“I’m sorry,” Felicia fervently swore to Jamie after she guiltily bolted from the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, only to have him follow her out into the hall.
“It’s okay.” He didn’t look it, but he was doing his best to make her believe it. “It’s not your fault. This is your meeting. I’m the one who barged in – “
“Nobody barges into AA, Jamie. If you need help, then you need help. That’s what we’re here for.”
“Yeah.” He ran a hand though his hair. “I’m sure that’s just what you came to hear, me talking about how I’m scared I won’t be able to hold it together to take care of Lorna’s kids. That must really put your mind at ease.”
“They’re your kids, too. And I have no doubt you are doing everything you possibly can for them.”
“Then what the hell am I doing here?”
“The same thing we all are. Admitting that we can’t do it alone.”
Jamie cocked his head to the side. “You are being surprisingly understanding.”
“There’s more to me than boas and best-sellers, you know.”
“I know. And a good chunk of it is disliking me.”
“I don’t dislike you, Jamie.”
“You didn’t think I was good enough for your daughter.”
“I didn’t think you were a good match for my daughter. And who cares what I think?”
“The last time you and I disagreed on family matters, we ended up in court. I can’t risk that happening again.”
“You,” she told him pointedly. “Have nothing to fear from me. Nothing, do you understand? The only thing I need from you is your promise that, no matter how bad things get, no matter how painful or difficult, that you will not give up faith in Lorna, or in her coming home. I’m counting on you. In fact, you’re pretty much all I have right now. Forget everything I may have said or done, but we both know that the only reason my daughter pulled out of her coma two years ago was because you believed in her.”
“Well, that and a few hundred thousand dollars of the latest in medical equipment,” Jamie joked, unsure of what else to say.”
“It was you. She came back for you and for your baby. She did it once. She can do it again, right? But, you can’t lose faith. Promise me.”
“I won’t,” he swore.
“I know it isn’t easy.” She squeezed his arm.
“No,” he admitted. “It’s not.”
“Especially with your mother being so adamant about Carl and… the rest.”
“Yeah. That’s the part of me feeling like I don’t have anyplace else to turn. I just didn’t mention it in there.” Jamie indicated the AA meeting room with his head. “Because, well, frankly, it was too complicated to explain.”
“Our family often is.”
“Our family?” Jamie double-checked.
“Will you be at Rachel’s for Christmas morning?” Felicia abruptly changed the subject, figuring she’d already made herself clear on that score.
“I don’t think so. Thanksgiving was… eventful enough.”
“Well, I doubt Iris will be invited back.” Felicia said, “Please come, Jamie. I’ll be there with Lori Ann. It would be so nice to have the girls together. And I think they’d enjoy it, too. I’ll run interference between you and Rachel, you have my word.”
“Why are you being so nice to me, all of a sudden?” Jamie had to ask.
“You came here for a helping hand. Congratulations,” Felicia punched her son-in-law playfully on the shoulder. “You’ve got one.”
Cass wasn’t sure how long he’d spent being held in a Dubai jail cell. All he could think about the entire time was:
1) Where was Frankie and was she okay?
2) Dubai jails were not nearly as comfortable as their luxury hotels. Why had he and Frankie thought that getting attested would make for a good escape plan, again? As far as Cass knew, the American Ambassador had yet to come calling. And that had kind of been the point of the entire exercise.
Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop were reunited. Not just with each other, but with Mr. El-Gamal.
And – oh, here was a surprise – with Peter Love.
“There you are!” He walked into the holding area, his tone chiding, as if Frankie and Cass had been deliberately hiding from him.
“Here we are?” Cass snapped. “Here you are! What the hell are you doing here?”
Peter turned to El-Gamal and instructed, “You tell them.”
The other man actually appeared sheepish. “My apologies,” he mumbled.
“Louder!” Peter ordered.
“My apologies,” he repeated. “I am afraid my little game unexpectedly went a bit… awry.”
“Your little game?” Frankie half-rose from her seat, ready to deck him. Cass pulled her back down.
Only to rise himself and repeat, “What little game?”
“Son of a bitch hid you from me,” Peter shook his head in disgust.
“He hid us from you?” Neither Cass nor Frankie could seem to stop repeating the previous speaker while putting emphasis on a different word.
“Remember that art collection of mine I had you sign over in St. Petersburg?”
“You mean the art collection that was Reginald’s then Donna’s then ours – never yours? That art collection?”
“I contacted Mr. El-Gamal and informed him there was a signature I lacked prior to my being able to take possession of the merchandise. Mr. El-Gamal, in turn, saw it is as the perfect opportunity to spirit you away and blackmail me regarding your whereabouts.”
“We were right here!”
“Well, I know that now, don’t I? My first big clue was seeing your face on the news.”
“We made the news?”
“Only BBC,” Peter didn’t want them getting too excited. “Not the American market.”
Cass and Frankie were dutifully disappointed.
“So it was you holding us hostage all along?” Frankie demanded. “Not Carl?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Peter reminded. “It was Mr. El-Gamal. He wanted to see how desperate I’d get and how much I’d pay in exchange for his releasing you.”
“And how much were we up to?” Cass had to know.
Peter demurred, “A gentleman doesn’t ransom and tell.”
“So now what?” Frankie wasn’t nearly as interested in calculating her worth on the foreign market.
“Now,” Peter withdrew a document from his inside jacket pocket. “All you need do is sign this piece of paper I just happen to have with me, and it will be my pleasure to escort you onto an airplane home.”
“Of all the stupid, juvenile, childish….” Frankie snatched the pen out of his hand and signed her name with a flourish, passing it on to Cass to do the same.
He read over the document first, then dutifully signed, too. “So are we free to go?”
“Oh, yes.” Peter indicated that El-Gamal should hold the door for Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop.
“What about the women who were arrested with us?” Frankie paused.
“Oh,” El-Gamal piped up cheerfully. “They have all been deported.”
“Back to the Philippines?”
“The Philippines, Eastern Europe, Africa. Whatever their country of origin.”
“But… you can’t do that. How are they going to support themselves and their families?”
El-Gamal shrugged, visibly unconcerned. “Guest workers come, guest workers break the rules, guest workers go.”
“But… Some of them live in extreme poverty. You’re basically sending them home to die!” Frankie exclaimed, having spent some of the time she did organizing the workers listening to their stories of why life as a servant in Dubai was still much, much preferable to the alternative.
“No,” El-Gamal corrected. “You are the ones who did that.”
“I want their names,” Frankie insisted. “I want their names and their contact information.” She looked to Cass. “We have to do something to help them.”
“Yes, yes, feel free to contact the Consulate,” Peter rushed Cass and Frankie out the door.
“This isn’t the last you’ve heard from me on the matter,” Frankie swore, even as they were being escorted to the exit. “Those people have rights!”
“Not in Dubai,” El-Gamal corrected her without any rancor, merely reality. “This is not America.”
“Let’s go, Frankie,” Cass, who too truly did care about the plight of the international working class, he really did – just not at this exact moment – urged her to drop the topic. Besides, he had one of his own he wanted to check on prior to being deported himself. “So, Carl being alive in Dubai, that was all a con to throw us off the scent?”
El-Gamal and Peter exchanged looks.
“Oh, Mr. Hutchins is alive. Whether or not he is residing in Dubai, I do not know. But, alive he most certainly is.”
“How can you be so sure?” Cass and Frankie leapt on the opening.
Peter challenged, “What’s Carl’s favorite wine?”
Now it was Cass and Frankie’s turn to exchange looks.
“Red?” Frankie ventured.
“White?” Cass guessed.
Peter smiled indulgently at the philistines. “Henri Javer Cros Parantoux. It retails for around $10,000 a bottle, give or take the exchange rate at any given time. Carl absolutely adores it. He has a permanent order in with the vintner himself. He gets priority as soon as a new batch is adequately aged and ready for shipping. Naturally, when news of his death got out, everyone’s first thought was: Hooray, finally our chance to snag a bottle of the liquid gold for ourselves!”
“Naturally,” Cass agreed dryly.
“Except that, as it turns out, every single potential buyer who made overtures regarding Mr. Hutchins’ portion was rebuffed. I’ve heard it over and over again from all around the world. We thought perhaps the winery was merely trying to drive up the price. But, no, comes the day of reckoning and the order still ships. We don’t know where, we don’t know to whom, we don’t know under what circumstances. All we know is one thing: Carl Hutchins is alive. And he is still surrounded by every comfort.”
“I was expecting you,” Grant opened the door to Kirkland, surprised it had taken his son more than a day to seek Grant out following Sarah’s televised bombshell.
“Yeah, well, I… I had to think about what I wanted to say, first.”
“Come in,” Grant beckoned him inside, already feeling chilled, and not from the weather. “It’s okay. Marley and the girls are out Christmas shopping. We’ve got the place to ourselves. You can say anything you like.”
“Marley and Midget are still… here?”
“You mean with me? Yes.”
“We’re going to try and work things out. Your aunt is an amazing woman.”
“So amazing you had to run out and cheat on her?” This wasn’t at all what Kirkland had planned to say on his way over. But, it was the first thing that sprung to mind.
Grant hung his head, taking a deep breath. “You don’t beat around the bush, do you, son?”
“Is it true? Did you sleep with Sarah? Is her baby yours?”
“It’s true that I slept with Sarah.” Grant looked his son in the eyes
“As for the baby being mine… I don’t know.”
“But, it could be, right?”
“Yes. It could.”
“You jerk!” Again, not part of Kirkland’s well-thought earlier plan. Just a gut instinct. “You son of a bitch! Both of you!”
“I wrote a statement.” Grant moved over to his desk, picking up a sheet of paper he’d just printed out. “I’m distributing it to the press in a little bit. It announces my withdrawal from the Mayoral race, too. Maybe you want to look it over, first.”
Kirkland slapped the document away. “I don’t need some stupid statement. I don’t need to be spun. That’s all you’ve been doing ever since you came back to Bay City.”
“What happened between Sarah and I, that has nothing to do with our relationship.”
“You screwed around on my aunt.”
“Yes. And, like I said, Marley and I are doing our best to work things out. But, again, that has nothing to do with you and me.”
“What about Steven? He said he was the baby’s father.”
“That’s between Sarah and Steven. Like I said, I have no proof her child is mine. It could well turn out to be your brother’s.”
“Or it could be my brother. What, Grant, after four little sisters, did you think I needed some help evening out the odds?”
“You have every right to be angry with me.”
“But, please understand, I won’t be having anything to do with this child. You don’t need to fear it displacing you in my – “
“You think that’s what this is about? You think I’m jealous you’re going to have another kid?”
“It’s the only aspect of this that affects you,” Grant stressed.
“And what do you mean you won’t be having anything to do with it?”
“I’ve made it clear to both Sarah and Marley that I have no interest in playing any sort of role in this child’s life. If I had my way, Sarah’s baby wouldn’t even know I was alive.”
“Oh,” Kirkland said. “So you mean just like you did with me?”
“Fancy running into you here,” Morgan observed.
Prompting a dazed, “Sorry, what?” from Amanda, who appeared to be a million miles away, despite the presence of shopping bags in her hand which suggested that while her mind may have been elsewhere, her credit card understood its duty as an American.
“I never pegged you for the mall type,” Morgan indicated the gaily decorated shops on either side of them, each blaring its own version of Christmas music in a dogged belief that being yelled at would drive people into their store – or, at least, it would drive them out of the competition’s.
“Allie, Mom and I used to do our shopping together every year,” Amanda reminisced somewhat fondly. “And then, a little while back, Allie stopped speaking to me over something I can’t remember, and my mother also was preoccupied – although, in this case, I’m sure it was about Carl, and I ended up bringing Elizabeth along. That was… interesting. She was a weird little kid. And that stunt she pulled with Kevin… but, it’s – I didn’t expect it – I actually miss her today.”
“I’m sorry,” Morgan said.
“You know, Carl didn’t just cost my mother her children. He cost Matt, Jamie, and me our siblings, too. And our mother, to an extent.”
“My mom and Cass had a major falling out back when I was a kid. He stormed away and never looked back. I remember thinking, okay, I get it, he’s mad at her. But, why did he have to turn his back on us, too?”
“So, in a nutshell: Don’t get attached to your siblings?”
“Let’s make it even simpler: Don’t get attached to anyone. Ever.”
“Right…” Amanda raised an eyebrow. “I remember.”
“Would you believe I wasn’t even referring to that – to us?”
“Doesn’t matter. You still have a point.”
“I was joking.”
Morgan smiled. “By the way, I didn’t get a chance to send my congratulations before, I hear Jen made a full recovery.”
“Yeah. That’s – that’s been great.”
“I guess it wasn’t optimal the way it happened. Her dad – her real dad – her other dad – help me out here, what’s the PC term, these days? I can never keep up.”
“Bio dad, birth dad, deadbeat dad. They all apply in this case.”
“Well, you got what you needed, even if the circumstances weren’t exactly optimal. At least it’s all over with now.”
“Yeah…” Amanda said, once again lost in thought.
“I waited until I saw Kirkland leave,” Iris informed Grant, her knock on his door coming mere minutes after Kirkland’s slamming, rancorous departure. “You have a great deal of anguish coming your way, and I wouldn’t wish to cut so much as a single second of it short. Only proper that we should all take turns.”
“Go away, Iris. I’ve explained myself to the only people who matter: my wife and my son. I don’t owe you anything.”
“Do you honestly think you can seduce my granddaughter – “
“Trust me, Grandma, if there was any seduction going on, your precious chip off the old block was the one initiating it, not me.”
“Because you are simply that irresistible?”
“So I’ve been told.”
“You’re a politician, Grant, surely you know puffery when you hear it. It is, after all, your stock in trade.”
“And you’re a bitch, Iris, surely you know when to crawl away and die alone like a proper junkyard dog.”
Her eyes widened. Not because Iris was shocked at the insult – she’d heard much, much worse; not to mention dished out a great deal more clever – but because of the coarseness with which Grant uttered it. Truly, she’d never seen him so upset. He wasn’t even making a token attempt to appear in control or above it all. And that intrigued her to no end.
“Touched a nerve, have I, Senator? And it is still Senator, isn’t it? No chance of you moving up – or even down – the political ladder at this point, is there?”
“You tipped off Hamilton, didn’t you? Sarah would have never done something like this on her own.”
“She’s young. She still has a lot to learn. Like which kind of men are worth your time – and tears. And which kind are not.”
“Exactly. Sarah is young. She has her whole life ahead of her. Your encouraging her to go ahead and have this baby solely in the interests of feeding your own dried up, barren, pathetic, needy ego is exploitation in its purest form.”
“Said the man who bedded a girl young enough to be his grandchild.”
Grant plowed over her observation with one of his own. “By making her situation public, you’ve made it impossible for Sarah to ever put this mess behind her. You’ve doomed her to spending her entire future defined by a mistake she made at an age when most of us have done a lot worse – with far lesser consequences.”
“Clearly didn’t teach you any lessons.”
“Clearly,” Grant agreed without argument.
Again, most intriguing. He wasn’t acting at all in the way Iris would have expected, not saying the things she expected him to say, certainly not offering up the predicted excuses. Iris resolved to press further.
Except that, in the moment, they were both interrupted by yet another knock on the door, this one more urgent than even Iris’.
“Popular man,” Iris observed as Grant moved to see who it was. Anything to get away from her, presumably.
He opened the door to Olivia Matthews.
She looked from Grant to Iris and raged, “What the hell have the two of you together done to my daughter?”
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