Dina admitted she’d had an affair with Eliot Bachelor. She later received a single rose from him. Robert offered Don a deal — if he seduced Dina, Robert would track down his father for him. Lilith vented to Mary-Sue about Daniel. Mortimer was hit over the head with a baseball bat.
A low buzz of chatter pervaded the waiting room at the hospital. Close family members and friends of one Mortimer Goth sat on hard chairs, stood by the vending machine or, in Dina’s case, paced endlessly. The silence imposed itself upon them like a guest uninvited.
Cassie was the first to snap. “Would you stop your bloody pacing?! You’re driving me insane! Where the hell is Hathaway anyway?”
“He’s not a private doctor,” Darren reminded her. He’d come as moral support, a much needed backbone. Their last conversation had yet to be brought up but he considered his presence the least he could do after what Cassie had done for him. “I’m sure he’ll tell us something before long.”
Nina strolled over from the vending machine. “What happened, anyway? Is the tumour back?”
“I don’t know,” Cassie said. “Perhaps it is the tumour. Didn’t that operation have a low success rate?” Another thought came to her and she leant forward, resting her head on clenched fists. “Where’s Brandi? She must have noticed something, surely.”
“She wasn’t at the house,” Dina said. “Her shift probably hadn’t started yet.”
“Or maybe it did and she’s skiving. We should get someone else. She’s too unreliable.”
Dina sighed, not wanting to get into it with Cassie. “I’m going to see if I can find the doctor.”
The slow walk down the corridor helped her feel as if she was regaining her sanity. So much was happening and none of it was good, the coming baby being the exception.
As if the universe enjoyed teasing her, another complication was coming towards her.
Don waved at her, seeming unsure of himself. “I’d heard about Mortimer. Came to see how you were doing.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
He rolled his eyes. “Are we really going to let our history get in the way again? You need some support.”
“You hate Mortimer, remember? Go home! You’re no use to anyone here!”
Dina backed off as two more people she recognised rushed towards them. Later it would seem strange that Robert and Mary-Sue had arrived, considering one was an acquaintance and the other hated her husband’s guts. But she didn’t question it.
Mary-Sue’s presence was answered partly when Cassie got up and hugged her. “Thanks for coming.”
“I’m your best friend. And I’ve been neglecting you lately. How is he?”
“We don’t know. Here comes the doctor now,” Cassie pointed out.
The doctor’s slow walk down the corridor towards them seemed to take forever. The silence hung over them again, and tension rose in Dina’s heart. She wasn’t supposed to get stressed for the baby’s sake.
“How is he?” Dina asked once the doctor had approached them. “Is it the tumour? Has it grown back?”
The doctor answered the question with a question. “Was anyone with him at the time of the accident?”
“No,” she admitted. “I found him but I don’t know how long he’d been there.”
“I ask because the injuries sustained to his head look like the results of a major assault.”
The mood quickly turned into confusion. “Assault?” Cassie asked in disbelief.
“Is he awake? Did he say anything?” Dina added.
“Mortimer is still in a coma at the moment. The next 24 hours are critical. With the brain operation he had a few months ago, we’re still not 100% sure how these two events in conjunction might affect him. We’ll be checking on him every half an hour. He is responding to light being shone in his eyes however. There’s a chance he could wake up today. Or…”
The rest was left unsaid. “My god,” Cassie said. “He didn’t want to be a vegetable. That’s why he didn’t want to have the operation. Now look what’s happened.”
“We have a chaplain at the hospital,” the doctor continued. “If you need any support, he’ll be available. And if you’re not religious, we also have a counsellor.”
“I don’t understand,” said Dina. “He was alone in the house. At least as far as I know.”
“We’ll be monitoring him carefully. Two visitors may be allowed to see him for now. I don’t want to overwhelm him if he wakes up.”
Cassie got up. “We should probably go in,” she told Dina.
“Do you want me to call Alex?” Mary-Sue asked. “I don’t think I have the number for the boarding school.”
“No. I don’t want to worry him,” Cassie said. “Let’s wait for a bit.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Don asked. Dina had forgotten he was still there.
“Go track down Brandi,” Nina told him. “Find out if she was with him. Although I can’t imagine why she would assault him.”
“I’ll text you when I’ve talked to her.” And with that, Don was finally gone. Dina looked at her rival who gave her a weak smile. Together they entered the hospital room.
Don sighed as he got into the car and turned to the woman next to him. “Think we can make another detour? I need to talk to Mortimer’s nurse.”
“Why?” Serena asked.
“He’s been assaulted. She might know something. It’s not much to go on but…”
“That’s terrible!” she said as she started to pull out of the car park. “There’s some nasty people out there.”
“Tell me about it. Thanks for driving me by the way.”
“No worries. You wanted to support Dina. Not sure what that says about me though.”
“You’re an angel,” he smiled and kissed her cheek.
“Don’t sweet talk me,” she laughed. “Besides I’m enjoying you being all sleuth-like. I thought I was the private detective here.”
He looked at her, wondering how he managed to meet a woman like Serena.
Half an hour later, Serena was dropping Don off onto Woodlands Drive. “I’d go in there with you but it might overwhelm her. Call me later if you need picking up or anything.” And with that she drove away.
A teenaged boy was on the front porch smoking. “You alright, mate?”
“Does Brandi Broke live here?”
“Who wants to know?”
“I’m here on behalf of Mortimer Goth.” The words didn’t come easily to him considering how he loathed the man. “There’s been an accident.”
“Coma. I need to speak to your mother.”
The boy sized him up. Then he burst out laughing. “You think she hurt him or something? Fuck off! She couldn’t crush a bug! Eh, you won’t believe me though so I suppose I’d better let you in.”
The house was dirty. A single crusty old armchair wilted in front of a TV that looked like it had been purchased in 1976 and last cleaned a day after it was bought. Flies buzzed around and around a mouldy pizza.
“She popped out to the shops,” the boy said. “She’ll be back soon. Do you want anything to drink?”
Don winced when he was sure the boy wasn’t looking; he may not have had the highest standards of cleanliness but compared to this place, his condo may as well have been nominated for a best-kept house award. “No thanks.”
“I need to finish my cigarette. Don’t steal anything.” And with that, the boy closed the door.
He took a further look around. Homes like this made him grateful for his condo, even if the rent was sky-high. He could barely fathom how anyone could live in this kind of poverty, even if it wasn’t of their own choosing.
As he was lost in his own thoughts, the door opened and Brandi walked in with a young boy he could only presume was her son in a stroller. “Who are you? Did Dustin let you in?”
“Yes,” Don replied. “I’m sorry to intrude like this but something terrible has happened. Mortimer is in a coma.”
She looked at him, aghast. “What happened? Something to do with the tumour?”
“No actually. The doctor reckons he’s been assaulted.”
“Wow.” She put Beau in his crib, her every move slow and mechanical. “Is he going to be alright?”
“We don’t know. It’s a bit of a waiting game right now. Brandi, I have to ask. Do you know anything that might help us?”
“No I don’t think so. Didn’t Mortimer have some enemies? He always mentioned this Robert guy.”
“Maybe.” Brandi shook her head. “I’m not exactly an expert on the Goth family. Unless… you think I did it?”
Don backed away. “That’s not what I said.”
“Look, I would never do anything to hurt my patients. Mortimer may take up a lot of my time, my hours may suck but that doesn’t mean I’m going to bash his head in or whatever. I really think you should leave now.”
“I’m going. I just thought you should know.”
After Don went, Brandi closed her eyes, threatened by the beginnings of a headache.
“Cassie!” Dina called quietly. Mortimer’s daughter had retreated to the far side of the room, strangely hesitant for someone of her nature. “I think he might be coming round.”
For just a second ago, the hand she was holding had squeezed her. And now moans emitted from his mouth.
“Hey!” she smiled. “You’re in the hospital. How are you feeling?”
He smiled at her. That was good, he was recognising her. “What happened?”
“We think you were assaulted,” Dina said. “Try not to worry too much, I don’t want to cause any more damage.”
Mortimer looked confused and Dina could tell he was trying to remember. “That doesn’t make sense. I was in the bedroom, at my desk. I was alone. Someone must have snuck up on me. Unless I went out or something and don’t remember it.”
“Don’t worry about that now Father,” Cassie said. “We’ll get the police to look into it.”
“Cassie. I’m sorry about shouting at you. Can we put all this unpleasantness behind us?”
“I’d like that, Father,” Cassie smiled.
“Good. We must go up to Cliffside sometime. Now I need to speak to Dina alone.”
She nodded. “I’ll tell everyone outside you’re awake.” And in a moment, she was gone.
“Dina,” Mortimer turned to her. “Do you know who was behind this?”
“No of course not! Why would you ask me that?”
“With one notable exception, most of my enemies seem to also be your lovers. Do you think Don finally snapped? Or is Eliot back in town?”
She faltered, realising she’d never got round to telling him that part of the story.
“Dina!” Mortimer said a little more sternly. “Is Eliot back in town?”
“Yes.” she whispered. “And he isn’t happy.”
“Isn’t happy as in brooding over what he’s lost? Or isn’t happy as in willing to assault and nearly kill me?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that.”
“He’s Michael’s son, remember? It could have been Robert that did this to me, I grant you. But I don’t understand why he’d do that now. Eliot on the other hand…”
“Are you angry with me?”
“Yes I’m angry with you! I give you every chance to be faithful to me and you screw it up like you always do! Just get out of my hospital room!”
With tears in her eyes, Dina did as she was told. She could only hope that Mortimer would look on her with more sympathy once he had the chance to calm down.
Mary-Sue saw Dina storm out. She saw Nina take her sister in her arms and lead her over to the chairs. “You were right, Robert,” she whispered. “This was a bad idea. We’re in the way.”
“You’re not,” Cassie said. “Mortimer would love to see you, I’m sure!”
Robert turned to what he now considered as his new girlfriend, disregarding the pedestrianism of that term. “Do you want to stay, love? You look exhausted.”
“You can go if you want,” she tried to smile. “Mortimer means a lot to me. I should probably go and see him.”
“You probably should,” Robert smiled. “I will go and get a coffee. Cassie, would you care to join me?” It was lucky he had a poker face – the thought of having coffee with Mortimer’s daughter made him feel sick.
“I’m going to go back to the manor and pack some necessities for Father. Doubtless Dina will forget. I’ll see you in a bit.” And with an embrace between Mary-Sue and Cassie, the latter left.
“Let me know if you need anything,” Robert told her and with that, he too was strolling down the corridor in search of the canteen, wishing with all his heart that he could be a fly in the wall during Mortimer and Mary-Sue’s conversation. There was a bond between the two he’d been unaware of. How could he have missed it?
Brandi was troubled by Don’s visit and her sons weren’t exactly going to be any help in comforting her so she thought she’d turn to the one person who seemed to be on her side recently. She picked up her phone and dialed the number she knew off by heart. “Darren? Hi, it’s me. Do you want to come round for a quick chat?”
As she listened, she couldn’t help but compare his voice to a sweet evening drink; silky, smooth and comfortable. The thought distracted her so much, she could barely focus on what he had to say.
The thought drew her eyes to the picture of Skip. He’d always had a rough accent, matching his upbringing in Texas. She’d fallen in love with her husband for many reasons but his voice hadn’t initially been one of them. Through the years she’d gotten used to it but she wouldn’t have purchased an audiobook if Skip was reading.
So lost was she in her thoughts, it took her a moment to realise Darren had stopped speaking. “Sorry Darren, I was miles away. Half an hour? OK I’ll put the kettle on.”
Her heart skipped a beat once she put the phone down. She felt like a teen girl who had been asked out on her first date. Maybe it was time to move on, she reflected, looking at the pool outside. She never had got it filled in.
Eliot could still hear the sickening thump of the baseball bat against his victim’s head, the way Mortimer had slumped onto the desk before his body lost balance and slumped to the floor. He had desperately tried to keep the vomit in but had to rush to the toilet instead.
It was too far, he thought, far too far. He’d had his suspicions then but he’d gone along with it.
No one had seen him when he’d exited the mansion, he was sure of it. He’d gone round the back, having heard the slam of the front door, signalling someone’s return – Dina probably. Lucky for him, she’d made her way straight to the bathroom, allowing him enough time to escape quietly through the back door and make his way round to the front of the house.
He’d felt awful by the time he’d got back to his rented apartment, both physically and mentally. Globules of sick still hung to his nose and mouth so he’d washed his face but after the last remnants of vomit were washed away, the moral implications of what he’d done had hit him. The only time he’d moved since was to go into the bedroom and hide.
A female voice disturbed him from his sleep. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
“It’s too late, Ophelia. I’ve already done it.”
Rumour had it that no one could keep Ophelia Nigmos locked away for long. In this case, it had been proven true. She’d beaten up both her prison guards and took their van, finally abandoning it thirty miles from Pleasantview where she’d got in touch with Eliot. He wasn’t sure how much he liked it that she’d called him first but she was good company and great in bed so he hadn’t complained much.
“Look,” she was saying. “This was only a suggestion. Now hopefully Robert will trust you again.”
“I don’t know, Ophelia. I really don’t know.” He relented slightly by letting her crawl in next to him. In no time at all, he was on top of her making her moan with passion and lust.
Nina was surprised when Lilith had called at the front desk asking to speak to her. She hadn’t had too much contact with Daniel’s children, and there had been a distinct coolness between father and daughters since the wedding. Perhaps Lilith had thawed.
“You wanted to see me?” Nina asked, trying to look as casual as possible as she walked through the lobby.
“Yes,” Lilith said. “This isn’t easy but I wanted you to hear this and not Daniel.”
The fact she’d said ‘Daniel’ and not ‘Dad’ surprised Nina. “Shall we go through to the lounge? It doesn’t look like there’s anyone in there.”
Once they were seated in the black leather armchairs in the lounge, Lilith continued. “I want no further contact with Daniel.”
“OK. May I ask why?”
“It’s just one thing after another with him. First he cheats on Mum, perhaps multiple times. Then he takes up with a woman who could be his daughter, no offence.” Lilith waited for Nina to indicate there was no offence taken before she continued. “And now I’m hearing you’ve both gambled away your money.”
Nina winced. Had the gambling really been the final straw? “Look Lilith, about the gambling. That was all me. I blamed Daniel because I was ashamed of how much I’d lost. I’m not usually that out of control.”
She could see the information had genuinely shocked Lilith; there was a slight pause in the conversation for Daniel’s daughter to regain her bearings. But then she said “It doesn’t change anything.”
“Have you thought about telling this to Daniel yourself? I think you owe it to him to tell him this.”
Lilith’s face darkened. “I don’t owe him nothing! He’s the one that ripped our family apart! He’s the one that broke Mum’s heart! She’s only just moving on again now.”
“I’m sorry, I could have phrased that better. I’m not an expert on family mediation. Otherwise I guess I’d have the perfect family.” This at least got a small smile from Lilith. “I’ll tell him but he may still want an explanation from you. I can’t see Daniel letting this drop, in all honesty. However I do respect your decision. Just know that I’m sorry for the part I’ve played in ripping your family apart. In hindsight, I could have waited a bit longer before pouncing.”
“I don’t blame you,” Lilith said. “Not really. I just don’t want him doing the same to you. This may shock you, Nina but from what I know of you, I actually like you.”
“Thank you. And just know if you ever change your mind, we’ll be here for you. Both of us.”
Then something unexpected happened. They hugged. “Thank you,” Lilith said, her voice wavering a little. “This means a lot to me. I don’t know whether I want this to be permanent yet.”
“You’re still hurting. It’s understandable.”
Once Lilith left however, Nina’s support turned to worry as to however she could tell her new husband that his daughter no longer wanted to speak to him.
“What’s the prognosis?” Mortimer asked as Dr. Hathaway finished reading the neurological scans that had been carried out. Cassie and Mary-Sue were both with him, holding hands and hoping for the best.
“Not too bad,” Hathaway said slowly. “Better than I thought actually. It’s proving to be quite hard killing you, isn’t it?”
That got a smile out of everyone. “Believe me, doctor. I’m not complaining,” said Mortimer.
“You’ll be in the wheelchair a while longer I’m afraid. Any progress you made will be hampered. I’m also noticing that your motor skills aren’t what they should be. You’ll be seeing a significant loss of balance, physical and mental fatigue, and maybe a shortened attention span which could lead to memory problems. I don’t know how long this will last.”
Mortimer smiled weakly. “Thank you, doctor. You’ve been a tremendous help.”
“If you’re up to it,” Hathaway said. “The police want to question you about the attack. I said it was best to seize the opportunity while you’re awake. You’ll be sleeping a lot more in the coming months and years.”
“Fair enough. Send them in. I guess you should both leave for a bit,” he addressed Cassie and Mary-Sue.
“Are you sure?” Mary-Sue asked.
He only nodded. Hathaway was right, he was exhausted. He felt like he’d done a marathon every day this week.
Two police officers entered, one a woman who showed all the signs of a robot pretending to be a human. The other a man who was so generic, Mortimer forgot his name instantly when he told him.
“We just want to ask you a couple of questions,” the woman officer said. Lorna, he thought her name was. “Did you see the attacker?”
“I don’t think so. The last thing I remember, I was at my desk reading the paper. I don’t think I ever turned round.”
Lorna nodded. “Can you remember anything suspicious or unusual before your attack?”
“Generally yes. My wife’s… ex-lover, I suppose you could call him, Eliot Bachelor is back in town. He apparently made threatening remarks or something. I can’t quite remember. I don’t know where he lives. Dina might.”
“Very good. We’ll let you get some rest now unless there’s anything else you need to tell us?”
Mortimer thought a moment but shook his head. The only other possibility was Robert and this wasn’t his style. “Thank you officers.”
After they’d gone, he lay there wondering whether he would ever be able to enjoy life in rude health again.
Brandi was so comfortable in the arms of another man after so long that she became rather annoyed when her bedfellow turned to her and said “We shouldn’t have done this.”
It was to be expected really. She knew Darren long enough to know that his heart would always belong to Darlene. But it boggled the mind that they hadn’t had a mutual agreement to move on after an appropriate mourning period should anything happen to them. It was something Brandi and Skip had decided straight away, albeit after an evening of heavy drinking.
“We’re both free agents,” Brandi groaned. “Why shouldn’t we do this?”
Darren looked up at her, the way Beau would sometimes look at her when he wanted something. It unsettled her that she was comparing her now-lover to her toddler son. “I love Darlene.”
“I love Skip,” she replied without hesitation. “And I always will. I understand what you’re going through, Darren.”
“Really?” he said. “Because it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. You were practically seducing me.”
She fought to keep her temper under control but it was quite a battle. “I had just been accused of doing Mortimer Goth in with a baseball bat. Oh it’s alright, last I heard, he was alive. And no I didn’t do it. Do I look as if I have that sort of upper-body strength.”
“I didn’t say you’d do anyone in with a baseball bat, Brandi. I said you weren’t grieving your husband properly.”
A comeback was making its way up her throat but the hand was faster. Before she knew what she was doing, she had slapped him so hard he’d fallen off the bed. “How dare you tell me I’m not grieving my husband properly. I miss him every single day. I miss him so much that it hurts physically and mentally. I have to raise Beau knowing that he will never know his father. I have to live inches from where he committed suicide because I can’t afford to live anywhere else. I have to live without him, Darren. Every day I have to wake up and make a conscious choice to live without him.”
They were both crying now. Darren had got up and come round to the other side of the bed towards her but she didn’t want him anymore, she didn’t want anyone, only Skip. “I can’t do it anymore Darren,” she cried. “I can’t. I’ve been so strong.”
“I’m sorry.” He was a little more together than she was but that wasn’t saying much. “That wasn’t fair of me to say.”
They continued to cry into each other’s shoulders. Then they laughed that they couldn’t stop crying then they cried some more. It helped, at least a little.
Finally Brandi looked at him, holding his gaze. “I don’t love you,” she said, her voice shaky. “I don’t know if I’ll ever love anyone again. But I need you right now.”
When she kissed him, he didn’t resist. She relaxed slightly, melting into his cool muscular arms like hot button on toast.
“What did Brandi say?” Serena asked Don when he got back to his condo and the hot tub. She usually kept things a little more casual but she’d never dated a guy with a hot tub before. Now she sat relaxed with a glass of wine in her hand.
“She didn’t do it. I told her about Mortimer. She was genuinely shocked.”
“Not just acting?” she said.
He shook his head. “I don’t think so. If she acted that well, she’d be in movies.”
“So do you have any more suspects?”
Serena couldn’t keep her eyes off his lean tanned body as he stripped down to his boxer shorts. His troubled face stopped her from making a move on him though.
“There is one thing,” Don said. “If I tell you this, will you promise to keep this secret.”
“I wouldn’t be a private investigator if I couldn’t keep things secret.” she promised.
“Robert Mayes summoned me to his offices the other day. He struck me a deal: if I seduced Dina then he would help me track down my real father.”
Serena grimaced. They hadn’t been serious but it hurt that he seemed willing to seduce Dina again. “Have you done it?”
“I thought about it but no. Maybe Robert got tired of waiting and bashed Mortimer in.”
She took a sip of her wine and thought carefully. “From what I’ve heard of Robert Mayes, he doesn’t seem like the type of guy to do this. Which leaves us two possibilities. Mortimer either has a new enemy, someone we haven’t heard of or someone who’s turned on him. Or maybe someone Robert’s hired gone rogue on him.”
“What do you think I should do?” Don asked her.
“Stay away from him. I’ll take it from here. Now if you get me some more wine, I could find a way to thank you.”
That stupid goofy yet incredibly sexy smile appeared on his face. “Message received and understood. I’ll be right back.”
Suddenly a thought occurred to her. “Don?” He turned around to face her. “I could also help you track down your real father.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“It’s kind of my job? But I’ll do you a deal,” Serena said with a devious smile. “I’ll take this case on for free if I can have unlimited use of the hot tub.”
Don smiled back at her. “Deal! And thank you for doing this.”
“My pleasure!” And then maybe Don wouldn’t be so tempted to seduce Dina Caliente-Goth again.