“Mr. Hutchings, Mrs. Hutchins,” Toni Burrell said, looking from Carl and Rachel to Jamie and Lorna as she stood in the Cory foyer. “We received a phone call down at the station. It was a confession of attempted murder. Your attempted murder, sir. And it came from this house.”
While everyone absorbed the news – and it’s implication, Carl had only one question. “And what might you be doing here, Mr. Hamilton?”
“Toni asked me to come along. For legal advice.”
“You are not the District Attorney anymore.”
“No. But the gentleman in question is currently too busy posing for photo opps to get any actual, judiciary work done. So you shall have to make do with me, I’m afraid.”
“My cup runneth over,” Carl drawled.
While Rachel was much more interested in the issue at hand. “A confession… Who – who confessed?”
“Me,” a voice from behind them said.
“So, what’s the plan?” Lila pulled her coat tightly around her and shivered, despite sitting in Grant’s car at the Bay City docks, with the heat on full blast. He’d picked her up at the Cory Mansion and drove straight here without a great deal of detail regarding what might happen next.
He said, “How cold would you say the water is, this time of the year?”
“I’d say it’s giving the ol’ polar vortex a good run for its money.”
“And how long do you think a person could be expected to survive there? Especially a person who’s recently suffered a stroke?”
Lila’s eyes widened. “You’re thinking of going in?”
He shook his head. “No. But, when the police dredge my car up from the bottom of the bay, with the passenger door open, the seat-belt undone and no sign of me, what else can they deduce?”
“That’s it? That’s your big plan?”
“Can you see any holes in it?”
“Nope. Only holes I see are inside your head.”
He smiled fondly. “I do love you, Lila, I really do.”
“Peachy. Now quit buttering me up and tell me what role you expect me to play in this – may I say it again for the record, Counselor – very, very terrible arrangement?”
“I need a witness to say that I was, in fact, in the car when it went under, and that you didn’t see me surface consequently.”
“So what’s my story? I just happened to coincidently be passing by?”
“No. You were in the car with me. Passenger side.”
“So you want me to take that dunk instead of you?” Lila’s hackles rose in disbelief. “You know, to set the scene, and all?”
“We can say you were thrown clear,” Grant reassured. “Or maybe you jumped out when you realized what was happening. How about, we were driving, I lost control of the car – I’m still disoriented from the stroke, or maybe I had another one? You jumped out, I was trying to do the same but my seatbelt jammed, and I went in the water with the car. You saw me struggling with the door, but the car sank too fast, and you never saw me again.”
“Thought of everything, didn’t you?”
“I have done this before,” he reminded. “And for far less noble reason.”
“Would you can the far, far, better thing I do bit, please? It’s making me a little queasy.”
“I’m sorry, Lila. If I could think of some other way that didn’t involve you…”
“Too late,” she snapped.
“I really appreciate you doing this.”
“Yeah, well, I’m trying to see the situation from your point of view, instead of mine. Can’t say it’s making all that much sense yet, but guess it’s not my place to judge.”
“You’re an amazing woman.”
“I said, shut up already! If I were as amazing as you say, I’d have figured out some way to talk you out of this damn, fool errand. If you really think your wife and child would prefer you a-moldering in your grave instead of home with them and maybe a little bit under the weather – “
“They wouldn’t. But, I would.”
“Then you’re a selfish son-of-a-bitch, that’s what you are.”
“Maybe,” he conceded. “But, I don’t think so. I think I am doing the very best I can for my family. And if Kirkland is any indication, well, then Sarah and Daisy won’t miss me at all…”
All six heads swiveled in the direction of the voice that had just so brazenly taken the blame for Carl’s attempted murder.
“Me,” Cory repeated.
Rachel gasped in what might have actually been physical pain. While Carl’s face burned crimson and he took a stumbling step forward, all but shooing Cory back up the stairs, as if that might somehow erase his confession.
“You do realize,” Toni spoke up. “That anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law, don’t you son?”
“Don’t say another word!” Carl ordered.
But Cory ignored him to assure Toni, “I know what I’m doing, Chief Burrell.”
“Why?” Rachel croaked out. “Why, Cory?”
“Because I couldn’t let you go on blaming Lorna for something I did,” he said simply.
“Oh, Cory….” Lorna shook her head from side to side.
While Jamie bobbed his appreciatively up and down, telling his brother, “Thank you.”
“This is all your fault!” Rachel whipped around to confront them both. “You did this to him! You brainwashed him, that’s what you did! This woman,” she informed Toni and Chase. “This grown woman seduced my 16 year old child. You want to arrest someone, arrest her!”
“This happened in the state of Illinois?” Chase asked.
“No,” Cory said. “In Switzerland.”
“Not a crime then,” Chase deferred.
“But, it’s what lead up to all this. Can’t you see that? Lorna’s abuse obviously upset and confused my son to such an extent that he couldn’t possibly be held responsible for any subsequent actions.”
“No, Mom. Just… no.”
“Hold your tongue, Cory!” Carl barked in frustration.
“No. I won’t. I called Chief Burrell because I wanted this over with. First, Mom accused Lorna of shooting Father – even though she hadn’t seen a damn thing; she couldn’t have. I was already leaving the study when I heard her coming. And then, when it didn’t look like that was going to happen, she set her sights on Donna. And then Lucas. Mom wasn’t going to quit until somebody did time for my crime. So here I am.”
“Why, honey?” his mother softened her voice, realizing that accusations weren’t going to get her anywhere. “Why would you say something like this?”
“You mean, why would I do something like this? I did it for you, Mom.”
“What?” Her throat tightened and Rachel nearly doubled over. Jamie instinctively reached out and caught Rachel’s arm, steadying her. No matter what he might have just said to her, Jamie still couldn’t allow his mother to fall.
“I couldn’t let Father go on lying to you the way he has been.”
“How dare you?” Carl demanded.
“He’s been lying to you about everything. Not just about kidnapping Lorna. Though, he did do it. And for no reason other than spite. He wanted to see her and Jamie punished for driving him out of the country. Though, the part I never got was – what did Jamie and Lorna have to do with him breaking the law, right, Mr. Hamilton?”
Chase advised, “You really should have a lawyer present, son. This isn’t good for you.”
“I don’t care,” Cory said. “I don’t care what happens to me. As long as Mom is finally safe.”
“Safe from what, honey?”
“Safe from him,” Cory indicated Carl.
“I would never, ever harm your mother!”
“Then what do you call taking Elizabeth and me and pretending we were dead?”
“That was for your own safety. And hers.”
“No,” Cory said. “You’re lying. I knew you were lying from the start. We weren’t hiding from Iris or the compound. We were hiding from the U.S. Justice Department. I didn’t want to go with you. I only did it because of Elizabeth. She needed me. Elizabeth did want to go with Father,” Cory clarified. “That was one thing he didn’t lie about. And I went along, to keep an eye on her. Father tried to convince me otherwise, but I knew I was as much a prisoner as Lorna. That’s why I tried to help her get away. I called you, Mom. Did you get my call?”
Rachel nodded slowly, unable to speak.
“I wanted to get help for Lorna.” He turned to Jamie, “I’m sorry. I did the best I could, but I was afraid she was going to die. She wasn’t moving and… That’s why I ended up contacting Father. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Cory,” Jamie’s voice was gentle. “Nobody is blaming you.”
“I blame me. Maybe if I hadn’t agreed to go…”
“There was nothing you could have done,” Lorna reassured. “If he took me by force, do you really think he would have drawn the line at forcing you?”
“Lorna,” Chase asked, “Are you formally accusing Carl Hutchins of kidnapping you?”
She met her ex-benefactor’s eyes. She said, “Yes.”
Carl’s face darkened but, at this point, it honestly looked like he didn’t know whom to go after first.
Cory went on, focusing only on Rachel, “I bid my time until I was eighteen. Then I ran away again. I knew Father wouldn’t be able to make me go back – well, legally, anyway. I came home and I thought I could finally tell you everything. I thought I could make you see what he’d done to you. What he’d made you an accessory to. Whom he’d turned you into. But you still believed Father. Every word. And you went along with him. With his lies. I realized there was only one way to end this. Only one way to save my mother.”
Marley knelt by Dennis’ inert form. Blood was gushing from the side of his head where she’d hit him in a rage.
She rested her fingers at the base of his neck, feeling for a pulse. Waiting.
She stood up slowly, instinctively wiping the blood from his face off her hands, leaving crimson streaks on her skirt as a result.
She stood in the center of the room for a moment and then, decisively, Marley reached for her purse, pulling out her cell-phone and pushing a button to dial.
She said, “Iris? It’s Marley. Your son is dead.”
“Is this true?” Rachel wasn’t looking at Cory anymore. She wasn’t looking at Jamie or Lorna or Toni or Chase. Her world had shrunk to Carl, and only Carl. Nobody else mattered. “Is what our son says true?” The rafters shook with the force of Rachel’s final word.
He held her gaze until Carl could sense Rachel wouldn’t be able to stand another minute of it. And then he said, “Yes.”
She inhaled sharply, as if struck, leaning back from the force of his words like from a blow across the face.
She had only one question, “Why?”
“For you,” Carl echoed his son. “I did it all for you.”
“How the hell was kidnapping my children and making me believe they were dead for three years something that you did for me?”
Lorna and Jamie exchanged looks. Another lie debunked. And in front of the law, no less. Chase and Toni had also taken note.
“I couldn’t bear it any longer, what your children were doing to you. Jamie, Amanda and Matthew were forcing you to choose between them and our family. I saw how that was tearing you up on a daily basis. I thought the only decent thing to do, as a man who loves you beyond all reason, was to eliminate the decision. By disappearing, I would eradicate the barrier that was keeping you from your oldest offspring. Do you remember the night you told me that Jamie and Lorna had chosen to name their child Mackenzie? You were so happy. And so heart-broken at the possibility that you might not get a chance to watch your Mac’s namesake grow up. I couldn’t allow that to happen. So I took matters into my own hands, and I made the ultimate sacrifice. I removed myself from contention, so that you might be free to enjoy your children and your grandchildren to your heart’s content.”
“What about Cory?” Jamie challenged this load of crap. “What about Elizabeth?”
“As my children, they were simply another barrier in your relationship with your mother.”
“Bullshit,” he snapped.
“Articulate as always, Jamie.”
“But, why did you have to make me think you were dead?” Rachel pleaded.
“Because,” his tone was infinitely reasonable. “That was but a single means to terminate the anguish, once and for all. The impossible position your eldest children placed you in could only be settled by my “death.” Otherwise, you would forever be torn between the two epochs of your life. Can you envision how excruciating it would have felt for you, knowing that I was alive but permanently out of reach due to the actions of your petty, spiteful brood? And how guilt-stricken you would have felt at keeping Elizabeth and Cory from me under those circumstances? No, Rachel, this was the only way. No matter how deeply it grieved me.”
“What about me, Carl?” Lorna spoke up. “How exactly did kidnapping me fit into improving Rachel’s relationship with Jamie?”
“You were the cause of it all,” he said calmly. “Jamie had no issue with me prior to your forcing your way into his life. And both Matthew and Amanda had long gotten over their respective snits. You were clearly the instigator. By removing your disruptive presence along with mine, I made it possible for your husband and his mother to reinstate the bond they once shared.”
“You’re unbelievable!” Jamie exclaimed.
“No,” Rachel said. “No, he’s not.”
Because, in that moment, Rachel had realized the most horrifying truth of all.
Her husband was telling the absolute truth.
“I feel kind of stupid, calling you like this,” Sarah apologized after Kirkland had driven all the way over to her house. “I interrupted something, didn’t I? You were on a date?”
“Forget about it. Jasmine understood. You said you were worried about Grant. Where is he?”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know. I went out to do the grocery shopping. I took Daisy with me. I didn’t want her bothering Grant. I wanted him to rest. And when I came back, he was gone. So was his car. He’s not supposed to drive. He’s not strong enough yet. I’ve called his cell-phone. He’s not picking up. I’m afraid something may have happened to him.”
“Did you call the police?”
“What, to report my grown-man husband missing after a couple of hours?”
“You said it yourself, he’s had a stroke. What if he had another one behind the wheel of a car?”
“But, why was he even out?”
“Who knows why Grant does anything?” Kirkland threw up his hands. “But, if you ask me, my money is on him wanting to show off that he’s perfectly fine. You know how he gets about stuff like that. He’s done it before, tons of times.”
“He’s changed,” Sarah insisted.
“Nobody changes that much.”
Sarah hesitated, biting her lip. “Can I tell you something awful?”
“Uh – sure,” Kirkland said, feeling anything but.
“I know Grant’s changed. I know he loves me. I know he would never do anything to hurt me. But…” she looked around before confessing, though Daisy was upstairs asleep, and there was no one else in the house. “Before her wedding to my dad – well, the wedding that my mom ruined; Marley came to see me beforehand. She wanted to bury the hatchet. We were all going to be family, after all. And, as a peace offering, she gave me the documents Grant signed, giving her joint custody of Daisy.”
“Oh… Wow.” Kirkland ran a hand through his hair. “Heck, I guess she really meant it. That’s great. Great for Aunt Marley, great for you. Grant must have been thrilled.”
“I didn’t tell him.”
“Because. No matter how much I love him. And I do love him. And I do trust him. I – I couldn’t help thinking of your mom. And what happened after she left him. I am never, ever going to leave Grant. But, just in case…”
“You didn’t want him knowing Marley had given up custody,” Kirkland guessed.
“Because, that way, he would think he had no legal right to take Daisy away from you.”
Sarah nodded, wordless.
Kirkland sighed. “I… I get it, Sarah. If I were in your shoes, I probably would have done the same thing.”
“I know Grant would never do to me what he did to your mom.”
“But, it’s nice to have an insurance policy, just in case, isn’t it?”
“It’s okay, really,” he began, when they were both interrupted by the ringing of Sarah’s phone.
She snatched it up, checking the display, asking, “Lila?”
Only to hear the other woman say, “I need to talk to you, Sarah. It’s about Grant….”
“He means it,” Rachel said, her horrible understanding dawning very, very late into the game. “He actually means every word he’s saying.”
“Of course, I do,” Carl seemed rather offended that anyone might think otherwise.
“Oh, come on, Mom. You’re not seriously going to buy what he’s selling, are you?”
“He means it,” Rachel repeated. “Oh, my God, he actually does mean it. Everything he did, he did for me.”
“Mom!” Now it was Cory’s turn to interject. “Don’t… Please….”
“This is all my fault,” she let the truth sink in. “I let things get this far.”
“No. Damn it, Rachel,” Lorna all but shook her mother-in-law by the shoulders. “Can’t you see what he’s doing? It’s what he’s always done. Making you feel responsible for his actions. Do you know how many times he’s pulled this on me? Made me feel so guilty that I actually ended up apologizing to him for making him do what he did to me? Don’t let him. Please.”
“This is none of your business, Lorna,” Rachel turned her back on them all. “This is nobody’s business. It’s between my husband and myself.”
“Actually,” Chase cleared his throat. “I beg to differ. Your husband broke numerous laws – and I’m not even counting the original charges I brought against him three years ago. There’s kidnapping, for a start. Plus, a fair amount of fraud, blackmail, extortion.”
“Just tell me where to file my complaint,” Lorna informed him and Toni.
“There is also the matter of Cory Hutchins’ attempted murder charge.”
At that, Rachel went pale. “No… You can’t… He’s just a child. And, as you heard, he’s been through so much…”
Chase took a step forward, making sure he had Carl and Rachel’s complete attention. He said, “There is something I can do for you.”
“I don’t want any special favors,” Cory said.
“It’s not a special favor,” Chase assured him. “It’s all perfectly legitimate and legal, par for the course, in cases like this.”
“Only a fool or an innocent would trust you. And I am neither,” Carl sniffed.
Chase shrugged. “Suit yourself. But, just so you’re aware, I spoke with Eduardo prior to coming over here. I have been authorized by the Justice Department, to drop all charges against your son – in exchange for you, Mr. Hutchins, pleading guilty to every single one of your crimes, going back forty years. So. What do you say?”
Despite 98% of readers voting for Another World Today to continue, only 2% have bought an Alina Adams enhanced ebook. AWT will be going on hiatus so that I can devote myself to promoting my Figure Skating Mystery series of novels during the Olympic season. What happens next is, as always, up to you….
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