IT WAS A typical Hollywood story: At 10:22 Wednesday morning, Ronnie Deal had Brad Pitt; at 4:51 that same afternoon, she didn't.
These things happened to movie producers, of course. Star players drifted in and out of film projects like children on a sugar high running from room to room. No one understood this better than Ronnie. But sometimes the sudden downturn in a producer's fortunes had nothing to do with the cruel hand of fate and everything to do with simple subterfuge. Sometimes the key talent attached to a project went away not on a whim, but because somebody somewhere pushed a button. That was what had happened to Ronnie today. She was certain of it. Brad Pitt's bailout from Trouble Town had Andy Gleason's handwriting all over it.
From her lonely little corner table in the back shadows of the Tiki Shack bar, Ronnie allowed the realization to bring her to a slow boil.
There were all kinds of rivals in the film business--crosstown competitors, cutthroat wannabes, paranoid old-timers-but the so-called "teammate" who worked in the next office over was by far the worst kind of all. Ronnie and Andy Gleason were junior development execs at the same production company, Velocity Pictures, and the two twentysomethings had been knocking heads ever since Ronnie came aboard two and a half years ago. Their problems started with Andy's thinly veiled hatred of all things female, and blossomed from there, culminating in his wholly undisguised ambition to become the company's VP, a position he rightly feared Ronnie had earmarked for herself.
The good news was that Ronnie knew how to handle the Andy Gleasons of the world. It was something she'd been forced to learn in her early teens just to stay afloat, long before the thought of selling her soul to Hollywood had ever entered her mind. Because Ronnie was smart, single, and beautiful--"heartbreak in a tall, dark hourglass," somebody had once called her-and this was a combination that drew some people's ire like a big, wet spit in the eye. All they had to do was watch Ronnie enter a room-olive-skinned, green-eyed, with straight auburn hair and a cover-girl body-to instantly despise her. Discovering later that she actually had a brain only intensified their disdain. So, by default, Ronnie had developed ways to defend herself, all of which could be summarized thusly: Cut first, and to the bone. Hence, the nickname some in the Business had given her to demonize her, a black heart being a more palatable explanation for her every achievement than mere competence:
Ronnie actually laughed the first time she heard it, and she'd been laughing off and on ever since. These people didn't know how "raw" she could be. They only knew what they'd seen of her in the three short years she'd been in L.A.; had they any knowledge of her life prior to Hollywood, when the damage she liked to do to herself and others had been far more tangible than anything one could suffer in business, they would all recoil in horror as one. But these Beautiful People had no such knowledge, and never would, and so went blissfully on believing that the extent of Ronnie Deal's ruthlessness could be found in the fine print of a cutthroat deal memo.
"Raw" Deal, indeed.
The moniker made her sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for Chrissakes. Men looted and pillaged their way to the top in Hollywood, and got Oscars; Ronnie tried the same thing, and people treated her like a serial killer. The inequity was almost enough to make a woman give up her six-figure salary and do something genuinely meaningful with her life.
No, Ronnie was stuck with Andy Gleason, just as she'd been stuck with all the other misogynistic assholes she'd been forced to deal with before him, and she was going to have to devise a way to dispose of him that wouldn't leave blood all over the floor. For few things were admired more in Hollywood than the clean kill. Messy ones were a necessary evil in the Business, but they weren't good for your resume; better that you were known for having once cut an adversary's heart out with a scalpel than disemboweled him with a pickax. One approach took real skill, the other only enmity, and the latter was about as rare a commodity in La-La Land as a half-empty bottle of Perrier.
From Man Eater by Ray Shannon, Copyright © 2003 by Gar Anthony Haywood, Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), Inc., All Rights Reserved, Reprinted with Permission from the Publisher.
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