Adam grabbed a tiny bottle of water from the table at the entrance as he walked into the green room. He looked around, hiding a smirk as he took a seat. In the room sat a dozen men aged twenty-five to thirty-five with that clean-cut all-American look: square jaws, white teeth, broad shoulders. Good-looking, but not too handsome. Fit, but not muscle man types. Adam checked the requisites again.
No skinny jeans. No skinny body types. No vegans.
Yep. Every single one of them fit the description. It would be down to talent. One guy in the corner was watching The West Wing on his phone. Adam hadn’t only watched The West Wing. He’d watched Madam Secretary, Designated Survivor and Scandal. Well, he’d re-watched Scandal. Whoever hadn’t studied that show wasn’t a serious actor.
The meagre two paragraphs of script said nothing about the show they were auditioning for, but it sounded serious. Probably set in the White House. The description didn’t ask for accents, but Adam’s agent had said they’d seemed interested that he spoke Spanish and was the child of an illegal immigrant. Adam frowned. Being the legal child of an illegal immigrant might help him politically or on Twitter, but he was an actor, so fame was his goal. He was farther along the graph than he used to be but, to keep the upward trajectory, he needed to be the all-around guy: White enough to be white. Dark-haired enough to be Hispanic. Or Irish.
Sure, he had opinions. Mostly that he loved America and that democracy was good, certainly preferable to what his mom had told him about living under a dictator.
And anyway, America was great. Where else would he want to go? The economy was good. Hollywood, Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, meant there were more opportunities for actors. Plus, they’d finally given people like his mom legal status ten years ago which had made her happy, even though it hadn’t changed her situation much. She still worked two jobs, just with a bigger smile on her face.
What had changed Adam’s life was his friend Pablo joining a gang and dying at fourteen. That’s when Adam’s mom had signed him up for theatre classes at the local community centre. It isolated him from his classmates but, looking back, it was a small price to pay. They were still stuck in the neighborhood, while Adam was auditioning for a blockbuster movie. He was finally going to be famous.
‘Okay,’ announced a short blonde woman dressed in a tight skirt the color of pomegranate seeds. Adam’s mouth watered. Stupid intermittent fasting. He’d never felt so hungry. Made him appear leaner though. ‘We’re going to start. Unless I specifically tell you to come back here, you can leave after your turn, meaning you didn’t get the spot. Got it?’ She flashed a smile as the men straightened up and brushed off invisible dust from their shoulders. Adam stayed still, knowing his navy pants, brown dress shoes, white shirt and skinny belt were perfectly clean and crisp. His mom was spectacular at laundry and ironing. Some guys wore full suits and ties. One guy was wearing a tuxedo. Adam smirked. No way that guy would get the part. Unless the scene was taking place at a party or fundraising dinner. And they’d given no indication of that.
Forty long minutes later, the blonde woman finally called his name. Adam glided through the door. A campaign advisor had to be confident. Arrogant, even.
‘Do you have anything to say to people who criticise Teri for her stance on welfare?’
The question was fired at him from somewhere in the corner of the giant room from what sounded like a bullhorn. Adam whipped around, his face set with a perfect, wide smile.
‘Teri is committed to making sure no one in America goes hungry. She believes we have an obligation to take care of each other.’
‘And what about the accusation that staffers within the campaign are not being treated well?’ the bullhorn shot back.
‘The campaign has started a full investigation into the allegations.’
‘Have you ever heard of Teri treating people poorly?’
‘I have never heard any complaints personally about or against Teri.’ Adam cleared his throat to hide a smile. He was doing great. The questions weren’t the same ones as on the script, but he’d practised different scenarios after studying the political shows. Olivia Pope would hire him.
‘Ok. That’s it. We got it,’ the bullhorn announced.
‘Him?’ asked the blonde in the tight skirt still standing next to him.
‘Fast. Calm. Let’s see.’
The voice was no longer coming from a bullhorn but from a man of average height barreling towards them. ‘Where’s the cutout?’ he demanded, the fluorescent lights reflecting off his head.
A young man in jeans sprinted in-between them, carrying a large cutout of a woman standing with her arms crossed in a gray pants suit. She looked familiar, but not famous. B-level, not blockbuster. Unless this was going to be her big break at sixty. An old sixty. Not Angelina Jolie sixty.
‘Look forward,’ the bald man barked. Adam whipped his focus forward. He didn’t want to get tossed out for not following simple instructions. ‘Is this cutout the correct height?’
‘Yes,’ replied the man in jeans.
‘Shit. She’s so short. But then, he isn’t too tall. And he’s handsome, but not too handsome. I mean, she’s no looker, you know? We need someone about whom the public says ‘Oh, he’s easy on the eyes and likes her’, but obviously we don’t want a Brad Pitt cause no one would believe it.’
The bald man stopped inches from Adam who swallowed away the insult and nodded his head, careful not to touch the bald man’s nose with his own.
The man swiveled on his heels.
Adam relaxed and looked around the room. It was an empty showroom set up like a campaign set with navy blue and white posters all everywhere. Leaning against the wall, stacked in the corner, taped to the windows, pegged to the corkboard. Some said TERI under the face of the lead actress, others proclaimed, TERI’S GOT YOUR BACK. LATINOS FOR TERI. WOMEN FOR TERI. IT’S TIME FOR TERI.
‘What’re the ratings?’ called out the bald man, again too close to Adam.
‘We’re still heading upwards,’ answered a young woman scurrying across the room.
‘Good,’ he answered. Leaning back, he looked Adam up and down, then snapped his fingers. ‘Yep. This should help us continue the upwards trend. I think we got it. Someone get the clipboard and his lines.’
A clipboard hit his chest with force. Adam grabbed it before it fell to the floor.
‘Let’s go. We’re on an upswing in the ratings and we need to keep it up. Teri’s counting on us.’
‘Is she the producer?’ Adam asked.
The bald man stopped. Adam stopped too.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Adam. Nice name. First man. Public might like that. You ready for the cameras?’
‘Of course.’ Was he ever. ‘Should I sign some paperwork or—?’
‘Norma’s got it right here for you,’ the man said, pointing to the blonde in the pomegranate suit.
Norma handed Adam the clipboard and the bald man marched off, snapping out commands as he went.
‘This says I’m signing to be a press secretary,’ Adam said.
‘No problem. Um, how many episodes am I signing for?’
Norma raised her eyebrows at him and he could feel his body heating up. ‘It’s just, usually, I don’t sign anything without my agent here. He negotiates stuff. Like this, here, says my salary is yearly? That’s weird ‘cause it usually goes by episodes.’
‘You want the job or not?’
‘I don’t really know what the job is.’
Adam jumped. The bald man was right next to him. He hadn’t even felt him, much less heard him, approach.
‘Your job is democracy,’ he repeated. ‘The continued climb to the betterment of your country. You don’t want it to end up like your mom’s old country, do you?’
‘Cuba? Uh, no. But I’m an actor.’
‘Exactly. And your name is Miguel Cavarra. Got it?’
‘Ok. Are you the director?’
Norma a grinned, looking from Adam to the bald man.
‘You don’t know me? Who the hell found this kid? I’m Delucci. The guy who’ll be everywhere and nowhere.’
Delucci. He’d produced the last two apocalyptic blockbusters. Began in television. Net worth of billions. And his wife was hot.
‘When do we start filming?’ Adam asked, swallowing away the other platitudes that came into his head. He stood tall, trying to cover for his mistake.
‘We’re always filming. Every time you’re around someone who has one of these babies,’ Delucci held up a smart phone, ‘we’re filming.’
‘Right. Understood. I’m ready for it. I know political shows can really shape people’s ideas. Especially in an election year.’
Delucci smirked, popping what looked like peanuts into his mouth. Adam’s stomach growled. He should fire his trainer.
‘You know about politics, Miguel?’
‘I know I love living in America,’ he said with a wide grin. The smile that usually charmed people. Delucci didn’t look charmed.
‘America. Right. But a lot goes into campaigns. Case in point,’ he said, pointing to a parade of young women all wearing dress pants, white shirts and pearl necklaces. Except for their different hair colors, they were identical. Same weight, same height, same smile.
Adam watched them, trying to appear uninterested. A press secretary wouldn’t care. A press secretary would have bigger things to do.
‘Ok, chief of staff, interview ‘em.’
‘I thought I was press secretary.’
‘You’re whatever Delucci says you are,’ Norma said, whipping out a document.
‘Is there a problem?’ Delucci asked, his pink lips spreading across his cheeks like melted butter on toast.
Adam cleared his throat. A guy had to pay his bills. He grabbed the clipboard from Norma and pointed his finger at the first girl.
‘Tell me your name and last place of occupation.’
The girls answered, hardly moving their mouths. Adam couldn’t help staring. And they all had the same answers. Sweat rolled down his back. He had no idea who to hire, but when he paused and turned halfway towards Delucci, the man wasn’t paying attention.
Adam pretended to jot down a few notes on the clipboard, then lifted his head and pointed in three directions. Whoever had the guts to step forward as though he’d pointed directly at her, he would hire.
Three women stepped forward, still smiling.
‘Political consultant, communications, and you are the polls expert.’
A firm hand clapped him on the back, jerking his body forward. ‘Nice job. Diverse, too. I like your way of thinking.’
Adam hoped his shirt wasn’t showing a wet hand print.
‘What’s going on?’ asked a woman whose chunky heels had announced her arrival. Adam peered closer at her, a poster in the background catching his eye. It was Teri. The star of the show.
‘Staffers,’ Norma said.
‘The attractive kind,’ Delucci said. ‘If attractive women want to be around you, then those rumors might go away. You’re on a roll, despite the talk of mood upsets.’
The woman rolled her eyes. ‘These young people cry the minute I raise my voice.’
‘That’s why we got you real actors. Not just young people looking to get famous in politics. These guys are professional.’ Again, Delucci slapped Adam on the back. Adam bit his tongue. The women switched from their left hip hitched to their right. In unison.
Teri raised her eyebrows. ‘Delucci! We’re looking for staff and an advisor for a senatorial campaign, we’re not running a reality show!’
Delucci turned to face her. Adam stepped back.
‘And what is the difference? You are reality, are you not?’ Delucci said.
‘Democracy is people voting about real life.’
‘And reality to the American people is what we tell them it is. We say something enough, they’ll believe it. Or tire of talking about it. You are on the up and that other guy, Mallock, he is going down. Little by little. Now is the time we grab the ratings by the balls—’
‘Polls,’ Teri said.
‘Ratings are better. You rate well with the public, and you will start polling better. Remember The Kennedys? Everyone wanted to be them. Now, we make it so everyone wants to be you. Or at least, they want to see your face more than someone else’s face. Having him next to you will help.’ Delucci jabbed his finger into Adam’s belly. It growled with hunger.
‘This is Miguel.’
Adam cleared his throat and stuck out his hand. ‘Hi, I’m Adam.’
‘Hi.’ She flashed a smiled, her eyes focused on his. She was good. B-level or not, he was going to learn a lot from her. ‘I’m Teri. Teri Bryant. You up for this, kid?’
Adam swallowed, unsure if he should ask the questions swirling in his head. ‘I’m an actor.’
‘We all are,’ Norma said. ‘Working to improve America.’
‘How would I go back to acting after this?’
‘You get me to the Senate and Delucci here will help you,’ Teri said.
Delucci’s grin widened. His crossed his heart with his index finger. ‘My promise. You do good here and I’ll take you back to Hollywood with me. Next year’s blockbuster is a political thriller. Consider the next seven months a paid audition.’
Adam’s rent was due, as it always was.
‘Just one more question,’ he said.
Norma and Teri titled their heads. Delucci ignored him, yelling into his phone.
‘Is there any juice around here?’
Kat Caldwell is a novelist and short story writer. She writes both historical and contemporary fiction, sometimes dabbling in magical realism when life needs an extra sparkle. You can find her books and more about her at katcaldwell.com & instagram.com/