Ventby Eric Nunnally
I was to take their pictures. The heavy door shut behind me and the cords in my neck stiffened. I held my camera with both hands, smelling the wrongness of the place. The air was stale and the cement floor was clammy beneath the soles of my shoes. I wanted to hold my breath for fear of inhaling some airborne virus, and controlled my breathing through my nose, afraid to open my mouth. I could hear the whimpering coming from a corner of the room and instinctively knew there were a bunch of them huddled together in fear. A hand shoved my shoulder and I put the camera up to my face. They had outfitted it with a special lens that could take night vision pictures in that eerie green glow that illuminates the pupils of the eyes. When I looked through the lens, I was horrified.
"What the fuck...!" I gasped, almost throwing up. The camera would have broken to pieces on the floor had it not been strapped around my neck.
"Take the pictures." a low, dry voice behind me ordered, as I heard the clicking of a hammer cock.
I fidgeted with my handling of the camera, fighting the urge to regurgitate the contents of an empty stomach, and began taking shots without looking, the shutter mechanically echoing in the cold room.
"Enough." the voice said, a strong hand on my shoulder. I lowered the camera and almost choked. The door opened behind me and I was led back outside the room, down the long dimly lit corridor and up the stairs to daylight.
Once I had a taste of air, one of the guys lighting a cigarette took a look at me and smirked. A chain and lock were replaced on the steel door behind me and I closed my eyes, dreading the thought of how long they had been down there.
"Winston!" I heard with a clarity that smacked me back into the present.
I opened my eyes and saw Mr. Newsome stepping out of his limousine with a Hollywood smile and scary, bright eyes.
"Winston, you look absolutely peaked!" Mr. Newsome said, sounding shocked and concerned. He barely nodded to a henchman who quickly produced a bottle of water from the car and presented it to me. I took it without looking at his face and unscrewed the top.
Mr. Newsome watched me quietly while I drank half the bottle and replaced the top.
"Horrible things happen in the city, Winston." Mr. Newsome said, his tone changing from one full of vitality to one of warning - dark and threatening. "I hope you never forget that."
I saw the evil in his eyes and handed him the camera.
"Just the film." he said paternally.
The camera whirred as it rewound the roll, and my head felt like it was stuffed with warm cotton as I waited for it to stop. When it finished, the immediate silence was enough to make me cry out. I didn't though. I popped open the case and handed Mr. Newsome the roll of film. He turned back to the car but, before entering, turned back toward me and studied my face for a moment or two.
"This," he said, considering the roll of film and then looking back at me, "is so that I know that you know."
After Mr. Newsome's limousine had driven away, his henchmen waited patiently for me to walk out of the alley and return to my life. As soon as I turned the corner, I choked up all the water in my stomach, straining painfully with each heave, thinking about the faces I saw.
"Hey, Winston!" Gabbie called as soon as I came through the door, approaching me with the layout book. "I need a replacement for 17." he said, flipping the pages to show me how close he was to completion. He went heavy on the morning after shave and I winced as he grumbled that Vicki had cancelled.
"Didja go through the book?" I asked, setting my keys down and looking through the mail I had picked out of the box downstairs.
"Everybody wants to be a fucking actress all of a sudden!" he vented. "Nobody has time for a fucking roll of film."
"Did you call Claudia?" I asked, opening up a letter from Vaughan & Wagner.
"I don't have Claudia's number!" Gabbie stammered.
"Hold on a sec." I shushed him as I unfolded the letter and read it.
"If I don't get this done by Saturday, they're gonna go with someone else!" Gabbie went on. "I don't know about you, but I can't afford to lose this contract. I've got bills, Winston!"
"So do I, Gabbie. So do I." I said, stuffing the letter back into its envelope and walking reflectively to the kitchen to get some juice. Gabbie went on ranting and raving while I poured a glass of tomato juice and picked up the phone off the counter, dialing numbers as I took a swallow or two.
"Claudia, please." I asked calmly over Gabbie's tirade and, while I waited, set the glass down on the countertop so that I could shush Gabbie.
"How's my girl!" I smiled, winking at Gabbie.
Other than the rhythmically abbreviated hmms, an occasional slobbering sound, and the steady whisper of the fan in the window, the apartment was quiet.
It was that quiet that made the sound of the keys in the door so startling to Mark - almost seizing his heartbeat right then and there.
"Baby?" Gabbie called, closing the door behind him and setting his hat on the chair with the coat draped over it. He stood up straight and went pale, no breath coming from his mouth. The fire started in his cheeks and then another in the pit of his stomach. He turned toward the bedroom slowly, his feet feeling like concrete blocks as he started toward the door.
Before he made it halfway, she appeared in the door with shame smeared across her face. Her hair was messed up and she was bare foot. Underneath her blouse, her bra was missing. His heart crumbled and the pieces fell into a hot black cauldron of boiling tar. When he caught the whisper of a figure behind her, the flash blinded him.
"Gabriel! Stop it!" her scream peeled into his head as he watched his fists drop like sledge hammers into the face underneath him. Slowly, the rest of the room became visible, and he could feel her pulling desperately at him.
"Gabriel! Stop!!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, tearing the lining out of them.
He leaned back, drenched with sweat, hands bloodied, staring at the face beneath him and trying to make it out. She fell to the floor behind him, exhausted and sobbing woefully. He looked halfway between the face beneath him and hers, into the air in front of the wall with a picture of him wearing a clown's make-up.
"What's going on, baby?" he asked, as if just waking from a dream.
"Whoa! Wait a minute! Slow down! I can't understand what you're saying, Annie!" I said, trying to make out what she was saying.
All I could make out was that Gabbie was in trouble and that she was scared for her life before she hung up the phone.
I snatched my keys off the countertop and hustled on over to Gabbie's place. When I got there, I didn't see Annie's car, but did see that Gabbie's was parked in its usual spot. Somebody was coming out of the building as I reached the door, so I just went on up. When I got to Gabbie's apartment, I noticed the door was slightly ajar.
"Gabbie?" I called, walking through the front door and closing it behind me. I caught view of him in the bedroom on the floor and, when I walked in, almost went into shock. I recognized Mark by the tattoo on his forearm of the Lone Ranger. His face had been mashed in and Gabbie's knuckles were caked with blood and stuff.
I walked back to the front door and locked it and then returned to the bedroom.
"Gabbie!" I called to him, kind of figuring out that he had walked in on Mark and Annie, and staying by the doorway. "Gabbie! Say something, man!"
"I just wanted to take pictures of women, Winston. Nude women. Pictures of their bodies and faces, posed up real nice. Artistic. You know." he mumbled through tears.
"I never cheated on Annie." he continued. "I know we talked about the girls and what it would be like and how beautiful their bodies were and all, but I never cheated on Annie!" he stammered.
"I know that, Gabbie." I assured him. "I know that."
He looked up at me like a puppy that just peed on the kitchen floor and knows he shouldn't have done it.
"Fuck, Winston! Look what I did!" he sobbed, showing me Mark's death mask.
"Fuck him, man." I said, trying to get Gabbie rational enough to get control of the situation. "Fuck him!"
Gabbie got up awkwardly, his leg having probably fallen asleep, and sat in the chair on the opposite side of the room.
"We gotta call Newsome." I said, hating myself for saying the name, but knowing that he was the only one who could make the situation right.
Before I had even got his name out, Gabbie was dialing the number.
"Here's the thing, Mark," Mr. Wagner said, leaning forward in his chair from behind his desk and extinguishing his cigar in the crystal ashtray that sat precariously close to the edge closest to where Mark sat.
"Gabriel's got some good stuff and you've got squat." he spoke candidly, tossing the blue folder in the middle of the desk and studying Mark's expression.
Mark bit his tongue.
"Mr. Vaughan and myself aren't looking for smut. We're looking for artistry." he continued. "I don't really care for hardcore... leaves nothing to the imagination... nothing inspiring about hardcore, Mark."
Mark attempted to reach for the folder and Mr. Wagner held it from him.
"You don't have what we're looking for." Mr. Wagner said sternly, and then let Mark collect his folder.
"Well, thank you for taking the time to look it over." Mark excused himself, rising from the brick red leather chair he sat in and walking to the door, just as Mr. Wagner paged his secretary.
"Anyone else, Martha?" Mark heard Mr. Wagner say before leaving the office.
Standing on the corner waiting for the walk sign, Mark started to look over the photographs in the blue folder he carried and then changed his mind. He took a deep breath and started to walk just as a limousine turned the corner, startling him.
Recognizing the car, he remained in place, swallowing hard as the other pedestrians mumbled and cursed and walked around the front of the car as it blocked the walkway.
The rear window let down and whomever was inside waited patiently for Mark to come over. When he did, the door was opened and he got in. The limousine pulled off and the window was raised.
"I would consider this a coincidence if it weren't for the fact that I've been looking for you Mark." Mr. Newsome said.
"I've been trying, Mr. Newsome. I swear to God I have. That's why its been so hard to get in touch with me." Mark looked plaintively.
Mr. Newsome just smiled.
"I know what I owe you, Mr. Newsome, and I have every intention of paying it back..."
"I know that, Mark." Mr. Newsome said benevolently, nodding for the driver to pull the limousine over.
The door unlocked automatically and Mark sighed anxiously, made nervous by the calm smile on Mr. Newsome's face, and hesitantly opened the door. As soon as he closed it, the limousine pulled off, leaving him sweating bullets, wondering about his dilemma.
"Winston! You're a lifesaver!" Gabbie shouted into the phone. "Claudia did fantastic! Some of the best pictures I've ever done!" he beamed, looking over the photos and then over his shoulder. "I mean, this girl is sizzling!" he whispered in a hushed voice.
"Who is that, baby?" Annie asked, coming into the room drying her hair.
"Winston." Gabbie mouthed, with his hand over the phone. "Uh, huh." he uttered, returning to his conversation. "Absolutely! We can meet at the Red Dog in say... half an hour? Great!"
"Don't you guys ever get enough of each other?" Annie asked, returning to the room to get dressed.
Gabbie dismissed her comment and set the phone down to follow her into the bedroom. She was standing naked in front of the bureau, looking for some panties when he walked up behind her and placed his hands on her hips.
"You smell good." he whispered in her ear.
She leaned into his voice and then gently brushed him off.
"So how long do you two plan to be out this afternoon?" she asked, pulling out a bra and putting it on.
"We're just going to have a few drinks is all." Gabbie said.
"I've heard that before." she smiled and kissed him on the cheek as she walked past him to the bedside table to get something out of the drawer.
"You wanna have dinner with me tonight?" Gabbie asked, admiring her form in her underthings.
She looked over her shoulder at him as she put on her earrings to see if he was being serious.
"What time?" she asked, curious.
"Seven or eightish." Gabbie proffered.
"Can we go anywhere I want?" she pressed.
"Anywhere." Gabbie assured her with a dreamy smile.
"You're the best!" she said, walking up to him and taking a kiss from him.
"And thank you, Mr. Wagner. Goodbye." I said and ended the call just as Gabbie walked into the Red Dog. I waved at him to get his attention and he walked over with his face beaming.
"Fifty large!" Gabbie whispered loudly, sitting across from me and playfully punching me in the shoulder. "Can you believe it?!"
"I just got off the phone with Wagner... so yeah... I believe it." I smiled.
"I'm taking Annie out to dinner tonight. Her choice." Gabbie shared, looking around for a cocktail waitress, then impatiently rising from his seat. "What are you drinking?"
"A Bloody Mary." I said, nodding at my pulp stained empty glass.
She was waiting for the knock at the door and rushed to it as soon as she heard it, peeking through the spy hole and opening the door quickly with a smile on her face.
She grabbed his face and kissed him passionately as he came through the door and closed it behind him, grabbing her ass as they leaned back against the door. The blue folder he carried dropped to the floor and he pulled her skirt up, squeezing her buttocks as he kissed her neck.
"I can't believe how hot you make me." she gasped, removing his coat and throwing it over the chair before reaching for his pants zipper.
He stopped her. "Wait a minute." he said sternly. "Business first."
"I think the deposit into the account was made today." she said, biting her lip and reaching for his zipper while he held her hands back.
"You think?" he asked, leaning down to look into her eyes.
"Its there." she breathed and kissed him again. He leaned back after a moment.
"So when can I see it?" he asked impatiently.
"I'll go to the bank tomorrow to make the withdrawal." she told him, "You won't have to worry about Newsome anymore." she continued, trying to get at his shirt buttons. He let her arms go and her hands went busily at his shirt. As soon as she got it open she pressed her lips against his chest, trembling with anticipation.
"So I had one shot of her coming out of the dark, like a panther out of the forest. Its beautiful." Gabbie explained, setting his drink down and leaning toward me.
"Then..." he continued, looking like a volcano about to explode." And this is the best one! Okay. She's on her knees with her tits hanging, right? With a blind fold on and her head dropped. The shadows were from a single light bulb about forty feet above her and the floor and walls were draped with the black curtains."
"You did this at the studio?" I asked, accepting my drink in mid air from the cocktail waitress and thanking her in lipsync.
"No, no, no." Gabbie said, taking a sip from his drink. "I used Hiram's spot. His is the only place I have access to that would have let me pull off what I was trying to pull off." Gabbie sat the drink down and looked at me. I could see the gears working.
"You gotta see the finished product, Winston." He insisted. "I was so excited, I forgot to bring the proof." He sighed.
"I can see it laterÖ" I began.
"No. No." He thought. "Look. You have plans for dinner?" he asked.
"No, Gabbie." I protested. "You told Annie..."
"We can all celebrate!" Gabbie insisted, "Donít be ridiculous!" he said, standing up and finishing his drink. "Iíll see you at seven!" he said, walking away from the table. "And answer your phone!"
I shook my head chuckling and watched him leave the Red Dog.
"He wants to speak with you." Gabbie said, extending the phone to me with a trembling hand.
My heart felt like a block of concrete in my chest and my hands started sweating. I took a deep breath and took the phone from Gabbie.
"Iím here." I said.
"But are you rich, Winston?" Mr. Newsome asked. "My time is very expensive. Now what seems to be the problem?"
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