The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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My Last Nerve (25) – Bette Porter, The L Word

Bette & Tina's Remodeled bedroom

Bette and Tina’s Bedroom – Tina

Grief, and its disabling after effects, swim around me in this bedroom. A place where I’ve laid myself bare in ways, only she will ever know.

The memory of our first baby drifts up from the carpet.  The punishment, the careless things I’d done with my body, the abortions and fetuses sucked from my womb – and the one I’d loved with Bette – gone in a terrible sound that left me dead inside, where our baby had lived, until it hadn’t any longer.

I stare at the emptiness of our bed. It’s king-sized surface – a doomed freighter in a sea of pain.

Burying my face in the smell of Bette’s pillow, I sob into it.

Twenty minutes later –

Tina close up Cruise Montego Bay

The Kitchen – Tina

Shane opens the steaming containers of Thai food she brought over. “Tina, let’s eat something.”

With Angelica bathed and ready for bed, Mary enters the kitchen. “I could eat,” she says as my daughter runs toward me.

“Is she still. . .?” I look beyond to Mary.

“No, but we’re going horseback riding soon on my ranch,” Mary emphasizes. “And tonight after dinner, with no more questions asked, we’re reading “Black Beauty” at bedtime.”

“I brought mine over, ” Kit says, “I’m crazy about horses.”

“Momma B rides horses!”

“Your Momma B rides many things.” Kit rolls her eyes. “But mostly on my last nerve.”

“I wish, Kit. . .” Mary says, while setting the table around me, “that I’d met this group sooner.”

“In y’alls honeymoon period, you’ve only seen the amusing sides of her,  but growing up she was kinda sad, and after you “died” – she was left with Melvyn.”

“I agree. It’d have made all the difference, Mary, If she’d known you were still alive.”

Kit points to me and Angelica. “Pretty angry, until these two came along.”

A deep sadness chokes Mary’s voice. “I hate what happened. I see what I’ve missed.”

“Chopsticks?” Shane breaks the tension.

Mary clears her throat of emotion. “Fork for me.”

“Thank God!” Kit cries with joy. “Another sane person!  But has anyone told you?  Bette wears the boots you gave her every single day.”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

“And tries to in bed!”  But, as I say it, Shane’s eyebrows take off with a mental picture.  “Shane, don’t. . . .  Everybody!  Just forget I said anything about it.”

Thankfully, Alice barges in the front door. “Full confession! I have a crush on Our Enforcer!”

Mary turns toward Alice. “You mean, Simone?”

Alice answers dreamily, “The one and only.”

“Oh! Good Lord! Again!?” Kit shouts.

I push over a plate for her to join us. “Alice, you’re hardly serious enough for her.”

“That’s what you think she wants?” Alice shakes her head – not a chance. “That’s not it at all. She wants a sub. Plain and simple.”

simone red dress black chair

Mary looks mystified.  “A submarine?”

Shane nudges Mary off Alice’s S&M fantasy. “How’s your food? Mine’s delicious.”

“Simone’s coming to the Labor Rights Rally.” Alice shutters pleasurably. “We need the muscle.”

I sigh, and wish Bette were here, amused by this.  Then, I wonder — what rally?

Kit douses her food with the Thai restaurant’s notorious hot sauce.  “That plan I like, cuz ‘dis bid’ness with the SheBar bitches is ’bout to get serious.”

Shane looks back and forth between me and Kit. “But that’s the point, isn’t it?”

“I have no knowledge of this. What’d I miss?”

Everyone stops eating for a moment and stares at me.

Kit explains the optics. “Penny’s bringing her cantaloupe workers to wave signs at a Labor Rights rally, protesting the SheBar bitches exploitin’ immigrant workers.”

“All in Spanish?” I ask.

Alice bridge story

“A mix,” Alice answers. “But where are we on finding B. . .bb. . .?”

Mary, cutting Alice off, points to Angelica sitting in my lap. “She’s coming to New Mexico to ride horses.”

“Comin’ to Mexico!” My child shouts.

“How many more hints can I possibly drop!?!  I want an invitation to Santa Fe!”

“Don’t pout, Alice. I’m having a party before their wedding.”

Again, the table grows silent.

After a few moments, Kit says, “Surprise her when she gets home, Tina.”

“I know, I should set the date.”

“Back to Mexico!” Angelica tries again.

“Yes, Baby, we’re all going to New Mexico.” I kiss the top of her head.  “And I have another surprise for Bette, too.”

Down the table, one by one, my friends cock their eyebrows at me. “Oooh! This oughta be good!” Alice rubs her hands together.

“You know the good looking vet?  Blonde, about thirty?”

“Green tea, egg white omelet? I know the one you mean.”

“Her. Yes!” I point at Kit.  “The minute Bette walks through that door, she’s turning right back around, and getting shot with a GPS tracking chip at the vet’s office.”  I pull the trigger on my imaginary gun. “I’m serious. Bang!  Right under her skin.”

“Ouch!” Shane slaps at her neck.

Mary laughs at the thought. “You know, they’ll want your pet’s name for the radar thingy.”

“For the tracking number! She’s right.” Alice lures me, “Bette’s pet name, what do you call her?”

Shane breaks in, “Not tonight.  Layoff a little, Alice.”

Tears fall down my face, and taking my hands in hers Kit searches my eyes. “She’s coming home to you, Tina, and when she does, you can call her anything you like, but definitely get the tracking chip. We’ll all feel better the minute she has one.”

homeless couple under bridge

Under the Bridge – Bette

In the thirty minutes since escaping, a plan has emerged for my survival. Put as much real estate between me and the SheBeast as I can, and two, whenever possible, stay in the shadows, and three, make it to the bridge – alive.

After walking nearly a mile, we approach the homeless encampment, and the woman slows her squeaking grocery cart. “I’ll vouch for you, as much as my word’s worth anything, but they don’t let just anyone in, especially after dark.”

“What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Danielle.”

“Danielle, I’ve got this,” I assure her.  And with one cowboot on and my other one missing, I limp past the gauntlet of bearded men at the entrance and enter the homeless camp, as if I belong.

homeless reading in tent

In the semi darkness, I thread my way past wood and twisted metal makeshift shelters that are straight out of a Jodi Lerner sculpture.  A baby cries nearby, a mother sings a lullaby, and the unsettling feeling of my nightmare breaks when Danielle stops near a woman reading in her tent.

She points to a faded piece of red carpet. “This is us. Make yourself comfortable.”

Sensing the irony, I ease my bruised body down on the rug covered concrete. “How long’ve you been here?”

“Under this bridge, three months.”

“Before that?”

“Down San Diego way.”

“How many miles to West Hollywood?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

“Eleven point three.”  The woman in the tent looks up from her book.

Mixed with the thrumming sound of cars passing across the bridge, I hear the muffled roar of jet engines overhead.  “And LAX is. . .?”

The woman in the tent points off to the right. “Three miles that way.”

Twinkie

Danielle tosses me a package of Hostess Twinkies. “Have you eaten?”

Tearing open the cellophane with my teeth, I imagine my three mile walk tomorrow to the Inglewood Mercedes dealership where – right after I call Tina and let her know I’m still alive – I’m phoning my banker and driving away in a misty silver Roadster, exactly like the one I’d envied speeding past me recently on the PCH.

Another wolfing bite and my entire Twinkie is gone. I lick the last of the sugar from my fingers. “I owe you dinner and more. How about supper at my place tomorrow?”

She sends me a disbelieving look. “You cook? But. . .”  she yawns out the distance in her answer, “. . .e l e v e n  m i l e s?”

“Eleven point three,” I correct.  “But once we hit Inglewood, I’m getting us a ride.”

Denbo pissed

The SheBar – Denbo

Slamming shut tomorrow’s run of show folder, eight by ten photos of swimsuit models sail toward the kidnappers.  “What the fuck you do you mean Porter’s gone!?!  She was tied to a chair! You were guarding her 24/7!  So, how the fuck. . .?”

“We’ve brought in more men tonight to find her, but it’s a desolate area,” Perez answers.  “Lots of places to hide.”

My Girlfriend Cindy states the obvious. “Which is why she was there in the first place!”

I pound my fists on the table. “You drugged her to capture her!  Why not keep her that way, until this was all over?”

Perez looks at a beastly pierced and tattooed woman, who’s straight out of an addict’s DT nightmare.  Coldly, they stare back at me.  Unapologetic and unblinking.

bikini close up ocean background

Miami!  Full of party girls spending Daddy’s ill gotten money. I wish I’d never left!

With a barely controllable rage, my eyes lock with the beastly tattooed woman’s still glued on me. “Once you find her, you’ll get your fucking money.” I slam my fist on the table again. “I need Bette Porter out of the picture, and her sister freaked out until tomorrow night. Not before!”

fake dr perez shebar

With stirrings of hatred, Perez glares back at me. “We know the men you owe. Never forget that. You pay us for the job, you pay us when we tell you to pay us, or worse things – for you – begin to happen.”

I don’t flinch. “You’re right, Perez, word will get back to people we both know – that you lost a fucking Art professor!”

My Girlfriend Cindy adds, “Until Dinah Shore’s LA venue goes to the SheBar, not The Planet, they’ll be hell to pay, but not to you.”

I dismiss my villainous brood. “Now, get the fuck out of my bar and go find her.”

Tina gesturing INDOORS lking up

7 am the next morning – Tina

I open the medicine cabinet and take out the Xanax I keep only for earthquakes, because all around me – it feels likes one. I gulp down the pill and surrender to Big Pharma. I’m done snapping at my daughter who keeps asking – The Question of the Hour –  which is why I need a tranquilizer, that I wish were the same as swallowing a clue, that I don’t have – along with any idea about when Bette is coming home – I just know: She must.

All that, and three urgent phone calls I must make before 8 am.

Then, a text hits my iPhone.

From Simone –

I’m at your front door.

This stops me in my tracks. I didn’t hear a thing. No car, no footsteps, no sound of her approaching. I peek through the spyhole, and see her holding a paper sack, but also looking gorgeous and mysterious, whereas I look and feel like a wreck.

I yank open the door.  “Good morning.”

Simone replacement Front Door Rescue story

“I figured it out!” Simone dumps the contents of mostly paper and spent matchbooks on the table.  Quickly, she divides them into piles.  Nearby, Angelica plays with her cereal.

At the table, I hold my breath.

Mary comes in wearing Bette’s bathrobe.

I pace back and forth in the kitchen. “How long is this going to take? What’ve you found?”

“Kit gave these bits and pieces of the SheBar’s trash to Joyce – Tuesday, when Bette was taken, but nobody knew it then.”

Mary leans over the receipts, studying them closely. “I’ve got to see this place, before we burn it down.”

“That might be weird.” My voice drifts, as I walk outside. I dial Joyce’s cell phone. It’s 7 am.

She answers on the second ring. “Any news?”

“Maybe onto something.  Did you call Linda Zurnich. . .about my taking over as studio chief?”

“Fuck! I forgot! With everything. . .”

“I know, believe me, I know, but tomorrow’s Friday.”

“I’ll do it and call you back.” Joyce’s line goes dead.

I dial my friend at Paramount, who plays tennis with Shaolin’s top guy.  “Marcus, Tina Kennard, I know it’s early, but you have children.”

“You’re not kidding. Twins and teenagers.  I hope you’re calling about an early drink. Like around ten?”

I smile despite myself. “The movie I’m producing, have you heard about it? Our chief’s in trouble.”

“And you want his job?”

“I would be better at it, and production would be seamless.”

“But only if they hire inside.” Marcus puts two and two together. “I like you for it.  I’ll make some calls.”

receipts from trash

Back inside the kitchen –

I stare down at my table stacked with sticky shopping receipts. Simone taps under the dingy pile in the center. “A gas station near the airport. Twice, in the last week, they’ve filled up there.” Then, Simone gives up a satisfied smile. “This bigger pile is from a Mexican place, three miles from LAX.”

“They’re operating somewhere right in that circle.” Mary agrees.

I grab my purse.  “I’m ready!”

“Wait!” Mary points toward Angelica, and her half-eaten bowl of cereal. “I’m coming to!”

“My car has a baby seat.” I toss Simone the keys.

In five seconds, foggy from Xanax, now shot through with adrenaline – with Mary wearing Bette’s blue bathrobe, and Angelica trailing in her bib – the four of us are out the door.

corner store rescue site

An hour later –

Industrial area near LAX – Tina

After driving around blighted neighborhoods for an hour, it dawns on me how ill prepared I am for danger, and shockingly, that I’ve brought my child along for the ride. From the back seat I call to the front, “Is it possible to make a carseat bullet proof?”

“You really should’ve thought of that.  Like an hour ago.”  Simone reminds me, from behind the wheel.

“Pull over. This is the first habitable place we’ve seen for miles. I need coffee and cigarettes.”  Mary waves us over toward the curb, when the door to the food mart swings open, and a homeless woman waving a sign runs in front of our car.

“Look out!” Mary braces her hand on the dash. Simone slams on the brakes, and next to me – with an ear piercing squeal – Angelica screams, “Eeeeeeeeeee!”

My head whacks against Simone’s seat in front of me, and out of my right ear I cannot hear a fucking thing.

The homeless woman’s sign scratches slowly across my window, then drops out of sight.

“Did we hit her? I cry from the backseat.

“Jesus! Is she under the car?” Mary asks.

Followed by shouting – that even mostly deaf I recognize.  “Watch where you’re going!” A pissed off Bette barges out of the store, and skidding to a stop – on one boot – she lands with her hands planted on my window.

“Tina? Mother? Is that my bathrobe?”

I leap from the car and into Bette’s arms. Simone helps the woman with the sign up from the pavement.  Mary lights a cigarette and exhales – exhausted.

“How the fuck did you find me? I’m still not sure where I am.”

“The airport’s that way.” Dusting herself off the homeless woman points east.  “Don’t you remember?”

“She saved my life.  You wanna come with us?  Get some breakfast? Get a shower?”

“Get a job?” The Homeless Woman suggests.

“Absolutely!” I offer her.  “We’ll definitely find you something.”

After another kiss with Bette, I lick my lips.  “Babe, have you been drinking?”

“Just a little eye-opener.” She points to her swollen socket.  “Did it work?”

Angelica fusses inside the car, calling Bette’s name.

“Oh my God! You brought the baby!” She picks up Angelica.

Simone’s arms wave us toward the Lexus. “Everyone back inside.  Time to go.”

“We haven’t met, but thank you.  I guess, you know who I am.”

“I do,” Simone says, while gently touching Bette’s eye.  “I have a cream for that swelling.”

“On you? I could really use it.” Bette wedges in the backseat with Angelica, followed by me, and the Homeless Woman.

“T, how much was my ransom?”

No one in the car says a word.

Then, Mary turns around in her seat and takes Bette’s hand. “You see dear, it never was about you.”

“Really?  You could have fooled me, Mother! It got very personal.”

Flicking her rearview mirror, Simone shoots a quick look to the back.  “We’re ninety percent sure this leads back to the SheBar.”

For an instant, Bette’s mouth drops open, then her jaw clenches shut. “The SheBar bitches?” She hisses.

Mary fixes her with concern. “How bad was it? Scale of one to ten.  Ten being excruciating.”

The car hits a bump and we all jostle together.  Bette plays with Angelica’s small hand in hers. “I can see why that matters, Mother, especially to you.”

“Just call out a number.  Simone and I need to hear it.”

“Give me the eye cream. I want in on what you’re planning.”  Bette demands.

“Just a minute!” I shout.  “Bette, you’re either going home, or to the vet.”

“What?” She looks at me, as if I’ve lost my mind. “You mean the doctor?”

“Here for your eye.” Simone hands over a silver dollar sized container.  “Won’t help though, if your retina’s detached.”

“Oh God! Bette, can you see? Are you blind? Where were you anyway?” I thread my hands through her hair, and pull her close to me.  “Have you slept? Have you eaten? Are you hurt?  I can put the vet off, until tomorrow.”

Bette frowns, then checks my forehead for a fever. “Are you alright?”

“Oh Babe, just barely.”

“And the coup at the studio? Have you pulled that off?”

Quickly, I glance at my watch. It’s eight-thirty. “After I get you settled, I have things I must do.”

Bette leans into the front seat between Simone and Mary.  “Mother, they know I’ve escaped.  I’ve put Tina and Angelica in danger, haven’t I?”

“I’m Danielle, and I’ve worked at a small town newspaper, and in an eye doctor’s office, too.”

Mary holds out her hand to her.  “Danielle, forgive us. We’re excited she’s home.”

“Let’s do resumes after pancakes. Can we start there?” Bette suggests.

Simone warns. “We can’t go anywhere near The Planet. Denbo will have eyes in there. Especially now.”

“Let’s play what they think they know back on ’em.” Mary schemes.

“A misinformation campaign. Good thinking, but can I go home?”  Bette lets out a yawn.

“No. I’m taking you to a safe house.  Danielle, you’re going with Mary.”

“As soon as I get out of Bette’s bathrobe, dear.”

“Tina, you show up at work, look distressed, pretend none of this is over.”

“I promise I won’t tell a soul.” Danielle volunteers.

“I had to get out of there.  I just had to.” Then, with a heavy sigh, Bette closes her eyes, and in ten seconds she’s sound asleep against my shoulder.

Billy with blonde hair

The Planet – Billy

I loved Kit Porter the first time I ever saw her do a number on stage, and from that moment forward, we’ve grown together and apart so many times, we know all the dance steps from Hell to addiction and back again. But today, I’m sober, taking one hour at a time, and along with being a bipolar evil genius – it’s just another sunny day in West Hollywood, when Kit walks in with bags under her eyes.

“You look like a meat truck hit you,” I tell her.

“Don’t start with me, Billy!”

“Sit down, I’ll be nice. Have some coffee.”

“Is this immigrant demonstration going to work?”

“Oh, it’ll work alright. By the way, that Claire is a genius. Where’d you find her?”

“The Clintons.”

“Well, we know how that turned out.”

“Again, don’t start with me. You know I love me some Hill and Bill.”

“I’m more of a Nader-man, flying the flag of Lost Causes.”

Helena walks in dressed for a safari. I pull a chair out for her. “Where’ve you been?”

“In the bush. . .figuratively and literally.” She smiles.

Kit puts her head in her hands. “Please don’t tell me.”

“I’m all ears,” I say to Helena, then Kit moans some more. “Sister, pull it together.  Here’s what I know.  I’ve ordered you a Food Truck for outside. Beans and rice, and pork “surprise” – I’m a Jew, I don’t get into that – but the cantaloupe people stay out there, after the rally.”

“No, we’re not segregating people!”

Helena calls to a passing waiter. “May I have a pot of tea?” Then, to me. “I heard your messages, is she still missing?”

“No time for that!” Billy slices his hand between us. “Salsa, calypso, and cantaloupes – all stay outside.”

“I’m too tired to fight with you, Billy.”

“Me, too, I’ve very jet-lagged.”  Helena sympathizes, in that way she has of missing everyone else’s apparent pain.

“In here,” I whisper with anticipation, spreading out my arms and setting the scene for tonight, “is where the signature moment that defines The Planet to Dinah Shore and to the world happens! The candlelight vigil for missing women and children.”

“You’re telling me, I just do my hair and show up?”

“I’ve planned it perfectly. Down to the Kleenex with aloe.”

“How much is this costing me?”

“Forty percent of net.”

“Fifteen.”

“You’ve got to be kidding! Thirty-eight.”

“Twenty.”

“Thirty?”

“No!”

“Twenty-two! Final offer, Kit, or I’m walking!”

“Done.”

Helena looks up from her phone. “Glad that’s bloody over. Now, how’s Tina?”

“Unlike me,” Kit groans, “she’s lost ten pounds.”

Five hours later –

Alice_Lesbo Land

The Planet – Alice

Max, my transgendering cameraman, who washed up in our midst drug here by Jenny, back when Max was a lesbian – I’m still not clear on all that – but the point is – Max is moody today, of all days, and I suspect hormones. A woman with a full beard doesn’t just get that way without consequences.

Finally, he focuses the camera for my live podcast and says, “Rolling.”

“It’s four o’clock, Lesbians!  Time to roll out of bed, and walk the dog, and get over to the rally at The SheBar, where our super hot Latino friends are demonstrating for fair treatment and equal pay!”

“Now! Some of you may like fair treatment, and many of you may like it rough, but first, you have to get here to enjoy it!”

SheBar sign

Max cuts to the SheBar graphic.

Wrapping up my live segment, he’s back to me. “The excitement is in the streets this afternoon people, and tonight at The Planet, with an open bar during the candlelight vigil for Missing Women and Children – featuring special musical guests – and The Planet’s very own Kit Porter!”

“A question to think about, until I see you lesbians later, who doesn’t look better in candlelight after a few drinks?”

Followed by a brief pause. “Everyone! This is Alice in LesboLand signing off with a kiss!”

The red recording light on the camera goes out, and Max fiddles with our equipment. “The kiss bit was new,” he monotones.

I unhook the microphone from my blouse. “That was for Simone!”

He laughs in disbelief. “You think she listens to your show?”

As the whooshing sound of my text to her flies into the ethers, I wave my iPhone at him. “She does now that she has the link.”

To Be Continued —

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

 

Just joining the story? Here’s the first in this series – “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown, followed by, “Hotel California” http://bit.ly/BetteHotelCalifornia, then, “Ensnared by Guilt”  http://bit.ly/ensnared and now you’re up to date.


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Ensnared by Guilt #24

Tina serious blue shirt med shot

Day Two

Before Work – Tina

There have been days when I would’ve given any amount of money to stay in bed and delay facing the world for a little while longer.  But today, opening my eyes to its king-sized emptiness, I could not escape its sheets and pillows fast enough.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve never told Bette that when living alone in my apartment I never slept well, or how nighttime sounds when sleeping next to her feel innocent because she was there. I’ve never shared with her my out of body experience when she slipped the engagement ring on my finger.  On stage with Gloria Steinem, the crowd had cheered and my heart had taken off like a bird across the water.  Standing inches away from me she’d moved her microphone and had whispered, “Tina, we’re giving ’em Gypsy Rose Lee.  You with me?”

From the front row Shane had whistled, and from the corner of the stage Alice had wept, while a zillion pixels had captured our kiss, and we’d left them wanting more.

Tina_blackjacket_seated_looking irritated

Later that morning –

Les Girls Soundstage – Tina

Minutes after arriving on set the LAPD had appeared, and the news that Bette’s been missing for twenty-four hours has travelled fast.  As the morning wears on, and more and more sympathetic looks from the crew begin to come my way, I’m sure by now the cops have heard.  Bette and I are the real life “inspirations” for this movie.

If I did not hate Jenny as much as Bette vehemently does, I absolutely do so now.  She was in line early to give the police her version of Bev and Nina’s stormy years, their monstrous behavior toward each other, and their twisted motivations.

Shane had followed trying to paint a different picture, but setting like concrete in the minds of the LAPD is their working theory: Bette’s not abducted, not kidnapped, not a victim of foul play, but missing because she wants to be, and I’m likely the number one cause for her leaving.

“Why can’t you understand!?!” My fury mounting, my voice hoarse from arguing. “She’s not on my soundstage! She’s out there!  Somewhere!”

“People lead double lives, Miss Kennard, it happens all the time.” The detective taps the Lez Girls script in his hand by way of illustration.

“We love each other! If she were here, she’d be standing right next to me, hating the movie business. . . hating this movie in particular. . .hating. . .”

“Hating what exactly, Miss Kennard?”  Cooly, the detective studies my face.  “Isn’t it possible, you never knew her at all.”

Tina Aaron his office

The last thing in my crumbling life that I did know for certain, before rushing out of here yesterday, was that Aaron and Jenny and I had agreed on the way to shoot Bev and Nina’s child custody scene. Now, we’re debating it again.

Aaron flips through his copy of today’s script pages and says to Jenny, “The way you’ve written this I don’t care if Bev and Nina’s relationship is over.  They’re meant to foreshadow what’s ahead for Jesse, who’s totally unaware cruelty’s waiting ahead at the hands of Karina.”

Aaron searches my face. “Tina? You with me?”

“Of course.  We blocked all this out yesterday. The scene with Nina marking on Alisa’s Chart is before this, so yes, we’ve established Bev’s wayward ways, and now she’s feeling the consequences.”

Aaron snaps the pages at me.  “Consequences? Nina’s threatening to take Bev’s child away!  In this scene, Bev loses everything.”

Jenny leans over his desk and points to a page in her script. “This line from Nina, “There’s nothing left between us.” And then, Bev says, “Don’t do this! Don’t do it.””

Holding her hands up, Jenny frames the camera’s point of view. “We freeze on Bette behind their closed bedroom door.”

Aaron says, “Bev’s alone, her voice becoming more and more desperate.”

Jenny nods, he’s getting it. “Don’t do this! Don’t do it!”  The sound of Nina’s tires growing fainter and fainter – Bev knows Nina’s driving away – but she keeps calling for her to stop.”

Aaron leans back in his chair with Jenny’s script pages in his lap. “I know what’s missing,” he finally says. “Nina’s action inside the car. Does she care that she’s devastated her longtime lover? Does she have a twinge of remorse showing on her face, or does she call Hank from the car and make dinner plans?”

He looks at me. “What’d you think Nina would do?”

Saying it I can barely breathe. “She called her boyfriend.”

warehouse blight exterior

Warehouse – Tina

After driving past row after row of blighted warehouses, my driver points to Mary and her security detail searching ahead in an overgrown lot.

She joins me at the curb.  “Bette’s car was found on the other side of that building. Call me morbid, but I had to come down here.”

Looking around the bleakness I feel desperate. “But would they’ve torched her car? Then hidden her nearby?”

“Depends. Were the kidnappers in a hurry to ditch it? Maybe Bette was putting up a fight? Maybe she was unconscious? Maybe someone else stole the car after she was taken? Dumped it here.”

“Oh God! Tell me we’re we going to find her.”  Tears slide down my cheeks. “Please!  Tell me you believe it’s true!”

She presses a handkerchief into my hand.  “Of course, we are.”

“This is the ninety-ninth time today I’ve completely lost it.” I pat at my tears. “Are the police even still looking for her?  They camped out at my work all morning.  Completely the wrong direction.”

“But digging into your past isn’t wrong. You realize, someone you know did this.”

“The police, now you! It’s not my fault Bette was taken! How can you stand there and say that to me?!” I storm away.

“Tina, come back here!” Mary catches my arm, and spins me around to face her.  “Number one, there’s been no ransom demand.  Number two, their play’s been psychological.  Number three, Bette’s still alive.”

A sharp gasp escapes me. “I have to believe it!”

Mary’s hand brushes along my shoulder comforting me.  “Come on. I brought you down here for a reason.”

Maggie Q as Jake

From the shadows of a warehouse doorway a woman in black emerges. “Hello, Tina.  Joyce sent me.” Her eyes lock onto mine. “I’m Simone.  I find people.”

“Oh, thank God!” I grab her hand.

Mary peeks past us inside the warehouse. “Los Angeles, I suspect, has no shortage of these?”

“Joyce pulled the zoning records.” Simone lifts a folded envelope from her waistband. “They’re seven hundred thousand active warehouses in LA County.  Two hundred thousand dormant, but taxes paid, and sixty-one thousand the city lists as blighted and abandoned.”

My heart sinks. “That sounds like fifty square miles.”

Simone looks at me, as if I’d guessed the exact number of jelly beans inside a jar. “She’s right. Finding her that way is impossible.” Then to Mary. “But your guy at Justice traced Bette’s text. Phone belongs to Darwen Goodbee.”

“You’ve found him?” Excited, I turn to leave. “Then, let’s go.”

But as I say it, the door to the old warehouse creaks open and Mary and Simone disappear inside.

Jake questioning photographer

Warehouse Interior – Tina

Darwen Goodbee sits on the dusty floor of the warehouse chained to a column.  Being a co-conspirator in his kidnapping feels uncomfortable – for about a second – and then, I’m all in.  “We’re exchanging him for Bette?”

Our prisoner, fortyish, thin, pasty white and hooked-nose mean, Goodbee thrashes in his chains and spits at us menacingly. “You’ve got the wrong guy!”

Arms crossed over her chest, Mary scowls down at him. Simone twists his wrist in an unnatural angle.

Screaming he cries, “You’ve no idea what that painted freak would do to me!”

“Where do we find her?” Simone twists again.

Another cry of pain. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with! She’ll cut me into pieces, then fry my fingers like sausage links.”

“Oh God! Are they doing that to Bette?!” I feel the room spinning.  “I’m going to vomit.”

Mary rescues me with her arm around my waist. “Stop this! Tina, you must be strong!”

“Gimme a name!” Simone’s back to wrenching his hand from his arm. “Or I go to something that leaves scars.”  She flashes a hunting knife at him.

“Your friend. . . ” He moans in agony. “She calls her the SheBeast!”

hands bound by rope

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

Intentional or not, the windows in my locked room have not been papered over, and it’s late afternoon on my second sunny day with these assholes, who’ve fed me one meal of Mexican take out, and kept me constantly thirsty.

The piss bucket in the corner, always a rare pleasure, is empty, and the regular beatings before my photograph was taken have stopped, but my views on capital punishment have changed. I’m now for it.

With time on my hands, and hating every minute of it, I’ve developed a rotation.  On the count of three I grit my teeth and struggle to loosen the knots, until I can’t take the pain anymore. My count is at four thousand, four hundred and seventy-four, and I’m obsessed with how many more times can I stand it. My goal is ten thousand, or less, and getting free.

One, two, three. . .

Absolute agony! “Fucking Goddamn motherfuckers!” I thrash in my chair, because it’s not going well.

SheBeast tattooed woman

The door’s kicked open and The SheBeast enters.

“Good! Untie me, and I’ll be home by dinner.”

“There’s no news concerning you, so get comfortable.”

“Comfortable?” I struggle against my ropes. “Tina doesn’t tie me up.  I don’t tie her up.  It’s an agreement we have.”

“I’m not getting kinky with you today, if that’s what you’re offering.”

“Oh! Good one! But I can’t figure you out.  Sadist? You fucking act like one.  But maybe, masochist. . .with all the spikes and metal punched in your face.”

Her breath’s bad, as she leans in closer to examine what I know must be a black and blue slit.  “Can you even see outa that eye?”

“How ’bout you chew on a fucking breath mint, and bring me some goddamn water?” When suddenly – off come my cowboy boots!  “Goddammit!”  I kick at her. “Goddammit! Gimme those back!”

She unties my hands.  “You’ve been waiting for a go at me. Come on!”

Throwing my bindings to the floor I charge at her.

My first two punches she blocks, but my third connects with the metal rings above her brow. Blood pours into her eye, as the rings rip away.  She knocks me backwards with a punch, and crashing into the table, I roll before she swings at me again.

Ducking her left hook, my fists raised in front of me, my knuckles bleeding, I hardly feel a thing.

We circle each other and the room spins by behind her. The chair I’ve been tied to for days. The piss bucket in the corner. The SheBeast in front of me, a deep feral growl fills the space between us. A patch of sweat slicks down my back. The wild mean sound I realize. . . is coming from me.

My fist slams into her nose, it gives.  Snap!

I swing again, but miss.

Raising her hands her fingers are claws.  Her lips roll back in an unearthly bark.  Her teeth sharp like fangs. She pounces!

One hour later –

Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway’s Taping – 6 o’clock – Tina

Rushing out of the elevator I collide with Alice in the lobby of the PBS studio.  “Alice! God!  The freeway was a nightmare!”

She grabs me for a frantic hug. “I haven’t found Bette or Faye – yet.”

Simone pulls Mary aside. “In Chinatown, the part when Nicholson keeps slapping her — she’s my daughter, my sister, my daughter. . .”

Startled, Alice interrupts, “You brought a movie fan? Are you fucking kidding me?!”

Simone and Alice

Unblinking, Simone stares Alice back up against the wall.

Mary intervenes. “Joyce sent her.  She finds people.”

“Or scares them to death. Either way, I love the whole evil beauty thing you’ve got going-on.”

Simone steps back a pace, still staring at Alice.  “So, what do you do?”

“Strategy. . .sometimes Take Out.”

The red light above the studio door blinks on, and we’re locked outside. “No! Fuck no!  They’ve started taping.” I spin around to Mary.

“We’ll watch it on the monitor.” Alice points back toward the lobby.

Simone whispers, “Good time to search the dressing rooms.”

Mary nods.  “Lead the way. I doubt Bette’s sitting in the audience.”

“Exactly.” Skulking past doorways and down hallways, Simone leads us to the back of the building.

Rounding a corner, Alice says in a loud whisper, “You don’t look like hostage negotiator.”

“Who said anything about negotiating?” Simone sneaks us past the control room.

control room B

Down another hallway, interns and backstage managers flick in and out of production offices.  Mary points to Faye’s name taped to the door of a dressing room, and Alice puts her hand on the knob, when Simone pulls her back.

“I go in first.” Simone says.

Alice looks sideways at her.  “Is that a gun in your pants?”

Simone clamps her hand over Alice’s mouth and presses her against the wall. Shaking her head frantically, Alice cries, “I did it again. I wet my pants a little.”

Group_Pink_Orchids w:gold

Dressing Room – Tina

Gifts of flowers for the beloved actress, Faye Dunaway, line every surface inside the star’s dressing room.  Picking through the gifts and messages, Simone looks inside blue boxes from Tiffany. “I hate kidnappers who send riddles.”

“I hate kidnappers period. What possible relationship to taking Bette does all this have?” Mary asks.

Surveying the room, Simone leans back against the dressing table. “The last clue was about a show being cancelled and a man killed because he was a lousy host.  Tina, is your movie in trouble?”

“Maybe.  Our studio chief has massive gambling debts.  The cops are onto that now. Aaron’s time’s nearly up.”

Alice sticks her head inside the door from standing guard. “Captain? Permission to speak?”

Simone doesn’t look up. “What do you want?”

“I have to, have to, have to use the bathroom.” Alice shuts herself inside Faye’s private lavatory.  Then, we hear her scream!

Fearing she’s stumbled on Bette dead body, I freeze.  A vase of flowers drops from my hands.  Petals, water, and crystal fly everywhere.

Mary’s face is tight – holding back her emotions – waiting for Alice, who throws open the door waving one of Bette’s boots in her hand.  Simone pulls out a sheet of paper signed with a bloody handprint.

She reads the kidnapper’s note.

Bloody hand Kidnappers Note

Looking at it, I scream. “I hate these fucking people!”

Mary tucks the boot from the pair she gave Bette under her arm, and pushes me toward the door. “Tina, we’re going home, and for Angelica’s sake we’re going to keep it together.”

rope Day Two

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

Coming to, I see the rope that has rubbed me raw lying on the floor. Two, that I’m barefoot, and three that I’m handcuffed to the chair.  Half standing next to the table, I lie across its surface and flip backwards, trying to crack the chair into pieces.

A few unavoidable head injuries later, after two tries the chair’s back snaps off.  I search the floor for the pen I stole from the photographer to pick the lock on my handcuffs.

Thirty minutes later –

I take another deep breath, focus my one good eye back on the handcuff lock, and it finally clicks open! Snatching up my one remaining boot left standing by the door, I push the table under the windows, break the glass with the chair leg, and crawl down to freedom.

warehouse night lost

Hopping on one foot over broken glass I make it to the street and take off running into the shadows.

Zigzagging through a desolate part of Los Angeles, I slow my pace after ten blocks and hide inside the doorway of an abandoned warehouse.  I hear a squeaking sound, and for an instant worry that it’s rat, when a shopping cart pushed by a homeless woman appears.

Friend or foe? I listen for others.

She’s alone with bottles of water on board. I can’t stand my thirst a second longer.  “Hi there,” I call from the shadows.

Surprised, she leaps in the air and brandishing a metal pipe she cries, “Get away from me. Down here, we don’t do that after dark.”

On one boot, I hop a little more out of the shadows. “I had to wait until night to escape.”

“Sweet Jesus! Another one from the hospital!” Hurriedly, she pushes her cart away from me. “You’re one of d’em without brains.”

“Wait! Stop, stop! I have plenty of brains.” I hop into the light. “But please, let me have some water.”

She recoils at the moonlit sight of me, and points inside her cart to a Minnie Mouse hand mirror from Disneyland  “You ain’t gonna make it. Infections out here kill you.”

Holding the child’s pink mirror in my hand, my face stares back. “Ooohhhh God, that hurts.” I touch the swollen slit of my right eye,  then down to my busted lip, and running my hands through my wild looking hair, it refuses and remains terrorized.

“Here. Take some water.” Our eyes finally meet in the dim light.  She’s late forties, wearing a second hand dress as a tunic over dark pants.  Her cheekbones wide, her blonde hair misshapen by a do it yourself haircut, she seems less wary.

I gulp down half the bottle of water before coming up for air. “You don’t happen to have a cell phone on you?”

“Oh sure.” She opens one of her bags to show me a dozen out-of-date models.  “Batteries all dead though, but I got nobody to call. Take one, but it’s time for you to start sharing back.”  She stares down at my one remaining boot.

I back away a step.  She’s not getting that.  “Some assholes nabbed me a couple of days ago.  Crashed into my car, knocked me out.”  I point behind me. “Pretty soon they’re going to figure out, I’m missing.”

She stares at my raw wrists, then squints up into my bruised face.  “You’re tellin’ me the truth, aren’t you?”

I nod while finishing off the water. “What’s your story?”

She takes back the empty bottle. “That’s worth a penny at the shelter.  Cans and glass bring more, so pick ’em up.” She pushes her squeaking cart down the street.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To the bridge where it’s safe. Come on then, we’d better hide you.”

_________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

Just joining the story? It began with #21 “Bette Meets the Gypsy”  http://bit.ly/BetteGypsyTale, followed by, #22 “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown  then to #23 “Hotel California” Hotel California  and #24 “Ensnared by Guilt” Ensnared by Guilt  the story you just read.

Hope you enjoyed your time here! Blackbird


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Hotel California #23

hands bound by ropeHotel California

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

I’ve had miserable nights and I’ve had really shitty nights. I’ve had nights with the flu when I was so damn sick I’d wished for death, but I don’t think I’ll ever wish for it again. Tonight, I wish for the opposite of death, I wish for freedom.

My kidnappers, the Gold-Toothed Man, who leers at me, the Tattooed SheBeast, who beats me, and Fake Doctor Perez, who lured me into their trap, all have paramilitary training in torture and kidnapping.  But from where, and why try to break me?

Unless this isn’t about me. Unless this is about my mother, who’s been hiding in WitSec for the better part of thirty years. But before I’d set foot anywhere near her, I’d looked into the cases that had hinged upon my Mother’s testimony.  The old mobsters, just like she’d said, were locked up in a supermax, somewhere outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their sentences were for life, their crimes irrefutable.

What’s also irrefutable, and very urgently so, is that I’m at the end of being able to control my bladder. Another bad review I plan on lodging against Hotel-fucking-California.  That is, right after I burn this fucking place down.

“Hey! SheBeast? You out there? You fucking animal, I’m not pissing in this goddamn chair!”

The key turns in the lock and a shot of adrenaline courses through my body. My legs shake with it they’re so ready to run at the first opportunity. But instead, the Gold-toothed Man yawns and yanks me up from the chair and pushes me into the corner with the piss bucket.

“Untie my hands so I can do this, get my pants down – that sort of thing.” He grunts and obliges and leaves me alone for a few minutes. I rub my wrists where the rope’s been rubbing layers of my flesh away, and quickly unfasten my belt – in case he suddenly has a change of heart. I piss halfway standing up, hitting mostly inside the bucket, and call it a win.

Pressing my ear against my prison walls I listen for clues that will tell me anything. A slow mechanical whirring sound – ventilation? I study the ceiling, probably twelve feet above me. Typical low end industrial construction, but with newer up-to-code pipes bolted to it for utilities.  My hope falls a little. I could be in any one of a half a million warehouses in LA County.

On the other side of the bare room are dirt smeared windows, and through them I can make out a long trail of streetlights. Their perspective puts me on the first floor, an easy jump if I could find something – anything to break the windows with – but they’re very high, and finding nothing I run out of time.

The Gold-tooth man enters, and I ask for food and water, and plead with him not to tie my hands behind my back for the night. He squints at me through the smoke of his cigarette and ties my feet to the chair, my sore arms behind me, and the door slams and locks behind him.

Yet another grievance.  Bad Room Service.

Tina serious blue shirt cropped tight

The next morning –

The Planet – Tina

Angelica runs to meet her grandmother, and Mary catches her in the folds of her dress, and looking back at me – as her taxi from the airport pulls away – our eyes lock across a shaky chasm of worry.

“Have you slept at all?” Mary’s hand touches my cheek.

I roll her small bag toward the door. “Surely, we’ll get some news today.  People don’t just vanish.”

“Actually, they can and they do. But I don’t think that’s what’s happened here.”

The catch on my self control weakens.  “Then, please, tell me what has happened! We’ve been on the phone with everyone we can think of.”

“Finding out if the government scooped her up is the first thing I intend to rule out.”

“But why would they?!” I cry, a little more out of control.  “Mary, when I tell you who we’ve called . . .”

She interrupts me. “I know people that you never want to meet in your lifetime! Tell me what you do know, and I’ll do my thing.”

shebeast the next morning

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

“You look like you slept well. Any chance you brought coffee?” I hide my fear from the SheBeast.

She slaps me letting me know today, I’m going without. A photographer enters the room and drops his gear on a table. “Is she ready?” He asks.

“Not yet. The boss wants her bloody for the pictures.”

“I’m leaving while you do that.” He taps out a smoke, while she smacks me harder.

She says to the camera guy, “Go get today’s paper for her ‘proof of life’ photograph.”

Ten minutes later –

With the SheBeast gone for the moment, I scan my body for places that don’t hurt. The top of my right leg isn’t killing me. I think about what an unbruised part of me might look like under the jeans I pulled on while in a mad dash to get Angelica – I’d thought – from her school’s infirmary.

A vibrating sound coming from the photographer’s camera bag suddenly has my full attention.

I hop in the chair over to the zipper pocket and pull it open with my teeth.  Next, I open the text app with my tongue and make a go at texting Tina.

A garbled, ‘heoiuioatme’ appears under the slick of my saliva.

I whisper in a coaxing way to my tongue. “Remember all the good times and delicate maneuvers we’ve ever done together? Don’t fail me now.”

My next attempt, even worse! Texting, I realize, is not tongue material.

With my nose leading the way, I dig back inside the gear bag searching for something to use as a stylus. My teeth clamp onto a ballpoint pen.

‘t. . .i. . .’  Pressing one character at a time into the phone, the pen gripped in my teeth, I hear them returning.

‘dont nowhere’  I speed through the rest and strike the tip of the pen on Send, and the whooshing sound tells me it’s gone.

I drop the phone back inside the pocket, hop across the floor – hiding the pen I found under my shoe – I sneer at them the minute they open the door.

“Go ahead assholes. Take my fucking picture.”

CU Maxine

The Planet – Tina

Knowing no words for what’s thick in the air, Angelica spins and spins, around and around in front of me losing herself in circles.

“Baby, Baby, Baby listen to Mommy for a second.” I gently grab her shoulders. “No school today, your grandmomma’s here to be with you.”

“Momma B’s sleeping?”

“I bet she is.”

“Can I wake her up now?”

“Not yet, Baby, not yet.”

My phone buzzes. A text arriving.  “t i dont nowhere”

“Oh God!” I sink into a chair next to Mary.  “She’s alive.”

Kit rushes over. “What?!”

“Anybody know how to do this? Trace numbers?”

Mary takes control of my computer next to my growing cold breakfast. “I’m sending it to my friend in Justice. Call the number out to me right now.”

I recite the unknown number, and Mary calls her friend in Washington. “Matt, I just sent you an urgent email. I would ask about your wife and kids, and how the boat you’re building with your dad’s coming along, but I don’t have the time. Just know I care, but my daughter’s missing.”

“From where?” Matt cuts to the chase.

“LA yesterday. Can you trace a number, a cell number? Right now?”

“Go.”

“Check your email.”

Kit puts her arm around me. “323-889-2104,” I call over Mary’s shoulder to a man she says I never want to meet.

My phone flashes again, and my screen fills with the image of Bette holding today’s LA Times, beaten and bloody, one eye swollen, her lip bleeding.

“Gaah!  They’re torturing her! Oh God! No!” I scream.

Horror on her face, too, Mary grabs my phone. “Matt, we’ve just been sent a picture.”

“Mary, there’s a note.” I cry.

“Send them to me,” Matt says, by way of the phone.

“Mary! God, please tell me this has nothing to do with you!”

“Matt? You still there?” Mary asks.

“I heard her.”

“And!?!” I blast back at him.

“Ma’am, I’ll ping towers for the phone, analyze the picture, and the note. I can’t comment on the rest.”

“Just read the note, Tina!”  Kit shouts.

empty tv graphic hotel story

“Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?  You have two hours.”

I collapse in the chair moaning. “I can’t go into work today. I just can’t.”

Shane walks in and signals that she’s ready for me to give her a ride anyway. Dragging myself up from the chair I catch Mary’s attention. “Angelica’s not going to school today. She’s staying here with her Aunt Kit and with her grandmother.”

Cradling her phone on her shoulder, Mary sends off the very latest to her guy in Washington.  “We’ll take good care of her.”

“I’m certain that you will, and Mary?  We’ve brought in security.  You see those two men over there in polo shirts?”

“I noticed them coming in. Yours, I presumed.”

“Correct. One’s coming with me now,  and you’re not to go anywhere without his friend, especially anywhere with my daughter.”

Denbo Cindy at railing shebar

The SheBar – Denbo

Miami I had wired.  My food and beverage guys slipped me extra cases during the holidays, my wait staff wasn’t always late, and tearful over failed auditions for some fucking movie.  I should’ve bought a strip club, and stayed out of the high maintenance lesbian business, but like a know-it-all dumbass, I didn’t, and now, I’m in deep with the Vegas moneylenders.

Two days ago, my brother had called from a hotel in Palm Springs, with a lifesaving tip. Tomorrow, the Dinah Shore party planners will be scouting clubs in LA for a seven day blowout event at New Years.

Spitting out of the printer at my elbow are color ads promoting the event I’ve organized for tomorrow night to Wow! Dinah Shore’s people. ‘The ‘SheBar’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Competition with Cash Prizes!’ posters are stacking up one by one in the printer tray.

Cindy walks in. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! The swimsuit models are waiting downstairs.”

“You ordered the chocolate fountain, right?”

“Dawn, I’ve done everything on your list.”

“I’m finishing up now.” I write my final line of instructions to Margarita and her crew, and attach a picture of Bette I found online. ‘ASAP!  Leak this picture to the media: University Art School Dean Missing”

I’m an evil genius. I’m certain of it.

Bette Great smile microphone stage

As the news travels around West Hollywood, and far out into Los Angeles, I have two scenarios I’ve imagined in detail. One, is that the Dinah Shore party planners do drop in at Kit’s tomorrow night, and see a club full of distraught women, all wringing their hands over WeHo’s missing heartthrob.

Or two, the Dinah Shore gals stay all night at my swimsuit competition and avoid The Planet’s nightmarish scene completely. Either way, Bette Porter, the fretted over missing woman, wreaks havoc on her sister’s business, while spending day after miserable day locked inside my dungeon.

cup of coffee top view

The Planet – Joyce

There’s a jittery nervousness inside The Planet. Where I normally feel a sunny chaos whenever I come in, today Kit’s on the edge vibe is understandable, but uncomfortable. She’s exhausted and I’m frustrated from dealing with the LAPD.  Like it or not, until the twenty-four period of Bette’s disappearance expires, LAPD will not consider her a missing person.

I find Kit pacing near where Bette’s mother is busy on a computer. “Kit, in a few hours they’ll classify her officially as missing, the news stations will follow up with their “Tip Lines”, you should be ready here, too.”

“Ready? How ready do you want me to be?” Kit hyperventilates. “I’m ’bout to jump outa my skin waiting on news about the cell phone number.”

Mary motions to me from her table. “Joyce, am I right? You were described perfectly to me. I’m Mary, Bette’s mother.”

“I wish it were under different circumstances.” I grip her stronger than expected handshake with my own.  “Where’s this mysterious riddle they sent?”

Mary picks up the paper scribbled with notes and her guesses. “Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?  You have two hours.” She finishes reading aloud and hands me the paper.

Alice storms in from outside, her hair seeming to stand up on her head. “I can’t have another cup of coffee or I will freak out!”

“Alice sit down, I have a Xanax.” I dig in my briefcase to Mary’s amusement. “Every good lawyer travels with them.” I say to her.

“Alice, try to focus. Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?”

“Dunaway with? Very clever! You know Faye Dunaway is taping a special with Charlie Rose tonight in LA?”

“The thirtieth anniversary of Peter Finch’s death! She’s right!” I shout.

Kit appears. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore! That guy?”

“Why on Earth him? What time are they taping Charlie’s show?” Mary asks.

“At six.” Alice says.

Mary dials the police with our decipher of the tip.

Kit_concerned

Mary asks Alice, “How far away was Bette’s car?”

“Oooh, to East LA? Maybe an hour? Maybe more with traffic.”

Mary picks up her purse. ” Alice, will you watch Angelica until I get back?”

Kit takes my hand, and pulls me aside. “Joyce, I don’t know if I can take much more of this.”

“Let’s eat something. Soup maybe? But, Kit, I don’t mean to change the subject, but I’ve been thinking some more about the SheBar girls. Investigating them on possible labor violations would bring them into court.”

Kit’s attention seems to focus. “They do seem like natural born cheaters. How soon can you start?”

Penny walks in, and slides into a seat at the bar. “Any news on Bette?”

Penny at bar worried

“You don’t want to see the picture of her. Remember her. . .” Kit begins to choke up, “like she was.”

“I meant any good news?” Penny adds.

Kit steps behind the bar to take Penny’s order. “You’ve got lots of immigrants working on your cantaloupe farm. Joyce’s plan is to solve my SheBar problems with labor law infringements.”

alan cummings

Billy Blakely, Kit’s off and on again drug addled former club manager, saunters in.

“Kit! What are you doing? Why aren’t you getting ready?” He demands.

“What’doyoumean, what am I doin’?  I’m standing in my club ’bout to have a nervous breakdown!”

“So, you know then? Good! I flew over here to make sure.”

Penny, Kit and I all say at once. “They’ve found her?!”

Billy stares at them blank as a stone.

Kit snaps her fingers in front of his face. “Bette’s missing. Never mind. The news hasn’t officially released, yet.”

Billy shakes off the confusion. “I’ll handle everything for you here on out.”

Penny and I stare into his dilated pupils and exchange very doubtful looks. “Joyce Wischnia,” I introduce myself. “What makes you think you’re qualified to run a search and rescue?”

“Ha! Good one! I could cater one though!” Billy nervously drums his fingers on the bar.  “Kit, wake up, baby. The Dinah Shore party planners are coming here tomorrow night!”

“Here? For what?”

“Scouting for a venue for their New Year’s Eve Party! It’s the biggest, nastiest, most fucking wall to wall lesbian show you’ve ever seen.”

“Watch yourself Buster!” I warn Billy.

“Kit, they’ll be going to the SheBar.” Penny adds it up. “I think I have a plan.”

“Will I lose my law license if I hear this?”

“Absolutely not!” Penny says.

“Waiter! Double rum and coke over here please?” Billy rubs his hands together. “Go on!”

“You mentioned my cantaloupe farm, which is actually a lot more than that, but the point is – I have hundreds of Latino workers I could bring over. Listen, Kit we’ll stage a very noisy ‘Workers Rights!’ demonstration in front of the SheBar tomorrow night.”

I scoot onto a bar stool next to Penny. “That would very bad publicity for the SheBar.”

“Dinah Shore’s people will hate it.” Penny beams a devilish smile that looks quite natural on her.

“I’m seeing the picket sign slogans now!” Billy claps his hands.

Alice joins us with Angelica in tow. “What’s all the excitement brewing over here?”

“Where’s Bette’s mother?” Kit looks past Alice to where Mary was sitting at a table.

“Bette’s mother? This I’ve got to see!” Billy spins his barstool around, and with his bloodshot eyes he searches for Mary .

Alice points toward the door. “She took off to see where the police found Bette’s car.”

I’m astonished. “Alice! You didn’t try to stop her?”

“Oh no, no, no! She’s as scary as Bette. Have you met her?”

Billy gives up scanning the room and focuses on Alice. “The Dinah Shore’s scouts are in town. Get this eblast ready for your Alice in LesboLand blog. Hit ’em with this tomorrow night!”

“Scoop me, Baby.” Alice flashes her hands at him to give it up.

“West Hollywood Club Scene News!” Billy mimics the headline’s splash with a sweep of his hand. “Labor Rights Workers Demonstrate outside the SheBar. The Planet holds a candlelight vigil for ‘Missing Women and Children’s Awareness Week’.”

__________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

Stayed tuned and if you’re just joining the story, here’s the link to previous chapter where the mystery began. “Whereabouts Unknown” #23  http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown

A shout out to Collins for her wonderful ability to listen and offer excellent insights!

Thank you for reading, Blackbird


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Whereabouts Unknown #22 Touch Tones

Bette Alarmed on Land Line Phone

Bette’s House – Bette

It wasn’t that I physically could not get out of bed this morning – when my alarm first went off at seven – it was more that Tina was babying me after yesterday. Letting me know – I’d done a lot of heavy emotional lifting lately, and if I’d wanted an extra half hour to sleep, by all means — take it.

With that tactic encouragement, I’d smacked the top of my alarm clock to not bother me again, dug myself down into a well of soft pillows, and fallen back to sleep.

The phone’s ringing had awakened me, and reaching for it I see the time. What?!  Nine- the-fuck-o’clock!  Now, I’m late for everything.  My hand knocks the landline from its cradle – a clattering of everything against itself on my bedside table begins.

Diving down onto the floor for the ringing phone, I wonder why on earth Tina left without telling me?  Aggravated, I snap at the caller. “Yes! Hello?! Bette Porter speaking.”

A Hispanic woman’s voice, rough but sexy says, “This is Doctor Sophia Perez. Your daughter, Angelica’s in my infirmary.”

“I’m on my way. I can be there in thirty minutes. Is she alright? Is she hurt? What happened?” All the while leaping around my bedroom for clothes to put on.

“Mostly, Ms. Porter, she just needs her mother. Her wrist’s had a bad sprain, and she should come home for the day.”

“Of course!” Backing out of my driveway, I realize I’m talking to the school on my landline. Shit! Should I stop? Go back inside?  “Dr. Perez, I’m going to lose reception any minute.”  Frantically, I paw through my purse. Don’t tell me I left my cell phone. . .

“Angelica’s arm will need to elevated. We’ll go over the. . .” Then, the line goes dead.

Tina Movie scripts

Shaolin Studio – Tina

My meeting with Claire, my hired gun PR whiz and her network of not so above board spies, is going well.  Aaron’s demise is certain, her sources say he’s ruined – as well as being kneecapped by the Bookie’s Enforcer – come this Friday.

Claire drops a stack of dossiers on my desk she’s put together for me. “How’s your rock ’em sock ’em management proposal coming?  You’ll be ready to pounce, won’t you?”

“Good. It’s getting solid. I’ll work on it more tonight. Way too busy today.” I slide behind my desk.

“You know, I almost didn’t go into Crisis Management with my father. My big dream in school?  Was cleaning up the oceans.”

I flip through the dossiers of the studio execs far above me in the Food Chain, and draw her back to our task at hand. “LA’s swimming with big nasty fish, you should feel right at home.”

“I take your point.”

“You’re a Fixer, Claire, and a very good one. If I didn’t have ten important calls to make before eleven, I’d lock myself in an empty production trailer, and devour these dossiers like M&Ms.”

“I won’t spoil your fun, then.  If pressure needs to be applied –  the dirt’s in there.”

Engrossed in dirty secrets, I barely look up.  “I prefer the word: Innuendo.”

“Innuendo, leverage . . .persuasion, pressure, I believe you’ll get promoted without them.”

“The first rule of winning? And I learned this from my father during his days in southern politics – never go into battle without great intel.”

“Smart man.” Claire stands up to leave.  “One last thing.  Friday night.”

“What about it?” I ask.

“Don’t appear too overly happy, after poor Aaron’s dragged away.”

“I suppose you’re right. We’ll do something at home.  You’ll come?”

“Let me plan a small party. Hors d’oeuvres, drinks, some place nice to toast you in as new chief.”

“But with low visibility, sounds perfect! Bette and I would love something like that.”

Shane good portrait Green background

Soundstage – Shane

Nikki, the star of the movie, has been cruising me all morning, and I’m so not going there. I’ve got other girl trouble, a stalker I’ve picked up called, Molly.

I screw around on my phone for a while looking up what the real name Molly’s a nickname for. I’m stalling really. I need to call the morgue back in Dallas, and tell them what to do with my mother’s body. Yesterday, I didn’t know the answer, and I don’t know the answer today.

Do I cremate her and bring her back to sit in a box on the floor of my closet to feel uneasy about whenever I’m reaching in for my shoes? Or do I bury her in a graveyard by a church near where she grew up, out on the west Texas plains?

I’m barely thirty, and I’m fucked.  For the little money I make, I’m overspent.  What I need is a sugar mamma. Someone’s gold card to pay for my mom’s funeral, but that’s not what sugar mammas like to buy me.

A gaffer walks by and looks too sniffly for the dry weather we’ve been having. Cocaine? Now, that has a certain irony to it. Me selling drugs to pay for my drug addicted mother’s funeral.

The beginning of a plan. I keep thinking.

Kit_listening

The Planet – Kit

Lunchtime in this place is always a mad house, no less chaos than a Friday night, but still lots of fussy people to feed, and no matter how many times I say it – Goat cheese stinks. I don’t know why you want that shit on your salads – eat some Feta, and get over it. I’m not putting that crap on the menu.

A striking East Indian woman walks over to me. “Hello, Kit. I’m meeting Bette here for lunch. Have you seen her?”

“Not yet.  Have we met?”

Penny verticle black jacket

“Kit! You don’t remember me? Do you?”

“Wait a minute. Step back and let me get a better look.”

Penny steps a pace back, and patiently waits. “You came up to hear me sing one time in Boston with her, didn’t you?”

“That’s me!  We were just remembering those days when I saw her in Santa Barbara recently.”

“So, that was you!”

“Now, here in the flesh, where is she? I’ve been calling her phone.” Penny dials Bette’s number again, and it rings and rings.  “See no answer. Goes straight to voicemail.”

“Eating, I promise you, is something she hates to miss.  Let me get a friend of hers on the line, see what’s going on.”

hands bound by rope

Somewhere the fuck –

The back of my head hurts, pounds really, and it feels like my skull’s been cracked open. I know I’ve been bleeding, maybe still am. I struggle with the ropes that have bound my hands behind me. No luck there. I twist my neck to look around the gloomy room where I’m somebody’s prisoner, and drops of blood splatter on the scarred wooden floor.

“Ackcht!” I try to spit out the bitter taste in my mouth. Drugged. That’s how they must’ve taken me, but why? I’m not someone you kidnap for money. Goddammit! I’m not someone you kidnap, period!

“Hey! Motherfucker! I know someone’s watching me! If you’ve got my daughter, if you’ve done anything to her I will fucking kill you!” I scream at the walls. “I will fucking kill you! I will fucking kill you! I will fucking kill you!”

A key turns in a lock, and a rough looking Hispanic man circles me tied to a chair.  “No one’s dying today, señorita. Not me, not you.” Then, he leers at me, “Well, maybe you, so shut the fuck up.”

“What’d you want from me? There’s no ransom for a fucking college dean! And goddammit, where’s my child?”

penelope cruz Dr Perez

A woman enters the room. “Do I look like a doctor?” It’s the same voice from earlier.

Squinting my eyes at her suspiciously, I make up my mind – at least on that point – she’s telling me truth. “Your call was a ruse? You were never at her school?”

The woman blows out a long stream of smoke, and says nothing – further infuriating me.  I struggle mightly against my ropes. “I don’t suppose you’d prove that to me?”

“Twist in the wind and rub your wrists raw.  You’re not going anywhere, any time soon.”  Her power over me complete, she turns to leave.

The ugly man grins at me, his gold tooth incisor glistens with saliva.  The woman beats against a metal door and shouts, “Llevar agua para la mujer prisionera!”

I glare at her with the full force of my hatred. “Wait a minute! Don’t you fucking leave me in here!”  But they lock the door behind them without saying another word.

Jenny Tina in conference room

Shaolin Conference Room – Tina

Jenny is losing her mind, and very nearly hysterical over the changes I’m suggesting we make for tomorrow’s shooting script. Aaron, who either knows I know, or is so preoccupied with his own misery he’s siding with Jenny just so her shrillness will die down, ramps up again, and I put my ideas back on the table, as The Plan.

Next to my elbow my phone keeps flashing calls coming in from Kit. After the sixth one, and with my key points all agreed to – I duck out of the conference room.

“What’s up? And can it possibly wait?”

“My sister’s missing her lunch date, with the big donor. You know where she is?”

“Oh God! I left her asleep.” I glance at my watch. “But Kit, there’s no way she’d still be out.”

“You mind if I go over there? After this lunch crowd thins out, I think I’ll go over there.”

“She was getting Angelica at three, taking her back to CU with her, and then over to the park.”

“I’ll cover, if need be, Tina.  I betcha she’s in the pool, and forgot all about lunch with her friend.”

But both of us know – that doesn’t sound right at all.

Joyce her office

Joyce’s Office – Kit

“It’s an annoying habit of your family’s to come in here repeatedly trying to stump me.”  Joyce wags her finger at me, before taking another perfect shot with her ping pong ball at the ovary fabric art on her wall.

“How’d you do that? Glue on them, or something?”

Joyce ignores me.  “Everyone of you confuses my powers with the police. I can’t lock up the SheBar’s owners up, and keep them from harassing you!”

“Trust me, this ain’t no police thing.”

“Okay, then, how’s it escalating? I’m listening. That I can do.”

“Saturday night my power kept getting cut off.  Try live music with that kinda shit going on.”

“Right, we know it’s harassment.  What else?”

“Same kind of stuff.  All my garbage bins are jammed full of crap that ain’t mine, and ‘course, they’re trying to run me outa business, and killing me with sumthin’ called – Internet Banner Ads.”

“So business was good, now it’s not. That’s gotta be tough, but do eyewitnesses tell you most of your business has gone down the street?”

“Joyce, you know I’ve got loyal customers!  I’m not losing all them to a pinked-up new place like the SheBar, but it’s Wednesday and Friday and Saturday nights – that’s when they’re killing me! Hot Oil wrestling contests and gimmicks like – ‘Drink for Free All Night! If your name is Heather.”

“Oh God!  The rise of The Heathers!  Seeded during years of drug addled wife-swapping orgies!”  Joyce begins to laugh. “Not an auspicious start, but nevertheless, the origins of the Beverly Hills blonde plague known as, The Heathers.”

I’m not sure what being fucked on coke twenty years ago has to do with my SheBar problems right now, but having neared the end of my rope, I pick up a paper sack from the floor next to my feet.

Dropping the crumpled brown bag on her desk, I give her my last bit of news. “This’s all I’ve got. I did what you asked. Sent my dishwasher going through their trash for whatever he could find. It’s all in there.”

“I’ll make sure my PI gets it.” Joyce presses her intercom.  “Is Simone still here?  If she is, tell her to see me before my four o’clock.”

“Look, I gotta go get my niece from preschool.  Bette’s AWOL today. No one can find her.”

“You want me to call Phyllis?  She can be hard to get on the line during the day, but I can insist.  They’ll put me through.”

“You know I’m sure Tina’s tried calling James.  I don’t want to get Bette in trouble.”

“Are you kidding? You heard about the big donation she just reeled in, right?  Twenty million dollars!”

“Go on, I guess, but I don’t think she ever made it into the office.”

strange tattooed woman

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

The room I’m held captive in suddenly turns a blazing white, and gratingly loud metal music blares from speakers I’d never noticed above me. I squeeze my eyes shut and wish they were my ears, when a hard black leather boot belonging to a freakish looking tattooed woman kicks me.

“What the fuck do you want?” I snarl at the strange she-beast, looking every bit of muscle as strong as me.

She slaps me hard across my face.  No, she’s real, they haven’t drugged me again – yet.  “Good someone else to talk some sense into. So, I’m telling you – like I told the others – show me my daughter, un-fucking-tie me, and let me go!”

“You keep thinking this is a negotiation.”  She smacks me with the back of her hand, but not as hard.

I spit blood out of my mouth, and wish for a gun that I don’t own.  “You seem to want to fight.  Untie me then, and let’s do it!”

“No.  I just like hitting you.”

“What is that you want?”  I scream over the music that continues to blast.  “My fucking PIN number? Ever since I got here, it’s just been one fucking asshole after the . . .”

She draws her hand back poised to slap me. “You were saying?”

“. . . but you strike me as someone different.” But she hits me again.  A smarting whack that proves me wrong.

The longer she beats me, the more my jaw aches and my nose bleeds and my last blurry thoughts – before she knocks me unconscious.

Will I ever see them?  Ever, ever, ever again?

Tina verticle arguing Brazil

Bette and Tina’s House – Tina

Six hours later –

Kit and Angelica had come home right after school, and since that time we’ve turned my house upside down looking for clues. Bette’s cell phone we’d found on her bedside table, and the calls she’s received were from James, over and over, then Penny and Kit, and finally the hundred – growing more and more frantic – ones from me.

I’d made Angelica a bowl of cereal for dinner, and Kit and I are picking at a plate of cheese and crackers, but I can’t tell you what it tastes like.

My desire is for the strong taste of Scotch, and for the door to fly open suddenly, and Bette – perfectly fine –  spilling out a wild story, and everything turning out alright; but as the hours wear on and on, nothing like that seems very likely to happen.

A hard lump in my throat, makes it impossible for me to swallow.  I will forgive you for being late for the rest of your life, if you’ll just burst through that door!

Turning away from my daughter and Kit at the table, I put the milk back in the refrigerator and stare blankly inside it. Wanting nothing but answers, wanting her to come back home.

Wanting. . .my cell phone rings jarring me back. “The police,” I mouth to Kit. “They’ve found Bette’s car.” Then, I hear strange, unsettling news. It’s been wrecked and set on fire in East L A.

Kit’s face falls at the news, but her eyes stays glued to me for anything more. Writing the address of a crime riddled part of LA I push the paper over for her to read. “No signs of her – anywhere.” I’d written below the scribbled location.

The officer drones on about police procedure, and crime scene teams examining the car for evidence – once the flames have died down.

Hearing that grim description, I hand the phone to Kit, who’s now a permanent fixture at my kitchen table, worrying about Bette just as much as I am.   “Kit, listen to the rest of it.”  I pick up my keys and head for the door.  “I’ve got to go look for her.”

Two hours later –

This is the third Emergency Room I’ve searched, and still no sign. I’m exhausted and edging toward desperation.

Helena calls. “We’ve finished the Doc in the Boxes over this way.  Any news on your end?”

“I’m waiting on the detectives possibly sharing street camera footage with me.  Any news from them, takes incredibly long!”

“I have zero cred with the police to speed things up.” Helena confesses.

“Kit’s got some people she knows on the force. She’s been reaching out to them. No word, yet.”

“Alice wants to talk to you.”

Sneaking one more look behind another ER patient’s curtain, in a part of the hospital I’m certain I’m not supposed to be in – my heart starts its sinking feeling again.  I’m completely out of ideas.

Alice comes on the call. “What happened to her yesterday that made her so upset? The thing you guys wouldn’t talk about at dinner?” Alice demands.

“Nothing to do with this.”  My voice rises in a frantic pitch, and flies out of control. “Alice, where is she?” I plead.

“Tina?” Alice hears my hysteria.

“I just want to know where she is, Alice.” I begin to cry. “I just really, really need to find her.”

“I know you do.  Let’s keep looking. None of us can sleep. Where should we search next?  Tell us, and we’ll go.”

Rushing out of the doors of the hospital – gulping for air – I pace in front of the idling ambulances. “But she’s not shown up anywhere for help, Alice!  She’s just gone.”

_________________________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

This order of the stories in the unfolding mystery are  #22 “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown  then to #23 “Hotel California” Hotel California  and #24 “Ensnared by Guilt” Ensnared by Guilt

 

Blackbird


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Bette Meets the Gypsy (#21) The L Word – Bette Porter

Bette Med shot purple black blouse

Hancock Park – 3pm – Bette

Walking up the steps to the Hancock Park address – I’m always late, she’s always early – I dutifully knock on the red door.  If this mysterious request to meet here is about our wedding plans, I wonder: Is it possible that no one heard a single word I’d said, when our ersatz wedding planners, Alice and Helena, had suggested their half-cocked idea of me and Tina ensconced in the back of a pink convertible – as Grand Marshals, if you can believe it, waving at the crowds during a four hour long Gay Marriage Day parade!?!

There’s not enough vodka in the world!

With my mood swinging from guilt at being late, I pivot over to feeling aggravated and misunderstood. I knock on the red door even harder. It flies open, and a woman in her sixties, sweeping a vintage Hermes scarf around her neck, steps aside. With a flourish she ushers me in.

Gypsey parlor

Beyond me, and through an antique furnished parlor, Tina waves to me from a room at the rear of the house. Waving back, I follow behind my designer clad hostess.

There are paintings around me that are dreamscapes of mythical beasts dancing with masked human forms, and everyone of them much paler than their animal companions. All canvases depict moonlit nights. All with dancers and fires burning.  All with moons and blue black darkened skies, and clouds and stars overhead.  All exquisitely painted, but moody, and with the feeling that one misstep could trip you into the Dark Side – until it was good and done with you.

Interspersed, within the gallery of surrealism, are elaborately framed oils from the European eighteenth century Romantic Period, and in these the artist has expertly painted large breasted, luscious looking women, all nude, or barely clad. They lie in sultry repose with their friends, goblets of wine in their hands, they celebrate being together with a feast laid out before them. Beyond them, in the darker parts of the painting, stags and other hungry creatures watch their bacchanalia from the shadows.

My hostess, the collector of these erotic paintings, interrupts my inner critique. “In the library, I have a series of these lovely ladies, but with Pan spying on them, hidden behind the trees.”

And to think, I’d had his famed look of lust and hunger, well . . . just yesterday.

“I see, he speaks to you.” She reads my mind.

Before I can object, or qualify, or discover – truly what the fuck I’m doing here – I come to a full stop, and gasp at what’s in front of me.

La Belle Epoque's Beauty

A Spanish painting I’ve loved for years from La Belle Epoque’s Era. “But . . . the original’s in the Prado,”  I stammer.

Ignoring me she says, “Tina, here’s your fiancée.”

Tina slips her arm around my waist. “Bette, I’ve wanted to introduce you . . . for such a long time.”

“Really? How long?” I ask suspiciously of Tina, while taking the mystery woman’s hand.

“My name’s Angelica, too, but Romanian people say it, “Ong’ gee -leh-ca.”

I practice saying it back for her, and finally she lets my hand free.

“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” Then to Tina. “Is this about our wedding?”

“Back here, Bette, she’s invited us for tea.”

“Please join us.”  Angelica leads the way.

gypsy tea potAs the tea pours, Tina squeezes my hand under the table, and draws it into her lap. Around us, an ancient fragrance from the steaming tea curls in my direction.

“Bette.” Tina shakes my arm to take a sip. “Angelica’s a Gypsy, and she’s my Fortune Teller.”

This news stuns me. Then, it hits! “I’m here for a psychic reading before we get married.” I sigh with relief. “Why didn’t you just say so?”

Followed by doubt striking me cold, when she doesn’t immediately answer. “Tina, are you having doubts? You’re not sure anymore, are you?” I stare suspiciously at the Gypsy, and convict her. This is all her fault.

“Oh, no, no, no! Don’t worry, I’ve been seeing her for months now.”

“Doing what?” I frown at her unusual secret. “And when?”

“Talking, listening mostly . . . learning things about myself.”

“Do I know these things?” My eyes must be slits by now. “Do you talk to me about them?”

The Gypsy’s east European accent focuses me back on her. “Drink another sip of the tea I poured for you, and first I’ll read your leaves.”

I slide a look over to Tina, and, as ordered, we lift our cups up to drink.

The leaves settle and then, she peers into mine and begins.

gypsy hands jewelry

“There are many believers of the Old Ways.” She looks around us, as if they might step out of the walls for tea and a séance. “Might you be convinced – for a little while – to be one of them?” She cocks her eyebrows at me quizzically, and Tina lights the candles around the room.

Soon, every shape has softened.

On the table by me is the last candle, and as Tina blows out the match, my eyes shift out of focus – for only a moment – but when I come back the Gypsy has taken my hand in hers.  Her thumb brushes across the plane of my palm. She shifts in her seat to get a better look, and draws the candle closer for light.

I feel the warmth from the flame, and the Gypsy’s cool fingers, as they trace over every inch, and somehow that relaxes me. I look over at Tina, and she meets my eyes with such love.

“It’s going to be fine. You’re fine.” She squeezes my other hand, and I wait for her to bite her lip in doubt, but she doesn’t.

“There’s so much here. Close your eyes, Bette, and wait to see an animal. Then, tell me what it is.”

I do as I’m told, and a bird flies by in my mind – on its way to somewhere – and below it’s wings, the bushes shake in a dark green forest. A black animal, with ruby colored eyes, stares back at me.

“Oh!” I suck in my breath too fast.  “A black panther.”

“I see.” The Gypsy says.

My eyes flash open. “You do?”

“Bette!” Tina cries exasperated. “Come back down with us.”

“You’re there, too?”

“Yes, above you.”

“Okay, if you say so.”  I close my eyes, and the panther stares back at me.

CU Panther red eyes

When I was a motherless young girl, the women in our Baptist church were superstitious old crows, all of them.  They had looked at me, as if I’d been cursed. My Mother had just died and disappeared suddenly.  I had a busy father, who slept around, and out of the blue, Kit’s mother had cycled back for another go . . . but I was not her child.

A strange woman in my house, the evil eyes from the women at church, and my isolation was complete.  When I had cried, I had cried alone.

“This red-eyed animal of yours, a he or she?” The Gypsy asks.

“With a pretty good sized pair of balls on him, too.”  And saying so, I follow him through thick underbrush, and come upon a white church, where my father and I had stood outside – for a long time together – as we’d watched my mother’s hearse drive away.

The Gypsy continues tracing my palm with her fingers, lulling me back to that afternoon, floating me back down to earth again, when I see the black shoes, I’d spent a long time before her funeral polishing.

I knew something wonderful had ended for me then. Whatever soothing from the meanness of life had gone, vanished, and was never to be mine again — until I’d had my own family. Then, the hole had scarred over. Only then, had I begun to calm down, and breathe with a rhythm that had begun to heal me.

I hadn’t thought – or not thought – much about marriage for most of my adult life. Who was there to marry, and when? Nobody! Who was there to date, and where? Anyone I’d wanted.

But finding it in myself for a commitment? A whole different story.

The underbrush in front of me moves, and the panther picks up his pace.

A dark place we go next, and his tail flicks sharply from side to side. Wary, too, I hunch down on the ground next to him. We peer through the windows of my bedroom, and tearing the clothes out of my closet is Tina. My mouth goes dry, as I witness her anguish, and my stomach wretches with hers as she crawls across our bedroom floor and vomits into a waste can.

Alice appears in the bedroom doorway with a glass of water for Tina, and seeing her on the floor sobbing – Alice rushes into the bathroom, and returns with a moist wash cloth.

Crumbled on the floor, Tina holds the cloth – like a blindfold over her eyes – and over the pounding of my heart she screams my name.

My head falls into my hands, and I weep, and nothing she says – no words that she’s forgiven me – can stop me from my shame.

______________

bacon sign

The Planet -5 pm – Shane

Folding my newspaper down in front of me, I look over the tops of it at Alice. “You know what we should do?”

“Oh, sure, I can think of a lot of things we should do!  Like you should quit reading the movie reviews and figure out how to get us backstage passes for Jennifer Hudson’s concert in the Bowl tomorrow night.”

“How about a little higher?”

“You mean like plane tickets somewhere?”

“Something unselfish for a change.”

Alice is uncharacteristically quiet.

“We should surprise Bette and Tina and cook them dinner.”

“Really?” Alice taps her pen thinking. “But what do you know how to cook? I can only make latkes.”

“I don’t think Bette likes those.”

“Neither do I, so I don’t cook.”

Leaning over I search through the Times to find the Food Section. “Here’s a recipe! Look!” I open the LA Times’s full page spread on, “101 Things to Do with Bacon”.

“Shane, you’re a genius!”

At that moment, Kit walks up. “Hey, you’re her sister. What’s Bette’s favorite food, and do you think she’d like it better with bacon?” I ask.

“Girl, if she doesn’t, she’s an idiot. Where is she anyway? I’ve been calling her phone for hours.”

“I am the shittiest Earth Mother. I can babysit.” Alice offers.

“Wha. . .no, Baby Girl’s fine, it’s those fucking whores from the SheBar that’s put me in a mood.”

“I thought Joyce was helping you with that?” Alice looks hopeful, but Kit shakes her head.

“I don’t know what she can do, but she’s coming here in a minute anyway.”

“Kit let us know.”

“You all good with drinks? Need anything?”

“But what about the bacon topping?” I call after Kit, as she’s walking away.

“Oh!? Whatcha wanna know for? You cookin’ might burn down the house!”

“As long as I smoke grass, I’m fine.”

Kit laughs at me. “Sounds like a plan. Crumble it on top of baked yams with lots of butter. She’ll never forget you. I used to make it for her when she was a kid.”

Then, Joyce walks through the door, and I wave at her. “Joyce is an amazing cook. Alice, we want her over here.”

Alice_gesturingWithPen

“Joyce, Joyce, Joyce! Just the woman we need to solve a riddle.”

“What riddle is that Alice?” Joyce peers down at us earthlings.

“What’s the most delicious dinner that you can imagine cooking with bacon?”

“Whoa!” Joyce rocks back on her heels and stares up at the ceiling, really giving this some thought.

“Now, wait a minute! You aren’t on the clock yet, are you?  Because I ain’t payin for dis!” Kit chides us.

“Here’s what you should do – fry some soft shell crabs and pour a creole style shrimp and crab seafood sauce over them, and on top of each one put two crispy strips of bacon.” Joyce claps her hands that she’s given us a winner, and off she goes with Kit into her office.

“Yum-fucking-yum!” Alice, I can tell, is in. “You know,  I think we can handle the yam part, but I know this sweet little chef who cooks just around the corner . . .and Shane, she’s gonna love you.”

soft shell crab

Two hours later –

When we hear Bette and Tina pulling their cars into the driveway, I push Alice out my front door.  “Okay, let’s go!” And we run out with our platters of food.

Tina closes her car door and with a surprised look on her face, waves at us.  Bette lifts up out of her car, and it’s obvious she’s been crying. Alice and I skid to a stop. “Ah, bad time? We made you guys dinner.”

Alice peels back the foil to show Bette her baked yams with butter and bacon. “Will this make you feel better?”

Tina comes over with their daughter. “Babe, look at all this!”

“Yeah, Bette, man what’s wrong?” I ask.

Bette takes a long whiff of the yams, then the crab dish, and finally, I show her a whole tupperware container full of fried bacon. “You have no idea how much I . . . ” But her throat closes up on her words, and she looks pleadingly over at Tina to finish.

“It’s perfect timing,” Tina says for the both of them. “You guys are just amazing, and right on time. Come in.”

___________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

This story begins a mystery series that goes in this order. “Bette Meets the Gypsy” is followed by, #22 “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown  then to #23 “Hotel California” Hotel California  and #24 “Ensnared by Guilt” Ensnared by Guilt

As a little pick me up, you might want to read a lovely story from the past, “The Fugue of White Noise.” It has a nice love scene in the middle – that’s sure to restore you equanimity. :~)  Click here:  The Fugue of White Noise

Blackbird


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(20) Analogous to What? #TheLWord Bette Porter

Bette_Kitchen

Kitchen – Bette – 7:45pm

Waving my potholders at the columns of steam rising from the large pots of boiling water, I warn Joyce. “We need to be careful with this.”

“Already stumped? I knew you were all bluster!” Joyce laughs at me.

“Ah hah! You wish.” I slide a playful sneer in her direction. “Just keep your hundred ready for when you lose, and keep your eyes open for my three-year old.”

Joyce nods, that she’ll be on the lookout for scalded children, then returns to concentrating on perfectly dicing, into pyramidal piles, the cloves of garlic and flat-shaped onions.

She stops her knife in mid air.  “When you’re finished letting all the steam escape, Bette put the lids back on the pots, and come over here, and I’ll teach you a thing or two.”

I clank around a little more than necessary, then I lean against the counter.

From hunched over the chopping board, Joyce peers up at me. “You don’t strike me as a cooking class type, who taught you?”

“Self taught, actually. Try feeding a child, and then eating what they ask for. I think Tina must’ve let Ang eat dried raspberry roll-ups, and macaroni and cheese for dinner.” I throw up my hands, exasperated at the thought.  “Leaving that trap unsprung – on who’s a better Mother – I bought the best illustrated cookbook I could find.” I emphasize so she’ll think I’m a dummy who needs meal plans and pictures.

Joyce takes the bait. “Self taught. Is that a fact? Just so you know, I’m winning this cookoff. You are so going down.” Joyce smirks her sense of certain victory.

Walking over to the bar to refill my glass, I taunt her back. “You talkin’ kitchen smack at me, Joyce?” We laugh. “Just so you know, Chef Wischnia, I’m getting ahead of you over here on the wine.”

“What’s the reason for it?” Joyce looks across the counter at me, as I set her refill down.

She takes a sip, we both do. It’s perfectly delicious. Soon, we need another. Fetching the bottle, I pour us some more.

“I’m a tiny little bit drunk, Joyce. The reason for it?  Reason as analogous to what?”

We leave the hot kitchen for the garden, and standing on my deck, I flashback to my hours in the car to Santa Barbara, and the sound of the fountain in my garden, illuminated by bluer toned lights in the evening, catches my attention.

I remember an enormous splashing water display in the courtyard outside our hotel in Madrid. On the third floor, with a wall of tall windows open, the sudden winds had blown in the curtains, and they’d flown around us like old Spanish ghosts.

Tina had shivered a little in my arms, as we had danced to a tune I’d never heard before, but had instantly loved.

“Should we close them?” Tina had asked about the windows. There was a coming rain in the air. But I’d pressed my mouth against hers and we’d lost ourselves again in an impossible to stop kiss.

Dance kiss Spainish hotel

Her hips against mine – a slow building burn – her arms around me stroking my neck, then down my back, where she’d stop and scratch me every third time. I’d said, but only barely, because I couldn’t stop my lips from hers, “I want you tonight. Do you feel how much?” And I’d lifted her dress up her thigh, and had slipped my fingers past the strip of elastic that couldn’t hold me back.

“You’re so wet.” I’d panted as I felt inside her, then back around her clitoris again — that made her moan.

“I’ll go anywhere with you, doing this to me.”

I’d felt her tongue slide along mine, as she’d wrapped her leg around me. Sliding my fingers all the way inside, her breath had caught in a moan.

“Oooohhh . . . there you are.”

I’d backed out of her, a thing I knew that drove her crazy, and she’d ground against me. Rolling her lips with mine, in a harder kiss, I’d rimmed the edges of her with my fingers – making her beg me back inside.

She’d moaned again for me, and that was our rhythm.  Three beats, three times and then, she’d moved my lips from hers, and opened up her dress giving me her nipple to suck. Her head tilted back, lost in arousal, she’d rocked me back inside her, and had whispered, “Stay. You know how much I want you.”

On my knees, pushing up her dress, I’d thrown her panties over my shoulder, and holding me to her, her legs opening more, I’d licked her in circles, and slipped my tongue inside her licking her deeper — I’d wanted everything.

“God, I can’t stand up any more . . . with what you’re doing to me.”

Falling back on the nearby bed, she’d left herself open and on the edge for me. I’d sucked her clitoris, until it had felt like a hard pearl in my mouth. She had breathed harder, and scratched me behind my neck, as I’d pushed my tongue inside her . . . and had heard another gasp.

She had cried a lovely moan. “I’ll lose my mind with you tonight. You know that.”

Rolling her over on her stomach, we’d made love, as fiercely as animals, letting something wild out.  I’d moaned, “God, I love you!” and had pressed my hips, again and again, into her buttocks until she’d screamed, and released rolling orgasms, throbbing against me deep inside.

Finished now, she had stretched out under me, and had whispered, “I love you,” and taking my hands away from her, she’d drawn my arms over her head. Licking down to my hands, still sticky with her sex. “God, Bette, what you do to me.”

We’d looked into each other’s eyes. Hers with flecks of gold, but watery tonight, as if she were on the edge of tears. “I love you, T. So much.” I had said, then kissed her.

“Bette, you should see your eyes, still hunting for something? I’ve given you everything.”

“For the moment.” I had laid my body on top of hers, and licked deep inside her mouth. “We’ll see.”

Her hand had slipped down my belly and found my needing for her.  She’d opened her legs to me again, and with no more teasing, I’d slid back inside her.  She had let me know with a bite on my neck —  take her again.

“Mmmm,” we had said together.

A slick patch of heat and sweat had appeared across our bellies, and moving me up toward her shoulders she’d rolled me over and taken control.  “Spread your legs wider,” she’d whispered to me, not letting me answer, I’d felt her probing kiss.

The band downstairs had started up another tune, and the plaintive notes had floated up, as Tina had loved me and fucked me right up to the edge. It was then I’d heard –  as I was about to let everything go – the singer’s sad wanting in her song. Tina had coiled around me, and moving back and forth inside me, at that very moment she had made me come with her.

The singer’s wailing need for passion had grown louder, and fast behind my storm of nearly feral need . . .  finally . . . gasping at the soaring end of it — a tremendous wave of final release, we’d held each other, and the lover’s song had ended.

The wind had billowed in the curtains, and lying on my shoulder, as I drifted with the coming rain, Tina had told me stories of witches that she knew had lived in the ancestral woods behind her house, when she was very young.

I exhale a long deep breath that releases me from my memory, and walking closer to the water trickling down the granite rocks from la Costa de España, I think one last sweet, sexy thought about España.

“Spain. Such a beautiful country.” I say to Joyce, and she nods – that Spain was indeed very nice. A jet flew overhead, and Shane called from over my fence, “Hey! Bette are you home?”

“Come over.”

In her cool drag, ripped jeans, draped with necklaces and a vintage rock and roll t-shirt, Shane appeared out of the shadows. “I didn’t know you had company.”

Joyce drinks her last swallow of wine. “I may be company tonight, but I’m their lawyer.”

“We’re out here having a drink. Tina’s gone to the store.”

Shane looks contrite.  “Ah . . . ah, I don’t how to say this, and not interrupt your dinner, but my fucking mother just died.”

“She did what?!”

Shane lets out a long complicated exhale of what, I can only guess, is tinged with more than a little relief.  I quickly hand my glass off to Joyce, and give Shane a hug.

We sway for a few moments, and I feel how very skinny she is. Her bones are sharp along her back. “I know. It’s hard.”

Into my neck she finally says, “I feel so guilty.”

“But you went through all those tests, and were going to do it! That’s crazy.”

“Oh . . . you have no fucking idea how many times I almost dialed that transplant number to say, I wasn’t coming.”

“How many times today, for example?”

Shane looks very guilty.

I nod my head. “It’ll be different going back for her funeral, I promise.” And as I say this, Shane has a frightened look.

Behind me in the house, I hear Tina coming in the door. “One more bag, Bette! Can you get it?”

Jogging inside I tap Shane’s arm. “Sorry about your mother. Stay for dinner, we need another judge.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Joyce putting her arm around my friend’s shoulders, and speaking quietly to her, as they follow me inside.

clam linguineMy clam linguine! In a word: Perfect!

Joyce and I realized that we were a pretty good match-up, and her forcing Tina and Shane to judge the tastings of our culinary prowess, has disappeared.

Tina seems happy there’s a larger, heading toward drunker, impromptu dinner party, but she’s slightly distracted, and I sense her waiting for the right moment to jump in so, I open the door.

“What’s your day been, T? Lots of actors, you know. . . acting?”

It’s then we hear the long strange story of Aaron and his enormous gambling debts and vengeful bookies. “Bette. I’ll lose my job, without a plan. The movie’s a fucking mess with Jenny as the director, and Aaron has lost his mind.”

“Someone has lost their mind.” I arch my eyebrow at her. “Let’s hear it, but first, why not just kill the miserable fucking movie, and be done with it?!”

Joyce clears her throat and pats Tina’s forearm, the lawyer in her. I remember her pats on Tina, when she was brain-washed, and convinced sueing me was some kind of answer. Truly, in my lifetime, who would’ve ever thought gay people would be seeking alimony?

Joyce lays a final pat on Tina. “This could make you both a lot of money.”

“What? Last time we talked – you were waxing on about pre-nups!” I shout back at Joyce.

“Bette!” Tina raises her voice, too. “Who the fuck said anything about pre-nups? I’m talking about taking over Shaolin. It’s my career, we’re discussing!”

I look at Joyce. “You know how much I hate this fucking movie.”

She leans into me. “Tina stands to make a whole lot than more than you, that’s if you stay in the state’s university system.”

That stings. I squint my eyes at them both. Shane leans back in her chair and stretches out her whole length, as if bracing for something.

“Don’t be mad, but Bette we’ll need to wait on the baby . . . just until I’ve gone into distribution . . . maybe a few months after that.”

“So, you’re not really sure?”

“I’m just guessing.”

Joyce slides in. “If the movie does well, I’ll make sure she’s covered.”

“It’s maybe one year, Bette.”

“It’s maybe a few million.”  Joyce drums her fingers a few times, waiting on me.  “Maybe more, if she’s made Studio Chief, and rights the ship.”

“Shane, lips sealed about my plan.” Tina twists at hers, and throws away a tiny imaginary key.

I press Tina back on the ropes. “Can’t you do anything at all? You say the movie’s a fucking mess. What about changes to the story?”

“A rewrite?”

“Yes! And change their fucking names! Tomorrow!”

“Are those your terms?” Tina asks.

I shoot a quick look at Joyce, who in a micro-flash tells me – Press On!

“Do you even know what you look like after watching the dailies?”

Tina cradles her head in her hands. “Like I could puke?”

“Baby, do you really want this job?”

Tina nods her head, yes.

“And you can’t just kill the movie, and be done with it?”

“The movie IS the job, Bette. No movie, no paycheck, no half of Angelica’s tuition . . .”

“Wait! Now, what was that?” I’m really frowning.

Shane slides her arms across to me, and raps her knuckles on the table. “Let her do it, Bette.  Remember when you were out of work, and in your pajamas?”

“I’d like to forget.” I get up from the table, in need of a drink. “I’m opening another bottle, anyone?” Everyone raises their hand.

Shane claps hers down and catches Tina’s attention. “Speaking of jobs . . . my mom died an hour ago. Anyway I can get mine back?”

“Ooof, that’s sad. Are you alright? I mean, you’re here. You’re fine?”

“Shane’s relieved.” I speak for her, now that I’m back at the table with a third bottle. “Also, we have fresh cantaloupe for dessert.” I wave over to the crate from Penny’s estate.

“That’s right. You went up to Santa Barbara today.” Tina picks up the plates to clear the table.

“I did! And I completely forgot!” I jump up , and opening the refrigerator for a bottle of champagne, I shout, “My announcement is . . .” I pop the cork on the bottle. “I picked up a check for twenty million dollars for the Art School’s building fund!”

“You did!” Tina hops into my arms. “Bette! That’s fantastic.”

“Holy Mother of God! Who is this person?” Joyce calls to me from the table.

Reaching up, I take down the champagne flutes. “I’m going to have a fucking hangover tomorrow,  and I don’t even care!”

“You say that now, Bette.” Tina pours herself only half a glass. “But in the morning, you’re going to roll over with a big bad headache, and ask me, ‘why didn’t you stop me?'”

I hand off the bottle to Shane to pour, and pick up my phone. “I’m texting Phyllis right now, and telling her she’s not seeing me until noon.”

“You’re determined to get drunk, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t forgotten your decision. But did you hear me?”

TEXT to Phyllis:

P – Drinking champagne toasts to the 20 Mil. Not coming in early.  -BP

“Put your phone down, Bette, I get it. Now, we’ll toast you. I’ll start.” Tina clears her throat and lifts her glass to me.

“To the most beautiful woman in my life. You are incredible at everything you try and take on.  Anyone would be lucky to have you behind them, like I am, Baby.” She kisses me and strokes my cheek.

I know she’s pleased for me. Then, I begin to wonder – why did she buy those extremely expensive bottles of wine? And  I certainly didn’t invite Joyce over. Tonight – it dawns on me – was about Tina’s announcement.

Our glasses clink in merry tones of crystal, and the champagne slipping down my throat is crisp, cold, and delicious. I hold my glass up for my toast, and I scan past their faces.  Joyce always with a tie at work, a killer attitude, and a mean streak when it comes to law.

Shane, what a great friend to have – even though she’s periodically in terrible trouble with women – blowing up her shit, or ending up half naked on Sunset Blvd billboards.  Yet, as dangerous as she lets things get, and as unwrung and unspooling as her stability can be, I’d want her in my lifeboat. That’s a fact.

Then, there’s my girlfriend.  Always pretty and with a smile for people. You meet her, and you feel the sweetness of her personality.  I did.  I was struck by how open she always felt to me. That, and a willingness to open even more.

“I have a toast,” I announce, and once again our circle lifts their glasses. “To my soon to be wife, I love you.  I know I should support you, be one hundred percent behind anything you ask of me, because we’re always going to do that for each other, am I right, T?”

Tina nods her head, and whispers, “Yes.”

“If what you want is this new job, and without a doubt you’ll be great at it, then, you should go for it.”

“I should? I really should, shouldn’t I?”

I put my arm around her and draw her close. “That’s a lot of shoulds. Do you want it or not? You made it all sound so, ‘do or die’ a minute ago.”

“A few things need to happen fast.”

“Any allies over there in management?”

Joyce clears her throat, and draws up to her full height. “I know Linda Zurnich very well.”

Tina’s eyes light up. “Bette, Linda is way at the top of Shaolin Studio Partners, basically, Aaron’s bosses, our Overlords,”

“I get it. She’s important. Do you want Joyce to put in a call?”

“Joyce?” Tina asks, “What would you say to Linda?”

Joyce rubs her chin a few times before she answers. “I’d tell her that you’re willing to step in and fix this mess, so her people and their people will make money. That you know the project, inside and out . . .,” Joyce pauses for my moaning.

“. . . and you have a very sound production plan, and when can she meet with you?” Joyce finishes and looks pleased with her recitation. “And, if you need to meet out of sight, you can use my office. How’s that for tying it up in a bow!”

“Very generous of you, Joyce.”

“Do you want her to do it? I’m not taking this dilemma into the bedroom, or figuring it out with a slamming headache tomorrow. T, ‘the deciding hour’ is upon us.”

Tina bites her lip, but for just an instant. “Bette, I think I want it. Yes, Joyce, please call her.”

Tina leans into me again, and I kiss the top of her head, and hope I don’t regret saying, “It’ll all be fine. We’ll make it work.”

__________________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.Blackbird

_____________

Hope you enjoyed the sexy tale!

All for now, Blackbird


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Secrets I Keep – #TheLWord – (19) Touch Tones

Tina_Phone_ArmLifted_MovietrailersStudio City — Tina

Being neurotic in broad daylight takes energy and resolve and a certain focus to keep moving in order to hide it. Falling into a heap – which I’m teetering on doing now, and continually reminding myself to breathe to keep from freaking – means I’m done, means I never was worthy, means I never got my turn to go for The Brass Ring. Means I never make it to the top of . . .

Hollywood sign - clouds

Hollywood.

I pray that’s not me. A washed out one-race-streaker, who’s let horse’s asses – like Jenny, Aaron, and William – fuck me at the starting gate.

I bite my lip, a facial tic I know I have that betrays my lack of confidence. I need more days to maneuver before Aaron gets his knees broken – one by one – by a giant scary man, The Enforcer for The Bookie, who I hear is coming by on Friday.

On my end of grabbing onto Aaron’s woes, I’d like to catch my Studio Chief sneaking money for himself out of the free-flowing catering accounts, or from transpo, or locations. All places I’ve flagged and know to watch . . . but I want someone to ride shotgun with me. A partner to test my strategies, and run my five-steps-ahead-of-the-game theories by.

I need someone borderline crazy, and evilly smart. I need Bette, but I know she’ll never agree.

Helena_HairBackHeadTilt

It might be Helena.

Recently out of Federal custody, and away from exotic fruit plantations, and Dusty, her jailhouse lover — Helena’s very possibly a wise casting choice for my Hollywood Mobster drama.

My mind dials three lovers back, and Helena’s fuck-out-of-doors, in the most barely hidden, and unusual kinds of places, returns to me in a body memory, I blush at remembering.

Leaving Peggy’s hotel suite in San Francisco one night, instead of the spacious rooftop garden – where I thought we were headed – Helena took me to the edges of the bay, then into a park where a labyrinth was glowing threaded through the trees.

labyrinth - Secrets story

In the maze under the cliffs, at first I’d thought I’d be chilled by the breezes coming off the water. The lights surrounding us had flickered and seemed to swim out in all directions.  My dress had disappeared over my head, and my eyes had closed to the possibilities of hidden onlookers, and I’d given myself over to the rolling spasms of my rawest desires.

Those were the months I’d seen Bette as the most perplexed. Her hating me, but fighting for me anyway, had sent Helena into overdrive, and anything I could dream up – even things I didn’t want – were mine, regardless of the hour.

Maybe Bette and I had gotten what we came for, out of the bloodsport of trying to conquer each other willfully, and as painful as it was, living alone now I had sometimes wondered, if the consuming chaos of Helena, and my elliptical trip to another land with Henry, weren’t spotlights on how my loneliness had replaced our intimacy?  How dinnertime had become TV, how bestsellers by my bedside had replaced sex, and that I’d had about all that I could take, when I’d seen the cracks first appearing between her and Jodi.

First, I’d glossed over any offhanded mentions or any gripes that things weren’t going well between them. Next, I’d gathered intel, and Alice had plotted Jodi’s relationships on The Chart, so we could see the names of her exes fanned out around her own.  Those we’d interviewed for clues.

After a few emails, Alice had compiled our notes, and a picture had emerged, along with a timetable that I knew I could exploit.  Jodi’s, set your clock to it wanderlust – always about six months in – had been confirmed by the many women she’d left behind.  By my calculations, the suggestion to keep their relationship open would be ‘Coming Soon’ to a volcano near me, and I’d laughed out loud all the way home — just thinking about it.

Bette Power suit unhappy NEW image

To have been a fly on Bette’s wall, as Jodi’s sign language and hand gestures had insinuated . . . that her necessary infidelities were coming soon . . . and to have seen Bette’s face, as it had dawned on her that Jodi – the also Alpha-lover – by way of signing with her fingers and otherwise,  intended to fuck someone else . . . to this day, I’m still sorry that I missed.

Yet, I’d worried anyway that maybe they did have great chemistry in bed, or that unbeknownst to me Bette had somehow changed, and possessiveness wasn’t her ‘go to’ leach any longer for control. Maybe, they’d get into threesomes to liven things up, and that image had unnerved me.

They were an interesting couple to be sure. They could’ve certainly pulled it off, and drawn in lots of takers for the sex, and the nude skinny dipping in what I’d still thought of – as my and Angelica’s swimming pool.  Their ménage à trois could’ve gone on for years, with Bette having the time of her life, with her tongue that I had wanted back with me.

Nighttime sky spiral

In my own fog of possessiveness, I’d returned to doubting how the many women, coming and going and coming again – but mostly her sharing them all with Jodi – was really possible in the closed universe of her being The Star, and the only one who could ring her lovers far out past the farthest moons of Saturn, before bringing them shivering back to Earth again.

When my haze had lifted, I was able to see this scenario as never working, and I’d consoled myself that she’d never endanger her sexual prowess, but I’d gone to the Gypsy’s house in Hancock Park, and I’d left there with a Love Charm — just to be sure.

It’s not that I wanted Bette returned to me twisted off and wracked with pain and confusion, but that she would be miserable was step four, and step five would be her home with me.  My plotting – alongside her swings from certain to uncertain behavior – had made me trust in my readings with the Gypsy more and more.

Gypsy's Love Charm Spell

When the spell had been cast, and a piece of silk had been wound around the magical ingredients and tightened, to draw in the magnetism I’d been assured still existed, but was yet to come; I’d secreted the Love Charm behind a zipper in her luggage packed for Big Bear, and had waved so-long with utter confidence, as she drove away.

Since then, I’ve wondered more than a few times, if I should tell her about the Gypsy. Let her know – in words – that I’d wanted her back, just as much as she did in the end? Or if I should let it be, and let it go, and let us roll on with my secret kept for a little while longer?

As I walk myself back through my treacherous steps, and how I’d waited for the right combinations of things to appear in my love life, I’m convinced I have the same cunningness for the movie business. My takeover of Shaolin feels imminent, and I need Joyce for a new contract, and me, and everybody else? Needs to have a little faith.

I stop by the studio canteen for an iced latte, and taking a deep breath I call James. When seven had been inked into Bette’s calendar, Joyce’s battle-hardened gatekeeper, Jean, was my next call.

“Joyce Wischnia’s office, Jean Rawlins speaking.”

“Ms. Rawlins, Tina Kennard calling. It’s last minute I know, but is Joyce free for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, let’s see Tina. She doesn’t tell me everything.” I hear Jean tapping keys, and I have a hard time believing she’s in the dark – for even one minute – when it comes to Joyce’s billable time. “What did you have in mind?”

“Joyce loves which red wine again?”

“Oof! Tina that stuff’s hard to find, and very expensive,” Jean emphasizes.

“Consider me warned. What’s her favorite though?”

“They’re two of them actually. From consecutive years, 1968 and 69.”

Joyce's favorite wine

“Any clue who carries it?”

“At two hundred and fifty dollars a bottle? The Wine Shoppe on Beverly.”

“I’m on it. I have an account there. Can you get her to my house by seven?”

“Yours and Bette’s place, right?”

“God, yes! I’m back home!” I realize I’m shouting. ”Can she come? At seven?”

Jean’s voice sounds amused. “She’s nodding her head, yes, Tina.  So, looks like she’ll see you then.”

Joyce garden - dinner party

Bette and Tina’s House – 7:15 pm – Tina

The closer to three hundred dollar bottle of wine is breathing, Bette is late, and Joyce and I are touring the garden with Angelica. ”Did you know I have a house in Santa Fe?” Joyce asks.

”Did I? No.”

”I was there last month, and I gotta ask you . . . what was Bette’s mother like?  I can’t imagine.”

”Lovely, really. A very talented, interesting woman with, as you know, a very unusual story.”

”No signs of shadowy gangsters disguised as Indians?” Joyce smiles down at Angelica who spins streams of bubbles out of a wand.

Soap bubble - Secrets story

Then one lands inches from me, and I stare into it amazed and whisper, ”Bette’s mother’s an older lady painting in the desert, and friendly with the Native Americans. She fits in.”

”A perfect camouflage!” Joyce booms, which makes Angelica rush up to her, and the bubble bursts.

”Alligator!”

”I don’t know about that.” Joyce laughs. ”Can’t you think of something scarier?”

”Alley-ga-tor! Alley gator took a bite out of Mommy.” Angelica pats her stomach three times.

Inside the house Bette throws open the front door, and Joyce looks at me puzzled. ”That sounds impossible,” Joyce muses, “even for her.”

I wave away my daughter’s indiscretions. ”Should we try the wine?”

”I’m home! God! I’m so sorry I’m late!” Bette calls from somewhere inside.

”Let’s go in.” I motion Joyce toward the French doors that lead into the kitchen.

”The wine’s not the only reason I came tonight.” Joyce lifts up her goblet for a sip.  ”But this is very nice of you. I’m curious what’s up? Wasn’t that her coming in?”

”Actually, I need to talk to you both about . . .”

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

From around the corner, Bette zooms into the kitchen with a vase full of flowers for me, and placing them on the counter, after a warm hello to Joyce, she sweeps me into a kiss.

”How are you?! I had the most incredible day! I got a Building Fund check for so much money! ”  Then, she lets me loose, and over her shoulder calls, ”Hang on, there’s more, but wait!  There’s a crate of cantaloupes in the car.”

”Why a crate?” My voice sails out after her.

Leaning against my kitchen counter, with a look of amusement on her face, Joyce asks, ”What’s for dinner? I don’t smell anything cooking.”

Bette kicks back open the front door, and sure enough, she’s hauling in a crate of cantaloupes. ”Joyce, please take some home.” Then to me, ”Baby, I’m thirsty, and I’m starved. What’s for dinner?”

Joyce pours her a glass of wine, and then winks toward the label. ”Take it slow, not your speed I know, but try to savor it.”

Bette blows back a lock of hair from her face, then locks her eyes onto Joyce. ”You do not need to lecture me about how to drink wine.”

”We’re ordering in from Puccini’s. I hope that’s alright.” I fetch the menus from the drawer.

”Puccini’s?”  Joyce opens the refrigerator, and sticks her head inside. ”Do you mind if I see what you’ve got in here? I’m a great cook.”

”Actually, so am I.” Bette opens the door wider, and standing side by side, I can sense between them a developing competition. Joyce tosses a package of uncooked pasta onto the counter, while Bette unloads produce from the drawer.

”What are you thinking Porter?”

”Hmm.” Bette takes a sip of wine. ”I challenge you to a linguine. You can make any kind you want, but mine is clams. What’s yours?”

”I’ll run get whatever you guys want,” I offer.

”You’re on, and you’re going down.” Joyce rolls up her sleeves. ”Tina, one second before you go.  I’ve got a few things for your list.”

________

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Blackbird