Story by Todd Zach
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
Jerry Martini was an auteur. He wrote, produced, directed and occasionally even acted in his own films. Jerry owned a little film company called Vigilante Productions. Most of his films (15 to date) were subversive action/martial arts movies with titles like ‘Let’s Get Killed’, ‘The Karate Shop’ and ‘Choke the Rooster’. 5’9, 155 pounds and perpetuating a strange corkscrew posture, the thirty-five year-old agent of everything DIY was quiet, but not sullen, purposeful, but not grim, serious, but not severe. Geeky? Not quite. He wasn’t an intellectual necessarily. He was an artist on the margins, successful in a manner he was content with, but there was nothing overtly pretentious about Jerry Martini.
Jerry Martini refuses all interviews, politely, few and far between as they may be, preferring, we may assume, to let his work do the talking. However, a few of his actors have spoken of him on occasion in this ‘zine or that.
“He’s like James Bond meets Woody Allen, in a good way…”
“Jerry’s a cool guy. He does his job and doesn’t demean you in the process. If people have a problem with him they can go fuck themselves. I love the guy.”
“I’d say he’s a genius, but he’d probably have my head chopped off…wait, in a movie I mean!”
“Jerry? He’s a businessman. He’s an artist, sure. He’s a businessman, though.”
“Schlock? Okay. What he does is schlock. I think it’s deeper than schlock, but, I’m an actor. Everything’s schlock or it ain’t making it on screen! Jerry’s Captain Schlock, yea, but, like I said, it’s deeper than that.”
This morning, Jerry Martini is taking breakfast at a roadside diner in Eugene Oregon. Eggs, sunny side and bloody, hash browns slightly burned, and a red splash of raspberry jelly on each side of two toasted white slices of bread. He’s dressed, as usual in faded khaki pants, leather belt, logo-less black T, Puma sneakers retro-laced/Velcro combination, a leather jacket, browned with age at the elbows and collar. Jerry pulls cherry tinted sunglasses from his rain bleached face and sets his attention upon the meal before him. There’s coffee here too. A hot steaming porcelain and cute, yes, yet unimpressively diner sized mug of it, half filled. Voodoo Black.
With some discretion involved in the transaction, Jerry uncages a square of vodka from this secondary pocket in his jacket-hole and adds a splash of sumpin’ sumpin’. It’s called, quaintly and quietly by those in the know, a ‘Moscow Beaner.’
Rain runs in long translucent streaks down the window by Jerry’s shoulder. Outdoors, storm clouds gather in ominous formations. Jerry turns his shaded eyes up from breakfast and scans the cramped splattered parking lot. A black Mustang rolls in. It has fat modified tires and tinted windows. Jerry’s gut drops two inches towards his tail.
That’s intuition speaking.
Here, Jerry takes careful note of the diner’s inhabitants. An elderly couple at one booth, a husband and wife, handsomely presented with two children at another, a small tribe of teenagers, co-ed, occupying a six-seat table, a wheelchair-bound handicapped man with a benefactor, who’s busily texting away; and at the cafeteria seats, several blue-collar types, blue-jeaned and booted individuals pondering coffees and ketchup stains. A twenty-some odd waitress was working the joint. Behind the scene, in the kitchen, there was no doubt, at least one chef.
Two men step in unison from the Mustang, one foot from each open door, out into the swampy morning, splashing Doc Martins into shallow creamed puddles. Jerry reads them through the drooling window.
Bad news X 2.
The men share a complicit glance, a ghostly indication of two nods, and approach the diner, four boots splashing in tandem.
Jerry pours more red syrup on a dry section of toast, flickers a fork. He lets a few titles pass across his mind, ‘Cheap Kick Morning’, ‘Death by Bad Weather’, ‘Eat My Gun’.
‘We’ll see’, Jerry thought, privately.
The two men enter the diner, swinging door, a vacuum sound allowing a moment of audible rain. Each man was in his late twenty’s, each unshaven by three days time, four eyes blazing in bruised sunken sockets. Jerry notices that they are wearing wife beaters beneath their flannels. Obviously, this was a lumberjack disguise. These boys were trying to appropriate the local culture.
Dope freaks, Jerry thought. What about the film title? ‘Horse Power’…went well with the Mustang ride. Or, how about ‘Methamphedidreamers’? Okay. Not a super clever title.
The waitress, who is petite and blonde with tiny elfish ears, steps across the room. Her long delicate arms are crab-crooked, strategically loaded with messy plates. With a quick gesture, a tilting of the neck, she greets the psychopaths thusly, “Sit anywhere you’d like to sit. I’ll be right over with some menus.”
One guy looked slightly meaner, more purposeful than the other, obviously the alpha dog of this duo. He had steely blue eyes that almost leaped from his face a second or so ahead of him.
That’s how Jerry read it.
That’s how Jerry knew that this guy was going to make his move. The eyes. You always watch the eyes. They flicker like a loose frame of film a second before the action takes place.
Alpha Dog pulls a .25 caliber pistol out of his waistline and shoves into the waitresses face, sideways, the way punks like this do, very cinematic and contrived. The muzzle of the weapon is suddenly right there in her cheekbone. She drops her armload. Everything smashes on the floor. A shrapnel of utensils chucked up in the air.
“We want the damn’ money! Move it, Bitch!”
Patron’s heads spin towards the action; faces draining of blood. A collective, ‘uh’, or ‘ut-oh’, passes through the diners in one exhausted breath. Here now, fear’s chilly curtain drops upon the set.
The waitress threw her hands in the air.
The lone chef, observing the scene from the privacy of his kitchen haunt, quietly steps out a back door, running through the rain, stumbling and slipping in mud, over roots and rocks, his clean cooker’s outfit streaked with sludge. The chef gathers his feet and heads for the mist wrapped hillside.
Blue eyes is doing his thing: “The money! Cash register! Do it!”
His cohort, dancing in nervous circles, finally reveals his own .25 and here proceeds to sweep the room, with the instrument held backward, barrel end in his hand. He corrects the handle, fumblingly, cocking the gun…or trying to. How does it work again?
“Put your gun on these losers!,” Alpha Dog directs.
Finally, after a few switches of palm, and re-plotting the man gets his act together and the gun seems to be in charge of things.
Alpha Dog: “No one try anything! It’ll be your last meal, like I give a crap!”
The waitress, “Okay. Don’t shoot me, please. Don’t shoot anybody else either. I’ll go and get the money.”
She approaches the cash register, stoically, hiding her shivers.
“All of it! Hurry up!”
“I’m hurrying! I’m hurrying!”
“Don’t fuck with me!”
“You’d like two pieces of lead right up your nostrils, wouldn’t you?”
“No. I’m getting the money. I’m getting the money for you.”
As his cohort skitters in place, doing a speed induced Sammy Davis impression, Blue Eyes froths at the mouth. Blue arteries rise from his throat as he screams, “I’ll blow your damn heads off!”
Jerry Jiminy stands up at his table.
The two men turn towards him in unison, guns swinging.
Jerry says, “ No, no, no. Wrong lines. Let’s not wander from the script here. It’s ‘I’ll blow your damn heads in half!’. ‘Head’s off,’ is boring, conventional, used up dialog. It’s too easy. You’re just punching buttons with that crap. Okay? ‘Heads in half’, on the other hand, is good, visceral stuff. It provokes a different image in the mind.” He takes a step forward while making an expansive gesture with his arms. “A human head, literally coming apart in two distinct pieces, brain flopping out on the floor like a wet jellyfish.”
The criminal’s mouths were hanging open in disbelief.
Jerry removes his shades, and carelessly approaches two steps closer to the men.
“What’s the matter with you two bozos? Who hired you? Why wasn’t I consulted with on this?”
Blue Eyes: “Who the hell are you?”
Jerry is now hamming it a bit to the diner’s patrons. “Who am I, the gentleman asks?” A little Pacino swagger as he closes in on the men, stepping with a relaxed mathematical precision through the dialog. “Oh…I’m sorry. Who the ‘blank’ am I? No points provided for uniquely articulated profanity.”
Blue Eyes’ partner is frozen hopelessly in place; he shouldn’t be a problem, but Blue Eyes himself, not so much. Suspiciousness now furrows his brow and his trigger finger swells subtly inside the chamber. The man is marginal. Jerry’s chances, at this time, he intuits, might be 50/50. All Jerry can do at this point is maintain character, get a couple yards closer, slowly, slowly.
“Let me…oh, um, how shall I say? Enlighten you. May I?”
The elderly man’s voice, softly, from the first row. “Enlighten him.”
Jerry, letting it percolate, but not too fast. “Who I am…” His eyes searchlight the room and he draws in a long stage actor’s breath. “…is this.” Dramatic pause. “I’m the director of this film you half-assed talent, goofy faced punk! And, in my films, you get one shot at the lines! One shot! Two, if you’ve rehearsed with me personally…” One step. “Because, under that circumstance, pray it existed, I might credit you, with the sword of passion, or, fortitude, or at least gratuity, assuming you’re a wily thespian.” Two steps. “Yet, obvious to all here, this learned audience, that that is not the case!” Three steps, a firm accusatory finger raised in final Shakespearean judgment. “You fuck up my lines, alas, here I submit to your philistine parlance, gentlemen…you fuck up my lines and you’re fired! End of story!”
Blue Eyes turns to his partner, affect distorted and unbelieving.
“Shoot this clown!”
Jerry sighs. Four steps, and says, “Wrong guns. Those aren’t even .25s. Who cast you morons?”
The two men study their pieces.
In an instantaneous blur of action, Jerry breaks both of the dude’s gun wrists with two swiftly executed upward karate chops. The guns spin a soft ballet in the air, 360 degrees, and Jerry catches them as they submit to gravity, one gun in each hand, now training them against the men’s foreheads, a token, almost forgiving smile on his face.
Wracked with wicked pain and wounded by shock, both physical and psychic, the criminals stare at their malformed fractured wrists and the jutting hands, then, at Jerry, unbelieving.
Our guns? What? Stuck in our faces here all of a sudden? How did that happen?
“Imposters,” Jerry says, rotating the guns, butt ends forward, clicking the safety’s shut and clocking their skulls, one gun for each head, in one bold operatic move.
A dark curtain drops-THE END-across their consciousness, and the two men sloop to the floor like soaked dishrags, getting knocked out twice, for good measure, when they hit the floor, heads first.
Jerry places the guns cautiously upon an empty service table and speaks to the diner crowd en masse, pointedly. “Nobody should touch these weapons, please. The police will want an investigation, fingerprints, etc.” He turns to the elfish waitress, who is, it should be noted, composing herself gracefully. “Call the police immediately. If these men stir to wakefulness, and they should not for quite some time, but, if they do, procure these guns that you see sitting here on the countertop, and shoot them both in the head. Thank you.”
He strides away from the fallen bodies of the unconscious criminals giving a tiny salute, back towards his table, a hand into his pocket, removes his wallet, and tosses two twenty dollar bills that float momentarily in the air and settle next to his plate one on each side, like complimentary napkins. “Have a stellar day, ladies and gentlemen.”
Patrons applauding; four frightened faces beaming with a terrific relief. “Well done! Incredible!” and other comments, “Moving! Action packed! Avant-garde! That was so romantic!”
Jerry waves once more to his fans, slips on his bloody shades and steps out into the Oregon rain as it falls very slow and silvery all around. He hops in his car and drives off through the muddy lot back onto the road. New titles bloom across the windshield as the dripping trees stream past overhead.
— ♦♦♦ —
Major David Broiles was an erstwhile motion picture producer turned drunkard. He did the occasional low level surveillance work for McGee. After securing a little liquid breakfast, Major scrambled to meet McGee for a job. It seemed simple enough. All he had to do was watch one apartment for comings and goings, particularly, that of a chemist who may or may not have stolen a formula. After McGee gives him the low-down and vacates, things are very quiet. Too bad for Major David Broiles it won’t stay that way.