Note: If you haven't read Part I, you may find it helpful before diving in to the series.
I didn’t plan it this way, but my bootleg show, Friend or Foe, was a three-fer. First, my newly found spotlight from Frenimies shown even brighter. I went from assumed killer and over the hill has-been to a global competition star. Another entertainment scandal for the jackals to chew on for a days if not weeks. Second it was free publicity for Jackie and UrbanEights. The Complex was deluged with applications within 48 hours of the show airing. We’d hired a very young, very hungry publicist who didn’t accept ‘no’ for answers and who worked 70 hour a week the month before air date. Most importantly, for the first time in her career, Jackie had a property at 100% occupancy and, she was taking a waiting list. A waiting list for the former Whispering Gardnens! And last, of course, was money. It started rolling due to the ancillaries - merchandise, tickets to live tapings, sponsorships. Then larger Show Producers and Networks started knocking.
Because of the demand on UrbanEights units, the model that we we’re also using as our set was rented. And at a premium. With crisp business efficiency, Jackie and I agreed that I’d move in with her and that we’d start using my unit for the new Friend or Foe set. It didn’t occur to either of us that things we’re moving too fast, that it might be too early to mix business with pleasure. It just seemed like a natural turn of events and the right thing to do.
I was rearranging some guest room furniture to make room for my boxes when the first call came in. Former Producer Biff Bergman reaching out directly and not through an attorney. I was riding the high of another strong F or F taping and thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll talk to the fucker.’ And I pressed accept.
“Jules my man, Bergman, what’s shaking?”
Just like he’d said a gazillion times before, in those early Frenimies days, back when I wore my grief and self-disgust over whatever black tee or jersey I’d thrown on. When he fed on my weakness with dollops of fame, promises of fortune.
“What’s shaking?? Really Bergster? You’ve got some fuckin’ nerve man.”
“Aw man, you still pissed? Jules, it’s me. The one who gave you a second act?”
“You mean the one who cheated me out of my money? Yeah, I’m still fucking pissed off.” The sudden rage surprised me. Outside the artificiality of the shows, I hadn’t felt the bitter, tangy taste of rage in months. Maybe years. And not gonna lie here, it tasted good.
My taut raw emotion must’ve surprised Bergman too. For one of the few times I could remember, he paused before speaking. I walked into Jackie’s lush living room, sank down into the plush sectional, and waited him out.
“Jules, man. Look. The payments … that was shitty, no question. Completely. I … I got too greedy when I saw those early Fren ratings.”
“Whaddaya want Bergman? Me to forgive you for being a dick? Cause that’s not gonna happen.”
“No, no. Look. Frenemies is done without you. Your new show’s already starting to outpace us. I was hoping I could hop on with you and Jackie. Exec Produce and promote like the old days.”
My rage erupted and released into laughter. Real LOL kinda thing. When I’d got control of myself I said, “You’ve got some big balls Brother Bergman. Big ol’ balls. But no fucking way.”
He was quiet, probably debating if he should take another pass at me or move on. He wisely chose the latter.
“Alright, Jules. If that’s how you really feel.”
“It is motherfucker. Don’t call me again.” And on that, I ended the call and leaned back into the couch. The let out a WHOOP.
Jackie emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a thick white towel, working on wet hair with a smaller one.
“So the Biff Bergman bridge is officially burned?” she asked.
“C’mon baby, he burned it with me a long time ago. What he put us through …’
She studied me for a while, those piercing eyes not missing a beat. Then she nodded, turned, and headed to the bedroom.
I felt elated, exhausted. and inspired all at once. Was it really true he’d be out of our lives forever?
The second call came, video this time. I hit VIEW and there was my youngest, Nikki, on the screen. Instead of the cool, confident young woman I’d grown accustomed to, she was panicked. Eyes darting around, like a caged animal with no way out. Because she had a bandana secured in her mouth with tape. She was seated in a dark office or conference room. Before I overcame my shock to speak, the camera tilted away from my baby, and his face filled the screen.
“Jules, we really do need to talk. Why don’t you come down to the office? To our office?"
Ben's Note - After being a homeowner, a landlord, and a single-family detached home tenant, I'm now a resident in a luxury apartment complex, just minutes away from the subway, and several miles south of Oakland. Since moving in several months ago, I've been surrounded by a host of stories. The Complex is the first result from several inspirations and installments will appear through August.