“Finally made up your mind, have you, Mr. Hutchins?” Chase drawled, joining Toni in meeting Carl and Rachel at the main Bay City Police Station, upon the latter’s request.
“You hardly left me much choice in the matter, did you, Hamilton? You knew there was no way on God’s green earth I would ever sacrifice my last living son to your malevolent version of justice.”
“Actually, I wasn’t certain of that at all. Especially considering how long you took to turn yourself in.”
“I was getting my affairs in order. Surely, you would grant a man you’re about to railroad into prison that minor dignity.”
“Did you extend the same courtesy to your victims?” Chase wondered idly, then riffled through a stack of papers. “Judging by the complaint Lorna Frame filed against you…”
“A few weeks ago, Lorna Devon couldn’t remember her own mother – not to mention her husband and children,” Rachel snapped. “And now suddenly her unsubstantiated word is above reproach?”
“I advised Mrs. Frame that the penalty for perjury is jail time. I could give you the same speech, Mr. Hutchins, but may I presume you’ve got it memorized by now?”
“I want it in writing,” Carl hissed. “All charges against Cory Hutchins as regarding my accidental shooting – “
“Oh, is that the version we’re going with now?”
“My son was not in his right mind. Thanks to the actions of your star witness. I want it in writing that you will not go after Cory.”
“And you’ll have it,” Chase said. “Just as soon as your own thorough allocution is on the record. We have a stenographer ready whenever you are.”
“Now?” Carl startled. “You expect me to begin prostrating myself before you this very minute?”
“I realize we might need more than the one day to get it through it all. Don’t worry, I’ve authorized the staff overtime.”
“You really are a son-of-a-bitch, aren’t you?” Rachel couldn’t control herself.
“Yes. She was a certified, unapologetic bitch. And of a sociopath gambler, too. That’s why I know never to take a nasty piece of work at their word. No matter how many fancy ones he knows.”
“Very well, then,” Carl ordered. “Get on with it. Where should you like to start?”
“The very beginning would be good.” Chase turned and beckoned Carl to follow him towards the designated interrogation room. “Perhaps with you reminiscing about how you used to steal candy from fellow babies?”
Whatever Carl mumbled in reply was too low for Chase to make out clearly. But, he believed he got the gist of it. Even if he didn’t speak Latin.
They’d made it halfway to the door, before Carl slowed down, raising a hand to his brow and reaching out to grab a random, nearby desk for support.
“I beg your pardon,” he croaked weakly. “I’m afraid I’m feeling a bit light-headed.”
“Oh, please…” Chase groaned.
“It’s most peculiar. I can’t seem to – “ Carl began,.
Before crumbling to the ground.
“Awfully Tom Sawyer of you,” Lila observed to Grant. “Dropping in on your own funeral.”
“I’m not dropping in,” he insisted, posing in front of the mirror in his out of the way hotel room, looking for a hat and a dark pair of glasses that would best disguise his identity. “I just want to stop by for a moment. See who deigns to show up….”
“Sarah will be there,” Lila reminded. “Remember her? Your grieving widow? You want to see a child age twenty years in a couple of days, you take a look at her.”
Grant dropped the disguise, turning to Lila, agonized. “She really misses me?”
“What do you think?” Lila all but smacked the back of his head.
“She’ll get over it,” Grant repeated for the tenth time, now exclusively working to convince himself, as Lila had made it clear she wasn’t buying. “It’s the best thing for her. In the long run.”
“Well, in the short-run, she looks like hell. Soon as the cops told her they were calling off the search – “
“They didn’t try very hard, did they?” Grant mused.
“She looked like someone’d reached in and ripped her heart out. If Kirkland hadn’t been there to catch her, don’t know how long she could have remained standing.”
“Kirkland came, too?” Grant asked, touched.
“He’s your son.”
Grant snorted. “Not according to him.”
“Yeah, well, he was there. And he’s helping Sarah plan your memorial service, too. She’s running around these days like keeping in constant motion will stop her from thinking about why she’s doing what she’s doing. Jasmine’s been helping pick up the slack, watching Daisy.”
“How’s Daisy?” Grant asked eagerly.
“Doing better than anybody, to tell the truth. She doesn’t understand what’s going on, except her Mama is crying all the time and her daddy is nowhere to be found.”
“Didn’t Sarah tell her what happened?”
“Nope. She’s still holding out hope of your being found. She won’t even talk about you in the past tense. That wife of yours is living in some serious denial. She’s going through the motions, planning a memorial service, but she doesn’t believe you’re dead. Which, you gotta admit,” Lila indicated the still very much breathing Grant in front of her. “She’s got a point.”
“Father went to turn himself into the police,” Elizabeth advised Cory, though she suspected her brother was equally aware of the fact.
“I told him not to.”
“Mom made him, I think. She would do anything to protect you.” Elizabeth made it sound as if that were Carl’s only reason for facing the proverbial music.
“You know he kidnapped Lorna,” Cory said. “And us, too.”
Elizabeth crossed her arms defensively. “I wanted to go.”
“Did you want Mom to believe we were dead?”
She shrugged. “It was a necessary evil.”
“I’d say that was Father talking right now, but it’s kind of obvious.”
“She doesn’t love you,” Elizabeth changed the subject abruptly, though her brother had no trouble following. “Lorna. She was just using you to try and escape.”
“Do you blame her?”
“Were you in love with her?”
Cory hesitated, then copied his sister’s dismissive shrug of a moment earlier, before steering the conversation to, “Are you in love with Charlie?”
“You think me hooking up with a girl is worse than you hooking up with your brother’s wife? His like – what? 75 years old or something - wife?”
“Did I say that?”
Elizabeth observed, “You don’t like Charlie.”
Elizabeth blinked in surprise. “Of course, I do! Or are you going to be like Mom now and tell me I don’t know what I’m doing; that I’m just confused and Charlie is bad for me?”
“She’s certainly made you defensive.”
“That’s because everyone is attacking us! I should have known it would happen.”
“Who’s attacking you?” Cory asked politely. “Last I heard, Father had a list of well-bred debutantes he wanted to introduce you to. It’s not like Frankie would care – considering her and Zeno’s mother. And everybody else has been way too busy.”
“Mom doesn’t want me to be with Charlie,” Elizabeth insisted, realizing that her brother had a point. She’d been expecting resistance. What she got was indifference. Which, frankly, was worse.
“Mom hates Lorna,” Cory reminded. “And Donna. She’s civil to Kevin, but that’s about it. And that took a while. So why did you think you and Charlie would be any different?”
“Jen and I are leaving town,” Steven filled in Jamie, having dropped by the house. “She got an offer to lecture at Stanford, starting this summer, and I’m going with her. Silicon Valley, you know. It’s the best place for me.”
“I’d say this was sudden,” Jamie apologized. “But I realize I haven’t exactly been very attentive lately.”
“It’s cool. You had your own stuff to deal with.” Steven said, “It’s good to see Lorna home.”
“That it is. And, you know, you helped make it happen. Your proving that the phone call from Cory was tampered with….”
“You believed in her. That’s what ultimately made the difference in the end.” Steven hesitated, then confessed, “I hope you’ll keep believing in me, too. Even after I tell you what I did.”
Jamie braced himself, wondering why he’d foolishly entertained the notion of maybe passing a day without a major family crises. “What?”
“Horace Johnson,” he said. “Kevin didn’t set him up to be killed.” He took a deep breath. “I did.”
Jamie closed his eyes for a moment of pained comprehension. Realizing, at the same time, that a part of him has suspected as much all along. If anyone was going to hack into confidential computer systems to save the girl Steven loved, would it be her tech deficient father… or Jamie’s genius of a son?
“And you let Kevin take the blame?”
“He asked me to. He said that Jen needed me right then a lot more than she needed him. He insisted on taking the blame but, yeah, Dad, I let him.”
Jamie nodded his head slowly, choosing his subsequent words with great care. He said, “A couple of years ago, I was willing to take the blame for a murder I didn’t commit, so that Lorna wouldn’t lose her father.”
“I remember that.” Steven said, “Not exactly the same, though.”
“I think there are enough similarities that I don’t exactly have a high-horse to judge from. Does Jen know?”
“Yeah, see, that’s the thing. She didn’t, for years. The whole time that Kevin was in jail and even for a while after we were married.”
“That’s a heck of a thing to keep from your wife!”
“I know. And it hasn’t been fun. But, it doesn’t matter anymore. She forgave me. Except the reason she had to forgive me was because Amanda – she was pissed off at Kevin about him not helping Allie the way she thinks he should be – the way she thinks we all should be. And she told Jen everything. She just blurted it out. That’s why Jen and I think it’s best we leave town for a while. Amanda swore she wouldn’t. But, who knows whom she might get mad at and tell next?”
“This is because of Amanda?” Jamie double-checked. “You and Jen feel like you’re being driven out of town because of my sister?”
Rachel rushed over to Carl, sinking to the floor, picking up her husband’s inert head and cradling it in her lap. His skin had turned waxy and his breathing was coming out in pained, labored wheezes. His eyes had rolled back under their lids and his tongue lagged heavily in his mouth.
Chase rolled his eyes. “Seriously? That old chestnut?”
Rachel looked at him, furious. “Call an ambulance,” she ordered.
“Perhaps an acting coach would be more appropriate.”
“You think he’s acting?”
“Chase,” Toni prompted. “Maybe we’d better do as she says…”
“Et tu, Chief?” he wondered.
“Just to cover ourselves,” she advised.
“Fine.” Chase managed to turn the acquiescence into several, annoyed syllables. “I’ll make the call.” He perched on the edge of Toni’s desk, dialing 9-1-1 and giving very specific instructions to the operator that no one else could hear.
“Do something,” Rachel pleadingly looked up at the handful of police officers who’d gathered around. “Help him.”
One of the women leaned down, pressing her head to Carl’s chest and listening intently. She told Chase, “His rhythm is irregular.”
“You see,” Rachel hissed, partly triumphant, partly terrified.
“Does he need CPR?” Chase asked.
The officer shook her head. “Seems to be breathing on his own.”
“What a surprise.” Chase did everything but lean back in his chair and smoke a lazy cigarette.
“Body temperature is dropping,” she advised.
Chase took off his suit jacket and dropped it indifferently over Carl’s body. He informed Rachel, “I’ll need that back. Dry-cleaned.”
“Pupils are dilating,” the officer peeled back Carl’s lids for a look. She turned to Chase and advised, “Kind of hard to fake these symptoms, Mr. Mayor.”
“If he dies…” Rachel threatened.
“Your son won’t need to stand trial for murder,” Chase said. “What am awesome win-win for everyone!”
“Marley almost killed Dennis,” Iris informed Olivia.
“Really?” Olivia had a hard time visualizing that. “How?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Iris dismissed. “What matters is that, next time, she might actually succeed.”
“You think there’ll be a next time?”
“Of course! The woman is out of her mind – just like her mother, may I add. How many people has Donna driven to an early grave, and paid not one bit of penance for it?”
“Yeah, but Marley isn’t Donna. She’s… Marley.”
“What an exquisite gift for language you have, my dear. Perhaps we should find a place for your editorial talents at Brava? Surely, matters can’t get any worse under Amanda’s stewardship.”
“Okay, I get it. You think I’m an idiot. Not sure how that’s going to help you get Dennis away from Marley, though.”
“And you realize what the worst of it is?”
“You once thought Marley would be an improvement over me?”
Iris conceded that she may well have been in error on that point. “The worst part is, Dennis doesn’t recognize the danger he’s in. My goodness, it’s like I said to him, if the genders in this instance were reversed, Marley would be deemed –legally and morally - an abuser, and entire tax-exempt organizations would rise up to save her. But because it’s a man that’s being battered, Dennis refuses to heed my warnings. He believes he can take care of himself. Balderdash!”
“So, what are you going to do, press charges?”
“If only it were that simple. No, Dennis needs to be – what is that trite expression they use for fundraising purposes? He needs to be scared straight. He needs to be convinced of the fact that Marley is, in fact, a danger to his life.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Olivia wondered.
“Oh, I’m not,” Iris explained patiently. “You are.”
“Where is that ambulance?” Rachel kept looking from her watch to Carl growing paler and paler in her arms. “You called them – what? – almost ten minutes ago. The hospital isn’t that far away, they should have been here by now.”
“Traffic,” Chase shrugged blithely. “I set up a couple of road-blocks along the way. That’s probably what’s keeping them.”
“You… what?” The sound that retched from Rachel’s throat made even a few seasoned police officers do double-takes. “Are you trying to kill him?”
“Here they are, Mrs. Hutchins,” Toni reassured, shooting Chase a nasty look as the sound of sirens first became audible in the distance, growing closer by the second. “There’s the ambulance right now.”
Yet, strangely, that did little to quell Rachel’s anxiety.
A stretcher burst through the police station doors, a pair of paramedics rushing to Carl’s side, picking him up and strapping him down, running through their check-list of vital-signs even as they wheeled him out towards the waiting ambulance.
Rachel followed in their wake.
So did Chase.
It was only when they got to the ambulance and were loading Carl on board, Rachel preparing to climb in beside him, that she caught sight of who the accompanying doctor was.
“A-Alice?” Rachel stammered.
The other woman nodded briskly, taking over a part of the examination from the paramedics.
“What are you…”
Alice looked up in surprise, catching Chase’s eye. “Didn’t you specifically request me?”
“I did,” he agreed, pleasantly.
Rachel whipped around, demanding, “Why the hell would you do something like that?”
“Because I knew you’d want your husband to get the very best of care,” Chase said. “And, you see, I had this premonition. What if an unauthorized ambulance, for some reason, came to take your husband away? Wouldn’t that be a tragedy? That’s why I set up those road-blocks, telling them to make sure that the only ambulance headed for the police station that they let through, was also carrying Dr. Alice Frame. Wasn’t that thoughtful of me? Otherwise, who knows what kind of quacks might have spirited him off – and you along with him?”
Rachel’s mouth opened, but no sound came out.
Chase smiled and signaled to the ambulance driver, “Cleared for take off!”
Rachel moved to climb into the back with Carl once again, but Chase reached out to grab her arm. “Not quite yet, Mrs. Hutchins.”
She attempted to shake him off. “Are you honestly forbidding me from going to the hospital with my husband?”
“Yes,” Chase said. “Yes, I am.”
The ambulance peeled off.
Chase and Rachel stood watching it go. And then Chase told Rachel, “You know what the best part of being an SOB is? It’s being able to anticipate what another SOB might do.”
“You have no right to manhandle me.” She yanked her elbow from his grip.
This time, Chase didn’t put up a fight. He merely beckoned Toni over and advised, “Arrest Mrs. Hutchins for aiding and abetting. Then stop by the Cory Mansion, and pick up her son.”
POLL: Is Carl faking his illness?
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