Busted Axle Road
Chapter 23

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

About thirty miles from the Defenders of Gaea office, but not far at all from Harris' home, Jenny Easton lay nude on a massage table, while Blake kneaded her back.

Blake's big hands on her back made her feel wonderfully relaxed, perhaps the best she'd felt in a couple of days. In addition to being her masseur, bodyguard, driver and housekeeper, he was her friend, perhaps the only real friend she had in southern California, but not her lover.

It was a matter of a little pride for Blake Walworth, even though he'd never told anyone about it, maybe because of that friendship. "If you ever want to try it straight," she'd offered, not once, but several times, "Just say the word."

He never had, but to have a standing offer from a woman that People magazine had recently called, "the sexiest in America", and never get interested ... you just don't get gayer than that.

At that, he wasn't totally immune to Jenny. A brass monkey couldn't be immune to Jenny, when she was on a concert stage singing with a voice like a 440-volt sex-charged Karen Carpenter, or doing a rock video, or being a temptress on a movie screen. There was something kittenish about her, shy and demure, exuding sex, yet seemingly unaware of the effect she had on men -- and women, too.

It put him in mind of some of the old Marilyn Monroe movies, when Monroe was so drop-dead sexy that she brought everything to a halt, without quite seeming aware of the fact that she drove people nuts. That was at least partly a public persona, Blake knew; while she didn't idolize Monroe, he'd sat with Jenny, watching old Marilyn Monroe films, as she looked for hints and tips. There was a naturalness about Jenny that transcended glitter and hype, and that was part of the image, too.

The naturalness was refreshing, part of her image; she never dressed radically, or hot and dirty. She didn't need suggestive clothes to make her statement for her. She could do things with a simple, neat, conservative gown that someone like Madonna couldn't manage in all the lingerie in the Frederick's catalogue. At the last Grammy awards, where she'd picked up three, she'd appeared among all the designer dresses and bare skin wearing a demure cocktail dress that she told the press that she'd gotten "off the rack at Penneys for $59.95". She had indeed done just that -- Blake had helped her pick it out -- and it had gotten onto at least six magazine covers that he'd seen.

But that was image, and she put it on as easily as putting on clothes. The private Jenny, the one he saw, the one that perhaps only he and Jenny shared, reminded him of Marilyn Monroe, too. The real Monroe. Perhaps only Jenny and he knew that Jenny Easton was a desperately unhappy camper.

If Blake had to sum Jenny up in a word, that word would be "homesick". She was not a person whose psyche fed on glamour, on adulation, on roaring crowds. Home, back in Spearfish Lake, represented a happier time, a happier life. The high point of her week came each Thursday, when the Spearfish Lake Record-Herald arrived, via next-day air -- the only copy of the paper sent out like that. Jenny devoured it, cover to cover, everything in it -- even the legals, the obituaries, the ads for used snowmobiles. She kept back issues of the Record-Herald around, and read them over and over again, sometimes for months, until they were almost worn out. It was from sheer loneliness, lack of friends, and sometimes Blake wondered why she had loosened her reserve enough to open up to him. Perhaps it was because he was bent, and her public charms were a dull instrument to defend herself from opening up; he didn't present a threat.

If he'd ever thought for a minute that making love with her would have helped her misery, he'd have been willing to give it his best shot. But, he knew it wouldn't help, for Blake had only slowly become aware of the deepest secret of all: "America's sex goddess" got more thrills out of a glass of warm milk and a plate of cookies than she'd ever gotten out of sex.

Not that he hadn't been in bed with her -- but those had been on nights when she had been so desperately unhappy and lonely that she'd just needed someone to hold on to, to remind her that she wasn't alone in the world.

Fortunately, there hadn't been much of that recently. For a couple of months, Jenny had looked forward to a break in her schedule, and it was only a few days off, now. For a few days, she could go back to Spearfish Lake, lay around her parent's cottage, maybe volunteer at the day-care center, and generally be Jennifer Evachevski instead of Jenny Easton for a while. A week or two of that could carry her for months.

He'd get a break, too; he could slide up to the bay area, and be himself for a while, too. A few nights of the bar scene would recharge his batteries, although they took a totally different charge than Jenny's.

He was remembering some of the classic evenings he'd had in San Francisco over the years when the phone rang. "You'd better get it, Blake," Jenny said, coming out of whatever private reverie she had.

The first sound of the voice in the receiver made Blake's heart sink: it was Fred Knox, Jenny's agent, and that almost always meant trouble, any more. "How's it going, Blake?" Knox said. "Let me talk to Jenny."

"Let me see if I can find her," Blake replied, and covered the phone. "It's Fred," he told Jenny.

"Oh, shit," the tall, blonde-haired nude said. "Do I have to talk to him today?"

"You could be in the can," Blake suggested.

"Oh, hell, I'll talk to him," she said. "I just don't want to. Give me the phone."

Blake went back to working on Jenny's back, but listened to the conversation; Knox's voice was loud enough that he could make out both sides of it. "Great news, Jenny," Knox said. "I've come up with a great public relations opportunity that ought to do a lot to broaden your image."

"What?"

"There's this environmental group, Defenders of Gaea, that wants you to shoot a promo for them. Couple of thirty-second spots, plus some stills. Ought to be able to do it in a day, easy. I told them you'd be glad to do it for a writeoff. It ought to give your image some depth."

"When do they want to do this shoot?" she asked.

"There's a crew all laid on for three weeks from Monday. It's a location deal, up by Big Sur."

Blake could feel Jenny's muscles tense, destroying an hour's work of his. "No, Fred," she said. "No way. Forget it. Tell them to shove it up their ass. That's my vacation."

"But Jenny," Knox protested. "They're on a tight schedule. The crew is all laid on, and it'll cost them to cancel. They're a non-profit, and they don't have money to waste."

"Look, Fred," Jenny said, almost crying. "You and your shitass scheduling of that shoot down in Mexico last month screwed me out of going to my sister's graduation. Now, you want to screw me out of my vacation. I've got that gig at the Dunes Saturday, and I'd figured on flying straight out of Vegas for home. If I have to go up the coast, instead, it'll screw me out of half my vacation. Forget it!"

Knox had been through this with her before. "Jenny," he said, "How would it look if it got out that this had been scheduled, and you turned them down so you could go and play?"

"God damn you, Fred," she replied. Blake shook his head. It would have been a shock to most people to hear Jenny swear like a trooper, but he realized that must have been just exactly where she'd learned; she'd lived with her dad and mom on army posts until she'd been ten or so.

"Jenny, you have an image you need to protect," Knox continued imperturbably.

"Where the hell did my image get involved with this?" she said. "Oh, shit, I'll do it, I guess." She threw the receiver as far as she could.

Blake shrugged, walked over, and picked up the receiver, and set it on the hook. He'd no more than set it down when the phone went off again. He picked it up.

It was Knox again. "Blake, will you handle the details?" he said. "I'll have my girl get with you later."

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