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Secret Agent Man

L.A. Noir

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L.A. Noir
It's 2:48 p.m. The city is Beverly Hills. I'm your narrator, Secret Agent Man. Those who know me say I'm a good man in a bad town. Those who don't wish they did. These are my stories.

I'm sitting behind my desk, staring at the framed picture on my wall. It's a black-and-white shot of the Hollywood sign. Back in the '30s, a skirt named Peg iced herself by taking a swan dive off the letter H. She was an actress.

It's the time of year we call hiatus. That means the networks have picked up their new shows and I'm just sitting around, waiting for casting to kick in. Bored, I start thinking about how much coffee a human being can consume in one day. Then my assistant comes bouncing in. Her name's Velma, and the girl's got more curves than a rattlesnake in heat. I asked her once if she'd ever considered getting into the acting game. I can still hear her laughing. Smart kid.

Velma shoots me a wink as she plants a few breakdowns on my desk. Most guys in my line of work do their submitting online, but I like the way a pen feels in my hand. So I write in the names and Velma punches the buttons. We're good that way.

Velma starts to walk out, but then she stops short, like a midget who just found out the circus left town without him. I ask, "What's wrong, dollface?" Velma turns back, and the look on her face tells me an earthquake's about to hit. "Sorry, Sam," she says. "I've got some bad news. Christine called while you were at lunch. She signed with a…manager."

My fist clenches, snapping my favorite pen in two. Velma's talking about one of my clients, an actress I signed right before pilot season.

Christine didn't have a lot of credits, but I liked her. She had potential. We met at a showcase, the kind that pay mugs like me to show up and watch the actors dance. Christine was the best in a bad bunch, so I took a chance and signed her. Why not? So far, she hasn't booked anything, but she's come close and that's just as good. My hard work is starting to pay off.

I stare at Velma, trying to make sense of what she just said. Clients aren't supposed to sign with managers behind my back. That's a big decision, one we're supposed to make together. Why do actors always think they can invite anyone they want into my house?

"Who did she sign with?" I ask. Velma looks down and starts counting the number of threads in the carpet. I slam my fist on the desk. "Damn it, Velma! Who?"

She answers with three words and then runs out. I can't believe it. Christine and I have been working together for almost five months, and now One-Eyed Louie wants to cut in. She has no idea there's bad blood between us. How could she? She never bothered to ask. Everyone in town knows that Louie's a parasite, the kind that latches on to actors after agents have done all the hard work.

I have a difficult decision to make. It takes me all of five seconds. I pick up the phone and call Christine. She sounds nervous. I tell her I'm dropping her as a client. Now she sounds scared. She starts to cry. I hang up.

Some people will tell you honor has no place in this business. Sorry, I don't buy that. Honor is what keeps you warm at night when the bars are closed and you've got nowhere to go.

I'm Secret Agent Man. These are my stories. I hope they help.

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