“Are you kidding me?” Morgan laughed as he looked up to find himself alone inside the hospital elevator with Donna, who’d flipped the Out Of Service button, bringing the car to a lurching stop. That’ll teach him to not watch where he was walking while texting.
“We need to talk. In private.”
“Make an appointment like anyone else,” Morgan reached around her, Donna slamming down her purse, hard, on his arm.
“I am not anyone else. I am the mother of the woman you bullied into a catatonic state.”
“I heard Marley bounced back just fine. And you’ll have to excuse me if I laugh in your face over the concerned mommy routine.”
“You won’t be laughing for long,” Donna clipped. “Enjoy what little time you have left here at BCU Hospital, Doctor.”
He leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. “You really believe you still have an ounce of clout left? Be gone, witch, you have no power here!” he quoted merrily. “You really think anyone cares what you think?”
“I’m on the hospital board.”
“Wrong tense. You were on the board. They dumped your ass sometime after you kidnapped and killed your daughter, but before you went public regarding your long-standing association with an international, criminal cartel.”
“None of that was ever proven!”
“Ah,” Morgan nodded thoughtfully. “Now I see where Marley gets it. I mean, her uncanny ability to wave off her crimes despite – or maybe because of – the stack of bodies piling up at her feet. No wonder she’s messed up. The chick never had a chance with a sister/mother/sister/mother like you. Hey…” he snapped his fingers, pointing at Donna. “Were you two the inspiration for Chinatown?”
“I was the one who pushed Marley to get help. I was the one went to Lorna – “
“To do your dirty work for you. Your daughter puts a pregnant woman in a coma for months – “
“Honestly, Morgan? Do you really want to talk about the time Lorna spent in a coma? You, of all people?”
“And you actually have the stones to ask that same pregnant woman to help clean up your mess. If you’d acted like a real mother in the first place and taken some responsibility for once in your pathetic life, you would have turned Marley in to the cops as soon you knew she was our hit-and-run-driver or, at the very least, committed her yourself – for her own good, if not for the sake of society. But, you didn’t. Go ahead, Donna, huff and puff and threaten to blow my house down. Everyone – and you’re at the top of that list – knows you’re no protective lioness. You’re just a pathetic, prehistoric cougar to be ignored.”
“At your own peril. I won’t forget what you did to Marley,” Donna hissed as the elevator suddenly lurched back to life. “And I will not let you get away with it.”
“Come in, Kirk,” Lorna hurriedly covered herself up from where she’d been reclining against the headboard, breast-feeding Devon, at the sound of the knock on her door. Knowing that Jamie was still with Alice – and he likely wouldn’t knock to enter his own bedroom, in any case.
Kirkland stuck his head in timidly. “Am I bothering you?”
“No! No, it’s no problem.” She beckoned him inside. “I’m just surprised. Your dad and I thought you’d be asleep for at least a couple of hours. You must be exhausted.”
“He took Alice home. He’ll be back soon. He just wanted to make sure she was alright.”
“Does she know…”
“I’m sorry,” Kirkland said. “I’m so sorry I let this happen. I was so stupid. And now Spencer…”
“This wasn’t your fault,” Lorna cut him off, shifting Devon against her shoulder, patting the baby’s back. “Spencer brought this on himself. Because of choices he made. He’s the one who should be apologizing to you.”
“That’s not very likely to happen now, is it?”
“Whatever happens, you are not to blame,” Lorna refused to back down.
“When I saw Spencer and Grant and Dad coming to rescue me, I thought: Now they’ll get caught, too. Because of me.”
“Spencer was the one who offered to trade himself for you. Spencer is the one those men wanted. Believe me, if they’d asked for either Grant or Jamie, both of them would have done the same thing.”
“I know!” Kirkland’s voice cracked. “That’s the problem! I was such a coward, Lorna. I should have fought those guys when they first came after me. And later, I should have tried to escape. I should have made it so that nobody had to trade themselves for me.”
“These people are professionals, Kirkland. If you’d tried to fight them, you’d have ended up hurt much, much worse than you actually were. And if you’d tried to escape, they’d have killed you.” Each word was like a blow to Kirkland, he practically recoiled as if hit. But, Lorna continued on in the same vein, determined to make him understand what he’d been up against. And how he’d done exactly the right thing. “Real life isn’t a big-budget action-movie. The smart thing to do when you’re attacked in real life is not to make a pithy quip. It’s to keep your head down, do as you’re told and avoid being hurt. Because your getting pistol-whipped or beaten to a pulp isn’t a moral victory. It’s simply pain you don’t need. And it serves no purpose. Real life villains aren’t misunderstood poets with hearts of gold and soft spots for cute, little kids. They’re murderers for hire.”
Shocked into silence, Kirkland blinked, stunned, and then, in a near whisper, confessed, “I was still a punk, though. I was so scared. You have no idea. They locked me in this room. It was like, as big as a closet. And dark. I had to sit the whole time kind of hunched up, my back against the wall and my knees up to my chest. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what was going on or what they wanted. I – I was like some stupid little baby. I actually… cried.”
“Sounds like a perfectly reasonable reaction to me,” Lorna said softly.
He smirked. “Like that’s what you would’ve done.”
“I’m an adult, Kirkland. You’re a kid. You’re allowed.”
“Like that’s what you’d have done even when you were my age,” he dismissed. “I know your story. I know what a bad-ass you were. You’d never have…”
“You’re right.” Lorna shrugged, seeing no point in debating the matter, especially considering the mood Kirkland was in – especially considering that he was right. “I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have cried. Not for anything in the world.”
“See? I told you.” He didn’t appear particularly thrilled to have won this fight.
“You know what else I wouldn’t have done?”
“Still felt like crying even after everything was over?” he threw the humiliating words at Lorna like a challenge.
“Right again,” she agreed. “When I was your age – and for a long, long time afterwards, too, I was terrified of having any kind of feeling at all. Good, bad, indifferent, it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t about to give anybody that kind of power over me. I wasn’t about to so much as let anyone think there might be the possibility of them having that kind of power over me. I gambled if I just kept myself closed off, I’d never have to hurt, not over anything. So, yeah, nothing could have made me cry when I was your age. Or smile. Or laugh. Or love.”
“You don’t have to lay it on so thick,” Kirkland assured her, just a bit of that teen-age cockiness returning to his tone. “I get it, okay?”
“I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t think you would.”
“I’m supposed to be grateful I’m such a wuss?”
“No. I can see the drawbacks.”
“Hey, what happened to my pep talk?”
“Give me a break, I’m new at this.”
“Fine.” This time, Kirkland actually almost smiled. “Hit me with your best shot.”
“What you should be grateful for, Kirkland, is that the kid you are – you can call yourself a wuss, I prefer….”
“Crybaby? Scaredy-cat? Wimp?”
“A gentleman,” Lorna said. “An actual, gentle young man. And if you don’t think that’s a compliment coming from me, ask your father how I honestly feel on the subject. I think you should be damned proud of being the kind of person that other people would give their lives for. Spencer loves you, Jamie loves you, and, yeah, Grant loves you, too – even if he hasn’t the faintest clue how to go about showing it. None of that would be possible if you were closed off and hostile and like…”
“You?” Kirkland winced.
“Exactly.” Lorna took no offense. “Though, like my pep talks, I am working on it.”
“What have you heard about Harrison?” Lucas dismissed Carl’s noblesse oblige offer of some breakfast, coffee, tea, or scones, and anything that might resemble polite chit-chat, including inquiries about “their” granddaughter, Lori Ann, to get right to the point.
In his split second of hesitation, Lucas had an answer.
“They got him,” he said grimly, way past the questioning stage.
“Spencer Harrison has been… detained,” was all Carl felt compelled to confirm.
Lucas snorted. “I’m familiar with what those bastards’ detention consists of. And I hadn’t even done anything to piss them off – recently. Not that Spencer is responsible – “
“We are all responsible,” Carl remarked.
“Then how come we aren’t all currently being detained?”
“Don’t be a sentimental fool, Lucas. Or a martyr. Do you honestly wish it were your family wringing their hands right now, wondering where you’d been sequestered? Would you prefer Lorna and her infant weeping at your grave – yet again? Would you prefer it be Fanny rather than Alice picking out her widow’s weeds?”
“So he’s dead? You know that for sure?”
“An educated guess, no more, no less.”
“How did you do it, Carl? How did you get Spencer to fall on his sword on your behalf?”
“Don’t be foolish. Harrison would never do anything on my behalf. It was Kirkland. He was the bargaining chip. Quite frankly, I do wish Grant had been part of the package. Two birds, one stone, a better Bay City for all, Kirkland most especially.”
“What the hell did you do to Kirkland?” Lucas’ mind immediately went to Jamie, which meant Lorna and Devon, too. If Jamie’s son was a target, then so was Lucas’ daughter.
“Not a blasted thing!” Carl thundered. “I would never, ever put a child in danger. What sort of sadist do you take me for?”
“Jenna was a child,” Lucas reminded. “She was my child. And you had no trouble cutting the brakes of her car – “
“Your car. If you’d only driven yourself like you were supposed to – “
“Or kidnapping her from Dean’s concert.”
“She was at the wrong place at the wrong time. And I returned her unharmed, will no one grant me credit for it nearly two decades passed?”
“Lorna was a child,” Lucas said, his voice steely. “Are you going to claim you did her no harm, either?”
Again, the slightest of pauses, and Carl completely changed the subject. “I had nothing to do with what happened to Kirkland. In any case, he too is currently back home and in the bosom of his family, none the worse for wear.”
“What about Alice? Does she deserve what you’ve done to her?”
“Anyone who aligns themselves with that pathetic weasel of a man – “
“The way Justine did?”
“Ryan’s unfortunate mother ultimately distinguished her error,” Carl sniffed. “I have no doubt the current Mrs. Harrison will do the same, realizing that she is all the better for being rid of him.”
Nearly shaking with fury, Lucas spat, “You’re some piece of work, you know that?”
“I do what I have to in order to protect my own. Were you capable of saying the same, perhaps you and Fanny might never have accidentally… misplaced your precious baby girl, leaving her to my ministration.”
“You’ll pay for this, Carl,” Lucas predicted.
He smiled. “Are you actually threatening me, you fool? How quaint.”
“No,” Lucas’ fury had turned to an equally deadly certainty. “I am simply telling you this: In all your Asian sword-play and Zen meditation and misappropriated dress up, you must have come upon the following cannon: Karma’s a bitch. And if she needs a little help, rest assured, there’s an army of people out there willing to make sure that what goes around comes around. Even – no, especially – for the great Carl Hutchins.”
Jeanne turned her head at a snail's pace, looking from the photocopied birth certificate Matt had handed her, to the police report and back again, each swivel coming slower and slower, as her initial frantic desire to understand dissolved into an in-depth exploration of both documents.
For his part, Matt hovered in the background, feeling awkward, uncomfortable and, frankly, just plain old slimy. He had to keep reminding himself that Donna was right, Jeanne had brought this upon herself. If she hadn’t blackmailed Matt into marriage, he never would have been forced to resort to….
“Where did you get these, Matt?” Jeanne finally spoke through her shock.
“I hired a Private Investigator.” It was all true except for the pronouns.
“I guess it is a matter of public record,” she agreed, chewing her lower lip.
“I understand that it isn’t your fault,” Matt felt compelled to note, wanting to make it clear that he didn’t hold Jeanne responsible for something she couldn’t control.
“No. And it’s not my mother’s fault, either. I just wish… I wish she’d told me herself.”
“You didn’t know?” Matt asked, feeling sick to his stomach, just praying for this to end.
“I did. I did know. But, my mother isn’t the one who told me. I found out when I was in high-school. My brother, he had this idea of doing a big thing, a whole celebration, for our parents’ anniversary. He’d be in charge of the guest list and the entertainment, all stuff he’s good at. He’s real social, life of the party – like his biological dad, I’ve heard my mom say. He figured while he handled the fun stuff, I could do a memory book for them, a sort of commemorative thing. That’s what I’m good at. Research.” She smiled vaguely. “I went researching their lives in Bay City, and look what I found!”
“Oh… That – that must have been rough.”
“It made a lot of sense, though.”
“Why I was the way that I was. Remember when I told you before how everyone in my family is just so nice? My mom’s nice, my dad’s nice, my brother… I never really fit in with them. Now I knew why.”
“You think that…”
“This Jerry Grove guy was crazy. I researched him, too. I talked to my aunt Blaine. They used to be married. Blaine said he came off as this perfectly upstanding cop at first. He and my dad were friends. Although Blaine only married Jerry as part of some stupid mob sting involving Jerry’s mom – my grandmother, I guess. Blaine didn’t even love him, not really. Maybe that’s what pushed him over the edge, made him decide no more Mr. Nice Guy…”
“I think he was just mentally ill,” Matt indicated the court documents, not sure if that somehow made things better.
“It doesn’t matter, I guess.” She turned to Matt. “I know why you did this.”
“Well… yeah,” he stammered, figuring it was obvious. Tit for tat and an eye for eye and all that.
“If this got out after we were married, it could be very embarrassing for you and your family.”
“What?” If it were possible to blink your ears, Matt would have done it. “You think that’s what this is?”
“When I talked to your mother the last time about our wedding, I promised her I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you or your family, and now I’ve gone and – “
“You didn’t do anything,” Matt insisted. “This is something that was done to you. To Clarice.”
“I told you how she let men use and abuse her, her whole life. This was just another in a long string of… “
“At least she had your dad. Larry. You both had him.”
“Yeah. Larry. He’s great. Raised two kids who weren’t his and never said a word about it. Loved my mom, loved my brother, loved me. And all life gave him for being such an all-around, stand-up guy is a kick in the teeth. I swore I’d never let that happen to me. I thought I’d done a good job of protecting myself, too. But, you’re right, this… this Jerry Grove mess shouldn’t be your problem. I told you before I never wanted to have kids. I said it was because of my career. That’s part of it, sure. But, it was mostly because of him. Who knows what I’ve got lurking around in my DNA, huh? I certainly have no interest in finding out.”
“Have you ever told anyone this before?”
“Nope,” she shook her head. “I was planning to take this secret to my grave. Didn’t want people knowing who I really was. What I might be capable of. But, I guess that’s not going to be possible. Not anymore.”
“There’s a man in a car parked across the street,” Jamie remarked to Lorna as soon as he walked through their front door.
“Spencer’s. He came up and introduced himself to me. Explained that Mr. Harrison’s final instructions had been for him to continue watching over Kirkland. He also told me he wasn’t the one who let Kirk get snatched in the first place.”
“And you believe him? Couldn’t he be someone from the compound just pretending to – “
“Wow. You really got with the paranoid program fast.” Lorna closed the door, hugging Jamie tightly in a way she hadn’t been able to do before, not with an audience present.
He returned her embrace, all the while murmuring into Lorna’s neck, “Kind of comes naturally after you’ve just ransomed your kid back from a cabal of armed thugs.”
“I believe him,” Lorna reassured. “Not that I plan on asking him to baby-sit Devon in the near future.”
“Isn’t it a bit obvious for him to be parked right outside like that?”
“I have no trouble with advertising we’ve got hired muscle on our side. Besides, for every one you see, there are a lot more hidden.”
Jamie nodded in tired acquiescence, temporarily giving up that battle, and made a move towards the stairs, only to have Lorna pull him firmly towards the couch, pressing a hand against his shoulder and pushing Jamie down to take a seat. “Don’t bother Kirkland. He only went back to sleep a few minutes ago.”
“He woke up? Damn, I was hoping to be here before that happened. How did he seem to you?”
“He’s terrified, completely freaked out,” she told Jamie bluntly. “I realized it because I was feeding Devon when he came in to talk to me. He’s a seventeen year old boy, and he didn’t so much as try to sneak a peek at my bare breasts. That’s not a good sign.”
Jamie gathered she was trying to make him laugh, to take some of the edge off, and he was grateful for the effort. Even if it went wasted. “It’s okay, you don’t have to – “
“Yes, I do. You’ve been through Hell.”
“Alice is the one in Hell. The waiting, the wondering, trying to imagine what they might be doing to him…” Jamie blew out a slow breath before turning to smile weakly at his wife. “How about you? How are you holding up? I didn’t mean to leave you to deal with Kirkland alone.”
“I’m alright. Actually, now that you’re home, I’m perfect.” She curled up alongside him, resting her head against Jamie’s chest, reveling in being able to hear the sound of his heart beating through his shirt, confirming that he was alive and healthy and whole. Though still as tense as he’d been when he first returned with Kirkland hours before.
“You’re worried about Alice,” Lorna guessed, pulling back to look at him.
Jamie nodded. “Among other things. Damn it, Lorna, it never should’ve been like this, it never should have gotten this far. Our children shouldn’t have to live in fear.”
“They won’t. It’s over. Spencer made sure of that.”
“Spencer was just one of the people in the cross-hairs. What if it turns out he wasn’t enough? What if they decide to come after Donna? Or Lucas? What if they try to get to them through you and Devon? Or Steven? Or Kirkland again?”
“We’ll be more careful. Hire better security. Carl – “
“Carl can’t be trusted,” Jamie spat. “Forget about Carl. If he was willing to put Kirkland at risk – “
“Wait a minute,” Lorna cut Jamie off. “What are you talking about? Carl didn’t…”
“There’s a lot more that’s been going on than either of us realized,” Jamie cautiously prefaced before going on to tell Lorna everything Alice had filled him in on earlier.
“That does sound like Carl,” Lorna offered cautiously. “The old Carl, anyway. And he had to know that framing Spencer meant putting his entire family in danger.”
“My mother knew it, too,” Jamie groaned. “And she went along with it. All of it. She even went to Alice and… “ He trailed off. “She’s my mother. I want so much to believe she isn’t capable of that level of callousness, of cruelty. But, you know what you said before? About the old Carl? There’s an old Rachel, too….”
“Maybe Alice misunderstood,” Lorna clung to hope, knowing that losing faith in his mother would absolutely destroy Jamie. “Her and Rachel’s history is complicated, to say the least.”
“You’re telling me?”
“Things could have easily gotten out of hand, both of them saying things they didn’t really intend to. I know how much Alice means to you. But, you can’t just take her word, not over something as critical as this. You have to get your mother’s side of the story.”
Jamie shook his head. “I do that, and I’m liable to learn things I just don’t want to know. Things I won’t be able to ignore… I love my mother, but there’s a difference between supporting your husband and giving approval for him to set up another man’s death.”
“Spencer wasn’t innocent,” Lorna reminded. “Something like this was going to happen whether Carl interfered or not. Spencer was going to have to face the music sooner or later, and Kirkland might have still been a target.”
Jamie challenged, “What if it weren’t Spencer that Carl ultimately decided to sacrifice? What if he’d picked Lucas instead?”
Lorna’s face flushed. “My father – “
“Was just as deeply involved in this,” Jamie said as gently as he could. “I know that’s not what you want to hear – “
“My father made some mistakes. We’ve all made some mistakes. But, at least he did it out of love for Jenna and – “
“There isn’t a person in this story, Lorna, who doesn’t believe they did the wrong thing for the right reason. We are all going to have to answer for our actions. But that still doesn’t make it okay for Carl to decide who lives or who dies just because he can. And it’s definitely not right for my mother to cheer him on while he plays God with other people’s lives.”
“You don’t know that’s what Rachel did,” Lorna insisted stubbornly. “But, if you refuse to talk to her about it, what are you going to do?”
“Make sure that no more harm comes to our family,” Jamie watched Lorna carefully. “Focus on Kirkland. Help him recover from this. Everything else will just have to wait.”
“Or go to Hell?” her voice trembled.
“Lorna,” Jamie pleaded, “I didn’t mean to upset you. What I said about Lucas….”
“You weren’t wrong,” Lorna cleared her throat, remembering what she’d told Kirkland about, once upon a time, refusing to let anyone think they were capable of making her cry. Wishing she hadn’t so recently lost that particular skill. “I hate what you said. Well, more like I hated hearing it. But, you weren’t wrong.”
“So I don’t have to sleep on the couch for the rest of my life?” Now it was his turn to try and make her smile.
“I could have lost you today.” Lorna’s hands slipped around Jamie’s shoulders, her mouth near his ear as she whispered, “You are never, ever sleeping anywhere but in our bed, in my arms. And you will always, always know that no matter what you say or how mad I might get, I will love you forever. I will never let you get away from me…”
“Was that Lucas?” Rachel wondered after seeing her daughter-in-law’s father stomp out of the house, blowing by Rachel without so much as a greeting or acknowledgement. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?” She turned to her husband, “What’s got him so upset, Carl?”
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|