“I understand now,” Marley told Grant as they drove home from KBAY following his announcement, Michele and Bridget having been sent on ahead before they were forced to hear what Rachel and Lila had recorded. “I finally understand why you’ve been so disproportionably concerned about Sarah and her baby.”
Not a single muscle on Grant’s face flinched. He didn’t so much as turn his head, keeping his eyes on the road. His voice was perfectly level, even as he wondered how it might possibly be heard over the banging of his heart against his rib-cage, all the while Grant, utterly nonplused, wondered, “Why?”
Marley took one of his hands off the wheel and squeezed it comfortingly. “You recognize yourself. And Kirkland.”
“Yes,” Grant said, letting out the breath he’d been holding.
“I didn’t realize that at first. But, it all makes sense now. You don’t want to see Sarah make the same mistakes you did.”
“No,” Grant agreed. “She deserves better.”
“She thinks she can do this. She thinks she can bring up this child on her own.”
“Sarah is practically a child still herself,” Grant snapped. “She doesn’t understand… When I found out Vicky was pregnant; after she’d decided against the abortion… all I could think about was having a son, and what that would mean to me. It was all about me. It was never about him. And look at the mess I made of everything as a result. Kirkland thanked me for leaving him with Jamie. Sarah’s child will one day thank her for giving it up to a better home. And Sarah – Sarah will thank me for making her see how necessary it was. Not just for the baby’s sake. For hers. She’s young. She has her whole life ahead of her. What kind of future would she have with a child?”
“A future with someone who loves her unconditionally,” Marley offered timidly.
“No. Not like this,” Grant insisted. “Sarah deserves to live her life in the correct order. She should be young and carefree while she has the chance. She should meet someone eventually and they should get married and have a child together that they both want and are capable of raising properly. A child that brings them only happiness, nothing else. It’s what we all deserve, isn’t it?”
Marley hesitated, unsure of how to broach the subject, but feeling like she needed to. “I – Grant, I don’t know what you think but, I – I don’t want Sarah’s baby.”
“What?” The mask of cool Grant had been keeping on through sheer force of will finally slipped and he swiveled his head to the side to look at Marley. “What are you talking about?”
“I wasn’t sure… it crossed my mind… It occurred to me that, this – all this – your pushing Sarah to give her baby up for adoption… that it might be because you think I want to adopt it.”
“No,” Grant said. “No. That was never – “
“Good,” she sighed. “I just wanted to make that clear. It’s not that, under different circumstances, I wouldn’t love to have a baby with you…”
“We’re too old,” Grant shook his head grimly. “Both of us. Even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be fair to the child.”
“There’s that,” Marley agreed. “But, the other thing is, after what I went through with Olivia years ago, I realize how impossible a situation like that would be. Adopting the child of someone you know…it would be too hard. For us, for Sarah…”
“We are not adopting Sarah’s baby,” Grant stressed. “You’re right, a situation like that is untenable. What Sarah needs to do is find a nice, normal, stable couple as far away from Bay City as possible. She shouldn’t know their names, and they shouldn’t know hers. So that there are no reminders left. Everyone can go on with their lives, then. Pretend like it never happened. It’s the only way, Marley. You must convince her of that.”
Despite spending all night in the hospital, Kevin seemed no closer to convincing a judge – any judge – to allow them to harvest a still-breathing Horace Johnson’s bone marrow by the time GQ arrived the next morning and asked if there had been any progress.
Kevin tiredly shook his head. Then, suspecting he knew where this conversation was going, preempted with the guess, “You probably think I’m being opportunistic. Again. Spare me, okay?”
GQ shrugged, sitting down next to him, not nearly as confrontational as usual. “I want Jen to get well.”
“Then Johnson is her only chance.”
“I realize that.”
“So you’re on board?” Kevin asked in surprise. Not that it made any difference by this point. But, the idea that GQ could change his mind bode well for a judge doing the same.
“I – I don’t know,” he admitted. “I mean, I can see the logical slippery slope. If we’re allowed to take bone marrow from Mr. Johnson without his permission on the basis of Jen needing it desperately, then what’s to stop the next step from being anyone who’s a match being forced to donate, even if it’s against their own will?”
Kevin smiled dourly. “You’d have made a good lawyer, son.”
“Computer programming,” GQ explained sheepishly. “It’s just a bunch of if then go to direct commands, and figuring out how to keep the system from getting out of hand in ways you didn’t expect. Nobody would argue that when it comes to who should live and who should die, Jen is a much, much more worthy individual than her dad. But, if we go there, then are prisons, here and everywhere else in the world, going to turn into organ donation farms? Are any felons’ kidneys up for grabs? What about a liver? What about a heart?”
“I can’t worry about that now,” Kevin told him honestly. “Let the Supreme Court argue it for the rest of the decade. You’ve brought up some great points. But, I just can’t worry about that now. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” GQ said. “But, I do wonder sometimes whether Mr. Johnson did?”
“What do you mean?”
“You and I, we’ve been trained to think logically and critically. We’re educated, we’re affluent, we know how to make our voices heard politically, socially. Someone like Mr. Johnson – well, it doesn’t apply in his case, anymore, but how are other people like him supposed to defend themselves down the line if the majority of us suddenly decide that they’re expendable?”
“Whoa, hold on a second.” Kevin lifted up his hand. “I hear what you’re saying, and you’re right, that is a damn slippery logical slope we’re talking about. But, whatever gave you the idea Johnson belongs to some underprivileged underclass, and that the result of being undereducated led him to where he is today?”
“I – I don’t know,” GQ stammered. “I mean, I assumed… He lived in the projects. He sold drugs, he – the armed robbery.”
“Jenny lived in the projects,” Kevin corrected. “So did her grandmother, and so did her mother. Horace Johnson is the son of a college professor and a Wall Street trader. He was thrown out of some of the best private schools in New York City. Jenny’s mother wasn’t the first girl he got hooked on drugs. It was a game with him. To see how far he could take it, how low he could make these girls go to prove that they loved him. Check Johnson’s prison records. He has a genius IQ. Unfortunately, like a lot of geniuses, he is dangerous when bored. Guy sets up intricate chess games for his own amusement. Only the pieces he plays with are human lives. That’s why Jenny’s grandmother wanted to get her away from him. She didn’t want Horace playing and manipulating her the way he – “
“Did me?” GQ asked.
“I tried to warn you,” Kevin said.
“I really thought he loved her,” GQ confessed.
“Maybe he did. Maybe he even loved Jenny’s mother. Maybe he loved all those girls. I don’t know, and I don’t care. Unless…” Kevin’s mind began spinning. “Would you be willing to talk to a judge, GQ? Tell him what you just told me? Tell him you thought Horace loved Jenny and that he’d want to do this, he’d want to save her? It’s the truth, isn’t it? I’m not asking you to lie under oath. I can’t honestly tell a judge that Horace Johnson loved his daughter and wanted to be her donor. But, you can.”
“I must admit, I’m surprised to see you here, Mr. Rivera,” Rachel remarked to Doug after he, quite grudgingly, admitted her into his and Chase’s home. Rachel would have happily gone to the Mayor’s office, but he, curiously, had decided not to come in today. She’d also needed to fight her way through the throng of reporters congregated just outside the Hamilton-Rivera house, and, admittedly, felt a bit surprised when Doug selected to let her in over everybody else, snarling, “This was Chase’s idea, not mine.”
“Why?” Doug asked now, his tone no more cordial, his arms crossed, standing squarely planted in the center of his living room, offering Rachel neither a seat, a drink, or even to take her coat.
Rachel demurred politely.
“You know,” Doug said. “Usually, Chase is the one who blows up at the slightest hint of an insult and gets snarky, while I’m the one left running around, trying to keep the peace and not offend anyone.”
“A noble trait. More people could learn to keep their temper in check.”
“Well, not this time,” he warned. “This time, Chase is happy to turn the other cheek, while I’m going for the jugular. What say we start with yours, Mrs. Hutchins?”
“I am sorry if the content of Grant’s press conference last night upset you…”
“I really doubt that you are.”
“You were not my target,” she clarified. “You are as much a victim of Mayor Hamilton’s lies and deceptions as – “
“That husband of yours who got his own kids killed while skipping the country to avoid paying for his crimes?” In response to the look on Rachel’s face, Doug elaborated, “Now see, there, you actually were my target.”
“Your anger is misdirected, Mr. Rivera.”
“I have faith in the man I love, Mrs. Hutchins. What a shame you can’t say the same.”
“Your faith,” she imitated his tone, turning the sincerity into an insult. “Is, I’m afraid, as misdirected as your anger.”
“I don’t think so. I’ve known Chase for twenty years. I know exactly the kind of man he is. And if you believe some trumped up recording is going to change – “
“Did you know about his relationship with Lila?”
“Yes,” Doug clipped.
“He’s in love with her,” Rachel stressed. “You heard what he said. You can’t deny that is Chase’s own voice on our recording.”
“Chase loves Lila as a friend. He respects her as a colleague. And he is attracted to her as a woman.” Doug delivered the last observation without a trace of agitation.
“And that doesn’t bother you?” Rachel asked.
“Did it bother you that your husband once kept your future daughter-in-law – whom he also killed a few months back – as an underage sex toy?”
Rachel’s mouth opened, then closed without a sound, her mind unable to settle on which accusation to deny first.
“Now you see why Doug usually leaves the snarking to me,” Chase observed, coming down the stairs and joining them. “He is way, way too good at it.”
“You’re a very lucky man,” Rachel regained her voice in time to tell Chase. “To inspire such loyalty.”
“I know,” Chase said, looking at Doug with such unabashed affection that it made Rachel doubt the efficacy of her plan for the first time. No one who saw the two of them together could ever truly be fooled into…
Rachel said, “I believed in my husband, too.”
“I know,” Chase told her almost sympathetically. Which somehow made the entire exchange feel even worse.
And reminded Rachel of why she’d come by in the first place. “I have an offer for you, Mr. Hamilton. A way to save your political career.”
“From the blow you attempted to deal it?”
“Precisely,” Rachel said.
“Thanks for the lift,” Allie told Sarah as they sat outside the body-shop where Allie’s car was being fitted for a brand new windshield.
“No problem,” Sarah mumbled, her mind obviously a million miles away.
“You okay?” Allie prompted, lowering her voice, despite the mechanics sitting around them clearly having other matters on their minds.
“Sure. I’m not the one being stalked,” Sarah said.
“I got through it once,” Allie dismissed. “I’ll get through it again.”
“Do you think it’s the same person?”
Allie shrugged. “Who knows? Apparently, anything I do is bound to piss somebody off. Who knew the rest of the world was so much like my mom?”
Sarah actually smiled at that, though the expression faded as quickly as it arose.
“What’s wrong, Sarah?” Allie pushed. Because she cared. And because it beat thinking about her own problems.
“Are you….” Sarah swallowed and started again. “Are you ever… sorry you gave up Hudson?”
“No.” The answer was immediate and unequivocal. “Never.”
“He was your own baby. He was a part of you.”
“What did I know about being a mom?”
“What did your own mom know before you were born? What does anybody know?”
“They know if they want the kid or not. My mom, your mom, me… none of us wanted a baby. We all just got stuck with one. And you know how that turned out.”
“Your mom loves you, Allie. And mine loves me,” Sarah admitted reluctantly. “It’s only that she…”
“Wasn’t ready. Plus all the crap with your dad didn’t help, same as me and GQ. It was just a bad scene. I didn’t want that for Hudson. I wanted him with a Mom and Dad who were dying for him. Who’d been praying for him. Who thought he was a miracle, not an inconvenience.”
“And you’ve never regretted it?”
“He’s happy with Rick and Mindy. He wouldn’t have been happy with me. I wouldn’t have been happy and, no matter what he claims or what he thinks, GQ wouldn’t have been happy either. Hudson is a living, breathing testament to how he screwed up in sleeping with me. What guy wants a kid around to remind them of that?”
Nasser El-Gamal proved to be a man of his word. After politely accepting Frankie and Cass’ passports and promising to take very good care of them, he spent the remainder of that day as well as the next taking the Winthrops on a whirlwind tour of Dubai, where he permitted them go where they wanted, speak to whomever they wanted, and ask as many questions as they saw fit.
El-Gamal introduced Cass and Frankie to the fantastically rich tourists frolicking with live dolphins at the manmade beach on Palm Island, and to the merely moderately rich shopping in the Dubai Mall; at 1200 stores, the largest in the world. He took them to the top of the 124th floor at the Burj Khalifa for a 360 degree view of his humble principality, and to the indoor amusement park in Ferrari Land for the world’s fastest roller-coaster.
Everyone they met had, of course, heard of Carl Hutchins. And everyone they met took great pains to offer condolences on his death.
El-Gamal did not appear to be stopping them from doing anything they wanted. Except that, at the end of the second day, same as the first, he dropped them off in their suite at the Burj Al Arab Hotel, situated on an artificial island, and reputed to be the only 7-star ranked deluxe destination on the planet.
As Frankie looked around the ground floor lounge with its dining table for four and the private bar, a plush carpet and gold paneled windowpanes, and up the spiral staircase to the second level, where their king-sized bed stood only a few feet from a luxury bathroom complete with Jacuzzi, she double-checked with her husband, “We’re being held prisoner, right?”
Cass nodded, “In a very, very gilded cage.”
“Iris,” Lucas’ pronunciation of her name might have referred to a long-ago engagement that came about due to nothing more than mutual convenience, or to a relationship that had been a big game of play-acting from the start. Or maybe it was merely exhaustion.
“Hello, darling!” Whether or not she felt similarly was besides the point. Iris still sailed through the door of Lucas’ hotel room, pecking him on the cheek and tossing her coat on a nearby couch before turning around, hands on her hips, to inquire, “We simply must do something!”
“Must we now?” Lucas sighed, not knowing what she was talking about. Knowing only that he didn’t want to know. Knowing also that ignorance wasn’t an option. Where Iris was concerned, it was simply too dangerous.
“We cannot allow Carl to get away with what he has done to your family.”
“From where I’m standing, he already has,” Lucas noted grimly. “My daughter is dead. Both of my daughters are dead. Because of him.”
Lucas gave up. “What are you talking about, Iris?”
“I am talking about Rachel’s insistence on burying her head in the sand and somehow twisting the facts to make Carl come out both the victim and the hero in this travesty.”
“So what?” He threw his hands up in the air. “What does it matter now?”
“It matters. Carl must be held responsible for his actions.”
“Will it bring Lorna back?” Lucas wondered.
“It might. Listen to me. This would hardly be the first time Carl Hutchins has faked his death to get out of a difficult situation. And if he’s alive, so are Rachel’s twins. And so is Lorna.”
Thinking of what Felicia has asserted earlier, Lucas anxiously asked her, “You think Rachel is in on this? Carl faking his death, I mean?”
Iris paused, considering the possibility. “If that’s the case, she is certainly doing a marvelous job playing the grieving widow and mother. I’ve watched her these past few months. To all intents and purposes, she is inconsolable. Goodness, she’s supporting Grant Harrison for Mayor and gunning for Chase Hamilton like a woman possessed. If she knows Carl is alive – “
“So you’re the only one who thinks that? This isn’t about Rachel?”
“Of course, this is about Rachel. Her husband got her son’s wife killed, and still she goes about praising the man to the heavens.”
“Rachel doesn’t believe Lorna was on Carl’s plane when it went down.”
“Wouldn’t you like to prove otherwise?”
Another shrug. “Again, would that bring my daughter back?”
“No. But, it might get you some justice. It might, at the very least, afford you, Felicia, and Jamie some peace of mind, some closure.”
“And it would devastate Rachel,” Lucas guessed.
Iris shrugged blithely. “A pleasant side-benefit.”
“What’s in this for you?” Lucas wanted to know. “Other than doing a good deed for me, Fanny, and Jamie, naturally.”
“Naturally,” she agreed sweetly.
“What are you up to, Iris?”
“Rachel is gunning for me,” she told Lucas honestly. “Amanda is, too. They want me out of Cory Publishing, and they don’t care how they accomplish that feat. I need some ammunition to use against them. Well, Rachel mostly. Amanda, I could handle on my own if it came to that.”
“And you think proving that Carl kidnapped and killed my daughter – “
“Or that he’s holding Lorna somewhere, along with Elizabeth and Cory.”
“No,” Lucas groaned. “That would be…. The idea of it…”
“But, don’t you want to know for sure?” She pleaded with him. “Don’t you want to know exactly what happened to Lorna?”
“So that you can use that information against Rachel?”
“What difference do my motives make, if they gets you answers?”
“What do you want from me? I don’t know anything. Don’t you think that if I did, I’d be out there, looking for Lorna and Carl myself?”
“You know what happened when you, Carl, and Spencer went after the compound. If Carl isn’t faking his death, if he is truly gone, odds are the killing blow was dealt by them in retribution. It’s a logical trail to follow.”
“Only if you want to end up as dead as Carl and Lorna.”
“I have powerful friends, too. People who can ask questions the rest of us don’t dare whisper. People who can get us the answers we need.”
“Us,” Lucas repeated. “The last time there was an us with people like that, Kirkland got kidnapped and Spencer was beaten to death. You’ll forgive me if I appear less than enthused for a repeat performance.”
“Isn’t your daughter worth paying any price?”
“My daughter has children. I have no intention of putting them in danger by helping you pursue a forty year old vendetta against your stepmother.”
“I’ll be careful. I won’t even mention your participation. I just need a few leads, some names, a place to start. Who might have wanted Carl dead?”
“You mean besides everyone we know?”
“Who had the means to make it happen? I promise you, Lucas, work with me, and we will get to the bottom of what really took place this past 4th of July. Whether Carl and Lorna are dead or alive, you and Felicia and Jamie will finally know for certain. We will confront Rachel with incontrovertible evidence. And, if nothing else, we’ll rip that counterfeit halo that she has erected around Carl’s blasted head off for good.”
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