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City of Lost Girls

Jack Donovan, the Jack Donovan, in a darkened Dublin bar, great handsome bull's head tipped back, plume of still-dark hair coiled over broad black-shirted back, full pint of stout held aloft to the east, shot of whiskey to the west, and the feet all pounding in a ring around him as he sinks the dark pint to rising hoots and cries, and then a roar as he knocks the shot back and lifts the empty glasses up through the flickering light: to east, to west, to north and south, a bacchanalian benediction, and bows until his hair sweeps the floor. Josh Tyler steps forward in jeans and Mastodon rock band t-shirt, slight, unshaven, pint of Guinness in hand, wrists braided and bangled, just another skinny student on the lash if you didn't know about the Oscar nomination or the thing with Mischa Barton. He embraces Donovan, kisses him on the lips, lifts the pint and tips it slowly over their joined heads. Donovan lifts his face into the falling beer, and Tyler steps aside and drains the glass over his director with a flourish.

"Ladies and gentlemen, a Jack Donovan picture," he says, and Donovan bows to whoops and cheers, elevated, as is everyone watching, by the Hollywood anointing: showman Jack, braggart Jack, broth of a Paddy-Irish boy Jack, back shooting moving pictures on the streets of his hometown.

City of Lost Girls US

There's a voice in my ear: dry, amused, ironic.

"Only trouble is, it's always the same Jack Donovan picture."

Mark Cassidy, Donovan's director of photography, elegant, Anglo, almost camp, with him since the no-budget movie they made in Dublin nearly twenty years ago, the one that started them all off. If it was always the same picture, Mark Cassidy should know. So should producer Maurice Faye, Jack's representative on earth, diplomat, scammer, fixer extraordinaire, elfin, tweed waistcoat, hoop earrings, raven thatch now silvering at the edges, phone at his ear as he slides out of the pub to take another call from the West Coast. So should Conor Rowan, First AD, chubby, ruddy, strawberry blond crop, permanently furrowed brow, implacable sergeant major, charged with waging total war for the good of the group. The home team, the gang of four, Jack Donovan's men since they were hungry guttersnipes dreaming of celluloid glory over the gantry of this very pub with barely the price of a pint between them.

I smile at the crack, always the eye-rolling same from Mark, only happy when he's cringing. I assume Mark means that wherever they go, and for as long as they've been going, and no matter what kind of film they end up making, it will all come down at some stage to Jack Donovan, carouser extraordinaire, professional Irishman, the life and soul of the all-night party, Jack Donovan howling at the moon, raging once more against the dying of the light, surrounded by the fans and the fakes and the flakes, the casts and the crews and the camp followers, Jack Donovan, lightning rod, channeling the savage energies, tapping the occult information, transmuting the base metallic energies of a Dublin pub through his own alchemical powers into something altogether other, something exalted, into some strange kind of ... magic, yes, no less than the intangible quality that pervades all of his movies, even the misfires, (perhaps especially the misfires), a roiling, kinetic sense that the veil between this world and the next is gossamer thin, in places a mere shadow, that the concrete, the ordered, the rational, that is the illusion: magic is immanent in the world, and Jack summons it up, like some ancient fire starter, some witch doctor, some shaman. Or so it seems to us, to all of us, even Mark Cassidy, all of a hush now as Jack holds his hand aloft, the vibrations in the room at a precarious pitch, nothing to hear but the clink of glasses and the breath of a hundred souls, and just as I realise what he's going to do, Mark turns to me and shakes his head, aiming maybe for jaded incredulity but stalling at wonder, and Jack opens his mouth and the first line sails out in that extraordinary voice, pure tenor, not as fine as it was, wood-smoked and whiskey-basted by one careless owner but still mighty, and the expressions on the faces of those who'd heard rumours of this but never dared dream it might be true, let alone that they would witness it, as E lucevan le stelle from Tosca fills them, fills us all with sad joy and desperate longing for a love we didn't know we'd lost, for a home we'd forgotten we missed.

Afterwards, as people are first too stunned to applaud, and then as they do, the noise they make like thunder, and then as reality descends in murmurs and then in muted shouts, the evening running down, Mark turns to me.

"Typical bloody Donovan," he says, his voice an acrid buzz. "If he'd sung Nessun dorma, the room would have erupted. But Jack always wants to leave the audience yearning."

As he says this, it seems to me that there are tears in his eyes. But I can't be sure, because there are certainly tears in mine.

It may still be the same Jack Donovan picture, but Maurice and Conor are on their feet as well, still crazy, still in his thrall. Even Josh Tyler, whose last day of shooting was today, whose party this was, is happy to let Jack take centre stage.

What's the matter with these people?

It's simple, really.

Jack Donovan is the matter with them.

I should know. A long time ago, he was the matter with me.

I make a brief appearance in a Jack Donovan picture (don't reach for your popcorn or you'll miss me). In his adaptation of The Dain Curse (1997), the Dashiell Hammett novel, I am "Irish man in bar." I even have a line. I was working as a private detective in Los Angeles back then, and Jack and I had become friends. We were in Hal's Bar on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice one night while he was casting.

"Hey Ed, say 'whiskey'."


"There you go. You could be Irish man in bar, right?"

"I could. I often have."

The movie starred Nick Nolte and Drew Barrymore and Lisa Eichorn and Michael Madsen, and if it didn't really work, everyone agreed the book didn't entirely work either. Besides, Hammett's mix of Californian religious cults, sexual deviance and violent gunplay was hospitable enough to the elements people loved in Jack's films: sharp dialogue, quirky humour, a strange, poetic sense of yearning, a fraught exchange of status and power between a beautiful older and a beautiful younger woman and an uneasy sexual relationship between a young man and woman who may or may not be related. A couple of the performances won Golden Globes, and there was an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. (Jack's movies without exception got best original screenplay nominations. According to Jack, it was because he always buried a quotation from Yeats or Joyce or Heaney in there, to act as a watermark denoting Quality Irish Literature: This Is The Real Deal. That may sound cynical on his part, but I believe it was actually self-deprecating: those quotations were never out of context, or at least, they never seemed so to me. And the screenplays were better written than anyone else's, although that didn't always make them better movies. But what would I know? When it comes to Jack Donovan, I am far from being a reliable witness.)

So there I am, waiting for Jack Donovan, and because I'm not drinking , I don't feel much like extending him the usual indulgence. Apart from on a film set, where he is always on time and available, Waiting For Jack is what everyone who knows him gets used to doing. Maybe it started out because of a romantic life that to be kind you might describe as "complicated." Maybe it goes back to his childhood (more of both of those later). Maybe he reserves any sense of order, discipline or basic forward planning for his work, allowing himself to be completely unruly and chaotic in his life. Chaos. That's something else we'll come back to. Whatever the reason, I'm not interested. Madeline King, Jack's PA, is coming towards me, late twenties, dressed in black, legs to here, all dark curls and twinkling smiles and professionally casual Galway charm.

"I know you're waiting, Ed—"

"I'm not waiting. I'm leaving."

"Stop. It's the usual fecking nightmare with Jack—"

"It's one from which I awoke a long time ago. Jack called me. And I didn't mind the concert, or watching Josh Tyler play John the Baptist, but I'm not hanging around like a supplicant here. It's late."

Madeline does a slight, smiling double take at this, and checks the time on her phone.

"It's nine o'clock. That's not late sure. From what Jack told me, it's certainly not late in Ed Loy's world."

I say nothing. It's true, a few months ago, nine o'clock wouldn't have been late, would barely have been early. But that was before I'd met a woman who puts her kids to bed around nine, and who has to be caught within the following hour or so, otherwise she's asleep. A woman who doesn't drink on a school night. A woman who wouldn't have fitted into Ed Loy's world at all and in almost every respect still doesn't, apart from the minor detail of my having fallen in love with her.

Madeline rolls her eyes at a text message and says: "The thing of it is, Jack has gone on. He wants you to follow. There's a car waiting outside."

I don't know if I roll my eyes, but I feel like I should. Jack has gone on. How many times have I heard those words? I don't think I ever once arrived at the appointed meeting place without Jack having left word behind the bar or with the waitress that he had gone on, and that I should follow. He would always have a car waiting for me, but frequently he would have departed the second spot by the time I'd show up. Usually it was just a schlep across town: from the Formosa to Bar Marmont, or Musso's to the Ivy. Once though, during the private plane years, or was it months, however long the big deal with Warner's that didn't work out lasted, Jack had gone on to LAX, and was waiting for me on the runway. We flew to New York "for dinner at Patsy's on 56th Street, because Frank says it's the best," Jack said, suddenly, improbably on first name terms with Frank Sinatra. And I think there was a trip to Mexico "to find the real Mezcal", but the details are very hazy. They didn't last long, but those were the days. But those were also the days when I didn't much mind who I woke up beside, or where. Those days are gone.

"Tell him he has my number, we were were due to meet an hour ago, I have somewhere else to be."

Madeline clutches my arm.

"Please," she says. "I can't tell you what this is about, but he won't go to the Guards. He said you were the best. He needs you."

I look at her, at her pale cream skin, at her deep blue eyes, stricken with anguished concern and evident adoration for Jack. Poor Madeline. I can recall an Emma, a Susie, an Amanda, two Aprils and a Cindy. It ended in tears every time. I haven't seen Jack in a while, but from what I'd been told, it looks like it always will.

Before I can reply, Conor Rowan is there, red brow furrowed, mouth in a mirthless smile, beaded with sweat, perma-hassled and revelling in it.

"Excuse me folks, Ed. Maddy, I know it's not your area, it's not mine either, but Geoff had to go and I said I'd catch you, one of the extras, she's a friend of yours, Nora Mannion ..."

"She's a friend's sister, I put her in touch with the casting agent, I don't really know her. If she's not working out—"

"No, she's great, Jack's really happy with her, herself and two other girls have a look he really loves, black hair, blue eyes, that whole Connemara thing you have yourself."

"Grand so. Glad it worked out."

Madeline's pale skin reddens as the compliment hits home. She nods to Conor, then inclines toward me to exclude and dismiss him and fixes me with a peremptory look, waiting for me to consent; when Conor speaks again, she flinches visibly.

"Except, Nora, could be she's done a runner."

"What do you mean, a runner? You know what—"

"She wandered off late this afternoon. One of the trainee ADs lost track of her. Jack wants to cut away to her first thing tomorrow—"

"You know what these young ones are like," Madeline snaps, impatient, side of the mouth, an improbable oul' one all of a sudden. "She's probably on the tear."

"Geoff followed it up. Her mobile goes straight to message. The girls she was staying with, they said she doesn't drink, this is not like her—"

"She's twenty-one, she's not old enough to be like anything yet. This is her, finding out what she's like. Now I have a thing here, Conor, for Jack, I need to do."

Conor gives her his blank smile, as if he understands, and is personally disappointed by his own behaviour, but he isn't going to go away until he gets what he wants. Madeline responds with a young one's petulant sigh.


"Ring the sister. Ask if there's anything, you know. Anything we should know, why she—"

"She's just an extra ... "

Conor's smile intensifies and his face gets redder, and Madeline stops short without him having to interrupt her. When he speaks, it's as if to a stubborn child.

"Jack wants to cut away to her tomorrow, do you understand what I'm saying to you? He's using the three of them like fates, or furies, you know, the way he does. He's already shot on her, made her focal. So if we can't get hold of her it'll be a fucking disaster. We'd have to reshoot with a replacement, and we can't afford to do that. Or we'd have to tell Jack to cut the three of them altogether, and that would still entail major reshooting, which would be worse, because not only can we not afford the reshooting but Jack will be pissed off because he can't do what he wants to do. That will be, if you know anything about this business, and I don't know if you do since this is your first job, or about Jack Donovan, an apocalyptic fucking crisis. So he'll want to know everything is being done."

Madeline has been torn a new one, and it seems she has to take it. Her tone is as even as she can make it.

"If it's so major, why didn't he tell me about it?"

"Because he relies on us to do these things without being asked so that so that he can devote himself entirely to being Jack Donovan, which is his job. And enabling that to take place is ours. You got me?"

"All right. I'll find out what I can, I'll call you with whatever I have. Five minutes. All right, Conor?"

"Always a pleasure," Conor says, and wheels away, his mouth set in his trademark grim smile.

Madeline mutters 'asshole', bites her lip, pushes air through her nose like a thwarted pony, then tosses her hair and turns to me. But I'm not looking at her, I'm reading a text on my phone:

Girls to bed too late, me too sleepy and too sorry, raincheck, will you still xxxx me tomorrow?

So now I have all the time in the world.

"Where's the car?" I say, feeling not a little thwarted myself.

Madeline asks me if I need her to come with me. I tell her that since I don't work in the film business, I can probably survive travelling by car without an assistant with my ego unbruised, and that in any case, she evidently has better things to be doing than minding me. Like keeping her job, I think. As I leave, the slight figure of Josh Tyler is surrounded by a ring of adoring women, their faces aglow with the light of his celebrity. All the stars in heaven.


The Wrong Kind of Blood (2006)
The Colour of Blood (2007)
The Dying Breed (US: The Price of Blood) (2008)
All the Dead Voices (2009)
City of Lost Girls (2010)
All the Things You Are (2014)