Blackmail at 30,000 Feet

The wind wailed past the jet as the sun began to dip below the clouds over the Pacific. Myra couldn't breathe. One picture on the tray showed her smiling next to Donald Trump at a fundraiser. Another showed her buying crack off the streets in Beverly Hills. The last was a tangle of bare, interlocking limbs and bodies, barely decipherable, but there was her face, right in the middle.

Myra's heart pounded, the noise rattling through her head. "These… These aren't real. I never did any of this!"

"No," Maureen Brandon said, sitting across from Myra, pushing out three more pictures. "But you did do this."

They included Myra as well, but this time, she knew they were real. The photographs were taken from somewhere around the swimming pool of Taylor Brandon, looking in through his bedroom window. Myra was kissing him—her employer, Maureen's husband, box-office favorite—then getting into bed with him, then lying in bed with him. Myra couldn't say anything. She couldn't deny it. "How did you get these?"

"Private investigator." Maureen sipped her pinot grigio. She had married Taylor Brandon after co-starring with him in a big-budget action-heavy reboot of The Prisoner. "I didn't want those worms at the Enquirer or TMZ to find out before I did. How long have you been my husband's assistant?"

"Six years." She'd been hired right after college, a few years after The Prisoner. Myra's last job had been at Starbucks.

"And how long have you been… intimate… with him?"

The question was a scalpel without anesthesia. She should have known Maureen wouldn't insist on bringing her on a private flight to a promo tour in Japan just out of respect for her skills as Taylor's publicist. "I… he…"

"I don't need time and date, just an estimate."

"M… maybe a year?" Maybe Myra had been deceiving herself all along, that it could have been anything more than the occasional night together. "He… he said you had an arrangement."

Maureen laughed. "Is that what he called it? Look, it's one thing if he wants to lay some silicone valley tramp or if I want to have some fun with a waiter. It's another thing entirely to start a long term relationship with an employee behind my back." She slammed her glass on the table. Myra shook. Wine splattered over the rim.

"What do you want me to do?" Myra said. "Break up with him? Quit working for him?" The words tore through her like a knife blade. Sure, there was no shortage of openings for a publicist. But what Myra and Taylor had… it was more than just mutual pleasure, more than keeping him company when Maureen was away. She couldn't lose him.

Myra found herself unable to take her eyes off the photos. She'd seen convincing Photoshops before, but these were almost seamless. You'd think she'd actually done these things.

"Oh, were you done?" Maureen said. "I'm sorry. Not good enough."

"What do you mean?"

"When the tabloids get wind of this—and they will—they'll go wild. All our faces will be in every supermarket in the country. Now, you may be surprised to know I have something of a reputation in Hollywood as… well, as a less-than-kind woman."

"I hadn't heard." Myra didn't have to hear. She'd known Maureen long enough. She'd met spiders with more kindness.

"Well, let's just say I see an opportunity. I need some way to get some sympathy. The way it is now, they'll make me look like the ice queen who drove her husband into another woman's arms. But if they see that he was led astray by a drug addicted alt-right sex maniac, then I look like the victim. He'll come to his senses, then give a big press conference apologizing to the public and his beloved wife."

"But… but what do you want from me?" Myra said. "Why even tell me?" Why not let her find out from one of those tabloids? Wouldn't that be sweeter revenge?

"Plenty of reasons. To see the look on your face—and it was delightful, by the way. To give you eleven hours to agonize over it. I also wanted to give you a little choice in the matter. That's why I've prepared this." Maureen placed another set of papers in front of her. This time it was a certificate form with the blanks already filled in. At the top, it read:




Maureen simply smiled.

Myra rose from her chair and backed away. "Are… are you going to…"

"Kill you? What do you take me for? Have you ever tried killing anybody? Even an accident's too much of a hassle."

So the rumor was true? That story about the drunk-driving Maureen and the unfortunate driver from Pasadena had been floating around for ages.

"Even Taylor gets out of this with the public sympathizing with him," Maureen said. "And I said this was an opportunity, didn't I? I also have other documents. Credit cards, a social security number, a birth certificate. An entire identity. A new, fresh start for you."

"You're asking me to fake my death."

"Not like you have too much going on, right? You even get a swank condo in New York."

Except Myra had plenty going on. Her family. Her friends. Overwatch tournaments on the weekends. Volunteer work. Taylor. She couldn't simply uproot herself and pretend to be another person, live a lie for the rest of her life.

The cause of death listed here was "Asphyxiation Due to Choking." Was she really supposed to force her parents to endure this horror?

Myra sat back down and clasped her fingers over her scalp. She saw no way out. Either way, she was allowing Maureen to tear her life apart. Even if Myra turned up alive after faking her death, and even if she could prove the pictures were fake, Maureen would have already gotten exactly the kind of drama she wanted.

Myra stared at the photos. She'd have to tell her mom to avoid all magazines for the next several months. "When do they go out?"

"I have a draft email, ready to go anytime."

Myra felt a wrench crank in her stomach.

Then she noticed something in the orgy photo. One of the other girls pictured, who was on her knees, facing away from the camera, had a prominent mole on her left leg. Maureen had a mole in the same spot. Myra had seen it plenty of times at pool parties. The general public generally only saw her from the front or the right side, whether in glamor shots or in movies.

Well, who knew Maureen had this side to her? She must have known exactly where to look for this picture, and thought no one would notice. Not every big-name actor and actress gets their start in porn this hardcore. Maureen had never hinted at this sort of thing. Even the tabloids had never caught on.

Myra would be humiliated, sure. But Maureen was right—there was an opportunity here. "I might as well choose the photos."

Maureen crooked her eyebrow. "You're sure?"

"Positive." Myra prayed Maureen didn't realize she saw the mole. "It's just… I can't afford to leave my whole life and all my friends behind. I'll probably lose some of them because of these pictures, but I'll just have to endure it. Besides, a lot of my friends are very… well, sex-positive. I might be able to count on their support, at least a little."

"You sure?" Maureen slid the photos back into the manila envelope from which they came, her eyes staying on Myra. "It's a very nice condo."

"My place in LA is fine."

"Sure. Sure. I'll just use the condo as a winter home. You can go back to your seat now. Everything's settled. We're done."

"Thank you, Ma'am." Myra headed down the cabin and ordered some Champaign from the flight attendant. When she received her glass, she raised a toast to her life being ruined, and the hope that she could successfully drag Maureen down with her.

The map on the screen in the seat in front of hers showed that they were only a tenth of the way from LAX to Narita.

She knocked back her wine, swallowing it all in one gulp.