More Than the Usual Suspects
Every now and then, Movieline would run an article that was really off the wall. This is one of those. In 1985, film critic David Thomson wrote a book titled Suspects which imagined what happened to several famous movie characters after the movie ended. It was basically pre-internet fan fiction. Ten years later. Thomson was working on a follow-up. As best I can tell, the second book was never published. At least I can’t find any evidence of it. As a teaser to the work-in-progress, Movieline published some of the entries in the June ’95 issue.
Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever
In the late ’70s, Tony was a big attraction in Brooklyn discos, and people would come over from Manhattan to see him. He had never believed he could have a career in dancing–he was too shy, he didn’t really enjoy being up there in front of people. The thing about dancing that he liked was the precision, the order, the control. The way you could count on it, and count yourself through it, and feel good about yourself. He studied it. He did floor plans for dances–the placing of the feet. He liked to work them out on paper first and then do them. But he always had trouble finding girls who would study. They said they liked to dance the way they felt it at the moment. But Tony knew it could be an art and a science; that you could dance in your head.
Still, he was noticed, and he went along with the offers: he was passive about it in a funny way so that people liked him, but took him for granted. He didn’t have a lot of personality. He had a featured spot in Shirley MacLaine’s one-woman show that got good notices. Shirley took an interest in him. She’d talk to him, give him notes and lend him books–she was very generous and eager for him, and he felt a little daunted.
“Tony, you have a talent. You really do. But you make it look easy–as if you weren’t working.”
“Oh. yeah?” he said. He liked that; that was what he wanted.
“Show them it’s difficult. Sweat a little. They want to see you trying.”
He nodded. It was funny: he liked Shirley, but she was consumed in her own effort, and he found that a touch oppressive, or unhealthy even.
‘”Well, you know.” he said. ” I’ll try.” And he giggled in that soft way he had.
He got his own show, Satan’s Alley, but it was a terrible piece of shit. “Tony,” Shirley warned him, ” you have to protect yourself with the right people. You’re too polite. You yield. You’re grateful to these deadbeats. You should fire them. Tony, you’re judged by the company you keep.”
He agreed with her, but then he went straight back to the theater and agreed with the deadbeats. He didn’t like to make himself difficult; he’d just as soon not get into conversations.
The show closed after 11 performances, and Tony was at a loose end. He took the first offer, from a Las Vegas hotel. He had never been to Vegas, never really been out of New York state. He wanted to travel a bit. But in Las Vegas, the stage for the floor show was the wrong dimension for the routines he’d worked out. He needed another seven feet in width, which he explained to the management.
“Tony,” said the foreman of the maintenance crew, “that’s a hell of a lot of work.”
“But, you see. I need the room,” said Tony.
“What is it, it’s just a few feet– am I right?”
“Yeah. It’s not a lot. You put one more section in, over there–that’ll do it.”
“Tony. I gotta get that made. I don’t know about the lumber–this is Japanese maple. Then we got to let it settle, and the varnishing! Tony, do you–”
“Well, OK,” said Tony, and he let it go, and the second night he did his knee. The cruciate ligament, they said in the hospital. His leg was never the same again. Not that he minded so ultra much. After all, dancing had never been the most important thing to him. But, as he rested in the hospital, he wondered sometimes what was.
Travel, he supposed. He had liked just being in Vegas seeing the desert, Hoover Dam, the lights on the Strip. He liked the way the city had been put there. The world was amazing. So when he was able to, he took a flight to Europe. And he liked it, a lot. There was something very tidy about being in a foreign country. Tony didn’t know foreign languages, so that kept what he said very simple. And what he thought. Which was pleasant. He got confused and unhappy a lot less.
In Paris, he met this couple, a girl and her lover, an older man. Her name was Anna, and she acted like someone on smack, but Tony found she was clean–it was just her nature. They could be together for hours at a time and hardly say a word, and it felt very nice. The only thing she liked him to do was give her a foot rub. Tony knew feet, and she had the coldest, cold enough to chill his hands. But he liked the look of bliss in her eyes as much as any-thing he’d ever liked. Anna’s lover never had a name; she called him ” Minister,” which was like a joke, yet she never laughed. The man was something in the Thatcher government, and insane over Anna. But she took it all very calmly, and Tony wasn’t sure that she didn’t want his foot rubs most of all.
“Tony,” she said one day.
“Yeah.” He was always ready to serve her.
“When he comes tomorrow.”
“When we’re in the bedroom, you know?”
“He’ll have a briefcase. There will be a file in it–brown color. Take it out. Go down to the copy shop, OK?”
“Copy it. Put it back.”
He did as he was told, and she intimated that she had passed the file on to others. She gave him five thousand francs. Which was all right, because his money from Broadway and Vegas was running out. And it had been very simple, in and out, copy the pages, put them back. He was a deft worker.
Things developed from that. He got an apartment in Paris, and Anna had other jobs for him.
“It’s like being a detective?” he said. “Right?”
One day, she introduced him to an Italian, though he talked American. And the man was looking to explore other opportunities. Things with cars, for instance, and then carrying packages to Amsterdam or Rome, or even Casablanca.
“Wow! Casablanca,” said Tony.
“You get your passport looking like a stamp album,” said the man.
“It’s drugs, isn’t it?” said Tony.
“As a matter of fact, Tony, yeah. Carrying Camembert to Casablanca does not pay in the same way.”
“Drugs are bad, right?” Tony had heard that always.
The man studied him and reflected for a while. ” Try some,” he suggested, and he gave Tony–who didn’t like to say no–some cocaine, and it was sensational. He felt very, very clean and together with it.
“Why’d they say it’s so bad?” he asked the man.
One day, they wondered out loud if he’d ever killed anyone. Just asking. Turned out he had a knack for it, a way of expressing himself artistically–so long as he could plan it. He drew diagrams and time charts. Then he did it–in and out. Then he destroyed the plans. Tony’s passivity made him a very good killer.
“Tony, my man.” said the man, about a year later, ” They are asking for you.”
“You have a very solid rep.”
“People in Los Angeles.”
“I was only ever there at the airport once.”
“The airport is nothing. It’s your sort of place. Behave yourself, you could be in a lot of demand.”
“That’d be cool.”
“It’s where the action is, Tony. A hit man essentially, if he’s for real, he has to do it in America. Change your name.”
“Sure. I mean, you had a career there once. Not a lot, maybe. But I’d change your name. It’s cleaner.”
He liked that idea. It made him feel good to be someone quite new and different. Like starting again. It took him five months to think of the right new name. Vincent Vega. He said it fast so that it sounded like one word, the name of a car.
But, back in America, it wasn’t quite what he expected. Europe had been very efficient, very smooth. America was a riot now, as if it had forgotten what America meant. There were absurd fuck-ups that made him ashamed. The boss was a big black guy, and the boss’s wife was this white chick with evil eyes who said she was sure she remembered him from somewhere.
He had to take her out one night while the boss was out of town. And she insisted they go dancing. What did she know? He hadn’t danced in a long time, and his knee was shot so he could only go through the motions. But she was a wild one, with a lot of funny moves and Egyptian arms. She told him, and she sort of sneered at him, that she had grown up in Las Vegas where her dad worked for one of the big hotels.
“So there,” she said, and then lowering her voice, making the name sound like a mockery, ” Vincent Vega.”
If he hadn’t fallen straight in love with her, he’d have known the safest thing to do, then and there, in and out, was to make a plan for offing her.
Next: Susie Diamond