It occurred to Jocelyn that she had not seen Ida in three days. It was odd because she saw the old woman practically every day collecting her mail, or checking on her flowers, or drinking bourbon on her painted white porch. On her way to work, she went next door to check in on her. Knocking on the door she received no response. She tried the door handle and to her surprise it was unlocked. She let herself inside the foyer of the old Victorian style house to look around.
“Ida?” She called. “Ida?” Again, there was no response. She walked through the front hallway, past an end table that held a blue orchid and the black shadow box on the wall that held Ida’s Miss Georgia 1968 sash and crown, and into the dining room where the two of them had spent many Sunday mornings drinking coffee together. During the year they had known each other, Ida had enjoyed regaling Jocelyn with stories from her youth in Georgia and appreciated the young singer’s polite attentiveness.
The attic door in the ceiling was ajar slightly and she saw no sign of Ida anywhere. She felt the light breeze from the open window next to the round kitchen table, on top of which sat the woman’s pill container. Jocelyn peeked at the little plastic boxes labeled for the prior three days. To her dismay, the pills sat inside there, untouched. She considered calling Ida’s daughter, Dolly, but remembered that the two were not on speaking terms at the moment.
The time Jocelyn spent in Nashville had been, so far, uneventful. She moved there a year ago from up North in order to follow her dream of becoming a country music star and although she had been an exceptional musician in her small, home town, she hadn’t been able to stand out among the sea of talent in Tennessee. Ida always encouraged Jocelyn when we got down on herself about her career. As she took one last look around the house she could hear her neighbor’s voice in her head saying things like “You can’t just give up now – you’ve come all this way girl!” and “If you give it up now you’ll regret it. You’ll wonder how things could’ve turned out if you’d stuck it out.” She pictured Ida, with her costume jewelry and overly done make up, gesturing with her glass of bourbon while she spoke.
As she was setting up for the busy Friday night ahead of her she found herself distracted, worrying about her missing neighbor, one of the only friends she had made so far. She sang at a bar that was down an alleyway a little ways away from the bright lights of Broadway Thursday through Sunday.
She accidently wound one of her guitar strings too tightly causing it to break. “Damnit!” She exclaimed in loud whisper before reaching her hand to her lips and sucking on her tender thumb.
“Everything ok?” As usual, her boss, Beau, appeared out of nowhere and was now hovering over her, probably trying to peek down her dress. She hated when he did that because she never heard him coming and practically always jumped out of her skin. The man was friendly but was too touchy feely for Jocelyn’s liking.
“Jesus Beau! You scared me!” She replied, the annoyance in her voice apparent. “Yes, I’m fine. Just busted one of my guitar strings, that’s all,” she snapped, turning her attention back to her instrument.
“Are you sure?” He asked in skeptical tone. “You don’t seem like your normal self,” he pushed his chubby sausage hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Seems like you’ve got something on your mind.”
She exhaled, considering if she should tell him about Ida. It really isn’t any of his business and God knows if I invite him into my problems it’ll only give him more of a reason to bug me at work. “Really, I’m fine. Just a little tired, that’s all.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” he said creeping one of his fat hands across the back of her wooden chair. “You know you can talk to me about anything.” She could feel his eyes creeping all over her body and admiring the way her tight dress fit across her body, accentuating her trim figure. The fringe across the top hid her lack of chest, a part of her body that she was never really happy with.
“Really, Beau, I’m a little bit busy at the moment. It’s almost 8 and I’ve got to fix this string before the show,” she replied. He always made a way to make her feel uncomfortable. He shrugged before walking away from the bar stage and outside for one of his cigar breaks.
Once she had fixed her guitar with a fresh new string, Jocelyn adjusted her dress. She smoothed the skirt down which had started to ride up slightly while sitting down. Ida had been the one to help her pick it out, insisting that the color looked beautiful against her tan Italian skin. She pinned back a piece of thick dark hair that had fallen loose while setting up. Almost time to start. I’m sort of glad there’s not many people in here tonight. As much as she loved singing neither her heart nor her head was in it tonight.
By the time she was finished playing at 12pm she was exhausted. As she finished storing away the rest of her music gear in the back closet of the kitchen, she noticed two men walking over to the back staircase that lead up to the attic, a place where Beau stored extra tables and chairs. She had seen these two goons hanging around the bar a few times before. They really gave her the creeps. Unfortunately they seemed to be friendly with Beau, so she never felt comfortable saying anything about them. The three were always talking to each other in hushed voices over cigars.
“At least we found one of them,” the tall, pin headed one said.
“Took him long enough to find her. I think he’s antsy to find the other one. The piece is worthless on its own. Says he needs it in a set,” the shorter mustached one replied.
“I know! Soon as we find it, we can get rid of her. One less thing to worry about,” Pin head replied.
“And more importantly, we’ll finally get our cut,” His round beer gut jiggled slightly as he spoke.
I don’t think they know I’m here… She looked around for a place to safely eavesdrop from. She carefully wedged herself through the partially open door of the old coat closet turned music storage closet and listened.
“He said she didn’t make it easy.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. I’d expect nothing less from Ida”
Oh my God! What did they do to her? Jocelyn was paralyzed with fear. I’ll go to the police…They’ll have to look into her disappearance! Shit! No, I can’t! The tall one’s a cop. And his cousin is the police chief. There’s no way I can approach them about this… She couldn’t let them know she was on to them. But what could they want with Ida?
“There you two are!” Beau exclaimed. “I thought you left without me.”
“Not at all.” Jocelyn could tell it was the tall one speaking without even seeing him because of his nasally voice. “We told you we’d wait for you.”
“And here you are! How’d you guys like the show tonight? That Jocelyn is really something isn’t she? Very talented musician.”
“She sure is. Real nice lookin too I would’nt kick her outta bed…” she could hear the fat one rubbing his hands together.
Ew! In your dreams pal. She thought to herself, disgusted. What a couple of pigs! She felt sick to her stomach. How much longer are they going to be out there?
“Now now,” Beau replied in mock disapproval. “You guys can just back off. It’s common knowledge that Jocelyn’s all mine.”
“Yeah right! It’s common knowledge that that’s never ever going to happen. Do you know how many times we’ve seen you get shut down by that girl?” The short one laughed. “That’s never going to happen!”
“Yeah well, eventually I’ll wear her down,” he said clapping the one on the shoulder. “It’s only a matter of time.”
“Right, when pigs fly,” he muttered.
“We’ll see who’s laughing when Jocelyn comes around. Besides, it’s not like she’s got anyone else in this city to turn to.” Beau said smugly.
The three men strode past the partially open closet where Jocelyn was hiding and exited through the back door. She carefully untangled herself from all of the cords stored in there and brushed off a few cob webs. Where are they going? She grabbed her purse and carefully trailed them. The back door led to a cramped alleyway that smelled of old garbage and pee.
She quietly followed the three men for several minutes, using various garbage pails and parked cars for hiding. They finally arrived at Club Roman, a fancy looking club, at least from the outside. She surveyed the front of the building, which was, in her opinion, actually quite pretty. The club’s front doors were sandwiched in between two, large, Grecian columns. Above the door was a white awning that had a gold painted chandelier. Inside the customers were greeted by hostesses and waited on by waitresses dressed in skimpy toga dresses. Ugh, of course they would be going to a place like this.
She watched the bouncer stop the three men at the front door from behind a white Lexus conveniently parked in front of the building. Damnit! There’s probably a cover to get in. She quickly rooted through her tiny black purse hoping to find some cash. She pulled out two crumpled $1 bills. There’s no way that’s going to cover it. Feeling defeated Jocelyn started to walk back toward Broadway, unsure of what to do. There has to be a way. I’ve got to find out what they’ve done.
“Jocelyn?” A high pitched voice called. She whipped around to find her Reese Witherspoon look a-like friend Penelope smoking a cigarette by the side of the building.
“Penelope?” She exclaimed feeling somewhat relieved. At least one of my friends isn’t missing.
“Shh!” The woman hissed, indicating with her hands for Jocelyn to lower her voice. “Listen, while I’m at work my name’s Penny. You know that.” She tapped out the butt of her cigarette with her high heels and smoothed her blond ponytail.
“Right, right sorry,” she surveyed her friend’s outfit. She was dressed in a short, white toga dress that was tied with a gold cord at her waist. “I didn’t realize you worked here.” And just like that, Jocelyn had an idea. Maybe Penny can help me.
“You think they’ve done something to Ida?” Penny asked in shock after Jocelyn recounted the conversation she had heard. “But she’s such a sweet old lady! Why would they want to hurt her?”
“I have no idea, but I’ve got to find out. She’s been missing for four days now and I’m really worried!” Jocelyn exclaimed on the verge of tears. “They mentioned stealing something that wasn’t worth anything unless it was in a set.”
“Well, have you gone to the police? File a missing person report. Maybe they can help?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. One of those guys I was following is a cop. I don’t want to let them know that I’m on to them.” Jocelyn pushed her dark hair out of her face and yanked her dress down for what felt like the 400th time that night. “I’ve got to get in there but I’ve got $2 on me!”
“Hmm,” The blond tapped her index finger to her long, pointed chin. “I think I can help…follow me.” She beckoned Jocelyn down the alleyway to a large, rusted metal doorway. Behind the door was a narrow staircase covered in old paisley print carpet that led up to one single light bulb hanging in front of the door at the end of the stairs. Behind the old door covered in peeling white paint was a long hallway.
“This is only a little bit creepy Penny,” Jocelyn said looking around.
“I know, I know, but this was the easiest way to get you in here,” Penny gripped her friend’s hand hurrying her down the hallway and through a set of dark red velvet curtains at the end. As the two emerged, Jocelyn was in awe. They were on a balcony that went around the entirety of a large, circular room. Peering over cold metal railing, she saw that the room below was filled with round tables, pretty waitresses dressed in short, one shouldered white dresses serving drinks, and a large wooden stage were a band was playing.
“Is that them?” Penny asked, peering across the banister to the other end of the balcony. Jocelyn looked over just in time to see Beau and his two friends enter another velvet curtained doorway on the other side.
“Yes! That’s them! Let’s go!” Jocelyn grabbed Penny’s hand ready to run to the other side.
“Wait!” Penny exclaimed. “We can’t just go in there. That’s the VIP lounge.”
“But we have to follow them!”
“I can’t just take you in there,” she replied shaking her head. “You’ll have to dress the part.” After getting Jocelyn one of the spare toga dresses, the two walked towards the VIP area.
“What exactly is the VIP lounge?” Jocelyn asked, nervous about what they might find in there. “It’s not like a place where men go to get…you know, get things they can’t get down stairs do they?”
Penny stared at her for a moment and then smacked her friend’s left arm when she realized what she was implying. “God no Jocelyn! What kind of place do you think I work in? This is a high class establishment,” Penny hissed.
“Well, I just wanted to make sure! You did work at a strip club a while back,” Jocelyn disputed. Penny shook her blond ponytail.
“People go into those rooms to hang out and have drinks brought to them by pretty girls, it’s nothing sketchy.” When the pair reached the curtain they were faced with another long hallway, this one however, was loud, smoky and lined with several velvet covered doorways.
“Okay, great…how do we know which one they’re in?” Without answering Penny beckoned Jocelyn to follow her as she peeked into each curtain until, much to their dismay, they had not found the men. “What the hell? We just checked every room in here. Where could they be?” They both looked ahead at the dark wooden doorway a head of them. “What’s in there?” Jocelyn pointed at the door.
“That’s the owner’s room,” Penny said in a hushed voice. “We can’t go in there,” she shook her head quickly.
“But they’re probably in there!” Jocelyn hissed grabbing her friend’s hand. I wonder what they would want with the guy who owns this place…
“We can’t,” Penny replied again. “Staff’s not allowed in there ever. I’m sure it’s locked anyway. It’s always locked.”
“But what about Ida?” Jocelyn exclaimed. The blond shushed her indicating to let her think for a moment.
“Okay, I think I’ve got an idea. We can try to listen from there,” she pointed to the wooden door to their left. “It’s the staff office. There’s a bathroom in between the offices. It’s got a door into his office.” The door inside the dusty bathroom had a large keyhole large enough for Jocelyn to put her eye to. The office was windowless with a beige carpet and the walls had dark wooden panels. To the left she saw a large wooden desk in front of two large and overfilled bookshelves. To the right she saw the three men talking to who she could only assume was the owner of Club Roman.
“Well? Can you see them?” Penny whispered.
“Uh huh, they’re in there alright.” The men were speaking too low for her to make out what they were saying. “Damnit! I can’t hear anything they’re saying,” Jocelyn huffed. The fat, mustached creep gestured to a small statue behind Beau. Huh. That statue looks kinda familiar. She stared at it a little longer trying to figure out where this sense of familiarity was coming from.
“Oh my God!” She clapped her hand over her mouth.
“What??” Penny whispered excitedly with wide eyes. “What happened?”
“Oh my God,” she repeated. The statue in there. That’s what they were after.”
“What statue?” Jocelyn moved aside so her blond companion could see. “Oh! The mermaid one?” She nodded. Penny thought for a moment. “Wait, that one looks an awful lot like the one Ida gave you last Christmas…oh” Jocelyn nodded furiously as Penny trailed off. “Wait! Maybe she knew someone would be after them…and Oh my God she gave them to you as an insurance that they wouldn’t get both!”
Jocelyn rested her head on her knees and ran her fingers through her hair. “I had no idea those things were even worth anything. They’re going to kill her if they get a hold of the other one.”
“I already told you, I don’t know anything about the other one. This is pointless!” A woman’s voice rang through the room. Jocelyn pressed her eye to the keyhole again and sure enough, to the far right side of the room was Ida Jones, tied to a wooden chair.