The Ordeal - a novella by CL Stegall

 

Hollywood Can Kill

Kimberly Severance is an up and coming actress when a terrible twist of fate threatens to destroy her career – and life – just as it is really starting.

Six years later, Kim has tried to put the past behind her and make a fresh start. She is now a top name in Hollywood and a powerful woman in her own right. When a figure from her past resurfaces, Kim realizes you can never escape your misdeeds.

But, Kim is not the same frightened little girl she was those long six years past. She feels much more prepared to face the dangers that accompany being a person of fame. And, she will stop at nothing to protect all that she has accomplished.

Will this twist be the one to destroy her? Or, will she be able to face down the demons of fame once more?

::  PRELUDE ::

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” The vivid green of Kim’s eyes glowed with the sheen of recently shed tears. The dark mascara could not hide the pain in those eyes. With a swish of her hair, she turned to the window and hugged herself tightly, as if there were no one else in the world who would.

“The arraignment is tomorrow. I know you’re hesitant but I think it’ll do you good to be there.” Laura Brenner had been a licensed attorney for all of three years. This case dug into her heart more than anything that had come before it. Her client seemed to be ignoring her at the moment but she was not about to push the woman any further. Nearly three months had passed since the arrest. Almost a year since the crime itself.

“I know I’ll have to face him eventually.” Kimberly Severance was an aspiring actress with two films under her belt, both of which had been well-received, if not exactly hits. “You realize what this could do to the film?” she said aloud, not expecting an actual answer. The film, A Handle on Forever, had been completed six months ago. The trial was not a factor in the setting of the release date; yet, the two had coincided with unfortunate synchronicity. Kimberly was not taking it well.

“In all honesty, Kim,” Laura replied, “it could generate considerable positive press. You know how Hollywood loves a scandal.” As soon as she said it, she regretted it. Kimberly turned to her with a look of pain.

“A scandal?” Her words were whispered in defense. “Is that how you see this? Is it how you see me?”

“Kim, that’s not what I…”

“Do you still not have any idea what I went through? What I’m still going through? I spent my whole life working for this moment, this film. I spent my every waking moment striving for the life I dreamed of since I was kid. I was going to be a movie star… no matter what. Then, out of the blue, this threatened to take it all away from me. Not only the life I dreamed of, but also the life I had. Period.” Her tears were now streaming down her cheeks even as her voice steadied and increased in volume until she was speaking as if she were behind a podium. Brenner believed wholeheartedly that Kim’s eloquence and bearing were sure portents of what was to come for the talented, tortured young woman; if, that is, she could get past this ordeal with her soul intact.

“I understand, Kim,” Laura attempted, but Kimberly held up her hand.

“No. You don’t.” She began to unbutton her blouse, frilly in soft baby blue. She pulled it open to expose the skin and the top edge of her bra. “Look at this! This is what I get for being who I am. This is what I get for no reason other than some stranger thought I was property, not a person. This is my reward for making an impression on a maniac.” The scar was circular and discolored, lighter than the rest of her tanned skin. It lay just above her bra-line, to the right of her heart. The bullet had missed that most vital of organs by less than a quarter of an inch.

“Kim, I know that you were the victim. I know this. Herbert Trainor will know it too. Everyone will.” She watched as Kimberly re-buttoned her blouse.

“Laura,” Kim said, after several moments of silence. “It doesn’t matter. It’s a toss-up as to whether this will end well; a fifty-fifty chance that my career will be over. And it doesn’t matter one iota the pain I had to endure, the lengths that I went to in order to keep this quiet until now. When it’s all over, when all is said and done… More than one life has been ruined. Herbert Trainor is more than aware of that, even as we speak.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Kim. You have to know that. He knows it. I’m sure of it.”

“Really? You think he believes I’m innocent in all this? Do you honestly think that man gives a damn about me? You think his wife thought I was innocent? Tomorrow, there’ll be reporters all over the place. They’ll know what happened, and then what?”

“Kim, stalkers are not unknown in your business. True, such cases don’t normally go this far, but still…”

“But, still. Tomorrow, they’ll know. Herbert Trainor’s wife is dead. I killed her. And, it doesn’t matter that she was insane.”

 

:: PART ONE ::

six years later

“I think a rewrite is in order,” the lovely, green-eyed woman stated. The remark did not come across as only a comment. There was little doubt that this was a command.

Kimberly Severance was a powerful woman. This was not just from a business sense—although she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood—but also from a physical standpoint. Her films over the last few years had veered more toward the action genre than the original dramatic vein in which she had begun her career.

“You’re serious?” the man asked. He sat in one of the straight-backed chairs on the other side of Kimberly’s desk.

“Uh-huh,” she replied with a smile.

Kimberly was fast becoming one of the premier action stars in the movie business. Her films had taken the genre to a higher level, closing in on some of her predecessors such as Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver, Uma Thurman. She had learned a lot from Uma herself while working on the film, Beatrix.

“But, this is the third script we’ve gotten for this film.” E.J. Feldman was the director of The Fields of Anger, the film whose fate lay in question at the moment. The film’s premise required a female lead that was versed in the martial arts. Kimberly had begun martial arts training with a vengeance almost six years prior for a multitude of reasons. The stalking ordeal had been the major driver and had somewhat twisted Kimberly’s views on life. She now placed a certain religious focus on self-defense. She trained ritually three hours a day, including an hour of Jeet Kune Do, an hour of aerobics, and an hour of weight training. Formidable was a term that only barely described her abilities.

“It seems we’re going to see a fourth, then, doesn’t it?” Kimberly served not only as the star of the proposed film but also as Executive Producer. Over the years, she had become very aware of the necessity of quality in the films to which she attached herself. Now, carrying the clout of a twenty-five-million-dollar-per-film actress, she had no qualms whatsoever in throwing out a script if she felt it did not do the film’s premise—and her career—justice.

“Kim,” Feldman began again. “You realize that this is going to cost us?”

“E.J.,” she said, her tone verging toward patronizing. “You realize that if we used that script…it would cost us in the end? It would cost us the failure of a film. A dud. Wouldn’t you rather have another blockbuster film than a lackluster film?”

“You’ll provide your feedback to the writers?” Feldman asked the question, knowing full well that Kimberly would provide more than just feedback. She would most likely send them a forty-page document of corrections, character enhancements and plot direction.

“Of course, E.J.,” she replied with her beautiful, perfect smile. “And, once we get this show on the right road, if you can pull it off…I might feel that a bonus would be in order.”

Even though Kimberly was well known for her staunch control of a project, she was also well-known for her willingness to share in the success of her projects, monetarily as well as reputably. Kudos from Kimberly were usually hard-earned but almost always accompanied by a sizeable check to show the depth of her gratitude.

“I appreciate that, Kim,” Feldman said, picking up the script and heading for the door.

“Say hi to Cathy for me,” she said as he left. He nodded and closed the door.

Kimberly settled back into her comfortable leather chair, kicking her high heels up on the desk. She always held meetings in her own office because it gave her a sense of home field advantage. Only once had it not. And, that was a memory she had placed behind her a long time ago.

Kimberly had closed her eyes and was just about to doze off when her assistant, Tanya, buzzed her from the outside office. Kimberly reached out and pressed the button on the intercom.

“Yes, ma’am?” she said into the speaker.

“Kim, you have a visitor.” There was a slight hesitation before the word visitor. Kim’s drowsiness dissipated like cigarette smoke in a high wind.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“She says her name is Laura Brenner. She’s a lawyer.” Kimberly pulled her feet from the desk and sat up in her chair. Laura Brenner. She had not heard that name in years. She had hoped to never hear or have anything to do with it again. Not that she had anything against Laura; after all, the woman had saved Kimberly from having to go to prison.

“Send her in, Tanya,” Kimberly said, summoning her courage and then clothing herself in her usual bravado. Whatever may have brought Brenner around, Kimberly wanted her back out of her life as quickly as possible. Better to get it over with than try to avoid her. The door opened.

In walked a woman of about Kimberly’s height, although of a slimmer build. The woman’s red hair was pulled back tightly into a single ponytail. Her makeup and business suit were immaculate. She smiled genuinely when she saw Kimberly.

“You’ve come a long way, Kim,” Brenner said, extending her hand to Kimberly. Her smile was polite but genuine.

“Thank you, Laura,” she replied, standing and taking the offered hand. “What can I do for you?”

“I realize you probably aren’t too happy to see me, Kim. I apologize for not making an appointment first.” Her expression showed true regret. Kimberly noticed a subtle undertone that she couldn’t quite make out.

“That’s perfectly fine, Laura. What’s up?” She indicated one of the chairs in front of her desk for Brenner. The lawyer sat down and looked at Kimberly.

“It’s Herbert Trainor. He’s out.”

 

::  PART TWO ::

“What are you talking about?” Kimberly asked, leaning forward in her chair, her arms crossed and leaning on her elbows on the desk. She made a very solid attempt to hide the panic she felt. She hated herself for even feeling such an emotion. She had worked far too hard for far too long to allow panic to rule her actions.

“He escaped this morning,” Brenner replied. “The prison isn’t sure what happened. It seems he somehow managed to hide himself on a delivery truck just before it left the grounds. The warden is in a huff, obviously. He called me, since he was there when Herbert was brought in. He remembered me and thought I could reach you fastest.”

“You think he’s out to finish the job, then, do you?” Kimberly felt her confidence returning and sat back comfortably in her chair. Facts were facts. Kimberly had strived to know herself as best she could. This was both to improve her acting abilities, as well as for the more enlightened purpose. She was no longer a frightened, naive little girl. No one threatened her without thinking twice. Herbert Trainor would be no different.

Kimberly observed Brenner staring at a woman who showed not an ounce of fear at the prospect of having an escaped convict after her. This was a great deal different from the last time she had met Kimberly in her office. No longer was she the mousy young actress who stood crying at the thought of facing the man whose wife she had shot dead. Here before her was a strong, independent woman who exuded power and confidence. Kimberly was quite proud of who she had become. Proud that it showed, now. In this situation in particular.

“You certainly have come a long way, haven’t you?” Brenner said, as she stood from her chair. She looked down at the woman who now resided behind the deep green eyes of the girl she once knew. Brenner shrugged. “We may never see the guy again. I sincerely hope that’s the case. Nevertheless, I felt I should let you know.” She let that sentence hang in the air for a long moment before she turned to go. “Take care of yourself, Kim.” As she opened the door to leave, Kimberly stood and cleared her throat.

“Laura,” Kimberly said. Her eyes met Brenner’s and held them in an invisible grip of truth. “Thank you. For everything. Then. And now. I truly appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.” As she left the office, she added softly, “And good luck to you.”

Kimberly sat down and swung her feet back up on her desk. Her thoughts were jumbled at first, sporadic images of years past flashed in her mind. Her breathing slowed to a steady rhythm, her thoughts solidifying. Whether Trainor decided to come after her or not, Kimberly would not succumb to her fear. Regardless of the fact that it was there. Peeking out of the dark recesses of her memory.

She allowed her eyes to close once again, after a very long day, when a soft knock came at the door. Tanya poked her head in.

“Everything okay, boss?” She smiled at Kimberly’s usual late-evening, relaxed position. “You didn’t have put your Ferragamos down too hard on someone, did you?” Kimberly smiled at the comment, pulled her feet down and motioned for Tanya to come in.

“No,” she replied, rubbing her eyes. She needed some sleep. Too much stress for one day.

“So,” Tanya asked. “Who was that chick?”

“She used to be my lawyer.”

“She any good?”

“I didn’t go to jail, if that’s what you mean.” Tanya’s eyes lit up for a moment.

“That’s not what I meant. But now you have my full and undivided attention.”

Kimberly saw the curiosity in Tanya’s eyes and took pause. It had been in all the newspapers, her story. Yet, Tanya seemed oblivious.

“I thought you knew and you just weren’t bringing it up out of courtesy.”

“What are you talking about, Kim?”

“How long have you been with me? About three years, right?”

“Yes. Why?” Tanya asked. She was on the edge of her seat now.

“You didn’t hear about what happened? Just before A Handle on Forever came out?”

“I’m sorry,” Tanya said, making a somewhat embarrassed face that came across as more amusing than uncomfortable. “I never saw that film. I only came out here from Arizona for the work. I always wondered why you hired me so quickly.”

“I hired you because I felt I could trust you. That is all too important in this business. Not to mention extremely rare. I had interviewed nearly a hundred applicants before I saw your resume. When we talked on the phone, I got a really good feeling about you. When we met… Well, I knew you were the one I could trust to get the job done and not screw me in the end.”

“Wow. This is a side of you I haven’t seen before. Were you always so jaded?” Tanya was likely used to Kimberly being so upbeat most of the time, with only rare moments of stress-induced irritation or anger. More of the actress’ well-structured façade.

“No.” Kimberly smiled at her assistant, who still had the ability to be innocent even after working in Hollywood for several years. It was one of the things she loved about Tanya, who had become as much her friend as her personal assistant. “Which brings me to the tale at hand.” She sat back in her chair and began to recall the worst moments of her life.

“When I first started out, I got a few roles that were pretty good, but not overwhelming to the public. I was kind of wellknown in the independent film realm, but not the mainstream. I had an office in West Hollywood. Not the best part of town but all that I could afford at the time. I refused to work out of my apartment because I felt it was unprofessional.”

“Really?” Tanya smiled.

“So sue me. I’m all about appearances.” She shook her head, smirking at Tanya.

“Anyway, my agent was considerate enough to give me a gun as a present for my new office. I never thought it would ever leave its place in my top desk drawer.” She saw Tanya’s expression slowly change from curiosity to concern. Kimberly continued. “But, the world is an unsafe place at times, I suppose. Especially for someone as naïve as I was.”

“Somehow,” Tanya interrupted, “I just can’t picture you as naïve.”

“Nevertheless, I was. I’d met a lot of people in my first few years in Hollywood. In the months after I opened the office, I had run into this woman a few times, I thought, coincidentally. She was pleasant enough and we chatted briefly a few times. She didn’t seem to know who I was, at first. Later, I learned that this was only a charade.

“One day, she showed up at my office. I assumed her intentions were innocent enough.” She looked at Tanya with an expression of regret. “My second mistake.”

“What was the first?”

“Letting her in the door.” Kimberly took a deep breath and plunged on. “Everything was fine, at first. We talked about the business and the weather. But then, she began questioning me; asking about things that seemed a bit too presumptuous. Then, she asked if I needed a secretary or an assistant. When I said that I didn’t really need anything like that at the moment, her attitude changed dramatically. She became aggressive and began berating me, saying things like I was nothing more than an arrogant little starlet, just like all the others.”

“The others?”

“I wondered about that too. Later, I found out that she had stalked several other actresses. Some of them had restraining orders against this woman.”

“So, who was she?” Tanya asked.

“Her name was Lisa Trainor. She was… unstable.” The panic of that memory rose toward the surface and Kimberly fought to push it back down. Damn it! she thought to herself. I am not that little girl anymore! She looked back at Tanya, who was waiting patiently to hear the rest of the story. Time to get it all out.

“The next thing I knew, we were in a fight. I remembered the gun in the drawer and tried to get to it. I managed to get it out but then we began to fight over it. I wasn’t very familiar with guns. So, after having given it to me, my manager had taken me to an indoor range and showed me the basics. A lot of good that did me when it was between this crazy person and me. When the gun went off, it shocked the both of us. I’m not sure what then came over me but I pushed her away, grabbing the gun, and I fired. I shot her. I fired until there were no more bullets and it just clicked at me.”

“Jesus!” Tanya breathed. There were tears at the edges of her eyes as she struggled with the fact that her employer and friend had been attacked and ended up killing someone. “At least,” she finally stated. “At least you weren’t hurt.” That was when she saw the tears in Kimberly’s eyes.

Kimberly could not contain the pain of the memory any longer. It welled up out of her as she reached for the top button on her blouse. Tanya let out a little cry at seeing the scar from the bullet wound just above Kimberly’s bra line.

“I was in the hospital for nearly three months,” she continued through the tears. “The bullet just missed my heart. It broke two ribs and cracked my sternum. The doctors were quite amazed that I had had the strength or willpower to shoot Lisa Trainor after she’d put a bullet into my chest. There’s an exit wound on my back as well.”

The two women sat, silent with their tears. For very different reasons. For several long minutes.

“It gets worse,” Kimberly said.

“Oh, my God!” her friend said. “How could it possibly get worse than almost being killed?”

“Lisa Trainor had a husband. Herbert. He filed a wrongful death suit against me and I was later arrested for killing his wife.”

“You have got to be kidding me!” Tanya’s expression showed she could hardly believe her ears.

“During the arraignment, at which I sincerely did not want to be, Herbert Trainor was so upset about the loss of his wife that he attempted to end his suffering by pulling a gun and trying to kill me as well.” Tanya was stunned into silence. “Obviously, the courtroom was cleared, Herbert was arrested for attempted murder and he ended up sentenced to prison for twelve years. The length of time had to do with the fact that when he pulled the gun on me and fired, he missed me, but struck a woman in the gallery behind me. Laura Brenner, my attorney, was very nearly hit.”

“This is just unbelievable.” Tanya appeared suddenly to remember why she had come into Kimberly’s office in the first place. “So, wait, why was Laura Brenner here today?” She watched as Kimberly stood up and attempted to compose herself.

“She came here today to tell me that Herbert Trainor escaped from prison this morning.”

Tanya, who was of fair skin to begin with, looked as if someone had just drained most of the blood from her. Her hand went to her heart in a fist and she stared at Kimberly with eyes filled with fear. All of this could have been from one of those B-movies that always had the heroine in some kind of mortal danger. Life imitating art. “So,” she said, sneaking a glance around the room behind her, “you think he’s out to get you now, after all these years?”

“I don’t know, Tanya,” Kimberly stated as she smoothed her blouse and came around the desk to take Tanya’s hand. She began to lead her toward the door. “What I do know is that I can’t place anyone else in harm’s way.” The two of them walked out into Tanya’s area, the front office.

“Kim, don’t…”

“I’m sorry, Tanya,” Kimberly replied. “You’re fired.”

 

::  PART THREE ::

Convincing Tanya to leave was as difficult as Kimberly had expected it to be. Eventually, though, she responded to logic. Afterwards, Kimberly placed a call to the police informing them of the situation and then she called her manager. He offered to send over a couple of bodyguards but Kimberly would not have it. She reiterated that she was more than capable of taking care of herself these days. He wasn’t happy but conceded and said he’d meet her tomorrow to discuss how they were going to handle this. It was inevitable that the press was going to eat it up.

Kimberly traipsed into her private bathroom and changed into her running gear:  a t-shirt, sweat suit, and Reeboks. She always kept an extra set at the office, just in case she felt the need to relieve some stress through physical exertion.

Locking up her office, Kimberly headed for the elevators. There were four elevators that moved from the top floor to the lobby. However, only two were in service after seven o’clock in the evening. She noticed that someone must have just left for the day, as one of the elevators was halfway down to the lobby. The second one chimed when she hit the button. The doors split open.

Inside the elevator, her thoughts danced around the issue. Being in this type of situation was as far from expected as it could have been. Her life had taken such dramatic turns since the shootings. She’d sincerely believed that previous life was behind her. She almost grinned at her next thought. Her life now felt like one of the damsel-in-distress films she so hated. Except, she thought, I’m no longer the damsel in distress. That would give the film a very nice twist.

She exited the elevator in the lobby and headed for the security station, where she had to sign out for the evening. The elevator to the garage level would also require her electronic badge. The level of security in this building was the main reason she had chosen it. No point in tempting fate, she had thought at the time.

As she neared the guard station, she saw that the nighttime security manager, Kevin Hartnett, was seated in the control chair. He was one of two guards regularly on shift after hours. The newest addition to the staff, Jamie, being the other. A bank of video monitors that rotated through views of every level, staircase, and garage area lay before him. There were also a couple of printers to his left, one of which beeped and etched out her departure time when she swiped her badge by the desk.

“Good evening, Miss Severance,” Kevin said, glancing up at her. “Your manager called. You want an escort downstairs?” The question was asked in a very nonchalant manner. One of the first things that Kimberly noticed about Kevin was that he never, ever smiled. He was all business, all the time. This was a bit off-putting to some. To Kimberly, however, it was quite comforting to know that Kevin was on the job. The other thing that she respected about him was the simple fact that he respected her.

“Nah, that’s okay, Kevin,” she replied, as she moved around the huge semi-circle of the guard station, toward the garage-level elevators. “Thanks for asking. Have a good evening.”

“You, too. And, Miss Severance,” he said, looking up at her and drawing her attention with the tone in his voice, “You take care of yourself, okay?” It was the most distinct concern he had shown in the almost two years that he had worked the guard desk. She appreciated it.

“I’ll do that. Thanks.” She smiled. At the elevators to the garage, she swiped her badge and the first elevator opened immediately. It appeared she was one of the last to leave tonight. She stepped inside and pressed the button that read G3. It was the private parking level, for the more “esteemed” residents of the building.

Stepping out of the elevator, Kimberly shifted her attention to the dim emptiness of the vast concrete cavern that served as the parking garage. Looking around, she saw her Audi sitting alone in her designated spot. It was backed in, ready to launch her out of the garage and into the Hollywood night.

As she approached the car, she tapped a button on her key and the alarm beep-whooped off. She was reaching for the door’s handle when the man stepped from the shadows. For some reason, it did not surprise her at all.

“Hello, Herbert,” she said, placing her bag onto the roof of the car but never taking her eyes from him. She saw him nod.

“You knew I’d be coming.” His voice was raspy and much lower than she remembered it from when he had attacked her in the courtroom.

“I suspected as much,” she replied. “What is it you want from me, Herbert?” It was a question to which she felt she already knew the answer, since she had taken his wife’s life. Still, she had to ask. The car key was now turned around in her hand with the butt of it against her palm and the narrow edge protruding between her fingers.

“I want peace.”

“You think I can give that to you?”

“You gave it to Lisa.”

“She attacked me, Herbert. She shot me in the chest with my own gun. I had no choice. I’m sorry for what happened, but you have to understand…it wasn’t my fault.”

“Wasn’t your fault?” His eyes were wide, a manic expression chasing the edges of his face like the light from a flickering candle. “You pulled the trigger! Not once, but eight times! How is that not your fault?”

“I was in shock, Herbert. Like I said, she had just shot me.” After six years of physical and martial arts training, the one thing that had been driven into Kimberly’s mind over and over again is that you can never panic during a conflict. Once you lose control of yourself, you lose control of the situation. Control can be the single most determining factor in a fight. Kimberly was determined that she would control this situation. “What do you really want, Herbert?”

“I can’t take this anymore,” he said, the vehemence replaced by sadness.

“What can’t you take, Herbert?”

“This pain. This…emptiness.” Kimberly found herself feeling a little sorry for this man who had, through no fault of his own, lost his wife to violence. It didn’t matter that his wife had brought the violence upon herself. In the end, she was gone from him. That was all that really mattered. He hung his head. Kimberly was uncertain if he was crying until he spoke again. “She left me. She made her choice. And, she left me.”

That was one way of looking at it.

“I’m truly sorry, Herbert.” Kimberly kept her emotions in check. This man seemed broken by loss but he was still an escaped convict who had once tried to kill her. “She did make her choice. But, perhaps the choice was not completely within her control.”

“What?” Herbert Trainor’s head continued to hang limply upon his shoulders. Now would be the time to make a move, thought Kimberly. She felt her body tense in preparation but, for some reason unfathomable to her at the moment, she failed to move.

“Maybe she was sick, Herbert,” she responded. “Maybe she wanted to be better but her own mind wouldn’t let her.” She watched him as his body shook with a sob. This man was little more than a broken, lonely soul who failed to understand why his wife had been taken from him. Kimberly was about to take a step toward him, when he took a deep breath and raised his head to look right into her eyes.

“You’re saying she was insane?” The tone in his voice had shifted from melancholy to more resonant anger.

“No, Herbert,” she said, back-pedaling somewhat. “I’m saying that maybe she just needed someone to talk to and…”

“She had me!” he spat. “And, I had her! Until you took all that away!”

At five feet eight inches, Herbert Trainor was only two inches taller than Kimberly but he had at least a hundred pounds on her. He moved toward her and she prayed he didn’t have some weapon hidden, about to bring it to bear.

He was fast for his size but Kimberly was faster. She sidestepped his rush, pushing him into the side of her car as she struck outward with the extended key. It dug deeply into his burly arm but did little real damage. The pain was just enough, however, to bring him out of his rage and back to his senses.

“I’m sorry,” he said, holding the wound and leaning back against her car. His tears were running down his face through the stubble of a three-day-old beard. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He kept repeating the two words for many long seconds.

“It’s okay, Herbert,” she said, taking a step backward, just in case he lunged at her again. “I’m sorry I had to hurt you. We need to get you to a doctor, Herbert. Will you come back upstairs with me?” She just needed to get him into the elevator, where she would leave him alone to travel up to the lobby. Kevin would take care of things from there. She’d have time to call and warn him of her assailant’s arrival.

Trainor’s sobbing continued and he kept muttering “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over. Kimberly had nowhere to hide when he pulled the gun from behind his back with his uninjured right arm. The sound of the gunshot echoed through the garage like a terrible clap of thunder.

Kimberly, stunned and disbelieving, fell to her knees. A sense of lost control washed over her like a wave of exhaustion. Weakness. The feeling only riled her up. When his hand touched her shoulder, her rage dissolved into relief and a giggle bubbled up unexpectedly. Kevin helped her to her feet.

“Thanks,” was all she could muster. She looked at Kevin, who was looking at her with his usual expressionless face.

“You did good, Miss Severance.” He walked over to Herbert Trainor’s body, kicked the gun away from his outstretched hand and knelt to feel for any pulse. He closed his eyes for a second and then turned to Kimberly. “He’s gone.” He then stood and came to her as he placed his pistol back into the holster. “Don’t worry, Miss Severance,” he stated. “I won’t let anyone else hurt you.”

His words took Kimberly by surprise and she peered up at him with an arched eyebrow. He saw her expression and, for the first time since she had known him, his lips curled up on one side. A half-smile.

“It’s my job,” he said. The overload of emotion, stress, and relief left just enough in her to elicit a coarse laugh in response. She let go a long exhale through gritted teeth, lips loose and only slightly trembling.

The two of them walked to the elevators, Kevin ushering her in. He stated that Jamie would be waiting and that the police were already on their way. Kimberly rode up to the lobby with only the sound of her own breathing. She used the time to gather herself. Her senses and confidence returned, taking their place in front of anything else she cared not to display. By the time she got to the guard station, the police were coming through the entrance doors. She told them that Kevin was downstairs with the body of her attacker and that he had saved her life.

The next couple of hours were spent answering questions posed to her by a Detective Ito and his partner, Detective Detmers. She went over everything step by step at least a half dozen times. No detail ever changed and most of what she related was caught on the surveillance cameras, so Detective Ito decided to send her home with a police cruiser escort. She retrieved her bag, which a police officer had brought up from the garage, and left with the escort. Her car would still be at the office tomorrow. She didn’t get to say thank you to Kevin, who was still downstairs when she left.

Once she got home, with the police cruiser parked outside, she called Tanya. There was no answer, so Kimberly just left her the message that everything was fine, she wasn’t fired, and could she please cancel all of her appointments for the next two days. She needed a break to gather herself together and prepare to move on.

She fell asleep to the memory of Kevin’s steady baritone. It served as a lullaby. “Don’t worry, Miss Severance. I won’t let anyone else hurt you.”

 

::  PART FOUR ::

Kimberly awoke to the sound of a buzzer. It took several seconds for her to realize that it was the intercom from the grounds’ front gate.

Her home was situated on two acres of property, surrounded by a ten-foot wall with front and back entrance gates. She had a security company that patrolled the exterior grounds, as well as several of her neighbors’ estates. The front gate had an intercom that was piped into the main house’s system allowing Kimberly to answer visitor calls and, if she so decided, allow the gates to open from just about any room in the house.

The buzzer sounded again. She dragged herself from the bed and punched the intercom button.

“Yeah?” she said.

“Kim, it’s Tanya. You okay? Can I come in?”

“What time is it?”

“It’s almost noon. I brought bagels.”

“Well, get ‘em up here, then,” Kim said, tapping the gate’s open key from the intercom. She then fell back into bed. No one had gate access to Kimberly’s grounds, not even Tanya, who actually had a house key. It was Kimberly’s weird sense of logic that allowed such a dichotomy of access.

It was a few minutes before Tanya walked into Kimberly’s bedroom. In one hand, she had a bag of Einstein bagels and, in the other, a vase of red roses.

“Uh, Kim,” she said, a strange expression on her face. “These were sitting by your front door.”

Kimberly sat up and looked at the flowers. No one had access to her front door. So, how did the flowers get there? Someone had to have somehow gotten in. Before she could let the scream of frustration out into the wild, Tanya continued.

“A detective called and left a message that he wanted to see you—at your convenience—sometime today or tomorrow. He said just to give him a call on his cell to set up a time. Said his name was Ito.”

“Yeah. That’s the detective from last night.”

“So, seriously,” her friend began. “What happened?”

Kimberly got hold of herself, reached for a bagel, and told Tanya about Herbert showing up, cornering her, and of Kevin killing him.

“It’s over, then?” Tanya asked, although Kim could tell the girl was more than a little shaken. She hated to trash her friend’s innocence even more but she glanced at the flowers, which Tanya had set on the dresser.

“Obviously not.”

Three hours later, Detectives Ito and Detmers had gone over the entrances to the grounds and the entire perimeter wall. They found nothing to indicate that anyone had broken into the grounds. They were as baffled as Kimberly as to how the roses had ended up at her front door. There was no card, so they did not even know from which vendor the flowers might have been purchased. This was not even taking into account the possibility that the flowers might not have even come from a vendor. This time of year, one could get roses any number of places.

Kimberly was in a rather nasty mood. She was still frustrated and shaken up a bit about the previous night’s incident and now she was angry over the fact that someone had gotten into her grounds without the slightest difficulty and without leaving a single trace.

The detectives took down the names of almost everyone Kimberly knew and had contact with on a regular basis. Detective Ito had also contacted the officers who had sat watch outside of Kimberly’s home until shift change this morning. They saw no one enter or leave the grounds up until they departed the area around nine o’clock.

“Have you received any gifts or flowers from anonymous sources before these, Miss Severance?” Ito asked, jotting down little notes in his flip pad. The other detective, Detmers, was talking to Tanya in the kitchen. They had come downstairs after Kimberly had gotten dressed, just before the detectives had arrived.

“No,” she said.

“Do you think this might have anything to do with last night?” To Kimberly, it was a stupid question.

“Herbert Trainor obviously wanted me dead, Detective. Why the hell would he send me red roses? Besides the fact that they weren’t there when I came in last night and no one else has the access codes to the gate.”

“Codes?” His eyebrows lifted and he stared at her. “As in plural? There’s more than one access code to get into the gate?” His curiosity had leapt several levels.

“Yes. Why?”

“Exactly,” he said, as if pondering the question. “Why?” he asked her.

“Why is there more than one access code? Because I didn’t want to lock myself out of my own house, that’s why.” She folded her arms over her chest and stared at him. “Is this going somewhere, Detective Ito?”

“Where do you keep the codes?”

“In my head, of course.”

“You don’t have them written down anywhere?”

Kimberly paused. Had she ever written down any of the codes? Probably when she first added them, as a backup to her memory. But she would only have kept them in one place. “Yes,” she said, her mind reeling with the possibilities.

“And where is that?” Ito was now leaning forward in anticipation of her answer.

“My daily planner. It never leaves my side. I keep it in my bag, or in my hand.” She felt a wave of nausea at the thought that was now barreling down on her like the light from a freight train.

“Has it ever been out of your possession or sight recently?”

“Yes. Last night.” She saw the light click on in the detective’s eyes. He was there last night as well. He knew immediately who had had the opportunity to go through the bag. He stood.

“You stay here, Miss Severance.” He walked off toward the kitchen to gather his partner and discuss what he had just discovered. A few minutes later, Tanya came into the living room and sat down beside Kimberly.

“So, what was that all about?” she asked. “One second that good-looking detective Brad was asking me questions and the next, Ito had him pulled away into the corner.”

“We think we know who could have gotten into the grounds so easily.” She explained to Tanya about the planner and the time frame that it was out of her sight. She watched as Tanya covered her mouth in surprise.

“Kevin?” she whispered. “Are you serious? I mean… it’s Kevin. We’ve known him for nearly two years. Not to mention the fact that he saved your life last night.”

“I know. I’m having trouble putting it together, too. It doesn’t make sense.” Kimberly thought about everything she knew about Kevin. He was about thirty or so years old, he had never been anything other than polite and congenial to her, and he was a security officer. They had to have detailed records on such a person. He was licensed for the carrying and use of firearms. That would mean even more records. The detectives must have been running that information even as they sat there.

“I mean, I know he doesn’t smile but he’s always been so nice.” Tanya’s face was scrunched up in thought. Kimberly was about to agree with her when Detectives Ito and Detmers walked back in.

“Miss Severance, we’re left with two options here. One, you can stay here and we can keep a unit outside; or, two, we can put you in a hotel room for a few days until we can clarify the situation with Mr. Hartnett.”

“I’ll be fine here,” she replied. She saw Tanya about to say something but the look she gave the girl caused the words to evaporate into nothingness.

“Okay,” Ito stated, although he did not look all that pleased. “We’ll be in touch.” He handed her his card and said, “Call me if you think of anything else or if you need anything.” He turned without another word and headed for the door. Detmers hesitated a second longer, sparing a glance at Tanya, then he left as well. Kimberly smiled at Tanya.

“I think he likes you,” she said.

“No changing the subject.” Tanya’s voice was more forceful than Kimberly had ever heard it. “What the hell was that all about? You didn’t even think about the hotel option, even though there’s someone out there who most likely has the access codes to your entire estate.”

“Do you think it’s Kevin?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tanya replied. “Why would you put yourself in that position again?”

“There are policemen right outside the gate, Tanya,” Kimberly said. “Besides, you don’t think I can protect myself?”

“Did that matter last night?” The statement stabbed at Kimberly and she saw that Tanya was sorry she said it. “I mean, I care about you, Kim, and you’re taking an unnecessary risk. Don’t you think?”

“No,” she responded, standing from the sofa. “I don’t think I am.”

Kimberly went to prepare some tea. She heard the front door close and felt that perhaps Tanya just didn’t understand her. Then again, she thought to herself, sometimes I don’t understand myself. Why was she taking the risk of staying in her home when it was as unsecured as sleeping on the street? Why did she find it so difficult to believe that Kevin could be out to harm her? She kept hearing those words he spoke after shooting Herbert Trainor. “Don’t worry, Miss Severance. I won’t let anyone else hurt you.”

That had not sounded like someone out to do her harm. It sounded like a security professional who took great pride in his job, at the very least. If it was more than that, then it was someone who cared enough about her not to let anything happen to her.

She thought about that last possibility. Did Kevin actually care for her in some other-than-professional way? He’d never shown as much. Not even close, she thought. So, if that were the case, if he did care about her like that, why would he take the access codes? Why place the roses by her door? Risking frightening her with his ability to break onto her property? And, why would he send roses after last night? None of it made sense at all.

The rest of the day, Kimberly went over everything in her head repeatedly. She ended up with more questions than answers. How had Trainor gotten into the secured third level of the garage? He’d have had to have an inside man in security. She shook her head at the thought of Kevin and such duplicity. As well, how had a man—who was just a real estate broker before he attacked her—gotten a gun the same day he escaped from prison? Kevin, again? It just did not make sense in her head. There were so many questions that just didn’t have any sensible answers.

Kim had read so many movie scripts, both good and bad, that she figured she knew just about every strange plot scenario imaginable. That was a far cry from the truth, she admitted to herself, but it gave her a starting point. She began to go through all of the ideas of revenge that had crossed her desk in the last six years in the form of a script. There were poor attempts at placing the villain in the circle of friends of the protagonist. There were the plots that had the protagonist facing deeds done in their past, inflicted by the friends, lovers, or relatives at the butt of those earlier deeds. Then there were the horrible plots where the protagonist turned out to be the villain in the end.

Reviewing every possibility she could think of, she wasn’t sure how to tie any of those possibilities to Kevin and, possibly, Trainor. Herbert fell under the relatives’ category, being the husband of the victim. But, Kimberly wondered about Kevin. If it wasn’t Kevin, who could it be?

It was around seven thirty when Kimberly awoke on the sofa, having dozed off at some point. She looked at her watch and realized that she had been asleep for almost three hours. The stress of the last twenty-four hours must have taken more of a toll upon her than she had thought. She was just about to sit up when she heard the voice.

“I suppose there’s not much to be said for L.A.’s finest, huh?”

::  part five ::

“I don’t understand,” Kimberly said, confused by the presence of the young man standing behind the sofa.

“No,” he said, brandishing the kitchen knife. “You wouldn’t. You’re too wrapped up in your own precious little world to understand a damned thing, aren’t you? No concept of what the rest of us go through on a daily basis.”

“Jamie, what the hell is going on?” Kimberly’s thoughts were racing around in her skull, trying to find some sort of anchor point to put two and two together and come up with the five that stood before her. Jamie Freeman had been working as nighttime security, with Kevin, for less than a month. She could not even attempt to gather why he would be standing here, threatening her with one of her own kitchen knives. She began to stand from the sofa.

“Sit down!” he ordered. She obeyed.

He had been standing at the guard station in the lobby last night when she had come from the garage, and the police arrived. He had seemed like a harmless kid to her in the weeks that she had seen him around the building. Other than a little young to be a security guard, there had been nothing that stood out about him. The pieces did not seem to fit for Kimberly.

“You’re so oblivious, aren’t you?” he asked, as he moved around to the front of the sofa, keeping his distance from her. “You don’t care who you piss on. I’ve seen the way you prance around the building. Kevin treats you like some kind of freaking hero but you’re nothing but a murderer. How many lives have you destroyed to get to the top, huh?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Jamie. Obviously, I don’t even know who you are.”

“I watched. I saw you last night, luring him in and then letting Kevin do your dirty work. I hated him anyway. He was a loser. He couldn’t even avenge his own wife.” Jamie’s face was a mask of pure hatred. Kimberly realized that there was a connection she was most definitely missing.

“You knew Herbert Trainor?” she asked.

“Of course, I did,” he spat back. “The fat bastard was my brother-in-law.”

Kimberly felt her heart skip a beat. No frigging way, she thought. But it was right there, just like some bad movie script.

“You’re Lisa’s brother.”

“I was until you killed her.”

Kimberly thought that he could not have been more than twenty years old. That would have made him somewhere around thirteen or fourteen at the time of Lisa’s death. It seemed he had not been able to understand what exactly had happened. Or, she thought, he had decided he knew what happened and had blocked the truth out. Either way, she was in trouble. Again.

She watched him as he held the knife. It was her judgment that he had some experience with sharp objects. This might be bad. But at least, she decided, it wasn’t a gun. She wondered briefly why a knife and not a gun and the only thought that came to mind was that he wanted to be close when he served his revenge. Maybe this would give her a little time. She jumped up and backward, scrambling over the sofa before he could lunge at her. Now the sofa was between them.

“Please, Jamie, this isn’t necessary.”

“An eye for an eye, bitch.” Kimberly couldn’t help but roll her eyes at that. All she needed now was some B-movie director to shout, “Cut!”

“Jamie, your sister shot me. What did you expect me to do? Thank her?” Kimberly was getting angrier at the situation by the second. She fought to stay in control but the idiocy of the whole thing was more than she could take. “Fuck it,” she said. “Come on, boy. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

His eyes widened and then narrowed, this sudden change in her attitude throwing him off a little. She took advantage and stepped around the sofa, closing the space between them. He watched her, mirroring her movement so that he continued to face her.

“You realize how long I’ve waited to pay you back for taking my sister from me?” he said, anger and confusion dueling for top priority in his emotional meltdown.

“You realize that, at this point, I don’t really fucking care, you little psycho?” she spat back at him.

“I’m gonna kill you!”

“You might try.” She took a step toward him. He stepped back. Kimberly took note. This boy didn’t know what he was doing. He was in over his head and she knew she should probably help him out, if at all possible. “There’s been enough killing, don’t you think, Jamie?” she asked. Then, “By the way, how did you get my security codes?”

“Last night, when you changed. I’d seen you carrying that planner around like it was attached to your hip, so I figured that’s where you’d keep them. I got lucky. You won’t.”

“Give me a break, kid,” she said. “I’ll give you one chance to make your choice:  jail or hospital?”

“What?”

“Wait.” Something else struck Kimberly. She pointed at Jamie. “You let Herbert in. Didn’t you? You gave him the gun!”

“Of course. He deserved one last chance to avenge Lisa’s murder.” Jamie seemed a little uncertain now. There was too much conversation going on; it was distracting him. Kimberly kept it up.

“So, why the flowers?”

“For your grave,” he shot, but it was not as angry as his previous statements.

“Ah, that was nice.” She smiled. She was now in control of the situation and decided it would end here and now. “Any other family members I might need to look out for after they ship you off to…” She snapped her fingers as if she’d just remembered something. “Oops. We’re back to your options.”

“What?”

“Jail or hospital. Make a decision and stick to it. I hate wafflers.” She saw that she had him flustered. She moved closer.

“Stay back!”

“I thought you wanted to get in close and cut me, Jamie. What’s the matter? You’re not waffling on me, are you?” He made his decision. Kimberly was sad to see that it was the wrong one.

He leaped at her, slicing across with the large knife. Kimberly swept downward with her right hand, using Jamie’s momentum against him. His follow-through caused him to lose balance. She kicked out and put the heal of her foot solidly into his ribs. At least one cracked. She took the opportunity to walk over to the front door, press the gate’s open switch, and flip the outside flood lights off and on several times while watching Jamie get back to his feet.

He screamed in pain and anger and came at her again. She was prepared. She twisted her body out and around him like whirling dervish, stabbing her elbow harshly into the base of his skull. He turned, following her motion to get at her. The knife slid across her side just under her left arm, leaving a clean slice about three inches long, even as her blow shut out his lights. She grabbed the wound and stepped away from him as he crumpled to the floor. She felt around, saw that the cut was deep but not life-threatening, and then cursed at him for ruining a perfectly decent blouse.

The two policemen who were stationed outside of her house came rushing in due to the flashing floodlights and open gate. Unfortunately for Jamie, he was lying just inside the front door. When the uniforms rushed in, the door slammed hard into the back of his head. Kimberly decided that they were unlikely to have any more trouble out of the boy tonight.

 

:  EPILOGUE ::

Two days later, Kimberly meandered into her office around one in the afternoon. As she exited the elevator from the garage, she saw that Kevin was headed for the front doors. Leaving for the day, perhaps.

“You’re here late, aren’t you?” she said to him. He turned and stared at her. “Or. Would that be early?” She smiled. He looked uncertain as to what to say. After a couple of seconds, he walked a little closer.

“You okay?” he asked. Kimberly saw the concern in his eyes. She could tell immediately that there was something different about him. His eyes were locked onto hers.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” She took a step closer. He had a pained expression on his face as he turned to go, but pulled up short. He didn’t turn around.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there.” His words were clear but Kimberly heard the hidden emotion behind them. Something fluttered in here stomach. He began to walk away.

“Kevin,” she spoke, not sure what she was about to say. He stopped and turned back to face her. “I never got to say thank you for saving my life.” Kimberly winked at him. His expression softened and a thoughtful crinkle appeared around his steel-colored eyes.

“Hopefully, we can discuss that later.” He smiled. A full, no holds barred grin that lit up the man’s face. He then left without another word.

For the remainder of the day and for reasons that purposefully escaped her, Kimberly could not keep a single thought straight in her head. Except one.

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