I’m a prostitute. I don’t mean I sell my body for money. Nothing as interesting as that. I sold my soul for a goddamn theatre. I didn’t even do it for the sake of ART. God no! None of that artistic bullshit for me. I thought I could get an easy living out of the theatre. And what’s a little soul, especially a moth-eaten soul like mine in exchange for an easy living? But I was wrong about the easy living part. I had never been so wrong in a lifetime of wrong turns, wrong decisions, wrong choices, a lifetime strewn with disastrous mistakes of every sort. I never worked so hard in my life as I did for the Elmhurst Community Theatre.
I wouldn’t have gone as far as I did if it had not been for Lance Braddock. He was the Mephistopheles that tempted me and led me to ignore all reason and common sense when
I smelled the chance of an easy living. But I shouldn’t have mentioned Braddock yet because I didn’t meet him until several months after this story begins.
My name is Curtis Booth. I know you don’t recognize the name. It doesn’t even ring a bell, does it? And yet you’ve seen me dozens of times, hundreds of times. If you’ve ever gone to the movies, you’ve seen me. I’ve lost track of the number of films I’ve been in, even a few pretty good ones. But I might have appeared in a scene or two, have half a dozen lines in each scene, and that was it. I never played a memorable role, was in a memorable scene, or spoke a memorable line.
I never graduated to meatier roles, but I spent a lot of years in Hollywood. I was in Song of the West. You saw that, didn’t you? Everyone saw it. It was very popular. Do you remember me now? I was one of the villain’s henchmen. I had a big bushy mustache in that film. You still don’t remember me? I’m not surprised. No one does. No one except the people in the hick town where I spent my summers, Elmhurst, New Hampshire. They all think I’m famous, the local boy who made good, who became a movie star.
Well, I may not be famous, but I know my way around Hollywood. I paid my dues. Yes sir, I paid my dues, and I deserve a goddamn break. I had gained a little weight. I was showing my age, and it got so I wasn’t even getting those crummy roles any more. I was even auditioning for radio commercials! And I wasn’t getting callbacks for those! I was becoming a career waiter in a rundown Italian restaurant. Then I got fired from that job.
I was suspicious when I got a call from a lawyer in Manchester, New Hampshire. He had the kind of voice that oozed false friendliness. But you knew he was just waiting for a chance to stab you in the back. I figured one of my ex-wives was trying to collect back alimony. I was ready to say, “Hey, Buddy, you can’t get blood out of a turnip,” although the two of them had sure as hell tried. But it turned out that the lawyer had good news for me—sort of.
He said his name was Grant Billings, and then he asked, “Am I talking to Ishmael Schmidt?”
I thought, Jesus Christ, no one had called me by that name for over twenty years. Can you imagine giving a kid a name like that in this day and age? I don’t know whether the name was from the Bible or from Melville’s classic work. I’ve never forgiven my parents for sticking me with that name. I had red hair when I was a kid, and everyone called me “Red.” I never liked that name either, but it was a hell of a lot better than Ishmael, or Ishy, the name some kids called me when they wanted to get me going.
Hesitantly I told the lawyer that I was Ishmael Schmidt.
“Did you have an uncle named Frederick Schmidt?” he asked.
Uncle Freddie had died almost a year before that. I hadn’t been able to go back East for the funeral. I always liked Uncle Freddy. When I was a kid, I used to spend summers on his farm in New Hampshire. I would have gone back, but I was involved in a film at the time. My role was so small that they would have been glad to let me go, but then I would have lost the part. Even so, I hadn’t had a role since then.
Billings said, “Well, you are Frederick Schmidt’s sole heir.”
I was surprised. I didn’t know that Uncle Freddy had anything to leave. As it turned out, all he had to leave was the farm itself. Oh Goodie, I thought. I can go back to the farm and shovel cow shit for the rest of my life. But the fact is, I was just about out of money, and the landlord was getting ready to evict me from my apartment. I had no place else to go.