The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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

Bette & Tina's Remodeled bedroom

Bette and Tina’s Bedroom – Tina

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

Tina close up Cruise Montego Bay

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”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

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.”

simone red dress black chair

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.

Alice bridge story

“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.”

homeless couple under bridge

Under the Bridge – Bette

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

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

“What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Danielle.”

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

homeless reading in tent

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

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

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

“Under this bridge, three months.”

“Before that?”

“Down San Diego way.”

“How many miles to West Hollywood?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

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

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

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

Twinkie

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

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

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

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

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

Denbo pissed

The SheBar – Denbo

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

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

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

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

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

bikini close up ocean background

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

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

fake dr perez shebar

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

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

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

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

Tina gesturing INDOORS lking up

7 am the next morning – Tina

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

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

Then, a text hits my iPhone.

From Simone –

I’m at your front door.

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

I yank open the door.  “Good morning.”

Simone replacement Front Door Rescue story

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

At the table, I hold my breath.

Mary comes in wearing Bette’s bathrobe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you want his job?”

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

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

receipts from trash

Back inside the kitchen –

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

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

I grab my purse.  “I’m ready!”

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

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

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

corner store rescue site

An hour later –

Industrial area near LAX – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tina? Mother? Is that my bathrobe?”

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

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

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

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

“Get a job?” The Homeless Woman suggests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“T, how much was my ransom?”

No one in the car says a word.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh Babe, just barely.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy with blonde hair

The Planet – Billy

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

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

“Don’t start with me, Billy!”

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

“Is this immigrant demonstration going to work?”

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

“The Clintons.”

“Well, we know how that turned out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, we’re not segregating people!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How much is this costing me?”

“Forty percent of net.”

“Fifteen.”

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

“Twenty.”

“Thirty?”

“No!”

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

“Done.”

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

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

Five hours later –

Alice_Lesbo Land

The Planet – Alice

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

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

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

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

SheBar sign

Max cuts to the SheBar graphic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued —

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

 

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


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Ensnared by Guilt #24

Tina serious blue shirt med shot

Day Two

Before Work – Tina

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

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

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

Tina_blackjacket_seated_looking irritated

Later that morning –

Les Girls Soundstage – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Aaron his office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

warehouse blight exterior

Warehouse – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Q as Jake

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

“Oh, thank God!” I grab her hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake questioning photographer

Warehouse Interior – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hands bound by rope

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

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

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

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

One, two, three. . .

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

SheBeast tattooed woman

The door’s kicked open and The SheBeast enters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throwing my bindings to the floor I charge at her.

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

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

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

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

I swing again, but miss.

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

One hour later –

Faye Dunaway

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

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

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

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

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

Simone and Alice

Unblinking, Simone stares Alice back up against the wall.

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

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

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

“Strategy. . .sometimes Take Out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

control room B

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

“I go in first.” Simone says.

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

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

Group_Pink_Orchids w:gold

Dressing Room – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She reads the kidnapper’s note.

Bloody hand Kidnappers Note

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

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

rope Day Two

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

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

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

Thirty minutes later –

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

warehouse night lost

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

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

Friend or foe? I listen for others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait! Where are you going?”

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

_________

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

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

Hope you enjoyed your time here! Blackbird


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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


8 Comments

Countdown – #13

Exterior – The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina

With my cellphone pressed up to my ear, I move my lips silently along with Kit’s, as she reads Angelica her favorite bedtime story. Putting the book away Kit asks, “How’re you and my Baby Sis getting along in Texas?”

I struggle to find the answer.

How can I describe my evening with a drug-addled bigot, and not press every one of Kit’s 12 Step buttons? Sue Ellen, and this glimpse into Shane’s past, has convinced me all over again that even though Bette’s mother wasn’t there for much of her childhood, my mother was in the beginning, mostly there for me, and we must do better for our daughter. We have to.

wolf_onRidge

When we lived in the old house with the high cliffs behind it, I remember her reading, “Wind in the Willows” to me at night. There was an orchard I played in to the east, a creek I explored to the south, and to the west a gentle curve of cliffs topped by very tall trees that threw shadows over the whole house at sunset.

There were wolves back there, too, and one in particular who watched over me, but by then, it was too late. My sister had already found me.

The front door of the bar swings open, and Bette waves to me. “Odd as it may be, our family pictures are a hit. The dial is way down on her.  I think it’s safe, you can come back inside.”

I hold the phone up to her ear, “Say goodnight to the baby.”

“Goodnight sweet baby, I miss you!”

Shane's baby picture

“Shane, if you can believe it, was once chubby!” Alice greets our return. “Sue Ellen is telling me baby Shane stories.

“I was just asking, if she remembered that old pink blanket of hers?” Sue Ellen leans into Shane, “I couldn’t pry it away from you. It’s like you thought it was your own mother.”

“See. Lots better,” Bette whispers sarcastically in my ear.

“I remember, Blankie.”

Then, Alice just can’t leave well enough alone. “Sue Ellen, where’d you grow up?”

And Bette says, “Fuck,” under her breath. “Memory Lane with Sue Ellen.”

Rabbit skinning Texas

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette

“Shane knows this. My coming up wasn’t easy.” Across the table, Sue Ellen shifts in her seat, hesitating whether to go on.

Then, with a deep inhale she begins, “My daddy was a circuit judge, any of you gals know what that is?”

But we all stay silent, should a wrong answer cause another outburst.

“Someone who covers a goodly piece of Texas territory, and decides whether or not to hang a man. That was my daddy,” Sue Ellen answers.

“A Hanging Judge?” Alice cries out. “You had a hanging judge for a father? Shane did you ever meet him?”

Shane shakes her head, as Sue Ellen laughs mostly to herself, “Oh, how he hated that name, too.”

Now, I find myself curious, “And did he actually hang people?”

“He sure did. Hung lots of people. Rustlers, murders, Mexicans…you name it.”

Behind her hand, Tina whispers to me, “Do not argue with her about capital punishment, Bette.  Just let it be.”

Then, our steaks arrive, and sure enough, Sue Ellen had given in and ordered a cup of the healing chicken noodle soup Alice had recommended.

Dipping in her spoon, Sue Ellen continues. “But it meant he was gone a lot. You ever hear of laudanum?”

Cutting into our bloody steaks, we all shake our heads. No.

“The housewives back in my day got hooked on it. Hell, I don’t even know if there was an FDA back then, but out west we still had those roaming Medicine Men, and Indian cures that would pull up in wagons. Amplify a valium a thousand times, but with dreams, and that’s opium. That’s laudanum.”

Sue Ellen licks her lips, I guess at the memory of the taste of it. “A cure for being lonely, and my mother was hooked on it.”

“What’d my grandfather do about it?” Shane asks.

“Nothing. Kept on hanging people, I guess.”

“Now, I’m starting to worry about you.” Alice eyes Shane, who’s sipping away on her beer, the night before she’s to give liver tissue samples to save her dying mother’s diseased one.

Shane gives Alice her best, ‘Get Lost’ look, and continues chewing all the way down a long french fry.

“Still, I hope you take my point.” Alice warns her.

Tina looks over at me, suddenly very serious. “I don’t need a Mother’s Little Helper to care for our baby, do you?”

I look into Tina’s eyes, “You don’t think everything’s fine?”

“No, everything’s fine.”

I lift up her hand and kiss the engagement ring I gave her, “Now, that you’re back, my life is perfect. Everything’s fine.”

“Everything’s perfect. Absolutely everything,” she agrees, but I watch Tina for a moment more, just to make sure.

Hang Man's Rope

“And we used to keep a cooking fire going all the time, even in the summer.” Sue Ellen starts up again with her memories, and then, with a brittle sadness, “And I had one dolly, and I had an older sister, who’d lost hers.”

At that last line, Tina’s complete concentration on her dinner breaks, and lowering my fork, I begin to hope, with all my heart, that the moral of Sue Ellen’s story is about sisterhood and sharing.

“She’s dead, now – mean as she was, just like a snake – fitting it were them’s that got her.” Sue Ellen holds a momentarily satisfied look. “Rattlers. Different times back then, I can assure you.”

“Sounds like it.” Alice nods, very convinced she’d never survive.

“Bette, our Santa Fe party?”

“Mother says there’s a powder they can ring around the whole barn that keeps them away.”

“Oh, Jesus.” Tina’s head sinks into her hands.

I motion to Tina’s half-eaten ribeye. “The sooner you eat it, the faster we can get out of here.”

“Angry, I suppose for me taking what little attention came from our mother, once the dickens got into my sister real bad, and she threw my Dolly into the fire.”

Sue Ellen lifts up her right leg, and pulls off her boot. “I was just a small child, with a mother way off in LaLa Land, not a soul to stop me from crawling into the fire after it.”

burning baby doll

At the sight of once melted toes, and a leg with a long goose leathered scar, Alice jumps up from the table crying, ”Holy fuck!”

Sue Ellen rocks her deformed leg back and forth on the seat next to me. ”Unlike you,” she stares at me, ”this is why I wear cowboy boots.”

“Jesus, Al, I’m sorry! She told it way too much like a ghost story tonight.”

Alice whimpers, “I think I peed a little on myself.”  Shane throws a look over her shoulder back at me, as she walks with Alice to the Ladies Room.

Sue Ellen smiles with a queer satisfaction, and slides her boot back on. “So, what’s your story?”

I think Tina may still be speechless, so I begin. “I only recently reunited with my mother. She spent most of my life in federal custody.”

”I know it’s hard on kids when their parents get locked up. Don’t think too much about it, Bette. I was in jail a few times, when Shane was little.”

CU Bette slySmile

“It was a long stretch,” I play along with her thinking my mother was in prison. “I only recently caught up with her again.”

Tina pokes at her baked potato. “Babe, I’ve been thinking some more about the rattlesnakes.” Then, her face freezes in shock.

“Look! At this nearly identical twin of yours we met in the Ladies Room!” Alice waves her arm by way of an elaborate introduction.

Shane notices Tina’s reactions, and begins tugging on Alice’s arm. “Ah, Alice…”

Dead. Without feeling, “Tina,” is all the sister says.

“Janet,” Tina says very cooly.

“Who’s this cause of such a stir?” Pipes in Sue Ellen.

Tina scoots her chair back from the table, and walks toward her sister, “Our father said you lived here.”

“How is the old man?”

“No idea. He calls occasionally – on holidays.”

“Says he’s the Mayor of Yuma, Arizona, unless he’s lying.”

“That was more your thing, Janet.” Tina steps even closer to her.

“Or your imagination.”  Janet doesn’t budge.

“So like you to twist things.” Tina spits back.

I point at Alice, “We should get the check. Go get the waitress, Alice.”

“And miss this?” Alice refuses to move.

“What are they going on about?” Sue Ellen wonders.

“I’ll do it.” Shane offers. “Come with me, Mom. Let’s get the bill.”

“Well, I don’t have any money.” Sue Ellen shouts, and stays put at the table.

“Nice company you keep,” Janet smirks.

Then, I step in and jab my finger in Janet’s face. “You know, what? Fuck you! You owe your sister, at-the-very-least, an apology.”

“Who’s this?” Janet looks me up and down degradingly. “I told her, it was you all along, and Mother should’ve punished you! Not me.”

Then, Tina slaps the shit out of Janet. Smack!

Followed by Janet’s strike back. Whack!

Now, we have the whole restaurant’s attention.

The reddish mark of Janet’s handprint appears on Tina’s face, and back again, I step between them. “Look, just apologize to her, and get the fuck out of here, or else.”

Sue Ellen claps her hands together. “Sounds like a dare, to me!”

“You! Keep your unclean hands off me.”  Janet swats my finger away, but I point it right back into her face.

“But I insist. I said apologize to Tina. Now, do it!”

Tina tries to move me aside. “Bette, I can handle this.”

“Well, your girlfriend, I guess is who this is? She ought to thank me.” Janet stabs her finger right under my nose. “You should thank me!”

Alice looks at Shane.  “I have no idea what’s going on. You?”

I supply them my answer, “This pretender is getting off her high holy horse, and apologizing. That’s what’s happening.”

Enraged Janet screams at me. “Okay! Here’s the Truth! She liked it! So, now you know! Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Alice disapproving

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice

And fast as you can say, “You just pissed off the wrong person.” Bette’s hands are around Janet’s neck, and she’s squeezing the fucking life out of her.

“You crazy, miserable piece of human shit!” Bette hisses, as she clutches Janet by the throat.

“Bette! Stop it!” Tina shouts, “I’ll beat up my own sister, if I want to.”

Bette shakes her head, “No!” as Janet flails and gurgles. “I’m not fucking letting her go, until she says she’s sorry.”

“Hey! You gals need to take this outside!” Miss Laredo calls from the bar. Then, to her friends, “Come on!”

Shane sends her mother a warning look. “Mom, don’t bet against my friends.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it! Hand over your billfold, sweetheart, I’m betting whatever you’ve got, on the tall one.”

And then, just as quick, Bette lets out an, “Ooof!”

bloody knife

And my steak knife is sticking out of Bette’s stomach!

“God!” Tina cries at her sister, “What’d you just do?”

Miss Laredo shouts that she’s a nurse, and Bette staggers backwards in pain. Tina’s hands close around hers to stop Bette from pulling out the knife. “Don’t! You’ll bleed to death!”

Bette goes for her steak knife on the table. “Goddammit! This shit just got serious.”

Then…

“Ugh. Wait a minute, Baby. This really hurts.” She drops down on one knee.

“Oh God, Bette!” Tina lunges at the table, and I have just enough time to grab my ribeye off my plate before Tina zings it into Janet’s forehead.

Conk!

“You’ve always been crazy. You’ve always been such a liar!” Tina screams as she throws platters and dishes and ketchup bottles at her sister. Everything’s flying through the air, when overhead I see a wine bottle in Janet’s hand heading straight down for Tina.

“Look out!” I shout, and Bette springs up, and grabs Janet’s arm, holding it in mid air.

Nose to nose, they strain against each other. With my steak knife sticking out of Bette’s guts, she forces Janet’s hand back and back, looking like any minute she’s going to snap the woman’s wrist, and Tina, finally seeing only salt and pepper shakers left to throw, kicks Janet’s in the back of the knee.

And down Janet goes.

A cheer erupts!

Sinking into a chair, Bette shoots the crowd a thumbs-up, and with a grimace looks down at the stream of blood leaking out of her abdomen.

“I’m starting to understand you gals a whole lot better.” Sue Ellen looks at us with true appreciation.

With Tina hovering, Miss Laredo cleans Bette’s wound with whiskey.

bottle of whiskey pouring

“Ouch! Ouch! Give me some of that to drink if you’re going to do that to me.”

“Where’d Janet go?” I ask Tina, but she seems to have forgotten her lifelong foe completely. She strokes Bette’s face, and whispers to her. But I can hear things people say a mile away.

“You’re coming out of this with a scar, Bette, on that hard stomach of yours, you’re so vain about.”

Torso Sheba story picture

Miss Laredo, with a sweet wink to Bette. “You’d be a tough one to cut through, Honey.”

Tina rolls her eyes, as she hands Bette a whiskey for her pain.

By now, a small crowd has gathered, and Miss Laredo offers her friends a peek at Bette’s enviable abs. “Meet Bette, Ladies, and her soon to be wife, Tina.”

Bette shoots Tina a sly smile. “Miss Laredo, can you stitch Tina’s name on me, like a tattoo?”

Tina threads her fingers through Bette’s. “You need to quit telling everybody what to do. When we’re alone, I’ll talk to you about this.”

“Guys, we’re going right to a hospital with my mother. Anybody thought of that?”

Miss Laredo calls out, “Okay, the wound’s lookin’ good, but stitching you back together is going to hurt. You up for this?”

Bette ignores Shane’s saner idea. “Are you really a nurse?”

“Yes.”

“Is there any chance you’re operating on me sober?”

“Not a chance.”

“Is your name really, Miss Laredo?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I say do it.”

And when the perfect look of pleasure and pain settles onto Bette’s face, I can’t help myself. I just have to take a picture.

Bette Tina Kiss New One

Two hours later –

Bette and Tina’s Dallas Hotel Room – Bette

Whatever there’s left to talk about, Tina has decided it’s going to happen tomorrow, because once we hit the door of our hotel room, down I go on the bed.  I can’t ask her if she’s glad she got to smack the shit out of her sister, or if she’s sorry the whole thing happened. I’ll never know the answer until whatever is happening between us plays itself out on this bed, and that’s fine with me.

I slip my tongue back and forth in her mouth, and she sucks on me, and rubs painfully on top of my bandage. I know she’s doing it on purpose – a lesson in here somewhere I’ll have to sort out later.

She moves my hand from her breast down between her legs. “Come inside me.” Is all I hear.

I roll her over, and begin to make love to her. Her legs wrap around me, and she rocks back against me, and blue shots of pain start to streak through my mind.

Down my back she digs into me with her fingernails, and I cover her mouth and her body with mine, and we blend like ocean waves, far out to sea, that don’t break, only rise and fall – over and over and over with each other.

Bette_Kiss_goldtoned

I lift her up to hold her against me, and taste only the whiskey and want of sex in her mouth.

She begins to shake. “I’m so close, right on the edge.” And her muscles close tight on my fingers, and trembling more, she begins to come.

Bette_Tina CU golden toned KISS

And for long, long moments, we’re falling over the edge of orgasm, and moaning, with our tongues sliding together, as a slick sweat breaks between our bodies, and…………we fall back into each other’s arms, the waves break slower and slower, and we breath together, and look again into each other’s eyes, and kiss softly.

Tina runs her fingers down my body, making little curves in my sweat between my breasts. “This is Texas, I do realize, but take a guess. Since we landed this morning, how many laws have you broken?

“Two, maybe?” I begin to laugh.

“Try ten.” She licks up my neck. “You’re very salty tonight.”

“You like it?”

“Hmm,” she settles against my chest, and plays her fingers around my long white bandage. “I like you.”

I rise up a little to look in her eyes. “I’d hold out as long as could, before I took a prison wife. I want you to know that.”

“And I want to believe you. I really do.” She licks me a few times inside my legs.

“Marry me, soon, won’t you? Why we do have to wait?” But her mouth on me is causing me to lose focus. “All the parties, can’t they come after we’re married?”

But no answer back is forthcoming, and soon, she’s taken all my concentration.

And then, I let myself go.

_________________

I hope you enjoyed the story!

Blackbird

//


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Shanghaied! –Touch Tones #11

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Shane

As I stare at the unknown number on the screen of my cell phone, Tina and Alice’s attention drifts back to discussing Molly Kroll’s unexpected appearance outside The Planet a few minutes ago, but more astonishingly, why she drove away with Bette.

The phone vibrates in my hand once more. It’s a Dallas area code, but my Mother never calls me this early.

First, a southern sounding woman’s voice, soft but direct asks, “May I speak with Shane McCutcheon?”

“I’m Shane.” I sip my expresso. Dammit, how quickly it grows cold.

“Ms. McCutcheon, I’m Dr. Matthews from St. Francis’ Hospital in Dallas. I’m calling about your mother. Is this a good time to talk?”

I wave my hands for Alice and Tina to look at me as I mouth the words, ‘hospital’ and ‘mother’, and we all wait as I hear the news: My mother, the on and then off again drug addict, needs a liver transplant, or she’ll die.

Alice breaks our frozen silence, “Wait a minute! Do they even know how dangerous that is?”

Tina comforts me, “It’s not dangerous for you, Shane. Painful to give the necessary tissue, sure. It’s surgery after all, but not dangerous per se.”

“Thank you, Meredith Grey,” Alice snaps. “but I was talking about for Shane’s mother. I mean, would you want Shane’s kidney?”

“Liver.” I correct.

For a second too long my best friends look doubtful. Quickly, Tina leans over and kisses my cheek. “Guys, I’ve got to get going. Shane, find me on set later if you want to talk.”

Stunned, I walk out of The Planet, and as I climb the hill back to my house my mind feels adrift and buzzy, when it should be clear and planning and my fingers tapping around online for a cheap plane ticket to Texas, but instead I listen the incessant humming in my head. A thousand bees circling again and again – a disturbed hive of thoughts.

Bette_PowerSuite.2king down

California University – Phyllis’ Office – Bette

After Molly Kroll’s unexpected ride to work with me, I had hoped to dash past James, and straight into my office, but Phyllis ‘Shanghaied’ me in the parking lot.  At this point, I’ve given up and settled in with her and Molly, and a morning tea tray for what I suspect will be an annoying conversion that will touch upon, “being a lesbian, being a mother”, and most dreaded of all: “What do I think about it?”

But instead, she wants to talk about the boots I’m wearing.

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Suddenly, she grabs me by the tip of my slightly squared toe and fixes me with a stare of undeniable envy. “Bette, you both frustrate and fascinate me.” Followed by a long sigh I’m not sure I like the sound of coming from her.

Over the rim of my china cup, I stare back at Phyllis, and burn the holy crap out of my lip on the too hot tea. She pouts a little which is unnerving, and Molly, with lips of asbestos, takes a deep swallow, rolls her eyes, and stares up at the ceiling.

Like a pin prick into my forming blister, I suddenly spill out the whole story of my recent night in the moonlit canyons of New Mexico shooting off my mother’s Colt six-shooters at big fat rattlesnakes.

Phyllis - pink suit

For once in her life, Phyllis is speechless.

TinaSmilingPortriat

Beverly Hills Rooftop Pool & Bar – Late Afternoon – Tina

It was inevitable that sooner or later I was going to run into the director, Kate Arden, again. I’d had to fire her, after Jenny’s massive sucking up to William made it clear – an opinionated director like Kate was never going to work on Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story – I only wish.

Kate motions to me in that too cool way of hers. “So, how’s the picture coming?”

“We’re just starting principle. Any big news with you?” I breeze back at her.

“My big news? Hmm, I’m headed to Ireland in a few days to start a movie, but I think yours is probably more interesting.” Kate cocks her head, and stares at me from under her hipster cap.

“Mine?” I feel a dry patch starting at the back of my throat and creeping over my tongue. Industry people are horrible gossips, and William and Aaron have been slipping away everyday at lunchtime. I had guessed seeking more investors, but the way Kate says it unnerves me.

A pregnant pause, as she lights a cigarette. “I guess you could say, I was surprised when someone sent me a YouTube link of you and Bette and Gloria Steinem.”

“Oh, that.” I look around me for other possible ambushes.

Kate presses on, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an actress.” A smoke ring exits her lips. “It was great theater, your surprise when she showed you the ring. And I mean that in best of possible ways.”

“Of course you do.” I lift it up for Kate, and we watch as it sparkles in the California sun.

CU Tina's ring

“Interesting, when you think about,” she rolls my ring finger between hers.”because two months ago you had a thing for me.”

Four Days Later –

flight attendants

Los Angeles to Dallas Flight – Alice

It didn’t take us long to make friends with the flight attendants, a Dallas based crew who were on their way home after flying God knows where all day long.  Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Smile and smile and say the same things over and over, but drawl on they did, and I’ve never heard directions about seat beats and tray tables sound so sexy, but then again, I was in a rare mood.  It had felt good, very good, in fact, to send Tasha an email saying I was off to Dallas on business for a few days.  Really.  Screw her.

Shane, however, was not so brimming with cheer, and it was with some relief when I watched her across the aisle sprawl in her seat, take out her earphones, and close her eyes to the world.

Tina’s final words were, “Thank God, Nikki Stevens sprained her stupid ankle,” before she fell asleep on Bette’s shoulder, which made us look only slightly less like complete alcoholics, when we ordered a double vodka tonic for her, along with two for ourselves.

With our tray tables awash with cocktails and peanuts, and barely enough room for a game of gin rummy, I’m suddenly beginning to remember, Bette is very good at playing.

Competition.

I like to know it all. Bette likes to be absolutely right about everything, and Tina gets difficult when pushed too far, but today – with the control of our lives handed over for the next two and half hours to the pilot, and his lovely flight crew – we’ve given ourselves over to the inebriating effects of vodka, and matching wits at playing cards.

“I don’t know if I’d do it.” I blurt, and Bette flashes her eyes at me.

“What!?” I cry, causing Tina to stir.

“Dammit,” she hisses, “Are you looking at my cards, again, Alice?”

“Give my mother my kidney.” I set the record straight.

“Liver, Alice. Liver.” Bette corrects me as she snaps a card into her hand before laying down another fucking rummy. “Damn, I wish we were playing for money,” she smiles at me. “You shuffle, I can’t do it with her asleep on me like this.

“What’s up with her?” I nod toward Tina.

“Sleep deprived, I think.” Bette says as she cuts the cards.

“Newlyweds! Well, soon anyway.” I smile as I fan out my hand, and see that I have a fighting chance with this one. “Bette, drink up. The cart’s rolling back this way.”

“Not my fault,” Bette smirks in a rare form of sexual disclosure. “This time.”  Followed by a tender kiss on top of Tina’s head. “All week they’ve been shooting at night. Stupid movie. She’s exhausted.”

“It’s the redheaded flight attendant, again.” I lay down my discard. “I wouldn’t mind another round, you?”

“I’ll play you for it.”

“Okay,” I nod.

“Gin!” Bette announces, as she lifts up the Queen of Hearts I just discarded.

“God dammit! How do you keep doing that!”

“Skill. Sheer skill, Alice.” Bette pushes the cards at me to shuffle.

Tina’s hand drops into Bette’s lap, and begins to rub her thigh. “Babe, are you and Alice getting drunk?” Tina whispers into her neck.

“I think so. Is that okay with you?” Bette winks at me.

“I’m not driving.” Tina sighs.

“Okay, but right now we’re flying – so, we’re good.”

“Who’s winning?” Tina asks drowsily.

“As if you need to ask,” Bette drops a six of clubs on the table. “Eight to nothing. My favor.”

Eyeball sculpture Dallas hotel

Dallas, Texas – Outside the Hotel – Alice

Leave it to Bette to choose a hotel where a giant modern eye ball sculpture peers constantly into our windows. Awash with airplane vodka, I’m finding it particularly unnerving. That and the fact that Shane keeps visiting it, as she is doing now, and stroking the red vessels that crawl up its sides. But, we’ve got a silent, and as yet unbroken mantra going while we’re in Dallas. Let it Be. Let it Be. Let it Be.

So far, so good.

Tina pushes through the glass doors from the lobby. “We’re very close to St. Francis.” Tina says as the valet appears with our rental car, and she hands Shane the driving directions. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Are you guys sure you want to come?” Shane looks at us one by one. “I can do this alone. They’re not sticking me with anything tonight. I’m just visiting her.”

“Unless you don’t want us to, I think we should all be there.” Bette says resolutely.

“I agree,” Tina adds, as Shane falls in line with us at the curb.

“Shotgun.” Bette calls as she opens the sedan’s back door for Tina.

Shane looks around the car before she turns into the early evening traffic. “Thanks, guys. I really mean it.”

“Dallas, Texas,” Tina muses from the back seat.  “Last time my father called me, an Easter or two ago, he said my sister lived here now.”

And I watch as Bette’s knuckles turn white as she grips the dashboard in front of her.

hospital logo Dallas

Outside the Hospital – Shane

I stare at the signage out front, “Presence? What the fuck does that even mean?”

“I wouldn’t think about it too much.” Bette offers, and then clears her throat, as Alice skips up beside me.

“When was the last time you saw your mother? I’ve known you for eight years and I don’t remember you ever going anywhere, except up to the vineyards in Ojai.”

“And that’s not far.” Tina adds.

“Today was the first time I’ve ever been in plane.”

“What?” We all shout at once from under the glowing Presence sign.

“Do you think the nuns who ran the foster homes I lived in had money for plane tickets? It was bus rides to the county fair, and only if the tickets were free.”

“Did you like flying?” Tina asks me.

“It was fast.”

Bette stands at the elevator in her cowboy boots as several couples walk past admiring them.

“Hey! We’re in Texas.” Alice spurts cheerfully as a family in ten gallon hats saunters past.

I press the button for the transplant floor, and as the elevator whooshes us upwards, I feel my liver, along with my stomach, staying somewhere two floors behind.

Shane's mother looking out windowThe Hospital Room – Bette

When Sue Ellen McCutcheon turns away from her wistful stare out the window, I feel a hammer of ache hit my chest when I think of all those missing years without my mother.  She opens her arms to her daughter, and for a moment our friend disappears as we watch tears stream down their cheeks. I begin to back out of the room, but Tina’s firm hand stops me. She whispers, “This is going to be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Keep walking.” Tina nudges me again, but I still feel trapped in something like a dream, as she gently pushes me farther inside.

“Lord, I must look nearly one foot in the grave.” Sue Ellen brushes her hands over her face. “Thank God, I put on my lips to meet you all.”

We all beam our best smiles back at her, as Shane begins to introduce us,

Tina’s the first to take Mrs. McCutcheon’s thin frail hand, and finally, it’s my turn.

“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” I feel the papery texture of her skin.

“Bette?” She looks at her daughter, “The swimming pool, right?”

Shane nods as she looks out the window, and wipes the tears away with the back of her hand.

“Yes. The swimming pool.”

“There’s not too many places to sit.” Sue Ellen apologizes.

Alice drops down on the end of the hospital bed. “So, what’d she say about me? I’m her best friend.”

______

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.

The site doesn’t send you to this story following story when you click —–> Next Post. So, to read in order –

12. The New Mothers of Invention – Bette opens this story with a long windmill of thoughts and musings that was incredibly fun for me to write and imagine. Being in her head amuses me completely. Then, the story kicks off into a speedy sequence of events as Tina finds Bette in the hospital corridor and off they go into the humidity of a Dallas, Texas night.   http://wp.me/p4AUvc-lB8

P.S. To catch the thread of this four part series again you may want to read the very amusing story preceding this one, Alice Surmises found here: http://bit.ly/AliceAmuses

Writer’s love comments, please drop one if you’d like.

Enjoy, Blackbird

@Blackbirdwrite and on Facebook, L Word Behind the Scenes. Thanks to Jacky at LesFan.com who also hosts these stories there.

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The New Mothers of Invention – Touch Tones #12

Bette Close Up profile anticipation

Dallas, Texas – In a Hospital Corridor Near a Stairwell – Bette

I should’ve known better, but when has that old adage ever saved any fool from themselves? So now, here I am hanging out in the hallway being Alice and Shane’s lookout.

Tina has disappeared for the moment, wanting nothing at all to do with this plan, and as she walked away over her shoulder she threw back a look that was meant to wilt my resolve, but her heart wasn’t really it in, and I can take a lot, lot worse.

It’s always amazed me how life can appear to be moving in one direction, as certain as an ice floe, and then slide off a cliff you never saw coming. I wonder if that’s how Jodie feels, three weeks away from me?

And who was she in the mystifying game of cat and mouse Tina and I played with relish against each other? Strange as it sounds, because she truly hates my guts right now, Jodie was both the curse and the cure that changed my Fate. As I was disappearing over the horizon line, Tina woke up from the sleepwalking state of believing that dating around West Hollywood was the way to the Well of Happiness.

A folly of hangovers ten thousand before her had tried.

Bette_Tina_looking ahead, Powersuit

Art saved me.

There was a painting that hung in The Provocations show, and I had walked by it everyday for months, but when I call it up now – the image of The Wraith of Temptations’ canvas – I can see her face of duality.  Half vixen and the other half, not chaste, but one of serene delight – I finally have a whole picture of myself, in a way I’ve never had before.

I am both bliss and the hungry complications of human nature.

I know this deeply when Tina is sleeping next me.  Lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling I’ve edged right up to the duality of myself.  When the night outside is especially windy, and the chaotic reflections from my pool flash wildly across my ceiling, they entrance me.  The lavender scent of our sheets, her sometimes still sticky on my fingers, leads me to imagine myself as healed and golden, and not quite real.  In these transcendent moments, Tina has a body of quicksilver, and I can’t tear my eyes away from her beauty and nakedness.

I feel it as deeply as my own skeleton of interlocking bones.  Something terrible has been swept away from us, and Hell has been avoided.

SheBarKiss

As much as I detest Dawn Denbo, and to a lesser degree, My Girlfriend Cindy, I will always have reverence for the magic that happened in the SheBar, even though it was mostly my tongue that led me all the way Home.

It’s a well known fact, I had realized after Alice made me sit down, and read all the comments about me on her blog, that Tina and I are an Internet “kissing sensation”.

WITH FOLLOWERS.

“Is this one from the SheBar’s security cameras? This is unbelievable to me! Who the fuck posts all these things?” I had nearly spilled my beer all over the computer when the long tortured video of me, bereft of even a single word, had shown me desperately rolling my lips with Tina’s until finally my mind had broken.

It was then she had whispered, “Don’t, Babe. Please don’t cry anymore.” But still I hadn’t stopped, or maybe it was that I didn’t really believe her until she’d answered all my hows and whys with the only words I’d needed to hear, “Because I love you.”

Only then, did my breath return to my lungs, and my heart to its rightful place inside my chest, and finally her hand over its too fast beating, she had whispered in my ear, “Take me home, Bette. I’m ready to go.”

I feel it. The way the pieces that shattered have come back smooth and knowing their place, and how there’s a profound kind of peace in that.

In New Mexico, I’d seen it again most recently, when something old, and very fierce, had burned through my Mother, and her friend, Mary Windhorse’s eyes. When rape and attempted murder didn’t defeat them, they became Mothers of Re-Invention. It’s what we do.

Women transform.

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

“How did this one get out on the Internet?  Jenny has cameras in my house! I’ve sworn to Tina they’re in here.”

Alice had convinced me Jenny was not to blame for this one, but Dana’s bizarre selection of wife material, the marketing girl with the thick thighs, Tonya-what’s-her-name, had probably snapped this one night when she was over.

What it all stacks up to, the Internet revelry about us when we kiss, is that we make women’s knees go weak when we get lost in each other.  And infamous or not, I’m just like every other lost and confused lovesick idiot, but perhaps with better shoes, and a permanent tan.  My thanks always to my black ancestors, who kindly tinted me so nicely.

Fourteen days and five hours later, after Gloria deftly coaxed us all the way across the studio stage to the delights of a cheering crowd, I’d have to be blind and dumb not to see that my soon-to-be-wife of forever is not pleased with me at the moment. Her aggravated arrival puts the sudden brakes on my windmill of thoughts.

Tina verticle arguing Brazil

“My guess is this is so illegal. Have you even considered we might all end up in jail?” Tina stomps up to me.

“I’m innocent!” I throw my hands up to show — I’m clean of most recently committed crimes. “I was standing there one minute, same as you, and it all happened, so fast.”

“But you didn’t try to stop it.” Tina points out as she blows away a piece of hair that has fallen across her eyes.

“What would you’ve had me do? Stick my leg out, and trip the old lady as she made for the door?” I consider walking away toward the elevator, but wisely I stay put. “What if she has osteoporosis? Then, what? We all pitch in tomorrow with our bone marrow?

Tina puts her hand on her hip to tell me: The Game’s Up. “Look me in the eyes, and swear to me – poor bone density was why you didn’t stop her.”

I paste a thoughtful, compassionate look on my face, but Tina sees right through me. “T, bone marrow harvesting hurts like a sonuvabitch, Baby. You really don’t want any part of that.”  I lean over and kiss her lightly on the lips, and then another kiss, and then we’re fine.

“I honestly don’t know sometimes why I put up with you,” but Tina squeezes my hand, as she says it.

I press the elevator button down for the Lobby. “I’m thinking whiskey first, then a ribeye, you?”

dallas steakhouse cowboy bar

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice

Real Girls with big hair, I’m not accustomed to.  Drag Queens, check.  But thirtysomething women, who actually teased their hair way up high before driving over here to drink all night – not so much.  Take Miss Laredo over there, who’s throwing her head back in peals of laughter, as if the brunette next to her has just told her the funniest joke in the world. I want some of that, shellacked finishes and all.

Life has been too sad, and far too weird lately with Tasha, who likes things regimented and marching forward with nice, neat squared off edges. I’m an oval person, and I’ve never met a hard angle that didn’t upset and later, offend me. I blame it all on Shane’s dying mother, who’s looking more and more slightly green around the gills, as the one who ignited my heroic sense of carpe diem – Texas style.

“Bette, I’ll buy the first round if you’ll come with me to the bar. Help me carry back our cocktails.” Her knee high cowboy boots, and sly smile are the perfect commodities I need to obliterate my urban footwear, Jewish ancestry, and catch me a much-needed date for the evening.

“Single malt or bourbon?” Bette calls back to Tina, as I lead her away.

Shane_Med_bluegreen bckgrd

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Shane

It’s true. I haven’t thought this whole thing through in all the ways I should have with my mother.

I forgave her leaving me for months with our neighbors, who finally put me into foster care, saving me from their teenage son, who looked like he was going to hop on me, and not get off.  Wrestling, he liked to call it.

I’m strangely bent when it comes to sex.  Turning hand job tricks on Sunset Blvd was my first chosen source of income when I blew into town. That, I realize, says something about me. Words like gender bender, and the hard rubber cocks I strapped on and slid down the tight legs of my jeans were things I never knew existed before I stuck my hand out, and hitchhiked myself as far away as I could get from the Great State of Texas. And now, I’m home.

My mother, who looks like she might be in need of a plastic bucket to vomit in, is reaching in her purse and taking out medicine and I hope not bad pills. Whatever they are, she’s washing them down with Coca-Cola, and Tina’s watching, too, as the pills disappear by the handful.

Tina’s eyes meet mine for a moment, as she sips her drink, and leans closer into Bette. They love each, it’s so obvious, and my mother looks beautiful, but dying – ever so slowly.

“Shane, should you be drinking tonight?” Tina looks at me with a warning. “Aren’t they taking tissue from your liver tomorrow to test for a good match?”

“What does testing my DNA, and something called gene panels, have to do with alcohol?” I punctuate with a swig of my Lone Star beer.

Alice barks a laugh, “You may be the only person in LA who’s never been to a 12 step meeting.

“I haven’t,” Bette offers proudly, “Although Kit’s invited me plenty of times.”

“Do what you want, I say,” my mother chimes in with what I can see on Tina’s face is registering as the kind of guardian she might have been had she stayed around, had a thousand things gone differently, had she not been a drug addict all my life.

“So, let me get you all straight, because my daughter’s postcards are usually just a few lines scrawled. You’re the ones she has breakfast with every morning? What does that make you? A book club, a coffee klatch, some kind of women’s group?”

Alice cocks her head up and stares into the antler chandelier above our table. “This is hardly the 50’s. Do you know anything about Shane’s, uh-mm, life?”

Antler Chandelier - Dallas

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina

“Bette,” I whisper, as the waitress hands around menus that are printed on the backs of Wild West Wanted Dead or Alive posters.

“They had the greatest outlaw names,” Bette says admiring the old photo of “Deadeye” Rick Malloy. “Look at this guy, damn! He’d scare me to death if he walked in here right now.”

“Most of them had syphilis, and the spirochetes had corkscrewed through them.” Alice taps the side of her head. “Swiss cheese. Gooey, mushy brains, if you can imagine.”

Sue Ellen looks a bit more ill, then a shiver jumps up her shoulders.

“Bette,” I repeat again, digging into her with my elbow.

“What, Baby? What?”

I whisper in a low voice very near her ear.  “Do you remember the Xanax and Valium pills I keep for whenever we have an earthquake?”

“Ah, ah, of course I do, but I certainly don’t have any.  What’s wrong? Are you suddenly nervous?”

“I’m not nervous, at all, but they’re both blue, but Valium can also be yellow.”

“And grass is green.  All good to know, but did you get a look at the size of that Porterhouse that just went by?!”

“You probably can’t eat, can you Mom?” Shane peers over her Wanted Dead or Alive poster.

Alice offers her medical advice. “My mother, who has the maternal instincts of a spider, would prescribe you Chicken Soup. It’s the Jewish cure all for anything.”

“But not Hitler,” says Sue Ellen, “Do you all really believe there was a holocaust?”

“What!?” Bette shouts way too forcefully.

Sue Ellen stares back at Bette. “Pee-ah-zec-ee, that ain’t Irish, sweetheart. I know from whence I speak.”

Alice, to her credit is taking none of this seriously, and she begins to smile, “Does everyone in your family have a double name, Sue Ellen? And how’d you escape Virginia and North Carolina without one, Tina?”

Shane leans across the table to Bette. “Guys, I can’t eat a whole one of these monster steaks, maybe, I am a little worried about the tests tomorrow.”

Alice comforts her, “Drink some milk, Shane, that will coat your stomach.”

“She can make up her own mind what to eat. I think that should be plenty obvious.” Sue Ellen snorts, and lolls her head back against the soft red leather banquette. “What do you know about it, anyway? Milk.”

“Pasteurized, or unpasteurized, or straight out of the teets? I freelanced for one of the farm co-ops back when everybody was on about making their own yogurt. You can’t stump me when it comes to dairy.”

”Right.” Shane says quickly. ”Mother, let’s go back to your room.”

Sue Ellen waves a Wanted Dead or Alive poster back at her daughter. ”Don’t-cha mean, Death Row? And here you are, after twenty years back in Texas, taking me to dinner with your LA friends, hiding their unnatural attraction for each other with lipstick and fake wedding rings.”  She looks disgusted as she stares at Alice, avoiding Bette’s and my eyes. ”You must think I’m blind. Trust me, I’m not.”

With a dead-eye lock into Shane’s, Bette tosses back her whiskey in one long disappearing swallow. “This is fucking ridiculous, and this has got to stop.”

“Tourette’s, maybe?” Shane looks oddly hopeful.

I shake my head, “Well, I’m just stunned she didn’t know.”

“Know what?” Sue Ellen leans in on her elbows.

“Something very hard to write on a postcard.” Shane defends herself.

Then, the waitress arrives. Thank God.

dead or alive poster

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette

The ample chested blonde waitress leans so far down, and comes so close to my face, that I can’t help myself so, I smile.

“I know what I want,” Alice begins.

As I lean in closer to Tina, I hold up the menu to hide my face. “We don’t have to sit through this bullshit, Baby. Just say the word, and I’ll take you out of here.”

“She’s hopped up on something. Remember when I was asking you about blue pills?”

“I just know about Heroin, Kit’s drug of choice, if you don’t count Tequila, Rum, Gin, Vodka…”

“I get it, Bette, but something’s very wrong with her.”

“She’s a bigot, that’s mostly what’s wrong with her!” My attention flips back to the D cup waitress. “I’m going straight to the beef, no salad, no spinach, just a baked potato and straight to business with the steak, but I am definitely ordering another drink. What are you doing, T?”

“If Alice’s ever left California, and landed in a flyover state, she’s heard it all before, but I didn’t see this coming,”

“And Shane’s not, Out?” I begin to laugh. “Absolutely, so ridiculous.”

“Babe, have you forgotten that you didn’t exactly get on so well when this happened with your father?” That stops her laughter, and I wish I could take it back. Then, my phone rings.

“Hey, sweetheart, it’s Momma T. Are you all tucked in?”

“Who’s that calling during dinnertime?” Sue Ellen starts up again.

Alice flips through our family pictures on her iPhone, and  leans over to Sue Ellen, “Oh, and the fake straight women? They have a baby girl together. A cute little brown one. Wanna see?”

_____________

Part Three of this tale I hope you’re enjoying will post soon.

Love to hear from you, if you’d like to drop a comment.

Blackbird

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#9 Touch Tones: Radar Love

Tina sleeping

Santa Fe Guest Room – Bette

The early morning light streams through the windows of my mother’s house, and as I stretch my lingering dreaminess disappears and I realize suddenly: Everyone missing has been found. My long lost mother is upstairs with Angelica and Tina is lying next to me. The inner searcher inside me with no place left to look, and no where else to go vibrates restlessly under my skin.

Then I wonder, was blasting away at rattlesnakes with my mother’s six-shooter an initiation of sorts? Was cutting their heads off with the Bowie knife I’d bought to stab into Henry the real threshold I had to cross to find peace instead of prison?

I wonder for a moment if it could possibly be true. I’d happily grill snake every day if I have to. Just point me to flames.

Rattlesnakes on the Grill

A semi-delectable transformative host, an unbelievably coincidental crossroads, or a strange mystical fact? I stare up at the ceiling in wonder and soon the rattlesnakes disappear, and the blankness mirrors back my father’s face as he had gripped my small shoulders and told me, “Bette, your mother has died.”

But she hadn’t, and this morning I playback the events over and over again in my mind. It had been just another day at school. Classroom lessons and a chill in the air at recess before the news that afternoon. Before I’d smelled the lies on him.

That must have been its origin. When the part of me that unconsciously believed had remained vigilant, but always anxious had split off and been born.

This is why I wake up first. This is why Tina always gets her coffee in bed. And this is who’s been sending out those endless radar pings that eventually melded into my mind.

And now that I’ve prevailed? Found my mother and won Tina back? I’ve no clue whatsoever how to turn this uneasy inner watcher inside me off.

“Un-fucking-believable.” I mutter under my breath, as Tina stirs next to me. Everything about my life would’ve been different. It all would’ve changed if only he’d told me the truth that day instead of lying.

And then I pause.

What if I had spent my whole life in WitSec with my mother? How likely is it that while hiding and on the run from the murderous Gambino Crime Family I would’ve ever ended up at Yale? Ergo, no exotic artistic lovers; ergo, no lust for the fairer sex; ergo, no women whatsoever. That last bit is impossible, isn’t it?

Well, almost certainly in this scenario I never made it to LA, so no Tina. And that thought depresses me. But wait a fucking second! If I’m in WitSec with my mother then there’s no Bette Porter. Because Bette Porter has disappeared.

I swallow hard and taste the dry panic in my mouth. I don’t ever recall wanting a drink quite so early in the morning, and I need to be very careful about what I wish for.

I rub my face and try to crawl down from the ledge and back into the sheets where it should feel safe but doesn’t. Other paths, alternative destinies, different fates. These words feel perilous to me and impossibly hard to define, and I’m not sure I really want to anymore.

After Tina had left me the second fucking time I’d tried to make sense of things. Hours I’d spent staring at the reflections in my pool, drinking old Scotch, and wondering why the woman I loved had left me.

Bette Garden thinking white sweater

In this tortured reverie I was a beautifully tragic vision of my self pity. Broken but incredibly talented with a sly charismatic look that could net anyone for awhile, yet I remained incurable and fatally flawed. And the more Scotch I drank on those nights the more my outcomes never changed, and I’d fall into bed pissed off and usually alone. Unless I wasn’t.

Bette drinking outside alone

That would the same bed Tina had insisted two weeks ago I throw out to further perpetuate our ruse with Jenny, when the truth was for both of us – it was an important symbol of our starting over.

I look away from the ceiling and out through the windows and think of soft new mattresses, and then the rough prickly landscapes of snakes and cactus plants that thrive outside my mother’s home.

Everything is different here and it all started with these boots. I swing them out from under the covers and knock them together a few times and wonder which do I prefer? Long leather sheaths of protection from this unpredictable environment, or my expertly tailored power suits that do the same things in a very different setting? And what could possibly be next?

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Then an answer springs forth. I’m definitely wearing these to faculty meetings. One look at me striding in with these on will definitely snap the infuriating and willowy-spined art professors in my department into submission, and then, uncontested my plans for the new building and my department can definitely unfold!

Or not, I realize grimly. As long as Jodie Lerner is in my department’s nearby studio space screwing society’s discarded debris into disquieting sculptures there’s an obstacle with very powerful friends on my faculty. And this is why I should never sleep with people at work! And yet, I knew this gem of wisdom at the time. Still, I did it anyway.

I look over at Tina sleeping next me and wonder if Phyllis is playing power games with me? Is it a control thing with her that she keeps Jodie on, or is it that Phyllis is simply a woman who adores her drama?

My mood had been so dark and desperate the night of her “Coming Out” party. When I had heard my name whispered along with the susurrant title of Jenny’s movie I had cringed and headed for the shadows. On my way to the edge a waitress had brushed past me carrying a tray of champagne and Phyllis’ black brassiere had begun to spin over her head where it became the quantum wings of the butterfly that caused the tsunami. An hour later my clothes were in a heap on the floor by Tina’s bed.

But what if Phyllis had never stripped off her blouse and flagrantly waved her brassiere over her head? What if she’d never stood half naked at the end of her diving board whooping and crying up to the stars for her freedom? What if I hadn’t caught Tina’s eye just as she’d turned away smiling from Phyllis’ amusing spectacle? And if I’d never had the chance to ask, “Do you want to get out of here?”

Bette Phyllis party story image

Thinking back on it – it was more of a plea really. And what if she’d said no?

I tiptoe in my boots from rug to rug toward the closet and my bathrobe, and then silently behind me I close the bedroom door.

Time had stopped for a moment when we’d made love that night after Phyllis’ party. For the second time that day – after months and years apart – we’d found each other, and desperately at times – we couldn’t get enough.

I pour her coffee and make my tea. For the love of God how quickly can I marry her and be with her forever?

Tina bedroom Santa Fe

Ten minutes later – Tina

“Oh, Bette, thank you for this,” I smile at her as we lean back against the rustic headboard and I take my first sip of coffee.

“It’s good isn’t it? I had a taste to be sure I was doing it right. They like it out here with the smoky flavor of roasted chocolate in it.”

“How’d you sleep, Babe? Did you stay up and watch more of the Blood Moon?”

“Not too much. Once the animals had quieted down outside, and you were asleep I drifted off.”

“I don’t hear our child. While you were up did you look in on her?”

“Peaked in. I wasn’t quite ready for them yet. In a few minutes I’ll send up a flare that we’re awake, if that’s what you want.” Bette’s voice drifts as she looks over at me.

I smile before I blow on my coffee and take another sip. “I could say good morning to you if you’d like.” I lean into her kiss.

“I might. It’s awfully hard to turn down vacation sex, don’t you think?”

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

“And you’ve barely debriefed me. How’s reuniting with your mother been?”

“Fine. No more than fine. And she obviously likes you, whereas, I obviously love you.”

I place my cup carefully on the bedside table when I feel her hands begin to search me. Her head disappears under the sheet and rolling over my nipples I feel her tongue. I hold behind her neck as more and more pleasure comes from her mouth and then another long lick deepens my burning for her.

“You are so good at this,” I sigh and lie back.

She comes up from the sheet and rolls me on my side. Her tongue slides along my ear and she whispers, “I love you, Tina and I really want to marry you. Let’s do it soon.”

Bette_Lick_Tina's neck

“You woke up hungry and stared at the ceiling for a long time, didn’t you?”

“It’s true. I’ve been all over the map this morning.”

I slide under her. “Obviously someplace interesting.” I manage before she opens my mouth to her again.

Bette's Tongue.2 on top

“I can’t live without you. Being away from you unravels me, and drives me a little crazy. You came back to me at the perfect time, and just before I lost my mind.”

“Babe, I was miserable, too.” I hold her close to me as we make love.

“Are we in heaven?” Bette asks after several minutes.

“I know. I smell it, too.”

“Bacon,” she says before she disappears again below the sheet.

“Babe, I don’t mind if you want to make it fast. It wouldn’t bother me at all if you did.” And without words she begins to answer me.

Maxine breakfast room

Mary Hardy’s Breakfast Room – Bette

“Mother, we’d like another ride out in the desert before we go to the airport this afternoon. Do we have time to drive up in the canyon and see your art studio?”

“After church we’ll go. It’s not far but dusty out there. And it doesn’t matter what we wear to church.” She turns away and opens her oven. “Put on whatever you want.”

“Church?” I ask as she places a tray of bacon wrapped poached eggs on the table in front of me. I look across at Tina who steadies Angelica’s cereal spoon.

Our Dinner Party. Theme was breakfast.

“Yes, it’s what I do on Sunday mornings. You don’t?”

“We’d love to,” Tina answers quickly. “How will you introduce us? Does your disguise after all these years include a family?”

“It does and Bette I need to tell you two things before you leave.”

I slice into my eggs. “Now or later? And this breakfast is delicious. Thank you so much.”

“First, I want to tell you about your brother.”

Maxine_Adoring w:Son

“My what?” I blurt and a few crumbs spew out of my mouth. I drag my napkin quickly across my lips and stare in disbelief at Tina and then my mother. Tina sends me a warning look as Angelica stops eating and begins to fidget.

“He’s a good boy, Bette. Well, he’s thirty years old now, and a journalist. He travels a lot. He was here just last month to see me.” My mother hands me a photograph.

“His name is Sam. Handsome, isn’t he?” My mother smiles at Tina as I hand her the picture to see. “I may have had a screwy, screwy life but God blessed me with beautiful children.”

saints int santa fe church

Church – Tina

As we enter the spacious church on the site of an old Spanish mission Bette’s mother stops inside the doors of the sanctuary and we take in the pinyon scented beauty of the place. “Thank you both for hurrying so we could get here early. There are friends of mine I want you to meet before we all sit down.”

“Take Angelica ahead, Mary. There’s a candle Bette and I want to light for someone first.” Then, I add in a whisper, “My first baby didn’t come to term. May we catch up with you?” I let loose of Angelica as Bette turns away.

Her mother’s face shows a stab of pain at my news. “I always sit in the seventh row on the left. Come find me when you’re ready.”

“We will.” I tap Bette’s arm and guide her toward the prayer candles by a shrine to the saints. “Babe, I appreciate the self control you showed after hearing you have a brother and not upsetting our daughter and your mother at breakfast.”

“Was she blasé about telling me this mind-altering news? Or was it my imagination that for her it was a “pass me the eggs and bacon, and by the way, you have a brother” kind of moment?”

“It was a soft bomb, Bette. No doubt about it. But I don’t think your mother has had much practice telling her secrets. She hasn’t been allowed to, don’t forget.”

“I’m in shock.” Bette shakes her head as she puts a wooden stick next to mine against the flame of a tall devotional candle.

“I know. I can see it on your face. And brace yourself, too, Babe, she apparently has another shoe to drop.” I fold up a dollar bill and slip it through the iron slit for our offering. “She said there were two things she wanted to talk to you about before we flew home.”

“Look, I’m not against the idea of having a brother. I mean it makes perfect sense that she had other children. She was your age when she left after all. Plenty of time to start another family.” But I hear a slight catch in Bette’s voice when she says it.

I slip my arm around her waist as we stare down at the rows of candles flickering up at the faces of saints. “Which candle should we light for the baby, Bette?”

“The one that has the answers.”

Loretto Chapel santa fe staircase

Forty-five minutes later – Tina

After the service Mary Windhorse walks me toward an incomparable spiral staircase where a number of women have gathered. “We have a group that meets here once a week. Knowing them and having a group when I needed one over the years has been helpful.”

“For so long, years really, I’ve barely thought about my sister. But now, the memories are coming back.”

“It happens for many reasons. We block things out and then, mysteriously something opens the door and it can be overwhelming. Knock you right off your horse because you never saw it coming.”

“Bette and I, we’ve been separated for a few years, and very recently we got back together.”

“And now, you’re getting married. Big changes stir up things. You’re old enough to know that.”

“I just don’t need disturbing, inner reflections right now. I’m in the middle of a movie, things are finally going so well with my family.” I stop and look in Mary’s wizened face. “I know that no one ever schedules themselves for prolonged periods of mental meltdowns, and I’m sure this denial is one of the great faults of modern society.”

“Do you feel unsteady still, Tina? Because yesterday I found you on the ground outside the Medicine Man’s tent and picked your ass up out of the dirt.”

“You’ve heard stories from the women in your group. You’ve been around women who remember, haven’t you? What happens to them when their memories start to rush back and return? Am I headed for something – I’m telling you in no uncertain terms – I don’t have time for?”

“How much of my help and advice do you want? I was all set to forget about it but you talked about your sex abuse last night around my campfire.” She stops and looks up the staircase. “You’re in Mary’s family now and she’s in mine.

santa fe staircase spiral

“I’m an old Indian woman who believes in the power of the memories and dreams. The Sweat Lodge, for example, it’s a very sacred special place to hear from the Spirits.”

“Yes, I’ll do that with you.” I find myself saying too quickly before my reasoning can catch up.

Mary nods her head and looks at me, “It’s a way in and I will do it with you, be as much of a guide for you in the beginning as I can.”

“There’s another favor I want to ask of you.”

“Go ahead, I can see you’re on a roll.” She smiles at me before her wrinkled face returns to its usual sternness.

“We’ll be spending a lot more time here; I can see how much Angelica is over the moon with her new grandmother, and we’ve given her zero spiritual training or insight. We think it’s time, and yesterday I asked Bette if we should ask you to be our daughter’s Godmother, or whatever your elder term of stature is for what I’m asking you to consider. What is the word I’m looking for? I honestly don’t know, but we’d like to extend this to you as a honored person in our daughter’s life, in our lives, too.”

“She’s a beautiful little soul, isn’t she?” Mary Windhorse and I look across the church at Angelica. Bette holds her in her arms and from here, I can see their playful love for each other as something makes them both laugh.

Mary Windhorse turns back to me. “Godmother is fine. I know what you’re asking and I’ll do it, and I take this seriously even though you haven’t thought it all out. I see what’s needed. Now, come meet my friends. You don’t have to say or explain anything. Just say, Hello, and then, I think you’re headed out for the art studio.”

“We are and then we’re flying …” I’m interrupted when a woman’s voice calls from across the church, “Bette Porter is that you?” I turn to see Bette’s expression of utter surprise as she spins around toward an attractive woman walking swiftly toward her.

“Sarah Wilson?”

“Yes! Sarah MacPherson now, but yeah, it’s me! What on earth are you doing here? And is this your child?” She reaches up to Angelica. “Wow! I would have never imagined.” Sarah looks quizzically at Bette.

Tia CU torquoise necklace

Sanctuary – Bette

My mother’s eye catches mine before I answer my old friend from Yale. “Vacation with my daughter and my fiancée, Tina. She’s walking over there by the staircase.” Sarah and I wave at Tina.

“Pretty, but of course, she would be.” Sarah smiles as Tina waves back. “I’m in DC now. Part of my job is dealing with tribal land rights and the bureaucracy in our “overly happy to study the matter further” government.”

“Hmm.” I mummer as I wonder what land mines await as she encounters my mother and Mary Windhorse some where down the line on this issue. “Have you been doing this for years? Do you come out here often?”

“My second trip. It’s a new job and my first tribe was the Crow and sometimes the Apache came to the table. North and west of here but God, it feels nice to able to fly into a nice little city and stay in a good hotel for a change. But what about you? Where are you living?”

“LA. I’m a dean at CU and Tina’s making a movie. We’re busy, and you remember my sister, Kit?”

“Impossible to forget. And that the night we had? When we took the train up to Boston, and Kit was on stage in a cherry red dress.”

“Most of it.” I laugh with Sarah.

“I have no idea how I got out of college.”

“Funny you mention it. I was just thinking about Yale this morning.” I look up into the arches of the church ceiling before I continue, “I’m getting married soon. I should be thinking more about the future, I suppose.”

“My work on the land rights – all those old claims with the territories and the tribes – it’s all about the past. Who said what, and when, and what they traded it for. Sometimes, you have to go all the way back before you can take the right way forward.” Then she laughs. “In theory, anyway.”

“Exactly. Well, look give me your card, do you have one on you?” I pat my pockets as I balance Angelica in my arms. “I don’t have mine with me today, but LA, Bette Porter, CU – Google that and you’ll find me.”

“Here, I have one. Let’s email or something and when, or if, you come back to Santa Fe in the next six months please look me up. That’s how long I expect to be in and out of here.”

Maxine Blue window

Mary Hardy’s Art Studio – Bette

On the drive out into the desert I notice that Tina is unusually quiet. She doesn’t seem upset just pensive, and as I steer my mother’s old truck up through the canyon I wonder what she’s thinking about. I feel a twinge of sadness, too, that I’ll be leaving New Mexico soon, and rejoining my somewhat erratic life in LA.

“Mother, after our little picnic at your studio is there a place we can put Angelica down for her nap? I want her to sleep on the plane, but we should talk a little before I leave.”

“We should. It’s been on my mind for awhile how to tell you the story about what happened.”

“The medium long version is all I need. Or really, whatever you want to tell me is fine.”

“Any questions about your brother? I know I sprung that on you.”

“You spring a lot of things, Mother. Most of my first night here I was hyperventilating.” I laugh as I look across the bouncing truck seat at her. “But I haven’t formulated my thoughts on the bombshell that I have a brother.”

“Well, think about it, and I need to some more, as well. When you’re ready to meet him I need to break it to him, too.”

“He has no idea about me, either?” I asked shocked.

“None.” She shakes her head. “To keep my sanity I had to become very good at compartmentalizing, but everyday I thought about you.” She lifts her hand up to my cheek. “I really want you to know that.”

“Likewise,” I nod my head. “I can say the same.”

Maxine Painting RedWineBlueChairs

One hour later –

As Tina packs up the picnic basket from lunch and my mother talks softly with Angelica who’s fighting a little with falling asleep, I look through more of my mother’s paintings stacked against a wall. “This one I like, too, Mother. When did you do this?”

“Last spring it stayed cold, too cold for my hands, and I hate to say it, my arthritis, to paint much outdoors. So, I started some still lifes. Quasi-still lifes, anyway. That’s the only one left from that series, and I definitely could’ve sold it.”

“I can take a walk if you’d like me to, Mary.” Tina says as she snaps the picnic basket shut.

“No, you’re to hear this, too. If you want to that is, I’m not forcing this story on anyone.”

“Bette?”

“Of course, I want you here with me.” I slide down on the leather couch and hold my hand out for Tina’s.

Maxine self portrait.2 rear shot smoking

“Of all the things I had to bury that afternoon how much your father irritated me has never been one I successfully put to rest.” She adds with a deep sigh, “You did know your father and I didn’t always get along, or did you know that?”

“I think I did, but I’ve papered over a lot. After knowing you a few days I can only imagine he must’ve been attracted to your free spirit and then tried to crush it.”

“Didn’t he try it with you?”

“Repeatedly, but I got better at it as I got older.” I glance at Tina when she clears her throat. “Well, maybe I didn’t after all.” I admit as my mother and Tina laugh with me.

“I had a great friend, Wendy was her name, and she had a place down by the river with a great big chaotic kitchen where we’d make dinners, and then later drink wine, bitch about our husbands, and try to beat the crap out of each other at Gin Rummy. She was a great card player and she never cheated.”

“Commendable but that should go without saying, don’t you think?”

Tina leans forward. “True, but you know how it gets sometimes with our poker group?”

“No, you’re right. You hate to think your good friends are cheating.”

“Well, mine didn’t and that was one of the reasons I really liked her. So, I was on my way there and I stopped in this liquor store, and it got robbed.”

“And you got shot.”

“And I got shot along with everyone else. I was the only one who survived and I did because I played dead.”

“What was the mob doing robbing a liquor store? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It was the younger son of a Capitano who was high up in the family. The kid was trying to prove himself, so, he robbed the place, and then started shooting everybody. It all went to hell real fast! One minute they were yelling about money, and the next minute he flipped, and starting gunning everyone down. Wine bottles were breaking all around me and a bullet zipped into my shoulder.” She points up to her right and her thin fingers pat her old wound, “Just up here.”

“I take it you couldn’t escape?”

“Word travelled very fast about what this kid had done and within minutes some very serious men came in to clean up his mess. And that meant, of course, dispose of our bodies. I hid under this poor man who wasn’t so lucky. I let the red wine that had spilled along with the blood all over the floor sink into my clothes, and I crawled under a dead man. Then, I smeared his blood and a lot of mine all over me, and they dumped me in the back of a laundry truck with the four dead bodies. We drove around for what seemed like hours. I was sure I was done for.”

“Jesus Christ! How long were you in that truck with them? Bleeding the whole time?”

“No, definitely not bleeding the whole time. When they slammed the door shut I took the belt off the man who’d been behind the register and made a tourniquet for myself, and then I didn’t know what I was going to do when the doors opened again.”

Spooky GraveYard Gambino Family

“Survival springs to mind.”

“That was definitely on the list. Luckily for me, the FBI had a man inside the family. When we got out to their farm where the plans were to bury us – he decided when a laundry van full of dead bodies showed up – it was time to break his cover.”

“So the Inside Man literally called the FBI?”

“He did and I don’t know how much longer I could’ve lasted. They were going to bury me, and I was very much alive. I kinda panicked about that.”

“I imagine so!”

“But this inside man, I think he knew I was still breathing. I must’ve looked different to him when he opened the door.”

“As in not turning grey, I’m sure.” I put my head in my hands. “All this I can’t imagine, but what was so important about your testimony? It was some kid, right?”

“And that’s called leverage. The Feds got his father to flip and inform on the Family for a few productive years while the Feds built an even bigger case. But they knew pretty quick they needed me, if they were going to twist him.

“Maybe I could’ve escaped into the arms of the Feds unnoticed, but when the Coroner came, and I was discovered still alive – it wasn’t handled so well. The Gambinos knew I was still kicking after lots of shouting from the Coroner’s staff, “We’ve got a live one here!” And then, an ambulance came. By then everyone had seen me.”

“And then you went away.”

“Yes, and then I went away. And I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I had to do that to you, Bette, and that I’ve missed so much of your life.”

“I know. I know you are.” I take my mother’s thin hands and we cry together for a minute before she wipes away my tears. “And I’ve missed you everyday since, Bette. And you and Tina, along with this little one that you’ve brought into my life, I can’t tell you what it means to me.”

I lean back on the couch and look over at Tina. “I have some idea. There’s a grace to starting over, and this is ours.”

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