“Who has Kirkland?” Jamie pounced on Spencer.
“The same people who kept my father locked up for over a decade,” Lorna supplied when the older man remained mute. “Lucas swore you and Carl had our security under control! What the hell happened?”
“Kirkland was at his school,” Spencer began haltingly. “A big open space, the football field, I believe. My men couldn’t get too close without exposing their presence. I’d warned them to keep their distance. I told Carl I didn’t need him, I could handle Kirkland’s security on my own. There’s really no excuse – “
“Screw your excuses,” Jamie exploded. “And your explanations. And your regrets. Just tell me what you’re doing to get my son back!”
“Everything. I’m the one that they want. They can have me. I’ve already said so. In exchange for Kirkland, they can have me.”
Trying to think of a way to phrase her next question so as not to completely push Jamie over the edge while insuring that Spencer understood what she was really after, Lorna stepped between the two men to ask Kirkland’s grandfather, “You’re sure they have Kirkland? Still?” she put special emphasis on the last word.
Spencer nodded grimly, receiving her message. What Lorna was really asking was whether Spencer knew if Kirkland were even still alive. He pulled out his cell-phone, showing her and Jamie a picture of Kirkland, his hands bound behind his back, ugly purple bruises swelling up and down his arms, his lip bloodied, staring into the camera with a look of utter shock and confusion.
“They hurt him…” Jamie said slowly, trying to process the understanding that a group of grown men had seemingly beaten and terrorized his child.
“When and where is the exchange?” Lorna demanded, doing her best to keep Jamie focused on what they could do rather than on what they couldn’t.
“Dawn. Today. They gave me directions to a secluded spot about fifteen miles outside of town. Mostly woods. Very dense, very obscured, plenty of places to hole up.”
“I’m calling the police,” Jamie thrust Spencer’s phone back at him, reaching for his own.
“No!” Spencer called out. And, much to Jamie’s surprise, Lorna echoed the sentiment.
“Why not? What choice do we have? Obviously depending on the criminal element to protect us was a major mistake.”
“They’ll kill him,” Lorna said simply. “Unless we obey our instructions to the letter, they will kill him. We have to trust Spencer on this. He’s all we’ve got.”
“I can do it, Jamie,” Spencer pleaded. “I’ll bring Kirkland home to you. I won’t let you down again. I won’t let him down. It will literally be the last thing I do.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m not inclined to put your pride ahead of my son’s life. You’ve already underestimated these bastards once. What makes you think they’ll keep their word this time around?”
“It’s not about my pride. It’s about doing what’s smart. Any hint of us bringing in the authorities, and these bastards, as you aptly called them, will simply cut their losses and take what measure of revenge they can – which means taking it out on Kirkland. Then they’ll disappear to regroup before coming at us all from another direction. The only chance we have is to give them what they want, how and when they want it.”
“Donna pissed them off, too,” Lorna thought ahead, willing to trust Spencer, but equally determined to consider all the angles. “So did Carl. What’s to keep them from double-crossing you and still holding onto Kirkland, using him against the others?”
“I won’t take a step in their direction until Kirkland is safe. I know some tactics, too. They’ve kept me alive this long.”
“Fine,” Jamie said. “Then I’m coming along for the exchange.”
“Absolutely not. An unknown face – “
“Do you think for a minute they don’t know who I am? I’m Kirkland’s father. If they – or you – expect me to leave my son to find his way home alone after he’s been – “
“The situation will already be precarious. Dangerous. Damn it, Jamie, you have a new wife, a new baby…”
“Who in no way take precedence over his son,” Lorna interrupted, lest Jamie be swayed by Spencer’s argument. No matter how true it was.
Jamie turned to Lorna with a look of surprised gratitude. She dismissed it, the better not to let it affect her own resolve.
“You have a wife, too,” Jamie reminded.
Spencer nodded once, tersely, unable to trust his voice.
“Which means you’d better go home and get your own affairs in order. I’ll meet you back here,” Jamie indicated the clock. “In five hours. And don’t you even think of cutting me out, running off to take care of this on your own. You keep me appraised of every single detail or, so help me, you’ll regret it.”
“Coming to bed?” Cass asked Frankie who, despite the lateness of the hour and having been up since practically dawn to get ready for Lori Ann’s party, continued sitting at her computer, typing frantically away, her brows furrowed, her lower lip well-gnawed.
She shook her head. “Just want to finish up some work first.”
“Jeanne,” Frankie said, nonetheless closing her laptop and resting her elbow defensively on the cover the exact moment Cass got close enough to see for himself. “I think I found something interesting. Donna will be pleased.”
“To be honest,” Cass took a seat next to her. “I’m not sure how enthusiastic I feel about pleasing Donna. Or admitting it to Felicia.”
“You agreed to take her case.”
“She got to me,” he shrugged. “I know what it’s like to make a horrible, tragic mistake that you end up regretting for the rest of your life.”
“Is that why you’ve been so tough on Charlie? Afraid she might follow in your footsteps?”
“Afraid she already has,” Cass confessed, then rushed to clarify. “Not the committing murder part. That family tradition I intend to make sure dies with me. Sorry, bad choice of words,” he winced. “I meant the concept of confusing sex with approval, with love, with happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big part of all three. But, it can’t be your only driving force. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway.”
“You’re a good dad,” Frankie reassured. “You’ve done a great job with her. And,” she hesitated. “I’m glad you had Lila to help you all those years I couldn’t.”
“It’s funny,” Cass mused. “While Lila and I were married, Charlie made a point of keeping her at arm’s length. Now…”
“She doesn’t have to. I’m back, and Charlie doesn’t have to be the sole guardian of my memory. I’m not her perfect, dead mother anymore. I am her living, flawed one. It must be a wonderful relief for her.”
“You really don’t mind Charlie turning to Lila?”
“No. I really don’t. That’s the beauty of having a stepparent – even an ex one. It’s the beauty of being one, too. She can be the non-judgmental, supportive friend your parents don’t have the luxury of being. As you – and Jamie – made perfectly clear to me over the past few days. I have to be the one who lays down the law, while Lila makes Charlie feel good about herself.”
“I love you,” Cass said.
She smiled. “Where did that come from?”
“These last few days. You must have felt like we were all piling on you. Me, Charlie, Jamie.”
“Lori Ann still thinks I’m aces. Granted, the birthday cake didn’t hurt.”
“You could have gotten defensive or bitter or cut us out completely. Instead, you just stuck to your guns with a smile and, in the end, you did what was best for your daughter, for our family. I can’t tell you how much I admire that.”
“I made a promise to you, Cass. I am never, ever losing you again. Whatever comes up, we will find a way to make our relationship work. Failure isn’t an option.”
“You’re an amazing woman.”
“My sticking by you through what we thought would be a fifteen year jail term didn’t clue you in a year ago?”
“I thought you just liked the way I wore stripes.”
“I look around us, Cass, and all I see are people who gave up when the going got rough. Do you know anybody – anybody? – without at least one, usually more, divorces under their belt?”
“This is Bay City,” Cass reminded.
“Well, I don’t want to be a Bay City statistic. Or a quitter. Or a coward. I am your wife. Now and forever.”
“Till death do us part?”
“Have you forgotten who you’re talking to here?”
He bent over to kiss her. “Never.”
“I’ll see you upstairs,” Frankie said, standing up, stretching, and heading up, beckoning for Cass to follow.
“Race you,” he said, grinning. And he absolutely meant it, too.
Even as he took advantage of Frankie disappearing around the landing to, so quickly it might not have even happened at all, flip open her lap-top and see what she’d really been researching earlier.
As far as Cass noticed, there was no mention of Jeanne Ewing.
The only names he did happen to catch before keeping his promise and racing Frankie to their bedroom, was one he’d never heard of before: Zeno Tantalus.
And one he had: Mary Ordway.
“Alright, I’m here,” Grant bullied past Jamie into the Frame living room. “What the hell is so important it couldn’t wait until morning or be handled over the phone? Well?” Grant looked from Jamie to Lorna as they stared at him uneasily. “I’m waiting.”
“Sit down, Grant,” Jamie said in a quiet, weary voice.
“I don’t want to sit down,” Grant snapped as he took in Jamie’s stricken face, warning bells now clanging in his ears. “I want you to tell me what….” He blinked as something occurred to him. “Where’s Kirkland? His car wasn’t parked out front.”
Lorna stepped forward. “He isn’t here.”
“What do you mean he isn’t here? What kind of curfew – ”
“Sit down and let us explain.”
“Explain what?” Grant hissed as he felt himself go cold, preferring to lash out rather than hear what they had to say, what he could tell from their faces they intended to say. “That you’ve been so caught up playing newlyweds and having a baby of your own that you’ve neglected my son and have no clue where he is?”
“Kirkland’s been kidnapped,” Jamie announced, no longer trying to soften the blow. “At first we hoped he was just breaking curfew, but the police found his car abandoned near the school and then Spencer came here himself and confirmed it.”
“My father came here? He actually told you this?”
“He’d already been contacted by the people who have Kirk,” Lorna explained. “They sent him a picture as proof, and laid out their terms.”
“Terms? What terms?”
“They want Spencer. They want to trade Kirkland for him at dawn.”
“What do they want with…” Grant stopped himself, knowing exactly what they must want with his father.
“I’m going to go with Spencer during the trade,” Jamie said.
“Then I’m going, too,” Grant immediately countered. “I should be there… I should…” He staggered around blindly, not wanting to give in to fear, instead pulling on his anger. “How could this happen? He had guards. My father promised…Carl promised. And you,” he charged Jamie. “Where were you? You useless – “
“Don’t,” Lorna warned Grant, stepping between him and Jamie. “If you want to blame someone go spit in your father’s face. Or Carl’s. They are the ones who started this war and sucked all of us into the middle.”
“If he had been with me…”
“He still could’ve been kidnapped,” Lorna cut him off. “And given that you were MIA and unreachable for most of the night until you finally decided to return our calls, you would’ve been just as useless to him.”
Grant’s face flushed crimson as he remembered where he was and what he was doing, Kirkland the furthest thing from his mind. “I was… I…”
“Exactly. It could’ve happened just as easily on your watch.”
“Lorna and I went back and forth on whether to fill you in at all,” Jamie informed Grant. “Don’t make me regret this.”
“Spencer… he wasn’t going to tell me?”
“Why the hell not?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie said. “That’s between you and your father. But, Lorna and I decided you deserved to be told.”
“W-why? You didn’t have to…”
“I know that if the situations were reversed,” Jamie began, then shook his head. “When I was in jail last year, Steven got hurt, he got hypothermia from hiking down the mountain in the dark to help Allie when she was in labor.”
“I remember that.”
“Well, I only found out after the fact. I remember what that felt like. I couldn’t… I wouldn’t do that to you. Especially in case….” Jamie trailed off.
But, Grant knew precisely what he meant. “What are we going to do?”
“Exactly what Spencer said,” Jamie sighed, still not completely on board, but devoid of alternatives. “He thinks giving himself up will get us Kirkland. Lorna agrees. She says that as long as we follow their instructions, hurting Kirkland wouldn’t be smart for these guys. They wouldn’t risk provoking Carl.”
“Carl,” Grant growled. “This is all his fault, he started this, he brought these people to Bay City. But we’re the ones paying the price.”
“It’s how he operates. Carl never gets his hands dirty. Besides, there’s enough blame to go around. And pointing fingers isn’t going to help Kirkland right now. That’s the only thing that matters.”
“Why isn’t Carl putting his Goddamn neck on the line?”
“Because the last thing we need is his brand of help. Carl talks a good game about family and loyalty. But, in the end, he cares about one thing and one thing only: Carl. With my mother and the twins coming in a distant second. Maybe. We invite him to step in with Kirkland and who knows what might happen? What kind of deal he might cut behind our backs, using who as a bargaining chip. I’m not willing to take the risk. And neither is Spencer. He says it’s his family, his responsibility.”
“How is it you know more about my father’s mindset than I do?” Grant seethed even as he fought back tears. “How could he not call me? How could he not let me know what was happening to my son? To him?” Grant whirled on Jamie. “You’re not willing to ask Carl for help, but you are willing to let my father go off to be murdered!”
“I'm sorry. I know he's your father... but he's made it clear that this is his choice. That he's – “
"Doing what he has to do to get Kirkland back," Grant finished forlornly, turning away from Jamie, unable to accept the sympathy in his eyes.
“I'm sorry,” Jamie repeated.
“Kirkland’s my son. No matter what damned piece of paper he made me sign, he will always be my son.”
“I know,” Jamie nodded.
Grant suddenly turned and barreled back to the door. “I have to go.”
“Be back at dawn,” Jamie said. “Spencer is meeting me here. We have no idea what sort of trap we might be walking into. If something happens to me, I want you there for Kirkland. We don’t know what shape he might be in, what he’ll need…”
Grant swallowed hard. “You think he might be…”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m as terrified as you are. Spencer seems convinced everything should go smoothly, but I have to plan for every contingency. Kirkland is counting on me. And I have to be able to count on you, Grant.”
More spooked by Jamie’s phone call regarding Kirkland than he was willing to admit, Steven brought his cell-phone out to the pool and left it on as he swam furious laps back and forth in the near-darkness, trying to tire himself out enough to fall asleep without his mind repeatedly flashing through all the possible worse case scenarios where his brother was concerned.
At the top of that list was Grant. He’d been willing to help Marley take off with Bridget and Michele. What was to stop Steven’s former stepfather from spiriting Kirkland away and making Communist Chinese re-education camps look like a summer sleepaway as he railed at Kirkland regarding the error of his ways in wanting to be a Frame instead of a Harrison?
Straining to hear the ring of his phone above the churning water, Steven’s stretched-taut nervous system instinctively twigged him to any out of the ordinary noise. Which is how he happened to hear Sarah’s footsteps as she attempted to sneak into the house via the back way, past the pool, with no one being the wiser.
“Late night?” he popped out of the water, meaning to startle her like something out of a cheap horror film.
At least that had been the plan. However, instead of shrieking, gasping, or so much as stepping back to avoid being splashed, Sarah stopped where she was, oblivious to the chlorine lapping her boots and smiled down at a water-logged Steven with an expression he couldn’t quite identify.
“Oh,” he took in her enigmatic smile along with the unmistakable grass stains on her criminally-short dress and, pushing down the observation that he’d never quite managed to achieve the same results with her, went ahead and guessed, “Anyone I know?”
She shrugged and continued on her original trajectory toward the main house.
“Damn, you work fast,” Steven observed, pushing himself out of the pool on both arms and sitting on the edge, not sure why he felt a need to continue this discussion, but unable to let it go, either.
“You dumped me,” Sarah pointed out calmly. “I suppose I could have taken a page from your source-code and wasted my time mooning over somebody completely unavailable. But, I decided to actually go on and live my life, instead.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he scrambled up and grabbed Sarah’s arm.
She removed it, finally looking down distastefully at the trail of azure water he’d doused her with, but Steven had moved on to other issues by now. “You know what it means.”
“Where do you get off acting like you understand anything about me?”
“I understand you’re in love with Jen Fowler. How’s that for a start?”
“Jen… Jen’s with GQ.”
“And Sam was with Amanda when my mother decided she wanted him. And my mother was supposedly with Sam when my dad knocked her up. And then my dad was with Marley when…. Stop me anytime, because this list can get real long, real fast.”
“I’m not… I’m not like that, okay? I had a front-row seat to my mom and what she put the men in her life through, juggling everybody around like she was the star attraction at Ringling Brothers.”
“Okay,” Sarah was perfectly happy to accept his defense. “So you’re not going to do anything about it. Doesn’t mean my initial point was wrong. You are in love with Jen.”
“She just – she can do better than GQ, you know?”
“Oh, yeah. Good looking, smart, responsible, treats her great… our Jen’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
“I thought you hated him.”
“I hate him for my reasons. Jen likes him for hers.”
“But, they’re wrong,” Steven insisted. “You were there. You remember. GQ went after her because Jen was exactly everything he’s always wanted.”
“He doesn’t love her for who she is. He loves her for who he wants her to be.”
“And she’s clearly going along with that, so what’s the problem?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” Steven mumbled.
“Right. Because I was such a bitch, turning myself into who you wanted.”
“Tell the truth, Sarah. Come on. Were you happy? How could you have been happy pretending to be someone you’re not?”
“I was happy. Because I had what I wanted. Which was you. Not that you gave a damn.”
“Well, Jen isn’t like you. She’s a great person the way she is. She doesn’t have turn herself into somebody else to get guys to like her.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said.
“What?” he challenged. “You used to be proud of the Sarah Matthews-Wheeler Plan.”
“I still am. It’s a damn good plan. Fooled a genius like you, didn’t it?”
“Not for long.”
“Because you cheated. Allie filled you in, you’d have never known otherwise.”
“So you think you’re so smart, you can fool anybody, but nobody could ever fool you?”
“I may not have your IQ, Steven, but, trust me, when it comes to stuff like this, I know what I’m doing.”
“Oh, yeah? You’re so sure you know what Mr. Grass Stains is up to? You are absolutely positive he doesn’t have any ulterior motives? You’ve got it all under control?”
“I know what I’m doing,” she repeated stubbornly.
“Okay. But, how certain are you about him?”
“You didn’t need to wait up for me,” Spencer assured Alice when he arrived home to find the light still on, and his wife reading in bed.
“I only got back from my shift an hour ago. I wanted to wind down anyway.” She moved over so he could perch atop the blanket next to her. “I was surprised to find you’d gone out. You haven’t left the grounds since….”
“I decided to stop living in fear,” Spencer cleared his throat, smiling at her. “I have so much to be thankful for these days, mostly due to you. I can’t keep dwelling on worst-case scenarios. I need to enjoy every moment of the life you’ve given me.”
“You won’t get any argument from me,” Alice said. “Does this mean the situation for you has… changed?”
“Yes,” he nodded his head fervently. “The situation… it has… changed.”
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