Elizabeth Rosemond glanced at the clock and sighed in annoyance. She leaned forward over a diner tabletop and wiped the surface with a careless manner. Rubbing at a bit of food that had dried on one spot of the table, she looked at the clock once more.
“Watching the clock won’t make your shift end any faster, honey!” said a rather shrill-voiced older woman who watched Elizabeth with her plump hands on her hips in an attitude of amusement.
Elizabeth gave a slight smile and worked faster. She wanted to reply with a sarcastic rejoinder, but the words didn’t come, nor could she afford to lose this job.
The small bell over the front door chimed as a customer walked inside. He was a short, fat, balding man in a faded plaid shirt and jeans. “Hey, angel, how about bringing me today’s special, along with that killer smile of yours!” he said, sighing and dropping like a rock into one of the chairs.
Elizabeth smiled and said, “Sure thing, Lou. I’ll have it ready in a flash!” She swiftly adjusted her hair and made sure an errant strand of her luxurious black hair returned to its proper place. A girl can’t look her best in a hairnet! she thought.
She signaled the other waitress, who muttered something to the cook. He waved her away in irritation and prepared Lou’s special. He didn’t need to do a lot of talking. Lou ate the special every day, except when it was tuna. All of the staff at Alvin’s Diner knew that.
Elizabeth checked her reflection in a mirror and rubbed one hand across her teeth as she kept her back to Lou. It couldn’t hurt to look her best. Lou was sweet, and he seemed to have a thing for her. She brought his order over and said, “So, how’s it going today?”
Lou grinned and started collecting packs of mustard. “Fine! Even better now that I’m looking at you!” he said.
Elizabeth laughed and continued to banter with the construction worker until the shrill tone of her supervisor Rena pierced her thoughts and summoned her to her duties. “Lizzie, get the lady at table four! I’m a bit busy here, you know!” scolded the older woman.
“Yes, Rena! Sorry!” replied Liz as she hurried to greet the woman who had entered with a grace and style that made all the other customers stop what they were doing in order to stare, gape, or leer at her.
She was very beautiful, and she wore an expensive designer coat and heels. Liz couldn’t see what type of outfit the blonde was wearing beneath the coat, but if it was of the same quality as that garment or those heels, it cost more than Liz earned in months.
“Hi, may I take your order?” she asked, standing before the striking blonde woman.
The blonde had lovely features, but her eyes projected a keen and cruel mind rather than a welcome charm. Liz knew her own violet eyes made most people admire her, even now that she had put on a few extra pounds. She cursed the fact that she had let herself go since she got out. Something in the customer’s penetrating, appraising gaze made her feel shy, as if she was being judged unfavorably. The blonde woman crossed her legs, displaying a skirt that confirmed Liz’s earlier estimate of the cost of her clothing. “Well, I suppose iced tea couldn’t poison me, even if it was made in this place! Yes, that’s it, Elizabeth! Bring me an iced tea,” demanded the other woman.
The woman pronounced the name Elizabeth with a slight intonation that suggested she was saying it in a mocking or knowing manner. Lizzie glanced down at her uniform’s name tag and frowned. Does this stuck-up witch know me from prison? she wondered. She sure seems familiar, but I can’t place her. She looks a lot like the jet-setting rich brats I used to enjoy robbing back in the days!
As she turned to give the order to Alvin, she noticed that Lou was looking at the blonde with an openmouthed wonder that did nothing for his appearance or Liz’s ego. Hmmph! she thought. Lou sure is drinking her in like some lost nomad from the desert in a soda shop!
Returning to work, she felt strangely discomforted as she noticed the blonde woman sipping her tea and watching her work with an obvious amusement. She didn’t enjoy the sensation. Something about the woman’s manner made her feel as if she was unworthy, and the more she pondered the feeling, the more she realized that ever since the blonde had entered and stared at her in such an odd way, everything about her current life had become tarnished. Lou seemed like a fat, dull clod. Her uniform was loud, and her slight weight gain made her want to hide beneath an apron.
Lou finished his meal and departed. He left his payment, and Liz carefully gathered the small tip he had left behind.
She was startled as the blonde spoke to her from only inches away, having moved with a speed and silence that had totally surprised Liz. “Jumping for small change! How the mighty have fallen!” said the woman in a silky whisper. “You know, it can be the way it once was, if you like. I can give you your old life back. That is, if you still desire to be more than a hash-slinging drudge!”
“Who are you?” asked Liz.
“For now, call me your destiny,” said the blonde. “Follow me, and your life will become something more like the plot of one of the old movies you adore so much. Instead of calling yourself Elizabeth Rosemond after the old actress you idolize, you can make your real name of Liz Jones a name to be feared!”
“You know my real name? Who are you?” said Liz, jumping back with something of her old agility; the blonde smiled approvingly.
“A bit of diet and exercise, and I’ll turn you back into the woman who gave me a run for my money years ago!” she said.
“I don’t understand,” said Liz. “I won’t be anybody’s puppet! What game are you playing?”
Rena approached and said, “What’s wrong, honey?”
The blonde reached into her purse and tossed a large bill on the table. “Nothing is wrong. I’m buying Lizzie’s time. She’s done here!” Before anyone could react, Lizzie found herself following the shapely blonde and hoping that this strange interlude would not turn out to be another disillusioning moment in her grim life.
During the drive away from Alvin’s Diner, Lizzie tried to figure out just who the mysterious woman was. Her car was a limousine, complete with a uniformed driver and tinted windows. Still, nothing obvious in her view allowed Liz to recall just who her blonde companion was.
“You know my real name is Liz Jones,” she said. “You know about my criminal record and my jail-time. You even caught on to the fact that the name I was using at the diner came from Elizabeth Taylor’s first and middle names. What with my eye color and all, she’s always been special to me. I admit you have my curiosity stimulated. Now, since I can’t exactly see you as the fairy godmother type, I’d like to hear just what it is you want and who you are!”
The blonde woman smiled and adjusted her makeup in a mirror. “Fair enough. I can appreciate that candid manner of yours, although it is ironic, coming from someone so fond of fantasy. My name is Katherine Blair, although I’ve always been known as Kitty since my childhood. My father is Emerson Blair, and it is due to his fortune and his devotion to me that we are able to enjoy this fine car, among other things. You and I met years ago, although there are good reasons for the fact that you do not recall me.
“As for why I have whisked you away from that mundane role you were playing so very aptly,” the blonde continued, “that will become clear to you when we join our third associate. She is waiting for us at my place. I will tell you now that all I intend to do is to offer you both a job of sorts, and if you turn me down, then I will have Smithers drive you back to the quaint little hash house, and you can reclaim your job. I paid the owner enough money to justify your sudden absence.”
“You sure place a high value on money,” said Lizzie. “I guess you think money can buy anything!”
“Anything and anyone, dear,” said Kitty.
Lizzie frowned as she tried to put her thoughts in order. She needed money badly, and while she certainly didn’t want to return to jail, she was not averse to risking such a fate if the reward was right. She contrasted her weekly toil at Alvin’s with the life she had once known during her costumed days and nights. There was no real comparison. She longed for the romance and danger of that old life, and she only felt surprised by how well she had managed to stifle those desires beneath the façade of a nine-to-five routine.
Still, she glanced over at Kitty’s lithe form and then looked at her own body. Liz had gained weight, and she doubted she could ever fit or model the kind of revealing costume she had once worn with such ease and style.
Kitty Blair? I know that name, but from where? thought Liz. She was some kind of debutante or someone famous in a minor way. Nobody really recognized her in the diner. I don’t recall her face. I just remember reading that name before. Wasn’t she involved with a rock star years ago? I’d recall meeting her, unless maybe I robbed her long ago. My gang hit plenty of Riviera-lounging party girls back in those days. Is this all a trap to punish me for ripping off her daddy’s money or something?
Liz tensed and glanced left and right. The limousine was passing along the suburbs, and she saw little traffic. I obviously have a weight advantage over Kitty. I could wrestle her down, if things turn ugly. Still, what harm can it do to play along? Maybe she is some bitter witch who wants me to rob her ex-husband or something. She clearly knows about my past as a thief.
Kitty sat silently, and if a sly smile occasionally played across her face, she said nothing. She rested her hands together, allowing their fingers to form a crude tent as she thought about her actions. She was amused at how easily she had managed to persuade the other woman to join her, and marveled at the fact that Liz had once ruled a gang of thieves that had made her infamous for a time. She had even been a more celebrated figure in underworld circles than Kitty herself.
She’s a sheep, thought Kitty. She only made her name by doing what she was told to do by our secret benefactress. Of course, for all of my education, beauty, and wealth, I was just as bad. I obeyed without question as well. I let her use me like a plaything! As she clutched her hands together tightly, shame and anger she had long tried to forget washed over her.
Kitty concealed her reaction from Lizzie and raised her hand to indicate a large house in a wooden area. The car pulled to a stop and parked in front of a large patio area. “That’s Blair House,” said Kitty. “Walk this way, and I’ll let Donna show you to a room in which you can freshen up.”
She nodded in greeting as a pretty brunette came out and welcomed them with a warm smile. She wore a simple yellow dress with high heels. She extended her hand and took Lizzie’s hands in her own.
“Welcome! I’m Donna Adams. I hope the drive here didn’t tire you. I know riding for a long time always makes me cranky. Well, we’ll just make you nice and relaxed, and you’ll feel fine! I have some tea and freshly baked bread with yummy peach preserves ready. Or, I can whip up something else, if you’re feeling hungry.”
“Thanks. I’m Liz. That’s nice of you!” She noticed that Donna’s perky manner failed to cover a brisk efficiency. The staff members responded to her slightest gesture or look with speed and skill. She obviously ran the place well.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Donna. “I do take a real pride in how I manage things here at Blair House. I admit that so much of what I do or say is a nervous little girl’s effort to hide the fact that she feels out of her league in this kind of place. You see, I’ve only worked here for a short time since my…” Her voice trailed off as she touched a wedding band self-consciously.
Liz nodded and tried to bring the conversation around to anything else. I guess she lost her husband, she mused. If it were a divorce, she wouldn’t still wear the ring. Plus, even after only being with her for a few moments, I can’t imagine how any man would leave a woman with her kind of skills and warmth!
“Donna, Kitty brought me here for a job offer,” whispered Liz. “Have you any idea what she has in mind?”
Donna fluffed her hair, although not a curl was out of place, and she replied, “Kitty’s a wonderful girl. She’s brilliant. You know, she was a Seven Sisters graduate!”
Liz entered a luxurious room and thanked Donna as she closed the door. Well, this just gets more mysterious with every minute! It’s odd how someone as cold and clinical as Kitty Blair has a such a sweetheart like Donna running her house! There’s more to this whole thing than meets the eye!