Rounding the bases. Heading for second.
Let's continue with Act Six.
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
A DEMON IN MY VIEW
Though morning, Allan’s trailer was dark, the windows covered in black curtains. A double-header of films played from his video set-up. Side by side on two screens ran an ugly splatter film next to his rare copy of Intermezzo. This not being the first time India had been late for work, he knew just to send Lucy. As the assistant tended to her task, the director hunkered in his lair and enjoyed a toot. In case someone decided to conduct spot inspections, he kept his stash in a locked case with his documents.
The knock on the door startled him, and he dropped the baggie into the case. “Come in.”
Lucy stepped up. “You have to come. She fell and hurt her head last night. One of the fan letters scared her.”
He locked his case. “Why didn’t she tell anyone? Why do I have to hear about this when we’re ready to film?”
She backed out. “Don’t kill the messenger.”
India reclined in her bunk, a hastily constructed bandage pasted to her forehead. Allan stomped up, impatience all over his wired face. He said not a word, just stared at the gauze as he tried to imagine an elegant Virginia Walling with a bloody patch on her face. Or stranger yet, some sort of open head wound. Maybe he could work it into the script. What happened to your head, ma’am? I got shitface and stepped on a yard rake.
I’ve always wanted to make a comedy
He carefully peeled back her bandage to examine the owie. Split skin about an inch long, surrounded in a bump and mild bruising. “This isn't too bad. Maybe ToJo can fix it.” He reached to the table and picked up the correspondence. Lucy said it had been about fan letters. Something from the bag of mail he’d sent? He needed his sedatives, and if he got too upset, his heart medicine. Had he inadvertently started another fan-related thing with her?
Lucy had stuffed Wilder’s letter in with the rest. Allan read it. The boy wanted to buy lunch. Invasive, but more annoying than dangerous. He examined the photo. When next he met Indie’s eyes, he had little sympathy. Concern for her? Yes. Concern for the budget? Yes, yes.
“What am I?” she grumped. “A zoo exhibit? You look like you’re waiting for the monkey to amuse you. And I’m the monkey. Shall I get up and dance?”
Silence. He drew a deliberate breath. “I love it when you beat yourself up. It’s psychotic and so sexy.” A slow stroll to her side. “But while you lie here smearing shit all over yourself, I cannot shoot my movie.” His stomach churned. She was becoming dysfunctional. These weren't simple tantrums anymore. His leading lady was cowering, incapacitated in her trailer while the shoot waited.
“Sorry to inconvenience you,” she sniffed into a tissue. She finally met his eyes and held them without blinking. He stared her down. She yielded. “I fainted. You always starve me to get me into costumes. What am I supposed to say? Are you waiting for me to pour my heart out?”
His reply was harsh, but designed to appeal to the actor. “Actually, I’m waiting for you to get back to work. Now tell me what’s wrong.”
She hugged her pillow and propped to the wall. “He’s a stalker. So there it is.”
“Who? Photograph Boy? It wasn’t really a stalky letter. No references to your anatomy. Or your underwear.”
“You just saw one. There are others. They've gotten worse.” This was it. Goodbye John Wilder.
Allan sat on the bunk and flipped through the letters.
Allan Baird is an asshole. You need to dump him. I love you more than he ever could. I bet he isn't even a good fuck.
I guess a lot of fans jerk off when they look at your pictures. I imagine you naked and know you could fuck me hard. I think if you met me, you’d give up that creepy fag for a real man.
His eyebrow lifted. “Clever.” An amused chuckle. “But just a garden variety pervert. To him, you’re nothing but a poster and a fistful of hand cream.”
“What? Oh that’s lovely. I knew you’d dismiss it.”
“Would you prefer a hug? It probably wouldn’t help.”
She sighed and flopped to her back. “Today, it just might.” He still doesn’t care. After all that.
While she reclined, arm across her face, Allan found an envelope with Wilder’s return address. He jotted it in his day planner. “You’d probably just cry, or something.”
“I’ll cry when you’re gone.”
A forced smile. “Save the tears.”
Her voice remained dry and defeated. “Save the hug.”
Once more, he leaned over, palms on either side of her head. “Do not succumb to the prostrating power of the destroyer.” He kissed her nose. “I love you. I’ll send ToJo, okay?”
All she had left was a dull shrug. “Whatever.”
Outside the trailer, Allan closed his eyes. He could hear her sad crying from within. He fumbled with his bottle of sedatives and thumbed buttons on his cell. “Henry Wakefield, please.”
John draped himself in his dirty recliner and shuttled through his videotaped Madge Hart interview with India. He paused and played over special parts. Since Night's Lesson, she hadn't done any more interviews, so these were all he had of her beautiful face. He distractedly lifted his beer bottle and tongued into its opening. His mind made fantasies of her body and the places where his tonguing would be more enjoyable.
A knock startled him and he shuffled to the door. There stood the commanding form of Henry Wakefield. “Yes?” said the young man.
Henry showed his badge. “Detective Wakefield. I’m working with the ‘Veil of Murder’ production.”
“Detective? On a movie shoot?” His mind churned it over. Then a grin. “This is because of the Night’s Lesson thing, isn't it?”
“Are you John Wilder?”
“Can I talk to you?”
The youth stepped back to let him in. “What’s the deal?”
Henry studied the room. A monumental tribute to India Bowman. Most every square inch of wall was covered with some sort of image of her. Sometimes alone, sometimes with Baird or others from the inner circle. Henry paced a moment to absorb it all. “You’re one serious India Bowman fan.”
John shrugged it off and chugged beer. “I’m writing a screenplay for her.”
Henry stopped by one of the Older than Dirt publicity shots. “I understand you've been writing letters, too. Nice letters?”
That was unexpected. “None of your business letters, actually. Who told you about my letters?”
Henry watched the TV. “I thought she didn’t do interviews.”
“She used to, before Night’s Lesson. This is old. Who told you about my letters?”
He picked up a framed picture of India from the desk. “Ms. Bowman reported some of your letters were inappropriate.”
John laughed. “I don’t think so. All I said was that I wanted a shot at writing for her and being her director. I never said one word out of line.”
“Can I see the letters? Do you have them on the computer?”
“They were hand written.”
“Allan Baird said he saw typed letters signed John Wilder.”
Another laugh. “Allan Baird? He’s probably jerking you around. Have you actually seen them? Have you seen mine?”
“I have to get them from her.”
“It’s either a prank or a different John Wilder.”
“Who also just happens to be the world’s biggest India Bowman fan? Come on, John.” He stopped to read her polite reply next to the Loretta Marsh poster. “What makes you think it’s a prank?”
“I told her I’m doing a love story. Maybe she liked my idea. Maybe she told him and he got pissed off. Maybe he’s trying to get me into trouble so guys like you will knock on my door and try to keep me away from her.”
Henry’s mind chewed over that possibility. “I want you to do something for me.”
“Don’t write her again until we sort this out. If there is a prank going on, I don’t want anybody fueling the fire. He said she’s very upset.”
“I'm telling you it’s bullshit. Pure Allan Baird bullshit. He does things like this all the time. Ask him about the panty stunt.”
Henry sighed, suddenly concerned that he’d been duped. “Look, if you want to write for her, freaking her out won’t put you on her good side, will it?”
After Henry left, John got mad. Baird was suddenly in his field of vision. He’s read my letters. He’s jealous. She must really be interested in meeting me. Baird’s pissed off and is trying to keep me from her.
Just before the location shut down for the night, Henry went back for a meeting with India. She and a handsome mature man were rehearsing, strolling arm in arm, and going through various gestures and dialogue.
Off to the side stood Allan with a digital camera. He snapped stills of the scene and gave but a glance when the cop came up beside him. “She’s beautiful, isn't she?”
Henry watched the rehearsal. “Sure is. She looks different in person than in pictures.”
“Did you speak to Mr. Wilder?”
“Yes. Can I speak with her now?”
“Hmm. She’ll be done in a minute.” He turned and snapped shots of Henry. “You’re quite the beauty yourself. I hope you’re reconsidering my dinner offer.”
He eased the camera away. “Tell me about the panty stunt.”
Allan’s face became pain and discomfort. “I never meant to hurt her, okay? It was a publicity stunt that got out of control. What? Did Wilder tell you about it? Did he say I sent those letters myself to stoke her fire?”
Henry remained cool. “Did you?”
“Absolutely not. It hurt her, Henry. I hurt her. She’s the love of my life. If I did something like that, she’d walk off the set and probably out of my life as well.”
The rehearsal broke up and India sauntered over. Allan took her hand and playfully bit her knuckles. “That was wonderful,” he cooed.
She cupped his face and planted on his lips several warm kisses. “Thank you, dear.” After all these years, one would have thought India confident enough to know that - whether immediately or in the long run - she always got her way with Allan. Despite his overt nonchalance about Wilder, he had indeed called the police. The man who stood with him now was probably one of them. He’d been seen around the set this past week. She noticed the badge on the belt of his trousers.
Allan made introductions. “This is Detective Wakefield. He wants to discuss the letters.”
Wakefield? Well, well. Not just a cop on the set, he was one of the men in charge of the whole police presence. She’d overheard Boomer and Allan talking about a Wakefield who was to supervise the big street shoot in the morning. As long as he brought good news, she had for him a smile. “Hello, Detective.”
Wide-eyed Henry stared. India Bowman up close. He finally came around with a big two-handed shake. “I’m very pleased to meet you. I saw Night’s Lesson’ and the other one about the mistress.”
“Lady of Desire?”
“That’s it. Very good film.”
“Thank you. Nice of you.”
“Where can we talk?”
She took his hand and led him toward the catering tables. “Are you the one who’ll be riding shotgun on the crowd scenes tomorrow?”
“So I’ve been told.” As they continued, he glanced back at Allan. “Tell me about him.”
“Allan? What do you want to know?”
“Treat you right?”
A contemplative frown. “That’s such a curious question about someone like Allan.”
“Well, you know. Is he a good guy?”
She gave him a hip-bump. “Another curious question.”
Henry laughed at her playful evasions. “You’re quite the pro at dodging questions, aren't you?”
Coy to the max. “Am I dodging?” She sat on top of one of the picnic tables. “I don’t want to talk about Allan. I want you to say you’re here to reassure me that this John Wilder person won’t be bothering me anymore with his dirty letters.”
“To tell you the truth, I'm not sure he wrote them.”
Her face drained. No, no. This isn't how it’s supposed to go. “Of course he did. He signed them. The same return address. I saw the envelopes.”
He paced before her. “Tell me about the pink panty stunt.”
“Well, I don’t want to lay any accusations...”
“You think Allan wrote the letters? That’s ridiculous.”
“How well do you know him?”
“Inside out. Backwards and forwards. He did not write the letters. I’d stake my life on it.”
“Is love blind?”
“He didn’t do it. If I thought for a minute he did this, I’d put his lights out.”
Her head swam in dizzy fear. The lie had just escalated. Do I now confess the truth and end it? If they suspect Allan, they might start butting in on his world. His private things. His drugs. It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
“Look, we’ve drawn attention to John. He knows we’re watching him. If any more letters come, he has to know we’ll come after him. I’m sure this is the end of the problem.”
Sheer panic. “Wait a minute. It’s not the end of anything! What if he decides to come after me in person? Did Allan tell you what the letters said?”
“Yes. Which reminds me. I want to take them with me.”
“What if he doesn’t stop?”
“Don’t convict him before the crime is committed.”
After the talk with Henry, India lay awake in restless worry over what she’d done. She couldn’t confess now. She’d already pretended to know nothing about it. If she came forward, it would once again lead back to her biggest fear - that people would be in her head, in her business.
In his own trailer, Allan sat cross-legged on the floor with Rennie. After the fainting thing, and the injury to India’s head, the A.D. had serious concerns about the future of the film. This wasn’t Dirt, where a stoppage of production could be covered with personal money. Veil had a damn-near mainstream investor budget, and Ted would surely have something to say if the star became unable to function.
Rennie made one reference after another concerning Allan’s constant pampering of the manipulative actress. But he didn’t know her. Boomer didn’t know her at all.
She wasn’t the spoiled diva who waved her hand and made demands. Wasn’t a bitch. She was lost. Lost and damaged, without a chance to be happy - except in her fantasies, where people loved her and she had a place in the world.
Since Avalon, Allan’s view into India’s world had cleared. To understand, all he had to do was remember that when being abused, she was only five years older than the baby would be right now. Somewhere in the abstract, he got the reason why she wouldn’t bring the little girl into the world. Her version of preemptive protection. If there was even the slightest chance the baby could ever be abused, Indie would not allow it. As some odd form of balance in her universe, she’d saved the little one from even having to face the possibility.
But the Boomer would have his say. “What are you going to do when the picture’s over? You think you can spend the rest of your life driving around, sleeping in the back of a van? Aren't you a writer?”
Allan leaned against his bunk and sketched pictures of his daughter. He’d finished two beers and had just cracked open a third. With each swallow, his introspective side took greater command. “Maybe I’ve written all I have.”
“If that’s true, it’s because of her.”
“Why would you say that? Can’t I burn out of my own accord? Why is everything wrong in my world her fault?”
“Would you be burning out if you’d never met her?”
“If I’d never met her, I never would've had this kind of success with these films. Just because I’ve been knocked down a peg doesn’t mean it hasn't been worth it.”
Rennie chugged his beer. “I didn’t say the project wasn’t a success. I just wonder if the cost was too high.”
“If that’s true, Indie’s paid the price, too. She asks a lot, but she gives everything she has. Nobody appreciates what she’s given to take this ride. She could have done Michael Hope’s picture and gone on to a career where people don’t faint and starve and O.D. on sleeping pills. Where people don’t grab you in public and hang around your building so you can’t even go out without being... meat.”
“She’s not Ingrid Bergman.”
“No. She doesn’t get that kind of respect.”
“She doesn’t give herself that kind of respect.”
Allan nodded. “I’ve treated her like shit more than any of them, you know that?” He wiped wet eyes. “Instead of helping, I’ve been the major contributor in her downfall. When I was with Mondo and Lisa, it felt so different. They always remind me of what sort of person I should be. People used to know me as a gentle boy with a soft heart. Now I’m a monster. No better than her father.”
Come morning, work-faces took over to deal with the busy schedule. No more time for moody introspection. It would be the long crane shots first - Virginia would walk across a busy street to the pharmacy. So the story goes, she was to purchase an eyedropper from which she would later squeeze a tiny amount of cooking oil in sabotage atop a flight of stairs. What a terrible shame if someone was to slip on it and fall to his death.
Boomer was busy arranging extras - street people, strollers along the pavement, citizens at the bus stop. A real Hitchcock-ish exterior. In demonstration of why they’d taken to calling him Boomer, the A.D. bellowed commands through his police bullhorn. With each order, the clusters of period-dressed extras shuffled and adjusted themselves to suit his needs.
Up on the crane, parked about twenty metres back from the action, perched Allan and Gail Kim. Back in the days of Dirt, Gail’s credit was Camera Operator, but things had come a long way. She was now the mighty Director of Photography, with staff under her control. Gail was the only one among them, however, not afraid to get up on the big truck-mounted platform and be cranked over thirty feet in the air. Double-scary duty for this scene - a dramatic long shot that would start high, then lower to ground level while the truck moved toward the action. To the stomach, it felt like coming over the front-arc down-sweep of a Ferris wheel.
Gail had used the crane truck in Allan’s work on only one other occasion: the final street shots of Night’s Lesson. Allan had been impressed with the studio-heyday touch of the monstrous arm and wanted it one more time. While Gail ran the camera, he assumed a place on the outboard seat of the platform. Mounted at his side was a video screen plugged in so he could follow her lens. He swung his leg, scanned the barricades.
When India came from the setup area, the crowd of spectators whooped in appreciative applause. She waved a polite hand and went to join Rennie.
A beautiful sight was India in her Virginia costume. Perfect complement to the handsome, well-dressed George Braemar whose character, Roger Dorian, would fall to Virginia’s evil ways in the oily sabotage plot. Not in this shot, George sat nearby and watched. If all went as planned with the crane, he’d be needed in about twenty minutes when his unsuspecting character would meet Virginia on her way back to the car after buying the eye-dropper.
Tucked in among the extras was Henry Wakefield - nearby stood his bulldog recruits. All were dressed as uptown dandies, Henry with a fake moustache and hair tonic.
A more handsome gentleman I cannot recall
Like Allan, Henry scanned the crowd of spectators. He stood a distance from India, but maintained vigilant watch. It had been worked out that his character would walk parallel to her across the street - always near but never obvious. And while he played shadow, his two recruits would simply mingle with the street people and stay alert.
The air sparked with the potential for trouble. Any among the fans could easily jump the simple sawhorses and try to get at her. The boob-grab at the Panty Van had proven that. All fine and well to be copped at a regular public function - another matter altogether to have someone leap over a barricade in the middle of a shoot. To close this location would have been difficult and expensive. It was more practical to secure the immediate area and keep people just far enough back so as not to be in the shot. Along the entrance road and by the trailers were hired guards, but all in all, merely friendly encouragement to behave.
Allan keyed his headset. “Are you with us, Henry?”
“Right here, Allan.” The invisible bodyguard had been fitted with a concealed earpiece and discreet mic in his tie.
Next, to the A.D. “Boomer? Tick, tick, tick, tick.”
The voice crackled in the director’s ear. “One minute.”
After a final settling of the extras, Rennie gave the word.
Allan smiled. “Here we go, boys and girls.”
There he stood among the crowd. John Wilder. No more a noticed presence than any around him. His plain face veiled him in complete mediocrity as he advanced through the pack of spectators. To be more precise, he advanced toward the specific section of the barricade where India waited for her cue to cross the street.
Rennie bellowed for silence and things got still. Commands echoed from the crane. John lifted his eyes to watch Allan, but then returned focus to India. More commands were issued and extras began moving. When the phrase ACTION INDIA was hollered from above, she started her walk. The crane began to swing out and then down in the arc of its creative imagery. Gazes shifted gazes between India and the truck boom.
Young Wilder made it to the front of the barricade. He leaned his palms against the sawhorse structure. Right in front of him was a tall rent-a-cop. It hurt to think India might think him dangerous, based on some stupid prank being played by the director. He knew himself to be just as creative a mind as Baird. He’d read many accounts of how Allan and India had gotten together. If it happened once, it could happen again. Some fortuitous encounter that would distract her from what she was doing. Maybe this would be that encounter. She hadn't replied to his lunch invitation, but that was okay. All he had to do was point himself out to her and promise he hadn't sent any dirty letters. The truth revealed, she’d then find herself at ease about it and lunch would be the next logical step.
The CUT command rang out. Assorted chatter over walkie-talkies meant it would be done again. Rennie reloaded the extras to their starting points while India headed back whence she came. Scrabbling along right with her was ToJo, each of the ghoulish twins fussing to powder the shine off her face and snip flyaway hairs that escaped in the breeze.
Nearby waited Henry, a little bored, a little distracted. He’d walked slightly offside and three metres behind India and was now asked to do it again. So back he went to his place on the other side of the street. Was it always like this? Shoot for fifteen seconds, then shoot the same thing again for another fifteen? When you watched a film, who figured it went like that? One might have thought the movie biz glamorous - this was anything but. It was a lot of dog-fucking and nose-picking, while techs scurried and fussed with their gadgets.
What did impress him was the collection of antique cars. Drivers moved the big beasts back down the street for the retake. Do they own these cars or rent them? What happens if they get damaged? They must have quite the hefty insurance policy on a thing like this. With one eye on India, he let the other drift to an enormous 1940 maroon Ford being parked along the curb nearby. Beautiful. Running boards, sweeping round fenders.
A noise brought him back in a big hurry. A scream. He turned to see India jerking away from the grip of someone behind the barricade. Aw, shit. He’d been distracted and now something had happened.
The recruits were all over it. As they pulled her to safety, others in the crowd pounced for the one who had grabbed her. Two men readied to take a round out of him. Him who? Henry saw the face. John Wilder. He’d gotten to her. Mister “I haven’t done anything wrong” wasn’t so lily white after all.
Henry wrestled to pull the attackers away before they ripped the boy to shreds. He deflected blows meant for John’s face and fought to release fists from his hair. Over six feet tall and some two hundred pounds, Henry fought for control with muscle and the flash of a badge. “Get back!” he shouted, pushing one of the big men. “Get back now. Let him up. Cool off, or you’ll be arrested.”
The word arrested must have meant something. because the crowd began to calm. Obviously some real cops hidden among the rentals. India held to the big recruit who enveloped her in his protective arms.
Wilder had apparently waited until she was close enough to grab by the wrist. “India?” he had yelled. “It’s John Wilder. I have to talk to you.”
She’d screamed in near hysteria, stumbled off her heels. About to hit the ground, she’d been caught by one of Henry’s boys and now clutched to him in a fit of terror. Henry got John free from the mob and pushed his face flat against the side of the maroon Ford. With a meaty fist, he held the struggling youth easily. “Get back!” he continued to warn the crowd.
Security guards eased people away and rebuilt the collapsed barricade. Until the situation was under control, Henry maintained his grip on John, both containing and protecting him. When Rennie arrived to assess the fuss, Henry opened the door of the Ford and stuffed John into the back seat. “Stay there,” he barked. He regarded the kid’s bloody nose and threw in a soft pack of tissues. “Idiot. You’re lucky they didn’t kill you.”
“I just wanted to talk to her!” he shouted in panic.
Up on the crane, Allan and Gail stared in disbelief at the riotous mess. Through the headsets came a cacophony of voices. Allan tried to hear, tried to filter, but it was a tangle of confused chatter. He finally spoke into his mic. “Excuse me. This is the director. Can we have quiet over the air? Straight answer, if you please. Henry?”
The voices stopped. Allan’s eyes found the cop, who moved from the Ford and took India under his arm before turning to face the crane. “It was Wilder. He was in the crowd and he grabbed her. She’s safe with me, but very shaken up. Kid’s being detained.”
Allan’s face was a pained pinch, somewhere between anger and worry. “I’ll be right down,” he sighed. “Boomer, clear this place out. Everybody gets an hour. Get Dan on the phone and tell him to get back here. Have Marcie meet me in the office. Henry, please see India safely to her trailer before you deal with Wilder.” A pause. “Would you also give him a kick in the balls and tell him he owes me ten thousand dollars for my fucked up schedule.”
Unbelievable. India had not one more regret about the letters she’d mailed. Wilder had proven to be exactly what she’d feared. Her letters had simply been prelude to the truth. But now what? Now he really was dangerous.
By the time Allan arrived at her trailer, she was a disheveled mess. Hair out of place, make-up smeared, eyes puffed and red. The wound on her forehead was still nicely disguised, however. A disturbing mix of elegant Virginia and horrified young lady. Unable to decide whether angry or upset, he regretfully chose angry - but just for a second. In hipshot pose, he snipped, “I just got off the phone with Ted. My work is not going to fall apart just because some undersexed college boy has a crush on you. You can’t keep collapsing into emotional jelly every time something happens.”
Her reply was a calm assessment. “I remember when Ted was the bad guy and I was your friend.”
When her sad eyes lifted, he bit his tongue, drew in the anger, and found a reason to soften. To his knee he went, his cheek on her thigh. “I’m sorry. Talk to me.”
She just pointed at the familiar correspondence envelope. “He can’t be near me, Allan. The words he’s using.”
“John Wilder. He’s using the exact same words--” Her voice seized.
He finished the thought. “...as your father?”
“He says things that they said to me. When I read the letters, it’s like he was there. My mind sees him there.”
He grabbed the folder and sat at her feet to study the mail. “I know it’s traumatic, but can’t you just make the distinction and send it away?”
She gave him sarcastic eyes. “It must be nice being so together all the time.”
“It’s not about me, Indie.”
“Do you really think I want to fall apart like this every time a fan letter hits a nerve? I really wish I could make a distinction. All I get is one big lump of ugliness that I can’t push aside.”
She started to cry and Allan could take no more. He pulled out a mirror case and snorted the coke inside. He needed to be the director. He needed to find the energy to go back to work, instead of just saying “fuck it” and curling up with her to cry away the rest of the day.
What came out was a bulldog push of coke, rushing him to a stronger place. “When you think about it, we’re all being raped. Every day. This whole business is one big bend over grease-fest. Producers grease you when they want to rewrite your scenes. Actors do it with every ass-kiss you have to give to keep them happy. You know how grabby fans bother you? What bothers me is when they eat off my plate in restaurants. I bet you never knew that. ‘Can I have your autograph, Mr. Baird?’ As you sign something, they’re sampling the chicken. It’s all rape. All of it, all the time.” He winked and waggled his coke case. “I guess we have to make our own therapy.”
India was not on board. “Excuse me?” Stunned silence. She punctuated her disbelief with a throw-pillow thump to his face. “Do you really think it’s the same thing? Is this how you really feel about me? Goddamn it, I am not a producer or a Prima Donna! I was ten years old, for Chrissake!” She tugged the neck of his sleeveless T-shirt and pulled his face close. He fought not at all, completely submissive to her aggressions. Then came the big finish. “I asked you to keep him away from me and you couldn’t even do that. I told you he was dangerous. I told you I couldn’t take it. I asked you to help me and you didn’t give a shit.”
His eyes fell away. When she loosed her grip, he stood and paced in silence. Then he dropped down beside her on the couch. “Come on. Sit with me.” She moved close and rested against his shoulder. They laced fingers and kissed several times - the silent apologies of lovers who tried to remember they were supposed to be on the same side. His voice calmed her soul, his words her pain. “It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, that a maiden there lived, whom you may know, by the name of Annabel Lee. And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me.” He found her troubled eyes. “No other thought.” He blinked through the mist.
She touched away a tear from his cheek and waited, but there was no more of the poem. “Do the rest of it.”
He shook his head and winced at the tightening in his chest. “Too sad.”
“You always say that.”
He took out his sedatives. “We’re going to have to go back to work. I need you to relax and try to put Wilder out of your mind.”
She resisted the pill. “I feel like a junkie.”
“No, no. You’re not a junkie. Here. Make you feel better.” He put the pill on his tongue and quickly kissed it under hers. Then another as he slid his arm around her back. The kissing continued after the transfer. There’d been no sex since the ride from the airport. Work and drugs were to blame. Mostly drugs. But maybe this was a good time for--
Someone rapping at my chamber door
Allan peeled from the kiss and licked his lips. “...’tis some visitor,” he teased as they rubbed noses. “Come,” he invited as his hand stroked the curves of her round behind.
In stepped Henry, sheepish, embarrassed of his failure to keep her safe. He saw them snuggling, arms about each other. “Am I interrupting?”
Allan just shook his head. The detective regarded India. “You okay?”
A sarcastic eyeroll. “Well, what do you know? There’s a switch. Somebody concerned about me for a change.”
A couple of cautious steps forward. “John’s gone home.”
She stiffened. “What? Gone home? Why wasn’t he arrested? What kind of police department are you?”
Allan’s jaw clenched. Shit. Just when I was starting to regain control.
Henry scrubbed his hair. “It wasn’t really an assault. He just grabbed your arm. Scared you more than anything, I’ll bet.” Hands in his pockets.
Allan knew where this would go if he didn’t stick in a foot to redirect the ball. “You know what we need?” His voice became song. “Partay. A big tension relieving party. Ooh, this could be fun. When we’re done working, we’ll slide away from damage control and get back to what we do best. Patio lights. Music.” He gasped. “A barbecue! I’ve always wanted to give a barbecue.”
Henry frowned. “You’ve never barbecued?”
India shook her head in helpless resignation. “A man writes these filthy letters, grabs me, and the solution is, of course, to send the attacker home and have a barbecue. I think I’m going to cry.”
Allan swatted her behind, his mind now on the evening. “Go let ToJo fix your face. I have to talk to King Henry alone.”
A wave of her hands. “Whatever.”
She banged open the door but stopped when Henry took her arm. “I’m sorry,” he apologised. “He never should have gotten near you. I’m really sorry.”
Her hard grey eyes found Allan. “Thank you, Henry,” she snorted at the director before stomping out.
Allan spoke in a snark. “And they say I’m disruptive.”
Henry drew a folded cheque from his pocket and set it on the coffee table. It was his bonus for the special bodyguard service.
Allan held it back to him. “Keep it. She’s still alive and I can probably coax her back to work. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn't been here.”
Henry turned the cheque over in his hand. “My men said she started her cross the street thing. He took her wrist, said who he was, that he wanted to talk to her. When I questioned him, he said he just wanted her to know it wasn’t him writing the dirty letters. That this was the only opportunity he’d get to tell her, since she didn’t answer back about having lunch.”
Allan cracked open a water. “I’m going to close the set. I want a perimeter. I want hired goons. I want weapons and armoured vehicles. There will not be another interruption to my film. Mr. Wilder will not show his face on my set again. He frightens her, Henry. I don’t care if he’s as lovable as a bag of baby kittens, he’s holding up my film, and for that alone he should die.”
Henry sat across from him. “He didn’t break the law. He’s just a pain in the ass. You want my advice? Get a temporary restraining order. Or a proper bodyguard.”
Allan crossed his leg. “What a lovely plan. Oh wait - weren't you supposed to be her bodyguard?”
The cop stood. “I said I was sorry.”
“Apology accepted. I have to make a phone call. I know someone who can meet my security needs with a precision apparently foreign to you and your department.”
“Okay, well, you can’t bring armoured vehicles in here.”
“That part was a joke. What I’m bringing in here are my own people. They will keep this place under control.” He picked up the phone.
“Allan you can’t just--”
“Yes I can, Henry. We have the right to erect a perimeter around our work. It’s in the contract. We just can’t ask the town to pay for it. Watch how quickly I can spend my own money.”
Without further argument, Henry left.
Allan started to dial, but stopped when his chest tugged in pain. He tucked a tab under his tongue and folded over against his knees to wait for relief. Deep breaths. The coloured spots finally faded. He grunted, “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t kill me until the picture was done.”
Allan’s idea of a perimeter around his work was a monstrous contingent of dangerously large bikers in clumps and clusters outside barricades and snow fencing that came up around the entire shopping complex. Though not a weapon was seen, it seemed common knowledge that anybody who crossed these people would get curb-stomped into next week. Gate personnel screened all vehicles coming for the big film noir soirée that heated up come sunset.
While Rennie took care of the legalities of such a public assemblage, Allan simply flashed plastic and signed cheques. They’d gotten through the crane shots and other street work with not much more than a couple of hours delay. Now it was time to blow off steam. Wilder’s actions had bothered more than just India. Requests to close the set came also from Lucy, Anthony, and other nervous members among the crew. The accommodating director liked it when his people were happy and so made the necessary arrangements.
Catering trucks, cooking grills, folding tables and chairs. Cases of snacks and drinks. Sound system with effects lighting. Streamers and patio lanterns hung in the trees out back of the trailers. All on Allan’s dime. Dan had gone back to the studio earlier in the week but returned when he got the call about the grabbing. The first thing he noticed was the party equipment. This had Allan written all over it, and he knew it must have had something to do with the incident involving the fan.
India was in her trailer and they greeted each other with hugs. “Hey,” smiled Dan. “I guess the little bird on your shoulder was right.”
She was in summer wear - shorts, tank top, bare feet, hair tied in a ponytail. “Forget it. Allan’s got me in party mood. Never tell him, but this is actually a good idea.”
“I assume he’s rubbing the magic plastic cards for this.”
“Who were the goons who wanted to give me a body cavity search on the way in?”
“He hired security of his own.”
“I can only pray it’s all legal.”
“Are you okay? The guy didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“I’m fine. Forget it.”
“Is that where you hurt your head?”
“Danny, please. Don’t bring me down. I’m trying to get into the spirit of this thing.” She kissed his lips. “You should, too.”
Let the show begin
Outside the fences swarmed the onlookers. It had hit the evening news about “a fan” who’d grabbed India Bowman, but no names had been given. Henry had called Aaron, who'd spoken to the TV people - for John’s welfare, his name was not revealed. They'd played him up as a local boy who was just a little too enthusiastic and it became a question of which side the broadcasters supported - the weirdos from the crazy world of Movieland, or the excited local boy. Local Boy’s name was kept out of print.
But the attention meant people attended in droves. Allan was known to get his party on with fans, so the fact that nobody could get past the barricades disgruntled them. When it came from Rennie to the biker contingent that nobody was to get in over the fences, it meant nobody was to get in over the fences. They were paid half their due up front - the rest they could collect when the evening ended in safety.
Queen’s Court goes on the road
John walked and smoked. What a pisser. His name had been kept from the media, but he still felt like shit. He just wanted to talk to her. Why had she freaked out like that? All he did was touch her arm. Now what was he going to do? How was he going to let her know he hadn't done anything wrong? And what about his screenplays? The cop had told him in no uncertain terms to stand down and leave the lady alone. It seemed Baird’s fake letters were working. Probably why she was so scared.
While John sniffed about with the others outside the perimeter, Allan tended to his barbecue de-virgining vanity. Wearing only tight, purple bicycle shorts, he lay on his back on a catering table. One half of ToJo applied make-up to his face. Neon blues and purples. Metallic shimmers. The other twin waxed traces of hair from his chest and made ready to decorate his nipples to match his eyes. At the end of the table was India. She swayed to the music and dressed his toenails. She and Allan had blown off a couple of doobies earlier, down at the creek that ran behind the parking area where they’d set up the equipment trucks. Now she was just high enough to hold at bay the demons of the morning.
Along came Henry. Still down from his failure to keep his charge safe from harm, he’d decided to perk himself up by accepting the invitation to Allan’s first barbecue. “Hi,” he smiled to the group.
Allan loved the vulnerable feeling of being on his back when a man stood next to him. In the wake of having finished the day without further delay, all had been forgiven. “Darling!” he bubbled. “You made it. Where’s that anally puckered partner of yours?”
Nope. Still not quite comfortable with this strange little man. “Um, he’s not coming. Not his cup of tea, I guess.”
“Oh my. Is it your cup of tea?” He pawed playfully at Henry’s knit shirt. “You look like you came to play golf.”
Poor Henry. Fish out of water. “Nobody specified dress.”
Allan laughed like he’d been waiting his whole life for that particular setup. “Well, we won’t insist you wear a dress, but I’m sure we can fix you up with something interesting.”
Henry half-laughed. “Okay, I get it.”
India gave the “I’ve got a secret” smile of the gently stoned when in the presence of a cop. “He’s very funny.”
All hands were pushed away so Allan could sit. “I’m delighted to have you at my very first barbecue. I feel so... experimental.” He lifted the hand mirror and examined his makeup. “I look like a psychedelic raccoon.”
ToJo snuggled together and giggled. “Eher wie einen toter Waschbär.”
He waggled a scolding finger. “I heard that. Habt Ihr sowas wie Theaterblut?”
Curious Henry frowned. “What?”
“I want to make my raccoon into roadkill.”
India duked up. “Perfect. I’ll just punch you in the face for that swollen, damaged look. The raccoon is waddling across the highway. Doesn't see the oncoming truck. Boom!”
Allan giggled. “Well, we were just going to use fake blood, but this works, too.” He stood. “Hit me in the mouth. Just don’t break my teeth.”
The twins cheered. “Mach schon! Brich ihm die Zähne!”
Henry watched India place her fist to his lip to target the shot. “Wait a minute,” he protested. “What is this?”
Allan squeezed his eyes shut. “It’s art, my friend. Give it to me, baby.”
India tagged him squarely on the upper lip. “Boom!”
He squalled in pain and slapped both palms to his mouth.
ToJo applauded politely the accuracy of her aim then moved in to examine the wound. Then they grouched over his smeared makeup and dabbed his lip with a paper towel.
Henry clasped his hands on his head. “Holy shit.”
Allan wiped his watering eyes. “Wie sieht es aus?”
ToJo conferred. “Nicht genug Blut.”
Allan turned to India. “Hit me harder.”
As she duked up again, Henry stepped between them. “Okay, could we please just not do this?” He eased India’s fists to her side. “You’re freaking me out.”
Allan did a hipshot pose and his best Bette Davis. “What a grouch. So touchy. How do you ever expect to be invited to our chamber if you can’t stand a little blood?”
“Look out!” warned India.
She backed away as Rennie charged directly into Allan and bulldogged him to the ground. “Tag, motherfucker!” barked the aggressive mohawk.
Allan spat blood as they wrestled. He finally squirmed away and pranced off to the crowd of slam-dancers, all the while singing, “Catch me, catch me, catch me!”
As Rennie and India took off after him, ToJo shook fists. “Ihr respektiert unsere Arbeit nicht!” They stomped up the stairs of the makeup truck.
Henry stood very still. Not exactly the barbecue he was expecting.
As the evening progressed, the weed wore off and crashed India’s mood. Time for a break from the heated party. Cross-legged under a tree by the creek, the emotional downslide allowed Wilder to seep back into her thoughts. It had been one of the dumbest things she’d ever done. If she’d just waited long enough, he would have revealed himself to be dangerous. There had been no need to stage a preemptive stunt. Stunt. All the grouching and bitching about Allan’s stunts, and yet this she did herself. She’d learned well the lessons of the Master.
It stuck in her craw that there’d been no sympathy. Allan and Boomer off dancing and having fun meant they’d forgotten Wilder and expected her to follow suit. But fake letters or not, he’d grabbed her, invaded her space. People had more concern for poor John than with her. He didn’t mean any harm. He just wanted to buy you lunch. They respected that she didn’t want to meet him, that she didn’t want him around, but nobody believed it might escalate.
Why worry? One more week and they’d be gone. She could instruct Lucy that any mail from John Wilder was to go directly into the garbage. His words would never again be inside her head. If it was only that easy to let go. This was now more than just his words. She’d never been able to fight back with her father and his filthy friends. Never been able to cut off the hands of the perverts who’d grabbed her boobs. Where was her justice? Your father wasn’t evil, Annalee. He was sick. The doctors defended those who'd hurt her. Let me guess. He’s a young man and he’s in love with you. Even Dan had taken Wilder’s side. Why won’t anybody take my side?
India hated that her moods rolled so radically between highs and lows. One minute she laughed, the next she was black as coal. It was so wrong. She blinked it away when Dan approached, Anthony in his shadow. This just gets better and better.
Dan sipped beer. “What happened to your hand?”
She distractedly rubbed her bruised, blood-spotted fist. “I punched Allan in the face.”
Dan gave an easy nod. “Good, good. All’s well down on the funny farm then. I hope it can be covered with makeup.”
As thoughts of Wilder stalked the background, she tried to come back to pleasant thoughts. “Boomer’s going to pierce his own tongue in a few minutes. Allan and I have tickets. Want to come?”
He answered with a gentle boot to her thigh. “I’ll read about it in the papers.” The last gulp of beer was the best. “I guess I’m off. This thing is starting to wind up a bit too much for me. I don’t want to get arrested out of town.”
Thank you. A reason to laugh. “Okay, Danny. ’Night.”
He left. India’s stomach tightened when Anthony did not. He stood before her, legs apart, pelvis forward, as if she was some kind of urinal. Get your crotch away from my face, you sick maniac.
“You punched him?” he snickered.
She leaned back to put distance between them, lest she reach up and accidentally bite off his genitals. “It’s a gesture of affection.”
Anthony loved her when fiery. He considered what he’d seen before - Allan and Rennie slow dancing, all sweaty and warm. “Allan sure seems close to Boomer,” he said.
India clucked her tongue and grabbed hold of a small branch in the grass by her feet. Oh for God’s sake. All of a sudden this idiot thinks he can discuss my personal-- “Fuck off,” she snorted abruptly. “Mind your own business. Like you know anything about anything.”
“I hear you’re having trouble with a fan.”
“With a stupid, has-been actor, too.”
“So anybody who shows you any affection is a stalker? Pretty important little lady, aren't you?”
Creek People swam naked, danced happily with the goon-squad. As she watched them, she drifted from Anthony. Something Henry had said before. He knows we’re watching him. If any more letters come, he has to know we’ll come after him.
Back for a minute when the leading man motioned with open palms. “Can I at least get a dance?”
Her reply was tart. “Knock yourself out, jackass. You’ll need your blow-up doll though.”
He kept pleasant. Maybe she’d soften. “I meant with you. Come on. I know we haven’t gotten along too well but I’m going home in a couple of days. Can’t we make nice?”
A smart grin. “I’d really like to, Tone, but are you sure being with a real woman wouldn’t give you a coronary?”
He strolled away, but not before the last word. “Are you sure you’re a real woman?”
In her mind, Anthony didn’t exist. She’d gone back to John Wilder. She idly stabbed her branch into the grass. What if it wasn’t a letter? What if he grabbed her again? Maybe not really, but maybe if she reported that somebody grabbed her, and it might have been John Wilder. At least he’d be detained. He’d be out of her hair and there’d be little chance he’d show up again at the barricades. Coming up was another shoot in the parking lot, and be damned if she was going to freak out again in a public place.
She studied her bruised knuckles. The marks must have come up without her knowing because hitting Allan hadn't really hurt. It had been a long time since she’d punched him - the last shot fired in anger when he’d gone through her closet. When he learned about Avalon. She considered the stormy night sky. “God help me.”
Henry was on his way out. It was one a.m. and apparently he hadn't the stamina of this crowd. All in all, probably the strangest barbecue he’d ever attended. As he neared the parked vehicles, he caught a whiff of marijuana. He’d been noticing it here and there all night so didn’t find it surprising, but followed nonetheless. Reclined in the back seat of her sleek black convertible was India, bare feet up on the door. “What’s that smell?” he asked theatrically.
The blue lady made no effort to hide her toke. “Leave me alone. I came out here to be pissed off.”
He ran a hand over the long lines of the car. What a ride. Hers? “What are we pissed off about?”
A long inhale. “Didn't Allan tell you I’m a moody bitch?”
“You and my wife, both. But she does her crying in the bedroom.”
“I’m not crying.”
He climbed into the front passenger seat, plucked away her joint, and flicked it to the gravel road. “I have a big shoulder, girl. Feel like talking?”
She drew her toes off the door frame and sat forward, leaned her chin on his arm. “Why would you be nice to me?”
The wind picked up. Thunder rolled in the distance. Rolled right there in the car, too. “Why wouldn’t I?” he soothed, his finger ever so gently touching her soft jaw.
Without a word, she moved in, brushed his lips with her own, then waited to see if he’d move back. He was perfectly still, his eyes fixed to hers. Those eyes closed when she kissed him again. A longer kiss, slow and warm. The kiss of many a fantasy. One he should not have been getting from a young lady young enough to be his daughter. The small grunt that escaped him spoke of how difficult it would be to make it stop.
His hand slid to the back of her neck and he held her. Small fists on his shoulders. Her soft exhale of pleasure. The lips that lightly sucked at his own. Such a beautiful sexy girl. Girl. He forced himself to the place that made it wrong. She was only a couple of years older than his own daughter, Bonnie. Think Bonnie and you won’t be able to do this.
After a minute, he drew back and licked his lips. “Oh boy,” he blushed like a high schooler. “That’s very nice, but I think one’s going to have to be my limit. You know, you’re just about the same age as my daughter.”
She reclined in her seat and folded her arms. The bitch was back. “Well then... if you don’t want to kiss me, I guess we have nothing to talk about... Dad.”
He tried to clear his head. A boyish grin. “How would Allan feel about you sitting here kissing a stranger?”
“He’s probably in the bushes with a telephoto lens.”
Deliberate breaths eased him back to a place of control. “Listen. I have to get home or I’ll have to deal with my second moody bitch of the night.”
India lit a fresh joint and disappeared back to her own world. “Are you going to arrest me?”
He smiled and got out of the car. “Be good.” He beeped her nose. It was something he’d have said to Bonnie. Along with the nose-beep. Safe again. As he returned to his car, however, his mind played out the sizzling scenario of what might have been.
While India was failing at her chance, Allan and Rennie were succeeding. In Allan’s trailer, the director was on his knees in front of his partner, who leaned back against the wall to let his boy finish him off. It had been a long time and this was a sting to remember.
Allan stood upright for hugs and kisses in the dark room. “The things I do for you.”
Boomer reached down between them. “We’re not done yet, Mary.”
Allan backed up and adjusted his excited package. “No, no. Don’t worry about it.”
A frown. “Come on. What is this?”
Allan opened a bottle of water. “I can’t. She’ll kill me.”
Boomer fixed his chain-laden cargo pants. “She’s been killing you for years.” He sighed and regarded the little guy who’d moved to the bed. “Okay.” He fisted a handful of Allan’s hair and bent so they could bump foreheads. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Allan nodded in return.
Once alone, Allan sat a moment, then opened the baggie of powder he’d bought from Wallace. The VL boys had all turned out for the party and it was as close to the old days as it was likely ever going to be again. One last time, show the world we can still get ’er done, vampire style.
He went outside to the cool evening breeze. It was actually nice right where he was. Away from the noise. He dropped to his ass on the metal step and finished his water. To toot, or not to toot? That was the question. He scanned for spies, cops. India.
There she was, coming from the parking area. Startled, he tucked the baggie under his ass.
She stink-eyed him. “What are you doing?”
“Same old thing. Turning tricks for pocket change. Boomer’s putting me through college.”
She reached and took the bag from under him.
Coy shit-eater. “How did that get there?”
No bitch-fest. She simply sampled his wares, then dropped the bag in his lap and paced away, hands clasped on her head.
“Feel better?” His snort made hers look small in comparison.
“I smoked too much shit,” she said. “I need to wake up.”
He stood and closed his arms about her. They swayed to the distant music from the party scene. A moment of musing for Allan. “Henry could be quite an interesting adventure if he ever crawled out from under his rock, truly.”
She recalled her failure to corrupt the iron-willed man. “Leave him be. He’s too pure for the likes of you.”
You too it seems
Cocaine kisses. A little desperate, a little rushed. Allan with his ready-to-go, prefab erection. His worked up aggressions awoke. It happened every once in a while. Even the mildest lover had moments of inspiration.
Though she liked occasional forays into the more masculine side of his personality, tonight she’d have none of it. She tensed in the kiss. “Easy.”
He held her back against the trailer and pressed her wrists to the wall. Went for her neck.
She fought harder. “Allan, don’t. Let go of me.” It often happened after he’d been with Rennie. Just let go. Don’t be the boy tonight. Don’t piss her off. There’s nowhere else to sink the sub if she turns you down.
He bowed politely and motioned to the door. As she danced up the step, he followed. They made it to his bunk and started up again. Still aggressive, he climbed onto her and held her hands to the sheets. Impatient, wet kissing.
She struggled. “I said stop it! Let go!”
“Just relax,” he grunted.
But she didn’t relax. She wrenched free and let fly her fists to his face and shoulders until he dropped to his ass on the floor. She straddled him and continued hitting as he fell back against the bunk. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she screamed, all frustrations exploding.
“I’m sorry!” he apologised through deflected blows.
“Don’t hold me down like that!” Wilder. Anthony. All out front and in her face.
“I said I’m sorry! Please stop!”
She did. Don’t beat him up. Remember the promise it would never happen again? It’s not Allan. It’s not your boy. Wilder. “He’s hurting me.” She tried not to cry.
“Honey, he’s just a stupid kid.”
The tears would have their say. “God Almighty! Why won’t anyone believe me?” She pushed to his chest and cried loudly.
“Should I tell you I think he’s dangerous when I don’t believe it? You want lip service?”
She separated from him and wiped her eyes. “What if he tries to kill me?”
“Okay, that’s the drugs talking. Nobody’s going to kill you. You’re just high is all. Calm down. One week, remember?” He reached for his pills. “You shouldn't snort blow. Makes you crazy.” He offered Ativan.
She took it and drew a breath. “Okay. Just forget it. You’re right. This is nothing. It’s the drugs.” I have to take care of this myself. God love you my darling, but you just don’t understand.
As the lovemaking heated up again - this time back under her control - he felt the pangs start in his chest. I don’t give a shit anymore. I really don’t.
India tightened a robe tie about his neck and twisted it while she fucked him on the floor. He always liked the strangle game. It made him see spots. But tonight he was seeing spots from constricted arteries. I don’t care. I hope I die. Very kinky if I die while getting off. Kill me, baby. Kill me when I come.
He grunted in orgasm right as everything went black.
A muddy ringing stirred Allan to life. Not dead? Maybe. Who can tell? His head was terry towel thick. What is that ringing? He couldn’t feel his extremities.
Ring. Ring. I am alive. It’s the telephone.
He tried to get up. Something held his right arm. He tugged. I’m handcuffed to the bed. How many times had he woken up like that? Familiar in his predicament, he nonetheless needed to get to the phone.
Finally. “...yes,” he rasped into the receiver.
Lucy Kraft. “Allan? India’s been attacked coming out of a store. She’s gone to the hospital.”