Leticia McKinelle slipped into Price through the loading dock; she didn’t want to encounter Sarah until she had a chance to talk to Victor, Sarah’s father. It was clear to Leticia that Sarah’s mother, Mary, had already had the wool pulled over her eyes with regard to Leticia’s ex-husband Oswald and his intentions with Sarah, but she held out hope that she would find an ally in Sarah’s father; her employer.
She rounded a corner and spied Victor Price standing outside his office door. “Mr. Price,” she called down the hallway.
As she stepped up alongside him he smiled, “my dear, Leticia, I told you to call me Victor.”
She nodded, “yes sir,” she said, “I wanted to talk to you,” she glanced back and forth at the two men who were standing beside Victor. “It’s a private matter.”
He nodded, “of course, won’t you step in.” He looked at the men each in turn, “excuse us gentlemen.”
Once the door was closed and Victor rounded the desk Leticia sat in the chair opposite him. She leaned forward. “It’s about Sarah… and Oswald.”
Victor nodded, “oh yes,” he said clasping his hands together, “isn’t it wonderful?”
Her mouth hung open but no words escaped.
John Godspeed stopped as he walked down the aisle of the plane. He took two steps backward and looked at the lone woman seated against the window. “Liz? Elizabeth Armitage?”
The woman looked up and smiled, “Chief Godspeed,” she said. He nodded, “it’s good to see you,” she gestured toward the vacant seat. “Sit please.” He slipped into the seat, “it’s Marshall again, though,” she clarified, “since the divorce.”
“Guess it’s been that long, heh? I didn’t know you were gonna be on this flight.”
She nodded, “I wanted to be there for the arraignment.” She shifted slightly in her chair in order to be able to look more directly at the older man. “But what are you doing on this flight, if I might ask?”
He shrugged, “I’ve got a feeling,” he said, “there’s more to this case than these Californians have discovered.” He paused then added, “I didn’t know you did criminal law?”
She shook her head and chuckled, “I normally don’t. But when it’s your brother you buy a book.” She grinned and held up a copy of the California criminal code, “you brush up, and hop on a plane.” She paused for a moment, “John, I’m sure that Duncan and Cassandra are grateful that you’re going to look into the case but,” she said, “how’re you going to get past the jurisdictional issue?”
He shook his head, “not sure, really. I was gonna to appeal to the local DA for access.”
“Maybe I can help with that.”
“How?” He asked.
“Simple. You’re now the chief forensics expert for the defence.”
“He just ignored me, just like I hadn’t said a damned word,” Leticia explained as she held the phone to her ear. “I don’t get it. I mean, I tried to tell him about Oswald and all I got was ‘he makes Sarah so happy’ and ‘what a wonderful fellow’.”
“He called him a fellow?” Kerstin asked.
“Focus, Kerstin,” Leticia chided. “Something is going on. Sarah I get, she’s easy to convince, and Mary too because, well, Sarah’s got to get it from somewhere. But Victor is a shrewd man, he’s smart and should be able to see through Oswald… but he’s not.”
“Did you tell Victor about Oswald’s plan… about when he was going to operate on you.”
Leticia winced and pulled the phone away from her ear in reflex, “I tried… but he just went on to some other topic. It’s weird.”
“Yes, it is… what about John?”
Leticia replied, “I haven’t talk to John.”
“You have to, like, now. Is he there? In the office?”
Leticia nodded, although her friend couldn’t see it, “I think so. He’s supposed to be.”
“Good, go talk to him. He may be your only hope.”
“What am I supposed to say?”
“I don’t know something like ‘your sister is sleeping with a psycho-surgeon who redesigns women’s faces against their will’? Y’know, or something along those lines… you’ll figure it out. I’ve gotta go… it’s time for work.”
“There’s an art to these things,” Oliver Jordan explained. “When you are one blow away from defeating your mortal enemy on the field of battle you don’t just walk over and plunge the sword into his chest. You take a moment to revel in the fact that yours was the superior strategy. That you were able to best him, to unseat him from his horse, to crush his armies and then, in the penultimate moments of the great skirmish you have emerged as the victor.”
“I see,” Harry Custone said.
“No, you don’t,” Oliver continued, “because more important than taking the time to recognize all of this for yourself, Harry, is that you give your opponent the time to see it, too. He must see it all from the side of the loser and to realize that he has been defeated, bested, crushed under the heel of a superior warrior… otherwise you might as well stab him in the back.” He shook his head, “no, I want Lawrence Waterford to see the final blow come down on his head.” He pressed his fingers-tips together and watched the gentle smoke from the lit cigar drift up from the ash tray.
“Nice,” Harry Custone replied genuinely impressed. As a native of Emerald Heights Harry had watched Oliver Jordan’s influence spread across the town. He’d watched as Jordan Manufacturing became Jordan Industries and slowly consumed company after company; then the buy-out of Stanley Enterprises that propelled the then-new, then-named Jordan-Stanley Enterprises to its status as the largest employer in all of Massachusetts.
But through it all the Waterfords had maintained social control of Emerald Heights.
“Have you decided when you’re going… finish him?” Harry asked, unable to find a better way to describe Oliver’s planned reveal.
“As a matter of fact, I have,” Oliver replied and leaned forward to pick up a square card from the desk. He tossed it at Harry who caught it handily.
Harry read the first line of the card and smiled.
You are cordially invited to the wedding
of our daughter Tish Waterford
to Marcus LeBrandt
Harry chuckled lightly to himself, “I see,” he said as he took a sip of the scotch, “and are you going to tell him at the same time that it was his future son in law who sold you the information?”
Oliver Jordan grinned, “it’s going to be a hell of a toast.”
“I’m glad this isn’t awkward for the two of you,” Gordon Stanley said clasping Kerstin Waterford and his son Jehua on the shoulder at the same time. The three of them looked out across the bar of the P & Q at the slowly filling room. “I was worried that it would be.”
“It’s kind of awkward that we’re having this conversation, Dad,” Jehua said slipping out of his father’s grasp. He knew it had been a mistake to tell his father about his feelings for Kerstin.
Gordon laughed a belly laugh and pulled Kerstin in tighter, “Kerstin here doesn’t think so, do you Kerstin?” He shook her playfully.
Jehua saw her smile at him sheepishly; Jehua smiled back and said, “let her go, Dad, you’re totally creeping her out.”
“Bah, you two are too serious for me anyhow,” Gordon quipped. He zigged around the bar and threw his hands into the air, “Bruce! You old so and so…”
“I’m so sorry,” Jehua said as they watched his father greeting patrons in his jovial way.
Kerstin shook her head, “no, it’s okay…”
“This really isn’t going to be awkward is it?” He asked.
She looked at him and smiled. There was something missing in her eyes; they didn’t reflect the smile, they didn’t sparkle. “No,” she said more softly than he’d have liked.
He toed the floor, “uh, okay then. I mean, that’s good.” He smiled back at her, “I was worried because I didn’t want to lose you…” his voice trailed off.
“…as… as a friend,” she added. “Yeah, of course. Me either. You’ve become a great friend, Jehua.” She seemed nervous and she twisted her thumb ring, “I… am glad that we can be… friends.”
The two stood in silence for a few minutes before Kerstin added, “oh, you were going to tell me something before your father came along,” she smiled this time and Jehua immediately noticed the difference in the smile. And ache crawled through him. “What were you going to say?”
“Uh, oh…” he said, “just a bit of news. Y’know that kid that was in the accident? The kid that they didn’t know who he was… well, my uncle Brentwood and aunt Gloria adopted him. He’s a Stanley now… they call him James. He’s quite the kid… it’s funny, you’d swear he was one of us, he fits in so well…” Jehua’s brow creased slightly, “are you okay?” He asked.
“What?” She said shaking her head slightly, her chest was heaving heavily and she seemed short of breath, “I… I’m sorry. I, uh… don’t feel so well all of a sudden. I’ll be right back”, she turned and walked away from him; he watched her rub her temples as she rounded the corner and disappeared from his view.
Trevor Jordan looked up from the elaborate menu that he held in his hand. He watched Clara Preston sitting in a booth on the other side of the dining room. He stood the half-folded menu in front of him and flipped open the pocket mirror that he’d laid on the table and checked himself out it in. He flashed his reflection his most dashing smile.
Closing the mirror, he slid it back into his pocket, tossed the menu down onto the seat and made his way across the dining room. He walked half-way passed Clara Preston, stopped and backed up. “Excuse me,” he said, “are you dining alone?” He knew that she was.
She smiled wanly, “yes, I am.”
He reached out his hand, “Trevor Jordan, yes, those Jordans.” He winked and leaned down to kiss the back of her hand. “It’s simply unacceptable for a woman of such beauty to dine alone,” he said, “may I join you?”
He could see a blush cross her cheeks, “by all means,” she said.
“Thank you,” he said as he slid into the booth. He made an effort to look around the dining room before looking her in the eye, “so, do you come here often?”
Leticia swung herself in through the door of John Price’s office; her hand working as a hinge against the door frame. She leaned, still holding the frame, and smiled at the man who sitting behind the desk.
Lord God he’s sexy, she thought to herself. “Hey,” she said, releasing the door and stepping into the room. “Busy?”
“Not really,” he said and stood while gesturing toward the chair across from him. “What can I do for you?”
“Uhm,” she said as she slipped into the chair, “well, it’s not really business related.”
“Oh?” John said as he quirked an eyebrow.
“It’s about Sarah,” she said.
“Yeah,” Leticia continued, “it’s about Sarah… and Oswald.” She frowned. “Do you know who he is?”
John shook his head, “just what my parents have told me,” he said, “I haven’t seen my sister in days. She hasn’t been in to work this week. And I haven’t met the guy.”
Leticia nodded her head slowly, “well,” she said, drawing out the word, “he and I used to be married.”
“Whoa,” John said, “that’s crazy.”
“That’s not even the half of it, John,” Leticia said, sliding forward in her chair. “He’s… deranged. He’s crazy. He planned to operate on me without my permission.”
“He did? I thought he was a magazine author?”
Leticia shook her head, “what? No. He’s a plastic surgeon. He was a world famous one… but then his first wife died in the middle of a procedure that he was performing on her… and he went… I dunno… he went crazy.”
“Why did you marry him?”
“I didn’t know… I mean… I knew that he was married, but he told me that he divorced his wife. It wasn’t until his sister, Valerie, finally found out what he was planning to do and managed to break into the hospital operating room and save me.”
“Wow,” John breathed.
“He planned to turn me into his ex-wife,” Leticia said finally, “he was going to change my face to look just like her.” She shook her head, “we have to stop him or I’m afraid he’ll do the same thing to Sarah.”
“We’re supposed to get together for dinner tomorrow night, the whole family. I can tell her then… I’ll take care of it.”
Leticia nodded, “good. John, you have to be careful. He’s a dangerous man and Sarah and your parents are totally taken in by him.”
“Don’t worry Leticia,” John said, “I won’t let this bastard hurt my sister.”
Leticia stood and turned toward the door. She stopped and turned back and looked at John Price again; she smiled in spite of herself. He looked up from his work and grinned, “what?”
“Nothing,” she said and turned back toward the door.
“Leticia,” John said and she turned back again, “this was not even close to what I thought you were coming in here to say.”
“Oh?” She said.
“Yeah,” he replied and shrugged slightly, “after this is over do you, maybe, wanna get dinner or something?”
Her smile broadened, “sure.”
Clara’s laughter increased. Trevor continued, “so, Dad paid for the thing… it was like eight billion rubles or something. Yeltsin was pissed, but what can ya do? I was like nine.”
“Oh, you’re so bad,” she said as she laid her hand on his arm.
He smirked, although not to anyone in particular. He gestured for the sommelier to return to the table. “Wait ‘til you hear about the time that I let Castro’s dog out…“ As the sommelier stepped alongside the table Trevor said, “another bottle of the same, please.”
“No, no,” Clara said waving her hand in the air, “we’ve had enough… I should be going… going home.”
Trevor leaned in close, as if he was trying to conceal his words from the sommelier, “I wasn’t planning to drink it here.”
“Oh, you!” She said, swatting at him playfully. “So bad!” She waved her hand at the man who remained stalwart while standing beside the time, “okay, okay, bring the bottle. But we’ll take it with us.”
“Very good, sir,” the man said simply and left the table to retrieve the bottle.
Kerstin was sitting cross-legged on her couch when the frantic knocking on her apartment door startled her. She laid her journal aside and crossed the room toward the door; in the meanwhile the person on the other side of the door knocked three more times.
“Hold your horses!” She exclaimed. Looking through the peep hole in the door she turned the deadbolt and pulled the door open, “Leticia?” She quirked her head to the side, “I was going to call you. What are you doing here… and why are you banging…”
Leticia breezed passed her and into the apartment; her purse, jacket and shoes basically exploded off her body. “You won’t God damned believe it. Simple… it’s God damned crazy is what it is. I mean, what could she be thinking? You know… she doesn’t know anything about him. And then to not even say anything to me until…”
Kerstin walked up to her cousin cautiously, and took Leticia by both arms. She gave the other woman a gentle shake, “what’re you talking about? You seem to have skipped an important part… y’know, the nouns.”
“The wha… oh, it’s Sarah. Kerstin, it’s Sarah.”
“Okay,” Kerstin nodded. “What about Sarah? She’s always been a little crazy, Let.”
Leticia shook her head, “no, you don’t understand… she’s in love… or says she’s in love with… Oswald.”
“What? Oswald… like Oswald-Oswald?” Leticia nodded. “Holy crap. I mean, does she know who he is?”
Leticia shook her head, “I don’t know… I think she didn’t. Or maybe she did but didn’t let on. But she sure as hell doesn’t know enough about him…”
“Did you tell her?”
“I didn’t get a chance,” Leticia said, then she sighed. “I didn’t really take the time. Jesus, Kerstin, I haven’t seen him in months and then bam… out of nowhere he’s here in Emerald Heights.”
“You have to tell her… she needs to know what he did to you.”
“Why should you hafta go, Dad?”
“Because, Kaitlyn, I’m the police chief in this town and this has to do with one of the people that I’m sworn to protect.” John Godspeed replied.
“You’re not sworn to protect them in California.”
He shook his head, “it doesn’t matter where, sweetheart. This is my duty. There’s something that doesn’t feel right about this case and I’ve gotta find out what it is.”
“But Dad, it’s all the way in Cali, how long are you gonna be gone?”
“I don’t know, a few weeks maybe? I hope it don’t take longer than that. I just need to look over the evidence and make sure that it’s all on the level.”
“Do I get to stay here by myself while you’re gone?”
The chief laughed, “absolutely not. You can stay with your Mom for two weeks; it’ll do you both some good.”
Kaitlyn Godspeed rolled her eyes, “that’s so unfair. I’m 16 now, Dad. I’m old enough to stay by myself.”
“No, you’re not.” He patted his daughter on the hand, “I know that you’re able to take care of yourself, sweetheart. But two weeks is just too long. And your Mom is looking forward to spending some time with you.”
“Ugh… I bet she is. If you come back and I look like some friggin’ debutante thing in hair clips and a dress then it’s all your fault.”
John Godspeed had an honest to goodness laugh, his hand slapped the table jollily, “I don’t think there’s much dangers of that.”
“So who is this guy that you’re going to help?”
“Duncan Marshall… you remember him, don’t you?”
Kaitlyn nodded, “yeah, I go to school with his brother, Jason. He’s a bit of a loser. I hope this guy’s worth it, Dad… I’m gonna miss you.”
Kerstin watched Leticia throw up her hands in desperation. She shook her head and scowled at the phone in her hand. “That didn’t sound good,” Kerstin observed.
“No shit. Duncan Marshall has been arrested and taken to California on murder charges and his sister is going to help with his legal counsel.”
Kerstin had read about the Marshall case in the paper the day before. “His sister Elizabeth?” Leticia nodded, Kerstin continued, “the one who was going to help you fight for your father’s estate.”
Leticia nodded again, “yep, that’s the one. So I’m high and dry and totally screwed.”
“But didn’t you say that she couldn’t really help you without evidence in the first place?”
“So, maybe you’ll find the evidence that you need by the time she’s done in California.”
“It’s a murder case, God knows how long it could take before it’s done.”
“That’s true. Hey, didn’t you mention that you were going to try to snoop around the Manor and see if you could find anything that proved that Clara manipulated the will?”
“Yeah but that didn’t work… I had to go another route.”
“Well I pretty much called that… you are not a ninja. So, what’s this other route?”
Leticia cleared her throat, “uh… didn’t you say that you were going to call me about something when I first came in? What’s your thing?”
“Uhm… never mind,” she said quickly. “We’re talking about you right now… what’s this other route?”
“I hired a guy.”
“A private investigator?”
Leticia twisted her head to the side slightly and squinted her eyes, “sorta.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“He’s actually more like a… I don’t know what he is… he just came up to me on the street.”
Kerstin’s eyes widened. “And you hired this stranger to creep Clara Preston to see if he can find the goods you need to get your father’s money back?”
“Actually, I think I hired him to seduce her in addition to the other stuff.”
Kerstin stared blankly at her friend for a long moment, “you did what now?”
“Oh… and it’s not just some guy. It’s Trevor Jordan.”
The taxi rolled to a stop at locker 781 of the self-storage units in Emerald Heights industrial district. Trevor Jordan leaned forward and tossed two bills into the front seat of the cab before sliding out. “Don’t wait,” he directed to the driver who, after the door was closed, drove on.
Trevor looked up and down the long row of blue painted garage-style doors. He could hear the sounds of the cab rolling along the loose gravel as it weaved its way toward the exit to the vast yard. The fading sound of the cab was eclipsed by the sound of his own footsteps as they crunched along the loose gravel.
When he reached the end of the row, he crossed to the next and spied the lone figure standing in front of a locked door, looking not at all out of place.
“You are late,” the man said as Trevor stopped near him.
“Only a couple of minutes,” he replied. He handed a satchel to the man who received it eagerly. “It’s twenty.”
The man’s head jerked up from looking at the satchel, “you better hope it’s more’n fucking twenty.” His face did not betray the seriousness in his voice.
Reflexively Trevor rocked back on his heels slightly, “it’s just a start,” his voice sounding soft to his own ears. “I… I’m doing this job. It’s gonna pay off big.”
“Oh yeah,” the man said, his tone clearly one of mocking, “you got a job goin’ on, heh? Gonna get yourself some big business like Daddy…” He spat on the ground and shook his head, “I’ve heard that bullshit before… where’s the other sixty, boy?”
“I’ll get it… soon.”
“Nah, you see, soon ain’t fast enough no more,” the man replied. “This was supposed to be the day that we settle up, Trev.” He paused, “I think it’s time that Daddy learned a little bit about his little boy’s habits, heh? What do you think about that?”
Trevor’s palms felt clammy and there was a distinct ringing in his ears, “come on Weston… come on man, you know I can get it… don’t fuck my shit up, man… seriously… this is gonna be big. I’m scamming on the widow of Richard McKinelle…”
Trevor could hear the surprise in Weston’s voice, “yeah, yeah… the daughter asked me to get the goods on the bitch so she can get the old man’s money. I’m in on that action.”
“If it pays off,” Weston said in a tone that Trevor found reassuring, even if the words weren’t especially comforting.
The pair stood in silence for a moment. Weston was rubbing his fingers together and looking off down the long aisle of lockers, away from Trevor, which Trevor took as a sign that he was thinking about something; something that Trevor felt it best not to interrupt. Finally he continued, “let me tell you a little something about the Widow McKinelle…” he said. “She’s been a client of mine for a while. Not my…” he paused for a moment and smirked, “financial services.” He looked directly at Trevor Jordan as he spoke, “more of a pharmacological client.”
Trevor quirked an eyebrow and Weston smiled and nodded. “She buys through a guy who works for me… but I think that maybe with a little help from you… we can make her an even better client. What do you say, Trevy-boy?”
“Okay, I’m going to pretend for a moment that you didn’t just say that you hired Trevor Jordan to seduce your step-mother while learning the secrets behind her plans to manipulate your father out of your family’s fortunes.”
“She’s not my step-mother,” Leticia stated flatly.
Kerstin shook her head, “that’s the part of that statement that you object to? Really, Leticia?” She stood up and leaned against the table, “it’s Trevor Jordan… Trevor… Jordan. You know who I mean, right? His family and ours have…”
“What?” Kerstin said, shocked into pausing.
“Your family, not mine.”
“You are my cousin,” Kerstin reminded her.
“But I’m not a Waterford. That feud has nothing to do with me.”
“But nothing, Kerstin. This is my father’s legacy that I’m dealing with here. And I don’t care if it’s Oliver Jordan himself… I will deal with anyone who will help me get my father’s legacy back in my family’s hands.” Leticia stood up to look her cousin dead in the eye, “you have no idea what this feels like… when Mom died she and I were barely speaking because of Oswald… and then when I moved back to Emerald Heights to be with Daddy I wasn’t there when…” she began to sob.
“Oh Leticia,” Kerstin said as she embraced her friend.
As they broke their embrace Leticia continued, “and then… then this ‘will’ business. And Pamela and Richard are absolutely no help and now my lawyer is leaving for California to deal with her brother’s murder trial… so it’s on me. It’s on me!” She drew in a deep ragged breath, “and as if all that wasn’t enough… my ex-husband is back in town and is… is… in love with my boss’s daughter.”
“I’m sorry,” Kerstin said, “if there’s anything that I can do just let me know.”
Leticia shook her head, “it’s just all so much… I don’t know how to deal with it all.”
Kerstin sighed as they both slid down into their chairs. “I know,” she said plainly, “and here I thought I was supposed to be the main character of this story.”
Kerstin shook her head, “nothing.”
The pediatric ward was quiet. The children – those who were well enough to leave their beds – were congregated in the common room watching television or playing games while the nurses and aides went about the busy work of changing the bedsheets. One nurse, however, was assigned to a different duty that day.
“This is quite an unusual case,” she said as she regarded the couple in front of her.
The husband nodded, “we suspected so. But we have been waiting for this opportunity for such a very long time. And when we heard about his situation we contacted our lawyer right away.”
The nurse smiled, “he’s a very lucky little boy, that accident was terrible.” She flipped to another page in the document in front of her, “now you understand that he’s going to need constant medical attention due to his having Wilson’s disease?”
The wife nodded this time, “yes, of course. Monitoring and a daily prescription, we’ve been looking it up online since the doctor mentioned it.”
“Good, then.” She turned the clipboard around and placed it on the lip of the nurses station, “I guess all that remains is for your signatures and then I can go and get Jimmy and you can take him home. He’s quite healthy now.”
“Jimmy?” The man inquired, “we were under the impression that his identity was unknown.”
The nurse nodded, “it is. It’s just what we’ve come to call him. James sounded better than John Doe Pediatric. Jimmy for short.” She bit her lip, “he’s become quite attached to the name. But the adoption gives you, as the parents, the right to chan…”
The wife shook her head and raised her hand, “no, James is just fine.” She turned to her husband and smiled, “don’t you think, Brentwood?”
“Certainly,” the man said, “James Stanley as a nice ring to it.”
“Oh my God, you’re awake. You’re okay.” Kerstin said; a smile broadening across her face. She quickly crossed the room from the doorway, where she’d been standing, to the side of Frank’s bed.
Frank groaned, “yes, I am… what the hell happened?”
“They said you passed out and fell and hit your head or something, don’t you remember that?”
Frank shook his head slowly, “well, sort of but not really. Ow, my head hurts.”
“I’m sure it does. You were unconscious for a long time. They called me at work and I came… Jehua drove me…”
She watched Frank attempt to straighten himself in the bed. “What were you saying… at the door, you said something about having to tell Jehua the truth?”
Kerstin turned away from him quickly, briefly looking out into the hall as if she could see the young boy from the pediatric ward. “I… I…” she stammered, “I never told him about us…”
“Oh,” Frank said, “so while I was laying unconscious in a hospital bed you were thinking of Jehua Stanley? What am I supposed to think about that?”
“No, of course… I mean, he brought me to the hospital, Frank… so, yes, I was thinking about him… but I mean, I never told him about our… relationship. I just think he deserves the truth about it… because of our past. I was only thinking about him in the context of… us.” The words seemed bland and awkward on her tongue as she said them; something had changed in the moment that she realized the child in the pediatric ward was the son that she’d given up for adoption nearly a decade before.
Trevor was grinning in a way that made Leticia quite unnerved about the endeavour they were about to begin. She was pinning her hopes of finding the necessary information to retain her father’s estate on some self-proclaimed con-artist stranger. She hated it, but Clara wasn’t stupid enough to be tricked by any member of the McKinelle family; Leticia just hoped that this man had some tricks of his own up his sleeve.
“Cash, hey?” He said as she approached.
She nodded, “yeah, I sort of figured that this would be a cash deal.”
“Smart girl. So, tell Trevor, did you even get in the front door before she dropped the hammer on ya?” He asked in a way that dripped with confidence and more than a little arrogance.
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” she replied defiantly, “I did get in the front door… but she caught me before I could find anything useful.” She thrust the satchel of money in his direction.
He peeled it open, “nice. I won’t count it. We’ve got trust you and me.” He made and back and forth gesture that made her roll her eyes. “So I did a little leg work on the sitch; I mean who doesn’t love a caper, right? A little Google and Facebook creeping go a long way.” Leticia hadn’t even considered that Clara would have a Facebook account, “so I know a little bit about your old lady.” Leticia bristled, Trevor laughed, “ha, I thought you’d get a kick out of me calling her that.”
“By the way…” he continued, “she’s kinda a hotty – you coulda said something about that before – I sorta feel bad for taking the dough. Y’know, ‘cause I’d go after her anyhow…” he paused and looked down at the cash, “oh, I’m totally taking the money though, don’t get me wrong.”
Leticia raised her hand, “this is all very interesting but how about you tell me how this is going to work?”
Trevor chuckled, “you don’t worry, I’ve got all I need in order to get this doll on the hook – especially if she’s the gold digger you say she is.”
“Well, I am worried, actually; so how about you give me a little insight into how you’re going to get me the information I need? How are you even going to get in the door?”
Trevor grinned and leaned in close to Leticia, “well, for starters my old man is a billionaire… you know, Oliver Jordan, yeah, that’s my pa.”
Cassandra Marshall paced back and forth the length of her kitchen. It was a measure of catharsis for her in most instances although it didn’t seem to be helping her very much right then. She wiped her still-wet eyes and circled back toward the round dining room table, “I’m sorry,” she said for the fifth time in ten minutes.
John Godspeed nodded, “Mrs. Marshall, please, sit for a moment.”
“I… I can’t… how can I sit? They’ve taken him to California to be tried for murder. He’s got a motive – there’s no denying that he’s got a motive – and he had the opportunity. And now you tell me that Anita Breza, the wife of the man my husband is accused of murdering, is pregnant with his child?”
The chief shook his head, “she’s pregnant, Mrs. Marshall…”
“Cassandra, please, I think we’re past Mrs. Marshall at this point Chief.”
The chief nodded, “Cassandra, so far the fact that Ms. Breza is pregnant is just a… a rumour. She says it’s his, but there’s no confirmation that she’s even pregnant. It could be the desperate plea of a woman trying not to be sentenced to jail time.”
Cassandra chuckled dryly, “it’s true… oh, trust me, it’s true.” She shook her head, “and I should have seen it coming long before now. I mean, the trips… he’d told me he was going to New York, Miami… all sorts of places. But it was to her… they were always to her. And then there was the time with…” she sobbed, “it was just like last time he cheated. I should have noticed. Doesn’t a wife usually notice these things? Maybe if I’d noticed none of this would have happened.”
Godspeed stood and crossed the room toward her, “Cassandra, you can’t blame yourself. We don’t even know exactly what happened yet. I tell you, there’s something more going on here…”
Cassandra shrugged, “it’s in the hands of the California courts now. All we can do is watch.” She shook her head, “I will probably be called to testify… they’ll bring up all the stuff from before… discredit him and then…”
Godspeed wrapped his arms around the woman in a fatherly hug as her sobbing turned to crying. “Cassandra, I’m not giving up… I’m going to do my own investigation. I’m leaving for California tomorrow morning.”
Sarah Price was having a lovely lunch with her mother at Café Orleans. It was amongst her very favourite places to eat and they were expecting the love of her life, Oswald Glendale, to join them presently. “He really does seem to be a wonderful man,” Mary said to her daughter.
Sarah nodded, “oh yes, mother, he absolutely is. He’s smart and attentive and he just thinks that I’m so beautiful.”
“You are, my dear, you are.”
Just then Leticia McKinelle approached the duo and Sarah leapt from her seat, “Leticia!” She exclaimed as her best friend approached the table. “It’s so good to see you. How are you doing?”
Leticia sighed, “don’t ask… but, how are you? How was your trip?”
Sarah gestured to a chair, “please sit down and join us… there’s so much to tell you.”
Mary nodded, “oh yes, please, we’ve just had the most wonderful news.”
“Oh?” Leticia asked.
“Yes,” Sarah began, “I met a man in Paris…” she said, sticking to Oswald’s story as they had agreed. “we were at the Louvre, and we both ended up at the same statue and our eyes locked and… well… we fell in love.”
Leticia’s face changed instantly, “oh my God… uh… congratulations, Sarah. Wow, this is so sudden.”
“Oh yes, and he’s the most wonderful fellow,” Mary added, “polite and courteous and such a conversationalist.”
Sarah nodded, “yes, I’m sure that you two will become fast friends… in fact, here he is…” She stood and extended her arms. “Oh, Oswald, there’s someone that you simply must meet.”
Sarah hooked her arm around her beau’s waist and stood in front of her best friend, “Oswald Glendale meet Leticia McKinelle.”
“Are you kidding me?” Leticia exclaimed, “Sarah… do you know who this bastard is?”
“You seem more relieved than me to be getting out of the hospital,” Frank said as he held the door open for her.
She halted suddenly, “what?” She recovered quickly, “oh, it’s just that I’m glad that the doctor didn’t find anything wrong with you. It’s just good to know that all the tests are normal.”
“Yep, I’m fit as a fiddle,” Frank grinned.
“Clearly not… I’m pretty sure that saying things like ‘fit as a fiddle’ is a symptom of… something,” she smirked; she really did feel relief at getting further away from the pediatric ward of Bayview Hospital. “By the way… I’ve got to say: I told you so!” She slapped him playfully in the chest, “the doctor even said that you fainted.”
“I didn’t faint,” he protested.
“You did faint, in fact,” she said, “a medical professional said so.”
“No, I did not…” He cleared his throat audibly, “I lost consciousness with manly vigour.”
Kerstin laughed in spite of herself. “And then you fractured your skull…”
“Yeah, I did. That’s pretty manly don’t you think?”
“But Andhi isn’t bringing anyone,” Tish said slapping the table hard with the open palm of her hand. The seating plan for her wedding to Marcus LeBrandt was laid out in front of her. A few of the pages flapped in the breeze kicked up by her hand.
“Andhi doesn’t have a boyfriend,” her father reminded her, “Kerstin does.”
“I don’t care! It’s my wedding and I am only inviting Kerstin… not what’s-his-name.”
“Frank,” Marcus intoned. “His name is Frank Denzre.”
“No one cares what his name is,” Tish declared.
“That’s not fair, Tish,” Lawrence Waterford reminded, “that man saved your sister from an att…”
“That was her own stupid fault,” Tish replied without letting her father finish. “Daddy she got that job – at a bar! – because she won’t work for you. And then she get’s herself attacked in the street while walking home from it in the middle of the night… well, that’s just stupid.”
“Now, settle down young lady. Your sister has her own plans for her future… and while it may not be the future that we had hoped for her… it’s her life and she gets to make her own choices.”
“Her own stupid choices,” Tish said under her breath.
“Senator Taylor,” Harry said as he stood in the doorway of the man’s home.
“Custone? Henry Custone?”
“Ah, yes… you work for…”
“Oliver Jordan. Yes, I do. Can we step inside?”
The senator gestured and stepped aside. Harry walked into the other man’s house. As the senator closed the door he spoke, “so, Mr. Jordan sent me here in the spirit of… the common good.”
“Don’t be coy Mr. Custone, what is Jordan up to?”
Harry looked around the house, making a point to glance into the rooms that lead off the hall. “This house needs a woman’s touch, don’t you think, Senator? That seems to be missing…”
“Screw you,” the senator said taking a step toward Harry. He deftly side-stepped the older man.
“Mr. Jordan wants you to know that he may be in possession of information about the whereabouts of your missing wife – he has kindly worked hard on your behalf to locate her,” it was a lie that both of them knew was a lie, but Harry continued, “and he’d be willing to trade that information… for a favour.”
“I already secured the damned defence contracts for his damned company… what more could he possibly want from me?”
“Jordan Enterprises is a big company and it will soon be expanding into real estate development and Mr. Jordan wants your help to make sure that happens.”
“Real estate? Ha!” The senator exclaimed, “even Jordan can’t break Lawrence Waterford’s real estate hold in Emerald Heights.”
Harry tsk’d the senator, “don’t be so sure. It seems that Jordan Enterprises has recently come into ownership of a significant amount of Waterford’s mortgage… and Mr. Jordan thinks it’s time to call in those debts.”
The senator quirked an eyebrow, “what does any of that have to do with me?”
“Well, see, Senator… Mr. Jordan needs you to make it clear to any banker who might want to take on Waterford’s financing that they will be risking their charter.”
Leticia couldn’t believe her eyes. For that matter she couldn’t believe her ears, either. Before her stood her ex-husband, Oswald Glendale, and her best friend, Sarah Price, linked arm in arm. And they were smiling at each other. “Seriously, Sarah, do you know who this is?”
Sarah nodded, although Leticia knew that clearly she did not. “He’s my love, Leticia,” she said.
“Yes, Leticia,” Oswald said and it sent a chill down her spine to hear her name on his lips. “I’m her love. And she is mine.” He turned and kissed her deeply.
Leticia glanced back and forth from the duo of Sarah and Oswald to Mary Price who was still seated at their little round table. “What is going on? How did this happen?”
“We met in Paris, at the Louvre,” Sarah said, “it was magical.”
“Bullshit! Bullshit and bullshit.” Leticia said, “there’s no Goddamned way that you met him in Paris.” She turned to Mary, “surely to God you can’t be happy about this… he’s ten years older than she is. And he’s been married four times!”
Mary shook her head, “oh Leticia, you are so dramatic. Oswald is a charming man… you just need to give him a chance.”
Her jaw hung open for a moment, “are you kidding me about this? This is my ex-husband! You have no idea what I went through with him; what he did to me… this is… this is craziness! Sarah you cannot do this… you have to trust me.”
Sarah nodded, “Leticia I love him. All I want from you is your support…”
“You are never going to get that, Sarah… not while you’re with him.”
“How many servants do your parents have?” Frank whispered as they stood in the library at Red Terrace.
“Staff.” Kerstin corrected, “and there are four in the main house.”
“There are more than four staff here.” He quipped.
She nodded, “yes, when Granny and Grandpa are in the main house their staff come with them.”
“Oh, that explains it,” he said; he sounded sarcastic and she knew that she hadn’t made it any clearer for him.
She chuckled, “wait ‘til we get to the family.”
“I am not ready for that,” he said.
“It won’t really matter; anyone who wants to talk to you will introduce themselves to you. It’s the Waterford way… you get a sort of inflated sense of self-importance.”
As if on cue her cousin approached. “Cousin,” he said to Kerstin and leaned in and air-kissed her on both cheeks. She obliged him accordingly. He extended his hand to Frank and said, “Anders Waterford, eldest son of Trey Waterford. My father is Kerstin’s father’s older brother.”
Kerstin smirked at Frank, “see?”
Frank chuckled, “nice to meet you Anders,” he said. “I think you’re the first Waterford cousin I’ve met.”
“I am surprised that Kerstin brought you, I would have thought that she’d wait as long as possible to feed you to the wolves.” He gestured across the room to the assembled group of family with the hand that held his drink, “although word is we’ve all got you to thank for saving our Kerstin from…”
“Uh, yes, well…” Kerstin said, interjecting. “We’re all thankful for that, but let’s not talk about it, okay Anders? Have you seen Granny and Grandpa? I wanted to introduce them to Frank.”
Anders scratched his forehead, “I think I saw Granny in the drawing room, and Grandpa is with uncle Lawrence in the upstairs den. Something about the business, I think.” He quickly looked out into the mass of Waterfords and then turned back toward his cousin, he leaned in closer as he spoke, “have you seen your sister?”
Kerstin shook her head, “no, we only just arrived, really.”
“Aidan told me that she was going off about you bringing… him,” he jerked his thumb at Frank, “to the wedding; something about it ruining the day for her.”
“Oh for the love of…” Kerstin sighed, “well, are you surprised, really? That’s pretty much a textbook case of Tish, isn’t it?” She shook her head. “It doesn’t really matter, though. If I force the issue Grandpa will make sure that Frank can come…”
“Of course he will,” Anders replied, “anything for the oldest grandchild.” Anders turned and walked away and left Kerstin and Frank to stand alone in the midst of the assembled family in the library.
“What was all that about?” Frank asked as Anders left hearing range.
“It’s a long story,” Kerstin replied; she sighed, “one I thought was done a long time ago.”
“Make it snappy,” Leticia mocked as she climbed the spiral staircase that lead to the second floor of Pinewood Manor. Those were the words of the woman who had married her father and convinced him – somehow – to change his will. Now, Leticia just needed to prove how; to prove that Clara had manipulated him. She needed to find the evidence that would allow her to contest the will and reclaim her family’s heritage.
“What the f…” Leticia breathed as she walked past the door to the suite that had been hers only days before. “You have got to be kidding me.” She stared in disbelief for long moments; there was nothing recognizable about the space at all. The colours on the walls, the furnishings, in fact the very purpose of the room had changed. What had once been her bedroom was now filled with a number of expensive looking pieces of exercise equipment and an obscenely large television.
She shook her head, “god damned bitch. I can’t wait until I can…” she continued fuming as she moved along the hallway to the room in which the few things that remained in the house that belonged to her were located.
She stopped in the entrance to the room and studied the boxes for a few moments before casting a glance to the next door along the opposite wall. It led to her father’s office, which, no doubt, contained the information that she was looking for.
She glanced down the hall and listened intently to see if Clara was anywhere nearby before she slipped across the hall and opened the door to her father’s office. It was unlocked, as usual, and she ducked inside and pushed the door closed quietly behind her.
The office was ceiling to floor bookshelves all filled with binders, files and other miscellany of a decades long life in finances. Leticia had absolutely no idea where to begin.
She stepped behind her father’s desk and immediately felt herself overcome with emotion. It was the first time since his death that she’d been in a space that he had occupied for a significant portion of his life and so many thoughts and feeling came suddenly flooding into her mind. “I love you, Daddy,” she whispered as she pulled the drawer open and began to rifle through the papers and notes therein.
She was several minutes and only a tiny fraction in to her search when it all came to a screeching halt.
“What the hell are you doing?” Clara roared from the office doorway.
“Are you okay dear?”
The voice seemed disembodied at first, coming from everywhere around her and from right inside her head at the same time. She blinked her eyes and her blurry eyesight began to clear. She mumbled something that was neither articulate to the other woman nor to herself.
“Are you okay dear?” The woman repeated. Kerstin began to be able to focus on her. She looked at the blue eyes and the nurses scrubs and winced as the throb in her head returned with a vengeance.
“What happened?” She said groggily.
“You fainted,” the woman explained, “right at the nurses’ station.”
Kerstin raised her hand to her head, and another jolt of pain shot across her skull, “ow,” she said, “that hurts.”
“It’s apt to, you fell pretty hard.” The nurse explained. “You asked a question about the boy from the accident and then, wham, down you went.”
The boy. Kerstin’s mind seemed to sharpen at hearing those words. “Wilson’s disease,” she repeated. “He’s got Wilson’s?”
The nurse nodded and brought a cup, presumably filled with water, to Kerstin’s lips. It was then that she became aware that she was in an upright hospital bed. She pushed herself up slightly and looked around. Frank was nowhere in sight. The nurse spoke, “yes, he has Wilson’s. Do you know something about him? So far we haven’t been able to find out anything about him.”
“It’s rare,” Kerstin said after taking a sip of the water. “Wilson’s disease is rare, isn’t it?”
The nurse nodded, “something like one in a hundred thousand,” she said, “it’s genetic, too. We don’t think he was being treated for it before now.”
Kerstin winced, although her head was hurting her less and less with every passing minute. “Where’s Frank?” She asked.
The nurse looked perplexed, “Frank?”
“I was here, in the hospital, to see him. They moved him… to room 416. That’s where I was headed when I bumped into… and then I ended up at the nurses’ station. I was headed to see Frank.”
“Oh,” the nurse said, somewhat deflatedly, “so you don’t know anything about the boy?”
Kerstin shook her head, “I’m sorry.” She stood, shakily, and made her way toward the door. The nurse pointed left and she stepped out of the room before turning back. “He’s getting treatment now, though, right? The boy I mean?”
The nurse nodded.
“Son?” Gordon said, drawing Jehua’s attention away from the invoices he’d been filling out.
He knew that his father would seek him out eventually. After leaving The P & Q the night before to take Kerstin to the emergency room at Bayview he hadn’t gone back to work, instead he had gone home to the Hunting Lodge. He’d hoped that his father would respect the privacy that he so earnestly needed and his hope had borne out.
But there was little hope that Gordon would leave the topic unspoken of in the long term. And it seemed to Jehua, from his father’s tone of voice, that the time of unspokenness was about to be over. “Yeah, Dad?” He said without inflection.
“I wanted to talk you.” Gordon began, “you know, about last night. About what… about what I saw, Jehua.”
Jehua sighed, “yeah.” He paused, then said, “it was a mistake.”
Gordon nodded, “I know we never really talked about all that happened between the two of you in Grand City, but you know… I’m your Dad Jeh, it’s never too late to talk.”
Jehua chuckled, “yeah, Dad, I know. It’s just hard, y’know? I don’t really even know what to say about it… and it’s been 10 years. I loved her… and then she just… she started ignoring me, then all of a sudden she was just… gone.”
Gordon nodded and placed his hand on his son’s shoulder, but didn’t say anything. Jehua continued, “and I knew, y’know, that she was from here. Even then. And I knew that she moved back a few months ago. I wanted to talk to her again, to ask her what happened with us.” He looked up into his father’s eyes, “but I just couldn’t, Dad. And then… then she came in here, and you hired her.”
Gordon said, “I’m sorry.”
“No, Dad… that’s not what I mean. It was great. It was great to see her again, to be around her. We never talked about it, y’know, about what happened, but it was good to be around her. And then, last night… it just… I just… I couldn’t just watch and just be her anymore… I had to see if…” His voice trailed off.
“Jehua, do you love her, son?”
Jehua nodded, “yeah. I never stopped, Dad.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“What other choice did I have?”
“Uh, to not hand over the God damned tapes, maybe?”
“Owen, they were going to put me in jail for Christ sake. I had to give them the tapes. They didn’t believe me when I told them that they weren’t recording.”
“But, man, my Mom works with those people.”
Isaac scoffed, “your Mom doesn’t work with those people, dude, she works against them most of the time. She works for Oliver-God-damned-Jordan.”
“Still man, they know her and they’re going to know that it’s me on the tape.” Owen Nightingale said.
“It’s evidence, they can’t just go around showing it to people who have no business seeing it, man.” Isaac said, “chill out. I mean, it’s just a blowjob.”
“That I was giving you,” Owen exclaimed. “Okay, that makes you, like, a stud… do you know what that makes me?.”
Isaac grinned, “pretty popular with me, actually.”
“I can’t believe that you’re being a smart-ass about this, what if they find out about this shit at school?”
“Owen, man, just chill the eff out. It’s not going to get out at all, let alone at school.” Owen put a hand on his buddy’s shoulder. “Now come on, just sit down and relax. You’re way too high strung.”
Owen sat on the edge of Isaac’s bed. Isaac nodded and smiled, “there… for God’s sake, I thought you were going to, like, bust a vein or something. Man, you need to decompress a bit.” He leaned down and kissed the other boy from his standing position.
He smiled as he pulled away, “nothing bad is going to happen, you can trust me to take care of you always.”
He took a step closer to the sitting boy and his smile turned into a more devilish grin, “now… how about you take care of me?”
“Leticia, I am shocked to hear from you,” the sarcasm in Trevor’s voice was painfully obvious, at least he hoped it was. “I guess your little plan worked out about as well as you excepted?”
“Shut up, okay?” Came her reply on the other end of the line. “So… about your idea…” she trailed off.
Trevor grinned in spite of himself. “Yeah,” he said, “so you need me to, like, get in there and get the goods on Mama for you?”
“She’s not my…” she sighed, “whatever. I’ve got to prove that Clara manipulated my father into changing his will. Can you do that? Can you find that information?”
“Oh, you don’t even know,” Trevor replied. “I’ll get that information…” he paused, “but first we need to talk money.”
“What?” Leticia said suddenly. “What do you mean?”
Trevor laughed, “you didn’t think I was doing this out of the goodness of my friggin’ heart did you? Nah, baby, I need cash.”
“How do I even know that you’re not going to just tell Clara my plan?”
Trevor scoffed, “she already holds all the cards. She probably already thinks you’re after her.”
“Good point.” Leticia admitted. “So, then, how much money are you looking for?”
“Say 20,000$ now, and 20,000$ when the job is done.”
“Are you kidding me?” Leticia asked.
Trevor smiled and chuckled, “nah, but then again, what other choice do you have? Do you want your father’s estate back, or do you want to let the bitch beat you? 20-Gs ain’t much to get that ball rolling, is it? And when we beat the bitch you’ll want to show me a little gratitude.”
“Fine,” she said after a period of silence. “Where can we meet?”
As she stepped through the door of room 416 Kerstin had hoped to see Frank Denzre sitting up and smiling, greeting her and possibly even making some sort of wisecrack about the fall that landed him in the hospital in the first place.
But that is not what she saw. Instead she was greeted with the same array of tubes and wires that she’d seen in the emergency room when she had first arrived in the hospital. She immediately walked up to the bed and took his hand in hers. “Frank,” she said softly; he didn’t wake or even stir.
She pulled a chair over from the corner and sat at the side of his bed.
“They asked me who else to call,” she said, “but I didn’t know anyone.” She rubbed the back of his hand as she spoke, “I don’t know your family or their names, or where they are.” She shook her head, “but it’s not going to matter because you’re going to wake up soon.” She wiped a tear away from her eye.
She puffed out her cheeks and looked around the room for a brief moment, “Jehua drove me down here last night from The P & Q. I came right away…” she chewed her lip, “I’m glad that I was… that they knew to call me.”
“I still haven’t told you about the history between Jehua and I.” She said with a half-choked chuckle, “you don’t know how many times I’ve managed to dodge telling people about that period of my life.” She shook her head, “we met in college and it was, like, instant romance. Totally whirlwind. He was a friend of a friend… but he got introduced to me as Jehua West – West his is Mom’s maiden name.”
“She’s dead,” Kerstin added. “Has been for a really long time.”
“If I’d known that he was a Stanley I probably wouldn’t have ever given him the time of day. Not because I didn’t like him, or because I have something against Stanleys, because I don’t. Their family and mine have been in this town forever. No, it’s just that in those days I was sort of on an anti-Emerald Heights kick. I moved to Grand City in order to get away from here… away from the people mostly.”
“But I didn’t know that he was from here – and he never told me. And I guess it shows how anti-social I am around this town because I didn’t even know he was from here until I went in for that job interview at The P & Q last month.”
“But back in Grand City we were… we were in love. And I was happy with him…” she trailed off, “and then… and then I got pregnant. I was 17 and… and I got scared. I got my aunt Gabby to help me get away… I went out west until it was time to… y’know… and then I came back to Grand City and… gave him up for adoption.”
She was crying openly as she held Frank’s limp hand in hers. “I’ve never told anyone else about that before… no one except my aunt Gabby ever knew… and she’s dead now.”
“But,” she said, “Frank… the boy that was in the accident out by the highway. I think… I think that’s my son.”
She stood and walked to the door; she looked down the hallway in the direction of the pediatric unit, “I think he’s out there right now… and what am I supposed to do? How can I go back and look Jehua in the face now without telling him the truth?”
“The truth about what?” She spun around suddenly and stared agape at Frank Denzre as he laid in the hospital bed. His eyes were open and he was rubbing them slowly with his fingers. “What truth are you supposed to tell Jehua Stanley?” He repeated.
Chief John Godspeed rapped his knuckle against the corner of the desk; it was a customary action that signaled to anyone who knew him well that he was thinking. “Any ID on the driver of that truck?” He asked, although it had nothing to do with the thoughts that had been rolling around in his head.
“We’re waiting for Oklahoma to come back with info from the VIN.” The officer whose desk he was now leaded against replied.
Godspeed’s knuckle connected with the desk but stayed there for a moment. “There was nothing from the plates?”
“The plates were basically torn apart, it’s amazing we were able to tell they were from Oklahoma.” The officer stated, “And any identification that mighta been on the driver was wrecked in the fire.”
Godspeed made a nasal sound of disappointment. Nothing seemed to be easy these days. “What about the tape from the convenience store?”
“Well now that was quite a shit-show,” the officer replied; he turned away from his paperwork to face the chief directly. “We got the tapes from those kids but not ’til we threatened to arrest ’em. They were… y’know…” he made a gesture with his hands.
Godspeed shook his head to indicate that he didn’t understand.
“Havin’ sex,” the officer replied with a look of disgust on his face. “Right behind the god damned counter. Those two boys… I tell you, if one of them was mine I’d…”
“You’d nothing,” the Chief said flatly. “Don’t make me fire you, Robert.” Godspeed rocked up off the desk and walked away from the officer without speaking another word.
Kerstin Waterford stopped abruptly as she stepped into the Emergency Room at Bayview Hospital. She’d been on autopilot since Gordon had told her that Frank had been brought there for a reason she now couldn’t even remember. She’d stopped not because she hadn’t known where to go, or because something inside the doors had caught her attention, rather she stopped because her autopilot had delivered her to the place that she’d wanted to be; and now it was off.
Now she had to think, and thinking wasn’t coming easily.
She looked back and forth and located the triage desk. She approached it with haste. “I… I’m looking for Frank… Frank Denzre,” she said, far too quickly to have been clear.
“I’m sorry?” The nurse said, “you’re looking for a patient?”
She nodded, “Frank Denzre,” she repeated. “He was brought in about… I don’t know… I think 40 minutes ago.”
The triage nurse did some typing on her computer while she spoke, “are you family?”
Kerstin winced, “sort of. He’s my neighbo… I’m his… we’re… uhm… he’s my girlfriend… no, I mean, I’m his girlfriend.” The scene from the storeroom at the P & Q shot through her mind as she spoke; her stomach lurched and her head ached.
The nurse, who Kerstin didn’t recognize, looked up from her computer screen at her for a long moment before she returned her attention to the system and continued to type. “Okay,” she said simply; no doubt she’d seen the pleading look on Kerstin’s face.
“He’s still in the emergency ward,” she said, “room E8… I can have an orderly take you there.”
“Thank you,” Kerstin said. She turned away from the triage desk and spied Jehua Stanley watching her from across the room.
He approached her and brought his hand to rub her arm as she stood in front of the large double-doors that would give her access to the patient area of the hospital. “Are you going to be alright?” Jehua asked quietly in words that he didn’t string together smoothly.
Kerstin nodded, “yes,” she said, “thank… thank you for driving me…” she turned to face him; she looked up into his face. “I…” she said as tears welled in the corner of her eyes. “I…” she tried again, but was instead interrupted by the sound of her own name. She turned and a young man dressed in scrubs gestured for her to follow.
She looked back and Jehua Stanley and forced a wan smile before she walked through the open doors.
Rays of sunlight streamed through the trees that lined the driveway of the Price family’s estate. The black car rolled tentatively up the intricate cobblestones in a manner that seemed to reflect the feeling of its driver. “You could stay with me,” Oswald Glendale said to the woman seated next to him, “we are meant to be together.”
Sarah pawed at him playfully, “of course we are,” she said, “but I live here.”
She watched him turn and smile at her. “Yes, you do.” He said, then more quietly, “for now.” He reached out and stroked her cheek, “but Sarah… we are going to need to be united in order to face the future.”
She nodded with vigour, “of course,” she said, although she didn’t know what exactly he meant. “I love you,” she cooed.
The car came to a stop in front of the garages that had at one time been carriage houses. “I can’t wait for you to meet my parents,” Sarah said and pushed the car door open.
Oswald reached across the car and grabbed Sarah’s arm before she had a chance to jump from the vehicle. He looked directly at her and said, “you understand, don’t you? Why we need to be careful about how we proceed?”
She nodded, “of course. You need to keep your identity secret for now because of your ex-wife.” She leaned in and kissed him soundly, “and it would seem fishy if you published an article about me while we were… y’know,” she winked and grinned; he chuckled and her smile broadened further at his reaction.
“Oh, they are simple going to love, love, love you!” She said as she stood from within the car.
“If I have anything to do with it, they certainly will.” He said under his breath, “just a second, Love,” he said to Sarah, “I have to get something out of the trunk.”
Oliver Jordan fingered the edge of the top sheet of the dossier that he had just finished reading. His next step would be far and away the most crucial in his bid to take over Waterford Holdings. If it was botched, if the man he needed to contact wasn’t handled properly the entire affair would come undone and Lawrence Waterford would be made aware.
“Well done, Harry,” Oliver said to the man who sat across the desk from him. He trusted Harry Custone and the work that the man did for him.
Harry Custone nodded, “thank you Mr. Jordan.”
“And you’re quite certain of the efficacy of these documents?”
“I did the leg work myself,” Harry asserted. “That information will get the job done, sir. Waterford Holdings is all but yours.”
Oliver raised a hand in caution, “let us not count our chicken, Harry.” Oliver sipped at his coffee, “I’m confident that there will be little that Lawrence Waterford can do once I have purchased his company’s debt other than simply hand the company over to me wholesale… but Lawrence Waterford is no rube. We cannot leave any avenue unconsidered.”
Harry nodded, “yes sir,” he said, “and that’s where the Good Senator comes in.” Harry took a sip of his coffee, “it was easy enough for him to cave in and give up the defence contracts when we… put pressure on him.”
Oliver laughed, “Harry, it’s just us in this room, you needn’t be coy.”
Harry smiled, “fair enough.” She continued, “the Senator is a shitty husband but he does really seem to care for his wife. She was excellent collateral, but I think she is of continued use to us… so my buddies at Ebo haven’t released her yet.”
Oliver nodded, “one day you’ll have to tell me who these buddies are.”
Harry shook his head, “I really don’t think that would be a good idea at all, Mr. Jordan.” He took a long drink from his coffee cup while he maintained eye contact with Oliver; he hoped to drive the point home with his gaze. “But… as I said, the Good Senator may have one more use for us before we’re done with him.”
Oswald could feel the eyes of Victor and Mary Price on him all throughout their impromptu breakfast. Although they had been pleasant enough with their conversation and had seemed to buy the story of his meeting their daughter in Paris, there was something in the long lingering looks that made him feel uncomfortable.
He remained unconcerned, however, of his future with Sarah. Their destiny was decided irrespective of the obstacles placed on them by her family; or anyone else for that matter. She had performed admirably in their rehearsed story and he couldn’t have been more proud of her.
“Imagine meeting right in the middle of the Louvre,” she’d said; she looked at him with a clear and deep fondness. “We were standing on opposite sides of some sculpture, but neither one of us was looking at the sculpture.” She smiled and reached out for his hand, “all I could see was him.”
He nodded and smiled, but spoke directly to the senior Prices, “and she was all I could see. By far the greatest objet d’art in the whole building.”
Sarah, improvising Oswald had guessed, leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He briefly glanced at Mary Price and could plainly see that she remained unconvinced. “Oh,” Oswald said after a moment’s contemplation, “we appear to be out of juice.” He gestured to the nearly empty pitcher that sat in front of them.
“Oh, we’ll call Winifred,” Mary said, her eyes still on her mooning daughter.
“Isn’t that the woman who is unpacking Sarah’s things?” Oswald inquired.
“Ah, yes… well…” she paused.
Oswald stood swiftly, “let us get it,” he said; he reached his hand down toward Sarah. “My love?”
“My love,” she said as she took his hand. She giggled and looked at her mother, “isn’t he grand? Or, should I say le grande?”
“The kitchen?” Oswald prompted; he’d picked up the tray on which the pitcher sat.
He followed her into the large, well appointed kitchen. They fetched a matching, pre-squeezed pitcher of juice from the refrigerator and placed it on the tray. Oswald glanced quickly out the window and then asked of Sarah, “is that the swing set that you played with when you were young?”
She smiled, “yes,” she said, “my brother and I used to spend so much time out there… the pool is over there, and there was this one time that Kerstin and I tried to dye the whole thing…”
Oswald had stopped listening to Sarah – in fact it was the third time he had heard this same story – instead he slipped his hand into his pocket and produced a small vial filled with a clear liquid. Quickly and quietly he upended its contents into the pitcher and turned back toward Sarah, “all ready, my love? I think your parents could use a little more juice…”
“Ms. Waterford?” The voice startled Kerstin out of her sleep. She opened her eyes and knuckled them as she regarded the older woman in front of her.
“Yeah?” She inquired. “Has he woke up yet?”
The nurse shook her head slowly, “no, ma’am.” She signed, “we’re going to move him to the private room that you requested.”
“Thank you,” she said as she climbed out of the chair in which she had curled herself up. She stretched as she regarded Frank laying on the bed in front of her.
His head was wrapped in a terrifying white bandage and two tubes ran down his throat carrying she didn’t know what to she didn’t know where. The constant, consistent beep of the heart monitor had been oddly soothing as she dozed off and slept, but now that she was awake and standing beside his bed it was a jarring reminder of that this was a hospital bed in a hospital room.
She followed the bed slowly and silently down the hall as they wheeled him from the temporary room in the emergency ward to a more permanent room deeper within the confines of the hospital. The notion that it was a more permanent room brought the tears back to her eyes.
She was barely paying attention to her steps or the path that they took through the familiar halls of the hospital; she was essentially unaware that they were passing through the pediatric ward of the hospital until she crashed into a man who walked across her path. The purse that had been clutched loosely in her hands ejected its contents across an impossibly large area of the floor.
“I am so… I…” she said, but instead it was choked sob that came out of her mouth.
“Sorry,” the man said, although clearly she had run into him and not the other way around. “I… let me help you.”
She dropped to her knees and began shoving things back into her purse. “I should have watched where I was going,” she said as her head began to clear.
“No problem,” the man said as he delivered the last of the items to her. She bid him thanks and then he walked on. She stood, however, looking around for a hospital bed that was nowhere to be found. Up ahead slightly was a nurses’ station and she walked toward it with the intention to ask for directions to Frank’s new room.
As she approached the station she overheard two nurses speak, “frankly the little man is lucky that he ended up here.”
“But no one still has any idea who he is?”
The first nurse shook her head, “no, the parent who was in the car was dead at the scene. But a friend of mine knows someone in the police department and they said they came from Oklahoma and were looking for directions somewhere in the city when it happened.”
“Really? Wow, that’s…” she stopped and turned to Kerstin. “Can I help you dear?”
Kerstin nodded, “yes, I was following Frank Denzre who was being moved to a perma… to a different room. I lost sight of the nurse and I wanted to know what room that would be.”
The nurse looked at her computer screen for a few moments then pointed and said, “down that way, two floors up. Room 416.”
Kerstin nodded and turned down the hallway.
“So, as I was saying,” the nurse continued as Kerstin walked away, “he was lucky he ended up here. I don’t think that the parents knew he had Wilson’s disease.”
Kerstin’s feet crossed one another and she nearly fell over. As she straightened herself back up and turned toward the nurses station she noticed that both women now stood and were looking at her. “I’m sorry,” she said , “did you say that boy from the car accident has Wilson’s disease?”
“Oliver,” the man said as he reached out to clasp Oliver waiting hand. “It’s been far too long.”
Oliver chuckled, “it’s funny, I was just thinking the same thing. We so rarely do business with each other, Kent.” He gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk, “but I think we should change all that.”
The man sat and Oliver flipped open the cigar box at the corner of his desk. He reached it toward the man, “the best in the world.” Kent took one and rolled it in his fingers before smelling the length of it.
“Oh, that’s very nice,” he said as he patted his chest, “I don’t have a light.”
Oliver smiled and sat himself. “Well we haven’t done any business yet, the cigar is for after that, you see.”
Kent grinned, “well don’t hold me in suspense, Jordan, what did you bring me up here for?”
Oliver leaned forward and opened the dossier in front of himself. “I want to buy out your investment in Waterford Holdings debt. All of it.”
Oliver smiled at the smooth reaction that the other man had to the suggestion. He was impressed that he didn’t exclaim or flinch. Oliver hadn’t been sure how he was going to react. The financials of Waterford Holdings were kept quite secret. Lawrence Waterford rejected every proposal to take his company public and worked with private investors in order to do his business. Kent rolled the cigar back and forth in his fingers again before he tossed it on the desk, “you’ve got some balls, Oliver,” he said slowly, “you know how far back I go with Lawrence, you can’t honestly expect me to sell him out… especially to you.”
Oliver smiled, “actually, I can.” He said simply. “I’m going to offer you 5 percent over the value of the investments today. There’s no way that Lawrence would be able to guarantee that on this latest scheme… you will be lucky to make even money.”
“Not interested.” Kent said flatly. “I don’t know what your game is, Jordan; Waterford’s business is good for you.”
Oliver Jordan nodded, “oh, yes, Emerald Heights needs residential development. But why should I control the job market or the housing market when I can control both?”
Kent frowned and stood, “well you’re not going to get at Waterford through me or Armitage Capital, you son of a bitch; you can go right to hell.”
Oliver laughed openly and spun the dossier around on the desk, “actually, Kent, I’m going to get at Waterford directly through you. And… well, now I’m going to do it at 60 cents on the dollar.” He stood and leaned over the desk slightly, he beckoned Kent to read the document sitting on the desk, “unless you want this on the front page of the Times? The public doesn’t look kindly on war heroes who really weren’t, Kent.”
Kent sunk slowly into the chair behind him as he read the document in his hand. “You’re a real bastard, you know that, Jordan? What did my son ever do to you?”
Oliver smiled, “to me? Not a damned thing. But,” he said as he pulled a stack of pre-written contracts out of the drawer of his desk, “for me, on the other hand, he’s done quite a lot by being a liar and a fraud – and being really bad at covering his tracks about it.” He withdrew a cigar from of the box for himself and snipped off the end. “I still need your signature before we can celebrate this deal, Kent.”
Oliver lit the end of the cigar and puffed deeply, “I do not know why I waited so long to do business with you.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Kerstin said, the incredulity clear in her voice as she addressed her cousin.
Leticia shook her head, “not at all, I have to get that information.”
Kerstin’s stare continued, “you cannot go snooping around the Manor while your step mother…”
“Stop calling her that!” Leticia interrupted, a finger pointed squarely and accusingly at Kerstin.
“Sorry. While Clara – uh, Clara the… mega-bitch?” She watched for Leticia’s approving reaction before continuing, “is wandering around the house,” she finished. “There’s no way that you’re going to find… what exactly are you looking for, anyhow?” Kerstin had listened to the explanation of Leticia’s caper that would see her find evidence to challenge her deceased father’s will. Leticia supposed that the evidence was located somewhere in her father’s home – the home that had been inherited by her not-step-mother, Clara Preston.
“I’m not really sure.” Leticia replied.
“That should make it easier to find,” Kerstin said as she puffed out her cheeks. “Seriously, Leticia, whose idea was this? It sounds like something Sarah would come up with.”
“It was my idea…” Leticia replied, “by the way, have you heard from Sarah?”
Kerstin nodded, “yeah, she called me from some chalet in Paris. She said that she forgot to tell anyone that she was leaving and that she would be home, uh, I guess it would be tomorrow now.”
“She forgot to tell anyone that she was leaving?” Leticia rolled her eyes, “she has three assistants, you know? Plus she works with me. And, uh, her father. And she forgot?”
Kerstin chuckled, “this is why I figured that she had inspired you to ninjadom. That’s totally not going to work, by the way.”
Leticia sighed, “I know… but, Kerstin, I have to try something… I can’t just let Clara take everything that my father ever worked for.”
Kerstin nodded, “yeah, I know.”
Chief Godspeed made his way down the grey hall toward the cells that contained the prisoners in the Emerald Heights Police Department precinct building. The hard soles of his shoes clacked against the floor in a way that seemed louder than usual and it made him momentarily feel uncomfortable about his plan. He turned the corner and was presented with the last locked door before the holding cells. He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open.
Immediately he heard the sound of sobbing coming from within the cell block. He knew that it was Anita Breza because this particular block of cells was empty otherwise. He walked toward the cell, taking particular care to step as lightly as he could in order to not disturb the woman.
“Ms. Breza,” he asked as he drew close to the cell in which she was seated. She looked like she’d been crying since the night before when she had been booked in. “I’m Chief John Godspeed, I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t mind.”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were red and swollen, her lip trembled and her long slender fingers were too wet to be effective at wiping away the tears. She didn’t stand at first, but just looked up at him. He began to feel uncomfortable at her still silence. He was about to speak again when she slowly rose from the bench. “Mr. Godspeed,” she said. She had an accent he couldn’t place, although it was well worn down by decades of living in California.
It struck him that he hadn’t really prepared for the scenario in which he found himself. He was used to letting the evidence speak for itself and following it to its eventual end. “I… I am here unofficially,” he said by way of clarification, faltering only slightly, “this isn’t exactly Emerald Heights’ jurisdiction.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “I’ve read the reports that were taken by the witnesses in California – including yourself – and I’ve read the notes that Burgess has submitted to the District Attorney, but… well, Ms. Breza, something just isn’t adding up.”
He continued, “I’ve known Duncan Marshall since he was this high,” he gestured to the height of a toddler, “and I just can’t… can’t wrap my head around anything like this. And believe me, Ms. Breza, this town ain’t exactly known for its straight forward police work.” He shook his head. “My gut tells me that there’s more goin’ on here than meets the eye…”
Anita Breza nodded, “what do you want to know, Mr. Godspeed?” She asked, speaking softly.
“Well, for starters, why did you come to Emerald Heights?”
Tears welled up in her eyes again as she choked out the words, “to tell Duncan that I’m pregnant.”
“Hey, hey,” the young man called after her as she rounded the corner outside Cafe Orleans. Leticia stopped and turned toward the voice, unsure if it was her that was being addressed or not. She was somewhat surprised to see the man to whom the voice belonged step up to her and reach out his hand. “I’m Trev…” he pause, “uhm, Trevor… and I would couldn’ t help but overhear you and you friend talking in the cafe.”
Leticia’s eyes narrowed, “overhear what, exactly?” She asked.
“Oh hey, yeah, no worries,” he said, leaning in as he spoke, “I totally get it, I’m like not going to rat you out or something.”
The hair on the back of her neck stood up slightly as she realized that the man’s conspiratorial tone was far more appropriate than the cavalier way in which she and Kerstin had been taking about her plans only minutes ago. She cleared her throat, “uhm, well, okay then. What… what do you want?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said to a question that wasn’t asked, “I want to help.”
“You’re pregnant?” Godspeed said, more than a little gobsmacked.
She nodded but didn’t speak. He continued, “did you tell him?” She shook her head, “okay, does Burgess know?”
“I… I think so,” she replied.
The Chief’s mouth suddenly felt very dry, “I apologize for my questions, but how… far along are you?”
“Three months.” She said softly.
Godspeed nodded, “did you know about the pregnancy before your husband…” She nodded. “And, is the father…” he trailed off.
She nodded again, “Duncan?” She paused, when she spoke her voice cracked, “I think so.”
The Chief rubbed his forehead slowly while thinking, “and no one knows any of this? None of the Californians?”
She shook her head, “not that I know of. The only people other than me to know were Claudio and Inez and they…”
He nodded, he hadn’t remembered the name of the other victim but he figured that was who she was referring to. He had felt somewhat out of his depth when he’d decided to look into the matter in spite of it being out of his jurisdiction, but now he was completely swamped. This was seven different kinds of motive for Duncan, the Breza woman, or both of them to have committed the murder. His instincts, however, told him that all of the pieces of this puzzle had yet to be exposed.
“I need to tell Mr. Marshall,” Chief Godspeed said, speaking in an even tone intended to keep her calm. Anita Breza’s eyes briefly brought forth a new stream of tears. But, when her emotions subsided he continued, she nodded, “and I’ve gotta tell the District Attorney too.” She nodded again. He sighed heavily before continuing with one last thing:
“And if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell Mrs. Marshall.”
Leticia hadn’t said anything since the young man had attempted to inserted himself into her caper to infiltrate Pinewood Manor and seek out the dirty laundry that would bring down her father’s widow and invalidate her claims on his will. Her eyes narrowed, he hadn’t flinched or fidgeted since he’d finished speaking, “how do you propose to help me?” She said calmly and flatly.
“Uh, well,” he said, continuing his semi-conspiratorial tone, “I heard you say that you need to get into the house.”
She nodded, “yeah, I was planning to do that through the front door.” She replied.
“Naw,” he said, “that won’t do any good, I heard you say that you don’t even know what you’re looking for.”
“I don’t,” she replied, still not sure why this conversation was taking place.
“Well, I can get into the house… like, into-into the house.”
She shook her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose, “I don’t know what that means.”
He smiled broadly, “well you said that your ste… your dad’s old lady was a lot younger than him, right?” She nodded, he continued, “I, uh, I’ve got a way with the ladies.” He pulled at his shirt slightly in some gesture of machismo that she didn’t recognize.
“Wha…? Okay, I’m sorry… I have to go.” Leticia said.
The young man stepped around in front of her again, “no seriously,” he said, “I can totally get in there. You don’t even know.”
Leticia set her jaw. “No,” she said, “no, thank you. I can manage this on my own just fine. Please forget what you heard and…”
Trevor cut her off, “okay, cool. You try it your way. When it don’t work you give me a call.” He pulled a piece of folded paper out of his pocket and reached out his hand, “pen?” For whatever reason she obliged him and he scribbled down his name and phone number on the paper and then thrust both it and the pen into her grasp.
She stuffed them into her purse and stepped around the young man. She walked several feet before turning back to look at him. He remained standing in the same spot, looking at her. He made a “call me” gesture with his hand as she turned back around and headed for her car.
Kerstin lazily wiped away at the bar. In one ear she could hear the television that played quietly in the corner behind the bar in the other was the droning voice of some patron who had glommed onto her as a target for his life story.
The man on the television screen was reading out the news of the day which included such spectacular nuggets as the two new docks that were being build on the coast, a contentious debate that city council was engaged in with regard to the name of a park that was being developed on an area of reclaimed waterfront and a recent fatal car accident.
The latter story did, for the briefest moment, catch her attention when the announcer noted that the vehicle in which the driver had died had Oklahoma plates and that anyone with information should contact the tip line.
“Then my wife left me and took my goddamned pool table… the goddamned pool table. What the Christ does she need with a pool table?” The man said, then repeated, “hey, you listening to me?”
“Not really,” Kerstin said before she realized it. “Uhm… what?” She corrected quickly. “I mean, sorry… there was… on the television. Someone died.”
She hoped that the man would accept the news that someone had died was justification enough for her to not having paid attention to his sob story about a wayward pool table. “Oh, geez. Someone from here?” He said.
“From Oklahoma,” she said, “it doesn’t sound like they know who the driver was.”
“Well, Christ,” the guy said, “probably the bastard my wife cheated on me with.”
“He was from Oklahoma?” Kerstin asked.
“What? No. He was just an asshole.” He said then continued, “so she takes my goddamned pool table and when I find it gone d’ya know what’s left behind? Do you? My effing cue. She left the cue behind and took the goddamned table. What am I supposed to do with just a Christly cue? What a bitch.”
Kerstin chuckled in spite of herself and noted immediately the scowl on the man’s face, “I… I’m sorry,” she said trying to rein in her amused expression. “That’s terrible.”
The patron swiped his hand through the air in a gesture of dismissal, “screw you, too,” he said before getting up from the stool and moving to a table the window.
She tossed down the towel that she had been using to wipe the bar and headed toward the back room in order to restore the stock of a few bottles that she had emptied over the past hour or so. As she stepped into the dim store room, she heard footsteps behind her. She wheeled around.
“What was that about?” Jehua Stanley said from the store room door.
“It seems I didn’t give his woes their due,” Kerstin explained. “I was distracted by the news report; that accident out by the highway.”
Jehua nodded, “there was a kid in the car, too.”
Kerstin grimaced, “damn.” She shook her head, “did he…”
Jehua shook his head, “no, sounds like he made it.” He shrugged and leaned against one of the shelves, “so, aside from buddy over there how is your night going?”
“It’s going… well,” she said. “No complaints.”
Jehua smiled, “good, good.”
She continued to dig through the bottles on the shelves as Jehua stood silently between her and the door. From the corner of her eye she could see him and she could tell that he was watching her. There was nothing at all threatening about his stance and yet it made her feel totally closed in. “I can’t find ver… vermouth.” She said after a few minutes of silent searching.
Jehua pushed himself upright and came up behind her and looked at the stacks of bottles and boxes on the shelves in front of them; the front of his right shoulder touched the back of her left shoulder with the lightest of contact, but it was the only sense with which Kerstin could concentrate. He made a humming sound while he scanned the bottles and she could feel the gentle reverberations even through that slight physical connection.
Her breath caught in her chest and goosebumps formed on her arms.
“There it is,” they said in unison and reached as one to retrieve the bottle, his hand over hers. The heat of his touch juxtaposed against the coolness of the store room was almost more than she could take; she gasped audibly and drew her hand back. She turned quickly where she stood and found herself face to face with Jehua Stanley, looking up into his eyes. His magnificent blue eyes.
Neither said a word, instead each one stared into the other’s face.
She was certain that her eyes closed before his, but the heat from his body was enough to tell her exactly how close together they were. A hand pressed against the small of her back and she leaned in to him. She could feel his face millimeters away from hers, his ragged breath gently cascading across the flushed skin of her face. Every nerve in her lips was on fire with anticipation as she felt him lean in to close the distance that remained between them.
What happened next made her feel like she’d been struck by lightning.
“Kerstin,” Gordon Stanley spoke softly from the entrance to the store room, “it’s the emergency room at Bayview Hospital… it’s your, uh, boyfriend. They say he’s suffered some sort of head trauma.”
“Leticia,” Elizabeth said as she took her hand. “It’s been way too long.”
Leticia knew it was a pleasantry and nothing more. She didn’t figure Elizabeth for two-faced, but at the same time one doesn’t exactly claim that it’s been “too long” when they greet their husband’s mistress unless one is going through the motions of polite behavior. “How have you been?”
“Well enough,” Elizabeth said. “So I looked over the documents that you sent me and… I’ve gotta tell you… they all seem in order.”
Leticia winced slightly, “that’s what I was afraid of.”
Elizabeth nodded, “yeah. Well, it’s not like there isn’t a basis for challenging an otherwise legally written document. Wills are a funny thing,” she said, “the spirit in which they’re written can be as important as the document itself. For example the mental capacity of the testator or undue outside influence at the time of writing…”
Elizabeth chuckled, “that’s what we call the person who wrote the will. Your Dad, in this case.”
“Ah,” Leticia said, “so there is a possibility that the will can be overturned?”
“Amended more likely,” Elizabeth corrected, “completely overturning the will would drive the estate into intestacy and we don’t want that either.”
“I’m confused,” Leticia said, taking a sip of the water that was placed in front of her.
“Good,” Elizabeth smiled, “that means I’m earning my fee.”
John Godspeed leaned against the door frame of the District Attorney’s office. It had been decided years ago that having an office for the D.A. in the Emerald Heights police department would save a great deal of time. Giulia Pagani was typing furiously into her computer, she had yet to look up since Godspeed had arrived at her door.
He cleared his throat in an attempt to get her attention. “Giulia,” he said as her fingers came to a halt and she looked up, “the, uh, suspects… have been processed.”
“Duncan and the Breza woman?” Giulia asked by way of clarification. It was only formality as there were no other inmates being processed that evening.
Godspeed nodded, “yeah.” He always felt terribly awkward speaking to Pagani while in her office. The room echoed something fierce and none of the sounds of the hustle and bustle of the main precinct room seemed to make it down the hall. He always felt that his voice was inordinately loud in this room – and it didn’t help that Giulia Pagani was young enough to be his daughter. “When are they to be transported to California?”
She shook her head, “it’s too late to transport them tonight,” she said, “and California isn’t going to pay to transfer them over the weekend, so we’ll probably have them until Monday.”
He nodded, “thanks.” He turned to go back down the hall when she spoke.
“Chief?” She asked.
He turned back as she stood and stepped around her desk. She leaned against the front of it with her arms crossed. It struck him as a far more serious pose than her soft features allowed. He leaned against the doorframe in his customary way, “you know this Marshall man better than I do… what do you think?” She asked further.
He drew in a long breath and then exhaled slowly and loudly. “I don’t know,” he said. “I knew his father very well… good man,” he added as he sort of looked over her shoulder, as if looking into the past. “Duncan doesn’t seem the sort, really, but then we know that in Emerald Heights that doesn’t count for much.” Giulia nodded. Godspeed added, “have you seen Burgess’ evidence?”
She shook her head, “just what the Los Angeles D.A. submitted in the warrant. He has a motive and the opportunity,” Giulia stated. “But… I can’t help but feeling like Burgess has an axe to grind. To come all this way and spend a week digging into Marshall’s personal life…” She trailed off.
Godspeed nodded, “maybe someone needs to investigate the detective?”
“Huh, oh nothing,” the man said, “just thinking out loud.” With that he straightened himself and left the District Attorney to her work.
“So our best bet is to try to prove that Clara somehow forced Dad to change the will?” Leticia repeated.
Elizabeth nodded, “yes, but it won’t be easy. You see, to me, it’s strange that this new will was crafted so shortly after your father and this woman began their relationship. There’s something strange about a man like your Dad disinheriting his children for a woman he’d only known for a few months.”
Leticia stabbed an unwitting tomato with undue viciousness, the fork clanked against the plate. She looked up into the other woman’s eyes for a moment, “yeah.” She said simply and contemplatively. “How do we figure out if she somehow pressured Dad into rewriting the will?”
“Now that’s the tricky part,” Elizabeth said, “the only way to prove it is… well… with proof. You have to get evidence that we can submit at trial that will show that Clara forced your father to change the will.”
“And that’s up to me… us?” Leticia asked.
Elizabeth nodded, “yep. There’s nothing that law enforcement can do unless what’s done was criminal – and we can’t prove that until after the case. See, I told you wills were special.”
“You said funny,” Leticia corrected, wagging a fork-speared piece of lettuce at the other woman.
“Not funny ha-ha…”
“I’m picking up on that,” Leticia said nodding. “I still have some things left at Pinewood that I have to pick up – so maybe I’ll have to a chance to snoop around while I’m there.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said, “and those are the parts that I don’t want to know about.” She winked at Leticia who smiled back. Together the two women finished their lunch, neither giving any hint that, at one time, they had been arch enemies.
As Godspeed made his way back into the precinct room he noted that Anita Breza was still sitting against the far wall. His officers were no doubt preparing a cell for the woman. Still standing where he had left her Cassandra Marshall was shifting her gaze back and forth between Breza and the California detective.
He stepped up alongside Cassandra and gentle touched her elbow, “you can sit, Ms. Marshall,” he said.
She shook her head, “thank you, Chief.” She stopped looking back and forth between Burgess and Breza and turned her gaze toward Godspeed, “do you think he’s guilty?”
Godspeed shook his head, “no, I don’t.” He paused and then jerked his head gently toward Burgess, “and I think there’s more going on here than we know. I don’t get a good feeling about this Burgess fellow.”
Cassandra frowned and looked at him intently. It made the chief slightly uncomfortable, “what do you mean?”
Godspeed shook his head, “I don’t know, exactly. But he’s been in town for weeks, Cassandra, and he’s only just brought forward the warrants. I don’t think there’s anything in Emerald Heights that had anything to do with the case… it all has to do with your husband. The warrant,” he said, lowering his voice even further, “could have been written with the information that the LAPD already knew.”
Godspeed watched the woman turn and look at the detective, who was watching the pair of them closely. “What do you think he wants?” She asked.
“I dunno…” Godspeed said, “but I plan to find out.”
“I can’t believe she went to Elizabeth Marshall,” Pamela said as she lifted her head from looking at a folder of documents. Leticia frowned as she realized that her sister was talking about her rather than to her.
“Yeah,” her brother agreed, “well, I can’t believe you went and no one got their eyes scratched out. You’re basically the reason why she’s divorced, Let.” Her brother Richard added.
Leticia opened her mouth to speak, but her sister spoke first, “not really, Rich.” Pamela said seemingly in her defence.
“Thank you, Pam,” Leticia replied.
Pamela shook her head, “no, Let, I mean that jackass, Roland, was going to screw around on her one way or another… you were just the first woman willing enough to….”
Leticia’s eyes narrowed into a scowl that she leveled at her sister; there wasn’t any way to retort a statement like that without either defending the infidelity or condemning her own lack of standards. “okay… so back to Dad’s will. Do you understand it all?”
Pamela looked up at her, “of course not. I’m a banker Let, I transfer estates… this is my first challenge.”
Leticia shook her head, and looked at her elder brother for some support. He shook his head, “I get the contract – and yeah, it’s definitely legal – but I’m not sure how we’re supposed to come up with anything that shows that Clara forced Dad to change the will.”
“Neither do I,” Leticia said sighing, “I guess I’m just going to have to see what I can find at Pinewood when I go back there this week.”
“Front row tickets for that, please,” Pamela said, raising her hand like she was ordering something.
Richard, however, was more serious about the situation, “Leticia, you can’t get yourself caught snooping through the house…”
Leticia shook her head, “no, of course not. I’m going to be stealthy.”
Pamela and Richard caught each other’s glance.
The rustic ambiance of the woodland cabin was new to Sarah Price, and she found herself enjoying it immensely – as Oswald had told her she would. “These woods are God’s raw and natural beauty, unblemished by the touch of man; as pure as Eden itself,” he had said as he stroked her cheek, “you, Sarah, stun me all the more because, for all the beauty of the nature that surrounds us, I find myself uninterested in it, rather, I am enthralled by your gloried splendor.”
Her legs had quite literally quivered.
She had enjoyed the long walk along the forest trail that Oswald had taken her on, the trips out on the lake in the little skiff that that he rowed by hand, his strong arms working to slice the oars through the water. The small clusters of wildflowers that he showed her, one after another, likening their beauty to her own and waxing poetic whenever he could.
She couldn’t hear enough of it.
Finally, that afternoon, she had convinced Oswald that she at least needed to check her messages; she had been out of contact and away from work for four days. It wasn’t entirely unusual for her to be away, although the fact that there had been no prior warning, she suspected, would have given her family and friends cause for concern.
There were several from her father, her assistant and from her friends, Leticia and Kerstin. Her father seemed less concerned than the girls at her whereabouts, but all had inquired and asked that she call them to let them know that she was “okay”.
“I’ve got to call them and let them know where I am,” she had said to him.
“They will want you to come home, they will want this to be over.”
“Nothing’s got to be over,” she said, kissing him on his cheek. She hadn’t understood why they couldn’t simply return to Emerald Heights and continue the relationship that had kindled itself so swiftly. “My friends and family will adore you just as much as I do.”
Oswald he smiled, but only wanly, “adoration,” he repeated, “that is what you feel for me?”
She had looked at him, “no,” she said, “no I… I love you.”
He had allowed her to call her father and, quizzically, call Kerstin Waterford, but not Leticia McKinelle. He had asserted that Leticia would hear from Kerstin and that it would be nothing but a wasted call for her to call them both.
“I’m in Paris, Daddy,” she said when she talked to her father. It was a lie, but one that Oswald said made the most sense. “I’m sorry, I forgot to update the schedule. I musta forgot.” She added, “We, uh, I mean I… should be home in the next couple of day… I’m going to wrap up the business that I have to do here. Some good, uhm… purchases and stuff.”
Oswald had told her that they wouldn’t understand if she told them that she had a “new suitor” – a term that made her face grow warm and a broad smile cross her lips. He said that her father would wonder why she was in the woods with him before he had even met the man. Briefly she wondered that herself; for one thing, she couldn’t remember coming to the woods, or planning to come to the woods, in the first place.
But being there, with Oswald, was wonderful; and like he said, she should concentrate more on feeling the good things than thinking about all the bad possibilities.
“What the fuck was that?” Isaac jumped back as the sound of metal smashing metal pierced the night. He immediately looked down but found no answer forthcoming. “I think that dude just got into a god damned accident.”
“What?” The reply came from below the counter, “the guy who was just in here? Are you serious?” The other man stood and looked out the window. Their vantage point was poor as the truck had turned as it left the parking lot and the counter of the convenience store was on the wrong side for a clear line of sight.
Isaac tugged at his jeans, pulling them up from around his ankles. He zipped them up and made his way around the counter. As he approached the window he could clearly see the scene of the accident in all its gory glory. “Shit,” he said, “should we call the cops?”
Owen pointed down the road in the opposite direction of the crash and said, “no need, the cops are already here.”
The two teens stood looking at one another for some time, neither willing to breach the front doors of the establishment in order to more closely investigate the accident. They watched as the police made their assessment of the scene, neither feeling especially in the mood to continue their previous interlude. As Owen paced back across in front of the entrance for the dozenth time, he spied a car pulling into the lot. “It’s an effing cop.”
“Aw, shit.” Isaac spat. “Well, look like you’re a friggin’ shopper, will you?”
Owen turned and began wandering up and down the isles of the convenience store as the cop came in through the front door.
The burly man came directly toward the counter and stopped in front of Isaac, “you hear the accident?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Isaac nodded, “that’s a sonofabitch.” He shook his head.
“We’re trying to find information about the driver and his passenger, a young boy,” Isaac broke eye contact with the officer for a moment in order to seek out Owen, but he wasn’t looking his way. Isaac hadn’t seen a young boy, “the truck caught fire and burned up the vict… the drivers identification.” Isaac nodded where he felt it was appropriate to nod but said nothing.
“I… I don’t know who he was,” Isaac replied, his voice less steady than he’d hoped.
“Okay,” the officer replied slowly, “well I’d like your survaillence videos if you don’t mind, so we can see if we can get any information from them…”
“Oh fuck!” Isaac said out loud; he brought his hand to his head swiftly and turned slightly to look at the camera that was pointing directly at him from behind the counter. He made a feeble attempt to clear his throat to regain his composure, “uhm… that… that won’t do you any good,” he said, “he didn’t come in here.”
The officer’s eyes narrowed and for the first time his gaze shifted away from Isaac and sought out Owen who was staring unduly a the man having been alarmed by Isaac oath. “Yes. He did.” The officer stated.
“What? No, no… uhm… he…”
The officer pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and placed it on the counter. Isaac saw within the bag the matchbook on which he had scribbled the directions for Juniper Avenue only an hour before. The outer cover of the matchbook bore the logo for the store in which they were standing. “Oh… yeah, uhm… I guess he did come in here.”
“Yeah, I guess he did,” the officer said, taking a step backward as Owen drew closer to the counter. The officer watched them both, “so, about those tapes.”
Isaac shrugged, “yeah, uhm, sorry… they’re… turned off.” He turned and looked at Owen who breathed for the first time in minutes.
Oswald Glendale stood over the sleeping form of Sarah Price.
He smiled, “my love,” he said, “you are the most exquisite creature I have ever seen.” He ran his finger slowly along her exposed arm. “Your proportions are perfect, your smile is flawless, your skin like silk…” he drew in a long, slow breath. “You are the first woman I have ever met in whom I have seen no flaws. There is nothing that my surgeon’s blade could do to improve upon your visage.”
He leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, “and you are mine.”
He turned toward a cabinet in the corner of the room and withdrew a syringe and a vial. “Before long our love will be unbreakable,” he said, pushing the syringe through the rubber cap and into the liquid. He drew back on the stopper slowly as he measured out a dose of its contents.
“This,” he said, referring to the contents of the vial, “will ensure that the love that you feel for me today will never diminish, will never waver.” He paused and flicked the side of the syringe. “There will be those who will try to tear us apart. But there attempts will be in vain for you and I are destined to be together…” he trailed off.
He pressed the plunger into the syringe slightly to chase out the air. “I am like the mythical Adam and God has delivered you, my Eve, unto me that we may forge together a great life in a world of our mutual bliss. And, what a world it will be with you at my side, my beauty; my flawless, priceless beauty.”
He gently pulled the cover from her hip, exposing her flesh to the air. In her sleep, she stirred slight but didn’t wake. “Sarah,” he breathed softly and lowly as he leaned in with the syringe. As he pierced her flesh with the sharp steel, he spoke softly, “how much I want you,” he said as he began to depress the plunger, “how much I deserve you,” he continued.
He withdrew the syringe while his lips graced the very place it had been. He kissed her silken skin, feeling the warmth of her against his lips. He whispered, “and you are mine.”
“We’ve got a John Doe paediatric here. Possible haemorrhage; hasn’t regained consciousness since we picked him up.” The wheels on the gurney squeaked as it rolled alongside the paramedics. The paramedics were checking the boy’s vital signs as they wheeled him into the Emergency Room at Bayview Hospital.
The triage nurse, who had been sitting behind her desk, leapt up as she heard the words barked across the room. She pushed two orderlies toward a cubical with the instructions to get it prepared for the incoming patient. “Where’re his parents?” The middle aged woman asked.
“There was another male at the scene – possibly the father,” one of the EMTs said as he kept his hands on the boy’s wrist taking his pulse manually; a heart monitor beeped in stride.
Ingrid winced as she steered the team in the direction of the vacant cubicle. “How’re his vitals?”
“We’ve still got a pulse but it’s weak and thready; that’s about it. His pupilary relfex is normal, but he hasn’t regained consciousness.” The medic’s voice was impassive; this was old hat for him, high medical drama was nothing new in Emerald Heights. “There’s a suspected fracture here,” he said, pointing at the boy’s chest, “and there’s a haematoma forming on the spine which may indicate an internal breach.”
Nurse Schneider shook her head; the kid was in rough shape. He looked pale and his breathing was so slow and shallow that his chest barely rose. He looked almost dead laying there on the table. “We’ll have to get him scanned,” she said, grabbing the chart which had been started by an orderly. “Get me Dr. Bachman,” she said to the orderly, turned him and pushed him away.
She moved into toward the child, forcing a few of the medics out of the way. As she stood over him the boy’s form she felt her stomach tighten. He could have been her own son – a few years younger – she poked his abdomen a few times. He boy didn’t respond at all.
She was interrupted by the doors swinging open and a large man entering the room. “Doctor Bachman,” she said in greeting, “he needs a CT and abdominal X-ray immediately. There’s a spot on his spine that should be looked at – I haven’t seen it yet, but the medic said that they suspect internal bleeding.”
The doctor nodded, “sounds good… let’s get to it.” He pointed at two orderlies and gestured toward the door, letting them know to wheel the boy out of the room. “X-ray first,” he directed.
Before leaving the room he turned back to Ingrid and inquired, “parent?”
“DOA,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh my God, I hate these kinds of movies,” Kerstin said, rolling her eyes dramatically. “You know that; I told you that.” She set her jaw defiantly.
“I know,” Frank replied with a smirk.
“Then why did you…”
He held up his hand in the classic ‘talk to the hand’ gesture; she stopped speaking. “Does Sandra Bullock mean anything to you? Hmmm?” He said rhetorically, she pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, “yeah, that’s what I thought. I watched that whole damned movie last night and didn’t say a word.”
“Excuse me? Not a word?”
He tilted his head to the left slightly in acquiescence, “well, almost not a word.”
“And, uh, a two and a half our long moan,” she added.
He leaned in close to her and grinned broadly, “that part had nothing to do with the movie,” he said softly and kissed the side of her face.
“Crude,” she said flatly, but the smile on her face betrayed her.
“True,” he countered; he was standing again and she watched him take the movie from its case.
“So we’re really going to watch that?”
He nodded, “yup.” He turned to look at her as his fingers found the eject button on her DVD player. “But you can feel free to bury your face in my chest during the scary parts… y’know, in my chest or… wherever.” He flashed that grin again.
She shook her head but laughed in spite of herself. She straightened herself up on the couch and played serious for a moment, “you would talk to a lady of good breeding in such a manner?”
“Who me?” He said, feigning shock, “I absolutely would not.” He turned back toward the DVD player and then quickly spun back around to look her straight in the eye; conspiratorially he said, “why is there one around?”
She scowled and threw a pillow at him. He caught it easily and threw it back at her; she failed to stop it on its path and the large white pillow hit her full in the face. “Omph,” she said, as she pulled the pillow out of her line of view. “And,” she added, “I’m pretty sure I had to wake you up twice during that mo…”
The rest of the sentence was lost to the muffle of the pillow being shoved back over her head and Frank’s weight pressing on top of her. “Let. It. Go.” He said over-enunciating the words. “We’re watching this movie and you’re going to like it… or not. Tomorrow you can make me watch Bridget Jones of Madison County or some crap… but tonight we’re watching this.”
Fred looked over at the sleeping form on the seat beside him. “Poor little bastard,” he said aloud, although softly enough as not to wake the sleeping child. “Life just ain’t fair,” he said; as he shook his head he realized just how stiff he’d gotten from the hours long drive. He cranked his neck from side to side in a futile attempt to work out some of the kinks.
He glanced back at the kid before returning his gaze to the dark road in front of him. He couldn’t help but think that the kid looked awful peaceful for a boy who had gone through so much pain. “Your parents were good people,” he said to the sleeping form. “Just bad luck you ended up with me,” he added.
The windshield showed the distance they had travelled; the dust and dirt from the cross-country trip had been building up outside the sweep of the wipers as the miles passed. He rubbed his head again; it helped him clear his thoughts. He didn’t know what he was doing. He had just packed the kid into the truck and headed north-east; he didn’t know what he’d find in the little town he’d never heard of, he didn’t know how he’d finally explain to the boy that the trip was one-way.
“Where are we going, uncle Fred?” The kid had asked with a gleam in his eye when Fred had started packing up the few bags that would fit into the pickup.
“We’re going on a trip,” he’d told the lad, “out east, where you were born.” He had winced when he’d said it, expecting the comment to evoke sadness in the youngster. It did not.
“Yahoo!” The kid had exclaimed and jumped into the air, “can we see the ocean?”
Fred laughed in spite of himself at the thought. “Asshole,” he muttered to himself as he drove. He was the only person left in the world that this kid knew and trusted, and here he was an hour away from dumping him off on some stranger’s doorstep.
“Jesus Christ,” he’d said when his brother’s lawyer had told him that he’d been given custody of his nephew. “I don’t know anything about goddamned kids.”
“Mr. Culiton, the will was very specific in this matter,” the woman had said, “Ben and Alicia wanted you to take the boy.”
“What about his birth mother?” He asked.
“I don’t have the authority to make contact with the birth parents,” she’d replied. “I can only follow the will.”
He’d lasted three whole weeks as the kid’s guardian; three whole weeks. The will provided a home for the two of them, but as luck would have it the home that was provided was the one that burned down when his brother and sister-in-law had died. The estate would rebuild the home eventually, but in the meanwhile Fred was expected to keep the kid in his one-bedroom apartment.
“I tried, I honestly did,” he said to the sleeping form. “I am just not father material, kid,” he said more for himself than for the boy. “I mean, you can’t raise a kid on mac & cheese and bologna, I know that… but I don’t know what the hell kids do eat.” He sighed loudly, “I’m a real fuck, aren’t I?”
The boy stirred slightly and rolled over onto his other side. His eyes didn’t open.
Fred turned his attention back to the road for a long while. “It’s been almost eleven years, surely your birth mother is ready to take care of you by now…” he said aloud.
His thoughts and self recriminations were interrupted by the lights of a town approaching. He read the sign: “Welcome to Emerald Heights”.
“Kerstin,” he said; his hand stroked her cheek. “The movie is over.”
Her eyes opened and she looked directly into the smiling face of Frank Denzre. His face was illuminated by the blue glow of the television. She smiled. “Oh,” she said sliding herself up into a sitting position. “Were you sitting on the floor?” She asked as she realized that she had been stretched out on the couch.
Horror movies were not Kerstin’s genre of choice and so she had escaped into the folds of Frank’s shirt or behind one of the large white pillows for most of the movie’s duration. Frank had chuckled at her as she tried to endure watching the screen in the intervals between the gore.
“You fell asleep,” he said, “I wanted to let you sleep.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “You looked so peaceful,” he turned back toward the television that was no longer displaying an image, “unlike the poor bastard in that movie… he basically lost all his…”
She crinkled her nose and raised a hand, “please, no details,” she said. She sat cross-legged on the couch and pressed the heel of her palm into her eyes. “I’ll have friggin’ nightmares.”
He slipped up onto the couch, “I will protect you from the bad guys,” he said in a knightly voice as he moved his body to loom over her.
She looked up at him and smiled, “you already did that.”
“Oh. Yeah. I guess I did.”
She moved herself up and her lips met his. They kissed for some time before she laid back on the couch, looking up into his face. “So,” she said, trailing off.
“Yeah,” he said, “I guess you want to get to bed.”
“You bet I do,” she said as he pulled her to a standing position. She wrapped her arms around him and they stood pressed tightly together, kissing each other for some time. She luxuriated in his warmth, his strength, the feeling of his body against hers. She smiled through the kiss.
As they separated he looked into her eyes, “good night,” he said softly and kissed her again before turning away.
She frowned, “what are you talking about?” She said rather than asked, “I said I wanted to go bed… I said nothing at all about going to sleep.” She kissed him again on his cheek, playfully avoiding his seeking lips.
“Well, well,” he said, “I am all for saying nothing about sleeping.” He kissed her passionately; he added, between soft, quick kisses, “gotta… feed… the… kitty.”
She pulled back and tilted her head to the side, “uhm, what?”
“My cat, I need to feed him.”
“Oh, I thought that was some sort of weird euphe… never mind,” she said as she slipped down the hall toward the bedroom. “Hurry back…”
He slipped the truck into park and pressed his head back against the headrest. He exhaled through pursed lips as he tugged on the latch that released the door. The windows had been rolled up in the truck for a few hours before arriving in Emerald Heights and the ocean air smelled strange to his nose.
He walked toward the phone booth and seized the book as soon as he could reach it. He spread it wide open and started leafing through the pages, looking for an address to go with the name. He repeated the name to himself over and over. “Son of a bitch – there are ten of them!” He cursed.
He tore the page out of the book and slammed it shut.
He climbed back into the truck and pulled the door closed. The boy groaned a bit as he was startled awake, “are we there yet?” The kid asked. His uncle nodded.
“Yeah kiddo, almost there,” he said softly. The poor kid still didn’t have any idea what was really going on, and Fred had no idea how to tell him. He felt guilty that he was going to dump the kid off at a veritable stranger’s house – albeit a blood relation – but at the same time the feeling of relief was starting to creep in knowing that soon his brief foray into fatherhood would be over.
They turned another corner as Fred Culiton looked for the first stop in locating the kid’s real parents. He didn’t have a clue where he was headed. He had to stop and ask for directions.
He swung into the convenience store and jumped out of the vehicle. “I’ll be back in a minute, kid,” he said. He walked into the store and immediately approached the counter. “Yeah, I’m looking for some directions,” he said, slapping the page from the phone book on the counter, “I’m looking for… 1818 Juniper Ave…”
The young cashier, Isaac, looked slightly startled as Fred spoke. “Juniper Ave,” Isaac repeated but not in the form of a question. He glanced briefly at the truck in the parking lot and then back to Fred. “You a friend of ’em?” His tone was unsteady, and there was a hint of urgency in his voice.
Fred cleared his throat, realizing all of a sudden that asking for directions in the middle of the night probably set off more than few alarm bells. He looked in the teens face for a moment, before answering, “Uh… well, yeah… kinda,” he lied, trying to come up with something quickly. He hoped that the kid didn’t know the resident as he continued, “old… war buddies. We served together – the, uh, Gulf War.” He paused, “I just came to look him up, y’know, for old times.”
He watched Isaac cock his eyebrow and stare for a moment, “I owe him a beer or two, y’know,” Fred said.
Isaac flinched slightly and said “Gulf War, huh…” he glanced down quickly, and then back up, “so, yeah, I’ll write down those directions. Just let me get, uh, a pen.” He watched Isaac scribble the directions onto a matchbook and then thrust them toward Fred. “Here, uh, anything else?” There was something in his voice that made Fred curious, but he didn’t feel that he could say anything more that wouldn’t shine a greater spotlight on the strangeness of his own request.
“Thanks,” Fred said genuinely and gave a little wave to the kid before he turned and left the store. He hopped into the truck and turned the key, he revved the engine a few times before pulling it into gear. He looked at the youth who had fallen back asleep on the seat.
He had reached it: the point of no return. If he turned left he would be heading back the way he came, taking the boy with him. Going back home and resolving himself to being a dad to this kid forever – something he couldn’t see himself doing, even if he tried. Turning right meant that he was committed to finding the kid’s rightful parents and giving them the chance to raise the boy.
He rolled up to the turn and stopped, looking left and right.
He had to do what was best for the kid. He had nothing to offer the boy as a father figure. He didn’t have his life in order – and liked it that way. His home didn’t have a bedroom for the kid; who knew how long it would take before the house was rebuilt. The boy deserved so much more than he could offer. Sure, he cared for him, and he could give him that – but love doesn’t buy new shoes for school.
He knew that, if he was honest with himself, he didn’t want to get saddled with the kid either. Selfish, perhaps, but that was who he was. He wasn’t ready for a family; he wasn’t ready to have a son.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, flicking on his blinker and spinning the wheel.
He let his foot off the brake and the tires rolled forward, the truck turned slowly toward the right as he edged out into the street.
The sound of screeching tires pierced the air as a fast moving black truck slammed into the side of the red pick-up sending it flipping end-over-end across the boulevard. The truck rocked up one further time before lolling slowly over to come to rest upside down. Smoke poured from under the hood and fluid leaked from the engine and the gas tank.
The truck’s windows were smashed and a pool of blood was beginning to form on the ground beneath Fred Culiton’s still form.
Harry wrapped the elastic band around the last bundle of hundred dollars bills and laid them into the little case. They fit surprisingly well considering it was supposed to hold – ironically – legal briefs. He ran his hands along the top of the bills, “twenty thousand dollars,” he said out loud to no one at all. “When this is all over you can bet that son of a bitch is going to get twenty thousand dollars worth of hurt.”
He was interrupted by an alarm sounding on his phone. He grabbed the case and his jacket and headed out the door and down the stairs to the front of the building. He was in a hurry and so barely even took a moment to look out at the beautiful ocean view that had been the site of his wife’s death.
The long white car pulled up almost immediately as he rounded the corner. He glanced furtively back and forth before pulling the door open and ducking inside.
“Mr. Jordan,” he said tucking the case alongside his seat as he slid around to find a comfortable position.
“Harry,” Oliver said politely. “Have a drink,” he said gesturing to the bar in front of him.
It was early in the morning for even Harry to consider drinking. “Business first,” Harry said.
“Very well,” Oliver said. “You’ve got a meeting with… which one is it?”
“I’d rather if you didn’t know the details, Mr. Jordan.” Harry said, with an apologetic gesture, “but yes. He said that he’s got some good information from the daughter and he’s going to hand it off to me today.”
Oliver nodded, “and that’s the purpose for the case?” He inquired, “you don’t normally have the case, Harry. It looks strange on you.”
Harry chuckled bitterly, “no sir, actually, that’s a bit of a hiccup.”
“A hiccup, Harry? You know I don’t care for such things.”
“No, no, sir,” Harry corrected, “nothing for you to worry about. This guy… he’s asking for more money. He said something about…” Harry paused in the middle of the sentence, choosing instead to leave out the part where his man felt the need to subcontract – loose ends would not make Oliver Jordan happy. “He wants more money for the job. I don’t know… maybe he wants to buy the girl an effing car or something.”
Oliver smirked, “you are going to give him his money?”
Harry nodded; his jaw was set and his eyes narrowed.
“You don’t look happy about it,” Oliver observed.
“I’m not, sir,” Harry said biting out the words. “But once this is all through, with your permission, I will… express my displeasure with him… up close and personally.”
Oliver gestured dismissively, “of course. What you do on your own time is your own business.” He chuckled, “but it’s nice to see that you haven’t lost your fire.”
The men shared a laugh.
“Did he tell you anything about what he’d found?” Oliver asked.
Harry shook his head, “no, but he did say that she had a lot more information on Waterford than he’d expected. Names of partners and stuff, he said he got copies of all of it.”
“Partners?” Oliver mused, “really? Well that is useful information.”
The car slowed as it entered the parking lot of a long abandoned warehouse. “Be back in a flash,” Harry said as he grabbed the case and stepped out of the car.
“Oh my God,” she said laying her hand over her head. “Why am I awake at 6:45?”
She rolled her head to the left to look at the unoccupied side of the bed. She puffed out her cheeks and blew out a long, loud breath. “Okay, Kerstin, you might as well get up… hey, maybe you can even read the paper that you pay for, y’know, for a change.”
She slid her slippers on and plodded into the living area of her apartment. The boxes had slowly been being reduced in number but the amount of furniture in the space was still decidedly lacking. Growing up at Red Terrace seemed to have left her completely incapable of decorating a space – or perhaps that was just what she told herself in order to justify the laziness of not doing it.
She pulled open the door and bent down to pick up the paper left in front of her door, hearing as she did the sound of a door opening on the opposite side of the hall. She looked up from the paper to see Frank Denzre squatting in the doorway to his own apartment and retrieving his own paper.
She burst out laughing.
“What?” He said in an accusatory tone.
Rather than reply she just pointed at the opening that had been created in his robe by the squatting position. His eyes followed her finger, although she was certain that he could feel the draft. His knees snapped together suddenly and the volume of her laughing increased such that she had to steady herself against the door frame lest she fall over.
“Stop!” he said, although it was meant to sound stern there was the slightest hint of pleading in his voice. “It’s cold out here.”
She clasped her hand to her mouth in an attempt to stifle the giggles that had replaced the all out laughter and pushed herself upright. She looked at him with sorry eyes, she simply couldn’t stop herself from giggling.
A door opened down the hall and an elderly woman stuck her head out and scowled dourly at the pair. Frank, having retrieved his paper and stood, waved at the woman and said, “sorry”.
He crossed the hall and took Kerstin by the arm and pulled her into her apartment. Her giggling began to subside and she wiped at the tears that had formed in her eyes. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “I don’t know… that was just too damned funny. You were just, y’know…”
“Yes, I know,” he said, a smile playing across his face. “Did you see the look on… I don’t even know her name. The woman in 507. Did you see the look on her face?”
Kerstin nodded, “she was pissed. But if she’d seen what I saw…” She made an unflattering gesture.
“Okay funny lady,” he said spinning her around and pushing her out of the entrance way of her apartment. “What are you doing up at this hour?” He asked as he stepped into her kitchen and began the process of making a pot of coffee.
“Damned if I know,” she said opening the paper on the small table and standing over it while she read, “I just woke up and decided to get out of bed. What are you doing up so early?” She realized that she wasn’t certain if this was customary for Frank or not.
“I have a meeting this morning at a warehouse downt… I have a meeting,” he repeated. “For a… business… thing.”
“A business thing,” she said, looking up from her paper, in a tone that clearly mocked his broken delivery. “Well, if you’re just that eloquent you’re sure to woo the pants off them.”
She watched him lean across the counter and place hands widely spread on the lip of the opening between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment. He had a strange smirk on his face, he said, “those aren’t the pants that I was hoping to woo off.”
She laughed and looked back down at her paper for a moment before looking back up at him. He hadn’t changed his expression or his stance. She could feel the colour coming to her cheeks, “what?” She said letting a smile appear on her face.
“You know,” he said. He pulled back from the opening and joined her in the living room. He walked up to her and put a hand on either one of her hips. She looked up into his eyes and into his face. Her smile broadened to a playfully cheeky grin. “So,” he said, “what’s the deal with you and that bar guy? The one that showed up here the other night?” Her grin faded quickly.
She sighed, “really? You want to talk about Jehua?”
“Yes,” he said, “I want to know what went on between the two of you… all of it.”
“What time is your meeting?” She asked.
“Shit,” he said turning away from her to look at the clock, “I have to go.” He walked toward the door, pointing a finger at her as he walked, “I’ll be back as soon as I’m done with business and then we’ll talk.”
She waved him off and he disappeared through the door. She dreaded the idea of having to rehash her complicated history with Jehua Stanley – or Jehua West as she’d known him. But something was happening between her and Frank, and that would mean setting his mind at ease that the working relationship between Jehua and herself was exactly that.
That’s all it is, isn’t it?
A gentle ding from within the kitchen made her smile, “the coffee’s done,” she said to herself, “I love it when the coffee’s done.”
Harry Custone and Oliver Jordan had ridden the rest of the way to the Jordan Towers office in silence. Harry was annoyed at having to give up 20,000$ from the contingency fund for the Waterford caper. That money was to be his upon the successful completion of the takeover.
Oliver Jordan’s voice jarred him from his ruminations, “this is interesting,” he said. “It seems that Lawrence Waterford has been engaging the same silent partners for decades.”
Harry nodded along with the boss. He hadn’t had a chance to review all the papers before they’d arrived at the office, but he and Oliver had split the pages and were now leafing through them. His plan had worked suitably for their purposes. The man had assured him that he would stay close to the daughter in order to get as much more information as he possibly could. Harry was quite certain that it had as much to do with continuing the stream of money that the man was receiving as it did any dedication to himself or Oliver Jordan.
One particular seemed to hold Oliver enrapt for a long time. He looked up from it after a moment and spoke, “I’m sorry, did you say something?”
Harry shook his head, “no, sir.” He paused, “but I suppose the next step is to contact these interests and buy out their stakes?”
Oliver nodded thoughtfully, “but it will have to be done with some tact. I’ll need to know who these men are before we approach them. We’ll have to be able to be sure that they will sell and sell quietly before we can proceed. Any word gets to Waterford and the whole deal will be done.”
Harry nodded, “so I guess I’ll be working nights for the next while?”
Oliver chuckled, “I suppose so.” He shook his head, “I have no idea how you get some of this information, Harry.”
“Mr. Jordan, you don’t want to know.”
Kerstin leaned her head lightly to the side, pressing the phone against her ear, as she flipped backwards through the newspaper. It was her father’s way of reading the paper and it had worn off on her years before. She always started with the obituaries and then worked her way toward the cover. “No,” she said, “I haven’t heard from her in a few days, either.”
Leticia McKinelle, on the other end of the phone conversation, said, “it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. This is the second day in a row that she’s missed work. Her father doesn’t know where she is, her brother doesn’t know where she is.”
“Mmmm,” Kerstin said, “John Price… have you seen him naked yet?”
“Focus,” Leticia chided, “but no, not yet… I mean, no. Bitch.”
“I’m just saying, it’s going to happen.” Kerstin said, “but no sign of Sarah, huh? It’s entirely possible that she’s trapped in a sweater or something.”
“You are right rude today,” Leticia said, “she’s become a lot more capable than she was when we were kids.”
“I know,” Kerstin replied, “I said ‘sweater’… sweaters are hard.” She giggled. “Especially those tight ones that she… holy crap!” she exclaimed. “Vivian Taylor was kidnapped.”
“Oh no!” Leticia said, “wait, is that someone I’m supposed to know?”
“Senator Charles Taylor,” Kerstin prompted.
“Holy crap,” Leticia parroted.
“Yeah.” Kerstin agreed. “They’re, like, good friends of my Dad. It doesn’t say anything much about the kidnapping. There was no ransom note…”
“That’s not good.” Leticia interjected.
“No, it’s not.” Kerstin looked up as the door to her apartment opened and Frank Denzre walked in. He was carrying a brief case that he sat beside the door. “Hey, Let, I’ve gotta go. I’ve got… uh, I’ll talk to you later.”
Leticia laughed on the other side of the phone, “he’s back, eh? What are you going to tell him about Jehua?” She sang his name.
“Uhm, shut up.” Kerstin said flatly, waving at Frank to indicate that she was talking to the person on the phone and not to him, “okay… buh bye. Let me know if you hear from Sarah. Talk soon.” She hung up the phone and tossed it onto the table.
“Hi,” she said in a voice that was intentionally too sweet.
“Who was that?” Frank said with a crooked smile on his face.
“My cousin Leticia,” she replied, “on my Mom’s side. She was calling to tell me that my friend Sarah hasn’t shown up for work two days in a row… which is weird for Sarah.” Kerstin said, “although Sarah’s kind of weird. This one time when we were kids she got the idea to dye her parents swimming pool her school colours… but dying a pool two different colours doesn’t really work when you don’t turn off the filter… it just sorta turned brown…” Her voice sort of dropped off as she realized that she was rambling. “It was… fun. We got in trouble.”
Frank stepped over to the table and stood above her while she sat. She looked up at him and smiled, “how was your meeting?” She could feel his belly button through the fabric of his shirt against her chin.
Frank glanced quickly toward the door and then back down at Kerstin, “it was good. Profitable.” He smiled. He bent down and kissed her forehead. She tilted her head back and pressed her lips against his. They kissed that way for a long moment before he pulled back from her and took her chin in his hand.
“Very, very good.” He repeated. “This is a business arrangement that’s going to work out just fine, I think.”