“And to what do I owe this magnanimous offer to spare me The Wrath of Carl,” Chase inquired politely. “As long as I do what you say, of course?”
“You are nothing,” Carl informed the Mayor of Bay City. “While it would bring me great personal pleasure to witness you hoisted by your own petard and made to answer for every bit of the malfeasance you’ve spread since arriving in Bay City, ultimately you are no more than a glorified thug mindlessly doing the Compound’s bidding. I am after much greater game. Iris is a true threat to my family’s health and happiness. You are a mere irritation.”
“So you’re willing to overlook my alleged crimes in order to ensure Irish’ downfall?”
“A master chess player must be willing to sacrifice a pawn here and there in pursuit of ultimately toppling the King.”
“Or, in this case, the Queen.”
“You are trying my patience, Mr. Hamilton. I require your answer, post-haste.”
“You’re not making sense, Carl. If, as you claim, you have all the evidence you need to prove that Iris and I targeted Cory and Elizabeth – not to mention Lorna – for execution as revenge for your, Lucas’ and Spencer’s exposure of the compound, then what in the world are you waiting for? Why not scurry off straight to the authorities and let the chips fall where they may?”
“I am not the sort of man,” Carl sniffed distastefully. “Who puts great stock in the free-fall of “chips.” I refuse to take impulsive action prior to ensuring that every loose end has been tied up, every consequence accounted and planned for. That is why I have managed to prosper all these years while lesser men rot in jail cells or in their graves.”
“May I presume myself to be one of those loose ends you refer to?”
“You flatter yourself,” Carl spat. “My interest in this matter lies exclusively with Iris, and the damage she could yet do my wife. Someone like you could never understand what Rachel means to me. There is nothing more important in my life then her well-being. She is deeply attached to the company her late husband left her. Iris is in the process of attempting to wrench it from her. I cannot allow this to happen.”
“Iris is hardly going to be calling emergency board meetings from jail.”
“It is not enough to destroy the woman herself. Her power base must be vanquished, as well. Even behind bars, Iris’ tentacles may well yet reach out to seek their revenge. Not only must Rachel’s company be protected, but, more importantly, her life.”
“In that case, why not flee the country again?” Chase offered. “If you suspect even jail won’t stop Iris, why remain in Bay City and make yourselves targets?”
“Sentimentality, Mr. Hamilton. A worthless, useless emotion. Yet one which keeps my wife tethered to Bay City more effectively than any metaphorical albatross about the neck. Despite their brutal mistreatment of her throughout the years, Rachel’s generous heart continues to bleed for her ungrateful offspring. She wishes to remain near them. And Rachel’s wish is my command. There is nothing I would hesitate to do for her. Even agree to waive everything I know about your role in my maltreatment and allow you to walk free, if it will neutralize Iris and the threat she poses, once and for all.”
“Should I be touched?”
“You should be sensible, man!” Carl thundered. “I assure you, this offer will not come a second time. Throw in your lot with me and consider the ledger closed, your slate wiped clean, our debts settled once and for all. Refuse, and I will waste no time exposing every criminal association, every deliberately botched prosecution, every underground dealing until you are driven from office and into a cell adjacent every member of the compound you have ever abetted.”
Chase stood up. He rested his hands on his desk and leaned forward until there were only a few inches of space between him and Carl. He said, “I dare you.”
Carl smirked. “You think your powerful friends will protect you? They will not. Men of their ilk remain in power precisely by ruthless cutting any and all weak links. They will refute all knowledge of you and your activities. You will be left utterly on your own.”
“Your friends, maybe, Carl. Not mine.”
Carl sighed. “I had you pegged for a smarter man, Mr. Hamilton.”
“And I had you pegged for a criminal. Let’s see which one of us is right in the end.”
“I will not be treated like a criminal!” Donna huffed as she and Matt were escorted into a room deep in the bowels of a Swiss police station, forced to wait for what felt like hours – despite her husband’s assessment that it had been thirty minutes, tops – then questioned for equally as long of a duration about how exactly it was that Mr. and Mrs. Cory had come to find Dr. Miller in his presently dead state.
“I told you,” Donna’s exasperation radiated through her every word and gesture. “We came to see the doctor for a consultation. I was looking to have a little work done. Not as much as he prescribed but, then again, you know doctors. Out to make a quick buck, each and every one of them. The more unnecessary procedures they can manipulate you into requesting, the more wings they can add to their holiday ski chalets. Tell me, do you see anything wrong with my cheekbones?” Donna turned her face this way and that, so both policemen might get a good look.
“No,” said one.
“Yes,” said the other.
“Please,” Donna assured them both. “Good cop/Bad cop holds absolutely no sway with me. Believe me, this is not my first time being questioned.”
“You have been questioned by the police before?”
Now she obviously had their attention in a way Donna previously lacked.
She realized, a moment too late, her error in making that particular confession under these particular circumstances, and quickly attempted to backtrack. “As a witness, of course, nothing more. Not a murderer, certainly. Exactly the same as it is here. I was a witness to a possible crime.”
“Was there even a crime?” Matt found a spot to get a word in edgewise. He’d thought earlier to let Donna take the lead, reasoning that the police would be more predisposed to believing a beautiful woman. But, he’d forgotten that while, undeniably beautiful, his wife was also… Donna. “I mean, do we know how the doctor died?”
“Autopsy pending,” one of the officers clipped.
“We didn’t see any signs of foul play,” Donna leapt onto Matt’s lead. “No blood from a bullet or stabbing wound, no indication of poison or strangulation.”
“You are very well versed in manners of murder, Mrs. Cory.”
Donna shrugged blithely. “I read.”
The officer checked a sheet he’d come in with. “You have also previously been arrested for the murder of your son-in-law, Jake McKinnon.”
“Arrested and freed,” Donna reminded. “With the court’s deepest apologies. You see, what happened was, my daughter, Marley – “
Before she could dig herself in any deeper, Matt pointed out, “Couldn’t the doctor have died of natural causes? A heart attack or a stroke?”
“Talking to Iris could give anyone a heart attack or a stroke,” Donna confirmed.
“How did you know whom the doctor was speaking with?”
“The nurse said the name when she came in,” Donna replied. Her “duh,” implied.
“The nurse only said Mrs. Wheeler,” the detective leafed through his notes. “What prompted you to assume it was a Mrs. Wheeler you knew?”
“Was it?” Matt asked. “Was that my sister on the phone?”
“Yes.” Matt indicated that he should check his information again. “Iris Wheeler is Iris Cory Wheeler. Actually, Iris Cory Wheeler Matthews, now. She’s my sister, and the person who recommended Dr. Miller to Donna and I. That’s why I assumed it was her on the phone. We’re very close,” Matt added as Donna turned to look at him, impressed at her husband’s quick-thinking lie.
“What should we do with them?” Through the one-way mirror of Donna and Matt’s interrogation room, another policeman was watching the conversation, video-taping it and feeding the result digitally into yet another room – this one a great deal more comfortable – a good five thousand miles away from Zurich.
“Let them go – for now. But watch them. See where they go, whom they speak to as long as they are in the country. And report back to me,” Eduardo said.
“Morning,” Cory proffered awkwardly, entering the dining room to find Lorna already there, sipping a cup of black coffee, her mind seemingly a million miles away.
“Hey!” Her eyes lit up, a genuinely pleased smile rearranging Lorna’s otherwise surly features. “Where have you been, dude?”
“Here,” he shrugged, moving to grab himself a plate. “There. Around.”
Lorna shook her head. “This house is huge. I feel like I’m the only one in it, half the time. I missed you. I was just telling Jamie the other night about how you and I would wait until everyone else was asleep, then watch crappy movies all night long on your lap-top. I’ve missed us hanging out.”
“Oh. Yeah. Your date with Jamie. How did that go?” Cory slid into a seat across from Lorna, listlessly stirring the sunny-side up eggs on his plate until they turned scrambled.
Cory grinned. “That’s not really an answer.”
“It went… whatever. I don’t know what the guy wants from me. No. Wait. Change up. I do know what he wants from me. Same things all guys want from me. And I wouldn’t mind if it just ended there. But he wants… more.”
“He’s entitled,” Cory reasoned. “You’re his wife.”
“I don’t remember being his wife,” Lorna pleaded for someone – anyone – to understand. “I don’t feel like his wife.”
“What do you feel like?”
“Confused,” she admitted. “I mean, I guess he’s attractive enough…”
“I thought you said he wasn’t your type. Before.”
“Yeah, well, he’s grown on me, I suppose. He doesn’t turn my stomach or anything. Not until he opens his mouth, anyway. Jesus Christ, practically every word out of his mouth is how much he loves me and how much he wants me and how he’s been waiting for me and he’ll keep waiting for me, no matter what. What’s wrong with that guy?”
“He’s Jamie,” was Cory’s eminently sensible reply.
“Has he always been like this?”
“No,” Cory said. “Only since he met you.”
Lorna shook her head, “Et tu, Cory?”
She looked up helplessly at the ceiling, “You know what it’s like, hearing everyone describe a relationship that you were supposedly in when it feels more real to them than it does to you?”
Cory hesitated for just a moment before replying, “Nope, can’t say that I do.”
“It’s too much, okay? It’s suffocating. And it’s obnoxious; Jamie acting like he knows me better than I know myself.”
“Thales the Philosopher said…” Cory began.
“I thought we had a deal, pal? No philosophy before lunch.”
“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself,” Cory finished, then reminded Lorna, “It’s already lunchtime in Greece.”
Lorna laughed in spite of herself. Cory had that effect on her. Especially when he delivered his quips utterly deadpan. What he lacked in his father’s flamboyance he more than made up for in dry wit.
“What did Thales say about overbearing guys pressuring you until the sight of his face makes you want to turn and run in the other direction?”
Cory wiped his lips with a cloth napkin, thought about it and offered, “I’m afraid that one’s lost to history.”
“I can’t take it anymore,” Lorna confided. “I can’t take Jamie breathing down my neck for another minute. I need some way to cut the guy loose once and for all, make it clear that, whatever it is he thinks we had, it’s over, done-with. And there’s no getting it back. It or me.”
Cory said, “When Jamie brought you home, I saw him kiss you. I saw you kiss him too.”
“Yeah. So?” Lorna bristled.
“Doesn’t that mean – “
“It doesn’t mean anything. Except that he went too far. And that I’m never going to let it happen again. No matter what.”
“So whatdaya think?” Kirkland asked Jasmine at the conclusion of the grand tour of his apartment. Which, considering it consisted of two rooms, a kitchenette and a bathroom, really didn’t take all that long.
“Cool,” Jasmine nodded admiringly, then wondered, “You like living on your own?”
“It’s a change. I mean, going from the Cory Mansion with practically everybody under one roof to Dad’s house, where he and Lorna just kept having babies it felt like non-stop, to the dorms at Notre Dame… I’ve always been surrounded by people. It’s a little weird. But, I’m getting used to it.”
“Do you miss… it?”
“I miss you,” Kirkland grinned, teasingly. “I’ve missed you ever since we moved out.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” she said. Sounding a lot more serious about it than Kirkland. “I missed you when you were away at school.”
“Well, I’m back,” he wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “And I intend to stick around Bay City for, well… a while.”
“Do you like your job?” Jasmine asked.
“Yup. So far. Both of them.”
“What about…” she seemed uncertain how to phrase the next question. “Have you met… anybody, you know, special, since you’ve been back?”
“Special?” Kirkland furrowed his brow, confused.
“Are you going out with anybody?” Jasmine blurted in a combination of embarrassment at being so blunt and frustration at his being so oblivious.
“Oh. That.” Kirkland briefly pondered confiding in Jasmine about his current situation, then merely shook his head and hedged, “No. I mean, nobody serious. Just… fun, you know?”
“So you’re not exclusive?”
“What? Exclusive? No… No, I don’t think so. I’m not really sure how much longer it’s going to go on, to tell you the truth. There are… issues.”
“Oh,” Jasmine tried to look sympathetic, but it was tricky to pull off while she was also nearly beaming with glee. “In that case, would you… would you want to… would you want to go out with… me?”
Kirkland’s eyes widened. “Jazz!”
“We’re not really related,” she rushed to reassure. “Not even a little bit! You’re adopted!”
“I know we’re not blood related, but…”
“And if you’re worried about Charlie – “
Kirkland hadn’t been, but he leapt on it as an excuse, nonetheless. “Right. Charlie. I don’t think dating within the same family is a good idea,” he told Jasmine something Kirkland had genuinely been thinking a lot about lately.
“Both your dads were married to twin sisters,” Jasmine reminded.
“Yeah. And that just turned out great.”
“My dad dated Lorna before your dad did. But your dad’s the one who married her. And that did turn out great. You know, until…”
“Come one, Jazz. You’re… you’re a kid!”
“I’ll be seventeen in October.” She made it sound like that date was just around the corner. “And, besides, I’m tired of being a kid. Everyone at school has boyfriends. Everyone at school is more… experienced than me. Mama won’t even let me wear make-up! She says it looks cheap and I’m a lady. Well, I’m tired of being a lady, too. I need to do something. If Donna were here, she’d understand. She tried to help me, but Mama stopped her. But Mama won’t mind it if I go out with you. Mama trusts you. And she likes you. I like you, Kirkland.”
She sounded so plaintive and she looked so desperate standing there, pleading with him, that Kirkland made up his mind on the spot. “Okay,” he said. “Yeah, sure, Jazz, okay. I’ll go out with you. It’ll be fun. Just tell me when.”
“No,” Charlie informed Elizabeth when the seventh dress she’d tried on that day proved as dowdy and uninspired as the first six. Standing in the boutique’s dressing room, where the light flattered no one, Charlie lectured, “You’re going to a club, not a funeral. Or a Jane Austen society reenactment. For Pete’s sake, from what I hear, your mom really got around when she was your age. Why don’t you channel some of that?”
“My mother was a slut,” Elizabeth clarified, raised to use the right word – and only the right word – for any occasion. “For a while there, she had more illegitimate children than legitimate ones, and Cory and I only tipped the scale by being twins. Father may adore her now, but I hardly thinks he’d wish for me to use Mom’s early years as a role model.”
“If your father had his way, he’d lock you up in the same convent Donna locked up Jenna,” Charlie pointed out.
“Probably,” Elizabeth conceded.
“Bet he gave you one of those Victorian sex manuals to read instead of a birds and bees talk, huh?” Charlie laughed just imagining the possibilities.
“No,” Elizabeth blushed. “He… I… “ She bit her tongue and pretended to be fascinated by the stitching of her skirt.
“My dad went out of his way to be all hip and cool about it,” Charlie remembered. “I was, like, a walking sex encyclopedia in elementary school. All the kids wanted to come to my house because we had the books with dirty pictures.”
“You did?” Elizabeth asked, wide-eyed.
“Oh, not porn or anything good, just ‘educational’ stuff. My dad was big on ‘keeping the lines of communication open’,” Charlie made sarcastic air-quotes with her fingers. “And making sure I didn’t grow up with any hang-ups or complexes.”
“That’s… I can’t imagine that,” Elizabeth confessed.
“Hey, your dad got around, too. Not just your mom and his other wives, but didn’t he have a whole bunch of mistresses, like Ryan’s mother, and some Greek chick who took a bullet to the chest for it?”
“I… I guess.”
“And then there was Lorna. She was, what, younger than us when she first hooked up with your dad, right?”
“I don’t want to talk about Lorna,” Elizabeth clipped. “It was bad enough I had to put up with her for three years, I have absolutely nothing to say about her now.”
“My point is, all this modesty crap Carl drilled into your head, he doesn’t practice what he preaches. And neither does your mother. So why the hell should you?”
Olivia hadn’t meant to eavesdrop. What she’d meant to do was march right into Morgan’s office and find out if he’d given any more thought to her proposal that they team up to keep Jamie from Lorna – and vice versa. Olivia had never taken no for an answer in any other aspect of her life. Why should she start now?
So was it her fault that the door was already partway opened when Olivia approached? And that, when she heard he was on the phone, she paused just outside of the door, waiting for him to finish. Because it was the polite thing to do.
And then, was she the one who told him to speak loudly enough to be overheard? And very clearly utter the name Lorna? Especially when he was in the middle of planning a secret rendezvous with what had to be a woman. One who didn’t want anyone else to know of their upcoming tryst. One that he had to reassure that he could be discreet – didn’t she know him well enough by now? Morgan would take care of everything and no one would be the wiser.
Except for Olivia, who heard it all. And made a note of where and when they were planning to meet.
And made her own plans, accordingly.
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