“Any news?” Kirkland anxiously asked Sarah as soon as she hung up the phone with the BCPD. They, along with Marley, had been waiting all night for an update about Dennis and Daisy’s disappearance.
Sarah shook her head. “The police questioned Donna. She said they seemed fine when they left the Cory house. She has no idea where they might have gone.”
“Of course, she’d say that,” Marley fumed. “Self-centeredness has been my mother’s modus operandi for as long as I’ve know her.”
“Any word from Dad?” Sarah asked desperately, indicating Marley’s cell phone with a tilt of her chin.
“I’d have told you if there was, sweetheart. I’ve had it on the whole time.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Kirkland sputtered impotently, feeling completely helpless and needing to express it in some way. “People don’t just disappear off the face of the Earth!”
“They do when someone makes them disappear,” Marley said.
“Who?” Sarah demanded. “Who would want Dad… and Daisy?”
“Donna’s never been thrilled about my relationship with Dennis. And she was the last one to see them.”
“Come on, Aunt Marley, Grandmother wouldn’t….”
“She had her own daughter kidnapped,” Marley reminded grimly. “She had Jenna, Dean and Felicia locked up for weeks.”
“But that… that was different. She was afraid of Carl.”
“Carl!” Sarah grasped onto the name. “He kidnapped Lorna, Cory and Elizabeth. Maybe he…”
“What would Carl want with Dennis or Daisy?” Kirkland asked reasonably.
“Besides, Carl’s in prison.” Marley waved vaguely in the direction of the TV. “He turned himself in the other day for Chase Hamilton’s murder.”
“Let’s not get carried away,” Kirkland urged Sarah, reaching over awkwardly to squeeze her shoulder in a gesture that started out as an attempt at a hug, then got scared at the last minute. “It’s possible their car just broke down in some secluded area without cell service. Dennis wouldn’t have wanted to walk to a gas station with Daisy in the middle of the night. He probably just decided to wait until morning, and we’ll hear from them any minute.”
“The police have been searching the back roads,” Sarah reminded. “They haven’t come up with anything.”
“They can’t search them all. This isn’t a top priority for them. It’s not like Daisy’s alone. She’s got her grandfather. He’ll protect her.”
“I think you’re confusing my dad with yours,” Sarah snapped, jerking away from Kirkland’s attempt at comfort. “My dad couldn’t take care of a package!”
“That’s not true!” Marley interrupted. “Dennis has taken wonderful care of me since we’ve been together. He’s changed. He’s grown up a great deal.”
“Is that a fact?” Sarah whipped around, suddenly furious for no reason that Marley could discern.
“Y-Yes, sweetheart, he has. Daisy is in good hands with him.”
“Did you set this up?” Sarah demanded. “The two of you?”
“Set what up?”
“Did Dad take off with my daughter so that you could finally have Daisy all to yourself?”
“Come on, Sarah,” Kirkland pleaded. “Don’t….”
“It’s okay,” Marley held off her nephew’s instinctive defense with a sympathetic shake of the head. “It’s alright. Sarah is upset. She has every right to be. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”
“You’ve tried to take my baby from me before.”
“Actually, you left her with me. Remember?”
“Only because you were messing with my head, making me think I wasn’t good enough to take care of her, to be her mother. You never thought I deserved Daisy. You always thought she should have been yours.”
“And that’s only the beginning of it.” Iris materialized in the doorway. Sarah had left the front door unlocked, just in case Dennis and Daisy unexpectedly turned up and no one was around to hear them knock or ring. It was desperate to be sure, but it made Sarah feel like at least she was doing something to bring her daughter home. Iris asked Sarah, “Did you know that Marley also tried to kill your father?”
“Jamie,” Rachel muttered sleepily, fighting the effects of the drugs she’d been given in a valiant struggle to pry open her heavy and painful eyelids.
“It’s not Jamie, Mom. It’s Matt.” He helped his mother to raise her head and take a drink of the water he offered her from a straw.
She sipped gratefully, then fell back onto the pillows, gasping from the exertion, but at least managing to keep her head from spinning to the point of unconsciousness.
“How are you feeling?”
“Awful,” she admitted, her throat raw due to the multiple tubes doctors had intubated during surgery.
Matt offered her some more water, wincing at the sound of Rachel painfully swallowing it.
“Where is… everyone?”
“Jamie, Amanda and I have been taking turns staying with you,” Matt said. “And Cory and Elizabeth, too. Great news, Mom – Cory was let out of jail!”
“Well, no, he’s on an ankle bracelet. But, he asked for it himself. That’s good news, isn’t it? I mean, before he was stubbornly insisting on staying inside. But, he asked to be let out when you were hurt, so he could see you. Maybe he won’t want to go back in once this is all over. Maybe he’ll agree to fight the charges, won’t that be great?”
Rachel smiled weakly. “Thank you for looking on the bright side, darling.”
“Mom. I – I have some bad news, too. Carl – Carl’s in jail.”
“I know,” Rachel said.
“Yes. He came to see me before he turned himself in. He told me everything.”
“I know that Carl killed Chase in order to save my life.”
“Oh.” Matt struggled for just the right way to frame his next question. “And you’re… okay with that?”
“Of course not,” Rachel snapped. “Do you think I’m happy knowing that a man had to die in order for me to live?”
“No. No, of course not. I didn’t mean – “
“But, I can’t blame Carl for what he did, either. Who knows, I might have done the exact same thing if our positions were reversed. He’s not running away from it, either. He is taking full responsibility for his actions. I didn’t ask him to do that. He made the choice on his own. Now do you see, Matt? Do you see what a good man he is? What a good man he has always been? Carl will do anything for me. Anything. He risked spending the rest of his life in jail so that he could save mine.” Tears rolled down Rachel’s cheeks. “Chase isn’t the only one who gave up his life for me. Carl did, too.”
“Allie?” GQ did a double-take when he caught sight of her on the BCU campus, grabbing Allie by the arm, turning her around. “What – what are you doing here? I thought you were – “
“I’m out,” Allie said. “My lawyer got the charges dropped.”
“That’s great! That’s terrific!”
“Yeah. Zeno said from the start those people had no business being on his land, and we had every right to defend ourselves. Court finally agreed with him.”
“What are you doing back on campus?”
“Oh. I’m taking some classes.”
“I thought you graduated last year?”
“I did. And, this year, I saw how totally useless my degree in English is. Between what happened with Zeno and some of the people I met when I was in jail – most everybody there was guilty; but, like me, they had reasons for what they did and they deserve to have those reasons heard. I thought I’d take some classes in law. Then, if it turns out I’m good at it, maybe I’ll go on, apply to law school, become a lawyer. Actually be able to help people.”
“That’s – wow – I’m happy for you, Allie. Sounds like you finally found something you can be passionate about.”
“It’s thanks to Zeno,” Allie said. “Before him, all I thought about was myself.”
“That’s not true. You thought about Hudson, I know you did. You gave him up because you thought it would be best for him.”
Allie shook her head in disbelief. “Did we just switch sides on this argument?”
“Maybe we’ve both just grown up a little. I know I have.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ve got to go.”
“Wait,” GQ reached out for Allie again, grabbing her by the hand, noticing, for the first time, the gold band newly encircling her finger. He stopped short.
Allie followed his eyes downward, then boldly met his head on; defiant, proud, and just a little bit spiteful. “Zeno and I got married,” she told him.
“My daughter is missing?” Grant raged, looking like he might destroy his motel room with his bare hands in light of Lila’s news.
“Do you know anything about it?” she wondered.
That brought him up short. “What the hell does that mean?” Grant spun around to face her.
Lila didn’t so much as flinch in the face of his fury. “I mean,” she repeated, this time with more emphasis on the pronouns. “Do you know anything about it?”
“Why the hell would I?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you, Grant, to change up your plan just the tiniest bit. Instead of taking off for parts unknown all by your lonesome – “
“You think I’d snatch Daisy to come with me?” he demanded in disbelief.
“Grant Harrison 101,” Lila told him coolly, noting that he had yet to deny her accusation.
“Jesus Christ, Lila, I thought you knew me better than that.”
“I know you very, very well,” was all she’d say in reply.
“I did all this to protect to Daisy.”
“No. You did it to protect Sarah. That’s what you said, anyway. And I know how your mind works. A couple of weeks of going stir-crazy, stewing in your own self-inflicted nobility, and you start looking around for a scapegoat to blame for your misery. I can easily see you convincing yourself that this is all Sarah’s fault. Why did she have to be so young? Why did she force you to leave her?”
“Well… maybe… once upon a time.”
“Leopards don’t change their spots that easily. And once you’d decided Sarah was to blame for your current pathetic state, I can also see you figuring she deserved to lose Daisy, as a penance of sorts. After all, she tricked you into fathering that little girl in the first place. Only fair that you should end up being the one to raise her. Serve Sarah right, it would.”
“I’m not like that anymore,” Grant swore, no longer furious at Lila for articulating the possibility, just desperate for her to believe him. “You’re right, I might have felt that way once. But not anymore. Not with Sarah. I would never, ever hurt her like that. Damn it, Lila, I’m not Carl. I wouldn’t leave the woman I love to think her child was dead!”
“Swear on Daisy – and Kirkland’s – lives that you had nothing to do with this.”
“Damn,” Lila said.
“You’re disappointed that I’m not as evil as you suspected?” Grant asked, genuinely hurt.
Lila shook her head and sunk to sit down on the motel room bed. “At least if you had Daisy, she’d be safe.”
Grant saw her point, and it filled him with dread. “This way…”
“We have no idea where she is.”
“But you said she was with Dennis. So it’s not like she was snatched by some maniac off the street.”
“We don’t know anything,” Lila told him dully.
“You have to find out,” Grant urged. “Lila, please, you have to find out what’s happened to my daughter. I can’t go anywhere until that’s settled.”
“How about to Sarah’s?” Lila challenged. “You think maybe you could go over to your daughter’s mother and help keep her from losing her mind? You think you could act like a man for a change and be there for her now?”
“Another dead end?” Jamie sighed, frustrated, as he, Lorna, Cass and Frankie sat by the Winthrops’ pool, Devon, Zee and Lori Ann splashing around in the shallow end, Jamie and Lorna being filled in regarding Cass and Frankie’s latest escapade, which culminated with a strangled body, and no clues that might connect Carl to the hit on Chase.
“We called the police,” Cass said, “And Toni promised to keep me in the loop if they find anything of interest – unofficially, of course. I’ve got to tell you, she’s as pissed off with Carl by this point as we are. He waltzed into her precinct, insisted he committed a murder her own investigators tell her wasn’t a murder. She’d like to let him go, but she’s afraid of what he might to do next, so she’s honoring his request – no, it was more of a demand – to keep him locked up. She thinks maybe she can keep a better eye on him that way, but she’s not betting on it.”
“What I don’t understand,” Frankie kept her voice low as not to be overheard by the kids. “Is what’s in this for Carl? Why is he so determined to be tried for killing Chase?”
“Double jeopardy,” Lorna blurted, saying the words the instant the thought occurred to her.
Cass cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
“If Carl is tried and found guilty of killing Chase as he lay in the hospital, he won’t be tried for setting up the hit that put Chase there in the first place.” She turned to Cass in triumph, wondering what he thought of her conjecture.
“That’s not how it works,” Cass corrected. “Double jeopardy only applies in a specific instance. It’s not like you can be convicted for killing your husband then, years later, find out he’s still alive, actually kill him this time, and get off Scott-free. Don’t get your legal facts from Ashley Judd movies.”
“I’m not,” Lorna actually smiled at that. “And it’s not what I meant. I’m just looking at this from Carl’s point of view. Let’s assume he actually does force this case to go to trial. He’s a very sympathetic defendant. Overwrought with grief and worry, he killed a half-dead man in order to save his wife’s life. What jury wouldn’t be able to understand that?”
“Still doesn’t mean they’d automatically acquit,” Jamie nodded. “Empathy isn’t the same as complete disregard of the law. If everyone went around doing what Carl claims he did, what’s to stop the next grieving spouse from knocking off random people who just happen to be a genetic match for whatever donor they need?”
“Exactly. So the jury sympathizes – up to a point. They still vote to convict, then offer up a virtual slap on the wrist. Carl goes to jail, serves his time like the martyr he believes himself to be. Wins plenty of Brownie points with Rachel – “
“Oh, I think he’s already got a lifetime supply, there.”
Lorna asked Cass. “Assuming Carl is convicted of Chase’s murder under the conditions I just described, how hard would the DA’s office continue looking for who it was that set up the hit on him in the first place?”
Cass winced and admitted, “Not very hard. They’d consider the case closed.”
“And public opinion would be on their side, wouldn’t it?”
“Probably,” Jamie said. “Especially after Carl gets on the stand and goes on and on about how he’s the true victim here, but that he’s willing to,” Jamie dropped into a faux-British accent. “Endure any hardship, suffer any penalty, climb every mountain, damn every stream, what have you, as long as the pure and blameless love of my life remains hearty and whole.”
“You do an excellent Carl,” Frankie complimented.
“Thank you,” Jamie said wearily. “I’ve had decades of practice listening to his crap.”
“You have a point,” Cass mused. “Carl may be copping to the lower, more defensible charge in order to avoid – “
“Murder for hire,” Lorna said decisively. “That’s what it was. Murder for hire.”
“The penalty for that is much stiffer,” Cass agreed. “On the other hand, with what happened over Rachel, he might even be able to plea it down.”
“And there it is,” Jamie said triumphantly, looking to his wife with both pride and awe. “There’s the missing piece we’ve all been trying to figure out.”
“Shame that figuring it out doesn’t leave us with anything to do about it,” Lorna mused. “I mean, we can push to see that Carl gets the maximum penalty for the crime he admits to committing but, like Cass said, if he decides to cop a plea, we’re screwed.”
“Hate crime.” Now Jamie was the one blurting out the first thought that came to his head before fully thinking it through.
“Something that Doug said to me. He said that everyone was trying to politicize Chase’s death. That there was a faction who wanted it to be declared a hate crime. That Chase would have hated it. He was bitterly against that sort of legislation. He would have been the first to fight claims of his death deserving harsher penalties just because he was gay.”
“What are you saying, Jamie?” Frankie suddenly felt completely lost.
He turned to look at her and Cass. “Carl was a homophobe.”
The couple exchanged looks.
Jamie went on. “Was Carl or was Carl not opposed to Charlie’s relationship with Elizabeth?”
“Well, yes, he was,” Frankie said. “But, frankly, it was because he thought our daughter was way beneath his, and that Elizabeth could do a lot better. Homophobia had nothing to do with it. In all honesty, Jamie, your mother was much more resistant to the relationship on those grounds than Carl.”
“He’s a snob,” Lorna agreed. “Not a bigot. Carl is happy to exploit and destroy anyone of any race, religion, gender or sexual preference. He’s quite egalitarian in that respect.”
“What if we can prove otherwise?” Jamie challenged. “Carl didn’t have Chase killed because the man wanted to put him in jail. And he didn’t do it for Mom. He did it because he couldn’t stand to live in a town with an openly gay Mayor.”
“This is Chase’s second term in office,” Cass reminded. “Where was Carl’s homophobia then?”
“Well, he was “dead” for a good part of it. And, besides, Elizabeth only came out recently, that’s what triggered him. Carl had a whole hospital of people at his disposal who could have served as my mother’s liver donors. I would be happy to generate a list. And yet, whom did he choose to murder? The gay man.”
Cass let out a low whistle, impressed in spite of himself.
“If Carl is charged with a hate crime, we’re talking a whole different ballgame, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we are,” Cass agreed. “But, proving it….”
“You can testify,” Jamie said. “You, Frankie, Charlie, maybe even Elizabeth.”
“No!” Lorna spoke up. “Elizabeth would never – “
“For Cory,” Jamie noted. “If putting Carl behind bars saves Cory, Elizabeth… might.”
“I don’t know if Charlie…” Frankie began, when her words were cut off by the trill of Cass’ cell-phone.
He reached for it and read the message, brows furrowed.
“What is it?” Frankie looked over his shoulder.
“It’s Toni,” Cass said slowly, looking up to deliver the rest of the news. “That body we found? It wasn’t the guy we were looking for, after all….”
“What?” Sarah asked tiredly, so used to her grandmother’s tirades that she barely even heard them anymore.
“Marley tried to kill your father.” Iris stepped boldly into the room. “Did you know that?”
“What does it have to do with anything?” Kirkland wondered, even as Marley’s pissed roll of the eyes dismissed Iris’ charges out of hand.
“Sarah, darling,” Iris attempted to gather the girl in her arms, but her attempt at comfort went no further than Kirkland’s. “You think Marley schemed with your father to steal Daisy from you? No, darling, no. Dennis would never, ever hurt you in such a manner.”
“Thank you!” Marley snapped.
“He would have never gone along with Marley’s plan to appropriate your precious child for herself. That’s why,” Iris turned to Marley. “She had to get rid of him, first.”
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