It was one of those days when everything seemed to be happening too fast. Not enough time to actually breathe correctly. I was stuck in traffic while heading into London, it was raining and I wasnʼt wearing any shoes. I had forgot to take my medication and to make matters worse the drivers side door had mysteriously disappeared at some point overnight.
I had barely had time to do any kind of research or background checks on Cruise at all. A cursory glance over the internet was all I had time for. It was definitely going to be interesting as I had met him before, years ago on a cuttlefish trawler in Buenos Aires. I remember a wary individual full of cheery smiles and perfect manners but with a maniacal destructive streak in private that would make Keith Moon nod in earnest. Plus I knew about the ninjaʼs.
Cruisey, as his friends call him, is the only person I know who has a team of ninjaʼs acting on his behalf. Highly trained by Master Sensei Luo Myang Bo, his recruits spend many years honing their skills along the banks of the Makomanai and I have heard whispered praise especially in their Bokken and shuriken prowess. But what of Tom himself? I remembered his gaze as the Argentinian sunshine reflected off his teeth, the knowing look he gave me. Long and searching, he understood a fellow trained killer just by staring at me. His head bobbed and nodded at me in silent acknowledgement. This time I intended to put him to the test.
Kidman wouldnʼt be there this time. She had saved the day all those years ago by resuscitating the Argentinian security guard aboard the boat, who had gone into a temporary coma after consuming a bad prawn mousse. I remember thinking ʻSheʼs a talented lady…but does she have to do that naked?ʼ. No-one complained. Certainly not the security guard. No. Definitely no Kidman this time.
I had been warned not to talk about Scientology with Cruisey, and it was crossing my mind as I sauntered into the Grosvenor Hotel. Scientology which surely was the reason for Kidman sodding off. I remember the midnight chanting on the beach, silhouetted figures shrieking and prancing and the anguish on Kidmansʼ face as she had to act out the part of a lawnmower imbued with the power of the Loas. I shook my head as I stood outside the private suite in which Tom Cruise lurked. He had rented the whole floor and his security were obviously expecting me. I had one last recollection of Kidman on her knees gripping me by the lapels of my smoking jacket. The sound of the waves and her frantic tears and sobbing voice ‘Take me with you!’ ‘lämna inte mig här!’ I never understood why she beseeched me in Swedish.
I was beckoned into the room by a giant slab of meat, whose name was Morris. I knew this as he had a name tag sticker attached to the lapel of his suit jacket. He had the look of someone whose dog has just died and when attempting CPR on the poor beast, somehow manages to crush its sternum. A haunted vacant look, devoid of feeling, numb inside and out.
Cruise stood with his back to me on the far side of the room, having his hair brushed by a slinky-looking blonde in a business suit. Other wired heavies stood arranged haphazardly ￼around the sparse modern apartment like stylish black accessories against the white minimalist canvas. All very contrasty.
Sensing my moment, I began to prepare myself. I started shuffling my socked feet on the plush carpet, rubbing them back and forwards. Slowly at first and then as I built up a momentum, my feet and legs a blur, I could feel the power spreading through me. Sweat tickled my brow and I could feel the back of my T-shirt sticking to my back. Big sweat patches broke out under my arms. Faster and faster I worked my slowly cooking feet all the while watching the back of Cruiseyʼs head like a hawk.
Then he began to turn, I stopped abruptly and held out my hand as he approached me, an easy smile on both of our faces, though mine was accompanied by rivulets of dripping sweat. His hand reached out and as our bodies came together I touched him on the inside of the wrist with my index finger. A known ninja death spot…
“Argghh!” He staggered back, face a mask of shock. I pretended nothing had happened, looked at him straight-faced “Hello, Tom.” I said, as he stared at his wrist.
“You shocked me!” He said quietly. He stared at me like I was poisonous, like I was John Merrick and I was going out with his mother. “I have that effect on a lot of people.” I shrugged.
He moved nearer until he was so close I could feel his breath washing over me. It smelt like Mars bars. He gazed warily into my eyes and whispered “That’s a ninja move, buddy.” I nodded at him. “Class of 81…the Murakami heyday.” I shot back, body tensing in readiness for a physical retort.
He slowly turned round and headed back to the sofa. It was then that I realised something odd. Tom Cruise was a good inch taller than me. I am no mathematician, but I am 6 foot 2…something was amiss here.
“You’re not Tom Cruise!” I blurted out in a sense of growing panic.
He looked across at me, confused. They all did. I sensed them all studying me like a fly in a web. Shaking their heads in befuddlement. It was only as my paranoia was growing that I realised I had taken up a meditative defensive posture and sat perched upon my knees on the carpet, feet crossed over one another behind me. The way of the sleeping pelican.
I jumped up briskly, I could see the look of mild surprise masked ineffectually by the business suited blonde, obviously impressed by my shrieking agile leap. “I’m pleased you’re still 5 foot 2…that was pretty freaky…” I started to say.
“Fuck you!” Cruise bellowed cutting me off.
“Now calm down Cruise, don’t blame me for moving into a defensive position..”
“Five foot fuckin’ 2!” He shouted. Pacing back and forwards under the embarrassed entourage. I held my hands out, palms outwards in a classic Panamanian gesture of submission. ￼
“Look height doesn’t maketh the man Tom…I think it was Socrates who said that..” Cruise paced furiously around the room, face reddened with rage…”Look at the dwarves in the Hobbit…” “Shut the fuck up!” He shrieked in my face. He stopped pacing long enough for one of his employees to move across and whisper something in his ear. Cruise nodded without taking his eyes from me.
“Lets get on with it.” He threw himself down onto the white leather sofa “You have about two minutes left.” He turned his head and stared at the wall refusing to look me in the eye as I warily sat down opposite him. I took out my Roland Edirol R-09HR and gently placed it on the table and pushed the strands of hair from my sticky face. “I’m sorry about the shock and the height thing..I forgot to take my medication.” I murmured.
He held up a lazy hand. “Go ahead, ask away.” He spoke languidly like he couldnʼt give a shit about me or anything else for that matter. I thought of going for the jugular…Scientology or maybe Kidmanʼs fate…
“I reckon you’ll want to talk about your film.” I said.
“Bingo, sweet cheeks.” he said.
“What is it?” I asked. He turned a funny colour, Iʼm sure of it. Mouth hanging open staring at me like I had given birth to a llama / tortoise cross breed.
“You don’t fucking know?!?” He gasped.
“Minority Report?” I asked tentatively. His eyes widened a little more
“No? Okay…is it Mission Impossible? Mission Implausible?, or whatever the sequel’s called?”
“It’s Jack Reacher!” He screeched incredulously.
“Right…Lee Child. Finally made it to the big screen eh?” I smiled at him.
“I remember talking to him a couple of years back. Think it was at the Sanatogen Speedboat challenge in Miami. Guy got loaded on beetroot wine and waxed lyrical about Liam Neeson as Jack Reacher.” I continued conversationally. Cruise frowned, sharp little creases forming in between his perfectly coiffured eyebrows.
There was a lull in the conversation eventually broken by Cruise clearing his throat…
“It was a challenging role.” He croaked quietly.
“Who do you play?” I asked. He stared at me with dead eyes, and in that deafening silence that followed I understood. I knew with a sudden clarity what he was about to say. I knew there was no going back. ￼That from now on things were going to get dangerous. Akin to stripping naked and frying sausages on a high heat. Things were going to get painful.
“Jack Reacher….obviously.” He said turning away and examining his fingernails.
There he said it. A longer silence. Much longer. I looked around the room at the faces of his entourage. They couldnʼt look me in the eye. Not one of them. Morris decided at that moment that he would rather do some elaborate stretching exercises, possibly to mask the fact that he was on the verge of laughing his head off.
“What happened to Liam Neeson?” I asked, laughing casually.
“Fuck Liam Neeson!” Cruiseyʼs bellowing voice barked out making every one jump a little.
He bent in close to me, his face, inches from my own, screwed up like a bulldog and he snarled, little glints of perfect whiteness glinting from his grimacing mouth…
“Let me tell you about Neeson.” He whispered at me in a harsh tone “I took him down at Port au Prince in 89’. Arm wrestling, he didn’t stand a chance…BOOM!” Suddenly animated Cruise threw his arms up in the air, eyes wide as saucers “Fucker never looked me in the eye again.”
I nodded at him as he eased himself back in his seat.
“Masculinity, Tom. Masculinity.” I said quietly. I knew there was no going back. Some things have to be said. To live with the regrets of unspoken truths would be a nasty business. “Masculinity. Jack Reacher is masculinity personified.” I glanced up at Tom as I was speaking and his colour was changing again. A salmon pink colour with spindly bloodshot eyes…”You have many talents Tom, but didn’t you question whether you were a little too feminine for the role?”
I braced myself, all pressure went to my toes which pressed into the carpet ready to spring up and thrown myself headfirst across the room and maybe even through the door. I had seen Tom when he flipped all those years ago in Argentina. When some poor soul did the whole ʻYou got something on your shirtʼ trick.
ʻOh look Tom, youʼve got something on your shirt here.ʼ Tom looks down at where the man is pointing and gets his nose prodded by the now laughing guest who is promptly reverse roundhouse kicked through the cabin window.
I felt his warm palms, a little sweaty, gently clamp around my cheeks. He looked at me and spoke very slowly and quietly so only I could hear…
“It was 1986…New Jersey. I was filming The Color of Money. I was chalking my cue and was winning as per usual against the key grip. When from across the room, sitting in the shadows a voice called out. You know what that voice said? You know who it belonged to? It was Paul Newman, and he said very loudly ‘Tom, you’re totally gay’. You know what? I strode over to him, and pinned him to the wall so tightly you’d have thought I was a fuckin’ shrink-wrapping machine. And I said to him ‘Newman…you say something like that again…anything like that again…and I will shove your barbecue sauces up your goddamn ass. A mother fucking condiment enema, bitch!” He paused to let the words sink in, releasing his hold on me and sat back down in his seat. “He never bothered me after that.”
“Understandable. Sauce enema’s are never a good idea.” I mumbled.
The pretty blonde coughed and started tapping at her little silver watch. My time was well and truly up.
“You didn’t ask many questions…and I didn’t get your name…” He said to me as we both stood up.
“No I don’t believe in questions.” I answered in a deliberately cryptic way.
“Right.” He didnʼt look convinced.
“You don’t remember me do you?” I said “Buenos Aires in 87’. Remember? When the fishing trawler exploded, the pink and yellow pantomime horse on the beach, Nicole Kidman was the front end. Yeah, well I was the back. I’ve had worse nights.” I smiled at him and he looked at me with a blank expression as though his brain was still trying to process this information but couldnʼt quite manage it…
I slapped him on the shoulder as I turned to leave. I paused at the doorway held open by Morris.
Laughing I said to him “Now that was a helluva masculine shoulder slap.” I walked out leaving Tom standing stony-faced. “You could learn a manly lesson from something from that.” I shouted out in the corridor before sprinting flat out for the stairs and took them four at a time before rushing breathlessly through the twirling doors.
Out in the street, a tiny voice floated down from up above me, drowned out by distance “Falstaff you bastard!”