Hello everyone, I’m going to start writing these “Monthly Round-ups” to let you know where I’m at on my projects/story schedule, share posts you might have missed, random musings, plans for the future, and stories I’m reading. I figured this would be a good way to keep you informed and engaged and allow me a place to share my thoughts, ideas, inspirations, and musings. I’ll be writing these updates on my Simterra Tales blog to share links to my worldbuilding lore additionally. Thanks.
Hi everyone, it’s been a hot minute since I posted here. I’m still working on setting up my TS3 game for the next story in Kass’ series. In the meantime, I have some fun questions given to me by members of my Freezer Bunnies Reading Circle over on the forums. I was going to answer everything over on the forums, but then it got a bit carried away so I’m sharing here for all my readers. I sent my TS3 Simself to be the snoopy reporter and ask questions of this delightful cast.
Disclaimer: The answers are given based on where said reading circle is at in KCLKF (up through Arc 12 or chapter 1.33). Really mild spoilers if you haven’t read that far. Oh and a bit of breaking-the-fourth-wall humor. Shout-out to all my reading circle peeps (you’re all mentioned below somewhere). Minor edit… apologies to Duvelina for not crediting her correctly.
It’s a beautiful morning in Sunset Valley, Valverde. The world appears to be peaceful as it is just after the morning rush hour. You can hear the low roar of ocean waves crashing against the soft sandy beaches and sweet sounds of swallows as they gather their families for the juicy gossip on the telephone wires. No, not our gossip. Theirs. You know – like did you hear that Chirpy McChatterbox was heard making amorous ticking sounds toward Hooty Howlin’ near the movie theater last weekend? 😉
While there are some clouds in sight, the skies are bright and beautiful. Nothing can beat that tranquil blue! I pause for a moment to drink in the sites, trying to ignore the Altos hideous Pepto-Bismol pink house on the hill. Tossing my empty paper cup into the trash, I pop a mint to avoid coffee breath and head toward Central Park in downtown.
I caught up with the star of The
Krazy Crazy Life of Kassiopeia Fullbright. We met on a park bench near the pond. I have to say it is a unique experience chatting with a character I’ve created.
Lizzie: Hey Kass. Thanks for making time for this.
Kass: Sure. It’s an honor to chat with you, Lizzie.
Lizzie: No, the honor is mine. You’ve really brought my vision to life, and you’ve had some excellent input of your own . You’ve really taken charge of your life.
Kass: (smiles shyly) Wow… really? Um… that’s great to… hear. I haven’t been too sure… about a lotta things lately.
Lizzie: Well, let’s dive right in. Hope you don’t mind the cameras.
Kass: Not at all. I’m kinda used to them by now.
Lizzie: Really? They’re kinda weird for me. (clears throat) Okay… so first question is from ajmkv, writer and host of the popular competitive reality TV show, Kev & Get It.
Kass: Wow! He is a KCLKF fan? Love that show. Ayesh and I watch it almost as religiously as Specific Hospital.
Lizzie: (smirks) I know. I can’t get enough of the juicy juicy drama.
Kass: (tilts head) Really? You strike me as more of a thriller and suspense kind-of gal.
Lizzie: (grins sheepishly) Guilty pleasure. Actually… if I’m being honest… a pleasure, pleasure. Not guilty at all. I also like a good fantasy. You should check out Tales from Camelot. Fantasy mixed with some excellent suspense.
Kass: (pulls out her phone) Bookmarking it now.
Lizzie: Alright… the questions – ajmkv says, “A lot happened to you in these (most recent) Arcs. Lots of emotion, both negative and positive. Trying to stay positive, what is it that you’re most looking forward to in the next few days?”
Her expression brightens. She looks relieved by the question. Her face lights up with a smile and a flush creeps into her cheeks.
Kass: I… I’m really happy with my new boyfriend. His name is Davis, as you know. I couldn’t have gotten through what I did recently without him.
Lizzie: He did seem to help out a lot, especially during that harrowing night at your house.
Kass: Yeah… that mess… (laughs awkwardly) I’m just hoping for some down-time… baseball-free… with Davis.
Lizzie: Next question is from MercuryFoam of the exciting supernatural thriller, Between 2 Worlds.
Kass: (places hand on her stomach and gasps) Cool! I had no idea so many writers were into my story. And Between 2 Worlds is awesome!
Lizzie: (smiles) I know how much you like crime stories.
Kass: Are you kidding? I have a huge collection back at the house. I don’t have enough bookcases.
Lizzie: Tell me about it. I think I need a whole room devoted to my behemoth library.
We both laugh lightly, completely at ease with one another. I couldn’t imagine a better person to carry out this story near and dear to my heart.
Lizzie: Actually whoops! Didn’t read my notes correctly. Sorry about that. Duvelina asks, “Do you know what you want to study in college already?”
Kass: (cracks her knuckles) Heh… you’d think I would’ve made up my mind by now, right? I’m a down-to-the-wire kinda girl, you know.
Lizzie: Yes, I do. (points to self) Fatal flaw.
Kass: Yeah. I thought about business like Nonno. Though flipping houses isn’t exactly what I’m thinking. Maybe something like business… law? I don’t know. (bites lower lip) Is that too ambitious?
Lizzie: Not at all. If you put your mind to it.
Kass: Thanks. I also thought about communications like you, or writing. I think I did pretty good at writing for the school paper. And I guess I could always teach.
Lizzie: Duvelina also asks… wow! I really didn’t read that right. Must not have had enough coffee this morning. Not a morning person.
Kass: Go by the Jolt later. Granny Jade will fix you up.
Lizzie: Thanks. Okay. Duvelina’s question – “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? How do you feel about moving away from Sunset Valley for college?”
Kass: (smiles and scrunches her nose) Yeah, everyone’s kinda asking me that now days. Standard adult question I guess.
Lizzie: Something like that.
Kass: I can definitely answer that last one. I am excited, but also nervous. I’ve wanted to go to Edgewater for the last four years of my life. Nonno is an alumnus and so is Davis. (flushes again) A lot of important people have graduated from there, and the town is home to my favorite Sim National football team.
Lizzie: (pumps fist in the air) Go Saints!
Kass: I’m a little worried I’ll miss my friends… and my sisters… (expression sobers) Especially my sisters. I know how much they… uh… need me. But um… (rubs head) Five to ten years. That’s a long way out. I don’t know what I’m gonna have for dinner tomorrow night or where I might be crashing on the weekend. A lot’s going on around here. I don’t know if I can… answer that. I mean, did you know what you wanted when you were my age?
Lizzie: (stops and thinks for a minute) I had ideas… I planned on studying communications. I bounced around for a bit in college and came back to communications. No. I guess I didn’t know where I saw myself in five to ten years after college. Sure didn’t expect to be where I am now, but I’m blessed.
Lizzie: I can give you some advice. Don’t be afraid to experiment. To try new things and different things. Find a mentor. Someone who can help you talk through what you want, your interests, the future. Don’t worry too much about the people you leave behind. This is your time. Enjoy your uni years. They go by quick. Sometimes it takes awhile to know what you want. You’ll figure it out, Kass. I believe in you.
Kass: Thank you.
Lizzie: I couldn’t ask for a better leading lady.
Kass: (puts hand to heart) I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
Next I headed to Papyrus Memorial Library. Andi was there, studying. She pulled out her earbuds when I arrived.
Lizzie: What are you listening to?
Andi: Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of Flowers from The Nutcracker. (smiles) It helps me concentrate. It’s early, but I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures.
Lizzie: Hey, no judging here. Today’s pretty nice though.
Andi: Really? (looks out the window) I’ve been cooped up in here for awhile. I saved up simos to get a laptop, but our internet at home is snail’s pace so I came here.
Lizzie: You can’t be studying, can you? School’s out.
Andi: Summer school. I’m taking Calc I and II just to get them over with.
Lizzie: (clicks her tongue) Ah. Math!
Andi: It’s not so bad. It’s actually kinda fun.
Lizzie: (laughs) Says you… that’s cool you saved up for a laptop.
Andi: Yeah, the next thing I want to do is save up to visit Liz Ridley’s restaurant in Brindleton Bay. That’ll be a good chunk of moula.
Lizzie: Oh, she and I share the same name. And yes, I’ve heard her food is to die for! Okay, hey, the reason I’m here is your fans have asked some questions.
Andi: You mean someone likes my music?
Lizzie: Sort of. It’s from ajmkv: “What’s it like to be so wise? Tell me your secrets, queen!”
Andi: (throws hands in the air) Uh…. what? I’m not… wise… (blushes deeply) not like… wait… really? Someone said that about me?
Lizzie: (smiles and nods)
Andi: (gasps and gulps) Uh my secrets? I dunno… I’m just me…
Andi: (stands up abruptly and looks at her naked wrist) Uh… (forces a laugh) Would you look at the time? I just remembered I have brunch plans.
Lizzie: What about the question?
Andi: I don’t even know how to answer that. (quickly gathers her personal items and makes an exit)
Next I managed to catch Ayesha walking out of Sharma Day Spa.
Lizzie: Hey girl!
Ayesha: (turns and grins) Hey Liz, what’s up?
Lizzie: Oh not too much. Staying busy. Working a lot. Trying to keep up with the fans.
Ayesha: Sounds rough. What can I do you for?
Lizzie: Ajmkv would like to know: “WHERE ARE YOU, GIRL? I miss you!” (arches her brows) Ooo… I hope I did that right. I think I was practically screaming.
Ayesha: (smiles and scrunches her face) Aww I miss you too… wait… who are you?
Lizzie: Ajmkv. He’s one of your fans.
Ayesha: Right… (strikes a pose) oh I’ve got so many fans. It’s hard to keep track. And where have I been? (runs hand through her hair) I just got a lip piercing. What do ya think?
Ayesha: So did I like forget to give him my digits or something?
Lizzie: I think he means since Kass is busy with Davis and family drama, and then the break-in that happened the other night.
Ayesha: Oh my gawd! What break-in? I gotta go call Kass. Seriously, you holding out on me, Liz?
Lizzie: (winces) Not intentionally.
Ayesha: Oh and if you see my Mama… you never saw (points at her mouth) This! Or my… uh… (looks down) crop top… or ripped jeans… actually… (lifts finger) better say you didn’t see me.
Lizzie: (pretends to zip lips) Your secret is safe with me. And it looks fab!
Ayesha: (runs away and waves) Thanks, girl! Oh and feel free to give ajmkv my digits. He can call anytime.
Since it was lunchtime, I headed across the street to load up on the greasy goodness of Hogan’s Deep-Fried Diner. Two words. Mozzarella balls. Take it from me. Try the Ranch. Not the marinara.
As I approach Gage, I recognize the two ladies he’s talking to as Molly French and River McIrish. The teen is carrying sweet baby Sandi.
Gage: Yes, and I just got accepted to Northwestern in Windy City.
Lizzie: (pumps fist in the air and jumps up and down) Whoo! Whoo! Go Wiley Wildcats!
Gage: (arches a brow) Uh yeah! Wildcats!
Lizzie: Sorry I’m in a school spirit mood today.
Molly: And you are?
Gage: This is Lizzie. We go way back. She gave me a chance in The
Krazy Crazy Life…
Lizzie: Yeah, Gage was the first character to crash my story. And I let him.
Molly and River laugh awkwardly. They say goodbye. Now’s my chance to ask Gage some questions.
Lizzie: Ah, bless you. Someone is thinking of you. Which is perfect… I have questions for you from fans.
Lizzie: First up from MercuryFoam – “You were determined to get to know your roots better, but when you confessed to Kass, you told her you were alright with staying put and not pursuing your studies in… was it Riverview?”
Gage: (interrupts) No, Windy City! How could you forget? I’ve only wanted to go to Northwestern my whole life!
Lizzie: Uh… I’m not finished. (continues reading) “Anyway, what made you suddenly realise your feelings for Kass and I must say it’s surprisingly strong if you could make that comment. So I’d like if you could explain that part too.”
Gage: (blushes) Oh yeah, well, I’ve known Kass for a really long time. She was my first friend in Sunset Valley, and the only kid who was kind to me at church and school. Kid… haha. We’re adults now.
Gage: (lifts hand) I think it was when we went to homecoming together last October. I don’t know. I’d never looked at her that way before, but she was beautiful. And well… (scratches back of head) I think I’ve always cared about her. I just didn’t really realize it until I knew we were both gonna be apart. I do want to meet my family and stuff, but I’d like to have some nice memories with Kass before she leaves and I leave. You know… and I think, we could be really good together. And sometimes people can make long distance work, right?
Lizzie: Next question from ajmkv – “What do you think of Madison? Or you at all interested in her? Or could you be if Kass said no to your advances?”
Gage: (waves arms) Wait… Kass said no?
Lizzie: I didn’t say that. Uh… she hasn’t answered you yet.
Gage: Why would she say no?
Lizzie: Gage, did you miss the question?
Gage: She isn’t going to say no is she?
Lizzie: (sighs and puts hands toward her chest) Gage, focus. The question. Madison???
Unfortunately, Gage wandered off muttering under his breath about calling Kass. Uh oh! I may have lit a fuse too early. It didn’t matter. After that deep-fried lunch, I was in the mood to work off some calories. I headed to 28-Hour Wellness Gym and ran into none other than Davis. He shyly told me he didn’t feel comfortable swimming in the Riviera’s pool so he worked out here at the public gym.
Davis: Hi Lizzie. It’s good to see you.
Kass: Yeah, good to see you too. I have a question for you from ajmkv.
Davis: Is that one of the guys who hangs out in the coffee shop?
Kass: A virtual reading circle actually.
Davis: Okay. Shoot.
Kass: Ajmkv asks – “What about Kass do you like the most so far? We’ve all noticed you staring at her in her swimsuit, at her luscious red hair, and her pretty face, but what would you pick as her best attribute?”
Davis: Oh a gentleman never kisses and tells.
Lizzie: This isn’t about kissing. (suddenly a little flustered***) Who said anything about kissing?
Davis: I think it’s a bit personal, but I’ll say this… Kass is more than her beauty. She’s a kind and intelligent woman who goes above and beyond for the people she cares about. I really like and admire her for that. And she’s close with her family. It’s really beautiful to watch. I’m not sure about her mom though. She’s… it’s not my place to judge actually.
Lizzie: So her best… attribute? (wondering if it’s hot in here all the sudden – all that pool humidity)
Davis: Definitely the way she takes care of others.
I made a quick exit, suddenly feeling weird about shapes randomly appearing above my head. What next? Thought bubbles!
Before heading to the Fullbright-Riviera home, I had one more spot in downtown – Community School for the Gifted. Maybe I could take take a cool dip in the school pool. But before that, I poked my head into the janitor’s closet. Just to take a quick look around.
Lizzie: Ah ha! Found you!
Clark: (startled, drops hands in lap) Don’t sneak up on a person like that, Liz.
Lizzie: Sorry. Uh hey… ajmkv would like to know – “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU SNEAKY SAUSAGE?” (rubs throat) Oh, that’s hard on the voicebox. Do you have any water?
Clark: (looks confused) Sneaky? Sau-sage? (crosses arms and spins around on his stool) No, I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.
I head over to the Fullbright-Riviera residence. Carina is just getting home from her afternoon shift at the movies. She picked up a second summer job at Wilsonoff Community Theater, saving money for some concert tickets that she and her bestie want to attend. She motions to the adjacent lounge chair. As I sit down, I notice Cari was kind enough to bring us snacks.
Cari: Andi said you were in town.
Lizzie: Thanks for the soda.
Cari: What? No popcorn!
Lizzie: No… yuck! No offense. But I hate butter popcorn.
Cari: (sighs) You and Kass both.
Lizzie: Carina, will you get off the phone so I can ask you a question?
Cari: And you’re not gonna believe it, Lisa! We had an INTRUDER! Twice. I thought I would lose my mind, but Kass like tore off after the guy like a mamma bear protecting cubs. I thought she’d break her ankle running down that hill. Oh and Kass’ new guy is really cool. He stayed and made sure we were all okay.
Cari: Wait, omg! I didn’t tell you. Yeah, Kass is dating this dish. He’s super hot and…
Lizzie: (clears throat) CARINA!
Cari: (turns around and glares) Oh, gotta go Lisa. Somebody’s in need of something… I know… again.
Lizzie: (shakes head)
Cari: What is it? Make it snappy. I’m in demand.
Lizzie: Do you mind answering a question from a reader?
Cari: Make it quick. I got things to do. Namely like have you heard the dish on the Villareals lately? It may be a work of fiction, but I don’t care. This is juicy stuff. I, for one, want to know if Hugo is ever going to find out what’s going on with Nelson.
Lizzie: (giggles) I wonder that too, but Cari, focus, girl. Okay… ajmkv would like to know… “Are you upset that you’ve had to take a caretaking role in your household? Buying the groceries and things like that, I mean. Do you wish Kass and/or Andi should help out a little bit more or do you not mind doing these things?”
Cari: (rolls eyes) Like for reals? I am invaluable around here and I put in soooooo much effort and do I ever get thanked for it? Like no… like never!
Lizzie: Cari that wasn’t the question.
Cari: I know, right? So I wish my sisters wouldn’t be so obsessed with their boy toys, but whachagonnado? They’re at that age. (looks at her nails)
Lizzie: (beneath her breath) You’re at that age!
Cari: I guess I have to live vicariously through my magazines. Hugo. He’s got a lot of loving, but man, is he nice to look at!
Lizzie: (looks away thinking about her “weird” connection earlier) Uh….
Cari: Okay, I’ll say this. (straightens in seat) Kass isn’t half bad and she does do stuff… sometimes. (glares) But don’t tell her I said that!
The day and my questions are drawing to a close. Cari told me that her mamma was most likely sleeping all day again, even though it was nearly four in the afternoon. I hesitated when I heard sniffling.
Amy: (muffled) What? Who is it? Go away?
Lizzie: Amy, it’s me. Lizzie. I have some questions from readers for you.
Amy: (gasps) Readers? Is that like some cult thing? Palm readers? Mind readers? Not interested.
Lizzie: No… not a cult. A club. Or a circle. That is… uh readers… like people who read stories, you know?
Amy: Not now, Lizzie. I’m not decent. Um… and why are they reading about me?
Lizzie: Are you willing to answer their questions?
Amy: Like what?
Lizzie: Let’s start with something light and fun. Mercuryfoam asks: “Sorry for super personal and intrusive question, but am I right to assume Clark the first man you’ve been with since Howard?”
Amy: (straightens immediately) That is very personal. Yes. He’s the first man I’ve dated since my ex.
Lizzie: Okay, continuing… “Why do you find him attractive? (Besides his accent and guitar playing ofc).”
Amy: What accent? (sighs and rubs her face) I’m getting a headache. Can you hurry this up?
Lizzie: But you didn’t answer the question.
Amy: I don’t know why this is important. I’m tired. I need to get some things done today. Okay uh… (shakes head) Clark takes good care of me. And my girls. They don’t see that yet, but he does and he will. He’s a good man. They just need to give him a chance.
Lizzie: Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but that’s better than nothing. Okay, next question. ajmkv asks: “What was running through your mind after THAT confrontation with Andi? Was it like your body took over?”
Amy: (softly starts crying)
Lizzie: (sighs and silently leans into the wall) Amy, are you okay?
Amy: (snaps) I don’t have to justify myself to you! Or to anyone! Oh! (covers her face)
Lizzie: Amy, will you let me in?
After what feels like eternity, Amy opens the door and lets me walk into the bedroom. She explains that it’s very plain right now because she’s redecorating. A minimalist. I guess I hit the set later on in the story. I don’t really pay any attention to the surroundings. I’m more concerned about the woman who is obviously in pain.
Amy: I’m so ashamed. I hit my own daughter. Now they all hate me and they’ll probably never come back. Oh what have I done?
Lizzie: Hey now… it’s okay. Cari is actually out on the porch.
Amy: She is? Oh… don’t let her see me. I’m a terrible mother.
Lizzie: (sighs) I’m not a mother unless you count four cats.
Amy: (peeks out from behind her hand) You have four cats?
Lizzie: (half-smiles and sits on the bed) Yeah, but the point is, I’m not a mother so I don’t fully understand the pressure you’re under, but I know it’s a lot. And I think you’re trying and maybe someone like Clark is…try-ing… to help ease the burden, hmm?
Amy: Yeah, he is pretty helpful. The girls don’t know it yet, but he’s really good with kids. Kind. Patient. A good provider. I… miss… that around here. I feel like I’ve slowly lost myself over the years and he’s helping me come back. And now I just lost it last night when someone violated our home, and I was scared. I wasn’t thinking.
Lizzie: You were concerned and scared last night. I get it.
Amy: (buries her face in her hands) That’s no excuse for violence. My mamma never hit me.
Lizzie: I’m sure the girls will forgive you.
Amy: (whispers) I hope so.
Lizzie: It’s gonna be okay, Amy. You’ll work things out with them in time.
Amy: Isn’t that a spoiler?
Lizzie: (smirks and looks at her shoes) Yeah, maybe it is. I don’t care. I think it’s okay to give the readers some hope.
Amy: (hugs herself) Yeah, alright. Hey, you wanna stay for dinner?
Lizzie: What’s for dinner?
Lizzie: (laughs) Sure, I’ve heard all about Amy’s famous burnt waffles.
Author Notes: That’s all for now, folks! Thanks for reading. Feel free to send more questions if you like. What other things would you like to see? Would you like to see more interviews? More of my TS3 Simselfie running around? A sneak peek at my character and townie makeovers? Shorts in the KCLKF world? I’m enjoying messing around in my game.
Saturday, July 28, 2415 | Bay City, Valverde
Mortimer Goth was a patient man, by nature, but not a forgiving one. He didn’t abide by people failing to keep their word and arriving at the appointed time. He could wait for his intel but he couldn’t wait for an incompetent employee. Lateness implied a sort of impertinence that was not befitting of a person employed by the Goth family. There would be consequences.
His fingers rapped the thick glass of brandy, but he didn’t take a sip. It was too early for a celebratory drink. He was more of a bourbon man, but his daughter, Cassandra had purchased the bottle as a gift. He wasn’t going to deny the sweet girl her moment. He never understood why people enjoyed giving other people things. Gift giving was a dirty business, one he preferred to stay out of and let his personal secretaries handle.
Tonight had been tedious. Another onerous dinner of dry chicken and even drier conversation with some out-of-towners who wanted to contribute to the family foundation. Mortimer kept up the pretenses with politely worded questions and pleasant smiles. He had been in the business long enough to know when to grease the wheels and when to chew the fat.
However, he had more pressing matters to attend to so he excused himself from dinner and retreated to his study, allowing his personal assistant her moment to shine. The woman had served the family for over two decades and she knew all the tricks in the book. Just the right words to make people do and say exactly what he wanted. He had trained her well. It helped that she was half in love with him. At one point, he had convinced himself he might have loved her too.
Mortimer’s expression darkened, partially obscured by the shadows cast by the flickering light. The night was probably too hot for a fire, but he enjoyed the crackling sound of the logs. It soothed his rattled nerves, not as nicely as Nina Caliente’s long red fingernails unbuttoning his shirt and tracing her fingers down his chest, but it would have to do. Love made a man weak.
Over his lifetime, he had his fair share of women, but he wasn’t a pig. He could keep his appetite in check. He could count on two hands, less than ten fingers, exactly the number of women he had been with. He treated them well, indulged their desires, and showered them with gifts. The very gifts he despised giving, but it was all part of the game. Lust was probably a younger man’s game, and Mortimer could admit it. Sometimes he wondered if the Caliente girl had him wrapped around her finger or if he really had her under his thumb.
He shrugged, and slugged back his evening beverage. Did it really matter who was screwing whom? As long as he got what he wanted… what were a few thousand simoleons dropped on presents every few months? And Mortimer was a man who always got what he wanted. Except punctual staff.
As if on cue, the bumbling employee tapped on the glass. A few seconds later, he hoisted himself through the window. If Mortimer were a decade or two younger, he might have been able to climb the violet trellis outside and sneak into the manor himself. His employee grinned, his bluish-tinted locks wild, his glasses fogging at the sudden change in temperature, his clothes dripping wet from the summer rains. Mortimer grimaced, hoping the jerk wasn’t ruining his Monte Vistan hardwood floors.
He was half-surprised the man didn’t knock on the front door. Mortimer had gone to great lengths to secure a suitable cover. But perhaps it was better this way. Cassandra had nearly recognized the guy from his other work, and Alexander had asked his father more recently if he was on the payroll. His children didn’t need to trifle in affairs they knew nothing about. Mortimer sighed, pouring himself another glass of the choice alcohol as he listened to the man’s repentant nonsense. He held up his hand.
“What do you have for me?”
Ever since his wife had shown her face in the Valley, Mortimer had been a man obsessed. She was supposed to be dead. Why now after all this time had she chosen to resurface? He toyed idly with his wedding band, perfect for playing the part of the bereaved widower. Everyone adored Bella. The public genuinely mourned her loss. And Mortimer did too, but for other reasons. Reasons he had never disclosed to anyone.
At first it was one appearance. A coffee shop on the southeast side of town. Rumors of sightings elsewhere had cropped up for years. Like the proverbial Elvis legend that just wouldn’t die. But not in his town. Not on his turf. Then another appearance at the Landgrabb Sell’n’Swap. She was with a guy. The same guy who had helped her evade capture before. Mortimer was a reasonable man. He didn’t want to hurt his wife. Despite her unfaithful nature. He wanted to protect her. He wanted to save her. She didn’t understand, even after all these years. Finally a third appearance at the Big Box Superstore. He wasn’t a fool. She was back. Bella was back. But why?
Mortimer reached out to the one man who could get him the answers he wanted. The man who had spent his life chasing story after story about Bella’s initial disappearance. A man who had been discredited into the point of oblivion. A man who had an obsessive nature like his own, but who failed to keep it in check. It was his Achilles heel. And Mortimer was a master at exploiting a man’s Achilles heel, especially when that heel was his wife.
He learned she was interested in a girl. At first, she seemed like a nobody. Daughter of mediocre lower middle class parents. Member of surprisingly wealthy and politically connected Riviera family, who were, nonetheless, harmless little fish in the much bigger pond. He even agreed with most of their politics. The more intriguing bit was that she was the future stepdaughter of an undercover cop, investigating the Masons and Triple C’s, and she stepped into the middle of a mafia war without even really trying.
It was cute really. Her insistence on figuring out the pieces of a very big and very deadly puzzle. She had stormed his brother’s humble abode in search of answers. Mortimer even threw her a bone. The Altos had always annoyed him and needed to be taken out of play, and the Landgrabbs… well, they could be knocked down a peg or two. It was good for business.
“And that’s everything, boss,” the other man was saying. “She’s headed out of town tonight and I don’t think she’ll be back.”
“Right,” Mortimer said, the ice cubes clinking against the side of his glass as he stood. “Thank you for your time. There’s an envelope on the table over there,” he turned to face the bookcases. “Goodbye.”
“Wait…” the man exclaimed. “You’re firing me?”
“I’m paying you,” Mortimer sighed. “And I don’t need your services anymore.”
“So you’re firing me?” the man said in disbelief, but he, nonetheless, picked up the envelope. “This is three times my usual fee.”
“You were helpful,” Mortimer flicked an imaginary piece of dust from his red dinner jacket. “I pay my men well when they get the job done.”
“But the job’s not done, boss,” the man protested. “There’s still so much more we need to find. I could follow her. I know you want to find your wife and this girl might be the thing that brings her back to society. It’s drawn her out already three times. I don’t think she will stop just because the girl left the Valley. We still don’t have all the answers. If I could just have some more time.”
The man was too invested. He was in too deep. He cared too much. Mortimer knew it didn’t matter what he said. The man would still keep tabs on the girl in hopes of cracking the greatest and most infamous disappearance of all time. Mortimer quirked a brow. If the gentleman wanted to further ruin his career and reputation, who was he to stop him? Perhaps he would even prove useful… just not on the Goth family dime.
“I have everything I need,” Mortimer said. “That will be all,” he motioned toward the window as if shooing a pesky moth and not a full grown man and a washed-up reporter. “Goodbye, Mr. Shore.”
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. I wanted to drop some very real clues about the Bella mystery. I wasn’t ready to just let go of KCLKF without adding one final chapter with Mortimer and a certain someone who shows up later in previous iterations of Kass’s continued story. Perhaps you can guess where the story’s headed if you’ve read it before, or perhaps not. There’s a whole lot more mystery coming your way in the future. Hope you enjoyed. It’ll probably be a few weeks before I’ll be ready to continue so I’m leaving you with this cliffhanger. 😛
Saturday, July 28, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
It was the longest week of her life. Kass pulled her legs to her chest as she soaked in her parental’s bathtub. The water had long since become tepid, but she didn’t mind. She needed a moment’s peace. The spare bathroom was her haven, safe from intrusion.
Her family and friends were naturally concerned, but she couldn’t take the smothering any longer. They constantly asked how she was doing, how she felt, what she wanted to do. How in Hades was she supposed to know? And even if she did, did she really want to tell them? To draw them into her constant nightmare parade? And worst of all… she was supernatural? It was all too surreal. As Dr. Bachelor had stated, she was not the biological child of Howard and Amy. She couldn’t be. Neither had otherworldly genes… and it was hereditary.
Kass flexed her fingers beneath the water and wondered if she would ever think about normal things again like what color to paint her toenails. She couldn’t sleep without seeing his face, without feeling the flames licking at her neck, her arms, her back. She glared at the purplish bruises, naked and exposed, and wished she could will the ugly reminders away. Huffing, she pulled the drain plug and stepped from the tub. The week had been strange and she felt herself reliving the moments, an unwilling hostage of her own thoughts and memories.
Monday, July 23, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
“We need to talk.”
Kass stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her face bore some cuts and bruises – her left eyebrow, her right cheekbone, and the lower edge of her chin. She tried not to cry over the ugly reminders of her awful ordeal. Dr. Bachelor was seated on the edge of her hospital bed, head resting against her palm, elbow resting on her thigh. Her tone was serious and she appeared to be pondering what to say.
“How long…” Kass grimaced. “…will I have these?” she winced as she touched the cut on her face.
“Oh,” Dr. Bachelor said. “I brought you some tinted antibiotic cream to help with the healing and to cover it up.”
“Thank you,” Kass forced a smile.
This was her new face. Her new hair. Her new reality. She had a feeling long after the outer scars faded she would still have the internal ones.
“Kass, what happened to you and how you escaped was nothing short of a miracle,” Dr. Bachelor began. “I’m a woman of science, but I believe there are things in this world beyond explanation. And I’m going to level with you. You should be dead.”
“I…” Kass dropped her hands to her side. “I.. know.” She somehow did. Her escape defied logic and reason. “Divine intervention?” she shrugged, thinking of her idea to form a cross.
“No,” Dr. Bachelor shook her head. “I think it’s something more. You inhaled smoke for over forty minutes and didn’t pass out. Furthermore, your lungs are clear. They aren’t damaged like someone who would’ve inhaled the amount of smoke you did.”
“I… got… lucky…” Kass stammered.
“Your throat has minor burning sensation, but it also is mostly clear. Your skin cuts and bruises are mostly superficial,” Dr. Bachelor continued. “You forced open two hundred pound doors and you’re only one hundred and twenty five, and while you’re in relatively good shape… Your muscles are strained, but not torn. And to top it all off, you leapt ten feet…. ten feet… through the air over burning flames,” Dr. Bachelor listed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“I… was hit…” Kass rubbed the back of her head. “Twice… and I’ve got a concussion. I’m not Superman!” she chuckled weakly.
“No, but I think you’re super…natural,” Dr. Bachelor replied. “There’s no good way to say this…” she sighed. “You did things that aren’t humanly possible. One or two of these things alone could slide on the miracle front, but all of them?”
“What are you saying?” Kass frowned.
“I’ve only ever seen this kind of thing… once…” Dr. Bachelor trailed off. “…I think we need to conclude that Howard Fullbright and Amy Riviera are not your real parents.”
Her voice was hoarse. The words felt strange. Kass stared at her hands, trying to ignore the scabs on her fingers. She tried to ignore the soul crushing burden of learning her parents weren’t really her parents. Somehow hearing Howard’s voice made things all better.
“Kass… I just heard. Are you okay? I’m on my way to the hospital now.”
“Yeah… I’m… okay…” she sighed. “I’m alive.”
“My gawd! Kass… I… what do you need? Anything. Anything at all. I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
A tear splashed her cheek. Another hit her hand. How could she even ask anything of him? Did he know? One of them had to know. Her mamma had to know. Who were her real parents? Was she abandoned? Adopted? How did it happen? How could they keep something like this from her? She had a million questions and not enough answers, but her father… the man who had helped raise her… was waiting for one from her.
“Daddy?” she said, her voice cracking. “Do you still want to take that road trip?”
Tuesday, July 24, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
Two am rolled around again and she had yet to see any sleep. Kass grunted in frustration, whacking the bed with her fists. Her mattress had done nothing to incite her rage, but it was a convenient target. She wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. Instead, she huffed and rolled out onto the floor, deliberately and with force.
Great! she despaired. She probably created even more bruises with her intentional fall, and she hoped she hadn’t alerted anyone she was still awake. For the past week, she had slept little at night. The daytime offered more relief.
Hearing voices she approached the window. Her mamma and her mother’s boyfriend sat on the porch steps. Clark rubbed Amy’s shoulders, and tried to reassure her that everything would be okay. Kass sighed. He seemed like a good guy. Misguided, but good. He meant well.
Clark had been horrified when he learned of the ring. He begged Kass’ forgiveness and stated that he had no idea of its history. He never would have given her the ring if he had known. Never. He had no idea he was endangering Kass’s life.
Clark was actually a highly decorated undercover state police officer who had been sent to conduct his own investigation of the Alto family. Pretending to be a recent immigrant from Albergia, he gained access to the janitorial staff at the high school where Jazzilyn had rented a second, secret office. Once he convinced her to hire him as a bodyguard, Clark gained access to her inner circle. From there, he obtained evidence of Jazzilyn’s shady mafia connections and her husband’s embezzlement.
At least her bisnonna’s brooch… the real one surfaced. Clark discovered that Joel had broken into their home on orders from Hank, but when he failed to retrieve what he was looking for… the Masonic ring… Hank, himself, came back and tried to find it. The brooch had been a poor consolation prize, something to make it appear as though it was a normal break-in. As if break-ins are normal.
“What am I going to do?” Amy moaned and rubbed her face. “Papà hired an attorney for Kass. The best. Do you think she’ll have to testify?”
Kass stepped back from the window, her heart thudding to the ground. Testify? It hadn’t even occurred to her that she would have to face her monster again.
“And can she even go away to university now?” Amy continued, as if talking to herself. “No…she’ll have to stay here now. Right? If the courts call her?”
“Maybe it’s best she gets out of town,” Clark said. “She could probably use the break. You could come up to Oakland for the rest of the summer. You can stay with the boys and I. I haven’t sold the house yet up there.”
“Oh Clark! You’d do that?” Amy exclaimed, and threw grateful arms around her fiance’s shoulders.
“Yes,” he said. “Anything to protect you and the girls.”
Wednesday, July 25, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
“You shouldn’t skip breakfast,” Davis was saying.
It was mid-week. Fifty six hours since her traumatic near-death experience. Her boyfriend meant well, if that’s what he was. They hadn’t exactly had the “talk” again. Davis was just suddenly in her life again, kindly offering to take her out so she didn’t have to face another day with her family alone.
Clark was around twenty-four seven. He had practically moved in, but was sleeping on the couch. He thought it would make the girls more comfortable than sharing a room with their mother. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to have him around. She supposed it was safer. But she would’ve preferred her mamma kept him behind closed doors as Clark’s boxer shorts were the last thing she wanted to see when she came into the living room to numb out to some television.
Davis offered to talk about her newest housemate and she obliged. It was better than talking about the fire. She didn’t want to think about it, even though she thought about her experience constantly. Even as she shared the cringe-worthy details of her mom making out on the couch with her fiance last night like a couple of teenagers, Kass couldn’t help but think about the burning in the back of her throat, the constant dull ache in her head, and the sharp stabbing in her side. Dr. Bachelor had said she was lucky, and she knew it. But even if she was lucky, it didn’t take away the emotional enigma of the circumstances. One moment she felt angry, lashing at out her loved ones, and the next, she collapsed like a frightened, confused child in a sea of tears.
“I’m eating now, aren’t I?” Kass snipped. “You don’t need to lecture me, Dr. Lamar.”
“I’m sorry, Kass,” Davis murmured, setting his juice box on the table. “I didn’t mean to… I just… want you to feel better…”
“Yeah,” Kass said, taking a bite of her chocolate croissant, which tasted more like dry air than sweet pastry. “Me too.”
“Say… you look…” he smiled and tilted his head. “…really pretty today.”
It was a lie. It had to be a lie. She wore an oversized sweater to hide the monstrous purple-black bruising on her chest and abdomen. She had somehow managed to twist her hair into a ratty braid, but skipped the makeup. Davis had suggested an afternoon at the beach after lunch at the Java Jolt. She planned to indulge him, eating as little as possible, and then feigning a migraine so she could go home and sleep some more. He would understand.
Thursday, July 25, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come in with you?”
Gage parked the car on the curb outside the Sun Valley Bank. Kass grimaced. She couldn’t stand his pitying stare, his guilt-ridden offer. She had only accepted a ride from him after he followed her for three blocks. She had planned to walk across town, or catch the bus.
Her former friend felt awful about his part in drawing her to the complex. It wasn’t his fault. Kass stuck her feet against his dashboard and tightened her shoelaces. It wasn’t his fault. She knew that. He had no idea that she would be captured at the hands of a madman several hours after arrival. Still, she knew he felt guilty.
Gage cried and asked for her forgiveness. He never meant to hurt her. He never meant to break up her relationship with Davis. He only wanted her to be happy. And he wanted to be happy. That’s why he was leaving in a week to pursue his dreams and move in with his family in Greatlakes. That argument about the Burroughs-Bagley family seemed so long ago. It didn’t matter now. What mattered was getting what was hers.
Kass pushed her sunglasses further up her nose. Her recent unorthodox experience made her distrust institutions. Even if the financial industry had nothing to do with the police department, she didn’t want to leave her money in its secure account. At the beginning of the summer, she had planned to close everything out when she transferred to Edgewater. The local financial institution didn’t have a branch in Bayou. She figured she would find another way to save her funds on arrival.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, slamming the creaking door of his old Jalopy. “Thanks for the ride.”
Friday, July 25, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
“How’s your food?” Andi asked.
Kass sighed, twisting her finger around a strand of her red hair, shortened against her will. She wished her little sister wasn’t around. Then she could truly mourn her burnt locks. She could still smell the burning embers. Andromeda tried to pen musical compositions at the dining table, hovering while her big sister enjoyed her breakfast. Or was it lunch? Kass shook her head and took a reluctant bite. She lost all track of time. Was it really only a day since she came home from the hospital?
When the bread popped from the toaster, Kass had jumped as though someone shot a gun through the window. Andi didn’t seem to notice as she said the most polite substitute for a curse word ever, “Sugar!” and waved the smoke billowing from the top away with her hand, blowing gently on the charred slices. Kass winced and looked away, feeling stupid for freaking out over a kitchen appliance.
“Delicious,” Kass managed, sarcastically, dumping her plate in the sink.
She grabbed the remaining half loaf from its spot on the counter. Andi had forgotten to put it away. Kass didn’t want something that had been burnt. Andi murmured something apologetically, but Kass didn’t care. She thanked her sister, her tone cool and calm.
“I’ll be in my room.”
Saturday, July 28, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
It was all too surreal. Seeing the story she had given Mark Sydnor the week before. Kass sighed, wishing she could set down the paper, but she wanted to read it for herself. Tonight she met the Editor in Chief for the second time to give him the rest of her story. She figured if someone was going to leak her name, she wanted it to be someone she trusted. Mark gently probed, asking questions as respectfully as he could before he left the most recent copy of the Sun Valley Eagle, tomorrow’s paper with his subject. It seemed every page contained a story related to her night of terror.
The Alto Business Complex had burned to the ground. Despite Hank’s intentions, Bert Alto had escaped the fire. The police, the good guys, had discovered Bert was using his family’s casinos to launder money for the Triple C’s, the white collar crime that Madison had uncovered while dating her secret lover. Bert put on a good show. He cried. He said he was only doing it to save his marriage, that the money was to help cover his wife’s political campaign. They were bankrupt after her expensive fertility treatments. Like the coward he was, he skipped town rather than face charges.
Vita Alto had issued an emergency statement, ensuring the community that she would use all her power and resources to make sure the man responsible for so much terror and tragedy would receive justice. A picture of Hank’s face flashed on the news, and Kass couldn’t stomach it. She barely made it to the bathroom before she lost her dinner. Jazzilyn Alto had withdrawn her candidacy and turned herself into the police. She was to be deported to her home country and would potentially stand trial for involuntary manslaughter.
Strangely, Kass found herself feeling nothing but sympathy for the woman. It was Clark who had informed her that Jazzilyn made three phone calls that night. One to Hank’s partner, Detective Eugene Hunter, to tell him her brother was a madman and needed to be stopped. One to the fire department. And one to her attorney. Those phone calls had saved Kass’s life.
When she leapt out of the elevator, she fell into Detective Hunter’s arms. The man was assigned to investigate his partner and came running over to the building after receiving the call. Internal Affairs suspected Hank’s connection to the Mason Mafia and potentially the Triple C’s and needed proof. Detective Hunter was also the older brother of Clark Sauer. Hunter was actually his middle name.
“Kass, sweetheart,” Jade Wellington said as she approached and touched her on the shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
It took all her willpower to keep from jumping out of her skin. Kass swallowed hard and handed a handwritten letter to the lovely coffee shop owner whom she viewed as a surrogate grandmother like many in the town.
“Would you please give this to Davis?”
“Skipping town, are ya?”
Kass shrieked, falling against the glass back door of her mother’s house, loud enough to stir a couple of sleeping kittens from the nearby hydrangea bushes. Cyrus was sitting at the kitchen table, a slice of pizza poised in his hand ready to be eaten. Her expression darkened.
“I’m not hungry,” she said, coolly. “I don’t want pizza.”
“Good,” he grinned. “Because I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day. This is for me,” he tilted his head toward the next seat. “The soup’s for you.”
She took a step inside, wobbling on her heels as the bright kitchen lights aggravated her eyes. Cyrus took a bite.
“You need help there, Sparky?”
She growled in response, but plopped into the chair, slouching and crossing her arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Your sister called me.”
“Which one? I have two remember?”
“Carina. Said you were starving yourself.”
Kass picked up the spoon and shoveled the lukewarm chicken noodle into her mouth. The soup was surprisingly soothing against her scratchy throat.
“Cari has a tendency to be dramatic,” she rolled her eyes.
The two friends munched in silence for a few minutes. Kass was more hungry than she realized, gulping back the rest of the soup in record time.
“Why haven’t you eaten all day?” she asked, trying to force polite conversation. “And how did you know I’m leaving?”
“Cari said something,” he shrugged.
“Right,” she bobbed her head. “Oakland. Clark’s got a place up north.”
“But that’s not where you’re going, is it, Sparky?” he leaned in, and she wondered if his eyes were twinkling beneath his dark sunglasses.
As if he knew what she was thinking, he removed the shades. His face sobered. “Look, I get it. When I had an opportunity to get to know my dad too, I left. Best decision I ever made. Helped me get clean. Changed my life.”
“I didn’t… know… that,” Kass said, quietly.
“Yeah, mom called him when she didn’t know what to do with me anymore. I’d never met him before,” Cyrus explained. “But every kid deserves to know their dad.”
“You have no idea…” Kass mumbled, and leaned her head against Cyrus’s shoulder. “I’m not… sure… if it’s the right thing, but I think it’s the best thing… for me… right now.”
Cyrus sighed. “After everything you’ve been through, you should probably get outta town, but were you at least going to say goodbye?”
“No,” she bit her lower lip. “I don’t know. I just…”
Cyrus surprised her by wrapping her in a full hug. “I promise I won’t squeeze,” he whispered. “But I’m gonna miss you.”
She was a coward. She couldn’t face her mamma. She couldn’t face the woman who had lied to her for her entire life. She could not move to Oakland for the summer and pretend to be one big happy family. And she sure as Hades was not moving back in with her grandparents. That left one option.
Maybe her dad lied too. Maybe he knew about it all along, but at least he was trying. This morning her mamma told her that she had a plan to help Kass get her life on track. Amy found Kass a job at the Oakland Public Library so she could do something productive. Sleeping all day wouldn’t cut it in the Riviera Fullbright household. When they returned to the Valley in the fall, Kass could attend classes at Sunset U after fall break. It would give her time for her injuries to heal and for her to make some money to contribute to the household now that she was eighteen because she would be living at home. As for dating, she wanted Kass to stop seeing Davis as he was an necessary distraction and she probably shouldn’t have contact with Gage either.
Well that won’t be a problem, Kass thought, sarcastically. She had already broken things off with her boyfriend, and Gage was moving to Greatlakes. The last piece of Amy’s master plan was to allow Kass to room with her best friend, Ayesha, if she proved she could keep her grades up and be a productive member of society.
As if recovering from her traumatic night meant nothing. It had been a week. Not a month. Not six months. Not a year. If Kass didn’t have her life “on track” as Amy so cruelly put, then she needed more time to heal and she wasn’t going to be able to with her mother’s constant interference. She made her own plans.
She made Clark promise to try and get Amy some help. He wasn’t blind or stupid. He knew Amy was struggling, but he had been preoccupied with his case and his sister. Kass wasn’t heartless. She wanted Amy to be okay.
She deposited what little money she had save a couple hundred simoleons into a bank account in Carina and Andromeda’s name. She felt the most guilty about leaving her sisters, but the girls were resilient. By moving in with the Sauer family, they were at least ensured to be fed, clothed, and cared for, but Kass wanted them to have a little extra. For niceties.
She took the remaining simoleons and made a donation to the free crisis clinic in Bay City in honor of Madison. The woman deserved to have someone remember her name. It probably wasn’t enough to make a dent, but Kass wanted to do something.
She wrote a letter to each of her family members. One for her grandparents. She had mailed it earlier in the day. And three – one for Carina, Andromeda, and Amy. She tied a ribbon around the letters so they wouldn’t accidentally be picked up by the mail carrier. As she lifted the stack to put in the mailbox like the spineless jellyfish she was, Kass hesitated. This was it. This was really it. There would be no going back.
She could see her father in his pickup truck parked across the street, his engine idling. Kass waved to acknowledge him. It was time to go. If she stayed any longer, she would have zero chances of her life returning to normalcy. Zero chances of having the life she wanted. She shoved the letters in the mailbox, slamming the little door closed. Picking up her duffel and slugging it over her shoulder, Kass walked toward the street… and toward her new life.
Author Notes: I can’t believe I actually did it! I actually completed the rewrite of KCLKF. It has taken forever to get here, but I’m finally here. I started the rewrite in March of 2018, and hoped to have it completed by this March of this year, and then COVID happened. Life got a lot busier and the world got a bit crazier. My energies were needed elsewhere, but I knew I was close to finishing Kass’s first story. This has been an epic journey. I feel like I’ve grown as a person and a writer since writing this story. I hope you enjoyed, even if this ending feels bittersweet, even if some things aren’t resolved. I feel like Kass is striking out on her own and making a decision for herself for once and this is progress. Whether it is in the right or wrong direction… time will tell.
I thought about splitting up this chapter into shorter chapters with each “scene” if you will, but then I decided that it made more sense to keep it all together. Hope you didn’t mind the jumping around in time. Or this vignette style. I wanted to deal with the aftermath of the trauma and explain Kass’ headspace. I didn’t just want to jump ahead to Kass leaving with her dad. I also did a bit more telling than showing in this chapter to close up some of the loose ends, but it seemed to flow. At least from my perspective. My only regret is I didn’t manage to squeeze in a scene with Ayesha. I wanted to, but I just didn’t have the right screenshot. Ayesha will make an appearance again. Don’t worry.
I’m working on setting up the next story in game. You may not get quite as many chapters from me in quick succession as this one as it won’t be a rewrite per se. Who knows? Maybe you will. I never know when inspiration might strike.
Thanks so much for reading Kass’ journey. I really appreciate you coming along for the ride. Leave a comment down below and tell me what you thought about the
krazy crazy life of Kassiopeia Fullbright. What you loved. What you hated. What you want to see happen next. Who you would like to see more of. That kind of stuff. But don’t go away just yet. Tomorrow will be the exciting epilogue to KCLKF to provide just a few more answers about one particular mystery we haven’t addressed in awhile. 😉
I lay as still as possible. The love of my life leans over my bed. Exhaustion threatened to devour my aching muscles when I arrived home. I told myself I could take a few minutes to rest my eyes. I must have fallen asleep because if Davis was here that meant it was after nine o’clock.
Everything had gone wrong today at work. A four alarm fire had broken out in the downtown area earlier today causing quite the stir in the emergency rooms. The police arrived. The media with their cameras. Shoving them in my face and asking for a comment. One of the doctor’s misplaced really important paperwork and thought it was the intern’s job to find it. That would be me. Clean up on aisle three anyone? Someone didn’t make it the the toilet. Also me. And one of my co-workers didn’t show so I had to work a double shift.
This working-long-hours-barely-sleeping-hardly-seeing-my-fiance thing wasn’t much fun. But I told myself only a few more months. By the end of the year, Davis would graduate from medical school and he would be completing his residency. I could quite my job with the medical administration and focus on planning our wedding.
“Hi sleepyhead,” he smiled, leaning closer as he slid his hand gently under my crooked arm to nudge me awake. “Rough day?”
“Yeah,” I yawned and turned my face.
This was my favorite time of day… the time of day when my man was off work and would come home and kiss me. He smelled of spearmint and strong soap… like he showered in the hospital locker rooms before returning home. No more work. No more craziness. Just the two of us. Except for those annoying bells ringing.
“Wanna order takeout?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I intended to cook dinner tonight.”
“No worries, Kass,” he kissed my forehead. “I know you’re tired. Sushi?”
“From the Takaharan Market? You read my mind,” I exclaimed.
I tucked my arms around his neck, tugging him toward myself. He stopped a few inches from my face, his eyes shining bright with emotion. I knew he loved me as I loved him. He was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I couldn’t wait to be Mrs. Davis Lamar.
Our lips were about to meet when a strange shuffling noise interrupted our focus. I looked around Davis to see what had caused the disruption…
“I’ll call Hoshi,” Davis cleared his throat and stood up.
The phone kept dinging as he spoke. “Seems like Hoshi is calling…” my eyes rolled back into my head. “…usssss.”
Kass opened her mouth to scream, but she couldn’t. The sound stuck in her throat like molasses. Her boyfriend’s face morphed into the face of a killer… one who had tucked her hair gently over her ear and stated that he wished she didn’t have to die. One who said things so casually like bad people should burn in the same breath as a killer bright white smile. A killer. He was a killer. And he had almost killed her. The smile was so bright. The lights hurt her eyes. She squeezed them shut and willed away yesterday’s nightmare.
Sunday, July 22, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
Kass stirred from her sleeping position, her eyes refusing to open. Where am I? Wow! That was an intensely real feeling dream. I wonder what time it is. I can’t believe I was dreaming about being engaged to my ex… Davis!!
“Davis!” she said, the words shooting from her mouth like lightning as she processed the shock. “Wha… wha…what are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t meant to disturb you. I just came by to check on you… and uh…” he turned around to face her, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. “Hi.”
“Hhh…hi,” she stammered. “I… uh…”
“It’s okay, if you don’t want company,” Davis thumbed over his shoulder and turned to leave.
Kass gasped as she sat up hard, immediately regretting it. The sudden movement aggravated her side. Burning pain shot from her hip to her shoulder. She sucked air through her teeth.
“I… I… was… Hank… God…gawd! What hhuh…huh…happened… to me?” Kass cried. “I was in… the… elevator… and he…he’s… the murderer. He killed Madison and Jennifer!” she shrieked.
“Easy,” Davis returned to her side and helped her lie back against the pillow.
She reached up and clasped his wrist. “I have to… I have to…” her throat felt as though it was on fire. “I have to tell someone…” she rasped. “He tried to kill me. I can’t…” she tried to climb out of the hospital bed. “…stay here… I have to tell… someone.”
“Hank Goddard is behind bars,” Davis reassured, straightening to his full height. “They caught him, Kass. They caught everything. He was stupid enough to leave the cameras on while you were in the elevator together. It’s over.”
She sat in stunned silence, a hurricane of emotions flooding her veins. Anger. Disgust. Fear. Relief. Grief. She wasn’t sure how to process, the tears exploding from her eyelids.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Davis returned to the chair, his face softening. “It’s okay. You’re safe now. It’s over.”
“He’s…” Kass took a quivering breath as she lifted her finger. “….really been arrested?”
“Yes,” Davis replied. “I can let the detectives explain it to you,” he started to stand. “They’re right outside the door. They’ve been wanting to talk to you,” he quickly returned to his seat. “Oh… but I could get the doctor first.”
“Sorry?” she frowned. “For what?”
“Sorry that I just ghosted you. I left you all alone at your grandparents. I should have believed you when you said nothing happened. I was just so hurt… and confused… and seeing you in bed with Gage…” he paused, his lower lip wobbling. “…brought back horrible memories of my wife and that she… cheated on me.”
Kass winced. She had a feeling something like he described happened, but she didn’t really have the brain cells to process all he wanted to discuss. Her mind was swirling with thoughts. She almost died. She could feel the heat searing into her side. She could hear the sound of the flames taunting her from within her dark prison. She could still taste the smoke in her teeth. Hank Goddard tried to kill her all because he wanted the ring back, a ring that he intended to give his girlfriend or return to someone in the… mafia. She choked on the word. A ring that had somehow ended up in the possession of Clark’s sister and then Clark and then… me.
Kass flushed angrily, throwing her hands in the air. “Davis! Do you think I care about that right now?”
“No… no… no…” his eyes widened. “I… um… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t bring this up now. I’m an idiot.”
“I… have…a splitting headache,” Kass managed, hoping she didn’t look like a deer in the headlights. “I… can you get me… something… for the pain?” her jaw slackened as the mere inch she slid on the bed sent tingling pain up her spine. “And my mamma? Is… she…here?”
“Yes,” Davis replied quietly. “She went to the cafeteria to get some sandwiches. I’m sorry, Kass. You’re right. We can talk later.”
“Yes…” Kass squeaked as she collapsed against the pillow. “Later,” her eyes closed, a small reprieve against the anguish, knowing full well the words were a lie.
Davis was right. He ghosted her. He didn’t return her calls. She nearly had to die for him to show up again. The wound was too fresh. She gulped, trying to squeeze away the infinite sadness settling into her heart, falling right into the bottomless pit of near darkness that had almost swallowed her whole.
When she opened her eyes again, Dr. Bachelor was perched on the edge of a teal counter on the other side of the room.
“How are you feeling?”
Kass grimaced. “Like I fell ten stories… or ten tons of bricks fell on me. I’m not sure which sounds worse…” she tilted her head. “Or better.”
“Good, your sense of humor is still in tact,” Dr. Bachelor smiled. “You had quite the ordeal.”
“Understatement of the century,” Kass hugged her side, nursing her injured ribs. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“I’m not a therapist, Kass, but you will need to talk about this, and when you do, reach out to me. I’ll put you in touch with someone who can help you process,” Dr. Bachelor said. “…everything.”
“No… I… uh…um… I’m fine,” Kass sighed.
“What’s the verdict?”
“Well, you finally woke up. You’ve been asleep for almost thirty hours,” Dr. Bachelor exhaled sharply.
“Thirty hours!” Kass exclaimed. “What… time is it?”
“Nine-twelve on Monday morning.”
“I was asleep? Was I in a… a…”
“It wasn’t a coma,” Dr. Bachelor stated. “I’m convinced you were just exhausted. But you do have a concussion, thirteen bruised ribs, a torn ligament in your right shoulder, and some cuts on your face. Your hair was also burned. I’m sorry…” she dropped her head. “We had to cut it.”
“Wait… bruised… not broken?” Kass exclaimed, and then groaned, motioning for her throat.
Dr. Bachelor walked to the sink to fill a glass of water. “Your throat will be sore for awhile. I am sending you home with throat lozenges and some prescription pain medication.”
“I… uh…” Kass croaked, and for the first time felt the pain shooting down her throat. “I… didn’t break… any…” she frantically patted down her sides. “But I thought… it felt like I… what?”
Dr. Bachelor shook her head. “Not a single one,” she breathed. “It’s a miracle, really, Kass. Nothing short of a miracle,” she handed Kass the glass of water. “I’ve never… seen…” she paused, her brow furrowing. “…anything like it. It’s extraordinary… and that’s why I must tell you…”
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. Kass blinked rapidly at the sight of Clark Sauer in full police uniform. The sight was shocking. Her heart began beating wildly. She turned her head, gripping her chest and trying her hardest not to wheeze.
“Excuse me, Dr. Bachelor, but we really do need to talk to her,” he said, smiling apologetically in Kass’ direction.
“Sure, Detective, if Kass is up for it,” Dr. Bachelor replied.
Kass gulped. It was Clark. It was just Clark. He was safe, right? She bit her lower lip, feeling the cracked and dry skin against her teeth. She gulped down the water the doctor had offered. The cool liquid felt good against her parched throat. She nodded slowly.
“Yeah?” she agreed, half unsure.
Yesterday’s nightmare was over. It was over. She was safe. That’s what Davis had said. Kass swallowed hard and braced herself for the upcoming barrage of questions – both hers and the officer’s.
“I’ll be right outside if you need anything,” Dr. Bachelor reassured, squeezing her patient’s hand. “You’re one really lucky girl,” she whispered.
“Please… find my… mamma…” Kass said, gripping the doctor’s hand. “Until then… please…” she looked over Dr. Bachelor’s shoulder. “…ask the officers to wait in the hallway.”
Author Notes: Thank you for reading. If you read the last version of Lost Legacy, you’ll recognize a lot of these pictures. However, I decided it made way more sense for Davis to show up here. I also plan to start fresh with the next story, and start taking new pictures.
Saturday, July 21, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
A bell screamed, first faint and distant, then louder and closer. Kass moaned, an uncomfortable heat beating down on her back. She must have left the window blinds up overnight. The summer sun sizzled through the glass. She wondered why she stupidly decided to leave her alarm clock across the room again. It was a tactic to force herself out of bed and actually get up for school. She hated mornings. Just five more minutes, Mamma. She reached to pull the pillow from her face, and couldn’t remove it.
Her brow furrowed. A sharp pain formed behind her left eyebrow. Come on. This isn’t funny. Maybe it was Carina who so rudely came in and whipped open the shades, hoping the light would lure her sister out of bed on a weekday morning. Kass groaned. She could hear voices. Unfamiliar voices. Someone was speaking. The words were urgent. Kass. Get up. Get up!
She was up. Gasping, Kass bolted from her sleeping position. Her window faced east, but the mountain usually prevented the sunlight from casting its hot morning rays through the window. But this wasn’t her bedroom. This was her death bed.
Smoke wafted through the elevator. She coughed, the sound echoing as if more than one person had coughed. The cobwebs grew thick, menacing, and she swatted at them, desperate to regain full consciousness. This has to be a nightmare!
No one else was in the dimly lit elevator. She was alone. Her forehead crinkled. No time to think. It didn’t matter who talked to her, just that someone did.
A tear slipped down her cheek. No, this was real. Too real. Madison was dead. Jennifer was dead. Hank Goddard, a man who swore an oath to protect, was a murderer. And she was supposed to be dead too. He wanted her dead.
Her fingers fumbled as she unbuttoned her sweater, coughing and wheezing, ignoring the shooting pain in her chest. Her only hope was to get out of the elevator before she suffocated. She knew the metal walls would protect her from the flames, but the smoke was the real killer. The silent, deadly killer. Kass took a shuddering breath before she tied her sweater around her face, covering her mouth and nose.
It was dark, but not completely. The mirrors reflected what little light was available, the green emergency lighting along the edge of the floor. She could read the sign that said ‘In Case of Fire, use‘… and then an image of a stick figure man running for the stairs. Oh the irony! Hank had disabled the phone after he rewired something in the panel, but he took the wrench or whatever tool he had been using. Just my luck!
No wait… she was lucky. Kass was lucky that he had thrown the match through the doors of the elevator instead of leaving it in the room with her. If she could call that lucky. It was just enough. There had to be a way out. She winced as her side began aching, gently touching her rib cage, enough to notice the swelling. Think Kass. This isn’t how you go.
“I am thinking,” she protested, aloud, muffled by her own sweater.
Wait! The voice again. She whirled, looking all around. Who was talking to her? And why was the voice inside her head? Why was she even worried about this when she could possibly be dying? Or am I dead? Is this the afterlife?
“Shut up!” she bonked the side of her head into submission.
Kass weighed her options. In the movies, people always escaped through the top hatches of the elevators. She had no clue how she would even get up there, and she was pretty sure it was an urban myth. If she could pry the doors open, she could climb out, but she could be facing an inferno. She could wait it out and hope someone would find her. The building’s fire alarm was shrieking so someone was alerted to the fire, and most likely the fire department was called. But the smoke. The smoke was a clear problem. She could hold her breath, but for how long? Could she get the elevator moving again? Kass tried to stand, but found herself on her hands and knees. She grimaced. That’s going to leave a bruise.
“Humor, Kass,” she grunted, pulling herself across the tile. “Interesting tactic.”
Reaching the other side, she gasped, collapsing against the wall. She was pretty sure the pain had increased by a factor of a thousand. It didn’t matter. Her limbs hung limply at her sides, and she forced her arm into action. Groping blindly along the wall, she felt the mess of wires Hank left behind. Why had he messed with them in the first place? Her heart thudded wildly, threatening to leap from her chest. She had no idea how to reconnect the pieces in the dark, and even if she had light, she still wasn’t sure she would know what to do. A dark thought flitted through her mind. He disabled the wiring to prevent the elevator from returning to the ground floor like it was supposed to when the building was on fire. He wanted me to be trapped.
She reached her arm down a little farther into the wall panel, hoping, praying she could find the ends of all the tangled wires. Her fingers recoiled when she felt hot metal. She gasped, removing her hand and staring at her burnt flesh, the pads of her fingertips swelling and reddening. Her vision blurred as she nearly succumbed to the dizziness and discomfort. No… she forced her eyes open, blinking away stinging tears. Yes. It wasn’t normal metal. It wasn’t just the side of the panel. It wasn’t merely the wall. It was the tool. The tool that he had carelessly tossed aside, figuring she’d be dead from the carbon monoxide at the back of the elevator, helpless to save herself.
“I’m… not… help… less…” she yelped as she tore the edge of her skirt.
With a shaky breath, she wrapped the torn fabric around her throbbing fingers and reached back into the wall panel. Her fingers found the wrench, retrieving it from its hiding spot. If the metal weren’t so hot, she could’ve kissed it. Her eyes flung toward the roof of the elevator.
“Thank you, God,” she whispered, managing a sign of the cross, remembering her lessons from Jacoban Sunday school.
Kass balled her fists, preparing to stand. Pushing off the ground, she allowed herself a moment to get her bearings. The air was thicker at the higher position, but she didn’t have a choice. She planted her feet firmly, in a stance she used for martial arts, bending her knees, and bracing as she felt along the elevator doors for the center. Then she jammed the lug wrench as hard as she could and pushed. Nothing. Not even a creak. The doors wouldn’t budge. In fact, the wrench metal seemed to bend, perhaps weakened by exposure to the heat from the flames.
She gasped, stumbling backward in shock. She stared at her hands, her whole body shaking. The cross. She had made that sign earlier… but did she really mean it? Padre meant everything to her kid sister. Her grandparents went to worship every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. Kass sat in the pew more times than she could remember, but she had never really let the words mean anything to her. But now…
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” she said, the words spoken aloud leaving a bitter taste in her mouth.
No the cross! Her eyes widened. If she had two tools wedged into the door and could force the weight… she whipped her eyes around the tiny room, refusing to let the panic or pain seize her chest. Every step across the five foot wide space felt as though she walked through a vat of gelatin. When she reached her target, she inhaled again and kicked as hard as she could several times to break one of the legs off the chaise lounge. Then she returned to the doors, the exhaustion overwhelming.
Hold on, Kass. You can do this! She gritted her teeth and shoved the broken leg and the wrench into the tiny gap in a cross formation. It defied reason, but somehow she knew this was her only hope.
“You and I are going to have a long talk when I get outta here, Padre,” she narrowed her eyes, planting her stance once more.
What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary. Kass pushed and pulled and yanked. She pushed harder than she ever had in her life before, yelling as her muscles seemed to rip from her bones. The doors popped open, the blinding light shocking her system. Her arms dropped to her sides, the tools clattering to the floor. The change in air pressure startled her, and the flames shot in her direction. Kass lifted her hands to protect her face.
She knew better than to ignore the voices in her head. It took every ounce of Kass’ remaining strength as she leapt over the flames shooting toward the elevator, a breathtaking ten feet before she collided with another body. Muffled voices said things like she was underwater and couldn’t quite make out full sentences. She blinked, succumbing to the darkness, but not before she saw the face of the man she collapsed against – Detective Eugene Hunter.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading.
Author Note: This chapter contains violence, and mentions suicide and abuse. If these are triggers for you, please skip this chapter.
Saturday, July 21, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
It was a quarter past midnight when Kass regained consciousness. When she awoke yesterday, she never expected to be lying on her back at the feet of a killer. She would’ve never imagined she would’ve figured out the mystery surrounding the siblings and stolen ring. She would’ve never dreamed that she could be taking her last breaths today. She could only hope that he was keeping her alive for some reason and so she clung to the tiny shreds of hope that she would escape, even though no one knew where she was.
She blinked. Counting in her head. One. Two. Willing herself to move from the cold tiles, a hard substitute for a pillow. Three. Four. The room was dim, but it wasn’t the same place as before, and this time, she was genuinely frightened. Five. Six. Her limbs, twisted at odd angles. Her head, aching in ways she never thought possible. Seven. Eight. She could see her reflection through teary eyes. And a reflection of dark shoes and dark pants, pale white arms, and the device he used to incapacitate her. A police baton? A wrench? She couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. She fought against every fiber in her being to keep from making any sound.
When he turned to check on his captive, Kass hoped that he wouldn’t know she had awakened. She lay as still as possible, helpless, as he stared at her limp, lamentable form. Her mind screamed. Words she couldn’t understand. Profanities she wanted to yell. People she could have called to come to her aid. Empty wishes for things she wanted to do during her life. A life that could’ve been snuffed out already. How could she be such an idiot!?
After an eternal moment, he seemed satisfied. She could hear him shuffle toward the outer wall. She could see him. His uniform, a symbol of justice and security, distorted to a sick end. Hands reaching for a mangled control panel. Hands that carried her unwilling body here. Nausea gnawed at her gut. She gulped the remnants of her shrimp and summer wine back, the contents burning in her throat. She couldn’t throw up. Then he would know she was awake.
He tried removing something from the wall. She could hear metal clang against the floor, a few feet from her head. It took all her willpower to keep from reacting. When she was certain he wasn’t looking, she tentatively opened one eye. Despite her double vision, she could make out figures. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Sev… numbers? Her neurons were scrambled worse than eggs on a breakfast plate, but she deduced their location.
The elevator. The one she stepped into earlier that Blair had warned her not to use. She was sure of it. It all made sense. The beige tiles. The mirrored walls and red paper. The flickering dome shaped lights. This small discovery felt like a huge victory. She was still in the building. She tried to lift her eyes to see what he was doing. He was a mess of black fabric and black wires. Wires. He had opened the button panel, but why? She didn’t know how she would escape the elevator. It wasn’t like there was an easy exit, and they were most likely stopped between floors. Think. Think. She urged her mind, but sharp pain contradicted her orders, like an avalanche of pebbles. Okay. She winced. Don’t think.
Kass inhaled as quietly as she could, feeling the tear slip from its precarious perch on her eyelash. She exhaled, her body visibly trembling as her nails curled into the grain of tile. She closed her eyes and listened. A cranking sound. Whatever he was doing behind the control panel. The faint dinging of the church bells indicating the half past the hour mark. She hoped to hear voices. Someone else had to be in the building. If she screamed, would anyone hear her? Another tear descended her cheek. If I scream, would he finish me off?
He moved to the other side of the elevator, further away from Kass. She could hear him pull the receiver off the wall. She could hear him dial with the same fingers that violated her person. The same fingers that murdered her friends.
“Jocelyn?” he said, his voice gruff.
A familiar voice blasted through the earpiece. Loud enough for Kass to hear most words despite the dizzying ringing in her ears.
“What… have you done? Bert… won’t… my calls.”
” Your husband won’t be a problem for us anymore. I’m about to burn his legacy.”
“My gawd! Gary! You’ve…too far. I can’t… ” she was crying. “I love… him. And he… Why… leave us al…one.”
“No!” Hank said, his voice vibrating angrily. “No! You didn’t. You don’t.”
“It’s been thirteen years, Gar...”
“You know the first rule of the con. Never fall in love with your mark. You’re an plumming idiot, Joc, if you think he loved you.”
The other woman wept, bitterly. Kass almost felt sorry. Hank’s tone softened, eerily, devoid of any true emotion.
“I had to get the ring back. They stole it from us.”
“They stole it…from plumming Masons. It wasn’t the same! You know… I wanted out. I always wanted out. I thought… was finally behind….”
He was smart. Or so he thought. For a moment, something glinted in the fuzzy mirror. The blasted ring which had been around her neck. The ring that would be her doom. He slipped the piece back into his pocket and resumed the call.
“But it surfaced here… and I got it back. I have to get rid of the girl in the meantime, but I finally got it back.”
“Do you hear yourself?”
“Do you know what this means?” his voice grew shakily excited. “We can go home. We can go home and put all this behind us. They’ll accept us back.”
“I don’t want… to… go back,” the woman hiccuped. “I n…nnnever wanted to go back. You can’t get away from them, Gary. Look at what you’ve become!”
“Jos… I did it for you. I did it all for you. They couldn’t find out. They couldn’t find out that you killed that girl.”
“Killed!” she shrieked. “It was an accident. You know it was an accident. I didn’t mean to… She ran into the road.”
Kass felt herself transported. Back in time. Back to a moment when Madison was still alive. Her friend had fallen out of an elevator, much like the one she was in now. And Kass had a vision. A vision of dark pine trees and blood on wet cotton and stringy hair. Raindrops pelting the ground so fast it sounded like gunshots. And a sickening crunch. Like a bowling ball against human bones. The muffled male indignant voice in her ears. But this time, Kass recognized the voice. This time it belonged to the voice of a killer. Her blood curled. The man in the elevator.
“What have you done? You killed her!? You plumming idiot! You killed her!” his voice was younger, less mature, more panicked.
It happened on a dark road. A dark winding back road. Outside the city, beyond the skyscrapers, between the trees. A vehicle collided with a runaway.
“She came out of no…where. Wha…what was I supposed to do? We should’ve taken her with us!”
Jazzilyn. Jocelyn. That’s who was speaking. But someone was in the road. The young woman. Kass forced herself to look. The eyes. It was Colleen Trubow. Those dead eyes. She shivered.
“She was a liability. We couldn’t. They’ll just think she’s a junkie. We can bury her here.”
It was him again. A conversation in the past. A conversation in the present. How did Kass know these things? The fog cleared just enough to know Jocelyn was talking right now.
“I would’ve turned myself in. The whole thing was a horrible mistake. I never meant to drag you into this.”
“But then we wouldn’t have made it to the Nation and we needed to get away from father.”
“Our father was just troubled… he could’ve helped us. I know he was strict with you, but…”
“Our father was a monster!” he yelled.
“How is this… how are you any better?” she sobbed. “I can’t do this anymore.”
He swore, curling a fist at his side as he stared at the phone. As if that would make him hear her voice again. Jocelyn obviously hung up on her brother. Kass desperately wanted this all to be a nightmare. The James siblings killed a young woman accidentally on a dark road while escaping the custody of their abusive father after Jocelyn was arrested for her connections to the Mason mafia. Why didn’t you listen to your kid sister?
As if he heard her thoughts, he returned to her side. Her heart pounded and she started counting again as a soothing mechanism. One. Two. He reached for her arms. Three. Four. He tugged on her biceps. Five. Six. She yelped. He stopped yanking, letting her arm drop back against her chest.
“Do you want to hear my sad sob story?” he asked.
She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what to think. She could barely breathe. Perhaps she broke a rib or two in addition to the concussion he most likely gave her. Did he know she was awake? Did he know she could hear him? Did he care?
“You know,” he said, shifting into his natural Avalonian accent. “Father wanted to punish mother. He did. Now that man was truly mad. I am convinced it’s why she took her own life.”
He turned to stare at the wall, evidently viewing Kass as little threat. She closed her eyes and hoped he would continue to talk. Every second he spoke, whether he believed to her or at her, gave Kass more time to formulate a plan.
“Jos got caught up with the wrong crowd. I went to help her. She was everything to me. When we were young, he used to burn cigars into my hands. I still have the scars.”
He laid a hand against the wallpaper, an icy fury surfacing. “I always wanted him to burn. People who need to be punished should burn.”
Kass whimpered. This was the voice Madison heard moments before she died. Possibly Jennifer too.
“Jos would often save me. Step in and take the punches. She was his favorite, you know. I wanted to be his favorite. ”
Kass trembled. It didn’t sound like preferential treatment, to intercept abuse meant for one’s sibling. As the man continued to talk, she tried to think. Tried to push the clouds to the side. Where was the wrench? If she could get to the wrench… she could immobilize him. She swallowed hard, inching to her left.
“I couldn’t let her take the fall. So I helped her escape father’s clutches. And we ended up here. In debt up to our eyeballs to the Masons. The only way out was deeper in. So we concocted this plan. Cripple the competition. Take their rivals down from the inside,” he pumped his fist in the air. “Take back Marigold Racket’s ring. Then they would see our value. Then they would let us be.”
Kass whimpered. Immediately, she covered her mouth. Hoping. Praying. He wouldn’t turn around. He wouldn’t catch her reflection in the mirror. Hoping. Praying. He wouldn’t figure out what he was trying to do. Searing pain flooded her chest cavity. She was nearly certain she had broken, or at least, cracked a rib.
“Ha! The old crone is dead. Ding dong!” he giggled in fiendish delight. “The wicked witch… the wicked witch is dead…” he said in sing-song. “It’s really just symbolic now,” he turned and pressed his foot into the edge of her skirt to keep Kass from crawling away.
She gasped, her face crumpling as she realized her plan was foolishly futile. He bent and tucked a hair over her ear, his face filled with sadistic sympathy.
“I liked you, Kass,” he admitted, cupping her chin in his hands. “I really did. I’m almost as sorry you have to die… like Jennifer. Like Madison. But you have to be punished. Your curiosity is… killer…” he laughed.
She spit in his face. “You don’t…” she took a shuddering breath. “…deserve to say their names.”
“Hmm… Jennifer?” he picked up and twisted the wrench against his shoulder, the very weapon she had hoped to utilize.
The irony was not lost on him. He smiled. “Madison? They weren’t very smart. Well, especially the blonde. Mirror. Mirror. On the wall. Who’s the dumbest of them all?” he said in a sing-song manner.
“Really thought Bert cared about her. He got her pregnant and they wanted the baby for themselves. Jos would’ve done anything for a child. Even letting her bastard husband father a half-alien freak. Said he loved her. He was leaving Jos. Hmmm…” he shrugged and dropped the tool, kicking it away from Kass’ reach.
Kass no longer cared. The tears streamed down her face. Not from pain or fear. From fury. He lifted her body as she protested, kicking and pummeling him with her fists.
For a moment, she flew through the air and fell against the small chaise lounge at the back of the elevator, her head cracking against the wood. She was lucky. A half-inch higher and she would’ve exploded against the glass.
“I’m not a monster, Kass, not really,” he continued as he tucked her hair over her shoulder. “See, you can rest now.”
She closed her eyes, fighting the rising darkness. He folded her hands beneath her head as if she was going to sleep. The sleep of death.
“Maybe he did. The old fart isn’t worth it. He deserves to die in this castle he made. And she’ll finally be free.”
She couldn’t stop him. He struck a match. It was the sound of her execution. Smoke pooled into the elevator. This is how they died. Her mind shrieked for oxygen. This is how she would die.
“It doesn’t matter now. She’s coming away with me. She can’t stay here. And you… ” he climbed through the elevator doors, sealing her fate. “You just rest, my dear.”
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. Hopefully it’s not too cliche, the killer confessing things to the protagonist. I really wanted to wrap things up with a scene where Hank/Gary talks like a madman, convinced that what he’s doing is the right thing. He’s been willing to do anything to protect Jazzilyn/Jocelyn. Even killing people in her life who might be a threat. Hopefully everything made sense here and filled in the final puzzle pieces for you.
Once in the hallway, she took a deep breath. Instead of going to the restroom, Kass ran down two flights of stairs and used Jennifer’s former key to let herself into the computer lab.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!” she cried and cursed softly as her vision continued to worsen.
The watery wavy lines returned much like the night of the first earthquake and her strange moment with Gretle in the bathroom of the Goth Manor, except this time, they were heavier. As though walking through gelatin, Kass sludged through the thickened air, her senses heightened. She couldn’t ignore what she knew and she only needed one more thing to prove her dark, disturbing theory. Kass slid across a desk in her way and rounded a short half wall. As she settled at the computer, she noticed one other person in the lab. A familiar blonde. Madison.
“What?” she cried. “This isn’t real…” she reached over to turn on the monitor, blinking rapidly to get rid of the surreal images.
The other woman sat at the computer diagonal to her console. She clicked mindlessly on the keyboard as if not typing anything of consequence. In fact, she typed too quickly. The clacking grated against Kass’ ears.
“It can’t be. You can’t be here!” Kass breathed.
“But I am,” Madison’s voice appeared hollow as if calling through a tunnel.
“Why? How?” Kass’s lips parted to ask more, but the pounding increased with each word.
“Because you’re close. You’re so close,” Madison assured as she continued to furiously type nonsense. “Closer than the bonds of love on a finger.”
“Huh?” Kass grunted and pushed her hands up against the side of her head. “This can’t… be happening…”
The monitor flashed. She reached for the mouse and clicked to type in a password. A message popped up telling her that the login credentials were invalid. Kass shook her curls vigorously, and tried Jennifer’s password. She squeezed her eyes shut and hoped it would work. A few seconds later, she received the welcome screen. She frowned. So they deactivated my password, but didn’t deactivate Jennifer’s yet?
“Closer than a silver dollar in a slot machine,” Madison stated.
“What is this?” Kass stuck her head around the desktop. “Vague assistance from beyond the grave?”
A teasing glint appeared in Madison’s telltale eyes as she peeked over her monitor. Her voice almost sounded normal. “I forgot how much fun this game was.”
“You’re playing a game?” Kass asked, slouching her back against the office chair in frustration.
The Netquest browser refused to load at a reasonable speed.
“Yes,” Madison said. “I played a very dangerous game. And I lost, Kass. I lost. And you will too if you’re not careful.”
“Gawd! Madison! I know!” Kass sighed. “I know! It was the police officer, wasn’t it?” she wanted to say his name, but she couldn’t bring herself to form the words. “I am so sorry… Maddy… I’m sorry I failed you. If only I had figured it out sooner. I could’ve helped you.”
“No, you didn’t,” Madison assured. “This isn’t your fault,” she gulped and licked her lips as she continued to click away at the keyboard. “There are so many things I want to tell you, but I don’t have time.”
As if on cue, the speakers on her computer said in an automated voice, “Time is running out! Do you wish to continue?”
“Yes!” Madison and Kass exclaimed in unison.
“Forget this!” Kass slammed her fist into the desk as she exited out of the browser and tried again.
On the desktop screen, someone had saved a picture of a celebrity couple. Kass grimaced. How sweet! she thought sarcastically. The image morphed into a photo of Bert Alto and his wife, Jazzilyn standing before a giant heart-shaped screen. She blinked rapidly, unsure if it was real.
“I can’t stay… I can’t stay much longer,” Madison cried.
“I’m coming,” Kass said, but as she tried to lift her hands, her fingers remained glued to the keyboard and mouse.
She tried to stand and her rear end remained firmly fastened in the chair. She gave Madison a helpless look.
“It’s okay,” Madison said. “It’s part of the illusion.”
“The illusion?” Kass tried to shake the attached device from her hand. “Is this real or is this a dream?”
“What do you think it is?” Madison replied, cryptically. “Let’s walk through all the pieces. You’re closer than you think. Closer than the tool in the stone.”
“You mean sword in the stone?” Kass asked. “You keep saying that. Wait… ” her eyes widened as she repeated a phrase from their first encounter. “Beware the Altos. Three Altos. Bert…” she slowly counted on her fingers. “…Jazzilyn and…” her eyes dropped to the table. “…the child… am I right?”
Madison scrunched her shoulders. “I am not allowed to confirm nor deny things.”
“Gah!” Kass threw her hands in the air. “How is that useful? Okay… okay…” she took a deep breath to calm herself. “Beware… beeeeware… it’s another word for… be cautious… take heed…pay attention… so I need to pay attention…” she concluded. “…to those three Altos… or what would’ve been…” she winced apologetically.
“The baby is real, Kass,” Madison replied, sounding almost human. “She would’ve solved everything…”
Kass smiled wistfully. “So your baby was a girl?”
Madison dropped her head. “And nothing. But she wanted out.”
“Who? The baby?” Kass puzzled.
“She didn’t want any part of this,” Madison continued, pressing against the back of her chair. “Do you hear that racket?”
“What racket?” Kass repeated, straining her ears against the low roar of what almost sounded like ocean waves. “Your baby didn’t want any part of what?”
“It wasn’t fair. She had wanted this for a long time, but she couldn’t have it. Not when he was still around. Not when the ring meant everything to him,” Madison’s eyes grew wide with fear. “I’ve said too much.”
“No, no, you…are helping me,” Kass protested. “How is that too much?”
Kass gasped as the apparition disappeared. As if on cue, Kass solidly thudded against the floor. Ow! Almost instantly, her vision returned to normal, the ceiling lights glaring.
After she ensured no one else was in the room, Kass returned to her chair and began typing. It had been staring her in the face. Altos. Connections to the Triple C’s. The same cartel present at the shootout. Their enemy. The racket. Racket. Tool in the stone. Masons. The Mason Mafia. She gasped. How did I do that? she stared at her blank screen in disbelief.
At an unnatural speed, she looked up every article she could find in the legal aid office’s criminal database. She poured over cases, searching for the name to confirm her suspicions. She took a minute to text Ayesha and ask her to make sure Gage got home okay and another minute to tell Gage to stay put for Ayesha. It was nearly midnight when she found the information she sought. Jennifer, you sly dog! Kass was impressed with her former boss’ moxie, breaking into sealed juvenile records.
On April 18, 2399, an unnamed officer with the World Council Police Commission arrested the following Masonic recruits in the country of Avalon. Priscilla DuBois. Caitlyn Abernathy. Lorna LaRue. Vivian Michelle Addison. Jocelyn James. Colleen Trubow.
Some of the text was blacked out before Kass was able to make out the rest of the scanned handwriting.
Miss James was released into the care of her father, a magistrate in Glennborough. Miss Trubow was released and deported to her native country for mental instability into the care of St. James Simitarium. She committed suicide within four hours of arrival.
Kass’ eyes widened. Colleen Trubow was a pretty redhaired woman , even with her hardened expression. However, her picture upon arrest and her photo upon arrival in Cascadia didn’t match. The second image featured a much younger version of Jazzilyn Alto a.k.a. Jocelyn James, a brunette according to the arrest record.
No… Kass leaned back in the chair. It couldn’t be. Jocelyn dyed her hair and assumed the identity of another Masonic recruit… this Colleen Trubow… faked her suicide, and escaped, but reverted to her original name? It seemed too surreal.
Because the arrest happened before the age of eighteen, Jocelyn’s record was sealed. Three years later, she married Bert in Isla Paradiso on the anniversary of a violent event that occurred in the Sultonan coastal city of Roaring Heights. It couldn’t be a coincidence. The dates. And even the long reaches of the Alto family with their barely six degrees of separation from the Cat’s Claw Cartel failed to make a connection between Jazzilyn’s maiden name or the fellow recruit she impersonated. And worst, or best, of all, they failed to make her connection to the Mason Mafia, which would’ve certainly doomed the marriage from the beginning. So what happened? Did Jazzilyn actually fall in love with her intended target? Or did Bert know all along?
Kass finally stopped clicking as she slumped in the chair. Exhaustion crept behind her eyes. She rubbed her forehead. The rest of her research was cursory, but relevant. Both organized crime families were once normal, law-abiding citizens who traveled from Old Eorthe in pursuit of a new life. Yet years of alien bombardment and the harsh Wild West-like environment of the new world turned gentle tradesfolk to hardened criminals protecting whatever scraps of land they managed to eek out.
The Cat’s Claw Cartel were the corrupted result of descendants of herbalists and healers who sought refuge beneath the leafy canopy of the Selvadoradan jungle. Their name was derived from a flowering plant once used for medicinal purposes due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Today, the cartel cut its teeth primarily via drug trafficking, extortion, and prostitution south of the border in Columbia. Kass’s eyes bugged. The Campos Cousins! Maybe that’s who Davis got caught up with during his detainment and forced servitude in São Paten.
The Masons, on the other hand, were the twisted vision of their original founding father, Henry Mason, who made his coin as a stone and jewel cutter. Mason hired various families, notably Chicanery, Racket, and Wager, to act as his personal guards when transporting goods between developing nations. Over time, the families morphed into an unstoppable power against alien marauders and at-the-time barely functioning law enforcement, and eventually became known for arms trafficking, prostitution, and… the last phrase was enough to turn Kass’ blood cold. Contract killing.
Her eyes hungrily scanned the page. There were rumors of the Triple C’s connection to the Alto family due to their legitimate pharmaceutical empire. The Triple C’s were also rumored to be in a blood feud with the Masons over a burglary gone sour over fourteen years ago, when both gangs unintentionally robbed the same target, resulting in millions of dollars of missing items, and one piece of jewelry in particular worth noting. Kass scanned the itemized list to the end.
It was almost too unbelievable to be true. Her fingers fumbled as she pulled the chain from beneath her sweater, slowly, deliberately, almost too afraid to confirm the truth. When she saw the stamp on the under gallery of the ring, she knew.
She knew the reason the gang war started.
She knew the reason for the shootout.
She knew the reason a man like Hank was desperate to get the ring back.
And it wasn’t too wild of a leap to figure out why Jocelyn changed her name to Jazzilyn and married an Alto thirteen years ago.
Kass knew she was in possession of the very item that started everything – the ring around her neck. And worst of all, someone else knew that she knew. The last thing she remembered was a stunning blow to the back of her head and the fading words of an apologetic, but very dirty cop.
“Oh Kass, I’m sorry. I wish it hadn’t been you.”
Author Notes: We’ve nearly reached the end. I never thought I’d actually get here. I started Kass’s story over five years ago now, and the rewrite over two years ago. I’ve had this scene and the following scenes in mind from the beginning, but I knew it would take a long time to come to an appropriate place in the story where it was realistic that Kass uncovered everything. Her predisposition for stumbling into meeting the exact people she needs to piece together facts, her uncanny ability to research and draw conclusions via her, dare I say, supernatural, intuition has landed her right where we are just now.
I hope the pacing wasn’t too awful in this story because I really wanted to take my time to unveil the clues, develop the mysteries, and also include the majority of the slice-of-life plot from the original tale (i.e. the family drama, Kass’ troubled relationship with her mother, the burden of her father’s illness, her best friend’s confession, and her new boyfriend’s traumatic past). Okay that last part doesn’t qualify as slice of life. Even that story found a neat connection to the overarching crime via the Cat’s Claw Cartel.
Actually, Cat’s Claw as mentioned above is a plant found in South America, uncaria tomentosa or uña de gato, a woody vine with medicinal value or at the very least, it is used in herbal supplements. Similar to the real-world mafia or organized crime families, the Triple C’s and Masons started out as protection units for the neighborhood with their original purpose replaced by more nefarious activities over time. I figured it had a nice business connection or at least a believable connection to the Altos due to their pharmaceutical conglomerate.
By the way, I learned something – the back of a ring, or underside of a ring is called the “under gallery,” and the stamp is actually called a ‘hallmark.’ Chicanery, Wager, and Racket are all playful names indicating different types of shady activities. Only the Rackets pre-exist in game. I decided to build on the Sims habit of puns. I have a whole dark story about their family, which also features the Bayless family briefly.
If you have questions about the timeline, please ask. I know some of these events may seem a bit confusing. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed. Stay tuned.
Friday, July 20, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
For nearly nine pm on a Friday evening, The Looking Glass was nearly empty. It was the perfect name for a bar on the top floor of an office complex with a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of the surrounding area through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Kass wasn’t quite sure how the name escaped her notice previously. She didn’t care now. She was on a mission.
As she skirted around the industrial rubber tabletops and black barstools, she could hear church bells clanging in the distance. Friday night mass at the Jacoban cathedral was just letting out. Kass expected her grandparents to be in attendance, and probably Cari. Maybe even Gage’s foster father if he wasn’t working a shift at the firehouse. On the fifth bell, Kass wondered if everything had proceeded normally like it did every summer, would she be in a pew with her family and Gage. By the ninth bell, she realized she didn’t need religion tonight. She needed a distraction. She needed a drink.
Already at the front counter, Gage clapped his hands as the bartender tied his chest length black hair back into a half-ponytail. The man proceeded to juggle bottles of alcohol in the air. From Gage’s cheering, she could tell he was impressed by the other man’s tricks. She probably would’ve been too if she didn’t have so many crazy thoughts careening through her mind at full speed.
“Kassio!” Gage exclaimed, giggling like a little kid. “This is Angel. He’s a wizard at making… whoooooa!”
Her friend started to slip off the barstool. Kass reached out and grabbed his arm.
“Looks like you’ve had one too many,” she observed.
“A wizard…” Gage reached over and poked Kass’ knee through her skirt awkwardly. “…at the cherry casanovas.”
“Oh really?” she arched a single brow.
“I take it you’re the one paying,” the barkeep called Angel deduced as he returned the bottles on the counter.
Kass shot Gage a look full of eye daggers. “You didn’t!”
“Guilty,” Gage grinned weakly and slid his arms onto the countertop. “I forgot my wallet. But…” he continued, holding up a mess of keys. “I have… all these… and mom’s old office key.”
She scrunched her nose, disappointment sneaking into her expression. “So that’s why you really called me!”
“If you could just settle his tab…” Angel said quietly, leaning forward so the two other bar patrons wouldn’t hear him.
The man was, what Kass would define as, classically handsome. A bit of a chiseled jawline. Smooth dark earthy skin. Toned biceps beneath his long-sleeved periwinkle shirt and clean dungarees. He shrugged apologetically.
“Oh no! If I came out here,” she sighed, pulling her identification card from her pocket. “I’m having a drink too… Angel, was it?”
Gage hooted and slapped the bar.
“One of the summer wine coolers,” she ordered. “And yes, I’ll settle the tab.”
Kass took a seat on the opposite barstool. Gage spun around a few times on the stool.
“Wheeeee!” he continued to guffaw and point obnoxiously at the television in the back of the room. “Look… can we like… not… with the politics, man?” he waved his hands at Angel and asked him to change the channel.
Kass couldn’t resist. She glanced over her shoulder to see the news portraying reel of Nancy Landgrabb insisting that she would ensure the citizens of Sunset Valley would receive justice for the fires that Horace Horner set. Kass sighed. She had nearly forgotten all about the recently captured arsonist, whose picture flashed momentarily across the screen.
“Can you believe it?” Angel remarked as he changed the channel to televised poker games in El Dorado. “The man’s a sociopath,” he shook his head, disgusted. “If you hate your job that much… quit and go to therapy.”
“I actually met him,” Kass said, absently, crossing her legs in a ladylike fashion. “He wasn’t…” she trailed off.
…what he seemed. Much like Officer Gary James a.k.a. Detective Hank Goddard. She had to sober Gage up and get him a cab so she could call Clark and let him know she made a break in the case. Or should I call the Sun Valley Eagle? After all, she had handed the Editor in Chief the story of a lifetime earlier and voluntarily agreed to step back and stay out of the way. But I can’t help that this piece of information fell into my lap tonight! She rubbed her open mouth, holding onto her lower lip with her thumb and the knuckle of her forefinger.
“You gotta…” Gage hiccuped. “Relax… Kassio!”
“Kassio,” Angel smirked as he poured the wine into a tall glass. “Cute name.”
Kass winced. “It’s Kass,” she corrected. “And please get him some water.”
“No… no… noooooo…” Gage spun his chair in circles again. “Whoa!”
“Yeah, you’ve had too much,” Kass stated. “How about some black coffee too?”
“Coming right up, ma’am,” Angel said, politely, setting her wine cooler on a monogrammed napkin.
Kass nearly spilled the drink, startled when she heard the loud slot machines jangle on a commercial. She held her hand to her heart, her cheeks flushing at her knee-jerk reaction. Why am I so jumpy? So what if Hank Goddard is Jazzilyn’s brother? What does that mean in terms of the cases I was investigating? Or got thrown into? She scrunched her face, bracing for impact, and sloshed back half of her drink.
“Wow… you go for it!” Gage whooped.
“No,” she set her glass on the counter, pleasantly surprised by the sweet taste and only slight hint of stronger juice. “It’s not like that.”
“You look really pretty,” Gage smiled.
“Oh,” Kass held her abdomen, a strange gurgling floating up from her stomach. “I haven’t eaten much at all today.”
“Then eat! Eat! On me!” Gage insisted.
“No… me…” she frowned. “Remember? You left your wallet and called me?”
“Riiiight,” he laughed. “Get me some cream too, will ya, Angel?”
The barkeep paused briefly in front of Gage. Kass signaled ‘no‘ by shaking her head slightly. Her friend needed a full strength brew to clear his head.
“How’s your sister?” she asked, trying to awkwardly make small talk.
“Scarlett?” Gage repeated, as if he had more than one sibling.
Well, he might, Kass acknowledged. He didn’t know much about his past or his birth parents. A pang of guilt soured her stomach. Just a few weeks ago they were arguing about his desire to move to Greatlakes to meet his aunt and cousins. Their bickering didn’t seem so important now.
“Scarlett went to stay with friends in Lonestar. Appaloosa Plains,” Gage said.
“Oh,” she said, and then directed a question to Angel. “Do you have the shrimp cocktail?”
She needed to celebrate, even with the latest news she received. Hopefully after passing off this new tidbit, Mark would be able to write an even better story and Clark would be able to make an arrest.
“Let me check the kitchen,” Angel nodded, as he began to walk around the counter.
As she took another sip of her wine cooler, Kass noticed her eyes blurring as she focused on the shelf. Oh no no no! Her heart began beating faster. Not here. Not now. She tried to shift her attention outside the window, hoping the natural landscape would prevent the shifting visions, but the edge of the wall fogged just slightly. Was it the wine cooler? She grimaced.
Gage balanced his drink on his knee. “This one’s called Falling Forever…” he announced. “It’s pretty yummy… if you want a sip.”
The voice was quiet. Almost like a whisper. But not an audible one.
“No… no… thank you,” Kass shook the voices from her head as her vision returned to normal. “Did you… uh… eat?”
“Yeah,” he replied, his expression changing. “I had pork and beans.”
“That’s good,” she sighed with relief, more for herself than for him.
“Pablo calls them cowboy beans,” Gage continued. “When they first got married, Jennifer would make this dish for him and take it to the guys at the firehouse.”
“I…I didn’t know that…” Kass stammered, as she tucked her hair over her ear. “Um…” she quickly gulped down the last of her drink. “…when my parents were still together, mamma would take burnt sugar cookies to my dad at the radio station.”
Gage smirked. “Burnt sugar doesn’t sound good.”
Kass shrugged. “It was kinda like caramel…” she made a face. “…really bad caramel.”
She laughed, her shoulders relaxing. “I’d kinda forgotten all about it.”
“Do you remember those burnt biscuits you made once?” Gage recalled. “Something for social studies class.”
“Biscotti,” she corrected. “And yes, it was for that project where we had to share a recipe from our home country or something.”
“They were the most disgusting things ever!” Gage howled and held his stomach as he laughed.
“No they were not,” she protested, waving her arms. “They tasted fine when dunked in coffee.”
Gage hooted. “They were rock hard.”
Kass gasped as she tried to ignore the strange blue circles formulating in the air. What’s wrong with me? She resisted the urge to rub her eyes to avoid smearing her mascara. Kass. She heard her name for the third time.
“That’s nothing,” Angel interjected. “You should’ve seen the time I tried to bake my mom a birthday cake. I used mayonnaise for frosting and I’m pretty sure I nearly burnt down the kitchen.”
Her mind fixated on the word ‘burnt.’ The men’s laughter seemed hollow, far away, as if she were underwater. Deep down underwater. Burnt down. Burnt… burn… she could almost hear the blue flames of a gas line licking at the ground. She could see the orange dancing light, mocking her in its frenzied dance. She could feel the heat climb up the edges of the walls, pushing against her sanity, willing her to break down.
She gulped back the panic encroaching on her mind, wondering what triggered this particular sensation. Kasssss! And then everything returned to normal. She could hear Gage’s voice as he teased her about being a lightweight. The television announcer explaining the card players methods. The tinkling of ice in a glass. It was as though a thick wind barreled through and sucked out all fire.
“You alright there… Kassio’?” Gage inquired, setting his glass on the counter.
She gulped and nodded.
“I wanna dance!” he threw up his hands in the air after barely making certain she was okay.
With that, he had leapt from the stool and ran toward the stereo in the center side of the room. Normally, she would find his goofy spontaneity amusing . Tonight she was overwhelmed by her burgeoning headache. Reluctantly, she shifted seats when Gage asked her if she could keep his warm.
“Long day at the office?” Angel inquired after confirming her shrimp dinner was on its way.
“What?” she furrowed her brow, trying to hear him over the Destiny Dallas classic soul song, Feel the Heat with Somebody blasting from the stereo.
She could feel the heat. Sweat drizzled down her neck. Flustered, she yanked a paper napkin from a nearby dispenser and dabbed at her forehead.
Angel grinned. “I’ve seen you around. You work in the building?”
“I did…” she sighed. “I used to.”
“My boss was…” Kass scratched her head, uncomfortable at the thought of mentioning Jennifer’s name.
As if he suddenly understood, Angel winced. “Sorry! I heard about it. Tragedy. I did hear they caught the guy.”
“Yeah sort of,” she sighed, knowing full well Jennifer died at the hands of someone else.
“Come on Kassio!” Gage whined and flashed her puppy-dog eyes. “You should come… dance.”
She immediately turned in her seat and pressed her hands against the counter, breathing shallowly.
“I think your boyfriend wants you to join him,” Angel indicated as he continued cleaning bar glasses.
“Oh, he’s not my boyfriend,” Kass protested.
“In that case…” Angel grinned as the chef set her order down on the counter.
Kass murmured her thanks and immediately placed a shrimp in her mouth. She had no idea how hungry she was until her stomach bubbled contently. Her cheeks flushed.
“…let me buy you dinner,” Angel shifted from cleaning glasses to wiping down the counter with a sponge.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed, mid-bite.
“Naw… really. You’re helping out your friend. It’s the least I can do,” Angel insisted. “That’s a really pretty necklace.”
Naturally, her hand went to her throat. Her fingers curled around the pearls, and subsequently grabbed the additional chain around her neck.
“Oh they were my bisnonna’s… my… uh… great grandmother’s,” Kass replied, taking a more delicate bite the second time. “Wow…” she stopped and set her fork down as a sudden realization hit. “I haven’t been here since I nearly recovered the stolen brooch.”
“The what now?” he arched both brows.
“Oh… sorry… my bisnonna… her brooch… it was oddly the only thing stolen from my house earlier this summer,” she explained.
“I see,” he replied, continuing to circle his sponge in the same spot.
If she wasn’t coming out of a complicated relationship and here with her drunk ex-best friend, she probably would’ve found Angel’s hovering cute. Instead she tried to fill him in on the details as a way of making polite chit-chat.
“I read something about that in the Eagle,” Angel said. “You know there was a string of burglaries where I’m from about two years ago. Trinkets and the like stolen from people’s homes. Even my mom’s.”
“That blows,” she said, trying to appear interested, despite the encroaching tiredness.
“Yeah my mother’s pearls actually were stolen. They weren’t worth much. Not like the real Paradisan kind around your neck,” Angel said, throwing the sponge into the dirty sink water. “You know they actually turned up at a respectable jewelry store downtown.”
“No way!” Kass perked.
“Yeah, I was going to go down and retrieve them when there was a shoot-out at the store,” Angel explained. “Some crazy gang violence. Two warring groups. A few people were injured and one person died, I think…” he rubbed his jaw. “I’m really glad my bus was running late that day.”
“You wait… what?” she dropped her fork on her last bite. “Say that again!”
“My bus ran late,” he tilted his head and smiled slightly. “It was a God thing I suppose. Watching out for me…” he grinned. “The Angel name isn’t just for fun.”
Kass straightened lightning fast, trying to ignore her thudding heart and tingling spine. “Which two gangs if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Oh… the…” Angel scratched his head. “Definitely the Triple C’s and the Mason Mafia. Nasty piece of work that last one is. The Racket family is ruthless. You know they put out a hit on someone just because of a stolen ring?”
Kass pressed her hand into the counter, the necklace around her throat taking on an added weight. “Roaring Heights,” she breathed and when Angel asked ‘what?’ she repeated herself louder. “You’re from Roaring Heights, right?”
“Yeah, how’d’ya know?” Angel replied, seemingly unaware as she pieced together the story lines. “Anyhow, the officer took my statement and well… he must’ve been really invested in the case to follow it all the way up here.”
“Thank you,” Kass slapped a wad of simoleons on the counter to cover their drinks and her food. “You’ve been… really… helpful, Angel,” she gulped, almost feeling guilty. “Can I ask you one last question?”
“Say where’ya going?” he puzzled.
“What was the officer’s name?” she inquired, her throat growing dry.
“Kassio… where are you going?” Gage started toward her, holding out his arms for a tight embrace.
“What was the officer’s name?” she demanded, more harshly than she intended.
“Gary James,” Angel frowned. “Why?”
“Excuse me,” Kass winced, hating herself for what she was about to do.
She leaned and squeezed Gage tightly. He grinned and leaned into the hug, unaware of her true intentions as she reached around to his pocket. When she found what she wanted, she forced a giggle.
Author Notes: Excuse the awful picture angles. This was from my original game. I promise with the next story, moving forward, I’ll be taking all new screenshots as I’ll be starting new game play. Destiny Dallas is a play on Whitney Houston and her song I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Long live the queen of soul!! We’re so close to the finale. I can feel it. I’ve been binge writing because I can’t wait to get to the end so I may not have edited these chapters as well. Apologies in advance. Hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading.
Friday, July 20, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Valverde
It wasn’t the drunken rendition of Three Blind Mice. It wasn’t the hopeless pleading in his voice. It was the way he said her name. Jennifer. The woman who had been like a mother to him and had been a mentor to her was gone. Sixteen days had passed, but it may as well been eternity. And today would’ve been her for forty-first birthday. Kass couldn’t stand it any longer. She called Gage back and agreed to meet her ex-best friend.
Cyrus had encouraged her to make peace with Gage on his foster mom’s birthday, even if she didn’t have feelings for him. He said she was doing the right thing. Still, she felt off. The whole day felt off. Kass had changed from her professional attire to something a little more casual – her favorite purple sweater and a soft feminine skirt. She dressed more for herself than for Gage. She wanted to feel pretty on a day where she felt crappy. She handed over a summer’s worth of work to Mark Sydnor and she should’ve felt better about everything.
Kass swallowed hard as she walked inside the lobby of the Alto Business Complex. It was strangely emotional, knowing just a few weeks ago, Jennifer worked in an office here. An office where Kass had interned too. She was doing the right thing. The worst was behind her. She wouldn’t need to worry anymore as the information was in safe hands.
This time next week, the Sun Valley Eagle would hopefully publish a story linking financial records to the Alto’s shady dealings to Madison’s and Jennifer’s deaths. Kass could safely leave for university or move on with her life and let people equipped with real authority expose the mess of the Sunset Valley Police Department. Delores had assured her she would continue to pursue the case with vigor as Jennifer had been her friend, and Kass highly doubted Tori would stop her involvement either. It’s out of my hands.
Kass passed by the front desk security and nodded to Officer Wainwright. Blair grunted an acknowledgement and waved carelessly. She returned her attention immediately to her magazine, loudly snapping a piece of bubble gum as she crossed her ankles on the desk, conveniently ignoring the monitors. Kass opened and closed her mouth, deciding against saying anything. What would she say anyhow? The young rookie was allowed to conduct her job how she saw fit.
Since she didn’t have her badge anymore, Kass couldn’t get into the offices, but the upstairs cafe and bar was open to the public. She sighed, wondering why Gage chose here of all places to meet. He was drunk and desperate and in need of a friend. She was worried he would try and drive home, and absolutely paranoid about how they managed to arrive at her grandparent’s home. Determined not to let the situation happen again, Kass stepped into the elevator and pushed the button. The doors were about to close when a hand stopped the movement.
There was a scowl on Blair’s face when the doors shoved to the side. “Not that one. Elevators are on the fritz. This one’s been giving us grief all day. Does maintenance listen to me?” she asked, her tone dripping with sarcasm. “No…” she returned to the desk.
“Oh… okay,” Kass replied, hesitantly stepping through the heavy double doors. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Blair rolled her eyes, and turned up the volume on the radio to listen to a baseball game.
“You should put up a sign or something,” Kass called as she rounded the corner by the vending machines.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Kass exclaimed, startled, lifting her arms and bending her knees out of reflex.
She frowned. This was the second time today she ran into someone. I’ve got to get more sleep. Blinking a few times to regain her bearings, she dropped her arms, taking a moment to look at the person she nearly knocked off her feet. The lady was in her mid-thirties with elegant features but casual attire. Her gold hoop earrings dangled against her warm beige skin, drawing attention to her coal black pigtails. She was small in stature with a tiny beauty mark on her right high cheekbone. Her thick lashes blinked away tears.
“No, no, it’s fine,” the woman replied, wiping at her eyes. “I wasn’t really watching where I was going.”
“Are you okay?” Kass inquired, softly.
“No… but I will be,” the woman groaned. “I just broke things off with my fiance.”
“Oh I’m so sorry,” Kass replied, a bit stiffly.
She didn’t know the woman, but every one could sympathize with a break up. Did I break up with Davis? Or did he break up with me? It wasn’t really clear to Kass, except that they weren’t exactly on speaking terms. A twinge of misery crept around her heart. She could feel a lump forming in her throat, a heaviness seep into her chest. So much loss this summer, and I’m grieving over my own stupidity, Kass tucked her hair back over her shoulder. She couldn’t bring herself to say ex-boyfriend.
“I just went through one myself,” she offered, awkwardly.
“Yeah,” the woman sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m Pauline.”
“Oh, Kass,” they exchanged pleasantries.
“I just thought it would be different this time, you know. That I met…” Pauline smiled wistfully. “…the one, you know? I haven’t had much luck with dating ever, but when I moved up here and followed him, I thought this would be… different,” she paused to sneeze into her elbow.
“Where did you move from?” Kass asked, wishing she had a napkin or a tissue in her pocket.
“Roaring Heights. We got engaged there, and moved here for a better life. I play with the Bay City Symphony…”
“Oh, what do you play?” Kass asked, but Pauline’s hometown didn’t escape her notice.
It was the second time today that she encountered the name Roaring Heights. My ex lived there too, she almost said. The thought of Davis continued to gnaw at her heart. She had to call him. After getting Gage home safely, she would call him. She didn’t want to leave things with her own ex this way.
“Classical piano,” Pauline explained.
“I bet you play beautifully,” Kass added. “My grandparents go to the symphony frequently. I’ve gone with them every Christmas to see the Nutcracker.”
“Oh I haven’t played for the ballet,” Pauline shrugged, shyly. “My contract is almost up and with everything…” she glanced nervously over her shoulder up the stairs. “…that’s happened, I think it’s best I go home.”
“To Roaring Heights?” Kass asked.
“Riverblossom Hills,” Pauline replied with a sniffle. “My sister is still there. I… uh… thought it would be great to work for the symphony in Bay City and it has been. I just took back his key, but I don’t… it’s too painful to stay.” She shook her head, her earrings jingling. “I’m sorry. You said you broke up with someone too?”
“Yeah,” Kass admitted, twisting her lower lip.
“Sorry, must be the season,” Pauline shrugged. “You’re young though so you’ve got time.”
Kass’ brow furrowed. The woman couldn’t be that old. Thirties wasn’t spinster age yet. Who says spinster anymore, Kass? She resisted the urge to smack the side of her skull.
“It wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, her hope wavering.
Would her ex take her back? Did she want him back? She didn’t want to leave unresolved tension any longer, but she also couldn’t leave a helpless ex-best friend either. She winced and pressed the left side of her face to soothe the headache forming behind her temple.
“Yeah, me neither,” Pauline replied. “I should’ve known when he lost the ring.”
“He lost your ring?”
“Yeah, what kind of guy loses an engagement ring after he’s given it to the girl?” Pauline laughed, mirthlessly.
“Huh?” Kass tilted her head. “Yeah… that’s pretty…bad.”
“Yeah, I should’ve known then before I moved here. I said we could just get another one, but he insisted he could get it back. He tracked it here to Sunset Valley even,” Pauline shared.
“Oh interesting,” Kass tilted her head, suddenly feeling the weight of her mother’s engagement ring against her body, the stones pressing into her sternum.
She resisted the urge to play with the chain. Strange that Pauline’s ring disappeared and she moved to Sunset Valley. Clara and her fiance also purchased a ring in Roaring Heights and then gave it to Clark, who also came to Valverde.
“I am sorry about your fiance,” she replied.
Pauline shrugged, pulling her sleeve back up on her shoulder. “Gary,” she said his name for the first time. “I should’ve broken off things before now. He changed his name. Said it was something to do with a case. Barely stayed at the house anyway. And between you and me… he was kinda obsessed with his sister.”
Kass dropped her gaze, staring painfully at her violet heels. She grimaced. Well, that’s awkward. Pauline seemed like a beautiful and talented woman, but the guy spent more time with his sister? It didn’t add up.
“He works in the building?” was all she could think to ask.
“Kinda. This is one of his many jobs. He’s night security. She works here too. The sister,” Pauline explained. “I thought maybe by seeing she was happily married now that he’d want that for us too, but he got even more distant when we moved here.”
Kass snapped her eyes back up to Pauline’s face. It was all too weird. Too coincidental. Too strange. It couldn’t be. She opened her mouth to ask the question gnawing at her gut, but she didn’t know how. She dropped her eyes to her feet again, feeling uncomfortable. Rubbing the back of her neck, she could feel the itchiness of her sweater tag against her skin. The floor tiles blurred and appeared to dance. Pauline had called him Gary and said something about a sister, and Kass knew Jazzilyn, formerly Jocelyn James, had a brother. He was present at her wedding… Jazzilyn and Bert Alto’s wedding. And an officer from Roaring Heights to boot. One who had the initials G.J. and was receiving payments from the Alto family.
“Well, so long Gary James,” Pauline mock-saluted up the stairwell. “Or Hank Goddard… or whatever…” she grimaced. “Nice knowing you.”
Author Notes: Dun, dun, dun! I know you were probably expecting a Kass and Gage chapter from how everything started. That first line was a strange writing prompt from my arsenal of writing prompts back in the day. I decided it was a fun way to get going. Sometimes I need to just get started writing, even when I’m not sure exactly how a chapter will go. This was a bit of stream of consciousness but in the end, I realized it was exactly what I was trying to achieve.
Yes, Gary James is Jocelyn James’ cop brother from Roaring Heights and he is also Hank Goddard, a detective with the Sunset Valley Police Department. Kass rather coincidentally (and innocently) bumped into Pauline Wan in the lobby of the Alto Business Complex in game. In the TS3 lore, Pauline and Hank are a couple. It seriously suited my storyline and allowed me to make this shocking (maybe not, maybe you saw it coming) reveal! I did leave breadcrumbs… I also just now realized that Alto Business Complex is ABC. 😄 Hope you’re enjoying the story. Also X for chapter titles is hard. So EX- something it is. We’re getting so close. Thanks for reading.