Lavender was a 'weird one,' in Butch Loren's lexicon. She was still doing the makeup thing, probably thought it made her look cool. Whatever. Some record exec decided that she was going to be a star and pushed her onto him. In high school she would have been a 'freak' and not worthy of his company; but now that we were out in the world we would pretend to like each other. She hadn't bothered to make the run-through, not uncommon behavior among guests. If they didn't want to get their game face on it was their funeral.
God, it was her. He fixed his smile and turned to face her. He was very good. "Lavender," he said cordially.
It was usually the guys who went for stage makeup. Lavender (who didn't wear a speck of that color) was covered in white. And that hair, that red hair. She tried so hard. Behind her back he called her 'Woody' and was disappointed that it wasn't catching on with the rest of the team. 'Lavvy' might go over better if they were broadcasting from London. Butch got the impression she'd like that nickname too much.
Lavender sidled up to him like a cartoon ghost. "I just wanted to say that it's a pleasure to be working with you." She offered her hand and Butch reflexively took it.
"Sure," he said, grinning.
"I also wanted to say that if anything is done to alter or twist my words, or if anything at all is cut out, I'm going to kill you." She smiled at him in an earnest, discordant fashion.
Butch laughed after a second had passed, because he knew she couldn't be serious.
But she said, "No, seriously. If you cut me before I've said what I came to say, I will cut you. They'll find you decapitated in a drainage ditch." She fluttered her lashes. "That means 'head cut off,'" she breathed.
Butch chuckled again, squared his shoulders and slid back about half a step. He smiled his preacher's-son smile, which was responsible for him being here, his having a television show. Some guests liked to pretend they were always on. There was that incident with Twiggy Ramirez and the water bottle.... He grinned. "Funny, Lavender. We have ten minutes to air." He started down the corridor.
Lavender seized the front of his denim shirt... Butch tried to shrug her off but she knew just how to hold him. She backed him up against the corridor wall, her hips pressed to his, and that was an experience in itself.
"Please listen to me," she said softly. Under her words was the click of the knife as she opened it with a jerk of her wrist and beeped his nose with the point. "I'm not joking. I will be heard or you will die."
"Okay, okay! Fuck!"
She leaned in harder, close enough to kiss, the knife disappearing from his line of sight. "I'm not joking," she repeated gently. Butch felt a ticklish touch on his abdomen and knew not to move. Wasn't there, like, security to keep this from happening?
"I can't tell them what to broadcast. Everything's scripted--"
"I know you have discretion. Tell them to run with whatever happens."
"Don't try to tell anybody about our conversation, Butch," she purred. "We're in the land of make-believe. Now go get ready for me." Her hands trailed over his arm as she slunk away. Butch felt dirty. He touched the offended spot on his stomach and his fingertips came away red.
He had thoughts which did not agree with his handsome countenance. But he decided he would tell production don't be so quick to cut to commercial. Butch suspected it was going to be interesting.
The studio's immense picture window looked out of the second floor at the most tourist-ridden spot of the old waterfront. Cobblestone walks. Clean streets. Warehouses converted to restaurants, mini-malls. Strings of lightbulbs wending extravagantly through the trees. Picturesque. The window faced northwest and got the best part of the ocean sunset without the glare of the sun. The window was conspicuous even without the ten-foot-tall logo of the show being shot within. A crowd formed below the window, each person longing for errant camera time. Mindful of this, plainclothes police escorted away those who didn't belong.
They got a profile view of the show's guest, when the guest was present, but she was not, so they got to see a tall chair.
Inside, the studio audience anticipated, an intensely wired hive, wound up tightly by beat-driven hits washing over them from the overhead PA and by network-provided stimulants; caffeine pills were mandatory and amphetamines available to those who signed a waiver. It wasn't unusual for one or two kids to piss themselves waiting for the show to start. They were a wall of branding.
It was not inexpensive to go about in clothing devoid of corporate identity; you could get 'blank' clothing in specialty shops... otherwise it was simply not available. The cruder stuff was still indicative of low status. Upscale wearers were allowed more subtle placement, wearing their status literally on their sleeves.
The products mentioned almost never related to clothing. Kids who showed up at the studio wearing the sponsors' livery got preferential treatment.
The boys in the audience were clean-cut, clean-shaven, like Roman gentlemen. The girls possessed unchallenging, timely hair styles, meticulous makeup. All looked quite excited to be there. When bracketed, their faces followed the movement of the cameras unwaveringly.
About a minute before air, Lavender sauntered out. Her appearance was heralded with some finger-pointing and a rise in the chatter level but no screams like on the broadcasts. Those didn't come yet. At risk of being ejected the audience wasn't allowed to show enthusiasm, or anything else, until required. A kind of sadism on the part of the producer. They were figuratively penned in like feral dogs until their prey was properly arranged.
She perched in the chair, sylphlike, blue-black satin pants showing every feature of her lower body. On the back of her vinyl jacket was printed 'messiah.' She slouched, defensive or just uncaring.
Butch came out a few seconds later, hastily clipping on a mic. The host was restricted to the sponsors' brands; a discreet logo rode his breast pocket. He pointed, there was an exchange with crew, unheard. Then he took his place on the platform, nodding and smiling to Lavender as though their earlier conversation was forgotten. She merely raised her eyebrows in acknowledgment.
The lead-in for the show came in over the monitor, dropping its name, the city it was broadcasting from, the name of the host. A long shot from #2, getting in the stage, its occupants, part of the stands full of screaming kids. Fade into #3 panning over the audience who on cue goes completely apeshit, thrashing color-coded limbs, eating up the camera. The microphones trained on them are brought up just a bit and then faded back as is convenient. #2 has pulled up on the host and his first guest.
Butch's TV voice was neutral, inoffensive. "Hello and welcome to All Music Now. I'm Butch Loren." Extra screaming. "With me in the studio today is Lavender Muse. She and her band The Ill-Conceived Notions have a new album coming out in November, and their single 'Cavernous Spiral' was #5 on yesterday's Countdown Now." He turned to his guest. "How are you, Lavender?"
"I'm indescribable, Butch," she purred.
"How do you think you'll do in today's Countdown?"
"Do you want to know what should happen or what will happen?"
Butch's polite laughter came easily. "Now, you told me before the program that you had something you wanted to say?"
"Yes," Lavender replied, guile absent from her voice as she sat up and looked into the active camera. "I had something to tell the viewers."
LAVENDER: "Your leaders and heroes do not love you. They do not respect you. You are a market. You are a demographic. You are the straw through which your parents' money is sucked. That's what you are."
She turned to her host.
LAVENDER: "Your smile lies, Butch."
There was some laughter. Butch's lying smile did not falter; he chuckled, too. Let her go on with the act.
LAVENDER: "This network wants you to buy their sponsors' products. That's the only reason this show exists. I'm supposed to tempt you to tune in and expose you to propaganda and product placements. They flatter you and say exactly what you want to hear, and when you do their bidding they make you think it's because you wanted it that way. Or they give you pretend fame, and in exchange they take everything that was really yours and crush it, with your blessing."
This was not, to her audience, profound. On some level they knew they sold themselves. But it wasn't supposed to matter. Butch's show and a lot of other things counted on the fact that it didn't matter. He had to point this out.
BUTCH: "But you're making money off of them, too, aren't you, Lavender? They buy your albums." He felt a little uneasy. Did that contradict her instructions? Screw it, it was his show.
LAVENDER: "I don't care about money. But the greedy beasts who control the media do, and if I want to be heard I need money to feed to them. The alternative is to feed myself to them."
The kids were quiet. This dialogue was a little weird, but it's not like they ever listened to what the guests said, except to scream at the right moment. But Lavender wasn't giving them many useful cues. She swiveled in the chair to regard her studio audience.
LAVENDER: "You have no future. It's already been sold."
Two hundred faces looked vacantly back. Future meant nothing to them.
Lavender seemed disappointed but not surprised. Butch was visibly amused. The kids knew the score. Heartened by this victory, Butch decided to call her bluff. He didn't think anything after her speech was being released.
BUTCH: "Now Lavender, didn't you just tell me before we came on that you'd kill me if you didn't get to say what you wanted to say?"
Lavender laughed gently.
LAVENDER: "You remember what I said, Butch. It was just a minute ago." She moistened her lips. "To be exact, I said that if I didn't go out unedited, your body might later be found in a ditch. Though if instead you should turn up dismembered in the trunk of a car over on the south side, I shouldn't be ruled out as a suspect."
The kids ate this up, laughing and then screaming. The guys in the booth were debating its appeal. Butch pressed on.
BUTCH: "And didn't you pull a knife on me when you were saying this?"
LAVENDER: "This knife?"
She opened it with a snap.
LAVENDER: "Yes. I put a little scratch on your tummy to make the point. Why don't you show it to the camera?"
She gestured in the vicinity with the blade, and Butch shrunk a little, enough to notice. Lavender paused to reflect, a subaural buzz seeming to reside in her sinuses, the bones of her ears.
LAVENDER: "I could do you right here on camera, Butch. It'd suck if we weren't on now. Ratings would be through the roof if I killed you live." She giggled. "Killed you live. What a strange turn of phrase."
Butch chuckled, his eyes a little too wide.
BUTCH: "You won't do that--"
Lavender darted forward, not fast, but without hesitation.
LAVENDER: "Sure I would."
she chirped, the knife leading the way. Butch fell back out of his seat, scuttled backward on his ass and hands, camera two following them both. They cut to #3, showing a genial Lavender towering over Butch, her grin and her cleavage and the knife, a halo of rigging around her. The POV swayed a bit as the cameraman tightened it up.
Kids rose to their feet in a wave. They weren't even thinking anymore about being on television.
Inside the booth: "Go to break!" "Fuck you, we're not going to break, this is great!"
She gazed querulously at a point off camera.
LAVENDER: "Do I get to be the new host if I kill the old one?" She smirked. "I don't think your sponsors would think much of me."
The kids were cheering now, screaming. A lot of them were giving a thumbs-down like it was Roman gladiator time. Lavender looked over her shoulder at them. Butch took the opportunity to skitter away, but Lavender had lost interest.
LAVENDER: "So now that we've established that I'm more real than you,"
said Lavender, folding the knife and slipping it back into her hip pocket,
LAVENDER: "here's my message for parents. It's not that you're too old. Most of the music your kids listen to does suck. And Keith Shotz is a retard," she added with a grin. "It is not your imagination. They have been taught to settle for less when they think the less is theirs. As for you,"
she said with a step towards the audience, who collectively recoiled even as they hung on her words,
LAVENDER: "they get you to renounce yourself in exchange for empty dreams. I am real. This is what real is like."
Inside the booth: "We're off." "Get back out there." "She's got a fucking knife, Josh!" "You're on the air... she's not going to do anything to you while you're on the air. You were so game to let her go out unscripted." "Five seconds."
The audience screamed anew as Butch Loren cautiously stepped back onto the set; Lavender turned to see what caused the commotion, and smiled. She let him come to her. The crowd, usually disciplined, had an ugly turn to it.
Butch ran his fingers through his hair.
BUTCH: "Is there anything you want to add to that?"
Lavender lifted herself onto her toes, regarded him.
LAVENDER: "Give me your hand, Butch."
BUTCH: "I-- I don't want to...."
His voice failed him.
LAVENDER: "I said GIVE ME YOUR HAND,"
she snarled, showing her cute fangs. The set was silent, as silent as it ever got during production.
He started to obey, yelped "No!" at the last moment but her hand chased his and pulled it near. Her grip was like a vice. Butch started screaming even before the knife touched his palm. Lavender guided the edge carefully through the meat of his hand like a student painting a kanji stroke, let the red well in its own time, then withdrew. She opened the hand holding Butch's wrist, having no further use for him.
LAVENDER: "This is what the real can do to the unreal."
She flicked her wrist; translucent red circles appeared on the screen. On the monitors they were like oceans.
LAVENDER: "I will not be back," she said, and walked off the set, chased by a feral roar.
Inside the booth: "Sign her. Sign her yesterday."