Fiction/Poetry

APOCALYPSE BABYLON

by Adam Novak

In this excerpt, tennis pro turned lit manager Jerry Makos attends the Academy Awards and visits the set of an independent film to solve the murder of his talent agent brother when the chaotic movie business threatens to unravel him.  

“Nothing is sadder than the truly monstrous”

—Nathanael West

You think you’re in heaven but in reality you’re headed to the ultimate premiere and after-party. You have Lester’s golden tickets and Jerry’s tux and your limo driver Boston looks exactly like Magic Johnson when he smiles. You brought your own Mandrin instead of the Stoli provided in the stretch. You feel lousy snubbing Dupin, lying about where you’re going, hoping she’s working on her spec tonight. You’re in heaven because your date, Carmen Coronado, smells like a confectionary. You decline to eat her dress, wishing it wasn’t made entirely out of black licorice whips. You hate licorice more than anything. Your date, sucking on a Black Vine, hair and makeup done by a stylist from Caesar High, knocks her knees together with excitement as you turn onto Hollywood Boulevard. Your limousine is swarmed by signs everywhere protesting the Best Costume Design nomination for TheTurner Diaries. You skipped the premiere, so you don’t understand why these people are decrying Hollywood’s irresponsibility. National Guardsmen everywhere point assault rifles, protecting you from an encroaching phalanx of white-haired octogenarians who oppose the honorary Oscar awarded tonight to the blacklisted screenwriter Natan Volonsky, who named all his Communist friends back in the day. One of the old guys gets clipped by Boston’s side view mirror as your limo pulls up to the first wave of security checkpoints at Hollywood & Highland and the Academy Awards. Your eyes are blinded by the hellishly red carpet under your feet. All you hear is a loud buzz of traffic, lots of shouting, and cheers from the stands across the street. Carmen tells you to slow down, it’s the Oscars, you’re rushing to get inside the Kodak theatre. Her Twizzler chainmail barely covers her breasts. Her eyelids encrusted with Sno-Cap nonpareils make you think of Alicia Keys. Carmen’s edible outfit has caught the attention of the media. “What designer are you wearing?” You see yourself reflected in the lens of an ACCESS HOLLYWOOD camera. You hear Carmen introduce you to the world as her Guru. You climb the velvet staircase of the Kodak Theatre, passing a pair of gigantic Oscar statues, notice lighted columns with names of movies you have heard of but never seen, until the 1990’s column of movies start to appear and you realize these are the names of Oscar’s Best Pictures. You recognize no one. No one comes up to you. You’ve lost Carmen. Your flask is your only friend. The only face in the crowd you recognize is the cigar store Indian from Park City who points out Carmen, surrounded by a CAA mob. You take your seat inside the Kodak. No one at the Oscars waves in your direction. You start to lose feeling in your hands. Your throat closes. Your head tingles. Carmen, sensing your panic attack, takes your hand and holds it. Then, Bill Conti nukes the orchestra. 

Betsey Yarborough wins Best Supporting Actress. Hugo Slater introduces the first Best Picture clip of the night: Nude Nudes. Carmen nudges you during the clip about a doomed love story between a disfigured stripper and a lonely paralegal overcoming the odds until he dumps her after she sees him through law school. After an acoustic guitar rendition by Slash, nominated for best song from the film, Conversations with a Cannibal, a majestic silver screen drops from the ceiling, lights dim until the Kodak is in total darkness and the words In Memoriam burns on screen. Clip of a drug addict’s finest moment on film. Applause. More clips of dead people who lost their lives fighting the system, their addictions, before finally, stupidly, beating themselves. You recognize Franklin Brauner on the mournful screen of the dead. Maybe it was a clerical error. You’re outraged. Bud Wiggins takes the statue for Best Original Screenplay. The next Best Picture clip is introduced by Antwon Legion: Handcarved Coffins. Peter Coyote announces a commercial break before the Oscar goes to Natan Volonsky. Seat fillers take your places as you and Carmen walk up the aisle to the lobby, crowded with more people than you would expect, then you realize nobody wants to be seen inside the auditorium when Natan the Namer accepts his award.

Your cell vibrates, ID: FRANKLIN.

“Franklin! Did you see it? You were at the Oscars—”

The auteur stops you cold.

“I’ll be right there.”

Franklin had been pulled over on Los Feliz Boulevard for a DWI: Driving While Insane. It wasn’t the busted tail-light that attracted the cop’s attention, it was the bare-naked psycho at the wheel, singing along to Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci while zig-zagging across Echo Park Boulevard in his black Saab convertible. Emerging from a fortified door, Franklin Brauner touches his orange jail uniform, wondering how the hell he ended up here in the first place. Carmen drapes my tuxedo jacket over the prisoner’s shoulders.

“Movie director, huh? One of our officers knows him from way back when, says he’s one of those tormented geniuses who doesn’t get the opportunities he used to anymore. You his lawyer?”

“I barely know the guy. We’re working on a few projects together.” 

“He had one phone call. He called you,” says the desk captain. “Must be pretty important to make you leave the Oscars.”

Franklin’s hair has turned white since I last saw him. His face is flecked with silver whiskers, making the director incredibly feline.

“Like the look, Franklin. Very Dr. Moreau.”

“Jew eat?”

GENERALE TAKES “TIME OUT”

SANTA MONICA—Hong Kong-based Generale Film Sales has extended its relationship with Bellerophon producer Benny Pantera, snapping up sales rights to the $44 million Antwon Legion thriller Time Out. “Independents are dependent on adventurous audiences,” said Lester Barnes from Cedars-Sinai’s ICU. Project, which stars Legion as a time-traveling serial killer and fiery newcomer Carmen Coronado as the object of his obsession, will be produced by Barnes, Pantera (The Mighty Mite, Ajax), and Guru’s Josh Makos. “Every now and then, I have to satisfy parts of myself that only satisfy myself,” said Antwon Legion. Time Out starts shooting March 15 in Wilmington, Delaware. Franklin Brauner directs. Calls to Makos were not returned.

On set, Franklin is directing from the toilet, laughing whenever Anton Sander has a scene with Daisy James. Antwon Legion is playing the part of infatuated dope to the hilt. Between setups, Carmen and Jessica, her giggling, inseparable companion, ask crew members if they’re boxers or briefs? When the movie star fails to show up in the afternoon, the line producer goes off on the 1st Assistant Director. “Find him! We need him yesterday!” 1st A.D. shrieks in front of everybody I should track down the missing star. I Scream Louder: “I’m not his fucking mother! Why the fuck should I know where Anton Sander is? I have no fucking idea why he isn’t on set! If it makes you fucking happy I’ll look for him!” I peel out of another strip joint parking lot, hunting a movie star without a fucking clue. The line producer heard Antwon got violent outside the club No Discretion on the first night he came to town, but he wasn’t there today. I pull into a ratty strip club called Pom-Poms and the place is going off with lights, smoke, and Aerosmith. Hefty table dancers gyrate over lonely schlubs while a few girls in better shape take a break, watching the girl with no pubes slide down the pole, tipping their own strain. I make my way over to the brass rail, where Antwon pitches crumpled Andrew Jackson fastballs at Miss Innocent on stage. 

“Nice ham,” says the movie star, fanning himself with a bushel of cash.

Miss Innocent gives him the finger. Antwon Legion laughs. I take a seat.

“I always liked you,” the movie star says, “and your brother.”

“What’s with the past tense?”

“Hey Mabel, bring us two shot glasses and a bottle of Jack.”

“Scratch that. I’m not drinking any Jack and neither are you.”

“Fuck you talking about?”

“Bring us a bottle of Mandrin,” I say. “How’s Noelle?”

“She slept with our yoga instructor. Want her number now?”

“You kidding? I know where she’s been,” I say.

The music stops. Movie star milks the moment, then he cracks up.

“My brother Jerry said you guys hung out all the time.”

“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, silence the pianos and with muffled drum, bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”

“Tell me a Jerry story. Make it good,” I say.

“He could’ve been somebody, but it wasn’t his night,” says Antwon Legion.

“The Silent Movie Theatre?”

“No, that night in the Garden,” he says.

“I’m sorry, you lost me.”

“You remember that night in the Garden. You said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night.’ My night? I could’ve taken Wilson apart! I could have gotten a shot at the title, instead of a one-way ticket to Palookaville.”

“Now you’re fucking with me,” I say.

“Step on my line when I say ‘Palookavile.’ Say, ‘I put some bets down, you saw some money.’ Say it, ready? ‘I could have gotten a shot at the title, instead of a one-way ticket to Palookaville—”

“I put some bets down, you saw some money—”

“You don’t understand! You was my brother, Charlie! You should have taken care of me, you should’ve taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have had to take them dives for the short-end money,” says Antwon Legion.

“Who’s Charlie? Finish your drink—”

“You don’t understand! I could’ve been somebody. I could’ve had class! I could’ve been a contender instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”

Miss Innocent approaches the rail, bends over, spreads her cheeks, offers the movie star a Sharpie through her legs—

“Would you mind autographing my asshole?”

MOVIE STAR “AXES” DIRECTOR TO LEAVE FILM

HOLLYWILD—Delaware is still in shock over the shutdown last weekend of the Antwon Legion-starrer Time Out. On Friday the movie star fired the director Franklin Brauner and his focus puller. Crew members of the tanked and yanked-for-good shoot are crying over Midas beers, recounting true tales of terror about the actor’s notorious disposition and generous support of the local prostitution community. Wilmington’s Chancery Court, the Coliseum for corporate litigators expects to see Antwon Legion’s name on their marquee versus local plaintiffs over unpaid locations, rentals, props, salaries, and a six-figure clean-up bill from the city’s sanitation department. $tay tuned.

Lookout Mountain off Laurel. I’m driving to see Franklin, having just seen Lester Barnes to tell him the good news. I’m supposed to follow wizards, crescent moons, forks and knives painted on the parking curbs to Franklin’s house. It’s raining for the first time since I came here for Jerry’s funeral—

“No more working with auteurs, ever!” whispered Lester Barnes from his bedside at Cedars-Sinai earlier today.  

“I wouldn’t put Legion in a room with any of them, not even ThØr Rosenthal! I should have never trusted Franklin to direct anything, what was I thinking? He’s done this to me before,” said Lester Barnes.

“Who, Antwon?”

“Franklin! Pay attention! He could have directed Wheelie with you know, what’s her name, but he got fired when he pushed too hard for so-and-so from that bouncer movie!”

I told him he had it all wrong if he thought the collapse of the picture was Franklin’s fault. Lester Barnes lifted up a corner of the oxygen mask to hiss:

“Why, you serpent’s tooth!”

Lookout Mountain to Wonderland Ave, don’t take Place. Follow the curb drawing Aleister Crowleys with little cone hat, starry cape, magic wand to Duffy Ave. I find Sunset Plaza Drive, careful not to drive off the cliffs.

“You going to Disneyland when you get out of here?” 

“Josh, I’m going back to being a meat and potatoes agent at Omniscience,” says Lester Barnes. 

“You’re leaving Guru?”

“No, Guru is leaving you. I’ve been to the other side, Josh. I was dead.”

I asked the ex-agent, what happens after death?

“I don’t know what’s after your death. I only know what’s after mine. Kay Coleman’s pouring the coffee at Nate ‘n Al’s. All my friends are sitting in their booths, toasted bagels, smoked whitefish, lox and eggs, everybody reading Peter’s column about Legion playing celebrity Jeopardy when the answer Alex Trebek poses to the question is two-picture deal.” 

“Two-picture deal?”

“I talked with the studio. We’re putting Legion on a flat-fee diet, totally Keto.”

According to Lester Barnes, the studio would acquire Generale Films for their film library and expense the cremation of Time Out. The movie star was now under contract for a pair of pictures, mutually agreed upon, in exchange for this multi-million-dollar reprieve.

“Omniscience sent me this drama for Legion. Hockey player addicted to pills, illiterate waitress raising a cello prodigy, they fall in love, food server dies, broke every reader’s heart on the lot!”

“Holy shit, Antwon got Stanley’s Cup?”

“My nurse Carl thinks ‘Oscar’ arrived with the script. I sent Legion to Promises so they can un-fuck Franklin’s mind trip. If you ever set foot again in the state of Delaware, they’ll arrest you.”

Franklin’s in a good mood when I arrive. Inside, sound of rain plinking the roof. Shards of glass crunch under my shoes. Somebody recently threw wine on the walls. Holding a plate of huevos rancheros, Franklin starts talking about Nabokov, telling me about a meeting he had at the Glen with a neighbor, this retired sea captain who loved Pale Fire and wants to help find the money; Hugo Slater likes the part of John Shade, U.K. film distributor Seamus says they’re in, and ICM has been very helpful. My host offers me coffee, retrieves a stack of well-toasted egg bread out of the oven, burns his fingertips. Franklin asks if I want jam (cough! cough!) with my egg bread, I say sure. The director lights up a Camel Wide he finds half-smoked on the windowsill over the sink. I follow Franklin’s liver-spotted hand raising the cigarette up to his peeling lips. Shadows criss-cross his face, at one point forming a blindfold. I’m staring at a wispy rope of yellow cheese stuck on his chin when the phone rings. Franklin ignores the caller. The ringing turns incessant.

“Creditors,” I joke.

“That’s not Citibank, it’s Ling-Ling.”

Franklin tells me the Chinese star of stage and screen miscarried after the shoot. I take a deep breath before I tell Franklin the fantastic news about the studio agreeing to bury his film, the two-picture deal, how everybody took the money. I watch Franklin absorb the information. He stubs out his smoke. Clears the plates from the table. Exits. I’m intrigued by a painting on the wall in his kitchen by Francis Bacon of somebody named Kenneth Anger when a gunshot erupts from the next room.

“Franklin, stop bleeding! We have to stop the bleeding! Oh God it’s everywhere! Keep your eyes open, Franklin! Franklin! I’m calling 911!”

“911 is a joke,” he says.

“I can’t believe you’re still alive! Here! Keep the towel over your forehead. Stop feeling that hole in your head! Stop it, Franklin! Yes! Operator! I need an ambulance now! My best friend shot himself!”

“I wrote everything in a letter you’ll find on the bed.”

“Yes, he’s still alive! Somebody get here quick! 7348 Sunset Plaza, at the very top of Sunset Plaza Drive! Follow the wizards on the curb, make sure they follow the wizards up to the house! Franklin, stop bleeding—”

“The Bacon’s yours. Put my Saab on Craigslist—”

“I don’t want any painting! Shut up! I can’t believe you’re still talking! Hold that towel! Don’t close your eyes, Franklin! Keep talking, stay with me!”

“Jerry didn’t finish the book.”

“Franklin! Keep your eyes open!”

“The book finished him.”

“You have Jerry’s book? Franklin!”

“It’s in there, he called it: His death—”

“Keep talking, Franklin, keep your eyes open! Where is the goddamn ambulance!”

“His killer, a non-pro—”

“Operator! Yes, this is 7348 Sunset Plaza Drive! No, the paramedics haven’t arrived. Yes, he’s still talking, still bleeding!”

“Behind every great fortune is a crime.”


Adam Novak is the author of the novels Take Fountain, The Non-Pro and Freaks of the Industry. His latest novel in the Omniscience series, Rat Park, was published in March by Red Giant Books. 

Categories: Fiction/Poetry

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