I waited in the arrival lounge as Harry and the other passengers walked across the tarmac in the sunshine toward the gate, then had to wait a short while longer as the trolley with all the luggage was loaded and eventually wheeled into the building.
By the time Harry had finally managed to retrieve his bag from the trolley I was waiting at the exit gate for him. We greeted each other warmly, as the old friends we were, and I took his bag from him to carry it to the truck, as we chatted about the flight and the weather and all the mundane things that life seemed to be made up of.
When we stopped at the truck and I threw his bag onto the tray behind the cabin he raised his eyebrows at me.
‘I went shopping,’ I said to him, with a laugh.
‘Not spending your money before you’ve even got it, I hope?’
‘Nah, Harry. Just making an investment for my lawn mowing business.’
‘Your lawn mowing business?’
‘Yeah, Aaron and I have always been partners in it. He’s still using our old business name, logo, uniform and everything, but he’s also still driving the same old piece of shit that he bought way back when, so I figured it was time for an upgrade. I’m the silent partner, so this is my investment in capital.’
‘I hope you know what you’re doing, lad?’ he chuckled.
‘Yeah, I think I do. You can meet him this afternoon; he’ll be out at the house to do some work.’
‘I’m looking forward to it. Now, where are we going for lunch? We’ve got a lot to go over.’
‘Always thinking of that stomach of yours, aren’t you!’
‘A guy’s got to know where his next feed is coming from!’ he replied.
I had to chuckle at that, as even though Harry was often joking about such things, it wasn’t as if he was a total slob, or glutton. In fact, for his age, which I figured was in his mid-fifties, I had always considered him to be a pretty good looking guy and in pretty good shape. He certainly wasn’t what you would call overweight, if at all, and I was pretty sure he exercised regularly, even if it was more walking than running. No, Harry was one of those guys who carried his age well. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that had I been turned on by older guys at all, and if Harry wasn’t quite as straight as I’d always known him to be, then anything might have been possible.
I drove us toward the headland park where Aaron and I had spent our lunch time yesterday, but instead of turning into that park’s car park I drove on a little further and turned into the next car park, which belonged to one of the local upmarket restaurants, which also just happened to be perched on the edge of the headland and overlooking the ocean.
Looking around the car park we could see only two other vehicles. I glanced at my phone and saw that it was after eleven-thirty, so it looked like we had beaten the lunch crowd.
‘What’s this place?’ Harry asked as we came to a stop in the shade of a group of rather large Norfolk Island Pines.
‘Mariners,’ I replied. ‘I’ve only ever been here once, and that was a long time ago, but it’s supposed to be one of the better places in town. It has an outdoor dining area, on a deck which overlooks the harbour, so I thought we’d give it a try.’
‘I’ll trust your judgement,’ he said.
When we stepped out of the vehicle Harry reached for the bag on the back of it and unzipped a side compartment, pulling out several large envelopes, not entirely different from the one I had brought with me, and also a couple of manila folders.
‘You might want to lock your bag in the front while we are inside,’ I said to him. ‘You never know who might be wandering about.’
Once we had his bag stowed safely on the front seat and the vehicle locked up, we headed for the main doors, which were framed on either side by three palms and gardens filled with exotic looking plants, giving the outside of the restaurant at least something of a sub-tropical feel.
When we reached them the front doors slid open automatically and we entered what could only be described as a Polynesian world, decorated with bamboo and palms and other tropical plants, all of which were dwarfed and dominated by an ocean blue fish pond and fountain in the centre of the room.
‘Wow,’ Harry said, as he took in the sight of it all. ‘You don’t even get things like this back in Brisvegas.’
I didn’t remember it quite being like this the last time I had been in here, but the changes they had made were certainly impressive.
‘Can I help you gentlemen?’ a woman who appeared to be in her thirties asked, interrupting our admiration of their decor, and already holding two menus in her hand.’
‘Errr … yes, could we have a table please?’ I asked her. ‘We actually have some business to discuss, so if your have somewhere a little …’
‘That’s fine, sir. I have just the spot for you,’ she said, cutting me short. ‘Is outdoors all right?’
‘That sounds perfect,’ Harry replied.
‘If you would follow me then,’ the woman said, while flashing us a friendly smile.
We were led past the fountain and out through doors on the opposite side of the room, which opened onto an outdoor deck containing about ten tables, all under the protective cover of a shade cloth ceiling. At each end of the deck, however, there appeared to be partitions which were made of bamboo and palm fronds, beyond which were additional tables, which looked like they could be completely separated from the main dining area simply by moving the partitions into place.
We were shown to a table at the nearest end of the deck and asked; ‘Is this table suitable, gentlemen? We can place these dividers however you would like them placed, to provide you with some privacy.’
‘It will be fine, thankyou,’ I replied.
‘Now, can I get you anything to drink at all?’
I looked at Harry.
‘Just an orange juice will be fine, for starters, thanks, love,’ Harry said to her.
‘You better just make it a jug please,’ I added.
‘Coming right up,’ our waitress said, before placing the menus on the table for us and returning inside.
Harry and I sat down on opposite sides of the table, with each of us setting our folders or envelopes on the table beside us.
‘Is that what I think it is?’ he asked me, motioning toward my envelope.
‘Maybe,’ I replied. ‘First things first, though. What’s the deal with the U.S. crew. What’s the bottom line?’
‘Did you read the contract I sent you?’
‘Yeah, but there was a lot of jargon and gobbledy-gook in there that had my head spinning. What’s the deal, in plain English?’
‘Basically, they want your arse!’ he said.
‘Well, that’s the second best offer I’ve had today!’
‘That’s more than I need to know,’ he smirked. ‘By Hollywood standards they are relative small fries, but they have this vision about bringing gay culture to the world and making it more mainstream, and they think you’re the man to help them achieve that.’
‘Flattery will get them everywhere!’
‘I’m serious, Tony. And they’re serious. They have some heavy duty backers who will bank-roll their projects and they want to bank on you and your stories. After reading your first three stories they reckon that you have a knack of taking a subject that seems to be a turn-off for at least half the population, and turning it into something that everyone can relate to … even those who are totally straight and would have previously rather endured a root canal procedure than sit through something like Brokeback Mountain.’
‘Or Shifting Sands?’
‘Yeah. That too.’
‘So, what are they offering?’
‘This contract deals really only with the next movie, from your third book, but there is a clause in there relating to future works, and that’s what we needed to talk about.’
‘I’ve had numerous conversations with the head honcho over there, a guy named Saul Widderstein, and he has filled me in on their grand plan and the direction in which they want to head. One point five mill for the rights and the screenplay for Sand Castles, with at least that for every movie after that, although that will also be linked to how the others perform at the box office. The better each one does, the better your pay packet for the next one. And they are talking a minimum of another three movies after Sand Castles.’
I let out a long, low whistle as I let that sink in.
‘But, there’s a bit of a catch.’
‘Which is?’ I asked.
‘Well, I know I’ve always said that you should only focus on what you’ve been doing … the lovey-dovey romance kind of thing, because that has worked for you so well …’
‘But?’ I asked, with a fair idea of where this conversation was about to go, while at the same time trying not to laugh.
‘They think you should try and diversify a bit. Try writing something which, while it still must be gay themed, deals with other subject matters, and subjects that are a little more … errr …’
‘Gritty?’ I prompted.
‘Yeah, something like that.’
I figured this was as good a time as any to pitch my new idea to him, so I reached out onto the table and slid the envelope beside me across to him.
‘I reckon you had best have a read of this then, before you go much further.’
‘Just read it and you’ll find out.’
Taking the envelope from me he opened the flap at the end of it and pulled the contents out and examined the front page.
‘Who the fuck is Randy Thompson?’ he asked.
‘I’ll explain it all once you’ve had a read.’
Just at that moment our waitress reappeared, carrying with her a tray with two glasses and a jug of juice, which she placed on the table beside us.
‘Thanks very much,’ I said to her, as Harry pulled his glasses from his pocket and perched them on the end of his nose, then flicked over from the cover page and started to read.
I took the jug and poured out two glasses of juice, carefully watching Harry as I did so, looking for any reaction from him as he continued reading.
Silently he was turning the pages, his brow creased slightly, but it was difficult to tell whether his reaction was positive, or not. When he had finished reading and was back to the title page once more he placed the sheets down on the table, then removed his glasses and stared at me from across the table.
‘How did you know I was going to ask you to try something different?’ he asked.
‘I didn’t. Parts of that came to me in the middle of the night just after I got here, then the more I thought about it the more the story started to fall into place, and it all started making sense.’
‘And Randy Thompson? I assume that’s a pseudonym?’
‘Something like that. I didn’t think you’d ever go for me doing anything but the usual romantic twaddle, so if it meant writing this one under a pen name, then so be it! But by the sounds of things, maybe he’s no longer needed?’
‘No, I don’t think he is.’
‘I had hoped to spring it on you once I had quite a bit more done, but seeing as you were coming and you already knew I was working on something, well, I guess now my secret is out then, huh? Shi-Anne was the one who came up with the pen name.’
‘Why am I not surprised?’ he laughed.
‘You haven’t yet said what you thought of it.’
‘I like it. I think it’s just about perfect for that next step you need to take. I’m sure that Saul and his pals will jump at it, even if there is a kangaroo in the opening scene.’
I raised my eyebrows at him questioningly.
‘Part of the attraction of your first three books,’ he began, ‘was that they were universal in their appeal. They may have been set in Australia, but they could easily be transplanted to almost any country in the world and still have that exact same appeal.’
‘Go on,’ I urged.
‘Well, they haven’t actually said as much as yet, but I get the feeling that our U.S. friends will want to gear their stories mainly toward the U.S. market, so I’m just not too sure how they would handle things that are so, country specific, so to speak. Would that be an issue for you?’
For a few moments I turned and looked out toward the sea, as I thought about it.
How did I feel about that? Would I allow my stories to be bastardised by the movie system just for the sake of it? Did I even have the bargaining power to be able to stand up to them and demand I get my own way? Or should I just take the money and run, and be grateful for the opportunity they were offering me?
I also had my other plans to consider, like buying a house, or farm, here in this area? The idea of a foundation to support gay and lesbian youth? As well as my siblings and their future?
Whichever way I looked at it, it all boiled down to one thing. Money.
Fuck! Didn’t everything these days!
‘I guess,’ I finally started to say, ‘that at this point in my career I don’t exactly have a lot of say in the matter, do I?’
‘Not a lot,’ Harry replied.
‘So, seeing as I’m really only just getting started, I don’t have many options. All we know so far is that as far as the movies are concerned it will be them who will be calling the shots, but as far as the stories themselves are concerned, I’m still the boss.’
‘That’s true. Unless they ask you to write something specifically for a movie, in which case the book being published would become secondary, like it would be a movie tie-in or something like that.’
‘Can they do that?’
‘If they’re paying the bills, then yes, they can ask for almost anything they want, within reason, of course.’
‘So, unless it’s something specific like them wanting a story to be made into a movie without being first published, I will still have control over what I write? I can still write them how I want them?’
‘And is there any other way that I can make anywhere this kind of money without having a deal like this behind me?’
‘Not a snowball’s chance in hell! The majority of the money you’ve made so far has come from movie rights. Your income from the books themselves is tiny compared to the movie income.’
‘Well then, given that I have other projects that I want to get involved with and will need some of this cash for, I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I? If they want to pay me that sort of money for doing something I’m already enjoying doing, then what the fuck, I better keep doing it!’
‘This contract relating to Sand Castles is pretty straightforward and apart from the value is basically the same as the other two you’ve already signed, so there aren’t really any surprises or issues with it. My recommendation is that you sign this one and grab the money, then we can look at the future contracts and add some clauses into them about giving you some creative control over approving changes. That will give you the opportunity to do some negotiation. It will all be a matter of give and take, and provided both sides are willing to give a little then I don’t foresee there being any major dramas.’
‘You sound like you know what you’re doing.’
‘I would certainly hope so,’ he replied, offering me a sideways grin as he did so. ‘With the help of our legal team we’ve handled these kind of things before for some of my other clients, but those deals weren’t quite on the same scale as this. We’re now heading into uncharted territory, but nothing changes except the number of zeroes on the end of the pay cheque.’
‘I’m glad you think so, at least. So where do I sign?’
As Harry pulled the contract from his folders for me to sign, the waitress returned to our table and asked if we would like to order.
While we had been having this discussion two other tables had been filled on the outdoor deck, but our waitress had positioned them at the far end, so they weren’t close to us at all.
‘Can you just give us a moment, please?’ I asked her.
‘I’ll come back in a few minutes,’ she said, smiling.
‘Here, take a look at this first,’ I said to Harry, while thrusting a menu toward him. ‘I’ll sign my life away as soon as we’ve ordered.’
With a grumble he took the menu from me and after putting his glasses back on gave it a quick glance, before putting it back down and saying, ‘Why don’t you order something for us?’
Shaking my head at him I examined it. The seafood cocktail as an appetizer sounded good, as did the Surf ‘n Turf for mains, so when our smiling waitress returned that was what I ordered, accompanied by some garlic bread and a bottle of red wine, just like Harry had asked for when I had spoken to him yesterday.
After she had left he thrust the document toward me, open at a page marked with a large X, right beside where I needed to sign.
‘I’ll draw up a draft contract for the new deals and send it to them, then we’ll see how they respond to that, and take it from there.’
‘Okay. That sounds fine. So, this one is good to go?’ I asked him.
‘It’s good to go. Once it’s signed I’ll scan it and send an electronic copy to the U.S. as soon as I’m back in the office tomorrow afternoon, then I’ll send the original printed copy.’
I pulled my favourite pen from my pocket, then after looking at the document again I noticed the line below where I had to sign which was for a witness to sign.
‘What about a witness?’ I said to him, pointing at the spot on the page.
‘What? Oh, shit. I’ll just get Shi-Anne to witness it when I get back in the office,’ he said.
‘But that’s not right, is it? Don’t they have to actually see me sign it? How about we just get Luke to witness it? I’m sure he won’t mind.’
‘Errr … okay, if you like,’ Harry stammered.
I pulled my phone from my pocket and pressed his number, while still studying Harry. He seemed a little tense, but I was sure there was nothing to worry about, after all, the amount of money we were talking about here would be enough to make anyone nervous.
Luke answered after just a few rings.
‘Hey cuz,’ he said to me. ‘What are you up to?’
‘Have you had lunch yet?’ I replied. ‘Harry and I are up at Mariners if you want to join us, and, errr, if you do you can be the witness while I sign a contract.’
‘Ha, I knew there had to be a catch. Yeah, I can be there in five minutes if you like. Have you ordered yet? Can you just order me a salad or something light?’
‘Sure thing,’ I replied. ‘We’ll see you in five.’