A Hard Case (Part 5)
Someone scratched a match and lit a cigarette.
“May I help you, sir?” The big man didn’t seem helpful.
“My cat ran away,” I said.
“That’s too bad. But there aren’t any cats around here.”
Another gooey moan slid out of the lit window above.
“Funny,” I said. “Sounds just like her.”
“You said cat. That’s pussy.”
“Never heard of Women’s Lib around here, huh.”
“That’s the professional term for female performers, in our business. Like they say ‘talent’ in the other, fabulous Hollywood. Now kindly get lost, before I call security.”
“Just a moment. Is this Project X?”
“You produce adult entertainment.”
“Is it true your main client is the United States’ government?”
“That, I can neither confirm nor deny.”
“Wait, did I say I was looking for a cat? I meant, I’m looking for a job.”
He puffed deeply. “Let’s see what you got.”
He shook his head when I pulled my jacket aside to show the butt of my .38. “We already have a night watchman, somewhere. But we’re always interested in new, uh, talent.”
“Oh,” I said. “You mean, right out here in the alley?”
“You wanna turn pro? Then you’d better be ready to go at the drop of a hat.”
He wasn’t wearing a hat, even though the North Hollywood night was unseasonably cool.
“Tell me what honesty means, to you,” he said.
“An honest person, like a heartfelt statement, is open and unadorned.”
“All right. Come on in for a screen test.”
He ground out his cigarette in the beaten earth of the alley.
Stage jitters set in, then faded. The set-up at Project X was Spartan, but in an unexpected way. We went down a neon-lit hallway lined on one side with shelves of books and LP records. The walls on the other side were covered with black-and-white photographs of writers, painters, composers. Thomas Mann was prominent, in a gold frame. He looked delighted.
The producer, if that’s who the man was, opened a door and we entered a spacious, dimly lit room.
Doris Frawley was in there. She was nude, sprawled on a battered leather armchair under a brass lamp, immersed in reading The Magic Mountain.
“A far more violent novel than most people imagine,” the producer said. “And more erotic than most readers care to remember.”