I felt the tie hanging from my neck tighten like a noose. It was nothing but a cruel trick in my head, but it was enough for me to reconsider my plan entirely. I paced the floor, back and forth, back and forth, constantly tugging at my tie until I ultimately yanked it off.
I have to come clean. I can’t keep living like this. Literally, the huge target on my back is becoming a bit too much. They got Bella first. I don’t want to be next.
“Ramsey.” A call from one of the backstage managers brought me back to reality. “You’re on in 5.”
The manager didn’t waste another second reminding me, already around a corner by the time I formed a reply.
“Tha-” My voice faltered. Nobody was listening to me. For now. But in less than five minutes, I’d be speaking to millions of people and I would be revealing the inner workings of one of the biggest drug rings in Hollywood in over 50 years. And I hadn’t even been involved. Hell, I was just a caterer a few weeks ago. Where did it all go wrong?
I saw the buildup for my interview broadcast on the small tv hanging muted on the wall. Pictures flashed by, first of multiple multi-million dollar mansions being raided, then of bags packed with various illegal substances strewn across a room, and finally, a mugshot of Bella “Belly” Rowser, the bitch who got me here. A young starlet turned criminal after she was pushed into hard addiction for not fitting the industry standard. If only they knew.
Well, they will in roughly- 3 minutes?!
I took my gaze away from the TV and sat down.
Seriously, where did it all go wrong?
“Ramsey, pick up the pace!” my manager barked at me. He had been on edge from the second he found out we were going to be serving the movie set of this summer’s biggest blockbuster, Tracing Time.
“Yessir.” How was I supposed to speed up? My job was to take inventory of the things already loaded. I didn’t exactly control how fast the food got moved.
Still, I would have been lying if I had said I wasn’t also nervous. There were a lot of big up-and-coming names in this movie: Stella Monet, Keith Rosado, Bella Rowser. We couldn’t afford to botch anything. One bad review from someone with that much influence could have sent us to the unemployment line.
After what seemed like hours, we got all the food packed. I took inventory 3 thorough times, and we were on our way. The security guard at the set gate guided our truck to the unloading deck. It was 10:30 am, so we had roughly two hours to prepare and serve everything.
“Stevens, you start the buffet. Bloom, unload plates and silverware. Ramsey… fix your goddamn apron.”
I looked down and saw that my apron had come untied while moving everything. “Yessir.” I quickly re-tied it.
“And let one of the director’s aides know we’re here. Quickly, chop-chop.” My manager clapped his hands and everyone scurried off, leaving me, glancing around for anyone who looked semi-important. My eyes locked on a woman dressed in all black on the other side of the hangar.
She probably knows where I can find the director.
I started navigating towards her, weaving between people and props, making sure to not touch anything or anyone.
I was about 20 feet away from the woman when something caught my eye. I turned my head to see two people talking in hushed voices behind a backdrop. I didn’t recognize them at first, but within a few seconds it clicked in my mind:
Is that Bella Rowser? Who is she with?
But their identities quickly became the last thing on my mind when I saw her pass the man a small bag full of a bright green crystalized substance: Virfotrexate, aka Jetlag. Jetlag was a new and highly illegal sedative, usually used by unlicensed plastic surgeons, but there were rumors that some stars had started dabbling in recreational use of it.
I guess the rumors were true.
Before I could turn away, the man caught my gaze and did a double-take. I got a better look at his face and quickly realized he was Keith Rosado, Bella’s costar. He whispered something to her and Bella snapped her head towards me, also matching my stare. She glanced back at Keith and shooed him away before turning to me and plastering on a fake smile. She beckoned me towards her.
As if influenced by some higher power, I started walking towards her, despite every muscle in my body telling me to do otherwise. Keith pocketed the small bag and brushed by me, bumping into my shoulder as we crossed paths. When I finally stood in front of her, Bella still had the sickening smile on her face. It was almost as plastic as the rest of her.
“Hi, darlin’!” She had a thick southern accent. She’d been working in Hollywood for over 3 years at this point, how had she still maintained such a prominent accent? “I don’t recall seeing you at any of the script readings, ya new around here?” Her words came out sweet but were quickly soured by her expression, still stuck in the same forced smile.
“Uh, no, Mrs. Rowser, I’m-”
“You can just call me Belly, sugar. That’s what everyone ‘round here calls me.”
“Ok… Belly… I’m just here with the catering company, I was looking for a director’s aid, I p-promise I didn’t see anything-”
She cut me off again. “Now, what could ya have seen? Me and Keith over there were just rehearsing lines. We’ve got a biiiig scene today.”
“Oh, uh, ok… I’ll just, keep looking. I promise I won’t say anything.” I don’t think my tone was convincing enough because, for the first time, her face changed and the fake grin she wore had been wiped from her face. But, as quickly as it left, the smile returned and she pulled me in for a hug. I stood stiff as she whispered to me.
“We don’t need any trouble here. You didn’t see shit, kid. Alright? Don’t mess with things you aren’t involved in.”
She patted my back and released me before saying, “Also, if you see my girl Stella, tell her this exactly: Belly needs to see you between stage 4 and 5.” She sealed the message with a wink.
“Yes ma’am, I’ll tell her if I see her.”
“Good.” She flashed me another sickening smile before brushing past me to return back to the main set. I stood still for what felt like hours before checking my watch.
Shit, it’s been like 10 minutes. I really need to find a director's aid.
The woman I had initially pegged as an assistant was only a few feet away from where I had last seen her, so I finished my journey across the building and asked her if she could let the director know the catering company was here and setting up. She nodded and spoke into her headset before giving me a dismissive thumbs up. I walked back towards the buffet tables, somewhat in a daze, and I felt everyone looking at me differently. It was almost as if they all knew something about me. Something I wasn’t aware of. I awkwardly checked my apron to make sure it hadn’t come undone again, but it was still secured.
What are they looking at?
I credited it to my imagination.
2 minutes until I went on.
God, should I be sweating this much?
I rushed to the bathroom to grab some paper towels but found myself positioned above the toilet, a wave of nausea rolling over me. Thank god I had already ditched the tie because I definitely would have forgotten to hold it back before leaning over the bowl. I waited and waited for nausea to subside.
I do not have time for this. I need to get out there as soon as I can to set the record straight.
Suddenly, a loud banging came from the bathroom door.
I sat behind the buffet tables, ladle in hand, ready to serve anyone interested in the tomato soup we had brought. It wasn’t a very popular dish.
I tried my hardest to forget my conversation with Bella earlier. The last thing I needed was to be involved in a huge Hollywood drug-ring. The minor role I played now could have been enough to land me in jail for over 5 years.
I gulped and tried to push those thoughts away when a woman stood in front of me.
“Tomato soup, ma’am-” I never finished my thought.
My eyes finally relayed the image I was seeing to my brain. Standing in front of me, empty bowl in hand, was none other than Stella Monet.
“Yes please…” She paused to read my nametag. “George.”
Everyone called me by my last name these days, so I was caught slightly off-guard. I had forgotten my first name was still on my nametag.
I gave her a small grin and started pouring the soup as I contemplated whether or not to tell her the message Bella had entrusted me w- wait. Why had Bella given me a message? I hadn’t thought about it until just then.
I can’t handle this right now. And I can’t take any chances. I don’t know what Bella knows, I’ll just share the message and then remove myself entirely.
“Excuse me? Sir, the soup-” Stella pulled her bowl away as I accidentally started overfilling it. I had forgotten what I was doing.
“I am so sorry, ma’am, let me grab you some napkins, I-I’m sorry…” I hurriedly apologized while I searched around me for something to clean up the mess.
I have to do it.
I have to tell her.
Tell her. Tell her.
I handed Stella Monet the napkins and relayed the message.
“Mrs. Monet? Bella Rowser spoke to me earlier. She said she needed to see you between stages 4 and 5... uh, at some point today. ” I punctuated my message with an awkward wink.
Stella stumbled a bit and dropped the napkin she was using after hearing my message. She bent down to pick it up and I saw a small smile spread across her face.
“Perfect. Thank you, George…”
“George Ramsey. Got it.”
I watched her walk off, her outfit still stained by the bright red soup. Nobody else came through my line for the rest of the day. About an hour later, while I was helping pack up food, I remember seeing Stella making a phone call in the corner. She noticed my gaze and gave me a small wave, her face still adorning the same grin from before.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. By 5:00 pm, nothing else major had happened. The cast had finished filming and things were starting to wrap up. At some point, Stella and Bella had to have met up, because, within 20 minutes of prepping to leave, there was a loud bang from every direction followed by a rattling shout
Stella Monet, the newest star in the Hollywood action scene, with only one and a half years of acting work under her belt, had actually been a deep undercover cop devoting her time to cracking down on the Jetlag epidemic. She suspected that Bella Rowser, head of the main Jetlag ring, had been catching onto her. That is, until she received a tip from a man by the name of George Ramsey. A tip that ultimately led to her taking down the entire operation on the set of the movie Tracing Time. Thanks to Ramsey, Monet was able to catch Rowser green-handed and call in special forces to take the starlet into custody. 12 hours later, Rowser got out on bail and was awaiting trial when she was found dead in her house, overdosed on Virfotrexate.
Or at least, that’s what the public thought happened.
It was never released that once backup arrived, they brought in drug detection dogs to check the rest of the cast. It was never released that, while searching, a dog approached me and started howling. It was never released that Bella Rowser had planted Jetlag on me during our encounter to try and frame me if anything went wrong. And it was never released that Bella “Belly” Rowser was found dead with not only Jetlag in her system, but also a bullet in her head.
Instead, what was released was that George Ramsey was a hero. He had been heavily involved in the Jetlag ring and decided to help take it down for the greater good, no matter how it harmed him. And now, after being released from police custody and being placed under strict surveillance, George Ramsey was scheduled to appear on Good Afternoon America to give a public testimony about his involvement in making history by dismantling the biggest drug ring to plague Hollywood in decades.
“What the hell are you doing? You’re on in less than a minute!” I heard the voice of the same backstage manager who had warned me earlier ring in my ears. “Dammit man, compose yourself. Get up.”
I quickly stood and became lightheaded, grabbing onto the manager for support. I didn’t register anything as we made our way onto the stage, leaving behind my nausea and regrets at the edge of the curtain.
The bright studio lights temporarily blinded me as I took a seat while the host introduced me. My time had come. This mess started in a Hollywood filming studio, and it sure as hell would end in one too.
I waited patiently for the host to finish.
“-and now, the man, the myth, the legend: George Ramsey. George, give the people some inside info. What made you turn? What was the final straw?” He was leaning towards me over his desk.
I breathed in deeply and looked upon the studio audience
“Well, John. I’ve gotta start by saying, your story is wayyy off.”
He looked at me quizzically. “Can you give us some more details?”
I scoffed in an attempt to hide the quiver in my voice.
“Where do I even start?”