Louis Malloy lives in Nottingham, England and works as a computer
drudge at a software house. He dreams each day of resigning and fleeing to the south
of France where he will become a novelist/drinker. His short stories have been published
widely, notably in The Paumanok Review, In Posse Review, Birmingham Words, The Momaya
Review and Carve Magazine.
rancie looked up
into a night sky turned dirty grey by the glare of the lights high on the perimeter fence.
Her ankle hurt and she didn’t feel like getting up, let alone running. She’d spent so much
time convincing herself to make the jump, so much time telling herself that she’d regret
it if she didn’t. And now she regretted doing it at all, even thinking about it. Failure
couldn’t have come any sooner.
“Stay on the ground,” said the big man in the nylon zip-up
He had his hand out, palm towards her, like she was a
foreigner who didn’t speak English or a wild dog. Circling around her, he spoke some
kind of code into his radio and then came closer.
“Okay, easy now.”
Francie could have cried, that would have been easy. Already
she was tired and it was getting cold and she didn’t think she’d be back at the hotel tonight.
Probably they’d arrest her.
“What’s your name?”
“Francie Janis Roehampton.”
He wrote it down and checked everything. Francie was a
shortened form? No. Janis? Like the singer she said. He didn’t know, she had to spell it out.
Then he said ‘Roehampton’ syllable by syllable, like it was the hardest word he’d ever come across.
Francie told herself to be nice.
“I need to ask you more questions. Need to take you to the
gatehouse over there. I’ll help you up and you can hang onto me. Okay?”
Why couldn’t he just carry her? Probably afraid that she’d
end up accusing him of doing something dirty to her on the way. Surprised he hadn’t got her
to sign away her legal rights already.
So she hopped along, one hand on the shoulder on the big man.
Even bending the leg with the bad ankle caused her pain and they stopped every five yards.
“Twenty more to go,” he said.
“Give me a rest a minute.”
She was sweating now and breathing heavily. She looked up
across the huge site. There were acres of flat ground, some of it grassed, some of it hard
dry mud. A network of paths led to prefabricated buildings all of the same design. In the
distance there was a film set with facades of buildings and a strip of tarmac forming a road
which went nowhere. This was what she had come to see, this hard-baked piece of land with its
thin buildings and dry grass. Though what she had really come for was to find Jack Swann.
Jack Swann wasn’t the biggest producer in the world, not even in the company, but she’d
marked him out as her best bet.
The big man led her on to one of the smaller buildings and
took her through to a back room with a soft chair.
|"A big stain of light against the dusk had shown
her the way and soon she could see the perimeter fence, marking the boundary of the huge film set.
It was three metres high but there was no barbed
wire at the top. She had taken off her boots and strung them round her neck, climbed the fence
and jumped. And her ankle went. Down at the first obstacle."
“Just stay there while I go through to the office. I’ll be watching.”
Francie had already had enough of men who were treating her
like this tonight. When she had asked to get off the bus at the nearest stop to the site, the
driver had looked around and told her that it was still at least three miles to the next town.
Even when she said that she was sure she wanted to get off, he checked again, not so much in a
friendly way but more like he thought she was simple. He slowed down and let her out at the side
of the road and she saw him watching her in the big side mirrors as he drew away, probably expecting
her to wave in a panic when she realised where she was.
A big stain of light against the dusk had shown her the way and
soon she could see the perimeter fence, marking the boundary of the huge film set. It was three metres
high but there was no barbed wire at the top. She had taken off her boots and strung them round her neck,
climbed the fence and jumped. And her ankle went. Down at the first obstacle.
The big man came back into the room.
“There’s a doctor on site. We’re paging him. He’ll look at your ankle.”
Then he asked her about how she had approached the site, where she
had got off the bus, what she had in her bag, whether she had a camera. After ten minutes she said:
“Are you going to call the cops. Am I going to be arrested?”
“You’re trespassing. You’re breaking the law.”
“Are you going to call them?”
“That’s a decision still to be made.”
He was an amateur at this language. Struggling for formality, gravity.
He looked like he should be working in a nightclub. Now he was running out of forms to fill and warnings
“Anyway, we’ll wait for the doctor.”
He messed around doing nothing for a while longer, then he went
to fetch a jug of coffee and sat down without relaxing on the chair opposite her.
“Hey what’s your name?” said Francie, when he had poured her a cup.
“No first name?”
He made no expression and just muttered ‘Yeah, Patrick’. She’d
tried to look at him in a friendly way, as pretty as she could manage, but it didn’t work. It
never worked, that should be steamed into her brain by now. Even when she had gone round to the
apartment of a guy she had known, dressed only in her overcoat and shoes. He answered the door
and she let the coat fall, like in a movie, and stood there with her best expression, her best
smile. And he’d just got embarrassed and said he was on his way out and thought she better go
now. That should have finished it forever. Never try getting fresh with a guy again Francie.
But here she was, getting nowhere again.
“Why did you come here?” said Patrick, though he didn’t look
“To see Jack Swann.”
“Yeah? But Jack Swann’s a producer.”
“I know what he is.”
“People who try to get in here come for the actors. They want
to meet Clooney or someone. Not to see a producer.”
“I don’t want to marry him,” said Francie. “I don’t have posters
of him on my wall.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
They both smiled a little. Swann was a small man, over sixty years
“But why did you want to see him?”
“I’ve got a script proposal.”
“A script proposal?”
“It’s like an idea for a movie,” said Francie. “A detailed idea but
not a script.”
“I know what it is.” He laughed. “You think he was just going to
take your proposal?”
“I was going to make sure he took it.”
“But you twisted your ankle. And you didn’t know if he was going
to be here anyway.”
“He spends a lot of time here. And they’re shooting a movie that
he’s co-producer on. Why shouldn’t he still be here?”
“Maybe he is,” said Patrick. “But you couldn’t be sure. Take a
“You’ve got to take chances Patrick.”
He looked at her with a flash of bitterness.
“That right? Thanks for the advice.”
She didn’t know whether it was the advice or using his first name.
He looked sulky now and frowned at the floor. A couple of times he looked up at her before he
“You think that’s so unusual, people coming here with a script?”
“A script proposal.”
“Whatever.” He waved his hand. “We get hundreds of them. But they
usually drop it off at the gate, they don’t jump over the fence. Anyway, there’s hundreds of them,
as many as come to see Clooney probably.”
“And if they drop it off at the gate then it gets thrown away before
Swann can even see it.”
“You think your way’s better? Breaking a leg and he still doesn’t
get to see it?”
“Okay, let’s just wait for the doctor,” said Francie. “So I can’t
see Swann. I don’t need to hear you tell me that I’ve wasted my time.”
He still looked sulky, taking something personally. Francie didn’t
know what and she was getting tired of him.
“You want to look outside?” said Patrick.
“See what’s out there. Seeing as you took the trouble to come to
visit, why not? While we wait for the doctor--he still hasn’t called back.”
“I can’t walk much.”
“I’ll help you along. Anyway we don’t need to go far. There’s a
platform which gives a good view.”
|"Going down the empty driveway towards the main road,
she shuffled some vague memories of the evening through her mind. But the scene where the folder
went into the basket was right there in front of her eyes. She was really going to get her stuff
read, unlike Patrick or a thousand others."
She was surprised, though she still wasn’t sure if he was being
kind or ready to show her something she wasn’t going to like. Patrick spoke to the other guard
and then they walked outside, Francie hanging onto his shoulder.
“We’ll go up those metal steps on the wheels,” he said. “Like they
use to get you on an airplane. You see?”
“Yeah. What are they for?”
“They use them for filming.”
He was vague. She knew he didn’t know.
“Right, let’s go.”
They walked slowly across to the steps, which seemed to have been
left in the middle of a stretch of grass without thinking. Francie looked up.
“Fire escape to the sky.”
“Record I used to have. Can’t remember who.”
“Yeah, well it’s tall. You get a good view.”
Patrick went first, backwards, and helped Francie up. By the
time she’d made it to the platform, she was sweating again. Sweaty and half-crippled; at least
she felt safe out here with a strange man.
“It’s flat land That’s why they built it here.”
He gave her a commentary as they did a full 360 degree sweep of
the site. The lights, tall on their stacks, sizzled everywhere, so they could see everything
but all in the wrong shades of colour. Facades of buildings were seen as facades, looking feeble
enough to be blown down by a strong wind.
“They’ll leave them up for a while, take a few tour parties round
if it’s a big film. Then break it all up or re-use it.”
“You been here a long time?” said Francie.
“Wow. Long time.”
Long time for a security guard she meant and he must have known it.
“Security’s not my main career goal.”
Main career goal. He was using words, which weren’t comfortable for
“So what is?”
He looked a little shy now.
He nodded at the view, not at anything particular.
“I’m doing some writing.”
“Yeah. Stuff about my experiences. I write from reality you
know? Based on city life. Like Scorsese in a way, but without the Italian background.”
“Without the Italian background he’s not Scorsese,” said Francie.
“Well exactly,” said Patrick and he sounded a little angry again now.
“I don’t want to be like him. But that genre.”
They stood for a while longer and Francie wondered whether to
tell him about what she wrote. But it might sound like she was getting competitive.
“Have you submitted anything?”
“I’ve been on a screenwriting course and my tutor said I should
work up one of my scripts and get an agent,” said Patrick. “And I’ve been looking at getting an
agent. But you can’t just give people your stuff, you know?” He was scolding her now. “I told you,
hundreds of people come and drop off scripts. It just doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to get a
“What, as a security guard?”
Even in the artificial light she could see him flush.
“Better than jumping the damn fence. Come on, let’s get down from here.”
He said nothing during the walk back to the office. Francie was sure
that he was no writer. ‘Stuff about my experiences.’ That was the first thing you had to get out of
your system. But he was right enough about her cute way of getting her script delivered being wrong.
Maybe some people, women really, could pull it off, but not her.
Back at the office the doctor had arrived and he strapped up her ankle.
It wasn’t broken but it was a bad twist. He gave her a cane and she practised walking around for a
“Okay. I think I could get home.”
The doctor left and Patrick seemed to be lost for things to do again.
“Well, it looks like we won’t be calling the police.”
“But don’t try it again.”
Francie wasn’t thinking of doing it again, but she was starting to make
“How easy is it to get a place to rent in town? There a lot of people
“Easy or difficult as anywhere. Why?”
She said nothing, just nodded.
“You thinking of living here now?” he said. “Still doesn’t mean
you’ll get your script taken up. It’s really hard, you know? I don’t think you know that, not really.
Take my advice. Think about it. I’ve been here six years.”
And so you have, thought Francie. Like I’d want your advice. Then
she felt unkind, because he’d been alright with her and he’d shown her the set. But she was so sure
that he wasn’t a writer.
“You’ve got to keep knocking on the door,” she said. “You don’t
get anywhere unless you keep on kicking at that door.”
“Maybe. But just because you’re knocking-“ he stopped here, trying to
work out the inverted idea- “just because you’re knocking, it doesn’t mean you’ll get in. It gives
you the outside chance, that’s all.” He laughed. “You know that song- ‘You keep on knocking but
you can’t come in.’” He sang a little.
“No,” said Francie. “It’s ‘I hear you knocking but you can’t come in.’
“I don’t know. What’s the difference anyway? You still can’t come in.”
She smiled. “No, maybe.” But that version sounded a little less hopeless
Patrick drove them to the front gates of the site. He repeated his
advice on the way, but Francie thought she’d look for a place in town. She had office skills, good
for a dumb job which paid enough to live on and left her with time to write. She wanted to be here,
to watch a film being made out of her writing. The director walking over to check a line with her, the
actors grinning at her and saying they loved the script and how it was really great to be part of it.
Patrick put her name into a big book at the reception office. He was
making a performance out of it, signing her in and then signing her out. And then, while she turned
away forcing herself not to make a remark, because after all he really had been okay with her, she
saw Jack Swann come through the front entrance.
“Hang on,” she said to Patrick, who was still bent over the book.
She hoped he wouldn’t feel the need to chase after her. But really
she’d forgotten Patrick already and was following the figure of Jack Swann who seemed to float through
the room, not needing to notice anyone or sign any book.
He looked around with the uncommitted expression of a man whose name
was called a hundred times a day, who was used to being called ‘Mr’. He kept looking but didn’t say
“I’ve got a proposal here.”
Francie was half-way to panic but she was thinking clearly, doing
well she thought. He didn’t want to hear about how much she loved his movies. Straight to the point.
“It’s for a suspense movie, in a similar genre to many of your recent
films. It’s not a script, just a précis and a few pages of example dialogue. I’d really appreciate it
if you could have a look and give me any feedback.”
She was sure she could feel Patrick, the almost forgotten Patrick, close
behind her, ready to intervene. She looked around very quickly but he was ten yards away, watching her
in something like disbelief or maybe quiet anger, but not coming to get her.
“I know you’re really busy but it would be so useful just to get feedback.
It’s suspense but it’s very much character-based. I’ve been writing a long time; this is a genuine
submission Mr Swann.”
She didn’t know which part worked but he said:
“If you leave it with reception it’ll get to my desk.”
“Oh thank you. Thank you so much, That’s wonderful.”
She smiled as well as she could and he didn’t melt before her but he
didn’t look embarrassed either. Just nodded and went on his way.
Francie went over to reception and handed over her folder.
“Can I leave this for Mr Swann please? He says it’s alright.”
The lady behind reception took it and put it in a tray. Francie kept
looking at it, there in a tray with not much else. Not underneath a big pile of useless scripts.
She smiled at Patrick. He was frowning but not ready to say anything.
She thought he had finished his business with her so she just said goodbye and walked out. Her ankle
was still hurting, but she could walk well enough with the cane. The doctor had done a good job. In
the end she had done a good job too. Going down the empty driveway towards the main road, she shuffled
some vague memories of the evening through her mind. But the scene where the folder went into the basket
was right there in front of her eyes. She was really going to get her stuff read, unlike Patrick or a
thousand others. The next day she would look for a room to rent and contact an agency about office jobs.
However many months or years it took, she was going to work her way back here and she would float
through reception like Jack Swann and they’d say ‘Miss Roehampton’ a hundred times a day.
* * *