Whereabouts Unknown – Bette
I’ve had miserable nights and I’ve had really shitty nights. I’ve had nights with the flu when I was so damn sick I’d wished for death, but I don’t think I’ll ever wish for it again. Tonight, I wish for the opposite of death, I wish for freedom.
My kidnappers, the Gold-Toothed Man, who leers at me, the Tattooed SheBeast, who beats me, and Fake Doctor Perez, who lured me into their trap, all have paramilitary training in torture and kidnapping. But from where, and why try to break me?
Unless this isn’t about me. Unless this is about my mother, who’s been hiding in WitSec for the better part of thirty years. But before I’d set foot anywhere near her, I’d looked into the cases that had hinged upon my Mother’s testimony. The old mobsters, just like she’d said, were locked up in a supermax, somewhere outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their sentences were for life, their crimes irrefutable.
What’s also irrefutable, and very urgently so, is that I’m at the end of being able to control my bladder. Another bad review I plan on lodging against Hotel-fucking-California. That is, right after I burn this fucking place down.
“Hey! SheBeast? You out there? You fucking animal, I’m not pissing in this goddamn chair!”
The key turns in the lock and a shot of adrenaline courses through my body. My legs shake with it they’re so ready to run at the first opportunity. But instead, the Gold-toothed Man yawns and yanks me up from the chair and pushes me into the corner with the piss bucket.
“Untie my hands so I can do this, get my pants down – that sort of thing.” He grunts and obliges and leaves me alone for a few minutes. I rub my wrists where the rope’s been rubbing layers of my flesh away, and quickly unfasten my belt – in case he suddenly has a change of heart. I piss halfway standing up, hitting mostly inside the bucket, and call it a win.
Pressing my ear against my prison walls I listen for clues that will tell me anything. A slow mechanical whirring sound – ventilation? I study the ceiling, probably twelve feet above me. Typical low end industrial construction, but with newer up-to-code pipes bolted to it for utilities. My hope falls a little. I could be in any one of a half a million warehouses in LA County.
On the other side of the bare room are dirt smeared windows, and through them I can make out a long trail of streetlights. Their perspective puts me on the first floor, an easy jump if I could find something – anything to break the windows with – but they’re very high, and finding nothing I run out of time.
The Gold-tooth man enters, and I ask for food and water, and plead with him not to tie my hands behind my back for the night. He squints at me through the smoke of his cigarette and ties my feet to the chair, my sore arms behind me, and the door slams and locks behind him.
Yet another grievance. Bad Room Service.
The next morning –
The Planet – Tina
Angelica runs to meet her grandmother, and Mary catches her in the folds of her dress, and looking back at me – as her taxi from the airport pulls away – our eyes lock across a shaky chasm of worry.
“Have you slept at all?” Mary’s hand touches my cheek.
I roll her small bag toward the door. “Surely, we’ll get some news today. People don’t just vanish.”
“Actually, they can and they do. But I don’t think that’s what’s happened here.”
The catch on my self control weakens. “Then, please, tell me what has happened! We’ve been on the phone with everyone we can think of.”
“Finding out if the government scooped her up is the first thing I intend to rule out.”
“But why would they?!” I cry, a little more out of control. “Mary, when I tell you who we’ve called . . .”
She interrupts me. “I know people that you never want to meet in your lifetime! Tell me what you do know, and I’ll do my thing.”
Whereabouts Unknown – Bette
“You look like you slept well. Any chance you brought coffee?” I hide my fear from the SheBeast.
She slaps me letting me know today, I’m going without. A photographer enters the room and drops his gear on a table. “Is she ready?” He asks.
“Not yet. The boss wants her bloody for the pictures.”
“I’m leaving while you do that.” He taps out a smoke, while she smacks me harder.
She says to the camera guy, “Go get today’s paper for her ‘proof of life’ photograph.”
Ten minutes later –
With the SheBeast gone for the moment, I scan my body for places that don’t hurt. The top of my right leg isn’t killing me. I think about what an unbruised part of me might look like under the jeans I pulled on while in a mad dash to get Angelica – I’d thought – from her school’s infirmary.
A vibrating sound coming from the photographer’s camera bag suddenly has my full attention.
I hop in the chair over to the zipper pocket and pull it open with my teeth. Next, I open the text app with my tongue and make a go at texting Tina.
A garbled, ‘heoiuioatme’ appears under the slick of my saliva.
I whisper in a coaxing way to my tongue. “Remember all the good times and delicate maneuvers we’ve ever done together? Don’t fail me now.”
My next attempt, even worse! Texting, I realize, is not tongue material.
With my nose leading the way, I dig back inside the gear bag searching for something to use as a stylus. My teeth clamp onto a ballpoint pen.
‘t. . .i. . .’ Pressing one character at a time into the phone, the pen gripped in my teeth, I hear them returning.
‘dont nowhere’ I speed through the rest and strike the tip of the pen on Send, and the whooshing sound tells me it’s gone.
I drop the phone back inside the pocket, hop across the floor – hiding the pen I found under my shoe – I sneer at them the minute they open the door.
“Go ahead assholes. Take my fucking picture.”
The Planet – Tina
Knowing no words for what’s thick in the air, Angelica spins and spins, around and around in front of me losing herself in circles.
“Baby, Baby, Baby listen to Mommy for a second.” I gently grab her shoulders. “No school today, your grandmomma’s here to be with you.”
“Momma B’s sleeping?”
“I bet she is.”
“Can I wake her up now?”
“Not yet, Baby, not yet.”
My phone buzzes. A text arriving. “t i dont nowhere”
“Oh God!” I sink into a chair next to Mary. “She’s alive.”
Kit rushes over. “What?!”
“Anybody know how to do this? Trace numbers?”
Mary takes control of my computer next to my growing cold breakfast. “I’m sending it to my friend in Justice. Call the number out to me right now.”
I recite the unknown number, and Mary calls her friend in Washington. “Matt, I just sent you an urgent email. I would ask about your wife and kids, and how the boat you’re building with your dad’s coming along, but I don’t have the time. Just know I care, but my daughter’s missing.”
“From where?” Matt cuts to the chase.
“LA yesterday. Can you trace a number, a cell number? Right now?”
“Check your email.”
Kit puts her arm around me. “323-889-2104,” I call over Mary’s shoulder to a man she says I never want to meet.
My phone flashes again, and my screen fills with the image of Bette holding today’s LA Times, beaten and bloody, one eye swollen, her lip bleeding.
“Gaah! They’re torturing her! Oh God! No!” I scream.
Horror on her face, too, Mary grabs my phone. “Matt, we’ve just been sent a picture.”
“Mary, there’s a note.” I cry.
“Send them to me,” Matt says, by way of the phone.
“Mary! God, please tell me this has nothing to do with you!”
“Matt? You still there?” Mary asks.
“I heard her.”
“And!?!” I blast back at him.
“Ma’am, I’ll ping towers for the phone, analyze the picture, and the note. I can’t comment on the rest.”
“Just read the note, Tina!” Kit shouts.
“Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings? You have two hours.”
I collapse in the chair moaning. “I can’t go into work today. I just can’t.”
Shane walks in and signals that she’s ready for me to give her a ride anyway. Dragging myself up from the chair I catch Mary’s attention. “Angelica’s not going to school today. She’s staying here with her Aunt Kit and with her grandmother.”
Cradling her phone on her shoulder, Mary sends off the very latest to her guy in Washington. “We’ll take good care of her.”
“I’m certain that you will, and Mary? We’ve brought in security. You see those two men over there in polo shirts?”
“I noticed them coming in. Yours, I presumed.”
“Correct. One’s coming with me now, and you’re not to go anywhere without his friend, especially anywhere with my daughter.”
The SheBar – Denbo
Miami I had wired. My food and beverage guys slipped me extra cases during the holidays, my wait staff wasn’t always late, and tearful over failed auditions for some fucking movie. I should’ve bought a strip club, and stayed out of the high maintenance lesbian business, but like a know-it-all dumbass, I didn’t, and now, I’m in deep with the Vegas moneylenders.
Two days ago, my brother had called from a hotel in Palm Springs, with a lifesaving tip. Tomorrow, the Dinah Shore party planners will be scouting clubs in LA for a seven day blowout event at New Years.
Spitting out of the printer at my elbow are color ads promoting the event I’ve organized for tomorrow night to Wow! Dinah Shore’s people. ‘The ‘SheBar’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Competition with Cash Prizes!’ posters are stacking up one by one in the printer tray.
Cindy walks in. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! The swimsuit models are waiting downstairs.”
“You ordered the chocolate fountain, right?”
“Dawn, I’ve done everything on your list.”
“I’m finishing up now.” I write my final line of instructions to Margarita and her crew, and attach a picture of Bette I found online. ‘ASAP! Leak this picture to the media: University Art School Dean Missing”
I’m an evil genius. I’m certain of it.
As the news travels around West Hollywood, and far out into Los Angeles, I have two scenarios I’ve imagined in detail. One, is that the Dinah Shore party planners do drop in at Kit’s tomorrow night, and see a club full of distraught women, all wringing their hands over WeHo’s missing heartthrob.
Or two, the Dinah Shore gals stay all night at my swimsuit competition and avoid The Planet’s nightmarish scene completely. Either way, Bette Porter, the fretted over missing woman, wreaks havoc on her sister’s business, while spending day after miserable day locked inside my dungeon.
The Planet – Joyce
There’s a jittery nervousness inside The Planet. Where I normally feel a sunny chaos whenever I come in, today Kit’s on the edge vibe is understandable, but uncomfortable. She’s exhausted and I’m frustrated from dealing with the LAPD. Like it or not, until the twenty-four period of Bette’s disappearance expires, LAPD will not consider her a missing person.
I find Kit pacing near where Bette’s mother is busy on a computer. “Kit, in a few hours they’ll classify her officially as missing, the news stations will follow up with their “Tip Lines”, you should be ready here, too.”
“Ready? How ready do you want me to be?” Kit hyperventilates. “I’m ’bout to jump outa my skin waiting on news about the cell phone number.”
Mary motions to me from her table. “Joyce, am I right? You were described perfectly to me. I’m Mary, Bette’s mother.”
“I wish it were under different circumstances.” I grip her stronger than expected handshake with my own. “Where’s this mysterious riddle they sent?”
Mary picks up the paper scribbled with notes and her guesses. “Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings? You have two hours.” She finishes reading aloud and hands me the paper.
Alice storms in from outside, her hair seeming to stand up on her head. “I can’t have another cup of coffee or I will freak out!”
“Alice sit down, I have a Xanax.” I dig in my briefcase to Mary’s amusement. “Every good lawyer travels with them.” I say to her.
“Alice, try to focus. Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?”
“Dunaway with? Very clever! You know Faye Dunaway is taping a special with Charlie Rose tonight in LA?”
“The thirtieth anniversary of Peter Finch’s death! She’s right!” I shout.
Kit appears. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore! That guy?”
“Why on Earth him? What time are they taping Charlie’s show?” Mary asks.
“At six.” Alice says.
Mary dials the police with our decipher of the tip.
Mary asks Alice, “How far away was Bette’s car?”
“Oooh, to East LA? Maybe an hour? Maybe more with traffic.”
Mary picks up her purse. ” Alice, will you watch Angelica until I get back?”
Kit takes my hand, and pulls me aside. “Joyce, I don’t know if I can take much more of this.”
“Let’s eat something. Soup maybe? But, Kit, I don’t mean to change the subject, but I’ve been thinking some more about the SheBar girls. Investigating them on possible labor violations would bring them into court.”
Kit’s attention seems to focus. “They do seem like natural born cheaters. How soon can you start?”
Penny walks in, and slides into a seat at the bar. “Any news on Bette?”
“You don’t want to see the picture of her. Remember her. . .” Kit begins to choke up, “like she was.”
“I meant any good news?” Penny adds.
Kit steps behind the bar to take Penny’s order. “You’ve got lots of immigrants working on your cantaloupe farm. Joyce’s plan is to solve my SheBar problems with labor law infringements.”
Billy Blakely, Kit’s off and on again drug addled former club manager, saunters in.
“Kit! What are you doing? Why aren’t you getting ready?” He demands.
“What’doyoumean, what am I doin’? I’m standing in my club ’bout to have a nervous breakdown!”
“So, you know then? Good! I flew over here to make sure.”
Penny, Kit and I all say at once. “They’ve found her?!”
Billy stares at them blank as a stone.
Kit snaps her fingers in front of his face. “Bette’s missing. Never mind. The news hasn’t officially released, yet.”
Billy shakes off the confusion. “I’ll handle everything for you here on out.”
Penny and I stare into his dilated pupils and exchange very doubtful looks. “Joyce Wischnia,” I introduce myself. “What makes you think you’re qualified to run a search and rescue?”
“Ha! Good one! I could cater one though!” Billy nervously drums his fingers on the bar. “Kit, wake up, baby. The Dinah Shore party planners are coming here tomorrow night!”
“Here? For what?”
“Scouting for a venue for their New Year’s Eve Party! It’s the biggest, nastiest, most fucking wall to wall lesbian show you’ve ever seen.”
“Watch yourself Buster!” I warn Billy.
“Kit, they’ll be going to the SheBar.” Penny adds it up. “I think I have a plan.”
“Will I lose my law license if I hear this?”
“Absolutely not!” Penny says.
“Waiter! Double rum and coke over here please?” Billy rubs his hands together. “Go on!”
“You mentioned my cantaloupe farm, which is actually a lot more than that, but the point is – I have hundreds of Latino workers I could bring over. Listen, Kit we’ll stage a very noisy ‘Workers Rights!’ demonstration in front of the SheBar tomorrow night.”
I scoot onto a bar stool next to Penny. “That would very bad publicity for the SheBar.”
“Dinah Shore’s people will hate it.” Penny beams a devilish smile that looks quite natural on her.
“I’m seeing the picket sign slogans now!” Billy claps his hands.
Alice joins us with Angelica in tow. “What’s all the excitement brewing over here?”
“Where’s Bette’s mother?” Kit looks past Alice to where Mary was sitting at a table.
“Bette’s mother? This I’ve got to see!” Billy spins his barstool around, and with his bloodshot eyes he searches for Mary .
Alice points toward the door. “She took off to see where the police found Bette’s car.”
I’m astonished. “Alice! You didn’t try to stop her?”
“Oh no, no, no! She’s as scary as Bette. Have you met her?”
Billy gives up scanning the room and focuses on Alice. “The Dinah Shore’s scouts are in town. Get this eblast ready for your Alice in LesboLand blog. Hit ’em with this tomorrow night!”
“Scoop me, Baby.” Alice flashes her hands at him to give it up.
“West Hollywood Club Scene News!” Billy mimics the headline’s splash with a sweep of his hand. “Labor Rights Workers Demonstrate outside the SheBar. The Planet holds a candlelight vigil for ‘Missing Women and Children’s Awareness Week’.”
If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites. For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner. A comment back from you I’d love, too.
Stayed tuned and if you’re just joining the story, here’s the link to previous chapter where the mystery began. “Whereabouts Unknown” #23 http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown
A shout out to Collins for her wonderful ability to listen and offer excellent insights!
Thank you for reading, Blackbird