No More Tears
Steve drove past the house without slowing down. He didn't want that guy - Ozzy - to notice him. He pulled over about a mile from the house and waited. This is silly, he thought to himself. It was probably illegal, too. Harassment or invasion of privacy or something. But something was not right about Beth's situation. Why would she get so upset when she accidentally told him her real name? Why was she so afraid of her boyfriend? Was he abusing her? She'd even almost said he wasn't her boyfriend. In that case, why was she with him at all? There were just too many questions he wanted the answers to. And what gives you the right to demand any answers at all? he asked himself. You should probably just leave that girl alone and mind your own business. But he couldn't do that. She looked like she might need help, and he couldn't just ignore her.
Steve glanced at his watch. Okay. Ten minutes ought to be enough. He made a u-turn and drove slowly back to the house. He recognized the black car immediately. He wrote down the house's address. Then, as an afterthought, he wrote down the car's license plate number. He drove on before anyone looked out the window and saw him there. Maybe he would come back after all the auditions. He wanted to see her when she was alone, so she could talk to him freely. In the meantime, he needed to get to the hotel before they gave away his room.
Steve had to backtrack for several miles to get his bearings again. Thanks to a complete disregard for the speed limit, he made it to the hotel in time. He went up to his room, tossed his bag on a chair and flopped down on the hard bed. "Phew! What a day," he said aloud. He lay on the bed for a while, just breathing. Eventually, he got up to take a shower. He unplugged the clock radio and moved into the bathroom with him so he could have some music. The stations were different here, but he managed to find a classic rock station. He turned it up so he would be able to hear it over the running water. Then he got into the shower and attempted to lather up with one of the laughably tiny bars of soap all hotels provide.
Steve bopped to the music, singing along loudly. As usual, he was highly disappointed when the commercials came on. "And now for our hourly news brief."
"What?!" What classic rock station had an hourly news brief? If he hadn't had soap all over his face and hands, he would have changed the station. As it was, he was forced to listen. He sighed. He hated the news. Good stuff hardly ever got reported, and when it did, they always made up for it with especially bad news later.
"... arrested on drug charges again. Earlier today, we reported that Elizabeth Anne Westlake had been reported missing from Desmond Westlake's California mansion." Steve stuck his head out of the shower. Elizabeth Westlake? Beth was the name of the girl he'd met on the plane. Maybe this was the same person. "We now have more information about that. The police have released a statement to the effect that this is not a kidnapping, as we first suspected. They are certain that Elizabeth has run away from home, as she has many times before. Since she's a legal adult, there will be no further police involvement."
Steve went back to his shower, feeling a little mystified. It was some coincidence for him to meet a scared girl named Beth the same morning Elizabeth Westlake was supposed to have gone missing. But if she was the same person, they couldn't be right about her running away. That explanation didn't make sense from the way she acted around that man she was with. Why would she run away from home to hook up with a guy she was obviously terrified by? It must be a different person. He was pretty sure that guy must be her boyfriend, and he was abusing her in some way. Either way, he was going back to that house as soon as he could. He had to know if there was any way to help her. Maybe he could even convince her to leave him.
Steve stepped out of the shower and dried off. He wrapped a towel around his waist and found another for his head. Then he went into the main room and found something to wear to bed. He went through the directions to his first audition again, then looked at the addresses of all the other places. He'd tried several bands in San Francisco, but hadn't had any luck so far. He'd even driven down to Los Angeles to try some bands there. No luck. While he was in L.A., he'd heard of several openings on the East Coast. He decided to fly out and try for them, using a hefty chunk of his savings to do it. If he got one of these gigs, he would finally be on his way. He could get a lot of exposure. Maybe a label would sign him one day! If not, it was back to waiting tables again. A lot was riding on the trip. He fervently hoped he wasn't wasting his time.
Beth woke up slowly and sat up, groaning from her many aches and pains. The mattress she'd slept on had obviously been around for several years. Maybe a few decades. There was a huge dip in the center, and she could feel every single spring. She moved her arm to massage the crick in her neck, and was sharply reminded that Ozzy had punched her the day before. Her arm was so sore, she could barely move it. Her hand had begun to throb again as well. She took the bandage off of her hand. She hadn't looked at it since the airport medic put the bandage on it. It looked awful. A long, scabbed line ringed with red, it reminded her of how dangerous her kidnapper was. She shuddered. At least it didn't seem to be infected. She reattached the bandage, wishing she had a fresh one. If she left this one on too long, it would get infected.
She needed to use the bathroom, but she was in no mood to use that bucket. Maybe she could wait until Ozzy showed up and ask to use the real bathroom. She went over to the large sink, splashed some water over her face and rinsed her mouth. That made her feel a little less grimy. Maybe he would let her use the shower, too. Then again, she didn't like the idea of taking a shower in the same house with him. Maybe she'd better wait until she got home, which would hopefully be very soon. Beth was curious to know whether Ozzy had talked to her father yet. She was sure that as soon as he talked to him, they would work out where to meet so her father could pay Ozzy. After that, it would just be a matter of waiting until they could make the actual exchange.
Soon, Ozzy opened the door. "Come up here." She did, and Ozzy asked if she wanted something to eat.
"Yes, please. But can I use your bathroom first?"
"That's what the bucket was for."
"I know, but..."
"Thank you!" Beth practically raced to the bathroom. When she was finished, she got a look at herself in the mirror. She looked worn and bedraggled. Her hair was a mess - frizzy beyond belief. Her skin was pale, and her dark brown eyes looked tired. She rinsed her face again, and searched the bathroom for a comb. She found one, rinsed it off, and combed her long black hair into some semblance of order. That was a little better.
"Hurry up! What are you doing in there?"
Beth came out immediately. "Sorry. I was fixing my hair."
Ozzy rolled his eyes. "Come on." He led her to the kitchen. She sat at the table, and he placed a bowl, a box of cereal and some milk in front of her. Beth made her cereal, and Ozzy joined her. They ate breakfast together, listening to the radio and not speaking. Soon, Beth had finished her bowl, and she gaped openly at Ozzy, who was starting his third. She shook her head. Where was he putting it all? "Ozzy?" she asked. He looked up. "Have you talked to my father yet?"
He swallowed. "Not yet. He won't be back from his morning walk for another ten minutes."
Beth checked her watch. 7:50a.m. Her watch was still set to Pacific Standard. He was right, of course. Her father was always back at 8:00 on the dot from his morning walks. Beth made a mental note to never follow a routine as religiously as her father did. Strangers should not know exactly where you would be every minute of the day. When Ozzy finished his breakfast, he washed the dishes right away and put them away. Then he went to the phone and dialed.
"Hello, Desmond." There was a pause. "I'm the man who has your daughter. Would you like to see her again?" There was another pause. "You know who I am, and you know what I want. I want my song, and the profits you made from it." There was a long pause. Then Ozzy said, "No, it's you who won't get away with it. If you don't do what I say, your daughter will end up just like those guards you made to disappear. I'll give you 24 hours to think about their faces and picture your daughter that way." He hung up the phone and looked over at Beth. "No surprise. He doesn't want to pay up."
Beth was too busy trying to force the image of her own dead body out of her head. If her father couldn't imagine it, she certainly could. It was becoming difficult to keep her food down. "I don't understand," she said weakly. "He knows the police aren't even looking for you. Why won't he just pay?"
"I told you, Beth. He only cares about himself. He doesn't want to admit defeat. But I'm betting he'll find it less painful to lose face than to lose his daughter." He took Beth back to the basement. As he walked away, he said, "We'll see if I win that bet in 24 hours." Ozzy locked her in again, and Beth tried to calm herself down. Her father would have to agree to Ozzy's demands. He just didn't like being forced to give up the money, that was all. Tomorrow they would work out a time and place, and this would be over. She told herself this over and over again until she believed it.
Beth spent the rest of the day reading. Ozzy brought her sandwiches for lunch and dinner, but he didn't let her out of the basement. She was forced to use the distasteful bucket. The hours passed slowly. She finished most of the word puzzle book, and read half of the fantasy book - and she was forcing herself to read slowly. When she started to get tired, she lay on the bed and let her mind wander. She thought about Steve, and wondered where he could be. Even though she hardly knew him at all, she liked him a lot. He'd already shown her how nice he was, and she had a feeling he was a great guy all around. She wished she could spend more time with him, to find out if she was right. Maybe when this was all over she would meet him again. Yeah right, she thought. Even if she did get out of there before he left the state, how would she find him? I don't even know his last name! Beth sighed. She probably would never see Steve again. But she would never forget him, either. She pulled out the last note he'd given her on the plane. "I could never forget you." She smiled and fell asleep with the note in her hand, hoping the words were true.
Beth awoke early the next morning. She was eager for Ozzy to call her father, so they could get this transaction over with. Beth shook her head. Transaction. She hadn't thought much about it before, but that's exactly what this was. She was about to be purchased for $10,000 and a piece of paper. It wasn't exactly a pleasant feeling. On the other hand, she reflected, being bought was a lot better than being dead. Soon, Ozzy came to the door and ordered her to come up.
They ate breakfast to the sound of the radio again. After they had both eaten, Ozzy checked his watch. "He has six minutes." They waited until exactly 24 hours had passed. Then Ozzy called her father. "Have you thought about it?" he asked. There was a pause, then, "All right." Ozzy looked over at Beth. "He wants to talk to you."
Beth jumped up and took the phone. "Hello?"
"Elizabeth! Why are you doing this to us?"
"Huh?" Beth had expected to hear him ask if she was okay, or where she was. The last thing she expected was 'Why are you doing this to us?' "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Why are you doing this to us?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Running away, and trying to extort money from us."
"You know that if you come home I'll give you everything you need."
Beth sat down heavily on the couch. "I... I can't believe I'm hearing this. You think I'm behind this? I've been kidnapped, for heaven's sake!"
"I don't believe that, Elizabeth. I believe that you know that man, and the two of you are plotting to extort money from me."
Beth was speechless for a moment. "How can you say that?" she asked at last. What was wrong with him? Could he really think she was behind all this? Beth shook her head. "I know you don't really think that! First of all, why would I only ask for $10,000? And what would I do with the rights to some song hardly anyone remembers anymore!?"
"Why don't you tell me, Elizabeth," her father said. "You can also tell me how he knows so much about this house if you didn't tell him!"
"He WATCHED us, Dad! Ever since you stole his song, he's been watching us!"
"Listen, Elizabeth," he said, making an effort to speak calmly. "If you come home now, we can forget all this unpleasantness. But whatever happens, you will not get any of my money this way."
"I KNOW that!" she shouted. "The KIDNAPPER is getting the money!!! What is the matter with you???" Beth could feel tears of frustration and anger welling up. Her father knew she was telling the truth. He knew it! Why was he lying? Why was he risking her life to hold on to a song, and an amount of money so small as to be pocket change to him? "Why are you doing this?" she asked, echoing his first question to her. "I know you know about the guards. He killed them. Do you understand that? He killed them! You know he did! And he's going to kill me if you don't give him what he wants! Why won't you just give it to him? Why?"
"Because he has no right to try and force me into giving him money! His threats don't frighten me!"
"Well, they frighten ME! Why don't you just give him what he wants?"
"He will not coerce me into giving him money that I have earned," he said stubbornly.
"But you didn't earn it!"
"Oh, what difference does it make?!" she yelled. "It's just $10,000, and he's going to kill me for it!"
"I don't think so," he said. "I'm calling your bluff, Elizabeth. This scheme of yours won't work."
Beth couldn't speak. She just sat there with the phone shaking in her hand. "Give it to me," Ozzy said. Beth held the phone out, and he took it from her. "Three days, Westlake," he said in a low tone. "In three days you either agree to my demands, or your daughter dies." He hung up.
Beth looked up at him. "No. No, you can't say that. He doesn't believe you. He has to believe you first!"
Ozzy looked down at her coldly. "He has three days to start believing." He checked his watch. "If he doesn't give me what I ask three days from now at exactly 11:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, I will kill you." He grabbed Beth's arm and took her back downstairs. Beth sat on the bed and watched Ozzy ascend the stairs through teary eyes. On his way up the stairs, he turned and said, "It looks like I may lose that bet after all."
"Your father may decide that it would be harder to lose face than to lose you." Ozzy left, locking the door behind him. Beth thought about the things her father had said, and feared that Ozzy might be right. How could her father do this to her? She was only in this mess to begin with because of something he had done! Sure, Ozzy was the one who had turned their dispute into a life and death situation. But her father could end it with less money than he'd spent on her stepmother's birthday mink. And he wouldn't. What kind of person did that make him?
Beth spent the rest of the day trying to relax and think positive thoughts. By the end of the day, she'd managed to calm down a little, but she didn't sleep very well. When Ozzy let her out for breakfast the next morning, she was still tired, and she hardly ate anything at all. She concentrated on the music that always seemed to be playing until it was time for Ozzy to make his call. "Will you pay?" Pause. "Two days, Desmond." Ozzy hung up the phone and took Beth back to her prison.
Any semblance of calm she'd managed to attain vanished immediately. He'd refused again. He hadn't even asked to speak to her. Yesterday, she'd hoped against hope that her father would think about things over night, and realize that he had to help her. But he hadn't. She knew now, without a doubt, that she couldn't count on him. She always had a feeling that he guarded her so jealously not so much for her own protection, as he always said, but because he didn't want to lose her. Much like he wouldn't want to lose his watch, or his car. Now she knew it was true. She and her father had never exactly gotten along, and things got worse as she grew older. But it tore her apart to know that he really didn't care what happened to her. It infuriated her as well. When she needed him the most, he had abandoned her to her fate, when it was his mistake that had brought her to it in the first place! If he'd refused again today, he would refuse tomorrow, and the next day. And then Beth wouldn't have any more chances.
What could she do? She had to get out of there! But even if she did manage to escape the basement, she wouldn't get far without a car. Ozzy would track her down in no time. Then what would he do to her? She shuddered to think. Maybe she could talk him out of it. But he seemed to be almost as stubborn as her father. That thought only reminded her of her father's behavior. Beth was still alternating between hurt, anger, hope and hopelessness, when Ozzy came into the room several hours later. He had with him some rope and several pieces of cloth. Beth looked nervously at what he carried, wondering what he planned to do with them.
"I'm going out," he said. "I just want to make sure you're still here when I get back." Ozzy tied Beth's wrists and ankles together. Then he bound her wrists securely to one of the supporting pillars. He made a bundle out of some of the cloth and put it in her mouth. Then he wrapped a long, wide strip of fabric over her mouth and tied it behind her head. "Can you breathe?" he asked. Beth nodded. "Good. I'll be back in a few hours." Ozzy locked her in, and she shifted, trying to get comfortable. A few hours like this? She sighed. Sort of. She decided to spend the time thinking of a way to get out of the mess she was in. There had to be a way.
Steve left the auditorium feeling depressed. The judge's words still rang in his ears. "You just don't have the sound we're looking for." He had been told much the same thing at all the other auditions as well. All of them! At the last one he did, the judges didn't even let him finish the song, before they decided he wasn't what they wanted. When he got to his car, he kicked the tire a few times. It didn't help. "Damn it!" he shouted, getting in and slamming the door shut. He ran a frustrated hand through his hair and punched the steering wheel. All the work he'd put in preparing for those auditions. All the money he'd spent on this trip! Wasted! The whole stupid trip had been a waste of time!
Well, maybe not a complete waste of time. He had met Beth. Steve smiled, but was morose again almost immediately. What chance did he really have with her? She was already with someone else. Even if the guy was a big jerk, would he really be able to convince her to leave and try her luck with him instead? She'd only known him for a matter of hours. Steve sighed. "Oh, well. Might as well try," he muttered. "I've already been rejected by seven different bands in three days. That's got to be some kind of a record! What could be worse than that?" He pulled out the address and made his way to the little country house.
After a few wrong turns, he finally made it to the house he'd seen that first day. The black car wasn't in the driveway. He wondered if her boyfriend had gone somewhere. Or maybe the house was completely empty and he was just wasting his time again. He parked the car across the street and walked over. He'd already come this far. It didn't make sense not to at least try. He knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, and waited. No answer. They must be gone. Damn. In a frustrated gesture he turned the doorknob. To his utter surprise, it was unlocked.
Steve slowly opened the door and peeked in. "Hello? Is anyone here?" There was still no answer. Feeling a little guilty, he walked in and shut the door behind him. He looked around the tiny house. The radio was on. Hmm. Someone had good taste in music. The radio was tuned to the only classic rock station he'd managed to find in New Jersey. Hey! Ozzy had been lying about the phone. They did have one! Steve walked a little further into the house. Maybe he could find the phone number or something. There was nothing on the pad near the phone, but maybe in one of the bedrooms? He walked to the hall and looked at the two doors. He was intrigued by the door on the left with all the locks on it. What could they be keeping in that room? And why were there extra locks on it if they were the kind where you didn't need a key? They could all be easily opened from outside. Steve shrugged. He was already in trouble for breaking and entering. He might as well see what was inside.
Beth heard someone knocking on the door. Who could it be? Ozzy wouldn't have left if he knew he was having company. He was just too organized for that. Was it a salesman? Or a burglar? Beth didn't really care who it was, if they would help her. She wanted to cry out, but the gag muffled her sounds so much that she could barely hear them herself. She listened carefully, and heard the door open. "Hello?" a male voice called out. "Is anyone here?" After a moment, the door closed. She was disappointed. It sounded like whoever it was had left. Then she grew hopeful again. She could hear footsteps coming toward the door! She didn't hear anything for a while. Then the locks began turning. "Huh," she heard the intruder say. Then she heard him start to descend the stairs. Soon she could see his legs, his torso, and finally, his face.
She sat up suddenly, eyes bright. "Steve!" Well, that's what she wanted to say, but it came out as a muffled "Eee!"
"Beth!" Steve rushed over to her. "My God, are you all right?"
Beth nodded. "I..." She rolled her eyes, and Steve hastily untied the gag. Beth spat out the cloth in her mouth and said, "I am now. You don't know how happy I am to see you! How did you find me?"
"I followed you from the airport. What's going on, Beth?" Steve got behind her and worked on untying her hands while she explained.
"Ozzy kidnapped me. He killed the four security guards who were at the house that night, and brought me here."
"My father stole a song from him called Sidewalk Dreams. Now he wants it back, plus the profits my Dad made from it," she replied.
"How much is that?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
"Phew!" Steve whistled. "Hefty."
"Not for my Dad. It's pocket change for him. And Ozzy's going to kill me the day after tomorrow - 11:10a.m. on the dot - if my father doesn't pay. But he just won't pay it!"
"Why not?" Steve asked, moving on to her ankles.
Beth rubbed her wrists and answered, "Because Desmond Westlake is an asshole."
Steve glanced up at her, looking rather surprised by her abrupt answer. "Wait a minute. So, you are Elizabeth Westlake! They said on the news that you'd run away!"
"That's just it! My father told the police that I'd run away, so that they wouldn't bother to look for me. He knew someone had kidnapped me, but he didn't want the bad publicity! He doesn't want to admit that he stole the song, and that it's rightfully Ozzy's money. Now, he's trying to say that he thinks I'm behind the whole thing, and I'm just making up the part about being kidnapped so I can extort money from him! I know he doesn't really believe that, but he'd rather keep his precious pride in tact than save me!" Beth was getting furious just thinking about it.
Steve looked at her in disbelief. "You're kidding!"
"Do you think Ozzy will really kill you?"
"Yes, I do," Beth answered without hesitation. "I saw him kill one of those guards, Steve," she said. "I watched him pull that knife across his throat like it was nothing at all. I know he'll kill me if my father doesn't pay. And unless a miracle happens, my father isn't going to pay."
"Well, it doesn't matter now," Steve said. He pulled the rope away from her ankles and dropped it on the floor. "You're free. Let's get out of here!"
Steve helped Beth to her feet. Her legs were a little tingly, and she leaned against him for support. They were better by the time they reached the top of the stairs, but she let him keep his arm around her anyway. They were half way across the living room when the door opened. Everyone stopped. Ozzy scowled and dropped the bags he was carrying to the floor. He walked towards them and Beth began to tremble. Steve moved to stand in front of her, but Beth could still see Ozzy's furious face over his shoulder.
"What are you doing here," he asked in an icier tone than Beth had ever heard him use.
"Well, I came to - " Before Steve could finish his statement, Ozzy punched him in the jaw. Steve reeled back, and Beth shouted in surprise. Steve recovered fast and swung back, catching Ozzy in the chin. The ensuing fight didn't last long. Steve got in a few punches, but Ozzy was at least six inches taller, and a lot wider than Steve. He gave Steve two swift, powerful punches and Steve fell to the floor. He looked dazed, and his nose started to bleed. Beth gasped and ran to help him. Ozzy shoved her back harshly and she fell against the wall.
Ozzy grabbed a handful of Steve's hair and yanked him to his feet. Steve tried to pry Ozzy's fingers off, but he was unsuccessful. Beth followed Ozzy as he dragged Steve to the kitchen and slammed him onto the table. He pinned him there by twisting his arm back and up painfully. Steve winced, and Beth winced along with him. Then Ozzy reached back with his free hand and pulled out his knife. He lowered it so that Steve could see it - all nine shining inches of it. "Oh, shit," Steve whispered, struggling hard to get away.
Ozzy held him in place, slamming him against the table again and pushing his arm even higher up. Then he gently moved Steve's hair away from his face. "You have a very long neck," Ozzy whispered, stroking it lightly. "It's beautiful, really. Too bad I have to slice it open." He put the knife on Steve's neck and Steve's eyes grew wide with terror.
"No!" Beth screamed. She ran over to the table and looked at Ozzy beseechingly. "Please don't kill him," she begged. "Please. He's no threat to you."
"Oh, no? He knows where we are, doesn't he? If I let him go, he'll go straight to the police."
"No he won't! You won't go to the police, will you, Steve?"
Steve swallowed, trying to get some moisture to his dry mouth. "N..no," he whispered.
"Sure you won't," Ozzy said wryly. "How did you find us? Did you follow us from the airport? You followed us, didn't you? Didn't you?" He twisted Steve's arm further up his back, eliciting a sharp cry of pain.
"No! No, I didn't!"
"Quick, Steve, what's our address?"
"I... I don't know," he lied. "I got lost, that's all. I just wanted directions!"
"See!" Beth said. "He didn't even know I was here! He couldn't have! Please let him go. It was just a mistake!"
"A big mistake," Ozzy said. "I'm afraid I can't risk letting you make any more. He pressed the tip if the blade hard against Steve's neck, ready to cut. Steve closed his eyes, visibly trembling, and Beth started to cry. She'd already seen a man killed. She couldn't watch it happen to Steve.
"Ozzy, don't," she pleaded, looking up into his eyes through a haze of tears. "Please don't do this. He... he won't go to the police. I know he won't! And even if the police do come, I'll... I'll tell them I ran away. I'll tell them anything you say to tell them! Just please don't kill him. Please! Please, Ozzy, he can't hurt you. Please." Ozzy looked at her tear streaked face for several seconds. They were the longest moments of Beth's life.
"All right," he said at last. "I'll let him live."
Beth could have collapsed with relief. She looked at Steve. His eyes were open, and he looked as if he couldn't believe what had just happened. He looked directly into Beth's eyes and said "Thank you," in a voice husky with emotion. Smiling through her tears, Beth gave him a slight nod.
"You're welcome," Ozzy said. "But I'm warning you. You won't get a second chance. If I see you here again, I'll kill you. And if any cops come here after you're gone, she'll be dead before they get to the door. Understand?"
Ozzy sheathed his knife. Then, still holding Steve's arm behind his back, he gripped his hair and yanked him off the table. He dragged him to the door and threw him to the ground. Steve scrambled to his feet and quickly backed away until he reached his car. With one last look at Beth, he got in the car and drove away. Ozzy went back into the house and shut the door. "Can't leave your door unlocked these days, even in the country," he muttered, locking it. He turned to Beth and said, "Get back downstairs."
Beth went to the basement, and Ozzy shut and locked the door behind her. She looked up at the door and wished with all her heart that Steve had come through it just five minutes earlier. But he hadn't. And he definitely wouldn't come back. Now she was sure she would never see him again. Beth sat down on the mattress, drew her knees up to her chin and cried. She had never felt so completely alone in her entire life.