Lizzy tapped her glass eye with her fingernail after slipping it inside her eye socket. She centered the eye ball with a piece of satin cloth and pushed it in with her pinky finger. Her long eyelashes swayed as she blinked them several times shifting her sight towards the side of her eyes, testing her vision, and to see how her fake left eye aligns to the angle of her right eye. “You look so handsome today, honey, do you want to party?” She said, squarely in front of the mirror, practicing her line while perfecting her patented smile — at least to her regular customers. She made a point of always looking at them straight when she talks to them. Otherwise, they’d never pay attention when her gaze fixed on different and most likely slanted direction. “Cross-eyed? Maybe. But so goddamn pretty,” She’d say to herself, “so goddamn pretty.”
She was brushing her eyelashes with a thick lump of mascara when the phone rang. The distinct ringtone she knew was Inga, “Where are you honneh, why so long?” Inga’s voice rang through the line with a wispy static tone dissipating her thick Serbian accent, “The guests are waiting, honneh,” She continued.
“Beauty takes time Madame, and I am worth the wait, worth every minute of it.” Lizzy said pouting her pinkish lips in the mirror, “just adding the final touches,” she whispered patting her makeup with a thin sponge one last time and puckering up her breast before heading out to a waiting stretched Bentolinni limo heading to a yacht party in Malibu. Everyone stared when she walked down the hotel lobby — her hips swayed rhythmically with each over-lapping step. As if on a fashion show runway she flaunted her slender body under Parisian garments, her knee high boots shined under the sheer velvet dress as it hung behind her like a cape. The limo driver nodded as he opened the door. Lizzy flashed him a smile, handed him a roll of thick bills she found in her purse and waved at the hotel doorman before slipping behind the dark, silhouette stained bulletproof window, her pale skin disappearing beneath the glimmering stars.
She was born Elisabeth — it was her mother’s maiden name. She grew up in Ukraine, on a farm near Korolev, a town where local kids past time is hunting squirrels and barbecuing them on a twig by the icy river. She grew up watching his friends race the corn mill tractor after harvest season. They’d lined them up on an empty field and throttled the spinning blades over dried corn husks, speeding down the dirt field as they spew dust and rocks on the side of the tractor’s corn kernel spout. She was hit in the eye by a broken tractor blade stabbing her in the left eye penetrating deep into her skull, barely missing her brain’s frontal lobe cortex.
She moved to the US with her mother when she was eight. Since then her life changed from an aimless half-blind farmer’s daughter to a socialite companion — like an escort. But more of a Geisha she’d insist — Intelligent, expensive, and with a “Helluva fuckin” style.” At first, she didn’t enjoy much of the city. Everyone was too busy chasing after something she never figured out. She’d see them lined up in cheap suits and unpressed trousers on the sidewalk every morning, as cows herded into concrete barns with metal cages, each disappearing inside revolving glass doors and brass windows of tall buildings. She learned to prey on them and turned their gullible thick wallets into her personal bank account, mostly at night, when they gather around crowded bars listening to overplayed country song lulling them into a drunken stupor. It was never her eyes — not at all, it was her pretty smile, her ‘patented million dollar’ smile.
Lizzy was the name Inga gave her when they met. “No, tuts, no” Inga said when she first laid eyes on her, “you don’t look like an Elisabeth. It’s too long, too old fashioned.” She shook her head and probed her through pentagon shaped eye glasses. “Lizzy, honneh, Lizzy… you be Lizzy now ok? Chop chop.” She continued, waving the long cigarette pipe on her fingertips.
Inga was always fashionable, always on the edge of the latest wear in Paris or London. But to Lizzy, her outfit seemed extreme, too fancy for her taste, and at times funny. One night, she wore a big fruit head wear with feathered lining hanging below the edges of carved ivory thistles from Africa. At times she’d walk around with purple robe with linen linings wrapped around the collar and hanging loosely on a thin thread made from Egyptian fabric. Eventually, her outfit would visually settle in her eyes. In the end, she’d get it — the fashion, the certain whiff of defiance on the boundaries of usualness. “This is in style dahling, this is the style,” she’d say waving her cigarette pipe.
Inga lured her into her lifestyle of glamor. “I am a manager honneh, I make you famous — rich!” She said inside the limo, “You look pretty ok honneh, you dress nice and smile. Always smile honneh, always smile.”
She gave her nice car to drive around and adorned her with expensive jewelry. “You are my favorite honey, my favorite” she always said. She was always with her on events and parties, always by her side, like her right-hand girl. Inga was a business woman, she knew she can get a lot of business from Lizzy, a potential marketing ploy, something that can jump start her waning ‘service’ business. It has nothing to do with the way she’s been running the business or the floundering economy. “It’s the customers,” she’d say. Still marketable, still a head turner but it was the vibrancy of youth that always brought her the fancy cars and shiny jewelry, that youthful glow on girls faces, that petite slithering body, that sparkling twinkle in their eye when they smile.
“It is youth may darling, youth. The glorious youth we all once had and now gone forever” she’d say in front of her partners with a smile. Her face a hint of regret as though she wished she can turn it all back and start all over. “Youth, monsieur. Just look her face, that pretty face, the sparkling twinkle in her eyes. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She’d continue holding Lizzy by her chin. “I save you for best customer dahling only best customer.”
And she did. Most of her clients she sent Lizzy to were professionals at the top of the social ladder — mostly businessman, young, rich, too busy to find a date in their constant travel, their never-ending parties on yachts and private jet planes. They’d bring here into bars with a jazzy singer. Her voice was mellow and deep, slightly hoarse from that matches the jazzy tune she was singing. It was dim at the bar with plenty of cocktails on a bar. The walls were made of brick, there were scented candles lighting up the crystal champagne glasses behind the counter. The sweat mixed with their designer perfumes fills the night. Some were actors who just want to have an evening dinner without any connection or any false pretenses. Just a simple company, no strings attached, and a serene peace over French wines and Lizzy’s precious smile. Behind all of it, all of what’s happening in the background is Sten.
Sten was born Stanislaw. He was in medical school when he met Inga. He was at a party one night when his friends wanted to score some joint. They drove to the dealer’s house — it was Inga. “good evening guys, I give this to you today free of charge, okay guys, ok” and she waved them off with her red cigarette pipe. Sten doesn’t use drugs, he tried but never liked it. He threw up when he did and his head started to spin uncontrollably. He had hallucinations, he could barely walk. Since then he quit.
Then she received a phone call from an unknown number. “Hallo, it’s me — your best friend in downtown,” the voice said. It was with a familiar Serbian accent, female. “I haven’t seen you boys lately hmm.”
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“C’mon honneh you know me. If your friends are not interested then I have a job for you.“ It was a drug run from the airport to the border of Arizona. “I can pay you serious money, big cash,” she said in a sinister voice.
That was the last semester he saw of school. The lure of easy money and running drugs for Inga overwhelmed her dreams of one day becoming a doctor. No loans, no studying, no hard work — just plain cold hard cash and lots of it. Inga seized on him like a vice — he knew he wanted money and he used him to make money. He was good at it; maybe it was his innocent charm, his calm demeanor. He is never caught — always under the radar, always closing his biggest deals.
To Sten, it was all temporary, just enough for him to save some money, enough to buy that resort he’s been dreaming about in the Caribbean. Then he’d be out. He’ll tour his guests, wine them, dine them and just watch the world go by one sunset at a time by the beach. But his one hurdle is Inga. She’ll never let him go — he knows too much. She’ll have him shot and dumped in the desert once she finds out.
“Steeennn!” Inga would scream at the top of her voice. She’s usually kind to people especially to those that worked for her — her employees. But not to Sten. “What did I tell you about those Colombians dealers huh?! Two weeks and they still haven’t delivered. You don’t deal with them period those scums.”
“I gave them thirty grand for the first kilos, that’s all. That’s how we’ve always dealt with those guys.”
“blah ablah blah”
“Bla blah blah”
“Well now…” Inga said. Biting down her red pipe as she spoke. “where the hell is Lizzy I’m late.”
The elevator on the mansion down towards the first floor indicating that it’s heading down. Lizzy was on the elevator wearing the Chanel dress from she ordered from Rome. She was facing towards the door, her bare back visible through the crystal elevator glass. Her neck was shining with Prada diamonds. She turned her head and saw Sten mesmerized at her. Inga was talking, her hand waving in the usual fashion, she was screaming. Sten seems to oblivious to her rant as if she wasn’t there.
“Are you listening to me?” Inga said.
Sten was startled, snapping out of his trance, “yes ma’am, yes ma’am” he said with a stutter. waving her Blah blah blah…. When he looked up he….
Lizzy met Inga from her close friend who frequented the city’s hillside homes. Malibu used to be the pinnacle of fame, where the rich dwell and the popular moguls of entertainment lounge in their satin robes and hand sewn tuxedos. Now it’s just a rundown establishment for drug runners and hookers. Except for a few individuals who knew where the place the right bet — how to play the game and avoid crumbling into the withering economic system. In short, they were the tough guys, the ruthless businessmen who knew how to kill and thumb their noses like a rat, like Inga.
She invited her to a party one day to meet friends and expand her social network. He said it will help her find a job and maybe even land that career she always dreamed of. To Lizzy, it was all going too fast. How did she know about my dream career? She thought she does not have a dream career, at least nothing she mentioned to her. All she wants is a job, something to pay her bills and get her through life in the city. Inga introduced her to many of her acquaintances and business partners that she hardly remembered their names. They were friends at first, very professional when she’s with her, and they spent time attending evening parties and event shows for his modeling business. Always with martinis and wines imported from a private collector in Italy.
She learned how to drink after a while. She got used to the taste of fancy cocktail drinks and pitted olives stuffed with caviars. The taste was bitter at first burning his palate on each sip. At first, she’d get tipsy after half a glass of beer and then eventually a full bottle. She slowly worked her way up without realizing it. She drank cocktails mixed with eighty proof alcohol and twelve-year-old scotch on a beer mug. She was always with Inga, her boss, her manager. Inga was a modeling agent who lived most of her life as socialite and party organizers for the rich. Her clients, typically Hollywood celebrities or producers or talent scouts looking for their next pop idol, their next poodle to parade down the aisle of fame and then the pillars of fortune. Some were politicians, all of them with yachts and private jets. It’s her work she said, partying is her work. Inga always invited her to her exclusive parties but she never really figured out what he does. He claimed he manages models for magazines and TV commercials but she has never seen any of his work. She was surrounded by beautiful models, always glamorous and elegant women walking as though they’re on the cat walk in a modeling show. Sometimes they’re in swimsuits in a Jacuzzi with her partners, and other times casual, with tight jeans and expensive leather boots.
Inga was always on the phone with Sten, her drug runner. “I said 20 kilos you idiot, 20 kilos” and she would hang up and shake her head in frustration. “I don’t know why I keep that guy, I don’t know honey”
The sky was clear above the hills of Beverly Hills. There was laughter from nearby Jacuzzis and the elongated bars as the waitresses wearing knee high boots serve martinis garnished with pitted cherries and ensemble olives. The patio deck was made of rough marble lined with polished Brazilian rosewood. The glass rail curved along the cliff of the Hollywood hills overlooking Los Angeles. Along the edges were mini palm trees trimmed to shape like sprouting meadow grass on top, the trunk was lined with yellow orchids and autumn daisies. Sten was on the unlit side of the patio where the rails end on a flower garden. He was waiting for an order from Inga.
Eugene and Flynn were at the bar drinking — his counterpart, other drug runners, their guns bulging on the side of their suits. Most of her men were armed, skilled for a gunfight at any moment. They have knives on their boots or a folding blade hidden in their belt buckles usually. But not Sten — he doesn’t carry any weapon or blade. For his line of work it was foolish according to Eugene, to Inga it was stupid but brave. It was his charm as she puts it, not by his brute force.
Sten approached her with a glass of scotch. His heart was beating rapidly and there was a big lump in his throat. It felt like a clump of wet newspaper. “Hi,” he said mustering an image of a relaxed demeanor, the scotch was shaking in his hand. He took as swig from the crystal glass he was cradling. He coughed afterward almost spewing on Lizzy’s dress. He coughed some more clearing his throat as he turned red. “Went down the wrong pipe!” he said sputtering the words in embarrassment.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Lizzy said at last, “Mr. Congressman is a bit drunk, he wouldn’t know I’m gone”
They stepped out on the terrace where the swerving street of Mulholland stretched down into darkness. There was smoke steaming from the kitchen vents of Inga’s villa, the balcony lined with red roses over the glass buildings and underground tunnels echoed with laughter from businessmen and movie executives. They’d murmur words to themselves constantly — some will hum a tune. They knew how they are, they’ve met them on several occasions, had dinner with them and spent a tour on their expensive yachts during the summer. Still, there were unexplained details on who why they’re here. To him, it seems as though they walk aimlessly in fog, unaware of each other. Lizzy held her by the arm as if he was her date. It was then when everything turned bright for him.
Briefly, the stars shined bright, the moon glowed with a shimmering sparkle, the night was covered with an enchanting scent of spring flowers and meadows in a blooming hillside valley. The air was dense, time seemed to stop. The world itself knew of everything about them. Their eyes locked in that perfect moment. He stood there watching the street dealers selling mescaline and ecstasy, there were hookers and open bars with drunks and loud laughter from drunken guests. She stood there on the train platform leaning against the lamp post — gazing out into the darkness. She noticed that the moon was brighter than usual, and then it slowly faded behind the dense clouds. The stars grew dimmer, back into their usual faint glow — outshined by the city lights. And the fire gripped their withering soul, their hearts yearning for meaning.
Sten drove her home that night. Lizzy told Inga she was feeling a little sick and had to leave without her. She told her most of his guests are drunk, that they’re all having a great time with Sandra and Colleen. “Ok honey, ok — Inga said. You feel better now honey ok?” and she waved her off with her red glowing cigarette pipe. It wasn’t until the following week until Sten called Lizzy, “Would you like to go and have…”
“Yes,” Lizzy replied without waiting for him to finish.
“Ok, well you know I may have to steal you away from Inga again”
“I’ll come up with an excuse, washing my dog or something.”
“But you don’t have a dog.”
Lizzy giggled, “yah I guess I don’t”
“Pick you up at eight on the dot?”
“I have to go shopping, I need something to wear,” she said as she hangs up giggling.
There were times when he’d pick her up for Thai food on Temple street or drive her down to Koreatown for Bibimbap and silky soju that she always loves to drink. Occasionally they’d go out of town and spend a weekend in Seattle or Hawaii. But most days they’d drive to Vegas and watch the glittering shows on the strip. They’d randomly pick one and buy front row tickets to each show. They’ll go clubbing on penthouse parties over the hotels and mingle with strangers and tourists from out of town. All this was behind Inga. They know she wouldn’t approve. Inga was never into mixing business with a relationship. “It’s bad for business, bad for business, ok.” She’d always say.
He’s been seeing her for six months when her birthday came. It’s been raining for three days in LA, the hills of where she lived are soaked with rain water softening the clay on her well-trimmed yard. Sten took his muddy boots off before entering and pulled out a small box wrapped in silver paper with neatly tied ribbon strapped diagonally across the top. “Happy birthday,” he said with his usual awkward smile. Lizzy’s eyes widened, her glass eye glinting with the faint glow of gloomy weather from the window.
“Sten you shouldn’t have,” she said as she gasps with her usual naïve giggle then gave him a kiss on his lower cheek. “Come on in.” Sten walked in past the furry auburn carpet past the glass blown vases filled with fresh cut roses and daisies delivered to her by the local florist every morning. He was standing by her bedroom door as she was getting dressed. She can faintly see her lithe body from the foggy bathroom mirror.
“Listen, Lizzy, I’ve been thinking,” he said. “remember that resort I was planning to buy?”
“Yes, of course. You’d take me there someday right? Live on the beach, go on a boat trip every day, entertain your guests.”
“Yes, uhm, I haven’t told you this but I…” he hesitated on each word. “I uhmm… I’m buying it soon. We’ll go there soon, ok” he said finally, regretting his dishonesty.
“Great, I can’t wait.” She said.
But he was broke — he stopped negotiating with Ruckus when he learned he was dealing coke to high school students on a Broadway play in LA. The play directors were wondering why they were all performing so fluidly, so refined and uninhibited, so natural — like professionals. They wanted fame Ruckus said. I’ll give them fame. And he did. In a form of synthetic opium in a syringe laced with crystallized meth.
Ruckus lost most his dealings when Sten pulled out of the deal he started to look for a racket elsewhere. But there were none. He needed Sten’s contact and business in the high-courts to continue doing business. Most of the suppliers go to him, they trusted him. He’s the only one that hasn’t double-crossed any of them, they knew that any transactions going through his hand were clean, uncut and profitable. He made a name for himself like a well-marketed brand. The thugs and gangs that permeated the business crumbled, all their power and money meant nothing compared to Sten’s code of dealings — that he didn’t care about money. He’d rather deal straight and avoid getting killed.
Ruckus showed up in Sten’s apartment the other day. The sky was blue with a hint of a rain cloud on the horizon.
“Hey there partner,” he said when Sten walked in the apartment. He was sitting on the couch.
“How’d you get in here?”
“I have a key, don’t you remember?” He said as he pulled out a long serrated knife with a buffalo horns for a handle. “we need to talk.”
“I can’t deal with scumbags like you,” He said, “you know damn well I’m a data runner, not a dope dealer. I deal weeds man, for leisure, fun, to those mature enough to know what they’re doing. Not to some wanking kids on Broadway.”
“Fine” Ruckus said as he headed to the door, “I’ll have to talk to Inga about this.” He left with a threatening look.
Sten called Lizzy as soon as the door behind him clicked.
“I’ve been thinking, you know our plan to get out of here,” He said on the phone, “let’s just do it, tonight. I’ll meet you at the train station.” Then he hangs up.
She was at the Grand Merrier when she received his message. The music was loud around the bar. It echoed across the billowing dense fog over the hills. Sten sounded serious. There was a tense pitch in his voice, something he doesn’t usually hear from his typically calm demeanor. The phone dialed as she returned his call.
“Is everything ok?” She asked over the loud thumping of bar music as soon as he picked up.
“Ruckus was here, he knows about the deal. He’s heading back to the mansion now to let Inga know. I think it’s best if we leave now.”
“Ok, I’ll have to pack up and call Josie, she has has borrowed my luggage the other day and…”
“Just grab what you can right now, I don’t think it’s safe for us to be here.” He insisted — forcing a calm demeanor.
Lizzy head home without saying goodbye. It was quiet when she got home, nothing but the usual neighborhood chatter over the patio and the occasional barking of guard dogs. Inga was sitting in her lounge chair when she walked in her apartment, and the faint lamp lit up the tip of her red cigarette pipe, the smoke billowing in the darkness.
“Hello Lizzy, sit down honneh, sit down” She said puffing a wisp of smoke. “How was your night honneh?”
Lizzy stared back into her dark gaze. She was silent, paralyzed from fear. “It was ok, Inga. Typical night,” she said at last.
Inge leaned forward uncrossing her legs on the chair, “we need to talk honneh, we need to talk.” Then without warning, she pulled out the mini shotgun behind her.
Lizzy ducked under the table in a panic crawling away from Inga. She heard the first blast. Loud. Followed by another. The vase on the table shattered over her head, bits of silver and crystal glass flew across the room, strewn next to her under the table. The shotgun fired again.
ENDING: LIZZY KILLED INGA, RUCKUS PLEDGING LOYALTY TO STEN. LIZZY KILLING INGE WITH A SHOTGUN. LIZZY AND STEN TAKING OVER THE BUSINESS.