A Convention ~ and Other Things
© 2010 by Mr. David R. Dorrycott
Songmark and Songmark characters copyright Mr. Simon Barber.
Used with permission.
“You may go in now, Miss Van Pugpug,” the grey, long-furred doe rabbit sitting behind a massive stainless steel desk announced.
Charlene Van Pugpug, B movie actress (and not a bad looking vixen herself) stood, setting aside the magazine she had been reading. “Thank you, Miss Goring,” she answered. It was never wrong to be polite, her mother had taught her, and her friend Jean had agreed with that sentiment. Just because the rabbit had probably been hired for her chest and lack of modesty-shield on her desk, didn’t mean that she slouched on the job... and she had been polite. Walking to the only other door in the room (its opposite led back out into the hallway) Charlene opened it and walked in.
Sitting behind his desk across from the vixen as she entered was Kab Langly, a fat Kodiak bear and head of the studios. Nothing happened at Republic that he didn’t have his paw in at the beginning. Behind him curtains drifted in the morning breeze, a light breeze caused by the office being on the fifth floor, drawing away the smoke of his ever-present cigar. To Charlene’s left was a couch, very well used she knew from her own experience. “You wished to see me, Mr. Langly?” she asked, stopping behind the over-stuffed fits-anything chair meant for visitors.
“Have ah seat, Charlene,” the bear ordered, setting his ever-present cigar in an ashtray, where its smoke was carried out a nearby window. He noted where the vixen was headed and cleared his throat. “Not there, Charlene: First, you're too damn good an actress to need that anymore. Second, Yade aside, I personally like you, and third... I saw what your friend Jean did to those roustabouts that assaulted you. Ah got no desire to spend the next year learning to walk again.” He smiled as she returned to the chair, settling down as comfortably as she could.
Of course, the sheer harem outfit she was currently wearing, combined with skillful makeup, left very little to the imagination, and was a very pleasant view to the bear's mind. “How’s shooting going?” he asked.
K.L. was not known for small talk, so Charlene took his question seriously. “Mr. Updyke appears to have a handle on the story, sir,” she answered. “Nancy is giving him trouble, but then she loves giving Directors trouble. She’s really talented enough to be worth it. I think she’d have been 'A-list' two years ago if she didn’t make so much trouble. Still, we are on schedule, though over budget, I hear. My own scenes should end today or tomorrow. Next Monday at the latest, if Nancy doesn’t throw another temper-tantrum.”
“Good. What do yah think of the story?” KL asked.
“Its crap, sir,” the vixen answered, fighting to keep her tail still. This man could blackball her in an instant; she’d never stand in front of a movie camera again. Not even for those filthy adult movies DAKA made at night. He’d done it enough before, including two actresses that Charlene had worked with at one time or another. But he had asked, and Jean had warned her that ‘lies tend to build up, until they kill you.’ “Its just another T&A film, with a little sword play to make it look like an Arabic myth. You really should replace Thompson. He only writes T&A stories, and he’s always on set trying to make time with us.”
“Would,” KL agreed. “Except his movies tend to make a pretty good profit and this time of year we need every penny we can get. ‘Ee's not the only male that likes ah T&A movie, either. Lotta men’ll pay their last quarter for eighty minutes of escapism, and tah see ah beautiful girl in as little as tha Hays office lets us get away with now. Its hard times out there, ahn if that public wants escapism, they go for it.” He leaned forward, his eyes obviously locked on Charlene’s chest. “And you dear Charlene, though ah beauty, are wasted in this movie.”
Having in the last seven years become used to being treated as a thing, not a woman, the vixen simply took in a deep breath, absently giving the bear what he wanted. At least it hadn’t been the couch, she was relieved to know. She hadn’t brought any precautions with her, and it was her fertile time. “I am on contract,” she reminded the bear. “I do what I am told. All that aside, sir. Why am I here?”
“I have a job for you,” KL admitted. “That writer, the Songmark girl. She hasn’t answered our letters. We need tha new series, Charlene, and we need Jean in it. You see, when the board (that means 'God Yade' himself), looked at the accounts.... Well, that series she wrote: 'The Grey Shadow'? It was the highest grossing series we ever made....” He paused, looking around his office a few minutes.
“Granted: Letting Haster’s son write a script with yah in it was a monument to stupidity. 'Shadow' was supposed tah be Petunia’s swan-song. One that would let us bring her back later. 'The Master'-- it's garbage. Nothin but garbage. Even if he is ah major owner, second only tah Yade. Petunia radio-controlled by a device implanted in her brain? Impossible to believe; tha tubes alone wouldha boiled her brains in minutes. Damn story was only a teenage wet-dream. Yah wore what? Ragged shorts ahn a torn shirt half that series? Ahn no Silver Star. Its what killed yer series hard, Charlene, and I won’t let that happen in these studios again.”
“That isn’t in my education, sir,” Charlene admitted. “Business, I mean. I’m just now taking Art classes. Business is beyond me, sir.”
“Art?” the bear asked, surprised. “Why art?”
“My value to Republic as a B-actress, sir, is my looks. I would be a fool to think that I will be an actress in fifteen years. Perhaps as little as ten years. A B-actress doesn’t make that much money anyway, and her parts are always small. Even if she’s the lead character, she gets paid a tuppence compared to the male actors. I need another career, another source of income for my future. I like art, sir, and I’ve been told by several very good artists that I show promise. That I have talent. But getting back to the subject at paw: You wish me to write to Lucy Ullrich?”
K.L. sat back, slightly surprised by what the vixen had just said. Not many actresses realized that they just didn’t have what it took to break into the A-list. Charlene might, but no one had ever cast her as a lead, except for the Petunia’s serial. They took one look at that chest, those impossibly deep eyes, and decided without trying, that Charlene’s only real ‘talent’ lay on her back. He’d seen enough of her work to know better by now. Not that she didn’t have talent on her back, as he knew from personal experience. It took more than talent and looks to get an acting part at Republic Studios, and she was one of his private stock.
“No, Charlene. I want you to go see her. In person. And ah want you to get Jean back on board. Both of them, whatever it takes. Even it that means on your back.” He picked up two magazines from the clutter of his desk. “Have you seen these?”
She looked at the titles. “ 'E'tol'? Ullrich sent me copies of that story. I happen to like horror. But this ones rather bloody, in my opinion. Too much blood, not enough horror. It would turn the audiences' stomachs, and Hays would never let that much gore on the screen.”
“You're right, which is why I’ve asked her, several times, to make a script from this. Something that will pass the Hays office, but still give the viewers their money's worth. She’s never answered. Even when I offered her six big ones, and a deadline. Not a peep.”
Charlene thought for several minutes. “Its got a good hook,” she admitted. “Especially the end of chapter one. No one’s ever killed off the hero before. Certainly not in the middle of the series. And I know exactly what happens to the poor girl. Lucy was quite happy to explain what isn’t in the story. 'Mother to a demonic invasion.' Gone mad, she becomes the loving Queen to the monster that took her. Ends up thrown live into a bonfire by a preacher.” She shrugged, which did amazing things to her nearly-nothing outfit. “I’ll do my very best sir, but don’t expect miracles. You know as well as I do, that if a writer doesn’t want to write something, not even explosives will move them.”
“Yeah,” KL agreed, retrieving his cigar to take a puff. “But you got something better than explosives. Ahn I’m orderin yah to use it. All of it. Hold back nothing, ahn I mean, nothin'! Plus: I’ve got a project for you, in reward if your win. It's tha' carrot. Stick comes later.”
“That being, sir? A Shrine movie? Why not just shoot me in the head here and now. I may be under contract sir, but she’s at another studio and I won’t work with her.”
KL laughed again, a deep rumbling sound coming from the bear's chest. “Oh no. No 'Candyworld' for you if yer successful. That project is reserved for Nancy Randell. Her next big part. She needs tha learn who runs this studio. I have had enough o’ that attitude o’ hers. No, hold on a moment...” He turned to dig in a box of scripts, cursing when the fire fell off of his cigar. From the rapid slapping motions it must have fallen into his shoe. With a curse that reddened the vixens ear-tips he threw the dead stogy out his window, then soon came up with a script. “Damn, that burns!” he cursed, stomping his right foot a moment. Finally he held up the script.
“'Revenge of Dracula’s Daughter'. A top of tha line B-movie, Charlene. Yade himself hasn’t seen this. I’ve been holding it, for the right moment.”
“And I play whom, sir?” the vixen asked, feeling the hairs on her tail begin to bottle. A top of the line B- movie meant that, with a little push from the studio, it could go 'A', if the audience liked it. A B-movie actress's dream. Why, even if she was nothing more than the first victim.... She fought down her excitement. “What part, sir?” she asked again. She expected 'victim', or the lead's assistant. What he said next, stunned her.
“Lead. Yer part is Lucy Westenra’s unknown child by tha Count. Character's name is Alexandreina Westenra. Ahn you're getting vengeance for tha death of both yer parents. First victim is old Van Helsing himself. Course, yer killed in tha end by Van Helsing’s grandson. Or it looks like tha: There’s two endings to this script. I’d like your Lucy to look over it. Could be his granddaughter -- we're still lookin at tha part. Gotta find ah good actor or actress and there ain't that many near A-level’s in our stock, 'sides you.”
“Why not offer it to Jean?” Charlene asked as sudden inspiration struck her. “She isn’t under contract, sir, but she’s really good. And already a member of the Actors Union. We work well together, and it will draw in the Petunia’s fans. That is an automatic break-even for the studio.”
K.L.. looked at the vixen before him, his mind sliding along ancient, pre-written tracks and coming to a completely wrong conclusion. ‘So it really is like that with you two,’ he thought to himself. ‘Damn, what a loss.’ After that moment of refection, he had come to an erroneous conclusion that would affect Charlene’s acting career for the rest of her life. Accepting he may have lost one of his favorite toys, the bear smiled. “Okay, if yah can get her, she’s athletic enough tah do her own stunts. Save us a bundle, too, since she’s not contract. Which will help if Yade gives that project of Haster-Junior's a green light. I’m scared that it’s a studio-killer. Well, we can even write in ah flying sequence. Her chasin' you through tha skies inna old biplane, you inna bat costume, trying to outmaneuver her. Mah-be even ah seduction scene. I’ll get Arthur looking at it. It's his baby after all, but he likes Lucy’s work. Wants to work with her. Done, then. When your current film's done, get tha accounting. Everything you’ll need will be waiting. And Charlene. there is a downside to this. Fail me, and its 'Candyworld' for you. With Nancy. I’ll personally sell both your contracts to that studio myself, not just loan Nancy to ‘em to play with their little monster.”
He took a deep breath, then shook his head 'no'. “I don’t like threats, Charlene, and I hate have’n to threaten my really talented artists. Artists like you. But Yade’s in on my neck. I think he knows what gonna happen if Haster gets his way, and Haster has something on Yade. God, I’d love tah have the money to start my own studio. Get away from all this politics. Between Haster and Yade, they're gonna run Republic into the ground. But the choice is yours, girl. Get that Ullrich woman on board, and Jean. Or say hello tah Twentieth Century-Fox and tha Shirley Shrine.”
“I’d kill myself first,” the vixen answered as she stood. “And I mean it.”
“Loss for tha world, girl, but remember: There are thousands like yah out there. I give ‘em, but I don’t take threats, little vixen. Carrot, stick. Your choice. Shoot yourself: Its ah loss, but I’ll have someone else before yer body hits the floor. Just don' do it on Studio property; we don’t need the bad publicity.” He stared his starlet down, remembering the bright, outgoing and certain woman who had once starred in her own series. Months of standard studio treatment had broken that. Another few months and he’d lose a good talent. Something had to happen, but all he could do was ease up on his own desires. Anyway, Goring was just outside, he remembered.
“I’m making a point of giving you this chance, Charlene,” he continued. “To resurrect your series from the ashes of 'The Master'. Try having Ullrich write that disaster as a fever dream or something. But it's all on you, so don’t fail.” He picked up an envelope from his desk. “This too. We get one of these every week. Do the studio a favor. Stick around long enough ta' drop by and say hello. Studio will pay yah to stay. Take Lucy with you, iffin yah can. See Costuming, they’ve got your old outfit ready. I’ll ship a trunk fulla old props tha' be waitin for yah to give away. Saved ‘em from tha’ scrap pile, I did. Probably just five or six teenage boys in dad's parlor, but it’s a coup for the studio. I’ll even arrange a photographer, so give one of those boys a sisterly kiss. When the photos come in I’ll have tha studio publicist do ah big deal about it. 'Charleen Van Pugpug, while working with her favorite scripter on tha next Petunia serial, attends tha first annual Spontoon Science Fiction Convention.' Big splash in tha society pages.” He tossed the envelope in the vixen's paws, waiting as she opened it.
A flyer came out. Obviously run on a spirit-duplicator, printed on cheap paper that had allowed the purple ink to bleed slightly, it announced the First Annual Spontoon Science Fiction Convention. She read the address and laughed softly. “'Main Island, Main Village. Nineteen Cantaloupe Way.' I actually have been to Main Village, K.L., it’s a rather nice place. But it's aimed at tourists. You really want to go to the Western shore of Main Island for the real thing.” Her voice was flat though, seeing as what her future could be. Returning the flyer into its envelope, she kept it. “Okay, K.L. You want it, I’ll do it, and I may just have fun, too. I’ll drop by as Petunia. With a bunch of 8x10 photos Jean and I had made special for such things, if you ever sent us to one. If that’s all, sir, I’m expected on the set soon.” She stood then, turned and left. All the while feeling that her world had just come crashing down around her. Shrine made a point of trying to ruin the career of any actress she felt too pretty, too talented, or just took a dislike to. And she was damned good at what she tried. Charlene was still under contract for five more projects. K.L. had her by the tailroot, and the bear knew it.
As the vixen walked out, K.L. turned to toss the script back where he had pulled it from. He used that as an excuse to lean down as if to slip it back in the stack carefully. It allowed him an excellent view of the vixens swinging tail as she departed. It was drooping slightly more than when she had entered he noted, but even so, it was a damn fine looking tail. Too bad it was Jean’s tail, because he had really wanted to ask Charlene to marry him one day. Well, he’d get the word out. If she survived the next year, certain parts would open up that no one would have hoped to offer the vixen. After all, even the Hays office couldn’t block everything.... Though they tried. Oh, did those busy body no-talent do-gooders try. As he sat up, the bear sighed. There were thousands of wanna-be actresses out there. One had to be as exciting as Charlene Van Pugpug. Or, as was listed on her birth certificate, 'Georgia Patricia Willingswood'. Picking up his phone, he started the wheels in motion to locate a replacement for the vixen. Just in case she did shoot herself. Actors were so flaky, and Charlene would not be the first after all. But if she went A-list, he would still need a replacement B-actress as talented, as beautiful, and as intelligent. And fast.
Nine days later a Pan-Am flying boat drifted gently into Spontoon Islands harbor. As always the pilots professionalism impressed the always watching eyes. Pan-Am hired only the best, and it showed. Soon after landing, the twenty four year old vixen actress found herself setting-up in a small bungalow. She had chosen to stay at the same small ‘resort’ that the half-cougar, Jean Ullrich had used on her last two visits. It was comfortable, the owners were polite, and it cost a third of the amount that she was allotted by the studio. It also had some wonderful memories. Plus the extra money would look good in her retirement fund. That fund being the purchase of land, actually a ranch, West of her hometown of New Ulm, Minnesota. As she had told K.L.: The chances of any B-level actress having a career after her looks started to fade was slim to none, and Jean had a habit of saying that 'Slim always seemed to be on vacation'. From long experience, she tended to agree with her friend.
By the time she had settled in comfortably it was well after lunchtime. She could simply call Songmark, the vixen knew, but this was Sunday. The chances of anyone spending their Sunday sitting at a phone was infinitesimal. Or at least her experience with studio secretaries and most of Hollywood told her that. That there was always someone to pick up the phone at Songmark, even if it was just a Gate Guard, would surprise her. So she decided to travel to Eastern Island. Jean had often mentioned that during school term there were always two girls watching the gate and fence line. So it was just over an hour and a quarter later that she arrived at Songmark's gate.
“Foxy swingin her tail comin' to tha' gate,” the coyote Liberty Morgenstern announced as Charleen walked towards Songmark's gates. “You want her?”
Her partner, and third-year classmate Brigit Mulvaney glanced at the woman. “Soft. Not a problem,” the red-furred Erie girl observed. “We can take ‘er, and give ‘er to Tatiana. She’s been mopin' since her wife left for England."
“Yeah,” the coyote agreed. “Strange how when yer forced inta somethin yah end up likin' it.”
Her companion shivered, the green eyed Irish Setter shaking her head 'no'. “Ahn iffin I go tha way: Please tah be ah shooting me in tha back of me head.”
“I’d be delighted,” Liberty agreed. “Ah, here she is.” She stepped forward she gave the approaching woman a smile. “And how may we be helping you?” she asked in her most friendly way.
Charlene gave the third year Songmark girl her friendliest smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Morgenstern, and Miss Mulvaney,” she said in greeting. “If you would be so kind, I would like a few words with one of your Instructors.”
“Ah -- and you would be?” the coyote asked. She hated to be at a disadvantage, and this vixen had just managed to do that with a simple greeting.
“Charlene Van Pugpug,” the vixen answered. “A simple actress of no real importance.” She opened the small purse that hung by a strap off her shoulder, reaching in to withdraw an even smaller case. From that she withdrew a card, offering it to the coyote. “My card.”
Accepting the card Liberty passed it back to Bridgit unread. Looking at it might allow the vixen time to withdraw a weapon from that purse, and was that wire cable sewn into the fabric strap? This was no normal civilian.
“'Charlene Van Pugpug',” Brigit read from behind the alert coyote. “'Actress, Republic Studios'. Call or walk over?”
“Call,” Liberty answered. She knew that anyone could have cards made up, and that purse strap modification, along with how the purse fell, bothered her. It was something a Songmark student would come up with. Not some little actress in the middle of Hollywood. She listened as Brigit spoke on the phone, then found herself a little shocked when the Irish Setter informed her that Miss Devinski wanted the vixen escorted in.
Opening the gate she waved the older woman inside. “I’ll escort yah,” she explained, only to be surprised when Charlene laughed at her.
“Your afraid? Of little old me? Oh please,” the vixen said with true humor. “Jean told me that third-years are paranoid, but this is actually quite funny. Very well, if you will lead, I promise to follow. And I promise not to hit you in the back of your head with my lead-lined purse.”
‘Lead lined,’ Liberty thought as she turned to lead the vixen. ‘Well, that would explain the wire, and how it hung. But why carry such extra weight?’ She held that question, a minute later opening the office door to allow their visitor in, but not entering herself. Once she closed the office door Liberty hurried back to the gate. ‘Now this is an odd visitor,’ she told herself.
“Welcome back, Miss Pugpug” the yellow-furred hound known as Miss Devinski said as the door closed.
Charlene grimaced. “If I had it to do over, Miss Devinski, I would kill my agent for that name. Instead, I fired the little weasel. My real name is Willingswood. Georgia Patricia Willingswood. If you must call me Miss, please use Willingswood. Charlene is okay, I like the name. In fact I prefer it.” She shivered. “But you must be aware of how many off color jokes have already been made of Pugpug by now.”
“All right then, Charlene, and I am Catherine. If you would be so kind,” the hound replied, “Please have a seat, and tell me, please. How may Songmark be of help to you?”
“Assassinate K.L. and Yade?” the vixen asked as she slid into a canine-style chair that just happened to be available. “No, don’t. I signed that contract with my eyes open. Like Jean told me, you live by your word, or you're nothing. I need two things, Miss Devinski. Jean Lynn Morris and Lucy Penny Falling Star Ullrich.”
Miss Devinski sat back in her chair, studying the vixen sitting across from her. “Lucy is on Casino Island, Charlene. She won’t be back until just before Sunset Song. Much too late to speak with you. Jean: The last I heard from her was just after end of schooling this year. She and two other Songmark graduates took off on an Archeological trip with her husband and his assistant. So far we haven’t heard from any of them. May I ask the why, though?”
Quietly Charlene explained about the new script, and the need for Jean in the next serial to appear as Silver Star. Finally she threw in the kicker. “And I need her to help me break into the A-list Catherine. This vampire movie is different than any made before. I’ve read the script, there is an awful lot of thought that’s been put into it. It reads more like a Sherlock Hound story than the typical bloodsucker. With Lucy’s sweet touch it will be good enough to put me into the A-list, and that can and will keep me in film until I’m a long-toothed gray-furred old vixen. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a B-list actress, and I need both Jean and Lucy to pull this off.”
“What about after? When you are A-list,” the hound asked. “What about them?”
“Oh, I’d dump Jean and Lucy in a second. Surround myself with yes-furs. Start drinking heavily, marry and divorce a dozen times....” Charlene stopped, noting that Miss Devinski wasn’t smiling. “Then I’d sign up for the lead in a Shirley Shrine movie and spend the rest of a very short life in a rubber room,” she finished.
“If I believed you about dumping your friends,” the hound said slowly. “I would have you dragged out of my office and thrown out the gates naked.” She steepled her paws. “I will grant Lucy’s dorm the evenings off for three days, Monday to Wednesday. But limited to Eastern Island. You may meet with her at Song Sodas for three hours each day. This as a favor, Miss Willingswood. A favor I will want repaid.”
“Uh-huh. My neck in a noose?” the vixen asked seriously. “Or on my back. In your bed? Right now both options are quite acceptable.”
“Shrine's neck in a guillotine would be a better choice,” the hound admitted. “No, Charlene. More than some little bad-press has been released by a certain now-defunct Aeroschool. One which I will not name. I would like you to do something for me: I would like for you to arrange a small film about Spontoon Island. A travel film. One where Songmark is seen in a very good light. No lies. Film what is true, but in good light.”
“I cannot promise anything, Catherine” Charlene admitted. “But I will speak with K.L. Republic does have connections with travel film makers. James A. Fitzpatrick comes to mind as one. I will give you my word to try.”
“Good enough. And had I said to you, 'On your back, in my bed'?” the hound asked.
“I would be there,” Charlene admitted. “I need those two, and I will pay whatever it takes to get them.” She shivered slightly. “It isn’t like I haven’t done so before. I am no virgin, Catherine. Not in any definition of that word. I am used goods. Not a woman to call your friend.”
Miss Devinski laughed softly. “Be careful, young vixen, for you are delightful on the eye. Someone may take you up on that offer to open your arms. Very well, then. I will see what I can do about Jean. Lucy. You’ll have to deal with her yourself. Just be careful, she is on Casino Island for a serious reason. One that just might find you on your back. With her.”
Charlene blanched. It had been just idle talk, but to.... “If I have to,” she answered softly. “I would much prefer not with her. She would hate me forever. But for her.... Maybe.”
Catherine stood, holding out her paw. “Then don’t mention it to her. I wish you luck, Charlene. I truly wish you luck. But as you said about the travelfilms, I can only promise to do my best, where it comes to finding Jean, or any Songmark graduate.”
Standing, the vixen accepted the hound's paw, unsurprised at the strength she found there. Jean, and Lucy, both had shown that strength. Songmark women were a new breed, and Charlene liked that breed. As she walked back towards the gate alone, the vixen silently prayed that it was a breed that would multiply. If nothing more than to put males like K.L. back in their place. As partners, not owners.
After she had left, Miss Devinski walked over to her filing cabinet. There, she withdrew a single stained envelope. It had arrived almost two months after the expedition's departure. In it Jean Morris. No, Jean Marklin, the hound reminded herself, had mentioned other letters that she had sent. Letters that had not arrived, but that was not unusual considering the route that they would have taken. Stolen by native workers hoping to find a dollar or two within them. Thrown away when nothing worth selling was found.
Jean had written about a huge underground series of vaults. Vaults that her group was discussing whether to explore, or reseal and leave for the next expedition. Three Songmark graduates were on that expedition. To lose three at one time. That would be a disaster beyond all disasters. Wasn’t Henrika bad enough? And Molly, as much trouble as she had been, had been promising. Biting her upper lip, Catherine Devinski wondered if she was going to have to ask Amelia’s dorm to become involved. Considering the English housecat's style, that could result in half an island vanishing. And Madagascar was a rather large island, at that.
A little later that afternoon Charlene found herself speaking to K.L. long distance. As the McGee resort had only one public phone, and that being in a closed alcove, it proved to be an uncomfortable and rather warm situation. Still she listened quietly as the Kodiak Bear explained things that were happening, and how important it was to get that script. “I don’t care if you have to shanghai that woman,” the bear was saying. “The Board just finished looking at all the accounts for our last five years after Yade forced them into it. That script by Ullrich was the biggest grosser for all the serials, and that’s saying something. We need a hot property now. That damn project is sucking tha life outta Republic. We’ve already sold five contracts since you left, Charlene. So you get that script, understand?”
“Yes sir” the vixen agreed. She knew now exactly where she stood. Against the wall, with guns pointing at her heart. As an A-actress she could tell K.L. off, maybe once, and get away with it. As a B-list actress, he actually held her life in his paws. In the least it would be the casting couch for her for the rest of her career. More likely a ‘month or year away at his 'seclusive' mountain ranch.’ As his private mount, if she upset him enough. Maybe longer, if he wanted. Charlene had been to that ranch once, as an invited visitor. Watching as three B-list actress’s in the studio’s disfavor went around naked, on all fours, while some A-list actor or actress rode on their backs with reins in their paws. She shivered. Better to blow her own brains out than be treated like that. “I’ll get the script, K.L., no matter what it takes,” she promised, the life gone out of her voice now.
“Be sure that you do,” the bear demanded from his end of the line. “Yade himself decided he wans yah to see it through right. So your stayin' there until its done, and done right. Understand? Now don’t forget to check customs. That shipment of old props ought to be in. When is that convention again?”
“Next weekend, K.L.” the vixen reminded her employer. “Six days.”
“Right. Very well. See Koolgin and Sons. They're on Casino Island somewhere. They should have the studio contract by now, but double check. Anything else?”
Charlene sighed softly. “I have an appointment with Miss Ullrich at 6pm on Monday. It will last until 9pm local time. Since our times are so different, do I call you, or just send a telegram?”
“Call, I’ll be here until after midnight” the bear answered. “Maybe longer. Press is sniffin' around about somethin', and I need to find out what. Distract ‘em if its dangerous. Nancy ot'ta do good for distractin. She likes tah drink after all. But if this mess hits the financial pages too soon our stocks gonna take ah nose-dive. Good luck Charlene, and goodbye.”
She hung up the phone, only then noticing that her paws were shaking. If Lucy Ullrich said no, then her own career was dead. Maybe, maybe she might get radio work. But that was no career for a real actress. “And I thought being typecast was the worst that could happen to me” she said to no one as an image of herself, on all fours, wearing nothing but a bit and saddle came to mind. Taking several deep breaths she put on her ‘everything went right’ face and exited the phone room, though she was sick to her stomach. This she put up as stress, and her moon. So, stay here until the script is done. At studio expense. Well there were an awful lot of very handsome Tourist Guides around, and Jean had shared her knowledge of precautions. It wasn’t going to be that bad of a time. Was it?
A little after Sunset Song, Lucy Ullrich found herself standing before two of her tutors. “You have discovered a way to scratch that itch?” Miss Blande asked. Her voice was that of one asking the time of day.
“Nah yet, Ma'm,” the half cougar admitted. “But we’re getting progress.”
“I see. You will have an answer before this time next week. I will not have further complaints from your classmates.”
“Yes Ma,m!” Lucy Ullrich was mortified. Who would have thought that having an imagination capable of creating the popular horror stories that she wrote, would also have the side effect of.... Lucy blushed. Well they were quite vivid dreams.
“You had a visitor today,” the hound Miss Devinski announced. “One Charlene Van Pugpug.”
“Ah missed her?” the cougar asked, her tail drooping in dismay.
“Today. Yes. She will be waiting at Song Sodas for you from six to nine PM for the next three days. I understand that you agreed with Miss Blande that you would write a certain script?”
“Yes, ma'm. I’ve ahn outline in mah head right now.”
“Very well.” Miss Devinski stood, stretching as if tired. She had used this act against Nikki with great success during the mare's three years at Songmark, and was aware that the black mare still harbored a very deep, dark desire concerning her. She was happy to see that she still had the same effect upon her current student. It was good to have a body that was appreciated, the half Labrador thought. “You will not inform Miss Van Pugpug of this. There is a project that we, at Songmark, have asked for her to arrange. You will be certain to insure that she has done so, before agreeing to write this script.” She pressed her fists into the small of her back for a few seconds, the act forcing her chest out, tightening her blouse considerably. “Now, I’m off to see Helen for the night. Miss Blande?”
“May I ask....” Lucy started, then shut her muzzle. 'Of course she couldn’t,' the young second year thought.
“Actually. You need to know,” Miss Blande answered as she, too, stood to stretch. It had been a long day after all, hadn’t it? “A travelogue of the Spontoon Islands. With Songmark shown as it is. Not as Ave Argentum has painted us to be. We enjoy the truth, young Lucy. We do not abide lies. We would like to see filming started before you sign that contract, though I still expect to see serious advancement of that work. In your spare time. Now, is there anything else?”
“No, Ma'm’s” the cougar answered. Her tail was now solidly locked sideways, but Miss Devinski had just left the room. Leaving with just the right amount of sway in her hips to indicate exactly what she was expecting tonight. Helen Whitehall was a very, very lucky woman the cougar admitted to herself, still too immature to understand that she was being played by professionals. The Huntress Lucy had spent the day with, hadn’t quite figured out how to scratch that itch, at least not after receiving a special message less than an hour after Charlene had arrived at Songmark's gates. Oh, it had been fun, exciting, but somehow the Texan had been left wanting more than she had gotten. Even though she had gotten exactly what she had paid for. Yet she had been so very, very close when their time ran out. Had Lucy known that it was by orders of her instructors, she would have exploded. That they were using her as leverage against Charlene, and Charlene against Republic Studios would have humiliated the Texan had she even suspected. The vixen was her friend after all.
“Very well,” Miss Blande decided, pulling her blouse down with a snap, the act causing it to stretch in very interesting ways. She then brushed it as if there were something stuck to it. “You have Gate Guard duty in fifteen minutes. You had best get along.”
“Yes, Ma'm”. Lucy turned and hurried off, that itch now becoming a nagging burn. She whimpered softly at the pain her locked tail was giving her. Her tutors were nothing if not skilled in using their students' weakness against them. All the Texan would have to do was ask the third-year Florence what happen during the Summer break to discover that truth. Unfortunately, it never occurred to her to do so. It would be a very difficult night for Lucy Penny Falling Star Ullrich, and her three roommates.
Not a minute after she had left, Miss Devinski returned. “Forgot water taxi money,” she explained as she opened a drawer, taking out a small clutch purse.
Miss Blande laughed gently. “Are you trying to turn every girl here sapphic?” she asked.
“Only the pretty ones,” the hound answered with a knowing smile. “Seriously though. No. Lucy has a problem. Since she’s abstaining from males until after she graduates, it would have taken her about ten minutes at the Lotus to find someone worthwhile to fix it. Instead, she sits in her room writing. That is not what we train girls here to do. We train them to go out and face their problems. Overcome them, and move on. She’s been using the excuse 'that she needs to write' for a year now. Sending her to see Charlene while that itch is a building flame will make things even more difficult for her, as I think that Charlene has a real interest in that cougar. I hope that this is all that it will take with Lucy. Bringing out the Dom in Nikki was hard. Very hard. Now, you know where to find me. I promise I’ll be back before Sunrise Song.”
“Using the secret tunnel?” Miss Blande asked.
“One of them,” the hound admitted. “Gods, if the girls ever stumbled across those. But they would have to work at Song Sodas to find them, and that we never allow. Good night.”
Miss Blande laughed, her tail curling. “As if you’ll get a wink of sleep,” she answered, watching in amusement as the hound departed again. Helen Whitehall had her hooks deep into her friend. One day Catharine would admit that she was in love, and then she would have to find someone to train to replace her. Just as Miss Pelton had. It was the circle of Songmark’s instructors.
“Crate 725-A” the black footed feline clerk repeated the next morning, checking Charlene Van Pugpug’s identification papers against the shipping paperwork in his paws. “Seventy-two pounds, pre-paid. Are you declaring?”
“That I am being basely used by my studio?” Charlene asked. “I certainly do so declare, good sir. Seventy-two pounds -- that is an impossible weight for me to carry. And that, kind sir, is not an act. I can manage fifty, for about thirty steps.”
“Most of that weight is probably in tha' crate and packing,” the older male admitted. “Still. We gotta check its contents. Preferable with you present.”
Charlene shook her head in amazement. Back in America, Customs would have ripped the crate apart, taken the best items, then packed it back up as though they had never touched it. Here they wanted her present? “Certainly. I would be delighted to watch as you burly, naked-to-the-waist well-muscled males crack open that case. Sweating under the exertion and heat. Your muscles rippling with effort, your tails held high. While your ripe male scents quickly fill the room as you labor for little me. It will be quite the entertainment for me. Especially as I will be watching from behind, and taking score.”
For the first time in years the clerk blushed. Charlene had just put him on display, and seemed eager to enjoy the view. “Well, we don’t really haff-tah,” he started, only to have the vixen wave him down.
“Please. No special conditions for me. I’m just a B-actress. But if you don’t need to inspect my shipment, I’m certain that I could get Shirley Shrine to come here. I understand that she has a great deal to inspect. Everywhere she goes. And much enjoys having her things inspected.”
A look of pure horror filled the felines face. “No. That... That’s not necessary. If you’d come this way please....” Being on display he abruptly decided, beat all-hollow having to deal with that little monster again.
Thus Charlene spent the next three hours delightfully explaining what each prop was, which serial, or movie it had come from and laughing at some of the things that had been added. “Oh I am certain that a Science Fiction fan wouldn’t be interested in Count Dracula’s hat, cape, and cane,” she happened to mention when one of the hounds held it up. “Just please, don’t let the cat out of the bag until it's over. I want this to be a surprise for them.”
“Could I?” the hound asked, indicating the items.
“Oh please, do try them on. Though I dated him twice, I never saw Lugosi in it. I’d love to see what it looked like in real life.” As soon as the hound had dressed the vixen gasped in delight. “Oh! You must keep them!” Charlene exclaimed. “They look perfect on you!”
And thus it was that Spontoon Island's first vampire actor was born. For once donning the cape and hat, the elder basset hound looked quite the part. Along with being a fan of the horror movie, knowing both lines and how to act.
Another hour plus, and several very personally signed photographs later, Charlene arrived back at the McGee resort with a rather muscular wolverine carrying the crate on a dolly for her. The crate was much too large to fit though her cabin's door, so Butterfly McGee had it placed in the storage shed. There were, the vixen had realized, enough bits and pieces in that crate to give out to twenty times the number of expected convention goers. Including the little nearly naked nickle-plated statuette of her that had been used in the worst of her series, as a mind control device. That she decided, she would give away as a reward for the best of something. What, she wasn’t certain, after all. Why did go one in Science Fiction conventions? she wondered. But she had decided to show up by surprise so she couldn’t just ask.
Butterfly did ask what was in the crate, and Charlene was quite happy to tell her. “Is something. Maybe. Flash Gordon?” the bovine asked.
“A couple of spaceship models,” the vixen answered. “One of Ming's, the other Flash’s. And one of Dale's costumes: Her wedding dress Ming had her wear, think it was. Why?” the vixen asked.
“Is a Priestess who is great fan of Flash Gordon,” the older bovine explained. “Comes often, to listen to the radio show.”
“And you would like to give her something?” Charlene asked. “I think I can do that, but only for her. No one else. And those boys, your word that you will not warn them that I am coming?”
Butterfly smiled. “I much love good surprise myself,” she answered. “No -- I ask no one to tell them.”
She helped as Charlene carefully opened the crate again, and it was but a few minutes to withdraw the costume and one of the two wrapped wooden spaceships. Studying the costume, Butterfly clicked her tongue against the top of her mouth. “Too long. I must make adjustments,” she decided.
“You know the Priestess' measurements?” Charlene asked, surprised.
“Oh yes. Have made things for several Priestesses.” She thought about her favorite priestess, and her secret desires. “This will be... fun.” Then, after helping to re-seal the crate she was off to start sewing, carrying Ming’s craft and the dress under her arm.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Charlene checked her watch. It had been a busy day, still there was enough time for a late lunch, or earlier dinner. And a visit to Koolgin and Sons before heading to Song Sodas. She decided to visit the photographers first.