The long white limo dragged itself slowly up the hill and through the brown mist, bound for the Ventura Freeway. Matthias lounged comfortably in the center of the rear bench, legs spread wide, yelling at an accountant over his RAZR phone. Justin sat across the bar on the side bench, experiencing uselessness. Since this was his first trip to the Golden State, he looked forward to seeing something of it on the drive. After forty-five minutes on the 405, he realized his memories of the Golden State would be cars, cars and more cars, relieved occasionally by directional signs and construction cones. There seemed to be nothing for him to do but slide up and down his seat with every brake-and-start and listen to the hip-hop music Matthias had ordered the driver to pipe into the rear compartment.
Justin did not want to be here but once again he had worked himself into a position where there was no way out. After Emmy had miraculously set up the call with Gwendolyn Marks’ business manager, Matthias entered into a series of negotiations that ended with an agreement to meet at the actress’s retreat in a canyon north of L. A. The nonnegotiable condition was that Matthias bring with him the person who wrote The Numbers and that placed Justin firmly on the hook.
“I can’t go,” Justin protested.
“You’re going,” Matthias informed him.
“Look, dickhead, I’ve got a job—”
“Screw your job. This is important. You owe it to the rest of us,” added Matthias, reminding him of Responsibility Two.
“Why can’t Shelby go?” Justin threw out in desperation. “If it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t be any Numbers. She knows this stuff as well as I do.”
“Because Ms. Marks specifically asked for the person who wrote The Numbers, not the muse who may have inspired The Numbers. It’s a deal-breaker and we need this woman to take us to the next level.”
“I don’t want to go to the next level. I didn’t want to go to this level.”
“Well, you’re here, we’re going, so get off your tight ass and start packing.”
To Justin’s dismay, they had flown first class and a stretch limo was waiting for them at LAX. Now imprisoned by the legendary traffic on the 405 and forced to watch Matthias play Donald Trump in the back of a limousine, Justin found himself stuck on a course that would lead to the home of an overpaid, overrated celebrity who discovered her latest plaything in the form of Ringing True, Inc.
Matthias snapped the cell phone shut and said to Justin, “Have you reviewed the portfolio?”
“Yes,” said Justin in a get-off-my-ass-dad tone of voice.
“Well, read it again. I need you on the top of your game,” said Matthias, tossing a document folder on the seat beside Justin.
Justin sighed and opened the folder to read the bio and background of Gwendolyn Marks for the second time. On top was her IMDb profile:
Date of Birth (location)
4 September 1974
Chelsea, London, England, UK
Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career (show more)
Gwendolyn Edith Marks
5’ 6 1/2” (1.69 m)
Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career as a “never-ending journey of personal discovery.” Daughter of the renowned British director, Peter Marks, she first appeared in a small role in her father’s adaptation of Bleak House at the age of eleven. Seeking to forge her own way, she left Britain at eighteen for New York, ostensibly to study with the avant-garde film actor and playwright Kieran McDougall. A brief courtship resulted in an even briefer marriage and subsequently the young actress found her way to Hollywood.
After three years of what Ms. Marks has referred to as her “cave period,” during which she studied film, dance and classical literature, she landed a meaty role as the deranged young housewife in the traditional thriller 229 Black . . .
Justin closed the portfolio, bored to tears. He could not have cared less about the history of Gwendolyn Marks or any other celebrity for that matter. He still considered the celebrity culture irrefutable evidence of human insanity and the participants on both sides of the screen distorted, shrunken people. To Justin, celebrity was the ultimate example of self-worship, producing nothing of value and nothing that remotely advanced the human condition. Like many people, he thought it sad that celebrities made obscene amounts of money while so many went hungry and poorly clothed, but thought it even sadder that so many people seemed willing to sacrifice any last scrap of human dignity for a shot at seeing their faces projected into the popular consciousness, if only for a moment.