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B—Gotta run. Don't wait up.
That's what Dean's note said, the one he'd stuck to the refrigerator sometime that Tuesday morning. The one that had obviously been written in haste, his customary tight scrawl spread wide across the sticky note. The one that he'd scratched with a dried-out black marker from our kitchen junk drawer, instead of his customary red-ink fine-point Bic.
After a long day at the Mercer Project, the theater where we both worked, I'd tried to follow his instructions. After all, I knew this was crunch time for Dean. March was the high-water mark for tax season; the Mercer's books had to be balanced, copious obscure documentation needed to be completed, all in time for our April filing. Dean thrived on the detailed requirements; he reveled in the hard-charging challenges of tax time.
I would not survive one single day as director of finance.
Lying in bed, fighting sleep despite the clear instruction in Dean's note, I tossed and turned, staring first at his night-stand, then at my own. His bedside table was almost completely bare—he had a functional, white gooseneck lamp, precisely angled to shed light on whatever spreadsheet he brought to bed. An alarm clock hunched in stainless-steel solitude, its red numbers winking balefully.
My table was a little more, um, crowded. I hated resetting my alarm clock after power failures, and I could never remember to replace batteries to keep a clock running without fail, so I relied on my cell phone's alarm feature. My phone charger was tangled on my nightstand, looping around one lamp, four books, a bottle of hand lotion, a glass that had held water a week before, a stray earring forever separated from its mate, a notepad, a souvenir pen from the Statue of Liberty that said BECCA in glittery letters, a small stuffed rabbit (gift from my literary associate at work on a day when I'd been in a particularly bad mood), a partridge, and a pear tree.
Yeah. It wasn't readily apparent to people why Dean and I had put up with each other for the past three and a half years. I tried to explain that opposites attract, but I don't know that I was always convincing.
I spent most of the night trying to find a comfortable position, repeatedly punching my pillow. I couldn't remember the last time I'd slept in our bed alone. Or not slept, as the case might be. I woke up over and over again, spending large stretches of the night watching Dean's clock tick through its glaring red paces.
At two in the morning, I administered some emergency chocolate, indulging in the last three pieces from the giant Godiva heart I'd bought myself for Valentine's Day. I'd justified the extravagance by making my purchase on February 15, taking advantage of the postholiday markdown. I was sure Dean would have been proud of my fiscal conservatism, if he'd even noticed. The poor guy had been so busy with Mercer work that Valentine's chocolate had completely slipped his mind nearly three weeks ago.
I finally gave up trying to sleep at 5:00 a.m. After showering, I pulled on black slacks, and I dug out my warmest sweater from the top shelf in our bedroom closet. The calendar might have said that we'd shifted into spring, but the weather hadn't caught up yet. The temperature was well below freezing, and hillocks of dirty snow still held their grips on shaded parts of the sidewalk, left over from a late February squall.
The streets were quiet, at least by Manhattan standards, as I made my way across Greenwich Village, stopping for two of the largest cups of coffee I could find. I arrived at the theater by six, grateful that I had my own key to the office space.
Dean's office light was on. His desk was pristine, not even a Post-it note out of place. A single blank pad of paper was centered on the surface, a single red pen uncapped beside it. The adding machine was a convenient reach away from the telephone, its power switch in the "off" position as it sat like a good soldier, waiting for morning muster.
In other words, Dean had obviously just stepped away for a minute or two. His impeccably organized life was proceeding as usual, even after a night of bleary-eyed number-crunching. I left a cup of coffee on his desk, using his pen to draw a big red heart on the pad of paper, adding a flourished B by way of signature.
My own office was down the hall. It was much smaller than Dean's—he was the director of finance, after all, and I was just the theater's lowly dramaturg. Dean had also been with the Mercer for two years longer than I had.
Of course, I didn't really mind the size of my office. A lot of people in my position worked at anonymous desks in open spaces, an easy bellow away from their company's artistic director. I was incredibly lucky to have landed the job I had six months earlier; there were maybe a hundred dramaturg positions in the entire country. A lot of theaters weren't financially secure enough to hire a trained scholar solely to provide literary support on each and every production.
Besides, if my office had been the size of Dean's, I would have drowned in the accumulated detritus.
As at home, my professional space was the opposite of Dean's. My single guest chair was piled high with coffee-table books, lushly illustrated volumes that I'd paged through the week before, trying to educate the cast of our upcoming Sam Shepard one-act plays on the eerie beauty of the American Southwest. A dozen banker's boxes were scattered across the floor, each containing a collection of mementos for one play or another, random artifacts that I'd used to explain the significance of various playwrights' sometimes-opaque words.
The bulletin board above my desk was in a similar state of disarray, covered with notes and other memorabilia. I loved the miniature license plate from California, with my name picked out in bold navy letters. Note to self: Insert long, boring story about how my mother still hoped her only daughter would return to the sunny city of San Diego. Insert longer, more boring story about how I was determined to keep an entire continent between my mother and me—for both our sakes. I shook my head and grinned at fortunes from Chinese meals otherwise long forgotten, at cartoons clipped from newspapers, at outrageous headlines from articles printed off the Internet.
My desk was covered in paper, as well. Half a dozen notepads were sandwiched between three-ring binders, manila folders, and scripts. I'd sacrificed at least twenty pens to the chaos; most marked pages that I knew were absolutely, vitally important, ones that I would definitely return to…someday soon. The entire maelstrom was anchored by a stack of manuscripts, plays sent in by hopeful playwrights, despite the fact that the Mercer had a strict submission policy mandating the intermediary of literary agents.
Yeah, we had strict rules, but I still reviewed every manuscript I received. Along with every other dramaturg I'd ever met, I dreamed of the day I discovered America's best and brightest new playwright. I also lived in utter terror of missing the next blockbuster play, overlooking it merely because its author wasn't ready to be bound by silly rules about professional business correspondence, postage, and agent representation.
Staring at the mess on my desk, I comforted myself with the knowledge that this quiet predawn morning would give me a chance to plow through some of the backlog. I fortified myself with a mighty swallow of coffee and settled down to some serious reading. I thought about Dean a half-dozen times, but I made myself stay at my desk. He'd find me when he came up for air, from wherever he was hiding in the Mercer's warren of offices, rehearsal rooms, and storage closets.
He always did.
An hour later, I'd managed to eliminate four new plays from our list of possible blockbusters. Each of the rejects had a different problem. One was written entirely in French—our audiences were generally willing to expand their minds and learn about different cultures, but we'd be pushing things to stage an entire production in a foreign language. Another play was performed completely in the nude—again, we were willing to push some performance envelopes, but we had no desire to become the must-see naughty show for all the tourists from Rubesville. One script might have been the finest play written this century, but it was printed on bright fuchsia paper (the better for me to take notice, I supposed), with each character's lines delineated in a different impossible-to-read font. I just wasn't willing to work that hard. And the fourth script was a cheery and lighthearted musical about bestiality, incest, and pedophilia. Whispers of Rent-terror scurried at the back of my mind. That musical had included drug addiction, AIDS, and other upbeat plot twists, and it had gone on to win a Pulitzer and a Tony. But I just couldn't see us staging such a dark new show. Besides, we didn't do musicals. Or at least, we never had in the past.
I took a sip of my now-room-temperature coffee and leaned back, raising a hand to rub the base of my neck. So, maybe this wasn't my day to find a script treasure. I stretched in my chair and decided to head back to Dean's office. He had to be even more exhausted than I was, poor thing.
Before I could move, though, my computer chimed, alerting me to the fact that I had new e-mail. I frowned as I glanced at the incoming message. I didn't recognize the sender—email@example.com. Puzzled, I clicked on the flashing mail icon.
"Dear Ms. Morris…Regret to inform you…Rights are not currently available to produce Evan Morton's Crystal Dreams…Unavoidable litigation…Copyright…Regret any inconvenience…Sincerely, Elaine Harcourt, Attorney at Law."
All of the coffee I had drunk congealed in my belly as one acidic lump. I forced myself to re-read the e-mail, marching my eyes across every single word.
This couldn't be happening to me.
Crystal Dreams was the next play in our production cycle. We were supposed to hold auditions in ten days; the show was going to open in May. The Mercer had been boasting about Crystal Dreams for the past year, billing the work as a brilliant new play by Evan Morton, one of America's bravest young playwrights.
Hal Bernson, our artistic director and my direct boss, had been so attracted to the script that he had vowed to direct the show himself. He only took on one play each season, in addition to his artistic director duties, and he'd latched on to Crystal Dreams because of the controversy surrounding the play.
Crystal Dreams was based on the journals of a grad student who had starved herself to death four years ago, protesting the imprisonment of her lover for meth distribution, imprisonment that was ultimately found to be based on a corrupt prosecutor's lies. There were rumors at the time that Evan Morton—the lover—had egged the woman on from prison, sending her long letters about how the state had wronged him, about how she was the only one who could redeem him, who could give his life meaning.
Hal had traveled to Florida to meet with Morton as soon as the guy was released. Hal had spent weeks debating the merits of Morton's masterpiece. Ultimately, he had decided that the guy wasn't a murderer. He was just an artist, one who desperately wanted his play produced by the Mercer. One who understood how to use the press to make his project shine. One who could turn a Mercer production into frontpage news, even in jaded New York City.
Hal had agreed to produce and direct Crystal Dreams. During my first week on the job, Hal had told me that Morton gave him the creeps—the playwright was way too intense. As part of my dramaturg trial by fire, I had been designated the primary correspondent with our difficult artiste. After all, a large part of my job would be coordinating rehearsal-inspired changes in our new play, balancing all of the artistic egos. Morton would be a challenge, but he'd provide great experience for a new dramaturg.
Experience that I was never going to have now, due to legal wrangling.
I read the e-mail again, this time inserting the words between the printed lines. The grad student's family must have sued Evan Morton. There was an electronic attachment to Elaine Harcourt's e-mail. I clicked on it, and a legal document sprang to life on my screen, numbers marching down the left side, setting off each line. My eyes automatically jumped to the title of the document: Order Granting Temporary Restraining Order. I skimmed the legalese. I didn't understand every word, but the overall sense was clear: the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York was prohibiting us, and anyone else, from producing Crystal Dreams until the underlying copyright dispute could be resolved.
I felt sick.
Auditions were scheduled to take place in ten days. I'd already spent weeks doing background work on the play, research about meth and prosecutorial misconduct and the difficult personal relationship that might—or might not—be at the core of the play.
Forget my work, though. Forget the designers who'd built set models, sketched costumes, planned a lighting grid. Forget the actors who had prepared audition monologues based on our announced show.
We suddenly had a gaping hole in our schedule. A hole that needed to be filled immediately.
I stared at the four rejected scripts I'd read through that morning. There wasn't anything there that we could salvage. And truth be told, all the rest of the over-the-transom scripts on my desk were likely to be the same level of garbage.
I scrambled for my phone, punched in the four-digit extension of my assistant, Jennifer Davis.
"Hey!" she answered, her cheerful greeting the absolute opposite of the dread that chewed at my belly. "I didn't know you were here! Can you come up front for a minute?"
I ignored her question and asked one of my own. "Is Hal in yet?"
Jenn's desk was in the Bullpen, a space she shared with our all-purpose office manager and a couple of interns. She was within easy shouting distance of the Mercer's artistic director. "He's here," she said, obviously a little puzzled by my question, "but he's in a meeting. In the large conference room."
"Can I help with anything?"
I shook my head, momentarily forgetting that she couldn't see me. I was going to have to interrupt the meeting. Hal needed to know the bad news immediately. "No," I said, finally remembering to use my words. Then I recalled that she'd asked me to come up to the front. "I'll be out there in a sec."