Enjoy this short story from Staci Layne Wilson’s book City of Devils now on Amazon in paperback and kindle.
Howard Wexler tossed restlessly in his bed. He moaned in his semi-sleep state. It was the nightmares again. The memories of childhood that he could not shake. The taunts from his classmates:
“You’re so fat, you could sell shade!”
“If I had a face like yours, I’d sue my parents!”
“You’re so ugly, when your mom dropped you off this morning she got a fine for littering!”
He remembered the admonitions from his teachers, telling him to stop crying. Lashes from his father’s belt for desperately wanting to avoid the bullies, to stay home feigning one illness or another.
Howard came awake now, coated in a clammy sweat. He reached for his wife, then remembered he was alone in yet another hotel room. Where was he? London, Paris, South Africa… No… Santa Monica. On the beach. Not that he’d ever see the golden sand and waves of azure blue. When it was deal-time, Howard stayed in his suite and let them come to him. The directors, writers, actors, lawyers, wheeler-dealers and desperate pitch presenters.
As his eyes fluttered open to the dark room, blackout curtains drawn, he wondered if it was day or night. Not that it mattered. He worked day and night.
Howard reached for his phone and saw dozens of missed texts and as many unread emails. He sighed. Sure, he had an assistant. Several, actually. But he hadn’t become the most powerful producer in Hollywood by delegating—he prided himself on being hands-on.
“If you’re going to be in this business, kid, you’ve got to get tough.”
He sat up, swinging his thick, hairy legs over the edge of the bed. His bare feet touched Italian marble floor while his bare a*s slid off of Egyptian cotton sheets. He stood, glanced down at his belly and his mouth curled in disgust at the size of it. He couldn’t see any body part past it. He really should shed some pounds, he thought… but then again: Why? He was rich, powerful, had a gorgeous Russian trophy wife, several mansions and villas and movies currently at #1 and #3 at the box office. And he did love to eat. His appetites were many, but fine food was at the top. In fact, that reminded him: He’d better order breakfast and get on with his day.
Howard did just that then padded, naked, to his robe and slippers. He put them on. This would be his attire for today’s meetings. That’s how powerful he was—he gave no fucks about his appearance at all.
But he did brush his teeth.
He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. “Ugly as a bridge troll,” was one insult that had stuck with him. Someone posted that on his company’s Instagram in the comments section after the scandal broke out. Howard was realistic. He knew he wasn’t exactly Brad Pitt and no amount of power, money or influence could change that. But he’d grown to like his ugliness. His eyes were small, piercing and dark. His nose was huge, his lips thick. He felt his size and his looks made him more intimidating. It was about time he was the bully. His temper and his tantrums were legendary—Howard loved being thought of as the modern-day equivalent of Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn.
Well, he used to love it. The tide was turning in Hollywood. Scandals stinking of sexual misconduct were breaking all around him. Even within his own H.W. Productions; he’d fired a scapegoat just last week.
As for himself, he wasn’t worried. He was the big boss, the titan, the star-maker, the mogul. Nobody would dare screw with him—their success depended on him.
When he was younger, just coming up, Howard read everything he could on Old Hollywood and the studio system. He remembered a line from Marilyn Monroe’s memoir, when she talked about meeting movie producers and listening to their rhetoric: “You saw Hollywood with their eyes—an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.” Instead of being moved by her plight, he was motivated by it. He modeled himself after those guys and it worked wonders for his career and his sex life.
Oh, sure. At first, he kept his true self concealed. In fact, he remembered with an inward snicker, he even advocated gender sensitivity training for his employees. This was back in the late 90s, making him a trailblazer of sorts. Hell, he even attended one of the classes. He watched with amusement as the high-priced tutor erected an eraser board, drawing the male symbol on the left side, female on the right, then etched a crooked line down the middle.
The woman, whom Howard assumed was a lesbo, spoke to the gathered employees. “For the men only: What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted or harassed?”
There was a long silence. Then a titter of laughter from a couple of them. Finally, one of the junior executives said, “Nothing. I guess I don’t think about it at all.”
Then she turned her attention to the few female employees—assistants, receptionists, secretaries, publicists—and asked the same question.
Immediately, hands went up.
“When I walk to my car, I hold my keys as a weapon,” said one.
“I don’t get on the elevator with only one man, or a group of men,” said the next.
“I avoid wearing heels higher than three inches, in case I’ve got to run,” added another.
Don’t jog with earbuds in. Own a big dog. Look in the backseat before getting into a car. Avoid eye contact. The litany went on and on.
Howard listened and stored the information away for future use. Phrases he could use to sound like he understood, like he was an ally. To exploit fear, whittle into their weaknesses, then pry their legs and mouths open.
He’d done it many times, in this very suite.
The hotel was supposedly haunted. It gave him an extra thrill, wondering who might be watching him from the so-called Great Beyond. He wondered if ghosts got h***y, then remembered a movie from way back in the 80s called The Entity which was about that very thing. He liked the idea of still being able to get some, even after death.
His morbid reverie was broken by a gentle tapping sound. “Room service,” came a muffled voice of indeterminate gender.
Robe open, yellowed toenails hanging over the edge of his satin slippers, he opened the door.
It was a young man behind the silver service cart. It usually was; hotel management had learned his ways years ago and stopped sending female servers. Still, Howard felt the disappointment grumble in his groin.
“Over there,” he pointed at the rumpled bed.
Set up was quick and efficient and a hundred-dollar tip was pressed into the server’s eager hand. The employee left with an obsequious “Thank you, sir.”
Howard sat on the edge of the bed and spooned caviar onto his lightly scrambled eggs. He was just bringing the Christofle Sterling Marly fork to his slavering maw when he heard another knock.
“What, the tip wasn’t big enough?” he grumbled as he set the tray aside. He got up and went to the door.
On the other side was a smoking hot girl. She had a short brunet bob, a slim boyish figure and long legs.
“Mr. Wexler,” she said, her voice breathy. “I hope I’m not too early?” She glanced at his body through the opening of his robe and blushed. “I’m Antonia… here to talk about the role…?”
“Oh, yes. Yes!” Howard chuckled deeply, stepping back and sashing his robe. He put on his most avuncular expression. He really didn’t remember her specifically, but there were so many aspiring actresses coming and going in his line of work. “Come on in. I’m just having breakfast, hope you don’t mind if I eat while we talk.”
They walked through the sitting area and into the bedroom.
“Come on, I won’t bite. I’m a married man. I just want to look into your eyes. There’s going to be a lot of close ups in this movie and you’ve got to be able to emote.”
Antonia stepped in and took a seat across the room while Howard finished his breakfast in bed. They chatted and she told him about some of her most recent roles. He’d never seen them, but he sure liked what he saw in her. She was so fresh-faced, pretty and meek. She wasn’t right for the role, he decided, but she was good for right now.
Howard put the serving tray aside and patted a spot on the bed next to him. “Come closer, dear,” he said. “I can’t see you very well from way over there.”
“Um, do you have glasses here?” she asked, glancing around the suite.
“Eh, somewhere,” he shrugged. “Come on, I won’t bite. I’m a married man. I just want to look into your eyes. There’s going to be a lot of close ups in this movie and you’ve got to be able to emote.”
Antonia did as she was told, clutching her purse to her side.
They talked a bit more and as they did, Howard let his robe fall open again. “Do you like this?” he asked huskily, touching himself.
Antonia stood. Her eyes went wide. “What are you doing?!”
“I want you to watch me.”
She turned, but Howard took her wrist and forced her to look at him. She did, in open-mouthed shock and he quickly finished. He let go of her wrist and as if nothing was amiss, he took the napkin from the serving tray and wiped himself off.
“If you’re going to be in this business, kid, you’ve got to get tough.”
“I’m tough,” she whispered, sounding just the opposite.
Antonia reached into her purse and before Howard could even register what was happening, he saw the glint of a straight razor and felt a whoosh of cool air at his groin. Then he saw the blood. So much blood and a gaping hole where his prized penis had been. He was too stunned to scream. As his hands dove to stanch the flow, he felt the razor slash his throat.
The last thing Howard saw was a blurry smile on the face of the apparition of Antonia Lowe, up-and-coming star of the Silent Era who’d committed suicide after being violated by a Hollywood producer.
The next thing Howard saw was his place in the afterlife: The hotel suite he’d never escape and the vengeful female spirits with whom he would be forced to spend an eternity.