Though the gray faux-leather chair in which he sat was cozy, Raymond Lloyd Simmons was
anything but comfortable sitting next to Sid Richmond’s desk under the lights of the television studio. As a strictly genre film actor, Simmons had never been offered much publicity from the talk-show hosts. But now that he had been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his first dramatic performance, the offers wouldn’t stop coming.
And so, here he sat in his best navy blue suit with white shirt and black tie, licking his lips and fidgeting with his hands. His thinning blond hair was slicked back in a fashion that he hated, but the show’s stylist had been insistent upon it. Though he usually wore contact lenses, tonight his dull brown eyes were shielded by his glasses. Again, this was the idea of The Sid Richmond Show’s makeup artists and stylists. They agreed that it made him look more civilized, saying it was necessary as a former horror icon making a dramatic turn. He did not like the implications of being a “former” anything. He also thought the glasses made him look more like a professor than an actor. The spectacles certainly detracted from his boyish good looks.
Simmons silently cursed his agent beneath his breath for booking his appearance on Sid Richmond’s show, as the host was young, obnoxious, and didn’t know much at all about the entertainment business, let alone horror films. It really was a wonder
that he had his own talk show.
Richmond could sense Simmons’s nervousness, so he leaned over his desk and whispered, “Relax. It’s not much different from acting. You don’t choke up in front of the cameras when you’re filming your movies, do you?”
Simmons gulped and said, “That’s different. There, I’m playing someone else. I’m not supposed to be myself, like I am here.”
With a smarmy grin, the host said,“You were the shy type in school, huh? I bet you did the drama club thing to escape from real life, huh?”
Before Simmons could give the creep a piece of his mind, the cameraman said, “Okay, Sid, we’re coming back in… five…”
Richmond stiffened his back and said aloud to his guest, “Okay, get ready. And like I said, relax!” When the count ended, the proper neon sign prompted the studio audience to cheer as the cameras began to roll. Richmond smiled and said into the camera, “Welcome back! Now joining me is a man who has been a cult favorite for the past twelve years, playing masked madmen and other such roles in horror movies since his acting debut at the age of twenty-two. Now thirty-four, he has decided to make somewhat of a career change by playing a dramatic role that has earned him critical acclaim as well as a Golden Globe nomination! Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome… R.L. Simmons!”
The studio audience cheered as Simmons smiled and waved back nervously. He simply said, “Thank you.”
Richmond shook his sweaty hand before the camera, saying, “It’s good to have you on the show, R.L.”
Still wearing the nervous smile, Simmons nodded and said, “Thank you; it’s a pleasure to be here.”
“I suppose the question on everyone’s mind is… why the change?”
Simmons licked his lips, cleared his throat, and said, “I don’t really consider it a change. I mean, I’m still acting. If I were to suddenly give up the entertainment industry altogether and become a butcher, that would be a change. But I think I know what you mean. Why make a sudden switch from horror to drama?”
A bit annoyed at how his guest turned his question around on him, Richmond nodded, saying, “Yes, exactly.”
Simmons turned and looked into the camera, simply because he wanted to make something very clear to all of his fans who may have been watching. “I want everyone to know that nothing about me has changed. I really love terrifying people. In high
school, I was the scary kid.” Glancing back toward Richmond, he said, “I was indeed in drama class, but the others thought I was strange because while they looked up to Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman, I wanted to be the next Boris Karloff or Vincent Price. And I think my dream came true. But that left me with a big question, which was,‘What do you do after your dream comes true?’ Do you just keep it up until you fade into obscurity, receiving condescending nods and smiles from people who think you’re a has-been, or do you try your hand at something different? So, I thought I’d do something different. I might not stick with this type of role, but I really enjoyed doing it, so… you never know.” His nervous smile once again lit up his face.
Richmond nodded. “Well, that makes sense. What about your long-time fans? Do you worry that they might consider you a sell-out for leaving horror behind?”
Simmons arched his eyebrows, as that thought had never crossed his mind. “I certainly hope not. They wouldn’t be very loyal fans if they didn’t support the different directions I decide to go in as an actor.”
As if to spite the actor, Richmond smiled just as condescendingly as the people to whom Simmons had referenced.“Of course they wouldn’t. I’ve heard rumors that you still have the mask from your first starring horror role, from a movie called
Tiger Claw. Is that true?”
Simmons smiled. “Yes, it is. The independent director-slash-producer-slash-screenwriter, Stan Johnson, and I are really good friends, and he said that the mask was such an improvement on my looks that I could keep it.” He paused so that the audience could have a good laugh at this before adding, “He also made me promise to take good care of it in case he ever decides to do a sequel.”
“Would you do a sequel if he decides to? I mean, now that your career is taking a different direction.”
“Oh, absolutely. I’d love to work with Stan again. It wouldn’t be the first time that a critically acclaimed actor returned to genre roles after hitting it big. But I don’t consider myself to be that big yet.”
“Fans of your latest movie, The Cloth, would disagree with you on that. Why don’t you tell us a little about it?”
Still smiling, Simmons said, “Well, as most people are aware by now, The Cloth is about a priest who finds himself torn between the priesthood and his feelings for a girl in his congregation. I play the girl’s junkie boyfriend. She confides in the priest about how abusive my character is, and… well, I don’t want to give any more away.”
Richmond nodded and asked, “Was it easy for you, playing an abusive junkie?”
Simmons laughed. “As an up-and-coming actor having played in a lot of indie direct-to-video movies, I’ve met a lot of people who fit that description. I never got into the drug scene myself, but I’ve seen enough of it to help me prepare for the role.”
“How did you get the role? Surely there was a lot of competition, seeing how it’s one of the top movies of the year.”
“It’s funny, actually; the casting director, Jennifer Sierra, is good friends with the aforementioned Stan Johnson, who really pressed for her to give me a chance. She was skeptical at first, given my resume, but… I guess I impressed her.”
Richmond chuckled and then said, “And you’ve impressed millions of other critics and moviegoers as well. It’s been great having you on the show, and best of luck with the award nomination.”
Simmons offered a wide grateful smile, glad that this was almost over. “Thanks for having me, Sid.”
The host then turned toward his audience and said, “We’ll be right back!”
Simmons stood up and was greeted by more applause. He smiled, letting out a breath of relief, and waved again. He then nodded to Richmond, saying, “I’ve got to get some air. I think I’m going to head back to my hotel room on foot.”
Richmond shrugged and said, “Knock yourself out. By the way, you did great. I told you there was no reason to be nervous.”
The actor smiled and said, “Thanks.”He then walked off of the stage, where the veteran television director stripped him of his microphone clip. Afterward, he squeezed past all the makeup artists who wanted to clean him up. He swatted them away, saying, “I’m going to take a shower when I get back to my room. I can take care of myself, so move!”
When he got to the exit, he pulled out his cell phone, turned it on, and called his agent and best friend, Derek Nichols.
Derek answered his phone with, “How’d it go?”
Simmons smiled. “I was a little tense, and the host was kind of a jerk, but I made it. The crowd here was really positive, so I’m hoping the people watching at home will be, too.”
Sounding thrilled, Derek said,“That’s great! See, I told you this was a good idea. A little publicity never hurt anybody; especially anybody with a Golden Globe nod. The competition this year for supporting actor is shit, Relic. You’re a shoo-in. And once you’ve got the Globe, the Academy just can’t possibly deny you a nomination. It’s your first big break, so I can’t promise you an Oscar right now, but picture it: The trailer for your next movie announces, ‘Starring Academy Award Nominee R.L. Simmons!’ Doesn’t that sound good?”
A huge grin on his face, Simmons laughed. “You sound like you’re enjoying the limelight more than I am. But yes, it does sound good.”
“Shit, man, we’ve known each other since we were in diapers. You were the one with the talent; I’m just along for the ride.”
Even though he knew Derek would not see it, Simmons shook his head, saying, “The hell you are. I’d probably be a stuntman in adult movies if it weren’t for you.”
This time it was Derek who laughed.“Don’t give me too much credit; we got lucky a few times. So what are you doing now?”
“I’m about to head back to the hotel. I could use a shower, then I think I’m gonna call it a night.”
“Sounds good to me. When do you come back to L.A.?”
Being the type to memorize important information, Simmons didn’t feel the need to go over his ticket again. “My plane leaves tomorrow morning at ten, and I have a fifty-minute layover in Chicago, so I’m supposed to arrive at LAX at about two in the afternoon California time. Will you be there to pick me up?”
“As always,” Derek replied.
With a smile, Simmons said, “Okay then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You will indeed.”
And so, R.L. Simmons hung up his cell phone, and stepped through the stage exit door, toward his destiny.
As is the norm outside of a television studio, there were people waiting outside in the hopes of getting an autograph. Simmons smiled at the people in the crowd and shook a few hands, but refused to give any autographs, saying, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got a plane to catch in the morning. I really have to get back to my hotel.”
Disappointed, the fans let him go. Later, he would wish that he had taken the time to sign a few autographs.
As he walked away from the studio, he unbuttoned the top of his shirt and loosened his tie, glad to almost be rid of the thing. However, he found it strange that none of the fans had followed him once he waded through the crowd, and suddenly felt very alone on the sidewalk. It was an ominous feeling, and as he knew from his experience in horror movies, ominous feelings almost always lead to something terrible.
Rounding the corner on which the studio sat was a purple PT Cruiser. The driver, one Harold Raven, had purchased it based on the fact that it looked like the car from several ZZ Top videos from the eighties. Harold had a history of driving drunk, and after his last such venture, had had his license suspended. But it was a Friday night, and there were parties to attend. And who had money for a cab these days, especially when you owned a perfectly good PT Cruiser? That was Harold Raven’s attitude on this particular evening in early January.
Driving drunk on a suspended license would have gotten Harold thrown into jail regardless of whether or not he was involved in an accident. And as fate would have it, he was involved in an accident. But he would not be going to jail tonight.
As he rounded that corner, he came close to hitting some of the people in that crowd who had been asking R.L. Simmons for an autograph. One young lady actually had to jump out of the Cruiser’s path, shouting, “You asshole!” She then saw the vehicle veering off to the right, jumping the curb and heading straight for a man walking back to his hotel room. She screamed, “Hey! Look out!”
Upon hearing the woman’s scream, R.L. Simmons froze in his tracks and whirled around just in time to be blinded by the headlights of Harold Raven’s Cruiser. And that was all he had time for, as the vehicle literally knocked him out of his shoes as well as his glasses.
Harold Raven, who had been attempting to light a joint with the car’s cigarette lighter at the time that he lost control of the steering wheel, slammed on his brakes just in time to keep his victim from being crushed between the Cruiser’s grill and the iron fence encircling the studio building. One life was spared, but the driver’s life was not. Instinctively, Harold turned his face away from the wreckage, and because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and his reflexes were slowed to a dead halt, he was tossed against the windshield, which snapped his neck like a dry twig. Other than a brief twinge of fear, he never felt a thing. Simmons, on the other hand, was nowhere near that lucky.
When the Cruiser struck him, three of the horror icon’s ribs cracked, as well as his right leg. He spun around by no accord of his own and was tossed onto the iron fence with such a force as to fracture his right clavicle. But the majority of the damage was done to his face. The top of the fence consisted of huge black spikes sharp enough to do severe damage to someone flung onto them at a great velocity, and do damage they did. The flesh of his nose was practically torn from his face, the cartilage beneath crushed. His right cheekbone caved in upon impact.
Members of the crowd ran over to him, several of them pulling out cell phones to call 911. Simmons hung from the fence by his jacket, caught on one of the spikes, until two of the larger men grabbed him by his belt and hoisted him up and down. He cried out in pain as he was lifted into the air, as the belt put pressure on his broken ribs. The two men gently lay him down onto his back.
Before he passed out, he heard one of the men who had helped him off of the fence say, “Holy shit, it’s that actor, R.L. Simmons!”