The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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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