Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hot Tub by Hal Bodner


It is my great pleasure to be presenting here the short story "Hot Tub" by Hal Bodner. "Hot Tub" appears in the 2014 horror anthology From Big Time Books called Hell Comes to Hollywood II. Hal has had other short stories of his appear in the anthologies Halloween Tales & Fairly Wicked Tales. He is the author of the novels The Trouble With Hairy, Bite Club, In Flesh and Stone, & For Love of the Dead"Hot Tub" is a 2014 Bram Stoker Award nominated story.



HOT TUB
By Hal Bodner

THE INSTANT I SAW THE POOL BOY, I knew he had to die. He was far too beautiful to live and my entire body, such as it was, tingled with anticipation.
    He had exactly the kind of physique I best like to play with; a smooth expanse of broad, hard chest interrupted only by a slash of cleavage and a few tiny wisps of hair around each nipple, trunk-like thighs rippling like anacondas when he walked, and biceps which seemed to strain against their covering of spice brown skin whenever he moved his arms. When he bent to place Jason’s drink on the table, the sculpted plates of his stomach slid into each other like armor that had been oiled. Even the most unaesthetic cretin of a casting director would have been able to tell that it was all natural, developed from actual labor and outdoor exercise; this youth was leagues away from the artificial steroid-pumped gym rats to which Jason was partial.
    Most Los Angelenos—at least those in Jason’s social set—lump anyone with brown skin into the category of “Mexican”. I know better. Some years back I spent a bit of time in Mexico. I found the people there to be dull and lifeless, earthy and pale shadows of their ancestors. Not to my taste at all. Back in the day, the people of Mexico were a bloodthirsty lot, sometimes sacrificing thousands of captured enemies in a single day until the stairways of their temples were so drenched in blood that the scarlet stains can still be seen today. Then, of course, the Spanish invaded and everything went to hell. Isn’t that just like the Europeans? Always mucking about with perfection until they ruin it utterly.
    Anyway, the sight of this tanned and athletic young man had stirred some of my cherished memories of the New World natives. I would wager he had quite a bit of the jungles of Peru in his blood. I adored the original Peruvians, a plucky race. They fought to the death and, if pestilence hadn’t wiped them out, they might even have won. I could easily picture the pool boy on a ball court, stripped naked but for a loin cloth, eyes the color of chocolate mixed with cayenne sparkling with laughter as he kicked a decapitated blond-haired Spanish head the length of the field. Better yet, I envisioned him standing framed against an impossibly blue sky, with scarlet blood staining his chalk white teeth and dripping onto the gold and jeweled plates covering his rippled chest, the strong muscles of his neck straining in relief as he chewed the tough raw heart muscle of his enemies.
    Oh yes. I’ve always had quite the fondness for Peruvian guys.
    Jason, of course, was almost completely oblivious. More accurately, he was oblivious to any needs but his own. Until he noticed the pool boy, he’d been sprawled out pool-side, face down on his chaise, floating in a mildly alcoholic haze from the combination of two Mojitos and the ninety-plus degree heat, half-arousing himself by a combination of mental fantasy, the smell of musk from his own armpits, and the pressure of the beach towel-covered chair on his dick.
    Don’t get me wrong. Jason’s an extremely attractive man. When he was twenty-two, it was enough. But he’s one of those ten percent of the lowest intelligence who think they’re in the top one percent. Actually, I’m lucky he can at least read. When I first started mentoring him, he was dyslexic—though no one had any idea of what that was at the time. The studio had to hire a UCLA intern to teach his lines to him. The college boy doubled as a fluffer and would suck Jason off every time he was about to go on camera which, I suppose, accounts for the glassy-eyed expression that became one of Jason’s trademarks. The critics called it an “otherworldly ethereal quality of mysticism and romance”. Being fairly well acquainted with various otherworldly qualities myself, I fail to see how Daily Variety managed to confuse them with post-orgasmic satiation.
    Jason, though, thinks he has taste. And the little bastard likes to test his boundaries and push me a little. Usually, I give him enough rope to hang himself and, when he comes crying back to me with a gift or two, I relent with nothing worse than a mild rebuke and a bubbling belch. Every so often, Jason goes too far and, reluctantly, I have to teach him a lesson. Most of the time, a hit to his portfolio or a few months of offers drying up is enough to bring him into line. A few times, he was out of control enough so that the punishment needed to be more severe. Unlike the plump nipples of the pool boy, both of Jason’s had to be surgically re-constructed so he could go bare-chested when he starred in action pictures. The damaged testicle wasn’t a problem as, if audiences were lucky, it was probably never going to be on camera anyway.
    Actually, keeping Jason in Jaguars and cocaine is sometimes almost more hassle that it’s worth. The guy is his own worst enemy. While he wouldn’t dare thwart me in most things, in other areas he’s as stubborn as an approaching-fifty actress who is convinced she can still play twenty-five. He’ll have a single blockbuster hit and it’ll go right to his head. It takes only a single cover story in People Magazine to convince him that he actually has talent and can do serious roles. We’ll argue back and forth and, invariably, he’ll come up with a few wretched pieces of tripe that he considers “serious” drama worthy of his dubious skills. Inevitably, they’re dismal flops—especially if he insists on directing—and by the Tuesday after opening weekend, he’s all humble and contrite, whining that he practically has to beg to be allowed back into the studio commissary or that none of his A-list buddies will play tennis with him at the Club.
    That’s not to say Jason’s not clever. Indeed, he can be a manipulative son of a bitch. He knows exactly which of my buttons to push to wheedle himself back into my good graces. Some of the gifts he’s brought me over the years have been pretty spectacular. But, as Jason gets older and fears he’s losing his youth and his audience appeal, as his bankability declines with each see-saw of a major hit followed by a dismal flop or two, every parting of the ways between us becomes more violent and of longer duration. He simply cannot come to terms with the fact that I know best and that he is, for want of a better analogy, not much more than attractive meat.
    You may wonder why I haven’t just dumped him. Frankly, I wonder that myself sometimes. Part of the reason is that Jason is one of those rare individuals who are so self-centered, so absorbed with their own needs and immediate gratifications, so egoistic and focused on whatever they desire at the moment, that they have no real soul. It’s pointless even to damn them; they wouldn’t understand why they’d been damned nor even what damnation was all about. It’s no fun poking sticks at something that can’t feel the pain. Besides, Jason came along at a fortuitous time for me and I’ve been the force behind too many coincidences to imagine that they occur naturally without some outside help.
    Jason was barely twenty when I met him. Though we were both enthralled with the movie business, our obsessions were subtly different. Jason was bowled over with the idea of power and money, glamour and fame, unrestricted sex and drugs—all in the name of Art. He wanted to be desired and worshiped and adored. As for me? Well, though I’ve never been one to scoff at or turn down some decent quality adoration and worship, it was something particular to Hollywood that most attracted me. The movie business is certainly not the only industry to earn a reputation as a cesspool of corruption, greed and selfishness. Hell, almost any of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century manufacturing industries were worse and, very often, you had the deaths of thousands of slave laborers to sweeten the pot. But Hollywood is unique in that it thrives on the corruption of the closest held and most cherished of people’s dreams.
    It’s easy to kill a man. Ah, but to slowly chip away at his deepest dreams, thwarting them slowly and in infinitesimally excruciating increments until he succumbs to despair, that is a delicious exploitation of Talent. Even better, in this town people are generally far too full of themselves to consider committing suicide to banish their crushed dreams forever. No, in Hollywood they take service jobs, or become non-pros, or get involved in support industries, trying to convince themselves—and anyone who will listen—that they really have “made it” in some minor way. Yet all the time, their failures quietly and secretly eat at their souls; they are the sources of their own agony. Delicious!
    Back to my first encounter with Jason. Though I clearly remember the circumstances of my humiliation, I have no intention of sharing them. I’ll say only that, no matter how big you may think your dick is, there is always someone with a bigger one who you’ll want to avoid, and we’ll just leave it at that. Things could have been worse, I suppose. Two thousand years ago, I might have found myself trapped in a dented brass lighting fixture and tossed into the desert. For a while, it was all the rage. Anyone who was anyone had an old oil lamp on display to be proudly shown off to honored guests accompanied by suitably fearful stories about the terrible and powerful being trapped within it. Almost all of them were empty of course, but if a visitor was foolish enough to point out to the owner that he’d purchased a fake, he was likely to have his nose slit or his right hand cut off.
    In more modern times, Fate’s sense of humor seems to have grown even more perverse. I know of three of my brethren who were bound into musical instruments; in one case it was a tuba played weekends in a Mariachi band. I heard of another who was trapped in a bustier owned by a stripper who was long past her prime but who still insisted on wearing the thing to perform. And there’s a particularly gruesome and degrading urban legend amongst my kind which involves a shovel used by the caretakers at the Milwaukee Zoo.
    In comparison, being confined to a nine foot wide circle of steaming water wasn’t too terrible. But it was embarrassing. A hot tub. In Los Angeles. A red wood hot tub, no less. There were times I wanted to scream from the trite cliché of the thing but all I could do was…bubble with humiliation. At least I was located in a low-rent apartment building in the heart of Hollywood. Some of the alternatives would have been cringe-inducing. I consider myself damned lucky that I wasn’t inhabiting one of those ubiquitous fat farms calling themselves “luxury” spas where, day in and day out, I’d be subjected to flabby fleshed matrons and portly businessmen just begging for a heart attack. Worse, I could have found myself in the courtyard of one of those weird ashrams out in Malibu where the sanctimonious, self-conscious spirituality of all those True Believers and whack jobs who consider themselves to be Spiritually Advanced would have quickly driven me insane.
    Most of the tenants were youngish types and I am, as is already obvious, a sucker for youth and beauty—especially if it’s male. The endless progression of hopeful actors, eager musicians and writers, wanna-be directors and producers and other youngsters with pie-in-the-sky fantasies were at least mildly entertaining, if monotonous and predictable after the first few years. Fortunately, there were enough bruised egos, crushed hopes, and missed opportunities to sustain me, but they were mere appetizers, preventing starvation but never satiating. I wanted, I lusted, for a meal. And the temptation was excruciating. Some of the youths who jumped into my hot tub were exquisitely beautiful and my incorporeal jaws virtually ached at the thoughts of what I wanted to do to them. Unfortunately, there are rather rigid rules for these sorts of situations and, old-fashioned traditionalist that I am, I was constrained to abide by them.
    Jason, when he came along, was a less-than-perfect solution. But at least he was a solution. Other than his extreme beauty and marked lack of anything remotely resembling talent, intelligence or ability, there wasn’t much to distinguish him from the hundreds of other young hopefuls I’d shared the water with over the years. Not at first. But as he continued to slip into the tub, night after night, to loll in the heated bubbles, I began to sense something marvelous about him, a pervasive amorality and a total lack of even the simplest human emotions as they applied to other people.
    An almost perfect sociopath! In my hot tub! I was blessed. Truly, I was.
    Then, something strange and wonderful began to happen. Slowly, Jason began to sense my presence sharing the jetting water with him. It was terribly frustrating. He knew I was there. I knew he knew it. And there was nothing I could do about it to open the door of communication. The entire responsibility fell on Jason and, as I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, Jason is more than a few opinion cards short of an audience survey. Even knowing that the Powers That Be intentionally arrange these bindings to inanimate objects to produce exactly the kind of frustration I was experiencing didn’t make me feel any better.
    I have to give Jason some credit. While most people might have thought themselves crazy, imagining a presence in a hot tub, Jason never once doubted himself. His ego is that strong and his faith in his own abilities is that misguided. He often spoke aloud to me and, when that didn’t work, he even spent a ridiculous few hours trying to make contact with me by means of a second hand Ouija board he found at a swap meet. That damned Ouija board is still a bone of contention between us. Every so often, he’ll drag it out and try to use it to force me to do something which he knows I have no damned intention of doing. I’ve told him a hundred times that the thing only works on the Dead and I am emphatically not some stupid spectre who doesn’t know enough to go into the Light. But Jason has some preconceived notions that he’s gotten so far into his thick skull that you’d need a sledge hammer to get them out. Believe me when I say that the sledgehammer is sometimes a mighty tempting option.
    Six, seven months went by. I did what I could for the kid, which admittedly wasn’t much. I was able to influence a couple of auditions that might have gone in his favor anyway as the casting folks were looking mostly for a face and they didn’t need anyone to try to actually act. A few times I was able to augment the desire that an older, wealthier gent had to run his hands over Jason’s nubile young, naked body. That was by far the easiest as I’ve always had a talent for lust. However, there were times when Jason could be even more moronic than my low expectations of him; three times when I set him up with johns so he could pay his rent, the idiot took checks! Even so, with great and exhausting effort, I was able to keep a roof over his head. Much as I was already starting to dislike him, he was my only hope and I did not want him high-tailing it back to Kansas or whatever god-forsaken place he was originally from.
    The day he brought the underwear model home was the turning point. The boy was absolutely gorgeous, a bit too slender to be my ideal, but with such exquisite bone structure and an almost androgynous quality to his musculature that he would have taken even my breath away had I been in a state where breathing was possible. Jason fucked him on the lounge chairs. He fucked him on the deck surrounding the pool. He fucked him while leaning against a tree in one of the ornamental planters. He fucked him standing, sitting, laying down and in some improbably gymnastic positions that would have put any human being over thirty into instant traction. And, once he was finally all fucked out, to gild the lily so to speak, he forced the guy to blow him in the hot tub.
    I’d shared my water with many other guys, and even girls, who’d had sex in the tub and nothing had happened. In this one instance, thank goodness, Jason’s fixation on his own immediate needs paid off. It certainly didn’t hurt that both he and the model were also already coked halfway to the tits before they got into the tub. To this day, I am amazed that his dick wasn’t bitten off while he was holding the model’s head under the water. Afterwards, he told me that he just assumed all the thrashing and digging-of-nails into the backs of his thighs was evidence of “passion”; it never occurred to him that it might be part and parcel of suffocation or drowning. His main concern about the tragedy, he later complained, was that he hadn’t had a chance to “shoot another load”, as he so graphically termed it, before the model expired.
    I sensed the instant the youth died. I was still very, very weak. Even so, I summoned the strength to croak, “Get out!” and I accompanied it with a tremendous eruption of sulfurous bubbles. Even if he didn’t understand my command, the stench was enough to send Jason scampering out of the tub. He stood on the deck, naked and dripping, his jaw hanging open like the classic drooling idiot, watching me as I feasted. Oh my, but Underwear Guy was delicious!
    When I’d finished, a tremendous loginess came over me. Lazily, I settled onto the bottom of the tub, pausing only to send out a mental message, “Tomorrow night” before I drifted away into what passed for a contented sleep for those of my kind.
    Wouldn’t you know it? The ignoramus showed up with road kill!
    I don’t know whether it was a cat or an opossum or a rat or someone’s prized Pomeranian for that matter. Whatever it was, it was bloody and disgusting and as insulting as hell. There Jason was, with the furry corpse in his hands, kneeling and holding it up to the hot tub as if it was an offering of the finest frankincense or the choicest morsels of an unbaptized infant’s flesh.
    “You’ve got to be kidding,” I told him. I was still languid from my meal but I was strong enough to form some semblance of a body from the water. Even better, the range of my influence had finally expanded so that I could more easily affect things past the borders of the apartment building courtyard without getting a debilitating headache.
    “It’s an offering,” he informed me with naive gravity.
    I sighed. I’m pretty sure he missed the way I looked down my nose with disdain but, since I was still incapable of manifesting as much more than a nebulous blob of percolating water, I wasn’t offended. The dubious “offering”, however, was another matter.
    “Dude,” I began. He started, probably not expecting me to sound like a Malibu surfer. I probably could have led with the whole “Bow before your new master” routine, but I was feeling benevolent, probably because I’d found a couple of left over shreds of underwear model that had been accidentally par-boiled to exquisite tenderness. “Dude, your life is about to change.”
    Jason’s desires were boringly predictable. Like so many others, he wanted to be a movie star. Not merely an actor. He was quite explicit about that. He wanted to be a Star. I assured him that his goals were easily within the realm of my abilities and I instructed him on what he’d have to do in order to hold up his side of the deal. To his credit, he never once balked. I let him know, in no uncertain terms, that our initial objective was to secure his future and, not incidentally mine. My first order of business was to build up my strength. Jason obliged with two street hustlers. He then found a very attractive Filipino coke dealer and we used the stash to get hold of a “full release” masseur and a Salvadoran boy who advertised naked maid services.
    For my part, the auditions started coming fast and furious. Our biggest challenge in those early days was that I hadn’t developed the finesse I have now. I could extend enough influence to get him the jobs, but I wasn’t always able to tell in advance specifically what the jobs were for. I needed him to hire an agent or, at the very least, a manager. Jason balked and refused. According to him, he needed no one’s advice on his career but his own. Evidently, he’d seen Valley of the Dolls or some similar crap one too many times and he thought that if he kept referring to agents as “blood sucking leeches”, it would make him sound more like a knowledgeable Hollywood insider. Try as I might to talk him around, Mr. Wizard proclaimed that agents and managers had no purpose other than to suck the cream off of the talents of others though, in truth, Jason phrased it in much more graphic and far earthier words. Notwithstanding that he was fundamentally right, he still needed the help and the disagreement burgeoned into our first conflict.
    It was risky for me. I won’t deny that. But I took the chance. I made sure Jason’s phone stopped ringing and the auditions dried up. His head shots found their way into the wrong folders. His business cards slipped into the back of the drawer or were accidentally brushed off into the garbage. It took almost a month for his predicament to register with him, and a few weeks longer before the probable reasons for it dawned over the barren field that is Jason’s brain. During that time I grew famished. It’s easy to resign yourself to starvation. But it’s hellish to have to return to abstinence after a series of feasts. Eventually, my little Einstein capitulated. He brought me a tight-bodied little African American personal trainer. He made a surprisingly refreshing change from all of those beach boy types Jason was partial to. Even better, there was no lingering aftertaste of suntan oil.
    We engaged an ancient transplanted New Yorker named Florence who was a walking stereotype, complete with fake-diamond rimmed eyeglasses dangling around her neck on a silver chain, blueish hair piled high on her head into a tight bun, far too much makeup applied as if with a trowel, a raucous voice like a hippopotamus in heat, and sturdy, sensible shoes. Florence had no idea I existed. She experienced only an overwhelming drive to make as much money for Jason as she could in the shortest possible time which, given the kind of woman she was, fell right in line with what she probably would have done even without my trying to influence her. Jason, still hesitant and abashed from the “dry” period I’d subjected him to, kept fairly quiet when I forced him to husband almost every penny. It took almost a year but, finally, I was ready.
    “Buy this building,” I ordered him.
    At first, he bristled to argue. Why spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’d earned on what was, after all, a pretty run-down apartment building in Hollywood? With great patience, I explained my predicament and how fragile our arrangement was should some developer decide to tear the place down. As my words penetrated the fog, I think it may have been the first expression of fear I’d ever seen him exhibit. I don’t know how he convinced Florence to go along with the plan; I only assume I’d provided some strong motivation.
    There were snags. There always are when it comes to real estate in Los Angeles. It’s an illusory industry. No one bedroom, nine hundred square foot, plywood deathtrap of a house is truly worth two and a half million dollars, for example. But, in LA we fight to the death to preserve our illusions; we spend far more time protecting our fantasies than we do in facing our realities. It’s simply the way we are.
    In this case, the snags were a muscular, hairy-chested, thirty-some year old Israeli gentleman and velvet-skinned Armenian twin brothers with the most incredible asses I’d seen in years who formed the investment consortium that owned the building. I have always had a penchant for Middle Eastern food.
    Once we owned the place, evicting the tenants would have drawn too much attention. Instead, we let it become abandoned through attrition and, I will confess, a single night of over-indulgence in a trio of roommates from the second floor, wanna-be rock musicians with tattoos covering the whipcord muscles of their torsos and backs. I was sorely tempted by one of the investigating officers who came asking questions after the band vanished, a handsome blond-haired stud. But, I decided to err on the side of discretion and dignity and I let the cop go unscathed. I fancy myself a gourmet, not a gourmand.
    Once the building was secure, I didn’t care that Jason moved out and into his first house up in the Hills. My immediate safety was assured and I was content with the arrangement. But then, Jason started getting a little too big for his britches as the old expression goes. I honestly think it was a case of Monkey See, Monkey Do or, in Jason’s case, Moron See, Moron Do.
    Actors are strange beasts, blessed in spite of themselves. If you consider how far some of them get in life without having enough brains to fit into a demitasse, can you imagine what an intelligent one could pull off? He could rule the world so long as there were no mirrors to preen in and distract him, and so long as there was some poor schnook behind the scenes to write down everything he was supposed to say in public and put it on a teleprompter for him.
    The first transgression that I knew about was a hitchhiker, a tawny-haired hopeful from somewhere down South. At the time, Jason had only just begun to find himself so the result was bloody, but nonetheless effective, showing not a scintilla of the finesse that my unwanted protégée would develop over the next few years.
    “I’m not eating that!”
    “But, but…what do I do with the body?” Jason’s voice, while tailor-made for the bold and witty deep-voiced quips of the action heroes he so often plays, takes on an indescribably irritating quality when he whines or whimpers. It’s a harsh, high pitched tone that combines nails on a chalkboard with hints of alley cats being roasted alive. While some of my kind might find that sort of thing pleasant, my personal tastes are more refined.
    I shrugged, as if I didn’t care. I didn’t realize quite yet that he’d developed dark desires of his own. I thought he’d simply been unable to coax the kid into the abandoned apartment building and had assumed, insultingly, that dead was as much to my taste as fresh.
    “I’m not your personal Dispose-All, Jason,” I told him. “If you want to make an offering, or to bring me a gift, if you want to thank me and guarantee than my benevolence still flows in your direction, make it a proper one.” I sneered deliberately, enjoying the look of misery on his handsome face. “Otherwise, don’t waste my time.”
    “B…but…” he stammered, still unable to understand why I was rejecting the hitch hiker.
    “Keep it up, kiddo. Keep working my nerves and you’ll be appearing in toilet paper commercials for scale.”
    “I knew it,” he retorted, nastily. “I knew I never should have taken the trouble to bring anything to you. I should have just dumped him in the desert with the others.”
    I froze as the import of his words registered. “The…others?” I asked with ominous calm which, of course, he completely missed noticing. “What…others?”
    Whereupon, with blithe abandon, he began to relate the indescribable stupidity of what he’d been doing for the past several months. By the time he was done rehashing every tiny detail of each of the six murders as if I should be relishing each word, I was livid.
    “Are you insane?” I blurted out, once he had finished and was looking to me, smugly, for approval.
    “There’s no reason to be huffy,” he said with the arrogance that only a young actor whose last film grossed close to a hundred million can muster. “Besides, you do it. What makes you better than me?”
    That was when I ripped his nipples off and ate them.
    I apologized later, of course. Not for attacking him; he deserved that. But for risking his career by doing something that might show up on camera. Oh, he avoided me for a few months after that, not because he was afraid of my doing more damage, but rather because he was going to teach me a lesson. I arranged for his next job offer to be on Dancing with the Stars and it was almost magical to see how quickly I found him truculently standing on the redwood deck above me, looking down into the steaming water, chin set and prepared for a knock- down, drag-out rumpus.
    To be honest, he made some compelling arguments in his favor. But I was adamant. I’d groomed him to be a star, not a serial killer. Even though there was some of the latter inherent in the former, we needed to keep his priorities straight. We argued for hours and it was an argument we’d have over and over again for the next few years. Each time, I’d assume I’d won and things would settle down for a while. Then, Jason would show up bearing the tortured body of an extremely handsome Vietnamese waiter from Alhambra, or a youth from the Occidental College male gymnastic team, or a young member of a construction crew who had been working on paving potholes on the 405 freeway and, within minutes, we’d be screaming at each other and hurling accusations and imprecations once again.
    Physical punishment wasn’t terribly persuasive; I learned that when, only a scant six weeks after I’d lost my temper and crushed his right ball, Jason brought me the body of a Ralph’s stock boy that he had slowly and patiently burned alive with heated barbeque skewers. It began to dawn on me that maybe I was not as infallible as I’d thought. I realized that choosing Jason may not have been the best decision I’d ever made and that, perhaps, the compulsions he was claiming might actually be valid. Still, I was stuck with him and, after all, what healthy co-dependent relationship doesn’t have a troubling wrinkle or two?
    I still got on his case when he transgressed, and I urged and cautioned him to be careful. I didn’t much care if he were caught but, as for me, I found myself echoing Vivian Leigh and vowing to never go hungry again. I even swallowed my pride and helped him dispose of the evidence every so often though too much Dead gives me the functional equivalent of indigestion. Fortunately, I’m much less gassy if I take the time to boil them until tender.
    A few times, Jason insisted on demonstrating his technique for me. I feigned boredom but, between you and me, I was actually fascinated with how quickly he progressed and how skilled he became at inflicting pain and terror with his tortures. There was one blond boy—if memory serves, it was another personal trainer—who Jason managed to keep screaming into a gag fairly constantly for almost an entire weekend with no one in the abandoned courtyard but me and the occasional pigeon to witness. He slipped the young man into the hot tub scant seconds before he died and, in spite of myself, I had to admit it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in recent memory.
    Oddly, I don’t think Jason did it either to try and impress me or to make a legitimate offering. I think he did it because he was a little lonely. As his fame grew, as his extra-curricular perversions became more compelling, as his innate selfishness grew more pronounced, I think he discovered that he has difficulty relating to people. In a weird way, I think I may be his only friend. I find an odd solace in those thoughts. I’m not the friend-making type. If I did have a friend, I think I’d want him to be capable of carrying on a conversation with subject matter of more depth than box office grosses, potential projects in development and what the Kardashians were up to. But, for a time, things between us were…nice and the mental and emotional bonds between us grew stronger. Soon, while I could not force myself inside of his mind, I could often see things as if I were gazing out of Jason’s eyes and hear those of his thoughts that he wanted me to hear.
    But then, the little shit started pushing again, testing his boundaries, making the mistake of thinking that merely because I’m trapped in this damned redwood cell, I can’t reach out and hurt, or even destroy, if I need to. He’d see someone, a beautiful young man, and he’d know that I desired him. Sometimes, he’d do the wise thing and bring him to me. But, there were other times when he was convinced a director was favoring a leading lady, or when a critical review of one of his dubious performances was less than stellar or when there were too many rotten tomatoes, or when he was not immediately seated at a prime table at a trendy restaurant. At those times, he lashed out; and the one he lashed out at was me.
    He sold the Hollywood Hills house in favor of a Bel Air mansion with a sound-proofed basement. There, in what used to be a recording studio, he got a perverse enjoyment out of sensing me raging and cursing at him, imprisoned several miles away in my Hollywood hot tub, while he slowly tortured some magnificent specimen of manhood to death. Other times, he’d bring them into Hollywood, right into the courtyard, where he’d play with them for hours, or even days, until they expired. Then, and only then, would he deign to gift me with the cold dead meat, unsatisfying but vital to my continued comfort.
    The son of a bitch got off on teasing me, tempting me, driving me to the brink of madness, knowing that the worst I would do to him was something financial. We both knew that, as much as I lusted to do so, for me to hurt him physically to the degree he deserved would only be cutting off my own figurative nose to spite my face. We’d become symbiotic, each a parasite of the other, unable to exist without what the other half provided.
    Jason became a master at pushing just far enough. Then, just when I was on the verge of abandoning all restraint and doing something drastic like ripping out his liver, he would relent and, feigning sweetness and light, he’d slide a bound, fully conscious and indescribably yummy boy into the water. I’ve tolerated it for a very long time, but the end of my torment is nearing.
    There’s a boy, you see. He’s young, perhaps seventeen, a runaway, I think. He broke into the building a few months ago and has made a little nest for himself in one of the old apartment units. Cleaned up properly, I imagine he’d be quite handsome.
    So far, I’ve been able to keep him completely ignorant of my presence. He wonders, every so often, why the hot tub in an abandoned apartment complex still works, and why it never seems to need cleaning. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much effort for me to divert the lad’s thoughts elsewhere. You see, he has dreams of becoming an actor, a movie star actually. This boy, however, seems to possess some actual intelligence and, for all I know, maybe even some legitimate talent.
    Jason is on his way over with the pool boy, still shirtless, body glistening with sweat, bound and in the trunk of his Jaguar. He may be planning another long scene where I’m condemned only to watch or, perchance, this may be one of the times when he’s feeling generous and my little Aztec will satisfy a gnawing hunger. Either way, alive or dead, I know Jason will eventually dispose of the body beneath my waters.
    But Jason doesn’t know about the building’s new tenant. He doesn’t know I’ve made contact with him. It’s not much of a contact, not a strong connection like I’ve fostered with Jason. But it’s enough. Jason’s success has caused him to forget a fundamental fact that every newcomer to Hollywood knows. When he climbs up onto my deck with the pool boy in his arms, I’ll just have to remind him.
    It’s a truism in Hollywood. No matter how big you are in this town, there is always someone waiting just behind you, someone wanting to get ahead, someone desperate to take your place. All it takes is the slightest…push.

"Hot Tub" copyright © 2014 by Hal Bodner
 Art copyright © 2015 by James Hubbs


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