“What was so secret that you and Mom had to sequester yourselves in the car last night?” Elizabeth wondered, despite her father looking as if the last thing he wanted to do was rehash the encounter.
“You have a new niece. Her name is Mackenzie,” was the most innocuous truth Carl could pluck forth in response.
“Of course, it is,” Elizabeth scoffed. “Anything to continue venerating Mom’s only acceptable husband, the great Mac Cory. Anything to stick it to you.”
“Do you really think so?” Under normal circumstances, Carl wouldn’t have given his daughter’s words any credence whatsoever. But, these were far from normal circumstances.
“What else could it be? I mean, think about it, Father. Between Jamie, Amanda, and Matt, Mom’s got four grandkids – five if you count, Kirkland. None of them were named after Mac up till now. Not until they all got on the Kick Carl to the Curb bandwagon.”
“Likely you are reading too much into it.”
“You’re the one who taught me to consider all the possibilities, to try to think like your enemies. This seems pretty cut and dried.”
“Your brothers and sister are not your enemy.” Carl perfunctorily went through the motions of denial.
“They’re your enemies. That makes them mine, too. Anyway,” she cut of whatever protest Carl may have been gearing up to make. “Jamie and Lorna’s new baby’s name was not what Mom wanted to talk to you about last night.”
“You are correct about that, my dear.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess: Jamie’s come up with yet another hoop for you to jump through before he’ll magnanimously allow you to move back home with your family.”
Genuinely curious, Carl asked, “What prompts you to single out Jamie from the rest of your siblings?”
“Well, for one thing, it was his house Mom and Cory were at yesterday.”
“Is that all?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “He’s Mom’s favorite, everybody knows that.”
“Come now, Elizabeth, that isn’t true. You and Amanda – “
“Amanda was the one who told me. Not that I didn’t know it already, but she confirmed it. Amanda said Mom was all about her boys, first and foremost. Amanda said it’s because Mom feels guilty, the way she lied about their real fathers and jerked them around and stuff. But, that doesn’t matter. Mom loves her boys more. And Jamie best of all.”
“Now, now, you mustn’t allow Amanda’s personal, invidious jealously to poison your own observations.”
“I’m not. I heard it for myself. The day Jamie and Lorna got married, I heard Mom telling him he was the best part of her life.”
Carl’s voice wavered. “Are you certain of this?”
“Positive.” Elizabeth bobbed her head emphatically.
“I see…” Carl sat back in his chair, mind whirling a mile a minute, attempting to process this new piece of information. Elizabeth was right about one thing: It was imperative, before embarking on any endeavor, to be in possession of absolutely every relevant piece of data.
“That’s how I know that Mom kicking us out is all Jamie’s fault. Amanda may have been the one who started it, but Mom wouldn’t have cared if it was just her. They barely talk anyway. Heck, if Amanda didn’t tell Mom she was giving her the silent treatment, nobody would ever know! Even Matt pitching a fit wouldn’t have been enough to convince her. And anyway, look, Matt is back in Mom’s house – with Donna! And you’re still persona non-gratta. Jamie is the one that matters, nobody else. If he insists you’ve got to go, then you’ve got to go. Just like he’s the only one Mom will listen to about you coming back, also.”
Frankie and Cass having taken a thoroughly exhausted Lori Ann into the house to try and settle her down for a nap, Charlie and Zeno were left alone, poolside.
She sat on the edge, kicking her legs listlessly in the chlorinated water, while he swam laps back and forth. It wasn’t until Zeno had gotten out and grabbed a towel, covering his face as he rubbed his hair vigorously beneath it, that Charlie got up the nerve to ask, “You really want to know why I’m so angry all of the time?”
He wiped down his shoulders and plopped down next to her. “Sure.”
Charlie didn’t say anything.
Zeno asked, “Was that supposed to be a rhetorical question?”
When she didn’t so much as smile, he rolled his eyes and prepared to stand up and walk away. “Have it your way.”
“Wait,” she blurted out.
He shrugged, sitting back down. “Okay.”
“I…” Charlie ducked her head until it was practically tucked beneath her shoulder-blades, hoping Zeno would interpret the red cast creeping up her flesh as sudden-onset sunburn. “I just… I don’t get what the big deal is about.”
Drawing together pieces of previous conversations, Zeno guessed – though it was more of a statement, “Sex.”
Charlie nodded miserably. “I mean, I know it’s supposed to hurt the first time. So, I didn’t really – I didn’t expect much. But, I thought – I thought it was supposed to get better afterwards.”
“It didn’t?” he asked, his tone surprisingly compassionate.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore. It doesn’t… much of anything, really.”
“So… you don’t like it?”
“No!” She raised her head. “I mean, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t like it. I just… The way everyone talks, the way my Mom and Dad act… it’s supposed to be this great, amazing, unbelievable thing. And it’s just…”
“Not,” Zeno finished when she appeared too upset to go on.
“Not,” Charlie agreed miserably.
“What about Kirkland?” Zeno wondered.
“What about him?”
Zeno laughed, though not unkindly. “Well, he is the other half of this equation, isn’t he?”
“Kirkland is… fine. I mean, I know he likes it. He was so happy after we did it. And he wants to do it all the time now.”
“Okay. But, has he noticed that you’re not exactly as into it as he is?”
“Have you told him that you’re not?”
“Why would I do something like that?”
“Because. Guys appreciate feedback. Good guys, anyway. And Kirk seems like a good guy. I’m sure he’d want to know you’re – “
“Why would I want to tell my boyfriend that I’m all messed up?”
“Because, Charlie, more likely than not, it’s his fault.”
“No. No, you’re wrong. It’s me. I’m…. frigid. Or something.”
“That’s a hell of a diagnosis to make at eighteen.”
“I’m the one who pushed him, you know. I’m the one who wanted to have sex. I even got mad the first time he turned me down. I was always the one coming on to him. And now look at me.”
“Talk to Kirkland,” Zeno urged gently. “Tell him what you like and what – ”
“Haven’t you been listening?” she sprung up, splashing Zeno in the process. “I don’t like anything, okay? I don’t like anything Kirkland does. I just pretend that I do so he won’t get mad and realize what a dud I am and how much I suck. I’d die of embarrassment if that happened. I can’t ever let Kirk know.”
“Where are you taking Michele and Bridget today?” Marley asked Sarah as the girls changed upstairs.
“A little Hunger Games action.” Sarah grinned.
“You’re making them fight to the death?” Marley smiled, strongly suspecting that wasn’t precisely what Sarah had in mind.
The younger woman mimed loading and firing a bow and arrow. “Archery. A new place just opened up outside of town. I thought Midget might want to check it out.”
Marley paused, seemingly not done, yet uncertain where to start.
Sarah cocked her head. “Was there something else you wanted to ask me?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “But, I’m afraid it might sound somewhat… odd.”
“I – It’s about Grant.”
“Grant,” Sarah repeated neutrally.
“Yes. I – You’ve watched him with Michele and Bridget.”
“Yeah. I have. He’s great with them.”
“He is, isn’t he? I could never have imagined just how great he’d be. In the beginning, I thought it would be hard, them being Vicky and Jake’s daughters. But, he’s really stepped up, taking a parenting role. Not as a father, exactly. He doesn’t want to overstep his bounds. But, definitely as an uncle. They adore him.”
“I think,” Sarah began. “Grant misses Kirkland so much that – “
“Oh, yes. Yes, of course. Missing Kirkland is definitely a part of it. I realize that. I know he’s channeling all the love and attention he wishes he could be lavishing on Kirkland onto them, but…”
“I suspect it’s more than that.”
“How do you mean?”
“I suspect it’s not just Kirkland that Grant is mourning. It’s the other children he might have had. If he were with any other woman but me.”
“Do you think Grant wants more kids?” Sarah asked carefully.
“You don’t think he does?”
“I…” If Sarah thought she’d been careful with words before, that was nothing compared to how gingerly she tread now. “I mean, I don’t know Grant all that well. But, I – I got the impression that doesn’t matter very much to him.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well… Grant knew you couldn’t have kids from the start, right?”
“Yeah. And he stuck with you anyway. I mean, if it was something really important to him, don’t you think he’d have made different choices?”
“Grant and I didn’t plan to fall in love. It just sort of snuck up on us. You know how that is.”
“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. “I know how that is.”
“And with all the drama we’ve had from the first day, from Kirkland’s custody, to my marriage to Jamie, Donna’s suicide attempt, and then Grant running for Mayor, Lorna’s accident, my… illness, Spencer’s death. I’m afraid Grant never had a moment to really stop and think about what a lifetime with me would mean to him.”
“He did,” Sarah assured. “Grant went into your marriage with his eyes wide open. He knew that he had alternatives. When it came to having children, and everything else. He married you in spite of all those things. Because he wanted you.”
“Thank you for that, Sarah.” Marley reached out to quickly hug the girl. “Thank you for saying that. But, I – I can’t help thinking… Grant would be so happy if he had a chance to be a father again. I honestly think it’s the one thing he’s missing in his life now.”
“We have a problem,” Jamie escorted Horace into Jen’s hospital room, where Kevin and GQ sat, waiting for the test results they’d been promised.
“What?” Kevin all but barked, glaring at Horace accusingly.
“One of the factors that can keep a candidate from donating bone marrow is if they’ve recently gotten a tattoo. The procedure opens itself up to the possibility of an infection we might not yet know about. An infection that might prove to be transferable.”
“You got a tattoo?” Kevin demanded.
“Couple of days ago,” Horace admitted sheepishly, defending, “I didn’t know!”
“Are you kidding me?” Kevin raged. “Between finding out your daughter has leukemia and agreeing to be her donor you ran out and got some ink? Who the hell does that?”
“Chill,” GQ interrupted. “Man says he didn’t know!”
Horace said, “I figured, if I’m going to be laid up for the next few weeks, might as well take care of it now. Nobody told me anything about it being a reason to postpone.”
“How long will I need to wait now?” Jen asked. She’d psyched herself up for starting chemotherapy ASAP. The idea of any kind of delay seemed intolerable.
“Well,” Jamie hedged. “The guidelines say a year….”
“A year?” Kevin looked like he might pop a blood vessel. “You son of a bitch!”
“I think I may be able to maneuver around it.” Jamie didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up too high, but there was precedent for what he intended to try. “There are some more in-depth tests I can run to rule out most opportunistic infections. Once I have those, I should be able to petition the Ethics Committee to grant us an exception. It’s been done before.”
“And how long will that take?” Jen swallowed hard.
“A few days, if we’re lucky.”
“Lucky,” Jen repeated, feeling anything but.
Kevin asked, “Didn’t you say it would take a few weeks to destroy all of Jen’s own bone marrow in preparation for the transplant?”
“So, wouldn’t it make sense to go ahead with the procedure as planned? Assuming it takes you less time than that to get Johnson approved as a donor, why not stick to the original schedule?”
Jamie clicked his tongue against his teeth. “I really don’t like starting the process without adequate healthy marrow banked. If something goes wrong, we risk leaving Jen without an immune system indefinitely.”
“What could go wrong?” Jen wondered nervously.
“Right,” Kevin agreed, glaring at Johnson, his meaning explicitly clear. “We have our donor on site. What could possibly go wrong?”
“What can I do for you, Mrs. Hutchins?” Chase graciously escorted Rachel into his office the moment he heard she was seeking an audience with him.
“Are you seriously asking me that question, Mr. Hamilton?” Carl’s wife did her very best to keep the churning rancor in check – at least, visibly.
“Indeed, I am. Since, truthfully, I’m having a hard time imagining what it is you think I could possibly do for you?”
“Well, terminating your attempt to railroad my husband into prison would make a nice start,” Rachel spat, since he insisted on playing it this way. “And then we can discuss the back rent you owe me.”
“The rent, I’m happy to supply.” Chase reached for his checkbook theatrically.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” Rachel felt her last nerve snap. “Is this fun for you? Hounding a man who has done nothing wrong?”
“I beg to differ.” The merriment drained out of Chase’s demeanor, and he was matching Rachel rancor for rancor now. “Your husband has violated federal, state, and local law. And he has been doing so ever since the moment he signed his pledge not to.”
“What harm has he done?” Rachel challenged. “I dare you to show me one person who has suffered due to my husband’s allegedly illegal actions.”
“Do you read the papers, Mrs. Hutchins?”
“Religiously. And the only place I’ve seen my husband’s name come up is on the society pages, usually touting charitable donations he’s made or causes he’s supported.”
“That’s because – in stark contrast to the terms of his release – your husband has gone out of his way to place a Wall of China sized barrier between himself and the companies he has continued to run. Meanwhile, those companies, by skirting on the outside of the law, have been colluding to control and manipulate prices, to set up financial cartels and monopolies, and to, no more no less, destabilize a good chunk of the world’s economy. Are you aware of what’s happening in Greece these days? In all of Europe?”
“I should think you’d approve,” Rachel bluffed, unwilling to admit that she didn’t understand precisely what he was accusing Carl of. “Aren’t you a libertarian, Mr. Hamilton? Didn’t you run on a pro-business platform? Whatever happened to your love of capitalism and free markets?”
“The definition of free markets, Mrs. Hutchins, is that they are not being controlled by clandestine, underground forces. They’re free, not artificially manipulated, by either the government, or private entities.”
“You forced my husband underground. If you had only allowed him to hold on to his companies from the start, none of this would have happened. He wouldn’t have needed to resort to illegal measures.”
“You’re right. Except that we didn’t. And he did anyway.”
“So you admit that you deliberately set Carl up so you could send him back to jail?”
“Will you admit that he is guilty of every single charge on my warrant?” Chase offered pleasantly.
“I don’t understand you. I really don’t.” Rachel half-pleaded, half-lectured, throwing her hands up in the air. “Lila relayed your argument to me. How you claim that you are doing all of this in order to keep Bay City safe. Wouldn’t putting Carl in jail achieve the exact opposite? Wouldn’t it upset precisely that criminal element which you insist you are working to keep out of our town? If trouble comes to Bay City now, it won’t be because of Carl, it will be because of you!”
“As long as Carl Hutchins continues to operate unchecked from out of Bay City, there is always the possibility of retribution coming our way from someone he wronged.”
“You are arresting him on the basis of something that may happen?”
“No. I am arresting him because of something that has already happened. In the hopes that no more will.”
“So that’s how you justify harassing and railroading a man who has done nothing but good for this community for close to two decades. Who has lived a peaceful and noble life as an exemplary husband and father?”
Chase shook his head. “I justify it, Mrs. Hutchins, via the following two words: Janice Frame.”
Rachel inhaled sharply. Of all the things she’d been expecting him to say, that name was the last she would ever have dreamed of. “W-What?”
“Janice Frame,” Chase repeated, as if the woman who belonged to it might have slipped Rachel’s mind. “You killed her, didn’t you? Stabbed her to death in a swimming pool in St. Croix, I believe?”
“What in the world does that have anything to do with – “
“If your knife hadn’t done it’s job so efficiently thirty-plus years ago – “
“She was poisoning my husband!”
“Precisely. And if you hadn’t managed to stop her when you did. If she had escaped and lived a quiet, modest, downright charitable life for lo these past three decades, would you have been content with letting her be? Or would you have wanted the woman who tried to murder your children’s father punished?”
“There is no comparison between what Janice Frame attempted and what Carl – “
“Justine Duvalier, then.” Chase said. “If your husband hadn’t done away with her, would you have been indifferent about letting her go on her merry way? How about Mitch Blake? What if he’d succeeded in kidnapping your son as an infant, and then gone on to be an exemplary father? Would you have been willing to let bygones be bygones? What if Alexander Nikos had escaped unscathed after unceremoniously stuffing you into a tomb, but then promised never to do it again, he was a changed man, so what good would putting him away do now?”
“Alexander Nikos was out of his mind.” Rachel matched Chase example for example. “Carl is perfectly sane. Mitch Blake paid his debt to society, just like Carl has, and I subsequently allowed Mitch to be a part of our son’s life. As for Justine, the woman never expressed an ounce of remorse for her actions. Carl has. Over and over again.”
“So had Spencer Harrison,” Chase offered his final and most crushing example. “From what I understand – I’m sure you won’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong; his situation was the most analogous with yours. A life spent engaging in criminal activity, followed by a twilight years love affair and subsequent redemption.”
“Spencer… “ She found herself stumbling. “Spencer – He was still involved with the compound. It was a case of chickens coming home to roost with him. He tried to blackmail me with records about Donna and…”
“Ah, yes, Ms. Love. Thank you for reminding me. Another case wherein neither you nor Mr. Hutchins exactly practiced the live and let live ethos you are currently preaching. The compound came to Bay City because your husband was determined to make Donna Love pay for an act she had expressed contrition about over and over again – wasn’t that one of your stipulations? And yet, Carl went after her anyway. He set her up to take the fall for exposing them, and when that didn’t work, he made a switch and threw the blame onto Spencer Harrison. Someone exactly like Mr. Hutchins. Someone who also reportedly wanted nothing more but to put away his past and enjoy what was left of his life with the woman who had made him see the error of his ways. Spencer Harrison followed the exact same trajectory as Carl Hutchins. And your husband sent him to his death, nonetheless.”
Rachel shook her head. “No. That’s not how it happened. It was a great deal more complicated than you are making it sound.”
“So is my case, Mrs. Hutchins. I know what I am doing. The same way you know what your husband did. I’m sorry you wasted the trip, but you have neither the legal, nor the moral leg to stand on. Carl Hutchins broke the law. And he will be punished. In – if I may say so – a great deal less brutal of a manner than what he arranged to befall Spencer Harrison.”
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