Prior to his return, Grant had hired a small army of private detectives to prepare dossiers on everyone he expected to deal with in Bay City. He'd also hired two stealth photographers, one to get him recent pictures of everybody else, and one just to focus on Kirkland.
As a result, Grant was the proud owner of close to one thousand telephoto lens shots of his son. Kirkland at school, Kirkland playing baseball, lacrosse, soccer, hockey, Kirkland with his friends, Kirkland with his siblings, Kirkland with the Frames, the Loves and the Corys, even Kirkland alone in his room, as long as the light was right and the shade left up. But nothing, not even those bursting manila envelopes of photos, had managed to sufficiently prepare Grant for the sight of his son in the flesh.
The boy was both somehow taller and younger looking that Grant had expected. The pictures of Kirkland on the playing field had conveyed an average-sized yet scrappy athlete, one who relied on speed rather than brute strength to win the day. That's why his height he was practically as tall as Grant came as such a surprise. On the other hand, pictures of Kirkland with his friends, especially with girls like that Charlotte Winthrop, gave Grant the impression of a smooth, downright precocious ladies' man, just like Grant always dreamed of being at that age, but never quite pulled off. Grant hadn't expected the son he'd imagined to be in the throes of a most successful adolescence to, up close, still have a face that hadn't really changed from the last time Grant saw him, back when Kirkland had been small enough for Grant to plop atop his shoulders. The cherubic blue eyes, the baby-fine blond hair so much like Vicky. He was still Grant's little boy. Even if the currently disproportionate length of his teenage arms and legs gave the impression that Kirkland might shoot up and tower over his dear old dad at any moment.
"Kirkland," Grant repeated, strangely winded, though no longer due to Carl's near-lethal blows. The sight of his son had, quite simply, taken his breath away. "Do you... do you know who I am?"
The boy didn't move or respond. The only indication that he'd even heard the question came from the sound of his breathing speeding up, almost as if he were hyperventilating.
Carl, seeing that this might be his only opportunity to seize control of the situation, stepped away from Grant and held out one hand reassuringly towards Kirkland.
"It's alright, son," he began.
"I'm not your son," Kirkland snapped, and Grant inwardly rejoiced, both due to the spirit that his boy was showing, and in gratitude for the sentiment.
He nodded his head slowly, terrified of moving too quickly and scaring Kirkland off, yet desperate to build on what he'd just heard. "That's right. You're not. But you know whose son you are, don't you?"
"Where have you been?" Kirkland demanded.
"Wow," Grant exhaled, trying to keep the mood light and unthreatening. "No small talk for you. Cut straight to the chase."
"You were supposed to be dead, but now you're here. So where were you in between?"
"Grandma can't explain anything to me. Only he can." Kirkland pointed at his father. "Right, Grant?"
"Grant?" It was a tough pill to swallow, but Grant figured a first-name basis was still better than no basis at all.
"I've looked you up. On the Internet. Read about how you won your Senate seat."
"Your mother helped me with that campaign, you know. I couldn't have done it without her. That's where I first fell in love with her."
"Also read about how you had to quit, because you tried to frame Mom for murder."
Carl looked at his step-grandson in surprise. "Why in the world would you see fit to concern yourself with such rotten business?"
"Because," Kirkland jerked his head in the direction of the Cory mansion. "Nobody in that house would tell me anything about my dad beyond him being dead and how I shouldn't talk about him, mention him, or even think about him. Ever."
"No one wished to upset you, Kirkland."
"Is that why nobody bothered to tell me he was actually still alive?"
"We only just found out ourselves a few days ago."
"And what, you couldn't find me to let me know? I get it's a big house, but it's not that big. And you all have my cell number. Could've sent me a text." The sarcasm was obnoxious, totally age-appropriate, and music to Grant's ears.
He said, "I knew they wouldn't tell you. That's why I took the risk of coming here myself."
Kirkland told Carl. "You almost killed him. You're fierce, dude."
Carl Hutchins may not have been particularly accustomed to being called 'dude.' But he recognized a compliment when he heard one. Even if it was one he knew it inappropriate for Kirkland to give. And one most certainly inappropriate for Carl to feel pleased about receiving.
He suppressed his smile to tell Kirkland, "I was merely looking out for your best interests."
"The stuff you two were talking about. Did you really used to be a bad-ass?"
Carl hesitated, and Grant leapt in to urge, "Yes, Carl. Tell him. Tell him about what a 'bad-ass' you used to be. You weren't shy about inventorying all my, what did you call it, rotten business for Kirkland to overhear. How about filling him in on some of yours now?"
"Drop it, Harrison. What good would a catalogue of my past misdeeds do this boy?"
"It would show him that people can change." Grant turned to face Kirkland. "It would help him understand that I've changed. That I'm back and that I'm ready to be his father again."
"This is utter nonsense. A man like you can never change. Kirkland, this accident of biology standing before you is utterly without any redeeming qualities, do you understand? He killed my son, his own brother."
"I heard that," Kirkland said softly. He looked at Grant. "You told him it was to protect me."
"It was," Grant swore. "Just give me a chance to explain it to you. Give me a chance to explain everything to you."
"Oh, for God's sake," Carl exploded. "Your uncle Ryan was merely target practice for him. Forget that he also injected me with poison "
"I was hardly the first person in Bay City to do so, Carl. I just didn't join in when it was the sanctioned civic activity. My only crime there was tardiness."
Did Grant think he saw the slightest twitch of a smile on Kirkland's face in response to his remark? Grant clung to it like a starving fisherman attempting to reel in the day's meal. Only to have his hopes shatter when Kirkland's face fell almost immediately in response to Carl's adding, "He also shot your own mother in the back!"
"That was an accident," Grant swore to Kirkland.
"Another one?" Carl smirked. "Those do seem to happen rather frequently whenever you're given access to bullets. Why is that, do you think?"
"Your mother had been kidnapped," Grant spoke quickly, realizing that he was losing his son with every word out of Carl's mouth. "I was aiming at the kidnapper. She got in the way." He turned to Carl, "But as long as we're talking about that wonderful time in our lives, why don't you enlighten Kirkland as to who precisely was responsible for Vicky's kidnapping?"
Carl told Kirkland, "Your mother was in love with your uncle Ryan. Marrying Grant was the biggest mistake of her life. I simply wished to help her realize her folly as soon as possible."
"And were you being equally helpful a few years earlier, Carl, when you shot me?"
"I was," he deadpanned. "I'd recently been released from prison. I was performing my community service."
"Kirkland," Grant stepped forward and rested his hands on both the boy's shoulders. When Kirkland didn't jerk away, Grant decided to go for broke. He told his son. "I love you, Kirkland. Not just because you're my child, not just because you're my flesh and blood, the only real family I have left in the world, but because you're Vicky's child. I loved your mother. If you believe only one thing about me, please, please believe that. I adored her. I thought she was the most beautiful, exciting, original, incredible, fascinating woman I'd ever met. There's a song, about someone lighting up your life. I never knew what that meant until I met Vicky."
"God help me, Harrison, if you sing, I'll have you back against that tree in a heartbeat," Carl warned. Because even he could see how Kirkland was drinking in every word.
Grant went on, "Before Vicky, I thought I existed in living color. It took her to show me I'd just been biding my time in shades of gray. She brought luminescence into my world. She brought energy and spirit. But, most importantly, she brought me you. That's why we need to be together, Kirkland. Not just because we're father and son, but because I am the only person on this planet who can truly make you understand what an amazing person your mother was."
"Oh, balderdash," Carl sniffed. "This town is full of people who knew and loved Victoria. Her mother, for one. Her sister for another."
"Donna and Marley didn't know Vicky the way I did. I was her husband."
"So was Jamie."
"He didn't love her." Grant looked deeply into Kirkland's eyes, and he made his last, most desperate, Hail Mary pitch. "Jamie didn't love Vicky. I did. I am the only man who ever appreciated her for who she really was. I didn't try to change her like other men did, I reveled in her. And that's why, Kirkland, I am the only person who can give your mother back to you."
"Tell me something, darling," Lila sighed while watching her husband. A respected lawyer, Cass was considered by most objective standards to be quite a bright fellow. And yet there he was, shimmying and squatting in a very unladylike fashion to stretch a most expensive pair of pantyhose over his rather large rear end.
"Yes, my dear?" Cass grunted as he sucked in his stomach and eased the waistband of his pantyhose above his hips. He exhaled with satisfaction when everything stayed in place and preened in front of their bedroom's full-length mirror.
"Have you lost your ever-lovin' mind?"
Cass opened his mouth to protest, then reconsidered and thoughtfully studied his reflection in the mirror.
"You're right," he said after a moment. "I should go with the garters and cinch my waist with a corset."
Taking her stunned silence as agreement, Cass fell back on the bed and commenced wrestling the pantyhose off again.
In all fairness, prior to saying "I do," Lila had been helpfully filled in re: her husband's affinity for schemes involving a certain flair for the dramatic.
She knew about the time he and Felicia had decided that instead of simply walking into a convent to see Cass' estranged then-fiance Frankie, they would rather dress as Brides of Christ and stealthily infiltrate the nunnery.
Or the time he and a number of other fed up Bay City residents drugged Carl Hutchins in order to scare the stuffing out of him for making their lives a living hell. While she appreciated that everyone, not just Cass and Felicia this time, got gussied up for the affair, complete with capes and satin dresses and little sequined masks, Lila wondered what the point of it all had been if they weren't actually planning on killing him. Or at the very least shaving his head to liberate humanity from suffering the presence of that damned, greasy ponytail.
Of all his exploits, however, Lila's favorite to imagine was her dear husband donning the complete trappings of a female and christening himself Krystal Lake in a doomed attempt to hide from a loan shark. The thought of Cass Cadwallader Winthrop dressing like a woman to save his life never failed to bring a smile to Lila's face.
"Cass, honey," Lila said. "We don't have a lot of time to waste if we're going to get in and out of there while the nuns are sashaying down the catwalk. We need to head on out."
"Just...a few more....minutes..."
He stilled at the unmistakable pop of fabric snapping, and Lila died a little as another pair of her nylons was sacrificed for the cause.
Cass sat up, and looked at his wife in apology.
"I'll buy you another pair."
"Oh, you will, darlin'-"
"Just give me a few minutes to slip on some garters and I'll-"
"Oh, no, you won't," she said firmly, pushing him back to the bed. "You've wasted enough time, destroyed enough of my delicates, and have shown me a whole new, disturbing side of yourself, to boot."
"Disturbing?" her affronted husband challenged. "You mean you don't find me a little-"
"No," she shut him down firmly, causing Cass to pout. "I don't. Tell me, is there a reason you jumped on the idea of dressing as a nun instead of a priest? Whatever happened to working with what you've got instead of going through the trouble of huffing and puffing and rearranging...things."
"You want me to impersonate a priest?" Cass gaped incredulously. "Do you actually want me to go straight to hell?"
"And impersonating a nun's gonna get you a lighter sentence in the great below?" Lila quickly collected Cass' discarded suit and handed it to him.
"I can't go there dressed like this," he protested. "We won't get past the front door."
"Then we won't go through the front door," Lila smiled sweetly.
"You, in your typical too smart for your own good thinkin', are making this harder than it needs to be. Trust me, honey. We can do this without you squeezing into a girdle and plucking your eyebrows."
Cass took a moment to consider her words. And then he asked, "You think my eyebrows need plucking?"
Rachel suspected something was wrong as soon as, from the main room, she spied Kirkland bursting through the front door, trying to slam it behind him. She felt certain that something was very wrong indeed when Rachel saw Carl hurry up to and catch the door with one hand to keep it from being smashed in his face. He was breathing heavily, as if he'd been running. His face had turned practically vermilion, setting the white of his hair off even more starkly, and putting Rachel in a mood to match her husband's skin-tone.
"Kirkland!" Rachel hurried to the entryway, her voice raised and no-nonsense. "What in the world is going on here?"
Kirkland ignored Rachel and spun around, forcing Carl to stop short. "You didn't have to sic the cops on him!"
Carl tried to catch his breath, even as he attempted to remain calm and collected, pointing out to the boy, "He was trespassing on our property. I called the police even before I recognized who it was. Which was fortunate for all of us. A few more minutes, and who knows what lies that man would have had you believing."
Rachel stepped in between Kirkland and Carl, looking from one to the other, confused, but with the sinking feeling that she knew what, or more precisely whom, they were talking about. "Calm down, Kirkland. First of all, apologize to your grandfather. You have no right to speak to him this way."
"He is not my grandfather! He's my stepfather's stepfather. That makes him, oh, wait, I know, not related to me at all."
"Fine." Rachel had enough experience with adolescent backtalk to know that the worst thing you could do under the circumstances was sink down to their level. Her voice even, she said, "Apologize to Carl."
"No," Kirkland said.
"It's alright, Rachel." Carl, having fully regained his composure, was ready to assume a magnanimous role. Especially if it kept Kirkland from going into detail as to what exactly he'd walked into earlier. "The boy has his reasons for being cross. Now is not the time for us to upbraid him."
"When were you going to tell me that my dad is back in town?" Kirkland demanded. "And, you know, not six feet under?"
So this was about Grant. Rachel cringed inwardly, but managed to keep a neutral face on. They all knew they would have to confront the issue sooner or later. Might as well get it over with.
"Jamie was going to tell you as soon as he finished fully investigating the situation."
"What's there to investigate? My dad's back, he wants to see me, and you guys didn't let him."
"Did you want to see him, Kirkland?" Rachel asked pointedly. "Tell the truth, if you hadn't stumbled across him, if we'd come to you and told you that Grant Harrison was alive and back in town, would you have wanted to see him?"
Kirkland hesitated. "I don't know. Probably. Maybe. I'd have had to think about it."
"Exactly," Rachel exhaled. "That's exactly what we were trying to do, too. Think about it."
Kirkland looked down at the floor, his anger spent, leaving behind only awkwardness and confusion. "He's my dad."
"He is," Rachel agreed. "But he is also a very dangerous man."
"He says he's changed."
"Anyone can say that, Kirkland. The challenge is to mean it. And the even bigger challenge is to live up to it."
Kirkland raised his head and jerked it in Carl's direction. "You mean like ol' Grandad, here?"
Rachel once again looked from one to the other in confusion. "Excuse me?"
"It's nothing, Rachel." Carl took her by the elbow and attempted to lead his wife away. He had no particular destination in mind, merely as far from this particular conversation as possible. "The boy is rightfully out of sorts. What say we let him be and pick the discussion up at a later time?"
Kirkland, sensing that he'd struck a nerve, blocked them from leaving. "That's what he and my dad were fighting about: How come nobody believes Grant Harrison can be reformed, when we're all supposed to swallow the Kool-Aid about Carl?"
"I don't like your tone, Kirkland," Rachel warned.
"And I don't like my dad being treated like he's the most evil person who ever walked around Bay City when Carl did just as many rotten things, probably more, and you got over it enough to marry him."
"Not that this is any of your business, young man, but I can see that you're very upset, so I will explain it, just this once." Rachel took a deep breath and informed Kirkland, "The difference between your father and Carl is that Carl owned up to his mistakes. He acknowledged that he had done some terrible things, he was truly, truly sorry for them, and he tried to make amends to all of us. Grant Harrison has never admitted to doing anything wrong. All of his misdeeds are always someone else's fault, never his. Until Grant can come clean about everything he has done to ruin so many lives and hurt so many people, how can he possibly ask forgiveness? And until he can ask for forgiveness, how can he be forgiven? Grant is the same man today as he was ten years ago, when we thought his reign of terror had finally led to his being suffocated. Carl is not."
"Carl tried to kill my dad."
"That was almost twenty years ago."
"More like twenty minutes," Kirkland accused.
"That's enough, boy," Carl warned, so that even Rachel heard the undisguised menace in his voice.
"What are you talking about, Kirkland?"
"I saw him. He had my dad pinned against a tree. He was going to kill him. He said so."
"Don't be ridiculous," Carl scoffed. "Rachel, he's confused. It was a very distressing afternoon for all of us."
"I heard you," Kirkland insisted. "You told my dad he may not be alive much longer, and then you pinned him to a tree and tried to choke him."
"The heat of battle," Carl attempted to explain. "You can't take a threat made in the heat of battle seriously."
"You and Grant were fighting?" Rachel demanded. "You were trying to strangle him?"
"He's a real changed man, alright!" Kirkland taunted.
"Enough!" Rachel's self-control had run out. "Kirkland, go upstairs. You and Jamie can discuss this further when he gets home from the hospital."
For a moment, the boy looked like he might put up a fight. But one look from Rachel made it clear that this was not a topic up for debate. So instead of another smart remark, Kirkland made due with his best disgusted-teen face, rolled his eyes and stomped off, scowling, but not loud enough for Rachel to make out the words.
Carl waited until Kirkland was out of earshot before he urged Rachel, "Don't be too hard on the lad, he's had a dreadful shock. He doesn't really understand what he's saying."
"Is he lying, then?"
Carl hesitated, but then, with a barely perceptible hint of pride, admitted, "No."
"Is he misinterpreting what he saw?"
Carl said, "For Christ's sake, it was Grant bloody Harrison!"
"That's no excuse. You know how I feel about you and your vendettas, especially when it comes to Grant Harrison. I won't have it, Carl. I won't stand for it."
Rachel pivoted, intending to walk away, but Carl grabbed her by the wrist and jerked her around, perhaps more harshly than he'd intended, but firmly enough to keep her attention.
"Now, listen here." For a moment, he was the Carl Hutchins of old. His motives may have been noble, but the modus seemed disturbingly, chillingly familiar. "I am not now, nor do I ever intend to be some sort of domesticated, toothless lap-dog. Make no mistake about it; My love for you and our children may have restrained some of my more... operatic... tendencies, but Carl Hutchins is nobody's gelding. I haven't been broken, I haven't been tamed, and I most certainly have not been castrated. Every decision I made, every action I have chosen or conversely not chosen to take since the moment I pledged my life to you, has been of my own free will. I am still my own man, Rachel. And I will not be dictated to. Grant Harrison is a threat to our family. Which means it is up to me to decide how I might dispose of that threat."
He wasn't holding Rachel's arm tightly enough to hurt. Nevertheless, her heart was beating as fiercely as if it were her Carl had earlier pinned against a tree.
It had been a long time since Rachel felt afraid of Carl.
It had never yet happened in the fifteen years since he had wooed her with poetry through the streets of New York. Even since their marriage, whenever Rachel had felt frightened it was as much for Carl, and what havoc he might be driven to wreak, as it was for the target of his ire. And she had never felt physically threatened by the man once he became her husband. Until now.
Rachel yanked her hand out of his grip, refusing to cower or be cowed. She stayed strong and didn't betray an ounce of the terror that was lightening through her as quickly as an injection when she warned Carl, "I'd be very careful that while you're disposing of this so-called threat to your family, you don't end up disposing of your family right along with it."
Cass had to hand it to his wife.
When she was right, she was right.
Perhaps Cass had made it needlessly complicated, formulating a plan that required him dressing like a nun. In his defense, though, such a scheme had worked once, and Cass was of the mind that if it wasn't broke, there was no need to fix it.
However, the plan that Lila concocted was actually quite beautiful in its simplicity.
Act like you belong.
And if that fails, act like you don't know where you belong.
They waited until it appeared that most of the Sacred Heart community had converged in the auditorium, before getting out of the car and making their way to the back of the main building. Lila strode with purpose, head held high, almost daring the two security guards at the door to say something.
She walked right between them, offering the pair equal and maximum opportunity to ogle her shapely legs. Biting his tongue, Cass followed in the wake of said legs, feeling the eyes and attention of the security guards laser onto him.... Only to fall away when he held up the toolbox in his hand, as if that was all the explanation needed to grant him access to the building.
Feeling his heart return to its normal rate, Cass quickly caught up to Lila, who was already waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, her foot tapping impatiently.
"Good grief, Cass." She strode on ahead. "If you move this slowly dressed as a man, I can't imagine how slow you are in heels."
Kirkland's stomping footsteps drowned out the sound of his step-grandparents arguing, so that he neither heard the stand-off his revelations had brought about, nor the scurrying footsteps of an intruder sneaking around his room until Kirkland had the door open and was standing face to face with a very guilty-seeming Charlie Winthrop.
She was in the process of slamming down the receiver of his football-shaped phone, and frantically looking about the room, trying to pick up something, anything, to give the impression that she hadn't been doing what she so obviously had been.
"Hey, Chuck," Kirkland, who had bigger things on his mind than some petty breaking-and-entering, simply wrinkled his nose and asked, "What are you doing here?"
Charlie smoothed down the front of her orange skirt, even though Kirkland couldn't see anything wrong with it, and nervously twisted the lowest button of her pink blouse. Ever since Charlie was in fourth grade, and her stepmother, Lila, had off-handedly mentioned that redheads really shouldn't wear orange or pink as it didn't mesh well with their complexions, Charlie had decided to wear orange and pink exclusively, often in combination. As a result, she frequently reminded Kirkland of a double-scoop of fluorescent sorbet. In a good way.
"Dad called. He and Lila are still doing the super-sleuth thing, so Jazz and I are spending another night here. She's got a fencing tournament tomorrow with Bridget and Michelle, she'd have stayed over for Matt to drive them, anyway."
"I meant what are you doing in my room?" Kirkland clarified, though he suspected Charlie understood him perfectly fine the first time and was just stalling to give herself that extra second to come up with a plausible lie. "What'd you need my phone for? Where's your cell?"
"We've got chargers."
Charlie plopped down on Kirkland's bed and raised both hands in mock surrender. "Fine. You got me. My dad pays for my cell and I didn't want him seeing the number I was calling, okay?"
"Why not? You got a boyfriend?" Kirkland teased, taking no time to wonder why just saying the words should make his stomach sneak a sucker punch at his throat.
Or why he felt so irrationally happy when Charlie rolled her eyes and gagged, "As if."
"So who were you calling?"
"None of your business."
Kirkland shrugged. "Suit yourself. And get your own phone while you're at it."
"Come on, Kirk, don't be mad."
"I'm not. Who cares about you and your stupid, secret life? If I hear another secret today, I think my brain'll explode and ooze out my ear."
"Gross, dude. Seriously." Charlie stood up and was getting ready to leave when Kirkland stopped her.
She paused by the door. "Yeah?"
"Do you remember your mom?"
Charlie's eyes nervously slid in the direction of the football-shaped phone, then darted back again. "Why?"
Kirkland didn't notice. He said, "Because I'm not so sure I remember mine."
"That's impossible. You were older than I was when your mom died, so if I remember mine, you should remember yours."
"Are you sure you really remember," Kirkland prodded. "And it's not just your dad and everybody telling you stories so it only feels like you remember?"
Charlie hesitated. "I don't know. My dad talks about my mom all the time. I don't think there's been, like, one day since she died that he hasn't brought her up. Not big stuff, you know. Little stuff. Like he'll say: Your mom really hated tofu hot-dogs, but she kept eating them because she was so committed to being a vegetarian. Or we'll be out on the street and somebody will be selling those crystal necklaces, you know? And my dad will just up and buy one and he'll give it to me, because it reminds him of my mom, and he thinks I'd like it too."
"Your dad really loved her," Kirkland said.
"Yeah. When I was little, I asked him, if she came back from the dead for him once it really happened, you know. She was declared dead and everything, but she made herself come back for him if she did it once, how come she couldn't do it again? For both him and for me this time? And Dad said there was a part of him that was still always kind of waiting for it to happen."
"Jamie never talks about my mom. Nobody does, really. I mean my grandmother Donna or Aunt Marley.... But see, they didn't know her that well, either. My mom didn't grow up around them. They all only met when she was, like, eighteen years old or something. It's like nobody really knew her. So how am I supposed to?"
"That sucks," Charlie agreed. "With my mom, it's not just my dad, it's the whole entire, extended Frame clan that can't keep their mouths shut. Everybody's got a story about when Frankie did this, or the time Frankie did that. Grandma Emma, Uncle Willis, Uncle Vince, Aunt Sharlene, Molly, Wade, Dean, Josie, Gregory, it's a regular Frame-a-Palooza. Even Steven's got Frankie stories."
"Steven," Kirkland said with such fervor, Charlie swore she actually saw the figurative light-bulb snap on over his head.
He turned and charged out of his room to go knock on the door of the one next to his.
His cousin Allie opened it. Like Charlie, Allie was also a redhead, but of the ginger carrot, rather than Charlie's more auburn-leaning persuasion. Unlike Charlie, Allie was receptive to the entire color palate when it came to clothing. Probably because she didn't have a stepmother in dire need of contradicting.
Allie grinned at her younger cousin. "What's new, Kierkegaard?"
"You going to school tonight?"
"Wasn't planning on it. I don't have any evening classes."
"Could you drive me over there anyway? I need to talk to Steven."
"It's almost nine o'clock. Can't you call him?"
"He's probably in the computer lab, and he never brings his phone because he hates being interrupted."
"So maybe we shouldn't interrupt him. Can't whatever it is wait till tomorrow?"
"No." Kirkland bounced up and down on his heels, pleading in a manner more appropriate to a nine year old than a ninth-grader. "Please, Allie. I've got something really important to ask him. It's totally a matter of life or death."
This would not do.
To be felled by a single lock on a file cabinet labeled "Class of 1991" in the dusty and dark Convent of the Sacred Heart Records Room.
This would not do at all.
"Maybe there's something in here we can use," Cass muttered at his tool box. He lifted up a hammer, offering it to her. "Think we can break in with that?"
"Sure, it you want to bring those big, burly security guards and everyone else in creation running up here."
As Cass continued to rifle, bringing up a wrench, measuring tape, and a screwdriver (alas, Phillips' Head) from the depths of his tool box, Lila reached one hand into the ebony chignon she'd swept her hair into before leaving the house, and plucked out a single bobby-pin.
"Bingo," she smirked, quickly setting to work on the lock.
"What?" Cass muttered, looking up at her just as the previously troublesome lock emitted a soft click, almost like a sigh.
"How did you do that?" he gaped in amazement.
"You pick up a lot of life skills growing up in a brothel," she said simply, handing him the makeshift tool. "A real woman knows a million different uses for a bobby pin. Now make yourself useful and keep an eye on the door, will you, darling?"
Having been insulted as both a man and a woman, Cass humbly did as he was told, moving to the door.
A tug on the handle and the file cabinet was open. Lila flicked through the dozens of manila folders with one well-manicured fingernail.
"Honey," Cass hissed as faint applause could be heard from somewhere beyond the office door. He figured the hot, pink evening gown was proving to be a big hit. But that it also sounded like the curtain-dropping showstopper.
"I'm going as fast as I can without breaking a nail," Lila murmured, her intact nail stopping on a particularly thick file.
"Got it. Norris, Jenna," Lila flipped it open and began to read. "Admitted in 1983 to attend fourth grade as a full-time boarding student. That's strange, don't you think? Her mama lived in Bay City and she sent Jenna to boarding school in the same town? Sounds like someone didn't want their little girl around much."
"That is odd," Cass agreed, and wondered why no one, not even Felicia, had ever commented on that before. "Anything else?"
"Hmm," Lila said, clearly intrigued. It was enough to make Cass abandon his post by the door and hurry over to see what else she'd found. Lila pointed to a line on the Finances Form. "Looks like Jenna had a fairy godmother."
Cass frowned. "Tuition paid in full. All upfront, too. That's a couple hundred thousand dollars at least. Some fairy godmother!" He turned the page over to make sure. "No name listed, no copy of a check or credit card number."
"Some fairy godmothers like to remain anonymous," Lila shrugged.
"What the hell?" Cass muttered suddenly, yanking the file closer to make certain he wasn't seeing things.
"Cass," Lila warned, eyeing one of the many crosses hanging in the room.
"Look at this," Cass jabbed his finger at what had been written on the very last page of Jenna's Application for Admission, under "Special Instructions."
Gloria Norris had indicated that she must be notified immediately if any inquires about her daughter were ever directed towards the convent by one... Carl Hutchins.
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