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.
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.”
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.
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?”
“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.”
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?”
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.
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’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.”
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?
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.”
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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