“The show must go on…”
Jules Meredith stood next to Danny McMahon in the wings of the 44th Street Theater. They were about to record his weekly TV talk show, in which his guests would discuss the week’s major news stories, often with a comedic/satiric slant.
Catching her reflection in a backstage full-length free-standing mirror, Jules felt momentarily embarrassed by her black five-inch, shoot-the-wounded, take-no-prisoners spike heels, her matching minidress and her garishly crimson lipstick, all of which her publisher had emphatically insisted on.
“This is show business, Jules,” her hard-nosed, terminally cynical publisher, David Williams, had explained to her on the phone. She had told him that she’d wanted something modest, but he had demurred, explaining exactly how the publicity department wanted her dressed and made up.
Publicity wanted Jules … hot.
“We want you looking hotter than the hinges of hell,” the head of the company had told her. “We want you putting on that shiny carmine-crimson-vermillion lipstick that McMahon always tells his audience he loves so much.”
Jules knew that to be a fact. Danny had said it to her once:
“I would love just to be there and watch you put it on … slowly. That would be so fucking hot!” He also once said to her: “Since you have the longest, most luscious, most lascivious legs I’ve ever seen on a living creature, you should always show them off to their maximal advantage. What are you anyway? Part giraffe? Your legs have legs. They start from your fucking armpits and go all the way to China, which, as we know, is a … long way down.”
But her publisher was the one who’d dropped the hammer and forced her to look like a Hollywood harlot. Williams had ordered Danny’s stylists to darken her eyes, racoon-style, then trowel on the mascara until her lashes looked like ebony rake prongs. The stylist also fluffed out Jules’s jet-black hair, flung it over her right shoulder and halfway down her chest. To Jules’s horror, her micromini and killer spikes screamed hooker chic. She looked as if she’d just finished hustling tricks on the Great White Way or in the midtown hotel bars.
“Consider your wardrobe and makeup ‘the terms of your employment,’” her publisher had emphatically explained.
Ah hell, maybe he was right.
She was pitching her new book and had it fixed firmly under one arm. The publisher claimed he’d leveraged his firstborn to get her that extortionate mid-seven-figure advance her agent had insisted on, so Jules was determined to sell the hell out of it. She struggled to promote a stage smile, but in the mirror, it seemed to her more wolfish leer than grin.
She turned to study McMahon. He was meticulously attired in a tight-fitting black Savile Row suit, a white silk shirt with an Oxford collar and a dazzling silk tie, red as fresh-flowing blood.
The two friends wordlessly studied the audience. At least half of them were in their late teens and early twenties.
“You get a big college crowd, Danny,” Jules finally said.
“I do a lot of stand-up at universities. They’re my bread and butter.”
“Those kids look angry though,” Jules said.
“They have a lot to be angry about,” Danny said.
“They’re starting their careers with mid- to upper-five figures of college debt,” Jules said, nodding her agreement. “And the jobs they’re staring at are mostly boring as shit.”
“Welcome to the real world, kids,” McMahon said.
“You’re a hard man, Danny.”
“Yeah, I know. Makes you wonder why so many right-wingers do my show, doesn’t it?”
“Why do they, anyway? You eviscerate them verbally, and that lynch mob you call an audience thunders hatred and insults at them at every turn.”
“All the while brandishing torches, pitchforks, chicken feathers and boiling tar,” Danny said, grinning.
“Your guests want their face time,” Jules said, stating the obvious.
“You got it, kid,” McMahon said, grinning. “Most of my guests will do anything to get on the tube. Even you.”
“But I have a reason,” Jules said. “I have a book to flog and a contract to honor.”
“And a world to save?”
“And you’ll do anything to spend time with me.”
“I love you, Danny, and that is no lie. I’ll hang with you anytime you want. But if I didn’t have a book to peddle, no power on this planet could get me on your show.”
“You’re different,” McMahon said, “but most of the clowns that do my show would rather be abused than ignored.”
Nodding her agreement, Jules studied the crowd. She estimated McMahon had 2,000 bodies out there tonight. There were some well-dressed suburbanites, but mostly they were rowdy college kids in outrageous T-shirts emblazoned with slogans insulting the rich, ridiculing the politically conservative or baiting the modest with shocking sexual taunts. One young busty girl in the front row had on a white T-shirt with a big sloppy taco on it and the caption in big black letters:
“IF GOD HADN’T MEANT MAN TO EAT PUSSY, HE WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT LOOK LIKE A TACO.”
Some wore T-shirts celebrating alcohol: “HELP ME. I FELL ON THE FLOOR AND CAN’T FIND MY BEER.” “TEN REASONS WHY A BEER IS BETTER THAN A WOMAN.” (The ten reasons, unfortunately, were too small for Jules to read.) “I FEAR NO BEER!”
One young woman, however, was not dressed like a rowdy collegiate. She looked to be of Middle Eastern descent and sat in the front row. She had a thick waist-length mane of jet-black hair and wore a short yellow dress that highlighted some astonishingly abundant décolletage. Her shapely legs were crossed, and her stiletto heels bobbed up and down. Her wide generous lips were colored a bright sinful scarlet—the exact shade Jules was wearing—the hue that Jules’s publisher had ordered her to wear because McMahon claimed it drove him … nuts. The woman had dark wide-set eyes that glinted malevolently, and her lips seemed permanently curled into a wicked half sneer, half smile.
Jules glanced at her friend and noticed he was staring at her too.
“Well, Danny,” Jules said, nodding toward the woman and paraphrasing the old Elvis Presley song, “‘if you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place.’”
“Have I ever. Any idea who she is?”
“All the hell and high water you’ve been looking for your whole life long,” Jules said.
“And, thank you, God,” McMahon said, “for bringing it to me.”
“I’m not kidding,” Jules said. “That one’s trouble.”
“Then trouble’s my middle name.”
“Watch it, boy,” Jules said. “I’ve seen her face before. I just can’t place it. I can’t say where.”
“And I tell you that face has ‘I Want Big Bad Dan’ written all over it.”
“All my warning lights are blinking five-alarm fire-engine red with their sirens wailing and the rack lights flashing.”
“So’s Big Dan’s Lust-o-meter.”
“Okay, fine. But listen, Mr. Gonads-for-Brains, don’t come crying to me when the shit hits the fan and you’re bleeding from every pore.”
“Never happen. I’m a TV celebrity. I got the power of the political/entertainment/media establishment backing me up.”
“When you end up facedown—your dick in the dirt and your ass in the wind—just don’t blame me.”
“Big Dan is never out for the count,” McMahon said. “I’m going to whale on that poor girl like she stole something.”
“She looks like she could be Muslim.”
“Then I’ll convert her to the path of righteousness for my own name’s sake,” McMahon said.
“Big Bad Dan.”
“You’re insane,” Jules said.
“Only one thing could change my mind. You could take her place.”
Jules treated her old friend to a hard sharp laugh. “Never happen.”
“Why is it you won’t give me a shot?”
“You’re always buried alive under mountains of women. Why would I want to share you at the bottom of that pile?”
“‘I’ll change, I swear,’” McMahon said, quoting Dylan.
“You don’t need me. You have women circling over you like flights stacked up over LaGuardia.”
“Maybe they know something you don’t know.”
“I only know one thing: The show must go on, and they’re cuing up the teleprompter for your monologue. Go get ’em, Danny Boy.”
“To be continued.”
Danny McMahon threw back his shoulders, pumped up his chest and swaggered out onto the stage—the baddest stud duck on the pond, the cockiest rooster in Chickentown.
Copyright © 2018 by Robert Gleason