Chapter 1: Blair

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Friday, November 24, 1989

1

Blair didn’t go to the theater for a night of opera, but to kidnap Sophia Stewart. Following cues around the old, gilded theater, she reached her assignment in the topmost balcony. The seating sloped straight down, in hopes of giving each ticket holder a proper view, though Blair’s position in the nosebleeds barely made the trip upstairs worthy if her goal had been to enjoy anything on stage.

The house lights dimmed and rose again, signaling the audience to settle.

Sophia, the target in question, already sat, smoothing her sequined sheath dress and glancing around the auditorium with shining, eager eyes. A peacock feather pinned her loose brown waves over one ear.

Beside her: an empty seat.

Waiting for a date? Blair thought. Two for one if he’s hot.

Despite the suits and pearls and floral ensembles around her, Blair hadn’t dressed for a fancy night. She hadn’t been to an opera or symphony or whatever Pop-Classical All-Stars was in her life. Even when she attended exhibit openings in the museum where she worked, the same black shirt and pants combo she wore tonight did fine. Everyone else apparently took the concert as an opportunity to wear their Sunday best, especially Sophia, whose purple sequined dress was sure to create a few memories.

“Need help finding your way?” An elderly usher smiled at Blair. “Show me your ticket.”

Blair handed him the stub she’d mangled in her sweaty palm. The usher eyeballed it through reading glasses, checked the numbers on the arm rests beside him, and let out a surprised noise. “This is your row,” he said. “If it was a snake, it woulda bit ya.”

Blair smiled dutifully.

The empty seat next to Sophia belonged to Blair. She hadn’t expected to get near her object short of trailing; now she’d have to spend the next two hours trying not to engage in small talk.

Blair squeezed and sorry‘d and sat beside Sophia. The fuzzy upholstery made her shirt crawl up. Her knees bumped the seat in front.

“She’s the worst employee of my entire career,” her brother David had said to Blair on the phone earlier in the evening without bothering to open with a greeting.

“Well hello,” Blair said, turning the TV down a notch, still paying it more attention than she did the call. She’d been eating chips out of the bag on her bed since her roommate wasn’t home to stop her. Cockroaches.

“Everyone knows it’s Cap Season,” he said. “Everyone stays late at the office. It’s not a whim I pulled out of my ass tonight.”

“Who crawled up your butt, David?” Mouth open while she chewed.

“Your girl crush, Sophia.”

“Who?” But it dawned on her: super cute woman at David’s annual summer barbecue for his team five months prior. Possibly Asian somewhere in her bloodline. Blair might have asked too many questions about her that day. “She’s not a crush. Good God.”

“Bull shit.”

“So what? She left at quitting time and …?” A glance at the alarm clock showed 6:30pm. “How late do your minions hang around, anyway?”

“The better ones? Midnight.”

“Midnight?” Blair abandoned the chips.

“Come on, I’ve seen you work till the wee hours on a project.”

“That’s art, David. It’s love. Not some arbitrary goal shoved down my throat by a corporate bigwig.”

“I’m a corporate bigwig?”

She watched her show.

“Do you even know what Cap Season is?”

“I could give a fuck, David.”

“It’s where we prep H1B visa applications for skilled people looking for work in the US. The government only takes so many every year, and we have to submit them all on the day the season opens for these people to even have a chance. And it’s ‘I couldn’t give a fuck.’”

Blair sighed.

“So if helping immigrants reduces me to big-wiggery —”

“Why are you calling me?”

“Sophia.”

“Fire her already. What’s it got to do with me?”

He hesitated. “I know what happened with Kieron.”

Blair killed the TV. Her mouth dried out too much to speak. Starchy lumps of chips stuck in her molars.

“Don’t worry,” David continued. “I haven’t told anyone and I won’t. But listen, I figure we maybe help each other out tonight.”

“W-what?”

David sighed. “Forgive me if I don’t spell it out for you, but I can tell you where she is and you can follow through in your own sweet way, all right? Do you have any of those roofies left?”

“How do you even know where —?” 

“Because she requested time off to go to a concert tonight, I denied her request because of the aforementioned mandatory overtime, and she left early anyway. Thought she was slick, but I’m not stupid. Are you interested? You’d be doing me a favor. I’m not authorized to let anyone go until Cap Season is over, but I’d honestly be better off without having to correct all her cases.”

Even as the house lights in the theater dimmed again, blanketing the mass of humanity in inky darkness, Blair hadn’t come up with a concrete plan to steal Sophia away.

Sophia smiled, residual light from the tracks in the aisles glinting off her eyes and teeth. “It’s so small!” she said. Her knees brushed the back of the next seat too.

Blair managed a quick glance at her and directed her eyes back toward the raising curtain. As generous as her brother’s idea had been, if Blair had had a chance to plan her actions, she’d be doing more than figuratively shitting her pants. If her career hadn’t been tanking, Blair would have told David to fuck himself and hung up on him, but in truth, she needed this.

What had happened with Kieron was purely emotional. Sophia was a stranger she’d met once. This was calculated, first degree planning.

Music flared in the orchestra pit. Sophia flashed another smile Blair’s way, applauding.

Blair clapped to fit in.

Intermission wouldn’t work. There were too many people in the building and too little time. The ladies room would have a line a mile long.

The only viable way to kidnap Sophia would be to approach her outside the theater and ask for directions. Anyone in New York City could pull off being a clueless tourist. Then what?

At intermission, Blair’s cramped back and legs hurt and her head throbbed. Despite certain past actions, she wasn’t a criminal mastermind. 

Sophia’s hand clamped Blair’s on the armrest. “Did you see that that that last singer?”

Blair kept her eyes on the hands. No manicure, but smooth skin. Nails weren’t bitten. No calluses.

“Joshua Rossi,” Sophia continued, her voice garbled in the stew of voices. “I can’t believe I just saw him. Have you seen him before tonight?”

“Who?”

Sophia pointed at the stage. “The last performer.” She tugged her dress up her chest and down her thighs, but the tiny thing wasn’t covering. “If I could marry his voice…  Do you know how many times I’ve listened to his tape?”

Blair wanted to go home. Rethink. There had to be a better way to help her career than a heinous crime. She’d known Kieron didn’t have family in town or many close friends. The only thing Blair knew about Sophia was that she sucked at her job.

Maybe Sophia had come to the theater in a car. She could ask for a ride?

Sophia’s voice trembled through an unwavering smile. “I can’t believe I saw him in person. Heard,” she corrected. “Can’t really see anything from here —”

Blair stood, her nerve loosened like her bowels.

“Oh.” Sophia smooshed herself back to let Blair pass.

People already trickled back into the auditorium; Blair swam against the current. She closed herself in a ladies room stall where she sat for the remainder of the program.

It was out of line for David to suggest this action to her. Insinuating he knew what happened with Kieron wasn’t an idea spark, but a threat. Maybe David had kept it a secret and maybe not. Hell, he might not have known anything; I know what happened with Kieron could be innocent.

“Is that stall broken?” someone asked, among the next flood of people in the ladies room after the show.

“Someone’s in there,” another said. “I recognize those shoes from intermission. It’s appalling for someone to hold up a stall with this many people out here.”

Those women made sure their voices carried. Their shoes were nearly under the door. Instead of holding position until they left, Blair flushed and threw open the door. Two middle-aged women in pastel pant suits stared at her, clutching their pocketbooks.

“I have diarrhea,” Blair said. She swiped one of them on the face and went to wash her hands.

2

The lobby sprawled in length and height. Bucolic murals, marble and gold walls, half-ton crystal chandeliers all created a bougie scene Blair was sorry to be a part of even for a few hours. Fresh coffee and cocktail sausages wafted their beckoning fingers throughout: the only real attraction.

Amongst it all, Sophia’s purple sequined dress twinkled in the swirling crowd, a buffet plate in one hand and glass of champagne in the other.

“Shit,” Blair whispered. She edged to a clear spot on the wall and checked her cell phone for the time. Ten. Tack on some time for eating and socializing. Maybe things would go down around eleven.

A waiter with a tray of champagne paused in front of her.

“What the hell,” Blair said, taking one. 

Sophia was also enjoying a beverage.

Blair dug through her purse.

Credit cards. Keys. Nokia. Receipt.

She pulled out a travel tube marked aspirin. Inside, a single pill rolled along the bottom, which she dumped into her hand. 

Rohypnol.

She struggled to close her purse with the pill in her clammy fist, and pushed through the crowd to where Sophia had put her glass on the table to pick apart the sweets buffet. A coating of powder stuck to Blair’s hand as she dropped the pill into the fizzy drink. She retreated to a spot at the wall to watch.

Sophia picked up the glass, oblivious.

After ten minutes, Sophia was still on her feet, swirling the champagne without drinking it. She nibbled food, but mostly flirted with a man wearing all black. They set their glasses next to each other’s; her face flushed bright red. Though their words were lost in the din, their body language hinted at recognition, commonality, attraction.

The man accidentally chose the spiked drink and downed the whole thing.

“Fuck,” Blair whispered.

For a few minutes, nothing happened. More flirting. Sophia laughed with her hand on the guy’s arm. The drug worked his eyes to curved slits, and he burst out a guffaw. Several cautious glances from those nearby caused Sophia and the musician to cover their mouths in amused embarrassment. The guy pulled his tie, made a motion to take his jacket off, but didn’t. Sophia gestured toward her dress and shimmied; he cocked an eyebrow and threw open the top few buttons of his shirt before stumbling against the wall and sliding to his butt. They giggled again.

Blair rolled her eyes and pushed toward the exit.

“Somebody!” A panicked voice rose above the conversations. “Somebody help!”

After one more shuffle-step toward the door, Blair stopped. She could possibly get the two of them out of the theater without much fuss. She’d driven to the venue.

Blair pushed people out of the way to where she’d last seen Sophia. Sophia was kneeling over the man’s prone body, rubbing his back, trying to coax words from him.

“What happened?” Blair asked.

The other guests kept a cautious distance. One glanced at Blair with a shake of his head while a woman beside him held a cell phone to her ear. “We’re calling an ambulance to be safe. Probably just had one too many.”

Sophia’s eyes widened in recognition when she saw Blair. “Hey!”

“What’s going on? Did he drink too much?” Blair’s heart pounded. She’d never tried acting, and it felt wrong now. 

Pieces of broken glass and champagne drops speckled the waxed parquet floor, weaving a sweet, alcohol smell in the area. The singer’s eyes were closed, but remnants of laughter played on his lips.

“I don’t know,” Sophia said. “I mean, I only saw him drink one glass.” She swept the broken champagne flute away with her hand.

A woman from the crowd knelt with a cocktail napkin. “Honey, don’t do that. Look at yourself.”

Sophia’s hand was bleeding. She pulled away. “Oh no.”

The woman gingerly wrapped the glass in the napkin and took it away.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Blair asked.

Sophia accepted a napkin from someone else nearby and wiped her hands. “It’s fine.” She shook the man again by the shoulder. He woke with a start.

“I can’t believe how stupid he’s being,” Blair said.

“You know him?” Sophia asked.

“He’s my brother,” Blair said, quickly fabricating a lie. “All that classy music, but he can’t hold his alcohol for shit. He’s got an allergy. He knows better.” She didn’t even know if people could get an allergy to alcohol, or if this was how a reaction would look.

Sophia picked a piece of glass from his curls as he dozed again.

Blair leaned toward Sophia and lowered her voice. “Help me get him to my car?”

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