Smile for the Camera, Pt. 8

By popular request, I won’t be adding little author-y comments when my pieces are late from here on it. I’ll only comment if there’s something really important that needs to be shared. It’s a new day! No, sir, not going to… comment… on unimportant…

…whoops.

I met James’s publicist the next day, a middle-aged, overweight balding man by the name of Derrick Duane. We met at a restaurant, a nice one, an obvious one, and the man chattered away faster than I could follow. He had three phones on the table in front of him, a headset on one ear, a lens over one eye, and when he spoke, I had no idea who he was addressing. James seemed to be perfectly at ease with the man, though.

“I don’t understand why she’s here,” Derrick said.

“I told you, Cathy’s my assistant.”

I said nothing. Instead, I kept unbroken eye contact with Derrick, a look of cool disinterest, of mild distaste on my face. Derrick sniffed and turned towards James.

“I don’t understand why you hired an assistant without first consulting me.”

“Because you’re not my mother, and I’m a grown man. And even if you were and I weren’t, I still wouldn’t talk to you before making the decision to hire a damn assistant.”

Derrick paused and looked up. The expression on his face was unreadable, and for a moment I thought that he was offended, that he was going to say something. And then I noticed his eyes darting back and forth frantically and I realized that he wasn’t even paying attention to us. He was engrossed in whatever he was seeing through his lens.

It was so obvious he was seeing things we weren’t, that he existed in a world of his own. Was that what I looked like when I was using the oculars? Was that how James could tell I was a panop?

Finally Derrick looked up at us, his gaze bouncing back and forth between James and me. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Nothing. But I’m not firing Cathy and I’m not apologizing for hiring her without letting you know.”

Derrick sighed, looked back down at his phones, and started tapping away at them. “Fine. Do whatever you want with Katie. I’m just giving you my opinion.”

I frowned at that. Cathy wasn’t my name, of course. James had insisted that I use a different name, a different personality for every different group we interacted with, but still. The bastard couldn’t even be bothered to get my fake name right.

I glanced to the side. James’s eyes were expressionless, but the edge of his mouth was curled up in a smirk.

* * *

Kiev Bachmann stumbled to his knees and caught himself. But only barely. He tried to push himself back up, but couldn’t manage it. Instead, he vomited, an impossibly big puddle forming underneath him. The stink of acid, of alcohol, of half-digested food rose up to my nose, threatened to turn my own stomach.

James didn’t seem to mind it at all.

Kiev’s hands shook, the tremors moving up his arms like a kid in a gym class forced to do too many push-ups. James grabbed him by the back of his jacket and tugged, pulling him back and up. Kiev stood there, swaying uncertainly but holding his ground for the moment.

“Oh, Jesus,” he slurred. “Oh, fuck. I’m so sorry, man.”

“It’s alright,” James said. He had one hand on Kiev’s shoulder, carefully placed to reassure him, to hold him up, and to avoid the vomit that had splashed onto the front of the man’s clothes all at once. “We all like to party, man. Sometimes we just party too hard. It’s not big deal.” He turned his head from side-to-side, made a show of looking around. “Besides, there’s nobody else around. No one’s going to see you like this.”

Kiev nodded, but then his eyes locked on me, unfocused, but still registering my presence. “Dude. What about her, dude? Is she cool?” This was the third time in twenty minutes Kiev had asked this about me. I was trying to maintain a distant, professional air, but he was making me nervous.

He’s probably just blacked out, I told myself. That’s why he keeps asking the same question; he can’t remember the response he’s been given.

“She’s the doctor, man. She’s cool.”

Kiev nodded. “Doctor. Right.”

We made our way slowly towards the car I’d come in, having to wait for Kiev to stumble around and reorient himself every few dozen feet. I’d met James and Kiev separately, waiting for James to let me know to come. Neither of them was in any shape to drive, but Kiev was obviously the worse of the two.

“Let’s get in the car, man,” James said. “She’ll take us back to your place. We can get our shit in the morning.”

“Yeah. Get our shit in the morning.” Kiev stopped and looked at me, as if seeing me for the first time. “Wait, is she cool?”

“Relax, man,” James said. He turned to me and smiled. “I told you, Megan’s a doctor. She’s cool. She won’t say anything. Not one word.”

* * *

A few days later, I was eating lunch with James at Mar . He was laying out our itinerary for the next week, the places we would go, the people we would see, when I stopped him.

“James, I can’t keep doing this. I can’t just sit on the stills and video I have. The company’s asking too many questions. It’s been weeks since I’ve given them anything they could use. If I don’t start delivering results soon, they’re going to send someone to observe me and figure out what the hell I’m doing.”

James frowned. I could see his mind at work. “I’ll have someone set up a private server. We can upload everything to that and go through it, figure out what to keep and what to publish. We’ll go through it together. If it’s not enough for you to live on, I’ll start paying you. Does that work?”

I started at my seat. When had James come to the conclusion that he could just pay me? Still, I thought about it. “Yeah, that should work.”

“Good. Have you thought about what you want yet?”

“Still deciding.” I frowned. I set down the menu. “James.”

“Yeah?”

“Why would you want to keep any of them?”

He looked up from the menu and stared at me for a moment, his face blank and unreadable. And then he looked back down, and that was all. “You should try the lobster bisque,” he said. “It’s exquisite.”

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