TALK ABOUT TEMPTATION.
Unless I misread the body language -- and I'd always been pretty good at reading body language -- my interview subject was propositioning me.
"Listen, Lariss," he said, smoky eyes catching a glint of late-afternoon light through his hotel-room window.
I didn't care for the way he'd taken to dropping the "a" at the end of my name. Hollywood people did things like that sometimes.
He examined his fingernails, rolled down the sleeves of his salmon-colored sweater -- it looked like cashmere -- and gave me a smile I'd seen on the cover of TV Guide the year before. "Like this sweater?" he said, turning to the window.
"Birthday present from Tom Jones." He hummed a few bars from "What's New, Pussycat?" then sighed. "So, here's what I was thinking." He looked at me again, his tan, finely boned face cocked at an angle. "I have two more of these to do, not including you. And then . . ." -- his eyes traveled down my blouse -- "I was thinking of getting a bite. How does that sound?"
I hoped my eyes didn't widen involuntarily. This was supposed to be an interview. I was to ask the questions; he was to give the answers. But he was George Hamilton, the George Hamilton, star of Evel Knievel, slated to hit movie theaters nationwide in one month. I tapped my pen on my notebook to refocus. "I think we'll have plenty of time right here," I said. "I'm almost to the end of my questions."
George Hamilton snorted through his sleek, jetlike nose and reached to tap a finger on my knee, as if mocking me. "I'm glad we're almost through," he said, "because these interviews give me such an appetite."
He stopped tapping and rested his hand, palm down, on my leg. I shifted in my chair, and George Hamilton drew his hand back. And as he did, I noticed how delicate his hands were. He ran them through his impeccably coiffed locks in a gesture so precious that the notion of him playing motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel struck me as absurd.
As George Hamilton looked out the window again, somehow even more wanly than before, I thought of the footage I'd seen of Knievel attempting to jump the fountains in front of Caesar's Palace a few years earlier. He landed all wrong and, after falling off his bike, the machine ran him over. He wound up in a coma.
I was just starting out as a reporter then, and my colleagues generally considered Knievel a reckless idiot with a death wish. But I secretly admired him, especially the brash way he greeted each new challenge, whether it was fountains, a row of trucks, or kids getting hooked on drugs -- like in a PSA I'd seen in which he compared getting high to running a racecar on nitroglycerine:
". . . And they do go faster, for about five or 10 laps, and then they blow all to hell." Knievel's greatest motivation to do something seemed to be the chance to shut up someone who'd told him he couldn't. I respected that -- not a bad quality for a journalist pursuing something someone wanted to keep from you.
But, here I was with George Hamilton -- who wanted something from me.
"You could order room service," I said.
Again, the prissy little snort, a weary look at the ceiling. "Lariss, you're just not on my wavelength, are you, cupcake?"
Wavelength. Cupcake. I tried to imagine the words in Evel Knievel's steady Western voice. Never. Not his style. He wouldn't smarmily dance around the issue. He'd ride right up and ask me out. He'd be a man about it.
I began to question the fairness of casting George Hamilton in the role of Evel Knievel -- fairness to Evel, a bona fide daredevil, not some bronzed cad in a suite at the Ambassador Hotel. "I'd like to finish the interview," I said.
George Hamilton sighed, looked at his fingernails again. "I guess you just don't have my appetite," he said. "So, I guess this interview is over."
I stood. "Thanks for your time." As I left the suite and signaled for the reporter waiting down the hall -- a guy I recognized from Esquire -- I realized that I didn't have a killer story. I realized that my subject, a vain, hyper-manicured mink in huarache sandals didn't merit a killer story any more than he deserved to play Evel Knievel, a battered but unbowed exemplar of the idea that fear of failure brings more pain, in the end, than failure itself. Broken bones be damned.
I mean, what dangers had George Hamilton ever braved? What risks had he taken? What injuries had he suffered? Poor baby --
GEORGE'S NOSE WAS OUT OF JOINT.
Erik Esckilsen is the author of two novels for teen readers, The Last Mall Rat and Offsides, both from Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books. His third teen novel, The Outside Groove, will be published in spring 2006.