Jonathan Ferrini, 8/13/2018

Current Occupation: Commercial real estate and insurance broker salesman.

Previous Occupation: Commercial real estate broker salesman.

Contact Information: Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA. Jonathan has been a self employed commercial real estate investor and consultant his entire career.. He is also a US Patent holder.

 

This submission is serialized, presented over three acts. Act one can be found here: ONE. What follows is act two. 

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Box Office Gross

Act II

It looked to be a slow night at BOO. Box office grosses were minimal across the nation because it was a weeknight following Christmas day. The callers appreciated a slow night. The theatre managers were timely in reporting their grosses and the callers enjoyed extended breaks throughout the night. Copa was in fine form breaking into one of his dance routines. He sauntered up and back, twirled, performed leg raises rivaling the “Rockettes”, and sat down exhausted. Copa was an out of shape, alcoholic fifty year old man dancing like a kid but I was impressed. Ray wasn’t and exclaimed, “Copa you’re one broken down ugly dude but you’re even uglier as a woman!” Copa was hurt by the remark and hurriedly left the room covering his face.  The remark was cruel and left a chill in the room. Texas Tommy spoke up, “Back home we know how to handle sidewinders like you, Ray!” Ray replied, “Shut your glory hole Midnight Cowboy or I’ll introduce you to some Johns who’d love to run a train on you pretty boy!” Ray’s mood was growing darker and creating a toxic environment. Either he stopped taking his meds or the VA switched his mood numbing Rx but I’d have to intercede soon. I could afford to fire Ray but couldn’t afford to lose my gay callers who were outgoing, friendly, dependable, and livened up the work environment. I had my meeting with Jay on my mind and would handle Ray another day.

Jay was tense when he arrived at Cups and Saucers. He looked great in his “Kiton” made to measure navy blue suit. I longed to own such a wardrobe one day. The waitress approached and Jay replied, “Just coffee tonight”. I said, “Make it two. Jay you look stressed. The screamer in rare form today?” Jay moved in close to me and said, “I ran into the President of the Studio in the bathroom. He said the acquisition negotiations are heating up with the foreign electronics conglomerate. He gave me the impression the buyer would replace all of the senior management which includes Arnold and me. I’ll be looking for a job on a studio lot just like you. I refuse to work for a law firm!” Jay provided me the perfect segue to pose my proposition: “Won’t your bosses profit from the sale? I mean, they have stock options which will become more valuable after the sale, correct?” Jay replied, “Yeah. They’ll make out like bandits.” I whispered, “So why should you end up empty handed and on the street? Why not buy some stock quietly?” Jay had a worried look saying, “We talked about insider trading. I’m not going to jail and lose my law license. Besides, you’d have to invest a lot of money at the right time to score big if the studio sells. I’ve got a 401K and other liquid funds but not enough to make a killing. Besides, what do you have to invest?” I replied, “I have box office information which is the life blood of the studio to invest, Jay. I’m the first to see the box office results and with this information, we can time our trades based upon the lousy grosses at your studio. The GM at BOO is a former stockbroker and maybe he’ll help us. You have solid credit and I’m sure any stock brokerage firm would do business with you.” Jay replied, “I might as well hang a sign around my neck saying, “insider trading found here”. The big money will go to those who buy in at that the absolute bottom of the stock price, stay in, and reap the profit when the studio is sold. We’re too small, Ethan.” I replied, “Jay, your days are numbered and I’ve got no prospects. Without mentioning you or the studio, would you give me permission to discuss this stock trading idea with the GM at BOO and see if he has any better ideas?” Jay took a sip of coffee and said, “Let me think about it.” He got up from the booth saying, “It’s been a long day and I’m hitting the sack. Goodnight”. I heard Jay start the engine of his beautiful Porsche and I waved goodbye as he drove off down Wilshire Boulevard. I was determined to come up with a winning formula to profit from my inside information. I guess it was Jay’s beautiful suit and watching him drive away in his Porsche which made me hungry for a financial windfall and opportunity to screw the movie business which had denied me even the smallest opportunity. If Jay consents, I’ll talk to Paul just before work and pick his brain. I went home, lay in bed, and fantasized about having enough money to finance my own films. My phone rang and it was Jay saying, “Go for it booby. I’ll be damned if I’ll be a casualty while the fat cats prosper but leave my name and any mention of the studio out of it. Report back to me what Paul says, ok?” I replied, “Thank you, Jay. Your vote of confidence means a lot to me. By the way, “We’re in the money; we’re in the money” Jay yawned and said, “Goodnight schmuck”.

I arrived early at BOO to speak with Paul before he left for the night. I gently tapped on his door saying, “Excuse me, Paul. Have a few minutes?” Paul looked stressed and emotionally drained. He waived me in and said, “How you doin’ Ethan? Think some more about that sales job I discussed with you? It’s a great opportunity to meet all of the motion picture big shots concerned with box office performance.” I closed Paul’s door. I sat and said, “Thank you for the sales opportunity but I’m a creative guy. How’s your daughter doing?” Paul sighed, “She’s running out of time to get a heart. The doc’s are giving her no more than several months to live unless she gets a heart transplant.” I replied, “Can’t wealthy people find hearts more quickly?” Paul said, “Yes but Margie won’t lend her sister a dime and we simply don’t have the money to purchase a heart on our own.”  I said, “I need to discuss a profitable idea with a guy who knows stocks. Can you sneak out of the house late tonight and meet me at the Cups and Saucers around midnight?’ Paul looked skeptical and I continued, “Paul, this opportunity could save your daughter’s life.” I saw the wheels turning in Paul’s head. He knew I was a sharp guy and not inclined to waste his time with a “get rich quick scheme”. Paul relented saying, “Sure, Ethan. See you at midnight.” I rose to leave the office and Paul’s phone rang. He answered it immediately recognizing Margie’s private number. As I slowly closed his door, I heard Paul repeating, “Yes, Margie. I have the accounts receivable reports prepared and your quarterly profit will be wired to your account in the morning.” I sympathized with poor beaten down Paul with a dying daughter and wealthy sister-in-law capable of saving her neices life but won’t. I reflected on Jay and Arnold’s imminent firing and my own predicament and thought, “misery loves company”.

Paul arrived in a “soccer mom’s” minivan and parked in Jay’s usual spot outside the coffee shop. To my surprise, he was accompanied by Oleg. They entered the near empty restaurant, spotted me in the large corner booth and sat down. Paul said, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought Oleg. I thought he and I would head over to BOO afterwards to discuss software issues.” Paul was a tactical thinker and likely wanted a “witness” present if the conversation got “sticky” for him.  Oleg embraced me saying, “My friend. Ethan, how are you?” The waitress approached. I said, “Coffee for three.” Oleg interrupted, “Tea for me, please.” I suggested we hold our discussion until after the hot drinks arrived. It was an awkward silence but gave me the opportunity for contemplation. I thanked the waitress for the drinks and said, “Please give us some time. We’ll be back to you with an order when we’re ready.” Paul loaded his coffee with cream and sugar while Oleg squeezed lemon into his tea, the tea cup chiming with every turn of the spoon. Oleg listened intently. I began, “It’s come to my attention that a once in a lifetime investment opportunity may exist. I need stock brokerage experience and that’s why I invited Paul. A studio may be sold shortly and I’d like to invest in it before it’s sold. How do I profit from this information?” Paul replied, “Which studio?” I said, “I can’t say but if you can devise a trading platform, I’ll discuss it with my studio insider. If he agrees, I’ll disclose the name of the studio and we can proceed as a partnership.” Oleg remained silent and listened intently. Paul continued, “If somebody had the money to invest, they would place a buy order, sit and wait for the studio to sell.” I said, “I understand but how would somebody with little money make a killing on the sale?” Paul said, “Assuming they had good credit, collateral, and a relationship with a brokerage house, they would set up margin account borrowing money from the brokerage firm to buy additional stock. Some accounts require as little as $2,000. You can borrow up to 50% of the price of the stock and like any loan; you pay interest until the stock is sold. If you make a profit, the loan is paid from the proceeds of the stock sale. If you don’t make a profit, the margin is called and your collateral is at risk.” Oleg remained silent and fixated on the conversation as if playing poker and waiting for my move. I said to Paul, “The success of a margin account rides on a hunch the stock will rise in the near future to avoid interest piling up, correct?” Paul replied, “Yes. I presume you have a credible source of information within the studio that is aware of insider trading prosecutions?” I replied, “I have somebody at the very top, Paul.” Paul sat back in his booth dumbfounded. I could hear the wheels in his head turning. Oleg finally spoke, “My friends. I’m a simple mathematician and computer programmer. I don’t understand all these fancy stock terms but this is what I understand so far. Ethan knows when the studio will sell. I believe his source is credible because Ethan is a smart man and would vet his source carefully. BOO calculates the box office grosses for this studio, I am certain. In addition to profiting when the studio sells, the greater profit will be realized if we manipulate the value of the studio by underreporting or over reporting the grosses which will affect the share price. If we underreport, we buy shares lower and when we overvalue the grosses, our buy in share price increases. Our box office gross manipulations may also invite competitors to the bargaining table and a bidding war ensues and both the share price and sale price of the studio sky rockets. We profit!” Oleg was brilliant and I was impressed by his directness but thought I would test him saying, “We don’t have the money to buy enough stock, Oleg.” Paul said, “BOO has capital.” I replied, “Margie wouldn’t put her business at risk by investing in a risky and criminal stock trade.”  Paul’s reply was quick, “She wouldn’t. Screw her! Tell him, Oleg”. Now it was becoming clear to me why Paul brought Oleg to the meeting. Paul developed a hunch about my proposition and briefed Oleg. Paul and Oleg also know which studios could be ripe for purchase based upon their underperforming box office grosses. It wouldn’t be difficult to conclude it was Jays’ studio but they couldn’t screw me by cutting me out of the deal because I held the “Ace of Spades” who was Jay. Oleg continued, “Paul has complete control of BOO’s bank accounts which he manages on his PC. I create and send from foreign email address sneaky email virus to Paul which he opens. My virus infects all of BOO’s bank accounts making systematic, small and virtually unnoticeable withdrawals which are wired to untraceable foreign cash cards which in turn wire laundered BOO funds to my trusted bank in Russia. The bank’s investment banking division handles all of the trades from Moscow” I ask, “Why would the bank in Russia want to receive small deposits coming from BOO and institute such a small stock purchase?” Oleg had anticipated my question saying, “Ethan my friend, Russian bank wants to know we have “skin in the game”. Once they know we’re putting our asses on the line with your inside source, and making small deposits from BOO who is also manipulating the box office data to banks advantage, bank and their clients invest hundreds of millions of dollars in studios stock.” I ask Oleg again, “Margie owns the BOO accounts. She will kill the deal if she discovers the unaccounted for withdrawals.” Paul replied, “He’s correct, Oleg. She only looks at the bottom line but the small withdrawals can add up and she has an instinct for what her quarterly profit wires should be.” Oleg replied, “My friend, Russian bank never takes money directly from BOO. BOO money untraceable after laundering through East Europe cash cards with credit balances deposited into multiple overseas bank accounts which wire Russian bank independently. It’s too many cash cards and too many individual bank wires for anybody to trace, even FBI. I simply tell her she was hacked.” Paul asked the question which was now on my mind. “Oleg, how do we trust the Russian bank not to cut us out and are you confident in your ability to manipulate the BOO grosses on the studio’s films?” Oleg took a sip of tea, leaned back in the booth with a big smile saying, “Ah you skeptical Americans. Do you watch Russian election results? How does same man win despite protests against him in the streets? How do Russian hackers infiltrate world wide web sites? I wrote the BOO software which will manipulate the numbers anyway I want! Bank won’t screw us because they need our inside studio source for timing of stock purchases and BOO manipulation of box office grosses” Oleg didn’t have to say anymore. I knew his connections in Russia likely reached the highest office in the Kremlin. Oleg spoke again, “So Ethan, you visit with your inside source and explain platform. If he comfortable, we partners and become very, very wealthy and I retire to penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv, Paul’s beautiful daughter gets her heart, and you become big shot Hollywood producer! So, we all say goodnight and talk again soon.” Oleg was festive but Paul was silent although his face was radiant knowing that his daughter might live. I told them I’d stay behind and have breakfast. I watched as they drove off and I was certain Paul and Oleg would be calculating their strategy tonight. I reached into my pocket and removed the small disposable flip phone which had been on speaker mode the entire time and raised it to my mouth saying, “Jay did you catch all of that? Are you comfortable?”  Jay’s reply was resolute: I’m all in Ethan. Let’s do it!” I replied, “Can we trust Oleg and his cohorts?” Jay replied, “Our studio is hacked all the time and we’ve seen the good, bad, and average hackers. Oleg is on a genius level and probably wrote the book on the subject. I completed a discrete background investigation on Oleg, Phil, and Margie. Oleg is tight within the highest reaches of Russian government whose cronies own the Russian banks. If he says it can be done, believe him.” I asked, “If Oleg is such a genius, why is he running a small time computer repair business in LA?” Jay replied, “Just like you, me, and Phil, Oleg was just a foot soldier doing his job for the Russian government before immigrating. His Russian banking contacts are only talking to him because his information is valuable and will make the bank hundreds of millions of dollars. I’m not concerned about Paul because he needs the money. He’s six figures in debt to medical bills and months behind on his mortgage payment. Margie has a lot of respect within the industry but BOO is nothing more than a passive investment for her. She spends her days shopping on Rodeo Drive, travelling, and shtuping her personal trainer.” I ask, “What about us, Jay? What is our cut of the deal?” Jay replied, “Although we’re providing the inside information and manipulating the studio’s box office performance, the bank is putting up hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the stock and will take most of the profits. They need my inside information on timing and progress of the sale and BOO’s box office gross manipulation. If we perform as expected, they will be fair making us all millionaires when the studio sells. The bank won’t be the owner of the stock but will anoint some “shills” as the named purchasers of the stock who will be the majority shareholders of the studio.  At the appropriate time, I’ll demand the majority shareholders be placed on the Board of Directors, giving me and you want we want.” I ask, “Are you sure about all of this?” Jay responds, “Life’s a gamble. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Unless we take this chance, I’ll lose my studio job and spend the rest of my life in a law firm and you’ll be counting grosses until another gig comes along. If the gamble pays off, just think of all those movies you’ll be making, Ethan. Just remember, the purchase negotiations could fall apart and there could be no sale. Nothing is certain so every day is business as usual. Moving forward, we speak only on disposable flip phones discarded after every conversation. I speak only with you. We wait patiently for Oleg and the bank to do its thing. They’ll contact you through Oleg and you contact me.” I answered, “Agreed Jay. Goodnight schmuck.” Jay laughed and replied, “By the way, kiddo, work on getting that 500 FICO score up.” Jay was always one step ahead.

When I showed up to the BOO offices the next day, I highlighted the name of the studio in green on one of the call sheets which was a signal “game on”.  I personally handed it to Phil. He grinned as if knowing the name of the studio all the time. I returned to my desk and supervisory duties.

Ray showed up to work with his usual “far away” look on his face. I asked him to step into my office and close the door. He looked nervous. I said, “Ray, I have to let you go because you’re creating a hostile work environment and one of those gay guys can sue BOO.” Ray began to breath heavy and I braced myself for a physical altercation. Instead, Ray began to cry pleading, “Ethan BOO is all I have. Please don’t fire me, please. I don’t know what I’ll do with my nights. I’m frightened when I’m alone at night.” It was ironic how fragile the blowhard and bully actually was but I still felt empathy seeing a grown man cry. I didn’t have the heart to fire him and asked, “If I put you on two week probation, can you learn to control your temper and keep your big mouth shut?” Ray wiped the tears running down his face and said, “Whatever you say, Ethan!” I felt like I had to reinforce the message I was sending to Ray and said, “No more war stories, homophobic slurs, and don’t say anything other than hello and goodbye to the gays or Alice. Got it?” Ray put forward his hand to shake and said, “Agreed, boss, Thank you for the second chance. I won’t let you down, I promise!” The look on Ray’s face was ecstatic like the look of a man thrown a life preserver and I felt good about my decision. Although his cruel remarks and bullying were inexcusable, they were the product of a rough upbringing and unimaginable experiences as a soldier resulting in psychological trauma. I can’t fault anybody for being mentally ill. Ray got up to open the door and I said, “One more thing, Ray. The probation requires you to sit outside the call center and use the receptionist’s phone in the lobby. You won’t be disturbed by the other callers and you’ll have two weeks to think about your behavior.” The ecstatic look on Ray’s face was replaced by a silent hostile look I wish I could capture one day as a director. He was panting and his fists clenched but he remained silent simply nodding affirmatively. I opened the door and said, “Let’s get you set up at the receptionist’s desk.”

After moving Ray from the call center to the receptionist’s desk, the workplace was operating efficiently and smoothly. The callers had a “spring in their step”. The room was happy. I did receive comments from two callers about being “creeped out” having to pass Ray on the way to and from the bathrooms. When I asked why, the answers included feeling a “heavy vibe” and “he feels like a smoldering volcano”.

It had been about ten days since Oleg, Paul, and I met. Jay was silent. It was a weeknight and I left the BOO offices at midnight. The callers had gone home and only the two “superheroes” were hard at work. I said goodnight but didn’t expect and didn’t receive any reply. I walked down the steps, opened the door, and stepped on to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I turned, proceeded to lock the door, and felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Oleg who had arrived to process the grosses which were being inputted upstairs. Oleg had a jovial look on his face and a unfiltered filter cigarette in his mouth but managed to say, “Ah my good friend. Ethan. Hello. We are ready. Goodnight.” Oleg entered the stairway and I stared at the faded stars embedded in the filthy sidewalk and said, “Thank you stars. I promise you’ll never be forgotten”.

It was almost one in the morning when I arrived home. I texted Jay on the disposable flip phone:

Ready

It didn’t surprise me that Jay was awake replying:

Cups & Saucers.

Tomorrow.

Midnight.

 

I arrived at BOO by 5:00 pm the next evening. I was eager to begin my evening knowing I would be meeting Jay later. I ran up the stairs and met Ray who was recording his figures on the call sheets. He was happy in his work and I didn’t sense any negative “vibe”. He greeted me saying, “Top of the evening, boss.”  As I entered the call room, I felt somberness in the air and noticed Texas Tommy wasn’t at work.

There was a note on my desk from the receptionist who had transcribed a message from a hospital that he’d been hospitalized and was unable to report for work. Copa rose from his call booth to visit the bathroom and have a smoke. He wasn’t dancing or humming a show tune as usual. I motioned for him to enter my office. I showed Copa the note from the receptionist and asked, “What happened to Texas Tommy?” Copa sat, crossed his legs and arms and said softly, “Texas was severely beaten up by a John. They destroyed his beautiful face.” I rose and closed the door. I placed my arms around him as he wept. I asked, “Did they catch the John?” Copa replied, “Texas is afraid to talk to the cops. He’ll need expensive facial reconstruction which he can’t afford. He’ll never become a leading man and how can the beautiful boy look at himself in the mirror?” Copa referred to “they” and I was confused thinking he was beaten by a single John. I asked him, “You said the word “they”. Were there more than one John?” Copa rose and reached for the door saying, “I’ve already said too much. Thank you, Ethan, darling for caring. Please give Texas privacy. He doesn’t want any visitors. I know you understand.”  The call room wasn’t the same without Texas Tommy. The levity of William, Texas, and Copa together was replaced with a sterile professionalism and efficiency. It was 11:30 pm and I closed the call center to see Jay. My excitement was dampened by the bad news about Texas Tommy.

I arrived at Cups & Saucers to find Jay’s Porsche already parked out front. I met Jay in our usual booth and he had already ordered coffee for two and a big breakfast for himself. I knew Jay was happy because he was eating. I slid into the booth and Jay said, “I already placed your usual order with the waitress.” Jay was chewing his food and slid a paper napkin across the table to me. He motioned me to flip it over. He had written:

Non binding proposal accepted. 3.0B. $20/share.

Buyer assumes lousy summer box office for studio

Close deal after Labor Day

Jay motioned for me to return the napkin. He tore it to shreds and placed the shreds into his full coffee cup. Jay swallowed his food, took a drink of the fresh squeezed orange juice, and said, “What do you hear, what do you say?” I replied, “All is well with the world, my friend. All is well!”

The next evening, I arrived early to see Paul before he left work for home. I poked my head into his office, smiled and said, “Box Office Gross complete.” I expected to hear from Oleg shortly. It was an ordinary night at work. After closing the call center just before midnight, I walked down the stairs and out on to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I felt a familiar tap on my shoulder, turned, and saw Oleg with his unfiltered cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. He was holding a briefcase in one hand and a lap top in the other. He motioned for me to reach into his shirt pocket and retrieve his stainless steel lighter replete with a vintage Soviet Army red star emblazoned upon it. I held the lighter to his cigarette and in the palm of my hand, he could read:

Non binding proposal accepted. 3.0B. $20/share.

Buyer assumes lousy summer box office for studio

Close deal after Labor Day

He nodded approvingly and I held the door open for him. Not a word had been spoken between us. Over the weeks to come, it would be business as usual for me. I had no knowledge of and didn’t want to know what Jay, Oleg, and Paul were doing.  If the studio’s box office grosses were being manipulated, I would never know. Jay would text me when he had news about the studio purchase. The studios stock price was steady at $20 through the month of April. I noticed it increase to $22 which led me to believe the Russian bank was purchasing shares. I’ll never forget that day because it was “May Day”, the first of May celebrating workers in Russia.

“Take 13” wasn’t selected for “Industry Night” and I completed my final exams. I graduated and received by BFA but didn’t attend the graduation ceremony. I was playing in “the big leagues” of Hollywood. It was the middle of June and kids across the country were on summer break. It was “prime time” for the movie industry and box office results were watched closely. Each studio’s fiscal performance for the entire year would be made or broken by their films performance over summer culminating Labor Day weekend.

Alice was a quiet determined caller who came and went without a word but tonight she visited me in my office after completing her shift and said, “Ethan, I’ve been reviewing the box office reports for this studio’s films and they aren’t jiving with the lower grosses I’m reporting from the theatres throughout the east coast region.” My heart skipped a beat. Alice was a box office “junkie” knowing each studio’s releases and respective grosses better than the President’s of the studios releasing the films! She had decades of box office reporting experience. Interfacing with Alice about box office grosses was like an IRS audit. The theatres reporting to her were located in large east coast metropolitan cities serving as traditional barometers for national results. I replied, “I don’t know what to say, Alice. Maybe the films are performing better in the east coast region than nationally?” Alice scratched her head and said, “We’ll you’re the supervisor and a film school graduate. I trust your insight. Goodnight.”  She bought my explanation this time and I hoped she would back off. Oleg was manipulating the studio’s grosses upward with the goal of increasing the stock price of the studio. I trusted Jay, Oleg, and Phil were doing their respective “jobs” and remained patient.

It was nearing midnight and only William and I were left in the call room. William was handling Texas Tommy’s west coast calls. I approached saying, “William why don’t you call it a night? I’ll finish those grosses for you” and he replied, “Just one more call and I’ll be done, Ethan.”  I sat down next to William and asked, “How is Texas doing, William?” William finished transcribing the grosses on to the call sheet and sighed, “He won’t allow visitors because he is proud and vain. I heard he was transferred from the hospital into a convalescent facility to continue healing but needs expensive, facial reconstruction surgery. His family is dirt poor and there is no insurance.” I asked, “Did they arrest anybody?” William’s reply was terse, “No.  Texas refuses to cooperate with the detectives.” I wondered to myself why he wouldn’t want the thugs caught and asked, “Why?” William reached inside his coat pocket, pulled out a black and white photograph showing a young man standing next to a Palomino horse with a blue ribbon attached to the saddle. He handed it to me saying, “Tommy hails from a small rural town in Texas. He wants to be remembered for the native son who left home to become a leading man not a gay hustler in Hollywood.” William retrieved the photograph from my hand and placed it back in his coat pocket. He rose and began to collect his belongings before clocking out and said, “Life is problematic for gay men, Ethan.”  I clumsily answered, “I know”. William cut me some slack knowing that a straight man could be empathetic but clueless, saying, “No you don’t. Imagine taking a beating and not seeking justice out of fear of losing your career and family?” I could only say, “Goodnight William” to which he replied, “Thank you for caring, Ethan. Goodnight.” William walked down the hall and towards the stairwell leading down and out of BOO. I shouted, “What do you think happened, William?” He turned and said, "I believe he was run over by a train”. I heard that expression recently. The connection was immediate and wasn’t lost on me. I thought how unfair it was that with all the wealth in Hollywood, Texas and Paul’s daughter were suffering under the famous Hollywood sign illuminated like a beacon signaling “glamour, fame, and fortune found here”. I vowed to myself to help Texas Tommy find justice and the money for the reconstructive surgery which would restore his handsome good looks and self respect. Paul would find a heart for his dying daughter.

On July first, I received my first text from Jay since April:

Update at Midnight

Cups & Saucers

I closed up the call center and drove to meet with Jay who had already arrived. I could see him from the sidewalk. He’s was only drinking coffee which was a sign he wasn’t hungry and would have important news. I slid in next to him and as before, he slid a paper napkin towards me and motioned for me to turn it over. It revealed the following:

 

May 1. Buy in @ $20. Close @ $22

June 1-15 grosses fixed. Close @ $23.  Buy. Close @ $25

June 15-July 5 grosses fixed. Close @ $27. Buy. Close @ $29

3.0B @ $20 offer rejected by studio. Studio counter offer @ 3.5B @ $29

Negotiations stalled.

I gave the napkin back to Jay. He tore it in shreds and drowned it in the coffee cup. We didn’t speak a single word. Jay winked, got up from the booth, and left. I heard his Porsche speed off down Wilshire Boulevard. Jay’s wink told me a high stakes game of chess was being played behind the scenes. Jay was confidant and enjoying the game. The meeting made me hungry and I ordered a big breakfast.

It was last day of July when I reported to work. As I walked past the receptionist preparing to leave for the evening and proceeded to the call room, I passed Paul’s office and saw him sitting with Alice. Something was amiss but I entered my office and proceeded to begin my work. The intercom on my office phone buzzed and I could see it was Paul calling. I answered, “Hello Paul. How may I help you?” He asked me to join him and Alice is his office.  I entered the office, Paul asked me to close the door, and invited me to sit. Phil asked Alice to continue. “As I was saying, Paul, my grosses aren’t matching up with what BOO is reporting for the studio’s slate of films. My raw grosses are consistently lower than what BOO is reporting for my region. I’ve already broached this subject with Ethan”. Paul asked me, “Is that correct, Ethan?” I replied, “Yes Paul, but I told Alice already that it’s likely due to regional movie goers preferences in her markets accounting for the higher grosses.” Paul looked to Alice saying, “It sounds logical to me Alice. Ethan sees the raw numbers on the call sheets for the entire nation not just the northeast cities you report. His explanation is logical.” Alice was frustrated like somebody trying to finish a crossword puzzle and exclaimed, “BOO’s northeast numbers can’t be correct! Do you have my call sheets for the past two months?” Paul calmly said, “No Alice. They’re shredded after being inputted as part of our security procedures”. Paul was cool, calm, and collected. I thought his answer was a smart one. Alice grew more frustrated and said, “Maybe something is amiss in the computer room? I’ve never trusted that new-fangled computer program Margie bought from the Russian. Perhaps those two data imputers are screwing up? If we were still tabulating the grosses the old fashioned way, column by column, region by region with pencil and eraser we wouldn’t have this discrepancy!” Paul replied, “I trust the computer software and our data processors, Alice. BOO values your employment and we’re honored to have you as the longest employee at BOO but there comes a time when you got to “hang up the spurs”, Alice.” Alice tensed, sat up, looked directly at Paul and said, “What the hell are you implying, Paul?” Paul calmly replied, “I think your age is interfering with your abilities to accurately perform your duties, Alice. Maybe it’s your eyesight or something else?” Alice was a tiny old woman but when she stood and leaned over Paul’s desk, she was imposing. Alice was insulted and responded, “There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight or cognitive abilities! You’re a salesman Margie hired to sell subscriptions to her service. I’m a bean counter who helped Margie build this company from the ground up!  Margie started as a secretary in a movie distribution department and rose to become senior vice president of worldwide distribution at one of the largest movie studios in the world. You’re a man and wouldn’t understand the odds against her success but I know it very well. BOO is a respected and trusted box office gross reporting company and its integrity needs to be protected at all costs! I have an instinct for these grosses and know something is screwy. Find the problem and fix it because you’re the General Manager paid by Margie to run a tight ship. I’ll be monitoring my region’s performance through Labor Day to see if you succeeded, Paul. By the way, I’m not retiring. If you fire me, you’ll have one hell of an age discrimination suit on your hands! And trust me; I’ll pass with flying colors any cognitive tests your attorney throws at me! Excuse me, gentleman. I have to begin my shift.” Alice calmly opened the door and left the office gently closing the door behind her. Alice’s tantrum placed Paul and me on our heels. Paul reached for the framed photograph of his dying daughter, held it in front of his face, and said, “Alice will be keeping her own set of grosses from now on. If she approaches Margie, it’s game over. Find a fix to this dilemma, Ethan, please. This is above my pay grade.” Paul was frightened but to tell you the truth, I didn’t give a damn. If I ended up on the hot seat, I’d lay the rap at Margie’s feet. I’ve been telling stories my entire life and knew that I’d find an appropriate ending to this scene.

 

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