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    Mark Arbour
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Black Widow - 75. Chapter 75

I wasn't quite sure whether to end this story here, because I have a few loose ends to tie up, so I'm either going to write a few epilogue chapters or just pick things up in the next story.

I apologize for my long absence. These have been tough times, but I'm currently healthy and dealing with our Coronavirus lockdown. I hope you're all well!

September 24, 2003

Le Bernardin

New York, NY

 

Brad

I had been pretty surprised when JJ had come out of his appointment and told me he’d made dinner reservations. I’d been even more surprised when he’d told me that he’d gotten us tickets to see a play after that. I listened to the supercilious waiter ramble on at length about the various courses we’d get, and what our choices were, even as I cringed internally at the fact that they were all seafood. I was much more flexible about eating seafood than Robbie had been, but the contents of my entire meal weren’t usually drawn from the ocean. I chose relatively basic fare, focusing on salmon where that was an option, while JJ was much more varied in his selections.

“I hope you like this place,” JJ said. “It’s one of the top restaurants in the world.”

“I’m sure it will be good,” I said, smiling at him. He didn’t normally seem to enjoy spending time with me, and he certainly hadn’t gone out of his way to do things with me alone, so I chalked this up as a pretty special event. “Thank you so much for inviting me to dinner.”

“My psychologist told me to make dinner reservations and to take you to a play,” he said, even as he started eating his appetizer. I gamely forced my façade to remain the same, even as I reeled from having my happy moment destroyed. I’d thought he’d set this thing up because he wanted to spend time with me, not because his shrink had told him to. It dawned on me that this was one of the reasons that my shields were usually at maximum around JJ, because he could throw out these incredibly painful barbs, either inadvertently or on purpose, and I had to be ready for them.

“Well it was still a nice thing to do,” I said, and focused on eating the caviar in front of me. I hated caviar, so I ate just enough to look like I’d enjoyed it. “How was your appointment?”

“Fine,” he said dismissively. “How was your day?”

“Fine,” I replied in the same tone. I wondered if he was lying as badly as I was. This whole deal with Jake leaving had really upended my world. That Jake was absolutely right to go back to California for his appointment, and that it was entirely reasonable that he would want to maintain his career, made it no easier for me. I’d done what I usually did when I was grappling with rough emotional issues: I’d immersed myself in work. I sighed internally at how productive I could be when my psyche was completely fucked up.

I looked up and my eyes met JJ’s, and I was tempted to open up to him and tell him how upset I was about Jake leaving, but I held back because I didn’t know how he’d react. With Will, Darius, Stef, or JP, if I lowered my shields and bared my soul, I knew they’d do everything they could to help me out. With JJ, I didn’t know if he’d care about my problems, and I didn’t know if he’d be able to handle my insecurities without sending me into a tailspin. I didn’t know if I could trust him enough to be vulnerable with him. “Are you doing alright?” he asked, in a relatively neutral tone, letting me know he’d seen through my happy act and discerned my internal turmoil. I swallowed hard and decided to take the risk.

“I’m really struggling with dealing with Jake leaving,” I said to him sincerely.

“Why did he go back to California?” JJ asked. He seemed mildly interested, so I persevered.

“He had to meet with a client,” I said. “He says he has a career and he can’t sacrifice that to hang around with me.” That sentence came out much more bitterly than I had intended.

“You could have gone home with him,” he said, almost hopefully. I guess it made sense that he’d want to get rid of me, but it was just one more arrow into my soul.

“He thinks it will be like the deal he had with me, where he’ll be absorbed in this new case and probably be gone for a couple of weeks,” I explained.

“So he’s sleeping with this new client?” he asked, drawing all the wrong conclusions.

“No, or at least I don’t think so. He can sleep with someone else if he wants to,” I said.

“You guys aren’t exclusive?” he asked.

“No, I mean we haven’t even been together that long,” I said. “It’s only been a couple of weeks.”

“You seem pretty into him,” he said casually, and then we paused as the waiter brought our next course. I grimaced as I took another bite of some fish thing.

“I am,” I said.

“This has happened to you before, right? Where you meet a guy and it gets intense really fast?” he asked, reminding me of Cam Heely.

“Jake is different,” I said. “He told me at the start, when we were working together but there was an attraction, that he has to become friends with a guy first or it won’t last. So we waited until we were friends.”

He seemed to ponder that. “Probably good advice for all of us.” He ate for a bit and didn’t say anything, while I munched on my food to hide my frustration that I wasn’t getting through to him, I wasn’t making a connection. Suddenly his eyes brightened a bit, as if he got clarity. “You miss him.”

“Yes,” I said, nodding sadly.

“I can relate to that,” he said. “I felt that way with Alex when he was gone.” I managed to hide my annoyance at the reminder of his relationship with Alex.

“We’re at that new stage in our relationship, where everything is so exciting and we’re still getting to know each other,” I said, opening up more.

He smiled at me. “For me, that usually means trying to figure out if I can put up with that person.” We both laughed at that, and it felt good to enjoy spending time with him.

“I’m worried that when he comes back, things will be different,” I said, truly baring my soul and my worst fears. “I’m worried that the spell is being broken before we have time to build a strong relationship.”

“The way he looked at you, I’ll bet he misses you just as much,” JJ said.

“You think?” I asked hopefully.

“He acted like he was your wife, or husband, or whatever,” he said. “That’s not the way someone who was just a quick fling would be.”

“I’m worried that things will be different when he gets back,” I reiterated a little too sadly.

“I guess that could happen,” he said, then smiled. “There’s also a chance that things will be even better.”

“I don’t know if that’s possible,” I said, sounding like some love-sick adolescent. “Guess there’s not much I can do about it.”

“Have you talked to him?” he asked me.

“No, he just left today,” I said. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to even talk on the phone.”

“You probably need to work that out with him, when you can call him and shit,” he said.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. I’d opened up about my relationship with Jake enough, and he’d given me things to think about; it was time to change the subject. “How was your meeting?”

“Annoying,” he said, but smiled slightly. “She asked me what I had done to show the people I love that I actually gave a shit about them.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I didn’t tell her anything, because I couldn’t think of anything nice I’ve done for anyone,” he said.

“You’ve done nice things,” I said.

“What?” he challenged. I wracked my brain, trying to think of something, but nothing really popped up. “See. I’m pretty much a complete asshole.”

Fortunately, my mind started working. “I remember that on one of the worst days of my life, at Robbie’s memorial, you complimented me on how nice that ceremony was. It probably doesn’t sound like much, but I felt like I was an airplane in a nosedive, and your words pulled me out of it. It was a big deal to me.”

He smiled at me. “I’m glad I could help.”

“I think that it’s hard to pin specific events down like that sometimes, because for me, I know I can rely on you and the other members of our family. Maybe I take you all for granted, and don’t show you how important you are to me, but you are.”

“I think that’s more my deal,” he grumbled. “After I spent most of our session bitching about you and my brothers, she told me I should just cut you all completely out of my life, since you were such total assholes.”

That was so funny I laughed. “She’s probably right.”

“No, she wasn’t,” he said sincerely. “The thought of that was really painful. She asked me what you all had done for me to show you that you loved me.”

“What did you tell her?” I asked, wondering what he’d said about me.

“I told her how you’d let Michael quit, and let him off the hook because I didn’t want to deal with all of that shit, even though it cost you a lot of pain and suffering with Will,” he said.

I grimaced at that memory. “You’re right about the pain and suffering part.”

He laughed at that. “And I really appreciated the way you backed off and let me control my relationship with Alex.”

“That also took some pain and suffering,” I joked. “I sometimes wonder, based on the way things turned out, if I shouldn’t have tried to break you two up.”

“I know you’re joking, but that would have been awful. In the end, Alex was good for me,” he told me.

“He was?” I asked, pretty surprised about that.

“He taught me a lot about relationships and love,” he told me. “In the end, the crap I had to deal with this summer was worth it.”

“What about Carullo?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I fucked that up. He was honest with me about who he was and what he needed, but I ignored that and just focused on what I wanted.” I was pretty stunned by that, because I’d never heard JJ talk about other people and what their needs were.

“That’s a very mature observation,” I noted.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’m sorry I was such a dick to you about going to see these doctors. I think both of them will end up being good for me.”

“I’m really glad to hear that,” I said. We finished dinner, chatting about less intense items, and then went to see Avenue Q at the John Golden Theater. It was a little weird, in that half of the actors were puppets, but I enjoyed it. The Maybach wound its way through Manhattan while we talked about the play. When we got back to the condo, he surprised me by giving me a big hug.

“That was a really nice evening,” he said.

“Thank you for taking me to dinner and to the play,” I responded. We went to our respective rooms, with me feeling like I’d truly bonded with JJ for what was probably the first time ever.

September 27, 2003

Bridgemont

Derbyshire, UK

 

Wade

My body automatically went through the motions of getting ready for the burial service today, while my mind was reeling from the whirlwind of activity these past few days had been. I’d started out my trip on Thursday with a pleasant flight across the pond in a plane I’d chartered. It was truly a shame that British Airways had stopped Concorde service, but while a private jet was slower, it was also more comfortable. Jorge had been annoyingly precise about checking the plane for hidden bombs, obviously still smarting over the exploding Suburban in Virginia. I’d ended up having a very pleasant time with my mother, which was nice while being simultaneously worrisome. I had to remember to be nice to her but not let my guard down too much around her.

Yesterday had been quite the event. There had been a service for the Marquess of Preston in Westminster Abbey, followed by another service for Margaret Granger. Margaret Granger’s maiden name was Spencer, and she was a cousin of Prince William and Prince Harry on their mother’s side, so the Princes attended both services. It was quite the society function, and ended up being enjoyable, at least for a funeral. After the services, I’d gone out with Alex and Mary Ellen and some of their friends and drank a bit too much, but we’d managed to pour ourselves into the plane and make it up to Bridgemont in time to crash last night and get some sleep before today’s ceremony.

I’d only met Sabrina Granger and her family briefly, but I’d spent a lot of time watching her whenever I could do so without being obvious. She was probably in her late thirties or early forties, and very attractive. She looked a little bit like Salma Hayek, only with darker skin and eyes that were a bit narrower, as if to suggest she had some oriental ancestry. Cameron reminded me of Alexis Cruz in the movie Stargate, only a much younger version. He was relatively short and it didn’t look like he’d made much progress in going through puberty. His sister, Fiona, looked a lot like her mother, but she’d probably end up looking even more like Salma Hayek when she matured. I’d noticed that they conducted themselves quite properly, and I felt real sadness for Cameron and Fiona because they seemed very upset at losing their father. Sabrina Granger’s mourning appeared quite fake to me, but I chided myself on being a biased observer.

Perhaps the most interesting person I’d met was Sabrina Granger’s younger brother. His name was James Granger, but he went by Jimmy, and he even had a title: he was an Irish Peer, the Baron Blakeney. His sister had been dour and standoffish, and had gone to the events at Westminster then vanished, but Jimmy had been entirely different. He reminded me of Trevor, in that he was a ‘life of the party’ kind of guy, and had gone out with us after the service. I was quite surprised that Alex seemed relaxed and comfortable around him, and that he was readily accepted into their group of friends. He was about ten years older than I was, but that didn’t slow him down, and he certainly didn’t seem older. I got the impression that he was one of those men who never quite matured. He’d never been married, but it was hard to tell if that was because he preferred men or because he avoided commitments. Everyone told him that he looked like some Bollywood actor named Jimmy Shergill, but since I didn’t know anything about Indian films, I couldn’t verify that. In any event, he was quite handsome.

There was a knock at my door, which jarred me from my musing. “Enter,” I said, sounding like Alex and JP, something that seemed to happen to me even more when I was in Britain.

“Good morning, Wade,” Nana said as she came in. I gave her a genuinely radiant smile.

“Good morning to you,” I said, and gave her a hug, then led her to the sitting area.

“I am so glad you came over for this thing,” she said. “I miss having you around.”

“I miss you too, Nana,” I said. “It has been interesting, to say the least.”

“Indeed?”

“I’m trying to figure out the deal with Jimmy Granger,” I said. “He reminds me of Trevor, and everyone seems to like him, while his sister is like the devil incarnated.”

Nana chuckled. “She’s a good match for your mother.” We both laughed at that. “I have to say that your mother’s intervention in this whole thing, and all but saving Alex and Ricky, has made me more disposed to be nice to her.”

“I appreciate her efforts, but I don’t think I will ever trust her,” I said honestly.

“I think that is probably wise,” she agreed a bit ruefully. “To answer your question, Albert told me that Jimmy and Sabrina were orphaned some ten years ago or so.”

“How did their parents die?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, but I would not be surprised if there were some malfeasance involved,” Nana observed. “Sabrina had been involved in the family business, such as it is, while Jimmy was too young to care much about it, or at least that is what I am told.”

“Sabrina doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would be good at sharing power,” I noted, thinking of how that would play out.

“She is not, and perhaps Jimmy perceptively opted to avoid that battle. He inherited the title and the assets that were legitimate, so to speak, while Sabrina inherited the family business. Her portion was much larger, as one may imagine, but his came without the baggage of working in an illicit industry.”

“It is hard to be respectable when one is a purveyor of drugs, death, and murder,” I said, sounding like I was some dude from the 18th century.

“It is not. So that seemed to make everyone happy. Jimmy is a playboy, and has enough money that he’ll be unlikely to squander it all despite his efforts to the contrary,” Nana noted. “Sabrina didn’t worry about that, because she got the business and had no family battles for control of it.”

“I suspect she had some battles, nonetheless,” I said, thinking of what it must have been like for a young woman to pick up the reins of a drug empire.

“She is ruthless and cold, and her current status suggests that she handled that adequately,” Nana said, making me wonder how many corpses had been left behind as Sabrina had consolidated her power.

“So Lord Preston was her way to find legitimacy, since she’d surrendered her first chance at it to her brother?” I asked.

“Albert thinks that may have been her plan,” Nana said, referring to the Duke of Suffolk.

“That doesn’t bode well for Jimmy,” I said a bit nervously. “Her children would presumably inherit his peerage if he dies, but only if it allows the inheritance to transfer through a female relative.”

“A very astute point, Wade, and a very correct one. The Barony of Blakeney is allowed to descend through the female line,” Nana said. “I think that it is probably a good thing that Jimmy is unmarried and childless.”

“Probably,” I agreed, thinking at what a dangerous woman Sabrina Granger would be if she were one’s older sister. There was another knock on my door. “I seem to be popular this morning,” I said to Nana. We both stood up while I went over to open the door.

“Good morning!” Mary Ellen said, breezing past me into my room. She froze when she saw Nana. “Good morning Nana! I didn’t mean to interrupt you two.”

“You weren’t interrupting at all,” Nana said, and gave Mary Ellen a formal hug and kiss on the cheek. “I was just heading down.”

“We’ll see you there shortly,” I said, as I guided her out of my room and closed the door behind her. I sat down in the same spot, with Mary Ellen replacing Nana in her chair.

“I just came by to check up on you,” she said in her perky way.

“I’m doing well,” I said to her. “You are to become more exhalted.”

“I am?” she asked.

“Won’t you become the Marchioness of Preston now?” I asked.

She grimaced. “Evidently not.” I looked at her curiously, so she deigned to explain it to me. “The Duke gets to pick what title Alex uses. It’s not an automatic promotion.”

“I didn’t know that,” I said, filing that tidbit of knowledge away in my database about the British aristocracy.

“The Duke and Nana think that since the prior Marquess and Marchioness of Preston were such disreputable people, Alex should remain as the Earl of Bridgemont,” Mary Ellen said.

“That make sense,” I said, since it did.

“You’d think these people would have an extra Marquessate or whatever they call it lying around,” she said, making me laugh.

“You’d think,” I agreed. We went downstairs and met the rest of our party for the brief drive to the church. I rode with Nana and the Duke, while my mother joined Alex and Mary Ellen. We didn’t say anything during the drive, with the three of us adopting a somber attitude that was probably faked.

With our mournful facades painted on, we arrived at the church and greeted those who had come to pay their final respects. A few of the people in the town were there, along with the minister and his daughter, Susannah. Sabrina Granger said nothing to any of us, while her children were polite.

“I see you recovered from yesterday,” Jimmy Granger said to me with an evil grin.

“I did, as did you,” I said, smiling back.

“I’m used to it,” he said quietly. He seemed like quite the playboy. We all sat through the deadly dull service that the Reverend Calthorpe spewed, and then Lord Preston was interred in the family vault and the thing was done. People broke up into smaller groups and chatted as they slowly worked their way out of the church, which was how I found myself walking with my mother, which was appropriate since technically I was her escort.

We reached the narthex and I was surprised to find Sabrina Granger waiting for us. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cameron and Fiona leaving the church, being escorted by their uncle. “If you ever harm my children again, I will have your dead bones dissolved in acid,” she snarled at my mother.

“I’m quite sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” my mother said coolly. It was fascinating to watch her in action like this, where she seemed glacial, and only those who knew her could sense the volcano that simmered beneath the surface. “But even if I did, it would be fair to observe that you started the war you are now complaining about.”

“That is nonsense,” Sabrina said, calming herself a bit in the face of my mother’s implacability.

“It is not nonsense, it is fact, backed up by letters and statements from your late husband,” I told her, inserting myself into their conversation.

“Ah yes, you were there when he killed himself,” she said.

“Unfortunately, I was there to witness his murder of Margaret Granger and his suicide,” I said, smiling internally at how annoyed she was by my reference to his first wife.

“His trip would have been fatal, in any event,” she said, in a tone so evil it took me aback, albeit briefly.

“So now your plan has come apart, and your children will not inherit the dukedom,” my mother noted.

“Perhaps,” Sabrina said, unwilling to acknowledge her defeat.

“To achieve your goal you would have had to eliminate my grandson, so let us not posture about who is harming whom,” my mother said assertively. “Now you can crawl back to your underworld with the other cretins, and leave the civilized world behind.”

“As if they are bigger cretins than those who occupy the seats of power in any of our countries,” Sabrina said with a sneer. “As if your own husband was the pillar of respectability. As if your own reputation were not in tatters.”

“Removing the barbs and rhetoric from both of your comments, what you are suggesting is that you both pledge that our mutual family members are off limits to your various nefarious schemes,” I said to both of them, getting dirty looks in return.

“Who says I am suggesting that?” Sabrina demanded.

“Did you not just demand that my mother ensure that nothing further harmed your children? Did you think it was reasonable that she would honor such a request if you did not make a similar promise in return?” I asked acidly.

“It was not a request,” she spat at me.

“I am not afraid of you,” Mother said to her. “You are lucky they haven’t tracked you down and locked you up after the debacle that was your attack on Goodwell.”

“No one will be able to do that,” Sabrina responded. “I am above the law.”

“Then you are unwilling to make such a pact?” I asked her bluntly. “I would point out to both of you that even the mafia sets limits on the violence that can be directed at innocent family members.”

There was silence for a few moments, while the three of us looked at each other. “There seems to be no reason not to agree to what you propose,” Sabrina said.

“That is hardly a resoundingly sincere pledge,” my mother noted. “I will be more forthcoming. I will agree to leave your family alone, provided you leave my family alone.”

“And I would note that includes my extended family, Stefan Schluter and his brood,” I added.

“I will agree to that,” Sabrina Granger pronounced. Another moment of silence eclipsed our conversation until she spoke again. “Perhaps we will meet again,” she said to me, as she shook my hand.

“Perhaps,” I said, noting how cold her fingers were against my skin.

“Elizabeth,” she said to my mother, and shook her hand as well, seemingly sealing our agreement as well.

“Sabrina,” my mother replied frigidly. Then Sabrina Granger turned on her heel and left the church.

“A most interesting end to this saga,” I noted wryly.

“I am not quite sure it is at an end,” my mother noted. “She is not a woman to be trusted, but at least temporarily, we are free from her wrath.”

 

Copyright © 2018 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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Mark, so glad to see you back in the saddle!  

Stay Healthy,

As always, I hope this finds you and yours well,

R.B. 

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I would like an epilogue to wrap up some of the loose ends , but most of all I look forward to the next adventure and the always satisfying interactions of your characters . I confess that I am a big Will fan and I would like to have one more encounter with him before the next book begins. 
I love  this series and the Bridgemont series. During the summer read them again to keep the details fresh while waiting for the next chapters. I am so pleased to see these new chapters. You are a treasure and you are worth the wait. If the wait is a long  one, I will read them again from the beginning.as I have several times before.

Thank you.

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Another great story in your far reaching saga, Mark. You should be proud. The ending was a delicious stand off, with Wade showing his mettle between two evil women. Kudos to you, and I hope your are staying safe. Cheers... Gary....

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Quite the confrontation at the end!  I would almost call it a scaled-back cliffhanger because as others have noted already neither Elizabeth or Sabrina are to be entirely trusted...

Thank you Mark and team for the outstanding story!

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Thanks for a wonderful ending, Mark, although I am definitely looking forward to an epilogue or two, and certainly the next book. 

 

I'm a little rusty on the peripheral Bridgemont series characters.  Is Blakeney by any chance descended from George's Irish midshipman? 

Edited by impunity
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A shaky cease fire at best, certainly not an armistice. Still it’s better than open or covert war. 
 

How much is it even possible to thaw out JJ and allow him to let himself experience true compassion. Is he too fixed as an ice queen?

 

Its great to have them back. It’s even better to have you back Mark to whatever degree you are able and willing. 

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rjo

Posted (edited)

Thank you so much for this chapter!! I echo many of the comments. I love Will. He is my favorate character. To see the two evil women meet was beyond interesting. My second favorate character, Wade, again shows himself as a strong honorable man showing he can handle almost anything. To see JJ and Brad interact and show the love and concern which sometimes is hard to see, is heart warming. Again Mark, thanks for the joy you have given us over the years. Please stay safe. Be well. And know we your readers love you. Bob

Edited by rjo
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It would be quite the story, if: Elizabeth Danfield and Sabrina Granger take out contracts on each other using rival organizations and that their "hits" occur, literally, simultaneously.

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Great read, again.  What betterway to pass the lockdown in Spain than reading Mark's epic series.  And now, time to revisit the British Navy 🤓😈😈😈😈😈😈

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