| “He wanted to take me home to Mama!”
Ariel Smith was on the phone with her lawyer and remembered seeing her mama gunned down. She listened, circling her black futon, nodding her head as though the lawyer could see.
“He’s gone for good. I don’t need that in my life.” She listened some more before adding, “He better be.”
She hung up, tossing her cell phone on the futon, trying to calm down.
She still wasn’t used to this new life, her changed name and lifestyle, her new freedom. That’s why moments like now with Mr. Collins didn’t seem real.
“You need to come home and say you’re sorry. You owe me,” he kept saying.
As one of her lawyers, that was creepy enough. Then there were his eyes. For a minute those cold, muddy eyes reminded her of her own mother’s when she went to ‘work.’
Unable to forget those eyes, Ariel decided she needed to get out.
In a matter of minutes she was walking into a bar only two blocks from home. There were quite a few bars in a cluster and by the end of the night she’d drank her way through them all. Not used to drinking the next day Ariel was hung over and late for work. She walked into the library hoping for the best and dreading the worst.
“Janis, that you? You’re late.” Verma, one of her bosses lay in wait at the door.
“Sorry,” she mumbled as Verma hurried her small, ample body to the round circulation desk, no doubt to gossip with her twin, Velma.
“She’s here. Janis is here.”
Ariel almost turned to see who they meant, until she remembered she was Janis.
She passed the shelves filled with books and entered the open area. “I’m here. Just overslept.”
The décor was red velvet and plush chairs. The historical society made them keep the building fixtures authentic. To Ariel, it was a dream come true.
“Where were you?” Velma asked.
“I told you, I overslept.”
“You could have called, Janis.”
“Yeah, in my sleep I could’ve called you.”
Normally the two little old ladies were like the grandmas she never knew. Today, though, they needed to back off. She had a migraine. They ran in the family.
“What’s wrong, hon?” Verma asked with a look of concern.
“You’re not yourself,” her twin added.
Before Ariel could answer, the TV kept for soaps caught her eye.
It was news footage from ten years ago. The notorious killers, Diana Diamond Smith and Anton Harvey Smith, were running out of a bank and three dead bodies were lying on the ground.
The next image was of a 16 year old, long hair down to her knees with bright blue eyes. The girl tried to keep her face hidden but it didn’t work.
“…casting has begun for She’s No Mermaid. The movie’s about the Buzz Killers, as they named themselves and the mysterious child who ended it all…”
Ariel slid to the floor.
“Janis? You all right?” Velma asked.
“I…I don’t feel good.”
“Do you need some tea, Janis?” Verma asked.
“Stop calling me that.”
Both of them looked at Ariel, their matching hazel eyes wide and mouths open. She stood up slowly, knowing they were watching her every move. The next few moments really mattered and she had to stay in control.
“I don’t feel well,” she said, keeping her back to the women.
“There’s an infection going around,” Velma said in a shaky voice.
“Maybe you should go home. Have a rest,” Verma added.
Ariel turned to face her elders, whom she was always taught to respect. Their mouths had closed but their eyes were still wide. Verma looked sad and scared. Velma had a hint of a smug smile, her arms crossed. Ariel wanted to shake her.
“I think I will. I’m off tonight. I’ll just sleep the day away. I’ll be ok. Love you ladies.” She hurried out of the library.
At home, she called her lawyers again. There was nothing she could do to stop the movie. Because of the law, she couldn’t benefit either. She didn’t want to benefit from it.
“I don’t want my past to be others’ entertainment,” she said aloud, stroking Itchy, her cat.
It wasn’t so much what her parents did, but what she’d done. That was what she was most afraid of. Did her parents even know?
Ariel was getting ready to watch her favorite movie, Earth Girls Are Easy, when she realized she had a message. As soon as it played, she dropped onto the futon.
She’d been found.
An actress wanted to speak to her. Well she didn’t want to speak to any actress.
How’d they find her?
Ariel stood and began circling the couch again, her pace getting faster.
Her lawyer and Bennie had to be informed.
The next day Ariel went back to work. She told everyone she still didn’t feel well. She stayed to herself, which really wasn’t out of the ordinary. The five hour shift seemed to drag on forever. When it finally ended, she went straight home, planning to hunker down under her covers, just like she had yesterday.
She jumped when a knock came at the doors.
“Whosit?” she called out.
With a sigh of relief, Ariel opened the door.
Tall and twiggy, Bennie was her landlord as well as her parole officer. He didn’t look like much but he could put you in a world of hurt.
“How you doin’?” he asked, absently rubbing his bald head.
“I’ve had better weeks,” she said, walking back to her futon.
“I’ve gathered.” He gave the apt a once over. “I see you’re smoking.”
Ariel didn’t answer and lit a cigarette. Bennie had a point and she knew he’d get around to it. A few moments later, he did.
“You had some company. Two people.”
He held up a peace sign to illustrate. This caught her off guard. She never had company. No one had visited her in lock-up either.
“Two people? Who? What’d they want?”
Bennie crossed to the kitchen, got a glass of water, and downed it. He drank eight glasses a day on a strict schedule. Nothing interfered with Bennie’s water.
“First there was a man. Seemed presentable enough, claimed to be a lawyer—I say claimed ‘cause I checked. Fired. But he’d already sent up a flag. Said he was family. I know no family survived. Except you.”
“Except me.” Ariel said, sighing. Then a second later, “Number two?”
“Woman. Actress or something. Demanded to be let in to wait for you. Course that’s a no. she didn’t like that I wouldn’t budge.”
They sat in silence for several minutes before Bennie moved to leave.
“I think I know them,” Ariel said softly.
“Is that good?”
“I don’t want to know them.”
“They’ll be back.”
“I hope not.”
Bennie left, shaking his head and saying he’d make some calls. She returned to her covers.
Ariel was debating over what she and her therapist called the other daughter. The other daughter wouldn’t hide from confrontation. No, her parents raised her to be a fighter. The family motto was murder, death, kill. But that wasn’t who Ariel was. Never had been. That’s why she did what she did. That’s why she helped stop…everything.
She’d deal with it. After all, she was her parents’ daughter. She poked her head out of the covers and screamed to feel better.
Deciding fresh air would help, she headed downtown. She found a café, got a drink and had just lit a cigarette when she was joined at the table. A woman in a navy business suit, dark hair done up in a bun, sat down across from Ariel.
“I am Maraleigh—“
“The actress,” Ariel interrupted.
“You’ve heard of me.” A Cheshire cat smile appeared.
“You left a voice mail, genius, and I want no part.”
“I wanna be in your movie and I thought—“
“It’s not my movie,” Ariel said and then took a drink.
“And how’d you find me? The U.S. Government promised me I wouldn’t be found.”
“Of course they did,” Maraleigh said with a sigh.
She lit a cigarillo before she went into her story about a Russian who knew people. She hired him. “Turned out that meant Mama moved in.” Maraleigh tapped ashes in her hand even though there was an ashtray in front of her.
“Well, I’m sorry. Even more since it was all for naught,” Ariel felt a little of her mother coming out. “I want no part of the movie. I told you.”
“I figured you’d say that. I mean, you’re not allowed to benefit.” Maraleigh stood up, pushing her chair in. “That said, I wouldn’t have used the last of my money to fly here for nothing. I came with more.”
The actress began to strut away. Ariel asked, “Where are you goin’?”
“Your place. Come on.”
As they walked, Maraleigh talked about her childhood. At first, Ariel watched the scenery and didn’t listen, until Maraleigh said she ran away.
“Wait. Why’d you run away?”
Maraleigh shrugged. “They didn’t pay attention. They betrayed me and had another child. A son. So I ran.”
Ariel had never thought of running and for a brief moment, she entertained the idea. She could have run instead of turning.
Maraleigh kept talking faster. She told of travels and prostitution. She told of Hollywood, casting couches, and movies. Ariel was fascinated.
“So you see, I need this,” Maraleigh said, wrapping up her story. “I need this.”
“What about your family?” Ariel asked, always thinking of her own.
“They’re dead to me. I have no family.”
“That’s not even funny,” there was a bitterness to Ariel’s voice. “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
Ariel had no intention of telling her story. The past was the past and she wanted to forget it. But when she started talking, she told Maraleigh everything. How angry Mom always was. How Mom made her help in the family business when she turned 15 and she killed an elderly security guard.
Sal Emmons. He was the school crossing guard as well she’d been told. Kids loved him. He was retired and she’d picked him for her mom. Unloaded a semi-automatic in his chest.
Ariel told Maraleigh there was a box that held the story. She’d written it out. It was something she’d started on the inside to keep her head straight. Said she’d show it to her when they got inside. She even told her how she helped turn her parents in, ultimately killing them.
They had arrived at Ariel’s apartment to find a man standing in the doorway, wearing a creepy smile. “That’s cold.” He said. He had coal black hair and piercing black eyes. He stood with a stoop as if he couldn’t reach his full height. He was sharply dressed in a suit that had begun to show wrinkles.
“Marley.” Maraleigh said barely above a whisper.
“Such an elaborate lie.” He took a step closer, completely ignoring Maraleigh.
“What are you doing here, Mr. Collins?” You were fired,” Ariel asked.
“I told you, you need to come home and see Mama.”
“My mama’s dead.”
“Quit lying.” He was getting agitated.
The other daughter was forming an idea her parents would have been proud of.
“She’s not lying, Marley,” Maraleigh said quietly. “Let’s take this inside.”
“Shut up!” he screamed and pulled a gun out of his pocket.
“Yes, let’s go inside,” Ariel said.
Marley looked at his 9mm and at Maraleigh for the first time. Ariel watched his eyes widen and then his head start to nod. She debated trying to pull the gun out of his hand but wasn’t sure what his skills were. She knew he was a terrible lawyer.
Once inside, Ariel steeped to the side. Maraleigh kept walking and took the bullet square in her head. No one made a sound as he body fell to the floor.
“Who was she?” Marley Collins asked.
“Her real name’s Aimee. I’m pretty sure she might’ve been your sister.”
“How could you know that?” he asked, distracted staring into Maraleigh’s lifeless eyes.
Ariel was moving closer, glad he hadn’t shut the door but surprised no one heard the gunshot.
She’d reached him and the door. He was still hypnotized by the actress crumpled two feet in front of them. He had a tight grip on his hardware though. She debated running for it or going for the gun. Running would be smart. Finding beanie. But the other daughter knew what to do.
“She told me. The whole story.” Ariel said, sliding up behind him and closing the door with her foot.
She’s No Mermaid swept the Oscars for all major awards. Nominated for Best Actress was Maraleigh Barrister, the talk of the Oscars. Rumor was she’d had plastic surgery to look like her character.
“Thank you, Academy, and fellow actors. I am honored tonight because Ariel was real and she did a brave thing by turning her parents in. it’s a shame she died in that house fire with her lawyer. God bless their families. She should be here,” Maraleigh said in her thank you speech, finally able to let the past go.