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Then I Found You
By Simona Taylor
BET BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Roslyn Carrington
All right reserved.
It was impossible to live with them, and it would hardly be feasible to scrunch them all together on some huge ice floe in, oh, say Antarctica, with enough sports channels, beer, chips and guacamole to last a good long time.
But at least that particular ice floe fantasy, which Kenya seemed to be having more than usual these days, was now serving to keep her sane as she endured the prolonged ranting of the man pacing before her.
"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Ryan Carey asked for the tenth time in the past few minutes. He was a fairly tall man, with a florid, freckled face that competed for attention with his thicket of carrot-colored hair. His anxious green eyes bugged out as he frantically sought to distract her from the task at hand, and his Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as though he had choked on an oversized chunk of fruit. "Do you? Do you?"
"Packing." Kenya tried to sound calm, but her shaking hands belied the flippant nonchalance of her answer. To illustrate the point, she folded a pair of jeans and crammed it into her ivory-colored suitcase. It wasn't a very large suitcase and it was already bulging at the seams. But she hadn't thought to buy a larger one, because she wouldn't need much clothing where she was going. She wouldn't be gone long-or so she hoped.
"You're in the middle of rehearsals! You can't just walk away!"
"I talked to the producers. They're willing to let me have some time. A little time, that's all I need."
"Oh, I'm sure that must have made them very happy," Ryan countered sarcastically. "Having you walk out on them just as they had decided to take a chance on you. Just when they'd invested so much in you." He looked at her as though she'd just given away state secrets to the enemy.
"Of course, they weren't happy." She hung her head a little sheepishly, fully aware of the enormity of her effrontery. She was a minnow asking favors of whales. Her new employers-a large East Coast film company-really had invested a lot in her, treating her with great respect, doing everything to make sure she was comfortable. Even the hotel room in which they stood was paid for by the studio-and here she was, absconding. "But they're willing to let me take time off."
"Suicide," Ryan intoned darkly. "You've gone and killed your career just as it's begun to take off. Just as you've made something of yourself."
She hoped he was wrong. Please, let him be wrong! Her career, her art, meant so much to her. For as long as she could remember, acting was all she'd ever wanted to do. Being able to cloak yourself in someone else's persona, being able to become someone else, was what she lived for. Was she really going to lose it all if she made this trip?
She sat heavily on the edge of the hotel bed with her make-up kit on her lap and, for want of something to do with her hands, toyed with the brass clasp, opening and closing it, opening and closing. Click. Click. In spite of the incessant, muffled roar of the Manhattan traffic, which penetrated even the closed window, the tiny sound echoed in the otherwise noiseless room like the chatter of nervous teeth.
Sensing a moment of weakness, he leaped on it and drove in the wedge. "Think of how hard you've worked to get where you are. Think of all the bit parts, the crowd scenes, the 6 A.M. casting calls, the rejections ..."
"I know," she murmured.
"Think of the shifts you spent waiting tables and slinging hash browns in one greasy spoon after the next, just to pay for your tuition. Julliard's an expensive school."
"I know, Ryan! But I'm telling you-"
"Even if you're willing to turn a blind eye to the enormity of the opportunity you're putting at risk-and as your manager, I beg you, implore you, not to do so-think about it this way: this job alone will pay off your entire student loan, and you'll still have more than enough to move out of your parents' house and buy yourself a nice place of your own. You could even ..." He waved his arms expansively in the air, trying to illustrate the chance she was giving up. "You could even get better help for your father-"
"Now, that's enough!" Her sharp response was enough to halt Ryan's spiel, if only temporarily. "Don't talk about my father! I'm doing the best I can for him. And my mother. I know they need the money. I know we could get better attention for him if I stayed, but this ... I need to do this. I need to go."
"To Trinidad?" Ryan was incredulous. "Who needs to go to Trinidad?"
"I do." She forced her fingers to cease their agitated fiddling with the clasp on the make-up case and set it down carefully on the bed. There were things Ryan didn't know and couldn't know about her trip. She was forbidden to tell anyone, even those she trusted.
Although Ryan had been her manager for a mere three months or so, she supposed she did trust him-at least, as much as she could trust anyone-considering the debacle that her relationship with her last manager had been. The mere thought of Tobias, in all his spiteful, evil beauty, made her wince, and the weight of anguish and regret that she had been carrying around in the pit of her stomach ever since their breakup made its presence felt.
Toby, public relations genius, career planner extraordinaire, devil incarnate. Toby had taken her from part-time gigs in small dinner theaters that were too far from Broadway to even be considered Off Off Broadway, to walk-ons on network soap operas. It was only a matter of time before his charm, connections, and influence had won her small speaking roles in minor independent films ... and then those speaking roles had grown larger.
In that astounding way in which careers in the movie industry rose like meteors in the night sky, suddenly she'd become someone. Not a celebrity, surely, not a star, she always reminded herself modestly. But someone that people who knew movies, people who made movies, were interested in. She'd actually landed a role in a major film, the kind that played in first-run theaters. It was a supporting role, with maybe twenty minutes of screen time total, but it was the kind of role that most actresses prayed for all their careers and never saw materialize. Her name would appear in the opening credits, way after those of the lead players, of course, but in the opening credits, remaining on screen for several seconds before fading and not, as it usually did, quickly scrolling upward in tiny print at the end of the movie, with character titles such as "girl on bus" or "woman in red hat."
There weren't many good supporting roles for young black women, at least, not very many positive ones. While both the East and West Coast film industry abounded with parts for women like her as corpses, addicts, and prostitutes, Kenya had sought and achieved more, and it was all thanks to her former manager.
Toby had won her a chance of a lifetime. Then he'd cut out her heart-not cleanly, with the accuracy of a surgeon-but brutally, mercilessly, leaving her torn and bleeding.
She had allowed him to manage not only her career, but her image, her life, and her relationships. At the time that she had met him, he had been forty to her twenty-three. He had known more about living well than she could have ever dreamed and had set about teaching her with Pygmalion's intensity. He'd dictated how she should style her hair: permed, in a warm chestnut rinse with a hint of fiery highlights, and precision cut into a pixie style, which suited her small, oval face. He'd told her how to dress: stylish and sexy, but not outrageously so. He'd taught her about wine and fine cuisine.
And then, he'd begun to dictate whom she could and could not see, and how she should spend her weekends. Where she should party, which friendships she should maintain, and whom she should excise from her life. She'd been awed enough by him to think that she loved him, and, damn him, he'd been content to nurture that illusion to further his aim of exerting total control. Extricating herself when the suffocating confines of his tender mercies had become too much had taken determination, and the firestorm that had followed was too much for her to think about. Especially now, when there was so much more on her mind.
Kenya rubbed her hand over her brow. Even the dim hotel lights burned much too brightly for her. In just two days she was flying out to the island of Trinidad, not for a sudden, impetuous Caribbean getaway, as Ryan thought, but on a matter of life and death.
A mission of mercy.
Ryan was still staring at her, arms folded now, waiting for her to say something, anything, to clarify her position, justify her actions. "I have to go," she repeated stubbornly.
Ryan sighed the sigh of a man defeated. "Very well. Let me come with you, then."
"No!" she said hastily. What she had to do needed to be done privately. Quietly. "I'm going alone."
"You can't fly there by yourself. And besides, it's February. Isn't there some kind of Mardi Gras thing going on down there?"
"Carnival," she acknowledged. All her life, she'd heard stories about Trinidad, and in those stories, the annual Carnival festival was featured prominently. She'd always yearned to visit, to see with her own eyes the stuff of fairy tales. But there would be no time to appreciate the beauty and excitement that awaited her. This was not a vacation.
"Isn't it going to be crazy? People and parties? All over the street? What if something happens to you! You're due on the set in two weeks! Suppose you get hurt?"
"I won't get hurt." She tried to sound convincing. "I'll be all right." To be honest, she was scared out of her mind. Off to meet a stranger, a hostile stranger, to strike a bargain with unknown terms. That didn't meet her definition of being "all right," but she had to try. "Besides, you can't come with me. I'm not your only client. You have other clients to tend to."
"You're my most promising one," he said softly. "You have a door wide open to you that very few even approach. My job is to make sure you cross the threshold."
Kenya got up from the bed, uncurling her stiff legs from under her, and walked across the soft carpet to touch him on the arm. "I'll be fine, Ryan," she assured him. "You don't have to worry about me."
His anxiety abated with her plea. "I am worried about you, Kenya. If you don't want me with you, at least take a friend."
"I don't know anyone to take." That admission alone took a great deal of strength. Between the demands of her career, managing her father's illness, and Toby's merciless culling of her relationships, she had precious few friends left. And none were close enough to confide in in her time of need, much less follow her to the Caribbean on a whim.
Ryan gave her a long, searching look before he sighed again, this time in defeat. "Very well, Kenya. Go ahead. And God be with you." He reached beyond her to the mantel, sweeping up her airline tickets and travel itinerary, giving them a long, hard look before replacing them. Then he retrieved his coat and hat from the back of a chair where he had thrown them and prepared to leave.
"I'll call you," she promised. At least it would give her a friendly voice to look forward to. "Soon as I get there."
Ryan responded with a non sequitur. "You won't be alone."
She looked perplexed. "What's that?"
"There'll be someone watching over you," he said. It was more an assertion to himself than a response to her question.
An uneasy sensation ran down the back of Kenya's neck. Surely, he was talking in the spiritual sense. Tell me he's talking about angels. But then he had to be. What else could he mean? Who else could be watching over her?
Even though Ryan's departure meant that his attempts at persuasion were over, Kenya was sorry to see him go. Once he left, she would be alone again in this big, empty, cold hotel room. As she watched Ryan let himself out, shrugging his heavy coat on as he did so, she felt an almost panicked urge to call him back, sit him down, spill the beans, ask for advice, and plead for help. But she steeled her nerves, did her best to look him square in the eyes, and wish him a good evening.
He nodded and left without another word.
Always alone. It wasn't too bad, she reminded herself, as long as you found something to fill the time with. There was little left to pack and an entire night and day to get through before her flight was due to leave. There were books and magazines on the side table, and the ever-present television that seemed to watch her with jaded eyes.
Instead of entertainment, she was drawn-with the same fatalistic attraction of a small insect toward the bright, yawning mouth of a Venus flytrap-to a large white envelope that she'd hastily shoved into the drawer of the nightstand beside the Gideon Bible when Ryan had shown up unannounced.
She removed the contents of the envelope and laid them out on the bed. Over the few weeks that these papers had been in her possession, not a day had passed when she hadn't taken them out and pored worriedly over them. The several sheets of paper were worn soft by her constant handling. On the face of it, they didn't amount to much: a few faxed documents and four or five handwritten letters, their accompanying envelopes festooned with brilliantly colored Trinidad and Tobago postage stamps featuring exotic wildlife. The faxes were blurred, but not so much that she could not decipher the coat of arms of the country and the information that they purported to support.
Information that could destroy her family.
She read them over again, even though she knew each word, each punctuation mark, by heart. The letters were meticulously written, couched in pleasantries that made it hard for her to believe that they contained, in essence, a threat that could only be averted by a visit to the letter writer. The fact that this person had taken the time to congratulate her on her success and inquire about the weather, her well-being, and the health of her parents made the demand for her presence all the more frightening. A cold, bald, simple missive would have been less creepy, easier to swallow.
"I hope you know what you're doing," she said to herself as she refolded the pieces of paper and inserted them carefully into her handbag. Just how she would meet up with him once she got there was anyone's guess. There was no return address on any of the letters and no contact number anywhere to be seen. With luck, once she arrived in Trinidad, she would be able to sit down and think hard about what she would do next. It was not like her to be that reckless. But all choice had been snatched from her hands.
Putting her bag aside and clearing away the suitcase and debris of her packing, Kenya stretched out on the bed, above the covers, and stared up at the ceiling, trying a few deep breathing exercises in an effort to relax. It was just as well that she had nothing to do tonight. She needed all the rest she could get in preparation for what was to come.
It wouldn't be pleasant. Blackmail never was.
Chapter TwoDamon Saint Rose had a headache. It wasn't one of those "take two aspirin and have a nap" kinds of headaches. It was more like one of those "hit between the eyes with a sack of potatoes" kind of headaches. Some cruel and unjust god was reaching down, grasping the tight bundle of nerves that sat at the point where his massive shoulders met, and wrenching it upward in twisted, tortured handfuls, sending shards of pain dancing inside his skull. The conversation he was having with his cousin, Leshawn, wasn't helping much, either.
"I've been either in the air, in an airport, or getting to and from an airport for the past forty-eight hours, Leshawn," Damon protested.
"And of those forty-eight hours," Damon continued wearily, "I've had three, maybe four hours' sleep, tops."
"I know. I know you're tired. Why don't you sit down? For a little while, at least. Hear me out." Leshawn sounded sympathetic, almost sheepish, making Damon feel rotten for complaining.
Excerpted from Then I Found You by Simona Taylor Copyright © 2005 by Roslyn Carrington. Excerpted by permission.
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