“I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “I’m not sure what you’re saying.”
“Mr. Ashforth states that you attacked him in his office. He states…,” the Denver Police Detective read from a piece of paper. “He states that you threatened his children and wife. He claims that you were out of control, wild eyed, and so violent that he felt he must stop you before you reached your car.”
“Or what?” Jacob asked.
Jacob looked over to at his lawyer, Samantha Hargreaves. She shook her head slightly as if this was to be expected.
“It’s our understanding that you have a black belt in a martial art and certainly we know that you are wealthy. He states that he felt you were a danger to his family and the community.”
“In the first place,” Samantha said, “a black belt doesn’t mean anything. I have a couple myself. Unless you can prove that my client was an immediate danger to specific persons, you have to let this drop. Jacob Marlowe was attacked by Mr. Ashforth, from behind I might add, after he terminated his contract with Ashforth Pipe Supply. You should be prosecuting Mr. Ashforth, not vice versa.”
“This has become a major departmental situation, Ms. Hargreaves. Mr. Ashforth was wounded by two Denver Police Officers,” the police detective said. “These officers are currently suspended from duty while we investigate. It’s important that we pursue every line of inquiry.”
“He was shot?”
“Yes, Mr. Marlowe,” the detective said.
“I don’t remember any of that,” Jacob said.
“Let’s start with why you went down there,” the detective said.
“A woman called to say that my friend, Jill, had been thrown out of a building. I took her card.”
Jacob tilted his head as if he was trying to remember what happened to the card. Samantha touched his arm then gave the detective a business card.
“You went to help your fiancé.”
“She was just my friend then,” Jacob said. “We’d been out once.”
“And now she’s your fiancé?”
“She hasn’t said ‘yes’,” Jacob smiled. “But I’m hopeful.”
“That’s fast,” the detective said. “It’s only been a week.”
“I… I think when you almost die, certain things become very clear,” Jacob said. “I’m lucky to be alive, Sergeant.”
“You went to help your friend….”
“Right. Jill told me what happened. Even though she had sick and vacation time, she was fired for taking a day off to be with her sick daughter.”
“Katherine.” The detective flipped some pages. “Katherine had a bad reaction to a bee sting?”
“Yes.” Jacob said. “Jill was thrown out of the office. She showed me a bruise on her elbow where Mr. Ashforth grabbed her arm.”
“What’s your relationship with Ashforth?” The detective asked.
“Ashforth was one of our pipe suppliers. We’d been having trouble with them for about six months. Their product quality had deteriorated and their service was awful. Our guys in supply alerted me to possible difficulties. According to my assistant, Blane, they met with Mr. Ashforth a couple of times. I hadn’t made the decision yet to terminate our relationship because….”
“Your fiancé worked there,” the detective finished his statement. “We’ve spoken with Blane and your supply team. They said the same thing. They said they had already found a new supplier but were waiting for you to make the final decision. What was the hold up?”
“Ashforth Pipe Supply was founded around the time my parents founded Lipson Construction. The two companies kind of grew up together. Mabel Ashforth was a friend of my mother’s. I knew what losing our business would mean. I had planned to meet with Mabel… I thought she was still running the company… that week to discuss the problems.”
“Mr. Norsen completed the termination of business with Ashforth Pipe Supply while you were in the hospital,” the detective said. “He effectively closed the company.”
Jacob nodded his head.
“The employees report that they heard you yell at Mr. Ashforth.”
“I was very angry,” Jacob said.
“Because your fiancé was mistreated.”
“More than that. While I attempted to work with them, went out on a limb for them, they were lying to me.”
“About the ownership changes?” the detective asked.
“Yes. I’m sure our guys told you but we really bent over backwards to continue our relationship with them. I personally went way out of my way to keep them in business. So, yes, I was angry. But I never threatened him or his children or Mabel for that matter. I remember getting Katy’s medicine then going out to the car. I was excited about spending time with Jill and having a rare, free evening. I wouldn’t give up time with Jill to harass some poor family, a friend of my mother’s no less.”
“Getting a child’s medication from the company refrigerator doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is out of control or violent, Sergeant,” Samantha said.
“They say different things,” the detective said. “You’re saying he attacked you out of the blue. Completely unprovoked.”
“I can’t speak to his motivations,” Jacob said. “I was walking across the sidewalk and he hit me. I didn’t see it coming. My father told me it was a twenty pound pipe wrench but I never saw it.”
“That’s what the officers say,” the detective said. “The attack is corroborated by a video surveillance camera. Your statements differ on the events that happened inside his office. Mr. Ashforth says that he was reasonably provoked.”
“Listen, the Ashforths lied to my client for almost a year,” Samantha said. “They’re lying now.”
“Is there anything you’d like to add?” The detective looked up from his notepad to Jacob. “Sir? Mr. Marlowe?”
“I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “I don’t feel well. I had this acupuncture treatment…. It seems to have worn off.”
“This interview is over, Sergeant,” Samantha said. “My client is still very ill.”
Standing, Samantha walked to the door of the small sitting room. Opening the door, she found Blane waiting for Jacob. Blane helped Jacob from the room. Samantha watched them move into a nearby bedroom.
“I’ll walk you out, Sergeant,” Samantha said. “This place is like a maze. You can easily get lost here.”
“I remember when it was a burned out crack house. It was a maze then.” The detective nodded. “Marlowe? He’s not going anywhere.”
“Just so you know. The Ashforths have hired attorneys to sue in civil court.”
“The Ashforths or just ….”
“They seem to have reconciled their marriage,” the detective said. “As Mr. Marlowe said, near death brings clarity.”
“Or greed,” Samantha said under her breath.
She walked the detective to the side entrance, then watched as he weaved his way through the paparazzi. Shaking her head, she turned into the main Castle living room to check on Jacob.
“Are you coming with us?” Val asked Samantha. Valerie Waters smiled at Samantha. “We’re going for a run in the mountains.”
“I don’t have anything to wear,” Samantha said. “Plus who knows what other police might show up? I mean I came to help Aden then….”
“They can wait. Jacob’s out cold and Aden’s not here,” Valerie said.
Samantha smiled at Valerie.
“What?” Valerie asked.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
Valerie tugged on Samantha’s arm. “Wear my clothes. You have shoes in your car - you always have shoes in your car.”
“It’s really good to be home. Isn’t it?” Val beamed at her.
“I was SO hoping to see you today.” Lexi said to Sandy. Lexi’s slim form was balanced in a tree pose behind the counter as she checked IDs at the gym entrance. “Aren’t you glad I warned you away from Aden the Awful??”
Lexi checked in a couple more gym patrons that were standing behind Sandy.
“I saw in the paper that Aden the Awful was arrested last weekend!” Lexi’s eyes lit up with malicious glee. “Here I saved it for you.”
Lexi gave the paper to a stunned Sandy. Sandy stood reading an article in the Denver Post that said that Aden’s kids were in the custody of social services and Aden was in jail.
“But….” Sandy wasn’t sure what to say.
“I heard from someone else that he lost his kids for good.” Without looking at Sandy, Lexi continued checking in patrons. “About time, I say. Social Services is really behind if Aden the Awful can keep his kids.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
Sandy’s head jerked up from the article. Tanesha.
“I heard that you were a skanky ho,” Heather said. Heather came to next to Sandy. Heather’s hand touched Sandy’s forearm in silent support.
“A skanky trainer-ho who thrives on the troubles of others while making her living doing horizontal aerobics.” Tanesha accentuated her words with a thrust of her hips.
Lexi’s bright blue eyes became slits of indignation.
“You don’t know anything about Aden Norsen. You should mind your own business.” Lexi sniffed. “Sandy and I know that Aden the Awful is a horrible man and father.”
Sandy heard an intake of breath near the door. Her eyes jerked up to see Aden standing next to the door. His face was a wash of betrayal. Clearly he thought she and Lexi were gossiping about him. She shook her head at him but he looked away from her. Her heart dropping, Sandy opened her mouth to say something when Tanesha spoke.
“I hate liars,” Tanesha said. “Jill? Did you hear what Miss Thing here said?”
“I did,” Jill said coming in the door behind Aden. She touched Aden’s shoulder as she walked by. “I’ve known Sandy since she was eight years old and she would never say a bad word about anyone. Especially someone who was her friend. But I know you love to spread evil lies and gossip about people, Lexi.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Heather said.
“Plus,” Sandy said finding her voice at last, “I was there. And this article is wrong. Aden wasn’t arrested and the kids are home… are home with us.”
Sandy went around the counter to stand with Aden. She stretched up on her toes to kiss his lips.
“Hi honey,” she said.
Aden looked at Sandy. His shock and insecurity vanished in her warm smile.
“Ready to work out?” Sandy asked.
“You can be with your friends,” Aden said. “Girls day and all.”
“Nah,” Jill said. “We came to spa.”
“And deal with this skank,” Tanesha said. “Listen Ms Thing. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
“And we don’t like being messed with,” Heather said.
“Spray weed killer on love? And the gardeners get pissed,” Jill finished.
“That was good,” Tanesha said. She and Jill walked around the counter. “Weed killer and gardeners.”
“I thought so,” Jill smiled.
“Damn, Sandy, I forgot how cute he was.” Tanesha nodded then entered the gym.
“He’s really cute,” Heather said before turning into the gym.
Aden and Sandy stood holding hands at the counter.
“I’m sorry, Lexi,” Aden said. “I’ve tried to make it up to you. You have your career, your car, the life you said you wanted, and I’ve been happy to help.”
Surprised, Sandy’s head jerked to look at Aden. She had no idea that Aden had tried to make anything up to Lexi. Certainly, Lexi hadn’t mentioned it when she told her all that awful stuff about Aden.
“But we still have this animosity. It’s been a long, long time. What’s it going to take to just let this go?”
“You’ll be sorry, Sandy. He’s nothing but trouble.” Lexi made a sour face.
“I’ll take my chances,” Sandy said.
Tugging on Aden’s hand, she led him around the counter to the aerobic equipment. Aden stopped to say something else to Lexi, but Lexi looked away from him. He shrugged.
“I need to change into my workout clothes,” Aden said.
“I’ll start warming up on the treadmill.”
Aden was half way across the gym when he ran back to Sandy. Picking her up, he held her in a crushing embrace.
“Thanks,” he whispered in her ear.
“This is not helping my widening ass,” Sandy repeated her work out joke.
“I love your ass.” Aden kissed her then went off to change.
“He’s really cute,” a woman said as she walked by Sandy. “And that woman is a bitch. I’ve seen you guys workout here. Six years or so, right?”
“You’re very cute together.”
“Thanks.” Sandy blushed then turned on the treadmill.
Aden was cute.
And he loved her.
Monday evening, 5:20 PM
“HOME!!” Katy squealed.
Running through the door, Katy ran straight into her room. Scooter barked and danced behind her. Calling the name of every doll and touching every toy, she squealed and jumped up and down. Scooter barked with glee. Jill looked in to see that Katy had piled all of her toys onto the ancient twin bed where she was telling them all about her adventures. And her new Daddy. Of course, Scooter needed a personal introduction with back story of each toy, doll and stuffed animal. Laying on the floor next to Katy’s big girl bed, Scooter seemed to listen to every word.
Katy’s happy chatter formed a back beat to Jill’s movements.
Jill opened the sliding glass door to let some of the stale heat out of the apartment. At least now that she had a job…. Was a spokesmodeling a ‘gig’? She could afford to run the air conditioner. She turned the air conditioner knob. Nothing.
Does the air conditioner run?
She kicked the side of the box. It made a noise then rattled. Shaking the knob, the ancient air conditioning unit started to work. Jill was instantly sorry it did. The unit pushed a part mold, part cigarette smoke, and part indefinable dead thing smell into the apartment.
She flipped the air conditioner off. She’d rather be hot.
Yep, she could see why she wanted to be away from the clean, beautiful, and cool Castle.
But the dead thing smell didn’t go away.
Wandering out onto her small balcony, Jill saw the destruction. All of her potted plants had been smashed. Her small tomato plant had been yanked from the soil. Pressing her hand to her forehead, Jill reeled. She had bought old seeds for 10 cents a packet, then nurtured them in dixie cups. Sometimes, with love and care, they grew into plants. She even created a little watering system to keep them going when she was working. All of that was wrecked.
Her nose followed the smell. A dead cat. A dead cat on her balcony. Jill went back into the apartment to find a plastic grocery bag to dispose of the animal. Returning to the balcony, she bent to pick up the poor animal when she saw a note melted into the rotting flesh.
“UR NEXT BITCH.”
Jill blinked. Without thinking another thought, she wrapped the animal in the bag. Carrying the rotting carcass into her apartment, she wrapped it another grocery bag. Then another bag. She called for Scooter to guard her most precious possession, Katy. With Scooter on guard at the front door, Jill ran down the stairs to the dumpster and threw the dead cat away.
When the animal hit the bottom of the dumpster, she said a prayer. She prayed that the poor cat hadn’t suffered. She prayed that she would never get another message like this. And, more than anything, she prayed that Trevor would never, ever come back from Thailand.
Running back up the stairs, Jill double locked the door. She was halfway across the small apartment when she noticed that she’d splashed cat rot on her clothing and hands. After checking again that the door was locked, and Katy was safe, she hopped into the shower.
Stepping out of the shower, she realized that the cat wasn’t the only message from Trevor. The steam from the shower revealed a message on the mirror.
“U BELONG TO ME”
Jill gasped. Dripping, she ran naked to Katy’s room. Scooter looked up from his post. Katy was laughing at something her doll said.
“Mommy? Why are you naked? Silly Mommy.” Katy laughed. “Mommy, what happened to your pretty long hair?”
Jill reached for her hair and found it falling off in clumps. Running back to the bathroom she saw her perfect long hair was melting in the mirror. In an effort to stop the melt, she grabbed nail scissors from the drawer and clipped her hair in ragged chunks. It had taken her all of Katy’s life to grow her hair out.
And now it was gone.
Sandy will cry when she sees this.
Feeling a burning on her back, Jill wiped the mirror to check. She ran the shower on the spot. The hair burning stuff must have been in her super-expensive-help-your-hair-grow-long-gift-from-your-best-friend special conditioner.
Reaching for towels, she saw that the hanging towels had feces mashed into them. She smiled at herself in the mirror. Outside of ‘I need a clean towel’, Trevor never paid attention to the towels. She reached under the cabinet for a clean towel. Wrapped in two fluffy clean towels, she went into her bedroom.
Not trusting the clothes in her closet, Jill dressed in clothes she bought for dating. She was so freaked out about dating that she hid them. The skinny black jeans, thong underwear, pushup bra, and low cut top were clean.
Time to go through the apartment. Her bed had been soiled with blood. Her clothing splattered with bleach. The refrigerator she intentionally emptied was refilled with chicken and milk then unplugged. She slammed the refrigerator door against the smell.
Her television was gone as were Katy’s precious cartoon videotapes. Every photo in her albums had nasty Sharpie comments. And….
How was she going to check Katy’s room? Sticking her head in the door, she saw Katy playing and laughing.
“Mommy?” Katy looked up from her game.
“Yes, Katy-baby,” Jill said. Her eyes scanned Katy’s room for any disruption or soiling.
“I’m so glad to be home,” Katy said. “Can we stay here tonight?”
Jill opened her mouth, then closed it.
“Of course, Katy-baby. Of course.”
Jill went the kitchen where Katy couldn’t hear her. The old Jill, the one who belonged to Trevor, would have curled up into a ball and cried. For two days. At least.
But this Jill was pissed. Knowing that Jacob was asleep, she called Mike. “Yeah,” Mike said.
“I need help,” Jill said. “I’m at the apartment.”
“I’m on my way,” Mike replied.
“Katy can’t know.”
Tuesday morning, 2:12 AM
“Where’ve you been hiding?” Jacob asked Mike.
Jacob had opened his eyes an hour earlier. He lay in bed aching for Jill until he couldn’t stand himself. He wandered to the Castle main kitchen for some cereal. He was in the middle of some quality self pity when Mike sauntered into the kitchen.
“How did you know I’ve been hiding?” Mike asked.
“I’ve hid from this Hollywood crap for years.”
Mike nodded his head. Pulling a bowl from the cabinet, he poured himself some Captain Crunch. He held the box for Jacob. Jacob nodded and Mike poured another bowl. They ate in silence.
“What I don’t get….” Mike started then took another bite of cereal.
Jacob looked up at Mike.
“Why didn’t you just give Jill another room in the attic? I mean, you’re just in a small part… like nine hundred square feet or something. The attic is….”
“Twenty-nine hundred square feet,” Jacob said. “Listen man, Jill wanted to go home.”
“She wanted some space of her own,” Mike said. “Everyone likes to have some space to themselves. I need it. Val needs it. And you have rooms and rooms….”
“Jill was here for a week,” Jacob said. “She could have moved in to the other space if she wanted to. She told me she wanted to go home… was rather insistent about it.”
“I doubt Jill knows there’s more space in the attic. She’s a very concrete person. If she doesn’t see it, it doesn’t exist,” Mike said. “In fact, she asked me a couple times if I had the key to the bathroom closet. I didn’t pay any attention because there ….”
“Isn’t a closet in the bathroom,” the men said together.
“Oh.” Jacob said. He stood from his seat to put his bowl in the kitchen sink.
“Do you have the key to the door?”
“Sure,” Jacob said.
“Let’s go show her the rest of the attic,” Mike said.
Jacob rushed toward the door. In a breath, he was up the stairs and holding Jill. She nestled her head against his good shoulder.
“Yes,” Jill said.
“Yes?” Jacob asked.
“I’ll marry you.”
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