The Mentor’s Gift
A Sample Chapter
“I do it because I have to.” Amy Alexander spoke only to her reflection in the dressing room mirror. She was alone applying makeup for a corporate show. The officers of the company loved her. It was her third year as their spokesperson and entertainer. Tonight they wanted to give back. They’d used their corporate clout to attract Vegas scouts. Her manager Rick was ready to make a deal.
As she lifted a small mascara brush, her hand shook.
“The goth girl illusionist, the only one of my kind,” she said. “I can give them a thrill, a scare, a wonder with a touch of class, and I can do it with a come hither look and a bit of humor, or so I’m told.”
Amy began her career off-Broadway. She wanted to be an actress, but an agent looking for an illusionist to meet the demand of one of his loyal customers, groomed her, trained her, blended her personality with his experience, and within months they’d produced a marketable product. She liked it, they wanted her, more gigs followed, and she never had to wait tables again.
Her mouth was parched. It usually didn’t get like that until just before showtime. She needed a drink, enough to wet her mouth, but stood too quickly and stumbled. Her head was spinning. She hadn’t eaten.
She extended a hand to the bare wall of her closet-like dressing room to steady herself as she made her way to the even smaller bathroom. The wall was cold. It was so cold it felt damp. And, the painted cinder block was coarse against her palm like cheap sandpaper. She longed for the familiar comforts of her own bathroom at home in her San Francisco apartment. If she closed her eyes, she could be there in her mind.
Before she could reach the bathroom door, her manager, Rick McAlister, entered her dressing room. He approached her with a bounce in his step and a wide grin on his face. It was fun for him. It was supposed to be fun for her, but it wasn’t. She was usually pleased with herself after the show, but the pleasure was more relief than joy. It was easy for him; all he had to do was make the deal. She had to deliver on the promise and the hype he so eloquently planted in the minds of her paying customers. And, she had to do it with every performance. One failure could mean failure for all time.
“Amy, how ya doin’?”
The sight of him made her all the more nervous.
“I shouldn’t have told you about the guests in our audience.”
“No, Rick, I’m glad you did.”
“But you’re sick.”
“I’m not sick.”
“You look sick.”
“I don’t want you to start concealing information from me, not now, not ever.”
“They’re not that special,” he said.
“Yesterday, they were ‘the key to our future.’” Her tongue was sticking to the top of her mouth. It hurt to speak.
“I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Well, every gig matters, and every potential client matters. But they’re going to love you. They always do.”
“They always do because I always deliver. But it’s getting worse. I’m getting worse. I’m eating less. What little I do eat is bland, but it doesn’t seem to matter. My nerves are hindering me when I need to be at my best.”
She took a breath, marched past him into the bathroom, and filled a small paper cup with water from the dirty sink. It tasted dirty, but it freed her mouth.
When she returned, he was still standing there, arms folded. He had a stupid grin on his face.
“It’s like trying to be a drummer with one arm in a sling,” she said, “or a singer with a raspy throat. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
“You always have fun. You’ve been getting standing ovations. And, I’ve seen the look on your face at the end of the show. You love this stuff, and you know its working. All you have to do is keep it coming.”
He was right. Amy remembered the adrenaline rush she invariable felt when the show was over.
“It is a good show…”
“See,” he said. “I knew you’d come around.”
“…for the most part. I need a few minutes.”
“After the show,” he said, “you’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about.”
“The fuss is about the scouts.”
“Don’t worry about them. That’s my job.”
She wrapped her arms around her stomach, some people called the pre-show jitters butterflies, but they felt more like elephants on a stampede.
“And if I don’t deliver?”
“You will,” Rick said. “You always do. Before this night is over, we’ll have the Vegas convention contract.”
He touched the back of her neck. His fingers were kind and gentle. As he rubbed, a tiny bit of tension leaked from her body. He began to stroke her short black hair. She felt his cheek brush the top of her head, then his arms around her body. She looked up, his lips were close, and then he kissed her, and for a moment, she let him. But she turned her head down, pulling her lips from his.
“Rick, I can’t…”
“I’m trying to take your mind off of your fear.”
“You’re a regular philanthropist,” she said.
Rick was a charming person. He was tall, and he always wore expensive suits that made his lean, muscular body all the more irresistible. His hair was immaculately groomed; his eyes were the most mysterious shade of green she had ever seen. And, he had the confidence to succeed in a business that destroyed most who ventured into it.
His advances were difficult to resist. She had no exclusive agreement with Brendon. She’d had no exclusive arrangements with any man, ever. But, even if Brendon had not been a part of her life, she would have been hesitant with Rick.
On more than one occasion, a woman answered the phone when she called him. And, one night in the dressing room of a theatre in St. Paul, after she’d agreed to dine with him, she walked in on him and another woman. His nice suit lay on the floor. The other woman’s clothes looked like they’d been torn from her body. The two of them were much too busy to notice her. She could have brought a marching band by, and they wouldn’t have noticed. So, she left.
Rick knocked on her hotel room door later that night. He wanted to know why he’d been stood up.
“I saw you with that girl in my dressing room.”
“And that’s why you stood me up?”
“Amy, we’re not married.”
She closed the door in his face.
But, his advances never stopped, never slowed. She knew he had a date after the show with someone else, but he wanted her now.
“Rick this isn’t helping. I have a show in a few minutes, and I don’t want to deal with your insatiable id.”
“This isn’t about that layman you’re seeing, is it? What’s his name? John, George, Ringo…”
“Brendon. His name is Brendon
“Oh yes, Brendon Gallardo, the rich Napa Valley wine, vineyard, grower, maker, whatever.”
Rick pushed his hands so far into his pockets that she was sure he would tear his pants. He frowned and shook his head, shuffling his feet like a boy whose dad had taken his favorite toy.
“Maybe it is,” she said. “And the vineyard is in Sonoma, not Napa.”
“You are kidding, aren’t you?”
“No. It is in Sonoma.”
Rick laughed. “You rarely see the man.”
“I’m with him as much as I can be.”
“The relationship has no future, Amy. It barely has a present. Face it. You’ve been with the guy for more than a year-”
“Okay. Two years, and what have you got to show for it?”
“I’m not looking for measurable results, Rick. Is the bottom line all you care about? I enjoy his company, and he enjoys mine. I’m happy with that.”
“Is he serious?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“We’re in business together. You manage me, remember?”
“And your point is?”
She growled before she walked past him to her vanity, where she continued applying her makeup.
“So let’s say for the sake of argument that you don’t really want me.”
“Is that so unimaginable?” She laughed.
“Yes. But that’s beside the point. Let’s suppose that I’m not your man. Okay, fine. Even if I’m not the one for you, Brendon can’t be.”
“And why not?”
“He’s not good for you.”
“What are you talking about, Rick?”
“Brendon has no idea who you are, what your business is. He couldn’t possibly be an asset.”
“I don’t spend time with him because I think of him as an asset. Is that why you spend time with me?”
“Of course it is! I am your manager.”
“You are a charmer.” She snapped her makeup case closed and spun in her seat, hoping he would see the glimmer of disgust in her eyes.
“Well, it’s true. Why have I never met this Romeo of yours? Has he ever seen you perform? Does he even know who you are?”
Amy looked up at the photograph on her vanity. Brendon Gallardo rarely left his winery in Sonoma.
“I don’t enjoy traveling,” Brendon once told her. “You’ve been all over the world, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I have,” she said.
“Can you honestly tell me that there is a place more beautiful?”
She looked around at the vines that stretched on for eternity, and the lush green hills. “No. I can’t. But, I would still prefer your company on my road trips.”
“Amy,” he took her into his arms and whispered in her ear, “I ache for you when you’re not here. But I need to be on this land the way you need to be on the stage.”
She kissed him.
“You ache for me?”
On that day, Tino Valazquez, a long time friend and employee of his agreed to photograph them. They were sitting on the porch swing. When the photo was taken, flowers were in bloom behind them on that bright, sunny, cool California day. She had had the picture framed, and she always carried it with her. Before a show, it usually sat on her makeup table next to her mirror.
“You don’t build a romance on business, Rick,” she said, looking away from the photograph and back to her manager.
“Who gave you that loser rule?”
“You manage my business affairs, not my life.”
“Wrong again, sweetheart. Your business is your life or, at least, it should be. If you expect to make it, you have to live and breathe the show.”
“And you think I don’t?”
“You do. But Bruce-”
“Wine dude is making you believe that there might be an alternative for you.”
“Yes, and that’s bad because?”
“Because if there is or even if there can be, then you won’t make it, dear, and the sad part is that I know you can. I know you can go all the way. You’ve got star quality. It’s written all over you, and I will fight to see that your star has a chance to shine.”
“Dear God,” she said as she covered her pounding head in her arms. “I’d rather be anyplace but here, doing anything but this.”
“Yeah,” Rick said, “that’s what they all say before the show. But after, the rush is beyond compare. Isn’t it?”
“It’s not worth it.”
“So you say. But you’re going to go out there anyway, aren’t you? And, when the shows over, you’ll be driving your two doting assistants and me insane with all of your ‘minor changes.’ Didn’t Dante tell you to leave it alone for a while? That’s part of your problem; you know it is.”
“The show needs improving,” she said, remembering Dante, remembering the most perfect show she’d ever seen. Her father had taken her when she was a child, Dante the Magnificent, and he was, with his goatee and tux, his lovely assistants, a full band, animals, explosions, and awe-inspiring illusions. He was and remained magnificent. He was her inspiration on stage, and her friend and mentor off. Rightly or, in Rick’s opinion, wrongly, Amy tended to follow Dante’s advice, but Rick would use that advice if it worked to his advantage.
“It’ll always need improving. But constant changes have a way of unsettling you,” Rick said. “And, you need stability more than you need improvements right now.”
“Where’s my pill box?” She started moving costumes and cases in search of the tiny box. She carried an assortment of sinus, allergy, and over-the-counter pain medication with her wherever she went. She knew precisely which pill to take for which pain, but she’d never found a pill that could make her manager disappear.
“No pain meds on an empty stomach,” he said. “You know how that can upset you.”
“I want to kill the headache.”
“Dante once told me that if I can see myself doing anything else, then I should,” she said.
“Any good mentor is going to tell his student that. But Dante was right to challenge you, and as I recall, you accepted. You thought about it, and then you told both of us that there was no other life for you.”
“I did?” She tried to recall why she ever made such a foolish commitment.
“Yes, you did.”
“It’s almost showtime,” she said. “I’ve got to get myself together.”
“You are together.”
“Get out,” she said again.
“Okay, okay. I know when I’m not wanted.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Go. The door’s right behind you.”
He laughed again but headed for the door.
“You know you love this game,” he said.
She pointed at the door, but she stumbled in the effort. He caught her.
“Are you sure you want me to go?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“If I hadn’t caught you, you’d be on the floor.”
“If you hadn’t been here, there would have been no need.”
“I don’t want you fainting on me again,” he said. “It makes the customers nervous.”
“That’s a good one. I’ll write it down.”
She took a step and stumbled again.
“Poor baby,” he said, “it’s tough to be famous.”
She was breathing as if she had climbed several flights of stairs. She blindly put a handout, and he guided her to the chair.
She was trembling.
“You’re showing some symptoms I haven’t seen before.”
“Will you please leave me alone?”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
She beat her fist on the table.
“Concentrate, Amy. The show works. You’ve done most of the routines hundreds of times.”
Her hands were still shaking. She couldn’t stop them, and she wondered how she’d get through the night.
“Maybe you should go out there and make an ass of yourself. The crowd would love it, and you’d learn once and for all that the world will not come to an end if Amy Alexander gives a less than perfect performance.”
“I need to put my head down for a minute. Go on; I want you to go schmooze. You do it so well.”
“Well, at least you’re breathing. It’s always a plus when my featured entertainers can actually breathe.”
With her eyes closed and her head down, her breathing was slower and steadier. Soon her adrenaline would begin to restore what her fear had stolen. And then, she would be ready.
“You’re getting too thin,” he said.
“I thought you said I could never be thin enough or rich enough.”
“Well, I was wrong.”
“Ha!” she said, feeling strong enough to lift her head. “I never thought I’d hear those words from your lips.”
“What, that you’re too thin?”
‘No, idiot, that you were wrong.”
“Feeling better?” He laughed.
“I’m working on it.”
“Yea, well, the next time I proposition you before a show, say yes. I guarantee it’ll cure your jitters, and you’ll go out on stage more relaxed than you’ve ever thought possible.”
“My hero, so self-sacrificing.”
“Hey, what’s a manager for?”
“Getting me more business,” she said. “That’s what a manager is for. Now get out there and get to work.”
The man only heard what he wanted to hear and only did what he wanted to do. She could scream in his face. It wouldn’t matter. He’d stay until he was ready to leave.
“How do you feel about the new routines?”
“They’re as good as they are going to get in rehearsal. Like any other routine, they need a live audience to sharpen them up, and that’s what they’ll get tonight. Why, are you considering one of them for the Vegas show, if we get the show?”
“Vegas is important for us, Amy. It’s possibly the most important opportunity we’ve ever had together. But, we’ve got some time to think about it and-”
“I like to stick with the tried and true when it counts.”
“I was about to say that. But in this case, most of your audience will be looking for something original, or at least something they haven’t seen before, and believe me they’ve seen a lot. The promoters will be more easily impressed if the crowd around them reacts well. The tried and true is perfect for the corporate crowd. But this-”
“I don’t want to think about it now, Rick. I’ve got an audience tonight that’s expecting my best. Those are the people I want to concentrate on.”
“You’re right, Amy. I’ll leave you to it.”
And then he left.
She checked her reflection once more and retouched her dark and heavy makeup. Rick had asked her to tone down the goth to make herself a bit more corporate. She did give up some of her piercings, but she still preferred dark eyes, black lips, and black nails.
She changed her costume as she often did after a spell. New clothes made her feel fresh and clean. She’d been punished by whatever demon felt the need to continually torment her for her success, and now she was ready.
When she finally went backstage, she had twenty minutes before curtain. She checked every prop, every placement, and every marker on the stage. Then, she checked again to be sure.
By the time she was done, it was showtime. Her assistants, Jason Johns and Freddie Stone had arrived during her second inspection.
Amy was working for Data Trek, a corporate client in Malibu when she met her two young sandy blond assistants.
“The goth and the beach boys,” Rick said. “Oh yea, that’ll sell.” But he’d done no better in his efforts to recruit talent into the show. After the Malibu gig, Amy decided she needed some quiet time and headed for the beach. She watched two young surfers hitting ride after ride. She applauded their cuts and moves and screamed her cheers loud enough to turn heads three blocks away. When the guys came out of the water, they stopped to meet the “gnarly goth babe,” as they liked to call her.
“So what’s a goth chick doing on a beach?” Jason half teased.
“It’s overcast,” Amy said. “I don’t need to worry about damaging my pasty complexion.”
Amy wasn’t looking for talent, but she had a need, and so did they. The boys wanted to be surfers, pro-surfers, but they weren’t winning enough competitions, and sponsors were scarce. Amy discovered months later that Freddie’s dad was a VP at Data Trek. He wanted his son to work for him, but Freddie “wanted to be free.”
They needed extra income and time to surf, and Amy needed help with her ever-growing show, she thought it was a good match. Aside from their skills as showmen, in evidence on the waves, they also had great abs, and Amy thought they might not be hard on her eyes in the long hours of rehearsal or during slow times on the road.
Jason and Freddie knew not to bother her while she was checking her props, and more importantly, they knew not to touch anything once it had passed her inspection. So, they watched her perform the ritual they had witnessed many times.
The house lights dimmed. A hush fell over the crowd.
She squeezed her small body into a cleverly disguised space that had been built to her precise weight and dimensions.
The music began; the house lights were completely turned off; the stage lights came up. Her name announced sounded muffled from inside her prop. The audience applause nearly obscured the swirl of the curtain as it opened.
She nearly missed her cue. At that moment, her heart skipped a beat. Would she remember her lines and what of the complex sequence of movements in her new routine? Had she rehearsed enough?