NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,789
Dagen hung up the phone as Vina leaned against the wall where it hung. She said, “I didn’t know they made these anymore. Does it actually work?”
“Better than a cell phone that doesn’t work at all up here,” said Dagen. “Ax might have some satellite equipment to share.”
“Is that who you were talking to,” she asked, her black rimmed eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Yeah, I called Ax’s office,” said Dagen.
Vina handed him a motel key and said, “I got us a room. Did you get someone to stash your equipment?”
“No,” said Dagen as he walked back over to his pallet with a makeshift bed of duffel bags for a mattress and his arctic mummy bag for bedding. “I’m crashing here.” Dagen sat down on his bags and removed his boots.
“I can’t believe that moronic reporter would take off like that,” said Vina.
Dagen stretched his arms overhead, let out a breath and said, “Oh I don’t know. Maybe being a reporter he thought he’d go after a story.”
“He was hand-picked by GGP to interview you. Laurel Henney said so herself. You are the man’s only story,” said Vina.
“You should leave,” said Dagen, “The closer I get to my research field the colder and more inhospitable the the surroundings are going to be. Do you even know how to survive in the arctic?”
“Survive,” said Vina, “The motel is shabby and the only place that even serves a salad is some dive called The Shack. Thank God they have vodka, or so I’m told.”
“I’m talking about about the elements, proper clothing, places that are dry and don’t serve alcohol,” said Dagen.
“There are such places,” asked Vina, looking skeptical. “You’re just saying that so I won’t go to Clyde River.”
“Ask anyone here,” said Dagen with a shrug, “Clyde River is a dry town and you can get swept away by a blizzard just stepping outside. And there are no motels. That’s why Ax helped me arrange a home to stay at.”
“No motels,” said Vina, “No vodka. What point of no-civilization is this? That damned reporter had better return before you leave.”
“You know that GGP hired the guy. Come on, Vina. He can interview me if and when he catches up to where I’m at. Go back to civilization with the other pretty people,” said Dagen.
“Not until we make your announcement,” she said.
Dagen looked up, warily. “What do you mean,” he asked.
Vina sighed and rolled her eyes. “I wanted it to be a surprise. For you to hear it from a reporter when he asked you about it,” she said.
“What is ‘it,’ Vina? No surprises,” he said, sitting up straight, his muscles all tense.
She looked at him, her overly-glossed lips in a full pout. “You just don’t appreciate all that I do for you,” said Vina. “Oh, look, there’s my taxi. Enjoy sleeping on your dirty clothes or whatever you have in those laundry bags.” Vina turned and left out the front door.
Dagen swore so loudly that the all three people in the lobby turned and stared at him. He stood up, pacing in his wool socks in front of his gear. Would he never escape this woman? What curse was he under that he even met her in that nightclub in Oslo three years ago? He was blowing off steam after volunteering to help handle dogs at a world cup sled race in the north. He made his way back south to Oslo, hoping to catch a cheap flight to the states, low on money and not sure what next.
She saw him, not the other way around. Vina was the sort to attract attention, but not from Dagen. Now he realized that that was why she made it a point to strut in front of him. He wasn’t noticing her. And she had noticed him. After finding out that she was American, he warmed up a bit. Or maybe it was the akvavit, a strong liquor distilled from grains and spiced with anise and cardamom. Maybe it was the poor lighting that failed to show she had no light of her own in her eyes.
Whatever the reason, Dagen woke up in her hotel bed to room service, champagne and a fully made-up Vina in a pale pink satin bathrobe. He’d been with women before, the morning after, but had never seen one fully made over at dawn. His head was throbbing and he couldn’t find his clothes. She said she ordered up something for him, meaning she bought him new clothes. She also had a hair appointment for him and for the first time in his life, he had a manicure. With each step that day, an inner voice cried, “Run!” but he kept stepping. Stepping to Vina’s tune.
Dagen didn’t even know that he had screen test until he arrived at a basement studio in a limousine that Vina hired. That he thought she looked like a dominatrix in a snug business suit of black should have added to his sense of danger. She wore a pale pink scarf around her neck with its short, narrow ends pointing to her pushed up breasts. Somehow he recalled in the murk of his mind from the night before that those breasts stood up on their own, defying gravity.
Introductions were brief, someone from the History Channel was asking Dagen about his knowledge of ice, Nordic history. Vina interjected that he was a PhD. He didn’t recall telling her, but he didn’t recall much from the night before. Then they asked about sled dogs. Of course, he lit up at the mention of dogs and the conversation grew a few more listeners. Of course, he would have been excited over sled dogs. It was in that mood that he stepped up to read a few scripted lines, smiled when the room clapped. Idiot. He had no idea what was happening.
Vina explained that she would work out the details of the contract, set him up in an apartment and get him an advance. Having lived so frugally the prior two years after loosing a government position, his few belongings were stored at Ax’s place in Brimson. And that was a place he wanted to avoid after selling off the family homestead. And Ax. Seems every time he looked at the man, he saw disappointment in his eyes. He imagined his father would look that way, too. So he followed the dog sledding circuit, getting paid for some work, volunteering for others if it meant food and a place to sleep.
The money sounded, comfortable. It sounded like settling down. And actually, once the producers and staff explained the premise, Dagen was excited to host the show. They told him he was a natural on the screen, photogenic. Vina smiled, smugly. She did as promised. She worked at all the details, gave Dagen keys to a fully furnished apartment and even set up a bank account for him with more money than he had ever thought to make even as a tenured scientist. But she also owned his career.
The details were such that she, only she, could say where he appeared, when and for how much. It wasn’t that she needed any cut from him. He’d later find out that Vina came from a wealthy film family. Her mother was a make-up artist on Star Trek and her father produced a series of high grossing television series. Dagen was her find. He was an unknown that she could claim belonged to her.
When filming on location in Norway, Dagen could forget that she existed. Vina shortly left Oslo, chiding him before she left that privileges were hers to give when she wanted. He realized that she was talking about intimate relations and he began to sweat. Without mainlining akvavit, he doubted he’d have interest in those privileges. From then on, he denied himself those privileges.
It was after the filming season, when she required that he show up in California, that he realized how deep in trouble he was. Thinking he could take his money and go anywhere, he thought about Brimson. He thought about buying back the homestead he sold so he could finish school with a degree he rarely used. He thought the meeting in California would be a formality, touch base and go wherever he wanted.
But that’s not what happened. Vina presented Dagen with an agenda, including both social and business appointments. Pool parties, more screen tests, lunches with industry executives, interview on Conan, appearances as a spokesperson for the Humane Society. When had he become their spokesperson? He laughed and said, “No way.” Calmly she pulled out his contract. She referred to paragraphs and statutes that he had no idea about. She did own him. Dagen raged out of the room called a list of lawyers in the yellow pages until one agreed to look at his copy of the contract. That lawyer shook her head and asked him why he didn’t seek legal advice first.
Because he had no idea. So he made the rounds on his agenda, lived in a Newport Beach apartment among furnishings and painting he never selected. His screen tests went poorly, mostly because he mumbled through the scripts and glared or looked bored. Vina couldn’t control his acting. Soon he gained a reputation. But the History Channel still liked him, and it became a relief to fly back to Norway to film. Ratings were decent and the Dog Doc had a minor following. But the show canceled. And that was like the first link to weaken in the chain that Vina had on Dagen.
Dagen’s contract also referenced what would happen if he had no current gig, television or big-screen. With the cancellation he was gigless. Dagen searched for a scientific job, anything and in Norway he met several GGP executives who were interested in him collecting some data and presenting it in a series of interviews—radio, television, company podcasts; promotional pieces that were not tied to television or the big screen. He said yes.
Vina had been the one to rage when he said they were done. His contract fulfilled and since he had no television or movie offers, he no longer needed an agent. But there was one clause Dagen overlooked. Publicity. She still had her say on anything he did that was publicity. Thus the current situation of her following him to ensure she was involved in his interviews for GGP.
Dagen shuddered at what she had concocted next. He would not let her trap him so easily this time. Like an arctic fox that lost a leg to a snare, Dagen was stepping lightly.