Al Bruno III
When she wore sheer dresses and short skirts the tabloids insinuated she was a whore, when she dressed demurely and elegantly they wondered what she was trying to hide. When she was out with a man, even if that man was simply a co-worker or a friend all the shows dedicated to the pursuit of the famous immediately assumed they were fucking. If she was out with one of her female friends or co-workers, the blogs and internet gossip sites would start hoping she was a lesbian. If she put on a few pounds they said she was losing her looks, if she lost weight she was anorexic.
But the worst part, the worst part was that they were all starting to call her a has-been. A has-been and she wasn’t even thirty yet.
That was what had brought Gwen Seymour to the offices of the Ternion Agency aka the last stop of the falling star- they had resurrected dozens of careers from scandal, poverty and, worst of all, irrelevance.
When she had arrived the receptionist had directed her to the security guard and the security guard had escorted her to the elevator. There were no buttons on the inside of the car; apparently visitors to the Ternion Agency offices only went where the Ternion Agency wanted them to.
The doors of the elevator were mirrored and highly polished, Gwen took a moment to examine her reflection for any flaws. She still had healthy looking skin and a great figure, her distinctive red hair had lost none of its luster and her eyes- well her eyes were always the first thing anyone noticed. They sparkled like emeralds.
The Greed Eyed Monster- that was what the first article about her in People magazine had called her when she had become the new breakout starlet of the horror film Johnny Nightshade. Even now Gwen wasn’t sure what it was that made her stand out from the other eager young actors in the ensemble. Was it the realism she brought to her performance? Was it the something the camera found alluring about her? Or was it that she was the only girl in the cast that kept her clothes on?
Whatever the reason, her life became a roller coaster of guest spots on TV shows, supporting roles in movies and then before she was twenty, three staring vehicles each one doing successively better at the box office until the smash hit Sour Girl.
She had even been nominated for a Golden Globe.
The elevator doors opened and she found herself staring into a spacious, empty office. “Hello?” Gwen called as she cautiously stepped out onto the luxurious shag carpet. A wide picture window gave her a panoramic view of LA, “Is anyone here?”
Wide leather chairs faced away from the window forcing the person seated in them to stare into the oversize fish tank at the far end of the room. The water was a smoky shade of blue and thick with shadowy shapes.
“Please have a seat Miss Belcher,” a voice said.
Gwen turned to see a slender woman in a prim looking suit standing by the window. She was a little unnerved to have been snuck up on but she put on her most pleasant smile, “You must be Ms. Franchini.”
“Yes,” She sat down and motioned for Gwen to join her, “I hope you don’t think it was too forward of me to use your real name.”
“No. No. It’s just that I haven’t heard it for a while.”
“I can imagine,” Ms. Franchini said, “Brooke Belcher doesn’t have quite the same ring does it? Was it your decision to change your name?”
Gwen nodded, she hadn’t been Brooke Belcher for almost a decade now, she hadn’t even thought of herself as that plain girl from upstate New York. She’d never been home once since she left, she didn’t even wonder if her old friends or her brother recognized her when they saw her on television or on the video store shelves.
“Good,” Ms. Franchini nodded, “I think a willingness to reinvent yourself will help considerably.”
Gwen nodded again, not sure why she felt so put off by this woman. She had survived the Hollywood system of audition and exploitation with her dignity intact, what terrors could a talent agency hold for her?
Was it because both women knew this was Gwen Seymour’s last chance before she found herself in that downward spiral of best friend roles and direct to video productions?
And she wasn’t even thirty yet.
“Now I have to ask, before I can discuss our career plan for you,” Ms. Franchini leaned back in her seat, her hands folded across her lap, her cool demeanor made her features seem almost doll-like, “are there any further scandals percolating in the background? It is better we know now and prepare in advance.”
“Well my production company is still under investigation…”
“Your tax issues aren’t really an immediate concern, accountants and lawyers can deal with such matters. Our concern is things like secret marriages or illnesses. Are you pregnant?”
“Well I don’t think that being pregnant is the same thing as being sick but there’s nothing else going on in my life beyond what the whole world seems to know,” thoughts of DWI’s, public disgraces and sudden outbreaks of box-office poison, made Gwen’s professional demeanor slip. She looked to the fish tank again trying to identify the shapes swimming lazily this way and that. They weren’t guppies or betas, that was for damn sure; she imagined that the Ternion Agency had some kind of weird or endangered fish on display just to impress and awe their clients.
Well it wasn’t working, all it did was make her feel queasy somehow, that strange tightening of the stomach she felt whenever she passed a long dead animal on the road or had to endure a hug from Ryan Seacrest.
“Of course,” Ms. Franchini said. “No offense was meant by my turn of phrase.”
Gwen wasn’t so sure about that.
“Now as I said before, we have a plan to revive your career, to restore its luster,” Ms. Franchini said, “some of it will be turning the tabloids and legitimate press back in your favor, some of it will be aiding you to make wiser career choices but some of it will be a re-imagining of your persona.”
“Re-imagining?” That word always made Gwen uncomfortable; it usually meant someone trying to resurrect an old property with CGI that was completed before the script.
“Call it a makeover,” Ms. Franchini said. “But this makeover is one that begins from the inside.”
“It sounds like you’re trying to get me to join a religion.”
She laughed politely, “I assure you that what you do with your soul is your own business, all we care about is your career.”
“Where do we start?” Gwen asked before she could second guess the decision, “Do I need to sign anything?”
Both women stood, “Our people will be in contact with you soon enough but for now I’ll think we’ll wrap things up with a handshake.”
And with that Gwen was led back to the elevator. The twin doors were open, waiting for her, Gwen wondered if they had ever closed. “I really appreciate this,” she said, “I know how exclusive you guys are.”
Ms. Franchini smiled as the doors whispered back to a close, “It’s not a matter of exclusivity as it is resources.”
Alone in the elevator Gwen slumped against the wall and tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. Her career was as good as saved, she’s seen this agency get starlets with sex tapes cast in family films and athletes with criminal records endorsement deals.
Of course she was going to be signing away a sizable portion of her current and future fortune but it was worth it all if she went back to being America’s sweetheart.
The elevator doors opened on a wide, busy looking room full of people wearing white lab coats and serious expressions. The lighting was cool and diffused, one of the men looked up from his clipboard, “May I help you?”
Gwen stayed in the elevator, “I was… I think this is the wrong floor. I was leaving.”
“You need the exit?” He walked over to her. There was something familiar about him. His name tag read ALAN GRANT.
“Yes,” she nodded, “This was supposed to… Where am I?”
“Just a few floors from the exit,” he said, “why don’t you come on out while I call reception?”
“I don’t think-”
Alan Grant gently pulled her from the elevator, “Nonsense. Besides if that thing is acting up you could be going from one floor to the next all night. I’ll call reception, and in the meantime you can have a cup of coffee. Trust me, I can fix this.”
The room looked like an unimaginative set designer’s vision of a high tech laboratory, all sharp angles and clean surfaces. Gwen couldn’t see a coffee machine anywhere.
“What do you do here?”
“Work mostly,” Alan said.
There were prosthetics, tangles of plastic tubing and pale gray armatures on every table. It was all high class stuff, some of it even looked like it had been stolen from a hospital. What was all this for? Gwen wondered of perhaps the Ternion Agency wasn’t as flush with cash as their press releases said. Otherwise why would they be renting out an entire floor of their building to a special effects team?
“I’m sorry but you look familiar,” he said.
“I’m an actress,” Gwen answered. No one else looked up from their work as she was led past them.
“Oh that’s right. You were in Three Ghosts and a Baby.”
She groaned, “Not one of my better ones.”
“Hey. They don’t pay you not to act,” he flashed a dazzling grin; Gwen had never been one to go for older guys but this one…
“You know,” she said, “you look kind of familiar too.”
“I was an actor once, not a big time one but it was fun while it lasted.”
Of course, Gwen realized. He was in an episode of the Love Boat wasn’t he?
She asked, “So what are you doing here?”
“Keeping busy,” he said, “Now, why don’t you relax in here until we can get you sorted out?”
He ushered her into another wide room, but this one was dimly lit…
…and awfully cold.
…actually it was freezing.
By the time she turned around she saw that Alan Grant had slammed the metal door closed, trapping her. “Hey!” Gwen yelled, “What the fuck are you doing?”
When she banged on the door the cold of the metal left her hands stinging. She drew in her arms to try and keep warm. It almost hurt to breathe in the air.
“People know where I am!” she shouted and then instantly hated herself for it. Her character in Johnny Nightshade had yelled the same thing.
That made Gwen pause, after all her character had also been the only one to get away in the end.
“All right,” she started looking around, “all right.”
She was in some kind of freezer, with no windows and one locked door but there had to be something. There were plastic bins stacked high against the wall. Was there anything behind them like one of those convenient air shafts that action heroes seemed so adept at finding?
There was only one way to be sure, she started to pull a stack away from the wall. They were surprisingly light and easy to move, which is why they topped over spilling their contents all over the floor.
The sight of those contents made Gwen forget about escape plans and the cold that had her shivering uncontrollably.
Dozens of them, eyeless, pressed flat and sealed in plastic.
She told herself this was just more special effects equipment but some of these reminded her of people she knew.
These were faces she saw on the big and small screen, sometimes in new predictions- others only in reruns.
The door opened, the light from the other room cast Gwen’s shadow over the plastic bins and their contents. She thought of all those prosthetics, plastic tubing and armatures she had seen out there, just waiting to have the right flesh draped over them. When she heard the sound of the bone saw Gwen fell to her knees with resignation.
Ms. Franchini’s words came back to her, “…this makeover is one that begins from the inside.”