Adoration

Act Two, Scene One

Dating a movie star definitely came with good perks, Joe decided. All right, not really dating but still... Even when alone, he no longer had to wait in line at the bank or post office, clerks started offering unexpected discounts at stores he shopped in regularly, and last minute restaurant reservations suddenly became no problem. Busy contemplating his good fortune, he was momentarily blinded when another flash went off in his face as he and Anna strolled up and down Fifth Avenue. Okay, most of the perks.

Since their first lunch out, Joe and Anna had become favorite targets of the New York paparazzi. Although Anna preferred privacy and quiet nights in, Joe managed to convince her that if their act was to work, they needed to be seen together in public on a regular basis.

"The press is fickle,” he told her. “If we're not in their faces constantly, they'll forget about us, and we need your stalker to know I'm around."

She had unhappily agreed with his assessment, and Joe's evenings were now filled with parties, dinners out, and visits to trendy dance clubs. Random afternoons were spent at the theater, watching Anna rehearse and wishing Frank had this part of the job instead. The activity surrounding the production was overwhelming; everywhere he turned there were cast members, props people, lighting and sound technicians, and the backers. I can't keep all these people straight. And who wrote this stuff? It's boring. At least to me. Frank might appreciate it more.

Messages continued to appear at the theater. Most were letters addressed to the play's author, protesting his interpretation of Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus and interactions with the Apostles. A few came for other cast members questioning their motive for being affiliated with such a production. The rest were for Anna. Joe collected those notes and organized them into three piles.

The first consisted of letters from people calling her a scarlet woman for taking the lead role in Stillwater's play. These were usually delivered by the various messenger services in the city, so Joe was able to discount them as people who just wanted to make their opinion known. Even though the wording on some then held threats of unspecified violence, Joe didn't find them credible. The second pile were from fans wanting an autograph or a picture which came to the theater through the mail. Joe rolled his eyes at these, thinking there were more effective ways of making these requests. The third pile was the one that concerned Joe, these were the ones from the stalker. The contained messages that were all variations on a theme – someday Anna would be his, no one would ever love her the way he did, he was watching every move she made, she needed to be careful as a woman alone in the city. Standard enough creep fare.

The notes, all on plain, white paper with computer-printed words, materialized inside costumes, fell out of scripts, and were found on chairs, but never more than one every few days. They seemed to ignore the fact that Joe existed, something which both Joe and Frank found extremely interesting. Everyone at the theater believed he and Anna were now a couple, so the fact that the stalker didn't mention Joe suggested one of several things: either the stalker paid no attention to local media, he had been told by someone that the relationship wasn't real, or the notes had been pre-written and were being doled out one at a time on some sort of schedule. Another option did occur to Joe, but he was careful to not to share it with Anna. He could be crazy, Joe thought. He's got to be nuts if he's doing this with all these people around.

As each note appeared, Anna grew more withdrawn, only coming alive when onstage or acting out her public role as a happy lover in a new relationship. It was only when she and Joe were alone that he could see the fear she hid from everyone, and it made him angry. Spending so much time together, he was getting to know her as a person and was starting to consider her a friend. More than anything, he wanted to get this guy so she could smile for real again.

The intense level of activity had definite downsides as well. Between protecting Anna, investigating the notes, and stopping in at the office whenever he could, in what seemed to be a futile attempt to keep up on at least some of his casework, Joe lost all sense of time. It got so bad that Frank found him in the office one Sunday morning working on a diagram for security cameras for one of their clients. It took Frank almost a half hour to prove to Joe what day it was. He then stood and chuckled as his younger brother threw his hands in the air and stalked out, swearing under his breath.

The biggest downside was that it left him no time to be with Kara.

Kara's money-laundering case had heated up again, forcing her team to work day and night, and somehow their off hours never seemed to match. Unable to see her, Joe left her voicemail messages every few days. Static crackled through most of Kara's return calls, leading Joe to believe she was either out of state or even out of the country. He saved each of her messages, listened to them all over and over so he could hear her voice, and hoped it wouldn't be too long before they could actually see each other again. Walking around town with Anna, his arm wrapped around her waist or holding her hand, felt like cheating. It was Kara he needed in his arms, and her absence was a physical ache. At night alone in his apartment, he lay staring at the ceiling, feeling like half of him was missing. He hated it, and hoped he'd find the asshole scaring Anna soon, so he could punch him out and get his life back. Instead he settled for punching his pillow as he failed yet again to get some sleep.


Rather then providing answers, Frank's findings added more questions to the mix. The LAPD had shared the information they had about Anna's stalker, reporting that the twenty-eight-year-old man was in jail having been found guilty of criminal harassment. Anna had placed a restraining order on him several years ago, so this round of stalking was not only his second offense, but he had violated the restraining order as well and had been sentenced to three years in California state prison.

Dead end, Frank thought. Not helpful. So who is it? He knew both from Montvale's initial information – which he didn't entirely trust – and from Joe's reports, the threatening notes all appeared in the theater. Joe had given him a list of the actors in the cast and as many of the crew members as he could, but what Frank needed was to be there himself, watching the interactions between the different people. It wasn't that he didn't trust Joe's observations, he just felt more than one perspective could be useful. We just need to find a way to get me in there without raising suspicion. Frank decided to put those thoughts on the back burner and concentrate on fact-finding for now. No sense bumbling around without enough information.

A visit to the local branch of the NY Public Library's back issues of Variety yielded information about Adoration's investors. Frank was able to discount several individuals listed as having put sizable amounts of cash into the play as theater angels who had backed other Stillwater productions. The three remaining investors were corporations. Frank pulled out his laptop and after a few hours was able to verify that two of them had invested in other plays over the years. The last one was a fairly recently incorporated entity with no investment history and no listed owners, but by searching through the library's business databases, Frank finally found what he had expected to find. Pierre Montvale's name was listed as one of the owners. Bingo. He packed up his things and left the building, pulling out his cell phone as soon as he got outside. "Joe?"

Joe's voice sounded muffled. "Huh?"

"Are you awake?"

Frank heard other voices in the background, then Joe saying "Yeah, sorry. I'm taking it outside." There was a pause, then he whispered, "Give me a second. I've got to get away from the stage." The sound of footsteps came through the phone, then Joe's voice came back on. "Man, thank you. I thought I was going to die of boredom in there. How can you watch that stuff? I can't even follow..."

"Montvale's one of the investors." There was a long pause on the other end. "Joe, did you catch that?"

Joe let out a long breath. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. The state Division of Corporations has him listed as an owner."

This time Joe whistled. "Should I tell Anna?"

Frank thought for a moment. "I hate to say this, but yes. I don't want to worry her more without need, but we need to know if she knows. I mean, he's been her agent for years, so it may be legit, but I'd like to know for sure." He shook his head and let out a frustrated breath. "I hate not having enough information. Is she okay?"

"No. She's tense. It's been a few days since the last note. It's like she's waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Frank could hear the tension in his brother's voice. "How are you doing?"

"I'm managing." He didn't sound happy.

There wasn't much Frank could say to that. "Okay. I'll keep digging and see if I can come up with anything else. Are you coming in the office any time soon?"

"Tomorrow, I think."

"Okay, little brother. I'll try see you then." Frank hung up the phone, shouldered his messenger bag, and headed off, his mind busy working on how to get into the theater.


Joe didn't make it to the office the next day or for several more days after that. Anna hadn't known about Montvale's investing, but before Joe could ask more about her relationship with her agent, another note appeared at the theater, this one fluttering down from the lighting booms, forcing him to spend the next day or two wandering around the lighting and set crews, joking with them while watching and listening in hopes of catching the perpetrator unawares. All he found for his trouble was a silk handkerchief up on one of the catwalks. None of the stagehands claimed it, although several said if he couldn't find the owner they'd be happy to take it off his hands. His face grew stormier with each negative response until Anna pulled him aside and practically ordered him to leave.

"I think you need to spend some quality time with your brother." She gently touched his face. "You look totally worn out. You need some rest." Joe started to protest, but she cut him off. "I've got a girls' night scheduled tonight, remember? I set it up right after you first... when we started dating."

Joe was suddenly conscious of other ears listening nearby. He nodded, then leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. "You're right," he said. "See you tomorrow?" She smiled, and he left, suddenly feeling absolutely exhausted.

When Joe got to the office, he found Frank's door shut and Chet barricaded behind his desk by three determined-looking young ladies who obviously didn't like whatever it was he was telling them. "He can't avoid our calls forever," the taller of the two blondes was saying. "He can't spend all his time with her."

"We paid for this date fair and square," the shorter blonde girl said. The third girl, Asian with straight, black hair falling past her shoulders, nodded in agreement.

Joe cocked his head to one side. The girls looked familiar. Then it came to him: the sorority girls from the charity auction. Man, I must be tired. You think I would've known them straight off.

Chet caught his eye and shook his head ever-so-slightly. "I'm sorry, ladies, but Mr. Hardy isn't available right now. He's got a long-standing engagement this evening." Joe threw his friend a grateful look and slowly started backing towards the door. "If you leave me a number where you can be reached, I'll have him call you as soon as he's available."

As the two blonde girls complained, the Asian girl took out a compact to check her makeup, then whipped around as her eyes met Joe's in the mirror. Joe groaned. "Madison? Angela?" She jerked her head in Joe's direction, her hair swinging. "I think we found him." The two blondes squealed as she walked towards him, her four-inch heels clicking on the floor tiles. She poked Joe in the chest with her index finger, then dragged it up to his chin. "You owe us a date, Joe Hardy, and we're here to collect."

Joe had to hand it to Chet; his friend tried valiantly to rescue Joe from the evening, explaining repeatedly – and more forcefully than Joe thought was necessary – that Joe was booked for the evening, that he really wasn't available. The Asian girl – Joe remembered her name was Ellen – snapped her fingers at her friends, and the three of them hustled him out of the office. He shrugged his shoulders in a resigned fashion as he waved goodbye to Chet. Let's just get this over with, he thought.

Once at the club the girls had picked out, Joe's newfound celebrity status not only got them in without waiting in line, it also got them a private table. As they sat down, Joe reached into his jacket so he could tuck his cell phone into the front pocket of his pants. It was gone.

"Looking for this?" Angela or Madison – Joe wasn't sure which of the blondes was which – was waving his phone in the air. He grabbed for it. "Uh, uh, uh. We don't want any interruptions tonight, so I'm going to keep this safe for now." She slipped the phone into a pocket sewn into the seam of her shirt, then leaned forward in what Joe assumed was supposed to be a seductive manner. "Unless you want to get it yourself." He put his hands up in surrender. The girl made a disappointed face, then grabbed his hands and led him to the dance floor.

As far as Joe was concerned, time had never moved so slowly. The girls seemed to be having a great time. When he could hear them over the music, they chattered about inconsequential things like who at the club was wearing what or drinking what or had dibs on which cute guy, all of which drove home exactly how much his taste in women had changed. I can't believe I used to find this at all attractive, he thought, wondering wistfully what Kara was doing at that moment.

Finally, he'd had enough. He grabbed Ellen's arm and pulled her over to the bar where the din was less. "I have to go," he said. "I have to be back at work tomorrow." She pouted and tried to argue with him. "Look, you got your date. I have to go."

"Fine." She danced back over to the blonde girl who had Joe's phone, then came back with it in her hand. "Angela said to tell you there are probably a couple of messages. She felt it buzzing." Joe swore. "You don't have to be that way about it. You had fun, didn't you?" Joe just held out his hand. "Well, I know I did. Call me when you decide you've had enough of your movie star."

"Not likely," Joe muttered under his breath as he walked quickly away. By the time he got outside, Joe had already accessed his voicemail. Two of the messages were from Chet asking him to call with his location. "I'll come get you, buddy. You need to be at... seven... Call me as soon..." Joe figured the reception in the club wasn't good enough to allow the whole message to get through.

The next message was from Frank. "Joe? Chet... What in... going on? Where... Kara..." Joe started. Was something wrong with Kara? His heart started pounding.

Kara's voice was next, and relief washed over Joe as he realized she was all right. Her voice was so soft, he couldn't make out what she was saying. He replayed her message, his face growing puzzled as the words came clear. "I thought I could count on you. I guess I was wrong. Don't call me again."

Joe scrolled through the voicemail options to get the time of Kara's call. It had come at 10:41pm, but the time wasn't what caught his attention. Joe felt the blood drain from his face as he noticed the date stamp, and suddenly Chet's overemphasis of his unavailability became clear. It was the twenty-third, the night of the scholarship presentation. He swore again and started running.


"I don't want to talk to you." Kara's voice was a flat monotone. Although she had opened the door, the security chain was on, leaving only inches of open space. Joe couldn't see her and figured she must be standing behind it.

"Kara, I'm sorry! I lost track of the date." Joe realized how lame the words sounded. He moved closer to the gap, one hand openthe other carefully balancing a cardboard tray with two styrofoam cups stuck in it. "Please just let me in. I brought hot chocolate. We can talk."

"No."

"Kara, please," he pleaded. "What do you want me to do?"

Kara peered out through the crack. Here eyes were bloodshot, and dark circles stood out under them. Joe's heart sank at the sight of her looking so vulnerable and hurt. "I want you to leave. Now." The monotone shook just slightly on the last word. She turned and started to shut the door.

Joe wedged his foot between the door and its frame. "I know you. You don't really want that. Tell me what you really want."

"What I want?" The expression on her face hardened, and her voice rose in anger. "I want to know where you were tonight when I needed you. After you promised you'd be there." She was yelling now. "And you must be rubbing off on me, because what I really want is to haul off and belt you so hard, you'll come close to hurting as much as I do right now. " Her voice broke. "Just leave, Joe. Now." She took a deep breath, then raised her eyes to his. "And don't come back."

Joe suddenly found it very hard to breathe. His hand fell to his side, and he staggered backwards, reeling. "You don't mean that." A lump formed in his throat. "Kara..."

She looked at him for a long minute before speaking. "Goodbye, Joe." She shut the door.

Joe stood frozen in place, the hot chocolate forgotten, and stared at the door. He bent over and gently placed one of the steaming cups on the floor next to Kara's apartment. He put one hand on her door and stood still for a moment, then swallowed hard once, set his jaw, and walked away.


The loud, hammering noise coming from the hallway at two in the morning woke Frank from a deep sleep. He stumbled from his bed, drawing a robe around his shoulders and swearing under his breath, then yanked the door open, prepared to ream out the college students who lived next door for disturbing his sleep yet again that night. The words died on his lips before the door was completely open.

"Frankie? Hey, 'bro, I wake you?"

"Joe?" Frank stared at his younger brother. Joe looked terrible. His shirt was stained, his blue eyes were bloodshot, and he swayed on his feet as he stood the hallway. Frank put an arm around Joe's shoulders and guided him into the apartment, recoiling slightly as Joe exhaled in his direction. "You're drunk," he said, his voice critical from lack of sleep. "What the hell is wrong with you? Where have you been? You didn't drive here, did you?"

Joe sank onto Frank's sofa. "Subway," he answered. "Not that stupid." Frank watched as Joe's eyes filled with tears. "Close, though."

Frank shook his head. The tears explained the reason behind his brother's condition. "She broke up with you."

"That's why you're the brains of the operation," Joe slurred. "Got it in one." He hiccoughed, and one of the tears spilled over, leaving a trail on his face. "You were right, and I was an idiot." He reached up with one hand and absently wiped the tear away, then looked up at his older brother, his expression crumpling. "Frank, what do I do?" Another tear followed the first, but Joe ignored it.

Frank put a hand on the top of Joe's head and rubbed his hair. "Right now? You go to sleep." He knelt down and took Joe's shoes off, then went to the closet for a blanket and pillow. "Come on, little brother, lie down. I'd tell you it'll be better in the morning, but I don't want to lie to you." He tucked the blanket around his brother's shoulders. "Joe," Joe's eyes meandered over to Frank, "for what it's worth, I'm sorry." Joe nodded, then his eyes drifted closed. Frank pulled a chair over from the table and settled in to watch his brother sleep.

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