8 Blue Reckoning

The first thing Megan discovered was that the shoot wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Though the story was ripped from today’s headlines, or last year’s anyway, and they were shooting in Brooklyn, the cast and crew of Blue Reckoning were miles from Kings Plaza where the actual stampede occurred.

“Why the hell did you go there?” the publicist said when she reached him on the phone. He seemed more amused than annoyed though it was hard for Megan to judge; it sounded like he was talking to several people at once, without moving the phone from his mouth when he spoke. “You want to leave that right there where everyone’s going to trip on it?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Sorry, I was talking to somebody here. No, we’re at a different mall, this new one they opened downtown. I don’t even know where Kings Plaza is. You can leave that door open.”

He gave her directions to where the show was shooting today, which was ironically only blocks from her home, right where she had been an hour ago when she left for her interview. “Just look for the trailers and the food trucks,” he instructed her. “And ask for me, okay? I don’t want you going off half-cocked. Open! Abierto! Thank you.”

“Whatever you do, do not let the publicist follow you around,” Larry had said yesterday when they discussed the assignment. Megan had been working at the News for two years now but had never done anything related to show business. She was more interested in social issues, especially immigration. And religion. She had started on the religion desk, back in Florida, back when they still had one.

“Religion, really?” Larry had leaned back in his chair when she told him this, taking off his reading glasses to regard her more fully. Larry was one of the new editors, poached from the Australian, who was supposed to help with the paper’s dwindling circulation. Part of his mission was reassigning reporters old and new, “mixing it up,” as he liked to say.

“You’ve got to learn to punch with both hands,” he had told the scared and demoralized metro staff the day he met them. A lot of his metaphors involved fighting, Megan noted right away, and even though he had been in America for ten years he still wielded his Aussie accent like a pool cue in a bar fight, raising it higher when someone disagreed with him. “Writing about the same thing all the time is boring for you and your readers.”

But he had seemed genuinely curious about her interest in religion. “You mean like nuns and such? Pederast priests and all that?”

Megan blushed slightly under the scrutiny, aware all the time that Larry was trying to be provocative. “Not so much, though I’m interested in the monastic life. The calling. But I’m also interested in people who try to bring religion and spirituality places in unexpected ways. I really wanted to do a story about these Buddhists who teach meditation in prison.”

That was when Larry’s interest had flagged, as his gaze slipped down to her breasts. “Well, I guess they’re the ones with the time on their hands, right? But for right now let’s stick with the cops and robbers, shall we?”

“And the immigrant angle,” Megan had reminded him.

Yesss,” hissed Larry. “The poor immigrant, flattened by capitalism.”

Megan had brought the story to the morning edit meeting, piping up about the approaching anniversary of the Black Friday stampede in which a security guard, a recent immigrant from Haiti, had been crushed by shoppers panicking to get through the doors of a department store in Brooklyn for their annual post-Thanksgiving sale. The story had been front-page news back then, and anniversaries always helped, especially on a slow news day. But what really sealed the deal was when she mentioned that Blue Reckoning, a police procedural series filmed on the streets of New York, was going to do an episode based on the story. The family of the immigrant had sued the store after his death and the case was working its way through the courts.

The combination of a real-life tragedy and a popular TV show proved irresistible to Larry, as she had guessed it would. But as he mulled the angles in front of her colleagues, and several of them eyed her with naked envy and resentment, she placed a cherry on top of the sundae. “And Crispus Martin, who plays the captain, is the son of a Haitian immigrant,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting to get his take.”

“Isn’t this really a TV story?” This had come from Angela, a television reporter who was wary of others poaching from her territory. She had snorted softly when Megan identified Crispus Martin – “who plays the captain” – as if that was even necessary given his exploits on and off camera.

“Oh, I think there’s plenty of stories to go around,” Larry had said, swiveling to include the whole room, and Megan was relieved to see him making this an issue, using her as an example of the new way he wanted things to be done. “I would like everyone to stop being so bloody territorial, if you might. Besides, I think Megan here has an interesting angle on this.” He turned his focus on Megan again and began barking orders. “Find out how soon they’re shooting the episode. See if you can get your hands on the script. Angela can help you there,” and with that he shot a look at the TV reporter who winced as if he had shot her with a rubber band. “Talk to John Trowel, if he’ll deign to speak to you. And by all means, get an interview with Mr. Martin, in person. See if you can get him to take his shirt off.”

“See if you can stop him,” somebody said, and the whole room had erupted in laughter. Megan had no idea what they were laughing about but smiled and nodded anyway.

A quick Nexis search and Megan had gotten up to speed on Crispus Martin. He seemed best known for being a sort of Lothario on the social scene – most of the stories she found of him were from the gossip pages, where he was usually photographed in clubs with younger (and whiter) actresses. And though Blue Reckoning was considered a better-than-average show of its type, and had just been signed for a fourth season, the consensus seemed to be that Martin had been destined for bigger things. His early stage and film work, in the eighties and nineties, got him mentioned in the same sentence as Laurence Fishburne and Samuel Jackson then. Now he was a captain on TV cop show, not the detective who went in guns blazing, not even the zealous DA who prosecuted the bad guys. It was, she quickly gleaned, a rather thankless role but female viewers and bloggers seemed to want to see more of his character, or at least his physique. Hence the joke about his shirt, which came off in three of the episodes she watched on Hulu.

Now here she was parking in the lot she’d been directed to, putting her press credentials in the window on top of the dashboard. She turned off the engine of her Prius and sighed. She always had butterflies before doing interviews but at least with real people she felt she had an advantage. They saw the notebook and usually they just started talking, it never failed to amaze her. Poorer people often asked, “Am I gonna have my name in the paper?” With show business people and politicians, anyone with a publicist and a hoop to jump through, she felt humbled and defeated before she began. She just didn’t care enough to pretend that she did.

She checked her phone messages. There was one from the office of John Trowel, the show’s creator, saying they had conveyed her request for an interview to him; he was running another show in LA, it seems, but would try and contact her by phone. Another from Angela, saying that the guy she knew at the show was being “a dick” about getting her a script and suggesting that Megan just try asking the publicist. And a third from her roommate, Cindy, who wanted to know what time she was getting home.

“I thought we could stay in and bake brownies, maybe watch a movie,” she said. Cindy, who Megan had known in college, had just moved here from Ohio and was looking for work. Though she had told Megan she wanted to explore the city, she had opted nearly every night since she arrived two months ago to stay home. “I rented the Muppets Take Manhattan,” she said.

Megan did not bother to respond but set off instead in search of the publicist. She had already wasted nearly two hours driving out to the end of Flatbush and back and was alarmed to find some of the crew gathered around the food trucks, already eating lunch.

“A lot of these guys get here at five in the morning,” the publicist said, when she finally found him. “By 11 o’clock they’re starving.”

The publicist’s name was Bryan (“With a ‘y,’” he’d told her the first time they talked on the phone) and was much older than she had imagined. From his voice and the endless snarky wisecracking he’d engaged in she assumed he was her age or younger, but Bryan had the sunken eyes of a veteran and the shaved pate of a man trying to mask his vanishing hairline. He rubbed his head when she asked him about a script as if he was rubbing for a genie.

“Ah, that’s not as simple as it sounds.” They were sitting inside a trailer, one of a row of similar trailers parked on a side street by the mall where they were shooting. He kept the door open while he talked to her and occasionally crewmembers stuck their heads inside, glanced at them both as if they weren’t there, and disappeared.

“I don’t have to quote from it,” Megan said. The episode in question wouldn’t be on for weeks and she assumed that Bryan was worried that she would give something away.

“Because these are very fluid things,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “It’s not just the dialog; it can be the very plot itself. The way John works is that he takes what the writers have done – and these are people who’ve been painstaking, you understand, who have done all the research and put a lot of heart and guts into this script – and John will just take that sometimes and throw it away. Throw the whole thing right in the trash.” He smiled at her as if that were a good thing.

“Yeah, but you have a script you’re shooting from, right?” Though she had only been working on this story for a couple days, Megan was already getting annoyed with people who acted like making a TV show was some sacred science, something she couldn’t possibly understand. “I just want to know what the basic plot is.”

“I hear you,” Bryan said, even as he shook his head. “And it’s not people like you, you know; we think of newspaper people as honest brokers, for the most part. No, it’s the bloggers, you know? I mean, bad enough they kill you for shit you did; they’ll write about stuff that was never even broadcast, lines from scripts we didn’t use. And with a subject this sensitive we have to take every precaution.”

“But how would a blogger get the script?” said Megan. “From me? I could read it right here before your eyes.”

Bryan smiled. “Then I’d have to sit here and watch you read it.”

She closed her notebook to indicate that she understood that nothing was going to happen. “Can we meet Crispus Martin now?”

As they walked to his trailer Bryan kept talking. “You’re really gonna like Crispus, I can feel it. I mean, he has his reputation, you know?” He paused for a moment as if the actor’s reputation was a spirit he had conjured and they could both see it before them. “And they say he doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” emphasizing the expression as if it were funny. “Not that you’re a fool.”

“Thank you.”

“But if he likes you, you’re in, you know? And I’m sure he’s gonna like you.” They stopped in front of a wooden door, identical to all the wooden doors on all the trailers. Megan didn’t know what she had expected, a star with his name on it? But she felt vaguely disappointed.

“I’ll just make the introductions,” Bryan said, in sort of a stage whisper, “then maybe sit in while you guys talk.”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.” She knew from experience how difficult it could be talking to anyone with a third party there and she could just imagine what kind of interjections Bryan might make.

“Okay,” he said, looking slightly hurt. “I’ve got plenty to do.”

 

Crispus Martin had done his own research before the interview, Googling Megan’s name and reading some stories with her byline. He had called Bryan to complain afterwards.

“As far as I can tell she doesn’t even cover television,” he said. “I’ve got a story here about a fire in a nightclub that killed a bunch of people, and some kid getting sent back to the Sudan.”

“She’s working the immigrant angle on this story,” Bryan had said.

“What immigrant angle?”

“The guy who gets killed, the security guard. He’s supposed to be an immigrant. Though I’m not sure from where yet.”

“Right, right.” Crispus had tried to sound like he was remembering something he already knew before he hung up on Bryan without saying goodbye. Maybe he had known that, he honestly couldn’t remember. He knew not to read the scripts too closely in advance because things always changed at the last minute. Women turned into men, doctors became lawyers. It didn’t have anything to do with him.

If Crispus had any real problem with the show, and his role in it (and he tried to remember every day to be grateful to be working, even saying a prayer of gratitude some mornings, before his daily workout) it was that the captain’s role was so peripheral. He never even had a backstory until Crispus pushed them on it; he could have been from the moon for all they cared. Everybody else had some deal – Frankie’s character was an angry young man with a drinking problem, big stretch there, podner! And Irana, who played the ambitious young assistant DA was supposed to have had a dad who was a crook and hurt her mom or something; that was her motivation.

But Captain Lance Morgan (and what kind of gay-ass name was that?) just showed up and frowned a lot, barked at the cops when they fucked up, fought with the mayor’s people when they stopped an investigation, or started one, for political reasons. It was more like being a traffic cop than a cop, a playground monitor. So he tried to put as much into what lines he had when he could, ask for more sometimes.

John had been on the set just a few weeks ago and Crispus had cornered him between set-ups to talk to him about this one line he had – one of ten but who counts lines, right? Frankie and his team had just fucked up good, let some judge’s friend leave the country after posting bail, and they had to come tell Capt. Morgan, who just stared at them and said, “Is that all you got for me?” He had asked for a couple of takes and after the fifth he had heard Frankie mutter, “Could you say the line any fucking slower?”

“It just seems like the tip of this iceberg, you know what I’m sayin’?” he’d said to John. He always did a bit of street jive for the show’s creator, who often responded in kind. “Like he’s expressing his disappointment in the whole system, man: ‘Is that all you’ve got for me, America?’ I think we could really tap into something there.”

And John had stroked his silky little soul patch, the kind that everyone, even white dudes, used to call “nigger stickers” when Crispus was a kid, liked to see some white dude try that now. And he’d said, “I hear you, Crispus. Really. But I think you need to take that feeling and crystallize it,” and with that he made a gesture like someone squeezing a lemon. “Make it your own and add it to what you know about Morgan. You’ve got a whole mine full of those kind of diamonds, man.”

Well, all crystals aren’t diamonds, dipshit. But Crispus had smiled and given him the protracted brother handshake John wanted before he went on his merry way. Win some, lose some. The last time he had cornered him like that it was before an episode where Morgan attended a kid’s funeral. And somehow Crispus had convinced John to add a scene in which Morgan revealed that some kid he’d known growing up had been killed in a gang fight like this kid, which was why he hated gangs so much, and after the funeral when he was still by the grave after everyone left he really got to cry in the pouring rain, and even ripped his shirt off to show how much he was grieving.

Fucking blogs went crazy.

Then Bryan showed up with the reporter and Crispus made a big show of answering the door himself, looming over them both as they stood on the tiny steps leading up to his trailer and staring at them both with his most baleful look, the one he saved for craven politicians or maitre d’s who pretended they didn’t know who he was, and then breaking it with his impossibly white smile.

“So nice of you to pay us a visit,” he said to the girl – Marion? Something with an M? – once he got her settled in a chair and got rid of Bryan. He was sitting on the corner of the little desk provided him, dressed in one of the sharp-cut suits Capt. Morgan favored. He had offered her tea and water and was relieved when she wanted neither but just opened her notebook. No tape recorder though, which annoyed him but he said nothing. He felt a sting of sweat under one of his arms and knew he would have to remove his jacket soon, but was saving that for later.

“Well, I know you’re busy,” she began, though honestly, Crispus didn’t know what he was doing today. Rewrites, we’ll keep you posted. Which would give him no time to learn his lines, if he even had any. And then she started in on the immigrant business.

“Your father was from Haiti,” she said. “Does the story of an immigrant like this, killed in his new country, have any resonance for you?” And Crispus nodded and tried to imagine a different dad than the one he’d had, the one he could remember. Some hardworking humble dude who never saw it coming.

“Let me tell you a little something about my father,” he began, hiking his pant-leg up a little before he began. “This was a cultured man, a very fine singer, who wanted nothing more than to come to this country and make it. He had a dream of singing in a metropolitan opera, or a symphony or sacred choir. He had the training; he had the chops. In Haiti he was already something of a star. But because of who he was, where he was from and the color of his skin, he couldn’t get arrested here. So he used to go out at night and scream at the ocean – this was when we were living in Maryland, you understand, over near the Eastern Shore – late at night, when no one could hear him.” He shot her a look, making sure she was listening, and then lifted his head again, giving her the advantage of his right profile. “And what I didn’t understand was that he was destroying his art, his gift, because he couldn’t fulfill his dream. So that’s what I think about when I think of my father, the immigrant. That’s the legacy I want to remember.”

He looked back at her and was surprised to find her notebook was open and empty on her lap. “Aren’t you gonna write any of that down?” She lifted the notebook up in front of her and scribbled something, too little to even touch on the story he’d just told her. Then she asked him about the plot of this episode, was the force going after the store for being irresponsible and allowing someone with no experience in crowd control to try and handle a mob of angry shoppers? He really wasn’t at liberty to discuss the script, he said, though actually he had no idea. And was it difficult for him to work like that, not knowing what the ultimate story might be when the issue was one so close to him and his personal beliefs? Crispus smiled indulgently and answered patiently: He had complete faith in John “and the whole franchise” to handle this and any story with the utmost sensitivity, not bothering to add that he had no idea what his personal beliefs were.

He tried to work in a few references to his earlier career, his Othello at the Public, and his big breakthrough in the revival of Hair. (Was it worth mentioning then some women came just to see him naked at the end of the first act? Probably some men, too.) But she kept turning the story back to immigration and race, and Crispus was running out of things to say. Yeah, he wished he was offered better roles in films, something other than the mack daddies and the drug kingpins. But he was grateful to John and everyone for the opportunity to play this complicated –

“And what about your son?”

For a minute he was afraid that she was going to ask him something he was fuzzy on, like his age which was hard when he couldn’t remember his birthday, or the name of that fucking ridiculously expensive prep school his mom sent him to, though he could sure as hell tell her how much it costs! “What about him?” he said, his teeth like a shield.

“How is his experience different than yours? Is that something you talk about with him? Having an immigrant grandfather?”

Softball. “My father died when Leon was quite young,” Crispus said softly. “All those years of having the door closed in his face finally wore him down.”

Now she was writing something, good girl! And he was about to add a few grace notes about his involvement in his son’s life – being near him was one of the reasons Crispus had taken this role, to be in a show that was shot in New York! That was in the press kit, if this woman had bothered to read it. But there was a knock on the door and an AD, some kid with a headset and a clipboard, told him he was needed on the set.

Crispus stood and shook her hand with an air of real regret. She hadn’t even asked him about his workout routine, something Men’s Health tried to steal from him in exchange for a cover, until his agent pointed it out he could probably make a book out of it, get some real money – Crispus’ Crunches, or something, the Ultimate Workout for the Mature Man. Though “mature” wasn’t quite right, they were still working on the proposal. They hadn’t found the right writer yet. But she was gone, just like that, running from the place like he had the flu.

The interview left a bad taste in his mouth and by the end of the day Crispus was feeling totally jerked around. A scene he’d had in the department store had been completely rewritten and left him without much to do but stand there with his hands on his hips while the cops arrested the store manager, who looked like an Indian, and where had that guy come from? Hell, he had more lines than Crispus. And then Jemma, his personal assistant, told him she couldn’t get him a table at the Waverly that night and he told her to keep trying, call Graydon’s office if she had to. “Do I have to do everyone’s job?” he asked the empty trailer after he had hung up and then wondered for a moment in the silence who else’s job he was doing.

Then that night, when he did finally get a table thank you very much, he was trying to make this girl Manuela someone had set him up with but he could hardly hear himself talk and her English wasn’t that great to start with so here he was yelling some story he’d told before and she just looked at him and smiled and sipped her drink, and when they got outside she just flagged a cab like it had been waiting there for her, and he was all alone. A minute ago he was getting crushed in the bar, could hardly move, and now nothing. There weren’t even paparazzi hanging outside, which in this case might have been just as well.

Back at his apartment he kept playing the interview back in his mind, thinking of things he should have said. “Give the answers you want, forget about the questions she has,” Bryan had told him before the visit and Crispus had choked, let himself go wandering off where she’d probably make him look like a fool. Or worse, leave him out of the story altogether. He was thinking of a few things he would have liked to have said, “if you can handle the truth,” he could hear him self saying when he opened a cupboard and found a bottle of Courvoisier smiling back at him.

“Well, hello stranger,” he said, and removed the bottle as if he were lifting a kitten out of a basket. His call had been moved back in the morning, which was no excuse, but he couldn’t get with that damn Mexican girl either, so what was he supposed to do? It would give him something to talk about in therapy.

He was on his second glass when he decided to call the reporter. She had given him her card, with her home number written on the back, and he was imagining her there, filing her story. He wasn’t sure how reporters filed their stories – did they go to a big file and put them in and then someone pulled them out? Even though he had played the editor of a Washington newspaper in a movie once, he hadn’t spent much time talking to the real newspaper people who were hanging around, getting paid to be consultants. Leave that Method shit to other actors.

“Hello, you’ve reached the home office of Megan MacDonnell but I’m either on assignment or on the other line. At the tone you have all the time you want to leave me a detailed message.”

By the beep Crispus had already kicked off his shoes and was now standing in front of a full-length mirror in his hallway, unbuttoning his shirt as he stared at himself holding the receiver.

“Hello, Megan, this is Crispus Martin calling.” He let his voice drop into a Barry White register, pausing a moment so she could absorb the enormity of him leaving a message on her home phone. “Sorry you had to leave today before we finished talking; I’m a slave to the schedule, like everyone else. But I thought I might like to add a few things I didn’t get to say earlier.”

Even as he filled the snifter for the third time, and he thought of the folly of leaving a long message on a reporter’s answering machine, Crispus felt no fear. He wanted her to understand him. He wanted her to know where he was coming from.

 

When Megan got home she found a plate full of brownies waiting for her on the kitchen table, meticulously cut and covered with Saran Wrap. There was a note from Cindy – “I saved the movie for you!!!” – and no sign that she had baked anything that night. The pan, mixing bowl, measuring cup – all had been washed and put away.

The day had been a disaster. She might have known when she drove all the way out to Kings Plaza for no reason – that was a bad omen. But she had learned early on not to predict the outcome of a given day before it was over. Her father had taught her that, when she was still in high school. “I’m having a bad day,” she would say, first thing in the morning when she couldn’t find the right stockings or she remembered a homework assignment she had forgot, and he would say, “You can’t say what kind of a day it is until it’s over.”

Well, this one was over and based on his advice she could now say it had been a stinker. The interview with Crispus Martin had been a wash; the guy had nothing to say, and every story he had sounded like he had told it so many times he was reciting from memory. And he kept giving her this weird smile, like he was running for something.

Then when she left, and was denied access to the set, she found a bunch of extras milling around outside. At first Megan had thought they were gawkers, and then she noticed a few placards and her spirits rose when she thought maybe they were protesting something.

“We’ve been here for a couple hours and haven’t done anything yet,” a young black man in a watch cap told her. “I think at some point we’re supposed to stand by the entrance when they shoot something inside and protest.” He watched her as she wrote. “Hey, you couldn’t put my picture in the story, could you? I have a head shot with me.”

Megan took the envelope from him, mostly so he would keep talking. “And what are you supposed to be protesting? What does your sign say?”

He picked up a placard that had been lying at his feet and showed her the front of it. It was a blank white piece of cardboard.

“I guess they’re going to put it in later,” he said with a shrug. “CGI or something.”

Larry had laughed when she told him that back in the newsroom. “Oh, that is brilliant. I mean, how purrfect. They don’t know what they’re fucking protesting yet so they leave the signs blank.” He pointed at her. “That might be your lede. And how was Mr. Martin?”

“Kind of disappointing,” she said. “He didn’t really have much to say.”

“They never do.”

“And he was so much smaller than I thought he would be.”

“Everyone says that when they meet a star. They’re a race of tiny people with huge heads. Like aliens, really.”

And then, as she began typing up her notes, Angela came by and dropped a script on her desk. Her guy had finally come through. “Don’t ask me what I had to do to get this,” she said.

Megan had read the script quickly, with a growing a feeling of despair. Then she went and stood in Larry’s doorway until he paused in his phone conversation to look at her. “Hold on a second,” he said, covering up the mouthpiece.

“They’ve changed the whole thing,” she said, shaking the bound sheaf of paper at him. “He’s not even a Haitian anymore, he’s supposed to be from Somalia. And it turns out he’s part of some terrorist cell or something and the manager is an Al Qaeda operative. It doesn’t even make any sense!”

“When you’re handed a lemon, you make lemonade,” he’d said calmly. “Talk about the reaction of the Haitian community, the sense of betrayal or something. Play up that angle. We can hold it for a few days.”

And she knew, as she returned to her computer, that she had nothing, that the story might not run at all and if it did it certainly wouldn’t be on the front page. Barring some dramatic development, she had just faded back into the crowd with the rest of the reporters.

She was unwrapping the brownies and listening to her messages, thinking she should really make something before she had a brownie and knowing she wouldn’t. The first call was from her mother, just saying hello, and then for several minutes she listened to the inside of her mother’s purse – she had still not figured out how to hang up her iPhone and Megan often found long muffled messages from her. The next call was from David at the Prison Dharma Network, asking her if she was still interested in writing something about them. “We’re going out to Rykers tomorrow,” he said, “if you’d like to join us.” He left a number that Megan didn’t even bother to write down.

And then she was surprised to hear Crispus Martin’s voice. She checked the time; he’d called after midnight and sounded a little loaded. There was something else in his voice too, a hint of malice that had been missing before. “I thought I might like to add a few things I didn’t get to say earlier,” he said and she fumbled for her notebook. All she needed was for him to say something impolitic and her story was back on the front burner.

He started talking about the roles he got and Megan scribbled as she listened, brownie crumbs falling on the white formica table top. “I don’t think I was being entirely truthful,” he said. “I don’t really get that many pimps and gangsta roles sent my way these days. Now it’s always judge, or mayor, or president. It seems like the less power black people have in the real world, the more we get on screen.” She put quote marks around that one but immediately thought of Larry and imagined him saying, “Did I miss something or isn’t the president black?”

“I’m glad your machine isn’t going to cut me off,” Crispus’ recorded voice said. “Though I should be careful what I say, right? Don’t want to say anything bad about the show! Or forget to say how grateful I am for the opportunity to play Capt. Lance Morgan! Not exactly the kind of thing you could sell to TMZ – hahaha! Though I could talk about my ex I guess – hahaha!”

His laughter sounded like more a yoga breathing exercise, three sharp exhalations of breath, and she imagined for a moment he was doing his famous workout, maybe hanging upside down from a bar. Then she heard liquid being poured into a glass.

“I was thinking about that story I told you about my father.” A pause, the sound of him sipping. “He used to tell us that story about screaming at the ocean and then after he was gone I mentioned it to my moms and she just rolled her eyes.” More sipping. “She said, ‘Your dad may have gone out and screamed at the traffic, but I never heard him yelling at the ocean.’ I mean, she didn’t come out and say he’d just made it up but you could kind of tell.” Another pause. “You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this. Kind of like being in therapy – hahaha!

“And I forgot to add, my dad hated that I was an actor. Used to call me a faggot when I was in high school. Yeah. Came backstage once when I was on Broadway; they were putting makeup on me and he said it reminded him of when he worked in a meatpacking plant. ‘They used to spray that beef red,’ he said. ‘The painting you up like a piece of meat.’”

Megan had wanted an answering machine that wouldn’t cut people off when they left a message, imagining some long message of Watergate weight. And in fact she had asked her own therapist where he got his; she took great comfort in hearing his recorded voice say, “You have as long as you want to leave a message for me.” Now she was regretting having got one for herself.

“Anyway, you’re probably waiting for me to get to the point.” He paused, no laughter this time. “But you asked me about my son – Leon. And at first I thought, well, it doesn’t matter what I thought. But you know, the truth is he’s never been to the set. And even though we were shooting in Brooklyn all last week – we’re over there all the time now, it’s gotten really nice! Just try buying one of those townhouses – hahaha! But we were there all week long and I never thought of calling him. Like to see what he thinks of me getting all made up.”

Crispus’ voice got thick and she thought he was crying. She had stopped writing now and was staring at the machine. “And why am I telling you this? That’s probably what you’re wondering, right? Who am I? ‘Who Is He and What Is He To You?’ You remember that song?” She heard him take another sip and make a slight gasp afterwards. “Of course you don’t. Way before your time.”

Megan pushed the stop button on the machine. She knew she couldn’t use any of this and for an instant she felt like crying. It was an opportunity to distinguish herself, to write a story that would make the front page, and she couldn’t use it. Some other reporter, maybe. A person she hadn’t been.

Then she pushed the play button again, closed her eyes and listened.

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