“Hustlers grab your guns, your shadow weighs a ton driving down the 101. California here we come, right back where we started from.”
“Welcome to Los Angeles, city of the devil,” Christy sneered, and Sasha recognized that whatever lurked there was what made the dark, brooding woman on the faded t-shirt who she was. “I’ll take you around better later, but this is where it all happens—records, movies, television, everything you see and are told to believe. As the sign on the producer’s door says, ‘People need people and we make the people that people need’,” she added in the sarcastic tone Sasha remembered from her concerts. This was the queen of the stage, the haughty singer who knew that she controlled everyone in the room, not the fun-loving young woman who would give it all up for a normal college dorm life.
“Window seat’s for you. We’re going through Beverly Hills. Everyone has to see this when they come here for the first time,” Jan explained.
“Didn’t think you’d be into tourism,” Sasha said with a nervous chuckle.
“I’m not. And I don’t dare claim a house here. Remember this: as bad as you see things, they can only get worse and will only get worse,” Christy said, as angry as Sasha had ever seen her. This had to be important if Christy was making this big a deal out of it, so she paid close attention, but she couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.
“Not for nothing, but I do know what a silicone model actress looks like,” Sasha admitted after the sixth big-breasted bimbo teetered by in a ridiculously tight dress and heels so high Sasha wondered how she didn’t fall. “So is the big secret that the extra silicone is there for protection, the way they trip around in those heels?”
Christy cracked a smile. “About the only protection they’re allowed to use,” she said darkly.
“I could tell it wasn’t natural.”
“You haven’t been outside here yet, so you just think I’m talking about the boobs. I’m only bisexual by necessity, and I prefer legs anyway. No, that isn’t why I chose you,” Christy said, adding the last with a chuckle, looking more like the girl Sasha had rode with earlier.
Soon the bus crossed into Wilshire, and a mansion that belonged in Gone With the Wind loomed over them. “So I’m guessing from what looks like half of Georgia plopped down in the heart of California, this is ho... where we work out of,” Sasha said, awed by her idol’s mansion.
“Something like that. At least you learn fast. This where I have to live to keep living, but it ain’t home. Oh, you’ll be comfortable, I assure you of that. I keep my percentages in order, we got enough investment bankers around to grow the bank accounts, and things got nowhere to go but up after this recession,” Christy said, sounding as enthusiastic as a college kid handed the keys to a mansion, and nothing like the queen of dark piano rock. The bus pulled up to the front and two stunningly gorgeous women who might as well have had ‘former dancer’ on their foreheads opened the doors, while four men came out and unloaded the bus. What was odd to Sasha was that everyone was in comfortable and non-sexual clothes, despite the empty eyes, giggles, and muscular posing that showed that they were closer to property than human beings.
Christy saw the confusion on Sasha’s face and turned to her with tears in the corners of her eyes. “Not all minds are strong enough. What am I supposed to do? Be like the rest of them and parade them around as trophies, or let them run the mansion when I’m not there? Which, Lord willing, will be all the time, mark my words. They make good servants, and I don’t make them wear frilly French maid costumes or any of that other nonsense. I hate it! I hit them with the same thing I do everyone else, but sometimes someone without the strength to survive gets in—it happens, but if I abandon them, what’s going to happen? One of them will pick them up and do I don’t even want to think what with them!” she explained, the words spilling out in a hysterical torrent.
“Easy,” Sasha said gently. “You aren’t a bad person. You’ve already proven that to me.” She offered Christy a hug, and strangely enough to Sasha’s still-controlled brain; that part of her expected Christy to stand at proud full fury and demand worship on her knees Christy accepted it. “I understand that you were born this way, and you have no choice but to live this way. Do you think I’d have come along with you if I didn’t know that?”
Christy suddenly tensed up and went back into her dark mode. “So much to still learn, but we made the right choice, Jan. Good work.”
Jan nodded and took Sasha up to her room. “Killing’s not her strong suit. She feels remorse about anyone who did break, because it’s not her fault. At least she didn’t sell them to a producer to be a whore, a porn star, or worse.”
“Worse?” Sasha asked, that being the only thing she could think of to say that didn’t involve projectile vomiting on Jan’s pristine white shoes. I don’t care how well these people know me, that’s still not a good impression to create on my first day really doing this job.
“You’ll see at dinner tonight. Word to the wise? Don’t eat too much. Eat enough to let Christy know you don’t want to be an anorexic model, but don’t expect to keep any of it down. Oh, and Christy hates alcohol, so you can’t get around it that way, either.”
“Charming,” Sasha said with regret—but also curiosity. She was about to see behind the curtain of Hollywood, and like anyone else in their mid-twenties, she found it a thrill, despite the warnings from everyone that she was going to see things that no one wanted to see. A small thing occurred to her as a distraction and an opportunity. “By the way, just to get this voice in my head to shut up, I should call her-”
“Just Christy, trust me. Not even Christy Reed, although she’ll put up with that if you get the urge to bow and can’t stop it. Titles of honor just scare her shitless,” Jan explained. “I call her Christy-sama sometimes to fuck with her, but she doesn’t appreciate it.”
“Thanks,” Sasha said with a weak smile. Part of her wanted to get out without seeing what Christy had warned her about, but she knew she was in too deep for that. And Christy seemed sincere in her disgust for Hollywood, so at least she’d have an ally or a friend—if it was up to her, I think she really would burn it to the ground! She blocked out her fears and her doubts by putting on one of Christy’s CDs, knocking her out enough to let her unpack her things and zone out without a thought. She didn’t know how long it was until Hank came into her room and shook her awake.
“Get dressed. It’s time for Christy to take you around,” he said with a growl that would scare off a bear. The bulge in his pants wasn’t the common one of men confronted with attractive women, but his gun in its holster.
“Watch where you put that thing!” Sasha protested in fear.
“Sorry, kid. I don’t like it much either, but we’re going to eat in Hollywood, then down Rodeo Drive, then to a couple of the studios. Can’t go anywhere without protection in those areas. Compton, yeah. Beverly Hills? Not so much,” Hank said. Sasha looked to see when he was going to crack a smile, but his face remained serious.
“You’re funny,” she said with a smile. “Now out with you! I don’t care if you’re security, you can’t watch me dress!”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” Hank said, genuinely confused as Sasha shooed him out. She emerged from the room a few minutes later in a black gown similar to the one Christy wore on the t-shirt, and heels low enough to be practical while high enough to be elegant. “Not bad,” he said with a leer.
“Keep the gun unloaded, Hank. Both of them,” Sasha teased.
Hank winked at her and led her down the stairs. Her knees went weak at the sight of Christy, in a knee-length purple skirt with a crisp white blouse. Her hair was perfect. She looked at Sasha’s stunned reaction and said, “If you need to be on your knees, the sign-up sheet’s outside my bedroom. If you need me on my knees, darlin’, you’re out of luck.”
“Sorry. I, um, I’m not used to heels, and if these are low...” Sasha trailed off blushing.
Christy grinned, and Sasha knew she had seen through the ruse. “Well, that second part was for Hank anyway. Now, form up and hit the car.” She clapped her hands, and suddenly Sasha was squished between three huge men who marched her out to a jet black stretch limo. Inside, Christy was all business. “First dinner, then shopping, then to the nightclubs. Keep an eye out for everything and anything,” she said crisply, as if this was some sort of trial by fire and she was expecting answers at the end of the night.
“Bogey at 12 o’clock!” Hank yelled as a motorcycle sped towards them.
“Get down!” Christy yelled in panic. When Sasha hesitated, Christy threw herself on top of Sasha.
While Sasha’s body appreciated the position, she wondered what the hell was going on.. “Are you like this with all the paparazzi? Isn’t that a little eccentric?” she asked with all the anger she could muster.
Christy took it in stride. “You never know. I know I sound paranoid, but prism flashes are the new weapon of choice. One flash takes an hour to blink away, and that’s if the guy doesn’t know what to do to you once you’re dazzled. Some scumbag did that to one of my bookers last month, turned her into an advertising doll for Senate. Like that was the first time someone took one of my people and tried that shit. They have three sirens, and everyone knows that’s enough, ‘specially with that Greek-style squealer Carrie.”
“Don’t wanna know what you sang to the bastard who did that.”
“She didn’t do anything. I called up, said she wanted to do hip-hop, needed some research done, and let Compton do the rest,” Hank said with an evil smile.
“Please tell me he’s joking!” Sasha said, turning green.
“Just a touch. Couldn’t quite get away with Compton, but parking lot of the Forum with the best guys in my posse was good enough.”
“Oh, so you just beat him up. Okay. Okay. I think I’m okay,” Sasha said with a sigh.
“It’s only gonna get worse. But our table’s with one of the more tolerable guys. Just trust me on this one. You’re gonna learn a lot ‘bout the lesser of two evils today,” Christy said, and the hand she put on Sasha’s knee wasn’t as relaxing or reassuring as it could have been.
“I trust you completely, and that’s without you singing. But is it really so common?”
“Close enough for government work right now, bound to be soon enough.” Christy frowned as the car pulled up in front of the restaurant, and the aura of power settled over her again. “Straighten that shoulder strap so they don’t get the wrong idea. Just ‘cause I came out as bi doesn’t mean that I wanna look like I have threesomes on the way to dinner.” She gave a brief smile, but only long enough to check her makeup.
“That, and too many horny men were causing trouble at the concerts, what with all the pretty girls. Orgies with twenty thousand people cause the wrong kind of attention for some reason,” Hank added with a wiggle of his eyebrows.
“Interesting demographic segmentation,” Sasha said in awe.
“Talk nerdy to me. Last publicist’s idea. Not horrible. The parents hated it, which made it better for the teen angst crowd,” Christy said with a wink. Hank got out of the limo to lead Christy out, and another security bear came up behind her. Sasha found herself being helped out of the limo in the same way, and she couldn’t even read the name of what had to be a trendy hotspot before she was whisked to her table.
“Place is packed out the door, and I count five—no, six—other companies here. It’s safe. Order up,” Christy said, counting heads and mouthing names as she looked around the restaurant.
“Thought you wouldn’t like crowds, or having rivals nearby,” Sasha said, trailing off in confusion.
“Packed out the door means laypeople—meaning people wanting to get laid, people wanting to break it big, or both. At least four other companies are here, which means they’re looking for new talent, not to poach in front of a savvy crowd. Also means the cook staff wouldn’t favor one company over another, because that means none of the other ones would show up there, so we don’t have to worry about being slipped anything. And remember, to them I’m a high-class siren with a stunning new blonde that she’s dyin’ to show off, so this is just a business meeting. Oh, don’t put on a dopey face like something out of a horror movie. They know me well enough,” Christy explained.
Sasha blushed, but any embarrassment she might have been considering evaporated as Hank snapped, “5 o’clock!” She watched as a dark-haired man with his hair slicked back sauntered over. His powder blue blazer was open to show a dress shirt that—judging from the label, had cost several hundred dollars, possibly more. She half-expected the shirt to be open, with chest hair and a cheesy medallion sticking out, but it seemed that dinner with Christy encouraged a little class.
“Peter! Oh, it’s so good to see you!” Christy exclaimed, getting up and giving him the kind of hug she never gave her workers. Sasha wondered about this, but the melody in Christy’s voice was enough to confuse her. She saw Hank and the rest of the security team stay in battle mode and knew that this was a foe, not a friend.
“So how was the tour? Oh, I see you went souvenir shopping! Is she still napping from one of your lovely lullabies? Oh you dirty girl! Nothing like a glassy-eyed blonde on a Friday night... or any night, really! Sure you don’t want to drop her off with Dr. Springate to adjust her grades? A plus isn’t the best in everything,” Peter suggested, staring at Sasha’s artfully displayed cleavage. Most of Sasha’s brain wanted to kick him full force in the balls, and a tiny part wanted to protest that she was totally a B-cup and his eyes needed adjusting right after she adjusted his crotch with her foot, but the constant melody in Christy’s voice kept her frozen where she sat, so all she could do was glare daggers at Peter, but it was enough.
“Not all women are things, even if Tokyo Electric bought half of your Amerigo. Besides, she’s no slave and no whore, she’s my publicist. And I’ve told you before, I’m not doing your B-rate horror shows. Screaming hurts my voice. And my humor is so anti-Hollywood you’d bomb. Something about a mad scientist turning smart women into mindless sex dolls—no one’s going to believe that one!”
“You might be surprised, my dear Christy. Besides, the future isn’t movies—it’s the Internet. Maybe not now, but that Web—oh, what a tangled web we can weave of it. We could use someone who looks good on a web page that gets the anti-social people on there. Think of it! Unlimited ways to pump the subliminals in. Imagine your voice, your thoughts, your mind, in millions worldwide,” Peter said, grabbing Christy by the shoulder.
Even in trance, Sasha wanted to swear, and she could see Christy doing her best to neither gag at the battle plan being laid out before her, or to order Hank to break every bone in the guy’s hand for being so over-friendly with her. “You just keep your dirty dreams to yourself, Peter. Besides, what would an old watch-swinger like you do with a computer? Aren’t they a little heavy to swing back and forth?” she shot back. Peter turned bright red and slunk away. She waited until he was well gone before nudging Sasha awake and saying, “Sorry for stunning you, but that was your first snake. Couldn’t have you scream, or he might have been enticed to bite.”
Sasha nodded, her stomach doing backflips; if she opened her mouth, horrible and embarrassing things would happen, but one question burned within her. “Is he.. is he right? About this Internet thing? I know about America Online, but can it grow that big?” she asked, and was impressed that she didn’t throw up on her shoes.
“Porn stocks have tripled just in anticipation, as—oh, you’ll see when I show you later. I don’t joke about Hollywood. But you better eat something. Trust me on this one. You have to enjoy what you can so you don’t go completely mad,” Christy said with a gentle smile, and Sasha found the strength to order a pizza, or at least try to.
“Fish on pizza?” Sasha asked.
“Fake. Well, real fish but fake recipes. All trendy and hot air. No one would eat it unless they were stupid enough to think it was new and cool ‘cause they were told so. So... naw, I’m pulling your leg. The menu’s just for the bimbos. I wouldn’t torture you with this junk. You’d kill me and I’d deserve it. They make a good, simple pepperoni and sausage here. Not deep dish, but this isn’t Chicago,” Christy said with a smile that was more the other Christy Reed, the one sheltered from the madness instead of the dark princess persona that she wore like armor.
As the pizza was served, Sasha felt a little more at home, and Christy lightened up, telling jokes and trying to feed Sasha a slice. It was at that moment that a woman with white-blonde hair, a Pepto-Bismol pink skirtsuit, breasts that would have spilled out of her scanty blouse if they were real enough to move, and a vacuous look on her face sauntered over with a microphone and camera. “Shit! Sensational Sleaze Machine!” Christy hissed before the icy indifference came over her.
“Like, am I disturbing you two lovebirds? Like, is this your new girlfriend? You look, like, pretty lovey dovey over here. So, like, how does this work? Do you have a girlfriend on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then, like, a boyfriend on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then, like threesomes and orgies on the weekends?” the reporter said breathily, putting the camera square in Christy’s face.
“Christy, let me do my job,” Sasha said, feeling the anger in her stir again and deciding to put it to use this time. Christy recognized it and let her go. Sasha turned to the bimbo and said, “I’m Christy’s new publicist, so it’s very nice to meet you so early in my tenure—I’m sure we’re going to get to know each other very well in our lines of business. Right now, Christy’s just trying to unwind from the rigors of a long tour. We’ve all been putting in 18-hour shifts, and Christy wants to make sure we haven’t burned out while she works on material for the new album, which should go into the studio in about three months so it can be ready in time for the Olympics. In the meantime, she’s taking time to be twenty for once. No, not 21, and believe me, we make sure she doesn’t get into that kind of trouble. You’re welcome to think so, of course, but I don’t think we could work with a media outlet having that kind of judgment. Here, take my card, and I’ll take one of yours, so we can let you in on the advance of the new single when it’s ready. Now, if you wouldn’t mind letting Christy celebrate her eight-times platinum album...”
The huge grin echoed with the “reporter”, and she minced off with her story. Christy smiled proudly at Sasha. “You know that the Sleaze Machine is programmed to distort the truth.”
“Knew that even before I knew you. Good thing I’m programmed to inflate it, and that was before coming on board. She’ll be a walking ad, even without that mind-fucking Greek myth sci-fi you are getting sleepy bullshit,” Sasha said proudly.
“Rock on, sister! Still have to show you where she came from, but wow! I never had anyone handle her like that, especially after we handed her such a golden piece of gossip with the pizza feeding.”
“Well, you’re already out, so that wasn’t a big deal. And you’re young and you just got off a grueling tour. A lot of things can be forgiven when you’re young, stupid, and tired—no offense, just how I’m spinning. The space between the tour and the album will be enough for people to forget anything you don’t want them to know, and reminding them that there’s an album due will keep you in their consciousness.”
“Knew you were good, but damn, did I ever outdo myself!” Christy said with a proud smile. They finished up the pizza without any further incidents and headed back to the limo. “So you’ve seen the people who make Hollywood, and thanks to Peter and his huge mouth, you have a notion of what’s coming up on the horizon. Now it’s time to dig deeper and see how all of this is made. Just stay close to me. The benefit of being born into this is getting into all the parties before anyone can get ideas, so I saw things first hand. I know how dangerous it is out there, though, and I don’t want to lose you know that I know how important you are. By the end of the buildup, I don’t even want to know what this world will look like, but what’s underground is going up the stairs and out into the real world.”
“So are there others like you? I mean, some who at least have a heart like you do?” Sasha asked.
“Here? None of them have the nerve to stay here. Across the country... you hear stories, but even the profiteers who care more about controlling their bank account than people are drooling over what the Internet can do for them. That’s the part that scares me silly. It’s not just a weapon, it’s a launching platform. Before, some guy who picked up a few tricks in a book would just use them on some airhead to get a quickie. Now, he can use those tricks and build himself a harem. Now, this guy isn’t going to know what to do with a harem, or the power he has—but he’s going to know he has the power, and he’s going to want to do something with it, and not just every girl in sight.” Christy took a deep breath and reined in her building hysteria. “Let me put it to you this way? What brought everyone to California the first time?”
“Gold,” Sasha answered.
“And that’s brought them all back here again,” Christy said, running her hand through Sasha’s hair for emphasis.