Get up. Get up. Come on, get up. You didn’t come all this way for it to end here. Get up. He flung his eyes open. He scanned through the wide, shimmering night sky. He looked intensely without ever raising his head from the cold desert floor. He figured if he could find Polaris, he could follow it back to the border and make it home. But then what, would was there left for him in this life? He was in too deep to the man he hated most in the world, his dream of stumbling upon the love of his life and reconnecting had been shattered.
He checked his face and hair in the rearview. This was his first call to a major studio since the Times had outed him and several of his clients in a front page hit piece three months earlier. The basis of the story coming from an ironically erroneous assault charge. He had done bad things, things worse than what he was accused of doing. But he hadn’t done what a C-list actress had accused him of. His business had been on a downward spiral since the article and he was pouring all of his money into a counter suit, his lawyer assured him was the only was his occupational reputation could be restored. That was the nature of his work, or at least that’s what his father had always said. He wasn’t sure that it was true, like most things his father said.
He drove up to the gate of the guard shack and put his Audi in park. The guard took his ID and ran his eyes over the clipboard in his hand. The guard was old and looked as though he couldn’t guard much of anything. His eyes were dark, almost black. His forehead wrinkled as he scanned down the list. Finally, he tapped the ID against the clipboard, muttered something under his breath, and handed the card back to Lee.
Lee drove through the gate as it came up. He drove to the sandstone colored office building that sat off to the side of the mammoth metal sided studio. He parked his car and looked in the rearview mirror, one last time he thought, this was important. He had dark circles around his eyes from long nights sitting outside of cheating husband’s hotel rooms. His teeth were stained from the coffee and chewing tobacco he fueled himself with. He hadn’t shaved in almost a week and his facial hair was somewhere between unkempt and a beard.
He got out of the car and straightened out his suit. It didn’t fit just right but he had bought it and two others at a sale and didn’t have the extra money to get it tailored. He wasn’t quite sure what he was walking into, but Mr. Haywood had usually had the types of jobs that involved large sums of cash. He figured that the Me-Too movement had finally made its way to the doorstep of Cosmos Studio and Haywood was unwilling to go silently into a shameful exile. He was morally conflicted about the movement himself, as he thought about it again for a moment. He felt a small sense of justice for the actresses bringing the issue to the nations attention and rooting out the trolls that had been running Hollywood with an iron-fist since the days of Siegal, but he knew for every one actress that made it to the press there was eight or ten that were stopped by men like him. Guilt. He had gotten so far off track, but now was not the time to reevaluate his lifetimes worth of mistakes.
He walked through the mirror glass door and smiled as a big gust of cold air blasted him in the face. The receptionist told him to sit in one of the chairs off to the side and asked if he wanted anything to drink.
“I’ll have a coffee, if that’s not too much to ask for.” He said politely.
“Sure.” She said.
He could use the coffee. He had been out all night trying to find a loan shark who owed him four hundred dollars. He had never found the loan shark and instead spent most of the night in a dive bar off Wilshire. The receptionist came back with the coffee. She had a familiar look permanently stuck on her face. It was one that he couldn’t go a day without seeing. She like so many others in the city had come from somewhere far away to be a star in Hollywood, and slowly, day by day the city had ground her dream out of existence.
“Mr. Haywood will see you now.” She said as a door down the hallway slowly panned open.
He walked into the office and looked around. There was a large jewel encrusted elephant sitting on Mr. Haywood’s rosewood desk. To one side sat a full bar that was also made of rosewood. On the other side of the room was a large leather couch and matching chairs facing it. Mr. Haywood stood up and waved him closer.
“Lee, my boy. How’ve you been?”
“I’m alright. Glad to hear from you, glad to know I’m still on someone’s books.” Lee said.
“That whole business is unfortunate. I tell you, I don’t know if Hollywood is going to be around another thirty years. The way the media is these days, well, I don’t have to tell you. It’s a damn disgrace, they’ll just print anything.” Haywood said sitting back down. He was in his late sixties; his hair was white, and he wore sleek waspy eyeglasses. His voice had only gotten raspier since the two had last met.
“Getting hot, isn’t it?” Lee said trying to talk about anything but his own misfortune.
“Yeah, the fires in the fall are going to really roar this year, I bet.” Haywood said taking a sip of water. “I got a big job for ya.”
“Really?” Lee said perking up, it took every bit of effort he had not to stand at full attention.
“Lizzy, she’s in some real trouble down in Mexico. I don’t know, how else to put it. She went down there six months ago with her dope head boyfriend and we hadn’t heard a peep until he shows up last week saying that things have went all sideways.” Haywood said.
“Jesus, you should have called me sooner. I would do anything for Lizzy, you know that.” Lee had been in love with Lizzy since the two were kids. They spent a lot of time together back then. Lee’s father would be off doing god knows what and would leave Lee at the studio. Lizzy, being the daughter of the founder of the studio, had free reign over the whole place.
“Yeah. I know but we had to do our diligence on this deal.” Haywood said spreading his clasped hands apart and waving them in the air as if summoning up some sort of holy evidence of his superiority. “The boyfriend said they got into some money trouble and to make a long story short they got on the wrong side of the Jimenez Brothers. Some sort of cartel honchos.”
“I’ve heard of them. Not good men to be on the wrong side of.” Lee said. His mind was racing at Mach One now. He knew that he would do whatever it took for her, whatever.
“Hence the diligence. We had to make sure that this wasn’t some cash grab, wasn’t some plan the two of them had cooked up while banging rails poolside in Cancun, ya know. Anyway, he says that him and Lizzy were just going to escape but their passports got stolen one-night, fucking idiot. They were on their way to the embassy in Mexico City when they got stopped. He said they beat him up, cut of his finger and said they wanted five million dollars to get Lizzy back.”
“What?” Lee said taken aback.
“That’s what the little fiend said. He was missing a finger sure enough. I had some of my guys check it out. Finally made contact with the cartel. They seem to be very serious about this. And that’s what has brought you here today.” Haywood said. Lee wasn’t very surprised about the way that Haywood talked about his daughter. The reason the two of them were able to roam free in the studio was that Haywood and his wife had little interest in raising a child.
“I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Mr. Haywood. But, I’m not sure this is exactly my line of work. It seems like you might ought to get the authorities involved in this or at least some people with hostage negotiation experience.”
“Sure ya are. You’re in whatever kind of business that you get paid to be in. No reason to beat around the bush here son. Your business is all but dead and gone, nobody’s going to hire you with the kind of spotlight you have. I’m the only game in town. Now you can either play my game or eat a bullet in some shitbag motel like your old man.”
Lee didn’t like Mr. Haywood’s tone, although it was very familiar to him. Many of his well-to-do clients gave orders rather than asked for options. Lee thought about it for a couple of seconds longer. He had known Lizzy for most of his life, loved her for as long. He thought that might be why it was him in the room and not someone else. Maybe it was some sort of desperate attempt by Mr. Haywood to play at his emotions, or maybe it was fate. Perhaps the stars had aligned for him to have the chance to save Lizzy, and then somehow win her back. He reconciled whatever the reason he was in the room and given this opportunity, he should make the most of it, take the chances and maybe get the money and the girl.
“So…what’s the game?” Lee said, wanting to be sure of what he was being asked.
“I want you to bring my daughter back to this country. My wife and I care about here very much and she is the heiress to an empire. People do not kidnap heiress and live as free men, you understand?”
Lee nodded, “The recovery business is a lot more expensive then the private investigation business.”
“Of course it is. How much?”
“A million.” Lee said coolly, trying to restrain his nerves from leaping out of his body and taking for the door.
Haywood let out a guttural burst of air coming from deep in his body, a place Lee suspected to be the man’s wallet. “Alright. Fair enough.” Haywood said standing and walking across the room and behind the bar. He bent down, and Lee heard the familiar sounds of tumblers turning in a safe. Haywood returned and laid out a hundred thousand dollars. Lee stood up and touched the money. He had never seen that much cash before.
“That’s not what I asked for.” Lee said bravely, trying to stop his voice betraying the cool demeanor he was presenting.
“Call it a down payment. You’ll get the rest when I get my daughter back. And, I’m going to need you to confirm that there won’t be anyone coming to our good nation looking to settle a score. After I get those two things, you’ll get the rest of your money. Maybe I can see about making your little press problem disappear too, but only after, yeah?”
Lee thought for another second. How could Haywood help Lee make his problems go away, that was the type of things Lee did for the type of men Haywood was. Something wasn’t right with that, but it didn’t matter. Lee needed the money. Hell, he would have done what he was being asked to do for free if he were being honest with himself. Lizzy was one of the few people still alive that had ever shown Lee any sort of compassion, friendship, or love and she had shown him all three. It had been a long time ago, but it still meant something to him.
Lee took the money and shoved it into a couple of manila envelopes the receptionist gave him. His first stop was his bank. He went in and then to his safe deposit box. He stuffed the better part of seventy thousand dollars into it. He grabbed the Glock 19 that he kept in there and shut it. The Glock had the serial numbers ground off it, which is of course a felony.
He had a couple of friends that went into law enforcement once they came back from the desert. He shook their trees to see if they had any information about Lizzy and knew anything about her kidnapping. While he waited to hear back from them, he drove out to Victorville where he kept a storage unit, it was a hell of a drive, but the unit was much cheaper than it would have been in the city. He got his rifle case and rucksack, checking them both, assuring they had the required equipment for the job.
He kept thinking about seeing Lizzy again on the drive to the border. They had only talked for a few seconds in passing since their adolescence. After his father died, for a brief period of time Lee had lived with the Haywood’s at their ranch near Cambria. He and Lizzy would spend all day on their farm riding the horses, skinny dipping in the ponds, and having sex in the stables. It had come as a shock to Lee when she started unbuckling his pants for the first time. He had always been in love with her but got the distinct impression she didn’t feel the same way. Once they had started being public with their affection for each other Lee was told it was time for him to leave.
Those next years were hard for Lee. He didn’t have any family that would take him in. His father had ruined most of those relationships long ago. He didn’t know anything about his mother, only that she had left one day and not come home. He had never even seen a picture of her or known what she looked like. For his entire childhood it was just him and his dad.
Jensen Stephens had made a name for himself in Hollywood as the man who did the dirty work for the studios. At one point he was the best fixer in the city, but that was long before Lee’s time. The Jensen that Lee knew was a drunk, violent, and hard up for work almost always. His hands hurt from years of beating people senseless. He had a long scar from his hip to the middle of his rib cage from a knife fight. More than anything else Lee could remember about his father were the violent mood swings that would overtake him. One-minute Lee would be his “little partner” then five minutes later he would be “a little piece of shit I should have gave to the county years ago.”
Lee endured his father’s temper though, mainly because he had nothing or no one else. He didn’t know any of his family and it was hard to make friends when going to school was optional. Then during an especially rough stretch of business dealings Lee came home to the motel they had been living out of to find his father sitting up in a chair with a small dribble of blood flowing out of a hole on one side of his head. He didn’t say anything, he could see from the blood and brain matter on the other side of the wall that his father was gone. He walked over and saw a note of sorts written on the motel pad.
“Sorry.” That’s all his father had to leave him with.
When Mr. Haywood told him that it was time for him to leave he gave him fifty dollars and told him to see the world. He knew that the man was being facetious, that he was mortified that his daughter could be in a relationship with the help. After a couple of nights in a very seedy motel Lee found work with a bookkeeper his dad would do collections for from time to time. Karo was a fat Greek with a soft spot for the essentially homeless Lee. He let him live in the back of his shop and paid him seventy-five dollars a week to work the register at the grocery store he would call home. Besides being kind to Lee, Karo taught him a bit about bookkeeping and encouraged him to get a GED. Lee studied for months for the test and just eked out a passing score.
Lee then went on to get into boxing through Karo’s son Steph. Lee wasn’t very skilled but had enough rage and drive from the beatings he had received in his childhood to make him better than most. He turned professional at eighteen and racked up a record of 7-3 before enlisting in the Marines. He thought that the Corps would give him purpose and a home. While he was in Iraq, he watched Lizzy in television shows and a couple of straight to DVD movies. None of his comrades believed that he ever knew her, much less had loved her.
He served two tours of duty and saved every bit of money he could. When he got home he was going to buy into Karo’s book and pick back up boxing. Instead he learned that Steph had overdosed and Karo had a heart attack and died. That’s was his luck he thought to himself. He didn’t have any real skills, aside from what he had learned from his father, so he got a P.I. license and took out ads in the newspapers along with reconnecting with a handful of executive that had known him as a child.
Business hadn’t exactly boomed in the last three years, but it had kept him afloat. He had a solid reputation with the housewives of Beverly Hills and studio executives alike. Some of his jobs were following husbands around trying to catch them cheating. Other’s were convincing a reporter or blogger from posting a story about a celebrity by beating the shit out of them. He didn’t mind either one. He knew the world was hard, and he needed the money, so morality would have to take a back seat.
He kept driving through the night until he crossed into Mexico. He had been to Tijuana a couple of times during leave, mostly for bachelor parties or some other form of debauchery. This time he was looking for a place away from the neon lights and dance music that played all night and chose a motel on the outskirts of town that seemed to fit his desire. He caught a couple hours of sleep until he sprung awake from another nightmare at four in the morning. He cleaned his guns until the sun broke over the horizon and through the window curtains.
That morning he drove out of town and into the hills that stretched from the coast to the desert. He tried to find a place that looked especially desolate. Eventually he settled on what looked to be an abandoned road. He placed a couple of targets against the side of a hill then walked off about four hundred yards. It took him an hour to dial everything in just right, but he had his rifle sighted perfectly. He had hoped that one of his contacts would have gotten back to him by now, but they hadn’t. Not wanting to sit around, at the risk that Lizzy was in immediate danger, he dug the phone number Haywood had given him out of his pocket.
“Hello.” A voice said.
“I’m working for Mr. Haywood. I was told to call this number once I crossed the border.”
“You have the money?”
“Of course. I didn’t come all this way to haggle. We just want Lizzy back.”
“Good. We will send you the location. Come alone, no weapons.”
“I will need proof of life.” He interrupted.
“We’ll send a picture too.” The voice said and hung up.
His phone buzzed a couple of seconds later. The first of two messages read 8 p.m. tonight and had a location marked that was about three hours east, into the desert, from his current location. The second message was a picture of Lizzy holding up a newspaper with the date on it. Her hair was as silky and brown as ever. Her eyes were bloodshot, but still sparkled a little bit. It looked more like she had just woken up rather than being held captive. Lee was suspicious and figured that Mr. Haywood was probably right in his suspicion of the situation, things were beginning to make less sense now.
Lee got back in his car and drove out towards the location. He knew what Haywood wanted him to do and didn’t have much of a problem doing it. Much like the rest of his life, he felt that violence was the only way to go. The summer had burned everything brown. He gazed out over the vast expanse of nothingness, it reminded him a lot of Afghanistan. He was sent there for his second tour of duty. He thought things would be easy there, the American people at large thought that war had been over for years. But it was the opposite, he lost two close friends and almost died in a gun fight up in the mountains. He would drive out into the desert to kill every cartel member there was before he went back to Korengal.
The openness and barren land features provided some relief for him. He had been stuck in the city for too long, of course he was stuck there because he was broke, and desperate for work. But, after this job he would be flush with cash, certainly enough to go on a vacation, get out of town and let his trouble get lost in the back pages. It might even be enough money to start over, maybe Miami or even the Caribbean. Maybe with Lizzy.
He pulled off the road and re-examined the map location he was sent, ensuring he was turning at the right road. It was a desolate stretch of gravel that led back about a mile to small cabin he could just make out in the distance. Lee pulled in beside the cabin intentionally leaving the car facing ass out.
He quietly got out, Glock in hand and crept up to the side of the cabin. He peered through a window, it looked as though the place had been abandoned for a while. He set up a target in the driver seat of the car, turned it on and blasted the radio and air conditioning. He made his way northeast from his car up the side of a hill. He found a spot with a good viewing point and a clear line of sight about three hundred and fifty yards out. The location would be perfect because he would be camouflaged by the sitting sun.
In the Marines, Lee had become an accomplished marksman and earned the elusive titled of Scout Sniper. Most who accomplish so much stay in the Corps, but Lee wanted to go home and make a life for himself back in LA. When he would lay awake on his small cot, in a tent with a sandy floor, in the middle of the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq he would think about coming home. He would think about randomly bumping into Lizzy on the streets and the two hitting it off. He would think about them living together, having a family and raising their kids different then they were raised.
They had in-fact bumped into each other. He was going into the studio to see her father and she was leaving. At first, she walked right by him, not even recognizing him. He finally said something after she had walked past him. She turned and came back, asked how he had been, the two talked for a minute at most and then she said she had to go. He knew that she was different, that he had never crossed her mind at all. He thought this could be how he showed her that he was different too, that he was important.
He settled his mind as he saw an SUV approaching. Two men sat in the front seat, one in back with Lizzy. They parked a couple of yards from his car. The two in the front got out first, from his scope he could see that they had pistols in their hand. The man in the back got out, went around the back of the SUV and to the other side. He saw the man give Lizzy a peck on the cheek that she rejected, pushing him away. He could see that her hands were tied up and that she had a gag around her mouth. Maybe she really was being held captive, maybe not. Either way he had to get Lizzy back to LA and didn’t have the ransom money which left him with a limited amount of options.
His phone began to buzz. He saw the two men that had been in the front seat approaching the car, while the other man stood next to Lizzy, lazily holding her at gun point. He let the phone continue to ring as he took a breath. The sound of the rifle thundered through the hills and valleys repeatedly. In the matter of seconds all of three men lay motionless where they had stood moments earlier.
He threw the rifle over his shoulder and descended from his perch. He came across the driver first, who was still lightly breathing, he pulled out his Glock and put the man out of his misery. The other front seat passenger had not suffered at all, taking a clean shot to the heart. Lizzy was rolling around on the ground screaming through the gag and covered in blood. Her captor was missing a quarter of his head.
Lee told Lizzy to calm down and cut her free with a knife he kept clipped to his belt. He checked the SUV and then came back for her. He pulled out his phone and snapped three quick pictures. He thought about sending them to Haywood, but then thought better of it, in case the old man had some sort of alternative plan to turn Lee over to the authorities or something, in order to skirt the nine hundred thousand dollars he now owed Lee.
“We’ve got to move.” Lee said.
“Yeah. Yeah. Okay.” Lizzy said, appearing to have calmed down. Lee could see in her face that she was in a state of shock.
They got back in his car and headed for Tecate, the closest town for a border crossing. Lee knew that he wouldn’t have a problem getting over the border but wasn’t sure on how to get Lizzy across. The trunk was an option, but it was risky. He reasoned he would see how she was handling things and if he didn’t think she could handle the trunk they would pass through Tecate and head for the Consulate in Tijuana.
“Are you alright?”
“Lee. What did you? You killed him.” Lizzy said.
“That’s what I was paid to do. Your father told me you were in trouble and that you needed help. He said that he wanted to be sure that no one would be looking to take you away again.”
He pushed down the gas pedal. He was flying down the highway just a couple of hundred yards from the border, but miles from a crossing.
“That money was going to give us a life.” She mumbled.
“What? What money? Your father wasn’t ever going to pay a ransom, Lizzy.”
“Gaz and I were in love. I’m pregnant. And you killed him.” She said raising her voice and almost becoming frantic.
“Jesus.” He said thinking for a minute. He tried to focus on the road while running through this new information. “Why didn’t you just come home? Why the charade?”
“He’s Mexicali, you can’t opt out of the cartel. We were going to run away. God damn you. You worthless piece of trash.” She said.
“I thought you were in danger. I came to help you. I thought you needed me.” Lee said meagerly.
“Needed you? Who in this world has ever needed you? The only time I ever needed you was to piss off daddy, so he would send me to acting classes. Jesus, you’re a total fucking loser, you know that.”
“I…” Lee stated to speak but got choked up, tears began to run down his face. The truth he had been unwilling to accept for all these years had just been mashed right in his face. The terror that he had just been a burden to everyone he had ever cared about was raging in his mind. He saw something coming towards him out of the corner of his eye, it was a fist.
Lizzy hit him and hit him, then pushed the steering wheel sending the car off the road. In that moment Lee caught a case of whiskey throttle, so caught up in everything he never lifted his foot off the gas. The car eventually came to rest after running broadside into a small hill. The punching had stopped. Lizzy was crying. His heart was racing. He reached for his gun, but it had fallen in between the seat and the door.
When his sleeve returned to his sight it was covered in blood. He looked down to find his knife sticking out of where he was pretty sure his liver was. He didn’t feel any pain, only the warmth on his arm from the blood. He took a deep breath and started to try and speak. She kicked at him plunging the knife around inside of him. He gasped and opened the door, falling out.
She got out of the driver side of the car and stood over him. He stared at her as she went through his pockets. She took his money and his passport. “I hope you see your piece of shit dad in hell.” She said walking back to the car.
“Please don’t leave me.” He said crawling towards the car, his face covered in his own blood and tears. It took her a couple of times to get the car started as he continued to beg for help. When the car started, she drove around him and headed back the way they had come. He stared down the road for what seemed like hours hoping that she would come back. He crawled over to the hill where they had smashed into and propped himself up. He looked over his wound. He figured that he didn’t have very long to live considering the depth and location of the knife.
His best hope would be to try and make it to the border and pray that a Border Patrol agent would spot him or something like that. He started out walking, then crawling. All he could think about was trying to get back to LA. Maybe he would be able to reach out to Lizzy when he got back. He understood what she had done, but he could forgive her, if she could forgive him. They could raise her baby together and make a good life, a better one than he had. They would name him Jensen, he thought. He knew he was growing delirious.
Get up! His mind yelled at his body. He tried to wipe the dried blood off his face, with little success. He finally sat up. He was in intense pain, but that was a good thing he thought. He was cold and had lost a lot of blood, but he was alive. He knew that he had to leave the knife inside of him if he was going to live. He wondered if he could take the pain.
He staggered to his feet and continued his march north, towards freedom. He thought about the day and the events that had led him here. He thought about the minor celebrity that had ruined him over a domestic spat with her much more famous ex. He wondered if Haywood had played a role in his downfall, if the diligence that had been done was more encompassing than he had thought. He reasoned that it was pretty far-fetched and maybe the timeline wasn’t quite right, but Haywood was a despicable human, anything was possible.
His pace had slowed considerably, and the pain was going to over take him soon. Once his body couldn’t move anymore he fell to the desert floor and rolled over. He knew that he had wasted what was left of his life thinking about something that he would never have. Something that he could have never had. To people like Lizzy and her father he was expendable help, maybe even trash. To his father he had been a constant reminder of his mother and the mistakes he had made in his life. He stared up into the night sky. The stars were bright, he could just make out Orion’s belt. He wondered if he had made it back to America, if he had died in Mexico or America.