No More Tears
Steve walked slowly up to the mansion door. He was not looking forward to this. The guards' warning not to come back was still fresh in his mind, and he was not looking forward to any more bruises. He was still sore from his fight with Ozzy and the punches the guards had given him the last time. He sighed. There was nothing he could do about it. He had to try. He knocked on the door and waited. After a moment, the butler answered, and Steve stepped in before he could close the door again. "Hi!" he said cheerfully. "I'd like to speak to Mr. Westlake, please."
The butler looked as if he might protest. Then he smiled suddenly and said, "Certainly, sir. Wait here please."
"Sure." Steve waited until the butler was out of sight, then walked quietly to the hallway. He had no intention of waiting for the butler to come back with a few burly security guards at his back. He crept down the hall to Westlake's study and walked in, closing the door behind him.
Westlake looked up at the sound of the door. He scowled when he saw Steve. "How did you get in here?"
"Get out now, or I'll call security," he cried.
"I need to talk to you about Beth," Steve said, ignoring him.
"I'm not interested in anything you have to say."
"Well you're going to listen anyway. I'm going to pay Beth's ransom for you."
"Oh really," Westlake asked smugly. "So her throat hasn't been cut after all, eh?"
"No thanks to you!" Steve said loudly. "I convinced him to wait another day. But he still wants the rights to Sidewalk Dreams. If you sign them over to him, I can get Beth out of there."
"I've already told you that Elizabeth will get nothing from me this way."
"What the hell is wrong with you??" Steve shouted. "What could Beth possibly want with that song?"
"I don't know, but she won't get it!"
"Look, I'm telling you that you won't have to pay a dime to get her out! All you have to do is give up the song!"
"I said no!"
"But Beth will die if you don't!!"
"What??" Steve turned to see Renee standing in the doorway. She looked at him in surprise. "It's you again!"
"Renee, I told you not to interrupt me in here!" Westlake said sharply.
"I heard shouting," Renee explained. She looked at Steve again. "What did you just say about Beth?"
"She's going to DIE tomorrow if he doesn't give her kidnapper the rights to a song called Sidewalk Dreams."
"He's lying," Westlake insisted.
"I am NOT lying!" Steve ran a hand through his hair. "Why is this so hard?! You don't have to pay him any money. Just give him the song. If I'm lying, you lose one song in a thousand. If I'm not lying, you'll be saving your daughter's life!"
Westlake shook his head. "That song belongs to me. I won't give it up to some extortionist!"
"What difference does it make who the damn song really belongs to?" Steve yelled. "How can it be more important to you than your own child?!"
"Is there a problem here, sir?" Steve looked around. Damn! Security guards! And they were the same ones who'd threatened him the day before. "Hey! It's you!" Blonde said. Perfect. They remembered him too.
"Get this man out of here!"
Steve turned back to Westlake. "Why is this so important to you?" he asked as the guards grabbed his arms. "What could it hurt you to give it up?"
Westlake held up his hand, and the guards stopped dragging him away. "I still make a profit from that song," he replied. "I will not be frightened into giving it up. It's against my principles!"
Steve gaped at him in utter amazement. "You can't be serious! You'd risk your own daughter's life over the profits from one song?!?" Steve was more furious than he had ever been before. "You bastard!" He wrenched out of the guards' grasp and lunged at Westlake.
Renee screamed and Westlake jumped back looking shocked. "Get him out of here!" he cried, tugging nervously on his tie. The guards yanked Steve off of Westlake's desk and dragged him towards the door.
"You're a sick, selfish, heartless bastard!!" Steve screamed, struggling to free himself. "If you had any principles at all, Beth wouldn't be in danger! You wouldn't be letting her die!" The guards pulled him out of the room and shut the door. Steve couldn't believe this was happening. He'd come so far! He was so close to saving Beth. Now everything he had done would be wasted, all because her father was more selfish than he had believed possible. And now he was about to be beaten to a pulp on top of it all. Maybe he could talk his way out of it. "You guys are awfully loyal to that creep," he said.
"He pays well," Brown replied.
"I wonder if those four dead guards would agree with you."
They stopped short. Then Brown slammed him up against the wall. "How do you know about that?"
"Beth told me, of course," he said, trying not to sound nervous. "Were you the one that helped Westlake hide them? Or was it both of you?" Steve read their silence as a yes. "That's a felony, you know," he continued. "Maybe if you help me get that song from him, I'll be so happy that I'll forget what Beth told me."
Blonde sneered. "You're full of shit! You can't prove a thing!"
"I don't have to prove anything," Steve said. "I just have to get the police interested. I'm sure they'll find all the proof they need on their own." They seemed to consider it for a moment. "I'm willing to bet Westlake let you guys do all the work that day. His prints won't be on anything. If anyone goes down for this, it'll be you, not him."
They looked at each other. Then Brown shook his head. "They'll never find anything. You've got nothing on us!"
"Come on," Blonde said. "Let's get this over with."
They started walking again, pulling Steve along. "You're making a big mistake, guys. Is that how you want to end up? Hidden in some shallow grave. Your families never knowing what happened to you?!"
"We don't have families," Brown said. "It's a job requirement." They took him outside, and Blonde held both of his arms firmly behind his back while Brown did the punching. He didn't stop at a few warning blows this time. The guard kept hitting and hitting until Steve felt sure he would pass out. Of course, that might be a good thing, he thought groggily. Passing out would be a lot better than what he was going through. Eventually, Blonde dropped Steve to the ground. They kicked him a couple of times, then walked away.
Steve lay there for a moment, looking at the ground and waiting for his head to stop spinning. This whole routine was becoming a little too familiar. Suddenly he heard footsteps. Could they be coming back for more? Steve tried to draw away, but moving made him feel sick. He curled himself into a tight ball, hoping to minimize the damage. The footsteps advanced, and Steve thought that they didn't sound like the guards' footsteps. "Oh my God!" It was Renee. She knelt down and tried to lift him to a sitting position. Steve shook his head, wincing when it started to pound harder, and Renee left him alone. "Oh my God," she said again. "Are you okay? Stupid question! Of course you aren't okay! What can I do to help you? Can I get you anything?"
"Sure," he said weakly. "How about the rights to Sidewalk Dreams?"
Hesitantly, Renee reached out and touched Steve's bruised face. Although she was gentle, it still hurt. He flinched and drew back. "Desmond told me everything you said about Beth being in danger was a lie," she said. "But I don't believe him. I don't know why he would lie if he knew she was really in trouble. But I just can't believe you would have come back here if it weren't true." She looked at him for a long moment, then asked, "What's your name."
"Steve," he replied.
"Well, Steve. It's obvious that you care a lot about Beth. I do, too. She's been like my own daughter for over nine years. I won't let Desmond risk her life over something like this. Wait here. I'll be back." She got up and went into the house.
Steve waited. He wasn't exactly anxious to move in the condition he was in anyway. He felt sick, and it wasn't only the guards' attack that had caused it. He had failed to save Beth, and in a few hours, she would be killed. He didn't know what Renee planned to say, but he was sure her cold-hearted husband would refuse. Maybe he should have bought a gun and threatened to shoot Westlake if he didn't deliver. No, that wouldn't have worked. He couldn't buy a gun legally in less than 24 hours, and he wouldn't know where to get one under the counter. Besides, more likely than not, Westlake would have called his bluff. Even if he thought he could have shot anyone, he still wouldn't have the rights to the song. He would be in the same situation as he was now, but he would be a murderer as well. He sat with his head in his hands, feeling depressed and utterly defeated.
Several minutes later, Renee came out of the house. Steve stood up slowly, looking for any sign that she had succeeded. She looked furious, and her eyes shone with unshed tears. She walked up to Steve and handed him a large yellow envelope. "Here you are," she said quietly.
"The rights?" he asked in disbelief. She nodded. "How... How did you do it?"
"I told him if he didn't sign over the rights to that man, I would divorce him immediately. I told him I would take half of all his money and his assets - including the record company." She laughed a little bitterly, and some of the tears fell. "You'd think that after nearly 10 years, you'd get to know someone pretty well. But I never knew he could be like this. He was so upset by the thought of losing half his fortune. That's why he gave it up. He didn't do it for Beth at all!" She seemed to be amazed by the very idea. "The rights were there in his office," she explained. "He only keeps his most important papers here, and the rights to songs are usually kept at the company. It's sad to say, but I believe he really did steal the song from that man." She sighed and shook her head. "I looked over everything there to make sure he hadn't tried to cheat in some way. Everything is legally binding."
"You're an amazing woman," Steve said, shaking her hand. "Thank you for this."
She shook her head. "You don't have to thank me," she said. "I told you, Beth's like my own child. I should be the one thanking you for putting up all this money. I'll pay you back..."
"No, no. Please don't think about it. You've done enough by getting me this." He held up the envelope.
She smiled at him and gave his hand another squeeze. "Get her out of there, Steve."
"I will." He walked back to his car with the precious parcel, waved to Renee and drove away. He went back to his hotel feeling so elated that he barely felt all his bruises. When he got there, he packed everything up. No point in waiting around at the hotel another night. If he got to Ozzy's house at the 24 hour deadline, he could get Beth out right away. He was sure she wouldn't want to spend any more time there than she had to. Steve thought briefly of Ozzy's threat to kill him if he showed up there again, but he didn't let it worry him. Ozzy wouldn't hurt him when he knew what was in the briefcase.
Steve made reservations for a late flight. Then he took off his shirt and shook his head. Yet another good shirt covered with blood. This little trend had to stop. He walked painfully into the bathroom to clean himself up. His excitement from getting the song had helped him to ignore the bruises for a while, but now they seemed to be making up for lost time. His head ached, and he was sore and stiff all over. The places where the guards had kicked him were so sore that walking and even breathing were painful.
Steve winced at his reflection. His face was a bloody mess! His cheeks and his jaws were bruised and cut, and he was developing a black eye. His chest was also covered with cuts and bruises. There were several very large bruises near his ribs and on his back where they had kicked him. He touched the areas tentatively. There wasn't any sharp pain, so he didn't think any ribs were broken. That was something, at least. Steve washed his face and dabbed at the cuts with a damp cloth. It didn't help much, and he wasn't looking forward to all the walking he would have to do in the airport. Maybe he would pick up some aspirin on the way. Steve put on a fresh shirt and stuffed his soiled one into his bag. He grabbed the briefcase and headed for the airport.
Beth stared at the cereal, unable to eat any of it. She'd been too nervous to eat or sleep yesterday either. She couldn't believe Ozzy had turned down Steve's offer! On the one hand, she reflected, it showed that he cared about something besides money. That was more than she could say for her father. On the other hand, Ozzy's integrity wouldn't do her any good if he ended up killing her because of it. Beth desperately hoped that Steve had gotten the rights to Sidewalk Dreams somehow. But what if he hadn't? What if her father had refused to listen to him!? Beth rested her head on the table, another attack of nerves making her feel queasy.
When Ozzy had finished the dishes, he made Beth come with him into the living room and sit on the couch. She grabbed one of the couch pillows and hugged it to her while Ozzy dialed. He sat without speaking for several seconds. He frowned and waited a few more seconds. Then he hung up. "He's not there," he said, sounding surprised.
Beth looked at Ozzy in shock. "What?" she asked in a voice high with anxiety.
"He's not there."
"But he has to be!"
"Well, he's not." Ozzy stood up. "And that means your time is up, Beth."
"No," she pleaded, edging away. "Can't you call him back? You have to call him back!"
"His 24 hours are up. I told you, I'm not waiting any longer."
"I'm sure he was just out of the room when you called! Please call him back."
"He's not there, Beth," Ozzy said. "It's over." He drew his knife and began to walk towards her.
Beth jumped to her feet, still holding the pillow in front of her. She backed away, starting to shake with fear and anger. This wasn't fair! How could she die this way? Murdered by an irate musician over a song! She looked around, desperate to find a way out. She threw the pillow at Ozzy's face. While he was distracted, she ran to the door. Her hands were shaking so hard she could hardly turn the locks. She looked behind her and gasped. Ozzy was almost on top of her! She bolted into the kitchen and searched frantically for a weapon. The kitchen was closed off, and she didn't want to be stuck there. But she had to find something to delay him with!
Finally, she found a knife, but it was just a little steak knife. She knew it would be no match for Ozzy's blade if he got close enough for her to use it. Before she could get out of the kitchen, Ozzy stepped in, blocking her path. She jumped back, brandishing her knife. "You're only prolonging the inevitable, Beth," he said. He started to advance. Beth grabbed a bowl from the dish drain and hurled it at Ozzy's head. He ducked and rushed at her before she could find anything else to throw. He grasped her wrist and slammed it against the counter, trying to force her to drop the knife. Beth held on as long as she could, kicking him and beating at his head with her free hand. That only made Ozzy more furious. He slashed at her left arm, and she screamed. The he started slamming her other wrist down again. She was in too much pain to keep a grip on the knife, and it fell from her hand.
Still keeping a painfully tight grasp on her wrist, Ozzy shoved Beth against the wall. He raised his knife and Beth lifted her wounded arm in front of her face. "Move it," Ozzy ordered. Even if she'd wanted to, Beth was too terrified to obey. "I said move it!" he shouted, slashing her forearm. Beth cried out, instinctively withdrawing her arm. Ozzy pushed the knife to her throat before she could shield herself again.
"Don't!" she cried tearfully. "Please, don't. It's not my fault he stole your song!"
"I'm sorry things didn't work out, Beth. I really am."
"Then don't kill me! Please?"
He shook his head gravely, and pressed the knife harder against her neck. Beth squeezed her eyes shut, crying and wishing Steve had been there to answer the phone. Why hadn't he been there?! Even if he hadn't been able to get the song, at least she could have said good-bye to him. Beth felt the tip of Ozzy's knife break her skin, and she cried even harder. Now it was too late.
Steve grabbed the briefcase and jumped out of the car almost before it stopped. He ran up to the door and pounded it frantically. Please let her be alive. Please let her be alive, he chanted silently. He waited about three seconds. When there was no answer, he pounded the door again, longer and much louder. He wanted to be heard through the whole house. He waited a few more anxious seconds, his heart racing. He couldn't be too late! Not after all this! Please let her be alive, the desperate chant continued. Please, please let her be alive!! Steve raised his hand, ready to start banging again. Just then, the door opened. Ozzy stood there, knife in hand, looking angry and breathing hard. Steve's stomach churned when he saw that the knife was covered with blood. "Oh, God," he said in a choking whisper.
Ozzy stood aside. "Get in here." Steve walked in, giving the knife a wide berth.
Steve stopped gazing at the knife and looked up. "Beth!" She tried to run to him, but Ozzy had her wrist in a grip so tight his knuckles were pale. He yanked her back fiercely.
"SIT DOWN!" he yelled, throwing her onto the couch. "And if you move a single inch before I say so, I swear, I'll kill you whether he has it or not! Understand?" Beth didn't answer. Ozzy leaned over her, brandishing the knife, and Beth cowered farther into the couch, holding her hand protectively to her throat. "Do you understand me?" he asked slowly. Beth nodded, and Ozzy turned to face Steve. "You're late," he said coldly.
"I... I'm sorry," he stammered, distracted by the sound of Beth crying. "My flight was delayed."
"Did you get what I asked for?"
"Yes." Steve gave Ozzy the briefcase. "It's all there," he said. "Twenty thousand dollars, and the rights to Sidewalk Dreams."
"Sit down," he said. Steve sat down on the couch across from Beth. Ozzy set the briefcase between them and opened it. He lifted the envelope and looked at the money. His eyes widened slightly, and he nodded. "I'll take your word for it that all the money is here," he said to Steve. "But I know Westlake." He opened the envelope and pulled out the contract. "If I find anything wrong with this, she dies. And you're next. Can't have a witness running around, now can I?" Steve heard Beth's frightened whimper, and he gulped nervously. Renee had assured him that the contract held no tricky loopholes. He hoped for both their sakes that she hadn't missed anything.
Steve looked over at Beth while Ozzy studied the papers. He had been so happy to see her alive that he hadn't noticed the state she was in. She still had her right hand on her neck, and Steve saw a nasty looking bruise on the back of her wrist. Her other arm was bleeding and there was a long rip on the upper part of her sleeve. The cut must have been fairly deep, because she was bleeding heavily. Although she wasn't making any noise, tears flowed freely down her face, and she was shaking. Steve longed to put his arms around her and comfort her. But he couldn't. He didn't dare move toward her until Ozzy was completely satisfied.
Steve watched Ozzy's face carefully. If he saw any sign that Ozzy had found something wrong, he was going to get Beth out anyway. He would NOT lose her. Steve knew it was hopeless to try and fight. Ozzy was too strong. Even if he didn't have that vicious knife with him, he would overpower Steve in a matter of minutes. Maybe he could give him a swift kick, grab Beth and run for it. If he kicked him hard enough, they should be able to make it out the door before he recovered.
Ozzy put down the contract, and Steve tensed. Ozzy looked over at Beth, who drew as far away from his as she could. He looked at her for a long moment. "Looks like this is your lucky day, Beth," he said at last. Steve breathed a sigh of relief, and Beth gaped at Ozzy as if she couldn't believe what he'd just said.
"I... I can go?" she whispered.
"That's right," Ozzy answered. "Your little airplane buddy came through after all." He picked up the briefcase and moved so that he was no longer between Steve and Beth. "She's all yours," he said to Steve. He set the briefcase down and went down the stairs to the basement.
Steve didn't waste time wondering what Ozzy was doing. He stood in front of Beth and smiled. With fresh tears in her eyes, she got up and held her hand out to him. Steve's smile turned into a concerned frown when he saw that her hand was covered with blood. The hand had been over her neck. He looked at her neck and was horrified to see that there was a fairly deep cut there, about two inches long. "Oh my God." Steve gently touched her neck with a trembling hand. He'd come close to death once - very close. But Ozzy had actually begun to cut Beth's throat! How awful it must have been for her. To be certain - without a doubt in her mind - that she was going to die. If Steve had come just one minute later, she would have been right. The very idea made him feel sick. Damn that stupid flight delay! "Oh, Beth, I'm sorry," he said, his voice husky with emotion. "I'm so sorry."
Beth shook her head. "Why are you apologizing to me? You saved my life, Steve. I'll be thanking you for it as long as I live." She put her one good arm around him and squeezed. He winced with pain as she awakened some of his bruises, but he put his arms around her and held her tight anyway. What was a little pain, when he had been longing to hold her again ever since that day on the plane when he'd first held her, trembling, in his arms?
"Well, isn't that sweet?" Steve felt Beth's body tense at the sound of Ozzy's voice. She broke the embrace and faced him. Ozzy stood there, holding a thick book. "You finished the crosswords, but do you want this one?" he asked Beth.
"Thank you," she said softly, reaching for it.
Steve held out his hand, and Ozzy gave the book to him. "Just out of curiosity," Ozzy asked. "How did you get Westlake to give you the rights? Don't tell me the bastard grew a heart at the last minute."
Steve looked hesitantly at Beth, wondering if he should tell the truth. She was the one who had told him about her father's selfish behavior in the first place, but it still might hurt to hear that he didn't give up willingly in the end. He sighed and turned back to Ozzy. "Not exactly," he answered. "Renee threatened to divorce him and take half of his fortune away if he didn't give me - you - the song."
"I see. He can stand to lose his daughter, but half his fortune?? Out of the question!" He shook his head. "I told you he was a self centered bastard, didn't I, Beth?"
"I'm sorry, Beth," Steve said. "I thought I should tell the truth, but maybe..."
"Don't worry about it, Steve," she said. "Ozzy's right. I'm not surprised. My father already made it quite clear that his money is more important than I am." Her voice was tinged with anger.
"You'd be wise to keep him at bay with a ten foot pole," Ozzy said. "With a knife at the end."
"One could say the same of you," Steve said.
"Oh, you don't have to worry about me anymore. I'll leave Beth alone from now on." Steve fixed Ozzy with a skeptical look, and Ozzy smiled. "Oh, come on, Steve. You know better than to doubt me." He reached out to touch Beth's neck, but she drew back and he stopped. "I don't make idle promises any more than I make idle threats," he said quietly. "Besides, do you think either of you would be alive right now if I weren't a man who keeps his word?"
"You have a point," Steve said, wrapping his arm protectively around Beth's shoulders. "Can we go now?"
"Sure." Ozzy stepped past them, and opened the door. Steve kept a protective hand on Beth's arm. "Why Beth, I think you have a dedicated fan here." He smiled a little. "I like you, Steve. I'm glad you got here before I had to kill Beth. I've grown fond of her over the past few days. I would have been sad to see her go." Steve looked up at Ozzy sharply. "Good luck," he told them. Then he closed the door.
Steve led Beth to the car and helped her in. Then he got in on his side, shaking his head. "What's the matter?" Beth asked.
"I think he might have actually meant that," Steve said in wonder.
"I'm sure he did," Beth said. "He's never lied to me." Beth gave a little chuckle. "It's sad, you know. He was going to cut my throat twenty minutes ago. But he cares more about me than my own father does."
Steve glanced at her and touched her face gently. "Try not to think too hard about it, Beth," he said softly. "You're free now. From both of them."
Beth smiled at him. "Thanks to you. I meant what I said in there, Steve. I'll be thanking you for the rest of my life."
"Hey, it was the least I could do," he said, embarrassed to feel a warm flush come to his face. "You saved my life first, remember? Now let's get out of here."