Vince didn't arrive in LA until nearly midnight, so he just checked in and went straight to his room. In the morning, Angel checked to see if he'd arrived, found him, and let him know we'd be meeting in the parking lot at 9:45. Don't worry about feeling drowsy, Lenny could take care of that. The others in the Inana crew began drifting downstairs, complaining about the coffee. I agreed. Not only was it lousy, there wasn't enough there for two people. I assured the others that I would distribute Ecstasy to everyone as soon as we reached the booth. Bekka and I were alert and doing well, but we were cheaters: as speedfreaks, we used a drug that most of the others were afraid of. That the two of us used meth all day, every day was a mystery to the others. We were neither insane nor torn up physically, and our lives were orderly. We contradicted every local news exposé that had ever been aired about methamphetamine. We were addicts, but apparently were really lousy at it, since we weren't fuck-ups.
Up the street we went. Bud and Lou up front, Angel somewhere in the middle of the pack, and me and Bekka bringing up the rear, watching for any sign of hostility directed against these scantily-dressed white people. A couple cars honked, but that was it. I would learn later that the vast majority of vendors stayed further out, in cushier digs, and took cabs to the convention center.
We arrived and got in line to enter, at least a much shorter line for the vendors than for the general public. It seemed that when you arrived each morning, they both checked your pass and checked off your name. A bit of extra security that wouldn't be used again in the day --- I'd be able to go in and out all I pleased just by waving my vendor pass --- and was delaying everyone from what we hoped would be passable coffee. I promised those that asked that as soon as I had a damn coffee in my hand, I'd be forthcoming with the drugs.
We headed for the snack bar, only to find it didn't open till eleven. I was ready to go back to the front and wreak bloody slaughter on people for depriving me of my coffee when I saw some putz carrying a white Styrofoam cup.
"Where the hell did you get that?" I asked.
"In the lounge. They've got a couple urns set up," he explained.
The Inana crew practically stampeded into the lounge, queuing up to get at our elixir. Once everyone had cups in their hands, I handed out Ecstasy. Bud and Lou were the only ones to refuse, explaining that not only did they not want to have a new drug experience in these circumstances, they'd brought cocaine with them and would keep fueled on that. I warned them to not use the stuff in the booth, to come here to the lounge, where no one would give a shit. They were miffed.
"Wait a minute, the rest of you are gonna be high on that Ecstasy crap in the booth," said Lou.
"You're missing an important distinction," I said. "I could give less of a crap what you're high upon at the booth, so long as you're not breaking shit. I just don't want drugs actually being consumed at the booth. Note that I didn't hand out my drugs at the booth, but here. Snort yourselves stupid, just so long as you're doing it here in the lounge, and you're still useful back in the booth. Have you two got the lay of the land, as it were?"
Bud said, "Yeah. We know where the important shit like bathrooms and snack bar are, and we're gonna work out the locations of the major vendors. So what exactly are we supposed to accomplish?"
"Besides helping restock the racks, you two are going to be the helpful and friendly face of Inana. Look at our location, at the intersections of two main thoroughfares. People are going to be constantly walking past, seeing the vendor IDs we're all wearing, and asking for help. Obviously, if we're vendors, then we know everything about the LA Convention Center. So, that's where you come in. You'll actually have valid answers for people, and they'll remember that, they'll remember that Inana had the cool helpful people, and hey look, a new release.
"One thing. No talking shit about the other vendors. Yeah, try to talk people into hanging around here --- we got free movies and free food --- but not trash talking. I don't care if one of 'em says your mothers swim out to troop ships, we're going through these two days with a high level of decorum. So far as I'm concerned, we are the best of friends with every business here."
Bud said, "Okay, I get it. No problem. Come on Lou, let's get a grip on this place. Who knows, maybe some of the booth babes are out early."
The two marched off, consulting a floor map as they took in their surroundings. Bekka sidled up next to me and said, "Do you think we have the patience to deal with them for two days?"
"They shouldn't be a bother. This is business, and they understand their jobs now. They know better than to get nasty with my performers, and I've made it clear that you're off limits. If they do start giving you grief, I'll let Angel know, and he can have a chat with the two clowns. If they still don't leave you alone, I'm giving them both pistol whippings. Then daring them to go get their Uzis and come after me. Don't worry, they'll be good."
Bekka said, "Yeah.... They behaved themselves at the video signings in Long Beach. Okay, I guess they straighten up and fly right when it's business. And Angel is right, God knows they know their porn. They've probably had to deal with every vendor in this place, to one degree or another."
Elspeth came up to me and said in her gentle Texas accent, "Lenny, um, me and the other girls are unclear as to what we're supposed to, y'know, do. Our first signing is at two. What do we do till then?"
"All you have to do is be nice and smiling with people. Think Nordstrom's sales staff. Anyone walks in, anyone walks by, smile and say hi. Have conversations. Remember, the attendees here are serious smut-meisters, the paralyzing shyness you witnessed at the book store signings is going to be absent. These are fans, and they're not afraid.
"We're gonna keep running the same five videos over and over again. Feel free to watch for a while, particularly if one of your scenes is coming on. They realize it's you they're seeing, we sell the video and you make an autograph. If you're tired, sit down. If you're feeling claustrophobic or are just sick of dealing with the crowd, go to the lounge and relax a while. Beyond the signings --- and definitely sign things for people when they ask, no matter when it is --- we have no real schedule, besides when we enter and leave the building. Angel should be by before lunch to give you your per diem. Relax, enjoy yourself, and be social with serious hardcore porn fans. You'll explain this to the others? The same rules apply to Vince, Eddie, and Dale."
Elspeth nodded. "Okay, I'm pretty sure I get it. Where are you gonna be?"
I smiled. "I'll be here doing the same things except for the autograph signing. Nobody ever wants mine."
"How do those two dudes fit in?"
"They're a combination of extra security and a knowledge base. They act like clowns, but they'll get a job done, and done right. They run a chain of adult book stores in Long Beach and South Bay, so they know the industry like you wouldn't believe, which Angel decided would be a good thing in our booth: instant accurate information about the porn industry, from guys who know it. If one of our guests has a question about another vendor, these two guys can answer."
"Copy that," Elspeth said. "One of them offered to give me a foot massage. I told him I'd wait until around four, when I'd need it. I figure if he gets freaky on me and starts sucking my toes I'll just break his nose with my other heel."
"Which one was it?" I asked.
"The tall thin one," said Elspeth.
"That's Bud," I said. "I'll have a word with him. He knows the performers for Inana are strictly off limits, and that they are to be treated with respect."
"Hey, I still want my foot massage. I just don't want him turning into a freak. I won't even care if he has a hard-on, so long as he keeps it to himself."
"I'll explain the situation to him. Oh, by the way, I'm gonna just order pizza for lunch today. Are there any toppings your refuse to eat?"
Elspeth said, "Yeah, anchovies. And I'm not a big fan of pineapple, but I'll eat it if it's already on the pizza, I don't pick it off."
I said, "Duly noted. Don't worry, I don't put bait on pizza."
I wandered back to the lounge to get a fresh cup of coffee and have a smoke. I refilled my cup, turned around, and briefly froze. Sitting at one of the sofas was a woman I recognized from other people's video: Christy Canyon.
Despite her only being a year and a half older than me, I still felt rather intimidated, even if I did want to proposition her to work with Inana on any upcoming feature she decided she liked. I decided to let her drink her coffee in peace, and do the same thing myself. Offer her a hit of Ecstasy? Nah, let's see: a strange punk rocker offering an unknown drug to one of adult film's biggest stars. Nobody would see how that might be viewed as threatening, no sirree Bob. I waited until Ms. Canyon left, then followed.
Back in the booth I mentioned to Bekka who I had just seen. "You'll dig this," she said, "I spotted Lois Ayres while I was walking around. It's nice to see the stars are here for this shindig."
I said, "Don't forget, you're one of the stars. You're as big of a draw as anyone else here. I still have this major fear, not assuaged by being at this event, that you're going to realize what a rinky-dink operation Inana really is and jump ship for one of the big studios, like Vivid. You know they'd take you. And I'd lose you, in a lot of ways."
Bekka smiled, but glared at the same time. "Commute to LA? Work for one of the big studios? Piss on that. No, I'm perfectly happy being at Inana, where I've got my husband watching my back, where the money is as good as anyone else's, and where I get to sleep in my own bed at night. Believe me, one of the things I'm anticipating this weekend is getting offers to work elsewhere. I intend to tell them to go shit up a rope. Inana is home."
"Since I'm putting you in second lead in the new feature, cool. I promise I'll try to stop worrying."
"So who are you planning on for your main lead?" Bekka asked.
I sighed. "Not quite sure, narrowed down to two. Either Ellen or Sue. They both look young after makeup, and that's what I want. The character is a college dropout who signed on with a temp agency. Whoever plays that role has to carry youth in a big way."
Bekka frowned. "Go with Ellen, and for a lot of political reasons. Ellen has been with us longer than you have, and has never had a lead role. Okay, early leads were nothing to brag about, but still. She can act, she's fresh-faced, and she has that fantastic set of jugs. Sue hasn't been with Inana much more than two months, she still needs to pay her dues, you know? Her time will come. Besides, if you gave the role to Sue while you're busy fucking her ass, people will assume that's how you do your casting. Half our performers would quit, and the other half would buy knee pads so they could jockey for position to suck your dick easier."
I stared at Bekka in amazement. "All of this makes perfect sense. One thing, though. Is it common knowledge that Sue and I fool around?"
"It wouldn't be if Sue wasn't so damn loud. She really gets to bellowing in your office."
I grimaced. "I've always been concentrating on the task at hand. Besides, I've always written off Sue's noise as the result of, y'know, being fucked in the ass. I'd certainly emit a lot of sound if someone was doing that to me."
"Why she's making noise is immaterial," said Bekka with a smile. "It's the type of noise, and that much is obvious. No, you and Sue are not a secret. And even given the libertines we all are around the studio, people are still amazed that I was the one to initially set it all up. I explain, I am tired of feeling like a hypocrite, that I can no longer demand something from you while refusing to provide it myself: marital fidelity. For legal reasons, I don't discuss Jane, although anybody seeing you two interacting would know something is up. Anyway, try to avoid the appearance of favoritism with Sue. You two are a known item."
"Jesus," I said, shaking my head. "I'm known as a guy who's sleeping with two women, and the two know each other. Hell, they go out drinking together. And yeah, since the third woman in my life is sixteen, don't mention her. I'm already now apparently known at my job as a guy with a wife and a mistress. Jane would be overkill."
"See, but still things aren't fair, by my way of looking at them. I still technically have more lovers than you. I want you to be on parity with me."
I laughed at this. "You're trying to kill me, aren't you? Okay, you've got me, Chip, Dale, Vince, Eddie, Stallion, and a couple irregulars that we don't see but a couple times a month. Call it eight. Dammit, you're not seeing all eight in the same day. I do see you, Jane, and Sue in the same day. Three women in twelve hours is some work. Don't forget, men have to physically recover afterward, and hope we can spring back into action on short notice. I thank you for the thought, but I do not need five more women in my life who are interested in my dick. Three of them is tiding me over quite nicely. A total of eight would be suicidal, in a lot of different ways. Thank you, but no."
Bekka looked frustrated. She said, "Dammit, I just want to do something nice for you. And something dirty."
"The closest thing I can think of is warping space and time so that Jane turns eighteen on Monday. That way I wouldn't have an underlying sense of paranoia when we fool around."
"Paranoia?" asked Bekka.
My turn to look frustrated. "Oh hell yes. The fear that we'll be at the mansion and I'll be fucking Jane across my desk, and then the door will be kicked in and Detective Donner will be standing there. Or we're at home doing the same thing, only it's Ross who shows up. A statutory rape charge is something that weighs heavy on my mind. I won't be crossing any state lines with Jane, either. I'd get nailed for a Mann Act violation, just like Chuck Berry did. Yeah, the legal implications of me fucking Jane lean on me, big time."
Bekka rubbed my back. "Don't stress on it too heavily. You and Jane fucking is not a widely-known fact, even at Inana. Jane has been incredibly discreet about things, like she knows she's gotta be an adult about things. You notice that she doesn't hump legs any more, on either of us? She's growing up more, and she knows there's some things she has to keep to herself, otherwise she'll hurt people she loves. She knows if she let it slip about the two of you, you'd go to prison, I'd become a basket case in your absence and end up a ward of the family, and she'd probably get shipped back to Florida, emancipation notwithstanding."
"I try not to. You know, Jane is like lasagna. Or fudge. You can only eat so much at a time. You're in trouble if you eat too much. I am happy being with Jane four times a week, that's fine. More than that would be overindulgence, and she'd either make me puke my guts up or run screaming in terror. Maybe it's my inner wuss coming out, but I have a sixteen year old girlfriend who intimidates me."
"How so?" asked Bekka.
"Well...." I said. "Her high energy levels, both in and out of bed. The role playing she likes to do. For god's sake, she wants to be fucked while she pretends she's an inanimate object. The willful submission is even taxing. I know it's my own personality and not hers, but her total supplication to me is eerie. It's like she'd belly-crawl through broken glass just to get to my dick, and I don't feel the same way. Having a sex slave who almost literally worships my dick was never high on my list of fantasies, but I've got one now, and it creeps me out. It's her hero worship, calling me master, always offering to suck me off.... I guess I'm just getting overwhelmed. And I can't tell her this stuff, too much of her personality is intertwined with her fantasies and submission, which are tangled up with her sex life, which is one of the defining things about Jane as a person. All I can really do is wait for the stuff to fade away as she gets older."
Bekka said, "Jesus honey, I didn't know you felt like that. I thought you liked having a slave."
"So did I, at first. I guess it comes down to that I want sex with someone to be an equal venture, and she wants me to dominate her. Not just anyone, but me in particular. She calls me master and means it."
"Well, I can help a little. God knows I've joined in on the domination in the past, and she thinks of me as a master, too. I'll try to discourage it. Does she really want you to tie her up?"
I snickered. "Yeah. And the thing is, I'm ready for it. Remember me talking about that woman Lynn I was seeing, who was twice my age? And how she was into bondage? I know I still remember all the different knots she taught me. I'll buy some bondage rope from Smut 'N' Stuff and lash her to something. Not sure what or where, maybe the deck railing outside her room?"
Bekka commented, "See, here's what I'm afraid will happen. You're going to do this bondage kick with Jane, she'll love it, and you'll hate it. Then she'll be frustrated and disappointed and confused because you don't want to play her favorite new game. Dammit Lenny, I know you: you'd go through the whole routine and not enjoy yourself remotely, but you'd go all the way through because you didn't want to anger or disappoint Jane. Sometimes you have to put your foot down in the middle of things, including sex. With something as intensely personal as sex, you have to risk bothering the other person in order to protect yourself. The whole master/slave, tie-me-up-and-fuck-me routine you're working on is not making you happy, so it's gotta be adjusted. And yeah, Jane is gonna be mighty unhappy when she finds out you're not the man to fulfill her fantasies. But I won't have my damn husband be made miserable by a teenage girl's sex games."
I said, "I have no idea how it's gonna go when I tie her up. Remember, I used to play those games, with Lynn, and I had a damn good time."
Bekka wrapped an arm around my waist. "And if you have fun, more power to you. Hell, I might ask you go engage in some entry-level stuff with me. But if you're unhappy, then fucking stop. Untie Jane and tell her exactly what's going through your head, that you aren't having fun. It isn't your fault, you're just not wired that way. Remind her you love her, but you're in a sexual zone you're not comfortable with, and you guys need to change things. Given how much she loves you, and the size of her crush, she won't be angry, just disappointed. She won't do anything to risk alienating you, that's obvious to anyone who looks in her eyes when you're around."
An announcement came over the speakers that the snack bar would be opening in five minutes, or about the same amount of time it would take us to walk there. Several other of the Inana crew were also heading over, a few holding back. We shuffled along, eyeing other booths. The Vivid Video booth we saw (one of three they had) had neon. A projection TV was set up and waiting to go. Racks of videos sat and waited to be bought. Fresh-faced young things, the types who wore makeup to the gym, arranged minutiae and talked with a couple guys in two thousand dollar suits. One of the guys noticed us standing there and looked at us in curiosity. I waved vaguely and we continued on.
We arrived at the snack bar and were horrified. Absolutely no concession had been made for the hour or the diets of people whose livelihoods depended on looking good naked. They had midway food: chili, burritos, corn dogs, pretzels, churros. Starch city. Everything came out of a can or was deep fried, or possibly both. And the prices were out of the Gouger's Handbook.
An unlit Marlboro dangling from his mouth, Angel said, "Dammit, I'm going to the concierge and picking his brain as to where I can find a bakery around here. I'll find something to eat. Later on we can order some pizza. Hold down the fort, I'll be back."
We started making our way back towards our booth. As we passed the Vivid Video booth again, one of the suits was standing on the edge of the walkway. "Good morning," he said. We mumblingly greeted him back.
"Who are you people?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked, confused.
"I know for a fact that they haven't opened the gates, so you can't be guests. What booth is yours, or do you have one?"
"Yes, we have a booth. We're from Inana Productions. I'm Lenny Schneider, how you doing." I put a hand out.
The suit glanced at the hand as though it might contain a joy buzzer before he shook hands. "You're Lenny Schneider? You're just a kid," he said.
"My youth has been commented upon. Every time AVN interviews me, they can't get over my age. I'm even younger than my wife."
"Wait, wife?" the suit asked.
"Yes," I said. "Random guy from Vivid, this is my wife, Becky Page. Becky, this is some random guy from Vivid."
Bekka gave her treat-me-like-royalty smile and said, "Good morning. The legal name is Bekka Schneider."
The suit straightened right up. "Hello, Ms. Page! I'm Larry Bennett, how are you? I'm very pleased to meet you, we should talk contracts while you're here. Vivid is pushing up in the world."
"So is Inana," replied Bekka. "While I may not carry a contract at Inana, I am very happy there. After all, my husband runs the place. Besides, Inana is growing. You certainly read Adult Video News, you know the position we're currently in. Three hit movies this year, blockbuster sales on two of those. No, I will be staying where I am. Thank you for your interest."
"You're going to continue with Inana? But they're just.... Just...."
I stepped forward, not quite in his face but damn close. I gave him a too-wide grin and said, "I'd love to hear you finish that sentence. What about the company I pour my heart and soul into? Just what?"
The suit didn't like my proximity and stepped backwards. I didn't follow. He said quietly, "Inana is a boutique operation. How do they keep you busy?"
Bekka replied, "Three features since March? How busy do you want me to be? Seriously, though, I do loops to fill the time between production work on features. I wouldn't call Inana a boutique. We work too hard and run too tight a ship."
Larry looked amazed. "You're still doing loops? With your stature?"
"Loops are fast, fun, pay well, and sell like hotcakes. They also take about fifteen minutes to write, so my husband can get back to work, writing scripts for features."
Larry said, "So if I got this right, you're a producer, you're a writer, and you run the business end of the studio. What don't you do there?"
"Get in front of the cameras, for one thing. I leave that to the professionals, like Eddie here." Eddie stepped forward and laid three playing cards down on the counter. "Hi. Nine inches. Can you spot the lady?" he asked Larry.
"Just don't ask to see his imitation of a one-eared elephant," I told Larry.
"Looking at you, you're just a bunch of damn kids. Is there anyone connected with Inana over thirty?"
"Yeah. There's our hair and makeup genius, she's thirty-eight or so, and there's the owner, who's about forty-five. Oh, and our sound man Mickey, who refuses to divulge either his age or his last name. We've got a couple dudes, about fifty, up here just for the weekend to act as security. They don't have any association with Inana, beyond an obsession with my wife."
"Who is the owner?" asked Larry.
"He's a wise guy named Angel Morelli. He takes care of things like this event, I run the day-to-day and week-to-week end of the business. He's got five other studios, but I don't know if they'll be represented here. I'm proud enough to say we're the crown jewel in his series of investments."
Larry said, "Look, I've got to get back to what I was doing. I'm sure we'll run across each other. And Becky, when you're ready to expand your horizons, you know where I am."
He turned to go back into the booth, and nearly bumped into Eddie, who gestured at the cards with a flourish and said, "Spot the lady? Spot the lady and win a dollar. Got a single you care to risk?"
Larry sized up Eddie and chuckled. He took in Eddie's baggy shirt, Levis, mismatched Chuck Taylors (one green, one blue), decidedly Jewish features, and wavy hair, and pegged Eddie as a clown.... Which was true. But even clowns can have their dishonest side, a venal hustler living beneath the face paint. Larry pulled out a single and said, "The middle."
"I'm sorry, sir, not there," said Eddie, lifting the center card to show it being the ten of diamonds. "She was over here." He lifted the card on the right and displayed the Queen of spades. Eddie then began sliding the cards around on the counter, arranging and rearranging their positions. "Spot the lady, spot the lady," he muttered. He then tucked his new-found dollar in his shirt pocket and looked at Larry with a guile-free smile. Larry dropped down another single, saying, "No damn snot-nose kid of a Three Card Monte dealer is gonna top me. That one."
"So close, sir, here she is in the middle. Spot the lady, spot the lady...."
I chuckled and left, sweeping my rabble (excluding Eddie) along with me. We got back to the booth to find Gina had arrived. She tucked away her purse, turned on the register, and plunked herself down on the stool.
"How was your drive up?" I asked.
"Uneventful, which is fine with me for LA driving. Tell me, is Mr. Morelli going to be here today?"
"Yeah. He's out getting us some food right now."
"Ohh...." moaned Gina. She had a class-ten crush on Angel. This, obviously, was unrequited. A plain girl, Gina would best be described as "mousy." Her figure was such that she would always be described as having "a great personality" in order to change the subject. She was an unusual employee for a porn studio, certainly. She was hired through a combination of genuine skill for the job, a good phone voice, a fairly unflappable demeanor, and strong Italian heritage. Gina hoped that bloodline would swing her into Angel's trajectory, never mind that Angela, Angel's wife, was full-blooded Italian, having arrived in the New World at the age of sixteen with her family, barely able to speak English. Gina lusted for Angel, and Angel was oblivious. It was like high school.
It was almost time. I turned on the TVs to warm them up and fired up the VCR. I took an informal poll as to which movie I should start with. It was suggested we just show them in chronological order, so start with Bad Babysitter and go forward. These were ninety minute features, so we wouldn't get sick of them, at least.
I looked at my watch. It was eleven. Above me the P.A. clicked on, and a woman's breathy voice announced, "Welcome to Eroticon 1990." I announced, "Take your money and place your bets, people. Turn on the charm." And we listened as the noise level slowly increased. The guests were here.