“You can’t be serious.” Billy stood, staring directly into the eyes of his brother, his own calm, almost icy demeanor in stark contrast to the panic that nearly consumed him. “I mean, Jack—I know you’re angry, but you can’t just do sit back and do nothing.”
“Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do,” Jack spat, his words dripping with anger, the words filled with purpose. “Phyllis will not manipulate me ever again.”
“Manipulate you?” Realization flooded his brain and he slammed his open hand down hard on the desk. “You think this is some kind of game she’s playing, Jack?”
“No. I think it’s some kind of game the two of you are playing, Billy. I think you’re in this with her up to your lying, adulterous neck.” He glared at him, disgust almost seeping from him. “And it’s not going to work. You’re wasting your time. Whatever she promised you in exchange for your part in this, you can go collect.”
“Damn it, Jack.” He snatched the paper from his hands looking back over his shoulder at his brother. “You better pray she’s okay because if she’s not…” He didn’t finish his sentence. He simply rushed out of the office.
Jack leaned back in the leather chair, his brother’s words still in his mind. This was exactly like something Phyllis would do. This was her game, her manipulation, emotional tug of war. She couldn’t really be in trouble. Could she?
She didn’t speak. She simply shook her head at him in silent condemnation.
“What?” he said quietly, taking a seat in the chair across from her. He didn’t dare approach. She was far too angry.
“I just can’t believe you did this. I can’t believe you’re willing to throw away everything for money you’re never going to see.” Phyllis looked up at him. “You know that, right? Even if my family pays you every dime you ask for, you’ll never see that money. You’re going to rot in a jail cell.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Curtis stood up, pacing slowly up and down the length of the coffee table.
“Oh,” she huffed. “It doesn’t matter? Is that what your son will think when you just don’t come home and what about your wife? Do you have a wife? Your son’s mother? Does she matter? You want to tell me what the hell does matter in all this, Curtis?” Her voice was louder now, the anger becoming harder to keep inside. She’d always hated being controlled. This was her nightmare, being held, being trapped, having someone that had the upper hand in every way. It made her crazy.
“You wouldn’t understand.” He could see the anger in her eyes and he couldn’t fault her for it. With all his heart he wanted to explain things. If he told her, if he explained things to her, at least she would know why things had to happen this way, why he did what he did, but in reality he knew it wouldn’t change a thing. There was no way she would understand—no one could. Not unless you’d been there, not unless you’d experienced the overwhelming fear of knowing you might outlive your child.
So many times over the last hours she’d watched him like this. It was as if he was fighting a battle, a battle inside his own mind. There were two sides to him, a side that needed to be cold and vengeful, the part of him that needed to treat her as an object, as a means to an end. Then there was the other side, the side that had compassion, that had guilt, that wanted to answer her questions, that apologized without thinking, that touched her with an almost innate gentleness.
“How do you know I wouldn’t understand?” she asked, her head tilting a little. “What’s the harm in trying? You’re not going to let me out of here anytime soon? Why not tell me?”
Silence settled in the room for a while. Neither of them spoke. She curled up on the couch, pulling her knees in tighter against her body as she pulled up the throw to cover her.
Still silent, he stood, walking over to the thermostat and adjusting the setting. His back was still turned to her as she heard him begin to speak. “I said it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t.”
His eyes looked into hers as he slowly walked back across the room. This time he took a seat on the far end of the sofa. “The money isn’t for me. It’s for my son.”
“Oh,” Phyllis said quietly. “Is he in trouble?”
Curtis looked at her. “He’s sick.” He didn’t like saying the word. In the past year he could count on one hand the number of times he’d said it. It made him sick inside. Something about actually uttering the word made it more real. This was his son, his little boy. It was never supposed to happen to your family—never to your kid. And then it does.
He looked over at her, her eyes reflecting a level of compassion he hadn’t expected to see. “He needs some treatments that our insurance…” He stopped, “When I still had my job at Newman…my insurance wouldn’t cover the treatments, so I had to figure out a way to pay for them.”
Phyllis nodded. “That’s why you agreed to get the information for Jack….to get some fast money?”
“Right..and then when I was able to pay for the first treatment and the results were good, they told us he needed more…several more and the costs are…” He stopped to look at her. “When I lost my job at Newman…when Victor found out….not only did I lose the income, but I lost the insurance. I don’t have any way to get any of his medicine, any of his treatments. Nothing.”
“I understand,” she said quietly. Even as she said the words she was stunned to realize how true they were. Logically, she knew this was a man that sat with a gun in his hand, but she also knew he was a father doing everything in his power to save his son. She’d feared for her own daughter’s life before and, if put in the same position, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t have made the same choice if pressured.
“I never wanted to do this,” he continued. “This isn’t who I am.” He lifted the gun. “This isn’t what I do. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to scare you. I just…I don’t know what else to do. I can’t lose my son and I’m out of options.” He shook his head and shut his eyes tight, as his brain tried to process the ramifications of everything he’d said, of everything he’d done. This had seemed like the only way, but was it. Had he truly solved a problem or had he created one he’d never recover from. The feel of a warm hand on his startled him and he opened his eyes to see her sitting closer to him, her hand on his.
“I’m so sorry about your son,” Phyllis said quietly. “When my daughter was younger, she was very sick and we weren’t sure if she was going to pull through. I know how terrifying it is to watch your child fighting. It can drive you to any extreme. I understand…I really do.” She took a breath. “I promise you that I’ll do everything I can to help you, ok?”
“There’s one thing I need you to do.”
“Since I understand now, I’m on your side. I’m gonna stay here and I’m gonna help you through this. You don’t have to keep me here. Can you give me the gun, Curtis?”
Curtis blinked, his head clearing. This was just nice talk…just like the doctors at the clinics…the ones that made all the promises about making things work, about putting patients first, about it not being about money. It was always about money. It was never about the patients. He stood quickly, jerking his hand away from her. “I can’t do that,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Curtis,” Phyllis protested, standing as well. “Please.”
“No,” his eyes screamed his apology, but his heart couldn’t overrule his head this time. “This is too important. My son is too important. I don’t want to hurt you, ok? If you just do what I ask and cooperate, I won’t have to. I promise, ok?”
She was so close. She could see it in his eyes. He wanted to trust her, but he couldn’t. His eyes pleaded with her to believe him, to trust that he wasn’t going to hurt her.
“I know, Curtis,” she sighed, sitting back down on the sofa. “I know.”
Billy walked into the Underground, instantly scanning the room and exhaling in relief when he spotted Nick.
“Nick.” His voice carried over the bar to the spot where Nick stood talking to a couple at a table. Nick politely excused himself and walked across the room.
“Billy? What are you doing here?”
“Yeah, look, I know you’re busy and all, but I really need to talk to you about something and it’s not something I really want to discuss out here. Is there somewhere a little more private we can talk?”
“Uh,” Nick eyed him skeptically. “Billy, I..Uh..If this is about my sister, I really don’t think I should get”
“Nick, this doesn’t have anything to do with Victoria, but it’s important. Please.”
It was something in his tone that made him realize how truly serious it was.
“Ok,” Nick said, pointing down the hall. “We can go back to my office.”
“Thanks,” Billy sighed, following him down the hallway.
They walked into the room. Nick stepped behind the desk, as Billy stepped in and pulled the door. He watched as Nick grabbed some documents off the fax machine and started scanning through them. “So, Billy,” he said, looking up at him. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“It’s actually about Phyllis,” Billy said quietly.
Nick’s eyes darted up. “Billy…I..”
“No, it’s not like that…I think she’s in trouble. Jack got this weird fax today and he thinks she’s pulling some kind of trick to get him to worry about her, but I think….” Billy stopped, realizing Nick was staring at the papers in his hands instead of paying attention to him. “Nick,” he said, his tone curt, “This is important.”
Nick stopped, holding out a sheet of paper towards Billy. “That weird fax Jack got…Did it look anything like this?”
Billy took the paper, his heart immediately sinking. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “It’s exactly like this.” He looked back up at Nick. “Why would someone send it to you too?”
“Because of Summer I guess,” Nick replied, his words rushed, his hand already on his cell phone busily dialing Summer’s number. “I need to call her…make sure she’s ok.”
“So you agree with me? You think Phyllis is in real trouble?” Billy asked, suddenly realizing he’d been wishing someone would prove him wrong.
“Yeah,” Nick said solemnly. “I think Phyllis could be is some very real trouble. As soon as I find Summer, you and I are going to the police.”