“You have got to be kidding me,” Matt sputtered, having received a text from Donna via KBAY-TV. He wordlessly turned his phone towards Jamie and Amanda so that they could read the headline for themselves.
“Carl turned himself in?” Amanda gaped.
“There’s got to be a catch,” Jamie mumbled, scrolling through the text, looking for the inevitable line that would say his stepfather had also somehow managed to keep from being charged, due to extenuating circumstances and/or irresistible charisma.
“It says he’s currently behind bars, pending bail.”
“Who the hell would grant Carl bail?” Jamie wanted to know.
“The same people who keep letting him out, no matter what,” Amanda noted.
Matt was the only one who murmured, “Poor Mom. This is the news she’s going to have to wake up to.”
“I’m certainly not breaking it to her.” Amanda took a defensive step back, as if physically separating herself from the entire affair.
“Whatever happened to I’m calling all the shots now?” Jamie mocked his sister.
“I am calling them. And I am not getting involved in this. You two want to listen to another round of Oh, poor Carl, being railroaded by yet another evil conspiracy; you be my guests. I’ve heard enough to last a lifetime.”
“He killed Chase to save Mom’s life,” Matt said.
“He didn’t have to,” Jamie reminded. “A donor liver was coming.”
“You can’t prove Carl knew that.”
“And Carl can’t prove he did it!” Jamie exploded. “I read the autopsy report myself. Chase died because of a burst aneurysm.”
“So why would Carl confess?” Amanda pressed.
“I don’t know,” Jamie said. “But I am damn sure going to find out.”
“Lucas believes I might know the personage responsible for shooting Rachel and Chase Hamilton?” Iris glanced in disbelief from Cass to Frankie. “Why in the world….”
“He didn’t say you were responsible,” Frankie rushed to reassure. “He simply thought you might know how to reach this particular sniper. From your compound days. Lucas described him as the Wayne Gretzky of professional killers. Don’t shoot to where the victim is, shoot to where he’s going to be.”
“Oh,” Iris winced. “Him.”
“Will you help us?” Cass asked.
“To what end?”
“Proving that Carl hired this guy to kill Chase, and that Rachel got in the way.”
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth? How do I know you’re not trying to pin the entire fiasco on me, the same way Carl claimed I was behind him kidnapping the children and Lorna?”
Cass and Frankie exchanged looks. “I guess we can’t, really. You’ll just have to trust us.”
Iris snorted in a most un-blue-blood like manner.
“One day, Iris,” Frankie said gently. “You’re going to have to trust someone.”
“Why? It hasn’t exactly worked out for me in the past.”
“You can be a part of putting Carl away for good.”
“It never sticks,” she dismissed.
“This isn’t another insider trading deal or some money laundering scheme. It’s not even a run of the mill murder for hire. This is political assassination. Even Carl would have a hard time wriggling out of this one.”
“And where does that leave me?” Iris demanded.
“What do you mean?” Frankie said. “I promise, Iris, we are not trying to implicate you.”
“Where does that leave me… with Russ?”
Cass quickly surmised what she was saying. “You think if Carl is put away and Rachel is suddenly on the market, again…”
“He certainly didn’t wait long to jump into her bed the last time Carl absconded for an extended spell.”
“But he wasn’t married to you, then,” Frankie reminded.
This time, there wasn’t a snort loud enough in creation to describe how Iris felt about that insignificant detail. Or, rather, how she suspected Russ felt.
“He wouldn’t have married you if he didn’t love you,” Cass said.
“You never stayed with a woman out of obligation?” Iris challenged. “Even though there was another one you loved more?”
“Kathleen and I…”
“Have nothing to do with this,” Frankie interrupted.
“Russ can’t possibly still have feelings for Rachel,” Cass insisted. “Not after she lied to him about knowing Carl was still alive.”
“The heart wants, what the heart wants,” Iris gestured vaguely with her hand.
“So you’re going to let a killer go free – “
“Why should I be any different from the American justice system in that regard?”
“ – Simply because you’re afraid of losing your husband?”
“You,” Iris indicated Frankie. “Supposedly brought her back from the dead. I’m not allowed my own flights of fancy?”
“All we need is a lead to find this guy,” Frankie pleaded. “This is your chance to do the right thing.”
“Russ,” Cass added pointedly. “Would be really impressed by you cooperation….”
“May I presume you to be up to date on the latest news?” Eduardo once again entered Alice’s office at the hospital, this time without even pretending to knock.
“Carl confessing to Chase’s murder?”
“I read about it. I don’t fully believe it.”
“Yet you had no trouble believing me responsible for the same thing.”
Alice hesitated. “You have my apologies, Mr. Rivera.”
He crossed his arms and studied her warily. “Oh, I understand completely. When faced with the choice of a man with a motive and a half decade of criminal activity under his belt, versus an officer of the court who loved the deceased like a son, naturally I would be your obvious suspect.”
“Would you like me to apologize again?”
“What I would like is for you to explain what sort of devilish hold Carl Hutchins has over the citizens of Bay City, that all his sins are forgotten immediately, while those of us who – futilely – attempt to seem him punished for them are demonized and somehow perceived as the true evil?”
“Rachel,” Alice said simply.
“Are you telling me that she holds so much civic influence – “
“That’s just a small part of it. She believes in him,” Alice said. “Truly and utterly and completely. Her loyalty is as sincere as it is unshakable. She is truly a force of nature, at this point. It’s impossible for anyone to look at her and not see at least some of the good that she insists she found in Carl. I’ve experienced it myself. She wants it to be true so badly, anyone with a heart can’t help but wanting it for her. Only because it’s so obvious that she would be thoroughly destroyed by anything else.”
“So it’s some sort of mass delusion? All in the interest of keeping one woman with very bad judgment happy?”
“No. It’s what her delusion represents. That there is, in fact, good in everyone. That love can change even the most damaged, dark soul. That redemption is possible for all, no matter what we secretly know ourselves guilty of. We want to believe it just as much as Rachel does. Because if she gives up the faith, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
“You will forgive me if I refuse to sacrifice my son’s partner – not to mention the rest of my now deceased family – onto the same funeral pyre as the rest of you.”
“I wouldn’t dream of asking you to.”
He sighed. “Your apology is accepted, Dr. Frame.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rivera. I am truly sorry to have contributed to your anguish at this difficult time.”
Eduardo shrugged. “Perhaps you did me a favor. Offered me an alternative source to be angry at. For, if I didn’t have you, whom should I curse? Hutchins? I know the ineffectuality of attempting to cage that particular puff of smoke. Fate? What did my son do to deserve this? Except fall in love with a man so devoted to him, he was willing to make our family’s quest his. And to pay for it with his life.”
“Perhaps Carl’s confession…”
“You said yourself, you didn’t believe it.”
“I doubt I’ll be invited to sit on his jury.”
“He is up to something,” Eduardo said.
“Will you help me make certain he doesn’t get away with it, Dr. Frame?”
“I…” Alice balked. “Rachel and I, we have a history.”
“Which is precisely why I have come to you.”
“No change?” Cory asked when he entered Rachel’s hospital room to find Matt the only one there, holding vigil.
Matt shook his head. “She comes in and out of consciousness. I try to talk to her, but I’m not sure how much she really hears or understands.”
“Jamie says it could take a couple of days. Guess the anesthesia and painkillers they gave her were pretty strong.”
“I’m wondering if maybe she doesn’t want to wake up. Maybe, somehow, she knows about what Carl did…”
“She knows,” Cory replied confidently.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Father wouldn’t turn himself in without telling Mom first. What would be the point of his big sacrifice, if she isn’t there to laud him for it? He’s playing to an audience of one, and it isn’t the Bay City Police Department.”
“Would you cut it out?” Matt snapped.
Cory looked at him neutrally, not so much shocked by Matt’s outburst as merely curious.
Which, in turn, only served to infuriate Matt further. “All of you, Jamie, Amanda, now you… Mom needs our support, not you guys sitting around, smirking about how you were right all along. Jesus, if I knew that’s what I had to look forward to, I’d take as long to regain consciousness as I could, also.”
“What would you have us do, Matt?” His little brother remained perfectly calm in the face of the frenzied accusations.
“Think about Mom’s feelings for a change, instead of your own. When you shot Carl, did you stop to consider what it would do to Mom?”
“Yes,” Cory said.
Matt waited for more.
No more proved forthcoming.
Awkwardly trying to fill the silence, Matt rambled, “Well, then you didn’t do a very good job of it. Amanda only cares about protecting the company, and Jamie, he’s busy running around town, calling Carl a kidnapper, saying his own mother was in on it.”
“Actually, Mom was the one who said it, not Jamie.”
“Did he even try to see it from her point of view?”
“Did Mom ever see it from his?”
“That’s all she’s been doing from the start! Trying to make peace between Carl and us… I admit it, I hardly helped in the beginning. I was as suspicious of Carl as anyone. But, did any of us care how we were ripping Mom in half? And look what it led to! We almost lost her, Cory. And I don’t know about you, but I am nowhere near ready for that to happen.”
“I’m not either,” Cory admitted.
“We’ve been rotten kids,” Matt mumbled. “All five of us. We all let her down. She deserves so much better.” He straightened up, vowing, “I’m going to do better. You’ll see. I am never, ever letting Mom down again. I don’t care what the rest of you think. I’m going to take care of her from now on. She can count on me. At long last, Mom can count on me.”
“Iris came through!” Cass crowed with delight, checking his messages to find a cryptic text scheduling a rendezvous for him and Frankie with the man Iris called “Wayne.” He was willing to talk to them and, like Lucas suspected, he was still in town.
“We make a pretty good team, don’t we?” Frankie said as they drove to their destination.
“Always have, always will,” he confirmed.
Frankie asked, “Do you think Eduardo will keep his word? If we help him prove that Carl arranged the hit on Chase, do you really think he’ll get your law license back?”
Cass shrugged. “I have no reason not to trust him at this point. I know he’s pretty high up in the DOJ. Those guys can make things happen.”
“And do you want this to happen?”
“What are you talking about?” Cass tore himself away from watching the road to sneak a quick peek at Frankie. “Why are we doing this, otherwise?”
“Truth, justice, the American way….”
“Carl Hutchins is our daughter’s biological grandfather. He showed no qualms about kidnapping his own children from a woman he allegedly adores. Do you think he’d hesitate to steal Lori Ann from us? Believe me, I thought long and hard before deciding to poke that bear. I’m only doing it because the upside is so worth it.”
“You really miss practicing law.”
“About half as much as I missed you when you were gone. Which means, yeah, a hell of a lot.”
“I thought maybe the private eye business would make up for that.”
Cass said, “I love you, Frankie. I love working with you. I love… not working with you. But, I miss doing the work I was trained to do. I miss helping people. I miss – “
“Being a smart ass in the courtroom.”
“God, do I miss that,” he confirmed.
“I want you to be happy, Cass.”
“I know you do. And I am happy. I’d just like to be happy and… not disbarred. For a change. Just to see what that’s like.”
“Any day now,” she promised, as the two of them exchanged grins of anticipation.
The prediction turned out a touch premature.
The address they’d been given proved valid, so did the identity of the man they were meeting.
Unfortunately, when they got there, they found “Wayne” dead. Strangled. And the entire place seemingly wiped of anything that could be connected to Chase’s fatal shooting, much less Carl’s role in it.
“Hello, Dennis,” Donna offered cautiously, greeting him in the Cory Mansion’s foyer. She turned a quizzical expression towards his sidekick. “And hello to you, too, Daisy.”
To be honest, Donna had yet to figure out precisely how she should feel about this child whose existence had ruined her daughter’s marriage. Angry… or grateful?
She settled on indifferent, asking instead, “What are the two of you doing here?”
“Daisy and I are hanging out for the afternoon while Marley, Sarah and Kirkland go to Michele and Bridget’s high-school graduation.”
“Ah. Yes. The ceremony I was pointedly not invited to.”
“That’s actually what I came to talk to you about.”
“Afraid I might crash the occasion?”
“Well, I have heard what happened at Devon’s christening…”
“A lifetime ago. And I was feeling particularly peevish that day.”
“No. I’m here because I’m worried about Marley. I want her to be happy, and she keeps telling me she’s happy – “
“When a woman tells you she’s happy, Dennis, take her at her word, lest you soon find yourself very, very unhappy.”
“I want to, I do. But I can’t help thinking that Marley can’t be truly happy until her relationship with you is… resolved.”
“So are you here to kill me then? Because, truly, at this point, the only aspect of my relationship with Marley that I can see making her happy is if I were to drop dead.”
“Would you take this seriously, please?”
“I am,” Donna hissed. “I have always taken my daughter very, very seriously. I have also known her a great deal longer than you have, and I know that when Marley tells you to stay away, it isn’t some subconscious, passive-aggressive plea for closeness, but an actual order to stay the hell away!”
“She misses you.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“She misses the mother she wishes she’d had.”
“That,” Donna sighed. “I believe.”
“You can still be that for her! What’s that line? About how it’s never too late to have a happy childhood?”
“Are you seriously quoting inspirational posters to me? What’s next: Hang in there, while a cat dangles from a branch?”
“Marley told me the other day that she has given up on ever raising a child of her own. She says she’s accepted that no one will ever call her Mom. She claims she’s okay with it. Which is great. But, I think fixing Marley’s relationship with you is the last piece of the puzzle to making her truly comfortable in her own skin.”
“Not,” Donna stressed. “A trait common to Love women. I myself required an extensive stay at Clareview before I was able to look at my reflection in the mirror without cringing.”
“Then you understand how important it is to make Marley feel the same way.”
Donna looked at Dennis with something approaching sympathy. “I’m afraid that’s not something that can be imposed from the outside.”
“You got help! Why can’t you help Marley now?”
“I would genuinely love to. But Marley has to want that help. From me. And, as of now, she does not.”
“My mother certainly never waits for an invitation before stepping in to ‘help’ me.”
“Is that your notion of a persuasive argument? That we should all be more like Iris?”
“If you really loved Marley, you would give her whatever she needed, whether or not she would welcome the interference.”
“What do you know about parenting?” Donna hissed. “I’ve seen the results of your efforts,” Donna jerked her chin in Daisy’s direction. The child was walking about the Cory parlor, touching priceless objects with her undoubtedly grubby hands. Donna would have stopped her but, after all, these were Rachel and Carl’s things, not hers.
“I screwed up with Sarah,” Dennis agreed. “And I screwed up with Olivia and every other woman in my life. I screwed up with Marley once. I’ll be damned if I’ll do it again. I want to give her everything she needs, everything she’s been lacking up to this point, even if it means coming to you on bended knee.”
“Is that what you call insinuating that even Iris is a better mother than I am?”
“That… was a mistake.”
“You don’t say.”
“Just say that you’ll reach out to Marley. Promise me that, no matter how many times she slaps your hand away, you’ll keep trying.”
“What sort of masochist do you take me for?”
“One who loved her daughter enough to pretend to be her sister, no matter how much it hurt her to do it.”
“Low blow, Dennis. Very, very low.”
“One who was willing to confess to a murder she didn’t commit in order to keep her daughter out of jail.”
“You do realize that I played a bit of a role in that particular fiasco?”
“I realize you’d do anything for Marley. She just needs to realize it, too.”
“Can we go now?” Daisy whined from where she was sitting on the floor, playing with a priceless Faberge egg.
“I think that would be for the best,” Donna agreed.
“Will you at least think about what I said?” he pleaded.
“Trust me, Dennis, I have been thinking about what you said long, long before you ever said it.”
Donna ushered them both to the door, tempted to let Daisy just walk out with the egg, but reluctantly wrestling it from Daisy’s hands, nonetheless.
She heard them get in the car, Dennis turning on the engine and pulling out of the Cory driveway. Donna didn’t observe anything unusual.
Which is precisely what she told the police when they turned up the next morning, informing her that Dennis and Daisy were missing, having seemingly disappeared without a trace.
Donna was reportedly the last person to see them.
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