Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chapter 15: Leverage

"Imagine my surprise," Mercedes purrs when Justin arrives for their appointment, "When I saw you as a guest at my own party. And as my intern's boyfriend of all things. I must know, where did someone like you find someone like her?"

Justin's fists clench instinctively, and it takes all his self-control to hold them at his side. "You don't know anything about me, and you do NOT speak her name in my presence."

Mercedes chortles deep in her throat, "Our session hasn't even started yet, Justin darling, and you're already in role," she says, "But, before we begin, I'd like to re-negotiate our arrangement here. It seems to me that I do know something about you, something you wouldn't want your upper class girlfriend to know about. You know what I want from you...and if I don't get it, it might just happen that Eleanor finds out what you really are, what you do for a living."

"You're trying to blackmail me for sex?" Justin is too angry to laugh. He could just tell Mercedes that her threat is meaningless, that Eleanor already knows what he does for a living, but he knows better than to lay his cards on the table like that. Let her think she has leverage, let her play her bad hand and lose. "You do realize that telling her what I do would expose your own proclivities to your intern, don't you?"

Mercedes frowns; she hadn't thought this through.

"This is business, you understand?" Justin says forcefully, "I'm here to get a job done. I have other clients, easily as rich as you are. I don't need you, Mercedes, and I will drop you if you don't let this go."

Mercedes returns to her gallery that afternoon in a foul mood. Justin was right, she can't expose him to Eleanor without exposing herself, and that's not something she's prepared to do. But she can't stop herself from expressing her anger about what transpired in her afternoon session in some veiled way.

"I can't believe you brought that...boyfriend...of yours along to my event," she complains, "My guests were among the wealthiest and most important people in the city, and you bring that...that trash to mingle with them."

Eleanor frowns, wondering where this is coming frown, Justin didn't even talk to anyone, and she doubts anyone even noticed he was there. "I'm sorry, Mercedes, I didn't realize..." she apologizes weakly, not knowing what she's apologizing for.

Mercedes waves her hand impatiently, "No matter," she says, trying to get control of herself. It won't do to get over emotional in front of the girl.

"I have something I need to discuss with you," Eleanor says, worried that this might not be the best time for it. But she spent the afternoon steeling herself for this, and if she doesn't do it now, her will to do it might fade. "The semester is ending in a week. And my internship ends with it. If I'm going to stay in the city, I'll need a paid position."

Mercedes grins with wicked glee. Her first instinct is to send the girl packing, leaving Justin bereft of his precious Eleanor. But that would be nothing more than revenge, which, while sweet, would do nothing to get her what she really wants. No, what she needs is leverage, and it occurs to her that taking Eleanor on as a paid employee would give her exactly that. When she holds the power to fire his girlfriend over his head...yes, Mercedes thinks, it's too perfect. And there's also the fact that Eleanor pretty much runs this gallery, leaving Mercedes free to do whatever she likes while being recognized by her peers for contribution to the the city's cultural life. "Of course, Eleanor, let's go into my office where we can negotiate a salary for you."

"She bitched me out for bringing you to her party," Eleanor says, looking up from her term paper, "I have no idea what got up her ass; she was fine with it before."

Justin can't meet her eyes. There are confidentiality agreements with his clients, and his career rides on keeping their dirty secrets. But he doesn't like keeping this from Eleanor, not telling feels like lying. "How important is that internship to you?" he asks, "You could quit, couldn't you?"

"Quit?" Eleanor asks, "Why would I want to quit?"

"I don't like the way she treats you," Justin says, "You shouldn't put up with it."

"Oh," Eleanor laughs, "She is a bitch, and I know I complain about her a lot, but really, she's not even there most of the time. And I actually like the work."

"I have some news," she says, getting up from her seat, "My internship is over when the semester ends. So I asked Mercedes for a job, a real job. And I got it." 

"That gives her even more power over you," Justin observes, already seeing how Mercedes is going to try to use it against him.

"Not every relationship is about power exchange," she laughs, "She'll just be paying me to do what I'm already doing for free. And the money means I can stay in L.A. over the summer."

"You were going to leave?" Justin chokes. This is news to him.

"My mother hated the idea of me going to school out here to begin with," Eleanor explains, "She wanted me in an Ivy league school. And she most definitely expects me home for the summer. But with this job, I'l be able to pay my rent, and stay out here."

"Princess, if you ever need money, you just have to ask me," he says, "I won't lose you just because of money issues."

"That's sweet, Tiger," she says, "But I've been dependent on my mother's wealth all my life, I won't be dependent on you, too. I've got a job, and I'm going to pay my own way."

Special thanks to misukisu of Virtual Artisan for making Justin's fabulous new bondage vest.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chapter 14: Games About Fucking

"So we're just characters in a game? But who's playing it?" Coby asks, laughing at her crazy ideas.

"Well, people, like us. But they're out there," Ti says, waving up at the sky.

"And they control everything we do?"

"No, we have a certain amount of autonomy. But they can direct us when they want. Mostly they just watch."

"I don't know, Ti, that sounds really boring. I mean, watching people get up, pee, eat breakfast and go to work...why would anyone do that?'

"Well they do get to watch us fuck, too."

Coby laughs, "So you're saying the gods or whatever are basically just perverts?"

"What do you say we give them a show?" she suggests, smiling coyly.

"I have to get up early and hit the beach," Coby says. Ti pouts. "Oh, all right," he says, laughing as he reaches over to unsnap her bra.

When she wakes up late the next morning, Coby is already gone, out surfing. Having nothing better to do, Stina heads out to go to class. On her way out, she runs into a new resident in the lobby.

"You're the guy that moved into the apartment across from mine," she says, "My name is Stina. Stina Bowman."

"Rainier Lecocq," he introduces himself, taking her hand.

"Le what?" she asks, suppressing a laugh.


Unable to hold it in any longer, the laugh forces its way out.

"Something is funny?" he asks.

"Oh, no," she gasps, wiping the tears from her eyes. Getting control of herself, she asks, "Are you French? Your accent..." 

"I'm Belgian. I just moved to L.A.," Rainier explains.

"So, what, you're a musician? Artist? Actor?" she asks. They all move here for something, and those are the usual suspects.

"Game designer," he says, "My colleagues and I have just started a small company."

"If you aren't doing anything, we could go play some games," she suggests.

Rainier takes her up on the invitation, and she takes him out for a game of pool.

"Tell me Stina, do you have someone in your life? I can't imagine a lovely girl like you being alone," Rainier says, waiting for his turn.

"Oh," Stina gasps and blushes, ", no one special."

Since she has the attention of an actual game designer, Stina pitches her idea of the world as a vast multiplayer game.

"A game about regular daily life? And the goal is what? Advancing in a career, getting married, having babies? There's no market for that," he says.

"Well, they'd also have affairs and break ups. And you'd get to watch them fuck."

"Hmm, there might be a market for that in Europe, maybe Japan. But here? Non, you are all too prudish for games about fucking."

"Well, not all of us are that prudish," Stina says, leaning in closer to him. He's really attractive, she thinks. He moves closer to her, and she's quite sure he intends to kiss her. She'd like that, she really would, except for that stabby guilt feeling nagging at her. "'s getting late, I have someone," she says, pulling away from Rainier before it's too late.

Since they live in the same building, they go back to the apartment together. When they get to the lobby, they run into Coby waiting for the elevator.

"Oh, hey, Coby," Ti says, flustered and awkward, "This is Rainier. He just moved in across the hall."

Rainier realizes right away that Stina lied when she said there was no one special in her her life. This Coby is obviously her lover, but he's also not important enough to her to stop her from flirting with him. All the better, Rainier thinks, games are better played against others, and he likes the competition.

The three of them ride the elevator to their floor together. As they exit, Rainier takes Stina's hand and kisses it. "Thank you for a lovely afternoon," he says "We should do it again."

"What the hell was that?" Coby demands when they're back in her apartment.

"What was what?" she asks, coy.

"The hand kissing bullshit? What's going on, Ti?"

"Oh, that was nothing," she assures him, "He's just European."

Coby rolls his eyes, "'European' isn't the same as 'asshole', Ti. What went on between you two today?"

He does have a point, Ti thinks, the hand kissing was kind of a dick move on Rainier's part. But even so, it sent her heart fluttering. "We just played a little pool, Coby," she assures him.

"You're my guy," she says, hugging him, "You don't have to worry about Rainier."

When she makes love to him, she actually believes her own bullshit.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chapter 13: Everything is Okay

Introducing Nico to her drummer, Randell, was easy enough. They all came out of the same scene and the two musicians were already familiar with each other.

Bill Arthag joins the band in the studio to meet with their prospective new guitarist.

And then they jam. Jacklyn was almost surprised by how well Nico knew her repertoire, he didn't even need to look at the sheet music to get right into it. But she's been discovering lately how deeply talented he is, and how well trained. Like her, he grew up in a musical family, and was playing instruments almost as soon as he could walk.

Randell immediately approves of Jacklyn's choice for Ben's replacement. Bill is of the same opinion, and takes Nico aside for a private chat. 

"I assume you're sleeping with her," he says.

Nico frowns, "That's none of your business."

Bill laughs, "I'll take that as a 'yes'. Whatever you're doing, keep it up. Jacklyn is brilliant, but she requires a lot of hand holding. And better you than me. Keep her happy, and we'll all be happy."

The band, along with Bill, goes out that night to celebrate. Now that they've found their new guitarist, they'll be kicking off their tour in a few days.

"Let's go home, and celebrate in private," Nico suggests after the club starts getting busy.

'Home' is Jacklyn's house in Malibu. The couple haven't exactly discussed the status of their relationship or their living arrangements, but since returning from her cabin in the mountains, Nico has stayed at her place and given up his apartment in Hollywood.

"I think I'm dying," Jacklyn groans. She's never felt this sick in her life. "I didn't even drink that much."

Nico remembers their first morning together in his apartment, when she told him she had an iron constitution, and never got sick. "Do you think you might be pregnant?" he asks, his voice barely a whisper. They'd been making more of an effort recently to be responsible, but that night in his apartment...well, their efforts now might have come too late.

"No!" she says with bitter, desperate vehemence, "I'm not pregnant. There's no way..." She starts to cry, hunched over the toilet.

Nico lifts her up and carries her back to bed.

He holds her while she sobs, caresses her and tells her everything is okay, until she cries herself back to sleep.

When she wakes up again, she's alone. She drags herself into the shower, telling herself it was just the drinks making her sick, even though she only had two and had no other hangover symptoms. But as soon as she's dressed, she's back to collapsing in front of the toilet, heaving her guts out.

"Okay, so I'm probably pregnant," she admits.

"I'll do right by you," Nico says gently.

"Well, thanks for the chivalry," Jacklyn says, unable to hold back a sneer, "But there's no need. I'm not having it."

"You just decided that so quickly?" Nico is aghast.

"Well, yeah," she says, "You can't actually want this baby, can you?"

"Jacklyn, sweetheart," Nico says, coming behind her to caress her, "It's our baby. And I do want it."

"We just got together, Nico," Jacklyn says, "We don't even know what we are to each other yet. This is no time to have a baby. We're not ready for this. I'm not ready."

"I know," he says, "I wouldn't have asked for this, for it to be this way. But now that it's come up, I want it. I do love you, Jacklyn."

Jacklyn sighs, "Nico..."

"I know it's your decision," he says, "I'm just asking you to think about it before you decide."

He takes her hands and lifts her out of the chair and into his arms, "Don't underestimate us," he says, "It won't be easy, but we can do this."

"I'll think about it," she promises, though she can't imagine changing her mind.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chapter 12: Integrity

Coming to Heather's house every day after work, spending the night and then leaving for work in the morning again has become his routine. Ulises hasn't been to his own apartment in a week.

"I'm not going to be coming by tomorrow," he tells Heather as she gets dinner started, "I've got stuff I ned to take care of at home."

Heather's heart sinks into her stomach, but she tries not to show her disappointment.

"I don't want you to think I expect you be here every night. I mean, I love having you, but if you need your space..." Heather says, trying to convince herself more than him. She does want him with her every night, and she thought he wanted that, too.

"I don't need space, Heather. I need to check my mail, pay my bills. And work out; I have to keep in shape for my job. All my equipment is at my place. Believe me, if it weren't for that, I'd be here tomorrow night, and every night."

"You could bring your stuff here," Heather suggests.

"I have been mostly living here," Ulises agrees, "We might as well make it official." 

Heather smiles, "I love knowing you'll be coming home to me at night. I want my home to be your home."

"Listen, would you consider getting a place together, somewhere closer to the city? The commute is killing me."

Heather pauses before answering. She's lived in this house since childhood and never considering leaving it. But that's not the real issue; she's managed to keep her grow room in the shed hidden from Ulises, as he's never had a need to go back there. But if they move, she's not going to be able to set up a new grow room under his nose. And staying here will be almost as bad; someday, he'll find some reason to go into the shed, looking for a tool, or a place to store something. "Move your stuff in here for now, and we can start looking for a new place this weekend," she says. The choice was not that difficult, love is more important than money. As soon as Ulises leaves for work the next morning, Heather makes some calls, starting the process of getting out of the drug trade.

Ulises went back to his apartment that night, to pay his bills and get in a workout. With that done, he was left alone in his apartment. He'd lived alone for some time before he met Heather, and the solitude never bothered him. But now, the quiet is more than he can bear. He grabs a few things to take with him as the start of the moving in process, and makes the three hour drive out to Topanga, arriving at her place around midnight.

When he gets to her door, he senses something is wrong here. The lights are off, but the door is slightly open.

Quietly, Ulises pushes the door open and steps into the dark room.

Heather is sobbing, on her knees as a thug looms over her.

Ulises moves quickly, grabbing the thug and pulling him off Heather.

"Esparza!" he growls, immediately recognizing the son of one of the city's biggest drug lords. Ulises had arrested him more than once. It makes no sense for Aaron Esparza to be doing a B&E job, his family is all about trafficking, and Aaron is too high in the chain to be involved in a simple burglary.

The time for interrogation will come after he's made his arrest. With his gun locked up in its case for the night, Ulises has no choice but to wrestle Esparza to the ground and cuff him.

"Did he hurt you?" Ulises ask Heather once Esparza has been subdued.

"I'm fine," she assures him, tears running down her face, "I'm so glad you came."

Ulises takes out his phone to call the station; Heather grabs his hand before he can dial. "We can't get the cops involved," she says.

"The cops are involved, Heather," he says, confused, "I just arrested Esparza. I have to take him in."

Heather sobs and shakes her head, "I can't have my house turn into a crime scene, to have police going through everything."

He tries to tell her it will be okay, but she just shakes her head and cries.

"Let me show you," she says, taking him by the hand and leading him to her garden shed.

She unlocks the door and opens it for him. "Santa Maria," he breathes when he sees what she's hiding back here, "This isn't just for personal consumption, is it?"

"No, it's for sale," she says, "And if you call the station and the cops come out here..."

"We'd take you in," Ulises says quietly. Does it make him a bad cop, he wonders, that he's not even considering arresting her himself?

"How are you involved with the Esparzas?" he asks her, afraid of the answer.

"I wasn't, until recently. I used to just sell to my own regular customers, no one else was involved. But when we started dating, I figured it would be better if I wasn't involved in making the sales myself. So I got in contact with a distributor who would buy my crop in bulk. I didn't know he was one of the Esparzas' guys. I don't even know who the Esparzas are," Heather explains, "And then when we started talking about moving in together, I realized I had to give it all up, growing as well as selling. So I called my guy, and told him the deal was off, I was getting out of the business."

Ulises groans at her naivete. "And the Esparzas sent Aaron in to convince you otherwise."

"I'm so sorry," Heather sobs, folding into herself as she sinks into her chair.

He knows she's right, if he does what he knows he should do, call the station and have them take Esparza in, they'll search this house and find Heather's crops, and arrest her along with Esparza. Ulises is not about to let that happen. She's more important to him than the law, or even his own integrity as a cop.

"Get up, pendejo," Ulises growls as he uncuffs Esparza, "Get up, and get out of here. I'm letting you go; you tell your father to let her go, too. Comprende?"

"Yeah, comprende," Esparza mutters, and leaves quickly before Ulises changes his mind.

Heather continues her soft sobbing. "Are you going to leave me?" she asks, her voice barely audible.

"Never, Heather," Ulises says, kneeling in front of her, "I'm with you forever. But you should have trusted me, you should have told me..."

She shakes with a fresh round of sobbing, "I just didn't want to lose you," she says.

Ulises lifts her up and holds her in his arms. "It's all right now. We'll fix this."

"Will Esparza really leave me alone now?" she asks.

He shakes his head sadly, "No. He won't. I'm going to get you a gun and..."

"No," she protests, "I don't want a gun."

"You have to protect yourself when I'm not here," he insists.

"Still, I won't use a gun."

Ulises sighs, "Then the sooner we move out of here, the better."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chapter 11: What's Real

Is this what I wanted? Jacklyn asks herself, looking out over balcony at the beach below. She's famous and rich, but something is missing.

"Pack a bag, and meet me outside your apartment," she says. Nico was surprised by her call, but does as she asks. 

"Where are we going?" he asks as he gets into her car.

"I'm kidnapping you," she answers.

The mountains are a half a day's drive out of L.A. "This cabin belongs to my father," Jacklyn explains as she gets a fire  going, "We used to come here when he wanted to get away from, you know, the life. He was a country star, back in the day."

"I know who your father is," Nico says, "I read your wiki."

"See, that's exactly the kind of crap he used this place to escape from," Jacklyn says as she leans back into his arms, sitting in front of the fire. "Well, he didn't have a wiki back then, but you know what I mean."

"That's the price of being famous, Jacklyn," Nico says, "Everyone knows who you are. My father is famous, too. A singer. But he only sings in Italian, so no one here knows him. But back home, he's a big deal, you know? Everywhere we went, we were his sons. It's a lot to live up to."

"So you came to L.A. to escape that?"

"No, I came to L.A. to earn my own fame, and not sponge off my father's."

As night falls she takes him into her bedroom. Jacklyn isn't shy about getting what she wants, but she hasn't said what Nico is to her, if he's just a toy she's distracting herself with, or if it's something more serious. 

"I'll try not to burn them this time," Nico says as he slides the waffles into the oven.

"I'll just stick to this," Jacklyn answers, mixing a tray of drinks.

"Hey," Nico says, abandoning the waffles to hop up onto the counter. He gently takes the drink out of her hand and pulls her against him, "Do you want to tell me what's going on here?"

"What do you mean?" she asks, resting her head on his shoulder.

"The heavy drinking, the running away to hide in this cabin...I know it's been rough on you, with Ben dying like that. But it's more than that, isn't it?"

"I miss the way things were," she says, "Ever since we got signed, everything has gone to shit."

Nico laughs lightly, and kisses her hair, "You miss the glamour of having to choose between eating or buying new strings, and getting evicted because you can't make rent? Or is it the vomit smell backstage at the Cobra Room you're nostalgic about?"

"I know," she says, "It was hard, but it was real, you know?"

"You're still real, Jacklyn," Nico answers.

Jacklyn pulls out of his arms. "I have this song I've been working on. I usually work my songs up with Ben, so it's not finished. Do you want to help me with it?"

 Her father left a few guitars in the closet here, and after they get them tuned up, Jacklyn plays what she has for him. Nico is a quick read, and picks it up before she even finishes. She's heard him play hundreds of times, and always admired his skill with a guitar, but she never gone through this part of the process with him before. He takes the little tune she composed to go with her lyrics and gives it a depth and complexity her sloppy guitar playing just cannot meet. Ben used to do this for her, but Nico is even better at it.

This is what it's all about, this is what she's been missing, making music. All the lip syncing videos, the interviews and photo shoots, none of that has any meaning, but it also can't take away what's real, the music.

"We play great together," she says when they finish her song, "If we weren't sleeping together, you could take Ben's place."

"I can't do both?"Nico asks.

"Being in a relationship with a band member...I don't know, it just invites trouble."

Nico laughs, "Do you remember the fights I used to get into with the singer of my last band?"

Jacklyn joins in his laughter. Nico's fights with Jim were the stuff of legend. One time Jim even hit Nico on stage with his microphone stand during a gig. "Oh, I remember," she gasps between laughs.

"Well, we weren't sleeping together, I assure you. Band relationships are always tricky, you know that. You've been through a few yourself. I don't see how we could be any worse."

Nico pulls her in for an embrace; he's not going to let an opportunity like this slip by him, "Give me a chance, Jacklyn. You know I'm good. And we're even better together."

He's great in bed and great on stage, what more could she ask for? "All right," she says, "But we make band decisions together, so Randell, my drummer, has a say, too. Let's head back to L.A. so you can play for him. And Arthag," she sighs, "We can't do anything without his approval, either."