Peter fed the dollar bill into the vending machine and rapped the button with uncalled for force. He waited a split second before kicking the machine, and there was a thunk as the soda fell down and he bent to fish it out. He twisted the cap open and took a slug, walking back down the hallway towards the meeting room he had left a few minutes ago. As he entered he noticed someone else had arrived. A bespectacled young man was hanging a shoulder bag over the back of one of the chairs set around the long table. As Peter took the seat nearest the door the man glanced up and apparently recognizing him, scowled.
Peter ignored it. He picked up the book he had left on the table and started to read. One by one people filtered into the room and took seats, some of the chatting, others typing rapidly on their phones. Someone was going round the table laying scripts in front of everyone. One was laid down in front of Peter and reluctantly he set aside the book and picked it up.
Crocodiles in Space: Alligators Too was splashed across the cover. He winced and dropped it back down on the table.
“It’s an exceptional restaurant. You should check it out the next time you’re in Italy.”
Peter involuntarily titled his head to glance towards the door as he heard the familiar voice coming down the hall.
Jay, the director, entered. Beside him walked Henry Donne. Peter looked away quickly. He heard their footsteps as they crossed behind him and vaguely saw them in his peripheral vision as they moved along one side of the table to the two remaining seats. It wasn’t until they sat down, that Peter glanced over again. Henry was looking round the table and abruptly met his eyes.
Peter refused to look away first. He could feel a familiar sense of anger and injustice swell up and wasn’t going to let Henry off the hook. He was also aware that he was on unfamiliar territory and he had no desire to deal with that right now.
Jay cleared his throat and Henry turned to him, taking the excuse to look away. The director was smiling and beaming around the table. “I think we’re ready to get started,” he said. “So happy to have some of you guys back with us and welcome to the newcomers to our little series. I’m very excited to say that the network has given us a much bigger budget this go-round. We’re really going to be able to make something special here.”
Peter noticed Henry resting his chin on one hand, conveniently covering his mouth. He suspected the man was trying to hide a smile.
“Now,” continued Jay, “We’ve all got our scripts in front of us. I’m really happy that Marcus was willing to return and write another great story for us.” He nodded towards the man who had glared at Peter earlier.
Right, thought Peter, the screenwriter. Probably not my biggest fan then.
Jay rubbed his hands together excitedly. “And I think we’re ready to get started on the read-through. Alright everybody, let’s dig in!”
Dully, Peter flipped open the script.
“And fade to black!” Jay announced triumphantly. “Good job everyone! I think that went really well.” There was general clapping round the table. “I think we’ve probably all got some notes and thoughts we want to go over and we’ll do that when we meet up next week. I already had my assistant send out the time to everybody. That’s when we’ll really get into the meat of the story. I just wanted to use today to go through it once so we’re all familiar with it on a mutual level. I’m sure Henry here knows the importance of that. Am I right?”
Henry looked like a deer caught in the headlights, but nodded and mumbled something that Jay took to be assent. Peter was staring dumbly at the script.
Jay said a few final words and people started filing out. Henry hesitated as he passed Peter’s chair. He glanced at the number of people around and Peter who was remaining motionless. He took a few steps away from the flow heading through the door, getting ready to hang back, when Jay shanghaied him.
“Henry, I was wondering if I could pick your brain a bit. I saw your last film. Phenomenal camera work. It gave me some ideas…”
Henry took the out, and allowed himself to be talked out of the room.
As the door shut behind the last person, Peter pulled out his cellphone and dialed.
Matt’s voice greeted him cheerily. “Hey, Peter! What’s up?”
Peter struggled for words, a look of horror plastered across his face. “Did I really just read this…‘script’?” he asked, holding up the thing in question.
“I’m not sure since I’m not there, but I’d think so,” said Matt jovially. “That’s what read-throughs are for after all.”
“That’s not what I meant. When I heard the title, Alligators Too I rolled my eyes. Now there are alligators up in space. Stupid but no stupider then the original premise right? But this was a whole new level. Or a whole new low. Can I have really comprehended it correctly? My character was injected with alligator DNA which somehow magically gave him ‘alligator powers’ so he could fight crocodiles. In space.”
“Maybe it’s not as bad as you think,” suggested Matt weakly. “I mean it does take the story someplace new and unexpected.”
“Alligators don’t even have powers and I’m not a geneticist but I do know DNA does not work that way.”
“It is science fiction.”
“Heavy on the fiction apparently.”
“At least you’ll have lots of material for your commentary.”
“I bet Marcus will love that,” muttered Peter.
“The screenwriter. I don’t think he likes me very much.”
“Probably not. And uh, what about Henry? Was he there?”
“Yeah. He was here.”
“Did you talk?”
“Only in the script.”
“At least you could do that much without tearing into each other. I remember how you were the last time your worked together.”
“It’s not that bad yet at least. But the director was fawning all over him half the time. Between that, Marcus, Henry, and me, I think this is going to be one very long shoot.”