“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” -Edgar Allen Poe
4 – So Much for the Mission
Imagine this: You enter a side door and happen upon three naked women eating croissants at a small lunch table. Behind them, a soundman leans against a rattling refrigerator, peeling the crust off a flattened sandwich, the boom microphone resting in the crook of a tattooed arm. Then, ubiquitous: moaning women bouncing on male thighs. Ahead, a corridor lined with partially open doors, revealing poorly designed historical interiors. Here, two Greeks cavort at the foot of a column. A gentleman clenches his buttocks as he pounds a lady—a soundtrack to the motion picture, as it were. It’s too much to process at once, yet it persists like an endless shriek in time…
I was high. It certainly wasn’t my first time inside a studio but not after a whack of Peruvian Flake. I was emboldened, to say the least, acting on chemical impulses. Marduk and Elektra exchanged worried looks as I climbed on top of the table, kicking over uncapped water bottles to the women’s chagrin.
“Excuse me,” I bellowed, “I think you all know me as Red Rod, acclaimed performer of the adult screen. I’m here to cast for a major feature.”
At this the disgruntled women, now faced with an opportunity to make money, began to nod with false enthusiasm. They sat up in their chairs, emphasizing the prominence of their chests—successfully, I might add, because my throat seized up like a broken accordion. Elektra furrowed her brow and pulled me off the table, pushing me into a corner.
“How dare you gawk at these harlots!” she hissed.
Then, to the women: “He’s mine!”
Elektra’s jealousy didn’t surprise me. I noticed that she had taken a liking to me (literally) overnight. But I hadn’t expected to her to compromise the mission. I looked at Marduk for help, who instantly took hold of his acolyte. The women looked at us in confusion as Elektra struggled to break free.
“Would you excuse us?” I said, smiling apologetically. “Marduk, please help me escort the Sister outside.”
The women muttered amongst themselves. Elektra continued to fight against Marduk’s restraint even as we stumbled through the door. Once outside, Elektra broke loose and pounced on me like a feral animal. She clawed at my clothing and beat me with her fists. Marduk tried to intervene, but was quickly cast aside, debris during a storm. Elektra was implacable.
“Jesus, woman,” I said. “What’s your problem?”
She failed to answer me. A mad gleam colored her eyes. Feebly, I tried to kick her away, but she straddled me on the ground, directing her fury at my face. I put my hands up in defense, when I noticed that we had attracted an audience. Performers and production personnel had quit the studio to watch the spectacle. Marduk renewed his efforts to save me, to no avail. Elektra bloodied his nose with a stray fist. And then, suddenly, the eye of the hurricane; the eagle-clawed harpy fell beside me in tears. I got up in haste. I’d known women to be moody but never seen one become a pugilist. I turned to confront the assembled personnel, who had burst with laughter. “Get back to work!” I said, mustering what little air I had in my lungs. John emerged from his trailer, all sniffles, and repeated the command. The company dispersed. He glared at me with enormous, bloodshot eyes.
“What the fuck is going on, Rod?” he said,
Before I could speak, Elektra let out a wail.
“I didn’t get my period today!” she said, between tears.
“You knocked her up?” John said, looking at me more intently.
I recalled the previous evening’s orgy.
“No, wait,” I said, “There were nine of us.”
“Oh, give me a break!” John. “Fuck off, Rod. I don’t want to see you here again.”
John turned back to the trailer. I ran after him.
“John, come on. This is a mistake,” I said. “I’m really on to something!”
The eyes glared at me again. John pointed a deadly finger at me.
“It’s the second time you fuck up,” he said. “You’re never getting past that gate again.”
The three of us sat on the sidewalk outside the studio. I called a taxi and waited for its arrival in silence. Elektra sat at a distance, sobbing. I have to admit her confession put a damper on my day, to say little of my newly acquired doubts concerning the future of our mission. We needed in at O-Face, and now we were banned for life.
This was my second misadventure on the property. The first ensured a temporary suspension of my professional activities with the company. John never really forgave me. I’m not entirely comfortable reiterating the sordid details of that episode, although I couldn’t deny Elektra or Marduk. I meant to tell them about it earlier: “Hey, um, they really don’t like me here, so let’s not make ourselves unwelcome.” Now I had no choice but to tell them, because our mission was effectively over.
I turned to Marduk, who still nursed a broken nose.
“I need you to leave when we get back to the condo,” I said.
Marduk looked up in surprise, holding a bloody napkin.
“What do you mean? We still need to—”
“I know,” I said, “but we’ll never get to Thule now. And it’s not Elektra’s fault (not entirely). This is second incident at the studio to bear my name. John will never let me in again.”
“I don’t understand,” Marduk said.
“Look, remember when I asked you guys to play it cool before we got here? Well, it’s a long story, but I was never exactly welcome here.”
Years ago I produced a film: Wild & Slutty Teens 6. Following the success of The King & I & His Wives, John decided I should have more control of what the studio released. I had the dubious distinction of being a “porn genius.” Wild & Slutty was my first solo attempt. I was responsible for the script, casting and directing. It was an incredible amount of work, and I was still in the flush of youth. I was drunk on success and drunk in general. In other words, John concocted a recipe for disaster. And he was forced to drink the bitter dregs after the casting call.
There was one girl. I don’t recall her name, but I will never forget what she looked like: a lithe but curvy redhead with high cheekbones and feline-green eyes. She was the last to be interviewed, and she insisted I hire her. I asked her why. By way of reply she kneeled before my chair and rested her cheek on my thigh. “Because,” she said, with puppy-dog eyes. Before long I had her bent over my desk, indecent and defrocked. She got the job and my personal phone number.
Days before the scheduled shoot, I received a call from her number. I answered my phone expecting another liaison with the fair creature. To my surprise, however, a gruff masculine voice quickly asked for my name. Suspecting that a jealous lover had phoned me, I told the man I didn’t have time for courtesy calls, I was very busy.
“I think you do,” he said, “because I’m about to go to the police.”
The man was none other than the red-haired girl’s father.
“She’s a minor,” he said, “and you got her pregnant.”
It didn’t take long for Daddy Dearest to contact John and threaten legal action against the studio. And it didn’t long for John to contact me and threaten death if I didn’t reach a gentleman’s accord with the disgruntled paterfamilias. The grapevine would be my noose.
Daddy wanted money—enough to put his innocent baby girl through college several times over. I had no choice but to provide. John provided half since he had been, in his words, “dumb enough to trust you.” In exchange, however, I requested that the father take his daughter to an abortion clinic. My final words were “Get rid of it.”
“How can you be so callous?” Elektra said.
“I didn’t exactly like the idea. But I could never be a father.”
“And the girl?” Marduk asked.
“I never saw her again. Anyway, I doubt she feels nostalgic. From what I gathered, she was trying to piss off her parents. She was spoiled rotten.”
“Well, I don’t want to get rid of it,” Elektra said, “and I want you to be present as a father.”
“What makes you certain that you’re pregnant?” I said.
“Call it intuition, but I feel it.”
“ And what makes you certain that I’m the father?” I said.
“You were the only one who came inside me.”
When we arrived at the condo, the door was fixed and the interior restored to its former pristine condition. The altar remained in place, as the pious Guadalupe refused to touch the diabolic paraphernalia. She left a note on the kitchen countertop, written in a neat cursive script. It read:
I do job best I can. I call my hermano and he fix the door. Please give me one-hundred dollars for today. Thank you.
Guadalupe Jesus Vargas y Panza-Rodriguez del magnifico corazon de la Virgen Maria
I wrote a check for a thousand dollars and put it on top of the note.
I escorted Elektra to my bedroom, where she settled for the night. Just before I closed the door, I caught a glimpse of her rubbing her belly. A smile as equivocal as the Mona Lisa’s appeared on her tear-stained face.
On my way back to the kitchen I contemplated Elektra’s facial expression. How could anyone be happy in the present circumstances? The thought jarred me. And I wasn’t alone.
Marduk sat at the marble counter-top. Defeat hung heavily on his shoulders like a royal cape. His brow, too, wizened beyond reckoning, arranged itself in new whorls. It was a sorry sight. I could never stand the sight of suffering. So I quickly absconded to the balcony and lit a much-needed cigarette.
From the opulent height of the Hills, I felt a hollow in my chest. Oh god, I thought, is this what guilt feels like? The thought made me stagger back and trip against a lawn chair. I avoided the fall, but the realization was unavoidable. It was time. I had to fess up. After a long, anxious drag from the cigarette, I muttered my darkest secret: “Rod, you’re a fuck-up.”
I couldn’t deny it any longer. For all of my apparent success, I was about as mature as a candy-crazed toddler. The money didn’t make me happy. Yes, I could walk into any department store in America and purchase my bauble of choice. But I’d never fostered meaningful relationships. And it seemed to me, then, on the balcony, that I was about to miss another opportunity to change my life meaningfully. And the hollow in my chest deepened.
I walked back to the kitchen and took a stool beside Marduk.
“So what’s the plan now?” I said.
The old man shot a glance at me, confused.
“You mean…?” he said. “Oh, you won’t regret this! Everything will work out, you’ll see! I know this Englishman—Gerald—he knows what to do.”
Can you believe it? The old fart’s face lit up like a birthday cake.
Admit it. You like me.