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.
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.”
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 – 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.”
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.
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!”
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.
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’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?!”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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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