ON ANGEL'S WINGS
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off
The old chemical plant was completely quiet by the time Madeleine pulled her car onto the front forecourt. For a moment she just sat there, steeling her nerves as cars whizzed by her on the main road. Then, as the luminous dial on the dashboard flicked to 11:59, she pushed open the car door, grabbing the bag and slipping it over her shoulder. She swallowed hard, glancing around her for any sign of life - but there was none.
As she made her way carefully towards the derelict building, she was aware of her phone vibrating in her pocket. Startled and on edge, she pulled it out, frowning as she realised whoever was calling her had witheld their number. Not without misgivings, she put the phone to her ear.
"Hello?" She said softly.
"I can see you." A strange voice came down the line and she glanced around her, but nobody seemed to be there.
"No, you can't see me, you silly bitch. Do you think I'd be that obvious?"
"Who is this? How did you get my number?"
"Never mind." The voice was barely above a low hiss, as the caller did his best to disguise his tones. "You have the money?"
"Yes." Madeleine's heart leapt into her throat as she realised she was speaking to her Aunt's burglar. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"Because I can." The voice said simply. "Do as I say, and nobody will find out your little secret."
Madeleine swallowed hard.
"All right." She whispered. "I have it all. Ten thousand, just like you said. If I give you this, will you give me back my papers?"
"Do as I say." The voice repeated. "And stop asking questions."
Madeleine closed her eyes against the tears of panic that welled up inside of her, drawing a deep breath.
"Fine." She said unsteadily. "Tell me what to do."
"Cross the road." The voice told her quietly. "Push open the door of the plant and take the third door on the left. You'll find yourself in a closed walkway. At the end of the walkway is another door. Leave the money on the table inside. Don't wait for me to collect it. I have Cool Trash on speed dial - if you do, you know what tomorrow's hot story will be."
"Believe me, I have no desire to stay here any longer than I have to." Madeleine muttered.
"Now now, Maddy. Don't get cocky." The voice scolded. "You're really in no position to do that."
"I want my papers back."
"Then be a good girl and do as I tell you."
Madeleine gritted her teeth, carefully crossing over the road and making her way towards the door of the old plant. Hesitantly she touched it, and it gave under her fingers, swinging open with a faint creak. Despite herself, she felt a chill of fear touch her spine. The plant was dark without electricity and, in her panic to get everything ready, she had forgotten to bring a torch.
Muttering a curse under her breath, she felt her way along the corridor until she found the right door. Swinging it open, she found that the walkway he had described was at least half glass and, comforted a little by the dim glint of the moonlight, she crossed the floor quickly, pulling open the door to the final room.
It had obviously once been an old office, but now it was bare and deserted, except for the old table that stood in the centre. For a moment she hesitated, glancing around her.
"On the table. Nice and easy. Then leave."
"Well, we'll see about those." The voice seemed to be mocking her. "When I'm ready to give them up."
"Put the money on the table. And leave. Now."
There was a harsh note in the man's voice now and Madeleine dropped the bag down onto the table, turning on her heel.
"You can't do this to me." She protested, as she made her way back the way she had come. "I'm not as rich as you think I am! I have bills to pay...and..."
"And if you want the whole world to remain oblivious to your little secret, then you'll find a way to keep me happy." The man said calmly. "It was a pleasure doing business with you, Madeleine. I'll be in touch."
Before she could respond, the phone went dead in her hand, and the singer resisted the urge to toss the device against the dusty wall of the plant. Instead she swallowed her frustration, making her way back to her car and sinking into the driver's seat. Dropping her phone onto the chair beside her, she put her vehicle in gear, pulling back out onto the main road and towards home.
As she did so, she cast a glance in the wing mirrors to see if she could see any sign of anyone, but as before, there was nobody there. Whoever had done this had known what he was doing, and had covered his tracks yet again.
"I'm no better off than I was before." She murmured, flicking on the indicator for the turning back home. "He has my money and my papers, and there's nothing I can do about it. Unless I know who he is, I can't stop this. Maybe I can't stop it, anyway. But I can't let him ruin my life...I have to keep this a secret! So what do I do? How do I keep paying sums of that magnitude with everything else I have to think of? It just can't be done!"
She parked her car on the Diablo forecourt, grabbing her keys from her pocket and letting herself quietly into the mansion. Kicking her sandals off her feet, she ditched the keys by the phone, heading through the house towards the big studio at the back. Too wound up to sleep, and not willing to risk an encounter with any of her bandmates, she pushed open the door, putting on the light and sinking down onto the window ledge.
"What have I done?" She whispered, glancing out into the blackness towards the chemical plant. "And how can I undo it?"
A pile of papers on the nearby unit caught her eye and she picked them up, glancing at them absently. Most of them were manuscripts, penned in Marissa's familiar scrawl and Clay's neat, precise notes, but the uppermost sheet bore the words of her poem, in her own distinctive handwriting. As she fingered the edge of the worn, dogeared sheet of paper, a sense of frustration and rage stabbed through her and she tossed the pile across the room, watching with little pleasure as the pieces of paper scattered across the floor.
Almost as soon as it had come, the anger fled. Instead, a deep sense of despair washed over her.
"I'm so trapped." She muttered. "Whatever I do, I can't win. I stand to lose everything if this goes on...and go on it must, because if the world knew..."
She faltered, leaning her head against the glass as the tears began to spill down her cheeks.
"It's not fair." She whispered, glancing up towards the heavens as if in search of divine intervention.. "I never did anything to deserve any of this. I didn't ask for this life! Why did You do this to me? I know You like testing people's faith - but this is crazy. I've never felt so alone before...have even You turned Your back on me this time?"
A voice from the doorway made her start, and she tried to dash her tears away, turning to face the speaker. Stefana was dressed in her pyjamas, her dark hair tousled and pulled back from her face in a red band. The expression on her face was a mixture of alarm and concern and, at the sight of her, Madeleine's composure crumbled away. She buried her head in her hands as the tears fully overwhelmed her.
Stefana muttered a curse.
"Dammit, what's wrong with you?" She demanded, more apprehension than annoyance in her tone. "I've never seen you cry before...not like this. Maddy, snap out of it! You're freaking me out. What the hell is the matter?"
"Nothing." Madeleine choked out. "Nothing, so leave me alone. Please, Steffi. You can't help me, and you really don't want to, anyway...so go to bed. It's fine. It's nothing."
"Like heck is it nothing." Stefana ignored her bandmate's pleas, padding across the floor and perching on the windowsill beside her. "So tell me the truth. Did my lamebrain brother say something to upset you?"
"Not everything in this world is about Luca, you know."
"Well, I can't think of one other thing you'd cry over." Stefana said bluntly. "So what is it? And why'd you chuck our music all over the place?" As she registered the mess on the floor. "I know that was on the unit when I left here...Christ, Maddy, what's gotten into you?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"I don't think that would help either of us. Do you?"
"I don't know." Stefana said frankly. "But I'm not going to bed till you tell me something, and if you don't snap out of it soon, I'm going to get Mari and the others. I don't know what to do with you when you're all weepy and waily, so cut it out, huh? And tell me what's bugging you. Someone need a punch in the face? Because I'm more than happy to do it for you. Just stop crying. It's freaking me out."
"I...I'm not sure I can." Madeleine admitted. "Stef, it's really not your problem. It's mine. It's always been mine."
Stefana was silent for a moment. Then,
"The night you talked me out of blitzing myself, that was my problem." She said quietly. "But you got involved anyway. You told me that we were a team - this band, we all had to look out for each other and that things would be all right. So don't tell me now to go away and let you handle it. You can't handle it. If you could, you wouldn't be blubbing like a six year old. Get a grip and tell me what's going on, will you? I'm tired and the sooner you do, the sooner we can sort it out and go to bed."
"It can't be sorted out that simply." Madeleine said, a haunted look on her face. "I don't even know where to begin explaining...or if I even should."
"Well, start at the beginning." Stefana replied, leaning up against the glass. "I'm waiting."
Madeleine sighed heavily, reaching in her pocket for a tissue to wipe her eyes.
"I think I'm being blackmailed." She said unevenly.
Stefana's eyes almost popped out of her head.
"You?" She demanded. "Over what? Your obsession with my brother? You have to be kidding me."
"No." Madeleine shook her head. "And I can't tell you what it is, Stef. I can't and I won't, so don't ask me to. But when Tante Regine's house was broken into, something of mine was stolen. Something...personal. She was looking after it for me. Then the other day I got a letter demanding money. I...I paid him, but he still won't let go of my stuff. I think he's going to ask me for more money...and I haven't got much choice but to do as he says. I'm trapped...I don't know what to do."
Stefana fell silent for a moment, digesting this.
"And you won't tell me what he's got on you?" She asked at length. Madeleine shook her head.
"No." She said quietly. "It's no more your business than it is his."
"Fine." Stefana fell silent again. Then she sighed.
"You've no idea who he is?"
"The police have all but given up on Tante Regine's case, and I didn't recognise his voice on the phone." Madeleine twisted her fingers together. "He witheld his number...he sent me a typed letter and I threw it away, anyway. I...I burned it, because I didn't want any of you to see it. There's nothing at all for anyone to go on, even if I could go to law enforcement. But you see, I can't. He said no police. If I brought them into it, he'd sell me out - and I can't let that happen. I just can't."
"Is this something Luca knows? Or Clay?"
"No." Madeleine shook her head. "No. Noone knows. Only Tante Regine."
"This is beyond me." She said at length. "I'm going to go wake the others."
"Why?" Madeleine looked alarmed.
"Because they may have a better idea what to do." Stefana said frankly. "And they need to know what's going on. Because you have been a freak this week, and that's the truth. If this is why, I'm sorry I jawed you. But you look like you're going to go weepy on me again, and I really can't handle tears. I'll go get Mari and the guys. You stay here. All right? Don't go anywhere. If we can sort this out, we will...and then maybe we can all go to bed."
"I don't think there's anything any of you can do." She said hopelessly. "But all right. I'll stay here. And Stef?" As the dark girl reached the door.
"Mm?" Stefana paused, turning.
"Thanks, I guess. For trying to help."
"Whatever." Stefana shrugged. "I just want to get some sleep tonight."
With that she was gone, and Madeleine ferretted in her pocket for her compact mirror, glancing at her reflection. Puffy, tearstained cheeks and red eyes stared back at her and she cursed, scrunching the already damp tissue into a ball and tossing it into the waste bin. Before she knew it, she heard the sound of voices and footsteps on the stairs, and then Stefana pushed open the door once more.
"I brought you tissues." She said quietly, holding out the box. "That one looked like it was on it's last legs."
"Thanks." Madeleine took the proffered box gratefully. "I look a mess. I feel a mess."
"Stef told us what you said to her." Marissa came to join the singer, anxiety in her blue eyes. "Maddy, you look freaked out. What can we do?"
"I have no idea." Madeleine admitted. "And I am freaked. Freaked and frustrated and totally miserable."
"You're sure the guy who broke into your Aunt's is the same guy who's pulling this stunt?" Luca demanded. He looked angry, Madeleine decided, and somehow this comforted her slightly. She nodded.
"He has to be, or one of his associates." She agreed. "The only people who know about this...this thing are me and Tante Regine. My stuff was at her place and now it's gone. This has to be connected. He sent with his first note a copy of...something that was taken from there. I know he's the same guy."
"It would help if you could tell us what exactly he has on you." Clay said softly. "I know you, Mad...you're not the kind of person to get wrapped up in scandal or brushes with the law. Surely it can't be that bad?"
"It can." Madeleine said hollowly. "Really, Clay, it can. And telling you wouldn't help anything. The opposite, in fact. There are some things which should be kept private...and finding them out..."
She bit her lip.
"Your reactions could hurt me more than the public at large. I won't risk that, so don't ask me to." She added. "It's my business, and it's my problem. I just wish I knew what to do."
She looked rueful.
"I'm sorry I freaked you out, Stef. It just kinda...all overwhelmed me. I haven't slept since I knew, not really. I'm not totally myself."
"Well, there must be some way we can get your things back." Marissa squeezed her hand. "Oh Mad, don't look so tragic! The police must have something on him. If he's done other jobs in the same area, he's bound to have put a foot wrong somewhere...surely?"
"Not according to Tante Regine." Madeleine glanced at her hands. "They told her they'd run out of leads...to pretty much claim on her insurance and move on."
"But some things can't be replaced so easily." Clay pursed his lips. "Mad, how much money did this bastard ask you for this evening?"
"Ten grand." Madeleine admitted.
"Ten thousand dollars?" Luca's eyes widened. "And you paid him?"
"Luca, I had to." Madeleine said wearily. "Just trust me on that. I had to. But he'll ask for more, I know he will. He still has my papers and it doesn't look like he'll be giving them back any time soon. I just don't know how long my money can hold out. If he keeps this up..."
She trailed off.
"You know we'd help you if you needed us to." Clay reminded her. Madeleine shook her head.
"I wouldn't take money from any of you on this." She said quietly. "I appreciate it, but I feel bad enough as it is. It wouldn't achieve anything to put myself in debt with friends, too."
"Then somehow we have to find the guy who did this." Stefana said with a shrug. "Nail him and get your stuff back."
"If there was any clue at all as to who was behind it, we could." Madeleine responded. "But there isn't."
"Where did you take the money?" Clay asked.
"The old chemical plant, on fifth." Madeleine shivered. "Creepy place. Don't ask me to go back, Clay. I don't think I could."
"But one of us could." Luca suggested. "Tomorrow. See if there are any clues lying around."
"If he's haunting the area, Luca, we could make Mad's situation worse." Clay shook his head. "If he thinks we're investigating him, he might hurt her further. Ask her for more money. Expose her. We can't take the risk."
"He may well do either one of those things as it stands." Luca pointed out. "We need to find him, Clay. I'm not having one of my friends blackmailed. I can't just sit back and let it happen."
"We don't have a choice." Madeleine said quietly. "Guys, I know you want to help, but right now I don't think you can. Really."
"Well, if you get another letter, tell us." Marissa suggested. "Maybe it will give some kind of a lead we can follow up on."
"I guess that's all we can do." Luca nodded reluctantly. "But you will tell us, Mad? If you get another note, I mean?"
Madeleine bit her lip, and Luca frowned.
"We won't pry into your secret." He said, though his hurt was clear on his face. "But don't keep us out of this. We're your friends and we are on your side, regardless. Okay? Don't bottle it all up. We want to help, and you can talk to us."
"Luca is right." Marissa agreed. "But right now you need to go to bed and get some sleep. You look shattered, and we'll all be zombies in the morning."
"I'm not sure I can sleep." Madeleine admitted. "But I guess I can try."
She offered a faint smile.
"Thanks, anyhow." She added. "It's something to know you guys are on my side, at least."
"I just wish you'd tell us what this is about." Clay pursed his lips. "It might help."
"No...it wouldn't." Madeleine shook her head. "Just trust me on that, and let it go, huh?"
"Oh, I'm not going to pry." Clay promised. "I just can't think of anything you'd do which would require such a cover-up. That's all."
"Well, I guess sometimes you don't know people as well as you'd like
to." Madeleine looked troubled. "And some things are really better left
University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out
Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out
Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life
Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits
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All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.