INT: A BASEMENT BAR IN SOHO-FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 10 P.M.
EVIE stands in a small crowd of well-dressed twentysomethings, holding a scuffed plastic "glass" of house white wine, nodding in time to the conversation happening around her. She checks her phone, too tipsy to be anywhere near as surreptitious as she thinks she's being.
Two Weeks Earlier
Sarah: I'm going to email the presentation to you all to help your planning session next weekend. Check your inboxes!
Maria: we really don't mind planning your hen do ourselves
Jeremy: which isn't to say that we don't mind planning your hen do
Sarah: but this way you'll KNOW I'll love it. While we're on my wedding, can we talk about your plus-one situation, Evie?
I slipped my phone back into my bag. Sarah had been trying to get me to talk about my "plus-one situation" since she got engaged. As if I had some sort of condition that I'd been ignoring.
As I turned my attention back to the two achingly trendy young women with me in the bar, I noticed two things: 1) Their beautiful, pristine, untouched-by-worry baby skin. And 2) That I was much tipsier than I realized, despite sticking to my strict three-drink rule.
That was the curse of the assistant drinks. Once a month, every assistant working in TV and film talent agencies met in a different yet equally terrible bar in Central London to "network" (i.e., gossip). There was never any food available at these events, though there was always an abundance of a very particular type of white wine (the cheapest). I could only assume everyone else here was too young to have experienced hangovers as adults, and were therefore blissfully unaware of what it's like to wake up feeling like every single one of your twenty-nine years has smacked you in the face.
Myself, on the other hand . . . I had an egg sandwich in my satchel that I was dying to eat, but hadn't yet found an appropriate moment. While my practical side was telling me I needed something to line my stomach, I also conceded that normal people probably don't bring their own sandwiches to networking events.
One of the girls, Jodi, swept the curtain of blond hair from her face and gave me a little smile that made me feel like the young one. I had the feeling she'd just asked me a question. She was an assistant at one of the biggest talent agencies in the business, and one of those people who collected gossip like it was currency.
"What was that, sorry?" I squeezed my plastic wine cup tightly. It wasn't that long ago that I had someone by my side at these events.
"I'm whisking young Geraldine here around to introduce her to the cool kids," Jodi said. She had one of those drawling London accents that made me feel more northern with every syllable.
I turned to the teen with round glasses. Most of her long hair was pulled up into a messy bun, leaving the rest down in the sort of tangled waves that said "Just look at how much I don't care about my appearance." Beneath her overalls she wore a white T-shirt with greta gerwig across it in large black lettering. I immediately wanted one, though I'd never be cool enough to pull it off.
"Who are you interning with?" I asked.
There was a moment of silence.
"Evie, you big nerd," laughed Jodi. "She's an assistant."
"But she's a kid!" I clamped my mouth shut, as if that could somehow take back my words.
Geraldine let out a low, throaty laugh and placed a hand on her chest. "Thank you. I'm almost prehistoric in assistant years." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "I'm actually twenty-three. I was worried everyone would think I was too old."
"You don't look a day over twenty-one" was Jodi's automatic response. I wanted to take Geraldine by the shoulders and tell her she was so young she was practically brand-new. Instead, I took another sip of my wine.
"Geraldine's at Geoffrey and Turner," Jodi said, with a significance that I studiously ignored.
Geoffrey and Turner was a small but respected agency for screen and TV writers. A few years ago they'd been the William Jonathan Montgomery & Sons Agency for Screenwriters' direct rivals. But lately, they'd become the agency of choice for writers looking for prestige, and we had . . . Well, someday we'd get back on track again.
"One of Geraldine's new colleagues, Ritchie, is an old friend of yours, isn't he, Evie?" Jodi pressed. Nothing got by her. Since she'd found out I'd known him back when he was plain old Ricky, she never missed an opportunity to dig for more information. My ex was what was known in the industry as a unicorn, i.e., a single man. Putting him firmly on Jodi's gossip radar. I could have told her that Ricky was the kind of guy who'd make you feel like the luckiest person in the world. Until you were no longer what he wanted. Instead, I kept my smile fixed, as usual giving her nothing.
"Ritchie's amazing," Geraldine gushed. "I'm sure he's going to be made an agent any day now. Everything about him says 'meteoric rise.'"
"Well, he was hardly going to remain an assistant forever," Jodi said, then put a hand on my arm. "Don't worry, you'll get there. You just have a unique situation."
Jodi wasn't wrong, but that wasn't what I was upset about. They wouldn't really promote him yet, would they? My throat tightened.
"Where do you work?" Geraldine asked me. I sighed, snapping myself out of it. She'd find out sooner or later anyway.
"William Jonathan Montgomery and Sons," I said.
Geraldine's eyes widened. "Oh, you're that Evie."
When you were the longest-serving assistant in the industry, word tended to get around.
It was a relief when they decided they needed a refill and headed back to the bar. I pulled out my phone again, wishing it was next Friday already so my friends could be here. Sometimes the miles between us felt more numerous than I could count.
Evie: HELP ME I AM SURROUNDED MY CHILDREN
Maria: where are you?
Evie: assistant drinks
Evie: *BY children
Jeremy: is Dicky there?
Evie: no. He only socializes with agents now
Sarah: it's good for her. IT'S GOOD FOR YOUR CAREER, EVIE
Jeremy: indoor voices, Sarah
Maria: you're an agent in all but name, Evie. You've shown your face. Why don't you head home? Take care of yourself
I tucked the phone away without responding to Maria. As difficult as I sometimes found these events, I had to attend them if I had any hope of one day progressing beyond assistant. Everyone was here with the same purpose: desperate to say the right thing, speak to the right people, make those all-important connections. I used to feel the same way, back when I'd first moved down to London. Just not about agenting.
If my dad could see me now.
He'd be proud, I knew; he'd just be surprised to see me on this side of the business. Wanting to represent screenwriters, instead of being one. He'd wonder what had happened to the girl who'd declared, at the age of twelve, that she was going to be the next Nora Ephron or Dorothy Taylor, who'd acted like writing was as essential as food, or air. Of course, he'd never know what the first agent I ever showed my work to told me.
You just don't have what it takes.
A small shudder ran through me. Normally I could quell any thoughts about my writing days, but something about this evening had made it harder. Seven years as an assistant. Happy anniversary, Evie. Still, I always told myself I was lucky. I couldn't follow my own dream, so now I helped other screenwriters follow theirs. It would all be worthwhile once I was made agent. Monty always told me I wasn't quite ready yet. I just had to find a way to make him see what I was made of.
I squeezed up to the bar beside Jodi to put my empty cup down, just in time to catch the end of what Geraldine was saying.
"I'd never stay in a job for that long." She spotted me standing there. "No offense," she added quickly.
"It isn't Evie's fault," Jodi said. "Her boss, Monty, is a bit of a joke." I bristled at this. Monty was what was known in the industry as the Old Guard. One of the last bastions of the days when most deals were sealed in the bars of private members' clubs. He could still charm a producer when he needed to, but the world had moved on. The tide of enthusiastic young people entering the industry all came with an innate understanding of content. A word that made Monty break out in hives.
"He's brilliant at what he does," I said, knowing I was defending my own experience as much as his.
"We all know your real reason for staying. The work perk." Jodi pronounced it "werk" and the age gap between us became a gulf. "A certain Oscar-winning screenwriter Monty must have solid dirt on to have kept hold of him for so long."
Jodi knew about all the poachable writers as a matter of principle. Though there were some things even she didn't know about Monty's prize client.
Geraldine's eyes gleamed. "You're not talking about Ezra Chester, are you? Oh my God, what's he like? Is he as hot as he looks on Instagram? It's so cute he's dating Monica Reed. She's like ten years older than him, which is so not something he cares about. How's his big film coming along? Didn't he donate half his fee to charity? Tell me everything."
Ezra had become an instant industry darling after winning a screenwriting Oscar three years ago, but it was only when he started dating Hollywood royalty Monica Reed that he claimed celebrity status. Thanks to his appearing on various gossip pages and hotlists, his Instagram account now had more than three hundred thousand followers. It helped that he looked like he belonged on the screen, rather than behind it.
"I can't really say much about the film," I said, smiling to soften my words.
"You're hilarious, Evie," Jodi said, and suddenly I was back in high school, being mocked for putting my hand up in class. "We're all friends here. You can at least tell us if the rumors are true. Does the great Ezra Chester have writer's block?"
"Not even close," I said, trying to ignore how the word "friends" had made something tighten in my chest. We'd seen each other once a month for the last year or so, ever since Jodi had started as an assistant. Did that qualify as a friendship? Part of me hoped it did, because since moving to London I'd found making new friends outside of work all but impossible. And yet . . . the one time the two of us had gone out for a drink, I'd dropped my guard and told her something personal. The next day an assistant I didn't know emailed me to recommend her grief counselor. We hadn't gone out again.
"His charity work is probably taking up his writing time," Geraldine said sympathetically. "He just spent one whole month in South America so he could meet all the children he's raising money for. I don't know how he does it."
"We wonder the same thing," I said neutrally, thinking of the artful shots of the vineyards he'd also managed to visit.
"Tell us something we don't know about Ezra, Evie," Jodi said, widening her eyes, as if we were both irritated by Geraldine. Coconspirators.
"Well," I said, still light-headed from too much cheap booze on an empty stomach. "The truth is that Ezra . . ." I saw Jodi hold her breath. My phone buzzed.
I paused, realizing how easy it would be to tell them; all I had to do was explain why my friends back home call him NOB. Ruining his and the agency's reputation in one fell swoop.
Much to their dismay, I reached into my bag, pulling out the sandwich to get to my phone. Oh, what the hell. I opened the packet and took a generous bite. People who think being an agent is a glamorous career path haven't seen me catching the last train home cradling a loaf of bread so I can eat toast in bed. Jodi cleared her throat, looking embarrassed for me. "Well? Come on, Evie, share."
"Okay," I relented. "The truth is . . ." I paused to quickly polish off the sandwich. They took an impatient step closer. "His next project is going to blow you all away."
A beat. Their faces filled with disbelief. "Right," said Jodi flatly, and this time I was the one left in the cold as she and Geraldine exchanged looks.
That's the thing about being an assistant for seven years. You get really, really good at it.
Ezra might be a NOB, but no one here was ever going to find out why.
I tucked the empty packet back into my bag and retrieved my phone. I had several missed calls from Monty. Knowing him, it could be anything from a client crisis to wanting a suit dry-cleaned.
For once, I was grateful he was high-maintenance. "I'm so sorry, but I have to run. I'm needed back at the office."
Geraldine checked the time on her waterproof Baby-G watch. "But it's after ten p.m.!" she said, bewildered. "On a Friday."
I gave her my sweetest smile. "Welcome to agenting."
ÒCode Red. TheyÕve ambushed me.Ó MontyÕs voice was a whisper but echoed oddly. ÒDid you tell them where I was tonight?Ó
"Who?" I dodged through the Friday-night Dean Street crowds.
"Sam-and-Max. They're here." Sam-and-Max were the producers for Ezra's new script. They did everything as if they were one person, like a hydra someone had tried to kill that had merely divided in two and continued its life as normal. I'd never met two more enthusiastically polite people. It seemed unlikely they'd approach Monty without any warning.
"Are you at the Ash?"
"Aha!" he hissed. "So you did tell them I was here."
I bit back my response. Monty was always at the private members-only club; he'd all but moved in. He spent more time at the Ash than at home, and anyone who knew even the slightest thing about Monty wouldn't look for him at the office.
"And they both just turned up?"
"Yes, they didn't even call first." A noise drowned out his next words. Was that a flush? "You need to get here. Code Red, Evelyn."