I stood in the foyer of my suite at the Four Seasons, waiting for Alex and my mother to arrive.I had opted to stay here instead of at my mother’s compound.I had a bunch of polite reasons for that decision, but they were all rationalizations.In reality, I detested that place that had been all but a jail for me when I was younger, and I didn’t want to be in my mother’s domain, and thus under her control.The door chimed, and I opened it promptly.
“Good evening, Wade,” my mother said, giving me a faux kiss on the cheek as she did.She wore a very conservative gray jacket with a matching skirt, an outfit that looked as frosty as she seemed.
“Welcome,” I said, pretending to be happy to see her, in an effort to be a good host.“And welcome to you as well,” I said to Alex.He gave me a much warmer hug.
“It is good to see you,” he said.While that was probably true, he was probably equally relieved to be away from my mother’s compound.
“I am wondering why you thought it was important for me to travel into the city on a Friday night?” my mother asked acidly.
“I appreciate you making the long, arduous trek,” I said with a good dose of sarcasm.A bellman was with them, so I instructed him where to put Alex’s bags.
“Thank you very much,” Alex said, tipping the man.I waited until the bellman had left and shut the door, then turned back to my mother.
“To answer your question, as Alex and I are leaving for Blacksburg tomorrow morning, I thought this would give us an opportunity to share new information,” I said, forcing myself to keep my tone even.Below my façade I was seething, but I was determined to maintain my cool.
“I did not know there was new information,” my mother said obliquely.
“I learned from my attorneys that Lord Cameron Granger was kidnapped in Capetown a few days ago,” I said.
“And who is this Lord?” Mother asked, as if she didn’t know. Of course, I had no proof that she was behind the abduction of this child, but this is just the kind of scheme she’d launch.Collective action was clearly beyond her abilities, but I was prepared to see how this unfolded provided Cameron wasn’t hurt.
“He is my half-brother,” Alex said, and seemed to almost be in a daze.“He is only 11 years old.”
“Do you get along with him?” I asked, since he seemed genuinely concerned about this relative he never talked about.
“I rarely see him, but the last time I did was a couple of years ago.At that point in time, I found him to be spoiled to the point that he was all but an intolerable brat,” Alex said, showing how much his father and his father’s new family bothered him.
“I have seen nothing about his kidnapping in the news,” Mother said, as if to imply that I made up this whole tale.
“It is being kept quiet while the ransom is arranged,” I explained.Sean had gotten lucky and finally found a detective firm who would work with us in South Africa, and that group had yielded this piece of information.
“This will be very hard on my step-mother,” Alex said a bit bitterly.“Cam is her favorite.”
“Hopefully they will have him returned safely,” Mother said.
“Hopefully,” I said to her in an almost smarmy way.“Meanwhile, Lord Preston has all but vanished.No one has seen him prior to the attack on Goodwell.”
“I would think that would not be unexpected for someone in his line of business,” Mother said.
“It is quite possible that someone took him out,” I said, using her words, the same phrase she’d uttered into the phone at Goodwell after our meeting.
“It is quite possible,” she said, showing absolutely no emotion.
I opted to change the subject, since she would tell me nothing of what she’d done anyway.“How are Mary Ellen and Ricky?” I asked Alex.
“They are both fine, but Mary Ellen is most anxious for me to return home,” he said.“I fear that by delaying my return until Sunday, I have seriously annoyed her.”
“I think that she will ultimately understand that it was important for you to meet your mother,” Mother said.I stared at her, digesting her words.When we made eye contact, I could tell that the fact that I could read her so well bothered her immensely.“In any event, I must be going.I truly enjoyed spending this week with you, Alex.”
“I think I enjoyed it more,” he said, and they gave each other a stiff hug.“I think I will go arrange my wardrobe for tomorrow.”We watched him stroll into his bedroom.
“Wade,” she said, in her frosty way, and gave me the bare minimum of a hug and a faux kiss, in her preparation to leave.
“Mother,” I said, returning her gestures just as coolly, as I walked her to the door.
She paused before she left, her hand on the door handle.“Would you remind Alex to call me when you leave the nursing home tomorrow.”
“Why?” I asked, almost an accusation. She released the door handle and stood to face me squarely.
“Because, Wade, he has a large target on him, and there are possibly still predators out there, and I am concerned for his safety,” she said, in what for her was a tirade of outrage.That just meant it was that much more fake.
“Your concern is quite touching,” I said insincerely.“I am holding you personally responsible for the safety of Cameron.”
“I hardly see how you can hold me accountable for the actions of South African gang members,” she said.
“I can when you hired them,” I said, raising an eyebrow.She glared at me, then turned and left the suite.I rolled my eyes at her, and went in to talk to Alex while he got organized.
“Maybe it is just my misperception, but you two sometimes do not get along very well,” Alex joked.I laughed, and he joined me.
“Your perceptive abilities are well-honed,” I said.“Here’s your key.”
“Thank you, and thank you for acquiring such opulent quarters for me,” he said.
“You weren’t comfortable at the compound?” I joked.
“I felt as if I were in a spy movie, where I was staying in a very posh place from which I could not escape and where my every move or word was relayed back to your mother,” he said, cracking me up.
“Now you know what it was like for me growing up,” I said, then got a bit somber as I thought about that hell.I quickly changed the subject.“How did you find your mother?”
“It took quite a bit of tracking, actually,” he said.“It seems that she was originally in the same nursing home that your grandmother was in.”
“That would explain my mother’s connection to them,” I mused.
“Indeed,” he said.“She was moved some years ago, and I got the feeling that it happened around the time your grandmother was admitted there.”
“Why would they move your mother out when Nana moved in?” I asked.“They had plenty of room.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But she was moved to this location in Blacksburg around that time.”
“Is she...” I paused, trying to figure out how to phrase my question.“Is she coherent?”
“I am being led to believe she is what you Americans would term a vegetable,” he said sadly.“That is why Mary Ellen is so irritated with me.She cannot understand why I would risk my life to go see a woman who will not even know I am there.”
“Having spent time with my mother, maybe you can understand better how unimportant that maternal relationship is to Mary Ellen and me,” I said, making him smile.“Besides, there really is no sure way to know whether she will realize you’re there or not.”
“I guess that’s true, but in any event, I have made my decision, and that means that Mary Ellen will just have to deal with it,” Alex said defiantly.
“She will no doubt extract a pound of flesh from you,” I said.
He grabbed his crotch.“A pound’s a bit light, don’t you think?”I laughed at his stupid joke.
“Let’s go get a beer,” I suggested.
“I think that as things are now, I would be better off not going out,” Alex said, acknowledging that he was a hunted man.
“Well then, we’ll have them bring drinks to us,” I said, and grabbed the room service menu.We spent the evening bullshitting and drinking, not to the point that we were fucked up, but just enough to cop a good buzz.
“What time do we leave tomorrow?” he asked.
“We leave the hotel at seven,” I told him.
“Then I have to go to bed,” he said, and yawned for emphasis.“I need to rest up for tomorrow.”
“You probably do,” I agreed.I went back to my room and called Matt to update him.I smiled at how I was here in Georgetown, sharing a hotel suite with Alex, and Matt didn’t seem nervous about that at all.Our arguments, our estrangement, and our conflicts had ultimately brought us to this current relationship, and I was so happy with the way things were I decided that the journey to get here was well worth it.
September 20, 2003
Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport
“Mr. Danfield, please wait here while we arrange transportation,” Jorge said to me.
“Certainly,” I replied, and sat back down in the plush cabin of the Lear Jet I’d chartered.
“That man looks familiar,” Alex said, referring to Jorge.
“He’s one of the men Jake Pike recruited to save our lives at Goodwell,” I explained.“I hired him to head up security for me.”
“That would seem to be a wise move, especially after the way he performed that weekend,” Alex said.
“Tiffany is less convinced than you are,” I said.“She is pretty annoyed that anyone would need to guard her.”
“I am not sure that anyone does need to guard her,” Alex said, laughing.
“True that,” I agreed.
“We’re ready, Mr. Danfield,” Jorge said.
“Excellent,” I said, and smiled at him.We followed him down the stairs where there were two vehicles: A Chevy Tahoe and a Large Chevy Suburban limo.He led us to the limo and watched the area while Alex and I got in.As soon as we were settled in and the driver had taken his seat, Jorge got in and the vehicles drove off.
“It must be difficult to live with this much security,” Alex said to me sympathetically.
“I’m not the one who has to live with it,” I told him.“I don’t have to worry that much, and Jorge is a distant observer in our lives in Boston, not an intrusive presence.The extra caution is due to you, not me.”
“I truly hope my life is not like this forever,” Alex said sadly. “I escape from your mother’s compound only to find I am still in jail, the only difference being that the cell is bigger.”
“I think that springing you from that prison is probably in the works,” I told him, since I’d pretty much figured out my mother’s plan.
“And now you have piqued my curiosity,” he said, demanding that I explain myself.
“I’ll tell you what I think is going on after I meet your mother,” I said, annoying him by being less than candid, but I wanted to see how things developed before I shared my thoughts.My mother’s scheme was so bold that if I told him about it, and I was wrong, I’d look like a complete idiot.
We said nothing until we got there, with me mulling over the entire situation, and Alex doing his version of pouting since I wouldn’t tell him what was going on.We drove up to the front of the nursing home and found another Suburban parked out front with a fearsome looking man standing next to it.“Mr. Danfield, please stay here and let me figure out what’s going on,” Jorge said, clearly on edge.
“Certainly,” I said.
“It seems unusual that a similar vehicle to ours along with an armed ruffian would be here,” Alex noted.
“If I am not mistaken, that is your father’s car,” I said to him.He looked at me and raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment.
We watched as Jorge approached the man by the other Suburban, and both of their postures suggested they were being both cautious and respectful.I had the feeling I was watching two professionals interact.After a short conversation, Jorge turned and walked toward us, while the other man just stared ahead blankly even as he pulled out a radio and started talking into it.“Mr. Danfield, Lord Preston is here.They have pledged not to hurt you or Lord Bridgemont.”
“And you believe them?” I asked curiously.
“I do,” he said.“I can try to set up something safer if you’d like, though.”
“No, that’s fine,” Alex said hastily, making me look kind of like a dick.
“I have complete confidence in you,” I said to Jorge, trying to redeem myself, and getting a small smile from him in return.He led us past the other Suburban and through the front doors of the nursing home.Another man who looked slightly less scary than the guy out front met us in the lobby and led us down a hallway.It was surreal in that no one said anything, and the staff members, such as there were any, were nowhere to be seen.
We got to what looked like a hospital room and there was a nurse in there, evidently waiting to greet us.“Welcome, my lord,” she said to Alex with her West Virginia twang, and tried to curtsey gracefully.It was all I could do not to laugh at this woman trying to put on airs.
“Thank you,” Alex said with his normal, polite demeanor, then walked over to the bed where a woman lay.To all appearances, she seemed completely unresponsive, and based on the machines attached to her, it was reasonable to assume they were keeping her alive.Alex reached down and held her hand.“Mother?”
“Is it her?” I asked him, to confirm that he’d found her.
“This is my mother,” he said confidently.“Of that I am sure, even though she looks much older than she did the last time I saw her.” That made sense, since it had been over fifteen years since she had ‘died’.
“She’s in her own little world,” the nurse said.“Been that way for as long as I can remember.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She don’t move, she don’t talk, she don’t even breathe, the machine does that for her.When you look into her eyes, they’re empty,” she explained.“I sure wouldn’t want to live like this.”That last comment was incredibly tasteless, but I ignored it, as did Alex.
“Thank you,” Alex said, and the woman actually got that she was being dismissed and left us alone.“Can you hear me?” he asked the shell of a person on the bed.He looked at me sadly.“I get no response.”
“Did you honestly think you’d walk in here, hold her hand, and seeing you would suddenly cure her, she’d rise up, and fly home with you?” I asked him.
“You make that sound unreasonable,” he said sardonically.
“If you can do that, then we will re-name you Christ,” I said irreverently.
“That would be Lord Christ,” Alex corrected, making me chuckle.We stood there at her bedside for about a quarter of an hour, with Alex holding his mother’s hand and talking to her.I said nothing, just observed, but it was a surreal experience, because even though the woman wasn’t responding, Alex seemed to be having a meaningful exchange with her.
Our strange moment was interrupted by noises in the hallway, then the opening of the door to the room.I wasn’t surprised to see Lord Preston walk in, wearing a stylish suit that did little to cover up the bulge that was his stomach.“Alex,” he said coolly, to greet his son.
“You certainly have a lot of courage showing up here,” Alex snarled at him.“You lied to me.You told me my mother was dead.”
“She may as well be,” Lord Preston said, looking at the woman who was legally still his wife.“I didn’t know she was alive myself until after the funeral.”
“Why should I believe you?” Alex demanded.
“I have no reason to lie to you,” he replied calmly.
“You certainly put on a good act at her memorial,” Alex said, calling it what it really had been, since it wasn’t actually a funeral. “As soon as that was over, you didn’t shed a tear.You were happy she was gone!”
“I was,” he agreed. “I was not all that sad that she was dead, and I certainly wanted my freedom so I could remarry.One child was not enough to secure the succession to the dukedom.”
“It is ironic that you would say that, since you were an only child,” Alex said, calling him on his hypocrisy.“How can you stand here next to this woman you banished to this living hell and tell me you were glad when you thought she had died?”
“Our marriage was over in all but name,” Lord Preston said.“I did not want it to be that way, but she was having an affair with another man, and refused to give him up.”That certainly explained a lot of his lack of warmth toward his first wife, and probably explained some of the coolness he had toward Alex.
“That would have made things less traumatic,” I commented, more as a calming measure than anything, and to remind these two men that they were having this conversation in front of me.They both ignored me.
“That was the friend she came over to see when she had her car accident?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” Lord Preston replied.“She was involved with an American.”I felt myself prickling with annoyance at the way he said that with a sneer, as if being with an American was so beneath her.
“Who is this mysterious man that had so captivated her that she travelled across the ocean to see him?” Alex demanded.He clearly did not believe his father’s story.
“Jefferson Danfield,” Lord Preston said, even as his eyes zeroed in on me.I had been an innocent bystander, an interested observer standing on the periphery of this big event, yet with those two words I had been yanked right into the middle of this thing.
“Your wife was having an affair with my father?” I asked him, more to give me time to think and digest it than for clarity.
“She was, and she must have picked the most inopportune time to fall in love with him, because it was an election year,” Lord Preston said.
“That meant that the whole affair had to be hushed up,” I heard myself mutter, even as my mind took off in a whole different direction.If my father was having an affair with a well-known member of British society, that would have derailed his election.This had probably happened during his first race for his senate seat, and that was one tough battle.“Do you know the details of her accident?”
Lord Preston smiled at me.“I do not plan to share those with you, because it will do no good at this point.”
“I don’t understand,” Alex said, but I did.
“If I were to make a guess, I would say that your mother’s car accident was not, in fact, an accident,” I accused.Alex looked at me completely shocked while Lord Preston merely looked at me blankly, but it was easy enough to read him and see that I was right.“I would further speculate that event was co-authored by your father and my mother.”
“You did this?” Alex demanded of his father, and was so outraged I had to hold him back as he lunged at him.
“Alex, relax,” I said to him firmly.No good would come from fighting here, and it may actually spark a problem if our respective guards got involved.I focused on Lord Preston.“You got rid of your wife, who didn’t love you, and probably wouldn’t divorce you, while my mother got rid of her husband’s mistress, and more importantly, prevented a scandal from upsetting his election.”
“As I said, I really don’t want to talk about it,” Lord Preston said, all but confirming what I said was true.
I had my hand on Alex’s shoulder and gripped him hard, reminding him to chill out.“It is absolutely vital that you maintain your calm,” I said firmly.It was hard for him to do, staring as he was at his mother’s murderer.I wondered, if someone murdered my mother, I’d be able to conjure up this much outrage.
“That is not easy to do,” Alex said to me.
“I understand,” I said in an almost glacial way, trying to convey some of that to him.
“First he kills my mother, and now he will kill me too,” Alex spat, gesturing at his father.“Not even that will be enough for him.He will then kill my son!”He looked Lord Preston directly in the eye.“You would kill your own grandson; you would add him to the list of people you’d slaughter?”
“I had nothing to do with the attack on Goodwell, and I was quite miffed when I learned of it,” Lord Preston said.Alex looked at him skeptically, but I sensed that he was actually being honest about this.
“Is that why you’ve been in hiding for the past week or so?” I asked him.
“I hardly think that keeping a low profile justifies characterizing it as hiding,” he said pompously, which would have been funny under different circumstances.
“Why are you here?” Alex demanded, his patience clearly at an end over this whole thing.
“Alex, let us put our posturing aside and have a discussion,” Lord Preston said, and gestured to the chairs in the room.We sat as he asked us to, and that seemed to have a calming effect.
“Why are you here?” Alex asked again, but more politely.
“To save both of my sons,” Lord Preston said.He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an envelope, one that was slightly larger than a normal letter and fabricated in cardboard, with a string latch to keep it closed.He handed it to Alex.“With this, I have accomplished that.”
“What is this?” Alex asked.
Neither one of them said anything, and Alex didn’t open the envelope, so I took a chance and offered my guess. “I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are documents in there showing that Lord and Lady Preston were both aware that your mother was still alive, even after they had married and had children.”
“Very perceptive,” Lord Preston said to me, with an almost admiring look.
“Why is that important?” Alex asked.
“Because it effectively removes Cameron and Bianca from succession to the Dukedom,” Lord Preston said.Bianca must be his daughter’s name.
Alex looked at me, a bit confused.“May I see the envelope?” I asked.He handed it to me.There was a sealed letter addressed to Alex, which I ignored, and there were several papers showing communications between Lord and Lady Preston talking about Margaret Granger.“These will effectively prove that Cameron and Bianca are illegitimate.”
“I don’t understand,” Alex said.
“In order for a couple to be legally married, they must both be single.In the event that one of the persons is actually married, and the other person remains unaware of that, the marriage may still be considered valid.In this case, both Lord and Lady Preston were aware that Lord Preston was still legally married, so that makes their marriage invalid, and any offspring illegitimate,” I decreed, sounding as if I was presenting an argument in one of my law classes.
“This won’t make you very popular at home,” Alex said to his father, almost melting a bit.
“You shouldn’t let that worry you,” he said dismissively.
“Lady Preston does not know that you are here, and that you did this,” I accused.
He ignored my comment, which all but substantiated it.“This will make it irrelevant for anyone to remove you or your children, because Cameron or Bianca cannot succeed to the dukedom.”
“Can a female succeed to the dukedom?” I asked.
“Not currently, but as much as things have changed in the past few years, having that provision change as well seems quite possible,” Alex said bitterly, since he shared his grandfather’s considerable pique over recent changes to traditions, not least of which was the emasculation of the House of Lords.
“That was my thought as well,” Lord Preston agreed.
“How will this save Cameron?” Alex asked.
“This is his ransom,” Lord Preston said, then looked at me.“Perhaps now that it has been paid, you can arrange for Cameron to be released.”
“You kidnapped Cameron?” Alex demanded of me.I glared at him, incensed that he’d think I’d do something like that, but followed my own advice and kept my calm.
“My mother instructed me to have you call her after you left here,” I told him.“I would have to believe that once we are safely away with these documents, Cameron will be released.”
“Your mother did this?” Alex asked, stating the obvious.He really was perplexed by this whole thing, and seemed to be internally flailing as he tried to digest it.
“It would seem that one of your allies turned on you,” I said to Lord Preston.Much as Alexandra Carmichael had cautioned Brad, Lord Preston committed the sin of underestimating my mother.
“So you say,” he said.It dawned on me that this one set of documents was the only thing keeping Alex and Ricky alive.
“If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I’ll make a copy of these documents, to ensure they remain safely in existence,” I said.
“That’s fine,” Alex said.I left them, strolling past Jorge and Preston’s goon, and bribed one of the nurses to let me use their copy machine.I made two copies of everything except the sealed letter to Alex and put them in separate envelopes.I kept one of the copies with me, and put the other in a Fed Ex envelope and addressed it to Rosa at our house in Boston.I deposited that in the FedEx receptacle in the lobby, then went back to find Alex and his father sitting much as they had been when I left.
“Did you talk to your mother?” Lord Preston asked.
“I will do that as soon as we leave,” I said.
“I am wondering if you two would be willing to give me a few moments alone with Margaret?” Lord Preston asked, referring to Alex’s mother.“After that, I will leave, then you two may depart at your leisure.”
“Fine,” Alex said.He got up and left the room with me trailing after him. We stood about ten yards away in the hallway.
“That was quite a bit for you to digest,” I said ruefully.
“And for you, I should think,” he said.I was about to agree when we heard a gunshot coming from Margaret Granger’s room.We rushed toward it, even as the guards hurried ahead of us to enter the room, only to find that the door was locked.Before they could break into the room, we heard one additional gunshot.
Lord Preston’s guard kicked the door open, then Alex and I followed Jorge and Lord Preston’s guard into the room and stared at the chaos in front of us, horrified.Lord Preston had evidently shot his first wife, something I felt no real sadness over.In reality, he’d probably done her a favor, ending her life tied merely to a machine.But then he’d taken his gun, put it into his mouth, and blown his own brains out.“We need to get out of here,” Jorge said to me urgently.
Alex was dazed, staring at the sight of his dead parents, and at the pool of his father’s blood that was fast spreading over the white floors of the room.“Let’s go,” I said, grabbing Alex by the arm.Preston’s guard nodded briefly at Jorge, while the three of us hastily exited the nursing home and got into our Suburban.As soon as the door was closed, both of our vehicles tore out of the parking lot, screeching a bit as they did.
“Why was it so important for us to leave quickly?” Alex asked, as if annoyed that he was being dragged away from that horrific scene.
“To allow them to try and remove evidence that your father was ever there,” I guessed, “and to try and avoid getting embroiled in the whole investigation.No one wants a public airing of this thing.”
“They certainly don’t,” he agreed.
I called my mother’s number and she answered it immediately.“We just left the nursing home.”
“How was your visit?” she asked.
“Lord Preston was there and gave him the envelope you demanded,” I said to her.She said nothing.“After that, he shot Margaret Granger, then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.”
She was silent for a few seconds.“That was certainly not how this was supposed to end, but it is probably for the best.”
“In any event, perhaps you can have Cameron released.”She said nothing, and simply ended the call.