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Dreaming of Italy
Author: T.A. Williams

Chapter 1

‘So, what did you think of Dreaming of Italy?’

He dropped the final pages back onto the well-thumbed pile of A4 sheets lying on the polished surface of his glass and steel desk and looked up at her. Through the window behind him Emma could clearly see the Hollywood sign on the hill in the distance, but her full attention today was focused on her boss. His fingers drummed on the screenplay as he asked her the all-important question.

She answered immediately and without hesitation. ‘I liked it, JM. I liked it a lot.’

She gave him an enthusiastic smile, still trying to come to terms with the fact that here she was sitting opposite the big boss himself. Although she had been rising pretty quickly through the ranks during her twelve years with the company and had met him on a number of occasions, this was the very first time she had been summoned to the top-floor inner sanctum of the man universally acknowledged to be the twenty-first century’s answer to Sam Goldwyn or Louis B. Mayer as the current uncrowned king of Hollywood.

Of course, she reflected, JM did have his ever-present right-hand man, conveniently named Dexter, perched on a stool at his side to fill him in if her name should escape him. With his minute stature alongside his six-foot-six employer, Dexter had always reminded Emma of one of those little fish who swim around sharks, even venturing into their mouths to remove parasites and keep the predator healthy. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the company, its many productions and its staff from stars to sound engineers, from costume designers to camera operators, was unsurpassed, and she knew that her name was only one of hundreds upon hundreds stored inside his computer-like brain.

As for the screenplay, she knew she would probably have felt obliged to tell JM she liked it anyway, seeing as it had to a great extent been the brainchild of the big man himself, but in this instance, there was no need to dissimulate. She actually had been very impressed with what she had read the previous day. She smiled again and added a bit more.

‘It’s the best screenplay I’ve read for a long, long time.’

In return, her boss’s mouth curled into what was the closest he ever got to a smile. The first time she had witnessed this phenomenon, she hadn’t been able to tell whether he was genuinely pleased or just preparing to bare his fangs and sink them into her throat. Fortunately, it had been the former. Jan Miros, the legendary founder, president and major shareholder of JM Global Productions (JMGP) had a reputation for being a tough guy. The movie business was a dog-eat-dog affair and she knew full well that this particular dog wasn’t afraid to use his teeth if it came to it. But today he appeared friendly, even though he was quick to challenge her.

‘You’re not just saying that because I came up with the idea, are you?’ She started to shake her head but he hadn’t finished. ‘Cut the bull. Give it to me straight. Is this the Big One? God knows we need one.’

He wasn’t wrong. Over the past few years, the fortunes of JMGP had taken a turn for the worse, mainly after an ill-advised foray into the world of zombies and vampires just as that genre had started to decline in popularity. Only this winter’s romcom, Love Me Only, with which Emma herself had been heavily involved, had kept the money rolling in and the shareholders reasonably happy. She took a deep breath and told him the truth.

‘It’s good, JM, really good, and I mean that. Whether it becomes the Big One will depend on who we can get to star in it. We’re going to need the biggest names we can get hold of… you can get hold of.’ She caught his eye and cast him an enquiring look. ‘Anybody in the pipeline?’

‘How about Laney Travers and Ethan Dukes? How does that grab you?’ His lips did that curling thing again and she dropped her eyes, assuming it indicated he was pleased, but surreptitiously brushing her fingers across her jugular just to check it was still intact.

‘You mean both together?’

He nodded and Emma was genuinely stunned. Laney and Ethan were currently the two hottest properties in the movie business, but they had never appeared together in the same film. Yet.

Media speculation had been growing for well over a year now as the anticipation increased. Emma had never met the fantastically beautiful Laney, but Ethan was on contract here at JMGP and she had got to know him well. If JM had managed to get the two of them together, then Dreaming of Italy really did stand a chance. Emma felt a sudden shot of excitement run through her.

‘In that case, I reckon it could well become the Big One. In fact, the ending reminded me a bit of Casablanca.’

‘Contracts were signed yesterday. It’s gonna happen, Emma. If it could become our Casablanca I’d be well pleased, I can tell you. In fact, I’d be over the moon.’

He nodded a few times to himself and then Emma saw Dexter lean towards him and whisper in his ear. JM nodded more decisively and looked up.

‘Listen, Emma, I want you to do something for me. I know what you did for Love Me Only. Some of those locations you found on the wild coast of Ireland were breathtaking. You have a great eye. That’s why I want you to go to Italy.’

‘Go to Italy?’

She did her best to hide her surprise that he was aware that the choice of locations for Love Me Only had to a large extent been down to her, rather than her then direct superior; who had spent most of his time while in Ireland inside a bottle of Old Bushmills. A few weeks later he had appeared at the weekly admin meeting in a Roman gladiator’s costume and spilt a full bottle of Johnnie Walker into his superior’s lap. As a result he was no longer with the company and rumour had it that he was now working for a small-scale porn production studio in the Hollywood Hills.

As for taking a trip to Italy, Emma was currently deeply involved with Sweet Memories, another romantic comedy that was about to go into production in the next few weeks, and she had expected to find herself very busy as this took shape. She started to protest, but JM was in full swing.

‘That’s right, Emma. Italy. The film roams all over Italy as our two main characters follow each other around. I need you to find me the best, the most scenic, and the most atmospheric locations. I don’t just want the old favourites like the Sistine Chapel or the Ponte Vecchio. I want places that people don’t already know. I want the visuals to be so stunning, the audiences will fall in love with the scenery every bit as much as they fall in love with the story.’ JM’s piercing blue eyes met and held hers. ‘Can you do that, Emma? Can you?’

‘I’ll do my best.’ Feeling that more was needed, she added a bit of emphasis. ‘I’ll do my very best.’

‘Do you know Italy?’

Emma could hardly believe her ears. Dexter, the pilot fish, had spoken out loud. Even JM cast him an uncertain glance as if to be sure he had heard right. To be on the safe side, Emma addressed her reply to both of them.

‘I don’t know Italy terribly well, but I’ve been there. When I was doing my degree back in England, I spent a summer doing a course at Cinecittàin Rome. I took a few trips to places around there and travelled down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast for a few days when the course finished.’

JM looked at her approvingly. ‘And do you speak the language?’

‘Enough to get by and to tell men to stop bothering me, but certainly not well enough to wheedle my way onto private property or to deal with all the red tape over there.’ She shook her head ruefully. ‘And one thing I did learn is that Italy has one hell of a lot of bureaucracy.’

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