Only a couple more installments until the ending. We've sure come a long way since the story began. Where do we go from here?
FADE TO BLACK IS FOR ADULTS. IT CONTAINS ALL MANNER OF DEBAUCHERY, NASTY LANGUAGE, MATURE CONTENT, DEPICTION OF ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLES, ETC. IF IT'S NOT TO YOUR TASTES, YOU'LL KNOW PRETTY QUICKLY.
FADE TO BLACK IS NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. AT ALL. EVER.
IF YOU ARE AN ADULT, AND WISH TO DIVE INTO THIS CRAZY WORLD, PROCEED. IF YOU ARE A CHILD, GO AWAY IMMEDIATELY.
Fade to Black
© 2008 CL Seamus
ENGAGED IN GUESSING
Henry got to bed after two a.m. and the call came through just before five. He jumped back into his clothes and headed off to the hospital, where he found Lucy in the waiting room. “Where’s Allan?”
The lady was distraught and underslept. “He’s indisposed.”
“What does that mean?” frowned the frumpy, tired man.
She out-grouched him by a hundred degrees. “Ask India. I know nothing about Allan.”
“Well, do you at least know what happened?”
“She was attacked. That’s all I know.”
“Where was Allan’s goon-squad? How in the hell did she get out without someone knowing about it?”
“Okay, well, you can stop yelling at me anytime now, pal, because, first of all, I don’t know that somebody doesn’t know about it. This is India Bowman we’re talking about. She could easily have paid off one of those monsters to let her out. Nobody’s going to say nothing to you anyway, so...” She dabbed worried eyes with a tissue and turned from him.
Paper gown and all, India perched upon the table in the examination room. Henry banged open the door. “You know, for someone afraid of the fans, you sure take chances, lady.” She didn’t even flinch. Cool and quiet and calm. “What happened?” he sighed, trying not to play the father.
“I went to the store.”
“Why didn’t you take one of Allan’s men with you?”
“I didn’t tell anyone I was going.”
“How did you get off the compound?” He leaned close to examine her split lip and scuffed cheekbone.
“I snuck through a dead spot by the creek.”
“Why?” Pure exasperation.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet? I don’t want bodyguards. I don’t want an escort when I buy tampons. I don’t want people around me. Period. I went to the store. By myself. I don’t owe you an explanation.”
“So you get what you deserve then, don’t you?”
“I guess I do.” She stared to the wall.
“Was it John Wilder?”
“I think so, but I didn’t see his face clearly.”
“What did he do?”
“I was almost there when I noticed someone following me. I decided to duck behind the store till he passed, but he came right to where I was. As I started to run away, he jumped me from behind. Called me a bitch. Said something like, ‘You think you’re so high and mighty’. I guess he got scared when he heard people out front. He ran away.”
“Did someone come to help you?”
“I got up and chased him myself. I wanted to beat the living shit out of him. He got away and I came here.”
He opened his notepad and jotted details. “For a lady who doesn’t want people near her, you sure demand a lot of special care. You think anybody’s gonna let you be alone anymore? You may have a real life stalker, girl. Think you’re gonna get any quiet time from now on?”
“So arrest Wilder and be done with it. Throw him in jail so we can finish this picture in peace.”
“We’ll question him, but whether or not he’s charged will depend on the evidence. Did he hit you?”
“My face hit the pavement when he pushed me down. I think he was planning to rape me.”
His mind saw Bonnie, bruises on her face. But Bonnie wouldn’t have done anything this foolhardy. This little lady had a full-on load of stupid when it came to her safety. “I read about the panty stunt,” he finally said.
“Ah, yes,” she sneered. “The panty stunt. When every pervert in the country felt the sudden burning need to show me their genitals.”
“I guess you forgot that when you decided to sneak off to the store.”
“I guess I did.”
He shook his head. “Why are you even an actress? This is such a shitty profession for a girl like you.”
There was that mirror again. Someone holding up before her the image of her true self. She wanted to scream. “You don’t know what kind of girl I am, Henry.”
“I know you don’t belong with all this craziness.”
India’s eyes welled up as she turned her face. His unyielding faith in her decency was searing.
He took hold of the limp hand that rested in her lap. “Your knuckles are pretty badly bruised.”
“I punched Allan in the face, remember?”
“Hmm. I don’t remember it being this bad.” She drew back her hand. Henry paced again. “I saw a photo on the internet. You and Allan. You were dressed like a schoolgirl and had vampire bites on your neck. He had blood on his face.”
Back she went. Older than Dirt. The meeting about the kind of photo shoot they should do. How she’d been the one to come up with the idea of the picture of herself and Allan. The good old days when she was ready to take on the world. The courthouse steps, her promise to leave the past behind. She had the tiger by the tail back then, yessiree.
“I love that picture,” she whispered. “Older than Dirt. Our first movie together, Allan and me. About a monster who’s hunting for the soul of someone who did him wrong in a past life. He searches for it among children who don’t yet have the strength to defend themselves. Even if they’re not the one he seeks, he bites them anyway. Turns them into monsters. Makes them do terrible things. Damage for the sake of it. It destroys their innocence.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“The monster is eventually killed.”
“Do the kids revert back to human? Are they saved?”
She frowned at the odd question. “They revert back.”
John was grilled by grouchy old Aaron Schiffer, who not only didn’t care if some drugged up celebrity got jumped in an alley at four-thirty in the morning, but also didn’t want to step one foot deeper into any more Movie People nonsense. Nonetheless, he’d been commanded to pick up the alleged attacker for an interview. Apparently, the boy had been out drinking. Yes, he had been at the party perimeter, but had driven himself into a nasty depression over India Bowman’s belief that he’d written dirty letters, and so had gone to get shitface drunk at the Midnight Bar. Having been arrested once before for drunk driving, John had walked home.
By the time he staggered home at five a.m., there was Aaron Schiffer with his men. Now he had been accused of attacking India Bowman outside a convenience store. The knees of his jeans were out and he had blood on the heels of his hands. A little trickled from his nose as well.
After spending a few hours in the drunk tank, he confessed to Aaron that he had no memory of such an attack and that his injuries were more likely due to the six or seven times he’d fallen on his face during the long stagger home after the drink-fest.
Local Boy got his second break from his fellow townsfolk. India Bowman only reported that maybe it had been John Wilder. Maybe. Without positive identification, he was neither charged nor further detained. Blood samples, however, were taken from his clothes before he was released. Should any of it turn out to belong to India, Aaron would again come calling.
What Aaron next dreaded also naturally fell right into his disinterested lap. While Henry went to question the staff at the convenience store, he had the privilege of going to the location shoot to tell India that John had been released. After that, he would get statements from the party goers. Lastly, he was to speak with Allan. Lovely. Santa Claus himself - leader and father to all who dwelt in this sick, twisted North Pole. He’d save that special treat for last.
He sat in a lawn chair by the field that had accommodated the beastly barbecue. Clothing hung from the trees. Bottles and wrappers and paper plates desecrated the once-pretty grass. Overturned chairs and tables. Still-smoking fire barrels and barbecue grills. And then came the naked people. Of course, thought Aaron. What’s an Allan Baird party without naked people?
Four remnant revelers danced wet and slippery from the creek, then made their way gingerly across the road to the trailers. And finally, along came India Bowman. After having her wounds dressed, India had returned to the location, where she unlocked Allan from bed before indulging herself with a shower and a long sleep. Good mood. Wilder was likely in jail by now. Allan chained to the bed all night made sure he’d never be suspected. Such a caring, thoughtful wife.
Aaron was impressed with her looks, but could never assume the features matched the personality. If she was anything like his two gorgeous daughters, he’d need to get this interview done as quickly as possible. He shut down the inner grouch and stood to greet her.
She gave back a delightfully charismatic smile. “You must be Aaron Schiffer. Can I get you a water?”
My word. Not at all what he expected of Allan Baird’s woman. No makeup or freaky hair. Normal. White sweater, black leggings, bare feet. Like a love child from the Sixties, with her shaggy hair and slightly sunburnt cheeks. The facial injuries seemed almost accessory to her playful, rough-and-tumble beauty.
Aaron smiled widely. “Don’t mind if I do.” He offered a hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
Instead of a handshake, she slapped the bottled water into his palm. “What can I do for you?” India always knew when she had control of a man.
“John Wilder,” was all he said as he cracked the drink.
She parked in the chair across from him and squirmed in satisfaction. “I’m so glad this is finally ending.”
But Aaron was to be the bearer of bad news. “You told Officer Okawa you didn’t see the face of your attacker. Are you sure it was John? Can you make a positive I.D.?”
Her mood dropped like a brick. So much for control. “It was the same voice as when he grabbed me at the shoot.” Dead quiet as he reviewed his notes. India sniffed and probed the very air around him. “You let him go, didn’t you?”
That meant he didn’t have to say it. He just leaned back and gave a long exhale. “Insufficient evidence.”
Over to its side went the chair as she stormed away through the grass. “Looks like I really am going to have to be killed!”
Meanwhile, over in the office trailer, Allan had just stormed out of his own unpleasant conference with Ted. He and Dan had been summoned to explain the party and the news headline, “Actress Suffers Early Morning Assault.”
With Allan out of the trailer, Dan paced nervously and prayed a chocolate bar would fall from the sky. Over the speakerphone came Ted’s grouchy voice. “How bad is the drug problem out there? And don’t bother telling me there is no problem.”
Dan flopped to a chair. “Well, Allan looks like shit, but it was a hard party. He had the whole troop here. Gold, Spence, Wallace.”
“Wallace? Tell me you’re finally going to call the police on that dope fiend. If you don’t, I will.”
“One week, Ted. One goddamned week and we’re out of here. We need to tie a knot in our dicks and hold on.”
“Allan had better not be flushing India down the toilet with him.”
“She smokes dope now and then but she’s pretty clean otherwise. She’s not doing any of his coke or anything.”
“You believe that?”
No chocolate bars from the sky. Dan had to cope without his own fix. “Not really,” he resigned. “I think I’m just trying to convince myself we can get through this.”
Tuesday morning brought Aaron back to the location for the anticipated conversation with Allan. Apparently he had to go through the secretary. What a bunch of horseshit, thought he as he waited in the director’s trailer. Like he was so much more important to the rest of them.
“Mr. Baird will be with you shortly,” Marcie had advised him.
There arose questions of Allan’s involvement in the alley attack. Henry had done internet research and relayed back to Aaron that Baird had a reputation for manipulation of his actors, and even the occasional publicity stunt to fire up the fans. But to have his own woman hurt? What she was doing with him in the first place was a mystery, yet Aaron still found it hard to believe that any man - even Allan Baird - would have a lady physically injured for the sake of some kind of motivational push.
He waited in Allan’s lair. Strange room. Video equipment, cameras, and other movie-related gear. Stacks upon stacks of paperwork. He strolled to the sleeping area. Narrow unmade bunk with purple sheets. Pill bottles on the table - prescriptions all. Aaron knew little of the listed drugs, so could only assume the pills within matched the labels. He opened the bedside drawer and found another bottle. Sublingual nitroglycerin? He recognised it because he took a similar drug for his own condition. Evidently, Allan had heart trouble.
Other junk in the drawer included a box of condoms, two gay porn magazines, a travel bottle of skin cream, plane tickets, a black book of names and phone numbers, some jewelry and makeup. From the head rail of the bunk hung a pair of handcuffs. Out of the norm for Aaron’s world, but not nearly as deviant as he thought it might be. No whips or electric nipple clamps, leather muzzles. The things he expected Allan Baird to have.
I can’t bring everything with me, honey
Aaron went back to the sitting area. He shouldn't be snooping. He sat and looked at his watch. Baird was obviously keeping him waiting. He picked up one of the bound scripts from the coffee table. Along the spine was written in black marker, Veil of Murder. He flipped through the pages and found it an interesting read. Sort of an old-fashioned murder yarn. Baird, so it seemed, had a flair for storytelling.
The door popped open and up stumbled the director. He looked like a double-helping of warmed over death. “Shit,” gasped the cop. He couldn’t help it. Allan’s darkly circled eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, which he didn’t remove. Several parts of his face were scabbed, most noticeably his upper lip. Ghostly pale, his face unshaven, his hair tousled. Not the same prim and prissy image from the coffee shop, that’s for sure.
Allan lifted the kettle from his hotplate and poured water over teabags. With trembling hand, he passed Aaron a cup, then dropped into the armchair. “What can I do for you?”
The more he looked at Allan, the more things he found wrong. A rope burn around his neck, bruises on one wrist. “Why are you all beat up?”
Allan finally removed his sunglasses just so Aaron could enjoy his dead stare. “I have an active social life. How’s your tea, honey? Can I get you a scone or something?”
No games for this man. Ever. “Maybe you’d prefer to conduct this discussion at the precinct.”
Allan set down his teacup and extended his wrists. “Perfect. Arrest me. Take me downtown. If you try hard enough, you might even be able to beat a confession out of me. I should warn you, however, that I have a very high pain threshold. But I would enjoy the experience, Aaron.”
“Maybe we’ll give you a drug test while we’re at it. Your eyes tell the tale.” Cold and controlled.
Allan backed down. “All right, Joe Friday. You want my story? I did not attack Indie.” A half-smile. “Actually, I’m surprised that whoever did was able to walk away in one piece. She’s quite good with her fists.”
“Did you go out after the party?”
Allan laughed. “I wasn’t going anywhere. I was handcuffed to the bed.” He held up a finger. “And before you move to your next question, know that I don’t have a key.”
“Why wouldn’t you have a key?”
“My wife likes it that way. She sometimes chains me to the bed at night so I don’t wander. Ask anybody here. I got the call that she’d gone to the hospital. I had to wait until she got back with the key. They’re not prop cuffs either, I assure you. They’re quite real.” He paused. “Are we anywhere near airtight yet?”
“Maybe you hired someone to do the job for you.”
Allan feigned theatrics. “Well then. I suppose I must now kill my accomplice, lest he rat me out under the fierce twist of your thumbscrews. Perhaps you should hold the investigation in abeyance until the body turns up.”
As Aaron sat behind the wheel of his car and readied to leave, he watched Allan emerge from the trailer and meet up with India. The lovers spoke briefly, wrapped arms about each other, and shared quite the series of kisses and affection. Resigned to Allan’s devotion, Aaron thought, that man would never hurt that woman.
He never made it out. As he neared the entrance barricade, up jogged Lucy Kraft to his car, arms waving in panic. “I have to talk to you!” she huffed, out of breath. He pulled over by the fence and followed her to the office trailer.
Inside, she gave him a long monologue that Aaron absorbed with the patience of one inadvertently caught up in a convoluted soap opera. “I do all of India’s mail. She answers some of it personally, but it’s my job to filter through it first. Well, sometimes Allan goes to the mailroom and takes letters before they've been filtered. I remember he took a bunch before we came here. So anyway, all of a sudden, Mr. Kopanski comes and tells me not to--”
“He’s the producer. He tells me to hold up the mail. All of it. Even the normal stuff. He says it’s bothering her. He says not to let Allan interfere. Okay, so it all goes fine because he doesn’t take anymore anyway. Then they all came out here to start the shoot. I didn’t come until later that week. So anyway, all of a sudden, India herself calls me and says to bring out the mail when I fly down to join them.”
“Why would she ask for it if it bothers her?”
A moment’s thought. “She probably decided that Allan was right. That it would be good for motivation. India usually trusts him about these things. She never used to freak out all the time. Never. Allan’s been a freak since I met him, but India used to be a sweet girl. She only turned freak after the panty stunt. So anyway, I brought the mail just like she asked, but I was worried I’d get into trouble. Then she has this fainting thing and--”
“The dirty letters were in the batch you brought?”
“And Mr. Kopanski found out I was the one who’d brought them. He called me in and said that if another piece of mail went to India Bowman, I was fired. Don’t tell her. Don’t freak her out. Just don’t do it. Not a word, not a letter, not a package. And that, Mr. Detective, is why I had to talk to you.”
Aaron waited on the punchline. “...yes?”
Lucy held up an envelope. “This came this morning. Not to the studio. Here. We've been taking mail at the hotel.”
Aaron studied it. No stamp. No address. Just the words India Bowman.
She pointed. “And I am not - repeat - not giving that to her.”
He read the contents. “Have you shown it to anyone else?”
“Not a soul.”
Chin in hand, Henry moped at his computer. What a mess. Not only had he not been able to keep India safe, but now he was coming to realise that the girl had a strange streak. She asked everybody to protect her, yet when extraordinary steps were taken to do so, she balked even more. He didn’t know much about her outside the world of her movies.
As he waited for Aaron to get back from the shoot, he whiled away the time on the internet. He typed her name and got enough choices to keep him busy awhile. An old news article caught his eye.
Actress India Bowman (real name Annalee MacDonald)was
released from hospital yesterday following an overdose
of sleeping pills. After studio staff found Bowman
unconscious in her room, she was rushed to the emergency
room and treated. A statement issued by Conversion Films
said she misread directions on a prescription bottle.
Bowman could not be reached for comment.
Annalee MacDonald. He never knew her real name before now, jotted it on his notepad with other facts that came his way. A drug overdose? Now he really believed she shouldn't be in showbiz. Such a terribly lost young lady in the dog-eat-dog world. More than a bodyguard to keep away the intrusive fans, what she really needed was to be removed from the whole ugly mess.
He grabbed the phone on the first ring. “Hello?”
Aaron’s gravel voice. “India Bowman’s assistant gave me a letter that came today. Seems it was just dropped off at the hotel desk.”
“What does it say?”
“It says, ‘India, I love you. I will take away your pain. John.’”