Episode 7 - Daddy's Home
Kelly shook Agent Rogan’s hand. The guy looked so young it was hard to believe he was over thirty, but Kelly suspected that was why Rogan was tasked with interviewing students. He looked like one of them. He was easygoing, calm, and had a way about him that made both Jagger and him want to reveal all of their deepest darkest secrets like Rogan was their best childhood friend. Following his instincts, Kelly made a mental note to trust in Agent Rogan until he was forced not to.
One thing he was good at was people watching. Body language, inflections in their voice, and the way their eyes spoke for a person were all traits he’d learned and mastered from years of being all by himself. Rogan had it all. Yes, he was an agent and definitely practiced his composure for work purposes, but the way he leaned in when they talked and offered them coffee like an adult told Kelly he really cared about what he did. He was proud of himself and so he should be.
Judging by Jagger’s relaxed body language, his friend felt the same. They’d cleared their minds of secrets and suspicions, being upfront with the agent about what they knew. It felt good. Hell, it felt great to know that whatever tidbits of information they had about the last twenty-four hours might help bring a close to River’s case, and bring the agents and police one step closer to catching the killer.
Both sides seemed to think the attack on River was related to the Hedgewater attacker still running free. It was now a race to the finish line for each side. The local cops desperately wanted to be the first to pin a name to the killer, but they knew the agents had better resources and were fronting the case. That unquestionably pissed them off.
Kelly noted three cops in the hallway, watching Jagger and him talk with Agent Rogan. Scratch that. The cops weren’t just watching. They were scowling. A deputy from earlier, one of Chief Trusou’s right hand men broke away from his group, casually carrying his coffee over to them.
“Agent Rogan, are you finished with your questions? Chief Trusou is on his way here and he’d like to interview the boys personally. I can take them down to—”
Agent Rogan pushed his black blazer back as he put his hands on his hips. His silvery blue eyes sparkled with a smirk. He was about to enjoy whatever he said next. “Not necessary,” he leaned in, inspecting the deputy’s last name, “Officer Ball. I’ve asked what needed to be asked and I’ll file my report. Chief Trusou can read it at my superior’s discretion. If you wouldn’t mind, would you and your boys go and check on the scene outside. The last thing we need is for the press to get out of hand because your officers weren’t manning their posts for a crappy cup of coffee and some afternoon gossip.”
Officer Ball’s face tightened. His fingers went stiff around his coffee as he contemplated crushing the cup. “Gossip my ass,” he muttered and nudged his chin at his boys. “We’ll be outside, your highness.”
“I prefer Agent Rogan. I think my boss would prefer it as well.” The subtle threat of a fed worked wonders on Officer Ball.
“Outside,” Ball barked, marching off with a rigid, military gait. Officer Ball’s two lackeys followed, averting their eyes. They knew better, apparently.
Jagger cleared his throat. A big smile threatened to break free. “I guess that means we’re free to go?”
“Under two conditions.” Agent Rogan eyed them both. “If you see or hear anything else suspicious I want you to call me directly, unless you’re being physically harmed then, of course, call the police.”
Kelly nodded along. “Okay and two?”
Agent Rogan scratched behind his ear, peering down both sides of the hallway before leaning in. “I want you two to stick together. Don’t go anywhere alone and don’t put yourself in situations where you might be cornered. Right now, this case is going in a lot of directions, with plenty of suspects. Pay careful attention to who you trust besides each other. In my experience if someone feels off to you they usually are. Stick together, and call me, okay?”
“Got it.” Jagger stuck out his hand like his father had taught him.
The move paid off as Agent Rogan looked him up and down, beaming. He shook Jagger’s hand, impressed. “I’ll see you boys later.”
“Thanks for your help.” Kelly offered his hand, unsure if he was supposed to also.
Agent Rogan firmly shook his hand, almost crushing Kelly’s palm in his. “No, thank you.” He dropped his hand. “You better head to the front desk. Another tip from my experience, don’t keep parents waiting to see their children.”
Kelly’s gray eyes widened. “Wait. He’s here? I thought my dad said—”
Through the glass panel of windows on the other side of the conference room, Kelly saw his dad animatedly speaking with another agent. His hands moved this way and that. Deep lines were fixed into his forehead. His suit was wrinkled and his light eyes were desperate and tired. Another man stood next to him. Dark hair brushed back away from his angry face, lending to his menacing posture. He towered a foot above Kelly’s dad. Arms fixed over his immaculate black suit and broad chest, the man looked like a mob boss slash evil villain.
“Shit.” Jagger grabbed Kelly’s hand, yanking him down the hall. “Thanks, Agent Rogan. We’ll be in touch,” he called.
Once out of earshot and eyesight of the agent, Jagger pulled Kelly to a stop. “Your dad didn’t say he was coming? Jersey is one hell of a drive, Kelly.”
“No. He said he wanted me to have dinner with my aunt tonight because she was freaked out. He yelled at me for a few minutes then said he was sorry – he was stressed. Then he played the ‘I don’t want to hang up because I’m upset game’ for another ten minutes. That was it.”
“Your aunt?” Jagger looked over his shoulder.
“My Aunt Fee, she lives in town.” Kelly followed Jagger’s eyes to the hall where his dad was. “Jagger?”
“My dad is here. I saw how he was, Kelly. When he just stands there, all quiet and shit, he’s pissed. I look like a fucking mess. I smell like last week’s garbage. He’s going to let me have it. And what the fuck for not telling me you have family here?”
Kelly was irritable. He rolled his eyes, knowing they’d have to face the music sometime. “Stop badgering me about shit that hasn’t come up in conversation yet. We’ve had a rough night and it’s not about to end because you’re scared of your dad or because you try and change the subject. I’m scared, too, dammit. I want to go back to the dorm, shower off everyone else’s sweat, eat until I can’t move, and hole up in bed. But, that isn’t going to happen just yet. We have digging to do. We have parents to deal with, and what better place to start digging than with them?”
“Our parents?” Jagger cocked his head.
“Yes, our parents. Follow me on this, okay?”
Jagger relaxed. “I’ll try?”
“Look, I know our dad’s know each other. I’ve seen the yearbooks and the pictures and heard all of the god awful stories about a million times.” Kelly shrugged. “I just didn’t know about you.”
“I’m sure they did back in the day. But, your dad hasn’t been around for ages, since you were born. At least that’s the story.”
“So you did know who I was, didn’t you?” Kelly’s brow hitched.
“I knew the last name. I knew you existed. What are you getting at?”
“I’m saying our parents are going to be sticking close to each other because they’re familiar with one another. What do people do in a crisis?” Kelly rotated his hand, encouraging Jagger to answer. When Jagger shook his head, Kelly sighed. “They depend on those close to them. Our parents are going to talk, Jagger. They’re going to know things we don’t. They’re going to hide things like all parents do. They’re going to gossip, and when they do, things will come to light.”
Kelly glanced at Agent Rogan. “And he knows that.”
“Serious? Who the hell are you, Sherlock Holmes? How do you know that? Agent Rogan isn’t looking at our parents. He’s looking at the students.”
Agent Rogan continued to watch the glass, actively writing in a notepad in his palm every few seconds. After a minute, he pocketed his notepad and pulled out his phone. Kelly fisted Jagger’s shirt and pulled him into an office alcove when Agent Rogan began to walk their way, eyes on his phone. Kelly clapped a hand over Jagger’s mouth, knowing he would fuck this up with his big mouth.
Rogan kept one hand in his pocket, walking by their hiding place. “Ira De Angelo is confirmed. That means they’re all accounted for in Hedgewater. Keep tails on them and the boys. If I’m right about this I don’t want anything to happen to those kids. Do you hear me?” He pushed open a door near reception. The pressurized bar hissed back into place. The door shut with a simple click.
Jagger stood there with his mouth open. Kelly narrowed his eyes at the door Rogan had gone through. “Told you.”
“How the fuck?”
“I’m the brains of this operation. You can be the brawn, Mermaid Genitals.” Kelly tapped Jagger’s arm and led the way past reception.
“Fucking hell,” Jagger whispered, following in a daze.
Sitting across from their family members, Jagger and Kelly tried to keep eye contact with their parents to a minimum. Kelly was too distracted by the elaborate main dining room of the Glenn Dives Inn. Jagger was trying to keep busy on his phone, mindlessly flipping through apps to keep from saying or doing the wrong thing in his mom and dad’s presence.
French manicured fingers slid over the top of his phone, snatching it away. Alicia Winegarten watched her son. “Put it away, just for a little while.”
Jagger ducked his head, unable to keep eye contact with his mother for long. He knew what she saw when she looked at him. He didn’t want to be reminded. “Sorry,” he muttered.
Ice clinked in glasses. Servers briskly walked back and forth. Diners chattered around them, probably talking about the two freshmen who looked like absolute crap and were an eyesore for such a fine dining establishment. Alicia tried to act as if her son in disarray was the most normal thing in the world. She pitied him. She always had.
“It’s alright, Jagger. You’ve been through a lot.” She patted his hand on the table. “Have you given any more thought to our suggestion? I think it would do you some good, sweetheart. The state of things at that school are precarious and I worry you might fall off the—”
“Enough,” Jagger hissed. “Not here. Please, mom.”
Jude Winegarten took a sip of his whiskey, eyeing Ira. At a loss for words, Ira sort of shrugged. He swallowed a sip of his beverage, glancing at his son, then at Jagger. “Am I really going to be the first to admit how scary the two of them look together? Brings it back, doesn’t it, Judy?” He let loose a nervous chuckle.
Jude smiled, lifting his thick black brows. “Judy,” he snorted. “I haven’t heard that in long time.”
“It’s been a long time.” Ira lifted his glass to Jude. “Looking at them makes me feel old. It reminds me of the good days.”
“Good days?” Alicia appeared bitter. “How can you say that?”
Jagger and Kelly shared a look. Jude turned to his ex-wife, nostrils flaring. He leaned in and whispered something. She didn’t respond, but picked up her wine and downed it in one swig.
Jude relaxed into his chair again. “Yeah, the good old days, right, Alicia?”
“Mm hmm.” She ran her fingers up the stem of her glass.
Kelly kicked Jagger’s foot under the table. They had a brief, but exciting conversation with their eyes. It was clear Jagger would be the first to dig into his mother’s past. Something was definitely up in that area and it had nothing to do with sitting next to her ex-husband for lunch. In the other corner, Ira grew distant, retreating behind his professional façade as if being too personable around his old crony was hitting too close to home.
Jude took the opportunity to take the reins again. Kelly gathered he was that sort of guy – domineering and powerful and he liked it that way. “So, Kelly, how are you finding Hedgewater?”
Fucked up. “It’s nice, kind of small.”
“Getting claustrophobic already? That’s not good.” Jude chortled. “It’ll grow on you in time, I suppose. Once upon a time your father was something big around here. Maybe you’ll grow into his shoes.”
“Dad, don’t make fun of him.” Jagger lifted his head. “Not cool.”
“Dude, he wasn’t talking about my size. Chill.” Kelly shook his head.
Jude sat back. “It really is eerie how similar they are to us, Ira. I would’ve never thought I’d see the day.”
“None of us did,” Alicia whispered, not waiting for the server to pour her another glass from the bottle in the middle of the table. She filled it almost to the top, wasting no time helping herself to a healthy swig.
“Alicia, may I have a word outside?” Jude rose from the table, offering her his hand like a gentleman, although there was nothing gallant about the look in his eyes. Jude was angry. Alicia was an alcoholic divorcé, who cared about her kid, but cared more about pushing his troubles under the rug and out of sight; so as not to upset her valuable reputation. And Jagger was left to fend for himself in the middle.
Alica grumbled, snatching up her envelope bag from the table. “Another talk outside, I’m shaking in my boots,” she whispered to Jude, smiling at the next table as she passed. Jude urged Alicia onto a small patio by keeping a firm hand on the small of her back.
Putting his face in his hands, Jagger groaned. “I am so sorry, Mr. De Angelo.”
“Nonsense.” Ira waved him off. “They’ve always been that way, even before the divorce. He pushes her because he loves to keep her safe and because he thinks he knows what’s best. She pushes him back by ignoring him or riling him up to make sure he remembers she’s there. They’ve been in love since we were kids. Don’t let a divorce fool you.”
“Excuse me?” Jagger’s eyes widened. “I don’t think my parent’s divorce is really any of your business or something to make light of. You have no idea what a divorce does to…”
Sensing Jagger’s breaking point coming up quick, Kelly reached under the table and held his hand. He looked at his father. “Why would you say something like that? That’s… that’s unlike you, dad.”
Slicking his hair to the side with his hand, Ira sighed. “Jagger, I didn’t mean to make you angry and I wasn’t making light of the divorce. Honestly, you should take comfort knowing your parents still love each other. It’s been three years and neither of them moved on – no matter what documents they signed legally telling them they needed to. That’s why you’re frustrated, I can see it. You know they should still be together and you think it’s your fault because they aren’t.”
Jagger turned away, squeezing Kelly’s hand. “They’ll never change.”
“I hope not. Forgive me for saying so, but your father is one ruthless son-of-a-bitch and your mother knows how to hold her own. Even though I didn’t stick around to watch the same old same old, I knew at any moment I was in trouble, I could call my best friends and they would have my back, together, just like they have yours.”
“You don’t even know them anymore.” Jagger scowled back at Ira. “Best friends? And who the hell are you to tell me my parents have my back?”
“They wanted to send you to Glenn Pines for psychiatric care after River dumped you.”
“Don’t you dare say his name.” Jagger eyes misted over. Kelly kept him grounded with a firm grip.
“They were worried the divorce had screwed you up and River was the tipping point in your life. Your dad called me. He cried, Jagger. He didn’t want you suffering. He thought you needed help and still does after what happened this summer. He didn’t want you to end up in the hospital because you did something to yourself.”
Kelly’s lips flapped slowly until he found the words. “How do you know all of that?”
“We’ve kept in touch over the years. I kept it to phone calls and letters because I didn’t want you near this place, Kelly. I didn’t want you to turn into one of them.” Ira rubbed his temple, taking a drink. “When you told me you’d applied for a Hedgewater scholarship last fall, I freaked and called Jude. You went for that scholarship because you knew I wouldn’t ever pay it. I didn’t want you here, Kell. I wanted you home, where I could protect you…”
“Dad, I’m not a kid anymore. And this isn’t about me, this is about you and Jagger’s parents discussing him when you don’t even know him.”
“I know him. I was there when he was born, Kelly. I’m his godfather for crying out loud. I have all of his school pictures and the Christmas cards in a box upstairs to prove it. I begged them to come to Jersey and settle in Greyson with us. Jude could open his own firm. You could have a friend. Alicia would have Fee; they could be friends like they used to be. But, always the stubborn one, Jude said he wouldn’t leave his home just because he felt threatened by these people.
“I bet he wonders why he didn’t listen to me now. Those boys are suffering out there. Bruce Fromme lost his son. Jackie and Will are probably out of their minds with River in the hospital. Dean and Gloria… Jesus, to think of either of you in Shay’s place makes me sick, Kell. You’re my kid. You’re all I have left in this world and I love you more than you will ever know. And, Jagger,” Ira leaned over to put his hand on Jagger’s across the table, “you’re family to us. You may not know me, but the minute you met Kelly you were drawn to him for a reason, because you could tell he was good people. I raised that man next to you and I’ll be damned if I don’t try to set you on the right path, too.”
“You’re not making any sense, dad.” Kelly started to feel queasy.
When he’d told Jagger they should investigate their parents, he didn’t know all of this would happen. His dad was Jagger’s godfather. Jude and Alicia were trying to protect something while Ira was running from it. His dad was terrified and Kelly wasn’t sure it was all because of the attacks or something worse.
Ira slid his hand back to his lap, straightening in his seat. He looked around. “I don’t like you being here, but I don’t have a choice. You’re eighteen now. I can’t make you come home, but I can make sure nothing happens to you.”
“Mr. De Angelo?” Jagger was starting to worry, not about himself, but about Ira. He looked about ready to puke. His hand had been clammy when it touched his.
Ira looked up. “This isn’t about you. None of it had to do with any of them. Don’t think that for a second.” Ira swallowed hard. “It’s all a game,” he whispered. “It’s all for nothing.”
Desperate to make sense of his dad’s cryptic ramblings, Kelly leaned forward. “Dad, what’s a game? What aren’t you saying?” He looked around to make sure no one was listening.
Ira shook his head. He stared over their heads, keeping the rest of his breakdown to himself. Alicia and Jude walked up to the table, pulling out their seats. “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting. Have you all decided what to order?” Jude glanced at his son. Something in his hard eyes had changed. They were a bit softer, kind of like the way he used to look at Jagger; the way every father should look at their son.
“I’ll have the usual,” Jagger said.
“Me, too.” Jude smiled.
Alicia sniffed and exhaled heavily, wore out from the chat outside. She used the menu to fan herself a bit. “Why are you all so quiet?”
Kelly bit his lip, eyeing his dad. “We were just deciding on what to eat, weren’t we?” He gently stepped on Jagger’s foot.
Jagger huffed. “Yes, they were deciding.”
“Without menus?” Alicia continued to prod.
Ira picked up his menu, pale as a ghost. He flipped it open, giving his son one last look of gratitude before pouring over his lunch options. Kelly lifted his own menu to hide his face from the other side of the table. He raised his brows at Jagger, wondering if he knew what to make of what had just happened. Jagger subtly shook his head. He watched Kelly’s emotions shift from fear to excitement to something he didn’t even understand until he heard his mother gasp in horror.
Menus flopped to the table. A collective chorus of outraged whispers and cries went up around the dining room. Everyone’s eyes were glued to their phones at every table.
“Mom?” Jagger got up from the table, under the impression she was about to have a heart attack. His father pulled her close, slamming Jagger’s phone down, screen first.
“Don’t!” Jude snatched the phone away from Jagger’s hand. “Don’t look,” he urged hoarsely.
“Oh my God, Jude,” Alicia cried into his neck. “Oh my god. That poor baby.” Tears slid down her cheeks.
“What is going on? Jagger threw up his hands. Frustration and fear thrashed against each other in his chest. “Mom, are you okay?”
He turned to Kelly for answers when she didn’t reply. Kelly had a hand over his mouth, eyes wide as saucers. Silently, he turned his phone around for Jagger to see. There on the screen was a video from the point of view of the Hedgewater attacker. A shaky video played, showing Shay Foster, bound and unconscious as he was brutally raped.
Francis pushed away from the computer, sobbing into his hand. Tears blurred his view of the letter lying on top of another delivered envelope. He’d been given no choice. It was either him and Owen or Shay. As much as he’d enjoyed his media gossip role, handed down to him by his predecessor as a sophomore, it was now the very position he loathed. At first he’d sucked up the glory of being picked out of hundreds of students to be an anonymous celebrity. Now he realized how much his former mentor had hated him to give him this spot, just as he hated his protégé now.
Being Hedgewater Holmes wasn’t fun. It was nothing but torture; the kind he was now addicted to and expected to carry out until graduation. It was a legacy born of the digital revolution and one of hate. He hated everyone because they claimed to be so perfect when they were all liars. Among those liars was him. He hated himself for everything he’d ever done and would do. But, he couldn’t stop now. He had no choice, even though he had been ready to pass along the torch and move on.
He wanted out of Hedgewater, but there was no out. There never had been. So as he was dragged back to Hedgewater’s hellish core on a leash, he had to take everyone with him. It was a sickness embedded into his soul. There was no cure. There wasn’t hope. No one was coming to save him because he didn’t deserve it. He was rotting inside, lonely and sad and resigned.
The copied video of Owen and him putting River on the hospital grass was on his desk with a note. Another DVD had been included. It was the video of Shay being…
Francis fell to his knees from his chair and snagged the wastebasket. He leaned over it and heaved until he wretched. He couldn’t watch it again. He couldn’t think about what he’d done. He couldn’t think about Shay and what the broken guy would do once he saw.
There was a special hell for Francis; a place he hoped he’d never see but suspected was in his near future. The Hedgewater attacker had him on a tight leash now. He was a prisoner and it was all his fault. Nothing in Hedgewater would ever be the same. From now on, no one was safe. No one. If the Hedgewater Holmes could be blackmailed and ruined, everyone else had no chance in hell.
TO BE CONTINUED…
MUSIC FROM THIS EPISODE
See you next week!!