Fall With Me
He has the oddest look on his face. Like he’s happy and perplexed and extremely agitated all at the same time. He chuckles. “My son finally finds a decent woman to be with and she turns out to be the daughter of Michael Charon. Am I correct, Jill? Is Michael Charon your father? And your mother . . . Annabel Freyss? Is that correct?”
I nod, and he laughs, a deep belly laugh even though, as far as I can tell, nothing funny has been said.
He stops laughing and takes a step toward me, then another. I back up, narrowly missing the edge of his executive desk.
“There’s something I want you to understand,” he says. “I am a very wealthy man. Wealth is a good thing. Unfortunately, you can’t always amass large amounts of wealth by only doing good things. Sometimes, the things you must do are . . . less than desirable, shall we say. It’s simply a fact of life. It has always been that way, and it will continue to be that way until the end of time. If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else.” He rubs his palms together. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Jill?”
“Sure,” I say, taking another step back. Each step he takes toward me, I take one away from him. I hope I am getting closer to the door. I hope Griffin will get back here soon. “I get it. You’re rich. Congratulations.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I can see why my son likes you. You’re both wise-asses who probably know a little too much for your own good. Like your father. Did you know I knew your father? He used to work for me.”
“Yes, I knew that,” I say.
“Tragic, what happened to him. Your mother, too. You see, your father, Jill, was one of those ignorant men who liked to get in the way if he felt things were not being carried out in a fair and just manner. Rather noble of him, if you think about it, but naïve. For a while, I considered him one of my best employees. He really cared about doing a good job. But then he started sticking his nose in places it didn’t belong. Started asking questions, and then, when he didn’t like the answers, started demanding that we change the way we did things.”
“So he wanted things done right,” I say. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it; it just depends on what your definition of ‘right’ is. And unfortunately for your father, our definitions didn’t quite match up. And he wasn’t willing to just accept that. So something had to be done. He had to be taken care of. Though I’d like to assure you, I certainly was not the one to do it. I actually had very little involvement in the whole thing, if you want to know the truth. But people will do all sorts of things to protect what’s important to them.” He takes another step. “Are you still following me, Jill?”
Hearing him say my name makes my stomach turn. He stares at me with his pale blue eyes, like nothing more than Arctic ice with the tiniest bit of light shining through. His lips are thin and his face is tight, pinched. I look at him and see nothing that resembles Griffin in the least.
“I’m going to go,” I say. My voice trembles and I swallow. “I’d rather not have this conversation with you, Mr. Alexander.”
And then he’s there in front of me lightning fast, his face inches from mine. It seems impossible that he could’ve crossed that distance so quickly, but here he is, his breath hot on my face. He grins. He is only a few inches taller than me, and slim, but he is surprisingly strong. When his hands wrap around my throat, I am surprised that I can’t immediately remove them. I can’t budge them at all, and in fact, he’s only squeezing tighter and it feels like he’s about to crush my windpipe. I flail wildly at his face, his arms, but it’s like he’s locked in and there is nothing that will loosen his grip. My body tingles. The color drains from everything, his face, the room, it’s all black and white. A sound like white noise, or the ocean waves, starts to build in my ears, and gets louder, louder. My mouth falls open but no sounds comes out, there’s nothing but the rushing noise and this intense pressure like a balloon filled to the point of popping and then . . . nothing.
Chapter 27: Griffin
I wake up with a jolt, like someone just dumped a bucket of ice cold water over me. I can tell by the light it’s still early, earlier than I’d be getting up at the ranch, even. I sit there for a minute, trying to remember if I’d just been having a crazy nightmare or something. I look to my right and see that Jill’s side of the bed is empty. There is a bathroom connected to this room, and I can see that the door is open and the light is off. A strange feeling is coursing through my veins, like someone just shot me up with a dose of anxiety and fear. I kick back the covers and get out of bed, feeling like some sort of animal that can sense a particularly bad storm before it hits.
It’s quiet in the hallway. I stand there for a second and wonder if maybe I’m going crazy. What the hell do I think could actually be happening? But then I hear something; it sounds like Jill, though I can’t make out exactly what she’s saying. I hurry down to the study.
He lets go of her the second I step into the room and Jill collapses in a heap on the floor. He stumbles back as though she’s pushed him, and he’s laughing.
“It’s too late,” he says. “There’s nothing you can do.”
I rush over to her and can see the marks he’s left on her throat, bright red, stark against her white skin. Suddenly, her body jerks slightly and she coughs, this terrible, dry wheezing sound. I’m kneeling down next to her when her chest heaves; her eyes are still closed but she’s gasping and coughing, trying to draw in a breath.
“Jilly,” I say. “You’re okay. Come back to me.” The color slowly starts to return to her face and her eyes flutter.
“I don’t believe it,” my father says from behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I see him move toward his desk, where I know he keeps his .45, top right hand drawer. He’ll shoot us both, but the drawer is locked, so it buys me enough time to bypass him before he can reach the desk and take him down.
We land hard on the ground but he twists out from under me, scrambling to get onto his feet. He kicks, connects with my side, but I don’t feel a thing. I grab his leg and yank him toward me. I clench both fists and let his face have it; he screams when the cartilage in his nose shatters, he spits up blood and fragments of teeth.
I went on a fox hunt, once, when we vacationed in Devon, England. I don’t remember much about that vacation, except the way the hounds ripped apart that little red fox once they had it cornered in front of a crumbling brick wall. They couldn’t have been called off; they’d tasted blood, they were in a frenzy, they didn’t stop until there was nothing left. I think of this, suddenly, of those dogs, and I think I could be just like them and go on pummeling my father’s face until there’s nothing left.
But I stop.
I stand up, slowly, as he spits up more blood and rolls to his side, groaning. Jill is sitting up, leaning against the wall, rubbing the side of her neck. Her eyes widen as I approach and I realize it’s because I’m covered in blood.
“It’s not mine,” I say, kneeling down in front of her. “Come on, we have to get you out of here.” I pull one of her arms over my shoulders and gently help her stand. I pull my phone out of my pocket and dial 911.
“I need a police officer over here,” I say, giving the dispatcher the address.
“Come again?” she says.
“This is not a prank,” I say and repeat the address. I look at my father, who is rolling onto his hands and knees. “I need an ambulance, as well. Send an officer now. Send a few. Do whatever you have to do and get someone down here.”
“What do you think you’re doing.” His voice is muffled because he’s talking into the Persian rug, leaving great big blood smears all over the wool.
“I think I’m doing what someone should’ve done a long time ago.”
He raises his head, which is almost unrecognizable. It’s a good look for you, Dad, I think. “You think I’ll end up going to prison?” One of his front teeth has been knocked out. “You think they put people like me in prison?”
“I think they love putting people like you in prison.”
“And on what charges?”
“Oh, I don’t know Dad, I didn’t go to law school, remember? But let’s see . . . attempted murder, maybe? Or if that doesn’t suit you, I’m sure they could look into some of your offshore accounts. Or they could—”
“You had my father killed.”
Jill has stepped back into the room. The marks on her neck are already turning hideous shades of violet and midnight blue; I can see the impressions his thumbs made. Her voice is raspy, like she’s got a severe case of bronchitis. She coughs and winces, but looks right at him.
My father stares at her for a minute and then looks at me. “Is this worth it?” he says. “Is some stupid whore worth it to you? You’ll lose your inheritance. You’ll get nothing. We will cast you out from this family, you can count on that.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I say. “I don’t actually want to be a part of this family. This family kind of sucks.”
“You’re an ungrateful piece of shit.”
“No, Dad, you’re wrong. I used to be. I’m not anymore.”
I can hear the approach of sirens.
“You destroyed my family,” Jill says, taking another step toward him. I put my hand on her shoulder and she stops but doesn’t move back. “All for what? For money? Is that all that matters to you?”
My father looks down for a moment, as though he’s actually considering this.
“Yes,” he says. “When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters to anyone.”
The blare of the sirens sounds like it’s right outside the window. “Not to me,” I say. I hear footsteps on the stairs. “Goodbye, Dad.”
We spend the day at the hospital. I sit in the corner on a hard plastic chair while Jill gets evaluated. They take photos of her neck, and two detectives come in and take her statement.
At one point, I get up and go out to get a soda. One of the detectives, a middle-aged guy who actually has a rather spectacular handlebar moustache, follows me.
“So this was your father?” he asks. “Your father did this?”
I slide quarters into the slot and look at my choices. When being interrogated by the law, nothing beats a Coke. I make my selection.
“That is correct,” I say. “Like we already told you.”
“Why do you think your father would do something like this?”
“For all the reasons Jill told you.”
“So in your mind, it’s within the realm of possibility that your father would have another man murdered.”
I retrieve the cold can and pop the tab. “Well, sure,” I say. “I mean, he just tried to kill my girlfriend, with his bare hands. I’d say ordering a hit on someone probably wouldn’t give him much pause.”
“Your mother seems to disagree.”
“You’ve talked to her?”
“Yes. We’re also trying to get in contact with your brother, Cameron. He’s not answering his phone, though. Do you know his whereabouts?”
“While we know your brother was not officially affiliated with your father’s business, they did work closely together, correct?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you think your brother knew anything about this?”
“Are you sure?”
I take a sip of the drink, the fizzy sugariness coating my throat. “That’s a really great moustache,” I say.
He ignores the comment. “Does it surprise you to hear that your mother does not think your father is capable of doing something like this?”
“Look, I’m happy to help in whatever way is necessary, I really am. My parents have grown apart over the years, and honestly, my mom most likely had no clue what my father was up to in regards to anything. So if you’re asking me if she’s lying—she’s probably not. Hook her up to one of those polygraph machines, if you want.”
“That probably won’t be necessary.” He strokes that glorious moustache and then turns to walk off. “We’ll be in touch if we’ve got any more questions.”
“Great,” I say, wondering how exactly he plans on doing that since the only phone I’ve got is one I don’t even know the number to.
Finally, we leave the hospital. I want to go to my apartment, but Jill insists we go see her uncle, who is sending a car for us.
“I really need to talk to him,” she says. “I need to tell him he was right. That he was right all along.”