No More Tears
As soon as he was out of sight of the house, Steve pulled the car over. He sat with his head resting on the steering wheel and waited for his body to stop shaking. Okay, I get it! he thought. Now, I can think of at least one thing worse than being rejected by seven bands in three days. Dying. Dying would definitely have to be worse. Steve had never come so close to death before. He could still feel the cold, hard blade against his throat. He shuddered, and his stomach twisted itself into a knot. If it hadn't been for Beth, Ozzy would have killed him. If he didn't do something, Ozzy would kill Beth in two days! He couldn't let that happen. There must be a way to help her. The police were out of the question. There was no doubt in his mind that Ozzy would kill Beth before they could stop him. He had to find a way to pay her ransom. Maybe if he spoke to her father - told him that Beth was not making this up - he could convince him to give in. It was worth a try.
Steve sped back to his hotel. Once there, he called the airline and convinced them to move his return trip up to the next available flight. After that was taken care of, he went to the bathroom to clean himself up. He looked awful. His nose had bled profusely, running down his mouth, over his chin, and splattering onto his shirt. His cheek was bruised and starting to swell, and there was another bruise developing above his left eye. Steve cleaned the blood from his face and changed into a clean shirt. He looked a lot better, but it was still obvious that he had been in a fight. He shrugged. Nothing he could do about that. He packed his single bag and checked out of the hotel. After he returned his rental car, there was nothing left to do but wait. The flight back to California seemed to take eons. He went over the day's events in his mind, and thought about what he would say to Beth's father over and over again. When he finally got to LAX, he drove to a cheap hotel and checked in for the night. He was so worried about Beth that he hardly slept at all.
Steve was up early the next morning, making phone calls. At last, he found the address to the Westlake mansion. He drove there, making it by 8:45. He parked on the street and walked up the long, impressive path to the mansion's front door. He used the large, ornate knocker and waited several moments for someone to answer the door. A butler finally opened it. He looked Steve up and down, not bothering to hide his disdain. "May I help you?" he asked, as if he would like to help him off the property.
"I'd like to speak to Desmond Westlake, please," he said.
"He's not in." The butler began to close the door, but Steve put his foot in the door.
The man sighed and rolled his eyes, reluctantly letting Steve into the living room. "Wait here, please."
Steve sat down, uninvited, in one of the plush burgundy arm chairs. He looked around at the expensive furniture and decorations that adorned the room. Everything about the place reeked of wealth and power. "Phew," he said softly. "No wonder she said $10,000 was nothing to this guy!"
After about twenty minutes, the butler returned, flanked by two other men: one blonde, and one with brown hair. They were both tall and heavy set. Security guards, Steve decided. "Mr. Westlake doesn't want to see anyone," the butler announced.
"But I have to see him," Steve insisted.
The two other men stepped forward. "We're going to have to ask you to leave," the blonde one said.
Steve had a feeling that they were only "asking" to give him a chance to leave on his own instead of being tossed out. He shook his head. "I have to see him. Tell him it's about his daughter."
The guards looked surprised. The brunette said, "Wait here," and disappeared into some other room. The butler went about his business, but the other guard stayed behind, keeping an eye on Steve. Soon, Brown returned. "Come with me."
Steve followed him, while Blonde walked behind him. They made him a little nervous, but he tried not to show it. They led him down a hall to a large study. A man of about fifty sat at an impressive mahogany desk. He looked up when they walked in, and eyed Steve with the same distaste the butler had. "What do you want," he asked abruptly.
"I need to talk to you about Beth."
"I know where she is. I've seen her, and I've come to tell you that she's really been kidnapped. She's not making it up."
Westlake scowled at him. "Listen to me, young man. I just got off the phone with Elizabeth's so-called kidnapper. If she's sent you here to convince me that this farce is genuine, you are wasting your time as well as mine. I am a busy man. I do not have time for games."
"It's not a game! I just told you, I was there! Beth's in trouble, and she needs your help. If you don't pay her ransom, he'll kill her! Tomorrow morning!"
"I've already told my daughter that I don't believe that. This scheme to force money from me won't work. And your coming here won't change anything. What did she do? Promise you and that other man part of the money?"
"What?! No! This is not a scheme!" he said, exasperated. "That 'other man' is dangerous. He's going to kill your daughter! He tried to kill me, for heaven's sake! Believe me, Beth is in a lot of danger!"
"Beth's in danger?" Steve turned to see a tall, well dressed woman standing in the doorway. There was deep concern in her eyes.
"No," Westlake said.
"Yes!" Steve said, turning on him angrily. "She is in trouble! Why won't you see that?"
"What's he talking about, Desmond?" the woman asked. "You told me Beth was safe."
"She is, Renee. This young man is just trying to cause a scene."
"I am NOT!"
"Quiet," Westlake snapped. "You're upsetting my wife!"
"But Beth needs you!"
"Get out of my house!"
"I won't!" Steve shouted, pounding his fist on Westlake's desk.
"Get him out of here," Westlake ordered. The two guards each took an arm and pulled Steve away from the desk. Furious, Steve wrenched his arm away, managing to free himself from the blonde. The guard punched Steve hard in the stomach. Steve cried out and doubled over. He heard a surprised gasp from Renee. "I've told you about doing that in front of Renee!" Westlake yelled. "Take him out of here!"
"Sorry, sir," said Blonde. Brown dragged him back to the living room, then held him while his partner delivered two more painful blows to his stomach. "If you come around here causing trouble again, you'll get worse," he said. Then Brown threw him outside and slammed the door.
Steve lay curled up on the ground, coughing and trying to catch his breath. I've set a new record for myself, he thought wryly. That's the second time in less than 24 hours that I've been physically thrown out of a building. He lay there contemplating the ground for several minutes, until he felt he could stand up. Then he slowly got to his feet and glared at the mansion door. Beth was right. Her father was an asshole.
Steve walked back to his car and thought about things. Trying to make Westlake see reason had been a royal failure. His wife seemed more hopeful, but he would never be able to speak to her alone. And she couldn't sign over the rights to a song her husband owned anyway. Steve remembered the last glimpse he had of Beth's face just before he left. She looked so sad and hopeless. There had to be something he could do! Maybe he could offer Ozzy more money if he'd give up on owning the song. But how? His entire savings came to less than $3,000. Even if he sold everything he owned, he would only have half of the $10,000 Ozzy wanted. And he would have to offer much more than that to get him to give up the song. Maybe twice what he was asking. Steve ran a hand through his hair in his habitual expression of frustration. He had to get Beth out of there. There had to be a way! Suddenly, Steve got an idea. Maybe he could take out a loan. It would take some convincing, but it might work. It had to work!
Steve went back to his hotel and exchanged his dusty shirt for a fresh one. He would have preferred to wear a suit, but the auditions had been pretty informal. He'd packed his casual clothes and nothing else. He combed his hair and tied it back neatly. Then he looked in the mirror and shook his head. It was very hard to look respectable when you were wearing tight jeans and a button down, and your face resembled that of a bar fight refugee. How was he going to convince a bank to give him a $20,000 loan? Steve took a deep breath to bolster his courage. He had to try. For Beth's sake, he had to succeed.
By 4:30, a total of nine banks had rejected him. Yet another record, he thought, pulling up to bank number ten. He might have been amused, except that each time someone said no, Beth's chances grew slimmer, and he grew more desperate. If he didn't find someone to help him soon, Beth would die tomorrow. This bank was his last chance. In less than 30 minutes, the banks would close, and his only hope of saving Beth would be gone. He straightened his shirt, fixed his hair again and walked in.
He went to one of the desks and said, "I'd like to speak to someone about a loan, please."
The woman looked at him as if to say, "You must be joking." He'd been given that look so many times today it didn't even bother him anymore. He just smiled pleasantly at her. "Why don't you have a seat while I find someone to speak to you."
"Thank you," he said. He waited in one of the chairs she had pointed to. In a few moments, she was back.
"If you'll go to the last office on the left, someone will help you."
"Thanks." She smiled, and Steve walked down to the proper office.
He walked in, and a man stood up to greet him. He was younger than any of the banker's Steve had dealt with all day - only about 35. The banker smiled broadly and held out his hand. "Hi. I'm Malcolm O'Brien."
"Steve Perry," he said, shaking his hand. He hadn't even looked askance at Steve's clothes, or his bruises. Steve liked him already.
"Please, have a seat."
"Thank you, sir," he said, sitting down.
The banker laughed. "You don't have to call me 'sir'," he said. "Call me Malcolm. And do you mind if I call you Steve? I prefer to keep things informal."
"That's fine," he answered.
"Now, what can I do for you, Steve?"
"I need to ask you an unusual request. I need a loan of $20,000. But I need to get approved today, and I need the money today. In cash."
Malcolm raised his eyebrows. He leaned back in his chair and looked at Steve thoughtfully for a moment. "Okay," he said at last. "What's your pitch?"
Steve felt a little encouraged. Most people just laughed at him when he said that. Then, when they found out he was serious, they either laughed even harder, tried to throw him out, or both. They only heard his story because he'd insisted that they listen. "First of all," Steve began. "I'll tell you what you probably want to know about me. I'm only 23, and I work part time as a waiter. I'm not in school, and I hardly have any credit at all. I have a few credit cards, but I saved money so I could buy my car in cash. I know I'm not the kind of person banks usually give loans to, but I really need this loan." Steve took a deep breath. Now came the hard part. "A girl I know was kidnapped," he said simply. "Her father won't pay her ransom, and I don't have nearly enough. But if you give me this loan, I can pay it and get her out of there." Malcolm stared at him, looking completely astonished. Steve rubbed his sweaty hands on his pants. "I know. It sounds ridiculous, but..."
"You're right," Malcolm said. He frowned at Steve for a long moment. Steve grew more nervous under his scrutiny, and began to twist a corner of his shirt nervously. "If this girl was really kidnapped, why haven't the police rescued her?"
"Her father told them she'd just run away so they would stop the investigation. He didn't want the bad publicity."
"That's very convenient, don't you think?" Steve started to protest, but Malcolm cut him off. "You've been beaten. How do I know you aren't trying to get a loan to pay off a bookie or a drug dealer or something?"
"It's nothing like that," Steve said. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth. If I don't get this money today, Beth will die tomorrow morning. If I were lying, don't you think I would pick a story more believable than this?"
"That's a good point. But how do I know you aren't counting on that to make the lie work?"
"No, that's not it!"
"Do you have any collateral? Do you have any pay stubs from your job?"
Steve looked down into his lap. "No. I live in San Francisco, and all my papers are there."
Malcolm shook his head. "You want me to loan you $20,000, and you don't even have proof that you really have a job? You're asking me to risk a lot of the bank's money, Steve, on a very slim chance that we'll ever see it again."
"You will," Steve said.
"But how can I be sure of that?"
Steve leaned forward, resting his trembling hands on the edge of the desk. "Listen, Malcolm," he said earnestly. "I'm desperate. I need this loan. Believe me, this will be the easiest loan you've ever given anyone. Charge me whatever interest you want on it. I won't argue with you. Any fees you want to add, I'll pay them. No questions asked. Just, please..." Steve's voice broke, and he stopped speaking. He swallowed past the lump that was developing in his throat, and waited for Malcolm to reply.
Malcolm looked at him for a long time. Steve's stomach grew tight with nerves, but he matched Malcolm's gaze. Malcolm sighed and looked down. He seemed to be looking at something, and Steve followed the direction of his stare. He was looking at Steve's hands, which were shaking violently. A little embarrassed, Steve clasped his hands together in his lap and tried without success to stop their shaking. Malcolm looked up and gazed into Steve's eyes for another long moment. Then he sighed and shook his head. Steve felt a sinking feeling in his gut. He looked down so that Malcolm wouldn't see the tears in his eyes. Then Malcolm sighed again and said, "I can't believe I'm doing this."
Steve looked up suddenly, forgetting to hide his watery eyes. Almost afraid to hope, he asked, "You'll help me?"
A few of the tears that had been building up fell down his face. Ashamed, he looked down and let out a shuddering sigh of relief. "Thank you," he said in a quavering voice. "Thank you so much." Steve pressed his fingers to his eyes to stop the flow of tears. He heard Malcolm stand up and close the office door. Then he handed Steve a box of tissues and sat down. "Thanks." Steve dried his eyes and blew his nose. Then he put the box of tissues on the desk and looked up. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Please, don't apologize," Malcolm said. "Are you all right now?" Steve nodded. "Good. If you'll just give me your driver's license, I'll run a credit check. The results won't matter in your case, but I still have to run it." Steve handed him the license, and Malcolm left the office. While he waited, Steve tried to pull himself together. He took several deep, slow breaths. By the time Malcolm returned, his trembling had stopped and he felt considerably calmer. "Okay," Malcolm said, handing Steve his driver's license. "Your credit history is practically nonexistent, as you told me. But it beats having a bad record. Now I'll just need you to fill out a few forms, and we'll be on our way, all right?"
Malcolm opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out two forms. He filled out some of the information on each of them. "This is the form we ask you to complete when you're under a certain age, or you have only a short credit history," he said, handing Steve one of the forms. "It asks for three character references. You can use anyone except a blood relative. And this is the actual loan form." He gave him the other form, and then showed Steve what he needed to fill out, and where he should sign.
Steve looked at the amount written in at the top of the second form. "It says $25,000," he said, surprised.
Malcolm shrugged. "I figure since I'm risking my neck by giving you this loan anyway, I might as well make it worth your while. Besides, you'll need the extra money. You'll have to do some traveling to rescue this friend of yours, won't you?"
Steve looked at him with eyes full of gratitude. "You're a wonderful man, Malcolm," he said.
Malcolm smiled. "Thank you. I think the same of you. Just do me a favor, will you?"
"Don't prove me wrong."
Steve looked at him and said sincerely, "I won't."
Malcolm nodded, and Steve started filling out the forms. Soon, there was a knock on the door. "Come in."
The woman Steve had spoken to earlier looked in. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said when she saw Steve there.
"It's okay, Ruth. What is it?"
"Well, we're closing now, and..."
Malcolm looked at the clock on his wall. "Wow, I didn't realize it was so late! Okay, Ruth, go ahead and lock up. I'll be working with Mr. Perry for a little longer, so I'll let him out myself."
"Okay, Mal. See you tomorrow."
"Good night." Ruth left the office.
"Sorry I'm keeping you so late," Steve said.
Malcolm waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. Overtime pay is good here," he said with a smile. Steve filled out the forms, while Malcolm organized his desk, and got his belongings together. When Steve had signed both papers, he gave them to Malcolm. The banker signed the loan form, then gave Steve the bottom carbon to keep. He put the rest of the papers into a file folder and stuck the folder in his desk. "Okay, Steve. Follow me."
Malcolm led Steve out of the office, and behind the tellers' windows. He searched in a large supply closet until he found a dusty looking black briefcase. He wiped it off and said, "Wait here, okay?" Steve nodded, and Malcolm opened the giant safe and walked in. Several minutes later, he returned and set the briefcase on a desk. After locking up the vault, he opened the briefcase and showed the contents to Steve.
Steve's eyes widened. He had never seen so much cash in his life. "Oh my God."
"Overwhelming, isn't it?" Steve nodded. Malcolm took out a large wad of cash, put it in an envelope and handed it to Steve. "That's your spending money," he said. Then he closed the briefcase and locked it. "Don't open it," he cautioned. "Even when you think you're alone. You never know. And don't act as if it's extremely important to you. If you don't act like there's $20,000 in it, no one will get it into their heads to steal it. All right?"
Malcolm handed Steve the briefcase, and said, "I'd like to see what we're investing in. You'll have to bring your friend by to meet me before you go back to San Francisco."
"I will," Steve said.
Malcolm led Steve out a back exit and locked the door behind them. Steve took Malcolm's hand. "I can't thank you enough for what you've done. Really, Malcolm. I'll never forget this."
Malcolm smiled. "I hope everything works out for you."
They parted, and Steve went back to his car. He drove back to the hotel and set the briefcase on the floor by his bed. He closed all the curtains and opened up the envelope. The money was in hundred dollar bills. He took out three bills and put them in his wallet. The rest, he left in the envelope and stuffed deep in his suitcase. He looked at the briefcase again in wonder. He had the money! Now all he had to do was figure out a way to let Ozzy know that he had it. He had no phone number, and he didn't want to fly down there. Ozzy had threatened to kill him if he came back, and he wasn't sure he would be able to tell him the news before Ozzy made good on his threat. What could he do? He turned on the radio to help him think, and soon he had a plan. He found the phone number he would need, but he couldn't do anything until the next morning. He was too anxious to sleep, so he paced the floor all night. Finally, at 6:00 a.m. he put his plan in motion.
Beth hadn't been able to sleep all night. She tossed and turned for a few hours, then gave up and got out of bed. It was just as well. Her dreams the night Steve had tried to rescue her had been filled with knives and blood and other frightening images. She finished her fantasy book, and the last of the word puzzles. Then there was nothing to do but wait. As the night wore on, she grew more and more nervous. By 9:30a.m., she was pacing quickly across the floor and biting her nails. In an hour and a half, Ozzy would call her father for the last time. She tried to tell herself that her father would change his mind at the last minute, but in her heart she knew it was a lie. She knew he would tell Ozzy no, and then everything would be over. Everything.
Beth sat down heavily on the mattress. There must be something better to do with my last hours than walking the floor, she thought. She sighed. Maybe if I pretend this isn't happening. She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes, trying to convince herself that she wasn't really stuck in some dark ugly basement with less than two hours to live. She imagined what would have happened if Steve had succeeded in rescuing her. Maybe he would have taken her to his home. She imagined a nice, cozy place, instead of an obnoxiously large, cold feeling mansion with a father who couldn't care less about her. Beth clamped down on that thought. She only wanted to think about good things right now. She turned her thoughts back to Steve, daydreaming of what life would be like if she could be with him.
When Beth heard the locks turn on the door, she jumped up, completely shocked. She looked at her watch. 10:40 Eastern! There were only 20 minutes left before Ozzy called her house. How could she have lost track of so much time? "Come on," he called. Beth walked slowly up the stairs. She followed Ozzy into the kitchen and sat down. He put a bowl, cereal and milk in front of her as usual. Beth looked at it in distaste. There was no way she could eat anything at a time like this. She sat listening to the radio while Ozzy ate. His appetite didn't seem to be affected by the knowledge that very soon he would be ending a life. After eating his customary three bowls of food, he washed the dishes and went to the phone. Beth followed him and sat on the couch. Her stomach was tying itself into knots, and she felt mildly lightheaded. She crossed her arms over her stomach and watched while Ozzy made the call.
"This is your last chance, Desmond," he said. "What's it going to be?" Ozzy listened for a while. Then he said, "You're going to regret it. I'll send you a picture of her when I'm through. Maybe it'll keep you up at night."
"Wait!" Beth cried. "Let me talk to him."
"He hung up," Ozzy said.
"Can't we call him back?" she pleaded.
"Maybe if I talk to him..."
Ozzy shook his head. "You've already talked to him. You know he'll only say no."
Beth knew he was right, and tears came to her eyes. Ozzy pulled out his knife, and Beth shrank back against the couch. She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see the knife. She didn't want to see it happen. There was no sound in the room except that of the radio. She listened, hoping to hear something nice in the last seconds of her life. Instead of hearing music, she heard the DJ speaking.
"...unusual request came in this morning. I've been asked to play his dedication at exactly 11:05 this morning. Now's the time, so here you go, kid. This request is for Ozzy, out there in rural New Jersey." Beth gasped and opened her eyes. Ozzy had been walking toward her, but he stopped and turned his attention to the radio. Beth listened. The DJ gave a bemused chuckle. "Our anonymous friend says you'll understand if I read these exact words to you, Ozzy. 'I'll pay you twice what you're asking if you'll give up your sidewalk dreams. Call me.'" The DJ read a phone number. "And now, here's the Beatles with Can't Buy Me Love!"
Beth was suddenly filled with hope. She knew what the message meant. Someone was offering to pay an extra $10,000 to Ozzy in exchange for the rights to his song. It had to be Steve! No one else knew the name of the song except Ozzy and her father. But he had seemed impressed by the first amount. How had he managed to find twice as much? Beth didn't care. She would find a way to pay him back somehow. She looked at Ozzy hopefully. He wrote down the number on the pad by the phone. Then he looked at Beth and held up a warning finger. "Don't get your hopes up." Her face fell. Would he refuse? How could he refuse?! No, that couldn't be it! Maybe he just wanted to see if the offer was genuine. He couldn't refuse this. Could he? Beth's stomach began to tighten with nerves again. She watched pensively as he dialed the number, and waited to hear her fate.
Steve paced back and forth in front of the phone. He'll call, he told himself. He has to call. But what if the DJ hadn't played the message in time? What if they weren't listening to the radio when he played it? What if Ozzy hadn't caught the number? Steve ran a hand through his hair. He should have planned this better. Maybe he should have flown out there last night instead of pacing back and forth in this stupid hotel room! He ran his hand through his hair again. Dammit! Why hasn't he called yet? The phone rang. Steve jumped, then grabbed the phone. "Hello?"
"Hello, Steve," said a calm, familiar voice. It was Ozzy.
"Is Beth all right?" he asked urgently.
"Let me... Could I talk to her, please?" Steve amended.
"There's no need. She won't be around much longer."
"The answer is no, Steve."
Steve sat down heavily on the bed. "No?" he asked weakly.
"No. Your message was very clever. The song was an especially nice touch. I like the Beatles. But you know what? I don't care too much for money either, Steve. I only want what's mine. Sidewalk Dreams is mine. Without it, this whole thing is meaningless. Without it, there's no deal." There was a long pause. Steve could hear Beth crying in the background. He wanted to cry too. He had come so close! How could he lose her now? "Good bye, Steve," Ozzy said at last.
"Wait! Wait!!!" Steve shouted.
"I'll get it. I'll get you the song."
Steve swallowed. "I don't know how, but I will. I just need more time."
"No," Ozzy said grimly. "I'm tired of waiting, Steve. Good bye."
"No, wait! Listen to me," Steve said frantically. "What's the point of killing her now? If you kill her now, you'll gain nothing! You'll lose the song. You'll lose the money. And you won't even be hurting that bastard of a father of hers! He doesn't care whether she lives or not! If he cared, he would have paid the ransom by now, right? So all you'll have to show from this whole thing is a dead body. How meaningful is that? I can get you what you really want if you'll just give me a little time!" Ozzy didn't answer, and Steve was afraid he would say no. "Give me twenty-four hours," he said desperately. "Please. I'll give you everything - the song and all the money - if you'll just give me one day!"
There was another long pause. "All right," Ozzy said. "Twenty-four hours. If you don't deliver, Beth dies. No more chances." He hung up the phone.
Steve took a deep breath, feeling slightly queasy. What a close call! Now, how was he going to get the rights to the song from Westlake? If he wouldn't give it to Ozzy when he'd promised to kill his daughter otherwise, why would he give it to Steve? Maybe he would relent when he realized he wouldn't have to part with any of his precious money. Maybe. Steve sighed and shook his head. This wasn't going to be easy.