“You look chipper,” said Celia, closing the door.
“I was listening to Christian radio by accident,” said Leo.
The apartment was airy and plush. Stacks of art leaned against white brick. He hid his envy with friendly scorn.
“They’re tricky,” said Celia.
“They tricked me,” said Leo, “but I liked it.”
Leo pried himself open to the possibility of help coming from someplace beautiful. His ex-wife’s younger sister was recently engaged to the son of the executive producer and creator of “Corona del Mar.” Leo’s first celebrity crush was on Delilah, the sassy brunette, who died in a single-engine plane crash somewhere in the Caribbean.
When Leo heard of the engagement he sent Celia a sincere congratulatory email. Besides family ties—since frayed—they shared a shifty bond forged through misbehavior. They’d smoked a joint in the parking lot during her father’s funeral and he risked a perjury charge for her benefit in the trial following a ski lodge brawl.
They waded between stiff shopping bags. Celia kicked a few into a crowded closet. “This fall’s shoes, last fall’s skeletons,” she said. “How’s Susan?”
Leo knew he’d have to give the bandage-rip response or his voice might break. “She paid my bail wearing jewelry I didn’t recognize,” he said quickly. “Then we had a loud fight in an empty restaurant.”
“Oh well,” said Celia. “Scott should be home soon. Something to drink?”
Scott seemed idle and preoccupied all at once. His smile was friendly but guarded. After introductions he ran the blender while Leo made small talk. Finally, he poured his drink and sat down. “Celia mentioned you might have some ideas?”
Leo inhaled deeply. Urgency rang in his ears. He looked through his hosts to the windows behind them. Sunlight dripped between towers and stung his eyes. “Terrorist attack at the Harvard-Yale game,” he began. “A foreign exchange student meets a charismatic extremist at a Cambridge coffee joint. A grizzled detective is hot on their tail. ‘My God,’ says the detective, poring over recovered dorm room evidence, ‘the blue blood will run like the fuckin’ river Charles.’”
“Next,” said Scott.
“An animated sitcom set at an aquarium,” said Leo. “A manatee counsels a frazzled marine biologist through various romantic and professional…”
"Next," said Scott.
“Terrorists at an aquarium…”
“Next.” Scott squeezed Celia’s knee and sipped his drink.
Leo felt his lips dry. “Amelia Earhart and Elvis share a desert island yurt. They spear fish, build bonfires, share their reasons for embracing death and shunning society. They effed twice early on and old Amelia’s quick with a raunchy zinger. Maybe they have a bead on an elderly cabal of war criminals stashed nearby.”
Scott massaged the sharp ridges of his cheekbones.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger flies to Hyannis for an awkward Thanksgiving. He escapes the house for a walk on the windy beach where he’s visited by a series of vengeful apparitions: Various Kennedys, his Nazi father, maybe Mary Jo…”
Scott licked drink residue from his stubble and hacked on a berry seed.
“Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones bunk together at Harvard. One’s got money and a sardonic valet and the other’s a football star with devilish good looks. Together they solve the mystery of the Boston Strangler.”
Scott lifted Celia’s cigarette from the ashtray.
“Maybe we tell a simpler story,” said Leo. “A guy meets a girl at a party. They exchange waves across the quad for the rest of the semester. Later, they move somewhere and spend their time working together to try and figure out what’s futile and what’s not. He sells things, she buys things, they share a vague urge to create something, there are accidents and triumphs, an ant problem by the pool, some persistent and nagging moral quandary. And occasionally they fall into a desperate embrace under a toenail moon…”
“That doesn’t sound…commercially viable,” said Celia, flexing new jargon.
Leo was spent. He had one more pitch, but he was saving it for the syrupy reflection in the bathroom mirror after overpowering a bottle’s child lock. Celia flicked on the television and spouted industry gossip about the actors on screen. Scott retrieved a knot of cocaine bookmarked between the glossy pages of a travel magazine.
Eventually Celia found an old episode of “Corona” somewhere high on the dial. Leo was struck by the youth of the actors. He’d become accustomed to their bloated shadows. Delilah, angry with A.J. after another botched scheme or sleek betrayal, teetered on the lip of a Pacific bluff in a lacy nightgown, her eyes drooling dark ink.
“Stay tuned for scenes from next week,” said the announcer.