The audience is a restless herd, somewhere out there deep in the jungle beyond the protective cover where I pace. I hone the knife edged danger that suffuses my body. My eyes focus its hard, deadly glitter. Even my voice has claws. The auditorium is a hunting ground. The prey sit innocent, awaiting their fate. I am the solitary predator, proud and glorious, standing in the heat.
The beginning of the big time- the LA Center opening- a packed house.
Back stage I paced, alone with my demons. Everyone studiously avoided me. I was dangerous in those moments when I stirred the fires. It was almost all I could do to keep from combusting too soon; as I transformed into something unearthly, standing in the heat.
I needed to see what the girls were doing.
Careful of the web of power cables taped to the boards I crossed the back stage. The electricians were doing last minute arrangements to the halo spots. As they struggled to tie back the cables, the border drapes lowered into position. A solitary stage-hand intently swept the stage. His long gray hair was tied in a pony-tail. A red, sweat stained bandanna was wrapped around his shiny forehead. He nodded to me and smiled. I ignored him.
Normally I enjoyed this back stage preparation. I liked to watch the calm, patient professionalism of the riggers as they went about the mechanics of stage craft. If things went well, an all too human man, an assortment of props and equipment and the milling herd energy gathered out front were transmuted into magic.That's show-business.
I was nervous.
George and Armand stood on either side of the dressing room door. Their tuxedos tailored perfectly over their lean, muscled bodies. I checked carefully to see if I could spot the tell-tale bulge of their guns. It was a game we played. I couldn't. George opened the door. He nodded.
"Looking good guys." I managed to say.
Thanks King." George said and smiled. Armand was his usual silent, arrogant self.
An enormous array of flowers and good luck messages filled the dressing room with overwh
elming fragrance and good will.
Her eyes closed, Dominique sat at her make-up table. She wore a simple, black, hand sewn Dior dress and her usual 5 inch stiletto heels. Around her neck, the white hot, 30 carrot, Plum diamond, her 26th birthday present, pulsed with each breath, in the light of the make up mirror.
Carolyns ivory, watered silk dress flowed over her curves. Her tanned shoulders rippled as she coiled her long, sinuous, golden hair into ropes of curls. Her ever present black portable phone was on the table by her side.
Marilyn sipped champagne as she read something. With her emerald green eyes and newly tinted, titian hair cropped in a pixy cut she looked like an loony Irish nymph. Her dress, a tight, thigh length Armani original was of an iridescent fabric that exactly matched her hair. A simple emerald necklace and handmade Ferigamo pumps completed the costume. She looked up and smiled. Her perfect teeth gleamed in a blood red frame of lips.
I sat on the arm of her chair. "What are you reading?"
She reached up and brushed my cheek with feather light fingers.
"Some projections on the start-up costs for the franchises. I’m putting together a cost base analysis for the bank. We’re thinking of financing in house for any of the applicants that meet the criteria but are short on capital."
"Money's never boring." Concern pensed her lips."How are you King?"
"Can I help?"
I looked over at Dominique. Her eyes were still closed.
"Maybe...what do you have in mind?" I whispered.
"What do you have in mind?" She asked as she licked her lips.
I nodded toward the door.
Carolyn looked up and winked.
I put my arm around Marilyn's waist and guided her down the hall toward my private suite. I locked the door. We sat on the couch. I opened the silver coke kit. Marilyn took a hit. I took two double hits. I leaned back against the cushions. Marilyn reached over and began to massage my head.
"That's it. Use both hands."
"Sit on the carpet." She said.
I leaned back The smooth silk of her stockings was hot against my cheek. She pulled the tight dress back so she could spread her legs farther apart. Her fingers slid sinuously through my hair.
I closed my eyes.
She bent down and kissed me softly on the ear lobe.
"It's time to go to work." She whispered.
Back in the dressing room, tension. Even Armand looked jagged.
Always the regal queen of darkness, Dominique sipped champagne.
Carolyn checked her make-up in the mirror. She turned and scowled.
"What's the matter Carolyn?"
"Don't we get any?"
"You've got your own."
"It's not the same."
"Yes King, it is not the same." Dominique pronounced slowly.
To loosen me up they were playing the game, creating the magic circle. "You just want to use mine so you can save your own. Stupid I am not."
"Are you sure?" Carolyn said, scrutinizing me.
"What are you looking at Carolyn, are my pants unzipped?"
"why would they be unzipped?" Dominique asked quietly.
"Why are you looking at Marilyn? She's innocent."
"Is anyone innocent, my love?"
"Is everybody guilty?"
"What do you think?"
"I think I need a hit."
I reached into the pocket of my black leather jacket and pulled out the inhaler. I took a double hit I tossed it to Dominique, who smiled, held it to her nose, took two dainty hits, and passed it to Carolyn. She took two heavy hits and fielded it to me.
"You've got coke on your face Carolyn." I said casually.
"Coke whore!” Marilyn yelled.
Carolyn turned to check her reflection in the mirror.
"I do not!"
"Hay, don't I get any?" Marilyn whined.
"Haven't you gotten enough Marilyn?" Dominique commented.
"I never get enough." She said and giggled.
"I notice." Carolyn said dryly. "Your crotch is stained."
Marilyn glanced down, then turned toward the mirror.
"The hell it is!" She yelled. "You bitch!"
“Got‘cha.” Carolyn said.
"What is the matter Marilyn, do you feel guilty?"
"Oh shut up Dominique!" She picked up a flower from the table and threw it.
“I would rather have a penny.” Dominique said.
We all laughed.
There was a soft knock on the door.
"It's time King."
"Come on girls, show-time."
Each of them stopped to kiss me gently as they passed me. It was our ritual. Marilyn and Carolyn fell in step behind George, Dominique on my right. Armand took the rear guard position. Back stage, everything was ready. The stage manager held a clipboard. Its tiny light illuminated his narrow, pock marked face. Between yellowed finger tips, a cigarette had burned down to a long, sagging ash.
"Hello King." He said.
"Yah, remember, your mark is curtain center. The house will be dark but you can see it in the black light. Go to place, a one minute pause after
curtain and the spot comes up. Everything else as discussed. Got it?" The ash fell on his shoe.
"Here's your ear plug. Put it on. Clip the transmitter on your belt, behind your back. Carolyn will cue. Here's your cue button. When you need information press it and she will provide it in context. If you need something, click it twice and the stage mike will cut off. Raise your hand, like you’re wiping your face, to cover your lips and whisper.”
"Do I look all right?" I asked Dominique.
"You look wonderful, my love. As always." She whispered and motioned to the mirror.
Dressed in my usual stage clothes: my old black leather jacket, tee shirt, tight jeans, and black boots, my hair was mussed and ragged. A hint of gray at the temples made me look dangerous and exotic. Since I had cut back on the drinking my cocaine diet had hollowed out my cheeks and defined my face. Black eyes glittered beneath hawk lids. Thin, taut, and tan, I suppose I looked healthy but that opinion never eased my anxiety. I always expected disaster. The clock was always ticking much too fast.
I took a deep breath. Dominique squeezed my hand. I walked to the fluorescent marker on the stage center floor. The house lights dimmed and the audience grew quiet. The curtain parted on the black stage
The spotlight, like a lance of lightning, lit me, standing in the heat.