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Authors: Melody Mayer

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BOOK: Bad to the Bone
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Esme felt a gnawing of guilt in the pit of her stomach. For the zillionth time she questioned the decision she'd made. She was letting her parents down. But opportunity had knocked, and she couldn't turn it away. At the rate she was going, by the time she was twenty-one, instead of graduating from college, she'd have enough money saved to buy her parents a fabulous house far, far away from Echo Park. Then, she told herself, they would finally appreciate the choice she had made.

Anyway, her parents loved Jorge. Maybe having him here when they showed up would deflect some of the criticism that was inevitably coming her way.

Once Luanna had the cards, Esme walked her to the front door of her studio. It was two-fifteen, which meant she had a few hours before she had to go back to the Goldhagens' to take the twins swimming. After that, she was to meet Steven at the Kodak Theatre, where the performers for the Rock Music Awards were rehearsing, to go over exactly what Esme, Lydia, and Kiley would be doing to help out.

“Thanks again,” Luanna said, smoothing a nonexistent wrinkle from her yellow pin-tucked Michael Kors shirt. “I definitely will send some people your way.”

“Great,” Esme replied with a smile. “It was a pleasure to
meet you. I hope you love your tattoo.” She had the post-tattoo gab down cold. Would Luanna come through with some referrals? Who knew? But it made sense to be polite to everyone. You couldn't charge what she charged and be a surly bitch. Esme had learned that in show business, everyone acted as if they were your best friends, even though tomorrow they wouldn't remember your name.

No sooner had Esme shown Luanna out, and deposited the twelve hundred dollars in a wall safe Jorge had insisted she install, that there were three quick rings on her buzzer telling her Jorge was downstairs at the locked glass door. She buzzed him through, then checked herself in the small waiting-room mirror—she wore a sleeveless red ruffled silk top with a cinched elastic waist, tight jeans, and high, strappy sandals from a boutique on Melrose. No more shopping at the “All Shoes $9.99” store in the Echo for her. She went to let her friend in.

He bounded out of the elevator wearing a backpack—Esme knew it had to be weighty with textbooks—and carrying a laptop computer in a black case. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt under an open red shirt, and there was a grin spread across his face. He'd recently had his hair trimmed, Esme noted. He looked good. On the skinny side, yes, but there were muscles under that shirt, she knew. He wasn't nearly as tall as Jonathan, nor as traditionally handsome, and yet somehow he managed to be a chick magnet—her girlfriends were always hitting on Jorge.

“Here for a tattoo?” she joshed.

“No ink on this skin,
chica
. No tats is the new cool.”

“I hope you're wrong—that would put me out of business.” She opened the door; he followed her inside. “How's college?”
Jorge was a year ahead of her in school, and had started his freshman year on a full-ride academic scholarship at UCLA.

“College is to high school as a fresh peach straight off the tree is to ten-year-old canned fruit. I think I had that question on my SAT,” he joked.

“So you love it,” Esme translated.

“I do,” he replied. “I'm taking an Eastern philosophy class, which is amazing. Great professor. Studied with the Dalai Lama. I'm planning a trip to Tibet next summer.”

“You didn't tell me that.”

“You've been kind of preoccupied with your own
la vida loca
,” he pointed out.

That was true, and she felt guilty about it. Here Jorge was, helping her every step of the way even though he, too, had been dead set against her dropping out of school, and she had spent zero time asking about what was going on in his life.

That's going to change
, Esme vowed. “You want coffee?”

He plopped down onto one of the bright orange plastic chairs in the waiting room. “Yeah. Also, half of what you made today.”

“Oh, you shakin' me down now?” Esme teased as she poured a cup and handed it to him. She had a coffee station set up for customers, and a small plate of fancy cookies that no one ever touched.

Esme slid into a chair next to Jorge. “Okay, so tell me all about you.”

He sipped the hot coffee carefully. “What, now I'm supposed to make up for lost time?”

“Seriously,” Esme insisted. “I want to know.”

“Okay. The Latin Kings are doing a benefit for the SAJE—”

“What's that?”

Jorge shook his head. “You haven't been away from the hood for
that
long. Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. All these yuppies are moving into the old neighborhood, driving up rents, driving our people out of their homes.”

“Why would some rich gringos want to live in the Echo?” Esme wondered. “I don't get it.”

“Oh, maybe you didn't hear. The Echo is hip now,” Jorge said archly. He took a paper out of his backpack and handed it to Esme. “Your new sublet clause. You're safe if you want to share the space.”

“Thanks. What would I do without you?”

“I often ask myself that. When're your parents coming?”

As if in answer to that question, the buzzer sounded again, long and insistent, as if the person trying to get in was in a terrible hurry.

“Gee, you wouldn't think they'd be so eager to get up here,” Esme muttered. She was really not looking forward to having her parents there. She went to the intercom and pressed Talk.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Esme!” her father cried. He sounded breathless. “Let us in! Hurry!”

Esme pressed the button to unlock the door downstairs and traded a look with Jorge. Whatever was up couldn't possibly be good.

Two hours later, a pale-faced Esme was sitting with her parents and Diane Goldhagen in Steven's home office. The twins were up in their bedrooms playing with their state-of-the-art dollhouses; their swimming lesson had been canceled. Steven
was on his way from the Kodak Theatre so that he could be part of this meeting.

Esme looked at her parents, who sat together on the edge of the couch, both of them stiff with fright. Her father wore black trousers and a short-sleeved light blue shirt; her mother an embroidered full skirt and a pretty red blouse. It occurred to Esme that this was probably the first time they'd been on the Goldhagens' estate not wearing their work uniforms.

“Steven will know what to do,” Diane reassured them.

Esme hoped she was right. She turned to Jorge. “Did you call your father again?”

“Texted him. He's in court all day. He—”

Steven stepped into the room. He wore baggy jeans and a white tennis shirt, his trademark baseball cap planted firmly on his head. “Okay, everyone stay calm. Tell me the whole story. All Diane said on the phone was ‘There’s an emergency with Esme's parents, come home.' So … I'm home.” He sat on the camel suede high-backed chair and waited.

With that, Esme's parents started babbling in a mix of broken English and Spanish—when they got nervous, their English got much worse. But a few words from Jorge made them stop, and then her friend turned to her. “Esme, why don't you explain to the Goldhagens what your parents told us?”

Esme saw the pain in her parents' eyes as she started to speak. “My folks went down to Consolidated Threads to visit friends who work there. You know it? It's this clothes manufacturer downtown.”

Diane nodded. “I know Consolidated. Steven, I think Ernie Edelson's ex-father-in-law inherited it from his parents. You know Ernie. From the synagogue.”

Steven nodded. “Yeah. Go on, Esme.”

She glanced at her parents, who now had joined hands. Those hands were clenched together so tightly that they were almost white. “So here's the thing,” Esme continued. “Con solidated is using undocumented immigrant laborers to do their sewing. Lots of them.”

“So what?” Diane asked. “Everyone uses undocumented laborers. We use undocumented workers. We don't care about silly papers.” Diane fixed her eyes on Alberto and Estella. “You've been working for us for three years. I don't understand why this situation is so dangerous for you two. What difference does it make?”

Jorge cleared his throat. “It makes a difference to Homeland Security, Mrs. Goldhagen.”

“Diane.”

“Diane, thank you. It makes a difference to the Department of Homeland Security. This afternoon, they raided Consolidated. Big raid. I imagine it'll be on the news,” Jorge related.

“Many arrested,” Estella added.

“It's like this, Diane. There were all these Homeland Security guys there. They were checking everyone. It didn't matter if you worked there or not. My parents, they don't have papers. They got in line with everyone else; they had to, they weren't allowed to leave. But when the Feds came in, a lot of people ran. It was chaos, running, police with clubs. My parents got away. They came right to me.”

“Fotografía, Esme. ¡No olvidáte las fotografías!”
Esme's father implored her in Spanish.

“There were photographers there,” Esme translated. “My parents believe they were photographed.”

“And that the cops are coming after them,” Jorge added.

“Sí.”
Esme's father nodded.

Steven tapped a forefinger thoughtfully against his lips. “That must have been very frightening. To see your friends taken by the police, to be lined up and asked for their papers. I can't imagine what it would be like. I have never had an experience like it in my life, although my grandparents did, back in Poland. Diane and I can't blame you for running away. Do we, Diane?”

“Not at all,” Diane insisted. “Not in the least.”

“I know the natural inclination is to worry,” Steven continued. “I would worry if I were you. But my instincts are telling me they were looking to punish this company for hiring a lot of illegal workers. They weren't looking for just the two of you, even if they put you in the line. Did you ever get asked for your name and address?”

“They were asking everyone in the line but they didn't get to us,” Estella said.

“Good,” Steven said. “Then I think you'll be safe. Just in case, I can put in a call to a friend of mine at the United States Attorney's office. They'd be handling this.”

Esme felt relief wash over her. “That would be wonderful; thank you so much.”

Her parents nodded.

“Just go do it, Steven,” Diane urged her husband.

“I'll do it now.”

Esme felt like crying. She was born in America, which made her a citizen. Not so for her parents. They tried to lie low, do their off-the-books work, and just live their lives. If Steven could assure them that nothing would change, that would
mean the world to her and her family. She said a silent prayer of thanks that she had had the good judgment to come back here to work, that the Goldhagens were such decent people.

Steven went to his BlackBerry picked out a phone number, and made a call—he asked for Barry Barrett at the United States Attorney's office. When whoever answered the phone heard the name Steven Goldhagen, the call went through.

“Barry? Steven Goldhagen. How the hell are you? How's Mary? And the boys?”

Barry took quite a while to say how he was, apparently. Ditto for his family. It took five minutes before Steven could get to the meat of the matter.

“I heard about an immigration raid today at Consolidated—no, it doesn't affect me. Just that I've got some people on a project whose relatives were affected.” Steven was smooth, Esme could say that for sure.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” Barry apparently had a lot more to say. “Uh-huh. Well, thanks. And say hi to Mary.” He clicked off.

“Well?” Diane asked.

Steven sighed. “I'm afraid we have a problem on our hands. A very serious problem.”

Lydia came down to the pool after a late lunch to find Audrey sunbathing on a hot pink bath towel, which nicely set off her now-golden skin. She was golden everywhere, Lydia noted. She could see everywhere because Audrey was stark naked. This didn't bother Lydia at all.

That's the way we did it in Amazonia. This is my kinda girl
, she thought as she moved close enough to block the sunlight from reaching Audrey's eyes. She knew that she, Esme, and Kiley were all due at the Kodak Theatre at six for rehearsal. They'd be working as gofers, which meant their job was to do anything the producers or the stars wanted. She was looking forward to it. It would be fun. For now, though, she had a few hours of relaxing. She also had to read the first five chapters of
The Sun Also Rises
for English. Maybe she could just get Kiley to kind of summarize it for her. She wasn't about to take up
her time with actually reading the book, not when there were so many more exciting things to do.

The night before, at the club, she'd offered her aunt's house to Audrey on the chance that the star might want to stay there during the days running up to the awards. There was plenty of room, and Lydia had to admit it was almost too quiet with her aunt and the kids away. So they'd driven straight from the club to Audrey's hotel, where the bell staff loaded five huge suitcases of clothes into their limo, and then driven to Kat's mansion. Lydia put Audrey in the guest room of the main house, showed her where everything was, and went to sleep in her guesthouse not believing her luck. One of the world's hottest rock stars was living at her house. How lucky could a girl from the jungle get?

BOOK: Bad to the Bone
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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