Sweet Thyme Baby – 24

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

24

(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 23 first)

 

Eddie Mann didn’t act surprised when she showed up at his office.

 

“I had a feeling about you from the start,” he said, drawing a chair close to his glass topped desk. He sat down, stretched his arms out straight ahead on the desk and folded his hands. Through the window behind him, Dee saw the Santa Monica hills, the color of brown sugar. “Now, tell me what you’ve been doing.”

 

She talked about the movies she’d made the six months before. “The cameraman said my face reflected almost three hundred times more light than the last girl he worked with.” She paused. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

 

“Oh, yes. It’s good. You glow and the camera loves you.”

 

“That’s what he said.”

 

“So this isn’t a social call.” Mann bit down on a toothpick. “Sounds like you’re bringing me business.”

 

She told him about the new contract she’d been offered. Five more pictures.

 

“All porn?”

 

“He says they’ll be quality, though.”

 

“How much?” She told him, thinking it was a fortune; but he wasn’t impressed. “He wants you to show the world your snatch, Dee. That oughta cost bucks. What’s this guy’s name?”

 

“Alvin Chiang.”

 

Mann groaned and threw his pencil across the room. “Guy’s a scumbag.”

 

In the lounge in Burbank Eddie Mann had seemed like an easy going guy, but in his office he was abrasive and she was a little afraid of him. And ashamed to talk about the offer Chiang had made her.

 

Mann said, “Listen, let me talk to Chiang. I’ll see what kind of deal I can get you.”

 

“I can’t pay you ‘til I sign.”

 

He laughed. “So I better not screw up, huh?”

 

“I’ve never been to a lawyer before.”

 

“And may this be the last time.” He grinned and looked more like the man she’d waited on at lunchtime. He walked with her through his big office, passed rows and rows of secretaries all typing like crazy. He pressed the elevator button and while they waited for the car to come, he leaned against the wall and looked at her.

 

She scuffed the toe of her sandal into the marble floor.

 

“How old are you, Dee?”

 

“Twenty.” Almost.

 

“That’s plenty young enough to start over. Why don’t you go home to Lodi and go to community college? Learn how to type.” He gestured back toward his office. “Those girls in there? They make good money plus I give them benefits: health, teeth, vision. You name it, I give it to them. Couple of ‘em are saving to go to law school. I help ‘em out. Bonuses, wedding gifts: I treat ‘em good. You don’t have to make skin flicks. Shit, Dee, a girl who looks like you? You could be in real movies making real money.”

 

“Yeah, but I never wanted to be in movies. I never wanted to type for a living either.” Or waitress. Or push drinks. She stared at the veins in the marble floor, imagined each line was a road leading somewhere. There were a million paths in life and she had begun walking hers on the day Lourdes, her sister and brother-in-law were buried. She stood beside Victor and he held her hand and the lead weight of ice in her chest melted enough so she knew that as long as she was with Victor, she would be all right.

 

“All I’ve ever wanted is Victor. To live in a house with our children and do the whole homebody thing.”

 

She wasn’t married to Victor but as good as; and they had Serena and when there was enough money he promised she could have more babies. Someday there would be a house, someday a garden. And a wedding. Late at night, riding home in the bus, she planned the kind of wedding she would have. The design of her dress and the places she and Victor would visit on their honeymoon.

 

“Like you said, Mr. Mann, twenty’s young. I’ll get there.”

 

“The years go fast.” He reached out and brushed her hair back from her face. It was a kind gesture, she guessed it might be a father’s gesture. “That luminosity the cameraman talked about? It fades. Fast. Remember that.”

 

She promised she would.

 

“There’s one other thing, Mr. Mann.” The elevator came and she stepped in. He held it open with his forearm. “One of the things about this deal is that it lets Victor direct. When you’re talking to Chiang, you can’t change that, okay?”

 

He nodded. “Don’t worry about this, Dee, I’ll get you a good deal.” He had a wide grin like a boy in a graduation photo. “I’ll get you a luminous deal.”

 

One hundred thousand a picture. Victor getting AD credit on each. And Dee kept the master reels and the copyright. At the time, this was a good deal. Video tapes and VCRs were a coming thing but not yet. The deal said that after the first two years, Chiang couldn’t even screen the movies without Dee’s permission.

 

“If he even tries,” Eddie Mann said, “we’ll sue the shit.”

 

Victor was livid. “We could have gotten twice as much without this stupid side deal of yours.”

 

Eddie Mann told her, “Forget what Victor says. One of these days, you’ll appreciate what I got you.”

 

A total of five hundred thousand dollars plus screen credit for Victor: that was what counted to Dee. And Chiang kept his word about quality. Hers were not just suck and fuck films. They had plots and dialog she had to memorize. At home Victor talked about camera angles and used film words like close up and pan. During the fifteen months it took to shoot the films, there were occasions when Dee actually felt like a real actress; but tits and ass and pussy, most of the time she was just those. Valium and Jack Daniels became staples of her diet. Then cocaine. Once she took Quaaludes and fell asleep while the camera was running. They cut around her face.

 

“Who cares about her face?” Victor said.

 

Victor and Dee and Serena moved from their apartment in Silver Lake to a house in the Hollywood Hills with a black bottom swimming pool. They rented because Victor said it gave them more flexibility. Serena went to a Montessori school where she learned to count and sing the alphabet song and put her work and toys away in cubbies. Dee worked two or three weekends a month making personal appearances and showing up at special parties where the important guests all made passes and propositioned her. Pills and blow and JD made it doable. On free weekends Victor and Dee had parties for the movie people they knew and others who were Victor’s friends. These were rich men with glamorous girlfriends who wore high heels and bikinis and never had much to say. Often they flew in someone’s little plane to Tahoe or Las Vegas and Victor won at the Blackjack table. And lost too, but they were rich so it didn’t matter. While he played, Dee lounged by the swimming pool, drank and watched Serena splash in the shallows. A man who owned a string of “ponies” took them to Catalina on his sailboat. He and Victor and the other men played cards below while Dee and Serena hung over the side with their hands in the spray and called out to the dolphins that swam off the bow like guardians.

 

There were good times during that fifteen months and the year that followed it. She made two more movies with the same deal only now Victor was the director and he did things she didn’t like. He brought the camera in too tight and intimate. He told her what to do as if her body were a thing without her in it. After a while Jack Daniels and Valium and cocaine weren’t enough.

 

“I can quit now. You don’t need me.”

 

“I was on my way, honey girl. In case you forget, I was on my way without you.”

 

That night they fought and he was out until the next morning. When she tried to cash a check at the bank two days later, the teller said she was overdrawn. She complained to Victor and he called her a tight-assed bitch.

 

Chiang wanted her to go to Hong Kong to make a movie for the Asia trade.

 

Eddie Mann told her when she called, “Don’t do it.”

 

“Who the hell is Eddie Mann?” Victor wanted to know. “How come you listen to him like he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ? How’s he think we’re gonna pay our bills?”

 

“I’ll do the fan club stuff.”

 

“That’s nickel and dime.”

 

“I made a lot of money last year. What happened to it?”

 

“Ever hear of taxes?”

 

And gambling. The less money Victor had, the higher his losses.

 

“I don’t want to go to Hong Kong. I won’t feel safe if I’m over there.”

 

“I’ll be with you.”

 

“No, you won’t, Victor. Chiang doesn’t want you on the set. He told you before –.”

 

“One little blow up.”

 

“You hit that camera man.”

 

“He wouldn’t do what I wanted.”

 

“I asked him not to, Victor. It felt nasty.”

 

He laughed. He roared laughing. “So now you’re worried about getting nasty? It’s a little late, honey girl. Just a little late for that.”

 

From the distance of many years, she knew that it was in that conversation Victor had revealed himself in a way she could not ignore or forgive and explain away as moodiness or fatigue or worry. In that conversation she saw herself as he did: tits, ass and pussy.

 

But at least there was Serena.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.

 

Click here to read Part 25 of Sweet Thyme Baby

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