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SINGING IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT: Chapter 6: While I pondered weak and weary

Fact or Fiction

“So what is it like working with a director known for music videos?” 

It seemed like a reasonable question to ask a seasoned performer. Kitty Scott’s interview subject cocked his head and adjusted one shoulder in what looked like a shrug.

“Do you find any serious cultural differences working with an Austrailian?” She tried again. He stared at her tape recorder pointedly.

“What’s it like working with Jeffrey Chen?  Did you ever work with his father? Are you a fan of martial arts movies?”

Her subject finally turned to his handler and cawed out a monologue, clearly  complaining about her presence.

“Sorry,” the handler stroked the raven’s head. “Edgar isn’t feeling like an interview today.”

The full-sized raven walked further up his human’s left arm to perch on his shoulder and glare at Kitty. “Maybe Annabelle might want to talk to you,” Bob offered. Annabelle and Edgar jointly played the blackbirds that were the totems of Jeffrey Chen’s character in the film. Together the three of them brought “Blackbird” to life.

“Sure we can try that.” She put her tape recorder in her purse—a movement Edgar followed hungrily.

“You might want to zip your purse,” Bob suggested. “Now that he knows it is in there —well—you might be surprised at just how determined he can be about getting the things he wants.”

“How determined can you be?” she asked.

“There is an extensive collection of items he has pilfered from people,” the trainer replied in a tone of half-admiration, half-admonishment.

“So noted.” Kitty smiled and pulled the zipper across the top of her purse. Edgar kept an eye on her as Bob walked back toward the trailer on set.

“They are pretty remarkable, aren’t they?”  Jeffrey Chen materialized at her elbow.

He moves so quietly, it’s like a goddamned ninja, Kitty thought. They must teach them that at the dojo.

“I mean, what those two birds do on command is pretty impressive,”  Jeffrey clarified.  “The first time Bob sent Edgar to me, he told the bird to fly and land on my arm. Edgar did it across the crowded sound stage! I was like, ‘Wow, man! Did that just happen?’” He shook his head. “But Edgar does it take after take, over and over again. He’s a trooper, man; they both are. They’ll do it more than many actors I know.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “What they do is pretty mind-blowing.”

It’s hard not to stare when Jeffrey talks; he has that star quality, that sparkle and shimmer that makes him stand out from others. Even if he weren’t in top physical condition for this role—and of course as a result of a life time of martial arts training—add in his chiseled jaw line, wavy hair and devastating smile, and any woman would land at his feet. Kitty  felt her face getting warm and began fumbling with her purse to keep from burning holes in his beautiful chest.

“So how is filming going? Are the late nights getting to you? Are they feeding you enough?” she babbled.

He grinned. “Yeah, resisting the craft service table is a challenge, but they are feeding me—don’t worry. Do you know you have asked me that every time we have talked?”

“Sorry, it’s just I know how hard y’all work and I worry you aren’t eating enough—it’s a concern thing. That’s all. You have to keep up your strength for these late nights, especially with what you are doing.”

“Well, your concern is appreciated. My mother thanks you. I’m eating and the late nights are…” He shrugged. “Well, that’s what we have to do, so that’s what we are doing.”

“Are you warm enough?” she asked. “There are times I come out here and see you dripping and shivering in that water and really worry.”

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Yeah, since they got the heaters, it is better. But that’s what they pay me to do.”

“Is it worth it?”

“Yes.” He answered without hesitation. “Acting: It is what I want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do. I enjoy the stunts and the martial arts, but you know I studied at Lee Strasbourg’s Studio?. I mean Lee was dead already, but the school is still there. It’s where Marilyn Monroe went—and Jerry Orbach. You know, Lennie Briscoe?”

“Yes, the dad in ‘Dirty Dancing.’” She could feel a blush starting again—saying those words to Jeffrey. Even uttering them while staring at such a beautiful man felt erotic.

“Yeah, well, also the original El Gallo in ‘The Fantastiks’ and Billy Flynn in ‘Chicago.’”

“Do you have any interest in musical theatre?” Kitty asked, trying to get back into the reporter mindset.

“Well, my grandfather was an opera star and my sister is studying opera; she has an amazing voice—amazing! I get to play guitar in this … and sing. I do both myself. That’s not dubbed in. But could I pull off a role like Billy Flynn or El Gallo?” He rubbed his chin as if giving it deep and serious consideration.

Kitty realized she couldn’t entirely tell when he was joking and when he was teasing her and when he was serious. It is probably all a way of keeping people at arm’s length, she told herself. A form of self-protection learned from a lifetime of celebrity.

“I would like to try it,” he finally decided “But I will probably never get the chance.”

He laughed.

“You know most people don’t realize there is a strong correlation between martial arts and dance. My father was an incredible ballroom dancer; he used to enter companions. He was one of the dance champions of Hong Kong.”

Kitty nodded and thought back to Lee Chen’s movies. “I can see that—especially with his stance and his foot work. Yeah.”

“It is nice to see you Kitty. I am supposed to be on my way to hair and makeup.  Would you like a Danish from the craft service table? I’m sure Shelly has got a pot of coffee going.”

“No, thank you, Jeffrey.” She shook her head as he waved to her. He is so good at that, she thought. He makes everybody feel special and is so chivalrous. His mama raised him right. She sighed. And in less than a month he is marrying the beautiful Ashley—so stop deluding yourself, honey.  This isn’t flirtation. You are the press. You are useful. That is all this is.

*      *      *      *      *

Kitty reviewed her notes from that day.  Less than 48 hours later Jeffrey would be dead from a gunshot wound sustained while filming. Filming would be suspended indefinitely. The ravens, Annabelle and Edgar, would get packed up and headed back to their homes in California. She would spend days haunting hospital waiting rooms and preying on people at their most vulnerable time. But when she opened her notebook and played the tape from that day, Jeffrey was vibrant, bursting on the cusp of success and excitement, and left a feeling of possibility everywhere he went. That day she was a film reporter writing about the magic and excitement of making movies. Now she had to ask people how clearly they remembered witnessing a killing, and where they were and what they were doing at each point in the day that led to the fateful moment when Jeffrey Chen’s beautiful body caught a piece of metal.

She switched off her tape recorder and closed her notebook. Tears silently streamed down her face. She switched off her light and pulled the covers over her head. Outside the rain beat a constant tattoo. And all she could think of was Jeffrey Chen’s character in film commenting on the rain.

Gwenyfar Rohler is the fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,” which takes place while filming in Wilmington, NC.

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