A Romantic Thriller
(Includes Adult Content)
By Emily W. Skinner
Published October 3rd 2011
Marquel is a fast ride from Florida to Hollywood California and back to Florida again. An emotionally broken yet rising star Marquel is struggling with haunting memories, a romance with her psychiatrist, a mystery man who is stalking her all while an aggressive tabloid journalist Mark Collins is trying to unveil her past. It’s a race to see who will discover her secrets first and how that knowledge with effect her career and the men who love her.
“I can’t get the head out! Jesus Christ…Get downstairs and get some help!”
The husband turned numbly toward the door, his eyes wet. Just a few steps away his wife had given birth to the legs and torso of his daughter. He turned to the nurse midwife. “You’re going to kill her! Stop pulling…damn you…you’ll rip her arms out!”
“You want brain damage? Move. Now!” the midwife commanded.
“It hu…hur…hurts,” Joanne moaned.
“I know, sweetie. We’re almost there.”
Brunette clumps clung to Joanne’s neck; her damp gown stuck to her swollen breasts and belly. It was 100 degrees in the small room she was certain. Surely she was going to die of asphyxiation. “I…” she gripped the sides of the bed and cried out again. God, dear God…Let this baby live…We’ve come…too far…Don’t…take her…Another violent pain coursed through her. Every cell, every tissue seemed to unravel. Shaking uncontrollably against the pressure, no more sound escaped her; all was strangled by the brutal force tearing her in half.
Her husband, now a sobbing heap on the hallway floor, cried and prayed. She could hear someone mounting the staircase, bounding upward. The sound was a faint pounding in her head…Or was it the blood pumping through her, resounding in her eardrums?
Another nurse midwife entered.
“It’s going to be okay,” she assured Joanne.
She hoped it would be, she’d never seen anything quite like it. The small, rubbery figure was clamped at the head by the very canal that gave her life. “I’ll take over.”
She checked Joanne, noting the widening tear. The head would come, should come. “Just a little more, sweetie…” Please, just a little more.
How many hours had it been? Joanne wondered. It seemed like just moments ago her husband had been massaging her back. They were laughing. Holding hands. He had watched highlights of a football game on the small black and white television on the corner dresser as the contractions got closer. Joanne turned her focus to the wallpaper’s faded red, yellow and blue flowers. Now only red, yellow and blue dots blurred beyond the slits of her heavy eyelids. The print bedspread was tossed aside, everything readied for this birth.
The nurse midwives had been very official about everything. They explained that the baby was in a breech position and the doctors at a nearby hospital could turn the baby or do a c-section, Joanne could leave and deliver there. But she was too scared. What if something happened on the way? She hadn’t considered what could happen if she stayed…
The county birthing center seemed safe and homey, even if it was unusually busy. The waiting area was stacked with laboring women each vying for one of the three available rooms. Only those in the most advanced stages of labor were admitted. The whole procedure was only to take a matter of six to eight hours according to their coach. Each family was given instructions on timing contractions, allowing the center a turnover of assembly line accuracy.
Conception had been a miracle. Tests, the only ones they could afford, never detected a problem. Instead they were told to relax, taught how to calculate ovulation, and for Joanne to keep her feet elevated after sex. It was finally assumed that she had damaged her reproductive organs during childhood—something as simple as falling off a bicycle. His sperm count was fine. She was the one at fault, the one with the problem. After seven years of trying, they gave up.
And now in year eight they were spending a misty September morning in an old house converted into a birthing center. Behind the buttercup exterior which expelled the rich aroma of fresh brewed coffee and scrambled eggs, three lives were being torn apart. Joanne feared their bond, their commonality of a love expressed in the creation of flesh and blood could, be short-lived.
Most couples were pampered and fed once their baby arrived. Would they be the rare tragedy the center hushed up? Would they pack up and go home as they had come? Childless…
Joanne inhaled deeply. With what effort she could, she pushed.
“Good girl…Keep it up.”
The first midwife returned with an oxygen tank. She assured Joanne her husband was being attended to in the kitchen downstairs.
“Come on, honey. Come on.”
“Focus Joanne. Do you hear me?”
“Oh-my-God. You’re there.”
Joanne felt a rush of encouragement. She pushed harder. It seemed as though her heart were connected to the umbilical cord. She felt faint. Perhaps she’d die. Her heart fall out? She shook violently. It seemed beyond her control and then it happened. The pressure stopped. The midwives looked at one another.
“Bag the baby.”
Joanne wondered if the baby was dead?
The first midwife suctioned the baby’s nose, mouth and then placed the oxygen mask over the infant’s small face as the second midwife severed the umbilical cord. Joanne turned to see her purplish-blue child, a limp mass on the changing table.
“Bag the…? Is she…?”
The silence lasted far too long.
“She’s responding. Sorry, bag is a term for oxygen.”
“Thank God, oh…thank God.” Joanne tried to pull herself up on her elbows.
“We’ll have an ambulance take you both to the hospital. I’ll get Dad.”
The second midwife patted Joanne’s thigh. “Push out the placenta.”
“Do you think…she’s suffered brain damage?”
“It’s hard to say.”
A greater pain mounted. Joanne closed her eyes. How could she do this again? She felt the pressure inside her growing in volume. “O-o-o-h!” She pushed until the slimy blob released itself.
“It’s over. You’ve done a hell of a job, Mom.”
Joanne smiled. She was a mother, wasn’t she? She felt a well of emotion. Her baby was no longer a part of her. They were independent, yet dependent on one another.
“You want to hold her?”
Joanne nodded. She couldn’t speak, her upper lip quivering.
“Your pediatrician will answer all your questions at the hospital.
She’s tough, your little one.” She rubbed the baby’s right foot. “What’s her name?”
This didn’t seem real.
“Marquel,” Joanne smiled at her daughter. Her daughter.
“How beautiful. Is it a family name?”
“No, it’s…Well, we wanted our…”
“Our child to have a special name,” her husband finished the sentence for her from the open doorway.
The evening sky, streaked gray across periwinkle, appeared as welcoming as a damp mascara stained pillow. For eight o’clock on a Thursday evening, LA traffic wasn’t bad. In fact, at this hour traffic usually moved in and out of the city without incident. All sound was sealed out by the hum of the air conditioner and the car radio. Familiar were the streams of headlights and streetlights cutting through the closing darkness, casting their luminous beams upon the city of angels.
Marquel reached into the gray vinyl console and retrieved a Lucite box. The Joshua Tree, U2. Popping the cassette into the Blaupunkt, she sat upright and squared her shoulders, then punched the turbo to the limit.
It was a high, driving to the right music.
A slight thrust rocked her hips as the Saab moved fluidly under her. It was new, gunmetal gray with a slash of silver pinstriping. Its dove velour interior was bathed in her scent, a mixture of Tabu and perm solution.
I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR…
“How true,” she mumbled. Her white-blonde locks were Shirley Temple bouncy, all but a straight sweep of bangs brushed slightly askew. Thank God the idiot got it right this time! How many times had she told him to let the solution set longer? She knew her hair better than he did. Not a strand of natural curl existed in the camouflaged roots.
Honking at a tour bus, she made a wide sweep around the vehicle and shook her fist at the driver. Why the hell did he drive so slowly? She had to go faster.
She glanced in the rear-view mirror; wide set violet eyes assessed the crimson lipstick covering the full, collagen-injected lips. Ken said her mouth didn’t have the pouty appeal the directors had become so found of, so she had the job done. Ken advanced her the money on her first commercial and there it was, the pout. She ran a finger through the V of her upper lip.
Why did she steal the crap? For some reason, she’d found herself in a drug store with a pocket full of Maybelline cosmetics—when for Christ’s sake she just signed a $100,000 per episode contract!
It didn’t tickle Ken.
Her agent had literally put her life in order, housing her in his lover’s Malibu home for more than six months. Evan was less anal, the strong one in the relationship. Ken was the panicky, overburdened partner who wanted control, yet couldn’t maintain it. Evan was the glue that held his high-strung lover together, kept him in check. Marquel wondered what she or Ken would do if Evan ever kicked them out.
Richard Guy of GuyRex, the beauty contestant gurus, couldn’t have done a better job polishing Marquel’s appearance, she laughed bitterly. An up-and-coming shoplifting in a friggin’ K-Mart. What the hell was wrong with her? She shut the air conditioner off and carefully slid back the sunroof. The damn thing had caused the loss of more than one manicure.
The release of pressure pushed her tassel fine blondeness down, sending tendrils dancing upward and outward. She slid the sleeves of her Calvin Klein cashmere up to the elbow, freeing her arms and shifted gears. She could smell it now. A gust of humid air brought the perm solution to life.
Great! It smelled like a cat pissed on her head.
She glanced in the side-view mirror and caught a glimpse of color. Then she looked into her rear-view mirror and saw him.
California Highway Patrol.
Erik Estrada she could do without. She swung across two lanes and slowed the car to a stop, waiting for the patrolman to dismount and make his approach.
Shit! It hit her all of a sudden. Her heart began to pound. She tapped the steering wheel and looked straight ahead. What was it Ken said? Keep out of trouble. She smiled. Then she remembered that Ken and Evan had taken off for a long weekend. This was her chance to drown in a bottle of their fine wine and soak in the hot tub for a few days. “Can’t do this…” she felt an odd surge of emotion. She ejected the tape and rolled the window down.
“Is there a problem, officer?” her voice quavered. She kept her watering eyes focused on the hood of the car.
“Are you aware of how fast you were going?”
“Well, no” she lied. He wasn’t going to do this to her. She felt her nose begin to run and brushed her hand over it. “I suppose I got impatient…drove a little faster than usual.” God, how could she let this motorcycle cowboy affect her this way?
He asked for her driver’s license. Her palms were now damp. She reached into her bag for the Gucci wallet and retrieved the license, her hands trembling. Stop. She felt certain she was going to lose it, cry out loud. Focus, focus. Crossing her arms, she leaned out the window and watched him scribble something. Her arms felt heavy, like warm clay melting over the window’s rubber molding. Don’t pass out. She started to yawn over and over.
She looked familiar. The name on the license hit him. “You’re Marquel. Suburban Life, right?”
The press was prying, everyone was. The damn press had had a heyday already. Ken was pissed that she didn’t read the trades or watch television. She was television, why watch it? Why should she care what others think? She preferred to keep an invisible persona in her own mind. She couldn’t take all of this seriously. Yet, what could she take seriously? At times she longed for the solitude and beauty of Thoreau’s Walden. But these thoughts depressed her. Stop, damn it. Focus. Driving to the right music gave her strength and power…She blurted out a loud laugh.
She didn’t feel as lightheaded now. “I’m the one. The one and only.” She gave him a wide grin. “You want to stop by the set Monday? I could get you in.” Say no…
He handed her the ticket. “No. But it’ll be my pleasure to add your name to my roster of celebrity violators.”
“The pleasure’s all mine. What kind of music do you drive to?”
“My dispatcher is all the music I need.” He wasn’t returning the smile.
“Guess when you have the right speed you’re driving to a good tune.”
“Ma’am, let’s not head down this path…”
“I have but one path by which my feet are guided and that is the lamp of experience! Or some crap like that. Do you know who said that?”
He didn’t respond. He wasn’t amused by her. He gritted his teeth. She was beginning to sound like a smartass.
“Patrick Henry,” she offered finally.
“He also said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death’. Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else in your pursuit of liberty.”
“Good point. Well taken.”
“Yes, sir,” she saluted, then quickly regretted it. She could tell she was one step from some form of corrective action or, God forbid, being pulled physically from her car. She closed her eyes and began mentally counting, hoping he would leave.
Was she going to cry? He stared at her.
She could feel his eyes boring through her. “I’m praying,” she said. Praying you’ll leave. “I’ll be moving on in a minute.”
He didn’t respond. Just shook his head and went back to his motorcycle. She seemed strange, but not under the influence. He’d keep his distance and followed her awhile to make certain.
“That’s all it took,” she told People Magazine. “I did ‘My Fair Lady’ at the Burt Reynolds Theater and later did some work at MGM in Orlando.”
“Anyway, my first part, in ‘My Fair Lady’ was insignificant…A critic wrote that I looked like the saddest street person he’d ever seen.” She pouted, then paused to inhale a drag of the thin brown cigarette resting between two perfectly lacquered nails. Laughing, she tossed her head back, pitching platinum curls over one shoulder to reveal the now famous violet eyes. “One thing led to another,” she continued. “Guess I’d never have made it out of the boonies if not…”
Rehearsed. The story had been repeated more than twenty times at the media junket. Suburban Life, a contemporary drama series, was the network’s trump card in the fall lineup. Her role as Sharon had already secured an Emmy nomination.
“Who would’ve guessed I’d have a series of my own? I’m a stage actress,” she looked past the magazine writer to the next eager reporter. Impatiently she crushed out the cigarette in an amber glass ashtray and called out “Next.”
Marquel. A single name celebrity soon to join the ranks of Cher, Madonna and Bono.
Zach Manning twisted a charcoal thread dangling from the belt loop of his Brooks Brothers trousers. The woman on the couch was repeating herself. She was annoying and gassy. Had he heard a word?
He didn’t need to, the story never changed. She had convinced herself her husband was impotent—theirs was a sexless marriage. Should she take a lover? Would making him jealous work? Her body turned him off—she used to have a cute ass.
If only he could say what she really needed to hear without sending her over the edge? Divorce the bastard, stop eating burritos and get a job! No one cares if you’re trying to save the planet by not eating meat. You are a self-polluting, self-absorbed hunk of flesh that would make a great meal for some poor starving mountain lion. Sacrifice yourself to those deprived meat-eating animals you want so desperately to preserve…
No, she wanted to save the marriage, despite the fact her husband was getting his elsewhere. Therapy would makes things right again. She’d find the wrong and make it right. Right for him.
What sense did Hollywood make? The place was crawling with insecure assholes earning enough to bail out the federal deficit twice. Christ, he wanted to get back to some grass roots. Maybe talk to Sheen. The actor seemed to be getting away from the glitz and back to real issues. He’d make a note to call Martin on Monday.
Why, in God’s name, had he opened a practice in Beverly Hills?
She’d insisted they move to California just after the wedding. She wanted to be close to her girlfriends, drive fancy cars and dine with the stars. They’d done it all. And now, twenty years later, they were divorced and shared only a single common interest, their 14-year-old daughter Jackie.
Both were civil about the arrangement. He paid a healthy chunk of alimony and child support; Isabel kept the house, the kid, the Bentley and the maid. He moved to Century City and got Jackie on weekends; she shopped, played tennis and did lunch.
Nothing ever changed.
His patients never seemed to change either. The starlet screwed the star, director, producer…anyone for a part. No, the women’s movement didn’t change Hollywood. Everyone still did each other to get ahead. Some got more head than others. The director screamed when the little cunt fell in love with him, ‘cause dammit, he didn’t need that shit. He had a wife, after all, a good marriage.
And the wives, the ones who weren’t screwing around, didn’t know why their husbands weren’t interested.
Was it his age? Her sagging tits? Well?
What a mystery, he sighed. He pulled the gray thread, curled it up with his thumb and index finger and tossed it on the marble top coffee table. “Mrs. Porter, we’re out of time. Let’s pick up Tuesday with that last thought,” he nodded reassurance.
When the woman disappeared, he took her place on the warm leather couch. Running the fingers of both hands through his straight black peppered tresses, he stretched his neck, moving the taut muscles from side to side. His hair characteristically stood up in a cropped fashion, the effect of a crew-cut grown out. Closing olive complected lids, he rested his tired black eyes. At 52, he knew there had to be more to this stinking life than work and golf.
He had Jackie. But Jackie only filled part of the void. She was a good kid. Never got into trouble. Didn’t smoke or drink that he knew of. Maybe he needed to move out of the highrise and into a house. A place where she could spread out. Even if it was only for the weekend.
Ken Avery answered the intercom. “What is it? I’m long distance with New York…”
The angel-voice whispered, “He says he’s with Pursuit. He wants an interview with Marquel. Should he hold?” She sounded as if she were out of breath.
Ken rolled his aquamarine eyes. This one was brilliant at screening calls…“If he’ll hold indefinitely.”
“Okay, Ken…uh, Mr. Avery.”
Bimbo. All secretaries were nothing but plastic faced bimbos. Maybe he should get a guy to sit out there and field calls.
“This is Avery,” he punched the speaker on the flashing button with his pencil, “make it quick, I’m on the other line.” He toyed with the pencil, then leaned over and began rummaging through his desk drawers.
“Mark Collins with Pursuit. I’d like to interview Marquel on the set of Suburban Life.”
“What’d you say your name was?”
“As in Tom Collins?”
“The son of.”
Ken felt satisfaction as he retrieved a Cross pen he’d feared he’d lost. “The son of?”
“Do I have an interview?”
“Ken, work with me here.”
“Whatever your name is, the answer is no. We don’t do tab trash.”
“We’re weekly trash. Keeps your client’s name in front of the public. Millions of TV viewers read us for their star fix. What’s so bad about a little trash?”
“It rots, smells and needs to be disposed of.”
“Before it rots it’s consumable, digestible and you have the option of recycling.”
“You’re not selling me, Collins. Flying dogs on the set of Suburban Life. Marquel held captive by alien Elvis clone. You don’t need my client to write that crap.” Ken punched the button disconnecting the man.
He checked the other line. The tinkling music box chimed “It’s a Small World.” Dammit, would they ever pick up?
“Mr. Avery?” Angel-voice interrupted. “Mr. Collins says he was accidentally disconnected.”
This jerk had balls. “It was no accident.”
“He’s real polite, should I ask…”
“To hold? Je-sus! Listen, no more calls today. I’m out, got it?”
“Yes, but what about…”
He punched the flashing button. “Collins you’re pissing me off!”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“I’m trying. What can I say? You hate tabloids, I write for one.”
“And I can put your client on the cover every week for a month with just an hour on the set. You and I know the trailer park crowd and low to middle income families consume most of the junk food Suburban Life’s sponsors promote. They’re also the same folks who read our magazine. Even bad supermarket press usually reaps a sympathy response. ‘That poor girl doesn’t need those press people prying into her life’. Ken, it’s a win/win situation. No one with a brain takes us seriously. Though, personally, I like to have an element of truth to a story.”
“So you admit you make it up. And now I’m just another of those folks without a brain.”
“I don’t. No, you’re not.”
“Like I’m supposed to feel warm and fuzzy now.”
“No, cold and indifferent will work. Do I have the interview or not?”
“You’re good. You’re a liar, but good. You want a job? I’ve got screenwriters who can’t pitch worth a damn. They can write their ass off, but get them in front of key people and they fall apart.”
“Ken, I’m flattered.”
“The answer is still no.”
“Let’s pretend I work for the Times or Chronicle…”
“Sixty minutes on the set. What harm can come from it?”
Ken sighed. “I’m gonna take a chance here. Call tomorrow for a day and time.”
“You only get one chance, Collins. Don’t fuck it up.”
Ken punched the flashing button, disconnecting Collins. “Yes, I’ll hold.” He broke the pencil in half. Who the hell did they think they were talking to? He punched the intercom, “Terry.”
Angel voice. “Yes, Mr. Avery?”
“You sit on this line. When they pick up, for God’s sake sound professional, then connect me.”
Yes sir. Was he her friggin’ father now?
Emily Skinner Books | Amazon | B&N | Kindle | Nook | iBooks
Emily had a goal when she was 15, she would have a daughter named Marquel and write a novel titled “Marquel.” She accomplished both and more.
A member of The International Thriller Writers, Emily was a protege of the late master of the pulps or paperback originals, Harry Whittington. Emily interviewed Whittington during her days as a feature writer for the Clearwater Sun daily newspaper and its weekly division. They became friends and he taught her how to plot and gave her approval of the original outline and sample chapter for “Marquel” shortly before he died in 1989.
After Whittington passed away, Emily challenged herself to write as her mentor did and wrote a chapter a day and finished the novel “Marquel” in 52 days. For more details on the novel’s history read:http://www.thefilmmom.blogspot.com/20…
Fast forward, a second daughter, Blair is born and Emily and husband Tom focus on raising their family. Both daughters are now grown and work in Hollywood. So this might be an example of art imitating life or the reverse?
A devoted Catholic, Emily is rekindling her love for writing and has just completed the movie script for “Marquel” and a young adult paranormal appropriately named after her youngest child, “St. Blair: Children of the Night.” She will begin the sequel to “Marquel” in the coming months, currently untitled.
When Emily isn’t working as a marketing consultant or writing, she enjoys antiquing/thrifting and producing short films. Emily is the proud Executive Producer of Blair Skinner’s film “Relative Eternity,” a 2012 LA Shorts Film Festival selection, Sunscreen Film Festival selection and Short Film Corner Festival de Cannes selection. Written, directed and edited by Blair Skinner, “Relative Eternity” is on snagfilms.com for your viewing pleasure. It is free to view.
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