Method Actor

He said I had it in me, that killer instinct. But he couldn't have known about Gloria. That happened when I was sixteen. Water under the bridge, like they say… and Gloria, too. The producer said I was what he was looking for. Somebody who could kill his wife with a smile on his face. He offered me a part in his latest movie if I could come to California and didn't lose that sharp edge. He told me that twice.

The producer saw me in an off-off-Broadway play in New York City. One of those improv places on Canal Street near the river that would never make it to the Palace. Another guy told me he was thinking about doing a theatrical version of Taxi Driver and took my name. Said he wanted me to play the lead. But I never heard from him again. That was months ago and nobody ever saw the guy after that. I remember he kept winking at his girlfriend. He was conning me. That's the way a con man operates. I know the signs. I saw it in a movie.

I told my roommate, Jason, about the deal to go to Hollywood, at least about the big part in a movie. He said he got the same offer from the guy and was thinking about taking him up on it. I didn't believe him. Jason always had a better story than anybody else did. He also thought he was a better actor than I was. He was wrong on that one, too.

I told everybody I was heading to California to be in the movies. Jason said he was going to do that himself. He asked me how I was gonna get there since I didn't have a car. He had one. He said I could go with him if I paid for half the gas. I could do that… sort of. I spent a lot of my money on clothes so I could dress the part of an actor. I had an image to maintain. The same one the producer saw when he offered me that job if I'd do that extra bit of business for him. The clothes paid off.

Jason bored everybody about his Hollywood contract. I knew he wasn't offered the same deal I was given. Jason never played a tough guy on stage. He was the sensitive type. James Dean to my Brando.

Now here I was sitting in a cheap motel in Los Angeles, waiting for my call to the producer to go through. I was looking at the guy's fancy business card and listening to canned music.

What pissed me off was I didn't get a card from the movie guy. Jason did. But the guy asked me to come out here and kill his wife and get a part in his movie. Not Jason.

I asked Jason how he got the business card while we were on the road. He laughed. He was always laughing. He had his teeth whitened and flashed that phony smile of his. He said the producer saw something in him... probably his own reflection in those teeth. Jason said the producer saw an inner something in him that would light up the screen. The producer said it was something the camera would love. Something that would grab the audience and leave them wanting more… I thought I was going to barf. The producer told me I had an edge. That was all, except the part about getting rid of his wife with a smile on my face. The producer had a grin on his mug when he said it. I knew what that meant.

Jason said I didn't have any acting range. All I could play was a tough guy and that wouldn't get me very far. It got me to California. Jason only got as far as Arizona. I told him I could put lots of emotion on the screen. I'd just think about something that made me mad like him laughing at me for not having a fancy set of wheels or any money or having to sleep in the car while he spent the night in a motel. That made me mad. But what really griped me was him having the producer's business card. It should have been mine.

The son-of-a-bitch laughed at me when I told him I thought we had a flat tire, but he pulled the car off the parkway anyway. I can still remember the sound of the bones snapping when I broke his neck with my bare hands. I'll call up that emotion when the cameras rolled. I would just think of Jason saying it was him the producer wanted and not me.

So there I was standing behind his car in some remote hellhole in the desert. Just sand and no people. Except for that highway patrol officer who drove up right as I was pushing Jason into the trunk. The officer didn't see Jason. Just me. I told him I stopped to answer nature's call. He got a laugh out of that. I got back in the car and drove off.

I left Jason in a ditch right at the state border. You could see the WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA sign from there. At least Jason got to see California… sort of.

There was a detour on the parkway that led to what I thought was a restaurant. It looked like the Taco Bell in the Bronx except there was a palm tree next to it. It turned out to be an agricultural checking station. I thought maybe California had toll roads, but they just wanted to make sure I wasn't bringing any fruit or nuts into the state. "Just me," I told the guard. I even said I had a movie deal. He gave me one of those looks like he didn't believe me. It was the raised eyebrow stare. I was good at that expression, too. I'd practiced it until I could raise just one brow and hold it.

He waved me through and I headed for Los Angeles. There's nothing in that part of California except sand. I started thinking maybe the cities dried up and blew away. After about a million miles, I found a batch of fast food places. No pastrami. No cheesecake. No delicatessen. There was a pizza place. I'd settle for that. But it wasn't like Luigi's. Not even close.

But that wasn't my only problem. When I looked in my wallet, I saw that I had spent most of my money on gas. And then I realized I hadn't taken Jason's wallet before I dumped him in that culvert. I couldn't go back looking for him. I'd run into that highway patrolman for sure.

I had enough money left for one more tank of unleaded and a hotel room, but I might not be eating for a while. That's when I saw a girl in a pair of short jeans and a tank top standing along the side of the road. She had a cardboard sign she was holding up. It said: Hollywood or Bust.

I pulled over.

"You going to Los Angeles?" I asked.

"If that's near Hollywood, I am. I'm an actress." She sort of posed there like one of those centerfold girls. I'd seen tons of pretty girls in the theater district in New York. They were a dime a dozen. This girl was worth a little less.

"You got any money for gas?" I asked her.

"Yeah. I got some money. You goin' to Los Angeles, too?"

"Yeah. We share the cost or you're back on the pavement. Got it?"

She checked over my car, then me. Then she tossed her suitcase in the backseat and climbed in. She said her name was Addison. I told her my name was Leonardo and that I was an actor, too.

"You don't look like a Leonardo."

"What does that mean?"

"It means your name's gotta fit the person you want to be. I feel like an Addison or maybe a Stephanie today. I wanted to be Delilah, but sometimes I forget how to spell it, so I figured I better pick something easier. So what's your real name?"

"Jason," I said, trying that one on for size. "Do I look like a Jason?"

She cocked her head. "No. Your car looks like it belongs to a Jason. It's kinda fancy. I like guys with fancy cars. You look more like a guy who would drive an old Chevy… or steal one."

"What name should I have?"

"You could be a Nick. Or how about Rad? I went to school with a boy named Rad. He's in prison now. Or maybe you could be Shade. Now there's a name. It would go with your black T-shirt and jeans. Just pick a name you can spell." She laughed. "Where you from?"

"New York."

"Were you ever on Broadway?"

"Just finished a play. I was the lead. A producer saw me and-"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. He asked you to be in his movie. I hear that from 'producers'-" She made quote signs with her fingers. "…all the time. All they want is me in their bed for the night. Never gets any farther than that. What do you have to do for him to get in his movie?"

For a dumb blonde she was asking an awful lot of questions. I kept driving.

"So what did this big producer guy say to you?" she asked again since I hadn't answered.

"He said I had an inner something that would light up the screen. He said I had a face the camera would love. Something about me would grab the audience and leave them wanting more."

"He said all that? Wow. I just get propositioned and a few bucks for my time. I bet some of them weren't even in the movie business. But they paid for it. Big time. So this guy thought you were that good, huh? What movie are you gonna be in? Why didn't he fly you out here? Would there be a part for me in that movie?"

She yakked for another hundred miles until I saw the gas gauge was low. I pulled into a filling station and filled up. She paid. I told her I paid the time before and now we were even. When I started the car, it coughed and wheezed until the engine turned over.

"That doesn't sound good," she said as I pulled onto the road. "The car's probably over-heating. Did you check the water in the radiator? If there's a leak, you could be dry. I had a boyfriend who had that happen to his car. Nearly ruined that piece of crap. Had to get a new radiator 'cause the old one cracked or exploded or whatever they do. I don't know much about cars, but I know when one sounds like it isn't gonna make it. Yours sure sounds like that. Maybe you need an oil change. I'm not gonna split the cost of that with you. I don't even think this is your car. What did you do, steal it? Maybe I should look for another ride. I have-"

I gripped the wheel with my left hand and hit her in the side of the head with my right. I heard her head hit the glass and crack. Her head, not the glass. She crumpled in the seat while blood oozed out of the back of her head. I pushed her down to the floor just in case anybody could see in the car while I was driving.

I kept watching her, but she didn't move. When I got close to Los Angeles I touched her and she was getting stiff.

There was a small road off that section of parkway and I took it. I drove a little ways and then pulled in behind a few straggly trees. Boy, nothin' grows in this desert without water. There wasn't anybody around, so I dragged her out of the car and dumped her behind a prickly bush covered with bright pink flowers.

I found a few dollars in the tiny pocket of her short jeans and then got back in the car. I went through her suitcase and found even more money. She must have been good in bed because she had a lot of dough. And she had a gun.

A few of the guys in the neighborhood back home had one. Never fired one myself except on stage. Always liked doing that role. I'd stick the thing in my belt and strut around and look like I wanted to shoot everybody. You just have to call up some old memory and live it there on stage and squint a lot to let everybody know you meant business. I'd think about my old man when he used to beat up my mother. Not that she didn't deserve it 'cause she used to beat up me and my sister.

The stupid engine took even longer to turn over this time, but I managed to drive a few more miles before the car started banging and clanking. I was on the outskirts of Los Angeles when I saw an exit sign, so I got off just as smoke began pouring out from under the hood. I pulled into the weeds and stopped.

This was another Tobacco Road garden spot. I got out and walked into the center of town that was three blocks long. Three short blocks. I saw a used car dealership and had a thought.

I jogged back to the car, wiped most of Addison's blood off the seat with an old sock, and changed into my nicer pair of slacks. I put on a black sports coat over my black T-shirt, slicked back my hair, and tucked her gun in my waistband. Then I strolled into the dealership's office like I owned the world and asked the guy behind the counter if he could give me a few bucks on my car. Said I wanted to get rid of it since we already had two cars and I was going to buy the wife something nice. He looked me over and said he'd check it out. He was the owner of the place. I told him I had parked up the street. I said I ran out of gas.

He got the kid who worked on the lot to tow the car into the work bay while I filled out some papers.

"We'll check her over to see what we can give you on it. You live around here?"

"No. From out of town. Here on business. Decided to surprise the wife with a diamond bracelet. I'll fly home."

He looked at me again. I could tell he was thinking about something.
"You got the pink slip on this here car of yours?'

"A what?"

He took a step back. There was something in his eyes that said I screwed up my lines. I moved toward him. His helper was still in the lot. I saw him through the front window. The owner stepped back some more.

"Get out now and I won't call the cops," he said.

I yanked the gun out of my waistband and pulled the trigger. Once, twice, three times. Nothing. The damn thing wasn't loaded.

The guy grinned at me like I was the idiot. I stepped toward him and hit him with the butt end of the gun. He stopped laughing and fell to his knees. I had dropped the gun by then, but the guy didn't scream because I had grabbed his throat before he could open his big mouth. He was a short guy. Short and fat. His neck was thick. It took both hands. I didn't hear any bones break but his face turned red before his eyes bulged and he went limp.

I snatched a handful of keys on the rack behind the counter. They were to the vehicles on the lot. One had a big #19 on it. The kid who towed my car was still busying himself around the area. I walked out the door, went over to Jason's car, grabbed my suitcase, and then went looking for car number nineteen. The parking spots weren't marked. I pressed the button on the key and the car next to me chirped. I jumped a foot.

I eased around to the other side and pretended to be admiring the silky lines of the slick, silver car. I opened the driver-side door and dropped into the front seat. With the key in my hand, I stared down at the dashboard. The stupid car didn't have an ignition.

"How the hell do you start this thing?"

The kid wiping down the vehicles in the lot looked over the top of the car he was polishing and smiled. I smiled back and got out of the silver car.

The next key I looked at was #5. The key didn't have a button to push, so I wandered around the front of the lot trying to get a clue where it was parked.

"What number do you want?" called the kid.


He pointed toward the first row of cars and then glanced back at the office. I walked over to the row he indicated but still didn't know which car.
"The fifth one," he called out.
As I walked down the row of vehicles, I kept looking back at the kid. I spotted #5 and looked at him again. This time he stopped wiping down the red Corvette he was shining and started to walk to the office. I got into the driver's seat of the older model car, shut the door, and turned over the engine. At least this four-wheel chariot started like a normal car.

By then the kid was mounting the steps to the office. I gunned the engine and got out of there. But the old buggy was nearly out of gas. I'm sure lucky I took Addison's money. I filled up and headed into the big city.

That was just a few days ago. I dumped the old car after I found a place to stay.

And here I sat in a crummy motel in Hollywood, waiting for the producer to come on the line. I told his secretary I had his card and that he had seen me in a play in New York and that he had asked me to call him when I got into town. She asked my name again and I told her. I gave her the name of the play and that her boss said he had a special part for me in an upcoming movie.

She put me on hold again.

While I waited, I noticed the television in the motel room went to the local news. They were running the story about the car dealership guy getting strangled and about the car towed into the lot. The cops noticed the blood in the front passenger seat and evidence of another body in the trunk. They were looking for a young, good-looking man in a black shirt. Good-looking. I liked that.

They were also hunting for a guy named Mike Corlon. That was the name I had written on the dealership form.

The news reporter kind of smirked and said, "Do you think he meant Michael Corleone? You know, like the gangster in The Godfather." The news guy also said that maybe the killer was trying to be funny. Or maybe he didn't know how to spell the name.

That made me think of Addison… Delilah… whatever her name was. We both had trouble with spelling our aliases. But hey, I'm an actor. We don't have to know how to spell.

Anyway, it turned out her name was Daisy. Somebody found her body. And here I thought California was so big nobody would find her. It's easier hiding a body in the East River near Astoria. And ol' Daisy had a rap sheet. Seems she would pick up guys along the highway, pull a gun, and steal their money. Got to hand it to her. She sure had the Hollywood actress act down pretty good. She might have made it big in the movies.

The producer's secretary finally came back on the line.

"Mr. Woodruff can see you tomorrow at ten. Do you know how to get to the office?"

"Yeah. No problem. Ten."

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out where the hell his office was and how to get there by bus. Then somebody told me it would be easier to take the subway. I thought the guy was being a smart ass since he knew I was from New York, but they really have a subway in Los Angeles. I could walk to the subway entrance on Western and go north to the Universal City stop. Piece of cake.

I wore a black shirt with the black T-shirt underneath. I used a laundromat to wash my jeans and I cleaned up my shoes. None of the stuff I got from Jason fit, so I dumped it in a Goodwill bin. I sure wish I had taken his wallet.

I got to the meeting on time. The subways run every ten-twelve minutes. Just like home. I could get used to this. Woodruff's secretary pointed to his office and I walked in.

Woodruff was a big man. I guess he ate regularly. His head was shaved, but I don't think it was a fashion statement. Guys his age, fifty-ish, were "follicle-ly" challenged. He was kinda sizing me up like he didn't remember me.

"Where are you from again?"

"New York." I said it with attitude. This bum didn't know me from Adam.

"Long way from the Big Apple. How'd you get out here?"

"Flew. Don't have a car. Nobody I know has one in New York."

"That's New York for ya. I saw some really good plays when I was there. You… you were in that artsy one on Canal Street. Right? Just the 'killer' I was looking for. Didn't know if you would take me up on my offer. Glad you did. Really glad you did."

He did remember me. I knew I had presence on the stage. And Jason said I was totally forgettable. What did he know?

"Well, I'm glad you came to see me. I don't give my card to everybody I meet. Sometimes fate just lets things happen."

He smiled. I knew what he meant.

This guy was so cool. He remembered me, but he wanted to keep this strictly professional. No need to advertise the deed I was to perform. And I could improvise, too. Did it a million times in acting class. Give me a scene to play and I'll deliver.

"I've played a lot of bad boys on stage. I can do the same thing for you."

He gave me a knowing nod.

"I'll have you meet my wife and get that over with. Then we can schedule rehearsals. My location scout has a few places lined up. I'll have my secretary get you a script. Familiarize yourself with the part. Are you busy tonight?"


"Yeah. If I can get this thing with my wife taken care of first, the more time I can devote to the main scenes in the film. Did we talk about this in New York?"

"Not much, just the part about your wife."

"Oh. I was pulling what hair I have left out over that one. Read the script, then come by tonight and we can take care of the old ball and chain." He laughed at that. "And thanks for doing this. It means a great deal to me."


"My secretary will arrange for a car to pick you up." He stopped and looked at me. "I'll make it worth your while." He gave a small nod and went back to the work he had on his desk.

Woodruff's secretary was waiting for me. She had me sign a contract and then handed me a script.

"This one's marked up already, but there will be rewrites before they even get you in front of the camera. You know how it goes." She looked me up and down. "You'll be great in the part. He does know how to pick 'em."

I took the script.

"Where are you staying?" she asked.

I didn't want to give her the name of the fleabag joint that I could afford, but I had seen a better hotel a few blocks away that would work.

"The Hollywood Star Hotel."

She did one of those slow turns with her head that said I had made a joke. Only thing was-I didn't know the punch line, but I knew how to ad lib.

"Any place to hang my hat," I said.

"At least it's on the main drag and not one of those cheesy Hollywood day spas that charge by the hour. Dumps like the Nomad Inn or The Last Retreat, for God's sake, are strictly for wannabe actors when they first come to Tinseltown and end up selling themselves on the street."

The last motel she named was mine. No wonder the manager was surprised I wanted to rent a room for the week.

"The Hollywood Star was the only place I could find," I said and shrugged. "I'm moving into an apartment the first of the month."

She gave me one of those looks that said she half believed me. Then she said, "Have you ever seen his wife in a movie?"

I was surprised she asked about the wife, but then I took a closer look at this babe. She could have been in the movies herself. She filled out her sweater like a Victoria's Secret model. Oh. I get it. I was getting rid of the "ball and chain" so this tootsie could move into the main house. Happens all the time.

I shook my head in answer to her question.

She pointed to a picture on the wall. In fact, there were several pictures of the same famous face. Jeez. Woodruff's old lady was Lydia Marshall. She had a great career. She had to be a good ten years older than Woodruff. Maybe they couldn't do another facelift on her or maybe she was getting too temperamental and he didn't want to put up with her anymore.

I get it. This was Sorry, Wrong Number meets Double Indemnity. Instead of the husband being blackmailed, he wants the wife dead to collect the insurance. Sure. He needed the money. I looked around his office. Everything looked old, except for the hot secretary. She had a lot of good miles left on her.

"What do you think of her?" I asked.

She hesitated and looked away. Boy was that a sign of guilt. She knew what her boss wanted me to do. "She has a mind of her own. I guess that's what you get when you've made so many Oscar-winning movies. You take care of her and Don- Mr. Woodruff- will do what he can for your career."

So it's "Don" to Little Miss Cute Tush Secretary. I bet she uses his first name whenever nobody's around.

"The car will be at your… hotel at seven. Casual dress."

She was hiding something. I could see it in her face. It was one of those looks that said she knew our secret. I raised a conspiratorial eyebrow and she gave me a slight nod.

I tucked the script under my arm and left. I rode the subway back to the Western Avenue station and scoped out the Hollywood Star Hotel. On second look, it was a little seedy, too. The couple heading to an upstairs room at that hour kind of told me the place wasn't exactly a Christian Science Reading Room.

I walked back to my motel. I ironed my wrinkled slacks and shirt. I had to borrow the iron from the scrub lady who was cleaning out the room across the hall. The place needed to be fumigated before they let anybody else occupy it. I knew the maid expected a tip, but I'm sure she knew she wouldn't get one from me. She gave me that ten-second stare and her hand went out to me, palm up, but I ran my own hand through my hair like a 50s rock star, ignoring her, and went into my room and closed the door.

The rest of the day was spent reading the script. I got the leading man's part. The character's name was circled and all his lines were highlighted with a yellow marker. I guess Woodruff wanted me to find my part easily.

The storyline was dark. My character was moody and tough. There was a part for an older woman who has a nasty boyfriend who roughs her up and gets his head blown off in the first scene. As I kept reading, the woman's role ate up half the script. If this was Lydia Marshall's part, Woodruff must want her out of the way fast so he could put another actress into the role before too much film was in the can. I wondered who they had in the wings. Old Lydia Marshall would be perfect for this role.

But my part, the male lead, was awesome. This guy was cool and quoted Shakespeare. I'd have to brush up on the bard before cameras rolled. I'm glad I didn't get stuck with the part of the guy who gets killed. He was one tough s.o.b., but kind of stupid, if you know what I mean.

Woodruff saw something in me that spoke to him, he wanted me in the lead, and I wasn't about to disappoint him. And all it would cost is me getting rid of his wife… with a smile.

I was on the sidewalk outside the other hotel at seven. A limo pulled to the curb and at first I thought it was a hearse, it was so long. I got in. Man, this was great. We drove up into the hills to a high-class neighborhood like you see in the movies. But this time I was starring in the picture.

The limo dropped me at the front door and a man was waiting there to let me in. He was dressed better than I was, but come to find out, he was the butler. I thought they were only in the movies. He showed me into a room the size of the lobby at the Plaza. He even offered me a drink. I said I'd take a beer and his eyebrow went up. Everybody must be able to do that in Hollywood. Then the idiot poured the beer in a glass. Both my eyebrows went up on that one.

A few minutes later Woodruff came in. He was wearing a different suit than what he had on in the office this morning. It looked pretty sharp considering the size of the guy's gut.

"Did you read your part?"

"Yeah. Thanks for marking the scenes. I've been practicing all afternoon."

He gave me an odd look like maybe I was kidding him, but I wanted to thank him for highlighting my lines. I had almost as many as the leading lady.

"I want you to take care of this thing with my wife now. She's been nagging me for a month and when I saw you in that play I thought you could take care of her for me. I couldn't find anybody here in L.A. who had that killer look. I guess Californians have gotten too soft."

We both laughed.

"Where is she?"

"In the library." He pointed to a pair of big wooden doors.

"I take it the guy who showed me in here will handle things when I'm finished."

"Whatever you need. Do you want another beer?"

I shook my head.

"Thanks again for flying out here to do this. But it will make the movie shoot a lot easier once my wife's taken care of. You married?"

I shook my head again. I was getting into the part and had to concentrate.

"Marriage can make you do things you never thought you'd do. Maybe I should have tried this with my first wife. She was an actress. It would have been a lot easier… and cheaper."

He gave a short laugh. I wondered if he got rid of that "ball and chain," too.

I walked into the room. I'd never seen so many books except when I had to do detention in my high school library. Lydia Marshall was sitting in a big chair reading a script. I wanted to tell her she didn't have to bother. Her old man was replacing her in the part. She looked up and I saw that famous face. It looked kinda rough now. Just like she was supposed to look in that first scene when the young tough beats her up before he gets his head shot off. Special effects will do a great job with that.

She was wearing a chunky necklace that looked like it was made of broken beer bottles. It covered most of her neck, but even from where I stood I could see the sagging wrinkles.

"Are you the boy Don picked? He said you had something."

I didn't like the "boy" part.

"Do you know your lines? I suggested a couple of changes and the studio will send around the rewrites by Thursday. I'll tell you what I want you to do when the time comes. Come a little closer." She looked me over. "At least you're tall enough. A lot of the guys I've worked with are shorter than I am and I have to wear flats. I hate wearing flats. My legs are still my biggest asset and the camera loves them. My personal trainer makes sure they stay that way."

She dropped her script and stood up. She got closer and studied me.

"Yeah. You do have that look. Hate to mess up that face, but the part will be memorable."

I smiled at her and stepped closer. Something about the move made her nervous. She put her hand out like she was going to push me away.

There was fear in her eyes.

"Do you want to do the first scene when I come into your bedroom?" I asked. I knew that scene got me very close to her.

"Bedroom? Your scene is in the living room. Just follow the script. You only have three lines. I do most of the dialogue."

She kept talking, but I had tuned her out. What she was saying didn't make any sense anyway. That was probably all the new stuff she wanted the director to add. What she didn't know was the rewrite her husband had in mind. I knew that part.

I smiled at her again. Her eyebrows went up as she tried to back away.

My hands were around her throat by then. She managed a few screams. One really loud one. I pushed her down on the couch so I could pin her under my knee as I squeezed, but the old gal's legs were in great shape.

That's when I heard yelling behind me. I turned my head and saw Woodruff. He was screaming at me. The old fart who had opened the front door was there, too, with a baseball bat in his hand.

Woodruff kept yelling. I kept smiling just like he wanted me to while I was trying to kill his wife.

Then I heard a gunshot. It echoed in the room. I didn't know where it came from, but the noise hurt my ears and my chest seemed to be on fire. I rolled sideways and Lydia slipped out of my reach. The room started to swim in front of me, but I could still see Lydia as she slid off the couch and onto the floor. She was shaking her head.

I turned around and caught a glimpse of Woodruff with a gun in his hand. He had knelt down next to his wife. He was playing his role really well. You know, the distraught husband part. Boy, he sure had the angst down. I could almost swear he didn't want me to kill his---

Originally published in LAst Resort, an anthology presented by Sisters-in-Crime Los Angeles in April 2017, published by Down and Out Publishing.

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