"What's this about walking around naked?" a woman's voice said from the doorway.
We all looked over. There stood Jill and Mallory. Jill was holding a box of See's candy and a card. She gave us a pseudo annoyed grimace and said, "Well! One of our best friends gets shot by a Christian fascist, and neither him or his wife call us. We saw what happened on the news Thursday, and called your house. No answer. Jane answered the next day, and filled us in. Really, you two, we're your friends. We can handle the bad news along with the good."
"I'm sorry," said Bekka. "It's been a very distracting few days. Um, I was admitted to the hospital, too. I had a psychotic break right after the shooting, I thought Lenny had been killed, and I went really insane. I couldn't stop screaming and crying, I was trying to hit people.... Terry had to literally pin me to the floor so I wouldn't hurt myself. The EMTs shot me full of Thorazine, or whatever, and Terry admitted me to the psych unit here. I was okay the next day --- I knew Lenny was alive --- but things have just been a little crazy. We weren't trying to cut you out of the loop." She skipped a beat, and said, "Oh, excuse me. These are Lenny's parents, Nancy and Hal Schneider. And this is Angel Morelli, the majority owner of Inana Productions."
Hands were shaken all around. I told Angel, "Mallory is the woman who wrote the newest script. She's got a second one completed, too, and other ideas in the hopper. Between her and me, we'll have to create a third production crew to keep up with the stories."
Angel gave Mallory a big smile. "So, you wrote 'Miss Treatment'? I love it! Fantastic script, it's gonna make even bigger waves than 'Temporary Pleasures' did, satire and sex all in one spot. Here...." He pulled out his big wallet from inside his jacket, and removed ten $100 bills. "A bonus. And assuming the video breaks loose, you'll see more of that."
Mallory stared wide-eyed at the cash she'd been handed. "Are you sure, sir?" she asked. "This is a lot of money...."
"Call me Angel. And what constitutes 'a lot' of money depends on your perspective. You get successful enough, amounts don't mean shit after a while."
"Thank you very much, si--- Angel. Hey Jill, we're going to buy that bench for you way sooner than we planned! And you're getting iron, not concrete!"
"You're buying what?" asked my father.
"A weight bench," explained Mallory. "And a set of weights. Weights you just pick up used they're always for sale in the classifieds. But Jill has had her eyes on a particular bench for a while. We've been saving our nickels, but now we can just go buy it."
My father eyed Jill with a frown. "Yes.... You do look rather... developed."
Jill smiled down at my father and said, "Yeah, I'm a lifter, and a sculptor. I'm not a bodybuilder, I'm not constantly trying to add more mass. I need some more mass in a couple areas, then continue sculpting. My body is sort of an art project that will never truly be finished."
"Art?" asked my mother.
"Oh yes. Bodybuilding in general is an artistic pursuit for those who lift. Most builders are adding mass. If they were paintings, they'd be the Sistine Chapel, large and ornate. I want to be more like an M.C. Escher print, one of his fun ones. My development is rather exacting. I'm trying to shape muscle groups a particular way, not just get them big. I want to be more streamlined than most builders. Here, check it...."
Jill was wearing a rather tight sleeveless cotton dress, like a sleeveless t-shirt with a skirt attached to the bottom. She slipped out of the top half of the dress and faced away from my parents Then she flexed. All her development expanded, showing off how ripped she was. Mallory went over and stood behind Jill. She began pointing out different muscle groups in Jill's back, explaining how Jill was shaping them. Jill went to rest, then turned to face my parents and flexed again. Mallory continued with the tour of Jill's body. Then Jill went to rest and pulled her dress back on. This was a great relief to my parents, as Jill, who was rather endowed, wasn't wearing a bra. I didn't mind the view at all. Unlike most female bodybuilders, Jill's pectoral muscles hadn't overwhelmed and subsumed her breasts. She was still very feminine, and her breasts were still normal tits, not these strange muscular bulges with nipples.
"So, uh.... How do you two know Lenny and Bekka?" asked Mom.
"Mal wrote a letter to Becky Page, and Becky --- Bekka --- called her. Mal had put her phone number in the letter, our of a zillion to one chance Becky Page would call her. Well, Becky did. Her and Lenny came out to visit Minneapolis, which is where we're from...."
"Where we escaped from," interjected Mallory.
"... with Mallory volunteering as their tour guide. They wanted to see where Mal hung out for fun on weekends, so she took them to a club called Lush on Saturday night. That's how I met them, Mallory and I were friends."
Mallory continued, "Later that night, Jill confessed to Lenny she had a crush on me, but didn't want to mess up our friendship by making an overture, and having me shoot her down. Lenny gave her advice on how to handle it, so if I wasn't interested things wouldn't be awkward Well....I had a crush on Jill, but never did anything about it, for the same reasons! Long and short of it, Jill asked me out in a really sweet, no-pressure way, and I said yes. Then we danced some more and kissed, and sort of decided that we'd go out on a date still, but, uh, we were going to go home together that night."
"To be honest, neither of us had been laid in, like, a gazillion years," Jill grinned. "We were so all over each other as soon as we got back to Mallory's. We actually slept for ninety minutes, I think."
I asked, "Hey, do you ever hear from that lady we met n the hotel restaurant? Mrs. Krebsbach, was it?"
"Yeah, we talk to her about once a week. She's such a sweetie. I think she's living vicariously through us, which makes me a little sad. I want her to come out and visit us, without her husband. She can stay with us, we'll show her around some...."
My father butted in. "Um, excuse me, uh, are you two lesbians?"
"Dyed-in-the-wool dykes," Mallory said to my father with a smile. "Midwest rug-munchers."
With a lewd giggle, Jill said, "Well, we're only rug-munchers in theory. Both of us are fully waxed now."
My father looked blank, my mother looked affronted. It wasn't homophobia on their part, it was that the queers they knew were their age, and that generation hates that younger queers use what were cruel epithets for self-identification. Queer, dyke, faggot, younger homosexuals were putting a thumb in the eye of homophobes by embracing the words, essentially saying, "Yeah, I'm a fag (or a dyke), what's it to you?"
Bekka said, "I was hoping to hear from her. Could you give her my phone number again? She may have lost it."
Jill replied, "Oh jeez. I'm sure she has it. Nearly every time we talk, she says how she'd love to talk to you again. We tell her to call you, and she gets all Minnesotan on us, saying how she doesn't want to be a bother, she's sure you're too busy to hear from some old woman, blah blah."
"I'll be sure to call her this coming week," said Bekka. "I'll tell her if she can travel without her husband --- and I'm sure she'll want to --- I'll pay for her trip, air fare, a room, all that. I'd love to see her again. She called herself a coward, and that has bugged me. If she was a coward, she never would have walked up to our table to introduce herself. And she really would have never told us about her life, you know?"
"Oh! I just had an evil thought," said Mallory. "There has got to be some way of finding post-menopausal dykes in the Los Angeles area. I don't want to set her up, you know, but I'll bet she'd love the company, being able to be around a dyke from her generation. They could become friends, and who knows, maybe they'll have a spark."
Rolling her eyes, Bekka chuckled, "And Becky Page will have destroyed another marriage." She paused. "Although.... I don't know. The poor woman has been very unhappy most of her life. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if she ran away from home at her age. She could be happy the rest of her life."
"I'm lost at the moment," said my father. "What is going on?"
Bekka answered, "While Lenny and I were visiting Mallory, and Jill, we met an older woman named Gladys Krebsbach. She saw me in the restaurant and worked up the courage to come over and say hi. This was at brunch on Sunday morning. Mallory and Jill were with us, they'd just spend their first night together, and had that glow about them. We talked for a while, and Gladys basically confessed that she was a dyke, she was only really interested in women, but followed societal and family pressure and married. Raised kids, volunteered at the church, cooked dinner every night, the whole nine yards. And she hated herself. She hated her life, she.... Okay, she didn't hate her husband, that would be a bit too strong, but she didn't like him. She told us about her life, and we were all in tears.
"Gladys kept saying to Jill and Mallory, 'Get out of Minnesota, if you stay here, you will never be happy. She had lived her entire adult life in a state of self-denial and self-deception. She said one of the saddest things I've ever heard, she said every time she had sex with her husband she'd fake enjoyment. And every time she did, she could feel another tiny piece of her soul die. That's when I really started pouring the tears."
I threw in, "Yeah, her husband is a local big wheel, runs the family processed meat business, drinks his wight in whiskey every day. He killed a guy driving drunk. Loser. Anyway, Gladys is a woman in her late sixties who has lied to herself, and everyone else, about who she really is. When she was young, shit, that was back in the day when admitting you were queer could get you thrown in a mental hospital. And especially someplace like Minnesota. She says she should have come to California, LA or San Francisco, when she was still young and single, but never quite got up the stones to do it. Then her husband, a rich dude with a successful business, proposed to her. Okay, she'll have everything she's been told she should want if she marries the guy, so she did. And has hated her life since."
Mallory said, "Gladys did say she doesn't regret having her children, she really does love them. So her kids were the silver lining in her life, and she knows she would have never had them if she had come to California right after college. Her kids have fed her ambivalence well enough she's never been suicidal, or became an alcoholic or something. She says that faking heterosexuality blessed her with two wonderful children, who never would have existed if she'd come out here, you know? They kept her from losing it, she had love in her life, even if it wasn't romantic love."
"I'm going to call Gladys Tuesday," Bekka said forcefully. "Lenny will be home, and there's no production work going on for now. The cops are still crawling all over the mansion, God knows why. It will stop being an official crime scene tomorrow, right Angel?"
"So I'm told," Angel replied.
"Good, my only copy of the script is still sitting on my desk," I said. "Hey Mallory, I want to rework a bit of dialogue in a couple spots, but beyond that, the script is good to go. I love it, Vinny loves it, Angel just showed you how happy he is with it....Around the new year you're going to be formally recognized as a professional screenwriter."
"I love the script too," Bekka inserted. "Haw, we'll be adding a new group of people who hate us. Every white person with dreadlocks will see that movie and send us hate mail, saying how we're just cultivating our own bad karma, maaan."
"And after writing the letter, they'll smoke a joint, forget to buy postage, and the letter will sit on their desks long enough that when they run across it again, they won't remember what they were talking about, or who to send the letter to."
My mother pointed the conversation back towards Gladys Krebsbach. "So, this woman Gladys, she has been closeted her whole life? How does she know she actually is interested in women, if she's never, uh...."
"She had a girlfriend in college," said Jill. "They were together, on the low-down obviously, for three years. Then they graduated and went back to their respective home towns. Gladys said she sat around for three months, her heart was broken, but she refused to admit it to herself, so she never went through the normal stages of grieving. Then she moved to Saint Paul, started working, met her asshole future husband, and that was that."
"And you want her to come out and visit, without her husband?" my father asked. "Won't he think something's up? Will he let her go?"
Mallory said, "At this point I don't think Gladys gives a poop if her husband is suspicious or not. From what little I saw of their interaction, Gladys does have the stones to tell her husband to mind his own damn business, and he won't squawk. Heh, it was pretty funny at the restaurant, her looking at him and saying in her sweet Minnesota biddy voice, 'Oh, do frick off, Roy, go have a fricking drink.' And her housewife smile on the whole time. No, if she decides she does want to come out, I seriously doubt her husband can do anything to stop her."
"It sounds like the four of you are actively trying to destroy this woman's marriage, to break this couple up," protested my mother.
I sighed and said, "The marriage hit the shoals a long time ago, I"m sure. It's just that both are too damn polite to point out the water rising around their ankles. They're not a couple. Their marriage is a legal construct, and that's it. They're just sort of.... Roommates, I guess. The kids have been out of the house for quite a while, her husband Roy is one of those rich drunks who is so used to being drunk all the time he has that weird, studied way of speaking and moving that covers how hammered he is.
"Roy killed a guy while driving drunk, like I said. Okay, if he'd had the balls to get sober after an incident like that, the two of them would probably at least be friends at this stage of the game. Nope, Roy started going to fire-and-brimstone tent revivals, hearing how everything we ever do is an affront to God, who will punish us when we're judged. Basically, the God Roy believes in is like my old high school gym coach. No matter what we do, or how hard we try, noting will ever be good enough. Shit, if I was being told that, I'd tell the person talking, well, fuck it. God is gonna hate me anyway, so why shouldn't I have fun now? If I'm gonna sin, I may as well sin big."
"You can guess how Roy feels about me," said Bekka. "The usual boilerplate about the evil corrupting influence Becky Page is. Becky wants people fucking in the streets, abusing drugs, sacrificing goats, burning Bibles, and listening to rock and roll. We met him our first night in Minneapolis. The longer he talked, the dumber he got. Naturally, he's a Young Earth creationist. Every point he tried to make, we corrected. He freaked out when we told him Jane would be going to UCB. I guess he had a cousin who went there in the Sixties, and became a full-bore hippie in his freshman year. His cousin went home to Saint Paul for the summer and spent the entire time stomping on everybody's dicks, telling them everything about their lives was wrong. Roy took it as a sign that parents should never send their kids to college, the child will come home an atheist who hates his parents, uses drugs, consorts with loose women, and, I dunno, steals newspapers or something."
"The children will drive Japanese cars," suggested Mallory.
"Lenny asked what happened to the cousin. Turns out the guy is now a big-wig at Capitol records. He lives in the Hollywood Hills and drives a Mercedes. And he still hates Minnesota, and his family."
"Well, hey, fuck Minnesota," grinned Jill.
"Especially fuck upstate Minnesota," agreed Mallory.
"Why do you two hate Minnesota so much," queried my father.
Fixing him with a cool smirk, Mallory replied, "Because up until the middle of October, Minnesota is the only place either of us have lived. I didn't have it too bad, I'm a Minneapolis native, but poor Jill is from a tiny town upstate called Baxter. She outed herself to her parents on her eighteenth birthday, then left for Minneapolis three days after graduating from high school. I was so jealous of Jill. Her first day in Minneapolis, and she gets a job at this heavy dyke bar called 19 Bar! She was too young to go in, so she was just hanging around outside, and the manager offers her a job! I'd have killed to work at 19 Bar when I was eighteen!"
"Working there is how I got into lifting and sculpting," said Jill. "I already had the Paul Bunyan height. and I was the dog's body for the place, I did all the serious grunt work, including changing kegs. You want to develop some good upper body strength in a hurry? Start bucking beer kegs all night. After about a month, the girls at the bar are telling me, 'Hey, you're getting pretty buff, you're lookin' good.' Wow, all these hot dykes are telling me how good I look. So, I started going to the YMCA and lifting. Then I joined a real gym, and really started learning about the scene, picking up all the knowledge and all the tricks. I knew I didn't want to body build exactly, I thought female bodybuilders had pretty much rendered themselves asexual. But I wanted to be ripped, and I wanted to have my body become a piece of art. Now I'm at Muscle Beach a couple hours twice a week, I work as a personal trainer at a chi-chi health club in Beverley Hills so I'll use their equipment in my off-time, life is good." She paused. "And it pisses my dad off to no end."
"Your father is angry because you're happy with how your life is going?" asked my father.
Jill frowned down at the floor. After a moment, she said, "Have you ever lived in upstate Minnesota, sir?"
"No, I haven't."
"There is.... a certain mindset in those towns up north. Humility is the path to heaven. This is extrapolated to ambition being bad. Having dreams or goals which can't be accomplished within the confines of the town you grew up in is a sign you have an attitude. You've decided you're better than the people around you, you think your neighbors are all dumb hicks --- and they usually are --- and you're smarter then everyone else. You'll be told you're getting 'too big for your britches.' Just wanting to go to college is a sign you think you're somebody important, something special, and everyone in town will be quick to point out that you're not.
"People who do escape their home towns are closely monitored, so everyone can watch for when God trips them up and foils their plans. They get taken down a few notches. And it serves them right, for acting all high and mighty, thinking they're better than us. The people in your home town will silently cheer when they hear of any setback or calamity in your life, you're getting what you deserve for thinking you're special. Also, now that you're in a den of sin like Minneapolis, you're sure to become a drug addict, a sex maniac --- or worse, a homosexual --- a liar, and a thief. Any economic success you have only proves to everyone back home that you're a swindler, nobody makes money like that from honest work. Lord, Lenny, if you were from upstate and you became as successful as you are, your former neighbors would have a betting pool going on for the date you'll be arrested for running some sort of massive fraud."
"I figured they'd hate me for being a pornographer first," I quipped.
"Good point. On the rare occasions you go back to visit. people will tell each other how unhealthy you look now. He must be a drug addict, that would explain it..."
"And he married some dark-skinned Mediterranean girl!" exclaimed Bekka. "One who poses naked for pictures that get published in those magazines they have behind the counter at the convenience store."
Mallory started cracking up. "Everybody would have your movies, but they've all carefully taken the video tapes apart and put the tape in the cassette frame of an old movie they didn't like. Wanna watch 'Succubus'? Grab the tape that says 'Rocky III.' 'Dangerous Desires'? Grab the one that says 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' It's camouflage to foil the morality police, otherwise known as your neighbors.... who all own the same Becky Page movies, too."
Jill continued, "When I left for Minneapolis, I was being reckless. When I got the job at Club 19, it proved I would be trained into sexual deviance, and never experience love. When I started dating Mallory, I was mocking God with my perversion, cheapening the very concept of love by claiming two women could have love between each other. And when Mallory and I announced our plans to move to Los Angeles, oh boy. We were moving to the most terrible state in the Union, California. The place is nothing but perverts and earthquakes, car jackers, decadence, smog, cocaine, slaughter on the freeways, and of course, Mexicans. And Mallory and I will try to have better lives there? Who do we think we are? We'll be robbed of everything, lose the cushy jobs we had set up, and come crawling back to Baxter. And everyone will look down their noses at us, because we got what we deserved, for thinking we were something special, that we mattered. We got too big for our britches, so God took us down a few pegs to remind us that we're not special at all. And everyone in town will feel all warm and fuzzy, because they had the sense to stay where they were, and never be reckless and take risks like we did. Everybody in town had stayed safe. they knew the world only needed to be as big as Baxter. Me and Jill, we got what was coming to us, it's what we get for being lesbians and uppity and thinking we could have a bigger life than what could be found in upstate Minnesota. We got too big for our britches, and now look."
Jill looked my dad in the eyes and said, "Fuck Minnesota. Fuck Minnesota with a brick."
Dad looked her in the eyes back and replied, "Thank you. I believe I understand."
Bekka asked Jill and Mallory, "Have you asked Gladys to come visit yet?"
"Not really, not yet," said Mallory. "We've sort of hinted how wonderful it would be to see her again, and we tell her about where we live, and how she'd enjoy being here. We leave it at that, sort of planting the idea in her head. I want get a hide-a-bed sofa for the office first, so she won't be sleeping on the couch."
Bekka frowned in thought for a moment. Then she said, "I'm going to ask her to visit when I talk to her, all she has to do is choose travel dates. I'll tell her when she does, she just needs to go to the airline counter at the airport, they'll have round-trip tickets waiting in her name. Any idea who controls the money in her house?"
"Gladys manages the money, Roy bitches about the cost of everything," said Jill. "I have the hunch Gladys has the same thriftiness bug every other Midwest native does. Why?"
"Just thinking about spending money for her. You guys will be at work all day during the week, I"m not going to ask an elderly woman from Saint Paul to drive a rental car in Los Angeles, so cabs will be her friend. She can go wherever she wants and not be stressed about driving. Yeah, I'll send up a stack of traveler's checks for her. I'll decide how much when I know how long she'll be staying." Bekka considered. "Definitely traveler's checks. She'll feel like she's frittering away money if I send cash. With traveler's checks, they feel like play money, or coupons, so he won't be feeling any urge to try and be thrifty."
"You know what Los Angeles needs? Mallory said thoughtfully. "A dyke version of the Chippendales dancers. That would be fun to take Gladys to, if it existed."
I started horking up giggles. "Oh, lordy. Trish, our newest girl, and a couple other girls went to see the Chippendales one night. Trish said she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Okay, all those dudes have fantastic bodies, but Trish said it was totally obvious they were all total femme-boys. She said they were dancing to Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys, and all the other women in the place were totally oblivious. She wanted to go up to women who were tipping the dancers and tell them, 'You know, he's probably better at sucking cock than you are.'"
Jill said, "Okay, you have scenes with two girls in your movies. I know straight guys like to watch two girls together, fine. I was wondering, though, are those scenes just girls doing gay for pay?"
"Depends upon the girl," Bekka answered. "Some are. Their attitude is, 'Meh, it's a living.' You know I'm bisexual, so yes, I do like working with another girl. And there are a few who really, really like working with another girl. Rio is one. Also Jackie, and Gayla. We've always explained to new hires that if doing a girl/girl scene would bother them, we won't make them, they just have to tell us they won't work with another girl. We've had a few tell us that over the years, but it's been a long time since we've had a performer refuse to work with girls. It says something about our talent pool that your average viewer thinks all us Inana girls are really into it. Some of us really are and others are just lying there, faking it, and wondering where they should go for lunch."
"Oh, uh.... Bekka, gossip time," I said. "Keep this under your hat. Okay, I'm sure you're aware of the lesbian affair that's been happening on the third floor."
"Absolutely," Bekka responded.
I explained about Gayla and Rio's affair putting big dents in Gayla's marriage, carefully leaving out their names. Bekka put her chin in her hand and considered.
"I never would have guessed our principal would be the type to get into that kind of bind," said Bekka. "Certainly not over a girl. When she came here, she would work with other girls because it was in the script, and that's all. And now.... How does that lie dormant in someone for as long as it did with her? Most girls notice they have an interest at the beginning of puberty, they don't wait until their mid-twenties, then suddenly have it hit them like a lightning bolt."
"Who are you talking about?" asked Angel.
"We're keeping it a secret on purpose. I know who Lenny is talking about, but it's no one else's business, okay?"
Just then Angel's pager went off. He checked the display and said, "I'm headed for the pay phones."
"Just use this one," I told him. "If you need to call to LA, ring the hospital switchboard and they'll put the call through."
"No, this needs to be a private conversation." Angel headed out the door.
In his absence, Mallory said, "I can't believe he just gave me a thousand dollars."
"I can believe it quite easily," I told her. "All right. You would say Bekka and I have become quite successful, yes? Really, it's mostly because of Angel's largess. What both of us are paid by the business entity known as Inana Productions, and what we ultimately receive, are very different things. As an example, Bekka's contract with Inana stated she would be paid $12,000 for starring in 'Succubus.' Not bad money, but not enough to pay for how we live, right? What happens is Angel gets the sales reports on the features and reaches for his checkbook. Bekka only got $12.000 from Inana Productions for 'Succubus.' However, an individual named Angel Morelli gave Bekka several cashier's checks, totaling around $380,000, after 'Succubus' was released. When Angel sees how well a video is moving, he sends the both of us, individually, some 'atta boy' money, bonuses for a job well done. He's been doing that since 'Bewitched.'"
"Roach is another good example," Bekka continued. "He played the Lone Scavenger in 'Succubus.' Inana's features don't have strong male leads, generally speaking. There was also Dale in 'Dangerous Desires, and Eddie the Jew in 'Stroke of Luck.' All our other features have female leads, or are ensemble casts, like 'Rocker Girls' or 'Temporary Pleasures.' Roach did a stellar job in 'Succubus.' He was paid $9,000 for the gig, damn good money for a male performer. Then, when Angel saw how well the video was selling, he sent Roach a $15,000 cashier's check. Then another, for $25,000. And on and on. Roach has made incredible money for a stud, especially in this day and age. But the money didn't come from Inana, it came from Angel."
"So where does Angel get all his money from?" asked Mallory.
I smiled and said, "If you have a video tape that retails for $32.95, and you move fifteen million copies, you've got quite the income. And just because a new feature is out doesn't mean the earlier ones stop selling. 'Bewitched' has moved twenty-two million tapes since its release. And Angel knows I have access to the same sales figures he does.
"To clarify, the retail price of a tape is $32.95. Remove the costs of raw tapes, duplication, printing, packaging, contract-set percentage for the distributors and wholesalers, and collectively, paying for production. Inana Productions and Angel probably see about eight dollars net per tape. But multiply that by the number of videotapes Inana has sold. Bekka and I are doing quite well, we have a generous boss. I don't even want to know what Angel and Vinny are worth at this point."
"All that money," murmured Bekka. "And ultimately, people are spending that money so they can watch other people getting their wee-wees wet."
"But at this point, those wee-wees are getting wet artistically," I observed.