ACT 1

The late autumn morning was progressing nicely in Springfield Township and Doris Wolfe was feeling good about herself as she stepped out of her SUV and onto the small parking lot next to Company. Sure, Edmund Winslow was still at large, but there had been no incidents since he disappeared. While it was her nature to remain pessimistic, there was a chance Chief Cooper was right and Winslow had fled the country. Still, she was taking no chances and expected a preliminary report from A.C. Mallet when he arrived in town. Which Doris sincerely hoped was soon.

Also arriving home for the Thanksgiving holiday was her daughter Ashlee, flying in from California with her best friend Daisy Cooper. Doris was looking forward to seeing Ashlee, but not as much as she was looking forward to seeing the feisty redhead who already had her morning cup of coffee ready and waiting for her as she stepped through the entrance door.

Blake gave her a bright smile and handed her the coffee after Doris perched herself at the counter. She took a sip and hummed in absolute pleasure as its warmth penetrated her body just as the fire in Blake's eyes filled her soul.

"Thank you," she said. "It's wonderful, as usual."

"My pleasure," Blake said and leaned across the counter to steal a quick kiss. Doris sighed happily and congratulated herself for not looking around to see if anyone had noticed. Blake had been good about giving her space, but Doris found herself more and more at ease with the idea of a relationship with Blake. Actually, she admitted to herself, they were already in a relationship, but at last she felt they were ready to move it toward the next level.

"How are you this lovely morning?" Doris asked.

"It just got even lovelier now that you're here," Blake said, then it seemed to Doris that she suddenly grew nervous. "So, I was wondering…tomorrow is my goddaughter's birthday party."

"I know," Doris said with a nod. "I was a little surprised that Frank sent me an invitation, but I figured it was Olivia's influence even though he's hosting the party."

"Probably," Blake said, absently. Obviously something was on her mind and Doris wondered what it was. "Well…I was wondering if you'd go with me?"

Doris was charmed at the faint blush on Blake's face. "Don't you have to work?"

"I'm going to ask Buzz for the night off."

"Okay, then yes," Doris said with a nod. "I'll go with you."

Blake's face lit up. "Great! It's a date." She paused with a frown. "It is a date, right?"

Doris laughed and nodded. "Yes, Blake. I will go with you to Francesca's birthday party on our first official date."

Blake's resultant smile made Doris's stomach flip happily.

***

 

The parking lot of the SFPD building was already filled with cars as Olivia swung their car into it and double-parked in front of the entrance. Natalia quickly exited the vehicle and started to unbuckle Francesca from her seat in the back.

Olivia popped the trunk and pulled the baby's weekend bag out. She quickly double-checked the contents then slammed the trunk closed. Natalia was already walking up the steps and she rushed to catch up. Natalia never liked Francesca's weekends with her father and always wanted to get the goodbyes over quickly.

Olivia opened the door with her free hand and waited while Natalia walked through, then she followed. Inside, the desk sergeant buzzed them through with a smile. Frank's office door was open, but Olivia rapped on the sill and Frank looked up from his paperwork, his frown at being interrupted turning into a smile upon seeing his daughter.

"Hey there," he said, getting up and coming around the desk to take the baby from Natalia's arms. "Hi! How's my baby girl?"

"Ai Poppy," Francesca said wrapping her arms around Frank's neck in a tight hug.

Olivia nearly laughed at Frank's shocked expression. The baby had been putting together simple sounds for weeks now, but this was the first time she successfully spoke the name of her father. 

"Oh, my baby girl," Frank said happily as he hugged his daughter.

"Congratulations, Poppy," Olivia said with a smirk. She glanced at her partner who had tears in her eyes. She reached over to take Natalia's hand who in turn gave her a grateful smile.

"So is there anything else you need, Frank?" Natalia asked.

"I don't think so," he said. "You sent enough milk?"

"In the bag," Olivia answered. "We'll bring more to the party tomorrow night. If you run out, just call."

"Right," he said, nodding his head. They went through this every time they turned the baby over to him and she guessed they'd be doing it for a long time. It was simply a reflection of Francesca's parents: her and Natalia's obsessive concern and Frank's chronic absent-mindedness.

Frank turned to the baby. "Say goodbye to your moms, baby girl," he told her.

Olivia leaned in to kiss the girl on the cheek. "Bye, Sweet Pea. 

"Ai, Mama," the girl replied.

Natalia leaned in for a kiss as well, but also lovingly caressed the spot she kissed on the baby's cheek. "Bye, my beautiful girl."

"Ai," Francesca said.

Natalia waited expectantly for a few moments and then pulled away. "Call anytime, Frank," she said. "For any reason."

"We'll see you tomorrow, Frank," Olivia added.

Frank nodded enthusiastically. "For the party – I can't wait. My baby girl's first birthday party."

Olivia held on to Natalia's hand as they left the station, leaving Frank behind them as he tried to get Francesca to call him Poppy again for the other officers.

In the car on the way to the hotel, Natalia was quiet. When Olivia finally pulled into her spot at the Beacon, she turned to her love and asked, "What is it?"

Natalia gave her a rue chuckle. "It's silly," she said.

"Not if it's bothering you," Olivia said. "Tell me."

"Well, it's just that Sweet Pea calls you Mama and now Frank is Poppy, but I'm no one."

Olivia chuckled. "That's because Frank and I spend hours a day trying to get her to speak our names. And you're not 'no one,' Natalia. You're her mother."

"No, I'm only the one who carried her for nine months, endured endless hours of labor and fed her every day of her life," Natalia said and Olivia's heart clenched to see her love's eyes fill with tears.

"Oh, baby," she said. "Come here."

She embraced Natalia and rubbed her back. "Look, with Rafe it was just you; you were his entire world so of course you came first. It was the same with Emma and me, but our baby has a whole passel of people who love her and I think that's a wonderful thing."

"I do, too," Natalia said. "I told you I was being silly."

"No, baby, you're not silly," Olivia said and pulled back so she could dry Natalia's tears. "Sweet Pea loves you and so do I."

"Thank you," Natalia said and leaned in to give her a thorough kiss. By the time she pulled back, Olivia's head was in the stratosphere.

"Wow," Olivia said. "What was that for?"

"For loving me and our family so well," Natalia answered with a warm grin.

"I can't help it," Olivia said. "It's as natural to me as breathing. Come on, love, let's get to work before one of our employees catches us making out like a couple of horny teenagers."

Natalia gave her a playful smirk. "Like that hasn't happened before."

"Oh God," Olivia said, rolling her eyes. "Don't remind me."

Olivia was warmed to her soul when Natalia took her hand as they walked into the Beacon.

***

 

Frank Cooper stared at his beautiful daughter. She was quietly playing with her brightly colored plastic toys as she sat in her walker. He found her happy mutterings soothing as he worked and although he knew a police station was no place for a baby, he enjoyed having her there. It wasn't as often as he would have liked that he got a chance to spend the whole weekend with Francesca, so rather than finding a babysitter for the few hours he needed to be here today, he decided to just let her play in his office.

He wondered how Natalia endured the separation from their baby. Even though she worked full time, she was rarely away from their daughter, a fact that he both appreciated and resented. The former because it meant his daughter received the love and attention she needed from her mother and the latter because Natalia didn't need to work at all and should be giving Francesca her full attention instead of sharing it with the Beacon or Olivia.

Not for the first time, Frank wondered how their life would have turned out if he and Natalia had married as they should have. Francesca would have two proper parents to love her and Natalia would have been able to stay home with the baby. Sure, if she decided to go to work when their child grew older he would have fully supported that. And if she hadn't, then he would have been more than happy to support her for the rest of her life. It was a role he was fully prepared to take on.

A knock on his door interrupted his reverie and his mood immediately brightened as his former son-in-law appeared in his open doorway. "Mallet!" he said happily as he stood up to shake hands.

"Frank!" Mallet said, enthusiastically pumping his hand in a firm grip. "It's so great to see you, although…"

Frank's smile dimmed a bit. "Yeah, I wish you were here under better circumstances, but still I'm glad to see you, too."

"Right," Mallet said releasing his hand. He turned toward the baby. "Wow, what a beauty she is!"

With his smile growing again, Frank said, "That she is." He pressed the intercom button on his phone. "Li, get in here," he said and then disconnected the line without waiting for a reply.

Mallet hunched down to get eye level with the girl. "Hey there, little one," he said, raising his hand toward her. Francesca immediately grabbed his finger and tried to bring it to her mouth. Mallet grinned and pulled his hand away; replacing it with the baby's teething ring she had dropped on the play mat.

"Poppy!" Francesca said bouncing happily in her seat.

Both Frank and Mallet laughed at her as Mallet stood back up. "She's going to be a heartbreaker when she grows up, Frank," he said, still chuckling.

"She already is," Frank quipped.

"And she's not even a year old yet, right?" Mallet asked.

"Her birthday's next week," Frank answered, proudly. "In fact, we're having her party at Company tomorrow night. Why don't you come by?"

"Yeah, that might be fun," he said with an agreeable nod. "We'll do that."

"We?" Frank asked with a frown.

Before Mallet could answer, there was another knock at the open door. "What's up, Chief?" Anna asked as she entered the office.

"Li, this is A.C. Mallet, the investigator the mayor hired," Frank said with a nod toward the man, his mood again growing foul at the thought of the mayor's constant interference in police business.

Anna strode forward to shake Mallet's hand. "Anna Li," she said.

"Pleased to meet you, Detective" he replied.

"Li's leading the investigation," Frank said. "She's your contact."

"Good," Mallet said, his tone serious now that they were down to business. "I'd like to see what you have so far."

"Of course. I've got everything ready for you."

Frank gave a sharp nod. "Then why don't you two get to it," he said. "The sooner you get started, the sooner you can clear the department." He answered Anna's resultant frown with a glare. "Any questions?" he added.

"No, Chief," she said. She turned to Mallet. "Want some coffee first?"

He nodded. "I know where it is," he said. "Let's go."

Frank watched them leave his office and absently turned back to check on Francesca. He reflected that life was so simple for her. She didn't have to deal with criminals or politics or overbearing mayors. Her needs were few and uncomplicated. With a heavy sigh, he said a silent prayer that it would always remain so for her.

***

 

While Mallet got his coffee, Anna quickly grabbed the boxes with the case information she had prepared for him and brought it to the conference room. She was laying out the various folders and evidence when he joined her, sipping at the steaming Styrofoam cup.

"Is this all you have?" he asked, sarcastically.

"So far, Mr. Mallet," she said, dryly.

"Call me, Mallet, Detective," he said. He set his briefcase and coffee on the table.

"All right," she said with a nod.

"Okay, Anna, so let's see what you've got." He sat down and pulled a yellow legal pad and pen from his briefcase and set them on the table.

Anna sat down next to him and opened up the first folder. "Okay, so we think it all started here…"

***

 

Coming into the kitchen, Blake spotted Buzz standing at the prep table chopping carrots. "Hey, Buzz," Blake said and the stocky man turned around.

"Are you out of here, Blake?" he asked.

"Yep, I've got to pick up Clarissa," she said. "But first I wanted to ask if I can have tomorrow off."

Buzz thought a moment. "Yeah, that's fine. Marina already promised to help with the party. You're going to miss it?"

"Oh no," Blake said. "Not going to miss my goddaughter's birthday. I'm coming with a date."  

Buzz's eyebrows rose and he asked, "Really? Who's the lucky fella?"

"Doris Wolfe," she answered with a bright smile. Buzz's eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline.

"What about Doris Wolfe?" Frank asked as he walked into the kitchen carrying Francesca in her car seat.

"You ready for lunch, Frank?" Buzz asked, throwing his towel over his shoulder. "What can I make you?"

Frank ignored him. "What about Doris, Blake?"

Blake stared at him for a few long moments, totally nonplussed. It was one thing to announce to the world she was dating a woman, but quite another to tell her ex-boyfriend who already had two previous lovers fall for each other. She wasn't totally insensitive to his feelings, but she was not ashamed of her burgeoning relationship with Doris and he would find out eventually.

"I'm bringing Doris to Sweet Pea's party tomorrow," she finally answered. "As my date."

Frank shook his head as if he was clearing his ears. "Your what?" he asked.

Blake glanced at Buzz and noted he was silently watching them. She turned back to Frank and said, "My date, Frank."

"Your date?" Frank asked, shaking his head again. "Doris Wolfe is your date?"

"Yes, Frank," she said, starting to get exasperated with him.

"You're dating Doris Wolfe?"

"Yes, Frank," she repeated with a sigh. She knew him well enough to guess what came next.

"Are you nuts?" Frank yelled.

"Frank, calm down," Buzz said. "We've got customers out there."

"Stay out of this, Pop," he shot to his father, but Blake was glad to note he did lower his voice.

"No, Frank, I am not nuts and who I date is none of your business," Blake said.

"For God's sake, Blake, Doris Wolfe?" he blustered. "That woman is a shark, she'll eat you alive."

"Well, I certainly hope so," she flung back and out of the corner of her eye she saw Buzz put a hand over his mouth in an attempt not to laugh. "God, I never realized you were such a homophobe, Frank."

He blinked in surprise at her. "I'm not," he said. "I don't care that it's a woman, Blake, it's Doris Wolfe I can't stand."

"Well, that's just too bad," she said, pointing her finger sharply against his chest. "So you better tell me right now if we're welcome at your daughter's birthday party as a couple or not."

He stood there for a few moments, his face turning red. "No, no you're both welcome to come. Francesca is your goddaughter and Natalia wouldn't like it if I banned Doris."

"Frank…" Buzz started, but Frank once again stopped his father.

"Forget it, Pop," he said and then turned to Blake. "Look, you know what? You're right. It is none of my business. We're not together and you're free to date whoever you want." He turned to Buzz. "I'm going to take Francesca upstairs to feed her. I've lost my appetite." With that he turned and walked out of the kitchen.

Blake sighed and looked at Buzz. "I'm sorry, Buzz."

He shrugged his shoulders. "Not your fault, Blake," he said. "You're just trying to find someone to make you happy. I'm sorry that person couldn't be my son, but I've seen you and Doris together a lot and I'd say you two really have chemistry."

"You think so?" she asked, a bright smile on her face.

"Yeah, I really do," he said. "Good luck, dear."

"Thanks, Buzz," she said and glanced at her watch. "Oh gosh, really gotta run now. Poor Clarissa is waiting."

"Go already!" he said and waved her onward with a laugh.

***

 

More coffee cups and the remains of a delivery lunch littered the table. Mallet sat back and rubbed his eyes with a sigh as Anna returned the last evidence bag to a box. He finally opened his eyes and looked at her. "You've done some good work here," he said. "Too good. I hate to admit it, but you and Eleni might be right."

Anna inwardly rolled her eyes as she sealed the boxes. She knew her evidence was solid and did not need Mallet's affirmation or praise. Remembering Doris's request to keep an eye on him, she remained silent.

He continued, "But we need more if we hope to pinpoint who Edmund's inside man is. Have there been any leads on DeSilva?"

"He was last seen in El Paso, Texas," she said. "That was eight months ago and the trail has gone long cold."

"Which means he's long over the border," Mallet said. "No sign of him in Mexico?"

"Not that we've been able to determine," she said. "The drug situation in Mexico makes requests from small-town police departments their lowest priority."

He made a note on his pad. "I'll get on that immediately," he said. "I've still got a few contacts in Mexico City."

"See if they also have any leads on where Winslow moved his base of operations. My bet is DeSilva is there."

"Even if he is," Mallet said, continuing to write, "getting him extradited will take time, but if we can question him, we might be able to find out who he was working with inside the department."

"Long shot," Anna said.

Mallet nodded and stood up to walk over to the bulletin board where photos of Edmund Winslow and his henchmen were tacked. She watched as he touched the one of her father. Even from her chair across the room, the photo's penetrating dark eyes haunted her.

"He seems too young to be your father," Mallet noted and then turned to look at her with his eyebrows raised.

"That photo was taken some time ago," she said. "The latest we have was a partial taken by Homeland Security when he last entered the country legally. It shows his hair is much greyer now, but there's not much aging in the face."

"He just walked into the country?"

Anna shrugged. "Happens," she said succinctly. "Of course, he and everyone else on that board are on every watch list in the world so it will be harder for them to come and go as they please."

"You sound like you don't believe that," he pointed out.

She shrugged again. "My father is very good at what he does, Mallet," she said. "But for what it's worth, I believe he and Winslow at least are still close by. Neither of them will rest until their revenge is complete."

"What exactly do they want?" he asked. Anna recognized the bewildered expression on his face; it was the same look Frank and the other officers have when trying to understand Winslow's motivations.

"My father wants whatever Winslow wants and Winslow wants to destroy everyone he believes has ever hurt him, that includes their families."

"That's damn near everyone in town," Mallet huffed in frustration. He paused a moment. "What about you?" he finally asked. He walked away from the board and leaned his hands on the table. "You're his daughter. If the evidence didn't show Winslow has had someone in the department for long before you got here, you'd be a prime suspect for the insider."

Anna refused to show how much the insinuation rankled her. "Hung Feng Li ceased being my father a long time ago," she said. "I've spent nearly my entire adult life fighting to bring him and Edmund Winslow to justice for all the hurt they have caused. I won't relax until they're both behind bars."

Mallet nodded thoughtfully and Anna guessed he was going to remain as reserved toward her as she was toward him. "Why the children though?" he asked.

Anna breathed an inner sigh of relief that he had moved on to the next subject. "Why should they live when his own daughter is dead?" she answered. "Judging from his attacks on Sarah Randall, Emma Spencer and Ava Peralta, he seems to grab on to any opportunity to cause mayhem."

"We're lucky we didn't lose any kids in the massacre," Mallet said, shaking his head.

"Not for lack of him trying," she said bitterly. "He was targeting Francesca Rivera when Jeffrey finally managed to take him down."

Anna could see he was thinking again. "So Olivia Spencer's great-niece, both of her daughters and her girlfriend's daughter." He ticked off on his fingers. "Maybe he's focused on Olivia?" he suggested.

"Possibly, but unlikely. Olivia is not the only one who's pissed Winslow off," she said. "Again, I think those were just opportunistic. He hasn't had a shot against Jeffrey's son and that would be even greater revenge for him."

"So anyone is fair game," he said.

Anna nodded. "In fact, I'd say the only kid in town who's fairly safe is Marina Cooper's son, Henry," she said and felt a small degree of satisfaction at the hurt that briefly flashed across the man's face. She had gotten the whole story thanks to whispered water cooler gossip about how a sterile A.C. Mallet had illegally adopted a child for his wife, never suspecting the infant was the son of Shayne Lewis and Lara Pizano, Edmund Winslow's daughter, tragically killed in a senseless accident.

"Was Henry at the wedding?" he finally asked and Anna noted how his jaw muscles clenched and unclenched.

"He was safe at Company with his mom," she said, shaking her head.

Mallet thought a moment. "So why hasn't Winslow kidnapped his grandson yet?" he asked. "If only to get him out of the line of fire?"

"Good questions," she answered. "He might be planning to do just that or someone else might be a target. We just don't know."

"The shooting at the wedding just seems so random," he said. "None of the victims were his obvious prime targets although they were there."

"It was chaos," Anna said. "A lot of people got really lucky that day."

"Did the Saint of Springfield really take a shot at him?" he asked, shaking his head in wonderment. "I never would have believed it of her."

"Yes, she did," Anna answered firmly; obviously Mallet wasn't as observant as he probably thought he was if he couldn't understand a mother's motivation. "I told you, Winslow was about to shoot her daughter. I just wish she had a better aim than Jeffrey."

He chuckled ruefully. "Well, we've got a lot to do so let's get to it."

"Right," she said in agreement, eager to get back to work. "I need to run to the lab to pick up some more analyses on the older cases."

"And I'll get on the horn with my contacts," he said. "Again, Anna…great job. Let's hope all that hard work pays off and we get our man. One dirty cop makes us all look bad and I don't like it."

"Me either, Mallet," she said. "Me either."

***

 

Eleni looked around at the gaudy Christmas decorations festooning the wide spaces of the Springfield Mall.

"It's not even Thanksgiving yet," she remarked to Frank who was pushing his daughter's stroller as they walked. "Didn't they used to wait until after the holiday before decorating?"

Frank gave her an absentminded shrug as he looked around the busy crowds for their destination. "They're doing it earlier and earlier each year. By the time Francesca's in school they will probably be decorating before Memorial Day."

Eleni shook her head at the blatant consumerism, once again wondering at the privileged habits of her adopted people, even in hard times such as these.

"There's the store," Frank said and pointed Francesca's stroller toward the baby clothing store.

Eleni followed him as he headed down the aisles making a beeline for the toddler dresses. After shuffling through a dozen selections he threw his hands up in frustration.

"These look all the same," he exclaimed.

Eleni rolled her eyes at him in amusement. "They are not," she said. She pulled two pretty outfits from the rack and held them up. "Which do you like better?" One was a light blue and the other a darker cerulean.

Frank looked back and forth between the two and shrugged. "They're both cute," he answered. "Like I said, all the same."

Eleni was looking between the both of them when she was rudely shoved from behind. With a retort on her lips, she turned to find herself staring into the surprised eyes of her daughter.

As they looked at each other, Shayne Lewis turned the corner of the aisle carrying Henry in his arms.

"Grampa!" the little boy cried and squirmed to get down. Shayne set the boy on his feet and he toddled over to Frank who scooped him up.

"Hey, big guy," Frank said as Henry gave him a wet kiss on the cheek and hugged his neck until Frank's eyes nearly bugged out.

"What are you doing here?" Marina asked as she continued to glare at her mother.

"Shopping for your sister's birthday," Frank said. "Then we're going to grab something for dinner. You guys want to join us?"

Eleni glanced at him to see if he really was that heedless to the hostility pouring off of their daughter.

Marina shook her head. "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed. "Are you two dating?"

Eleni closed her eyes and sighed inwardly, not wishing to let Marina know how much the vitriol in her voice hurt.

"Well…" Frank started and Eleni noted the slight blush on his face. "Yeah, I guess we are."

Eleni turned back to Marina just in time to see the woman's face clenched in shock.

"You have got to be kidding me," Marina screeched and Eleni saw Shayne wince at the volume.

"Hey, honey, come on," he began.

"Marina, what…" Frank started but was cut off.

"Are you crazy, Dad?" Marina cried. "What is it with you and women, for God's sake?"

"Hey!" Frank blurted out, his face turning red.

"God, first that whore Olivia and then superwuss Natalia and crazy Blake," Marina sneered. "Now you're back full circle with this mail-order bride reject?"

"Marina!" Shayne proclaimed his face taut with embarrassment. "That's your mother!"

"That's enough, Marina!" Eleni finally said, ignoring the onlookers, but was dismayed to note that Henry had his face buried in his grandfather's neck as if trying to hide and Francesca had a look on her face as if she were about to cry.

"What?" Marina said turning to Shayne, the look of scorn on her face shining darkly in the store. "Just because she gave birth to me doesn't mean anything. You can't choose your parents."

"And what kind of example are you setting for your son, Marina?" Eleni said, jerking her head toward the boy quivering in Frank's arms. "You're teaching him it's all right to disrespect your mother. What are you going to do when he can't forgive you for your actions and mistakes?"

"I'm not going to make any!" Marina proclaimed with the righteousness of the blind fool. "I remember all too well what it's like to grow up without a mother and I'm not going to be like you. I'm going to love him and be there for him all his life."

"Be careful of what you say, daughter," Eleni said darkly. "Don't make any promises you can't keep."

"Oh, is that supposed to be some kind of warning, Mother?" Marina asked, the venom on the last word causing Eleni to grimace. "Because I assure you, I learned my lesson well from you. I will not abandon my child."

"Marina, that's enough," Frank said, handing the now-crying Henry back to his father. "If you can't stop this nonsense and apologize to your mother, then just go home. Don't bother coming tomorrow night."

"But I promised to help," she started, but Frank cut her off with a raised hand.

"Forget it," he said. "We'll manage okay."

"Fine!" Marina huffed and turned on her heel to clack loudly out of the store

Shayne simply shrugged and shook his head in apology to them both. "I'll drop off Francesca's gift in the morning, Frank," he said.

"Thanks, Shayne," he said.

"See you later, Eleni," Shayne said and leaned over to kiss her cheek.

"Thank you, Shayne," she said and caressed her grandson's cheek.

After the two left, she put her hands over her face, finally unable to stop the tears. Frank held her until her tears stopped and then they continued with their shopping as if nothing had happened.

***