“How’s it going?” Elizabeth asked when Franco stopped by the nurses’ station to say hello.
“Pretty busy. I have to catch up on paperwork this afternoon.” His expression made it clear how much he didn’t enjoy that task.
“If you did it as you went along, you wouldn’t have to spend so much time playing catch up,” Elizabeth reminded him. She was far more organized with her charting and notes. She didn’t have the option not to be.
“I know, my beautiful, wonderful--”
“I’m not helping you.”
“I know that too,” he laughed.
“Hey--have you heard from Kiki today? She’s on the schedule, but didn’t show up and hasn’t called in.”
“That doesn’t sound like her,” Franco pulled his cell phone from his pocket. “No messages,” he said. He called her. “Kiki, let me know if you’re okay. They said you were supposed to work today and no one has been able to reach you,” he left a voicemail and then sent basically the same message in a text.
“No answer,” Elizabeth observed.
“And the message hasn’t been delivered,” he said, sounding worried. “So either her phone is off, or she’s not checking it.”
“Maybe she’s sleeping,” Elizabeth offered.
“I don’t like it,” Franco said. “I’m going to her apartment to check on her.”
“Wait,” Elizabeth said, “I’ll come with you. Let’s clock out for lunch and go straight to Kiki’s.”
They were at her apartment about fifteen minutes later. Franco knocked on the door and called her name. He waited a few minutes, but there was no response.
“I’m using my key and coming in,” he announced, as he slid the key into the lock. He pushed the door open and turned on the light.
Elizabeth screamed and Franco was stunned into silence by what they saw. Kiki was on the floor, naked and motionless.
Franco rushed to her side, pulling off his coat as he went. He covered her body, unable to bear seeing her like this. “Kiki, Kiki,” he called her over and over, cradling her head. Her body was unusually cool to the touch and he couldn’t find a pulse.
Elizabeth had already called 911 to report the scene. When she ended her call, she went to her husband and sat with him on the floor. He was crying hysterically begging Kiki to “wake up” and “come back.” Elizabeth already knew, but she checked for a pulse. Tears streamed form her eyes as she told Franco, “She’s gone.”
“No,” Franco resisted. “She can’t be gone. Wake up, baby girl. Please wake up. Please wake up,” he repeated.
Elizabeth didn’t argue with him. She had lost a child before. Franco and Kiki were as close as father and daughter and filled those roles in each other’s lives. She put her hand on Franco’s knee and just let him go through the emotions. He wasn’t going to accept the reality until he had no choice. She knew that all too well.
Only a few minutes had passed before Detectives Chase and Spencer were on the scene. Chase checked her vital signs. He shook his head. “She’s gone.”
The EMT’s arrived soon after. Chase told them she was dead, but they did their own check. He told the EMTs they could leave because Valerie had called the medical examiner to evaluate the crime scene.
“What are you doing?” Franco asked the paramedics. “You can’t leave her. She needs to go to the hospital. You have to help her. Don’t leave her!”
One of the paramedics gave him a sympathetic look, but they left.
“Mr. Baldwin,” Chase tried to get his attention.
“Stop them!” Franco told Chase. “She has to go to the hospital.”
“I’m sorry,” Chase said. “It’s too late. We have to treat this like a crime scene, gather evidence. I need for you and your wife to step away from the body.”
“She’s not a body,” Franco argued. “She’s my daughter. She’s not a body.”
“Mr. Baldwin, I’m sorry. I know you’re in shock. Could you both please step into the kitchen. We need to get statements, find out what you saw. And we need to leave the crime scene in tact as much as possible.”
Franco looked to Elizabeth and back to Kiki’s face and back to Elizabeth. He was lost. Elizabeth got up and took Franco’s hand, pulling him away from Kiki with slight force. “Let’s sit down,” she told him. “They need to do their jobs.”
Within minutes, the entire apartment was filled with law enforcement agents and the medical examiner had arrived.
Chase left the officers to do their work and approached Franco and Elizabeth, who were in the kitchen. He could tell Franco was distraught and Elizabeth was doing her best to hold herself together for his sake.
“I need you to walk me through what happened. Tell me everything you can.”
Franco was silent. He wasn’t even blinking.
Elizabeth took the lead and told him that she hadn’t shown up for work, Franco had tried to reach her, she hadn’t responded, and they came to check on her.
“How did you get inside?” Chase asked.
“They lived together before Franco moved in with me. He pays her rent. Kiki wanted him to keep a key in case she lost hers or needed him to come over and fix something.”
“I’m not sure I understand the relationship,” Chase said.
Elizabeth nodded. “Franco and Kiki thought they were father and daughter over 20 years before her mother said Silas Clay was her father. Silas died soon after Kiki met him and Franco’s just the father she knows and loves. He was paying her tuition for medical school. He takes care of her, like nothing ever changed.”
“Was she covered with the coat when you got here?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “She was naked. Franco covered her up.”
“I know this is technical and not something you want to think about, but we’ll need to get hair and DNA samples in case anything transferred from the coat to the body.”
“I understand,” Elizabeth said. “You have to rule out any foreign samples.”
“Does he understand?” Chase asked. Franco had gone from outward grief to complete silence.
“He found his daughter naked on the floor and dead. No, Detective Chase, he needs time to come to terms with understanding that.”
“Did you notice anything about the body before it was covered?”
“I’m not sure. There may have been blood on her stomach. There was something red.”
“Mr. Baldwin,” Chase got his attention. Franco turned to him, but his expression was hollow. His eyes were bloodshot. “Did you notice anything about her body before you covered her up?”
“I didn’t look,” he answered. “I realized she was naked and I had to cover her up.”
“I understand,” Chase replied. “What happened when you sat down with her?”
“She was too cold. She wouldn’t answer. She wouldn’t wake up. I begged her to wake up.” His eyes filled with tears again. “Is she really gone?”
Chase was sympathetic. “I’m sorry. Yes, she is.”
“Why?” he asked.
Elizabeth wrapped him in a hug.
“We’re going to find out,” Chase answered. “Do you know of any enemies she had? Anyone who would want to hurt her?”
“Dr. Bensch,” Elizabeth answered immediately. “She won a sexual harassment case against him and he was fired.”
Chase nodded. Bensch did seem to be a prime suspect.
“Ava,” Franco answered, softly. “I had a meeting with Ava a few weeks ago and she was infuriated with Kiki for sleeping with Griffin. She said she would get retribution and Kiki deserved whatever was coming to her. I didn’t think she meant it. Ava talks big, but doesn’t usually follow through. She and Kiki fight and make up and fight and make up again. And Griffin? He’s hardly the love of Ava’s life. He’s not worth fighting over, much less killing over.”
“Dr. Munroe,” Chase clarified.
Franco nodded. “Maybe he did it. He’s shown over and over again that he’s not the squeaky clean good guy he blew into town pretending to be.”
“What else can you tell me?” Chase asked.
“Her little sister is Avery Corinthos. If Sonny pissed off someone, they could have taken it out on Kiki. Her uncle is Julian Jerome. He has or, at least, had mob ties.
Chase nodded. “That’s actually a lot of leads. Thank you.”
“Carly,” Franco added. “She blamed Kiki for Morgan’s mental problems for a long time. When Kiki couldn’t handle his bipolar disorder anymore, she broke up with him. That was the night he died. Carly hated her. Jason Morgan hates me, but he would just kill me, not someone I loved. That’s not his style. Unless Carly told him to kill her. Then he wouldn’t flinch.”
Chase was overwhelmed. “I hope the evidence can narrow this down. I know neither of you are in an emotional state to drive safely, so I’m going to have an officer drive you to the station to make official statements.”
“We need to call the hospital,” Elizabeth realized. “We just clocked out for our lunch. They think we’re coming back.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Chase offered. “You have enough to deal with right now.”
Elizabeth and Franco were in the interrogation room at the police station. They were not suspects, but they had to tell the sequence of events over and over. They had given hair samples to rule out any DNA evidence that might implicate either of them. Elizabeth had been fingerprinted for elimination prints. Franco told them his were on file and he wouldn’t move. He was sure if he stood up, his legs would collapse. He was so numb.
Scotty arrived and was allowed into the room. “We don’t need a lawyer,” Franco told him, not with sarcasm, but with very flat affect.
The remark stung, but Scotty had an idea of what Franco was feeling. “I’m not here as your lawyer. I’m here as your father.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth told him. She was still absently trying to get the bit of ink that remained on her fingers off with a wet paper towel.
“What can I do to help?” Scotty asked.
“Do you know where Ava is?” Franco asked.
As if on cue, they heard Ava in the squad room. She was screaming at someone. “I want to see my daughter! Where’s my little girl? How dare you bring me down here to question me!”
“She’s angry,” Franco observed. “She’s not crying over Kiki’s death. She’s angry she’s a suspect.”
“She’s a suspect?” Scotty asked, surprised.
“She threatened Kiki in a conversation she had with me a few weeks ago. I didn’t think she meant it. They fight all the time. Then they make up. And they’re fighting over Griffin. They did the same thing with Morgan. Why do some mothers think a man is more important than her child?” he asked, bewildered. “Especially Father Hypocrite.”
“It does seem odd,” Scotty agreed.
“I should have taken Ava seriously,” Franco lamented. “I know she can be downright evil, but I never thought she would really hurt Kiki. Anyone but Kiki, maybe.”
“Don’t blame yourself,” Elizabeth told him. She was sure he’d already thought of a million things he could have done differently to save Kiki. It was as if part of his mind enjoyed torturing the other part.
“Franco, I don’t think Ava did it,” Scotty said calmly.
“I know you like her--”
“Let me finish,” he interrupted. “I hate to tell you this, but better me than a stranger.”
Franco looked into his father’s eyes. How could it be any worse?
Scotty paused, steadying himself. “She was raped before she was murdered.”
“Oh, god,” Elizabeth gasped.
Franco’s eyes filled with tears again. Somehow, he knew that because she was naked on the floor, but he hadn’t let his mind acknowledge it yet. He turned to Elizabeth who just held him.
“Whoever did it used her lipstick and wrote WHORE across her stomach,” Scotty added.
“Bensch,” Elizabeth seethed.
“Griffin,” Franco pondered.
A few minutes later Ava was allowed into the room too. “Franco,” she called him. She was crying too, black mascara smeared all over her cheeks. “Someone killed our Kiki.”
He got up and she fell into his arms, sobbing. “Please tell me you don’t think I’m responsible,” she begged. “I never meant anything I said.”
“It crossed my mind,” he admitted. “But it wasn’t you. I know it wasn’t you. It was a man.”
“A man?” Ava repeated. Her face drained of all color but the black smudges as the horror settled on her. “She was raped?” Ava whispered. “Our little girl was raped?”
Elizabeth felt sorry for Ava. It was a mother’s worst nightmare. She didn’t begrudge the way Ava referred to Kiki as “Our little girl,” or that she was seeking comfort from her husband.
“You still call Kiki, ‘Our Kiki,’” Franco said. “I don’t know why you told me I was her father if I wasn’t, but I’m so glad you did. I couldn’t love her more if she was really mine.”
“I’m sorry,” Ava said. “You’re the father she knew. You’re the father she loved. You’re the father that took care of her, protected her. She loved you and was connected to you. DNA never mattered to her.”
“You’re speaking about her in past tense,” Franco noted.
“I have to,” Ava said. “If I deny it now, I may never accept it.”
“What happens next?” he asked.
“They took her to the morgue. They wouldn’t even let me see her. They’ll do an autopsy to find clues about how she died and who killed her. The police will find whoever killed her and we’ll bury her.” Ava allowed Franco to sit down again and she sat next to Scotty.
“She wanted to be cremated,” Franco told Ava. “Better for the environment,” he added. It was such a millennial way of thinking. She was too young to have even considered her own death. He wondered if she knew somehow that her life would be far too short.
“Oh,” Ava looked surprised. She wondered what else she hadn’t known about her own child.
“You have time to figure it all out,” Scotty told them.
The sorrow in the air was palpable.
“I can’t thank you enough for letting me stay here tonight,” Ava told Elizabeth. She had expressed fear of being alone. Sonny would not let her visit Avery, and she was clearly heartbroken.
Elizabeth sat down with Ava after placing a cup of hot tea on the coffee table for each of them. Franco was taking a shower because sometimes he just needed to be alone and think. “I kind of know what you’re going through,” Elizabeth said. “We thought Jake had been killed, then he came back to us.”
“I don’t think I’ll get a miracle,” Ava sighed.
“I know. I’m sorry,” Elizabeth sympathized.
“You know most women wouldn’t invite their husband’s ex to spend the night. It’s a generous gesture.”
“The two of you loved Kiki. I know that is often a bond that can’t be broken.” Though she also knew that sometimes it could be broken, the way Lucky had just left Aiden and the way Jason had initially signed away his parental rights to Jake were still wounds she could feel if she let herself. “I think Franco needs you to be here to get through this. I have been developing a relationship with Kiki, but she’s your daughter. I don’t feel threatened that you two are civil with each other or that you represent him with his artwork. It’s natural to put the child first.”
“What Franco and I had was a lifetime ago. We’re both different people now, and he’s completely enamoured with you. I honestly think he’s really in love for the first time in his life.”
“Three kids and a few marriages later, I think I’m truly in love for the first time too. It’s different when you’re adults. We don’t have illusions or delusions. He’s been living here long enough to know that being with me means being a dad to my boys and he’s amazing. He loves those boys and takes care of them in a way their biological dads have never stepped up to do. Of course, Cameron’s father is dead, so I probably shouldn’t lump him into the same category as Jason and Lucky, but I doubt he would have been much better anyway.” She stopped herself, “I’m sorry. I’m rambling about my exes and it’s very insensitive of me.”
Ava smiled, “No, it’s not. I’m glad to talk about anything else right now. There’s a part of Franco that few have seen. You, Kiki, your boys. He never found it easy to trust anyone. I didn’t help that by lying to him.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said. “It took breaking through some walls for him to trust me too.”
Ava giggled, perhaps inappropriately to what she was feeling. “That’s odd. You seem like the most trustworthy person on earth.”
“I’m not,” Elizabeth assured her. They fell into a comfortable silence, sipping on their tea.
“I keep thinking I’m going to go to sleep in your guest room and wake up in my own bed tomorrow and this will all have been just a nightmare,” Ava admitted.
“We’re not going to wake up from this nightmare,” Franco said as he sat next to Elizabeth. His hair was damp and he smelled like soap and shampoo. Elizabeth noticed his eyes were still bloodshot.
It seemed like it had been forever, but it had only been about five hours since they had found Kiki in her apartment. Time was warped somehow. It was like the rest of the world was moving and they were in slow motion.
They heard the clamoring and screeching sound of metal and brakes as the school bus arrived outside. The three boys came inside, breathless from running up the driveway in the cold. They threw their backpacks on the floor by the door.
“What’s going on?” Cameron asked, picking up on the somber mood in the room. He knew who Ava Jerome was, but it seemed strange to see her sitting in their home.
“Boys, come sit down,” Elizabeth told them.
“Something’s wrong,” Jake said as he came toward them. He squeezed in between his mother and Franco, sensing Franco was hurting. Aiden and Cam both also found a comfortable place.
Franco looked to Elizabeth and then to Ava, then to each of the boys. “Kiki…” he started. “She’s dead.”
The boys were stunned. Jake was the first to find his voice. “Isn’t she like your daughter or something?”
Franco opened his mouth to try to explain, but Ava didn’t give him a chance. “Yes. Kiki was our little girl. And she had such a bright future ahead.” Ava wiped her eyes with Scotty’s handkerchief she had been holding for hours. It was smudged with most of her mascara and eye makeup.
“You look sad,” Aiden observed. He walked to Franco and gave him a hug and then offered Ava a hug. She held tightly to Aiden wishing she had held on more tightly to Kiki.
“What happened?” Cameron asked. “Like a car accident or something?”
Franco shook his head.
Elizabeth answered. “We don’t know exactly. We found her in her apartment and she was already… gone. They have to do an autopsy and police investigation to figure out the answers.”
“I’m sorry, Franco, Ms. Jerome,” Cameron offered politely.
Franco smiled and nodded, but his eyes were filling with tears again.
“Thank you,” Ava said. “Call me Ava, please.”
“We’re all really sorry,” Jake told them. He also gave Franco a hug. “Can we help?”
“Yeah,” Franco answered. “Promise your mom and me that you’ll grow up, but you’ll never leave.”
“Like live here forever?” Jake asked. He pictured himself and his brothers all living in this house as adults.
“I mean in the broader sense. Don’t leave our family. And no matter how old you get or how far away you go--always come home eventually.”
The boys nodded in the affirmative, though they were quite sure exactly what they were agreeing to do.
Ava, on the other hand, knew exactly what he meant.
The next few days were a blur. Elizabeth and Franco’s house became the hub of the funeral related condolence calls, friends dropping off food, or people just stopping by to ask if they could help.
Ava realized quickly that most people were not there to show remorse for her sake. They liked Kiki. They liked Elizabeth. Hell, some of them even liked Franco. Like Drew Cain, formerly known as Jason Morgan. Some things just were weird in this life.
Conspicuously absent was Griffin Munro. He supposedly loved Kiki, but was smart enough to not invade this time with her loved ones who did not feel mutually towards him. He could mourn in private, if at all.
Julian offered to stay with Ava at her apartment or let her stay with him above the pub. For some reason no one questioned, she chose to stay with Elizabeth and Franco. Maybe she needed to be near the one person who loved her daughter as much as she did, or maybe more. Franco had never turned on Kiki, publicly humiliated her, or kicked her out of his life.
Ava, Franco, and Elizabeth planned a small memorial service. They tossed around some ideas for a location such as the church and the art gallery, but Elizabeth suggested the chapel in the hospital because it was the place Kiki was best known and it would let coworkers who couldn’t take off much time to at least drop by to pay respects.
Instead of a photo, they displayed a portrait of Kiki that Franco had created to give to Kiki when she graduated from medical school. It was a beautiful likeness of her, only she was in her white coat embroidered with Dr. Kiki Jerome.
Franco stood at the alter at the front of the chapel. He was wearing a dark blue suit and white shirt. He had considered wearing a tie, but as he held it, he could almost hear Kiki’s laughter and her voice telling him not to be pretentious. He had put it back in the closet.
“Lauren Katherine Jerome,” or as her mother and I say, ‘Our Kiki.’ Ava asked me to speak on behalf of both of us and it’s possibly the hardest thing I’ve done in my life—saying goodbye to our Kiki.
”A lot has changed in the past few years. Many things have shown me in practice what I guess I already believed in theory: family is who you choose to love. Love creates family, whether it’s a wife and three sons, or a long lost brother, or the little girl I always thought of as mine. We live in a mixed up world of broken hearts, broken homes, and injustice.
“The greatest injustice here is that someone took away all the good that was Kiki and all the good she was capable of bringing into the world. She worked very hard to become a doctor. She was compassionate towards people who hurt and she was brilliant. Medicine was a perfect fit for Kiki. But she’ll never get to walk across a stage and accept her degree.
“Kiki was light in a world of darkness. Whoever took her life robbed us all of her light and her potential. She loved deeply and she was loved deeply. Her death—“ he shook his head, feeling his throat tightening as tears threatened to fall. He took a breath. “Her death—“
Franco stopped again. “I’m sorry. I can’t finish this. I’m really sorry.” He stepped away from the alter and returned to sit with Elizabeth and the boys.
Elizabeth held his hand firmly and leaned closer. “You did fine. That was beautiful,” she whispered so that only he could hear.
The hospital chaplain followed and he spoke about Kiki’s kindness. He added some Scriptures that some might find comforting. Franco barely heard what he said and didn’t feel any comfort. The only thing that would ease his mind was finding the person responsible and ensuring he wouldn’t destroy anyone else’s life, potential, or family this way.
The house was full of people and Franco wanted them to leave. He needed to be alone with Elizabeth.
Ava was better at working the room. She was politely thanking people for their sympathy and for stopping by. Elizabeth was a gracious hostess too, filling in for Franco.
He was in the corner of the kitchen, as far as he could get from another human being without going upstairs or outside.
Drew approached him. “I know you don’t want to talk to anyone right now, but when you do want to talk, call me.”
He nodded. “I think you probably have enough on your plate.”
Drew sighed. “I will understand what you’re going through a whole lot sooner than I ever imagined.”
”How is he?” Franco asked.
”He’s got a couple of weeks at best.”
Franco nodded, aware that Drew didn’t want to be pitied or offered sympathy. “Do you ever wonder why we bother? Not you and me specifically... but humans?”
Drew pointed out Elizabeth to the brother he chose. “That’s why we bother. Sometimes life gives you diamonds and sometimes it gives you coal. Hang onto the diamonds. Burn the coal.” He patted Franco’s shoulder. “Look, I’ll try to get people to start leaving.”
“Thank you,” Franco said, relieved.
Soon after Drew stepped away, Laura approached him and gave him a hug. “I’m so sorry,” she said. She knew he was avoiding people, but she felt she needed to express her condolences to him directly. They were family now.
He nodded and took her hand. He was startled when he noticed the ring on her finger—emerald with diamonds on either side. “That’s a lovely ring,” he said.
She looked at her hand. “Oh, Kevin gave it to me a few days ago. Honestly, we’ve been having some problems since I got home.”
Franco felt like a blast of cold air had hit him. “Laura, will you stay here tonight? Uh, we need help with the kids.”
Laura was very surprised by his request. He had never asked her for anything before.
”I really want you to stay. It’s important.”
”Okay,” she agreed. She looked at Kevin. “Honestly, I don’t think Kevin will mind if I’m gone a night. Or a week,” she added.
“Tell him Elizabeth asked you to stay,” he instructed her.
Laura was taken aback. “What’s going on?”
”Get rid of your husband. We’ll talk later.”
Laura nodded. She went to Kevin and told him Elizabeth and Franco needed her help with the boys. His face practically lit up with happiness. “That’s a wonderful idea! You should be here with your grandchildren during such a devastating loss.”
”Thank you for understanding,” her tone was cold. “I think Drew is trying to get people to leave. It’s been a long, difficult time. Elizabeth and Franco should not have to play host to half the town right now.”
”You are absolutely right, my dear. I’ll drop some bugs in some ears about clearing out too,” he said.
“You’re so helpful,” she told him sweetly while wanting to slap his face.
”See you later,” he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Stay as long as you need. Don’t worry about me.”
Laura felt a chill and was glad for Franco’s invitation.
Franco had also stopped Ava from leaving with Julian. “You need to stay here,” he whispered to her before he bid Julian farewell.
After everyone else had left and the boys were sent upstairs, the three ladies were waiting for him in the living room.
“I thought you’d be glad to be rid of me by now,” Ava started the conversation.
“What is going on?” Elizabeth asked. “Laura needs to spend time with her husband.”
”Oh, it’s fine,” Laura responded. “I think he was happy I wasn’t coming home.”
“We’re waiting for someone,” Franco told them. “When he gets here, I’ll explain everything.”
“Everything about what?” Elizabeth asked.
“I know who killed Kiki,” he answered, stunning them all.
“Who killed Kiki?” Ava demanded, her eyes wide with curiosity and anger.
Franco held up his palm like he was signaling for her to stop while he spoke. “I only want to go through this one time. Just be patient for ten minutes.”
”Patient? You want me to be patient?” Ava blasted him. “If you know something, you better start talking.”
”Ava,” he glared at her just enough that she backed down. “Let’s just sit down and be quiet for ten minutes.” He still hadn’t recovered from all the people surrounding them today.
Ten minutes turned into twenty minutes and twenty minutes of silence was a long time for three curious women. When there was a knock on the door, Ava rushed to open it. “Detective Chase,” she said, initially surprised to see him. She quickly realized that it was logical that Franco had contacted the lead investigator. “Come in. Have a seat.”
He sat in a chair across from Ava, putting him closest to Franco. “You said you have new information.”
He nodded. “Laura, please show Ava your ring.”
Laura was puzzled as she held her hand out to Ava.
Ava clasped Laura’s hand in her own, staring at the sparkling emerald. “That’s Kiki’s ring,” her words came slowly.
”I also believe that is Kiki’s ring,” Franco told Chase. I gave it to her for her birthday a few years ago. It was custom made by a jeweler in New York City. He can identify it as his work and tell you who bought it—me—and when it was purchased.”
Laura removed the ring, wanting to toss it off like a poisonous spider. She stood and before she gave it to Chase, Franco pulled a plastic sandwich bag out of his pocket for her to place it in.
Chase took the bag, impressed that Franco had thought ahead to protecting the integrity of the evidence. “Mrs. Collins, where did you get the ring?”
”Kevin gave it to me a just few days ago.” She was repulsed that he had apparently taken it right off Kiki’s dead body and given to her. “He said he saw it in an antique shop.”
“Kevin?” Elizabeth asked, shocked by where this was going.
“Do you think it’s possible that Dr. Collins killed Kiki?” Chase asked Laura.
Laura was overwhelmed, considering how she should respond. The Kevin she knew wasn’t violent. He wasn’t a killer. “He—Kevin hasn’t been himself lately. Ever since I got home, he’s distant. He avoids me. He says things that don’t always make sense. He eats food he doesn’t like,” she elaborate.
”That’s because he’s Ryan,” Franco announced as if it were a proven fact.
“Ryan’s dead,” Laura asserted, feeling chilled at the idea that she had been living with that monster.
“What if he’s not?” Franco asked. “He wouldn’t be the first ghost to rise in this town.”
“Where’s he been the last 25 years?” Laura asked.
“I do some work at Ferncliff. I know Kevin does too. So, I think Kevin’s been trying to redeem Ryan, one reason he was so interested in my history. But, believe me, the Kevin that was providing therapy ten months ago is not the same Kevin I’ve been talking to lately. He’s told me things that completely conflict with things he told me in the spring. He’s become focused on details about my childhood and before, he didn’t ask for details, just enough to let him help me.”
”What are you talking about?” Ava asked.
Franco paused. “That is irrelevant.”
Elizabeth put her hand on his knee, just a small way to remind him that she was by his side.
He turned to Chase. “You and I have to go you Ferncliff and find whoever is in Ryan’s room. If it’s Kevin, I will know. He knows me. A Ryan who has been locked up for 25 years won’t.”
”You’re a civilian. The Commissioner is not going to allow me to take you undercover into harm’s way.”
Franco kind of laughed. “You think I’m in danger? Laura is in danger. Ava is in danger. Lulu, Felicia, Maxie, Amy... presumably every blonde in town is in danger. And Ryan is smart. He’s going to catch on that I know pretty fast and then Elizabeth and the kids will be in danger. So either you accompany me to Ferncliff, or I’ll go by myself.”
”You’re not going by yourself,” Chase told him. “Just give me a minute to put out a BOLO on Ryan, well, Kevin since he’s pretending to be Kevin, possibly.”
”Don’t do this,” Elizabeth told Franco. “You cannot go charging in like you’re the calvary.”
“Elizabeth, he’s already killed Kiki and he had no connection to her other than the hospital. Who’s next? Amy? Is he just getting started.”
Elizabeth sighed, closing her eyes. “I know. I just want you to come home.”
”I’m coming home,” he promised her. “With a human leather briefcase made from Ryan Chamberlain’s hide.”
Elizabeth was taken aback.
“Just an expression,” Franco shrugged. “Okay, not a common one. He raped and killed my daughter. I want him to suffer. I’m not crazy. I’m not going to actually do anything. That’s why I called actual law enforcement. I’m not a vigilante. But I want him stopped.”
”No human briefcase,” Elizabeth crinkled her nose.
“Beheading?” He winked at her.
She slapped his shoulder. “Leave it to the police.”
”I want to go,” Laura told them. “I want to see Kevin.”
“I can’t get the whole brigade in. He’s got a gun. He’s going.”
“How are you going to get me in?” Chase asked.
Franco thought a minute. “You’re a graduate student working on your practicum hours, shadowing me.”
“That’s a pretty good cover,” Chase admitted. He could easily pass as a graduate student while he was in his day to day clothes.
“What are we waiting for? Make your calls while I drive. If Jordan gives you any grief, tell her I was going in, with or without you. Kevin could be in danger right now too.”
“I guess you’re the boss,” Chase said. The oddity of going after a serial killer with a reformed serial killer was not lost on him.
Before he could rush out the door, Elizabeth gave him a passionate kiss. “Get justice for Kiki, but come back to me.”
“Mr. Baldwin, you’re working today?” The receptionist at Ferncliff was clearly surprised to see him.
”It’s easier to stay busy. And I need to help my grad student get his hours in.”
”Student?” She looked at Chase, who was carrying all the art supplies.
”Yes. I’m working on my Master’s,” he smiled.
“I need to make a visitor’s name badge,” she told Franco.
“This is... Steven Lars... Ulrich.” He said the first names that came to mind and in the middle realized he couldn’t use Webber as the surname.
The woman handed Franco Chase’s name tag. Since his hands were full, Franco removed the backing and stuck it to Chase’s jacket and tossed the backing in the garbage.
”We’re making a trip to high security. If he comes back after meeting some of those patients, he picked the right career.”
”You really want him to start there?” she asked, lowering her voice.
He nodded. “Gotta weed out the ones who can’t take it as soon as possible.”
The receptionist shrugged. “Your badge is your key, same as every other area.”
“Oh, Ginger,” he said, “Dr. Collins asked me to check on a specific patient, but didn’t tell me the room number. First name Ryan... I forgot the last name.” Truthfully, he had no idea what name Ryan was listed by, but he figured someone would notice if notorious Ryan Chamberlain was a patient.”
”Ryan Smith,” she answered. “Room 48.”
“Smith,” Franco repeated. “How did I forget that?” What an utterly boring pseudonym. He gave Ginger a charming smile and she blushed a little.
Franco led Chase through the locked doors into the patient care area. There were no other staff members in the hallway.
“Steven Lars Ulrich?” Chase repeated, laughing quietly.
”My brother’s name is my go to fake name, but I couldn’t use Webber because it would look like nepotism.”
“Your brother is a Webber?” Chase asked. “That’s kind of weird.”
”Oh, he’s Elizabeth’s brother too,” Franco revealed without any emotion.
Chase stopped. “Wait. You married your brother’s sister? How was that even legal?”
“I’ve never met him. My birth mother, her father. Elizabeth and I aren’t related at all.” He told Chase to keep up and Chase caught up to him. “We’ve never even been in the same room.”
Franco slipped his badge into a magnetized strip reader, letting them enter the highest security area.
A guard checked his credentials and asked who Steven Lars was. Franco told him that he was a graduate assistant working towards his license.
”So, you really want him to get his feet wet,” the guard asked.
”Dive right in,” Franco responded, walking towards Mr. Smith’s room. The less chit chat, the better.
“Did I just get a promotion from student to assistant?” Chase asked.
Franco looked back saw that the guard had moved to another corridor. “Perfect,” he said, mentally crossing his fingers that he actually did have high security clearance.
The lock clicked. They quickly slipped into the bare room and let the door lock behind them.
The patient was asleep and strapped into a straight jacket. “Sonofabitch,” Franco said. Whoever was in the bed looked exactly like Kevin. So either Kevin was here or Kevin had snapped and they were in a room with Ryan Chamberlain.
”I thought this was what you expected,” Chase said as he put the supplies on the floor.
Franco shook away his surprise. “Yeah, yeah. I guess I am just getting used to being right every once in a while.”
He approached the patient and lightly touched his shoulder. He wasn’t going to call him by any name. “Sir, sir, can you hear me? Can you talk to me?”
Kevin had been sedated for hours. He heard the familiar voice and knew he had to get to that voice. It was his only hope for escaping this place. He fought the sedative like his life depended on it because it did.
Franco saw he was trying to wake up and told him to wake up.
Kevin opened his eyes, but things were a little blurry.
“Are you okay?” Franco asked. He and Chase helped Kevin sit up and Franco offered him a cup of water with a straw. Kevin drank until the cup was empty and Chase refilled it while Franco held it for him to drink.
“Franco,” Kevin said. “Are you real? Is this real?”
”I don’t know. Prove your Kevin.” He got straight to the point.
“You’re my patient, Franco Baldwin, biological child of Heather Webber and Scotty Baldwin. Heather gave you to Betsy Frank, a nurse, to raise as her son. You had a frontal lobe brain tumor that negatively impacted your behavior. You have made drastic changes as you healed. You’re engaged to Elizabeth Webber, also a nurse. She has three sons: Cameron, Jake, and Aiden. Your first wedding was interrupted by an earthquake. You and Drew Cain discovered you had been raised as twins for about four years. He was sent elsewhere. He became a Navy Seal, but was unethically turned into his actual twin Jason Morgan’s replacement by Andre Maddox under an anonymous donor to Andre’s research. You want a crockpot for your wedding gift. I’m giving you a life supply of free therapy instead. Do I pass?”
”One more question: why in the hell didn’t you tell anyone your psychotic twin is still alive?”
“We’ll get to that later,” Chase interrupted. He called Jordan to tell her they had positively identified Kevin.
Franco watched Chase react to whatever Jordan was saying for about three minutes.
”If I hadn’t come, he would have come without me. I had no grounds to hold him. I had to act.”
Franco held out his hand for the phone.
”Hold on,” Chase said to Jordan and he handed over the phone.
”Commissioner,” he started, “Franco Baldwin here. This was my hair brained idea and it happened to work. So get down here and get us out legally and safely. I might be able to get into a patient’s room, but I sure as hell can’t break anyone out of maximum security.” He hung up the phone and handed it back to Chase.
“Could you maybe get me out of this straight jacket?” Kevin requested.
They helped free him an he was grateful to be able to move his stiff muscles. “Is everyone okay?” Kevin asked.
”If everyone was okay, do you think I would be here looking for you because I suspect your brother has taken over your life?”
Kevin looked down, realizing his fears were founded. Ryan was not reformed at all.
”Did he hurt—“
“Kill,” Franco interrupted.
”Who?” Kevin asked, dreading the answer.
”Kiki. My pseudo-daughter. The one with the bright, promising future of helping others.”
”I’m so sorry,” Kevin said. He knew very well what Kiki meant to Franco.
”Yeah, I know what it’s like to be sorry,” Franco replied. His own past didn’t leave him much room to judge someone else’s bad choices.
“Not yet. That we know of,” Chase answered.
“How are you holding up?” Kevin asked Franco.
”We had her memorial service today. I’m barely holding up at all. When I saw Kiki’s ring on Laura’s finger, I knew. It kind of fell into place. Believe me, Ryan tries, but he’s making you look pretty weird by some of the things he says and does. I’ve thought you were off your game for months.”
”He’s seeing you? As me?”
”Oh, yes. I’m very fascinating as you know.”
“I’m really sorry,” Kevin apologized again.
Franco gave half a nod. “Yeah, like I said, I know what it’s like to be sorry.”
They fell into silence. Kevin was relieved to be found and devastated that Ryan had killed Kiki.
Franco’s adrenaline rush had dissipated now that he was certain of the truth. He was crashing back into the place where he had to come to terms with Kiki being gone.
Chase simply stayed quiet, sensing that there was a lot more that wasn’t being said and it was none of his business.
Ava was pacing the living room. There were police guarding Elizabeth’s house. Jordan had called Elizabeth to tell her Franco and Chase had found Kevin and were waiting for help. Meanwhile, a manhunt was underway for Ryan.
Laura watched Ava pace. She herself was too shocked to say or do anything. It was unfathomable that Ryan was alive and Kevin had kept it a secret.
Elizabeth came downstairs, clearly rattled.
“How are the boys?” Laura asked.
”They decided it was a good night to have a sleepover in Cameron’s room.” In other words, they were scared. Even Cameron who wouldn’t admit to having a base instinct like fear was scared. He had offered to “let” his brothers stay in his room. “They’re afraid,” Elizabeth said. She pulled her bare feet onto the couch and covered up with a blanket.
“Honey, What is it?” Laura asked.
Elizabeth sighed. “The boys are afraid Franco won’t come home, that he’ll get hurt or killed. I had to promise them that he would come back to our family. I can’t promise that. How can I promise that?” She huffed. “I married an artist, world reknowned. I married an art therapist. I want him safe for me and the kids. He’s the most stable, involved father figure they have ever had. He’s the one who packs lunches and the one they talk to when they need a dad. I don’t mean to hurt you when I say that, but you know it’s true.”
”You aren’t hurting me. I know it’s been a struggle for you to raise those boys on your own with very little help from their fathers, including my own son. Right now, he’s too selfish to see what he’s missing.” Laura took Elizabeth’s hand. “That’s why I think you have to give Franco a pass on this one. He’s protecting his family. Losing Kiki is tearing him apart and he had to act. But, he made sure Ava and I were safe. He wouldn’t let me go home with Ryan.”
”I know everything you are saying is true, but I get upset when he’s in danger. He should let the police handle it.”
”Probably,” Laura agreed. “But he circumvented a lot of red tape by doing it his way. And he may have saved the life of Ryan’s next target.
Elizabeth nodded. “I know I’m being selfish. I want my husband safe in our bed—our house.” She over-corrected herself, not so subtly.
Ava sat down and started crying, sobbing in despair. Laura and Elizabeth approached her, trying to comfort her.
“I—did—this,” she eventually choked out. “Kiki’s dead because of me.”
”That’s ridiculous!” Elizabeth told her.
“Is it?” Ava asked, trying to catch her breath. “I have been talking to Kevin—Ryan about how angry I have been at Kiki for sleeping with Griffin. He asked just how angry was I. What was the worst thing I could do? I asked if he was suggesting that I kill my own daughter. He just looked at me. I thought it was reverse psychology. I laughed because I realized I would never really hurt Kiki and I certainly didn’t want her to die over a worthless man. I told him he helped me see I was being irrational.”
”Then you made it clear you didn’t want to kill Kiki,” Laura told her.
“But I kept talking to him about my anger and pain and how betrayed I felt. He seemed interested in me, as more than a patient. I turned him down. Maybe he was taking revenge by killing my child. Or maybe he thought he could win me over. If he’s psychotic and not a psychiatrist, who knows what he was thinking! Did I put it in motion?”
”He made his own choices. You are not the reason Kiki died. I’ll tell you like I tell Franco, don’t look for ways to torture yourself. What if’s are like smoke that you can’t hold onto and will never catch,” Elizabeth said.
Ava nodded, trying to accept what she said.
Elizabeth’s cell phone rang. “It’s Franco,” she told them. “Hey. You’re on speaker.”
“I’m on my way home. Kevin is safe. The police are taking him to GH. Chase is fine too. Everything went smoothly at Ferncliff.”
”Oh, thank God,” Elizabeth said. “I’m waiting for you. Drive safely.” She hung up the phone.
The three women hugged each other.
“I have to get to the hospital,” Laura said. “Damn, I came with K-Ryan. He took my car.”
“Take mine,” Elizabeth offered.
”No,” Ava objected as she gathered her coat and purse. “I’ll take you. Franco and Elizabeth need to rest tonight.” She looked at Elizabeth before she and Laura left. “Or not,” she suggested.
Elizabeth laughed. “Only Ava,” she muttered to the empty room.
Elizabeth slipped off her robe and crawled back into the bed where Franco was sleeping. His breaths were deep and steady. She didn’t want to wake him. She just wanted to be close to him.
She had gotten up early, made sure the boys were extra-quiet and saw that they got on the bus. She gave them money to buy breakfast at school—the less activity in the house, the less likely they were to disturb Franco.
The night before had been surreal. While many of the Port Charles PD were at Ferncliff to assist in getting Kevin out legally, others were across town, literally knocking down the door to the Collins residence. Federal agents had swarmed the place, arresting Ryan and searching for anything related to the case.
Television, radio, social media, and newspapers were all abuzz with the news that Ryan Chamberlain was alive and had killed again. Chase had been briefly interviewed and a sound bite about Franco figuring out the case was being played over and over.
And here he was, sleeping through being heralded as Port Charles’ hero. It was okay. Elizabeth knew how to use the DVR. She could inundate him with news after he got the rest he needed. She smiled. She knew he was he was smart and good and brave and heroic. Now, everyone else knew it too.
Elizabeth stared at his face. His sleep was often interrupted with dreams or thoughts. Sometimes he muttered in his sleep and he moved restlessly when things were troubling him. He had been quiet and still all night.
She didn’t mean to reach out and touch his cheek, but she wanted to feel the bit of stubble on his face. She loved when he was clean-shaven, but she also loved the way it felt when he kissed her and his whiskers tickled her lips or flesh. It was a sensation she had begun to hunger for.
He looked so peaceful.
He could be peaceful later.
Elizabeth kissed his cheek, his chin, his other cheek, and by the time she had his mouth, he was awake and returning her affection.
After a very passionate kiss, he whispered, “I need to brush my teeth.”
”I’m not letting you get out of this bed,” Elizabeth laughed, and she nipped at his neck. She put one hand on his chest with a slight, playful pressure that dared him to move.
“I was sleeping so good,” he groaned.
“Shut up,” she sassed, taking his mouth again. She broke the kiss and told him, “You’re the town hero, you know. It’s all over the news. And I, as your wife, am obligated to give you a hero’s welcome home.” She was sliding one of her legs against his.
“Obligated?” he asked, making a sudden movement that flipped their positions.
Elizabeth yelped in surprise and giggled as he took her hands and pushed them to the bed slightly above her head. She smiled seductively as she hooked one leg over his hip, opening herself to him.
He kissed her neck and breasts making her squirm, trying to get as close to him a possible. As she opened her mouth for his tongue, she cried out in pleasure as he filled her inside.
Her body made silent demands that he fulfilled. It was so erotic that she could hardly catch her breath. She reveled in his responsiveness. He was always so attentive to her desires and she loved that she could be assertive with him in a way she hadn’t experienced before.
Elizabeth returned his attention to detail, making sure he enjoyed his experience with her as much as she enjoyed being with him.
They found a feverish climax and tried to catch their breath, still clinging to each other.
“You are amazing,” Franco said and he sucked on her earlobe.
She giggled because it tickled and he knew it. “You’re perfect,” she whispered. “My favorite place is here with you.”
“Me too,” he said, snuggling against her neck.
She ran one hand through his hair, content and relaxed because he was safe and in their bed. “Let’s stay here,” Elizabeth suggested. “We can do this all day.”
”Can I brush my teeth now?”
”Okay, Elizabeth agreed. “But you’re not allowed to shave today. That’s an order!” She used her most authoritative voice.
“You’re the boss, at least for now.” He was playing impishly along with her. They truly enjoyed just being together. He slipped into his robe.
”The kids aren’t home,” she reminded him. He could have at least let her admire his bare ass. Her mind whirled with ideas to make this day reminiscent of their honeymoon.
And the doorbell rang.
“Damn it,” she said out loud. As much as she wanted to ignore it, she knew she shouldn’t. It could be the police or a federal agent. “Stop solving crimes!” Elizabeth yelled, quickly throwing on enough clothing that she could put on her robe and not worry about giving anyone a peek at anything. She reluctantly went to answer the door as the bell rang again.
I had no plans of putting a love scene in this story. I didn’t think it would work. But the way I write, I have a general idea and I try to let the characters lead the details in a way that seems true to them. And Elizabeth demanded that this be here. What can I do but listen?
“Elizabeth!” Ned Quartermaine said her name as she opened the door. His wife Olivia and Jordan Ashford were with him.
“I think we came at a bad time,” Olivia said, realizing Elizabeth was in her robe.
“We were sleeping in,” Elizabeth said. “It’s been a rough week.” She reached to flatten her hair. She wasn’t sure if she had bed hair or sex hair. Either way, she tried to work the tangles out with her fingers.
”I know we should have called first,” Jordan admitted. “But I really needed to talk to Mr. Baldwin today.”
”Come in,” Elizabeth told them. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll go get dressed and get my husband.”
”Where should I put this?” Olivia asked. She was holding a large foil pan. “It’s homemade lasagna.”
“On the counter by the fridge,” Elizabeth answered. “How thoughtful of you. Thank you.”
”Do you want me to make some coffee?” Olivia asked. She had a way of commandeering any kitchen she walked into.
”Yeah, that would be great,” Elizabeth agreed.
Olivia took over the kitchen like she had been there a hundred times before.
About fifteen minutes later, Franco and Elizabeth came downstairs dressed and presentable to company.
They could smell bacon and found that Olivia had whipped up a quick breakfast, including pancakes. The table was set with butter and syrup in the middle, along with creamer and sweetener.
“I figured you would be hungry since you slept in,” Olivia explained. “I hope I didn’t overstep.”
“No one who makes pancakes and bacon is overstepping,” Franco said, pouring coffee for him and Elizabeth.
“Smells great,” Elizabeth agreed, though she couldn’t imagine being bold enough to walk into someone else’s house and cook. “Thanks.” She sat down and Franco gave her her coffee, kissed her cheek, and sat next to her.
”You’re going to eat with us, aren’t you?” Franco asked.
“Oh, no, it’s for you,” Olivia said.
“Maybe if the kids were home,” Elizabeth laughed and she insisted that they all join them for brunch.
Meanwhile, Franco was covering both his pancakes and bacon with maple syrup. “Amazing,” he said after trying it.
Ned and Jordan reluctantly joined them. Ned had told Olivia she should not cook in just anyone’s kitchen, but Olivia was a firm believer in being hospitable and that a good meal could make anything a little better.
”So, Mayor, what’s up?” Franco asked.
“You solved a murder and stopped a serial killer before he could strike again. I wanted to thank you in person for helping keep Port Charles safe. Olivia and I would also like to host a dinner in your honor and give you the key to the city.”
Franco was horrified by the idea. “No. No way. I mean, thank you, but I don’t want any publicity.”
”I take it you haven’t seen the news, a newspaper, or the internet today,” Jordan said. “You’ve got publicity.”
“How? I haven’t talked to anyone.”
”Reporters find the story. It’s what they do.”
”It’s a good thing,” Elizabeth told him. “Now the world knows how amazing you are. I told you it was on the news.”
“I got distracted,” he reminded her. “It doesn’t matter. The publicity will die down. It always does.”
”You never struck me as the shy type,” Olivia commented, pleased that they were enjoying the meal.
”I’m not a hero. I’m a grieving man who saw the puzzle pieces fall together. Ryan raped and killed Kiki and I want him to die too, or at least be locked away for the rest of his life so he can’t hurt another woman.”
Ned nodded, “I understand. I thought the town could use a good celebration after all of this.”
”Give Detective Chase an accommodation for being bold enough to go where he was needed, following procedure or not,” Franco suggested.
“There’s one more thing the Mayor and I wanted to speak to you about,” Jordan began. “We want you to work as a profiler with the police department.”
”What?” Franco asked.
Jordan continued, “You have played a major part in figuring out who the bad guys were several times. Your work and your...” she paused, looking for a better way to say things.
”Unique skill set?” Franco offered.
”Unique skill set, somehow help you see what we’re missing.”
“I can’t leave the hospital,” he said. “That job has been a godsend for me.”
“It would only be part time, as needed, but we would provide a retainer fee,” Ned explained.
“I don’t think I can work for the police with my record,” Franco told them, a little embarrassed.
“What record?” Ned asked. “I spoke the governor last night. As of midnight this morning, you have no criminal record.”
“Are you kidding me?” Franco asked, floored by that news.
“That’s amazing! Thank you! Thank you so much!” Elizabeth shrieked.
“It wasn’t that difficult,” Ned admitted. “Given your medical condition, as explained in general terms by the Chief Of Staff, it’s probably something that should have been done a long time ago.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Franco admitted.
”Tell me I can put you on the payroll.”
“I won’t have to leave the hospital?” he asked for clarification.
”Absolutely not,” Jordan assured him.
He looked to Elizabeth, “What do you think?”
”I think that as long as you’re profiling and not actually chasing after criminals and putting yourself in danger, it would be a prestigious and rewarding opportunity.”
”He would review cases, observe suspects from the other side of a two-way mirror, and feed any questions to an interrogating officer through a wire,” Jordan explained.
“He won’t be in any danger?” Elizabeth asked.
“No more than working any other job in this city.”
”It sounds kind of fun,” Elizabeth told Franco.
“So you would support it? I’m not doing anything that you think could have a negative impact on our family.”
“Go on retainer, see how it works out. Don’t sign any contract until or if you want to continue.”
”That sounds reasonable. For all of you,” Olivia commented.
“Okay, if Monica agrees to let me moonlight—“
”Monica is on board,” Ned told him. “I have some sway with her.”
Jordan reached out her hand, “Welcome to the PCPD.”
Franco took her hand, “Thanks.” He turned to Elizabeth, “Are you sure this is okay?”
“Yeah, Jordan said you would be safe. She turned to Jordan, “Don’t put him in a dangerous situation.”
Jordan agreed; Ned congratulated him; and Olivia started cleaning the kitchen.
“We’ll do that,” Elizabeth told her. “We appreciate everything you’ve done.”
Olivia hugged Elizabeth. “I’m glad you’re okay and this nightmare is over.”
They saw their guests out and then Franco turned to Elizabeth, “So, what do you want to do today?”
”Remember what we were doing before we had company?” Elizabeth bit her lower lip.
“I do,” Franco nodded.
”More of that,” Elizabeth told him and she headed for the stairs. Franco followed right after. Elizabeth didn’t have to ask him twice.