XVIII. Russian Roulette
I woke up to an unfamiliar room, different from everything I’ve ever been. 2:36am. Immediately, I got up and put on a bath robe. Somehow, it relieved me to think no one tried to dress me up while I was asleep and simply took me to this bed and covered me with a blanket. The lights in the room was dim, only the large lamps on the corners giving illumination. I swept the sheer curtains covering the large window and found myself standing 11 floors up the ground. The streets were still bright below and people walked around just as they did in the day. I’ve never seen Downtown this busy even at late night.
I remembered how a running naked man knocked me down at the shoot. “They’re after me,” he pleaded at me. There was genuine horror in his tone. Couple that with his bloodshot eyes and it was like seeing horror in its finest form. Flashes of the scene quickly passed by my mind and a few seconds more of it would have been hell. What happened to him after they took him away?
It was so quiet in the room that I could literally hear my thoughts as if I myself spoke for them. But when I reached for the door, it was locked. I tried a few more times but it won’t budge. What kind of hotel can lock their doors from the outside? A peek at the peephole showed me the back of a man’s head.
“I know you can hear me. Open this door.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, I’m under orders not to let you out at this time.” His slightly muted voice through the door told me he was young. Not the usual bodyguards we have. Must be just a paid security at this hotel itself.
“From who?” I still asked even if I knew the answer. He was not turning around so I can see his face at the peephole.
“It’s Mr. Gastrell’s wishes. He wants you to take some rest and I would suggest you do so.”
Lucian. What could he be up to now? I can only imagine what would happen to that man who ruined our final shot for the music video. Thinking about it only made my skin crawl. I have to get out of here. A small flower vase with a single yellow rose. A remote control. Plates. Fork and bread knife. I looked around to find these things neatly placed on the small dining table of the room. Nothing I can use as a weapon. No, am I really ready to poke a guard’s eye with a fork? I kept it anyway in the robe’s pocket.
I took out rose from the vase and spilled the water on the carpet. With the empty vase and a plate in hand, I went back to the hall leading to the door. Breathe in, breathe out. In one swift motion, I threw the plate on the wall breaking it into a thousand pieces. Along with it, I screamed my fakest cry of pain. And the door knob suddenly started shaking. That’s right. Open up. I told myself as my grip on the vase became tighter.
Just as the door opened, a young man wearing a blue blazer and sunglasses got in with fear in his eyes. Before he could shout my name, he was met with a vase to his forehead.
“Oh my god.” I had a hand over my mouth as I watched the young man on the ground unconscious on broken porcelain. Heat flowed through my body and I snapped myself back to reality. It caught me by surprise that I would actually hit him in the face. Somehow, it felt great getting out of a prison on my own. My tried to calm my nerves as I traversed through the similar halls. Didn’t expect this floor to be as large with all the halls pointing everywhere.
Before I lose my mind, I stood still at the center of an intersection. The quietness of the place crept up to my ears but it made me aware of everything around me. With eyes closed, I listened carefully. A tiny hint of sound came from the left hall where a large door labeled as Fire Exit was left open. The sound led me to the stairs going up. A large number 12 was painted on the wall next to another door that leads to a hall. This time, it was different than the halls from eleventh floor. It was more like an office setting. Plain and free of styling.
Two doors suddenly swung open and out came Lucian on his phone, wearing a familiar black suit. He stopped when he realized I stood there a few feet away from him.
“Glory… h-how, what are you doing out here?”
I watched as the doors swung back close, then my eyes glanced back at Lucian who had more than a confused look on his face. As the doors still moved open and close, I could hear a faint voice of a man calling for help. We both looked at where the sound came from and our eyes met. This time, he braced for whatever I planned on doing. I charged barefoot to the door he came from but he grabbed me by my waist. I thrashed and kicked whatever I could hit but Lucian was stronger than I expected. In one forceful haul, he got me pinned on the wall.
“Stop it!” He commanded. But I was no longer intimidated by his tone. I glared at him even if he had his whole arm pushing me down on my chest. His eyes remained calm despite my physical protest and my attempts at my own style of intimidation.
“Is he in there?” I hissed.
“Trust me, Glory. It’s better that you stay out of this.”
“Why? So you can keep more secrets from me?”
“Please, just listen to me. I’m trying the best I can to keep you safe. Walking into that door won’t help me do that.”
“You call strapping me to a gurney and having my brain fried, keeping me safe?” I retorted.
“I gave you your pills.” He hissed back, trying to keep his voice low and looking back if anyone can hear him. “I told you, I’m the only reason you are still alive and somehow sanely walking in these halls. I have to keep myself in this position so I can help you. I have to keep being your manager and you keep following my lead or both of us would be over. Just please, listen to me. Only me.” His voice cracked as he loosened up the pressure on my chest. I would believe him, but there’s something wrong with what he said.
“I’m still sane because of Jagger. Not you.” So I pushed him away with all the strength I got left and charged straight for the door. He tried to grab a hold of my robe but I was already inside. The doors swung close behind me while I stood there in shock of what I saw.
The naked man sat on a steel chair with his head down and hands tied back. A projector pointed toward him giving light to his surroundings. It was still dim and everything else was dark. What made the hairs at the back of my head stand up was the sight of ten men in suits gathered around him, lounging on their own spaces. The smell of cigar lingered in the room along with alcohol, sweat and blood. The light from the projector only lit up their bodies and darkness strategically shrouded their faces. What remains is a faint outline of their head as they rest behind a clear glass window surrounding the whole room. The moon was bright outside, enough to give a little light into what was supposed to be, a meeting room. I stood there unsure of what to say. My mind raced at the thought of putting things together and being afraid of thinking that my guess was true. They were The Executives.
“Ms. Glory, aren’t we all glad to have you here.” One of the men said. He did not sound as old as I expected. I couldn’t tell which one of them did but it became clear when one stepped forward. The shade still blocked his face but his shiny brown leather shoes glared back at me.
“What are you doing here? Why is he tied up and injured? What is happening?” I asked in increasing intensity.
“Calm down, Ms. Glory. We’re all only here to fix the problem that is getting out of hand.”
“Oh. You haven’t heard the news. Lucian must be doing a great job then keeping you focused at your craft.” He puffed out one smoke and crushed the tip of his cigar on an ashtray near him.
“You may not recognize him from what we did to his pretty face but would you believe it? We got Mandy Andrews in the room!” He announced like he was in some kind of a gameshow. And his audience clinked their glasses of whiskey together.
Mandy Andrews. The guy who shot to fame the same time I went out with my first album, Innocence. I could still remember Lucian taking me to his movie the next day. He said he didn’t want to bring me to a premiere. We even had disguises on just to see the Mandy’s movie, Duality. He played the insane twin of this bigger household actor. Fans loved him for his portrayal of this crazy and morally ambiguous character. They said for him to play such a deranged character, he had to stay in a white room where all of the things inside are devoid of color other than a similar shade of white.
“Fine actor isn’t he?” the executive took a chair and sat down. Still the shadows rested on his face but I could now see a bit of color in his skin while the projector flickered. “But somehow he’s been acting erratically ever since he found critical praise for his performance. So much, that he couldn’t hold a job after it. On-set disputes with crew. Sudden outbursts that scared his cast mates. Bringing a gun to the set. Screaming someone is after him. Claiming that people are plugging things in his head. Being caught with drugs, they said it was PCP. Disappearing for a long time after that. Everybody thought he was going to be the next big thing. Three years later. Now, he runs into you.”
My heart beat started banging on my chest, begging for it to come out. The smell of the room nauseated me but I had to hold my ground firm.
“Do you know what you have in common, Glory?” He asked without expecting me to give an answer. “Before he went on this descent to madness, he took a walk in this hellish, piss-poor part of the city. Downtown. Just like how you walked earlier sans the white cloth.”
I gulped back down to my throat and tried to stop my shaking hands by turning them into balls of fists. Suddenly, the door opens behind me and I knew Lucian stood just a few steps away. Knowing he’s there was enough to make me feel less afraid in the room.
“Now, I and these fine brood of gentlemen before you took it upon ourselves to handle the situation. This is just another case of a sheep lost from the barn because of a shepherd not doing his job well. As part of the industry, many of us tend such sheep and lead them to their dreams of super stardom. But not everyone can handle fame. Some break free to roam on their own. Thinking that they can make it without us. Now I’m not saying it’s entirely their fault. To be curious. To seek true freedom. That’s normal human behavior. So what we’re going to do now is call out the person responsible for the talented man of the hour, Mandy Andrews.”
A few seconds of silence and another executive from the left stepped forward.
“It is I.” He mumbled with hesitation in the dark.
In a snap, the sitting Executive pulled out a luger and bang, he dropped dead on his knees. A silhouette of blood splattered in the dark. Some of them stained the suits of the other executives nearby. I flinched at the sound of the loud noise echoing across the room that almost made me shriek. I turned my gaze away before I could even see the corpse of the executive fall on the ground. None of them reacted the same way as I did. Even Lucian stood there firm on his own space. Mandy rattled on his seat after hearing the gunshot.
“As for Mr. Andrews, I don’t think I even have to do the honors for that so,” he stood up from his seat. “We’re done here, gentlemen.”
The projector dimmed its light and the nine executives headed for the door in a calm fashion. It was as if no one just died right in front of them. They passed by me but I was so scared to lift my head up and see their faces. My hands were both trembling, trying hard not to brush against them on their way out. The one who executed the other man stopped behind me and whispered loudly to Lucian.
“I hope you do not go down the same path, Ms. Glory. I believe Mr. Gastrell here, will keep you in line. Don’t worry honey, you’ll forget everything you saw tonight. And you can just keep focusing on your career while making us proud. Am I right, Lucian?”
He didn’t answer back.
Immediately, I rushed to Mandy to calm him down. Using the fork in my robe, I loosened up his restraints until he can wiggle out his arms freely. Once free, he embraced me tightly which alarmed Lucian.
“It’s them.” The naked actor repeated until tears burst out of his eyes. One of his eyes were already swollen and covered in blood. His hands were shaking as they tried to hold my shoulders. He tried hard to maintain eye contact and even if I did not know him well, it hurt me seeing him in that state. Despite his condition, there was something very calming about the way he looked into my eyes. It was as if this was the first time he has seen anyone understand him. I felt like there was some sort of bond between us. Being the victim of the same trap but he is just one step ahead of me. To what direction I don’t know. I just feel like it’s going to be bad.
“It’s okay. They’re gone.” I did not know what else to say. Of course they’re not gone. I’m not even sure of what is going to become of him now that they just left him. For me, maybe this was a chance for him to get out of the loop. I don’t understand why it has come to this. Does this mean once I break down, I’m also going to be disposed off like this? The executive said he went here in Downtown before he started becoming erratic. They must be pertaining to the drugs he got from this place as well. To Jagger and Pedro, it is called an awakening. I don’t even know what to believe anymore. Maybe he had a different reaction to the drug considering he was already damaged from going method for his last role. He was whimpering like a dog and sniffling like a cat. His hands moved in joints, like he was being distorted from within. It was then that I realized that he may be too far gone in his head.
“You’re safe now.” Tears fell down my eyes as I gave him another tight embrace. Footsteps drew near and suddenly, Mandy Andrews pushed me away as hard as he can. I fell on the floor in pain as I looked up at him in horror and pointing behind me. His undamaged eye was so wide at the sight of the person walking behind me. Before the light reveals Lucian’s face, Mandy screamed. “They’re still here!”
He lifted the steel chair despite being weak from getting beaten to a pulp and threw it to the glass window, causing it to crack from the center. His movements were in panic until he stopped for a second and prepped himself to lunge.
“No!” I shrieked as I watched the actor run straight forward to the broken glass and jumped out of the 12th floor of the building. Lucian grabbed me by the waist to stop me from following. Just like that, Mandy disappeared from our sight. I broke down in Lucian’s arms. Nothing felt safe. There is no getting out of this industry alive. It was then that I realized, Lucian was right. They can eliminate anyone that does not go according to their sinister plans. Even him.
It’s crazy to think that the very person who controlled my life is also under the mercy of people as evil as the higher up. If I don’t do anything now, I’m going to end up just like the man who chose to jump out to his death.
Lucian held my face and said, “I have one last pill.”
And I was calm.