Staring out the window of the jumbo jet in a trance, I watched the day meet the night, separated by a crimson streak. The dark against the light made me wonder what the evening's end might hold. Arriving in L.A., I exited the plane and looked around. No one made eye contact. I waited until the last passenger had come out. Still no one. I swallowed hard. Don't panic. I noticed a fat man seated alone in the waiting area. About 280 pounds lopped over both sides of the seat. Could that be him? God, I hope not, he doesn't look like he could get out of his own way.
Then I spotted a rather large man standing near the pay phones wearing jeans and a sport jacket. His legs and arms were thick with solid muscle. He stood about six-foot-four, and his light brown hair had a hint of natural wave. It was obvious his nose had been broken several times, and the scar on his left cheek spread three inches in length. No doubt, this was the man. Central Casting would have cast him for the part he was about to play. But this was not a movie. As he walked toward me, his lips curved upward in an easy smile.
"Hi, I'm Al. You're even prettier than your picture," he said, relieving me of my carry-on bag.
"Thanks." I flushed a little and quickly changed the subject. "I was just about to call Joe. I didn't think you were going to show."
"I saw you the minute you got off the plane, but I wanted to be sure you didn't have an unwelcome visitor waiting somewhere in the wings."
We watched the bags as they came down the conveyor belt. "Why don't you get the car, Al, and I'll wait here?"
"Sorry, you'll have to walk. I can't leave you here alone."
"Walk?" I said, looking down at my luggage. How the hell could we possibly walk with all this stuff? Al picked up my bags as if they were filled with feathers. For the first time in a long while, I felt safe.
We drove down Century Boulevard to the 405 freeway and headed north to Beverly Hills.
"So, tell me about this guy. What's the story?”
"Believe me, Al, when I tell you I've met some sick people in this world. I really have. Hell, I even know the Hillside Strangler that was just caught. He’s been in my home in Rochester. But this guy tops them all. He's decided that if he can't have me then nobody can."
I continued to tell him of my bizarre encounters with Steve over the last few months. He listened intently.
"What does he look like?"
"He's not a bad-looking guy. You'd never know to look at him that his mind is so warped. He's tall, about six-foot-one, black curly hair—a lot of it." Al hung heavily on my every word, nodding occasionally, storing the information. "Built pretty good for not working out."
"What's his nationality?"
"He's a Jew? Does Joe know this guy's a Jew?”
“People are people, Al. There is another world out there that doesn't include Italians, you know. Are you Italian?”
"Yeah," he answered, as if insulted.
"Well, you could pass for a mayonnaise-face,” I said, laughing. “What's your last name?"
"You don't need to know," he said coldly.
"You’re right. I don't."
"Does he carry a gun?"
"Yes, he has a .38 and a shotgun. He cornered me in my bedroom two weeks ago with the shotgun. I tried to talk him down by making him think I cared about him. When I thought I had him convinced, I grabbed for the gun. It went off. You'll see the hole in my wall when we get there. Thank God no one was walking by outside when it happened. I took off for New York the same day."
"Do you think he'll be around tonight?"
"I'm sure he's checking the place every day. The minute he knows I'm back, he'll be there. No doubt about it.”
We turned off Wilshire Boulevard onto South Elm Drive. Anything south of Wilshire was considered the slums of Beverly Hills—quite a contrast to the mansions just one block to the north. Al drove past the apartment and around the block twice before parking in the alley. Leaving the luggage behind, we walked quietly up the stairs. The door was slightly ajar. I cautiously pushed it open. Al followed close behind with a gun in his hand.
Al entered first. I turned on the light switch and closed the door. He walked slowly through each room. All of my plants were dead—not just wilting from lack of water—they were dead. A Clorox bottle lay on the floor next to my big palm. It was empty. That sick bastard had poured Clorox in every one of my plants.
Al came back downstairs. "It's all clear—but you're not going to like it up there," he said, stuffing the gun in his pants.
With Al following I climbed the stairs, dread filling my belly. My closet doors were open and pieces of clothing were scattered all over the floor. Steve had taken one piece of every suit and scissored them into little shreds. One outfit was missing the pants, another was missing the jacket, another the vest. I wanted to cry. To build my wardrobe back up again had taken forever.
My pillows and comforter were slashed—feathers were everywhere. Pictures hung upside down on the walls. He had drawn mustaches on many of the photographs in my portfolio, knowing I'd be crippled without my tools.
Al stood behind me observing the scene. The reality of the stories I'd told him on the drive from the airport had some significance now. Above the shotgun hole in the wall, in red Magic Marker, he had written, YOUR HEART, with an arrow pointing to the hole.
"This guy's one twisted character,” Al said shaking his head from side to side in disbelief. Obviously, he had never encountered this level of sickness before. Neither had I.
"How have you managed to survive this maniac all alone? There's no doubt, this guy wants your blood... Jesus Christ,” he said, wide-eyed. “I'm going to enjoy this job."
Rage built inside me. It had been suppressed by fear for too long. With Al to protect me, I felt safe. Now I could allow the rage to surface—and surface it did.
Georgia Black took over. That son-of-a-bitch is going to pay.
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