Friday, 21 September 2012

Pleasure Island - Chapter One

*Please forgive the dodgy formatting. This was copied from a text file and it will not co-operate with blogger.

Jackson Moore took one final drag on his cigarette before  dropping it to the ground and raising his hand to his forehead to squint up at the small plane in front of him. Through blurry and bloodshot  eyes, the aftereffect of a night of heavy drinking, he could just make out the name of a regional airline he’d never heard of. He was accustomed to traveling in much greater style than this, but at the
moment, the plane was the least of his worries. What concerned him far more was the fact that, in a very short time, this plane would carry him away to a secret destination somewhere in the South Pacific where he was not permitted to drink or smoke at all, and he didn’t know how he was going to survive.
     “I guess this is it,” he muttered to himself, “my last taste of freedom.” There was nothing more he could do to delay the inevitable, but try as he might, he couldn’t get his legs to work. Instead he dropped his eyes back to the ground and just stood there, staring longingly at the discarded butt at his feet. Noticing the cigarette was still alight, Jack was tempted to pick it up for one final nicotine hit. He was still deciding whether he could get away with this when one of the producer’s assistants from the studio came up behind him and softly touched his elbow, urging him to get on the plane.
    “It’s time to board the flight, Mr. Moore.”
     “All right, honey, don’t rush me. I’m getting there,” he said irritably, still fighting the urge to pick the cigarette up. As she stepped in front of him, Jack transferred his gaze to her butt and gave her a
halfhearted smack on it, causing her to giggle like a schoolgirl.
    “Not now, Jack, I’m working,” she said in a stage whisper, clearly loving the attention. To his disappointment, not even the sight of her firm cheeks straining against the fabric of her skirt could take his mind off the fact that he needed another cigarette. He almost wished he hadn’t screwed her in his hotel room the previous night because then at least he could have distracted himself during the flight by flirting with her and possibly getting some “mile-high” action. He had no doubt she’d be
up for it, and normally he would have taken full advantage of her starstruck awe, but today she just wasn’t enough of a challenge. It wasn’t just the absence of cigarettes and booze either, but the thought of having to spend almost every waking moment on the island with a person he hadn’t even met yet that was causing his blood pressure to soar. The worst part was he didn’t even know why he felt so worried. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt nervous about anything, and he decided the best way to calm his nerves was by drinking as much as humanly possible during the flight. Based on previous experience, that was a lot. As the small plane taxied down the runway, Jack’s heart began to race, and by the time they were in the air, he was struggling to ward off a panic attack.
    “Just what have I gotten myself into this time?” he said as he took his first sip of whiskey and waited for the familiar warm glow to spread through his veins. His agent, Rebecca, had thought Pleasure Island was a fabulous opportunity to resurrect his career, and when she raised it with him while he was in rehab, Jack had agreed with her. In theory he still did. He needed people to believe he was capable of staying sober and finishing a job. It was the only way that he was ever going to get hired in Hollywood again, because at the moment, he was basically blacklisted by every major studio.
In his opinion, it was all blown way out of proportion, but he’d agreed to “clean up” to get everyone off his back. Just because he’d turned up on set wasted and knocked over some props a few times, it
wasn’t any reason to shut down the entire movie. Even he had to admit he’d gone too far when he threw up on the director, but he’d brought the man a new pair of shoes and even stayed home that night to ensure he’d be sober for shooting the next day. When he arrived at the studio at the crack of dawn, ready to get serious, he’d found armed guards waiting to escort him from the set. The humiliation of that moment would stay with him till the day he died. To add insult to
injury, they’d replaced him with Aiden Renshaw, and there was no talk of ever having him back again, even though he had starred in the first three films in the Monster Man franchise. He was Monster Man, and it killed him to see how easily he was replaced. Jack took another swig of whiskey to block out the bad memories and drained his glass loudly. He shook his empty glass in the face of
the assistant who was now seated beside him. Beyond her head he noticed a cute little redhead he hadn’t seen before, and his interest was suddenly aroused. She wasn’t his usual type as she looked to be around thirty and he liked his women younger. She also came across as a bit too repressed and librarianish for his taste, but she was definitely a challenge, and who knew what depths of depravity lay beneath her boring outfit? Could there be the possibility of a little three-way mile-high action with her and the assistant to take his mind off what lay ahead? That was something even he hadn’t tried before. Granted, it would be a little tricky in the bathroom of this small plane, but with a bit of creativity, he was sure they could manage. He flashed his most winning smile at the assistant, Candy, or whatever her name was, and then at the redhead behind her, before shaking his empty glass again in the assistant’s face. She clearly hadn’t been employed for her brains, and Jack felt his annoyance rise as she stared at him blankly.
    “Sweetheart,” he said impatiently, “how many times do I have to ask you for another drink? I thought you were supposed to take care of my every need. Not that I’m complaining about the job you did last night, mind you.” Candy tittered in response, and Jack leered at her before looking
past her to see if the redhead had caught his witty comment. She was staring out the window, listening to her iPod, and Jack’s annoyance rose further. He wasn’t used to being ignored by women, especially nobodies like her, and he made a mental note to find out who she was and make sure that she was fired before the day was out.
    “I’m sorry, Mr. Moore,” Candy said, “but you’re only allowed to have one drink on the plane. It was in your contract.”
    “What the hell are you talking about?” said Jack loudly. “I read no such thing in my contract. Who came up with this bullshit idea?”
    “I don’t know,” stammered Candy. “I was just told not to—”
    “You mean to tell me I’m going to be stuck on this goddamn island for who knows how long with no alcohol or cigarettes, and you want to deny me a last drink now? This is a joke.” He was really
working himself up into a rage. He could feel his face turning red and his eyes bulging, but he didn’t care. “Go and get me a drink right now, or you can tell the captain to turn this fucking plane around and take me back to L.A.” Candy was almost in tears as she got up from the seat and
disappeared down the front of the plane. A moment later, Pam, the producer and host of the show, slipped into the seat next to him. She was one of those women who had been bossing people around for so long that she thought she was a man.
    “I see you still don’t have my drink,” he said sarcastically. “I can’t believe you’re pulling this crap on me when we’re in the air, Pam, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
    “Jack,” said Pam gently, “it was all there in your contract, and you agreed to it. There’s to be no drinking or drugs on the island. We want the world to see you exactly as you are, and it wouldn’t be a great start if you were to turn up there drunk, now would it?”
    “Come on, Pam, get real. What difference is one more little drink going to make? Once I’m on the island, there’s no way I can go to a bar, so why don’t you just let me have some fun while I still can?”
    “When we hired you, Jack, we were under the impression that you were sober, but you’re not acting like someone who can live without alcohol to me.” This was too much for Jack, and he tried to rise to his feet, but sat back down abruptly when he hit his head on the overhead compartment.
    “All I want is one goddamn drink,” he said at the top of his voice so the whole plane could hear. “Why are you making a federal case out of this? You people are lucky to have me on this show and should be doing whatever you can to keep me happy. I have plenty of other offers, you know. I don’t have to be here, and if you don’t get me another drink, I swear to God I’m going to walk from this project and you can find someone else.” Pam gave him a long look before slipping out of the seat and
moving back to the front of the plane. He could see her conferring with the other producers before she nodded her head and then motioned for Candy to get him another drink. Candy came back with a fresh glass of ice and a bottle of whiskey. Just as she was about to pour his drink, Jack reached across and grabbed the bottle out of her hand.
    “No need to worry about the glass,” he said with a laugh. “This will do just fine.” Candy looked helplessly at him before glancing back at Pam, who simply shrugged her shoulders and turned away. They knew there was nothing they could do now. They had invested far too much money in
this to back out now, and he was their star attraction. People were curious to find out what had happened to him after he’d been fired from Monster Man, and he knew they were all dying to see how long he could handle being on the island. He had every intention of outlasting his opponent and winning the $5 million, and he couldn’t believe they were making such a big deal over a few drinks.
Jack swallowed almost a quarter of the bottle in one gulp, and just as he was about to take another swig, he noticed that the redhead across the aisle had taken out her earphones and was looking at him
with an appalled expression on her face.
    “Cheers, princess,” he called out to her, raising the bottle in hedirection. “You look like you could use a few drinks yourself. Might loosen up that tight little—”
    “I think that’s enough,” said Candy, quickly interrupting him and trying to take the bottle from his hand, but without success.
    “Hey, don’t you try to take my bottle away from me,” slurred Jack as he took another sip. “Don’t you know who I am, girl? I’m Jack Moore. I’m Monster Man.”
    “That’s right, Monster Man,” said Candy in a cajoling voice as if she was talking to a child. “Now why don’t you take these little sweets here and have a nice sleep before we get to the island?” Jack’s eyes lit up when he saw the white pills in her hand, and he grabbed them and stuffed them in his mouth. Within ten minutes, he felt his eyelids growing heavy, and he let his head drop onto Candy’s shoulder as he drifted off into blissful oblivion.

* * * *

Allie Read watched the whole episode unfold with a growing sense of horror. She had found out just a couple of hours ago that Jackson Moore was the celebrity she was going to be stuck with on
the island until one of them gave up and begged to go home, and if she hadn’t already signed the contract, she would have been very tempted to walk away. There was no denying the man was gorgeous with his dark, wavy hair, chiseled jaw and broad, sexy shoulders. He had the classic looks of a leading man but that in no way made up for his complete lack of talent. She had seen just one of his films, when her friend brought it over for a laugh one night. They had ridiculed the acting and plot, and then felt really depressed that such a bad film could become a huge box office success. Allie also knew a little about Jack’s reputation as an obnoxious drunk, and he had just confirmed that this reputation was spot on. She wished her friend, Danny, was there with her right now so that she could throttle him for talking her into going on this trashy reality show, which was bound to be a disaster and could be very damaging to her career. When he had first suggested it over lunch at their favorite café in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Surry Hills a few months earlier, she had thought he was joking.
    “I’m a serious documentary filmmaker. I don’t even watch reality TV, let alone audition to be on it,” she had protested.
    “Don’t you see what a great opportunity this is to find out how things work behind the scenes? You might even get a documentary out of it.”
    “Don’t pretend you’re actually concerned about my career. I know the only reason you want me on this show is because you’re obsessed with Hollywood and all of the terrible reality shows that come out of it.”
    “True, but you can’t deny I have a point about getting an insider’s perspective on the audition process, and you’re always looking for fresh new ideas for your documentaries.”
    “Why don’t you audition, then, if you think it would be that educational?” she had asked sarcastically.
    “You know I’d love to but they want women only, and although I am a very convincing actor, even I couldn’t pull off a bikini on the island. Just do it for me, pleeaasse. It’s not every day that you get a
chance to hobnob with Hollywood types and then tell me all about it. For some reason they seem to want an Australian for this part, and I think you’d be perfect.” In the end, she had agreed to put together an audition tape just to shut him up. Danny had wanted her to really spice it up by acting
super outgoing and bubbly, and he had ransacked her wardrobe, pulling out sexy outfits for her to try on. Allie had tried to do it his way, but then given up because she just couldn’t pretend to be
something that she wasn’t. Instead she had worn her usual cargo pants and T-shirt and introduced herself simply as she was—an environmentalist, vegan, Buddhist, feminist, documentary filmmaker.
She had mentioned some of the documentaries she had made and spoken passionately about environmental issues. Danny had looked extremely disappointed when he left, and Allie knew he had lost all hope of getting an inside track to Hollywood. They had both forgotten all about the whole thing, when, three weeks later, Allie got the call to come and audition in person. She had arrived at the studio with Danny on an overcast morning, and when she saw the lineup for the audition, she almost turned back. There seemed to be hundreds of women there, and they were all trying their hardest to outtalk and outshine each other, even before the cameras started rolling. She noticed that they were all different shapes and sizes, too, so it really wasn’t clear what the producers were looking for. It seemed like they had decided to audition as many different types as possible to try to get an idea about what would work, and Allie was mortified that she had let herself become part of this circus.
    “Do you know how many thousands of people sent auditions in for this?” said Danny when she told him she wanted to go home. “And you want to throw this opportunity away with both hands. It’s
    “I think you’d better look up the definition of sacrilegious before you use it again,” said Allie, but then she had started talking to some of the women in the line about why they wanted to be on the show, and the filmmaker in her took over. She found it fascinating that most of them saw this as an opportunity to break into show business and escape their mundane lives. Fame for its own sake seemed to be their overriding goal, and many of them didn’t care what they had to do to get it, just as long as they got their shot. They seemed to think that becoming famous through reality TV would solve all their problems and give them a ticket to a life of endless glamour and excitement.
    “Don’t you realize how many reality stars have sunk without a trace as soon as their shows ended?” she had asked one young woman in the line.
    “But it will be different for me. I’ll make sure of it,” she replied. Most of the women she spoke to could name at least ten people off the top of their heads who had carved out show business careers for
themselves after starting in reality TV, and they all believed they would be just as fortunate. There was definitely a project here, she realized. As she made her way down the line talking to women, there was plenty of speculation about who the mystery celebrity was going to be.
    “I’m sure it’s going to be an Australian,” several women had said. “I heard they are only auditioning here.” Many names were flung around, but not once did Allie recall hearing Jackson Moore mentioned, even though he was one of the biggest Australian stars to make it in Hollywood in the last decade. She guessed it was because he had left the country a long time ago and rarely seemed to come back, so people didn’t associate him with Australia anymore. His life was also such a train wreck that nobody would have expected him to agree to a fly-on-the-wall show like this. Even though he had not yet turned forty, the consensus seemed to be that his career was over. Despite Danny’s hopes, Allie’s actual audition was very unglamorous. She was given two minutes to explain before the camera why she should be on the show, and she had basically
repeated what she had said in her audition tape. Two hours later, when she heard her name called as one of fifty who had made it through to the next level, she thought there must have been a mistake.
    “Can you please check that they got the right person?” she had asked the lady who announced the finalists, and when she came back to confirm that, yes indeed, Allison Read had made it through, Danny had actually cartwheeled across the room.
    “Why aren’t you excited about this?” he demanded when Allie didn’t share his enthusiasm. “Don’t you watch Idol? When people get through to the next level, they don’t just stand there like stunned
    “At least on those shows they actually have to have talent to make it through. I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve this, and I’m very confused about why I’ve been chosen.”
    “Don’t you see?” Danny, gripped her shoulders. “It’s you they love just the way you are, and that is so much better than all the talent in the world.” Allie couldn’t help laughing, and she decided to stop analyzing it too much and just enjoy the experience while it lasted. They had to wait around for another hour before she was called again, and Danny passed the time giving Allie’s competitors death stares. Finally the remaining women were broken into groups of five, and in these small groups, they were given a murder mystery to solve while people with clipboards stood around observing them. It was exactly like a job interview Allie had been to a few years before. She was teamed with four women she nicknamed the Botox Sisters because they had all obviously had work done, and were too busy tossing their hair extensions in each other’s faces to listen to the instructions. When it came time to solve the mystery, they kept talking over each other and attempting to prove how “bubbly” they were. No one seemed interested in actually discussing the mystery, and after sitting back and watching for a while, Allie had reached the end of her patience.
    “For God’s sake,” she said, “do you have a brain between you? We are supposed to be working on this together.”
    “Why don’t you just tell us who the murderer is, then, if you’re so smart?” one of the women said, and the others laughed, ticking Allie off even more.
    “This is supposed to be a team effort, and the whole idea is for each of us to contribute our ideas so that we can then work out who the killer is. It’s not up to one person to find the solution, because we
are being judged on how well we can work in groups. In the real world, detectives don’t solve crimes by themselves, and if you can’t prove that you can listen and work with other people, then how do
you expect to make it onto a show like this, or anywhere else, for that matter?” The women were silent, and Allie continued, knowing her comment had struck home. “Okay, I think we should read through the clues again and then go around the table, and each of us can say who we think the murderer is and why, and then we can all vote on the final answer.” The Botox Sisters were a little more subdued as they read the material and gave their answers. Allie took notes and recapped what everyone said, before pointing out the flaws in each of their arguments and pushing them none too subtly toward her choice of suspect.
    “Clearly it couldn’t have been the business partner because he is a large man, and according to the witness, the murderer was small. The cleaner fits the physical description, but he has a very good alibi. The wife is obviously the main suspect, but none of you picked up on the fact that she is weak on her left side due to a stroke. According to the detective, the murderer would have needed both hands to lift the sword. I think it’s very obvious that the door-to-door salesman is our man.” After they had voted secretly, she counted the vote, then recorded the final answer on a piece of paper and handed it to one of the producers. She waited for her to confirm they had found the murderer,
but to her surprise, the lady, who had introduced herself earlier as Pamela Evans, didn’t even glance at the piece of paper.
    “That’s all for today, ladies. Thank you for your time, and we’ll be in touch,” she said, dismissing them with barely a nod. Allie couldn’t help noticing the dirty looks the women shot at her
as they left, and she felt a slight twinge of guilt. They all really wanted to win, and by not letting them compete for the limelight, they clearly thought that she’d ruined their chances. Oh well, she said to herself. She had just made sure they completed the exercise properly, and if she had ruined their chances, she’d done them a big favor because only losers would go on a show like this.
As she was about to step out the door, she couldn’t resist asking the producer if the answer she had come up with was right. Pam looked up from the notes that she was scribbling on a clipboard and
smiled slightly when she saw Allie.
    “Sorry, dear, I can’t tell you.”
    “Come on, it’s just a group exercise. Why the secrecy?”
    “I can’t tell you because there is no correct answer. The clues are contradictory. The exercise is designed to get you interacting and debating. The final answer you come up with is actually irrelevant.”
    “Oh,” said Allie, “I don’t believe that is entirely true because I think we put together a pretty good case against the door-to-door salesman. He had knowledge of the layout of the house, and also a
motive. If you remember—”
    “I can assure you, dear, that there is no single right answer, so you’ll just have to live with that,” said Pam, interrupting her and clicking her pen shut. “Good-bye.” Apart from feeling put out that the group had been given a mystery to solve with no right answer, Allie gave little thought to the
audition over the next week. She was at home working on her computer on a Tuesday afternoon when her phone rang, and she was surprised when Pam introduced herself. Allie had assumed all the
rejects would be informed by letter that they hadn’t been chosen for the show, not personally phoned by the producer. She was lifting her coffee cup to her lips and trying not to laugh, when, to her absolute amazement, Pam announced that she was the chosen one.
    “Shit!” she screamed as she dropped her cup and scalding coffee dripped down her legs.
    “What was that, dear?”
    “Sorry, I just dropped something. Is this some kind of joke?”
    “Of course it’s not a joke,” said Pam, going to great pains to point out that she, Allie Read, had been chosen out of the thousands of women who had auditioned to live on a deserted island with an as-yet-unnamed celebrity. They would be filmed for twenty-four hours a day by remotely operated cameras, meaning there would be no camera crew on the island with them. They would have no contact with any other human beings the whole time they were on the island, and they had to be together in the same room, or within a certain distance from each other on the beach, for at least fourteen hours every day, between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. The person who broke
first and asked to leave the island would lose, and the other person would take home $5 million in prize money. After recovering from the shock, Allie confessed to Pam that she’d only tried out for a joke and that there was no way she could possibly go through with it.
    “Seriously, Pam, I think you’ve got the wrong girl because I just can’t see myself doing something like this. I’m just so surprised that you’ve picked me when there were so many other women there who really wanted it.” Pam had refused to accept her withdrawal and pointed out that this show was going to be different from other reality shows because it would be about psychology, not cheap thrills.
    “I can promise you it will be unlike anything that’s been done before,” she said, but Allie had remained unconvinced.
    “Sorry, Pam, but I really don’t think it’s for me.”
    “You don’t have to give me an answer now,” Pam had said, realizing Allie was seriously turning her down. “Take some time to think about it, and I’ll call you back in a week.” That week had been one of the most difficult of Allie’s life. All of her friends, even the ones who looked down on reality TV as much as she did, were blown away that she had been chosen, and they had all
urged her to go ahead with it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Danny, of course, had been the most vocal, telling her she could become rich and famous and that it would be great for her
career. Allie had absolutely no interest in money or the kind of fame that the women she had talked to at the audition craved, but she did see that this could be an excellent career move for her. It would give her a much bigger public profile, meaning that more people would see her
films and hear her important messages about the environment. It also meant she could make a documentary about the whole experience of being on reality TV, and in the end, this was what had convinced her to go ahead with it. By the time she arrived in L.A. two days before
they were due to fly out to the island, she was feeling very excited about what lay ahead of her.
The first setback had come when she found out that the show was called Pleasure Island.
    “It sounds like a porn movie,” she had complained, but Pam had reassured her there was nothing to worry about.
    “It’s just a cute wordplay on Treasure Island. There’s nothing at all for you to be concerned about. You can trust us completely.” Then, just as she was about to get on the plane that morning, she
had learned that her mystery companion was Jackson Moore. The original plan was to fly the two of them to the island separately, but the private jet that had been chartered for him had developed
mechanical problems. Given what an arrogant jerk the man was, there was no way they could hide him from her on the same flight, so they’d had to tell her. Even though she’d been asked to keep a low profile till they got off the plane, Allie couldn’t conceal her contempt for the man. She had been expecting a Hollywood himbo, but Jackson Moore was a step too far! Everyone knew he had only just gotten out of rehab after destroying a film set on Monster Man, and that he’d been struggling with alcoholism for years. She glanced over toward him again, and her heart sank even
further as he stirred in his sleep and then belched loudly before trying to grope the poor assistant who’d been given the job of babysitting him. Allie looked out the window at the swirling water below and wondered if she should find the emergency exit and jump before this went any further. Something told her she might be better off taking her chances with the sharks down there.

Pleasure Island is available on Amazon for $3.19
You can also get a free copy in exchange for an honest review through Goodreads.

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