For Now and Forever
Dr. Fred Rutherford strummed his fingers along the edge of the bar and fidgeted nervously on his barstool. He didn’t necessarily like meeting Joyce Preston in such a public setting, but she’d called the get-together and he felt he’d had no choice but to comply. After all, considering he wasn’t even close to having enough cash to make his next payment to her, it was the least he could do.
Ever since his wife, Leticia, had made the stunning and unexpected announcement that she had closed their joint banking account – his primary source of funding “discretionary expenses” – he’d been racking his brain trying to figure out exactly how he was going to come up with the money to placate Joyce and keep her threats at bay. Unfortunately, Fred had swiftly found himself tapped out. Of course Leticia had assured him that he still had access to their money – her money – but he had to go through her. She’d assured him that she would approve anything he needed, but he found it highly doubtful that she would approve of continued payments to Joyce to keep her from spilling everything she knew about his prior involvement with late racketeer Stephen Lake, Stephen’s late wife Annabelle, or a certain long-missing nurse with whom Fred shared a rather secret illicit involvement. No, Leticia most definitely wouldn’t understand any of that.
Truth of the matter was that Fred was flat broke with not even two slug nickels to rub together. Until his next paycheck cleared from the hospital, he barely even had enough money to cover the cost of the scotch and water he’d been drinking which was starting to disappear almost as quickly as his financial prospects. As he downed the last bit of scotch from his glass, nearly sucking every last drop of liquor from the ice cubes in the process, he spotted Joyce from across the room and his heartbeat began to quicken. He exhaled slowly and pushed the now empty glass back across the bar. No, he didn’t have the money to cover his next payment to Joyce, but he surely had enough to cover just one more drink – because he was going to need it.
THE LAMONT HOME - KITCHEN
“I’m glad Randy’s out with Eliza,” Burt Lamont smiled across the kitchen table at his wife, Janet, as he finished the last bite of his dinner. “It gives us moments like this to be alone together – just you and me… and this wonderful roast.” He flashed her a teasing grin.
“Oh, stop it,” she laughed and gave him a playful slap on the arm before rising from her chair to start clearing the dinner dishes. “The real question is did you save room for some pie? I baked a wonderful rhubarb pie this afternoon and I’ve been dying for you to try it.”
“A pie? After all of that dinner?” His eyes grew wide and he sunk down into his chair as if a two ton weight had suddenly been lowered onto his shoulders. “I can barely move as it is. If someone had told me a year ago that I was going to be married to the most beautiful girl in the world and that she could cook like nobody’s business, I’d have told them they were crazy. Especially since I don’t think that expert cooking skills are something greatly stressed or valued among high society.”
“I told you that I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with the staff when I was growing up.” Janet began to fill the sink up with water, dishes, and a bar of soap. “Everything I know, I know because of Maeve. I actually used her recipe for that rhubarb pie sitting over there on the counter.”
“The staff,” Burt muttered to himself as he cleared the rest of the dishes from the table and carried them over to the sink.
“Did you say something, dear?”
“I was just… well….” He let out a long exhale. “Look, Janet, I know this house isn’t anything like you’re used to. It’s not one of those big houses on the other side of the lake and it’s not one of those penthouses in the middle of Manhattan. It’s barely more than an old farmhouse that we get to live in free of charge because I take care of the stables and tend to the horses and….”
“And it’s our home.” She gently stroked his cheek and looked him lovingly in the eyes. “You’re my husband now, Burt. Wherever you are, that’s where I belong. That’s home to me. I could live in a castle fit for a fairytale princess, but if you’re not there with me, then it’s nowhere I belong.”
“Oh, Janet!” Burt pulled her into his arms and held her tightly as he buried his face in her flaxen hair and inhaled her scent. “You deserve so much more than this – than me.”
“And that’s where you’re completely wrong – I’m the one who doesn’t deserve you. I’ve made so many mistakes… done some awful things… but you….”
Janet pulled herself out of his embrace and turned away from him, unable to look him in the eyes. If he ever found out the truth – if he ever knew what she’d done – he’d never be able to forgive her. She knew that for certain.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he chuckled as he reached out and took her by the hand, drawing her back into his arms. “There’s nothing you could ever do that would make me doubt how much I love you and you deserve every bit of happiness that we’ve been fortunate enough to find. I know things haven’t been easy for you because of Judith, but all of that’s in the past. I should’ve been honest with you from the beginning about what happened between me and your sister in New York and the baby but….”
“That wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. It was before we even met. How… how were you supposed to know back then that we’d both wind up meeting each other here in Albanyville?”
“Well, whoever’s fault it was – mine… the fates… – I promise you that as soon as the inheritance Charles promised me from my father’s estate comes through, I’m going to build you the biggest house on the other side of the lake that you’ve ever seen. It’s going to be everything that you deserve.”
Before Janet could protest Burt’s overly extravagant offer, the telephone rang, intruding on the deeply private and emotional moment.
“I’ve got it,” he said as he left his wife’s arms and reached for the receiver. “Hello? Lamont residence.”
“Burt darling, it’s Judith,” Judith Lamont said on the other end of the line. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I need to see you. It’s important.”
“I… don’t think that’s a good idea.” Burt’s eyes immediately darted to Janet who was listening to his end of the conversation with much interest as he struggled to conceal the identity of the caller. He knew that a telephone call from Judith would upset Janet and he wanted to spare her. “There’s really nothing we need to discuss.”
“Oh, I beg to differ,” Judith said softly. “I need to speak to you about something that’s been weighing on my mind very heavily these last few weeks. It’s something I tried to tell you before, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“What makes you think I have any intention of listening to you now?” he muttered under his breath into the receiver.
“Because this concerns Janet… and our baby,” She explained rather matter-of-factly. “What I have to tell you is very important and it will change your life forever.”
“All… all right,” he grumbled. “Meet me down at the stables in about 30 minutes? I don’t want Janet to know anything about this. I don’t want her upset.”
“Of course you don’t.” click.
“Burt, who was that on the phone?” Janet asked as she came up behind him and he returned the telephone receiver to its cradle. “I couldn’t hear what you were saying, but you look like it was important.”
“It’s really nothing to worry yourself over,” he smiled and then leaned in to kiss her lovingly on the cheek. “Just Mr. McGhee down at the bank wanting me to stop by to fill out some paperwork about my father’s estate. I told you I was going to build that house for you.”
“Mr. McGhee? At this hour?”
“He must’ve been working late or something. I really didn’t ask.” He walked over to the backdoor and looked up at the sky outside. “You know, I think from the looks of those clouds rolling in that we might actually be in for a storm. I’d say it’s about time because after the way it’s been this summer, we really need the rain. I better go down to the stables and make sure the horses are secure incase the weather gets bad.”
“All right,” Janet walked over to the open doorway and kissed him tenderly. “Hurry back.”
“I will,” he grinned. “And I have a feeling I’ll be ready for a piece of that rhubarb pie you made.”
“I promise you that as soon as I get this mess with Leticia cleared up, I’ll have the money for you.” Fred said to Joyce as he motioned for the bartender to bring him yet another scotch and water. “You have to understand that there’s no way I could’ve predicted that she’d just go and cancel those accounts on me. Of course, I can’t really say that I’m surprised that she’s gotten suspicious considering….”
“Oh, would you please stop prattling on?” Joyce groaned with a wave of her hand. “I told you that I understand about the money and your tenuous situation with the widow Stokes so you get your extension.” She paused and smiled slyly. “However, since I’m doing you this small favor, that means you have to do something for me in return.”
“W-what? What is it?” he stammered. “A-anything for the extra time.”
“I thought you’d understand.”
She ran her index finger around the rim of her wine glass. She was clearly toying with him, but she learned a long time ago that it was always best to keep people off guard because it helped her to maintain an upper hand.
“As I’m sure you know, my late husband decided to leave his entire estate to my deceitful little daughter. I’m sure it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to know that that didn’t exact sit too well with me. I’ve been working to rectify that situation, but unfortunately I’ve manage to run into a few more complications than I’d care to deal with. To put it mildly, I’m running out of patience.”
“I… don’t see what that has to do with me.” Fred began to anxiously swirl his cocktail around in his glass.
“It’s taking far too long to get my daughter to sign over my rightful inheritance to me.” She paused and leaned closer to him. “I need your help to move things along. I need to speed up the process.”
“I really don’t know what I can do to….”
“Look, Dr. Rutherford, I know all about how you helped Annabelle snare Charles Callison.”
“I… don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, really?” Joyce leaned back in her seat and chuckled. “Dr. Rutherford, if you’ll remember, that file Stephen Lake had on you was very informative. I know about that wondrous secret vile you gave Annabelle that she slipped to Mr. Callison to get him into bed with her. I know all about that magical elixir’s, shall we say, mood altering properties. I’m willing to consider your most recent payment ‘paid in full’ if you get me some of whatever it is that you got for Annabelle.”
“You want me to help you drug your own daughter?” Fred couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
“Just so that she’ll be more receptive to reason where the inheritance is concerned.”
“Well, I… I won’t do it,” he reacted with defiance and slammed his fist down onto the bar. “To drug your own daughter is….”
“Don’t tell me that you’ve suddenly sprouted a set of morals.” Joyce let out a thin laugh. “Tell me, Fred, how did you manage to rope the rich Widow Stokes into marrying you? Her husband was barely dead and buried before you two ran off to New York and tied the knot.”
“Leticia loves me,” he quickly answered. “We realized that life is far too short to wait around for the right time.”
“Spare me your heart- and-flowers act. I’m not buying that for an instant. However you managed to get a ring on that woman’s finger, you and I both know that your motive had far less to do with your love for her and more to do with your love of her bank account. Either you get me what I need or I’ll make sure that your dear wife finds out all about your rather sordid past and then you’ll never get your hands on another dime of her money.”
“At the rate things are going now, I’m not going to be seeing any of that money as it is,” he grumbled. “I told you that she shut that joint bank account down on me. I have to go through her to get as much as a dime.”
“Interesting,” Joyce muttered as she tapped her chin with her index finger as her head begin to churn with a plan. “You do realize that as the Widow Stokes’s legal husband, if anything were to happen to her you’d be first in line to inherit the vast majority of her estate. Surely you can imagine all of that wonderful money at your fingertips.”
Fred began to feel a knot forming inside his throat. “What… what are you trying to say? Joyce, what are you suggesting?”
“Do I have to spell everything out for you?” She leaned in close to him and whispered into his ear. “Why don’t you get rid of her? Permanently.”
THE LAMONT HOME - KITCHEN
As Janet finished drying the last of the dinner dishes, she leaned across the sink and looked out the kitchen window at the quickly darkening evening sky. From the sight of the ominous clouds rolling in, she realized that Burt had been dead on regarding the oncoming storm and said a brief silent prayer that he would finish getting the horses settled and make it back up to the house before the storm hit. Although she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly why, something had started to fill her with a sense of dread.
An eerie silence had settled over the Lamont home like the long shadows cast by the fading glow of the quickly disappearing sun, punctuated by the steady tick… tick… tick… of the clock on the wall. It was a sound Janet had become all too familiar with because on more than one occasion, she could have sworn that clock was speaking to her in a mysterious language only she could understand – a secret voice that reminded her of the very real truth that her happiness came with an expiration date.
Focused solely on the sound of the clock as it began to fill the house with its near deafening sound, Janet wasn’t prepared for the sudden gust of wind that blew open the back door with a loud crash causing her to nearly jump out of her skin. Her heart racing a mile a minute, she hurried over to close the door tightly, but couldn’t resist peering out at the black clouds as the continued their systematic march towards the house. There was no denying the fact that they were most definitely in for rough weather.
No sooner had Janet pulled the door closed and latched it tightly, the telephone rang.
“Hello? Lamont residence,” she said warmly as she held the receiver to her ear.
“Janet darling, it’s Jillian,” her younger sister said on the other end of the line. “I hope I’m not calling at a bad time? If I’m interrupting dinner, I can….”
“You’re not interrupting a thing,” Janet replied with a smile. “I was just putting away the dishes. Burt went down to check on the horses. It looks like we’re in for some nasty weather.”
“Well after this summer, we need the rain.”
“So how are you settling in with your new housekeeper?”
“Okay, I suppose,” Jillian sighed. “To be honest, I really can’t complain about Mrs. Whitehead. She definitely knows what she’s doing and I couldn’t ask for more competent help I just… well…. I know Reginald and his mother meant well, but I just wish that they’d asked me first. Mrs. Whitehead is so stern and rigid that she almost makes me feel awkward in my own home. I don’t like that at all. Right now Reginald is working late at the paper on a deadline and I’m stuck here in the house with just Mrs. Whitehead to talk to and… I’m bored silly. It’s one of the reasons I called – to give myself something to keep me occupied until Reginald gets home.”
“Until Burt gets back from the barn, I have nothing going on so I’m all yours. You can simply chatter away.”
“Good!” Jillian exclaimed. “I phoned Judith earlier and I swear that it seemed like she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.”
Janet silently bristled at the mention of their older sister’s name.
“And what is Judith up to this evening?” she asked curtly, more because it was the proper thing to do than because she was truly interested.
“Oh, who really knows? She was going on and on about how she was tired of letting someone else – the fates, maybe – dictate her life and how people deserved to know the truth. I couldn’t really make heads or tails out of what she was talking about. I think she said something about driving out to see you before she hung up, but I guess if she’s not there than she’s changed her mind. Maybe the weather….”
“J-Judith said she was coming out… here?” Janet’s hand flew up to her mouth as an overwhelming sense of panic began to overtake her.
“Yes, but that was quite a while ago,” Jillian explain, completely unaware of the true implications of her innocent conversation. “If she’s not there already, then I’m sure she changed her mind and decided to stay in because of the weather. You know how she hates driving in the rain. Especially after….”
Jillian continued on with her end of the conversation, but Janet wasn’t hearing a word that she said. Her mind was too preoccupied with thoughts of the telephone call Burt had received right after dinner. Despite his insistence that it was merely Mr. McGee at the bank and her willingness to take him at his word, Janet’s intuition was now telling her that the telephone call was far more important.
“Jillian, I…. Something’s come up,” she said into the receiver as he eyes drifted towards the open window facing the barn down the hillside. “I’m sorry, but I’ve… got to go.”
“Well, all right, then,” she replied, a little taken aback be the drastic change in the sound of her sister’s voice. “If you really have to….”
However, before Jillian could even finish her sentence, the familiar click on the other end of the line immediately told her that Janet had already hung up the phone. Despite the distinct peculiarity of Janet’s behavior, Jillian had no way of knowing that at just that moment, her sister was already making a panicked and hasty dash towards the barn.
Donna Allison struggled to hold onto the front door of the club as a huge gust of wind nearly ripped it out of her hands. There was definitely a large storm coming and if she’d had her way, she would’ve been more than happy to ride it out in her room at the boarding house. Unfortunately, as much time and effort as she’d spent getting to know Dr. Rutherford, whenever he telephoned and invited her to a little secret rendezvous, she knew it would be in her best interest to comply.
Still standing just inside the doorway, Donna glanced down at her watch and realized that she was early. She wasn’t supposed to meet Fred for another 30 to 45 minutes. Deciding that the only thing left for her to do was order a drink – because she knew she’d need as much alcohol as she could manage to make it through the evening – she breezed past the hostess with a dismissive wave of her hand and headed towards the bar. She’d barely even set foot inside the lounge area when she saw Fred cozied up to a woman who Donna didn’t know, although she seemed vaguely familiar.
Before Fred had a chance to see her, Donna quickly ducked behind a rather tall potted plant located in the doorway to the bar where she knew she would be able to watch him and the woman who Donna presumed he was setting up to be his next mark. As a sense of panic began to set in, she exhaled slowly to steady herself. She’d worked too hard to worm her way into Fred’s good graces and had done too many things – unspeakable things – to garner his confidence in an attempt to learn the truth. Was he about to replace her as his mistress or had he already grown tired of his wealthy wife – or his recent lack of access to her sizeable bank account? Donna wasn’t certain, but the fact was clear that there was a new player in the game and she needed to know everything she could about this mystery woman.
When Fred and the woman rose from their bar stools, drinks in hand, Donna ducked even further behind the plant to avoid being noticed. To her relief, instead of heading in her direction, they took new seats in a very secluded booth – obviously to become “more acquainted”. Recognizing a perfect opportunity to find out exactly what sort of illicit activities Fred was engaging in, Donna rushed to slide into the adjacent booth, separated only be rather elaborate floral arrangements. To her delight, if she held very still and listened carefully, she could make out every word Fred and the woman, who he called “Joyce”, was saying….
“It’s about time you got here,” Burt spat when he saw Judith standing in the doorway. “I thought you said you were coming right out?”
“I came as quickly as I could.” She strode confidently into the barn and pulled off the scarf she’d had wrapped around her head while carefully maneuvering to avoid any of the typical stable obstacles. “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a storm coming. That wind is so strong it nearly blew my car off the road as I came around the lake."
Judith stood ever so still for a moment, the scarf clutched in her hands, and looked at Burt. She couldn’t help but notice the vast distance between them – not only the physical distance, but the emotional distance as well. It was such a stark and drastic change from how they once were with each other.
“Over the phone you said you had something important to tell me,” his voice finally broke the silence. “You said it was something about Janet – something that would change my life….”
“It is! It is!” She rushed to him, almost half hoping that he would take her into his arms just like he used to. When he deliberately avoided her grasp, she couldn’t help but register her deep disappointment on her face. “There are things about your… wife… that you don’t know.”
“I highly doubt that.” His tone was cool and measured as he folded his arms across his chest in almost a defiant stance. “If you have something to say, Judith, get on with it. Janet’s up at the house waiting on me to come back and finish dinner.”
“To hell with Janet!” Judith spat as she began to feel her blood pressure start to rise. “Janet can wait until hell freezes over for all I care! She ruined my life – our lives!”
Burt barely reacted to Judith’s seemingly impulsive rant. None of it was anything he hadn’t heard what seemed like a thousand times before. All he could really do was shake his head and let out a long exhale.
“This was obviously a mistake,” he said, pushing past her and heading for the door. “I don’t know what I was thinking agreeing to meet you here like this. You made it sound like something important. Because of the sound of your voice, I almost thought you might’ve been telling the truth, but it’s pretty obvious now that this is just another one of your petty little rants against Janet and I refuse to listen to another word.”
“Burt, please, you have to listen! You have to!”
Judith lunged for him, reaching out to grab him by the arm in an attempt to stop him from leaving, but he swiftly jerked his arm out of her grasp.
“P-please?” Her voice quivered as a well of buried emotions began to rise towards the surface. “It’s about the baby – our baby – and the night that… the night that…”
The catch in her voice stopped Burt in his tracks. Despite everything that had happened since, she had meant something to him once and they did share the loss of a child. When he turned back to face her, he found her with tears in her eyes and every heartbreak etched on her face. Unable to ignore the deep emotional pain she was clearly in, he went to her and took her into his arms.
“Judith, what’s this all about?” he asked as he held her tightly. “What’s so damned important about… the baby… that you had to see me tonight? What does any of this have to do with Janet?”
“I… remember,” she muttered softly. “I finally remember everything about the night I fell – about the night I lost our baby.”
“That’s… that’s wonderful! Maybe you can finally manage to put all of this behind you and move on with….”
“She was there, Burt!” Judith blurted out. Her moment of emotional weakness had passed and her steely resolve had returned. “Janet was there! I remember.”
“Of course she was there. We’ve already talked about all of this. Janet’s the one who found you after…”
“No! You don’t understand, Burt!” She paused and looked him dead in the eyes. “Janet was there before I fell. And she didn’t just find me, she….”
“W-what in the world is going on here?”
Both Burt and Judith turned towards the door of the barn to see Janet standing in the doorway, a look of sheer terror on her face.
“Janet, don’t get upset,” Burt said softly as he left Judith’s side and went to his wife. “She phoned earlier and sounded upset and said that she needed to talk and I knew that you wouldn’t….”
“Judith, what are you doing?” Janet acted like she hadn’t even heard a word Burt had said as she stepped further into the barn.
“I’m finally telling Burt the truth, Janet dear.”
“J-Judith, you… you can’t!” Janet’s lower lip began to quiver in panic. “Judith… please…?”
“Okay, what’s going on?” Burt’s eyes darted from Judith to Janet in confusion. There was clearly something happening that he knew nothing about.
“Go ahead, Janet,” Judith smiled confidently. “You heard your husband. Tell him what you did to me and his baby. Tell him!”
TO BE CONTINUED
Will history repeat?
For Now and Forever
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