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THE P.A.: ONE COOL CHICK

ONE COOL CHICK: THE P.A.

By Joe Reister © 2017

 

The Story

P.A. Jennifer Alvarez finds herself in a cluster when famous movie star, Jimmy Roberts, kills her boss, movie star, Caitlyn ‘Cake’ Kelly, and lands in the crossfire of the famous actor and his P.A./head of security, local criminals and the police, including her older sister, Sergeant Alejandra Jones.  She struggles to stay free and alive while proving her innocence and revealing the truth.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Texts

Chapter 2: The Riffraff

Chapter 3: The Nitty Gritty

Chapter 4: The Phone

Chapter 5: The Mess

Chapter 6: The Near Thing

Chapter 7: The Dirty Work

Chapter 8: The Force

Chapter 9: The Ex

Chapter 10: The Plan

Chapter 11: The Problem

Chapter 12: The Crash

Chapter 13: The Bad

Chapter 14: The Worst

Chapter 15: The Calvary

Chapter 16: The Bright Side

Chapter 17: The Prep

Chapter 18: The Sister

Chapter 19: The Shift

Chapter 20: The Update

Chapter 21: The Badass

Chapter 22: The Ass Kicker

Chapter 23: The Standoff

Chapter 24: The Chase

Chapter 25: The Call

Chapter 26: The Club

Chapter 27: The Offer

Chapter 28: The Counter

Chapter 29: The Consigliere

Chapter 30: The Brother In Law

Chapter 31: The Future

  

Chapter 1: The Texts

 

“Typical,” Jen Alvarez thought, tossing her cell phone onto the passenger seat and pulling her VW cc 300 into a long and crowded driveway, leading to a large house.  “Of course you need to leave four cars at your girlfriend’s house, Jimmy.  I mean, it’s not like you don’t have any space at your Tudor mansion, your beach compound or any of the other fifteen properties you own, you, stupid, self-absorbed, tiny dicked prick.”  She put on her practiced smile and hit the garage remote to see that some kind of shiny yellow sports car was parked in her regular spot.  “Of course,” she thought, backing up to park outside at the end of the line of cars.  She shut off her car, looked up at the big house and picked up her phone, reading the last text again, smiling and then scrolling back to the beginning. 

May 9, 2016

Alejandra Jane:

I know you’ve missed the last three birthdays, but you could’ve at least called since you promised your ten-year-old nephew you’d be here.  Matt just kept watching the door all day and doesn’t understand, can’t understand, why you weren’t there and suck so much. 

Text Message 10:57 am

“Texting is not for emotionally devastating statements, Alex.  It’s for quick short messages.”

ME:

It’s called work, Alex, and don’t tell me he hasn’t figured it out with Eric getting so much over time.  I’m sorry.  I am, but my job is my job and you know that.  You used to work, remember? 

Text Message 10:59 am

“Okay, so I’m a little hypocritical.”

Alejandra Jane:

That’s cute, and you used to be part of the family.  Remember that?  Mom wants to talk to you.  Not by text, not by email and not by phone.  So, get it together and go actually see her for once.

Text Message 11:00 am

ME:

I’m glad to see you’re talking to Mom again.  Glad you can find the time as a stay at home mom. 

Text Message 11:03 am

Alejandra Jane:

I’m taking care of my kids, Jen.  Someday you might understand that. 

Text Message 11:03 am

ME:

And I work 24/7, Alex.  Something you used to understand, detective. 

Text Message 11:06

Alejandra:

And family is something you used to understand.  I’d be working if I Matt wasn’t ASD. 

Text Message 11:07 am

ME:

You worked until he went to school full time?!?  WTF.  Mom wants to help, and she could take care of Matt and Lily.  But she hasn’t told you that because you talk to her even less that I do. 

Text Message 11:11 am

Alejandra Jane:

You really think Mom’s up for that.  She’s had cancer.  Twice.

Text Message 11:11 am

ME:

And she got better, Alex, and Dad would help too. 

Text Message 11:13 am

Alejandra Jane:

Don’t get me started on Dad.  And I want to take care of my own kids. 

Text Message 11:13 am

ME:

That’s great and you’re lucky you can, but that doesn’t mean everyone can afford to, and that I can just drop everything for a party. 

Text Message 11:20 am

Alejandra Jane:

You didn’t even get Matt a present, Jen.

Text Message 11:21 am

ME:

Yes, I did.  It’s in my car.

Text Message 11:29 am

Jen turned to the back seat, seeing that the wrapped up football was still there.

Alejandra Jane:

It’s been three weeks.  You’ve never heard of mail. 

Text Message 11:30 am

ME:

I’ve had to work. 

11:41 am

Alejandra Jane:

Of course you did.  You always do.  That’s your excuse for everything, Jen, but you used to be better than that.  You’re smart, a hard worker and I thought you’d almost stopped making bad decisions. 

Text Message 11:41 am

ME:

Great.  Thanks. 

Text Message 11:45 am

Alejandra Jane:

You’re almost 3o. 

Text Message 11:45 am

ME:

You really want to do this by text? 

Text Message 11:45 am

“I probably should have said that earlier.”

Alejandra Jane:

No.  I really want you to come over, have dinner, eat the piece of cake Matt insisted we save you and then watch him open the present you got him. 

Text Message 11:46 am

ME:

Okay.  Well, thanks for talking to me like I’m twelve again and trying to figure out how to put on a bra.  Much appreciated.  Glad you’re not using your time and energy to mother your kids with all of that staying at home with them. 

Text Message 11:49 am

Alejandra Jane:

FU

Text Message 11:49

ME:

FU right back.

Text Message 11:50

“Yeah, that was smart.  Curse at someone via text.  Where it can be saved and viewed forever, and see how it stops a conversation cold. 

May 12, 2016

ME:

I’m sorry, Alex.  I was a jerk.   

Text Message 10:45 am

ME:

Seriously, I’m really, really sorry.  I said something stupid, again, and let my temper get the best of me in the heat of the moment.  Totally my bad. 

Text Message 10:51 am

ME:

Please let me know how you’re doing?  Please. 

Text Message 10:52 am

ME:

Come on, Alex.  Please!!! 

Text Message 10:53 am

“Now this is what texting is for.  Begging and apologizing so you don’t have to do it in person.”

Alejandra Jane:

_____________ 

Text Message 10:53 am

“And the slam dunk of silence.”

ME:

Thanks…  Great…  Glad I tried…  See you at Thanksgiving…  Maybe. 

Text Message 10:54 am

June 1, 2016

ME:

Hey, I hope you, Eric and the kids are well.  Mom told me they were.  Life is good.  Working a lot still, but it’s paying off.  Caitlyn’s looking to get the film deal she wants. 

Text Message 10:51 am

“And so my groveling begins.”

ME:

It’s the first one since she got sober two years ago, and probably means I’ll get a much deserved raise.  And producers are also starting to know my name.  I think.  I hope.  It’s why I’m working so much. 

Text Message 10:51 am

June 2, 2016

ME:

How are you?  I finally went on a second date with Tyler and kissed him.  He seemed scared.  Great huh?  Good times.  Yay.

Text Message 10:45 am

June 3, 2016

ME:

Isn’t today your twelve-and-a-half-year anniversary?  Happy, happy.  In other good news I’m not pregnant, not that I need worry like you did every other month from 15 to 18.  Remember?  Okay, that’s only what I told some people.  But I’m not.  J

Text Message 10:57 am

June 7, 2016

ME:

Hey, Mom, Dad and I missed you for dinner last night, although understood you had a last minute thing.  They want us to have Thanksgiving together so they can go on a cruise or something. 

Text Message 10:51 am

ME:

They know that you visit Eric’s family then, but maybe can switch with X-Mas as I’m scheduled to go with Caitlyn for a work thing in late December.  Also, they want to see their grandkids. 

Text Message 10:52 am

ME:

Also, I’d like to see the kids.  I’ve got a collection of presents for them.  I can drop them off at your house when you’re not there if that’s easier.  Tell me what’s best for you.

Text Message 10:52 am

June 8, 2016

ME:

I know I should be a better sister, and I’m sorry.  I said something stupid and I was wrong.  Still it’s been almost a month and now you’re just being a bitch.  Can you knock it off?

Text Message 7:32 am

Alejandra Jane:

Can you watch your language?  I have kids around, remember?

Text Message 7:53 am

Jen smiled at that last text for the third time.  “Great.  So, you know you’re a bitch too,” she thought and got out of her car, looking at the big house and smiling.  “Too bad I have to go to work,” she said and pocketed her phone.


 

 

Chapter 2: The Riffraff

 

Jen scanned the two story, Spanish style villa and its amazing landscaping job before turning back to the front gate.  Everything looked normal and then she noticed the short, fat man in the thick glasses standing behind a tall, thin bush.  “Of course,” she said and sighed.  “Jake.”

The man waved and stepped out from behind the bush.  “I thought the new coat would blend better.  It’s green.”

“I thought I told you to go away,” she said and thought, “Meaning I know I told you to go away and never come back.” 

“Everybody’s got to make a living, Jenny,” Jake said, dropping the branch in his hand.

“You might want to consider a different job then, because you kind of look like crap on a cracker,” she said, pointing to another branch stuck on his shoulder.

“Thanks,” he said, dropping the second branch.

“You’re welcome.  You know you’ve got rings under your eyes, need new clothes and probably haven’t eaten anything but Carl’s Jr. for the last month,” she said, looking him over.  “Is this the life you expected when you were in college?”

“I didn’t like college,” he said, backing up.  “And I’ve got a hot wife.”

“Yeah, you’re a real catch,” she said, stepping up and shooing him toward the street.  “I know Caitlyn really appreciates you.”

“She didn’t mind when she was branching out.”

“Funny, and she had Mickey as a publicist then.”

“The mouse was part of her problem.  That’s why she liked me.”

“So, you’re a force for good, huh?”

“I can get people in magazines and you know it,” Jake said, heading for his car.  “We’re all cogs in the great Hollywood machine, Jenny.  Whether we’re picking up the A-listers puke and dirty underwear or catching the moments that define their lives.”

“Define their lives, Jake?  Is that what you think you do?”

“It pays the bills, Jenny,” he said and turned to her with a look.  “I’d say we both get our hands dirty, no?”

Jen smiled her practiced smiled and handed him half a cup of coffee.  “It’s got two sugars, and I know you only like milk.”

“I’m diabetic,” he said, swallowing most of it.  “I’m not supposed to have sugar.”

“You could have said, ‘no’.  I wouldn’t have been offended”

“Have we met before?” he said with a gulp and held out the empty cup for her.  “Thanks.  I’ll enjoy the rush.”

She ignored the cup, looking up and down the street and turning back to him.  “Nothing’s going on today, okay.  Caitlyn’s staying in all week, prepping for a movie.”

“Right,” Jake said, looking over Jen’s head and staring at the villa again.  “She hasn’t been in anything in three years, Jenny, and now she’s got a movie deal?  Come on.  That’s not how it works.”

“Like you know.”

“I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, kid.”

“And always so charming, Jake.” 

“Thanks.  But if she’s off why are you here so early?”

“You work in Hollywood.  A personal assistant’s work is never done.”

“Right,” he said, now turning to Jen, giving her the once over and pointing to the line of cars in the driveway.  “And you wouldn’t say those cars, the Mercedes, the Tesla and the ’68 Cadillac belong to one Jimmy Roberts, boy actor turned teen rogue, turned into a massive, essentially criminal level asshole?”

“I wouldn’t,” Jen said straight faced. 

“Because that would violate whatever crazy non-disclosure agreement Caitlyn, ‘Cake’, Kelly made you sign when she hired you to pick her up, clean her up and make sure she appears to be living a better, more wholesome life, wouldn’t it, Jenny?”

She looked into his eyes with the practiced smile.

“That question a little too close to home, Jenny?”

“I hope you liked half of my morning coffee, Jake,” she said, still smiling that smile.  “And I saw that you used that tip about Angelina that I gave you last week.”

“That’s one I owe you.”

“You owe me nine, Jake.  Nine,” she said and took the empty coffee cup from him.  “Try not to leave any trash on the way out.”

“Sorry,” Jake said and picked up an empty bag of chips on the lawn.

“Me too,” Jen said and took it, handing him a napkin.  “I feel like we’ve been having a lot of these conversations lately.

“Maybe you can tell me about that movie,” he said and wiped his face, shoving the napkin in the dirty cup.  “And I’ll ignore Jimmy’s cars.”

“You’ll learn about it soon enough, but nothing’s happening today, okay?” she said.  “Everybody’s staying in bed.”

“At 8:00 on a Monday morning,” he said, his eyes following her back through the gate.

“This is Hollywood, Jake,” she said, not looking back.  “You should know better.”

“I do,” he said, watching her walk and then looking at the villa again.  “I thought you said she was working out.”

“We have our own gym, Jake, and Caitlyn’s rowing, working the core,” she said, looking over her shoulder and pointing to his gut.  “Something you should be doing.”

“I don’t disagree,” he said, rubbing his belly.  “My wife’s still hot, though.”

“What can’t money do, huh?” she said and stopped, turning around.

Jake shrugged and looked himself over.

“Great.  Go home, get some sleep and be grateful for what you have,” Jen said with that smile.  “Say ‘hi’ to your kids when they get home from school for once.  They’ll appreciate it.”

“Real nice.”

“I’m trying,” she said.  “But it’s not in my job description and I had a late night too.”

“Right,” he said and reached into his pocket for his keys.  “Date, I hope?”

She nodded.

“Fun?”

“He wasn’t married.”

“Okay,” he said and laughed, looking at the villa one last time.  “I’ll believe you.”

“You should.  I gave you coffee.”

“You did,” he said and waved, turning to his car.  “Thanks.”

“Thank you, and have a good day,” she said, keeping her eyes on him until he got into his car.  “You sleazy, skeevy bottom feeding turd who should get a real job.”

Chapter 3: The Nitty Gritty

 

“Okay, first problem down, ten to go,” Jen said, seeing Jake drive away and turning to the line of expensive cars leading to the villa.  She sighed, picking up the three newspapers off the lawn and a bottle of milk on the side porch and smiling at her new blue and shiny Volkswagen at the end of that line.  “Remember that you paid for that with all the perks in cash, own a two-bedroom home in an up and coming neighborhood, helped pay for Mom’s last surgery and went to London and Paris for two weeks last year."

She waved to the three cameras on this side of the house and pointed to the edge of the property.  “I just took care of Jake Cooke,” she said, waving to the cameras and pointing to the front gate.  “I don’t want to see another paparazzo or we’re getting another service.  And I don’t care if your head consultant bought me dinner last night.”

Nobody responded of course, so she hit the gate remote, punched in the villa’s security code and turned to the barking brown mutt pushing the door open all the way.  “That’s right, Sam,” she said, grabbing the dog in a hug.  “You’ll keep us safe.”

Ruff.  Ruff.  Ruff.  Ruff.

Sam gushed dog joy and collapsed to the floor where she took his face in her hands and petted down his back.  “I know.  I know.  We haven’t seen each other in 10 whole hours,” Jen said, leading him back into the house as she closed and locked the door behind her.  She waved to another camera as she walked into the pristine and extremely well equipped kitchen, with a brand new food processor, untouched ice cream maker, shiny toaster, a walk in and glassed doored freezer/refrigerator, two sterling ovens, an extra-large and actually used dishwasher, a giant sink that needed cleaning and a worn, top of the line coffee machine that started brewing.  “I wonder if the cameras are even on, Sam, and if so, is anyone watching?”

Ruff.  Ruff.  Ruff.

“Yeah, I agree.  They don’t want to lose Caitlyn’s contract and we don’t want to see any paparazzi,” Jen said, dropping her keys and wallet in a bowl by the side door, dividing the newspapers into shelves on a desk in a nearly unseen corner and frowning at a stack of mail.  “I thought she was going to look through that yesterday.”

Ruff.  Ruff. 

“No, I’m not surprised either,” she said, turning on a tablet.  “It’s why I get paid the big bucks.”

Ruff.

“No.  No more barking,” she said, holding a flat hand near his head.  “Not that you ever get that from Caitlyn.”  He sat and looked up at her with big eyes and she reached into a box of treats on top of the desk.  The dog stared at her until she gave him one.  “You know that’s not cheap stuff.”

Ruff.  Ruff.  Ruff.  Ruff.

“Sam,” she said in a lower tone and the dog clamped his mouth shut. 

She looked down at him and he whined until she gave him another treat, and he bolted out of the room. 

“So easy,” she said and reached into the mostly empty refrigerator for the skim milk, grabbed two cups from a shelf and poured the coffee.  She added milk to one, and two sugars to both cups, stirring only the one with milk and then taking that cup back to the tablet.  She took a long sip as the computer clock shifted from yesterday at 10:04 pm to today at 8:03 am and then hit the email app while looking over the newspapers, snail mail and seven post it notes from last night.  “Okay. So all we need to do is make Caitlyn look, clean, sober, professional, smart, sexy, fashion focused and basically Hollywood presentable to a slick haired, horny, narcissistic, self-focused, know nothing, insecure producer in a ridiculously priced, but well-tailored suit who has access to incredible amounts money and no decent or original ideas of his own.  Or at least I hope that’s all,” she thought, scanning the new emails and ignoring the fan club, trainer, publicist, manager, agent and…  She smiled.  “At least he’s prompt and professional,” she thought, reading the email and confirming the 2:00 pm meeting.  “Cool.”

“Now, all I have to do is get Caitlyn out of bed, showered, made up, do her hair, polish her nails, review what this movie is about, catch her up on any real world events from today’s newspapers and then remind her who this producer is before she goes and charms the heck out of him, while hopefully still keeping his pants nice and loose.”

“Easy peasy,” she said and sipped the coffee, enjoying the quiet moment until she looked up and nodded to the tall, straight backed, blond man walking into the kitchen and smiling at her. 

“Good morning, Ms. Alvarez,” the man said and she gave him the dark and sweet cup of coffee.

“Good morning, Mr. Dawson,” Jen said, clinking her cup against his.  “What’s the damage this morning?”

His eyebrows went up as took a sip.  “You really want to know, Jennifer?”

“That’s what I get paid for, Scott,” Jen said, taking another sip of coffee as she stood up and headed for the sink.  “How are the two lovebirds?”

“Lovebirds?”

“It beats sex buddies, right?” Jen said, rinsing a sponge.

“It does,” Scott said, moving to the kitchen’s island and sitting on a stool.  “And probably hits the mark, knowing Jimmy.”

“Yeah, I know Jimmy,” Jen said, wiping a spot on the counter.  “They’re still asleep?”

“Yes but they were noisy last night, broke a lamp and dented a wall, I think.”

“Great,” Jen said, grabbing the blender off the counter and putting it in the sink.  “And so surprising.”

“I heard a loud ‘whomp’ around eleven, but it’s been quiet since then.”

“At least they waited until I went home,” Jen said, giving him a look and filling the blender with water.  “Drugs?”

“I’m not sure.  Jimmy likes his privacy.”

“So that’s a ‘yes’.”

“Rehab doesn’t work for everyone,” Scott said, drinking his coffee.

“And some people don’t help with the post rehab life,” Jen said, adding dish soap to the blender and shaking her head.  “Caitlyn’s manager is going to love that.  She’s up for a major supporting role with a big named director.”

“How big?” Scott said.  “Abrams, Allen, Anderson...?”

“You giving me an alphabetized list, Einstein?” Jen said and shut off the water, drinking some more coffee.  “Doesn’t matter, because I can’t say.”

“Come on.  My boss is fucking your boss, and I read the internet.”

“Ever so reliable,” Jen said and pointed to the second floor.  “So, all quiet after 11:00?”

“Just some take-out pizza and wine at 11:30.”

“For Jimmy?” Jen said, grabbing the empty water pitcher from the fridge as Scott nodded.  “So, maybe the rehab stuck.”

“I hope so.  I like Cake.”

“Yeah, we’re trying to move back to Caitlyn,” Jen said, filling up the pitcher and grabbing the sponge again.  “Mononyms are out of fashion.”

“They suggest that at rehab?”

“Among other things.”

“Like working with someone she’ll listen to.”

“Yeah, Scott, and like paying attention to other people,” Jen said, noticing the countertop and giving him a look.

“Like Abrams?” Scott said, sipping coffee.  “Hell, I could work wonders with Abrams.”

“I doubt it,” Jen said and put the pitcher back in the refrigerator.  “You have to have some talent.”

“Thanks.  How was your late night dinner with Troy?”

“Tyler, and smooth segue, stretch,” Jen said, starting to wipe down the filthy countertop.  “You’re a slob, you know that?”

“Mm hmm.  I’m married,” he said and drank more coffee.  “What was Tyler like?”

“I don’t know.  He’s a computer geek who Caitlyn set me up with.  He installed the new security system?”

“Is he watching right now?”

“Among other things,” Jen said with a smirk. 

“Cute.  Did he set up a new panic room?”

“He was a nice enough guy,” Jen said, not looking up from the countertop.

“Nice guys are the worst,” Scott said, lifting up his coffee cup as Jen wiped underneath it.

“Thanks,” Jen said.  “But I’m trying to date nicer guys.”

“That’s a mistake.”

“You said that last night.”

“Jennifer, they’re nice guys for a reason, and that reason is because they’re pushovers.  They’re never going to make the first move and you’re never going to be satisfied.”

“I think that’s mostly on me,” Jen said, rinsing the sponge and putting it back near the sink.  “And I’m tired of having drunk assholes waiting a week to call me back, using me to meet my boss, or worse, giving me an engraved vibrator after we break up.”

“Nick?” Scott said with a laugh and put down his cup.

“Who else?”

“I’m happy to make the first move,” Jen said, opening the dishwasher and glaring at Scott.  “You could’ve run this.”

“Mm hmm,” Scott said.  “You making the first move with Troy.”

“Tyler, and I don’t know,” Jen said, opening a drawer for a dishwashing capsule.  “We’ve kissed a few times, but…”

“Then he’s not worth it,” Scott said and laughed.  “Come on.  You’ve been on a few dates with him…”

“Three.”

“Forget about him,” Scott said, shaking his head.  “He’s a loser.”

“We’ll see.”

“You will,” Scott said, looking right at her.  “And you don’t need a nice guy, Jennifer.  You need a good guy.  They have all the perks of not being assholes and they make the first move.”

“Really?” Jen said, turning on the dishwasher.  “You would know?”

“How do you think I got married?” Scott said, handing her his cup.  “Sorry.”

“Of course,” she said, taking the cup from him and opening the dishwasher again, putting it in.  “Who’s not going to say they’re a good guy?”

“My wife’s pretty happy even when I disagree with her.  So, something’s working.”

“Yeah, right,” Jen said, noticing the unswept floor.  “I’m not impressed.”

“I can live with that.  We’re not sleeping together.”

“Thank God for that,” Jen said and grabbed a broom.

“You’ll get there.”

“I thought I already had,” Jen said, looking up from the floor.

“Maybe, but I already had a two-year-old when I was thirty.”

“I’m twenty-nine, Scott.  You bought me a cake.”

“Sorry.  The point is I had a family when I was your age.”

“I’ve got plenty of family, and not much of it’s fun,” Jen said and started sweeping.

“That’s because you didn’t make that family yourself, Jennifer.  There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, because you’re not bitching every day and getting fat.”

“Yes, I’m always busy and don’t have any time to myself,” Scott said and smiled.  “But I’m happy and I have a purpose, Jennifer.  Do you?”

“And working for Jimmy’s part of all of that, Scott?” Jen said, still sweeping.

“No, not at all,” he said, watching her sweep and then raising the hand with the Rolex on his wrist.  “It does pay for everything, though.”

“And Lori’s cool with that?” Jen said, getting the corners.

“Depends on the day,” Scott said, sighing.  “But yes, mostly.”

“Well, I hope she didn’t mind you watching the children last night,” Jen said and looked up at the second floor, sweeping the dirt into a dustpan. 

“I’ll let you know,” Scott said and stood up.

“For the ride home,” Jen said and filled another cup with more coffee and two sugars.  “You sound like you’ll need it.”

“Thanks, but I have to talk to Jimmy first,” he said, taking the cup.  “Make sure he’s all good.”

“Of course you do.  That’s our job,” Jen said as she poured two new cups and topped up hers.  “I’m going to wake them up.”

“Big meeting today.”

“Let’s hope so,” Jen said, lifting all three cups without spilling a drop.

“Very nice,” he said, smiling at her.


 

 

Chapter 4: The Phone

 

“Yeah, just keep looking pretty while I do all the work,” Jen said, moving forward as Scott sat down.

“You remember I was up all night, right?” he said, leaning back. 

“Great.  Congratulations.  But I’ve got to get Caitlyn up for her…”

“Meeting.  Yes.  You mentioned it, and I see the coffees.  They’re delicious and thanks,” Scott said, taking another sip.  “Jimmy will appreciate it too, but probably won’t tell you.”

“Shocking.”

“But I’m going to need your phone,” Scott said, holding out his hand.  “Just like every other time before, Jennifer.”

“It’s just coffee, as you so carefully pointed out, Scott,” Jen said, stopping on the edge of the kitchen.

“Yes, but who knows what’s going on.”

“It’s not hard to imagine with just the two of them,” Jen said, with a big, exaggerated shrug.

“That’s what I tell myself,” Scott said, his hand still out.  “But I still need the phone.”

“You know Jimmy and I slept together a few years ago when I did some work for his father,” Jen said, not moving.  “What do you think I haven’t seen?”

“It’s not the seeing I’m worried about.”

“Anyone can go to the internet, Scott.”

“Yes, but those photos pre-date me working for him, and you know the policy,” he said, waving his hand.  “Phone please.”

Jen came back into the kitchen and put down two of the coffees, pulling out her cell phone.  “You know, he was awesome the first time, terrifying the second and I faked my period to avoid a third.”

“You’re not the first to say that,” Scott said, taking her phone.  “Thanks.”

“Yeah, I’m kind of surprised they’re going on two months,” Jen said, rebalancing the three coffees again.

“Jimmy thinks Caitlyn might be the real deal.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Me too,” Scott said, looking at Jen’s screen photo.  “Nice looking kids.”

“My nephew and niece,” Jen said, moving forward again.  “They’re ten and seven.”

“It’s password protected right?” Scott said.

“No, I missed a couple of calls that way,” Jen said, walking away.  “So, don’t go through my stuff.”

“Embarrassing photos?”

“Of my family,” Jen said and looked back.  “Yeah.”

“You should still password protect it.”

“I shouldn’t have to worry about that if you’re the good guy you claim to be, Scott.”

“True,” he said, putting the phone on the counter and picking up his coffee.  “Very true.”

“Don’t work too hard, okay?” Jen said and eased out of the kitchen.

“You said that, and I’m hoping to be out of here before I finish this,” he said, holding up the cup.  “Send Jimmy down.”

“Like he’d listen.”

“I have to pick up my youngest at 11:00, and that includes traffic.”

“I’ll try,” Jen said and started up the stairs, pausing for a moment.  “What is that smell?” she thought, wriggling her nose and climbing a few more steps, shaking it off before she got to the top and turned to the master bedroom.  She groaned at the cracked plaster in the hallway.  “That’s going to cost at least a few hundred bucks, and that doesn’t include the broken lamp Scott mentioned.”

She hesitated at the door, putting down the coffees on a table in the hallway and then knocked.  “How big is this mess going to be?” she thought, putting on her practiced smile and opening the door.


 

Chapter 5: The Mess

 

“Yeah, that’s a shock,” Jen thought, sipping her coffee and noting the linens, pillows, books, alarm clock, dirty clothes, clean clothes, newspaper, tablet, open bottle of wine, empty pizza box and eight pizza crusts strewn across the floor and around the room.  “Lots of sound and fury signifying nothing,” she said with her practiced smile.  “And now I’ve used Shakespeare on the job.  Yay, high school English.”

She put down her coffee and grabbed the two full cups on the hall table as she noted Caitlyn curled up naked on the bed and the sounds of the shower from the bathroom.  She put down one coffee on the dresser near the bathroom and the other on the night stand next to Caitlyn, before covering her with a blanket and smoothing it out.  She gave the mess another look, and then put the linens and pillows on the bed, grabbed the pizza box and started picking up the crusts and wine bottle.  She left them out in the hall and then started scooping the dirty clothes into the hamper hidden in the corner of the room.  

“You waking up, Cathy?” Jen said, thinking, “That’s right.  I used your family name.  Just like your mom.  Because this is a big day.  And we have to get ready to kick butt.  No matter how much fun you had last night.”

Caitlyn did not move a muscle.

“I’m glad you had a good time, but we have to get up soon, hon,” Jen said, throwing the broken lamp in the trash, putting the tablet on the dresser and gathering up the books.  “Thanks for giving me last night off, though.  I used it to see Tyler, our blue eyed security consultant, on a third date, and no, nothing happened.”  She started sorting and folding the clean clothes.

“He did take me to a nice dinner with drinks and was a gentleman, understanding that I really did have to get up early this morning,” Jen said, folding.  “But I’m thinking nice guys might not be for me.”  She smiled.  “Yes, he asked a lot of questions and actually listened pretty well, but I wasn’t feeling it.  Nothing.  Nada de amor, ni el sexo.  He was just there, which is surprising since you were right that he’s actually good looking and that we do have similar tastes.”

She turned to the bathroom door as the shower shut off, and then looked back at Caitlyn.  The coffee was still on the night stand and the covers hadn’t moved an inch. 

“Caitlyn, get up and drink some coffee so we can get the day started.  Remember we have that lunch with Daniel later today.  You know, about the movie.”

But Caitlyn didn’t move, so Jen started toward the bed, listening, but not hearing anything except Jimmy rummaging around in the bathroom. 

“Caitlyn, hey,” Jen said, and patted the woman gently on the hip, leaving her hand there and rubbing her side.  “It’s time to get up.”  She sat on the bed and felt the woman’s head.  It was cold.  Really cold.

She blinked and looked right at Caitlyn, noticing the open and unmoving eyes before rolling her onto her back and pulling off the blanket.  She ignored the nakedness and put her ear over Caitlyn’s heart, hearing nothing for half a minute.  “Shit,” she said in a whisper and bolted upright to look at Caitlyn again and see a giant purple and black bruise on the side of her head.  “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”

An electric razor started up and Jen jumped, turning to the bathroom.  She breathed in and noticed a new teddy bear that hadn’t been there yesterday, staring at her with weird glass eyes.  She turned back to the bathroom, then Caitlyn and then the teddy bear again.

“So, someone saw this and called the cops?” she said, noting the 8:13 on the alarm clock and remembering that she had shooed away the paparazzo fifteen minutes ago.  “Or not.”

Jen turned to the buzzing in the bathroom and blinked again.  “Shit,” she said and turned to the rest of the room.  Half of it was still a mess, but she’d straightened up the other half.  “Screw me for doing my job,” she thought as she stepped forward and threw the linens and pillows back on the floor, tipped over a shelf load of books and headed for the pizza box outside the bedroom.  “Scott,” she said very quietly and looked to the first floor before turning back to the bathroom door.

“Jimmy is a complete asshole, but Scott is a good guy, former army Ranger or something and does right by those he likes, and he likes me,” she thought, standing in the bedroom doorway.  “But he works for Jimmy.  Shit.  And Jimmy’s dealt with this kind of thing before with Scott’s help.  Shit.  And that means I am still grade A screwed.”

“Shit,” she said, looking back at the dirty clothes in the hamper and the clean clothes folded on top of the dresser right next to the second coffee. 

“Okay.  Think.  Not like Hollywood or TV, but like high school, where everyone is a devious bitch or conniving shit who would rat out their friends in a heartbeat to avoid trouble.”  She almost smiled.  “Like when I borrowed Alex’s clothes and didn’t want her to find out.” 

She reached down and grabbed the pizza box and wine bottle from the hall, dumping it on the bedroom floor and scattering the crusts.  “Close enough,” she thought, turning to the hamper when the razor buzz stopped for a second. 

“Ow,” she heard from the bathroom.  “God damn it,” Jimmy said but then the buzzing started again.

Jen frowned.  “He did this and now he’s getting all cleaned up to tell his side of the story,” she thought, reaching for the hamper.  “He’ll make it look like an accident, blame the recovering party girl/fame whore, and the police will probably believe him.  The shit.” 

She stopped, looking at the mess she was making and shook her head.  “It’s not the same,” she said and straightened up, sniffing the air again.  “He’ll notice things are off.  He’s an asshole, not an idiot.  He’ll remember something or notice the smell of coffee.  Or Scott’ll tell him I came upstairs or whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  He’ll know.”

She looked around the room, focusing on the teddy bear camera.  She waved and pointed to Caitlyn’s body and the bathroom when the buzzing stopped again.  She turned to the closet door and then back to the body.  “Thank you for being so paranoid, Caitlyn,” she thought and pulled up the covers tightly around her, giving her a hug.  “You were better than anyone knew.” 

She wiped her face and then stood up, walking quickly across the room and opening the door to the walk in closet and mountain of clothes in it.  She shut the door behind her and made a path through the clothes as she heard the bathroom door open.

“Caitlyn, I had a great night,” she heard Jimmy say, coming out of the bathroom.  “Well, you know, except for the end.”

“You fuck,” she thought.

“I mean…  Look, I’m sorry you got your head slammed into the wall, what, three times.  But you didn’t listen to me, did you?  Not even after the warning.” Jimmy said, and Jen reached out to the back of the closet wall.  “I mean I did tell you about the butt stuff and cocaine and what happens to me, right?”

Her fingers grazed an edge in the wall that shouldn’t be there. 

“It’s really too bad, honey.  You know.  Because I really thought we had something good, right,” Jimmy said and stopped for a moment.

“Crap he’s noticed.”

“I also thought you were naked when I went to shower, Cake, and looking at the world with big dead eyes,” Jimmy said and Jen heard him pick up the coffee cup, taking a sip.  “Jenny?”

She poked her fingers into the edge, wriggling them in deeper.

“Jennnnnny?” Jimmy said more loudly and she heard him walking around the room.   He knocked over something, probably another lamp, and it crashed on the floor.  “I’m not an idiot, honey.  I know you were here.”  He laughed as something else crashed to the floor.  “You’re the only one in this house who makes good coffee, cleans up compulsively or who would tuck in Caitlyn in some kind of creepy rest-in-piece gesture.”

She ignored him and pried open the closet’s hidden door.

“Jenny, Jenny, Jenny,” she heard, louder each time.  “Obviously, Cake had an accident, and I need your help cleaning it up.”  He knocked over something else.  “We need to make this right, Jenny.  Come on.”

She squeezed through the door.

“Okay, you’re not going to be helpful and I understand that, but it’s just going to make things harder for you,” she heard, and the closet door opened.  “Scott.”’

She closed the secret door and bolted it shut.

“Scott,” she heard Jimmy yell.  “Code red.  Code red.” 


 

Chapter 6: The Near Thing

 

Jen and Jimmy both stood still and listened.

“What is a code red?” she thought. 

Then Jimmy walked into the closet and started tearing things apart, knocking over racks of clothes, throwing aside stacks of shoes and tearing down rows of accessories. 

“Scott, God damn it,” he said, screaming.  “Fucking code red.  Fucking code red.” 

“It can’t be good,” Jen thought from the other side of the wall as Jimmy slammed a rack against it. “He’s even crazier than when I slept with him three years ago, and he was super crazy then.”

“Jimmy, what’s going on?” Jen heard Scott say.  “Jimmy?”

She turned to the small panic room that Caitlyn started installing last week, looking at the row of video monitors in front of her on a table and seeing the mess Jimmy made in the closet and Scott’s narrowing eyes. 

“Jimmy,” Scott said.

Jimmy finally noticed him.  “Scott,” he said, breathing hard.  “We have a code red.”

“Okay.  Where’s Jennifer?” Scott said, turning to the bedroom.  “Is that Caitlyn?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Jimmy said and started throwing clothes around again.  “And yes.  She’s the code red.”

“What?” Jen said.

“Jesus, Jimmy?” Scott said and shut the bedroom door, looking around the entire room.  “What the hell?”

“It was an accident.”

“Again?”

“You need to do something, Scott,” Jimmy said, yelling and throwing more clothes out of the closet.  “Jennifer was here.  She brought us coffee and now she’s gone.”

“That’s her job,” Scott said, noticing the coffee and the folded clean clothes.

“And this is your job, God damn it,” Jimmy said and walked back into the bedroom.  “She didn’t go downstairs did she?”

“No.”

“So where is she?”

Scott stared at Caitlyn’s body, looked around the room again and then under the bed.

“What the fuck, Scott.  Come on.  Do your thing.”

“Yes, Scott,” Jen thought, watching on the monitors as Scott looked in the bathroom.  “Do the right thing.”

“It’s what I’m paying you for,” Jimmy said, getting into Scott’s face.  “Do your magic.”

“Jimmy,” Scott said, rechecking the bedroom and putting his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.  “Do you mind?  I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and I need to think.”

“Yes.  There you are, buddy.  The magic is coming out.”

“Thanks,” Scott said and pulled out Jen’s cell phone from his jacket pocket and then a small black box with three antennae.  “It’s a good thing I hadn’t left, Jimmy.”

“I’m blessed, Scott, by your devotion and your boy scout preparedness.”

“Right,” Scott said, fiddling with the black box. 

“Shit,” Jen said. knocking aside a keyboard and pushing over a lamp before grabbing the cell phone on the edge of the table.

“Blink and radio silence,” Jimmy said as Scott turned on the black box.  “Best investment I ever made.”

“It’s scary that I have to carry one of these around, Jimmy.”

“Son of a bitch,” Jen said, yelling, as she heard nothing but silence on the phone.  “I told her to get a land line up here.”

Scott and Jimmy turned to closet and Jen’s muffled voice. 

“And I believe in miracles, Scott,” Jimmy said, returning to the closet and pushing aside the rest of the clothes to see its back wall.  “Didn’t Caitlyn say something about a panic room last week?”

“Yes,” Scott said, walking past Jimmy to look at the closet’s back wall.

“Okay,” Jen said, watching them search the wall just like she did three minutes ago.  “I need to be somewhere else.”

She dropped the phone and looked around the small room, seeing the videos and computers, a baseball bat, a case of protein bars and two cases of water.  “Where do you go the bathroom?” she thought, looking around and seeing a box with a toilet lid cover.  “Great.”  Then she noticed the thumb drive on the side of the computer.  She pulled it out and the video screens blinked.

“That’s right, Caitlyn.  You didn’t want anyone to see more naked photos of you again so only Horizon Security can open this,” Jen said out loud and pocketed the drive, looking around the room again.  “At least it’s a start.”

A loud bang came from the door and she looked at the monitor to see Scott and Jimmy pounding on the closet wall/secret door.

Jen knew it wouldn’t hold.  Scott and Jimmy had forever to break open the door since she was trapped in here and the phone didn’t work.  They wouldn’t stop until they broke it down.  “You were a mediocre date, and you install a worse security system, Tyler,” she thought, and started looking around the room for a third time.  “There used to be a window right there.”

The pounding on the door got louder.

“Crap.  They found something heavier,” she thought and picked up the baseball bat, heading to where the window used to be.  She tapped the wall with her hand and smiled.  “Hollow.  Jesus, I hope someone sues the shit out of Horizon.”

She grabbed the bat with both hands and pulled it all the way back, waiting for the next hit on the door.

Bang.

Scott looked up from his banging on the door, and Jen hit the wall again.

Bang.

“She’s trying to get out,” Jimmy said.

“No kidding,” Scott said and pulled back on a metal baton, hitting the wall again.

“Why do you have that retractable billy club again?”

“Because not everybody loves you like I do, Jimmy,” Scott said, giving him a look.  “And because I never know when I’ll have to break through a door to scare a woman who’s causing you trouble.”

“I hope Jenny’s scared.”

“Great,” Scott said, bending the door inward to see the locking mechanism.  “What is this the third time, Jimmy?”

“It’s going to buy you another house, Scott,” Jimmy said, yelling again.  “So, cut the crap, and...”

“Right,” Scott said and jammed the tip of the baton into the now exposed locking mechanism and shoved it in as hard as he could.  “Well, we better hope that they didn’t install a land line in there.”

“Based on that door I don’t think we have much to worry about,” Jimmy said, laughing as Scott started to leverage it open.  “Although let’s hope Jenny doesn’t have a gun on the other side.”

“What?” Scott said, stopping and looking right at Jimmy.  “Cake owns a gun?”

“Yes, that bitch owned a gun.  Two I think.”

“You think?”

“Caitlyn liked to shoot,” Jimmy said with a shrug.  “And in case you didn’t notice it’s quiet on the other side, right?  I doubt Jenny’s giving up.”

“I doubt it too,” Scott said and pulled out a pistol from his jacket.

“What don’t you have in there, Scott?” Jimmy said with a smile.

Scott ignored him and raised the pistol, kicking open the door.

The two men stared at the video monitors, seeing themselves and the rest of the villa, inside and out.

“Where is she?” Jimmy said, stepping behind Scott.  “Do you think she’s got that gun?”

“Only since you brought it up,” Scott said and squinted into the panic room.  “What crappy security.”

“Yes, but what did you expect, buddy?  Caitlyn hasn’t worked in three years.”

Scott sighed, but kept his focus in front of him, stepping inside the room and seeing the computer and another monitor that flashed, ‘Warning.  Recording stopped.  Please install a new storage device.  Warning.  Recording stopped.’

“That sounds about right,” Scott said, already heading for the stairs.

“Fuck,” Jimmy said, turning to the breeze blowing in the hole in the wall.  “Fuck, fuck, fuck, Scott.  She got away.  Fuck.”

 

Chapter 7: The Dirty Work

 

“That’s right, asshole.  I got away,” Jen thought and picked herself up from the bushes surrounding the villa.  “Just barely, but…”  She stopped, hearing Scott barrel down the stairs, and turned to the south side of the house to see her beautifully close and too far away car at the end of the drive way.  “It’s the first place they’ll go, and my keys are in a bowl near the locked, side door.”  A loud bang came from that side of the house and she took off in the other direction.

“Please, please, please live up to your stereotype, Jake.  Show me how little faith and trust paparazzi have in humanity, and how strong your work ethic is by returning to try to catch a shot of Caitlyn and Jimmy Roberts going at it,” she said, scanning the yard and the bushes.  “I will not only kiss you on the mouth and anywhere else you want.  I will also give you the scoop of a lifetime because any and every confidentiality agreement is now out the door.”

She ducked under a bush, seeing Scott run to the front gate and chase away some teenage girls, but no paparazzi.  “He’ll circle around” she thought and turned around, staring at the back fence and then looking beyond it.

“No,” she said, shaking her head as she saw a house in the distance.  “No, not in a million years.”  She turned back to the front of the villa.  “Not again.  He’s an asshole and I said I would never speak to him again.”

She heard the teenage girls yell and turned back to the front gate, Scott now outside it.  She frowned and looked at that house in the distance again, taking a step forward when another teenage girl came around the corner.  “Shit,” she said, pulling back a fist.

The teenage girl’s face dropped.  “I’m sorry,” she said, looking at Jen with wide eyes.  “I’m sorry.  I just wanted to see Cake and say, ‘hi,’ and some crazy looking blond guy came out and chased my friends away.”

Jen blinked and lowered her fist as the girl’s wide eyes narrowed and her face turned into a giant smile. 

“You’re Jenny Alvarez, Caitlyn Kelly’s personal assistant for the last two years and five months.  You were in Cake’s People profile two years ago.  She called you her rock: a real life saver, smarter than a big sister and a better cook than her mother.”

“Okay,” Jen said, pulling the girl along with her as she started for the back yard.  “It’s all right.  You’re not the first person to trespass.  Not even today and…”

“And you’re wearing the leather jacket that Cake had on at the People’s Choice Awards,” the girl said, touching Jen’s arm and rubbing the sleeve between her fingers.  “It looks and feels even better than I...”

“Thanks,” Jen said, checking over her shoulder as she walked faster. 

“Is Cake here?  Can I say ‘hi,’ to her?”

“I’m afraid she left early this morning for a shoot,” Jen said and frowned at the house in the distance.

“Is it with JJ Abrams.  I heard…”

“She snuck out the back door to the avoid the paparazzi…”

“We saw you chase that guy off,” the girl said, nodding.  “It worked because he didn’t come back.”

“That’s too bad,” Jen thought, noticing that the girl was about her height with similar hair color, and stopped.  She looked her right in the eye.  “What’s your name, honey?”

“Tammy.  Tammy Rosenberg.  I’m from Short Hills, New Jersey, but my school’s out here for a trip, and I’m sorry, and I’m so happy you’re not mad with me…”

“I know, and I’m sure Caitlyn would have been happy to see you and your friends.  You’re the reason she is who she is and does what she does.”

“She was so good in ‘The Truth,’” Tammy said with a big nod.

“She was, and I’m sorry she’s not here to say, ‘hi’,” Jen said, glancing over her shoulder again and taking off her jacket.  She pulled out the cigarettes and lighter in it.  “But you know what?  To make up for it why don’t you take my coat.”

“Oh my God,” Tammy said, her face nearly exploding.  “Oh my God.  Oh my God.  Oh my God. 

“I was just borrowing it until the Goodwill Truck came tomorrow,” Jen said, slipping it on Tammy.  “And it’s cold this morning, you know?”

Tammy trembled as she hugged the coat around her.

“You look good in it,” Jen said, giving Tammy the once over.  “The problem is that blond guy, Scott, is head of security, and he’s just doing his job, you know, but he isn’t a big fan of fans if you know what I mean.”

“Right.  I read about that in People too.”

“You did?” Jen thought, but nodded.  “I’ll tell Caitlyn, I mean Cake, you were here, Tammy.  She’ll be happy you like the jacket so much.”

“Oh, thank you.  Thank you, thank you so much,” Tammy said and hugged Jen, wrapping her arms around her.  “You are the best.  Better than an older sister.”

“Thanks,” Jen said, hearing the faint, but definite sound of sirens.  “I’m a good cook too.”

“I bet,” Tammy said and let her go of Jen, hearing the sirens and turning to the front of the house.  “Oh my God, I can’t get arrested again.”

“Again,” Jen thought, and pointed toward her car.  “The easiest way out is to the right along the driveway.  You want to make sure Scott doesn’t see you or he’ll have a fit, but you need to get out of here right now.”

“Okay.  Thanks,” Tammy said, looking at the driveway and then turning back to Jen.  “You are the best.”

“You too, Tammy,” Jen said and looked at the jacket one last time.  “And remember to stay away from Scott.  Run if you have to.”

“Right,” Tammy said and headed straight for the driveway.

“And I’m going to do the same thing,” Jen thought, looking at the house in the distance again and leaping up to the six-foot fence, pulling herself up and over it, and then falling into a mud puddle on the other side.

“Great,” she said, wiping her face off and darting to an intricate playset built like a pirate ship in the neighbor’s backyard.  She slipped in beneath a slide and nodded.  “Yay, school,” she thought, remembering that the neighbors had three kids under twelve who bugged Caitlyn with their noise.  She peeked at the seemingly empty ranch house in front of her, moved to the front of the ship, then pushed carefully through the swings.  “Matt would love this thing.” 

She glanced at the back fence and then ran to a small grove of palm trees, hiding between them and taking in the house again.  Catching her breath, she heard the cop cars pull up in front of Caitlyn’s villa. 

“That means everything’s hit the fan.  Scott or Jimmy beat me to the punch and called the cops.  So, they or the cops will soon find Tammy who will tell them that I was just in the backyard, and now I’m not.  The cops will circle the block to try and find me.  So, I have to get out of here before Jimmy, Scott and Jimmy’s legal team throw me under the bus for Caitlyn’s murder,” she thought and fingered the thumb drive, starting for the neighbor’s house, walking past it and to the street.  She kept going straight across to the next house and walked through their open front gate and into their back yard.  “I have to keep the drive out of Jimmy’s hands until I can figure out how to get Horizon Security to read it, and that means I have to run for at least a little while.”

She came to another fence and looked for the house in the distance that was just a little closer.  “Crap,” she said and climbed it, stumbling at the top for a moment, but successfully avoided falling this time.  She stayed low and skulked in between the bushes of the next neighbor’s backyard, keeping her eyes out for people and listening for police, kids and anybody else making noise. 

More sirens blared nearby, but Jen ignored them and hit the next fence.  She grabbed the top and put one foot up, hauling herself to the top and rolled over it to land crouching on the other side.  “Just like with Debbie and Teddy when old man Enrique chased after us when we rang his door bell,” she thought and looked down to see her shoes sink into the mud.  “Probably got that dirty when was I was nine too.”  She sighed.  “So I better get used to it.” 

She started forward. 

“Let’s hope Scott is having as much fun,” she said, looking at the house in the distance that was just a little bit closer and shook her head.  “Son of a bitch.  I promised myself I would never see Nick again.”

 


 

Chapter 8: The Force 

 

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I hope Jennifer realizes that she is at least neck deep in shit that I now have to clean up,” Scott said, watching the police cruiser.

“Code red, Scott.  Code red,” Jimmy said right next to him as more sirens blared in the distance.  I don’t like cops, Scott, and this looks and sounds like a lot of cops.”

“We called them,” Scott said and looked at Jimmy, putting his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder to stop him from bouncing around on the driveway.  “Remember, we just figured out that Caitlyn Kelly’s P.A. killed her last night after you’d gone to sleep and before she went home, and then returned to work this morning to blame you for her murder.”

Jimmy nodded until two police cruisers approached them, and then he looked Scott in the eye.  “Code red, Scott.”

“Calm down, Jimmy,” Scott said, looking back.  “You need to calm the hell down.”

Jimmy kept staring.

“I’ll talk to the cops, like always,” Scott said as the police cruisers stopped in front of the open gate and Jimmy turned back to the villa.

“You better, Scott,” he said, blinking hard as he reached for his waistband.  “I don’t like cops, Scott.”

“You don’t have a gun, Jimmy, and I just told you for the fourth time that we called the police.”

Jimmy turned around and his left hand started flapping.  “I don’t have great experience with cops, Scott.”

“I know, Jimmy, but you’ve never been to prison,” Scott said, steadying him again.  “What did you take this morning, Jimmy?”

“I should call my lawyer,” Jimmy said and looked into Scott’s eyes again, his right hand now flapping too. 

“Good idea,” Scott said, hitting the call button and handing his cell phone to Jimmy.  “He just canceled a meeting to talk to you.”

“Good.  Good,” Jimmy said and heard his lawyer’s voice, stepping back from Scott and the approaching officers and detectives. 

Scott waved to them and smiled as they approached, pulling out Jen’s cell phone and checking that her contacts had transferred to his cloud account.  “That should help,” he said, pocketing it again and nodding to the detective.  “Lieutenant Danvers.  I wish we saw each other on more pleasant terms.”

“Well, maybe there’s a reason for that, Mr. Dawson,” Danvers said, turning to Jimmy. 

“I’d usually agree with you, Lieutenant,” Scott said, looking past Jimmy and pointing to the villa.  “But this time it’s more of a jealous P.A. and her boss.  It’s terrible what’s in there.”

Danvers nodded and looked from Jimmy to the villa.  “Okay, Mr. Dawson, what is it this time?” he said and pulled out his notebook and pen. 

“A little old school there, Lieutenant.”

“It gets the job done, Mr. Dawson,” Danvers said and clicked his pen, turning back to Jimmy.  “And that’s what you want, right?”

Scott looked at Jimmy too.  “Yes, I do, Lieutenant,” he said and nodded to Caitlyn’s villa.  “Yes, I do.”


 

Chapter 9: The Ex

 

Jen took one last look back at Caitlyn’s house, wiping away the dirt and sweat from her face and smiling her practiced smile as she took in the house in the distance up close and personal.  “I swore I would never come back here,” she said, looking over the back porch and patio.  “I hate the flower arrangements, the concreted backyard, the squeaky pink glider and those stupid, stupid parrot sounding wind chimes.”  She shook her head.  “Where do you even buy that crap?” 

She stepped up to the back door and knocked, having noticed someone in the kitchen.  She looked at her reflection in the glass door to check the smile and then stepped back and waited.

A minute later a face appeared behind a curtain and she heard a loud laugh and someone saying, “I can’t believe it.”

Her face froze, keeping up that smile.

“Jennifer Alvarez,” a man said, opening the door with a bowl of cereal in one hand.  “As I live and breathe I never thought I’d see you again.  Not after that long, loud and passionate speech about how much of an asshole I was, how much you loathed me and how much you hated my choice in landscaping and every other aspect of everything I own and how I live.”  The man laughed again, taking in Jen’s filthy appearance.  “Not that I can imagine you’d say that now.”

“Thanks,” she said, keeping up that smile and giving him a look too, noticing that he was wearing only boxers.  “I see you got rid of the fountain with Venus and Cupid.”

“The world is a crazy place, Jennifer,” the man said with a big smile.  “I never expected you to stop by in my backyard looking like shit before three o’clock.”

“Shut up, Nick,” Jen said.

He laughed again.

“I can’t believe that you still eat cereal in your boxers.”

“I look good, don’t I?” he said, giving her a nod.

“What happened to the robe I got you?”

“It wasn’t my style, Jennifer,” he said and shrugged with a bigger smile.  “I actually exchanged it for a set of boxer shorts, including these.”

“You’re still a dick, huh?” Jen said, taking a step forward.

“And an asshole too if you ask the right people,” Nick said and stepped forward, wiping her face with the napkin under the bowl of cereal in his hand.  He looked into her eyes.  “It’s nice to see you.”

“You too,” she said, looking back.  “Under the circumstances.”

“Whatever that means,” he said and winked, leaning down to kiss her.

She kissed him back, letting him linger before leaning back and opening her eyes.

“I remember doing that a lot,” Nick said, opening his own and smiling a more reasonable smile.  “Along with a lot of other stuff, Jennifer.”

“You’re still a dick,” she said, pushing him back.

“Yep, that was part of it,” he said, stepping to the side of the door.

“Shut up,” she said and walked into a mud room and then the kitchen.

“You’re making a mess,” Nick said, shutting the door and following the dirty trail behind her.

“I need a favor,” Jen said as Nick pulled out a broom.  “And that doesn’t count.”

“Fine,” he said, sweeping.  “I think I owed you one anyway.”

“You owed about ten, Nick.”

“You were generous,” he said with that big smile again.

“Great.  I’m going to take a shower,” Jen said, starting up the stairs and lengthening the dirt trail behind her.  “Why don’t you get dressed and we’ll talk?”

“Okay,” he said, putting down the broom and following her.

She gave him a look.

“My clothes are upstairs, Jennifer.”

“Fine.” she said, but ten minutes later he was still hanging around with nothing but a shower curtain between them.  “And you’re still a giant dick.”

“I wouldn’t say giant,” Nick said, looking down as he stood in the open bathroom doorway.  “But yes, and you didn’t shut the door.”

“I shouldn’t have to,” Jen said, poking her head out to see Nick in shorts, t-shirt and sandals.  “Most people know better.”

“And most people don’t drop by asking for favors when the police find their boss dead and they’re the number one person of interest,” Nick said, holding up the CNN webpage on his phone.

“Like you’re an angel.”

“Really?

“Sorry,” she said and blinked, ducking back into the shower.  “I didn’t kill her.”

“I figured,” he said and his face straightened out.  “Are you all right?”

“I’ve been better,” she said and let the shower rinse off the sweat and grime on her face. 

“Okay.  You want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Not really,” she said and turned around in the shower, getting her whole body wet.  “I was the one who found her dead in bed this morning.”

“Right,” Nick said, sitting down on the toilet.  “And then you walked through every bush and climbed over every tree on the way to my shower.”

“Yeah, that’s the story,” she said, grabbing the soap.  “Now why don’t you get out of the bathroom?”

“Right,” Nick said, not moving.  “Who killed her?”

“Jimmy Roberts.”

Nick nodded.  “Hasn’t he done this kind of thing before?”

“Supposedly,” Jen said, soaping up.  “Supposedly more than once.”

“Just like he acts.  He just plays himself over and over again.”

“Or a nicer version,” Jen said, cleaning up.

“Right.”

“And the thing is Caitlyn was going to meet a producer today.”

“Really?” he said with an eyebrow up.  “She scored a role after a five-year drought?”

“Three and yeah,” Jen said, scrubbing off the grime.  “Rehab took.”

“Third time’s the charm.”

“Right,” she said and pulled back the curtain.  “And screw you.  You know how much I had to do to get her clean.”

“I can imagine,” he said and laughed, smiling at her.

“Like you’re an angel.”

“You said that, but I never needed rehab.”

“Not from drugs,” she said, closing the curtain.

“Nice talk from someone who swore you’d kick my ass the next time you saw me,” he said and got off the toilet, walking out of the bathroom.  “You’ve got some big ones coming here in your situation.”

“I do,” she said, putting down the soap.  “And you weren’t my first choice.”

“I was your only choice,” he said, turning back to the bathroom.  “You didn’t have anybody else, did you?”

“Maybe,” she said and put her head under the shower, letting it rinse out her hair.  “So, what do you think?”

“I think you’re kind of fucked,” Nick said, shaking his head.  “Jimmy Roberts has got to have an army of lawyers for all of the crap that’s he gotten out of, and he’s got the money to buy even more.”

“Yeah, he does,” Jen said, keeping her head under the shower.

“So, you might want to think about taking whatever free time you have and enjoying it while you can?”

“Keep thinking that, Nick,” Jen said, imagining his leer.  “But the kiss wasn’t that good.”

“Right.”

“I just got caught up in a moment.”

“That’s what I’m suggesting now.”

“And I don’t think I’m that fucked yet,” she said, pulling her head out from under the water.

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, I’ve got a video of everything that happened at the house in the last 24 hours.”

Nick blinked on the other side of the curtain. 

“It’s on a hard drive I grabbed from the panic room and it’s coded so that nobody could steal it and see compromising images of Caitlyn.”

“I think she’s about five years past that.”

“Shut up.  All I have to do is get the tape to Horizon Security and I can clear my name, put Jimmy in jail.”

“Right, because nobody’s looking for you, Jennifer,” Nick said and raised his phone above the shower curtain, showing her the CNN site again.

“You have a better idea?”

“I do, and it could do all that and make you a lot of money too.”

“I’m not going to your uncle,” she said, shutting off the water.

“How are you going to get to Horizon Security?”

“I’d rather go to the police,” Jen said and reached out of the shower for a towel.

“Well, they’re certainly around and looking for you,” he said, handing her one. 

“I was thinking of my sister,” she said, taking it and beginning to dry off.

“You two getting along this week?”

“Not this month,” Jen said, drying off.

“And she’s still taking parental absence or whatever.”

“Yeah.”

“Great plan.”

“Shut up, and look away,” Jen said, stepping out of the shower.

“I’ve seen it all before,” Nick said, peeking.

“That’s creepy.”

“Hey, you’re the one borrowing my shower,” he said, not bothering to just peek.

“Still creepy,” she said, looking for her clothes.

“You still look good.

“Still, huh?” Jen said, pointing him up to her eyes.  “Where are my clothes?”

“In the wash,” he said, still looking at her.

“Really?” she said, looking back.  “The wash?”

“They were filthy,” he said with a shrug.

“You know how to do laundry now?”

“Ever since you left, yes,” he said and pointed to a pile of clean clothes on the sink.  “You can use these.  You forgot them when you left.”

“And you kept them?” Jen said, looking them over.  “Creepy.”

“Stop complaining,” he said, shaking his head.  “I have something you can wear that’s clean.”

“They’re slutty yoga pants and a tight t-shirt.””

“Plus, underwear and sneakers,” he said and noticed her frown.  “Blame yourself.  You brought and left them here.”

“Shut up,” she said, reaching for the underwear.  “And get out.”

“Right,” he said and started for the hallway.

“I want to lay low here until tonight and then take off.  Can I do that?”

“That sounds like a terrible plan with all the cops around.”

She shut the door behind him.  “You have a better idea?”

“My uncle can get you past the police and to the Horizon Security,” Nick said on the other side of the door.  “He has the right connections, he liked you and you’re going to need a lawyer.”

“Probably,” Jen said and looked at herself in the mirror.  “And no thanks.”

“You’re being stupid.”

“Shut up,” she said and started getting dressed.  “I’m not going to your uncle.”

“Right, but you’ll come to my house.”

Jen nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“Meet me in the kitchen when you’re dressed.  We’ll figure out what you should do.”

“I’m not changing my mind.”

“I didn’t say you were,” he said, heading down the stairs.  “That’d be stupid.”

“Okay.  Thanks,” she said and held up the yoga pants and the barely there t-shirt to the mirror.  “It’s really twisted that you kept my clothes, particularly these.”

“I know,” he said back on the main floor.  “But you’re the one who left them.”

“Dick,” she said and finished getting dressed.  She opened the medicine cabinet and reached into the box of band aids where she left the drive.  She put it in her waistband when she noticed an old bottle of pills with her name on it and then looked around the rest of the very familiar bathroom.  “This might not have been the best idea.” 


 

Chapter 10: The Plan

 

“Yeah, this is getting too comfortable,” Jen said, seeing the quiche, fruit salad, coffee and water on the kitchen table.  “What the hell is going on here, Nick?”

“You’re hungry aren’t you?” he said with a smile.

“Yeah,” Jen said, picking up the coffee.  “Thirsty too.”

“Well then you answered your question, Einstein.  Again.”

“Shut…”

“Up.  Yes, I know.  And I’m a dick too.”

Jen smiled and sat down.

“Amazingly my life kept going even after you left me, Jennifer,” Nick said, pulling out a mixer and attaching the beaters.  “I even took some cooking classes.”

“Really?” she said and put down the now half empty coffee cup, eying the quiche.

“I’m starting chef school in August, and should be done in two years.”

“After one last, big score?” she said, taking a bite of quiche and giving it and Nick a look.  “This is good.”

“Yes, that’s from taking the class, and I can’t be hired muscle for the rest of my life,” he said, starting the mixer.  “I’m going to be 35 in August.  I need to find something a little more permanent.”  He whipped up a batter and then turned off the mixer.  “I’m surprised you haven’t thought about getting out of the P.A. gig and into something more settled.  You’re not getting any younger.”

“Thanks.  I’ll give that some thought after I clear my name,” she said, finishing the quiche and trying the fruit salad.  “You have more to eat?”

“I do, and I think you need a better plan, Jennifer,” he said, giving her another slice and refilling the coffee cup.  “Your sister doesn’t have the juice to help you out against someone as well connected as Jimmy Roberts.  You need my uncle.”

“Yeah, I already told you I’m not doing that,” Jen said, adding milk and two sugars to the coffee.  “And I’m not going to my sister either.  There’s no need to get her involved in this.  Not when I can go straight to Horizon Security, get the drive decoded and then upload the video to the internet to make sure everybody knows what Jimmy did.”

“Just like that, huh?” he said, topping off her fruit salad.

“No.  I’m going to wait here until it’s dark, and then I’ll backyard my way to this guy Tyler’s house who just happens to be a consultant at Horizon,” she said, eating more quiche.  “I might even take a cab if you’ll loan me a $100.”

“Okay, why don’t you take a few minutes to think about how bad an idea that is,” Nick said and sat down, filling up her coffee again.  “And I’ll think of something fun that we can do while you wait.”

“You’re a dick,” Jen said, drinking the coffee. 

“We’ve established that,” he said, looking right at her.  “And…?”

“And what’s up with these clothes?”

“You left them here.”

“This isn’t my shirt, smart guy,” Jen said and smirked.  “And you were always a dick.  We never did anything normal, just movies and dinners…”

“That’s normal dating stuff, Jennifer.”

“And the world is more than sex, Nick.”

“That’s not what I learned in high school biology,” he said with a shrug.  “I remember Ms. Cramer saying life was all about sex and survival so we can produce the next generation, and make sure that life will keep going on and on.”  He nodded.  “If anything, you’re welcome for all the fun we had that year.”

“Shut up,” Jen said, but smiled again.

“Yes.  There it is,” Nick said and smiled back.  “Remember that vibrator?  I engraved it for you.”

“You were never that good.”

“We had a good time,” Nick said with another shrug.  “You had some fun too.”

“Uh,” she said, wriggling her hand fifty/fifty.  “There were a few good times.”

“I had a good time.”

“Yeah, I remember,” Jen said and rolled her eyes.  “I’ll admit you’re a good kisser.”

“Kissing is a good way to pass the time,” Nick said and leaned across the table.

“It is,” Jen said and leaned too, kissing him slowly for a long moment until they both leaned back and opened their eyes.

“That was fun,” Nick said with a smile.  “Let’s do it again.”

They leaned forward again.

“You remember where this leads, right, Jennifer?”

“Not with nice guys,” she said.

“What?” Nick said, giving her a look.

“Nothing,” she said and smiled, kissing him again.

He closed his eyes, and the doorbell rang.


 

Chapter 11: The Problem

 

Jen opened her eyes.  “You expecting somebody?”

“Not until tonight,” Nick said and sighed.

The bell rang again.

“Well?” Jen said, leaning back.

Nick tapped his phone to see a white man in slacks and an open button shirt over a t-shirt on his front doorstep.  “You know him?” he said, showing her the phone.

“Shit,” she said and Scott waved at the front door camera, showing off her cell phone.

“I just want to talk to Jennifer,” Scott said, looking into the camera and rubbing the obvious microphone under it to distort his voice.  “It took a few hours, but I figure you’re here, Jennifer, since this is Nick Stark’s house, the asshole you dated last year.  It’s about the only place you could easily run to while avoiding the police based on your phone’s contact list.” 

“Are you recording this,” Jen said, turning to Nick.

“No, and it’d be garbled anyway,” he said.  “He’s messing with the camera and the mike.”

Scott stepped closer to the camera, his image distorting beyond recognition.  “I’m impressed you got through the dragnet, Jennifer, but the lawyers say it’s better to turn yourself in.  It’ll help with your legal defense.”  He shrugged and kept rubbing the microphone.  “Now, you and I know that some people get away with being a horrible human being all the time and still look good, but you’re not one of those people, Jennifer.  Not even close.  You’re just a P.A.”

“You’re full of shit, Scott,” Jen said and double checked the drive in her waistband.

“Luckily, Jimmy says that he’ll pay for your defense.  Probably get it down to accidental manslaughter or whatever because you were jealous of Caitlyn,” Scott said and shrugged.  “No matter what, though, you’re on the hook for what happened.”  He backed up from the camera, his face coming back into focus as he looked right into it.  “No matter what you think you have on Jimmy, this is only going to go in one direction, so you might as well take his help.”

“Screw you, Scott,” Jen said, stepping back from the phone and turning to the back door.

“And that help would be impressive,” Scott said, nodding into the camera.  “Jimmy’s got a better legal team than OJ did, Jennifer, and this is opportunity knocking, so, you know, you need to open the door.”

“He is such an asshole,” Jen said.

“He might not be wrong, Jennifer,” Nick said.  “Remember how Jimmy shot his fiancée a few years ago?  And she’s the one who was prosecuted.”

“Shit.”

“Look,” Scott said, looking right into the camera and ringing the bell again.  “You can open the door so we can talk or I’m going to call the cops.”  He shrugged again.  “They’d be here in about two minutes too.  Front yard, back yard, swarming this place for the most wanted person of interest in the death of a former American sweetheart.”

“What?” Nick said and reached into his freezer, pulling out a gun.  “I don’t want the cops here.”

“The car’s in the driveway,” Scott said, pulling out his own phone.  “So…”

Nick tapped his phone.  “Hold on a second.”

“Okay,” Scott said with a nod and a smile.

“You dick,” she thought, and turned to Nick. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I’m not worried,” Nick said, checking his pistol and warming it up in a towel.

“He’s ex-military, Nick.”

“Me too, Jennifer, US Marine Corps, remember?”

“He’s an ex-ranger or seal or something,” Jen said, grabbing Nick’s arm and holding him back.  “He said they make marines look like pussies.”

“Right,” Nick said with a laugh and checked the pistol again.  “This is what I do for a living, Jennifer.  And this guy doesn’t have an ‘S’ on his chest, okay?”

“What?” Jen said, following Nick to the front of the house.

“He’s not bullet proof, Jennifer,” he said, his eyes on the front door.  “So, you can shoot him, and if you can shoot him then it doesn’t matter if he’s a SEAL, secret agent or fucking Batman.  He’s dead.

“Yeah, and that’s why you’re a dick,” she said, trying to pull him back.  “Stop thinking like hired muscle for once and use your head.  We’re fine here.  If we open that door, then have to deal with him.”

“And if we don’t then he calls the cops, which you’d know is even worse if you used your brain.”

“I thought you were going to be a chef.”

“I’m not there yet, and I’ve got this,” Nick said, opening the door. 

They saw Scott smiling, a full step back from the door.  “It’s nice to see you rise to the occasion, Nick,” he said and nodded.  “Jennifer’s worth it even if it’s too late for you.”

“Shut up,” Nick said, his smile gone as he stared right into Scott’s eyes, his pistol hidden just behind his back.

Scott laughed, noticing the gun and pointing to the street behind him.  “I bet you’re going to see a cruiser behind me in a minute or less, so why don’t you invite me in and we can avoid involving the authorities, okay, Nick?  I know you don’t want that, right?”

“That’s a bad idea,” Jen said.

“Don’t worry,” Nick said and pushed her gently aside as he let Scott step into the house just enough to shut the door behind him. 

“I’m surprised you’re that smart, Nick,” Scott said, looking at Jen and showing off her phone, tossing it to her.  “Thanks for leaving me your phone, Jennifer.  I couldn’t have found you without it, and you have a ton of texts and even a few frantic voicemails.”

“Fuck you.”

“Thanks,” Scott said, looking right at her.  “But I’ve heard enough of that from Jimmy for one day.”

“That’s great, but it’s time we got some things straight,” Nick said, stepping forward.  “Ranger or not.”

“Nick, back up,” Jennifer said, grabbing his arm.

“You should listen to her, jarhead,” Scott said, looking at Jennifer.

“Cute.” Nick said.

“Right, and I care,” Scott said with a smile, and turned to Nick.  “Look, I’m here to talk to Jennifer, not some wannabe mob stooge who treated her like crap, and she’s going to turn herself into the police.”

“I’m not turning myself in,” Jen said, backing up.

“And I didn’t treat her like crap,” Nick said.

“That’s not what I heard, buddy,” Scott said and they both looked at Jennifer.

She shook her head.  “Time to leave, Scott.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“I think it is,” Nick said, flashing his pistol.

“Really?  When you’re standing that close to me with Jennifer right there?” Scott said and rolled his eyes, turning to Jennifer.  “Jimmy’s willing to…”

“Yeah, I heard, and no.”

“That’s a mistake, Jennifer,” Scott said, grabbing her hand.  “Jimmy can…”

“Okay, that’s enough, asshole,” Nick said, putting his left hand on Scott’s shoulder and letting Jen back up a step.  “This is over.”

“Right,” Scott said and stepped back too, grabbing Nick’s thumb and twisting it back and down as he kicked him in the knee. 

Nick hit the floor, but rolled over and up to face Scott.

“No,” Jen said, slipping around both men to the front door.

Nick raised his pistol and…

BANG.

Nick’s chest exploded all over Scott.

“Amateur,” Scott said, lowering his own pistol.

“Oh shit,” Jen said, looking down at Nick’s open, blank eyes.

“That sounds about right,” Scott said and turned to face her.


 

Chapter 12: The Crash

 

Jen blinked at the gaping hole in Nick’s chest and turned to Scott.

“Don’t freak out, Jennifer,” he said, stepping forward and taking her hand.  “Believe it or not, I’m here to protect you, and you’re going to be all right.”

“Fuck you,” Jen said, blinking and trying to pull away from Scott.  “You just killed Nick.”

“He was going to kill me,” Scott said, holding onto her.  “Remember that.”

“He was protecting me from you, Scott,” she said and punched him.

He sighed, looking right at her.  “That kickboxing stuff might look good on TV, but it isn’t going to work with me, Jennifer,” he said and smiled.  “Not if you don’t put some weight behind it.”

“Thanks,” she said and punched him again with everything she had, pulling herself free.

Scott stepped back and she got through the front door.  “Jennifer you need my help,” he said, following her.

“That might not be too smart,” Jen said, pointing to the blood spattered all over his clothes.  “It’s kind of noticeable.”

Scott looked himself over and stopped.  “This your last chance to get our help,” he said, closing the door halfway between them.  “You keep going and we’ll hunt you down and make you pay for all of this.”

“You’re the one that’s going to pay, Scott,” Jen said, flashing the thumb drive and putting it back in her waistband. 

He looked at her, then the drive and then smiled.  “Thanks for confirming you have the drive, but can’t use it, Jennifer,” he said and started pulling off his shirt half inside the house.  “I was worried you’d have uploaded it to the web by now, but I guess you can’t.”

“Says who?” Jen said, backing away from the house.

“The rest of the world,” Scott said, frowning at his bloody undershirt.  “This is all anyone’s talking about, and you can bet you’re going to pay for it.”

“Even though Jimmy killed Caitlyn?” Jen said.

“It’s sad that you think Cake matters,” Scott said.  “This is Hollywood, where image and money mean everything, and the truth is just something to base fiction on.”  He laughed.  “You’ve worked as a P.A. for what five years, Jennifer.  You should know better.”

“I know Jimmy killed Caitlyn, Scott, and we both know that’s wrong.”

“You’re right, Jennifer, but Jimmy’s still going to get away with this, and you know it.  And if you let us help you we can limit your jail time.”

Jen stared at him hiding behind the door.  “I thought you were better than that, Scott.  I thought you were a good guy.”

He laughed again.  “And I thought you were an adult who understood how the world worked,” he said, noting a neighbor across the street staring at them.  “It’s not too late, Jennifer.”

“That’s what I was going to say to you,” she said when she heard the sirens.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Scott said, closing the door as Jen turned around to see a second person staring at them.

“Shit,” she said and started walking away from the neighbors, checking after half a block to see them still watching her, and then began to run.  She rounded the corner at a sprint and kept going, breathing hard and hit another corner, rounding that and not stopping even though the sirens did.  She went five more blocks zigzagging around corners and then bent over, panting, and caught her breath.  She felt her right side cramp up, but straightened out, starting to walk again.  

“Okay, good panic,” she said, walking faster with a glance behind her before she started jogging again.  “Thank God I started running again last month and I have on slutty workout clothes and sneakers.”

“And fuck everything else,” she thought, not stopping.  “What a cluster.  Nick is dead because of me.  Jimmy’s going to get away with another murder.  And Scott turned out to be the biggest fuck stain I’ve ever met.  And that includes all the assholes at that studio’s bend over the assistants’ party.”  She glanced behind her.  “He will no doubt shoot me dead if we ever see each other again.  The mother fucker.”

She wiped her face.  “And I hate running.”

She made a hard right at the next corner to a busier street, keeping up her pace and starting to breathe hard again when she saw a trio of runners ahead of her.  She caught up to them and then slowed to their pace, getting and giving an approving nod.

“The good news is the cops just arrived at Nick’s house and should find Scott covered in blood.  I’m wearing different if sluttier clothes than this morning, they are somehow appropriate in running away from the police and I’ve got my phone back,” she thought, looking at it in the palm of her hand.  “Better yet, it’s got nearly a full charge and I’ve got texts from Tyler who should be able to open the drive, Jake the sleazy paparazzo who would sell his children to tell this story to the world, and my sister who will probably let me cry on her shoulder even though we haven’t spoken to each other for the last month.” 

She sighed.  “So, I’ve got some options.”

She almost smiled until she noticed a police cruiser turn onto her street.  She caught her breath again and kept her eyes on the woman’s ass in front of her.  “Let him think I’m a lesbian,” she thought, following the joggers without looking back at the police as the homes gave way to a commercial strip.  She kept going for another quarter mile and settled into a walk.

“Thanks,” Jen said to the women who looked back only vaguely, and then turned into an alley, slowing down to a walk. 

She got about halfway down the alley and threw up.  In one quick motion, the quiche, coffee and fruit salad came out just past her sneakers.  She wiped her face on her sleeve and spit out most of the taste.  “Good to get that out of my system,” she said and started walking again as she pulled out her phone.  “Now let’s see what I can do to fix this mess.”


 

Chapter 13: The Bad

 

Scott pulled his cell phone away from his ear.

“What do you mean Jenny fucking got away?” Jimmy said, screaming.  “She's a God damn personal assistant.  All she does is eat shit, pick up shit and fuck shit.  What the fuck is she doing outthinking and outrunning your God dam expensive ex-SEAL ass, Scott.”

He nodded, holding the phone further away from his ear, double locking the front door and checking on Nick’s lifeless body. 

“Jesus Fucking Christ this is not what I pay you for, you shit tard sack of cocks.”

“Sorry,” Scott said to Nick’s body and stood up, stripping off his own clothes and quickly climbing the stairs.

“You’re God damn right you should be sorry,” Jimmy said.  “I fucking paid for the piece of garbage you call a house, the fucking rags you put on your kids and those fucking vacations you bring that whore of a wife on...”

Scott walked into the master bedroom and saw a stack of clean and folded clothing on top of a large dresser.  He grabbed shorts, t-shirt, a button shirt and socks and started putting them on as he headed back downstairs.

“…You wouldn’t even be married if I hadn’t gone up to that skanky ho of a bitch and asked her to talk to you...”

Scott picked back up his pants and pulled them on over the clean clothes. 

“…You’re going to fix this fucking mess or I’m going to bury you in a dark, cold pit full of cum, blood and shit.  You understand me, you cunt rag, bitch, piece of shit, motherfucker?”

“You done?” Scott said and adjusted his clothes for comfort, making sure he hadn’t left anything behind.

“Fuc…”

“Jimmy, you want to calm down for a second and think about our situation?” Scott said, checking on the police cruisers in front of the house and then looking for the kitchen.  “My ass is on the line here for Caitlyn’s death almost as much as yours.  Just like it was for those three women you killed and that old man that you let die in that fire, not to mention all the other shit you told me about before I came to work for you.”

“Fine,” Jimmy said, his voice quieter.

Scott saw a few liquor bottles next to the refrigerator and picked up a bottle of scotch, heading back to the front hall.

“So, I don’t want to hear your empty threats and demands, okay, Jimmy,” Scott said, seeing the police walk up to a neighbor coming out of her house.  “I’ve worked for you for six years now.  You know me and I know you, and you know I’m going to do my best to fix everything you fucked up this morning when you beat up and killed Caitlyn Kelly last night.  So, stop your fucking tantrum for five minutes and see if you can be helpful.  Because if you can’t, I guarantee to you that I will release that video you know I have.  The one I told you about.  And then I’ll write the biggest, most revealing tell-all Hollywood tale the entire world has ever seen no matter what confidentiality agreement I signed when I thought you were a good man, and not the truly piece of stale shit you really are.”

The line was silent for a moment.  “Fine,” Jimmy said, even more quietly, and Scott nodded.

“Good,” he said and saw the silhouettes of two policemen through the curtain of the front door.  They knocked as he emptied the scotch all over Nick’s body, mouthing another ‘sorry,’ as he lit a match and headed back to the kitchen.  He put the empty bottle gently and quietly into the recycling bin, turned on the stove’s gas burners without lighting them and covered his mouth and nose.  Grabbing a role of paper towels, he dropped them in the push pedal garbage can and lit a book of matches, dropping it in too.  He watched the matches start the towels on fire as the police knocked again on the front door. 

He ignored them, double checked the stove, and then set the garbage can next to it, looking for the back door.  He opened it as the police started pounding on the front door, warning that they were going to break it down, and walked into the backyard, not looking back.

“Jimmy,” he said into his phone as he shut the door behind him and bee lined it for the back fence. 

“What, Scott?  What is it?”

“You calm and ready to help me help you.”

“Fuck you, Scott.”

“Good,” he said and smiled, jumping the back fence.  “I’ll be at the mansion in thirty minutes.”

“Great, what the hell should I do until then, asshole?”

“I’m glad you asked, Jimmy,” Scott said, showing a smile.  “We need to get some help.  Call up the agency and have them send over Elizabeth, Silas and Rocco.”

“That’s going to cost a fortune.”

“It’ll save you from losing your fortune,” Scott said and glanced over his shoulder at Nick’s kitchen and frowned.

“It’s just Jenny, Scott.”

“Right,” he said and kept walking with his eye on the kitchen.  “Jenny, who cleaned up Caitlyn ‘Cake’ Kelly, a drunk, coked up former Disney kid whose parents fucked her over sideways and who was stuck doing personal appearances for rich assholes everywhere on the planet until rehab took the third time.  Yes, three times, until Jennifer got her clean and sober enough to live what passes for a normal life in Hollywood.  Then she convinced Caitlyn’s manager that the former seven million a picture movie star deserved another chance and got her a part in a major movie for the first time in three years.” 

“I don’t think Cake was going to get that part, Scott”

“Not that that matters one bit,” Scott said, shaking his head.  “What I do know is that Jennifer successfully escaped from a panic room and slipped right under our noses, avoided the police, got help from an asshole, ex-boyfriend and then got away when I had her right in my sights, Jimmy.”

“So what, Scott?  She’s got nothing on us.  It’s why the cops are after her.”

“She’s probably got a video of you and Caitlyn, Jimmy.  A video that the guy she’s dating can decrypt and then…”

“What?  Are you fucking kidding me?”

“That’s why she’s been running.  She figures we have an in with the cops and she can outflank us.”

“I’ll call the agency.”

“Good idea,” Scott said.

“And get your ass to the mansion,” Jimmy said.

“I’m on my way,” Scott said and the kitchen lit up with a low boom.  He watched the cops look up from Nick’s burning body and then run out the front door.  “I should be there in 25 minutes.”

“I’ll call right now.”

“Good and get Silas,” Scott said, but the line went silent and he shook his head.  He turned back to the house and heard more sirens.  Jumping another fence, he slipped out of his pants and the button shirt he took from Nick to reveal gym clothes.

He started running out of someone’s driveway, moving fast and giving Nick’s burning house one last look.  “Man, I hope we’re not fucked.”


 

Chapter 14: The Worst 

 

“Great.  I might be seriously and truly fucked,” Jen said, opening the last message from Tyler, the security consultant, that said, ‘Lovely.  Don’t contact me again.  And fuck you too.’, and scrolled back to see more.

June 8, 2016

ME:

Tyler.  Thanks for setting up Caitlyn’s security system yesterday, but something’s wrong with it.  I need your help.  Please.

Text Message 9:01 am

Tyler:

Jenny.  Absolutely.  What’s the problem?  I can be over there in 20 minutes.  I look forward to seeing you.

Text message 9:01 am

ME:

Great.  The problem is there was an accident and Caitlyn’s dead.  I need to erase the video.  Please help.

Text message 9:02 am

Tyler:

Sorry.  Can’t do that.  And so you know, I just called the police.

Text message 9:08 am

ME:

I’m guessing you have a small penis even though I never saw it, and I would have never, ever touched it.  Fuck you.

Text message 9:08 am

Tyler:

Lovely.  Don’t contact me again.  And fuck you too.

Text message 9:09 am

“Great, Scott.  Thanks.  You probably should’ve told me that Tyler wasn’t going to help if you really wanted me to give you the drive,” Jen thought and ignored the fifth call from Scott in the last thirty minutes.  “I still would have told you to ‘fuck off’, but you would have had a better case if you’d told me you spoiled the Tyler option.”

She started walking again, ducking into a farmer’s market and pretending to look for Gala apples.  She nodded to the clerk checking her out in the tight t-shirt.  “Thanks for the leer, you dick,” she thought and stopped to let him stare at her boobs.  “It’ll keep you from recognizing my face.”

She arched her back, searching her texts and emails again and ignoring all of the responses from stuff that Scott had sent to her friends and family pretending to be her.  She pulled up the last message from Jake the paparazzo.  “Please let him see through the lies.  It’s what he does.”

June 8, 2016

Jake The Snake:

Jenny, did you really kill Cake?  I thought she had a meeting today.  Call me and I’ll do what I can for the exclusive of a lifetime.

Text message 12:07 pm

“That’s not too definitive.  He could help or turn me in, and the problem is either way he gets a good story,” Jen thought and looked over the selection of melons as the clerk did the same until she looked up.

“Sorry,” he said, looking away.  “Can I help you?”

“I’m good,” Jen said, but picked up an apple.  “Fair trade?”

He blushed and nodded.  “Yeah.”

“Thanks,” she said and walked away, pulling up CNN.  Her face was right there for all the world to see. 

“Crap, and it’s my high school yearbook photo,” she thought and skimmed the article, noting that Tammy, the groupie she saw this morning, describing her as super friendly, but nervous and agitated in Caitlyn’s backyard, and that she disappeared out of the blue before she met Jimmy Roberts who was shocked, shocked that Jenny would kill Caitlyn, even accidently.  She reread the ‘super friendly’ comment and smiled.  “It’s almost worth it that I gave you the jacket, Tammy.  And yes, I was nervous.  I had just found my boss dead and escaped from a known shit head and his ex-SEAL thug.”  She did a search on her phone, but didn’t see anything about Nick.

“Great,” she said, cutting down an alley, and wiped her face when a message popped up from Alex.

June 8, 2016

Alejandra Jane:

Look.  I don’t know who the cocksucker is pretending to be my sister, but when I find you you’re going to suffer.  Slowly.  And.  Painfully.

I know she did not kill Caitlyn Kelly. 

Jen, for the 15th time, if you get this, shut off your phone and get rid of it.  Or else the department will find you.  Then meet me at Aunt Vera’s old place.  RIGHT NOW.

Text Message 7:48 pm

“Okay,” Jen said and smiled, then laughed and then saw a police cruiser turn into the alley at the far side of the block.  She turned around and forced herself to walk slowly to the street and around the corner before tossing her phone into the bed of a pickup truck with landscaping equipment hanging off it.  She saw another police cruiser pass by the pickup truck and ducked into a taco joint where the clerk gave her a look.  “You have a bathroom?”

“You ordering something?”

“A chicken burrito with extra guacamole and a Coke,” she said and headed to the restroom.  “But I’ll have to make room for it, okay?”

“Fine, but did you just throw your phone into the street?”

“No, that’s crazy,” she said, taking in the bathroom and locking the door behind her before opening its only window.  She peeked out to see the alley she had just left and made sure it didn’t have any more police cruisers.  She squeezed out and jumped down, rolling as she hit the ground before getting up in a jog and heading away from the taco joint. 

“Okay,” she thought, not looking back.  “How am I going to get to Aunt Vera’s?  It’s at least ten miles away.  I don’t have any money or a phone, I’m about run out and LA public transportation is a joke.  Worse, my face is all over the news and I can only distract so many people with my tits and ass.”  She got to the end of the alley and made a hard left, crossing the street.  “Better yet, I’m tired, hungry and dehydrated since I threw up Nick’s brunch, and I’m not sure I really want Alex’s help.”  She jogged two more blocks, drawing a few looks, but not to her face.  “But I guess I don’t have much choice.”

She turned down another alley, still jogging and saw a dumpster for the pizzeria in front of it.  “Okay,” she thought and stopped, looking and not seeing anyone.  “I rescued Caitlyn from some crazy, drugged up princes in Saudi Arabia two years ago.  So, I can figure a way out of this.”  She pulled up the dumpster lid and carefully laid it aside before jumping into a pile of pizzeria garbage. 

“I need some sleep, food and water,” she thought, looking at the pizza scraps and half-filled bottles of water.  She pulled the dumpster back up and carefully lowered it over her head with a slight shudder.  “Let’s hope garbage night isn’t tonight.”

She grabbed a half-filled bottle, opened it and tipped it back, swallowing.  “Yuck,” she said and took a second sip before pulling a large layer of garbage over herself.  She lay back, taking a third sip and closed her eyes.  “Still better than Saudi.”

 


 

Chapter 15: The Calvary

 

Scott pulled his SUV behind a pickup truck loaded with landscaping equipment and frowned, shutting off the engine as another car pulled up behind him.  “She’s not in there,” he said and got out, turning to the three people getting out of the car behind him.  He shook his head.  “Where’s Silas?”

The first man getting out the car shrugged. 

“He has something else going on,” the second man out of the car said.  “So, they sent me.”

“Mordecai,” Scott said and sighed, turning to the woman getting out of the car.  “That’s a surprise.”

“Nothing to be done about it, Scott,” the woman said.  “Silas’ wife went into labor this morning.”

“That’s a good excuse, Elizabeth,” he said, approaching the pickup truck.  “Hard to top.”

“We were lucky to get Mordecai,” the first man said. 

“Thanks, Rocco,” Mordecai said.

“Just keep up,” Scott said as he and Elizabeth looked at the pickup from a few feet back and pointed to the cell phone.  “And let’s get focused.”

“Right,” Rocco said.

“You think Ms. Alvarez is in Tujunga?” Mordecai said, moving closer to the pickup before Rocco grabbed his arm.  “I thought the event went down in Beverly Hills.”

“No,” Scott said and turned back to his SUV, rubbing his temples.  “And yes.”

“What?” Mordecai said.

“I’m guessing Ms. Alvarez is somewhere between here and Hollywood, Mordecai,” Elizabeth said.  “She obviously tossed the phone into the pickup.”

Rocco turned to Scott.  “She’s smarter than you thought?” he said, nodding to him.  “How many stories have you told her of your days hunting Al Qaeda

“Too many, apparently,” Scott said, turning to all three of them.  “I’m not surprised she ditched the phone, though.  She’s smart and she’s in dark blue yoga pants and a white t-shirt now.  Looks like a runner, which I’m guessing is what she did to blend in and get by the cops.”

“So, all she has to do is run to this Aunt Vera’s house you mentioned?” Rocco said.

“I doubt it’s that easy,” Mordecai said.  “The cops are looking for her and Los Angeles isn’t the most pedestrian or jogger friendly city in the world.”

“Particularly at night,” Elizabeth said, nodding to Mordecai.  “Although the cops will gear down until morning.”

“So, what do we do?”

“Well, Rocco,” Scott said and shook his head.  “Now we put aside how stupid Jimmy was for not calling in reinforcements sooner, and…”

“Are you kidding me?” Mordecai said.  “It’s some 29-year-old girl.”

Scott gave him a look.  “And we head over to Aunt Vera’s house,” he said, forcing a smile.  “Where Alex, Jennifer’s sister, texted her to go about a dozen times.”

“And we know where Aunt Vera’s house is?” Rocco said.

“It’s where Alex and her husband, Sergeant Detective Eric Jones of the LAPD, live.  They bought it from her aunt just before she moved to a nursing home five years ago,” Elizabeth said, looking at her phone.  “And you should know that Alex is on parental leave from the LAPD.”

“Great,” Mordecai said.  “Sounds fun.”

“We’re going to beat her, Mordecai,” Scott said, looking right at him again, and then turned to the others.  “We’ll stake out the house, keep a low profile and we’ll scoop her up the second she shows her face.”

“And she won’t be expecting that?” Rocco said.

“She might, but we have a trunk load of surveillance equipment that should make finding a hungry and exhausted fugitive dodging a dragnet fairly easy,” Elizabeth said and smiled.  “It sounds pretty easy, actually.”

“It sounds like a long night,” Mordecai said and the others turned to him.

“That’s why you’re getting $100,000, Mordecai,” Scott said and started for his SUV. 

“You’ve got, Einstein,” Elizabeth said to Rocco, and joined Scott.

“I know I haven’t slept much in the last day and a half, but I might kill him,” Scott said, starting the SUV and watching Rocco yell at Mordecai as they got into the car.

“Ignore him,” Elizabeth said and pulled out a tablet, powering it up.  “We’ll get her.” 


 

Chapter 16: The Bright Side

 

“You’re not getting me today,” Jen said, watching a police cruiser pass by at the far end of the alley.  She raised the dumpster lid higher to see a mist of rain.  “Yay.”

She flipped the dumpster’s lid all the way up and lowered it gently, making sure to not make any noise.  She pulled herself up and jumped to the ground, a trail of pizza scraps, empty water and Coke bottles and dirty, used napkins, cups and paper plates following her down.  “That was disgusting,” she said, reaching back into the dumpster and grabbing two ripped open trash bags.  She pulled the first one over her as a makeshift raincoat and wrapped the second one into a makeshift rain hat.  “But it is amazing what you can find in a dumpster during the night.” 

She started walking, stepping right into a puddle. 

“Yay,” she said and kept going.

“And it still beats Saudi Arabia,” she thought, reaching the street and turning right, toward her sister’s house.  “With the ungodly heat, death threats and rapists.”  She saw another police cruiser approach, but it just kept going.  “Look, eat and sleep like the homeless and you can go anywhere you want even when the police are looking for you.”

“Yay,” she thought with a small smile and took a sip from a half filled bottle of water in her hand.  “Got to stay hydrated, although peeing outside is going to be even less fun than peeing in that dumpster.” 

She shrugged and looked at the moon.  “It’s almost a new day,” she said and turned another corner.  “So, let’s go and kick some butt.” 

 

Chapter 17: The Prep

 

“Well?”

Scott checked out the homeless person shuffling down the street in the rain and shook his head.  “Too tall.”

“Not a woman either,” Elizabeth said, sipping coffee next to him in the SUV.  “Unless your friend got access to some serious make up and a fake beard.  Plus, that guy’s black, and not just a little bit.”

“You’re black,” Scott said, looking at her and she shrugged.  “And thanks for interrupting me.”

“We have to check out everybody.”

“Yes, but I had point,” Scott, sipping his own coffee and looking in the rearview mirror. 

“That Spider-Man is the best superhero?” Elizabeth said, rolling her eyes.  “Over a man who can lift up tanks and an obsessed billionaire’s whose hobby is to stop crime every night?  Really?”

“Yes, and Superman can lift aircraft carriers and Batman has dedicated his life to bringing criminals to justice.”

“You need some more sleep,” Elizabeth said, looking at Scott.

“Probably,” he said, watching the street.  “But that doesn’t take away from what I’m saying.”

“My kids would disagree,” Elizabeth said with a giant sigh.  “But enlighten me.”

“I will,” Scott said and gave her a look.  “Spider-Man is a street level, working class hero who has to cope with a horde of issues.”

“Horde?” Elizabeth said and laughed.

“Yes, horde, and yet he still feels compelled and even obligated to help people out.  To put other people’s problems over his own.  To embrace that with great power comes great responsibility.”

“Right, Scott.  Like Superman, Batman and every other comic book hero,” Elizabeth said.  “That’s like the actual definition of a comic book hero, you know?”

“Yes, but Spider-Man does it without the crazy ridiculous powers of someone from another planet…”

“Krypton?”

“Yes, Krypton.  Or by having one of the largest fortunes in the world.”

“Wayne Enterprises,” Elizabeth said with another smile.

“Shut up.”

“I have two teenage boys, Scott, and fine,” she said, throwing up her hands.  “Spider-Man is now and forever the greatest super hero of all time, space and whatever else you need.  Happy?”

“Not after you spoiled my whole argument like that,” Scott said and took another sip of coffee, noting that it was almost 8 am.  “You’re really ruining my idea of what a stake out is, Elizabeth.”

“Sorry.  This is like my hundredth.”

“You used to do this all the time?”

“Not talk about superheroes because my partner got laid in high school, but yes.”

“Hey, superheroes are mainstream now.”

“Yes.  Teenage boys remember?  Apparently, so are rainbow unicorns and robot cars.  That doesn’t mean I want to talk about them.”

Scott laughed and pointed to a young, well-dressed woman walking past them.  “What do you think?”

“I think that’s a walk of shame with the slept on hair, botched makeup and the look that screams ‘that asshole should have given me a ride home’.”

“That’s botched?”

“Take a closer look, okay?”

Scott did.  “It’s not Jennifer.”

“Not unless she died her hair and got bigger boobs.”

“You’re pretty good at this,” Scott said and drank more coffee.

“Twenty-two years a cop, Scott.  What do you want?”

The radio between them crackled.

“I want that to be good news.”

“All is well back here,” Mordecai said.  “But I need to pee again.  Copy?”

Scott and Elizabeth exchanged a look. 

“Silas texted me that he had a baby boy,” she said.

“That’s great,” Scott said and picked up the radio.  “Copy.”

“This time I’ll get donuts too,” Mordecai said.  “Copy.”

“Copy,” Scott said.  “Just hurry up.”

“He clearly wasn’t a Boy Scout,” Elizabeth said, holding up a portable urinal.

“They never show you that in the stakeout movies,” Scott said, showing off his own.

“You think he’s up for this?”

“Right now, yes, but things could get dicey when Jennifer’s brother in law gets home.”

“He’s on a double shift today and won’t be home until three or so,” Elizabeth said and opened the tablet on the dashboard.  “But I still think it’s his wife that we need to worry about.”

“She’s been on leave for the last two years, Elizabeth.  I think we’re all good.”

“That’s what Jimmy thought about Jennifer, Scott, and remember how well that went,” she said, pulling up information on the tablet. 

“True,” Scott said and turned to her again.  “What do you know?”

“Alejandra Jones, nee Alvarez, is a badass,” Elizabeth said, showing him her photo on the tablet.  “She has been on extended family leave, but she passed the sergeant’s exam at 25, became a detective at 29 and received excellent reviews based on her high arrest record and the Solverson case.”

“I remember that case, but you said earlier she’d never used a gun.”

“Yes, but...”

“And that’s why I didn’t care much when you reviewed her record the first time.”

“She was in the Navy, Scott.”

“You said as a recruiter, Elizabeth.”

“After meeting her husband who did two tours in the Mideast, and is also a detective sergeant.”

“Which is why we’ll finalize this before he gets home from work, okay?” he said, checking his watch.  “You said they had kids?”

“Two.  A ten-year-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl.”

“A bus picked up the older one, right?”

“Yes, when you woke up at around 7:30.  He’s autistic and goes to a special school.”

“And the girl?”

“I think a neighbor picked her up at seven while you were napping.”

“Right,” Scott said, looking up at the house.  “So, she knows we’re here.”

“You have to figure,” Elizabeth said and returned the tablet to the dashboard.  “And you have to figure she can call in a lot more resources than the average 911 caller.”

“Right,” Scott said and clicked on the radio.  “Rocco, you awake and ready to go?”

“I’m just waiting for Mordecai to finish peeing, Scott.”

“Right,” Scott said, sharing another look with Elizabeth.  “It’s time to move forward even with the rain.  Let me know when Mordecai gets back.”

“Sounds good,” Rocco said.

“The sooner the better, Scott,” Elizabeth said.

“Right,” he said.  “Let’s get this over and done with.”


 

Chapter 18: The Sister 

 

“Okay.  I think my fun and exciting night of homelessness has paid off,” Jen thought, watching Rocco put down his binoculars and Mordecai head to the Dunkin Donuts.  “What is this?  Like the third time this guy has peed since dawn?”  She smiled seeing Rocco yawn and slowly grab the radio or walkie-talkie or whatever it was.  “This is it.”

She pushed herself out of the mud puddle she’d lain in for the last two and a half hours and inched forward on her belly, the garbage bag poncho and turban blending in with the brown muck all around her as she ducked under a kid’s fort she had played in twenty years ago.  “Way to go on using a thousand nails when we were kids, Teddy Fernandez, and I’m sorry I made fun of you then, because you’re looking good on Facebook now even if you’re married and have three kids,” she thought, peering through unkempt bushes to see Rocco still talking on the radio and nodding as he yawned again.

“Glad to see Eric still hates yardwork and can’t use a hammer to save his life,” she thought, shimmying under a hole in the fence and pushing aside some leaves to lift up a rock and grab the key under it.  “Yeah, now I’m in business.”  She crawled up to the back door, keeping an eye on Rocco as he turned to the Dunkin Donuts and she reached up to stick the key in the lock.

Then the door opened. 

“Oh shit,” Jen said, looking up to see her sister ignore her.

“Yeah,” Alex said, not looking down at her as she nudged the cat outside. 

Jen blinked.  “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“It’s been a fun 24 hours for me too,” Alex said through a mumble and stepped out of her house, pretending to care about a tired looking bush.  “Now hurry up and get inside.  I can only pretend to care so much about this… fern.”

“It’s a rhododendron,” Jen said and crawled through the doorway, bringing a large part of Teddy Fernandez’s former yard with her.  She sat with her back against the kitchen cabinets, resting the key on the counter as Alex came back into the house. 

“It took you long enough to get here,” Alex said, shutting and locking the back door behind her.  “I was beginning to think you had gone to visit Aunt Verna at the home in La Joya.”

“This was far enough,” Jen said, looking up. 

“I bet,” Alex said and looked over her sister.  “You all right?”

“It’s been a long day, but I’m better now.”

“Good, because you kind of look like crap,” Alex said, wrinkling her nose, but smiling.

“Thanks,” Jen said and smiled too.  “I kind of feel like crap.”

They both laughed and Jen got up as Alex took a step back, still looking her over. 

“Eric says the LAPD are looking for you.  I think I saw something about it on the news too.”

“I guess it’s good to know someone in the department.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Jen swallowed.  “I went to work and found my boss dead in her bed.”

“I figured.”

“Because a Hollywood A-lister gets murdered every few years?”

“Because Jimmy Roberts’ assistant called it in, and not for the first time.”

“Yeah,” Jen said, and took in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Jen.”

“I know,” she said, and found her practiced smile.

“I’d give you a hug,” Alex said, sniffing the air again.  “But you smell like dirty underwear, pizza and my gym bag.”

“Thanks,” Jen said and laughed.  “It was a long night.”

“I bet.  I’m glad you remembered the key,” Alex said, picking it up from the counter and putting it back in Jen’s hand.  “I obviously saw them watching out back.”

“Front too.”

“You checked things out before knocking on my door?”

“I figured Scott knew about Aunt Vera’s,” Jen said with a nod.  “He had my phone.”

“Scott?”

“Jimmy’s PA, and a former ranger or something.”

“Eric says they found your phone in a pickup truck.”

“That connection again.”

“The whole husband and wife thing.”

“I’ve heard of it,” Jen said.  “It’s a good thing I’ve always been nice to Eric, huh?”

“Or that he likes you.”

“Funny.”

“Who’s laughing,” Alex said, but smiled again.

“I’m glad you have the gun,” Jen said, nodding to the pistol on Alex’s hip.

“I’m taking care of my kids, Jen, not an idiot.”

“Fair enough,” Jen said, getting up and turning to the rest of the house.  “Where are Matt and Lily?”

“School and at Grandma’s.”

“So, Mom can handle the girl.”

“Of course,” Alex said, giving Jen a look.  “Lily can practically take care of herself.”

“Mom could take of the boy too, Alex.  She wants to, you know?”

“Well, today she gets to after school,” Alex said and peeked out the window.  “Unusual circumstances.”

“Sorry.”

“They want to see you, Jen.”

“I am sorry about all this,” she said, looking into her sister’s eyes.  “Really.”

“It’s amazing how crises bring families together,” Alex said, looking back.  “It’s good to see you, Jen, and we’ll get through this.”

“Thanks, Alex,” Jen said, leaning in for a hug.

“Hold on,” Alex said, putting a hand between them.  “Go take a shower and I’ll give you the biggest hug ever.  Like you were one of my kids.”

“Glad you weren’t thinking of Eric.”

“Great, then I won’t tell you how happy I am to see you alive and well,” Alex said and peeked out the window again. 

“I’ll explain everything after I get clean.”

“I know,” Alex said and smiled for the third time.  “Now hurry up.  You stink.”

“You said that,” Jen said and turned to the main bathroom.

“I’ll heat up some left over ziti for when you’re done,” Alex said, opening the refrigerator.

“Thanks.”

“And don’t use the nice towels,” Alex said with yet another smile.

“Shut up,” Jen said and wiped her face as she disappeared into the bathroom.


 

Chapter 19: The Shift

 

“Well?” Scott said, checking the front of Alex’s house with binoculars and seeing nothing.  “What’s going on?”

“Mordecai got a dozen donuts,” Elizabeth said, putting down the radio.  “He got you a strawberry glazed and a cinnamon.”

“What?” Scott said, looking at her.  “I specifically told him I didn’t want cinnamon.”

Elizabeth shrugged.  “He got me a glazed and Boston Kreme.”

“The idiot.  That took 23 minutes?”

“And he went to the bathroom.”

“Does he have diarrhea?”

“I didn’t ask,” Elizabeth said and shook her head.  “I recently discovered bathroom stuff is off limits for all kinds of reasons.”

“Right.  Teenagers,” Scott said, and looked at his watch for the tenth time in the last five minutes.  “It’s weird that Jennifer hasn’t shown up yet.”

“She should have tried to get here as early as possible to avoid being seen.”

“I know.  Let’s break out that super microphone.  See if we can hear anything.”

“The parabolic?”

“Yes, before it gets too busy and it becomes obvious we’re stalkers.  We don’t want to deal with the cops.”

“It’s in the trunk,” Elizabeth said and got out of the car.  “I’ll get it.”

“Good,” Scott said, looking up at the house again and grabbing the radio.  “We’re going to move soon, gentlemen.”  He pulled up his binoculars.  “Get ready.”

“Copy,” Mordecai said.


 

Chapter 20: The Update

 

“More please?” Jen said and pushed the empty plate across the table.  “It’s delicious.”

“I’m surprised you like my cooking,” Alex said, picking up the plate.  “You said my roast beef was like a brick last Christmas.”

“I’ve been on the run for the 24 hours, Alex.  If it’s warm it’s good.”

“Thanks.  Now eat your vegetables,” Alex said, giving her back a plate of broccoli covered in olive oil and garlic.  “And you’re going to have some awful breath.”

“Won’t kill me,” Jen said, drinking half a glass of water and poking the broccoli with her fork.  “So, we’re all good?”

“We better be.  I don’t usually cook anything this fancy before five,” Alex said, replacing the first plate with another slab of baked ziti.

“Yeah, I don’t know if I call microwaving leftovers fancy.”

“Yet you’re eating my food.”

“True.  Thanks.”

Alex sat down across from her, watching Jen wolf down another half a plate of ziti.  “So what happened?” she said, pulling up the Los Angeles Times website from her phone.  “Because this doesn’t really sound like you.”

“That’s good to know,” Jen said between bites.  “And I’m not entirely sure.”

“Of course,” Alex said and nodded as Jen took a big sip of coffee.  “Nobody ever is, but…”

“But based on what Scott told me and what I overheard Jimmy Roberts say, he and Caitlyn had a night of sex and drugs that got out of hand when Jimmy lost control,” Jen said, looking right at her sister.  “Scott says he heard a loud bang at 11 o’clock that was probably the right side of Caitlyn’s head against the wall.  Then I overheard Jimmy apologizing to her dead body yesterday morning, and about how he warned her that too much cocaine and butt stuff makes him crazy.”

“And violent,” Alex said.  “He’s gotten off for this kind of thing before.”

“Good lawyers and connections, right?” Jen said and thought, “Cocksucker,” wiping her face.

“Again, Jen, I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

“I know that doesn’t mean much, but I am.  And I know Caitlyn was good to you in her own way.”

“She was supposed to meet a producer yesterday for a new role, Alex, the first one in three years,” Jen said, eating more.  “It was probably going to land me a production role, and get me out of taking care of spoiled brats.”

“Yeah, I remember you mentioned that a couple months ago, and that sucks,” Alex said, letting Jen finish the ziti and drinking her own coffee.  “But today you’re going to need a lawyer, Jen.  A good one.  Your story makes sense and I’m guessing forensics can back up what you told me, but Jimmy is obviously coming after you with both barrels.”

“I’ve got something better than forensics, Alex,” Jen said and pulled the drive out of her front jeans pocket.  “I’ve got video of Jimmy beating up Caitlyn.  It’s the reason Scott hasn’t stopped coming after me, why he killed Nick and…”

“He killed Nick?”

“Yeah, I went there for help after I found Caitlyn, and Scott shot him right in front of me.”

“Then he burned down the house,” Alex said, nodding.  “Eric told me two cops got hurt.”

“I’m sorry, Alex…”

“I am too, Jen.  I know you broke up with Nick, but…”

“Yeah, I know,” Jen said and took in a deep breath.  “And now Scott and his hired help have surrounded your house.  I need to…”

“You need to turn in that video, Jen,” Alex said and put down her coffee.  “The police can…”

“The drive’s password protected, Alex,” Jen said.  “And the only people who can open it are the security firm that set up the system.”

“Then we’ll get it decoded.”

“Yeah, well the consultant might not be on board.  Scott sent him the message that I killed Caitlyn and thought he had a small penis, and he pretty much told me to fuck off.”

“So what?  The police can…”

“I’ve been avoiding the police for the last 24 hours too.”

“Well, it’s time to come in.”

“And let Jimmy’s lawyers and connections go to town on me while I’m sitting in custody?  No thanks.”

“Jen, I’m a cop.  I go to my captain and...”

“Your bosses always follow the rules, Alex?”

“No, but…”

“That’s what I thought, and that’s why I need someone who has even less qualms than Jimmy Roberts,” Jen said and put the drive back in her pocket. 

“Someone you can trust more than I trust the police?”

“Yeah,” Jen said, looking right at her sister.  “What’s your captain going to do when he finds out about that text you sent me to throw out my phone.”

Alex nodded and looked right at Jen.  “You were my sister before you were a bitch, you know.”

“Yeah.  Well, I just followed your lead.”

“Shut up.”

“Fine, but you see my point, right?”

“Yeah, but the bigger problem is the punks watching the house,” Alex said and held up her phone, showing Jen the video of her front and back yards with all of them getting out of their respective vehicles.  “See?” 

“Yeah,” Jen said and they both stood up.  “The blond haired guy is Scott.”

“Great,” Alex said as he and the woman approached the front door and the two in the back stood watching the house.  “They’re waiting for you to run out the back.”

“I see that,” Jen said, watching the phone. 

“The good news is they’ve been here since last night and probably didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Alex said, checking her pistol.  “That should help us, even if I didn’t sleep that well either.”

“I got seven hours,” Jen said, helping pick up the dirty dishes.

“In a dumpster?”

“I had to adjust to a lot of crappy stuff as a PA.” 

“Saudi Arabia?” Alex said, heading to the front of the house.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Jen said, following her.

“You can tell me the rest tomorrow,” Alex said and pointed to the stairs to the basement and a side door.  She peeked through the living room at the front door.  “Go to the playroom and hide.  If worse comes to worst, you can use the side door and go through Teddy Fernandez’s yard.”

“That’s how I got in,” Jen said, not moving.  “Do you have another gun?”

“Not for you.”

“I know how to shoot, Alex.”

“Go downstairs, Jen.”

“I can handle myself, Alex.”

“Keep an eye on the phone, and call 911 if things get loud,” Alex said, handing her the cell phone.

Jen gave her a look.  “I’m not twelve.”

“And you’re not a cop,” Alex said, pointing to the stairs.  “Go hide.”

“Fine,” Jen said and turned toward them, thinking, “But we both know that’s not going to happen.”


 

Chapter 21: The Badass

 

Alex heard the doorbell and peeked into the living room again to see Scott and Elizabeth smile and wave to her through the front door’s big window.  “Right,” she said in a whisper and waved back, raising a finger for one moment.  “Just give me a second.  Be right there.”

They both nodded, but lost half their smiles.

She waved again and cut back to the kitchen, looking down the stairs.  “Jen?”

“I’m downstairs,” Jen said in not much more than a whisper.  “All safe and sound, Mom.”

“Shut up,” Alex said, seeing Rocco and Mordecai behind two bushes on the edge of the backyard.  She kept circling the inside of the entire house, coming in on the opposite side of the living room from where she had started.

Jen crept back up the stairs and saw her sister on the other side of the house.  “Yeah, my big sister is tough, bitches,” she thought and checked the cell phone, seeing Rocco and Mordecai in the backyard.

Scott and Elizabeth flinched when they finally noticed Alex watching them from the other side of the house.

She nodded, and held up her left hand, motioning for more information.

“You must be Sergeant Jones,” Scott said on the other side of the front door with his own practiced smile.  “And I’m sure you’re well aware that we’re looking for you sister, Jennifer Alvarez, and that we’re not with the police.”

Alex nodded, her right hand on her hip. 

Scott stared at her as Elizabeth watched from behind him.

“I’m glad you’re so straight forward,” Alex said and motioned again for more information.  “Mr.…?”

“Scott,” he said, pointing to his right.  “And this is Elizabeth.”

“Yeah, she looks familiar, Scott,” Alex said, pushing back the loose button shirt she had on over a white t-shirt and her holstered pistol.  “So, who do you work for if not the police, and why does it look like you’ve got a gun, Taser and probably an extendable baton under that second shirt on this hot June morning?”

Scott kept up the smile, but Elizabeth’s face tightened and she took a step back from the door to give herself the option of more easily reaching for her own pistol.

“Why don’t you two stay where you are without moving around too much?” Alex said, putting her hand on the butt of her pistol and taking a step back herself.

“You mind if we come inside and talk where it’s cooler, Sergeant Jones?” Scott said, putting his hand on the door handle.  “It is hot out here and we want to keep things calm?”

“Then you should leave,” Alex said, shaking her head, ‘no.’

“We can’t be adults about this, Sergeant?” Scott said, jiggling the handle. 

“I’m not the one trying to break into my house, Scott,” Alex said, nodding to the door.  “The better question is how far do you think you can get away with this entitled, frat boy bullshit before I think it’s in my best interest to shoot you in the face?”

“I didn’t go to college,” Scott said, still managing a smile and raising his hands away from the door where everyone could see them.  “Happy?”

Elizabeth frowned behind him, inching back more, her right hand now on her own pistol.

“Not really?” Alex said, her eyes on both of them when a loud crash rang from the back of the house.

 


 

Chapter 22: The Ass Kicker

 

“Great,” Jen thought, watching Alex’s cell phone as Rocco and Mordecai started walking toward the back door with their guns drawn.  “Looks like I’m going to have to kick these guys’ asses.”  She dialed ‘911’ and let it ring.  “But I’m not an idiot.”

“Nine one one.  How can we help you?”

“Send a few cruisers to 650 Ultimo Ave.  There’s going to be trouble,” Jen said in a whisper and ducked down to the lower cabinet next to the oven, pulling out a cast iron skillet as the operator said, “What?” 

She hung up the phone.

“That should do the trick, but it doesn’t hurt to have a back-up plan,” she thought and grabbed Alex’s wallet and a pen off the counter.  She pulled out all the twenties and scribbled ‘IOU’ on a one-dollar bill before jamming it back in the wallet and looking at the phone again.  “Time to get ‘Tangled’ on these assholes.”

Rocco and Mordecai both stopped at the back door with Mordecai looking through the kitchen windows and Rocco backing up to the door, place his heel against it.  “Nothing,” Mordecai said quietly and Rocco brought his heel down. 

The door flew open with a bang and they rushed in.

“Jen?” Alex said, yelling from the front of the house

She leapt up, slamming the skillet into Mordecai’s face.

He dropped and Rocco stepped aside to avoid the falling body, raising his pistol at Jen.

She stepped forward and swung the skillet onto the side of his head.

Rocco bounced off the counter, his gun clattering to the floor.

Jen hit him again, breaking his jaw and knocking him out and onto the floor.  “I got the two in back,” she said, yelling, and seeing that Rocco was down and not moving.  “Holy shit,” she thought, dropping the skillet on him.  Then she saw the key chain on his belt and ripped it off.  “I can fix this.”

“No,” Alex said from the front.  “Don’t…”

“The cops are on the way and I’m borrowing your phone,” Jen said, already out the back door and halfway through the yard on her way to Rocco and Mordecai’s car.  “Come and get me, Scott, you fuck stain.”

Chapter 23: The Standoff

 

“God damn it,” Scott said, hearing the crash from the back of the house and reaching under his shirt.  “I told you idiots to hold back.”

“Don’t,” Alex said, pointing her pistol at his chest. 

“Don’t worry,” Elizabeth said behind Scott and raised her own gun as the scuffle continued in the back of the house.  “I’ve got her.”

“Right,” Alex said, ducking behind the wall separating the back and the front of the house, her aim still on Scott.

“I’ve still got her,” Elizabeth said, readjusting her stance.

“Wait,” Scott said, raising his hands higher.  “Sergeant Jones, calm down...”

“You’d be dead if I wasn’t calm, Scott,” Alex said, checking on Elizabeth.

“I haven’t done anything illegal, Sergeant Jones,” Scott said and put himself between the two women, blocking Elizabeth’s aim.  “All we’re doing is talking.”

“With guns,” Alex said, keeping hers right on him.  “And I still figure a lot more under that shirt, Scott.”

“Fair point,” he said, smiling that practiced smile.  “But we’re all adults who know how to use guns.  So, why don’t we keep talking.”

“We might all be a little past that,” Alex said, then heard Jen yell, ‘I can fix this.’

“We need to leave,” Elizabeth said to Scott.

“No,” Alex said to Jen, but her eyes stayed right on Elizabeth.  “Don’t...”

“Yes, Jennifer.  Please stay,” Scott said, nodding to Alex’s pistol and still smiling that practiced smile.  “We’re just talking here, right, Sergeant Jones.”

Alex turned back to him.  “I suggest you back up, take your girlfriend, get back in your car and leave before my husband and a hundred angry cops show up, Mr. Dawson.”

“I can see you talked to your sister, Sergeant Jones,” Scott said, lowering his hands.  “That’s all I wanted to do with her.”

“Right,” Alex said.

“We had a little misunderstanding earlier today,” Scott said and shrugged.  “I was just hoping to clear it up.”

“It’s amazing that your boss isn’t already in jail.”

“More than you know, Sergeant Jones,” Scott said.  “But all I want is the thumb drive that Jennifer took.  It’s got some embarrassing images that are near and dear to Jimmy’s heart.”

“I doubt there’s much that could embarrass Jimmy Roberts anymore, Mr. Dawson.”

“You’d be surprised,” Scott said and they all heard a car peal out from the back alley and a man groan from the kitchen.

“You’d better tell your men to get out of my house,” Alex said, readjusting her pistol to Scott’s face and pulling out a second one from her waistband.  “Or I’m going to shoot you for attempted B&E.”

“The door’s still closed, Sergeant Jones, but fine,” Scott said and lost his smile.  “Whatever you want.”

“Back off.  Right now.  We got this,” Elizabeth said into the walkie-talkie and they all heard her staticky voice from the kitchen.

Alex glanced toward the kitchen, keeping her first pistol right on Scott’s face.

“I know Jimmy Roberts is an asshole,” Scott said, keeping his hands raised.  “But he rewards the people who help him, Sergeant.  A lot.”

“He’d have to,” Alex said as she heard someone stumble out her back door.

“I live in a nice house, drive three nice cars and my wife and most my especially kids will never have to worry about a thing in their lives.”

“That’s great,” Alex said, motioning for him to go.

“Don’t worry, Sergeant Jones.  I said we’re leaving and we are,” Scott said, taking a step back from the front door.  “But Jimmy could make your son’s life better, a lot better.”

“I think you want to stop talking, Mr. Dawson.”

“We know he’s autistic and would benefit from better schools, therapists and anything else money could buy,” Scott said.  “Money you don’t have.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed on him.

“Or we could go in the other direction,” Scott said.  “Make a few calls that undo the school placement it took you so long to get.  End that free after school tutoring that you’ve come to rely on, or even put your husband permanently on the second or third shift making your life just a little harder.”

Alex heard the back door shut and brought around her second pistol, pointing it at Elizabeth’s face.

“Scott,” Elizabeth said from behind him, watching the second pistol.  “This is a bad idea.”

“Call your sister and tell her to bring back that drive, Sergeant,” Scott said, looking right back at Alex.  “She has your phone.  Call her and make her listen.  Make her understand the importance of family.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Alex said, stepping out into the front room.

“You’re making a mistake,” Scott said.

“So are you,” Alex said, starting toward them. 

“I know she’s your sister, but you’re making the wrong decision,” Scott said.  “We can help your son.”

Alex stopped, her guns pointed right at Scott’s and Elizabeth’s faces when a car screeched to a halt in front of the house.

They all turned to see Jen raise her middle finger, looking right at Scott and Elizabeth.

“I knocked out two assholes in your kitchen, Alex,” Jen said, yelling over the approaching sirens.  “Sorry.”

Alex nodded, taking in a breath.

“You’re going to jail, Scott,” Jen said, and took off in Rocco and Mordecai’s car.

Scott and Elizabeth blinked and ran for theirs.


 

Chapter 24: The Chase

 

Scott and Elizabeth roared down the street, following Jen even though she was out of sight.

“We’ll get her,” Scott said, zigzagging around cars.  “All we have to do is…”

“Slow down or you’ll get us,” Elizabeth said, hearing sirens in the distance.  “This isn’t fucking Afghanistan, Scott.  Do I need to remind you what the LAPD will...?”

“Right.  Okay.  Shit.  You’re right,” Scott said and frowned, downshifting and stopping at a yellow light slowly turning red.  He turned to Elizabeth and nodded.  “Sorry.  I fucked up.  I shouldn’t have brought up Jones’ kids and we lost her.”

“Never threaten somebody’s kids if they’ve got a gun,” Elizabeth said, opening up the tablet.  “You know that, Scott.”

“I do, but I’m tired, and we need that drive,” Scott said as the light turned green and they moved forward.  “You find Jennifer?”

“I’m working on it,” she said, manipulating the tablet.  “It takes a minute.”

“Thank you,” Scott said, and glanced at his ringing phone, noticing Mordecai’s number and hitting the speaker.  “What?”

“She got past us.  There are cops are everywhere and Rocco just got handcuffed…”

“This wouldn’t have happened with Silas,” Scott said to Elizabeth.  “He wouldn’t have…”

“She hit us with a frying pan,” Mordecai said.

“You did a tour in Afghanistan and she got the drop on you?”

“One second everything was fine and the next I’m on the ground.  It’s like she knew exactly when to hit me.” he said.  “And she’s got the car…”

“You were supposed to fucking hold back, Mordecai.”

“Yeah, I know, Scott, but did you hear me say she’s got the car?”

“I’m already following her, you fucking idiot,” Scott said, slamming his hand on the dashboard.

“Scott?” Elizabeth said, holding up the tablet.

“Hold on,” he said and took in a breath, holding it for a few seconds.  “Mordecai, call up the agency and tell them what happened.  Rocco’s going to need a lawyer right now.  Okay?”

“Okay.  Got it.  Call the agency.  Get Rocco a lawyer.”

“Good, and Mordecai?”

“Yes?”

“After that I want you to walk up to the top of the US Bank Tower, take a look at the sunset and then fucking jump off, you God damn, limp dick, cock sucking, dumbass piece of dog shit,” Scott said and clicked off the phone.

“Feel better?” Elizabeth said. 

“Not much,” Scott said and turned onto a cross street, slowing down.  “What do you have?”

“I just reported their car stolen, but I assume the police are looking for us now too.”

“The joys of an ex-cop pointing a gun at us,” Scott said and looked at her.  “Can you give me some good news?”

“I found the car,” Elizabeth said, showing him the tablet.  “It’s on Prairie Avenue heading to the 405.”

“Where is she going?” Scott said, looking at the GPS on the tablet and putting his foot on the gas.  “San Francisco or someone’s beach house?”

“Maybe Caitlyn had one?” Elizabeth said.  “Or Jennifer’s got another friend?  The security consultant?”

“He’s already blown her off,” Scott said and turned left onto Prairie Avenue.  “I pretended to be her and texted that he had a small dick.”

“Like’s that’s going to matter to a computer geek,” Elizabeth said.  “She’s a woman.  I’ll call Horizon Security.”

“First get me Jake Cooke’s address.”

“The photographer?” Elizabeth said, typing his name into the tablet.  “I thought she kicked him off the property this morning.”

“She did, but he owed Jennifer about a hundred favors,” Scott said and his phone rang again.

Elizabeth gave him a look.

“It’s not him,” Scott said, seeing Alex Jones’ name on his phone and showing it to Elizabeth.  He hit the speaker again.  “Sergeant Jones.  Have you rethought your priorities?”

“Not quite,” Jen said on the speaker.  “Have you figured out that you’re an asshole?”

Scott shared a look with Elizabeth and turned onto the 405.


 

 

Chapter 25: The Call

 

“Jennifer, that’s right, you stole your sister’s phone,” Scott said, smiling at Elizabeth and pushing his foot all the way down on the gas pedal as they zoomed onto the highway.  “That was pretty smart.”

“I saw how Alex kicked your dick sucking, murdering, piece of shit ass, like the little bitch you really are, you fuck stain,” Jen said, driving faster.  “Must have shocked the hell out of your that a mere cop on leave could make such a bad ass army ranger turn tail and run away like the pussy, fuck stain he is.”

“I was a SEAL.”

“Really?” Jen said and laughed, zooming around cars.  “Were your little bitches that I smacked down SEALS too, because I thought they’d be tougher, like a lot tougher, than the pussies they were.”

“You can keep trying to convince yourself you can handle this, Jennifer, but at the end of the day you’re going to need my help if you want to see your sister again, much less make it through the day.”

“Because you’re such a ‘good guy,’ Scott?  You’re going to keep me safe even after you killed Nick, threatened my sister and her kids and are now no doubt tracking this car to do whatever you need to do to get the drive showing Jimmy killing Caitlyn?”

Scott’s mouth tightened and he swerved hard, just missing a car.

“I didn’t really buy any of your BS even before today, fuck stain.  You’ve been protecting Jimmy for the last three years of dead hookers, dead suppliers and whatever other fucking thing you’ve done to keep him safe and earn your blood money.”

“And yet you’re naïve enough to think you’re going to beat him?” Scott said.  “Jimmy’s Hollywood royalty, Jennifer.  He’s a fucking institution.  He starred in his first movie at five years old, had two hit shows, recorded number one songs, been on Broadway and was nominated for an Oscar before he sold out.”  He laughed.  “Hell, his father’s played the president, his sister’s a successful director and his mother heads up the Rx Foundation.  This town, hell, this state has too much invested in Jimmy.  His family has too many connections and he’s made way too much money for him to just go to prison just because you say he killed your spoiled, drug addled, media whore of a boss.”

“She was making a comeback.” 

“For the fourteenth time?”

“She’s only 25.”

“But she looked 30.”

“And Jimmy looks 50, Scott.”

“But he’s not going to jail, Jennifer,” he said and passed a line of cars.  “And you are.”

“I’ve got evidence that says otherwise, fuck stain,” she said, hitting the Venice beach exit.

“You think,” Scott said and laughed on purpose.  “I’m guessing you have no idea what’s really on that drive, Jennifer.  You’re just hoping it was recording when Jimmy and Caitlyn were together, that the shitty security firm that revamped Caitlyn’s security system got at least one thing right, and that you haven’t damaged it during all of your adventures in the last 36 hours.”

“I figure it’s all good or you wouldn’t be chasing me, Scott,” Jen said and hit the street, turning north.  “And I’m right, aren’t I?”

Scott’s face tightened as Elizabeth pointed to the tablet showing where Jen exited the highway.  

“Screw Jimmy and do the right thing, Scott,” Jen said into the silence.  “You’ve already lost.  The cops have to be after both of us by now, and where’s that going to leave your family.”

He laughed.  “That’s funny, Jennifer, because your sister just put her kids’ future and whatever’s left of her police career on the line just so you could what?  Shower and get clean clothes for your mug shot?  The LAPD is going to tear her apart right after they throw you in a cell for taking a lamp to Caitlyn Kelly’s head.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s not too late to help them, Jennifer.  Give me the drive, admit it was an accident, you panicked and then made about a hundred mistakes, and I promise I will do everything I can to help you,” Scott said and slowed down as traffic built up in front of him.  “I’ll make sure your nephew gets to stay in his special school.  I won’t press any charges against your sister for holding a gun on me, and I’ll hire a lawyer for you myself to make sure you get as light a sentence as possible for killing Caitlyn.”

“Fuck you, Scott.”

“You already said that, Jennifer,” Scott said.  “But no blowjob for that security geek boyfriend or exclusive for your fat paparazzo friend is going to save you any more than your sister could.  We know where you are.  We can see where you’re going.  And it’s just a matter of time before we get to you.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, you do or say is going to make a bit of difference in how this turns out.  No matter how smart, tough and cool you think you are, you’re just one woman who isn’t going to beat the system.  And you and I both know that.”

Jen looked at the road in front of her and smiled at the approaching country club ahead of her.  “That was a nice speech, Scott,” she said and hit the turn signal.  “But it sounds more like you’re trying to convince yourself that I’m not going to send you and Jimmy to jail.”

“Not today, Jennifer.”

“I knew you’d say something like that,” Jen said and clicked off the phone.

Scott put down his cell and turned to Elizabeth.

“We should catch up to her in ten minutes.

He frowned and saw the sign for the Venice Beach exit.


 

Chapter 26: The Club 

 

Jen took a deep breath and turned the car onto a wide road leading to a well-manicured compound of virgin white buildings, tennis courts, palm groves and fountains.  “Okay.  No worries,” she thought, letting out her breath and slowing down the car.  “You’ve been here before, two years ago when you were dating Nick and he wanted to get laid, which was pretty much all the time.  So, they might remember you.”

Her smile faded as she drove past the new tennis courts that she had never seen before.  “Of course, that was two years ago, and now’s he’s dead,” she thought, swallowing hard.  “And most people probably think I did it, which is not going to go over well at all.”

She noticed the kids walking to the courts and the pool in hundred-dollar tennis outfits and bathing suits and their member parents on the balcony in thousand dollar suits and dresses, and then looked down at the jeans, t-shirt and red Chucks Alex loaned her.  “Shit.  These aren’t going to go over well either,” she thought, staring at a blond, made up, manicured and gymmed out woman whose body said 29 and whose hands said at least 60 or more.  “Remember, you work your ass off, make six figures and actually do have 29-year-old breasts.”  She straightened up and looked at her own chest with a real smile.  “So, screw all these skinny, stuck up bitches and the self-entitled assholes who paid for their fake tits and asses.”

The woman didn’t even notice Jen as she turned to the main building, slowing down even more as two attendants noticed her.

“I hope Jonathan Stark still eats lunch here every Tuesday or I am more fucked than a cheap stripper at a frat party,” she thought and pulled up the car to the first attendant.  She smiled her practiced smile and got out.

“It’s nice to see you again, Ms. Alvarez,” the first man said as the second reached for a radio on his belt.  “It’s been what, a year?

“Two, actually, Tony,” she said, looking at his name tag and reaching back into the car, shoving a few things into her pockets and her waistband before she gave him the keys.  “I’ve been busy.

“Of course, ma’am, and thank you,” Tony said, taking her keys.  “And did I see you in the news recently?”

“Yeah, in the last couple of days probably.  I’ve almost got it worked out,” she said, handing him a $20.  “Can you please keep the car nearby?”

“Very good, Ms. Alvarez.  My pleasure.”

“Thanks, Tony,” she said and waved, still smiling her practiced smile as he pocketed the bill.  “That leaves me four left,” she thought, giving him another wave.  “And I’m not sure if it’s good or not that Tony remembers me and the other attendant pulled out his walkie-talkie and just disappeared.”

“You’re welcome, Ms. Alvarez,” Tony said, giving her the once over and a big smile.  “And good luck.”

“Hmm,” Jen said, nodding to Tony and moving forward before having to open the club’s front door herself as a half dozen staff just stood by and watched her walk into the foyer.  “That and this are a bad sign.”

She kept going.

“Okay.  Let’s hope that Stark remembers that he liked me, thought I had a nice smile and complimented me on my determination, spunk and ability to not take any shit from Nick,” she thought, remembering which direction the club’s poshest dining room was and turning right.  “Not to mention my actual 29-year-old tits and ass.”

She walked past a large set of floor to ceiling mirrors, checking herself out.  “Thank you for being smaller than me, Alex,” she thought with a grin, and adjusted her tighter than normal bra as a teenager gawped at her.  “It certainly won’t hurt.”

A man in a dark blue jacket with the club insignia saw her and nodded, pulling out his radio.

“Yeah, another good sign,” she thought and held onto her remaining $80 as another man in a blue jacket appeared from around the corner and started following her.  “Great.”

But she kept going.

“Remember that Stark offered me a job once,” she thought.  “And the good thing was he didn’t get pissed when I turned it down.”  She nodded to herself.  “I think he even understood when I explained that my sister was a cop and I couldn’t cross certain lines.” 

A woman in a $2,000 suit turned to her with narrowing eyes and a dropping mouth as she got closer.  “There’s a dress code here, young lady.”

“I don’t plan to be here long,” Jen said, noticing the man next to her and giving him a wink.  “And now you have something to talk over dinner for once, huh?”  She raised her thumb to her face.  “And my eyes are up here, sir.”

And she kept going.

“The good news is that Stark thought I was a keeper and didn’t blame me for breaking up with Nick,” she thought and swallowed, wiping her face.  “The bad news is that he treated Nick like the son he never had and I’ve got to be the main person of interest in his murder.”

She stopped at the club dining room, pulling out her $80 and hearing a curt laugh from the hostess. 

“You don’t want to go in there, Ms. Alvarez,” the hostess said.  “In fact, it’s probably in your best interests to leave now before certain members know you’re here”

“I’m so happy you know my name,” Jen said.  “And I think it might too late for that anyway.”

“Yes, you’re probably right,” the hostess said and shrugged.  “Your face has been all over the news.”

Jen nodded, taking in another deep breath.  “I remember Nick telling me that nobody ever, and I mean never, crossed his uncle because he had a line that once crossed you could never come back from,” she thought, staring at the door.  “And once you were on the wrong side of that line, you were facing nothing buy a guaranteed slow and painful death.”

She looked at the hostess again, who shook her head.

“But bad thoughts aren’t going to help,” Jen thought and smiled, trying the door to see that it was locked.  She took a step back and raised a foot.

“Hold on.  Let’s not break it,” the hostess said and unlocked the door, opening it and giving Jen a look.  “But I think you’re making a big mistake.”

“Maybe,” Jen said and steadied her practiced smile, thinking.  “Happy thoughts.  Okay.  Only happy thoughts.”


 

Chapter 27: The Offer

 

Jen walked straight into the dining room holding onto her practiced smile and turned to the panoramic view of the ocean.  “Yeah, that got me between the sheets,” she thought and noticed Jonathan Stark and his wife taking in the Pacific as two large men stood up from their table, looking right at her. 

She slowed down as they approached her.  “Glad he’s still lunches here,” she thought and noticed that everyone else in the dining room was looking at her too.  “And let’s hope that I get out here without getting my ass kicked, raped or tortured to death.”

Stark put down his water glass as the two large men formed a wall in front of her.  “That’s far enough,” the shorter one said as the taller one came up on her left side.

Jen nodded to Stark as the shorter one clenched his fists and the other club members in the dining room tried not to stare.  She held her breath and kept up the practiced smile.

Stark smiled back and checked her out as she stood up straighter, her head held high as she looked past the two large men and right into his eyes.  “Still one cool chick, Jennifer Alvarez,” he said and his wife nodded in agreement.  “So why don’t you tell me what happened to Nick yesterday before Christopher there takes all of his anger and grief out on you?”

Jen glanced at the shorter man’s hard expression for only a second.  “I’m sorry about Nick, Mr. Stark,” she said, turning back to him.  “I did see him yesterday for the first time in nineteen months, but I didn’t kill him.  I swear.”

“I figured that, Jennifer,” Stark said, watching her face as she thought, “Thank God.”

“But I’m guessing it’s not that simple, is it?” Stark said and took a sip of water as the shorter man waited for a signal and Stark gestured to Jen for more.

“No, Mr. Stark.  It isn’t.” Jen said, her eyes still on his.  “In fact, Nick would probably be alive today if I hadn’t gone to his house, and for that, I am truly very sorry.”

The shorter man edged closer to her.

“Christopher,” Stark said and the man stopped, inches from Jennifer’s face. 

She just barely kept her eyes on Stark.  “I went to Nick’s because I was in trouble, Mr. Stark, and I knew he would help me,” she said, losing her practiced smile and wiping her face.  “I found Caitlyn Kelly dead yesterday with a giant bruise on the left side of her face as Jimmy Roberts showered and shaved in her bathroom like nothing had happened: like it was just another Monday for him.”

“It probably was,” Stark’s wife said and the two large men nodded in agreement.  “The only good thing he’s ever done was that kid’s show when he first started out.”

“Jimmy’s House,” Stark said.  “On Disney.”

“That’s right.  The kids loved it.  It didn’t talk down to them, and it still had a few jokes for the adults.”

“Not like that annoying Barney or that creepy LazyTown stuff,” Stark said, nodding to his wife.

“Right, and then he worked his way up, did those movies, High Finance and The Squad, got a few Oscar nods and cashed in his pay day, starring in a string of bad to awful action vehicles and comedies that threw more money at him than he could ever spend.”

“Until he burned out.”

“And did TV again,” his wife said.  “That horrible show with the blonde that made him another fortune in syndication rights.”

“At least that show had good writers at first.”

“It did,” his wife said.  “And you know he owes us $41,528 from a few years ago?”

“I remember.  That’s when he started doing blow off of every hooker’s ass, shooting at people who wouldn’t put up with his shit and moving even further down the Hollywood chain, all while contributing to the Police Benevolent Society and the mayor’s campaign fund,” Stark said and turned from his wife back to Jen.  “Jimmy Robert is an asshole, Jennifer.  So, what was Caitlyn Kelly doing with him?”

“Being stupid and buying his sweet act until he wasn’t, Mr. Stark.  Then he killed her and I ran away,” Jen said.  “I knew he’d blame or kill me, and the only place near Caitlyn’s that I thought was safe from both Jimmy and the police was Nick’s.”

“But that didn’t work out.”

“No, Mr. Stark.  No it didn’t,” Jen said, now feeling the smaller man’s breath on her face.  “Jimmy’s assistant and bodyguard, Scott, found me.  He...”

“How?” Stark said, leaning forward.  “How did he find you, Jennifer?”

“He looked through my contacts on my cell phone, Mr. Stark.  Put two and two together and went to the address closest to Caitlyn’s, which was Nick’s.”

“You gave him your phone?” Stark said, giving her a look.

“Jimmy won’t let anyone near him with a camera or cell, Mr. Stark.  Even if they’ve seen him naked before.  He doesn’t want any more bad publicity.”

“Like we haven’t seen everything already?” his wife said.

Stark nodded, his eyes still on Jen.  “So, Jimmy found you at Nick’s?”

“His P.A. did, Mr. Stark.  His name’s Scott Dawson.  He’s ex-military, a SEAL or ranger or something.  When he grabbed me, Nick got in between us.”

“And this Mr. Dawson killed Nick?”

“Shot him in the chest right in front of me, Mr. Stark,” Jen said and wiped her face again.  “One second Nick was joking, and the next he was dead.”

“But you got away?”

“I escaped because Scott’s shirt was covered in blood and he couldn’t leave the house without attracting attention.”

“Which is why he burned down the place,” his wife said to Stark.

“Yes, but Nick would still be alive if you hadn’t gone to him for help,” Stark said, looking right into Jen’s eyes.  “Wouldn’t he, Jennifer?”

“Yes, he would,” she said, swallowing hard and looking right back.  “And I’m sorry, Mr. Stark.  I know I crossed a line, but I am telling you the truth.”

“And you think that’s enough?  To just say you’re sorry and we’ll forgive you for Nick’s death?”

Jen held his stare and shook her head.  “No, I don’t, Mr. Stark.  But I can’t change what’s happened.  I can only move forward,” she said and pulled the drive out of her jeans pocket.  “This has a video of Jimmy killing Caitlyn on it.”

Stark stared at the drive and then looked Jen in the eye again.  “Why haven’t you posted it to the Internet then?”

“It’s locked,” Jen said, closing her fist around the drive.  “And it can only be opened by Caitlyn’s security firm.”

“Horizon Security?  Yes,” Stark said, exchanging a look with his wife.  “Your boyfriend who works there didn’t have very nice things to say about you on TV.”

“I imagine, Mr. Stark, but he’s not my boyfriend, and I’m sure someone else can open the drive.”

“Like the police, Jennifer?” Stark said.  “Your sister’s a cop.”

“A detective, Mr. Stark, but Alex can’t compete with the contacts Jimmy must have in the department.”

“No doubt why Mr. Roberts has stayed out of jail so long.”

“And why Nick recommended I come see you in the first place, Mr. Stark.”

He leaned back in his chair.  “A daring thing to say with Christopher practically on top of you, Jennifer.”

“I agree, Mr. Stark,” Jen said, her eyes still on his.  “But Nick thought you would listen to me.  He thought you’d see a way to make money from this.”

Stark smiled.  “And clear your name, Jennifer?”

“While making millions for you, Mr. Stark,” Jen said and found her practiced smile again.  “I imagine people would pay a lot of money to see photos or video of one Hollywood A-lister killing another, and you would score points with the LAPD for solving the biggest red ball since OJ.”

Stark chuckled and his wife nodded to Jen.

“How much would the Daily Mail or TMZ pay to show what’s on this drive, Mr. Stark?” Jen said.  “Hell, how much would the studios pay to keep it quiet?”

“Now you understand how Roberts has stayed out of jail for so long, Jennifer,” Stark said and shared a look with his wife. 

“He should have paid us that $41,528,” his wife said.

“He should have,” Stark said with a nod.

“Then we have a deal, Mr. Stark?” Jen said, watching them.

“You’re still going to owe me a favor, Jennifer,” Stark said as the two large men backed away from her.  “My Tuesday club lunches are sacred.”

“Absolutely,” Jen said, readjusting her too tight bra again.  “But within limits.”

“Of course,” Stark said and noticed the large men turn to see Scott and Elizabeth walk into the dining room.  “But I think you have something else to finish first.”


 

Chapter 28: The Counter

 

Jen turned and saw Scott and Elizabeth approaching from the other side of the dining room.

“Mr. Stark, my name is Scott Dawson, and I’m sorry about your nephew’s death, but I had nothing to do with it,” Scott said, pointing to Jen.  “Jennifer Alvarez there is lying to you, as she has to herself and everyone she’s come into contact with in the last 48 hours since she accidently killed her celebrity and movie star boss, Caitlyn Kelly.”

The two large men looked to Stark and then at Scott and Elizabeth as the shorter man pulled out a pistol and the larger man eyed Jen.

She pocketed the drive.  “That’s not true.” 

“I’m here for the thumb drive that Ms. Alvarez stole from my employer, Jimmy Roberts,” Scott said.  “The drive has some embarrassing images on it of Mr. Roberts and Ms. Kelly, and I am prepared to offer you a $100,000 for its safe and immediate return, Mr. Stark.”

Elizabeth opened a briefcase of $100 bills, keeping an eye on the two large men.

Stark didn’t even look at it, staring at Scott.  “Ms. Alvarez has the drive, Mr. Dawson,” he said and nodded to Jen.  “I suggest you talk to her.”

“You’re a lying whore,” Jen said to Scott, starting toward him.  “Everything you’ve ever said to me was bullshit, and you’re going to pay for covering up Caitlyn’s murder and killing Nick if it’s the last thing I ever do, you cunt rag, piece of shit, fuck stain. 

The larger man gave her a look, letting her get ahead of him.

“That’s great, Jennifer, and you keep telling yourself you’re not the killer and maybe you’ll eventually believe it,” Scott said, stepping forward.  “But I don’t care what you think of me.  All I want is that drive and you in a cell where we both know you belong.”

“Fuck yourself,” Jen said, beckoning him toward her as the shorter man started toward both of them.

“That’s about the only thing you haven’t fucked,” Scott said, almost on top of Jen as Elizabeth kept an eye on the large men.  “Now give me that drive.”

Jen jammed her fist into his face, her whole body behind the punch, stopping Scott in his tracks, and then hitting him again.

He backed up in a crouch, on guard now.  “Nice, better than last time with good follow through,” he said, looking at her.  “But nowhere near good enough, hon.  This is the big leagues and I’m not messing around anymore.”

“Great.  I’m so happy to hear that, hon,” Jen said and landed a left hook on his lower jaw, knocking him back a step.

Then he slammed her in the chest, knocking her to the floor.

Both large men turned to Stark who shook his head, ‘no.’

“Ow,” Jen said from the floor, one hand on her chest and the other raised in-between them.

“This is over, Jennifer,” Scott said, pulling her up and reaching for her pocket and the drive.  “I’m going to get what I want.”

“No, you’re not,” she said, watching him block her one-two kick and punch, but yanking herself free.

“How do you think this is going to end, Jennifer?” Scott said, knocking her down on the floor again and reaching under his shirt.

“Scott, don’t,” Elizabeth said as the two large men leveled their pistols at them.

He turned as Jen jabbed him with the Taser she had hidden in her waistband.  “Fuck you, Scott,” she said and pulled the trigger.

He froze, grunting in a massive convulsion and falling to his knees and then on his face as Jen stood up over him, clicking off the Taser, but holding it up for another shot. 

“Whoa,” the small man said, lowering his gun.

“You scumbag,” Jen said, kicking Scott as he failed to get up, and then kicking him again when he was down.  “Your wholesome, good guy act was nothing but a front for the cock sucking, butt fucking stain that you are.” 

Elizabeth stepped forward until she saw the larger man shake his head, ‘no’.

“I liked and trusted you, and you almost killed me twice in the last 24 hours,” Jen said, spitting into Scott’s face and kicking him in the ribs, again and again, as he kept failing to get up.  “You’re just like every other small dicked asshole in this city looking out for number one and not caring if they let her friend die or kill her ex-boyfriend, you piece of shit.”

“Like we’re any different,” he said, struggling to his knees.

She slammed her right fist into his face with all of her power behind it and he hit the floor, not moving.  She stared at him for a second, seeing the Taser lines still attached to him and reached for the trigger.


 

Chapter 29: The Consigliere

 

Jen’s finger tightened on the Taser’s trigger for a second shot as she stood over Scott’s unconscious body.

“Jennifer,” Stark said, standing up from the table.  “You’re not going to help yourself by hurting him further.”

She looked up and Stark pointed to the rest of the dining room where she saw twenty people staring at her with wide, scared eyes.  “Great.  Still winning friends and influencing people,” she thought and put the Taser down gently on the floor and backed away from Scott, noticing that he was unconscious, but still breathing.  “Fuck stain.” 

Then four cops came through the dining room doors headed right for her.

“And it gets better,” Jen said, raising her hands and stepping even further away from Scott.  “Officers?”

“Nobody move,” they said, moving even faster.  “Police.”

“Officer Ramirez,” Stark said, walking toward the lead officer.

“Mr. Stark?” Ramirez said and stopped in front of Jen while the second officer circled behind her, the third looked at Scott and the last one spread out to make sure the rest of the club members were all right.  “You want to keep your hands where we can see them, miss?”

“Yeah, I do,” Jen said, pointing to Scott.  “And this man is the personal assistant and bodyguard of Jimmy Roberts.  He’s been covering up Caitlyn Kelly’s murder by Jimmy for the last 48 hours, and murdered Nick Stark yesterday afternoon right before burning down his house.”

Ramirez turned to Stark.

“I believe her,” Stark said.  “This man, Mr. Dawson, came in here not five minutes ago, and started making accusations against my client, who I’m sure you recognize as a person of interest in the death of actress Caitlyn Kelly.”

“Client?” Jen said and Officer Ramirez turned to her. 

“Yes, then he physically attacked Ms. Alvarez who responded in self-defense with the Taser,” Stark said, now standing next to Jen.  “Ms. Alvarez has video in the Caitlyn Kelly murder that Mr. Dawson was trying to steal as I’m sure other club members could testify to in a court of law.”  He held out his hand to Jen.  “Correct, Ms. Alvarez?”

Jen studied Stark’s face, seeing the raised eyebrow and the slow blink of the eyes.  “Correct, Mr. Stark,” she said, holding out the drive.  “Although we haven’t discussed payment.”

“I think we’ll have no problem coming to an understanding, Jennifer,” Stark said, handing the drive to his wife who joined them.  “And I believe we now have evidence that will clear my client in the death of Caitlyn Kelly, Officer Ramirez.”

“Great,” Ramirez said, noting Stark’s wife put the drive in her purse as he pulled out his handcuffs.  “Well, I’m going to let my Sergeant handle that, Mr. Stark, and you’re going to come with me, miss.”

“I figured,” Jen said, letting him cuff her.  “Particularly, since I’ve run out of other options.”

“You’re going to be fine, Jennifer,” Stark said as two paramedics came into the dining room, heading for Scott.  “And he’ll get what’s coming to him too.”

“Good,” Jen said with one last look.  “But what about Jimmy Roberts?”

“His time’s up if the video is as good as you say it is,” Stark said and walked with her as Ramirez led her out of the dining room.  “Even the A-listers in Hollywood see justice once in a while, Jennifer.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it, Mr. Stark,” Jen said and turned to him.  “And I hope everything’s good between us.”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Stark said, following her.  “I probably would have done the same thing in your circumstances.  Plus, you just gave me the man who killed my nephew and that drive should make us millions.”  He smiled, motioning for Ramirez to stop for a second.  “You still owe me a favor, though, Jennifer.”

She looked at him.  “You mean after you get me out of jail?”

Stark looked back at her.  “You won’t be there long based on what you told me, and I’ll send one of my associates to the station to make sure that the police move your situation forward as quickly as possible.”

“Then I do owe you a favor,” Jen said with a real smile.  “Although don’t get any ideas.”

“There’s the woman I remember from two years ago,” Stark said, giving her a once over and a smile.  “But I’m a married man, Jennifer, and I just trusted my wife with the drive you’ve worked so hard to get into safe hands.”

“And yours are safe, Mr. Stark?”

“I’ll be in touch,” he said, heading back into the dining room.

“Look forward to it,” Jen said, still smiling as Ramirez led them outside.


 

Chapter 30: The Brother In Law

 

“It’s about time you got here, Detective Jones,” Jen said next to one of the police cruisers in front of the club.  She smiled despite the cuffs, the unwanted public attention and the silent and unknown officer standing guard over her.  She nudged the officer and nodded to her brother in law.  “Officer Friendly here and I have been waiting for you for the last twenty minutes.  She hasn’t said much as the club members pretend we’re not here and a few professional photographers take pictures of my bruised face for the front page of tomorrow’s newspapers.  Better yet, she was quiet when I gave her hell for leering at my brother in law, and didn’t believe me when I told her that you were a geeky teen who grew into those shoulders and cheek bones and still has a flat stomach despite having two kids and eating like a fifteen-year-old.”

The detective eyed her.  “You done, Jen?” he said, noticing the officer blush and shaking his head.  “Because you sound a little nervous.”

“Probably a little considering the last couple of days, Eric, but, yeah, I’m doing all right.”

“The bruises?”

“Scott Dawson.”

“The guy in the ambulance?”

“I kicked his ass.”

“Yeah, I heard,” Eric said, motioning for the still blushing officer to go get a coffee. 

Jen watched her give Eric one last look that he didn’t notice.

“I’m glad to see you’re alive and well,” Eric said, looking right at her.  “And it sounds like you didn’t murder your boss or ex-boyfriend.”

“That’s good to hear, Eric.  Thanks.”

“But did you ever think that maybe your last 36 hours of craziness, violence and scaring bystanders could have been avoided if you’d given me or Alex a call yesterday morning?”

“I did, but…”

“But instead you decided to flee a crime scene, avoid the police, run to an ex boyfriend’s house, sneak into your sister’s and my house and then barge into a country club looking for a well-known and well-connected lawyer to ask for his help.”

“It was more of a negotiation.”

“Involving a computer thumb drive, Jen?”

“I’m not sure, Eric,” she said and shrugged.  “And it’s probably not smart for me to say, right?”

“Right,” he said and stared at her, shaking his head.  “And I’m glad you’re alive and well and made up with Alex.  It was killing her.”

“It was killing me too,” Jen said, looking back and almost smiling.  “And I’m sorry.  I would’ve called, but I lost my phone, was running for my life, didn’t know who to trust, knew that Jimmy Roberts had connections with the police, didn’t want to get you into trouble and figured I should get a good lawyer.  You know?”

“I know,” Eric said and shrugged.  “Sorry I brought it up.”

“It had to be said,” she said and looked at the country club’s parking attendants.  “I, uh, also recovered a stolen car from some guy named Mordecai or Rocco.  They worked with that asshole, Scott.”

“Good to know,” Eric said, turning to the attendants and laughing.

Jen laughed too.  “I guess you have to take me downtown?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Eric said and opened the cruiser’s door.  “Watch your head, okay.”

She sat down in the cruiser.  “I heard an attorney’s meeting me there.”

“He’s already waiting,” Eric said.  “Alex will be there too.”

Jen looked up at him.  “What about the Matt and Lily?”

“I’m picking them up from your mom’s after this.”

“I want to see them.”

“Yeah, Alex is arranging something,” Eric said, closing the door.

“Thanks,” Jen said.

“You’re going to be all right,” Eric said.

“I know,” Jen said, watching him as the cruiser pulled away.  “Thanks.”


 

Chapter 31: The Future

 

“So, what do you know?” Jen said, putting her feet up on the coffee table and flashing her phone.  “The system works.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you for years,” Alex said, taking away a tablet from her son, Matt, and pointing to the TV.  “Look, it’s Aunt Jen on the news.”

“Aunt Jen.”

“Again?” Lily the seven-year-old said, but put down her book to look at the TV.

“You’ve been telling me that for years because you’re part of the system,” Jen said and drank some coffee.

“And that’s because it works, Jen,” Alex said and drank some too.  “You were in jail for how long?  Four hours?”

“Two, but I had a really good lawyer,” Jen said, watching the TV flash to mugshots of Jimmy Roberts and Scott Dawson as the newscaster started to detail their arrests, alleged crimes and likely years in jail.

“Yeah, that definitely helps,” Alex said and looked at Jen.  “And how much money did the mob lawyer make off that drive you gave him.”

“Jonathan didn’t say.”

“Jonathan?” Alex said and rolled her eyes.  “But he did give you a cut.”

“We worked out a deal,” Jen said, watching the TV as the details started to get gory.  “I’ve got some investment capital now.”

“Investment capital?” Alex said, clicking off the TV. 

“Hey,” Lily said.

“You’re fine,” Alex said and turned back to Jen.  “Does that mean you don’t have to be a P.A. again?”

“I don’t think I could be a P.A. again,” Jen said, flashing her phone one more time.  “My newfound celebrity isn’t exactly what the rich and pampered are looking for.”

“Why not?” Lily said.

“Go to your room,” Alex said, eying her daughter and handing her and her brother their tablets.  “We’re talking adult stuff, okay?”

“I’m a medium sized kid.”

“But not an adult yet,” Alex said with a fake stern look.  “So, go.  Okay?”

“Bye, Mom,” Matt said, taking the tablet.

“Can we have Chinse tonight?” Lily said.

“We’ll see.”

“I still want to know what’s going on,” Lily said.

“I’ll explain it to you in ten years, hon,” Jen said with a glowing smile as she and Matt left the room with a little nudge.  “You have some good kids.”

“Nice to see them, huh?”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Too bad about your job prospects,” Alex said, clicking back on the TV to see Caitlyn Kelly.  “You were always too good for that anyway.”

“Yeah, well I was trying to get into production, but I think that kind of fizzled out too with all that just happened,” Jen said, pointing to the TV.

“Hmm.  So what then?” Alex said, drinking more coffee.  “Continue the superhero solving murders thing?”

“That’s kind of your gig.”

“I’m on leave,” Alex said, pointing to the hallway leading to the kids’ rooms. 

“Yeah, but at the end of the week they both go back to school,” Jen said, picking up her cup.  “And then?”

“L.A.’s not looking for part-time cops, Jen,” Alex said, changing the channel.  “And I don’t have the flexibility on this end anyway.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jen said.  “But I wasn’t thinking about you being the superhero solving murders.”

Alex shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Jen, but you’d be a terrible cop.  They want you to, you know, follow the rules.”

“So, I’ve heard.”

“And they probably wouldn’t take you even if you did clear your name and catch two world famous killers.”

“I can live with that and your passive aggressiveness,” Jen said and smiled, taking a sip of coffee.  “I wouldn’t want to be a cop anyway.  I’d want to be my own boss, or at least be an equal partner in whatever office I set up.”

Alex gave her a look.  “You want to be a private investigator?” she said and turned the channel to see James Garner’s smile.

“I kind of do,” Jen said with her own smile.  “I could do some good, help those I wanted to help and…”

“And not make much money.”

“I’ve already got some money,” Jen said, still smiling.  “Plus, I’ve already got a client.” 

“Jonathan Stark?” Alex said.  “I thought you owed him a favor.”

“It all depends on your perspective,” Jen said.  “And he’s assured me it’s all on the up and up.”

“Right,” Alex said and shook her head.  “Because he’s always on the up and up.”

“He’s never lied to me, Alex.”

“That’s because he liked how you looked in my t-shirt and jeans, Jen.”

“True, but a job’s a job, and it sounds interesting.”

Alex sat back and stared at her sister, drinking the last of her coffee.  “You already know you’d need someone with law enforcement experience to do it, right?”

“Yeah, and I don’t want to call my firm Stark Investigations,” Jen said, fiddling with her cup and smiling her practiced smile.  “I thought you could head up Alvarez Investigations on a part-time basis.  You know, help me when I need it and still look after the kids.”

“And use my police connections?”

“And my Hollywood ones, legit and otherwise,” Jen said, raising her eyebrows and poking her sister in the ribs.  “Mom and Dad think it’s a great idea.”

“That’s not a selling point,” Alex said and shook her head with half a smile.  “But I’ll think it over and talk to Eric.”

“Great,” Jen said, smiling a real smile again and clinking her coffee cup against Alex’s.  “Then we’ll do it."

“Shut up,” she said, but clinked her cup back.

“To the beginning of a beautiful business.”

“I said, shut up,” Alex said and clicked off James Garner’s face.

“Typical,” Jen said and got off the couch, still smiling.  “But we’re going to kick some butt.”

 

 

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