Chapter 4 – Relax would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls’ underpants. We’re safe as kittens.

I crack open my eyes and shut them again tightly. Fuck it’s bright in here. I run my hands up the course wooden bench against my face and press up lethargically, sitting wearily against the wall behind me. Thank God we gave ourselves Saturday to recover. I run my fingers through my snarled hair as well as I can, and grip my aching skull with a low moan.

I attempt to crack open my eyes against the blinding light of the room as I try to swallow the terrible toxic cotton in my mouth. I hear a low moan and get my eyes just open enough to see Alice lying on the concrete floor at my feet. What the fuck? Concrete…wooden bench? I open my eyes fully and have to blink a few times but the panic running through me now far outweighs the sharp pain my brain.

Bars? The entire front of the room is lined with heavy leaden bars. I look around and see my friends lying passed out cold in various states of dishevelment. We’re in a fucking jail cell? What the fuck happened last night? We went to a bar…we danced…we drank…oh fuck, we drank… I smack my lips at the bile rising up in my throat with this remembrance and swallow harshly.

“Where the fuck are we?!” I grip my head at the ears.

“Alice, stop yelling. I think…we’re in a jail cell…” I hear the others in the room start to rouse with Alice’s outburst.

“We’re in jail?!” I groan and grip my scalp again as Alice goes to the bars and starts shouting. “Hey! Hey!” She raps harshly on the bars. “Let us out of here!”

“Al…please…stop yelling…” I look over to see Dana sit up against the wall and scowl at Alice. Shane and Carmen disentangle themselves and walk gently to the other bench where Ricky is passed out, sitting down on the edge. Helena and Dylan finally awake and sit up on the bench they were just laying on at the other side of the room.

Tina…Tina? “Where’s Tina?!” Everyone looks to me and then looks around the room but she’s not there. Tina’s nowhere to be found.

I rush up to the bars and start banging on them myself. “HEY! LET US OUT OF HERE!” Nothing happens so I bang again. “HEY! YOU CAN’T HOLD US LIKE THIS!”

I hear a door open at the end of the hallway on the other side and a loud voice boom. “Quiet down back there! I’m coming!” I hear the clank of keys and watch as the tall, fit brunette comes into sight. I try to be patient as she takes her sweet fucking time approaching us. “So you’re finally awake huh?” She smiles and her blue eyes are warm but slightly condescending. “You ladies sure had a hell of a time last night. How are you feeling? Are any of you going to be sick?”

“Look, my name is Bette Porter. There must be some mistake…”

She titters at me and interrupts. “Well, Bette Porter, my name is Sargent Duffy, and there was no mistake. You girls started a riot early this morning at the Club on 26th street. I was there and saw it myself.”

I furrow my brows at her. A riot? “Okay, well, I’d like my phone call then.”

She smirks at me. “That won’t be necessary. If you’re all sober, we can let you go. There’s just a little bit of paperwork.”

“Okay, but I need to use the phone. My fiancée, Tina Kennard, she was with us but she’s not now. Are you holding her?”

She thinks for a moment and shakes her head. “No, the only other person was released this morning but her name was…Candy…Candace…something like that.” My world stops and she snorts as she continues. “We had to put her in a separate holding cell. You two were trying to kill each other. We released her a couple hours ago.” Candace. Mother fucking Candace. I close my eyes. If she laid a finger on Tina… “She didn’t press assault charges, though she was banged up pretty good. So other than drunk and disorderly, we won’t need to keep you if you’ve sobered. Give me a minute and I’ll have the front desk run up the paperwork. We’ll come back and release you once it’s ready.”

I stare at her in shocked disbelief as she calmly walks away. I finally regain the use of my arms and legs enough to turn and lean against the bars. Everyone is as shocked as I am. Ricky, who’s been asleep this whole time, rolls over and screams shrilly as he falls off the bench face first, his legs still trapped behind Shane and Carmen. “What the fuck? Where am I?” He clumsily picks himself up and stares at all of us.

I slump down to the floor against the bars. “Oh Jesus help me, I’m in prison…I’m in prison!” Ricky’s panicked voice is shrill as he starts pacing and mumbling what sounds like Latin while gripping the necklace around his neck tightly. He stops and turns his head to the ceiling and mumbles a bit louder.

“Ricky!” He turns to Alice. “Calm the fuck down. We’re getting out.” Alice sits down next to Dana. “Do you remember what happened last night?” She turns to everyone. “Do any of you?”

I watch the heads around me shake in the negative as Ricky sits down with a pathetic sigh. Fuck. Where’s Tina? And Candace…fucking Candace. I’ll kill her if she had anything to do with this. I try again to remember what happened last night but past the drumming and paint…I just can’t. “Fuck!” I stand abruptly and start pacing.

After a few moments, I feel a cool hand on my shoulder and turn to look at Shane. She smiles tightly. “It’ll be alright Bette. I’m sure Tina’s fine. Let’s get out of here and we’ll call her.” I can’t smile back so I just nod my head and continue to pace with a giant sigh. FUCK…


 

“Alright ladies…” Ricky clears his throat and I roll my eyes. Duffy turns to him but continues. “…and gentlemen…we’re ready for you now.” Finally! We must have been rotting in here for an hour with no water or toilet access. Sargent Duffy unlocks the doors. “Okay, nice and easy, single file…that’s it…” We all follow her out of the cell, through another door of bars and down a short hallway that leads to the police station proper. She points to the bench along the wall and says, “Have a seat. We’ll call each of you by name.”

Everyone takes a seat but I grab Duffy’s arm, only to release it quickly as she meets my eyes. “Um…Sargent, as I said, my fiancée isn’t with us…I’m going out of my mind with worry. Can I please use a phone?”

She smiles tightly and walks to her desk, sitting with a sigh and pointing to the chair at the end. “Bette…was it?”

“Bette Porter, yes.” She thumbs through the files and finally locates the one with my name. I see my mug shot on the cover and stare at it in open mouthed shock. I look…insane. Kind of like that Michelle Rodriguez mug shot from 2005. Only my hair is going all different directions, I’m flipping off the camera, and I have a black legion below my eye. I reach up to touch it and wince. Wonderful, that’ll be great in the wedding photos. If I’m still even going to have a wedding…

“Okay Ms. Porter, I see here that you were arrested about two years ago for causing a riot at the California Arts Center.” Sigh. Fuck. Candace just keeps coming back to bite me in the ass. “Do you find yourself in these types of situations often?”

I scowl at her. I’m getting tired of her calm and condescending attitude. I open my mouth to tear her ass open and remember she’s an officer and I need out of here, quick. She smiles smugly and I gaze at her seriously. “No, I don’t. Picketers were trying to stop an important shipment of art from being delivered and it got out of hand. No one was hurt.” Her grins at me and leans back in her chair, just staring at me for a while. I can’t help the nervous anxiety that washes through me. This goes on for a long moment and I’ve had it up to my ass. “So…can you release me…please?

She sits forward and shuts the file. “Sure. There’s a two hundred and forty dollar fine or you can receive a court date to contest the charge. It’s your choice…”

I jump forward and interrupt her. “I’ll pay it, for everyone. If you’ll just return my stuff, I’ll give you my credit card.”

She smiles and pulls a rubbermaid tub on the floor closer. It contains labeled bags with our personal items in them. She shuffles through the labels until she finds mine and hands it to me. “That will be one thousand, nine hundred, and twenty…even.” I open the bag and pull out my wallet and cell phone with a sigh of relief. I quickly hand her my Amex card as she pushes a piece of paper towards me. She walks away from the desk to use the card swipe and I look at the contract that states that I accept the punishment and fine, blah blah fuckin’ blah and sign it quickly.

I nearly throw the paper at her as she returns and hands me a receipt. “Is that all?”

She leans back and nods her head with a smug smile. I turn and make my way to bench just as Alice is called. I sit down and immediately check my cell. I have three calls from an unknown number but I don’t really care about that as I hit Tina’s name and wait for the phone to pick up. It rings several times before going to her voicemail so I hang up and try again. Still nothing…so I try again.

“Hello?” I furrow my brow and check the screen to be sure I dialed the right number. It says Tina’s name as plain as day so I put it back to my ear. “Hello…?”

It’s female but it’s not Tina. “Um…yes…who’s this?”

I hear a muffled female voice in the background say, “You answered my phone?! I didn’t say you could do that…” The line goes dead and I stare at the phone in disbelief before redialing her again. This time, it goes straight to voicemail. My heart sinks to my toes and tears well in my eyes. Okay Bette, pull it together. There must be a logical explanation. We’ll get everyone released and head to the hotel to find her. You may not like what you find, but you can get through this with her. I take a deep breath and look up to see that everyone’s been released except for Ricky who’s sitting at Duffy’s desk signing the form.

Dana is doing what I assume is the ‘I have to pee,’ dance as Ricky walks up to us. “Thanks for paying the fine Bette.” I look at him sadly and nod my head. Everyone starts to file out and Dana takes off towards a rundown diner across the street. We all follow her into the dingy, tight space. The ceiling is yellowed from what I assume is cigarette smoke and the tiles are cracked around the black grout that I assume wasn’t the chosen color when laid. We pack into the tiny bathroom with two stalls and use the facilities in turns. I won’t admit this to anyone else, but I hovered. That toilet was disturbing.

I use it last and when I come out, everyone is sitting at a large curved booth of torn burgundy pleather in the corner, speaking to a waitress in a white and pink checkered apron with ruffles on the edges and a patchwork of what look like grease stains. I walk over, still in a disbelievingly dazed state, and sit on the end just as the waitress walks away.

“Did you get ahold of Tina?”

I look to Alice and can’t believe the words I’m about to say. “I tried to but…a…a woman…answered her phone…” Everyone stops what they’re doing and looks to me.

The waitress arrives with two coffees, sets them down on the table, looks at Dana and says, “Your eggs will be out shortly,” as she sets the small, brown mugs on the dingy table. She stands with a hand on her hip, smacking the gum in her mouth and waits a moment before she says, “Will there be anything else,” in her thick Boston accent. We all quietly shake our heads and she strides away.

Alice’s mouth is gaping open as she tries to form words. After several long moments she drops her eyes to the table and says, “Well, fuck…” I nod my head and take a sip of her bitter and slightly strange tasting coffee. I spit it back into the cup and eye it skeptically before placing it away from me on the table.

“Well, I’m not an expert on Tina, but I don’t believe she’d cheat you Bette. Not with her own…biases…on the subject.” Helena smiles sadly at me and I close my eyes as I let out a ragged breath.

Shane nods her head. “I’m with Helena. Tina wouldn’t do that.”

Alice picks up her coffee. “Well then who’s the broad answering her phone?” She goes to take a sip, and I try to stop her but I’m too late. She swallows harshly and sets the cup down roughly. “This coffee tastes like poopy shit…”

I grimace and scrub my face with my hands only to wince at the soreness around my left eye. I saw it in the bathroom. It’s actually not that bad. The blow must have glanced. The hit I took calling Tina…now that was direct. Is this what it felt like…what I did to her? I close my eyes again and will myself not to cry right now. I will later. Right now, I have to find her and see for myself what’s going on. I can’t believe she’d do this. It’s not Tina. I believe in her. I just have to get to her. I just have to have faith…

Dana’s eggs arrive and the color isn’t quite yellow, it’s almost orange, and they look like runny, lumpy goop. This doesn’t stop her from snarfing them down in three bites. Alice is staring at her incredulously and she looks up with a full mouth saying, “What? I’m an athlete. I need the carbs…”

She gestures to the large orange chunk of egg on Dana’s top and says, “Well okay, but do you need them that fast?” Dana scowls at Alice as she flicks the egg off her chest and takes a sip of her coffee. The egg flies further than anticipated and splats into the back of a man’s head who’s sitting in the neighboring booth. The man reaches back slowly and smears the egg into his hair before pulling his meaty paw around to gaze at the orange-ish goo.  He swivels his head in our direction with the same eerily slow movement and gives Dana a glare that could boil cement.

Everything might have been fine at this point if everyone at the table hadn’t snorted and covered their mouths to hide their laughter. I watch the angry gleam spark in his beady eyes as he starts to stand just as slowly, only he’s inhibited by the edge of the table catching on his enormous gut. Carmen starts pushing on Shane who bumps into Alice who bumps into me from the back of the booth saying, “Go…go…GO…,” in an increasingly frantic timbre.

We all scramble from the booth like dominoes as the man finally upturns his table to free himself. We run for the door just as he swipes out to grab Dana. Ricky screams, ‘Oh sweet Jesus, help us,’ in a shrill voice and takes off down the street. I grab a stumbling Dana and we get out the door just as I hear the waitress yelling, “HEY! YOU HAVE TO PAY!”

Everyone keeps running and I look behind us to see the waitress and the man following, the waitress is faster than she looks. I reach into my wallet, pull out a twenty dollar bill, and throw it behind me, barely avoiding wiping out on the sidewalk. I turn back to see the slowly chugging man barrel past the waitress who’s bent over to retrieve the bill, knocking her over with a startled yelp. “Fuck! GO!” We all kick it in to high gear as we round a corner.

I slam hard into Ricky and we go tumbling to the asphalt as he screams, “He’s got me! Help! He’s got me!” I give him an annoyed gaze and he looks away contrite as I get up quickly and pull him with me, shoving everyone behind a dumpster to crouch down and hide.

I hear heavy footfalls approaching so I peek around the edge of the green metal and see the slowly trundling man run by, his gut jiggling and spittle flying from his grizzled face as he huffs. I close my eyes in relief and turn back to everyone. Panting for breath, I say, “He’s gone…he ran by…let’s…just…wait here for a little bit…and then we’ll head back to the hotel…” Everyone else is panting as well but they nod their heads in agreement. I see Dana’s face grimace and hear a gurgling noise come from her stomach. She catches my eyes and I furrow my brows at her. She lowers her head and I can see the slight sheen of sweat flush her pale face.

I hear the distinctive click of a gun being cocked before a nasally, cold voice says, “Don’t turn around, and don’t move! Any of you! I have a gun and I’ll use it!” We all freeze and no one moves or even breathes. Dylan and Helena look to each other and Helena closes her eyes before saying, “Mummy is going to kill me,” harshly under her breath.

“You there, with the short blond hair…”

Alice flinches and looks to me with wide eyes. She asks, “Me…,” in a small and terrified voice.

“Yeah, you, collect everyone’s wallets and phones and put them in your purse!” Alice hesitates. “NOW! DO IT!” She flinches again but I make the first move, slowly handing out my wallet and phone. She opens her purse and everyone follows in tandem

“Slow! Don’t make any sudden moves!” Ricky is trembling and praying in Latin again, interspersing his prayers with, ‘I’m too young to die…,’ as Shane’s hand hovers above the purse, her knuckles white with tension. I eye her seriously and her blue eyes flash with anger before Carmen puts her hand over Shane’s and meets her eyes. Shane closes her eyes and releases her phone with a tight sigh, and it falls into the purse. Again Dana’s stomach gurgles and she winces. She seems to be trembling and she grabs onto the side of the dumpster for support.

“Good…now close the purse!” Alice zips the purse shut slowly with a low sharp tearing sound. “Um…throw it…over there, by that fire escape…” Again Alice hesitates. “DO IT BITCH! Or I’ll blow your head off!” Alice is shaking as she tosses the purse behind us to the left. I hear the indelicate thudding rattle and close my eyes. Smartphone’s are smart, not durable. I hear his feet scuffle to collect it before they take off running further back into the alley, getting progressively quieter.

No one moves for long moments. I finally put my trembling arms down and slowly look behind me. He’s gone. I turn to Alice and rest my hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay you guys, he’s gone.”

Everyone lets go of the breath they were holding and Ricky cries, “Thank you, thank you, thank you…,” as he fans himself and collapses dramatically. Shane is sulking and Carmen is playing with the fingers of one of her hands. Helena and Dylan don’t move or even blink. They just sit quietly, contemplating their mortality I assume. I fall to my ass and rest against the dumpster. What…a fucking…day. I can’t help but contemplate my own mortality and the extreme indignation of it all. We sit there in shocked silence struggling with our own shock for about fifteen minutes, just trying to wrap our minds around it.

Dana’s stomach burbles again like a beast is trying to claw its way out of her. We turn and look at her curiously as Alice puts her hand on Dana’s shoulder and strokes her hair. “Dane, are you okay?” Dana nods her head but she looks pale and pasty.

I eye her specutively for a few moments and finally feel the strength return to my limbs. “Okay, let’s head back to the police sta…” Dana grabs her stomach and it gurgles loudly, the noise so crude I’d swear it was…gas. “…tion…” We all look to her as panic fills her eyes. She doesn’t say a word as she jumps up and takes off, running from the alley as if there’s a bee in the seat of her pants.

“Dana?!” I turn to Alice but she’s already running after her, again calling, “Dana…wait!” I look to everyone else and there’s a moment of hesitation before we follow. We get back out to the street and see Dana run into a Pump n’ Munch convenience store about a block down and across. Alice is hot on her heels and barrels through the doors after her. We cross the street and make our way into the store, entering with a resounding ding.

The grungy clerk eyes us specutively. I’m sure we look like hell, but even in our current state, we can’t look as terrible as he does. His hair is stringy and unkempt, his face oily and lined with acne, and his gut pokes out the bottom of the too short filthy shirt. I look around. I don’t see Alice or Dana, but I do see the sign that reads ‘Restrooms,’ and start to head that way. “Hey! You have to buy something if you use the bathroom!”

I turn back to the shabby clerk. I’ve had it with this day and the anger of it flashes in my eyes as I eye him incredulously. “You have got to be fucking kidding me! Listen you prepubescent maggot, my fucking friends just came in here and I’m going to fucking see if they’re okay! If I decide to fucking buy something, I fucking will! If I fucking don’t, I fucking won’t!” I step up closer to him, towering over him and his dingy counter. “And there’s just not one fucking thing you can fucking do about it! Now go back to reading your smut fucking magazine!” I point to the, what I hope is a, water stained Hustler and I’m not completely without manners but my voice is still tight and menacing. “Please…”

His eyes harden but he raises his filthy hands in a pacifying manner. I stare him down and mumble, “Fucking puke…,” as I turn and make my way back to the restrooms. Everyone hesitates and eyes me cautiously, but they follow.

We pile into the bathroom and find Alice standing at one of the stall doors. She looks up at us startled. “Guys! Um…hey…why don’t you…give us a sec…okay?” She eyes us pleadingly before we hear a fairly raunchy sound followed by a pathetic moan come from the stall. She doesn’t have to ask us twice. We’d do anything for friends, but there’s little help to be offered just now. We all exit the room faster than the eggs going through Dana.

I follow everyone out and just as we reach the first aisle divider, there’s a loud ding at the door. “THIS IS A STICK UP! NO ONE BETTER FUCKING MOVE!” I see a short man dressed in all black, with a ski mask covering his face and Alice’s purse on his shoulder. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! He’s pointing his gun towards the clerk who backs up into the cigarette rack behind him, causing it to groan and rattle loudly as showers of cigarette boxes fall down around him.

Everyone else hits the floor as I jump back into the bathroom. My eyes are wide as I quickly stride up to Alice and speak in a harsh whisper. “That punk that stole our fucking stuff is out there holding this fucking place up!” Alice’s eyes get wide with fright and I hear Dana start to cry from her stall, whether from the hideously crude noise that follows or the knowledge I just shared, I don’t know. Oh God, I feel queasy. I love Dana, but that’s fucking gross…

Alice grabs my hand and pulls me with her to the neighboring stall to hide but I don’t budge. She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “Bette! Don’t you dare go back out there!”

I eye her seriously. “Our other friends are out there Alice…or have you forgotten about them?” This sends her over the edge and she starts to cry. Apparently that thought had never crossed her mind. She flops down on the toilet pathetically, only to fall through with a splash. She scrambles up and looks back at the toilet with the lid up and kicks it angrily.

I close my eyes. Oh fuck, that’s so gross… I swallow the vomit that tries to come up. Her tears turn to anger as she starts to remove her sopping clothes as if getting them off fast enough will make what just happened go away. Just then there’s a loud bang and we hear Ricky scream like Prissy from Gone With the Wind. Alice meets my eyes and I close the door, whispering loudly, “I’ll be back, just get the fuck down and stay put…fuck!”

I get to the entrance and get down on the floor as I peek my head out. “I SAID OPEN THE REGISTER AND PUT THE MONEY IN THIS BAG, FAT ASS!” I see Ricky, Shane, Carmen, Dylan, and Helena still crouched low behind the aisle divider at the back, plaster and dust scattered on and around their huddled bodies. I track my eyes to the ceiling to see the jagged hole there and let out a relieved breath.

My heart is pounding in my chest as I crawl over to them. The gunman’s back is to us. I can see the clerk huddled behind the counter, shaking and too frightened to move. Shane’s clenching and unclenching her jaw in barely contained anxiety and Ricky, for once, isn’t speaking Latin. It looks like he’s given up on prayer. Dylan is rubbing slow circles on Helena’s distraught back and I meet her eyes. She’s worried but just as pissed as I am.

There’s another loud bang, harsher this time, and the extreme puncturing sound of it makes my ears ring and my head swim. Ricky cries again and I see the stuff on the furthest aisle divider explode, bottles of wine, cans of beans, and bags of chips going everywhere. One of the cans rolls right up to us and I look down at it curiously.

The clerk finally stands with a whimper and he can barely control his hands as he starts to open the register. The gunman throws a pillow case at him, the gun perfectly trained right on his head from maybe two feet away. I consider my options. It would be reckless to step in. I just need my phone so I can find Tina and honestly, it would be cheap therapy to rearrange this asshole’s face. Who does he think he is to put us through all this shit today? He has no fucking clue who he’s dealing with.

I pick up the can and close my eyes with barely contained anger. The phone and my pride aren’t worth it. I want a full life with Tina. I’ll have to just let it go…for now. The clerk finishes filling the bag and sets it on the counter before resuming his previous position of cowering in terror. There’s a loud ding as the door opens and the gunman turns towards the sound. He raises his gun to Sargent Duffy as he goes to rush past her and I slide the can in his path. His foot catches on it, and he stumbles forward, the bullet sinking into the floor at Duffy’s feet as he stumbles into her, nearly knocking her over.

She’s quick, I’ll give her that. She grabs the man and sends him sprawling to the ground outside the door, the money spilling everywhere. Alice’s purse and the gun are knocked from his hands to go skidding to a halt at the edge of the sidewalk. There’s a loud cracking sound as his chin hits the concrete and he doesn’t move again. Duffy looks at all this and pulls her cuffs from the pouch on her belt while she gathers his hands. Once they’re secured, she reaches down and checks for a pulse while pulling out her phone. “Yes, this is Sargent Duffy, ID Number 59701.” Pause “Robbery at the Pump n’ Munch on Clover and 32nd. Perpetrator has been apprehended, but we need an ambulance.” Pause  “Thanks.”

She shuts her phone and stands, turning to look in the door. She motions to the clerk to come out. We all stand hesitantly as he walks out to her on wobbly legs. There’s a squishing sound and I see the dark stain on his dirty khaki shorts, wet yellowish footprints left in his wake. Fuck…this day just gets more and more disgusting…

I turn to everyone else. “Are you guys alright?” No one says a word but I give them the once over. Outside of the emotional trauma, the haggard vestiges of massive hangovers, and the white dust that covers them, they’re fine. I take a deep breath and give myself a moment to calm my ragged nerves before I realize that Alice and Dana are still waiting.

I look around the store and walk to a stand in the front window that has some novelty clothes on it. I’m sorry Alice. The only bottoms are boxers with little ‘Pump n’ Munch’ logos all over them. No the irony is not lost on me as I grab the smallest size boxers and a matching tee shirt, and head back into the bathroom.

Neither Alice nor Dana has ventured from their stall, but I can see Alice’s clothes piled up at the bottom of hers. “It’s okay now you guys. Everyone’s fine. Sargent Duffy has great timing.” Dana comes out and aside of being frightened and trembling, she looks better. She refuses to meet my eyes as she goes to the sink to wash her hands and splash water in her face. “Alice?”

“I’m naked and I refuse to put those clothes back on…” I hand the clothes over the top of the stall and wait. “You’re not serious Bette…”

I sigh exasperatedly. “Alice, that’s all there is. You have three options: the soiled clothes on the floor, the clean ones I gave you, or an arrest for public indecency. Take your fucking pick, because not a single fuck is given this day.”

I hear the tearing of tags and tussling of movement before her irritated voice asks, “Will you watch the door and make sure no one else comes in?”

I furrow my brows but walk to the entrance and lean against the wall. “Yeah, okay, I’m at the fucking door.”

She comes out as naked as the day she was born, except for a bra, and starts splashing water and soap on her crotch, while scrubbing angrily and mumbling, “I can’t believe this shit. I’m standing in a gas station taking a fucking ho bath in a sink…”

I cover my mouth and try not to chuckle but it doesn’t work. She eyes me and I stop. I’d be mortified at the indignation of it all, but thankfully, I’ve been spared the worst of it. I hear footsteps approach so I stand in the entrance and wait. Sargent Duffy approaches with a coy grin. “You ladies are trouble.”

I give her a tired smile. “It certainly seems to find us. You have incredible timing.”

She smiles more genuinely. “Yes, well, it’s the only place nearby to get a decent cup of coffee. You seem to have good aim.” She grins crookedly and I smile back at her. “I have some questions for you and your friends. Is anyone else in the bathroom?”

It’s all I can do not to laugh. “Yes, Alice and Dana are in there…cleaning up. I’ll get them and we’ll meet you out front to give you a statement.” She eyes me specutively. “They had an accident that’s kind of…embarrassing.”

She squints her eyes suspiciously but nods her head in agreement. “Don’t be long…” I nod back at her and she walks away.

I poke my head back in the door to see Alice fully dressed for some kind of demented slumber party and hugging Dana. I loathe to break them up, but Duffy’s suspicious enough as it is. “Hey guys…” They both look up at me. “I hate to break this up, but we really need to get out front and give a statement.” They both sigh and Alice takes Dana’s hand and they approach me.

Dana finally meets my eyes. “Bette…”

I put my hand on her shoulder to interrupt her and give her a serious look. “I really don’t need or want to talk about it…really.” She sighs and nods her head as we all make our way back into the store proper.


I finally have my phone in my hands again and see that I’ve missed two more calls from unknown numbers. I have a voicemail so I hasten to listen. “Hello. This message is for Bette Porter or Tina Kennard. We’re calling to confirm that we were able to fill your last minute event cancellation from our waiting list, so there will be no further charges incurred and we have already processed a credit on your card for the deposit. If you have any questions, our number is 888-681-2364. Thank you for choosing the Southampton Inn.”

I stare down at the phone for long minutes before replaying the message and listening again. Tina cancelled the wedding? She cancelled the wedding…I sit down on the curb in stunned silence. Fuck this shit. I call Tina’s cell and it again goes straight to voicemail. “Tina, it’s Bette. Please call me…” I end the call, dial the number for the Inn, and wait. “Southampton Inn, my name is Michelle. How can I help you?”

“Yes, my name is Bette Porter. I’m staying with Tina Kennard in room 201. Can you transfer the call to our room please?”

“Yes, just one moment.” I hear the hideous hold music for just a moment and then the unanswered rings that seem to never end. “I’m sorry, but it appears that no one is answering. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Um, no, can you ring room 202?”

“One moment please.” Come on Kit pick up. “I’m sorry ma’am, no one is answering.” I hang up the phone without another word. She couldn’t have really cancelled. I pull the Amex card out of my wallet and dial the customer service number on the back. Several frustrating clicks to satisfy the automated system later, a real fucking person answers, finally. “Thank you for calling American…”

“Yes, hi, skip the nonsense, I’m in a hurry. My name is Bette Porter. The last four of my social is 5886, and the password on the account is Yuskavage. I need to know if there is a credit posting to the account.”

“Yes Ms. Porter. Thank you for the information. One moment please while I look that up for you…” I hear the furious typing and wait, and wait, and wait. How much fucking shit do you have to type in to pull up an account history? “Okay, I see here that there is a credit and a debit pending to post to the account that have not fully completed. But your credit limit is more than enough…”

“What are they?”

“Yes ma’am, one moment please…” More fucking endless furious typing. “Okay, the credit is from…the Southampton Inn. Do you need the amount?”

My heart sinks to my toes and I croak out, “No…”

“The debit is from…The Rowdy Beaver Bar and Grill.”

I furrow my brows. “When was it posted?”

“The debit is from about two o’clock this afternoon.” I look down at my watch and it’s four o’clock. What the fuck?

“What’s the address for The Rowdy Beaver?” I snap my fingers at Alice and she walks over to me.

“Yes ma’am, one moment please…” I tear the purse from her hands and search through it for a pen and paper. “1306 Old Memorial Way, Long Island, New York.” I write the information down and disconnect the line.

I look up at Alice as I hand the purse back and stand. “Tina’s not at the room and she’s cancelled the wedding. I just confirmed with Amex that they’ve refunded the deposit.” Her jaw drops open and she stares at me incredulously as everyone else turns their attention on us. Yeah, no fucking joke.

“You’re fucking joking…”

I eye her seriously and continue. “There was a debit posted two hours ago for a place called The Rowdy Beaver. I’m going there now. I’m going to find Tina and figure this shit out.”

I start to walk towards a main street to hail a cab but Alice grabs my arm. “Bette…what about Candace? I mean, this has her name written all over it…” That’s true. She shows up out of nowhere on the weekend of my wedding, on the other side of the continent, after almost successfully breaking us up with her bullshit, and life since whatever happened last night has been incomprehensible. The question isn’t whether she did it, it’s how. “Bette, we should go to Sargent Duffy and tell her what’s going on.”

No, there’s nothing the police can do. “Alice, if it is Candace, we have no proof of anything. We can’t even reach Tina. There’s no way she could have her stashed away somewhere. She was arrested last night too. Besides, if she somehow managed to talk Tina out of marrying me, that’s not illegal.”

She thinks about it and nods her head with a sigh. “So…what do we do?”

Yeah, what do we do? I smile. I’m fucking Bette Porter. New and fucking improved. “We find them both and get this shit over and done with. If Tina doesn’t want to get married, I guess I have to accept that, but I’m done waiting in the wings and trying to prove to her that I love her. The burden of that proof is on her now. I’ve done everything I can.”

Alice looks at me incredulously, but she knows I’m right, so she nods her head with a sad sigh. “We also need to find Candace and get her out of my ass for good. I’m done living on probation for a terrible fucking mistake from nearly two years ago. I just won’t.”

Alice looks up at me impatiently and drawls, “Okay…how?”

I smile the best feral smile in my arsenal. “We split up.” I turn to Helena and Dylan. “You two go back to the Inn and see if Tina or Kit is there. If Tina’s not, you wait. If either shows up, you let me know.” They both nod their heads and I turn to Carmen and Shane. “You, Ms. de la Pica Morales, you have family here in New York?” She nods her head and smiles knowingly. “I need you and Shane to get together with them and do whatever it is you do to find Candace and bring her to me.” She pulls out her cell phone. “Wait!” I put my hand on hers. “Am I…going to…owe the Spanish mafia for this?”

Carmen stares at me like I’m high…again…and starts laughing so hard that she has to hold onto Shane. Shane laughs with her and this continues for long moments before they both pull themselves together. “You’re kidding right?”

I look at Shane and flush with chagrin. “Well, I mean…the way you talk about family and what they have done to Candace before…”

Carmen puts her hand up to stop me. “Bette, we’re not the Mexican mafia. We’re just Mexican’s…and the Mexi’s can. That’s all…”

I reach up and rub the back of my neck as I sigh with relief. Thank God. “Okay, I apologize. I just wasn’t sure…I’ll pay them for their…”

She puts her hand up again. “Bette, you’re a dear friend of the woman I love.” She turns to Shane and smiles sweetly. “You’re family…” She looks to everyone. “…all of you.” She looks to me again. “You’d insult them if you offered to pay them. I’ll take care of everything. Don’t worry…”

I smile brilliantly at her. “Thanks.” I turn to Alice, Dana, and Ricky. “Well, it looks like you three are with me.” Alice gestures impatiently and I grin slyly as I raise the paper in my hands. “We’re going to The Rowdy Beaver and we’re going to…

“Get rowdy with a beaver…?”

We all look to Dana and she’s grinning toothily at her very badly timed joke. I exasperatedly continue. “…find Tina.”

Ricky looks scared to see any more of this day, and honestly, I don’t blame him. His soulful, brown eyes meet my own and he nods his head with a pathetic sigh. We all start walking for the main road to hail cabs to our various locations. There are two cabs pulled to the side of the road about two hundred feet up. I point them. “You guys go, we’ll find another.” Helena, Dylan, Shane, and Carmen start toward them and I remember something. “Helena?” She stops and turns to me and I dig in my wallet, pulling out my room card key. “I almost forgot to give you this.”

I hand it out to her and she smiles at me. “Don’t worry Bette. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that Tina loves you.”

I smile back at her. “Thank you. You’re a good friend.” I look to Dylan. “Both of you.”

Dylan smiles and says, “Someone once told me not to give up. That if you’re determined enough, no obstacle will stop you. Well, just like her, I’m living proof of that.” She raises Helena’s hand and kisses the back of it and I grin. Helena winks at me and they both turn away to catch the remaining cab.

I sigh and turn back to Alice, Dana, and Ricky who heaves a piteous sigh and says, “Well girls, let’s find a fucking cab and get this dog and pony show on the road. I’m far too delicate for this shit.”

We all laugh and I see a taxi van pull around the corner. It’s old, it’s decrepit, and it looks like it’s falling apart. The front bumper is being held on with extensive amounts of duct tape, all of the trim on the sides has been torn off exposing bolts, and even the tires are threadbare. It’s pieced together with at least three different colors like a metal Frankenstein. I wish for a moment that I had kept my hand at my side, but he’s already sputtered to the curb and put it in park with a heaving groan, and now he’s looking at us through the window expectantly.

I look to my friends and we approach it cautiously. I grab the handle for the back sliding door and pull. Nothing happens. I pull again harder, and again nothing happens. I pull again, using all my strength and the handle comes completely off with a violent snap that sends my fist, handle and all, flying back to nail Ricky right in his balls. Ugh, I feel them squish and collapse against my knuckles. I close my eyes against the queasiness as he lets out an intensely shrill scream and doubles over in pain.

I turn to him slowly and place my hand on his back hesitantly. “Ricky…I’m so sorry…”

He puts his arm up from his crouched position and the tenor of his voice is higher than normal but the warning is glaringly honest. “Don’t…say…a word…” I look to Alice and Dana and they’re trying so hard not to laugh that they’re useless. I refuse to laugh at this, not yet. I will, just not yet. I don’t want to pour salt in his wound.

With the sliding door now open, I help him hobble to the door and sit him in the back. He whimpers and holds himself as he curls up against the far window. I try again. “Ricky…I…”

He turns his head so slowly to glare at me that I’m concerned he’s going to start vomiting pea green soup in my direction and talking shit about my mother. So I lower my eyes contritely, shut up, and just get in. I check the handle from the inside and it seems to work, so the rest of us pile in. The cabby is glaring at me so I reach the handle out to him. He accepts it roughly and throws it into the console. “Where to?”

“The Rowdy Beaver, 1306 Old Memorial Way, Long Island.” He nods his bald head and we pull away from the curb with a groan. I guess if the meter works, that’s all that matters. I look up and it’s been ticking this whole time. I lean back in my seat as we start to roughly bump down the street, the screeching sound of metal rubbing against metal assaulting my ears.

I look to Alice and Dana, and we all strap in nervously. Even Ricky has recovered enough to sense danger and strap in very cautiously as the belt comes across his lap. Alice snorts and covers her mouth and I slap her arm. I face straight ahead as I try to keep the fit of giggles at bay. I feel bad, really, but fuck. What else could go wrong today?

I look out the window to see us pass a country club. The golf course is beautifully maintained and it looks like everyone is out enjoying the spring weather. I try to keep my thoughts away from all of the places it can go in speculation. I have to have faith and determination. One way or another I’ll see this through. Tina holds all the cards, but either way, I’ll survive. I’m Bette Porter, and I refuse to go home with my tail tucked between my legs.

We hit something hard and several things seem to happen in slow motion: I see pink feathers fly past my window, immediately followed by a loud bang; Ricky screams shrilly as the van careens left and right before we hit the ditch along the edge of the golf course; it ramps us hard into the air, and Alice, Dana, and I all shout, ‘FUCK,’ holding the note as we tear through the fence on the other side; we land hard on the course, tearing right over the green, people scatter like panicked ants with clubs held high in the air; we take a nose dive off the small man-made edge of a pond, the front half of the vehicle submerged in about four feet of water where we finally come to a heaving stop.

I take a trembling breath and start to hyperventilate. The driver starts pounding his fists into the steering wheel shouting about a fucking goose. I turn to everyone else to see them flushed with fright and adrenaline, but otherwise okay. “Is everyone alright?” No one can hear me over the cursing driver and I get pissed, pissed at him, pissed at this worthless car, pissed at this day, pissed at Candace, pissed at everything.

I reach forward and grab him by his collar and shake him until he starts choking and shuts up. He claws at my arm but I don’t let go. My voice is low and menacing. “You need…to stop…yelling. No one was hurt…you should have insurance…so shut…the fuck…up! Do you fucking understand me, you fucking idiot?! Or do I need to SCREAM LIKE YOU…LIKE A FUCKING INSANE SAVAGE?!”

Everything around us is quiet and I can feel the water seeping into the car, soaking my feet. I release the asshole cabby with a disgusted shove and I feel a warm hand settle on my shoulder. I jerk away from it and release my seatbelt before prying the door open, lifting my phone and wallet above my head as I splash out into the filthy, slimy waist high water. I climb up over the edge of the grass and start walking in the direction of the road with a furiously determined stride. I close my eyes and take a moment to calm my nerves and eventually stop.

I turn back and walk to the edge of the pond to help Ricky, Alice, and Dana up. “I’m sorry; I’ve just had my fucking fill of this day.” They all gather around me and nod knowingly with tight smiles as the cab driver shoves past us, walking towards the country club in the extreme distance.

I look back to my friends. They’re all soaked and disheveled, and poor Alice. This is the second time today she’s had clothing issues and now her boxers are sticking to her, leaving very little to the imagination. I can’t help myself. I start to laugh. They all join me and soon we’re doubled over just letting all of the tension out.

We collect ourselves when we hear sirens approaching. “Fuck, I don’t have the desire or the time to deal with more police shit!”

Alice grabs my hand saying, “Come on!” She tugs me as she starts running.

“Wait! Alice! We can’t run from the police!”

She turns and says, “Do you want to be here another two hours while we give statements?”

I consider this for a moment. No, I really don’t. Sigh. I start running and we all beat feet across the green along the pond towards the wooded area on the other side. Just as we enter the wooded area we hear someone shout, “HEY! POLICE! STOP!”

We come out on the other side of the trees, and I see the country club stables. “This way!” We run up to the back of it and I peek my head inside the open back area. It’s empty outside of a few stabled horses. I urge everyone inside and we take cover in the nearest empty stall as I shut the gate. We press ourselves in a line against the wall, half burying ourselves in the soft pile of hay there, and wait while we listen.

Fuck it stinks in here. We hear movement as hasty footsteps approach. “Hello?! Is anyone here?!”

A voice from one of the stables in the front answers. “Yeah…” We hear his steps get closer until I can actually see his feet. “How can I help ya officer?”

The officer is panting as he replies. “I saw some people run this way. Did you see them?”

“Well, I see a lot of people. What do they look like?”

“Um…well, I don’t actually know. I didn’t get a good look at them.” I close my eyes and we all hold the relieved sigh in.

“Well, are they in trouble? Did they do somethin’ wrong?”

“Well…no…I…I’m not sure…”

“Then I’m not sure how I can help ya officer.”

“Right, okay. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” The officer leaves at an unhurried pace and we all let out that breath we’ve been holding.

“Y’all can come out now. He’s gone.” We suck the breath right back in. “Don’t worry. I’m not double crossin’ ya.” He chuckles warmly and opens the gate. “It’s really okay folks. Come on out of there. You don’t want to be standing where you are. Trust me…”

We stand up and I go to take a step forward only feel my boot suck down like it’s submerged in sludge. I close my eyes. This is not happening. I look down and sure enough, it is. Fuck…this fucking…day…fuck…my fucking…life…

The man chuckles again as he scratches his grizzled face. Everyone else looks down and the only one to walk away unscathed is Ricky. I guess it’s only fair since I’m fairly certain he’ll never father any children. I try to hold back the vomit rising in my throat as we all roughly scuff the shit off our shoes on any available unsoiled surface.

Once I’ve done as well as I can, I swallow tightly and look up at the man. “Thank you for getting rid of him. It’s been a shitty day…” I look down at my boots and he chuckles. “…literally. I just didn’t have two hours to waste explaining all the impossible nonsense that keeps happening.”

His weathered face is lined with his smile. “That’s okay and you’re welcome.”

“Look, I really need to get to The Rowdy Beaver. Have you heard of it?”

He eyes me curiously and says, “Sure, it’s a lesbian bar about two blocks up the road that a way.” He points to the street we careened off of and to the left. Two fucking blocks…we can handle that.

I smile at him and thank him again. “Thank you.” He smiles and waves as he walks back to the stall he was mucking out when we arrived. We turn, too tired to run, but make our way towards The Rowdy Beaver.


 

We walk into the bar. It’s about what you’d expect by the name and it’s relatively empty. A quick scan reveals Tina is not here. Sigh. I make my way towards the bathrooms only for a large woman next to the bar to step in my path and stop me as she eyes each of us critically. “You need to leave.” She eyes Alice. “All of you.”

I furrow my brows. “Excuse me…?” I look to the shining silver nameplate on her left breast that identifies her as Janice the manager.

She looks me over and I swear I can see her nose twitch with disgust. “We may just be a simple bar and grill, but we do have some standards.” She eyes me again. “You’re filthy, you look wet, and honestly, you smell. You need to leave.”

Alice steps forward in an indignant rush but Dana grabs her and clamps a hand over her mouth. I look to Janice with barely contained fury. “I don’t give a single fuck about your standards. I came here looking for a blond, about five foot four, hazel eyes, was here about two o’clock today…”

She stretches her arms out and starts to herd us out the door roughly as the bartender says, “Yeah, I saw her.”

I push Janice’s arm away from me and she shouts, “Get the fuck out or I’ll call the police!”

I push her away again and turn to the bartender as she storms off to the door marked ‘Private’ next to the bathrooms. “She was here earlier. She seemed really down. We talked until this tall brunette came in. She spent a little over an hour running up a tab with the brunette before she asked me if there was a hotel around here.”

Janice comes out from the back and stands behind the bar with her arms crossed over her chest. “The police are on the way.”

I flip her off and look back to the bartender. She smiles at me and starts wiping the bar. “I told her there’s a Holiday Inn about a mile up the road. They left together…”

I hear the fucking dreaded sirens and I call out, “Thank you,” over my shoulder as we rush out the door and start running…again. We take off down the road as far as we can, and hide low in the ditch as they get closer. I peak my head up and see the cruiser pull into the parking lot and two policemen get out and enter the bar.

I look to my group and we all breathe a relieved sigh as we start walking towards the Holiday Inn.


 

It takes about thirty minutes but we finally drag our weary asses into the parking lot only to see the lights of at least three police cruisers flashing. We duck down behind one of the cars parked at the front of the lot and watch as a small blond woman who’s cuffed is escorted into the back of one of the cars. The policeman shuts her door and walks up to the tinted passenger window on the furthest cruiser, holding a bag up to the occupant. There’s a short conversation and the bag is passed through the window. He pats the top of the cruiser and it starts to pull away as he walks to one of the other cars and gets in. The rest of the police vehicles leave and we wait until they’re out of sight before approaching the building.

I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and I grab at it hopefully. It’s a text from Shane. Sigh. “Where are you?”

“The Holiday Inn at…” I look up and see the sign by the road. “…804 Old Memorial Way, Long Island.”

“Okay, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” I glance at the time.

It’s six o’clock. I look to everyone and they’re as defeated and weary as I am. We walk up the doors and enter. I look to my group. “You guys just play along okay?” They eye me curiously but nod their heads and we approach the counter at a quick pace.

“Thank God! My friends and I were on our way here to meet my fiancée, Tina Kennard, but we had an accident about a mile up the road. I don’t know what room it is and my phone was destroyed. Can you tell me what room she’s in?”

The girl looks at all of us and notices that we look like we’ve crawled through hell on our bellies before meeting my lying, panicked eyes. I hear Alice sniff and turn to see her bury her shoulder in Dana’s neck. Dana and Ricky both try to soothe her before they turn wide, glistening, pathetic eyes on the receptionist, beseeching her to have pity. I look back at her and tears well in my own. She buys it. “Oh, wow, okay. Do you want me to call the police?”

“NO!” She looks at me startled. “I mean, I will…I…I’m just sure she’s worried. I can call from our room…”

She nods her head and taps at her keyboard. “What was the name?”

I sigh. “Tina Kennard.”

She types it in and taps her fingers as she waits. A long moment passes and she scowls, typing something else and waiting again. She looks up at me. “I’m sorry, but no one by that name has a room here.”

I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose against the pounding headache that’s been steadily increasing in intensity all day. I feel Alice’s warm hand on my shoulder as she ushers me away, saying, “Okay, thank you.”

We walk back outside and I collapse onto the curb. I’m just too fucking weary and now I have no idea where to even look for her. I take out my phone and call her again and it goes straight to voicemail. Sigh. I guess she doesn’t want to be found.

We hear loud thumping bass music and look up to see a large, pristine, purple Econoline van with custom wheels pull into the parking lot and stop right in front of us. The back door slides open as the music is turned off, and a cloud of thin smoke wafts out to reveal a smiling Shane and Carmen. I stand and walk up to them and smile tightly. “Any luck?”

I shake my head and Shane’s expression turns sad before she and Carmen scoot over and they motion for us to enter. We all pile in. Carmen is bursting with pride. “These are my cousins Ramone…” She points to the driver who smiles and waves at me. “…and Carlo.” She points to the other dark haired man in the passenger seat who lifts the hand holding a pipe and starts to choke. Ramone slaps him hard on the back and Ricky steps in, pulling the door closed before making his way to the very back where he lets out a shrill scream.

We all turn to look at him as he collapses into the last seat clutching at his breast. “You bitches are trying to kill me! I love you, but for fuck’s sake! There’s a woman tied up back here!”

I look to Shane and Carmen with wide eyes and they both smile brilliantly. Well holy shit, they got her. Carmen turns to Ramone and says something in Spanish. The van starts moving and she turns back to me with a smug smile. “She’s all yours. They’re going to drive around for a little bit so you can do what you have to do.”

I stand up as much as I can and carefully make my way back to where Ricky’s sitting and lean over the back of the large bench chair. There, on the floor, hog tied with a strip of duct tape over her mouth is Candace. I feel the bile rise in my throat and choke it back.

“Candace, I’m going to pull the duct tape off, but you’re going to keep your ugly fucking mouth shut. You understand me?”

She’s breathing hard through her nose and she nods her head. I lean down and pull the duct tape hard from her mouth and she cries out in pain. Normally, I don’t want to see someone suffer, but this cunt has more than earned this piece of the suffering she’s caused. “What did you do?”

She stutters. “Wh…what do you mean?”

I grab the ponytail at the base of her neck and pull her head up hard. She winces. “Don’t insult me. What did you do?”

“Okay, okay, just…let go…”

I drop her head roughly and she rests her cheek on the carpet taking a moment to catch her breath. “You think you can just take what you want, that no one else matters, and you get away with it. You used me…”

I snort and glare at her. “We used each other. You knew full well I didn’t love you and that it was just meaningless sex. What did you think would happen? I’d leave Tina and ride off into the sunset with you in your El Camino? Are you really that dense?”

Even from the side I can see the fire of anger burn in her eyes. “Fuck you!”

I snort again. “No thank you. Been there, done that, wasn’t impressed.”

“Well…for being unimpressive, I’ve certainly made an impact.”

I can feel the anger well up in my veins and it’s all I can do to force myself not to slam her head into the floor. Ricky looks at me and scoots as far away as possible. “What did you do, Candace?”

She snorts. “That’s what’s funny about all of this. I didn’t really have to do anything. You did it all for me…”

I grab her ponytail again and yank her up hard until she cries out as I shout, “What happened at the club?!”

“Let go!”

I tug harder. “WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CLUB?!”

“YOU’RE HURTING ME!”

I lean down close to her. “Oh, I haven’t begun to hurt you yet…”

Her voice is strained. “I was there…I…followed you…here…to New York…and to the club…” I drop her head back to the carpet and she continues. “I saw you both dancing and happy…and it pissed me off! Even after what I showed her she was still with you! Who gets away with that kind of shit?!” I grab her ponytail. “Okay…you…were playing the drums but you started to get sick. She brought you to the bathroom and you started throwing up. She was holding your hair and stroking your back. I cornered her in the stall and showed her something…”

I drop her head and reach down to feel around at her pockets until I find her phone. I pull it out and open it. “What was it?”

“At first she wouldn’t even look at me…but when she heard you…”

“On the phone! Where do I find it?!”

“It’s in my voice recordings. It’s the only thing saved there…” I go to the voice recorder and access the saved library. There’s only one file and I press play. The indelicate and muffled sounds of two people having sex fill the van. I’m obviously close to climax, a loud climax. Tears well in my eyes as the anger flushes my veins. I let out yell of frustration as I throw the phone to my feet and start stomping on it as hard as I can to make it stop. The sounds finally die away in a final off key note, and I collapse into the seat, putting my head in my hands.

My voice is angry and cold as I ask, “What happened when she heard it?”

“She…just stood there…listening. When it finished…when you finished…she looked up at me and without warning, she decked me in the face. I stumbled out of the bathroom and tried to run away but she stayed with me. I made almost to the other side of the dance floor by the door…but she tackled me. A ton of women went down with us and everyone started fighting. You and your friends found us tussling on the floor and one of you pulled her off of me. You…started in where she left off…all of you. I don’t remember anything else. I passed out…”

It’s entirely inappropriate, but I start laughing. The others in the front of the van who have been listening start laughing as well. Tina, my Tina, kicked Candace’s ass and I may not remember it, but I got a piece of her too. “So why didn’t you press charges at the police station?”

“I was hoping that if I didn’t, you wouldn’t…you didn’t…did you?”

“No, no, I didn’t press charges…” I turn around and lean over the seat to look at her. “…but here’s what I am going to do. I’m going to put a fresh piece of duct tape over your mouth and let the boys up front have you any way they want you. And when they’re finished, they can throw you away just like I did, only in any way they wish to.”

I reach down beside her to retrieve the duct tape and pull a long strip that rips loudly. “No…please…look, I promise, I’ll leave you alone…”

I snort out a laugh. “Sure. I believe you. You’ve been stalking me for more than year and you’ve done everything you can to get to me, including destroy an innocent woman, despite the warnings and threats you already received…”

“What…do you mean?”

I tear the strip of duct tape from the roll. “You’re seriously too stupid to figure that out?” I eye her incredulously. “Nothing you’ve done hurts me. It hurts Tina. She never fucked you, or used you, and you’ve hurt her at every turn to get to me. She doesn’t deserve any of this shit but that didn’t matter to you at all…did it?”

“Hurting her, hurt you…”

“She’s still innocent in all this Candace. I hurt you, but you were a willing participant. Even I, at my lowest point, which was in your bed by the way, wasn’t trying to hurt someone…”

I reach down to put the tape over her mouth but she shakes her head saying, “This is bullshit! You won’t hurt me, not really…”

I drop my voice at least two octaves and adopt my most feral expression. “Look, I’m going to let you know something. My family…and the life I’ve worked so hard to rebuild for them…means everything to me. And there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do, to preserve and protect them.”

She laughs at this. “Right…that’s why you fucked me…”

“You know what…I don’t really care if you believe me, but…” I dig my fingers into her scalp and grind her head down roughly. “…I want you to know…that I will notabideANYONEwho threatensmy family…” My voice is so laced with venom that even I’m shocked by the intense sincerity of it. “…espesciallynotyou…”

She goes very still and I push her head roughly back to the floor once more as I lean up. I grab the strip of duct tape and get it over her mouth despite her struggles. I walk back up to the front and sit down next to Shane and Carmen. I look over at them and wonder what I’m going to do. I have no idea where to look for Tina and Candace isn’t listening. My phone buzzes in my pocket and I look to it with hope. It’s Valentino. Sigh. “Hi Valentino…”

“Bette? Babe? Where are you?!” The voice is panicked and worried but unmistakably Tina’s.

“T…?”

“Oh thank God…I’ve been trying to reach you all day…” Tears well in my eyes. “Bette…where have you been?! I’ve been going out of my mind!”

I close my eyes and cherish the sound of her voice. “T, are you at Valentino’s?”

“Yes, I just got here…”

“Stay put, I’m on my way. We’ll be there in…” I look to Carmen as I put the phone on my shoulder. “How far to Valentino’s from here?” She turns to Ramone and says something about Cooper’s Beach in Spanish. He gives her a lengthy response but I understand ten minutes. “…T? Ten minutes. I’ll be there in about ten minutes. Just stay there…”

“Okay…just hurry…”

“Okay…I have to go. I’ll be there soon. I love you, T…just stay put.”

“I love you too…hurry.”

I click the phone off and sit back releasing a shocked but relieved breath. I lean in close to Carmen and Shane and whisper, “Okay, we’ve got Tina but we obviously can’t actually kill Candace and she’s not listening to reason…”

Carmen turns to Ramone, saying something, and he laughs. He responds and she looks back to me with a bright smile. “Ramone says not to worry; he can take care of that bitter puta.”

I grin at her. “I want her out of California. Can he manage it?” She again speaks to Ramone. He catches my eyes in his rearview mirror and nods his head once. “Muchas gracias, Ramone.” He smiles brightly and I sit back in my seat, running my hands through my hair. Ten minutes can’t come fast enough.


Continued in Chapter 5 – Inconceivable!

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