A Torch in the TunnelMature

Coinciding with the lift doors sliding was Helena’s gaze. They opened and her eyes swept the interior, falling suddenly on the sole passenger: Detective Carr. His, soon rolled off the cream-coloured marmoleum to spy Ms. Anderson. His face lit up, though the same could not be said of Helena who seemed unimpressed.

In his leisurely fashion, Forrest walked out of the elevator, bumping shoulders with Jack.

“‘Scuse me,” said the detective.

Along the way, he remembered the circumstances which brought him there and rumpled his face so as to resemble a solemn investigator rather than a perverted gawker aroused by the sick or dying.

Though not enthused, Helena could turn and look at him once he had made the change.

“I uh…” said Forrest searching for the right words, “I wasn’t sure I’d see you here.”

“Why wouldn’t I be here? I’m supporting a colleague.”

“Of course, that’s fine. I think Ms. Misra would be happy to know you’re here, and… pleased, to see you when she’s finally able to receive visitors. The two of you must be close friends?”

Helena sighed, “...We’re not.”

“Oh. Well I’m sure she’ll be delighted that you came to support her anyway.” Helena was about to say something when someone caught Forrest’s eye. “Along with…”

Helena!” Aaliyah's piercing voice prompted some aggravated stares. As if the room had been subjugated to nails on a blackboard. “Who is this handsome man you’re talking to?” The producer clearly heard the emphasis on the word ‘man’ and knew her star meant it as an insult. Whereas Forrest missed the insinuation completely.

“How do you do?”

Aaliyah pursed her lips and decided to let her hair down and whip it back. Mane which until then had been tied into a chignon by a large Colchian hairpin. She flashed the dangerously sharp ivory in the detective’s face before shoving it in her clutch, and offering the man a hand for him to kiss. Such was her eccentricity.

Not tempted by her charm, Forrest took her hand and awkwardly shook it. “Ahh, you must be Mrs. Kenichi. I’m Detective Carr. Nice to meet you.”

Her eyes widened, clearly shocked to be greeted by that name. When the detective didn’t fawn over Aaliyah, the strangeness of the whole affair forced Helena to smile, which she tried to keep in check. But she was intrigued to say the least.

Aaliyah tried to recover, “Actually…it’s Ms. Greene now.” Yet, she had been rendered silent.

“Yeah, that’s right. You’re divorced. Sorry.”

Aaron approached now, fascinated to learn that at some point, his co-star apparently shared a name with one of the most powerful Yakuza families of all time.

Um…?” he said, glancing at Aaliyah, “Aaron Schaffer.”

“Mr. Schaffer. How are you? Good to see you again.”

Still confused, the actor added, “Um… again?”

“Yes. And walking about no less. You obviously don’t remember, but we met yesterday. I suppose you were delirious at the time. However you had your girlfriend there to keep you company.”

Immediately the three of them raised a brow at Forrest to see if he was serious. He had only been there so long, and with each passing moment there was a new development, seemingly pulled out of thin air.

His head bobbed from side to side trying to determine when he could have acquired this mysterious girlfriend of his, something of a smirk on his face. Though in the end Aaron inquired simply, “What?

Before either revelation could be explored further, a gruff Greene growled and grabbed Aaron by the collar, “Okay! I think we’ve waited long enough. We’re leaving. Aaron, come with me.

They both suddenly withdrew from the fray. Aaliyah stomped off in her high heel boots and yanked Aaron along, who seemed to have a lot more questions. Though he was either too confused and befuddled to actually stay behind and ask them or Aaliyah was so strong he was too helpless to resist.

Helena couldn’t help but grin, and barely contained a laugh. A grin that Forrest observed, and reciprocated. They stared at one another, and in that instance, Helena did so in admiration. For a few seconds their stares did linger, and he leaned in. Unfortunately, Forrest beheld her unrequited.

Helena was be the first to avert her gaze and clear her throat.

“Look, Ms. Anderson,” said Forrest, “I didn’t want to bring this up and make things uncomfortable between us—”

“So don’t. Our lives are probably already difficult enough. Let’s not—”

“Agreed.”

To that effect, they both stood awkwardly in the middle of the waiting room as a pair of phones rang out at the nurse’s station and a fax machine whirred to fill the hush. Helena even heard her watch ticking away. It was quarter after One.

“Sorry um… what are you doing here Detective? If this isn’t a social call—”

“Correct. Sadly I didn’t come to see you. Although I did try to contact you a few hours ago.”

Right. About that. I actually gave you my assistant’s number—”

“Oh, don’t worry about it; we’re talking now. Besides, I was just curious to see how Aaron was coping. Dr. Dziedzic said they wanted to keep him another day for observation, but that he checked himself out early. However he seems to be fine.”

“He is, as far as I can tell. But uh... have you been able to find out anything regarding Ms. Misra?”  

Forrest frowned.

“Nevermind. You can’t say. I understand.” Helena crossed her arms and looked away.

Too late he replied, “All I know, is that she was attacked.”

That would be an understatement. She was abused, Detective. She was robbed. Of everything.”

“...I don’t know anything about that—”

“Surprise, surprise.”

“I do know that you made the call. Without hesitation. Right after you found her.”

Though there was nothing funny about it, Helena chuckled. She rubbed her face and coursed her fingers through her hair. “Sure. There’s no way I could have called sooner.” Her tongue was parched with remorse.

The detective sighed, “I’m… I’m truly sorry.”

“Please, don’t apologise to me. I’m not the one whose face was pulverised,” Helena groaned. Her eyes even watered a little at her own vivid description.

She thought back to finding Kamala’s body. Trembling as she tried to pull everything out of her purse to search for her mobile. Watching Alex stroke Kamala’s face and trying to cover up her half-naked form.

Again, there was pause until Helena broke it. “Are you any good at your job, Detective?”

He nodded. He straightened up.

“Do you solve all of your cases?” asked Helena, almost lachrymose.

“Only when I have all the facts.” replied Forrest, almost a-whisper.

“Solve this one.”

“I promise.”

Forrest offered up a handkerchief which Ms. Anderson was quick to accept. She dabbed her eyes before she teared up, careful not to smudge anything. Then she handed it back.

“And you and Ms. Misra don’t have any kind of connection, hmm?” said Forrest half-smiling.

While Forrest acknowledged the return of her assistant, Helena felt the woman’s incoming draught. Yet she looked over her shoulder at Alex and pushed back the unruly fronds of hair. Alex on the other hand, was loath and not terribly keen to join the group since Helena was in it. And she was distant; both literally and metaphorically.

“Detective, I’m Kate Dowling,” said she.

“I remember.”

“Thank God you’re here. Do you know anything about what’s happened to Kamala?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. I just arrived.”

“Well I do. We’re on the wrong floor. And since you’re here, maybe you and Ms. Anderson can cut through any sort of red tape. If we encounter any.”

“What floor?” Helena jumped in.

“Follow me.”

‘Patient Overflow’ as the four of them (Forrest, Helena, Alex and Kate) might have guessed, was overflowing with patients. There may very well have been rooms full of patients either sick or healthy, but it didn’t seem that way when they disembarked the lift.

So many people were in the hallways. They were bloody or screaming or crying. Some attended by doctors or nurses. Most not at all. Some patients had a bed or a gurney, with IV tubes dangling off of them, but not all, as it soon became evident, even deserved them. As most of the people who were suffering were sitting in chairs, or on the floor against the wall.

Then there was the noise which made all of them think twice about moving forward. And the stench which stumped them all, and force them to take a step back. It sounded so violent. It smelled so fetid.

Of course, the whole scene was commotion. It was chaos and disarray. And only one thing was painfully clear. That most of the patients had come from the same place. After a destructive event— which they could all be certain they would hear more about in the morning news— dangerous-looking people off the street had been pulled off of the street from a slum of some kind and taken to that exact hospital. There probably wasn’t an exact count of how many people lined the corridors, though it was safe to assume they numbered in the dozens.

“Detective Carr?” Kate asked, “These people here… were they in the gang shooting?”

Seeing no reason to refrain from answering, Forrest said, “I’d be hard-pressed to think otherwise.”

Forrest came upon the nurse’s station and greeted the nurse manning it. Nurse Featherstonehaugh. An ogress with flowing raven hair and floral tattoos on her cleavage and up along her neck.

“Pardon me,” said the detective. He proffered his badge but the nurse didn’t reach for it. “I’m looking for a patient. Kamala Misra. I understand she was taken here after some kind of operation?”

Nurse Featherstonehaugh sneered, but before whatever cruel words came out of her little droll face, a doctor who came behind the desk and interrupted her. “Detective Carr?”

“Hi, Dr. Dziedzic.”

“Did you say you’re searching for a patient? Last name Misra?”

“He did,” responded Alex.

The doctor and the detective gave her a swift glance, before Mieczysława probed again, her accent weighing heavy, “Sorry, who are they?”

“Concerned colleagues of Ms. Misra.” One by one he pointed out the women who stood beside him. “They’re Mrs. Finnick; Ms. Dowling; and Ms. Anderson.”

“Well Detective, ladies,  I’m sorry to say that Ms. Misra can’t have visitors right now.”

Kate pried, “Well can we at least see her? Is she alright?”

“She’s stable,” What relief those two words may have provided was limited, “but you’ll need to wait a few hours more…”

Kate’s eyes were pleading, so Dr. Dziedzic relented, “Come this way.”

The group made a short walk down the hall to one of the recovery rooms. The walls being taupe, and the floor a dark emerald lino. It was like stucco to provide grip but it was still slick with something that wasn’t wax. Kate moved quickest despite the tripping hazard.

There was a window outside of the room to view the patients, and metres before they had the opportunity to look through it, Dr. Dziedzic warned them. “Be prepared for a shock. She might look worse for wear.”

Indeed she did. Although cleaned, put into a hospital gown, bandaged and blanketed, Kamala hardly resembled the young woman she used to look like. In fact she was nearly unrecognisable.

Her hands and fingers must have had a plethora of gashes, so they, the wrists, down to her elbows may as well have been completely covered. With casts as stark as white. Tubes and wires ran all across her body.

Blood had been washed off her face, but it only helped showcase the cuts and the bruises. Rings around her eyes were nearly solid black and her lower cheek and the side of her chin was blue. There were little nicks all over her face from the thrashing she received, but there were two medium-sized cuts on her brow with fine stitching. On her other cheek another laceration. This one was presumably stitched up as well, but it had begun to bleed from underneath the plaster. However, an air mask covered the majority of her face.

Then wrapped around her crown were layers upon layers of gauze. Presumably to help heal another injury that neither Kate nor Alex nor Helena had noticed before. Though technically asleep and unmoving, she didn’t look as if she were resting; rather like she was in pain.

Helena simply looked away, and as soon as Kate saw her, her hand shot up to cover her mouth.

Alex took in the sight a little longer, but eventually, casually turned in the opposite direction and slid gradually down against the wall. All the way to the floor; her knees pointed up as if she were squatting down. Then she put her hands up above her head and clung to the sill. Helena tried to lace her fingers in between one of them, but Alex pulled away.

“What…?” Kate tried to ask, but no further sound came out.

“What is the extent of her injuries?” Forrest asked for her.

The doctor sighed a heavy sigh, “Let’s start with the superficial wounds,” then a few seconds later, she began to list them off. In simplified English. “Abrasions to the hands and face, elbows, knees, shins. There are numerous nicks and cuts to her hands and arms and face. Deeper lacerations on her palms, her brow and the side of her face. Severe bruising, and multiple contusions on her chest, neck and face.”

That could have been enough, but Dr. Dziedzic kept on going. Kate almost tuned her out. “...broken nose… broken arm… fractured wrist… dislocated wrist… broken fingers… broken ribs—”

“If that’s all it was, why did she need surgery? Why is she unconscious?” Forrest interrupted.

“I’m sorry but there’s more to it than that, Detective. One of her rib fractures was likely the cause of the pneumothorax. The collapsed lung. And that in turn caused her to stop breathing and her heart to stop. Until EMTs arrived and were able to finally resuscitate her… she was dead for about nine and a half minutes.”

Oh my… Jesus…” Kate walked away with her hands on her head. Tears flowing freely down her face. She screamed, “Fuck!

Still sitting motionless on the floor, was Alex. Grey.

Neither Forrest nor Helena knew which one they should be more worried about. But Helena wasn’t faring much better. She was practically catatonic like Ms. Kensington, and her stomach wasn’t settling. By sheer force of will, her legs hadn’t given out. She normally fixed things. She solved problems. But in this case... she didn’t know what to do.

“A uh… chest tube…” For a moment, Mieczysława slowed as well, as she watched Kate curse and pace the corridor; unsure whether she should continue, “...was… inserted.… to remove air from the pleural cavity. Since then we’ve actually removed the chest tube, and given her a ventilator. But… she also suffered a subdural hæmatoma, a um… a bleed in the brain, which we believed was due to trauma. At least we suspected as much when she arrived. We ran a CT scan to confirm. Once we did, she underwent a craniotomy whereupon we removed the clot with suction. Her surgery was quick; there were… one or two hiccoughs… but she’s been in recovery for the last eight hours.”

Kate shuddered but snarled too, “That son of a bitch.

“Detective,” said Dr. Dziedzic, “there is one more thing, but perhaps it’s best if I just talk to you? In private?” motioning to the Utopia Dystopia crew.

Forrest looked to Helena, but her gaze was now elsewhere. So he addressed the three of them, “Will you all excuse me?” and he walked away.

Dr. Dziedzic led Forrest further down the hall. Confidentiality was a priority to them, and the two professionals apparently acted in accordance with protocol.  

Like a turtle coming out of its shell, Alex slowly turned her head. Her line of sight tracking the policeman and the doctor, ready to eavesdrop their conversation. Only they were too far to hear, or the building was too loud and full of multiple auxiliary voices, making it near impossible to distinguish theirs. Not that she needed to. None of them did. Kate, Alex and Helena already suspected some of the most foul play was sexual in nature. And it likely took a toll on Kamala as any single injury would have done. Needing to speak about it privately served as a confirmation.

Not taking Helena’s open hand to help hoist her up, Alex rose again on her own. She dusted herself off and saw her producer attempt to give a consoling smile. Alex gave nothing back. She didn’t even focus on Ms. Anderson’s face and instead looked just over her shoulder.

“Should we go?” tried Helena.

Peering through the glass again, she overlooked the pale watermelon walls and noticed the other two patients in what could be considered a cramped space.

One was quite still. Perhaps permanently so. He was old but exceptionally grey and wan. Despite his near full baldness, one could see where his head had been shaved on the side, and his scalp peeled back.

The other was burly and swart, and clearly resting as evidenced by the heaving chest. Like Kamala he had a bandaged head in common. Though at closer inspection he didn’t seem to fare well at all, given the fact he had an amputated wrist and twice as many tubes shoved down his throat and cannulae stabbed into his veins. And his breathing was so slow and rhythmic, it was obvious the machines were doing most of his respirating and heart-beating.

Together, the three of them were alone in the hospital. Alex wondered if Kamala might decline and become as sick as her roommates. And for the umpteenth time, she wondered if there was something she could have done to have prevented the tragedy.

Again, Alex failed to make eye contact as she turned to Helena. And she nodded affirmatively but answered counterintuitively, “Yes... You should go.”

“Sorry?”

“Just go without me.”

“But… I’m your ride.”

“I’ll be fine. I can get a taxi home. But you’ll need to talk to Peter and Ben in the morning about taking up my directorial duties for tomorrow.”

What?” Helena said, perplexed.

“I think I might stay here a few more hours with Kate. Watch over Kamala; see if her condition changes.”

“I don’t understand—”

She’s awake.” Kate loudly gasped. “She’s awake!

Having already crept into the room when no one was paying attention to her, Kate noticed her friend begin to stir. Though Kamala did more than just twitch or flutter her eyes open. They had a look of fear to them. Fear of the unknown. She shook her head a few degrees in either direction as if to look around. And as the seconds passed, she fidgeted her entire body.

“Kamala? Kamala? Can you hear me? Can you see me? Kamala? I’m right here beside you, okay? Just nod, don’t try to speak.”

Kamala did look over at Kate. Several times in fact. But she rarely focused. With every passing second she would lend her gaze to something different looking for something familiar. Recognising nothing, she only became more and more panicked.

“Kamala, it’s okay. It’s me, Kate. You’re in the hospital, okay, you’ve been hurt,” Kate reassured her friend, more tears flowing.

Kamala cried too, her eyes wide open. an awful grimace spreading on her face. And gradually she moaned louder and louder, her breath fogging up the plastic of her breathing apparatus, in between harsh, laboured breaths. Almost like she was choking. She must have been in such bewilderment and in such pain.

Suddenly, her heart monitor spiked, as her pulse quickened, and her movements were more violent than simple fidgeting. However, it was Kate’s signalling that spurred Dr. Dziedzic and Nurse Featherstonehaugh into action. Another soon joined them, Nurse Jarvis. Her blond hair was shoulder length, features symmetrical, and perfume sweet like a pomegranate.

When they rushed toward the room, Kamala’s visitors easily heard the medical professionals muttering about how the anæsthesia had worn off earlier than expected. Nevertheless, they set to work, presumably to sedate her again, though possibly just to administer enough opioids to manage her pain. Whatever the procedure, the crew of the TV show were unaware.

Kam!” Kate tried once more, “It’s me Kate! Your friend! It’s alright, you’re safe! You’re in the hospital Kam!”

“Nurse, can you get rid of her, please!?” asked Dr. Dziedzic.

“Ms. Dowling, please,” Forrest insisted, “step outside!”

The room grew more frenetic with Kamala starting to kick and rip out wires. She gagged as she wrenched the tube out of her throat and then shouted bloody murder. The wailing sunk well into her ears and permeated deep into the grey matter, it made Kate shiver so. Forrest stepped in to grab Kate and drag her out of the room if necessary. But by then, she was scared enough to come quietly.

The door slammed. The blinds closed. But they still heard Kamala. All four of them. Even from whence Forrest had ushered Alex and Helena.

“She doesn’t remember me,” Kate muttered.

“Pardon?”

“I don’t think she remembers anything.”

“How do you know?” Helena queried. “She just woke up. How could she have said anything at all with those… things down her throat?”

A second passed and Kate flashed her eyes up at her boss. “She didn’t have to. I saw it in her eyes.”

“Well since she has just woken up, maybe she’s just a little confused? Maybe it’s the drugs?” Alex suggested.

The wide open hall leading to Kamala’s room received a sullen glance from the group.

A phone buzzed.

It was Matt Twynam’s show. News about the rich and famous he called Studio Drama. A third incarnation of Mr. Twynam’s television program which had been airing periodically for the last decade. The previous two had ended in colossal failure, and a smidgen of hilarity. Where he focused on spectacle and shock value and ratings rather than worrying about censorship laws and budgeting.

Not that I cared. Personally I didn’t like him or his shows. I didn’t go to watch it, I went to see Mr. Schaffer. He’d been scheduled to make an appearance for months, and so soon after the fire, made the appointment. Told that he would be finishing up at nine, I arranged to drive over just before then. Lest he be whisked away prior to my interview.

I was delayed. The set seemed to be blacked out. The cameras, the lights, even those embedded in the stairs and the aisles of the studio audience, which had long since emptied.

Backstage seemed to be a different story. Everyone was running around. Everything remained hectic. I head a curtain drawn back, and the first person I recognised was Ms. Greene, followed closely by her personal assistant, Ms. Reichenbach. She was taking dictation by the looks of it. Hanging on her boss’s every word, squinting at the notepad as she jotted.

When I asked a stagehand where I could find Mr. Schaffer, the acne-hewn young man nervously pointed me toward his stage manager, who in turn directed me to a  producer; Ms. Anderson. Helena.

The moment he said her name my heart skipped.

Helena.

I took a breath and I felt refreshed. Lighter. Whenever someone mentioned her name I—

“Hey, Detective? You alright?”

I could practically taste the stage manager’s bitterness.And his dopey smirk stung me. The way he stood from heel to heel, twirled his moustache and rolled his eyes told me he wasn’t so much concerned for my health as he was annoyed that I had yet to thank him for his meagre assistance. Though he neither told me nor showed me where Mr. Schaffer might have been. Apparently I day-dreamed and stood motionless a little too long.

Politely, I dismissed the man, “Yeah, fine. Thanks.”

There she was. Helena. Her arms were folded. Leaning against a very cold and square pillar under a spotlight. Her hair meandered like a long and winding river. And her form was just as fluid the way she curved, propped upon the stone. Seeing her, even just from the back, brought me joy.

As I came alongside her, I watched her reading. I wasn’t sure, perhaps she read like that all the time, but she had a book rested in her right palm and the crook of her arm. She stared down at the pages intently, almost furiously. Pages by Winston Paddlemore. A Torch in the Tunnel.

“Hello, Ms. Anderson,” I said pleasantly.

I may have startled her. I noticed her shoulders roll and her eyes shoot at me briefly before they returned to her paragraph. When she saw me she smiled, but immediately frowned. “Detective.”

Uh… Rereading the source material?”

“You could say that.”

“I see you’re near the end.”

“You’re very observant,” her tone was not terribly cordial.

I sighed and tried again, “What chapter are you on? If you’re looking for the deeper meaning… maybe I can help?

Helena’s eyes lifted up, and she replied, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it. Besides, I think you’ve helped enough, but... you’ve read this?

“Once upon a time ago, yeah. I’ve read it. And he does get a little political, though Paddlemore has some nice thrilling and suspenseful moments.”

“If you say so. Chapter twenty-eight.”

Before I could reply she closed the hardcover, which made a light thud, and she ranted about the book for a moment. “You know, what bothers me, is how my head writer can lie and suggest that the script is not misogynistic. I have read this book from cover to cover. This will be my third time reading it now. Not only is there no mention of the character Rand in the entire story, but Mel is the narrator, and has the majority of the lines. So…” Helena scoffed, “why the hell does Ms. Greene have no lines? She shouldn’t even have to complain!”

She then took a step closer and shoved her index finger up to my breast. And she continued. The contempt was still there but she wasn’t talking about the story any longer. “Also, I’m currently down two assistants. One of my leads refuses to make any public appearances, the other is… even more detestable and spiteful than usual. My head writer is smugger than usual. And my head director is emotionally AWOL. Of course, that’s not the worst part, Detective Carr. Would you care to guess… what the worst part is?

Helena paused but the question was rhetorical. “The worst part is that… my show, and my job are in jeopardy. Filming is at a standstill. Mr. Monroe in his infinite wisdom has, in addition to the incidents and subsequent investigations, suggested that the cast and crew might be overworked, so that justifies more delays in production. Even though we’ve filmed just over two episodes worth of footage! and we were two weeks behind schedule to begin with!”

“Ms. Anderson—”

“I should really thank you for that. For alerting Mr. Monroe. It coincided perfectly with Mr. Khagan-Smith either going off or getting back on his medication, so now he will be flexing his power on set; using his producer’s credit to his advantage. So thank you for that.”

It was true. The network executive had been informed. But by whom was the question. Certainly not by me, as there was no reason to involve him. I had the trust of, or at least the understanding of Ms. Anderson and her permission to conduct my investigations without a warrant. Before, I could have interviewed cast and crew with ease and just cordoned off the crime scenes. Not to mention, Helena would have been happier for it.

“And what are you even doing here? You don’t need to talk to me about anything. You and Howard must be as thick as thieves now. Running the investigation together yet? Do you have a two-pronged course of action?”

I tried to butt into the to conversation, but once again I was interrupted. “Perhaps the two of you, and Mr. Khagan-Smith can run the show? I’m sure it was lacking a man’s touch anyway.”

“I get it. You’re mad at me. But let me explain—”

Mad? Au contraire, Sir. I’m delighted. Delighted that a man has come to take over and do a better job than I ever could… But do I not have the right to be so? Is anger not justified? Am I just being a selfish bitch!?

She raised her voice slightly, and turned a few heads. I saw her eyes tremble crossly, and knew that I had been browbeaten. Resoundly. Then she continued more softly this time, and with a definite lump in her throat. There were no tears, and she didn’t cry, but even a simpleton could tell she was distraught. So I listened.

“...Apparently, I’m on my second strike. Three and I’m out. That’s how serious this is. That’s how important it is that my set is devoid of people working. That that makes me upset is how… devoted to my job I am. That’s how pathetic I am. And—” Helena stopped short as she gasped and had to catch her breath.

For a second she paused to stop herself from crying. But then sure enough, her voice deepened. “And nobody talks to me, Detective. Not the temp at my office, not my colleagues, not the cast or the crew, Ms. KensingtonKate; who’s called in sick. The only people who seem to want to talk to me, are you, and my mother! People I don’t want to talk to. And yet… I’m talking to you anyway.”

Helena was slumped forward and her hands were on her waist; the volume caught between a hip and a palm. And she dared not cry and show weakness. She looked every which way but toward me. All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure of where to start or what to say. I could have corrected her. Easily. But I figured, what would it have mattered? How would that have made the lovely Ms. Anderson feel better?

And I must have disgusted her. Me, like a fly in ointment. So I didn’t know how close I should stand to her. If I should even be in the same building as her. All I knew was that she was upset. Yet…

Stretching out my left, I put my arm over her shoulder and moved forward, pulling her in a few likewise steps to comfort her. Pressing her head against my chest. Maybe her eyes were a little redder than before, but she stayed strong and held everything back. A few seconds later, she slowly wrapped her arms around me for a moment or two.

I looked around backstage and no one seemed to notice we were there as they walked along, going about their business. Nobody cared.

The moment passed, and I released her from my embrace, and very calmly, she asked me again, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I uh… I came to speak to Mr. Schaffer.”

“Well you’re too late.”

What?

“He left ten minutes ago.” Helena cleared her throat and pointed,  “When the interview was over.”

“Damn.” I pushed the heel of my palm into my temple and resigned myself to defeat. My evening was… almost wasted. “I passed someone on my way here who said that the interview got away from Mr. Twynam.”

Then came the second smirk from Ms. Anderson that night. “First the restraining order was brought up and then the lawsuits…”

“Failure to appear in court?”

“No, not as such.”

“I’ll need to watch it.”

She sighed, feeling obligated to the law, “You definitely will. I don’t know his source, but somehow, Twynam got some surprising pictures of Alex— Ms. Kensington, Mr. Schaffer and Ms. Greene. Photos, possibly stills from a video which I doubt the police would have shared with him.”

“Well shit!” Slightly slack-jawed listening to her, I was going to march off and find the weasel when Helena stopped me.

“You won’t find him here!” I returned, and she filled me in. “Or the pictures. He most likely keeps them, or backups at his office across town.”

I looked down at the beautiful specimen before me and groaned that I had to leave so swiftly. “I… I have to go.”

“It’s alright. I’ve gotten this far in life without you.”

“Well, you might wish I left sooner. Because I’ll leave you with this, and you might not like it.”

“What?”

“It pains me to say this on your account, but… Mr. Khagan-Smith was right.”

Already tensing up, she asked, “How so?

“Okay, that is indeed the first novel,” said I pointing to her copy, “however it’s not the first story in the series. The author wrote a novella years earlier and it was finally published with a number of his other short stories. That’s why the title of your book, ‘A Torch in the Tunnel’ is the sub-heading underneath ‘Afraid of the Dark.’ And Mel still narrates as she does in all the books, but she features less prominently. At least initially. As for Rand…”

Helena urged me on with her eyes.

“Maybe I shouldn’t spoil it.”

“Go on tell me.”

“Well I’m sorry to say but, his character dies. Right near the end, and naturally, right before he can tell Mel that he loves her.”

“But there’s no mention of him in this story. Did she not love him?”

“No. But she still cared for him and essentially she grieves his death through the entire course of your book. Just not by name. She simply can’t bring herself to say it aloud or even think it. That’s what RR stands for.”

“Oh.”

I couldn’t help but smile. And she gave in as well.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re pathetic. For a while, all I had was my job.”

“What happened?”

“I met someone. Someone who makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Anyway, it looks like we’ll have to finish our conversation later, Ms. Anderson.” I was referring to the stage manager who called out to everyone stating that no one needed to go home, but none of them could stay there.

“Another time then,” said Helena.

I closed my eyes as I strolled away. Imagining that Helena watched me. I couldn’t understand it of course, but I felt like she was the light in my eye. The spring in my step. I had only spoken to her on three occasions now, but I was infatuated. And it pained me to be away from the woman.

Unable to fight it any longer, I peeked behind me too see if Ms. Anderson was actually watching. Alas, she was already gone. And I left. Wondering.

The End

81 comments about this exercise Feed