“I don’t care if the next election is two years off,” Rachel impressed upon Grant. “ I swear right now to put all of my resources and all of my painstakingly accumulated influence in Bay City into making certain Chase Hamilton is never voted into any sort of office again. To do that, I need to run a candidate against him who knows what he’s doing, understands whom he’s dealing with and, most importantly, one without fear of getting his hands dirty. I would like that candidate to be you, Grant.”
Her ex-son-in-law, already not in the best of physical shape thanks to his showdown with Sarah the day before, jerked back his head, as if unexpectedly punched in the face. “Me?” he repeated.
“Why?” The former United States Congressman, Senator, and Mayor of Bay City asked, dumbfounded.
“I’ve supported you in a successful campaign before. 1991. Do you remember?”
“I remember. But, the difference was, you still liked me then, Rachel.”
“I liked your politics then, too. I still do. They’re something I can get behind. We need more people like you in office.”
“Privileged white men trying to obfuscate away a lifetime of personal and professional scandals? Actually, the tide has kind of been swinging against us this election cycle.”
“This is Bay City,” Rachel said dryly. “Regular rules don’t apply. You came very close to beating Chase Hamilton on the last go-around.”
“Mostly because our gay mayor has come out against gay marriage, and many voters failed to pick up on the nuances of why. But, that issue is played out. I don’t think anyone will get much traction with it next time around. Especially considering how well he’s done economically. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the state. That’s going to help him more than anything. He promised to bring new business to Bay City, and he has. No opponent can deprive him of that.”
“So you have been giving the possibility of running against him again some thought?” Rachel heard what Grant didn’t say clearer than what he did.
“Well, sure. In the abstract sense. Marley and I have talked about it.”
“Marley is on board? Even better.”
“Marley’s past,” Grant reminded. “Is almost as… problematic, politically speaking, as my own. Worse even, if you go by recency rather than quality. Or quantity.”
“The right quantity of money, can make any quality of sins go away,” Rachel predicted.
“I guess you would know.”
She raised an eyebrow.
Grant shrugged, unconcerned. “You came to me, not the other way around. I have no reason to act obsequious.”
“I can pour a lot of money into your campaign. A lot of respectability, too.”
“You said that you were looking to back a candidate who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. That doesn’t sound particularly respectable.”
“There is nothing respectable about what Hamilton did to my husband and my children. Or the way he went about it. I intend to rip the man’s throat out,” Rachel said, as if that were the most normal thing in the world.”
“You know, I’d heard things about you…”
“All true. And all merely warm-up for the Hell I am about to unleash on our illustrious Mayor. It’s going to happen, Grant, no matter what you decide. The question remains, do you prefer to stand on the sidelines and watch, or would you like to benefit, too?”
“Dad! Watch out!” Kirkland shouted as he entered their kitchen the next morning to find Jamie, his mind seemingly a million miles away, unthinkingly reach for what Kirkland could see was the boiling hot handle of a pot on the stove.
His father heard Kirkland’s voice. But, it wasn’t until he looked down at what he was doing that Jamie seemed to register the damage being done to his palm, and snatched his arm away, the skin already turning red.
Kirkland leapt to turn on the cold water, and Jamie dutifully stuck his hand under the faucet, acting more out of instinct and medical training than anything else. Kirkland said, “I’ll get the burn cream,” rifling around in the First Aid drawer before he found it.
“Thanks,” Jamie’s head bobbed up and down robotically. He sat at the kitchen table and reached for the tube of cream, pausing when the question of how he might manage to apply the salve and bandages using only his left hand, momentarily stumped him.
“Here. I’ll do it,” Kirkland offered, taking the seat across from Jamie and spreading the ointment exactly how his father had done it for his own scrapes about a million times previously. Blisters were already starting to form along the skin, and Kirkland took great care not to snag them when he affixed the adhesive tape.
“Nice job,” Jamie said, with just the touch of a smile.
“Yeah, well, I come by it honestly. My dad’s a doctor.”
They sat in silence for a moment, before Jamie wondered, “Did I scare you, Kirk? I’m sorry.”
“Skip it. You’ve got a lot on your mind.”
“So do you. And worrying about me burning the house down shouldn’t be at the top of your list.”
“I’m not worried about you burning the house down. I’m worried about you… hurting yourself.”
Jamie’s face darkened. “I promised both you and Steven. That will never, ever happen again.”
“Maybe not on purpose. Like last time. But, stuff like this… You know how they call it suicide by cop? How about by stovetop?”
“I’ll try and be more careful. No. Scratch that. I will be more careful. You have my word.”
“Dad,” Kirkland chose his words with great care, having practiced them already for several days, but realizing now was the best time to actually say them. “I’ve been thinking. What if… What if I… stay home this fall?”
“You mean not go to college?” Jamie didn’t sound at all thrilled by the possibility.
“No! Not for good, anyway. I’ll defer a year. Or a semester. Notre Dame isn’t going anywhere.”
“No. But, your time for attending, is. I thought you were excited about starting?”
“That was… before.”
“I don’t need a babysitter, Kirk.”
“You almost just set the house on fire, Dad.”
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
“And you don’t be a martyr. What’s a stupid semester? Or a year? If you want, I can take courses at BCU, or go to cooking school. You know that’s what I’m planning to do long-term anyway. Be a chef. Open my own restaurant.”
“You need to master a lot more than cooking skills for that. You need business know-how, management, accounting, marketing, public relations…”
“And I can study all that. At BCU. Next year. I can always transfer to Notre Dame after Christmas. Or in the summer. If I went away to school right now, all I’d be doing is worrying about you. And that wouldn’t be good for my schoolwork.” Kirkland grinned at him innocently. “You wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my schoolwork now, would you, Dad?”
“We missed White Nights,” Frankie sighed sadly, leafing through their combination guide and phrase-book as she and Cass strolled the streets of St. Petersburg, trying to look like just another pair of tourists while, in reality, being anything but that.
“The Mikhail Baryshnikov movie? Didn’t that come out in the 80s?”
“The actual phenomenon,” Frankie shook her head in dismay at his ethnocentrism. “Seems the peak period is June and July.”
“It’s still gorgeous, you’ve got to admit,” Cass said, looking around, indicating the classic architecture, not to mention the picturesque canals that ran through the city. “Makes you understand why St. Peter wanted to marry Catherine the Great, here.”
Frankie turned to him, arms crossed. “And how long do you plan to be performing in your one-man touring company of Ma and Pa Kettle Go To Russia?”
“Until I make you smile,” he countered. “You are acting much, much too serious for a woman on her first kid-free vacation in – “
“This isn’t a vacation! It’s a job! Business before pleasure.”
“Your pleasure is my business.”
“Then let’s get down to business.”
“My pleasure,” he leaned in for a kiss, nuzzling Frankie, right there in the middle of the street in the middle of a country where displays of public affection were not exactly common-place and thus warranted quite a few startled looks from the passers-by, until his wife finally gave in, pecked Cass quickly, and kept right on walking.
“That’s it,” she said.
“I hope not,” Cass countered, betting they were talking about different things.
She indicated the apartment complex in front of them, so new the paint was practically still wet; so exclusive, it had two different entrances, one for Russian natives, one for foreigners. “This is where The Widow Mrs. Thug lives. Well, according to the change of address card she filed back in Oakdale.”
“Should we see if we can talk our way in?”
“Not yet.” Frankie tapped the guide-book against her chin as she thought. From between the pages, she produced a paper, computer print out of their prey’s U.S. driver’s license, revealing a blurry, but identifiable photo. “I say we wait, follow her for a bit, maybe get a sense of what she’s like, then figure out how best to approach her.”
“What’s there to figure out? We’re tracking a known gun moll living in a tacky, new money development most famous for the underage trophy brides of its Russian,” Cass flashed some air quotes. “Businessmen.”
Frankie glanced at Cass with renewed interest. “How would you know that?”
“You have your areas of research expertise, I have mine,” he informed her primly. Then counted off on his fingers, “I figure we’re looking for big hair, big boobs, big bling. Only one of them possibly natural.”
He proved wrong on all three fronts.
By the time, after two hours of surveillance, the wife of the man who’d supposedly died on Carl’s flight alongside Cory, Elizabeth, and presumably Lorna, finally exited the building, she proved to be a pint-sized brunette, Amerasian maybe, which hadn’t been obvious from her smudged photo. She walked out dressed in white Capri pants, sandals, and a fitted red T-shirt, her hair cut short, carrying a backpack slung over one shoulder and a water bottle in her right hand, her only jewelry, a modest wedding band.
“Well,” Cass said somewhat sheepishly. “Guess she isn’t what I expected.”
Frankie rose from the bench they’d been sitting on to keep an eye on Chloe – it seemed wrong to call her The Widow Mrs. Thug now; certainly disrespectful, in any case – and gestured for Cass to follow as she took off in hot, yet nonetheless hopefully subtle, pursuit. “Let’s see if she has any other surprises for us today.”
“Have you come back to work?” Jeanne wondered at the sight of Matt entering her KBAY-TV office.
“Not exactly. Not officially. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Our – your coverage of Carl’s death.”
“What about… it?”
“It’s been kind of rough.”
“Was anything I said untrue?”
“Not exactly. But, the way that you said it… Over and over again and in the graphics… Did you have to call him a known criminal?”
“He is a known criminal. That’s a matter of public record.”
“He’s also my mother’s husband. With everything else she’s going through, the last thing Mom needs is to turn on the TV or the computer and see her husband accused of masterminding Spencer Harrison’s death, among a dozen other crimes.”
“But, Carl did do it.” Jeanne, as usual, could only process the situation literally. “After you foiled his plan to pin the compound’s exposure on Donna, he fed me information to make it look like Spencer was responsible. Like Spencer was the only one responsible. I was gullible enough to report it on air. That was my fault, I admit. But, Carl was the one who set the events in motion, there’s not getting around it. Maybe Rachel can pretend that Carl was an innocent victim, that it was somehow all Spencer or Lucas’ doing. But, I know better. And if I have inside information to that end, why shouldn’t I broadcast it?”
“Because there are more important things in life than ratings!”
“Not for me,” Jeanne told him honestly, without a trace of self-pity, merely a statement of fact.
“Well,” Matt fumbled awkwardly. “I – there should be. You deserve to have more than just this station to focus on. What about you and Dean? You were with him at Frankie and Cass’ 4th of July pool party. He invited you, I heard.”
“And… what’s going on with you guys?”
“Nothing,” Jeanne said. “I haven’t heard from him since.”
Matt frowned. “Really?”
“That’s strange. Dean is… he’s usually a nice guy.”
“Nice guys are the ones you have to watch out for.” Again, Jeanne was merely filling him in. “They’re the ones who’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. They think it’s because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it’s really because they want to keep looking good – mostly to themselves. They tell you whatever you want to hear, and then they do whatever they want. All the while patting themselves on the back over how nice and considerate and thoughtful they’re being. I learned that from you. I’m not going to get fooled again.”
“What did Rachel want to see you about yesterday?” Marley asked. Grant had come home so distracted the previous night, she’d felt hesitant to pose the question.
He shook his head in visible wonder. “You’ll never believe it.”
Marley grinned. “She trying to get you and Amanda back together?”
“Even more unbelievable than that.”
“She wanted to tell you that Carl’s last words were: I forgive Grant Harrison everything, admit he’s a better man than I by far, and leave him all my worldly possessions.”
“Come on,” she sat next to her husband. “Don’t keep me in suspense. Tell!”
Grant stood, beginning to pace in front of Marley, his face an alternating mask of incredulous disbelief and intrigued… something. “Rachel intends to punish Chase for what she thinks he did to Carl and the twins by making sure he loses his next election for Mayor.”
“And Rachel was pumping you for details about how to accomplish that?”
“Rachel was urging me to run against him! With her full – social and financial – support.”
“Wow.” Marley all but collapsed against the back of the couch.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“Are you going to do it?”
He blinked at her in surprise. “Would you want me to?”
“Well, it’s not like we haven’t talked about it. You came so close last time. If you only had more time… and more money. Not to mention a plum endorsement like Rachel Hutchins.”
“The wife of the man Hamilton ran out of town on a rail for committing a decade of crimes against the state. I suspect Rachel may be overestimating her influence in Bay City.”
“No. Rachel is still riding on Mac’s goodwill. Plus, she and Carl have given millions to charity over the years. There’s a whole constituency of voters who only know them from names inscribed on Donor Walls. They have no idea of everything Carl’s done.”
“They will once Hamilton starts in with the attack ads.”
Marley shrugged. “But, that’s good. Chase attacking Carl instead of you could only work in your favor.”
He stared at her, fascinated. “You really like this idea?”
“I had a lot of fun the last time,” she admitted. “I loved watching you in action, being the very best man you could be, fighting for the people of Bay City. It made me proud to be with you.”
“Last time was different. Last time, I actually went to Chase, drew up some ground-rules. We both agreed on a clean campaign. If we let Rachel call the shots, all bets are off. She’ll go after him with everything she’s got, and more. And he’ll turn around and do the same to me. And to you.”
“Let him do his worst,” Marley challenged. “We’ve got nothing to be afraid of. I’ve paid for what I did to Lorna. My trying to kidnap the girls is public knowledge, so are Donna’s actions. In fact, the one thing I might have wanted to keep secret – Jake – well, Michele and Bridget know everything that happened between us now. I’ve got no secrets left. There’s nothing Chase can do to me.”
“That which doesn’t kill you,” Grant quoted. “Still hurts a hell of a lot.”
“I’m not afraid of him. And you shouldn’t be either. Not for my sake. I’m strong now, Grant. Much stronger than I used to be. Much stronger than I ever thought I could be. All thanks to you.”
Grant’s lips twitched grimly. “Still no reason to push it.”
“Actually, there is. I want the chance to prove myself. To you, to my mother, to myself. I want to prove that you all can stop worrying about me. That after a lifetime of taking care of poor, fragile Marley, I can take care of you, for a change. You want this, Grant. You love it. All of it. Campaigning, strategizing, making speeches, making a difference. Rachel has offered you an unmatched opportunity. You should leap on it. Besides, after what Chase did to Lila, don’t tell you wouldn’t love the chance to knock him down a peg or two.”
“More like in the teeth.”
“Marley… I… Running a campaign, especially an extended one like Rachel is proposing, it’s… exhausting, for one thing. People get worn out. They end up saying things they didn’t mean to say, doing things they never meant to do. People, frankly, crack under the pressure. And they end up revealing aspects of themselves they never intended. Things that were better left alone.”
“I know everything there is to know about you,” Marley swore. “Same as you do about me. It’s why we’re together, after all. Because we don’t judge each other. We accept and accommodate. I am up for this. Trust me. I’m ready for anything Chase and his slimy spin-doctors might throw at me. Don’t hold back on my account. I shouldn’t be your reason not to do this. That can only come from you.”
“How does it look?” Rachel anxiously asked Amanda once her daughter had finished reading the latest emails from Brava’s attorneys, their accountants, and their Board of Directors.
“Lousy,” Amanda sighed so emphatically the resultant breeze ruffled her bangs.
“We could lose it all, Mom.”
“No.” Rachel shook her head. “Impossible. Not Mac’s company. Never.”
“We’re hemorrhaging money. As soon as word got out about Carl’s funds being forcibly withdrawn, other investors started pulling out, as well. I’m tap-dancing as fast as I can, transferring cash out of one account to cover another, but it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, and all of Wall Street knows it. In any case, we don’t have enough liquid assets on hand to meet every expense.”
“What can we do?”
“Outside of temporarily shut down and try to regroup? Raise some capital?”
“Out of the question. Subscriptions have been dropping for years as it is. If we shut down even temporarily, there is a segment of customers we will never get back. They’ll lose the habit of reading Brava in print, migrate over to the Internet, and that will be that. We don’t have the time to get our electronic publications up and running in the meantime.”
“Okay, well, then, a private loan. Let’s beat the bushes among our contacts.” Amanda hesitated. “You know, Mom, Spencer left Alice a pretty sizable fortune to do with as she sees fit. Alice knows how much Cory Publishing meant to Daddy. Maybe she’d be willing to…”
“Why in the world,” a voice behind them prompted both women to turn around, as Iris entered the drawing room, already in the middle of a conversation. Their conversation. “Would either of you be considering approaching an outsider, and a woman with little regard for this family as it is, when the more obvious solution to your dilemma is right in front of your noses?”
“And what might that be?” Rachel asked, making it clear she knew the score quite well.
“Why, me, of course. Who else? We are taking about my father’s life’s work.”
“Our father’s,” Amanda amended.
While Rachel merely clarified, “You’d be willing to loan us the money to save Cory Publishing?”
“Well, not loan it, exactly…. But, I would be happy to purchase a controlling interest of family stock, at fair market price. That should cover your debts nicely, and even leave a solid chunk left over to update your multimedia divisions. We do want to hold our own in this digital age. Cory Publishing can’t risk being left in the dust by any Johnny-Come-Latelys. We thrived in the 20th Century, we are entitled to do so in the 21st. I’m certainly willing to do my share to keep Daddy’s company afloat. What about the pair of you?”
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