Chapter Title: The Vipers
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,028.
Characters: John Dae, Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Jaime Connors, Sterling Mitchell, Danny Wright, Cate Willis
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,028.
Characters: John Dae, Patrick Westfield, Maraina Stratten, Jaime Connors, Sterling Mitchell, Danny Wright, Cate Willis
Warnings: Unbetaed (possible grammatical errors).Synopsis: The war party begins to take shape and prepares to execute one of the biggest coups in Hollywood, but they encounter their first obstacle: a traitor in their midst.
“So, wanna join the revolution?”
“You can’t just expect me to show up at the man’s house uninvited,” John Dae said gripping his phone tightly and pressing deep into the head rest of his car, hoping that it would magically engulf him so this phone call would end.
“That’s exactly what I expect you to do,” the voice in the other end replied. “My other source tells me that this is a rather large party at the Mitchell’s. It’s intended to hide this little attempted coup of his. You’ll be one of many. Just mingle and keep your ears open. Then report back to me what you heard.”
“Mr. Barker, I’m not one of your minions.” John gritted his teeth. He wanted nothing more than to tell his boss to go fuck a goat. Unfortunately, the man was his boss and also had the power to totally ensure his next writing gig would be for some small town high school newspaper.
“Yes, you are, John. We both know it. It’s so admirable how you are supporting your family, but your siblings need school clothes and your grandfather needs his medications which means you need this raise that I’m about to give you.”
Fucking douchebag. It’s not like he had a choice because Robert was right. His family depended on his paycheck. Depended on him doing what was right by them but this was just so sleazy. He respected Sterling Mitchell and hated Robert Barker. Now he had more reason to hate him. What kind of asshole used kids and a frail old man as leverage? A rich and powerful one apparently. Robert the douchebag, goat fucker Barker.
A cold silence waited his answer.
“How much of a raise?” He always wondered what his soul was worth.
“Twenty.” His soul didn’t come cheap and maybe, just maybe, if he fired without cause, he could just go to Sterling and spill his guts. That would be something at least. He was surprisingly calm since now he had some semblance of a plan.
“This isn’t a negotiation, John.”
“Of course it is.”
Cold silence, but that was better than the condescending tone of ownership. A humorless laugh cut into the tense stand-off.
“Congratulations, John. You are now the highest paid third tier writer in television history. I own you now.”
“Yeah,” John answered, a hopeless sigh escaped his lips. He turned the ignition and closed his eyes as the Civic came to life. “Yeah, you do.” He pulled out of the parking lot and heading for the house of the man he was supposed to spy on.
The trip to hell and damnation was shorter than he had expected. As he pulled up to Sterling Mitchell’s house, he knew something was wrong. The gate was closed which meant he had to use the call box and announce his presence and if this had been the promised large party, that would have been ridiculous. He could’ve talked himself through if there had been an attendant, which was what he’d expected. But this? This was a fucking set-up. No wonder Barker gave in to his demand for a twenty percent raise. It was easy to commit to anything when you are assured you won’t have to actually pay for it.
On the other hand, if he never used the call box and just quietly got the hell out of dodge, no one would be the wiser.
It was a great plan until the gate opened. John stared at it with the morbid fascination of a deer caught in the headlights. Except in this case nothing happened. No car came at him. Then why the hell would the gates just…
The headlights flashed behind him.
“Stabbed in the back, why am I surprised?” He shook his head and drove in. There were a few cars parked around a large stone fountain. “Large party my ass,” he grumbled. He looked in the mirror, hoping that the sporty Mercedes would park around him, but instead it cruised to a stop right behind, leaving him effectively blocked. There was no way for him to make a quick exit and it was just his luck that the man getting out of the Mercedes that probably cost more than John would make in a year decided to be friendly after ignoring him for three years.
“The party is inside, mate.” Patrick Westfield knuckled the driver’s side as he walked by.
John sent him a tight smile and little wave while pretending to fumble with his phone as if he had some career-making call he couldn’t miss. He hoped, prayed, and begged that the classically trained stage actor whose career he had followed ever since he was an impressionable star-struck ten-year hold, would just pass him by.
“I know you.”
John closed his eyes and blew out a resigned sigh, ceding that the universe hated him and wouldn’t properly realign until his life was utterly destroyed. Maybe it wasn’t too late to become an auto mechanic.
“Yeah, you’re one of the Scribblers, right?”
John opened his eyes and nodded even though he thought ‘scribbler’ was a stupid nickname for the writers of the show. He opened the car door carefully. The last thing he needed was to accidentally push the star of the show into the fountain where he’d probably hit his head and enter a decades long coma or suffer some brain aneurysm that would cause his death sending John to some Supermax to become a bitch to some scary convicted murderer named Bubba. “Hello.”
Patrick smiled. “You shouldn't look so worried. From what I hear, this isn’t one of those soul sucking parties where you’d have to watch your back for embedded knives. Sterling invited mostly writers for this get together.”
Yup. The universe hated him. He was going to be downright crispy when he got fired and to add insult to injury, none of the other writers would ever trust him. John Dae, not only can he blow his bridges, he’ll nuke ‘em while still standing on one. Maybe he could take up plumbing.
“Look who finally decided to show up,” Jamie Connors called out from the door.
John blinked. She was expecting him? Her? A woman so stunning, she made grown men weep at the thought of those luscious full lips around their cock…or any body part. Maybe Barker was actually going to cover his ass or at least set ensure he didn’t get his ass fired.
“Hello beautiful,” Patrick answered. “Miss me?”
Of course. What was he thinking. He was expendable. Even if Barker had Jaime on his side, he wouldn’t waste the time of an Emmy award winning actress on a lowly writer.
“Miss you? Never. Loathe you? Always.” She smiled at Patrick and glanced at John. “And you brought your plus-one,” she said to Patrick. “I’m happy you finally decided to come out of the closet.”
“Who beat you with the bitch stick tonight?” Patrick kissed her cheek. “Be gentle, he’s a Scribbler.”
“Oh.” She cringed. “Sorry about that. They are in the pool. Just go through the living room and the double doors. You can’t miss it.”
John looked where she was pointing and couldn't help but admire what a fucking awesome house it was. Maybe he could become an architect or at the very least an interior decorator. He had good taste. Just not the money. Money. Fuck. His life was over. “Thanks,” he mumbled, standing in the doorway and wondering how long it would take Sterling Mitchell to kick his ass to the curb. He looked back and met two pairs of eyes waiting for him to move along. “Oh, right. Thanks.” He walked to through the doorway with the enthusiasm of a man waiting his turn for the guillotine.
“So,” Patrick said, turning to Jaime, “still forgetting which side your bread is buttered, eh? Writers who hate you, will give you shitty lines.”
Jaime rolled her eyes. “As if you know his name.”
Patrick shrugged. “Don’t need to. It’s all about appearances and I can always appear like I care. Speaking of which, since when do I rate door service with you?”
She tugged at his sleeve, pulling him into library. It was the one room he always wanted to explore each time he’d visited Sterling. Floor to ceiling mahogany bookcases filled with hundreds of books framed the room. He made a beeline for the exquisitely carved, leather top executive desk which was the centerpiece of the room and the candy it held. Sterling’s sweet tooth never failed to please. In this case, it was Skittles which were brimming the large crystal bowl.
“Since there’s a storm about the break and we need to figure out whose house we’re taking shelter in.” She plopped down on one of the matching leather arm chairs facing the desk.
Patrick’s hand froze halfway between the bowl of candy and his mouth while his brain deciphered her words. Dammit, he hated studio politics. He turned and leaned heavily on the desk. “I’m listening,” he said before dumping a handful of sweet candies in his mouth.
“Gave up smoking again?”
He shrugged. “That last battle sequence with Dave kicked my ass. I felt like my lungs were imploding.”
“Sterling is going to try to retake the show from Barker.”
“We knew that was coming,” he said. “Sterling hated the changes in the last two seasons.”
It had been Robert Barker’s idea to shake things up by brining in several younger actors turning the established, cerebral science fiction series into episodic angst filled teen drama in space. It had raised ratings in the short term, but alienated the core fans, Sterling and several of the existing cast members including Patrick and Jamie. The sad part was that the original idea had been good, but it had been horribly executed and now they were in the same ratings bind they had been two years ago.
“The problem is that Sterling’s ideas are out of touch with the current market and he no longer has the clout he had.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” she answered. “Anna said Richard Jackson dropped by earlier and is willing to give Sterling the first twelve weeks of next season.”
Patrick’s mouth dropped open. “That means Richard is making a move to be the head of the studio and he’s going to use Sterling’s pull with the board.” He popped several more candies in his mouth as the possibilities of that change of guard crossed his mind. “That’s a brilliant strategy.”
“So, stick with the old guard or the new old guard?”
Patrick studied Jamie. She had always been beautiful, but now she was defying the ravages of time. Comfortably over thirty, she could still believably play a high school senior. Maybe that was why most people tended to underestimate her intelligence. All they saw was the young, pretty face and Jamie had been in the business long enough to know it was better to exploit the weaknesses of others before they could exploit you.
He dropped his head a bit, then looked up at her, a small grin pulling at his lips. “I do appreciate the gossip, love, but ultimately, this coup has little to do with us. If you are really that worried, call your agent.”
“Don’t even try that look with me. We’ve known each for too long and Ari would sell his own mother if it got him his fifteen percent.”
Patrick laughed. “True. Now do you want to tell me what’s really going on?”
Her shoulders drooped and she tucked her feet underneath legs, making her look young and vulnerable. “Tarvernier has called me a couple times to chat about his new movie.”
An appreciative whistle escaped his lips. “He’s an Oscar maker. Whatever he’s offering you, big role or small, one line or a hundred, take it.”
“I’m under contract for two more seasons, remember?”
Patrick dropped his hands to the desk and leaned back as his mind worked through the possibilities. He hated getting involved in studio politics, but in all honesty, he was getting a little bored with the current setup. Sure, it was a hefty steady paycheck that allowed him to do his side projects there was very little left for him to do in the show that had become all about space cadets half his age. It was time for a change and he was ready to gamble.
“Side with Sterling. If we can make that work and put Richard into the big seat, they will be more willing to work with your schedule since it will be a high profile project that will pay dividends for them as well.”
“What about you?”
“I’m here, aren’t I? Barker’s a prick and he’ll get what’s coming to him. Besides,” he stood straight and held out his hand, which she took, “you can take me to the Oscar’s when you get nominated.”
Jamie laughed and kissed his cheek. “Deal. Now let’s go make nice with the Scribblers.”
“So why are you here?”
The question had been asked in such a calm, matter of fact way that at first Mari hadn’t realized it was directed at her, then she could only blink in surprise. Echoes of laughter were still ringing in her ear from the Shag, Marry, Kill game they had just played and now this, out of the blue and from Jeremy Ryon of all people. When Sterling had made the introductions, she’d been terrified. Jeremy Ryon was one of the few writers on the show who’d retained any cred with fans when the change over had occurred. Any episodes he’d written were automatic favorites. Mari had joked with Noel that when she grew up she wanted to be able to tell stories like Jeremy Ryon. Not that he was that much older than her, only ten years separated them, that and his wealth of experience and talent. Only that.
She’d been so intimidated, she’d been afraid to open her mouth, but Jeremy immediately put her at ease with his easy going charm and they’d connected like long lost friends. Danny Wright, an up and coming writer, had also been so easy to talk to that by the time Cate Wills joined their group, the four of them were discussing episodes and character motivations that made her inner rabid fangirl squee with delight.
Then bam! Knife to the back. She should have known better, being around the rich and infamous was nothing new to her. It was amazing the things she’d heard as a lowly server during parties. The privileged always managed to put the lower classes in their place and this was really no different even if she wasn’t wearing a uniform. She was still one of the have-nots.
“I…” She swallowed and tried to calm the thundering heart that was threatening to burst from her chest. She refuse to look to Chuck for help and the telling silence coming from Cate and Danny made it clear that they would follow Jeremy’s lead.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jeremy said, “you’re cute, but not beautiful, at least not by Hollywood’s ridiculous standards. I mean, you’re definitely fuckable,” he turned to Danny, smacking his leg to get attention, “right, dude?”
Danny studied his drink intently, as if daring some bug to land on it so he could excuse himself from the conversation.
“You’re smart, but not brilliant,” Jeremy continued. “You have no experience in the business and, by the deer in the headlights look on your face, improv is not your thing so you probably can’t act yourself out of a paper bag. So what’s so special about you?”
Mari choked back the tightness gripping her throat. She wanted to run into the house and cry in some darker corner, but instead she sat motionless on the thick cushions of the built in seats. In the sudden silence, the gentle tapping of the water which surrounded them became discernible. A thunderous snap from a log in the fire pit center made everyone jump except for Jeremy and Mari who continued to stare at each other like predator and its prey.
“Nothing,” she finally said. “There’s nothing special about me.”
Jeremy leaned back, spreading his arms across the top of the seats and crossed his ankle over his leg, never breaking eye contact with her. “Wrong answer. If someone ever asks you that again, and they will, because this town is full of vipers eager to see sink their teeth in you. Your answer should be, why not me? You’re not special, but no one in this town really is, they just like to think they are. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.”
He turned to Sterling. “So what’s the plan? How do we take back the castle?”
“So, you’re in?”
Jeremy nodded. “Barker’s a dick. I never knew what you saw in him. With us,” he pointed to Cate and Danny, “and Wayne Garson you’ll have a kick ass creative team. We’ll write what you want.”
“That must have cost you,” Sterling said. His lips twisted into a predatory smile and it was the first time that Mari began to worry about what exactly she’d gotten herself into.
Jeremy shrugged. “Hell hath no fury like a writer scorned. Now, are you going to tell that pretty girl,” he nodded at Mari, “what your plans for her are?”
“You my dear,” he turned to her with a smile that was only a little less intimidating than before, “are going to be my canary in the mine.”
That didn’t sound too bad. Wait. Didn’t the canary usually die?
Sterling laughed and gently patted her leg. “Don’t look so worried, Beautiful Mari of the Entrepreneurial Spirit. You are my secret weapon. The outsider who’ll be able to see the forest for the trees. We,” he motioned others, “can see the machinations of the insiders. But you…you’ll bring something new and fresh to the table. You won’t be afraid to think outside the box, to go out on a limb because you have nothing to lose. They will never see you coming.”
He turned and faced Jeremy. “You’re right. We can’t go back to the way things were. My vision, well, it won’t work. Not anymore. Robert was right that we needed to change, get into more action and show more skin, but he did that without the backbone of good storytelling and he lost more viewers than he gained. I like you, but I don’t trust you as much as I trust her.” He pointed to Mari.
“Why?” she exclaimed. “You barely know me.”
“You're a fan,” Sterling explained. “And Jeremy has to watch out for his career.”
Jeremy snorted. “Somebody has to. So how much time do we have to revive this show?”
“Twelve episodes,” Sterling said. “But we’ll never get that unless there’s improvement in the first six.”
“OK, so let’s plan for a story arc to fill five hundred and forty minutes of air time and hope we actually get that much.” Jeremy leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. “We’ll need some sort of retreat or something. A place we throw out ideas and come up with a plan that uses the brains we used to have along with the brawn and the boobs we gained.”
“How about the Camerians?” Mari blurted. She fought back a cringe when everyone stared at her. “Sorry, I…” just thought I was part of this group. She pressed back into the seat cushions and tried to disappear.
“What’s a Camerian?” Danny asked.
Oh, Danny boy, now you decided to open your mouth? Thanks buddy.
“They’re from the first series,” Cate answered. “I think it was one of the early episodes. They crew landed on this planet for one reason and ended up finding artifacts of this mysterious, extinct race. Why them?”
Mari looked at the other woman. Cate Wills was the poster child for geek girls. Perfectly average in just about every way: height, hair and weight. She was the type that could fit with any group, fringe or popular without calling either her own. Even with her style she crossed barriers, part grunge, part goth and all somehow earthy and comfortable. But when she turned her attention on you, those fiercely intelligent blue eyes commanded attention.
“Because even after fifteen years, fandom still talks about them and there are still stories being written about what they could have been or how they could affect the characters now.”
Cate nodded and Mari breathed a sigh of relief. At least she wouldn’t be grilled on that brain spasm. From now on, she’ll just watch and listen and keep her mouth shut.
“Did you write about about the Camerians?” Cate prodded. “Because you write, don’t you? Fan-fiction. It’s all over your face.” She stopped suddenly and tilted her head as if she was listening to some inner voice. “It wasn’t meant as a jab or anything. I still write fics, so it takes one to know one.”
"Fanfics? Really? Don’t you have anything better to do?” Jeremy rolled his eyes.
“Don’t knock it until you try it, you judgmental ass,” she replied.
“So, did you?” Jeremy asked Mari.
Dammit, she’d really hoped that they’d had forgotten about her. How was she supposed to answer it. If it was just Cate, she could confess her little dark secret, but with the way that Jeremy reacted to Cate’s admission? No way, no how.
“I…” A shadowed figure leaning against a pillar outside the conversation pit caught her attention. “Hi.”
“John?” Cate called out. “What are you doing here?”
Shoulders drooped and the figure came out of the shadows. “Hi,” he said, walking around the pillar and down the walkway into the pit. “John Dae,” he said holding his hand out to Mari.
“Mari Stratten,” she said taking the hand his hand and drinking in the handsome features.
John smiled. “Korean, American with some Scot thrown in for good measure.” He shrugged. “People usually ask.” He turned to Sterling, “You have a lovely home, sir.” A thick silence hung heavy in the air. His hands slid into his pockets, eyes dropped to the ground and the sudden silence was deafening.
“Yes, it is,” Sterling replied.
Mari looked up, taken aback by coolness of Sterling’s response. There was a sudden antagonistic undercurrent and it was all directed at the newcomer. If looks could kill, John would be dead as a doornail from Jeremy, alone.
John plopped down next to Cate, who seemed to be the least hostile of the bunch, closing his eyes and leaning his head back on the cushions. “Barker gave me a raise to come, not that I had much of choice about it since I couldn’t exactly say no to him. Apparently someone told him it was going to be a big party and I was supposed to just mingle and listen and get lost in the crowd and report back to him.”
“So you’re the spy,” Jeremy said. “Usually backstabbers wait until the screws have turned before crooning like Bing Crosby.”
“If I’m going to get fired anyway…” He blew out a tired breath and turned to Sterling. “I’m sorry, sir. I needed the money. I don’t know who told him about the party though.”
“I did,” Cate answered. “Well, I didn’t tell tell him but I left enough hints that even an executive could follow.” She looked up to see everyone looking at her. “What? I wanted to see what he’d do and now we know.”
“And knowing is half the battle,” Danny quipped, then looked around at the blank faces. “GI Joe. No? Nevermind.”
“I’ll leave, sir. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am about all this.”
Sterling looked at Jeremy and nodded.
“Oh sit down, John,” Jeremy said. “Don’t be so eager to fall on the sword, especially for Barker. You're not fired. No one does technobabble like you, so we’ll keep you around for that if nothing else. So, wanna join the revolution?”