Monday, January 27, 2014

The Ghost Slept Over Excerpt by Marshall Thornton

In The Ghost Slept Over by Marshall Thornton, failed actor Cal Parsons travels to rural New York to claim the estate of his famous and estranged ex-partner.  He discovers something he wasn’t expecting…the ghost of his ex! And, worse, his ex invites Cal to join him for all eternity. Now. As Cal attempts to rid himself of the ghost by any means he begins to fall for the attractive attorney representing the estate. Will Cal be able to begin a new relationship or will he be seduced into the ever after?
“A highly entertaining tale of the ex who wouldn’t leave, with a hilarious cast of characters you won’t soon forget.” Eden Winters, author of Diversion.
The Ghost Slept Over
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (January 31, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1494237393
ISBN-13: 978-1494237394


Chapter One
I have to admit, it wasn’t the first time I’d stood on the street brushing my teeth. Nor was it the second. This sort of thing, for some reason I could never quite grasp, happened to me a lot. That particular Friday evening, my temporary bathroom was the curb next to my truck on a quiet, residential, tree-lined street in Long Beach. I’d driven down from L.A. to do a performance. Of course, I would have gotten ready at home…if I’d had one.
Changing your clothes on the street is a skill. First, I wiggled out of the worn T-shirt that said “Actors Do It On Cue” across the chest—cheesy, I know—and slipped into a crisp white button-down shirt fresh from the cleaners. Being homeless is no reason to scrimp on the details. After taking a look around, I eased the door to the truck closer just in case some perv was watching me from a window, and dropped my blue plaid shorts. Quickly, I stepped into the peg-legged, black gabardine pants that were part of my costume. It was much too warm to put on the matching jacket. I’d wait until a few minutes before I was set to go on. Dressed, I slid across the bench seat and, using the rear-view mirror, began to goop my hair into a shiny pompadour.
I was performing my one-man show, A Rock and a Hard Place, a charming, short piece about the sex life of Rock Hudson. I’d written the show myself and did an admirable job playing the famous actor. At least that’s what reviewer Penny Dreadful said when she reviewed me for the short-lived GLBTQIA LA Times. (Honestly, I think the magazine was just too PC to survive.)
Actually, I hadn’t been able to find a whole lot of information about Rock’s sex life other than the fact that people say he slept with everyone. That little fact allowed me to take a lot of license. If two people are dead, you can’t prove they didn’t have sex, now can you? And when it comes down to it, there are a lot of dead people from that era. So, I didn’t see any reason that Rock couldn’t have slept with most of them.
I do bear a resemblance to the man. Though I’m approaching forty, I look to be in my early thirties—just as Rock did in his prime. My hair is dark brown, nearly black; my chin is square, my features even, eyes dark and lively. I’m tall, though nowhere near Hudson’s six-four, and I’m in decent shape. All in all, I manage my homage nicely, or as blogger The Pomona Pansy said, “Cal Parsons doesn’t so much impersonate the screen idol as inhabit him.”
Not bad for a homeless person.
Ready for my performance, I shut the door to my truck—a ten-year-old green Ford Ranger Extended Cab. The wisest decision I ever made was getting the extended cab, given the number of times everything I own has ended up behind the driver’s seat. Though I can’t imagine that as a selling point. “Ford Ranger voted best vehicle for the temporarily homeless!” I doubted the Ford Motor Company would want to put that in an ad.
Trying to put myself into a proper performance frame of mind, I walked around the block to the venue. Well, coffee shop. Yes, I was performing in a coffee shop. What can I say? I needed the fifty bucks.
Hot Times was Long Beach’s premiere queer coffeehouse. Mondays were open mike night, usually reserved for comedians. But, as they’d been having trouble filling the slots, not to mention finding comedians who were actually funny, a friend of a friend suggested I come down and do my show. And, since all I needed to do my show was a stool and decent lighting, I agreed.
I was just about to enter the coffee shop when Joel Gray and Liza Minnelli began to sing “Money” in my pocket. It was the ringtone for my agent. I accepted the call and found my agent’s assistant, Denise, on the line. I hadn’t spoken directly to my agent in over a year. In fact, normally the only thing they did for me was take ten percent of the sometimes surprisingly large quarterly residual checks from my three-episode arc on Star Trip: Interloper.
Cal, how are you?” Denise asked when I picked up.
“Hopefully I’m about to be very good. Shirl’s coming to my show tonight, isn’t she?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“But you got the packet I sent?”
“Yes. It was very…informative.” It was a thirty-five page proposal demonstrating how my little one-man show could make it to Broadway if I only had two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
“Is Shirl going to help me find investors?”
“That’s not what an agent does, Cal.” Her tone was very dismissive, which I felt was unfair. Shirl had at least one client I knew of who’d just spent a quarter of a million on a birthday party for his three-year-old. She could help me find the money if she wanted to.
“If she’s not coming to the show, then why are you calling?” I asked.
“Well, I have a message to pass on to you. A lawyer called you.”
“A lawyer? What did he want?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. Even after I explained that we represent you in all business dealings.” I mumbled something about them wanting to get their hands on ten percent if money was coming in and she said, “Excuse me?”
“Nothing,” I said. “So the lawyer thing, what…it’s personal?”
My stomach curled in on itself. I had the nasty feeling I was being sued. Denise gave me the lawyer’s name and a phone number with an area code I didn’t recognize. I grabbed one of the fag rags sitting in a metal rack outside Hot Times and wrote it down.
“Do you have any idea where this lawyer is?”
“No,” she said, annoyed.
“You didn’t google him?”
“I had another call.” As in there was no money in it for them, so why should she bother.
I decided to turn the conversation back to business. “So, Denise, how do I get Shirl interested in my show?”
“I don’t think you can.”
“But it’s about movie stars and sex. Everybody loves movie stars and sex.”
“Not if they’re dead. Shirl hates dead people.”
“But…it’s historical.”
“History is nothing but dead people. History doesn’t sell.” She took a deep breath and tried to be a friend. “Cal, couldn’t you do a show about the famous people you’ve slept with? I think Shirl would be very interested in that.”
“Me? People I’ve slept with? But I haven’t slept with any famous people.”
“Really? A good-looking guy like you? None?”
“Well…” I’d slept with a couple of semi-famous people, a TV director, a hair stylist who wrote a how-to book, and, of course, one particular award-winning playwright I devoted a lot of time to not thinking about, but no one worth more than a passing snide remark, and definitely no one worth even a monologue, no less a whole play. “I’ve never really liked other actors.”
“Oh, well, that was poor planning. I have to go, Shirl’s calling me—” And she hung up.
I slipped into Hot Times, which was nicely decorated and relatively large, with sofas and tables spread around. They’d moved one of the tables and put a small black riser in a corner to create a stage. It was an intimate place to perform, akin to performing in a friend’s living room. But I actually liked small spaces. They give you a real sense of the audience.
The manager of Hot Times, a cute little lesbian named Manessa, hid me in the tiny kitchen and said she’d introduce me in about fifteen minutes. That left me too much time to think. I tried not to worry about who might be suing me, but it wasn’t easy. And sue me for what? I wondered. Well, to be honest, there were possibilities. I did get into a little altercation at a country and western club in North Hollywood a few weeks back, and then, of course, I had a few exes who might not be especially happy with me. On the other hand, I could be being sued for something I didn’t do, I thought hopefully. Though I had to admit it was unlikely.
I tried to distract myself by beginning my final acting preparation, which mostly consisted of some deep breathing exercises and imagining myself three inches taller. I may not be six four but I can certainly act six four.
Of course, in addition to the looming possibility of being sued, there was still the problem of my homelessness. Matthew, my boyfriend of nine months, had thrown me out a week before Christmas — possibly to avoid the expense of a gift. It was now February. I’d spent the nearly eight weeks since couch surfing with friends, including my now-former friend Ricky. For the previous two weeks I’d been sleeping on the floor of his West Hollywood studio while he slept on the pull out. I might have been able to stay longer but Ricky met a guy. “Sorry darling, but if it’s between you and Pietro’s gorgeous cock, I’m kicking you to the curb,” he explained, and did.
I’ve been an actor for twenty years and have actually worked steadily, if not profitably. I pay dues to two unions, though I’m currently on inactive status from SAG until I find another qualifying job. One that will pay enough to catch up my back dues. My resume is three and a half pages long. And, sadly, very few people have ever heard of me. Those who have heard of me know me for one of two reasons. They’ve either seen, and possibly masturbated to, a small gay film I made called Lust/Anger/Joy in which I am naked for ninety-two of the ninety-nine minutes, or they’re a fan of McCormick Williams’ award-winning play The Bust-Up in which the character of Hal Perkins is rumored, incorrectly, to be based on me. Neither of these claims to fame has provided me with even one month’s rent. Both of which add significantly to my problems with men.
Lately, there’s been a certain type of guy who finds me devastating, and I really do need to learn to resist him. He’s usually ten to fifteen years younger than I am, placing him in his mid-to-late twenties. He’s chosen a boring but safe way to make a living: accountant, nurse, restaurant manger, banker. He’s cute, but insecure about his looks. When he meets me, he thinks being married to a working actor will be both exciting and glamorous. It usually takes six months for him to figure out that it’s not, and another six months to a year for him to break up with me. At nine months, Matthew had processed me in and out of his life quicker than most.
They, my exes, simply cannot deal with the day-to-day reality of an actor’s life. The lack of cash flow, the rehearsals five nights a weeks, the unexpected auditions, the lack of cash flow, the fat, ugly directors who must be flirted with, the survival jobs that suddenly evaporate, and the resulting lack of cash flow. One or two of my boyfriends have tried to step in and manage my life for me; one even suggested that I turn my fame from Lust/Anger/Joy into a side career as an escort. I rejected that idea, so he dumped me. I have to say I wasn’t too upset about that one.
Finally, Manessa came back to the kitchen and told me it was show time, then scurried out to introduce me. I tried to hand her an introduction I’d written which included some nice quotes from the reviews I’ve gotten—including another I liked from the Pomona Pansy “Parsons is simply luminous as the iconic star”—but she ignored me and went out and said simply, far too simply for my taste, “Here’s Cal Parsons in A Rock and a Hard Place.”
I entered to anemic applause.
As requested, there was a simple wooden stool in front of a microphone. I sat down and began my show. I’ve been doing the show on and off for three years, up and down the California coast in postage stamp theaters, libraries, bars, coffeehouses, and gay pride festivals in Fresno and Russian River. I’ve probably done two hundred performances and know the play well enough to ponder Einstein’s theory of relativity while delivering my lines. So, it was easy to search the audience of approximately twenty—well, fifteen—for a possible place to stay that night. After recounting the story of young Roy Fitzgerald losing his virginity to the captain of the New Trier High School football team, I saw my future host/bedmate at a table to my right. He sat on the edge of his seat, lapping up every word I said. Though I suspected I could have said just about anything and he’d look just as excited. I turned slightly and began delivering half my lines directly to him. A smile spread across his face like a rash.
Twenty-two or twenty-three, he was younger than my usual type, but in such a small audience I could hardly be choosey. Yes, I could probably wander around until I found a gay bar and find someone more age-appropriate to provide me with a place to sleep, but I do have an ego. And occasionally it needs to be fed.
Sixty-seven minutes later, I finished the deeply moving story of Rock Hudson’s (mostly made up) sex life, and gloried in the minimalistic applause. I made my dramatic exit back to the tiny kitchen, then immediately turned around to come back and mingle with my fans. When I got back out into the coffee shop, a middle-aged couple came over and asked for autographs.
“How long have you been together?” I asked politely.
“Twenty-five years,” said the taller of the two. One had nearly white hair, the other black (though it may have come from a bottle). As a set, they reminded me of salt and pepper shakers.
“We loved you in Lust/Anger/Joy,” said the shorter, giving me a dirty smile. It never ceased to amaze me how many gay men mention that film to me. Since everyone’s obviously seen it, you’d think I’d have gotten at least one residual check. I mean, have the same ten copies of the DVD been passed around the gay community over and over again?
As I chatted with them about what projects I had coming up and whether I’d be clothed in them or not, I glanced around looking for the young man I hoped would provide me a place to stay. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him anywhere. I was beginning to wonder if Salt and Pepper might have a comfy couch I could crash on, hopefully unmolested, when a fancy coffee drink floated in front of me. I turned to see my young friend holding it.
“Mocha latte?” he asked.
I smiled and accepted the drink. The mocha latte was in a very large cup, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. While I was flattered that he thought I had the kind of metabolism that could tolerate a seven hundred and fifty calorie coffee drink, I promised myself only a few sips. Otherwise, I’d have to skip breakfast. For days.
His name was Todd something-or-other and he launched into a little speech about who he was and what his life was like. It’s amazing how many people think a conversation is little more than reading their resume aloud. He was a graduate student studying accounting, which made me nervous since I’d had at least three previous boyfriends who made their money pumping numbers into computers and analyzing the results. He already had a job working for a big firm. And, he’d bought himself a repossessed one-bedroom condo just a few blocks away. The last was most interesting because I was getting sleepy, despite my sips of mocha latte, and wasn’t looking forward to curling up in the front seat of my truck.
Salt and Pepper had graciously drifted off, with a wink and a leer, during Todd’s monologue, leaving the young man and I alone.
“Do you have a roommate, Todd?” I asked.
“Well, I thought about it. It would certainly cut down expenses, but in a one-bedroom it’s just not practical. I could have gotten a two bedroom but it would have cost more. Yes, the cost would have been offset by a roommate but they don’t let you put ‘I’m going to get a roommate’ on a mortgage application.”
“Aren’t they cruel?” I said, sipping the mocha latte.
He giggled. “Someday I’ll get a two bedroom. After I’ve saved up another down payment. Especially if prices stay where they are. I plan on keeping this condo, though, and renting it out. Eventually, I’ll buy a house and rent out the second condo. I’m thinking of getting a real estate license. Did you know you can use your commission as part of your down payment?”
“No, surprisingly, I did not.”
“That’s why I’d get the license. I don’t actually want to be a real-estate agent. But if I buy three or four properties in the next five or six years putting the time in to get my license will pay off handsomely.”
Given the way he stared at me, and the way he lost focus when I licked some whipped cream off my upper lip, I was sure he was trying to pick me up. He was just doing it in the most roundabout, un-seductive way. To end the suspense I said, “You know, I’ve never actually seen a repossessed condominium.”
“Well, they look just like—Oh! Um, yes, would you like to come over and see it?” He blushed a pretty pink.
“That would be lovely. Yes.”
“Would you like another mocha latte for the road?” he asked, politely. I could tell he didn’t really want to pay for another four-dollar coffee. I suspected he had his budget planned out to the tenth of a cent.
“Oh no, I’ve barely touched—” But when I looked down I realized I’d finished the drink entirely. “No, that’s fine. Thank you.”
Todd’s apartment added up nicely. It was built in the seventies and was basically a white box divided equally into two rooms. He’d carefully furnished it from a catalogue, presumably with pieces that had been sufficiently marked down. On the walk over, he had stopped talking about himself and begun to ask questions, many of which weren’t exactly about me.
“So, how old are you?” he asked. All right, that one was about me.
“Thirty-seven.” Ish.
When we got into his apartment, he said, “You’ve been an actor a long time.” Which was not especially flattering. “You must know who’s gay and who’s not.”
“Well, it’s not as though I’ve been doing a field study.” Actually, since I avoided sex with artistic people whenever possible, I didn’t have much of what you’d call “first-hand” knowledge of who was gay and who was not. Most of my information I got off the Internet.
Without even offering me a glass of wine, Todd began naming actors and asking if I’d slept with them. I wondered for a moment if he was actually a plant sent by my agent. Would they really pay me to do a play about people I slept with? Should I consider stringing together an hour’s worth of lies?
To shut Todd up, I leaned over and kissed him. He was fast with his hands and he quickly had Rock Hudson’s pants around my ankles and my dick in his hand. I broke away for a moment and asked, “Should we go into the bedroom?”
He just smiled at me and led me out of the living room. Well, first I untangled myself from my costume, folded it and set it on the sofa. I had a performance in Reseda the following week and really couldn’t afford for anything to happen to Rock’s suit. Without needing to check, I knew that a trip to the cleaner’s was not in my budget. Wearing just the white oxford shirt, I followed Todd into the bedroom. As we stood next to the bed, Todd did just about the worst thing anyone can do when it comes to my sex life. He handed me a pillow.
In Lust/Anger/Joy the “climactic” scene for many comes about thirty minutes into the film. It’s a scene in which my character is fucked face down on a bed. In the throws of passion I very nearly eat the pillow. Of course, while filming we simulated the scene—something no one seems to believe which may be why, in real life, I’ve been asked to re-enact it many times. In the first flush of fame after the film came out I didn’t mind so much. Occasionally, it was a lot of fun. After a while, it became a sticking to speak.
I stared at the pillow for a moment, then said to Todd, “This doesn’t feel like it’s about me.”
He looked confused. “Does it need to be?”
“Yeah, it does,” I said, handing him back the pillow. “When you hit forty you’ll understand.”
“I thought you said you were thirty-seven.”
“I was never good at math.”
He held the pillow out again and said “Please?” in that twenty-something way that tends to get young men exactly what they want. This time it didn’t. I walked into the living room and began to put my Rock Hudson costume back on.
“We could do something else,” Todd suggested, a bit of horny desperation in his voice.
“Well, that might work,” I said. The boy was awfully cute, and his bed looked very com—
“There’s this other scene were you give that guy a blow job in the kitchen,” he said in a rush.
Really, there’s much more talking in the film than you’d think. And the characters are actually multi-faceted. It just sounds like softcore porn.
“That’s sweet,” I said. “”
“Oh. I wanted to tell my friends I had sex with the guy from Lust/Anger/Joy.”
“No dear, you wanted to tell them you re-enacted the film with me. There’s a difference.”
I exited the apartment with a flourish, and slept in my truck.

About six, the sun woke me up. When you sleep in a truck, you tend to get up with the sun. I went back to Hot Times, which had just opened, and bought myself a large cup of black coffee. I asked the barista with the blue and orange Mohawk for a pen and, after a little bit of sass, he grudgingly gave me one. Finding a table, I grabbed a copy of the L.A. Times and began to make myself a to-do list over an article about global-warming. I might have read the article; I certainly had enough time. But when you’re homeless the eventual homelessness of the entire human race pales by comparison.
On my to-do list I wrote the basics. Find a place to live. Get some money. You’ll note that I didn’t write get a job. I had a job. I was an actor. An actor who’d made fifty dollars that week and would likely make fifty dollars the next week from the Reseda gig. That reminded me. I needed to put forty dollars of this week’s earning into the truck’s gas tank so I could get to Reseda. I also needed to call that lawyer back. Given my financial situation, if I were being sued I’d at least get a good laugh out of it.
I pulled out my smart phone, which I’d smartly charged with the little cigarette lighter attachment Matthew had purchased for me as a lovely parting gift. I dialed the lawyer’s number and waited. Not knowing where the area code actually was, I half expected to get voicemail. Instead a deep, masculine voice answered the phone. That was when I realized I’d taken the number but not the lawyer’s name.
“This is Cal Parsons. I believe you’re trying to reach me?”
“Yes, yes, I am. I’m Dewitt Morgan.”
“Hi, Dewitt, it’s nice to meet you. I think.”
“I sent you a certified letter. You didn’t get it, did you?”
“No. I’m no longer at that address.”
“Which address?”
“Whichever one you sent it to.”
“I see, well,” he sighed heavily. “I represent McCormack Williams.”
Oh shit, I thought. I am being sued. It would be just like Mac to try to ruin my life even though we hadn’t seen each other in—
“I’m afraid he’s, well, passed away.”
“Oh. Oh really?” Instantly, I was suspicious. Mac was too evil to die. I wondered if I was being punked. Given that there was a strong possibility Mac was on an extension I asked, “Did someone finally shoot him?”
“What? Why would you—No, I’m afraid he overdosed on prescription medication. It may have been accidental.”
“Of course it was accidental. Mac would never commit suicide. He’s too competitive.” But then I remembered Hemingway had killed himself, so had Virginia Woolf. And Sylvia Plath. Could killing himself have been a bid for immortality? Or worse, a marketing ploy? “When did it happen?”
“Three days ago. I’m sorry. It’s been difficult to find you.”
“Oh. Are you a musician?”
“No, I’m an actor.”
“I see.”
Why did people always sound so disappointed when I said I was an actor? I wondered for the briefest moment. And then wondered aloud, “Wait a minute. Why did you need to find me? I haven’t spoken to Mac in at least a decade and a half.”
“Really? How strange.”
“You didn’t actually know Mac, did you?”
“No, I knew him quite well. I’ve been his attorney for several years.”
We were silent, having established that he was in the McCormack Williams’ fan club and I was not. “Well, thank you for calling to let me know.”
“Hold on, please. I’m calling to tell you that I’m the trustee of Mac’s estate.”
I couldn’t see why that would matter to me. “Do you want a gold star?”
“You’re the beneficiary of the trust.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“And the will, of course.”
“Wait, which— Are we talking about a will or a trust?”
“Both. The trust holds the assets while the will—”
“I’m confused.”
“McCormack Williams left you his estate.”
After a moment of shock, I asked, “Exactly how much money does there have to be before you’re allowed to use the word ‘estate’?”
“Um...well, none, from a legal standpoint. I mean, even if you’ve only got a couple dollars it’s still called an estate.”
“Ah, let me guess. He went bankrupt right before he died. And this is his idea of a joke.”
“You know, I’m not sure dying is such a great punch line.”
“Well, I can’t imagine Mac actually leaving me money.”
“No, he did. In fact, the estate is quite…robust.”
“Okay, robust is a very non-specific word. Exactly what does the robust estate consist of?”
“Well, there’s his home here in Marlboro Township, several additional properties, the copyright to his plays, residuals from the films he wrote, various retirement accounts, a well diversified stock portfolio, bonds, of course, mutual funds, several annuities. You know we really should discuss this when you get here.”
“Uh-huh, all together that’s how much money?”
“Roughly three million give or take.”
And that’s when I hooted loud enough to scare myself.


Lloyd Meeker said...

What a great set up! I love (and envy) the characterization and the writing - elegant, witty, concise.

Sounds like another hit from Thornton.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

That was nice, Thornton, from homelessness to extravagant wealth. Goes on my Must Be Read listing. Great job.

Victor J. Banis said...

very funny - and, yes, Lloyd is right, very elegant writing. Good stuff

Anonymous said...

Thanks guys, it was a very fun book to write.

JL Merrow said...

Great excerpt - I'm looking forward to reading the rest! :)

Anonymous said...

Well done, Marshall! Really delightful. Congratulations.

Joe DeMarco