On his way to Elle’s apartment the next morning with breakfast, JZ remembered his primary lyricist’s words, “End her misery already,” and that was what he intended to do. He arrived at her apartment and knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again and apologetically said, “Sorry I acted like a bad boy yesterday. Please forgive me,” on the other side of the door. Still no answer. Worried that he may have caused her to flee her present situation, he let himself in. He saw her sitting on her bed, leaning against the main window.
“Why didn’t you answer the door?” he asked curiously.
“Because I knew it was you,” she said spitefully.
“Forgive me,” he said with puppy dog eyes, “I brought you breakfast and I have a surprise for you,” he said with an honest smile.
“No. I’m not hungry. I don’t want it,” she said in an unkind tone, indicating that she wanted him to leave.
“C’mon, come with me,” he said, trying to not to sound like he was pleading.
“No. I’m not leaving without being forced to.”
“Great! I got permission!” he said ecstatically. He shouted into the building’s hallway, “Guys, let’s go!”
Two large African and Chinese mixed men in sunglasses, tight dark gray T-shirts, and black slacks entered the tiny apartment. They looked like two large sharks in a pond. They came toward her. Elle jumped on her bed and flew into the air in between the men’s heads, but one of her ankles was caught by one of the men, and she was hung upside down like a fisherman that held his catch by the tail. She flailed, missing her attacks against her captor.
“Don’t be too rough with her,” JZ said to the captor, “she’s valuable merchandise to me.”
The three of them left. They were not stopped on their way to downtown by foot, despite all the shouting and grunting she made. Elle was stuffed in the backseat of JZ’s cherry red sedan between the two burly men. A short while had passed when the captor noted, “She’s being a good girl by being so quiet.”
“I think her life is literally being squeezed out of her,” said the other burly man with some concern.
“Is she really out?” JZ asked.
“I’ll drive a bit further, then stop so one of you can sit in the passenger seat.”
Elle woke up in a calmly lit room with soft carpet and black felt walls. The top half of one wall was a mirror, “No doubt a double-sided mirror,” she thought. No windows and no furniture. She got up and walked slowly toward each wall, sliding her hands all over the felt, trying to find a door but not showing that she was looking for a door. When she was done with the last wall and still no door, she looked down at the carpet. There did not seem to be any odd cuts in the carpet. Unsuccessful, she lied back down and looked at the ceiling, but the light bulb was blinding her, so she got up and knocked on the mirror.
A moment later the light went out, there was a loud and fast sliding noise, then the light came back on. There they were. Of the six people who entered, Elle only recognized four of them. Feeling trapped, she firmly demanded, “What do you want.” They looked at each other and laughed.
JZ said light-heartedly, “Let me introduce you. This is One Word,” referring to the man in his mid-forties, wearing a solid, algae green polo shirt, and tan dress pants. “He is my primary lyricist. He is an extremely talented man so don’t give him the same treatment you’ve been giving me. The two big guys are The Guys,” referring to the Chinese-African twins that were in her apartment earlier, who were in their mid- to late-twenties. “They’re also called ‘Big’ and ‘Bigger,’ but if you call them that, they’ll fight over who’s Bigger.” Everyone laughed. “They are our bodyguards and friends. This is CeeCee. She is my translator, but now that you’re here, she translates for everyone,” referring to the girl in her late-twenties to early thirties in the blush pink, flow-y chiffon dress with all the accessories of a fashionista. “This is the new guy. We call him ‘New Guy,’” referring to the teenage guy in the mauve and peach colored plaid shirt and slacks.
Rudely dismissing the introductions, Elle demanded again, “What do you want?” looking at everyone now.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to everyone,” JZ said, trying to be diplomatic.
Elle glared at him.
“Ok,” said JZ, sensing the tension, “I’ll do it. This is Elle-”
“I never told you my name,” still glaring at JZ.
“You didn’t have to.” JZ pulled out a magazine from his back pocket with the page where Elle’s poem was published a year ago. He pointed to her name and picture, “This is your name and this is your picture. This is your poem,” he said pointing to the poem, “is it not?”
Still very suspicious, Elle nodded “yes.”
“As I was saying, this is Elle, she wrote this amazing poem that I felt could be one of my next songs. Why don’t you read it, Elle?” he said with a sly smile.
“You must tell me what you really want, first,” she demanded.
“Fine, fine. If you can write more poems with a quality like this one, I want you as one of my song-writers.”
Elle looked the only girl on her opposite, and asked in English, “Will you tell me what he said in English?”
“He said if you can write high-quality poems like that one, he wants you as one of his song-writers,” CeeCee said calmly in perfect English.
Elle’s eyebrows rose. They fell back down and she said in English to CeeCee, “I can’t because I can no longer find inspiration.”
“She’s lying,” said JZ. “She’s mad at me and doesn’t trust us because we kidnapped her.”
“It sounds like a nice job,” she calmly said to CeeCee. “Ask him who took my freedom to step foot outside without a sea of people swallowing me from the outside in.”
“Tell her I’m sincerely sorry for what I put her through. I thought she would enjoy the publicity, after all, so many girls want stardom without doing anything these days. Tell her my actions were selfish, and I would take it all back if I could.”
“Ha! All women know a fake apology when she hears one.”
CeeCee translated. The Guys, One Word, and New Guy laughed.
“Tell her I have a present for her,” said JZ, “all girls like presents. Don’t tell her that I said ‘all girls like presents.’”
“I don’t want it,” Elle said to JZ.
JZ scratched his head in agitation. He knocked on the mirror and a baby pink, thin, flat box with a shiny red bow on it slid under the mirror. JZ took it and handed it to Elle. “Take it,” he said, wondering why some talented people have to be so smart.
“I don’t want it,” Elle said and crossed her arms.
“She cannot be bought and she cannot be reasoned with,” JZ thought, but he opened the box anyway. He removed the tissue paper and revealed the satin ruby dress Elle had ruined, before it was ruined. He held one shoulder strap on one hand and tossed the box on the floor with the other. He held up the dress, and Elle’s eyes gleamed but quickly faded and she looked away.
He handed the dress to Big and said, “I have something else.” He knocked on the mirror again and another flat baby pink box slipped under the glass, this one smaller is size. “I noticed that you wore that dress with hardly any jewelry. What was missing between your neck and chest was a necklace like this,” and opened the box, revealing a dazzling Afghan-style gold and ruby statement necklace. Everyone in the room except JZ gasped.
Elle’s surprise quickly disappeared. JZ told CeeCee to translate, and she did.
“Tell him he should wear the dress and necklace or donate them, because I don’t want either one of them. Tell him to let me out of here so I can go home.”
CeeCee translated the first statement with a smile. The Guys, One Word, and New Guy laughed. Then she translated the second statement.
In his normal voice, JZ told New Guy, “Call a taxi to take her home.”
New Guy slid one of the walls with both his hands, and the two exited while the other five stayed in the room and talked.
New Guy guided Elle in the maze-like hallway. A chubby one, New Guy mustered up the courage to ask her, “Your name is Elle, right?” in an uneasy voice and barely glancing at her.
“Yes,” she answered solemnly.
He smiled, gaining a little confidence, “That’s a strange name.”
“You have a stranger name: New Guy,” she said with a small laugh.
“Do you have a last name?” he asked curiously.
“No,” she replied calmly.
There was only the sound of footsteps until he opened the door. They went outside and he hailed a cab. It came, it stopped. He opened the door for her then closed it. He was at the passenger side window about to pay the cab fare in advance. “Xingfu Dajie” Elle told the driver, and both the driver and the New Guy exclaimed, “REALLY?!”
She looked at both of them then answered, “Really.”
“In Beijing?” asked the cab driver, still holding onto shock.
“Yes,” she answered. She wanted to say that she could not even afford to look at this street here but did not have the words or a translator for such a statement. New Guy settled the cost and off the cab driver drove with Elle in the back with her arms folded.
New Guy returned to the building with sadness. With the intention to persuade JZ to not give up on Elle, he rushed to the felt room and to his luck, JZ and the others were still in there.
“Excuse my rudeness Mr. JZ, I know that I have the lowest position here, but please listen to what I have to say.”
“What is it, kid?” JZ replied.
“Miss Elle lives on Happiness Street,” he pleaded, knowing that his paid internship could possibly be terminated. The others gasped but not JZ.
To New Guy, “Did you not hear all the ways I tried?” JZ asked. “She’s an American. She wouldn’t know how to be polite like Chinese people. What she said was what she really felt. Hero was the same way. Americans and their honest feelings.”
“If you have the strength, go and persuade her on your own time.”
“CeeCee, will you come with me?” asked New Guy.
“I’ll come if The Guys come,” replied CeeCee.
“Will you guys come?” New Guy asked Big and Bigger.
With some thought, Big and Bigger looked at each other and grinned, “Yeah we’ll come.”
“Do you want to come, too, Mr. One Word?” asked New Guy.
“I’ll go if JZ goes,” responded One Word.
Everyone looked at JZ waiting for his answer.
“I’ll go if you five can come up with other solid reasons why she should work here,” said JZ sternly.
Three days from the meeting is Saturday. They got in the van JZ rented and drove to Elle’s apartment. JZ sat on the passenger side to give better routes to take. They arrived nearly three hours later.
They parked the van, walked to the building, and knocked on Elle’s door. No answer. They knocked again and still no answer. “She doesn’t answer her door anymore,” said JZ. “Just turn the knob as far as you can and push the door in. Like this,” and he did it like that morning.
Like clowns getting into a clown car, one by one they entered the tiny apartment. Elle’s lower half was on the bed while her upper half was hanging off the side of the bed. “My world is literally turned upside down,” she said in English. CeeCee translated. Elle got right-side up and in an awkward and inviting voice said, “Hello everyone, please come in.” “Damn,” she thought, “it’s one against six. What the hell do they want?”
Very embarrassed that there was only one place to sit, fit for two on a hot summer day, One Word sat on the bed while everyone else stood tightly-packed in the tiny empty room. “So what brings you all to such a place on a day like this?” she asked casually while handing each of her guest a bottle of bottled water from her refrigerator.
“We wanted to come here personally, and persuade you to come and work for JZ,” said New Guy awkwardly behind Bigger.
“But I have already worked for him,” Elle replied casually.
“REALLY?!” the six of them exclaimed in high-pitched sounds.
“Three years ago during the summer,” she said in Mandarin, then switched to English, “when JZ was on tour for his new album. I was hired among many to run errands for JZ’s more permanent employees. But one special task I had to do was help JZ with his costume changes. I didn’t know that was included in my list of duties at the time but he was in concert and needed quick costume changes. I felt trapped because I told him that my parents didn’t raise me to look at a man without his clothes on, especially the one I wasn’t married to. But he told me, ‘this is your job so do it,’” she imitated. “I knew I signed a contract for three months, so even as uncomfortable as I was, I had to do it. I never looked at him after that incident until he found me two weeks ago.”
CeeCee relayed the story in Mandarin for the guys to hear, then all of them except One Word looked at JZ like they could not believe his behavior. They were waiting for JZ to say something.
“I’m not trying to be mean. I remember the incident but I don’t remember you in particular,” he said to Elle. He looked at CeeCee and translated.
“I’m not surprised he doesn’t remember. All the girls there were taller than me, since they wore high heels to look good for him, while I was in flats. Nobody saw me, just heard me. Besides, what girl there didn’t have a white face and dark hair?” Elle said to CeeCee.
CeeCee translated. They were all silent and a little surprised.
Elle broke the silence, “How were you all going to persuade me to work for JZ?” she asked curiously.
“I was going to ask you what you wanted in order to work for him,” giddily and nervously answered New Guy. “So…what do you want?”
“I want the paparazzi to stop following me everywhere I go,” she told CeeCee.
“JZ can’t fix that. What else do you want?” New Guy asked, trying to get a better view of both CeeCee and Elle.
“I want to know who I would collaborate with,” she told CeeCee.
“Buzzy,” JZ said.
“Who is Buzzy, New Guy?” Elle asked.
“A mid- to high-level song-writer,” New Guy said.
“That sounds good.”
“What else do you want?” asked New Guy.
“I want to talk to JZ in private,” Elle said, looking at CeeCee.
CeeCee translated. They all left the apartment. One Word, The Guys, and CeeCee stayed in the hallway to hear what the two were saying, while New Guy went outside to hopefully see what the two were doing through her thin curtained, main window.
JZ moved closer to Elle, standing face-to-face, he held her hands in his hands. He gazed into her big soft eyes and whispered, “What do you want?” She jerked her hands out of his and quietly said, “I want ten times as much money in salary as CeeCee, The Guys, and New Guy combined for each month.”
Without hesitation, he whispered, “Ok,” and continued gazing into her eyes.
Feeling very uncomfortable, she slipped to the side, rushed into the hallway and brought CeeCee back into the apartment. “Tell him when we’re at work he can’t do this kind of thing – looking at me like that. It makes me and everyone else very uncomfortable.”
He said, “Ok,” with a smile.
Elle gathered the rest of the guys back into her apartment. In English, she said, “According to custom, I have a poem for you, but I will only recite it instead of also giving you all a copy. Can you translate it as I read it?” With a nod from CeeCee, Elle read in English from a sheet of paper she took from the counter.
In vibrant pinks and purples
The essence of
Beauty and tenderness
In pairs and singles
Until one dies
In five petals
Enjoyment, death, rebirth
In the center
All her guests applauded. JZ came toward her and said, “I want that as one of my songs.”
“I know,” Elle replied, “I’ll bring it to the studio on Monday.”
JZ’s face said, “But I want it now.” Elle’s face said, “I know, I’ll bring it Monday.” Elle then said to CeeCee, “Do you see what I’m dealing with here? He’s making everyone, especially me, uncomfortable.”