Authors: Jules Moulin
“By the way, Lizzie is doing porn.”
THEY DROVE AND DROVE
as night fell, until they spotted the perfect bar with neon signs and a pebble-strewn lot set back from the road.
This was the place, they both agreed, as Jake pulled in. They could practically smell the draft beer, the frozen potato fries soused in tallow, the greasy cod, twenty-cent wings, fried oysters, and cheap cologne. They could hear Megadeth on the jukebox.
Jake parked his Chevy in a dark, empty corner at the edge of an even darker wood.
“This is so strange,” Ally said. “I'm never out at night.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm never outside, outdoors, at night. It's so easy on the eyes. I forgot.” She turned to him. “Remember the first time you went out at night? With your friends? How exciting that was? That's how this feels.”
Jake smiled and turned off the radio. “I'm going in. You head inside in, like, twenty minutes?”
“You okay out here by yourself?”
Ally looked around the lot. “Of course.” She peered into the woods.
“Okay,” Jake said. “See you inside.”
Ten minutes later, alone in the car, Ally rolled down the window and looked up into the clear night.
Off the coast that far out, the sky was awash with thousands of stars. She opened her phone to check Meer's message but dialed New York instead and waited.
After some seconds, Lizzie picked up, loud and clear. “Mommy?” she answered. She knew it was Ally.
“Hi, sweetie! How's it going?”
“I'm going to bed. I'm tired,” Lizzie said. She sounded weary.
“How was the shopping?”
“Where are you now?” Lizzie said, yawning.
“Home,” Ally said.
“No, you're not.”
“What?” How could she know?
“We tried you at home.”
“Oh. No, I'm home. I didn't hear it. The phone ring. Sorry.” She changed the subject. “See you at the station tomorrow? Yay!”
“Do you want Grandma? She's downstairs.”
“No, I'm here,” Claire said. At some point, she'd picked up the line.
“Oh!” Ally laughed. “Hi, Mom.”
“Night, Mommy,” Lizzie said and yawned again.
“Night, honey. Did you get your hair cut?”
Lizzie hung up.
“Lizzie? Mom? You still there?”
“Yes, I'm here. We'll see you at one?”
“One with bells on,” Ally said. “Did she get a haircut?”
“No. She didn't. Did you get your work done?”
“Almost there,” Ally lied. “Just a few more.”
Claire paused. “See you tomorrow.”
“Great,” Ally said. “How did the shopping go?”
Without replying, Claire hung up.
Ally stared at the phone for a moment. That was odd. She sat there wondering what was wrong. Maybe the reception? Or something else?
She turned on the radio, and after some minutes, she looked toward the bar and wondered suddenly if she was safe, sitting in a parking lot alone.
She gazed around the lot again. No one was out among the cars, and the music was playing so loud inside that no one would hear her if she screamed. If she screamed. If she had to scream for some reason.
She decided she'd waited long enough. Surely Jake had a soda by now and had picked up a game of darts or whatever.
She grabbed her purse, took the keys from the ignition, and climbed from the Chevy. She locked it twice and walked off quickly toward the bar.
THE STUDIO AT THE
end of the hall was designed to look like a teenager's room: cheerleading pendants, One Direction posters, Hello Kitty sheets.
The MacBook Pro sat on a desk across from a mirror so clients could enjoy two different angles at the same time.
“Will it work?” Fishman asked and held the door.
Lizzie stepped in. “Perfect,” she said, looking around. “You thought of everything.” She was impressed. She slipped a CD out of her pocket and turned to him. “Rihanna? Usher?”
“Perfect,” he said, imitating her and turning to leave.
“Any advice?” Lizzie asked as she placed her bag on the bed.
“Well,” Fishman said, turning back around, “some guys like action. Movement, dancingÂ .Â .Â . Others like something more subdued.”
Fishman shrugged. “Stripping slowly. Pleasing yourself.”
“Pleasing myself,” Lizzie said and smiled. “I love your euphemisms.”
Fishman studied her. “You're pretty smart, aren't you, Jenny?”
Lizzie paused. “No, not really.”
“Anyway, some guys just want to talk.”
“Okay,” she said. “I can talk.”
Then he paused. “But not too much. Don't talk too much.”
Lizzie nodded, feigning interest. She was starting to wish she'd never asked.
“It's not intimate. Even if it feels like it is. Men love mystery.”
“Who doesn't?” Lizzie laughed.
“Familiarity breeds contempt. Don't you think?”
“I guess. I don't know. I'm twenty years old. What do I know?” She laughed again nervously.
Fishman studied her. “Just don't think you're making friends. He doesn't care about your dreams.”
“No, of course.”
“He doesn't want to know your favorite food or the name of your pet. He wants to come. That's what he wants. Nothing more.”
Lizzie wondered if Fishman was stoned. She thought she could smell the faintest whiff of weed.
He gazed past her and thought about it for the first time ever. No one had ever asked his advice. “Keep in mind,” he continued, riffing, “he's having sex with
He's somewhere out there, all aloneÂ .Â .Â .
, like, make-believe, to have sex with youÂ .Â .Â . When you think about it, it's pretty sadÂ .Â .Â . when he could beâwhen he's
to be screwing an actual woman. It's not like we
to eat. It's not like we
to sleep. But we pretend to fuck 'cause we can?” He looked at Lizzie, his eyes glazed over. Then he snapped out of it. “Well, good luck,” he added brightly.
“Thanks,” Lizzie said. She was amused but tried to hide it.
Fishman then opened the door and slipped out. “And I'd lose the wig. I think you're prettier as a blonde.”
Lizzie looked surprised as he pulled the door shut, and a cold, clammy feeling settled in her stomach.
Minutes later, the screaming came. “No, no! Help!” the young woman screamed, loud and clear.
Lizzie looked up from the CD player. She looked toward the wall to her right, toward the voice.
“Help! Someone! Help!” The voice sounded anguished.
Lizzie's breath quickened and her eyes grew wide. Instinctively, she stepped toward the wall and pressed her ear against it.
The woman cried out, “Call the police!”
Lizzie beelined to the door and stepped out into the empty hall, where she could hear a man's voice too, lower, berating the Screamer next door.
She looked around. The hall was empty. No one was there? Or maybe, she thought, no one else heard or no one else cared?
She crossed to the door as the pleas grew more and more intense. Tentative, she took the knob, turned it, and threw the door open wide.
“What are you doing!” the Screamer screamed. At Lizzie. “Close the fucking door!” The naked Screamer, a tiny young thing, was perched on all fours, and the young man behind her, naked too, was gripping her ponytail, pretending to ride her hard from behind. He laughed.
“I'm sorry!” Lizzie said and pulled the door shut. “Shit! Shit!” She stood alone in the middle of the hall, her heart racing. “Way to make friends. Way to make friends,” she said aloud to no one. She was mortified.
The screaming wasn't real. It was an act.
Across the East River, in Manhattan, on Thirty-Sixth and Ninth, Weather was standing on a makeshift stage at the Joel Fox Acting for Actors Studio.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Worthing. You're not on my list of eligible men.” In her best British accent, she pretended to consult a clothbound book. “I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answer be what a truly affectionate mother requires.”
“Lizzie?” called Ally, interrupting. She had opened the door and cast the light from out in the hall over the stage.
“Excuse me!” cried Joel from somewhere in the dark.
“Lizzie, are you there?” Ally yelled, interrupting again.
“Excuse me, lady, this is a class!” Joel bellowed.
“Is Lizzie Hughes here? Lizzie? It's Mom!”
“Mrs. Hughes?” Onstage, Weather turned, squinting in the stage lights. She was wearing a floor-length pink satin gown, matching pink bonnet, and wire-rimmed glasses.
“Hi, honey. We need to talk.”
“Um, can it wait? I'm in the middle ofâ”
“No,” Ally said, stepping inside. She looked into the dark. She couldn't see Joel, but she knew he was there. “Mr. Fox? Sorry. It's Allison Hughes. Lizzie's mom. I'm sorry, but it's an emergency. I need Weather for a minute orâ”
“Thanks,” said Ally, leaving the room.
Weather lifted her enormous hoop skirt, stepped off the stage, and followed Ally into the hall.
“We have a deal,” Ally interrupted. “If I call three times, she calls back. She hasn't called. I'm worried sick.”
“Mrs. Hughes,” Weather said again. “That guy in there, Joel Fox, calls on me, like, once a month. Not once a week like the girls with boobs and toothpick legs, the ballerinas, but once a month. If I'm lucky.”
“I know about the porn,” Ally said.
Weather's face fell.
“I need a number or an address. Lizzie is missing.”
“I can't. I'm sorry. Lizzie would kill me.”
“I will kill you!” Ally drew close. “Do you understand how dangerous this is? How stupid this is? To get mixed up with these kinds of people?”
Weather swallowed and drew on her courage. “Do you understand she's
her future? Do you understand that Lizzie is a
Ally squinted. “What are you saying?”
“She's Lara Croft.”
“Who is that?”
“You should be impressed. She has a plan.”
“And what is the plan when someone holds a gun to her head or drugs her or abducts her?”
“That's notâpart of it,” Weather said.
“Camming is a
crime. Do you know what that is?”
“Mrs. Hughes. I have to go back toâ”
“Where is she now? She should be here. Acting class, Wednesdays, four o'clock.”
“You should knowâshe's wearing a wig.”
“That's the plan? A
is the plan?”
The door opened and Joel popped out. “Are we done?”
“No!” Ally snapped.
He slipped back inside.
Seething, she turned and faced the wall. She tipped her forehead against it and breathed. “
was that actor naked in there?”
In the studio, the six-foot-four actor playing Jack Worthing had, indeed, been standing next to Weather naked, his lanky pale penis resting on his thigh.
“It's the Fox method. It helps inhibition.”
“Does it really?” Ally asked. She turned and studied the enormous holes in Weather's ears, stretched by rings three inches wide.
Odd, she thought. Why did this girl from
, this girl with the face and smile of an angel, why did she look like a Kenyan Maasai? “Weather?” she said. “Was it your idea? This sex-cam thing?”
“No, Mrs. Hughes.”
“Was it Lizzie's?”
“Then whose was it?”
“I can't tell you.”
Ally nodded, turned around, and started downstairs. “I'm sorry he calls on you once a month! You're beautiful, honey. Except for the way you torture your ears. Your acting is terrific. You've always had talent. Real talent. Pay no attention to Mr. Fox.”
Weather stood there staring at Ally. She didn't say a word.
“Ask her to call her mother, please!” Ally sang with irony. “You know, the woman who fed her and changed her and paid for Duke.”
Ally stopped and turned. “Yes?”
“If you want to know, ask your boyfriend.”
“My boyfriend? Who? I don't have aâ”
“Okay,” said Ally, mystified.
“It was his idea.”
Ally's gaze, fixed on Weather, shifted to the wall, to a poster for
. Weather blurred as laughter erupted from inside the room. She leaned in to listen, opened the door, and slipped back to class with a small wave.
Ally, however, stood unmoving for more than a minute. Then she turned and went downstairs.
Out on the sidewalk, she speed-dialed Ted.
In Red Hook, in the pantry, Sasha stood over six feet tall, with white-blond hair, side-swept bangs, and naturally, beautifully bloated lips. She was trying to read the directions for the Keurig when Lizzie walked in. “Hello. Hi. How are you doing there in today?” She spoke with a Russian accent.
Lizzie brightened. Hurray, she thought, the Pussy Riot fan! Finally! She said hi in Russian.
Sasha turned around, delighted. “No! Tell me! Do you speak Russian?”
“A little,” said Lizzie, again in Russian.
“Oh! You must see this!” Sasha pointed to the Keurig. “Mr. Fishman, he buy this for us. Do you know to how use?”
“No,” Lizzie said. “But I can help youÂ .Â .Â . figure it out.” She strode to the counter to help.
“Very wonderful,” Sasha said, peering closer at Lizzie's hair. “Is fake?”
Lizzie smiled. “I'm undercover,
“No!” Sasha gaped. “Police?”
“No!” Lizzie cried. “I have to model in secret, you know, because of my mom.” She plugged in the Keurig. “She'd kill me.”
Sasha nodded. “Yes,” she said.
The Screamer then entered. She now wore a pink robe and slippers. “Hey, stupid,” she said to Lizzie and flew to the fridge.
Lizzie spun. “Stupid?” she said. “You called for help.” The Screamer laughed and opened the fridge. Lizzie seethed. “You
, âHelp! Call the police!'”
” said the Screamer, cracking open a Dr Pepper. “Fake rape. Everyone loves it.” She took a swig.
real,” Lizzie said. “Sorry for trying to save your life.”
“He doesn't even penetrate,” the Screamer bragged. “He's not even in. He's not even
” She scowled at Lizzie and chucked the soda can into the trash. “Are you coming, Sasha? Tonight? Party?”
“No,” Sasha said and turned to Lizzie. “I cannot pay for New York vodka.”
The Screamer shrugged, grabbed some SunChips, and walked out the door.
Sasha smiled. “We don't have party for sixteen in Ukraine. We only have pie and clothesline.”
“Oh.” Lizzie smiled. “Those two dummies should lock the door.”
“No,” Sasha said, examining a K-Cup. “No one cannot lock nothing here.”
An hour later, after coffee and a nice long chat in broken English and broken Russian, Lizzie returned to her fake teen bedroom to call and report her news to Weather. “You're kidding,” she said to herself aloud, fretfully searching through her bag.
Had she left it on the bed? The desk? Where? Had she taken out her phone?
Where was her phone?
Then she stopped and gazed at the door, remembering what Sasha had said. She couldn't have locked it if she wanted.
Panicked, she turned her purse upside down and sorted through the items: Kleenex, Band-Aids, pen, shades; novel, headphones, flip-flops, Mace; sunscreen, lip gloss, tampon, AltoidsÂ .Â .Â .
Her fingers flew as she tried to determine what was gone: her cell phone, house keys, clutch with cash, she decided in seconds; and, oddly, a new pack of Doublemint gum.
She looked up, furious.
Across the East River and uptown, near Gramercy Park, Ally sat on the sidewalk and waited. She waited for calls: a call back from Lizzie, from Ted, from Cybil. She waited to hear from Del Frisco's on Sixth, where Lizzie waitressed. She waited to hear from Lizzie's friends Zoe, Miles, and E.
Nobody called Ally back.