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 Bette will ever know. Where is she? Will she ever come home? I stare across the room at our king-sized bed and collapsing forward, burying my face in Bette’s pillow, I sob into it until I hear the sounds of voices drifting in from the kitchen.
Ten minutes later –
The Kitchen – Tina
Shane opens the steaming containers of Thai food and fixes me with an worried but stony stare. “Tina, you’re eating something. Sit down.”
With Angelica bathed and ready for bed, Mary enters the kitchen. “I could eat,” she says as Angelica drops from Mary’s arms and runs toward me.
“Is she still. . .asking?” I whisper to Mary, who shakes her head, no.
“We’re planning a horseback ride on my ranch and soon.” Mary emphasizes. “And after dinner, with no more questions asked, we’re reading “Black Beauty” at bedtime.”
“I love that book!” Kit says, “Maybe I’ll come read it with you?”
“Momma B rides horses!” Angelica barks.
Kit rolls her eyes. “Your Momma B rides mostly on my last nerve.”
“I wish, Kit. . .” Mary says, while setting the table around me, “that I’d met you all sooner.”
“It would’ve changed Bette’s life.” Kit says as a matter of fact. “Your “death” changed her.” Her voice becoming a bitter hiss. “Melvyn.”
“Mary, If she’d known you were still alive. . .”
Kit embraces me and Angelica in a Momma Bear hug. “Always angry, until these two came along.”
“Chopsticks?” Shane breaks the room’s uneasy tension.
Mary clears her throat of emotion. “Fork for me.”
“Horseback riding!” Angela says gleefully, as we take our places around the table.
Kit and Shane place bowls of soupy noodles and fried rice around the table. Leaning across to Bette’s mother she asks, “Mary, has anyone told you that Bette wears the boots you gave her every single day”
Suddenly, there’s a rapid knock on the front door then, it flies open. Alice barges in. “Full confession! I have a crush on Our Enforcer!”
Mary turns toward Alice. “You mean, Simone?”
Alice answers dreamily, “See moan.”
“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.”
Mary looks mystified. “She believes Bette’s offshore?”
Shane nudges Mary away from Alice’s S&M fantasy. “I rode horses when I lived in Texas.”
“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?”
“The point is finding Bette! What’d I miss?”
Everyone stops eating for a moment and stares at me.
Kit explains, “Penny’s bringing her cantaloupe workers to the Labor Rights rally. We’re protesting the SheBar bitches exploitin’ immigrant workers.”
“In Spanish?” I ask, trying to catch the new thread.
“Hmm,” Alice thinks before answering. “Does it matter?”
“Isn’t Simone’s focus supposed to be on finding…”
Mary cuts me off and points to Angelica sitting in my lap. “Soon as there’s a school break 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!”
“I’m having a party before their wedding. Of course, you’ll be there.”
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.”
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 should inject her with a tracking chip, like the dogs have. We’ll all feel better the minute she has one.”
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.
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.”
“Down San Diego way.”
“How many miles to West Hollywood?”
“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.”
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.”
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.
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!”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! Thirty-eight.”
“Twenty-two! Final offer, Kit, or I’m walking!”
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 –
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!”
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 —
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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.