“Two Day Rental”

(published in Dark Waters Anthology Volume 1, Dec. 11, 2023. Edited by Kirstyn Petras, and N.B. Turner)

“Two Day Rental” by Victor De Anda

West Los Angeles, CA. 1999

Orson Welles was twenty-three when he directed Citizen Kane. My twenty-fifth birthday’s a month away, but my broke ass is working in a video store until a real gig comes along. You’d think a diploma from USC would help, but so far, no dice. This job’s only temporary until the muse blesses me with a hit screenplay. That bitch is a fickle one, let me tell you.

It’s a quiet Thursday afternoon at Cinematic when the cordless rings out like an alarm clock. A handful of customers stagger between the VHS and DVD racks like zombies in a Romero movie. Some look like film students, others like out of work actors and filmmakers. A few look familiar, but most of them are just nobodies. 

They all come to Cinematic for the movies they can’t find at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. Talk to any movie geek in L.A. and they’ll tell you we’ve got the best selection in town. I suppose there are worse places to work. Besides, as employees, we get free movie rentals. 

The cordless rings again on the front counter. It’s within reach, but my gut reaction’s to let someone else answer it. Scott, our store manager is perched on his stool behind the cash register. The cordless rings again and he lowers the Premiere magazine he’s been reading. His raised eyebrows remind me of my station in life here. “That phone’s not going to answer itself,” he says. He snatches the cordless from its cradle and slides it along the counter towards me like it’s a glass of beer in an old Western saloon.

I pick up the phone and shoot a glance at Scott. He’s the boss and I’m not. I tap the “talk” button and cradle the cordless to my ear. “Cinematic, this is Guillermo. How can I help you?”

“What’d you say? Is this Cinematic?” It’s a man’s voice, loud and obnoxious. A woman’s voice fills the background. 

“That’s what I just said, sir,” I reply. “Any other questions?”

The guy on the line cups his phone speaker. Muffled yelling ensues. He’s telling his female companion to shut up. Then he comes back on.

“Sorry about that. Can you check to see if I have an account there? I can’t fucking remember,” he says. “I’m in a rush.”

I give a tiny sigh. “Can I get your name?” This guy’s a store whore, you know the type. People who have so many video store memberships, they can’t keep track of them all. How hard is that?

“It’s Chris Donaldson,” he says. “Might be under Christopher. And like I said, I’m in a hurry, so chop-chop, please.”

I find his name on the membership list when it clicks in my head. He’s Christopher Donaldson, big-time action director. His last two movies, Annihilator, and Annihilator 2 made over five hundred million combined at the box office, according to the trades. I never saw either of them, don’t need to. He’s just the latest Hollywood hack, albeit a rich one. But why him and not me? That’s the mantra in this town.  

“Christopher Donaldson,” I tell him. “Yes sir, you’re a member here.” My manager Scott puts his magazine down on the counter and looks my way. Now he’s interested in the call. 

“About fucking time,” Donaldson says. “I’m looking for some movies.”

Now it’s become a snoop call. Customers who can’t, or won’t search the titles for themselves. Always get them in the store, Scott tells us. In the store and they’ll buy more.

I throw Donaldson a line to see if he bites. “We’re open ’til ten if you’d like to come in and browse our selection,” I tell him. “You might find some other movies to rent. We’ve also got some cool director t-shirts, film books, and popcorn.” 

“Don’t need that other shit, I’ve got to be in the Valley in an hour,” Donaldson says. “I need you to bring the movies to my car, if you’ve got them.” 

Scott’s still looking at me, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. “Sir, we can’t do that for you,” I tell Donaldson. “You’re welcome to come in and take a look—”

“Do you fucking know who I am?” Donaldson screams into the receiver. “I need these movies for a ninety-million dollar pitch at Warner Brothers in an hour. Traffic is going to suck ass. Do I need to spell it out?”

I’ve met lots of cool movie people while working at the store. Donaldson isn’t one of them. “I’m sorry sir,” I tell him. “Here at Cinematic we serve all of our customers equally. That means no special treatment.”

There’s silence on Donaldson’s end of the line. Now Scott grows even more interested in my phone call. He scribbles something down on a yellow Post-It note and holds it up for me to read: WHAT DOES HE WANT???

“Listen, you shit stain,” Donaldson bellows. “My last movie made more money than you’ll make in a lifetime. You understand that? Now tell me—” 

“Please hold,” I tell Donaldson. 

I punch the “hold” button and tell Scott what Donaldson wants. His eyes go wide and he tells me how we’ve got to help Donaldson out. How it would be bad for business if we piss him off. I let out a weary sigh and bite my tongue. This fucking town. I take Donaldson off hold. 

“—you fucking got that?” Donaldson shouts from his end. “Now put your manager on the phone.”

“Actually, I’m the manager, sir. My name is Guillermo,” I say. I often pretend to be the manager with difficult customers, since Scott avoids conflict like the plague. “I can help you. What movies are you looking for and where are you parked?”

On Donaldson’s end of the call there’s more static and more yelling at his female companion. Then the sounds of rustling paper. “About damn time, Gandalf,” Donaldson spits. “Here’s my list: I need Eisenstein’s Mexico movie, something called I Am Cuba, and Touch of Evil by Welles. You got those?”

“We do carry them, let me check if they’re in the store and not rented out,” I say. “Please hold.”

Five minutes later I’ve got the movies in hand and I pick up the phone. “Sir, you’re in luck, those are in.”

Donaldson grumbles at his lady friend, then he’s back on the line. “About fucking time,” he says. “Charge them to my card, alright? I’m parked in the alley behind the store, it’s the blue BMW 750i.”

I throw the DVDs into a plastic “THANK YOU” bag and walk out the back door of the store. Donaldson’s BMW is sitting there idling with the trunk popped open. He’s squabbling with his girlfriend when he sees me and rolls down the window. 

He tears the aviators off his face and glares at me. “Throw them in the trunk. And tell Geronimo he’s an asshole. You got that?” 

I put the videotapes in the trunk and thump it after closing. Without hesitating, Donaldson peels out, tires screeching. Tearing down the alley, he takes the corner on two wheels and disappears. Time for my lunch break.

The following week, it’s a busy Friday night when the cordless rings. A tickle forms in my stomach. Scott, in a surprising move, picks up the phone. After talking to the caller, he offers me the handset. “It’s Donaldson, he’s asking for you,” Scott tells me. “Actually he asked for Gilbert, but I think he means you.” 

Figures. Assholes latch onto me like flies on shit. I roll my eyes and take the phone from Scott. 

“Don’t piss him off,” Scott says. “We need the business.” He stands closer to me so he can eavesdrop on the call.

I cradle the phone to my ear. “This is Guillermo, how can I help you?”

“Gabriel,” Donaldson says. “Thanks for your help last week, you saved my ass. Of course, those pricks at the studio didn’t like my idea, but fuck them. I need another favor from you.” 

 My neck tenses up and my eyes go to Scott. He mouths the words “WHATEVER HE NEEDSto me. I nod my head NO at Scott. I’m not going to put up with this jackass again. Scott mouths the words “DO IT FOR CINEMATIC.” A beat later, I bite my tongue until I can taste the blood in my mouth. 

“Hello? You still there?” Donaldson says.

I take a deep breath. “I’m here, Mr. Donaldson, what can I do for you?

A yippy dog whines in Donaldson’s background. He yells at someone. “Get this fucking dog out of here,” he says to them. Then he’s back. “Okay Gideon, here’s what I need.”

I cover the phone’s receiver and let out a sigh. Scott is practically breathing down my neck, straining to hear the conversation.

On the phone, ice cubes clink inside a glass. A drink is poured. Donaldson takes a sip and exhales. “I want you to close the store,” he says.

A frown grows on my face. “Why would I close the store, sir?” I tell him.

“Here’s the deal,” Donaldson says. “I’d like to come in and look for some movies to rent, but I don’t want anyone else in there. How much does the store make in an hour? Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” 

My teeth hurt from grinding. “Please hold, sir.”

Scott leans in, anxious to hear the latest demand. “What’s he want now?”

I let out another long sigh. “He wants to close the whole fucking store for an hour so he can shop alone.”

“This will work,” Scott says, rubbing his hands together like Scrooge McDuck. “We’re behind on rent and need the money. Tell him it’ll cost two grand.”

I give Scott a bullet-eyed stare. “I suppose you want me to work that night too.” 

“Could you?” Scott says with a pleading look. “Donaldson isn’t going to want anybody else here. You know he likes you.”

“Fine,” I say. “Let’s see what he says.”

I pick up the phone and take it off hold. “Sir, we can accommodate you, it’s going to cost you three thousand.” Scott gives me a “no you didn’t” look.

More dog whining on Donaldson’s end of the call. “Three grand huh?” he says. “Popular spot. I’ll give you twenty-five hundred.”

“Deal,” I tell him. “When would you like to come in?”

Donaldson yells at someone to get him another drink. “I’ll be there in an hour,” he says. 

“An hour?”

He hangs up, dial tone filling my ears.

I look at Scott. “You want to make the announcement or should I?”

An hour later at 10pm, I’ve locked the front door and and put up a sign that says “CLOSED FOR PRIVATE EVENT.” Disappointed customers try to talk their way inside to no avail. Scott’s told the rest of the staff to go home. Still no sign of Donaldson. We’re open until 11 on Fridays, but now this jackass is pushing his luck. Scott straps on his backpack and heads toward the back door. “Let me know when he shows up,” he says. “I’ll be home.” Then he leaves. 

By 11 o’clock, Donaldson still hasn’t shown up. I’ve been watching “The Maltese Falcon” on the store TV while I wait. Such a great movie. More customers reach the front door, read the sign, and leave in a huff. Some drop off their movies in the return slot with a thud. At 11:15, I decide to call it a night. I’ve turned everything off and gathered my things when there’s a loud pounding at the back door. Of course.

I grab the store’s security system—an old Louisville Slugger—and slowly approach the back door. “We’re closed,” I say. “Who is it?” 

“That you, Gideon?” says Donaldson. “My apologies, I was detained. Can we still do this?”

I open the back door and there he is, Mr. Bigshot Hollywood director. He’s a lot shorter in real life. Most celebrities are, unless it’s Liam Neeson or Conan O’Brien, those fuckers are tall, I’ve seen them in person. “I was about to close up,” I tell him. “We didn’t think you were going to show.”

Donaldson struts in with his gal pal, a leggy blonde who’s wearing too much perfume and a skirt that would fit better on a small child. “I’ll only be half an hour, tops,” he slurs. “Want to show me around?” His Glenfiddich breath mixes with his lady friend’s Chanel No. 5 and makes my head swirl. 

“Step right in,” I say, shutting the door behind them.

Donaldson stumbles around the racks lined with VHS boxes and DVD cases. “You got an Italian horror section? I might be doing a Giallo picture next, whatever the hell that means.”

I point him to the back corner of the store. “Right there. It’s categorized by director—Argento, Fulci, Bava—“

Donaldson’s girlfriend stops in the center of the store and checks her fingernails. “I’m bored,” she announces. “How long we going to be here?”

Donaldson is busy looking at the giallo movie covers. “Not long, baby,” he tells her. “Keep your panties on.”

I drop my backpack on the floor next to the cash register when my stomach growls. I was going to grab some Taco Bell on the way home, but the drive-thru near my place closes at midnight. Donaldson is going to take his sweet time, that’s for sure.

“Where do you keep the Westerns?” Donaldson says. His girlfriend hasn’t moved from the spot she stopped on. She picks up a VHS box and studies it. 

“They’re around the corner here,” I say, leading him to the Western section. “Grouped by director, of course. Any specific one you looking for?”

Donaldson’s hands are full with VHS boxes he’s picked up. “Have you got that one with Toshiro Mifune and Bronson? Red something?”

Wow. Donaldson actually has taste in movies? Quite surprising for a Hollywood hack. “Red Sun,” I say. “Great movie. We do have it.” I pick the movie off the shelf and hand it to him. 

He trades me his stack of rental picks so that he can peruse the VHS box for Red Sun. “Fox wants me to direct a remake of this, but their script sucks. Figured I should check out the original.”

“Why not just adapt a novel, baby,” Donaldson’s girlfriend says. “There are plenty of books that would make great movies. Why not make a movie of The Notebook? That one made me cry.”

Donaldson turns to his lady friend. “Did I ask you to say something? Go read another book or something.” Then he looks at me and rolls his eyes. He grabs another handful of VHS boxes from the Western section and hands them to me. “I’ll take these too.”

For the next hour, I escort Donaldson from section to section as he collects even more movies to watch. It’s around midnight when I tell him I’ve got to eat something. 

“Alright, I think that’s it, Gerardo.” We walk back to the register and Donaldson drops a pile of movie boxes onto the counter next to the ones I already put down for him. “Ring me up.” His girlfriend dozes on Scott’s stool behind the counter.

Altogether, I count forty-two movies for Donaldson. “Sir,” I tell him, “Just so you know, these are all due back on Sunday by 10pm.”

“Got it,” Donaldson says. He turns to his girlfriend. “Hear that, honey? Daddy’s got to watch all of these movies over the weekend.” 

She pouts. “You promised me a spa day at the Two Bunch Palms.”

Donaldson looks at me and shrugs. “I know darling, but this is work. You can go to Palm Springs without me,” he tells her. “Kyle can take you there and then go shopping with you afterward.”

The girlfriend frowns. “I don’t like Kyle, you know that.”

Donaldson rolls his eyes at me.

“Your total comes to one hundred and fifty-nine dollars with tax,” I say. Donaldson doesn’t blink an eye and hands me his silver Amex card. Never seen one of those before. I swipe it and the sale comes back approved.  

It takes six plastic shopping bags to fit all of his movie rentals. Donaldson grabs three bags with each hand and yells at his girlfriend. “Daphne, time to get back in the car. We’re going home.” She wakes with a startle.

I walk them to the back door and open it. “Thanks and have a good night,” I tell them. “Enjoy the movies.”

Donaldson looks at me. “Sure, Gustavo.”

“It’s Guillermo,” I tell him. “You haven’t gotten it right once.”

“Okay then,” he says. “Have a good one.”

After I shut everything down and lock up, I head to my car. The Taco Bell over on Pico and Bundy is open 24 hours, there’s still time to get some food. 

The following Wednesday, I’m restocking movies when the phone rings and I pick up. “Cinematic, this is Guillermo, how can I help you?” Instead of a response, there’s just ragged breathing. It sounds like the caller’s up to two packs of cigarettes a day, easy.

After a coughing fit that lasts for nearly a minute, the caller finally speaks. “Gordon, how you doing, it’s Chris,” he says. “Chris Donaldson.”

This fucker hasn’t gotten my name right once. “My name is Guillermo, I just said it.”

“That’s right,” he says. “I got your manager’s calls about the late tapes.” More coughing. “I haven’t been feeling well.”

I shrug as if Donaldson can see me over the phone. “Sir, the movies you rented were due three days ago. We need those back. Those are the only copies we have.” 

“I know, I know,” Donaldson says. “I’ve only watched half of them. Can’t I just buy them from you?”

Now this jackass is acting like a tardy buyer—the kind of customer who would rather pay the full price for a VHS or DVD than the late fees incurred. 

I pull the cordless away from my head like I want to throw it across the room. I bring it back to my face. “Here at Cinematic, we pride ourselves on stocking hard-to-find movies,” I tell Donaldson. “They’re irreplaceable sir, and not for sale. We’re open until 10pm tonight if you’d like to return them. For every day you don’t bring them back, you are incurring late fees. Sorry, but those are the rules.”

Donaldson takes a long, wheezing breath. “I can’t come in, I feel like shit.” His voice sounds faint, like he’s whispering from across a big empty room. “I need you to come to my place. I can give you the tapes back and cut you a check. How’s that sound?”

Now this fucker wants me to drive out to god knows where to pick up the damn movies? “Sir,” I say, “Don’t you have an assistant who can do that for you?”

Donaldson sounds tired, defeated. “Daphne? She stayed in Palm Springs for the week. I live in the Palisades, it’s not that far from you. I’ll give you gas money for coming out, I swear.”

“Hang on a minute,” I tell him. I put the call on hold and find Scott, who’s chatting up some blonde co-ed in the silent movie section. I fill him in on the situation. 

“Sounds like he wants you to go pick up the movies,” Scott says. “Is your car running okay? Want to take mine?”

Not the answer I wanted to hear. “Seriously?”

Scott steps away from the girl he’s been talking to and leans into my ear. “I’ll give you an extra night off next week. Your pick. But not Friday or Saturday night, you know how busy it gets those nights.”

I give Scott the side-eye. 

He checks his surroundings for other employees within earshot and leans in even closer to me. “Tuesdays are dead. Take next Tuesday off and I’ll pay you for it anyway. Just don’t tell anyone, alright?”

“Make it Tuesday and Wednesday night off,” I tell Scott, unmoving.

He cocks his head at me like I’m crazy. “Alright, deal. Now get those tapes back.”

I nod. “Will do. If I’m not back in an hour, call the cops,” I say. “Seriously.”

Back on the phone, Donaldson gives me his address and then I hang up. I head to my car and get in. Then I pull out onto Santa Monica Boulevard and head toward the Palisades.

Donaldson’s place is only six miles from the store, but it’s a Saturday night and the traffic’s at a standstill on Sunset. If you’re going anywhere in LA, so are five hundred other people, it’s a given. I check the street sign up ahead when I realize I missed a turn. I study the Thomas Guide sitting on the passenger seat for a quick sanity check. Square J-5. 1469 Albright Street. Yep, I should’ve taken the street behind me. I could walk to his place faster. 

The next chance I get, I make a right and weave my way back to Albright. The street’s lined with palm trees and looks like someplace out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I park at the mansion next to Donaldson’s and get out of the car. As I walk up his driveway, I notice his place is more modest than the others on the block. Still nice, though.

I ring the doorbell. It’s a quiet neighborhood, nice and clean, with space between the houses. Nothing like the cement city that’s my neighborhood. 

I press the doorbell again and hear footsteps approaching from inside. Then a voice. “I’m coming. That you Gilbert?” Donaldson says through the door.

“It’s Guillermo, sir,” I reply. This guy’s never going to remember my name. Maybe that’s a good thing. 

The door opens. Donaldson’s wearing just a terry cloth robe and flip-flops, a lowball glass in his hand.

“Welcome,” he slurs. He waves me inside. “Please, come in. Mi casa es su casa.”

I step into the foyer as he closes the door behind me. “Thanks,” I say as I reach into my back pocket. “I’ve got your late fee total right here. You can make the check out to Cinematic and I’ll get out of your hair. Have you got the movies?” 

Donaldson turns and disappears into the house without saying a word. Ice cubes are dropped into a glass and a drink is poured.

I don’t want to leave the foyer. “If you can just write the check, I’ll be on my way,” I call out. “And don’t forget the movies.”

Donaldson raises his voice from wherever he’s gone to. “I bought this place after Annihilator 2 made a shit-ton of money,” he says. “The house was a steal at thirty million. You believe that shit?”

Now Donaldson’s a money bragger—assholes who talk about how cheap their rent is or what a deal they got for some stupid high-dollar item. While I wait for him, I notice a sitting room on the right. There’s an Eames chair and a Mondrian on the wall that have to be reproductions. Unless they’re real. Again, Donaldson proves he’s got taste. 

“Sir,” I speak up again. “Don’t you want to see the total amount you owe?”

Donaldson reappears before me in the foyer with two drinks in hand. He offers me one of them. “I figured you for a vodka tonic man, am I right?”

After a silent beat, I realize we’re the only ones in the house. 

“No thanks, I really should get back to the store,” I tell him. “Do you have the movies?”

He stares at me like a tiger locked onto a lone gazelle in some nature documentary.

My heart beats a little louder. “If you can just give me the movies, I’ll get out of your hair, sir.”

Donaldson finishes one of the drinks with a swallow and sets down the glass. “You’re a movie guy,” he says. “How about a quick tour of the house?”

Now this asshole wants to show me his sex dungeon? No thanks. “I really need to get going,” I tell him. “I just need those movies, you can mail us the check.”

“Nonsense,” Donaldson says as he wraps an arm around me. “The tour will only take a minute. Besides, there’s something I want to show you.”

He escorts me deeper into the house, past the sunken living room below us. Behind it, three large bay windows look out onto a patio and beyond that, the sloping hillside. Prime real estate.

“Nice view, right?” Donaldson says. “That’s not even the best part.” He takes a sip from the drink he offered me. “Check this out.”

He opens a door, to reveal a darkened stairway beyond. 

I hesitate but feel his arm nudging me gently toward the stairs. “The store was busy when I left, I should get back,” I say.

He flips the light on for the stairs down. “Your boss doesn’t give a shit. You want to work in a video store the rest of your life? C’mon.”

Donaldson walks ahead of me down the stairs, his flip-flops slapping. This is the part where he shows me his S&M chamber and I get the fuck out of here, screw the damn movies. 

At the foot of the stairs is a long hallway lined with two doors on each side. 

“What’s behind Door Number One?” he says as he opens the one closest to us. He flips on the light switch. It’s a room bigger than my entire studio apartment in Mar Vista. Wooden boxes line the scores of shelves in the room. The air is smoky and sweet. “You like cigars?” he asks.

“I don’t smoke,” I tell him. 

Donaldson pulls a cigar from one of the boxes and lights it up. “Suit yourself,” he says. “More Cohibas for me. Let’s move on.”

Down the hallway, he opens the next door and turns on the light. Instead of carpet, the floor is covered with Astro-Turf. Sitting against the back wall is the biggest projection TV I’ve ever seen. A golf bag with a full set of clubs squats in front of the screen. “This is the game room,” Donaldson says. “Right now, I’m working on my short game. Did you know Bentley made golf clubs?”

I nod ‘no’ and check my watch. 

“Me neither,” he says, pulling a nine-iron from the bag. “These fuckers cost a shitload, that’s for sure.” He ushers me out of the room with the club. “Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for.”

We walk past another door and Donaldson points to it. “Not that one, that’s the bathroom.”

He opens the last door in the hallway and hits the light. My eyes go wide. The room is two stories high. Auditorium seating with three rows of leather recliners. A reflective screen that covers the entire back wall. Red velvet curtains adorn the sides. It’s fucking amazing.

Donaldson grins at my reaction. “Sweet, huh? This is where I watch everything. I can screen film or video, whatever I want. Projection booth’s upstairs.”

“Holy shit,” I say. “What did this cost?”

Donaldson wags his nine-iron at me. “I don’t remember, but it was worth it. The same guy designed screening rooms for Spielberg and DePalma,” he says. “He ain’t cheap. And check this out.” He motions to the wall closest to us. It’s a large bookcase filled with movie props and other memorabilia. He grabs one and holds it up. “This is the stanchion gun from Annihilator.”

Up close, the prop gun looks cheap and flimsy. “Cool,” I say.

Donaldson senses my disappointment. “These things always look better on the big screen, right?”

I nod ‘yes.’

He grabs another prop, a black statuette of a bird, and hands it to me. “Now this, is the piece de resistance,” he says. “This is one of the original three they made for the film. You familiar with The Maltese Falcon? The John Huston picture?”

The bird’s heavy in my hands. “Of course. What’s it made of?” I say.

“Mostly plaster,” he tells me. “See the difference between this and the stanchion gun? Those old Hollywood prop guys really knew how to make quality stuff. They were craftsmen.”

Who knew Donaldson was such a purist?

He takes the black bird from me and puts it back on the shelf. “Just answer me a question, then I’ll get your movies.”

“Sure,” I say. “But then I’ve really got to get going.”

He leans in so close that I can smell the Grey Goose and Cohiba on his breath. “You really want to work in a video store your whole life?”

I slowly take a step back. 

Donaldson points the nine-iron at me like an old-time school teacher. “You want to make movies, am I right? I can always tell the real ones from the posers,” he says. “You remind me of myself when I was your age—hungry and willing.”

My tongue’s a dry sponge.

Donaldson unties the sash on his robe and it spills open. He’s not wearing anything underneath. His stomach looks like a hairy bean bag about to burst, with his junk dangling below. 

I struggle to avoid his stare and take another step back, my heart pounding. “Mr. Donaldson, you can keep the movies, I’ll just show myself out.”

“Don’t go,” he says. “Things are just getting interesting.” He drops the lit cigar into his lowball glass and it hisses, then goes dark.  

I reach for the door handle behind me and turn it, but Donaldson pushes it shut with his nine-iron.

“How hungry and willing are you, Gerald?” he says. “You help me and I’ll help you. That’s how it works in Hollywood. Or didn’t you know that?”

I scoot away from the door and along the bookcase filled with memorabilia. A glance around the room tells me there’s no other way out of here. 

Donaldson sets his lowball glass aside. “Kid, you don’t make it in this town without giving up a piece of yourself,” he says. “You get me?”

I’m cornered. Nowhere else to go but the recliners. “Don’t touch me,” I tell him.

Donaldson grips his nine-iron with both hands like he’s going to take a swing. “Now get down on your knees,” he says.

I scramble over a recliner so that it’s between us. “You’re fucking crazy,” I say. 

Donaldson takes a practice swing. “You want to make movies? You’ve got to pay the price. No need to make it complicated.”

“I don’t want to know what you’ve done to get where you are,” I say.

“I’ve done some nasty things, if that’s what you mean,” Donaldson says. “I paid my dues. And now it’s your turn.”

“Fuck you,” I tell him. I make a run for the door.

Donaldson swats at me with the club, but misses. 

I get to the door and fumble with the handle, his raspy breath behind me. A soft breeze caresses the side of my face for a moment, then a bone-shattering snap as Donaldson brings his nine-iron down on my left forearm. Searing white-hot pain fills my eyes as I collapse to the floor in a heap. This fucker’s broken my arm. I groan like a hungry baby.

Donaldson towers over me. He lets his robe fall down to his feet. His pecker’s standing at full attention now. “Don’t make me hit you again. You need one good arm to do what I like.”

I manage to scoot away from him along the bookcase, favoring my left arm. The room spins a little and my stomach twists. I’m going into shock.

“You newbies are all the same,” Donaldson says. “It’s not talent that gets you ahead. It’s willingness. How much have you got?”

I shuffle backward some more, my left arm is swollen now and burns like hell. It might only be a fracture and not a break. I’m not sure which one I’d prefer right now.  

Donaldson takes a swing at the bookcase for dramatic effect, smashing several movie props in the process. “Now what’s it going to be?” he says. “I don’t want to smash in that pretty little face of yours.”

My back up against the bookcase, I manage to get up on my feet. My left arm’s on fire and my eyes are filled with stabbing white flashes. With my right hand, I feel around behind me for something I can use as a weapon.

Donaldson frowns. “I didn’t tell you to stand up.”

The fingers of my right hand wrap around something solid. Sculpted feathers on it. A beak.

“Fuck off,” I say, swinging my right arm around. 

The black bird statuette hits Donaldson square in the jaw. The impact makes him lose his balance and fall backward. On the way down, his head catches the back of a recliner and his neck lurches forward with a nasty crunch like a celery stick being snapped in half. Donaldson slumps to the floor in a dead heap.

My eyes go wide.

I crawl over to Donaldson. He stares at the ceiling above as if he’s watching the movie of his life play out. He’s conscious, but he isn’t breathing. My left arm is swollen and puffy, so with my right arm, I take his hand and hold it tight. His muscles have gone slack. He pisses himself. In a blink he’s gone, his eyes frozen. No one deserves to die like this, not even Donaldson. I stumble to a phone and dial 9-1-1.

A week later, I’m back at Cinematic, restocking movies with my good arm. Since the incident, the store’s been busy. Scott even tells me he’s going to promote me to assistant manager. We’ll see if that really happens.

Most of the people who come into the store just want to know what happened with Donaldson. Some want to sign my arm cast. A few of them are even famous faces you might recognize. Before I can give them the gory details though, Scott always interrupts and tells them to go read the Times story if they’re that interested.

Donaldson’s even gotten his own end cap at Cinematic, an honor only bestowed upon a select group of filmmakers. It was Scott’s idea. They’re always rented out, which is fine. I’m not interested in seeing his filmography.

Although I thought he was a talentless hack, Donaldson was right about one thing. I don’t want to work in this place forever. In the meantime, the muse has kissed me full on the lips and I can’t push her away. I’ve got an idea for the Great American Screenplay everyone’s going to be talking about. It’s the sad story of a nutball Hollywood director gone mad. It might just rank up there with Citizen Kane