“I love this place,” Jake said, as we sat on the balcony of my condo.It was a large area for a balcony, one that held a small table and chairs, along with a separate seating area with an outdoor sofa and two chairs.
“So do I,” I agreed.“I’ll have to talk to Stef about making a larger outdoor area when they redo it.”
“Pretty nice just like it is,” he said.We paused to gaze off at the Bay, where Alcatraz was barely visible through the fog that was moving in.It was dark out here, but the lights from indoors, along with the general light pollution from the City, gave the balcony a rather surreal feel.It was almost as if we were floating above the City, attached to nothing.
“More wine?” I asked, as I poured some more into my glass.
“You’re trying to get me drunk so you can take advantage of me,” he said playfully.
“I don’t have to get you drunk to do that,” I joked back, even as I filled his glass up.
“I don’t turn down good wine,” he said.
“And Opus One is a good wine,” I agreed.
“I think the best thing for me to do is go to Mexico and see what’s going on with these cartels,” Jake said, getting back to the business at hand, planning our next moves.
“I’m working on getting you an entrée,” I replied.
“I don’t need an entrée,” he objected.
“Stef is a close personal friend of Joaquin Rubio, and we all but raised his son Alejandro,” I said firmly.“You’re not stupid enough to ignore those kinds of connections.”
“Probably not,” he said grumpily.
“This is a team effort,” I reminded him.
“Sometimes it’s hard to shift gears,” he said mysteriously.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that when I’m doing my investigating work, like I did in DC and like I’ll be doing in Mexico, I think of myself as a lone wolf.I trust no one, and rely on no one, and that keeps me safe.”
“That makes sense,” I said, because I’d had to do that myself.Still, I certainly didn’t have the intensity about it that he did.
“Then when I re-emerge into the real world, I have to suddenly remember that I’m a team player,” he augmented.
“Except you’re working for me, so it’s not a team, it’s a partnership,” I said.
“I think you’re hitting on me again,” he joked.
“You’re tempting,” I said.
“Duh,” he joked, but then pondered my words, and just as I’d hoped, his curiosity got the best of him.“I’m tempting?”
“You’re tempting,” I repeated.
“So are you,” he said, then seemed to get nervous.“I should probably go.”
“I have to pack and get organized…” he began, but I cut him off.
“And that’s bullshit.”He said nothing.“You can go whenever you want, I’m not forcing you to be here, but it looks to me like you’re running away.”
“If you knew me, you’d be the one who was running away,” he said, but not in a menacing way.
“And if you knew me, you’d know that the one thing I hate more than anything is secrets, or at least the ones I don’t know about,” I said firmly.
“Yeah, Will was pretty adamant about that,” he said, frustrating me by reminding me that he’d talked to Will about me extensively, and that Will seemed to have a window to look directly into my brain.
“Then you should realize that this is getting pretty old,” I said, and not in a nice way.“We’re attracted to each other, but every time we even start to get close, you throw out these mysteries.It’s bugging the shit out of me.”
“So I have to open my soul up to you, or we can’t work together?” he demanded, which almost made me laugh, since it was just the kind of bullshit statement Robbie would have thrown at me.
“No, but when it’s out there that you’re into some kinky shit, and when you tell me that you’re basically dangerous, then you don’t tell me why, then I think some explanations are in order,” I countered calmly.
“There is no reason for a guy like you, with all you have going for you, to put up with someone like me and all of my baggage,” he said, in a strange combination of defiance and sadness.
“We all have baggage,” I said, trying to make sure that my voice had sounded calm and caring but not patronizing.“I’ve dealt with it in me, and I’ve dealt with it with guys I’ve dated.”
“Like Marc,” he said.
“He didn’t have many issues,” I said.He looked kind of confused.“I find that interesting guys aren’t simple, and aren’t easy to figure out.And almost by definition, they come with some hangups.”
“So you’re saying that you like guys with issues because they don’t bore you?”
“In a sense,” I said.“They challenge me, and if it’s the right guy, he’ll push my boundaries and help me to grow as a person too.”It annoyed me that I was starting to sound like a shrink.
He nodded as he thought about that.“I have a problem in that if I jump into a relationship with someone too fast, it ends just as fast.”He must have seen me digesting that information and decided I was confused, so he augmented his statement.“I have guys that I sleep with, and then it’s over.My psychiatrist says it’s part of my defense mechanism left over from being in the closet for so long.”
“So you reject intimacy because it’s a threat?”
“I think it’s more accurate to say I think it’s a threat,” he said grumpily.
“So you’re telling me that we have to be better friends before I get to fuck you, otherwise you’ll run away?” I joked.
“That’s what I’m telling you,” he said seriously.“That happened with Marc, and it happened with Sean.”
“So why am I different?”
“Because I think you’re the kind of guy who will ultimately understand me, and I think you’ll end up being one of my best friends,” he said, with a sincerity that was pretty shocking.“I don’t want to mess that up for a quick fuck, even if it’s spectacular.”
“It would be,” I said in a suggestive way, then we both chuckled.“Have a good trip to Mexico.Let me know if you need help.”
He seemed surprised that I was willing to end things like that, but after a few seconds, he stood up, and I walked him out of the condo.
September 5, 2003
“I have so much to tell you,” Mary Ellen said in her bubbly way.It would be easy to think that there wasn’t a ruthless bitch underneath that perky exterior. She was wearing a pale orange skirt with a matching jacket, an excellent color that seemed to change with her moods, being either frivolous or alternately formal.
“I’m sure I’ll find all of it interesting,” I said, with a cautionary note in my voice.I’d flown down here this morning, and since Mary Ellen had arrived within an hour of me, I’d shared my limo with her.We sat in the back with the privacy screen up, but with things as tense and dangerous as they seemed to be right now, there was no way I was risking a conversation in a car that could quite easily be bugged.She had evidently come to the same conclusion.
“I’m sure you will,” she said in a cocky yet coquettish way.The car drove up to the gates of my mother’s compound and stopped.It seemed to be taking a very long time for the gates to open.Just as I was about to ask the driver what was going on, the phone rang next to me. I hit the button to put the call on speaker.
“Sir,” said the driver, “I spoke to a man named Baxter, and he says he is unable to admit us.”Baxter was my mother’s butler, one who was so English he’d make Mary Ellen feel at home.
“All of those years I tried to escape from this place, and now I have to break in,” Mary Ellen said jokingly, even as she opened the door and got out of the car.I watched her punch a few numbers in the pad, and raised my eyebrows as the gates opened up as if by magic.She hopped back in the car and told the driver to go on through.
“How did you get the master code?” I asked, as the car proceeded in a dignified way down the driveway.
“I always know the important things,” she said, making me chuckle.I had to admit, at least to myself, that I had gotten to the point where I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Mary Ellen.
The limo stopped in front of the main house, and we both got out and stood there staring at the columns that seemed so contrived after the genuinely genteel architecture of Goodwell.This place looked like a badly done knock-off of the original.I swallowed a bit as I remembered the horrors that I’d endured here, and I grappled once again with how much I hated this place.Mary Ellen must have sensed my turmoil and put her hand on my arm to gently urge me forward.We walked up to the door and were met by a very flustered Baxter.
“Mrs. Danfield is not receiving visitors,” Baxter said imperiously.Mary Ellen blew right past him, almost causing him to spin as she went around him on his right side.Mary Ellen had always seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from torturing our staff, so it was almost comical to see Baxter recoil from her as she escaped his blockade.While he was confused, I passed by him on his left.He hurried after us, even as we both headed directly for my mother’s study.
Mary Ellen pushed the doors open with a dramatic thud and burst into the room, getting a frosty look from my mother in return.Mother was wearing a dark blue suit that was quite chic, and managed to be somber, serious, and fashionable at the same time.“Hello,” Mary Ellen said cheerfully.
“It appears I have been woefully negligent in teaching my children manners,” Mother said, even as she rose up to greet us. She eyed us with contempt that was faked, and seemed to be hiding fear and apprehension, although only someone who knew her as well as I did would be able to discern that.
“I hardly think that refusing to admit your children into your own home, after they have travelled a long way to see you, makes you the exemplar of hospitality,” I said.Mary Ellen gave me a smarmy look to mock me for my stuffy language.It was vaguely irritating that I seemed to absorb that style from being in law school, and from interacting with JP, Alex, and the Duke, while Mary Ellen never seemed to change her basic persona.
“You’re probably here to laugh in my face,” Mother said to us viciously.
“I’m not here to laugh at you, because I don’t think this is funny, not in the least,” I said firmly.
“I’m here to laugh at you,” Mary Ellen said.“I think it’s hilarious.”I fought back the chuckle that wanted to escape, and even my mother seemed on the verge of a smile at Mary Ellen’s sense of humor.
“Then you can glare at me, Wade, and point out how I have humiliated the Danfield name yet again, while Mary Ellen laughs in glee at my misfortune,” Mother said bitterly.
“That’s exactly how I thought this would play out, and that’s why I flew all the way across the Atlantic,” Mary Ellen said.
“Ah yes, your arduous journey on the Concorde,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“You underestimate the absolute hell that is airport security and immigration,” Mary Ellen reminded me.
“Now that you’ve both achieved your goals, you can leave me in peace,” Mother said.She walked back to her chair and sat down, then picked up what looked to be a gin and tonic and took a big swig.
“I haven’t achieved my goal.I’m here to try and figure out what the hell is going on,” I said, raising my voice a little bit.That was so rare that it got a surprised look from both of them.
“I would think that it’s obvious that Alexandra, in alliance with your adopted family, has decided to try to destroy me,” Mother said to me.She always sounded bitter when she referenced my ties to JP and his extended family.I wondered if that was because she was unable to inspire that kind of loyalty or trust from people.
“Alexandra is not in an alliance with them,” I said firmly.
“Open your eyes, Wade!” Mother snapped.“Brad worked out a deal where she takes the rap for all of those charges, those crimes he committed.He gives her money, and as part of the deal, she releases those pictures to the press.”
“That is only partially correct,” I said.“You’ve become so corrupt it has clouded your mind.”I prided myself on my stoic demeanor, but I seemed to have a hard time maintaining that pose when I was dealing with my mother or Matt.
“This is even more fun than I thought it would be,” Mary Ellen said, enjoying our battle.Yet in her own way, she was reminding me to keep my cool.
“Bradley did work out a deal with Alexandra and he did give her money, but he was not involved with your assault and with the release of those pictures,” I stated firmly.
“He knew they existed,” she countered.“It had to be part of the plan.”
“Someone else paid Alexandra to lob that bomb at you,” I said.She’d been bantering with me up until now, full of bluster, but as soon as I said that, her entire attitude changed.
“And who might this mystery person be?” Mary Ellen asked.
“Your father-in-law, Lord Preston,” I said to Mary Ellen, then looked at my mother, raising an eyebrow as I did.
“Lord Preston paid Alexandra to do that,” Mother mused.Her eyes became glassy as she began to rethink the situation.Her expression was almost one of ecstasy as she contemplated the intricate web that was being woven around her, and around the rest of us.
“That’s quite a surprise,” Mary Ellen said to Mother.“The last I knew, you were doing Lord Preston’s dirty work.”
“That statement does not correctly reflect our arrangement,” Mother said acidly, annoyed that she’d be classified as someone else’s stooge.
“What exactly was your arrangement?” I asked.
“After I tell you, I wonder how long it will take for that information to get back to Bradley,” she responded snidely.
I felt my anger surge, and struggled mightily to control it.It was absolutely intolerable that my mother, of all people, would accuse me of being dishonorable and untrustworthy.Just before I lost it and completely blew my top, Mary Ellen intervened.“I have never known Wade to betray a confidence.”
“Thank you,” I said to her, through gritted teeth.
“And neither have I,” Mother said, backing up in the face of my suppressed yet evident rage.
“Then perhaps you will tell us what plan you and the marquess launched,” I said calmly.
“He was concerned that JJ’s relationship with Alex would ruin your relationship,” Mother said to Mary Ellen.“It was a concern that I shared.”
“That was very sweet of you to worry about me like that,” Mary Ellen said, even though it was hard to imagine her being less sincere.“It really was unnecessary.Getting rid of JJ was never going to be the slightest challenge for me.”
“I put up with all the other women when I was married to your father,” Mother said, with equal veracity.“I didn’t want you to have to deal with the same things.”
“And while you both sit here and posture about your noble motives, neither one of you is being candid,” I said to them, then focused on Mary Ellen.“If you didn’t need Mother’s help to dispatch JJ, you wouldn’t have involved her in the first place.”
“I didn’t need her help, but she did make it easier,” Mary Ellen said.“And really Wade, it was such a wonderful wedding present, so much better than a strand of pearls or some other trifle.”
“You love pearls,” I said, almost joking.“I always thought that was because their purity contrasted with your own.”
“I was quite candid,” Mother lied.
“I find that hard to believe,” I said, although she didn’t share my outrage at being called a liar.
“You are quite welcome to believe whatever you want,” she responded acidly.“In any event, you have dumped quite a riddle on me.”
“Have you been able to find out any information about your father-in-law?” I asked Mary Ellen.
“I have been unable to get solid answers from Alex, but I have a plan to get him to spill his guts,” she replied.
“And how do you plan to do that?” Mother asked.
“I have invited Alex, the Duke, and Nana to Goodwell so we can all meet and discuss this,” Mary Ellen said smugly.
“Goodwell is Wade’s house,” Mother said, trying to stir up trouble between us.“Shouldn’t you have gotten his approval first?”
Mary Ellen jumped in to respond before I had a chance, which was probably just as well.“Wade explained that Beau and I should treat Goodwell as if it were our own house, so I knew he wouldn’t mind.”
“That is absolutely correct,” I said firmly.“And when is this revelatory meeting supposed to take place?”
Mary Ellen raised her eyebrow to taunt me yet again for my expansive language.“The meeting will happen on Saturday, September 13.The last time you hosted the family at Goodwell things were so exciting, I thought we’d see if we can’t top that.”She was referring to last Thanksgiving, when she’d dropped the bomb on us that she was pregnant with Alex’s child.That was a hellish holiday, and the thought of it made me dread this upcoming meeting.
“You can all hope for a quieter time, but regardless, I will not be there,” Mother said.
“Yes you will,” I said firmly, almost an order.
Mother gave me a contemptuous look, challenging me for even thinking I could give her orders.“I will be in California.”
“You will be in rehab?” I asked.
“I have to do damage control,” Mother said, and seemed genuinely upset that her reputation was in complete tatters.
“I would think that would be a total waste of time,” Mary Ellen said, taunting her.
“Matt thinks that whoever is behind this scheme, presumably Lord Preston, orchestrated much of this to get you out of the picture,” I said to her.
“Matt thinks that,” Mother said with a sneer, as if Matt were a neophyte.
“He does, and I agree with him,” I said.“I can’t imagine that you’d want to play into their plans.”
“Why would they want Mother out of the way?” Mary Ellen asked.
“Because she’s dangerous,” I said, looking at Mother.
“You have certainly captured my attention,” Mother said, pondering things.
“Why is Mother so dangerous?” Mary Ellen asked, mostly to try to goad my mother.
We stared at Mother to give her time to think.“It is possible that they think that because I can be as ruthless as they can be, whereas the rest of you are more restrained.”That was a very interesting theory, one that I’d have to think about.
“Mary Ellen isn’t,” I joked, sort of.“There’s another possibility, or an additional one.”
“You have my full attention,” Mother said.
“Your plans and schemes are usually so complex and intricate they are positively Byzantine,” I said to her.It was funny that she didn’t argue about that, and actually seemed to find that comment flattering.“I suspect that being able to hatch such a scheme would also make you especially good at figuring them out.”
“Possibly,” Mother allowed.
“I have an idea,” I said, and waited for both of them to non-verbally agree to hear me out.“I think that we should go ahead and go to Goodwell, all three of us.No one will bother Mother there, and it will give us a chance to try and figure out what is going on.”
“It can be dreadfully dull out in the country,” Mary Ellen sniffed.
“You can curtail your partying for a few days,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Who else will be coming to our meeting?” Mother asked.
“The smart thing to do is to invite Bradley and his family members,” I said.
“I really do not want to deal with those people,” Mother said, as if they were beneath her.I was smart enough to know that it wasn’t arrogance, but shame at how badly she’d behaved that was motivating that attitude.
“I think they should be there,” Mary Ellen said, probably just to annoy Mother.“Is not the purpose to figure out what’s going on?They can probably shed some insight onto the situation.”
“Undoubtedly,” I said.
Mother sighed.“Arrange it as you like.”
“Thank you,” I said.“I’ll leave you alone to get ready while I make some phone calls.”Mother went upstairs, while Mary Ellen and I found private corners to do our telephoning.
September 5, 2003
“Thank you for coming out here,” Keenan said sincerely, as we walked down the corridor of the hospital.He’d said that with a whiny undertone, one that made me cringe, and that was doing a lot to distract me from how attractive he was.It wasn’t just that he was this hunky Hawaiian guy, it was mostly the memory of the first time I’d seen him.He’d been on all fours in our bedroom in Maui, getting his brains fucked out by Robbie.
“I wish I could have made it out here sooner,” I replied, even as the guilt enveloped me.Keenan ignored my pity party.
“The doctors didn’t know what to do with his face,” he said.
“What?” I asked, since I had no clue what he was talking about. Before he could answer me we got to a nurses station, where there appeared to be a doctor looking at charts and chatting with a few of the nurses.
“This is Dr. Henderson,” Keenan said, introducing me to a really handsome man, even though it was obvious that his looks had gotten some help from plastic surgery. “He is Scott’s doctor.”
“Brad Schluter,” I said as I shook his hand.He grinned, showing off his perfect teeth, but the whole look was so contrived it was like he was a character from one of those cheesy 1950’s sitcoms.
“A pleasure to meet you,” he said, then got serious, almost in a dramatic way.“Mr. Slater has authorized me to brief you on his condition.”
I wanted to roll my eyes at his privacy act, since I was paying the damn bill anyway, but he was just following the rules.“Good news,” I said, “Since that’s why I’m here.”
He led Keenan and me over to a semi-private sitting area conveniently consisting of three side chairs and a small coffee table.“Mr. Slater has bruised ribs, and significant bruising on his body,” Henderson said.“Those are wounds that will heal easily.The most damage was done to his face.”
I paused to think about that for a second.It made sense that Alexandra would want to damage the fake new look he’d used to hide from her goons.“How bad is the damage?”
“I have had to completely rebuild much of his basic bone structure, and I’ve had to significantly alter his appearance,” he said.
I blinked at him, unable to hide my shock.“He’ll look different?”
“He had significant surgery done prior to the incident,” Henderson explained.“That has made the damage more intense.”
“Will this end up being, uh….” I began to ask, then paused because I couldn’t think of the polite way to ask if Scott would be deformed.
“I didn’t say he wouldn’t still be handsome,” Dr. Henderson said, with just the hint of a leer.
“That’s a relief,” Keenan said, joking, then got silent when we looked at him.
“It is,” I said confidently, to make Keenan feel better, only then I felt guilty for worrying about that, as if Scott wouldn’t still be one of my best friends if he were ugly and disfigured.
“We didn’t have a guide on how he looked prior to the accident,” the doctor said.“We were surprised that we couldn’t even find any pictures in the press, or in surf magazines.”Scott’s surf shop was pretty successful, but because he’d been in hiding, he’d kept a low profile.
“You didn’t have any pictures?” I asked Keenan.
“No,” he said, shaking his head.“Scott hates having his picture taken, and so do I.We don’t even have a camera in the house.”Keenan’s style, the way he referred to the house as if he lived there, made it seem that their relationship was more serious than the ‘friends that fuck’ status, which is how Scott had described it the last time we’d been together.
“At that point, I had to make a decision for him,” Henderson said.“As Keenan is his friend, I relied on his input.”Keenan got very nervous when he said that.He was probably worried that I’d freak out over whatever he’d agreed to.I could be pissed off that he didn’t even consult with me, since I was the one with the power of attorney, but I’d been busy and had all but blown Scott off.
“Let’s hope you weren’t pissed off at him and made him look like Godzilla,” I said to tease Keenan.He grinned shyly, which was adorable.
“His last name is Slater, and he’s a surfer, so I used Kelly Slater’s basic facial structure as my guide,” Henderson said.
“Kelly Slater is hot,” I said emphatically.Keenan and Henderson both chuckled at my vehemence.
“If you think that, then I think you’ll really think Scott Slater is hot,” Henderson said with a smile.
“Only you can’t see him yet,” Keenan said, a bit morosely.
“He’ll have the bandages on for a while,” Henderson said.We were all silent for a few seconds, until Henderson ended our conversation and led us in to see Scott.He was lying in the hospital bed, and had bandages and shit all over his face, as if they were designed to immobilize him.“He is allowed to talk to you, but he must remain as calm as possible.”
“Fuck you,” Scott said to the Doctor, but it was more of a mumble since he really couldn’t move his mouth or face much.
“Maybe you can improve his mood,” the Doctor said, then stalked out of the room.
“You piss him off and he’ll find a way to make you even uglier,” I said with a smile.
“Fuck you too,” he said to me, but in a more playful way.
Keenan walked up and held Scott’s hand gently.“I’ll check up on you later.” Scott nodded, and squeezed his hand back, then Keenan left us alone.
“It’s good to see you, B,” he mumbled to me.
“Sorry it took me so long to get here,” I said, feeling the guilt envelop me.
“Then you can make it up to me when I get out of here,” he said, with a leer that was only apparent by his tone of voice.
“I can do that,” I said, chuckling.“They decided to make you look like Kelly Slater.”
“Terrific,” he grumbled in his bitchy way.
“That dude is hot,” I objected.“If you’re lucky, he pulled it off.”
“I’ll bet I end up hotter than him,” Scott said, flirting with me.
“Probably,” I agreed.
“I guess that fucking cunt tracked me down and had me beaten within an inch of my life,” Scott said morosely, referring to Alexandra Carmichael.
“She did,” I confirmed.
“Fuck,” he said, and said it so emphatically he must have strained his face.
“Calm down,” I warned him.
“It’s just so typical,” he all but whined.I guess this was my day to deal with whiny-ass men.“I finally find a place where I’m happy, I have a great business, a great setup, and now I’ll have to go on the lam again.Shit, next time she’ll probably have me killed.”
“Nope,” I said dismissively.“I talked to Mike, her son, and he told me that this was her payback.She’s done with you.”
“So I have to put up with all this pain, and having another new face, but I don’t have to watch my back, worrying about goons killing me?” he asked for clarity.
“That’s right,” I said.
He was silent for a minute as he pondered that.“Then it was probably worth it.”
“That’s how I was looking at it,” I said.“I have to get back home, so I have to bail.I’ll come see you soon.”
“Thanks, B,” he said, and then drifted off, deep in thought.