Kama Sutra Cadillac
"That girl's in trouble," Marta announced darkly. "Wait here."
The girl was slumped against a wall, head down, her long black hair unkempt around her shoulders, her worn blue jeans and spattered white blouse speaking of poverty and perhaps worse.
Hayward sighed but dutifully followed his housemaid's instructions, stopping beneath the awning of a tony sidewalk cafe. It was summer, and sunburnt tourists were sipping frosted Margaritas and crunching tortilla chips doused with a salsa so heavy with cilantro that he could smell it six feet away.
So much for a quick detour, Hayward grumbled to himself; if this takes more than a few minutes, the freeway will be jammed with Friday afternoon traffic and I'll never get home.
Desperate to puncture his leaden gloom, he'd succumbed to the sweet pull of nostalgia and stopped by the Pasadena Playhouse, where his career had started; but then Marta had spotted the girl.
The music burbling from the cafe was Beethoven's Pastorale symphony; as a child Hayward had watched Fantasia endless times and knew the music by heart. The tourists at the nearest table wore baseball hats and designer sunglasses, as if they sought to mimic a famously informal film director, and Hayward exhaled through pursed lips. We all have our Hollywood dreams, he thought distractedly; mine even worked—for awhile.
But as he watched Marta rouse the teenage girl and gently question her, his mind was not on his past successes or Marta's irrepressibly kind heart, or his vow to make her happy just as she'd kept his mother happy in her waning days; it was on the paternity suit, the crushing settlement and his shiny new mortgage to fund it. He was less than broke now; his equity drained like an abandoned desert swimming pool, his new mortgage payments higher than his paltry income, and all this wreckage from one Cabernet-fueled mistake with a willing young actress.
You always push your luck, he castigated himself bitterly; but she was available and so why not? This is why not; either sell the house or lose it soon enough.
He'd given the distraught young actress the address of the house on Los Feliz, the one where her unfortunate condition could be remedied; and so he'd thought the matter closed. But seven months later comes the news that she'd given birth. With the DNA test, there was nothing to say; and so as he stood uneasily beside the jovially buzzing tourists, his mind was occupied with the drifting ashes of financial ruin.
His attorney had advised agreeing to child support, but Hayward had set a much higher standard for himself and his unwanted son; he'd offered a lump sum, virtually all his remaining equity in the Topanga Canyon house, so the new mother and child could live off the interest for decades to come. The way his finances were heading, Hayward reckoned this was a safer bet for the child than relying on his faltering income.
He'd keep paying Marta, of course, until the bitter end—beyond the bitter end; even if he had to go back to being a waiter, he'd keep Marta. But now, she'd found another broken sparrow, and as she guided the dispirited young woman to his aged Mercedes, he sighed anew.
"She's got no one," Marta explained. "Her father was supposed to meet her here, but he hasn't come and he's not answering his phone. She hasn't eaten in two days."
Knowing it was generally enough, Hayward suggested, "Let's give her twenty bucks and take her to a shelter," but Marta shook her head. "Senor Hayward, she's afraid of being raped."
"Smart girl," he said laconically. She was medium height and slim, with nice hips and a pleasant face—what little Hayward could see through her tangled hair.
"She's coming home with us," Marta announced. "She can stay in the extra bedroom and help me with the housework."
The last broken sparrow had soon sprouted a husband, and the couple had camped in his pool cabana for six months, only leaving after he'd secured the young man a caretaker position at an evangelical church. Suppressing his lack of enthusiasm, Hayward conceded, "Room and board, but only if she's single. I can't pay her."
"She needs food and a safe bed, not money," Marta exclaimed. After briefly describing her plan of action to the girl in Spanish, Marta guided her into the back seat of the white Mercedes and sat beside her as the girl broke into sobbing exclamations of gratitude.
"Is she single?"
"Yes, and I believe her."
"No boyfriend waiting to join her?"
"No. She's alone, and hungry . You know that tamales place off Colorado?"
"On my way," Hayward replied, and stifled his annoyance with Marta's rescue. Instead of dropping Marta off at her daughter's in South Pasadena for the weekend, there would be complications; as a result, the drive back to Topanga Canyon would be through rush-hour traffic. Both the inland route from the Valley or the trek to the Pacific Coast Highway would be slow, noxious Hell; getting to Santa Monica at that hour would be hopeless, and a new worry—his elevated blood pressure—gripped him. Stay calm, he reminded himself grimly; maybe if I can dump the girl and Marta at her daughter's in 15 minutes, I might just scoot down the 210 and hit the Valley by 3:20, 3:30 tops.
It wasn't just his native Angelos' inborn calculus to avoid congestion; he had a meeting with Stanton at 4 p.m., one which Stanton promised would end his financial woes and put him back in the green if the pieces fell into place. Hayward had been a third-tier industry player long enough to know that most projects fizzled for any of a hundred fatal causes; but every once in a long while, one came in, just like the no-name 20-to-1 horse sometimes nosed across the finish line at Hollywood Park, winning big for its unknown owner and jockey.
His big win had been the one-point share of teen-horror flick; he'd waived his fee, opting for SAG minimum, and put up all his savings for that one-percent share of gross. With a thin smile he recalled the producer trying to give him 3% of net instead, but Stanton had warned him there never was a net in Town—never. The one-point had earned him several million dollars, back when that was actually an interesting sum of money, and he'd lived off that longshot win since.
But then his Mom had become ill, and he'd done his best, finding and paying Marta to live with his Mom and arranging for the best medical care in Westwood. He'd mortgaged his house, and when his mother had passed away, he'd invested the remaining cash in several independent film projects which had flamed out. His friend Stanton continued flogging him around Town, but there were just too many new faces and too few projects. He'd kept his hand in with occasional TV gigs and one-day dialog touch-ups of optioned screenplays, but they were displays of Stanton's loyalty, not contracts which paid the bills.
"Her name is Valentina," Marta announced, and Hayward went through his automatic mnemonic exercise of associating each new name he had to learn with a Hollywood star or starlet. Rudolph Valentina, he thought; got it.
"Buenos dias, Valentina," he said affably, and the girl glanced briefly up from her tear-stained state to acknowledge his greeting. As Marta grilled the girl in quiet sympathetic Spanish—Hayward never tired of listening to Marta's Chihuahua inflection—he drove through the pre-rush hour traffic to the small tamales shop just above the junior college on Colorado Boulevard.
Marta dashed into the gaily-painted yellow and red storefront, leaving Valentina in the back seat. Suppressing his irritation over the delay and the traffic nightmare ahead, Hayward turned around and asked, "Do you speak English?"
"A little," the girl replied.
"Good," he said. "Speak English, even with Marta. You'll learn faster."
The silence grew heavy, and after shifting uncomfortably, the girl finally ventured, "Thank you, senor."
"De nada," Hayward replied, and then glanced at the clock on the dashboard. If I can hit the 210 in 10 minutes, I might just make it. Despite his skepticism, Hayward's spirits rose at the prospect that Stanton's secret project might at least stall his unavoidable slide into bankruptcy. More out of politeness than interest, he's asked Stanton a few questions, and his answers had re-ignited Hayward's hopes.
Who's the producer?
Me, Stanton had replied.
You? With what money?
It's almost zero budget, Stanton said. It's all distribution.
How many points are in it for me?
Forty, Stanton had declared, if you recruit the talent.
Hayward's heart had leaped at this staggeringly lofty share of the income, for a standard cut was a point or two, five at the top end. Forty was an unbelievably rich piece of the gross. But 40 percent of nothing is nothing, Hayward had reminded himself. A thousand projects were launched but only a handful didn't sink beneath the waves of Hollywood hype and hope.
What's your cut?
Same as yours, Stanton had replied, and the distributor gets twenty. You and I will split the talent and crew expenses—keeps the accounting simple.
Do I count as talent? Hayward had asked hopefully, and Stanton had chuckled. That's the idea. But this is outre, outre, outre, so it has to stay private.
How big is the cast and crew?
Small, Stanton had explained. One guy each for sound, camera and lighting, you and a female lead.
What is it, a play?
Definitely a drama, Stanton had replied mysteriously.
Despite his admonishment to stay calm, Hayward felt his internal pressure rise at the thought of the morning's other less welcome revelation. The new mother and his son, rather than disappearing into some shack in Malibu or Venice as he'd hoped, had moved into Topanga, courtesy of a sympathetic producer's wife, "to be close to the father."
The young woman was a petite blond, bright and sassy, and Hayward reckoned she was savvy enough to drop her depreciating 42-year old one-night stand for a younger catch as soon as her trawling net snagged one. But this reassurance rang hollow, for another possibility had plagued Hayward since morning: that Boise—yes, like the city in Idaho, she'd offered at their first meeting with a toothy, knowing grin—planned to milk the industry's sympathy as a single-mother actress stuck with a dead-end dad.
She'd certainly lost no time in positioning herself atop the heap; with the settlement signed, she was secure financially, and moving to Topanga gave her proximity to a generous slice of film industry elite. And even though the baby was only a month old, Boise had already shed every ounce of a first mother's fat. Breastfeeding had swollen her small bustline, and though Hayward had silently speculated that the change might increase her chances in auditions, she'd complained to him of sore nipples and a part lost in a prison-camp TV movie because she was "too big."
Marta returned with the tamales, and Valentina unwrapped one, she pulled her hair over her shoulders and eyed the crackling husks with an intense anticipation. As soon as the smooth cornmeal skin was exposed, Valentina grabbed the steaming tamale and hungrily tore off chunks to stuff in her mouth.
With her hair no longer obscuring her face, Hayward saw her clearly for the first time. And while he watched her chew a bite of tamale, gasp at the hot pork filling, and then swallow the mouthful whole, he fell immediately and inextricably in love with her.
For Valentina was more than pretty; she was radiant—especially when wolfing down a pork tamale with unmatched zest. Her features were perfectly symmetrical, her skin warm and clear, her eyes large and luminous with long lashes, and her teeth straight and her mouth generous; and as he glanced down at her mud-speckled peasant blouse, he saw that she was shapely in the fine fashion of a long-legged young creature bursting with life's deepest forces.
Fools rush in, he reminded himself with a sigh; you could be her father. She wouldn't be interested, anyway. A darker concern came to him; acutely aware that 12-year old girls now looked like 17-year olds and 17-year olds looked like 22-year olds, Hayward asked Marta, "If she says she's eighteen but she's really only fifteen, we have to take her to Child Services."
Though not terribly proficient in Spanish, Hayward understood enough to know Valentina said "eighteen" with the emphasis of sincerity.
"Any I.D.?" he asked.
The girl extracted a folded paper from her back pocket, and dutifully offered it up for Hayward's inspection. The photo was of a much younger, pre-pubescent girl, but the dates indicated she was eighteen. It might be bogus, but perhaps not; either way, at least he had a defense should some relative suddenly appear and charge him with abducting an underage girl. You couldn't be too careful nowadays, Hayward reflected; he'd believed Boise's whispered assurances that she was protected, and that moment of wine-soaked trust had cost him what was left of his house.
"Her father waited until she was eighteen to send for her," Marta explained. "He was afraid she would become a prostitute."
Hayward had heard about the temptations faced by poverty-stricken families with pretty young daughters, and had seen underage girls selling themselves during a visit to an industry pal's summer place south of the border. His friend had indulged himself, but he had not; it was too desperate, too sad, and though he was as hungry for female companionship as any bachelor, his mother's strict upbringing had cemented his empathy.
Knowing that his sudden attraction might be as fleeting as the beat of a butterfly's wing—loneliness and despair often wore the damask cloak of love—Hayward took the gentleman's path.
"Can she stay with you this weekend?" Hayward asked, and Marta's eyes had widened in dismay. "Every bed and sofa is taken, Senor Hayward. You know that. No, you take her home."
Turning to Valentina, who was single-mindedly devouring her third tamale, Marta explained that she was to accompany Hayward home. Her eyes widening in fear, she listened to Marta's assurances with evident anxiety.
Glancing again at the dashboard clock, Hayward said, "I need to get on the 210 freeway pronto, so make up your mind." Marta's assurances continued right up until Hayward pulled into the cracked driveway of her daughter's bare-yard bungalow, and as she firmly closed the door she gave Valentina a final motherly squeeze.
"Take good care of her, Senor Hayward," she instructed, and Hayward dutifully nodded.
Hayward swung the Mercedes around and headed up Hill to the 210 freeway, which was predictably clotted with red brakelights.
With a grim understanding that it was destined to be a long drive, Hayward rolled up the Mercedes' windows and turned on the air conditioner. The transmission in the aging vehicle had given out last year, costing him a bloody fortune he could ill-afford, but any hope of buying a replacement had evaporated with the paternity settlement. He'd driven his classic, the pink '66 Cadillac DeVille, while the Mercedes had been in the shop, but he was loathe to risk his last valuable asset on the freeways of L.A.
Hoping to initiate a tension-defusing conversation, Hayward said, "Tell me about yourself, in English, and Espagnol when you run out of English. Okay?"
He didn't catch everything, but he understood enough: a harrowing border crossing, a run-in with some bad hombres, and now, no sign of her father, and no close relatives nearby.
Pulling his gaze away from the rear view mirror with some difficulty- —he'd adjusted the mirror to reflect Valentina's face rather than the vehicles behind him—Hayward expressed sympathy and then fell into silent turmoil. Falling in love with an 18-year old illegal would be extremely stupid, he told himself harshly; but the genie was out of the bottle, and he could not stop glancing in the rear view mirror at her. This has to be platonic, he told himself firmly; taking her to bed would be like lighting a powder keg; and she's probably horrified at the mere possibility.
The junction with I-5 was stop-and-go frustration, as usual, and Hayward reckoned he would need at least two traffic miracles to make the meeting by four. In pondering the problem of what to do with Valentina while he was with Stanton, Hayward turned as he often did to classic films for solutions. It seemed like a Henry Higgins moment, with Valentina in the Audrey Hepburn role; and so once he exited the freeway at 3:45 p.m.—the Traffic Genie must have been hovering nearby, for the right lane magically cleared—Hayward drove straight to the shopping center by Stanton's office.
It was the sort of bland, featureless conglomeration of "premiere retail" that he loathed; he could feel his inner spirit wither as he as he entered the air-conditioned sanitized shopping paradise, as if the green doors were cast of kryptonite.
It was why he'd left for Paris at 22; of course Paris had its own deformities of spirit, but at least each neighborhood shop had an identifiable character, as if each were a player in a Pagnol melodrama. But American malls were like computer-generated extras in a street scene; each was as faceless as the next.
Hurriedly consulting the mall's map, Hayward led Valentina into a hair salon. Choosing a Latina stylist, he instructed her to give Valentina a shampoo and trim, and to take payment now as he had to leave. His card had less than $500 left in available credit, and Hayward hoped it wouldn't be rejected; as the clerk ran the charge, she looked at Hayward with a deeply furrowed brow and he shifted uneasily.
"Weren't you in that horror movie on a tropical island?" the clerk asked, and Hayward slipped off his shades and smiled.
"You mean Doppelganger Island?"
"The one where everybody has to try to kill the copy of themselves before it kills them?" the clerk asked enthusiastically, and Hayward nodded. Valentina asked a confirming question of the stylist, and as the young woman explained Hayward's role in Spanish, Valentina's eyes widened.
"You're a movie star," she whispered breathlessly, and he shook his head disparagingly. "No, just a bit player." Handing the stylist a $20 tip in advance—anything less would have looked miserly—he led Valentina to a trendy young woman's outlet and rapidly sorted through a rack of dresses. Holding up a tight-waisted white sundress with spaghetti straps, he reckoned it was a close enough fit, and hurried to the bored clerk at the register to pay with his credit card.
He'd carried a $100 bill for years, for luck and an emergency, and now seemed like the right time to deploy it. Extracting the carefully folded bill, he added the remaining $20 bills from his wallet and handed them to Valentina along with the sundress. Motioning her to the changing rooms at the rear of the store, he instructed her to change into the new dress, get the shampoo next door and then buy herself another outfit with the cash.
As Valentina gazed at him with wondrously lustrous, wondrously grateful eyes, Hayward fell the tingling pull of desire; smiling wanly at her, he told himself, You're too poor to fall in love, and too old; take the Rex Harrison role and be happy you have that.
Instructing Valentina to wait for him in the store, he confirmed she understood with a few words of Spanish and then headed for his meeting.
To his credit, Stanton had maintained the wiry build he'd slimmed down to after his heart attack; Hayward had even suggested adding a few pounds, but Stanton had only rubbed the gray stubble atop his head and grinned with a convert's firm faith. "When you're flat on your back while an invisible elephant sits on your chest, you start thinking about the little things you'd miss if you die," he'd said.
Hayward had noticed other changes as well; Stanton seemed to have recovered the elfin sparkle which he'd lost in his manic production days. He'd given up the Century City suite in exchange for a modest office in the Valley in a building of accountants and therapists and taken to wearing collar-less Thai shirts and surfer jammies.
Sweating from his hurried walk in the hot summer Valley sun, Hayward welcomed the air-conditioned confines of Stanton's small office. The Santa Monica Mountains were visible through the haze, and Hayward thought of his embattled house just over the ridge, barely visible from the lookout on Mulholland Drive. Calming himself, he sat down at the low Japanese table across from Stanton and poured a cup of lukewarm green tea, a staple of Stanton's new health regime.
Gazing skeptically at his old friend, he asked, "What could we possibly do that's worth 80 percent of gross?" he asked
Stanton removed his round spectacles and cleaned the lenses on his plain white Thai shirt. "How much does it cost to distribute a movie a million times on the Internet?"
"Almost nothing," Hayward agreed. "But then the gross is zero, too."
"And what's the biggest seller on the Internet?"
Stanton gave him an elfish grin and Hayward shook his head. "I'm desperate, but not that desperate."
Gesturing "slow down," Stanton said, "You know what's hot, and will stay hot?"
Ignoring Hayward's look of disgust, the producer paused for effect.
Hayward's expression faded into puzzlement. "You mean fertility?"
Stanton nodded. "You know how many women can't get pregnant? They want a baby, and even though they'll go to truly insane lengths to have one, they'd rather get pregnant the old-fashioned way."
"Which means what?"
Stanton clapped his hands enthusiastically. "The Internet is full of advice, but it's all so clinical. It's also full of porn, but it's got nothing to do with conceiving. You know how many women give up and adopt, and then three months later they get pregnant? These women are so stressed they couldn't get pregnant even if they were humped morning, noon and night by sixteen-year olds."
"So what can we bring to the party?"
"A passionate love story," Stanton replied. "And the tried-and-true bible of technique which has worked for ages."
Hayward shrugged, and Stanton's tone became more excited. "Don't you see it? The Kama Sutra demonstrated by beautiful people in love, demonstrated tastefully on your own home computer. It's not pornography, it's a fertility program. It's educational and inspirational. There's nothing tawdry about it."
Hayward's lack of enthusiasm was painfully visible, and Stanton continued with rising fervor. "Do you have any idea of how well pornography sells in the Bible Belt? And think about all the lousy porn that's out there. It's all male fantasy, blond bimbos with boob implants, bondage, and Asian girls in school uniforms. This would be targeted to women. The market's practically untouched. It's beyond galactic. The competition is zero-point-zero-zero."
Frustrated with Hayward's cool disappointment, Stanton said, "Don't you see the opportunity? The women would insist on their man watching the lesson with them, and what's not to like? He gets to watch amazing sex, and then go bananas with his lady."
Stanton leaned forward as if delivering the deal-clincher. "Look at the savings. The poor schmuck was looking at 25 grand in fertility fees and the humiliation of jerking off in a cup. Now it's all about doing his wife 25 different ways, for free."
Taking a sip of his green tea, Hayward said, "They can watch a bunch of moaning and thrashing all night long in any hotel room in America."
Stanton pointed a finger-pistol at Hayward. "The passion would be real. You seem to be on good terms with Boise. Do you think she'd be willing?"
A wry smile formed on Hayward's lips. "Before I gave her all the equity in my house, possibly. Now? I doubt it. And I'm not in love with her."
"You're an actor. Act in love."
Hayward considered his old friend closely. "Why bring this to me? There's plenty of younger guys. Is this just a favor to help out a desperate old pal?"
Twisting his hands as if solving an invisible mechanical puzzle, Stanton said, "Do I have to sing your praises? You're perfect for the part. You're 42, the same age as the target audience's husbands, only you look 34. You're in great shape, and I know you can do the work because, well, you knocked up a 20-year old."
Hayward's face did not register the compliment, and Stanton's voice softened. "Most importantly, I can trust you. This is the best idea I've had in decades, and I've got all the pieces lined up. A sexologist to make sure the advice is state-of-the-art, a crew we can absolutely trust, and a distributor with a brilliant marketing plan to saturate all the high-volume women's websites."
Although he knew it was wrong to mix love and commerce, Hayward could not stop thinking of making love with Valentina, and perhaps getting paid for doing so. Pushing the thought away, he asked, "What's the storyline?"
"I know it doesn't sound compelling, but remember our audience. The story is their story: a couple very much in love, unable to conceive, hoping to conceive. They're anxious, and so the story is them overcoming their fears, having fun with each other in bed. And at the end—voila, she's pregnant, cue the rousing music."
Hayward shook his head skeptically. "It sounds so cheesy."
"It's not," Stanton declared. "I've already got Ronnie for the sound, and he'll put together a mix of Indian ragas and Western classical romance. Wolfe jumped at the camera work, just for the challenge of shooting sex in non-cheesy ways, and Guilford is on for editing. I'm telling you, this will be cheesecake, not cheesy."
Against his better judgment, Hayward asked, "Just for curiosity's sake—what kind of money are you anticipating?"
"Finally," Stanton exclaimed. "Here's the beauty of the distribution channel. We're selling monthly subscriptions, all secure, all private, for forty bucks a pop. I already hired a marketing guy, and he says the price point is forty. $39.95 makes the sale, $49.95 looks pricey. Every week, we issue a new lesson. You want to watch it fifty times, be my guest, until your subscription runs out."
Stanton let Hayward absorb the revenue model and then continued in a bright marketing-patter voice. "But wait, there's more. For a few bucks, the customer can get a DVD of four lessons with bonus material, maybe some talking-head stuff with the sexologist and some extra footage. Once we get the revenue stream flowing, we pay a line editor to pull off some stills from the video and package a manual."
Hayward spun the tea cup slowly in his palm and said, "What's your conservative estimate?"
"About 10,000 subscribers, or $400,000 per month. The distributors get $80,000, our expenses are maybe $20,000 a month, and we split $300,000 a month."
It seemed beyond mere good fortune, and Hayward reined in his runaway calculations.
"What's to keep someone from copying each show and selling it for ten bucks on eBay?"
"Nothing except a neutron bomb."
"What's that mean?"
"It's a techie's wet dream," Stanton explained. "My son found this new technology under close wraps up in Silicon Valley. Each digital file detects the act of copying, and unleashes a virus which erases the cheat's hard drive. The industry doesn't want to piss off its customers by frying their PCs, but we have no such qualms."
Hayward shrugged and commented, "The expenses seem a little light."
Stanton pulled a page out of his notebook and said, "See for yourself. You'll need to rehearse a bit, but it's live video for 30 minutes, with light-touch editing. We pay the female talent five hundred bucks for two hours work and a half-day for three crew. A couple hundred for titles and a few bucks for sound. No packaging or shipping costs until we decide to do the DVD release."
"How many do we do a week? And what's the total run?"
"There's 23 basic positions which get worked into either 52 or 77 positions, with the maximum enchilada being 170 positions. That would be overkill, because after awhile the positions look alike. I was thinking four a week—I've got some incredible herbal mixes to keep you energized, just in case—with a 13-week production run, total 52 lessons. That should be enough to set us up for life."
Trying not to let his mind run away with the glorious possibilities of immense profit, Hayward said, "Any script?"
"No, the dialog is ad-lib. It has to be natural."
"It would be better if I did love her," Hayward said quietly, and the idea he'd tried to push aside exploded fully-formed in his mind: Valentina.
"And much better if she loved you," Stanton remarked. "Remember, it's all about the woman and her quest for pregnancy."
Hayward nodded distractedly, and Stanton said, "I've been thinking about potential female leads. The perfect lead would truly want to get pregnant."
"Too bad I don't anyone who happens to be in love with me and who wants to get pregnant," Hayward said acerbically.
"I was thinking of recruiting someone who is desperate to have a baby," Stanton explained. "Why take a chance with an anonymous sperm donor when you can make love with a handsome movie star?"
"Now you're dreaming," Hayward said sardonically.
"Not at all. There are probably hundreds of women in L.A. right now who would be willing to have your baby, because you're as good a donor as the next guy."
Stanton's enthusiasm sputtered and died. "Do I sense you have someone in mind?"
Sighing, Stanton said, "Tell me about her. And be honest."
"A young woman, mid-20s but looks 20," Hayward said, stretching the truth to breaking. "Hispanic, good looking."
"Of course," Stanton said acidly. " But you can't afford to fall in love again until this thing sells."
"I know," Hayward snapped. "But she's outside the industry, totally unjaded, and I haven't even touched her."
"What makes you think an unjaded young thing would be good in this? You've got it backwards, Hay. What we want is a either a woman who's bananas for you, or desperate to get pregnant and willing to do anything. It's got to be drilled into her life, not yours."
"So you're going to recruit a desperate 40-year old attorney from Westwood and I'm supposed to do her 52 ways while she tries to breathe tantrically. No thanks."
Softening, Stanton remarked, "I saw Boise the other day at Q.'s, and she's, well, very healthy up front now. Is she nursing?"
"Yes, but not happily," Hayward said laconically. "She complained that she lost a part because of it."
Refilling their cups, Stanton looked askance at his old friend. "Are you sure there's no spark left with you two?"
Hayward's resigned expression crumbled to the edge of sadness. "I wish I could say it had a storybook ending, but it doesn't. She's trawling for a bigger catch now."
"So, are you in or not?" Stanton asked.
"With a 40-year old Westwood attorney—no. I'd rather be a waiter."
"In a little one-bedroom walk-up in Studio City?"
Hayward's tanned face hardened. "If it comes to that."
Stanton's frustration was evident. "You're pissing in your own bed, for what? This is a goldmine, and you're too good to do a good-looking lady just because she wants your sperm more than she wants you? I don't think you have that luxury."
"Just meet my prospect, okay?" Hayward pleaded, and Stanton frowned.
"Okay. As a favor. But I can already tell it won't work. You're gaga over her, but it has to be the other way around."
Arising from the low table, Hayward said, "Maybe she will be." It was absurd, fantastic, a dream, to hope she'd fall for him, but his mind had fastened on the hope like a well-pummelled junkyard hound; it was all he could do to remain calm as he entered the shopping center and greeted the radiantly grateful young woman who now dominated his every thought.
Blessed with a second miracle, Valentina's faith in prayer and Jesus soared to previously unimaginable heights. For she'd been praying for deliverance on that Pasadena sidewalk; drained of all hope, she'd turned to God and begged for a miracle.
She knew it was greedy, to ask for another miracle; Tomas saving her from those men in the desert was miracle enough. To have found a quick-witted fifteen-year old boy in the hot night after the coyotes had taken her across the border was fortunate; but to have found a boy with the courage to defend her against three much bigger men —that was a miracle.
That she would be raped was obvious; beyond that, it was too horrible to even imagine: either murdered or sold into a border brothel, she'd heard tales of both. But Tomas had a long, very sharp-looking blade, and the confidence to use it. They'd threatened him, unsuccessfully. and then tried to bribe him, promising that he could have her first, but he'd refused; one had made a grab for his arm, and the man's reward had been a slice in his flesh that spouted so much blood they could see it drenching his shirt even in the faint starlight.
It was Tomas' second crossing; he'd already come across the previous year to find his father. And so he knew tricks which were unknown to neophytes like her: where to hide when the truck lights approached that night, driving off their assailants; where to look for water bottles and food stashed for others; how to climb on freight trains, and who to ask for a taco or package of tortillas on the way.
He was heading to San Francisco, and so he'd said good-bye in South Pasadena. When she'd asked why he'd helped her, he'd said he thought his younger sister might look like her some day. When she'd asked how she could repay him, he'd only shrugged and wished her luck in finding her father.
But when her father hadn't answered his cellphone, and the people at the other number he'd given her said they hadn't seen him all week, the miracle fell to earth; for she was alone in a strange city with only a few crumpled dollars in her pocket, and no one to ask for help.
Her mind had turned to one desperate idea after another; to make her way home—without Tomas, a hopeless prospect; to find Tomas before he left Los Angeles—again, hopeless, for she didn't know where he was heading in the vast metropolis; and lastly, to go to the nearest church and beg for help. What could a priest do, other than feed her, she didn't know, and so she'd prayed, more sincerely than she'd ever prayed before.
Hours had passed, and she'd slumped to the sidewalk in an exhaustion so complete it even drained her gnawing hunger of its terrible power. Then Marta had approached her, and now, only a few hours later, she was sitting in a plush chair at a quiet darkened restaurant of the kind she'd only seen in movies, in a soft new white dress, her hair freshly cleaned, seated across from an actual movie star and a movie producer. It was as unexpected as the three terrible demon-men who'd jumped her, only in the opposite way of being unbelievably wonderful.
Of course she'd wondered if this man Hayward would demand the same thing as the three devils, as payment for his gifts; she'd heard stories of this, too. But Marta had assured her Senor Hayward was not that kind of man; he'd taken good care of his mother, she'd said, and that was proof of his trustworthiness.
His eyes were friendly, careful, and at least once, hungry; she'd seen that look in men's eyes before, and it was why her father had sent for her. The producer was friendly, too, but only in a superficial way; his eyes bore into her with a secret aggression, as if he were angry that Senor Hayward had helped her.
But despite this ill feeling, the producer paid for their meals, including her dessert, a kind of pudding with a crust of brown sugar she had never tasted before. The producer filled her with unease, for having lived this fairy tale, she did not want it to end. She tried to smile warmly at him, to show her good heart—the old priest had spoken of her kind heart—but his expression hardened with every smile.
Her good heart worked much better on Senor Hayward, and as the two men chatted in rapid English, she prayed once more, this time that Senor Hayward would be kind to her and help her find her father.
It was too much, asking for a third miracle, but maybe, she told herself, maybe Jesus is willing to help me because I've tried to be good—even when I was tired and not feeling well. Maybe Jesus had been watching, just as she'd been told as a child, and now He was listening to her prayers because she'd earned His ear. Not for being without sin—of course she'd sinned, but only in small ways—but for trying to be kind, even when she didn't feel like it.
Looking up, she met Senor Hayward's eyes, and each broke into a shy grin at the recognition of the other's hope. For in that brief moment, Valentina had allowed herself to hope not for a temporary kindness, but for something truly miraculous: the love of a wealthy, handsome movie star with a kind heart.
Stanton's pronouncement seemed final but Hayward fought back his hopelessness by arguing.
"You said you didn't want any boob implants. She's built just like most of our customer base."
"Hay, it's not just the women we're selling, it's their husbands. We need a female lead with natural tits, yes, but healthy-sized. She's too small, and too young."
"Are you saying 25-year olds aren't trying to get pregnant, too?"
"You said yourself she looks 20," Stanton reminded him. "Most of the customers will be in their late 30s. The demographic can't relate to her."
"How can she be too brown?" Hayward asked bitterly. "Only white women can't get pregnant?"
Stanton sighed with visible exasperation. "Why are you baking this so hard? Hispanics have kids early; it's the gringo gals who wait til they're past their prime. It's not ethnic, it's just the demographic. Plus you know Hispanic TV; all the female leads are milky-white. Only the servants are brown."
Seeing victory was impossible, Hayward masked his true plans with a concession. "Okay, go ahead and recruit a willing lead. We'll both know from the first ten seconds if we're simpatico, so don't waste time with a lunch. We'll meet in your office. And don't even bother with an attorney. The last thing we need is a list of demands. I don't mind neurotic, but for God's sake get a kind neurotic."
"You don't even care what she looks like?"
Hayward eyed his old friend evenly. "You said all that matters is she's willing and anxious to get pregnant. If she's a nice person, I won't say no."
Stanton nodded. "Fair enough. Nobody wants to work with a witch, even a good-looking one. Especially between the sheets."
Hayward had left Valentina in the Mercedes, and as he walked back to his car his mind tumbled with a much different plan than the one he'd reluctantly agreed to: win Valentina, and then win over Stanton. The odds did not look favorable, but my whole life is about beating the odds, Hayward told himself.
Climbing into the front seat, he handed his cellphone to Valentina and suggested she try to call her contact numbers again. She'd been fingering her other purchases—two daring lace panties, a new red dress, blue jeans and a pink top—and she quickly stuffed these back into the glossy shopping bag. Her father's number was still out of service, but from her expression he guessed the other number had finally produced results. As anxiety twisted her youthful features, he understood enough of her torrent of Spanish to know that the father had been deported to Mexico. His whereabouts were unknown, but her relatives were saying she would need to send several thousand dollars to fund his return via coyote guides.
Valentina closed the phone, deeply distressed, and struggled to explain the dire circumstances in English. Her father had sent every spare dollar he'd ever earned home, to support his three girls, their mother, his own mother, and several young cousins who depended on extended-family generosity. Yes, he'd been able to build a new house for the family some years ago, but short of selling their concrete-block abode, they had no way to raise thousands of dollars. It was the curse of an all-daughter family, her father had often complained; daughters were an expense unless they married into a wealthier family, or sold themselves, and he refused to allow that sin.
It had taken many months to convince her father that she too could cross the border and earn money; despite his conservative views, he'd eventually admitted that he knew many young women who made reliable money as housecleaners or maids, and were able to send small money home just like their brothers. He was getting old, and tired, and Valentina believed this is why he conceded to her wish to come north to join him; it was a comfortless life, crowded in a house of mostly young men, and he worried who would support the family if he were injured or grew too weary to work.
Now the worst had happened, and he'd been swept up and deported. The family faced impoverishment unless she could find work and save enough or borrow to bring her father back, and support the family in the meantime. It was a bleak prospect for a young woman in an unknown city without close relatives to help; and as she sat in the Mercedes, watching the last light of the summer day fade from the smoggy horizon, it seemed that every miracle she'd been granted only demanded another.
As Hayward absorbed her plight, a dazzlingly obvious plan emerged in his fevered mind. Trying not to reveal his delight with her desperate need to earn money quickly, Hayward suggested that he might be able to get her a paying job, taking care of a baby.
Her answer was immediate: si, I mean, yes, I would be so happy to take care of a baby.
Seeing no advantage in hiding the truth, Hayward started the car and headed down the broad boulevard toward the Santa Monica Mountains and Topanga Canyon Road.
In carefully worded English, he'd described falling in love with a young actress, and how she had just given birth to their son. They were no longer in love, and had no desire to enter a loveless marriage; he'd given her all the money he had, and she lived a short walk from his house. Hoping that Marta could explain Boise's unhappiness with breastfeeding, Hayward simply noted that taking care of the child was ruining the actress's career, and so she needed someone to watch the baby during the day.
Judging by her inability to avoid rapid Spanish, Valentina could barely contain her enthusiasm for the job, and she anxiously asked when she could start. Perhaps Monday, Hayward had answered; I'll work on it tonight. I would give you a job myself, he continued, but I gave all my money to the new mother. After offering earnest approval of his generosity, Valentina asked potential-nanny questions about the baby: how old was he, did he cry a lot?
The road was pitch-black by the time they reached his driveway, and as the security gate swung slowly open, Hayward explained that he kept a big dog, Sage, as protection against thieves and intruders. Sage was a Highland Stone Hound, a large, keenly protective and highly aggressive breed whose bite was said to be strong enough to crack stones, hence its name. Until Sage became accustomed to her presence, Hayward instructed Valentina not to wander out of the house without him.
As if on cue, a huge dark wolf-like creature loomed in the headlights and barked viciously until Hayward rolled down his window and called the dog's name. As if flicking a switch, the dog's rabid demeanor calmed and he began wagging his tail with the happy anticipation of an overzealous puppy.
Hayward eased the car into the garage and briefly described his house: an older house built in the Hacienda style, long before Topanga became a Hollywood retreat, not large, but spacious enough for him.
He rolled down the window of the Mercedes and the guard dog thrust his massive head into the interior for an ear-rubbing. The dog's gray-black fur reminded Valentina of charcoal soot, and as the sharp stench of skunk reached their nostrils both Hayward and Valentina wrinkled their noses in near-unison.
"Found a dead skunk, did you?" Hayward noted as he gently pushed the dog away and rolled up the window. "It's bath time tomorrow, Sage."
Continuing his security briefing, he explained that even though he was only a third-rank Hollywood actor, the Internet offered so much information on everyone now that kidnapping, home invasions and blackmail were all real dangers. As a result, he had layers of security: Sage, lighting, electronic security alarms, cameras and as a final line of defense, firearms.
The motion detector lights had switched on as soon as the Mercedes had entered the garage, and Valentina's attention moved to the gleaming pink expanse of his 1966 Cadillac parked in the other bay.
"Can I drive that?" she asked excitedly, and Hayward grinned at her girlish delight in the big classic car. "OK. But let's get you settled first."
Shortly after buying the property Hayward had torn up the driveway's cracked asphalt and put down pea gravel, which crunched loudly no matter how softly one tread, and installed security lights which bathed the drive and walkway in a harsh, blinding glare. Opening the car door, he led Valentina across the gravel to the front door and watched Sage's reaction to the young woman beside him. The big dog issued a low growl, and Hayward reprimanded him, taking Valentina's hand and holding it for Sage to sniff. "This is Valentina, and she's living here now."
The dog reluctantly accepted a timid pat on the head from the frightened young woman and then sat down to watch as Hayward pointed out the unobtrusive security camera and the electronic keypad entrance lock.
Entering the expansive open-beamed living room, Valentina uttered a soft exclamation of astonishment which she repeated as Hayward gave her a tour of the tastefully decorated old house: the warm, open-beamed living room with an inviting leather sofa and deep-maroon carpet over glistening hardwood, the terra-cotta tiled kitchen and dining room, his master bedroom suite and the bedroom wing of the house which wrapped around the small swimming pool in the central courtyard. The quiet luxury of the house smelled like home to Valentina—the scent of onions and chilis infused the kitchen, and she thought that Marta must also do the cooking. To be swept from the sidewalk of a forbiddingly strange city to this—it was like a fairy tale come true, and Valentina murmured another prayer of thanks to God for His miraculous aid.
Leading her to the guest bedroom next to his home office, he showed her the bathroom shared by both rooms and then pulled open a closet to reveal some fluffy white robes for guests. Taking care to point out the lock on the bedroom door—a keyless privacy lock which she could secure from the inside—he bade her goodnight and said she was free to explore the house on her own.
The look of gratitude in her eyes injected his already-fevered entrancement with new fervor, and he tore himself away with sharp regret and entered his home office. Locking the door to the bathroom for privacy, he opened a pad of legal paper and scrolled through the long list of contacts in his cellphone for two names: a registered nurse he'd met and briefly dated, and a carpenter he knew from his days as a waiter in Santa Monica. He was able to reach both, and make the inquiries and arrangements which had formed in his mind since his first brainstorm.
A soft knock sounded, and Valentina hesitantly cracked open the bathroom door. She was perfectly delectable wrapped in a white towel, and Hayward could not stop imagining the pleasure of sweeping her off her feet and carrying her straightaway to the clean sheets of the guest bed. Forcing himself to focus on her embarrassed expression, he listened to her inquiry: Could he please show her how to operate the shower?
Summoning every shred of his willpower, he resisted the urge to fling the towel aside and embrace the gorgeously shy young woman, and entered the bathroom to reveal the secrets of the fancy European shower handle. Unable to resist stretching out the moment—her hair smelled good, and her glowing skin was so wonderfully brown against the white towel—he opened the cabinet and leisurely pointed out the soap, shampoo and other toiletries kept for his occasional guests. She stared at the bottles and boxes with wide-eyed wonder, and Hayward reminded himself that this girl was poor, and that he shouldn't take advantage of her poverty. If only she were a rich Valley college girl, he sighed; be she wasn't.
Reluctantly leaving her, he went back to his notes on the legal pad and then made calls to several other key players in the plan he was assembling. Lastly, he calmed his anxious heart and called Boise.
He carefully laid out his plan and its many benefits, but her skepticism surpassed his already fearfully high expectations. "What's in it for you?" she immediately demanded.
"Nothing except that our son gets breastfed for the recommended length of time," he said neutrally.
"Oh, I get it," she replied archly. "You're doing this girl, but you need a cover, some little job for her to do around the house, is that it?"
"For Christ's sake, Marta picked her up off the street and we're trying to help her," he exclaimed. "According to my nursing expert, any healthy woman can start breastfeeding, and it's something this young lady can do for us."
"But I have to pay her?"
"Seeing as how you have all the money now, yes," he said, and then took a deep breath as his inner pressure rose like Old Faithful preparing to geyser.
"I'm taking care of the baby," she snapped accusingly. "The least you could do is get out there and get some work."
With supreme effort he bit back a scathing reply and took another deep breath. "I'm working on a project with Stanton right now."
Boise's voice registered mollification, and she said, "I do appreciate you finding a wet nurse. I've got huge bags under my eyes from waking up every night, and my nips are getting sore."
"I know, Sweetie," Hayward said smoothly. "I know it's Hell, and that's why I've lined up Valentina to not only watch Nate but feed him, too. You know Marta; she'd love to have Nate here more often."
"Can we start tomorrow?" Sensing her enthusiasm might weaken her position, Boise added poutily, "But I still think you should pay her."
"I will, but right now I am flat broke. I've got a couple hundred bucks left on a credit card and enough cash for this month—and that's it."
"I can give her a hundred a week," Boise reluctantly agreed. "But that's it. I've got wardrobe requirements and my acting coach, you know."
"That's a fourth of what you should pay her, but she doesn't have a choice," Hayward countered, and then added sarcastically, "I'm sure she'll be delighted."
Ignoring his sarcasm, Boise chirped, "Great. I love win-win deals."
"Me, too," he said, and then rang off. It had all worked better than he'd expected; the low wage played right into his plan. With Boise aboard, he called the nursing coach and arranged for her to meet Valentina and start the lactation-inducing medication tomorrow.
With the wonders of globalized customer service at his fingertips, Hayward next arranged to borrow the cash value of his life insurance policy; thought the proceeds would go to his son, in the meantime the modest cash value was his to extract. And I'll need it, he thought as he asked that the check be express-mailed to him Monday; the little remodel and the nursing coach required money he didn't have.
The next morning Tuck the carpenter arrived early, and Hayward was relieved Valentina was still asleep while he showed Tuck his master bedroom and walk-in closet, and described the changes to be made starting Monday.
Tuck's full name was Tecumseh, as in General Sherman; for his father was a proud African-American man, a building contractor who'd raised his son strictly in a modest neighborhood near Los Feliz. Hayward had met Tuck while waiting tables in Santa Monica, and despite the differences in race and upbringing, they were about the same age and shared a rousingly skeptical view of their world.
Hayward thought Tuck was amusing enough to muscle into stand-up comedy; in the company of close friends, he invoked an absurd range of voices and accents which kept them chuckling no matter how sour the setting. But Tuck had no interest in the rat-race of live comedy; he liked the trades, and once Hayward's star rose, so did Tuck's, for everyone in town was always seeking a trustworthy craftsman, nanny and secretary, and usually coming up short on all three accounts.
When Valentina emerged from her room mid-morning, Hayward braced himself for the discovery that it had all been a brief fantasy, and that he might see her now as a mere and perhaps even slightly burdensome mortal. To his unfeigned delight, she was anything but burdensome; looking down nervously as he approached her, he wanted nothing more than to slip the white straps from her brown shoulders and kiss her wide mouth very firmly and very endearingly.
Masking his desire behind a controlled smile, he announced he would make her breakfast. A shy look of surprise lit her youthful features, and as he led her to the kitchen he told himself, even Professor Higgins ended up bedding and wedding the girl. Or strictly speaking, the other way round, wedding then bedding; that would do quite well in this case, too.
It was foolish fantasy of a middle-aged man, he reminded himself, that a radiantly beautiful young 18-year old peasant girl would fall madly in love with a 42-year old failed actor, but as he glanced at her grateful lustrous eyes, it all seemed possible. It should be impossible that a dead-broke, down-hearted 42-year old should find love so quickly and easily; but coming to Hollywood had been just as impossible, and he'd managed well enough that hair stylists still recognized him.
While he made the morning coffee in the French press, Valentina went straight to the fruit bowl and immediately peeled the largest banana on the hand, consumed it with the lustful greed of someone deprived of sustenance for days, and promptly added two plump plums to her snack.
Marveling at the animal vigor of her appetite, Hayward assembled batter from scratch, showing her the secret to light pancakes: separating the egg, and whipping the egg whites into creamy firmness. Eschewing formality, he served her right at the kitchen counter, and looked on in amazement as she cut off a hefty slab of butter for each pancake. Ah, youth, he thought with another kind of hunger; for Valentina was never more entrancing than when she was eating in unguarded delight.
The doorbell rang, and Hayward revealed the news he'd held back for maximum effect: she had the job, but she would have to learn to feed the baby herself. The feeding nurse was here to show her how. This was an entirely disingenuous reference to the arduous intimacies of breastfeeding, but in her happiness with employment and the promise of income to help her family, she only nodded —just as Hayward had expected.
Despite the embarrassment which flustered Valentina and reddened his own tanned face, Hayward sat in on the meeting between the no-nonsense nurse with a short graying pony-tail and wide-eyed Valentina.
She knew of women who fed another's baby while the mother was ill or went to work, but they too had been mothers; she had never heard of a virgin being able to feed a baby. But this nurse with her strangely accented Spanish explained that it was Nature's insurance; should the mother be unable for some reason to feed her own baby, a sister or relative could do so, even a virgin one. It would take about a week for the milk to start flowing, and now there was a safe herbal medicine to help the woman start lactating.
It was an odd-sounding word, lactating; and a sudden anxiety welled up inside Valentina. What if she couldn't produce milk? The job, she already sensed, would be gone. But the kindly nurse answered her stumbling fears with calming reassurance; once a hungry baby was suckling her, Nature would answer the baby's cry for food. It was God's way of feeding babies who had lost their mother, the nurse said, and with those words, Valentina's anxiety dissolved. This was another miracle God had given her: a chance to feed a hungry baby and make enough money doing so to bring her father north again. Yes, it was unexpected, but no more unexpected than being found by a kindly woman while she sobbed in purest hopelessness on a Pasadena sidewalk.
The nurse then gave her a booklet in English and Spanish with drawings of how to hold the baby against her and how his mouth should be positioned over her nipple. Knowing it was wrong, but unable to resist the thought, Hayward mused, If you need someone to demonstrate, allow me; but adding such crass sexuality to what was essentially mealtime for his son was beyond verboten. All in good time, he told himself; just be patient, and you'll soon taste how sweet she is.
The doorbell rang again and in swept a petite young woman in a midnight-blue smock with loose, blunt-cut blond hair and an air of authority that far exceeded her age. In her arms she carried an infant, and as Valentina and Hayward arose in unison, he calmed himself with a deep breath before introducing the two young women. This was a critical juncture, for if Boise took a disliking to Valentina, then the deal, and all his carefully interwoven plans, would come apart.
To his relief, he saw the desperation in Boise's wary blue eyes as she shifted their son to extend her hand to Valentina. She clearly wanted this to work, wanted it very badly; and with a new confidence he knew she would happily accept Valentina, who shyly asked to hold the baby. It was an endearing moment, this transfer of responsibility and love, but one laden with its own dangers.
For if her inexperienced fingers hesitated or fumbled the precious burden, then Boise would have to nix the deal. But Valentina's long experience with babies and children in the village was instantly visible, and instantly reassuring to both mother and father. The nurse soon seated the two young ladies on the leather sofa—there was but a year or so between them, Hayward reckoned—and then turned her gaze to shoo Hayward from the room.
Hurrying to his office, Hayward sat down at his expansive computer monitor and activated his home's security interface. The security camera which unobtrusively kept a watchful eye on the living room could be controlled, of course, and as he directed the camera to focus in on the three seated women, the attached directional microphone picked up their conversation.
Boise was listening with perfunctory interest to Valentina's brief, tongue-tied account of being saved by Marta and Senor Hayward. A secret but extremely gratifying gloating filled his being. For Boise's hunger to be rid of the demanding feeding of her infant was more visible with each passing moment, and that desperation fed directly into his plan, as did her tight-fisted parsimony with Valentina's wage.
Hayward reckoned he should have felt either pity or loathing for the mother of his son—pity for her plight as an overwhelmed young mother or loathing her shameless hurry to be rid of his feeding—but instead he felt sympathy and, strangely enough, renewed desire. For in her need for freedom and respite, she had become human again; and as she lifted up her T-shirt and unsnapped her bra, revealing a breast swollen with nourishment, she became a highly desirable woman once again.
For Nate had begun to squirm during Valentina's story, and at the nurse's quiet urging the meeting had moved from introductions to demonstrating the proper way to latch a hungry baby's mouth to a swollen nipple. Boise was completely unself-conscious in front of the other women, and Valentina looked, at least to Hayward's eyes, taken aback by the brazen insouciance of Boise's nursing.
Explaining that the baby's sucking would induce milk flow, the nurse motioned for Valentina to slip off her bra and let the white dress fall to her waist. Hayward saw her redden in embarrassment, but she dutifully complied, and he whistled in appreciation as her elegant young breasts were bared. The nurse adeptly uncoupled the hungry baby from Boise and positioned him in Valentina's arms, latching his mouth onto her virgin breast as she explained the proper methodology of inducing a copious flow of milk.
Nate took to the new breast with the enthusiasm of the recently deprived, but his efforts went sorely unrewarded. Despite her attempts to act as if this were all in a first day's work, Valentina's strained expression telegraphed her unpleasant surprise at the sucking power of the young lad at her breast; as she smiled bravely, the nurse explained that the more the baby suckled her, the stronger the signal for milk production would be. Ideally, she said, Valentina would suckle the baby as often as Boise—every few hours.
"Oh, I could help with that," Hayward exclaimed under his breath, for his desire for Valentina had taken a predictable leap from standard-issue lust to churning passion at the sight of her soft brown flesh.
Even as a weirdly entangled desire for both women wound through every fiber of his inner being, he was aware of the Freudian undertow of his arousal and the peculiar appeal of the young ladies' breasts as sources of both nourishment and gratification. His mother had explained that his sister had bit her nipples so hard that she couldn't bear to nurse him, and this deprivation no doubt played into the strong appeal of the two bare-to-the-waist young women sitting side by side on his leather sofa.
But it was more than that, Hayward thought as he zoomed in on his new love's oh-so-tender flesh; for the vulnerability of both young women aroused his natural sympathies. Boise—so snidely calculating in their conversations—was now revealed as a burdened young mother, struggling to feed her new baby every exhausting night and career-driven day.
As for Valentina, Hayward sensed her acute insecurity, her youthful idealism and her desire to bear any cost to help her father and her family, even if it required the indignity of baring herself to strangers and feeding someone else's baby with her own milk.
At the nurse's instructions, Valentina shifted Nate to her other breast. The baby failed to lock onto the nipple, and the nurse patiently explained again how to offer up the nipple and how to position the infant's mouth and chin. Visibly flustered by her awkwardness with what should have been a natural task, Valentina tried again with better results. While Boise all too obviously restrained a desire to show her how it was done, Nate vigorously attempted to extract the expected milk from Valentina's now-swollen nipple.
As her son began fidgeting in frustration at the unexpectedly barren breast, Boise lifted the child to her waiting supply of milk and Valentina retrieved her dignity by raising the dress straps back up to her shoulders. As Nate latched onto the gratifyingly leaky nipple, the women briefly discussed a schedule of babysitting. Hayward sensed the polite formality between them, and hoped it didn't mask a obdurate coolness.
The feeding ended, and as the three women gathered at the door, Hayward dashed out to see them off. As he entered the room, Boise shifted the infant in her arm and spontaneously reached over to give Valentina a brief hug—the first sign of affection Hayward had witnessed her offer anyone since their champagne-fueled night of romance.
Boise wanted to show Valentina her cottage down the road, and so the three said good-bye to the nurse—email me a bill, Hayward had advised her privately—and then set off down the winding driveway to the road.
The producer's estate was only a few hundred yards from Hayward's far more modest property, and after slipping round the security gate they entered the paved courtyard and approached the guest cottage. It was charming, steep-roofed board-and-batt structure in the storybook style popular in 1920s Hollywood, with a shady avocado tree that littered the old brick walkway with large dried leaves.
The requisite tiled swimming pool lay just beyond a grape trellis heavy with new green clusters of ripening berries, and Boise led her new babysitter to a well-shaded spot beneath the trellis that looked out on the calm azure water of the swimming pool. A sturdy wooden crib had been positioned by a folding chaise lounge, and Boise explained that she would often bring Nate here to nap while she rested or read a new screenplay.
Satiated by his mother's milk and the soporific, swaying ride back home, Nate was asleep in Boise's arms. Lowering her swaddled baby into the crib, she whispered for Valentina to stay with the baby while she discussed business with Senor Hayward. "We'll change his diaper when he wakes up," she told her new employee, and then led Hayward round to the cottage.
Girding himself for some new financial squeeze, Hayward passed the heavy leaded-glass front door and followed her dutifully through the small living/dining room to the dwelling's sole bedroom. Despite his sour expectations of more demands, he admired the way she'd decorated the room into a cheerful nursery for their son, with gaily colored mobiles of bright yellow and red stars which dangled invitingly above the crib.
She turned round and he prepared to placate her; but instead, a tender look softened her gaze and she pulled him into a kiss. "That was very sweet of you to find us such a nice babysitter," she murmured between kisses.
Before he could even conjure up an aw-shucks statement, she unbuttoned his shirt and pulled him past the crib to her unmade bed. It was a revelation, her desire for him; relenting to the powerful hungers of gratitude and comfort, all her pent-up emotions finally found a long-suppressed physical expression.
It had been too long for either of them, this drought of human touch; and her concentration as she quivered above him was as astonishing as her invitation.
Though this reunion offered many joys, Hayward's mind had wandered to Valentina, and daydreams of her lithe brown body pressing him to the bed. This wandering trail of thoughts induced a sharp guilt, for it was wrong to stray from the plentitudes of Boise's gift; but he couldn't stop imagining it was Valentina weighing on him, and he was sorry to end these imaginings.
There was another source of guilt, one that caused an inner sigh: Valentina's new role as wet nurse wasn't generosity, it was self-serving; even Boise's gratitude played into his Grand Plan to escape poverty and bed Valentina.
Heavy with guilt, Hayward cuddled against Boise and whispered ample appreciations of her gifts and her full-bodied gratitude.
Her voice betraying vulnerability, she asked, "Is there someone else in your life?"
"No," he answered, for it was true. "Just you and Nate. And Marta, of course."
An ambiguous smile flitted across her thin lips, and she said matter-of-factly, "I thought you'd abandoned me."
Keenly aware that they were now tied for all time by their son, regardless of how many places and lovers each moved through, Hayward said, "We're together forever, baby."
Boise accepted this without comment and then remarked, "If this wet-nurse idea actually works, I can up Valentina's pay to 200 a week."
Hiding his alarm at this sudden generosity—reducing Valentina's need undercut the heart of his plan—he replied, "That's generous of you, but don't go in the hole. I can't help just yet."
"Speaking of that—how's the project with Stanton going?"
"Still just talk," he said dismissively. "He's working on the financing."
"Any part for me?" she asked lightly, and Hayward stiffened involuntarily. Stanton had made it abundantly clear that Boise was his first choice for the Kama Sutra Project's female lead, and Hayward wondered if his old friend had seen something he'd missed. But to offer the part to Boise meant not offering it to Valentina, and he balked at that ruination of his seduction.
On the other hand, Hayward worried, what if Stanton feels out Boise in a little chat? "Maybe," he replied cautiously. "You know Stanton loves you, but he has a lot of other people to answer to. He'll do his best, but you're still an unknown commodity."
Sitting up, Boise snapped, "Being pregnant didn't help. Once my tits get back to normal, I'll have a better chance."
Sensing her frustration, he said soothingly, "You're probably getting more calls because your big."
Returning to her customary cattiness, she snarled, "You really are out of the loop. Big tits are passe. Everybody wants what they call the Lauren Bacall/Myrna Loy look. I had to find some pictures on the Web to see what that meant."
Noticing the faint sour odor of old diapers in the room, he arose, pulled on his clothing, tied up the plastic bag in the pail and took it out to the trash can. This is the fruit of spontaneous love, he sighed; a full diaper bag.
Acting as if nothing intimate had just risen to immediacy and then fallen into afterglow, Boise joined him a moment later and together they went out to Valentina and their son. The infant was still sleeping in the shade, and Valentina was gazing longingly at the calm waters of the pool. "You can borrow one of my bikinis if you like," Boise offered, and Valentina's expression telegraphed her desire to slip into the cool blue water. Turning to Hayward, Boise said, "Valentina will stay with me today. We'll come up to your place for dinner."
"Marta isn't here to cook on the weekends," he reminded her, and Boise offered a grin which displayed her youth in full measure. "Don't worry. I know my way around a kitchen."
Straining to mask his astonishment—she'd never offered to prepare a meal before—Hayward nodded and said goodbye to Valentina, who waved cheerfully, for her mind was calculating how to divide her wage: $5 for herself, $5 for the wire fee, $90 sent home. Assuming her father was heading home, he could manage the household on that until she could find a better-paying job. She'd called her Mom, but her father wasn't home yet; no need to worry, her Mom had said; if he was broke, it would take a little time.
Thank you, God, she intoned silently, for bringing Senor Hayward to me, and for this job. It wasn't as much as father had sent, but it was far better than zero.
Hayward returned home swirling with worries. Was Boise trying to ingratiate herself now that an acting job might be at stake? If there was anything certain in her, it was ambition and self-preservation. Her generosity to Valentina might throw a monkey wrench in his plan, too; if Valentina wasn't suitably desperate for a large sum of money, he'd have no toehold.
Spotting Tuck's truck in the gravel driveway, he was relieved Valentina was with Boise. For the work had to be kept secret; he could trust Tuck, but he wanted no explanations to Marta or Valentina.
It was fairly simple work: cut a new exterior entrance into his expansive walk-in closet, add insulation to deaden any sound, and wall off the door to his bedroom with a heavy one-way mirror. Hayward kept few clothes, and his few suits could fit in the tall wardrobe he kept in his office. As rarely as Marta ventured into his bedroom, it was unlikely she'd even notice the mirror. The housecleaners might, but probably not; they saw too many rooms in a week to note his new mirror.
Tuck was around back, and had already cut the siding and framing for the new entrance. Hayward carried the new door from his truck, and stood by with a level as Tuck installed the new frame. After a short lunch break, they moved into the closet and dismantled the shelving. By day's end, the opening had been sealed with the new full-length mirror and sound insulation tiles had been attached to the walls and ceiling of the small space.
Thanking Tuck for his fast work and confidentiality, Hayward wrote a post-dated check for his time and materials, and added a bonus. Tuck demurred, casually referring to the gargantuan settlement with Boise. Hayward nodded grimly, but insisted he take the full amount; you took care of friends, regardless of cost. That had been his way from the first, and it would remain so, even if he ended up waiting tables again and living in a Studio City walkup.
The only thorn in their friendship was Tuck's wife Sass, who lived up to her name all too fully. Part-Cherokee, part French-African and all Cajun, Sass had always viewed Hayward as part of the soft underbelly of Hollywood, the two-bit former player sunk to mere womanizer, and though he'd had few relationships in the twenty years of their friendship, his out-of-wedlock baby with Boise had cemented her judgment like the banging of a hanging judge's gavel. Tuck had tried to defend him, of course, stating that he'd given Boise and the baby all his money; but Sass continued to tolerate Hayward's existence in their social circle more as a duty than out of forgiveness.
"Better not mention to Sass where you worked today," Hayward cautioned his friend, and Tuck nodded knowingly. "Mum's the word, guv'nuh," he replied in a richly exaggerated Cockney accent.
Tuck passed the two young women as he exited the driveway and waved goodbye to Boise, who returned his salutation. Exhausted by the day of physical labor, Hayward opened a Dos Equis beer and slid gratefully onto the leather sofa.
As Boise sliced red peppers, bantering cheerfully, Valentina sat on a nearby stool with Nate. Boise's chirpy energy was so unlike her that Hayward worried she'd gulped some mood-enhancing medication.
The secret to her lightness, it turned out, was sleep; she'd taken a long siesta all afternoon and awoken refreshed. It was Valentina who was flagging, and when the time came to feed the baby, she followed Boise to the guest bedroom in the slouching posture of a drained new nanny.
Boise returned some time later without the baby, who was asleep on the guest bed with Valentina. Nate, she explained to Hayward, had soon realized Valentina's breasts were dry, and to keep him trying, they'd dabbed some condensed milk onto Valentina's nipples. The ruse worked well enough, but Boise confided doubts that the wet-nursing would work; Hayward reassured her that Nature always provided backup.
Boise's meal of tofu patties, brown rice and sautéed red peppers was more flavorful than Hayward expected, and as the women rose to answer the baby's squalls, Hayward fielded a call from Stanton.
"So did you ask Boise about the project?"
"I mentioned it, but not the details."
Hayward hesitated before replying. "It's too soon. She's exhausted."
Stanton's silence telegraphed his disappointment. "I understand, she's not ready for that kind of action. Well in that case, you better meet me at my office tomorrow. I've got a prospect—a recruit from my wife."
With a supreme effort Hayward lent his voice a positive tone. "Great. See you at noon."
The next morning, Valentina emerged from her room in a worrisomely quiet mood, and under Hayward's gentle probing she revealed her own doubts: if the wet-nursing didn't work, then what would happen? Let's not even think about it until we've given Nature a chance, he reassured her; don't worry, Boise and Nate like you and your body will answer his hunger. In the meantime, eat well, and get your rest.
As he drove down the hill to Stanton's office, his own anxieties sharpened. What if this wet-nursing didn't work? Boise would now want another wet-nurse, and Valentina might flee for calmer waters. All I need is a little time, and something to break my way for a change, he told himself; God, isn't it about time for a break my way? Even though I'm a sinner, I've tried to do what's right for Boise and Nate.
Though he'd expected little enough, the meeting with Stanton went worse than he'd feared. The prospective lovebird was middle-aged, plump, with blunt-cut chestnut hair, and though her face was attractive, her evasive smile made him nervous. She was single and wanted a baby, and she had the income to support it.
Stanton fidgeted the entire time, adding another layer of tension to the already stressful meeting. At the prospect of having to bring himself to arousal with this woman, Hayward's resolve sank into the sand; he couldn't do it, not even for a million dollars. Once, maybe, but 50 times? No way.
After she left, Stanton grudgingly revealed her profession.
"A psychotherapist?" Hayward shouted. "I said no lawyers, but this is even worse. She'd pick me apart like a crow on a dead squirrel."
"Don't get over-dramatic on me, Hay," Stanton said. "We need a female lead and we need one fast, or our window of no competition will slam shut. I just heard that another outfit in Burbank has a similar project in development."
The two old friends exchanged weary glances. Competition was as much the mother's milk of the business as financing—how else to explain two animation features about ants released within months of each other?—and Hayward exhaled wanly at the prospect that this last best hope was about to dry up and tumble away.
Calming himself with a deep breath, Hayward said, "Give me until Friday."
"What you have in mind?"
"Never mind that. Just give me the phone numbers of the crew and this sexologist."
"Hay, this won't work if we don't trust each other. I know who you have in mind—the young Hispanic girl. And you know she's not right for it."
"Give me a chance to work on Boise," Hayward replied stolidly. "She's tired of breastfeeding, so we've got Valentina working on being her wet-nurse."
Stanton's dour mood lightened. "Oh, I get it. Mommy is too tired from waking up every night to feed the baby to think about sex."
Hayward nodded curtly, and Stanton smiled for the first time that day. "I see your plan now. Good thinking. You must be eating a lot of fish."
"She'll want a lot of money," Hayward grumbled, and Stanton waved the complaint aside as if it were a tired fly. "I'll give her four points of my gross. That's four times more than she'd get anywhere in town, even if she was humping both Mr. and Mrs. Producer."
At the sight of Hayward's grim expression, Stanton chuckled lightly and then handed him a business card with the requested phone numbers. "Just an expression. Go get her, Tiger. Grrr."
Lying had come more naturally than Hayward had expected, and he attributed its velvety ease to his acting experience. Every role was a lie of some sort, he mused as he headed home, and this was his most important role since Doppelganger Island. Maybe his most important role ever. Even if the net was only a thousand a week, he could survive. And maybe, just maybe, it would end up much higher.
Suspecting Stanton would follow up with a call to Boise, Hayward drove straight to her cottage. Valentina and Boise were both poolside with the baby, and Hayward peeled Boise off the chaise lounge to discuss the proposal in her living room.
I've got to say this just right, Hayward coached himself nervously; I don't want her to say yes or no. Hayward hesitated long enough to enjoy Boise's tanned firm flesh and skimpy white bikini, and then dove into a careful description of Stanton's project: an online "how to get pregnant" series based on the Kama Sutra.
Boise's reaction was swift. "You guys really know how to dream," she said mockingly.
"Stanton thought we'd make the ideal couple for it," Hayward rejoined, and his shrug communicated more than his words.
"And you agreed," Boise noted archly.
"Look, baby, parts are hard to come by. It's his idea, and he's promising you four points of gross."
The young aspiring actress didn't have to mull the offer long. "I'm sure the money is great, but if I wanted to do porno I could have stayed in Vegas."
"It's not porno, it's educational and inspirational," Hayward said defensively.
"Kama Sutra Secrets of Fertility."
"Of course," she said disparagingly. "I'm just surprised you both sank to this so quickly."
Her superior tone rankled, for Hayward had only accepted out of the purest financial desperation —of which Boise was the cause. "He's got some other projects in the fire, too."
"Then why not get me a part in one of those instead of this porno project? Is that all you guys think I'm good for?"
"Not at all," he replied in a placating tone. "It was just the most lucrative."
"I want to act, not ring the cash register," she snapped. "I sure hope Valentina's milk comes in like you say. I am so damn tired of being tired."
"It takes a week," he sighed. "Just be patient a few more days."
Happy to leave the company of his disgruntled ex, he left the two women to feed his son and then headed home to report to Stanton.
Picking up his phone, he placed the call and said, "The answer is no, but if you gave her a higher-visibility part, that might soften her up. What have you got?"
The connection faltered, and Hayward reckoned Stanton was driving into the San Gabriels or up the coast to Santa Barbara. "Say again?"
"I said Blue Bikers Take Borneo," Stanton repeated. "It's a pilot I'm pushing on Paramount. Born-again bikers and their chicks are paroled from prison to convert heathen head-hunters in Borneo. It's convert or die, death by blow-gun, Harleys rumbling through thatched-hut villages, just great, great stuff."
"Uh-huh," Hayward said dryly. "A real Masterpiece Theater"
Immune to irony, Stanton continued enthusing. "If the pilot works, they might pick it up for a series."
"Anything in it for Boise?"
"A couple things might work. There's an American tourist gal who gets captured by the head-hunters, then tortured and ravished in a religious rite."
"I'm sure she'd love it," Hayward offered in laconic sarcasm.
"People are going to see her screaming for mercy, stripped to her panties and tied up for sacrifice. You don't get any better visibility than that."
"Any speaking parts?"
"She's probably not ready for this level, but there's a little biker chick who has to win the respect of the other tough chicks."
"She'll be perfect."
"Don't promise her anything," Stanton cautioned. "It's a juicy role and the line is already around the block."
Heaving a sigh of relief—both Boise and Hayward heard "maybe," just as he'd hoped—Hayward parked the sputtering Mercedes and left messages for the crew and the sex therapist. It was Sunday, and he didn't expect anyone to answer; but by happenstance both Ronnie and Wolfe were available early Monday, and the sexologist could come by that afternoon.
The next morning, while Valentina slept and Marta waited for him in Pasadena, Ronnie and Wolfe drove up in Wolfe's vintage cream-colored 911 Porsche. Steeped as he was in film history, Hayward saw them as a modern-day Laurel and Hardy, minus the bowler hats; Ronnie was pudgy, ill-dressed and easily annoyed, while Wolfe was tall, lean and partial to wild outfits scrounged from his visits to the downtown wholesale district.
As free-lancers, each owned his own equipment and worked with a handful of small production companies, shooting commercials, live action and the occasional documentary. As Hayward stood below, hoping his ceiling joists would support the soundman's bulk, Ronnie rigged a mic through the attic crawlspace and Wolfe set up a production-quality digital video camera behind the mirror in the former walk-in closet. They then wired a remote for him to turn off and on the equipment from bedside, and tested the camera angle and sound quality.
Although Hayward expected their patter to make mocking reference to the setup's obvious purpose, neither made any comment, and he was left wondering if this was such an ordinary installation nowadays that it elicited no reaction.
After they left, Boise dropped Nate off with Valentina and Hayward headed out to pick up Marta, who was astonished at the turn and speed of events, and at the premise that a virgin's milk would flow simply from suckling a hungry infant.
Hayward reckoned a female sex therapist would probably be incredibly plain; her name, Cherry Fox, had the slightly disreputable ring of an ingenue's first stage name. In person, she was middle-aged, bespectacled and frumpily dressed, with long purple-streaked hair and a disarming, almost shy smile.
She struck Hayward as one of those women who were attractive enough in youth to dream big, but then as the grind of SAG dues, missed chances and disappointing cattle calls took their toll, turned to one of the professions beyond the sound stage. Some became talent agents or screenwriters, others became line editors, and others simply waitressed in one of the hot studio hangouts in Culver City. Ms. Fox had become a clinical expert in the industry's unofficial stock in trade, sex, and Hayward reckoned she made a very good living indeed.
Seating her in his office with a cup of chamomile tea—coffee had been passe for some time in town, at least he was still connected enough to know that—Hayward sat down across from her.
"Stanton briefed me on the project," she began, "and I think the first thing you need to know is that Nature provides every man with a very powerful love potion."
Feeling uncomfortably like a 9th grader in sex-ed class, he remarked, "Really?"
"Semen," she stated triumphantly. "The way to make a woman fall in love with you is to have tons of unprotected sex with her."
Unable to repress a slight grin, Hayward said, "If she's willing to have tons of sex, she's probably already in love."
"Not necessarily," Ms. Fox countered. "She might simply be attracted. But research has found that semen is rich in powerful hormones which act directly on the female brain, flooding her with chemical triggers for bonding and love."
"So the more she makes love—"
"With the same man," Cherry interjected.
"—With the same man, then the more she falls in love with him."
"Correct," Cherry said approvingly.
"So she could feel very much in love but not really be in love."
"Yes. The more she makes love, the more in love she feels, and the more she wants to make love, She's swimming with the chemicals of falling wildly in love, at least until she gets pregnant. Then the chemicals change, but Nature already won; she has a baby."
This reminded him of Boise, and his sober expression led Cherry to change subjects. "Stanton tells me the actress is breastfeeding. Now the good thing about breastfeeding is that it's as effective a birth control technique as the pill. It makes sense, of course, because Nature wants each baby well-fed before the next one arrives. But this only works as long as the mother is lactating regularly."
Hayward nodded thoughtfully, his mind whirring over this revelation, and Ms. Fox continued. "I understand you'll be working in a tight production schedule, and I brought some enhancements for you."
She removed two large plastic bags of pills from her voluminous purse. Holding up the first one, she said, "This has an excellent reputation in the gay community as an herbal equivalent of Viagra. It's very safe and my clients have reported that it works well as long as you're not overworking your lifestyle."
Hayward accepted the bag and she held up the second bag. "Your female lead might find these useful. These are extracts of the chemicals in crystalline amphetamines that trigger strong libido and reduced inhibitions in both sexes, but especially in women. As an herbal extract, it's safe, and outside the FDA rules."
Leaning closer, she confided, "One of these plus champagne is really Love Potion Number Nine. I've gotten amazing results with that combination."
The grim speculation of who Ms. Cherry Fox made love with, and with the aid of what stimulants, crossed his mind, and he drove that distressing thought away with thoughts of Valentina pulling her panties down over her winsome derriere. Placing the bags in his desk drawer with the curious anticipation of a hungry lover, he turned back to Cherry Fox and asked, "When you say 'make tons of love,' what does that mean in terms of frequency?"
"Once a day should do it," she replied, "especially if she has an orgasm."
Answering his unstated curiosity, she explained, "During orgasm, the woman contracts, and pulls the semen deep into her body. The more semen inside her, the more love and pleasure chemicals get released, the more love she feels, and the more she wants more."
This biochemical pathway gave him a new brash hope that Valentina might not just be a willing partner, but an enthusiastic one; and on that high note, he showed Cherry Fox to the door and promised to call her to schedule the scenes in which she advises the desperate couple.
Unfortunately for Hayward, that was the high-water mark of the week. Boise's complaints—of sleeplessness, of sore breasts, of lost opportunities—grew in pitch and length; Valentina withdrew into anxieties about her father and her failure to produce any milk, and Marta was backtracking on her previously stated desire to have the baby in the house more often.
The last of his cash and credit vanished in groceries and utility bills, and instead of conserving the life insurance loan, he was already dipping into this last reserve for living expenses. Time and money were running out fast, and as the pressure mounted he felt more and more helpless to staunch his slide into bankruptcy. His Friday deadline for some results to show Stanton loomed as well, with no hope of having anything in hand.
And perhaps worst of all, Hayward's resolve failed; or perhaps it was a failure of imagination, he wasn't sure. But in any case, he could never find the right time or way to broach the Kama Sutra project with Valentina. By Friday he was ready to give the entire idea up; Valentina would never agree to go to bed with him, especially not on camera, the project would die and he'd have to sell his house to the first bidder—or quit-claim it to Boise, and beg her to let him stay in the tiny cabana out by the pool.
The break he'd been praying for finally came Friday morning, after Valentina had returned from the morning nursing, and from an unexpected source: Valentina's call home. From her stunned dismay, he knew the news wasn't good; but it was worse than she'd imagined. Her father was alive, but in prison; he'd gotten into some fracas with the Police, or the Federales, or drug runners, or perhaps all three. No one was quite sure; what was known was that he was in bad physical shape and imprisoned on serious charges; and the bribe for release was $25,000—an astronomical sum for a poor family with the one working daughter currently earning $100 a week.
Valentina was beside herself, and from her broken torrent of Spanish Hayward gathered she was confident this blow would also dry up any hope of milk; then she'd lose even the paltry $100 a week wage.
Sensing his moment had arrived, he calmed her with quiet, soothing words and then invited her into his office and closed the door.
"There is only way I know of for either of us to earn $25,000 quickly," he said.
Valentina's drained expression flushed with renewed hope, and she looked at him expectantly. "Is such a thing even possible?"
"Yes," he said, "but it will take a big sacrifice from you."
"Anything," she said vociferously, "except I won't sell myself, because my Father would not allow it."
"I understand," Hayward said calmly. "That is why you have to marry me."
"Marry you?" she gasped. "Why?"
"Because the only way to make $25,000 is to make a movie together."
The young woman's pretty face contorted in confusion. "I don't understand."
"My friend Stanton wants to make a movie for women who can't get pregnant," Hayward said slowly. Valentina brushed aside her long dark hair and nodded, as if the words were heard but not understood. "To show these women how to make love with their husbands so they can have a baby, we have to make love on camera. And I know the only way you will do that is if we're married."
Shaking her head in incomprehension, Valentina repeated, "I don't understand."
Starting over, Hayward took her hand and said, "I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. I couldn't say anything because you're young."
Her brows knitted in fierce disbelief. "But how can you love me?"
"Because the heart knows what the heart knows," he replied. "I know this is a surprise, because I tried to hide it."
"I knew you like me," she murmured, "but to marry me. . . ."
Pulling her hand free, she arose and began pacing the room like a nervous black cat. "Why must I marry you?"
"Because in this movie, the actor and actress must make love. Not fake, but real love."
"They do this in Hollywood?"
"For this kind of movie, yes," he said.
"But to get a baby, all you have to do is lay there." she exclaimed. "You don't even have to take off all your clothes. I know these things."
"Some women don't get pregnant from just laying there," he noted dryly.
"And so what must they do?"
"They have to use other positions with their husbands."
Valentina's frown returned. "And that works?"
His planned speech wearing thin, Hayward said, "Yes. Because wanting a baby for them is like you wanting your milk to come. The more nervous they get, the more they can't get pregnant. The more nervous you get—"
At last Valentina nodded in comprehension, though her brows remained firmly creased with anxiety. "So you're marrying me, because it would be a sin to make love to get the $25,000 unless we were married."
"That's what you think, right?"
"I don't know." she said with a huge sigh. "This is all very confusing."
"Then let's start over," he suggested.
Nodding, she said, "You love me, and want to marry me, but you didn't ask because I am too young for you."
"Si," she repeated with great satisfaction. "Now your friend wants to make this sex movie, and he will pay us $25,000 to make love in strange positions."
"Si," she repeated again. "And now that I must have this money to save my father from Hell, then you decided to tell me about the movie."
"And because we have to make love, then you want to marry me so we won't be in sin."
"Si," she said with a puff of finality. "Now I understand." Glancing away from him, she asked in a tentative voice, "And how many times must we make love?"
"Fifty," he said, and she blanched at the astronomical number. "How long is this movie?"
"It's fifty half-hour shows," he replied. "It's like a TV series."
Despite her shock, he pressed on with the truth. "Actually, it's more like a hundred times for practice, because these positions are, as you say, strange. Then fifty times in front of a camera."
"A camera," she repeated, and shuddered. "Of course, it is a movie."
"Don't worry, we'll be alone. You'll forget it's there."
Staring down at the aged hardwood floor of his office, she seemed lost in thought. "And so we get paid $25,000 for making love 150 times?"
"Perhaps some sooner."
Spinning round on her ankles so her white dress spun most prettily, she faced him with wide dark almond eyes. "Can you make love three times each day?"
"Uh, that's asking a lot of a 42-year old," he stammered.
"Only the full $25,000 matters," she said forcefully. "So we must finish in two months. My father can wait that long."
Despite her tone of voice, Hayward's heart leapt at the prospect of fulfilling his fantasy of holding her very close and kissing her half-open lips.
Her expression darkened again and she said, "But isn't half the money yours?"
"If the show sells, there will be more money later for both of us," he explained. "I'll wait. You need the money now. And to be honest, I would make love with the woman I love for free."
Nodding slightly, she averted her gaze and said, "I thought men fell in love like this only in movies. . . but I know you like me, so it must be true."
"It is true," he said warmly. "Think back to that first dinner with Stanton."
"With the cream dessert covered with hard sugar?"
"Yes. Now remember when our eyes met?"
"You knew I was in love with you then, didn't you?"
She gave him a flirty, embarrassed smile and then looked down again. "I wondered if a movie star could fall in love with a girl who has nothing."
"They can, and he has."
Rather than brighten as he expected, she frowned again and sighed deeply. "I can only make one big decision at a time, and today the decision is to save my father."
"Then you'll sin to save your father?"
"Between making love 150 times and letting my father die in prison, which is the bigger sin to God?"
"Letting someone die, of course," Hayward said.
"I think so, too."
Hayward sighed as well. "I wish with all my heart that you could fall in love with me, too."
Glancing round at him, she smiled amiably and said, "I like you. Isn't that enough?"
Shrugging noncommittally, he said, "You'll have to act as if you love me, and want to get pregnant more than anything in the world."
In a small voice she asked, "Can I get pregnant?"
Recalling the powerful birth-control effects of nursing, he said smoothly, "No. I had an operation after Nate was born."
"Good." Valentina swirled her dark mane of luxuriant hair atop her head, and the gesture took Hayward's breath away; the purity of her grace was so apparent that he knew with absolute certainty that he was well and truly in love.
"How does someone act in love when they don't feel it?" She asked, and Hayward responded with a wry grin.
"That's what actors and actresses do every day," he said. "Try this trick. When you think about saving your father, and how much you love him and your mother and sisters, and how much you want to help them, then say what you feel, but say it about me and about how much you want a baby."
"Maybe once I did want a baby, but not now," she said, pursing her lips. "Now, it's like already I have one."
"I know, but remember you have to act in love to get the $25,000," he said patiently.
She nodded dutifully, and then her expression darkened.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Is there no other way for you to get $25,000?"
He shook his head wanly, and the truth of his gesture settled the last of her doubts. "I borrowed every last centavo off this house and gave it to Boise and Nate. I don't even have enough money for next month."
"So we are the same," she said, and he nodded again.
Letting her hair drop in soft luxury below her shoulders, Valentina frowned again and with a pensive expression said, "What will I tell my future husband when he asks why I am not a virgin?"
"That's easy," Hayward replied. "Tell him the man loved you and wanted to marry you, and he helped your father get out of prison. You didn't love him enough to marry him, but you did love him enough to make love with him."
Valentina pondered this long explanation for a moment, raising her finger to her pursed lips. Her somber expression fell away and she turned to him with a business-like expression. "Then let's go make love now, so there will only be 149 more before my father is free."
Hayward took in her matter-of-fact accounting and issued an unsettled chuckle. "It doesn't work that way. We have to get in the mood. Remember, even when we're rehearsing—practicing—we have to act like a couple who is wildly in love and who wants a baby more than anything in the world."
"What a strange couple," she commented. "How easy their life must be, that all they want is a baby."
"That's true," he conceded. "The women who will watch this are comfortable."
"So even though we are both desperate for money, we must act comfortable."
"No, we must act like all we can think of is touching and kissing."
Valentina looked at him with a petulant curiosity. "Is that how you think of me?"
"Yes. Ever since you got in my car and ate four tamales, I've wanted to kiss you."
At the mention of the tamales, she turned away with an embarrassed grin.
Events were not unfolding to his expectations, and Hayward was unsure how to proceed with a young woman who saw making love with him as a counting game—the more we do it, the sooner my father gets out of prison.
Opening the drawer, he pulled out the plastic bag of large brown pills the sex therapist had given him, and said, "These pills will relax us. That's the first step."
Valentina examined a pill closely and said, "It's not going to hurt me, is it?"
"No, it's just herbs," he explained. At least it's based on herbs, he told himself; that's all she needs to know.
"Come into the kitchen," he said, and while Valentina swallowed her pill he explained to Marta that he needed her to go to Boise's and watch Nate for a few hours, as he had to try to help Valentina free her father. "Thank you, Senor Hayward," the older woman exclaimed. "God is working through your hands."
Hayward reddened at the contrast between such fulsome praise and what he was about to do with young Valentina, but he simply shrugged and sent her on her way.
Once his loyal caretaker had left, he withdrew a bottle of Domaine Chandon champagne from the refrigerator and popped the cork. Handing Valentina two tall champagne flute glasses, he led her to his bedroom and carefully locked the door. Pulling the blinds over the sliding door, he filled the glasses and raised a toast.
"To saving your father," he said, and Valentina nervously clinked glasses. "Now just for practice, say you love me," he prompted.
The young woman's eyes filled with keen resolve, and she said very quietly, "I love you."
"I love you, too, my dear Valentina, very much," he told her, and then they each raised their glass and downed the bubbly love-enhancer in one gulp. As he refilled their glasses, she glanced around uncomfortably and said, "Can't you make it dark like night?"
Thinking of the camera's one-eyed need for light, he said, "No. And people in love want to see each other. They don't want to make love in the dark."
Taking up two remotes on the bedstand, he clicked on one to begin Mozart's Piano Concerto 23 at low volume, and the other to start the hidden camera and microphone.
The reality of losing her treasured virginity choked her resolve, and Valentina drained the champagne with anxious alacrity. "Are you sure there is no other way to make so much money?"
"I'm sorry, I don't have any other way. All I can do is make this movie."
"Can't we just act like we're making love?"
"No, it has to be real. This is for people who want babies so badly, they will do anything—just like you will do anything to free your father."
"Can't it be dark?"
"No, but you can leave your dress on."
This concession seemed to relieve her somewhat, and he sat her down on the bed in full view of the camera. Sitting beside her, he smelled the clean scent of her silky dark hair, and felt the warmth of her body glowing beside him, and with an effort returned to the script he'd written in his mind for this critical scene.
Taking her hand, he began, "Since we love each other, we should always tell the truth. So tell me honestly: have you ever been with a man before?"
Shaking her head, Valentina said, "No."
"Not even once?"
Shaking her head again, she murmured, "I let Carlos kiss me, but that was all."
"Are you nervous?"
Shrugging nervously, she said, "Maybe a little."
"The first thing is just to relax." he said soothingly.
Moving close, he whispered in her ear, "Remember, we're acting, but it's also real; so think of being in love, and when something feels nice, then tell me. Tell me everything in your heart, for this has been my dream since I first saw you."
Valentina closed her eyes, and as he lightly kneaded her shoulders he asked, "Do you feel nice from the champagne?"
"Si, I mean yes."
"Does this feel nice?"
"Do you love me?"
"Do you want a baby?"
After a brief pause, she answered," Yes. Very badly."
Encouraged by her attempt to enter the part, he whispered, "Good. Now think of how much you want to save your father, but say it about having a baby."
"The most important thing in my life right now is to have your baby," she said quietly, and the intensity of her longing startled him.
"I know, my sweet," he replied in a soft but firm voice that was sure to reach the mic. "And I love that about you."
Hayward realized the herbal concoction and the champagne must be taking effect, for Valentina trembled with repressed emotion and she closed her lustrous dark eyes. "I would be so happy if I could have your baby," she said, and then choked back tears in a display of need and desire that wrenched Hayward's astonished heart. Comforting her, a double euphoria took him; for not only was she his, here was a natural talent which was burning straight through the lens into viewers' souls.
Slipping the white straps from her shoulders, he unfastened her bra and draped it on the bed beside her. Though he couldn't be sure, it did seem as if her breasts had measurably swollen in the week since he'd discreetly spied on her with the security camera. Letting her dress fall to her waist, he gently lowered her onto her stomach so she faced the camera and then moved his caresses down her bare back.
It was everything he'd learned in life: that all touching raises animal spirits, and at some point those spirits overflow.
"Does this feel nice?" he asked soothingly.
"Yes." For he'd read of this, and found it true; if the answer is always yes to every question, the girl eventually says yes to everything else, too.
Lifting the hem of her white dress up to her waist, he exposed her lacey pink panties and began kneading her derriere as if it were two loaves of tender bread. Moving his attentions down her thighs, he slowly worked her legs apart under the pretense of his massage.
Moving one hand up to her shoulders, he worked her nerve-rich neck, ear lobes and underarms, and then slid his other hand down to stroke the thin pink lace of panties. She tensed, and he whispered, "Haven't you touched yourself down here?"
"No," she replied. "It's a sin."
"God made us this way for a reason," he said. "so it can't be a sin."
She made no reply, and he continued on in a soothing voice, talking about how being touched was God's plan, otherwise he wouldn't have made it feel good. Her animal spirits were indeed rising, and Hayward restrained an overpowering urge to turn her over and kiss her. Not yet, he told himself; not yet. Easing out of his trousers and shirt, he continued his ministrations and soft assurances.
Whispering affectionate encouragement, he added, "Now think of every pleasure you've ever had and let me hear you describe it."
"You mean like the cream dessert with the hard sugar crust?"
"Yes. Imagine eating as many as you want, and then tell me how much you like it."
Sensing her tense not with anxiety but pleasure, he slid the pink briefs down her brown supine legs and over her ankles, and then turned her just enough to kiss her mouth lightly.
"I love you so much," he said softly, hoping the hidden overhead mic would pick up her moist words of reciprocal love, and he whispered more encouragement to hold back nothing, to let every good feeling out.
He couldn't tell if it was the drug and champagne or a natural talent for physical expression, but he found her small sounds and sighs of pleasure very endearing. He tried to imagine what she was feeling, apparently for the first time, and he wondered just how intense the revelation that was about to envelop her would be.
Funny how life works, he mused as he inched her higher and higher up that profound pedestal of enchantment; his first girlfriend had preferred being brought to climax by hand, and what had seemed then such an arduous, torturously slow process to his youthful impatience was now, after all that practice, second nature.
As a result, as her time of arrival neared, he readied his own long-delayed move; as he felt her move beyond the point of no return, he joined her. He reckoned this first lovemaking might mark her, and he very much wanted to be part of this first unveiling of her adult body.
Her revelation, it seemed to him, a great shudder of lasting intensity, was more profound than any he recalled in other lovers; all those cliches of religious ecstasy being one with the physical summit seemed to have some basis in truth, for Valentina's beautiful young face expressed such release and such irresistible emotion that he sensed it was either a religious experience, or the equivalent of one.
His intuition was well-tuned, for Valentina had been pondering his words on God's design even as sensations she'd never felt before enlivened every fiber of her being. How could this not be God's plan? he'd told her, and afterward, resting beside him, her dress still clumped round her waist, it seemed to be an irrefutable truth. True, they should have been married first; but this deficiency of ritual did nothing to diminish the revelation of what God had clearly planned for men and women in love.
I think I am in love, she mused as he stroked her hair and then traced a line down her nose, kissing her eyelids and then her mouth, very tenderly and sweetly; maybe I fell in love at first sight, too, but I couldn't admit it because it was too impossible. Yet here I am, with the happiest feeling I can remember.
Turning to him—his face so near, so close, so kind, so warm—she asked in a small timid voice, "Will you still marry me?"
"You know the answer is yes," he replied, and Valentina glowed with renewed revelation; yes, it was a sin to have made love once before marriage, but how could anyone decide such a thing without knowing this first? It was impossible, and she felt that God would understand, even if the priest did not. He would order a penance, of course, but whatever it might be, she wouldn't have changed this sin, not even one moment.
As he cuddled her, imagining the chemical storms unleashed in her dear sweet brain by their lovemaking, he wondered if the magic intensity of her words and her speechless joy was a one-time event or a talent which would find further expression; it was more than mere curiosity, for if the digital camera could capture even half of her enchantment, they might have a star, and a hit.
As his mind raced over the possibilities, and the work to be done this weekend to make it a reality, he risked an intimate joke. Whispering that it was time to encourage her lactation, he would do the duty, as Nate wasn't available; for how could her body tell the difference? She protested, but as he'd hoped, in the spirit of a slightly embarrassed, very private affront, and then relented with her own small joke about father and son being cut from the same greedy cloth.
It was all revelation to her, the racy little jokes, the kisses, the mess, and the feeling of being bare in the flesh and bare in the heart. Could it have been only a week since they met? But such a week—it felt more like a month, or perhaps an entire summer.
Aware that the editor might want a fitting denouement, he sat her up in full view of the camera and kissed her very longingly. With her crumpled white dress still bunched around her waist, he imagined the scene struck just the right chord of a passion which could not be denied. "The minute you get home tomorrow from watching Nate," he murmured, "come here. I'll be waiting for you."
Nodding acknowledgement, she gave herself to his parting kiss in a way which moved him beyond calculation. Imagine having this, he told himself with a very true wonderment, after giving up on anything but occasional lust.
Knowing there was much to do, he bustled her off to relieve Marta of babysitting Nate and then slipped on his trousers and shirt and headed to his office. Rapid-fire calls to Ronnie, Wolfe and Cherry Fox set Saturday's schedule; the crew would arrive mid-morning and set up in his office to film Cherry telling Valentina and Hayward the terrible news that she wasn't getting pregnant as expected, and briefing them on the Kama Sutra solution to their problem. They'd have to wait for Nate to fall asleep to shoot, but the infant slept much of the time and Hayward reckoned any delay would be modest.
Ronnie and Wolfe would then send the raw feed from the interview and today's bedroom virgin-becomes-a-real-woman footage over to Guilford, who would do a quick sound and video edit for the first two segments. The static angle of their first lovemaking was far from ideal, but with some clever editing it should show off Valentina's talents well enough; her incandescent performance would sizzle despite the static take.
The crew would then slip into the secret camera room to film Valentina and Hayward perform their first Kama Sutra-based fertility rite. With Wolfe behind the lens, the shoot would have close-ups and dynamics which no static camera could duplicate.
He'd then notified Boise that Valentina would be at his place with Nate on Saturday, but only until six p.m. He'd girded for her protest, but Boise gracefully accepted that an eight-hour shift was all that could be expected of Valentina.
The last call was the most uncertain; he wanted to marry Valentina secretly on Sunday, in Marta's absence, and he needed to find the right man for the task. It would have been easy to let the issue drift, and hope her current ambiguity would last a few months longer. But some part of him knew that she would never feel right about indulging in so much sinfully pleasurable sin; and he also had no desire to explain to her father—assuming he could be extricated from the hellhole prison in one living piece—how Hayward had joyfully worked his daughter a few hundred times on camera, raking in thousands doing so.
No, it would be cleaner all the way around to be married. And if it didn't last—he wasn't a Catholic, and so the vows against divorce did not apply to him. And who knows, he thought with a rare satisfaction; maybe just because the odds are so long against us, maybe it will work after all.
Copyright 2008 Charles Hugh Smith all rights reserved in all media. No reproduction in any media in any format (text, audio, video/film, web) without written permission of the author.
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