Turning Blue Chapter Seven: A Barrel of Monkeys (Pt. 2)

Turning Blue Book Cover

Chapter Seven: A Barrel of Monkeys

Traci arrived at the Chatsworth Lodge a good twenty minutes early on Friday night. The actress had started working on her own makeup, before Maria got to her apartment, because she was concerned that the makeup artist would not be prompt. As it was, Maria was timely, and the two women were in high spirits, especially after they had each savored a glass of sweet white wine to mark the occasion. By the end of the second glass, neither of them held a grudge about anything and they were the best of friends. Maria did a superb job on her face, and coiled her hair up, and helped her pick out her wardrobe. After parading through three or four possibilities, they settled on the blue sequin dress, which Travis always selected for the movies, and Maria sprinkled just the faintest hint of glitter around her eyes to highlight the sparkle.

The Chatsworth Lodge was only a ten-minute drive from Traci’s apartment. It was a squat four-story building, with Mediterranean ar-
chitecture, and a red-tile roof. There was an outdoor parking lot, and a fountain in front of the hotel entrance. Lingering outside smoking
cigars and cigarettes, there were a few guests in formal attire. Traci waited in her Honda until she saw Travis pull up in the Mercedes, which was gleaming from a fresh car wash and polish.

He seemed tense and distracted, but he flashed her a smile. “You look great.”

“You too.” She was used to seeing him in black jeans at work. She straightened his bow tie and fixed his collar.

They started to walk in together, brushing against one another, not quite arm-in-arm. Before they even made it to the front doors of the hotel, they encountered the first surprise of the night. Tommy was standing out front in a rented tuxedo.

“Hello,” Travis said to the electrician, “It’s supposed to be executives only.”

“Yes, boss,” Tommy started his explanation, “I’m…uh… working…doing the lighting for you…. Just a few spotlights over the main table…some specials in the corners…accents…Can you believe they made me wear this monkey suit?”

“Maybe you should wear it for the sex scenes,” Travis quipped, “How is it in there?”

“Looks pretty…all the big wigs…Duncan…AXE…Paradise Mediators…They all have their tables….”

In the lobby of the hotel, there was an easel with a sign on it that read:


The Topanga Room was well appointed with mahogany paneling, long drapes, gilt-framed paintings and green ferns in pot plants, all enhanced with the highest standards in professional cinematic lighting.

A rectangular main table raised on a low dais stretched along one end, and there were round banquet tables for the rest of the guests. There was a nameplate on each table, indicating the studio that had sponsored it. Servers in white jackets were in attendance. Along the side wall, a buffet had been laid out, with a carving board for prime rib and roast turkey, metal warming trays with claw tongs for hors d’oeuvres, green vegetables, potatoes au gratin, and side dishes, and a cheese tray and fruit basket. The highlight of the cuisine was a separate seafood station, featuring fresh lobster, steamed crab legs, Alaskan salmon and Japanese sushi. At the opposite wall was a small bar, which was really a long folding table with a ruffled apron to hide the legs, around which most of the formal guests had informally congregated.

“Let’s get a drink.” Travis had never been more uncomfortable in any social occasion, which of course it was not.

“Fine with me,” said Traci, who had to squeeze past some of the men in tuxedos, as they made their way to the bar.

Miles Flannigan had struck up a warm acquaintance with the bartender, and was passing drinks to some of the other guests. “Travis, what are you having?”

“Anything with vodka in it.” Travis needed to settle his nerves.



“Coming up.” Miles was in his element. He crumpled a bill into the bartender’s breast pocket, and retreated from the bar, expertly managing four cocktails. He handed Travis and Traci two vodkas and cranberry juice, and passed one to an executive from Paradise, with whom he was attending the event.

“I’m at the Paradise table,” he explained to Travis, holding his glass to his lips with his elbow up, “I suppose you’re at the main table, next to Duncan. You have your speech ready?”

“I’m working on it.” Travis was still thinking about the philanthropic expectancy of the association.

“Entertain us, boy-o,” Miles encouraged, on the best of terms with Travis since his assistance in unseating Blimp Pullman, “There are only three guest speakers, and the other two can cure insomnia.”

“I’ll shout action if you nod off.” Travis caught sight of Beppo, and he knew he had better pay his respects, in keeping with the protocol of the pecking order. “Miles, look after Traci for me.”

Miles also understood the value to stars of hobnobbing with producers, and was happy to oblige, while Travis threaded his way through the throng to the acting president of Majestic Movies. Beppo was not clothed in the required attire. In his closed circle, one only dressed formally for court appearances, extortion or assassinations. He was wearing a clean blue shirt and gray trousers and had a lit cigar in his hand, and even though there was officially no smoking in the room, nobody was complaining.

“I have to thank you for the way things worked out,” said Travis, “You were right.”

“Told you,” Beppo said proudly.

“The way I heard it, he set up a meeting with Perez, and walked right into a diner and handed over the tapes to Vice red-handed.”

“Told you,” Beppo repeated, with a Sphinx-like inscrutability that made Travis wonder if he should be credited for the result.

“Where are you sitting?” Travis changed the subject.

“We’re at the back.” Beppo indicated a round table where three heavy-set associates of Majestic Movies, including his nephew, were discreetly conversing over a round of bourbon. “You’re with Traci?”

“It’s just for tonight. Nothing’s going on.”

Beppo was unusually conservative on the subject of marital fidelity. “Everything okay at home?”

“I don’t like to bring my wife to these things.”

“I understand.” Beppo did not bring his wife either. “Everything else?”

“We have a small problem in Germany. With the shipment.”

He drew on his illicit cigar. “It made it through customs?”


German customs authorities did not care about the pornographic content of the material but were notorious for extracting every penny of payable duty, a bureaucratic diligence that was similar to the work ethic of the officials at the Los Angeles film permit office. With the addition of a heavy tariff, the European buyers were complaining about the pricing, and Travis had an idea on how to satisfy them, but the tricky part was figuring out how to make a profit from the solution.

“So, what’s the problem?” Beppo asked. “Can we fix it?”

“Sure,” said Travis, rising to the challenge, “I think we can make some money out of it.”

It was Billy Dallas who tapped the microphone at the main table, and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.” There was the rumble of movement and the scraping of chairs, as everyone settled into their positions.

Travis redeemed Traci from Miles, who was so cheerful that one might think he was the honoree receiving the award, and they sat down in the center of the main table. Among the board members were Nicholas Pasquale, Billy Dallas, Summer Rainfall, and the Duchess. There were also the heads of two different studios, a trade magazine publisher, a fiercely-dedicated attorney who specialized in free speech cases, and an adult toy and novelty manufacturer. Duncan Hathaway, who had Nicholas to act as his proxy, was not officially on the board, but, as the de facto leader of the industry and the largest contributor to the association, he was the first one to speak, when everyone was seated.

He stood up and the audience fell into rapt and respectful silence. The president of American X-Rated Entertainment was an imposing man in his fifties, with a ruddy complexion, silver hair, and cloudy blue eyes behind gold-rimmed spectacles. He had been handsome and athletic in his youth, but age had given him jowls. To everyone in the room, he was a bona fide hero. During the first round of raids, he had struck a plea deal with the Justice Department after a successful sting operation. The Feds had set up a fictitious video store in Alabama, and filed charges there when they received a package of five movies that were considered obscene by the upright and urbane citizens of Tuscaloosa. Duncan had pled guilty and served jail time in a minimum-security penitentiary on the condition that all charges were dropped against any of his employees who had been swept up in the sting. It was the right thing to do, which made it even more illustrious that he had actually done it. His wife, Evelyn, had run the company in his enforced absence. She was seated beside him, a handsome, buxom woman, with chestnut hair, only a few years younger than her husband, and even more popular among the crowd, since, in her role as first lady, she was the only one who could keep Duncan under control.

The mogul spoke with a booming whisky voice that crackled over the microphone like autumn leaves. “Everybody’s here? Good. Don’t worry. I won’t speak for long. I know why you all showed up. The Jews came for the free food, and everyone else came for the free liquor.”

There was general laughter and selective jeering. Someone banged a fist on a table, and there was a clatter of silverware. Travis marveled at how, with his first words, Duncan had asserted his alpha dominance over the group by insulting everyone in the room.

“I know there’s at least one Irishman in here who was so busy at the bar that he didn’t even notice that there was a buffet.” Duncan glanced at Miles Flannigan who was seated at the Paradise table in the front row.

“There’s a buffet?” Miles acted astonished, and raised his glass to acknowledge the joke at his expense, and toasted himself, and there was more editorializing from the crowd, especially at the Paradise table.

“That’s all right,” Duncan continued, with his fingers spread to quiet the muttering, “Eat and drink and enjoy yourselves tonight, because tomorrow, you’re all going to hell. You’re going to hell. Me too. All of us. At least, according to the government and the gray watchdogs of morality. We’re a bunch of dirty pornographers. And as far as they are concerned, there is no difference between good pornography and bad pornography. They do not distinguish harmless vices from pure evil. It’s all the same filth, and we’re going to hell for it.” He raised his palm to shield his eyes from Tommy’s blinding spotlight, and peered towards the back of the room while his listeners contemplated their eternal fate.

“But, you know what, looking around this room, hell might not be so bad. Billy Dallas will be running a poker game, and supplying the women. Flannigan will set up the bar. Maybe there’ll be a lounge act. It will be just like old times. We will have to get used to the temperature, but it can’t be much worse than the valley in the summer.” There was a murmur of agreement in the room, as the group reconsidered the particulars of damnation. “We will all be sweating like pigs in hell, but Travis Lazar has his first class ticket to heaven. Because, not only does he know how to make a movie–and I should know because I own some of his best pictures–but Travis Lazar knows how to do the right thing. As far as taking care of someone who really belongs in hell with all the apes and demons and serial killers.”

There was grand applause, and voices of approval, and Duncan silenced them again with a motion of his hands.

“Now, Summer Rainfall is going to present Travis with a plaque and a check for twenty five grand, but, first…” Duncan put his palm over the microphone, and leaned forward so he could look down the main table. “Selwyn…do you want to say a word?”

Selwyn Felwyn rose to his feet in an immaculate Armani tuxedo, augmented with gold-plated cuff links, and a Piaget wristwatch. He was a small man, in compensation for which he spent hours in the gym sculpting a muscular body. Shrewd, some might say unctuous, yet well-known for paying his bills, he had sharp, dark features, and feline instincts. He liked to operate behind closed doors and behind the scenes, and he was painfully shy in large settings, especially when it came to public speaking. As the president of the closest rival studio anywhere near to the behemoth that was AXE, he was considered to be the de facto second in command, and Duncan’s strongest competitor and he was obliged to make a statement.

Duncan was a braggart, and captivated the room when he spoke, and so he especially relished the protocol of surrendering the microphone to Selwyn who was so uncomfortable as an orator. Selwyn came to the microphone, pale and nervous. “On behalf of Paradise….”

“Speak up!” someone yelled from the back.

“Louder! Can’t hear you!” were the calls.

Duncan could not suppress a chuckle, even under a disapproving glance from his empathetic wife. “Here. Fix his microphone.” He helpfully stepped forward himself to lower the microphone for Selwyn.

Selwyn leaned in an inch closer, and raised his voice to a whisper. “On behalf of Paradise Media, Incorporated, we would like to congratulate Travis Lazar on this honorable achievement.” He pressed his palms together to steady himself, as if he were praying for the moment to end. “His example is an inspiration to us all. Congratulations.” He retreated prematurely from the microphone, so his last words were not broadcast. “Thank you.”

Notwithstanding the brevity of Selwyn’s colloquy, the room burst into applause again, which lasted until he regained his seat. Selwyn was a popular and respected figure in the industry, although his public speaking abilities were not held in high esteem.

Then, as all heads turned to follow her, Summer Rainfall came bobbing along the table in a low-cut, knee-length golden dress matched with elbow-length gloves. With a deep plunge meant to resemble a curtsey, she presented Travis with a small brass-and-wooden plaque, which rested on a metal tabletop stand, and an ivory envelope, which, of course, contained the bountiful check.

Travis Lazar stood up and stepped before the microphone.

A hush fell over the room that was not so much related to what he might say as to what he might not say. All down the main table, everyone on the board of the First Amendment Association gaped at him, filled with anxiety. The Duchess gave him a stern look to stiffen his resolve.

“Well, it’s a dirty business, but it’s a living. And someone has to do it.” There were some grunts of support from the other producers in the room. “One time, we received a letter of complaint from an old woman who received one of our catalogues by a mistake of the postal service. She was shocked by what she saw on the first page of it, and by the time, she got to the end of the book, she thought her heart might stop beating. You would have thought she got the idea of the subject after the first illustration.” There were some titters and a few people clapped their hands in support. “Look, if you don’t approve of our movies, don’t watch them. But adult people should have the right to look at whatever they want to see. We make our movies with consenting adults for consenting adults. Where we draw the line is on the subject of consent. And if whoever is involved is not capable to give consent, then it’s a problem. For me, that means, I don’t condone movies involving minors, corpses, and donkeys.”

There was a polite clapping in expression of consensus, but he still had not said what everyone wanted to hear. “Duncan, thank you for your kind introduction. And Selwyn.” He nodded at the moguls, and caught the eye of the Duchess who again gave him a quizzical stare. She had vouched for him to the committee. It was now or never. He took a deep breath to help absorb the pain of what he was about to utter. “I would like to thank the FAA for this plaque, and I would like to announce that I am donating the funds back to the FAA to continue their fine work.”

At these brave words, there was a collective sigh of relief at the main table and the room erupted into applause, cheers and whistles, and there was the sound of many glasses clinking, and people getting to their feet.

Duncan seized the moment to lean into the microphone. “That’s it! Let’s eat!”

Much as Duncan had predicted, those of the Hebrew persuasion rushed to fill their plates, and allowing the crush at the buffet to subside, the gentiles took the opportunity to patiently replenish their glasses at the bar.

For most of the room, dinner had begun, but for others, the end of the speeches marked the beginning of business. In the back of the room, Beppo was selling old box covers to a printer who could recycle them into paper, in a lopsided exchange for new box covers that the printer was going to create. Miles Flannigan was closing a deal for a new film with Selwyn Felwyn, who had taken his place at the head of his own table with the rest of the executives from Paradise. The Duchess was in a serious conversation with Sylvia Bern, a bony, bespectacled woman with her blonde hair in a bun, representing New York Pictures, who had flown out to the West Coast for the occasion. And Travis Lazar slowly made his way down the main table towards Nicholas Pasquale.

Before he reached Nicholas, he stopped to give Summer a kiss on the cheek, as her agent looked on with a paternal pride.

“Now, I’m not going to kiss you, Billy,” said Travis, as they shook hands warmly.

“That was a nice touch, to give the money back.” Billy grinned, as if it were a spontaneous act of charity. “I’ve never seen Duncan like that. He’s happier than a hog in a mud pond on a hot afternoon in West Texas.”

“Well,” Travis said philosophically, “Nothing lasts forever.”

The producer made eye contact with the AXE Head of Production.

Nicholas stood up, and held out his hand. “Congratulations.”

They shook hands, clasped together a little longer than formality required. “It’s good to see you, Nicholas.

“I see your name everywhere. You’re always so busy shooting.”

“New York Pictures keeps me busy.”

“You think you could do something with us?” Nicholas made a subtle offer.

Travis responded with equal finesse, since he was well prepared for this conversation. “I have a few ideas.”

“Why don’t you come in on Monday, and we’ll take something to Duncan?”

“I will see you Monday.” That quickly, the deal was done, and it was extremely bad form to hang around after the close. “I’m going to get some of that lobster before it all disappears.”

Nicholas took a sip of champagne. “Is that Traci that you’re with?”

“Yes.” The producer summoned her with a glance, and Traci did her girl air kiss with Summer, who was leaving on a three-state tour of strip clubs in the morning, and dutifully came towards them.

“We don’t have enough with her.” Nicholas admired the star.

“She’s great. I also like this new girl, Ginger Vitus.”

“We can use her too,” Nicholas agreed.

Even though they had no firm ideas about what movie they were going to make, they were already casting it, so Travis was well satisfied with the deal, and enjoyed a hearty dinner in his own honor, and almost managed to forget about the reward money that he did not receive.

The Duchess spent the evening in earnest discussion with Sylvia, related to the summer production schedule. Beppo dozed off at the back table on his nephew’s shoulder after one bourbon too many. Miles offered the bartender a part in his new movie for Paradise Media. The booming voice of Duncan grew louder as the hours grew later, but fortunately, Evelyn and Nicholas managed to get him away from the microphone and to the Bentley before he made any closing remarks.

The only other surprise of the night was once again provided by Tommy. With resourcefulness that he had surely learned in motion picture production, he turned his obligatory tuxedo to an advantage. As Travis and Traci were standing in the line at the seafood station, ahead of them, they noticed that the electrician had abandoned his post at the spotlight, and was filling up a plate with complimentary lobster. He sat down among the executives in an empty seat at one of the banquet tables, and spent the rest of the night pretending to be a guest, and bantering knowingly with the heads of the industry. By then, even when the brazen imposter went back for seconds, everyone was too merry to care or too drunk to notice.

Howard stayed up late, flipping through the TV channels, while he was waiting for the dinner to end. Traci had promised to call him the minute that she returned home, and Howard, in turn, had promised to call Maria after he spoke to Traci. Maria was going to call Jack, but Jack was already going to try to get a story from Tommy, although they were all worried about the coherence of the electrician’s report. As it was, after drinking with his new found executive pals, Tommy’s conversation with Jack was complete gibberish.

Traci, however, was reliable, as always.

Howard’s telephone rang at one a.m. precisely.

“Where have you been?” Howard asked.

“The dinner. I just got home. It was great.”

“I want to hear all about it.” Howard pressed the mute button on the infomercial for a dance workout routine. “Who was there?”

“Just me and Summer. She’s on the board. She presented Travis with the award, and he made this big donation. And now we’re doing a movie for AXE.”

“He made the deal?”

“Yes. He shook hands with Nicholas.”

“Did you have to blow him?” Howard could not restrain his intellectual curiosity.

“Who? Nicholas?” Traci was puzzled, “Hell, no. AXE is not like that. Travis made the deal on the up and up.”

“Not Nicholas. Did you have to blow Travis?”

“Oh, no,” said Traci innocently, “Travis was a perfect gentleman.”

Howard realized that his own inquiry was so ridiculous that no information whatsoever had been conveyed in her reply.

The lobby of the black glass AXE building resembled the registration area of a five-star hotel, with a spacious interior, a long counter for the receptionist, and a black marble floor. Along one wall, there was a gentle waterfall where a trickle of water ran down a rock surface, into a pond where goldfish swam around lazily, oblivious that they were at the epicenter of the pornographic industry. In a corner, there was a high display case, showcasing the collection of awards, trophies and statuettes that AXE had received over the years for Best Movie, Best Couples Movie, Best Actress, Best New Starlet, Best Orgy Scene, Best Blow Job Scene, Best Lesbian Scene, and so many others attesting to the high caliber of cinematic achievement from the renowned studio. AXE was the benchmark against which all other adult product was measured.

On Monday morning, the receptionist buzzed Travis through the security doors, and under the watchful eyes of the closed circuit cameras that were positioned throughout the building and the parking lot, he made his way to Nicholas’ scented office.

It did not take long for the two creative minds to come up with a concept for a new project, which would be a broad palette for Travis’ directorial imagination, and a starring vehicle for the right performer. The movie was to be called Dreamboat, and would depict the midnight hallucinations of a troubled female protagonist. The centerpiece was a lurid street scene at night, dubbed Hooker Alley, where prominent porn stars would line up as streetwalkers, each offering a different sexual fantasy.

The distribution plan was to release the movie in time to qualify for the adult video award nominations in January at the convention in Las Vegas. The production was going to be an important event for AXE.

“We have fifteen minutes with Duncan at noon,” Nicholas confirmed.

The mogul’s office was an airy, five-cornered configuration, with a glass-topped desk large enough to accommodate three visitor’s seats in a semi-circle on one side of it, and Duncan’s big leather swivel chair behind it. At work, he dressed casually in a loose tropical shirt, cream slacks and imported loafers. Behind him, there was a low, polished wood credenza, holding a silver tray of whisky glasses and a whisky decanter, above which there was a framed photograph of a famous football player, autographed by the famous football player.

There was a small bar, another display case with more trophies, and in front of the window, a sitting area with leather couches and a black glass block-shaped coffee table. There was a bank of security monitors, so Duncan himself could keep an eye on who was coming into the lobby, in the front, and what was going out of the warehouse in the back.

Evelyn Hathaway had a smaller office right across the hall, so she could keep an eye on Duncan.

At precisely two minutes past noon, Duncan welcomed Travis and Nicholas into his office, and after exchanging a few pleasantries on the subject of the award dinner, and Duncan’s complimentary words, they presented him with their idea. It was rare for Duncan to overrule Nicholas on a creative matter.

“You’re the artistes,” he said, “If you like the concept, let’s make it. I just want to know what this is going to cost me.”

“We don’t have a budget yet, sir,” explained Nicholas, “Because we don’t have a script yet.”

Travis tried to keep Duncan’s expectations high. “It’s not going to be cheap. Hooker Alley is going to cost something.”

“That’s okay.” Duncan waved a hand, in deference to poetic vision. “That’s the movie you want to make. As long as I get my money’s worth.”

“I was thinking…” advised Nicholas, “We need something big to submit for the awards in January.”

“This could be our blockbuster show release.” Duncan pressed his hands together thoughtfully, and rested his chin on his fingertips. “Who did you have in mind for the female lead?”

“There’s this new girl, Ginger Vitus….” Travis suggested.

“You know what I’m thinking…?” Duncan looked at Nicholas, pointing two fingers towards him with his clasp still in a steeple. Nicholas did know what he was thinking, and wisely began thinking the same thing at the same time. “You know, she’s in the building….”

To Travis’ surprise, Nicholas got to his feet and abruptly darted from the room. He was alarmed to be left alone with such a personage as Duncan, but, now that the production was a go, he was already calculating how much money he was going to make from such an ambitious venture, especially with AXE continuing to up the ante. It would end up being the most prestigious picture of the year, and a contender for the Best Film Award at the annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas in the winter.

“This is perfect,” Duncan said, rubbing his hands together, “Nothing has been announced yet. We’ve been looking for the right project.”

Nicholas came back into the office, and took a seat in front of the desk, diplomatically leaving one chair open in the arc between Travis and himself. “She’s coming.”

“I want you to use my new contract player,” the mogul said to the producer.

There was the clatter of high-heels approaching along marble, and the yelp of a small animal, and although it was hot in the valley, it was evidently a cold day in hell, because the new AXE contract player curled around the doorframe of the president’s office, and with one hand on her hip, said in a familiar voice, “Travis Lazar.”

The producer could only manage one word. “Tiffany.”

See more from Stuart Canterbury‘s Turning Blue here

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