“I have a confession to make,” Carl took a seat across from Toni Burrell’s desk at the police station and indicated that she might want to be taking notes, as he had no interest in repeating himself. “I murdered Chase Hamilton…”
Her expression didn’t flicker. “I’m listening.”
“My wife was at death’s door. Her only hope was a liver transplant and His Honor was both a few floors away, and an adequate, albeit not perfect, genetic match.”
“How did you do it?” Toni asked.
Carl bristled in offense. Here he was, all but doing the woman’s job for her, and she was treating him like any other miscreant off the street, here to pay a parking ticket or answer a summons for public urination. What was worse, she didn’t seem to believe him. When it came to criminal malfeasance, Carl was more accustomed to heading the suspect list, rather than being cynically scrutinized.
“Because, you see, Mr. Hutchins,” Chief Burrell went on. “I read Chase Hamilton’s autopsy only a few hours ago. And the cause of death was listed as: Natural Causes.”
Carl snorted. “Do you really expect some backwater Medical Examiner to be capable of discerning the subtlety of – “
“As things stand, we’ve got no evidence on which to arrest anyone. So you can guess why it might make me wonder, why the hell would you turn yourself in?”
“Because it is the right thing to do,” Carl insisted. “I take full responsibility for my actions, and I am ready to pay my debt to society. It scarcely matters what happens to me now, you see, as long as my wife is out of danger.”
“And is she?”
“Why, yes, she is, thank you for asking. I stopped in to pay her a visit earlier this morning. Let her know what I was about to do, so that she shan’t worry when I am no longer able to sit by her side in hospital.”
“And what did Mrs. Hutchins think of your deciding to own up?”
Carl sat up straighter in his chair. “She concurs with my decision to make a clean breast of the matter. She understands why I feel morally obliged to accept my punishment sans quarrel. She is proud of me for doing the noble thing.”
“For her?” Toni double-checked. “You killed Chase Hamilton, for her?”
“What option did I have? What other man would have done differently?”
“You could have gotten away with it. We’re not looking for who killed Chase once he was in the hospital. That chapter’s closed. We’re more interested in nailing the original shooter.”
“Ah, yes, the scuffle in the park that led to Hamilton and Rachel’s wounding. Have you any evidence in that regard?”
“Some.” Now it was Toni’s turn to make nonverbally clear that she wouldn’t be repeating herself – or elaborating further.
“Excellent. I look forward to hearing more of your findings.”
“Well, that shouldn’t be too hard if you’re locked up downstairs.”
Carl extended both his wrists forward in supplication. “I am ready.”
“Oh, I bet you are,” Toni mumbled. “More than me, that’s for sure.”
“I beg your pardon?” Chief Burrell.
She stood up reluctantly, reaching for her handcuffs, wondering, “What is it with your whole family and this compulsive need to clog up my holding cells? Alright, come on, Carl. This way to the Hutchins Wing. You can recite soliloquies while you wait for your son to come back.”
Rachel’s older children took turns cycling through to visit Rachel in her room. Though she drifted in and out of consciousness, they didn’t want her to be alone during those brief periods when she woke up.
With Matt and Donna in with her now, that left Jamie and Amanda to sit outside in the waiting room. Cory and Elizabeth had been by earlier, but Jamie sent them home to get some sleep, urging them to come back in the afternoon and relieve the three of them. No one was sure where exactly Carl had gone, but Jamie wasn’t about to go looking for him. He figured the melodramatics would resume soon enough, without Jamie hastening the process.
“She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?” Amanda pressed her brother. “You saw her chart. What did it say?”
“That the transplant went as well as could be expected.”
Amanda asked, “Would it have been worse if we’d had to wait for that donor liver you had coming from Chicago?”
He shrugged. “Impossible to predict.”
“But, every second counts with things like this, doesn’t it?”
“So if Carl…”
“He didn’t,” Jamie cut her off. “Carl didn’t kill Chase. At least, not according to the M.E.’s report. It was a burst aneurysm that did him in.”
“You believe that?”
“I don’t have any evidence at the moment to prove otherwise. Then again, no verdict of murder, especially in Bay City, is ever completely cut and dried, is it?”
The way his eyes bored into Amanda made it clear that they had stopped talking about Chase. And that Jamie knew everything.
“It wasn’t my fault!” Amanda protested. “I’m not the one who happily let my husband take the fall for a murder I committed.”
“No. But you made it clear to my son that his only option was to live in fear of you losing your temper again and blurting out the truth anytime you felt like it. You’re the one who drove him out of town.”
“Oh, please. Steven is a big boy, with an IQ that dwarfs all of us put together. He’s just using me as an excuse to soothe his own guilty conscience.”
“Steven and Kevin did what they thought was right for Jen. What business was it of yours?”
“Kevin was my husband, and he was keeping secrets from me in cahoots with – “
“Your nephew? Jesus, Amanda, how petty can you get?”
“Not Steven. I wasn’t about to say Steven. It was someone else,” she crossed her arms defensively. “Feels like everybody knew the truth except for me.”
“Someone else knows about this?” Now Amanda had Jamie’s complete attention. This was yet another potential loose end. “Who?”
“Lila figured it out. That’s why she visited Kevin in jail all those times.”
“And here I thought it was because you refused to.”
“I’m not like Lila! I’m not a lady of leisure. I have a job, a company that I was fighting to protect from Iris, without any help from the rest of you, may I add.”
“Anyone besides Lila?”
Amanda couldn’t help smiling as she revealed the name he least wanted to hear under the circumstances, “Morgan.”
Jamie deserved it for snidely insinuating that the break-up of Amanda and Kevin’s marriage had been exclusively her fault.
“Oh, fantastic,” Jamie groaned.
“Don’t worry, he doesn’t give a damn about you anymore. Lorna is old news to him now.”
“Because the two of you….”
Amanda smiled cryptically. “Be nice to me, Jamie. I’m tired of being treated like an afterthought in my own family. The one who has to be appeased and kept busy so I don’t get in your way. I’m tired of being lied to and dismissed and finding everything out after the fact. I’m
the one holding the cards now. I’m the only legitimate Cory left. No, Iris and Paulina and Sandy and Matt don’t count. And, from now on, I’m calling the shots.”
“I understand you have accused me of murder.” Eduardo entered Alice’s office, knocking with a great deal less of the reverence and Old World charm he’d brought along the first time around.
“I did no such thing.” She looked up coolly from her desk. “I merely stated the truth, which was that, in my opinion, you were a great deal more interested in having the bullet removed from Chase Hamilton’s brain that the situation warranted.”
“What would you do to help your child?” He challenged.
“Listen to the advice of the doctor treating his partner, instead of interfering in matters you don’t understand.”
“If you had done as I requested, if you had operated – “
“Chase would have died hours earlier, on the operating table. You then would have had a very valid case for negligence and malpractice. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“You should have listened to me,” Eduardo growled.
“No.” She stood up, both palms flat on the table, leaning forward, resting her weight on her arms. “You should have listened to me. The only thing you accomplished was putting even more stress and guilt on your son at the worst possible time.”
“Do not tell me about my son!”
“Do not tell me how to do my job,” Alice countered, her inflection as cold as Eduardo’s had been hot.
“You say that I was greedily seeking the bullet in Chase’s brain as evidence? Well, what about all of you? His liver was needed by Rachel Hutchins, that much we were told. But the rest of the organs were just as quickly distributed. I am told that, in America, if one is carrying an organ donor card, paramedics will not attempt to revive.”
“An ancient urban legend, and blatantly untrue.”
“How do I know that you or someone else on staff did not kill Chase for – for parts!”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I am the one being ridiculous? You think I killed him. Do you have any idea how long I have known the man? Since he and my son were practically boys.”
“Very few parents in your position are ecstatic when they first find out their only son plans to spend the rest of his life with a man.”
“Ah. So now you think I waited over a quarter of a century to kill him because I did not approve of my son’s relationship?” Eduardo asked, incredulous.
“Perhaps it took a quarter of a century for you to come up with a palatable excuse?”
“How dare you accuse me of destroying my son’s life?”
“How dare you accuse me of harvesting organs?”
“You are an infuriating woman.”
“Actually, I am an infuriating doctor.”
Eduardo shook his head, speechless, and stormed out of the room.
Alice took a claming moment, then sat back down and continued with her paperwork.
“I didn’t help her.” Matt stood over Rachel’s bed, looking down at her sleeping form and whispering to Donna. “She begged me to. She said I was the only one she could count on. She’d lost Jamie and Amanda, Cory and Elizabeth. I was all she had left. She said it’s what Mac would have wanted.”
Donna wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist from behind, resting her cheek on his back. “What could you have reasonably done, darling?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I should have done something. Before things got to,” he stroked his mother’s hand. “This.”
“If the police are correct and this was nothing more than a tragic accident, a gun going off that no one meant to, then there is no one to blame, certainly not yourself.”
“She was in the park to warn Jamie about… something.”
“Wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Cory and Jamie blame Carl.”
“Cory and Jamie would blame Carl for global warming, if they could find a cabal of academics to sign off on it.”
“Do you believe it?”
“What? Global warming? We’ve had scientists in at the station to speak both pro and con regarding the cause being manmade.”
“Please,” Matt begged. “Now isn’t the time for coy, Donna. You know exactly what I’m asking.”
She did. Just like she knew Matthew was one of the few people she couldn’t fool with her patented airhead socialite routine. It was one of the many reasons why she loved him.
She said, “Do I think Carl was involved? You know me, darling, there is nothing that I wouldn’t believe about that man.”
“He loves my mother.”
“He once claimed to love me, too. And Felicia. And Perry’s mother. And Nikos’ wife. And Justine. Carl’s hate… Carl’s hate is one thing. It’s all-encompassing, yet still finite in the end. But his love, that’s truly frightening. Because it has no boundaries.”
“Mom asked me for help. I don’t know what to do. Do I protect Carl from the people who want to take down them both? Or do I protect her from him? Seems all my siblings have picked sides. I’m the only one left.” He repeated. “I’m all she has now.”
“Can we play tea party now?” Daisy bounced up and down on her toes, hands clasped in front of her, eyes shining, looking from Marley to Dennis and back again, trying to gauge which one was the softer touch. “Please, please, please, please?”
Dennis sighed, wondering when he’d gotten so old that a single morning spent with a pre-schooler could leave him feeling so wrung out, then remembering that, even twenty years ago, he hadn’t been able to do much better with Sarah. Good thing Marley was here, or else he’d be in even more over his head.
“Okay,” he told Daisy. “Go upstairs and get your tea-set.”
“Yay!” She turned her hopping in the direction of the stairs, tearing up towards her room, followed by sounds of drawers being flung open and other toys hitting the ground as she searched for what she wanted this time around.
“Aw, somebody needs a nap time?” Marley teased, kissing Dennis.
“How long did Sarah say she’d be gone?”
“Couple of hours, at least. She and Kirkland have work at the restaurant.”
“How has Sarah seemed to you lately?” Dennis wondered. “Does she seem to be, you know, getting over… it?”
“Grant, you mean? Nobody every truly gets over Grant. The man is like a virus. Once he’s in your bloodstream, not even quinine can get him out. And that’s for those of us who were stupid enough to fall under his spell for a few minutes. Sarah actually loved the son-of-a-bitch.”
“But, she’s young. That helps, right? She’ll bounce back.”
“You’re cute,” Marley said. “When you’re in Worried Dad mode.”
“Maybe if I’d been in it a little more frequently while she was growing up…”
“We all have regrets,” Marley reminded. “The best way we can honor the people we’ve hurt in the past is to try and do better in the future. Like with Daisy.”
“Daisy,” Dennis repeated cautiously.
Prompting Marley to laugh. “You’re even cuter in Worried Boyfriend mode. Relax, Dennis. I am not obsessing over your granddaughter. I don’t have some fantasy of you, her and me living like a happy family in some Latin American country with very lax extradition laws. That’s all over with. I – It took me a lot of time and soul-searching and painful reality-facing, but I realized my chance to be a mother had passed. I’ve had some wonderful years with the girls as Aunt Marley. But no one is ever, ever going to call me Mommy. And I’m okay with that. Finally.”
“What? It sucks, I know. But it’s not the worst thing that can happen to a person, and I am hardly the first woman it’s ever happened to. I’m luckier than most. Like I said, I have Michele and Bridget. And Daisy… Sarah has been really good about letting me see Daisy. Daisy loves me. I’m going to be a part of her life, thanks to you. It’s… good,” she said, her voice wavering just the slightest bit as she tried to convince him – and herself.
“You’re remarkable,” Dennis took her into his arms.
“Yeah, well,” she mumbled into his chest. “I’ve kind of run out of alternatives.”
“No,” Dennis corrected. “Not as long as you’re with me.”
While, from upstairs, Daisy yelled, “Ready or not, here I come!”
“You think it was a set-up,” Lucas studied the crime-scene photos Cass and Frankie most definitely did not print out after breaking into the Bay City PD’s computer banks. That was their story and they were sticking with it.
“Does it look like a pro hit to you?” Frankie wondered.
“Hell, no. Shooting up instead of down, catching Rachel if Chase was the real target.”
“Especially since, according to Jamie,” Cass said. “Chase moved from where he was standing. He dove to try and protect his kids, which is why he got the bullet to the head. If he’d stayed where he was, it wouldn’t have done nearly as much damage.”
Lucas kept staring at the photos. Finally he said, “You know how Wayne Gretzky, the hockey guy, was quoted as saying he doesn’t skate to where the puck is, he skates to where the puck will be?”
“You think the shooter anticipated Chase’s dive?” Frankie asked, incredulous. “Can anyone do that?”
“Not anyone,” Lucas admitted. “But this one guy… yeah.”
“The better to make it look like an amateur job,” Cass guessed.
“It is a lovely crime scene,” Lucas noted. “Gives the cops everything they need… except a name to go with the bullet. Any leads in that regard?”
“Not that they’re willing to share. Maybe now that they have the bullet…”
“Little good without a gun. Take it they haven’t found that.”
“No,” Frankie admitted. “But they’re canvassing gun shops, checking registrations…”
Lucas snorted. “Good luck with that. Professional hit-men don’t exactly leave a paper trail. Unless it’s a deliberately misleading one.”
“They’ve got road-blocks up around town, checking exiting cars.”
“Really?” Lucas visibly perked up at that. “How very illegal. But, hey, civil liberties be damned, these days. Might be your big break.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you’re lucky, your man hasn’t left town yet. He’s laying low… with his gun.”
“You have a hunch who it might be?”
Lucas nodded once, tersely.
“Any idea where we could find him?” Cass wondered.
“No,” Lucas said, prompting both Winthrops to visibly deflate. “But, you might want to ask… Iris.”
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