There had been about twenty-five picketers on Tuesday. Wednesday there were twenty, and Thursday only saw fifteen. They took the weekend off. On Monday there were six, what appeared to be three retiree-aged couples. They didn't even bother marching, simply standing on the sidewalk to one side of the driveway, talking and leaning on their signs. The protest movement was petering out quickly.
On Tuesday I went down and offered to take them to lunch. This was politely refused. One of the men stopped me and asked if I believed in God. I told him yes, absolutely. He seemed surprised.
"How can you, as a christian, engage in the work you do?" he asked.
I gave him Bekka's stock answer: that sexuality was one of God's most beautiful and powerful gifts to the world, so why not celebrate it? And if he felt that we exploited women, I could bring down any of the women available --- we were blocking interior scenes --- and they could express their opinions. How about my wife?
"Your wife makes pornography?" he gasped.
"Sure does. It's what she's done for as long as I've known her."
"Yes, I'm curious to meet your wife."
I explained, "Well, you'll have to wait for a bit, as we're doing blocking right now, but when she gets a free moment we'll come down."
I went back up to the soundstage, where Small Steve was just calling for lunch break. After corralling Bekka I called out, "Attention ladies. Anyone here feel like meeting the handful of protesters we have today? They want to see how exploited you are." There were plenty of volunteers. All of them followed me down to the street.
The picketers were surprised to see me trailing six women, with my arm around one. They stopped their shuffling and gaped. The one I'd spoken to came over and said, "Is this your wife?"
"Sure is. Becky, this is a random protester I spoke with earlier. Random protester, this is my wife Becky."
"I'm Bob Linden," said the picketer. "Who are all these other women?"
I said, "Lets see, there's Rio, Ella, Tawny, Mandy, and Jackie." They all said hello. (Rita, our fluffer, also doubled as our script girl. She'd held back, as her job was too difficult to explain.)
"And they're all actresses in porn?"
"We sure are," said Elspeth. "What do you do?"
"I'm retired from the Navy," said Bob.
"Then you must be familiar with Pacers on Midway Drive," said Elspeth (stage name: Ella Belle). "I was a dancer there."
"No, I've never been to Pacers," Bob said coldly. "I discouraged my sailors from attending, too."
"Still, they came in droves," said Elspeth.
"So," I said, "I got the impression you wanted to meet these ladies. Here they are. What can we do for you?"
Bob said, "Explain why you prostitute yourselves the way you do."
This was greeted with a chorus of groans, Rio saying, "It's not prostitution, it's performance!"
Tawny stepped forward and said, "Sir, can I give a demonstration? Lenny, can I borrow your wife for a moment?" She grabbed Bekka by the head and kissed her, deeply, for about five seconds.
Stepping away and wiping her mouth, Tawny said, "See, that right there is performance. It means nothing. All that was, was a mild example of what we do for a living. We aren't doing anything we don't want to, but it also doesn't carry any meaning. Do you understand?" She looked into the stunned and horrified faces of the picketers.
"But.... But you spend your days having sex with strange men!" said a woman in the back.
Jackie spoke up. "Nope. We know them all. We also share meals and sometimes hang around together on our days off. They're not strangers."
Bob stepped towards Bekka. "You, you're married to this man. Yet you engage in these activities. How do you explain that?"
Bekka said, "Like Rio said, it's performance. I may engage in sexual activity with the male performers --- all of whom are nice guys, by the way --- but I make love with my husband. That may sound strange, but it's what we're used to, and we've adjusted well. It's what we've been doing for as long as we've known each other. Hey girls, is there anyone here who doesn't have a boyfriend?" She was greeted with silence.
"See? We all have love in our lives, and our jobs don't interfere at all. It's a moot point."
A different woman, with a "SMUT IS SIN" sign, came back with "What you do is an abomination against God!"
This prompted more groaning. Elspeth said, "Then that's between us and God, and no one else. If He has a problem with what we do, He'll make us answer for it when our time comes. I won't answer to anyone else."
The woman said, "I just can't understand how you allow yourselves to be exploited in such a manner." This prompted hoots of laughter.
Jackie said, "Yeah, I'm exploited. I cry all the way to the bank. And Lenny here won't stock Diet Pepsi in the big fridge downstairs. There's my exploitation right there."
"You never asked," I said. "You want Diet Pepsi, I'll stock some Diet Pepsi, just for you."
"Hey look!" Jackie exclaimed. "I'm no longer exploited! That was easy!"
Bekka said, "The upshot is that your arguments against us are completely spurious, and aren't about to change how we make a living. All employment is a form of prostitution, if you want to look at it that way. Here, we have fun, we make good money, and we have self-determination. No one is forcing us to be here. Your protests are based entirely on your own personal morality and misinformation, and protesting based on that is just pissing in the wind. I'm sure I could find parts of how you live your lives that would offend me, but I'm not about to stand outside your house with a sign. You're not saviors, you're censors."
"We shall pray for your souls," said Bob.
"And I shall pray for yours," replied Bekka. "In the meantime, I could do with some lunch. Carl's Jr. sound okay, Lenny?"
"Sure," I said. Addressing the picketers, I said, "Can I bring back anything for anyone? Sodas, or onion rings or something?"
"We're fine," said Bob.
"Okay. By the way, take your trash with you when you leave. I was pulling sandwich wrappers out of the shrubs last week. I wouldn't want to think of you people as rude, you know?"
The girls and I headed back up towards the mansion, so that purses and keys could be gathered. Three were headed to Taco Bell, a couple others to the deli. I took orders from Rita and the Steves for Carl's Jr. and Bekka and I headed out.
On the way there, Bekka asked me, "So you think our little chat will help things?"
I said, "I think so. We put a human face on what they saw as a faceless entity. We're no longer just an unknown embodiment of evil, but human beings with faces and names. I don't see them continuing their marching for much longer. They made the news, and that's the important part to them. They'll get bored and picket at Dirty Dan's or something. Hell, Dirty Dan's has it all: both naked women and alcohol. A perfect target."
"And given how reliant on tips those dancers are, they're far more exploited than we are. At least we go into a shoot knowing what we'll earn. And we don't have to deal with creeps all day."
We went inside at Carl's Jr. to order. As we were leaving Eddie and Vince pulled into the lot in Vince's Acura. They waved us over.
Eddie said, "I don't know what you said to the protesters, but a couple of them were getting in their car and leaving when we were taking off. How'd you pull that off?"
"I don't know," I said. "Everybody spoke their piece and went back inside. They aren't really hostile, just self-righteous. My prediction is they'll be gone by the end of the week."
"Maybe they'll find a better hobby," suggested Vince. "I've been worried about having my car on the street with them there."
"Naw, they're well-mannered. They aren't about to vandalize."
Eddie said, "Tomorrow we're going to that club to do blocking, right? Is it easy to find?"
"Yeah, it's off of Morena Boulevard, near Tecolote. I'll show you where it is on a map when we're done blocking this afternoon. That reminds me, I've gotta go down there tonight and pick up a key."
Eddie smiled. "They have a full bar?"
"Yeah, and I promised we'd stay out of it when they're closed. We're paying for use of the space, not for booze. I don't want anyone working tanked anyways."
"Just wound up on drugs."
"Never thought I'd have a job where free Ecstasy would be one of the side benefits to it."
"Welcome to porn, Eddie." Bekka and I got in my Acura and headed back to the mansion.
Bekka and I distributed food to the crew, then headed to my office to eat. I stuck my head in Gina's office, Gina being my secretary, to check on messages. She looked disturbed.
"One guy called and insisted he'd only talk to you. I asked for a name, and he just said you'd know him when you saw him. Something about the way he sounded creeped me out."
"Probably just another scammer, trying to get a piece of the action," I said. "Angel said they've been coming out of the woodwork since 'Bewitched' came out. Probably another one who's decided that Bekka needs a 'career manager' and he'd be a perfect fit."
Gina said, "I'm going to take my lunch now that you're back, so can you get the phones for me?"
"Yeah, not a problem. I'll wait for you to get back, then we'll continue with read-throughs upstairs."
"I'm just going to pick up a sandwich, then I'll be back." Gina skipped down the hall and went out the front door.
Bekka and I dove into our food. We were nearly finished when the phone rang. I picked it up and said, "Inana Productions."
There was a deep sigh on the other end.
"Spit it out," I said.
A deep voice, muffled, said, "The wages of sin is death."
I paused and said, "That's nice. What's your point?"
"I'm coming to rid the world of all of you. Your days are numbered."
"I'll be easy to find. I'll be the one pointing a Beretta at you. Bring it on, asshole."
Bekka looked at me. "Who the hell was that?"
I shrugged. "Some nut calling us with a death threat. He didn't leave a name."
"You think he was serious?"
"If he was, he's gotta get past me and thirty rounds of hollow-point nine ammunition. Don't mention this to anyone upstairs. As a precaution, I'm gonna get keys for the front door cut for everybody, with instructions to keep it locked. We've gotta be safer these days."
"Got it," said Bekka. "I'll tell people to check the street before they go down to their cars, look for anything suspicious."
"You want the rest of your fries?" I asked.
"You go ahead. You're not going to let this bother you, are you?"
"I refuse to live in fear. Especially while I'm armed."
"I'll keep the bottom half of my blouse unbuttoned around the house, to get at my holster easier."
"Good girl. Don't get too jumpy though, that was probably just a crank."
And that's what I kept telling myself.