Chase Hamilton did not stand up when Grant entered his office. It was an old power-play gambit Grant was familiar with. As was Grant's response of calmly continuing to stand, until he'd silently pressured Chase into grudgingly doing the same.
Only then did Grant smile and accept the chair offered earlier. Amazing how quickly one could fall back into old habits. And how comforting they could feel after a decade of disuse.
"I hear you've just submitted your petition to join me on the mayoral ballot," Chase observed pleasantly. "Awfully fast work on your part."
"I still know a few people," Grant shrugged modestly.
"And your father knows a few more."
"I hope you're not expecting another campaign contribution from him."
"Oh, you never know. The people around Spencer Harrison do seem to have a knack for getting into legal trouble. Especially those closest to him, wouldn't you say?"
"That was the past," Grant corrected pointedly. "But, since you brought it up, my family is partially what I came here to speak with you about."
"I'm all ears."
"I want a clean campaign," Grant stressed.
"Don't we all?"
"I mean it." Grant began, "I have a son..."
"Yes. Kirkland Frame. I remember." His tone implied that Chase also remembered Grant's reaction to hearing the boy identify himself that way in open court.
"He means everything to me. One of the reasons I'm running is to show Kirkland the man I can be."
"Is that really a good idea?" Chase frowned.
"I want to make him proud. And that means no mud slinging. An honest campaign. We focus on the issues only, no personal attacks, no low blows. I'm hoping you'll join me."
"I'm sorry, Grant, but your son's opinion of you isn't really at the top of my personal or professional priority list. What's in this for me?"
"You have as much to gain from a clean campaign as I do. Not only will the voters respect you for it "
"Facts not in evidence."
"But, there are certain aspects of your own lifestyle I'm sure you don't want repeatedly brought up on the campaign trail. This is still the Midwest. Bay City is still a small town. Our voters are open minded enough... up to a point. You and I can help each other by not stressing our respective, personal Achilles' heels."
Chase's eyes narrowed and he leaned forward in his chair, speaking slowly to start, but gathering speed as he went along, "Let me get this straight. In exchange for your magnanimously declining to dwell on the fact that I've been in a stable relationship with the same person since college I presume that would be the Achilles' heel you were referring to, yes? I'm supposed to ignore your multiple criminal convictions, your crooked father, your insane mother, your involvement with Carl Hutchins, your failed marriages, your affairs, your brother's accidental death, the fact that you're currently sleeping with your son's aunt your ex-wife's identical twin, and your last ten years playing dead? Sure," Chase shrugged. "That sounds fair."
Grant smiled innocently and, despite the political incorrectness, pointed out, "Bay City has already elected a convicted criminal and known adulterer Mayor. And I don't mean just me, either. They've never elected a practicing homosexual."
"I don't have to practice," Chase shot back. "I'm very good at it."
But Grant could tell his point had been made, nonetheless.
Fortunately, both were spared having to figure out exactly where to take their conversation post that divisive exchange by the District Attorney's phone ringing. He took the call, listened for a few minutes, then said, "I'm on my way. Don't let Fowler near any of them until I get there." Standing up and gathering up his files, he informed Grant, "Speaking of people in the Harrisons' orbit getting into legal trouble, looks like two of your former stepkids just got themselves arrested."
"I want to see him," Sharlene insisted as she and John stood outside the hospital morgue. "I want to see my son."
"That's not a good idea," John pleaded. "You don't need to... I already made the formal identification. He doesn't even look like... That's not Gregory in there. Gregory is gone. You don't want your last memory of him to be..."
"I have no last memories of Gregory," she reminded. "Allie and her friends made sure of that. They made sure that this was all I'd have left." Sharlene moved towards the door. "Get out of my way, John."
"You don't want to do this...."
"I lost a huge chunk of Gregory's life. You will not lock me out of his death, too. This is my last chance to be his mother, any way I can." Sharlene barreled through, partially to escape John's grasp as he made one last, final attempt to stop her. And partially to keep from losing her own nerve.
They hadn't started the autopsy yet. Gregory still lay on a slab, stripped naked, covered with a sheet from his feet to his chest. The muscles in his face had already gone slack. The eyes forcibly closed, the cheeks sunken, his mouth slightly open. John was right. This didn't look like Gregory. This was merely all that remained of him.
John came up to stand behind her, not touching Sharlene, but close enough for his breath to brush the back of her neck. They were breathing. Their son was not. They were alive. Their son wasn't. And it just didn't make any sense.
"Do you think," Sharlene asked, so far beyond her earlier hysteria that she felt nearly lifeless herself. "My mental problems were in any way connected... I mean, could the illness have manifested itself one way in me and another way in him?"
"No," John assured. She could tell from the way his voice echoed that he was shaking his head vehemently. "If anything, it was my being exposed to Agent Orange... nobody knows for sure what kind of mutation might have occurred...."
"We shouldn't have done it. We shouldn't have had a child. It was too risky. We were too old, we had too many of our own problems, physical, mental. Everything that we put him through, even before he got sick. We were selfish."
"We were," John agreed. "And I would do it again in a heartbeat."
"Even knowing... knowing that it would end like this?"
"He was the best thing that ever happened to me. When you were gone... and then after we split up again, my life wouldn't have had a point without him."
"So what now?" Sharlene turned around to ask.
"Now," John said. "We bury our son. And ourselves right along with him."
"I'm afraid I owe you an apology, my dear," Carl offered Marley after she opened the door to Grant's house to find Hutchins meekly standing there, all but holding his hat in his hand.
"I'll trade the apology for an explanation," she invited him in, explaining that both Grant and Kirkland were out for the afternoon.
"And that is precisely what you shall get, no more obfuscation. You were right, of course, my newfound interest in your welfare was not utterly benign in nature."
"Are you going to kill me?" Marley asked pleasantly. "To get back at Donna?"
"That's your mother's area of expertise these days, not mine."
"I wonder where she learned it from," Marley speculated idly before continuing down her list of possibilities. "Are you going to seduce me?"
Now Carl seemed at a loss for how to answer without offending. Marley couldn't help laughing at his discomfort.
"What then, Carl? Why have you been practically stalking me the last few days? And don't tell me it's because of Grant. I understand you hate him, but our being together doesn't really affect your life one way or the other. So this has to be about Donna."
"You know," Carl mused. "There used to be a time when you actually liked me, Marley. I daresay, you even looked upon me as a quasi-father figure."
"I was six, Carl. You were married to my glamorous, beautiful, presumed big sister, and the man I'd been told was my father had no interest in me whatsoever. Of course, I liked you. Oh, and I didn't yet know about your penchant for killing and torturing people. I'm sorry, your former penchant for killing and torturing people."
"Your mother did the same thing to you that she did to Jenna, have you stopped to think about that? With poor Victoria, she could at least claim genuine lack of knowledge. That daughter was, in fact, spirited away from her. But she rejected you in precisely the same manner. Worse even. Jenna, she placed in a loving home; my understanding is that Gloria Norris adored the child. You, in spite of all she'd suffered at his hands, Donna nonetheless abandoned to Reginald's mercy."
"She had no choice," Marley insisted. "He locked her up when she was pregnant. He horsewhipped my father and ran him out of town. He was a monster."
"A presumed dead monster. I did the math, Marley. You were only a few years old when Reginald absconded to Paraguay with the amnesiac Mary McKinnon. What precisely was it that prevented Donna from claiming you as her child then? Goodness, you probably would have barely noticed the change, you were still so young."
Marley stared at him blankly, silently, furiously; loathe to admit that the possibility had never crossed her mind. She'd always accepted Donna's version of events about her origins hook, line and sinker. She hadn't thought to question any part of it.
"Stop," Marley stammered, understanding what he was doing, struggling to resist. "Do not pull me into your feud. Whatever issues I may have with Donna, they are none of your business. I am not getting caught in your crossfire, and Michele and Bridget had most certainly better be kept out of it. I'm warning you, Carl."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
"You actually expected me to feel differently about being used to get back at Donna?"
"I expected you to want to see her punished as much as I do."
"Not by you."
"Very well, then."
"What?" she finally blurted out, utterly lost. "What are you talking about? What are we talking about? What do you want from me, Carl?"
"I said that I had an apology to offer you, and an explanation. This is it: You were right, of course, I have been circling you these past few days, searching for the most opportune time and the optimal way to ask for your help."
"You want me to help you get revenge on my mother?"
"No. I wish to aid you in doing so for yourself."
"Stay," Spencer urged Alice, even as she already had one hand on the doorknob leading out of his bedroom. He came up behind her, slipping both arms around her waist, kissing the back of her neck as he cajoled, "I'll clear my calendar for the rest of the day. We can spend the afternoon making love."
Alice closed her eyes and sank back against him, relishing every sensation, admitting, "You extend a very tempting offer."
"Then stay," he repeated, pivoting her gently to face him. "You said it yourself the other night, what's the point of us wasting anymore time?"
"I can't." She kissed him, then reluctantly broke away. "I have to go into the hospital. That patient I was telling you about... the young boy... he died. I just checked my messages."
"I'm sorry," Spencer said, stroking her cheek with the back of his palm. "Will you at least promise to come back as soon as you can?"
"As soon as I can. You have my word."
"And will you stay then?"
"For as long as I'm welcome," she teased.
"In that case," Spencer cleared his throat. "I propose you make it permanent."
Alice smiled, unsure of what he was implying, unsure how she felt about any of the possibilities. "Are you asking me to move in here with you?"
"No," Spencer said and shook his head so fervidly, Alice wondered if she'd somehow managed to misunderstand him completely. "I am asking you to marry me."
"Allie didn't want me to come get her?" Amanda double-checked in a small voice, looking from Kevin to Jamie, as if to confirm that her brother had heard the same thing she had.
"You don't know what she's been through the past few weeks," Jamie reassured quickly. "She's probably in shock. She doesn't realize what she's saying."
"He's right," Kevin jumped in. "Besides, she must have heard Jenny call me and knew that I'd sort through everyone's case as soon as I got here. Maybe Allie just wanted a little more time to pull herself together before she faced you."
"Steven called Jamie," Amanda pointed out.
"Steven isn't one to put his faith in other people," Jamie reminded. "But Allie trusts Kevin. I'm sure she just didn't want to bother you until she had a better idea of what was going to happen."
"Right. Because she knows I'm way too busy to make time for her."
"Forget about it," Kevin put on his lawyer voice, getting to the point. "You can straighten all this out later. Right now our objective should be to find out what the hell they're charging the kids with, then getting them out on bail as soon as possible."
"What are the possible charges?" Jamie asked, dreading the answer.
Kevin's deep sigh didn't exactly set his mind at ease. "Illinois has explicitly criminalized assisted suicide. Depending on how Chase Hamilton is feeling "
"Fantastic," Jamie said.
"We're looking at anything from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 3 felony."
"Which means what?" Amanda's voice shook.
"At best, a $25,000 dollar fine. Each."
"And at worst?" Jamie and Amanda asked near-simultaneously.
An even longer pause now.
"Damn it, Kevin,"
He reluctantly revealed, "One to three years in prison."
"Oh, God," Amanda groaned.
"You've done your research, Mr. Fowler," Chase materialized behind the unhappy group. "Good. Saves me a lot of time."
"I'll pay the fine," Amanda told him. "Right now, for all five kids. I'll write a check on the spot."
"I wasn't worried about the Cory credit rating." Chase asked Kevin, "Do you need a minute to explain to The Dim & The Privileged how the legal system works?" He clued in Amanda, "We don't give discounts for paying in cash. But, thanks for the offer."
"Are you going in to see my clients now?"
"Then I'm going with you."
"No one specifically asked for "
"You really want me arguing on appeal that Jennifer's request to see me equaled her request for an attorney, which you failed to heed?"
Chase shrugged. "Knock yourself out, Dad."
"I'm coming too," Amanda attempted to follow.
"Uh-uh," Chase shook his head. "As far as I know, none of the accused are minors. Is that correct?" Nods all around. "Then all they're entitled to is an attorney, no Mommy and Daddy."
"I'll take care of this," Kevin promised Amanda and Jamie. "Please trust me."
"Do we have a choice?" Jamie spat.
"I owe you one, Jamie," Kevin reminded. "Allow me to pay off my debt." And then he swore to Amanda, "I won't let anything happen to Allie. I'll look out for her. I'll look out for all of them."
"Whatever you're working on, Jeanne, drop it," Donna swept into the digital editing suite at KBAY-TV and swiveled the chair her top producer was sitting in, making Jeanne face her.
"Ms. Love," she stammered. "I didn't realize you were "
"No longer under lock and key?"
"Back at work," Jeanne finished diplomatically, earning a smile of gratitude from Donna.
"I have a news story to report, and I'd like it to receive top priority."
"We're actually already working on our eleven o'clock news lead. I got a tip that the D.A. plans to announce a major arrest of "
"It doesn't matter. Mr. Hamilton's grandstanding would do well to take second spot. I have something much more provocative in mind."
"What?" Jeanne asked, curious now in spite of the half-finished piece flickering on preview behind her.
"We're going to do an expose of a notorious local figure."
"Me," Donna said. "And the death of Jenna Norris Frame."
"Good afternoon, boys and girls." Chase laid his briefcase down on the table in the interrogation room as he surveyed Alexandra Cory-Fowler, Steven Frame, Sarah Matthews-Wheeler, Jennifer Fowler and Grant Quinn Todd the off-spring of some of Bay City's best and most illustrious families sitting across and staring back at him.
Allie looked drained, Sarah defiant, Jen curious, Steven resigned and GQ wary. Chase scribbled a quick note of each assessment into the yellow legal pad he'd brought in with him. The initial observations would come in handy when he faced them one by one and put his intended prosecutorial strategy into effect.
"Not a word from anybody," Kevin warned, coming in right behind Chase, smiling encouragingly at each of the kids in turn. "Don't say anything. You don't have to."
"Mr. Fowler is correct. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law; but I'm sure you know all that from having been read your rights earlier. Right now you don't have to say anything. Right now you just have to listen. Here's the plan, kids: Gregory Hudson is dead. His parents claim it didn't have to happen. He could have been saved if he'd stayed at the hospital rather than absconding. A feat he could not have pulled off on his own. He left the hospital and he died. That's called assisted suicide."
"He was going to die anyway " Allie began, before Kevin laid a warning hand on her shoulder and she obediently, though reluctantly, clammed up.
"I realize he'd been given a terminal diagnosis," Chase conceded. "But it didn't have to happen the way that it did. In addition to assisted suicide, I could also charge you all with reckless disregard, even manslaughter."
"In your dreams." Kevin repeated, "Don't listen to him, guys, he's just trying to scare you. He's got no grounds."
"I've got Sharlene and John Hudson ready, willing and able to testify that their son's condition left him legally incapable of coming to a rational decision. Which means that not only did your Gang O' Five assist in his suicide, they also incited it. That knocks the game up a whole other notch. And into a whole other penalty grade." Chase told them, "This could go up to seven years jail time."
"It won't," Kevin reassured the stricken kids.
"It might," Chase predicted. "Unless... Here's the deal: I need a witness. Any witness will do to explain to me who did what exactly when. First person to raise their hand, receives a Get Out of Jail card. I don't care which one of you it is; all I care is that you're willing to name names, narrow down dates and pinpoint locations. Tell the truth, and it shall set you free, literally."
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