No More Tears
Steve didn't write any more notes for a while. Lunch was served, after which Ozzy started to look sleepy. He rented her headphones so she could watch the inflight movie, and soon he fell asleep. A few minutes later, Beth had to use the bathroom. Perfect. She didn't know whether to disturb him, or just climb over him and let him sleep. She tried to wait, but after a while she couldn't hold it any longer. She decided against waking him. He had been awake all night staring at her and he might be angry if she woke him up. All was quiet on the plane, since most people were either sleeping or watching the movie. He might not even miss her. She climbed carefully over his legs and made her way to the tiny bathroom. When she'd finished, she opened the door to see Steve standing there. "Oh!" She smiled and said, "It's all yours."
"That's not why I'm here," he said. "I want to talk to you."
"Oh?" Beth began to feel a little worried. She had a feeling she knew where this was headed.
"Yes," he said. "I want to know why you're so afraid of him."
Beth shook her head. "It's nothing," she said.
"It's not nothing!"
"Shhh!" She looked around nervously. People were turning to look at them, and the last thing she wanted was to be noticed. "Steve, I really can't discuss this with you, okay?" She tried to move past him, so she could get back to her seat before Ozzy woke up, but he wouldn't let her pass.
"Look," he said more quietly. "I know I hardly know you at all, but I'm not blind. I've seen the way you jump when he speaks to you. I've seen the fear that's in your eyes whenever he's around. I just want to help you."
"I appreciate your concern," she whispered. "But I really can't talk about it."
"Because! I just can't!" She was getting more nervous as the seconds ticked away. Every moment she wasted here was a moment closer to Ozzy waking up and noticing she was gone.
"What happened to your hand? Did he do that to you?" Beth didn't answer. "Look," Steve said. "If your boyfriend's hurting you - "
"He's not my -" Beth cut herself off.
"He's not your what?" Steve asked. "Not your boyfriend?" Beth didn't answer. She hoped Steve would drop it, but he didn't. "If he's not your boyfriend, then who is he?"
"I CAN'T talk about this!" she said. A few heads turned at her outburst. Beth forced herself to speak quietly, but she was still very upset. "You say you want to help me, but you're just making this harder! If you really want to help me, you'll let me get back to my seat before he wakes up."
"Why? What will happen if he's awake when you get there?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to find out!" Beth said in an exasperated whisper. "Now, please get out of my way!"
Steve let out a frustrated sigh. "If you don't want my help, the least you could do is tell me your name!"
"It's Beth!" she snapped. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she gasped. What had she done? She looked at Steve with wide eyes.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Christina. My name is Christina!"
"But you just said it was Beth," he said, looking suspicious.
"No, no! If he hears you call me that, he'll - " Beth broke off, looking at her wounded hand and fearfully remembering Ozzy's threats.
"He'll what? What will he do, Beth?"
"No! Don't call me that!"
"But if that's really your name..."
"Please, Steve! Please promise me you'll never call me that where he can hear you." Steve looked at her doubtfully. Beth could tell that he had no intention of doing as she asked. What would Ozzy do to her if he found out? Several things came to mind - each one scarier than the last. She started to tremble, and the tears that had been flowing so frequently of late began again. "Please," she whispered. "Please promise me you won't call me that. Please!"
Steve looked at her in alarm, taken aback by her sudden breakdown. "All right, all right," he said soothingly. "I promise. Just try to calm down, okay?"
Beth nodded. "Thank you," she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder. She was practically shaking with relief.
"My God," Steve whispered, putting his arms around her. "What is that bastard doing to you?" He held her until she calmed down. Then she pulled away, giving him one last grateful look before she turned away and hurried to her seat.
Ozzy still seemed to be asleep. Beth carefully stepped over his legs and lowered herself into her seat. When she glanced at him to see if she had disturbed him, his eyes were open and he was staring right at her. "I... I'm sorry," she stammered. "Did I wake you up?"
"I was already awake," he replied. "Where did you go?"
"I went to the bathroom," she answered.
"Without telling me?"
Beth could feel her stomach tighten. "I... I didn't want to wake you up," she answered truthfully. "I know you were up all night and I thought you wouldn't want me to disturb you."
"How considerate of you," he said. Beth wasn't sure whether he was being sarcastic or not. He glanced behind him, then looked back at Beth. "Where's your buddy?"
Beth's stomach tied itself into a few more knots. "In the bathroom, I think," she said. "I passed him on the way out."
Ozzy looked at her keenly. "Did you talk to him?"
Beth considered saying no, but that would have been an obvious lie. "Yes," she said.
"What did you tell him?"
"If that's true, why do you look so guilty?" he asked.
Beth drew away from him, twisting her shirt pensively. "Because you make me nervous, looking at me like that," she said shakily. "And because I left without telling you and I know you don't like me talking to him. But I really thought you would be mad if I woke you up. And I couldn't help talking to him! We practically bumped into each other, and I ... I'm sorry I spoke to him at all, now, but I didn't tell him anything!" She met Ozzy's piercing gaze for a moment, but soon looked down and focused on the knots she was twisting into her shirt. They almost matched the ones her stomach was busy twisting itself into.
After a long moment, Ozzy said, "All right. I believe you. But don't ever go anywhere again without telling me first. Understand?"
"Yes, sir." Ozzy turned his gaze away from her, and she allowed herself a sigh of relief. What a nightmare! Beth wondered idly how long it took ulcers to develop. If things kept on the way they were, she felt sure she would have several before the end of the weekend. She stared out the window and tried to lose herself in the pretty view.
In a few minutes, there came a tell-tale tickle on her elbow. As she had before, she read the note without being noticed. It read: "Beth, did you get into trouble?"
Beth scowled. She took her pen and scratched out her name, crossing over it again and again, until there was a dark blue patch on the paper through which nothing at all could be seen. On the back, under the blue mark that showed through, she wrote, "No, but I will if you do that again. You promised me. What if he glances over my shoulder?" She slid the note back, to him.
Soon, another note followed. "Sorry. I didn't think. Forgive me?"
"How can I help you?"
"Keep your promise."
"Don't forget me."
"I could never forget you."
Beth had to be so careful about passing the notes that almost 30 minutes had passed by the time Steve sent his last note. The plane was ready to land. Ozzy was looking much more alert, and she didn't want to risk responding. She carefully folded the last note and put it in her pocket. When they touched down, Beth gathered her books together and Ozzy put them in the bag. He waited for most of the passengers to leave before standing up. Beth noticed that as soon as they stood up, Steve stood, too. He followed them off the plane. When they got inside the building, Steve said, "Well, I guess this is where we say good-bye."
"Yes, it is," Ozzy said.
"Are you visiting?"
"No, we're at home here," Ozzy replied.
"What about you?" Beth asked.
Steve looked at her sadly. "I'll only be here for a week or so," he said.
"Oh." Beth was reluctant to let him go. Once he left, she would be alone with Ozzy again, and she was afraid of what would happen then.
"Do you have a number where I can reach you or something?" he asked.
"I'm afraid not," Ozzy said. "We're going to a little retreat of mine. I don't keep a phone there."
"Oh. That's too bad. Well, I won't hold you up any longer. Nice meeting you." Ozzy nodded. Then Steve went up to Beth and took her hand. "It was wonderful meeting you," he said. "I hope we meet again soon."
"So do I." Steve smiled, then turned and walked away. Beth wanted so much to follow him.
"Come on." Beth reluctantly turned away from Steve's departing back. Ozzy took her arm and led her to the baggage carousel. They had to wait a while for the machine to start, but his was one of the first bags that came out. Ozzy lifted it off the carousel and they made their way to the parking lot. He led her to his car, which was an older version of the rental he had driven in California. Beth was beginning to hate black Oldsmobiles.
Ozzy made Beth sit in the car while he put the bag in the trunk. When he got into the car, he had the coil of rope with him. "Give me your hands," he said.
"Do you really have to tie me up?" she asked. "I'm not going to jump out or anything."
"Give me your hands," he demanded again.
"But my hand is starting to hurt again," she pleaded.
"It'll hurt a lot more if I slice it open again. Is that what you want?" Beth shook her head and held her arms out to him. As before, he tied her wrists securely to the armrest. Beth tried to ignore the throbbing in her palm. She stared out the window and watched the cars as they left the parking lot. She noticed one car in particular, coming out of one of the rental places. It was a little blue Corolla. That's the kind of car she wanted. Nice and small, with just enough room for a few friends. She looked at the driver and smiled broadly. It was Steve! He smiled back at her and lifted a finger to his lips. She watched him through the side view mirror. Steve pulled out behind them when they passed. Was he going to follow them? Beth was filled with hope. Maybe he would rescue her! Then again, maybe he just happened to be going their way, and he'd only shushed her so she wouldn't get herself into trouble.
Beth wasn't sure what to think, but she was glad she could see him for a little longer. She continued to watch him through the mirror. He didn't stay directly behind them, but she could always find him if she tried hard enough. They drove a little over an hour before they reached a rural area. Steve continued to follow, but he drove far behind them, so that Beth could barely see him. They made a turn and she lost sight of him completely.
Ozzy drove on for another mile or so, until he came to a little brick house. There he parked, got his bag from the trunk and took it into the house. While he was still inside, Beth saw the blue Corolla drive by. Steve drove past without slowing down at all. Beth ached with disappointment. He hadn't stopped for her, and he couldn't have memorized the address that fast! He must have just had business in the same direction. Beth blinked back tears of disappointment. How stupid of her to have gotten her hopes up!
In a moment, Ozzy returned. He untied her and led her into the house. It was small and sparsely furnished. The living room held only a couch, a small TV and a little table with a telephone, pad and pen on it. Beth could see all the other rooms from the front door. There was a tiny kitchen with a bar-like counter that divided it from the living room. With the bar there, the kitchen was a little rectangle with just one opening, and a little table with room only for two chairs. There was a short hall to the right of the kitchen. On either side was a closed door, and at the end, a minuscule bathroom.
Ozzy made Beth sit down beside him on the couch. He checked his watch, then said, "Now I'll tell you why you're here." Beth listened attentively. "Four years ago, I came to America and traveled across the country, playing a demo of one of my songs to every record company I could find along the way. I met with rejection every time, but I kept trying. By the time I got to California, I had no money and my song had been rejected by eight companies. After trying three more companies in California with similar results, I tried your father. He told me my sound would never sell, and my lyrics were too raw. He suggested I get a regular job and give up music as a career. Since I'd been rejected twelve times and I had no money, I did just that.
"Three months later, I heard my song on the radio. The style was exactly like mine, and they lyrics were the same except for two words. I sued him with the little bit of money I'd earned, and - big surprise - the judge sided with the powerful record company owner. He cited the two word difference in lyrics as proof that it wasn't my song. The press might have made the judgment a moot point, and got the song taken off the air, but Westlake saw to it that the press weren't in the courtroom. No one ever knew about the case.
"My song made it to number six on the charts. After a few more weeks on the charts, it's popularity began to wane. The manufactured singer your father produced never put out anything else, and soon both he and my song faded into near oblivion. Westlake claimed writer's and producer's credits, and he still holds the rights. I did some research, and discovered that he made nearly $10,000 off of that song. When my suit failed, I resolved to get it from him. I watched him and learned his routines. I considered using his wife as a lever, but his jealous and fanatical protection of you made you a better candidate. I continued to watch him, but focused more attention on you, so that I could put my plan into action. Now, three and a half years later, my plan is complete, and here we both are."
Beth sat staring at him for a long while. There was no doubt in her mind that he was telling the truth. She'd always suspected her father was guilty of some underhanded practices. She just never expected to find out her suspicions were true from the wrong end of a knife. Now she was stuck in some tiny country house 30,000 miles from home with a man who had no objection to killing people in order to reach his goals. And she was here because of all the "protection" (a.k.a. imprisonment) her father had been forcing on her. Oh, the irony. Beth could only hope that her father would pay up quickly so she could get out of this place. Her next move would be to get out of his house before some other disgruntled musician got a similar idea. Finally, Beth spoke. "What song did he steal from you?"
Beth thought for a moment. Then she shook her head. "I don't think I know it."
"You wouldn't have. You were going through and oldies phase at the time, remember? Nothing younger than the Beatles." Beth nodded, trying not to be upset by the reminder of Ozzy's thorough knowledge of her. Ozzy checked his watch again. "I'll play it for you sometime, if you want," he said. "Maybe after the news goes off." Ozzy got up and turned on the television.
Beth rolled her eyes. She hated watching the news. There was never anything on but bad tidings. She considered asking Ozzy if she could have one of her books to read, but he seemed so intent on the television that she didn't think it would be wise to bother him. Mildly annoyed, she watched a story about a local fire, a bank robbery, and the latest issues on the local ballots. "And now in national news, a startling incident in the secluded mansion of recording tycoon Desmond Westlake. Jennifer Young is live on the scene. Jenny?"
The scene changed and Beth saw her own home in the background. "Thanks, Cathy. It seems impossible that this quiet hillside home could be the focus of such a startling mystery. However, as we reported earlier today, just this morning, one of Desmond Westlake's guards reported for duty to find the house completely empty. The four men who were supposed to be guarding the Westlake home were missing...."
"Missing?!" Beth exclaimed.
Shut up!" Ozzy snapped. Beth jumped a little and held in her confusion. The broadcast continued.
"... twenty-one year old daughter, Elizabeth Anne Westlake, was reported missing as well. Mr. Westlake cut his business trip short and flew in this morning to handle the crisis. His wife, Renee, will be joining him later today. Westlake secluded himself in the house to discuss matters with the police. No further information was released at the time of our first broadcast, but now we will hear the official statement from Police Chief Daniel Morgan."
The camera turned and focused on a uniformed man of about fifty. He raised a hand to quiet all the reporter's questions. "As you all know," he began, "Elizabeth Westlake and four of the Westlake guards were reported missing this morning. At first, we were inclined to believe that this was a kidnapping case. However, Mr. Westlake is of the opinion that this is just another runaway attempt by his willful daughter, and there is nothing to worry about."
"What? Nothing to worry about???"
"I said, shut up!" Ozzy shouted, punching Beth's shoulder so hard that her hand tingled. Beth huddled against the arm of the couch, holding her breath to keep from crying out loud. She blinked back her tears and watched the rest of the report in complete silence.
"... are aware that Elizabeth has run away several times before. Mr. Westlake feels that the disappearance of the guards can be explained by his assurance that they would be fired in disgrace if they let their charge escape. Since there was no ransom note left on the premises, and no one has tried to contact the Westlake home to make any demands, we will treat this as a simple runaway case. Now, because Miss Westlake is an adult, there is nothing the police department can do except encourage her to return home. So, Elizabeth. If you're watching out there, we urge you to return home, or contact your parents. They are worried about you."
The camera returned to the station's reporter. "Well, there you have it. We hope that wherever Elizabeth Westlake is, she's okay, and she'll come home soon. I'm Jennifer Young, live in California. Back to you, Cathy."
"Thank you Jenny. In other news tonight..."
Beth stopped listening. She was trying hard to make sense of the broadcast. She couldn't understand what had happened to the guards! How could they have been reported missing? They weren't missing, they were dead. Beth had seen their bodies. She had seen Ozzy kill one of them! But the police had been to the house, and they obviously hadn't seen anything. So where had the bodies gone?
Suddenly, Ozzy started to laugh. At first, he just giggled a little, but soon he was throwing his head back and laughing loudly. Beth stared at him. She was already as far away from him as she could get without actually getting up and running away, but as he continued to laugh, she squeezed herself against the arm of the couch so hard that she felt sure she would soon become a part of it. Finally, he stopped laughing and looked at her. She looked at him quizzically.
"You don't get it, do you?" he asked. Beth thought that was pretty damned obvious, but she didn't say so. She merely shook her head. "Your father is notoriously shy of bad publicity. All his guards are supposed to report to him first if there's an emergency, so that he can handle it before the press get hold of it. Having four of his guards killed and his daughter kidnapped all because he stole a song from someone is definitely bad publicity. So he hid the bodies and kept the ransom note I left him a secret."
Beth gaped at him as if he'd lost his mind. "You can't be serious!"
"Who else could have done it, Beth? I certainly didn't do it. You were with me the whole time. And I definitely left a ransom note. Why would he keep that a secret from the police if not for the same reason? As long as everyone thinks you ran away, they won't pay attention to you, or to him. Why should they? It's nothing new. You've run away before. Besides, you're an adult. You have the right to go away without telling anyone if you want to. But no one would believe you just ran away if they new about the note, or what really happened to the guards. So your father fixed it. Knowing him as I do, I'm sure he was very thorough about it, too. The note I left was probably reduced to ashes as soon as he saw it. No doubt, the guards suffered the same fate. Whatever he did with them, no one will ever find them."
"Wait a minute!" Beth said. "My father must have known that if it looked like I ran away the police wouldn't be able to get involved."
"Your point is?"
"He wouldn't do that to me!"
"Wouldn't he?" Ozzy looked at her keenly, and Beth found she wasn't able to answer. "Listen to me, Beth. Your father is a selfish, rotten bastard whose only concern is doing what's best for himself. It just so happens that this time he ended up helping someone else at the same time. Me. He's really done me a big favor. He's destroyed any evidence there was that I was ever in your house, and he's seen to it that the police won't look for you. They didn't even bother to show a picture of you. No one will think you're in trouble, so no one will try to help you." Ozzy smiled at Beth's horrified expression. "That's right, Beth. You're alone now. And you'd better hope your father cares enough about you to give me what I want."
"What..." Beth's voice cracked and she cleared her throat. "What did you ask for?"
"Ten thousand dollars and the right's to my song." Beth was a little relieved. Ozzy's demands weren't unreasonable. He must have known her father could afford to give him a lot more money, but he'd asked for no more than what the song had made. Her father couldn't refuse something like that. "Get up," Ozzy said. "I'll show you to your room."
Ozzy led Beth to the door on the left side of the hallway. It was fitted with three locks besides the one on the doorknob. He unlocked the door and opened it to reveal a flight of stairs leading down to a basement. Ozzy turned on a light at the top of the stairs, and followed Beth down. If the room had windows, Beth couldn't see them. All the walls were lined with boxes from floor to ceiling. The only bare space was occupied by a large sink that looked like it may have been part of a washer/dryer set up. A twin-sized mattress sat on the floor in one corner, along with a blanket and a pillow. Beside the mattress were her two books. In another corner stood a bucket and a lid, with a roll of toilet paper beside it. Beautiful, she thought. On the other hand, it's probably a Hilton compared to where some kidnapping victims end up.
"Make yourself comfortable. You'll be here for a while."
Beth watched him walk up the stairs and open the door. Suddenly, something occurred to her. "Ozzy?"
He turned. "Yes?"
"What happens if my father doesn't give you what you want?"
"If he doesn't give me what I want, I'll cut your throat." Ozzy closed the door, and Beth heard all four locks turn. Beth sat on the mattress and hugged the pillow to her chest, hoping with all her heart that her father would pay Ozzy as quickly as possible.