CHRISTMAS FICTION: Laurie Blane’s story continues. This holiday season the actress has a lot to be thankful for – especially her agent. 3,410 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Flying across the Atlantic to London at 600 miles an hour the day before Christmas, investment tycoon Russ Kelly’s Gulfstream G650 carried six passengers — Laurie Blane; her publicist Jackie Fisher; her agent Ron Astor; her personal assistant Marty Oliver; and two private security men. Russ was in New York on business; he was to join her at the next stop in Paris on Christmas Day. Everyone anticipated that Europe would be festive. After all, this year Chanukah started on Christmas Eve, a rare occurrence.
Laurie sat in a high-back rich beige leather chair in the middle of the plane, meditating. In a facing chair, Marty sat directly across, reading a book on her iPad. Terri, the sole flight attendant, hovered nearby. The two security men, both good-looking hulks, sat close to the cockpit, their expressions showing they were all business. Ron Astor and Jackie Fisher sat together in the rear of the cabin, the two discussing strategies for the promotional holiday trip to Europe in hushed voices, not wanting to disturb Laurie.
Actually, Ron and Jackie were arguing.
“I think the media I’ve selected are the right ones for this publicity tour,” she told him. “They all have the right demographics.”
“Demographics, my ass! You don’t have one single television interview for Laurie while she’s in London. They’re all tabloids and You Tube vloggers. We need to fix that. How many times do I have to repeat myself?” The agent dealt all the time with PR people, and he knew from experience that working with them required infinite patience. But Jackie was especially problematic. He didn’t like anything about her.
“We don’t need a television interview,” Jackie retorted. “At any given time, more people are reading Internet content and watching You Tube than watching television. The PUT numbers for the 18-to-49 demo are down eight percent year over year. The PUT numbers for young people are even worse. The 18-to-24 demographic shows a twenty percent decline.”
“So what? People-using-television scores have nothing to do with what I’m talking about.”
“But Ron, don’t you understand? Young people are moving away from watching TV. We live in the digital age. Everything is streaming now. So why waste our time with television when we can reach more people using Internet media?”
“It’s not a waste of time,” he said. “Television has more immediate impact, and once we get her a television interview, the video will show up on all searches for JAV Lipstick or its spokesmodel Laurie.”
Jackie frowned. “The key demographic for JAV Lipstick is women with disposable income ages 18-to-49. You Tube make-up vloggers are playing a huge role in JAV’s success.”
“They wouldn’t even have known about JAV without Laurie’s TV commercials we ran in key markets.”
“Those stopped running two months ago. Now it’s time to go in a different direction,” Jackie insisted, looking at Ron with an expression of disdain. Which he returned.
“Look, honey, don’t tell me my business. I’ve been doing this for thirty years. Laurie should do a television show.”
“Anyway, it’s too late to book a television show now. It had to be done weeks ago. Plus, there’s no time in her schedule.”
“I have a close friend who’s a producer at The One Show. I can try to get Laurie on the show tomorrow.”
“She’s going to be exhausted as it is.”
“I know her better than you. I’ve been her agent for fifteen years.”
“Then why didn’t you see her true potential during all that time? Without Russ Kelly’s intervention, she would still be sitting on her ass in the Hollywood Hills. And you wouldn’t even be on this airplane.”
Ron turned red. Jackie continued, coolly. “You talent agents don’t know everything. Leave the publicity to a professional.”
Ron had heard enough. He rose from his seat and moved next to Laurie, whose eyes were closed. She was practicing deep breathing, repeating mantras over and over silently to herself. You need to be confident. You will be all right. After five minutes, she opened her eyes and saw Ron beside her.
“Do you need me, Ron?” He was obviously upset about something. “What’s wrong?”
Ron turned and saw Jackie was busy texting on her iPhone with the tips of her fingernails, her eyes glued to the screen. He leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “You don’t have any television interviews lined up, that’s what’s wrong.”
“I’m sure it will be all right,” Laurie said.
“I’d like your permission to set up a TV interview. I can get you on The One Show. I know the producer.”
“Does Jackie agree with you?”
“No, and that’s the problem.” He leaned forward to get closer. “Laurie, JAV Lipstick is a high-end product. Internet tabloids are not the only way to go. Let me set this up. What do you say?”
Laurie looked at him and blinked. Russ was always asking her, What do you say? Had Ron picked it up from him?
“Okay, Ron. Go ahead and set it up. I’ll tell Jackie I want to do it.”
Ron grinned. No way he’d let Jackie Fisher run all over him.
Laurie wore a loose dark green blouse that showed a touch of cleavage, and skin-tight jeans: this at the insistence of Jackie, who said the actress had to exude sex appeal everywhere because JPEGs and video from digital devices could be uploaded to the Internet within seconds and go viral. So Laurie needed to be photogenic all the time, no matter where she was or what she was doing. The whole world is now your stage, the PR expert had explained. Several times.
What she hadn’t told Laurie was that part of Jackie’s job was to inform the most popular tabloids of the exact times of Laurie’s schedule. Jackie constantly texted her contacts at those tabloids, making sure they knew everything about Laurie’s whereabouts. The tabloids would then send their photographers to the location to get pictures of the star, whether she was at an airport, a restaurant or yoga class. And Jackie made sure that the articles accompanying the photos were favorably written because she always paid certain tabloid editors in cash under the table. This was Jackie’s job.
Watching Ron’s body language made Laurie smile. Russ Kelly had invested $350 million in Jack Martyn’s talent agency, assuming a majority holding. But as part of the deal Russ had insisted that Ron devote all of his time to Laurie. Jack Martyn agreed, and had ordered Ron to turn over all his other clients to other agents. Ron now represented Laurie exclusively.
To Laurie’s surprise, during their first meeting, Russ and Ron had hit it off. The two men genuinely liked one another. And ever since then, she noticed a complete change in Ron’s demeanor. He actually cared about her career again.
For the first time in a long time, Laurie’s life had become financially stress-free. She had money. JAV Lipstick was a big sensation in Europe, and she was proud to play a vital role in its success. The television and internet ads featuring her had been very effective. One famous Italian journalist, a notorious womanizer, claimed Laurie had the sexiest lips on the planet.
But now there was another kind of stress. She had the responsibility of being JAV’s sole spokesmodel. There were schedules to be kept. Long hours to work. Voiceovers in a recording studio. Sessions in front of the cameras. This trip, she would have to face journalists and their live interviews. It had been a long time since she had done that. But Russ felt the tour was necessary. He saw an opportunity for her and his JAV in London, Paris, and Rome. But from the start, Laurie had noticed friction between Ron and Jackie and found herself playing mediator between them.
She thought about calling Russ from the plane just to say hello, but decided against it. He might be busy to talk. She thought about him, knowing she would soon be with him, and it gave her a feeling of contentment and also butterflies — the kind of butterflies women get only when madly in love. And Laurie was head over heels. Russ was the man of her dreams.
Lately they saw each other only sporadically, a day here, two days there. But the sex between them was great and left both hungering for more. Their last romp had been pure lust. They had entered their luxury hotel room in The Mansion in Dallas, instantly closed the door and ripped off their clothes. They grappled with one another’s underwear before throwing themselves on the bed, locked in a sweet embrace. Their lovemaking that night had been especially intense.
If only, she thought, he was here now.
After these European interviews, Laurie and Russ were traveling to the Aegean Sea on a private yacht belonging to one of his friends. For an entire week. With eyes closed, she visualized being on the boat, lying in the sun. Clear water. Blue sky. And Russ. She took deep breaths and fell asleep.
“Ms. Blane. Ms. Blane.” Laurie felt someone shaking her shoulder. “Ms. Blane, we will be landing in London shortly.”
Surrounded by an entourage, Laurie passed through British immigration and customs and walked towards the terminal exit where a phalanx of black Range Rovers were waiting.
“Hello, Ms. Blane. I’m Edward, your driver.”
Ron whipped out his mobile. “I’ll need to get your phone number and I’ll need to know where Laurie is every moment.”
The two security men flanked Laurie. “I see about a dozen paparazzi outside the terminal,” said a third security man. “Ms. Blane, please stay close to us. We’ll protect you.”
The entourage walked in a tight formation out the front entrance to the terminal where the photographers were waiting.
“Ms. Blane, how long will you be staying in London?”
“Not long enough! Merry Christmas!”
She waved and smiled and left before anyone else could ask another question, she turned and hurried toward her car.
The SUVs sped off. After a very short drive they arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel at Canary Wharf where Laurie was booked into the Penthouse Suite and the entourage was staying on the sixth floor. The lobby had a large Christmas tree festively decorated. A menorah was behind the front desk.
As everyone went to their rooms, Laurie walked to one of the windows and gazed down at the River Thames. In the distance she saw the City of London. It was an amazing view. Down below, a brightly lit walkway beckoned along the edge of the river with trees in blue lights lining the walkway.
“We should walk along the river,” Laurie said to Marty, the only woman in the world whom the actress completely trusted.
“This will be fun, Laurie,” Marty replied. “Thanks for taking me.”
“No, don’t thank me. I needed you to come.”
“You know I’m always here for you.”
Laurie put her arm around Marty, who for the past five years had been her best friend. Marty was a sexy and shapely forty-something brunette who looked like Laurie’s younger sister.
“Let’s change into shoes we can walk in,” Laurie winked.
There was a knock on the door. It was Ron who told Laurie. “I’m just down the hall. Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
“We’re going for a walk across the river. Care to join us?”
Ron shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
Just then, there was another knock on the door. An official-looking badge was held up for inspection. Behind it was a man and a woman, dressed in business suits and serious faces.
“The cops are here,” Marty joked. “What did you do, Ron?”
“Good evening,” the man said, still showing his badge. “I’m Jack Thorne with MI5. And this is my colleague Maggie Hutton. We would like to speak to Laurie Blane.”
Laurie walked over and introduced herself.
“Ms. Blane, I’m afraid we have received intelligence that your name has appeared on an ISIS hit list.”
Laurie stood there, absorbing this information. “How do you know this?” she asked.
“You’re featured in the latest propaganda outlets.”
“What do they say?”
“They say you are a she-devil corrupting Muslim women, so they’ve put out an order to kill you. Islamic State women are not allowed to wear lipstick. They believe the JAV brand is bad because its ads trumpet the fact it contains no pork fat. Which is encouraging Muslim women everywhere to buy it.”
Ron was incredulous. “So they want to kill Laurie because she is JAV’s spokesperson? You’re fucking kidding me!”
“I wish I were,” Thorne frowned.
“How many people know about this?” Ron asked.
“This can’t be kept secret? This was in their English language editions. They’re very effective at using media.”
Laurie asked, in a whisper, “How will they try to kill me?”
“Most likely it will be a lone wolf attack. The Islamic State has established significant influence over the Muslim population of Europe, including here in the United Kingdom. There are hundreds of Londoners willing to do their bidding. We decided to warn you so you can hire more security.”
“I thought London was a safe city,” Laurie said.
“These are extraordinary times, Ms. Blane. It isn’t safe anywhere. For this evening, I’d like to have Officer Hutton stay with you, right outside your room, if that’s all right. We will also have other officers stationed throughout the hotel. We are hoping to catch anyone who menaces you in the act.”
“This threat is that serious?” Laurie asked.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” Officer Thorne replied. “We’ve been picking up chatter. Certain known terrorists have been communicating with people here. We don’t know exactly what it means, but we prefer not to take any chances.”
“What do you need from me?” Laurie asked.
“We already have your cell numbers and those of your entourage.
“I see.” Laurie said. “Then I guess we’ll be in touch.”
When MI5 departed, Laurie sat down in the sofa, staring out the window, speechless. Then after some minutes, she asked “Has the whole world gone completely crazy?”
“Laurie, the world went bat-shit crazy a long time ago.” Marty replied, putting an arm around her.
“Maybe we should just cancel the media tour,” Ron suggested. “Laurie, I have a bad feeling about this.”
Laurie looked at him, angrily. “Ron, I’m not quitting because a bunch of thugs want to kill me. I’m not going to let them disrupt my life. I’m going to do what I came here to do?”
“Clear,” Ron said.
“So let’s go for that river walk,” Laurie said, calming down. “Ron, we’ll meet you in the lobby in ten minutes.”
The next morning, Laurie began her interviews. Paparazzi were waiting outside each media’s offices as Laurie and her entourage went in and came out. She wore a gorgeous dark blue dress and ruby red JAV Lipstick. She stopped before each group of cameras and gave them ample opportunity to take her photograph. She kept waving and flashing her smile.
Suddenly, a young bearded man ran towards her, a gun in his hand. He fired once, the bullet missing Laurie’s head by inches. Marty and Jackie screamed. The security guards grabbed Laurie just as the gunman fired two more rounds, the bullets miraculously missing everyone.
But then Ron emitted a guttural primal scream and launched himself off the ground. He threw a flying round-house kick, his shoe connecting with the gunman in his Adam’s apple,. Both men fell violently to the ground.
The security men rushed Laurie into the nearest skyscraper at full speed, Marty and Jackie running right behind them. Laurie tried to see what had happened to Ron, but the two security men were rushing her through the building lobby to the elevators before she could turn around. They were inside the corporate headquarters of the biggest UK media outlet. With that kind of dramatic entrance, they were stared at by every office worker. An editor recognized Laurie.
“What is it? What happened?”
“Someone tried to kill Laurie,” Jackie said. “A lone gunman. We’d been warned ISIS had targeted her. There were several shots.”
“Are you all right?”
Laurie tried to smile. “He missed me. Are you all okay?” She looked at her security detail, and then at Marty and Jackie.
Within minutes, everyone who worked at the tabloid knew that a fanatic had tried to murder Laurie Blane outside the building. The building was abuzz. Cell phones were ringing. Texts sent out. Cameras and videos recording everything.
Especially when Laurie cried out, “Where’s Ron?”
No one knew. Her third security appeared to give a report: Down on the street, it was a wild commotion as police and MI5 officers cordoned off the area and searched for the gunman. Ron had been knocked unconscious as he hit the sidewalk – but not before he’d kicked the gunman in the throat so severely that the terrorist’s windpipe was crushed.
In the distance, sirens blared as ambulances raced toward the scene, one of them for Ron who was regaining consciousness. “Is he going to be all right,” Laurie asked.
“Mr. Astor has a concussion so they’re taking him to the hospital to check him over. He’s okay, Ms. Blane.”
Laurie then issued an order to Jackie. “Since we’re here, I want to do an interview. About my agent, who saved us.”
“He was amazing!” Marty said. “I can’t believe I saw Ron flying through the air. And that scream. Who knew?”
Laurie told the tabloid everything that MI5 had told her. It made for sensational coverage all over the internet.
That night, Laurie went to see Ron in his hospital room. It was crowded with flowers and balloons and mini-muffins. She needed to see him and sit with him and talk to him. He was hooked up to an IV and four different electronic sensors. His bed was surrounded by digital machines sending data.
“Hey, how are you?” Laurie asked, taking his hand in hers.
Ron smiled sheepishly. “I just got knocked out. They’re keeping me tonight for observation. But did you hear what I did to the other guy?” he added proudly. “I tried to kill him.”
She laughed. “No, you didn’t kill him. But you did hurt him really badly, though they say he’ll live. One of the paramedics had to do an emergency tracheotomy on him because he couldn’t breathe. I understand he’s already got a lawyer.”
Ron grimaced. “I’ll have to kick harder next time.”
“You were so brave. You saved my life,” Laurie said, choking up. “But you could have been killed.”
“I did it because it’s my job. I can’t let anything happen to you. I haven’t told you this before, but I’m very proud of you. You’re my most important client.”
“I’m your only client,” Laurie grinned. “But how did you ever make that move?”
“I’ve been studying Tae Kwon Do for the past two years. I started taking classes because my doctor ordered me to start exercising. He said I was one pizza away from a heart attack.”
“My cholesterol is back to normal. I’m in better shape. And now I know how to protect myself and my client.”
“Ron, they’re talking about you all over the world. I think you’re just as famous as me now,” she laughed.
But Ron became serious. “Laurie, I owe you an apology. Not long ago, I was ready to give up on you and your career. I should have known better. I knew you had talent. I should have pushed Hollywood harder to see it, too. I’m sorry.”
They held each other’s gaze for several seconds.
Laurie teared up again, and squeezed his hand.
“Shitty way to spend Christmas Eve. In this hospital.”
Laurie leaned over and kissed his forehead. Then she walked out of the hospital room and back to the hotel to meet Russ. Ron watched her leave. Thinking about all that had happened, he was pleased with himself. For the first time in his life, he felt like he had done something important.
As he lay there, a nurse came in. “You’re quite the ladies man.” She gave him a small mirror. “Take a look,” she said.
Ron studied his image. In the center of his forehead was a perfectly formed imprint of Laurie’s bright red JAV Lipstick.