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Velocity - Chapter 1

          Matt Santini was having a bad day. Headache. Streaming nose. Sore throat. Morning Glory wasn’t. Mr. Coffee scalded his hand and the half-and-half had a greenish tinge to it. He overbroilled the bacon, spent ten minutes rifling the cupboards for a tin of time-expired dog food to placate his yowling Golden Lab, then stumbled downstairs in his pajamas to find the mailbox empty. These were manifestly Not Good Things. To top it all, when Matt attempted to crawl back under the covers for a few more moments' shut-eye the indignant pooch jumped up for a lick and promptly vomited the entire contents of the out-of-date Kal Kan over both master and sheets.
          "Gross!" Matt went into the bathroom to repair the damage, Dallas trailing him. "Aw, an' there's no defrizz…" He fumbled around under the sink for his monogrammed Frette towel from Bergdorf-G, then remembered that was AWOL too. Kevin, of course. Such had been the bitterness of their split that even presents lovingly exchanged from one to the other were returned to the original owner and removed from the apartment. His apartment. Theirs. His. Matt made do with a Ralph's washcloth ($4.99 for a pack of three) instead.
          He dampened the cloth and rubbed it along his lips, watching the mirror-Matt in the medicine cabinet do the same. Usually, his handsome face pleased him, but today he saw only an uncombed, puffy, stinky jock with ingrowing toenails and bad breath - precisely the image his acting coach had enthusiastically demanded he "embrace to his heart" when he attended drama classes at Columbia University some years before. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Matt had been the last-chance child of affluent older parents already blessed with an eight-year-old daughter. They took him to Disneyland and bought him a puppy and kept his first hairclippings and wouldn’t let him come into their bedroom at night. Matt's teachers found him obliging but "unexceptional," never knowing the secret fantasies which tormented his dreams, even at six, the hidden desires that would deny him the life so many others were already mimicking. In second grade, Jenny Edwards baked him miniature cookies in her Li'l Lady play-oven. He took them home and fed them to Pongo.
           Matt's father died the year he turned twelve without ever having given him one piece of useful advice about how to survive in the world. Matt was at school When It Happened, heart failure in the front room, there to wave goodbye to in the morning and sealed in a mortuary freezer by suppertime. At first it surprised him how much he preferred life with just his mother, Sis having departed for an early marriage. His parents' urban normalcy had rendered him faceless; now with a feisty widow as sole PTA member he began to gain a strange sort of credibility among his classmates. Matt's youthful longings intensified with puberty, and dozens of stolen and discarded Colts and Playgirls found their way under his mattress. He picked a department store restroom to cruise and closed his eyes to the principal's stern safer sex talks as he spluttered to life in wrinkled mouths.
           In college Matt sped through almost twenty lovers, none lasting more than a month. He joined the drama club on a temporary bedmate's advice and found his true vocation, changing his surname from Sandler to the more glamorous Santini, so people took him for Italian rather than Jewish when in reality he was neither. He wanted to take center stage on Broadway, with Mom's proud tears glinting away among a standing O of thousands. Or better yet, clasp a golden Oscar to his breast and hear the universe cheering.
           After graduation Matt's relationships shrunk to mere hours, one-night stands with muscled strangers from The Boy Bar. And then he met Kevin and was so entranced by his earnest, cornfed beauty that he missed a Sunset audition for want of a few more moments curled up in those freckled arms. Within three weeks Kevin had moved into the New York pad Daddy's Will provided, raucously reciting Matt's sides with him, searching the Net for possible gigs, whooping for joy when his SAG card arrived. Kevin was a trainee lawyer in Lower Manhattan and one of seven children. He'd come out to his family over dinner at the tender age of eleven; with typical Irish pragmatism they had nodded then turned back to their Sunday roasts. Matt found this story amusing, while fearing the "G" word would never leave his own lips in his mother's presence. He passed Kevin off as his "roommate" and claimed his busy schedule left no time for frolicking with females. Kevin was at first sympathetic, then bemused, frustrated and finally furious, though it took five years for the gulf in their perspectives to become unbreachable.
           The crunch, when it came, was initiated by another family gathering. Matt's sister and her downtrodden husband were celebrating twenty for-better-or-worse 365's of wedded bliss with a lavish party in their adopted home of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Kevin saw an ideal opportunity to update all the Sandler clan in one fall swoop; Matt disagreed. Strongly. Three little words he wouldn’t say erased the past half-decade, the plaque by the doorbell, the jumbled underwear, the matching toothbrushes. So here he was, six months on, back to a world of bars and bathhouses and boys with no last names, buying microwaveable food with "For One" stamped on the box and feeling the odd pang when he came across a pair of Jockey shorts among the dustmites that weren't his. And for what? As the expected roles failed to materialize, the terrible truth began to dawn on Matt Santini Sandler: he had sacrificed Kevin for nothing.
           Matt yawned and brushed the last remnants of hound-slobber from his chin. He tossed the soiled washcloth into the laundry basket, recoiling as the stench of ancient socks reached his nostrils. "Gotta go to the coin-op this week. Remind me to save up some quarters." He patted Dallas's shaggy head. "Or maybe we could raid a parking meter, huh?"
           A strident hum from the bedroom. Matt stepped back inside, his dark brows twitching. He owed too many favors for the phone to be a friendly sound. Jerry The Snapper was starting to get pretty pissy about the five hundred bucks still IOU'd him for headshots. The photog hadn't pitched the services of his Mafioso cousin yet, but -
          "Matty!" It was his useless agent, Marshall Grant The Third, a.k.a. The Cad - so named on account of his spiky-tailed Cadillac, a car bought with the ten per cents of clients long since departed for more prestigious acronyms than TGA. The Shark would have been an equally appropriate moniker, but that, alas, was taken by Matt's previous spook. "How are you?"
          "Fine." Domestic disasters aside. "I take it this isn't a social call?"
          "No, Matty. Business. I got some great and some not-so-great news for you."
          "What's 'not-so-great'?"
          "Well, you didn’t get that movie gig - the Brad Pitt co-."
          "That's 'not-so-great'?! What's 'bad' then, like I'm dead?"
           Marshall chuckled. "My little melodramatic Matty. Bad would be ending up on cable. Now that is dead. I got a great gig lined up, new TV show, set to be primo. I sent some glossies to the network and they just freaked over 'em, it's practically down to you and Billy Zane..."
          "Billy Zane?" Him and a name, and The Cad thought they'd opt for anonymity? Get real.
          "So anyways," Marshall continued, "I set up an audition for six a.m. Friday -"
          "Wait a minute. Six a.m.? Six in the morning?"
          "They've got a lot of people to see, so I bagged you first slot." A whine. "I thought you'd be pleased."
          "Six - six - hell, I'm never at my best before noon, you know that. And what were you saying about 'just me and Billy'?"
          "That's for principal, it's a big show. Absolutely stellar support roles, got 'Emmy nom' written all over 'em -"
          "Okay, okay. You know any plot details? I mean, does it even have a title?"
          "Sure. Nightsearcher."
          "Knight Searcher? What, is it set in the Middle Ages or something?"
          "No, no. Night-Searcher. Night. Like you know, not day? It's about this guy, Joe Speed, handsome young guy, just like you, he's a race car driver, horribly disfigured in a nasty accident, loses his memory -"
          "Oh, that old chestnut, huh?"
          "But here's the clinch - some vampire hunters find him - they patch him up and give him a new identity - put him to work for 'em - it's like Buffy, but on wheels. Real high-concept. All West Coast locations too, how's that for hot?"
          "Uh-huh." Sounded a little too 'Eighties for Matt's liking. "Are you sure they don’t just want me for the lead-in? Before he gets a new face and becomes Billy Zane?"
          "Nah, they're trying to get David Hasselhoff for the pre part - you know, an homage?"
          "Oh, I see. Very clever." As if Marshall would know the difference between an homage and an insult…
          "Anyhow, Matty, great talking to you, as always, but I really gotta go now, see who I can put up for the girl. I'll Fed-Ex the pages over, okay?"
          "Sure, so I can practice my one line. 'That's a big cliff. Hey, I'm Billy Zane.'"
          "What did I just tell you? Hass  -"
          "Yeah, alright. I'll wait for the mail. And send a cute messenger this time, huh?"
          "You little kidder. This show -"
          "Yeah, yeah, this is my big chance, right?"
          "Billboards on Sunset, baby. Sixty foot high. Just for you."
          "Primo. 'Bye, Marshall."
          Click. Matt nubbed the receiver and sank down on the still-strangely Kevinless bed ($1199 from Totem, a joint purchase). He rolled the sheets into a ball and dumped them in the laundry with his fetid underwear. Another no-hope audition and he had to get up in the middle of the frickin' night for this one too! What good was being "transiently employed" if you couldn’t even snatch a lie-in? He sighed as Dallas bounded over for another messy smooch. Yup, a very bad day.



Robin Tamblyn (author)