French had stalled all she dared. Serving the meal with Miguel had not been in the plan, but theyd managed it. Thats what professionals do. She hoped that Fry and Andre were on their way back. Shed play it by ear and see if she could make do without. If all else failed, shed have to knock them all out and try it again when they came to.
She nodded to Miguel. That was his sign to leave. He did.
She turned to her sated guests. Shed been hoping to spoil their appetites mid meal, now shed just have to watch them throw up. Not that there wasnt a stomache made of anything less than cast iron in this group. Despite the tension, theyd eaten like well bred wolves. Even the apprehensive rich cant pass up free food.
Im so glad you could join me for this meal. Youve been exceedingly patient. Why dont I get down to business?
Yes, why dont you? Mitchell asked. Hed always enjoyed her cooking, but she had a habit of being dramatic that could play on his nerves. Artists, his mother had always warned him about artists.
It didnt escape Frenchs attention that two of her guests were looking pleased with themselves. Something was up. She dove in, hoping for the best. Shed pit her raw instinct against their scheme anyday.
Mitchell, Id like to ask you a question to start all of this off. Its a simple yes or no answer, though I think I already know what youll say. French looked at each of the people sitting around the table. She was willing to bet theyd all be on their feet soon enough. Did you enjoy watching Louisa Millet die?
She did not get the reaction shed expected. Mitchells face was blank. Not a schooled sort of blank, but a blank sort of blank, as in a missed target sort of blank. No one had stood up.
She continued on, She threw a monkey wrench into your little operation didnt she?
You must be joking. Mitchell stared at her. It was obvious that she wasnt. Call me when youre serious. He threw his napkin onto the table and stood. Lets go mother.
You and Julia had it all planned out didnt you? French pressed on. In for a penny, in for a pound. The first of your international chain of hotel casinos would be right here. So convenient, so close to home. Not over my restaurant! Were you going to kill me too after youd finished the deal?
Why is it always about your damned restaurant?! Mitchell leaned over the table and yelled at her. Once again, the proceedings veered in an unexpected direction. What the hell is it? You never cared for me half as much as you do for this goddamned sweat shop, never!
Mitchell, I dont think this is an appropriate... Portia began, but was cut off by her son whose dam had burst and wasnt about to stop.
No mother, I want an answer! You have no idea what it was like. What I put up with. I couldnt even get in the bed without moving a goddamned culinary magazine or cookbook. Every other word out of her mouth was about her work. I want a fucking answer! You saw those plans. It was supposed to be a surprise, but NO! You have to go into attack mode because you think Im going to take away your little, termite infested fishing shack! That kitchen will be a palace!
It was all French could bear. If Id wanted to run a kitchen the size of grand central station, Id run one you pompous ass. That over produced, over sized, industrial wasteland is a... a...
A gilded cage. Julia interrupted. She didnt look the least bit sorry for the breach in etiquette. She looked as pleased as punch. And youll look so divine in it. Its the perfect revenge. After youd destroyed my life, it took me years to come up with it. When I did it gave me a whole new purpose for living.
You bitch! Mitchell exclaimed. You said shed love it!
Please Mitchell, sit down. Portia said. I think youve embarrassed yourself enough.
It was one hotel. Just one Julia, not your whole damned life. French was fighting to maintain some perspective.
Shut up! What would you know about it? Julia was on her feet now. You never cared for anything in your life. I grew up in that hotel. It was my home. It was a magical place and dont you dare tell me it was a failing asset you insensitative whore. But now you have this. She gestured at the room and the building as a whole. And I intend to take it from you. And you will work for Mitchell and me, darling, you have no choice. Otherwise, Ill fix it so that you cant flip a burger between here and Timbuktu. I havent spent the last six years licking my wounds, Ive been busy.
Too busy not paying attention to goings on close to home, Dearest. Mitchells been taking advantage of your misplaced focus. Isnt that right Nigel?
Dont try to dodge the bullet French, youre mine! Julia laughed.
Hes been busy for you this summer, hasnt he Mitchell? Burning down restaurants, killing off the locals. I know how it can be Nigel, hes a real task master.
Nigel was out of his seat in the blink of an eye with a gun trained at Frenchs chest. Youre not pinning this on me!
Before he could sweat another drop, Julia had clocked him across the jaw and he was out like a light. She turned back to look at French, Youre not getting out of it that easily. I want to watch you suffer.
So he killed her for you! I knew it. The proceedings hadnt gone to plan, but the final result was to her liking.
If he did, it had nothing to do with me. And if you thought Id trust him with anything more than worming his way into Mitchells pocket, youre slipping. Julia was beginning to enjoy Frenchs attempt at distraction. She could struggle on the line all she wanted. Besides, why would I bother with one of Jays political groupies when I was so close to snaring you?
French was sure that had not been in the plan. What do you mean, groupie?
She was one more face in the endless parade of needy people he insisted that I invite to our parties. He also insisted that I be friendly, though Ill never know why, she was such a dull little thing.
The blood in Frenchs veins began to run cold. Wheres Jay?
I told you Sweet, hes home ill. Now can we return to the important matter at hand? Im not greedy, a little satisfaction will do. Ive brought the contract with me.
Fry and Andre sat in Senator Hardings study. He wasnt cooperating, but he wasnt not cooperating. If anything, he was stalling. Hed served them tea and encouraged them to drink. Andre had, but shed been too busy trying to turn the conversation back to the task at hand.
Please, drink Violet. Let me tell you a story. The senator gave her a reassuring smile and stood up. He walked over to a window and looked out.
Fry would have taken a sip, but she had a last minute change of mind. She looked over at Andre who looked intensely uncomfortable in the small chair he was sitting in. The Senator was still looking out the window of the study, observing the grounds. Fry motioned to Andre, but she couldnt get his attention. He was staring at the carpet, looking kind of sleepy. She crossed her fingers and hoped for the best.
Really Senator, if youd come with us, then we could listen on the way over.
No, its not a long story. He walked back over and noted that the talkative young woman had finally drained her cup. Ive spent my life trying to help people less fortunate than myself.
Youve done a terrific job. Even my mother approves of your work and she isnt an easy woman to impress. Fry was nervous and had begun to babble. She noted out of the corner of her eye that Andre wasnt looking sleepy, hed dozed off.
The Senator gave a nod and sat back down across from her. He didnt seem to notice Andre. Please help yourself to more tea, and anything else. He had the strongest urge to talk to this young woman. He wanted to explain so that someone might understand. Shed finished the tea. He didnt have much time if he actually wanted her to hear any of it.
Youve come about Louisa havent you? Thats why French wants me there?
Now there was an insightful question. She just didnt know how to answer it. The truth was always an option. But she wasnt that stupid. Did you know her?
Yes I did... He answered and then seemed to drift off as if thinking of something else.
Fry wondered where shed heard that even tone of voice before.
Excuse me. Jay returned to the present and looked at the young woman. Arent you even the least bit tired? He was sure hed put enough of that drug in her cup to knock out a horse. She had such a vibrant, lively personality, she didnt seem effected by it at all. The man shed come with was certainly out.
Now that you mention it, I am a little, but you were saying... about Louisa? Fry was doing her best not to panic and jump out of her chair. What had he given them? She didnt have a clue what to do. What would French do? Knock him flat. That probably wouldnt work for her. She got another idea. It was a long shot, but what choice did she have? It wasnt like shed been in this kind of situation before. And according to the deranged man across from her, she didnt have a lot of time.
Ive been in politics for years. Its a tough business. So when she came to me and told me I ought to cooperate with her or shed ruin my career, I wasnt unprepared to deal with her. Then she told me what she knew, showed me the clippings and the photo of Julie at Oxford. You might say I got upset. And when she told me what she wanted... He stood and walked over to a desk. He took something out of a draw and slipped it in his pocket. Fry faked a yawn.
Make yourself comfortable, relax. Im almost finished.
Oh man, he was freaking her out. Could he think she hadnt noticed the behemouth snoring in the chair next to her? She took control of her scattering nerve. She only had to hold on for another minute.
Jay returned to her and stood, looking down into her empty cup. Fry leaned against the arm of her chair and propped her chin on her hand.
I want you to know that you shouldnt worry. Youll feel numb and buzzed, but then youll fall to sleep. There wont be any pain.
Fry nodded. She didnt trust her voice.
Jay smiled and continued. If shed attacked me it wouldnt have mattered, but she wanted to ruin Julie. Julies been through enough. I thought Id lost her after French. She grew so distant and her vitality was gone. I couldnt bear to see her hurt like that again. And do you know what that awful woman wanted? What the price for Julies sanity and possibly her life was? He was beyond the point where he was expecting an answer. He looked down on the woman who was quiet and slumped in the chair. Her breathing was even and she looked so peaceful. He stood up and drew the gun from his jacket pocket.
She wanted me to invite her to a party. She walked into my life with the intention of ruining my wife, to get an invitation to a goddamned party!
Jay heard a noise from behind and turned to see French halfway through the door of the balcony. Shed heard the end of his story from outside, but hadnt seen into the room. As she came through she was stunned by the scene. Fry and Andre were slumped in their chairs and Jay stood before them, a gun to his own head.
He looked at her now with a pained expression. The man had cracked, that much was clear.
Cant you stay out of my life? Jay asked. Havent you done enough?
Dont do it Jay. French hadnt a clue what to say to him. This was more like Frys kind of thing. But Fry was just lying there. While French had suspected Fry of slacker tendencies in the past, she knew better now. He must have drugged them. Or possibly, it was poison. French batted the possibility away from her mind. She needed to focus on Jay or he could get ideas about shooting them all and then it wouldnt matter what hed done to them. She was both relieved and unnerved as Jay began to walk at her, the gun pointed at her head.
Ive changed my mind. I think killing you might be one of my best acts of philanthropy to date. My parting gift to humanity.
He was a few feet away from her. As French looked at him and beyond at the small figure in the chair, she saw one of Frys eyes pop open.
Goodbye French. He pulled the trigger at the same moment that all of Fry landed on his back. Together they fell to the ground and the gun went skittering through the open balcony door.
Jay struggled and screamed beneath Frys weight. She rolled off of him and frantically got to her feet to see if French had been hit. French pushed her aside and gave Jay a solid whack to the head before he could grab the gun again. He slumped to the floor, unconscious.
She turned to face Fry. It took you long enough. Did you want him to kill me?
I didnt even know he had a gun until I heard him say he was going to kill you! It was just like French to start a fight at a time like this. Besides, I was supposed to be unconscious. He thought hed drugged me.
French sobered, I thought he might have. I couldnt figure out how he was getting a word in edgewise. What were you doing!?
I had a plan. The more I played along, the more he talked. I heard his whole confession.
What were you planning to do if hed poisoned or shot you? Play dead?
I told you, I didnt know he had a gun. I didnt think that far ahead.
Remind me to never let you do the planning.
A riot erupted in the room as the police and paramedics rushed in. It was going to be another long night.
Continued in Chapter 46