Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fade To Black - 13 April 2014

So, this is it.  The final act of Fade to Black.  This is the longest of the six acts; as with Act Five, a lot of it takes place in so-called "Real Time", especially toward the end (not in today's segment).

What do you think of the story so far?  What's gonna happen in the end?

Read on!


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 SIX

THE RED CARDIGAN



THE UNHIDDEN HEART

     So began Allan Baird’s homage to the Black Widow. Pre-production started in the Fall of 2005; cameras rolled in the new year. India would have a go at the deliciously cold Virginia Walling who met, married, and murdered rich old men faster than some people swatted flies. Since celebrating her twenty fifth birthday, India’s eyes now bore more than enough nasty to fit the role.

     The fact that most of the crew disliked Anthony Rotario, the new leading man, made the set tense and the actors edgy in their performances. Anthony, leading among the swattable husbands, rubbed India like a cheese grate. Between leering eyes and constant referrals to the panty stunt, he tightened her guts with the very sound of his voice.

     Thirty-seven. For the most part, Allan had gone kicking and screaming into maturity, but with each passing year he fought a little less. It sure wasn’t the old days when one could fill up on booze and drugs all night, then still make an appearance in the morning. That only works for so long before people notice how often you call in sick. Or don’t call in at all because you’re unconscious. He didn’t want bypass surgery, but he surely didn’t want to drop dead in the middle of filming either. What to do when Veil was done? Maybe lie on a beach somewhere and muse over how grand everything had been in his prime. Stay calm and spend the days pampering his antsy ticker. But not yet. There were a few weeks left before the footage went into the shop to be turned into a movie. When it was done, then he could grow old.

     And yes, the drugs did pick up again, for both of them. India had always been fond of weed and used it to relax from anger over Anthony. She’d constantly bitch about the unnecessary amount of slobber in his kisses - his disgusting habit of always trying to sneak in a boob brush when they’d rehearse romance by the fireplace. Allan would simply promise a fat doobie after work if she buckled down and suffered through. Manipulation ever so subtly continued between them.

     It was important not to let Ted know they were back in the house of Jones. He occasionally poked his head in on the action, but had many other investments going, so his time was now quite thinly stretched. Nonetheless, there remained others at the studio who would rat out any drug activity witnessed, so nobody was even allowed to see something as innocent as blowing off a reefer in the parking lot. They had to keep it out of Conversion completely.

     India never forgave Wallace for his scathing tabloid account of her performance in the Panty Van. What used to be magazine of choice became publication non grata. VL was never to see the words of India Bowman again. Allan still granted interviews, but was also somewhat tired of Wallace’s endless rehashing of the stunt.
__________

     Saved for last was the Veil location shoot. Ted knew a guy who knew a guy, who got them use of a boarded-up shopping complex that - in its prime - had been a collection of tightly spaced, quaint period-style shops and services. The place had ambiance and mood, and they got it for free. With that freebie, however, came a truckload of interference from local officials who remembered the name of Baird from the Night’s Lesson nonsense. To let this guy make a film at their shopping centre - abandoned or not - was going to come with a list of conditions. The town decided Allan was disruptive, and so assigned two Community Relations men to babysit. Cops, in reality. After Lesson, they weren't going to let this crew in without cops.
__________

     Allan had a date with India. Her new mail order toys had arrived and he was distracted at the chance to try them. She’d bought a riding crop and would likely kiss his ass with it should he not behave. He planned to behave not at all.

     He made his way up to the soundstage bridge, yawned, and rubbed his eyes - better wake up if he was to enjoy the evening. Across he started, his mind still warm from the day’s work. Veil promised to be tasty. It would play out with the deliberate innocence of the era it portrayed, when all a movie wife had to do to off her husband was to buy a little brown bottle with the word POISON on the label. Devilish fun.

     When he got to the Box, he smoothed his topcoat and moved toward Dan’s office, where the dim glow of a lamp meant the man was working late.

First one in every morning, last one out - Producer’s Law

     Dan slumped at his desk and scribbled notes. The clanging footfalls from the bridge did anything but tinkle on the tufted floor. Any minute now, the director would bust in and try to frighten him. He prepared. “Three, two, one...”

     “Boo!” Allan barked as he swept through the doorway.

     Dan didn’t look up. “Obvious and predictable, Baird. You can’t sneak up on people unless you wear your indoor shoes.”

     Allan seemed disappointed as he sat. “These are my indoor shoes.” The wounded child.

     Dan packaged his paperwork and considered the wilted sandwich he’d planned on eating an hour ago. “Good thing you came now. Another five minutes and I would have been, as they say, a shadow.” He floated his palm like a wing.

     Allan fussed with pills. “Good or bad first, Shadow?”

     Though his stomach growled, it wasn’t worth it to try the nasty sandwich. He could smell mayonnaise and it was getting older by the minute. “Bad. I want a happy ending.”

     “It should be that easy. Between Anthony dragging his nails across Indie’s blackboard all day, and the funk that always crawls up her ass during a shoot, she’s ready to kill ‘Angelo’ for real. Anthony told her to get some beauty sleep. She almost cold-cocked him.”

     Dan leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. “Other than that, how did it go? The rehearsal.”

     “Scrumptious, truly. He’s an ass, but at least he’s a professional ass.”

     Dan gave up on the sandwich and lobbed it - waxed paper and all - into the garbage. “Plus he dies well.”

     “Always a bonus. I loved his dying scene in Hateful Hearts. Right into the pool. Face first. Splat.”

     “You actually watched that?”

     “I watched six of his films when I was scouting.”

     A look to his watch before Dan grabbed his jacket from the coat hook. “What’s the good news?”

     Allan rose. “I sent Indie a fresh bag of fan mail. Motivation.”

     Dan moved the garbage bucket to the hallway. “I thought you agreed not to do that anymore.”

     “It’s just mail. No tricks. She’ll be fine.” He snatched the VL magazine from the coffee table. “What the fuck?” The cover was his own face with a pair of pink panties draped over his head. The caption read: BAIRD FINISHED? “He said he wasn’t doing this.”

     “Never trust a vampire.” Dan shooed him out the door.

     Allan jutted his bottom lip in a dramatic pout. “He told me he loved me.”

     Into the garbage went the magazine, followed by a middle finger exclamation point.

     Dan closed his door. “Go for a drink?”

     “I have a date. Indie bought a riding crop and it needs to be road tested.” He pushed the elevator button. “You play games with the wife? Make-believe?”

     “Oh, for sure. I play the begging husband and she makes believe she’s having a good time.”

     Allan howled. “That’s good. Why don’t you come and join us? I’m sure Indie wouldn’t mind.”

     Dan scowled. “Oh yeah. She wouldn’t mind a bit.”

     They split up - Dan to the elevator, Allan the bridge.
__________

     In the driveway, Allan bent to make nice with a neighbourhood cat who demanded affection. They purred together a minute. How bucolic and domestic, thought he. Such a wonderfully quiet neighbour since the whirling dervish moved out. About to go inside, he heard the rumble of his partner in crime. India’s car eased into place next to his.

     When she got out, he leaned against the hood and folded his arms. She had a package under her arm.

So much for bucolic

     “What’s in the box?” He waggled his eyebrow.

     “Ask Pandora,” she winked back.

     He fisted at his mouth, bit his knuckles. “I prepared a special dessert for you tonight. A real treat.”

     She shook back her hair. “I hope it’s something chocolate. I need a fix.” A tickle to his chin.

     “Come inside.”

     The couple set up downstairs. They prepared a light meal of cheeses and veggies with wine. Allan was stripped down to a pair of zippered leather briefs. Across the table, India posed in a military officer’s coat over panties. Knee-high patent leather costume boots. She held a long, plastic cigarette holder, in the end of which smouldered a joint. They chatted with delicate detachment over this and that and the price of tea in China. Bohemian and bored, the both of them. India had learned well how to play snob for Allan’s amusing night dinners.

     As he spread cream cheese on a cracker, Allan's voice feigned dry business-speak. “Has Anthony made any sexual advances yet? We should film it. A close up of him with your fist in his mouth would be a rare treat, truly. Run it slow motion as his dentures spray across the room.”

     India snickered. His imagination always worked her. “I’ve an idea. You could lurk outside my room. Camera ready, your ear pressed to the wall.”

     He agreed enthusiastically. “Through a drinking glass.”

     “Don’t forget to play with yourself, dear. Someone might be filming you.”

     “That could be the script for a new picture.”

     They lost their affected drama and collapsed in inebriated laughs. “I want you to fire him,” said the lady.

     “We don’t always get what we want.”

     “I’m serious. I don’t want him coming on to me.”

     He fluttered annoyed fingers toward her. “So bash him across the chops and be done with it. Or maybe you’d like me to do it. Hmm, on second thought, I’m just as likely to fall for his swarthy good looks.”

     “You never take me seriously.” She bottomed the rest of her wine. “Nobody does. I’m sick of it.”

     “Now, now. Don’t get yourself into a snit. The man has a contract. He’s not going anywhere.”

     She picked up the crop and slapped at his bare shoulder. “Okay. Enough shop talk. I’m bored with it. What’s for dessert? You promised me a treat.”

     “And so you shall have it.” He, too, was glad to be done with talk of work. He danced to the sideboard and carefully carried back a covered serving plate, then set it before her.

     India yawned in staged boredom. “I’m very excited,” she said flatly.

     He kissed her neck. “Bitch. I love you to death. Hotter than a room full of construction workers.” He flung back the lid from the plate. “Ta daa!” There sat a cone of high-quality blow, nested in a skirt of shaved chocolate.

     India clasped her hands. “How thoughtful! Allan! What a lovely dessert! Pass the spoons.”

     He stumbled from intoxication. “Quickly now. Have just a taste, then we shall retire to the gymnasium.”

     She tipped her head. “Feed me.”

     He knelt and collected powder on his pinky. “Now... don’t fill up on dessert.” He held the sample to her nose - she sniffed it like a lady. “Hmm,” he cooed. “That’s good, hey?”

     She kissed his cheek. “Please, sir, I want some more.”

     He prepared seconds, kissed her when it was done. To her lips he offered a curl of chocolate. She sucked his finger.

     A couple of bumps himself before standing. “Come with me.” His leather-clad backside wiggled as he carried the serving plate to the bedside table. “There’s a very special spot on my body that’s absolutely the best place to take your toot.”

     She grabbed the neck of the wine bottle and tipped it for a mouthful. “Since when do you give orders around here?” A shove sent him to his belly in bed.

     His face became the shit-eating grin as she crawled on top of him and straddled his behind. “Dance for me?” he purred over his shoulder. But there was to be no dancing. India hummed softly as she cuffed his wrists to the bed rail.

     She picked up the crop.


SOMETHING LOUDER THAN BEFORE

     Only two places gave India relaxation. One was in bed if she and Allan had fallen asleep together. Over the years, waking up with him in her arms had become a comfort. She’d often watch him sleep. Recovery time, he used it to its fullest. Most of his ideas came in sleep, so she’d see him work with his eyes closed. The other place was in the shower, with the safety of her own hands on her own skin. The best time was when there was little or no medication in her system. In the shower, she’d convince herself that bad things could be washed off.

     India brushed her towel-dried hair, thought about going back to bed. She kicked clothes from her path and shuffled to tend to the letters Allan had dumped in her lap the other night. Though she’d never tell him, he was right about fan mail having the ability to stoke tensions for the roles. Ice water felt good after the too-hot shower. A couple of letters should grouch her up enough for the day. An envelope selected, she flopped her robe-covered self into bed.

     Dear Ms. Bowman,

     I am a huge fan. I have Night’s Lesson and Lady of Desire on disc. I’ve seen The Diabolical Detective five times. When I heard Veil of Murder would be filming in town, I had to write. I’m studying to be a screenwriter and I’d love to pen something hot for you.

     Mr. Baird may be an expert at capturing your beauty, but he’d better watch his back because I can write better parts for you. If I have my way, not only will I write your roles, but I’ll direct you, too.

     Could I please have one of those black and white posters from The Diabolical Detective, with you against the desk? You have beautiful legs Ms. Bowman. Like alabaster.

Love, John Wilder

     Something was wrong. For a minute she didn’t breathe. The words replayed. Someone else’s voice. Like alabaster. Like alabaster. Like alabaster. Something bad pushed through and had its way with her.

     Both intoxicated, Sean and a friend stumble into the kitchen. Annalee jumps from the table - her chair tips as she backs into the corner. She covers her head with her hands and drops to get small. “Nooo,” she whimpers. Waves of body stink and alcohol fill the air as Sean’s fat friend pulls her from her hiding place. She scrabbles and kicks and screams. He drops to his ass, sits her in his lap, holds her in an unbreakable grip. He nudges her neck with his oily nose. “She sure is pretty, Mac-Donald. Pretty hair. Pretty skin. Like alabaster.” “She’s friendly, too,” nods Sean. “She feels friendly,” the friend grunts. “Let’s see how friendly.” Annalee screams.

     India sat stiff in bed, her face drained and panicky. Her grip on the glass let go, and ice-water spilled out all over the letter. From somewhere inside arose a scream as she threw the now empty glass at the dresser mirror. Both exploded; shards shot back toward her face. She fell forward and grabbed for her Valium. After the pills, she crouched on the floor next to the bed, closed her eyes and rocked. Just wait and the pills will kick in. Take more. Shut it down. No, I have to get to work. Okay. It’ll go away. She smelled alcohol, though there was none. In time she lowered to her side, curled in a ball.

     Soon came sleep.
__________

     Mid-fifties, Detective Aaron Schiffer was burned out. He sure didn’t feel like playing nursemaid to some artsy-fartsy faggot film director who’d managed to throw enough money at City Hall to make them bend over and take his traveling road show up their collective ass. Aaron had a menopausal wife and two growly daughters who fought constantly. The last thing he needed was a fresh set of Prima Donnas. He and his partner, Henry Wakefield, had drawn short straws in the location shoot thing.

     As much as Aaron didn’t want it, Henry did. Henry was ten years Aaron’s junior, twenty years younger in enthusiasm. A Bowman fan for some time, he was eager to meet her, but her similarity in age to his own daughter encouraged him to keep his naughty fantasies at bay.

     When they went to get the lowdown on their assignments, Allan bought breakfast. He’d decided to wear something completely sensible, a black suit à la page. Mix that with his streaked hair and make-up, and he was more than a bit of a standout in the rural peace of Coral’s Diner. Across from the detectives he sat. Feeling extra petite next to the burly men, Allan tingled with yummy sensations of warmth and protection. His mind went to a place where he imagined being handcuffed and interrogated.

Maybe a riding crop could be worked into the mix somewhere

     Aaron’s gravelly voice brought him back. “What sort of problems do you usually have?”

     Allan pulled his finger from his tea and sucked it. He wondered if the grouchy cop could be softened by fifteen minutes in the back seat of a police car with a tasty treat such as himself. “Disorderly fans, mostly. We’ve had police onsite before. They always... rise to the occasion.” A playful wink. No amount of personal burnout could keep him from flirting with a handsome man. His painted nail tapped the envelope before him. “The schedule. The crew’s already setting up. We’ll finish preparations over the weekend, and begin work on Monday.”

     Henry perked. “When does India Bowman arrive?”

     “Saturday morning.”

     Aaron considered the potential for disruptions among the rambunctious fans. “Does your actress have a bodyguard?”

     Allan laughed and made a muscle with his skinny arm. “Well, she has me.” Nothing. Not making the connection bothered him. “Actually she’s a bit of a recluse,” he finally said. “She doesn’t like people fawning over her. Fans and bodyguards alike.”

     Aaron sniffed in judgement. Celebrities always wanted it both ways. “Seems simple to me. She’s concerned about safety, she gets a bodyguard.”

     Allan did deadpan. “He’s so forceful, isn’t he, Henry?”

     From the other cop came only a polite nod.

     “Look,” said Allan. “Indie’s very set in her ways. You’ll understand better when you meet her.” He tucked his card into Henry’s shirt pocket and patted his breast. “My number.” When he started the same move on Aaron, the man grabbed his wrist. Allan remained in snob mode. “Ouch, Aaron.” When freed, he held up two cards. “This is the production manager, Mr. Lowe, and the assistant director, Mr. Raymond. Boomer. You’ll be working with him, mostly.”

     Henry frowned. “Boomer?”

     A dismissive flutter of his delicate hand. “Um... loud lad. Always shouting into a bullhorn. When he has an orgasm, the whole neighbourhood knows it.”

     Henry gave a hearty laugh.

Allan Baird - 1 Beefcake cop - well, it could be a win-win situation

     Aaron shoved at Henry to give way from the booth. Bullhorns? Orgasms? Jesus Christ. “Thank you, Mr. Baird,” was all he said.

     As the cops stood, Allan pulled gently at Aaron’s coat. “How about din-din together when Indie arrives? I don’t know about you boys, but I never really feel like I’m part of the community until I break bread with the locals.”

     Aaron wouldn’t bite. “No thanks.”

     He turned his attention to the snickering Henry. “How about you, honey? I’d love to see your gun.”

     Oops. In over his head. “Um, my wife and I have plans this weekend.” Make sure you mention the wife so he doesn’t think you swing that way. “Maybe one day during the shoot?”

     Allan sighed and resumed his brunch - he spread jam on an English muffin. “Go ahead. Break my heart.”
__________

     The fan behind India’s panic attack was twenty-one-year-old John Wilder, a sloppy, blue-eyed mouse-hair who wanted to write movies - sort of like Allan at that age, except without all the eccentric air and privileged upbringing. He substituted cash-paid college and a trust fund with low-grade mail-order courses and a job at a local video store.

Didn’t he used to have a website...?

     Wilder had several projects underway and wanted to impress India. On board since the beginning, he was loathe to admit he also admired the writer Baird. With this young man came healthy competition to Allan’s work. India was beautiful. She needed to be in romantic tales, sweeping adventures in love, not Baird’s obsessively dark creations. Veil of Murder coming to town was a dream come true - a chance to see an actual film in production, as well as a most fortuitous opportunity to approach his favourite celebrity with his own work. And it would all start this weekend.

     In windbreaker and jeans, Wilder jogged the last block from the bus stop to his building. He crushed out a cigarette and thumped up the stairs to his apartment. The noise must have caught someone’s attention because the door opened from a first floor room. “Is that you, John?” called a voice.

     He leaned over the stair rail. “Yeah.”

     An older woman shuffled into the hall and held up a mailing tube. “This came for you. He couldn’t get it into the slot, so I said I’d hold it.”

     An excited breath. Tobacco stained fingers reached. The kid smoked too much. Nerves. “Thanks, Mrs. Wheaton.” He pounded the rest of the way upstairs and slammed the door behind him.

     Before unrolling the poster, he examined the tube. That was fast. The lady obviously cared about her fans. If she answered it herself, that is. Was it her handwriting on the mailer? Didn’t look like it. Generic printing. He opened it. An elastic band held a slip of paper to the outside of the roll. Pink stationery with small neat lettering. It is her.

Dear Mr. Wilder,

     Thank you for your kind words. I’ll be sure to relate your competitive interests to Mr. Baird. He may challenge you to a pistol duel, but I’ll leave it to you boys to settle.

     Enjoy the poster and best of luck with your writing.

Love, India Bowman

     John had no idea of the terrifying episode that had taken place when she’d read his request. The handwriting gave no clue to the fear that had gripped the lady on the other end of the reply. At that moment, all he knew was that she made him harder than a flagpole.

     He tacked Loretta on the wall by his desk then stood back to admire the placing. By the desk was usually for clippings alone. The hallway to the bedroom was for posters, but this commanded a special location - somewhere that would start conversation.

     The flagpole beckoned so John stripped naked. Another read of the short but amusing reply was in order. He wrapped the sheet around his boner and gave himself a few pleasing strokes with her imagined touch. He suddenly drew it away. That was dumb. The letter should be framed and tacked next to the poster - a position of honour, not a jerk-off memory.

     He pressed his chest against Loretta and sniffed up her thigh to her curvy ass. Those legs should be wrapped around my shoulders. The smell of a real woman instead of print chemicals. Her hand pumping my dick instead of my own.
__________

     When India awoke from Valium induced sleep after reading Wilder’s letter, the painful memory had subsided. “Sorry,” came the apology as she rushed to the set half an hour late.

     When she’d gotten home that night, she’d penned the polite response to prove to herself she was still in control, then attached a sticky-note asking that the Detective poster be sent ASAP to the fan whose address appeared below. Relaxed and calm. In control.

     John didn’t know how lucky he’d been to have gotten a personal reply. If Allan hadn’t selected his envelope from among the pile in the mailbag, he’d have received a standard autographed poster with no handwritten note.

You’re welcome

     By week’s end, the name John Wilder had disappeared. India was going to spend her day off with DVDs, but first stopped by the studio to pick up her mail and plane tickets. The smell of coffee drew her to the cafeteria. Though the hall was filled with the friendly chatter of people going about their biz, India chose an isolated corner table and tuned it all out to read the latest script revisions that had been left in her mail slot. When she blinked away Virginia Walling to down the last of her coffee, she noticed something in her pile of correspondence. An overnight express delivery envelope. Paid courier? She wasn’t expecting anything urgent. Who’s it from?

John Wilder

     Not here. Not in a public place. Allan? I need help. Trembling fingers managed to tap out his number on her phone. No. Hang up. Just a letter. Just words. Throw it away. She opened the mailer and set the letter on the table.

     Dear India,

     Call me John. Thanks for the wonderful poster. I had to let you know right away how much I enjoyed it. I heard you’re arriving Saturday, so I wanted to make sure you got this before then. I’m dying to meet you. I’ve started a script that has your name all over it. It’s a romance. You need to show the world your softer side.

     See you soon - Love, John

     See you soon? Love John? Her vision washed white and she almost fainted. Nothing in the letter found the bad place, but from somewhere deep inside she heard a child scream. She fumbled with her purse and found Valium. I am not going to freak out in the god-damned cafeteria. She gulped pills, gathered her belongings, and ran from the hall.

     Off the elevator, Dan marched toward his office, his arms laden with paperwork. He had to call Sherman Olson - they’d been playing telephone tag all week and it was already afternoon. “Call Sherman, call Sherman,” he recited under his breath. He never expected anybody to be in his office. The voice startled him.

     “I wonder how many virginal young actors have had to prove themselves right here on this very couch.”

     He wheeled to find India, who lounged, filed her nails, and casually perused a copy of VL on her lap.

     He dumped his papers on the desk and erupted in a big smile. “Hey, baby. Let’s have a look at you.” When she stood, he stole a kiss, then backed her to arm’s length. “Gorgeous as usual.”

     She pinched his round cheek. “Liar. I’m a mess.”

     A laugh and one more kiss. “You leave in the morning, eh? I’m glad you stopped by. I won’t be out ’til Wednesday.”

     She pointed to the couch. “Sit. I want to talk to you.” India gave orders like a wife. It was just assumed men would do what she wanted. Allan spoiled her that way.

     Dan just sat obediently. “Yes, ma’am.”

     She eased down next to him and crossed her leg. Even after all these years, it was still a struggle not to stare at her thighs. “What can I do for you?”

     She shifted to aloof mode. “According to Anthony-Fuckwad-Rotario, I’m desperately in love with him. I just don’t know it yet. I’m getting sick of him.”

     Dan chuckled in amusement. “A one-picture deal, eh?”

     “I want somebody to tell him to leave me alone.”

     A bold move. “Like this is the first time a leading man has come on to you. What about Ellice Groom? Since when have you been afraid to tell a man to get lost?”

     “I told him. I tell him every day. Fuck off, Anthony. Eat shit, Anthony. Get away from me or I’ll kick you in the balls, Anthony. He thinks it’s foreplay.”

     Dan howled out loud but drew it back inside. “Sorry.”

     A cold stare. “One of these days, someone will take me seriously.”

     “No, no. I take you seriously. Believe me.”

     “Oh yeah, I can see that. Look, I want his trailer as far away from mine as possible.”

     “Consider it done.”

     Her smoky greys got colder yet. “You should fire his ass. And every other part of him for that matter.”

     Dan leaned back. “Not going to happen.”

     The diva façade calmed a little as she thought about how to bring up the subject of Wilder’s letters. There’d been no luck appealing for Anthony’s head on a plate, so things weren’t likely to be too sympathetic on this topic either.

     Dan knew India by now. He knew when she was going to go dark on him, and it was about to happen. He waited patiently.

     She pondered, without looking at him. “I wonder if I could ever do a different type of picture. Maybe a love story.”

     No brainer. “If Allan ever put you in a love story and didn’t play your lover, he’d never be able to film it.”

     Her eyes tipped upward from under her brow. “Who said it would be Allan’s picture?”

     Dan sucked air. Wow. India making movies under someone else’s direction? Allan would hang himself.

     She read his face - the point had been made. “Besides,” she continued, despite obvious futility. “He’s filmed me in love scenes before.”

     “But never in love. You’re only allowed to be in love with him. In pictures or in real life.”

     She toyed with the delicate gold neck chain Allan had given her years ago. “I’ve been doing this so long, I don’t even know if I’d be good at another kind of film.”

     “When this is done, take the sabbatical. Maybe Allan can come up with something in a different vein. If you want to do a love story, tell him. He is a writer.”

     She just watched him - there was something on her mind and she was trying to work her way around to it. Dan was patient - for her, he’d wait. He’d call Sherman from the car.

     After a long minute, he cupped her face. “I remember when I met you. You said, ‘I don’t want to be a star. I want to be an actor’.”

     “Now I’m neither,” was her flat reply. “I’m just a bitch.”

     He lightly kissed her lips. “You’re an actor. And a good one to boot.” A pinch to her nose. “And you’re a bitch.”

     She couldn’t help a smile. Broken ice. Speak before the bravery fades. “I’m not sleeping. Getting these letters.”

     “I know, and I’m sorry.”

     She frowned and searched his eyes. “You know...?”

     “Allan’s been forwarding mail.”

     “No, I mean a fan is starting to bother me. He wants to meet me on the shoot. Maybe we should tell the police, just to be on the safe side.”

     That was it? He patted her hand. “Let me guess. He’s a young man and he’s in love with you.”

     “You don’t care.”

     “Sure I care, but we haven’t even arrived yet and you already want an investigation. Look, there’s gonna be cops there. If you want, take one of them with you when you go to the store or whatever. Get Boomer to go with you.”

     It wasn’t working. She tried leading him to the suggestion that the fan might be detrimental to her emotional stability, but didn’t want to have to tell him why. No more people in my head. All she knew was that she wanted Wilder kept away from her. She couldn’t take the way he talked, but knew he wasn’t dangerous enough to have anybody else as worried as she.

     Her face became a fake smile as she stood. “You’re probably right. Just another man in love with me.”

     He held up his hands. “There you go. But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll have Lucy hold onto the mail.”
__________

     Back home at her desk, India worked both sides of the argument. Just mail him a letter saying please leave me alone. Or have Lucy call and leave a voice mail. “India Bowman’s schedule will be hectic, and she requests you do not contact her during shooting.” Zip. Bang. Done. If he bothers me after that, I’ll get a restraining order.

     Oh great. Another bloated egomaniac who slaps a restraining order on a fan who’s just being friendly. He hasn’t done anything wrong. But he will - they always do. If Avalon was here, I’d never have stayed in film. I’d have retired then and there. Avalon would never be abused by men, would she? No dicks in the mouth of my sweet daughter. Of course not. Just you to worry about. If this doesn’t stop, I’m going to lose my mind. Weren’t you grouching about John Wilder?

     Then came a vision of waving the letters under cops’ noses, crying about how the fan was freaking her out. How is he freaking you out? He said I had beautiful legs and he’d like me to read stories he’s written. Oh, well, we can certainly understand why that would horrify you, Ms. Bowman. Go ahead. Tell them the real reason you don’t want him writing is because every time he sends a letter, something in it makes you think about being face down on the bed while some pissy-smelling man drills you in the ass. Holy shit. Make it stop.

     Into the shower she went, but continued to get angrier. In the stall, she pressed her forehead to the tiles. It’s the cocaine. It’s the weed. Paranoia can grab hold and make you crazy. Physically, she soothed under the spray, but inside, she needed to go away. She had a flight to catch first thing in the morning and couldn’t afford to do this to herself. An old friend came back to help. PROTECTION MODE washed over her and she fancied herself Mother, taking care of a fussy baby Ava. Mumma’s here. Don’t cry.

     It took over thirty minutes before she could leave the shower, but when she did, John Wilder was gone. Ava was napping and Mother had a few moments to spend answering normal letters.

     “I hate locations,” she sighed as she wrapped in a fluffy robe. “I need to get out of here.” A couple more weeks and it would be done. Two weeks? I can do that. She actually smiled.

     At the vanity, she brushed her hair. Order pizza? She’d been on a diet for two months, so be damned if she was going to deny herself a treat. Maybe it was the diet that was making her cranky. Maybe it wasn’t John Wilder at all. John Wilder. There was his name again. The letters said he wanted to meet her. So meet him and get it over with. He’s not going to attack you. Are you so high-and-mighty that you can’t read a couple of stories from an enthusiastic fan? Take Allan and go meet the kid. His letters were probably the cleanest she’d seen in a while anyway. Not like the ones where men talked about having sex with her, how they wanted her to suck them off. She’d once gotten a letter from a man who said he wanted to come on her face. Wilder was the least of her worries.

     She stared at her open laptop, then typed:

Dear fucking India fucking Bowman,

     My dearest, dearest friend. I hope it’s not too much of an awfully big bother to ask if you wouldn’t mind sitting on my face so I might lick your snatch dry.

     Ever so much love,

     Little Johnny Wilder

     She laughed nervously before deleting the lines. Okay, that’s enough. I really have to get this mail done.

     Words typed in jest sparked a notion. An undefined idea drifted through her head. Wilder hadn’t said anything nasty. Nobody thought him a danger. What if she typed up something that was dangerous? Nothing too serious - just enough to draw attention to him. If there seemed the chance he wanted more than a simple meeting to show off his writing, people would realise her fears were justified. Without having to lay bare her weakness for all to see, she’d free herself of the words that triggered the ugly sneak-attack memories. Just keep him away from me. I can’t go through this again.

     But just hypothetically, what would such a threatening letter say?
__________

     Allan went alone to the airport. Showing up with too many black clad friends was the quickest way to get recognised. He knew India had been more than her regular degree of tense lately, and it wasn’t good to push. The Virginia character wasn’t that angry. He turned his head from view of the driver and tooted blow from between pinched fingers. The guy was probably one of Ted’s spies, planted as chauffeur to count the number of times he could hear Allan sniffing or snorting.

Okay, so the paranoia factor was up on more than one front

     Allan climbed from the car and slid on his sunglasses. There they were, milling about at the gate. Reporters. Shirts and rolled up sleeves jockeying for position, jostling and being jostled by the loud crowd from VL and other cult magazines. He wondered if the people from Normalville had ever before seen anything like The Baird Brigade.

     Microphones pushed to his mouth, questions fired at him in a chorus of confusion. Allan listened - parts filtered through. Answer. Don’t answer. He made mental notes. “We’ll be in town about two weeks,” he started. “We do have some fine local men assigned to our staff. They’ll be working in matters of security, both for our benefit and the peace of the town. It’s our hope we can conduct business without any trouble.” He held up his palms. “I hope you all come to the press conference tomorrow morning.”

     He collected India and began the gauntlet back to the limo. Freshly tooted, he had energy. Fresh off the plane, she did not. She hugged tightly to him, quiet and demure in her yellow sundress, white sweater over her shoulders. Head down, she didn’t even feel like talking to him, never mind the reporters. But she was glad of his presence, still the only comfort zone in her world.

     More questions shot out. Microphones jabbed for attention, cameras flashed in noisy chatter. Questions that passed his filter were about the film and whether or not there would be any publicity stunts. He held up a hand to keep a clear path. “The story’s about a dangerous woman. We have no extra promotions planned.”

     “Was the panty stunt a mistake?” He’d heard that one a thousand times.

     “It was a curious experiment in human nature.”

     One question cut through to India - Allan felt her tighten. “What’s the rumour you’re pregnant?”

     He fielded it with extreme skill. “Well I might be, but I have to check with my doctor first.” Laughter spread through the group. Even India enjoyed that one. Thank you, honey. I can always count on you to make me smile. She squeezed his fingers in her fist - a lover’s special gratitude.

     There was Tim Wallace, working his way through the throng.

     Allan reached for a hug. “Where’s Stuart?”

     “He didn’t see it. He took the Science Fiction Convention. I found the flight at the bottom of the list. You snooze, you lose, darling, you know that.” He glanced at India but got nothing back. He whispered in Allan’s ear. “She still mad?”

     Allan winced. “I wouldn’t push if I were you.”

     “I guess riding in the limo’s out of the question.”

     Allan rolled his eyes.

     Tim clicked his fangs. “Nice to see you again, India.”

     “Tim,” she forced through a fake smile.

     Leaving him and the others behind, the couple moved through the exit to the waiting car. India got in first and fell against the far door. “Holy shit. Get me out of here.”

     Allan pushed the button to raise the window between themselves and the driver. He did several toots and leaned up against her, arm behind her shoulder as he rattled a bottle of sedatives.

     She kissed him. “My boy.”

     He slid a pill under her tongue. Kiss. Another pill, another kiss. “You’re depressed.”

     She tried to calm. “It’s the nightmares. I haven’t had any decent sleep all week. My mind won’t slow down.”

     He caressed her velvet cheek with his fingers. “Shaded lady. Still so beautiful. I love your melancholy expression best of all.” His hand found its way under her dress and stroked her bare belly. His raging hardon hadn’t had a friend since they’d parted. “Lie down on Doctor’s couch and we’ll talk it over.”

     “I can handle it, Doctor.”

     “I don’t think so. I think therapy’s in order.”

     She pushed him back. “I don’t want to talk.”

     He reached in again - horny boy. “Neither do I.”

     She couldn’t fight that it felt good, and finally took his kisses. Despite her mood, Allan was sanctuary. Yeah, they still liked to fuck it all away. His hand slid into her panties and the kissing got hotter. Her dress made him crazy. Its sunny contrast to her black mood was not lost on him - man of visual pleasures.

     India closed her eyes and straddled his lap. They kissed and fumbled and finally fucked through the tensions as the world outside went about its business.
__________

     At the location, everybody tended to work with due diligence. Humans and trucks vied for space as trailers were loaded to the gravel roadway that led into the shooting area. Allan, India, Anthony, and Rennie got private units. Others shared or were put up in the nearby hotel. Two burly young rookie cops had been recruited to play extras in the various shoots. Their jobs would be to watch for disruptive fans and make sure everything stayed sane.

     Henry, too, had been assigned, but his was a special job, to be handled with discretion and delicacy. Specifically, he’d been tasked by Allan himself to keep India safe during scenes scheduled for the following Sunday - apparently some sprawling thing that involved traffic on a makeshift street, in the shopping centre parking lot, where there’d likely be a lot of spectators. Nobody used the word bodyguard, lest Queen Bowman lay the freak-out egg at having him so close, but it was essentially the job. He’d be in costume, and always in subtle proximity when her scenes were shot. For the special consideration, Henry received a substantial bonus from Allan’s own pocket.
__________

     With a week of shooting in the can, things had been blessedly quiet. Fans swarmed but stayed behind the barricades. Happier than all get-out was India. That is, until Anthony came to her trailer with the intention of asking her out. Short of actually kicking him in the balls, she dismissed him with the wave of her hand. Wouldn’t even let him in the door. Made him speak from the steps. Yes, she could be quite the little bitch, but he knew she’d come around eventually. After all, if she could go for the director, how could she not enjoy him?

     As he departed from her less than receptive company, up came Lucy for her own audience with Lady B. “She’s in a bitched up mood,” said Anthony as he passed on his way from her trailer.

     Lucy had a polite nod for the smarmy prick. Behind his back, however, he got the finger and a stuck-out tongue.

     Inside, India bathed in the self-satisfaction of having bitch-slapped the leading man in no uncertain terms. A knock. What does that idiot want now?

     “Indie?” called Lucy. “Let me in. I’m being eaten alive out here!”

     The lady relaxed. “It’s open, Luce.”

     In blustered the flighty assistant, her tie-dyed dress fluttering in the breeze. “I can’t believe the bugs!”

     India tended to personal vanity at the small foldout table. “I thought they were supposed to spray.”

     “Some of the crew complained. The chemicals are toxic.”

     Oh, brother. “We all have to die of something.”

     Lucy plunked down a manila envelope. “Here. The mail. You know I’m not supposed to do this.”

     “Have you sorted through it?”

     “Not yet. There’s only a few. Want me to open them?”

     India grabbed the package. “I’ve got it, thanks. You might as well settle in for the night. Where’s Allan?”

     She whisked herself back out, but commented as she left, “Probably off sacrificing a virgin or something.”

     India locked the door and turned her attention to the envelope. A call to the studio Wednesday revealed that new letters had arrived. Yes, Dan had instructed Lucy to hold the mail, but she’d felt obligated when India herself asked for it.

     Her hands shook. These should be the little white lies she’d mailed to herself before relocating to Trailerville. Now they’ll believe me. Wilder hadn’t done anything wrong, but this would keep it from ever getting that far. For every fan who ever hugged or kissed her without permission, grabbed her breast, or yelled up to her balcony while masturbating, John Wilder would play sacrifice.

     There were actually three letters. Having only sent two, she threw the unfamiliar one aside and tended to the fakes. No need to read them, she just opened the envelopes and moved the contents to her correspondence folder. She’d not written Wilder’s return address. Should anything have gone wrong in delivery, the last thing she wanted was to have them sent back to his mailbox.

So now who’s dangerous?

     The letters safely in place, she garbaged the envelopes. After a moment to settle, she considered the other letter that had been mixed in. Must be a real fan letter. Her hands trembled with adrenaline as she opened it. A small photo fell to the floor. Before retrieving it, she unfolded the one paragraph note.

     Dear India,

     You never answered my overnight. What gives? I want to buy lunch and show you my work. I’m enclosing my pic. Can’t wait to meet you.

     Love, John

     She stood fast. I’m going to be sick. To the bathroom she stumbled. Though her system overloaded in the spasms of throwing up, nothing came since she hadn’t eaten all day.

     She finally returned to the table, arms tight about herself. “Please, please, leave me alone,” she breathed. “Just go away.” A slow bend to pick up the photo. Before examining the face, she read the words on the back. It was a phone number and the phrase, “Call me.”

     When she turned it over, his face penetrated her soul.

     Annalee crouches beneath her bedroom desk. Sean stands in the doorway. He’s laughing in a deep, slow motion wave of nauseating stink and slime. A thin man next to him moves forward on rubbery legs and reaches. It’s John Wilder’s face. He gropes and grabs at her, drags her from under the desk and slaps her hard.

     India screamed to drown out the child’s pain. She reeled back, hand over her mouth. Oh God, I hope nobody heard that. She tripped over a suitcase. When her forehead hit the edge of her steamer trunk, out went the lights.




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