The Grotesque Cavalier
Ernest sat opposite Gordon Crooker and regretted ever giving into a meeting. The man reminded him of a ferret on cocaine. It wasn’t altogether impossible, he mused, that the man might jump off his chair and spring out the window. Sadly, it looked like Gordon was staring fixedly at his wallet.
“So this film-” He began.
“Hmm? Oh. Yes,” Gordon replied, licking his lips and allowing a wide grin to fall across his greasy, unshaven face. “Mind if I grab a soya milk latte?” This was as much a plea for free food as it was a virtue signal. He was almost puritanically vegan, extolling the virtues of a sugar-free vegetable based diet to anyone who hadn’t seen him shove four croissants into his briefcase in the hotel lobby. “I’d pay for it myself,” Gordon announced to the gentleman’s club, “But my secretary is wiring my funds to our LA office. You know how these things are.”
“The film, Mr Crooker,” Ernest reminded him, signalling for a waiter. “Tell me about the film.”
“Do they do plant based sugar-free brioche, I wonder?” Gordon continued, eyeing up the dessert rack on the opposite table. “Or perhaps we can eat later,” he finished hastily, looking up at the souring of his investor’s face. “So. The film. Yes. It’s called The Poisonous Fruits of The Poisonous Tree.”
“Bit long, isn’t it?”
“Oh, naturally, Ernest,” Gordon replied. “That’s what my secretary wanted to call it. She’s a bit simple, poor thing. Never went to university. I have a law degree, did I say?” He fell upon his soya latte as it arrived in front of him, developing a moustache from the foam that Ernest didn’t bother to point out. “Barrister, me. I represented my good friend George Clooney the other day. Wonderful guy. Great chap. Sadly wants me to visit his yacht a lot, these days, but I’m so busy with my many clients.” Ernest fall back into his chair. Once Gordon got onto his long and fantastical stories, it was hard to know whether he believed them or just thought Ernest was stupid enough to be impressed.
“Anyway, the film. Yes. The real title, is, of course, The Grotesque Cavalier.” Gordon eyed him up carefully, and, seeing no sign of frustration, decided to take the credit. “Yes. That was my idea, you see. I said, ‘Christine, The Poisonous Fruits of The Poisonous Tree is a poor title, I’m afraid. What’s gone wrong here, Christine, I asked her. I won’t use that. You’ve spectacularly misunderstood, nay, misjudged, what Ernest would want. I’m concerned you’d say that, I said.”
“The plot, Gordon,” Ernest said wearily, rubbing his temples. “I’ve only got half an hour, so be mercifully short.” Gordon looked around the room, wildly. If it wasn’t cocaine, it was something close. Possibly an extraordinarily high level of stupidity.
“Yes! The plot. The plot is, naturally, about a cavalier.” Gordon drank from his glass, signalling for another. “Yes. A cavalier, who is, sadly, grotesque.”
“And he is betrayed by his thankless, treacherous gang of…cavaliers.” Gordon flailed helplessly. “No. That’s not what happens. That was Christine’s idea. Useless, honestly. I should fire her. No. The Cavalier is grotesque. He’s a terrible, terrible villain.”
“Right,” said Ernest again, wondering why he still put up with a man who was known from New York to London as the biggest fool in the film industry. “So he’s a thief, a rogue, and a conman?”
“Yes!” Gordon said, delightedly. “Yes. He’s a thief, a rogue and a con-man. He’s the worst of them. He’s the poisonous fruit of the poisonous tree.”
“Which would be, I’d say, a metaphor for his wicked father, who taught him merciless greed?” Ernest said, lighting a cigarette.
“Yes! Naturally, Ernest, naturally. This was my idea, of course, the metable. Great writer, me. I’m a bestselling author, actually, did I say? I’ll have my secretary send you Speedy Screenwriting. Didn’t we send you the first edition?”
“No, no need,” Ernest said hurriedly, deciding it was best not to mention how his wife had howled with laughter at Chapter 3: Write from Left to Right until she’d fallen off the bed. “So what happens to this villainous cavalier? Is he captured by the roundheads?”
“Yes! Oh Ernest, you’re so smart. So smart, sir. Only a smart man like you could see the potential in this script. I said to Christine, my secretary, we should invite him to our New York office, to see the team, they could learn a lot from him.”
“You’ve got four minutes, Gordon.”
“So yes. He gets captured. My idea, of course. I’m hired throughout the world as a thoughtleader in plots, did you know? Netflix loves me. My good friend, Tarantino, thinks I’m a genius.”
Ernest gave up. “How much do you want to make it?”
Gordon’s beady eyes glittered over the foam moustache. “I’d ask for 280m, sir, it’s going to be such a hit. All the kids are crazy about…cavaliers.” He watched Ernest intently, wondering whether to go up or down. “But I’m not a flamboyant man. I’m thrifty, me. So thrifty. My accountants often urge me, don’t be so modest. Spend more, Gordon, they say. But for you? 80m.”
Ernest sighed. “I’ll give you £280,000 to get out and leave me alone for another two years. And to stop telling people you work for me.”
“Done,” said Gordon, leaping from his chair. “It’ll be a great film. The best. A bestseller.”
“Books are bestsellers, Mr Crooker, films are blockbusters.”
Gordon grinned from ear to ear. “I’ll tell Christine that. She’s always saying it wrong, you see, I must have picked it up. Poor woman, not very bright. Never went to university.”