Rowan: Branch 1 of the Tree of Life
nby Holly Bargo
nCameras flashed and fans screamed as Derek Wolfe eased his long, lean body from the shiny, black limousine. Equally shiny, black shoes settled on the deeply red carpet lined on either side by photographers, reporters, fans, and lesser celebrities. He flashed his brilliant trademark smile at them and waved as he waited for his bodyguard to shadow him. The men waited while the lusciously voluptuous figure of a starlet riding Wolfe’s comet to fame and fortune emerged from the limousine and joined them. She did not yet merit a bodyguard. Bedecked in pale pink sequins and borrowed diamonds, she glittered and sparkled like cheap champagne. Wolfe took her hand in his and they paraded along the red carpet, the bodyguard following closely and making sure that none of the fans or paparazzi became overly enthusiastic in the presence of their idols.
nI found the whole exercise in fantasy, fame, and infatuation endlessly entertaining. Since Hollywood’s golden age, the process repeated itself over and over as a particular leading man or lady gripped the nation’s attention and affection and commanded salaries that most folks only dimly imagined.
nFirmly ensconced behind the scenes where my anonymity could be protected, I loved making Hollywood magic come to vivid life. That evening’s set raised the bar and even I would have to work hard to exceed its success. Film sets were enhanced by digital wizardry; special effects on live audience sets were much more difficult to pull off, but I—and my small company—did it.
n“Rowan, once again Stardust Set Design has created an unbelievably beautiful and fantastic venue,” Bertie Pendergast complimented with a small wave that sparkled and flashed with gold and jewels. Bertie loved his rings. “Troy Ingalls told me that you are definitely chosen as the set designer for his next movie—probably all three of them.” He added as an aside, “Betty Davis is doing the costume design. You’ll want to coordinate with her.”
nI smiled and politely accepted the high praise and exceedingly good news from Hollywood’s most prominent B-list actor who was often selected to host several of the self-congratulatory awards programs that actors and movie makers like to broadcast. These events afforded Hollywood’s darlings, the has-beens, and the ambitious up-and-comers with ample opportunities to flatter themselves, to parade before fans, and to attend decadent and extravagant parties. That night’s Oscars awards program and party was being held at the opulent Kodak Theater.
n“Bertie, you’re an angel,” I said when he offered to introduce me to Troy Ingalls, the hottest director in the business who had just signed Derek Wolfe to a three-movie contract for an obscene amount of money. The blonde beauty who accompanied him that night held one of the lead parts in the ensemble cast.
n“Troy’s doing a Camelot-based trilogy. The first is based on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Bertie said with a shrug. “It’s a departure for Derek, but then Tom Cruise did a fabulous job as the vampire Lestat, which really surprised everyone.”
n“I take it that Derek is Sir Gawain?”
n“He’s too rugged to play Arthur,” Bertie said with a grin. “They’ve got Hammer Allencamp for that role.”
nI repressed a groan as the actor just named by Bertie walked past us. He had shoulder-length, blonde hair, an impressive physique, a dangerously beautiful face, and an IQ equivalent to his shoe size.
n“It’s a good thing he’s pretty,” Bertie said in a snide undertone.
nI choked back a chuckle.
n“You know, Rowan,” Bertie began, “I don’t see why you’re not in front of a camera.”
n“Because I can’t act,” I retorted. My own accompanying shrug concealed the need for continued anonymity. Discovery meant loss of freedom and that meant someone had to die. I preferred that someone not be me. Patrick Henry said it best: “Give me liberty or give me death.”
nBertie didn’t notice my mental segue and continued the conversation with a final wave of hands and sparkling rings. “That hasn’t stopped half the stars whose careers have been made here.”
nI laughed as he meant for me to do and urged him on his way. There were matters of lighting and sound and ambiance to attend to and he was needed at the podium to commence what would be a very long evening. Television viewers at home who deigned to watch the program would only have to endure two hours of the event, which would last more than twice as long if the award recipients were not strictly held to their time limits on thank-you speeches.
nAfter checking with my four employees and making some minor adjustments to equipment, one set of glittering silver curtains parted to allow Bertie to walk to the microphone and teleprompter unimpeded. Behind that set of curtains was another set made of black velvet which sparkled with thousands of tiny rhinestones. They were impressive and weighed a ton. Literally. The weight of those drapes could snap the struts of a small pickup truck.
nOne of the production assistants led an actress to the stage entrance and then cued her to go on at the appropriate time. She was met by a popular singer who met her at the microphone from the other side of the stage. They read from the teleprompter, the singer doing a much better job than the actress of pretending that the words were natural and spontaneous. He performed more frequently in front of live audiences. I wondered if she ever had.
n“Cue the mist,” I ordered into my headset.
n“Roger that,” replied the employee in charge of releasing a scented, pale blue mist that wafted down the aisles and flooded the stage and rolled down the silver curtains as the huge plasma screens played clips from the nominated movies announced by the actress and singer. The movies were in the thriller category, so the mist added a deliciously ghoulish ambiance. The mist’s light peppermint fragrance gently stimulated any drowsy attendees into wakefulness.
nAfter allowing the effects from that sensory deluge to quiet in conjunction with the announcement of nominees for fantasy and science fiction movies, silver and gold sparkles rained down upon the stage and the audience. The sparkles evaporated the moment they touched anything solid, leaving a lingering cool tingle upon skin and a faint, elusive scent of lilacs. The audience oohed and aahed. Even the two actors presenting the awards stuttered momentarily in their awe. Pride and satisfaction swelled my heart.
n“Beautiful, guys. Wonderful job,” I complimented my employees.
nThe portion of the program dedicated to comedies cued a silent explosion of colors like mute fireworks. A light breeze filled with the summery fragrance of newly mown grass wafted through the room, cooling off the finely dressed multitudes who perspired beneath the faltering efforts of air conditioning that competed with heat generated from lights, cameras, several thousand heated bodies, and the brutal temperatures of a southern California summer.
nAnd, finally, at the end of the program the effects died away and the lighting concentrated on Bertie at the podium in a simple, yet very dramatic, close to the event. Then, in an unscripted moment, Bertie said into the microphone, “In my fifty years of acting, I have never seen such an incredible set as we have enjoyed tonight. I ask all of you to join me in applauding our set designer Rowan Nemed and her company Stardust Set Design for their outstanding accomplishment tonight.”
nI was stunned. Two of my employees grabbed each other and jumped in glee. Applause rose like thunder and Bertie gestured for me to walk onto the stage. I had at least had the forethought to dress for the event in a long gray silk skirt, white silk blouse, and fitted gray-green silk vest. My hip-length hair was tightly braided and tidily coiled into a coronet. I smoothed my skirt with suddenly damp palms, straightened my shoulders, and walked onto the stage to join Bertie for a very much unwanted moment in the limelight.
nFear of discovery chastened the gratification of recognition for my little company’s success. Bertie could not have known it, but he put my very freedom at risk. I had killed for freedom before. I would kill for it again.n