Turning Blue Chapter Nine: Trouble in Paradise (Pt. 1)

Turning Blue Book Cover

Chapter Nine: Trouble in Paradise

Thanks to Tiffany, Dreamboat had left Travis with a cargo of many problems, the worst of which was that Nicholas Pasquale was in disgrace, while Alec Zig was crowing over his demise. The rumor on the grapevine was that Alec was butchering the movie in editing, and the notion of Travis receiving the nomination in Las Vegas was a remote illusion. His prospects were dim in Duncan’s displeasure. For the first time in recent memory, the white board in the production office showed no projects.

The opening heat wave of the summer baked the valley for a week straight, a punishing teaser of what was to come over the next three months. Cars overheated on the 405 freeway, traffic snarled, tempers were short. What was even worse was that there was also a scorcher on the East Coast, suffocating the major customer base. Nobody stayed home to watch sex movies in the heat. Business was getting tight.

There were other challenges to address too. The European market confronted its own swelter. Travis had to sit down with Beppo the Bear on the matter of how to handle the pricing issues on the shipment to Germany. His plan was to sell another pallet to Klaus, at half the price of the first delivery. By adding the two shipments together, Klaus could bring down the unit cost of each item to a more marketable average, and not only would the German distributor be able to make a profit, but Beppo and Travis would have got rid of another supply of overstocked goods. Now that Travis had to pay actual money for the supply, instead of relying on a barter system, he had to convince Beppo to cut the price in half. He assured him that everybody would make a profit. The ursine manufacturer was satisfied with the solution, and that problem dispensed with, they turned their attention to the situation at AXE.

“First of all,” said Beppo, elbows on his cluttered desk at the back of the Majestic Movies warehouse, “You got to make peace with Duncan. If you are on bad terms with Duncan, someone in your position will find it very hard to operate in the valley. I know the valley is not the world…You have New York….”

“Shut down for the summer,” noted Travis, in the wobbly chair on the other side of Beppo’s desk.

“Then, all the more reason. You have to do whatever it takes.” He took a cigar from a yellow box that was buried beneath some folders on his desk, ran it beneath his nose, and put it in the corner of his mouth. “But, whatever you do, you have to square things up with Duncan.”

Travis maintained his balance in the chair. “He’ll settle down eventually….”

There was a large fan whirring in an attempt to keep the building cool. The drafts of air lifted the corners of old invoices and notes scattered about the desktop in the unique filing system of Majestic Movies.

“Do you want to wait that long?” Beppo asked rhetorically, without taking the cigar from his mouth, “Things fester, and get worse.” He put a flame to the tip of the cigar, shielding it from the gust of the fan with a cupped palm. “You have to find a way to fix the problem before your movie gets released. Or else it will say An Alec Zig Production, instead of Travis Lazar.”

The producer could not get the studio boss to accept his calls. “What if Duncan doesn’t want to make peace…?”

“Try peace first, but if not, then…” Beppo sighed, and took a puff of his cigar, “Then you got to fight him.”

The noise of the UPS truck backing up outside sounded like a burst of machine gun fire. Travis felt the chill of the fan against the back of his neck. He did not like to get into a war he could not win. “How am I supposed to take on Duncan?”

“Of course, he will win in the end,” Beppo predicted confidently. He waved away a rich cloud of cigar smoke over the desk. “But you have to stand up to him for the sake of your own reputation.” He gave a comforting smile. “Don’t worry. You have nothing to lose. You’ll be the underdog.”

Martyrdom was not in his character, but the altruistic producer was less concerned about his own fate than the unjust way that Nicholas had been treated. Ever since his abrupt termination as Head of Production and Creative Affairs, the talented executive had been sitting at home trying to find freelance work, by creating jingles for local television channels. He was comforted by the occasional visit from Jasmine, but, even though they had sampled a selection of tastings from Nicholas’ wine cellar, and continued long, late-night polemics about style and history, they had not yet commenced work on her nude study.

Nicholas still had a loyal cadre of spies inside AXE, who detested Alec Zig, even more so now that he had achieved a temporary political advantage. Nobody counted Nicholas out, least of all Travis Lazar whose highest priority was to find a way to get Nicholas back into his rightful position where he held the power to greenlight movies. Through Nicholas’ insiders, they learned that the executive who was now overseeing the Dreamboat project was Evelyn, which offered a glimmer of hope since she was certainly the more reasonable of the two Hathaways.

In a cold house, as Beppo put it, find a warm body.

When Travis called, she could not have been more gracious. “I loved your movie, but it’s too bad we didn’t get that other scene with Tiffany.”

“Evelyn, what can I do to satisfy Duncan? I don’t care about myself, but Nicholas was blamed for no reason. If you’re missing the scene, let’s do a re-shoot.”

The executive asked the only question that a producer ever wanted to hear. “What do you think something like that would cost?”

Travis felt that Evelyn had blessed him with the answer to his prayers, but he did not respond overzealously. “Let me do a budget, and I will give you a total.” He saw once again how there could be a small benefit in the resolution to the problem. “Of course, I won’t charge anything for my services.”

“That’s very generous,” appreciated Mrs. Hathaway.

“The only thing I want is to get Nicholas his job back.”

“This will help,” she said, without making a formal commitment, “Give me an amount for the re-shoot, and we can have a production check ready for you at the end of the week.”

Travis wondered how security would react if he breached the perimeter on the way to collect his money. “You know, I have been banished from the building….”

“There won’t be a problem,” Evelyn assured him.

He hung up the telephone in the production office, and Howard, who had been listening in brooding silence, spotted the problem immediately. “Congratulations. You just sold them a re-shoot with Tiffany, which will be enough fun by itself, but, in case you forgot–on your own instructions–we destroyed the sets.”

To stymie Alec Zig, Hooker Alley was now a pile of trash, splinters and kindling in the real alley behind the sound stage. Howard walked over to the window, where the sunlight was pouring through the blinds, in a glare of metal and asphalt, and stared out into the parking lot, although he could not see the dumpsters from where he was standing.

“That’s right.” Travis walked up beside him, and looked out in the direction of the firewood that was once his extravagant set. There was no way to put anything back together. The intrepid producer was not discouraged. “We will have to rebuild.”

Howard developed an instant ache from his stomach to his brain. “There is no way we are going to be able to match….”

“We have photographs and videotape of the set, Howard. We know how we built it before. We only have to rebuild a small piece.”

“It’s not going to be cheap,” grumbled the production manager, as if it were coming out of the jar of pennies on the dresser in his apartment.

It would be totally legitimate for Travis to add the cost of set construction into the budget, even with a small surcharge for contingency. “AXE is paying for it. They want the Tiffany scene. We will do it right.”

The re-shoot was a model of efficiency. Nobody dared to make any mistakes. The check was ready on time. Travis picked it up from the receptionist in the black marble lobby of AXE in an envelope with his name printed on the front. It took all of two minutes for the entire appointment. Duncan himself was nowhere to be seen, and the Bentley was not in the reserved spot in the parking lot when the producer exited. He went straight down De Soto Avenue to the bank on Ventura Boulevard to deposit the money before anyone changed his mind.

A team of carpenters and art directors rebuilt a portion of the Hooker Alley set, using the videotapes of shot footage as reference, and notwithstanding the reservations of the production manager, the match was seamless. The crew was relieved to get an extra day’s work on the movie, as the clutch of the impending summer tightened, and nobody asked for an increase. Summer Rainfall, back from her moderately successful regional tour, was cast to perform the girl-girl scene with Tiffany. They had worked together before, so nobody was expecting any issues with compatibility.

Tiffany showed up ten minutes early, for once, and was parked outside Sound Stage B, drinking a latte on the hood of her convertible before any of the crew arrived. She was wearing Capri pants and a pink tank top, with a designer cap and a pair of designer sunglasses as protection against ultra-violet rays, and also because she arrived on set without makeup.

Travis climbed out of the Mercedes and he was not in the least intimidated. “You know, Tiffany, these things that happen in the chaos of production…” The producer removed his sunglasses. “…People say things that they don’t mean….”

The star lowered her sunglasses onto the bridge of her expensive nose. “Oh, I know that, Travis, it’s all water under the bridge of troubles….”

They exchanged an awkward hug, and turned away from each other as rapidly as courtesy would allow, because by now the contempt between them was as evident as a red pimple in a cinematic close-up.

Nobody wanted anything to erupt, however, but they were on such prickly terms that the director was not looking forward to supervising her sex scene. Discussions were cold and professional. They all decided to keep the choreography down to a basic formula, with the touchy-feely build-up, a scissors position with a fake pop for the softcore, a bump and grind missionary, and then a sixty-nine with vibrators for the finale. Travis added supplemental dialog, not only so
that the story would make sense, with the added character, but also to increase the production value of the movie, since they had the extra day of shooting and nothing else to do.

“You know what would help the scene,” Jack suggested, as they made their final inspection of the reconstructed set and the lighting, “If we throw a guy in there….”

“It’s supposed to be a girl-girl scene.” Travis could guess where this was going.

“Right, but you already have one girl-girl scene in the movie. With Ginger and Jasmine. This scene would be hot as a three-way. I’m just saying. I have my test with me today too.”

“We have no male talent here today.” Travis contained him before his inspiration went any further. “You’re shooting it, I’m married, and nobody wants to watch Howard have sex.”

The Duchess arrived right as the kissy-kissy began, and leaving Tiffany, Summer and the lesbian exposition in Jack’s steady hands, Travis was relieved to have an excuse to go back to the production office.

“Uh-oh, more bad news,” said Howard, blinking at the two producers.

“Actually, I have good news and bad,” said the Duchess, sitting down in the love seat while the production manager winced.

Travis sat on the edge of his desk. The bright sunlight shone through the office blinds. There were birds chirping in the trees that lined the parking lot. A welcome breeze rustled the leaves. His day was right on schedule. “It’s smooth sailing. She’s okay, right, Howard?”

“Tiffany is behaving so far,” Howard allowed. He was not superstitious, but he would not feel completely comfortable about his digestive system until his day was over.

“What’s the good news?” asked the optimistic producer.

“Nicholas gets his job back,” she reported, “On probation.”

“How do we know this?”

“Billy Dallas is chairman of the First Amendment Association. He talked to Duncan about an upcoming board meeting, at the Chatsworth Lodge, and Duncan said he was sending Nicholas. Which Billy understood to mean that Nicholas was still going to be working at AXE. Then your name came up.”

“So, what’s the bad news?” Travis grimaced.

Hearsay being inadmissible, in the interests of brevity, the Duchess decided not to report the colorful conversation in detail, and to condense it into a pithy and diplomatic summary. “You’re still at odds with Duncan.”

“So, all of this was for nothing,” said Travis, not considering the mere financial reward he had earned for the day’s work as adequate compensation, “I thought the re-shoot would help.”

“It did. It helped Nicholas. It gave Evelyn something to bargain with. And it gave Duncan a way out. He needs Nicholas. But he doesn’t like you.”

“Because you’re an asshole, Travis,” Howard explained helpfully.

Travis circled around his desk, and sat down in the chair. He did not say anything but tilted the chair all the way back, so that he almost lost his equilibrium, and had to catch the edge of his desk with his foot. He steadied himself, and compensated by leaning forward with his palms flat on the surface.

“Do you know your next move?” asked the Duchess.

“It seems obvious.” He tilted the chair back again, with a lesser fulcrum. He had been reluctant to engage in a skirmish, but he had no choice now. As Beppo had advised, if he could not make peace, Travis would have to make war.

“How are you going to set it up?” the Duchess checked, because she saw what he was planning.

It was all such instinct to him that Travis did not have to think about it, but he explained it so that it was clear to her. “I have my man on the inside. He owes me a favor.”

The telephone kept ringing in Howard’s apartment. Much to his frustration, his late night call from Traci kept getting interrupted. “…Hold on,” he told her, just before he clicked over to the in-
coming call, “I’ll get rid of it.”

It was Maria. “You still awake?”

He was lying on top of the bedcovers in his boxers, with the sound muted on the television. He was–in his personal way–relaxing. “Yes, but I’m talking to Traci.”

“I just need to ask you something quick.”

“Okay.” He leaned up on his elbow. On the small bedside table was a bowl of cereal with cold milk. The windows were open, but the apartment still felt stuffy. There were trains shunting by in the distance, and sirens passing in the street outside. He did not feel sleepy at all.

“Do we have anything coming up? Rent is due, and I’m broke. Does Travis have anything on the board? That man is a genius.”

“He’s working on something.” He took a spoonful of cereal.

“We’re all in the same boat.”

“The summer always stresses me out,” Maria said, “Okay. Tell her I said hi.”

He clicked back to Traci, and lay back on the bed with his head in the pillow, staring through the tips of his toes at the workout infomercial on TV. “Maria says hi. Now where were we?”

“Who has the best shaped ass in the industry?”

“Right,” Howard remembered, “Present company excluded. It’s got to be Ginger.”

“Ginger? It’s all fake!”

“Her tits are fake…” Howard submitted. “You can see how the nipples point in different directions.”

“Her ass is fake too,” Traci countered, “She had plastic surgery on her booty….”

The call waiting feature clicked again on Howard’s telephone, once again disturbing the important debate. “Now, who? Hold on….”

It was Tommy. “Hey, Howard…sorry to interfere…what time is it anyway…oh, didn’t realize it was so late…where does the night go…? Anyway, thing is that the first is coming up…of the month…
you know…property management….”

Based on long and also recent experience, Howard was able to decipher what the electrician was trying to ask. “Travis is working on something. I will keep you posted.”

“Thanks. You’re a lifesaver…taxman…Okay, all I needed.”

Howard clicked back to Traci. “Still there?”

“Yes,” said Traci, “So, what do you think? We’ll have something soon?”

War was his only choice now, because it was a war of survival. He was overmatched against the powerful studio boss, but he was undaunted. The way to fight against someone who was stronger was to find a strong ally. It was easy for Travis to know where to look.

Duncan had his own adversaries. It was part of the producer’s strategy that his adversary’s adversaries were his friends.

Travis arrived at THE HAMROC around nine p.m. There were people loitering in the street outside the tavern, enjoying the warm weather, and Latin music was playing from a nearby apartment. In the summer air, there was an aroma of hot tacos and gasoline. He was a little late for his appointed meeting. He was generally very punctual, his tardiness was deliberate. He wanted to let Miles Flannigan get a few beers ahead of him, before they talked business, because there was no way of keeping up with the Irishman in a tavern. Sure enough, he found Miles at the bar, dressed in his usual fatigues, in the midst of a heated conversation with a man in a sombrero who had confused the Irish and the Mexican flags. Their discussion ended with a hearty handshake as soon as Miles saw Travis approach.

“I heard you’re homeless,” Miles greeted him.

Travis slid into a barstool. “Well, with friends like Duncan….”

“You don’t want to be on the wrong side of a personality of such gargantuan proportions.” Miles motioned to the bartender to bring another round of beers. “At least, Selwyn is all about business and polish. There is no friction. And thanks to Dreamboat, I’m doing Wake, a big picture to compete head to head with you in Vegas.”

Everyone had an agenda. It was not wrong to act from self-interest. The key was to find ways where everyone received something from the deal. The art of it was to make self-interest into common interest. The best deals were always win-win. Miles was sure to look like a hero to Selwyn for bringing Travis over from Duncan.

The bartender put two heavy mugs of beer down in front of the producers, splashing beer onto the counter.

“All right.” Travis knew the deal was already done. “I’m in. How do we make this happen?”

“Easy as winking. I have a multi-picture contract at Paradise. We just schedule you into the next slot.” He raised his tankard in a toast.

“I produce, you direct.”

Travis was going to have to split his profits with Miles, but, as the selfless producer often pointed out, he did not do everything just for the money. He raised his drink so they could clink together in celebration. “Duncan is going to have a thrombosis when he finds out.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Miles smiled over the rim of the glass.

“That’s how I know we can get Selwyn behind it. He’ll be tickled to take a shot at the big fellow. You will have your pick of the Paradise stars. Do you know what you want to make?”

“I have an idea,” said the producer, “I mean, if I am going to slap Duncan in the face…”

“…Then you’d better slap him hard,” completed the other producer.

Before the paperwork could even be drawn up, pre-production began on Daydreamer, the new Travis Lazar picture for Paradise Media. The storyline seemed eerily familiar: it told of the daydreams of a disturbed young secretary who imagines herself as a sexy femme fatale in contrast to her timid daytime persona. The producer’s intention was to compete as directly as possible with Dreamboat. They would even be able to use the rebuilt portion of the Dreamboat set, which, after the lessons of recent experience, Howard had refrained from demolishing. Paradise Media would rush to get their picture out before AXE released their Travis Lazar title, which would hurt Duncan’s publicity and sales, no matter whose name was on the picture. What would add more insult to injury was that Daydreamer would come in at about half the price of Dreamboat. Travis was providing a cheap imitation of himself.

Jack, Tommy and Maria were all hired onto the crew, and notified their landlords accordingly. It took a little more effort to get Traci onto the production, but the casting director at Paradise conceded after a personal solicitation at his home in the canyons from the star herself. There was one unfortunate incident during the casting process, which occurred at a run–in between Howard and Colt in Billy Dallas’ office. Most of the casting on Daydreamer came from the in-house stable of Paradise stars. It was no exaggeration that Selwyn had the most dazzling array of contract players, although, as Duncan liked to brag, his exclusive star, Tiffany West was still the biggest quasar in the galaxy. Each girl on the Paradise roster had the opportunity to star in her own movie, with the other stars in supporting roles. There was only room in the cast for one or two female outsiders–if they were of the highest caliber–but all the men were, of course, recruited externally. The lady players of Paradise had absolute veto power over any male, and a very short catalogue of whom they would accommodate in their exclusive organs.

Colt was not on that list.

See more from Stuart Canterbury‘s Turning Blue here

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