Chapter 10: Cage (6/6)

As she walked through the studio hallway, she passed by the common area.  She saw the crowd was still enjoying themselves and was relieved that they did not see her.  She walked by as fast as she could.  She opened the front door of the studio and was bombarded by the paparazzi taking photographs and filming her.  “How is your health after being rescued by JZ?” “Are you two an item now?” “Do his parents approve of you?” “When do you plan on having children?” were the questions that were shouted at her as she struggled through the torrent of paparazzi to get to the subway station.  The questions kept coming from the attackers and noisily following her to the subway station.  She walked faster and faster and tried to hold a calm facial expression, but they kept up with her pace which irritated her.

As she waited on the platform, they surrounded her with more personal questions, cameras and camera flashes, and microphones.  The subway car was coming and the paparazzi were louder than the subway car screeching to a stop, louder than everything that took place in the station.  She squeezed through them to get a seat near the door, but the paparazzi that were in her face had already occupied those seats.  She wanted to get a seat on the opposite side but the flood of paparazzi behind her had already taken those seats as well.  So she had to stand in the middle of the subway car while they filmed, photographed, and interrogated her in the three-hour subway ride, tightly surrounding her as before.  The overflowed subway car made the air extremely hot and suffocating.

Going back to her apartment was a similar ordeal. They flooded the narrow streets that looked like pathways on Chongwenmen and then Happiness Street.  She saw her neighbors in the dark, expecting them to collect a fee for the paparazzi to enter the apartment building, but it was so chaotic that they could not extract fees from anyone.  They all just shoved through.  She struggled to grope the wall in the darkness to find her door.  There was so much pushing that she knew that they would enter her apartment as well and she knew she could not get them out, even if she used force.  So she walked around the neighborhood, uncertain of where to go.  She decided to take them to the business district in downtown Beijing, which towered over her part of the city.  She knew she was tiring them out when she saw the paparazzi in cars tailing her with cameras.  By this time, all the businesses were closed for the day, so she was determined to find a place that was still open.

“Ooo, here’s a nice tall building with lights on, on the…twenty-something floor.  Super, the door doesn’t require me to slide a key card, and it’s unlocked! Jackpot!”

She walked around the lobby with a single security guard behind a desk stunned to see a tidal wave of paparazzi behind her.  “He looks like he’s calling the police for trespassing, but let’s see how fast the police can take care of this.  Where is it, where is it?” Elle asked herself.  “A-ha!”  She opened the door under the glowing “Emergency Exit” and entered the stairwell.

***

Back at the studio, JZ went to find One Word in his workroom.  “Good you’re still here.  I have something to show you,” he said in his casual voice.

“What is it?” he asked curiously.

“Take a look,” JZ said, finding the long entry Elle had typed.

One Word began reading it.  “I’m flattered,” he said awkwardly.  “Who wrote this?”

“Elle.”

“Why are you showing this to me?”

“Finish reading what she wrote first.”

One Word continued reading.  A few minutes later, “Did she really write this?”

“Yeah.  I asked her why she stopped listening to my music and this is what she wrote.  She gave me more than what I asked for.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“That’s not what you really wanted to ask me, right?”

JZ laughed slightly.  “All I wanted was to show you is that you have another fan in this studio.”

“What do you plan on doing about her criticisms?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think what she said is true?”

“I think she’s wrong because if I don’t feel a deep connection to a song, I won’t put it in any of my albums.”

“What about you as a song-writer? You were a song-writer before you became an artist.  Do you think she’s right about that?”

“I think she’s wrong again, because when I was the song-writer for the other artists, I wrote what their fans and I wanted in common.  But for me, I’ve always written songs about my interests and my past girlfriends and what I felt when I was with them, so my fans know more about me, which is what they want.”

“Unfortunately, your relationships with your past girlfriends lasted an average of a week.  You can’t write a deep, heart-felt song if that’s all the time you invested.  You would get something artificial as she implies.”

“Are you really agreeing with her?” he asked like he was being betrayed.

“I may be your business partner and close friend, but I agree with what I believe is the truth.  You always throw a fit like a child when I bring up your weekly girlfriends.”

“I have my method of doing things.”

“This is not meant to hurt you.”  One Word paused to assess JZ’s receptivity.  “Why don’t you count the minutes you’re thinking about work or spend focused on work.  You have had a different girl every week for the last two years, and they required a lot of attention.  So how much of your time was actually spent writing or working in general?”

Suddenly they heard loud laughter echoing through the stairwell.  “It sounds like it’s coming from the lounge,” said JZ.  One Word nodded in agreement and said, “Let’s see what’s going on.”  They took several steps out of One Word’s workroom, through the stairwell, to the first floor where the lounge was.  Everyone in that room was watching the TV on the wall or watching something on their phones.  “What’s going on,” JZ demanded in his loud and serious voice.  They created a path for JZ and One Word to the TV.

“Elle is all over the news,” a young man stated the obvious.

“She’s only walking around.  Why is she on TV?” JZ asked irritatingly.

“They’ve been following her since she left here.  New Guy watched her being filmed and photographed on her three-hour subway ride to her place on his phone.  They were asking her questions non-stop but she didn’t answer any of them.  Then she took the paparazzi to downtown and kept walking.”

“What’s with the hissing laughter just now?”

“The paparazzi followed her into a stairwell,” he answered trying not to laugh.

“There’s only several of them, right?” JZ asked then saw that Elle had stopped walking and turned around to face the camera filming the back of her head.  She took her hand and put it in front of her exhausted, expressionless, red face and pointed to her left, and the camera pointed in that direction.  Everyone who was watching that channel saw about 50 squished people, in an upright position, around a large round desk with a very confused woman in a blouse and phone against her ear in the circle, with their cameras on Elle.  The camera behind her returned for her close-up.  Elle moved her head aside so the same camera could film the swelling paparazzi in front of her emerging from the stairwell.

“Does anyone know which building she’s in?” JZ asked loudly and demandingly.

“No, we don’t.  They’re so close, all we’ve seen is her head and sometimes her neck with her head,” said a young guy.

“I’m going to find her.  If anyone knows where she is, notify me immediately,” JZ said in a serious and loud voice, and turned away.

“She’s going back into the stairwell,” someone shouted.  “Maybe she’s getting out of the building.”

JZ turned back to watch the TV, and saw Elle squeezing through the shouting, the flashes, and the people.  Everyone was watching closely.  “Turn to Channel 6,” someone shouted.  Everyone who was watching Channel 6 saw her red fists and wrists in front of her red expressionless face, all the friction her skin endured by trying to squeeze through the tightly packed stairwell.

“She’s going up,” he said to himself.  “Big! Bigger! Come with me!” JZ commanded and the three of them ran out of the lounge.  As they were running to the parking garage, JZ said, “She’s probably in downtown.  If she was walking, that’s probably where she is.  Since practically every business is closed, just look for a building with a lot of people, noise, and lights.”  They got into his car and sped to downtown Beijing.  They saw streaks of neon lights from the nightclubs and an assortment of lights from some restaurants as JZ raced by.

“Slow down,” shouted Bigger.  JZ was driving as fast as he could while avoiding cars and pedestrians for two hours until Big saw a group of police officers in front of a building.  “Hey JZ, look over here at all the police officers.  She must be in that building.”  JZ made a tire-screeching illegal turn toward the police and parked his car illegally.  He quickly got out and asked the closest officer, “Is she in there?”

The officer was star-struck that he saw JZ in person.  “Hi JZ! I’m a huge fan!”

JZ interrupted him.  “Is she in there?”

“I’m not supposed to say anything about an ongoing investigation.”

“I can give you an autographed CD if you tell me if she’s in there.”

“Yes, she’s in there.”

Big, Bigger, and JZ looked at the very tall building.  There was someone on the edge of the roof, but they could not be certain.  The body got closer and closer.  On the side of the high-rise, the body zoomed down the ground with the lights on and they saw long hair and limbs flying in the opposite direction of the body.

“EVERYONE! GATHER IN A TIGHT CIRCLE ON THE SIDEWALK! RIGHT HERE! RIGHT HERE! ON THE DOUBLE!” The officers gathered around the tall and robust officer shouting instructions.  “TIGHTER!! YOU THREE! GO OVER THERE!” A small body fell down on the officers and the circle shortened in height from the point of impact outward, like ripples in a pond.  JZ and The Guys quickly got up, took giant steps over the fallen officers, JZ scooped up the body in his arms, and carried it to his car.  “Take the keys from my back pocket and drive to the silver building,” he vociferously commanded.

A drop of water dropped into a pond of sort of clear water that reflects mostly of the brown leaves from trees above.
Drop a drop of water into the pond and it ripples

They got in the car and quickly sped away.  Big and Bigger occupied the front seats, while JZ sat in the backseat with Elle still in his arms.  He frantically shook her body by her shoulders.  “ELLE! ELLE!” he loudly whispered and breathing heavily.  She slowly opened her eyes and saw JZ’s worried face when the car passed a street lamp.  “I don’t want to live like this,” she slowly whispered.

“I don’t want to live without you,” he blurted.  She closed her eyes.  He got worried.  “You were right about my music.  Everything you wrote was right about me and my music,” he whispered out of breath.

Her eyes still closed, “I don’t want to be right,” she weakly whispered.

He did not know how to respond.  He moved the arm that was holding her legs to holding her back, and pushed her closer to his body.  He bent his neck down and passionately kissed her on the lips.  She pushed him away with her bruised hands.  “Why are you kissing me goodbye? I’m not going to die in the next five minutes,” she slowly whispered with a small smile.

“Do you promise?” he asked softly.

She nodded her head weakly.

He embraced her tightly and felt her breathing weaken.  Her fingertips danced on his sides, higher and higher.  He laughed.  “Why are you tickling me?” he asked in a slightly joyful voice and held her slightly away from him.  She took a deep breath in and a deep breath out…and another in…and another out, staring at him and hoping that he got the message.  He smiled and said, “Sorry,” and he leaned her against his body, placing one hand on her back while the other stroked her hair.  Her breathing steadied, her body relaxed, and she was asleep.

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