ACT 1

After a late night spent pouring through police report files that she’d brought home, the early sound of the door ringing was a rude awakening.

“Hang on!” Anna called aloud even though there was no way anyone would have heard her from her bedroom. Rolling out of the bed, her foot caught in some sheets and she nearly tripped. The jarring motion of righting herself as she grabbed the edge of the dresser resulted in a perfunctory curse; her shoulder was still healing from the bullet wound. It had only been two weeks since the shooting, and her shoulder still ached terribly at times. The detective shook her head, hoping her day would improve, though having thought that, she was bound to have jinxed it. Throwing a sweater over the undershirt she slept in, she made her way to the front entrance and looked through the peephole in the door. Not seeing anyone there, she grabbed the nearby softball bat, hefting it as she opened the door and peered around. Shaking her head still at who would have just rang a bell once and left, she started to turn to head back inside when she noticed a bag hanging from the door handle, weighted down inside. She peered around the edging of the bag, trying to ascertain if it held anything hazardous. Not finding anything out of the ordinary, she picked it up, brought it inside and placed it on the center island in the kitchen.

Rummaging around in one of the cupboards, she pulled down a bottle of anti-inflammatory medication the doctor had prescribed her, shook out two of them and popped them into her mouth. She grabbed a glass, running it under the faucet and got enough water to swallow them. Before she even thought about doing anything this morning, including trying to figure out what was in the package, she needed caffeine, and so acting almost on auto-pilot she filled the pot with water and coffee grounds and waited for it to percolate. The scent of her favorite coffee brewing was like manna from the heavens as far as Anna was concerned, as she moved to the sorted folders on her kitchen table, and filed them into her laptop case. When the machine stopped, she pulled a mug from the cabinet and fixed her coffee with two sugars, stirring it with a spoon, and then moved over to the island. From a drawer, she grabbed a pair of gloves and then tentatively she pulled out the brown-paper wrapped small package. There was no note attached or anything to indicate where it might have come from, or from whom. With the sharp knife she pulled from the block on the counter, she slid it through the tape and opened the box. Through the layers of wrap, her breathing froze as she examined the contents. A simple set of hand strengthening grips would probably not have been noteworthy to most people; an odd item to send someone without context, but for Anna, she felt the blood drain from her face. It was a message meant specifically for her, from her father, as a threat or a warning: back off.

Hung Feng Li was a domineering personality, and quite lethal when required. But he didn’t require a weapon to fight with; his strength and his skills with his hands were weapon enough.

Her father had been working with the Winslow family her entire life. With his martial arts training, he’d worked his way through the Winslow’s security detail as a young man, gaining respect and seniority by his attention to detail and his ability to contain problems before they came to the attention of the family. Sometimes that just meant a threat to another person’s liberty and security, and if necessary, physical application of that threat. As the years passed, he’d worked his way up to the head of the Royal Guard and chief of security for the Winslow family. It was a position he’d been in for more than twenty years.

It had been a long time since she’d deliberately gone against her father’s wishes and left San Cristobel. Her attempt to help Olivia try to find justice after having been raped had resulted in her own beating by her father, for trying to find justice for Olivia. This little ‘gift’ that had been left on her door this morning was a warning to lay off investigating the Edmund Winslow case. Despite the heat of the coffee entering her system as she took a sip, Anna shivered at the potential implications of the threat.

Refusing to cow to her father’s intimidation, Anna replaced the wrap around the grips. Going over to one of the cabinet drawers, she grabbed a packing tape gun, sealed the box, and placed it back in the bag. While she was quite sure it was delivered from one of her father’s messenger’s and as such there would likely be no obtainable prints, she knew she had to make the rest of her team aware of the threat. After all, she was not the only one investigating Edmund Winslow, and she felt personally responsible if anyone of the officers on her task force were injured or killed because of information of which they had no knowledge.

Quickly, she jotted down a few notes onto a sheet of paper, before placing it in her case, and then she headed to the bathroom for a shower.

***

 

Natalia was getting Emma’s lunch ready as Olivia was trying to feed Francesca breakfast, when they heard Emma running down the stairs and they shook their heads. Some things didn’t really change. When Emma reached the kitchen, her backpack was slung over her shoulder.

“Woah, Jellybean, where’s the fire?” Olivia asked her daughter with a grin.

“Mommy, do you know where my notebooks are?”

Natalia packed the sandwich and fruit into Emma’s lunch bag, and then she smiled at her daughter, “Where did you last have them?”

Emma bit at her lower lip as she thought where she had left her notebooks. Her face lit up as she remembered. “In the living room.” She quickly headed into the other room and grabbed her things and put them in her bag before returning.

“Hey, Emma,” Natalia started, as she pulled the girl in for a hug, “how about when we finish your homework tonight, we put all your stuff in your backpack? That way, you’ll know where everything is in the morning.”

“Okay.” The school bus horn blew and Emma pulled back. “Gotta go!”

“Bean, how about a hug for your old mother?” Olivia chuckled and then got a quick hug from her daughter before the girl resettled the pack on her shoulder and headed out the door. With an amused pout, Olivia turned her glance over to her partner. “I notice she didn’t correct me on the ‘old’ part.” She finished feeding the baby and put the empty cereal bowl into the sink.

“You are just fine to me,” Natalia said, her voice husky as she moved close to Olivia and grabbed hold of her partner’s robe, turning her around. As her eyes slowly scanned down Olivia’s body and back up to meet the other woman’s face she smiled deeply, “Just fine, indeed.”

Olivia’s eyebrows rose in playful teasing. ”My, my, Natalia, are you flirting with me?”

“Is it working?” Natalia giggled.

“Oh, yeah.” She leaned in for a kiss and was rewarded with one that made her toes curl.

“Momma!” Francesca’s voice called out, breaking the moment.

The two women moved apart and laughed at the interruption from their youngest daughter. Natalia turned to face Francesca who was holding her hands up in the air.

“I’ll take that as my cue to go up and get dressed. I’ve got a meeting with Greg and two potential new vendors at ten.”

Releasing the high chair tray and placing it up on the counter to clean afterwards, Natalia unclipped the seat straps and lifted her daughter up against her chest; the little girl grabbed locks of her hair. “Okay, once I drop Francesca off with Leyla, I’ll be in. I’ve got to meet with accounting and with the kitchen staff. I got an email from Donello about a new menu item he wants to try out. He asked me to come down and check it out.”

“Any hints?” Curiosity was getting the better of her.

“He just said ‘sweet and decadent’.”

“Oh, that’s not fair! How come you get to do all the fun stuff?” Olivia pouted. “I’m gonna be stuck in a dull, boring meeting with a bunch of vendors vying for attention and sucking up for all their worth. Greg’s got most of the details, so he’s sitting in on the meeting as well.” Olivia sighed.

“I’ll make it worth your while?” Natalia grinned, saucily. “Meet me for lunch in your office?”

Grinning, Olivia moved closer to her partner, cuddling up behind her. “You say the sweetest things.”

Francesca’s attention switched to Olivia and stretched out a hand to her other mother, and Olivia raised a finger for her daughter to grab hold.

Turning her head to face Olivia, Natalia asked, “When were we going to be meeting with Josh?”

“This evening. He’s going to come over after he and Jonathan finish working on the school project.”

“I’ll take some extra ground beef out to make some spaghetti.”

“Okay, see you in a bit. I’m going to get ready or I’ll be late for my boring meeting.” Olivia leaned in to give Natalia a kiss before she headed upstairs.

“Hey, Sweet Pea. You and Mommy are going to get this kitchen tidied and then we’ll go up and get you cleaned up and dressed.” Natalia gave her daughter a big kiss, and then placed her down in her playpen before moving to start washing the breakfast dishes.

***

 

The police department was relatively quiet as Anna entered the building and headed towards her office. She settled her coffee cup on the desk and laid down her briefcase, pulling out the documents she’d worked on at home, along with her laptop. Taking a sip of the hot beverage, she put it down and logged in to the SPD computer to check for messages and to review the night’s police log. Nothing in particular had been red-flagged as a major incident, for which she was grateful.

They’d questioned everybody who was at the wedding about anything they might have seen to give the police department clues about the particular motivation for Edmund opening fire on the crowd. She had been mildly frustrated with Olivia’s protection of Natalia, though she could understand it; the other woman’s family had long been a target of Edmund’s family, and she could empathize with the need to protect one’s family as much as you could.

Having developed a pattern to Edmund’s activities with Eleni a few weeks before, Anna decided the crime scene investigator was a good source of information and could help review past cases, looking through cold case reports, misplaced or lost evidence, trying to clean up some backlog. The other woman was becoming a friend, and she realized that she had too few of those. She’d burned personal bridges when she came to Springfield, ones that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to repair.

***

 

The early morning rush at Company had settled to a trickle of customers as Blake sat in one corner of the bar, looking intently at her laptop. She’d been nearly run off her feet with the breakfast run, since Lynn wasn’t due in until eleven am. Now that Daisy was no longer in town, and she was focusing some more on her publishing, she had talked with Buzz about hiring a new waitress to take up some of her shifts. She’d noticed Marina had needed some more time to be with Henry so Blake had been picking up extra shifts to cover.

Since her amicable split with Frank, Marina had been not quite abrasive with her, but not exactly overtly pleasant either. Blake wondered if that had still had to do with the younger woman’s father still working with and being friends with her mother, or if it was something different all together, but to put it bluntly, the younger woman’s passive aggressive stance was growing annoying. Blake tended to give people the benefit of the doubt as more than once she’d been on the end of judgmental attitudes of others.

Looking up, she caught the eye of one of the customers who held up his mug. Picking up the carafe she wandered over and refilled his coffee and checked with the only two other customers to see if there was anything they needed. She returned to the bar and browsed through an email. So concentrating on the screen she didn’t noticed Doris Wolfe come up to sit beside her, and when the other woman spoke, it startled her so strongly, she almost fell off the stool. She felt a set of strong arms come up behind her to balance her, and Blake relaxed once she realized whose hands they were.

“Sorry,” Blake commented out of reflex.

“No need. I was the one who spooked you,” Doris said with a smile. “I should be the one to apologize. Sorry. How are you?”

Pressing a hand against her chest to calm herself, Blake smiled. “Let me get my heart rate under control and I’ll tell you.” Truthfully, Blake wasn’t sure if her rapid heart rate was still from the surprise that Doris gave her when she sat next to her without her awareness, or from the fact that Doris still had a hand on her back; the warmth transferred through clothes against her skin. She looked over at the other woman. “I’m okay now, thank you.”

When Doris’s hand moved from her back up to the bar, Blake felt its loss and she sighed. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she then turned to Doris and asked her if she needed anything.

“Caffeine. And plenty of it. I have a stack of reports to go through and a meeting with the city manager and the police chief later this morning.”

“How are things going with the aftermath of the shootings?” Blake was curious. She grabbed the carafe from the table behind her and moved to fill a mug for Doris.

“From a professional level, I can’t say anything just yet. But from a personal standpoint, I feel sorry for Olivia and Natalia. As much as I would have loved to pull the trigger to shoot Edmund, I find it hard to believe Natalia even tried. Their family has been through so much. I know that I would do anything to protect Ashlee. I know that Natalia was trying to do the same for her family, but it’s hurting them, and I don’t like to see my friends hurting.” Doris flexed her hands on either side of her mug, glancing down into the dark liquid as if it could provide some answers for her. Looking over at the petite woman, she worried about her. “How are you? Still sore?”

“From tackling you to the ground, you mean?” Blake grinned. Despite the gravity of the situation, it still amused her that she had done that. Taking in Doris’s wry grin, she added, “My elbow’s still a little bit sore from hitting the dais but I’ll live.”

“Good to know.” Doris looked with curiosity at Blake’s laptop screen. “Whatcha working on?”

“Remember that author I mentioned – the one with the lesbian mystery story to be published. I’m going to do it. It’s really good.” Pensively, she looked at Doris. “I kind of wish Ashlee was here. She did such a good job of working with me on Coop’s book. I could use her assistance. And since Natalia’s returned to managing the day-to-day stuff at the Beacon, I’m left without a copy editor.”

Despite Doris’s oft times strained relationship with Ashlee, she was exceptionally proud of her daughter, and she appreciated that Blake thought highly of the young woman. “I’m sure you’ve had other copy editors before. What about using one of those?”

“I want to do this right. I’ve got a couple of people in mind.”

Tentatively, Doris placed a hand on Blake’s arm. “I’m sure you will. Let me know how it goes.”

“Thanks.” When Doris moved to top up her coffee mug, Blake lifted her head; she didn’t want to end their conversation but she knew the other woman had to get back to work. “Hey, Doris?”

“Yes?”

“Do you want to get together for supper?” Blake paused curiously, waiting for the other woman’s answer. When Doris hadn’t taken long to respond in the affirmative, she grinned. “My place at 7? Clarissa will be there. She probably thinks I’m crazy and controlling. But after the shootings, I really just want to make sure she’s safe.”

“Children are much more adaptable than adults. We need to be there for them and let them know that it’s okay for them to talk to us.” Flashing a grin before she moved to leave, Doris added, “I’ll bring the wine.”

***

 

The continuous infant’s crying had been keeping Remy awake for most of the night, and he couldn’t figure out what the problem was. He’d checked his son’s diaper, bottle fed him, burped him, and the baby still hadn’t settled. He and Christina had been taking turns getting up with CK, and Remy was at the point of wanting to take the baby into Cedars. Little Clayton had been rubbing his hands at his ears. But there was no sign of redness that he could see. With all the crying, the baby’s sinuses were blocking and Remy thought he could hear some wheezing. Maybe it was some instinct left from his days as an EMT and the memories of his first son’s illness, that his sensitivity to CK being sick was niggling at his brain.

In the dimmed light of the baby’s room, Christina entered, rubbing at her tired eyes. She turned to her husband. “Hey, Remy, it’s going to be a long night still. Go get a few hours. I can call Frank in the morning.”

“No, that’s all right. I don’t think I could sleep now anyway. I think we should bring him to the hospital. He sounds wheezy, and he’s been rubbing his ear.”

“I’ll bring him to the doctor in the morning. Really, Remy, I think this is just a cold.”

“But, what if it’s more?”

“Remy, they’re probably not going to do anything more tonight that they can’t do in the morning. We’ll make sure he gets checked out well.” Christina sighed. “I know this is worrying you. But, I think we just need to wait and see what the doctor says, okay?”

“Sure.” Remy was still hesitant, and it showed in his movements when he moved to stand and transfer the crying infant over to his wife before shuffling back to the bedroom and lay on the bed. It took a while, but he finally managed to get to sleep.

***

 

Olivia was sorting through her mail when she had a knock on her office door and she called to whomever to enter. Soon standing before her was Leyla Rivera shifting nervously from one foot to the other, as she pushed Francesca in the stroller. Olivia smiled at her youngest daughter, who was squirming to get out of her confines. She kneeled down and unfastened Francesca before lifting her up, and smiled at her as the young girl moved to grab a lock of hair. Remembering Natalia’s sister was still standing there, Olivia looked up at her and raised an eyebrow. “Can I help you with something?”

Taking a deep breath and gathering her courage, Leyla spoke with conviction. She knew the older woman respected truth and assuredness. “I was thinking about something Natalia had said a little while ago about the possibility of opening up a daycare at the Beacon. I’d been temping in offices in Chicago for jobs when my grandmother got sicker and I had to stop for a while, but my college diploma was in early childhood education. I’ve also applied to the Department of Child & Family Services to write the state licensing board exam, which will be in a few weeks. When I went back to Chicago this past summer, I decided that this was something I could do, and do well, so I started preparations.” Leyla bit down on her lip slightly before she continued. “I was wondering if I could make a business of doing that here. Make the daycare available to both the children of staff and guests.” Leyla paused.

Having a daycare at the Beacon hadn’t been something Olivia thought about much; they had outsourced a service for providing activities for children of guests several years ago. It hadn’t been that long ago that she was representing Galaxy Hotels, and she was reminded of how much she and Natalia had touted the importance of keeping families in mind when promoting the hotel chain. Part of that, Olivia conceded was due to her poor health at the time and concealing the nature of that from Decker, using her need to be close to her family and thus be in Springfield and not gallivant around the globe. But as she thought further on it, and on Natalia’s previous arguments for including a daycare service within the hotel, perhaps it was time.

“How much do you know about running a business?” Olivia asked her.

“I did some office managing as part of my temp jobs. I know it’s not the same, but I’m a fast learner.”

Despite Leyla being Natalia’s sister, Olivia really didn’t know her well, and how she was as a person could differ greatly from how she could run a business. Olivia had a few conditions to be met before she would agree to this center to be started and run.

Taking a notepad from her desk drawer, Olivia then looked over at her sister-in-law with a serious expression. “That’s a great plan, but there are some things I need to review first before we can even get started on a business plan. I need your college transcripts and references, as well as employment references from the temp agencies you worked for. Have you thought about drawing up a business plan for this?”

Leyla had been prepared for most of that. From a folder that she had tucked away in Francesca’s stroller, she pulled the necessary documents from the college and her references, and then handed them over to Olivia. “I haven’t done an official business plan since I was in college. I do have some ideas that I’ve worked out for what I would like to see done for a Beacon daycare, though. In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with a few of the local daycare businesses to get an idea of what’s required, and I’ve done some research on that. I’ve also spoken with the owners and managers and some of the employees to get a sense of what I saw working and what I would like to do to change things. I figure we can start out small, just with the children of employees, word of mouth and we can build from there.”

Olivia was impressed with the work that Leyla had already done in preparation, and though the younger woman was nervous when she had entered the room earlier, she was much more self-assured now.

“Okay, I need to find out the legal spatial requirements from the licensing board, and find enough space in the hotel. Gather all the information you've compiled and we can go over that later. We'll work on the official business plan. I'll need to run it past my investors but it shouldn't be a problem.”

“Thanks, Olivia.” Leyla nodded. “See you back at the farmhouse later?”

“I’ll be there.” Olivia smiled. She placed her daughter back in her stroller and kissed the girl’s head.

Although she loved her daughters, a home with her family was one thing she never thought she could have and hold for a long time to come. Olivia looked at her clock. She was expecting Natalia after her meeting with the kitchen staff, and she was looking forward to their lunch.

***

 

The busy weekend passenger traffic of Amsterdam’s Albert Cuypmarkt open-air market was enough to get lost in, which is exactly what Dinah Marler had been banking on. For the last couple weeks, she’d had the feeling that she and Mallet had been followed. When they had inquired about a hotel room the night before, they had heard the couple asking about looking for two people and giving their descriptions; it had been vague enough at the beginning, until she heard their names mentioned. Up until now, she and Mallett had avoided using their real names. While she was curious to find out why they were being sought out, she wasn’t innocent enough to believe that it was for anything good. They ducked out of that hotel and moved to a new hotel; one that most people would not expect her to stay in. Come to think of it, Dinah realized, it was remarkably unremarkable, kind of like the hotel room she and Mallet had stayed in while they were in Bosnia.

She winded her way through the stalls, the aromatic scents of food being cooked wafted through the air, blending into a cacophony, and since she hadn’t eaten since the early morning coffee and croissants, she could hear her stomach growling. Picking out some fresh fruit, she paid the vendor before moving on and purchasing some lunch.

Turning to leave the market she was stopped still by a voice she could easily recognize.

“Dinah! Oh my heavens, darling, it is you!” Alexandra Spaulding called out to her from a stall about eight feet behind her.

Dinah turned around and smiled tightly. “Alex! Wow. I never expected to see you here.” Dinah brought her hand up to play with the pendant on her necklace.

“Apparently so.” Alex beamed at seeing a familiar face. “What has you half way around the world?”

“Oh, a bit of this and that,” Dinah said, avoiding any details. “Some shopping and sightseeing. You?”

“The grand tour of Europe and the world. Fletcher and I left shortly after Alan died. I needed to get out of Springfield for a while. But apparently life has been just as chaotic as usual in our dear town, as ever.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Dinah knew a little of the details since her mother had sent her a text message. Mallet had been in occasional contact with Jeffrey regarding Edmund and his dealings, but there had been nothing in the past few weeks.

“Did you know Rick and Mindy were getting married?” Alex asked.

“I knew they were engaged.” One less person to hit on her and every other single female in town, Dinah smiled.

“Apparently Edmund showed up at the wedding with guns and opened fire. I don’t know the full story; I got some details from Phillip. But Edmund was also shot and is in a coma.”

“Is it safe to go back?” Dinah asked. She knew there was probably still an outstanding arrest warrant out for her, which is why she and Mallet didn’t generally stay anywhere for any given length of time.

“I’m assuming so. But I’ll talk with Phillip tonight. Is there anyway to get hold of you? A cell phone number?” Alex asked her.

Not wanting to give out any contact information, Dinah simply said, “How about you find out from Phillip and meet me here tomorrow, same time.” Plus, Dinah wanted to have Mallet in the general vicinity in case something went wrong; and from her experience, something always went wrong when she least expected it. Karma finding its way back to bite her in the ass.

“That sounds so clandestine. I love it! It’s like being in the movies.” Alex laughed.

“Tomorrow then.” Dinah smiled, gathered her food packages and headed in the opposite direction, occasionally checking over her shoulder. Although she knew the older woman was well-intentioned, she also knew the older woman was a busybody, and loved her gossip as much as the next person, and seeing someone she knew half-way across the world was bound to be gossip-worthy information.

***