10 Aug 09

Star and Scribe, Chapter Eight

The limousine pulled toward the Kodak Theatre. Edmund sighed and looked up from the game he was playing on his PSP. Jane was staring out the window. Her face was stone cold, but her fingers kept tapping against one another and fidgeting with the lace on her gown. Ozzy sat across from them, his eyes scanning the crowd.

“Looks like we’re nearly there,” he said.

“The traffic is awful. We would get there faster if we walked,” Edmund complained.

Jane glanced over at Edmund and gave the stinkeye to the game console. “You’re not bringing that with you,” she told him.

Edmund pulled a face. “It’s research for your new film,” he said in a prickly tone. “How can I write a script about murdering alien invaders if I don’t get some hands-on experience?”

Jane didn’t answer. She pressed her freshly manicured hands to her temples and visualized the sound of her voice screaming. Then she went back to her white bubble of light, where she stayed until the limousine finally halted its slow creep toward the red carpet.

“Okay?” Edmund asked. Ozzy nodded. “Ready?” He asked. Jane nodded. He gave her a mirthless smile and opened the door. The crowd erupted as if it had been holding its breath for this moment. Fans, reporters, photographers blurred together into a chaotic hum.

Jane froze for a moment, staring down the red carpet. It stretched ahead, a gauntlet of flashing lights and staring eyes. Ed hovered awkwardly by the open door. He counted silently to five and then reached behind his back. He gestured to Jane to get out of the car. She finally reached out. He took her hand and nearly yanked her from the limousine. The crowd grew even louder.

“Should I kiss you, dear?” He snarled quietly out of the side of his mouth.

“Just walk, darling,” she ordered, smiling charmingly and taking his arm.

They glided, stiff but picture perfect, down the red carpet. The sea of flashing bulbs was blinding. Fans cried out their names and paparazzi pleaded for their attention. They were nearly through it all when one voice rose above the others. “Jane! Eddie! Eddie! Do you have a comment about the photos and audio published today?”

Edmund paused. He glanced at Jane, who only stared back nervously. He turned from her and straightened his tie with his signature British Charm that he reserved for occasions such as these, when he needed to dispose of an idiot in a socially acceptable manner. “Of course,” he answered cordially, with a polite, easygoing grin. “Entertainment Preview was rather foolish to put a recording on the air without bothering to verify the source.” He shifted his position, and his face took on a more thoughtful expression. “But This senseless, fraudulent attack has caused deep pain to myself and my wife, and we’re consulting with our attorneys as to our next steps. Have a good evening.”

The reporter stood frozen as Edmund strolled away with a devil-may-care look on his face and one hand in his pocket. The cameras flashed and the reporters shouted. A blur of noise erupted behind him. “What damages will you seek?” “Do you have a drinking problem?” “We heard that a photographer was assaulted by your staff.” Unperturbed, Edmund stepped back to Jane, playfully offered his arm, and escorted her under the enormous archway at the entrance with an air as relaxed as if he’d been interviewed about the weather. One of the photographers tried to break rank to chase after the couple, but Ozzy stepped in to hold the man back until some burly security guards could haul him away.

“Ed, that was-–”

“You’re welcome,” he acknowledged in a couldn’t-care-less tone. He turned his head just slightly enough to see that she was impressed. “Looks like I’m good for something once in a while.”

Jane was too pleased to complain about his smugness. She smiled serenely back at the horde of journalists. The farther away she moved, the more rabid they became, shouting and writhing with frustration. Nice. They moved, picture perfect, into the enormous courtyard of silent shops that surrounded the entrance to the theater.

“Maybe I should take up acting and next year I’ll be nominated and not you,” Edmund whispered.

“Okay, thank you, Ed,” she hissed quietly. Reconsidering the words that were about to pop out of her mouth, she forced a grin. After another moment, she commented that Cody Williams, her co-star in Echoing Clues, had just arrived and was coming up behind them.

Edmund heard only her muffled voice, not the words she said. An unplaceably familiar feeling of confusion crept over him. He halted in his path. Everything looked strange— as blurry and unfocused as though the air were filled with dense fog. He couldn’t tell if the things in front of him were five or fifty feet away. He began to look around wildly. Behind him, things were clear. The bright lights of the El Capitan theater radiated up from the red carpet, and the empty shops around them were silent and unremarkable. But in front of him— he turned to face the haze again and a splitting pain shot through his skull. He cried out in pain and fell to one knee.

Jane rushed forward, throwing her arms out to catch him from falling to the ground. “Ed!” she cried out. “Are you okay?” Cody, his aspiring starlet girlfriend, and a screenwriter whose name she could never recall— rushed up from behind them to see what the problem was.

“What’s going on?” asked Screenwriter What’s-His-Name.

“I don’t know,” Jane murmured. Her face grew pale as Edmund shuddered with pain.

“I know this,” Edmund muttered. Suddenly his eyes focused. That blur. The same blur. A something, but not a something that could be properly seen. He strained as he forced his mind to focus on the pain and confusion. He reached out and pointed. “You!” he cried out. “YOU!

With a glittering flash the blur dissolved, the pain vanished, and Edmund could suddenly see a figure crouched along the side of the darkened door to a make-up shop. It was a man, slim and strange, dressed in a black shirt, tie, and slacks. He was barefoot and carried what was either a gun or a camera. Edmund rose with surprising speed, and called out for security. Jane turned in time to see the black-clad figure leap toward them.

Barely able to move in her heavy gown and unwilling to risk messing up her hair, Jane stood paralyzed. With frightening speed, the thin man charged toward them. Edmund turned back to his wife and threw himself in front of her. The black-clad figure leaped into the air, his arms outstretched, but just as he reached them, Ozzy charged from behind and knocked the attacker sideways. Ozzy slammed into Edmund’s back and all three fell to the ground. Jane flew backward, landing hard on a hub of metal and cables concealed behind a topiary.

The man in black rolled several times and landed in a cat-like crouch. Edmund had only a moment to trace the hard, pinched lines of his face. His hawklike nose cut straight down through an improbably thin and symmetrical face. His eyes were unnervingly large and dark gray, with pupils so tiny as to be imperceptible. He snarled at them with yellowed teeth. Ozzy rose and crouched, ready for a fight. The tattoos on his forearms rippled as he rolled his fingers into massive, clublike fists.

Cody and the other guests shrieked and ran for cover as Ozzy and the intruder charged one another. They came together with a grinding crunch. Despite being half Ozzy’s size, the thin man did not recoil. Ozzy grabbed hold of his opponent and tried to pin him to the ground. The thin man slipped free with uncanny agility, rolled backward, and reached for something in his pocket. With a look of rage and panic, Ozzy leaped forward and grappled with the object, until he ripped it free and smashed it into tiny bits on the ground. The thin man clubbed him with a closed fist, but Ozzy returned with a punishing right cross that sent the attacker reeling. The man in black rolled backward once again and plotted his next move.

But he had no chance for a second attack. Tall, muscular bouncers had sprung from invisible doors and surrounded the couple. Three guards advanced on the thin man, who turned and fled. He threw himself onto the wall, climbing rapidly up the oversize Babylonian carvings that ascended five stories above the theater’s plaza.

“Don’t lose him!” one of the guards shouted into his radio. Edmund followed him, leaving Jane behind in hysterics. She shrieked his name over and over. Edmund watched the man disappear onto the top level. Guards swarmed the upper terrace, but found nothing. They swarmed around aimlessly. The attacker had vanished.

Edmund returned to Jane. Cody had helped her up. She had a deep gash on one arm and held it out from her body to avoid bleeding on her gown, which was ripped in several places. Her hair was more or less unruffled— a testament to Stefan’s skill— but her necklace had broken and the pearls rolled around on the floor like scattered marbles. As the guards closed tightly around them, Cody removed the decorative handkerchief from his tuxedo pocket and handed it to her, but the little red square was hardly big enough to sop anything up. She pressed it to her arm as it spurted dark blood.

Edmund glanced at the wound with dissatisfaction. “Here, that’s rubbish,” he told her, pulling a proper handkerchief from his trouser pocket and tying it neatly around Jane’s arm. Her blood seeped into his monogrammed initials. She pinched her lips as he tightened the bandage. “That needs to be looked at straight away,” he said quietly, pressing his hand down on the wound. For a moment their eyes met, and Edmund saw a swirl of emotions— disappointment, fear, gratitude.

Ozzy ran back to them, out of breath and wild-eyed. Sweat dripped down his forehead, disappearing into his goatee. “Time to get you out of here,” he puffed. “You two okay?”

“No,” Jane and Edmund said together.

“I’m not leaving,” Jane insisted.

“You’re bleeding from an artery,” Edmund reminded her, nodding toward his hand, which was slowly getting covered in brightly colored blood.

“I’ve got an award to win,” she growled in a low voice, stepping in close to him. “It’s not fair.”

Edmund shrugged. “Yes, well, I’m sure the ninja who came here to attack you will understand and wait until the end of your speech before killing you.” He turned his back to her. “Ozzy, where’s the way out?”

Ozzy gestured toward the back entrance. Jane sullenly followed Edmund as they hurried toward a secured exit, flanked by guards. Ozzy flipped open his mobile and contacted Barb. She was on her way in the plain white panel van they used for hauling goods back home after trips to furniture and shoe shops. As they hurried to a green room deep inside the complex, he assured them that they would be collected within ten minutes.

“Is there a doctor on call?” Edmund called out to nobody in particular, “the bleeding is not slowing down.”

“EMS to Green Room 2,” a guard barked into his radio. The group reached an elevator. Jane leaned up against the wall, her face turned away from everyone.

“Jane,” Edmund asked quietly, trying to see into her face without letting up on the pressure he was applying to her arm. and her face was pale and downturned. “Are you all right?”

She looked up, distracted, and then nodded. “I’ll be fine,” she murmured. “It’s not that bad. I just . . . It was supposed to be . . .”

Edmund nodded. They boarded the elevator in silence.

© 2009 Stella Quinn

Star and Scribe — a novel by Stella Quinn
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