“I came to warn you,” Rachel informed Russ, ignoring the look of distaste on his face when he recognized who was standing on his doorstep. She invited herself in, figuring he wouldn’t. Not now. Not for a long time.
“If this is about Iris…” her ex-husband sighed.
“It’s about what’s going to happen to Iris,” Rachel corrected. “Carl is nearly finished putting together the evidence that will prove your wife was behind the contract put out on my children. He is very, very close to exposing her machinations and seeing that she is punished for her crimes.”
“He’s been saying that for a while now,” Russ observed. “And what do you know, we’re all still here.”
“Not for long,” Rachel corrected.
“If you came to threaten my wife, I’ll pass on the message.”
“I came to tell you to protect yourself. Being associated with Iris could be detrimental to your career. It could cost you your home, your savings – especially if you and Iris have combined your finances. The government could seize it all, you’d be left with nothing. It’s what Hamilton tried to do with me.” Rachel took a deep breath and added, “It could also cost you your life.”
“How do you figure?” Russ crossed his arms. “If Iris is, in fact, the heavy in this story, then she’s the one to be afraid of, not the one in danger.”
“She didn’t act alone. She couldn’t have. The compound had to have been behind it. And the moment that fact goes public, Iris becomes a liability. They will come after her the same way they came after Spencer – “
“You mean, the way they came after Spencer once your husband put them on his trail. Yes, Rachel,” Russ said. “I have gotten Alice’s side of the story. And it doesn’t exactly line up with yours.”
Rachel ignored him, tired of that particular argument and willing to let it go for now in order to stress, “They will come after her. And they will come after you. Olivia. Sarah. Daisy. Josie and her family. The compound will use them the same way Kirkland was used. As bait to lure Iris out. For God’s sake, Russ, look at the lengths Carl was forced to go in order to protect Elizabeth, Cory and Lorna. You don’t have the means to shelter your family the way that he did. Your only option is to get them out of the line of fire. And that means getting as far away from Iris as possible.”
“So why aren’t you taking your own advice then? If being associated with Iris poses a danger to me, why doesn’t the same hold for you and Carl?”
“Carl can take care of me,” Rachel asserted firmly, harboring not a single doubt that it was the truth.
“Not from Iris, apparently.”
“I underestimated Iris,” Rachel admitted. “Despite everything I’d been through with her, despite knowing exactly what she was capable of, I’m afraid Iris remains my blind spot. Because the idea of the daughter Mac raised and adored turning into a monster capable of executing children… I failed to see the obvious. And my family nearly paid the price. I don’t want that to happen to you, Russ. She’s your blind spot, too.”
“Actually, my wife and I see each other disturbingly clearly.”
“That’s what she wants you to believe. Iris has this tendency to confess a few sins and lull you into a false sense of security, thinking you know it all now. Only once you’ve been disarmed, that’s when she sticks the dagger into your back.”
“I really, really wouldn’t bring up back-stabbing as concept around me, if I were you,” Russ advised politely. “My wounds are still quite raw.”
“I’m sorry, Russ,” Rachel whispered, as sincere now as she had been about Carl earlier. “I am so, so sorry I hurt you. But, I felt I had no choice in the matter.”
“Save it,” Russ advised darkly. “I heard the first draft of this speech when you gave it to Jamie.”
“Jamie,” Rachel snorted, her anger at the entire situation coming out aimed directly at her oldest – and yes, she’d admitted it before; favorite – child. “My son who professes to love me. Until he decided he’d rather hate my husband, more.”
“Is that what you really believe?” Russ turned to Rachel, his eyes no longer full of ire, but now flooded with something almost akin to sympathy.
“Based on his behavior, what else am I supposed to think?”
“How about that the emotion Jamie feels that’s greater than his love for you isn’t hate – of Carl or anyone else. It’s fear.”
“That’s ridiculous. I told him, Carl finally has the situation under control. There is nothing to be afraid of any longer.”
“Your marriage to Carl has so far gotten first Jamie’s son, then his wife kidnapped. From where he sits, there is a great deal to be afraid of.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Rachel turned to go.
“I don’t think so,” Russ grabbed Rachel by the arm and pivoted her until she faced him. “But it’s not just Jamie who’s afraid of Carl. Carl is just as afraid of Jamie.”
“Because Carl loves me,” Rachel stressed. “Because he know how much Jamie’s actions hurt me.”
“It’s because he knows that if anyone can make you turn on him, it’s Jamie. You forget, Rachel, I was there when that boy was born. I saw how fiercely you loved him. How he completely changed your life. You want to talk about blind spots? Jamie is yours. And Carl knows it. He can take on anyone and win – except for Jamie.”
“You’re wrong,” Rachel shook her head. “I’ve made my choice. I’m sticking by Carl. No matter what Jamie says or does or threatens. I will not give in to my son’s immature, petulant tantrum-throwing. Never again.”
“Be careful, Rachel,” Russ warned. “Dismissing the messenger isn’t the same as dismissing the message.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you’ve chosen to chalk up Jamie’s behavior to childish, Oedipal jealousy, instead of taking a good, long, hard look at the reasons behind his actions, and his valid, justifiable fear. Jamie is hardly the only person to perceive Carl as a threat. The entire Justice Department – “
“Is under your wife’s thumb!”
“No,” Russ said softly, letting Rachel go, realizing she was way beyond either listening or hearing.
“Yes,” she hurried to the door before he could stop her a second time. “Don’t say I never warned you, Russ. Don’t say I never loved you.”
“You have no earthly idea how ghastly it was,” Donna, with Matt by her side, moaned to Cass and Frankie over Skype. “The manner in which they spoke to us! The way they refused to let us go even as it became crystal clear we had nothing of value to contribute to their investigation!”
“It must have been the longest twenty minutes of your life,” Cass mumbled under his breath as he and Frankie exchanged covert looks, both remembering the six months that their own investigation had taken from their lives – not to mention the imprisonment in Dubai and their near dehydration after days in the desert.
“So what do you suggest we do next?” Matt caught the undercurrent of the Winthrops’ sarcasm and proceeded to change the subject. “The doctor was our biggest lead, and now he’s dead.”
“Any idea how yet?” Frankie asked.
“The autopsy said Natural Causes,” Donna reported. “Which can mean only one thing.”
“What?” Matt asked, since it was the first time they’d had this conversation.
“It was most definitely not Natural Causes.”
“That makes sense,” Cass agreed, dead-pan.
“Donna is right,” Frankie swatted at him beneath the table, warning her husband to play nice. “It is all a bit too convenient. The day Matt and Donna show up at the clinic where Carl may have been hiding out, the doctor in charge suddenly dies – “
“After getting a phone call from Iris!” Donna reminded.
“You think Iris had him killed over the phone?” Cass double-checked.
“No. But, it could have been a distraction, couldn’t it? While someone else snuck in and actually perpetrated the dire deed.”
Cass cocked his head to one side. “She has a point there.”
Donna beamed and turned to Matt as if to say, “I told you so.”
“But, wait a minute,” Cass held up his hands in a football Time Out. “I thought we were after Carl here, not Iris.”
“They might be working together,” Matt offered his own pet theory.
“Working together to achieve what?” Frankie wanted to know.
“A takeover of Cory Publishing,” Matt proposed, thinking out loud, each sentence leading logically to the next. “Iris isn’t the only one who’s obsessed with winning back Mac’s company. Carl was desperate to take it over once too – remember? Something about his father committing suicide and Carl blaming Mac for it… This could be the opportunity they’ve both been waiting for.”
“Then why would Carl accuse Iris of being out to get him?” Frankie reasoned.
“A smokescreen,” Donna dismissed.
“So how do we prove it?” Matt wondered.
“You need to learn more about Carl and Iris’ relationship to that clinic,” Frankie said. “You need to talk to the nurse who told the doctor he had a phone call in the first place.”
“Grant came to see me,” Kirkland told Sarah as the pair lay in bed, both still trying to catch their breaths and so lolling lazily around until they’d mustered up the energy for another go-around.
“What did he want this time?”
“To talk to me. About you.”
“Me?” Sarah sat up, clutching the sheet around herself as if it might form a physical, protective barrier. “What about me?”
“Grant thinks you’re seeing somebody.”
“That’s none of his business. I told him that last time he was here. I can’t get over how possessive he acts. He’s the one who kicked me to the curb, he’s the one who goes home every night and screws his wife, and I’m the immoral, betraying slut?”
“Those weren’t exactly the words he used.”
“Probably because he still sees you as a little kid and didn’t think you’d know them.”
“About me? About the kind of example I’m setting for Daisy?”
“No. About himself. Grant told me he doesn’t want this… you… he doesn’t want it to be my and my mother 2.0.”
“Before my mom married Jake, she was engaged to this guy named Ryan.”
“I know,” Sarah said. “Grant told me all about Ryan. He shot him. There is nothing in the world that Grant regrets more than that. Not even abandoning you.”
“Yeah, well, before he shot him, Grant did some rotten things to Ryan and my mom. He’s afraid history will repeat itself.”
“He knows about you and me?” Sarah asked in horror.
“I’m not sure,” Kirkland admitted. “A couple of times while he was talking I thought he did. I thought he was trying to guilt me out of seeing you; bringing up Ryan the way he did. But then, other times, I thought he didn’t. I thought he was really being sincere.”
Sarah snorted. “Well, since that’s impossible, let’s go with your first theory.”
“I thought you said he really loved you.”
Sarah shook her head. “I said that I was stupid enough to believe that he really loved me. But, that was my mistake. He never even said it, you know? Not until it was too late. And then it was just another trick.”
“It did make me wonder; what would happen if Grant did find out about us?”
“You think he’d turn on you the way he did on Ryan?”
“I hope not,” Kirkland admitted.
“But, you’re not sure.”
“No. He did say he wanted me to help him. To watch him, remind him to stay cool.”
“You actually are feeling guilty,” Sarah realized.
Kirkland shrugged, indicating she wasn’t wrong.
“Come on, dude! You have got nothing to feel guilty about! It’s not like you stole me from your dad. Grant was done with me long before you showed up. And we’re not exactly sneaking around behind his back, considering he has no right to know what either of us is up to, ever. Grant dumped us both, remember? We don’t owe him a damn thing.”
“What about you?” Kirkland wondered. “Do I owe it to you and Daisy to save you from going through what my mom went through with him?”
“No,” Sarah dismissed easily.
“Because you don’t owe me anything, either. This,” she waved at the space between them. “This is supposed to be fun and easy and absolutely no strings. We like each other. Why make it any more than that?”
“Oh,” Kirkland said. Then, in the same breath, he told Sarah, “Jasmine asked me out earlier today.”
“Jasmine? Little Jasmine?”
“She’ll be seventeen in October – as she pointed out to me.”
“I didn’t think seventeen in October was exactly your type.” Sarah wrinkled her nose.
“It took so much courage for her to ask me. And she was so eager for me to say yes. She kept talking about how she didn’t want to be a little kid anymore, how all the other girls at school were more experienced than she was – “
“Okay, first up, tell Jasmine: Other girls lie. Especially about stuff like that.”
“I know,” Kirkland said. “But, I figured what harm could it do for me to take her out a few times, give her some confidence, then let her down easy? Or, better yet, maybe have her realize she can do better, and dump me herself.”
“You are such a nice guy,” Sarah cooed. “No wonder I like you.”
“So you’re okay with this?” Kirkland double-checked. “Me going out on a date with Jasmine?”
“Sure,” Sarah said. “Just make sure you stop by and see me after she’s safely home in time for curfew.”
Kirkland only smiled weakly in reply.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Lorna sighed tiredly at the sight of Lucas in the Cory house. “Everyone else has been by to say their piece already.”
“I’ve got no piece to say,” Lucas spread his arms to demonstrate he had nothing to hide, either.
“Then why are you here?”
“To see my beautiful daughter.”
“Can it. You could have seen me any time over the past three years. You knew I was with Carl.”
“I knew you were with him,” he confirmed.
Lorna blinked in surprise, suddenly confused all over again. “You… did? I thought you were claiming that…”
“When you disappeared the same day he did, I knew Carl had to have taken you against your will. It’s the conclusion anyone would have drawn.”
“Because of the threat against our lives,” Lorna prompted.
“Because it’s how Carl operates. He strikes people where he knows it will hurt them the most. Carl wanted to get back at me and at Jamie, so he stole you from us.”
“You’re lying,” Lorna determined.
“Does it matter?” Lucas asked.
“What do you mean? Of course, it matters! Look, I’m not stupid. I know what Carl’s done in the past, alright? I helped him with most of it. I know he’s no a saint. But, Carl looks out for his own. He’s loyal. He wouldn’t turn on – “
“He turned on you,” Lucas reminded.
“Great. More fairy tales from the lost decades!”
“No,” Lucas shook his head. “This happened before you came to Bay City. So you should remember it.” Lucas said, “Those pictures Carl had you take. The ones he threatened you with later to keep you in line…”
“How… how do you know about those?”
“I know because you told me. Are you going to deny that, too?”
“I made Carl do it,” Lorna defended. “I forced him into it, he had no choice. He’d poured all this time and energy and effort into training me. And I was and ungrateful, little bitch to him. I thought I could go it on my own. I was the disloyal one, not him. He only did that to remind me of what I owed him.”
“The same way he’s doing now?”
“I owe Carl everything,” Lorna stressed. “Do you know how many times he’s saved my life since I was a kid? He took care of me. Which is a hell of a lot more than you or my supposed mother ever did.”
That last barb had been deliberately aimed to hurt. And it hit its target. Unfortunately for Lorna, there was absolutely nothing she could say to Lucas on that particular subject that would prove worse than what he already felt about himself.
“You’re right,” he agreed.
Which threw Lorna for a loop. So she responded with even more fury, charging, “So where the hell do you get off, expecting me to believe you over him?”
“I don’t expect you to believe any of us,” Lucas said. “I do, however, expect you to do your own research. You’ve never been one to trust, Lorna….”
“Wow, there’s an insight,” she snarled.
“So why are you trusting Carl now? You think he’s telling the truth? Alright. How about some empirical proof then? It shouldn’t be too hard to find. Not for a smart girl like you. And then you can rub it in all our faces. Mine, Jamie’s… And you will have earned Carl’s eternal gratitude, to boot.”
“I can see what you’re doing,” Lorna taunted. “You’re trying to manipulate me.”
“Is it working?” he wondered.
“Yes,” she admitted grudgingly.
Olivia did everything right. She took note of where and when Morgan was meeting Lorna. Then, just in case there was a sudden change of plans, she even showed up early at the hospital and tailed Morgan the rest of the way to his apartment. She waited outside until she saw a woman duck into the lobby and take the elevator up to Morgan’s floor.
She barged in on them, camera at the ready (what was good for the Dennis, after all, was good for his ex, too.) She even snapped a few photos right away, before any of them had managed to regain their bearings.
So how, in the end, had everything still gone so wrong?
Because there, in flagrante delicto, was Morgan, yes. But, not Lorna. Not Lorna at all.
Sam’s ex-wife was looking up at Olivia, pleadingly.
“What are you going to do?” She demanded.
Olivia smiled. And got ready to tell her.
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