The cigarette smoke stretched in fine swirls from the end of the butt before rolling up in miniature whirlpools whose slow progression towards the heights of the studio drew small hypnotic cyclones, turning in slow motion on themselves. Their tendrils eventually dissipated in the silence of the room, like specters returning to non-being, evaporating in an inaudible fade.
The smoker’s fingers swayed slowly to the rhythm of his thoughts, the tobacco tube stuck between his middle and index fingers, his hand resting on the armrest of the seat he occupied in a strange mixture of indolence and tension. Around him, paintings of all sizes occupied the space. In front of him, his new creation. His work in progress.
With squinted eyes, biting the corner of his lips, the painter’s gaze traveled over the surface of the large canvas of ten feet by six. At times, snatches of smoke clung to his methodically coiffed white hair before continuing their upward course. The septuagenarian’s wrinkled face, rocky, also occasionally stopped the slow progress of the tobacco cloud.
The background of the canvas was of an intense, deep black, ready to swallow any viewer who dared to contemplate it. A stylized house without a door, sinister and oppressive, with whitish walls and windows wide open on shafts of darkness, occupied the right side of the image. In the foreground on the left of the picture, as if suspended in this nocturnal immensity, floating, an individual dressed in an apple green suit, sketched from the back, looked down on the house. In his right hand, dripping with blood, a bicycle wheel with a deformed roundness, as if melted, broke the two-dimensionality of the work. Between the man and the building, a tangible tension made the air vibrate, crackling like a flow of electrons along a high voltage line. Above the figure, inscribed with a deliberately trembling hand in capital letters, the following message was displayed: “I WANT TO KNOW WHO IS HOME!” A dark wind seemed to want to escape from the canvas and a strange mystery oozed from the windows of the house. The buzzing began to swell little by little, the fabric of the suit began to wriggle, to vibrate, a beaver appeared at the window of the house…
Surprised in his reverie, the silent observer turned in his seat to discover the source of this sudden interruption. He saw Neil approaching, a young man in his thirties in charge of his schedule and his professional appointments.
“The journalist from Cahiers du Cinéma has just arrived for the interview you promised him. I asked him to wait outside for a moment. Would you like me to let him in?”
“Is it today?” asked Lunch, looking surprised.
“Yes, that’s what we agreed.”
The artist stood up with a grimace, his mouth closed in an indecipherable pout.
“It’s okay, Neil, tell him to come.”
“Right away, sir.”
Before he had time to get too far, Lunch added:
“Could you bring me a plate of Oreos and a Coke, too? I need to refuel.”
Neil smiled broadly, used to his employer’s legendary sweet tooth
“No problem, sir.”
“Thank you, Neil…”
Lunch moved towards the door of his studio, which was perched upon the hills of Los Angeles. The door was located at the other end of the space opposite to where he had been working on his painting. Neil had already ushered in the French journalist, indicating to him the famous filmmaker’s arrival.
“Hello Mister Lunch”, declared the Frenchman with a high voice.
They shook hands before moving towards a coffee table surrounded by armchairs, all designed by Lunch himself. His interest in building furniture of all kinds with avant-gardist design, his delight in working with wood and giving it form, all contributed to the aesthetic pleasure he took in staying for long periods inside his studio.
“Uh… no thanks!”
“Did you have a good trip?”
“Very good. Well… except for the fact that the airport misplaced my luggage and my colleague’s plane was diverted to Las Vegas.”
“Sorry to hear that…”
Lunch bit into his chocolate cookie with an expression of deep ecstasy painted on his face.
“What exactly did you want to talk about?”
“I was wondering if we could discuss the next season of North-by-Northwest Passage?”
“The past dictates the future…”
“No, nothing… I was thinking out loud.”
The journalist nodded slowly, undecided regarding the weight to give these words. Lunch looked at him while smiling, continuing to nibble his cookie before washing it down with a glass of Coca-Cola. The interview promised to confirm the opinion that Lunch was an original whose remarks, at best, were limited to the esoteric, at worst to the incomprehensible.
Before the Frenchman had time to launch into his first question, Lunch asked him:
“Can you sew?”
“Yes, sewing. I just bought a beautiful sewing machine and I’m trying to learn how to do it, but I don’t have a clue how to.”
“I… uh, I can ask around if you want?”
“No no, don’t worry, I was just asking. I’m currently thinking about a costume I’d like to make for a short film, something rather baroque mixing velvet fabrics with rabbit bones, and I’m asking around about how to do it.”
Taken aback, the journalist slowly nodded his head while trying to figure out how he was going to get the conversation back on track. He cleared his throat in order to mask his dismay.
“Returning to North-by-Northwest Passage…”
“So you’re going to start shooting the fourth season of the series?”
“The shooting of a fourth season of the series, yes.”
“I… I don’t understand the distinction…?”
“This is not the fourth season from a chronological point of view. It’s not a continuation of the series.”
“Really? And then, how does it compare to the three pre… of the other three seasons?”
“Before the beginning of the end of the return.”
“(…) I see.”
Another sip of Coca-Cola to ease the passage of a second Oreo.
“And you are collaborating again with Mark Forest?”
“Can you tell us more? He’s still producing the scripts for the episodes, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but we’re going to do it a little differently this season.”
“What does that mean?”
“He’ll write the scripts after I’ve finished shooting the episodes, to keep in line with the overall theme of the season.”
Twenty minutes later, Lunch returned to his table, eyebrows arched, somewhat astonished by the narrow-mindedness of the journalist from Les Cahiers.
The bed undulated to the rhythm of the waves, swaying softly on the surface of a vast ocean stretching as far as the eye could see. It was pitch black, but the waves emitted a light purple radiation that made it possible to distinguish the horizon, where a silent storm was raging, also occasionally hinting at the passage of a sea creature in its depths. A light breeze was blowing, producing a muffled hum that helped to lull the sleeper spread out on the bed, the sheets pushed back, immersed in his dream.
A dark figure floating on the surface of the ocean slowly approached the bed, before positioning itself near the pillow on which the sleeper’s head rested. The figure leaned towards him.
The sleeper stirred slightly at the pronunciation of his name, but decided to remain immersed in his dreams.
This time, Lunch’s eyes opened wide onto the sky overlooking the ocean. He turned his head in the direction of the silhouette levitating close to the bed.
It was the Maharishi in yogic flight.
“Yes, David. I hope you are well since we last met?”
“I am fine… but the Kali-Yuga has entered a particularly cruel phase on Earth.”
The old Indian sage had long since left his physical body, but he looked much better since his death, his head still bald and his long white beard falling over his crossed legs a few inches from the water. He liked to visitfrom time to time his favorite disciple for news. Lunch certainly didn’t have the same naive innocence as the members of that once great British rock band, but his devotion was intense. He had also helped him on several occasions to solve convoluted psychic conflicts, stories of reincarnation badly engaged, and he was grateful to him.
“I know,” said the Maharishi, “but I also know that you are fighting against its spread through your art, the films you make, the lectures you give.”
Lunch replied sincerely:
“I do my best, guru.”
The smile that crossed the face of the founder of transcendental meditation never seemed to falter, thanks to the intense state of happiness lavished on him by a permanent contact with pure conscience. His technique had constituted a true revelation for Lunch, a buoy which had allowed him to continue his artistic practice, to plunge into the depths of his unconscious, while always being assured of returning to the surface, not to drown in horrific meanderings which sometimes attract us beneath the surface of the waves. In particular, this childhood memory of an excursion in company of his father in the forests of Montana one beautiful morning of…
“David, I came to warn you. I fear that something bad is going on behind the scenes of the theater.”
“Is he back?”
“Him… or someone else, I don’t know. But be on your guard.”
Lunch nodded. It was not the first time that he had to deal with him, he knew the danger he represented. It was sometimes better not to say things, so as not to give them too much power. That did not however remove any of their negative force, their capacity to harm. Lunch mentally recited the mantra which had been specifically allotted to him, that which was to help him reach internal peace, to evacuate any trace of fear and to remain focused on the task at hand
“Do you know when he will strike?”
“Nothing is written, David. Remember this: the script is not what we think!”
As soon as the Maharishi had uttered this sentence, silent lightning rapidly crisscrossed his body. He began disappearing little by little behind an electric storm, outlining his silhouette in the oceanic night. Only his smile remained for a moment in suspension behind him, before evaporating in its turn.
Lunch grabbed the megaphone:
“That was very good, Kyle. But don’t forget that you don’t know who you are anymore. Play the scene with a little less Cooker and a little more Mr. Cook, and a touch of Ricky, and it will be perfect! Oh yes, and also, there’s a bit of Lola and Dinah in you. And Osiris… Well, you know all that…”
He accompanied these notes with slow movements of the right hand, raised to eye level, tapping his fingers according to the feelings conveyed, thus underscoring his point. Kyle MacLalaland frowned without answering, not necessarily disconcerted, but not necessarily in complete phase with his mentor’s indications.
Laure Adler intervened:
“Yes, but David…”
“If Kyle is playing part of me, who am I supposed to be, really?”
“Well, Neko, of course!”
“Really? Because I thought that Neko…”
“Don’t worry, it’s actually quite simple. You just have to pretend that Kyle is your son in this scene, without forgetting that Hoover is in fact your lover and that he holds a part of your soul.”
“(…) I see.”
She couldn’t see.
“Yes, it’s crystal clear.”
Neil approached him with a smartphone in one hand and a tray on which rested two huge chocolate donuts and a large coffee cup.
“Mr. Lunch? Someone on the phone for you.”
“Who is it?”
“He didn’t want to say, but he claims it’s urgent.”
A questioning pout surfaced on the director’s features as he took the megaphone in his left hand:
“Listen to me everyone, “Lunch break”!”
That’s what he called his countless sweets breaks during filming. Someone once said that he must have the metabolism of a bumblebee to ingest so many sweets of all kinds (with a certain predilection for the less refined, to be honest). All he knew was that they helped him concentrate. Without them, his mind would go blank. They propelled him into a state of bliss that only sex could occasionally match. Properly washed down with hot coffee, they would melt into a comforting paste in his mouth, a mush that would take him back to his childhood, to the 1950s, that lost paradise to which he longed to return.
He grabbed a doughnut and the smartphone as he passed and headed for the back of the set, the front of a wooden house, a front without a back, just an illusion. He had not yet shot a scene with red curtains for this new season of North-by-Northwest Passage. That would come soon and there too he could go backstage without ever leaving the same room.
Watching Kyle and Laure through the fake window, busy debating their respective roles, with a frown on his face, Lunch munched on an ample mouthful of donut before bringing the phone to his ear:
“Mallo? Chavid Mlunch mmshpeaking.”
“I am at your place.”
“I am in your house and you don’t see me.”
The filmmaker contemplated his smartphone with horror, understanding at once who he was dealing with. He swallowed loudly, almost choked, and noisily hit his chest several times to help the pieces of donut continue their journey down his esophagus. He caught his breath, and asked:
“What do you want?”
“We both know the answer to that question. It’s not so much what I want, but what I need!”
So the Maharishi was right, the script was indeed threatened.
The voice at the other end of the wire… well, the voice at the other end of the wire that was not a wire and that reverberated through the electromagnetic field to where Lunch was standing, declared:
“Tonight, all bets are off.”
“You can’t block the river’s flow!”
“Tonight. On television. On CNN.”
The mysterious caller hung up on him.
Lunch remained taken aback a few seconds, trying in vain to put his thoughts in order. If what the individual claimed was true, he had just put one foot towards a new misadventure the results of which could prove to be catastrophic. How had he managed to get his cell phone number? And what did he mean by “I’m at your house and you can’t see me”? Would he be able to counter the criminal’s schemes?
He took another bite of his donut and headed back to the set. No sooner had he left the two-dimensional house in which he had answered the phone than Kyle and Laure came to meet him, looking determined.
“We thought a little about our respective roles, Laure and I.”
The two actors exchanged a brief glance, totally lost.
“We tried to understand what you explained, all the nuances you brought to our approach, and we have a proposal for you.”
“We said we’d swap scripts, actually… I’ll play Laure’s character and she’ll play mine. I mean, the version of the characters described in the script… What do you think?”
“Great! I love it.”
He left them with this repartee while heading towards his director’s chair. Kyle and Laure, not necessarily more advanced in their research, returned with a dubious air to their methodical exegesis of the text. Lunch sat down slowly, his gaze plunged into emptiness, his spirit elsewhere. He searched in the pockets of his jacket for a pack of cigarettes and struck a match. Fire burst forth, accompanied by the smell of sulfur, which he loved so much. The first puff did him a world of good, helping him to focus his attention on what was waiting for him. His alter ego. His nemesis.
(TO BE RETURNED TO)