“What happened?” Jamie asked Alice after learning from Carl that Chase’s death less than an hour earlier had allowed Rachel to receive a liver transplant, after all. With his mother still in surgery, there wasn’t much Jamie could do for her. So he took advantage of the endless waiting time to pop into Alice’s office to see what else he could find out.
“I’m not certain,” she confessed. “He’s scheduled for an autopsy as soon as possible. We should know more then.”
“I thought he was stable.”
“Stable but critical. You know what means.”
“Awfully convenient, don’t you think?”
Alice warned, “Jamie…”
“My mother needs a liver transplant, and the man Carl wanted dead in the first place – “
She interrupted, “I didn’t see any overt evidence of foul play.”
“As if Carl would leave evidence of any kind.”
“And, as far as I know, he was in the waiting area the whole time that – “
“He’s not known for doing his own dirty work, either.”
“If he did do it,” Alice challenged. “Would you blame him?”
“What?” It was the last thing Jamie ever expected to hear from his stepmother.
“Remember when Lorna was gone? You told me that if you could put a gun to someone’s head, pull the trigger and get your wife back, you weren’t sure you’d be able to resist. Well, Carl was in the same boat. Your mother was dying. She needed a liver before the day was out.”
“She had one,” Jamie spat.
“I beg your pardon?”
“A friend of mine in Chicago was able to make it happen. The organ was on its way. I texted everyone about it.”
Jamie showed Alice the timestamp on his phone. “Was this before or after Chase died?”
She swallowed hard. “Before.”
“There. You see? Carl used my mother’s condition as an excuse to finish the job his hit-man botched in the park. He’s been hiding behind her for years. This is no different.”
Alice hesitated, and then she told Jamie. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Carl might not be the only one with a motive.”
“Oh, come on! Are you saying some disgruntled voter pissed about Chase’s fiscal policies snuck into the hospital and finished him off?”
“No. That’s not what I’m saying.” Alice considered her words carefully before admitting, “Chase’s – well, I guess he’s not his father-in-law, since he and Doug aren’t married, but whatever Eduardo is to Chase – Eduardo was in here earlier, all but demanding that I authorize the removal of the bullet from Chase’s brain.”
Jamie shrugged. “So what? He was concerned. Tell a layman someone has a bullet lodged in their brain and most people would advocate removal. It’s a knee-jerk response. They don’t understand how that could create an even bigger problem.”
“He seemed a bit more than purely concerned. He seemed near-obsessed. I – I accused him of being willing to risk Chase’s life, as long as it helped him obtain evidence that Carl was responsible for the shooting.”
“Oh,” Jamie said. He hadn’t thought of it from that angle. “What did Eduardo say to that?”
“He denied it. Rather vigorously.”
“But you don’t believe him?”
“Your mother is of the opinion that Chase and Eduardo are hounding an innocent man. Whether or not she’s right, the fact is, both of them were determined to see him in prison. You suspect Carl set up the hit on Chase in the park? The bullet would go a long way towards helping to prove it.”
“You think Eduardo would kill his own son’s partner…. His grandchildren’s other father?”
Softly, Alice said, “Is that really so different from Carl kidnapping Lorna? And Rachel going along with it? Desperate people do desperate things. And tell themselves it’s all for the greater good in the end.”
Olivia couldn’t help it. When Iris told her about Dennis changing his will to make Marley the primary beneficiary, she laughed out loud, “Go, Marley! Who would have guessed that mousy little thing had it in her?”
“You almost sound impressed with her.”
“I am! Come on, Iris, think about it. Marley used to be terrified of her own shadow. Anyone from her mother to her sister to pretty much every man she ever knew could jerk her around without fear of repercussion. Marley was so invested in being good and understanding and long-suffering, the rest of us could do anything we wanted and she’d still somehow blame
herself when it all blew up. Good on her for refusing to be the world’s doormat any longer.”
“I’ll pass on your regards,” Iris drawled.
Olivia ventured, “Guess there goes your plan to make Dennis fear for his life.”
“Oh, please, my dear. Marley may have drastically changed since you dealt with her last but, rest assured, I have not. When I set my mind on something, I don’t permit one little misstep to send me into the corner to lick my wounds. If Marley believes she’s placed me in check-mate, she has quite another thing coming.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
Iris smiled. “I don’t recall saying you were excused.”
Olivia threw her hands up in the air. “What do you want me to do, Iris? Marley and Dennis are onto you. They’re onto us.”
“Dennis,” Iris said. “Seems to be having a spot of trouble recognizing the obvious.”
“Oh, come one. You don’t really think Marley is trying to kill him? That thing with the lamp… She’d just found out he was my baby’s father – “
“Your non-existent baby,” Iris corrected, as if Olivia needed a reminder of just what her daughter’s grandmother was holding over Olivia’s head.
“Her hitting him was a heat of the moment thing. And then she used it to yank your chain. Which, if I may say… just quit overreacting to everything connected with Dennis, and people will stop – “
“I will never,” Iris cut her off, putting particular emphasis on the last word. “Stop caring about what happens to my son. I realize that’s a difficult stance for you to understand, seeing as how you abandoned your only child to the whims of Grant Harrison – “
“Oh, I’m sorry, would I have been a better parent if I’d bribed Grant to stay away from Sarah like you and that – what was her name? The gold-digging farm-girl not good enough for Dennis?”
“Molly,” Iris identified through clenched teeth.
“Right. Or I could have hired someone to spy on him and her like you did with the chick who – what was her crime? Oh, right, she lived in a neighborhood you didn’t approve of.”
“Eileen,” Iris provided, tiredly wondering how long people would keep throwing her past in her face while others like oh, say, Carl were whitewashed into newfound heroism.
“Then again, you of all people should understand what I was up against with Sarah and Grant. An impressionable teen-ager falling under the spell of someone more worldly and sophisticated, sexually and otherwise? You know, like Dennis and…”
“Elena.” That last one, Iris had to admit, still smarted. Especially considering she’d once considered the woman her friend.
“Bet all those other options look pretty good now, compared to Marley, huh?” Olivia taunted.
“You look good compared to Marley,” Iris admitted reluctantly.
“Aw, thanks, Iris. You know that means the world to me.”
“How do you think Dennis would feel if I told him that baby of his that you so tragically miscarried, the one you were going to name after Elliot so that Dennis could assuage his guilt over changing his last name – a lovely, poetic touch, by the way, you really do get what makes my son tick – how do you think he would feel if I told him that namesake child never existed, it was all a con? And, worse, not even to land him – but Jamie!”
“Go ahead,” Olivia called Iris’ bluff, fed up with dancing to someone else’s tune. “I already blew whatever chance I might have had with Dennis by letting you rope me into your stupid scheme to make him afraid of Marley.”
Iris’ eyes narrowed. “So you still want one?”
“A second chance with Dennis?”
Olivia hesitated, then honestly admitted, “Yeah. I do. He – he was so sweet when he thought I’d lost the baby. Jamie treated me like crap.”
“Well, he knew the child couldn’t be his.”
“So what? Would it have killed him to at least be decent about it? He was supposed to be my friend! Dennis was supposed to hate me, and he was actually nice.”
“Are you in love with my son?” Iris asked, unsure of how to react, but deeply intrigued about what it could all mean… for her.
“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. But, he’s a good guy. I don’t meet a lot of those.”
“In that case, Olivia, listen and listen closely. I am about to make it possible for all your dreams to come true,” Iris said.
“Hello, Father,” Cory said awkwardly, standing at the door to the hospital’s waiting area, unsure how to proceed further.
Carl raised his head, unable to believe what he was seeing. He actually blinked several times in confusion before hesitantly asking, “Cory? What – what are you doing – “
“My lawyer got me out on a temporary pass to see Mom.” He indicated his leg. “Ankle bracelet. I’m only supposed to go from jail to the hospital and back again.”
“How is she?” Cory ignored his father’s repulsion at his circumstances.
“She’s in surgery. Fighting for her life.”
“May I wait with you?” Cory approached to take a chair next to him.
“Do you intend to pass the time tediously listing my shortcomings as a parent and as a human being?” Carl wondered.
Carl, who’d been expecting more of a response – Cory seemed to have inherited his tendency to never use one word when several were available from his father; it was one of the things Carl found most charming about him – wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He finally said, “It’s good to see you.”
“Elizabeth will be here soon,” Cory said. “I called her from the station.”
“It makes me happy that you and your sister close,” Carl observed. “I confess, I dreamed of siring an enduring dynasty. The House of Hutchins, as it were. Children, grandchildren… Alas,” he sighed. “It is not to be. If only Perry and Ryan and Jenna had lived….”
Cory didn’t respond. Unlike Carl, he often found silence to be even more effective than a flurry of prose. It was one of the things Carl found most frustrating about him.
“I suppose you are of the opinion that I’ve reaped what I’ve sown? Having so many of my children hidden from me, then losing them before we’d truly had the opportunity to wholeheartedly embrace each other?”
Cory still said nothing.
“Or maybe you deem them the lucky ones, spared a Hutchins’ upbringing, and the legacy of having someone like me for pater familias?”
“I love you, Father,” Cory said.
Which threw Carl for an even greater loop than seeing the boy out of jail had.
“Then why?” Carl burst out, unable to finish his thought, overwhelmed by everything that had happened in the past few months, at the end of his rope and desperate for some sort of answer that might aid in making sense of it all.
“Because you taught me that a man should always strive to be better, even when he thinks it impossible.”
“Your mother taught me that,” Carl said. “Rachel made me believe in the impossible. And then she made me become it.”
“Mom wishes I could look at you and see what she sees.”
“There were times when the only way I could look at myself was through her eyes.”
“But, you’re not who she thinks you are, are you?”
“I wish I could be,” Carl disclosed. “With all my might, I wish I could be precisely that. For her sake. She deserves it.”
“Then why aren’t you?” Cory heard his voice crack, realized how juvenile he sounded, but he couldn’t help himself. “Why won’t you be the man Mom thinks you are?”
“Because that man cannot protect your mother. He cannot protect you and your sister, he cannot provide you the sanctuary you deserve. Because being Carl Hutchins’ child, son, means you are forced to have the true Carl Hutchins for a father, if only so that you can live long enough to judge me on the choices I have made. And if you stubbornly refuse to understand that about me, then you will never understand anything at all.”
“Any news on Grandma?” Jasmine wondered, walking up to the hospital’s main entrance to find Kirkland sitting on a bench outside, furiously texting on his cell-phone. She took a seat next to him, kissing Kirkland on the cheek then, when he looked up in surprise, on the lips.
He shook his head. “Dad said the surgery could take hours.”
“Who are you talking to?” Jasmine indicated his phone.
“Oh, this? Sarah. She’s holding the fort down at the restaurant. I’ve got workers coming in today. I’m afraid if no one is there to supervise, they’ll install the industrial fridge in the main dining room or something.”
“It was really nice of you,” Jasmine said. “To give Sarah something to do like this. To keep her mind off Grant.”
“She’s the one doing me a favor. I don’t know how I’d have handled all this if it weren’t for her.”
“You can always ask me,” Jasmine reminded.
“But you want to be here for Grandma, too.”
Jasmine made a face. “Maybe two people who are sleeping together shouldn’t talk so much about how we’ve got a grandmother in common.”
“That rule would break up half the couples in Bay City,” Kirkland teased. “Don’t worry, I’ve checked and rechecked the genealogy charts. We’re cool.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”
“I’d say we’re hot.” Jasmine pulled Kirkland in for another kiss to demonstrate her point.
“You have an awesome way with words,” he deadpanned upon coming up for air.
“Runs in the family,” she laughed.
Kirkland raised his free arm to wrap it around Jasmine’s shoulder, when his phone beeped. He took a quick peek, then withdrew his hand, reaching for the phone.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s Sarah. I told her to call me when the mason got there, I want to make sure we’re on the same page before he starts cutting.”
“No problem,” Jasmine assured, watching placidly as he stood up, pasted the phone to his ear, and walked away from her.
“Alexandra Cory-Fowler,” Amanda repeated for what felt like the umpteenth time, trying to make this pencil pusher at the Oakdale prison understand whom she was looking for. “It’s an emergency. Her grandmother is in the hospital, Allie needs to know.”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the clerk in charge repeated. “But I am not seeing her in the system.”
“She’s been here for months.” Amanda raged. “She’s awaiting trial and she refuses to leave. Alexandra Cory-Fowler. Have you checked under both C and F? Bureaucracy has been getting her name confused since she was in preschool. It’s Cory-Fowler, Alexand – “
“Ah, here we go. Found her!”
“Alexandra Cory-Fowler is no longer at this facility.”
“What?” Amanda instinctively reached for the monitor, trying to flip it around to face her so she could see for herself.
The clerk blocked her from doing so, holding on tightly to the screen.
“Has she been transferred? Why wasn’t I informed?”
“Well, Ms. Cory-Fowler is of age and – “
“I’m her mother.”
“And, anyway, no.”
“No, she was not transferred.”
“There where is she?”
“Ms. Cory-Fowler was released,” the clerk read off the screen.
“Several days ago.”
“I don’t understand. If she was released… why… where did she go?”
“I’m afraid I do not have that information, ma’am,” the clerk said, sounding almost sympathetic.
Which Amanda did not appreciate at all.
Understanding how the hospital worked and how slowly paperwork moved from one department to another, Jamie was able to track Doug down to the morgue, where the experience of losing a loved one was made even more excruciating by the mountains of forms needing to be signed – especially since Chase had been an organ donor.
“Thank you,” Jamie told Doug sincerely. “For what you’ve done for my mother. None of us will ever be able to thank you enough.”
“It wasn’t me,” Doug said, his voice a near-monotone, no longer capable of feeling much of anything. “I’m just following Chase’s wishes. He was very clear on that.”
“I guess I’m surprised.” Jamie took a seat next to him. “Considering his politics….”
“Chase didn’t believe in forced altruism,” Doug snapped, wondering why no one had ever understood that about the man he loved. “He was all about everyone making their own choices. He would never pass a law making organ donation mandatory, but he was a big believer in it for himself. It’s not just your mother, you know. They’re going to be able to use his heart, his kidneys, his corneas… He’s going to help a lot of people.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier for you, does it?”
“Nothing could make this any easier for me.” Doug waved his hand in the general direction of the outside world. “The press has been circulating like vultures ever since it first happened. Have you been reading any of what they’ve written? It’s disgusting. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone is using this to make some point of their own. Gun rights, gun control, gay marriage, anti-gay marriage, flat tax, progressive tax, capitol gains, hell, someone’s even decided this should be considered a hate crime. If they knew anything about Chase – if they gave a damn about him – they’d know how he felt about hate crime legislation. He absolutely rejected the idea that any individual’s death meant more or less due to their race or gender or… anything.
He spent his entire life fighting being labeled or stereotyped, from becoming anyone’s tool, and look what they’ve done to him in death.”
Jamie cleared his throat. He confessed. “I’m sorry, Doug, but I’m afraid I’m here to do the same thing.”
Doug’s eyes narrowed. “What? What the hell do you want?”
Trying to be as quick as possible to keep from adding to Doug’s inescapable pain, Jamie outlined Alice’s suspicions regarding Eduardo’s possible role in Chase’s death.
“No,” Doug shook his head vehemently, not even pausing to consider the possibility. “No, my father would never, ever do something like this.”
“Getting Carl into prison – “
“Does not mean more to him than I do,” Doug insisted.
“Now that Chase is dead, the police will be able to extricate the bullet – “
“They would have done so eventually, anyway. As soon as he was strong enough for the surgery.”
“By then Carl’s trail might have grown cold. Eduardo may not have been willing to wait.”
“No,” Doug repeated. “If someone was in a hurry to retrieve that bullet, it was not my father.”
“Who, then?” Jamie asked gently.
“I…” Doug was visibly scrambling for an alternative, when a light-bulb visibly went off in his head and he blurted out, “Frankie! Cass and Frankie Winthrop!”
“Cass and Frankie?” Jamie nearly recoiled in surprise. “Why would Cass and Frankie – “
“Because my father hired them to prove that Carl is behind Chase’s shooting. He even offered Cass extra incentive: Bring him the evidence necessary to convict Carl, and my father would see to it that Cass was readmitted to the bar.” Sensing that Jamie remained unconvinced only made Doug grow more feverish with certainty. “And then, right after that, Frankie – she was here. She was here, pretending to be sympathetic, but she was really urging me to demand the surgery to get the bullet out. She and Cass were the ones in a hurry. She and Cass were the ones who wouldn’t give a damn if Chase lived or died, as long as it got them what they needed.”
“I don’t know,” Jamie hedged. “That seems like an awful stretch….”
“Since when?” Doug demanded. “Since when, Jamie, do you, of all people, have a hard time believing that Cass Winthrop could commit a crime… and not give a damn whom he destroyed in the process?”
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