The next, and next to last part, in the UB series. Here are the other parts, in order, and thanks for reading.
She’s a corrosive, malignant bitch. Mariana is the cute-looking freckle that everyone loves and comments on; the freckle that’s hiding beneath it the tendrils of cancer that has invaded every part of its host and slowly, slowly sucks the life out of it.
That’s what she did to me; sucked the life out of me, until that last day when she wanted me to be her fetch-and-carry boy for that poor guy, Hayden. I’ve followed them through the media since the day I dropped her from my books. Its pretty much impossible not to follow them; they’re everywhere.
I never knew her until a year before she went supersonic. No one could miss the ‘boom’ when that happened. She was a beautiful child who became a gorgeous teenager, who grew into a stunning young woman and who then became the heartbreakingly irresistible woman she is now.
I met her on her way up. She had the look; she had the allure; but what she didn’t have was the insight. Being beautiful is only half the equation. Knowing how to project and portray it is the other half. I’ll give her this, though: she was a fast learner. People called her a ‘natural’ but if only they knew of the work we put into her to make it seem that way. She learned how to ‘seem’.
Hand on heart, I admit I was taken in by her in those early days, simply because of her sheer beauty. She was so stunning, and still is, that most people very happily never look beyond the obvious. That very much works to her advantage. When she came to me she seemed so fresh and unaffected. The strong fathering instinct in me wanted to do what I could for her. The businessman in me – always full of professional cynicism earned over a lifetime of representing good-looking flakes and actors who are completely vacant when they aren’t ‘in role’ – didn’t let that influence his decision.
Mariana’s previous manager was a steely-eyed witch who’d skin a turd if there was a dollar in it. ‘Scorched Earth’ Stephanie, as she was known in the talent management industry, was a rabid self-promoter who pushed her way in everywhere and, as something of an afterthought, dragged her latest protege in after her. When Mariana came to me she told me she was exhausted. She seemed to be doing shoots and promotions everywhere but by the time she paid for taxis and props there was hardly anything left for her to live on. Yep, that was ‘Scorched Earth’ alright.
Stephanie was relentless, completely immoral, rapacious, and proud of it. I had words with her once, and none of them were pleasant because she’s the kind of person who takes great offence at any sign of shared humanity. You are a resource to be used; don’t climb above your station. I could well imagine Steph (she went completely batshit if you called her that) as an army commander, taking huge delight in counting the dead and bayoneting the wounded.
So, we bought our way out of Mariana’s contract. We paid too much but much less than Stephanie made a try for. We won by talking about bringing in some legal and accounting friends of ours who’d (fictitiously) given us some quiet advice that Mari had a case, that there might be some irregularities in her contracted payments. As venomously as ever, Mari’s portfolio came to me with one of Steph’s trademark grimaces – the closest she gets to a smile. “You’ll learn, my friend,” was her closing remark. I let it ride. I knew she didn’t have any friends, but she was right about me learning.
It didn’t take long for the real Mari to emerge but in the early days I thought it was Steph’s toxic influence, so I pulled her up and had a word with her. She seemed contrite, a little shocked even, to be given examples of her fly-off-the-handle attitude to those who dared to question her. She was brittle; all prickles and thorns, until I stepped in and told her it wouldn’t fly with me. “Your engine’s on fire, Mari. If the second one flames out, you’re on your own,” I said. She had a little weep, there in my office, and probably a bigger one when she got home, but she straightened up and flew true after that. Or so I thought.
Mari’s rise was meteoric after she came onto my books. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you learn a thing or fifty about what works. Steph had been pricing Mari out of the market, trying to land her jobs that established supermodels bickered over, and Steph’s personality definitely didn’t help, so she took a deep breath and headed straight for her natural feeding ground: the bottom. What the shoots lacked in quality she tried to make up for in quantity, and the low fee stuff reflected in Mari’s earnings. We took the middle ground for industry average fees and, given her startling beauty and easy cooperativeness, word soon got out. Soon, we were up where the air was thinner and there was less gravity to weigh us down.
I saw Mari try to make friends, and after a while it came as no surprise to me when she said she really didn’t have friends now or when she was growing up. She put it down to jealousy from the girls and fear of her beauty from the boys, but after I’d seen her in action I came to a different conclusion. She is like the monster octopus that wraps its tentacles around your head and clamps its suckers all over your face. If you manage to break free, skin torn, expect a lot of ink to be shot at you. She just drained the life out of people.
Her previous boyfriend was a classic himbo. Beautiful, carefully sculptured, manicured and metrosexual, he was as dumb as he was good looking. He could lift a ton but he couldn’t spell it. She was all over him, and when he took a breather by heading overseas to do a body double gig for some hot Hollywood actor, she left claw marks in the walls. Mari became hard to get along with. There were conspiracies everywhere, and all of them aimed at her. She ran herself ragged, staying up for nights at a time to stay in sync with American time, so that she could call him and berate him for all the affairs he was ‘obviously’ having, evidence not required.
In the end, he decided that staying in America and trying to carve something out of the industry there was a lower risk than coming home to her. She moped; she pined. She made up fantastic stories about all the fucks he was getting. She sent abusive emails and texts until a letter arrived from an American law firm warning her to cease and desist, and vaguely throwing out there that any more of her nonsense might see her denied access to American soil, should she ever chose to try working on it.
It’s a thing I’ve noticed often. When a thug thinks all the consequences are on the victim, they just keep going. When the consequences come back to bite them, they get all self-righteous, as if they’re the ones who have been wronged, but if they’re smart enough, they stop. Mari was smart enough. Ungracious, but smart enough.
In between Himbo and Hayden, Mari tried to foster friendships with a few other people but her cloying ways soon saw them off. She was now earning in the big league and, I’ll say this for her, not even noticing it. She had the huge and elegant apartment she was supposed to have. She had the luxury car she rarely drove. She had everything the rule book says people like her are supposed to have, and yet she didn’t have a friend in the world. Plenty of remora, those fish who live off being parasites on bigger fish., but I think for all that activity she was as lonely as if she were the only one in the room.
She out-spent everyone she tried to befriend. She would buy them gifts and take them places, but they were places few people could afford. She completely swamped people with her presence, and those who survived it sometimes said it was worth it, even though they were hurt when they threw themselves off the ride. I know of two women who will be paying off credit card debt for the next decade because they lost themselves inside Mari’s orbit before being flung out into cold and dark space.
And then along came Hayden. Poor Hayden, guilty only of being a nice guy and quirkily attractive. For a time I thought Mari had settled; she seemed so much calmer, and I thought perhaps Hayden was the good influence she needed. As event have shown, I was wrong.
How often I’ve rued the night I gave in to her and approached him. I passed her message on, that she would like to meet him. I watched his face as he carefully summed up the offer, and my heart bled just a little when he finally said perhaps he’d visit our table when it was less crowded and she was less distracted. I felt a small spark of relief when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him get up and leave ten minutes later without so much as a glance in her direction. Maybe he was instinctively smart enough to have dodged a bullet, or maybe she’d go after him and some day make him regret it.
As later events showed, she went after him. It’s a strong person who can resist Mariana when she’s set her intention. The person who can resist it twice is yet to be born.
There’s a lot I haven’t written here, and so it may make you think I’m being overly hard on a woman who, while having some stark personality problems, isn’t really that bad. There’s a lot I left out, though, and if you knew the whole story you wouldn’t think I was unfair. You’d think I was very charitable. Perhaps it’s that strong fathering instinct in me I mentioned before.