Alex set down the lab report, a frown on his face. "Our friend's fingerprints
were on the mug, and there were definite traces of cyanide in the coffee
splashes. Miss Gabor's had a third lucky escape from death, thanks to her
daughter's quick thinking."
"Well, this time he didn't get away." Raymond glanced up from his notes.
"By the way, here's a nice twist. He won't name his backer, though it's
clear there is someone else paying big money for Phyllis Gabor to be put
out of the way. However, he's wanting to plea bargain, says he has information
on a crime never reported some twenty five years ago."
"Go on." Alex looked interested. "What has he said?"
"No details at the moment." Raymond began. "But he's hinted at a kidnap...remember
what Ms Gabor said?"
"Yes." Alex agreed. "Do we have a name?"
"Yes." Raymond nodded. "The television presenter. Constance Montgomery."
"Ooh." Alex raised an eyebrow. "This is a whole new can of worms. Should
we speak to her?"
"I don't know." Raymond admitted. "I don't want to plea bargain this
creep, he deserves all he gets, in my opinion, for leading us a wild goose
chase. The crime is twenty five years old...and to be honest with you,
I think he's grasping at straws. I did some digging, Constance Montgomery
and Phyllis Gabor are old friends. More, Ms Gabor's protegees appear fairly
often on Ms Montgomery's television show, and work regularly with Zoe Montgomery,
Constance's daughter, for their music videos. If you ask me the whole thing
is a bunch of baloney. Why would Ms Gabor work so closely with someone who
wished her harm?"
"I don't know, seems strange to me too." Alex frowned. "Well, I'll go
with you on this one. I tend to agree that we shouldn't be plea bargaining
this jerk until he gives us the name of the guy who paid for all of this."
"Our friend Zipper claims it was the trauma of the kidnap's aftermath
that drove him to accept the job of getting at Ms Gabor." Raymond rolled
his eyes. "Like hell. I told him to tell his woes to legal aid and wait for
the trial. He's guilty as they come - the evidence is plain as day." He
grinned. "And, since we got this Zipper in custody, our Mr Blakeney has
decided to talk a little - he's admitted that Stefana Ranieri had nothing
to do with the fire and that he used her as a front for his own attacks...he
claims that this Zipper made him do it."
"Gets better and better!" Alex laughed. "Well, to business! Time to build
our prosecution case, don't you think?"
"Looks like Zipper was bluffing after all."
Zoe sat down on her mother's sofa, picking up the newspaper and skimming
over the front page article. "Either that or the FBI didn't think there
was any point in pursuing the matter. They haven't asked you, have they,
"Nope, haven't heard anything." Constance shook her head. "Thank goodness!
Apparently with the evidence in front of him Zipper decided to plead guilty
and get a lesser sentence...so it's done with and there won't be any prodding
and poking of the past."
"I do wonder who put up the money for it, mind you." Zoe looked pensive.
"I mean, couldn't they try again?"
"The world's a crazy place." Constance admitted. "But I hope whoever
it was has given up and moved on to something else."
"Me too." Zoe agreed. "I want life to get back to normal." She paused.
"You never did tell me about my father."
"No, I know." Constance admitted. "But I didn't forget. I think after
all you've done for me, I owe you the truth at the very least. I was putting
some bits and pieces together - come into my room, and I'll show you what
"Okay." A little confused, Zoe followed her mother into the main bedroom,
sitting on the end of the bed. Constance pulled a folder down from the
top of the wardrobe, sitting down beside her.
"Your father was - is - a very charming man." She began. "But things...it
was wrong from the start, Zoe. The story really begins somewhere quite
different, so bear with me a little, will you? I have to explain it all
in order for you to understand."
"All right." Zoe nodded her head. "I'm listening."
"You know that I worked with you cousin Vivien for some time before LinZ
helped me get into television, right?"
"Yes." Zoe agreed. "I've seen the photographs of you together."
"Do you remember a picture or two of us at the premiere of a film called
Dead of Night?"
"Um...I don't know." Zoe admitted. "Why?"
"Well, it was the first film we ever worked on together, and the last.
I was helping out with wardrobe and makeup, that kind of thing, and it
was then that I met a man called Andrew Power." Constance paused, remembering.
"He was amazingly sweet to me, he'd always say hello and ask how my day
had been, and once or twice he'd stick up for me if the director was in
a bad mood. I...was always a restless spirit, and I admit I wasn't always
punctual or reliable, but I did try, Zoe. I didn't want to let the side
down, and I knew the film was a big deal."
She reached into the folder, pulling out a photograph. "Here...that's
Andrew, in the far corner. The picture was taken by his best friend - a man
called Jeff Wright. They were stuntmen together on the film. Jeff and I
had met before, and we hadn't gotten along, but we were both friends of Andrew's,
so we put our differences aside. Andrew...asked me out, and I accepted. We
dated, and I considered myself to be in love with him by the time only four
weeks were past. By the end of the fifth week, he'd made me an offer of marriage."
"Marriage?" Zoe's eyes opened wide. "But...did you accept? What happened?"
"I was young and impulsive, and I was in love. Of course I accepted."
Constance nodded. "Vivien was...unsure, because we'd been lovers for such
a short time, but at the end of the day, she wanted me to be happy, and he
was such a nice man."
"So what went wrong?" Zoe asked.
Constance reached into the folder, pulling out a newspaper clipping and
smoothing it out, before handing it to her daughter. Zoe took it, skimming
the contents. Her eyes filled with horror.
"Oh no...Mom!" She whispered. "He was killed?"
"It was a freak accident." Constance's blue eyes were full of emotion.
"One of those things stuntmen do a million times without a scratch. He
timed a dangerous jump a little bit wrong...and he paid the price for it."
"Were you there?"
"Yes." Constance nodded. "Oh yes. I saw it all happen." She shivered.
"And I was numb, Zoe. Totally numb. I didn't know how to react. All I knew
was the first guy who'd ever loved me was gone forever."
"I'm sorry." Zoe hugged her mother tightly. Then she realised something.
"But...But you said my father wasn't dead!"
"He isn't." Constance shook her head. "Oh, it gets worse, Zoe." She sighed.
"For a full week I didn't leave my apartment. I was...a shadow of myself,
I barely slept, barely ate, and in the end Viv was seriously worried about
what I might do. She, LinZ and Jeff rather ganged up on me, told me I had
to be strong, for Andrew's sake...in his memory." She bit her lip. "It
was then that things started to go awry." She glanced at her hands.
"I never meant for it to happen." She said slowly. "But as the months
went on, I spent more and more time hanging out with Jeff, remembering the
good times and getting over Andrew. He and I, we became such good friends."
Zoe did not speak, waiting for her mother to continue.
"In the end, neither one of us planned it." Constance spoke as if in
a dream. "A mite too much to drink at a premiere party Jeff had dragged
me to, a little bit too much playful affection...When we realised what
had happened we both felt so awful, like we'd betrayed Andrew's memory.
Jeff said that he'd never screwed over a friend before, and he felt like
he'd violated me. We swore we'd forget about it, and move on, pretend it
never happened and go back to being friends, but Zoe, once that line is crossed,
it's so hard to cross back again. It became so hard to even see each other,
and the temptation was so bad, things happened more than once and in the
end we decided it was best we never spoke to each other again."
She swallowed hard.
"The day we said goodbye, I just cried and cried after he'd gone." She
murmured. "I realised too late that I'd fallen in love with him - not in
the way that I'd loved Andrew, the simple, happy love with no difficult
questions. This was different, deeper, painful even. And then, in the midst
of having to deal with that on my own, I found out I was going to have a
baby." She sighed.
"I never told Vivien who'd fathered you, though I think maybe she suspected."
She continued. "LinZ the same. Neither one of them pushed me for it. I'd
been so emotionally fragile since Andrew's death, after all."
"Does...he know about me?"
"No." Constance shook her head. "We've not spoken since that day. But
it was for the best, Zoe. He said to me after Andrew died that he wouldn't
ever marry or have a family, because he didn't want to risk his own life
every day when there was someone to cry over him the way I'd cried over
Andrew. He'd say it often - and I took him at his word. I decided that you
and I would be all right, that it wouldn't matter, somehow we'd muddle through.
And I loved you, Zoe...you were a piece of your father and someone who loved
me without questioning me or doubting me. I...I suppose I always knew that
one day you'd ask, but I hoped you wouldn't. It's painful to think of him,
"Do you still love him?" Zoe whispered.
There was a long pause. Then, slowly, Constance nodded.
"Sometimes I think I do." She admitted. "Sometimes, when I'm alone at
night, I think about him and wonder what it would have been like. But it
wasn't right, Zoe. We betrayed Andrew's memory...it shouldn't have happened."
"I think Andrew would've understood." Zoe murmured, squeezing her hand
tightly. "And...and I'm glad you told me." She smiled. "It means something
to know he has a name...and that you loved him. That I wasn't just a meaningless
one night stand but something more."
"Well, now you know." Constance sighed. "That's the honest truth of it,
Zoe. Your blond hair comes from your father, not your cousin. Your eyes too.
You might have Vivien's features, but you have some of his as well."
"Would you be very angry, Mom, if I wanted to find him?" Zoe asked hesitantly.
Constance shook her head.
"You do whatever you feel is right." She responded. "And Zoe?"
"Let's not keep any secrets between us any more, okay?" Constance managed
a smile. "We've confessed enough to each other in recent years as it is!"
"Okay, it's a deal." Zoe grinned. She hugged her mother. "And thank you...no
matter who my father is and whether I'll ever meet him, you're still the
best Mom in the world, and that's what really counts!"