PATRICK’S NERVES SPIKED. He followed the attendant towards a large open area. Then trailed her to a huddle of people who sat under a canopy tent. A small array of video monitors perched in front of them and a man in the group yelled.
“Is this him? You’re soldier number nine?”
“Yes.” He glanced at the group and noticed a dark-haired guy standing.
“Where have you been?” The man beckoned. “Come with me!”
While scurrying to his side, Patrick listened as the man spoke. “This scene is incredibly simple. Adriana’s searching for the Iraqi gold map.” He looked at Patrick. “Tell me you read the script; you know the lines.”
“Yeah, I read what they…”
“Good. Adriana’s searching for the map. Archie doesn’t want her to find it because he wants the gold for himself. Simple, right?” Patrick nodded nervously. “Yeah.”
“Just like I said.”
They approached a dusty-beige army Jeep. Behind it, he recognized George Clooney. Next to him, stood Nora Dunn. She smiled as the man beside Patrick spoke. “Archie! Adriana! This is soldier #9.”
“Hey! How’s it goin? Good to meet ya.” George extended his arm and Patrick shook it.
“Nice to meet you too.” As George smiled, Nora spoke. “Hi, good to meet you.” She extended her hand and Patrick reciprocated, then George eyed the man.
“We ready, David?”
“Yes. Let’s walk through it.”
David, side-spoke to Patrick while turning away from the Jeep.“You’re gonna walk in front of them. While you’re walking, we’ll do the scene. They’ll be over your shoulder.” He looked at Nora and George. “Guys, come up here.”
David walked backward and positioned his left-hand in the air while speaking aloud. “Camera’s here! Okay?” He pointed at Patrick. “You look off camera, to your right. While you’re walking, Archie starts the scene. Archie?” George spoke from behind. “So, it was in the guy’s ass?” Patrick stopped moving.
“No!” said David.
He frowned at Patrick, “Walk while you talk, c’mon!”
“Okay.” Patrick moved forward and spoke.
“That’s not the real story. It was in the guy’s dick.”
“A ten-page map atlas of Saddam’s bunkers?” said Nora.
“Yeah, but it was real small. Like one of those books you find in a box of Cracker Jacks.”
“Box of Cracker Jacks?” David snarled. “Is that the line!?”
“I think so.”
He raised his hand in the air and shook it. “What’s the last line?!” A woman shuffled to his side. She spoke while reading from the script. “Yeah, but it was real small. Like one of those books you find in Cracker Jacks.”
“That’s what I thought!” He glared at Patrick.
“It’s not ‘box of Cracker Jacks!’ It’s, ‘Cracker Jacks.’”
Patrick nodded nervously. “Oh! I don’t know why I said that.”
“Do it then!”
David scrunched his face. “You need something.” He glanced at the script reader while pointing at Patrick. “He should be holding something!” Her eyes opened wide; then a man yelled while approaching them. “I got it!” He handed Patrick a Manila folder with the word ‘URGENT’ stamped on it. “Perfect!” said David. He stepped forward and positioned the folder under Patrick’s left arm. “Hold it like this, so we get the text in the shot. After you say the last line, extend your right arm up. Like your putting the folder on an imaginary shelf. Like this.” He grasped Patrick’s right arm. “Grab the folder.”
As Patrick responded, David pulled his arm up. “Pretend to put it overhead, here. Then hold it.” He glanced at the man who’d given Patrick the folder. “He’ll take it from you, off camera. “Got it?” Patrick nodded. “Yes.”
“Good! Let’s dry-run!”
THE GROUP RETURNED TO THE JEEP AREA as David spoke into a megaphone. “Dry-run! Everyone! Go to start!” Afterward, Patrick walked through the scene and recited his lines. Upon Nora’s prompt for the final one, he recited.
“Yeah, but it was real small. Like one of those books you find in a box of Cracker Jacks.”
“No!” yelled David. “It’s just Cracker Jacks. Don’t say box!”
“Ugh! I don’t know why I keep saying that.” David barked into the megaphone.
“Okay! Let’s do this. Everyone to start! This one’s live!” While returning to scene start, Patrick scolded himself… shit! What’s wrong with me? His nerves rattled as he watched the surrounded background actors and film crew return to their places… there must be fifty people involved in this scene! They’ll reset because of me if I screwed this up!
David returned to the small crowd under the canopy tent, then yelled into the megaphone. “Roll camera. Sound! Everyone, action on go! Quiet on set!”
Seconds later. “Marker!” yelled a man. He stepped in front of Patrick, holding a clapperboard with red digital numbers on it. “Scene twelve. Map search number 1. Take one.”
The Director yelled, “Aaaand… GO!”
In front of him, a camera-man walked backward. Next to him, a pair of ladies scooted while carrying coiled cables. Above his head, a boom microphone perched like a carrot on a string. Patrick stepped forward, but was distracted by the movement of the surrounding actors and crew. George recited the first line. Patrick’s eyes widened. He froze. Then realized… I missed my cue!
“Cut!” Yelled David. “Reset! Back to start!” Patrick’s heart pounded. His sweat glands dripped into overdrive. “Soldier number nine! You’re good, right?”
“All right!” As they returned to start, George spoke calmly. “Don’t worry about it. We had to do this kind of thing when I was in ER. Recite lines while walking? It’s a little strange, but you get used to it.” Patrick grimaced. “I didn’t think we’d be walking.”
“It took me a while to get comfortable with it, too. Don’t worry bout it.”
HE BLURRED the remaining takes and lost count of how many they filmed. To this day, Patrick couldn’t recall… was it twelve, or twenty? During each recording, the surreality of the moment blended like a dream, or an out of body experience. He blundered the final line every time, but his comfort level increased as he thought to himself… I could do this for a living. After what-may-have-been the thirtieth take, David announced. “That’s it for now. Everyone! Let’s break!” Patrick scrunched his face, then looked at George who spoke. “Good. Time for lunch. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
“Is that it for the scene?” asked Patrick.
“David’ll review it while we eat. He’ll let us know.”
“Okay.” Patrick questioned himself… did I do well enough? Are they gonna delete this scene? I screwed up the last line every time! George approached a group of background actors. They shot a basketball towards a makeshift hoop, attached to a pole; stuck in the dirt. “Pass it here! I got this!” he said. Upon receiving the ball, he launched it from twenty feet. It swooshed; nothing-but-net as the group cheered! “Whoa!” They passed the ball back. George stepped forward and caught it in stride. He dribbled forward, then back through his legs before hurling the ball into the air. It went in too. “Yeah!”
“He loves this shit.” said Nora.
Patrick nodded, “He’s pretty good.”
She stepped towards craft services as another actor approached Patrick. He had a wide smile and led a small group of folks, trailing behind him. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Cool. Can I get a photo?” Patrick tilted his head in thought… a photo? With me? Why would you want that? Though he responded, “Sure.”
The man handed his camera to another guy standing next to him. Afterward, he huddled in close, then draped his arm around Patrick’s shoulder. “Cheese!”
“Thanks, man! Can I get your autograph?”
The man retrieved a sheet of paper from his pocket and handed Patrick a pen.
“I don’t have anything to sign on.”
“Use my back!” He turned around, then Patrick scribbled his signature. Afterward, the guy smiled and extended his hand. “Awesome! Thanks.” Patrick looked up towards a row of ten other actors, all lined up for photos and autographs. After the final photo, one of the folks approached him from behind. “How many movies have you been in?” he asked.
“This is my first one.”
“Oh. I thought you’d been a bunch of them. I been in a few. I never had any speaking lines though. You’re lucky, man!”
“I guess so. All this is kinda crazy.”
The man extended his hand. “My name’s Gerald.” Patrick shook it while speaking. “I’m Patrick.” Gerald pointed towards another actor, fifty-feet-away. “You know him?” Patrick followed the direction of his arm, then spoke. “No.”
“He’s been in a bunch of movies as an extra. He was in Forrest Gump, Natural Born Killers, and Speed. Want me to introduce you?”
“No. But thanks. I gotta eat. They might film more of the scene after lunch.”
“No problem. You know anyone in town?”
“We should exchange information. In case either of us becomes famous.” Gerald retrieved a sheet of paper from his pocket, then scribbled his name and number on it before prompting Patrick to do the same. “I used to be on the practice squad for the San Diego Chargers. I was a walk-on.”
“Oh.” Patrick glanced at Gerald’s size. He stood five-feet-eleven-inches tall and carried broad shoulders. They capitalized his frame, teetering above a solid-brick-like frame.
“Why’d you stop?”
“I blew out my knee. MCL. After that, I looked for acting gigs.”
“Ouch. Yeah, this is way safer, compared to football.”
Gerald nodded while speaking.
“I know someone in town. A friend of mine. When do you leave?”
“Saturday. Tomorrow night.”
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Probably watching TV in the hotel.”
“My friend’s real cool. She’s nice. I’ll write her name and number for you. Gimme that paper back?” Patrick retrieved the sheet Gerald had written his name on, then handed it to him. “Her name’s Esmeralda. If you got nuthin to do tonight, give her a call. I’ll tell her to expect you. She’s nice.”
“What does she do?”
“Where does she work?”
“She’s a waitress. Oh!” Gerald laughed as his eyes lit up. “I see what you’re askin’! She’s not a hooker, man! She’s a friend of mine. Don’t try nuthin with her! She ain’t like that!”
Patrick smiled. “Just wanted to make sure.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you! She’s cool. But, it’s no big deal. If you got nuthin to do, give her call. She’s good people.”
“No problem. Take care.” They shook hands, then Gerald walked away. Afterward, Patrick entered the Craft Services tent. He stood in line, then loaded his plate with food before finding a seat. Upon completing his meal, he returned to the scene area and spotted Nora Dunn. “Are we gonna do more of the scene?” Nora shook her head. “I guess not. David said we’re good.” Patrick glanced at his shirt.
“I should probably return these clothes, then?”
“Nah. Just keep em. I steal clothes all the time!”
“No. Don’t take the clothes! I’m totally kidding.”
AT FIVE P.M. HE SAT ON HIS HOTEL BED, recanting the experience of the day. A glass of Rum and Coke swirled in his hand while the world’s most mundane programs cast light and shadows against all walls in the tiny hotel room. The channel switched…
some guy speeding in a car through city streets. Police chasing him.
basketball; Bucks versus Jazz.
Switch. Switch. Switch.
On the nightstand, lay the sheet of paper he’d received from Gerald. Upon grabbing it, Patrick tapped his index finger against its face, then trailed it along the paper’s edge. Esmeralda’s name and number reflected in his gaze… screw it; I’m calling her. Midway through the third ring, a woman’s gentle voice responded.
“Hi. Is this Esmeralda?”
“My name’s Patrick. I was on set for a movie today, in Calexico, called Three King’s. I met a friend of yours named Gerald there? He gave me your number and mentioned you’re someone cool that might want to hang out with me tonight. It’s my last night in town. You know? I’m listening to myself say this. It sounds really weird. Anyway, I’m flying back to Phoenix tomorrow night. Do you know Gerald?”
“Yes. He told me about you.”
“Good! I was afraid you didn’t know him at all.”
Esmeralda chuckled. “I know Gerald. He’s very nice.”
“Awesome! Do you mind hanging out with a total stranger? Ugh – before I ask that, I should probably ask, is this a good time for me to call? Are you busy?”
“I am not too busy. Where are you staying?”
“Do you have a car?”
“No. They flew me in for the movie, then dropped me off here. I can walk someplace to meet you though.” Esmeralda laughed. “You’re funny. I will pick you up.”
“How about seven o’clock?”
“Sounds good. I’ll wait for you downstairs, in the lobby.”
“See you soon.”
Upon hanging up. Patrick stood and questioned himself… is this a bad idea? What if this is a trap? Maybe she lures lonely idiots into the desert. Then they get jacked and robbed, or kidnapped and shipped to Mexico? He smiled to himself… good thing I’m not Caucasian. Nobody kidnaps African-Americans in the U.S.
AT SEVEN P.M. ON THE DOT, he noticed a vehicle pull in front of the Best Western lobby’s double-doors. It was a beat up Dodge Diplomat. The vehicles brakes squeaked as it lurched to a stop, then Patrick exited the hotel. He approached the open passenger door window while speaking. “Are you Esmeralda?” The woman in the driver’s seat smiled. “Yes.” Patrick opened the door and looked at the passenger seat. It was covered with papers. On the floor, crumpled ‘Jack In The Box’ bags lay mixed with small children’s toys. Esmeralda looked at the seat, and floor.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You can throw that in back. Don’t worry about the floor.”
“No worries.” Patrick gathered the papers, then placed them on the rear floor as he sat.
“Are you hungry?” said Esmeralda.
“I could eat.”
“You like Mexican food?”
“I do.” Esmeralda smirked as she drove out of the parking lot. “I’ll take you someplace special.” Two minutes later, they pulled into D-Chano’s parking lot.
“Oh! I’ve been here. Two days ago, I ate here.” said Patrick.
“What did you eat?”
“A carnitas Burrito. It was good.”
“Have you ever had Tamales?”
Patrick looked down to his right. “I don’t think so.”
“They have great Tamales here. You will like them.” Upon exiting the car, he followed Esmeralda into the bustling restaurant, then trailed her to a table in the far right corner.
Tejana music pounded through the room as Patrick thought… it’s three times louder than before. Esmeralda spoke while he sat. “You like Tequila?”
“I love Tequila!”
“I’ll order for us.”
“Okay!” As Esmeralda approached the bar, Patrick examined her appearance. She wore dark brown two-inch-heels beneath tight, baby blue jeans and a sleeveless white top. It was tied in the middle and rested above her waist, revealing the brown sugar skin of her midsection. She stood about five-feet-four and walked with a switch. Hips swaying lightly. Upon approaching the bar, she shouted something towards a female bartender. The woman smiled, then embraced her gently over the bar-top.
Seconds later, Esmeralda returned to the table, cradling four Tequila shots as Patrick widened his gaze. “Geez! Four shots?! You’re not messin around. These just for you?”
Her eyes twinkled.
She placed the shots on the table while sitting, then grabbed one and smiled. “Are you ready?” Patrick glanced at the table top. “No Lemon, or salt?”
“We don’t need that!”
“Okay.” He extended his shot glass towards hers. “Cheers!“
The venomous liquid coursed warmly through his body. Smooth, not bitter. “What kind of Tequila is this?”
“Don Julio Real!”
“Ready for one more?”
“Si.” They drank the second shot. Then a waitress placed three plates of food on their table. One loaded with Tortilla Chips, another piled with Brown rice, and a third stacked with Tamales. Esmeralda pointed at the last plate. “This recipe is same as if we are in Mexico. La casa de tu madre.” Patrick absorbed her facial features. Free of makeup, Esmeralda’s flawless skin surrounded plump lips. She had waves of elbow length black hair draping large brown eyes. “It’s a mix of pollo adobo and carne asada. Try one.”
He picked up a Tamale before removing the moist corn husk wrapper. Then bit into the beige cornmeal, surrounding a thick pocket of seasoned beef. “It’s good!” Esmeralda smiled. “I told you!” There’s a moment of silence, filled with music, and loud conversation from other restaurant patrons.
“How many movies have you been in?”
“Just this one. This was my first. It’s funny; I’ve been to a bunch of auditions. Ten, or something like that? This is the only role I’ve gotten so far. It was nice though. I did a scene with George Clooney today.”
“Really? With Batman?”
“Yeah! The dark knight! It surprised me too. I didn’t know he was in the movie. Plus, he seemed really cool. After we did the scene, he shot basketball with other actors. George made good shots!”
“What were your lines?”
Patrick recited all lines from the scene. And described the nervousness he experienced while filming it. Lastly, he explained the final sentence he’d repeatedly butchered.
“Do you think you will be in more movies?”
“I don’t know. But probably not. It’s hard to attend auditions consistently. I have an agent, but they don’t provide a lot of time to prepare for auditions. Usually, I get a day. Like, they’ll call me on a Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. and say, ‘There’s an audition tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Can you go?’ I have a full-time job. I can’t call in sick, or not show up at work every other week. But the thing is, once you miss two or three auditions in-a-row, the agent stops calling.”
Another moment of silence.
“Are you from El Centro?” said Patrick.
“No. I’m from Mexico.”
“How long have you lived here?”
“Maybe, ten years.”
“How do you like it?”
Esmeralda shrugged her shoulders. “You’ve seen this place? It’s boring. But I’m close to family. I cross the border to visit them. Y mi madre lives here.” Patrick didn’t want to pry into her personal life… it would be rude to ask family questions. He glanced around the room. Then listened momentarily to the sound of distorted Tejano music, shrilling through the speakers. He raised his index finger towards the sky.
“You like Tejano?”
Esmeralda leaned in close, then spoke into his ear. “Everyone here loves Tejano. I like Merengue.” Patrick’s eyes shined. “I like Merengue too! You know Elvis Crespo?”
“Suavemente!” Patrick sang the lyrical phrase as Esmeralda joined in. “Bésame. Que yo quiero sentir tus labios. Besándome otra vez.” He raised his hands. “I don’t know the lyrics as well as you! My Spanish is non-existent.” Esmeralda pointed towards the wall beside the door. “They have a jukebox here. If we play Merengue, will you dance with me?”
The duo approached the jukebox. Then Patrick deposited a dollar as Esmeralda guided their selection of four songs. Upon returning to their table, they small talked.
Three songs later…