“We need help,” said the director. In order to not embarrass this highly likable guy, I’ll call him Briny Sprockets.
“I’ll get it,” I reassured him.
“Yeah,” said Briny. “I know you will. But what’s it gonna hurt sitting down with an expert?”
Yes. I was stuck. No. Don’t call it writer’s block. That’s because I wasn’t actually writing. Nor was I even outlining. I was still in what I call “big picture mode.” I had characters and a sticky situation in which to place them, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. The director and I had been brainstorming for hours with little useable meat to pack on the bare bones of our story.
“I know somebody who can help with our problem,” said Briny.
“Somebody we can talk straight to. And who’ll be straight with us.”
“Someone good with story?” I worried. Last thing I wanted to do was waste hours explaining structure to some well-meaning test-tube subject who Briny had met at his four-year-old’s soccer game. Inviting a civilian into the process often required more patience on my part than whatever actual solution I might eventually find.
“Someone who knows a hell of a lot about what we’re trying to crack,” assured Briny.
“Right,” I nodded. I knew exactly the kind of help he was talking about. A cop, most likely. Or a fed. Someone retired, probably. A lot of these guys work as security or tech advisors on films and TV shows. Directors love ‘em because they’re the real dealio. Buy ‘em dinner and liquor and let ‘em tell their stories of cops and robbers and true-life temptations.
“I’m cool with that,” I said, never minding some extra research. Though I still felt I could crack the missing story beats without steak and drinks at The Palm.
“I’ll have my crew set it up,” grinned Briny. “Worked with these guys before. You’re gonna love ‘em.”
A few days later, one of the director’s minions phoned me to give me the time and place. Strangely enough, the address wasn’t one of the classic eateries the director was known to haunt. They’d set our sit-down at the most undramatic of locales – the director’s swanky West Hollywood office. The only sexy thing about the where and when of it all, was the time of the meet. 9:30 PM.
I arrived ten minutes early, only to discover I was the last to arrive. Briny was there. And so were his two guests.
Definitely former PD, I told myself. Aside from my own impolite self, nobody is habitually earlier than cops.
The two men were lounging on Briny’s designer sofa, beaming smiles on their faces as they stood to greet me, the writer.
“Doug Richardson,” introduced Briny. “Phil and Sean.”
“I’m Phil,” said the more bearish of the two men. He was huge, salty-haired, and his grip felt like it was powered by Black and Decker.
“Sean,” said the man who was shorter than me, maybe half my weight, and had a voice with more gravel than a cement mixer. I recall his face appearing to have recovered from a horrible case of teenage acne, hard and pitted. My guess was that this guy had seen his share of scrapes.
As a team, the duo fit well into the picture of the undercovers I’d met before. One the wiry, skittish looking street dude – the kind that could slip into the role of dealer, drug addict, or thief at the drop of a hat. The other, the muscle – always in the background to watch the point guy’s back.
“So where you guys work out of?” I asked, fully expecting one of them to answer with a precinct or division of a famous police agency.
“We work outta wherever we’re told,” chuckled Sean. “I’m a Baltimore guy. Philly I met in Miami. But you came up outta like –“
“I’m originally outta Cincinnati,” finished Phil. “Moved around a lot. But yeah. Miami is the closest thing I got to home.”
They clearly weren’t local. Therefore, deductive reasoning led me to believe they were feds. FBI, ATF, Treasury. I would’ve next inquired about the agency who employed them if Briny hadn’t been so hopped up to share what he’d already gleaned from his guests.
“I couldn’t help but throw one of our story problems at ‘em,” Briny injected. “And they already came up with some great stuff.”
As if cued, Phil leaned his big body forward on the couch, resting his elbows on his knees and practically spoke with his giant mitts.
“You’re gonna break into somethin’,” began Phil. “Somethin’ big that’s gonna attract a lotta heat. Cops know it’s a hot thing. So there’s a lotta extra cops around.”
I was already impressed. Usually, when utilizing civilians to help you break story, there’s a significant amount of explaining and boundaries to erect, in order to get them focused on solving your problem instead of regurgitating every experience of theirs which they think lands in the area code.
“This is good,” chimed Sean.
“So get this,” continued Phil. “What’s a cop value more than what he’s tryin’ to protect? Another fuckin’ cop.”
“Right,” I said.
“So what we used to do is find some homeless guy,” gestured Phil. “Clean him up. You know. Shave and shit. Have him put on some cop uniform we stole from a costume shop. Take him out to some underpass where nobody’s lookin’. Pop pop. Two in the back of his head. Dump the body. Phone in an ‘officer down’ distress call.”
“Man,” said Sean. “Talk about ‘callin’ all cars.’”
“Guaranteed,” said Phil. “Every cop with a radio will be on that shit like white on rice.”
“So whaddayou think?” asked Briny. “That’s how we get all the cops guarding our object of value to move away from our object of value. It’s not only genius, but it’s real.”
Real. Yeah. I was wrestling to keep the pit that had formed in my stomach from turning into a molten meteor.
“So,” I began, trying to be circumspect about my words. “This is something you heard about?”
“Heard about?” said Phil. “I dunno who first had the idea. But I think we put our own spin on it. Did it a buncha times. Worked like a charm.”
“So what you’re telling me is that you’ve actually done this. What you described?”
Briny ignored me and continued to ply the pair with questions and situations as if they were math problems for his street geniuses to solve. All the while, I tried not to sink too much deeper into my seat. I don’t recall how long I sat there, somewhat frozen – not exactly part of the conversation. Eventually, Sean read the discomfort in my body language.
“Hey Briny,” said Sean. “Think maybe you didn’t tell writer-boy that he was meetin’ with a couple of, you know, neighborhood guys.”
“I didn’t set this up,” said Briny. “My staff… Doug? You didn’t know who we were meeting with tonight?”
“Research was all I was…” I answered. “No. Nobody told me it was gonna be this.”
I’d met bonafide criminals before. Interviewed them. Shared meals, even. But that was on my terms.
“Aw man,” said Phil. “Sorry to make you… you know… uncomfortable.”
“Who better to tell you how a criminal thinks?” reasoned Briny. “And you guys are retired, right? Out of the business?”
“Look,” said Sean with a wicked wink. “The stuff we said. Maybe we stretched a thing or two. Told you about shit we heard about… but never did. Know what I mean?”
Oh, I knew what he meant. Though if I was sure of anything without actually witnessing it, these fellas were the real deal. The genuine mob articles. And they’d not only committed the crimes they’d just described, but weren’t beyond bragging.
“Forgive me,” I finally said to Briny and his guests. “This isn’t for me. Sorry if I wasted your time.”
What followed were handshakes and copious apologies. No hard feelings and that kind of backslapping stuff. The wise guys were effusive and almost believable in their concern about my sudden misgivings. I said goodnight and began my drive home.
I’d just crossed Mulholland on my way back to the valley when Briny rang my cell phone.
“My bad,” said Briny. “I thought you knew.”
“That we were going to entertain a pair of murderers?”
“They were just tellin’ stories.”
“You didn’t need to turn pussy on me.”
“Nothin’ pussy about it,” I defended. “Learned a long time ago to steer clear of guys who were mobbed up. I’ve got a family to think about.”
“Those two guys? I’ve known ‘em for years. They just like hanging around showbiz people.”
“And you like hanging around them.”
“They ever done you a favor?”
“Did me one tonight.”
“Well, I hope they never ask you to reciprocate, because that’s when the hook comes in.”
“They’re harmless. They wouldn’t hurt you or me. That’s cuz we’re Hollywood guys.”
“From now on, I’ll solve our story problems without help from your wise guys, okay?”
And there, the conversation ended. The subject never came up again. We continued to develop our tale and eventually took it out onto the town to pitch.
I swore to forget everything they’d said.
I’d like to stay this story ends there. But fast forward to some time later. I’m in Miami. Bad Boys is in frantic production and I’m desperate for anything unique to write for the movie’s opening drug heist.
I was in a pinch, and a recent memory stirred. I ended up pounding out the scene in a single, late night sitting by the Biltmore pool. In a matter of days, it was shot and in the can. Ever since, I’ve wondered if those mob guys had seen the picture, backed up to the writing credits, and put two and two together.
Ring, ring. Hey, writer boy. Remember that favor we did ya?
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