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A festival Wife Chapter 6: 24-hour party people

Henry Dean, veteran publicist, resists retirement by holding onto his PR job for the San Lorenzo Film Festival, where for twenty-eight years he has stayed at the Hotel Medici, maintaining a long-running affair with his beloved Leticia, one of the hotel's chamber maids. But Henry's job (and love affair) depends upon looking after the Festival's guest of honor - a cantankerous older film director who only needs a little press - and the task is proving more trouble than anticipated. Equally troubling is Henry's ex-wife Angie, a documentary filmmaker, who has arrived in San Lorenzo with the intention of digging into ugly rumors concerning the alleged Nazi past of San Lorenzo's leading citizen, Count Pietro Rassi, who grandfather founded the Festival. To complicate matters, Rassi has fallen in love with Nora Callaway, a reporter who has a husband back home and an annual rendezvous with her lover at San Lorenzo - world-renowned journalist Charles Mitchell. On top of everything, a story Dean placed in Variety about a new film company formed by a group of shady financiers (including Count Rassi) contains some off-the-record information that could blow the deal - and get Henry Dean killed - unless he can kill the story.

A shaft of warm light from the half-open bathroom door, where Leticia was brushing her hair, was all that illuminated my hotel room as I sat down wearily on the sofa and called Guy Stevens' direct number. Variety's European Editor in London got on the phone and, as we exchanged pleasantries.

I explained to Stevens about the story Adam Jeffries had filed from the festival, about Everest Entertainment backing the Great Director's new project and the troublesome business with the Luxembourg tax deal, all without going into too much detail. He was silent for a moment. Then he asked me what I thought of Jeffries.

"Honestly."

"Honestly?" I said, somewhat distracted by the sight of Leticia, through the crack in the doorway, undressing. "Well, he's young, and I think your man has a lot to learn. He's got the numbers all wrong on the Luxembourg part of that story."

"I see," Stevens said with a sigh audible at editors' desks around the world from time immemorial. "He's new, you know. And he is young. And frankly I was worried he would be seduced by all the glitz and glamour of the festival."

"Of course, and I'm trying to help," I said, winking at Leticia. "That's why I gave Jeffries the exclusive story about this director's next picture. Those two paragraphs about the Luxembourg Tax Shelter - nobody cares where the money's coming from, you know that."

There was a pause on his end of the line. On my end, I was watching Leticia slide into bed in a black La Perla négligée, a gift I'd brought her in the days when Henry Dean Associates was paying its boss the kind of money that allowed him to bestow such extravagances on his mistress.

"He showed you his story?" Stevens said for the second time.

"He, uh - he described it to me, Guy."

Whoops - I'd almost slipped up. No self-respecting reporter would ever show his story to a publicist before filing it. I didn't tell him that I'd stolen a copy of Jeffries' story from the fax machine in the hotel lobby, which was how I knew what was in it.

"Yeah?" he said, warily. "So why not just leave those two paragraphs in the story?"

"Because the numbers are wrong, Guy, and it could blow the deal."

"Okay, well - maybe I should talk to Jeffries about it."

I hoped he wouldn't, but I didn't say anything. You can't tell an editor not to talk to his reporter, or at least I can't. Just not cricket, in my opinion. Besides that, pushing too hard would have made Guy suspicious. He already understood what I was asking him to do, anyway, which was to kill those two paragraphs about the damn Luxembourg tax deal.

"Henry?"

"Yes?"

"We've been doing this a long time, haven't we, Henry?"

"Yes, we have, Guy."

"Maybe too long."

"It's highly possible."

"Okay, Henry. I shall take another look at Jeffries' story. You have a good night."

Leticia's best efforts did, indeed, make it a good night. But even so, I awoke around 3am with those two paragraphs popping up in my mind like two sharp bricks under my pillow. Or two bullets in the gut from Ari Safta.


* * *



The morning copy of Daily Variety, pages sent by fax from the newspaper's Los Angeles office, dangled from a braided silk cord fastened to the concierge's desk. An amenity to the hotel's industry-ite clientele during the San Lorenzo Festival, it was done this way in the days before the Internet was widely mastered.

Today's edition carried Jeffries' story on page three: "Helmer Mounts Everest," with the lovely excision of the two crucial paragraphs that had worried me most of the night. No photo of said "helmer" and the New Mayor, as the New Mayor had requested - I still had to work on that one. But what the hell, right? I'd gotten what I wanted. Everybody would be happy, more or less.

Mission accomplished, I decided to get away from the festival entirely. Later on that evening there would be the New Line party, which promised to be an extravagant affair. But as it was Leticia's day off, I let her spirit me away to one of my favorite places in the world.

It's just an hour outside of San Lorenzo, but well off the tourist track. To get there one has to have a car. We motored up into the hills in Angie's sporty little Fiat. It was a mystery to me how she could afford such a fine vehicle on her hotel worker's salary, but I thought it impolite to ask.

After a twisting, turning ride up from the coast we arrived at a delightful hilltop village at the center of which stands a magnificent 13th Century basilica on a small sunny plaza shaded by leafy plane trees. A restaurant/bed-and-breakfast on the edge of the plaza serves a particularly scrumptious fritto misto, excellent wine from a local estate and a homemade grappa that is positively alchemic. I will not disclose the name of the town nor the dining spot to prevent tourist hordes from ruining it for me.

On this visit the owner, Lorenzo, welcomed us as he had welcomed us many times before. He and Leticia exchanged some pleasantries and I exercised my bad Italian, much to Leticia's amusement.

"Why does he always call me cousin?" I said, hand on her bare knee, showing fetchingly beyond the edge of her plain black skirt.

"He is not calling you his cousin," smiled Leticia. "He is calling you cousin-by-marriage."

"I forgot he is your cousin."

"He teases me about getting married."

"To me?"

"Who else? I come here once a year and only with you every year, so he naturally he thinks it."

"Why do you have nobody else. Leticia?"

"Maybe I do. A young man. Very handsome."

"Seriously."

"Maybe just a little younger than you. Not so handsome."

"Leticia, honestly."

"You want me to be honest, Henry? I don't know."

She looked away, her bottom lip quivering ever so slightly. "You know how it is, Henry. I am very busy with my work. I had my father to look after for a long time, you remember, when he was very sick. My mother died long ago, so he was alone, with only me to take care of him."

Delicately, I pointed out that her father - a wonderful man I had met on one occasion - had died five years ago. She could have met someone since then, married, and produced a swarm of bambinos.

"I think it was too late, at my age. In a small town it is not easy. Anyway," she said, covering my hand with hers. "I'm not unhappy. I have you still, Henry."

"You have me, yes," I said, wondering to myself, somewhat guiltily, what it was of me she thought she had. I found myself wishing it could have been more. How nice it would be to stay in this place forever with her... a kind of dream, really.

Lunch was the always satisfying array of fresh fish, slightly-battered, salted and fried to a delectable crunch, baskets of aromatically warm foccacia, the crispest leafy salad, strong black espresso, piquant cheese, and at the end I was getting loopy on the clear grappa as we tripped upstairs to one of the rooms which Leticia's cousin was kind enough to put at our disposal. We made love slowly, with care, and taking our time as if we had forever and ever, and for more than a moment the dream was reality.

Later, we strolled across the plaza to the basilica where the altarpiece contained a panel attributed to Piero della Francesca. Of all the classic painters, I admire della Francesca most. His simple and direct way of telling a story was modern and yet harkened back to a time when everything was still a discovery. In this painting, a series of small panels, the story was Lazarus raised from the dead.

Leticia sat beside me in one of the smooth-worn wooden pews silently in the cool, cavernous space under the vast vaulted ceiling, while I studied the painting. We were the only two people in the old church, except for a young girl working on a sketch pad in a shadow alcove, copying the ancient frescoes. I recognized her as Nesta Morgan, the artist famous for her witty and often outrageous sketches of people and events at film festivals around the world. But here she was doing something a little more personal. I nodded and she smiled - we were both fugitives from the festival and in tacit agreement to keep our mutual secret to ourselves.

I listened in the cavernous silence to Leticia's slow breathing beside me, the spicy scent of votive candles and musty marble in our nostrils. She was not religious, as far as I could see; she did not go through the usual Italian ritual of dipping fingers in the stone font of holy water, crossing herself, kneeling before the altar. I'd never seen her fingering a rosary. None of that, but I attributed it to her modern outlook on the world. I don't think it would be snobbish of me to say that she was well-educated and quite well-read for a hotel chambermaid.

"It's like a movie, the painting, isn't it?" she said.

"True. He tells the story in scenes just like a movie does. Could be a horror movie. A man comes back from the dead."

"It happens sometimes," she said. "People come back from death."

I assumed it was just a comment - strange, but thought no more about it until later. As we came out of the basilica and were crossing the plaza we heard loud voices - it was Lorenzo at the front door of his restaurant, gesticulating angrily at Angie, of all people.

In moment, Angie was coming across the plaza towards us and I had then one of life's odd experiences - introducing my ex-wife and the girl I'd been making love to since before my marriage to Angie had ended. Through some sixth sense that women possess, both seemed to comprehend this fact instantly.

"What am I, ruining one of your favorite little hideaways, Henry?" Angie said, looking Leticia over with an appraising eye. "I always knew there was a reason Henry kept coming back to San Lorenzo."

Leticia blushed, and even I was embarrassed. And then annoyed.

"I am very pleased to meet you," Leticia said to Angie, offering her hand.

"Likewise," Angie said, shaking hands.

"Did you not like the food in the restaurant over there," I said, "the prices or what? Leticia's cousin is the owner."

"You have some pull here, Henry? Is that what you're trying to say?"

"We heard the shouting and I just thought -"

"I was trying to have a discussion with the man. Not about the food, though. Maybe Leticia and I should talk."

"About what?

"Things. How about your pal Rassi? Let's start with him."

"What are you doing here, Angie?"

"I told you, I'm getting the goods on him."

"Rassi, you say?" Leticia asked both of us.

"I'll tell you about it later. Look, Angie -"

"This is a very interesting place, Henry, very interesting. Well, gotta go now. Bye!"

She plumped into a rented Mercedes parked next to our car by the plaza and took off with a ta-ta wave of her hand.

We started to get into Leticia's Fiat when Lorenzo crossed the plaza in a sort of lather and came up to our car, leaning against her side. They spoke for a few moments - Rassi's name was mentioned, Angie's business card was thrust forward in his hand - and Leticia said something about Angie and me. Lorenzo looked at me gravely, nodded, and then made a cautioning gesture to Leticia. She seemed to agree.

"Ciao," they said to one another with kisses on either cheek, and we headed back to San Lorenzo.

On the way, Leticia asked me if I still talked with my ex-wife.

"Occasionally," I said. "Not very often. I didn't even know she was coming to San Lorenzo. Why?"

"Have I ever asked you for anything, Henry?"

"No, not really."

"I am asking you now for a favor. Please talk to her, Henry," Leticia said. "Remember what I said in the basilica about Lazarus, about people coming back from death? I think it is not an easy thing to do, to come back from death. Sometimes people would like it better if you stayed dead."

"I don't understand."

"No, it is very complicated. You must tell your ex-wife to stop asking these questions about the Rassi family and the war and all that. These are things from the past that nobody is happy to talk about, okay?"

"Is this about the Jews in San Lorenzo? She's trying to make some sort of BBC documentary about it. Why there aren't any Jews in San Lorenzo."

"There are Jews in San Lorenzo."

"But the Nazis wiped them all out, I heard, or at least it's what everyone says. I mean a few are left, I'm sure, but -"

"More than a few, Henry. You just made love to one of them."

I nearly drove off the road, a little stunned. How unaware I'd been, how little I really knew her! Of course, that explained her behavior in the church, her failure to genuflect, and so on.

"I didn't know," I said, in dumb awe.

Beyond the casual affair that we'd engaged in all these years, now, with this sudden revelation I felt myself drawn even closer to Leticia, as if meeting her for the first time.

"But why should you know. It's not important, is it?

"No, not to me."

"We have a complicated history here with the Rassi family. Not good, not bad. It is neither one thing nor the other. It would be hard for somebody from outside to understand, I think," she said. "But we don't need to have a show on the TV about it."

"You want to stop Angie? She's just as stubborn as I am," I said, perhaps a bit too admiringly.

"I understand," she said. "I always understood."

"What do you mean?"

She said nothing as she drove, following the curve down the mountain.

"You can't possibly imagine I'm still in love with her?"

"I never asked you to tell me who you were in love with Henry. I just accepted things as they are."

"But if you could have things as you wished?"

"Of course, I would wish for you to be here, to stay here with me. But I would not ask that. I only ask now that you talk with her."

I thought about that. We had often played with the idea of my staying beyond the festival, of coming to live in San Lorenzo - a fantasy that was fun to spin out, to prolong if only in our minds the pleasure we had given one another - but somehow unattainable in reality. There was always some conflict that intruded. Now, here we were on the brink once again, one more thing coming between us.

"I can't stop Angie. She does what she wants, always has, always will."

"Please, you will try?"

I promised I would. There was little talk all the way back to San Lorenzo. She had some family affairs to attend to that night, and so I went off to the New Line party on my own. I never took Leticia to these things anyway. What would people say - Henry Dean is shagging the hotel maid?



* * *



"Who do I have to fuck to not go to this party?" Loomis from the Village Voice announced aloud, trying to provoke Charles, or some of the others on the shuttle van, into conversation. No one even pretended to laugh. Even Bruno Chatelin and Malo Girod de l'Ain - the guys from Filmfestivals.com who were pioneering this new thing called the Internet - were rolling their eyes and chuckling. The shuttle van full of journos was on the way to free drink and a bountiful repast and it was churlish to complain, but they could hardly go without someone enacting a ritual display of cynicism regarding promotional events. Bought off with liquor and victuals? Surely not they!

Charles was busy reading the Variety story as I sat down next to him, the one that Jeffries had written.

"Can you believe this - Rassi in business with these B-movie thugs! That really says it all. Who are these guys, anyway? Safta - why is that name so familiar? What a puff piece this shmuck Jeffries wrote, for crissakes. How much did they slip him on the side?"

The van began to move away from the curb but somebody was banging on the doors, so the driver stopped. Jeffries came stomping aboard looking very upset. When he saw me, he came over and slammed his faxed copy of the Variety story down on the seat in front of Charles and me.

"Can you believe this shit?" he exclaimed.

Charles told him to please sit down, barely concealing his annoyance and disdain. Jeffries was in too much of a lather to pay attention.

"They cut my story!" Jeffries sputtered.

"I thought it was a pretty good story," I said.

"No, they cut it," Jeffries said. "The key part. The Luxembourg tax deal. I had two whole paragraphs about it and they cut it. Look, here's my original copy."

He handed me story he'd sent in, the same story I'd filched from the lobby fax machine. I pretended to look at it as reading it for the first time, but all I could do was smile - inwardly, of course.

"Now it's nothing but a blowjob for those assholes. I look like a complete shmuck."

"Hi, I'm Charles Mitchell," Charles said, his annoyance magically replaced by an extended hand and a comradely smile.

"Charles Mitchell? Wow." Jeffries shook his hand just as the shuttle bus lurched away into traffic, jerking Jeffries backward as Charles released his grip, so that Jeffries plopped down heavily in the seat just behind Charles and myself. The combination of physical impact with the seat and puppyish adulation of the famous journalist caused the various features of Jeffries face to scramble like a sack of crazy mice, and it was all Charles and I could do to hold our laughter in check. But Jeffries misinterpreted our stony countenances.

"Sorry, I'm just a little upset. They cut my story, the best part."

"May I see your original story, Adam?" said Charles. "I'm very interested in this piece you wrote."

"It was a lot more interesting before they cut it. I can't believe they did that. I'm so pissed."

"Sometimes editors just don't get it, do they."

"No, they sure as hell don't. But you're Charles Mitchell. Nobody messes with your copy."

"Ah, you'd be surprised. I can sympathize, I really can. Now, tell me, Adam. Who exactly is this Ari Safta guy?"

"A B-movie producer. Done a lot of action stuff, direct-to-video."

"Aha. Is he by any chance related to Eddie Safta?"

"I don't know. Who's Eddie Safta?"

"And what's this about a Luxembourg deal?"

"The Luxembourg tax deal. It's a - well, I did a whole lot of reporting on that and, well, you can see what I wrote. The part that was cut."

Charles glanced at Jeffries's story cursorily. He was digging for something. It was nasty fun to watch him play the young reporter like fish caught on a fly rod.

"But this Luxembourg tax deal, um - very interesting. I've never heard of it."

"Exactly. Nobody's ever written about it before. I had a fucking scoop, damn it!"

"Is it one of those new Euro financial incentives?"

"Not exactly."

Jeffries paused, staring hard at Charles. He was not a complete fool. His journalist's radar was finally picking up warning signals from Charles' probing mind. Jeffries was probably thinking to himself: wait a minute, here, telling Charles Mitchell this particular bit of information was as good as giving his scoop away. Ah, but then the thrill of being a source - which I have seen take on an almost sexual dimension in some people - moved Jeffries to surrender a lengthy exegesis of the Luxembourg Tax Shelter. He delivered the bottom line with a flourish: this financial footnote embedded in a post-war trade agreement served as a loophole for money laundering by "scumbag movie producers."

"And my theory is, there's a lot of dirty money - I mean, tons of it washing through there."

Charles looked thoughtful. "I did a series on money laundering a few years ago. I have some sources here and there. Would you mind terribly, Adam, if I, ah - did just a bit of digging myself? I'd be happy to share my research, and of course credit you in anything I write."

"Hey, why don't we would work together on this?"

"Great idea," said Charles, a lone wolf of a reporter who lived for his solo byline and never ever worked with anyone. "I can see that trade journalism is much too limiting for you, Adam. You don't want to be writing for Variety forever, do you? "

"It's just a stepping stone," confessed Jeffries.

"This story should be a career move for you. I'll give my editor a call. Or better still," said Charles, "what about the New York Times? They're looking for somebody to cover media business in Europe. I could put your name in the hopper."

"That would be great," Jeffries beamed, having found his mentor, his career move underway, all at once.

"In the meantime, Adam, let me ring up a few of my sources. I promise I'll keep you in the loop."

Charles looked at me, his eyebrows raised, daring me to say anything. I shrugged, lip buttoned. Whatever bad feelings I'd had in the beginning about all of this were now multiplied tenfold. It was all bound to end badly, but how badly I would never have guessed.



* * *



The party at a huge 18th Century castle up the coast was for "Yo, Snow!" a hip-hop version of Snow White. New Line was seizing an opportunity to launch the picture internationally as well as for the domestic market. Black-themed movies historically failed at the overseas box office and New Line's marketing chief was determined to overcome that barrier, spending half a million dollars and pulling out all the stops.

As we emerged from the van, a trio of trumpeters in medieval garb blew a welcoming fanfare. One of the seven dwarves came up to me bearing flutes of champagne. Another offered a tray of mushrooms stuffed with minced shrimp. A midget fire-eater blew plumes of flame into the air. Little people in medieval costumes were everywhere. The seven dwarves had multiplied into seven hundred. Italy's population must have been drained of the growth-challenged for this singular event.

The castle entrance was mobbed with TV crews recording the arrival of the film's stars, but mostly lensing the arrival of publicists, producers, sales agents, and other journalists. A reggae band played incongruously in one corner. Cameras flashed as the Lavender Twins made their entrance.

Charles took off to locate the bar. I followed another set of hors d'oeuvres-toting dwarves up a winding stone staircase to find the castle ramparts jammed with partying journos in various states of inebriation.

Another stairway led to the top of a convenient turret where the elevation finally allowed my cellular to be reached by that scalawag, Artie Delfont.

"Good show, old bean. Everybody loved the Variety story," he chortled. "How's the party? Should I get a limo and take Ari and everybody out there? Any girls?"

If Ari Safta's taste ran to very short girls, I said, by all means, they should come right away. Otherwise, they'd be better off where they were. And then I figured he should be aware that Charles was now keen on doing a story but from a certain Luxembourgian angle.

"You're shitting me," he said when told of the exchange between Jeffries and Charles. "Do you think he'll actually write something?"

"Don't know. Maybe. Depends on whether he finds any real dirt to write about. You tell me - is there any dirt to write about with these guys? And who is Eddie Safta?"

"Holy Christ. Who wants to know?"

"Charles. And where is my money?"

"Let me get right back to you, Henry."



* * *

The castle courtyard was the size of a municipal stadium. A midget jousting tournament was in progress, tiny knights in cardboard armor trying to knock each other off Shetland ponies.

A full-sized barman tucked away in a corner was busy serving drinks to a few full-grown types like himself who had managed to find refuge there. This included Snow White herself, a dark-haired beauty in fairytale costume drinking Scotch and chatting with Rassi. He greeted me heartily.

"Very nice story in the Variety today," he said.

"They spelled your name right, anyway."

"Miriam will probably play a part in the movie," he said by way of introducing me to the young woman. She was an actress in local theater, he explained, and she was also the daughter of the jeweler whose shop we'd been in earlier.

"He's been very kind to me," she smiled. "And to my father."

Rassi waved his hand to say it was nothing, really - noblesse oblige. I recalled that the jeweler's name was Halevi.

A horn tooted somewhere. Snow White had been summoned. She set down her Scotch, popped some mints, and trundled off to work, her bustling dress brushing Charles as she passed by.

"Snow White and the seven thousand flacks. No offense, Henry."

"None taken, Charles," I laughed, although from his edgy tone I could tell that he was very much on the offensive. Jeffries was hanging on Charles's heels like a brand new puppy as Charles approached Rassi. Just watching Charles go to work was a lesson in killer-jounalistics.

"So, Pete, listen - you're in the movie business now, or so I read in today's Variety, thanks to Adam here."

Jeffries looked around beaming, wanting everyone to know it was his story, his big scoop, the missing two paragraphs no longer any big deal.

"A small investment only," said Rassi, paying no attention to Jeffries. "A low-budget movie."

"The story our friend here wrote says you're partners with Ari Safta."

"He is one of the investors, yes."

"Then you must know his brother, Eddie."

"No, I'm afraid I do not, no."

"An interesting family, the Saftas. Almost as interesting as yours."

"If you say so, Charles."

Charles was about to say something more, but he was interrupted, much to Rassi's evident relief, by the arrival of Nora, arm in arm with her new best friend - her director. The Great Director. Our director.

"Fabulous piece in Variety today, Henry. Simply fab," she gushed. "Henry has the trades wrapped around his little bitty pinky."

"Jeffries is the one to thank, actually," said I, feeling mildy tipsy and in full PR kiss-the-media's-ass mode. "Adam Jeffries, meet Nora Callaway."

"Oh, so you're the Variety guy!" said Nora, seizing his hand as if it were a pet bunny, to be stroked and nuzzled. "Well done."

Dazzled by Nora, Jeffries tried in a tongue-tied sort of way to claim full credit for himself, but credit was being handed around like the hors d'oeuvres.

"It is an honor for me to have my name next to yours," Rassi said to the Great Director.

"And an honor for me as well to be associated with the great name of Rassi," was the director's reply, delivered with a phony little bow of the head. He turned to me and complained that the writer, Jeffries, had gotten the spelling of one of his movie titles wrong. It was "Castles Made of Sand," plural not singular. Clearly a typo, I thought, but if this was his way of thanking me for getting him his first headline in Variety in ten fucking years, so be it.

"Did you see the story in Variety, Charles? Wasn't it just perfect?"

Charles looked at Nora with a tight-lipped smile that overlay his annoyance.

"I thought it was remarkable," he replied. "More for what it didn't say than for what it said. Jeffries here can tell you."

Tripping over his words, Jeffries started to explain to Nora or anyone who would listen that the story had been cut.

"Oh, stop it, Charles," Nora scolded, ignoring Jeffries. "You always have to be such a spoil sport."

"What, in your opinion, did the article not say?" Rassi asked, fixing poor Jeffries with a stern look.

Jeffries again began to explain, but he was cut off by the New Mayor, who had arrived in the company of my friend Demo, the Festival President, and a very tall, sullen-faced girl in her teens.

"Oh ho!" said the New Mayor. "I have found the VIP area I think!"

He grasped the hand of the Great Director while Demo winced.

"Exciting news! I hear you are going to be shooting a new picture right here in San Lorenzo," he said. "I read it in Variety."

"That's my story," piped up Jeffries.

The New Mayor glanced at him quizzically, then turned back to the director.

"This is good news for our town, my friend. Good news for our people. Jobs are a good thing. And I am all about the business, you know. Cutting red tape, making the permit process easier. You need so many permits these days for everything. But I am against government regulations. Industry needs freedom to grow, you agree?"

"Most definitely," said the director.

"You know, I have a daughter who is an actress. Yes, she is eighteen years old, she is very good. My wife says she will be star in the movies someday. That is her dream. I hope you will consider her for casting in your movie. Even a little role. And here she is - Sylvia."

He pushed the pouty teen forward. The director took her hand, raising it to his lips as if it were an ice cream cone that would soon melt unless licked. "I would be delighted," the director said, as the young girl recoiled slightly.

I looked over at Demo who shrugged, rolled his eyes.

"Good! I will tell my wife it is all settled, then. Pietro, whatever you need for the permits, please come and see me, okay?"

Rassi nodded.

"Now, you said you were from Variety? Please - come take the picture now. Me with the great director. For tomorrow's Variety." He wrapped his arm around the guest of honor's shoulders.

"But I'm a reporter," said Jeffries looking at me helplessly. "I don't take the pictures."

"Then you send please the one who takes the pictures. Quickly now."

Demo and I stepped in to explain to the New Mayor that a photo opportunity would be arranged later. Disappointed, the New Mayor allowed Demo to lead him and his actress progeny back into the party throng.

"A little creative casting never hurt the permit process," quipped Nora. "Doesn't anybody want to dance? I feel like dancing."

Charles quickly resumed the conversation.

"You are in business with some nasty people, Pete."

"Stop it right now Charles," said Nora.

"I seriously doubt you will get a nickel of your money back from this movie, even if it wins an Oscar and makes a billion at the box office."

"It will win an Oscar," Nora said.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," said Rassi. "But I happen to believe in this director's work and I wish to support his art. As for the rest, I can say I have my eyes open."

"Yay, Pietro," said Nora, linking arms with her director and her producer. "Art for art's sake!"

"Yeah, well, keep ‘em wide open, Pete. You could be in for a rough ride."

"If there is anything you think I should know, Charles, please don't hesitate to inform me."

"I'm worki

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