“Can you all give us a moment, please?” Kinitia said and the room cleared out in a flash. She waved Charlie to a sofa and sat beside him, then picked up a remote and aimed it at the cable box. She went through the DVR menu to select a news item at the top of the list. A TV news spot came on showing a handsome young male reporter standing outside a large, low building. Behind him a group of attractive, well-built men walked in a circle carrying signs and chanting something Charlie could not make out.
The recording was queued up a short ways into his report. “… and no one seems to know for sure how long this strike will last, but it looks as if Bruised Knees Productions, one of the major producers of adult gay videos, will be ground to a halt from this latest development. Behind me you can see the picket line formed by the actors as they protest outside the main office of Bruised Knees Productions.”
The reporter turned and the camera zoomed in on the line of muscular men. They carried picket signs and shouted, “Hell no, we won’t blow!” as they moved gracefully within their tight bike shorts and form fitted T-shirts and tank tops. Some of the signs read “Porn Stars Are People Too,” “We Don’t Get Paid, They Don’t Get Laid,” and “Porn Stars CAN Say NO!” The reporter flagged down one of the picketers and the man trotted over, his hair styled perfectly and his teeth gleaming white.
“Oh,” the actor said with a smile. “Hi, Greg. How are you? Haven’t seen you in awhile.”
The reporter blushed and cleared his throat. “Uh, I have with me one of the striking actors … I mean, um, picket line members. Can you tell me your name?”
“Sure, Greg, it’s Rick, but you already knew that. How’d that carpet burn heal up?” Rick waved at the camera. “Hi, Mom!”
“Tell me, if you will, Rick,” Greg went on, sweat popping out on his forehead as he desperately tried to save the interview. “Why are you picketing out here today?”
“Well, Greg, as you know, the conditions we work under are horrible,” Rick said dramatically. “Low pay, drafty rooms and hot lights, no insurance, no consideration of which actor we might want to work with … it’s just awful. But before we organized the union for Gay Actors and Porn Purveyors, or GAPPY, there was nothing we could do about it here at Bruised Knees Productions.”
“And, uh,” Greg stammered, “when was GAPPY officially formed?”
“Interesting story,” Rick replied. “I was on a set complaining one day and one of the guys in the crew said, sort of casual like, ‘If you’re unhappy you should form a union and demand better work conditions.’ And I kind of looked at him and thought, ‘My God, he’s right,’ you know? And so, a few months later, here we are.” Rick looked at the camera. “And I’d just like to throw a big, wet kiss out to that special fluffer, Charlie. Thanks so much for the idea!” He pursed his lips and made several loud smacking sounds.
Charlie sank down into the sofa as Kinitia pressed a button on the remote and the TV fell silent. Slowly turning his head, he raised his eyes to Kinitia’s stern face and swallowed the little spit left in his dry mouth.
“I – I don’t remember saying anything like that,” Charlie said quietly. “I do remember I had been watching Norma Rae before going to a Bruised Knees set one day and thought it was a great coincidence one of the actors was talking about working conditions.”
Kinitia shook her head. “Farm Boy . . . ” she broke off and closed her eyes, overwhelmed by the situation. “You are definitely going to be the death of me.”
Before Charlie could respond Bernice’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Um, Kinitia? Sorry to interrupt, but there’s an important call waiting for you.”
Kinitia took a breath and shook her head, the beads at the end of her extensions clicking quietly together. She cocked an eyebrow at him and asked, “You haven’t done anything else, have you?”
Charlie shrugged and said quietly, “Not that I can remember.”
She crossed the room and picked up the extension to begin talking quietly as Charlie sat and fought back tears. Why the hell did stupid shit like this keep happening to him? He wasn’t a bad person, how did he always seem to get mixed up in big, complicated messes?
“Pssst!” someone hissed behind him. “Charlie!”
He turned to see Ken Carlton and Billy Ransom leaning around the doorframe. “Did she fire you?” Billy asked.
“He’s not fired yet, but you two are pretty damn close,” Kinitia snapped and Charlie watched their faces zip out of sight. Kinitia turned back to the phone and Charlie tuned out the sound of her voice. He felt overwhelmed and needed to regroup. He sat and tried to think about Rock Harding, but he was too miserable to even conjure up the man’s image. Instead, he stared at a picture of Ken in a jockstrap on the cover of a recent skin magazine. When Kinitia finally hung up, the sound of the phone hitting the cradle snapped him back to attention.
Kinitia sat on the couch once again and gave him a tired look. “Farm Boy, I’m going to be honest. You are responsible for the majority of the irate calls I get from our clients.” Charlie opened his mouth to protest and she held up her finely manicured hand to stop him. “I’m not finished. Yes, you are responsible for most of the irate calls, but you have also helped me double the business since I hired you, which is important for a company supplying fluffers, what with Viagra and Cialis and those other drugs so popular. You are honest, outgoing, and very personable. You won the Hummer award the first few months you were out here, and you inadvertently helped Rod Mandrake film an award-winning finale to his movie in the desert. You helped Theo capture international drug smugglers on our cruise to Acapulco . . .” Charlie smiled at the memory of Theo Riley whose stage name was Chantilly Lace. The man was an FBI agent by day, a drag queen by night, and underneath the dresses and badge he was hung like a horse. “. . . and everyone in the office loves you.”
Charlie looked up at her, wondering where she was going with all this. “So I’m not fired?”
Kinitia smiled and reached out to put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not fired. But I do think you need to take some time off. I know you’re missing Rock right now, and the situation with the strike is a little sensitive. I think you should take some time off, go on vacation.”
“But I don’t have any vacation time left,” Charlie said.
“I’ll give you the time,” Kinitia replied. “Go away for a while. Get your head together, and then come back refreshed and ready to go.”
“Really. We’ll manage without you here.”