“It’s One-Fifteen,” the man in the green-corduroy jacket said. “He was supposed to be here at one. My appointment was for one o’clock.”

The man said this to a middle-aged woman who was sitting at a desk on the other side of the plushly decorated reception room. The woman was sitting so that she faced away from the man, and she answered him without bothering to turn.

“The production office said he was on his way over here now,” she said. “I’m sure he won’t be long. Why don’t you sit down, doctor?”

“I don’t feel like sitting down,” the man who was the doctor said.

As if to emphasize this, he moved away from a comfortable-looking wing chair and stepped over to the windows that looked out from the second floor onto the back lot of Paramount Pictures. Directly outside there were three anonymous-looking office buildings arranged in a horseshoe around a small park; two attractive women were sitting on a bench in the middle of this area with their shoes off and their faces inclined to the afternoon sun.

“People think that when we come up here, we have all day to spend,” the doctor said. “People have no concept of time here.”

The woman at the desk looked over at the man, but only briefly. She quite evidently did not like him. “I’m certain that he’s on his way,” she said.

The doctor gave her a humorless smile. “I know this man,” he said. “This man is irresponsible. This man doesn’t keep appointments.”

“But he knew you were coming,” the woman said. “I’m sure—”

“No,” the man said, cutting her off. “He wouldn’t care at all about something like this. It would be the last thing on his mind.”

The doctor looked outside again; he was suddenly furious. He observed the people passing below as if they had offended him personally. “You’ll have to make another appointment,” he said. “I don’t have time to waste like this. I’ll have to come back.”

He took his car keys from his jacket pocket and put on a pair of sunglasses. “You’re going to be billed for this visit,” the doctor said. “One hundred dollars. And another hundred dollars for the return visit. Is that understood?”

The telephone rang and the woman reached across her desk to answer it. “Mr. Nolte’s office,” she said. She listened for a moment. “No, I’m sorry, he’s not, but he’s on his way. He should be here shortly.”

“On his way,” the doctor said. “I’ll bet.”

He picked up a heavy-looking black satchel that was sitting nearby on the geometric-patterned carpeting. “Call my secretary,” he said, and walked out the door.

The woman at the desk put down the telephone. She stared after the doctor in the green-corduroy jacket with undisguised hatred.

She was still staring at the door when it opened and Nick Nolte walked in; he was wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, a black warm-up jacket with gold trim and an Oakland Raiders training cap. He had a long, full mustache and a two-day growth of beard.

“Hey, Barbara!” he said. “What’s happening?”

The woman rose to her feet. “You just missed the doctor,” she said. “You probably walked right by him.”

Nolte pointed over his shoulder to the hallway. “That guy?” he said. “How come he didn’t say anything?”

“He was angry that you were late,” the woman said.

“Oh,” Nolte said. He nodded to himself but did not appear disturbed. “I guess he couldn’t hang out, huh?”

“He was so rude,” she said. “He said that you were an irresponsible person who didn’t keep appointments.”

“Yeah?” Nolte said. He smiled. “Well, he’s right.”

He took a couple of giant steps sideways, grabbed a script off a small table and began looking through it.

“He also said that he was going to have to come back for another appointment and that we’d have to pay him for coming today,” Barbara said. She sat down at her desk. “What a creep.”

Nolte looked up from the script. “OK, Barbara,” he said. “Just relax and take it easy, now. It was all my fault, I fucked it up. I admit it. I’ll tell the geek I’m sorry when he comes back, so … you know … just call him up or something.” He tossed the script back onto the table. “Do whatever.”

He took off his cap and ran his hand quickly through his hair. “I can’t have a physical today, anyway,” he said. He put the cap back on his head like a ballplayer on television. “You have to be in shape when you have a physical, Barbara.”

He took an expansive breath and clapped his chest. He coughed horribly. “Have to be in shape,” he said, clearing his throat. “Not diseased.”

As he spoke, he walked through a doorway that led to an enormous wood-paneled office suite. The main room—which was large enough to accommodate a volleyball game had a fireplace at one end, with two deeply cushioned sofas and a square-shaped coffee table arranged in front of it; at the other end of the room, an executive-style desk and high-back padded chair sat in a sunny bay with a view of the Hollywood hills.

Nolte walked behind the desk, stood there a moment and looked at its surface. It was clean except for some loose sheets of paper—letters, script pages, newspaper clippings and notes—all stacked together and set off to one side. He took a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, then removed the jacket and threw it across the room so that it landed on the arm of one of the sofas.

Barbara followed him into the office, carrying a notebook and a manila envelope. “The wardrobe people are stopping by this afternoon,” she said. “And Hal called from the gate; he’s on his way up.”

“Good,” Nolte said. He sat down and lit a cigarette.

Barbara put the manila envelope down in the center of his desk.

“What’s that?” Nolte said.

“Paul sent it over,” she said. “It’s a copy of Esquire with your picture in it. There’s a little piece that goes along with it.”

“About me?” Nolte asked. He picked it up.

“No,” she said. “Not exactly about you.”

The magazine had a cover letter paper-clipped to it, and Nolte scanned it. “‘Thought you would enjoy seeing this …’” he said, reading from the letter.

Nolte opened the magazine to the center, where there was a double-page color photograph of a sexy-looking blonde in a slit sequined dress. “Good Lord,” he said, looking at the girl a moment.

“It’s on the next page,” Barbara said.

He turned the page and came to an article titled “The Beefcake Boys.” Under the title, there were black-and-white photographs of three young actors. One of the pictures was a still of Nolte from Who’ll Stop the Rain.

Nolte looked at his picture, then looked the page up and down. “Beefcake boys,” he said. “What the hell’s a beefcake boy?”

Barbara, who was standing above him, looked down but did not answer.

“Huh?” Nolte said, turning to her. “What’s this supposed to be?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” she said.

“Beefcake boys,” he said again. He seemed to be trying to get the sound of it right. He picked up the cigarette, hit on it and read the text of the piece.

“I may be wrong,” he said when he was finished, “but I get the impression that what they’re saying here”—he hit on the cigarette again and exhaled a cloud of smoke—”I get the impression that they’re saying I’m not that good an actor.”

He looked up at Barbara. “Do you get that impression?” he asked her.

Barbara was thoughtful. “I think it’s ambiguous,” she said after a moment.

“Aha,” Nolte said.

He stood up and walked around his desk. “Well, what I don’t understand,” he said, “is why they should send over a copy of something that says I’m not a good actor. Why am I supposed to enjoy that?”

Barbara looked at the letter. “He says it’s a good picture of you,” she said.

Nolte sighed. “A good picture of me.”

He left the office and entered an adjoining conference room. A television and a video recorder were set up against one wall and at least half the room was filled with cardboard boxes of video cassettes.

There was a built-in bar, which was served by a galley-style kitchen; Nolte went into the kitchen and examined the contents of a double-door refrigerator. There was a dried-out sandwich on a paper plate that looked like a piece of ceramic sculpture. There were discarded plastic holders for aluminum cans, peanuts in a paper cup, several small cans of V-8 juice and an opened can of beer. Nolte took out the beer and tasted it.

“Jesus,” he said, putting it back. He took a can of V-8, popped it open and took a handful of peanuts.

“Barbara!” he called out. “We need a case of beer or something sent up here. Something fast.”

He came out eating the peanuts and found a man standing in the doorway of the office. The man was in his 40s, had a beard and wore a tall black hat with an Indian headband. He drew an imaginary pistol with one hand and pointed it at Nolte.

“Give it up, pretty boy,” the man said.

“Hal, baby!” Nolte said. He threw the rest of the peanuts into his mouth.

“Hal, babe,” the man said, lowering his hand. “I had it shortened.”

Barbara appeared, holding her notebook. “Do you want something?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Nolte said. “A case of beer. And some sandwiches or something. You want some food, Hal?”

“No, I just ate breakfast,” Hal said. He took off his coat but left his hat on. “I need some coffee, man. I need some naked coffee.”

“OK, well, get me something to eat and a case of beer,” Nolte said. “And a quart of vodka, too.”

“A quart of vodka?” Barbara said. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, seriously,” Nolte said.

Hal returned from the kitchen holding a steaming mug; Nolte went over to his desk, sat down and regarded the man good-humoredly.

“You’re looking a little bright-eyed there, cowboy,” Nolte said. “You must have smoked some dope on the way over here.”

“Smoked some dope,” Hal said. “Hah! What I fucking need is some dope, man. I’m telling you. The shit storm has started and the skies are open wide.”

He sat down on one of the sofas. “This project has taken a turn for the unreal, man,” he said. He drank some of his coffee. “I mean, the totally unreal, man. You should have seen this scene on the weekend. Up at The Beverly Hills Hotel, man. Frank and Ted and me. All of us up there at the fucking Beverly Hills Hotel, man.”

Nolte started laughing at the thought.

“Frank, he calls me up,” Hal said, “and he tells me, ‘I fucking want you up here tonight!’ He gives me all this bullshit. I say, ‘But, Frank, I’ve been working for three days straight. Give me a break, I’ll be fresh in the morning.’ Frank says, ‘Fuck fresh! You get your ass up here and bring that script! Bring it bound!’ ”

Nolte was laughing so hard that it brought on a coughing attack. “Jee-zuz!” he said, pounding his chest.

He went over to a wrought-iron bookcase and picked a football off one of the shelves.

“Totally fucking weird and unreal, man,” Hal said. “Then I get up there. It’s Frank and Ted. I case the scene out and immediately I get these poisonous vibrations; like you might pick up around a place where they slaughter animals. Vibrations of death and horror.”

He got up and began to pace, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his Levis. “For one thing,” he said, “I can see that old Frank and Ted have been in this room for some time, man. Like, maybe a week or something. And they haven’t just been holding hands or anything; it’s worse than that. They’ve been working. I mean, there were pages of shit all over the place.”

“They were writing a script,” Nolte said.

“Yeah, I know they were writing a script,” Hal said. He pointed to himself. “I thought I was writing the script, man, and they were doing whatever they do.”

Nolte began walking around and tossing the football into the air. “It’s paranoia time,” he said. “That’s why I left town last week. I knew everybody was set to go crazy.”

“Ted is making his move,” Hal said. “He’s taking the old power shot.”

“Ted is making his move,” Nolte said, nodding his head in agreement. He threw the football too high and it collided with the ceiling and went ricocheting across the room.

“Look,” he said, recovering the ball, “consider Ted’s position here. He’s going to direct a movie in two weeks, or three weeks, or whenever. Number one the movie is all about football, and Ted, he doesn’t know much of anything about football. So that’s number one. Number two he doesn’t understand what the fuck the main character is all about. Now, this is a problem. Ted says to me, ‘I don’t think I really understand this guy Phil, Nick.’ You know, he calls him ‘this guy Phil.’ ”

“Yeah,” Hal said. He sat down again and lit a cigarette. “And, number three, it’s not his script.”

“And number three, it’s not his script,” Nolte said. “Exactly. According to them, it’s our script. See how it is, Hal? It’s them and us.”

“The old power shot,” Hal said. “I love it.”

“The way I have it figured,” Nolte said, “Ted gets Frank all worked up-”

“He stirs Frank’s creative urge,” Hal said.

“Which Frank loves,” Nolte said. “Frank wants every picture he produces to be his life story.”

“Yeah, he thinks everything is him, man,” Hal said.

“Then Frank and Ted go off and write a script,” Nolte said. “Now it is their script, not our script. This is Ted’s way of taking control.”

“A coup!” Hal said. He reached out and grabbed the air with his hand. “I love it, man.”

“But their script is fucked,” Nolte said.

“They have all these ideas,” Hal said. “Where do they get all these ideas? Frank’s hiring gag writers and shitwhere’s all this coming from?”

“The fucking gag writers,” Nolte said. “Those were the guys that came up with the idea of the rubber prick.”

“Ah, yes, the rubber prick,” Hal said reflectively. “What a tasteful idea.”

Nolte drop-kicked the football and it banged against the fireplace with considerable force. “I told Frank that we have to keep all rubber pricks and all rubber-prick-related ideas the fuck out of this movie,” he said. “We’re supposed to be making a real movie here, for Christ’s sake.”

“Yeah,” Hal said. “There are aesthetic considerations.”

Nolte grinned. He went over and sat opposite Hal. “I went up to this meeting,” he said, “right before I split town. And it was a pisser. This is where Ted told me he didn’t understand my character and everything. But, like, I knew this was all coming, so when I went over to the meeting, I made sure that I looked real grubby, like I’d just driven in from Fresno, and I had a torn-up T-shirt and just basically looked like a dangerous derelict. I figured it would put them at a disadvantage trying to power-trip a derelict. Plus, right before I went in, I went to the gym and lifted weights. Got a lot of veins bulging and shit. Then I went crashing into Frank’s office, and I’m this seething, sweating visceral fucker. I didn’t even talk, I just exhaled.”

“Did Frank let you sit on his furniture?” Hal said.

“Hey,” Nolte said, “Frank was cool, man. Frank was in his element. I scared the shit out of Ted, but Frank, he just went head on. He was screaming the whole time, all this bullshit about his input, his ideas. I couldn’t even fucking understand what he was saying. At one point, I just started growling and I got up out of the chair and I sort of pulled the whole chair along with me. Fucking Ted, man, he wouldn’t even look my way. Frank was shouting, ‘Fuck you, Nolte! We won’t make this picture if it’s not right!’ I’m shouting back, ‘Fuck you, Frank! I won’t fucking make this picture if it’s not right!’ ”

“Phew!” Hal said, fanning his face. He stood up suddenly, as if he had heard gunfire. He went over to the nearest wall and ran his hands along it. “Do you think this place is bugged, man?” he said.

The telephone rang and Nolte walked over to his desk to answer it. “Yeah?” he said. He listened for a second. “OK, bring them in.”

He put the phone down. “Wardrobe,” he said to Hal. “The show goes on, man. I mean, we’ve got no script, but we’ve got wardrobe.”

The wardrobe lady was a tall, elderly woman, dressed entirely in navy blue. She came striding purposefully into the room. She was accompanied by an assistant, a serious-looking girl in her 20s. The girl was carrying several pairs of pants on plastic hangers and she had a sheepskin coat draped over one arm.

“Just a few little things to discuss, Mr. Nolte,” the wardrobe lady said. She settled herself into a chair. “It will only take a moment, I’m sure.”

Hal got up from his place on the couch and took his cup of coffee into the conference room.

“I have some boots to show you,” Nolte said to the lady. He went to the outer office and returned with a pair of fancy-stitched cowboy boots. He held them up for display and the wardrobe lady put on her glasses to study them.

“Lovely,” she said. “Such workmanship. Such intricacy.”

She traced a pattern in the air. “But”—she paused as a thought seemed to strike her”—I don’t know if they are quite right for you, Mr. Nolte.”

Nolte looked at the boots, which he held in mid-air, and back to the woman.

“How do you mean?” he asked.

“They seem, somehow, too formal for you,” the lady said. “Too dressy.” She pointed with her index finger, as if to secure her words in the air. “I would think these boots would be worn by a wealthy ranch owner … in Santa Barbara County, perhaps….”

Her eyes glowed a bit as she developed the image. “And he would always keep them highly polished,” she said. She made a small rubbing motion with her hand. “Highly polished.”

She glanced down at the boots Nolte was wearing, which were not highly polished. “Not exactly you, I shouldn’t think,” she said.

“Well, now, don’t let these boots I’m wearing deceive you,” Nolte said, a bit defensively. “These are actually very expensive boots.” He picked up one leg to show them off. “You know, I just use them to shit-kick around in….”

“Yes, but don’t you see, Mr. Nolte?” the lady said. “The man who would be wearing these boots would always have them polished. That would be … how would you say? … his character.”

Nolte looked at her without expression for a moment; then he smiled. He reached over and touched her arm. “Yeah, OK,” he said.

He started laughing to himself; he turned and took the sheepskin coat from the assistant’s arm. “Let me try this on,” he said.

He went down a hallway and into a large bathroom; the walls were upholstered with bright-orange fabric.

He put on the coat and looked at himself in the mirror. He turned from side to side very slightly, then stepped back. He looked for a long moment; then he put his hands in his pockets and stood as if it were snowing. He wrapped the jacket around himself and turned the collar up around his neck. Then he took it off and put it over his arm.

“Great,” he said, returning to the office. He handed the coat back. “It’s perfect.”

“Splendid,” she said, beaming. “That’s it, then. We’re through in a flash.”

She stood up in a way that gave the appearance she was being raised on wires. “I must always be moving along,” she said. “I simply cannot be still.” She drew her hand to herself in a theatrical gesture. “I suppose that’s my character.”

The lady motioned to her assistant and they made their departure. Nolte watched them go, then rubbed his face with his hands as if he had been suddenly exhausted.

Hal appeared around the corner, moving cautiously. “I think maybe they were spies,” he said.

Nolte stretched, supporting his back with his hands. “I can’t even wear the good boots, man,” he said. He walked over to his desk and stood behind it, holding the top of his chair.

“It’s insane,” Hal said. “We’re insane. Let’s go to Mexico, man. Throw in with bandits or something.”

Nolte turned his cap around so that it was backward on his head. He sat down and lit a cigarette; he blew out the smoke and threw the match into an ashtray. He picked up the magazine with his picture in it and looked at the page again.

“I mean, what are we doing here, after all, man?” Hal said. He threw himself down onto the floor and shouted at the ceiling. “What the fuck are we doing here?”

Nolte took the magazine and, in one fast motion, sailed it like a Frisbee across the room. “Well, I don’t know about you,” he said. “I’m just waiting for the goddamn vodka.”

“You’re a fox, babe,” Sharon Nolte said to her husband. She was sitting on top of a wooden exercise block in the studio gymnasium; she was wearing skintight blue jeans, knee-high beige boots and a wine-colored T-shirt.

“Bullshit,” Nolte said. He was lying flat on his back, staring up at an enormous bar bell. “I’m a mean-ugly son of a bitch and don’t you forget it, Legs.”

“I love it when you talk like that,” Sharon said. “So crude and everything.”

A short, dark-haired man in a leather aviator’s jacket had a camera bag unpacked on a nearby bench; he was standing above Nolte, watching him through his view finder.

“Can you lift that thing?” he asked Nolte.

“Fuck, yes, I can lift it,” Nolte said.

“He’s so strong,” Sharon said. She made a muscle with her arm. “He’s like Tarzan.”

“Shut up, Legs, for crying out loud,” Nolte said, placing his hands on the bar. “I need my total concentration here. Don’t fuck around.”

Nolte set himself, then heaved the weight off its supports. He held it aloft for a few beats and the muscles in his arms bulged; then, slowly, he set it back to rest. The photographer shot the whole sequence in a rapid burst of fire.

“Goddamn,” Nolte said, limp from the effort.

“Do it again!” Sharon cried. She jumped down off the block and landed on the concrete floor with a clatter.

“Go away,” Nolte said. “Go home.”

He went over to a battered wooden stand that held a row of small hand weights.

He picked one of them up and began to work with it.

“Do you think you could take your hat off?” the photographer asked. He backed up a bit to accommodate Nolte’s new position.

Nolte removed his cap and shook his hair free.

“That’s how you should wear your hair,” Sharon said. “Just like that.”

“I don’t like it,” he said, shaking it again. “I have to grow it some more. Get it funkier-looking.”

“Ugh,” Sharon said. She got on an exercise bicycle that was set up in front of a large wall mirror, and she watched herself pedal for a little while.

Nolte lay down on the floor in front of a leg press and fitted his feet into the device. “This is my favorite,” he said to the photographer.

He pushed up on the weight with what appeared to be a mighty effort, and his face and neck glowed in a rush of circulation. After a brief moment, he brought his feet down. “OK,” he said, “that’s enough of that.”

He got to his feet and sought to regain his composure; across the room, Sharon was doing ad-lib dance steps in front of the mirror.

“I want to be in your movie, Nick,” she said. “I want to be a cheerleader.”

She did a burlesque-house strut with imaginary pompons.

Nolte watched her as he wiped his face with a towel. “Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “No cheerleaders.”

“But I want to be a star!” she said. She went over and wrapped her arms seductively around his neck.

“Will you do nude scenes?” he asked.

“I’ll do one tit,” she said.

The photographer repacked his camera bag and slung it over his shoulder. The three of them left the building and walked out onto the studio lot.

“God, I’m getting to be an old man,” Nolte said, breathing the air deeply. “If I keep doing this physical shit, I’ll be dead.”

They came to a series of outdoor sets that made up a Western town. The street was hard-packed dirt and the building façades looked like an episode of Gunsmoke—a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a general store, a barbershop and a sheriff’s office. They walked all the way to the end of the street and stopped in front of a building with the word SALOON painted on it.

“This is the place,” Nolte said. He stood back and looked at it for a moment.

“Do you think there’s a toilet in there?” Sharon asked him.

He regarded her with a sideways glance. “Sure there is, Legs,” he said.

He took a seat on a wooden bench in front of the saloon; the photographer got out his camera and started shooting.

Sharon pushed open the swinging doors and went inside to investigate. She returned a few seconds later. “There’s nothing in there, wise guy,” she said.

“Legs,” he said, “you’ve got no imagination.”

Several men in work clothes were having their lunch on the steps of an adjoining building. One of them, a long-haired man in a plaid shirt, called to Nolte. “Hey, Nick, you want a can of beer in your hand for that?” he said.

Nolte nodded appreciatively at the man. “Yeah, I sure would,” he said. “I saw you there, but I didn’t want to take your only beer.”

“Hey, it’s cool,” the man said. He brought Nolte the can.

“He has to have his can of beer,” Sharon said. “It’s his image.”

A young black man came whizzing up the street on a bicycle. He was carrying a sack lunch in his hand and he departed the bicycle by simply leaping off and letting it go crashing into the side of the building.

“All right!” Nolte said. “That’s action!”

The black man spun around and his face lit up with recognition. “Hey!” he said. He pointed at Nolte. “You’re the dude!”

Nolte shaded his eyes with his hand and squinted at the man. “Yeah, I’m the dude,” he said. “That’s me.”

“Hey, that’s far out,” the black man said with a grin. “What’s happening, man?”

Nolte pointed with his beer can in the direction of the photographer. “Getting my fucking picture taken, man,” he said. “I’m so goddamn irresistible-good-looking it seems they have to put my picture in magazines.”

“Yeah, that’s cool,” the black man said.

“But what about me?” Sharon said. She stepped between Nolte and the camera. “What about my picture?”

The photographer refocused on Sharon and continued shooting.

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” Nolte said, looking out from behind her.

Sharon turned to the group of workers and smiled sexily.

“My name is Goldie,” she said. “Nick lets me hang around when his old lady is away.” She went over and sat on his lap. “Don’t you, baby?”

Nolte cradled her in his arms, but he raised his head so that he could speak to everybody.

“A mental case,” he said, pointing to his wife. “Been in hospitals and shit. A real sad story.”

“Could I get the two of you looking over here?” the photographer said.

They struck a pose in which Nolte looked like an outlaw with a bar girl on his lap. When they finished, Nolte handed the beer can back to the man in the plaid shirt.

“I owe you one of these,” he said.

“How about a picture instead?” the man said. “My lady would dig it.”

Nolte laughed as if the man had told him a joke. “Fuck, yes,” he said. “Sure, just come on up to the office.”

“See, you’re a sex symbol, dollface,” Sharon said as they were walking away. “I thought you said you were ugly. Mean and ugly.”

“I have many facets,” Nolte said. “I’m many-faceted.”

They left the Western town behind, passing sound stages and rows of house trailers turned into offices. They cut across a huge concrete basin with a drive-in-style movie screen rising above it at one end; in an open area just beyond, three vintage-model Rolls Royces stood gleaming in the afternoon sunlight.

“Nice,” the photographer said.

“Hollywood all the way,” Nolte said.

When they returned to his office building, Nolte went over to a metallic-blue 280-Z that was parked in a space bearing his name. He opened the back and took out a football.

“Come on, Legs,” he said. “Let’s play some catch.”

“OK, hot-shot,” Sharon said, setting herself up a fair distance away. “Let’s see some stuff.”

He threw a gentle pass, which she caught easily.

“That was nothing,” she said. “Try this, tough guy.”

She released the ball as fast as if the entire Rams defensive line were a breath away. Nolte caught the pass, but it burned his hands.

A man in a pinstriped suit who was passing by stopped to admire the sport.

“Some ballplayer,” he said. “Good arm. Good everything.”

Sharon waved at the man.

“But she’s got no discipline,” Nolte said. “And she can’t run worth shit, either.”

With that, he threw a long bomb. Sharon began to back up for the ball, but it overtook her with such speed that finally she had to go charging after it down the street.

“You son of a bitch!” she shouted.

When she returned, a few moments later, the photographer was preparing to leave; Nolte was resting against his car, smoking a cigarette.

“You made me run,” she said accusingly, as they went into the building.

“It’s good for you,” Nolte said. “You’re young. You need your exercise.”

They went up a carpeted stairway and down a short corridor to Nolte’s office. When they went into the room, they were greeted by a good-looking man dressed in Western-style clothes who was sitting with his feet propped up on Nolte’s desk.

“Tom, you fucker!” Nolte said. The man stood up and Nolte went over and embraced him. “Where the hell have you been, man?”

Nolte introduced the man to Sharon.

“Oh, I know you,” she said excitedly. “You were on that show—”

“You mean Faggot Flats?” Tom said.

“No, no,” she said. “You know the one.”

“Yeah,” Tom said, “I know.”

“You were Ryan O’Neal’s younger brother,” she said.

“Yeah, it was a curse,” he said. “Put on me by an Amazon witch doctor.”

Sharon turned to her husband. “I was so in love with him,” she said of Tom.

“Hey,” Nolte said, “he’s a cute little sucker.”

“Fuck you,” Tom said. He sat down on one of the sofas and looked around the room.

“This is some office,” he said. “What the hell do you do up here?”

“All kinds of shit,” Nolte said.

“This office used to belong to a producer I knew,” Tom said. “He always had these top-secret projects going. If you asked him what was happening, he’d say, ‘Can’t tell you! It’s secret!’ He never did anything that wasn’t secret.”

“Yeah,” Nolte said, “that sounds right.”

He left the room and returned momentarily with several cans of beer.

“I didn’t know you two knew each other,” Sharon said.

“Hell, yes,” Nolte said, puncturing the top of a can. “Tom and I’ve known each other for twenty years.”

“Twenty years!” Sharon said. She looked at the two men. “That means you knew each other when I was two years old.”

“Please,” Tom said, “don’t mention it.”

“Tom and I knew each other in Pasadena,” Nolte said. “Tom was at the Pasadena Playhouse. I don’t know exactly what I was doing.”

“Nick was doing social research at fraternity parties,” Tom said. “Gathering a wealth of human insight.”

“Yeah, I remember now,” Nolte said. “Those were wild times. I don’t have the stamina for that now.”

“Nick would go to any party,” Tom said. “He didn’t have to be invited or anything. He’d just show up and pound on the door until they’d let him in.”

“You sound just like a Hell’s Angel, sweetie,” Sharon said.

“My youth,” Nolte said, sipping his beer.

“Do you remember that time in Newport?” Tom said. “Easter week?”

“Yeah,” Nolte said. “That’s where we wrecked your Corvette.”

“Right,” Tom said. “We had seven people in that car. Tore the whole bottom off it, I think.”

“That’s impossible,” Sharon said. “You can’t get seven people in a Corvette.”

“We were pretty inventive,” Nolte said.

“Yeah, we were crazy,” Tom said. He reclined somewhat and put his hands behind his head. “Nick and I would hang out and I’d tell him things that actors did. All this shit we did at the Pasadena Playhouse, like blowing out candles and standing upside down and stuff.”

“I thought all that shit was flaky as hell,” Nolte said. “I used to ask, ‘Tom, do you guys really wear leotards?’ ”

“And look at you now, man,” Tom said, laughing.

“Yeah,” Nolte said. “Life is perverse.”

He got up and walked over to his desk and found a pack of cigarettes; he lit one and looked out the window. A giant white cloud hung above the studio like a special effect.

“How’s your movie going, man?” Tom asked after a moment.

“It’s fucked,” Nolte said, still looking out. “Fucked up the ass, man. I can’t even begin to tell you all the paranoia and shit that’s going on around here. It may lead to violence before it’s all over.”

He turned to Sharon and Tom. “I may do somebody some bodily harm,” he said merrily.

“That’s his wild streak,” Sharon said to Tom. “That’s his crazy-man side.”

Tom laughed. “You asshole,” he said to Nolte. “You’re still the same, you fucker.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Nolte said.

He sat down in his desk chair and leaned back; he observed the ceiling briefly. “I just don’t have the temperament for this business, Tom,” he said. “I try to control myself, but something in my nature seems to rebel. Guys have been telling me this forever, man. Guys have been saying, ‘Listen, kid! You don’t fucking understand this business!’ ”

He pounded his fist on the desktop to provide some percussion.

“Nobody understands this business,” Tom said. “It’s a mystery. It’s like God.”

“Weirder than shit, man,” Nolte said.

He stood up all at once and rubbed his head vigorously. “Hey!” he said, moving across the room. “You remember, Tom, that TV show I did years ago? That thing in the hospital?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Tom said. “You played a psycho or something, right?”

“Yeah, I played a psycho,” Nolte said. “The big scene I had was in this emergency room that was all rigged out with all kinds of equipmentcarts, and trays, and instruments, and shitI was supposed to be a psycho and come in and kind of go crazy in the room. I was supposed to flip out.”

He backed off a few feet to give himself room to act out the scene. “The director told me to let myself go,” he said with a glint in his eyes. “So that’s what I fucking did, man. I tore up the whole fucking set! Shit flying everywhere! The director yells, ‘Cut!’ man, but I don’t stop! I have to fucking destroy!”

Nolte had his hands in the air as if he were wrestling with demons.

Tom fell backward on the couch, laughing.

“I tell you, man,” Nolte said. “It really blew everybody away. They wouldn’t talk to me or anything after that.”

“They knew you were twisted,” Tom said.

“Yeah,” Nolte said. “They got a flash of my own personal form of expression.”

He paced around the room, rubbing his hands together. “I sort of have this fantasy,” he said, “of something like that going down for real, man. I’ll be sitting around in the middle of all this bullshit, trying to keep my cool, and then, pow! The dam will burst!”

He turned to face Tom and Sharon, his eyes blazing like those of a man on drugs.

Sharon watched him from where she sat. “Then what, baby?” she asked. “What happens next?”

Nolte grinned. “Dig it,” he said. “I go berserk.”


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