Disclaimers: Chapter one.

The coward calls the brave man rash; the rash man calls him a coward.




Chapter 31: (It's only fear that makes you run….)

Morning came early for the troubled friends. Kate was the first to open her eyes. Gazing at her partner, she made a vow to stop questioning every word, every action, and start living in this relationship completely. It was only too obvious that Jessie loved her, and there was no question about her feelings for the tall, complex actress. And she certainly couldn’t deny the fact that her life was anything but boring.

Soon after she awakened, a soft knock sounded at the door. "Jess, Katie, the hospital is on the phone. They need to talk to Jessie."

Kate nudged her lover with her elbow. "Come on sleepy head, you have a phone call."

Mumbling, Jessie reached for the phone on the nightstand next to her. "Hullo? Yes, this is she…WHAT? We’ll be there right away."

Slamming the phone down, Jessie jumped from the bed and rushed to the bathroom, grabbing towels and clothes on the way. Stopping in the doorway, she looked around as though she had lost something. Turning back to the bed, she spied a surprised looking Kate, slowly pulling back the covers to join her.

"Oh, babe, I am so sorry. Mom’s awake, and she’s asking for us. Says she has something important to tell me and wants to see Michael. They also said that it is imperative that you come too. Something about you being the catalyst to waking her up and all." Jessie’s eyes pleaded with Kate for forgiveness.

"Honey, it’s okay. I’m coming. No need for worry." Kate made reassuring noises as she stepped past Jessie, and into the bathroom.

While Kate started the shower, Jessie shouted out the door for Michael and Steven to be ready to go in 20 minutes. The boys packed a few pastries for the ride, and filled some travel mugs with coffee for the group. Michael backed Jessie’s personal vehicle out of the garage, and let it warm up while the women were dressing.

Working her way down the steps, Kate was surprised to see the car parked out in front, the engine rumbling quietly. Everyday was a new adventure with her lover, and Kate would not give it up for a single moment. Idling at the foot of the stairs was a bright red Cadillac convertible, with a white vinyl top, and white interior. By Kate’s estimate, it must have been an early 60’s model. Walking around lightly brushing the shiny surface with her fingertips, she could only shake her head in amusement.

"What’s so funny?" A soft, low voice chuckled behind her.

"For someone who wants to lead such a low-key life, you certainly have an interesting taste in cars." Kate laughed with her.

"Yeah, well, it was a gift from the past you might say. One of the few happy memories I had growing up, was the big old rattling Cadillac we had for the family car. The thing was a pile of junk, but I remember having fun in it, and pretending that I was someone special." Jessie’s eyes took on a wistful gaze.

"That’s really great honey. I’m glad you got to keep a bit of your "good" past. Well, we better get moving. Don’t want to keep the hospital waiting." Kate squeezed Jessie’s arm before sitting in the back seat of the waiting vehicle.

Squinting through the windshield, Jessie gestured for Katie to get out and get in front. "You surely don’t think that I’m going to let Michael drive my car any further than the driveway, do you?"

Kate smiled; amused at the glimpses of sibling rivalry, and other little carefully hidden aspects of Jessie that were beginning to appear on a more regular basis. She felt yet another layer of trepidation about their relationship slip quietly away, replaced by an even stronger love and determination in her heart.

Michael and Steven appeared, and slipped into the back seat, and the friends drove off to the hospital, and the waiting doctors. Michael was unusually quiet. Jessie caught glimpses of him in the rearview mirror, and noticed with some concern, that he had been crying.

Pulling into the parking lot, she asked Kate and Steven to go on ahead while she talked to Michael for a minute longer.

"What’s up little brother? Are you going to be okay?" Jessie gripped his shoulder lightly.

Scuffling his feet a little Michael shrugged his shoulders a few times. "I don’t know Jess…I mean here you’ve know all along that mom was in this hospital, heck, you even paid for it. And I knew nothing. I feel like a child, an idiot or something. I’m excited to see her, can’t wait even, but I wish you would have let me know before. I could have helped out Jess, maybe even brought her back sooner."

Jessica pulled Michael into a tight embrace. "I didn’t know what to do Mike. She was basically catatonic. No response whatsoever. I was trying to protect you from any more pain in your life. Really, I wasn’t trying to hurt you. There are so many empty places that I don’t know the answers to. Maybe mom can help us out."

"It’s okay Jess, I love you anyway. But in the future, you can tell me; I promise I won’t freak out. You’re my sister, and I will love you and Katie and mom forever. Understand?" Michael tilted his head to the side waiting for her answer.

"I understand Michael, and I promise, I won’t hide anything from you ever again." Taking his hand, she walked him into the hospital to reacquaint him with his mother.

Several miles away, Gregory was actually making love to Star. He had awakened early in the morning, and feeling stronger and more powerful than ever, he had decided to exercise some of that power over his faithful companion. Of course Star wasn’t in the least bit interested, but her years as a call girl, had made it easier for her to get through moments like this.

Star was pretty proud of herself, and feeling stronger as well. She had managed to cut way down on the heroin, and only use a little now and again to take the edge off. She had decided that keeping her wits about her, and catering to Gregory’s plans was the best way for her to survive. He was exhibiting such rapid personality changes, that she actually dared hope that if he got what he wanted, and captured the women as planned, that he might actually turn her loose rather than kill her or worse.

Pretending to be involved in the sweating, grunting pig act-taking place in and on her body, Star automatically made the proper responses, while her mind continued to work. The coming event could go either way. She could help Gregory capture the women, and carry out his deeds, or she could wait until he was occupied, and then try to escape herself. The problem was, if she escaped and Gregory caught up to her it would mean instant death. Considering the new skills he’s developed, the thought of dying at his hands made her stomach turn several times.

While her mind reeled with these thoughts, Gregory was caught up in a fantasy of his own. Each time he thrust his body into Star’s, he visualized that it was his beloved Jessie. Surely he thought, that this time she would stay with him for good. Jessica would see the error of her ways, once her little friends were gone. Gregory was so certain that she would come back to him willingly, convinced that the past weeks had only been a minor setback in their relationship.

Star closed her eyes, and counted the seconds until Gregory reached his climax, and rolled off of her, panting and whispering Jessica’s name. Playing into the charade, Star whispered back, her voice low, her words sounding just like Jessica. Gregory shuddered a few times, and turned back to drape his arms around her. Suddenly his eyes flew open, and the reality of who he was being tender to slipped back in.

Pulling back, he slapped her hard, hard enough to rattle her teeth inside her mouth. Stunned, Star slid off the side of the bed and ran for the bathroom. If she had any questions about which of the two options she had left for herself she should take, that action just sealed the decision. Star would look for her first available opportunity, and…escape!

Shaking his head a few times, Gregory’s uncontrolled mind returned to its now normal psychotic state. "STAR! Don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not again. YOU GOT THAT STAR! NEVER!"

Star just shook her head, while she watched the slowly developing bruise darken on her cheekbone. Suddenly sickened by the fact that she had let him have sex with her, she ran to the shower, turning the water to the hottest she could possibly have stood it. Star scrubbed and scrubbed until the water ran cold, and her skin was raw with her efforts. Slowly she closed her eyes, and leaned her head against the cool tiles. A soft click from the doorway made her look up, fear creeping across her eyes.

"What’sa matter Star? You don’t look so good. Got the heebie-jeebies from all that smack you been doing? What I said Star…I meant it. Next time you pretend to be Jessie, without my permission, and I break your neck…got it?" Gregory waggled his eyebrows at her, looking almost comical.

"Got it." Star whispered back.

"Good, now get the fuck out of that shower now, and there better be some hot water left, or I’ll make you see God." Gregory smiled at his little power game.

Silently praying, Star stepped out of the shower. She knew that there couldn’t possibly be much hot water left, but hoped beyond hope that there would be enough to at least get him started. She grabbed her towel, and stepped past him, not daring to look at him or make eye contact. Gregory slapped her hard on the rear end, but made no other moves to harm her in anyway.

Star moved back into the bedroom. She paused near the door, while Gregory turned the water on. No screams or swearing came from the vicinity of the bathroom, so Star felt a little relief. Maybe her luck had held out this time, and the water was hot enough for him. Another moment passed, and he actually started to sing. Star took the opportunity to dress, and find someplace else in the vast warehouse to be, somewhere Gregory would be unlikely to notice her.

It had been such a long time since Jessie had driven her own car. She truly enjoyed the feeling of the "land yacht" on the road, the way it turned and glided over the surface like a boat in calm waters. The other occupants seemed to be off in their own little worlds. No one was talking much, and that was just fine with Jess. She hadn’t decided yet how much longer they could all go before someone cracked at the seams. Earlier it had felt like Michael would be the first to go, but with Steven supporting him, and the promise of more time to talk later in the day, she was confident that Michael would hold on.

Kate was another matter altogether. Jessica stole a glance at her lover. Kate was quietly staring out the window, enjoying the passing scenery. Suddenly she smiled, and reached for Jessie’s hand, squeezing it softly.

"I see you looking at me, stop that and keep your eyes on the road please." Kate chuckled.

"Hey, I’m fine. How are you? What do you see outside the confines of our Urban Assault Vehicle?" Jessie smiled warmly back at her.

"Hmmm, I see landscapes, cows and cars. I see a story plot, and something to write about in my spare time. I see other planets, stars, and species. But most of all, I see you. This is your real home, this is the real you. I kind of like that. I like being included in this part of your life." Kate squeezed Jessie’s hand again, a warm tingling sensation creeping up her arm.

A slow blush crept up the side of Jessie’s neck. "I don’t think I could have made it this far without you. I’m proud to have you with me."

"Thanks, I love you too." Kate smiled back, her own cheeks blushing with the compliment.

The two women stopped talking then, the need for words passing by. Kate recognized the area they were in, and knew that the hospital was only a few blocks away. In a very short time, Jessie signaled, piloting the large car into the parking lot, as though she were docking an ocean liner in port.

Just as she settled into a vacant spot, each of the friends cell phones began to ring. Digging through pockets, fanny packs, etc. they almost simultaneously said hello into their respective instruments.

"This is Jessica Ryan…"

"This is Steven…"

"This is Kate McKenna…"

"This is Michael can I help you?"

Jessie listened closely to the voice on the other end of her phone. It was Alice, Justin Graves’s secretary. It seemed that Justin wanted to speak to Jessie about returning to the show…immediately. Jessie chuckled, and told Alice to inform her employer that she was otherwise occupied, and that she would be returning the following Monday, and not a moment too soon.

Steven’s caller was an older woman, who frequently used him as an escort to various charity functions, and other public events. She was attending a major fundraiser on the coming Friday, and wanted to know if he was available. Steven apologized, and promised that he would be available for the next event.

Michael had the pleasure of hearing from Diane, the personnel agent that was responsible for setting up jobs for Steven and Katie. She was dying to know where they were, and what they were up to. Rumors had been flying around LA, and the lowest, darkest corners of the entertainment world, and she knew that most of it was crap. She figured if she could contact Michael or Steven, she could get on the inside track. Michael promised her a conference call with all the players, if she could just remain patient until the evening.

Jessie was the first to know that beyond her greeting, Kate had not uttered a single word. Her face was drawn, and a darkness that hadn’t been there before was shading her eyes. Periodically she would nod her head, and then shake it back and forth. At one point, her face went so pale that Jessie was afraid she might pass out. Reaching for Kate’s hand again, she squeezed it lightly, hoping to attract her attention, and get an indication as to who might be on the other end of the call. For a moment she thought it might be Gregory, but this didn’t have a "Gregory" feel to it.

Kate raised her hand to Jessie, indicating that she would be done in a few more minutes. "Yes, I understand, thank you for calling."

Hanging up, Kate turned her face towards the window of the car, trying to regain some of her composure.

"Honey? Are you okay? Who was that?" Jessie talked quietly, not wanting to pry, but frantic with the way Kate was reacting.

"I…uh…I’m sorry, I was just caught off guard. That was Mr. Shimada. You know, the man from the Japanese mafia. He wanted to warn me." Kate’s nervousness was overwhelming her ability to speak.

Jessie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Warn you about what?

"Umm, his spies have been trying to locate Gregory. They’ve noted some traffic on the Internet, and they believe that it might be him. It seems that he’s been corresponding with a known, but very mysterious, person who goes by the name of Baby Doll. According to Mr. Shimada, this man is very dangerous. He captures women and…" Her voice trailed off.

The silence in the car was deafening to Jessie, as all at once their collective minds began to imagine the message that Kate had received.

"He captures women and tortures them. Mr. Shimada believes that he may be mentoring Gregory. He thinks that Gregory is preparing for something big, something that may involve us. He also believes that Laura may be involved somehow." The fear in Kate’s voice caused Jessica to look up sharply.

"Involve her how?" Jessie said a bit too harshly.

Cringing at the tone of voice, Katie shook her head. "I don’t know. He couldn’t say. He just advised me to be careful. He also asked that if we somehow come into contact with Gregory to give it our best effort to contact him. He’s left a message at your home, with a number where we can reach him. He assured me that he will use all of his resources to protect us, but he also wanted me to understand that we are essentially baited. His primary goal is to capture Gregory."

Jessie pondered her lover’s words a moment longer. "Do you think we should ignore him, listen to him, or call the cops?"

"I think it’s in our best interests to listen to him. I admit, I am just as afraid of Mr. Shimada, as I am of Gregory, but if I have to choose who to side with, then he’s the one. I can’t believe that Gregory is receiving "training" from that demented weirdo. Yuck, Baby Doll." Kate made as though she might throw up.

"Really, that is sick. We better call Laura later, and let her know to be even more careful. Think she’ll listen to us?" Jessie’s eyebrow went up in question.

Steven suddenly snorted. "I doubt it. Laura doesn’t listen too much of anything anyone says. She has this image that she’s ten feet tall and bullet proof. It won’t be easy to convince her."

"Yeah, well, I’ll try my best. After all, we’re going to see them tomorrow, and if I have to use April as leverage, I will." Kate adopted a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

Deciding that there was nothing more to discuss on the subject for the moment, they made plans to share all of their messages, and start on some strategies later at dinner. Leaving the car, the group headed into the hospital for their morning visit with numerous doctors, nurses, and finally Jessie and Michael’s mother.

The doctor’s were quick to warn Jessie that their mother’s return to reality may only be temporary. Similar to the character in the movie Awakening, that came out of a coma, only to revert back after several months. She had shown signs of coherency, and recovery, still, there were no guarantees.

After informing them of her absence for the next day, Jessie strode purposefully down the hall, the rest of the group trailing after her. She entered the room first, the rest staying back in case it was too much for their mother to handle all at once.

A young candy striper was visiting, babbling on about boys, school, and cars, not necessarily in that order. Noting Jessie’s arrival, she excused herself and exited the room. The head nurse had alerted Jessie ahead of time that they had all kinds of volunteers coming and going, trying to keep her mother focused on the present.

At Jessie’s approach, her mother’s tired blue eyes focused on her. "Jessie?"

"Yes momma, it’s me…" Jessie fought hard to keep her tears in check.

"It’s good you’re here. I have important things to tell you Jessie. Real important. Too much time has gone by, and I am not certain that my wits will stay with me. Where is your brother Michael? I want to see him too, and that cute little friend of yours. She loves you Jessica, I can see it in her eyes. You take care of her." Her voice trailed off, her unused vocal chords protesting at the long sentences she spoke to her daughter.

"They’re here momma. They wanted to wait until you were ready for them. I’ll get them now if you want." Jessie started to rise, when all three came bursting into the room.

Michael was at the head of the group, tears already streaming down his cheeks. "Mom? Is that you? It’s me, Michael."

"I see you son. You need a haircut, but aren’t you handsome. Look just like your sister. And who’s this young man?" She whispered.

"Oh, this is Steven. He’s my…friend." Michael wasn’t sure how to approach their relationship, considering the amount of strain, and the number of years that had gone by.

"Come around Steven I want to see if you’re worthy enough for my son’s heart." Startled, Steven did as he was told.

"Umm, I…I’m pleased to meet you ma’am." Steven stammered.

"Hmm, and I you. He loves you Michael. You must take care of him." She turned her unsettling gaze to Kate, who was standing back in the shadows.

Kate felt as though a hand had reached out and touched her mind. She felt like she was being pulled to stand in front of Jessie’s frail mother. Moving forward without so much as an inch of control, Kate stepped past the others, and knelt at her feet, taking her hand as though an unseen force were controlling each of her actions.

"Now, you young lady are in extreme danger. I can "see" this as plain as the nose on your face. Do you know what I am referring too?" The older woman gazed intently into Kate’s eyes.

The others were dazed. The scene unfolding in front of them was something right out of the Twilight Zone. Jessie interrupted the conversation first.

"Mother, why are you saying that? You’re scaring her, and you’re scaring us." Jessica couldn’t keep the concern out of her voice.

"I’m saying it, because it’s true. There is a darkness hanging over her that I can almost taste. Someone is planning to do great harm to her. If I go back, I will see who it is, but I may not return." She continued to stare at Kate, her gaze never wavering.

"What do you mean go back? And not returning? What does that mean?" Kate whispered.

"I have not been idle in my years of contemplation. I have taken many trips through the spirit worlds. That’s right, worlds. There is more than one. Many in fact. I have a guide. Jessie and Michael’s brother. If I go back though, I may not be able to return to the present. The spirits are very jealous, and their brother is no exception. Your power, Miss Katie, it was your power that pulled me through." The old woman smiled, still unwilling to let go of Kate’s attention.

Jessie shivered, almost as though something had walked over her grave. A chill blew through the room, carrying the light scent of orange blossoms, and Old Spice aftershave. It instantly reminded her of growing up, and her older brother. They had taken walks in the nearby orange groves when they were children. If what her mother was saying was true, then her brother was dead.

"Mom, why are you saying these things? This doesn’t make any sense. This sounds like voodoo mumbo jumbo or something." Jessica tried to catch her mother’s attention, anything to get her to let go of Kate’s stare.

"It is voodoo mumbo jumbo Jessica. Do you remember where I was born? Your brother left here after your father’s spirit left his body. He ran from the authorities, back to my hometown. He was determined to stay out of jail, and to discover as much about my beginnings as possible. He did kill your father Jessie. If he hadn’t I would have. But he wanted to protect my soul. You see there’s a curse on me since my childhood. Your father was sent to me by this curse, and I did not have the power to hold him back. I was blinded by his swarthy good looks, unable to use the power that was given me by birth. The power to see his evil…until it was too late." Absently she reached for her water glass, still holding Kate prisoner with her gaze.

"You may not believe me, but it’s true. Kevin’s spirit has been keeping me safe from your father’s revenge. Until his spirit is vanquished, you are all in danger. Tell no one outside this group that I have awakened. You won’t know whose skin he’s sharing, but he will find out, and he will seek his revenge." Suddenly she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep, no longer able to keep up the energy needed to stay awake and communicate.

As suddenly as she fell asleep, Kate fell backwards, bumping her head against the floor. Jessie was immediately at her side, helping her to sit up.

"What happened?" Jessie was beginning to sound slightly hysterical.

"I…don’t know. It was really strange. It felt like she had this hold on me, as though an invisible hand was holding me in place. I started to see glimpses of really scary things flashing through her eyes. I don’t know what to say." Kate’s voice was weak.

The nurse came and announced that they would all have to leave, since the older woman had fallen asleep. Wandering down the hallway to the waiting room, they were all beginning to feel as though they had just had a group hallucination. Michael was disappointed that he couldn’t have talked to his mother more, but he planned to wait around to see if she was going to wake up. The four of them sat quietly for a moment, gathering their thoughts again.

"Jess, you don’t suppose that your father’s spirit has taken up residence with Gregory do you? I mean is that even possible?" Kate rubbed the sore spot on the back of her head.

"Honey, I don’t know what to believe. Part of me is scared to death, and the other part, the one I really want to believe is that its possible my mother is delusional. I mean, come on. I know there were some mysteries about my mother when I was a kid, and I remember her doing things like invoking the evil eye and all, but I just thought she was a little quirky. I’m not sure what to believe about the things she said. As far as I’m concerned, Gregory is his own brand of evil." Jessie reached for her hand, squeezing it with something less than assurance.

"Well, I guess we had better take her advice, at least for now. I mean what if we didn’t, and something bad happened?" Kate’s hand shook ever so slightly.

"Well, okay, if you say so…but, I don’t think anything bad is going to happen. However, as long as Gregory’s whereabouts remain "unknown", and we’ve got other weasels, like Mr. Shimada hanging around, makes me think we should be a little cautious." Jessie tried to smile, but only succeeded halfway.

"Yeah, I agree." Michael chimed in.

"You do?" Jessie asked, a smirk crossing her face.

"Yeah, is there something wrong with that? I’m telling you, that this whole thing is giving me the willy’s. Better to be safe than sorry." Michael smirked back.

"Okay, then it’s agreed, we don’t talk about mom, or any of the circumstances around her to anyone. Not a word." Jessie made eye contact with the group.

Heads all nodded, and everyone murmured their agreement. Michael and Steven stood and decided to find a soda machine somewhere, both of them deeply lost in their thoughts. Kate sidled up to Jessie, threading her arm through her lovers, and leaned her head on her shoulder. Back in the hospital bed, Jessie’s mother dreamed about things too frightening for even the strongest mind.

Continued in Chapter 32…


Return to The Bard's Corner