“I think Melvin’s handler is the third,” said Maggie O’Toole.
“His handler?” asked Jennie-Lynn Hayden.
“Sure. I read about it in People,” Maggie explained. “James Melvin has such a reputation as a bad boy, his studio assigned someone to go around with him, make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble that the studio’s lawyers can’t get him out of. A watchdog, sort of.”
“Really?” asked Roy Harper. “I know Jack Warner did that with Errol Flynn way back when, but I didn’t think the public cared so much anymore. I mean, half the stars today do everything Flynn did and worse, don’t they?”
“There are still some things the public can’t stomach,” Maggie pointed out. Roy, who had suddenly been thrust from a world where you couldn’t say the word toilet on the radio into a world where scenes of violent death and mutilation were depicted on television every night, could only wonder what those things might be.
As the awards show progressed, Roy found his attention wandering. He wasn’t the fan of current cinema that Jenn and Maggie were; his tastes were skewed to the older stuff. Once in a while he’d see a former screen idol from his youth on stage, and he’d sigh at how old the actor had become.
Their second-row seats were right on the end of the aisle, close to a door with a glass panel set into it. As Roy’s attention wandered, he sometimes glanced at this door. Once or twice he saw people milling about through the glass panel, people with agitated looks on their faces. Once, he even saw the cap of a policeman’s uniform. Something was going on, no doubt about it.
During one of the intermission breaks, while the live television broadcast was in commercial time, Wilkes came up to the party again. He had a nervous, agitated look on his face.
“Miss,” he said to Jenn, “please, pardon me for asking — this is so embarrassing — but would you happen to be Jennie-Lynn Hayden?”
Jade gaped at the man; she didn’t know what to make of that question. “Yes, I am,” she said, wondering how she had been recognized; her episodes of Space Trek 2022: The Next Generation hadn’t aired yet.
Wilkes’ eyes lit up with a glimmer of hope. “Then, you’re Jade, of Infinity Incorporated?” he asked. Very few people pronounced the entire word Incorporated.
“Yes,” Jenn said, nodding.
“Would you come with me, please?” Wilkes asked. “I hate to disturb your evening, but… well, we could use your help.”
A minute later, Jenn found herself being led to the security office. She would have liked to have asked Roy to come along, but she couldn’t because he maintained a secret identity. She felt out of place, unsure of herself. Since the loss of her powers, she wasn’t sure she could handle the kind of situations she used to.
In the security office, Jenn found a small crowd milling about one man — a thin young man with sandy brown hair and 1950s-style, thick-framed glasses. He sat on the edge of a desk, a grimace of pain on his face. He was holding a torn rag to his left arm; the rag was soaked with blood.
There were two police officers there and a man in plain clothes who had the air of one in charge — a detective, Jenn guessed. There was also a man Jenn recognized from pictures in the industry newspapers as Christopher Raymond, the head of James Melvin’s studio. He had an extremely worried look on his face.
“This is she, Mr. Raymond,” Wilkes said, introducing Jenn. “It’s her, all right.”
Raymond glanced hopefully at Jenn. “Jade? Of Infinity Inc.?”
“That’s me,” Jenn said. “What’s going on here? How can I help?”
Raymond seemed nervous, uneasy. “I have to ask for your discretion,” he said. “The fewer people that find out about this, the better. I hope I can count on you to keep it quiet.”
“As quiet as I can,” Jenn promised. “But, pardon me, Mr. Raymond, but if this is as serious as I’ve been led to believe, discretion may be the least of your problems.”
“She’s right,” the young man with the bleeding arm hissed through clenched teeth. “The reporters will find out, anyway. They always do!”
“Take it easy, Willie,” Raymond said, perhaps a little too harshly. Then he turned back to Jenn.
“Jade, this is Willie Lawson. Perhaps you’ve heard of the job he does for me?”
Jenn searched her memory, and then it came to her. “He’s James Melvin’s — um…” Jenn searched for a diplomatic term.
“His keeper,” Lawson finished. “Just say it like it is, OK? Mr. Raymond assigned me the job of keeping James Melvin out of trouble.”
“And a damned fine job you did of it tonight,” Raymond said sarcastically. “Jade, the simple fact is, James Melvin has been kidnapped.”
“Kidnapped?” Jenn repeated, in shock. Some part of her registered how stupid that sounded, like a B-movie heroine; maybe those things were more realistic than she’d previously thought.
“Tell her what happened, Willie,” Raymond said. “Leave nothing out. Any little detail might be important.”
“OK,” Willie said, then winced with pain as he removed the bloody rag. A paramedic had come to tend to his arm. Jenn saw the bullet hole in the fleshy part of his upper arm, powder burns around it indicating it had been delivered at close range. “I picked Mr. Melvin up at his house; we were on our way to pick up Miss Malo. I was driving, Mr. Melvin was in the back seat. To be honest, he was already a little drunk. We were stopped at a red light on Estremadura Boulevard, when out of nowhere these guys in black leather jackets and ski masks come up–”
“How many? Guys, I mean?” Jenn interrupted.
“I don’t know,” Willie said. “Two, three, more… it all happened so fast. One of them yanked open the driver’s side door, and before I knew what was going on, he shot me in the arm. As I lay there howling in pain, I saw them haul Mr. Melvin out of the backseat and drag him away. Then one of them, maybe the one who had shot me, stuck his face in the car and said, ‘We’ll be in touch.’ Then I came here.”
“You drove here with a bullet wound in your arm?” Jenn asked, amazed.
“Well, I couldn’t exactly call a cab, could I?” Willie retorted.
“He’s right,” Raymond said. “He did the correct thing. We can’t have this getting out any sooner than it has to! Can you help us?”
Jenn glanced around the room. She was a lot more used to fighting super-villains, but then, she wasn’t much good for that any more, was she?
“I’ll do what I can,” she said.
Jenn excused herself from the group in the security office, explaining she wanted to call in some help on this. At first Raymond balked, thinking the fewer people who knew about it, the better. But Jenn insisted, telling Raymond that she needed someone more adept at detective work than she. Raymond acquiesced, and Jenn went to the door that led to the auditorium. She beckoned Roy and Maggie to her, and once all three were in the hallway, filled them in.
“That’s terrible!” Maggie exclaimed. “I-I didn’t think that sort of thing really happened!”
“Well, it did tonight,” Jenn said. “Roy, is your gear in the car?”
“My duffel’s in the trunk,” Roy said. He turned to his girlfriend. “Maggie–”
“I know, you’ve got to work. I’ll drive myself home,” she said, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “But you owe me,” she added with a coy wink.
Moments later, Red Arrow and Jenn were walking down the corridor to the security office.
“Didn’t wear your Jade outfit under that, huh?” Red Arrow asked.
Jenn shrugged. “Why bother? It’s not like I’m a super-hero anymore.”
Red Arrow opened his mouth to reply, but closed it again. Of course she was still a hero, powers or no, but she had to find that out for herself. Nobody could tell it to her.
In the security office, Red Arrow was introduced to everyone, and then he had some questions of his own.
“Where’s the car this happened in?” he asked Willie. “The one Melvin was kidnapped from, and you drove here?”
“In back,” Willie said. “By the kitchen entrance.”
“We’ve already gone over the car,” said the plainclothes detective, whose name was MacDonald. “Didn’t find any prints or anything; Lawson says the guys wore gloves.”
“Has anyone talked to Beth Malo?” Red Arrow asked. “You were on the way to pick her up when this happened, right?”
“She called me about twenty minutes before the ceremony was due to start,” Raymond said.
“She was furious about being stood up. Said she didn’t need Melvin to escort her. Said she’d find somebody else.”
“Then she’s most likely here,” MacDonald said. Then, to one of the uniformed officers, he said, “Wojohowicz, get out there and find her. Bring her in here; I’d like to talk to her.” The officer touched two fingers to his cap and went to obey the command.
“Jade, I’d like you to listen in on that interview,” Red Arrow said. It wasn’t lost on his friend that he called her Jade rather than Jenn. “Meantime, I’m going to go have a look at that car.”
Red Arrow walked around and around the car, looking. He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he felt confident he’d know it when he found it. The car was a shiny red Alfa Romeo, brand new. There was a lot of blood on the front seat, but Roy had expected that. What he was looking for was the unexpected.
Finding nothing incriminating inside the car, the young archer turned his attention to the outside. He crept down on his knees to examine the underside of the car and found nothing. He was about ready to give it up as a bad job when something caught his eye.
There was something embedded in the treads of one of the front tires, some kind of foreign material that had the consistency of mud but somehow wasn’t. The colors were wrong; it looked like several different colors mashed together into a kind of icky greenish-black. Red Arrow dug some of it out of the tread with an arrowhead and walked off to find a plastic baggie to store it in until he could get it to the lab.
“This is bogus!” the young starlet spat, clearly disgusted at the treatment she was receiving. “Wait till my lawyers get through with you! You’ll be lucky to pick up a job as security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese!”
“Once again, Miss Malo,” MacDonald said patiently, “I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I just want to ask you about tonight.”
“What about tonight?” asked Beth Malo, a pretty young blonde with the almost perfect face and figure that seemed so commonplace in Los Angeles.
“You were supposed to attend these awards with James Melvin, weren’t you?” MacDonald asked.
“Supposed to, yeah,” Malo snorted. “The bastard stood me up! I waited an hour for him. I’m Beth Malo, and I don’t get stood up; I don’t care who you are! I don’t need Mr. look-at-me-I’m-a-big-star Melvin to take me to the Silver Spheres!”
“So what did you do when you got tired of waiting?” MacDonald asked.
Malo shrugged. “I called somebody else. Bobby Dee — you know, the drummer for Wylde Bünch — has been trying to hook up with me for weeks now. So I finally gave him his chance. Sorry, Melvin, but snooze, ya lose.”
“I saw in the tabloids last week,” Jade put in, “that you and Melvin were having problems. That there was another woman, a younger one.”
Malo shot Jade a look that could have turned molten lava into solid rock; then she snorted. “Did you?” she asked. “I saw that story. The same issue also said that Chastity Bono was having the Joker’s love child. Did you believe that, too?”
Jade didn’t answer.