Sorry I missed last week's posting. Hopefully this chapter is exciting enough to make up for it.
September 13, 2003
I had originally considered reconvening our meeting at dinner, but that seemed to be tempting fate just too much. Visions of the Thanksgiving nightmare dinner last year seared through my brain. Instead, we’d just enjoyed a relaxed meal and celebrated Maddy’s birthday. It was a really nice, calm event, and helped to soothe some of the frayed feelings that our first meeting had inevitably caused. We’d celebrate Riley’s birthday tomorrow, and Will’s as well if he was around long enough. The bond between Will and Maddy was really touching, but he seemed pretty attached to Riley too. Probably the biggest surprise was how much fun Darius had playing with them now that they weren’t just blobs, even though they wore him out. Just seeing how much energy it took to deal with a three-year-old was probably great birth control.
We were due to start meeting again in the library in an hour, so I took that opportunity to wander down to the nursery to check on Riley and Maddy. My mother was outside their room in the hallway with her back to me, talking on her cell phone. She had a unique ability to speak into a phone or whisper into your ear such that people around her couldn’t hear what she said, an ability I’d inherited from her.Only in this situation, she hadn’t known anyone was there, so as I strolled up to her, I could hear her words quite clearly.“Take him out.”Her words were vicious and direct, uttered as an order, the kind of order someone would issue when they were planning to have someone killed.She saw me immediately after she said that, and look flustered.I stared at her until she ended her call.
“Take whom out?” I asked icily.
“You were eavesdropping on my conversation?” she challenged.“That is surely beneath you.”
“I was,” I said firmly, disregarding the etiquette rules.“Who are you planning to take out?”
“I will not be badgered,” she said, and headed down the hall, away from me.I followed her.
“And I will not be put off in this situation, with so much on the line,” I demanded.My words were loud enough to stop her escape, as she certainly didn’t want a scene.
“I was talking to my publicist, who was discussing my efforts with someone at the Washington Post,” she lied.“I told him to take the reporter out, as a good lunch or dinner may get me more favorable press.”
“That was very good, Mother,” I said.“You managed to think up an excuse for that quite fast.”
“You may think whatever you like, Wade,” she said curtly.“I will see you at the meeting.” She strode away from me confidently, leaving me wondering who would be on the receiving and of her wrath this time.The good news was that most of the people who were important to me were here, and I didn’t think there was any way she could accomplish an execution at Goodwell.
“Wade,” I heard Brad say.I turned to find him standing there with Jake.“We’d like to introduce you to some people, and see if you can integrate them into your household for the next day or two.”
“Certainly,” I said, and followed them to the stables.There were three men there, and they were all muscular, hulking guys.
“These are three friends of mine,” Jake said, introducing them. What was hysterical, in a politically incorrect way, was that they were like a stereotypical team: Joe was African American, Kenny was Asian, and Ramon was Hispanic.I guess with Jake as the token white guy, they rounded out the human color wheel. I wanted to give them Ninja Turtle names. “They’re here to provide security.They’ll need to deploy some monitors, and spend some time getting the layout figured out.”
“Of course,” I said.I took them to meet the head groundskeeper and told him that with all of our distinguished guests, we’d added some extra security.He agreed to help them out, but all of that took time. I glance anxiously at my watch, since it was almost time for our meeting, and I didn’t want to be late and miss something.
“We’ll handle things,” Joe said.
“Thanks,” Jake told him.Jake, Brad and I went back into the house and made it to the library just as everyone had gotten situated.Conveniently enough, everyone sat in the same place they’d been in before, which made it seem orderly, at least to my OCD mind.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you all,” I said formally.Matt snickered at me, since if I had been speaking casually, I would have used the term y’all instead.“Jake has jumped in and arranged security for us in no time at all.I hope that will help you sleep more comfortably.”
“Thank you, Wade, and you as well, Jake,” Alex said.“I have phoned home, and ensured that Ricky has ample protection as well.”I tried not to be a control freak in these situations, but it made me a little nervous, since Alex didn’t always pick up on the level of the threat.I remembered how he’d thought he could easily handle Mary Ellen’s scheme to remove JJ from their lives, and how badly that had backfired on all of us.
“I’ve had a bit of time to think about this situation, and I have a couple of questions,” Brad said.We all looked at him, non-verbally assuring him he had the floor.“How involved is Lady Preston’s family in the current opium trade?”
“I am not aware of the extent of their involvement, but based on how long they have been doing it, I would expect them to be quite involved,” the Duke said.
“They are involved, according to my sources, in a significant portion of the global trade,” Jake said.“You won’t be surprised to discover that the name they operate under is Blankford.”
“This must be a long-term goal, to have named their consortium after that title,” Stef noted.
“Does that mean that Blankford is the equivalent of a company name, or is it in direct reference to Ricky’s courtesy title?” I asked.
“Or both?” JP asked.
“I don’t know,” Jake said.“I talked to a friend in the DEA, and he said that their family has adopted pretty shrewd tactics to remain a key player in the narcotics industry.It is an industry that craves the power of consolidation, but its illegal structure makes that difficult.”
“How have they gotten around that?” I asked.
“They have gone in and created a consortium of sorts, where they align with a specific cartel or cartels in a market, and then they can ensure smooth supply of their products,” he said.“They’ve got good contacts in Afghanistan, which is one of the biggest suppliers in the world.Most of that product is shipped to Europe through the Balkans.They’ve also got ties in Myanmar, where the product ships to China, or Indonesia and Australia.And the key supplier in North America is Mexico.”
“I would suspect that with the war in Afghanistan, that is interfering with their supply,” Mother said with a hopeful note, as if that may justify this foolish war her friends in the government had dragged us into.
“It has hurt it a bit, but not enough to cause them major problems,” Jake said. I almost laughed at how that disappointed my mother.
“That’s what they’re doing in Mexico!” Brad exclaimed, almost too loudly.“Lord Preston isn’t going there to broker an agreement with the Ortegas, they’re going to pull the Ortegas into their consortium.”We paused to digest what he said.
“That is why those properties are so important to them,” Stef noted.He paused to explain the issue with Buzz Dalby’s estate and the lands bordering Mexico they were trying to acquire.
“I would suspect with that kind of backing, and with a secure infrastructure on both sides of the border, they would be able to move lots of product into the US,” Jake said.“And I would suspect that when that is accomplished, the Ortegas will become the most powerful of the Mexican cartels.”
“Is that their modus operandi?” JP asked.“It would seem illogical to go in and start a war of consolidation when you could easily unite the factions by affiliating them with your consortium.”
“That would seem to make more sense,” Jake said.“Unless they felt that wasn’t possible.In that case, there has to be a war to annihilate the opposing cartels, or at the very minimum, to iron out who works in which markets.”
“I wonder if there is some reason why the Rubios won’t work with this group?” Brad asked.“Surely there are rival consortiums.”
“There are,” Jake said.“Probably the strongest is the Minh group in China.”
Brad and Stef looked at each other a bit nervously.“Then I suspect you will see the Rubios align with the Minh group,” Stef said.
“Do you know them?” Jake asked.
“Mr. Minh had briefly dabbled in the world of Venture Capital, and through those ties I met a few of his deputies,” Stef said.
“Met,” Brad said sarcastically, and chuckled.Stef gave him a dirty look, which made Matt, Will, Darius, and I snicker as well, since it was easy enough to deduce that Stef had fucked one of them, at least.
“I would have thought these guys would do just fine, running their own operations, without all this interference from the outside,” Matt said. That made sense.Why would the Ortegas want to rock the boat by bringing in a consortium?
“If one group brings in a powerful ally, then I suspect the other group would feel compelled to seek allies as well,” Stef noted. “And presumably the same competitive desire will influence the consortiums.If one moves into Mexico, others would reasonably feel a need to do that as well, probably for their own survival.”
“So maybe the Minh group worked out a deal with the Rubios first?” JP mused.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Jake said.“I think I would have heard about that, and when it was raised, it was just a distant idea, not a done deal.I think the Rubios would only bring in the Minh group if they felt threatened by the Blankford deal with the Ortegas.”
“Why wouldn’t the Rubios have the same drive to get bigger and more powerful as the Ortegas?” Will asked.
Jake shrugged.“These groups already have to deal with a lot of issues, not the least of which is the attempts by law enforcement to ruin their business and by rival groups to assassinate them.Sparking a war is a whole new level of risk.”
“The Ortegas must have run the analysis and decided that the risk was worth the reward,” Stef mused, making this all sound like a simple business deal.It was easy to forget that the people we were talking about were dregs who preyed on human weakness, and contributed in no small part to the destabilization of society as a whole.
“Wait a minute,” Brad said.“When we were talking about this before, we were wondering if they were trying to weaken us, our family.Is that part of this deal?”
“Are you involved with these groups?” the Duke asked with a condescending air, as if to imply that Stef was part of the Rubio cartel.
“We have had peripheral dealings with them that are not drug related,” Stef said, his irritation showing quite clearly at being snubbed by this self-important aristocrat.“I would submit those dealings are less intimate than the ties to your family.”
“In any event, I cannot see why they would see us as a resource for the Rubios or the Minh group,” Brad said hastily, to keep Stef and the Duke from going for each other’s throats.
“You must put all the pieces together,” Mother said, her voice sounding elegant and smooth, but also a bit condescending, as if she were addressing people who were hopelessly naive.“Something I have been accused of doing all too well.”I smiled at her to acknowledge that she at least heard me when I talked of her Byzantine schemes.
“Explain that,” Mary Ellen said.
“This does not all have to revolve around just one objective,” Mother said.“In fact, I suspect there are multiple goals.”
“I’m not following you,” Matt said.
“If Lord Preston meets with the Ortegas to arrange for them to join his consortium, that does not mean that he isn’t also plotting to install his children from his second marriage as the heirs to the Dukedom,” she said.
“I can see that,” Brad said, getting her point.“In that case, Lord Preston’s dealings in Mexico may have nothing to do with us at all, while his attempts to cause us problems may be linked to his second goal.”
“That would explain why we have all felt the impact of their wrath,” JP said.“They have spread it around so it hits all of us, and not just our business interests.”
“Why?” Will asked.
“If there was a plan in place to weaken us as a group, that gives us a logical reason as to why Lord Preston was willing to aid in the destruction of JJ’s career, and why he paid Alexandra Carmichael to plan out and execute Mrs. Danfield’s rape.” JP looked at my mother meaningfully when he said that. “I hope you will forgive me for raising this issue, and that unpleasant memory.”
“It is something I would indeed like to forget, but it was relevant,” Mother said.“But thank you for your concern.”
“You’re welcome,” JP said.It was funny how he had managed to look much more like a gentleman during this whole discussion than the Duke.
“I can see why Lord Preston wouldn’t want to hurt you, since he had planned to inherit your holdings,” Mother said to the Duke.“I don’t understand why he would go after me, and the rest of the people here.”
“Because he probably understands the kind of family loyalty that bonds us together,” I explained.“I would assume that in his mind, he would have grafted the Duke’s honorable intentions and values onto us, and onto JP and Stefan.In that case, if one of us were under attack, the rest would come to our rescue.”
“Our three families are now intertwined by marriage or other important relationships,” JP added. “It is inconceivable to think that I would stand aside and watch someone try to destroy Wade without stepping in to help.I would have to believe Wade would do the same thing for his nephew.”
“But maybe not for his sister,” Matt teased, taking a swipe at Mary Ellen.Only we had grown closer over these past two years, and I had come to genuinely enjoy spending time with her.
“No, I would fight for my sister,” I said definitively.It was one of the more meaningful moments I’d had with Mary Ellen.She smiled at me and nodded.
“And I would fight for you too, Wade, but probably not as hard,” she joked, making all of us laugh.
“Here is what concerns me,” I said, getting serious again.“It seems that to achieve their goal, Lord and Lady Preston must eliminate Your Grace, Alex, and Ricky.There really is no other way for them to accomplish that.”
“They would surely not resort to murder,” the Duke said.
“These people are drug lords,” Mother said, and actually let her irritation show.“They would have no problem killing to achieve a major objective.”
“And that means that none of you is safe from their reach, nor will you ever be,” I said.“I’m actually rather surprised you’ve survived this long.”
“I can’t imagine my father, as bad as our relationship has been, would arrange to have me killed,” Alex said, and looked visibly shaken.
“Your father may not be willing to do that, but his wife is probably not as sentimental where you are concerned,” Mother pointed out.“If something happens to Lord Preston, that is when this will come to a head.”
“What could happen to him?” I asked her suspiciously.
“Wade, he is in Mexico meeting with members of cartels,” she said to me dismissively.“That is a high risk venture.”
“That’s what your phone call was about,” I accused, putting it all together. She glared at me with her most vicious look, the one that would cause most people to shrink away into the shadows, but had no impact on me at all.
“Now you are seeing phantoms where there are none,” she said, but there was a note of warning in her voice.That’s exactly who she’d been referring to when she’d given the order to take him out, I was almost certain.But there was nothing to be gained by discussing that in this group.If whoever she talked to actually did succeed in taking out Lord Preston, knowledge that she was involved in that would only complicate things.
“I don’t understand,” Brad said, having picked up on our underlying tension.
“It seems to me that this threat will remain over our heads forever,” Mother said, ignoring Brad’s query, and adopting an angry pose to cover our prior exchange in a smokescreen.“And it seems that my grandson is now directly in harm’s way.”
“That is surely just supposition at this point,” the Duke said.
“I am not willing to be as blithe about it as you are,” Mother said to him.“As Wade noted, it is only you, then Alex, then Ricky who are preventing Lady Preston’s children from assuming the peerage.I would have to believe, based on what we’re learning, that she is ambitious, determined, and ruthless enough to make that happen.”
“I don’t think she’d shed a tear if I vanished,” Alex said sadly.
“Is there a way to somehow prevent that from happening?” I asked the Duke.“Is there some way to ensure that their children will not inherit the Dukedom?”
“I am not aware of anything, other than treason, which is grounds to remove a title they would have been born into,” the Duke said.“I have explored this area before, and have sadly come up empty handed.”
“Yet there is one way,” Mother said, smiling her most evil smile.It was as if I could see the light bulbs going off in her mind.“I must say, I have to admire Sabrina Granger’s handiwork in this.”
“You know her?” I asked, since her comment seemed to indicate a level of familiarity I hadn’t noticed before.
“I have only met her once, but I know of her,” Mother said, stunning me with the long reach of her network.
“What do you mean, you admire her handiwork?” Mary Ellen asked.
“The only way to deny the Dukedom to Lady Preston’s children is to have them declared to be illegitimate,” Mother said.“It is much the same discussion we had when we first talked about your pregnancy.If you and Alex weren’t married, then Ricky would not be in the line of succession.”
“That is correct,” the Duke said, as if ruling definitively on that point.
“But Lord and Lady Preston are married,” Mary Ellen asserted.
“Are they?” Mother challenged.
“What do you know that you’re not telling us?” I demanded, wondering what kind of scheme she’d cooked up.
“I know how to prove that those children are bastards,” she asserted. We all stared at her, amazed at that statement.
“You would have to prove that Lord and Lady Preston never married,” I said.
“Or more to the point, prove that they were never legally married,” she said, emphasizing the term, ‘legally’.
“I’m quite sure they have adequate documentation to certify that they are legally husband and wife,” the Duke said, frustrated with what he must think is mindless banter.
“Not if Lord Preston was still married at the time they wed,” she said.
“My son only had two wives,” the Duke asserted. “Alex’s mother, and Sabrina Granger.”
“I did not argue otherwise,” Mother said obliquely.
“How can you prove that he was married at the time?” I asked her.
“I know where Alex’s mother is,” she said, with a self-satisfied smile. There was a collective gasp when she made that announcement, one that silenced the room for a few seconds.
“My mother?” Alex asked, truly shocked.“My mother has been dead for years.”
“What kind of farce is this?” the Duke demanded, and seemed genuinely offended.That didn’t bother Mother at all.
“It is no farce,” she said to the Duke.“Margaret Granger, formerly known as Lady Bridgemont, is alive as we speak.”
“That isn’t possible,” Alex said.“She died when I was eight years old.I went to her funeral.”
“How was she killed?” Mother asked him.
“Margaret, or Maggie as we knew her, was killed in an automobile accident in Maryland, not terribly far from here,” the Duke said.“She was here visiting a friend.”
“She was indeed,” Mother said, implying there was more to this ‘friend’ than we were being told.“But she was not killed in that accident.”
“I stared at her casket, and watched them bury her,” Alex said sadly.Mary Ellen reached over and put her hand on his shoulder in a very loving way.I had always thought Mary Ellen would be a relatively callous wife, one with lots of lovers and treated Alex with disregard, but she genuinely seemed to care about him.
“Was it an open casket?” Mother challenged.
“It was not,” the Duke said, and was so flustered his somewhat pompous attitude had completely vanished.
“So you are saying that Alex’s mother was injured, presumably severely, in this accident, but not killed?” I asked Mother.
“Yes,” she said.
“And then her death was faked, for whatever reason, and that would have seemingly been legitimated by having a huge funeral for her in Britain, attended by her young son,” I said.
“Yes,” she said again.
“And I suppose you’re going to produce her?” I asked, wondering if she’d actually do that.
“I cannot teleport someone Wade,” she said.“That is beyond my powers.”
“I wonder about that,” Matt said, with a bit of awe and admiration in his voice. We’d seen my mother’s plans and schemes for years, but it truly was impressive the way she could almost reach in and pull out a trump card to save a bad hand.
“Alright, if my mother is alive, where is she?” Alex asked.I had rarely seen him lose his cool, but he was losing it now.He seemed to be a spark away from going on a ranting tirade. I’d only experienced that once, when we were a couple and had argued in San Francisco.It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Virginia,” Mother said.“She has been hospitalized here for several years.”
“My mother is alive and in this very state,” Alex said, floundering.
“Now I understand why I was supposed to be out of the picture,” Mother said, ignoring Alex’s meltdown.“That’s why they needed to get me out of the way.”
“Because you know where Alex’s mother is?” I asked for clarity.
“Yes,” she said.
“And because you are good at figuring out these crazy schemes,” Matt added.
“Evidently,” I said.“But if you had gone to rehab, you would only be gone for two to three months.”
“I would suggest, then, that three months is their timeline to try and implement their plan,” Mother said.
“You are suggesting that by the time you came out of rehab, Lady Preston would have eliminated Alex, Ricky, and the Duke, and securely enshrined her children as the heirs?” JP asked.
“That is what I am suggesting,” Mother said.
“I am just torn apart, worrying about what will happen to Ricky,” Mary Ellen said to Alex.“Can we go back and get him?” She had shown little in the way of maternal instincts, at least as far as I could tell, so her concern was either faked for a reason, or it reflected genuine feelings she’d buried deep within her. Worrying about his son seemed to pull Alex out of his emotional slide.
“That may be part of the plan,” Jake said.“You just don’t know.The best strategy is to stay here, at least until tomorrow.You don’t want to go anywhere at night. Our plan should be to hunker down and make sure we’re well-defended.”His decision to bring in his three friends suddenly looked to be incredibly valuable and important.
“If you will excuse me, I need to make a phone call,” the Duke said.“I will ensure Ricky’s safety.”
“How will you do that?” Mary Ellen asked.
“While I am not popular with the current government in Britain, I am on very good terms with Her Majesty the Queen, and on even better terms with His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh,” The Duke said.“In this situation, I am confident they will oblige me and watch out for my great-grandson.”My mind wandered off to a vision of Ricky in his crib, surrounded by several red-coated guards who stood there stoically, even as he threw toys or other things like that at them.I almost giggled, and that would never do in this situation, so I wrangled my mind back under control and focused on the conversation in front of me.
“Just a moment,” Alex said, stopping the Duke even before he could start to hoist himself up out of his chair. “Did you know my mother is alive?”The Duke got agitated and angry, but then seemed to realize what a huge deal this was to Alex, and that mellowed him out considerably.
“I did not,” he said.“This must have been my father’s doing, assuming that Mrs. Danfield is correct in her assertion.”
“I think she’s being honest,” Nana said, referring to her daughter.
“I did not mean to imply she wasn’t honest, I meant to imply that she was wrong,” the Duke said.“Now if you will excuse me.”He got up ponderously and went back to his room.
“I would assume there is no record of their divorce,” I said, referring to Lord Preston and his first wife.
“Why would there be, when she was supposedly dead?” Alex asked cynically.“I can’t believe my mother is alive, and I didn’t know.How is that possible?”
“It seems as if your great grandfather solved the problem in his own way, whatever that problem was,” I said.I couldn’t help but think of how my mother had managed to have Nana committed to a nursing home for years just to get her out of the way, and evidently Nana had the same train of thought.
“I’m going to go check on Albert,” she said, referring to the Duke, but there was no missing the evil glance she gave my mother.
“Can you tell me where she’s at?” Alex asked my mother.
“She is at a hospital in the country.I will give you all the information I have on her,” Mother said with a warm smile.She was being nice because she was proud of herself, and perhaps to build a better bond with her son in law.
“I would be most grateful,” he said.
“Why would they fake her death?” I asked.
“She was comatose when admitted to the hospital she is at now, and there was no real hope then that she would recover,” Mother said.
“They kept her alive with machines?” Matt asked.
“They did,” Mother said.“It is very difficult to end the life of someone without prior directives, and to do so would have created an international firestorm.Virginia has a strong right to life organization, one that would have militantly fought any efforts to pull the plug.”
“So why didn’t they just let her live?Why did they have to fake her death?” Alex asked.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Mother said.“I can only assume that doing so would limit your father considerably.He could not have remarried without divorcing your mother.”
Alex pondered that. “That would not have been pretty, a British Earl divorcing his wife, who was lying comatose in an American hospital.”
“It would not,” Mother agreed.
“And how did you find out about Margaret Granger?” I asked her.
“I do not think that collective decision making requires that I disclose all of my sources,” she said.
“If Sabrina Granger knows you have proof that Alex’s mother is alive, surely she would have made some allowance for that, and have some plan to counter it,” Stef noted.
“Possibly,” Mother said.“I think it is likely that’s why she was getting me out of the picture, but I suppose there are other methods she could use.”
“Like what?” Matt asked.
“Like making sure that Alex’s mother really was dead, and erasing any record that she lived on or beyond the date they were married,” Brad said.“And making sure Elizabeth was also silenced, one way or another.”
“So now, in addition to worrying about all of us here, and worrying about my son, I must now be concerned for my mother, who is possibly a few hundred kilometers away, and who I thought was dead until just minutes ago?” Alex demanded.The stress was clearly wearing away at his stoic veneer.
“You must,” Mary Ellen said.“That is how things will be until we can get this resolved, one way or the other.”
“One way or the other,” I repeated, even as I gave my mother a disapproving look.