The Elephant Gate Part 1 – Ch 31 to 35
Tonight, he was relaxing with a glass of his favorite Shiraz, feet propped up on the coffee table, idly flipping channels. He settled on a NatGeo channel. It was about elephants, an animal that figured prominently in his books. This documentary featured The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, of all places. As the voiceover droned on, he watched the videos of the elephants interacting among the trees and grassy area of the place.
In a stream, volunteers were shown throwing buckets of water on a young elephant, and Kevin absentmindedly rubbed his chest. Something about that video made his chest ache. He grew restless and impulsively decided to head up to his loft study.
A sleek black desk sat in the middle of the room, angled towards the outside windows. Underneath the low wall of the loft opening, bookcases in white were filled with writer paraphernalia: dictionaries, tomes of scientific interest, copies of his own works in various covers and languages. The top of the cases formed a continuous shelf. On this were various bits of his life. There were frame pictures of some of his travels; a college graduation photo, one of the only that showed him and both parents in the same frame; and a collection of different elephants in many forms, gifts from his fans.
There was a comfortable lounger facing a corner stand with a flatscreen television. The stand held his movie collection and his prized possessions. There was a baseball that he caught at a Nationals game the year before, but his eyes zeroed in on one thing.
It looked incongruous between his DVD collection and his sports car models. The stuffed elephant leaned against his favorite, a 2014 Lotus Elise soft-top in wasp yellow, both a little dusty.
What was it about that bit of childhood? Even when he moved into his own place, that thing had to come with him, even as his sports trophies and awards stayed in boxes at the old house.
He picked it up, as always surprised by the weight, and brushed the cobwebs off the tattered ear.
“Kandula…” he whispered under his breath, remembering those childhood days when he thought he could talk to it and it could reply. That imagination had worked well for him, in a time where it was impossible to communicate with his parents, so locked in their own internal struggle to have much time for their son. Even his cancer scare failed to make more than a small blip in their self-centered lives.
He carried it back to the desk and plopped it down so those plastic eyes focused on him. “Are you trying to tell me something,” he murmured, “Or am I going crazy and talking to a stuffie for no reason?”
He opened the laptop, intending to work on his current manuscript, or maybe sort out some of the questions in the mind. Instead, his fingers hovered over the keyboard, as indecisive as he was. After a time, he sighed and shut the lid down. He crossed his arms over the computer and rested his head, still staring at his childhood friend. His eyelids slowly drooped until he closed his eyes and finally slept.
When he woke up the next morning, he felt refreshed, despite a crick in neck from the angle. And, strangely, the elephant was tucked under his arm, with its trunk resting against his cheek.
It was a typical Thursday morning, and the traffic on I-95 streaming towards DC was its usual tangled mess. Kevin tapped his finger on the steering wheel and tried not feel irritated. It wasn’t often that his editor requested a face-to-face meeting, so he tried to accommodate her whenever possible. His publishing company was located in the Cleveland Park area of the city, while he lived outside the Beltway in Great Falls, VA.
The metal music on the radio gave way to station identification, and a warning that snowy weather was on the way. As he travelled towards Connecticut Avenue, he saw the gothic revival towers of the Washington National Cathedral and knew he just was a short distance away.
Flashing yellow lights up ahead didn’t bode well, though. Sure enough, there was a problem with the street, and traffic was diverted onto the smaller, cramped streets over to Connecticut Avenue. Kevin checked his GPS, and realized there was a Starbucks just outside the National Zoo gates. Since he was being channeled towards it, this was a good time to pick up a chai tea latte.
The parking lot on the back side of the building, away from the huge granite lions of the Zoo entrance. Since the roads were snarled, it seemed a good time to stay inside for a bit and finish his beverage. A family breezed in, bringing a puff of cool air into the shop. The little boy was hopping energetically, swinging a stuffed elephant by the trunk.
“Mommy! That was fun!” He tossed the elephant in the air, but it rolled off his outstretched hands and landed on Kevin’s table. It ended up rocking gently on its side the plastic tag still attached to one of the ears. Kevin picked it up to return it to the little boy, when the name on the tag caught his eye: “Kandula”.
Suddenly he flashed back to a memory of a young elephant and a little girl; they dodged around tropical trees and shrubs playing tag. He could hear the animal’s laughter and joy above the girl’s laughter, but it wasn’t sound. He vaguely noticed when the mom plucked the stuffed animal out of his hands, apologizing profusely for her son’s behavior.
Funny, he hadn’t heard that name in years, ever since his first children’s book was published over 6 years ago, when he used the name for one of the characters. Kandula…
A whisper in his head brought him up short, a sense of inquiry, as if someone was trying to speak with him. He shook his head and looked around. The Starbucks was packed with people enjoying the warmth and wi-fi. Nobody appeared to notice him.
Suddenly spooked, he stood up and quickly exited the store. He rubbed sweaty palms on his coat before climbing into his vehicle, that little tickle in his brain still there. What the hell is happening?
His hands released their deathgrip on the steering wheel once he pulled into the publishing house parking lot, that odd pressure finally gone. He took a deep breath before shutting off the engine, but stared for a moment and the deep indentations in the leather in front of him.
* * *
The company was housed in a small single-family two-story near Quebec Place. He walked up the wooden steps on the original rear porch and into the building, the old wooden floorboards creaking slightly under his weight.
The administrative assistant, Melissa, greeted him with a wide smile. “Good afternoon, Mr. Hunter. Go right in.” He nodded and went through the original glass double doors into the former parlor.
A stout older woman in a burgundy suit stood up and walked around a massive antique desk. Kevin always thought that desk looked vaguely familiar. Anne claimed it was owned by a maharajah in India, but, then, she had stories for anything. It was an occupational hazard.
“Kevin!” She grabbed his shoulders for a couple of airkisses before leading him to a pair of red leather chairs. “I’m glad you could make it in.”
He nodded. “I’m fine, Anne, what is it that you need?” She grinned like a little child as she plopped her generous curves back onto her chair.
“I have a request by a movie producer to make a film out of your first book, “The Elephant And The Prince. He wants to use it as a foray into family entertainment.”
“Is it a made-for-television, or a full-length theatrical release?” Kevin asked, wondering how his fanciful series would look on the big screen.
“He’s looking at a three one-hour episode miniseries for a cable network,” she explained, “but it certainly opens the door for other adaptations if it is successful.” She handed him a think manila envelope. “These are the details of his proposal. I’ve written some ideas for changes and such in the margins, and I also want your input. Although our contract states we have the rights to negotiate on your behalf, I still want you in on the process. He has a scriptwriter in mind but he wants you as consultant as well.”
He didn’t like the idea of someone mucking about with his storyline. “Who is this writer?”
“Rose McEwen.” Kevin hadn’t heard of her, but, then, he hadn’t made a study of any screenwriters. He planned to do an online search of her works when he returned home.
Kevin grabbed the packet. “I’ll review everything and let you know.” She nodded, and he stood up and turned to head out of her office. He heard a sudden roaring sound and then everything went black.
The constant beep-beep-beep of a machine seemed to sync with the pounding in Kevin’s head. He must have gotten drunk, although he couldn’t remember the last time he had imbibed more than a glass of wine or two.
A bright light suddenly seared his eyes, even through his closed lids. He tried to swat the light away, but there was something pulling on his finger.
“Ah, so he finally comes back to us. You gave us a scare, Mr. Hunter.” Kevin finally cracked an eye open, then another. Everything was blurry with spots for a moment and then resolved itself into a tall doctor holding a penlight in his hand. His publisher was standing right behind him.
“What happened?” He croaked. His throat felt dry and scratchy.
“You collapsed in my office. When I couldn’t wake you up, I called 911. You’re at Walter Reed Hospital.”
The doctor interjected. “We have to run some more test to find out what happened. So far your lab work is normal. Has this ever happened to you before?”
“Not recently, although this happened when I was a kid. But not for ten or fifteen years.” The doctor nodded.
“We would like to keep you here overnight for observation to make sure. If nothing is fine, and there are no further incidents, you can be discharged tomorrow.”
Kevin grumped, “I don’t even have my laptop. What am I supposed to do for the next umpteenth hours?” Anne handed him a neoprene case.
“I brought one of our spares from the office; you can use it for now. There’s an empty thumb drive in the outer pocket.”
“Thanks, Anne. I knew I could count on you.” She squeezed his arm.
“I’ll see you in the morning then, if the doctor says you can leave. Call me if you need anything.” Kevin nodded and gave her a thumbs up.
Once he room was empty, he powered up the laptop and logged into the hospitals wi-fi. Since he was there, he might as well research this production company and the woman hired to rewrite his story.
* * *
Several hours later, Kevin sighed and rubbed his eyes. Everything seemed above board; Miss McEwen had some solid work under her belt, and the production company had a pretty good reputation. All in all, he felt okay with the contract for the adaptation.
He closed the laptop with a snap, slid it back into the case, and stuck it in the upper drawer of the little rolling bin. Laying back on the bed, he stared at the blank ceiling above him.
After his surgery as a child, he had to return every several months to make sure the tumor didn’t return. His tenth year was milestone – no more follow-ups and no lasting issues. Well, except for those dreams that followed him almost into adulthood.
They had seemed so real, all centered on a strange country that was part historical Asia and part 21st century. He used those dreams to create the book series that made him famous. And now one was going to be a live-action show.
He closed his eyes, but sleep eluded him. He tried to relax, going over the events of the day in his mind, but he shied away from that strange voice or whatever-it-was that ghosted through his mind at the Starbucks. Whatever that was, it was gone now, and he hoped fervently that it was gone for good.
* * *
With nothing unusual occurring overnight, Kevin was released from the hospital. He completed his insurance paperwork and paid his deductible before contacting his publisher. When she answered, she sounded harried.
“I’m sorry, Kevin, but Melinda has thrown another hissyfit. I’m heading over to her place to calm her down and pick up her final chapters. One of the film production employees is on their way to pick you up. They will be there in about 15 minutes.” The phone shut off; no doubt she need to hold Melinda’s hand, who was notorious for having a meltdown after each manuscript was completed. He settled down to wait.
He was dozing in the hard plastic chair with his feet propped up on the chair in front of him, when he felt a light tap on her shoulder.
“Are you Kevin Hunter?” The exotic accent intrigued him, and he opened his eyes to see that the figure in front of him didn’t disappoint. She was shorter than him, but her curves were anything but boyish. Her eyes were a deep brown with flecks of gold, and her skin had the olive tone of somewhere hot and tropical. He nodded before stretching, working the kinks out of his back from sitting too long.
Once he stood up, he noticed the top of her head barely reached his shoulder. Her hair was inky black, but with little red highlights sparking here and there. She reached out her hand and gave his a firm shake.
“Mr. Hunter, I’m Rose McEwen.” Ah, so this was the screen writer that was supposed to bring his book to life. He looked at her with new eyes. There was confidence in her bearing; she was wearing a light green singlet with a blue and black plaid flannel shirt over it. Blue jeans that tapered to her ankles and thick brown leather boots completed the outfit. She had a black backpack slung over one shoulder, and an orange parka over her arm. She looked competent and ready for anything.
Rose believed that a first impression was the most honest, so it was a bit of a shock to see this man when he finally stood up. Most of the book writers she had worked with in the past, especially ones who were known to stay out of the limelight, tended towards chubbiness that denotes a swivel-chair profession.
The man in front of her was tall and fit, with thick, wavy brown hair tied in a ponytail and hazel eyes that sparkled with intelligence even through the tiredness. It made her feel a little funny inside to look up into his face. Wow, it had been a long time since anything like this had happened; she was convinced that her attraction radar was permanently disabled. It was clear that she would need to be on her toes during the collaborative process, both for the screenplay and for the hormones that had suddenly come back to life.
“Since when does a production company send their prize writer as a chauffeur? I don’t think we have even signed a contract yet.” Despite the slight scratchiness of his voice, an affect of his night, there was a smooth cadence to his words, along with an intriguing oddness she couldn’t quite place.
If truth to be told, when Rose contacted Anne to send her a more detailed outline of her screenplay, she had jumped at the chance to meet Kevin Hunter face to face. Her research told showed a young prodigy who had published two bestsellers before his twentieth birthday, but also someone who stayed away from the limelight. It was surprising that a young man wasn’t dazzled by the recognition and riches he received so quickly after his first foray into the publishing world.
Perhaps it had something to do with his parent’s divorce, by all research a rancorous and ugly affair. Had it matured him is some fashion that wouldn’t have otherwise happened?
Whatever it was, she was determined to get to know him better. Not only would that help in the collaborative process with her and the production company, but she would able to better under the man as well. Her body’s visceral reaction to him warned her that he might have a bigger importance in her life than a television series.
She plastered on a smile to hide her internal chaos. “Be that as it may, it is my responsibility to drive you home. You can argue with Anne about it later.” She picked up his bags but for only a moment before he stepped forward and plucked them out of her hands.
“Okay then, Miss Chauffeur, take me to your vehicle.”
* * *
Kevin wondered what type of car a person like Rose McEwen would drive. He figured on something safe: a Prius or a hybrid. When they cleared the doors to the underground parking lot, he realized that his ability to read people had completely taken a vacation with this woman.
He almost sighed with appreciation she clicked her keyfob, and a gleaming dark red pickup truck chirped and flashed its headlights. It looked out of place among the sensible vehicles around it; an offroad lift kit giving it the extra inches needed to house the oversized knobby tires. Even though it had a four-door cab, the truck-bed was full sized with a retractable cover in black.
She looked back at him and laughed at the lust in his eyes, knowing it was for her Tundra and not for her. “She’s magnificent, isn’t she. Takes me everywhere I want to go. Unfortunately,” she said wryly, “she passes everything but a gas station. Still, it’s my dream car. You can put your things in the back. Bye the way, do you need any help hoisting yourself in?”
He was offended and amused, in turns, by her words, but knew she wasn’t being malicious. Since the truck had heavy chrome sidesteps, it was easy enough to climb in. The front contained captain’s chairs with dark brown tweed seat covers. He discovered why when his foot crunched on a fast food bag. In fact, there was all sorts of litter on the floorboards.
“I travel around a lot, and I tend to live out of here,” Rose said sheepishly, “which is why I have plastic floor mats and seat covers. There shouldn’t be anything too scary down there, so don’t worry where you put your feet.”
He took her advice and ignored the rustling of the wrappers at his feet. “Why do you travel so much? I would think that your profession would be like mine, to sit down and create.”
“Sometimes the script needs to he changed on the fly, so I’m expected to show up on scene to block out any last minute changes to the script.” She explained. “Sometimes bad weather or unexpected situations occur that have to incorporated. Once we had to reshoot a scene by a cornfield, except that when we returned, the farmer had already harvested, and we lost our green background.” She laughed, and the sound warmed him somehow. “That was a fun and stressful day.”
Once they hit the busy roads, the drive was relatively quiet as Rose concentrated on moving her behemoth through the narrow streets of Colonial Village back to his Georgtown home. She appeared to like contemporary jazz, which was not his thing, but the hum of the truck tires and the piano notes combined into a soothing background, and he found himself dozing off again.
He woke up when they reached his home and she turned off the diesel engine. He gave her an inquiring look, and she shrugged.
“Anne told me under no circumstances should I allow you to stay awake. Therefore, I have been charged with making sure you shower and go to bed.” She smiled and a tiny dimple flashed. “So I have to do my duty. Come on.” With that she got out of her pickup, and opened the rear door to retrieve his things from the hospital.
“Are your keys in one of these bags?”
He was just closing the passenger door, and felt around in the pockets of his jacket. He pulled out a small key chain with an elephant charm and jingled them. “I’ve got them right here. And you don’t really need to come and babysit me. I’m fine on my own.” The grumpiness in his voice elicited a snort out of her, and it was clear that he had had run-ins with his boss before.
She shook her head, and the red highlights flashed in the morning sun. He was entranced but mentally shook himself, even as his mind entered perilous territory. It wasn’t ever a good idea to even think about an involvement with someone you were working with. Still, she intrigued him on many levels, and he found he didn’t want her to leave just yet.
Rose thought that this man became even more attractive when his forehead smoothed and the frown lines disappeared. It didn’t help that the day-old stubble gave him a slightly dangerous air. She decided it would be best to leave before her hormones got any more spun up. His voice brought her up short.
“Come on in.”
And she followed him up the flight of stairs to the front door.
Kevin Hunter lived in a recent condominium/townhouse development in Falls Church. The heavy wooden door was painted a dark red, almost the color of her truck, with a frosted transom window. He unlocked the door and step back to allow Rose to enter first.
Beige walls, beige carpet, and white trim greeted her. But the pecan wood tones of various tables, and a sage sectional couch drew the eye to the center of the room.
“Come on upstairs to the kitchen.” The second story was similar, with an L-shaped kitchen of white cabinets and appliances. Here the dominant color was cobalt, with a series of blue pendant lights over the breakfast bar. Blue and green woven place mats and other colorful items were scattered around the counter-tops. The only appliances were a large coffeemaker and a convection/microwave unit, both in blue.
The stove was gas / electric combination and immaculate, and Rose was amused. “I guess you don’t cook much. Your décor taste is very nice.”
He grunted. “That’s my mom. I let her plan this floor. It made her happy.” Rose inwardly smiled. So he was a momma’s boy. Still, it looked warm and inviting.
He bustled around the peninsula, grabbing a couple of large coffee mugs. “Tea or coffee?”
Rose couldn’t resist a dig. “Did your mom purchase the coffee?” She got a quick glare before he growled, “Coffee it is, then.”
At her laugh, he turned and stared. It seemed too big for such a small frame. She saw his face and quickly sobered, but the merriment still danced in her eyes.
“Coffee would be lovely, thank you.”
Posted on August 26, 2018, in (completed) The Elephant Gate Part 1 (NaNoWriMo 2014), My Fan-Fictions and Novels and tagged nanowrimo; fiction; elephant prince; young adult fiction; novel; asia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.