“And, what is your favorite curse word?”
A murmur of anticipation rushed through the crowd as it always did when this question was in the queue. The group wasn’t so much hierarchical as much an amalgam of smaller subsets each dedicated to their varied genres. “The Newman Crew,” wore tight white t-shirts and arched forward at 45 degree angles, daring Scoliosis to find a home in their vertebrae, reminiscent of one of the famous photos of Paul Newman when he was sitting at a lecture as a student in this same auditorium; one of two students selected that year, along with another young actor named Martin Landau. The crew took these proceedings seriously, hanging on every word, ready to ingest and commit to memory any and every Stanislavsky or Hagen or Strasberg methodology which cryptically sprang forth from whoever happened to grace the stage for the taping that month.
Minty didn’t so much care for the dog and pony show. He’d lay bets with his MFA colleagues as to whether the guest’s choice of profanity would be literal or pseudo-political, like when “Republican,” was once used with much ensuing applause. Minty was not his real name of course, but it was the one he used on his head shots. If he had any close friends in the program, they might have asked him how he happened to settle on choosing that particular stage name. Some of the more knowledgeable would have surmised it came from Emil Minty who played the feral child in Mad Max The Road Warrior. Fuck you he would have said, it’s the name of a character in The Wraith, with Charlie Sheen and Sherilyn Fenn.
Friends were not to be made at a place like this; an institution where Claudius poured rot gut in The Ghost’s ear; where Brutus and Cassius stabbed Caesar, Sonny met his demise at the hands of Barzini, and The Grammercy Riffs elbowed Cleon to death.
“Oh jeez, my favorite.”
The Actor smirked and rubbed his many ringed fingers through his van dyke, then curled them through his hair, which was held back by a red bandana. Like most well-known actors between gigs, he let everything grow out. Minty had taken part in long drawn out arguments debating if it helped them to keep their anonymity when out and about, or was a way to distance themselves from their public persona when they looked in the mirror. Occasionally, he fathomed it was method tactics used to embody a character they were going to portray, but The Actor didn’t have any upcoming roles which suggested he look like Eddie Vedder circa 1998. Therefore, Minty was drawn to theory one or two. The Actor took another drag of his cigarette; the lit Marb red in between his fingers creating an echo of smoke around his face. Again the audience starting to laugh, a tremor or convulsion in anticipation.
The tension ruptured and applause filled the room as if they’d heard an authority figure beyond reproach finally reveal a human aspect of their personality. Minty did a slow golf clap, watching as The Actor did a very carefully rehearsed aw shucks sort of smile. Like most actors who portrayed gregarious characters, he seemed incredibly uncomfortable in his own skin.
Lightner was almost to the last question.
Why do you call him Lightner? Someone asked Minty, and when he dropped a reference to the film F/X, they stared at him similar to how a father might catching his daughter fellating her boyfriend. Minty was the worst kind of interloper to these people.
Lightner got to the last blue card in the stack.
“I’m going to kill you with my Daniel Day-Lewis.”
The majority of the audience would recall being baffled at Lightner’s statement. One of the method girls, who had taken to cutting herself to better prepare for an audition of a drastically misunderstood pianist, claimed Lighter’s smile, the way his lips seemed to disappear, as if folded back revealing only teeth, still gave her nightmares. Minty had wanted to tell her to watch Fingers with Harvey Keitel, if she really wanted to understand how to play a conflicted pianist, but kept his distance. No girl who worships Glen Close was going to come within twenty feet of him.
Lightner’s right eye spasmed, and his head shook for a moment as if he inhaled something toxic. Then he straightened. The Actor looked around quizzically, first at the audience, then over his shoulder for where he hoped perhaps his publicist was, ready to spoon feed him an answer, or maybe help him navigate through this improvised question, which had not been pre-approved as per the previously negotiated instructions.
The Actor shifted in his seat and wrinkled his brow.
I’m not sure I understand.
The audience murmured openly. Minty smiled at the unexpected proceeding, taking great pleasure at the sudden discomfort of The Actor on stage. Lightner put his stack of blue cards on the table and reached with his right hand into his jacket, removing a Glock 26 subcompact with Parabellum loads. Minty always surmised Lightner to be somewhat effete; an intellectual, more in line with Martin Sheen or Daryl Hannah regarding their social and political foibles. He was certainly not someone who’d use violence, and definitely not someone who’d open fire and put three shots on the chest of The Actor on stage. The movements were fluid and efficient. Lightner had spent time on a range. He affected a good stance, feet and shoulders adequately distributing the weight. A Mozambique or Failure Drill, Minty only knew this from film, meant two shots to the chest and one in the head. Lightner executed this procedure in less than three seconds. The Actor fell out of his chair, his body crumpling toward the foot of the stage.
“The Stunt Coalition,” believe it or not some people studied the theory of being stunt actors, began clapping thinking the thing was staged. Usually, they never got any recognition at all, so they appreciated this small gesture. Most in the crowd screamed or shouted, unable to tell the difference between fiction and reality. No one moved from their seats yet. Lightner turned and faced the audience then shot Cameron Delon (No relation to Alain) in the head. Cameron was in the front row corner. He was considered by most in the graduating class to be the next Edward Norton. The bullet dragged fluids through the back of his skull like a comet’s tail. The chaos reached an apex, and the audience shifted in unison toward the exits. Lightner fired a shot straight up into the ceiling, and people froze. He addressed them in a calm manner as if the cataclysmic event didn’t transpire a few seconds ago.
You might have noticed, I referred to my weapon here, like Daniel Day-Lewis. You can compare all actors to various weapons: Some can play any role, require little or no training to achieve proficiency.
He paused at that moment and made sure no one was leaving.
For example, any director can get a good performance out of some actors; others, it requires a master’s touch and some excellent editing. Meryl Streep you might say could be a .50 Browning Machine Gun: easy to use, point and shoot, can produce muzzle energies between 10,000 and 15,000-foot pounds (between 14 and 18 kilojoules); The cartridge is the circumference of a quarter and longer than a dollar bill. Obviously a knowledge of the instruction manual and some hours training are required, but for the most part, anyone can operate this weapon for maximum carnage. Streep, in any director’s hands, for example, can play any part.
Minty sat forward in his chair entranced, listening to Lightner’s words as if some divine interpreter were reading scripture. All around him people were uttering prayers or begging forgiveness. “The Understudies of Robert Mitchum,” were discussing how they might try and take Lightner out, or at least be able to deliver some monologue during the attempt.
The police received over thirty texts and cell phone messages. Rollers in the area set up a perimeter outside; a hostage negotiator was alerted, ETA fifteen minutes, and SWAT outfitted after the first phone call.
Lightner scratched at his forehead with the barrel of the gun, then sat in his chair affecting his usual superior manner. The blue notecards had scattered across the stage in an asymmetrical pattern. The Actor lay in a pool of his blood, his body slowly filling with gas. All that work doing twenty-five hundred pushups a day to play a prisoner in Gladiator School, down the drain thought Minty, who waited patiently for Lightner to continue.
Notice, though, someone like Samuel L. Jackson is more like a .44 Magnum. Would you want anyone else giving a diatribe while waving around a pistol? No, but would you want him in a romantic comedy?
Minty found himself nodding in approval. The blinders were on a disciple, ready to receive orders.
The police set up at the entrances to the auditorium; a mobile command center erected outside. They attempted contact with Lightner, but his cell phone vibrated in his pocket, unanswered.
I know about these things. This is important, damn it, this is important!
The gun flickered back and forth as Lightner gesticulated, and the crowd recoiled at each revolution his arm made. Minty was the only one not hidden behind a seat or lying on the ground. His shoulders were thrown back, defiant. Here was his master, finally revealed after years of charlatans. Lightner clutched at his temples with both hands, difficult to do while still wielding his piece. Standing up, Lightner walked toward the house and stood arms akimbo.
Nicolas Cage. Nicolas Kim Coppola, son of August Coppola, Nephew of Francis; he is an artillery piece. Stalin once said Artillery is the God of war. Cage starred in The Lord of War. In the right hands, the artillery can alter history; with Spike Jonze, Cage can deliver an academy award nominated performance in Adaptation. However, he’s also capable of almost killing Sgt. Hulka when John Larroquette demands Timothy Busfield fire the mortar without giving him coordinates. What ever happened to PJ Soles?
Minty was openly weeping at this point and stood up at rapt attention.
On the set of Deadfall, Cage showed up wearing albino contact lenses and a wig, the equivalent of giving an alcoholic who dons a t-shirt which reads “Rehab is for quitters,” the keys to the bar.
Don’t forget about Angus Scrimm.
Who said that?
Minty watched as Lighter scanned the room, the weapon outstretched in his hand. Settling on Minty, he kept the gun trained. Later, some in the audience claimed they thought both to be under some trance, sharing a moment of grace during the maelstrom around them.
The room no longer existed for Minty; he was on an ethereal plane. Lightner stood poised, the black talon gripped in his manicured hand, hair disheveled and sweat coating his face like the sheen off luncheon meat, but he was majestic. Minty knew this feeling must have rivaled those wandering the desert when they beheld Moses returning from the mountain with the Ten Commandments.
Minty had only heard or seen a silencer in film. They screwed onto the barrel and made a pfffft noise. Usually, it was delicate enough to allow for the perpetrator to take out some henchmen undetected. In reality, a silencer, often called a suppressor, was much louder than the name suggested. The shot was audible enough for Minty and the rest of the audience to flinch. The bullet took Lightner center mass, passing through his sternum. He glanced down at the wound, brow furrowed, then swayed a little like a bamboo reed. Minty knew if the trauma from the projectile didn’t kill Lightner directly, the shock might keep him alive for a little while rendering him susceptible to sepsis, in which his cavities would fill with bile, the words of George Clooney from Three Kings etched into memory.
Minty collapsed into his seat, completely spent, unable to process what had just transpired. On the stage, Lightner stumbled, then pitched over onto the ground near The Actor. Turning his head, Minty watched the specialist begin to disassemble his rifle, removing the suppressor. Breaking down the stock, Minty ascertained he would clean the weapon later in the evening, boring out the barrel, and oiling the mechanisms and parts.
The Specialist was rugged with a five o’clock shadow the color of steel. Minty knew somehow this man had wanted to be a specialist since he’d seen Full Metal Jacket, going so far as to sleep with his rifle during basic training. He would memorize the dialogue from the film, fashion himself after Matthew Modine’s Private J.T. Davis, and read novels by Stephen Hunter. This man wouldn’t care so much for the film adaptation Shooter with Mark Wahlberg. No, this specialist would be a purest. He’d name his rifle Bronson, after seeing the film The Mechanic. While the hostages gave statements and received medical attention, Minty made a mental note to check up on whatever happened to Jan Michael Vincent.
The Specialist would fill out the paperwork, crack a bottle of Yuengling, and watch Hard Times. It would be his favourite film: Charles Bronson, a depression era bare knuckle boxer arrives in New Orleans and teams up with a hustler named Speed, played by James Coburn, and an opium-addicted corner man named Poe, played by Strother Martin. Bronson says less than five hundred words in the whole film. He shows up, fights, and gets the job done. If there was anything to be said about Bronson, it was that he was reliable.
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant, Hong Kong, and currently teaches in Virginia. His work can be read in Pidgeonholes, Flapperhouse, Necessary Fiction, and The South Dakota Review among others. His website: asdavie.wordpress.com