THE TAXI COULDNT get out of the drive in front of the hotel unless the driver was willing to run over members of the press. That would probably qualify as some sort of First Amendment violation, and Im all about defending the Constitution. Besides, manslaughter sucks, too.
The driver turned around. I cant get through, Mr. Summerland, Im sorry.
My name isoh hell! Jason stared at the crowd that had descended from the road to surround us. Where were the valets who had been at the road earlier? Cameras were exploding everywhere. Reporters shouting questions. Who is she? Did you break up with Lisa? Is the wedding off?
Shit, he said softly, but with feeling.
The windows were covered by people and cameras. It was suddenly hard to breathe. I forced myself to breathe slow and even, but the press of people around the cab was claustrophobic. Fuck.
Finally uniformed security and the spiffily dressed valets appeared in the crowd of press. They began to push them back, an inch at a time. The cab tried to ease forward, but even with the guards and valets we were stopped.
The cabbie turned around and looked at us. You want to just give up?
I think were going to have to, Jason said.
I looked out in time to see a guard and a photographer get into a pushing match.
I cant get through this, the cabbie said.
Jason looked at me. If I hadnt done the kiss in the alley Id say fuck them, but its my fault.
I just looked at him. I mean, what was I supposed to say? Hed wanted to cause a scandal, and hed succeeded.
A uniformed security person knocked on the window. Jason opened it a crack. The man said, I think you should come back inside, Mr. Summerland. We need more people to guarantee your safety, and theyre going to follow you wherever you go. Its not safe.
What do you want us to do?
Another guard pushed in against the window; he stumbled as if he was being shoved from behind. We cant clear the road enough for the taxi to move, unless we start busting heads.
We dont have permission for that, the first guard said. That seemed to imply that with permission they would have happily waded into the press. What kind of guards were they?
Were going to force them back, and then you get out of the taxi. Theres enough of us to form a circle around you both. Stay in the center and itll be fine. His mouth was saying fine, but his eyes werent as certain.
I leaned around Jason. Well be stampeded.
No, maam, well protect you. Its our job.
Hell keep us safe, Jason said, because otherwise the governor will be very, very unhappy with him. With all of them. Isnt that right?
The uniformed guard licked his lips. His eyes actually showed too much white. He was well and truly scared. Either his nerve was weak, or Governor Summerland was scarier than your average politician. Or maybe it was the whole lose-your-job thing; yeah, that might do it.
Yes, sir, he said.
He turned and started shouting orders to the other uniforms.
You spooked him on purpose, I said.
He motioned at the mob they were pushing back. The guard was right; unless were willing to get rough, we could get hurt. I dont want to take another beating for Keith.
They pushed them back, like a weird version of a football scrimmage line, except with cameras and microphones. The reporters were shouting at us, at the guards, at each other, so that it was noise like a storm, so all the sounds combined into one roar of unintelligible noise.
When there was room, the nervous guard opened the door for Jason. I wasnt sure it was a good idea, but I didnt have a better one. He got out and helped me out of the cab.
I thought we would go blind from the flashes before wed moved two feet. I clung to Jasons hand, trying to shield my vision and wondering what the hell Id done with my sunglasses. If Id ever needed them, it was now.
There were cries of Keith, Keith!
Jason waited for a little lull in the murmurous noise. He spoke loud and clear, My name is Jason Schuyler.
They didnt believe him. They said so. They also pressed in on the circle of men protecting us. We came to a standstill on the sloping driveway. The guards and valets kept them back but couldnt move forward.
Jason shouted this time, My name is Jason Schuyler. Who wants proof? He got out his wallet. Who wants to put my drivers license on camera?
There was a lot of jostling for that, and while they argued over who got it, I whispered, Cover your number and address.
He nodded, and changed his hands around so only his picture and state were visible. The lucky winner got to come forward with a camera and a crew, and filmed the license. The guards actually let them through, but the rest were more patient now, waiting their turn or hoping for blood. The talking head who came with the camera shoved a mic in Jasons face.
If you really are this Jason Schuyler, then why do you look so much like the Summerland boys?
We were always getting confused by people in school. You can see why.
You could be triplets, she said.
He nodded, sort of grimly. Im home to visit my family, which has nothing to do with the Summerland wedding. I just need everyone to let me have some room to visit my folks.
What brings you home?
He looked at me. I shrugged. My father is dying of cancer. He doesnt have long. Id ask that everyone give us some space to say good-bye.
And who is your father?
If I tell you, are you guys going to bug him in the hospital?
Wed love your familys take on having a son who looks so much like the famous Summerland twins.
My dad is dying. He has weeks. Please, Im begging you, dont torment him. Please.
Someone yelled from the crowd, Whos the brunette?
Jason stepped back and I was suddenly on mic. Im Anita Blake.
Who are you to the Summerlands?
No one to them; other than knowing of Governor Summerland Id never heard of his family until today. Im Jason Schuylersgood friend. There, the first awkward pause. I was betting it wouldnt be the last one.
Jason put his hands on my shoulders from where he stood beside me. The flashes intensified.
Another voice yelled out, Hey, youre Jean-Claudes Anita Blake, arent you?
Jean-Claudes Anita Blake; not federal marshal Anita Blake, not the vampire executioner Anita Blake; no, I was just Jean-Claudes girlfriend. Great.
Yes, I said. Who was I to quibble?
Oh, my God, youre Ripley! A womans voice from the crowd. Ripley was the name Jason stripped under. Yes, he had chosen his stage name because of the movie Alien. When Id asked him why, hed replied, Sigourney Weaver is so hot. His more ardent fans called him Rip for short. He had a fan among the press. That was going to be either good, or really bad.
Other voices asked the reporter, Whos Ripley?
Jason leaned over my shoulders to say, loud enough for other mics to pick it up, Ripley is the name I strip under at Jean-Claudes club in St. Louis, Guilty Pleasures.
A shiver went through the collected press, almost as if they were one beast with a single skin that had just been touched by a giant hand.
The press let the woman who seemed to know who we were come to the forefront; she had better questions. Anita, you are Jean-Claudes girlfriend, right?
Yeah, I said, again, not really happy that all my own accomplishments had been boiled down to being someonesanyonesgirlfriend.
Then what are you doing here with Ripley, I mean Jason?
Jason told you that his father is gravely ill, thats true. Hes coming home to say good-bye, and Im with him for moral support.
Oh, my God, she said, youve come home to meet his family. Youve left Jean-Claude for one of his strippers.
Holy shit. No, I said, I mean, its not what you think, its
But it was too late. Another kind of feeding frenzy had begun. It was simply out of our control, like some force of nature.
The reporters started yelling answers to each others questions, as if they were questions for us, but the answers they were giving were actually drowning out ours. It was one of the most bizarre experiences. It was a hurricane of rumors, and there was no stopping it.
Chuck appeared with the plainclothes guards, and I was happy to see all of them, even Chuck. They got us out of the press, down the driveway, and inside the hotel. I couldnt even argue. The taxi wasnt going anywhere.