“Hello, Rachel,” Carl’s voice boomed from the doorway. With Elizabeth by his side, he studied the assembled crew: Rachel, Felicia, Lucas, Jamie, Alice, Eduardo… along with Cory and Lorna. “Everyone…”
“Carl,” Rachel gasped, as if seeing a mirage.
“Carl,” Lucas growled, ready to lunge for his throat.
“Carl,” Felicia sighed with disappointment.
“Carl,” Jamie said, with the conviction of one who’d known it all along.
“Carl,” Lorna snapped, the only one not interested in prolonging this psychodrama any longer than absolutely necessary. “Would you please tell these people I have no idea who any of them are, and then lets get out here. This small town air is giving me hives.”
“Yes, Carl,” Jamie taunted. “Go ahead. Tell Lorna how she has no connection to anyone in this room. And make sure my mother hears every word of your latest lie.”
“Still thinking only of yourself?” Carl responded in belligerent kind. “How very, very like you, Jamie.”
“I told them I know all about it,” Lorna continued trying to move the proceedings along. “I know they’ve been using me to get to you, creating a whole past with a husband and kids and parents, trying to lure us both out of hiding. You don’t have to explain anything. Jig’s up.”
“You bet it is,” Lucas advanced on Carl, no one doing anything to stop him. “You did this to her. You kidnapped my daughter, you son of a bitch!”
“Now, now, Lucas,” Carl soothed. “You heard Lorna – the jig is up. No need to feign continued righteous indignation. It’s alright. It’s safe to confess now. You were in on it from the very beginning.”
“Well, look at you!” Lila made a show of nodding her head in approval at the sight of Kevin, walking around, footloose and fancy free, through the Cory Gardens.
He played along, performing an exaggerated, model turn before asking, “How do you like my new look.”
“I’m going to miss the orange.”
“I’m sorry,” Lila’s gaiety dissipated as she realized, “That was a pretty tacky thing to say.”
“You’re allowed,” Kevin reassured, also dropping the fake heartiness. “If anyone is allowed to say anything they like to me – it’s you.”
“It’s good to have you home,” Lila parried.
“It’s good to be here.”
“Jenny must be thrilled. Amanda, too.”
“Your visits were the highlight of my time in prison,” Kevin ignored Lila’s small talk in favor of sincerity. “I’ll never forget your kindness.”
“Except you do seem to be forgetting the reason I initially went up there – to pump you for information.”
“Doesn’t matter. You kept coming back, rain or shine, that’s what counts.”
“What can I say? You give good conversation.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Kevin offered. “The entire time we were dating, I don’t recall us ever talking the way we did over the past two and a half years.”
“Well, we had other things on our minds back then.”
“Yes,” Kevin agreed. “Back then….”
“Luke?” Unlike the shriek she’d offered at the sight of Lorna, Felicia’s reaction to Carl’s accusation proved distinctively subdued. Her voice shrunk to nearly a whisper, rattling all through her body, as she asked, “Luke? You knew that Lorna was with Carl all this time? You knew and you never said a word?”
“No!” He exploded. “That’s bullshit. Pure, unadulterated….”
“No need, Lucas, no need,” Carl proceeded calmly. “I’m here to tell you the danger has at long last passed. It’s time to make a full confession. It’s time for both of us to lay our proverbial cards on the table.”
“What is going on here?” Jamie demanded equally harshly of both Carl and Lucas. “What danger? Outside of the one from you, that is?”
Carl reminded Jamie, “I’m sure you recall the threat posed to all of us by the compound.”
“You mean the one you provoked into kidnapping my son? Yeah, Carl, I remember.”
“Well, despite Spencer, Lucas’ and my best efforts, the danger we’d hoped to eradicate via their exposure – “
“And Spencer’s death,” Alice felt compelled to interject.
Carl’s only response was an impotent shrug. “That couldn’t be helped.”
“I beg to differ,” Alice said.
Carl went on, “Despite our best efforts, the danger persisted. The morning of that fateful 4th of July, I became privy to happenstance that not only Cory and Elizabeth, but Lorna, as well, had been targeted for retaliation – a way to discipline both Lucas and I with one deadly blow. Naturally, I went straight to Lucas, and we arranged to spirit our respective offspring out of the country in an attempt to save their lives.”
“The plane crash…” Felicia began.
“The compound,” Carl confirmed grimly. “They sabotaged my plane. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to arrange alternative transportation.”
“You couldn’t have come to me?” Jamie demanded. “You couldn’t have filled me in on this alleged plan of yours to “save” my wife?”
“Lucas and I agreed the fewer people who knew, the less chance of exposure.”
“You and I.” Lucas turned beet red. “Have never agreed on a single thing in our entire lives.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Fanny’s charms come to mind….”
Lucas turned to Jamie, to Felicia, to Rachel, to Lorna. “I didn’t agree to a damn thing. He is lying through his teeth. Do you honestly think I would agree to put you all through the hell of thinking that Lorna was dead?”
“Would you cut it out!” Lorna’s cool façade was shattering by the minute. “Why are you all still playing this game? Why are you all pretending?”
“Tell her, Carl,” Jamie warned. “Tell her, or, so help me, I will kill you right now. In front of Mom, in front of Cory and Elizabeth. Tell her….”
“Party crashing is such an unattractive inclination. I’d have thought, at your age, you’d have outgrown such gauche public displays,” Iris advised Olivia as the two crossed paths, waiting for the wedding to start.
“And I’d have thought, at your age, you’d have learned to differentiate between who was truly wanted, and who’d been invited out of obligation.”
Iris smirked. “We’ve all seen how much Jamie “wants” you. In spite of your pathetic and redundant attempts to throw yourself at him.”
“At least I got an actual invitation. Didn’t have to tag along as my son’s date. Talk about pathetic…”
“A family occasion warrants the entire family’s attendance. You’d know that if your own daughter hadn’t been forced to turn to her lover’s wife for parenting advice, before she turned to you.”
“I don’t see Sarah rushing to Grandmommy Dearest’s side, either. When was the last time you saw Daisy, by the way? Does she even know who you are?”
Iris ignored the barb in favor of observing, “You thought you could weasel your way into the Cory family via Dennis. Fortunately, my son was too smart for your games. Jamie may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he can see you for what you truly are – a grasping, disgusting social climber, and an incompetent one, at that.”
“So if me being with a Cory is social climbing up, what exactly were you doing when you kept crawling into my father’s bed, uninvited? Well, besides being rejected over and over again?”
“I was under impression that a man as intelligent as Russ would know better than to repeat his youthful mistakes well into middle age. I was wrong on that account.”
“There’s a certain symmetry to it, don’t you think? Daddy with Rachel, me with Jamie…”
“It won’t last,” Iris said ominously. “Mark my words. Neither of you is destined to last. Fate simply isn’t on your side.”
“Tell her, Carl,” Jamie threatened his stepfather. “Here. Now. If you’ve really got nothing to hide….”
Carl hesitated, seemingly weighing his options before, with a shrug to indicate how truly of no importance this all was in the great scheme of things, informed Lorna, “I am afraid there is something to what they’re saying, my dear.”
“Excuse me?” Her eyes widened.
Deciding he’d made enough of an overture with Lorna, it was Rachel to whom Carl now pleaded his case. “You have to understand the predicament I was in, my dear. The battle to save Lorna and the children’s lives was not an easy one. We were forced to remain on the run for months, laying low, struggling to convince the world that we were, in fact, as dead as the compound intended for us to be. The physical, emotional, mental strain was dreadful. Always looking over your shoulder, fleeing in the middle of the night with only the clothes on our backs… comforting the children while, at the same time, missing our loves ones desperately. It was more than Lorna could take. She had a breakdown. The doctor I took her to explained that a cerebral hemorrhage at the site of her earlier accident was responsible for her amnesia. Lorna couldn’t recall anything of her life in Bay City. When saw me, she naturally assumed that things were still as they’d been twenty years earlier, that she was still in my employee and everything since – Felicia, Lucas, Jamie, her offspring – none of that had transpired.”
“You mean it’s true?” Lorna had been listening as intently as anyone. “All the crap I read on the Internet – you said it was a lie. But, it was the truth?”
“What choice did I have but to lie?” Carl insisted. “You were suffering so much. What possible good would it have done for me to add to your heartache? Your loss of recall was obviously a fragile psyche’s manner of dealing with the pain. My attempting to jog your memory would have been cruel, sadistic, even. I knew our exile was destined to be finite. Only until such a time that I could confirm who, precisely was behind the bounty placed upon our heads. Why make you suffer needlessly in the interim?”
“And Lucas knew?” Felicia couldn’t let that aspect of the tale go. “He knew what you were up to?”
“No!” Lucas swore. “Damn it, Fanny, are you honestly going to take Carl’s word over mine?”
“It would explain why you were so adamant about us not looking for them,” Felicia was forced to admit. “You told me it was because you didn’t want to think about our daughter being held against her will, the suffering that she had to be going through. It didn’t make any sense to me then. How could you not want to get to the bottom of what had happened to her? But, if you and Carl were working together….”
“You did the right thing, Lucas,” Carl praised. “The heroic thing. I can only imagine how difficult these past three years must have been for you. But, you knew it was the solitary means to keep Lorna safe.”
“Shut up!” Lucas threatened. “Don’t help me, don’t praise me, don’t even talk to me. I had nothing to do with whatever sick game you’re playing.”
“Is it sick to want to protect your children?” Carl turned to Alice. “Before he died, did Spencer tell you why the compound deposited him upon your doorstep – at great risk of discovery – instead of merely disposing of the body in the nearest unmarked grave?”
Alice startled, wondering how Carl could possibly know. She nodded slowly. “He said it was because they knew nothing could hurt him more than being forced to watch me watch him die.”
“Exactly,” Carl beamed with satisfaction. “Such psychological on top of physical torture is the compound’s modus operandi. And it was unerringly the case here. Killing Lucas and I would have been simple. And not nearly as satisfying as placing us in the position of outliving our own children – knowing all the while that their blood was on our hands. What choice did I have but to falsify all our deaths, and focus on tracking down the figure responsible?”
“Do you know now?” Rachel demanded. “Do you finally know who that was?”
Carl nodded somberly, his heart heavy at needing to be the one to tell all.
“You smell great,” Morgan’s eyes danced as he encountered Amanda by the bar. “Crisp and clean and… hot.”
“Thank you,” she informed him coolly, as if Morgan had merely been complimenting her dress. Or last month’s Brava cover.
“How was the big reunion with hubby hubs?”
“Seriously, Morgan? Are you six?”
“Bet all that time without conjugal privileges made him horny enough to rip your clothes off right there in warden’s office.”
“I think you’re confusing my day with the porno you watched last night,” Amanda said, before remembering what exactly Morgan had been up to – no pun intended – the night before, and what she’d just implied about herself, as a result.
Morgan realized it, too, and merely leaned back against the bar, watching Amanda grow redder and redder with embarrassment.
“It’s my stepdaughter’s wedding,” Amanda hissed. “Do you think you could give it a rest just this once?”
“What can I say? You bring out the best in me.”
“Look,” Amanda tried a different track. “I realize how you might have gotten the wrong idea about us.”
“Sure felt right to me. Last night, and all the nights before.”
“My husband was in jail. I needed – “
“A friend with benefits?”
“A friend. Period. And you were that to me, Morgan, I’m not denying it. You were there when I needed you. But… I… it…. You knew we weren’t long term.”
“If two years plus isn’t your definition of long term…”
“It’s not. My husband is home now. Everything is going to be okay. Please, Morgan,” she was no longer giving orders, but rather pleading with him. “Promise it’s going to be okay.”
“Seduced and abandoned? Again?” Iris inquired solicitously, readying an ample display of crocodile tears.
“Good afternoon, Iris,” Russ bobbed his head politely, refusing to be baited.
“And where might Rachel be?” She wondered, craning her neck in the search for their nominal hostess.
Russ shrugged. “Wherever she currently needs to be, I presume.”
“She certainly plastered herself to your side at first sight of me,” Iris mused. “An issue of trust, I presume. Or, should I say, mistrust?”
“I don’t feel compelled to keep Rachel on a leash,” Russ reminded.
“A pity. Considering what happened the last time you gave her free reign.”
Russ shook his head in amazement. “Fifty year old history, Iris? Really? Is that truly the best you can do?”
“I could ask you the same thing, darling.” Iris looked around, whatever pithy remark she’d been preparing next dying on her lips when she happened to glance into the house. And caught sight of what was going on there. “Russ…” she began, pointing, all mockery and disdain gone, replaced by genuine shock.
Unaccustomed to an Iris Cory strapped for words, Russ’ eyes dutifully followed where she’d indicated. And then he understood why.
“Ah, Iris, what perfect timing,” Carl lauded upon her and Russ’ arrival. “And greetings to you, Dr. Matthews. I hadn’t realized the pair of you had re-ignited – “
“What in blazes, Carl?” Iris exploded. “I didn’t realize even Hell had an admissions bar you were incapable of surmounting. Where have you been?”
“In hiding,” Jamie responded dryly, though he wasn’t the one who’d been asked. “It seems that Carl kidnapped Cory and Elizabeth – and my wife, while he was at it – in order to protect them from some vague, previously unheard of threat to their lives. Rather than, you know, doing it because there was a federal warrant out for his arrest and my mother had sensibly declined to join him in fleeing the jurisdiction. Not to mention blaming Lorna and I for turning her against him.”
“Is that the story you’re peddling?” Iris couldn’t help suppressing a laugh. “Are you genuinely attempting to paint yourself, not only the victim, but the hero in all of this?”
“And you, Iris, are you genuinely proclaiming ignorance as to the reasons behind my actions?”
“Iris?” Rachel’s eyes narrowed. “Were you aware that – “
“Carl confiding in me? Heaven forefend!”
“Confiding in you – no,” Carl confirmed. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if you were receiving regular communiqué from your cohort, Mr. Hamilton, nonetheless.”
“Chase!” Rachel exclaimed in triumph. “He’s the one behind your disappearance!”
Carl illuminated, “Naturally, he’s been the compound’s man all along. His grand talk regarding how I was that wily defendant who walked, and his Javert-like determination to bring me to judgment. What Hamilton neglected to mention was that it were his own machinations that kept me out of prison for all those years. How else could it have been otherwise? Even the Bay City District Attorney’s office isn’t that utterly incompetent. Chase Hamilton sabotaged each successive case against me. Until he was ordered not to, that is.”
Eduardo spoke up, his mouth set in a grim line. “I presume you have evidence for your accusations, Mr. Hutchins?”
“In most generous abundance,” Carl reassured.
Rachel nodded fervently. “I knew Chase was behind it. I knew it. No one would listen to me. But, there had to be a hidden agenda with the way he went after us.”
“Alas, no. Hamilton was purely the means to my end, nothing more. That simpering weasel merely followed orders. Orders that came from much higher up than someone like him could ever dream of. As soon as he came after us, digging up ancient history in an attempt to railroad me into prison, I knew the compound was behind it. They wanted me in jail, my children dead, my wife destroyed, the Hutchins line at an end. I couldn’t allow that to happen. But, I also couldn’t let on that I had figured out I was a target, until I knew precisely who was behind it.”
“Me, again, I suppose?” Lucas inquired, his previous anger replaced by complete and utter disbelief. “And am I on the hook for stealing the Lindbergh baby, burying Jimmy Hoffa and faking the moon landing, too?”
“Don’t be tiresome,” Carl dismissed. “Honestly, Lucas, if I had but known you’d be so reluctant to accept your well-deserved kudos for the role you played in saving all of our children’s lives, I would have left you out of the telling entirely.”
“That’s you to a T, Carl, always thinking of others.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell us it was Spencer behind everything,” Alice guessed, as fed up by this point as Lucas. “From beyond the grave, no less? Rachel already floated that theory to me once.”
Carl snorted. “A plan this complex would have never crossed Spencer’s mind. Your husband, Mrs. Harrison, specialized in failing to find so much as a moment to consider a more subtle approach when he could, instead, charge in, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. A tragic failing attributed to many of his race, I’m afraid.”
“Along with drunkenness, a belief in leprechauns and a penchant for the color green?” Alice didn’t need to roll her eyes. Her tone did it for her.
Carl didn’t bother dignifying her scorn with a response. Instead, he explained, “The reason I was able to come here today, was because, after several years of careful and surreptitious investigation, I was finally able to identify the culprit responsible for putting out a contract on Lorna, Cory and Elizabeth’s lives. Did you really think you’d get away with this… Iris?”
She’d been expecting as much. As soon as Carl began his long and tedious tirade about bogeymen hiding under the bed, forcing him into whatever evil action he’d undertaken this week, Iris knew he’d eventually get around to blaming her. In that, the great man was no different from anyone else.
Which is how she was able to remain utterly calm and dismiss, “What rubbish.”
“Really?” Rachel turned on her stepdaughter with a vengeance. “It sounds perfectly logical to me… Chief.”
At that, she colored slightly. “Ancient history. If you can wave away Carl’s decades of crimes against the state as nothing more than an overzealous DA’s vendetta, surely I qualify for the same statute of limitations exemption.”
“You would do anything to worm your way back into Cory Publishing. Getting rid of Carl would be killing two birds with one stone. Classic Iris.”
“You believe him?” Iris’ eyes widened as she realized Rachel was serious. “You trust Carl to tell you the truth? After everything he’s done? After he let you think for three years that your children were dead? After he deprived your granddaughters of their mother, your son of his wife? This man who proclaimed to love you? You are taking the monster who put your through hell at his word? Have you lost your mind, Rachel?”
“She’s right, Mom,” Jamie chimed in. “Are you actually buying this crock of bull? Carl kidnapped Lorna. And Elizabeth. And Cory.”
“No,” Rachel said.
“Yes,” Jamie insisted. “I was here, Mom. We all were. We watched you mourning your family. He did that to you. You told me you felt like you were losing your mind. And now you’re actually considering swallowing this ridiculous story he’s concocted?”
“Carl is telling the truth,” Rachel said.
“How do you know?” Felicia demanded.
“I know because…” Rachel took a deep breath, bracing herself for their inevitable shock and horror. “Because I was in on Carl’s plan from the start. I understood why he had to take off with Cory, Elizabeth and Lorna. And I gave him my blessing to do it.”
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