All Animals Scream
The cop's lips are moving so fast it looks like he has been badly dubbed.
I have no idea what he is saying, but he keeps gesturing franticly towards the Intercontinental Hotel. My hotel. A small crowd of tourists has gathered at the gaping mouth of the adjacent alleyway. Lousy rubberneckers. A fat man in a tropical-print shirt holds up his hands - they are plastered in blood.
The director, Arnaldo, is small and slight. He has a wiry intensity that reminds me of some particularly vicious petty criminals I knew when I was growing up. He dismisses the uniformed cop with a nonchalant shrug, and weaves his way through the throng of bellbottomed extras, towards me.
I suck in my gut, pointlessly, and stand up straight. I offer him my hand. He brushes past me, and beckons towards his trailer with an unlit cigarette.
I have been working on this picture with Arnaldo for almost three weeks, but he has never invited me inside before now. The walls are plastered with lurid posters of his previous movies. Garish male fantasies with nonsensical titles. All but one of the posters feature naked girls. Nubile young blondes. It could be the same girl for all I know - I can't see shit without my eyeglasses. I brush a discarded black lace glove off the banquette and sit down. The seating heaves under my bulk, and Arnaldo winces.
The skinny little bastard sure has a nerve. I glance down at the glove, and wonder whether he ever wears it to masturbate?
Arnaldo offers me a cigarette. I nod, and he ignites it with a chunky, expensive-looking lighter. It tastes noxious. It reminds me of working on a movie called 'Dead From The Waist Down', in which the director used real chloroform in the kidnap scenes. I played a cop on the trail of a wheelchair-bound serial killer. I must have passed out six times shooting the climactic fight scene. At some point I cracked my head open on the wheelchair and the gash required twelve stitches.
Arnaldo puffs on his own cigarette, massaging the bridge of his nose.
"Signor Norton. I am sorry to tell you: the shoot has been postponed. The dead girl in the alley. She was the third girl this month. The Mayor has demanded that we bring a halt to the film. He said my movie leaves a bad taste in his mouth."
I nod. A bit like these fucking cigarettes.
"You are welcome to return to the United States while we establish a new itinerary. I will see that you are paid in full to compensate you for your inconvenience."
Yes you fucking will, I think.
I reach for another cigarette, despite the foul taste.
Arnaldo nods earnestly at me, plucking numbers out of thin air, while I give him my best, shit-eating grin.
Yes you fucking will.
I was in Vancouver, making a movie called 'Bedlam Money' when my agent Maurice telephoned me with the job offer. The plane fare ate up my entire fee. I was playing a non-speaking role. 'Elderly Hoodlum #2'. I was two weeks shy of my 49th birthday. Maurice's voice crackled down the long-distance phone line.
"How do you like spaghetti, John?"
There was a squelching sound at the other end of the line. He was either chewing on his cigar, or he had accidentally popped his glass eye out again.
"Got an offer of a picture in Milan."
"No, Milan, Italy."
"You'll be playing an Interpol agent - deranged with grief over the death of his teenaged daughter - on the trail of a masked sex killer."
"These guys - they really liked you in Knuckle Town."
"That was 15 years ago,"
"It was a good picture."
"I agree, Maurice, but it was a long time ago. I've gained a lot of goddamn weight since then."
"Haven't we all?"
Fucking Maurice. He is as wide as a portaloo, and stinks twice as bad.
"I can get it written into your contract that the director only shoots you from the chest up…"
Ah, what the hell? It sure beats leaning against collapsing scenery while worse actors than me take turns spitting out B-movie wisecracks.
Before this abortion of a picture, my last three roles had been 'Shotgun Cop', 'Minor Tough' and 'Pawn Shop Weasel'. At least I might get a proper character name again - even if I do have to go to fucking Italy.
By the time I leave Arnaldo's trailer, the crew are already packing up their equipment. They ignore me, just like they have every day since I arrived in this blasted city.
I spend my final evening in Milan at the ground floor restaurant, which is situated in the lobby of my hotel.
The Intercontinental Hotel is in the middle of a red-light district, and despite the crime scene tape, I can see the misshapen hookers in front of the window, flaunting their wares. It is almost enough to put me off my cheap steak.
After ten minutes, I can't stomach any more of the burned meat, so I stub my cigarette out on the red and white checked tablecloth, and scrape my chair back across the linoleum. I head towards the bank of elevators. In my room I retrieve the lace glove I stole from Arnaldo's trailer and use it to masturbate to mental images of my second wife.
My fat hand splits the seam when I finally ejaculate. I eventually pass out, semi-clothed, glove, belly and thighs sticky with semen.
The kid is wearing a black t-shirt with the word 'Goblin' emblazoned across the front. He drives me to the airport, wordlessly, in his dented Alfa Romeo. I stare out of the window as the concrete-coloured Milan skyline passes in a sick blur.
When we arrive, the kid pops the trunk, but stays in the car as I remove my hold-all. I can see him irritably tapping the steering wheel with his fingers. Fucking punk kid. As soon as I have removed my bag he nudges the small car into the stream of traffic, exhaust belching grey smoke in my direction.
It feels surprisingly light, considering the huge stack of soiled-looking Lira inside - on top of three pairs of bloodstained panties, and a come-stained glove.
I hold up a copy of this morning's Corriere della Sera for the air stewardess to inspect, as she tops up my vodka and tonic.
"What does it say?"
She clears her throat.
"The police are calling the killer the Yellow Claw, on account of the obscure brand of imported cigarettes that he half-smoked and left at the scene of the crime …. Eyewitnesses said that he was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Others said he had no face at all."
I grunt. They are wrong. It was a full-face balaclava.
She smiles, earnestly, through lipsticked teeth, and I nod my thanks.
I scoop my fleshy midriff off the adjacent arm-rest, and wheeze as I stub out my final Yellow Claw in the already-full ashtray.
I close my eyes and lean back against the greasy head-rest.
I will be back next month - I gave Arnaldo my word.
We've got a movie to finish.