“Zeno Tantalus,” Felicia repeated the unusual name, rolling it languidly around on her tongue. “You think this Zeno Tantalus is the key to Frankie’s missing years?”
“She was looking for him,” Cass said grimly. “And she didn’t want me to know.”
“There could be other reasons for that. You might very well be jumping to conclusions.”
Cass raised a wry eyebrow.
“But, probably not,” Felicia conceded, dropping the pretense that he was blowing matters out of proportion and getting down to business, ready to help, support, cheer up, whatever might prove most necessary. “Have you had any luck tracking him down yourself?”
“I’ve found three references. Zeno of Eleo was a contemporary of Aristotle. Seems he developed a set of math problems called Zeno’s Paradox.”
“Probably not the fellow you’re looking for.”
“Tantalus was either the son of Zeus and a random nymph, or just a mortal king, probably from the House of Lydia.”
“Again, I feel we might be headed in the wrong direction.”
“And then there’s a Zeno Tantalus,” Cass disclosed. “Who is, believe it or not, a farmer in Oakdale.”
“A farmer,” Felicia repeated slowly. “In Oakdale.”
“Frankie grew up on a farm,” Cass stated the obvious. “And Oakdale is where she was living when…”
“Wait. It gets better. This guy isn’t just your average farmer. Apparently not only is his place organic and pesticide-free and harvested strictly according to the natural cycles of the moon, but it’s a co-op, mind you, where migrant workers – documented and illegal – get a share of the crops they pick. They also offer a jobs program, a shelter for women escaping domestic abuse, a communal kitchen, an abandoned animal sanctuary….”
“Wow,” was all Felicia had to say.
“Sounds like it’s Heaven on Earth. It’s certainly everything Frankie believes in.”
“Well,” Felicia tried putting a bright spin on things. “It’s not as if you’re against any of those things….”
“And yet I’m hardly out there every day, rain or shine, putting my money – and my manure – where my supposed beliefs are. Limousine liberal, that’s me. All lip-service, no follow through. Well, no limousine either these days. But, that’s neither here nor there. Why wouldn’t Frankie prefer – “
“Okay, first of all,” Felicia corrected. “There is one key reason why this Zeno Tantalus place could never have been Heaven on Earth for Frankie.”
“The overabundance of aforementioned manure?”
“The lack of you.” Felicia playfully tapped Cass’ face in a gesture of mock –Snap out of it! “If Frankie had wanted to stay there, she would have. She didn’t. She came home. To you and to Charlie. Nobody forced her. She made that decision of her own free will.”
“Not exactly,” Cass reminded. “She returned to Charlie of her own free will. Me… If I’d never seen her, if I hadn’t forced her to admit everything… She still might be hiding from me to this day.”
“That’s irrelevant. Frankie is here. That means she wants to be. Nobody, and I mean nobody, forces Mary Frances Frame to do anything she doesn’t want to.”
“Except her conscience,” Cass said. “Frankie told me that when she got her memory back, she didn’t think it was fair for her to stay with the person she was with – with Zeno – while her heart was torn in two. She didn’t leave him because she didn’t love him. She left him because she didn’t want to hurt him. There’s a difference.”
“You don’t know that. You’re just guessing.”
His response hung in the air, neither one of them stating the obvious, which was that if Cass really and truly wanted to know the whole story, he had no choice but to go straight to the source.
Cass asked Felicia, “Would you… If it were Lucas, would you…?”
“Considering how I responded after our first reunion, when I found out he and Sharlene had… known each other… during the years he wasn’t with me? I’ve since learned that too much data can most definitely be a dangerous thing where I’m concerned.”
“So you’d just drop it? Leave the matter alone?”
“I’d try my best to simply move forward with our lives, no looking back.”
“That doesn’t sound like a yes.”
“Alas, my strength of character isn’t where I’d like it to be.”
“So what chance do I have then? Impulse control has certainly never been my strong-point.”
“Think about the consequences, Cass. Please. Think about what opening this particular can of worms – “
“Organic worms. Or maybe they’re part of the animal sanctuary, who knows.”
“And you might want to think about your attitude, too. Blatant hostility isn’t attractive on anyone, even you.” Felicia sighed, “Think about what pursuing this could mean. To you and to Frankie and to your girls. Once you know something, you can never not know it again. Are you prepared to live the rest of your life based on what you might find out?”
“Why was Lucas so upset, Carl?” Rachel pressed. “What did he want?”
Her husband shrugged, unconcerned, “To threaten me, call me vile names, hurl about unfounded and, in any case, quite ancient accusations. It isn’t as if our newfound kinship has encouraged my old friend to change his incessant, tedious tune in any significant way.”
“What about, this time?” Rachel was in no mood to be dismissed. Or patronized.
Carl hesitated. Then he admitted reluctantly, “Spencer Harrison. I swear, who could have predicted that a brief, though admittedly evocative, dalliance several decades past would curse me with that man’s wearisome intrusion into the remainder of my life – “
“Lucas wasn’t here to talk about Justine,” Rachel cut off the romantic conjecture and attempted to steer him back to the topic at hand. “What about Spencer?”
“He…” Carl tried to put as bright of a face as possible on the news, in tone if nothing else. “As of this morning, he has been detained by whomever is left of the compound’s administrative body.”
Rachel inhaled sharply. “They got him?”
“They got him,” Carl confirmed.
“How? His guards…”
“Are apparently a sorry collection of inept, bungling nincompoops – no surprise there; employees are inevitably a reflection of their management – who naturally proved incapable of protecting so much as a child – “
“Child?” Rachel’s blood ran cold. “What child? Whose child?”
This time, there was no bright face to be assumed. “Kirkland,” Carl broke it to her gently.
Not gently enough. Rachel gasped and nearly doubled over. “Kirkland? Those people – your people – they have my grandson?”
“No, no,” Carl reassured quickly. “And, in any case, they’re hardly my people. I – “
“Where is Kirkland right now?”
“Home, I presume,” Carl guessed. “Spencer, he traded his life for the boy’s. They let Kirkland go after Spencer turned himself over.”
“Oh, God,” Rachel reached instinctively for the phone, only to snatch back her hand, unsure of what her next step should be, unsure of what would be appropriate “Poor Jamie, what he must have been going through.”
“Everything is fine now. Kirkland is in no danger. Jamie’s mind has been put at ease.”
“If these people could get to Kirkland, what’s to stop them from coming after Elizabeth and Cory?”
“Well, to begin with, my security personnel know what it means to guard a body, not merely stand by and watch it being dragged away.”
Rachel wincing at the image suggested to Carl that his choice of words may have been less than wise.
“In any case,” he continued. “Spencer’s detention is good news for us. The person responsible for exposing the compound has finally been punished.”
“We know that’s not true,” Rachel’s eyes bore into Carl.
“Perhaps. However, they do not,” Carl’s response was equally pointed. “I set out to protect my family, and protect my family I did. The compound has been neutralized, my past records with them destroyed. Donna is no longer capable of threatening me, and the compound has no reason to. They have their man. Which means that you, Elizabeth and Cory are safe. That is all that matters. Everything else is mere details.”
“I’m sure it didn’t feel that way to Jamie. Or Kirkland.”
“It’s done,” Carl stressed and then, just in case she’d forgotten, reminded, “Precisely the way we agreed on…”
The doorbell ringing proved a nauseating counterpoint to his hangover as Grant stumbled out of his study, accepting, even welcoming his excruciating physical state as no less than what he deserved.
The sight of Sarah standing on his porch threw Grant for a loop. To be honest, he’d utterly and completely forgotten about her the moment he first heard about Kirkland’s kidnapping, and the realization managed to add a layer of new and unrelated guilt on top of everything else he’d already spent the day kicking himself over.
“Hi,” she said hesitantly, hands tucked in the pockets of her shorts, eyes moving from Grant’s face, down to the sidewalk and back again in nervous vacillation.
“Sarah.” Just saying her name seemed to both clear the fog in his head, and muddle it more at the same time. “Hi.” He couldn’t stop himself from smiling, despite the bolts of pain his heartfelt reaction sent all up and down Grant’s sore face and skull.
“Am I… Am I bothering you?”
He tried to shake his head, but only managed a grimace. “No. I… I’m sorry. I didn’t call you. I know I should have called you. This morning. I…”
“It’s okay,” she shrugged.
“It’s not,” he insisted, leading her inside. “I didn’t want you to think that… This isn’t how I usually… You and I, Sarah, we weren’t just some…”
“Casual hook-up?” she helped him find the words to complete his thought, her voice neutral and unoffended. At least along the surface.
“We definitely weren’t that.”
“Okay,” she repeated obligingly.
“Sarah, I…” Grant blurted out, “My father’s dead.”
“Oh!” Her eyes widened, the carefully composed mask of indifference falling away, as she stammered, “I… I didn’t know.”
“No, of course not.”
“I mean, I thought I’d have… My grandfather would have told me. You know, because of Alice.”
“It’s not exactly public knowledge yet,” Grant explained, the convoluted remainder of the story tumbling out of him like a toxic purge, sentences starting and stopping abruptly as Grant repeated some sections over and over again while skipping others only to return a moment later to clarify. He was shaking by the time he got it all out, sitting on the couch, head in his hands, Sarah silent beside him, her fingers tentatively caressing his shoulder and the back of Grant’s neck.
“Is Kirkland alright?”
Grant nodded. “He’s home. With his father.”
“I hope he realizes how lucky he is to have you.”
Grant’s croak of laughter came out sounding more like a sob as he observed, “I doubt that’s precisely what’s going through my son’s mind at the moment.”
“He’ll figure it out eventually. You sucked up whatever you had to for his sake. That’s a pretty great dad in my book.”
“My alleged sacrifices pale a bit in comparison with my own father’s, don’t you think?”
“You’d have done the same thing in Spencer’s shoes.”
“I’d like to think so, but…. There are so many things I could have done for Kirkland over the past seventeen years, choices I could have made differently, times when I could have swallowed my pride and done what was right instead of what merely felt right. In light of my track record, I suspect your confidence may well be misplaced.”
“Your dad made mistakes too, didn’t he? With you, with your brother. But when it came down to it, he came through.”
“That he did.”
“Tell me more about your dad,” Sarah said, settling deeper into the couch, tucking her legs underneath her, making it clear she intended to stay awhile. “Tell me everything you remember, the good and the bad. It might help you feel better.”
Grant turned to face her. “You don’t really want to hear about my issues with my father. We could be here all night. All week.”
“I do,” she insisted. “If Spencer Harrison made you the man you are today, I want to know everything about him. About all of you.”
“Give it up,” Cory advised his sister, not unkindly, as they stood on the roof of the mansion, Elizabeth stubbornly fiddling with Carl’s telescope. “You are never going to see whatever it is Father wants you to see. And even if you do, so what? You’re not actually interested in meteor showers or constellations or whatever else we were supposed to perceive as encouragement to rise above our tragically normal intellectual capacities.”
“Stop making fun and come help me,” she insisted. “I probably could too see something, if only you’d show me how to focus this thing.”
“Why do you assume I comprehend how to operate this?”
“Because isn’t that what you do all day? Scurry around, lurking and eavesdropping and knowing everything that goes on here?”
“I don’t eavesdrop. I merely listen. It’s kind of a lost art.”
“Where am I even supposed to point…” Elizabeth slapped the front of the telescope in fury just as Cory snatched it out of her hands and pivoted the tube so that it no longer faced the heavens but rather the ground. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
Cory pressed his eye against the finder-scope and swiveled the focuser, peering intently.
“What are you looking at?”
He moved aside so that Elizabeth could take a peek, too.
“The Harrison house?”
“Uh-ha. I saw a car pull up and the driver yank something out of the trunk and dump it on the porch before peeling out of there. I wanted a closer view. What does that look like to you?”
Elizabeth didn’t hesitate. “A body.”
“Now some people find Jar-Jar annoying,” Kirkland patiently explained to Devon, his sister propped up in her baby-seat next to him on the living room couch. “But he’s loyal and he means well.”
“Are you seriously trying to make our innocent infant a Jar-Jar supporter?” Jamie groaned from the kitchen doorway, inwardly kicking himself when Kirkland jumped in reflexive alert before forcibly checking himself and relaxing. Or trying to appear to relax.
“Is it okay that I brought Devon with me? I heard she was awake in her room, and I hate doing Star Wars commentary alone.”
“She is an excellent listener.” Jamie plopped down next to Kirkland, wrapping a protective arm around his son, the boy gratefully letting him. “Though, seriously, Jar-Jar? How could you do this to me? To your sister? Consigning Devon to a lifetime of being known as a Jar-Jar Binks fan is just cruel.”
“No… Being dressed up as an Ewok for Halloween when you’re six by your father, that’s cruel.”
“You were a Wookie. A mini-Wookie to Steven’s Han Solo.”
“The label said Ewok.”
“You couldn’t even read then. Besides, the two of you looked awesome.”
“I sweated in that thing the entire night and was coughing up fur-balls for a week”
“That’s because you were eating melted chocolate off your furry paws.”
“I wouldn’t have had furry paws if you’d just let me dress up like what I really wanted.”
“While I’m as big of a He-Man fan as any self-respecting geek, furry underwear and a sword scabbard do not an appropriate Halloween costume make. Especially in the Midwest.”
“It wasn’t that cold.”
“Let me put it another way: Would you rather I had a picture to regale your future wife with of you as a pouting, chocolate-coated Wookie or a preening He-Man with his sword stuck through his underwear?”
“I see your point,” Kirkland muttered after a minute, Jamie chuckling at the scowl of concession on his face before sobering at the more serious expression that promptly overtook it. “Thanks, Dad.”
“For thinking about your potential bachelor party humiliation? You’re welcome.”
“For making me forget, just for a little while, about… everything.”
“You don’t have to rush, son. No one is telling you how to feel or when to feel it. I want you to take all the time you need. I’ll be here with you, every step of the way.”
“I won’t ever forget, Dad. I mean… Spencer… do you know – do we know… what… happened… to him?”
“No. The only thing I do know is that he loved you. And how happy he was to be able to help you. How relieved he was to see you safe. You’re right, you won’t ever forget about what happened in the past twenty-four hours. But, it won’t always be like this. You won’t always feel like this. I promise.”
Jamie could see the doubt in Kirkland’s eyes, the fear and wear and strain of everything churning inside him, Kirkland wanting to say something, struggling to put it all into words, but failing and sagging into the sofa in defeat.
“Jamie,” Lorna called his name softly from the other room. Her voice was neutral, but he could sense something lurking just below the surface.
“Be right back, guys,” Jamie nonchalantly promised Kirkland and Devon, stepping aside, crossing the room and closing the door to his study behind them.
Lorna handed him the phone. “It’s Alice. She…”
Jamie grabbed the receiver.
“Jamie?” Unlike Lorna, Alice was way past being able to so much as fake composure. “They brought him back here. A few minutes ago, right as it started to get dark. They dumped him on my doorstep like so much garbage. He’s been beaten… Viciously…. I just started examining…. He’s more dead than alive. Please, Jamie, I need your help. I need you to come right away. Please…”
“Father! Father!” Cory and Elizabeth nearly tripped over themselves bursting in on Carl and Rachel in the dining room, ignoring admonitions of their being late for supper to breathlessly report, “Somebody just dumped a body in front of Mr. Harrison’s house. What should we do?”
POLL: What should Carl tell Cory and Elizabeth about what they’ve seen? Write us your thoughts on the Soap Opera 451 Message Board: http://www.soapopera451.com/talk/mboard.php or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Another-World/307355595460?ref=search&sid=13800416.3728872026..1
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