By Tom Miller
Franklin Montane waited while Gabriela Martinez, executive vice president and head of programming for the network, drummed her glossy red fingernails on her desk and stared past the brothers into an Art Deco mirror on the opposite wall. Franklin and his younger brother, Richard, looked over their boss’s perfectly sculpted hair, through a floor-to-ceiling window, and into a cloudless blue southern California sky. They had just pitched the return of “Visigoth,” the hit series they had created and produced until its seventh and final season finished just over a year ago.
“So Lucas’ movie career didn’t take off as he’d planned,” said Gabriela, referring to Lucas Harte, the muscular actor who played Theoderic on the former show.
“He only landed one role,” said Franklin, who did most of the talking for the duo. “He was the beefy fiance who was hindering the course of true love between the two main characters. His performance was described as ‘wooden’ and the film tanked at the box office.”
“I remember that,” said Gabriela, who now leaned back in her plush, leather office chair. “I can’t say I was entirely displeased. I was miffed he didn’t come back for an eighth season when the show was still at the top of the ratings.”
Franklin nodded without saying anything. When the boss relaxed, it meant that she had made her decision. Any further attempts at persuasion would only bias her against the proposal in front of her. As he waited, Franklin detected the subtle note of Gabriela’s perfume. He was not sure how to describe it, but it made him think of an older Sophia Loren, whom Gabriela resembled.
“OK,” continued Gabriela, “let’s say hypothetically that I did want to bring Lucas back. There’s still a huge problem. Theoderic died on the finale. And he didn’t just die, but he was beheaded, roasted on a spit, his body eaten and his bones burned. I remember thinking at the time that it did not seem like an ideal way to end a television show.”
“Lucas wanted us to kill him in a way that would scotch rumors of a possible return,” said Franklin. “We tried to make his death as noble and heroic as possible. He held off five hundred Roman soldiers by himself and enabled Fritigern to escape and win at Adrianople. Rome was never the same after that. In doing so, Theoderic also saved the life of Hilda, his love interest, and their unborn child.”
“Still, I remember how many angry emails the network got because of that,” said Gabriela. “You’d think we’d murdered somebody’s brother.”
“Rich and I got a couple death threats,” said Franklin, “but in the end, it accomplished its goal. Nobody ever asked us or Lucas about the possibility of Theoderic returning.”
Gabriela, ready to think again, scooted forward in her seat, set her elbows on the desk and rested her chin on folded hands. “So how do you propose to bring him back?”
Richard, who was spare with words but always quick with ideas, finally spoke. “We reanimate him in a druidical ceremony.”
“Reanimate him from what? There isn’t any of him left.”
Franklin provided a more detailed explanation. “About twenty-five years have passed since Theoderic died. Tensions with Rome remain. After Rome sacks a Visigoth border village and kills all the inhabitants, people begin to long for their hero of old. A local woodworker carves a perfect replica of Theoderic out of an ancient, mammoth tree, and the priests bring it to life.”
The brothers hoped to see Gabriela’s thin lips curve upward in a toothless smile, but as she leaned back in her chair again, her expression remained neutral. “So it’s a fifth-century version of Pinocchio.”
The Montanes looked at each other and each exhaled a long, slow breath. They had feared a Pinocchio parallel, and their boss’s facile, devil’s advocate mind had immediately seized on it. Franklin tried to salvage the idea. “We could have a master stone mason sculpt him from granite.”
Gabriela briefly considered the change but soon shook her head. “It’s not just the Pinocchio thing. It’s the whole idea of magic. We never had any magic on ‘Visigoth,’ which was one of the things I really liked. Theoderic rose from his position as a humble farmer not because of some cheap spell or charm, but because of his hard work, courage and intelligence. Magic just seems like lazy writing.”
Franklin saw his brother’s eyes begin to blaze at this suggestion. For the last two weeks, Richard had brainstormed ideas for the show’s return, and both brothers had stayed up very late during the last couple nights honing the best idea into a detailed proposal. Richard had a high tolerance for criticism except when the word “lazy” was involved.
Franklin moved to stave off his brother’s impending eruption. “With all due respect, Gabriela, I think our scenario is a lot more plausible than a quick incantation or a prayer to the gods. I mean, unless we want to make Theoderic’s death a case of mistaken identity — which would be lazy writing and also extremely lame — there has to be some element of the supernatural here.”
Gabriela looked over the Montanes’ shoulders again into her artsy mirror. With the second finger of her right hand, she smoothed one of her perfectly shaped eyebrows. “I get what you’re saying,” she said, “but the whole reanimated statue thing just doesn’t feel right. It’s not unique. It’s not authentic.”
Franklin looked at his brother and had no trouble reading the thoughts behind his thinly masked expression of exasperation. There was no such thing as an authentic return when the person in question has been cooked, eaten and digested. He decided to try another direction. “Authentic is going to be tough on this one, Gabriela. We do have another idea, though. It’s an entirely new show, called ‘The Hun,’ where the action focuses on Attila’s campaigns into Europe. We could bring Lucas back as the grandson of Theoderic and Hilda who fights to protect his homeland from the new horde.”
The savvy executive whose programs had put the network on top of the ratings quickly nixed the idea.
“Too derivative,” she said. “I’m predicting some major backlash on that one. No, if we’re going to bring Lucas back, it needs to be in the same role. I suppose you’ve got a point about the authentic part. Let’s stress unique over authentic.”
Franklin glanced again at Richard, who was looking down into his lap so that his laser glare would not burn a hole in their boss’s body. Franklin knew what his sibling was thinking — let’s see you come up with something better, Ms. All-Knowing V.P.
Franklin sought to convey this thought in a more respectful manner. “Got any ideas?”
Instead of sliding forward in her chair and searching for an idea that would never come, Gabriela responded at once. “Remember that show ‘Knight-Errant’? This was probably about seven or eight years ago.”
“I remember the show,” said Franklin, “but Rich and I were trying to get ‘Visigoth’ off the ground and we didn’t watch a lot of TV.”
“The main character was a guy named Sir Geoffery. Like Lucas, the actor was ready to wind down the show, so he fell off a cliff into a two hundred-foot gorge after saving the king in what was to be the final episode. That was the final scene — Geoffery was falling through the air to his imminent death.”
“That’s easy,” said Richard. “Create a prehistoric bird to save him.”
Gabriela pointed at Richard. “I know — obvious answer, right? Except, that wasn’t what they did. The whole next season had Geoffery falling through the air in real time, while parts of his life flashed in front of him. It was a series of flashbacks. In the finale, Geoffery realized something that he had buried deep within his subconscious — that he was a descendant in the line of Pegasus, the winged horse. As soon as he figured this out, Geoffery activated wings he never knew he had and flew himself to safety.”
“Ridiculous,” said Richard.
“True, maybe a little,” said Gabriela, “but it had flair. Sir Geoffery and his new wings were back on top of the ratings. I remember the guy who conceived the idea did the same thing for a couple of other shows.” She moved forward in her chair and snapped her fingers as she searched her memory. “He had an unusual name.” She tapped her forehead. “Cambridge … no, Cobalt … no — Cerulean. Cerulean Meeks — that’s it. People in the biz started calling him The Resurrectionist. Find him.”
With all but his narrow face covered by his hot dog costume, Cerulean Meeks waited for traffic to approach as he stood outside of Fran’s Hot Dogs. The fabricators of the hot dog suit had discovered a material so heat retentive that NASA should be using it to insulate astronauts during their space walks. While his cheeks only glistened in the summer Tennessee sun, the rest of his body dripped with sweat inside the suit. Yet, as potential customers approached, Rue embarked on a vigorous impersonation of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever.” One car actually slowed, turned into the gravel drive and stopped at the window of Fran’s tiny hot dog stand.
After successfully luring a patron, Rue decided that it was time for a reward. He lifted a thirty-two ounce Styrofoam cup from a spot on the ground where the gravel had eroded and was now just a small square of hard packed dirt. He closed his lips around the straw and let the ice water revive his dehydrated flesh.
With his free hand, Rue waved at cars as they passed, but this was not enough for Fran, who had finished with her recent customer. “I don’t pay you to wave,” she called out the drive-through window. “You get paid to dance. You couldn’t attract a hungry bear in here with just a wave.”
Rue held up his cup as if to show that he was not loafing but refueling for the next round. Fran looked as if she was about to ask him to reimburse her for the cup when Rue turned toward oncoming traffic. He set his cup back down on the dirt and commenced his Gangnam Style routine that rarely failed to draw at least a horn honk.
The results exceeded his expectations. A shiny, silver Lexus pulled into the drive. Rue saw two men in their late forties or early fifties in the front seats. He figured they were good for a four dog order, maybe even six.
Instead of pulling up to the ordering window, however, the Lexus parked in front of a pair of wooden picnic tables that Fran had set up for eat-in customers. The two men emerged from the car and walked not toward a waiting Fran, but to him.
The visitors had enough similarity of feature — the same long, straight nose, the same pointy chin, the same mop of thick, unruly hair — for Rue to conclude that they were related. One of the men — the older one, if Rue’s perception was correct — was a couple inches taller than the other one. He took the lead and looked straight at Rue, while the other man lagged behind and took in everything about the scene except Rue.
“Are you Cerulean Meeks?” the taller one asked Rue.
“Yes I am,” Rue replied. He could feel Fran’s impatient eyes boring through him from her position inside the stand. “Are you hungry for some lunch today?”
“Maybe,” said the man. “My name is Franklin Montane, and this is my brother Richard. We were wondering if we could talk to you for a few minutes.”
Franklin held out his hand, and Rue shook it through one of his mustard-colored gloves. Over the brother’s shoulders, he saw Fran pointing at him with a pair of tongs.
“I’m working right now, but if you talk to that lady —” Rue pointed behind them toward his boss in the window — “you might be able to work something out with her.”
When Franklin turned around Fran’s dour expression transformed into a smile. “I’ll see what I can do,”
he said and walked toward the eager frankfurter vendor.
With his brother gone, Richard seemed to size up Rue, as if they were about to engage in a medieval joust. Rue felt self-conscious in his hot dog outfit. “Who are you and what do you want to talk about?” asked Rue as the silence became more uncomfortable.
“We’re writers and producers from Hollywood,” said Richard. “We hear you have a special talent for bringing people back from the dead.”
When Rue heard the word “Hollywood,” he felt a sharp pain in his gut as if someone had reopened an old knife wound with a razor blade. He remembered leaving the town six years ago, a financial and professional failure. His sister lived here in Tennessee and had offered to squeeze him into her small house along with her husband and three children. He overstayed his welcome just long enough to land a job as a crossing guard at a local middle school, as well as the first in a series of fast food jobs. He thought he had left Hollywood, with its pressures and expectations, behind for good, but now it was here right in front of him. “I wrote a few good scenarios that people liked,” he said.
Franklin returned from his negotiation with Fran. “She said we could have you for ten minutes. But I hope you’re hungry, brother. I had to buy twenty hot dogs.”
Rue always admired the way Fran seized her opportunities. The three of them walked over to one of the picnic tables, the siblings taking one bench while Rue sat down in the other.
“I’ll get right to it since our time is limited,” said Franklin. “Do you know the show ‘Visigoth’?”
“I’ve heard of it but I’ve never seen it,” said Rue. Since he moved out of his sister’s house, he had in fact not watched any shows because he did not own a television. He had found it impossible to enjoy a program because his mind was always analyzing the dialogue, the characters, the plot, and thinking of ways in which he would do it better. Only when he read novels could he give himself over to the author’s creation and get lost in the story.
The Montanes scanned the area for a few moments as if to find the rock that Rue had been living under. Franklin continued. “The main character died in the final episode last year. We want you to bring him back.”
A dream that Rue had long ago suppressed now flashed again in front of his eyes. He was accepting an Emmy and then an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Superstars took pay cuts to act in one of his movies, and critics praised his subtlety and perception.
Rue shook his head, both as an answer to the Montanes and to clear his mind of these poisonous aspirations. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t do that anymore.”
“You’re the only person that can help us,” said Richard. “When our boss suggested that we find you, I took it as an insult to my own creative abilities. Then on the plane ride, I read over your reanimation scenarios. I had to admit — and this is not easy for me — that you’re the best.”
Richard paused and Franklin picked up the thread. “The guy we’re trying to bring back was cooked, roasted, eaten and burned. We proposed to reanimate a sculpture, but our boss shot down that idea.”
“The Pinocchio parallel,” said Rue.
“Exactly,” said Franklin. “She wants something with as little magic as possible. Something unique.”
Like an all-star shortstop reacting to the crack of the bat, an idea immediately occurred to Rue. It was as if his subconscious mind had taken on this problem many years ago and was finally free to release the solution into the world.
Then his inner voice screamed the promise that he had made to himself all those years ago. Never again! “I’m sorry that you wasted a trip all the way out here,” said Rue, “but no, I’m not going back.”
Fran walked out of the back door of the stand carrying two plastic trays filled with hot dogs. “Here are your dogs,” she said. “Just come around to the window if you need condiments.”
“May I ask why?” Franklin asked Rue. “You could make a lot of money if you did this, and you don’t look too comfortable in that suit.” He picked up a plain hot dog from its cardboard container and took a bite of the bread and meat.
As Franklin chewed and Richard took a couple dogs to the window to add mustard and relish, Rue considered refusing the request for an explanation and getting on with reality. But when Richard returned to the table, Rue decided that he might find more understanding among these fellow writers than he had among his so-called friends after he had left Hollywood.
“You can’t imagine the frustration I felt,” he began. “I was developing these resurrectionist scenarios that people raved about, but then when I tried to write complete screenplays they went nowhere. How could I be so good at the one thing and not the other? I mean, I had a great reputation, and I had the entree. People were excited to take a look at my work, but it never clicked.”
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had projects rejected,” said Richard.
“I realize it’s a subjective business,” said Rue, “and I stuck it out for years. I wrote and pitched fourteen screenplays, none of which ever got the slightest nibble. I’d invested my money in a couple of promising restaurants both of which took a sharp downward turn once they’d received my funds. I decided it was a sign that I should leave.”
ranklin swallowed the last bite of his first hot dog and slid another cardboard container in front of him. “I’m not going to give you some rah-rah speech about how you should never give up, never surrender. But I will say this. Rich and I have read your scenarios. They are outstanding. Maybe you can’t write a full episode, but you can bring characters back from the dead with a skill that has never been seen in Hollywood before or since. The dimensions of your talent may be narrow, but it’s a talent nonetheless. I’m not asking you to come back and conquer Hollywood. I’m begging you to use your God-given abilities to bring back a character that means so much to us and the viewing public.”
Rue wiped a bead of sweat from the bridge of his nose. Even while sitting motionless at a picnic table, perspiration continued to ooze out of his pores. “How much money are we talking about?”
“You get five thousand dollars for just agreeing to attempt this for us,” said Franklin. “I’ve got a contract in the car to that effect that Gabriela Martinez, executive VP, has already signed. If we like your material and want to use it, you get one million dollars.”
Rue was glad he was not eating a hot dog, because he would have inhaled a frankfurter into his trachea after hearing that figure. “That’s in the contract too?” he asked.
“It is,” said Franklin. “If you agree, Ms. Martinez wants to meet with you in two weeks.”
“That’s not a lot of time. I’ve never even seen the show.”
“We’ve got DVDs of the entire series in the car,” said Franklin, “but really, I think you just need to watch the final episode. The rest of the show is your typical fourth-century warrior stuff — battles, honor, justice, fawning women — that sort of thing.”
“Rue darling,” called Fran in her mock-sweet voice, “it’s either time for you to get back to work, or your friends need to purchase some more product.”
Rue pondered the effect of one million dollars on his current life. He promised himself he could just do this one job, get in and get out before the obsessive dream of Hollywood glory could take hold. While the money after taxes would not bring lifetime financial security, it would at least allow him to escape from the stifling hot dog suit. The rest of his body, and not just his face, would experience the sublime feeling of airflow during working hours.
“Why don’t you buy ten more hot dogs,” said Rue. “I want to read over the contract before I sign.”
Two weeks later, Franklin led the way into Gabriela’s office with Richard behind him and a dapper-looking Cerulean Meeks between them. While Franklin had never known his boss to mix business with pleasure, he also knew it would not hurt to have Rue look his best. Even in a hot dog suit, Rue’s intense blue eyes could mesmerize whoever they beheld. With a new suit and a teeth-whitening treatment paid from Franklin’s own pocket, however, Rue’s looks approached those of the actors who brought the written words to life.
Introductions were made, smiles displayed, seats taken. In his left hand, Rue held four stapled packets of paper that contained his mental labor of the past two weeks. When Richard had asked for an overview of his scenario, Rue had politely declined. The work was complete, he had promised, and he did not want Gabriela to draw any preconceived notions from even a stray facial expression or inadvertent tone.
Franklin was about to initiate some prefatory small talk when Rue spoke. “Ms. Martinez, thank you for inviting me here today.”
“Please, call me Gabriela.”
Franklin and Richard shot each other a sidelong glance. It was usually years before Ms. Martinez became Gabriela to a supplicant. The striking eyes must have had a superb initial effect.
“Thank you, Gabriela, and please call me Rue.” The Resurrectionist distributed copies of manuscript to each of the people in the room. “This is the scenario that I created for Theoderic’s return. It’s not that long, so I suggest we each take a few minutes to read it, and then you can tell me what you think.”
“Sounds good,” said Gabriela, whose eyes immediately began to scan the paper. Franklin doubted that the script in front of him could possibly live up to the expectations that preceded it, but he felt the anticipation that he often did when he read the first sentence of an accepted novelistic masterpiece.
1 EXT. ITALIAN PLAIN — DAY
From above, we see about five hundred Roman soldiers gathered around a fire over which something is roasting. The soldiers are lounging, drinking, and making merry.
CLOSE UP: The soles of two bare feet rotate in a counterclockwise circle.
A COOK, short and fat, turns the handle of a roasting spit. We hear the squeak of metal on metal as it slowly spins. In the background, a blurred head sits atop a spike.
The COMMANDER, a hairy, muscled man still in his armor, approaches.
The men are hungry, cook. When will they be able to feast on the flesh of Theoderic, Rome’s greatest enemy?
Soon, my lord, soon.
While the cook waits, he sharpens the carving tools he is about to use.
As day turns to night, fires are lit. Feasting and revelry continue.
2 ext. italian plain — day
It is the morning after the extended party. Most of the soldiers are still sleeping, but a few are beginning to stir, moaning as they rise.
3 int. commander’s tent
The commander wakes up next to his naked MISTRESS. He slowly removes her alabaster arm from his broad, bronzed chest.
Marcus, bring me my pot!
MARCUS, in his early twenties and wearing servant’s clothing, appears holding the commander’s chamber pot.
It’s time to expel this wretched Goth from my system.
The commander takes the chamber pot and disappears behind a curtain.
4 ext. commander’s tent
Marcus waits patiently outside the tent. The commander, holding the chamber pot, appears and hands the pot to Marcus.
Marcus, do something for me before you dispose of this. Take Theoderic’s charred bones and whatever else may be left of him and throw him into the privy first. Toss this on top. The other men can also give our former enemy a similar present before we head for home.
Excellent idea, my lord.
5 ext. italian plain — day
The commander clicks his heels against his horse and the Romans head out. The camera pans over the smoking remains of Roman fires and comes to rest on the privy, which is now just a mound of dung.
A SQUIRREL scampers down a nearby tree and picks up an acorn from the base of the tree.
The squirrel looks around, wondering what to do with his newfound treasure.
The squirrel watches the last of the Roman soldiers leave the campsite.
FULL SHOT — ITALIAN PLAIN
After one more look around, the squirrel scrambles over to the dung heap and buries the acorn.
6 the dung heap
Days and nights pass in rapid succession. During one of the days, the skies darken and there is a torrential downpour.
Time begins to pass even more quickly. Snow covers the ground then melts. The former Roman privy is once again a seamless part of its surroundings, except for one single difference. A new plant has shot up out of the ground and has now grown taller than the grass.
Time moves even faster now. During the time lapse photography, we see the oak tree grow taller. Leaves appear and disappear as the seasons and years pass. As the trunk thickens, animals rest in the shade of its branches. A house is built nearby, and children climb the tree and frolic beneath its canopy. The house is abandoned and disappears, but the tree remains.
The rush of time stops. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads “NORTHERN ITALY, c. 491.” The trunk of the mighty oak is so thick now that most men could not wrap their arms entirely around it.
7 ext. horizon of the italian plain
We see a ragtag contingent of Roman soldiers appear on the horizon. They are walking toward the tree.
8 At the great oak
A ROMAN GENERAL, wearing a once luxurious red cape that is now soiled and tattered, dismounts his horse and takes shelter from the bright sun under the oak tree. His two lieutenants, BRANDUS and CRUICIAN, also the worse for wear, join him.
Are the Franks still pursuing us?
They have left off, sir, and are allowing us to limp back to Rome.
Will we regroup and campaign against them next year?
That will be up to the emperor, Crucian, but if he asks my opinion, I will advise against it.
Do you not think we will be strong enough to defeat them, sir?
We are still strong, Brandus, but our enemies are many. We have pagans attacking us from the east as well as the west. If we are to campaign, I will suggest that we go east.
And what will become of our western flank, general?
The Goths are still a powerful force that stands between us and the Franks. We will let Clovis expend some of his strength on those barbarians before we decide to attack.
A wise idea, sir.
Now I trust the report from the rear guard, but I would feel better if we were a little closer to Rome before we made camp. Tell the men to be ready to move out soon.
brandus and crucian
full shot from under the oak tree — italian plain
Through the overhanging branches of the oak tree, we see the remnant of the once mighty Roman army disappear in the horizon opposite from which they came.
9 at the great oak — night
Darkness has fallen, and the night is silent. The wind begins to pick up, and the oak leaves rustle in the strong breeze. Lightning flashes in the distance, and thunder rumbles.
It begins to rain, slowly at first then harder. More distinct lightning bolts hit closer to the oak tree, as if it is the bull’s-eye in a game of lightning darts played by the gods.
Finally, one of the bolts smashes into the tree. The great oak shudders. The lightning has ripped the tree in half vertically. The severed half falls away from its still implanted twin, slowly at first, and crashes to the ground.
10 close up — inside the great oak
Inside the trunk of the tree, we see THEODERIC, his eyes closed, but his torso still rippling with muscle even after his long hibernation.
close up — theoderic’s face
From an expression of peace and serenity, Theoderic’s blue eyes pop open, alert and wary.
quick cut to black screen
Franklin looked up after he had read the last word. Rich was also finished, and he raised one eyebrow, soliciting his older brother’s silent opinion. In response, Franklin glanced at Rue, who was staring down at his lap, waiting for the critique to begin. Across the desk, Gabriela was still immersed in concentration.
Franklin imagined producing the scene that Rue had written and continuing the show. Having Theoderic sprout from the waste products of his own flesh might draw some jeers from the entertainment press, but the unique reincarnation would draw a buzz. People would gather around the water cooler at the office the next morning and the comments would fly: “Did you see ‘Visigoth’ last night?” “How crazy was that?”
“That was ridiculous!” “I can’t believe Theoderic is back!” People would love or hate the scene, but the show would be back, and back in a big way.
Gabriela lifted her eyes from the script. Franklin had known her for long enough that he could usually predict what she was going to say even when she was trying to keep her expression neutral. In this case, however, her face was truly a Switzerland between East and West.
“The script still seems a bit raw to me,” was the first thing she said.
“Sorry,” said Rue. “It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I’m out of practice.”
“The scenario is not realistic in the least,” said Gabriela.
“Theodoric was as dead as a person can be,” said Richard. “Total realism was not an option.” Franklin knew that his normally restrained brother felt compelled to defend a fellow creator before Gabriela shot down the script.
Gabriela nodded and, resting her chin on a hand, pondered Richard’s comment. “You’re right,” she said.
The executive then broke into a wide smile and Franklin could feel the tension start to drain from his body. “I love it,” she said. “The Earth itself returns Theoderic to life not only because the people need him, but the planet itself requires his return. And the Franks as the new enemy. Opportunities for new characters, new storylines.”
“Only one small caveat,” said Richard. “The Franks defeat the Visigoths in 507, and after that, the Visigoths are about done in Gaul.”
“By my calculation that gives Theoderic sixteen years to do his thing,” said Gabriela. “Plenty of time for us to get several more good seasons out of him.” She leaned back in her chair. “Cerulean, you’ve done it again.”
Franklin looked at the triumphant man sitting next to him. He expected to see joy and excitement from a man who had just earned a million dollars and resurrected not only a fictional character, but his own Hollywood career. Instead, Rue looked as if he were admiring distant mountains from his back deck. He loved the view, but he had no intention of climbing the peaks.
“More than that, Rue,” continued Gabriela, “I want to give you the opportunity to stay in practice as a screenwriter by offering you a salaried position here at the network. There may be some projects from time to time that I’d like you to get involved with, but other than that, you’re going to have total creative freedom.”
Franklin was shocked by this sudden offer of employment. Screenwriters were usually only as valuable as their next script. Almost no writers existed who enjoyed the benefit of getting paid whether they produced work or not.
Franklin patted Rue on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Rue. It looks like you’ve worn that hot dog suit for the last time.”
Rue’s expression did not change, nor did he reply. Franklin assumed that it was from that shock of having success thrust upon him so suddenly and completely.
Six months after his victorious day in the office of Gabriela Martinez, Rue lowered a basket of tater tots into the sizzling, golden peanut oil. This was the first batch of tater tots to fry at the grand reopening of Fran’s Hot Dogs. Beside him, Fran, now his co-owner instead of his boss, arranged hot dogs on the new, spacious grill.
After opening its doors only five minutes ago, the new restaurant with eat-in dining room — no longer a mere shack — had attracted three customers through its glass and metal doors. It did not quite match the return of “Visigoth,” which aired to an audience just shy of Super Bowl size, but it was still a good beginning.
Rue had no regrets about turning down Gabriela’s generous offer. When he had accepted the job of reviving Theoderic, he had promised himself that he would not get sucked back into the vortex of Hollywood’s enticements. Maybe his ability to mold complex characters and craft genuine dialogue would improve if he accepted the secure position at the network. Maybe he would finally live up to the creative potential that his numerous reanimation scenarios portended. Then again, maybe the work he so carefully polished would still be seen as “raw.” Maybe after two or three years of writing scripts that would never be shot, Gabriela would approach him and suggest an extended sabbatical to help him find his voice. Even a writer with a salaried, secure position was only as valuable as his future work.
Some acquaintances had questioned his avoidance of a risk that so few people ever got a chance to take. To these doubters, Rue would smile and respond, “I invested in two restaurants that failed, yet I’m now again in the restaurant business. I don’t think you can say that I’m averse to a little risk.”
In reality, Rue had never thought of his partnership with Fran as a risk. He had worked with Fran for two years and learned that the woman had ample business acumen. She had a great feel for the market and for what her customers wanted. She made a great tasting hot dog at a fair price and always received outstanding reports from the health inspector. Rue had no doubts that Fran would succeed and he considered his investment as safe as a U.S. Treasury bond. He would not only be a financier in the new enterprise, but he would also be an active participant in its success. Fran had promised to initiate him into the ancient mysteries of the frankfurter. She also had no problem with him keeping his job as a crossing guard. He did not need the money anymore, but he still enjoyed seeing the kids who depended on him for their safe passage to and from school.
Another customer walked through the door, and Rue went to the register to take his order. Behind him, Rue heard Fran wrap and bag two hot dogs with graceful efficiency and present them to a waiting customer.
The man in front of Rue wore a uniform shirt that had two patches sewn to it. The patch on the right read “Dawson’s Plumbing” and the one over his heart listed the man’s name as “Dennis.” He ordered a Tater Dog Basket, and Rue gave him a drink cup and took his money.
“Aren’t you that Hollywood writer guy?” asked Dennis. Rue had refused an interview with the local paper that had been seeking information about his recent Hollywood adventures, but they lived in a small town and word spread without the help of media.
“That’s me,” said Rue. “I wrote a few little bits for various shows.”
Dennis asked if Rue had ever met the stunning female whom one magazine had just named “The World’s Sexiest Woman.”
“No,” said Rue. “I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”
After realizing that he would have no vicarious contact with The World’s Sexiest Woman, Dennis lost interest in the conversation. His face assumed a dejected look, as if Rue had squirted a hated condiment on an otherwise perfect hot dog.
“How do I look?” asked a female voice.
Rue turned to see Andrea, the cheery twenty-one-year-old woman who was now the new dancing hot dog. The suit, freshly cleaned of Rue’s dried sweat, concealed Andrea’s lithe figure but accentuated her large brown eyes and sparkling smile.
“You look a lot better than I did in that suit,” said Rue.
“Looks to me like there’s going to be a large rush here shortly,” said Fran as she handed Dennis his food. “Now get out there and do your thing. I want that parking lot full in half an hour.”
“Will do,” said Andrea as she headed out the door.
As Fran spread more hot dogs on the grill for the expected rush, Rue got some fries going and grabbed a damp towel to wipe down the counter.
When he looked out the front window again, Andrea was already by the road doing the “Whip and Nae Nae,” as she had called it during her interview. While Rue did not know whether this was one dance or two, he enjoyed watching somebody from the next generation update the moves of his old character. Andrea seemed to have the energy and enthusiasm to continue nonstop through the dinner hour. Compared to her, Rue’s disco steps were the lackluster gyrations of a tired man.
As two cars, lured by Andrea’s spectacle, pulled into the parking lot, Rue felt a new energy surge through his veins. The rush came not from the achievement of Hollywood and fortune, but from a feeling of contentment. He had not rejected Gabriela’s generous offer because he feared failure, but because he preferred the peace and serenity that life in this small Tennessee town offered him. He had pulled out of the rat race to enjoy the simple pleasures of connecting with regular people and providing them with quality hot dogs. Rue headed back to his register, ready to serve the new customers and knowing that he was right where he belonged.
Tom Miller has published several stories in literary magazines such as Red Fez and The Wordsmith Journal.