“I am going to be frank with you, Mrs. Cory,” Dr. Raya Ng folded her hands in front of her as she gazed across her desk at Donna and Matt. “I don’t believe false hope does anyone any good in the long run. After reviewing your test results, as well as those of your husband, my professional opinion is that the two of you have a very, very low chance of getting pregnant.”
“The two of us?” Matt repeated. “Does that mean I – “
“Your sperm count, Mr. Cory, is average.”
“Average?” Matt took offense.
“Average means normal,” Raya told him, clearly used to such reactions, and equally as clearly not interested in holding the hands of men with fragile egos. “You’re fine. The issue here is with your wife. Mrs. Cory, I’m sorry, but, your eggs are utterly non-viable.”
“I expected as much,” Donna bravely kept her chin up, unwilling to let anyone see just how much of a blow hearing it out loud was, nonetheless. “Going in, I fully expected that donor eggs – “
“No,” Raya said. “There’s more. Your uterine lining is, at this time, utterly incapable of supporting a pregnancy, or so much as a basic implantation, even if we were to go the route of donor eggs and In Vitro Fertilization.”
“I don’t understand,” Donna stammered. This was not what she was paying good money to hear.
“Your age, Mrs. Love, is unfortunately prohibitive – “
“What about that woman in India? Seventy years old! You can’t lie to me, I’ve done my research! And what about the sixty-six year old who delivered triplets! I am not nearly as old as either of them and – “
“Both those women were treated at a clinic known for it’s controversial – and, may I add, illegal in the United States – methods. If that is the sort of treatment you’re interested in, I advise you to find another doctor.”
“Perhaps I will!”
“Before you do, however, I would like to inform you that the seventy year old woman you mentioned died before her child turned two years old, due to complications from the hormone therapy and the trauma of giving birth so late in life.”
“Donna…” Matt began, resting a hand on her arm. “I know you want this, but…”
“Alright then,” Donna jerked her hand away, focusing solely on Raya. “What about the sixty-two year old psychiatrist in Great Britain? Her health wasn’t compromised.”
“That we know of. Yet. And in case you were planning to invoke the sixty-six year old from Spain, please be aware that she died as well, leaving behind a pair of orphaned pre-schoolers.”
“Her,” Donna sniffed. “I wasn’t going to mention.”
“So what you’re saying,” Matt leaned forward. “Is that the risks – “
“Are astronomical,” Raya confirmed.
“But, so are the rewards, Matthew,” Donna insisted. “And who cares about those other women? They’re foreigners, probably caught some Third World virus that’s no threat to us here. Things are different in America. I heard about this grandmother in Springfield, post-menopause and post chemotherapy for breast cancer, and she became pregnant. Without medical intervention, no less! Forget India and Europe. Look closer. Look at your own family.” She informed Raya haughtily, “I’ll have you know that both Matthew’s grandmother and his mother gave birth at extremely advanced ages.”
“I am not familiar with those instances. In any case, Mr. Cory’s genetic history has no bearing here. All I can tell you is that your own chances of success are almost nil. I’m sorry. I wish I had better news for you. But, as I said at the start, false hope does more harm than good. The two of you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars – “
“Not a problem,” Donna dismissed.
“Not to mention years, putting your life in danger, for no results.”
“You said our chances were almost nil?”
“Then that means that there is a chance.”
“Well, of course, mathematically speaking… “
“Yes or no, Dr. Ng?”
“Yes.” She conceded. “But, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“Thank you for your recommendation. We would still like to proceed.”
“It’s my body, Matthew. It’s my life. It’s my choice. So. Dr. Ng. Where do we go from here?”
“How’s Jen?” Amanda cautiously asked her husband once Kevin stumbled home, looking even more ashen-faced than usual.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I spent my by now traditional afternoon trying to browbeat your brother into giving me a semblance of constructive information. I thought lawyers were the masters at answering questions without actually saying anything at all. Doctors have us beat, hands down.”
“I’m sure he’d tell you if there was any serious change.”
“When your daughter’s condition is listed as stable, and stable, in this case, means dying, there’s really only one place that update can go.”
“She’ll get better,” Amanda said. Because, really, what else could she say?
“Thanks,” Kevin said dismissively. Then forced himself to stop and face Amanda, telling her, “No. Really. Thank you. In spite of everything that’s happened, the debacle with Ike, the accusation by Elizabeth, you and I going off on each other… Thank you. You have been nothing but supportive of me – and her – ever since Jen told us she was sick.”
“Was there an option?” Amanda asked. Then, realizing how that sounded, back-tracked, “I mean, you’re my husband, she’s your daughter, what else could or should I have done? It’s not just the decent thing to do, it’s the obvious thing to do. Heck, it’s the only thing to do. We’ll get through this, Kevin. You, me, and, most of all, Jen.”
“Horace Johnson willing,” Kevin mumbled, speaking up to add, “He’s loving this, you know. Loving the fact that we had to go to him on bended knee, ask for his help. That he’s the only one who can help.”
“So let him love it. As long as he donates the bone marrow to Jen, who cares how he feels?”
Kevin snorted. “That’s just what GQ keeps accusing me of. Not giving a damn about how Horace Johnson feels. Not now, not when Jenny was a child.”
“Were you supposed to?”
“I don’t know,” Kevin confessed. “All I do know is that he’s right. I don’t. And I didn’t. I guess that was damn arrogant of me. I guess I really did feel like I was a Superhero, sweeping in to save this little girl – “
“Her grandmother asked you to. God, Kevin, you told me so yourself, Jen asked you to. She came into your office and she hired you to sever her father’s parental rights.”
“And I was happy to do it.”
“Because you’re a good man.”
“Was that really the only reason? Something else GQ accused me of, during Hudson’s custody trial. He says I just love taking children away from their biological parents and giving them over to what I believe are better adoptive homes. The exact opposite of what happened to me.”
“That’s your job.”
“But, would I have done it if, instead of a little Black girl from Harlem with a father in prison for armed robbery coming into my office, it had been a little, blonde, blue-eyed girl from the Upper East Side who’s dad was in jail for, oh, say, stock fraud? Would I have taken the case, or would I have patted her on the head and sent her home?”
“You are not a racist, Kevin.”
“That’s what I always told myself.”
“Don’t let Mr. Johnson and GQ get to you.”
“Okay,” Kevin said, kissing Amanda on the forehead after a long, long pause, making it clear that, under no circumstances, could anything in his life currently be considered okay.
Rachel didn’t say hello to Chase when she pushed her way into his office. She didn’t say anything at all. She simply dropped the transcript of Iris’ recent financial transactions onto his desk, and jabbed her finger at the relevant, incriminating details.
Chase read them, but appeared to draw a different conclusion from Rachel and Amanda. “You’ve lost control of Cory Publishing?”
“Never,” Rachel seethed. “Don’t tell me you didn’t do your research. It doesn’t matter how much general stock Iris manages to buy up and hoard. There is a second category, of Family Only holdings, that will always retain control of our company.”
“I had no reason to research Cory Publishing beyond the role Carl Hutchins’ money played in it.”
“I believe you. You always did take the easy way out. Sloppy research is just one aspect of that.”
“Am I supposed to know why you’re here, Mrs. Hutchins? Beyond your usual stop-over to call me names, that is?”
“You and Iris got too confident.”
“Please don’t play stupid. It’s the one thing you still have going for you. At least you’ve always taken responsibility for your actions, no matter how foul.”
“And I’d be happy to continue doing so. As soon as you fill me in on what it is precisely I’ve allegedly done now.”
“You conspired with my stepdaughter, Iris Cory Wheeler, to take Cory Publishing away from me and the rest of my family by framing my husband – “
“I never framed anyone. But, do go on, regardless.”
“ – and destabilizing Cory to the point where Iris could sweep in and offer to rescue it.”
“I’d ask how I did that, but, I think the more interesting question is: Why?”
“Because you’re obsessed with bringing down my husband.”
“I’ve made no secret of that. I’ve wanted to get Carl Hutchins behind bars since my first case as an ADA, when he basically thumbed his nose at the justice system and laughed about it while flinging his locks this way and that. How that connects to Cory Publishing, however, I’m afraid you’ll need to enlighten me.”
“The only person who wants revenge on Carl more than you do is Iris.”
“Well, being sent to prison for a crime that technically wasn’t even a crime would inspire that in a person. She went to jail for not killing someone. Carl stayed out despite killing dozens. See how that might feel lopsided to some?”
“Iris doesn’t need much inspiration.”
“So I’ve been given to understand.”
“You admit that you know her, then?”
“Of course. She was a great help to me in building the case against Carl.”
Rachel blinked in surprise. She’d expected a confession eventually. She hadn’t expected it to come so quickly. “You think you’re untouchable, is that it? You honestly believe this office will protect you from being put away right next to her for insider trading?”
“No, Mrs. Hutchins. I believe my not being guilty of insider trading will protect me from being put away for insider trading.”
“It’s right there,” Rachel rattled the print out, frustrated. “Iris approached one of our stock-holders about selling hours before news of Carl’s money being withdrawn became public knowledge. The only way Iris could have known about it, was if she heard about the upcoming bloodbath from you.”
“No,” Chase said calmly. “You’re wrong.”
“You just admitted to working with her in order to railroad my husband!”
“Unfortunately, you have your chronology reversed. Soon after I acquired details of your husband’s illegal dealings – “
“Via your sham affair with my former daughter-in-law.”
“Correct.” If Chase felt guilty about any of his actions in that regard, he was saving them for Lila, not Rachel. “As soon as I had a trail to follow, the first thing I did was put out feelers far and wide for people who might independently corroborate my information. It was not difficult. You would genuinely be shocked by the number of folks who came out of the woodwork, practically salivating at the chance to get back at Carl Hutchins. On the other hand, maybe you wouldn’t be.”
“So the bulk of your evidence came from self-confessed criminals with an axe to grind? Typical.”
“Your husband gave a lot of people a lot of good reasons to start sharpening.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “And I’m sure the proof you collected as a result of your not-at-all biased methods was unimpeachable.”
“It satisfied the needs of the Justice Department, which was my primary concern. It was your Mrs. Wheeler, as a matter of fact, who clued me in regarding Mr. Hutchins’ heavy investment in Cory Publishing. So you see, she told me, not the other way around. I gave her no indication of my plans to confiscate the money, but it wouldn’t take a legal mastermind to realize that would be my next step. I presume Mrs. Wheeler did, and that she subsequently acted accordingly. That doesn’t violate any statute I’m aware of.”
“You’re lying,” Rachel said, since it was the only thing she could think of at the moment.
“What Mrs. Wheeler did may have been contemptible, but it wasn’t criminal. And if that was the extent of your trump card over both her and me, I’m afraid I’m calling your bluff. Because your ace in the hole, Mrs. Hutchins, is a joker.”
“Your baby’s father,” Marley prompted Sarah. “Is he in the picture?”
Sarah hesitated for a long moment before shaking her head. “No.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?” Marley asked gently, balancing the fine line between extending a helping hand and prying.
“No,” Sarah repeated.
Marley nodded reassuringly. “That’s alright. You don’t have to. It’s none of my business. Just know that if you ever do decide to talk about it, I’ll be happy to listen. No judgments. But, in the meantime, my offer still stands: Let me drive you home, take care of you until you’re back on your feet.”
“You don’t have to do that. Really.”
“I know. I want to.”
“Why?” Sarah wondered.
“Not for the reason you think. Well, at least, not in the way you think.”
“You mean, because you were almost, kind of my mom?”
“Yes. But, it’s not only because I fell in love with you before you were even born, and I’ve admittedly felt that way ever since. This is more because of the way I treated your mother when she was pregnant with you. I know the story goes that Olivia manipulated me. And she did. But, I manipulated her just as much. I was desperate to get my hands on her baby, and I went out of my way to undermine her confidence about being able to raise you. I wonder sometimes, if maybe the problems the two of you have now – “
“No. No, don’t you even think that, Marley. My mom managed to screw me up all on her own, it had nothing to do with you. My dad, too. He liked to blame her, and she liked to blame him. But, neither of them ever said a word about you. Well, you know, except when they were fighting. Then, though, it was more Olivia accusing Dennis of still being in love with you and only ending up with her by default, and Dennis saying that if she’d told him the truth about me in the first place, he never would have ended up turning to you.”
“And that’s almost true. Except for the part where Dennis only went after me on a bet from Jake.”
“Yeah, my parents are massively screwed up, let’s leave it at that. Oh, and you don’t owe me anything because of it, either.”
“Still. I want to be there for you in a way I wasn’t for Olivia. If you want to keep your baby and raise it on your own, I’d like to help you as much as I can. Or, at least, as much as you would allow me to.”
Sarah bit her lip. “It isn’t fair. You’d make such a great mom, and all you end up with is taking care of other people’s kids.”
“No, it’s not,” Marley said almost cheerfully. “But, that’s neither here nor there. What we need to do now is get your paperwork and – “
“Marley!” Grant burst through the door, sounding as if he’d run the entire way to the hospital, then up the stairs, eschewing the elevator. He looked from his wife to Sarah, then quickly back again, lest he reveal too much to either one of them.
“Grant!” Her chin jerked in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Bridget called. She said you were at the hospital.”
“With Sarah,” Marley clarified, misinterpreting his concern. “Did you think I was the one hurt? I’m fine.”
“I – Yes.” Grant leapt on the easy out she’d given him. “I – I guess I misunderstood.”
“I asked Bridget to call and tell you that I was at the hospital with Sarah, and could you please come home and stay with them?”
“Oh.” Grant said. “I – I left them alone. Is that alright?”
“It’s fine. They’ll manage for a few hours, they’re not babies. It was more for my peace of mind than theirs. Anyhow, Sarah is about to be discharged.”
Grant swallowed hard, still not looking her way. “What’s wrong with Sarah?”
“Sarah is pregnant,” Marley said in a tone that made it clear Grant was to react as if the revelation were perfectly normal.
Which he barely managed, but, again, not for the reasons Marley suspected. “So is she… still?”
“False alarm,” Marley soothed. “We both had a scare, but the doctor reassures us she and the baby are just fine.”
“Oh,” Grant said. “Well… good.”
“Yes, it is,” Marley bobbed her head firmly. “But, she is going to need some extra care in the next few days. I told Sarah she was welcome to stay with us as long as she wants. Isn’t that right, Grant?”
“Sarah can stay with us?” Marley stressed.
He nodded, unable to trust his voice. Or his brain.
“Good. Then it’s all settled. I’m going to go check on your discharge papers.” Marley smiled at her husband. “Keep Sarah company until I get back, would you?”
“Never let it be said,” Cass observed thoughtfully as he and Frankie moved among the throngs of dressed to the gills art-lovers admiring Rodin’s sculptures, Chiruscoro’s paintings, and everything in between on their way to the zakuski table, stuffed to the overflowing with caviar (red and black), herring (pickled and sauced), tongue (beef and veal), bread (white and rye), salmon (cold and cooked), salad (green and purple), and vodka; so, so much vodka – from lemon to rose to buffalo grass. “That Russians don’t know how to throw a party.”
“And never let it be said,” Frankie got between Cass and his attempt to sample just what precisely vodka infused with animal husbandry tasted like. “That Cass Winthrop ever has any trouble keeping his mind on his work.”
“I’m getting into character,” he explained. “Coming to a Russian party and not partaking of the food and drinks would instantly label us suspicious. Besides,” he gestured along the row of bottles. “It’s all vegetarian! Vegan, too, I bet!”
She had to laugh at his efforts, even as Frankie reminded, “We need to keep a clear head.”
“Try some of this,” Cass advised. “It will clear orifices you never realized needed clearing.”
Frankie looked around, all business now. “We need to figure out a way to wrangle an audience with our host.”
“You honestly think Carl is here? Tonight?”
“Why wouldn’t he be? It’s his soiree.”
“I figure he’d want to keep a low profile, at least at the start.”
“Why? He feels safe here. This is a hand-picked crowd of people he can trust. Why would Owen be here if Carl isn’t?”
Cass shrugged, willing to go along with Frankie’s instincts over his. “In that case, I say we go for broke. The sooner we get to the bottom of this, the sooner Felicia, Jamie, and Rachel can get some peace of mind and move on with their lives.”
“And if we come up empty?”
“We try someplace else. Have frequent flyer miles, will travel.”
“And if we keep coming up empty? Rachel already believes her husband and children are dead. But, Felicia, Jamie… How will they handle…”
“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it,” Cass refused to even consider the possibility until they absolutely had to. He looked around. “You want a face to face with our host? I’ll get you a face to face with our host.”
Cass made a great show of downing his vodka, then, in the moment when the band took a break between songs, in order to achieve maximum volume, he smashed his tumbler down on the ground. In America, this was usually enough to draw him some attention. Here, no one seemed to notice. As Yakov Smirnov once observed in reverse, What a country….
Moving on to Plan B, Cass stumbled drunkenly over to the Rodin, fondling the marble forearms with unseemly attention.
This, at least, got him noticed.
“You!” A guard bellowed. “You to not touch!”
Cass nodded somberly, to indicate he’d heard. And proceeded to molest an even more disturbing aspect of the statue’s anatomy.
“Not to touch,” the guard repeated, this time stepping forward and forcibly removing Cass’ hands.
They went back and forth like this for several minutes, with words being exchanged and ineffective punches being thrown (at least on Cass’ part) before, as the Cass expected, he and Frankie were dragged off, tragically away from the vodka, but, hopefully, closer to their man of the hour.
When they were brought into the room where their host sat, waiting, Cass and Frankie couldn’t help it. Despite preparing themselves, they still exchanged astonished looks, and gasped.
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