“I feel like a Mafia Don,” Kitty muttered to herself. She spent all day on the phone trying to track down anyone who could tell her where Hank Reims or Stan Cramer could be. Both had vanished into thin air. Fled the city? Probably.
Stan was the actor holding the gun when Jeffrey Chen was shot and Hank was his stunt double and childhood friend. Both had good reason to avoid reporters right now, and even if she was suddenly a freelance reporter, she was very much still on the story, Kitty reminded herself. Jeffrey’s mother held both actors, along with 12 other people in the lawsuit, responsible for her son’s death. Kitty needed to find them, to talk to them, and fast—before another reporter got to them.
The far-reaching phone operation she had put in motion turned up nothing. Some vague excuses, some even vaguer promises to let either know she was trying to get in touch, if anyone saw them. She stretched backward in her desk chair and pressed her shoulder blades into the ridge of the chair. She ran her hands over the desk. It had been her eighth Christmas present, white and now scuffed, but at the time it had been beautiful: flourishes cut out with a scroll saw at the legs and drawer handles that looked like something out of a Victorian novel. The nicks and stains now were all fond memories: the stain from when her first fountain pen leaked, the nail polish, the etching of initials into the wood during the long nights her teenager’s heart pined for unrequited love. This desk had seen her through so many ups and downs. Now it was seeing her through trying to re-create her crumbling life and career. Some self-help books recommended getting an adult desk, but Kitty reasoned this desk was like an old soldier in the battle of her life. Do you retire the old war horse just because it survived? Wasn’t that a sign of victory in itself?
The producers and director had gotten on airplanes and fled as soon as they could. Best of luck trying to get through the layers of people they had to protect them. The actors were scattered across the U.S. but most other actors weren’t named in the lawsuit. Just these two. Since the DA had decided not to press charges, the other cast members began to make the rounds of the late-night talk shows and signed on to other projects.
Hank and Stan had gone underground.
Were they together? Kitty wondered. Probably not.
The animosity Hank had toward Stan radiated off him when everyone had sat vigil in the ER.
Kitty half wondered if Hank had gone looking for the props master who had handed Stan the gun.
If you are trained to kill a man without leaving any marks and you feel racked with vengeance, how do you control that? Kitty wondered.
She knew from personal experience the desire to wound another person could cloud judgment and drive one to lengths unimaginable. She also had no actual fighting skills or any ego wrapped up in such an identity.
But Hank? Hank was a trained martial arts fighter. It was how he saw himself. What was it he had said about how he always wanted to be Lee Chen, the greatest martial arts movie star in the world?
Instead he lived his dreams vicariously through his best friend. Lee’s son Jeffrey. Now Jeffrey was dead.
How would I react if that were my psychological profile?
“Time to take stock,” Kitty mumbled to herself. “You can’t find the actors right now, but you do need to get a plan together to move your own life forward. Your mother is dead. Your father is in LaLa Land, refusing to communicate with the rest of the world. You can’t leave him, he can’t function. Can you? Could you move out? Start over? Go somewhere else? Could you take him with you if you did?”
She paused and considered that point. Maybe getting away from all these memories was what they both needed. Or would that kill her father? What about her? Would someplace else help or hurt more?
“You’ve lost your job,” she continued to herself. “You aren’t going to get another one in this market. If you want to get another job or even seriously freelance, you have to do something. Or do you want to leave writing altogether?”
She had written reams and reams of emotive teenage poetry at this desk—her first novellas and short stories. As long as she could remember, she wanted to write.
How many hours had I sat up with a desk lamp on low and filled notebook pages? Give that up forever?
The day Rick Dawes hired her at the newspaper had been the best day of her life. Never before had she wanted or loved anything so much—to have it snatched away from her like that was devastating.
“Kitty, the word is ‘devastating,’” she told herself. “You need to be honest with yourself. You are devastated. After Mommy and Jeffrey’s deaths, this is another blow, and it might be one you can’t survive. Is survival even worth it? Am I living? Am I thriving? Is Daddy? Are either of us doing anything worthwhile we enjoy? If I kill myself, it will kill him. There will be no one around to care for him, and he will have no one … that would be the final blow. Can I do that to him?”
She crossed the small room to her dresser and opened the sock drawer. She touched the bottle to reassure herself it was there. For years she had been carefully picking up and keeping painkillers when she found them: unfinished prescriptions from her wisdom teeth, her mother’s knee surgery, her father’s hernia. The last few pills rattling around forgotten in bottles pushed to the back of the kitchen cabinet. She carefully collected and hid them for the day—the day she might take her own life. She held up the bottle and looked at the assortment of white nuggets.
A passage to freedom. To oblivion.
They sent a thrill to her stomach.
She both feared and yearned for certainty she could take her own life and be done with it.
She unscrewed the lid and shook a few into her hand. They were different sizes but all varying shades of white.
“Maybe I’m not a Mafia Don after all, but rather an informer who is permitted to take her own life rather than be executed when she fails—because I am definitely a failure.”
“No one loves me. No one will notice if I’m gone. It would probably take Daddy a week to even notice I didn’t show up for dinner. What have I ever done that is worthwhile?”
Her hand was sweating with nervous excitement.
Could I do it? Would I do it?
“Jeffrey Chen dies while the camera is rolling and the world turns upside down. If I go … nothing. Nothing will happen.
You are right. You are not a celebrity. You are not on the cusp of your young life. You are not about to finish the break-through film that will launch your career. You are not about to marry your one true love. None of those things will ever happen for you.
“I’m fat. I’m too fat. It is not lovable or attractive, and I am tired of being the second best that men settle for.”
She sat down on the edge of her bed and ran her hand along the ruffle of the eyelet lace bed set that had been her 16th birthday present. Her mother put up the lacy curtains and new cover on her bed while Kitty slept—so she woke up to the surprise of the new room décor. It was when she was going through her Victorian phase.
I am living in a world built around a child, she thought. I haven’t started an adult life. I haven’t set up my own household or made my own decisions. Everything, everything is a relic from a kid. No wonder I can’t get laid. I can’t bring a lover back here. It’s like my whole childhood threw up on my adult life. I have to make a change.
She stared hard at the pills in her hands.
Gwenyfar Rohler is encore’s fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,.” The story takes place on location in Wilmington, NC. Catch up on previous chapters at www.encorepub.com.