Metal security bars obscure my view, but don’t completely block out the wandering boy and his dog. Though I avert my gaze, I can still see him in my periphery—dirty bare feet, ragged blue jeans, and faded shirt. His hair is dingy from dirt, but it would probably be dark blond when washed. I have yet to see his eyes clearly but know for certain they are dark and sit slightly sunken while bluish circles surround the lost orbs.
Is he hungry today? Does his heroin addict of a mother know he feeds the mutt his mission food or is she too far gone to care anymore?
Helplessly drawn to the figure, my gaze slowly turns his way to see what’s new today. Like the times before, his is head down and his gait slow as he keeps to the shadows of the buildings. It’s as if he fears the sun’s rays. This nameless boy haunts me for days after I leave the dark confines of Barb’s cramped office, and I know with certainty, today will be no different. I’ll take the image of the homeless preteen with me when our meeting finally ends. I will attempt to approach him again today, offering money and shoes. He will again run from me.
Tinkling giggles pull me back to the business at hand.
“No, no that’s fine with me,” the girl says too eagerly.
The boy leads his shaggy dog down an alley and out of sight.
Barb’s masculine voice makes my skin crawl, and I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The image looks mean, cold and I know I’ve only grown harsher the past couple of years. Funny how being sober can actually make a person worse in some ways. A white hot pain licks up the side of my neck, creeping, crawling slowly to the center of my left eye where it sits and waits to split my skull open at just the right moment.
“We need you to sign,” Barb says to my back, not at all hiding her impatience.
Giving the alley one last glance, I turn to finish what will be my last contract this summer.
“Almost done, Candi,” Barb tells the girl I’ve spent the last month training with and I suddenly want to laugh.
Not by a long shot.
Yes, this signing is the end of the road with me, but Candi will undoubtedly be in films, lots of them, and she will never be done. This decision will follow her for the rest of her life.
That thought gives me pause and the conversation I tried to tune out of a moment ago becomes much clearer. Taking my seat at the cheap, round table, I ignore the producer, David Magardo, to my left, as well as Barb, the bane of my existence and business partner to my right, focusing straight ahead on Candi. Her bright blue eyes are made even brighter by whatever pill she popped this morning, self-tanning, and platinum blonde hair. Her double-D breasts are on display in her very short, low-cut dress.
The girl would be pretty if not for the heavy makeup and perky role she constantly played. I alone in this room know she’s never happy, sometimes drinks way too much, and cries when she calls home. She’s young—too young to know what she’s doing, yet old enough to choose it all. I’ve prepared her for everything and now, I let her go in peace.
“Did you stipulate you want a companion of your choice on set with you?”
Candi blinks quickly as if the thought escaped her.
“There will always be an assistant to see to her needs, Axel,” Magardo mumbles uncomfortably.
I give the girl a hard stare.
“What he means is his camera guy or his assistant,” I address Candi, ignoring Dave all together. “I told you to request this be added, otherwise you are their property and will be at the mercy of whoever is on set. At least with a companion, they can look out for you if something goes in a direction you are uncomfortable with.”
Like you land in a gangbang with total strangers when you were only expecting girl on girl.
Candi glances uncomfortably at Barb, then Dave.
“Uh, yeah. I need to have someone with me, a friend or someone,” she says uncertainly.
I tap the table absently with my forefinger, knowing all Candi wants is the sign-up money with the promise of more. Dave makes a note on the form and lets Barb, then Candi read it.
“This is less money than it was just a few minutes ago?” Candi says, surprised. “Why is it less?”
Her eyes dart from the pages to Dave, to me, then back to Dave.
“The cost involved in shooting changes if you want a companion with you while you film. The more terms you add and longer this takes, the less I’m willing to offer,” Dave threatens.
Candi’s eyes water ever so slightly and I know what’s coming. Even though I’m a hypocrite, and even though I was one of those strangers on film for countless girls over the course of my career, I fucking hate what she’s about to do.
“I don’t need anyone with me if you will honor the amount from before.”
“Agreed, now get Axel to sign and I can give you the check.”
When the pages are slid to me, I sign, releasing Candi to film at will. I inwardly grimace at the fact I’m most likely the only one in the room who would actually honor a contract. An equally sad and ironic thought, but now I can only eye the door, longing to escape these people and this life for a while.
The boat is ready. The alcohol is stocked, along with the food and my favorite fishing gear. All that’s missing is me.
I hate all of them, I hate all of this. Grinding my teeth, I fight the creeping darkness in my heart.
“Axel?” Barbs pulls me from my musings when the paperwork is complete.
I try to concentrate on the business at hand. Barbara can sense my foul mood and pats her short red hair nervously before smoothing imaginary lines on her black slacks. She attempts to look attractive and professional, and she succeeds to a cheapened degree, but I see her she-devil horns even if no one else does. And just behind her square reading glasses are the coldest, cruelest green eyes I’ve ever seen. Barb will never be more than a briefcase pimp trying to hold on to her youth to me. What was she now? Had to be close to fifty, maybe more. She was in her mid-thirties when I was a teenager just starting in the business.
The crow’s feet around her eyes deepen and my focus sharpens as I realize both she and Dave are staring at me.
“What?” I almost growl.
“We were just wondering if you would consider adding a couple of girls to your schedule. Maybe you could take one with you on your vacation and train her on the boat?”
The word “vacation” left her pencil thin lips like a curse word. Barbara hates me taking time off and fights me tooth and nail every chance she gets.
I understand what she said, the conniving bitch that she is.
“On the boat?” A female, on a boat with me. That would mean she would have to share my bed and fuck no, that’s not happening. I don’t want anything to do with the girls other than training them, and that is plenty, thank you very much. The very thought of being confined in a small space with one makes my stomach clench with anxiety.
“Uh, no. Again, I have a set schedule, Barb. I’m not changing it. I’m finished working for now.”
I glance to Candi and she gives me a sad smile, knowing everyone is talking around her like she’s not in the room. Once her check was given to her, she was no longer of importance. I give her a narrowed expression, trying to convey the hard truth that, as of now, she’s nothing but a performance act.
Get used to it, sweetheart, it only get worse from here.