To my kids, Danny, Nick and Shannon
Everybody’s got to have a reason. You’re pretty good reasons.
Nick Hardin never thought his first Hollywood party would be in a big-ass tent on the Chad-Sudan border, but there he was, nursing a gin and tonic, hoping he’d set things up far enough west that he was out of RPG range in case some Janjaweed punk got a bug up his ass. Fucking Mooney and his do-gooder shit.
Hardin had run into Jerry Mooney in Khartoum almost a year back. Darfur was heating up as the PR play of choice for socially conscious Hollywood types looking to bump up their Q scores. Hardin had been heading out on his usual fixer gig for one of the networks. Same gig he’d been running since he got out of the Foreign Legion back in 2000 – logistics on a file footage job. Camera guy, sound guy, some former BBC face with the right kind of public school accent and safari-guide outfit. Get ten or fifteen minutes in the can from the hellhole of the week so Nightline would have something for a slow news day. Run the film, then cut back to the studio where the talking heads and maybe someone from Médicins Sans Frontières or some Foggy Bottom undersecretary could cluck their tongues between beer commercials. A little of the self-flagellation that a goodly portion of the folks who actually watch Nightline like to engage in before bed – helps them sleep better. Hardin’s job? Line up some transport and some security that, when you’d bought them for a couple days, stayed bought. Point the talent at the right locations, pay off the right warlords, make sure the face gets his interview without getting his throat cut and the crew gets out without having to buy back their equipment at ten bucks on the dollar.
The face in this case being Nigel Fox. Hardin liked Nigel, and Nigel liked gin. That was why he was spending his twilight years stringing the massacre circuit when he had used to cover No. 10 Downing Street for BBC One. Hardin had done Somalia with Nigel; had done Liberia back in the Taylor days; Kinshasa; Rwanda. It was the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.
Hardin waited at the Khartoum airport by the Twin Otter he’d chartered as Nigel walked across the tarmac with his crew: a couple of stoner Italian adrenaline junkies. And with Jerry Mooney.
Hardin had heard of Mooney, of course. Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor. Square-jawed leading man in a dozen chart-topping flicks. Probably more than a dozen – Hardin figured a few had come out that hadn’t made it to the flea-bag cinema down the street from his place in Accra back in Ghana.
“Nick Hardin,” said Nigel, “meet Jerry Mooney.”
“Jerry,” said Hardin, shaking hands. He turned to Nigel. “We still shooting news or are we making a movie?”
“Little of both, old boy,” Nigel said. “Ran into Jerry here at the Hilton night before last. Splendid chap. Shared a bottle of Boodles and let me have more than half. Anyway, he’s headed down to Darfur for a look-see, some video-blog thing for his website. Marvelously technical – beyond me, of course. But his fixer bolted on him, left the poor man stranded. All for one and one for all, of course, so I told him he could pack along with us.”
“Nice of you to spend my nickel, Nigel,” said Hardin.
“Hey, Nick,” said Mooney. “Look, I know I’m imposing, and I know you’ve got to make a living. The guy I was supposed to meet up with, he’d said $500 a day, American, plus expenses. Nigel tells me we’re back tomorrow night, so that’s two days. Suppose we say $2500. Is that fair?”
Usury is what it was, but Mooney had thrown out the number. Mooney was starting to smell like the gravy train. With a capital G and a capital train.
“Yeah, OK,” said Hardin.
Mooney smiled. Big, dimpled movie-star smile. “All right. Off to the heart of darkness.”
Hardin caught the little smirk from Nigel. They always do that, the first timers. Drop the Conrad on you. But the darkness wasn’t concentrated in a heart anywhere. It had metastasized into millions of tumors. Some, like Darfur, were a thousand miles wide. But most of them were about the size of a qat-chewing thirteen year-old with an AK-47.
Nigel waved the Italians back to the truck. “You’ve forgot the bloody gin.”
So Mooney had got the Darfur bug bad. Started harping on Congressmen, hanging out with Martin Sheen, the whole nine yards. Mooney’s buddies then started turning up, and Hardin ended up with damn near a full-time gig as the Darfur Tour Guide to the Stars. And the stars pay way better than the networks. Then Mooney got his big idea. Dollars for Darfur– a Live Aid type deal, but right here on site. Mooney signed up half a dozen big-name bands, got a mess of Hollywood types to commit. Huge buzz in the media.
Hardin had to admit it made sense from Mooney’s perspective. For once, the press would have more cameras looking at Darfur than it had looking up Lindsay Lohan’s skirt. But from Hardin’s perspective, it was a nightmare – staging a rock concert on the Darfur border was like building a golf course in Antarctica.
Hardin paid the bribes, pulled the strings, got the generators and tents and food and booze shipped in. And he did the other stuff that he couldn’t tell Mooney about – like talking to his contact at the Chinese embassy in Khartoum, explaining how, while this liberal love-fest was likely to piss off the masters in Beijing no end, it was still in the PRC’s best interest to lean on the Sudanese and make sure they keep the Janjaweed on their leash for a few weeks. Suddenly, you got almost as many publicists in Darfur as you got starving people, and they’re making sure every A-list name in town for the show has a camera on them every second. Janjaweed goes on a rampage within a light-year of the place, the PRC’s going to have to deal with gang-rapes and mass murder live and covered from more camera angles than the Super Bowl.
And Hardin was twenty-four hours from pulling it off. The night before the big show, Hardin was standing in the corner of the party tent, sipping a gin and tonic with actual ice in it, and watching all the size-one blondes strut around. Drink tasted good, which it should, because when you built in the logistics, it probably cost more per ounce than cocaine. The tent was full of movie stars, rocks stars, a couple of the right kind of politicians, a handful of network news guys – and not the second-string talent that usually got shunted off to Africa either. Couple of print guys, but only the big-time names with hot blogs and book deals. Rest of the print media was outside with the refugees and the aid workers.
Now Shamus Fenn was working on fucking up Hardin’s payday. Fenn had the Hollywood radical gene bad, always ready to play footsie with anybody who wanted to badmouth the US. But he also had an alpha male problem – had to know more and be a badder ass than anyone else around. When he got off the chopper that morning with what’s-her-face, some actress Hardin still couldn’t quite place, Fenn was in full macho mode. Chopper had spooked a mole viper out of its hole, the snake scurrying off for cover. The actress evidently had a snake problem, because she screamed, so Fenn had to get all manly, make a move to grab the snake.
“I’d leave that alone,” said Hardin. “Poisonous.”
“That little worm?” said Fenn. Mole vipers don’t look like much, short little black things, harmless if you don’t fuck with them. Fenn started walking after the snake. When his shadow fell over it, the snake stopped crawling and coiled up. Last thing Hardin needed was Fenn getting himself bit on his watch. So Hardin shot the snake.
“What the fuck you do that for? Just wanted to get a look at it,” Fenn said, puffing up.