Saturday, 5 April 2014

Fade To Black 05 April 2014

Are you ready for Act Four? You're about to hear about Allan's upcoming project, Night's Lesson - the fourth in his series of five pictures. A bit of background: Night's Lesson, like Older Than Dirt, actually exists as a real screenplay, which I wrote in prep for this story. I entered it in several contests and it got all the way to FINALIST in a few of them. Still no first place, but very close.

Of all the screenplays I've written so far, NL is my absolute favourite. It really came together well.  Everything just seemed to click into place. I got a bit of feedback from some of the contest judges that I might want to try rewriting the ending a little bit. It's not out of the question. They say, in screenwriting, that you should never be afraid to kill your children (parts of the script you really want to keep). Even though you love them dearly, don't be afraid to flush them down the toilet if they don't do justice to the story.

Maybe I will.  Can't say right now.

I've decided to include the entire text of Act Four in this posting. It's really tightly interconnected as an entire segment, and I couldn't really think of a good place to split the Act for two postings. So go make coffee and settle in for a big read!


NOTE:

FADE TO BLACK IS FOR ADULTS. IT CONTAINS ALL MANNER OF DEBAUCHERY, NASTY LANGUAGE, MATURE CONTENT, DEPICTION OF ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES, ETC. IF IT'S NOT TO YOUR TASTES, YOU'LL KNOW PRETTY QUICKLY.

FADE TO BLACK IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. AT ALL. EVER.

IF YOU ARE AN ADULT, AND WISH TO DIVE INTO THIS CRAZY WORLD, PROCEED. IF YOU ARE A CHILD, GO AWAY IMMEDIATELY.
_____________________________________________________________________

Fade to Black

© 2008 CL Seamus




ACT FOUR

FLOWERS ON THE PATH



A RESOLUTE ENDEAVOUR

     The Diabolical Detective crowned India undisputed Darling of Darkness. Make-up, costuming, and the little bout of practice-sex with the boys coloured her personality just so, and she pulled off Loretta like a pro. Some called her Method. She cried real tears, screamed with horrors borrowed of her own demons, and when Loretta had to kill a man with a knife to the back, India used the scene to kill her father, her past, and everything else that had ever hurt her. Allan had captured a still of her eyes during the stabbing scene, and they were the eyes of murderous rage.

     In the press, the question arose, “Who exactly is India Bowman?” Some started digging. It was known she came from the Avalon, but there began a curiosity about her past and the motivations used for her roles.

     Hardcore Goth fans were grouched off that Allan’s art had taken this unexpected turn. What happened to Older than Dirt? What happened to their leader who, in younger days, treated them to creepy-crawly cinematic or literary night feedings? Oh sure, Lady and Detective had mood and murder, but where was the lore? The otherworldly danger?

You guys would have loved April Rain

     Not one to take criticism lying down, Allan made arrangements to spend the summer working on Shorts, namely Haircut and Bloodletter. Rennie had suggested adding an old obscure work called Father and making a full length Triad of Terror. Summer of 2003 would be for the Goths. Night’s Lesson would be pushed back to the fall, or even into 2004. Though Lady and Detective had both garnered positive reviews, the rumblings from below made Allan wonder if his work was becoming too mainstream, too polite. The more the audience became accustomed to his quirky style, the more commonplace the reaction. Polite.

     He blamed the holidays. He’d come back too relaxed and peaceful. He likened it to attempting yard work after a huge meal. Detective had indeed been gorgeous work, but it was full and fat, not lean and hungry. He needed to cleanse his palate of normalcy, of decency. The Triad would have to slap the smile off the face of the audience. True, such a collection wouldn’t be released to the same number of theatres as Detective. Truer still was that nostalgia buffs wouldn’t come, or if they did so in unknowing anticipation, would be as grouchy as the Goths. Truest of all, it was exactly what had to be done. The smile had to be slapped off his own face first.

     After the Triad, he would come back with a fresh veil of nasty draped over him and could then get busy with the fourth in his series. Night’s Lesson told the story of a murderer who stalked the fictitious town of Arton. He chose his victims based on wardrobe items of pink - mostly panties. If Allan played it right, this could be deliciously offensive and appeal to both sides of the equation. People who came for the air of elegant nostalgia would be in for an unexpected ride. Goths who came with renewed interest after the Triad would hopefully have a fresh understanding of the subtle correlation between the branches of his work.

It’s not easy trying to please everybody

     There were two other things he had planned. One was that the film needed a hook. Since the killer would choose victims based on pink clothing, he considered some sort of publicity stunt. Maybe they could give away pink panties or something. Get the audience all lathered up in anticipation of the film’s release. Something kinky and fun. No rush. He had all summer to pin down his catchy idea.

     The other thing would be a personal indulgence. In the story, the owner of the lingerie shop, wherein pink panties would be sold, was a character named Lacey Laverne. Saucy ex con-artist in full stereotypical regalia: bullet bra, seamed stockings, and all. Allan, who’d never acted in his own films, was seriously considering playing Lacey. It would secure his place as Master of the Mind-Fuck and ramp up the kink factor of Lesson by hundreds of percentage points. Any doubts as to his creativity would be silenced with a sledgehammer.

     India loved the idea and was dying to play opposite her favourite leading man... and featuring Allan Baird as Lacey Laverne - SURPRISE!

     India was not set to be in the Triad. Haircut had no female characters. Bloodletter did, but there were no negotiations about her participation. In Father - the most obscure of the three - there was a female role of importance, but the piece was about child abuse and nobody was going to ask. If she wanted to play it, she’d have to bring it up herself.

     She never brought it up.


THIS MANSION OF GLOOM

     Allan and India split up for the summer. Allan went with Rennie and a small crew to tend to the Triad, tentatively called Enough is Enough, because of the "last straw" theme that ran through all three pieces. Meanwhile, India hauled her ass to the beach to spend time at the cottage. She painted a new seascape, and even participated in some interviews for mainstream media. It felt odd to do these things on her own. No calls to Allan to confirm dates or consult him about subject matter. She made her own appointments. She did another taping of Madge at Midnight and had a rousing time. This second appearance became a real favourite among the public. India had been so playful and flirtatious that the episode would always be chosen come rerun time. She’d come into her own quite a bit as a self-functioning woman. She didn’t have Allan around all the time, didn’t need him.

     The growing independence seemed good for her. She used to cling to him desperately, his presence a safety net to her instability. No problem. She smelled good, felt good, and he liked her attachment just fine. Even when he wanted breathing room, he handled her neediness with gentle patience. Truthfully, Allan was the very model of tolerance. He took just about everything she threw and never lifted a finger against her. Never mouthed off or challenged her dominance in the relationship. He put himself almost entirely at her disposal. But without even realising it, his encouragement to have her open up about her past may have inadvertently sabotaged his own place of importance in her life. He’d punched holes in the wall that kept her from being comfortable in her own skin, and had shown her how to use the very wings with which she might one day fly from his nest.

Small frightened Annalee backs away when the door
opens and Sean stumbles in with a drunken friend.
“There she is,” says Sean as he catches sight of her.
She runs through to the basement stairs. The friend
laughs at the game and follows her. His work boots
clomp on the stairs. Annalee screams and screams
and pounds her head with shaking fists, digs her
cheeks with her nails. He grabs her and she goes
away. Her body goes limp and her eyes glass over
in PROTECTION MODE. Where is she?

Suddenly she sees Rennie. He pulls her from the
attacker. “Leave her alone!” he growls as he wields
an angry fist. “Save me!” cries Annalee. The friend
backs away and Annalee holds to Rennie for dear
life. “Shh,” he soothes. “It’s all right now. Perry’s
not here but I can help you.” He sits her on the
edge of the old ping-pong table and wipes her
bleeding scratches with a wet cloth. Then he rips
up the bottom of her dress and climbs on top of her.
He starts to--

     India jumps from bed, screaming as the nightmare continues into her waking state. She slams herself to the wall and bangs her forehead to the plasterboard. “Get the fuck away from me!” She screams again and again. Only when the image fades does she stop.

     India barely made it to the bathroom before throwing up in the sink. With trembling hand, she turned on the tap and splashed herself with cold water. Blood from the small split on her head eventually thinned to a stop. Her breath came in desperate grunts as she tried to come back to reality.

Save yourself

     She stared at the mirror but knew not the ghostly face that stared back. Allan? Can you hear me? At that moment, she wished he’d have come to the cottage with her. At that moment, she needed the safety net.

     On the bed table waited the bottle of lorazepam. Allan’s. She took two and went back to bandage the cut, which had again started to leak watery blood. The more she relaxed, the further away drifted the terror. She finally found strength to go outside to the quiet of the midnight shoreline. Deep breaths. The soft roll of waves washed the sand and washed her senses. Send it away. Shh. Just a nightmare. Deep breaths. One, two, three. The air weighed heavily, as if a storm due. She loved that best of all. If it whipped up, the surf would get big and maybe she’d go for a swim. That’s good. Send it away.

     Back inside, she checked the time. Quarter past one. It had been so pleasant outside that she’d sat for... she didn’t even know how long she’d been. With channel flipping came idle calm - she stopped on an old black & white movie. The dialogue soothed her. After more quiet moments, she went to her laptop for some internetting. Distraction made it easier. Colourful websites, celebrity gossip, the day’s news - she got a weather report and smiled when it said Cottage Country would likely get a thunderstorm.

     The nightmare stung somewhere just below the surface. A mosquito bite you try not to scratch for fear of inflaming its itch. Acknowledge, then let it be. Distance it. She surfed and mouse-clicked and glanced up to the movie. Going away. Just a nightmare. Rennie didn’t rape her when she was a child. She obviously superimposed his face over someone else’s. She must have been thinking about him when he infiltrated the bad dream. In a few hours she might even smile about it.

     Her mind worked to relax when something caught her eye on a website. A black & white shot of herself as a child. She hated those. It had been impossible to keep her background a secret once the fans got hooked on curiosity. Not that anybody made a big deal out of her past; most websites just reported, “India Bowman - real name Annalee MacDonald.” Sometimes though, it hit her the wrong way when they’d have information about her medical reports. Again, it was not a topic for ridicule; people just seemed to claim it as a badge of honour when they had the information.

     She looked at the old photo.

Annalee is dead

     The only reference to that person lay in her love of the poem. And the nightmares. There were always those should she ever think it might be possible to forget who she was. Chin in hand, she sighed. One nightmare simply replaced with another. It wasn’t going away. Tonight it would have her whole. So began the slow sink into depressive melancholia, the natural coming down after such an adrenaline attack.

     Then, the phone. “Hello,” she said softly.

     “Hi, honey.”

     “Just in the nick of time,” she whispered through sad tears. “How’s it going?” She blew her nose and drew a deep breath. She wanted to tell him, but wouldn’t if it meant she had to remember.

     “We’re going to start shooting tomorrow. I might not have time to talk again for a while.”

     “Good luck, baby.”

     “I saw you on Madge Hart last night.”

     She managed an empty smile. “Fun, huh?”

     “You were wonderful. But then, you always are. I watched it with Wallace and Rennie. They’re both in love with you.”

     “Madge is funny. I really like her now. We taped that interview about a week ago.”

     “Did she ask about me?”

     “She always does. She has a crush on you.”

     “I want to come and spend the night with you before we start. I’m all pumped up. It’s coming back, you know? I’m getting the vibe. This Triad is gonna be hot. Wallace wants to do spots to fire up the fans. He says they’ve been getting complaints since Detective was released.”

     Though she tried to listen, he was in a self-involved mood and it was difficult in her needy state. “Guess what I’m looking at on the internet...”

     “Hmm.” By now he could sense the depression in her tone.

     “A picture of Annalee MacDonald. Someone has a picture on their website. With medical records.”

     “Hmm.” That must have been what shrouded her mind.

     Down. “Read me some of my poem,” she whispered.

     “The angels, not half so happy in heaven, went envying her and me. Yes, that was the reason, as all men know, in this kingdom by the sea, that the wind came out of the cloud, chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.” A long pause. “Don’t let it get to you. Annalee is dead.”

     Down. It’s never going to end. “John Wilder,” she said.

     “Who’s that?”

     “Just the name on the website. A fan, I guess. The guy who has my picture on his page.”

     “Can I come to see you?”

     Down. My life is never going to get any better. “I want to be alone.”

     “You are alone. You’ve been out there for two weeks.”

     “I thought you started shooting tomorrow.”

     “That’s tomorrow.”

     And down. I killed my own baby. “Alone.”

     A heavy silence. “I’m daydreaming,” he finally tried. “We’re dancing in the garden at the old house.”

     “I’m going to bed,” she mumbled. No place in her soul tonight for romantic fancy. Devoid of emotion in the wake of the nightmare, she hung up and tucked two more lorazepam under her tongue before burying herself under the blankets.


ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT

     In a modest college theatre meant for two hundred souls, security guards struggled to keep it at just that level. Even the parking lots outside fevered with those who fought to get inside. The ratio of male to female in the crowd hovered near eighty-twenty, but every creature present was some form of underground dweller. All was black leather, metal studs, neon hair, piercings, and all other staples of Goth life. And with the contingent came the aggression. They gathered for the midnight premiere screening of Enough is Enough, otherwise referred to as the Triad of Terror by E Allan Baird. Being Allan, he’d decided to release the film on college campuses and charge a mere five bucks a head to see it - the Triad had been made rather cheaply and he would pass on the savings to the viewers.

     Allan presented at the Woodland screening and brought with him his entire entourage. It was his special little kick in the balls to any among the faculty who might remember him from the old days of censorship. And naturally, the opening took place on Halloween. Only at the Woodland theatre would popcorn and sodas be free to all. Only at Woodland would free vials of blood be given out as gifts. Not real blood of course, but who cared? Free stuff from Baird was a treat.

     Allan and India arrived in a rented limo. On the drive down, they sipped champagne and dined on weed and a whiff of snap for kicks. Allan bumped toot for dessert. The evening’s itinerary included a bit of Q&A before the film, so being sated in substance could only make it more fun. Coleman-Kopanski was not part of the Triad, but most of the film had been shot at Conversion, so the producers and their guests were invited. Marcie was also among the attendees. She introduced her husband to Allan and India. After all the stories he’d heard concerning their eccentricities, Ron Elliott was surprised that Allan turned out to be such a polite, sociable man. As to India: he had enjoyed her in Lady and Detective, but made little connection between those characters and the distant blackbird before him.

     The auditorium crackled with mood. Growls of heated approval followed as the King and Queen made their way to the front, along with Rennie, Tim, Paul Mallory - who finally secured a role as the perverted parent in the Father segment - and the two young men who played Steven and Mark in Haircut. India laughed and covered her ears at the thunderous applause that echoed when Allan took a seat at the centre microphone of the stage table, and his men assumed places on either side. He looks so stoned, thought she. Surely others could see it. He fussed and pulled at his nose several times as the appreciation continued. Like it or not, Allan was leader of the pack. All in black, complete with fingerless gloves and dark lenses, there he perched, ready to start the proceedings. India felt glad to be in the audience. She had absolutely nothing to do with the film, and couldn’t be happier with her non-involvement.

     Allan held up a fey hand and touched a finger to his lips. “You people need to shut up,” he giggled stupidly into his microphone. They erupted in even more thunderous applause.

     As he tossed back his purple-streaked hair, his face held its shit-eating grin. “Okay,” he snickered through an eyeroll. “I want to get this film shown tonight.”

     The room began to quiet. A pair of drunk, metal-clad men jumped up. “Thanks for the shitty popcorn, motherfucker!”

     Raucous laughter filled the air. Rennie bellowed like a rock star into his microphone. “Wait ’til the acid-laced butter kicks in, asshole!”

     The place exploded in deafening applause. Security guards tried to maintain control as guys started to rush the stage.

     Allan stood and took his microphone from its holder. “Okay, sit down or they’ll cancel the show. Don’t you ruin my night. I want to know if you guys like the movie. Don’t spoil this for me.” The scolding mother.

     The group began to settle. India watched with the same stoned curiosity that she’d given the anal virgin when he’d gone through his masturbation ritual during Queen’s Choice. She felt pretty safe with hired bodyguards on either side, but feared if the audience didn’t quiet, the performance would be cancelled. After a few minutes, it was calm enough to resume when the last pair of drunks had been escorted from the room.

     Allan took off his glasses and spoke. “My name is Allan Baird. I’m the writer and director of the film. This is my ass director... I mean assistant director, Rennie "The Boomer" Raymond. Over there are Paul Mallory, Todd Roth, Evan Hapner, and you know Tim Wallace from VL. If you’re nice, maybe he’ll take your picture.”

     He waited for the applause to die. “We wanted to have everybody here, but some are at other screenings. We decided to split it up, so at least one of the participants would be at each of the shows. Down there in the crowd we have Ted Coleman and Dan Kopanski from Conversion.” Another round of applause. Allan motioned to his lady. “And, of course, you all know the bitch in black. Love of my life, India Bowman.”

     As she stood to wave, they treated her to a monstrously loud ovation. Several people grabbed her hand or tried for a hug. Her guards kept it under control.

     Allan jumped off the stage. “Anything to say?” he grinned as he shoved the mic under her nose.

     She laughed and gave him the stink-eye. “Have a good time everybody. I hope you all like family pictures.”

     Excited laughter. Allan draped his arm over her shoulder. “Hey, I have an idea. Something nice we can all do. You guys up for this? Halloween is special. Not just because of the film, but because today just happens to be India’s twenty-third birthday!”

     With no further prompting, the room broke out in song.

     India whispered in his ear. “Thanks a lot, dumbass.”

     He kissed her. “You like that?”

     “Oh sure. You know I love the fans.”

     He patted her ass. “I am so high.”

Let’s not forget the monstrous hardon

     She laughed. “I can’t even see straight.”

     When the off-key, but heartfelt singing was done, she leaned to the mic. “Cake for everybody at Allan’s house after the show!” Deafening cheers and applause.

     “She’s kidding!” Allan called out.

     From Wallace on the stage. “No she’s not! I baked it myself!”

     Dan leaned to Ted. “You ever see anything like this?”

     Ted agreed. “Quite the rapport with the fans.”

     Allan continued. “I heard some of you were pissed off at me for making - as you put it - chick flicks. So we’re all coming home tonight. What I have here for you is...” He paused. “Let’s call it a dick-flick.” More thunderous applause. “And I’ve a new picture in the works called ‘Night’s Lesson’ that’s gonna be good. Halfway between chicks and dicks.” He giggled. “Sort of like me, hey?”

     He ducked a flying drink cup. “Whoa! Close call. So tell me, how many boys out there like the ladies?” They reacted loudly. “How many like to see your ladies in pretty pink panties?” More howling. The fever rose and rose. “When ‘Night’s Lesson’ comes out, there’s gonna be free pink panties for all of you! You can take ’em home and have your bitches parade around the house in ’em. And if you’re a big ol’ fag, you can parade in ’em yourself! And ladies? We’ve got panties for all of you, too, so maybe you can get Daddy to wear ’em to bed some night!”

     Almost unable to hear themselves, Dan and Ted spoke ear to ear. “Incredible,” Ted said.

     Dan laughed. “‘Night’s Lesson’ is going to go through the roof.”


EVIDENCE OF SOME BITTER STRUGGLE

     And so went the world. Enough is Enough ripped through the underground like a ragged knife. Those who’d read Haircut and Bloodletter years ago now saw their most horrifying images come to life, no quarter given from their vicious endings. The unknown treat was Father, which appeared sandwiched between the others - Bloodletter being first. Even if one knew of both other works, Father had never been read by more than a few friends. With a careful rewrite, Allan had changed the little kids into teens and hired nobody under eighteen. He’d found three baby-faces and constructed the whole thing without slipping off the legal fences of child labour laws.

     Bloodletter was squirmy and unpleasant on the stomach, the blood flowing like water, the cultists unrelenting in their devotional rituals. Father was painful to watch, but concluded with a delightfully just and well-deserved murder. By the time the segment ended, the audience had whipped into such a fever for Haircut that the very air itself screamed with hysterical excitement. Four viewers had to leave when the acid they’d dropped earlier hit home just as Haircut started. Having read the story, they knew what would happen and had simply freaked out in advance. Ted’s mixed feelings about such vicious work made him glad it had been done independently of the Coleman-Kopanski name.


INDIE FILMMAKER SLICES UP SCREEN
By Kristina Balfour
© November 2003 Cinematica

Allan Baird has apparently taken
seriously criticisms that his last
two films - Lady of Desire and
The Diabolical Detective - were
his taming down into mainstream
society. If you’re one of the
unfortunates who hasn’t tasted these
treats, they’re not just modern noir
with clever costumes and dialogue
from a bygone era. They are perfect
replicas, beautifully filmed with
vintage camera and sound recording
equipment.

Pinning down this man’s mindset is
a daunting task. He seems devoted
to the heavy stylings of Lang and
Chandler, yet imbues each piece with
gentle rhythms and timings more
attuned to music. Then, just when all
seems a handsome tribute to cinematic
history, he stomps through the whole
thing with combat boots and throws in
enough plot twists to keep the viewer’s
sense of good and evil on the run for
days!

Now, to further confuse any
assessments, along he comes with his
latest offering: a brutal three-fold
nightmare entitled “Enough is Enough,”
which takes by the throat any attempts
to label him, and shakes the very life
from the notion. “Enough” makes some
people ask, “Why, by all that’s decent,
would anybody turn such concepts into
film and call it art?” Others just
sink into their seats and suck it up
as he slaps unrelentingly at the
human condition.

Allan Baird is not everybody’s cup of
tea. You know it. I know it. Baird
knows it. When Lady of Desire came
out, auditoriums packed with those
expecting another Older than Dirt.
It wasn’t until several weeks in that
the noir demographic began to peek out
from the shadows while the Goths and
vampires retreated. Lady of Desire
was a beautiful work of art, fueled by
a heavy story of deceit and murder. But
among the faithful, there was a deep
grumbling, a sense that it wasn’t
their film. When The Diabolical
Detective followed and noir fans
began stopping Baird for an autograph,
the Old Guard began to use words
like sell-out and wannabe, suggesting
Baird was not truly a “Man of Night.”

To Baird - who denies up one side and
down the other that he’s ever been a
real ‘gruftie’ - the grumblings of the
fans are out of line. “Why all this need
for boundaries when it comes to art?” he
snorts with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“If I want to make a noir film, I’ll make
it. If I want to make splatter, I’ll make
that, too. I don’t believe you should
only do one type of thing because it’s
what people expect. I want viewers to
come along for the ride, but always
knowing exactly where the ride will
take you is boring and gets old
quite quickly.”

“Enough” is certainly a ride in a different
direction to the noir, and even different
to “Older than Dirt.”

Baird’s “Triad of Terror” segments have
no complicated plots or mysterious twists
and turns. They are pure viscera, times
three. “I’m a big ‘what if’ person,” says
Baird. “What if two lovers, about to go
for a night out, have such an argument that
it arrives at torturous murder? That’s
Haircut. 

"In college, I’d sit at lunch
and hear people arguing over the most
mundane things. Women going on ad nauseam
about who had rights to date certain men,
or who had a better fashion sense for
shoes. I’d wonder how far the arguments
would go before somebody jumped across
the table and put a dinner fork in the
other one’s eye.

“This is how we think it should
go when we argue: ‘Chocolate is better.’
‘No, peanut butter.’ ‘You’re right. How
could I have been so insanely stupid?
Thanks for opening my eyes. Tra-la-la.’
Then we dance off together, holding hands
and forever enjoying our peanut butter.

"But here’s what really happens: ‘Peanut
butter.’ ‘Chocolate.’ ‘I said peanut
butter, and if you’d just shut your
hole long enough to listen to me, you’d
come to your senses and realise it’s
the only rational choice any sane
person could make.’ We die for our
convictions. Some of us kill for them.”

Mix that theory with the Bloodletter
and Father stories and you have three
scenarios of people who will either kill
or be killed in the name of conviction.

Don’t look for this film at your local
cinema, or even at the smaller arthouses.
Baird is showing this one solely on
college campuses to slam an exclamation
point on his own conviction concerning
censorship in art.

As long as he doesn’t put his dinner
fork in someone’s eye.
__________


OUR SIGN OF PARTING

     Allan Baird as Lacey Laverne started to become more than just an amusing idea after auditions for a suitable candidate yielded a poor crop. They tested a lot of interesting faces, but nothing struck Allan as the true Lacey image. She was definitely jaded, but not a crone or a washed out hag. Most of the candidates were going for the washed out look. He didn’t get it. She wasn’t written that way. She was written as a mature vixen with a tough past. Already January of 2004, he had to get this ball rolling. Most of the other parts were ready - the holdout was Lacey. It wasn’t a huge part but he didn’t want it badly cast. In the wrong hands, Lacey wouldn’t be the subtle character he envisioned.

     Outside the VL office lurked a crowd of fans who’d heard India Bowman was inside doing a new interview for the upcoming Night’s Lesson. After numerous complaints from other tenants in the building, VL found it necessary to employ guards outside whenever Baird or Bowman were to present for an interview. Since the Triad, things had taken an aggressive turn, even surpassing the frenzy from back in the Dirt days.

Only six years? Feels like a lifetime

     There’d been two break-ins, as well as damage to windows and doors up at street level. If the couple would be onsite, security became automatic. It worked that way everywhere, not just at VL. Radio stations, TV stations - everybody had to hire guards. Madge Hart had become a favourite media hangout for India, but the small cable access channel couldn’t handle security on its own. Coleman-Kopanski footed the bill for things above and beyond since India seemed to enjoy Madge’s interviews. After seeing her dirty laundry aired on the internet, however, India became distrustful of being with fans in person. Among them might have been the one who’d scanned and re-printed police reports. Those who smile to my face yet look for ways to hurt me with these websites. She preferred TV interviews because she could demand the right to clear questions beforehand, and knew the set wouldn’t be broken up by grabby admirers. It was never about money. The studio could offer bonuses for interviews, but if uncomfortable, she simply wouldn’t do it no matter what the financial reward. Any potential participation was based solely on the vibes - it was an automatic NO if she’d ever previously seen or read anything nasty about herself in their product.

     There’d been a close call one day when she was approached by reporters outside the studio and asked to be interviewed about child abuse. People just assumed she had something helpful to say to young people in fear or trauma. Maybe she could come on TV and talk about what had happened to her. She’d come very close to taking a swing at the spokeswoman who brought up the topic. Only at the last second did she curb herself with the reminder that these people were not Allan, and if she popped someone there’d be trouble.

     Yes, it was all fine and well but India was still an open wound, in no position whatsoever to be of help to anyone. Her life was not the model of encouragement. Well, I like weed, snap to help with sex, and lots of Valium and Ativan. I used to take speed, but Ted scared the shit out of me so...

     Or maybe she could appear with a big smile on her face as she talked about how she’d made it out alive. Hello, I’m India Bowman. Before I was even old enough to grow boobs, I had eight different cocks in my mouth and just as many up my ass. Did you know that when a little girl is drilled in the ass, it hurts to poop for a really long time after? Ouch, kiddies! Yes, that would happen really soon.

     There were no secrets in terms of outside interest in her as talent for other people’s pictures. It was common knowledge she’d signed on to do all five of Allan’s films and wasn’t going anywhere until done, but there had been a few knocks at the door to reserve space afterwards. She wasn’t interested. Distant and difficult though she could be, when an offer was made it only served to remind her of how safe she felt in the arms of her makeshift family. Family? Dan, Ted, Allan, Rennie, Tim, Howard, Stuart, even Lucy and Marcie. These were people she saw every day. They knew her and - for the most part - accepted her as is.

Like it or not, Bowman, you’re one of us

     There seemed a sense of security in it all. She wasn’t interested in making other people’s pictures, wasn’t eager to get her face into big budget films. It was hard enough dealing with the small but dedicated clusters of fans or photographers who occasionally found her in malls or markets. If India Bowman ever made the front pages, she would surely lose her mind.
__________

     Allan wouldn’t be able to play escort at the end of her VL interview - he was with Rennie, doing photos of various Lacey costumes to check the believability factor should he elect to take on the role. India wanted to go shopping, but it was almost two in the afternoon and hopes of a leisurely mall-crawl seemed wishful thinking. The interview had been with Howard Spence this time. Howard was a bit of an enigma. He did Queen’s Court a rowdy participant, but basically remained a man of distance. She suspected there had been some activity between Allan and Howard on occasion, but neither man gave off any vibes in such a way so she’d pick it up on the air. Howard seemed closer and more intimate with Wallace. It could be so confusing sometimes, trying to keep up with these guys and their assorted bed-hopping. He was handsome but plain. Nondescript brown hair, non-descript face. Soft and spongy with a spare tire challenging his belt all the way around. India figured him to be the same as the rest, mid-thirties. Howard seemed the kind of guy who’d feel good in a big snuggle. The teddy bear. Almost a smaller version of Mondo Baird. In the world of Tim’s fangs and Stuart Gold’s overdone Goth make-up, Howard stood odd-man-out for looks in the VL Trinity.

     India came from the bathroom and peeked into his office. “What are you doing now?”

     Howard took off his reading glasses. “Typing this up. The transcripts have to be done by Monday or they won’t be ready for printing. Have a look at the pictures. See which ones you’d like in the story.”

     She sat at his other computer and ran through the assorted stills he’d off-loaded from his digital camera. “I look like shit,” she sighed.

     He nodded. “One of the ugliest women I’ve ever met.”

     “Shut up.”

     “You started it.”

     “You’re supposed to say, ‘Why no, India. You’re so hauntingly beautiful I could vomit’.”

     “I don’t play pussy games.”

     “Can you do me a favour?”

     “Like...?”

     “Come shopping with me.”

     “Hello? Transcript? Deadline?”

     “I’m afraid to go alone.”

     “Where’s your bitch?”

     “With Rennie. Doing samples.”

     “Ah, the ‘Lacey Laverne’ thing.”

     “What do you think about Allan playing ‘Lacey’?”

     “If he’s doing this just to put on a dress, he’s going to fuck up the picture. He’d better be a half-decent actor.”

     “It’s not about the dress. That’s not why he’s doing it. I think her character is in slacks most of the time anyway. He just hates it when people say he’s lost his edge. Thirty five is right around the corner.”

     Howard sipped cold coffee and leaned back in his chair. “He should use a different name or something. Don’t do the part under his own name.”

     “Come shopping with me.”

     “Can’t do it, Missy. Ask Wallace.”

     “He gets more attention in public than I do.”

     “Call for that bodyguard service thing.”

     “Bodyguards are creepy. Some guy pushing people away like I’m the queen of England or something. I just want to be able to shop without being groped. A guy went for my boobs at the Triad thing. The bodyguard nearly broke his arm.” She dumped her chin in her palm. “Stupid.”

     She studied one of the photos. A nice shot of her with her face slightly down and in shadow. “This one.”

     He came up behind and looked over her shoulder. “Pick one more. It’s on two pages and I want a shot on each. That’s a broody one so pick something happy for the other side.”

     “Happy? Me?”

     He sniffed. “God forbid you should ever be happy, I guess. People might lose interest in your mystery.”

     “Stop trying to get inside my head, Howard.” She pointed at a photo. “This one.” She picked up the phone. “What’s the number for the bodyguard service?”

     Meanwhile, back at the brownstone, Allan hummed contentedly as he cleaned up the lunch dishes. He and Rennie had taken a lot of interesting Lacey-related photos, and even managed to squeeze in a quick game of horsie-ride in Allan’s big bed. Allan liked horsie-ride, most of all when he got to be Rennie’s horsie.

Giddy-up, motherfucker

     The possibility of him playing Lacey was almost a done deal. With no other likely faces coming forward and the excellent results they’d seen with the costumes, Allan felt confident it would work. As he wiped the coffee cups, his mind wandered to the flowered Oriental dress India had worn to a Halloween party a couple of years back. He wondered if the look would be good for Lacey. He’d never really gone through her things before. There’d been the Shoebox of Ugliness and its associated files from the legal proceedings, but not much else remained from the old days.

     As he went into her room, he wondered if there was any reason she’d be mad at him if he looked for the dress. He played out the scenarios.

     I found that silk dress you wore to the party that time. Where did you find it? In the box of stuff behind the easels. What were the possible reactions?

     What the fuck were you doing touching my easels? What the fuck were you doing in my closet? You look fabulous in silk, honey. You should wear it with the black panties and those ornamental chopsticks in your hair. We’ll play Geisha. Anything that began with “what the fuck” was no good. Maybe he could turn it into a game by wearing the dress to the supper table. He’d be one of those servant girls from the James Bond movies. Give Indie a foot rub or something. Who could be mad while getting a foot rub?

     This old thing? I found it behind the easels. I immediately thought of you and how wonderful it would be if I gave you a foot rub while wearing it.

     He paused at the end of her bed and weighed the options. Both the bedroom and closet doors had been open. And after all, it was for the picture. It wasn’t like he snooped without cause. He clicked on the closet light and went in.
__________

     The bodyguard hadn’t much to do on the shopping trip. India had been recognised twice for autographs, but the people had been polite and respectful. She posed for photos and everything went well. The guard himself actually became the bigger burden. She felt like a shoplifter being followed by a store detective. He shadowed her ruthlessly and was part and parcel of everything she did that afternoon. He saw her choice of underwear. He kept vigil outside the ladies’ room while she peed and bumped coke from a plastic baggie. And the obedient dog waited when she stopped for a slice of pizza. Once safely back to her car, she signed his work order and dismissed him. It seemed pure vanity to have hired him at all, but sure as shit if she hadn’t, the fans would have been out in droves. Only brief reflection did she give the question of what he might have thought of her. Did you really need a bodyguard to keep those six or seven dangerous adult women from attacking you for pictures and autographs?

     Back home. Snugly parked next to Allan’s car, she started unloading her packages. There never seemed to be much trouble with fans near the house. On the few occasions when they banged on the door or drove by in rowdy carloads, calls to police from neighbours sent them packing in a hurry. All it took was a bit of squad car cruising up and down the street before fans decided it wasn’t worth it to chance being stopped with booze or weed. The only carry-over problem was that since they now had the address, fan mail began showing up there as well as the studio. That meant Lucy couldn’t filter through all of it. The dirty letter quotient was up, and if it came to the house there was no buffer.

     Inside, she dumped the armloads of bags before dialing for pizza. Yes, Allan would bitch, but too bad. She’d been on her feet all day and a little supper wouldn’t kill her Ava Brace figure. Dimpled knuckles were no crime. While waiting for the order, she thumped down to Allan’s office, where he typed at his computer. Next to him on his desk were a bottle of bourbon and four unsnorted lines of blow. Naturally, he worked naked, but instead of some catchy phrase written on his body, there appeared a giant ragged X.

     “Read this,” he said coldly as he pushed a stack of papers at her.

     She frowned. “What is with the mood?”

     “I’ve done a rewrite. I wanted to add something.”

     She sat and looked through the pages. Her face became disbelief. “What is this?”

     He didn’t look up. “I told you. I’m rewriting some of your scenes.”

     “This is stupid.”

     “No, it’s great. It’ll add to the story.” He shook his hand at her. “What do you know, anyway? You’re not a writer.”

     “Are you mad about something?”

     This required pants, so he found his and stepped into them. “Outraged might be a better word. Maybe freaked out. Maybe.” He took up his bottle, swigged, then swung it in an arc over his head to shatter against the wall.

     India slammed the sheets on his keyboard. “I’m leaving. You’re in a mood and you’re drunk.” At the stairs she pointed back. “I am not reading that.”

     Back upstairs in the living room, she flopped down next to her parcels. Just let him be. Whatever had crawled up his ass, he obviously needed some time before he talked. It was how Allan got mad. He’d either blurt out his feelings at the drop of a hat or stomp about in a theatric snit until he decided how best to express himself. There occurred the occasional throwing of a fit or tantrum of destruction while he let the world know he was dealing with a problem, but in the end all one could do was wait him out.

     He suddenly thumped through the room and out the front door.

     “Stay in the house,” she ordered. The door slammed. His car started. “Allan, get back here!”

     She ran after him and slapped the side of his car. “Hey! Stay here! Tell me what’s wrong!” The rumbling Jag backed out and took off up the street. “Shit.”

     Back inside she ran to make a call. Rennie answered. “Hello?” “It’s me. Did you see Allan today?”

     “We did the photo thing.”

     “Did anything bad happen? He’s been drinking, and he just stormed out. He took off in the car.”

     “He was fine when I left him. Did you fight?”

     “No. I came home from shopping and he was drunk at the computer. He said he was rewriting my scenes. He’s written some sick thing into it where ‘Ava’ runs off and gets a back-alley abortion from some guy with a coat hanger.”

     “Excuse me?”

     “That’s what it says. I told him I wouldn’t do it. He’s driving drunk. He could crash.”

     “I’ll call his car phone.”

     Allan’s answer to the impatient ringing was succinct. “Fuck off.”

     “Hey, it’s me. Something in the attic today?”

     He pulled over and parked at a curb. “Can you come get me? I’m no good...”

     “Where are you?”

     “Um... I’m outside the, uh...”

     “Why don’t you pull off the road and stop the car?”

     “I’m stopped. I’m near the park with the broken tree.”

     “Near your house?”

     “Yes.”

     “I’m on my way. Stay there, okay?”

     India grabbed the phone on the first ring. “Allan?”

     “No, it’s me again. I’m going to pick him up. He’s safe. I’ll see if I can find out what’s wrong. You didn’t have a fight?”

     “I left him this morning and he seemed fine. When I got back, he was like this.”

     “I’ll call you back.”

     Shopping bags full of clothes and sundries. No point enjoying her haul until she knew what was wrong with her boy. India gathered up her packages and headed upstairs.

     Rennie drove the perimeter of the park until he found Allan’s car. No damage, no injury. Allan seemed safe, though his head slumped and his chin touched his chest. Rennie took up behind the car and got out. “Hey, motherfucker. What’s the big idea? You want people to scrape you off the pavement?”

     Allan reached up a limp hand. “Hi...”

     Rennie climbed into the passenger seat, shut off the motor, and took the keys. “So...? How’s tricks?”

     Allan fell against him in tears.

     Rennie nodded. “Okay, I get it. Something bad, I guess.” He fisted a clump of Allan’s hair and made him look up. “Something to do with Bowman, I’ll bet.”

     India marched into her bedroom. She stopped dead in her tracks as her sharp gasp hit the air. The closet was open, its contents turned out all over the room. Clothes, boxes, art supplies. She lowered to the bed and pushed aside the clutter. Her shoebox lay open on its side. Next to it was the only thing in there she never wanted Allan to see: the folded documents concerning her abortion. He’s written some sick thing into it where Ava runs off and gets a back-alley abortion from some guy with a coat hanger. She only whispered. “Oh, no.”
__________

     One of the most dangerous forms of guilt is when the anger felt for one’s own shortcomings is turned against the person who simply holds the mirror to your face.

     No return call from Rennie. He’d said Allan was safe at the side of the road, but no callback. Am I not entitled to know what happened? Allan had obviously gone through her things and found the abortion records. To demonstrate frustration, he’d written a disgusting scene involving Ava Brace and a coat hanger. Okay, I should have told him. Okay, it was wrong. Did it mean she had to be subjected to yet another round of his psychological torture? April Rain? LSD? Sex with Rennie Raymond? Now this hateful thing about a coat hanger.

     While one black Jag cooled outside the park, the other roared at breakneck speed towards Rennie’s building. All the way, India at the wheel tightened herself into a terrible coil, and if she wasn’t careful would loose dangerous fury.

     Inside the suite, Rennie soothed Allan in bed. They held each other and kissed away the pain. Distraction from a broken heart. Rennie turned him to his back and moved on top. Then came the loud thump at the door. They’d been expecting it.

     Allan tucked his face to Rennie’s shoulder. “No,” he sniffed.

     “Just relax. Stay in here. I’ll talk to her.”

     When he let her in, India stomped through to the living room. “Where’s Allan? I have to see him.”

     She pushed past, but Rennie gripped her arm. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

     She violently shook off his grip. “Get your fucking hands off me!” The mercury rose as she stormed to the bedroom. “Allan?”

     The small man jumped off the bed and threw a pillow at her. “Leave me alone! What did you do?”

     She lunged at him in a flurry of punches to his face and shoulders. “You sonofabitch! What did I do? It’s not your fucking body! It’s not your fucking life!”

     He deflected her blows without retort. “You killed my baby!” he sobbed as he went to his knees. “Murderer!”

     Rennie caught up and yanked her back from him. “Stop right now or I’ll have you arrested!”

     She pulled up fast, fists clenched.

     Allan just cried - he wiped his nose and tucked small. “It was my baby, too.” His voice hitched through tears. “I was supposed to have a say.”

     India fisted her wet eyes with a shaky hand - his blood smeared on her cheek.

     Rennie gripped her upper arm. “You lay another hand on him and I swear I’ll have you thrown in jail.” He shook her roughly. “All this poor-me bullshit about how you were so mistreated, right? Poor baby had bad people hurt her all the time? So you come in here and hang a beating on the one man in this world who loves you more than his own life? You’re an asshole, India! Look at him!”

     But she wouldn’t look, wouldn’t take her eyes off Rennie. Her teeth grit so hard he could hear grinding enamel. She shook in near-spasm.

     He leaned in to her face. “Talk, India. Just talk.” He left and slammed the door behind him.

     She unclenched her fists and regarded the curled form in the corner. Her words were cold. “I’m moving out.”
__________

     Monday mornings at Coleman-Kopanski were usually when the round-table meetings were held to get the week’s schedules and events confirmed and out to the people involved. There were two pictures currently underway, one of which was Night’s Lesson. Allan promised he’d have a decision by Monday as to whether or not he’d be playing Lacey Laverne. If yes, both producers wanted to see some test film. Apparently Howard wasn’t the only one who wondered if this wasn’t just some kind of dress fetish being taken too far. The budget for Lesson was heftier than Detective’s, the bulk to be spent on talent. It would be filmed with loads of visual funk - black & white with traces of pink that would flare up when found by the killer’s eye. A very invasive angle on private lives and private places. Maybe like Rear Window, with its eavesdropping perspective.

Everybody rips off Hitchcock

     It was a suspense drama, hung somewhere between classic noir and artsy college bohemia. Underground settings and a nudge toward drug use and sexual ambiguity. The director wanted to demonstrate to both sides of his argumentative fan base that they had to get away from the genre thing. The story would also tick-tock with the faithful metronome rhythm that flowed through all of Allan’s films. This heartbeat would be trusted to his editor, Cecilia Nowack.

     Anthony Rotario read for the part of Julien Jack, but Allan found him too swarthy. He kept an open door, however, because he saw that face closer to reality for the fifth of the series - the Black Widow thriller, Veil of Murder, tentatively set for 2005. One of the husbands in Veil was Angelo DeBora and Anthony showed promise. Handsome, mature, muscular. Qualities Allan always looked for in a man.

Actor

     He was choice number one - fortuitous since he wasn’t working and had nothing on the horizon. They put him on ice, told him they’d talk again closer to the start of the film.

     Though a pro at acting passionately with these men, India always had to shower off the scent when done. There’d been love scenes with Ellice Groom in Lady, Brett Williams and Vincent Orman in Detective. Perverts one and all. Groom had been the worst. Y’know, I’m famous for my big dick. There was no romance in the step-by-step choreography of film, yet her mind always snagged on the notion that the men got off on it. What was it that made them believe doing a love scene meant they had rights to ask her for dates?

     That particular Monday morning fell off track for the routine staff meeting. Marcie and Lucy had each been called by their respective divas, and both assistants showed at the same time to talk to Dan and Ted. The bulk of the discussion was that there’d been some kind of fight and that it was more serious than the usual catty nonsense that occurred between the Dynamic Duo.

     Lucy read from her notes. “She’s not coming. She’s moving out of the house, and has a truck on its way to get her stuff. She wants a meeting to discuss whether or not she can continue to work with Allan.”

     Ted lit a thin cigar and regarded Dan, who just sat and wrung his hands as he mulled over cheques already cashed, actors already contracted, publicity already started.

     Ted's eyes shifted to Marcie. “And he says...?”

     A patient sigh. “He says, and I quote, ‘I might as well just kill myself and get it over with.’” She looked at Lucy. “He wants me to tell you to tell India that he’s sorry, he loves her, and he wants to talk.”

     Dan grabbed candy from the glass dish on his desk. “What was the fight about?”

     Ted exhaled a ring of blue smoke. “Is this about him and Rennie again? I thought we were over that hurdle.”

     Marcie sighed. “Nobody’s talking. We can’t do anything else until someone gets them in the same room to work out what’s bothering them.”

     Dan scratched his cheek. “She’s moving out?”

     Lucy shrugged. “I was there this morning. Allan spent the night at Rennie’s. India’s trashed the house. She’s taking what’s hers and throwing everything else in the fireplace.”

     Ted stood. “Okay. Someone has to start the therapy.” He pointed at the ladies. “Not you two. You’re off the hook. Dan? Which one do you want?”

     Dan rubbed his churning belly. “I think I’d better take India. You scare her too much.”

     Ted nodded. “Allan’s at Rennie’s?”

     Marcie shrugged. “He was this morning.”

     Ted looked at his watch. “Push the meeting back to one this afternoon. Send everyone a complimentary breakfast so we don’t have any more grouchy children.”
__________

     Four burly moving men hauled India’s stuff to the big truck while the lady herself supervised. Not a comment was made, nor an eyebrow lifted over the piles of broken glass and ripped up furniture. This was rich-people shit. They just stepped over the debris and reminded themselves how much money she’d given them for the rush job.

     There stood India in the doorway of the sitting room off the stairs - oversized black bathrobe, bare feet, washed but unbrushed hair. Swollen of nose and eyes. Drunk. She cradled a big stuffed teddy like a baby, rocked it back and forth as she hummed a sad lullaby.

     Dan turned onto the street to find his worst fears realised when he saw the moving van out front. In the small strip of front yard space was strewn the broken glass and the chair that must have done the damage. Neighbours watched grumpily from their yards. The tantrum to which they’d been awakened seemed over, and now would occur the clean-up. Dan parked and polished off a mini chocolate bar on his way to the gate. He turned when a siren sounded and a cruiser began to slow. This required a second chocolate bar. Police first, Bowman second.

     He veered to intercept the uniforms. “Morning,” he beamed with an extended hand. “Daniel Kopanski. Are you here for the disturbance?”

     The cop didn’t accept the handshake. “If you mean this house, that’s right. What’s your business here?”

     Dan rubbed his palms together. “Can we talk in private?”

     “After we see what’s going on.”

     “I’m a movie producer and what’s going on is my actress is having a tantrum. Please? I’d appreciate your discretion.”

     The cops stepped aside to speak with him by the cars. Dan scrubbed his hair. “Um, the house is shared by one of my actresses and her man. He’s the director of our pictures. Have you heard of Allan Baird? Or India Bowman?”

     The younger of the two perked up. “Is that who this is?”

     Dan exhaled. It could only get easier. “They’ve had a fight and India’s in the process of moving out. Lovers’ quarrels, eh?” He laughed nervously. “Things just got a little out of hand. The neighbours are upset and I understand that.”

     A big woman in curlers and housecoat shoved her way into the conversation. “She threw an end table over the fence into my flower bed. They’re always having parties and making noise. Now she’s throwing things.”

     Dan held up his palms. “I’d be happy to pay for any damages, ma’am. I’m so sorry this happened. Looks like she’s moving out, so I’m sure things’ll calm down and you’ll have no more trouble.” He passed out his business cards. “Send me the bill. I promise, no more throwing. I’ll see her stuff gets moved out and the garbage cleaned up. Give me a few hours and you’ll never know anything happened. I promise it’ll all be back to nice by noon. It’s show-biz, eh? The kids get a little wacky sometimes.” He squeezed Curler-Lady’s hand. “Would you like some tickets to a picture? Just tell me what you like and I’ll get you some passes.”

     Her anger broke. “Passes?”

     “It’d be my pleasure. I’m so sorry for all of this. Just a lovers’ quarrel. One’s a little hotter tempered than the other, is all. Passes. Call my secretary.”

     She studied the card. “My flowers are expensive, y’know.”

     He snorted in agreement. “My wife does flowers, so tell me a-bout it. Her roses?” He patted her hand reassuringly. “Just send the bill. Hell, I’ll even help you upgrade if you like. All I want is to make sure you get some peace. Dan Kopanski. Send me the bill. Add some nice touches. We’ll do the whole yard.”

     She left with more spring in her step than when she stormed up, that’s for sure.

     The cops studied the weaver of magic. “You sure can sell it, fellah,” laughed the older one.

     Dan exhaled and pressed his hand to his chest. “You have no idea. I have to deal with these two all the time. They kick up a little dust, let me tell you.”

     “We have to go inside and make sure nobody’s hurt.”

     Dan nodded. “For sure. Looks like a lot of broken glass.”

     Inside, the cops stepped gingerly over crushed china and around the upended furniture.

     Dan found India in the doorway and drew a bracing breath. “Hey, baby. What happened here?”

     She gave him her unfocused, intoxicated eyes. “Do you think I’m a murderer, Danny?”

    “What? Of course not.”

     “Allan thinks it.”
    
     He snuggled her. “Come and sit down. What happened?”

     She staggered and looked up at the big cops. “Did that idiot neighbour call you again? Mrs. Fuckwad from next door? Why doesn’t she mind her own ugly, stupid business?”

     Dan chuckled nervously. “She’s a little drunk, eh? But everything seems okay.”

     The cops examined the mess. “Is anyone else in the house?” A sluggish shake of her head told him no.

     To the cops Dan held up a hopeful palm. “Okay?”

     They turned and passed the moving men on the way out.

     Meanwhile, over at Rennie’s, Ted went looking for the other half of this destructive equation. Rennie didn’t live in a ritzy neighbourhood. His building was a normal high-rise, with its assortment of families and other regular folk. Ted parked in the guest lot and looked for the call button at the front door.

     Inside, Rennie poured Ted a drink and led him to the back bedroom. Allan rested on his side in the blankets, his wrist handcuffed to the head rail.

     Ted half-laughed. “Lose the key?”

     Rennie lit a joint. “It’s for his own good. He said he’s going to kill himself.”

     “Would he really do it?”

     “Might. He’s very upset.”

     Ted waved away the offer of a toke. “Allan?”

     “Sleeping,” said Rennie.

     “Well, I have to talk to him.” He sat and swatted his rear end. “Wake up. He’s not stoned or anything is he?”

     “He’s just asleep, Ted. Don’t be such an ass all the time.”

     “He’s stoned, what? Fifty percent of the time? It’s a fair question.”

     Allan woke and turned to his back. His bottom lip crusted in blood from a nasty split. “What do you want?”

     Ted made no reaction, just lit one of his smokes. “I was thinking about the picture. We pushed today’s meeting back to after lunch. You think you and the missus might have this little grouch-fest patched up by then? It gets expensive when you two fight.”

     Allan reached for Rennie’s joint. Ted intercepted it, crushed it in the ashtray. “You know what the problem is? You smoke too much of this shit. Drugs. Parties. All this fucking around. I thought it was about movies.”

     The chain on his wrist limited Allan’s positions for conversation so he just lifted his knees. “Ted, why do I never see you with a woman?”

     “Because I know the difference between business and personal.”

     “Are you married?”

     “I’m a confirmed bachelor.”

     “Do you fuck girls or boys?”

     “Girls. But I send ’em home in the morning and come to work. I don’t smoke weed and I don’t drink too much. Maybe I have too many of these little cigars, but it doesn’t leave me chained to a bed-frame, my lip all puffed out to here because some young Prima Donna beats the shit out of me when she doesn’t get her own way.”

     “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     “So tell me what I should talk about. No, wait. I have an idea. Let’s talk about Night’s Lesson. Are we ready to shoot yet? Aren’t you supposed to get into a dress and show us whether or not you can act?”

     Allan tugged at his chain. “Undo my hand.”

     Rennie shook his head. “No way. You’re too close to the open window.”

     “I am not going to throw myself out the window. I have to fight with Ted first.”

     “Fight on your back.”

     Allan lifted Rennie’s police bullhorn from the bed table. “Undo my hand or I quit the picture,” he announced.

     Ted downed the last of his drink. “Undo him. If he dives for the window, I’ll just push him the rest of the way and we’ll be done with it.”

     The cuff open, Rennie left the room so they could talk.

     Allan sat and spoke into the bullhorn. “India Bowman doesn’t love me. She’s mad because I acted like an idiot.”

     Ted slapped the device to the floor. “Would you just stop fucking around for once in your life?”

     They fixed eyes and waited. It was the same stare-down they’d given each other at their first meeting. This time, Allan was the one who relented. “I see no reason to film tests of myself if there’s no picture.”

     “Of course there’s a picture. You and India just have to work out whatever’s stuck in your craw.”

     “You have no respect for my feelings. No matter what hurts me, you just walk all over it. Money, money, money. That’s all you know. You’re a prostitute.”

     “So what do you want? A hug? You want to snuggle on my lap and talk about feelings? This isn’t a slumber party; it’s business. We make films for money. Why did you come to me if you didn’t want money? Stop playing the poor misunderstood artist and just tell me what’s bothering you.”

     Ted couldn’t have anticipated what happened next. Allan got to his knees and crawled onto his lap. He snuggled against his chest and cried. Ted put an arm behind his back but remained awash in confusion. Now what? He’s sitting on my lap. He’s crying.

Like it or not, it’s about feelings

     After a minute, the tears subsided. “Sorry,” Allan whispered. “I used to sit on my father’s knee when things felt bad. I wish he was here.”

     Never before in his entire life had Ted dealt with anyone such as Allan. He found himself stroking his back in comfort. “What’s wrong?” he asked softly. If Dan had been the one to deal with Allan, would this be happening? Would Dan have a man of almost thirty-five years curling on his lap like a child? Thank God they were alone.

     Allan closed his eyes. “I found out that Indie was pregnant in ’99. She had an abortion without telling me.” He sniffed and scratched at his forehead. “I panicked. I accused her of murdering my baby.”




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