“Douglas Rivera just lost his partner of twenty-something years,” Frankie reminded when Jamie stopped by her and Cass’ house to relay what Doug had accused them of. “He’s got to be in deep shock. How can you possible take anything he says seriously?”
“The man has nothing left to lose,” Jamie reasoned.
“Except his father,” Cass pointed out.
“You really think Eduardo Rivera would kill a member of his own family so that he could pin my mother and Chase’s shooting on Carl?”
“You seem to have no trouble believing I’d do it,” Cass sniffed.
“First of all, Chase means nothing to you.”
“That’s not true,” Frankie interrupted. “We’re friends with Chase and Doug. Our kids are friends. Lori Ann and Ike go to the same school.”
“And second of all, you’ll forgive me, Cass, if, unlike everyone else in this town, my memory extends further back than last week. You certainly had no trouble with first me, then Lucas, taking the fall for a crime you committed. How is this any different?”
“Cecile was a threat to my family,” Cass seethed. “If your memory really does go further back than last week, then you should be able to remember that, too. And what happened there was an accident. I may want to practice law again, but I wouldn’t murder a man for it. Especially,” Cass mocked cynically. “Since my reinstatement hinges entirely on Eduardo. As you insinuate that means more to me than anything, why would I possibly jeopardize my chances by assassinating his son’s partner?”
Jamie shrugged. “Just exploring all my options.”
“Why?” Frankie asked gently, then guessed, “So your mother doesn’t have to wake up and find out her husband killed a man in her name?”
“That’s a big part of it,” Jamie confirmed.
“How is Rachel?” Cass wondered.
“Out of surgery. Stable. I went to see her in ICU earlier this morning. Her vitals look good. We got lucky.”
“You know,” Cass said. “Even if Carl didn’t hasten Chase’s death this time around, he’s still the one who got him shot in the first place.”
“You have evidence of that?” Jamie asked eagerly.
Cass shook his head. “The crime scene points to a stray bullet from a scuffle somewhere outside the playground, not a professional hit.”
“It’s way too sloppy for that,” Frankie concurred. “For one thing, the shot came from a downward angle, that’s why it was able to catch Rachel in the abdomen and Chase in the head.”
“Well,” Jamie noted. “As soon as we heard the gunfire, Chase took this ducking, flying leap towards his kids, who were sitting in the sandbox next to mine. His head was actually lowered due to his reaching for them.”
“Still. What kind of professional marksman would aim up instead of straight across?”
“One who wanted his hit to look like an unplanned stray bullet and not like a professional marksman,” Jamie speculated, then meaningfully reminded Cass. “Murder scenes can be staged to look like something else in order to fool the cops.”
“In that case,” Frankie said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be here talking to us. Maybe you should be talking to your father-in-law. Maybe we all should be.”
“Zeno,” Amanda knocked anxiously on his farmhouse’s door. “Open up. Please. It’s Amanda Cory. I need to speak with you about – Allie!” Amanda gasped at the sight of her daughter suddenly standing on the porch, looking fine, fit… and more than a little annoyed.
“Zeno’s not here, Mom. This is a working farm, people have chores to do.”
“It’s barely nine a.m.” she sputtered, so stunned by the development that Amanda could only respond to what Allie had said, instead of where she was.
“We’ve all been up since five.”
“We… What – What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” Allie reminded.
“Oh, is that a fact? The last time I checked, your address was the Oakdale Penitentiary.”
“Zeno took care of it.”
“You mean he finally admitted everything that happened was his fault?”
“No. He finally proved that the government had no right to take his land and, as a result, I had every right to defend it. That lawyer Chase recommended turned out to be an expert in Eminent Domain. He straightened everything out.”
“Chase,” Amanda said. “You know that Chase Hamilton is dead, right?”
“Which means you also know that your grandmother is in the hospital!”
“I read about it.”
“Then what the hell are you doing here, Allie? Why aren’t you with the rest of your family? And why didn’t you tell me you’d been released?”
“I’m sorry about not coming to see Grandma. But there was nothing I could do for her. And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t in the mood to hear you go off on me again. I figured I’d let you deal with her crises first, then we could resume our arguing.”
“Oh, stop being so childish,” Amanda snapped. “What reason would I have had to, as you say, go off on you, if you’d just told me you were out of jail? I’d have been thrilled!”
“Zeno and I got married,” Allie said.
“Zeno and I got married,” she repeated.
“Why?” Amanda exploded, then presumed, “Is it so that you couldn’t testify against each other? That’s it, isn’t it? I know about – “
“That’s not how it works,” Allie sighed. “Getting married now wouldn’t have kept us from testifying about things that happened before we were married. People think that’s how it works, but it isn’t.”
“So why then…”
“Because I love him,” she said simply.
“Oh, really?” Allie crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow her mother’s way. In that instant, her resemblance to both Amanda and Rachel was downright eerie.
“Yes, really.” Amanda hated being mocked almost as much as she hated being corrected. “You cannot possibly want to throw your life away being some farmer’s wife. Feeding the chickens and slopping the hogs and doing whatever else it is he does here, day after endless, monotonous day. This isn’t Little House on the Prairie. This is real life. I didn’t raise you for this. I didn’t send you to college for this.”
“So… you think I’m too good to do honest work?”
“That’s not what I said,” Amanda first tried to deny, then realized it was pointless. “But, yes, as a matter of fact, you are too good for this. You’re a smart girl, Allie. You could really be somebody.”
“Give Grandma my best,” Allie said, all but closing the door in Amanda’s face. “Tell her I’ll come see her as soon as I can.”
“Your Grandmother,” Amanda seethed, hoping this might get through to Allie in a way she never could. “Spent years clawing her way to a better life, so that her grandchildren wouldn’t have to struggle like she did growing up. And now you’re just going to throw it all onto a – a manure heap? How do you think that will make her feel?”
Allie gave Amanda’s question some serious thought. And then she replied, “I’m sorry, Mom. But, I don’t really care.”
“So this is what happy feels like,” Marley observed, lying cuddled up in bed next to Dennis. “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it before. I mean, I thought I had. But, it was a fool’s paradise I was living in back then. As long as I allowed other people to have control over my life, I could never truly be happy.”
“But you are now?” Dennis double-checked, his arm slid comfortably behind her back, his hand stroking her shoulder.
“Absolutely. Now that we’ve put your mother in her place…”
“Oh, I don’t think a place exists that’s appropriate for my mother.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Marley rolled over to kiss him, drew back to add, “She doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except you and me and the perfect future we’ve got ahead of us.”
“I was always afraid I wouldn’t be able to make you happy,” Dennis confessed.
“Because, whenever it seemed like we were getting close, something would inevitably come up. Or, rather, I would inevitably screw up. Olivia…”
“Is also irrelevant.”
“I promise, nothing will ever – ever! – happen between me and her again.”
“I believe you,” Marley said.
“I trust you completely, Dennis.” She smiled up at him. “Do you trust me?”
“With my life,” he stressed.
“Then we have nothing to worry about.”
They made Carl wait all night in order to see his wife. They said it was hospital policy, no visitors in the recovery area immediately after surgery. And yet Jamie had been allowed to venture in at his discretion. Of course, they tried to cover up Carl’s deliberate exclusion with some bloody loop-hole about Jamie being a doctor, but Carl knew better. Ever since Russ Matthews had stuck his nose into the case, Carl had been deemed persona non-gratta.
Truly, Carl did not understand the man’s spiteful attitude. For one thing, wasn’t Dr. Matthews now married to Iris? What business was Rachel of his? And for another, if anyone deserved to strut about nursing a grudge it was Carl, not Russ. After all, Russ had bedded Carl’s wife during Carl’s unavailable absence, not the other way around.
Alas, logic was nobody’s strong suit in Bay City. Every last one of them to a man operated purely on childish impulse and malice. Not allowing Carl to stay by Rachel’s side during her convalescence was simply the umpteenth nail in the coffin they’d been constructing for years, making it clear to Carl that he was not wanted.
Rachel needed him. How could she be expected to recover surrounded by strangers? There was not a single person in this hospital who loved Rachel as much as Carl did. They were all merely doing their jobs, performing the bare minimum to collect their unwarranted fees and keep from being sued. They had not a spot of feeling for Rachel. And patients could sense that. It was scientific fact.
As if any of these barbarians had ever cracked a book of poetry or philosophy. All they knew were dull, practical matters. They might be capable of tending to the body. But, what of Rachel’s soul? For that, no one but Carl would do.
It was many hours past dawn once they finally let him in to see his wife. Rachel had been moved to a private room, they said. She was still in critical condition, but they would grudgingly allow him to visit. As long as he didn’t get in their way.
Carl raced to the floor they’d directed him, bursting into Rachel’s room, his heart hammering at the sight of her, still so beautiful, and yet so vulnerable in her bed.
Her hair had been brushed off her face, and her skin glistened with the swollen pressure of extra fluids, it’s yellowish tinge testifying to the harm suffered by her liver. Tubes and wires ran from her arms towards a series of machines. A pair of prongs puffed air into her nose, while the reassuring rhythm of her heart beat steadily on, echoing not just along Carl’s ears, but in synchronization with his own.
Her eyes flickered and, in seconds, Carl was by her bedside, stroking her cheek despite the medical paraphernalia, leaning close, whispering, “I am right here, my love, right here with you.”
She struggled to speak. Carl lowered his lips to hers. “Not now. No need. All is well and taken care of. You needn’t trouble yourself over a single detail.”
“Jamie,” she croaked out.
Of course, Rachel’s first words would be about Jamie.
Carl took the high road, swallowing his own hurt at the fact that, even with her prodigal son absent and unquestionably indifferent to Rachel’s fate, her thoughts still went to him, nonetheless. He magnanimously offered, “Jamie suffered no harm. Nor did his children. You saved their lives, my dear.”
“Good,” she exhaled, her entire body sagging in relief. “Glad…”
“But now,” Carl took Rachel’s hand in his. “I am afraid I have some less welcome news to share. Listen carefully and please allow me to explain. I guarantee that, when I am through, you will understand all. My darling, I have a confession to make….”
“You have the autopsy results?” Jamie eagerly asked Alice, meeting her at the hospital, heading there straight from Cass and Frankie’s following her page.
She nodded, looking grim, then handed the file over to Jamie.
He skimmed it, then, stunned by what it said, slowed down and read it again, followed by a third time for good measure, searching for a nuance he had to have missed on the first two go-arounds.
“It says that Chase died of… natural causes?”
“An aneurysm. Sudden. Deadly.”
“But, if he was in that much danger, you’d have seen it on a CAT-Scan.”
“Not necessarily,” Alice poked her pencil at an image in Chase’s file. “Note the location. We could have easily missed it, especially with all the swelling.”
“Certain drugs can induce an aneurysm,” Jamie noted.
“Nothing out of the ordinary in his system.”
“You couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary with Carl, either, after his little stunt at the police station, and you and I both know he faked that.”
Alice conceded Jamie’s point, while insisting, “The autopsy indicated no evidence of foul play in that regard.”
“Suffocation could do it, too. Apply enough pressure to get him to stop breathing, and you could easily cause a weakened blood vessel to burst.”
“The M.E. took special care examining Chase’s mouth and nose. Again, no evidence of force or asphyxiation.”
“This is ridiculous! Come on, Alice, you told me yourself you thought Eduardo…”
“I was simply saying that he might have had a motive. I didn’t say I could prove it.”
“How thorough could the autopsy have been, considering all the surgeons who must have passed through in order to remove Chase’s organs? Doug told me it wasn’t just the liver, they also took his kidneys, his heart, his corneas…”
“Standard procedure was followed. And, for the record, his brain remained untouched until the autopsy.”
“Natural causes,” Jamie repeated, shaking his head. He then asked, “What about the bullet? Was it finally removed like the Winthrops and Eduardo wanted?”
“Removed and transferred to forensics.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on that one,” Jamie sighed in disgust. “Bet Carl will be thrilled to hear he wriggled off the hook again. Damn….”
“Thanks for holding down the fort,” Kirkland told Sarah after he finally made it back down to the still work-in-progress restaurant. He looked around at the construction work she’d supervised the previous day and observed, “Hey, this looks fantastic!”
“No thanks to me. I just had the guys follow your instructions.”
“Like running a crew of hard-hats twice your size is a piece of cake. I know they never take me seriously; they think I’m just a kid. Can’t imagine dudes have a much higher opinion of some girl making them toe the line and follow specs. I don’t know how you pulled it off, but thank you so much, Sarah, you have no idea how much I appreciate this.”
“Is Rachel doing better?”
“Yeah. She is. My dad was with her all night, and I guess Carl is with her now. She’s out of ICU.”
“That’s terrific news.”
“Then why do you look, kind of, no offense… bummed?”
“I’m just thinking about Grant,” she admitted. “Maybe if I’d insisted on his staying in the hospital longer, he wouldn’t have…”
“Hey, I remember what a pain in the ass Grant was being about getting discharged as soon as possible. And how he wouldn’t let you take care of him at home, either. What happened wasn’t your fault. It was just Grant being Grant, as usual only thinking about what he wanted, instead of how it might affect others.”
“I’m sure he didn’t think he was going to die!”
“He didn’t think, period. He wanted to show how he was all better, so he got in his car and he drove off, not caring what you and Daisy would suffer if something happened to him.”
“Don’t, Kirkland, please,” Sarah begged. “Don’t talk about your dad like that. He was a good man who tried to do his best. He – he was just his own worst enemy sometimes.”
Kirkland looked instantly chastised. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I forgot.”
“How much you really loved him.”
“You loved him, too.”
“Yeah. But, I – I guess I didn’t see the best of him, like you did. I was thinking, maybe – maybe you could tell me about him, what he was like with you and with Daisy. I know he was the kind of dad he always wanted to be with her. Maybe if you told me about it, it could, I don’t know, almost be like he was that kind of dad with me, too.”
“I would love to,” Sarah swore, smiling at him, meeting his eyes, finally cheering up from the distant mood he’d found her in earlier.
Kirkland returned Sarah’s gaze. And then, just as quickly, uncomfortably, looked away.
Carl entered the Bay City Police Station without fanfare, unaccompanied. He ignored the unimportant officers at their desk and requested instead to see the Chief herself.
It took a few moments for them to track down Toni Burrell, and when she saw who had demanded her presence, her eyes narrowed with suspicion.
However, once she’d heard what he’d come to say, they did the opposite, widening until they appeared to take up the bulk of her face.
“I have a confession to make,” Carl took a seat and indicated that she might want to be taking notes, as he had no interest in repeating himself. “I murdered Chase Hamilton…”
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