“Might you spare me a moment of your time, Jamie?” Carl waited respectfully at the door of his stepson’s office, looking as close to submissive as Carl Hutchins was capable of.
Jamie looked up in surprise, instantly leaping to the worst-case possible scenario. “Carl? What’s wrong? Has something happened to Mom?”
“Your mother is well. In the physical sense, at least.”
“Oh.” Jamie relaxed enough to grasp what this was about. “Which leaves….”
“Her psychological state.”
Jamie struggled to get his earlier panic response under control as he asked, “Why are you here?”
“To ask for your help.”
“My help? With what?”
“Your mother. You have no idea the pain that she is currently experiencing.“
“I disagree. Just like I’m sure you disagree as to the cause of it.”
“We are both reasonable men, Jamie. Intelligent, educated…”
“You once wondered whether I went to medical school, or a veterinary college,” Jamie reminded dryly.
“A feeble attempt at humor, I assure you. Not to mention my well-known high-esteem for the veterinary arts.”
“What do you want, Carl?”
“We both love your mother, then. Surely, that might be a point of agreement between us.”
“I believe that you love Mom,” Jamie conceded.
“Thank you, Jamie.”
“But, that doesn’t change anything.”
“How could it not? Can you think of any greater force on this Earth than – “
“Is your love bullet-proof, Carl?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Will your love protect Mom, Cory, Elizabeth, anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity the next time your past rears its head?”
“I will protect my family to the death. Not merely Rachel and the children, but everyone they love, as well.”
“I got an up close and personal look at your version of protection last summer. I wasn’t impressed.”
“Surely, you wouldn’t expect my sphere of influence to include Spencer Harrison! You are not naïve, Jamie!”
“No. But, then again, I guess it was naïve of me to think some kind of criminal code would keep you from turning on your partners, either. What if your setting up Spencer hadn’t been enough? What if the compound wanted more blood? Who would have been next? Lucas? Donna? Grant? Kirkland?”
“Never Kirkland! Unlike Spencer, if his security had been left up to me, your boy would have never been in any danger, you have my word on it.”
“Kirkland is Spencer and Donna’s grandson; adoption be damned. Are you telling me that it never, even once, crossed your mind that by offering them up as sacrifices, you put my son in the cross-hairs?”
“Jamie, I – I am begging you,” the word wrenched itself from Carl’s throat with the visible pain of a Novocain-free molar extraction. “You cannot continue to do this to your mother. She is being ripped apart. She needs to know that, no matter what choice she may make about me, you will still be there for her. She won’t survive your rejection in the long-term. You must know that, you must. Or else you would never have put her in this position.”
Jamie asked, “First, Carl, do not attempt to use my feelings for my mother against me. No matter how much I love her, I will not be blackmailed with it. And second, here’s a fun game: What would you do, if say, Amanda, took up with someone around whom gunfights had a nasty tendency to break out without warning? Would you allow Amanda and her chosen thug to live in the same house with Elizabeth and Cory?”
“You are speaking in hypotheticals. I am talking about the here and now. You and I, Jamie, we managed to co-exist peacefully for over a decade. When you returned home with your boys following Victoria’s death, I greeted you with open arms.”
“You magnanimously allowed me to live in my mother’s home. The one my stepfather gave her.”
“I allowed all three of you to do so. Many a man in my place would have balked.”
“And many a man in mine would have done the same, upon learning that his mother had married the sociopath who’d tried to kill her. Several times.”
“You said earlier that you believed the sincerity of my love for her. Surely, that must count for something.”
“You convinced my mother that you were no longer a threat. To anyone. And she convinced me. That all ended the day you decided to launch a mob war in our backyard.”
“I did it in order to neutralize the threat towards all of us, permanently.”
“There was no threat. Not until you decided your revenge on Donna took precedence over everyone else. What happens the next time someone pisses you off, Carl? The next time your manhood is offended? The next time you start to feel powerless, or bored, or old? Who will you go after then? And whom will you sacrifice to get your way? You said you’d defend your family to the death. I hope you don’t mind me asking whose death, exactly?”
Carl took a deep breath, struggling to control his temper. “I came to you, Jamie, hat in hand. I thought that you could be reasoned with. Rather than using it, as you suggested, for a blackmail tool, I thought that your love for your mother – “
“Made me blind?”
“Might make you less of the supercilious, sanctimonious prig you’d always been.”
“You’re not the first to make that observation,” Jamie noted pleasantly. “And if that’s all you came to say, you may feel free to leave now.”
“You are making a grievous mistake,” Carl spoke slowly, not so much threatening Jamie as attempting to enlighten the misguided boy, before it was too late. “You do not wish to make an enemy of me. I have been more than tolerant up to this point, but, if you force me to take drastic measures – “
“Okay,” Jamie shrugged, picking up a handful of files and tucking them under his arm. “In that case, I’ll leave. Close the door when your monologue is finished, would you?”
“Where have you been?” Matt wondered once Donna finally returned to his bedroom, hours after she’d first flitted out, allegedly on the hunt for a more palatable, yet still heart-healthy breakfast.
The food tray arrived about twenty minutes later, loaded down this time with fresh fruit, juice, toast, salmon, almonds and a generous helping of brown sugar to go with his re-warmed oatmeal. Donna, however, was not the one who brought it.
“Oh, I had some business to take care of,” she dismissed vaguely. “I didn’t want to bother you with my boring dealings. You need your rest.”
Donna made a noncommittal noise that may have been yes, no, or anything in between.
“You’re willing to work with Jeanne?”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t be?”
“You hate her.”
Donna smiled tolerantly. “That’s show business, Matthew. Do you think Rodgers and Hammerstein were the best of friends? Huntley and Brinkley?”
“Tom and Jerry?” Matt contributed.
“I do love your sense of humor, darling.”
“You haven’t answered my question. How do you see this working, you and Jeanne, with her as owner and you as Station Manager?”
“I’m an adult, Matthew,” Donna said, ending the discussion then and there.
“Speaking of which,” Matt held out his arms, waiting for Donna to fall into them, happy to change the subject. “How about a little Adult Entertainment in the afternoon?”
She failed to fall. Or even tilt a little. Instead, Donna suddenly noticed the newly empty tray, swooping down to pick it up. “Why don’t I take this back down to the kitchen? Get it out of your way?”
“Damn it, Donna!” Matt grabbed at the tray, pulling it back towards him, the pair ending up in an awkward tug-of-war that certainly felt like his half-eaten meal was the least of it. “What is going on, here?”
“You need your rest!” she insisted.
“Are you kidding me?”
“No.” Donna dropped the tray, straightening up. “You had a heart attack. You might have died. The last thing you need is any kind of excess exertion.”
“Making love to my wife is excess exertion?” Matt hoped against hope that actually articulating the inanity out loud would confirm that he was barking up the wrong tree.
“I won’t take that risk,” Donna told him firmly, once again making it clear that was that.
“This is pretty cool,” Kirkland told Charlie as they wandered through the third-floor West wing of Donna’s – no, sorry, now it was Cass and Frankie’s, well, Lori Ann’s really – house.
“What’s the big deal? Your aunt and your grandmother used to live here. You even had your own room. I wouldn’t think you’d be impressed.”
“Not the house,” Kirkland corrected. “The privacy. I mean, before, you and me, we either had your house or my house – as long as our parents weren’t around. Or, you know, the car…”
“Yeah… The car…”
“This is great. We can hang out as long as we want without anybody bothering us.”
“My mom and dad are still here.”
“Two floors away. That’s a hell of a lot better than right next door.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Kirkland was instantly apologetic, though for the wrong reasons. “You didn’t want to move?”
“Oh,” Kirkland said, making a sound of understanding when he really didn’t understand at all.
“Did it bother you?” she asked. “You know, us doing it… when my parents could walk in at any moment.”
“Kind of,” Kirkland admitted.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I dunno. It seemed kind of… ungrateful.”
“But, if it creeped you out…”
“It didn’t creep me out exactly. More like… made me kind of nervous.”
“You were nervous?”
“Well, yeah. Weren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Charlie shrugged. “I wasn’t sure.”
“Oh,” Kirkland repeated, same as the first time.
“You think it’ll be different… here?”
Kirkland grinned. “You wanna find out?”
“Okay,” Charlie said.”
“How’s Jen?” Amanda asked her husband on the rare occasion when she caught him at home in between keeping vigil at the hospital… and generally trying to avoid her.
“Johnson got himself a tattoo,” Kevin spat. “He might not be able to donate now. Isn’t that convenient?”
“You think he did it on purpose?”
“Who gets a tattoo a week before they’ve committed to giving bone marrow? Obviously this is just an excuse for him to bail on Jenny while pleading innocence. Wouldn’t be the first time, either.”
“Does he have other tattoos?” Amanda asked.
“What difference does that make?”
“Well, if it’s something he does regularly, you can’t assume this was a deliberate attempt on his part to – “
Kevin cocked his head, trying to remember. “Yeah… I – He does. Jail stuff, mostly.”
Amanda tried to focus on the positive. “What did Jamie say? About the tattoos keeping Jen’s dad from being her donor?”
“He said there might be a way around it. But, it’ll take time.”
“How much time?”
“Too much. She… she doesn’t look good, Amanda. I can see she’s getting weaker. She tries to hide it from me. She’s always tried to hide her problems from me. Some of them, I didn’t even find out about until she was on the witness stand,” Kevin winced at the memory. “But, I know what Jen looks like when she’s trying to keep me from worrying.”
“Does she know that it never works?”
Kevin snorted, but didn’t reply.
For a long moment, they sat there in silence. And then, Kevin ventured, “I – I’m sorry, Amanda.”
She knew what he was talking about. She also knew that, “It’s okay,” was not the correct response. Or one that she felt capable of offering.
“I’m sorry, too,” she echoed, understanding that, when it came to replies, Kevin was in the same boat.
His accusing her of putting Elizabeth up to claiming he’d attacked her was just as not okay as Amanda agreeing to adopt Ike when she didn’t want to.
Instead, Amanda merely wondered, “So. What now?”
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “I don’t know anything at the moment, except that my daughter might die, unless a son-of-a-bitch who never gave a damn about anyone but himself suddenly changes his stripes and comes through.”
“People do change,” Amanda reminded. “Maybe Horace has.”
“Maybe,” Kevin repeated without conviction. “I just wish I didn’t have to bet Jenny’s life on it.”
“This is a nice change of pace,” Grant offered as he and Lila lingered over their lunches at the Harbor Club. “You lamenting to me over a bad decision you’ve made, instead of the other way around.”
“Glad to be of service,” Lila mumbled and tore into her steak as if it might have been the hide of some particular public servant.
“Come on, buck up,” Grant waived his knife and fork in overly jubilant hurrah. “You heard His Honor, the Mayor – you’re a hero!”
“In whose eyes?”
“Well, mine to start. Jamie, Amanda, Matt. Alice, probably. Lorna, definitely. Not to mention every other citizen of Bay City who’d been screwed over by Carl Hutchins in the past. Didn’t he try to kill – no, wait, sorry, how does the mythos go? – didn’t he, in fact, kill Frankie, only to have Cass’ love bring her back, etc… etc… etc…? Heck, even your ex and his current Mrs. will be forced to sing your praises!”
“What about Rachel? What will she be singing about me?”
“Rachel is like one of those Manson groupies, the ones who thought their Charlie was the Messiah and the courts were part of an evil conspiracy to bring down this saint who lived among them due to jealousy of his God-like powers. She’s completely brain-washed.”
“Put a sock in it, Grant.”
He shrugged, unoffended. “Just trying to make you feel better.”
“Okay, how about this: Hamilton, for all of his flaws, both in character and political ideology, was right about one thing: Getting Carl out of Jasmine’s orbit makes your daughter safer, there is no doubt about that. Jamie, Amanda, and Matt thought he was such a threat to their families that they told Rachel it’s him or us. If Rachel’s own kids thought so, you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about. Oh, and one more thing, Lila. Rachel threw Carl out of the house.”
“That was because – “
“It doesn’t matter. The fact is, she did it. So that means even Rachel has to know there is some truth to what her children were saying. And the fact is, all that aside, Hamilton has evidence that Carl broke the law. Open and shut case.”
“Is there ever really such a thing, Counselor?”
“Carl promised to give up all his companies.” Grant held up one hand. “Carl lied and didn’t give up his companies.” Grant held up his other hand. “The penalty for Carl lying and not giving up his companies was going back to jail. And we’re not talking small print, here, we’re talking the gist of his pardon.” Grant brought his hands together, even offering a little, Eastern-style bow. “Open and shut case.”
“Still doesn’t mean I had to be the one to help put him there.”
“Chase was going to get his evidence one way or another. I don’t blame him for using you to do it.”
“Thank you so much, Senator.”
“Would you let me finish?” Grant tsk-tsked. “I was going to say that I don’t blame him for using you to do it because, quite frankly, I can’t think of a more pleasant person to pretend to have an affair with – for whatever reason.”
Lila knew he was trying to pay her a compliment, but she was currently too full of self-hate to appreciate it. Or let him off the hook. So instead of accepting graciously, Lila challenged, “On the other hand, when it comes to actually having an affair…”
“Drop it, Lila,” Grant snarled. Yet, immediately afterward, he couldn’t help smiling. Because thinking of Sarah under any circumstances always made him smile.
Lila caught the smile, and couldn’t help wondering. “So, everything is still hunky-dory? No one’s the wiser and there’s plenty of Grant to go around for all?”
“How long do you think you can keep this juggling act up?”
“As long as I need to. As long as Sarah remains interested. Which shouldn’t be for much longer. Did I tell you she’s working for Marley now? Taking care of the girls? Sarah is in our house every day. She sees me with Marley, she sees how committed I am to her. Any day now, she’s going to realize I was telling her the truth, I am never, ever leaving my wife. And then she’ll leave me. And that will be that.”
“Be careful, pal. This is Bay City. Good intentions or not, everything catches up with us eventually. Look at your Daddy. Look at Carl….”
“GQ, right?” It took Horace a moment to connect a name to the young man standing at the door of the hotel Kevin had put Horace up in.
“That’s right, sir.”
Another firm nod.
“Didn’t get a chance to give me a proper dressing down earlier, with Fowler hogging all the air up? Figured you’d come here to get your own licks in?”
“Actually, I – I came to apologize.”
“For the way Kevin spoke to you. Way he treated you.”
Horace shrugged. “No worse than what he did to me in court, when Jennifer was little.”
“Do you now?” Horace smirked.
“I do,” GQ insisted. “He – I have a son. He’s two. His mother and Kevin, they arranged to have him adopted before I even knew he was mine. And then, when I tried to get him back, Kevin made me look like a selfish bastard for trying.”
“Bet he told you you’d be ruining the kid’s life by holding onto him. That he’d be better off with the rich couple – white?” Horace guessed.
“Yeah,” GQ said.
“With the rich, white couple he’d picked out, than with you. After all, Fowler knows best.”
GQ declined to confirm or deny. Though his facial expression made any verbal agreement unnecessary. “Anyway, I wanted to apologize to you. You came to do a nice thing – a generous thing, a heroic thing, and Kevin’s acting like you’re – “
“Nothing. Like you don’t matter. I love Jen, I do. I want her to get better. But, that’s no reason to throw human decency out the window.”
“Sounds like someone raised you right,” Horace marveled. “But, you know, people like us, we don’t really matter to people like them.”
“Well, I just wanted to thank you. Again. And to say that we really appreciate what you’re doing. Even if some of us have an odd way of showing.”
Horace smiled. And then he asked GQ, “You want to come in? Maybe tell me a little bit about my daughter?”
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