The entire time that she was
bullying Steven into getting her Carl's e-mail, the entire time that
she was sifting through it note by note, searching for clues to his
intentions, Rachel had never stopped to consider what she would do once
she actually had the information in her hands.
Well, now that time was here.
Now she knew that tomorrow morning Carl would be flying out to Canada.
She knew that he had rented a car there that he planned to drive to
an unspecified destination for an indefinite period of time.
What she did not know was how
she should react to her discovery.
Rachel considered her options
for over an hour. She could confront her husband, here and now,
demand to know what was going on and what he knew about Felicia, Jenna
and Dean. But, if she took that tack, how could Rachel be certain
that Carl was telling her the truth? And what if her challenging
him too early somehow kept her friends from being found?
She supposed she could contact
the Bay City or even the local Canadian police. (Though what she
would tell them, Rachel wasn't exactly certain. "My husband
has rented a car without telling me, please arrest him," seemed rather
flimsy evidence pointing to a crime about to be committed.)
Finally, Rachel decided to
call Cass and Lila. It was their prodding that had driven her
to this illicit snooping. They might as well get an update on
She reached Cass at the office
and told him what she'd found out.
"That's fabulous!" Cass
cheered. "Rachel, we can't thank you enough. I'll
call Lila and we'll hop on the next plane to Canada. With any
luck, Carl will lead us straight to Felicia!"
"No," Rachel said.
Speaking quickly, before Cass had a chance to protest. "Carl
is my husband. I need to be the one to handle this."
"Are you sure?" Cass asked
cautiously. "We don't know what he's up to. It could
"Dangerous?" Rachel attempted
a laugh, but it come out sounding more like a sob. "I realize
"I'd hate to put you in
such a position."
"You mean one where my husband
might be tempted to kill me?"
"No! No, of course
not. Nothing like that. I just meant... "
"What? What did you
mean, Cass? What else could you have possibly meant but that?"
Rachel heard the rising hysteria in her voice and struggled to squelch
it. She could do this. She had to do this. She had
no choice in the matter. Ultimately, this had to be her battle,
and no one else's.
Cass pleaded, "Just be careful,
Rachel. We don't know what you might be walking into."
"No," she agreed.
"But I do think it's high time I found out once and for all."
"Okay," Allie demanded.
"You've kept me in suspense long enough, don't you think?"
She'd come up poolside, kneeling
on her knees by the edge, watching Sarah, dressed in a crimson one-piece
bathing suit, swim brisk, methodical, back-stroke laps through the cobalt
water. Allie had to shout in order for her voice to register below
the chlorinated waves.
Sarah opened her eyes to indicate
she'd heard, then closed them again, completing one more lap before
she swam over to Allie's perch. She held on to the side, treading
water and squinting up at her cousin in response to the glaring sunlight.
"I wasn't keeping you in
suspense," Sarah insisted. "I just needed a little more time
to think the details through."
"You said you knew how to
fix things between GQ and me."
Sarah pressed both her palms
into the concrete around the pool and lifted herself up, water dripping
off her hair. She plopped down next to Allie and said, "Here's
the thing: Any girl can get any guy, as long as she's willing to become
exactly the girl that he wants. Man of your dreams is into sports?
You get into sports. Man of your dreams loves music? Hey,
suddenly you're all about those rhythms. He wants a Southern
belle, you start drawling and batting your eyelashes. He likes
being dominated, you get out your whip. Piece of cake. The
only trick is figuring out what a guy really wants, rather than what
he says he wants because most of the time, they don't know their
own minds. Well, they think they do, but they don't. It's
up to you to get it straight. Once you've zeroed in on that,
though, it's smooth sailing the rest of the way."
Allie stared at Sarah, mouth
open, unsure of where to start. "Okay. Two things.
First, where does your real personality end up fitting into all that
phony sports-loving and eyelash-batting?"
"Who cares? You want
to be yourself, or you want to land the guy you've set your sights
on? Let's face it, how impressive can your 'real' personality
be if it prompts the man of your dreams to run in the opposite direction?"
They'd been friends for over
a decade, and this was the first time Allie had heard this philosophy
of Sarah's. She was having a very hard time believing it.
"So you're saying that the way to get the man you want is to pretend
to be somebody else?"
"Not just anybody else.
The one woman he can't resist."
"I don't believe this actually
Sarah emphasized each word,
"Every single time."
"But, can't guys see through
it? Can't they tell you're just faking?"
"They're guys, Allie.
Allie shook her head.
"Okay, let's pretend for a minute that you're right."
"Fine. How is your
little theory supposed to help me with GQ? He wants a Black girl.
How exactly am I supposed to turn myself into that?"
"He doesn't really want
a Black girl," Sarah waved her hand dismissively.
"You know what GQ wants better
than he does?"
"I repeat, Allie. He's
a guy. Guys are stupid. White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, they're
all stupid. It's really a beautiful thing from a multicultural
perspective when you think about it. A sort of uniformity within
Martin Luther King. Both with three names. Coincidence?
I think not."
Sarah gave Allie a playful
shove on the shoulder, practically knocking her over and into the pool,
then got back to the point at hand. "Anyway, GQ thinks he wants
a Black girl because he's been told he should want a Black girl.
The fact is, you and he had a great time in Italy, right?"
"And the whole time you were
having this great time, did the Black girl issue come up even once?"
"When did it come up?"
"When it was time to go back
to the States."
"Do you know what that means?
It means that he liked you well enough in Italy, where no one he knew
namely Mommy, Daddy, the folks at Jack & Jill, the President,
who cares? could get on him about it. He just didn't like
you well enough to face the music back in the US of A."
"Thanks," Allie groaned.
"I can always count on you to bring me good news."
"I am bringing you good news,
you aren't listening, as usual. Obviously, if he was fine with
you in Italy, this Black-girls-only rule is just to keep his parents
off his back. He says it because he thinks he has to, but he doesn't
really feel it. If he really felt it, he wouldn't have hooked
up with you in the first place. Now, all you have to do is make
yourself so irresistible to him that he forgets to care about what other
people think and goes after what he wants again, which -- no duh --
will be you." Sarah challenged, "What happened right after you kissed
him in the computer lab?"
"He pushed me away and said
that he liked me, he really liked me, but we could only be friends,
that he'd already explained everything to me and he wasn't going
to change his mind."
"No," Sarah said.
"I asked you what happened right-right after you kissed him."
"Oh," Allie understood.
"He kissed me back."
"See! He likes you,
he wants you, he's just a dumb guy. It's not his fault, everyone
knows testosterone makes you brain-damaged. We have to make it
clear to GQ that he can't live without you. Once guys understand
that, you'd be amazed how quickly all their high-falutin' social
and moral and political principles fly right out the window."
For a moment, Allie actually
considered what Sarah was saying. But then she shook her head
and insisted, "It'll never work."
"Trust me, it always works."
Sarah sighed. "Okay, I'll prove it to you. Pick a guy,
any guy in Bay City that you think absolutely, positively, can not be
gotten using the patented Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Irresistible Woman
Without a moment's hesitation,
Allie replied, "My cousin, Steven. He's brilliant. He'd
never fall for some girl manipulating him like that."
"Your cousin, Steven."
Sarah repeated. "If I can make your cousin Steven fall for me,
will you then do what I say about GQ?"
Allie gaped at Sarah.
"Are you kidding?"
"Do we have a deal?"
"What? You don't
believe my method works. I'm offering you a free demonstration.
Act soon, this is a limited-time offer."
"You're treating this like
it's a joke. It's not a joke to GQ. It's who he is.
It's what he's about. It's important to him."
"Important to him, irrelevant
Realizing that a lecture on
the history of miscegenation in America and all its subsequent cultural,
political and social implications would be lost on Sarah at this point,
Allie switched to an objection she suspected Sarah would understand
more easily. "Steven is totally not your type."
"Have you been listening?
It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that I become
"I don't think you can."
"Then you've got nothing
to lose," Sarah pointed out and held out her hand to shake.
"Do we have a deal? If I land Steven, then you'll listen to
me about GQ."
"It might be too late, by
then," Allie sighed. "He might have already found someone else."
"Get real, Allie. Obviously,
with you around, GQ can only date Black girls, right? Or else
he'd come off like a hypocrite. And this is Bay City.
It's a little on the pale side, or haven't you noticed? It's
not like GQ has a ton of options. Believe me, he'll still be
available. Besides, I don't expect Operation Make Cousin Steven
Fall For Me to take that long. Do we have a deal, or not?"
Allie didn't like it.
Allie didn't trust it. But Allie was also curious. And
desperate. So she stretched out her hand, and she said, "Deal."
Amanda was in her office at
Cory Publishing, looking over a mock-up for the next issue of Brava
when her phone rang. Kevin Fowler was on the other end, asking,
"Ready for that second date you promised me?"
Truth be told, Amanda didn't
feel ready at all. His kiss the previous night had shaken her
more than she'd expected, and she wasn't sure if she was prepared
to face another potential maelstrom. Nevertheless, while her mind
was saying one thing, her body was clearly the force in control, as
Amanda heard herself answering, "Yes," even before she knew what
"Great. Only this time,
I get to make the arrangements. Shall we say tomorrow, eight o'clock?"
Before Amanda or rather Amanda's newly liberated lips, acting
wholly independently of her common sense had another chance to blurt
out an unsanctioned agreement, he added, "In the morning?"
"Eight in the morning?"
"I'll see you then,"
And hung up before she had
the chance to follow up.
Grant was enjoying a nice glass
of Merlot, as well as the periodic surprised, surreptitious glances
in his direction from fellow patrons who'd previously felt pretty
certain that their former Congressman, Senator and Mayor had died over
a decade earlier, when he spied Marley and Jamie entering the Bay City
In the spirit of public decorum
Grant was nothing if not civic-minded, he was prepared to magnanimously
ignore the noxious pair's presence, on the condition that they tacitly
agreed to do the same.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
Rather than turning around immediately and departing or, at the very
least, walking straight by him without a word, Jamie and Marley instead
zeroed in on Grant's table, approaching it both positively aglow with
flared nostril self-righteousness.
Grant cast a longing glance
at the mouth-watering filet mignon, baby potatoes, and asparagus that
had just been placed in front of him, and hoped that this little scene
wouldn't take long, nor ruin his appetite.
"Marley," he nodded at
his former sister-in-law. "To what do you I owe the pleasure?"
Then he indicated Jamie and inquired, "Should I ask the kitchen to bring
out a leftover bone for your lapdog?"
He was rewarded by a thin
sheen of pink crawling up Marley's cheeks as she snapped, "You have
no right to speak to Jamie that way."
"I don't?" Grant widened
his eyes in mock confusion. Then dropped the act to demand, "According
to whom, exactly?"
"Me." Marley smiled
and took the seat across from him, rather brazenly helping herself to
a glass of his painstakingly selected Merlot.
Grant had to admit, if the
intent of her uncharacteristic behavior was to throw him off-balance,
then it was working. Only a little bit, of course. But she did
have his attention now in a way that Vicky's milk-toast sister had,
honestly, never managed to seize before.
Struggling to regain the upper
hand, Grant was forced to go with a weaker than he would have otherwise
liked bon mot as he asked Jamie, "Having women fight our battles for
us, these days, are we, Dr. Frame? What an excellent role-model
you make for a growing boy."
"Where Kirkland, Steven and
the girls are concerned, my battles are Marley's battles," Jamie
replied easily. "We're their parents."
"Ah, yes, We Are
Family, et al.... Somebody call Sister Sledge."
"Absolutely," Marley smiled,
swirling his wine in her glass and ignoring Grant's
musical sarcasm. "And as one of the heads of our family, I'm here
to clear up a few... misunderstandings... while you sit there, keep
your mouth shut, and listen. Am I making myself clear?"
Grant wanted to reply.
He felt that a caustic remark was the least he could do. But,
Marley's conduct continued to throw him off his game.
"A simple nod will suffice,"
Jamie supplied helpfully in response to his rival's befuddled muteness.
Grant's eyes flicked from
Jamie back to Marley, his confusion and subsequent irritation falling
away as he took her in. The fire in her eyes, the tilt of her
head, the attitude.... That was it! That's what was making him
She reminded him of Vicky.
His Vicky. Even with the superficial changes to Marley's face
following the fire she'd been in, she still had Vicky's eyes, the
basic shape and bone structure of her face was still the same, her voice,
as well. He understood now what had been bothering him ever since
she'd sat down. Marley wasn't acting like herself at all.
And that was because she was channeling her sister, bringing Kirkland's
mother back to life and into this room in a transparent bid to intimidate
Grant. Or to scare him.
He knew that he should call
her on it. He knew that he should dub her merely a pale imitation
and laughingly insist that Marley could never, not in a million years,
hope to be a fraction of the spitfire that her sister had been.
But Grant couldn't.
Not right now. Because, right now, for just a split second, he'd
seen Vicky alive. And he was loath to let that go. Not just
So instead of drop-kicking
Marley and her six-foot-tall shadow back to the curb where they belonged,
Grant merely followed Jamie's earlier advice and nodded, to show that
he was ready to listen to whatever they had to say.
Clearly surprised by his acquiescence,
Marley began, "Here's the thing, Grant. I actually do believe
that a part of you loves Kirkland."
"How magnanimously noblesse
oblige of you."
"But," her eyes narrowed,
more comfortable with her own fury now that Grant was acting more like
himself. "No way in hell do I believe that you can ever bring
anything good to his life. You, Grant, are a vampire. A
soul-sucking leech who feeds off of anyone and anything to make himself
feel better, even those you claim to love. Maybe you don't even
realize it. Maybe it's just who you are, and that's your tragedy.
I don't know and frankly, I don't care. My only concern,"
she pressed on, holding up a hand when he opened his mouth to cut her
down. "Is Vicky's kids. You may be Kirk's biological
father, but you have proven time and again that beyond that accident
of biology, you aren't fit to take care of a cockroach, much less
"Bitch," Grant seethed.
Not the most poetic sentiment ever uttered, but it fit the situation.
Not to mention triggered a
strangely satisfied grin from Marley. A grin that, to Grant's
eye, was pure Vicky.
"Jamie is Kirkland's father,"
Marley said simply. "And I will see to it that he stays Kirk's father
for the rest of their lives."
"That's for a court to
decide," Grant clipped in response.
"Then let a court decide
it. It sure beats emotionally manipulating a fifteen-year-old
boy with lies about his dead mother."
"Whatever I told Kirkland
about Vicky, especially as it pertains to Vicky and myself, was the truth. I loved
"Believe your own bull if
you want. But quit peddling it to Kirkland. From now on,
you stay away from that child, or you will regret it."
"Somehow, I doubt that."
Marley lowered her voice.
"You do not want to push me, Grant. Not over my kids."
"Your kids?" Grant laughed
with the raise of an eyebrow. "And here I could have sworn that all
four were Vicky's kids!"
"You know what I mean,"
Marley covered. "I'm raising them. I love them."
"Now it makes sense," Grant
chuckled. "This ersatz Vicky impersonation. You're just
completing your takeover."
"Takeover?" Marley seethed.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You. Taking over Vicky's
life. Raising her children, playing Mommy and Daddy with one of
her exes. I'm sure the fact that he also happens to be one of
your exes is just a bonus."
The fire dimmed in Marley's
eyes as Grant gleefully watched raw cracks splinter her facade.
Jamie must have seen it, too,
because he stepped up to warn, "Not another word, Grant."
"Ah, now the Damsel in Distress
tries to protect his White Knight," Grant snorted, turning his focus
back to Marley, who now stared at him with those insipid weak, blinking
eyes, not even close to Vicky's anymore.
"You mentioned an accident
of biology," Grant reminded Marley. "Those are fascinating, aren't
they? For instance, have you ever wondered why nature decided
not to bless you with biological children of your own?"
"Son of a "
"Jamie!" Marley popped
up, struggling to squeeze between the two men as Jamie grabbed Grant
by the lapels and hoisted him out of his seat. "Stop!
"Oh, no, Jamie, please do."
Grant calmly addressed the owner of the clenched fist hovering threateningly
close to his face. "Just don't forget to smile for the security
cameras. When I bring these tapes to court, I want our judge to
have a crystal-clear view of your countenance."
"Damn you," Jamie snarled
as he flung Grant back into his seat. For his part, Grant settled
down as if he'd been carried in on a royal barge.
He reached into his pocket,
pulled out a portable comb and proceeded to smooth down his mussed hair,
even as Grant noted, "I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the odds
of identical twins, one fertile, one barren. I daresay, they must
be astronomical. Ah, well, speaking of fortunate accidents, how
lucky for you, Marley, that Vicky perished in that airplane crash.
I always wondered, you know, whether Vicky's loving sister might have
had something to do with helping it's engine trouble along?"
Even Jamie couldn't summon
up an appropriate invective for an accusation so foul. He and
Marley merely stared at Grant, dumbstruck. Both had trouble believing
that Grant could really be implying what he seemed to be implying.
Enjoying his captive audience,
Grant went on, "On second thought, I suppose not. Getting rid
of Vicky wouldn't have gotten you her twins, not with Jake still being
alive. And I don't suppose you had anything to do with his taking
that swan-dive off a rooftop in Oakdale. Never mind, Marley, I'm
sure you're completely innocent of any wrong-doing. You just
got lucky, that's all. Vicky's death saved you from a lonely
and pathetic old age. Well, I'm sorry to be the one to tell
you this, sweetheart, but your luck's run out. Your days of
playing house with Vicky's husband and my son, are over."
His appetite for food thoroughly
gone, yet feeling quite satisfied nonetheless, Grant threw a handful
of bills on the table. As his parting shot, he reminded Marley,
"You are not your sister. You never have been and you never will be."
Having Carl's travel information
in hand made it rather simple for Rachel to plan her own itinerary.
She arranged to take an earlier plane into Canada, and rented her own
car a full hour before.
After that, there was nothing
left for Rachel to do but sit in it outside the airport's only exit
and wait for her husband to drive by so that she could follow him.
Well, that wasn't exactly
true. There was one more thing Rachel could do, and that was ask
herself over and over and over again what the hell she thought she was
doing and how in the world did she dream this scenario could possibly
result in a happy ending?
Even if Carl were completely
innocent of any wrong-doing in Felicia and her family's disappearance,
wouldn't Rachel's suspicions of him be enough to drive a stake through
the heart of their marriage?
And if he wasn't innocent, what
then? They had children together. That meant they were bound
for life, like it or not. Rachel briefly thought about the pain
Matt had gone through when he learned that his biological father, Mitch,
was in jail for having tried to kidnap him, not to mention that Mitch
had once been part of a plot to kill their beloved Mac.
The knowledge had devastated Matthew. But what Carl had done
even if this latest was not a part of his overall curriculum vitae
was so, so much worse. How could she ever tell Cory and Elizabeth
about it? Then again, how could she not?
The questions that had no answers
kept swimming around Rachel's head, increasing speed and intensity
until she was thrilled to spy the non-descript, gray Ford Taurus Carl
had rented inch off the lot and merge with the sparse highway traffic.
Following Carl gave Rachel something else to concentrate on, instead
of the cacophony in her head.
She made a point of keeping
at least a few cars distance between them at all times. This was
relatively easy to do on the highway, and even on the main streets they
drove through. It got considerably harder, however, when Carl
abruptly took a turn off the primary road he'd been following for
over an hour and ended up on a barely paved, side-path.
They were headed through farm
country now, with nothing but flowering fields and an occasional barn
on each side, and sometimes her car and Carl's were only ones to be
seen for miles. Rachel reassured herself with the certainty that
Carl had no idea she'd hacked into his e-mail or that she would be
following him now. However, just to be on the safe side, when
Carl finally pulled up to the edge of what looked like an electric fence
surrounding acres of abandoned farmland, Rachel ducked her head, increased
her speed, and blew right by him.
She drove far enough ahead
to be sure that Carl couldn't see her, then ditched her car behind
a tree and hurriedly doubled-back.
Rachel caught up with her husband
just as he was brushing aside a clump of deadwood in order to reveal
a door in the fence, complete with what looked like a state of the art
From his wallet, Carl removed
a credit-card sized strip of plastic, inserted it into a blinking slot,
then entered a code into the keypad just above it.
He might have been making a
deposit at the bank. Except that, instead of cash, his actions
prodded the door to slowly slide open. Carl stepped through it.
Which is when Rachel called out his name.
He whipped around, so shocked
that he nearly toppled over and needed to grab a low hanging tree-branch
Rachel approached him, gingerly
picking her way through the dirt and twigs in her path, until she and
Carl were standing practically face to face, he on one side of the door,
she on the other.
Rachel asked, "Aren't you
going to invite me in?"
After several days of unreturned
phone calls, Matt finally managed to track Donna down to KBAY-TV.
Rather, he pushed his way into an editing room where she was sitting
with Jeanne Ewing, one of her local news producers, screening a segment
scheduled to air later that day.
Jeanne was so busy conferring
with the editor about how to cut thirty seconds from the piece without
ruining its flow, that she barely nodded when Donna excused herself
and stepped into the hallway with Matt.
Donna hissed, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Matt said, "You weren't
answering your phone. I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"I'm just dandy, Matthew.
I am also in the middle of something."
"I thought you and I were
in the middle of something, too, before you decided to blow me off."
Donna glared at him and frantically
turned her head from side to side, making sure the hallway was deserted
and no one could have possibly overheard them. She grabbed Matt
by the arm and pulled him into her office, shutting the door behind
She spun around and reminded
him, "We had an agreement. Nothing in public."
"And I was fine with that.
Until you started ignoring me in private, too. What's going
on, Donna? Is something wrong? Tell me. Maybe I can
"What's wrong is that I
thought I could trust your discretion. Obviously, I was
"Did I do something wrong?"
he refused to give up. "I feel like we had a fight, except I
don't remember fighting."
"Of course, you don't."
"What does that mean?"
"You never notice much of
anything, do you, Matthew? You come over, we have sex, and then
"I thought that was how you
"It is. But, believe
it or not, I do have a life outside of our trysts. Sometimes,
I even have matters on my mind that have nothing to do with you."
"I'm not trying to pry
into your business."
"Actually, that's exactly
what you seem to be doing. Pursuing me here at work? Honestly,
Matthew, tres juvenile. Do you really expect me to be thinking
of nothing but you all the day?"
"You're not making any
sense," Matt said.
"I'm sorry you feel that
way." Donna reached for the doorknob. "Perhaps, under
the circumstances, it would be best if we didn't see each anymore.
Obviously, you aren't capable of carrying on an adult relationship."
"An adult relationship,"
Matt repeated, dumbfounded. "Sneaking around, keeping secrets,
living in terror of anyone finding out. This is your definition
of an adult relationship?"
"I don't expect you to
understand." She opened the door. "I merely expect you
to respect my wishes."
Matt shook his head.
He opened his mouth, then realized that he had nothing to say.
He shook his head again, and stormed out.
He didn't hear the clatter
of her phone as Donna swept it off her desk in a fit of anger. Or see the
tears in her eyes.
"I always forget," Cass
said, as he sifted through the piles and piles of papers, contracts,
documents and phone messages arranged in allegedly strategic, multi-colored
mountain ranges about his office. "That every time I ditch my
daily grind to take off on a madcap adventure, the work just piles up,
it never magically disappears."
"Exactly," Lila leaned
across his desk from the other side, so that she was basically blocking
everything on his most urgent To-Do List. "It's waited this
long, it can wait another day. We've been away from the girls
for such an extended spell. I say we forget work, take the afternoon
off and do something really fun all together."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Shopping!" She straightened
up, bloom in her cheeks, glint in her eyes, a tremble in her pocketbook.
"Jasmine needs new summer clothes. A never-ending stream of
garage-sale rock-and-roll logo T-shirts and flip-flops do not an appropriate
wardrobe make for a young lady of her stature. I'm even sure
I could find something Charlie would like. In pink or orange,
"An afternoon shopping,"
Cass mused. "An afternoon of holding purses, of sitting outside
dressing rooms, of listening to cries of, "Oh, no! No, no, no,
this makes me look fat." I can't tell you how appealing that
Lila teased, "I'll buy
you some new pantyhose. The appropriate size, this time."
"I wanted to stay close by
the phone. In case Rachel calls."
"She has your cell number."
"I don't know what I'm
hoping for with her," Cass admitted. "On the one hand, I'd
be over the moon if she found Felicia. On the other hand, when
I think about what it would mean for her and Carl and the kids...."
"What's going to happen
is going to happen." Lila squeezed his hand. "There's
nothing you can do for Rachel right now. On the other hand, our
girls have missed us. We barely got back into town before there
you were, sneaking out for the office. Come on, Cass, take a break.
Let's go home, grab the kids, and raise a little hell."
Her smile convinced him.
So did the fact that, otherwise, Cass was scheduled to spend the next
four hours or so reading the tiny print on a case that Cass was pretty
sure would be settled out of court as soon as both sides got a look
at his bill.
They arrived at the house about
a half-hour after the girls were due back from their last day of school.
As it turned out, though, Jasmine was the only one at home. She
was sitting on the couch, leafing through a fashion magazine.
She looked up in surprise and
exclaimed, "Mama! Cass!" The phrasing was her own little
private music joke. "What are you doing home so early?"
"Nice try, young Miss,"
Lila crossed over to touch the top of the TV set. "It's still
warm. You heard us coming. And that magazine is over a month
old. No child of mine truly interested in fashion would be caught
dead reading something so dated."
"Come on, Mama, it's the
last day of school. I don't have any homework or anything.
And they're doing a top 100 Countdown of the greatest one hit wonders
of all time."
"Television only on the weekends,
you know the rules," Lila said. But then the spirit of the day
got the best of her and she laughed, "Oh, what the heck, go ahead
and watch for a bit. Cass and I thought we'd take you girls
out for a fun afternoon, but if Charlie's not around, we might as
well wait for her."
"Where is she anyway?"
"Oh," Jasmine said blithely
as she reached for the remote control and flicked the TV back onto VH1
Classics, "She went out with her mom."
"Rachel," Carl exhaled
her name, and with it a virtual Pandora's Box of implications.
She didn't say anything in
reply. She merely kept on walking, until she and Carl stood face
to face, Rachel on one side of the gate, her husband on the other.
The line in the sand couldn't have been more literal. Or more
For a moment, they simply considered
each other warily, almost two decades of history, good and bad, flowing
silently between them. Threats, secrets, promises, fights, tears
and sighs, all coming down to a thin strip of dirt somewhere in the
wilds of Canada.
Would Carl let her in, or was
she doomed to be locked out forever? Rachel thought they'd settled
this issue already, not just once, but several times. However,
the fact that it continued to rear its ugly head did suggest that the
past, both hers and his, was far from prepared to stay dead and buried.
No matter how much each may have wished it.
Finally, after what felt like
an interminable length of time, but in reality was probably no more
than thirty seconds or so, Carl mutely stepped aside, allowing Rachel
to cross the threshold and stand beside him.
She surveyed the property,
noting that the fence with its hidden, electronic entrance, stretched
as far as the eye could see in both directions, suggesting that it encircled
a huge, albeit desolate, homestead.
Carl closed the gate behind
them, and took off determinedly in a Northeastern direction. Rachel
followed, struggling to keep up as she made her way through tangled
dry grass and clumps of rocky dirt, in high heels.
At one point, her foot slipped
into what appeared to be an empty gopher-hole, and Rachel stumbled.
Carl caught her elbow and kept her knee from hitting the ground.
He helped Rachel to her feet. As they continued walking, he forgot
to let go of her hand. Rachel didn't remind him.
Regaining her voice, she asked,
"Where are we going?"
Carl pointed straight ahead,
to a speck on the horizon that did seem to be growing as they approached.
"House up ahead."
"I don't rightly know,"
"Why are we here, Carl?
What is this place?"
Carl sighed. "When
one is in the business of... of..."
"Less than hallowed pursuits,"
"Precisely," Carl winced.
"When one is in the business of less than hallowed pursuits, one often
needs to remove oneself from the more unsavory aspects of one's business."
"In other words, you outsource
Carl gazed at his wife with
newfound respect. "I daresay, my dear, you truly possess a knack
Rachel reminded him, "I'm
not exactly a stranger to the world of dirty tricks, myself."
"Touche," Carl noted, then
continued, "In any case, as I was saying, once in a while, one needs
to keep one's hands clean and appear utterly blameless in regards
to a given state of affairs. That is where this compound comes
in. Several decades ago, a mystery individual I've never
known a name, or a country of origin, or even whether they're male
or female came out with a most ingenious proposal. For a price
an outrageously hefty price, may I add he or she would remove
a designated individual from their usual surroundings, bring them here
and engage in a variety of precise tasks. Sometimes, mere detainment
would be called for, both short and long-term. Other times, a
bit of helpful persuasion."
Rachel stopped in her tracks.
"The house we're going to, it exists to kidnap and torture people?"
"Yes," Carl said simply.
There was no pride in his voice, but then, again, no shame, either.
Instead, all Rachel heard was a challenge, as if he were goading her
to keep going. As if he were telling her that, if she truly wanted
to know all, then know all she would. Carl was ready to tell her.
But was Rachel even vaguely ready to hear?
"You've used their services,
"In the past, yes, I have."
"How recently in the past?"
"Not since you and I spent
our sojourn in New York," Carl told her. And dared Rachel to
"Then why are we here?"
"Because," he explained
as they approached the front door of what Rachel realized was no mere
house, but a multi-story structure, with sealed windows that allowed
no glimpse in or out, and sensor-triggered doors, that responded to
the same card Carl had used to disengage the fence. "Felicia,
Jenna and Dean disappeared apparently without a trace. I know
of only one establishment that can pull off such a feat so wholly."
Rachel's voice trembled as
they stepped inside and, instead of a normal domestic interior were
greeted by a series of mazelike corridors, which Carl seemed to maneuver
without a hint of hesitation. "I see you're still a member
of the club."
"It's a lifetime membership,"
She followed him around a corner
only to be greeted by an unremarkable elevator that took them not up,
but down, straight down, much lower than Rachel would have thought possible
since they were already on the ground floor. "If so many people
use this place, how do they manage to keep it a secret?"
"Mutually assured destruction.
Anyone who has availed themselves of the compound's services has no
reason to reveal its location, even to implicate an enemy, as their
own crimes would be revealed alongside. And besides, what benefit
could come of blowing the whistle? The proprietor would inevitably
set up shop elsewhere."
Rachel noted, "It seems deserted."
"An illusion, I assure you.
Guests are "
"Guests?" Rachel scoffed.
"Don't you mean prisoners?"
" Are transported in
blindly. They have no idea where they are or whose hands they
are in. For the duration of their stay "
"Internment," Rachel translated.
" They never see or hear
from a living soul. Everything is conducted electronically, inside
the house and throughout the perimeter. Even the fields we passed
through are wired with impeccably sensitive surveillance equipment.
As we speak, we are being monitored by the most clandestine, proficient
security team in the known-world."
Rachel wondered if that was
her cue to wave hello to the blood-thirsty mercenaries. Instead,
she asked Carl, "How do you know where to go?"
"It's only the guests who
are brought in blind. Clients "
" Are allowed free reign,
if they so wish. Up to a point, of course. Different rooms
serve different purposes. As I presume Felicia was in no need
of... debriefing... we are headed for the detainment-only area."
Rachel thought she might be
The elevator stopped and they
got off. Unlike the institutional corridors above them, this part
bore more of a resemblance to a five-star hotel. A thickly padded
golden-hued carpet slid pleasantly below their feet, and the egg-shell
hued walls boasted painting that Rachel couldn't quite be sure of
on a quick walk-through, but suspected might be minor American artists'
After the isolation and ominous
silence of both the surrounding fields and the hallways, Rachel gasped
in shock to see a figure coming towards them from the far end of the
Next to her, Carl stiffened
as well, leading Rachel to guess that running into another "client"
or could this be a "guest?" -- wasn't part of the time-honored
protocol. Her husband blanched white and took an involuntary step
Distracted by Carl's excessive
reaction, it took Rachel a moment before she managed to look away and
realize that the man coming towards them was in his late 60s, with gray
beginning to streak hair that had once been as jet-black as his eyes.
He wore a designer suit and Italian shoes, but his hands showed the
creases and calluses of someone who hadn't been born to either.
He was definitely familiar
to both of them.
He was also supposed to be
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|