Chapter 4

“I’m sorry, what was your name again?”

“Anthony,” the man answered as he rummaged around in one of the many bags he had with him. “But you can call me Ant. Everyone does.”

“Ant,” Jane repeated. “Of course. And you say you’re with the film people.”

Ant nodded. “They were supposed to tell you we were coming,” he said as he fiddled with the controls on the video camera in his hands.

“Yes, well, I’m afraid they didn’t,” said Jane, squinting as a bright light blinded her.

“Sorry,” said the girl who was positioning the lights behind Ant.

They were in Jane’s living room. Jane was seated on the couch, anxiously watching Ant come perilously close to knocking over a ceramic figure of a badger that had been given to Jane in 1908 by Kenneth Grahame as a thank-you for convincing him to change his lead character from Miss Slug to Mr. Toad. When Ant turned his back Jane retrieved the badger from the side table and placed it safely under the couch.

“Like I told you,” Ant said. “We’re shooting scenes for the DVD extras.”

“The DVD?” Jane said. “But they haven’t even made the film yet.”

Ant snorted. “Tell me about it,” he said. “But they want this stuff done earlier and earlier.” He pulled a roll of duct tape from one of the bags and unrolled about six inches of it. “If you ask me,” he mumbled, tearing the tape with his teeth, “it’s because they want to get the interviews when everyone’s still excited about the project and doesn’t hate each other.”

He applied the tape to the side of the video camera while he continued to talk. “We used to do the DVD stuff six months, sometimes a year after the movie wrapped. But then you run the risk of losing people for one reason or another.”

“Losing them how?” Jane asked, shifting uncomfortably in her chair.

Ant shrugged. “Costars who fell in love on the set break up,” he explained. “The director has a falling-out with the studio. Someone is in rehab and can’t film.” He laughed. “Well, that always happens. Anyway, if you get this stuff done before shooting even begins, you’ve got it in the can and ready to go.”

“That seems prudent,” Jane remarked.

“One film I worked on a couple of years ago, the leading lady got divorced after the film wrapped,” said Ant. “She dealt with it by eating everything in sight and blew up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. When I went to shoot her interview for the DVD we could only shoot her from the chest up. Even then her face was so fat she looked like one of those bodies that wash up on the beach a week after a plane crash. Every time she talked I kept waiting for a crab to come out of her mouth.”

Jane put a hand to her cheek. Do I look puffy? she wondered. The girl working on the lights was also the makeup person, and she had put powder on Jane’s face fifteen minutes earlier. But suddenly Jane felt sweaty. She started to ask if the girl could refresh her makeup, then stopped herself. You don’t want to seem demanding, she reminded herself.

“You ready to go?” Ant asked the girl, who was still fussing with the lights.

“Almost,” she said just as one of the bulbs in a light popped. The girl swore loudly.

Ant rolled his eyes and sighed wearily. “Let me guess,” he said. “You don’t have a spare.”

“I think there’s one in the van,” the girl told him. “I’ll be right back.”

With the girl gone Jane took the opportunity to ask Ant a question that had been on her mind. “I understand why they might want interviews with the stars of the film,” she said cautiously. “Or with the director. But why me?”

Ant nodded. “It’s weird, right? I mean, you’re just a writer. You didn’t even write the script.” He shook his head. “That’s Julia Baxter for you.”

Jane’s interest grew with the mention of the film’s director, whom she had yet to meet or even speak to. “Julia Baxter asked for me to be included?” she said.

“No offense, but she thinks people actually give a crap about who wrote the book a film is based on,” said Ant. “Like anybody reads books anymore.”

“Imagine,” Jane said. “The idea.”

She eyed Ant with growing dislike. She was already annoyed with him, ever since he’d arrived at her bookstore that afternoon and immediately started bossing her around. As she hadn’t been expecting him, his behavior was even more upsetting, and until he’d explained his presence she had considered biting his neck.

He reminds me of George Wickham, she realized. He’s all bluster and no substance.

“I don’t think I’ve read a book since high school,” Ant said, oblivious to the fact that he was making himself even more unappealing to Jane. “I just wait for the movie.” He laughed.

“No books?” Jane said. “Not a single one?”

“Not a whole one,” Ant admitted. “Sometimes I’ll grab one at the airport when I fly to L.A. You know, in case the in-flight movie sucks. But I’ve never finished one.”

“I imagine you could finish one on the way back,” Jane suggested, wondering just how long it took Mr. Anthony Doolan to read a book designed to appeal to air travelers.

“Nah,” Ant said. “I forget the story as soon as I get off the plane. I’d have to start all over again, and what would be the point?”

Before Jane could suggest what the point might be, the girl returned with a new bulb for the light. Jane caught her eye, and the girl smiled. She seems nice, Jane thought. Ant had not introduced them.

She started to ask the girl’s name, but once again the light came on, making her blink. When finally her vision cleared she saw Ant pointing the video camera at her. Staring into its large black eye, she found herself feeling very self-conscious.

“Don’t look at the camera,” Ant instructed her. “Look at Shelby.”

Shelby, Jane noted. She smiled at the girl.

“All right,” said Ant. “I’m going to ask you some questions. Just answer them naturally. But try to be interesting. If you can.”

Jane took a deep breath. You’re lucky I fed last week, she thought as she focused on Shelby’s face. Otherwise I’d give you more interesting than you could handle.

“How did it feel when you heard your book was going to be made into a movie?” Ant asked.

“Of course it was very exciting,” Jane said. “It’s always a pleasure when your work is exposed to a wider audi—”

“Cut,” Ant said, putting the camera down.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jane.

“It’s boring,” Ant said. “I told you, be interesting.”

Jane nodded. “Interesting,” she repeated. “I see.” She paused for a moment. “How would I do that?” she asked.

Ant sighed. “This is exactly why writers should never be interviewed,” he said, looking at Shelby. He turned back to Jane. “Let’s try something else,” he said, lifting the camera and pointing it at Jane. “Did you ever think a book you wrote would be made into a movie?”

Jane resisted the almost overwhelming urge to tell him that her books had been made into dozens of movies. “No,” she said instead. “Frankly, it never occurred to me that fans of modern cinema would be drawn to something with actual content. Nothing at all blows up in my novel, you know.”

She noticed Shelby suppressing a smile, but Ant seemed pleased with the answer. “Tell me something about your writing process,” he said. “Do you have any interesting ways to inspire yourself?”

“I drink quite heavily,” Jane said pleasantly. “I find that my best ideas come when I have to focus on the computer screen to keep the room from spinning. Also, I write in the nude. Oh, except for the earrings. I wear a pair given to me by the king of Norway.”

Shelby let out a short laugh, which she cut off when Ant glared at her. “Do you mind?” he said.

“Sorry,” said Shelby. She looked at Jane and bit her lip. “Sorry,” she said again, her eyes twinkling.

“It might also interest people to know that I write precisely seven hundred and thirteen words every day,” Jane said.

“Hold on,” Ant said. “I’m not shooting.” He hit the record button on the camera. “Say that again.”

“I write precisely seven hundred and thirteen words a day,” Jane repeated.

“So how long does it take you to write a whole book, then?”

“Oh, at least a month or two,” said Jane, maintaining a serious tone. “Longer if there are more than two characters. It gets a bit confusing once there are three. But I use dolls to act out the scenes. That helps.”

“Kind of like a movie,” said Ant. “Have you ever wanted to write a screenplay?”

“Heavens, no,” Jane answered. “I’m not nearly clever enough for that. I can only manage novels.”

Ant set the camera down. “That’s better,” he told Jane.

“Do you think so?” Jane asked. “I tried my best.”

“It’s your first time,” said Ant. “You’ll get the hang of it. Now I want to get some footage of you writing.”

“But I’m not drunk,” Jane protested.

“Or nude,” Shelby added.

“Precisely,” said Jane. “Perhaps if you give me half an hour?”

“We’ll do it later,” said Ant. “Maybe we can shoot some scenes at the bookstore. You know, with customers and whatever.”

“Whatever indeed,” Jane said.

Ant set the video camera down. “Shelby, pack this stuff up,” he said. “I’m going to have a smoke.”

When Ant was safely out of the room Shelby looked at Jane and the two of them burst into laughter. “Is he really that stupid?” Jane asked the young woman.

“Hard to believe, isn’t it?” Shelby answered. “Do you know what the duct tape is for?”

“I was wondering about that,” said Jane.

“It’s so he knows which buttons to push on the camera,” Shelby explained. “He draws little arrows pointing to the ones he needs to use.”

Jane laughed.

“Sometimes I’m amazed he can put his pants on without killing himself,” Shelby said. “You handled him really well.”

“I suppose,” said Jane. “But I’m afraid my answers are completely inappropriate.”

Shelby folded up one of the light stands. “Don’t worry about it,” she told Jane. “You and I can reshoot it all later.”

“Really?” Jane said. “You can do that?”

“I always do,” the girl told her. “Ant hasn’t shot a usable interview yet.”

“Then why go through all this?” Jane asked.

“There’s one thing Ant is good at,” said Shelby as she rolled up an electrical cord and tucked it into a bag. “He speaks bullshit fluently. And in Hollywood that’s a major skill. Sort of like speaking Russian if you work for the CIA.”

Jane laughed. “I see. So why do you work for him?”

“He’s my brother,” Shelby said.

“Oh,” Jane said. “I’m sorry.”

Shelby laughed, and Jane realized what she had said. She also recalled calling Ant stupid. “I didn’t mean—”

“It’s all right,” Shelby assured her. “I know what you meant. And he is stupid. But I’ve been covering up his messes since we were kids. I guess I’m just used to it.”

“But don’t you want to get credit for the work you do?” She thought about the centuries she’d spent not being able to take credit for her novels, and felt herself becoming angry for the young woman.

Shelby shrugged. “I like doing it,” she said. “But I don’t speak bullshit. Having Ant do that part kind of makes up for everything else.”

No, Jane thought. It doesn’t. But she kept her opinion to herself. Later, she told herself, she might have a talk with Shelby. But not now.

Ant poked his head through the door. “What’s taking so long?” he snapped.

Shelby ignored him and looked around the room. “I think that’s everything,” she said. “I’ll just take this stuff to the van and we can go.” She picked up one of the heavy bags and walked to the door. Her brother barely stepped aside as she left the house.

“Let me help you with this,” Jane said, reaching for a bag and following after the girl. As she passed Ant she shot him a withering look, which he didn’t notice because he was busy looking at something on his iPhone.

“Shel!” he yelled, his brow knitting up in confusion. “How do I make a call on this thing?”

I believe I will have a talk with your sister, Jane thought as she walked to the van. She felt her fangs slip into place, and ran the tip of her tongue over their needle-sharp points before drawing them back up again. And then I may just have a few words with you as well.

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