A Convention ~ and Other Things
© 2010 by Mr. David R. Dorrycott
Songmark and Songmark characters copyright Mr. Simon Barber.
Used with permission.
“I’m told yah want a script,” Lucy Ullrich said in greeting as she entered one of Song Sodas many private rooms. This one did not have an ultra-thick door, nor heavy soundproofing. It did, though, have an internal deadbolt, which the cougar had openly slid closed. Charlene looked much as she remembered her. A few pounds heavier, stress showing in her eyes but all the important parts were still attached. “So Keel didn’t take yah to pieces like yah thought? Everything still seems to still be stuck on in tha righ places.”
Charlene laughed, but there was no humor in that laugh. “ 'K.L.', not 'Keel'. Not for want of trying, Lucy. But Jean walked up to the bear, shoved him against the wall and said: 'If you hurt her -- So much as a finger claw or fur tip -- I will make a rug out of you. Clear?' ” She looked away from the cougar. “Poor K.L., he’s a Kodiak Bear. No one corners a Kodiak Bear, but she did, and she made it stick.” Her words ended with a sad sigh. “I fear though, that he is now absolutely certain that Jean and I are lovers; and Jean has absolutely no interest in our own sex. Certainly not in me. Well, Jean can deal with K.L. He owns my contract so I’m stuck with him. I’ve imagined, though. A lot, lately -- but it would have to be the right woman.”
“Nothin wrong with bein' interested in yer own kind,” the Texan admitted. “I prefer males ten-tah-one, but ah like tah ride tha wild mare noh-an'-then.” She picked up her waiting tea, taking a sip. “Jus' like I like it,” the cougar observed.
Charlene waved her paw, as though pushing something insubstantial aside. “You're easy to remember: Tea: Hot like the British like it, one cube, no milk. Lucy, why won’t you take the job? K.L. is offering six thousand, and he’s never paid more that six hundred for a B-series script. He’s never paid more than three thousand for any script.”
“I’m too busy,” Lucy answered. “Songmark gives me just enough time to wash, maybe eat and kind-a get a few z’s now and then. Write? Only on Sundays, and not often then. Now they are forcing me to take my passes and use them, while leaving my typewriter in the room. It's only gonna get worse next year.”
“I see.” Charlene thought for a few minutes, than came to a decision. “Lucy, I’m going to put my cards on the table. We’re too good of friends for me not to. This is for me too: You see, if I don’t come back with a script, it’s a Shirley Shrine movie for me. And when I get out of the Happy Home, if I do, it’s the casting couch. At best. At worst, three to six months on K.L.’s farm as his private mount.”
“Private mount?” the Texan asked.
“Republic movie actresses who really, really foul up.” Charlene stood, wrapping her arms around herself. “We get two choices: Tossed into the pool, which means the worst producers, the worst scripts, and no say in what we wind up doing. Mainly that means getting shipped to different countries to play leads in terrible films with bad food, bad water and no medical care.... Or worse, DAKA films. Adult entertainment, one step above walking the wharf for returning sailors.... Or the Ranch.” She started to sit, then stood again. “Three to six months wearing rubber hooves, walking on all fours and the only clothing we get is a saddle and bit. Playthings for the A-list actors, Actresses and the boys at State Government. Of course we could go home. Break the contract, end up owing the studio everything we make until we’re white-furred skeletons. Of course, K.L. likes me, so I’d probably avoid the ranch. But it would be the casting couch. And when I finally caught -- and I will -- tossed out on my ear. Or worse, he’d ask me to marry him and I would have to. Lucy: B-level is where most wanna-be’s end up. Occasionally a B-level makes it to A, but they have to have talent, work hard and, of course, get spotted by the right director. I’ve been lucky so far. The right series, the right director, and when Jean dropped into the mix, the perfect co-star.”
She finally sat. “But that’s all over now. Jean’s gone, you’re the writer that they demand and my director is off making a cowboy serial. I’m out on a limb on my own; K.L. knows it, and he’s squeezing. Why? Because you and I are friends, and the perverted old bear believes that Jean and I are lovers. Hell, Lucy, other than kissing her behind the bedclothes for the European releases, we haven’t touched each other like that. I’m certain Jean would gut me like a fish if I tried, even if I was interested, which I am not. Not her. Now this, and I have to be all happy for this convention on Saturday.”
“I don’t have ah hearts-ahn-flowers bone tah pull on,” the half cougar half whispered. “They do all tha to writers, too?”
“Hell no. They just stop answering calls; trash scripts unopened. No more invites to parties, snubbed in the social scene,” the vixen answered. “But writers can get into other things. We actors? Maybe the stage, but it's full, so it's hard. There’s radio, but that’s a certain career-killer. Me? I’d rather play brood mare on the ranch for six months than work in radio. Nasty little box. It’ll never be worth anything compared to the silver screen.”
Lucy sipped her tea some more. With Charlene she wasn’t always certain when the vixen was acting, or telling the truth. This, though, this sounded like the real deal. “Law don’t care about this ranch?” she asked gently.
Charlene gave a short bark in response. “Hell, the Chief Inspector for the state is a constant visitor. He likes blondes. Preferably otters. Being as he’s a stallion himself, he’s broken a couple of girls already who fought him. By broken, I mean they are still at the ranch. They don’t want to be anything else. ‘Geddie-up, little filly’ is his favorite line, I hear.” And the Governor’s been out there once that I am certain of. I was there when he was, and he asked K.L. about me. Scared me to death, it did. That slimy weasel is nothing but pure evil.”
Lucy stood as well, holding her mug in her paw. “I’ve got mah own orders, Charlene,” she admitted. “No script till tha travelogue starts filmin'. Even iffin' your tellin' me that real deal, I can’t. Ahn honestly, turn that flake story inta a episode series? It ain't got the legs, Charlene. It really don’t.”
“Travelogue?" The vixen asked. “Oh God, I forgot all about it. I don’t know what K.L. will decide about it. But that’s all? Just that?”
Lucy shrugged, she had turned her back to the vixen, not willing to look at her while she talked. Crying women bothered her. She always wanted to go all mommy on them, and all dancer on the heads of those who caused it. Usually with her shotgun. “What else yah got tah offer, Charlene? Six thou? Ah’d want tah have full control of tha script. It wouldn’t be 'E’tol', though. Something like it, but different.”
“I might get you control,” the vixen answered. “We have three days to talk, and I’ll get on K.L. tonight. But you asked what else I have to offer? Lucy. Turn around.”
Lucy turned around and gasped, feeling her jaw drop, while almost losing her grip on her mug. Her friend now stood before her in nothing but her fur and shoes. Having somehow undressed, completely, without the cougar hearing her. She felt her tail lock solidly, a certain indication that this was what she wanted.
“Me, Lucy. I’ll give you me. For how long you want,” the vixen said. “A night, a week, a month. Forever, if you want. I’m yours. If you want me.”
It took Lucy Ullrich more than a minute to gather herself together again. Before her stood the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, and she was offering herself. “No,” she finally husked, and hating herself for saying the word.
“I’m not good enough for you?” Charlene asked. “Why not?”
“Because you’re my friend,” the cougar snapped, slamming her near empty mug of tea on the table. “Ahn I don use mah frien's. Ever.”
“Not even if they want to be used?” the vixen asked, though she didn’t move. She was trembling to much to chance any movement right now. She felt so weak, as if someone had poured water over her and taken her strength.
“Get dressed,” Lucy ordered. “Ahn we’ll talk. But not... Not like this.” With a force of will she managed to release her tail, but it wouldn’t last long she knew. And that fire inside her was now a raging bonfire. She gulped, took a deep breath and continued. “You lyin' about tha' ranch?”
Carefully Charlene picked up her dress, and in the doing so showed Lucy how she had pulled off the stunt. It was held on by only three buttons, and other than built-in breast support there was nothing worn underneath it. “Not a word is a lie, Lucy. It is getting better. More eyes watching; it used to be a lost worse, I’ve been told. There is something else you need to know. Two things, since I’m being so open about things.”
Pouring herself another mug of tea from the insulated pot on the table the cougar waited. Besides, the show was good, even if it was her friend. “Go ahead, wha' are they?” she asked, her imagination running wild. That was a very enticing tail Charlene had, she abruptly realized. And it had just been offered to her. Maybe her "No!" had been a bit abrupt.
“If I can get you and Jean on board. And if the project is a success -- There is a movie script waiting with my name on it. Lead in a high-class B-movie, the kind that have been known to go A on occasion. 'Dracula’s Daughter'. Oh, I get killed in the end, but I’m the main character. And they want Jean in it as my counter.”
“Maybe go A-list yerself?” the cougar asked, her tail threatening to lock again as Charlene settled her breasts into their support structures. ‘She’s my friend,’ the cougar reminded herself. ‘Even if she did offer.’ It calmed her tail, but barely.
“I could. B’s get maybe one chance in their entire career to go A. Otherwise, when your looks go, you have two choices. Quit, or go character actor. Sadly, I am no character actor.” She sat across from her friend, picking up her coffee. “That is a really special talent, one I honestly wish that I had. It's just escaped me.”
“Like tha' Mexican actor in tha' last serial?”
Smiling, the vixen nodded 'yes'. “Yes, exactly like him. He’ll have bit parts until the day he dies. Probably even a few sidekick roles in major movies. Me? Waitress maybe. Old woman in the background. If I’m lucky. I’ve got looks Lucy, damn good looks. But I’m twenty-four and those looks are going to start fading soon. When they are gone, I’ve got nothing to sell the studio. Not as a B actress. Not really. That’s why I’m studying art. I like to draw and paint. Maybe by the time that last studio dumps me around my thirty-fifth birthday I’ll be good enough to make a living at it. But I’d rather act. I am a good actress. A real good actress.”
“Ahn tha' second thing?” Lucy asked, waiting for that shoe to drop.
“I’m in love with you,” the vixen answered bluntly.
“CRAP!” Lucy snapped. “I do noh need tha' right now, Charlene.”
Charlene took a deep drink of her cooled coffee. It tasted foul, but she forced herself to drink. “So when would be a good time?” she asked. “Should I have it put on my tombstone?”
“You don understand!” the cougar snapped. “I’ve been havin' troubles. Tha kind tha makes yah go out huntin' someone to help yah with. You're mah friend, Charlene. Mah best friend outside of Helen, and she’s off galavantin' with Lady Allworthy. I don wanna use yah. I don wanna LOSE yah.” She took a deep breath. “Ah don' use friends.”
Nodding her head in agreement the vixen took a deep breath before continuing. “It's out in the open though. We’ll deal with it later, but believe me in this, Lucy Penny Falling Star Ullrich. You would never be using me. So lets set it aside and discuss this script. Oh, and would you like to attend this convention with me?”
“What kind'a convention?” Lucy asked warily -- and had the folded flyer placed in her paws. “Science Fiction?” she asked. “Why?” She knew that Charlene was changing the subject radically, but the way she felt right now, she was happy for the vixen's tact.
“Probably a couple teenage boys in dad's carport, or backyard. I have to show up, in costume, give a dog-and-pony show, hand out a bunch of old props that were headed for the dump, and have photos taken for the studio to use in a big publicity production. Its gonna be about as boring as it comes. I’d like to have my best writer with me. My best friend, next to Jean. That would be you. I promise not to grope you while we are there.”
“Jus before ahn after,” Lucy growled. Charlene only smiled in response. “All right... Dependin' if we get ah pass. From ten a.m. to four p.m. That's not too long.”
“I promise to buy you a meal, then lock you up in my resort room until you come up with an outline for that script,” the vixen laughed.
“Travelogue," Lucy reminded her friend.
“Done-and-done,” Charlene agreed. “I’m staying at the McGee’s: It's good, cheap and not filled with fat noisy tourists.” She checked her watch. “And it has wonderful memories. Oh, damn! It's time you left.”
Standing, Charlene walked to the door, opening it for her friend. As Lucy started to pass, the vixen made a noise, causing the cougar to look up. When she did, Charlene stole a kiss. “I do love you,” she whispered, then giggled weakly as the embarrassed Songmark student hurried back to her school.
“She will do it, K.L., under conditions,” the vixen said into the McGee phone. She was curled up, her fluffy tail in her lap. She was uncomfortable, her stomach was twisting and she was feeling sorry for herself. After all those letters between them, she had thought that she had judged the cougar. Thought that she had chosen the right time. Thought that her offer couldn’t be refused. Then, in her big dramatic moment, Lucy had said 'no'. It still hurt, and she had fallen in love with the Texan. Standing there, naked, with the cougar staring at her, it had crystallized: She did love her. That just made the rejection hurt even more.
“What conditions?” the bear asked. His voice sounded hollow, as though he were talking into a tin cup. Knowing him, Charlene wouldn’t put that bit of melodrama out of mind, but more than likely it was his speakerphone.
“She wants that travelogue started before she writes a word. And she wants control over the script,” Charlene answered.
“Ah don'no about the script, Charlene,” the bear answered. “She’s not a member of the Writers Guild. Least that I know of. Offer her something else.”
Charlene shivered. She was about to admit that her best offer had failed miserably. “She is a member of the Writers Guild, K.L. Robert Windslong signed her up as part payment for her first script. And she wants to write something like that story, but different. Lucy claims it won’t stand up to an expanded storyline.”
Silence answered her. She waited until K.L. returned to his phone. When he did, the hollow sound was gone. Speaker phone, the vixen realized, and now he was off it. “How much different?” the bear asked.
“I don’t know K.L. -- I honestly don’t know,” Charlene admitted. “I’ve seen a lot of her work. Stuff she never offers for publication. A lot of the latter is plain blood-freezingly frightening. She calls it her dark half.”
“I need that script, Van Pugpug. What exactly have you offered her so far?”
“Me,” the vixen answered softly. “K.L., I offered me, as long as she worked on the script. She said no. K.L., I don’t have anything else to offer her.”
Silence answered her again. Then... “She said no? What is she, crazy?”
Stifling a laugh of pure amusement, Charlene answered her employer. “Maybe she’s just not interested in girls, K.L. After all, not every woman is, you know. No matter what Thompson writes for you, there isn’t any virus called the 'Sapphic Seed'. I could have jumped her, but she is Songmark, and a second-year. She’d have broken both my arms and left me standing there in my fur for anyone to take.” Charlene didn’t mention that jumping Lucy had not been within her desires at the time. Falling on her back, though, that had been.
“I see. All right, get me an outline: What she thinks is better. Offer her a part if you have too. Just get it, so I can get Yade off my tail. It's short enough already.”
Stunned, the vixen pulled her phone away from he head, looking at it as if it had just licked her ear. Finally she returned it to where it needed to be. “K.L. -- What’s going on over there?”
Again, silence answered her, then there was a soft click. As though someone had hung up. For a moment she thought it had been K.L. hanging up. Then he returned. “You’re my best B-actress, and your as loyal as they come,” the bear answered. “Plus, hell, Charlene, you know this: I was in love with you once. So I’ll tell you the truth. But if it gets out, you're on the ranch the rest of a very, very long life. As a breeder.... So you really want to know?”
“I think that I need to know, K.L., and I never knew you loved me,” she admitted. “I guess I’m just too self-centered; I’m sorry. I think I missed a grand opportunity.”
“Self-centered? Not you. Busy with your life... Okay, then. It's Haster’s son,” the bear answered. “Remember I told you he wrote ah movie? Do you remember 'Madame Satan'?”
Charlene racked her memory. It was getting hard to concentrate, but along with being an actress, movie trivia was a hobby of hers. “Barely. DeMille, right? I think, if I remember correctly, it was the biggest flop MGM put out that year. Nineteen-thirty, right?”
“Bang-On. Damn, Charlene, no wonder I never win against you in movie trivia. Most people won’t even admit they heard of it.” the bear answered.
“It was just before my time, K.L.” the vixen reminded her employer. “My first time in front of a camera was when I was seventeen. That was ‘31, you remember.”
“Actually, no,” the bear admitted. “I don’t keep up on anyone’s career but my own. Well, Haster loved the thing. And he bought the remake rights. His son is in the middle of rewriting it. Its gonna cost the studio too much, and he wants all our best in it. That means you too, as Martha - Angela's Maid. It’ll be a flop again -- it's just too busy. The Board's probably gonna kick Haster out -- he owned Mascot Films, remember? “
“And couldn’t pay his bills like the rest,” Charlene supplied. “K.L. This is long distance and its costing you plenty.”
“I know, I know. But we need something blockbuster to afford that flop. Without it, yer gonna be sold. Half our contracts will be sold, maybe as many as two-thirds. A-list too. Just to keep the studio from collapsing. So here’s the bottom line, Charlene. Get that script. Get those girls. I’ll get Windslong to direct, Updyke to produce. Do this, I get you that film. Don’t? I have tha toss your contract into tha' pile. And Charlene, I’ve no idea where you’ll end up. It could be DAKA. They’ve nosed around about you before. Either way, because of this mess we will have tah pare down our stock no matter what. Now that you know, what’s your answer?”
Ice water was washing through Charlene’s veins as the bear spoke. Republic had always been one of the smaller studios. But that one untalented idiot could cripple the studio. She shook, trying to fold into herself. Republic had been her only studio. She’d started with that lucky break as a bit-part actress, worked her way up to where she was now. To lose it all, start over, who knew where....
“I’ll do whatever I have to, K.L. My word,” the vixen almost whispered. “Even if I have to sell myself to her. Goodbye.” She hung up and almost cried. Business wasn’t her best subject. Oh, she could balance a checkbook of course, but even she could read the financial section. An average cowboy serial costs $40,000 to make. Petunia’s last flop came in at $38,500. A big budget movie, maybe two or three hundred thousand. The entire studio was only worth about a million, maybe a million and a quarter. If she remembered rightly, Haster owned thirty-five percent of the preferred stock. Maybe a little more. It would cost the studio at least half a million to buy him out because he wouldn’t want to go. But he was a greedy man when it came to money. And a vindictive man. He’d been crossed before, when he lost his studio to Yade. And he was no idiot. He had to know his son hadn’t any talent as a writer. Maybe he was using this as a way to get back at those who had hurt him. Picking up the phone again she called Songmark.
It was Miss Devinski who answered. “Well, hello, Charlene. Lucy? Its after Sunset Song, Charlene. An emergency? What kind? Not over the phone? I see. Come to the gate, I’ll listen. If I agree it's that important, I’ll let you talk to her. Yes, right now. Good-bye Charlene.”
Forty minutes later the rather ill vixen was sitting next to the hound just outside of Songmark's gate. Still shaking she had explained everything, and now waited to discover the hound's answer. Even in the island's warmth she felt like she was dripping icewater.
“I agree you are in a difficulty. A dangerous situation,” the yellow furred hound said. “That taken, it's not an emergency. I can’t let you see Lucy until tomorrow evening. That is just how it is.”
“I... I see,” the vixen answered. It seemed so easy to talk with this woman, and Jean had several times mentioned that if you couldn’t trust Songmark's Instructors, then you couldn’t trust anyone in the world. So she opened up completely: “I guess that for me, seeing my entire career go down in flames is a disaster. But for someone else, it's just the way things go.” She shook herself yet again. She was doing that a lot since that phone call she realized. Taking a deep breath she lifted her head, looking past the canine towards Songmark’s dorms. “Jean has always had the right answers. I guess that because Lucy is Songmark, too, that I thought she would know what to do. That’s awful foolish of me, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” Miss Devinski answered. “Look, think about it. Really, what can you do? You admit that it would cost a half a million dollars to buy out this ferret. Songmark isn’t worth a hundred thousand, and I know for a fact that Miss Ullrich hasn’t that kind of money. I do not know anyone on these islands with that kind of money to throw away. And half-a-million, my dear. You yourself admit that Republic Pictures is only worth, at best, three times that. A half million dollars for only thirty-five percent? No one is going to spend that kind of money for such a bad return. And in the middle of a depression, at that. Remember, it's not certain that any Poverty Row studio will survive.”
Charlene threw up her paws in defeat. “I’m just so used to Hollywood,” the vixen admitted as her tail wound around one leg. “Someone always has money to spend. Miss Devinski.... If I had the money, I would buy the entire studio. I love the movies that much. But all I have is my land, and that’s only two or three thousand, if I could get a loan, or sell it.” She sniffed, fighting back tears. “If only Jean were here. She would know what to do, and how to make it work.”
Miss Devinski wasn’t used to counseling someone who wasn’t a Songmark student, but the puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place like they always did for her. “Are you in love with Jean?” she asked, probing.
Charlene laughed. “Jean? Oh please, Miss Devinski. You know better than that. She’d gut me if I every tried anything. And no, I’ve never really been attracted to HER. She’s my best friend, and I mean in or out of Hollywood. We get drunk together, chase the boys, pull the Hay's Office’s tails, come up with story ideas. You know that scene where her panties show? The black-lace ones? That was her idea, and we spent simply days searching for the right pair. Even then, she had them adjusted. She was hoping for a full rear view. They...”
The vixen blushed so her eartips went dark. “They have a slit, in the right place. She wanted that series to be her swan song from Hollywood. Wanted to make sure that no one would ever approach her to play in another movie. But Windslong went ballistic. AFTER he watched the dailies. About thirty times I think. We had to re-shoot the whole scene the next day. That film, though, it vanished. She still has the panties though.”
It was hard for the hound not to break up laughing. That was exactly what most Songmark girls would have tried to get out of something that they didn’t like. After she had regained control of herself the hound continued her probing. Something didn’t fit, and could only fit in one way. But that didn’t make sense. Not with what information she currently had. “So this convention you want to take Lucy to. How many people do you expect?”
“Convention? She told you?” Charlene was shocked, her jaw almost fully open.
“My dear Miss Willingswood!” the hound laughed. “We require our students to report everything. We keep confidences, but we require that they do report. We want no repeat of certain events, and we do everything that we can to protect our students. But to do so, we must have information. So yes, she told Miss Blande.”
“Oh.” Looking sheepish the vixen turned her attention back to the hound. “You won’t tell them, will you? It's supposed to be a surprise.”
“Certainly not. I love surprises like that myself,” the hound admitted. “So, how many?”
“Seven to nine, I would guess,” the vixen answered. “No more than ten.”
Miss Devinski reached over to pat the girls paw. “I have it on good record that, aside from you two, there will be eleven. It is in Mr. Koerker's back yard. He’s the basset hound that you gave the vampire costume to. And I would bet good shells that he is near bursting to tell his children. He has a grandson about fifteen, and a granddaughter about thirteen who are big on Flash Gordon and the like. I know because we do business with Customs all the time, and he’s a nice man. If a bit movie-crazy. Like you, I think.”
Charlene thought for a few minutes. “Eleven? That means four or five items each, and a lot left over. Oh well, I’m certain the local dump will accept them.”
“Items? By items, you don’t mean... 'Props', do you?” the hound asked.
“What? Props? Oh yes. From Republic's old movies and serials.” She opened her purse, taking out several papers pinned together. “The studio doesn’t have the money to store everything, so K.L. arranged a bunch of junk to be shipped over. 'Isle of Sunken Gold', 'Vultures of the Sea', 'The King of the Kongo', 'The Shadow of the Eagle', 'The Mystery Squadron', 'The Phantom Empire', 'The Hurricane Express' and all the Petunia serials.” She folded up the pages. “Along with several movie one-sheet posters, some Buck Rogers radio scripts, and Flash Gordon things that somehow found themselves on Republic's lots.”
“Stolen?” the hound asked.
Charlene shrugged “Maybe. I doubt it, though. Hollywood is cutthroat, but you're just hurting yourself to steal something from another studio. More than likely, brought in by bit actors trying for parts. Even purchased from the other studios to save money. When you're not under contract, part of your pay can be the costume you wore. Not many of the studios save things. Costumes end up getting tossed in piles to rot, for example. Its not like say, UFA is going to make another 'Metropolis'. So things shipped over from the continent for display tend to be abandoned. It is just too expensive to ship them back. The same goes locally. Being folded into Republic, Mascot isn’t going to make another 'Isle of Sunken Gold', for example. So things just pile up. They get given away, thrown away, reused, modified or just plain lost. Why, I have with me five episode scripts from the Petunia serials, one of the episodes from the Flash Gordon serial and the entire Ace Drummond serial. One of the Petunia scripts was written by Lucy herself. Its Episode Seven, ‘When Hearts Touch.’ Props are useless after a movie. They're just wood and tin with a little paint, or used scripts that are thrown away. Just junk.” She shrugged again. “Though I have complete scripts for everything I’ve been in. I like reading them, and remembering.”
“What you think of as junk, some people would kill to own,” Miss Devinski admitted. “Like the Ace Drummond script. It’s the whole story?”
“Yes, but its different actor's scripts. So one episode might have been marked for Ace, another for Peggy, another... Well, honestly, I can’t remember all the parts. I wasn’t in it, you see.” Charlene felt the energy building in her as she talked about her craft. About the things she knew. It was one of the reasons that she and Jean had become such good friends. They both had a love of their own expertise, enjoyed talking about it and enjoyed listening to the other talk about theirs. “But yes, it is the entire story.”
“I think that Songmark might like having that. It was written partly by Eddie Rickenbacker, after all. What would you want for it?”
“Lucy!” the vixen answered immediately. “I mean, to talk to Lucy. Tonight.”
Another piece clicked into place with a sharp snap. “And you have been in love with my student for how long?”
True to form Charlene blushed again, but in the gathering darkness one had to be very close to see it. “Five or six months. That I’m certain of,” Charlene admitted. “But it doesn’t matter. I offered myself to her, and she said no. She said, and I quote; ‘Crap! I do not need that right now, Charlene.’” She shook herself yet again. It was becoming a bad habit. “Its really hard Miss Devinski, to open yourself like that when you’ve been living with the sharks in Hollywood as long as I have. And get shot in the heart for it. If I’d known she was going to say that, I never would have tried. In Hollywood, no matter who it was they would have taken me. Then dumped me when I became tiresome, or couldn’t advance their career any further. It was hard to tell her, and it hurt like I’d been stabbed when she rejected me.”
Miss Devinski nodded in agreement. “Stay here,” the hound ordered, then stood and walked to the gate.
Less than three minutes later a young cougar came near flying out of her second year dorm, barefoot, still dragging her Songmark shirt on. While Charlene watched from the darkness of the shaded bench, there were words spoken between the two. Then Lucy Ullrich, her tail lowered, walked alone over to the waiting vixen.
“Yah realize that you just got mah tail ripped off ahn shoved up mah butt, pointy-end first!” she said in greeting, plopping down on the bench, but away from Charlene. “Yah have any idea how deep inta a students' life these women dig? Do yah?”
“No Miss Ullrich, I really didn’t,” Charlene admitted, sliding as far away from the Texas cougar as she could. The benches cool wood felt good. “We were just talking about the things I brought over for the convention, and film making in general. Then all of a sudden she asked me how long I’d been in love with you. Honest Lucy, I wasn’t going to mention it at all. I know you hate me already.”
Lucy snorted. “Hate you? Darlin, I don’t hate you. I just.... Well, I like yah as a friend. I like havin' friends ahn I wanna have kittens. Havin' a woman drop her drawers in front of me and professin' her love...” Lucy looked up at the darkening sky, noting that the stars were awfully bright tonight. “Was like having mah airplane suddenly start talkin' to me. Charlene. I like you. I trust you. You're ah dream come true. But love you? Hon, I’ve never thought of yah like that. Yer Charlene Van Pugpug. Actress. Beautiful. Big girl in tha serials. Untouchable by tha normal sod-walker. I’m jus a part time writer ahn a student.” She shook her head side to side. “Iffin' we’d been near ah bed when yah pulled that. Yeah, I mightah lost it. But that was ah public place. Ah waitress couldha come in anytime. Just... Just let me have time tah think!”
Charlene smiled gently. “All right. But I want you to know this, Lucy Ullrich: Script or no script. My heart belongs to you. No one else. And in Hollywood, two thirds of the men like their own kind, and a third of the women. We won’t even make waves. I promise, or I’ll leave show business and be your companion wherever you want to go. But, honestly, Lucy. That isn’t important right now.”
“Isn’t...” The cougar looked hard at her companion. Well looked, until she realized that she WAS getting interested again. “What is important enough to get me dragged out of my bed, and if you didn’t notice, wearing only my Songmark shirt and panties?”
“Pretty ones, too,” Charlene answered with a weak giggle. Then she sobered up and explained what K.L. had told her. By the time she had finished Lucy’s own jaw was wide open. “And I like your tonsils, too,” Charlene said in ending.
Closing her mouth Lucy shook her head 'no'. “Mah family's entire holdings are... well, they’re split up. When ah marry or hit twenty-five, ah get a quarter. I’ve two sisters and ah ah brother, after all. But even then, I’d have tah sell everything. And like Miss Devinski said, there ain’t no future in tha movies right now fer ah small studio. Noh with tha Depression going. Oh, I could cash in tha last of my educational fund, but tha’s only thirty-thousand. I’ve already paid Songmark in full.” She shook her head no, having unconsciously moved a little closer to the vixen. “You need ah consortium. Ah lot of people with ah little money to do this. So iffin' it fails, no one gets hurt too much. I’d say, ten people with ‘bout thirty-five thousand each. Maybe less, if yah could arrange Republic’s stock to drop in value. Without really hurting tha company, I mean.”
“If that movie gets made,” the vixen said, edging slightly closer to her prey. “If it does, and gets released the entire studio may go bankrupt. But then it wouldn’t be worth owning. They would first sell off everyone’s contracts to pay the debts, sell the studios, rights to scripts. Equipment, buildings: Everything.“
“How much tah just start your own studio?” Lucy asked softly, for oddly they were now only a few inches apart.
“Oh God. To start a new studio? Buy land, build studios, offices, find scripts, talented people. Get a stable of good actors and actress? Today? At least a million. Maybe twice that, if you wanted to succeed. You need to have a years running-cost in the banks first, because even a simple serial.... Well, from brainstorming to release, you're talking two months. Then you have to pay the labs, distributors, wait for the theaters to pay, and hope that you have something the public wants to see. Realistically, four or five releases until you hit your stride. Eight or nine months to break even at best. And I am under contract for five more projects, no matter what.”
“Yeah, and you would be our A-list actress iffin' we could pull it off,” Lucy agreed. “Having yah stuck at another studio fer who-knows-how-long would be a killer. Let me think. Alpha Rote mentioned tha one of her wife's friends is stinkin' rich. Maybe... Well, leah me have two or three weeks.” She turned to look at her waiting Instructor, her ears still stinging from the verbal lashing she had gotten. “And you’ll get your script. In six weeks. So let yer bear know you are gonna be here six more weeks.” She turned to face Charlene, only to have the vixen throw herself into her arms.
“I knew I loved you for some reason! You're just as smart as Jean!” Charlene cried as she hugged the stronger cougar.
“Ahn iffin' yah don’t let me go,” Lucy gasped, “Ahm gonna deck yah. People ar watchin', girl.”
“All right,” Charlene agreed, carefully releasing the cougar. “Until tomorrow afternoon. Then we brainstorm the script. You promised!”
“Ah promised,” the cougar admitted, standing. “Ahn will yah please let go of mah tail?”
“Make me!” Charlene challenged, batting her eyes.
In answer, Lucy gritted her teeth, twisted and pulled her tail from the vixen's grasp. “Tah-morrow,” she hissed, stomping away.
A few moments later the hound, Miss Devinski, sat beside Charlene again. “You have the girls laughing,” she noted. “They need that. I believe that you owe Songmark a script?”
“Come with me to the McGee resort, I will place it in your paws myself,” Charlene agreed.
“After watching you with Lucy?” the hound laughed. “No thank you. Tomorrow, before you meet Lucy. Or she doesn’t have a pass until you return to America.”
Standing Charlene looked down at the hound. “You are a devious, calculating, manipulating bitch,” the vixen stated.
“And I like you. Tomorrow, my word.” Taking one last look at Songmark's gates Charlene shook her head 'no'. “I’d never get past the gates, would I?” she asked.
“Not alive, no,” the hound agreed.
“Then I better start planning Lucy’s seduction in my rented rooms tonight. She said no to my naked body. What else do I have worth offering her?”
Miss Devinski stood again, now looking slightly down at the actress. “Try offering her your heart. We don’t get many truly Sapphic girls. Lucy walks both paths, like the majority people think are Sapphic. It's going to take a great deal of effort on your end to turn her eyes away from men forever.”
“Oh no, Miss Devinski. You have me wrong," the vixen admitted. “Not forever. Just long enough to marry me. I understand it's legal here?”
“But not in America,” the hound reminded her visitor.
“That never stopped Tallulah Bankhead, Beatrice Lillie, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, or Gladys Bentley,” the vixen answered. “And I like men too, I just can’t ever see myself living with one. Certainly not now.” She held up a scrap of cloth. “Maybe, one day.... Maybe I’ll give Lucy her panties back. Then, maybe not.”
“You are a scrappy little fox,” Miss Devinski laughed. “So holding her tail...?”
“With one paw, and sharpened fingerclaws on the other,” Charlene continued.
“Very well done. Two points to you for that. Now good night, Miss Willingswood. And please, take Lucy’s name. I am so tired of changing students paperwork.”
“If I win... I will, Miss Devinski. I promise. I’ll be Charlene Ullrich, and if anyone wants, they can make jokes about the initials 'C.U.'” Then the vixen stood slowly, carefully heading down to where the water taxis waited, while a certain hound walked to Lucy Ullrich’s dorm room. To ask a now-embarrassed girl about a certain piece of cloth.
“It won’t work that way,” Lucy argued. “You can’t have mind control. Not and expect your audience to believe you.” It was the next afternoon and Charlene was feeling miserable. She had thrown up on the water taxi last night, and again today.
Rubbing the side of her muzzle, the vixen Charlene tried to think. They had another ten or fifteen minutes before Lucy had to leave, and this was the second of three afternoons that Miss Devinski had promised her. “That’s what killed 'The Master', wasn’t it?” she asked tiredly. She had been up all night, working on the outline that Lucy had sent over via special messenger at noon. That messenger being one shrew named Alpha Rote, who had proven to be impossible to understand. She was still trying to make sense of it after almost seven hours. It was so hard to think though, and she was now past the middle of her moon. Aspirin normally helped, but she was so stressed-out that the abnormal cramps were killing her. She almost never had cramps. She had never thrown up again. For a moment she wondered if she had been pregnant and was miscarrying.
Lucy had noticed the vixen's discomfort, but if Charlene didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, the cougar was going to honor those desires. She had, though, slipped out and called the McGee resort and now Butterfly herself was on her way over. For the bovine, Charlene’s lithe, though top-heavy form wasn’t going to prove any problem. But in deference to the vixen's pain, she had dropped her Texas accent. “That was one part of it,” she agreed. “Mind control, outside of a comedy, scares the average viewer. They get the nagging feeling that, if it were true, then the Government would be using it. Since it doesn’t, then it can’t. It's 'suspension of disbelief'. Remember what Jean taught you?”
“Yes.” Charlene abruptly grimaced in pain. “I think so. Ouch! Um... 'Never ask your audience to disbelieve more than one thing'. She said she’d read that somewhere. It worked with our scripts.”
“Right. So Haster had, what, a teenage boy who had discovered a way to control a grown woman’s mind? All he had to do was capture her, drag her home in a cart, perform successful major brain surgery in a dirty basement with tools from around the house, then implant a powerful radio and a couple of vacuum tubes into your brain. And what did he do with her? Robbed banks and killed his Principal. Of course, he did insert those scenes where it appeared that he had his way with you, in the European release. God, I’d like to get that fool in a back room for one minute.”
“Just one?” Charlene asked.
“I’m a Songmark second-year Charlene. I can kill with one hit.”
Looking over to her friend the vixen managed to hold back the worst of her moan of pain. “Then please prove it,” she whispered. “Kill me!” she gasped before passing out.