup, broiled chicken breast, and unbuttered peas lay on its plate, picture-perfect and untouched. "And do you always eat your vegetables with your hands?"
Juliette smiled, rolled another spear in butter, and raised it in the air so that she had to tilt her head back to eat it. It was going on eleven and she was very, very tired.
"'Dear Abby' says it's perfectly polite to eat asparagus with your fingers," she said. "Which is why I love asparagus."
"Makes your piss smell funny," said Michael dryly.
"And your semen," she said, eyes level with his.
"Oh, how I love it when you talk dirty," he answered. "But will you put the maid's uniform on later? That is the question."
"Please," Juliette said, holding up her hand. "After today, no jokes about maids." She told him the story, leaving the names out of it; she had worked with big stars long enough to know that they loved nothing better than gossip. As long as it wasn't about them.
"Let me guess," O'Connor said. "Forrest Hughes."
Before she could catch herself, Juliette blinked how had he known so quickly? and that was all it took. "I knew it," he said. "That guy is such an asshole. I mean such an asshole. I did a cameo on one of his pictures a few years ago, and he spent two days screaming about the temperature of his bottled water. It had to be precisely forty-five degrees. He had three assistants whose sole job was to oversee his water. He had this thermometer that he would dip in the bottle and if it beeped he would go into this screaming fit. It was embarrassing. And expensive. I think the director went about a month over schedule. And took all the heat. Pardon the pun."
"Well, his excesses seem to be catching up with him," Juliette said. "I just read in the trades that he's got yet another film shutting down because the script 'needs rewrites.'"
O'Connor snorted. "He's a greedy bastard he gets twenty million and half the back end and everyone else gets scale plus ten. You should have pressed charges."
Juliette barely suppressed a laugh Michael O'Connor had been one of the first actors to hit the twenty-million-dollar mark and his back-end deals set the industry standard. It was always funny, and a little frightening, to hear stars trash other stars for shared foibles.
"Maria didn't want to press charges and that wouldn't have gotten us anything anyway," she said, shrugging.
"Yes, you neatly seemed to turn the whole situation to your advantage. But," he said, his eyes brightening for a moment, "you are avoiding the original question, aren't you?"
"There was a question?"
"You're doing it again," he said, sitting up and taking a sip of juice. "You did steal cars before you got into the hotel business, didn't you?"
Juliette stared at him, clearly amused.
"Or something else," he said, undeterred. "I remember now. Alex hired you off the street, didn't he?"
"Mr. O'Connor, you say the nicest things."
Michael rolled his eyes. "I mean, you hadn't ever worked in a hotel before, right? Didn't you, like, break up a fight in the lobby?"
At this Juliette laughed out loud. "Is she a hooker or a bouncer? Only her hairdresser knows for sure."
"Well, something, there was something. God," he said, flinging himself back against the pillows, "my memory is just shot to hell. I hope it's the drugs. It better be the drugs."
"It wasn't a fight," Juliette said. "It was a misunderstanding. A problem some guests were having. Which I was able to solve."
"Oh, right, right," Michael said. "You got some poor rich tourists backstage to Cats or something and all was forgiven."
"Something like that."
"And Alex hired you on the spot."
Juliette shifted her gaze to the window. "Something...like that." She was suddenly aware of the silence all around her, the muffled light from the nightstand, the steady hum of the monitor, the drip of the IV. The fragrance of the lilies and roses she had had sent up, welcoming when she had first walked in, were now making her queasy and anxious.
From the bed, Michael watched her.
"You were with Alex when he died, weren't you?" he asked.
"I was," she said, remembering her old boss, who for so many years had been her best friend. "Well, not the moment he died, but...a lot. At the end." She kept her eyes on the window and the blanket of lights twitching out there in the pale city darkness. How long ago had it been? Had it been ten years?
"I don't have AIDS, Juliette," Michael said softly.
She looked back at him, startled. "I didn't think you had."
"And I'm not going to die," he said.
"I know," she said, shaking off the memories. She reached for another asparagus spear; rolling it in butter, she held it up to his mouth. "Because we don't allow that sort of thing here at the Pinnacle."
It was almost one when she left the hotel. For a few moments, she treaded water at the entrance to the bar, where a respectable number of guests were gathered, some with female companions of, perhaps, the very expensive hourly variety. She waved to Marta; Marta could tell a hooker at twenty-five paces, tipped by clues Juliette never even saw. The Pinnacle rules regarding what staff called "the rentals" were simple only if the women, or men, were already on the clock. If they came in alone, looking for business, they would quietly be asked to leave. Otherwise, they were just considered one more form of business partner. Tonight, the hotel was fairly quiet, full of suits and families, the lull before the Oscar storm. Juliette shook her head when Marta raised a vodka bottle in small salutation, and then glanced around for David; he wasn't there, so with a nod and a smile to the night doorman, she got in her car and headed home.
Juliette lived about twenty minutes away from the Pinnacle in the Hollywood Hills. The house was large and lovely, Spanish "Early Screenwriter," Gregory had called it with a walled-in front yard, a back veranda, and a swimming pool. Punching the security code into her gate, she was overwhelmed with the smell of jasmine. December had been warm this year, tricking many of the flowering plants into early blooms that would die in the next cold snap. Without turning on any lights, she headed up to the bedroom, her eyes straight ahead, her shoulders tense until she came to the master bedroom and turned on the light and relaxed. It had been more than a year since Josh left and still she hated coming home to this empty house, especially at night. He had taken very little when he had gone "You can have everything," he said, his face pale and tight with his need to be away, his need to start his new life and that had just made it worse. Juliette was left with all they had owned together, left in the house they had bought in the delirious first days in Los Angeles, when he had finally, finally sold a script, and the script had led to rewrite work, and then he sold another script and suddenly the bank accounts they had pored over so carefully for so many years doubled and trebled and overflowed with cash.
They had just celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary when A Touch of Summer began shooting, had just made the decision that it was time to have a baby. For so many years, Juliette had supported them and could not see how she could do what she did and have a baby too. But here he was with a shooting script and a development deal; it seemed like they would never have to worry about money again. They had fucked like beavers during the week before he left for location, hoping it might take the first time. They had kissed and kissed outside the terminal at LAX and then he got on a plane to Toronto and never came back.
Or at least Juliette's husband never came back. Josh Singer came back, after six weeks, nervous and thin, so bursting with emotion that he couldn't even wait until they were in the house to tell her; he broke the news in the car. He was in love with Anna Stewart, the star of the film, and wonder of wonders she was in love with him too. Juliette would never forget the look on his face when he told her, the hyper, twitching joy, as if he half expected Juliette to be happy for him, to exclaim over his good fortune that this British acting goddess, with her dark smudgy eyes and perfectly disheveled ringlets, had become his lover. He was so clearly thrilled by it all that he couldn't even summon the appropriate emotions guilt, remorse, sorrow, even confusion which left Juliette with nothing to do, really, but give him two hours to pack his shit and get the hell out of what had suddenly become her house.
"I want you to know, you can have everything," he said as he went. "The house, the furniture, whatever. I won't even get a lawyer. We can do it through arbiters. Because you deserve it, you really do."
Every word he said was like a bullet through her skull, shattering bone and brain, grinding her jaw into shards. For a month, Juliette walked around as if she had a concussion; it didn't seem real, it didn't seem possible. Not when she saw Josh and Anna holding hands in People, or being interviewed together at the premiere of the movie. Not even when Devlin took her to the opening of a sister resort in Cancún and tried to seduce her "just to get your mind off him." She and Josh had never been like that, never been temporary or distracted. Josh didn't even want to be a screenwriter; he wanted to be a novelist. When that didn't happen, he had taken a friend's advice and turned two of his much-rejected books into scripts, which, as it turned out, was what they really were. But Josh had always hated the entertainment industry, especially actors, hated any woman who made her way on looks and seduction; he loved being with Juliette, he said, because of the thoughts "that streaked like brilliant fish through her brain." That was what he said, more than once. Did Anna Stewart have brilliant fish streaking through her brain? Juliette thought not.
Now she was at least used to it, the sense of loss, the confusion. The fact that ordinary people occasionally lost their minds, along with their marriages and families, when in contact with fame and fortune was just another odd but predictable feature of the Los Angeles landscape. Like earthquake weather and fire season or the purple explosion of the jacaranda in June.
Pulling off her clothes and letting them drop to the floor Josh had been a neat-freak and Juliette still delighted in this small freedom she got into bed. "I have to sell this house," she said. "As soon as the Oscars are over, I am going to sell this house."
Turning off the light, she tried to not think of what she was waiting for. A Touch of Summer had picked up several Golden Globes Best Actor, Best Director and the odds were good that it would receive its share of Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. That would mean Josh would have to leave the safety of Anna's London home and come back to Los Angeles. At least for Oscar week. And during Oscar week, there was no avoiding the Pinnacle the Brits had their big party there, the Writers Guild had its awards event there. Juliette had not seen her husband since that trip back from Toronto almost a year ago. She needed to see his face one more time. Then she would know what to do. Then she could let it all go.
Copyright © 2008 by Mary McNamara
Two days before the Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a luncheon for Bill Becker, the producer of this year's show. Becker was a former studio executive recently ousted by the company's board, who felt he was too free with the funds. The subsequent trial, in which he sued the board for wrongful termination and defamation and they countersued to retrieve his twenty-million-dollar separation package, kept the press busy for the few months in between the celebrity breakups and breakdowns. Becker somehow managed to keep hold of his golden parachute and immediately formed his own production company, snapping up, among other things, the rights to a first- time script by a hot blogger that had everyone buzzing. The story followed a writer who goes into seclusion after his teen-angst novel makes him a cult figure. When the project became public, J. D. Salinger sued. He lost, but Becker could not have asked for better publicity. The script was currently in rewrite and between that and Becker's bad-boy reputation, the Academy apparently felt he had enough sizzle to help the show's dwindling ratings.
Juliette had no idea if that would work or not she had also heard rumors that Becker had used dirt he had collected on various high-profile Academy members throughout the years to snag what would undoubtedly be a "comeback" story that would play big in every media outlet.
What Juliette did know was that today the Los Angeles Times wanted to shoot Bill Becker standing, all 280 pounds of him, fully clothed but soaking wet, in the middle of the hotel's ten-foot-high fountain. To show just how unpredictable and madcap he was.
This required much more effort on the part of the photographer, and the stylist, and the groomer, and their assistants, than one would think. Becker himself seemed too busy achieving the perfect ratio of cream cheese and salmon to bagel while fingering his way through the pastry basket in search of raspberry Danish "like the one I had here a few weeks ago" to bother getting his picture taken. His publicist nervously mentioned "carb points" and "fat points," dug in her purse for Becker's nicotine gum, which he managed to chew even as he ate, and made ineffectual suggestions that perhaps they should get started.
In answer to the photographer's anguished stare, Juliette stepped in and moved the food cart out of sight and arm's reach. "I'm just going to send this back to the kitchen for a freshen-up," Juliette said. "I know you must be incredibly busy, Mr. Becker. How can we help this go more smoothly? Do we need more towels, do you think?"
"What he needs is a couple of naked girls," said a voice right behind her. Juliette turned and smiled into the face of Max Diamond, the comic actor and one of her favorite guests. He had been gone for almost a year, doing a stint in a musical remake of The Odd Couple.
"Max," she said, embracing him. "It's so good to see you, it's been ages. How was New York? The play was a smash, of course."
"It was okay," Diamond said, kissing her neck. "Not great, but okay. I'm thinking of doing a one-man show, though, next fall. Like Billy Crystal did, only funnier. Maybe at the Taper or the Geffen. You think people would come to see me still?"
At sixty-five, Diamond still had the sweet face of an anxious teenager; his self-doubt seemed bottomless and perhaps even sincere. It also was an impenetrable defense that allowed him to say whatever he wanted about anything or anybody.
"In droves," Juliette said, meaning it.
He squeezed her hand. "This guy giving you trouble?" he asked, jerking his head toward Becker. Juliette allowed herself a small grimace.
"What are you waiting for, asshole?" Diamond shouted at Becker, with a wink at Juliette. "If you had any balls at all, you'd pee in that fountain. I dare you. I double-dare you. Whip it out, man, give the Times a picture worth printing for once."
"They'd have to use a wide-angle lens, motherfucker," Becker said, straightening himself up with a grin. The photographer began snapping furiously as the producer finally began to pose.
"You mean telephoto, don't you?"
Diamond snorted and turned back to Juliette, peering into her face. "How are you anyway? I heard what happened, that little shit. He's a hack. That movie of his is a piece of crap. And that girl? That girl tried to sleep with me, for chrissake, five years ago; remember she was in The Stampede with me and Anjelica? She couldn't even read her lines. You're better off, you know that, right? Of course you do. You should come out to the Malibu house with us some weekend. Say you'll do that, okay?"
"Okay," Juliette said, suppressing a smile. Over the years, she had been invited to Diamond's Malibu house, his house in the Hamptons, his apartment in Paris, and his yacht in Greece. But somehow little details like dates and addresses had never been filled in. "Are you here for the luncheon? Are you going to host this year?"
Max Diamond had hosted the Oscar ceremonies a legendary ten times, twice more than Billy Crystal. Every time, Max swore it would be his last, and he often took a year or two off, but he always came back, in part because no other host ever quite measured up.
"NO," he roared. "Nein, neyet, non, nonononono. I am done, through, kaput, finished. Never again. I told them. Never again. Do they listen? No, they don't, but I mean what I say. I'm too old for all this craziness. What, I still need to work that room for four freaking hours while Kate Winslet sits there tugging at her corset and Johnny Depp sneaks out in the middle of my opening for a cigarette? I don't think so. This year, I'm just going to watch from home. Someone else can worry about who's going to piss off the president or the censors. I'll be getting a nice blow job from my girlfriend. You hear that, Becker?" he shouted.
"I hear that, Diamond," the producer shouted back from the fountain as the stylist applied more glycerin to his hair. "Can we wrap this up?" he said to the photographer. "Because I don't know how long it's going to take to get this shit out of my hair."
"Just a few more," the photographer murmured from his crouch.
"It looks great, Bill," said the publicist, a young woman with long straight hair and a wide band of midriff showing. "Doesn't it?" she said, turning to Juliette and Max. "Doesn't it look great?"
"You need to put a sweater on or something," Diamond said, looking at the waistline of the pants, which dipped below the young woman's hipbones and certainly required a bikini wax. "It's ten o'clock in the morning, for chrissake. Jesus. Here," he said, pulling off the blue cashmere V-neck he wore, revealing a black T-shirt stretched tight over a surprisingly impressive chest, "put this on and go buy yourself a real shirt. He's gotta be paying you enough so you can afford clothes that fit."
Juliette turned away so no one would see her laugh.
"So I hear you're attached to the Salinger project," she said, covering.
Max held up a finger. "Now, now, now," he said. "It has nothing to do with Salinger. Who is one of this country's finest writers and whom I would never in my life offend."
"Sorry," Juliette said with a grin. "I understand you are going to play a writer who bears no resemblance to J. D. Salinger. I heard that's why Becker bought the project in the first place."
Diamond gave a small shrug of false modesty. "There has been talk, there have been discussions. But it's early days yet." He leaned in and lowered his voice. "Frankly, I don't know if the sonofabitch can afford me. Hey, Becker," he said, pulling away and taking a few steps toward the fountain, "I'm coming in there with you." And while everyone, including the photographer and the stunned but now-sweatered publicist, laughed in shock, that's exactly what he did.
"Kiss me, you fat fool," Max said with a dead-on Groucho, gathering the producer into his arms. And as the photographer clicked away in delight, Becker chose photo-op over irritation and dunked the comedian playfully in the water.
Passing through the dining room, Juliette saw David Fulbright huddled over egg whites with his director; the young actor did not look happy.
Shit, Juliette thought, looking steadily and purposefully at her BlackBerry just in case he glanced up and saw her. It was one thing to be fired, it was another to be fired in public. Why had they been seated in the middle of the dining room? There were special tables the staff reserved for just such meetings, in corners, camouflaged by plants. La Guillotine I and La Guillotine II.
There was a movie junket on the tenth floor, which meant a procession of journalists from across the country slouching through the lobby, their eyes peeled for signs pointing them to the hospitality suite, where they would scarf up lunch and as many swag bags as the publicists would allow them to carry before crowding into a room to shout questions at "the talent" the film's actors, director, and writer. Because most of the movies released during Oscar season were nonstarters, the crowd was small but irritating.
At the doorway to the kitchen stood a tall lovely woman with long black hair and wearing a pink linen dress. Juliette recognized her as Therese Salvatore, the young Colombian actress who was causing much conversation this year. Discovered in a fruit market, she had been cast as a young prostitute who is brought to New York essentially as barter material but who, through pluck and some really fortuitous plot points, winds up exposing and shutting down a sex slave ring. The film was a festival darling, and she had been nominated for a Golden Globe. She hadn't won, but still the studio had Oscar hopes and so they had installed her at the Pinnacle for almost two months.
Now she was chatting animatedly with the assistant room service manager. "We are from the same town," Therese said as Juliette drew closer. "I think our sisters, they know each other."
Juliette smiled and nodded and gently moved the actress away from the door. "Ricardo is probably the busiest man in this hotel," she said as the assistant manager slid back into the kitchen. "But it is amazing how many people it turns out you actually know in this place."
"Only him so far," said Therese a little sadly. "This is a lovely hotel," she added quickly, "and everyone is very nice. But I feel like I have been here for so long and it is...lonely."
Juliette smiled and put her arm lightly around the young woman's shoulders. According to Gregory, she was on the "short list" of a recently divorced star in the market for a new wife, somewhere between Scarlett Johansson and Claire Danes. The star had indeed shown up at regular intervals in recent weeks, each time in another gorgeous vintage car and matching leather jacket. "But I think her good Catholic uncle is a drug lord or something," Gregory had said. "And he's let it be known she is not on the market."
The source being Gregory, Juliette wasn't sure she believed either part of this tale. What she did know was that Therese had never been to Los Angeles before and her handlers had essentially dumped her here; they only showed up when there was a party or a press event.
"Let me talk to Ricardo," Juliette said. "He must be due for some time away from here. Why don't we get you a car and he can take you around the city? Go down to Long Beach, even, see the aquarium or the Queen Mary. You could go out to Catalina or just down to Manhattan Beach."
Therese's eyes lit up. "I would like that," she said. "I do not like to be alone so much."
Unable to resist, Juliette raised an eyebrow. "Alone? What, don't you like guys who collect antique cars?"
She felt the actress stiffen, and a sincere smile slid over her face like a mask, disguising, what? Anger? Fear?
"I have made many very good friends in the past few months," Therese said with a laugh that echoed a hundred press junkets. "I feel very fortunate. It is just nice to connect with someone from my...old life."
Juliette nodded and gave the girl a reassuring squeeze around her shoulders. As she walked toward her office, her cell phone rang; it was Devlin. "I've got Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell on their way in tomorrow. They arrive at around nine p.m. Together. I want you to meet them. Nah-ah-ah," he murmured as she began to point out that there was a whole group of people whose job it was to settle guests into their rooms. "I want someone on hand to make sure that those two don't burn the hotel to the ground. And don't let Crowe throw a television at room service."
"Telephone," Juliette corrected him. "He threw a telephone. At an assistant manager. But that was ages ago."
"Whatever. The movie is hot, I'm pleased they're having the junket here, but I want my telephones to remain stationary."
"On the day before nominations? God, Dev, I'll be dead by nine p.m."
"Listen to her, the only woman in the world who would whine about spending an hour with two of People's Sexiest Ten. Ask them to massage your feet. I'm sure they'll oblige."
"If it's such a plum, why don't you ask Louisa? I'm sure she'd be happy to accommodate."
There was a brief pause. "Louisa?" Devlin asked as if she had suggested one of the housekeepers, and for a moment Juliette felt a twinge of sympathy for the concierge and hoped that Louisa didn't love Devlin in any real sort of way.
"Well, why don't you meet them, then?" she asked, suddenly irritated on Louisa's behalf, and even more irritated at herself for caring what the woman thought at all. "You can all smoke cigars together and rank the girls in the bar..."
"I would. I would. But I am" Devlin's voice tripped into an uncharacteristic falter "otherwise engaged. Just settle them in, Juliette. How difficult could it be?"
Difficult enough that you're not asking the people whose job it is to do it, Juliette thought, lengthening her stride across the lobby. Maybe it was time for her to move on. Maybe, Juliette thought, she was finding an end to these years. Jesus, she thought, this was great timing; smack in the middle of the busiest weeks of the year and here she was contemplating burnout. Breathe deep, she reminded herself, pace yourself. The year before, Gregory had given them all T-shirts around this time that read: life is short, oscar season is long. She needed to find that shirt.
Passing the small waiting area outside the patio restaurant, she nodded a greeting to two burly men seated uneasily on a delicate-looking divan. They were the security detail for a studio executive who regularly held his meetings in the hotel. Mutt and Jeff, staff members called them. Everyone was too intimidated to communicate with them beyond a nod and a smile the men looked like mob consultants for The Sopranos. One of them even had what Juliette was fairly certain was a cauliflower ear. Stopping to check on a seating arrangement for the Academy luncheon, she had almost forgotten they were there until she heard them speak.
"I don't speak to you in that tone, Douglass," said Mutt to Jeff in an injured voice. "I don't see why you have to speak to me in that tone."
From the corner of her eye, she could see Jeff stiffen. "You really are the limit, you know," he said, standing suddenly. "I can't even be here right now." And he strode off.
A wild gulp of laughter rose in her throat. Seriously, she thought, how could she ever work anywhere else?
"So what else do you do to prepare for the big night?" Michael asked her later that evening.
"Lift weights," she said. "Go into psychotherapy. Drink a lot and have indiscriminate sex. Because for four weeks, this hotel owns our very souls."
She had brought him a plate of risotto and a dish of chocolate pudding to replace the bland doctor-recommended meal that she could not believe even came from their kitchen. While he struggled to eat it, she told him some of the revelations of the Oscar Season Summit and the tale of Phillip's attempt to keep the software skeleton alive on his watch at the suggestion of the pastry chef, he had lately added ground pecans and brown sugar to her oat bran, and crème fraîche to her lowfat yogurt, telling her that it was just a little Splenda and cinnamon.
It was eleven p.m. The room was dim and warm. From the adjoining bedroom, she could hear Rory snoring softly. Michael rolled his eyes. "What else?" he said, taking a bite of food. "Besides ordering extra champagne and caviar."
"And towels and sheets and lamps and bathrobes and curtains and hair dryers."
Michael raised an eyebrow and Juliette laughed. "I don't know what it is about fame that turns you people into kleptos, but we never see so much stuff walk out the door as we do during Oscar week. Last year, one guest, who shall remain nameless though you do know her, intimately, packed up her sheets, her comforter, and her bedspread. And when we added the cost to her bill, her assistant called us in a snit and said that she had been asked, specifically, what colors and fabrics her boss had liked and so had assumed these items were part of the welcome package. Right along with the fruit and complimentary pedicure."
"You are shitting me," O'Connor said. "I know exactly who you are talking about little Miss Let's Save East Africa, one resort at a time and you are shitting me. Took the bedspread. Oh, my Lord. Did she leave the curtains? Or send them out to her dressmaker to be turned into her Oscar gown?"
"Wouldn't surprise me," Juliette said. "Did you see what she wore to the Golden Globes? I didn't think they made that shade of yellow anymore."
"I did, and it was not yellow," he said. "It was yell-er. Pure yeller. And she probably dreamed of that dress all her young trailer-park-challenged life."
Juliette snorted and she put her hand to her mouth. "Oh, God," she said. "Dev would fire me if he heard me talking like this. I would fire me if I heard me talking like this. I don't know why I said that. A lovely woman, really, a generous woman and one of our finest actors." Michael hooted and leaned back against the pillows. Juliette fixed him with a sideways glance. "You know what?" she said, looking at his flushed cheeks, his ready grin. "I don't think you look sick at all. I am wondering if this isn't a setup entirely."
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll be getting another treatment soon and then I'll be plenty sick for you. They let me get just well enough to feel human and then they strike me down again. But right now," he said, "I feel wonderful. Just wonderful. And I really like that lamp," he added, motioning toward the corner. "Could you box that up for me when I go?"
Juliette shook her head, laughing, and got to her feet. "I have to go," she said. "Tomorrow's a big day and it starts at five a.m."
"You could sleep on the pullout," O'Connor said. "And we could watch the nominations announced together. Just think of how romantic it would be. I heard Diamond was in the hotel today; is he hosting this year?"
"He says no."
"As he says every year."
"I think he means it."
"As he does every year. Oh, well, he probably does. He's even older than I am and God knows I'm sick of it, and I've actually won the damn thing."
"He could still win," Juliette said defensively. She felt very maternal toward Max. "This Salinger movie sounds like it's got awards potential."
"Harken to her," O'Connor said. "Devlin said you're so good at picking winners you're not allowed to even enter the Pinnacle Oscar pool."
"I have a certain talent," Juliette conceded.
"So what odds do you give Bluebird for a nomination?" he asked, peering up at her sharply. She opened her mouth, then shut it again; O'Connor's latest performance had not been, in her opinion, one of his best. "Never mind," he said, waving his words away. "Just remember, Max Diamond is no pussycat. I know two directors who named their first heart attacks after him he may have mellowed with age, but back in the day, he was a holy terror."
"I don't believe it," Juliette said; she had heard the rumors about Max's early career, about the drinking and the bar fights, the vendettas that played out for years, but they did not jibe with the Max she knew.
O'Connor shrugged. "Keep in mind that the man has had more wives than even I have." He leaned back against the pillow as if suddenly exhausted. "Well, we're none of us angels, are we? Just next time you see Max, tell him to sign the Salinger deal already? Becker keeps bugging me to read it."
"Have you?" Juliette asked, suddenly curious; rumor had it, the script had been through the hands of some of the best writers in town, all of whom had been sworn to secrecy.
"How can I?" he asked. "According to my agent, I'm booked through 2010, and anyway, I'm in Morocco if you haven't noticed."
Juliette laughed. Swiftly checking to see that her cell phone, BlackBerry, and notebook were all in their proper places, she turned to go.
"Juliette," O'Connor called softly just as she reached the door, and something about those consonants made her shiver. "I am feeling better," he said when she turned. "Could you arrange for the pool to be closed sometime day after tomorrow? I'd like to take a swim before the next treatment. If," he added softly, "it's not too much trouble."
The very day nominations were announced he wanted her to close the pool. "Shall I fill it with rose petals?" she almost snapped but in the golden light, he looked sincere and almost sad. What a strange thing this is, she thought, her shoulders sagging, though she wasn't sure what precisely she was referring to.
"I'm sure we can arrange that, Mr. O'Connor," she said.
Copyright © 2008 by Mary McNamara
What People are Saying About This
"It is written 'we all have two businesses, our own and show business.' We in show business, thus, sadly, have but one business that which, thankfully, there is no business like, and which Mary McNamara chronicles and lambastes in her book sadly, ruefully, and with that inextinguishable insider's hope and love, which is the most wistful irony of all." David Mamet, two-time Oscar nominee
"In the weeks before the Oscars there are a lot more surprises in store than what's in the envelope. With a depth of character and an insider's eye that you don't expect from a mystery, Mary McNamara spins a sensational tale of gossip, intrigue, murder, and mayhem." Amy Ephron, author of A Cup of Tea and White Rose
"In Hollywood, Mary McNamara knows where the bodies are buried. Oscar Season is a terrific murder mystery and a dishy behind-the-scenes account of the sublime madness of the movie world." Peter Lefcourt, author of The Deal and The Dreyfus Affair
"The wildly self-absorbed rascals in Oscar Season have familiar names and others are modeled on not-quite identifiable celebrities. This delicious novel feels like the love child of Agatha Christie and Harold Robbins and reads like a favorite old movie. Figuring out just who's who will surely keep Hollywood guessing all through this giddy mystery." David Freeman, author of A Hollywood Life and It's All True
"More a whodunit than a who-won-it, Mary McNamara's Oscar Season whizzes by at at least twice the speed of the yearly, seemingly yearlong, event and is a hundred times more entertaining. I liked it. I really liked it." Larry Gelbart, two-time Oscar nominee