“It has been arranged,” Carl reassured Rachel, hanging up his phone. No, not his phone, Rachel noticed. This one appeared to be one she’d never seen before. And doubted she ever would again. “Chase Hamilton will no longer be a thorn in our sides, after today.”
“Today?” Rachel startled. She’d been in the process of getting dressed and heading down to breakfast when Carl’s pronouncement stopped her in her tracks.
“Of course. The sooner the better. We don’t want to give Hamilton so much as an extra moment to continue fabricating his slanderous evidence against our son.”
“He hardly needed to fabricate a confession,” Rachel snapped, more disturbed by Carl’s casual attitude than she was willing to admit – even to herself.
“He manipulated the mind of a vulnerable, impressionable child. Can you conceive of any greater sin than that?”
“How about what you did to Lorna?” Jamie’s voice in Rachel’s head asked the question before she could stop herself from hearing it. Rachel declined to pass the query on to her husband, however, and instead stuck to the topic at hand. “I didn’t realize… matters… could be arranged so quickly.”
“They can be. If you know the right people.”
“And you still do?” The accusation in Rachel’s voice was obvious.
As was the irritation in Carl’s. “I have told you on numerous occasions, Rachel, I have no intention of leaving this family vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I have always held my safety measures in place, and I intend to keep them there until the day I die.”
“For Chase Hamilton,” Rachel observed. “I guess that day is today.” She’d grown tired of beating around the bush with euphemisms.
“Indeed,” Carl concurred, happy to longer be speaking in metaphors.
“He has children,” was all Rachel could think of to say feebly.
“They’re not of his own blood,” Carl sniffed. Then, in response to Rachel’s obvious displeasure at his politically incorrect hair-splitting (Carl also had a voice in his head, and this one was his wife saying, “That sort of thing never mattered to Mac,”), added, “Besides, Mr. Hamilton should have considered the sort of example he was setting for his own children, before he went after mine.”
“Are you sure this is the only way?” Rachel pleaded.
Carl sighed. “My dear, when you were struggling for that knife with one Janice Frame in a St. Croix swimming pool, were you also considering all of your other theoretically available options, or were you fighting for your life, not to mention the life of the man you loved?”
“You know the answer to that.”
“Then you, in turn, know the answer to your own question. What I have set in motion for today is no different than the actions you once took in order to save your beloved Mac. I am seeing to it that the opportunistic, amoral cretin who threatens our family, who has been single-mindedly persecuting us for years, who is determined to put our son in prison for the rest of his life, is denied the opportunity to achieve his brutal ambitions once and for all. This is self-defense, my dear, pure and simple. I should think you, of all people, would understand.”
“Grandmother!” Kirkland expressed surprise to see Donna gingerly stepping her way through the drywall, wet cement and sawdust that accompanied the construction of his fledgling restaurant. Somehow, Donna Love Cory and utter chaos didn’t exactly mix.
“Hello, darling,” Donna offered Kirkland her cheek to kiss, which he did dutifully. “Hello, Sarah,” she acknowledged the girl who’d broken up her daughter’s (admittedly ill-advised) marriage, with a great deal less enthusiasm.
“Hello, Mrs. Cory.”
“My condolences on your recent loss.”
“What are you doing here?” It wasn’t what Donna had come to discuss, but why let a perfectly good opportunity for gossip pass?
“We’re working together,” Kirkland said. “Sarah is helping me get the place ready.”
“I see….” Donna’s neutral response could have indicated anything. And nothing.
“It’s going to be terrific once we’re finally done,” Sarah predicted. “Your grandson is really smart.”
“He can be at times,” Donna agreed, still noncommittal. “Others, well…”
“What can I do for you, Grandmother?” Kirkland asked politely, but with a sense of urgency. “We’re pretty swamped here.”
“I’d like to speak with you. In private.” Donna looked pointedly at Sarah.
Who completely got Donna’s point. She said to Kirkland, “I’m going to step outside, touch base with the designer. Cell connection is better out there.”
“Subtle,” Kirkland grinned.
“Oh, that my middle name, don’t you know?” Sarah smiled back, politely offering, “It was nice to see you again, Mrs. Cory,” before taking her leave.
Donna waited for the girl to exit completely before asking Kirkland, “Do you really think this is… wise?”
“You mean opening my own restaurant? Dad certainly doesn’t.”
“I mean becoming so involved with your father’s – your other father’s – wife?”
“We’re not involved,” Kirkland emphasized the word in the same way Donna had.
“She’s trouble, you know that. Look what happened when she wormed her way into Marley’s household. And before that, Steven.”
“Both of those were years ago.”
“Leopards and spots, darling. Just promise me you’ll be on your guard at all times.”
“Sure,” Kirkland shrugged, the admonition barely registering.
Donna understood as much, but figured it was still her grandmotherly duty to try. She then promptly changed the subject. “I didn’t come here to speak to you about Sarah. I came to speak about Jasmine.”
That got Kirkland’s attention. “Jasmine,” he asked in a voice meant to sound utterly and completely casual. It going up almost an entire octave in pitch didn’t exactly help the mood he was trying to set.
“Don’t bother, Kirkland. I know that the two of you have… what is the expression… taken your relationship to the next level?”
“Sure,” Kirkland agreed. “That’s the expression, all right.”
“I will also thank you not to patronize me. Would you have preferred it if I’d said you’d deflowered my stepdaughter?”
“I definitely would not have preferred that.”
“What are your intentions towards her?” Donna demanded.
“Currently, both Matthew and Lila are still in the dark regarding your relationship. That leaves it up to me to ensure that you are treating Jasmine honorably.”
“Actually, Grandmother, I don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Do not toy with that girl’s heart,” Donna warned Kirkland in all deadly seriousness.
“I would never do that,” Kirkland defended, offended. “I would never hurt Jazz. I don’t need you coming around to tell me that.”
“I hope not. She’s in love with you, Kirkland. The poor, little thing is completely and hopelessly in love for the first time in her life. Do you understand what a mammoth responsibility that is?”
“I do,” Kirkland swore.
“Don’t you dare turn Jasmine’s first love affair into something she’s forced to regret down the line.”
“I won’t. Jesus, Grandmother, where is this all coming from?”
“Your father,” Donna said. “And Jake McKinnon. And a whole host of others. I have been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch my precious girls be used and abused by one man too many. I will not, under any circumstances, allow that to happen to Jasmine. I’ll be watching you, Kirkland. I will be watching you very, very closely,” Donna said. Though, at the moment, her eyes were actually trained on the figure talking on her cell-phone just outside the restaurant’s door. “Even when you think I’m not.”
Rachel heard Carl’s words. She heard every last one of them. She heard his comparison of their current situation to her and Janice Frame all those years ago. She understood the point he
was trying to make. And yet…
Rachel went online. She told herself that reviewing all the awful, horrible things Chase Hamilton had done, not just to her family, but to all of Bay City, would help Rachel steel her resolve for what would – no, for what needed to happen.
She read over the press accounts of his prosecution of Jamie for Cecile’s murder. He’d been relentless. If first Lucas than Cass hadn’t come forward, Rachel had no doubts that her son would be in prison now. The way that Cory currently was.
Except that Cory had confessed. Just like Jamie had confessed. Hamilton hadn’t made either one of those things up. He may have twisted their words and used them to his own advantage. But he hadn’t made them up.
She thought about his hounding Carl into leaving town, forcing him to fake his own death just to get away. But, Carl had confessed, as well. To Rachel, at least. He’d told her he was guilty of the charges leveled against him. He had, in fact, broken the terms of his pardon by not divesting of his ill-gotten companies. It wasn’t fair what the government had coerced Carl into doing. But, he had technically deceived them.
Chase wanted to see Carl in jail. No, he wanted to see Carl dead and buried and burning in Hell. For an offense that hadn’t even been leveled against his own family. He was doing all this for Doug and Eduardo. Another voice in Rachel’s head. This time it was Matt asking her, “You don’t think of Doug and Eduardo as Chase’s family?”
Of course, she did. Matt was just clouding the issue.
The point was that this offense of Carl’s hadn’t been against Chase or even Doug. It was just Eduardo holding a grudge. And Rachel had no trouble believing his father had been just as guilty in his own downfall as Carl. More, even. Hadn’t Eduardo said his father and Carl were in business together? He had to be equally to blame. Carl was merely protecting his own interests all those years ago in Cuba. She was certain Eduardo’s father had been doing the same. He just wasn’t as skilled as Rachel’s husband. Why should Carl suffer for that?
Rachel continued pushing buttons, looking for more examples of how getting rid of Chase Hamilton would be beneficial for Bay City, and everyone who lived there. After all, Rachel’s family couldn’t be the only one he’d gone after like this? There had to be others. People without the resources to fight back when the law was used as a weapon against them.
Instead, what Rachel found was Douglas Rivera’s Facebook page. She recognized many of the images as being from Bay City Modern Art Museum exhibitions he had curated. Rachel was the sponsor of several of them. She and Carl both were. They both donated huge amounts of money to the museum every year; Rachel had even left it a bequest in her will. And
this was how they were repaid?
But the Facebook photo that ultimately seized Rachel’s attention was one that had been posted only a few minutes earlier. It showed Doug’s children, Milagros and Ike, the caption said, in the park, at a playground with Chase. They were building castles in a sandbox alongside a pair of little girls.
And right behind them, on the bench where Chase was sitting, were Lorna… and Jamie.
Jamie was sitting barely a foot away from Chase.
And now the voice in Rachel’s head was Carl’s. And it was saying, “Today….”
“I’m sorry, Olivia said what?” Marley double-checked.
“It’s stupid,” Dennis insisted. “It doesn’t even bear repeating.”
“Olivia… Olivia said that…”
“I was trying to kill you?”
“Who cares what Olivia thinks?”
“Obviously, you do. Why else would you tell me about it?”
“I told you about it because we promised not to keep any more secrets from each other. I didn’t want you thinking I was keeping something from you.”
“You mean, like the fact that you slept with Olivia and she miscarried your baby?”
“Yes, that would be an excellent example of the kind of thing I shouldn’t have kept from you,” Dennis tried to lighten the mood.
Marley wasn’t having it. “And now she’s decided I’m trying to kill you?”
“It was weird,” he mused. “How the laundry detergent got into the sugar bowl.”
“Like that would have killed you,” Marley snorted. “It’s not like it was arsenic. Or cyanide.”
“She must have put it in there herself.”
“What? Why – why would she do that?”
“To frame me, obviously.” Marley looked at Dennis as if he were an idiot. “First, Iris accused me of trying to kill you.”
“You kind of told her that you already had,” Dennis felt compelled to note that Iris’ paranoia hadn’t come out of thin air – for a change.
Marley ignored him. “And now Olivia. They’re obviously working together.”
“Oh, no,” just thinking about the possibility made Dennis laugh. And frown. “No way. Mom would never be in cahoots with Olivia.”
“Then why the sudden dual interest in your welfare?” Marley challenged.
“Well, my mother has always been way, way too involved in my welfare.”
“Olivia just likes causing trouble. But, it’s like you said, the soap wouldn’t have killed me. Hell, I probably would have recognized the taste right away and spit it out. The only real victim would have been an innocent cup of coffee.”
“What about me?” Marley challenged.
“What about you?”
“We’re talking about this. So obviously some part of you must lend credence to – “
“Never,” Dennis swore, taking Marley in his arms. “I will never, ever take Olivia’s side over yours. I will never, ever listen to a word she says against you. I love you. I love you like I have never loved any other woman in my life. Nothing and no one is ever going to come between us. It’s impossible. I am yours, from today and until forever.”
He smiled reassuringly at Marley, hoping she’d be appeased.
She did not appear appeased.
Instead, she challenged, “Prove it.”
“So.” While Doug kept all four kids, his own, along with Devon and Zee entertained in the sandbox by offering an artist’s perspective on their original creations, Jamie and Lorna sat a few feet away on a green, city bench next to Chase, keeping their voices low. “Realistically speaking, what are Cory’s options?”
“Off the record?” Chase qualified.
“Absolutely. That’s why we’re meeting here instead of at your office. Anything you say will be held in the strictest of confidence, you have my word.”
Chase sighed, leaning back against the bench, choosing his words carefully. “The confession,” he began. “That was acquired legitimately. I don’t think you’re going to get a judge to waive that.”
“Carl won’t testify, though,” Lorna said. “That’s got to help the defense.”
“Not if Cory doesn’t get with the program. Honestly, if he weren’t so damn articulate and persuasive, I’d advise his lawyer to argue that Cory isn’t of sound mind enough to be able to participate in his own defense. He’s certainly doing everything he can think of to make things harder for himself. Were you able to talk any sense into that kid?”
Jamie shook his head. “Cory is determined to throw his life away to protect the world – and especially our mother – from Carl.”
“Well, I get that. Not that my old man was anywhere near Carl’s league. And I certainly never had your brother’s altruistic instincts. Or his basic decency. But, I get where he’s coming from. I’d watch my father pull his cons and I’d…” Chase trailed off. “Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.”
“So what’s Cory looking at?” Jamie asked. “How much prison time?”
“At worst? Sixty years, if we’re talking first degree.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jamie recoiled as if struck.
“What’s the minimum?” Lorna asked.
“Still no good.” Jamie tried to find a loop-hole. “How about second degree?”
“That’s a lot better. Twenty is the maximum, but there’s a four year minimum.”
“Do you think he has a shot at that?”
“With a good lawyer? Sure. But who knows what Cory is planning.”
“He’s planning to get on the stand and recite every single one of Carl’s sins into the public record,” Lorna recalled.
“Which could backfire on him,” Chase predicted. “I was a prosecutor for enough years to know, you keep piling on somebody, the jury is going to develop an instinctive urge to defend them – it’s human nature. If Cory vilifies Carl the way he’d like to, he could end up coming off as an ungrateful brat of a son, while Carl starts seeming sympathetic for having to put up with him. It’s a risky move.”
“What about my testifying?” Lorna wondered. “To substantiate Cory’s story?”
“The amnesia,” Chase tread carefully. “If I were the prosecutor, I’d bring on an expert to swear your recollections couldn’t be trusted, then I’d hire another one to speculate how you were most likely coerced by Jamie and Cory, working together to discredit Carl.”
“Damn,” Jamie said. “You’re good.”
“I am. It’s why I was able to anticipate Carl pulling the ambulance switch stunt. And why I’m telling you this now. Any prosecutor that won’t do what I just said, I’d make sure he was disbarred for incompetence.”
“So I guess my testifying against Carl…” Jamie began.
“Same problem as Lorna.”
“I didn’t have amnesia.”
“No. But you have a vested interest. How hard do you think it would be for the District Attorney to paint you as a jealous, Oedipal mama’s boy lying under oath to get the guy you never liked to begin with, out of your stepfather’s house and your mother’s bed?”
“Not too hard,” Jamie conceded with a wince.
“So what can we do to help Cory?”
“Convince him to help himself. Plead self-defense. He should be able to build a solid case for genuinely feeling like his life was in danger. His father did kidnap him while he was still a minor. Who knew if he was plotting to do it again?”
“But, isn’t self-defense more of a spur-of-the-moment thing?” Lorna reached back into the dark recess of her less than law-abiding past. “Cory waited for Rachel to go to bed. He went gunning for Carl. And then he wiped down his prints. That’s pre-meditation.”
“You can combine it with not guilty by reason of insanity. God knows, what Carl put Cory through would send any kid reeling.”
“Elizabeth,” Jamie said. “Elizabeth could testify.”
“Never,” Lorna snorted. “Not Daddy’s little girl.”
“For Cory…” Jamie mused. “If there is anyone Elizabeth loves as much as Father, it’s Cory.”
“That might be your best avenue,” Chase agreed.
“I’ll think about it,” Jamie bobbed his head and exchanged glances with Lorna, who seemed to concur it was an avenue worth pursuing. Jamie struck out his hand towards Chase. “Thanks. Thanks a lot, we really appreciate this. I know it’s a bit of a conflict of interest for you.”
“I’m not the DA anymore. More importantly, I don’t want to see your brother in jail. I don’t want to see any member of your family in jail, except for Carl.”
“Jamie!” They heard Rachel’s voice from across the playground, she was hurrying towards them, looking around desperately, arms outstretched, reaching for her son.
“Mom?” Jamie half-stood, confused. “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”
“You can’t be here,” she insisted. “Take the girls and go. Right now.”
“Why?” He waited for Rachel to reach him, but standing in front of Jamie, Lorna and Chase only seemed to make her more anxious.
“Just listen to me. For once in your life, just do as I say without arguing. We need to get out of here.”
“What is happening, Mrs. Hutchins?” Chase seemed genuinely concerned. So was Doug. Chase held up a hand, palm up, to keep him from approaching the fray, gesturing that he should distract the curious kids, instead.
“Just stay away from us,” Rachel ordered, attempting to push Chase back..
Stunned by her behavior, Jamie stepped forward to stop Rachel from making contact.
Which was when the first shot rang out.
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