31 Jul 09

Star and Scribe, Chapter Five

When they reached the house, only a few cameras waited outside the private neighborhood’s entrance, but the dark tinted windows on the X3 allowed them to pass unhindered into the gated community. They rolled slowly past broad green lawns, enormous mansions, and smooth sidewalks, where the wealthy and famous could walk their dogs far from the prying eyes of the public. They reached the end of a cul-de-sac and an imposing set of gates loomed before them. Chris reached out the window, typed a complicated password onto a keypad, and the doors opened.

“Don’t worry, hon,” Stefan reassured Jane as they walked into the house. She had stopped crying but looked awful. Her nose was swollen and red, and her puffy eyes were framed by tearstreaks. “We have plenty of time and I have everything I need right here.” He lovingly patted the Gucci bag that he’d stuffed with goops and potions before their escape from the salon. Jane smiled warmly at him.

“I can’t go,” Jane sighed in a tone that gracefully radiated the weight of her martyrdom. “It’s just too–-”

Her mobile buzzed, cutting her off. It was Pike again, insisting that Jane must go to the awards that night, at all costs. She must go and Edmund must go with her. They needed to smile. They needed to wave. They needed to kiss. They needed to be Prince and Princess Charming. The world was depending on it, and so was the success of the new film they were working on together. She began arguing with him while Stefan chimed in from over her shoulder.

As the PR debate raged behind her, Barb stood remarkably still in the center of the entryway, facing the east wing of the house. Her head turned slowly as she scanned the walls, floors, ceilings, flower arrangements— everything.

“You can’t miss this,” Pike’s voice buzzed from the speakerphone. “You’re up for Best Actress and the favorite to win. Eddie’s worked on half the films that got nominated.”

Barb turned ninety degrees to the right and repeated her scan.

“I’m not doing it. I’m not a baby. I can decide not to go,” Jane insisted in her most regal tone. “You hear that, Pike? I’m not a baby!” she angrily turned the mobile off and tossed it ingloriously back into her purse. Fang yelped. Jane removed him from the bag and set him on the floor. The little dog, convinced he’d had enough of this business, trotted off to the kitchen to find something to eat.

“Barb, no calls for an hour,” Jane ordered. “Two hours.”

But Barb didn’t seem to be listening to her. Something suddenly caught her eye. She moved purposefully over to a painting of a boat tossed among waves hanging above the hall table and removed a tiny speck from the side of the frame.

“What is that?” Jane asked, her forehead rumpling. She moved in and peered at the impossibly small object on the tip of Barb’s finger.

“A bug,” Barb said in a low voice, examining the tiny antenna attached to a sticky metal bead. Ozzy looked up, with an expression hovering somewhere between interest and alarm.

“Jeez. How did you even see that?” Stefan muttered, craning his neck to look at the device.

Barb just shrugged. “There are probably more throughout the house. I’ll search for them. If any of you spot them, let me know where it is and I’ll deal with it.”

“We can’t bring it to you?” Stefan asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I’ll deal with it,” Barb insisted. She placed the microphone in her pocket.

“You’re not going to break it?” Jane whined incredulously.

Barb shook her head. “I want to know where it came from. Ozzy, want to give me a hand? We’ll each do a separate sweep.”

The bodyguard nodded and moved toward the west wing of the house. Barb turned, snapping out of her intense state of focus, and stepped casually toward her boss. “Phones silent for two hours?” she reaffirmed in a pleasant tone. “That sounds like plenty of time to finish getting ready.”

Barb moved so seamlessly that Jane never had a moment to protest. She tried to focus her thoughts on her reasons for protest, but suddenly found herself in a haze. She had reasons not to go. Good reasons. Why weren’t they coming to mind? The stress of the afternoon must be causing some kind of exhaustion.

“The limousine is already out front,” Barb said softly to Stefan, helping him to glide Jane toward her bedroom suite. “As long as we’re ready by four o’clock we’ll make our schedule.” They moved, smoothly and quickly, down the hall.

But Jane frowned and stubbornly forced her mind to focus. “Don’t think you can butter me up,” she suddenly shouted, breaking free from Stefan’s gentle grip. “I’m not Malibu Barbie, and you can’t dress me up and stick me in a plastic box.”

Barb started and gazed at Jane for a moment with blank surprise. Then she smiled again. “At least let him help you freshen up,” she encouraged. “You can think about it.”

“I can think about it,” Jane grumbled. She stomped off to her room, Stefan trotting after with a look of worry on his face. Barb watched them go, then turned and moved off quickly to search the rest of the house for bugs.

© 2009 Stella Quinn

Star and Scribe — a novel by Stella Quinn
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