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Afterwards neither Jill nor Mikey could remember who had started the argument. By the time they realized what they were doing their bantering had turned into something more.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. After all, you were the one who broke Elisa’s heart by dumping her.”

“What?”

“She’d made a commitment to you and you just rejected her when Jack showed up.”

“Excuse me? This from the guy who can’t support himself. Every month you go running back to your mommy to ask her for more money. And despite that, in the short time you and Elisa have been flatmates she’s already had to pay the full rent or you guys would have been out on your ears.”

“That’s not fair. I paid Elisa back.”

“Some of it, yeah. But you still owe her most of it, I’m willing to bet.”

“Did she say so?”

“Are you kidding? Whenever I mention it, she flies to your defense like a lioness protecting her cub.”

“Yeah? So now I’m the Lion King? Anyway, what’s the matter? Jealous? You had your chance. Now -“

“Hello. You’re missing the point here. Can you or can’t you make enough to pay the rent and act like a responsible adult?”

“Look who’s talking. Aren’t you the one who resigned from his job, because he didn’t feel like it anymore?”

“Mikey, Mikey, Mikey. If you’re ever going to really live with a woman, not just share an apartment, you’ll need to have a regular job. Not the pocket money job you’ve got.”

That was a low dig. Mikey had been thinking about asking Elisa if she wanted to get engaged, but he hadn’t dared to bring up the topic. What if she really saw him as no more than a sweet but funny guy? And now Jill had to drive that home even more than he did himself, when he lay awake at night, dreaming about Elisa. Sure, most of those dreams were more like sex dreams, but in some they were actually getting married, having kids, buying a house and all that.

“Fine. I’ll get a better one.”

“Like you could. Who’s going to hire someone like you? Face it, Mikey, you’re never going to get any further than you are now. Some people don’t have it in them. Mikey, you’re a loser.”

“Yeah? Just watch me. I’m going to get a really cool job and then who’s going to feel really stupid?”

“Not me. But go on. This might be amusing. Here. Let me give you the newspaper. Look at the job listings. Try the unskilled labor column.”

How could Jill be doing this to him? They were supposed to be friends, weren’t they? Mikey was really hurt. And he’d come too far to back down. It would be like admitting Jill was right. If he got a good job, he really would buy Elisa an engagement ring and show all of them.

At times he had the feeling that none of his friends really cared about him. Except for Elisa. A small smile played on Mikey’s lips as he thought of the blonde girl who incredibly had come to consider him a friend. Now if only he could get her to see him as more than that.

He scanned the job listings, while he heard Jill getting a beer. Mikey looked up, hoping Jill was getting him one too, but no. His friend, his so called friend, turned on the tv and popped open his beercan, ignoring Mikey.

Fine. He’d show him. There. One of the ads had caught his eye. Elisa was always telling him he was cute. Actually, so did his mom, but he put more stock in Elisa’s opinion. And here was a job for someone without experience, with certain physical characteristics. He thought he fit the bill quite nicely. His height was ok, he didn’t wear glasses, no beard or moustache.

That was him. And he was working out at the gym. His body should be ok. Yeah. Why not? If he became an internationally famous model, he’d ask Elisa to marry him right away. That would really teach Jill and all his other friends a lesson. Mikey couldn’t support himself? He couldn’t make a commitment? Ha. Watch me, Jill.

“Found it. I’m out of here.”

“Where are you going?”

Jill had mellowed out a little while he was having that beer, watching tv and relaxing a bit. Maybe he had been a little hard on Mikey. After all, it wasn’t the guy’s fault he was a loser. A sweet, funny loser, but still, a loser.

“To get that cool job. Don’t wait up for me. It says I have to be there at 7 p m. Guess who’s going to feel really stupid in a few days time?”

You, Jill thought, but he was too kind to say so. Ok. If Mikey got a better job, he’d be able to pay the bills too, not just the rent of the apartment he shared with Elisa.

When his show was over, and he’d quenched his thirst, Jill began to feel curious about what sort of job it was Mikey thought he could get. His friend had left the newspaper lying on the side table. Jill made an effort to fight his laziness and got up to bring the paper back with him to the tv couch. Would he be able to guess what job Mikey was applying for?

As it turned out, that was easier than he’d imagined. Mikey had circled it in red ink. Modelling? Great. What a job for a guy. Were they really looking for guys? Yes, it seemed they did. There was something about the name of the company that caught Jill’s attention. Wasn’t there something familiar about it? What was it?

Jill wasn’t trying very hard, in fact he was almost dozing off. This was a night Jack was working late at the tv station, so there would be no hot date, or even late night makeout. On the borderland of sleep, Jill suddenly remembered what that company was and he jumped up and grabbed his jacket. Shit. If only he wouldn’t be too late. Why hadn’t he remembered sooner?

It had been years since he’d seen one of those movies. Back in college, in fact. At the time he’d felt it was quite exciting and taboo to watch a few porn movies with friends. Now he merely thought them tacky, but then his own sex life satisfied him far more than any images on film. But he seemed to remember the name of the company being connected with something else, more recently. Hadn’t he read something about it in the paper a few months ago?

A poster with a scantily dressed guy in some really nice boxer briefs jogged his memory. Shit. Gay porn movies. And now innocent little Mikey was on his way over there, hoping to be a star. He’d have to get there in time. It was all Jill’s fault that his friend was heading for disaster. Why couldn’t he have left well enough alone?

Actually, he knew why. It was that comment about his treatment of Elisa. That was still weighing on his conscience. Elisa was a great girl and she deserved better. But that was no excuse for what he’d done to his friend. Mikey wasn’t like other guys. At times, or in fact most of the time, he could be such a kid.

Down on the street, Jill hailed a cab. This situation really called for a cab, or he’d never make it in time to save Mikey from this big mistake he was about to make. The cabbie looked back at him with some surprise in his eyes, when he heard the urgency in Jill’s voice. That wasn’t good. Now the guy was going to try to overcharge him, but for once Jill didn’t really care. He had to stop Mikey, before he got in too deep to disentangle himself.

The cabbie did charge him a ridiculous amount, but Jill didn’t bother arguing. As he watched the car disappear, he began considering his next move.

Mikey made it to the audition with time to spare. It was a very brief affair, only requiring him to say a few words into a microphone and smiling at the camera. What was a bit puzzling was the questionnaire he had to fill out. Some of the questions seemed really odd, but nothing could spoil his happy mood. They wanted him.

In fact, the lady had said he had exactly the right look. The one they were looking for. He forgot to ask what he would be advertising, but when he remembered the lady had already gone back into her office. Shrugging, he decided that it didn’t really matter. Now a guy showed up, taking him into another office. He placed a contract on the desk between them, and Mikey hurriedly signed it, not giving the guy any time to change his mind.

This was simply too good to be true. There was no doubt in Mikey’s mind that he was destined for fame and fortune in a not too distant future. Jill and Barto would be so envious. And he was hoping Elisa would finally look at him with admiration in her eyes, just like he was always looking at her. There was affection as well as humor there, but Mikey would love it if just once he could do something that would earn him her respect.

“That’s good. You won’t regret this. I’ll make you a star, Nicky.”

“Mikey.”

“What? Oh, whatever. We’ve got no time to lose. The shoot is starting in a few minutes. Go to Wardrobe and have them get you these.”

The guy handed over a piece of paper, that Mikey didn’t even look at. This was so cool. Apparently, he wasn’t just going to pose for a series of photos. He would be starring in some kind of commercial. At least he assumed that. For a movie, surely he’d need to memorize a few lines? But like the guy had said, there was no time to lose.

Mikey just walked over to what the guy had referred to as Wardrobe. That was a very grand word for what was more or less a glorified broom cupboard. The chainsmoking girl who grabbed the piece of paper from him didn’t give him a chance to look inside. She just grabbed a pair of silk boxer briefs and shoved them at his face. Nice color. But was that all?

“Hey? What about the rest?”

The girl had blond streaks in her hair near the scalp. Even Mikey knew that was what happened when your hair started to grow again, after you dyed it. So she wasn’t going to be in any commercial. Or maybe that was a deliberate look? Anyway, at long last she looked up from her magazine and stared at him as if he’d just grown a few extra heads.

“What rest?”

“The rest of my costume?”

She looked as if he’d lost the last remnants of his mind, and Mikey was beginning to feel a bit out of his depth. Had he offended her in some way? Was he supposed to know about what the commerical was for? But no one had said anything.

“That’s it. Go bother someone else.”

And that appeared to be it. With the boxer briefs in his hand, Mikey ambled in the direction of the set. A sleepy guy was standing around fiddling with the cameras. At times he did something to the overhead lights. The guy’s hair was greasy, and he kept scratching his head as if he couldn’t figure out how he had ended up in this place.

Now Mikey got a chance to look a little closer at the set. It seemed to be a room. There was a bed, with some crumpled up bedclothes that looked a bit shabby and not much more. There was no sign of the product he was going to advertise.

“Excuse me? What am I supposed to do?”

“Just lie down on the bed. Roland’s going to be here in a minute.”

“Roland?”

“The director, I guess you might say.”

“Oh.”

“And Ramon’s going to get here soon.”

Mikey decided he was going to have to change into those briefs, so he looked around for a dressing room, but found nothing of the kind.

“Where am I going to change?”

“What?”

“Where can I change into these?”

“Like here.”

“Here?”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve seen it all and then some. Go ahead. If Roland catches you not ready, he’ll cut down on your pay.”

This wasn’t turning out the way Mikey had expected, but he assumed you had to start somewhere. He hurriedly took off his clothes, his back to the camera guy, and looked around for someplace to put his own stuff.

Over by the window, there was a table and some chairs, all of which were filled to overflowing with various odds and ends, but he walked over there anyway and bundled up his clothes and put them on top of everything else. His t-shirt fell off and landed on the not so clean floor and he leaned over to pick it up.

“Great ass. Now get it over to the bed.”

Mikey turned around to find a man who apparently was the director standing over him. The guy was uncomfortably close, in fact.

“Ok.”

Not quite as excited anymore, Mikey decided to get this over with. The money would come in handy, and the experience would help too, he hoped. He would put it in his resume. This sure beat waiting on tables or scrubbing counter tops. Uncertainly, Mikey looked back at the director. Was he supposed to sit or lie on the bed?

“What are you waiting for, boy? Time’s money.”

“Yes. Lying down or sitting up?”

“Are you stupid? Lie on your back. Bunch up the pillows so we can see your face. You’re supposed to be listening to music.”

“Ok.”

Now that he was closer to them, he noticed that the pillows weren’t all that clean, but he didn’t want to look stupid so he hurriedly did as the guy told him.

“Finally. Ok. Cameras. Lights. Yes. Let’s roll.”

The whirring sound from the cameras told Mikey that it had started. Why hadn’t anyone told him what to say? Or wasn’t he supposed to have any lines? As if reading his mind, the director started talking in a different voice than earlier.

“Touch yourself. Start at the top and work your way down. You know the drill. Must have done it a thousand times before. Think about anything you like. Just do it.”

“What?”

“I don’t believe this. Cut! Ok. We’ll start over. Do you have a problem, boy? If I find that you’ve been wasting my time -“

“Sorry. But what am I supposed to do?”

“Didn’t I just tell you? Where does Lenny find all these morons? You must have touched yourself a zillion times, right?”

What? What was this? Mikey was slowly beginning to realize that he had made a big mistake. Biting his lip, he tried to think of a way to disentangle himself from this.

“No one told me it was going to be this kind of movie. I thought it was just a commercial.”

Roland’s laugh made Mikey feel even more at a disadvantage.

“I see. I suppose next you’ll be telling me you want out? Don’t play with me, boy. We’re already running late. Our financiers are going to back out soon, if they don’t see some result.”

“I don’t want to do this. Sorry.”

“No, but you will be if you don’t get your act together right now. Just do as I tell you and you won’t be hurt. At least not much.”

Mikey looked at Roland, and began to feel the first stirrings of fear. But there was no way he was going to put up with anything like this. So he tried to get up, only to realize that two big strong-looking men had approached silently. They didn’t touch him, just made eye contact.

The message was clear. Don’t you dare move or else – Now Mikey was forced to fight down tears that were threatening to well up in his eyes, embarrassing him further. What would Elisa say? She’d never marry him if he – And his mom would die. But he was too scared to disobey. Just touch himself he could do. If only there wasn’t worse to come.

The cameras started rolling again, and Mikey did what he was told. Suddenly, things went from bad to worse, when a big, hairy guy in his 30’s approached the bed, wearing only a dressing gown which wasn’t even closed in front. Mikey’s mouth opened in shock. No. No. No. This couldn’t be happening. Please no. He began to babble.

“No. I can’t. Please. No. Don’t -“

The sound of the front door opening made everyone turn in that direction. Everyone including Mikey, but he couldn’t see a thing with the sharp lights in his eyes. Wasn’t that a familiar voice though?

“Hey. Leave him alone. Get away from him, all of you.”

“Jill?”

“Come on, Mikey, we’re getting out of here. Where are your clothes?”

“Who do you think you are? This is a movie set and you’re costing us thousands of dollars by holding up the -“

“Tough. I’m getting Mikey out of here.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m a friend of his.”

“Oh? A friend? Right. What’s the matter? Jealous? Your boyfriend’s a big boy. He can make up his own mind about what he wants to do with his life. But you’re quite cute yourself. Ok. What if I say you can be in the same movie? How about that? I’ll pay you what I’m paying your little friend here. Isn’t that generous? Getting paid for what you guys must be doing every night?”

“But we’re not – Just get over here, Mikey.”

Mikey got out of bed, all the time fearing one of those big guys was going to stop him, but no one laid a hand on him. Hurriedly, he walked over to the window where he’d left his clothes. He couldn’t find his underwear or his socks, but he put on the jeans and t-shirt, and at last was able to find the shoes under the chair.

He had never been so pleased to see Jill in his life. Or so embarrassed. By the door, Jill was waiting to push him outside. Not until Mikey was on the stairs, did Jill turn to leave.

Enraged shouts from inside the apartment followed them down the stairs.

“Hey. Those boxer briefs cost 50 dollars.”

That was their problem. Jill didn’t stop until he and Mikey were on the street.

There Mikey turned and faced his friend.

“Go ahead. Say it.”

“What?”

“Tell me what an idiot I am.”

“I’m not going to say that. What I’m going to say is sorry. Can you forgive me for starting that stupid argument?”

Mikey stared at Jill in silence. He wasn’t going to laugh at him? Maybe he wasn’t going to tell Barto and the girls either.

“Ok.”

That was about all Mikey could make himself say. By now, he knew that if he said another word, the tears he was holding at bay would burst forth and he would embarrass himself further.

Jill seemed to sense what was going through Mikey’s mind and didn’t say anything else. The next cab that passed he hailed and soon they were on their way back to Jill’s apartment.

Half way there, Jill realized that Mikey probably wanted to go to his place.

“Do you want to go over to my place or yours?”

Mikey thought it over. He didn’t want to go anywhere, except somewhere he could be alone and shower for about an hour. But Jill’s company or Elisa’s seemed to be what he was getting. What would be the least embarrassing? Crying in front of Elisa or Jill? Both sounded highly unappealing, but in the end, Mikey settled for his own place. That was where his clothes were, and if he was lucky, Elisa wouldn’t be back yet.

“Mine.”

“Ok.”

Jill gave the changed directions to the cabbie, and before long they were outside Elisa’s and Mikey’s place.

“Do you want me to come up with you?”

“No. No, thanks. I just want to be alone.”

“Ok. Mikey -“

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry. This was all my fault. I want you to know I won’t tell anyone about this.”

“Thanks. You’re a good friend, man.”

As the cab drove off, Jill stared at Mikey with concern in his eyes. Mikey was so upset, maybe he should have gone with him anyway. But if anything remotely like this had happened to Jill, he knew he’d want to be alone too. And he reminded himself that nothing had happened. He had gotten to Mikey in time. Surely he had? What if – No. If anything had happened, he would have noticed. At least he hoped so. If Mikey had been forced to – With distaste, Jill forced down that image. No. No way.

Mikey couldn’t find the key that he knew he’d been keeping in his pocket. What if he’d left it behind in that place? In desperation, he pulled the doorhandle, but of course, as he had known it would be, it was locked. For a moment, his mind was a complete blank. Should he go back to Jill’s place, or stay here until Elisa got back? Then he heard the lock click and the door swung open to reveal his flatmate turned girlfriend.

“Mikey? Did you forget your key?”

She broke off, to study him more closely. Something was wrong. Mikey had been crying until very recently, she could tell from the lines going down his face.

“What’s wrong?”

He looked as if he was about to turn and run from her, and Elisa couldn’t let him do that. So she reached out and pulled him inside, kicking the door shut behind them.

“Mikey? What’s wrong? Tell me everything. Start at the beginning and tell me what’s going on.”

That was something he really didn’t want to do, but he didn’t know how to say no to Elisa either. First of all, though, he had to get out of these clothes and get that shower.

“Not now, Elisa. I have to -“

He indicated the bathroom.

Staring after him in confusion and growing concern, Elisa watched him disappear into the bathroom, and soon she heard the shower running.

Elisa considered if there was something she could do, while she was waiting for Mikey to come out. She knew that he’d been over at Jill’s place, which he was almost every day. Poor Mikey never seemed to pick up on the fact that he wasn’t really welcome over there, and now less than ever, with both Jill and Barto happily in love.

Bearing this in mind, she decided that she preferred to tackle Mikey on her own. By now it had occurred to her that he was taking unusually long to finish in there. Was he hurt in some way or sick? In the end, she couldn’t stop herself from going over to the door and calling his name.

“Mikey? What are you doing for so long? Are you sick or something?”

To her alarm, she thought she heard him throwing up in there.

“Mikey?”

Finally, she heard the lock clicking and he came outside. He was wearing a towel around his waist, and nothing more.

“Now will you tell me what’s wrong?”

The normally rather imperious tone in her voice was gone, replaced by a softer note. Concern filled her eyes, as she scanned Mikey’s face for a clue as to his unusual behavior. In all the time she’d known him, even since moving in together, she’d never seen him cry.

Mikey knew it was no use trying to evade Elisa’s questions any longer. He didn’t want her to know. Least of all her. This was going to make her see him as even more inept and immature, when what he really wanted was to appear worthy of her. But on the other hand, deep down, Mikey knew that she’d never laugh at him, or hurt his feelings, unlike his other friends. Maybe that was why he loved her so much. Elisa was special.

“I wanted to get a new job. Jill and I got into a bit of an argument and I wanted to prove I could get a better job, make more money and so on.”

“Yes?”

“I found one. Or at least I thought I did. It wasn’t – quite what I had in mind.”

The look on Elisa’s face encouraged him to continue his humiliating story. Why not get it over with right away? She was going to find out sooner or later anyway. Sighing deeply, and biting his lip, Mikey went on.

“Elisa, I made a mistake. That place -“

“Yes? Come on, Mikey, it can’t be that bad.”

When she noticed the look on his face as she said those words, she took a closer look. What was it he didn’t want to tell her? She was going to make him talk, one way or another. And whoever had put that look in his eyes was going to be sorry.

“Yes. It is.”

“Well, tell me.”

“I thought it was for a commercial. Or just modelling.”

“Modelling? Oh.”

“But it wasn’t.”

It took Elisa a while to pick up on the change of tone. Again, she took a closer look, but what she read in Mikey’s eyes only told her how miserable he was.

“Alright, what was it?”

Now he wouldn’t even look at her.

She could see how he was turning away from her. Modelling. Shooting a commercial. What did that add up to? As the new thought struck her, Elisa’s eyes opened wide. His behavior certainly seemed to indicate that her suspicions were correct. How far had things gone? By now, Elisa was feeling something close to panic.

“Mikey? That wasn’t a porn movie, by any chance?”

Yes. She was right in her guess. Even if Mikey didn’t reply, she thought she could detect some kind of reaction in his posture.

“Mikey. Come on. It’s ok. Did you think I’d hate you or something? What happened? Do you want to tell me?”

“I – There was this bed, and I was supposed to lie on it. I still thought it was some commercial, but then the director told me what he wanted me to do.”

“Ok. Is that all? We’ll do something about the movie later.”

“No. A guy came over to the bed and he was going to -“

“But he didn’t, right?”

“Jill showed up. I don’t know how he found out, but he got me out of there. Pathetic, isn’t it? All I wanted to was to get a better job so you would -“

“Yes?”

Mikey shook his head dejectedly. What was the point anyway? Whatever he did, whatever he tried, he’d never be the sort of guy that was worthy of Elisa. She’d been to college and had a really important job. Jill was right. Who was he kidding? He might as well accept his fate once and for all.

“Mikey? Did you sign any contract?”

“Yes. I didn’t know what it was for. Stupid of me.”

“Never mind. We’ll deal with it later. Are you ok? The truth now.”

“Yes. I’m ok. Or will be, once I can get over how dumb I was.”

Elisa moved a little closer and placed a hand under his chin, making him face her.

“Don’t say that. You’re not dumb. It’s not a crime to be trusting.”

“In this city? Maybe not, but it sure doesn’t help.”

“Mikey, don’t do that. Come here.”

And what Elisa did in the next fifteen minutes or so, really did make Mikey feel better. It even put a smile on his lips, if only briefly.

After Mikey had gone to bed, Elisa stayed up for a while longer, pondering what she could do about the contract Mikey had signed. This was something that could well be around to haunt him forever, if she didn’t deal with it. And the movie that seemed to have been already shot – Mikey hadn’t elaborated, but Elisa thought she could guess what he had been up to in that footage. So now she needed to get that back too.

Another job for Supergirl. Shouldn’t be any problem. But as a matter of fact, at the moment Elisa didn’t have a clue, how to do any of those things. Well, the important thing was having Mikey back safe and sound. She’d figure something out in the morning. Right now, she was too tired to give it any more consideration.

On her way to bed, she looked in on Mikey, and to her surprise, he was still awake. He had looked completely exhausted when he retired to his room. Maybe she wasn’t going to make a habit of this, but tonight there was reason enough to make an exception.

“Hey. Need some company?”

Mikey hesitated. He didn’t want her pity, but looking at Elisa, he couldn’t detect a trace of pity. Concern, yes, and what he hoped was love, but nothing else. And there was no denying he’d sleep better with her by his side. Or maybe not. He’d see. But there was no way he was going to turn her down.

“Ok. I’d like that.”

Looking at his stricken face, suddenly she knew what she’d do first thing in the morning. She’d call Jill and give him a piece of her mind. If it hadn’t been for him, something far worse might have happened to Mikey, that was true, but she couldn’t ignore the fact that Jill was the one responsible for Mikey’s going to that place to begin with.

The next morning, Mikey seemed reluctant to go to work, and Elisa couldn’t blame him. She practically encouraged him to call in sick. On her way to work, she stopped by Jill’s place. Meeting Jack on the way out, she changed her mind.

“Hey. Were you coming to pick me up?”

“Uh. Yes. Let’s go, or we’ll be late.”

“That’s nice. I was wondering how I was going to find a cab at this hour. Thanks, girlfriend.”

“You’re welcome.”

She’d call Jill from work instead. If she could catch him.

Soon Jack was immersed in her work, and Elisa picked up the phone.

“David?”

“Elisa? How’s Mikey?”

“He’ll be ok, no thanks to you.”

“Excuse me? Wasn’t I the one who got him out of there, just in the nick of time, in case he hasn’t told you.”

“Oh, yes. He’s told me everything. From the beginning.”

Jill knew what she was referring to, and accepted the criticism in silence.

Elisa went on with what she had to say, and as she listened to Jill’s account, she had the glimmering of an idea.

“Ok, Jill. We’ll leave it at that, for the time being. Could you get me that address?”

“Why?”

“I just thought I’d do some research, maybe dig up some dirt.”

“Oh, ok. Here it is.”

Elisa wrote it down quickly.

“Thanks. Talk to you later.”

“Wait -“

But Jill was talking to himself.

Now she had to think of a ruse to get inside that place. The obvious course of action might be to offer her services, but she didn’t want to end up in Mikey’s predicament, especially since no one was going to barge in and save her hide. No, she’d need something a bit more respectable. Respectable to the point of untouchability.

A cop? No. They’d shut up like clams. Colleague? Again, her mind rebelled at such a thought. She wasn’t any more inclined to play pornographer than porn star. What about an IRS raid? Did they do things like that? She wasn’t sure, but if she wasn’t, chances were that those people didn’t either. That could work. The plan had definite potential. All she had to do was get one of those hidden cameras and a small tape recorder.

If she did this right, she’d get Mikey’s contract back and she just might have a scoop too. Lois Lane, eat your heart out. Murphy Brown too. Elisa would show them.

On her way to the supply room, she ran into her boss, but smiled and looked as if she had every reason to go there.

He watched her back for a while, but decided to let Elisa get on with whatever she had planned. If there was one thing he’d learned during his time at this station it was to let Elisa have a long leash. As long as no one interfered, there wasn’t anyone who could bring in the really hot stories like she could.

In the supply room she found Bailey, one of the techs, who handled the equipment.

“Hey. This might sound weird, but could you get me some ID for an IRS employee?”

If Bailey thought her request odd, he didn’t give any indication. But then the guy hardly ever said anything.

“Sure. How long do I have?”

“I need it now.”

“As in right now?”

“Yes.”

“Try this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a nice little all purpose ID card. Don’t let them look too closely and you’re home free.”

Elisa studied the plastic card a little and her face brightened. There was a sort of cavity inside it, where she could put her own photo. And as it happened, she did have one she could use. She was going to give it to Mikey, but this was a better present for him, as long as it worked. Besides, she’d get it back.

Now she was all set. She thought of telling Jack, but realized that Mikey wouldn’t want anyone else to know about his humiliating experience. So she sneaked out on her own.

A cab deposited her outside the building. Could this really be it? It was hard to believe that Mikey had really been naive enough to think this was a serious business. The entire place had a shady look to it, making Elisa wish she had told someone where she was going, or even asked for some backup.

Joe or Rudy from her camera team would have been just right for the job. But on the other hand, with those two big guys tagging along, it would look a whole lot like she was travelling around with two bodyguards. If she did that, she might as well ask for protection money. And that wouldn’t get her Mikey’s contract back, or much of a story.

When she knocked on the door, a shabby-looking character opened it and stared at her rather rudely.

“Yeah? We’re not doing het movies anymore. Or les either.”

“IRS tax audit.”

Waving the ID in the guy’s face briefly, Elisa pushed past him. It wouldn’t do to show weakness. Attitude was everything.

“Your office?”

The guy kept scratching his greasy hair, looking a bit like the roof had just caved in. There was a stunned look on his face as if he had no idea of what to make of her. Finally, he seemed to make up his mind.

“In there. But I don’t think Roland would like -“

Ignoring the guy’s words, Elisa marched into the office and began to rummage through the drawers. If she asked for their book keeping, she might miss out on the contracts, wherever they were kept. But the guy was standing practically on top of her. Ugh. What a smell. She didn’t want to contemplate what it might be.

“I can take it from here. Thank you, sir.”

Her cold stare finally had its effect. The guy backed out, pulling the door shut. It didn’t do anything for the air in there, but so what? She’d breathe when she was back outside.

She found a number of extremely graphic pictures of young men in a variety of poses and involved in all kinds of activities. Oh. She didn’t know you could do that. Well, that guys could do it. And – But she had to remind herself to get on with it. When that Roland guy got here, he might not be as much of a pushover as the greasy hair guy.

This visit was proving highly educational. Not thinking anyone would notice, Elisa grabbed a handful of the pictures. She would need them for her expose of the porn industry. Mm. Some of those guys were almost as cute as Mikey. Mikey. Yes, she’d get on with her search.

Finally, she uncovered the contracts. Looking under the letter for Mikey’s last name, she finally found it and put it into her bag. All done. Now she needed a bit more info before she could get out and finally get some fresh air.

“Thanks for your help, mr – “

The guy ignored her unspoken question and she didn’t insist. She would need to keep him in a good mood for a little while longer.

“Now I need you to answer a few simple questions about your work here.”

“I’m not sure -“

“Nothing complicated, I assure you. Just a few routine questions.”

“I suppose that would be ok.”

“Excellent. You’re being very cooperative. It’s all going into my report. I can’t promise anything, but I think I’m justified in saying you won’t have any trouble. Now. How many movies do you shoot here per month?”

“That’d be about 6. If it’s not full length movies. Then it might be more like 3 or 4.”

“How many actors do you employ on average?”

“It depends. In a few we only have one. But in most we have at least two. Sometimes three or more.”

“And they’re all registered with the Actors’ Association?”

Greasy hair looked away from her.

“Well. Uh. You’d have to ask Roland, I mean mr Nielsen. He’s the one who deals with the employment and recruitment.”

“I see. I’m assuming they’re all of age?”

“Yes. Absolutely. We’re not making any illegal shit here. All good quality entertainment.”

“How long have you had the equipment?”

She waved her hand in what she hoped was a knowledgeable way towards the cameras.

“I think about three years.”

“Where does your boss find these – actors?”

“All over the place. In clubs and bars all over the city. He places ads sometimes. And there are agencies that send over guys for his approval.”

“What criteria do you use?”

The man stared blankly at her. Apparently one syllable words would be much preferable in his case.

“How do you pick the guys?”

“Oh, well. You know. They have to be cute, sexy. Young, most of them.”

Yeah, I bet, Elisa thought to herself.

“Well built. What does this have to do with the tax audit anyway?”

Oops. Time to go.

“As I said. Just routine questions. Thank you so much for your cooperation. It’s people like you who make my work so much easier. I really appreciate it. Thank you again. Now I need to get on my way. This work isn’t doing itself.”

She thought she’d gotten a few good shots of the interior and the tape recorder had been running the entire time, so she should have all of greasy hair’s account. Hopefully it would be enough to make a good news segment. Of course, she’d do more research, but after today, it might be best if she kept away from this place in person.

It was just a shame there were no movies being shot today. That would have been some scoop. Or maybe not. The station’s lawyers might have something to say about adult footage. Either way, all in all, this had been quite a success. Especially when she was finally down on the street again. Now if only she could get a cab out of here –

And finally she was on her way back to the station. She’d edit and make up a rough draft later. But first – Before anything else, she went into the ladies’ room and tore up Mikey’s contract, flushing the pieces down the toilet.

She couldn’t help noticing that the terms had been extremely unfair. Mikey wouldn’t have earned much more than he already did, and there were paragraphs that gave those creeps the right to do anything they chose with the material they shot of him. That reminded her. She hadn’t had a chance to confiscate the reel from Mikey’s movie. What was she going to do? Umm. Yes.

Last year they had done a really good piece on police work and she’d managed to make friends with two very nice officers, Teresa Sanchez and Paddy Jones. Since she’d given them a very positive image in the segment, she was willing to bet that they’d help her out, no questions asked.

“Hey. It’s me, Elisa. Long time no see. Yeah. We have to do that again soon. Listen, I’ve got something for you.”

Teresa was all ears.

“That’s a bit unusual, isn’t it? Shouldn’t that be my line?”

“Maybe. But I have a hot tip for you. There’s this slimy company that makes – shall we say adult movies – and anyway, they might be using minors in their movies. I’d say it’s worth checking out. Either way, they might be using non-union workers.”

“Not really my table. I’m Vice, remember?”

“Yes, that’s why I thought you’d want to know this.”

“Sure. If they are using minors. Or doing anything else illegal. Ok. What’s the catch?”

“Ok. I’ll level with you. There’s a reel in one of those cameras, at least I hope so, and I want it destroyed without anyone looking at it. It’s nothing you need to worry about. Nothing illegal. It’s just that a friend of mine is in a bit of trouble. Or will be unless I can get that movie destroyed.”

“A close friend?”

“Very.”

“Ok. I’m a sucker for a romantic story. Consider it done. How about a double date, some time next week? You bring your friend and I’ll bring Miguel.”

“You have a deal.”

“I’ll call you when it’s going down. And I’ll let you look over the movies before we take them as evidence. As long as it’s just legal stuff, it’s nothing to do with us. Do what you want with it. Maybe you should keep it and spice up your love life a bit? Unless it’s a girlfriend?”

“No. It’s a guy alright. But I think I’ll pass on the spice. We’ll manage.”

“I thought so. Saint Elisa of the innocent face. But who knows what’s hiding behind it? Right. Expect my call. Oh, Paddy and his wife might want to tag along.”

“Great. The more the merrier. See you.”

Teresa called back around six that evening, just as Elisa was going back home to check on Mikey. But naturally she’d have to be there. If she asked Teresa to look through the movies, she’d see Mikey and that was exactly what she was trying to prevent.

When she finally returned to her apartment, she was dead on her feet. But she had burned the reel of film herself. No one else had seen it. She had had to watch a few other movies before finding it, but surprisingly she didn’t feel sick at all. Just tired. Now all she wanted was some rest. Back home, she was surprised to feel a delicious smell wafting into her nose. Surely Mikey couldn’t have – ?

“Honey, I’m home.”

“Oh, good. I don’t think dinner would have lasted much longer in the oven. It’s drying out.

“I’m sure it’s going to be ok. This is so sweet of you, Mikey. I didn’t realize you cooked.”

“Well, actually, I went over to my mom and she sent this over. I’m just keeping it warm.”

“Anyway, it smells delicious. Exactly what I need. So how was your mom?”

“She was fine.”

Mikey glanced slyly at Elisa. It wouldn’t do any harm testing the waters a bit, before popping the question. He’d find the money for a ring of some kind, if she was interested.

“And she asked if you were pregnant and if so when was I going to make an honest woman out of you.”

“She did, did she? And what did you say?”

“I said that I had no idea about stuff like that.”

“Funny she should mention that. I only told Jack and a couple of my best girlfriends about it today. Small world, isn’t it? News travels fast.”

The startled look on Mikey’s face was worth all the trouble she’d had on his account. She could see how his mind was working out the conclusion and how his mouth opened into a stunned o.

“Just kidding. No kid on the way – yet.”

“Oh.”

He almost looked disappointed as he closed his mouth.

“So do you want to have dinner, or what?”

“Absolutely.”

Elisa sat down and kicked off her shoes. Her feet were killing her. How sweet of Mikey to think about her, even if he hadn’t done the actual cooking. Come to think of it, that was a blessing. Remembering a few near misses that might have required the assistance of the fire brigade, Elisa was glad his mother had made this dinner.

She waited until they’d finished eating, before reminding Mikey of his problem. Or rather his ex-problem.

“Remember that contract you signed?”

His face fell and the happy glint in his eyes went out. When he replied, the playful tone was gone from his voice. There was a wariness there that hurt Elisa.

“Yes.”

“You can forget about it now. It’s been taken care of. And that movie reel too. All destroyed.”

“Elisa, you’re amazing. How did you manage that?”

“All tricks of the trade. Lie and keep a straight face. Oh, ok. I’ll tell you about it. Later. Right now, I’d like to watch some movie.”

“Independence Day?”

“Guess again.”

“Casablanca?”

“That’s better.”

“Ok. I’ll get the movie.”

The mention of a movie reminded Mikey of the one he’d been in. Elisa must have seen it. He blushed all over and turned away. Then he turned back and faced her. Better get it over with.

“Speaking of movies. I guess you saw the one they shot of me?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“We’re talking about 30 seconds at most. Jill must have shown up almost immediately.”

Not the way Mikey remembered it, but he loved Elisa for trying to make him feel better about it.

“Ok. Now we’ll take a look at Bogey and Ingrid.”

“Yeah.”

Much later, Elisa and Mikey retreated to his room. From the way he looked, Elisa guessed he needed a lot more cheering up, and as it happened, she could help him out there.

Before they were drifted off to sleep, Mikey touched on the painful topic again.

“You know I don’t deserve you. Jill was right. I am a loser.”

“He said that? I see. David can expect a call from me tomorrow.”

“But he’s right. I’m an idiot and a loser. Why do you bother with me at all?”

“Because you’re the sweetest, cutest guy in the world?”

That put a smile on his face.

“Oh. Well. There’s that, of course.”

“Mikey, listen to me. You’re not a loser. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that again. There’s more to life than a Ph D and a desk job. Those guys drop dead by the age of 50 and they’ve never had a life. You’re doing the right thing. Find out what you want to do. Don’t just do stuff to prove yourself to others. Your life is your life. Whatever you want to do is ok with me.”

Mikey leaned over and kissed her again. What had he ever done to deserve her? But he had to be doing something right. It had been his lucky day when they’d thought of moving in together. One day he’d definitely suggest getting engaged. He’d save up for the ring and then –

They fell asleep holding each other. Mikey didn’t want to let go, ever.

Elisa had a contented smile on her lips. She had been telling the truth. There was no guy as sweet as Mikey. If other people couldn’t see that, it was their problem. Maybe one day she’d be able to introduce Mikey to the idea of getting engaged. If he couldn’t afford a ring, she’d buy one herself. Money wasn’t important. Love was, and that they had in abundance. Tomorrow Jill was going to get another piece of her mind, and anyone else who wanted to hurt Mikey would have her to deal with. On that promising thought, she fell asleep.

FIN

© Tonica