“I’m eighteen years old,” Cory reminded Chase and Eduardo as Carl, Rachel and Jamie looked on in horror. “Nineteen, almost. I’ll be nineteen in June. You can’t have my father deciding my fate. I have a right to make my own decisions.”
“Not when that decision involves begging this cretin to lock you up in prison and throw away the key,” Carl snapped.
“You made the deal with him, not me,” Cory stressed to the Mayor. “I don’t accept it. I don’t want him going to jail in my place.”
“That’s not exactly what we agreed on,” Chase clarified. “Your father isn’t going to prison for your crime. He is simply admitting to his own in exchange for us not pressing charges against you for shooting him.”
“You don’t think I should be punished for trying to commit murder?” Cory demanded incredulously.
“You’ve suffered enough, son,” Chase said softly.
“I warned you,” Carl advanced menacingly. “Use that word one more time in relation to my child…”
“And we can add an assault charge to your resume?” Chase didn’t appear in the least bit cowed. Or amused.
“My son made a mistake,” Rachel seethed. “What happened between him and my husband is a family matter, not one for the courts. Locking him up won’t serve any constructive purpose. It will be vengeance on your part, pure and simple.”
“That’s not how you felt when you were out for Lorna’s blood, Mom,” Jamie reminded. “Why wasn’t that a family matter?”
“Because,” his mother whipped around to confront her oldest son. “Your wife has made it clear that we are no family of hers.
“Look at it this way,” Cory struggled to keep their conversation from going off the rails. “If you put me on trial, I’ll be able to testify about the horrible things Father has done. Including kidnapping Lorna,” he looked to Jamie for support before returning to Chase and Eduardo. “It won’t be irrelevant. It will be my explanation for why I shot him. Any judge would allow it. And it will be better for you guys in the long run. If Father just confesses privately, no one will know the extent of his crimes. Let me talk about them in open court. The press will eat it up. Then people will realize how right the two of you were for going after him all along.”
“Cory, honey,” Rachel pleaded. “Stop it. Please. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Maybe not.” He swallowed hard and straightened his spine. “But I know what I’m doing.”
Rachel threw her hands up in despair, looking pleadingly at Carl to do something – anything. Begging him to save their son before Cory deliberately and maliciously allowed Hamilton to ruin his life.
“I arrived here today ready, willing and able to confess all,” Carl reminded Cory. “Is that not what you wanted? Well, I shall do it gladly. But only if you drop this nonsense of demanding retribution.”
“He’ll confess,” Cory told Chase. “But he’ll never admit he was wrong. Father never believes anything he does is wrong. He always thinks he’s justified, that other people drove him to it. I don’t know how he got to be this way. Maybe he just escaped justice for so long that he came to believe he deserved to. The divine rights of kings and all that. All I know is, if you let me get away with trying to kill my own Father, if you tell me that I had a good reason for it and that trumps the law and even basic morality, I’m afraid… I’m afraid that, one day, I’ll turn into…” Cory’s eyes drifted in Carl’s direction. “Him.”
Rachel gasped while Carl’s cheeks burned red, as if his son had punched him.
Chase and Eduardo exchanged a long look.
Finally, the older man offered a slight nod.
Chase took a deep breath and turned back to Cory. “Alright,” he said, sounding very unhappy about the whole thing. “Have it your way.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Rachel insisted.
“It means,” Chase’s frustration and exhaustion were palatable. “Our offer is off the table. We will accept Cory Hutchins’ confession of attempted murder, and proceed with legal persecution accordingly.”
“We had a deal,” Carl fumed. “How dare you?”
Chase shrugged. “You should have signed when you had the chance. What a shame your little health… episode… got in the way. You might have been able to save your son had you been willing to play it straight for once, instead of pulling your usual stunts. But it’s too late now.” Chase addressed Toni, “Would you please read young Mr. Hutchins his rights?”
“Lila!” Morgan did a double-take as he opened the door to his apartment. “This is a… surprise.”
“Am I interrupting anything?” she asked cautiously, craning her neck to look around, wanting to add “Or anyone?” to her query.
“No. No, come in,” he opened the door wider and allowed her to pass under his arm. “I didn’t expect…”
“We kind of didn’t leave matters in a good place. At the church.”
“Well, you were upset. About Grant.”
“Not just Grant,” Lila reminded.
“Amanda,” Lila corrected. “I was upset about Amanda.”
“Amanda… upsets a lot of people,” Morgan conceded.
“But she was telling the truth,” Lila confirmed. “About why you developed such a sudden, all consuming interest in me?”
“She asked me to do her a favor.”
“Because the two of you were knocking boots the whole time Kevin was in prison.”
“Not the whole time,” Morgan hedged.
“So Amanda’s response to thinking her husband was cheating on her was to send the fellow she was cheating on him with to investigate?”
“Things that make sense in Amanda’s head often don’t do as well in the real world.”
“So that’s all I was to you? A favor for your married girlfriend?” Lila’s question couldn’t have been more obvious if she’d come flat out and asked: Were any of Morgan’s feigned feelings for her ever real?
Morgan hesitated for a long beat, conflicting impulses playing out across his face. He began by shaking his head, but that soon turned into a nod as he said, “Yes. That’s all it was.”
“I see,” Lila clipped, trying to act as if she’d been expecting his answer all along, doing her best to pretend she hadn’t been hoping for the opposite. “Well, then, I thank you for your honesty, at least.”
“How could I ever have been genuinely interested in you?” Morgan drove the knife hilt in deeper. “I mean, you used to be married to Cass! Growing up, I didn’t even want his hand-me-down clothes, much less…”
“Go on,” Lila taunted. “Finish your thought.”
“You know what I mean.” He was aiming for defiant. He got, mumbly.
“So how long were you planning on letting this go on for, if Amanda hadn’t opened her mouth?”
“I’d have broken up with you weeks ago,” Morgan claimed. “Except then everything went down with Grant, and I thought it would be… rude.”
“Oh, yeah, Dr. Winthrop is nothing if not a gentleman.”
“You asked, Lila.”
She sighed. “A recurring problem with me.”
“Yeah, well, now you know everything.”
“Another recurring problem.”
She smiled weakly. “My knowing things I don’t particularly want to.”
Sensing that their conversation had come to an end, Morgan maneuvered Lila towards the door. “Have a nice life,” he told her. It was the most sincere thing he’d uttered since she’d come in.
“Maybe I will,” Lila countered. “Seems I’ve got more options these days than I originally counted on.”
Morgan waited until Lila was gone; until he’d seen her car pull out of the apartment building’s parking lot and Morgan could feel certain of not being overheard, before he pulled out his phone and angrily punched in all eleven digits. He spat, “I did what you said. Now you keep your end of the bargain: Nobody ever finds out about Lila sitting on evidence about Kevin. Are we clear, Amanda?”
“You have a visitor,” Chase informed Cory as he led Jamie towards his younger brother’s holding cell. Cory had also refused bail, saying he was content to wait out his time until trial behind bars. “It beats going home,” he’d explained.
“Got a minute for me?” Jamie inquired.
“I’ve got nothing but minutes,” Cory gestured all around him.
“See if you can talk some sense into him,” Chase advised Jamie before withdrawing discreetly.
“Is that what you’re here to do?” The boy wanted to know. “Talk sense into me?”
“Not exactly,” Jamie took a seat on a bench across from the one Cory now occupied. “I actually came to listen.”
“To me?” Cory snorted. “Nobody ever listens to me.”
“I’d like to. I have a feeling that, maybe, if more of us had, nobody would be in this boat right now.”
“Stop trying to flatter me.”
“Ok. Then you start talking. Why are you really doing this, Cor?”
His brother scratched the bridge of his nose with one finger. He looked left, he looked right, he considered how to begin and, finally, he exhaled deeply. Cory said, “If Father goes to jail, then Mom looks at him as the martyr who threw himself on his sword in order to protect his son. He becomes an even bigger hero in her eyes. But, if I go to jail then, every time she thinks of it, Mom is forced to face who put me here.”
Jamie raised both his hands and rubbed his forehead with the balls of his palms. When he lowered his arms, he said, “No one wants to see Carl suffer more than I do. What he did to Mom, making her think you and Elizabeth were dead… what he did to Lorna and I and our kids… there isn’t a cruel and unusual punishment out there that I wouldn’t find fitting to inflict on him. But, Cory, none of that is worth you throwing your life away.”
“I’m Carl Hutchins’ son,” he said firmly. “It is my responsibility to stop him from hurting anymore people. If I don’t, then I am just as culpable as he is. And I am Rachel Hutchins’ son. I have to protect my mother. No matter what it takes.”
“I get it,” Jamie said. “No, really, I probably get it more than anybody. Remember, I’ve seen Mom at her worst. And I’ve wanted to protect her, too. Not just from other people – from herself. I understand your impulse. I admire it. I just can’t condone it. Don’t sacrifice yourself fighting somebody else’s battles. Mom has made her choice. Carl above everybody else. You talked about consequences earlier. I’m afraid we’re just going to have to let Mom face hers without our interfering.”
“But she won’t,” Cory’s cool façade cracked and he suddenly appeared years younger than the collected young man who’d earlier dispassionately argued for the chance to pay his debt to society. “I used to think she’d come to her senses on her own, too. I thought it for years. I prayed for it. But, nothing happened. She just got deeper and deeper into Father’s lies until… until look what happened! As long as Father isn’t forced to suffer the consequences, neither will she. And sending him to jail won’t get the job done, I told you. The only way Mom will ever understand what she’s turned into is if she is forced to admit that she was willing to stand by a man so awful, his own son wants him dead. I’m not throwing my life away for him. I’m doing it for her.”
“We need to talk about Sarah,” Olivia informed Dennis, walking into his apartment without being invited.
“You could have called,” he noted, leaving the door open in case Olivia decided to take his advice and walk right out again.
“If I had called, you would have ignored me.” She flopped into a chair.
“I’m doing my best to ignore you now,” Dennis advised, reluctantly shutting the door, if only so his neighbors didn’t need to feel as annoyed as he did by Olivia.
“We need to talk about Sarah,” she repeated.
“Or you could talk to Sarah,” Dennis suggested brightly.
“She doesn’t want to hear anything I have to say.”
“That makes two of us.”
“How is she going to manage?” Olivia demanded. “All alone, with a kid to raise? I know what it feels like to be her age and stuck at home while all your friends are out having fun.”
“No,” he corrected. “You know what it’s like to dump the kid on a babysitter – instead of her father, who actually would have appreciated the chance but then you couldn’t keep up your deadbeat dad accusations – and going out to have fun, anyway.”
“You have no clue what you’re talking about. Being saddled with a kid at that age ruined my life. And I won’t let that happen to Sarah.”
“Sarah actually likes spending time with Daisy.”
“She’s wasting time,” Olivia stressed. “The best years of her life, as a matter of fact. Listen, do you have any coffee?”
The abrupt change in subject practically gave Dennis whiplash.
“It’s polite to offer visitors a cup of coffee,” Olivia prompted.
“You’ll have to make do with instant,” he mumbled reluctantly.
“Fine. And I take two teaspoons of sugar in mine.”
“Since when?” Dennis, nonetheless did as she bade, standing up and heading to the kitchen for a cup.
“Since I accepted I’ll never be the size I was before I had Sarah. I never should have given up dancing. My body just went to pot.”
Dennis returned with the coffee cup and a sugar bowl which he all but dropped in front of Olivia, along with a spoon.
“Where’s the cream?” she asked.
“You didn’t ask for cream.”
“Yes, I did. I said two spoonfuls of sugar and cream. That’s why you asked when I started drinking it like that, and I explained about giving up the battle of the bulge.”
“You didn’t ask for…” Dennis began, than decided, “What the hell?” and returned to the kitchen.
He’d barely set foot back inside the living room when Olivia peered into the sugar bowl and demanded, “What the hell is this?” She plucked in two fingers and brought up a pinch of white powder. “This isn’t sugar!”
“Of course, it is. What else would be in the sugar bowl?”
Olivia sniffed it suspiciously. “It smells like soap. I think – I think it’s laundry detergent.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Smell it.” She shoved her hand under his nose and, after taking a whiff, Dennis had to concede that it definitely did smell like soap.
“What are you trying to do, kill me?” Olivia demanded.
“Yes,” he sighed. “That’s exactly what I am trying to do. I knew you’d be by today and that you’d demand coffee, so I deliberately switched out the sugar with laundry detergent. You’ve caught me red-handed. At least they’re clean.”
“Don’t be stupid, Dennis.”
“You’ve always implied I have no control in the matter,” he drawled.
Olivia ignored him to realize, “Wait a minute, you’re right. You didn’t know I was coming today. The only person who was likely to eat what’s in the bowl was you. You’re not trying to kill me, Dennis.”
“But, Marley is trying to kill you!”
“Hey,” Kirkland said.
“Hey,” Sarah said.
The pair stared at each other for a beat over the threshold of what had once been Sarah and Grant’s house before he followed up with, “How are you… holding up?”
She shrugged, letting Kirkland in and heading deeper inside, not even turning around to check if he were following her. “I’m okay. I miss him. I keep thinking every day it’s going to get better. It doesn’t.”
“What have you been doing?”
“Looking after Daisy mostly. Answering calls and emails from annoying people who want to know how I am constantly.”
“People like me?” he winced.
“No,” Sarah softened. “You’re allowed.”
“You know, I’ve been thinking… I get that you want to spend a lot of time with Daisy right now. She’s probably super-confused and upset.”
“Actually, she’s alright. Between Iris and Grandpa, Marley, Alice, they’ve all sent over enough toys that Daisy is in Seventh Heaven. I’m the one rattling around with not much to do and nobody to talk to.”
“Well, actually, that’s why I stopped by. I was wondering if you might want to…”
“Go back to work?” He offered, looking ready to withdraw immediately if Sarah found his proposition offensive.
She didn’t. “With you, you mean?”
“Well, yeah. We’d barely started on the restaurant before… stuff happened. I think Grant would have liked the idea of us finishing it. He was the one who kept pushing me to open my own place.”
“He thought you were wasting your time working for other people,” Sarah agreed.
“He told me he wanted to be my first customer. That’s… I guess that’s not going to happen now.”
“No,” Sarah agreed.
“But… we could still move ahead with setting up the place. You were going to help me with the look and then the marketing. I could really use help with both those things. I’m a food guy. Ambience is like, whatever.”
“Is that what you were planning on calling it?” Sarah teased. “Kirk’s Whatever?”
“What do you think?”
“I think,” she smiled. “That you really need my help.”
“So you’re in?” Kirkland asked eagerly.
“I’m in,” Sarah said. “For Grant.”
“For Grant,” Kirkland agreed, hugging her quickly.
And then, just as quickly, letting go.
“That is it,” Carl announced, storming into the Cory foyer. “I have taken all I intend to from that odious man and his puppet masters at the Justice Department.”
“They can’t really do it, can they?” Rachel asked, hanging up her coat and turning back to Carl. “They won’t be able to find Cory guilty of attempted murder. Not without you, the victim, testifying. Can they?”
“Anything is possible with that cabal against me. We are not talking about the finer points of law anymore, Rachel. We are talking about petty, vindictive despots so thirsty for my blood that they are willing to railroad an innocent child into prison.”
“I can’t believe they did that. Just withdrew their offer. You were ready to testify. W-weren’t you?”
Carl looked at Rachel with deep shock. “Of course, I was, my dear. How could you even entertain a thought, otherwise?”
“We were so close to setting Cory free, and then to pull the rug out from under us like that!”
“There is another way,” Carl said slowly.
“Another way? To help Cory?”
“What is it?” Rachel leapt on Carl’s promise with fervid desperation.
“We can get rid of Chase Hamilton. Once and for all.”
“Get rid off….” Rachel knew exactly what Carl meant. And yet she still felt compelled to ask, “What do you mean?”
“Kill him,” Carl said simply. “Surely, you would agree that if anyone deserves – “
“But would it do any good?” Rachel avoided Carl’s question by posing one of her own. “Chase Hamilton is just one man; a cog in the system. Wouldn’t Eduardo then simply pick up the banner and continue harassing us?”
Carl shook his head. “Eduardo Rivera’s scope is international. Hamilton’s is local. He is the only one with the authority to sentence Cory in Bay City. We eliminate him, we eliminate that piece of the equation. Granted, I am certain Rivera would only increase his efforts to hound me into an early grave. But, at least our son would be safe. That is the only thing that matters, after all,” Carl added grandly. “I would happily pay any price to protect Cory. Despite his current, juvenile antipathy towards me. He is but a child after all. It is up to me to be the bigger man and set a proper example.”
“But,” Rachel continued to struggle with wrapping her head around what her husband was proposing. “What if anyone should connect Hamilton’s… end, to you and me? Wouldn’t that just make everything a million times worse? What would we do then?”
Carl smiled grimly. “Two words, my dear: Prove it.”
Rachel inhaled sharply. “You can make this happen without it coming back to us?”
“Leave it to me. I shall take care of everything.”
“Hamilton is corrupt,” Rachel said slowly, thoughtfully, talking to herself as much as to Carl. “He doesn’t deserve to be in a position of power. If this is how he treats us, think of how he must have violated the rights of people without our resources to fight back. Think of all the people he has yet to falsely imprison, the same way he’s railroaded Cory. He can’t be allowed to continue in this manner.”
“Precisely,” Carl said.
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