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Episode 71

 

Release Date:  November 3, 2007

 Read the episode Recap

 

Previously...

Alex used Blackthorne-Reynolds funds to give to Seth to buy the land at Costa Mesa.  The police found that the security camera tapes from Adrienne's house were missing after she was murdered.  Miranda and David went to Big Bear to spend time alone.  Heather and Brett returned from Reno with news that they'd gotten married.  Brett learned what was going on at Costa Mesa and blackmailed Seth into giving him five percent of the profits.  Seth donated money to Kenny and the Land Commission in exchange for drilling permits for Costa Mesa.  Logan blew up when he learned that Brett was now partnered in Stratotech.  He demanded more of a cut from Seth, who grew angry by his request.  James and Leigh went to Costa Mesa where armed guards were heavily present.  They traced a phone number to an answering service office, then waited to see who picked up messages.  To Stormy's surprise, it was Brett, now on Seth's payroll.  Alex turned away Jordan's attempts at reconciling.  Leilani shared with James her concern over her daughter in Hawaii.  Leigh considered telling James that she was involved with Stratotech, but quickly reconsidered.  Logan was killed in a car accident.  Brett found engine grease on Seth's arm.  

 

 


 

Episode 71

"Open Arms"

 

It was late.  The house was dark save for few slivers of blue moonlight cutting through the windows.  An eerie quiet hung in the air, only the sounds of crickets chirping in the night breaking the deathly silence. 

The Santa Ana’s were blowing. Leaves scattered over the roof.  Shutters tapped the windows and rattled garbage cans outside.   This was enough of a disturbance to alarm even the most heavy of sleepers. 

The upstairs light went on and Alex Reynolds leapt from her bed, her nightgown billowing behind her as she made her way to the staircase and edged halfway down.  There she paused, peering through the uncertainty of the first floor and scanning the room for any sign of an intruder. 

“Who’s there?” she asked the darkness.

Silence. 

She swallowed hard, pulling her nightgown closed and shivering on the staircase.  “Is someone there?”

Convinced she wasn’t alone, her heart raced.  For the third night in a row she slept fitfully, waking from every bump in the night.  Most of the time she simply laid awake in bed, terrified that someone had gained entry to the house.  Terrified that someone was climbing the staircase with a knife or a gun or a pillow to smother her with.  Terrified that someone was going to kill her. 

That someone was Seth Walker.  He lived only a mile down the beach.  It would be easy for him to leave his autumn slumber next to Marilee, slip on a pair of gloves, walk to her house and silence her once and for all.  Just like he’d done to Adrienne, and just like he’d done to Logan. 

Since the news of Logan’s car accident, she had been paralyzed with fear.  That same morning she’d heard them arguing.  Logan demanded more money in the Costa Mesa deal or he’d blow the whistle on the whole operation, and Seth made sure that neither one happened.

Now she was next.  She’d already confronted him with her suspicions.  She still didn’t know what exactly he was up to.  Whether it was shipping oil to Panama, or something more scandalous.  Either way, Stratotech was something she wished she’d never gotten involved in.  She could no longer function.  She didn’t go to work, she didn’t see her children, she didn’t even leave the house.  No one could get her if she was safely locked inside.  Or so she thought until tonight.

Tired and sleepy, she sat down on the stairs and leaned against the banister.  There she stayed until morning, scanning the dark room and waiting for him to come.

Leigh Purcell

Early that morning, Leigh Purcell drove to the pier and walked down to the end, wrapped in a green cashmere shawl as she shivered from a cool breeze coming in from the water.  She gazed out at the rippling waves of the ocean, eyeing a school of seagulls that glided through the air.  She became entranced in her own thoughts, nearly oblivious to Seth who came up behind her.

“Thinking about jumping?” he asked, holding a steaming cup of coffee.

She turned and regarded him suspiciously.  “Thinking about pushing me?”

Seth sighed and shook his head in frustration.  He set his coffee on the ledge and leaned against the railing.  “Are we back to this again?” he asked.  “I told you the other day.  I had nothing to do with Logan’s accident.  How could I have?  The police say it was just that.  An accident.”

“The police say it was impossible to determine.  The car was too badly burned.  It could have been break failure.  Meaning someone could have tampered with them.”

“Why would I tamper with Logan’s breaks?”

“I heard the two of you arguing the other day after I left your office.  You said yourself that he was demanding a bigger cut in this Costa Mesa deal.  You were furious.”

“Enough to kill him?” Seth asked with a wicked smile.  “Come on, Leigh.  You know me.  You know I’m not capable of murder.”

“Just like you didn’t kill Adrienne, right?” Leigh asked cautiously.  She knew all she had were suspicions.  There was nothing she could prove.  But the odds were stacked in her favor.  Two people associated with Stratotech were now dead, and Seth was all the richer for it.

“I cared about Adrienne,” Seth claimed.

“You were sleeping with her, yes,” Leigh conceded.  “But you were sleeping with me, too.  That doesn’t mean either one of us were safe.  When she threatened to tell, you went ballistic.  Just like with Logan the other day in your office.  This is crazy.  I should just tell the police about this whole Costa Mesa business and cut my losses.”

“No,” Seth ordered.  “It’s too late for that.  You’re already in too deep.  We’ll both go to prison, Leigh.”

She shook her head in frustration.  “Then I want out.  You can keep my money.  I won’t say anything to anyone.  I just don’t want in on this deal anymore.”

“So you just want to walk away and look like an innocent martyr to your boyfriend James Blackthorne?” Seth asked.  He laughed and shook his head.  “Priceless.  Is he really worth it to you?”

“At least he’s not a murderer.”

“I’m not a murderer,” Seth insisted.  “Leigh, you have to believe that.  I may be a lot of things, but come on.”

She shivered from the cold and looked at him with lost green eyes.  “But I heard you and Logan.  You were furious.  You thought you were going to lose everything.  He-“

His smarmy façade suddenly disappeared and Seth grew quiet and solemn.  He stepped before her and backed her up against the railing of the pier.  His eyes bore into hers so deeply that she thought he was staring into her soul. 

“Let’s get one thing straight,” he began slowly and methodically.  “You did not see me arguing with Logan.”

Leigh swallowed hard, fully aware that he was issuing an ultimatum.  She slid out from behind him and dashed down the pier.  Whether he was or wasn’t a murderer, he was not the kind of man she wanted to be associated with any longer.

After she’d left, Seth tossed his empty cup into the water and turned back down the pier.  He would do anything he had to to protect his investment.  No one would stand in his way now.  Not Adrienne, not Logan, not Leigh, and not Alex. 

Brett's Condo

Brett was standing in the kitchen of his condo at the marina, glancing through the morning paper while he sipped a cup of coffee.  He skimmed through the business section, the entertainment section, and then breezed through the local news.  Not much happening outside of wildfires in San Diego and a fatal car crash on PCH. 

A knock at the door brought him back to his own reality and he traipsed across the room to answer it.   Upon opening the door, he came face to face with the most irritating way to start his day.

“You’re busted,” Stormy said from the hall outside the condo. 

“What now?” Brett asked with irritation as he hovered in the doorway.

Stormy brushed past him and entered the living room.  “Don’t play dumb.  I know you’re involved with Stratotech.  The only thing I don’t know is how involved you are.”

Stratotech?” he asked, alarmed that his former brother-in-law had uncovered the bit of information.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh come on, Brett,” Stormy said irately.  “I saw you go into that office building and pick up the messages from the answering service.  Now who are you working for and what are they up to?”

Brett folded his arms and watched him pace around the room.  “You must not have enough to do,” he said with a frown.  “Is my being gone from Sunset Studios leaving business a little on the light side?”

“Cut the crap,” Stormy said.  Stratotech owns a piece of land in Costa Mesa.  They’re shipping oil to Panama.  Adrienne Fallmont was involved before she died.  We think whoever owns Stratotech killed her because she knew too much.”

That bit of information was news to Brett.  He suddenly wondered just how important this deal was to Seth Walker.  Was he capable of murder in an effort to cover it up?

“What’s going on?” Heather asked as she came out of the bedroom, wrapped in a bathrobe and her hair wet from the shower.  “Stormy, what are you doing here?”

Stormy looked at her with wide eyes, then back at Brett who stood by with an unrelenting smirk.  “Heather, I-“  he stammered.  “What are you doing here?  I thought you were through shacking up with this guy.”

“We’re not just shacking up,” Brett said with satisfaction.  “We’re married.”

The news jolted Stormy back a step.  He suddenly forgot all about Stratotech and Costa Mesa.  Never in his wildest dreams did he think Heather would sink as low as to marry his worst enemy.

“Stormy, I was going to tell you.  Things have just been so crazy since we got back, that I-“ Heather began. 

“I can’t believe this,” he said and walked directly to her.  “Look, I know I hurt you but I always thought we would-“

“What?” Heather asked.  “We’d get back together?  Stormy, every time we tried it didn’t work.  There was always something or someone to get in our way.  I’m sorry.  You know how much I care about you and appreciate everything you’d done for me this past year, but…”  The dreaded pause.  “I love Brett.”

Hurt and angry, Stormy sucked back the tears that threatened to well up in his eyes.  He was stunned, and too upset to utter another word.  He turned and stalked back to the door, avoiding eye contact with Brett as he left in a flurry.

Heather buried her face in her hands and offered a vague smile when Brett kissed her tenderly.   When she returned to the bathroom, Brett raced out the door and caught up with Stormy on the stairs.

“You going soft on me, dude?” he asked, unable to resist the temptation to taunt him relentlessly..  “I was sure you would start one of your dog fights with me when you heard the news.  What’s the matter?  Finally realize that Heather needs a real man in her bed, and that you’re no match for me?”

Partly wanting to turn and walk away, and partly wanting to punch his lights out, Stormy took a step forward and issued a look of warning.  “This marriage is a joke,” he began.  “She may think she’s happy right now, but mark my words, you’re going to mess it up, and when you do, she’ll kick you to the curb just the same way my sister did.  You’ll either screw around on her, or screw yourself with however you’re involved with Stratotech, but you will mess it up.  And when you do, just remember that I’ll be here for just like I always am.”

With that, he turned and continued down the stairs.  Brett set his jaw, intent on proving him wrong.  He and Heather would be happy, and Stormy would see once and for all that he and Heather weren’t the golden couple he always thought they were. 

Blackthorne Mansion

Heather went by the Blackthorne mansion to have breakfast with Miranda.  While she waited in the dining room for her step-sister to come downstairs, she nibbled on a piece of bacon and sipped from a cup of juice, absently gazing outside at the flowing green lawns.  When she heard Miranda enter the room, she spun around and smiled brilliantly.

“Welcome back,” she said.  “I was beginning to think you and David were going to stay in Big Bear indefinitely.”

Miranda smiled and flung her hair over her shoulders while she poured herself a glass of milk.  “I wouldn’t have minded it one bit,” she said.  “It was wonderful, Heather.  I really feel like we got to know each other this past weekend.  Did you know that he went to law school?  Or that his family went to the cabin in Big Bear every summer of his childhood?”

“No, I didn’t know that,” Heather said with a grin and sat down next to her.  “It sounds like you had a good time.”

“It was better than good,” she said, biting off a piece of a croissant and gushing with excitement.  “I mean, David’s always been kind of a mystery.  I mean, we flirted and we went out on a couple of dates, and he was there for me after the miscarriage, but I really think we connected this weekend.” 

“I’m so happy for you.”

“Okay, this is me officially shutting up about my love life,” she said with an apologetic smile.  “So tell me what’s been going on around here.”

Heather bit down on her fingernails, certain that what she was about to tell Miranda would go over like a box of bombs.  But she would find out eventually, so she took a deep breath and blurted it out.

“I got married,” she said.

“You did?” Miranda exclaimed in surprise and grabbed her hand to search for a ring.  “Oh my God, I can’t believe you and Stormy are on marriage number two!  Why didn’t you wait until I got back?  I would have been a bridesmaid!  As long as I got to pick the dress, of course.”

Awkward, Heather thought to herself.  “Not Stormy.”

“Well then-“ she began, then realization hit her quickly.  “Oh my God, tell me you didn’t.  Tell me you did not marry Brett.”

Heather squirmed uncomfortably in her chair.  “Miranda, I know you don’t understand our relationship, but can’t you just trust me?  I love him and I know he loves me.”

Miranda placed a hand on her forehead and silently groaned to herself.  “Look, I-“

“I know, you divorced Brett because he was untrustworthy.  He did horrible things.  But he’s more than made up for that.  At least to me.”

“Heather, you don’t-“

I know, I know, he’s a con man and a lair.  Well I think that it was this house that was doing that to him, Miranda.  I think living under this roof with your father and your brother made him into this competitive, fortune-hunting jerk.  But ever since he moved out he’s been totally different.”

Miranda stood up and began pacing the room.  “What about-“

“Brett was broken up after you lost the baby,” Heather said and followed her across the room.  “I’ve never seen him like that before.  I think he really wants to be a family and to have someone who he can take care of and that can take care of him.”

“But Heather. I….uh…..arrgghh,” Miranda said and shook her head in resignation.  She pulled Heather into an embrace and hugged her warmly.  “I’m scared for you.”

“You’re not mad?” Heather asked, wincing as she pulled away 

Miranda ran her hands through her hair.  “No, I’m not mad.  I just…”  A pause while she contemplated her feelings.  All she could do was repeat herself.  I’m scared for you.”

Yacht Club

James, Renee and Kenny met for breakfast on the terrace at the Yacht Club.  They settled down at their table overlooking the marina and Renee sighed with frustration at the empty seat beside her.

“I suppose Alex is another no-show today,” she guffawed.  “Honestly, if she doesn’t want to take part in the business then why doesn’t she sell to us so we can quit being disappointed every time she flakes out on us?”

“I called this morning and she said she was feeling under the weather,” James said and smiled as the waitress came by with coffee and the morning paper.  “I’ll fill her in after we get the details of the acquisition nailed down.”

“Fine,” Renee said and picked up her coffee.  “Kenny, how much is the seller asking for the land?”

“Too much,” he replied and withdrew a set of contracts.  “Land in Nevada isn’t cheap, and we’re about five million short of meeting their asking price.”

“Surely we can come up with another five million dollars,” James said.  Blackthorne-Reynolds isn’t doing that badly.  The pipeline in Colorado is almost completed.  Overhead has been fairly low lately.  I don’t understand.”

Kenny shrugged.  “I’m going through the books with a fine tooth comb,” he said.  “But I’m not an accountant, James.  I’m a lawyer.  There are things in the ledger that I don’t understand.  Expenses that don’t mean much to me without Alex’s input.  She’s been the bookkeeper since you started the business, and from the way it looks she’s got some screwy methods of accounting.”

“So call her up and get her over here,” Renee said.  “I don’t care if she’s sick.  If there’s money missing from Blackthorne-Reynolds then she’s got a lot to answer for.”

James held up his hand in an effort to stop Renee’s raving.  “I’ll talk to Alex and we’ll get it straightened out,” he said.  “For now let’s try to stall.  I want this land in Nevada.  The geologist I hired said it was a natural gas goldmine.”

“He wasn’t the one who died, was he?” Renee asked and placed a hand on her chest.

James shook his head. “No.”

“Who died?” Kenny asked inquisitively.

“Some geologist,” James explained.  “Mackenzie.  He was in a car accident a couple of days ago.”

Kenny grew into a daze, recalling the meeting he’d had with Seth Walker.  Logan Mackenzie was the geologist who had been working with him.  They were working together to get the variance on the land in Costa Mesa.  Now he was dead.  Just like Adrienne.  What were the odds that two people involved with Stratotech were now dead?  And was his keeping quiet about what he knew going to get him into even more trouble? 

“If you’ll excuse me,” he said and stood up in a hurry.

“Kenny, we aren’t finished,” Renee said with a frown.

“Just call me when you get the books figured out.  I just forgot about an appointment I have.”

With that, he grabbed his briefcase and raced across the terrace.  He made his way outside and across the street to Seth’s office.  Darting through the door, he found Seth talking on the phone while leaning back in his chair.

“What the hell is going on?” he demanded.

Seth quickly ended his call and hung up the phone.  “Kenny, how nice to see you this morning.  What can I do for you?  Don’t tell me the Land Commission needs more money for their wildlife preserve.  I think my donation should have about covered it.”

Kenny leaned across the desk and stared heatedly at him.  “I just learned that Logan Mackenzie died,” he said.  “Wasn’t he the geologist you had on hand to forge those land surveys at Costa Mesa?”

“He was my associate if that’s what you’re getting at,” Seth said coolly.  “What is this all about?  He was in a tragic car accident.  You know how dangerous those curves on the highway can be.”

“First Adrienne, now Logan?” Kenny asked and shook his head.

“Adrienne?” Seth asked and stood up.  “What does she have to do with this?”

“She sent my ex-wife a letter asking her to get it to me if anything happened to her,” Kenny said.  “It was a map of Costa Mesa and a truck route to Panama.  Why would she send that to me, Seth?”

“I can’t pretend to know what Adrienne did, or what went through her mind.”

Kenny dug his hands into the pockets of his gray pinstripe suit.  “We both know there is no oil at Costa Mesa.  So what are you shipping to Panama?”

Seth grew serious, approaching Kenny steadfastly and glaring into his eyes.  “Take this any way you want, Kenny, but I want you to stop asking questions about this.  As far as you know, the subjects of Panama, Adrienne Fallmont, and Logan Mackenzie are off limits.”

Kenny knew very well that he was being threatened.  He swallowed hard and backed up a step.  He was now more sure than ever than something sinister was going on, and Congressman Seth Walker was right in the heart of it.

Brett Armstrong

In his office next door, Brett was busy studying a spreadsheet of cost analysis for Costa Mesa.  By his calculations, with his five percent of Stratotech, he would be a millionaire in his own rite in a matter of a few short weeks.

He came across a name over and over that struck a familiar chord in his mind.  Several signatures that bore the name Logan Mackenzie kept popping up on reports.  Now that he owned five percent of the company, he wanted to know who else was on their payroll. 

Mackenzie,” he murmured under his breath, racking his brain and trying to remember why the name sounded so familiar to him.  It seemed that he’d read about a Mackenzie in the paper lately.

Suddenly he remembered.  He grabbed the newspaper from his desk and tore it open to the local news.  He skimmed down the page until he came to the article about the geologist who died in the car accident on PCH. 

Looking up from the newspaper, Brett quickly began to realize that he was involved with a very dangerous individual in Seth Walker.   Adrienne Fallmont and Logan Mackenzie were exhibits A and B.

Jasmes Blackthorne

The idea that Hollywood was the land of make believe had occurred to Leigh more than once.  Everyone was an actor, this she knew.  So why couldn’t she join the ranks of the celebrity crowd and go about her day as though she were playing a part in a movie?  She wouldn’t have to feel the guilt over lying to James, or letting a possible two-time murderer go free.  She could just be Leigh Purcell, the woman James had met in Acapulco seven years earlier on the set of a movie.

But sadly James was bound to learn the truth.  She decided she’d have to step up her masquerade.  Maybe getting away from the source of the problem was the answer.

“I had an idea,” she said as she and James had dinner that night at the mansion.  “Why don’t we fly down to Acapulco tomorrow morning?”

“Acapulco?” he asked.

She nodded and watched as he poured them each another glass of wine.  Leilani had served dinner in front of the fire in the family room.  It was such a romantic setting.  It only made her want to hold onto him even more. 

“I need to check on some things at my hotel,” she lied.  The place ran itself, after all.  “Plus I have my house and my things. Not to mention Purcell Worldwide.   I’d just like to touch base with my life there.  We could make a vacation out of it.”

He smiled and kissed her tenderly on the neck.  “I’d like nothing more than to go away with you,” he said, and then sighed apologetically.  “But this isn’t a good time.  This thing with Stratotech is really bothering me.  Stormy and Eddie have been investigating, but so far we’ve not come up with much.  I feel like I’m missing something.”

“Like what?” she asked, fishing.

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Somehow Miranda’s ex-husband is involved, although he denies it.  And even if he is involved, getting him to tell the truth about anything is like getting secrets out of a government agent.”

Leigh sighed in despair.  “James, why do you feel so passionate about this?” she asked him point blank.  “Why do you have to know who owns Stratotech so badly?”

“Because whoever owns it killed one of my best friends’ wives.  I’m positive of that.  And I owe it to both of them to find out who it is.  And besides all of that, the Filmmaker Awards are coming up next week.  I'd like you to be my date if you'll agree."

Leigh appeared surprised.  'You want me to be your date?"

"Of course."  He smiled accordingly.

“I love you,” she found herself saying, placing a gentle hand on the side of his face. “You’re a good, descent man.”

James appeared caught off guard.  He looked into her brilliant green eyes and touched her hand. 

“I love you too,” he said, pulling her into a kiss.

The fireplace flickered before them as they lay in each other’s arms.  The complications of their lives faded away, everything seemingly less important than being together at that very moment.

Alex Reynolds

Thump.

Clang.

Crash.

Every sound grew louder and louder until eventually Alex leapt out of bed and cowered in the corner of her bedroom.  Her heart raced inside her chest, her eyes grew wider and wider in terror until she was seconds from fainting dead away. 

Someone was in the house.  This time she was sure of it.  Terrified, she grabbed the phone and darted into the closet, closing the door securely behind.

Peering through the wooden slats on the door, she dialed and held the phone in her trembling hand.  Seconds later, Jordan answered at his house in Beverly Hills. 

“This better be important,” he said, woken from a deep slumber in his luxurious bed. 

“Jordan,” she whispered quietly.  “Someone’s breaking into my house.”

“Hello?” he said with a frown.  “I can’t hear you.  Speak up.”

“Jordan, it’s Alex!” she squealed.  “Someone is breaking into my house.  Please get over here!”

“Alex?” he asked and sat up in bed.  He rubbed his eyes and switched on the lamp.  “What’s wrong?”

“Jordan, please.  Get the face cream out of your ears and get your ass over here!” 

Jordan frowned and looked at the phone before hanging it up.  “Ass?  Cream?”   Did Alex just give him a bootie call?

Stormy Blackthorne

Dressed head to toe in black, Stormy and Eddie crept along the perimeter of the fence surrounding the Costa Mesa drill site.  They ignored the cautionary No Trespassing signs posted every ten feet or so, waiting for the armed guard to pass before climbing over and scuttling down the embankment.

Without uttering a word, Stormy motioned for Eddie to follow, rounding the side of a trailer and huddling behind it near the ground.  Eddie pointed to the door and slowly rose, trying the handle and finding it locked.   He reached into his pocket and removed a small device which he inserted into the lock and turned it this way and that.  Seconds later the door popped open.  Stormy gave him an appreciative pat on the back and they entered the trailer undetected.

Once inside, Eddie removed a small pen light which he shined around the trailer.

“Careful with that,” Stormy whispered.  “One look in this direction from that guard up there and we’re as good as dead.  This is private property, remember.”

“Relax, buddy boy,” Eddie said and went to work at rifling through stacks of papers and file folders.   “You’re talking to a pro.”

Just to be safe, Stormy closed the mini blinds that covered the windows.  He turned and aided in the search.  Not that they knew what they were looking for.  Anything that seemed out of place, he supposed.  Or anything that would clue them in as to who was behind Stratotech. 

“Anything?” he asked Eddie.

“I don’t know.”  Eddie shined the light over a document that made the hair stand up on the back of his neck.   “This looks important.”

Stormy came up behind him and peered over his shoulder.  Reading along, he parted his lips and spoke out loud in a hushed whisper.

“Way Bill # 18796.  Shipper: Stratotech USA.  Consignee:  Casco Viejo, Panama, Central America.  Number of Cartons: 147.  Gross Weight: 2, 240 Pounds.  Manifest # 876.”

“It’s a shipping invoice,” Eddie whispered and continued reading.

“Yeah, and look what they’re shipping,” Stormy said and pointed to the document.

Eddie read further down the invoice.  “Cargo: M240 Assault Rifles; 20mm Autocannons; M203 Grenade Launchers….”   He paused and looked at Stormy.  “Holy sh-   Do you know what this means?”

Stratotech isn’t selling oil to Panama,” Stormy said.  “They’re selling weapons.”

Their surprise over the information was short lived.  Footsteps shuffling outside and a bright light shining through the window sent them both into a panic.  Eddie quickly turned off his pen light and gave Stormy a fearful look. 

Quickly, Stormy led him to the back of the trailer.  They disappeared from view just as the door opened and the security guard entered, brandishing a gun at his side and scanning the trailer with watchful eyes.

The flashlight cut through the darkness, inching across the room until it illuminated every surface.  He stepped down the center of the trailer, casting the light right and left until he came to the back.  A sound from behind caught his attention and he quickly spun around, aiming his pistol and shining the flashlight straight ahead. 

When his light showed no sign of life, the guard went back to the door and peered outside.  There was no one there.  He turned back and looked through the trailer once more before leaving and closing the door securely behind.

Once he was gone and the flashlight faded into the distance, Stormy emerged from beneath a desk.  Eddie followed, bumping his head on the metal top as he slid out from the hiding space.

“Shhh,” Stormy said.  “You want him to come back?”

Eddie shrugged apologetically and followed him to the door.  They peered outside and made certain the coast was clear before leaving the trailer and scurrying back up the hill to the fence.

Jordan Rydell

The figure skulked around the side of the house, peering in windows and checking for a way in.  His feet rustled in the leaves outside the living room window.  He pulled at the shutters and moved along to the front door.  Standing on the porch, he tried the knob, turning it once and then pausing before rattling it again. 

The wind howled.  Alex heard the intruder trying to gain entry and she fled from the closet, picking up a fireplace poker and raising it above he head.  Slowly, she made her way down the stairs.  Her eyes were transfixed to the front door.  She could see the shadowy figure standing on the porch.

“Who’s there?” she called from the bottom stair.

“Alex, open up.  It’s Jordan.”

“Finally,” she uttered, unlocking the door and pulling him inside.  “What took you so long?  Did you see anyone outside?”  She peered cautiously through the window at the front yard.

“Huh?” 

“Did you see whoever it was that was trying to break in?” she asked.  “You must have scared him off.”

“What?” Jordan asked with a frown.  “I thought I was coming over to…”

“What?” Alex asked.

“I thought you wanted to….you know, do it.”

Rolling her eyes, Alex stalked across the room and poured herself a drink.  “Are you out of your mind?” she asked.  “Do you think I would call you over here at this hour for a bootie call?  Is your head screwed on straight?  Never mind, don’t answer that.”

“Well what do you want?” Jordan demanded angrily, and a little put off.  “I could barely understand you when you called me.  You were using that husky, whispery sex kitten voice you do.”

“I was trying to keep my voice down,” she insisted.  “Someone was breaking into my house and I didn’t want them to hear me.”

Jordan stepped toward her and sensed that she was being straight with him.  “You’re terrified,” he said.  “Alex, if someone is-“

His sentence was cut short when the sound of tires squealing reverberated through the house.  They looked at one another in a panic and Jordan dashed to the patio door, sliding it open and darting onto the terrace.  He gazed across the side yard and saw a dark sedan speeding away onto the main road.

“Who was it?” Alex asked, her heart beating wildly.

He shook his head, examining the door with a frown.  “I don’t know.  It was too dark to tell.”

“What are you looking at?”

Jordan bent down and inspected the lock.  “This has been tampered with,” he said, then gave her a look of concern.  “Someone jimmied it open.  Looks like they used a screwdriver or something.”

Alex gazed at the door with a sense of dread.  She had been right.  Seth had been there.  He would have killed her if Jordan hadn’t scared him off. 

“Jordan, I’m scared,” she said and ran to him, throwing her arms tight around his body.

“Who would want to hurt you?” Jordan asked as he held her in his strong arms.

She shook her head, feigning ignorance.  She knew she couldn’t tell him the truth.  If he knew what kind of trouble she’d gotten herself into with Seth Walker he would think even lower of her than he already did. 

“I’ll stay with you tonight,” he said and looked into her frightened eyes.

Alex nodded, enveloping herself in his masculine embrace.  Somehow with everything going on - the murders and the uncertainty surrounding her own safety - she felt totally and completely at ease in Jordan’s arms.

A block up the road, Seth stopped his car and looked back at Alex's house through the rear window.  

Blackthorne Mansion

“Are you sure?” James asked Stormy and Eddie the next morning when they came to tell him what they’d found in Costa Mesa.

Stormy nodded.  They were standing in the library at the Blackthorne mansion.  Leigh was there, her heart pounding inside her chest, terrified that her name had come up somewhere in the paperwork they’d found in the trailer at the site.

“Those trucks are transporting weapons,” Eddie confirmed.  “Some heavy stuff, too.  We’re not just talking handguns.  This is full-on assault arsenal.”

“Why would Stratotech be selling arms to Panama?” Leigh feigned innocence.

“Money, what else,” James replied.  “He’s supplying them with enough weaponry to build an army.  They’ll use it for terrorism, intimidation against its enemies, you name it.  They’ll pay whatever it takes.   The point is it’s totally illegal.  If the government found out what they’re doing, there’d be hell to pay.”

“Adrienne must have found out about it,” Stormy declared.  “That’s why she sent that map to Renee.”

Leigh clutched her throat, fearing that her lie would soon be exposed.  If James knew she was in on it, and involved in Stratotech 

“What now?” Eddie asked.

James rubbed the sides of his head.  “I’m not sure.  But keep this under wraps for now until I decide what to do.  One thing is for sure, we've finally got an advantage over these people."

Brett walked into Seth’s office, closed the door, and unveiled a smile that instilled panic in the depths of Seth’s body.  He’d known enough con men to realize he was not about to be approached with any form of pleasantry.

“Having a good day?” Brett asked, a manila envelope tucked beneath his arm.

“I’ve had better.  What’s up?”  Seth found himself studying Brett’s eyes.  What was he up to now?

Brett sat down across from him and half-crossed his legs.  “I’ve been thinking about our arrangement,” he began.  “Since Logan took that unfortunate spill on the highway, that frees up quite a bit of the proceeds from Costa Mesa.”

“I feel terrible about what happened to Logan.  The fact that his share of the company goes to me is a bittersweet gain.”

“I’m sure,” Brett mused.  “You know, it’s convenient that the police can’t come up with any evidence that Logan’s brakes were tampered with.  Convenient for you.”

“If you’re suggesting that I-“

“I saw you that day, remember?  You walked in here jumping out of your skin, out of breath and flustered.  You had engine grease on your arm.  You said it was from your garage.  And your office was a disaster area.  Could that have been because you and Logan got physical over his demands?"

“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” Seth began.

Brett sighed and opened the envelope.  “Luckily – or maybe unluckily for you, depending on how you look at it – one of your other bits of handiwork wasn’t so well covered up.”  He withdrew several large color photos and dropped them onto the desk.

Uneasily, Seth picked up the pictures and stared in defeat.   The tell-tale photos were of him entering and leaving Adrienne Fallmont’s house – a date and time stamp clearly imposed on the bottom corner.  The date and time of Adrienne’s murder.

“I printed those from the security tape you took from Adrienne’s house,” Brett announced.  “Right after you killed her.”

“How did you-“ Seth began.

“I went to Logan Mackenzie’s office,” Brett explained.   “I told them I was his brother and came by to collect his personal effects.   The security tape was taped to the bottom of his desk.  You argued over the tape that morning in your office, didn't you?  He was blackmailing you with it.  I guess you missed it when you did your clean-sweep of the place after you killed him.”

Angry, Seth stood up and walked around the side of the desk, stopping only when he was a few threatening inches from Brett.  “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” he said through clenched teeth.  “This is too big for you and your low-rent pyramid schemes.”

“I know enough to know that you won’t risk your freedom for even all the money in the world.  You’re probably willing to make any bargain you have to about now.”

Seth slammed his fist on the desk in resignation.  He turned and gazed out the window.  “What do you want?”

“Fifty percent,” Brett replied simply. 

Seth let out a silent groan, realizing he had to silence Brett once and for all.  No way was he going to part with half of his earnings from this deal.

“And before you get any ideas,” Brett continued, “I have the original security tape in a safe place.  If anything happens to me – if the breaks go out on my car, or the gas gets left on in my apartment – that tape will go to the police.”

Seth now realized he had underestimated his opponent.  He was trapped.  Suddenly hiring Brett Armstrong and his PR man seemed like the worst idea he’d ever had.

Alex Reynolds

After Jordan left that morning, Alex wandered the first floor of her house, her eyes darting back and forth as she secured the doors and windows.  She knew that he would come back again.  Seth been there the night before but luckily Jordan had scared him away.  Tonight she may not be so lucky.

Pounding on the door sent her heart racing.  Apprehensively, she approached, grabbing an ice pick from the bartop and brandishing it in her path.  She reached for the knob, turning it slowly and peering outside.

A figure in a trench coat loomed before her.  She opened her mouth to scream but the sounds would not come.  Raising the icepick threateningly, she started to bring it down to her attacker when his hand clasped around her arm and forced the weapon to the floor.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” James yelled and restrained her from attacking him. 

Once she realized who it was, Alex relaxed, stepping back and calming her erratic breathing. 

“James, you scared me to death,” she said in bated breath.  “What are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to you,” he said and entered the house.  “Who did you think it was?”

She shrugged, her guilt showing through.  “You can never be too careful,” she said.  

He shook his head indifferently and led her into the living room.  “I know whatever is going on with you must take presidence over Blackthorne-Reynolds, but there’s something I have to ask you.  It’s important.”

“What is it?” she asked and lit a cigarette.

“Ten million dollars has gone missing from an account,” James began.  “Do you have any idea what happened to it?”

She turned away in an effort to avoid eye contact.  He couldn’t tell she was lying if she didn’t look at him.  She knew that from when they were married. 

“I have no idea,” she said. 

James regarded her carefully.  He turned her toward him and looked into her frightened eyes.  “Alex, I don’t believe you,” he said.  “Those books have been doctored.  What are you up to?”

She pulled away and rushed across the room.  Tears threatened to explode.  She stubbed out her cigarette in a crystal ash tray and wrapped her arms around herself.  “I wish I could tell you, but it’s too late.”

Too late?” he demanded.  “Alex, if you’ve been embezzling money, I need to know about it.”

“I didn’t embezzle!” she insisted.  “I…I thought it was a good idea at the time but….I was wrong!  I made a mistake!  I shouldn’t have trusted him!”

Who?” James demanded.

She finally turned to him, realizing she had no choice but to come clean.  It was the only way to end her sleepless nights and her constant paranoia.  Maybe James would know what to do. 

“I know you’ve been trying to find out who owns Stratotech,” she said.

“Do you know who owns it?” James asked.  “What does this have to do with the missing ten million dollars?”

She swallowed and forced herself to admit the truth.  We own Stratotech.  It’s our company.  I used the ten million dollars to create it as an offshoot of Blackthorne-Reynolds.”

James blinked, wondering if he heard her correctly.  He was at a loss for words.   He began pacing the room, racking his brain to try to understand what she was telling him.

“How on earth did you get involved in this?” he finally asked.  “What even made you think of doing something like this?”

“It wasn’t my idea!” she cried.  “It was his idea!”

“Who, damnit!?"

“Seth Walker!” she lamented and threw herself dramatically onto the sofa in a fit of tears.

“Walker?” James asked.  “What does he have to do with this?”

“He came to me with the idea.  He said we could go into business together.  He said there was an oil field under Costa Mesa and that we’d be millionaires a hundred times over.”

“What?   What was this all about?  How could you be so stupid?  You'd risk yourself for money?  That doesn't sound like you.  Power, yes.  Love, maybe.  But not money.”

Alex sat up and glared at him menacingly.  “It wasn’t just the money, James.  It was the independence!  I got sick of you and Renee excluding me from the business so I wanted to branch out on my own!”

“So this is my fault?”

You were the one who asked her to come into the business, not me!  If it wasn’t for her things would have been fine!”

James shook his head in frustration.  “And Adrienne?”

She closed her eyes and swallowed hard.   “I think he killed her because she found out they were going to ship oil to Panama.

“You think?”

“Then his geologist died in a car accident and it looked like he killed him too,” Alex blurted out.  “And I confronted him about it and now I think he’s after me.”

“After you?  You’re his partner for God’s sake!”

“So was Adrienne!” Alex shrieked.

James rubbed the sides of his head, pacing back and forth to clear his mind.  He stopped and looked at her point-blank.  “I have news for you, Alex,” he began.  “It isn’t oil Seth Walker plans on shipping to Panama.  It’s illegal arms.  Weapons.   Automatic rifles, grenades, you name it.”

“What?” Alex asked and clutched her chest.  “But Seth got a drilling variance.  Why would he-“

“It’s a cover.  Costa Mesa is a cover.  He applied for drilling permits so the government wouldn’t suspect anything was going on there.  It’s a base for arms dealing.  And since Stratotech is owned by Blackthorne-Reynolds, you’ve successful given him the opportunity to drop the entire thing in our laps if it goes bust.”

“But I had no idea!” Alex insisted.  “James, you’ve got to believe me!  I didn’t know about any of this, or else I would never have gotten involved!”

“Well you are involved.  And so are Renee and I.  Seth set it up so that we’re the ones who will take the fall for exporting arms to an embargoed nation.  And believe me, when that happens, you’ll wish he had killed you.”

Alex covered her mouth with her hands and turned, horrified by the reality of what she’d gotten them into.

 


Next time....

Leigh comes clean.  Seth struggles to cover for himself.  James, Alex and Renee formulate a dangerous plan.  The Filmmaker Awards arrive with the usual drama.  

 Read Episode 72

 

 


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