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    Mark Arbour
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Black Widow - 71. Chapter 71

September 20, 2003

The Four Seasons Restaurant

New York, NY

 

Will

“I’m so glad you decided to stay over,” Patrick said, which was really sweet. In the end, the plans had changed, and Wade and Alex had decided to go to Boston instead of New York. They’d decided it was probably easier to provide security there, and it seemed that Matt had been pretty freaked out about the exploding Suburban and had all but demanded that Wade come home. My father, Jake, and Grand were flying to Boston to meet with them, and they’d wanted me to go up there with them so Stef and I could fly back from there. I didn’t really see what I could add to their meeting, and I was having an amazing time with Patrick, so I’d decided to stay here. That had been the impetus, evidently, to convince Stef to stay as well. I think that at this point, we both felt that with Wade, Grand, and my father involved, they’d be able to handle things and could just keep us informed. Tomorrow, Jake, Grand, and my father were flying down here, then Grand, Stef and I were going back to California. Dad and Jake were sticking around, presumably so Dad could spend some time at Triton.

“So am I,” I replied. “What is this place?”

“This is one of the coolest restaurants in New York, especially if you like late 1950’s modern décor,” he said.

“The show I did on Friday had an early 60’s theme, so probably the same thing,” I said. “What’s the deal on this dinner?”

“It’s the big ending event, and it’s a charity thing for Key to the Cure,” he said. “They partnered with Sak’s to sponsor this. It benefits a cure to women’s cancers.”

“A worthy cause,” I said. We walked into the restaurant and found people mingling and drinking, which we did, even as we walked around and checked the place out. It consisted of two huge rooms, one called “the Grill Room” and another called “The Pool Room.” The Grill Room had this pretty but more conservative French Walnut paneling, while The Pool Room was centered around a 20-foot square marble pool. There were some amazingly hot guys wearing almost nothing in the pool room. “Pool boys?”

“Of course,” Patrick said, chuckling. “Probably here to protect Demi Moore, since Ashton couldn’t make it.”

“Regardless, I’m betting our table is in the Pool Room,” I joked.

“Well, it wasn’t originally, but then when you decided to show up, I got shuttled to Stef’s table with you,” he said.

“Is that why you’re hanging out with me? So you can get a better table?” I teased.

“No, I’m hanging out with you because of all the amazing sex we have,” he whispered in my ear, making me blush and giggle like one of the chicks at my school.

“There’s Stef,” I said, spotting him in a group of people. I led Patrick over to him.

“Don’t you two look fantastic!” he said, as he broke away from his conversation and gave Patrick a society hug, and me a much warmer embrace. As we hugged, I could feel his inner turmoil, as something was clearly bothering him. It was no wonder, I rationalized, what with the latest drama in Virginia.

“Not as good as you,” I countered.

“Talk to me for a minute,” he said, and led me away from his group. I left Patrick there to chat with them, as if to fill the void that Stef left.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I had a disturbing conversation with JJ,” he said.

“I have had a series of those,” I joked, but then got serious to match his mood. “What did he say?”

“I apologized to him, and told him I was responsible for everything except Carullo sleeping with those other men. He became irate and told me I was acting like you,” he said.

“So he complimented you?” I asked, adding some comedy to calm him down. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

“He told me that I had embarrassed him and myself, and that I had put temptation in front of Carullo as if I had offered a drink to an alcoholic,” he spat.

“That is not fair,” I said. “You don’t believe that?”

“I do not believe the part about Carullo, but I am worried that he is right, and that I have made a complete ass out of myself this week,” he said morosely.

“Stef, JJ has this idea about how you’re supposed to conduct yourself based on all that time he spent with those uptight dipshits in the figure skating world,” I explained. “That’s not how everyone else works. This would be a hella boring world if it did.”

“You are kind to say that,” he said, but he was unconvinced. “He was also irate that Alex was coming to stay with him, and that would preclude him from being at this event.”

“After all that Alex has been through, he was worried about being at this party?” I asked, stunned. How selfish could one person be?

“I was quite furious with him about that, and completely fed up, and we left on unpleasant terms, to say the least. Then about an hour later, he called me.”

“Did he rant some more?” I asked.

“No, he called to tell me he was sorry,” he said. “He told me his response to my apology was horrible. He was quite sincere.”

“Did he say why he reacted that way?” I asked. That was a little whacked out, even for JJ.

“He said he was just moody,” Stef said.

“Dude, I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head. JJ was always pretty weird, but this was worse than normal.

“Hey,” I heard JJ say cheerfully as he came up to see us. “I’m so glad you guys stuck around!”

We both just stared at him, stunned, because he’d been nothing but a little bitch lately. “Thanks,” I finally managed to mumble.

JJ turned to Stef and all but flung himself at Stef, hugging him tightly. “I am so sorry. I said such horrible things to you.” I could see the side of his face, and he was actually crying. JJ never cried in public. The only time I’d seen him do that was during the memorials after 9-11.

“It is alright,” Stef said soothingly, as he rubbed JJ’s back. “Everything will be fine.” It was actually sweet to see this side of Stef, the compassionate and forgiving part of him. JJ just held onto Stef, to the point where it was getting a little obvious.

“Hey JJ, I need to find the bathroom,” I said helpfully. “Show me where it is.”

JJ pulled away from Stef and wiped his eyes, then as if by magic his face froze back into its happy, sociable look. “Sure,” he said, and put his arm around me as he guided me through the restaurant, which really freaked me out, since he had a personal rule about personal space that was almost as rigid as Darius. He paused along the way to pleasantly greet people who talked to us, putting on his society façade, one that didn’t fool me for a minute. We got to the bathroom and I led him into one of those stalls that was for handicapped people, and had floor to ceiling walls and a door. I smiled when I thought about how good this would be for a quick hookup.

“Are you alright?” I asked him, even as I handed him some toilet paper to wipe off his eyes.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said, shaking his head. “I just get so moody.” I totally got that, remembering how I’d gone through that a few years ago. The moodiness, the rages, they were almost uncontrollable, but somehow his seemed different.

“You seem okay now,” I said. “You can go home if you want to.”

“No, I’m here, and I’m sure I’ll have a good time,” he said. “Are you and Stef okay with me?”

“I’m sure things are fine,” I said, and gave him another hug. He held onto me not quite like he did with Stef, but almost as tightly. He seemed completely flummoxed. “Let’s get back to the party.”

“Sounds good,” he said. I ended up having a blast at the dinner, and found that I actually had a good time with JJ. He was really upbeat and sociable, not his normal bitchy self. It would have been cool if it didn’t seem so artificial, and I wasn’t worried about the twisted and disturbed person that lurked beneath the happy façade.

 

September 21, 2003

Boston, MA

 

Wade

Yesterday had been grueling, and it hadn’t been made any easier by the extra security we’d had to incorporate. I had internally cancelled my plans to remonstrate with Jorge over not detecting the bomb in the Suburban based on how he had reacted after that. He had clearly felt guilty and had worked very hard to make our trip home safe and eventless, and he’d jumped in and significantly ramped up the protection of our home. The only person who was unhappy about that was Tiffany.

“You didn’t tell me I’d be living in a jail,” she snarled at me as she strolled into my study, where I was sitting and waiting for everyone to get here. Her annoyance was magnified by the fact that she’d had to make a special trip into the study to bitch at me.

“Is that better or worse than a gilded cage?” I joked, reminding her of the term she’d used after she’d given birth to Riley. She tried not to smile at that. “Alex goes home tomorrow, and after that, things should start to mellow out.”

“I’m really glad you didn’t get blown up,” she said, being a bit serious, but also playful.

“I’d much rather just get blown,” I said, getting a dirty look in return.

“Dude, me too,” Matt said, as he came in and took a seat next to me. “When does everyone get here?”

“Should be within 10 minutes,” I said, glancing at my watch.

“Those guys did not have to fly across the entire country to talk about things that we could have handled on the telephone,” Matt said. He was a little flustered at all these dangerous incidents, and he wore his feelings on his shirtsleeves as usual. In his mind, if we didn’t make a big deal about it, maybe we could worry less about the situation.

“It’s a family tradition,” I said. “Any time we have a near-death experience, we have to have a meeting.”

“Very funny, Wade,” he said, giving me a nasty look. The door gong sounded, precluding him from ranting at me. We got up and went to answer it, but of course Jorge was there, checking to make sure it was safe. I seriously doubted that anyone attacking us would have the courtesy to ring the bell, but I stood back and let him do his job.

JP walked into the foyer, followed by Brad and Jake. “Welcome,” I said warmly. Brad gave me an affectionate hug, although it was a bit restrained what with our history and with Matt and Jake watching us. I gave Jake a friendly man hug, then moved on to welcome JP to my home. Just having him here made me feel confident, and much more relaxed.

“Thank you for allowing us to drop in on you with such short notice,” JP said.

“You are always welcome,” I said, although they already knew that. “Hopefully you got some sleep on your long overnight flight?”

“Some of us did,” JP said, and looked sideways at Brad and Jake, which was hilarious, because he rarely made fun of other people’s sex lives.

“Some of us did not,” Brad said, and gave Jake a nice kiss. They were a cute couple, but even more importantly, they seemed to be good for each other.

“We most definitely did not,” Jake said.

Alex strode into the foyer, looking quite collected and dapper after the hell that was yesterday. “I am sorry I am late to greet you,” he said, and gave them all man hugs.

“Please accept my condolences on your losses, at least to the degree they are warranted,” JP said to him, making Alex chuckle.

“I appreciate the sentiment,” Alex replied. I led them into our living room and directed them to a table where coffee, tea, and some breakfast pastries were laid out.

After everyone got some refreshments and took a seat, I proceeded to outline what we had uncovered. “Alex’s half-brother, Lord Cameron Granger, was kidnapped on Wednesday or Thursday. My mother apparently arranged for that to happen, and the ransom was a series of communiques between Lord and Lady Preston that demonstrates that they clearly knew that Margaret Granger was still alive. Most importantly, they were aware she was living before and after their children were born.”

“And you received those documents?” JP asked.

“We did,” Alex said, and handed them copies of the things Lord Preston had given him.

“These documents would appear to prove that Lady Preston was kept aware of Margaret Granger’s status, and was aware of the threat to her children’s legitimacy,” Jake noted, having scanned the papers. “How do you know these aren’t fake?”

“Because my father gave me a personal note, where, in addition to trying to explain the reasons for his actions, he laid out the entire scheme,” Alex said.

“Did they have a plan for how to handle things if your mother’s existence became public?” Brad asked, wondering at their backup plan. It seemed they’d bet an awful lot on this scheme, and it would be foolish to overlook that one, huge risk.

“They were a bit stymied by 9-11,” Alex said, then proceeded to explain why. “Prior to the regrettable death of your father,” he said to me, “it was felt that his involvement would keep your mother from exposing my mother’s existence. Similarly, Mrs. Danfield’s involvement would keep my mother alive.”

“Why would your father be involved with Margaret Granger?” JP asked me.

“Because he was the person she was having an affair with, and he was the reason she came over to the United States on the trip that killed her,” I said. That shocked them, but not as much as it had shocked me. “I guess it was pre-ordained that Alex and Mary Ellen would end up together, but it’s still a bit odd that my father had an affair with his mother, and then he ends up marrying my sister.”

“A bit odd,” Alex said, and seemed to be struggling with these tangled webs. “It is not surprising, considering how sexy and attractive members of your family are.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, but then I’ll remind you that you spent your week with my mother,” I teased, suggesting that he found my mother hot.

“I will probably have to steel myself to be civil to her at family events in the future,” Alex noted dourly.

“Why?” JP asked. Alex’s statement had seemed reasonable enough, what with my mother’s multiple sins, but it was a good question.

“Because she was responsible for turning my mother into a vegetable,” Alex stated firmly.

“You have no concrete proof at this point that Elizabeth Danfield was responsible for your mother’s accident, do you?” JP asked. “I would remind you that having a theory, and even a very good guess as to what happened, is not the same thing as proof.”

“I do not have proof, but my instincts are telling me that is what happened,” Alex said. I agreed with him, since it made sense, but then I began to question my conclusion.

“I will ask your indulgence as I make this statement, because I have no right to tell you how to feel, but it would seem to be most unwise to be on bad terms with such a formidable woman as your mother in law without having ironclad evidence behind you,” JP pointed out.

“It makes no sense for you to fight a battle with my mother over something we will probably never know the answer to,” I interpreted for Alex, for clarity.

“Do you think she did it?” Alex asked me. I paused to think about it, and they gave me time to collect my thoughts.

“I did at first, but now I’m not so sure,” I said. “I think that even if she set up the accident, she did not intend for your mother to be comatose as a result.”

“This is where you remind us there are possibly limits to her evil,” JP said, making us chuckle.

“Possibly,” I agreed. “In essence, she has fulfilled her role in this situation, and her actions over this past week have shown just why she is so dangerous to them.”

“I don’t understand,” Jake said.

“My original hypothesis, or actually Matt’s hypothesis, was that they wanted to take my mother out of this conflict because she was clever, she probably had information they didn’t want to get out, and because she is willing to fight dirty to win. Kidnapping an eleven-year-old boy is definitely dirty,” I said. “I can’t see any of us even conceiving or sanctioning such a thing, yet she did it, and we have documents that may keep Alex, Ricky, and any other children they have safe from the clutches of Sabrina Granger.”

“You’re saying she did a good job?” Brad asked in disbelief.

“I am,” I said. “Provided Cameron is unharmed.”

“He was released in between the time when we left the nursing home and our Suburban exploded,” Alex said. “I spoke with him last night and while it was not the most pleasant experience, he seems to be recovering quite well.”

“How are you planning to handle these documents?” Brad asked Alex.

“I have sent copies to my grandfather, and our solicitors, and they plan to file a motion in court to have Bianca and Cameron declared illegitimate,” Alex said. “They are confident that it will work in the end, but there are some challenges.”

“Challenges?” I asked. “I thought that it was pretty clear, because in the United Kingdom 1926 Legitimacy Act it clearly states that ‘Nothing in this Act shall operate to legitimate a person whose father or mother was married to a third person when the illegitimate person was born.’ That is pretty succinct.”

“Someone is becoming quite the attorney,” Matt said proudly, and giving me shit at the same time.

“You are indeed remarkably familiar with UK bastardy laws, but one of the questions will undoubtedly be that of venue. They were born in South Africa, so would it not be for that country to determine whether they are legitimate or not?” Alex asked.

“I can see where having a South African court ruling on whether a person is legitimate for the purpose of succeeding to a dukedom would create some issues,” I said.

“Indeed,” Alex said. “My grandfather has already started the battle, such as it is, with his announcement in the press at home.” He handed us an additional piece of paper, a copy of an article announcing the death of the Marquess of Preston.

“Why is this a problem?” Jake asked.

“You will note that it states that he is survived by his wife, Sabrina Granger, and refers to Cameron and Bianca as surviving children,” Alex noted.

“He didn’t use their titles,” JP mused. That would seem to be irrelevant in the 21st century anyway, but in this case it was significant.

“He did not, and while that will have no meaning to most people, it is a clear signal that he does not consider my father’s second marriage to be valid, and he does not acknowledge his grandchildren from that marriage as being legitimate,” Alex said.

“So where does that leave things?” Jake asked, wondering what threats still existed.

“I don’t think Sabrina Granger is likely to just let bygones be bygones and stroll on down the road,” Matt said. It was interesting that he seemed to be exceptionally insightful when it came to shrewish middle-aged women.

“I would have to believe that is true,” Alex agreed. “She could, and most likely will, seek to avenge herself on those who foiled her plan. I would expect I would bear most of that burden, but the rest of you are not immune, especially you and your mother,” he said, referring to me.

“I don’t know that there’s much we can do to neutralize that threat,” I said.

“I would expect her to contest your assertions regarding her marriage and the illegitimacy of her children quite fervently,” JP said. “In that case, would she not still think her plan is valid?”

“She may think that, but now that these documents are out, even if she managed to eliminate me, my grandfather, and my son, the title would not pass to her children,” Alex said. “She is quite well-connected in South Africa, but has no appreciable influence in Britain. My grandfather has already been working to ensure Cameron, or possibly even Bianca, will ultimately never become the Duke of Suffolk.”

“How do we handle things?” Jake asked.

“I think we need to do all we can to help Alex as he fights this in the courts, should such assistance be needed,” JP said smoothly.

“Of course,” Brad said, as if that was a given, which it was. “I think we also need to expend some resources keeping tabs on what she’s doing, so we can be prepared for future threats.”

“It would be most useful to have a spy in her world,” I noted.

“Interesting idea,” Jake said.

“And how are you handling this?” JP asked Alex.

“I’m doing quite fine,” Alex said dismissively.

“Pardon me for prying, but you endured a very traumatic day yesterday,” JP said soothingly. “I just wanted to make sure you had landed on your feet.”

Alex smiled at him, and then in a rare event, he opened up to us. “The time I spent with my mother was very satisfying, in that I felt a real connection when I was with her, even though it was largely imagined on my part. When my father killed her, I felt some sadness, but also relief, because she’d been living in that state for so long, and it was so hopeless, that it seemed to be a merciful end. I would have preferred to be dead rather than to have my brain all but inoperative, and my survival managed by a group of machines.”

“Me too,” Matt chimed in.

“I have detested my father for most of my adult life, so his death didn’t sadden me. It was as if a stain on our family had been eliminated. If anything, I felt relief. His note to me was full of rationalizations trying to justify what he was doing, some of them being quite offensive, but in the end, he genuinely seemed to care about me, and I believe his assertions that he was vehemently opposed to any attempts to end my life, or that of my son,” Alex said.

“You have laid this out so well, it is obvious you have thought it through,” I said to him.

“It has occupied most of my time since we left that nursing home,” Alex said ruefully.

“What did he say that offended you?” Jake asked.

Alex cringed. “Sabrina Granger’s racial makeup is probably half English, with the other half a mixture of Dutch, Black, and Indian. As he talked about his marriage and his children, he suggested that if they ultimately did succeed to the dukedom, it would be a good thing for Britain to have people of color occupying such a high position in society.” We stared at him, not understanding his issues. “The implication is that we are racists, and that was our primary opposition to having them inherit the title, and that is what is so offensive.”

“I can see why that would have offended you,” JP said, even though we were all intensely uncomfortable with that line of thought, since racism was still such a problem in the United States. “And how are you handling this?” he asked me.

“My involvement was peripheral,” I said, dismissing his concerns. Alex gave me an odd look, since he’d opened up and been quite candid, while I was dodging the issue.

“You found out your father was involved in this whole thing, you found out your mother has been involved in this for some time and said nothing, and you were almost blown up,” Matt said. “That’s not exactly peripheral.”

I gave him a dirty look before I could stop myself, then sighed. “My father was a notorious womanizer, and I’ve dealt with that, so this is but one more notch in the bedpost, as it were,” I said, annoying myself for talking so formally. That often happened when I was around JP, Alex, or the Duke. “It was bizarre because of the connection, as we said, that my father slept with Alex’s mother, and then Alex ultimately married my sister.”

“And had sex with you too,” Matt said, then chuckled at the irate glare I shot at him.

“Yes, that too,” I grumbled.

“I am sorry you do not have the fond memories that I do,” Alex said, teasing me, and piling on. I ignored them.

“I’m also quite familiar with my mother and her evil ways, so anything that comes up regarding her is unlikely to shock or surprise me,” I said. “She has never been, and probably will never be entirely candid, so not having her tell me everything that’s going on is something I expect.”

“There is one thing I am curious about,” Alex said. “Why do you think my mother was moved out of the original home when your grandmother was moved in?”

“I’ve thought about that, and I have a guess,” I said. “I think that my father was probably unaware that your mother was still alive,” I explained to Alex.

“And if she would have been in the same home as your grandmother, there was a chance your father would have inadvertently come across her,” JP said, finishing my thought.

“Yes,” I agreed. We all sat there, contemplating this wild scheme, it’s bizarre people, and the chaos that had been wrought.

Copyright © 2018 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.

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1 hour ago, davewri said:

Am I the only one that finds all of this terribly confusing? I need a diagram of all the players and their positions.

Thank you! I thought I was the only one lost. A cast of characters and a reminders of their roles would be helpful. I do not want to miss out with n the full richness of this story.

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Again the plot continues to unfold and leaves us and the family wondering what is next. Only our beloved author knows what will happen and who is the real black widow. Thanks Mark for this saga and this unbelievable story. As I have said before you are a master story teller.  Bob

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JJ’s attitude surprised me as well though it’s refreshing to see Will enjoying spending time with him even if he is concerned about JJ’s true emotions that seem hidden beneath the surface as obviously his attitude is far from the norm. I’m not remotely surprised that neither JJ nor Will went to Boston as it seemed obvious yet Stef once again disappoints me a little. I mean JJ had nothing to offer to the conversation while Will can be insightful plus he cares a lot for Wade so I wasn’t 100% certain he wouldn’t go though he’s young so his choosing self-indulgence over a family meeting makes sense. Stef on the other hand isn’t a teen, a family member almost died, and he might have had some insights into the situation so his once again choosing self-indulgence over being there for family is a little irritating. Still, I’m glad JJ has made him start to realize the way he’s been acting isn’t exactly proper and that he’s evaluating things as he needs to reconsider his priorities.

As far as the meeting went we didn’t learn anything shocking per se though as stated by JP & Wade making an enemy of Elizabeth Danfield is not a smart move unless you have ammo. She’s a confusing character where it’s hard to know if Wade is right regarding what her boundaries are as she seems capable of anything. I tend to take Wade’s opinion to heart as he knows her best, though even if she wasn’t consciously responsible for Alex’s mother ending up in a coma I still want to finally see someone put her in her place, even if it’s not a permanent situation, as she’s seemingly always one step ahead so I’d like to see her lose her footing.

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6 hours ago, davewri said:

Am I the only one that finds all of this terribly confusing? I need a diagram of all the players and their positions.

I do as well. Intriguing but confusing.

But I kinda miss the intrigue of the Crampton-Schluters of Claremont  

I’ve longed to see JJ quit acting like an asshole. He was such a sweet little boy. 

 

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5 minutes ago, Fitzhugh said:

I do as well. Intriguing but confusing.

But I kinda miss the intrigue of the Crampton-Schluters of Claremont  

I’ve longed to see JJ quit acting like an asshole. He was such a sweet little boy. 

 

I too miss the early cast of characters in CAP!!!

 

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I don't think even Charlotte could ever hope to weave a web as complex as the one you have woven Mr. Arbour! Yet another chapter well done! 

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It's good that Will realized that JJ may not be at all well.  Hopefully that is the first step to him getting help.

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