Chase informed Carl, “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?”
Rachel gasped, Lorna and Jamie exchanged looks, Toni stood by in case she needed to send in reinforcements, and Cory insisted, “No!”
Only Carl declined to say a word. He remained as he was, facial expression barely flinching, studying Chase coolly before drawling, “Your offer has been duly noted.”
“And?” Chase prompted.
“It will be given all due consideration.”
“What’s there to consider?” Rachel exploded. “Carl, it’s a chance to save Cory!”
“I don’t need saving,” her son corrected. He asked Chase, “What if I don’t accept your offer?”
“Would you please shut up,” Carl thundered, finally loosing his cool with his son in a manner he’d managed to avoid with both the Chief of Police and the mayor.
“You need to think about it,” Chase smirked, Carl’s actions having confirmed everything he’d ever believed about the man.
“What sort of individual would I be, otherwise?”
“A decent one,” Chase advised, his words aimed more at Rachel than at Carl. “A decent father, in any case.”
“Get… out… of… my… house.”
“Very well,” Chase shrugged, beckoning Cory forward. “Young man, would you be kind enough to come with me, please?”
While her son stepped forward to do precisely that, appearing almost pleased by the opportunity, Rachel blocked his way, pleading with Toni and Chase, “Twenty-four hours? Will you at least give us twenty-four hours to pull ourselves together? After everything we’ve just heard… it’s such a shock….”
Toni looked to Chase, who gave the matter a long moment of thought. “Twenty-four hours,” he finally conceded. “But, you won’t have any objections to Chief Burrell leaving a cruiser by your front door?”
“That would be fine,” Rachel said quickly, not giving Carl the chance to disagree.
“And an officer at the back door?”
“Fine,” Rachel hissed.
“And the stationing of a half-dozen foot patrols all along the property?”
“Are you quite finished?” Carl demanded. “Or do you still dare pretend this entire exercise is anything less than humiliating me for the benefit of that father-in-law who pulls your strings? Tell me, Hamilton, how much does Eduardo regularly plunk into your political coffers so that you might continue keeping his son… thoroughly satisfied?”
If Carl were hoping to enrage Chase with his unsavory implication, he must have been sorely disappointed by the lazy smile that stretched across Chase’s face at the mention of Doug. “I’m afraid you have it completely backwards, Mr. Hutchins.”
“We’ll be back in twenty-four hours,” Toni looked from Carl to Cory. “For one of you.”
She and Chase turned to leave, passing Jamie and Lorna on their way out.
The younger couple looked at the elder for a long beat, before Jamie said, “I think we’re done here, too.”
He locked eyes with Rachel, then deliberately looked away.
“Hold on a second,” Lorna said, letting go of Jamie’s hand and taking a step forward. “Just one more thing I need to do.”
She raised her arm, and punched Carl smack in the jaw, the satisfying crack reverberating throughout the Cory mansion as he staggered backward, needing Rachel’s help to keep from hitting the ground.
“Now we can go,” she informed her husband pleasantly.
Kirkland watched Sarah’s face turn progressing whiter as she clutched her phone, listening to Lila on the other end. First, her hands began to shake, then her head, growing more and more frantic as her mouth tried fruitlessly to form words, but only succeeded in a series of whimpers.
Kirkland could hear Lila loudly calling Sarah’s name over the connection, trying to get her to respond, wondering if she was even still there.
He grabbed the phone from Sarah, somewhat surprised that she didn’t resist, and pressed it to his own ear. “Lila? It’s Kirk. What’s going on?”
She told him the same thing she’d told Sarah.
Kirkland’s head whipped around and he met Sarah’s eyes. She seemed utterly lost, with no idea what she could or should do next.
“Come on,” Kirkland hung up on Lila and grabbed Sarah by the arm. “Let’s go down to the docks. They’re still searching the water. By the time we get there, Grant might be – “
“Daisy,” Sarah croaked out. Her daughter’s name managing to rouse her in a way nothing else had been able to previously. “We can’t leave Daisy alone.”
“Damn, you’re right,” Kirkland stole a quick look upstairs, where his half-sister lay sleeping. “How – how about this? You go, and I’ll stay here with Daisy.”
“No! Kirkland, please. You come, too. I can’t – I don’t know how…”
“You go first then. Go now. I’ll – I’ll call Jasmine. She can come over and baby-sit, and I’ll join you as soon as she gets here, okay? Okay, Sarah?”
“I… I suppose.”
“Lila said they’re looking for him right now. This doesn’t mean anything.”
“He shouldn’t have been driving,” Sarah said. “It wasn’t safe. He was still sick. I wanted to take care of him. Why didn’t he let me take care of him?”
“You can take care of him now.” Kirkland reached for his phone. “Let me call you a cab. You shouldn’t be driving, either.”
“Thanks, Kirk,” she looked at him gratefully, realizing her own mind had slowed to a crawl. Every ounce of concentration she could now summon was focused on Grant.
“No problem. It’s going to be okay, Sarah. I’ll – I’ll make sure everything turns out okay.”
“Iris? It’s Marley. Your son is dead.”
Those last four words had blasted Iris out of Russ’ home, into her car and across town to Dennis’ apartment.
Her heart pounded the entire way, lodging in Iris’ throat, making her head spin and her vision blur and the road weave dangerously in front of her.
She knew this would happen. Just like she’d always known everything of importance when it came to Dennis. She’d known that Cecile was bad for him. She’d known that Olivia was bad for him. But, Marley… Marley was the worst of all.
And now she’d….
A sob retched free of Iris’ chest.
She tore through the door of her son’s home.
Only to find him sitting at the kitchen table, Marley across from him, patching up with cotton, gauze and rubbing alcohol what appeared to be a nasty-looking – though, thank goodness, non-fatal – wound just above his left eye.
“Hello, Mom,” Dennis said without turning his head. “You made excellent time.”
“What – what?” Iris stammered. “What the hell is going on here?”
“Dennis is fine,” Marley assured her without taking her eyes off what she was doing. “He regained consciousness almost ten minutes ago, no worse for wear. And don’t let the blood fool you. Scalp wounds are messy. They look worse than they actually are.”
“Then why the hell did you – “
“I wanted to teach you a lesson,” the younger woman smiled beatifically, snipping off a loose bit of adhesive. “About what might happen, if you refuse to mind your own business where Dennis and I are concerned.”
“Did you hear that?” Iris sputtered to her son. “Did you hear her threaten your life?”
“Oh, come on, Mom. Stop being so melodramatic. I had it coming.” He gingerly touched the side of his face. “I did something pretty rotten to Marley – “
“And she attempted to kill you!”
“She was angry. She had every right to be.”
“That little bitch has no right to raise her hand to you!”
“I’m a big boy. I can take responsibility for my actions.”
“Come now, Dennis. Do you not see the double-standard, here? Why, if you’d been the one to assault her in such a manner – “
“I don’t hit women,” Dennis snapped.
“But, it’s perfectly alright for a woman to hit you?”
“It’s not the same.”
“It’s exactly the same. You should be pressing charges right now. This is abuse, pure and simple!”
“I can handle myself,” he stressed, moving from annoyed to offended.
“Oh, yes, I can see that.” Iris took another step forward, scrutinizing his injury closely. “You need stitches.”
“Marley can take care of me,” he insisted.
“But who,” Iris mused, “will take care of Marley?”
Although, deep down, she was already formulating a plan to do exactly that.
“Let me get you some ice for that,” Jamie indicated Lorna’s swollen, throbbing knuckles as they walked through the door of their house.
“Totally worth it,” Lorna assured him, even as she winced.
“I don’t doubt it,” Jamie leaned in to quickly kiss her before heading for the kitchen.
“Lorna!” Felicia exclaimed in surprise, having come down the stairs after checking on Devon and Mackenzie. “I - I didn’t expect you…”
Her daughter looked up, caught equally by surprise and, voice shaking with both fatigue and relief after the earlier events at the Cory mansion, blurted out, “M-Mom?”
In that one word, just in the way Lorna said it, Felicia understood that it was all finally over. The lying and the suspicion and the pretense. All over at last.
Felicia flew down the rest of the stairs and Lorna threw herself into Felicia’s arms. They were both crying, both trying to talk at the same time, and both realizing that there was nothing that really needed to be said, after all.
It was over.
“What happened?” Felicia tore herself away from Lorna’s embrace long enough to look from her to Jamie. “What happened at Rachel’s?”
“Carl admitted he took Lorna by force,” Jamie said. “He wasn’t protecting her from any damn thing. He just wanted to punish us for turned Mom against him.”
“And Rachel knew?”
“No. Not for the three years that Lorna was gone. But, since he’s been back… yeah. She lied to all of us when she said Carl had her permission to take the kids and Lorna. She did it to cover for him.”
“She’s still covering for him,” Lorna said. “Cory confessed to shooting Carl.”
“Chase offered Carl a deal. The charges against Cory dropped in exchange for Carl confessing to all his multiple crimes – including kidnapping me.”
“But, he still needs to think about it,” Jamie sneered.
He nodded grimly. “Mom is looking out for Carl. But Carl is looking out for Number One. As usual.”
Kirkland waited until Jasmine’s car pulled up to Grant and Sarah’s house before waving her inside and rushing out himself.
He arrived at the docks, by his calculations, only a half-hour or so after Sarah must have gotten there.
But there was no news.
Sarah stood next to Lila, both of them shivering and pulling their coats tighter around themselves in the face of an artic wind. Kirkland took off his own jacket and wrapped it as a second layer over Sarah’s shoulders.
She smiled faintly in gratitude, the expression promptly fading as she said, “They haven’t found him. They dredged up the car… but no Grant.”
“There’s a current,” Kirkland said. “He could have floated – “
“The water is so cold. If we’re freezing up here, imagine how cold it is in the water.”
“But, that’s good,” Kirkland insisted. “I read once about how lowering body temperature actually helps people survive under water. It slows down their respiration or something.”
“Why was he driving?” Sarah demanded of Lila. “Why were you with him?”
Lila swallowed hard and told Sarah the truth. “He needed some space. He didn’t like being treated like an invalid.”
“I was trying to take care of him! I was doing what the doctors said!”
“You know how conceited Grant is.” That was the truth, too. “He couldn’t handle seeing himself like that. Like a burden on you.”
“He wasn’t a burden. He was my husband.” Sarah corrected herself. “He is my husband.”
Kirkland asked Lila, “Did Grant have another stroke? Why did he lose control of the car?”
“That’s what it looked like,” Lila moved over into definite lying territory, telling herself it was what Grant wanted. What Grant believed was best for his wife and children.
“What have the police said?” Kirkland asked.
“They said,” Sarah answered, her voice dull. “That if they don’t find anything in the next hour, they’re going to call off the search. And declare Grant legally dead.”
“How could you let her do that to you, Father?” Lorna’s slugging of Carl had prompted Elizabeth to reveal herself from the shadows she’d been standing in, listening to those horrible people attacking her parents. Listening to her brother lead the charge.
“I’m fine, poppet, I’m fine,” Carl reassured, even as Rachel helped him to a chair and ordered one of the maids to bring them some ice for Mr. Hutchins’ jaw, quickly. “My own fault for ever teaching Lorna that surreptitious right hook.”
“The bitch should be in jail!” Elizabeth huffed, instinctively waiting for Rachel to correct her language. Feeling thrown off when no such reprimand proved forthcoming. Emboldened, Elizabeth added, “She’s the one who should be in jail. Not Cory. And not you.”
Her brother looked at her in surprise.
Elizabeth understood his question and insisted, “She made you do it. Lorna is the one who made you shoot Father. It wasn’t your fault.”
“It was,” Cory corrected softly. “Lorna didn’t make me do anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth pleaded with him, oblivious to everything else. “I’m sorry I told Mom about you and her.”
“I’m not,” Rachel snapped. “I’m grateful. It finally opened my eyes to the sort of woman Lorna really is, and what your father has been fighting against all these years. She will stop at nothing to destroy us. First Carl, then Matt, then Jamie, and now…” her voice broke as she reached for Cory. “You.”
He took a step back. “That’s not how it happened, Mom. You know that.”
“The only thing I know is that, no matter what happens after today, I stand to lose one of you. And it is all Lorna’s fault.”
“I’ll go to jail,” Cory said calmly. “Father doesn’t need to shelter me from anything.”
“That’s a parent’s job,” Rachel corrected sharply. “It’s our job to shelter you. And we didn’t. We let you walk right into that barracuda’s jaws. Well, not again. Never again.”
“Does that mean Father will go to jail, instead?” Elizabeth asked.
Rachel hesitated, looking sideways at her husband, accepting the ice from the maid and gently placing it against his jaw.
Carl told Elizabeth and Cory. “Go to your rooms. I need to speak privately with your mother.”
“You have no right to make my decisions for me,” Cory said.
“I have every right,” Carl thundered, despite the pain rattling his skill with each syllable. “I am your father, you are my son, and you will do what I say.” He addressed Elizabeth, as well. “You will both do what I say.”
Cowed, Elizabeth began to back away. Cory followed her, though his posture remained defiant. He looked briefly to Rachel for support, but she sent him away with a nearly imperceptible shake of the head, indicating that now wasn’t the time to challenge Carl – or her, for that matter.
They sat in silence for several moments, Carl dropping his face in his hands, rubbing it listlessly up to the scalp, digging his fingers into his hair, and all but ripping it out.
“I never expected…. Not from them. From anyone else, yes. You, even.” He looked to Rachel. “If you had turned on me, I would have understood. I have, after all, given you ample cause. But my own flesh and blood… I have spent decades mourning children I never got the chance to rear. I never imagined that the ones I did would… How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, eh, Rachel?”
“You need to do what Chases asks,” Rachel said simply.
Carl’s head jerked up, so startled he didn’t even register the resulting pain. “I beg your pardon?”
“I didn’t want to say anything while the others were here. What goes on between you and I is none of their business. But, you must do this, Carl. You have to save Cory. There is no other option.”
“My own son wanted me dead!”
“You said you’ve given me ample cause to turn on you. What about Cory?”
“From the day that boy was born, I have done nothing but love him and – “
“We lied to him, Carl. We lied to him about Spencer – remember? He and Elizabeth saw his body being dumped after you’d betrayed him.”
“It was none of Cory’s concern.”
“You stole him from me,” Rachel reminded, her tone steely. “And you put him in a situation where he truly believed his only friend was a woman who’s been out to get you since she was younger than Cory is now. What did you expect would happen?”
“I expected him to remain loyal to me.”
“Then you’re a fool,” Rachel said. “And you, my darling, are no fool.”
Carl conceded the point, with a hint of a smile.
“You have a plan,” Rachel guessed.
“The beginnings of one, yes.”
“Does it involve keeping Cory out of jail?”
“Then you have my complete support.”
He paused, “Shouldn’t you wish to hear its details, first?”
“No. I trust you. And as long as you say it will keep my son safe, I am willing to go along with anything you say.”
“Frankly, my dear, the long-term goal is to keep myself out of prison, as well.”
“Even better,” Rachel said. “So how do you propose we go about this?”
Now, at long last, the Carl Hutchins’ grin came out in earnest. “Mr. Hamilton demands everything that I have? Then he shall have it. It… and a great deal more.”
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