Kirkland had just come from having his injured shoulder looked at and being assured by the doctor on duty that it was merely a bad muscle sprain, not a tear and that he should alternate ice and heat to keep it from stiffening up and hurting even more, when Frankie and Cass descended upon him in the Emergency Room waiting area, each talking over the other, but both wanting to know the same thing: Where was Charlie?
“They took her in to be examined,” Kirkland said. “Right before I called you.”
“What happened?” Cass demanded, sounding like both a concerned dad and an attorney out to get the facts.
“I – I found her in the woods.”
“What do you mean you found her?” Frankie’s tone echoed Cass’. “Was she hurt?”
“I’m not sure. She didn’t look hurt, but…”
“But… she was just sitting there. In the snow. Not moving.”
“Not moving,” Cass jumped on the one pertinent detail he’d been given. “Had she fallen asleep? My God, did she freeze?“
“No! No, nothing like that. She had her head on her arms and her arms on her knees, and she was just sitting there, like she was waiting.”
“I don’t know,” he repeated.
“Why were you even looking for Charlie in the woods?” Frankie couldn’t begin to make heads or tails of any of this. “What gave you the idea that she might be there in the first place?”
“Her cell phone. GQ – you know GQ Todd? He helped me do this thing where you can figure out where somebody is through their cell-phone. I mean, if they’ve got it on them. Charlie didn’t.”
“So how did you…”
“She left the phone in her car before she got out.”
“Why would Charlie get out of her car in the middle of a snowstorm?”
“And why would she leave her phone behind?”
Rather than pleading ignorance for the third time, Kirkland told Frankie and Cass the only thing he did know. “It looked like she and Allie were in a car accident. Both their cars were by the side of the road. I guess they got out and they went into the woods…”
“They were probably looking for help,” Frankie grasped at straws.
“In the woods?” That didn’t sound right to Cass.
“They got lost,” Frankie said. “It was dark and snowing, and they got lost. They probably thought they could make it to the Cory house, but got turned around in the dark.” She asked Kirkland, “Did you find Allie, too?”
He nodded, wincing, not relishing sharing the rest.
“Were Charlie and Allie together?”
“No. Allie – Allie fell through a hole in the ice. That’s where GQ and I found her and pulled her out.”
“Is Allie alright?” Frankie asked.
“She’s still being examined, too.”
“Well, there it is.” Frankie was finally able to let out the breath she was holding. “There’s what happened. Allie and Charlie got into an accident, they left their cars to try and walk home, they got lost, Allie fell through the ice, and Charlie ran to get help. It makes perfect sense.”
“Then why was she just sitting there the way Kirkland described?”
“She got cold. She got weak and disoriented. Hypothermia has that effect, you know it does. Good thing Kirkland came along when he did. Really, we can’t thank you enough, Kirk. You probably saved Charlie’s life!”
“Here to offer me another tongue-lashing, Mr. Rivera?” Rachel inquired when informed that Doug was waiting for her in the Cory study.
“Actually, Mrs. Hutchins, I’m here to offer you a warning.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m not in the mood.”
“I don’t care.” His tone remained civil, yet as unmoved as his words. “It’s still in your best interests to listen to what I have to say.
“If you’re here to tell me once again what a wonderful person Mr. Hamilton is – “
“No. I am here to tell you the exact opposite.”
“Oh,” Rachel startled. “That is quite a change from your usual stance.”
“I am here to tell you that you have no idea whom you are dealing with. You think Chase is just another run-of-the-mill political hack you can bribe or bully into looking the other way when it comes to your misdeeds? You have grossly miscalculated. Let me tell you a story, Mrs. Hutchins. Maybe then you’ll understand. I was a Junior at boarding school when Chase came in as a Freshman. According to Chase, I was nicer to him than anyone had ever been in his entire life. Which was unfortunately, as I was later to learn, true. He decided, then and there, that he was in love with me. Can you imagine? A fourteen year old kid. I didn’t take it seriously. I just continued being nice to him and figured he’d get over his crush, eventually. Four years later, he followed me to Carnegie-Mellon. I tried to discourage him. Nicely. I told him he couldn’t possibly be in love with me. He was too young, he didn’t know what the word meant. Chase didn’t budge. And, eventually, he wore me down. There’s something about being unabashedly adored that you can only ignore for just so long, wouldn’t you say?”
Rachel understood precisely what – or rather, whom – he was alluding to, and merely nodded her head. “It does have its charms. Though I’m afraid I still don’t understand what any of this has to do with your rather cryptic warning earlier.”
Doug said, “The first time I brought Chase home to meet my parents, they treated him like – I was going to say they treated him like the help, but that’s untrue; my parents treat their staff very well. On the other hand, they treated Chase like… not even garbage. They treated him like he was nothing. Not just unworthy of me, but unworthy of walking the same planet, breathing the same air, as me – and as them. This went on for literally years. Now it was their turn to assume that time would lessen my feelings for him. But, Chase never complained. Not to them, not to me. He simply kept showing up, putting on his best manners, taking it all until they ultimately came around and, by God, I’d say these days my father is more impressed with Chase’s achievements than anything I might have done. He’s crazy about him. Now. Though I still can’t comprehend how Chase stood it for all that time. I asked him once. And do you know what he told me? He told me, “You’re worth it.”
“Again,” Rachel said. “A lovely, romantic tale. Whose relevance escapes me.”
“When Chase wants something, he’s relentless,” Doug translated. “If he thinks a thing is worth getting, it’s not that he won’t be stopped, it’s that he can’t be.”
“My husband is dead. Chase Hamilton has gotten everything possible out of me.”
“No. Because after what you tried to pull with Milagros and Ike’s adoptions – “
“Kevin told you?”
Rachel swallowed hard. “I see.”
“I don’t think you do. Everything that came before, the matter of you running Grant for mayor, the doctored recording with Lila, that was business as usual. Chase barely broke a sweat fending off those attacks, because ultimately, they meant nothing to him. I’ve never met any politician who hates politics as much as he does. He could handle losing the election. But, when you went after our kids, when you went after our family… you don’t know what you’ve done. Now, you’re a real threat to him. And Chase doesn’t give up until anything he perceives as a threat is utterly neutralized.”
“Alright then, consider me duly warned. Was that all, Mr. Rivera?”
“Give it up, Mrs. Hutchins. Your vendetta. Drop it. Please. Or matters are going to get much, much worse. Primarily for you.”
“Allie! Thank God you’re alright!” Amanda flew into her daughter’s hospital room as soon as she was granted permission. Allie looked pale and shaken and weak but, according to the doctor, they were lucky, all the frostbite was superficial, and her body temperature had finally returned to normal.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Allie confirmed, her voice still hoarse from all the screaming for help she’d done the night before.
“What in the world happened out there? How did you end up in such a state?”
Allie hesitated. And then, she told her mother, “Charlie was trying to kill me.”
Amanda’s mouth dropped open in confusion. “Charlie Winthrop?”
“Why would Charlie…”
“She said it was about Zeno.”
“What about Zeno?”
“She wasn’t making a lot of sense, Mom. She drove my car off the road, and then she came at me with this huge stick. She broke my window. She started screaming about how I always get everything I want and everybody thinks I’m so perfect and I never get punished for the things I do.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“She chased me into the woods. She saw me fall through the ice. I begged her to help me. She just walked away.”
“Maybe she went to get help.”
“She didn’t,” Allie spat. “GQ and Kirk were the ones who found me.”
“This…” Amanda shook her head. “This doesn’t make any sense. Charlie is… We’ve all known her since she was little girl. She and Jasmine grew up as sisters. Charlie is practically a member of the family. Not to mention her and Kirkland….”
Allie stared at her mother, and then, as if she didn’t know why she might have expected any differently, Allie said, “You don’t believe me, do you, Mom?”
Obviously not having taken her edict to call first – or skip coming by at all – to heart, Dennis was waiting for Marley as she arrived to open up the gallery the next morning.
She tried hard to pretend she didn’t see him. But, that was rather difficult to do when he first blocked the doorway then, once she’d shoved him aside, followed Marley in.
He said, “I wanted to apologize. For the other day.”
Marley still declined to look his way.
Dennis pressed on, in any case. “I’m sorry, Marley. I didn’t know. About the hard time you’d had the past few years. I mean, I’d heard about Vicky dying and you raising the kids. And then I heard about you and Jamie getting married. I was happy for you, I really was. I mean, maybe it was just my own guilt over what happened before talking, but, you two guys belonged together. I was happy to hear it had finally all worked out.”
“It didn’t,” Marley appraised him, flatly.
“Yeah, I know. You only got married because of Kirkland’s custody issues. Oh, by the way, I went to see Jamie earlier.”
“Was he the one doling out the sucker punches this time around?”
“I was afraid he was going to, for a minute.”
“You had it coming.”
“I know. I apologized to him, too. And, matter of fact, we had a pretty nice conversation by the end there.”
“How’s Jamie doing?” Marley wanted to know.
Dennis shrugged. “Seemed okay to me. But, you know Jamie. He either wears his heart on his sleeve or…”
“He completely shuts down. Yeah, I know Jamie.”
“He misses Lorna.”
“I don’t blame him.”
“And I didn’t know about the whole, rotten mess of you hitting her with your car and… everything that came after. So, I’m sorry I came down on you so hard over Sarah. And I’m sorry that, for the past twenty years, I’ve been building you up in my head as the woman who would have been a perfect mother for her. And the perfect woman for me.”
“You could have stayed,” Marley reminded Dennis. “You didn’t have to go chasing after Olivia. You could have stayed in Bay City, and still been a father to Sarah.”
“You didn’t exactly give me a reason to.”
“So now Sarah’s crappy upbringing is all my fault?” she bristled.
“No! No. That’s what I was apologizing for. Making it sound like it was.”
“Because raising a girl who goes chasing after married men, that’s all on Olivia and you.”
“Tell me about it,” Dennis sighed.
“I tried to. But, you weren’t in the mood to listen.”
“I was just so damn angry. I mean, Iris lies about who my real father is, Olivia lies about Sam, and now here’s Sarah…”
“Maybe now you understand why I’m not quite ready to take her word about naming Grant as the father.”
“But, I thought Grant said…”
“So did Steven.”
Looking utterly defeated, Dennis admitted, “I wish I knew how to handle any of this.”
“That makes two of us.” For the first time since he’d come in, Marley looked up and met Dennis’ eyes. She asked, “Was that all you had to say?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was that all you had to apologize for?”
His lips twitched in the beginning of a smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you do.”
“Oh.” The other half joined it in echo. “You mean… the kiss?”
“I mean, the kiss.”
“Nope,” Dennis shook his head. “Got no intention of apologizing for that part at all.”
Jen sat quietly, only offering an interjection or a clarifying question while GQ filled her in on what had gone down between him, Allie and Kirkland the day before.
“Is Allie going to be alright?”
“When I left the hospital, the word was, she’s going to be fine.”
“She’s so lucky you and Kirkland were there.”
“Yeah. He wasn’t even looking for me originally. Just Steven wasn’t available…”
“Like I said… lucky.”
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment, and then GQ began, “Jen…”
“Yeah?” Something about the look on his face told her they were just now getting to the point of their conversation.
“I… When you were sick, I was really, really worried about you. I wanted you to get well, and I’d have done pretty much anything to ensure that happening.”
“I care about you a lot. You’re an amazing person. You are everything any man could possibly want. You’re everything I’ve ever wanted.”
“Then why do you look like you wish you were anyplace else but here, at the moment?” Jen noted.
He didn’t correct her. Instead, GQ said, “I wanted you to recover and for us to have a life together. But, when I saw Allie in the water, and, for a minute there, I wondered if she was alive or if she was going to make it, I – I felt like… I felt like if she didn’t, then I don’t know how I would have been able to go on without her.”
“Oh,” Jen said slowly.
“I mean, it doesn’t make any sense, right?” He was practically pleading with her to help him make sense of this. “We’re not even together anymore. Now. And after everything she did. To me. To Hudson. I shouldn’t care what… I mean, sure, she’s a fellow human being, but… anything beyond that… I shouldn’t…”
“You love her,” Jen gave GQ the answer he’d been looking for. And trying to avoid at the same time.
“Yes,” he exhaled, grateful to Jen for articulating a thought he couldn’t bring himself to.
“You love her in a way you never could me,” she continued.
“I’m sorry,” GQ gulped.
“I’m not,” Jen told him honestly.
“You’ve been looking for Carl Hutchins.” It wasn’t a question, so Chase didn’t give Iris the chance to either confirm or deny. “I want to know what you’ve found.”
“I beg your pardon?” Iris Cory Wheeler wasn’t accustomed to being cross-examined. Even after her years spent in prison. That was an aberration, not a lifestyle choice.
“I know you’ve been asking around regarding Carl Hutchins’ current whereabouts,” he clarified. Without altering his tone an iota.
“Have you tried the banks of the River Styx?” Iris magnanimously enlightened him. “That’s the river that – “
“I know what the River Styx is,” he cut her off. “Believe it or not, I did periodically crack a book or two while at Sanford Law.”
“I was under the impression that the man who replaced my father in Rachel’s bed was currently eternally residing amidst some lovely hellfire and brimstone.”
“If that were the case, why would you be putting out feelers all over Europe?”
“It pays to be cautious.” Iris shrugged.
“Listen to me, Mrs. Wheeler. A year ago, I only had one objective, and that was to get Carl Hutchins and his brewing mob war the hell out of Bay City. Marley Hudson’s attack, Kirkland Frame’s kidnapping, Spencer Harrison’s death… Nobody uses my town as their own personal battleground. My citizens aren’t here to play collateral damage. The best way to get rid of the compound, was to get rid of Hutchins. I would have preferred him rotting in prison for his five decade long crime spree, but I was willing to accept crawling out of town with his tail between his legs like the coward he truly is. As long as he wasn’t causing anymore trouble. Unfortunately, what I didn’t anticipate was that his wife would go on a psychotic tear in his stead. It’s fascinating, really. Carl flees the country with her twins and, if Jamie is correct, her daughter in law, as well, and I’m the heavy in this chronicle! Rachel blames me for what she believes are her husband and children’s deaths. She’s targeted my children in retaliation. That’s unacceptable.”
“So you’ve come to me for help?” Now that she understood the situation better, Iris was perfectly willing to play ball. For a price, of course.
“If you know where Hutchins is, tell me.”
“Is that an order?”
“You’d be obstructing justice, otherwise.”
Iris smirked. “If you had any evidence, we wouldn’t be speaking in your office. I’d be under arrest, and you’d be water-boarding me as we speak.”
“That can be arranged.”
“Not legally.” She smiled.
Chase tried another tack. “I should think you’d want to expose Carl’s fraud. Think of the humiliation for Rachel. She’s gone up and down Bay City publicly accusing us all of hounding a good, noble man to his death. We prove he’s actually living it up in luxury after having absconded with her children, that’s quite a bit of egg on her face.”
“Unfortunately, nothing sticks to Rachel these days.”
“I bet a charge of aiding and abetting a known fugitive sure would.”
Iris leaned forward eagerly. “You think Rachel is in on this?”
“It’s possible. The grieving widow bit might be just an act. And all her revenge schemes a way to keep me distracted from the truth.”
“You could be opening a dangerous can of worms,” Iris warned. “What if Carl’s disappearance is somehow connected to the compound? You’d sweep them right back here after finally getting them out.”
“I’ve thought about that,” Chase conceded. “That’s why I can’t just go barging into the State Department, making noise and urging them to look into the situation for me. That’s asking for trouble. This calls for a lighter touch.”
“A woman’s touch?” Iris queried knowingly.
“If you have any information…”
“I don’t,” she told him honestly. “But, I might know someone who does.”
“Will you speak to them for me?”
Iris hesitated. “And what have you to offer me in return, Mr. Hamilton?”
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