“You two cannot be serious,” Amanda barged in on Carl and Rachel the next morning, both of them tiredly sipping coffee after having been up all night. “You are actually pressing charges against Kevin?”
“Keep your voice down,” Carl leapt from his chair, hissing furiously. “Elizabeth is still resting. After what your husband put her through – “
“After what he put her though!” Amanda shook her head from side to side, disgusted. “Kevin was being cross-examined until dawn, and now he’s locked up, waiting for a bail hearing!”
“Which anyone concerned about the welfare of their children had damn well hope he fails to receive.”
“Mom,” Amanda ignored her stepfather. “Carl’s never been able to see reason where Elizabeth is concerned, but you… You can’t possibly think she’s telling the truth!”
“Why would she lie?” Rachel asked tiredly.
“To get back at me, why else? She’s only been threatening to do it for weeks!”
“How in the world,” Carl exacted. “Did my daughter’s degrading violation become all about you?”
“Are you kidding me? Mike Bauer flew in to handle the case this morning. The D.A. had to turn over their evidence. I know Elizabeth’s physical exam didn’t turn up a shred of proof. Neither did Kevin’s, and believe me, they pretty much took every sample they could from him.”
“The water… in the pool…”
“You think Elizabeth didn’t know that? You think she didn’t do it deliberately? She’s malicious, she’s not stupid.”
“Amanda,” Rachel said. “I sat in on Elizabeth giving her testimony. She – she was very graphic about what happened, what Kevin did, what he said…”
“So she’s got a great imagination. An overdose of Shakespeare in the formative years will do that to a girl.”
“The counselor assigned to our case, she said it’s very rare for a child to be that specific if they are making things up.”
“So Elizabeth is a prodigy! You were so worried last year, when those tests showed she and Cory were merely average. Happy now?”
“Happy?” Carl grabbed Amanda by the arm, making it clear he would have preferred it be her throat. “Your husband molests my child, and you’re inquiring if I am happy?”
“My husband,” Amanda wrenched her hand out of Carl’s grip, noting that Rachel made no move to stop him. “Didn’t do anything except make it easy for Elizabeth to get back at me, like she promised. She was here when she heard that Kevin and I were planning to adopt a little boy. This will certainly put an end to that.”
“I hope the young man in question is grateful for the close call he dodged.”
“You won’t get away with this,” Amanda promised. “We’ll prove Elizabeth is a liar. And then, Mom, you can tell me again how having Carl around isn’t damaging to kids, or to anybody, for that matter.”
“Judge Landragen?” Jeanne knocked timidly on the door, poking her head in. “They told me I could find you here.”
“Yes?” Ellen Landragen looked up, confused. “May I help you?”
“You were the judge assigned to Dean Frame’s case against Donna Love, weren’t you?”
“I was. But, Mr. Frame dropped the suit.”
“He was forced to,” Jeanne said.
Judge Landregan’s eyes narrowed. “You’re saying he was coerced?”
“Yes. That’s it, exactly. He was coerced.”
Another furrowed brow but, this time, she sat down, indicating for Jeanne to come closer. “And how do you know this?”
“I – Judge Landregan, do you read BCZ.com?”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant – “
“The pictures, a few days ago, of Dean Frame and Matt Cory’s wife…”
“I may have heard something about that.”
“I’m Matt Cory’s wife.”
“No. You don’t. Donna Love, she blackmailed Dean with those pictures. She threatened to publish them unless he dropped his suit.”
“But, they were published anyway. And after Mr. Frame allegedly capitulated.”
“Donna told him to go to the Better Business Bureau, if he liked.”
“Interesting… Will Mr. Frame testify to that effect?”
“No. He just wants all this to go away.”
“Then I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re hoping to achieve here.”
“Isn’t it a crime to intimidate and threaten witnesses against you?”
“It is. But, your word isn’t enough for me to reopen – “
“Those pictures weren’t the only thing Donna did,” Jeanne rushed before she lost Judge Landregan’s attention. “She – Donna forced me to sleep with Dean, specifically so she could take those pictures to blackmail him with.”
“She forced you?”
Jeanne admitted, “A year and a half ago, I discovered that Donna had hidden evidence that proved her daughter, Marley, was the one who ran down Lorna Devon. I used what I knew to get Donna to give me a promotion at KBAY-TV.”
“So you, in fact, blackmailed Ms. Love.”
“Do you realize, Mrs. Cory, that you are also confessing to a crime you may be persecuted for?”
“Yes. But, it doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want to me. Just reopen Dean’s case. Let him get the justice he, and his wife and daughter deserve.”
“Any new news?” Lorna, rather distractedly, scooped rice cereal into Devon’s mouth as Jamie got off the phone with Alice. “Well, Mike’s here in town. He got Kevin a bail hearing. Alice and Amanda are going to that in a couple of hours. Jen, too.”
“And your mom? How’s she?”
“She sounded shell-shocked on the phone. Like she’d been blindsided.”
“Do you want to go over there? See if you can help?”
“I don’t think I’d be of much use right now. It’s kind of hard for me to take anything Elizabeth says seriously, in light of what we know about her stunt with the sexual harassment papers.”
“Don’t, Jamie,” Lorna snapped, much harsher than she’d been speaking a minute ago. “Don’t just… dismiss her like that.”
“I’m sorry, but my sister is a proven liar, while Kevin – “
“We don’t know anything about Kevin. I understand you feel grateful for his help with my case against Morgan, and your concern for Amanda and Alice, too. But, Alice barely knows anything about him, either. Kevin left home when he was sixteen, and she never heard a word from him again until two years ago. Alice may love her grandson, but know him? Of all the people you named before, the person who probably knows him best is Jen. And you don’t think there’s anything peculiar about a single man, just out of law school, adopting an eight year old girl?”
“You think he… Jen?”
“It would certainly fit the profile.”
“No,” Jamie shook his head. “No. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent a lot of time lately with Jen, dealing with her case, and she doesn’t show any signs of…”
“She wouldn’t. Not to a doctor. Not to any professional that might figure out what was really going on. She’s probably got years of practice at keeping her secret.”
“So you believe Elizabeth?” Jamie had a tough time accepting it.
“I – I don’t know whom to believe. The only thing I do know, is what it’s like to be the girl who’s pissed so many people off being a first-class bitch, that when something bad does happen to her, everyone has a pretty good reason to ignore it.”
Jamie wanted to kick himself, suddenly understanding everything. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t make the connection. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. You’re the one person who’s built up enough goodwill in the Bank of Lorna, that you’re allowed.”
“You think this is the same thing? You think I’m discounting Elizabeth’s word because of what she’s done in the past?” Jamie sighed. “Mom did say that, according to the rape counselor, Elizabeth’s description of what happened was unusually precise, if she truly is making it up.”
“Maybe she’s not,” Lorna speculated. “Maybe she’s telling the truth. But, maybe Kevin isn’t the person she’s telling it about?”
“So what’s this Earth-shattering evidence you’ve supposedly uncovered?” Lila pulled on a robe and stood peering over Chase’s shoulder. He’d downloaded a chunk of material from Carl’s computer onto his flash-drive, and spent the night combing through it on his own lap-top in Lila’s bedroom. She’d fallen asleep to the sound of him tapping on keys, and woke up hearing the same thing. Chase was still wearing his tuxedo from the night before, clearly enthralled. Which, to tell the truth, made Lila very, very nervous.
He leaned back in his chair, exhausted, but also visibly ecstatic. He asked Lila, “Remember when Carl was released from jail early?”
“Remember what one of the main conditions to his provisional release was?”
“I do not.”
Chase was happy to enlighten. “In exchange for Carl walking around a free and rehabilitated man, he was ordered by the court to divest himself of all the companies and holdings he’d acquired over the years due to illegal, fraudulent, or coercive means.”
“And did he?”
“That smile of yours isn’t exactly screaming everything’s on the up and up.”
“Take a look for yourself.” Chase spun the computer screen Lila’s way.
She did, telling him, “I see columns of numbers and initials. Fascinating.”
“It is if you know how to read it.”
“So what does it say?”
“It says that Carl Hutchins has been defrauding the US government for going on fifteen years now.”
“How do you figure?”
“He didn’t divest. Not a single holding. Instead, Carl tidily wrapped them up in a web of enough dummy corporations, fake names, shadow owners, and counterfeit fronts to impress Potemkin himself.”
“Russian history. Catherine the Great’s favorite Minister. Potemkin villages. Never mind. Just trust me when I say we’ve got him, and we’ve got him good.”
“You’ll forgive me if trust isn’t the first feelings that springs to mind where you’re concerned these days.”
“You’re right. I am sorry about that.”
“And I told you to cut it out. You said you’d prove to me, once and for all, that Carl is a threat to Jasmine and everyone else in this family. How’s your pretty little column of figures supposed to do that?”
“Carl didn’t do what he was supposed to do. He’s in violation of the conditions of his release agreement. He belongs back in jail.”
“That’s your goal, not mine. I don’t see how Carl’s Whatchamacallit villages – companies are dangerous to anyone. Seems to me more like you’ve just got an axe to grind for not managing to keep the man in jail once you had him in your clutches.”
“Carl was released from prison contingent on his following a series of provisions. He didn’t do that.”
“You’re acting petty. Man’s been a model citizen for over a decade.”
“No. He hasn’t. You aren’t listening to me. Carl has been breaking the law every day since his pardon.”
“He hasn’t hurt anyone.”
“Really?” Chase challenged. “You think the people he blackmailed and extorted and threatened into signing over their companies to him weren’t hurt?”
“It’s just money,” Lila protested, a bit more feebly this time. “We’re not talking about human lives.”
“Carl Hutchins’ entire vendetta against Mac Cory rested on Carl’s belief that his father committed suicide due to being swindled by the Cory family. I’d say Carl certainly took his business slights very personally.”
“That was the old Carl.”
“And these are companies that the old Carl gained through illegal means. Ones that the new Carl kept through illegal means, while claiming to be reformed.”
“He – he’s Rachel’s husband.” Lila realizes she was pleading. “He has kids. Young kids.”
“Maybe he should have thought of them before breaking the law.”
Lila clung to the last objection she had. “You promised you’d prove to me that Carl was dangerous. You haven’t done any such thing, far as I can see.”
Chase sighed, “Each of these numbers, Lila, each of these letters, they are people who have been wronged by Carl Hutchins in some way. They are also evidence that Carl is still as deeply involved in the criminal underworld as he ever was. You don’t set up the kind of clandestine labyrinth he has, without rubbing shoulders alongside some pretty corrupt people. The compound came to seek their revenge because Carl had the bad judgment to cross them and think he could get away with it – which he did, so I guess his judgment proved sound, after all. Except they ended up kidnapping Kirkland and killing Spencer, while Carl got away scott-free. Can you honestly say, in light of what we’ve learned, that you are absolutely certain it won’t happen again? And that, this time, it won’t be Jasmine turning up as Carl’s collateral damage?”
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Amanda asked Jen as the two of them, along with Alice, waited in criminal court for Kevin to be brought out in front of a judge for his arraignment.
“I’m fine,” Jen insisted, determined if shaky. “Mr. Bauer thinks having me here to testify that Daddy never – that he never – Jesus, I can’t even say it, it’s so ridiculous. My father spent his entire career protecting kids’ rights, the idea that someone could accuse him of…”
“My little sister is a serious piece of work.”
“How have you been feeling in general?” Alice asked, hoping to keep the girl calm.
“Alright,” Jen lied. “I mean, I’m a lot more tired than usual, and I don’t have much of an appetite. But, it’s okay. I’ve been managing to keep going, more or less…”
Jen trailed off at the site of Kevin, in hand-cuffs, of all things, being lead into the court-room, accompanied by Mike. Despite how pale and worn out he looked, Kevin caught Jen’s eye and winked reassuringly. He smiled at Amanda and Alice too, before turning to face the judge.
On cue, Mike rattled through all the reasons why his client deserved bail – no evidence, no record, no flight risk; in fact, the charges should preferably be dismissed on the spot.
The judge wouldn’t quite go that far. He pointed out that the investigation of Elizabeth Hutchins’ claims was still on-going, no conclusion had been reached, and considering Mr. Fowler’s perennial proximity to minors, the court was taking it all very seriously.
“Your Honor,” Mike interjected. “Mr. Fowler’s daughter, who, in fact, was originally one of his clients, would like to say a few words on her father’s behalf. Jennifer, would you come up here, please?”
She did, somewhat unsteadily, needing to hold on to the edge of the defendant’s desk to keep her balance. A fact Alice noticed, even if no one else did.
“You have something to say to the court, Ms. Fowler?” the judge inquired.
“Yes, Your Honor. This – these charges, they’re crazy, you have no idea. My father has never done anything inappropriate, no matter how broadly you define the term. I was the one who contacted him when I was a kid. He didn’t come looking for me. I read his name in the paper and I went to his office, asking if he’d help me sever my biological father’s parental rights. And later, it was my grandmother who asked him to adopt me, none of it was his idea, and there certainly wasn’t anything improper about it.”
“What about your friends, Ms. Fowler? Did your father ever – “
“You’re certain?” The judge persisted, albeit sympathetically. “It’s not unheard of for predators to use one child in order to lure in others.”
“That never happened.”
“How can you be sure?”
“He – I’m – My dad has been a Family Court lawyer for almost twenty years, he does tons of pro bono work for the foster care system. Don’t you think if there was anything disreputable to come out, anything at all, it would’ve done so by now?”
“There’s a first time for everything. If we followed your logic, no one would ever be caught, because every incident would be the first one on record.”
“I’m not – I’m not making myself clear.” Jen pressed her fingertips against her forehead, pained and frustrated. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been… It’s been hard for me…”
“Jen…” Alice rose out of her seat in the viewing gallery and leaned forward, grabbing at Jen’s sleeve, sensing what was about to happen before it actually did.
She proved too late. Even as Alice reached out, Jen wavered and collapsed, barely missing hitting her head against the hardwood table.
“Jenny!” Kevin lunged towards her, instantly blocked by the bailiff. Kevin furiously attempted to wrench out of the larger man’s hold, but Mike regretfully held him back, afraid of worsening the situation.
It was Alice who ended up rounding the barrier and reaching Jen first. She felt for her pulse, then lowered her head, pressing her ear into Jen’s chest.
Alice straightened up briefly, ordering the court clerk, “Call an ambulance, right now.”
“What’s going on?” Kevin struggled to see over the bailiff’s shoulder.
“Ventricular tachycardia,” Alice’s answer was less for Kevin’s benefit and more to fill the judge in that this was a critical situation. “Potential for cardiac arrest.” Alice indicated the Automated External Defibrillator stored in the corner, and grimly ordered, “I need that AED.”
“Off the computer,” Marley began, coming down the stairs to catch Michele and Bridget with their eyes glued to the monitor, realizing that she was probably too late and should have thought to address the issue last night, when she and Grant got home. Grant, descending right behind Marley, was obviously having the same thought.
“Did you see it?” Michele demanded. “Were you there? What happened to Elizabeth?”
“I… didn’t see anything,” Grant said awkwardly. “Beyond the police arriving.”
“I only heard about what happened afterwards, too,” Marley was no more thrilled to be discussing the subject, but realized the girls were bound to have questions.
“What did happen?” Bridget asked.
“That’s up to the police to determine,” Grant wished this might end matters.
“BCZ said – “ It didn’t.
“That website is nothing but unsubstantiated gossip and flat-out lies,” Grant moved to turn off the computer, hoping everyone would remember his assessment, should it ever decide to take him on as a subject.
“They said Mr. Fowler tried to rape Elizabeth,” Michele was not one to let an adult dying to change the subject stop her.
“Like Grant explained, that’s what a police investigation is for. To figure out precisely what happened.”
“What does rape mean?” Bridget asked, wondering if Michele was about to tease her for being a dumb baby. Her sister just loved showing off how much more mature she was. Except, this time, Michele appeared equally curious. If less eager to admit her ignorance.
Marley and Grant exchanged looks, her obvious plea for assistance spurring Grant to step up. “Rape is when someone, usually a man, forces someone else, usually a woman, to do something against their will. The word can be used in a variety of contexts, and the genders are variable, but, most of the time, it implies a crime of a sexual nature.”
There. Grant gambled his reply was vague and boring and judicial enough to keep the girls from asking any follow up questions.
No such luck.
“But, Mr. Fowler is a grown man,” Michele said. “And Elizabeth is just a kid.”
“That’s what makes it even more of a crime. If that’s, in fact, what happened.”
“Elizabeth is probably lying,” Bridget said, bobbing her head. “She lies a lot.”
“No,” Marley burst out. “I mean, I don’t know what happened specifically in this case, but, truth is, sometimes it’s very difficult for women to make the authorities believe that they were, in fact, attacked. It’s very common for them not to be taken seriously when they level an accusation like that; especially if it’s someone they know. It isn’t – you shouldn’t assume a girl is lying, you have to give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“So women never lie about being raped?” Michele asked, an odd tone in her voice.
“Not never, no. But, it’s more likely to be true, then it isn’t.”
“So were you telling the truth, Aunt Marley,” Michele indicated the computer behind her, to demonstrate where she’d gotten her information. “When you said our dad raped you?”
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|