SAM'S DAUGHTER

by Josh Stallings


Sady was a lonely girl, she had lived on the street long enough to smell a scam before it ever happened. It wasn't that she didn't trust people, she trusted them completely, trust that given a chance they would always do wrong. She had a tattoo of a one armed angel on her shoulder blade. It was in delicate black ink, and perfectly beautiful, except for the stump of one arm. She said the way she figured it only cripples got into heaven.

The room where she lived now was completely covered in upside down dead flowers. She collected them from the dumpsters behind the posh restaurants in Old Pasadena. The Brookmore rooming house was a two story brick building that had escaped the yuppification of skid row. It was in fact the last bastion of the bad neighborhood. The abandoned warehouses now were home to Victoria's secret and Eddy Bauer. The Salvation Army was a slick Italian restaurant. The smells of garlic and espresso had replaced the stench of stale beer and piss.

Sady hated the change. They had taken a real town and turned it into a movie set. A place were tourists could go to the dark side of town, but remain completely safe. Hell, the pool hall had smoke eaters to keep the air fresh and clear. On the street she felt like a prop, put there for them to stare at and tell their friends about.

"I like the script, but I wonder if it's edgy enough." The woman in the Christian Dior suit said into her cell phone as she stepped past the curb where Sady was sitting.

"What the fuck would you know about edge?" Sady thought. Only when the woman turned did she realize she had said it out loud. That was the problem with spending so much time alone, she sometimes forgot to keep her words to herself.

"Excuse me?" The woman looked down at Sady, snapping her phone closed. Normally Sady would have mumbled an apology and let it go. She had had her share of trouble with the local cops and knew they never took the side of the street kid over the suits. But something in the woman's confrontational stance egged her on.

"Edge? Razor's edge, knife's edge?" Sady was free falling on a roll, "You wouldn't know the hilt from the edge until it cut, and then I'm sorry to say it would be a few quarts of your blue blood too late."

The woman stammered, walking away a few feet, then back. It would have been easy to shrug it off and keep going, but lately she had felt something missing. This brash tattered girl had sparked an ember she thought was dieing. Gail McCarthy was a name that struck fear through out Hollywood, not the town, she never went there, no the industry. THE industry. She had produced two of the hardest hitting action films of the year. She played hard ball on the boy's court, and she never cried uncle.

"Do you know me?" Gail said.

"No. Don't worry, I'll get your name off the toe tag once you find that edge you're looking for."

"This suit I'm wearing? Seven hundred dollars, not a knock off the real thing. I got it fighting some of toughest sons of bitches around."

"Who'd you fight, Master and Charge." Sady laughed. God she was quick Gail thought, hating the little scrapper for it. She was late for a power brunch with one of CAA's new agents, but it would have to wait. Something in the girl both intrigued and enraged her. From the moment Sady had thrown down the gauntlet Gail could not walk away. Life was a battle, only victory mattered.

"Did you see Last Dead Hero?" Gail played her power card. The film had done a hundred and twenty three mil. in domestic alone.

"No, sorry."

"Killing Heat?"

"No, missed that one too."

"Do you see any films? Are you one of those art house beatnicks who fawn over the sixty thousand dollar wonders. With their bad focus and worse acting?" Gail aloud herself a brief smile, a smile meant to show her superiority over this street girl. But deep down she hoped the girl was screwing with her. Everyone had seen her movies, those who hadn't wished they had. Just look at the tracking numbers.

"Films today," Sady said, taking her time, "are as empty and pointless as the diet decafe capuchino you order with your lunch. They have no substance, no guts. They show you guts, but they have none. Peckinpah was the last great film maker. After him it is all fake edge on a rubber knife."

Jake, a greasy haired speed freak had taken Sady's cherry in the back row of the Realto theater. She was thirteen and hotly in love with his older wise ways. She had mistaken his dark moody silence for deep thought. Broke as usual they had snuck in the back door of the theater. "A film maker should pay, art is free." Jake had said. Later she would come to see that the reason he didn't pay was all his cash went for crystal. And the only film ol' Jake ever worked on was when he operated a video camera for some porn boys out in the valley.

That night it was a double bill of Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch. They fooled around through most of the first film. Jake had poured 151 into the coke they bought, to take the edge off. Funny how most of Hollywood was looking for edge, and those in the life were just looking to take it off. Sliding his hands up under her mini skirt, he pushed her panties to the side. Stabbing his fingers into her, she had kissed his face, trying to forget his hands. Unzipping his pants he pulled her onto his lap, onto him. The pain was sharp and quick and then he was done. Speed, booze and sex are a bad combination. He groaned once, then went limp.

When the intermission lights came on Jake was snoring. Sady sat in her seat, she could feel the blood and semen spreading onto the velvet cushion beneath her. She wanted to go to the lady's room, she wanted to clean away the dirty feeling. But not with the lights on, not with all those eyes on her. When the room dimmed she started to go, but on the screen The Wild Bunch had begun. It caught her from the first frame. Those tall, bold, damaged men riding towards destruction. On the screen kids tortured a scorpion, their innocent cruelty spoke to Sady. By the end of the first reel she had forgotten her pain and the sleeping boy beside her. She was riding with Pike and his wild bunch. To her they were noble broken angels struggling to make sense of a mad world. It was in that film that she was able to see the nobility of her own twisted life. The pain and violence of her childhood wasn't her fault, it was just the way of the world. Her parents were the railroad men and she was the wild bunch. Tears streamed down her face in the final blood bath. Not for them, no they got what they were after all along; one last blazing moment. No she cried for herself, she wondered if anything so beautifully correct waited for her in the last reel of her life.

* * *

Gail looked down at the girl, Peckinpah's name ringing in her ears. Damn it, the girl was right. He was the last of a generation of film makers who had actually been to war. Stone had been to Vietnam, but the drugs he had done in the sixties had dulled his vision. No, Sam was the last. He had struggled valiantly in his own drunken raging way to try and make sense of the violence he had seen. And the business she revered had broken him for it. What did they have now? Fresh faced kids who had learned all they knew from other films. Terintino learned to shoot a gun from John Woo, who learned from Leone, who learned from Peckinpah. Sady was right, edge was a buzz word not a fact. If anyone walked in with real edge the D-girls would run for cover and the execs would hide under their desks. The thought of it made Gail smile. So the old battle horse had one more move in her after all, she thought, and then invited Sady to lunch.

© 1997 Josh Stallings


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Sam's Daughter, 16 May 1997