“Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this in the hall,” Frank stated as they approached Kerstin’s apartment door. He took a moment to glance at the door to his own apartment; he hoped that it would remain closed. “So, you gals head in and I’ll be over in a minute. I, uh, I’ve just gotta feed my cat.”
He heard Leticia continue as they turned in to Kerstin’s apartment, “he said that the room was messed up like as if he’d been dragged out of it.”
“Really?” Kerstin said, “and this happened while…” The rest of her sentence was muffled by the heavy door that had swung closed between them.
As if on cue his own door swung open and his brother leaned out of it. His shoulder was hooked on the door frame and he was grinning like a fool, “they’re hot,” he said, “which one is yours?”
“The red… never mind, it doesn’t matter. Get inside.” Frank shooed his brother toward the interior of his apartment.
“It most certainly does matter,” Nathan said by way of protest. He was walking backward, facing Frank and had a cheeky smirk on his face, “because that would make the other one fair game.”
Frank shook his head slightly. “Okay, remember you said that when you never, ever meet either one of them.”
“Are… are you serious? You are serious, aren’t you?” Now it was Nathan’s turn to shake his head, “wow, you’ve changed, bro.”
“I certainly hope so,” Frank said as he picked up a stack of envelops and began absently shuffling through them. “So, how long are you staying?” He stopped and looked at his younger brother; his expression flat, he said, “and by staying I mean not here, and by how long I mean not very.”
“Harsh,” Nathan replied, “Brendo said that you’d probably act like a dick. I get it, I did you wrong, but man, that was two years ago. Where’s the love for your long lost brother?”
Frank chuckled, “the love, huh? Well, how about the love my long lost brother showed me when he… no, you know what, screw it. I’m not rehashing that old shit with you, Nathan. Now, are you going to leave or am I going to throw you out?”
Olivia was standing alone in her father’s office, looking down at the file folder with the signed documents that gave her father – or more accurately, perhaps, her mother, since it was her money that Oliver Jordan had used – the ownership of the Waterford family’s debt. The debt that he’d planned to use to crush the Waterford family.
“You weren’t wrong,” Harry Custone said from the doorway as he eased past the threshold.
“About what,” she asked.
“About there being no better time.”
She nodded, “I know.” She exhaled sharply, “but what can I do to change my mother’s mind?”
“Nothing,” Harry said as he laid a hand on her shoulder, “who said you had to change her mind?”
Olivia turned to look at him and smirked, “you want me to go against my own mother?”
Harry shrugged slightly, “she doesn’t even know that your father bought the debt with her money, how would it be going against her?”
“Fair point,” she said, “but how am I going to get the debt out of my mother’s name? I can’t do anything without her signature.”
Harry leaned forward slid a pad of paper across the table, “how do you suppose your father got your mother’s name on those documents in the first place?” His hand flourished across the page, leaving in its wake a perfect rendition of “Constance M. Jordan”.
Olivia quirked an eyebrow, “father never will.”
Harry shook his head, “no, he won’t.” He turned and leaned against the large desk. “That’s why you have to. For him.” He paused, “for your family… for us.” He leaned forward and kissed her.
Trevor instinctively dropped to his belly when he heard the door rattle. He held his breath and froze. When after a moment the door didn’t open he hazarded to push himself up off the floor and peer over the lip of the great wooden desk. The pile of papers through which he had been fingering had resettled themselves and thus he’d lost his place, “Christ,” he muttered to himself.
He continued to glance furtively at the noisy door as he returned his attention to the stack of papers on Richard McKinelle’s desk. Why he didn’t just carry the stack of papers out of the study and into another room of the expansive mansion he didn’t know. Well, actually, he did know; the one time that he’d tried to move a single book that had belonged to the old man he had been read the riot act by one of the more uppity members of the household staff.
But now it was crunch time. He needed the answers that were, hopefully, somewhere in the stack of pages in front of him. Weston was on his case about the money he owed and while he’d considered just fleecing the young widow of enough money to cover his debts, he was sure that there was more to be had if he just found the right God damned piece of paper.
“Come on you old bastard,” he whispered, “there’s got to be something in here. There’s no way that you screwed your kids over in favour of that bitch.”
The door rattled again and Trevor slunk to his knees, leaving his finger to hold his place in the stack.
“God damned old drafty-ass house,” he breathed when again the door made no attempts to open.
As he pushed himself up off the floor the swivel chair that he used to brace himself turned suddenly and he lost his balance. The finger that had been holding his place in the stack of pages now served to fling the stack and the one beside it off the desk in an avalanche of paper.
“Motherfu…” he said but the words caught in his through.
He bent at the waist and regarded a page that had come to rest against his left foot, “well, hello there,” he said smiling down at the piece of paper that was the key to his future.
“Still nothing, it just goes straight to voicemail,” Kerstin said as she pulled the phone away from her ear.
“That’s not good,” Leticia replied.
“No kidding,” Kerstin said.
“No, I mean, do you remember the last time Sarah disappeared for a few days? She turned up again with Oswald, in the first place, with some crazy story that he was a magazine editor who she’d met in Paris.”
“I didn’t… what? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? Obviously you forget where the story goes from there,” Leticia said. “Kerstin I’m worried.”
“Yeah,” Kerstin said, “but what can Oswald really do? He’s been in the hospital for more than a month with burns on his face.”
“That’s what worries me,” Leticia said, “you know how Oswald is with… with appearance.”
Kerstin winced, “okay, yeah, now I’m worried too.”
“There’s no need to be rude,” Nathan said holding up his hands. “I just thought I’d drop in on you, bro, and we’d maybe mix it up like old times. No big if you’re not up for it, I get it, you’re reformed.”
Frank chuckled, “whatever Nathan.” He sighed, “it is good to see you. But I can’t be dragged back into that shit. I’ve got something here that feels real.”
A smile peeled across Nathan’s face and he laughed out loud, “it feels real? Huh? Tell me again what drew you to this place, to this girl of yours that’s so real?” Frank’s jaw clenched as his brother paused, “was it the ocean vistas, was it her beautiful eyes? Nah, that’s not what turns Franky’s head, is it, bro?” Now Nathan took a step toward him for emphasis, his finger pointing accusatorily in the air, “it was a job and it was a fist full of cash. That’s real, bro. I know you. I know you as well as I know myself. We’re the same, you and me. Nah, you tell yourself what you got feels real but that’s just what you say when you know there’s an angle left to work.”
“Fuck you,” Frank said.
He shook his head and waved his hand in the air, “whatever, brother, you do what you want. I’m gone.”
Nathan leaned down and grabbed his shoulder bag from the couch and headed toward the door, “wait,” Frank said as Nathan stumped across the room, “why did you come here?”
“What the fuck do you even care?” Nathan said pronouncing the words as if each was its own sentence.
Frank sighed loudly, “shut up asshole and answer the question.”
Nathan shrugged, “I… I just wanted to hang, y’know, bro it up a bit. And Bren said you were up here.”
Frank shook his head and gestured his brother back into the room, “you’re not the only one who knows us both pretty good so how about you tell me the truth?”
Frank looked at Nathan standing there, just inside the entrance to his living room, his bag slung over his shoulder, and was suddenly overcome by the memory of his younger self staring into a mirror fifteen years before. When Nathan didn’t speak for a moment Frank proffered, “Dad?”
“Fuck him man,” Nathan replied.
“Yeah, fuck him,” Frank agreed, “come on, you can put your stuff in my room.”
“You think I should switch hotels?”
“No,” Kerstin said, “I think you should come and stay with me.”
“Is this guy really that dangerous?” Frank asked as he sat beside Kerstin on the couch.
“Yes,” she said plainly. “How was your cat?”
“Huh? Oh, good. Hungry,” he added. Truth was, he’d forgotten to feed the cat at all. He hoped that Nathan would think of it if the cat meowed loud enough.
“So I don’t think it’s safe for Leticia to be out at the Greenstone while Oswald is lurking somewhere around town.”
“You only have one bedroom,” Leticia observed. “I… I can’t… you know, the two of you…”
Kerstin looked up at Frank, “oh, don’t worry about that, then… you can just stay in Frank’s apartment. He almost never sleeps there anyhow,” she grinned and kissed him on the cheek. He felt him face redden; not entirely from blushing.
“Yeah, uh… well, that’s not exactly going to work,” he said.
“Why?” Kerstin said with a broad smile on her face, “what’ve you got over there that you’re afraid Leticia will find?”
“God damn that feels good,” he moaned. “Yeah, keep doing that… just… like… that.”
He looked down at the top of her blonde head and smiled. His head rolled back a little bit and his mouth slackened, “so, I found something today,” he said.
“No, don’t stop,” he added.
“I was digging through the old bastard’s office and… I don’t know what to Christ it was… the wind or someone opening windows or doors or something but that son of a bitch of a door wouldn’t quit rattling. I thought it was her at the door again… God she’s getting on my nerves.” He let out a small grunt as his fist tightened in her tangled hair.
“Anyway, I jerked when the door rattled and flung shit all over the room but, wouldn’t you know, one piece of paper landed right on my foot.” He grinned to himself.
“It seems that the old bastard’s will… the one that the bitch has been using to fuck over the McKinelles, is missing some very overseas investments that, obviously, she didn’t know about.” He tugged at her hair and drew her head back so she could look him in the eye, “do you know what that means?”
“That it’s a fake?”
He smiled and nodded, “exactly.” He released her head and slid his elbow out from under himself; he fell fully back on the bed as he stared at the ornate ceiling. “It’s a fake, and she didn’t know about this money.” He moaned again as she went back to her work. “I mean, obviously McKinelle wouldn’t have missed it. He was a fucking investment banker or something for a hundred years for Christ sake. Oh Jesus, if you keep that up I’m gonna…” he exhaled sharply.
“I mean, the old bastard might have been slipping at the end from the cancer, but sure as shit he knew where every penny of his money was,” Trevor stated, “but here we are”, he lifted the page from where it laid on the bed alongside his head, “everything I need to get what I want from the stupid bitch.”
“Oh yes.” He said, then, “oh fuck, yes! Yes!”
“Hang on,” Kerstin said as she dashed toward the phone. “Hello,” she said as she put the receiver to her ear and headed down the hall.
“I don’t know,” Leticia said, “it’s really hard to say. He’s… unstable. There’s no telling where he is, or why he disappeared from the hospital.” She shook her head, “I’m worried that he could be out for revenge.”
“Yeah, because that’s where he got scarred.”
“Did you tell Kerstin?”
“But she obviously knows that Oswald was caught in the fire,” Frank added.
“Yeah but she doesn’t know anything about me being part of it, and I don’t want her to… she’s coming back.” Leticia said as Kerstin re-entered the room, “what was the call?”
“Uh, that was… it was Lynda,” she said.
“Yeah,” Kerstin said, “she said that Tish is on a rampage at Red Terrace. I guess Lynda said something about me working at Waterford and Tish lost it on her, and then on the staff. She smashed great grandmother’s china and threw a silver cloche through the round dining room window.”
“Psycho,” Leticia breathed.
“This town seems to have more than its fair share of them,” Frank added.
“You’re telling me, I’ve been trying to get you alone every day since you got back from… wherever the fuck you were.”
“Singapore, and you know I don’t care for that language,” she said as she traced her fingers down his chest.
“That’s the way we talk in Massachusetts, babe,” he said as he stretched to kiss her on the forehead.
“I don’t think I’m going back.”
“To Singapore,” she said, “I don’t think I’m going back. Being back here, being at the estate… I missed it.”
“Uh huh,” he said, “plus it’s hard to destroy the Waterfords from Southeast Asia.”
Olivia chuckled slightly, “it will be more satisfying to be able to see the look in their eyes as I snap a big chain on the gates to Red Terrace, yes, but it would be just as easy to do from around the world. They’re no match for the Jordan family.”
“They beat your father,” Harry reminded her.
She pushed up from the bed and scowled at him, “that was Charles Taylor and he’s dead. Dead! And there’s nothing that he can do to stop me from finally ruining the Waterfords and putting the Jordan family name on top!”
Harry quirked an eyebrow, “it’s lucky that he didn’t survive the fire, then.”
“I guess you could call it luck.”
“You think this is a good idea.” She said shaking her head, “I am certain that it’s not.”
“It makes the most sense, really, if you think about it,” he retorted.
“No, it doesn’t, not even a little bit. I have thought about it, almost every day of my life, actually.”
“Oh come on, you weren’t thinking about it when you were four years old.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“It won’t be that bad, I promise.”
“There is absolutely no way that you can keep that promise,” she chided.
“Yes there is,” he replied.
“How exactly? How are you going to make this not the worst experience of my life?”
“We’ll be doing it together.”
“Okay, that could work,” she admitted.
“See, it won’t be so bad.”
“No, it will still be so bad… it’s just that knowing that you’re suffering too will lift my spirits.”
“Wow,” he said after a moment of pause.
“That’s what moving back to Red Terrace does to me. Be warned,” Kerstin said shaking her head as the car turned into the long treed driveway of her childhood home.
“I know who it is, who else would be calling me from my own number?” Frank replied, “now why are you calling me?”
“I just wanted to say nice digs, bro.”
“Nathan I am kind of in the middle of something right now.”
“Oh shit, yeah, the deal with your girl’s family. Sorry, man, I didn’t mean to interrupt your game.”
Frank’s jaw clenched, “it’s not… okay, Nathan. I will be back later and we can…”
“What the fuck!”
“Nathan? What’s going on? Are you okay?” Frank said, his voice rising slightly more than he’d wanted.
“Dude,” the younger man said, “you’ve got a cat?”
“I hope we’re not going to have a problem.”
Kerstin turned around to face Marcus LeBrandt. She had been standing quietly in the upstairs hallway outside her father’s study thinking about how much she wanted to barge in on him in the midst of some or another task. She half-smiled thinking about the way that he would struggle to be stern with her when she’d interrupted him. She quirked an eyebrow at Marcus, “I can’t imagine we having a problem at all,” she said.
“Good,” he replied.
She chuckled, “I don’t think you get it.” She continued, “we won’t have a problem, but you might.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Exactly what it sounds like,” she said. “I don’t have any idea why my father didn’t expose you as soon as he found out about what you tried to do to this family. I don’t have any idea why he let you marry my sister. But he did and now it’s done. But don’t think that because my father… that just because he can’t stop you that you can’t be stopped.”
He drew himself up slightly and rolled his shoulders, “I don’t need to be stopped,” he said as he cracked the joints in his neck. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “just wait and see; I already have what Oliver Jordan promised me in the first place.”
“And just what is that?”
“Your father’s job.”
Leticia McKinelle was standing on the east terrace of Red Terrace. This terrace, like all the others, was not actually red as in the name of the famous estate, but rather it was built of white-gray granite interlinking blocks that were bordered by one of the many short red brick retaining walls that created the terracing effect for which the property was named.
Across from the terrace, tucked into a little alcove on the southern edge of the east garden, in a clearing of trees and behind the now-drained pool, was the flat bare slab that once held the pool house. The ruins of the building had been removed so that without her memories she might have thought the plain slab of concrete all that had ever been in that place.
The trees that had been scorched by the fire were meticulously trimmed and tended such that there was no sign of the damage the licking flames had caused. The lawn, too, had been seamlessly repaired where the emergency vehicles had crossed it to get nearer the blaze and its victims.
She frowned and chuckled ruefully as her memory failed her when she attempted to recall the structure in its place. Had the frieze and the architrave that rested on the classic Ionic columns been the same colour? She couldn’t remember. She blinked twice in quick succession as she felt tears threaten the corner of her eyes.
“I thought I might find you out here,” Frank said from the doorway behind her. “They’ve moved to the sitting room,” he added as he stepped out into the evening air to stand beside her.
She glanced at him quickly and forced herself to smile in acknowledgement. “Okay,” she said finally.
“A hell of a thing, huh?” He said. “I mean, what a tragedy. Did you notice the way that Kerstin kept looking at her father’s chair at dinner? I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to make it through… hey… it’s cold out here. Are you cold?” He said as he reached out and wrapped his arm around her.
She pulled away immediately, “don’t.”
“Leticia?” He asked. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
“The fire…” she said, “I… I think it was my fault.”
Kerstin was sitting in the big blue leather armchair with the decorative brass tacks that traced the front of the arms. Her index finger absently traced back and forth over a seam that ran across the arm. Her legs were crossed, as was her custom when possible, and she watched the door of the room for any sign that Leticia and Frank were going to join them.
“You are so ridiculous,” Tish said to her as she walked by. “Why must you cart that horrible chair all over the house?”
“It’s the one I like,” she replied, “and it’s not like I expect you to carry it.”
“I’m going to throw it away in the morning.”
“I dare you to try.”
“Girls, that’s enough,” Ophelia Waterford said as she walked into the room with her mother following close behind. “Mother, I’m not sure what you hope to accomplish tonight with just the family here,” she added as she helped the elder woman into a red and white striped wingback chair.
“Yeah, Granny,” Tish added, “we’ve got to have at least two of the non-principles,” a term Kerstin knew was used to describe members of the Board of Directors of Waterford Holdings who were not themselves Waterfords, “to make a quorum.”
Eileen Waterford pawed at the air in order to dismiss the qualms of the two women, “sit down,” she instructed. “We may not be able to make anything official,” she said, “but the time has come for the board to make a decision.”
The decision, Kerstin knew, was to name a permanent – or at the very least semi-permanent – replacement for her rather as the head of Waterford Holdings and Waterford Developments, its primary subsidiary. Kerstin watched Marcus enter the room and move to stand behind the chair in which sat his wife. He glanced at her and smirked for the briefest moment before turning his attention to the family matriarch. “We can, at least, come to the board with a unified family position,” he said, “and any bickering,” he paused, “we can get out of the way now.”
As the last of her family entered the room, and Leticia and Frank were absent, Kerstin felt quite alone. Amongst her family she was the only one who had taken almost no interest in the family business. She hadn’t attended a board meeting since childhood and in those days she was more involved with playing dolly under the great mahogany table than listening to the goings on above it.
It made her feel foolish when she proffered, “why can’t you do it Granny?”
“What,” Anders said emphatically with a drawn out pause and pointed enunciation, “are you talking about? Do you think she could do site visits? To say nothing of scouting new development locations after the plans that are already in the works are finished.” He shook his head, “I don’t even know why you’re here,” he said more quietly.
Kerstin’s mouth hung open for a moment before she clamped it shut.
“You started the fire?”
Leticia wiped the corner of her eye with the back of her finger, “no,” she said, “not exactly.”
“Then I don’t understand,” Frank said.
“Oswald,” she began, “my ex-husband and I were in the pool house when the fire started. We were having an argument about… about…” she couldn’t tell him the details of Oswald’s lab and the other fire, “him coming here, following me to Emerald Heights, and now he’s involved with Sarah. And he turned all the Prices against me. I just…”
“You just what?”
“I hit him over the head,” she said after a pause. She was looking directly into Frank’s eyes when she spoke the words. She couldn’t gauge his reaction, but it wasn’t one of hatred, which was her fear. “I was afraid.”
“That he would hurt you?”
She nodded, “he tried before. It’s why I left him,” she said.
“Wow,” he breathed. “But how did you cause the fire?”
“We were in the sauna,” she said, “he dragged me into the sauna.” She shrugged, “there was nothing else to hit him with but the kettle. But I slipped and fell and got knocked out.” She shook her head, “when I woke up the place was on fire and… and I ran.” She had begun crying again at some point during her statement.
“The fire started in the sauna?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Then you don’t know that you caused the fire,” he said. “Does Kerstin know?”
“No!” She exclaimed, “how can I tell her that? How can I tell her that there’s even a chance that I killed her grandfather?”
“This is stupid,” Ophelia Waterford said simply, “which I say with all due respect, Mother.” She gestured across the room, “I am already running the Conservancy and Waterford Properties, I am clearly the best choice to take over the Holdings.”
Kerstin raised an eyebrow. Her aunt’s reaction to her grandmother’s suggestion that Tish and Marcus be put in charge of Waterford Holdings – since they were already key players in the business – was unexpected. Ophelia Waterford, opinionated as she could be, very, very rarely ever spoke back against her parents.
Marcus laughed out loud, “do you even shave yet, little man? You’re going to go up against Oliver Jordan?”
Anders leapt up from his chair and turned on the other man, “sit down,” Kerstin said shaking her head. “You think you’re more suited to defend this family against the Jordans, do you?” Kerstin said to Marcus pointedly. She turned to her grandmother, “no, Anders is right; it should be uncle Trey if it’s not you, Gran.”
Eileen shook her head and raised her hand. She addressed Kerstin, “your uncle Trey will be much too busy to be running Waterford,” she said softly. “The Governor has asked him to run in the special election in March to replace Charles Taylor.” The family momentarily exchanged confused glances with one another.
Kerstin turned fully in her chair to regard her uncle sitting in the corner of the room; he had sat through the entire evenings events without having said a single word that Kerstin had heard. This wasn’t unusual for Trey Waterford, especially, but it was a strange trait when one viewed him through the lens of a senate hopeful.
“No, it makes the most sense for Tish and Marcus to step in and run Waterford,” Eileen continued which interrupted Kerstin from her gawking. “They know the existing contracts and they know the business better than anyone else.”
Marcus smirked at Kerstin in a way that made her blood boil and before she knew what she was doing she had started to speak, “they know Waterford Developments,” she said, “but the Holdings can be administered by anyone, right? I mean, it’s just shuffling money and signing paycheques, right?”
“It’s more involved than that,” Ophelia replied.
“But basically it’s just a shell company…”
“A holding company,” Anders corrected.
“Okay, a holding company. It’s a company that just exists, basically, to own the others, right? So anyone can run that, I mean, as long as they’re good at oversight.”
Eileen nodded, “yes, oversight is its most important purpose. Why do you ask, Kerstin?”
“Because I want to run Waterford Holdings.”
“And they said yes?”
“Well, yeah,” she replied.
“No offense, honey,” Frank said, “but why?”
“Oh yeah, no offense at all, jerk,” she replied playfully. “I think Granny said yes because I’ve never shown much interest in the family business before and she thought that as long as I was making a gesture that it was worth taking me up on it.”
“And probably because she wanted to give Ophelia a stroke,” Leticia added.
“That too,” Kerstin replied.
“So you’re going to be the… what?” Frank asked.
“Executive Vice-President and Acting President of Waterford Holdings,” Kerstin replied, “I don’t want to be made president, that’s my dad’s job.”
“Kerstin,” Frank said softly.
“No.” She said firmly, ”I’m not going to re-argue this point, it’s my father’s job and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
“Wow,” he said, “I’m proud of you.”
She smiled broadly, “me too. Actually, I’m kind of excited about it.” She spun around in the foyer of Red Terrace, “I get business cards and a fancy car, I get an assistant, my own special laptop, and an office…” her voice trailed off. “An office,” she repeated more softly. Frank and Leticia shared a quick glance, she shook her head at them, “no, it will be okay.”
“Are you going to use his office?” Leticia asked.
“Well, that’s where all the files and stuff are, so, yeah, I guess I will.”
“Maybe you’ll find it comforting, like you’re close to him even when you can’t be at the hospital.”
“Oh God,” she said, “I won’t be able to be at the hospital.”
Frank wrapped his arm around her, “Kerstin, he knows that you care and he’s in good hands with Doctor Bachman. Don’t worry about it, you will still get to see him, it will be fine.” He paused and gave her a playful shake, “in fact I think it will be great.”
She smiled wanly. Just then Anders walked into the foyer of Red Terrace. Frank shot daggers at him with his eyes and Leticia crossed her arms. “See you Monday, cousin,” he said.
“Because Granny just made me your personal assistant,” he said as he ducked out the front door of Red Terrace.
Kerstin wheeled around and looked at Frank, “maybe not so great after all.” She could feel the desperate look on her own face.
The chirp of the car alarm punctuated the silence of the parking garage under The Rockwell as the three made their way across the asphalt toward the elevators. Kerstin was leaning against Frank, partly in affection and partly in exhaustion.
“Well, I guess I’ll be heading out,” Leticia said as they neared the exit that lead to the road and to her car.
“Thanks for coming, Let,” Kerstin said and gave her cousin a hug. “I’m really glad you were there.”
“It’s better than the food at the Greenstone,” Leticia said casually, “and Frank,” she said, “thanks for the talk.” She turned and immediately stopped, “oh, my phone,” she said digging into her pocket to retrieve the gently buzzing device. “Hello?”
“What did you talk about?” Kerstin asked quietly after a moment. Leticia had stopped walking so it seemed to Kerstin only polite to wait until she was finished with her phone call before saying their final good-byes.
“Uh,” Frank said, “just some about stuff her ex-husband and whatever.”
“He’s a real piece of work, huh?” Kerstin asked mostly rhetorically, “so that’s where you were while we were in the sitting room?”
Frank nodded, “I found her on the terrace and we got to talking,” he paused for the briefest moment, “she, uh… I think she needed someone to talk to about… stuff.”
Kerstin nodded, “yeah, no doubt. It was nice of you to be there for her,” she laid a hand on his chest and gave him a soft kiss along his jawline, “that’s very thoughtful.”
“Well, she did agree to come to Red Terrace with us in the first place, so it only seemed gentlemanly,” he said miming out a gallant pose.
Kerstin laughed as she heard Leticia say “thank you, good-bye.” She turned back toward them and Kerstin noticed that her demeanour had changed.
“What’s going on?” Kerstin said.
“That was… it was John… John Price. He said the hospital just called him to tell him… they said that…” She shook her head slightly, “Oswald is missing. He… he disappeared from his hospital bed about two hours ago… and no one has heard from Sarah, either.”
Leticia glanced briefly at Frank as they approached the door to Lawrence Waterford’s hospital room. Inside Kerstin Waterford was in the embrace of Jehua Stanley and a young boy who Leticia recognized as the boy from the news who had been adopted by the Stanleys some weeks before. Leticia cleared her throat audibly and after glancing toward the door the trio split up. Leticia caught her eye as Kerstin looked back and forth between Frank and Jehua; she quirked an eyebrow at her cousin.
“Are you okay?” Leticia asked as she crossed the room to stand beside Kerstin.
Kerstin nodded feebly, “I… I’m doing… okay.”
Jehua, she noticed, took a reflexive step away from Kerstin as Frank Denzre stepped toward her. “Frank,” Kerstin said softly, “thank you.” Frank leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
“I… we… brought you some clothes, I hope they’re alright,” Frank said.
“They are,” Leticia assured.
“Thank you,” Kerstin repeated.
“Is there any news?” Leticia asked quietly.
“Uh… yeah,” Kerstin said and Leticia could see her eyes begin to wet. “It’s not good. They don’t know what’s keeping him in the coma.” She shook her head and shrugged slightly, “They don’t know if he will wake up.”
“He will wake up,” Frank asserted.
“Don’t,” Kerstin said and Leticia saw her glance shift briefly to Jehua Stanley, “you don’t know that.” She began to sob openly.
Frank stepped in and wrapped his long arms around her. She pressed herself against him tightly and wept against his chest. Leticia glanced at Jehua Stanley, who stood with his hand on the shoulder of the young boy; he looked up at her for a moment and she could see that he, too, had tears in his eyes.
“What did the Waterfords have on you that they were going to use to stop you from taking over their company?”
“Paper,” Oliver Jordan replied, up to that point only half engaged in the conversation with his daughter, “paper my dear, can be a businessman’s worst enemy.” He turned slightly in his chair and took hold of the rim of his glasses, “let me tell you, my daughter, that one of the worst mistakes a businessman can make is putting too much in writing. Whatever you can make happen with a handshake or just words between men – people – you do it, do you hear me? A death by a thousand cuts is particularly painful when it’s done with paper.”
Olivia nodded, “but the fire destroyed their papers.”
Oliver chuckled, “so it did.” He tapped his pen on the edge of the desk, “when I was young – a little bit older than you are now – I was just starting out in business, and I… I made a few mistakes.” He paused, “I hadn’t learned that I needed to find people I could trust and when I did I trusted the wrong people, I was too heavy handed in the way that I did things.” He tossed the pen onto the desk, “I did too much of the work myself.”
“Were you going give in to them?” Olivia asked after a moment, “were you going to give in to the Waterfords in the pool house?”
Oliver Jordan smiled at his daughter and shook his head, “as you said, my sweet, fire destroys paper.”
“But you have to go, you know,” Leticia reminded her.
“I don’t have to go,” Kerstin protested weakly. She sounded to Leticia rather like a child at bedtime.
“You do,” Leticia stated emphatically. She didn’t, however, and she didn’t really want to go, either. “Now get in the shower.”
Leticia lifted herself up onto the small bathroom counter as Kerstin drew the shower curtain closed, “thank you for coming,” Kerstin said after a moment under the warm water.
“What do you mean?”
“For coming to the hospital and to Red Terrace, I know that can’t be easy for you.”
“I… yeah, no not really. But I wanted to be there for you…”
“I… I am sorry that I haven’t been able to be there for you,” Kerstin said. She pulled the shower curtain back far enough to be able to look out at Leticia, “really, I am.”
Leticia nodded, “I know, K.”
“So, how are you doing?”
“How are you doing?” Kerstin repeated.
“I’m okay,” Leticia replied casually.
“Let, you’re not with Pammy or Dick right now, it’s me, remember. So, how are you doing?”
“I… I’m having nightmares,” Leticia replied.
“Oh wow, Let, I’m so sorry.” Kerstin said as she peeled the curtain back again, “of the fire? Leticia, you didn’t kill that guy… he had a gun on you. All you did was defend yourself.”
Leticia nodded absently. It was a fire that she was having nightmares of, but it wasn’t that fire. The death of the anonymous henchman of Oswald Glendale barely registered on the list of things for which she felt guilty. It was the fire at Red Terrace that was giving her nightmares. The fire that started while she was unconscious on the floor of a sauna; the fire during which she had awakened and fled without concern for anyone but herself. The fire that killed Kirk Waterford and Senator Charles Taylor, that put Kerstin’s father in a coma; and the fire that scarred her ex-husband Oswald Glendale, but didn’t kill him. “Yeah,” she said.
Kerstin appeared once more from behind the shower curtain, “seriously, Leticia, don’t blame yourself. You only did what you had to do. It was either him or you.”
Either him or you, she repeated to herself. But in the end, when it counted, it was neither. For all the death and destruction that the fire had brought, that she felt she had allowed to happen, Oswald Glendale was alive.
“Yeah,” Jehua said as he turned, “Frank, is that it?”
“Yeah,” Frank said, drawing out the word, “so, uh, hey, it’s nice of you to come and see my girlfriend when she’s all sad and shit. But she’s a little vulnerable right now so how about you don’t try to put the moves on her in her Dad’s hospital room, heh?”
“You heard me,” Frank said. He glanced down at the young boy standing beside Jehua Stanley and added, “how about you let me and Daddy talk while you go over there and play?”
James looked up at Jehua who nodded, “it’s okay pal.”
After James had stepped out of earshot Frank began, “what did you think bringing the kid would accomplish?”
“Are you kidding me with this shit?” Jehua said, “Kerstin and I work together and that’s my nephew.” He opened his mouth as if she was going to continue but then didn’t.
Frank quirked an eyebrow, “yeah, I know that,” Frank said, although he hadn’t known that the kid was Jehua’s nephew. “I’ve seen the way that you look at her, bud, and I don’t like it. And I didn’t much care for the scene I walked in on back in Lawrence’s room.”
Jehua shrugged, “I frankly don’t give a damn what you ‘care for’ or not. She’s my friend and my co-worker… and I didn’t see her pulling away from me, either.”
“Her Dad’s in a fucking coma and her grandfather just died in a fire,” Frank said, “she’d take a hug from pretty much anyone. But only assholes and creepers would try to put the moves on her when she’s in a vulnerable state like she is right now. So how about you don’t be a creeper or an asshole, eh buddy?”
“Whatever. Fuck you,” Jehua said and turned to walk away but turned and walked back toward Frank. For a moment Frank thought that he was going to try to hit him – which, Frank noted to himself, would have been a mistake but a welcome opportunity to truly drive home his point – but instead he just drew close and spoke slowly and lowly, “and I know what you and Oliver Jordan did to her and her family. So, maybe you shouldn’t be going around telling people not to be assholes, right… buddy?”
Kerstin stepped back into her father’s hospital room from the adjoining bathroom. She felt the tears begin to reform around the edges of her eyes. Lawrence Waterford lay unmoving on the bed in the opposite corner. But for the sounds of the various machines to which he was hooked up the room was silent.
Leticia had stepped out of the bathroom before Kerstin had finished her shower but she had at least expected to see Frank in the room when she was through. She stepped to the door and looked out but there was no sign of the man, or, in fact, anyone at all in the halls.
She turned to her father again and crossed the room and laid her hand on his. “Daddy,” she said, “I need you.”
She felt guilty that she had moved from Red Terrace, that she hadn’t been part of the family business, that she had spent most of her adolescent years trying to escape the shadow that the Waterford name cast. She felt guilty because she worried that her father felt that she had been trying to deny him and that she must have hurt him so many times when all she thought she was trying to do was be herself, be an individual.
“Frank not back yet?”
Kerstin turned and saw Leticia McKinelle standing in the open doorway. “No,” she replied, “he was gone when I got out of the shower.”
“He was gone when I came out, too. Guess he needed to take a walk.”
Kerstin nodded, “probably.”
“So, what’s going on with you and Jehua Stanley?”
“Say what now?” Kerstin said wheeling around to face Leticia.
“You heard me.”
“There is nothing going on between us.”
Leticia nodded slowly, “okay, then what went on between you? There’s something. I saw it. I’m pretty sure Frank saw it.”
Kerstin didn’t reply for a moment. She didn’t know what to say.
Leticia crossed the room to stand close to her cousin, she placed a hand on her arm, “listen I don’t know what’s going on, what went on, or whatever… but there’s something and it’s plain as day when you’re together. So just keep it under control when Frank’s around, okay?”
As he passed a nurses’ station a familiar voice caught his attention and he turned. He saw the nurse talking to a man and she gestured toward the direction of Lawrence Waterford’s room. The man followed her gesture and looked directly at Frank.
He smiled broadly before thanking the nurse and dashing across the short distance to Frank.
“She was hot.” The man said, “shit, I shoulda got her number.” He turned and looked back at the nurses’ station. “Ah, screw it, there’s plenty more where she came from, heh? So, fancy meeting you here, yeah?” The man said.
“Yeah, fancy that,” Frank replied, “what are you doing here, Nathan.”
“Now, is that any way to greet your favourite brother, Frankie?”
“Yeah, I think it is,” Frank said, “so, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, I happened to be in the area and I thought, fuck, I haven’t seen that brother of mine in almost two years, I should hit him up.” He grinned broadly, “so I called up Bren and he told me where to find you. Well, more or less. It took knocking on a few doors in your building to find out that you’d be here.”
“You were talking to Brendon?”
“Oh yeah, hey, I guess you didn’t know. He’s out.”
“Sorry,” he said, “I got all turned around and ended up clear across the building.”
“It’s okay,” Kerstin said, “we’ve only been looking for a few minutes.”
That wasn’t true at all, but Leticia wasn’t going to correct her cousin. “Are we ready to get out of this place?”
“Yes,” Frank said immediately, “I mean,” he said after a moment, “if you’re ready, Kerstin.”
“I’m ready to leave,” she said, “but I’m not sure that I’m ready to go back to Red Terrace.” She took a deep breath. “I haven’t been back since… well, you know.”
“We know,” Leticia replied, “but you have Frank and I. We’ll be there to support you. It will be okay.” Leticia said the words but she wasn’t sure, even, how she was going to handle returning to Red Terrace. A part of her was glad that Kerstin was having such a hard time with the idea. Perhaps being Kerstin’s support would take her own mind off all the reasons that she’s rather not be there herself.
“No, absolutely not,” Constance Jordan replied. “Not after all that has happened to that family. You are not going through with that plan to take what little they have left from them.”
“No, Mom, you don’t understand…”
“Enough!” Constance said, “Olivia, I don’t care what your father has told you to make you believe that crushing the Waterfords is something that this family should aspire to, but it’s not going to happen. Not as long as I have a stake in this family and its business.”
Constance hadn’t been able to believe her own ears when she’d walked past her husband’s open study door and she’d heard the voices from within – voices of her own family – talking about completing Oliver’s plan to pull the rug out from underneath the already crippled Waterford family. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” She said accusingly at her husband.
“It’s nothing personal, Constance, it’s just business.”
“I don’t give a good God damn if it’s just business or not,” Constance retorted. “It’s not good business, it’s not ethical business and it’s certainly not something that you do to a man while he’s in a coma…”
“What better time is there?” Olivia chimed in.
“Excuse me?” Constance stood, momentarily aghast at her own daughter. Yes, Olivia had always been more Oliver’s than she had been hers, but nonetheless she hadn’t been prepared for that. “Listen to me, both of you…” she turned and looked at Harry Custone who had been sitting quietly in the corner of the study nursing his drink, “and you too, because I know it will be you that they send to do their dirty work… this isn’t going to happen. Not now, if ever.” She shook her head, “Oliver I have never understood your all consuming urge to destroy the Waterfords but this time – right now, under these circumstances – I forbid it.”
Oliver was going to speak but she held up her hand, “you know that I don’t make such demands of you very often, but in this I am firm. You will not make any moves to damage the Waterford family or to interrupt its family business until such time as they are prepared to meet you fairly on your precious field of battle.”
Constance didn’t wait to hear the response before she stepped to the door of the study. “But for the fortunate choice made by a fireman you could have died in the fire, Oliver, if I might remind you, it could have been you in Kirk or Lawrence Waterford’s place, count your damned blessings and move on,” she said before she stepped out and headed down the hall.
“Daddy?” Olivia said after Constance had left.
“Your mother has spoken, there’s nothing I can do.”
Olivia Jordan’s eyes narrowed, “why not? All it would take would be to call in their debts. You can do that so easily.”
“Actually, I can’t. You see, it’s more complicated than that,” Oliver replied, “I bought the Waterford debt with your mother’s money.”
Doctor Bachman was making his rounds at Bayview Hospital when he stepped into the burn unit.
His job that day was to do post-op checks on the patients that had had reconstructive surgery follow the burns they had sustained. His first two stops were quite routine, small burns that had been sustained in household accidents and had been fully repaired and were healing nicely. One of them, in fact, was receiving his discharge papers later that day.
The next stop, however, was something different. Oswald Glendale had been burned quite severely. Scarred on his face and torso by the fire that had burnt to the ground the pool house at Red Terrace. There was a certain irony in Glendale’s status because, as a well known plastic surgeon, he would have been Bachman’s own choice to perform the reconstruction if that were possible.
He pulled the clipboard from the tray that hung outside the door to Glendale’s room and stepped inside. He was looking down at the chart for a long moment before he finally looked up at his patient… who was nowhere to be found.
Glendale’s bed, where the mostly-sedated patient had been laying for the past weeks, was empty. The few machines that he was hooked up to continued to blip and beep along cheerfully as if he was still there and a quick look showed that they had been tampered with in order to confuse the monitors at the nurses’ station.
Bachman dropped the clipboard and lunged for the bed. He pressed the emergency call button and rushed out of the room and into the hall. He grabbed a nurse by the shoulders and exclaimed, “have you seen the man who’s supposed to be in this room?”
The poor nurse, alarmed and confused, could only shake her head.
Oswald Glendale was gone.
“Well, that was a God damned nightmare,” Elizabeth Marshall exclaimed as she threw her briefcase across the room. As it bounced off the hideous hotel room chair in the corner the magnetic latch came free and papers flew in all directions from it. “Mother fu…” she exclaimed though she caught herself and instead slammed her hand on the table in front of her.
John Godspeed spoke softly as his gruff voice would allow, “the only day that matters is the last one.” He was sitting at the small table in the room that provided the only good surface on which to work. His feet were resting on the opposite chair and he was slightly reclined.
Elizabeth huffed as she wheeled on him, “what a stupid cop thing to say.” She held up her left hand and rubbed the bridge of her nose with her right, “sorry, John,” she said. “It’s just hard feeling like I’m losing this case… and it’s killing me. Duncan‘s my brother; the stakes are pretty high here.”
“You knew the prosecution’s argument was gonna to be strong,” Godspeed replied. He righted his posture as he reached for another document from the stack laid out on the table.
“I just didn’t think it was going to look so grim from the very beginning,” she looked up from a paper she’d picked up from the scattered pile, “where do you suppose they found that stewardess?”
Godspeed shook his head and shrugged, “I dunno. I’m just thankful that Cassandra wasn’t in the court room.”
“No kidding, thank God – and airline scheduling – for that,” Elizabeth said, “by the end of this thing she might be the only glimmer of light that makes it into the record.” She slumped down onto the couch and kicked her shoes off one at a time, “I can’t believe he overruled every one of my objections.”
Godspeed nodded from behind an evidentiary report he’d been glancing over, “you did well on cross, especially with the young cop and Breza’s shoe man.”
“It didn’t feel like it.” She pulled her left foot up and began to give it a rub. “Duncan looked good today, didn’t you think?”
“Not bad,” the chief replied and Elizabeth suspected that he continued ‘for a man on trial for murder‘ in his head. “Better than he has been,” Godspeed added.
A buzzing sound interrupted their conversation and John Godspeed’s attention at the crime scene report in front of him. He picked up his phone before looking up at Elizabeth Marshall, “Cassandra’s plane has landed.”
She stood in front of the luggage carousel as she watched the pair make their way across the terminal. The whole time she’d been back in Emerald Heights she had hoped each night that she would wake up the next morning to find Duncan in bed beside her and the whole business with Claudio Breza’s murder vanished like a bad dream. But that hadn’t happened. And one by one the mornings passed until finally it was the day that she was due to return to California.
“Cassandra,” Elizabeth Marshall said by way of greeting as she approached and the two embraced. Cassandra smiled ably as she could as they separated. She regarded the other woman, her husband’s lawyer and her sister in law – although that latter relationship now seemed like an afterthought – with a mixture of relief and dread: theirs had not always been the smoothest relationship.
“How was your flight?” Elizabeth asked after the moment of silence between the three could not long be ignored even for the hustle and bustle of the terminal.
She shook her head and chuckled a bit, “so I guess we’re just going to pretend that this was a normal cross-country flight for a little while, then?” She shrugged; it seemed to her that this was perhaps the Marshall way. Duncan, too, could easily be counted on to ignore the hard realities of a difficult situation in favour of polite conversation. That had been two years of their marriage at one point. She sighed, “it was fine, Liz. Now, fill me in.”
John Godspeed nodded his head curtly, “you haven’t missed much,” he began, and she noticed that the pair shared a moment of eye contact. “Just like you’d think,” he continued, “the prosecution’s case is pretty damning.”
“We knew that,” Cassandra said simply, “how long does that go on before we start to get to tell our side of the story?”
“Too long I’m afraid,” Elizabeth Marshall replied only half under her breath.
“In the course of your investigation, detective,” the young, hawkish looking prosecutor said, leaning slightly across the counsel table, “what lead you to suspect the defendant as the likely perpetrator of the murder of Mr. Breza and his housemaid?”
The courtroom was packed. The murder of Claudio Breza, a rich man and a famous fashion designer whose outfits were worn by stars worldwide, had drawn attention. From cable news anchors to what looked like some of Breza’s old clients to plain old John Q. Public, all manner of folk crammed themselves into the gallery. And it occurred to Elizabeth Marshall that the ADA was keenly aware of that fact. As fiery as courtroom drama in Emerald Heights could get she’d never known it to take on the made-for-TV flair of California law.
Elizabeth Marshall watched Kevin Burgess. As he had before, while answering a number of previous questions, he took a moment to make eye contact with the jury before he spoke, “Mr. Marshall had been staying with the Breza’s until the night of the murder and phone records between him and Ms. Breza lead me to believe that he was connected to the murder.”
“Is that all?”
“No,” Burgess stated, “though he was scheduled to fly out that night he never checked in at the airport; and Mr. Marshall and Ms. Breza had been conducting a long-standing affair that resulted in a pregnancy that Mr. Breza had become aware of.”
“Objection,” Elizabeth called out as she rose from her seat, “that’s unfounded conjecture.”
The ADA turned to regard her and smiled slightly, “the affair has been well documented, your honour.”
Elizabeth gritted her teeth, “but the pregnancy… only came to light in the aftermath of Mr. Breza’s death. It cannot be reliably stated that he had knowledge of the pregnancy beforehand; for that matter it’s not even clear whether Duncan Marshall is the father of the child.”
“Very well,” the judge stated, “the jury will disregard the witness’ testimony with regard to Ms. Breza’s pregnancy.”
Elizabeth worked hard to swallow a grimace as she slipped back into her seat. On the list of things that complicated her brother’s case was Anita Breza’s pregnancy, and clearly the ADA knew that as well.
“Mr. Burgess,” Elizabeth Marshall said, “when did you first have suspicions about the defendant’s involvement in the murder of Claudio Breza and his housemaid Inez Romaro?”
“When we discovered his fingerprints at the Breza estate,” Kevin Burgess replied.
“And this was… at what point in the investigation?”
“As I said previously, this was around the third day of the investigation, while processing trace evidence.”
“The third day,” she quirked an eyebrow as she gazed at the jury, “and how long was it before you called Mr. Marshall in to make a statement on his behalf?”
“Mr. Marshall had fled the state, and the course of the investigation took anoth…”
“Mr. Marshall lives in Massachusetts, Mr. Burgess, you mean to tell this court that returning to one’s home state with no knowledge that a crime had been committed and under the presumption of innocence is fleeing? What you really mean to say, Mr. Burgess, is that you didn’t call him in to make a statement at all, isn’t that correct?” She asked, turning back to look at the man. She continued, “not until you travelled from Los Angeles to his home in Emerald Heights to personally confront him?”
“I didn’t confront him,” Burgess replied.
“You didn’t?” Elizabeth replied, “how did your first meeting with Mr. Marshall go? Didn’t you approach him in a bar and ask him questions about Claudio Breza and his wife without ever telling him that he was a suspect in the investigation?”
“That’s not… at that point I was just gathering evidence.”
Elizabeth nodded, “without the benefit of caution, Mr. Burgess? And with no record of the conversation outside of your own memory?” She turned to look at the jury for a brief moment, “And what about your next meeting with Mr. Marshall, did that include a formal caution or a record of the statements made by the defendant?”
“It was… a casual meeting… on the street,” Burgess replied, looking quickly toward the ADA.
Elizabeth smiled, “and how did that casual meeting end, Mr. Burgess?” She caught John Godspeed’s eye before continuing, the man nodded at her and she continued, “didn’t it end with Mr. Marshall hitting you after you provoked him?”
“I didn’t need to provoke him,” Burgess said pointedly, “he’s a violent man.”
“So you called the Emerald Heights PD and had him arrested for assault?”
Burgess’ eyes narrowed, “no.”
“Oh, but there was a report made to the Emerald Heights PD,” she said holding up a piece of paper, “and someone met with Chief Godspeed. Wasn’t that you?”
“Yes,” Kevin Burgess replied coolly. Elizabeth smiled.
“Oh yes, I see it here.” She said glancing at the paper, “you met with Chief Godspeed alone to answer questions about Mr. Marshall hitting you. But you opted not to press charges? In fact, the chief offered to charge Mr. Marshall and you waved him off, isn’t that true?”
Burgess remained silent for a moment so Elizabeth Marshall continued, “isn’t it also true that it was, in fact, Duncan Marshall who called the Emerald Heights PD himself and told them that he’d had a run in with you that ended with him hitting you? How violent can he be, Mr. Burgess, if Mr. Marshall felt remorseful enough to call the Emerald Heights PD after his run in with you… after you provoked him… he still felt guilty about his actions and called the police?”
“Objection,” the ADA said, although with less force than he ought to have, Elizabeth thought. “Mrs. Marshall isn’t letting the witness answer her questions.”
Elizabeth nodded, “fair enough,” she said turning to face Kevin Burgess, “Mr. Burgess, would you please answer my questions?”
She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the house, “what the hell do you know about it? My Dad is the chief of police; I know how this stuff works. When you suspect someone of something the people that they hang around with can give them away.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means that the police are still looking for suspects… and we were at Red Terrace when the fire started, Jason. We shouldn’t be seen together, it’s suspicious.”
“We didn’t set that fire at the most we singed a carpet. The candle was all the way out, I made sure,” Jason said rolling his eyes and throwing his hands in the air. “I don’t know how many times we have to go through this.”
“Forgive me if I don’t trust your firefighting skills since that building ended up burning down. And they still don’t know how the fire started… so you don’t know… it could have been us.”
“God! Relax! You are such a pain in the ass when you get like this.” He crossed the living room and flopped down on the couch.
“Two people died, Jason… and one of them was a senator. And that other man was burned… it’s not being a pain in the ass when it’s a big deal. It’s been on the news, like, every night since. It was on CN-freakin’-N.”
“Whatever. It was probably the same guy who started the other fire downtown the night before,” he shrugged, “like an arsonist or something.”
Kaitlyn sighed heavily, “that’s what my Dad said.”
“You told your father? Are you fucking stupid?”
She scowled at him and punched him in the arm, “I didn’t tell him about us being there; just that there were two fires. He’s still in California working on the trial of your brother, dickwad.”
“Okay,” Jason said. “Just checking. Good.”
“Hey, if you’re so sure that we didn’t cause the fire then why’re you so worried about anyone finding out that we were even there?”
Frank Denzre stood awkwardly in the living room of Kerstin Waterford‘s apartment. On the couch was a disheveled and clearly distraught Leticia McKinelle-Glendale, with whom he had only a passing acquaintance. He had entered the apartment without the foreknowledge that Leticia was inside and, he suspected, even Kerstin herself was unaware of the other woman’s presence in her home.
“I’m just here to pick up a change of clothes for Kerstin,” Frank stated after having realized that neither of them had spoken in some time.
“Okay,” Leticia said.
“So, I’m just going to go do that then.”
He turned toward the hall that lead to the bedroom but was stopped by the ringing of the phone. He glanced immediately at Leticia, who shrugged, and then at the phone. “Should I?” He asked.
“Unless you want me to?” She replied.
“Who is it?” He asked, since the phone was on the coffee table in front of her.
She leaned forward, a collection of wadded up tissues rolled onto the floor. “Red Terrace,” she replied.
Frank winced. The phone rang its third ring. He quickly paced the distance and picked up the phone, “hello?”
“Who’s this?” The woman’s voice on the line asked.
“Frank Denzre,” he replied, “is this Ophelia?” Kerstin’s aunt had a particular sounding voice that was unmistakable in any medium. “Kerstin’s at the hospital I’m just here picking up…” He was immediately cut off as she began to speak.
The rest of the conversation was entirely one-sided with Ophelia relating to him the message that he was instructed to give to Kerstin. He hung up the phone when she was finished and regarded Leticia, who had in the interim made some attempt to rebuild her countenance, again. “Dinner at Red Terrace,” he said simply. “Although I got the distinct impression that Ophelia would be quite okay with Kerstin not getting the message.”
Leticia nodded, “sounds about right.” She pursed her lips, “something’s up, then?”
Frank shrugged his shoulders, “isn’t it always?”
Jehua Stanley cleared his throat as he passed through the doorway of the hospital room. From her place at the side of her father’s bed, Kerstin Waterford looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes and forced a smile. “Hi,” he said weakly. “I was just in the hospital to… y’know, just for…” he pivoted to gesture out the door and then snapped back to face her, “how is he doing?”
Kerstin shrugged slightly, “the same, really. They say he’s perfectly okay,” she paused and drew her eyes across her father’s form laid out on the adjustable bed, “but he’s clearly not.”
Jehua looked at the comatose Lawrence Waterford. He was hooked up to numerous machines and monitors; the various clicks, beeps and whirrs they created were inescapable. Bayview Hospital was renowned for its organic layout, its homey and unassuming atmosphere, but these machines created a backdrop of hospitalness that no custom artwork or natural light could upstage.
He felt himself fidget and remembered that he’d gone to try to offer his support. “Do… do you need anything?”
She shook her head, “not really. Frank is at my place getting me some clothes and stuff… my Mom was here a while ago and brought me a book to read,” she held the book up from her lap. “It’s about a kid with cancer…” her voice trailed off and she shook her head; her expression cracked to the slightest wry smile.
Jehua clamped his eyes closed and shook his head, “wow, not the most sensitive choice.”
She shrugged, “actually it’s pretty good.” She ran her fingers over the cover, “but yeah, you know my Mom…”
Jehua chuckled in spite of himself, “yeah.” He slid into the chair adjacent to Kerstin’s. “Speaking of family, that’s why I’m here…” She cocked her head sideways, “no, I mean,” he continued, “why I’m here at the hospital.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Yeah, my new little cousin James had an…”
“Hang on,” she said raising her hand and jumping out of the chair. “Doctor Bachman,” she called as she headed toward the door. “Doctor Bachman!”
She stepped back inside the room, followed by Doctor Bachman, a clipboard clasped in his hand, and began to speak as soon as he was clear of the threshold. “You told me that we’d know more by today,” she said.
He nodded, “I planned to come in to talk to you later on in my shift.”
“Well you’re here… talk to me now,” she said. Jehua stood and walked to her side. Bachman briefly glanced at him before looking back at Kerstin. She continued, “he hasn’t woke up, he’s still on all the same machines he was on when he came in here… actually,” she said pointing to a machine in the corner, “I think that one’s new.” She pinched the bridge of her nose, “I don’t understand… what’s going on?”
Bachman’s expression was a mixture of annoyance from having been ambushed in the hall, compassion for a young girl with a comatose father, and something that Jehua couldn’t quite figure. He spoke, “there’s really nothing to tell, Kerstin. All of the brain activity is normal… for someone in a coma… but aside from that, there is no sign that he’s…”
Jehua immediately noticed Kerstin’s eyes begin to water; she held up her hand. “When is he going to wake up?”
Bachman shook his head, “I don’t know.”
“I wouldn’t mind the back-up,” Frank said as he folded another shirt and tucked it into the duffel bag.
“Huh? Oh,” she said after a moment. “At Red Terrace?” He nodded and pulled another shirt out of the drawer. Kerstin didn’t need this much clothing but he wasn’t sure what went with what.
She continued, “oh, uh… well if Kerstin’s going to be… I could stay at the hospital with Uncle Lawrence.” She tilted her head slightly, “and Aunt Ophelia probably doesn’t want me there…”
Frank chuckled, “that’s sort of my point.”
“I don’t… what’s your point?”
“That there’s safety in numbers. With Lawrence in the hospital and Kirk…” he stopped and cleared his throat, “well… it’s better if Kerstin has someone… someones… in her corner.”
Leticia nodded slowly but said nothing.
“Have you been back there since the fire?”
She’d been watching him fold the clothes, but suddenly her eyes darted up to his, “what? Why? No. Uh, what does the fire have to do with me… anything, I mean… what does the fire have to do with anything?”
Frank pulled the zipper on the duffel bag closed, “I have a feeling we’ll find out tonight.”
“What does that mean?”
He smirked, “when I first got here you told me that we shouldn’t be seen together, and then you basically jumped on my crotch.”
“Eff you,” she said, “and it’s not like you didn’t come here for that.”
“That is not the point,” he said emphatically, “admit it you’re hot for this.”
“What was that, like, an aftershock? Y’know, like after the 9.0 on the Jichter – that’s Jason-Richter – scale. Get it, nine… like my…”
“What is wrong with you?” She said, throwing the blanket over his head and jumping out of bed. “Can’t you be normal for just a little while?”
Every time Frank pressed the elevator button on their floor in The Rockwell he was drawn back to the first time that he saw Kerstin Waterford in the flesh. Yes, he’d seen the pictures that Oliver Jordan had shown him when he was hired to get close to the woman and to get whatever information he could about her father’s business – which had turned out to be none at all – but at the elevator was the first time that he’d made her acquaintance. She had been repeatedly pressing the button as if it would impress a sense of urgency on the machine that would result in its sooner arrival at the floor on which she waited.
He pressed the button a second time as he stood beside Leticia McKinelle-Glendale, a sort of silent homage to Kerstin’s emphatic urging of the elevator. He hoped, in some way, that the kindred act might send a supportive vibe to her now as they were apart and she held vigil over her father. A smile broadened across his face.
“What’s so funny?” Leticia asked.
He shook his head, “nothing.”
He turned to face her, “wait, I didn’t think you were a Waterford?”
“I’m not,” Leticia replied.
“But you called Ophelia Waterford ‘Aunt Ophelia’.”
“Yeah, but… not really like an aunt-aunt,” Leticia said. “Uncle Lawrence is my uncle because he was married to my Mom’s sister, my Aunt Stacy, but my Mom wanted us to be as close to the Waterfords as possible so we grew up calling Ophelia and Trey aunt and uncle even though they’re really not.”
After he didn’t speak for a moment she added, “it’s only confusing because you’re not from here.”
He chuckled, “how long before it all starts to make sense?”
“Sometime after your first evil twin shows up in town, probably.”
He tilted his head and jutted his lower jaw forward, “what?”
She shrugged in a sort of hopeless way, “you’ll see.”
Jehua’s arms wrapped around Kerstin Waterford as she cried. The sound of her sobbing was growing more and more controlled and he hazarded pulling away slightly so that he could look down into her face. She looked up at him with the too-wide eyes of someone trying to stem the tide of tears and he immediately felt the spark of closeness that they’d shared in the storage room at the P & Q more than a month before.
He flinched in spite of himself and he could see that she felt it. “Sorry,” he said, his voice sounded hoarse in his own ears.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For being here,” she said, “for being here and not trying to make it better or to tell me that everything is going to be okay. For just letting me stand here and cry for as long as I needed to cry.”
He opened his mouth to speak but said nothing for a long moment. His mouth turned into a shadow of his patented crooked smile, “I wanted to, but I just didn’t know what to say.”
“There’s nothing to say,” she said, her eyes still locked on his.
He could barely continue holding her for all the feelings that were running through his body, but he knew that her eyes were locked to his for no reason other than she refused to look at her father, laying prone in the hospital bed, because to look at him was to acknowledge his state. He nodded and pulled her back into him.
“Kerstin,” he whispered, his mouth an inch away from her ear; she sobbed again and pressed herself more tightly in to him.
“Yes,” she said, softly, against his chest. He could feel her faster breathing against his chest. He could feel the electricity of the storage closet and knew that she could feel it too. He leaned his head even closer so that his lips could feel the heat from her skin a mere fraction of an inch away.
“Kerstin,” he repeated. He swallowed hard, “I lo…”
“Uncle Jay?” a small voice said from the doorway.
Jehua started. He straightened slightly and turned as much as he could to regard the youngster standing there. In the rapture of Kerstin’s touch he had nearly forgotten about the boy, the boy who was his reason for being at the hospital in the first place. “Hey buddy,” he said his voice cracking and sounding extremely loud in his own ears, “is your appointment all done?”
The child held up a piece of paper and nodded, “yup,” was all he said.
“Good,” Jehua turned to look at Kerstin, who he noted was staring intently at the young boy. “This is James,” Jehua said, “he’s the kid who was in the car accident a while back… my Uncle Brentwood adopted him.”
Kerstin nodded slowly, “I heard,” she said.
“Hey, James,” Jehua said, “Kerstin’s having a bad day… how about you come over here and help me give her a hug to make her feel better?”
The young boy bounded across the room, arms wide and grinning from ear to ear.
Leticia’s mind was racing as she and Frank Denzre turned the second to last corner before Lawrence Waterford’s hospital room. There was a growing list of places in Emerald Heights that she didn’t want to be and Bayview Hospital was topped on that list only by Red Terrace itself.
In her mind’s eye she was two floors up and one ward over in the wing that housed her ex-husband who had also been in the hospital since the fire that burned down the Red Terrace pool house.
She’d been there that night. In the fire. With Oswald.
She shook her head violently to clear the image from her mind and wavered on her feet. Frank proffered an arm and she took it briefly as she gave a uselessly awkward look to try to explain away her sudden stumble. “Sorry,” she said.
“No problem,” he said, “I hate these places, too. Nothing good ever happens in hospitals.”
They rounded the final corner and as the door of Lawrence Waterford’s room came into view Frank’s words hung in the air as they were greeted by the sight of Kerstin Waterford and Jehua Stanley in a deep embrace; both, in turn, enwrapped by a small boy.
“Did you know it’s an open bar?” Leticia repeated as the pair slipped back into the safety of the main house at Red Terrace.
“Yeah, I know. Shut up,” Kerstin said.
“No, really? That’s the best you could come up with?”
“Like you could do better.”
“Hmmm. How about, ‘looks like you need a top up’, or ‘have one on me’, oh, or better yet, ‘have one on you’.”
Kerstin frowned, “I got my point across.”
“The drink got your point across,” Leticia added, “the look on her face was priceless, I thought she was going to take a swing at you.”
“So did I.”
“What was she talking about? What did she mean by Jordan is expanding in more places than just Southeast Asia?” Leticia asked.
Kerstin realized that in all the day’s excitement she hadn’t mentioned Frank’s betrayal to Leticia. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, “that’s a long story but the crux of it is that Oliver Jordan had spies infiltrate Waterford Holdings and get information to allow Jordan to buy up my Dad’s debt. He plans to use that to… I dunno, take over the company somehow.”
“Whoa,” Leticia breathed. “What is your Dad going to do?”
Kerstin shrugged, “I don’t know, really.”
Leticia frowned over the rim of her glass as she took a sip, “who was the spy?”
Kerstin winced visibly, “actually there were two of them.”
“One of them was Marcus,” Kerstin said as she looked out the door at the bride and groom dancing happily on the dance floor that had been installed in the Red Terrace garden. “Tish doesn’t know and I have no idea why Daddy let her marry him,” she shook her head. She continued, “the other one was…” she turned to regard her cousin and felt the breath get knocked out of her as she regarded the man who stood at the end of the narrow hall in which the two women were.
“…Frank.” She gasped.
Lawrence Waterford approached Oliver Jordan with purpose. As the father of the bride he had been expected to dance one of the first dances of the night, but once his official duties were concluded – and before the speeches were to begin – he resolved to speak with Jordan.
“Jordan,” Lawrence said jovially clapping the older man on the shoulder, “come, join my father and I for a drink and a cigar in the pool house.”
To Lawrence, Jordan appeared to take the move in stride. Lawrence reckoned that Jordan figured that he had the upper hand no matter the play that the Waterfords attempted to make.
“Senator,” Oliver Jordan said as the man stood and clasped his hand. “I’m surprised to see you cavorting with this lot.”
The Senator smiled and nodded, “there was a time, Oliver, when I called the Waterfords my friends.”
Kirk stood and reached his hand out to Oliver Jordan, “if I don’t miss my understanding of the situation, Chuck, I think there may be a future for that friendship yet.”
“What’s this all about?” Oliver Jordan said after a moment’s silence.
“Would you like a cigar?” Lawrence Waterford said with a sly smile. “Or, perhaps, a cognac?”
Jordan shook his head, “get to the point, Waterford. I don’t have to sit here and listen to this… as a matter of fact I’ll tell you what…”
Lawrence stepped toward the cart that contained the liquor and poured some into a glass, “you’ll tell me what, Oliver? That you paid Frank Denzre and my new son in law to spy on me and my girls in order to get information about my deals with Kent’s financial contacts so that you could buy up my debt and force me into bankruptcy if I didn’t turn Waterford over to you?” Lawrence reached the drink out to Oliver Jordan, “does that just about sum it up? You, uh, might want that drink now, heh?”
Oliver Jordan pressed the back of his hand against the drink. He chuckled softly and shook his head, “well done,” he said in a tone that dripped with sarcasm. He shrugged his shoulders and dipped his head slightly, “it seems that you’ve uncovered my plot.” His face cracked into a smile as he turned to face all the other men in the room simultaneously, “however that doesn’t change the fact that I still own all your debt. And, oh… I think it’s collection day.”
Leticia had excused herself from the hall when Frank had shown up in the hall that she and Kerstin were using as their hiding place. Leticia had scampered around the periphery of the Red Terrace garden, keeping a mindful watch out for her seemingly disappeared ex-husband, Oswald, and her friend-turned-employer-turned-ex-husband’s-lover, Sarah Price.
She stood under the Red Terrace pool house’s stone overhang, watching the wedding revelry from a safe distance buffered by the Red Terrace pool. She leaned against one of the high columns and listened to the music as it played gaily; tear began to roll down her cheek as she thought of the previous night’s events: her outburst at the Price estate, John Price’s conversion at the hands of Oswald, and the fire at the lab.
The heel of her hand ground into her eye in an unsuccessful attempt to stem the tide of tears. From across the pool Clara McKinelle, her father’s widow, glided into view and a deep shudder wracked her body.
Involuntarily she turned away and her vision was immediately disrupted by a man standing in front of her. Reflexively she stepped back and gasped. The gasp was deepened to an all out exhalation when she realized that the man was none other than her ex-husband. “Leticia,” he breathed, as if using the very breath that she had just lost. “We need to talk.”
He clasped his hand over her mouth and, with the muted sounds of the wedding’s festivities in the background, pulled her into the pool house unnoticed.
Kerstin’s voice still hadn’t come back to her.
“Kerstin?” Frank repeated. “I really am sorry.”
She stood, immobilized and dumbstruck. She really hadn’t expected to see him again as her grandfather had predicted. She hadn’t bothered to knock on his door when she’d gone back to her apartment to get her dress that morning – although Leticia’s news had somewhat supplanted the thought at the time. The events of the day had progressed at a pace that hadn’t allowed her time to plan what she would say should she end up face to face with the man again.
She hadn’t decided whether or not she was supposed to be mad at him; or whether she was supposed to be grateful that he came clean in time for her father to make an attempt to save his company. Or whether she should give him the very time of day, or whether she should tell him to get off their property, or whether she should have him arrested for attempting… whatever it was called that he was attempting.
“I…” she said by way of an attempt to speak. To her own mind it wasn’t clear whether it was the word or the sound that she was forming. “Why?” She managed finally, softly, and calmly. It was the only thing she could think of that would buy her the time necessary to decide what to think next.
“I needed the money,” he said simply. “I didn’t mean to… you know I care about you, right?”
She took a step backward and put her hands out in front of herself, “but, why me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why would you do that to me?”
He shook his head, “I didn’t know you. I didn’t know anything about you, I never intended to like you…”
She turned away from him slightly and nodded slowly, “okay.”
“No, I mean… I was supposed to do all those things for money, but I ended up caring about you for real. I mean,” he said taking a step toward her, she flinched but didn’t move, “how could I not care about you?”
She chanced a glance up into his face, his eyes looked sincere. He had the silly crooked smile on his face, but it was marred with the lines of the honest pain that she could see he was feeling. “Can you forgive me?” He said as she watched his lips part and form the words. When he stopped talking the smile was gone, it was replaced with the tightly drawn grimace of a man awaiting his sentence; the eyes still held their sincerity but there was something else there, too. Something deeper, something that she hadn’t seen from him ever before: vulnerability.
She breathed in deeply and then exhaled just as deeply. And then she answered him.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Leticia screamed when finally Oswald’s hand was removed from her mouth. She had tried to bite him but hadn’t been able to manage it. She’d figured that a surgeon would freak out if his hand was suddenly latched onto by sharp teeth.
“My dear such language doesn’t become you,” Oswald said as he slowly paced around the small sauna. “But by all means, keep it up. It’s not like anyone can hear you through these walls.”
“You’re a psycho and I know what you were planning,” she said as she slid back into a corner of the room, Oswald’s laps made her feel uneasy; he paced like a cheetah choosing its prey and she was the only discernible prey in the room.
Oswald nodded, “and I know that you killed a man.”
“It was an accident,” she seethed, “and he was helping you to drug the whole town.”
Oswald laughed, “good luck proving that. But proving that you set the fire should be a great deal more easy… and that will serve my purposes just fine.”
Leticia drew herself back against the wall more firmly at hearing this. He was right, her tire tracks, or her fingerprints – because fingerprints were probably fireproof, or a strand of her hair, something would have been left behind at the scene of the fire and it would only be a matter of time before it was discovered. And she’d fled. People who’re involved in accidents don’t flee.
“Why are you doing this to me?” She said, her eyes scanning the room for a means of escape.
Oswald smiled, “I have Sarah now, and I’m happy. I need to make sure that nothing can ruin that.”
“What if I promise that I won’t ever tell anyone?” Oswald laughed and continued pacing around the room. “I… I… I promise,” she said again, her tone changing in spite of herself, “I’ll tell Kerstin not to pursue it and I won’t either.”
Oswald stopped in his tracks. “Kerstin?” He said, his voice raising. He nodded, “figures,” he said. “No, I can’t trust you Leticia. Look at what you did to me in California.”
She slid across the bench into the opposite corner of the small room, “what I did to you?” She asked incredulous, “you had me drugged on an operating table against my will.”
“Not against your will,” Oswald said, “you told me what you would do anything to make me happy…”
If there was more to that sentence she wouldn’t hear it, because as he had circled around to make his loop of the little room she’d leapt out and grabbed the kettle that sat near the rack where the coals would be heated to generate steam in the room. The kettle, in her hand, swung hard and landed solidly against the back of Oswald’s head, sending the man, the kettle, its lid and its handle each flying in a different direction.
Kaitlyn laughed and raised her glass in a silent toast all alone and tossed back the contents of the glass, “this is really good booze.”
Jason laughed in spite of himself, “that mouthful of champagne probably cost 800$.”
Kaitlyn’s eyes widened, “really? That’s awesome.” She tossed the glass onto the grass, “I’m glad that you talked me into coming to here.”
“Coming to here? What?” He sighed, “you really are a lightweight.” He shook his head.
“Listen, we should head home,” he said, “you’re already plastered and we’ve seen just about as much of this place as we’re gonna.”
“Nuh uh,” she said, tumbling slightly forward and ending up pressing herself bodily into him. “We haven’t been in there,” she swung herself around in what was thankfully a sort of twisting dip brought about only by Jason’s quick reflexes, else Kaitlyn Godspeed would have been pointing at the Red Terrace pool house while laying flat on her back.
“Fine, but after we go through there I’m taking you home,” he said finally.
Anders Wateford lurked outside the Red Terrace pool house’s sitting room and listened to his grandfather and uncle explain to Oliver Jordan how it was that they were going to expose Jordan for securities fraud if he went through with his plans to foreclose on Waterford Holdings debt.
“It’s as simple as this,” Kirk had explained, “I’ve got documents that run back almost forty years that show anti-competitive behaviour, tax fraud, falsified environmental documents, internal memos that include instructions from you to use intimidation and violence in business deals. I’ve known that this was coming for a while, Oliver… I’ve been preparing.”
“I don’t suppose you have anything to do with this,” Jordan had said to Senator Charles Taylor.
“I may have supplemented the pile,” he said flatly.
Anders continued to listen as the men pressed Jordan into acquiescing that he would turn the debt back over to Kent Armitage and give up on his plans to take over Waterford Holdings. Anders was rather dubious that this last clause would be adhered to.
He leaned against the wall in order to be able to hear further what the men were saying when he was startled into standing upright, “figures,” the voice seethed, “they don’t bother to breed any manners into any of you Waterfords.”
Anders spun around and spied Olivia Jordan standing in the candle-lit bay hall of the pool house. “What are you doing here, bitch?”
Olivia laughed, “way to prove my point little man,” she sighed, “I’m looking for my father, I figure that it’s time to bring these festivities to an end and put a move on the… riff-raff.”
A smile spread across Anders face, “oh? How are you going to bring the festivities to an end?”
Olivia shook her head, “you wouldn’t understand, boy.” She said, “it’s all very… business-y, you see, big words and the like. Grown up stuff.”
“Your, uh, father is in there.” Anders offered calmly, “talking to my grandfather about how he just got his ass handed to him for trying to take over my family’s company. Funny thing is that the words they’re using aren’t that big… mostly ‘fraud’ and ‘anti-trust’… maybe you should look those up before you go in, though.”
Olivia gave Anders a solid shove into the table beside which he stood as she stormed past sending him and the contents of the table clattering in every direction.
She dashed the few steps toward the door of the small room, and turned back. She winced as she looked at Oswald laying prone on the floor.
She bent down and rolled him up against the wall as best she could, kicking parts of the smashed kettle out of the way as she did so. Satisfied that the man would in no way be prone to succumbing to some accidental death or harm – at least more than the bump on the head – by her hand, she pulled open the door to the small sauna and stepped out.
As her left foot came down, instead of landing firmly on the floor, it came to rest on the handle of the kettle that she had previously kicked out of the way. The handle slid forward and carried her foot with it. She lost her balance in spite of herself and she tumbled backwards, crashing into the pedestal from which she’d picked up the kettle as she fell.
Before she had time to react a burst of sparks and stars exploded in her vision; and then the world went black.
“Why are there no lights on in here?” Kaitlyn whined as they minced their way through the pool house. As they’d entered Jason had heard voices in the long open halls and so had herded Kaitlyn away to avoid chastisement for snooping by the Waterford household staff or the Waterfords themselves.
“Ambiance I think,” Jason offered, “so that it doesn’t take away from the wedding decorations. Or maybe it’s like this all the time… it’s not like I’ve been here before you know.”
“It makes a nice ambinance,” Kaitlyn said softly and directly into his ear. She plucked a candle from a table in the bay hall as they ducked into a darkened room. “What’s this place?”
“It looks like a bedroom,” Jason said simply as he peered through the darkness that Kaitlyn’s candle singly penetrated. As the light source dipped toward the ground he spun around to see Kaitlyn, too, making a move for the floor. “What are you… okay, let’s keep standing,” he said as he hooked his arm under hers and hauled her back up.
She pulled the candle up to both of their faces and smiled a drunken smile, “thank you,” she said, he could feel her breath tickle his nose. “Do you think I’m pretty?” She said quietly.
“I… what?” He replied.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” She repeated, then, after a moment, continued, “I think you are.”
Jason chuckled, “you think I’m pretty, thank you.” He said.
She frowned, “not pretty… you know what I meant.” She sighed, “but you don’t think I am do you?”
He stepped toward her, “as a matter of fact, I do.” He leaned in and kissed her soundly on the lips as together they fell backwards onto the nearby bed.
Kerstin stood silently in the presence of Frank Denzre. Neither had spoken for several minutes. Her hands were in his hands and their eyes were locked. She was satisfied with her decision about the future of their… whatever it was, had been, was going to be.
The crooked smile was back on his face and hers, she presumed, was similarly laced with a smile – although not crooked. She would have to get used to these new eyes of his. They were no longer the eyes of a stranger, the eyes of someone to whom Emerald Heights was foreign, was unknown. She could distinctly see the brand of Emerald Heights in those eyes; she could see beyond their rim and into the depth of his soul.
And she liked what she saw.
As she watched him a frown drew across his face and in the same instant an orange light flashed over his face. His mouth opened in silent speech, but she heard the word nonetheless: fire.
In that same instant, as if in answer to a question neither of them dared to ask, a scream from outside pierced the silence and flooded their ears: “oh my God, the pool house is burning!”
A barefoot Kerstin Waterford padded quietly down the stairs of Red Terrace. She noted Simpson, the house butler, glance down at her feet and shake his head slightly as she approached the doorway to the family dining room. “Miss Kerstin,” he said, not to her, but by way of an announcement to the occupants of the dining room as she passed through the large arch.
She groaned slightly as she noted that the rest of the family was already seated around the large table, with the exception of Marcus. His customary place was set but unoccupied. She slipped around the head of the table and kissed her father on the cheek before sliding into the position at the table that was historically hers; she sat cross-legged in between the chair’s wide arms.
“Where’s Marcus,” she said, addressing her father rather than her sister.
“It’s our wedding day,” Tish replied from her left, “he can’t see me until the wedding.”
“Oh,” Kerstin replied, “I guess I forgot that. So did he stay in the guest wing last night?”
“He’s eating breakfast in the little dining room,” Lawrence replied.
“So are you living here again, now?” Tish snapped. “Because your room is gone you know.”
Kerstin laughed at the tone, “I noticed that,” she said, without looking at her sister. “No, I just stayed the night last night because…” her voice trailed off as she realized that she didn’t have a good reason beyond ‘because I found out your fiance and my boyfriend were working to destroy out family’. “Because… Daddy asked me to be here for breakfast this morning,” she said and hoped that it sounded convincing. “It’s your big day after all.”
Lawrence smiled and nodded, “that’s right. And after breakfast you girls can go up and start getting into your dresses. Guests will begin arriving at 11.”
“My dress is at my apartment,” Kerstin said flatly.
Lawrence frowned, “I thought all the bridesmaids dresses were here?”
“They are, Daddy,” Kerstin replied as she turned from her father to look at her sister for the first time since sitting down, “but I’m just a guest.”
Kaitlyn Godspeed was ripped from sleep by the sound of the phone booming through her head. She groaned and swore and swatted at the phone several times before her fingers successfully traced out the edges of the receiver. She lifted it to her ear and croaked, “yeah,” into it as best as she could manage.
“Is the Chief available?” The man’s voice asked from the other end of the line.
“What?” She replied.
“Chief Godspeed, is he home?”
“He’s in California,” he replied, “this is his daughter.”
“Oh,” the voice said, “sorry to have bothered you.”
“Yeah,” she said and dropped the receiver to the ground; as she rolled over the light in the room stung her brain. “Oh my God, I’m never drinking again,” she said out loud.
“That would be a good idea,” Jason Marshall said from the other side of her bed.
Lawrence stood in the foyer of Red Terrace and watched as his family dispersed to their various routines and duties for the big day. Kerstin stepped through the door and he caught her eye; with a jerk of his head she moved over to stand beside him. “Are you going to be okay going home alone? I can send Lucas with you, or Simpson, even if you’d prefer.”
Kerstin laughed, “I don’t think Simpson would like that very well, Daddy,” she said. “But I can manage just fine. Like Grandpa said, I’ll probably never see Frank again.” He heard Kerstin sigh and set her jaw in a way that looked like she was trying to contain her emotions.
“I’m sorry, my sweet,” he said and leaned in to kiss Kerstin’s forehead. “But I have to go talk to Marcus…”
Kerstin quirked an eyebrow, “what are you going to say to him?”
Lawrence shook his head, “I haven’t the foggiest idea.” He kissed his daughter quickly on the forehead once more and patted her on the arm, “be back before 11,” he reminded her. He then walked to the bottom of the stairs but was stopped by a voice behind him.
He looked back and watched the housemaid, Esther, holding the door open after giving Kerstin a gracious hug. He smiled at the sight, but the smile was soon replaced when he heard Esther speak, “happy birthday, Miss Kerstin,” she said before swinging shut the large front door.
He cursed under his breath for having forgotten, turned and continued the climb up the stairs.
The small dining room adjoined the upstairs den that Lawrence used as his personal office. He had directed the staff to ask Marcus to stay there after he was finished with breakfast. He knocked before entering and Marcus stood, “Lawrence,” the younger man said.
“Sit,” Lawrence directed. “Please,” he added as an afterthought. “Marcus,” Lawrence said after the young man was seated. “I got some disturbing news yesterday morning and I wanted to address it with you.”
“With me?” Marcus said, “is there something I can do?”
“It actually concerns what you’ve already done, Marcus,” Lawrence continued, “specifically the information that you gave to Oliver Jordan.”
Marcus swallowed hard but didn’t speak.
Lawrence nodded, “well, I guess that tells me what I needed to know. Frank was telling the truth.”
“Lawrence…” Marcus began, “Mr. Waterford… I…”
Lawrence held up his hand, “frankly, Marcus, I couldn’t care less what you have to say. But listen to me. I am not going to say anything to Tish. I’m not going to say anything to any of the family… but,” he paused and turned to watch the man closely, “you are not going to continue to work for Waterford Holdings.” He noted Marcus reaction, “on Monday you’re going to submit your letter of resignation and you’re going to… I don’t care… call Oliver Jordan.”
Marcus stood and walked toward him, “Jordan already gave me a job,” he said defiantly, “yours.”
Lawrence laughed, “we’ll see,” he said confidently, “oh, and if you get any ideas about backing out of marrying my daughter: don’t bother. Corporate espionage is a very serious crime, Marcus, and I have more than enough evidence to put you away for a very long time.”
Neither man spoke for several moments before Lawrence added, “go. Get out of my office.”
Jason Marshall laughed, “what are you doing? You’re fully clothed,” he said.
She frowned quickly and looked down at herself. She was, indeed, fully clothed. And so was he. In fact he was laying on top of the bed covers that had clearly never been disturbed. She groaned and rubbed her forehead. “You drove me home,” she said.
He nodded, “yeah, you would have ended up sleeping in a ditch if I hadn’t.” He handed her a glass of water and a small white pill. “Here, this’ll help with the throbbing head problem,” he smiled, “what was that phone call?”
“Someone looking for my Dad,” she said, “the station, I think.”
Jason nodded, “probably about the fire.”
“What? What fire?”
“There was a fire downtown last night. Some building burned down and there was a guy inside who died. It was on the morning news.”
Leticia McKinelle knocked feverishly on Kerstin Waterford’s apartment door but there was no answer. There had been no answer for the last twenty minutes during which she had stood there knocking. Two neighbours had come out of their apartments to scowl at her for the disturbance but upon seeing the dishevelled weeping woman standing in the hall they had simply closed their doors in silence.
“Come on, Kerstin,” she said out loud.
The ding of the elevator door caused her to turn; Kerstin stepped out into the hall and fresh tears and sobbing came forth from Leticia as she walked toward her cousin.
“What happened to you?” Kerstin said, her voice filled with awe.
“Oh my God, Kerstin,” she said. “Where have you been?”
“I slept at Red Terrace last night,” Kerstin replied as she unlocked the apartment door and let Leticia pass her.
Leticia crossed the room immediately and crumpled on the couch. It was a moment before Kerstin joined her in the living room. “Did you get my message?” Leticia asked.
Kerstin shook her head, “I… dammit, I forgot my phone at Red Terrace.” She sighed, “no, I didn’t get your message. I take it from your… state… that you had a run-in with Oswald?”
Leticia moaned out loud, “you don’t even know the half of it. Did you hear about the fire downtown last night?”
Kerstin shook her head, “no, I came here right after breakfast. I haven’t heard any news or anything. What does that have to do with anything, anyway?”
Leticia pushed herself up to a sitting position on Kerstin’s couch. “I… followed Oswald to that building and… he was making some sort of drug or something there… and… he was going to use it on the whole town,” she hard to work hard to choke the words out through the sobs. “I set the building on fire. I killed that guy.”
She watched Kerstin stand suddenly and then lower herself slowly back down onto the couch, “you killed Oswald?” She asked.
Leticia shook her head slowly, “no… I… I don’t know who I killed.”
The sight at Red Terrace was one to behold. Lawrence and Lynda Waterford stood to the right of the front door of the grand Georgian manor, Kirk and Eileen Waterford stood opposite them, and the rest of the Waterford family lined up on either side of the doors according to age. Missing from the long line were Lawrence’s two daughters Tish – who was absent by design as the bride – and Kerstin – who was missing for reasons unknown.
The house staff of both Red Terrace and the old family home stood some steps behind the family, similarly flanking the door with men on the right and women on the left.
One by one the limousines arrived, making the circle in the open courtyard. A staff of valets hired specifically for the wedding stepped forward and opened the door for each car and helped the women and aged men from the cars when necessary. The whole thing was highly ritualized affair timed and planned with precision. Many, including his eldest daughter, did not understand Lawrence Waterford’s insistence on adhering to what they contended was an antiquated and unnecessary exercise in pomp and circumstance. For him it was an homage to the long standing traditions of his ancestors who called Emerald Heights their home. Also, it was a chance to show off in front of the rest of the town.
The characteristic white limousine of Oliver Jordan appeared in the courtyard and Lawrence leaned in to his wife and whispered, “here we go.”
“Be nice,” Lynda chided. Lawrence glanced at her quickly before returning his attention to Jordan’s car as the valets opened the two rear doors simultaneously. He hadn’t told Lynda about Marcus’ deceit, or about Oliver Jordan’s intention to take over Waterford Holdings.
Lawrence smiled as the Jordans made their way up the short walk to the front door of Red Terrace. “Mister and Mistress Oliver and Constance Jordan, and their daughter Olivia,” Simpson announced as the trio neared the waiting Waterfords.
“Oliver,” Lynda said as she leaned in and gave the older man a double-kiss; she did likewise with Constance and Olivia.
“Waterford,” Oliver Jordan stated coolly as he clasped the man’s hand.
“Jordan,” Lawrence replied curtly with a nod.
“Isn’t Trevor with you?” One of Ophelia’s twin girls asked rather imprudently for Lawrence’s taste.
“He is coming with his date, dear,” Constance replied as the trio passed through the receiving line and into the house.
“Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Lynda asked her husband.
“That’s only the beginning, my love,” Lawrence replied.
“You need to stop with the weeping,” Kerstin chided from the passenger seat of Leticia’s car, “if that make-up runs one more time there won’t be anything I can do. You’re going to be sad-clown in all of the pictures.”
“Do you want me to try to be funny, like you?” Leticia snapped. “I’m sorry, Kerstin, I just don’t know why I’m even going to this thing.”
Kerstin pivoted in her seat, “listen, from what you told me it sounds like it was a total accident. And that guy had a gun and he probably would have killed you if he didn’t slip. You even said he fired it!” She gestured to Leticia, “if you don’t go then people are going to know that something is up.”
“I don’t know how I can go and be happy and not think about the man who died.”
“The bad man who died, Leticia. Bad man. That makes a difference. And he might have died whether you were there or not.”
The car stopped at a corner and Leticia turned to look at her, “do you really believe that?”
Kerstin opened her mouth and it hung there for a moment, “I… I don’t know. But I know that you’re my cousin and I don’t want you to get in trouble for trying to protect the town from Oswald Glendale. I believe what you said about his plan to… I dunno… dose everyone with some drug.”
Leticia shook her head, “I don’t know how it works, but it seems to make people listen to him. Like after I talked to John the first time he was planning to help me convince Sarah that Oswald was dangerous and then, after Oswald gave him this thing, he was totally an Oswald groupie.”
“Creepy. Don’t let him near my drinks tonight, okay?”
“What?” Leticia said absently.
“Oswald, don’t let him near my drinks tonight, okay?”
“Oh my God, Kerstin… he’s going to be there!”
Kerstin frowned, “well yeah, probably, Leticia. He’ll be there with the Prices. They all got invited. Didn’t you think about that?”
“Not really,” Leticia said, “I don’t know if I can do this…”
“A bit, for sure,” she replied. “Did my Mom call?”
Jason shook his head, “not so far, the phone never rang again.”
She flopped down on the couch beside him, “figures.”
“Why do you say that?” Jason asked.
“Today is the big Waterford wedding,” Kaitlyn replied, “she’s probably up there sucking up to the Waterfords and the Jordans and the rest of them.”
“My family got invited to that thing, too,” Jason stated. “Not everyone there is a snob.”
“I know,” she said, “my Dad got invited, too. But just because he’s the police chief.”
“Just your Dad, you didn’t get invited too?”
She chuckled, “technically I got invited too. I mean, to the reception afterward, not to the actual wedding.”
Jason flipped his wrist up and looked at his watch, “that part’s probably over by now anyhow. All that’s left is the reception.”
He was smiling broadly when she turned and looked at him. “No,” she said having obviously read his mind. “Not after last night.”
“Come on!” He said, “when are you going to get another chance to see the inside of Red Terrace?”
“I can buy a magazine and see it any time I want to,” she quipped.
Jason pushed himself up off the couch and held out his hand, “you owe me,” he said plainly.
“What are you talking about?”
“If it wasn’t for me you’d have woke up in a ditch this morning, right? Well, I think that’s worth a trip up to Richie Rich Drive for the evening.”
Kaitlyn groaned, “fine. But I’m not wearing a stupid dress.”
Kerstin Waterford leaned against the wall just inside the main garden doors of Red Terrace while Leticia stood fully in the doorway looking out at the crowd of people who gathered for the reception of Marcus and Tish LeBrandt. “Did she leave?”
“Balls,” Kerstin replied before turning her head and spying her grandmother walking down the hall toward the door; she winced. “Sorry Granny,” she said.
Her grandmother shook her head, “you girls should be out socializing not lurking in a doorway.”
“She’s lurking,” Kerstin said poking her thumb at Leticia, “I’m full on hiding.”
Eileen Waterford continued on past the girls and after she was far enough away Leticia stabbed Kerstin in the rib with a finger. “Ow,” Kerstin exclaimed.
“Well that’s what you get for calling me a lurker, you know she really believes that kind of stuff.”
A smile spread across Kerstin’s face, “yes, yes I do.”
Leticia looked out the door and into the crowd, “oh, Olivia, Kerstin would love to talk to you…” she said, far too softly for anyone to have heard, but by way of example to Kerstin of the power that she had to plunge the other woman into her own personal hell.
“I actually know you wouldn’t do that because you hate her too,” Kerstin said.
“Maybe I don’t anymore,” Leticia said, “it’s been years since I’ve seen her. And I did hire her brother to seduce my father’s widow so we’re, like, family or something.” She shook her head, “oh my God, I actually did do that… what is going on with my life?”
Kerstin laughed in spite of herself. “I can’t believe you just said you were like family with a Jordan.”
“I know, I need a drink.”
“Oh, good idea. Get me one while you’re out there.”
“What?” Leticia asked.
“I’m not going out there.” Kerstin stated.
“Are you kidding me? I’m not going alone, Kerstin. Oswald is out there somewhere with Sarah and the rest of the Prices. Do you even know what they think of me? When I was up at the estate I acted like a complete head case.”
Kerstin sighed, “fine. Where’s Olivia?”
“Crap. I lost her.”
The man nodded but continued to look through the reception crowd. “I’m fine, I just got some bad news this morning.”
Sarah made a sad face, “I’m sorry, my darling.”
“I am too, it is going to force me to change my plans quite a lot,” Oswald replied, still looking at the crowd rather than Sarah.
“Are you sure you don’t want to dance?”
Oswald turned and looked at Sarah with a stern frown on his face, “yes, Sarah, I’m sure. Now will you please stop talking…” He stood and scanned the faces in the crowd again.
“I… I’m sorry,” Sarah said, sounding hurt.
Oswald looked down at her. He took her chin in his hand, “I’m sorry, my love,” he said softly, “I didn’t mean to snap at you. It has just been a stressful day.”
“Do you want to go?”
Oswald shook his head, “no, I have unfinished business to deal with,” he said, “and I think I might be able to deal with it tonight.”
He looked back out across the crowd and spied Leticia McKinelle walking toward the bar. He looked at Sarah, smiled and said, “actually, I think that dance sounds like a great idea.”
“Booze,” Kerstin replied.
“You are the most unhelpful person I know.”
“Wow, you are hostile today,” Kerstin replied, “okay, I’ll have a White Russian.”
“Hold off on the judgment there, heh?” Kerstin quipped, “I’m keeping the Oswald vigil, you get the drinks. We’re a team, you know. Wah!” Kerstin squealed as she turned her head and flinched reflexively by throwing her hands in front of her face.
“Kerstin Waterford,” Olivia Jordan said as she walked up to the bar.
“I let my guard down for one friggin’ minute,” Kerstin whispered to Leticia, “oh, Olivia,” Kerstin said while mentally flipping a coin to decide whether to use the muscles in her mouth to smile, or to use the muscles in her finger to properly greet Olivia Jordan. She smiled. “I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk before now. Are you back in Emerald Heights to stay or just taking a break from pulling bread out of Asian children’s mouths?”
“I’m visiting; just here for this and Daddy’s fundraiser next weekend” Olivia replied, “how about you? Are you still enjoying being the little rich girl with a pauper’s heart that you think is so cute? I heard you had some man trouble recently.”
Kerstin took a quick step forward and balled her fists at her side. Leticia spoke her name which caused her to rock back on her heel but she continued to stare down Olivia, “what do you know about that?”
“Just that Daddy says that Southeast Asia isn’t the only place that Jordan Enterprises is expanding,” she smiled and scrunched up her nose. “You know it was inevitable, Kerstin. There’s nothing that you or anyone else can do to stop my family from getting what we want. Your sister had the right idea, you should learn from her… marry now and get rid of the name Waterford while it still has a little value left in it.”
“Screw you,” Kerstin said and turned away from Olivia. “Give me that drink,” she said to Leticia, who obliged. She brought it to her lips and then stopped.
“Hey, Olivia,” Kerstin said turning back to face the woman, “did you know it’s an open bar?”
She threw the drink in the other woman’s face.
“It wasn’t like I had much of a choice but to go through with his demands,” the senator stated.
Kirk Waterford shook his head, “no one is blaming you, Chuck. The damage hasn’t been done yet.”
Senator Charles Taylor sat in the high backed leather chair across from his old friend and sighed, “if I’d known what you had on Jordan from the beginning none of this ever would have happened.”
“I’ve known that Oliver Jordan was going to make a move on Waterford Holdings for years. He’s been circling, picking off other businesses across the state; the businesses of my friends. And I’ve sat by and watched and done nothing to stop it. It was my foolish pride that kept me from coming here and putting a stop to it.”
“What happened between us, happened a long time ago, Kirk. We were both younger men, then; and neither of us was smart enough to know better than to blinded by pride.” The senator stood and tossed back his drink. “Another?” He asked, raising the brandy decanter in the air.
“Please,” Kirk replied. “I’ve got my driver.” As the senator poured, Kirk continued, “has there been any word on your wife?”
Charles Taylor shook his head, “not so far. Jordan’s man Custone told me that he ‘had information’ that he would give me once this business with Waterford is through.” He swished the remaining brandy in his own glass around and then tossed it back in a single gulp.
“Kidnapping a man’s wife is extreme even for Oliver Jordan,” Kirk added.
The senator chuckled slightly, “you know the damnedest part of the whole thing? I owe the son of a bitch a debt. I never knew how much I loved Vivian until all of this.” He paused, looking contemplatively through the glass of brandy, “Washington is hard on a marriage.”
“So is Emerald Heights,” Kirk added, swallowing his drink and pushing himself up out of the chair. “We can count on you, then, tomorrow to back our play against Jordan?”
The senator nodded, “you can count me in.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Olivia Jordan moaned as she stepped out of the gate and into the concourse at Stanley-Carter Airport in Emerald Heights. “First I have to fly all the way from God damned Singapore on some commercial plane all cooped up with other people’s germs and then my friggin’ father isn’t even here to pick me up?”
“He is waiting in the car Miss Olivia,” the tall thin man replied.
She scowled, “he, like, can’t walk in to greet his only daughter when she flies half way around the world after making him a hundred million dollars?”
“Would you like me to get your bags, M’lady?”
She stopped her feverish, laser-guided walking and spun around on the man, “what did you think we were doing, catching up? Of course I want you to get the bags. Jesus Christ, what else did you think you were here for?” She snapped back around and continued walking toward the exit; exasperatedly she huffed, “I miss servants who don’t speak English.”
The sun had set on Leticia McKinelle. Her hands still gripped the steering wheel of her car in spite of the fact that the engine hadn’t been turned on in hours. She continued to stare at the building – the laboratory – that Oswald had set up in Emerald Heights.
She kept running his words over and over in her head “I will never lose her again.” She didn’t know what they meant, but the sound of his voice had sent chills down her spine. She knew that he was dangerous and she’d seen it with her own eyes.
“But who’s going to believe me?” She said, her voice barely a whisper. “I have no proof. It is his word against mine and… and he has some way to enthrall people.”
“The brother was resistant,” she said, repeating the words that Oswald had spoken to the other man. “He means John… he did something to him. Dosed him with something… something that he makes here in this lab.”
“Just enough to keep my ex-wife from ruining things,” she parroted him again. She chewed on her lower lip, “just enough of what?”
“Aw, fuck.” He said. “What do you want, Kaitlyn?”
“I want to talk to you,” she said, her words slurred by the alcohol she had consumed. “I want to talk to you, fucking Jason Marshall… about your murderer brother.”
“Don’t you think I get enough of this shit at school?”
“My Daddy is in Califin… Califon… Califinornia trying to save your brother’s ass from the electric chair, bucko.”
“Your murderer brother and his sister lawyer… sawyer lister… what-effing-ever,” Kaitlyn corrected, with a pointing gesture that was punctuated by the slosh of booze from the red plastic cup in her left hand. “Shit,” she said.
“Sit down, sloppy drunk girls are not attractive,” Jason said, hooking his arm under hers and leading her to a bench just outside the patio doors.
“Eff you,” she said pushing her face into his. “I’m not a sloppy drink…”
Jason shook his head, “drunk. And yes you are.”
“I have to stay with my Mom while my Dad is gone,” she said, suddenly sounding sad. “My Mom is such a tool. She wants me to be a girly girl and be all like her…” she breathed in slowly and then exhaled in a single quick breath, “do you like your Mom?” She asked, then her eyes widened, “oh… shit,” she said, drawing out the word for several seconds. “Your Mom’s dead… I forgot.”
“Missing,” Jason corrected.
Kaitlyn lolled her head to the side, “for ten years? Come on.” She brought the red cup to her lips again to drink, but found it empty. She threw the cup to the ground and moaned slightly, “I gotta go home now.” She attempted to stand and immediately stumbled back down on to the bench.
“Oh Jesus, let me help you,” he said. Jason hooked his arm around her and hauled her to a standing position and began to walk with her toward the front yard, “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he muttered to himself as they neared his car.
“Daddy,” Olivia Jordan said as she slid into the back of the limousine. “That plane flight was hell.”
“I’m sorry, sweetness, both of the Jordan Enterprises jets are in getting painted with the new livery.” Oliver said by way of explanation. “That was poor planning on someone’s part.”
“Someone who, Daddy?” She said through pursed lips.
“Not someone who will ever get to make that same mistake again. I doubt they even have phones where he’s working now.”
Father and daughter shared a laugh as the car began to move. “I can’t believe you made me come home for this thing,” she whined.
“Your mother wanted to see you, too.” Oliver reminded, “and the charity ball is next weekend.”
“I could have come then,” Olivia said, “you know how I feel about the Waterfords.”
“I know, Princess, and that is precisely why I wanted you to be here.” Oliver grinned across the car. He popped open a bottle from the little fridge that was built into the side of the car. He poured out a glass of champagne for each of them and handed one to Olivia, “after tomorrow, my sweet, Waterfords will be nothing more than a name in the history books of Emerald Heights.”
“Oh Daddy,” Olivia said as she leaned forward in her seat, “do tell!”
Kerstin stood in the corner of the sitting room at Red Terrace and watched the bulk of the Waterford family sharing after-dinner pleasantries in a manner that she was accustomed to. These were usually evenings filled with business chatter from the men, society goings on by the women and the bored wails from the children until they were released into the rest of the house to play. Kerstin was lamenting her graduation from the latter group as she took in the gathered crowd over the rim of her wine glass.
As she stood she noticed her father glance over at Marcus for what was not the first time, and cast him a glance that made her curious. No one else seemed to notice and no one else seemed to be in on whatever it was that her father was feeling because no one else seemed to regard him with any more or less interest than was usual.
Ophelia, her only blood-related aunt on the Waterford side, had avoided her entirely since the exchange that they’d had in the dining room earlier in the afternoon. There had been an awkward hush that had fallen over the sitting room when she had finally joined the family after helping Esther set the table for dinner. It had caused her to smile broadly and lock eyes with her aunt for only the briefest moment before the elder woman looked away.
She had turned her attention out through the large, open double doors and was watching the younger Waterford grandchildren run and play in the grand foyer of Red Terrace when her father’s voice caused her to start.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said.
“I was just watching the kids,” she replied, “I remember doing that…” she turned and looked at her father with a sideways smile, “I miss doing that.”
Her father chuckled, “you wouldn’t fit into some of those crevasses anymore, my dear.”
“I’d love to try,” she said, giving a quick glance over her shoulder as one of the girls squealed and dashed away from her brother.
“Listen, have you talked to Frank today?” Her father asked.
“Yes, first thing this morning before he left the apartment, why?” She asked.
“He came to see me this morning,” Lawrence stated and again Kerstin saw him cast that strange glance at his soon-to-be son-in-law, Marcus LeBrandt.
“Uh…” Lawrence said, “oh, nothing really. Just a… business tip he said I should know about.”
“Daddy?” She asked.
“Yes, my dear?” Lawrence replied.
“Why are you lying to me?”
“No,” she slurred from the passenger seat of his car.
“What now?” Jason asked.
“Not my Mom’s place.”
“Because I’m drunk.” She said matter-of-factly, “and she would murder me.” She rolled her head over on the headrest to look at him, “sorry I didn’t mean that.”
“Stop it,” he said, “so where do you want to go?”
“My Dad‘s,” she said, “I have a key.” The final word lasted a good five seconds as she drew it out.
“Won’t your Mom get mad about that?”
“Not as mad as if I show up…” she stopped talking and suddenly swallowed hard several times in a row. Jason was briefly worried about the interior of the car.
“…smashed off your face?” He offered.
She nodded wildly. “Yeah, that.” She continued, “so take me to my Dad’s place.”
“I’m not your chauffeur,” he said, “but it happens to be more on my way anyhow.”
“Where are you staying while your aunt is in Californica?” She asked as the car began moving forward again.
“California?” He said, correcting her, “I’m staying at home.”
“At your sister‘s house?”
He turned and looked at her, she was still looking directly at him, “that’s where I live.”
“Yeah, but you get to stay there alone?”
“Right now I do. My niece and nephew are with Cassandra, so I have the house to myself.”
Kerstin heard the front door click and instinctively turned to make sure that one of the children wasn’t trying to make a break for it. Instead she saw her grandfather making an uncharacteristically quiet entrance. He smiled at his granddaughter but in a way that made her feel more like she caught him than that she was being greeted.
He took a few steps toward the sitting room and then gestured for her. She glanced at her father, who noticed her movement, and then looked out into the hall and raised an eyebrow. “Granddaddy,” she said as she stepped up alongside the elder Waterford.
“Can you get your father for me?”
“I think I already…” she said, as Lawrence appeared in the hallway as if on cue. “…did.” She smiled.
“I need to speak with you,” Kirk said to her father and gestured toward the stairs. That meant the upstairs den, which could only mean they were going to talk business.
“What’s going on?” Kerstin asked.
“Nothing,” Lawrence asserted. “We just have some business to talk about.”
Kerstin nodded, “I know, that’s what I mean. You’ve been shooting daggers at Marcus all afternoon,” she noticed that Kirk and Lawrence shared a look as soon as she said Marcus’ name, “and you said Frank came to see you today about something having to do with the business. And then grandpa was missing at dinner and just gets home now and comes into the house without being announced? Something is up and I want to know what it’s all about.”
“Kerstin, it’s nothing just go back…”
She set her jaw, “no. You’re going to tell me what’s going on, or I’m going back down to the sitting room and I’m going to repeat everything that I just said to the whole family – and we’ll talk about it, too.”
“Kerstin Anna Waterfo…” Lawrence began, but Kirk held up his hand to stop him.
“Lawrence, we might as well tell her. It has as much to do with her as it does anyone in the family. Maybe more.”
Leticia‘s fingers felt stiff as she pulled them off of the steering wheel and pushed the door to the car open. She slipped silently up to the edge of the building and returned to the window under which she had placed a crate. She popped up and looked inside.
She could see the man that Oswald had been speaking with moving back and forth along a long bench covered in equipment. She watched as he added compounds to the mixture that appeared to travel along the bench in stages, using what looked like a series of large eyedroppers he took measured amounts of this and that and added it to the processional until it dripped out of a tube at the end and into an otherwise non-descript beaker.
On his way back to the other end of the assembly line the man knocked over one of the beakers and it fell to the floor and smashed. The scene played out silently in front of Leticia due to the panes of glass, but the man’s animated reaction told her he was not pleased. She watched him dash out of her view as she continued to study the laboratory.
Her attention was wrenched from the scene when the sound of the door to the laboratory being opened reached her ears. She gasped and tumbled from the crate and fell back into the shadows.
She watched the man dash passed the opening to the alley and she lept up and ran to where she could see out. A large van was parked down the street and she could see the man throw open the doors and climb inside. She looked toward the door to the laboratory; it was slightly ajar.
Without thinking about it she quickly rounded the front of the building and entered the laboratory.
Her senses were quickly assaulted with the eye-burning smells of chemicals undergoing various reactions with one another. She could hear the drip of the formula that was being created at the end of the line of tubes and vessels of chemicals. Two Bunsen burners were evaporating some part of the concoction at the beginning and in the middle of the process.
A paper clipboard sat on the edge of the workbench and she approached it. It contained the header “Formula 7 Primer Reagents” and a long list of chemical names that she didn’t recognize and couldn’t pronounce. She pulled the phone out of her pocket and dialed Kerstin Waterford. The phone rang only once before going to voicemail. “Kerstin, I’m in Oswald’s lab. I mean, he’s got a lab! He’s… I dunno what he’s doing. There’s a bunch of stuff here that looks like he’s making a drug… maybe that’s how he’s fooling everyone. I’m going to see what else I can find… call me!”
Another stack of pages caught her attention and she headed toward them but was halted by a voice behind her.
“Who the hell are you?” It exclaimed.
She turned around to see the man she’d watched through the window.
And his gun.
“I… I don’t understand,” Kerstin replied.
“But I don’t know anything…”
“He didn’t know that,” Lawrence said.
She shook her head, “but Marcus has been around for years and I just met Frank.”
Kirk nodded, “but you met Frank right after moving out of Red Terrace, which Marcus already had covered…”
Kerstin’s phone began to ring; she pressed the cancel button without looking at it. “So then… Frank was… he moved in to The Rockwell in order to spy on me?”
“Honey, I think he moved to Emerald Heights just to spy on you.” Lawrence crossed the room and sat on the arm of the chair in which Kerstin sat. He rubbed her shoulder, “I’m sorry, Kerstin.”
“I still don’t understand,” Kerstin said. “He said he was a businessman.”
“Kerstin, dear, he was lying to you.” Kirk said.
“Now, Dad,” Lawrence said, “he did come clean in time to give us a chance to try to stop Jordan’s plans.”
“Oh come on, Lawrence,” Kirk replied, “he probably figured that there was nothing that could be done at this late an hour. I bet you he never went back to that apartment after he left Red Terrace and he’s on a Jordan Enterprises jet to God knows where as we speak. We’ll never hear from him again.”
“But…” Kerstin whispered, “he’s got a cat.”
“Holy fuck!” The man said, “how did you find this place?”
“I followed him,” she said, “what’s going on here?”
“I’ll ask the questions!” He exclaimed, “now tell me what are you doing here?”
“I… I came here to see what he was doing…” She made an abbreviated gesture toward the equipment on the work bench, “I knew he was doing something… something to people. I had to find out what.”
A crackling noise behind her made both of them turn their attention to the contraption that was brewing up the Formula 7 Primer. “Shit,” he said, calling her attention back to the gun. He jerked the gun to the side in an indication for her to move out of his way; she did.
She watched as he sped over to the contraption and added another measured dose of one of the chemicals to one of the beakers suspended above the Bunsen burner. “That was close,” he said turning back toward her, “this is very delicate stuff.”
“What is it?” She asked. “I read the clipboard… what’s Formula 7?”
“This is,” he said, “well, the Primer at least. The Activator part of the formula is already synthesized.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“No, I don’t suppose you would, would you?” He turned his attention back to the formula, adding another squirt of one of the elements into the reaction where it was called for; the gun still trained, although absently, on Leticia.
“What does it do?”
“I can’t tell you that,” he said, “that’s… it’s a secret.”
“It’s makes people compliant,” she defiantly.
“How did you know…” he said as he spun half-way around. His foot caught a piece of the beaker that he’d broken earlier, and forgotten about, and slipped out from underneath himself. He pitched backward and the gun was suddenly aimed at the ceiling.
Leticia flinched a step back and bumped into a stool. She wheeled around and grabbed the stool and held it in a defensive position as she watched the man’s arms pinwheel wildly as he lost his balance completely.
He hit the ground with a thud that was drowned out by the sound of the gun going off. Leticia screamed and threw the stool forward in fear. The stool flew toward the workbench and crashed into the glass vials and beakers and tubes and sent the whole thing tumbling to the ground.
One of the Bunsen burners was pulled over in the tumbling wreckage of scientific equipment and immediately the entire framework burst into flames.
Lawrence paced back and forth along the length of the narrow hall just inside the door of the old family house. Dozens of pictures lined the wood panelled 17th century walls. The gentle creaking of the floorboards told him with certainty that his father was descending toward the main floor.
“Lawrence?” Kirk Waterford said as he reached the bottom of the stairs. “What’s going on? I could hear you tracking around down here from my study.”
“Dad we need to talk,” Lawrence said while drumming the fingers of his right hand on the palm of his left.
Kirk frowned, “of course, son, come on up to the study and we’ll talk there.”
Lawrence shook his head, “no Dad, I’m expecting Kent Armitage to join us here in a few minutes let’s just stay down here.”
“Kent Armitage?” Kirk said, a note of surprise in his voice. “What’s gone on? Is something wrong with the company?”
Lawrence nodded, “yes, Dad, I’m afraid that something is very wrong with the company.”
Kirk gestured for his son to follow him into the main floor parlour which was just off the main hall. Kirk immediately walked to the small cart that stood in the corner of the room, he pointed the to carafe, Lawrence shook his head. Kirk poured himself a drink, “okay, so what’s going on?”
“You know about the Ajax development?” Lawrence began, “the one that’s going to put those 100 units on the old Carter farm land?” Kirk nodded, “in order to get the financing to buy the land and get the government studies done I had to leverage some pretty hefty loans.”
Kirk made a gesture resembling a shrug, “the 40 million. I know about all of this. Didn’t Kent’s people approve that months ago?”
Lawrence nodded, “they did. And everything was proceeding on track…”
Lawrence was interrupted by the sound of the door knocker. He raised his finger to his father, “excuse me,” he said and he dashed from the room toward the front door. “Kent,” he said, opening the door, “come in. I’m just filling my father in one what has happened.”
Kent shook his head, “I’m so sorry Lawrence. Jordan had me over a barrel.”
Tears flowed unrestrained down Leticia McKinelle’s face. Her hands gripped the steering wheel of her car so tightly she hadn’t been able to feel the palms of her hands for an hour. She had lost track of how long she had been parked there, staring at the hedged entrance to the Price estate.
She was shocked, she was enraged, she was terrified for Sarah and the rest of the Price family.
“I know that he’s dangerous,” she said out loud to the empty interior of her car. “I don’t care what he does or what he says… or who believes his lies. I know he’s dangerous.”
She drew in a ragged, sobbing breath. “I know that Oswald’s dangerous,” she repeated. “And I’m going to stop him.”
Kerstin jogged up the steps to Red Terrace’s front door. Her father had called her while she was in the shower and his message had confused her. She pushed through the front door without knocking – something that would annoy both the house staff and her step-mother to no end. As she headed up the stairs toward the upstairs den that she knew her father favoured in the afternoon, she was halted by the sound of her name.
She spun around and spied her cousin, “Anders,” she said with forced cordiality.
“When did you get here?” He asked, his hand resting on the newel post at the bottom of the stairs.
“Just a minute ago,” she said, “I didn’t wait to be announced.”
Anders shook his head in what appeared to be disappointment, “looking for your father?” Kerstin nodded, he continued, “you won’t find him up there. He left about a half hour ago for the old family house to see Grandfather.” He made an obvious show of looking left and right across the broad expanses of the house; as if he were watching something. “I have been making sure that things go off smoothly here.”
Kerstin narrowed her eyes but she forced a smile, “well that’s good of you,” she said sarcastically. “My Dad called me but I missed the call by a few minutes. Do you know what it was about?”
Anders shook his head, “I don’t. I have been busy.”
Kerstin rolled her eyes, “Of course. Maybe I should head over to the old house; he obviously left for there right after he called me.”
Anders scoffed, “he and Grandfather would be talking about the business, Kerstin. What could they possibly need with you?”
Kerstin quirked an eyebrow, “well I don’t know. But he did call me, Anders.” She began to make her way back down the stairs. “I’m sure that he didn’t call to have me come over here and pretend to oversee the wedding setup… you seem to have that well under control.”
Kirk Waterford tossed back the contents of his drink and slammed the heavy-based glass down on the writing desk. “So that son of a bitch is finally making an honest to God play for Waterford, heh? We’ll see about that.”
Lawrence shook his head, “I don’t see what you can do, Dad. He’s bought up all our debt…”
“…and I’ve put out some requests on Waterford’s behalf, sir.” Kent added. “But Jordan’s got someone putting the squeeze on any banker who even considers lending to you. Even Pam McKinelle said she couldn’t do it. Someone told her boss that their charter would be revoked.”
“Listen boys,” Kirk said, “never count a Waterford out.” He walked over to the two younger men and clapped them on the shoulders. “Or an Armitage for that matter.” He grinned, “this isn’t the first time Oliver Jordan has tried to take over Waterford. He hasn’t beat me yet.”
He stepped back and turned to leave the room. Lawrence spoke, “Dad, where are you going? We need to figure out how we can save the company.”
“I’ve got to see an old… friend. Give my apologies to your mother and the rest, I won’t be back for dinner.”
They heard the sound of the front door clicking closed and Kent turned to Lawrence, “you don’t think he’s going to kill Oliver Jordan, do you?”
Lawrence laughed. “No,” he said. “Well, probably not. My father has been battling Oliver Jordan for forty years. If anyone knows how to put a stop to one of his schemes it’s my Dad.”
“What are you going to do about your daughter’s fiance?”
Lawrence shook his head, “I don’t know what I’m going to tell the girls yet; Marcus has basically been a member of this family for years, and as for the other one…”
“The other one who? And the girls? Both of them?” Kent asked, his brow furrowed. “What does Kerstin have to do with any of thing?”
“Oh Kerstin? Nothing. But it was her boyfriend Frank Denzre who told me what Jordan was planning. He was working for Jordan, too.”
She watched him turn his car down an alley from which there was no exit. She pulled her car to the side of the street and waited. It was only a minute before Oswald emerged and dashed for the front entrance of the building.
The tears were gone now; replaced by an audible, seething anger. She had left him behind in California when she had fled back to Emerald Heights. She had ended that chapter of her life. What business did he have coming to her home town? “He has nothing here,” she whispered to herself. “He wouldn’t even know that Emerald Heights existed if it wasn’t for me.”
Her fists were clenching and unclenching involuntarily as she watched him enter the building. She waited a moment before she popped open the car door and made her way to the side of the building.
There were no security cameras that she could see, but still she thought caution to be prudent. She slid along the wall, down the alley, to a window that was perched just above her head. She quickly found a crate that would give her the extra reach she needed in order to see inside.
As she lifted her head above the sill of the window she gasped out loud. It was a lab; some sort of medical facility. She couldn’t identify the pieces but she was sure that they were being used for something evil.
She jerked her head back as she saw Oswald appear in the room. She raised her head high enough to be able to watch without being seen as another man joined Oswald. The two were talking, but about what she couldn’t hear. She reached a hand up and pushed on the window pane slightly but it wouldn’t budge. She cursed under her breath.
She looked around and spied what appeared to be a vent a few feet away. She jumped down from her crate and placed her ear at the vent.
“How many guests will be there?” She heard a man’s voice ask.
“Virtually the whole town,” Oswald replied, “is the concentration going to be high enough?”
“I can’t say for certain,” the man replied, “if there’s anyone who’s resistant like the brother was then you might have a problem.”
Oswald chuckled, “I really don’t need them all to be affected, just enough to keep my ex-wife’s stories from ruining things with Sarah.”
Leticia winced. The unknown man spoke, “is she really worth going to all this trouble?”
She heard a loud smack that sounded like Oswald had struck the other man. “She is perfect. Perfect,” he repeated. “And now that she’s mine I will never lose her… nothing is too much trouble for Sarah, do you understand? I will never lose her again.”
Leticia stood bolt upright. “Again?” she whispered to herself. She placed her ear back against the vent.
The voices were quieter this time. “I’ll try to have as many vials as you need ready for you by the morning,” she thought the unknown man said, “and then you can just mix them with something communal. Like in a punch bowl…”
“Miss Kerstin, please,” the woman said, “you don’t have to do that.”
Kerstin laughed, “Esther I think I can help you put out a few dinner plates.”
“Mr. Simpson wouldn’t be very happy about it.”
“Let me deal with Simpson,” Kerstin said, referring to the house butler who was a stickler for propriety. “I’d like to see him dress me down in the middle of Red Terrace.” Esther giggled. “I have missed you, and the rest of the house staff.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Esther replied. “We have missed you, too.”
The two women made eye contact and Kerstin grinned broadly, “I forget, do the forks go on the left?”
“Yes,” Esther replied.
“Kerstin!” the volume of the voice almost caused her to toss the entire tray of forks across the room.
She spun on her heel. “Aunt Ophelia,” she stated.
“What are you doing in here?” She said looking with great scorn at Esther, “shouldn’t you be in the sitting room with the rest of the family until dinner is called?”
“I was just helping to set the table,” Kerstin replied. She felt like a kid caught with her hand in the candy dish. Ophelia was her father’s older sister, the middle child of Kirk and Eileen Waterford. She was also the most prolific breeder among her generation of Waterfords with five children. Two boys and three girls, including a set of twins. They outnumbered the rest of the Waterford grandchild put together.
“Have you taken up employment here at the house, then?” Ophelia asked, though not really. She continued to move toward Kerstin and the tray of forks.
“No, but I was just catching up with Esther and I wanted to…”
“Kerstin!” she actually flinched at the sound of her name being called out a second time. When her father noted her reaction he continued, “what’s the matter?”
She smiled, “nothing Daddy,” she said as she carefully eyed her aunt. “I was just helping Esther set the table.”
Lawrence smiled and shook his head at his daughter, “you don’t have to do that, Kerstin.”
“I know, Daddy, Esther told me that, but I wanted to catch up… and you know me, I can’t just sit back and watch someone else work,” the words were directed at her aunt as much as at her father.
“Does that mean you’re staying for dinner?” Lawrence asked. Kerstin nodded; Lawrence continued, “that’s excellent.” He turned to Esther, “My father won’t be with us for dinner tonight, but mother will still be dining with us. So the family house staff will be here as well. Can you let Simpson know?” Esther nodded and left the room immediately, no doubt happy to escape the Waterford family drama in the room.
“Where is father going to be?” Ophelia inquired finally turning to regard her brother.
“He had business to attend to this evening. Don’t you worry about it,” Lawrence said. He gestured for Ophelia to leave the dining room, “the rest of the family is probably missing your presence in the sitting room, sister.” She turned back toward Kerstin and then looked at Lawrence again, “Kerstin, if you’d be good enough to join us? When you’re finished here, that is,” he said as he looked Ophelia straight in the eye.
Kerstin smiled broadly; “yes, sir,” she replied, “nice talking to you aunt Ophelia,” she added as the woman scowled at her over her shoulder.
Kirk stepped out of the vehicle and made his way to the front door. He tugged at the edge of his suit jacket before pressing the doorbell button. The evening had begun to encroach on Emerald Heights and he could see the light come in the hall that lead to the entrance before the door itself was opened.
The man in the doorway started slightly at the sight of him. It had been many years since they’d spoken, many years since they’d seen eye to eye. But a mutual adversary makes a strong ally.
“Kirk Waterford,” the man announced, “would you believe I’ve been expecting you?” He gestured for Kirk to enter.
Kirk chuckled slightly as he stepped inside, “as a matter of fact, Chuck, I wouldn’t believe anything else.”
“I can’t believe the big day is here already,” Lawrence Waterford said as he watched the myriad workers moving through the gardens at Red Terrace.
“Tish’s wedding, it just seems like yesterday that the engagement was announced,” he said to his wife.
“It has been six months, Lawrence. And, you do know that the wedding is tomorrow, right?”
He chuckled, “yes I do, Lynda. But it’s less than 24 hours away… and… listen, I’m being a father here, can you just let me have this moment?”
Lynda smiled back at him and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Yes dear,” she said quietly.
He drew in a deep breath and straightened himself. “I’m not wild about Oliver Jordan coming to this thing.”
“Oh Lawrence, not this again,” she signed. “It’s a town function, that’s how it works. They invite us to their events and we invite them to ours… you would miss the Hallowe’en fundraiser the Jordans put on every year if they didn’t invite you.”
Lawrence frowned and turned to his wife, “when we go to the Hallowe’en thing we always leave a check for ten grand… what do you think the chance is that Jordan is going to do the same tomorrow?”
Lynda chuckled, “I wouldn’t hold my breath, but you know what I mean. It’s a matter of being civil. You two are the most powerful men in Emerald Heights, you have to be able to be in the same room as one another without it coming to fisticuffs.”
“I could take him,” Lawrence stated grinning.
“He’s in his sixties, dear, yes, you could probably take him,” Lynda shook her head.
“Probably? What’s this probably?”
“Okay, you could absolutely take him, my love.”
“Damn right.” Lawrence stated giving a curt nod of his head.
Frank Denzre watched Marcus LeBrandt look over his shoulder twice as he approached. “Hey man,” he said jovially as he sat down at the small round table.
“Jordan’s man Custone said we weren’t supposed to meet in public,” Marcus said conspiratorially.
Frank quirked an eyebrow, “you’re marrying my girlfriend’s sister tomorrow… we’re gonna run into each other from time to time.”
Marcus laughed, “your girlfriend? Seriously? She’s not your girlfriend, bud, you were paid to hook up with her.”
Frank set his jaw, and glanced across the room, for the first time feeling self-conscious about being seen with Marcus, “I was paid to get access to her apartment and get information about Waterford – which she didn’t have, by the way,” Frank stated, “but… I like her…” he shook his head, “why am I explaining myself to you?”
“Dunno, you’re the one who called me,” Marcus said flatly.
“Are you going through with it?”
“Marrying Tish? Why wouldn’t I?”
Frank’s brow furrowed slightly, “because you gave Oliver Jordan the information he needed in order to take her father’s company away from him.”
“Yeah, and what does that have to do with anything? She’ll still be a Waterford and I’ll be the head of Waterford Holdings when it’s all said and done. Sounds like a couple great reasons to marry her to me.”
Leticia drove up the driveway at the Price estate and pulled her car to a stop next to one that she recognized as John Price‘s. She smiled, happy to know that she would have an ally in her crusade to save her friend Sarah from the clutches of her psychotic ex-husband.
She smoothed the folds of her dress as she stood, looking up at the large portico that made up the front of the Price home. She always felt underdressed when she visited the Prices, though she suspected that everyone did when they visited the homes of internationally famous fashion designers; especially when they bought their clothes off the rack.
She made her way to the front door and pressed the doorbell; the tune it played was a piece that had been written specifically for the Prices and it showed. Their family had a characteristic up-beat, good-natured quality that she often envied.
Winifred, the long-time housekeeper of the Price family answered the door with her usual cheerfulness. She gestured for Leticia to enter and asked if she was expected. “No,” Leticia replied, “I just popped in to talk to John.”
“Very good, Ma’am,” the woman replied. “I’ll fetch him presently.”
Leticia nodded and watched the older woman walk the short distance across the foyer and open a door that she knew lead into the great room. As soon as the door was opened she could hear the sounds of laughter and reverie coming from within. Her immediately reaction was to smile at the sound of people having fun, but as the laughter hung in the air she was able to pick out three distinctly male laughs: Victor Price’s, John Price’s and her ex-husband Oswald Glendale’s.
Her heart began to sink and a sense of dread began to wash over her.
Before she had a chance to react she heard the laughter halt. A moment later John Price, followed closely by Winifred, who scooted off to parts unknown, exited the great room and walk toward her. “Leticia, what a pleasure,” he said and leaned in to hug her.
Caught off guard she hugged him back half-heartedly. “John,” she said, “is there somewhere that we can talk?”
“Absolutely, come in, the whole family is here.” He said gesturing toward the great room.
“No, I mean, I’d rather talk alone. About what we discussed a few weeks ago. About… Oswald.” She said, trying to convey, without using all the words, what she meant.
“Oh that? That was nothing,” he said waving his hand in the air, “now come in and have a drink.”
She grab him by the sleeve. “What are you talking about?” She looked at him directly, “John, I told you that he tried to operate on me. He wanted to change my face!”
John smiled, “Leticia, I talked to him about it and he said that it was just a big misunderstanding. That you blew the whole thing out of proportion. He really is a great guy.”
“John! You have to listen to me! He is dangerous and he is going to hurt your sister!” Leticia said having not realized that she had begun to raise her voice.
Victor Price appeared at the doorway of the great room, “is everything okay here? John? Leticia? What’s going on?” The rest of the Price family and Oswald were soon standing in the foyer of the Price estate as well.
“I came to warn you…” Leticia said, “all of you. About him,” she said as he pointed an accusing finger at her ex-husband. “He’s lying to all of you… he’s got you tricked somehow. You’ve all got to believe me! It’s not… he’s not who he says he is… he tried to… he was going to…” She began to cry. She turned and ran out of the Price house, hopped into her car and sped down the driveway.
Mary looked at Oswald, “I wonder what’s gotten into her?”
Oswald turned to Mary Price and shrugged, “this is exactly what happened when we got divorced. She just couldn’t take it. Obviously the strain of her father’s death is having the same effect.”
“Such a shame, she seemed so put together,” John Price said and shook his head. He clapped Oswald on the shoulder, “now, let’s say we get back to the story you were telling, eh brother?”
John Godspeed, Chief-on-leave of the Emerald Heights Police Department and current evidentiary expert for the Duncan Marshall defence team, rubbed his neck as he twisted his head left then right. He had been pouring over the reports and details of the murder of Claudio Breza for what seemed like weeks.
He didn’t like what he found. The Los Angeles detectives had done a good job of ferreting out the details of the case and documenting them in their reports. The prosecution’s case was fairly straight-forward and, from his own experience, would be an easy sell to a jury.
He pushed himself back from the table and stood. He took the papers that had become spread across the table’s surface and placed them back in the evidence box and snapped the lid back on it. He took a quick glance at the cold grey walls before hefting the box under his right arm and making his way out into the officers’ bullpen.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Elizabeth Marshall. “Ms. Marshall,” he said when she acknowledged the call with a cordial ‘hello’.
“John, I told you to call me Liz,” she replied.
“Fair enough,” he said, “I’ve just finished going over the primary evidence from the police reports. I’ve been through every single document twice and I’m going to request a few copies of some things that I want to look at more closely.” He sighed, “there’s a lot of evidence here that doesn’t look good for Duncan.”
“That was bound to happen, John.” She said, “he doesn’t have an alibi for the time of the murders, so all they were bound to find was traces of him all over the house and no way for him to account for his whereabouts.”
Godspeed hoisted the box up onto the counter of the evidence locker and rapt gently on the side of the window. “What does he say about it?” Godspeed inquired.
“He says that after he found out that his flight was going to be delayed that he went to get drunk at a bar,” Elizabeth replied.
“Can anyone there provide him with an alibi?” Godspeed asked.
“No so far,” she stated. “I’ve canvassed the bar a couple of times looking for witnesses who might have seen him and so far no one recognizes my brother.”
Godspeed shook his head. “For check-in,” he said as the evidence attendant appeared in front of him. “John Godspeed, Marshall defence team,” it felt strange to him to not refer to himself as the Chief of Police, but he was certain that a small-town Chief would be scoffed at in the big city; plus, he was technically on leave. “Sorry, Liz, I was just checking the evidence back in to the locker.” The attendant returned moments later and slid a clipboard in front of him; he signed dutifully before turning and walking down the hallway. “What about someone at the airline?” Godspeed inquired.
“He never made it to the airport,” Elizabeth stated, “he learned about the delay from an automated call.”
“Damn,” Godspeed breathed, “it’s going to be hard to argue the case for a man without an alibi.”
“Don’t I know it,” she said.
Trevor listened at the door to the sobs coming from within. He tapped lightly on the door and heard her feeble attempts to choke them back. “Yes?” She said quietly; although a full throated scream would have sounded quiet through the heavy wooden door.
He clicked the latch and pushed the door inward, “Clara, my darling,” he said breezing across the room. “Don’t be sad,” he reached down and swept a tear away from her eye.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “it’s just that… I was thinking about this big house and Rich… Richard and missing him.”
Trevor’s face didn’t change but he was definitely taken aback; her profession of feelings for the dead man surprised him. He had been certain that the Widow McKinelle had been nothing but a gold digger searching for a free fortune. He had thought that they’d had that trait in common. “He was suffering,” Trevor said in an attempt to sound comforting, “now he’s at peace.”
He ran his fingers through her hair. She sobbed again. “There, there,” he said, pulling her up slightly and laying her head in his lap. “Trevor’s here, my sweet,” he cooed. “Everything is going to be okay.”
She wept softly and fresh tears wet her eyes. “Can you get me one of my pills?”
“Of course,” Trevor said and slipped into the en suite bathroom. He made the noise of opening and closing the medicine cabinet while slipping his hands into his pockets and pulling out a plastic bag of little white pills. He stepped back into the room, pill in hand, and filled a glass from the carafe on the trolley that customarily sat in the corner of the room.
She eagerly took the pill from him and, without hesitation, tossed her head back and swallowed the pill.
“There,” he said to her, leaning down and kissing the side of her face, “you’ll be feeling better in no time at all.”
“Frank?” Lawrence Waterford said with some surprise as he entered the drawing room of Red Terrace. The visit had been unexpected and unannounced and when a member of the house staff had told him that a “Mr. Denzre” was waiting to speak with him it took him a few moments to realize who they’d meant.
“Mr. Waterford I apologize for showing up without calling first,” Frank said, taking a few steps toward Lawrence.
“No, no,” Lawrence said, sensing the urgency in the young man’s voice, “and call me Lawrence.”
“Mr. Waterford, I’d rather you hear me out before you say that,” Frank said.
“What’s going on? Is something wrong with Kerstin?”
Frank shook his head, “nothing at all. She’s at home… at her apartment, I mean.” He turned and walked back toward the drawing room’s large desk. Lawrence watched him pick up a leather attache case.
“Then I don’t understand. Are you still coming to the wedding?” Lawrence inquired.
“That’s sort of what this is about, sir,” Frank said, pulling a folder from the attache case.
“I don’t understand,” Lawrence said, “there’s something wrong with the wedding?”
Frank shook his head, “not exactly the wedding, Mr. Waterford, but… the groom.”
“I don’t understand, Frank, you’d better start explaining.”
Lawrence watched as Frank sat in the lounge and proceeded to lay papers out on the large coffee table. He recognized some of the papers with Waterford letterhead as memos and invoices for Waterford Holdings work and correspondence. “What is all this?” He asked lowering himself onto the lounge alongside Frank Denzre.
“This, Mr. Waterford, is all the information that Marcus gave to Oliver Jordan about your business and your business partners.” He turned to face the other man, “he gave it to him, sir, so that Jordan could buy up your debt and foreclose on Waterford Holdings.”
If it was possible to be stunned without being at all surprised then that was exactly what Lawrence was feeling in that very moment. “And how did you come upon this information?” Lawrence asked as he watched Frank Denzre very closely.
Frank’s eyes closed and his head lowered ever so slightly before he looked directly at Lawrence Waterford, “because I was working for Oliver Jordan, too.”
John Godspeed weaved his way through the LAPD officers’ bullpen on his way to the desk of detective Kevin Burgess who was making copies of the reports that he had requested. He was tired and stiff from his long day of sitting in the evidence room and reading and scrutinizing the long array of documents that had been in the evidence box. He wanted nothing more than to just get the copies of the files and head back to his hotel room to turn on the TV and relax.
“John,” detective Burgess greeted him warmly.
Godspeed reached out and received the detectives hand it shook it cordially.
“I’ve got your papers all right here,” he said gesturing to a file laying on the desk. “I just need to get you to sign this document that says that you’re taking the documents out and basically what’s in them. Standard fare, I’m sure you’re used to.”
Godspeed nodded, “I don’t think it matters whether you’re in a big city or a small town the bureaucracy has found its way in.” He took the pen, glanced at the page, and signed. As he started to stretch back up his back creaked audibly. “Oh,” he groaned and lowered himself back down. “Can I?” He asked from his stooped over position while he gestured at Burgess’ chair.
“By all means,” Kevin Burgess replied, adding, “those chairs downstairs aren’t the most comfortable.”
“Comes with the territory, I think,” Godspeed replied. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a spasm. At my age you get used to them.” He raised his arms out over the desk and turned side to side trying to work the pain out of his back as was his custom. In so doing he knocked over a picture on the detective’s desk. “Sorry,” he said and righted the picture.
It was a picture of a man and a woman standing a small child, “your family?”
“My parents,” Burgess replied picking up the frame photograph.
“Your father was an officer?”
Burgess nodded, “yep, 15 years. He was shot and killed in the line a year after this picture was taken. Christopher and Mariella.” He said, gesturing to the pair in the photograph. “They’re both gone now.”
“You look like your father,” Godspeed observed.
Burgess nodded and smiled, “thank you, Chief.”
“How is the lab setup going?” Oswald inquired into the phone.
A man’s voice replied, “not bad, I’ve pretty much got everything set up since the last time you were here.”
“Very good,” Oswald stated. “I need more of the Formula 7 Primer.”
“You just got four vials the other day,” the male voice replied.
“The brother was resistant,” he replied.
“Very resistant if it took four vials,” the voice mused. “How much do you need?”
Oswald contemplated, “how much can you have for me by tomorrow morning?”
“Probably eight or ten vials.”
“That’s not nearly enough, I need more. Fifteen at least,” Oswald stated.
“What could you possibly need that much for unless you’re planning to dose an entire town?” When Oswald didn’t reply the man continued, “are you planning to dose an entire town?”
Oswald smirked, “not the entire town.”