The door to Peter’s apartment swung open, nearly causing him to drop his beer on his laptop. He’d opened the beer just moments prior, after typing “FADE OUT” into his screenplay and saving it.
The reason he didn’t drop his beer was that Peter’s life had been a long string of catastrophes, and having his laptop stolen moments after having completed his third screenplay, and the first one that he felt good about, would have made complete sense. His nerves were steeled against disaster.
He turned to the door and instead of someone scowling and brandishing a gun, he saw a man in an oxford shirt and blazer, carrying a leather bag, advancing toward him, hand outstretched, round face smiling.
“Peter, I’m Tab. You’ve never met me, but I’d like to congratulate you on finishing this piece of work.”
Peter shook Tab’s hand. The look on Peter’s face bore close resemblance to the look on his face when he’d been 12 years old and in the bathroom at a friend’s house when his friend’s mother had walked in on him.
Tab had already set his bag down and begun pulling papers out.
“I’m going to offer you $800,000 for that screenplay.”
Peter had not spoken yet. This was not Peter’s way. His life had taught him that taking the active route, even just saying words, was better than taking the passive route.
“This makes me feel weird,” he said. The words were awkward but Peter delivered them with certainty. He looked Tab in the face as he said them.
Tab looked at Peter’s wall. The wall was covered in newspaper clippings. Peter’s name appeared in all of them. The newspaper clippings were not about good things happening to or near Peter.
“This one,” Tab said, smiling and pointing, “was my idea.”
Peter leaned in and studied the clipping. “Boy Sentenced in Death of 5 Dogs” it read. The picture showed a 12 year old Peter in an orange jumpsuit, crying.
Every dog Peter owned had died, not all of them violently. He’d never harmed any animal intentionally, and had loved his dogs. And then he’d spent three months in juvenile detention. Not the beginning of the cruelties perpetrated against him, and not the end of them.
“What do you mean?” Peter asked.
“Well, Julianna did come up with the initial idea to kill Bendy,” Tab said. Peter hadn’t thought of his first dog, Bendy, in years. “But to kill the whole string of them,” Tab continued, “and then to have you unjustly accused and convicted, that was entirely mine. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and just feeling electric with the idea.”
He grimaced at his own brilliance and turned to Peter. “That’s easily the most inspired I’ve ever felt. But I had a hand in a lot of these others as well.”
He waved at the clippings.
“You,” Peter said, “are a full-on crazy person. Get out of my house.”
“Peter,” Tab said, “this is an apartment. Don’t pretend like you haven’t noticed that the extent to which you court disaster is just a touch over the top.”
“I have. But why would you try to take credit for the most painful events in my life and offer me a bunch of money for a screenplay that exists only on my computer, and which I haven’t told another living human about?”
“I don’t believe in warring against cliche, but I’ll admit that this is both personal and business. It’s mostly about business, but it would be silly to admit that this doesn’t affect you at a personal level.”
“This is how movies get made,” Tab continued.
“So you tortured me for twenty-five years in order to get this screenplay out of me? And you’re going to pay me for it without even having read it?”
“Yes,” Tab said. “I’m sure it’ll require some clean up. But the science works. I call it ‘crushing the grape.’”
“And now you’re going to tell me that X number of past Oscar winners are part of this same program, or whatever?”
“Exactly so. Exactly.”
Peter sat down at the table in front of his laptop. He noticed he was still holding his beer. He took a drink.
“Okay. I’ll do it,” he said.
“I knew you would,” Tab said. “We breed for compliance as well.”