End of the Line 
(a Track B mystery fic)

10/14/03: picking up where Nick hugs Rae...Part Two

San Diego Ritz Carlton Hotel, Room 1109. 10 pm, Sunday October 5.  

"I can't believe we've gone this long without anyone finding out about your immigration status," I said as I dropped my suitcase on the floor and flopped onto the couch. "The Ritz certainly has a nice interior decorator,"  I thought as I looked around the large hotel room. "Now what was it that I was going to tell Nick?"  I shrugged, hoping I would remember it later.  

"Who in the world do you think is suppressing the information?" I asked as Nick came into the room.  

"Dunno," Nick mumbled. He sighed, setting his own suitcase down next to mine. I looked at my gubernatorial boyfriend: His face was drawn, and despite my efforts to the contrary, he had a rather disheveled look about him; this disheveled look, as I have discovered to my chagrin in recent weeks, is quite appealing to many women.  

"Back rub?" I asked him, scissoring my legs. Nick shook his head.  

"Good thing the election is in a few days," he commented. And it would be good to see who would win this election. I'm not quite sure who'd I'd vote for if I weren't voting for Nick. I would vote for Bustamante, perhaps, but even at this late date, I am not sure any one of the remaining 134 candidates is a right choice for me. Except Nick. I know he's right for me.  

Sighing, Nick straightened, and placed his hands on the small of his back. Just where I'd like to place my own hands. I slid one of my shoes off and pulled my knee towards my chest, hoping to attract his attention.  

"A foot rub, then?" I next offered Nick. He shook his head again. He was so tired, he wasn't even noticing my efforts.  

"I'd offer to rub your feet for you, madame, but I myself am pooped," Nick said to me as he carried the rest of our luggage into the rather striking hotel room. His eyes were shadowed with fatique from the grueling campaign trail. Nick grunted when he bent down to set the luggage on the floor.  

"There is always the tub," I said coyly, sliding my other shoe off and rubbing the newly released foot. Was it my bleary eyes or was steam rising off my foot? I decided it was my bleary eyes.  "A hot bath always makes you happy," I finished, the hope in my voice raising the word 'happy'. At that remark, Nick straightened.  

"Not tonight, dear. I really do have a headache," he told me. Striding into the bathroom, I heard him drawing the bath water. Did this mean he had been teasing and was issuing a invitation? 

I started to get up off the bed when the bathroom door shut firmly. I had my answer: when Nick shut the bathroom door, he meant he wished to be alone. Groaning, I leaned back onto the couch when I heard the snick of the bathroom door opening. 

"Rae, could you get me my bath kit?" Nick asked. His face was obscured with steam.  

"You bet," I said, trying to hide the disappointment in my voice. But hey, I signed on for this impromptu campaign trail and tiredness was part of the package.  

"Thanks," Nick told me through the steam and shut the bathroom door again. Ah! He wanted a sauna to relax before bed. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Just after 10 pm. In less than seven hours, Nick and I would be awake, with breakfast rolling into the room.  

By six thirty, the two of us would have to be lipstick perfect, ready for the car to take us to the day's events. Just a few days to go. 

Opening Nick's suitcase, I took the toiletry bag--a handsome one and I wondered where Nick had obtained it, for I certainly didn't give it to him--and carried his toiletries to the bathroom. Softly rapping on the door, I entered the steamy room.  

"Where are you?" I asked. 


I glanced around. The room was thick with steam and I could barely see the toiletry bag in my hand. "Where?" I asked again, reaching out my free hand. It encountered what felt like the vanity and sink. Other direction, I told myself.  

"The tub is on the left," Nick responded. I decided I'd slide first one foot then the other foot. After a few steps, my foot encountered the bathtub.  

"There," I said. "I'll unzip it for you. What do you need from this?" I asked him. 

"Um, the bath gel you gave me," Nick replied. In the steam, I smiled. I unzipped the toiletry bag and set it down on the floor. Nick claimed the lavender scent of the bath gel calmed his frazzled nerves and helped him get to sleep. Secretly, I had to agree. I liked the bath gel for the softening effect it had on Nick's skin. I found the bath gel, opened the lid and squirted some in what I thought was Nick's direction. 

"Hey! That's cold!" Nick said. I thought he had raised a hand but through the steam I couldn't be sure. 

"Can't help it." 

"Just as well. I'm sorry about tonight, Rae. I didn't know the campaign trail was going to be so rough and tumble." 

I shrugged my shoulders then remembered that Nick couldn't see me. Hell, I could barely see the tub. The last of the bath gel squirted out of the tube with a loud pfffzzzzzt! 


"More fiber in your diet, dahrling," was Nick's reply. I love the way he says dahling and I grinned to myself.  

Without warning, I giggled. "Twas the tube, m'love. I'll get some more bath gel tomorrow. Or today. Or yesterday, or whatever day it is now. Tuesday or Friday?" 

Nick chuckled in response and I put the top back on the empty bath gel tube. "Seems like everyone is wanting to contribute to UMC's coffers," I next told him. And boy, was that true! Although the press still hadn't discovered Nick and Matt's non-citizen status, my two favorite men had changed the focus of their campaign towards charitable fundraising. In the past month, Nick and Matt have raised more money for charities than most of the City's socialites raised in a year.  

As if reading my thoughts, Nick inquired, "When does the media discover that I'm not a citizen?"   

"Hopefully, not until after October 7," I replied, perhaps a bit too cheerfully for Nick sat up and leaned close to my face. "Oh! You're there," I told him. And there he was, not six inches from me.  

"What do you mean, not until October 7?" he asked, his dark eyes serious. The space between his eyebrows was furrowed with worry.  

"It's just two days away," I said but I could see that he might be a bit concerned about any legal consequences of his gubernatorial campaign. "What I meant was, was, that, uhm, weeeelll," I began, knowing that I was stumbling over my explanation. 

"Well, what? The election is on October 7th. Matt and I need to be off the ballot, luv," Nick told me.  

"But the campaigning is going so well," And Sean is so jealous! I thought to myself, then bit my lower lip. 

"What sharp comment are you biting back?" Nick asked, swirling his left hand in the steamy bathwater.  

"The one where I tell off my soon to be ex and ask him, jealous yet, Sean? Well, bite this!" I told Nick. Traces of a smile curled his lips.  

"Did you realize that Sean is covering Arnold's campaign?" I must have shaken my head no, for Nick continued. "Sean has got scored a major interview with the Terminator himself. That interview is going to be running in the next issue of People."  

I snapped my fingers, remembering what it was that I had forgotten to tell Nick. "Did I forget to tell you that Jane phoned?" 

Nick looked confused. "Huh?"  

"Jane magazine. Harmony mentioned it over dinner." 

"Jane? I'm not familiar with that magazine." 

"You're gonna love it. Jane herself wants to do the interview." 

"I thought Jane was the name of the magazine." 

"It is. Jane is also the name of woman who runs the mag." 

"Ah. Like Oprah?" 

"Yes. No." I giggled. "I'll get a copy at the newstand on the way out in the morning." 

"All right. I'll finish soaking, then come to bed. Do you want the tub refilled or are you going to wait until the morning to shower?" 

"I'll shower in the morning," I replied, knowing that Nick liked to shower at least twice a day.  

Nick smiled, then leaned back. I watched his face disappear into the steam and I felt a momentarily flash of disappointment. The flash of disappointment melted and I stood up.  

"Ooo," I said. 

"Head rush?" asked Nick. He was totally obscured with steam. 


"Did you know you have a form of high blood pressure?"  

This I didn't know. "No." 

"It's called hypotension. A leading cause of falls in the elderly. See you in a bit, luv," Nick told me. I gingerly felt my way out of the bathroom into the much cooler air of the hotel room. Shutting the door behind me, I next found my way to the nearest chair and wiped the sweat from my brow. Then I realized what Nick was doing. 

"That scamp!" I exclaimed. Nick kept me in the steamy bathroom long enough so I'd break out in a sweat, thus guaranteeing himself a freshly showered bedmate. I didn't like to go to bed when I was all sweaty, although I didn't mind getting sweaty while in bed.  I chuckled to myself. Surgeons!  

Leaning back on the couch, I saw letter and a parcel sticking out of my briefcase. Norman had overnight expressed the letters to me and I couldn't possibly figure out what could be that important to cause Norman to overnight express these letters to me here in San Diego. Sean wasn't currently suing me, nor was anyone else I knew about suing me. There were no creditors trying to dun me.  

Curious, I took the mail out of my briefcase and looked at them. The first letter was from CURE, a monthly cancer magazine geared more towards the layman than the researcher. CURE stood for: Cancer Updates, Research & Education and I had submitted two articles for the Q&A section: one on Charles Grayning's scare with gynecomastia, a condition which can be easily confused with male breast cancer. 

The second article Q/A dealt with 12 year old Tangie Grayson Miller's on-going bout with multiple myleoma and her subsequent entry into a clinical trial using Thalomid, better known as thalidomide.  

"Oooooo! Goodies!" I said to no one and ripped open the envelope from CURE. Scanning the contents, I let out a shout of "whooo, hooooo!" One of the articles were going to be published in upcoming issues; it was the Q&A on multiple myleoma & I had used Tangie's case to highlight some of the recent developments in treating MM. Gynecomastia had just been covered in the fall issue of CURE. I held the acceptance letter to my chest and grinned hugely. "Nick!" I called, then frowned. He couldn't hear me with the water running. I just had to share my news. 

I got up and went to the bathrrom door, knocking before I entered. "Nick?" 

"Come in!" he called back. I opened the door and stuck my head in. I heard splashing sounds and figured that he was in the midst of soaping up. "CURE magazine accepted my my Q/A article on Tangie." 

"That is great! Can I read it first?" he asked me through the dense steam. 

I giggled. "Yep. Now that it's in the publishing process, I don't see the harm." See ya in a bit, babe," I told him then shut the door so he could have his steam bath. I fairly skipped back to the couch. Sitting down, I set the letter aside and took the parcel from my briefcase. I turned the parcel over looking for a postmark. There was no postmark.  

Now I was getting a bit concerned. The parcel was done up in plain brown packaging, with packing tape. On the back, there was a surprisingly good hand drawn picture of a man's profile. I frowned a moment, thinking the profile looked familiar, but I couldn't place the face. I then carefully opened the package.  

Out fell a videotape, and a photo with a letter clipped to it. The letter was written on pale pink stationery.  I looked at the photo of a well-maintained fortyish woman and glared. When I read the second letter, hot anger welled up inside me. I clenched my fists, crumpling the letter and threw the wadded paper across the room.  

I ripped the photo in half and tossed it down on the couch. I didn't need to look at the videotape because I knew damn well what (and who) was on that damn videotape.  

In the steamy bathroom, Nick smiled to himself as he rubbed a loofah over his feet. He was reallly glad about Rae's magazine article and he thought that perhaps its publication would give her a bit more confidence in herself, something she had lacked in the last several months.  

He also hoped his ploy had worked and Rae would take a shower before retiring. He really was getting a bit fussy as his 34th birthday approached. Nick sincerely hoped he wasn't having a mid-life crisis while still in his thirties; he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he had a mid-life crisis right now. How else could he react to a a mid-life crisis? Nick had already moved halfway around the world to be closer to Rae in the hopes her marriage would end (a prize he'd gotten despite Rae's asking him to return to Greece so she could work on her marriage).  

Despite his mild protests in private, Nick was really enjoying doing the charity fundraising circuit. The circuit was exhausting when done on a daily basis but thrilling when Nick considered the benefits. He'd never done anything like the efforts he and Matt were expending on the fundraising effort this past month. To date, he and Matt had helped raise just over two million dollars for various causes, both for UMC-backed charities and for charities like the Humane Society. Nick was rather proud of his efforts and Nick knew that Matt was feeling good about himself as well.  

Like the rest of the world, Nick did think it strange that no American media hounds had discovered the fact that neither he nor Matt were US citizens and thus ineligible for to run Governor of California. Yet two days before the election, the two men were still on the ballot.   

As he had explained to several members of the Greek media, Nick suspected that with all the attention focused on Arnold, those candidates with less than 1% of the vote weren't really high on the American media's to-follow list.  

And speaking of Greek, Nick knew his parents were quite proud of their son. They sent him packages with newsclippings and video footage. Rae liked to thumb through the clippings while Nick translated for her. She had decided to begin Greek language lessons and Nick promised to spend an hour a day teaching her Greek. 

Now Nick focused his loofah efforts on his left heel, a particularly nasty spot as of late. As he scrubbed, a worry line appeared between his dark eyebrows. He was still a bit worried about possible legal consequences resulting from this campaign and he knew he should have checked with legal counsel before beginning the campaign.  

However, UMC's regents were more than satisfied with Nick and Matt. Since UMC would have checked with legal counsel, the regents' reaction indicated to Nick that he and Matt were in the clear. 

Happily, Nick's worries about legal consequences would be remedied quite shortly. Tomorrow, at the end of the day, he and Matt officially planned to withdraw from the recall race.  

Nick finished with his bath and stood up. With his foot, he opened the drain then turned the shower on to cool, allowing the water to flow over his body.  

San Diego Ritz Carlton Hotel, Room 1204. 10:30 pm, Sunday October 5.  

"Did you know that all our expenses for room and travel are being paid for by contributors?" Harmony asked as she set her suitcase down next to the bed. The suitcase obligingly thumped on the floor and promptly sprang its buckles.  

"Buggers!" Harmony cried as her carefully packed clothes spilled out onto the floor. "I'll just leave it. I'll deal with it in the morning."  She was a bit cross from the long day on the campaign trail. Being a gubernatorial candidate's girlfriend was simultaneously thrilling, tiring, iritating, and boring. Harmony liked all the travel and was thrilled to meet so many people.  

But she was bored to tears hearing all the same phrases over again, especially "It's so nice to meet you, Miss Zimmerman." Harmony was positive that there was a sarcastic tone to that particular phrase, most often said by people who made politics their lifeblood. While en route to their next destination, Harmony had spent the better part of the travel time debating with Matt over tonal inflections.  

And she was just as positive that these women were being catty because Harmony was so much younger than they. "And with patent applications in, even!"  Harmony thought smugly to herself.  

"What's buggers?" Matt asked, entering the room with his own suitcases. He grunted. "Why did I ever pack so much?" he complained to the room in general.  

"My suitcase popped. I think the buckles are busted," Harmony told him. "And you need all those clothes," she added.  

"We'll get you another suitcase, luv," Matt replied, smiling at her. "And if I need all these clothes, why didn't the contributors find us some bellhops?" 

"They did, but you gallantly turned away the bellhops," Harmony reminded him with a sweep of her hand.  

"Grrrrrr," was Matt's only reply. He stooped to place the suitcases on the floor. "Remind me to call for bellhops in the morning, else I might strain my back," he said, then looked at Harmony. "Now there's a good lass," he commented, a smile filling his face.  

Harmony was gleefully jumping up and down on the bed, a huge grin on her face. "Kinda helps relieve the tension of the day. You should try it," she offered her hand.  

Matt hestitated a moment, glancing around.  He bit his lip. 

"Silly! There's no one here but us gooby birds," Harmony teased. Her hair was flying up and down.  

"Gooby birds?" Matt asked, a grin suffusing his face. "Is that anything like Rae's boo-birds?" 

"Mmmm, I suppose. Goobies are gubernatorial candidates. Someone's new slang terms that I picked up on the train this afternoon," Harmony replied. "Come on! This is fun!"  

Matt thought a moment, then decided to throw caution to the wind. He climbed up onto the bed.  

"Can't jump too high, else I bump me head," he told his girlfriend. "But it's fun!" Matt admitted, and  jumped a bit higher. "You sure have a lot of energy!" he said. The bedsprings began to squeak rhythmically.  

"Comes from all the cafe Americanos," she replied. "Large cafe Americanos," she corrected.  

"You had three today that I noticed." 


Matt's jaw dropped. "You're going to be up all night!" 

"True," Harmony conceded. "But there's only tomorrow to get through." 

"And at the end of the day, Nick and I will be officially off the ballot." 

"Yep," Harmony responded cheerily. "Hey, do you know that Rae thinks you and Nick are going to be on the ballot and that she'll get to vote for you two?" 

"She doesn't!" 

Harmony nodded. "She does." 

"Hasn't she figured out that we're withdrawing as of tomorrow evening?" 

Harmony shook her head and bounced higher. "Nope." 

"Should we tell?" Matt inquired. 

"Nuh uh. Let her be surprised. She thinks we're going on Good Morning America on Tuesday morning. Uhhhhhh!" Harmony slipped on the comfortor and fell sideways. Her head hit with a loud thump on the nightstand next to the bed. 

Immediately, Matt stopped jumping and got on his knees. "Harmony?"  

She moaned and raised her hand to her head and kicked her legs, trying to get some purchase on the comfortor. Harmony managed to roll over on her back. 

"No spinal injuries," Matt observed as he watched Harmony roll on her back. Her face was harlequined with blood. "Don't move, luv," he cautioned her. "Let me see." He inspected Harmony's wound, then moved her to a more comfortable position.  

"I'm going to get a towel and then get Nick up here. That needs stitches. Hold the pillow case, like this," he next instructed Harmony. 

"I feel sick," Harmony said.  



"Sudden blood loss can do that to you," Matt said as he pulled Harmony's knees up to her chest. He held her hand tightly against the pillowcase that was quickly becoming soaked in blood. "Nick will be here shortly." 

"Make it quick. I really don't feel well." Matt reached over and picked up the phone receiver. He dialed Room 1109 and waited for someone to pick up. 

"It will be all right," he told her, wiping her sweaty and bloody temple. "Pick up the phone," he muttered as the phone rang and rang. "For God's sake, I hope they're not googling!" 

"Hello?" Matt heard Rae's cautious voice ask.  

"It's Matt. Harmony's got a gash on her temple she needs stitched." 

"Harmony? How did she hurt herself?" Rae asked. Then Matt heard, "Nick? Harmony needs your stitchwork, babe. Matt, how'd she hurt herself?" Rae asked again.  

"Just get Nick up here," Matt said, annoyed at Rae's question. "We'll fill you in when you get here." Matt hung up the phone then pressed his hands over the wound. Very pale now, Harmony just moaned in response. 

With the dial tone sounding in my ear, I hung up the phone. 

"How bad is it?" Nick asked as he grabbed his doctor's bag. I shrugged.  

"He didn't say. Can't be too bad, else he would have phoned 911," I replied.  

"Come," Nick ordered. I jumped off the couch and followed him out the door. Following after Nick, I noticed that he hadn't put on any shoes and he was dressed in what he referred to as his lounge clothes: a very soft pair of pale grey thin flannel sweatpants and a white tshirt. A odd mixture of fabrics, I mused as we took the stairs two by two to the next floor.  

Moments later, we were at the door of 1204. Nick knocked first. "It's us!" he called. Inside, we heard a murmuring, then heard Matt's footsteps coming towards the door. He opened the door. 

"That was quick!" he told us. 

"Surgeon on call!" Nick said as we entered the room.  

I blanched a little when I saw all the blood. Despite my being an oncologist and performing surgery, I prefer that blood be seen under the microscope. "Good God!" I exclaimed.  

"What happened?" Nick asked as he headed towards Harmony. He placed his doctor's bag on the bed and sat down. I went over and stood next to Matt. 

"I fell," Harmony softly replied. Nick glanced at Matt.  

"You look sheepish," Nick said to Matt. Matt looked away. "Here, let me see," Nick told Harmony as he gently removed her hands then lifted the pillow case to examine the wound. "Ah, easily fixed. Hold this," he told her as Harmony pressed once again on the wound. He glanced at Matt. 

"Bed jumping," Matt finally offered. Nick nodded and went into the bathroom. He turned on the hot water and began to scrub his hands.  

"Bed jumping?" I asked. Matt nodded. I continued. "Aren't you..." but I stopped when I saw Matt shaking his head and holding a finger to his lips. I furrowed my brow, then remembered that Harmony had been taking a lot of chiding this last month regarding her age. I had to admire Harmony not only for her grace under pressure but also for her witty comebacks when someone mentioned her relative youth.  

"Stress relief," Matt said. Then he grunted. "I'll get some hot water and a washcloth. He'll need to wash the blood off." Matt looked around the room, then spied the plastic ice bucket. "There. That will do just fine!"  

"Good idea," Nick replied, returning from the bathroom, holding his hands up. He moved sideways so Matt could enter the bathroom. I felt useless, so I just remained where I was standing.  

Somehow, Nick knew what I was thinking. He looked at me. "Rae, could you get some gloves out of my bag?"  

"Of course! I should have thought of that myself," I nodded, rummaged in his doctor's bag and withdrew a pair of surgical gloves heremetically sealed in its own packaging. I helped Nick with the gloves.  

While Matt gently sponged the blood away from the wound, Nick took out a suture kit and began his preparations. "I'll have you fixed up in a jiffy," he told Harmony. She moaned and moved her legs closer to her chest.  

"This isn't going to affect the last day of the campaign trail, is it?" Harmony asked.  

"Last day of the campaign trail? What do you mean the last day? Tuesday is the last day!" I exclaimed. With a sinking heart and rising panic, I noticed Matt and Nick glancing at each other.  

"Luv, Matt and I are withdrawing from the recall as of tomorrow evening," Nick quietly commented. 

"Withdraw from the recall? Why?" I inquired more forcefully than I had intended. "No one's found out about your immigration status!" 

"We...we were thinking it would be a good idea to withdraw tomorrow. In case of legal problems," Matt informed me. I looked at Nick but he was avoiding meeting my gaze.  

"We are supposed to go on Good Morning, America on Tuesday!" I sputtered, throwing my hands up into the air. The panic rose hot and fast in my throat. This couldn't be happening to me a second time.  

"Could you lower your legs, Harmony?" Nick asked her. Matt went around and sat on the end of the bed. He pulled Harmony's legs straight, then leaned on them so she wouldn't try to raise them and bump Nick. 

"GMA has been lined up since forever!" I said futilely, hoping that I could avoid the inevitable realization that I wouldn't be on Good Morning, America, an unrealized dream that I had carried since I was in college and my newly-acquired sculptor slash photographer boyfriend Barry Brinks had been showcased sans moi on a GMA segment.  

Now I noticed Nick glancing in my direction. He apparently sensed my train of thought. "Well, depending on what the producers think, we may still get on GMA," Nick commented as he lowered the needle towards the gash in Harmony's forehead.  

Nick glanced at me. "Rae, I know you were expecting to go on GMA, but Matt and I really think it's better if we withdraw from the recall. This way, California can also avoid a recount if someone is disgruntled that we didn't withdraw in time, thus causing votes to be cast for us." 

Given the current discontent in California, I had to admit the recount option was a distinct possibility if Nick and Matt didn't withdraw from the recall. I tried to hide my disappointment but I knew Nick was correct. I was fuzzy on the law, and election law is especially confusing.  

I tired of election law back in 2000 but I knew that if someone disagreed with the California recall election results, they could demand a recount. Under California's law, that disgruntled voter would then have to pay for the recount on a daily basis, a potentially huge cost and a huge disincentive to not demand a recount.  

Then I realized that there was also another possibility. If Nick and Matt were still on the ballot and since they were not citizens, then someone--or a political party--could try to challenge the recall election results in a court of law, further complicating things. If the election office failed to pick up on the fact that two recall candidates were not citizens, then the recall election results could be thrown out.  

"I understand," I said, as I shuffled my feet. I then decided to make the best of things. "At least we raised a lot of cash for charity!" I commented brightly. Seeing that my assistance wasn't needed, I went to sit down on the couch. 

"That we did," Nick murmured. "Matt could you reach into my bag and get my penlight? I need more light on the wound." 

Matt got the requested item and held it so Nick could see better. "Ah, luv. That's gonna heal just fine," he reassured Harmony.  

"Hey, could you tape cotton balls to my eyelids?" Harmony asked. 

Nick paused in his ministrations. "Cotton balls?" 

"Yeah. I don't want to see the needle. I hate needles," Harmony replied.  

"Can't you just close your eyes?" I asked.  

"Nuh, uh. I could, but I think it's going to take a while to stitch me." 

"She's right," Nick said. "It's an inch-long wound." 

Monday, October 6, Ritz Hotel, San Diego. 6 pm. 

"Whew! What a day! I'm pooped!" I remarked as I sank gratefully down into the chair. The hotel bar was crowded with people and I had chosen a private corner remarkably located just beside and slightly behind the entrance. An equally weary Harmony eased herself into the chair across from me so she could get the fellas' attention when they came in. Harmony held her head in her hands. I peered at her more closely. 

"You all right?" I inquired. 

"Yeah. No headache but the stitches hurt," she replied. Sitting up, she opened her purse and rummaged through it for the painkillers Nick had prescribed. It had taken Nick an hour to stitch up the wound.  

When he let her look at his stitchwork, Harmony was quite impressed with Nick's handiwork and told him he should consider going into practice with Jackie. Nick had smiled at the compliment; a surgeon is usually noted for their incisions, rather than their stitchwork and like many surgeons, Nick allowed the OR nurses to close wounds.  

Matt had told her even without Mederma, the resultant scar would be hardly noticeable. Harmony had managed a wan smile before dropping off in a mild sedative induced sleep. As a result less sleep last night, today had been especially tiring for the four of us (and somewhat annoying for me).  

I had been miffed since I learned that Nick and Matt were pulling out of the recall race but I agreed with the reasons. The recall election results could have been challenged in a court of law and voided, necessitating a second recall election. It was this line of reasoning which induced Nick and Matt to pull out of the recall race.  

And much to my annoyance, I strongly suspected that the four of us would not be appearing on Good Morning, America on Tuesday. My annoyance is more to do with revenge on an aging adversary than a desire of plastering my beautiful face all over morning television.  

I had been in college, liberated and fresh out of a summer romance with one of my professors when I had met the fast-rising sculptor and photographer Barry Brinks. Within days, he'd bedded me and photographed me to my utter delight.  

At the time, one of Barry's sculptures, Rising Dawn, recently had been placed in the lobby of New York's Chelsea Hotel. As people were a bit weary of the oil crisis, Carter and things in general and America was in search of lighter fare, GMA producers had phoned Barry, arranging for a film crew to come in and film him at work on his latest sculpture: a Greek style nude sculpture in chocolate. The nude chocolate sculpture was Barry's gimmick.  

I was to be his sculpture model for the GMA clips, and thrilled, I had told everyone I knew to watch GMA on September 26th. But before the clips could be aired, Barry and I had broken up when I caught him with another woman.  

Sherry Chalkey was my adversary and twenty five years ago, she had usurped my place on GMA when I had broken up with our mutual boyfriend Barry Brinks. Thing was, while Sherry knew about Barry's duplicity, I did not know, and to exact revenge for my breaking up with him, Barry had asked GMA to refilm the segment showing Barry sculpting the chocolate into the form of a nude, nubile young woman.  

As I mentioned, the model was supposed to have been me but my big mouth enabled Sherry to snag the spot on GMA and have herself a happy little modeling slash acting career. All these years I had taken secret joy in the fact that Sherry's twin careers melted down by the early eighties. Barry fared rather well on the arts scene until New Year's Day, 1988. At the start of a cross-country car trip that he planned to videotape, Barry Brinks had died in an unexplained, lonely late night car accident near the Hollywood Reservoir.  

I knew Sherry Chalkey was still out there and after twenty five years, she was still lording her GMA film clips over me. I knew all of this because the letter I had crumpled up last night read: 

    Dearest Rae: 
    I know you remember me and I certainly remember you 

    Enclosed please find a copy of the Good Morning, America segment on our late boyfriend Barry Brinks.  

    Had your big mouth not gotten in the way, it could have been you posing artfully in the buff. I've also enclosed a recent photo of me. I hope you like the pose! 

    ALL my best on your newest boyfriend's election campaign (and by the way, Doctor K's quite a hottie! Mind if I cut in again?) 

    Sherry Chalkey

The signed photo I had torn in half was a remake of the pose which had made Sherry Chalkey a semi-star. Since Sherry left little to the imagination in the photo she had sent, I grudgingly had to admit that Sherry's body was still as gorgeous as it had been twenty five years ago. But then again, so was my body. 

And now Sherry Chalkey was trying to make a move on my boyfriend. I was prepared to go to battle with her; Nick was a prize worth fighting for. Harmony nudged my arm and I came out of my reverie. "Huh?" I asked her.  

"Drink?" she inquired and indicated the waiter patiently awaiting my order.  

"Champagne, brut," I replied. I looked at Harmony. "You having a drink?" The waiter left with our drink orders.  

She shook her head. "Not with these painkillers. Plus, Matt's done some sleuthing and discovered that my extreme reaction to alcohol is known as acute alcohol intolerance where I get the giggles, my face turns beet red, and I get a thunderous headache. It's otherwise known as the Asian flush." 

I raised my eyebrows. "Interesting." 

"Sure is. I'm having some testing done to see if I have the deletion of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 enzyme." 

"Okay," I said but I wasn't understanding. I was hoping Harmony would fill me in.  

She did. "If the ALDH2 enzyme is deleted, there's an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the liver which increases the intoxicating effects of alcohol." 

"So that's why you didn't drink wine when we were campaigning in Napa," I commented. And Harmony hadn't drank wine or any other alcohol at all during our time on the campaign trail. She didn't like the side effects of her drinking alcohol, so she drank very small amounts of alcohol in private. Only rarely did she take her whiskey in public.  

Harmony nodded. "Depending on your source of info, up to 50% of Asians have the deletion of the ALDH2 enzyme. This is especially interesting to me because I'm adopted but don't know my full lineage. Irish, yes because of my birth surname origin, but the deletion of the enzyme would point towards someone in my recent ancestry as being of Asian descent." 

"You think you're part Asian?" 

Again, Harmony nodded and fiddled with a cocktail napkin. "That's what the geneticist thinks." She looked up at me. "Matt was sure surprised. He'd always wondered how come I could have such extreme physiological reactions yet within six hours, I'd have no hangover symptoms." 

"A fast metabolism." 

Harmony smiled and looked at me. "A fast metabolism is why the geneticist encouraged me to have further testing done. So now I am awaiting the results...hey, Matt, Nick! Over here!" Harmony waved her hand and Matt and Nick made their way through the crowd. Several people pointed at them and smiled in recognition. Matt and Nick waved as they passed by..  

"Umpf! What a day!" Matt said as he approched our table. "Evening, luv. How's the head?"  

"Stitches hurt, but no headache," Harmony replied.  

A waiter seemed to appear out of thin air with Harmony's and my drink orders. "How do they do that?" I thought to myself. He also placed on the table a tray filled with appetizers.  

"Mmmmm," I said, reaching for a fried mozzarella stick.  

"Glass of Chardonnay," Nick told the waiter. 

"Same here," Matt said. The waiter left.  

Nick bent down and kissed my cheek. "Evening." 

"Evening to you, babe," I told him. Nick sat down and watched as Matt lifted the edge of the bandage and examined Nick's handiwork. "Very good," he informed us and sat down.  

Thinking better of himself, Matt stood up. "Time for the gents," he informed us and weaved his way through the milling crowd. He stopped several times to greet someone and I noticed he didn't shake hands. Seems the man has gone germ-phobic in the last several months.  

"How was it?" Harmony enquired of Nick. She meant "how did the press take the announcement of the sudden withdrawal from the recall race?" 

"Those questions just kept coming!" Nick told her. He leaned over and pulled the appetizer tray closer to him. "But seriously, with all the attention focused on Arnold, the press kept asking questions, but didn't seem to be that interested in lesser candidates such as Matt and myself." 

"That's rude!" Harmony told him. "We're interested in you." Smiling at Nick, she took a beef stick and dipped the beefy end in the hot mustard sauce. 

Nick chose a spinach and feta cheese mix wrapped in a wonton wrapper. He smiled at Harmony. "I know and that's much appreciated, Harmony." He bit into the appetizer. "Mmm, these are quite good!"  

Matt accompanied the waiter back to our table. He took his seat as the waiter placed the Chardonnay in front of him. "That's soda?" he asked her. 


Matt reached for a mozzarella stick and I pushed the marinara bowl towards him. Some of the sauce spilled out on the table. 

"When does our train leave?" Harmony asked, trying to stifle a yawn. Matt and Nick glanced at each other, small smiles on both their faces. I grew suspicious when those two got together and I wondered what else they had planned.

"Do you two have something up your sleeves?" I asked them. I leaned on the table and ended up getting marina dipping sauce on my sleeve for my trouble. 

"It's a surprise," Matt said as I wiped the marinara sauce off my sleeve. I looked at Nick. 

"I, well, actually both of us, have arranged a surprise for the two of you," Nick told me. I looked at Harmony; she looked first at me then at Nick. 

"An early birthday prezzie, perhaps?" she asked Matt. 

He shook his head. Then his brow furrowed. "It could be an early birthday prezzie. You'll find out tomorrow evening."

"Tomorrow? Can't you tell us today?" I implored. Nick and Matt shook their heads. "Please?" I gave Nick my best pout, one I usually reserved for the bedroom. He was unmoved. 

"Tomorrow," he said firmly. "All will be revealed tomorrow."

Tuesday evening, October 7. Los Angeles, California.

Yesterday evening, I discovered part of the surprise the fellas had for Harmony and myself: they were the guests of honor at a black tie charity fundraiser. We ladies, naturally, were their dates. After we left the Ritz's bar, the fellas had taken the four of us to the airport instead of to the train station as we had expected. 

At the airport, we discovered that our host had sent a private plane to fetch us to Los Angeles. Once we touched down at Santa Monica airport, we were whisked off in a limo to the Beverly Hills Hilton. This morning, instead of appearing on Good Morning, America, Harmony and I were taken to a spa, where we were worked on, shampooed (Harmony had to keep reminding the staff of her injury), prodded, massaged, oiled, and loofahed for several hours before we were given our choice of evening gowns. 

Next, we ladies were hustled into another limo and we went a round about route to our destination, taking a scenic route towards Santa Barbara (I saw the road signs) then the driver swung the car about. I had no idea where the four of us would ultimately end up. Slowing a bit, the limo pulled into a driveway leading to impressively large home. There were no other cars and no sign of guests. Either we were the first guests or else the other guests were dropped off.

"Niiiiice house," I murmured, pressing my nose to the glass. I felt someone gently swat my behind. I turned around and Nick was trying to hide a smile."Nick! Stop that!"

"Only if you kiss me," he told me playfully. Smiling I scrambled up onto his lap and did as he requested. 

"It is a large home," Harmony said, then she squealed. "Horses!" She pointed out the opposite window at two horses which were complacently grazing the front lawn. 

"I didn't know you could board horses in this part of LA," Matt said, adjusting his bow tie. 

"Neither did I," Harmony said. "They're beautiful! Appaloosas," she informed us as we passed by the horses. Harmony opened the window and neighed loudly. The two horses raises their heads and looked towards us. Harmony neighed again and both horses tossed their heads and neighed back. 

"Back in the car, luv," Matt said as he pried Harmony away from the window. She sat back in the seat, a huge smile on her face. Matt reached over and adjusted Harmony's hair to that it covered the bandage on her temple.

"Can we go horseback riding?" she asked him. He looked at her, then at Nick. Nick raised an eyebrow, a silent communication going between the two of them. 

"After the stitches get taken out," he told her. She did not need to reply for her smile said everything. I thought that horseback riding sounded good and I made a mental note to ask Nick to take me to a dude ranch for my upcoming birthday--my first birthday since I had asked Sean for a divorce.

"Nick, how about taking me to a dude ranch for my birthday?" I found myself suddenly asking Nick. I was surprised. I hadn't meant to think out loud. Nick smiled. 

Harmony picked up on this interplay. "Matt, me too! Please? Please?" Harmony begged. She made puppy dog eyes at Matt. From his expression, I could see that Harmony got her prize. I decided to use the same technique on Nick.

"Babe, please?" I pleaded and ran a finger down Nick's cheek. He tried to bite back a grin but the corners of his eyes crinkled. "Your eyes are crinkling. Does that mean what I think it means?" Nick nodded and I kissed him again. The limo stopped suddenly, and I nearly fell off Nick's lap. 

"Hey!" I called. "Watch the driving!" 

"Luv," Nick said, placing me on the seat next to him. The limo next lurched forward some distance before stopping again. 

"Must be new to driving," I muttered as I ensured the car was really stopped. The rear passenger door opened and I collected my evening bag. Taking the proffered hand, I stepped out of the limo. Nick followed me, then Harmony and Matt exited the limo. The butler shut the car door and indicated to the driver that he could go. 

We were escorted into a huge marble floored two story foyer lighted by a striking crystal chandelier. Nick whislted in appreciation. There were large photographs displayed in the foyer and through the doorways to either side of the foyer, there were apparently more photographs on display. 

As the evening's benefit was to promote the Santa Monica Center for the Photographic Arts, it was not surprising there would be a large number of photos on exhibition. Through the door, I could see other guests mingling and admiring the photographs. 

"Who is our host?" I asked Nick but he put his finger on his lips and shook his head. 

"Surprise," he told me as the four of us slowly walked down the foyer, admiring the photographs. There were lots of surprises for me these past few days. Looking at the photo information, I saw some well known names underneath and I wondered who would be exhibiting this evening. Shortly, the doors to the back of the foyer opened and we got a look at our host. 

Harmony's jaw dropped as she took in the identity of our host. "I can't believe it," she stage-whispered, her voice full of awe. "It's him! It's really, really him! I've always wanted to meet him, ever since I was a little girl!" 

Our host smiled at us as he approached our little group. He needed no introduction.  "Miss Harmony Zimmerman," he said to her. "Latin first name, of course. I am honored to make your acquaintance." 

Harmony blushed and stammered out a hello but she was too excited when our host kissed her hand. "Charmed," he told her. 

"Likewise," Harmony managed to say. She tried to stifle a nervous giggle and Matt must have thought Harmony was going to faint for he put his hand under her elbow to steady her. 

Our host turn his attention to me. "Doctor Rae Brennan," he said pleasantly. His voice was mellow, and I felt a momentary dizziness. My reaction was surprising to myself because I certainly have met a large number of people during my career, both in and outside the medical field. 

My next coherent thought was, "I'm going to swoon," I thought wildly, smiling as the host gently took my hand and kissed it. "Now I know how women felt when they met Ol' Blue Eyes." 

"Charmed," was all I could stammer and mentally I thumped myself on the forehead. After years, decades even, pining to meet this man, I finally get the chance and all I could say upon meeting him is "charmed?" 

I believe our host noticed Harmony's and my own nervousness for he turned his attention to Nick and Matt. 

"Doctors Slingerland and Kokoris, I presume?" he asked the fellas. Nick and Matt shook his hand in turn. "I am honored that you accepted the invitation I extended last month. It's quite a wonderful thing you two have done managing your charitable campaign."

Last month? This benefit was arranged last month? I looked at Harmony in surprise and she returned my expression with a slight shrug of her shoulders. What other secrets did Nick have up his sleeve? I suddenly noticed that I had missed part of the conversation and when I turned my attention back to the introductions, I heard Matt saying,

"...it is indeed true that the American media didn't pick up on certain small, but highly relevant facts," Matt said, a bit of a chuckle coming at the end of his sentence. Tearing my eyes from the benefit's handsome host, I glanced at Nick and saw a small smile playing at the corners of his smoky eyes. That sneaky scamp! He knew I had always wanted to meet our host and he arranged all of this for me! I would have to thank him later. 

Our host laughed. "I have some of the more interesting international articles about this campaign, if you care to look at them," he offered congenially. 

"That would be a pleasure," Nick replied. 

Suddenly I found myself looking into our host's eyes. "Control yourself, Rae," I cautioned myself. "Breathe, breathe, breathe," I silently told myself as I held our host's gaze. 

He spoke before I did. "If I'm not mistaken, I believe there are photographs on exhibition that were taken by an old friend of yours, Doctor Brennan," he told me. 

"Old friend?" I inquired. Puzzled, I looked at Nick. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. 

"I was told his name was Barry Brinks," our host told me.

I hoped I was successful in holding back a choke. I glanced at Nick. This time, it was Nick who quizzically looked at me, one eyebrow cocked.

"Ah, yes. Barry Brinks was a friend of mine," I told my host. "He exhibited his photos and sculptures frequently in the 1970's. Barry died in, uhm," Damn, I was stammering!  "in 1988 if memory serves me correct," I added nervously for my companions' benefit. 

"I gathered that Barry was a rather close friend," my host mysteriously said. Now Nick gave me a sharp look that meant: "what is going on?"  I gave him a look back that I hoped translated into "Trust me. I'll tell you later," but I'm not sure if I managed to get that thought across to Nick. 

Our host cleared his throat. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you to the Barry Brinks exhibition." He motioned for us to follow him. I looked around at my companions. Nick nodded and we trailed after him. We entered the large room to the left of the foyer and our host smiled and nodded to other guests as we moved through the room. 

"Wow!" Harmony said. "These are good!" She paused momentarily to look at large black and white photograph of sunbathers. "Good contrast," she commented. Matt paused with her. 

Nick and I continued to follow our host and shortly I found myself standing in shock, gazing at a small, tastefully arranged and lighted photo exhibition. Nick was at my elbow and I was glad I couldn't see his immediate reaction. People were motioning at us. Personally, I was hoping that the people were recognizing Nick and not myself. 

For what in front of my wondering eyes did I see but a highly selective Barry Brinks exhibition. The subject of the tastefully posed nude photographs? Yours truly. 

The photos in front of me were some two dozen or so photographs of the six rolls of film that were taken to my utter delight a few days after meeting Barry Brinks. I had forgotten about these particular prints and their existence simply because I have never seen the prints. After our breakup, Barry never showed me the photos and I never heard about a Barry Brinks exhibition using those particular photos. So they slipped from my mind. Until now. 

My host smiled at me. "I am afraid I did not know the identity of the lady in these photos until this evening. But I must say, these are magnificent photos of you, Doctor Brennan," he told me. His tone was warm and sincere. Somehow, I managed to look at him and smile. 

After a few heartbeats, I managed to find my voice. When I spoke, my voice sounded raspy and very small. "Barry was a wonderful photographer," I said, trying to remain outwardly calm. I noticed Nick had silently moved off and was looking at each photograph in turn. From my vantage point, I couldn't read the expression on his face as he moved through the exhibition. 

"What does Nick think of me now?" I silently asked myself. Any damage was already done and I hoped that Nick wouldn't think of me too badly. I knew I had kept a secret from my beloved, a secret that might have had some impact on him, had he remained on the recall ballot. Bleakly, I wondered how Nick was going to react.

"Tasteful," aren't they?" a woman's voice sounded behind me. I turned around and got the second shock of the evening. 

"Sherry," I said, pressing my lips together until they formed a pale line despite the deep red of my lipstick. "Sherry Chalkey." Apparently, Sherry had already exchanged introductions with our host for she nodded at him. He nodded back. 

"A pleasure, I'm sure," Sherry replied tartly, smiling at me. "Fancy meeting you after all these years, and fancy meeting you here," she chirped at me. I didn't bother to reply. Mentally, I regressed to a twelve year old girl and began hoping that Sherry would pop out of existence with a bang, or an alien spaceship would zap her atoms into outer space. It was possible that Sherry would show consideration for her fellow humans and take a deep dive into the La Brea tar pits. 

While I was dreaming of ways to rid myself of Sherry Chalkey, she said, "Interesting that I'm the executor of Barry's estate, yes?" Sherry next inquired and waved her hands at Barry Brinks exhibition. 

"I see," I said through the red haze that was forming behind my eyes. 

"They're really very good photos, Rae. You shouldn't react so badly," Sherry told me. A catty expression moved onto her face. "Miranda Silver isn't that shocked," she cooed at me and turned to our host. Thanks to Sherry, I received my third shock of the evening. Barry's mother was here at the exhibition? Good god! What does she think of me? I had never met Barry's mother, but I had spoken to her over the phone when I had learned about Barry's death. I looked around the room, trying to figure out which older woman was most likely Miranda Silver. There were many older women from which to choose.

To our host, Sherry said, "Thank you so much for having these photographs on exhibit. Barry Brinks was way ahead of his time with photography." She smiled at our host, who appeared puzzled at my angry reaction. Someone called his name and he inclined his head towards us. 

"Enjoy the exhibition, ladies," he told us and shortly Sherry and I were left alone in a corner of the exhibition area. 

"You god damn bitch," I told her, not bothering to hide the anger I felt. "How could you do this to me?" I spit the last word and waved my hands around in mock imitation of Sherry's earlier gesture. "How could you do this to Doctor Kokoris?" 

Sherry shrugged her shoulders. "You know, I really didn't see what Barry saw in you, Rae."

My mouth dropped. What was she getting at? Sherry moved a bit closer to me. I could smell her perfume. "Like your perfume, you're still cheap, Sherry."

She appeared to be offended. Taking a step back, she theatrically put a hand over her heart and said, "Ouch. You haven't changed either, Rae. You're still ruled by juvenile emotions." Then she brushed a wisp of long blond hair behind her ear and looked at me triumphantly. "I might as well tell you that I fixed things so you would accidentally walk in on Barry and myself that night."

This revelation really stunned me. My heart was thumping so hard, I wasn't sure if I would not need to be air-lifted to the nearest hospital for cardiac monitoring. "You did what?

Sherry smiled at me. "Barry didn't have any idea what I was up to. He was as innocent as a lamb. I told him that you had stolen my boyfriend from me and I wanted you to feel the same hurt that I felt when I 'accidentally' walked in on you and Mark. Poor Barry never suspected a thing," she said. She rubbed her right hand fingernails across the flimsy fabric of her bosom. Sherry's expression grew hard and again she stepped closer to me. "I was the one who should have been the model for the GMA segment, so I fixed things. You walked in on Barry and me just as I planned. And you reacted the way I wanted: you immediately dumped Barry. I then lobbied for the modelling job." She smiled smugly at me. 

"You troll," was all I could sputter as I took in Sherry's smug expression. "You smelly troll." 

"If I recall correctly, Rae," Sherry now informed me. "It was me who had the movie career."

"A blessedly short movie career," I retorted, tossing my head. Slowly, a horrifying thought occurred to me. I pinned Sherry with a hateful look. "Did you also 'fix' Barry's car accident?" I watched Sherry's face closely. Although Barry's death was deemed accidental, the police couldn't come up with any other theories except that just after 1 am, New Year's Day, Barry ran his car off the road near the Hollywood Reservoir. 

"No!" was Sherry's reply. I wasn't an expert on tonal inflections but I thought Sherry's voice sounded a bit insincere. Or maybe it was my imagination. Or maybe it was the champagne. "How could you even think I'd do such a thing?" Sherry asked me, a hurt look coming across her face. 

"Considering how you planned my exit as Barry's girlfriend, I thought your trollish mind would concoct such a plan," I replied hotly. Enjoying her shocked reaction, I continued. "What did I ever do to you?"

Sherry snorted but didn't answer. 

I decided to try a different tactic. "Barry's been dead since January 1, 1988. Why are you doing this to me now?" 

In reponse, Sherry shrugged her shoulders. 

"Well?" I pressed. A glimmer of an explanation came to me. I decided to go for it. "Were you perhaps a bit...jealous of my campaigning and of my being on tv?" I spit the last word out and was rewarded when Sherry visibly cringed. 

Sherry looked away and although she was in profile, I knew she was biting her lip. I was quick to realize that I had hit her where she hurt. Her twin careers had been short--very short--and apparently she was jealous and angry. To her, I must seem like a prize right now, with a handsome boyfriend, a handsome male friend, tv coverage, a nice career.  All things she obviously doesn't have and wishes she did have.

Sherry looked back at me, her gray/blue eyes hard as flint, and said, "It's not fair that you got a second chance, and I didn't! I was flayed by the movie critics, Rae, flayed! I was thought of as just another pretty face on the B list and when I auditioned for serious roles, not one role was offered to me," she hissed.

I wa incredulous. "So you decided to get back at me for your career failures?" I asked. "Why me?" 

Sherry sniffed. "Despite our differences, Rae, these photos are absolutely stunning. There's talk of taking this exhibit around the country."

Now I was understanding. Sherry was feeling a career pinch and as the executor of Barry's estate, there was a possibility of her earning cash. "And a nationwide exhibition of never-before-seen-photos-by Barry-Brinks would bring in some cash," I offered glibly. 

"Not some cash," Sherry corrected. "A lot of cash. Though half of it would go to Barry's mother, the other half is mine." 

"So you decided to try and bring me down to boost your own financial prospects," I commented drily. "And by bringing me down, you stood to bring Doctor Kokoris down as well. And Miss Zimmerman and Doctor Slingerland." If there had been a window nearby, I would have happily thrown Sherry out of it. 

Sherry merely shrugged her shoulders again. "Seemed like a good idea," she said. "Unlike a lot of other California voters, I didn't care one way or the other about your precious boyfriend's political career. I heard he's quite popular on the charity circuit. Him and Doctor Slingerland." 

I gritted my teeth and then saw Matt and Harmony walking towards us. "Damn," I muttered. "Just what I need now."  Harmony paused to look at one of the photos, then she did a double take and looked at me. 

Matt approached and from his expression, I could see the questions forming in his mind. Matt was raised up with manners, and I knew he would attend to introductions before satisfying his curiosity as to how I became the subject of the Barry Brinks exhibition. 

"And who might this lovely lass be?" Matt inquired brightly as he took Sherry's proffered hand. Instantly, Sherry changed her personality. Apparently, years of acting lessons have paid off.

"Sherry Chalkey," she replied, her voice thick with honey. "The executor of Barry Brinks' estate." Sherry gave me a sideways glance. "And, a college classmate of Rae's." She would have to add salt to my wounds.

"Doctor Matthew Slingerland," he replied. For some reason, I was shaking my head and Sherry noticed as Matt let go of her hand. Sherry's eyes lingered on Matt's handsome face. 

She batted her eyelashes, flirting with Matt. "Absolute pleasure to meet you, Doctor Slingerland," she purred. I barely restrained myself from slugging her. Confused, Matt looked from Sherry to me to my clenched fist then looked back to Sherry. I raised an eyebrow and I hoped that Matt picked up on the tension between Sherry and myself. 

"Fascinating," he told her. "Just fascinating." Matt gave Sherry his Slingerland smile, a smile guaranteed to melt any woman in her shoes. I know; Matt's used that smile on me when he wants a special favor and despite my attachment to Nick, I'm not immune to Matt's charms.  

Noticing the silent exchange between Matt and myself, Sherry turned her attention to me. "Now come on Rae, you know you agreed to these photos when Barry took them. Remember? You signed a release form." Sherry informed me. "I found it amongst his papers during probate." 

I bit back a sharp comment. "We attended the same college, yes, but we didn't know each other." Damn, you Rae Brennan!" I told myself. "I think you just gave her the opening she was looking for." 

"But we both knew Barry, Rae," Sherry said sweetly. 

Matt must have thought it would be a good time to intervene before hair started flying. "Did you sign the release forms?" Matt inquired of me. I nodded and sighed. Might as well face the music. Matt continued, "Rae, the photos are smashing.  You kept your modesty while allowing the camera to play over the beauty of the female body."

Sherry grinned hugely. "That's what Barry said about these photos. I was over at his studio one evening after he developed them. Despite everything between us, Rae, I had to admit they were excellent photographs."

Barry certainly did not show me these photos. "He showed you these photos?" I asked Sherry.

"Mmmm, hmmm," she replied cattily. "Now, dear, don't look so upset. Like yourself, I plumb forgot about them until our gracious host put out the request for any Barry Brinks photographs. Whoops. Look at the time! I've got to mingle!" Sherry batted her eyelashes at Matt again. "Pleasure to meet you, Doctor Slingerland. You were wonderful during your charitable campaign. Quite an original concept. I hope you'll introduce me to your charming lady friend."

"I shall bring Miss Zimmerman around to meet you, Miss Chalkey," Matt said agreeably. Sherry smiled at Matt then walked off without a backward glance at me.

"What...may I ask, was that about?" Matt inquired of me when the two of us had some measure of privacy. 

"Long story."

"And a story I'd like to hear. Really, Rae. Don't be so ashamed of these photographs. They are simply smashing," Matt told me, smiling in reassurance. 

I sighed. "It's not the photographs. It's the circumstances under which I'm seeing the photographs at this time," I told him and sighed again. "And the timing is really bad. The other day and totally out of the blue, Sherry sent me a nasty note which dredged up an old memory." I heaved a deep breath and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted someone carrying a tray of drinks around. I motioned her towards me.

I looked up at Matt. "The last person I wanted to run into again was Sherry Chalkey. And tonight, she told me some things I didn't know before. And then, this," I waved my hand to indicate the exhibition. 

"I take it you and Sherry didn't have a very good relationship?" he asked softly, pulling a glass of champagne off the tray. He handed me the glass and took a glass for himself. "Thank you," he smiled at the lady. She smiled back and moved away. I took a sip of the champagne. 

Taking a glance around the room, I noticed that Nick was sipping champagne, and walking slowly from one Barry Brinks photograph to another. He occasionally tilted his head and smiled at people who recognized him from his campaign. 

"No," I finally replied. I decided to be honest as this exhibition might affect Matt as well. "Expertly played for the fool by Sherry, Barry was two-timing me," I bluntly told him. "When I found out about the duplicity, I dumped him for it. At the time, I didn't realize that Sherry had intended for me to catch her in bed with Barry. There's more, but I don't want to go into it now." I didn't know who to be more angry at: myself or Sherry. All these years I thought Barry had been scum by two-timing me when all along he had been played for the fool by Sherry & had never slept with her.  

"Mmm," Matt murmured. 

"It's good. The champagne, I mean," I commented and sipped again, hoping some of the edge would be taken off of my anger. Matt suddenly smiled and I looked in that direction. Harmony was approaching with a glass of soda in her hand. As with all her formal public appearances, Harmony was laying off the alcohol. 

"These are really good photos, Rae. When were they taken?" she asked me, a smile on her face. I looked at her and with a start, I noticed that Harmony her smile was genuine. She really thought the photos were good. I felt some of the anger melting. 

"When I was in college."

"The images are quite compelling. I like the way Barry flaunted the nude female body while maintaining total decency. The wispy scarves give an added touch of mystery. It's as if Barry is asking: "who is that woman hiding behind the scarves?" You should be really proud of them, Rae," she told me, the warm sincercity showing in her voice. She smiled and I knew she really meant what she said. 

"Thank you." I was suddenly glad for the friendship that had developed between Harmony and myself this last month on the campaign trail. I really needed a friend at this moment. 

Over Harmony's shoulder, I spied Nick coming towards me. Noticing that he had my attention, he merely looked at me steadily. His face held no expression. Without realizing it, I found myself holding my breath. "Here comes judgment day," I said to myself. "Breathe, breathe, breathe." Thankfully, I remembered to breathe.

I watched Nick approach. As he neared, I thought I saw him slow his steps a bit. "There's only two outcomes: either Nick hates me, or he's going to stand by me. And he has excellent control over his facial expressions. How does he do that?" I wondered and nervously waited for his judgment, thinking how Nick had kept his secret about this fundraising bash for a month. I had kept my secret for twenty five years.

And I had kept my secret from Nick since the day I had met him. Nary a mention had I made of the photos I had posed for when Nick and I had attended other photography exhibitions. What would he think? I watched him approaching and knew that in moments, I would have my answer. 

"Well, well, well," he said. He looked around at Harmony and Matt; both of them were trying to hide smiles. "Seems like someone's been hiding secrets from me," Nick told me playfully, then leaned down and kissed my cheek. "These," he indicated Barry's photos, "are very well done. Couldn't have taken better photographs myself." Placing a finger under my chin, Nick tilted my face up and looked into my eyes. "You have nothing to be ashamed about, luv."

I couldn't help myself; I giggled softly. "Thanks." Nick leaned down again. 

"And you look as good today as you did twenty five years ago. I heard the history from our host," his voice whispered in my ear. "This is a wonderful surprise and my only question is: why did you wait until now to let me know about this? You know I appreciate art." He kissed me. 

I must have smiled because Matt smiled, then Harmony smiled. Matt offered Harmony his arm and Nick offered me his own arm. "Shall we?" Blushing, I accepted his arm and leaving Matt and Harmony to wander around the rest of the exhibition, Nick and I began to mingle with the crowd. 

I felt the warm glow of acceptance. My man loved me, and was willing to forgive my secret. With a start, I realized that I wasn't angry at Barry any longer and I was feeling so good I was almost ready to forgive Sherry for her part in bringing Barry's photos to exhibit. For the first time since Sherry had sent me that spiteful letter, I felt happy. I wondered if Sherry realized that her plan to publicly embarass me had backfired. Then another thought occurred to me. What if Sherry had planned things to turn out this way? 

Off in the corner, I noticed Sherry chatting up our congenial host; the poor guy looked ready to bolt. Noticing my long glance, Sherry narrowed her eyes, and looked daggers at me. I immediately scratched out my latter thought. There was no possible way that Sherry Chalkey arranged a Barry Brinks exhibition for my pleasure. 

As Barry's executor, Sherry stood to make a boatload of cash from any exhibitions...wait just one darn moment! Was Sherry Chalkey Barry's executor or was she Barry's executor? Depending on the syllable stressed, the word executor means different things. Of course, one definition of the word is obsolete, but still, how had Sherry pronounced the word? For the life of me, I couldn't remember.

I nudged Nick. "I'd like you to meet someone." Without waiting for an answer, I pulled Nick towards Sherry. Hearing footsteps, Sherry turned. Her smile was so huge, her face nearly cracked when she saw Nick. She held out her hand.

"Doctor Kokoris," she said.

"I'm sorry, as a surgeon, I never shake or kiss hands," Nick said quite seriously. "Must keep my babies safe," he finished. Sherry looked stunned for a moment, trying to regain her composure at being snubbed in a roomful of onlookers. I tried to snuff a smile but I must not have been successful for Sherry glared at me before turning her attention back to Nick.

"I'm Sherry Chalkey," she informed him. Seeing as how Sherry already knew his identity, Nick didn't respond.

I wanted to get the answer to my question then go mingle with the other guests. Behind Sherry, I saw Matt pause with Harmony. They were going to watch the exchange between Sherry and myself. "Sherry, Nick and I were just arguing about something. "

Sherry raised her eyebrows, inviting me to continue.

"He says that as next of kin, Barry's mother would have been named executor her son's estate."

Sherry shook her head. "I, Rae," she told me nasally, "was named executor." She pronounced the word with the stress on the first syllable, thereby giving the word executor a somewhat sinister meaning.

Matt chose this moment to wave Nick over. "Charmed, I'm sure," Nick told Sherry. He pulled me away. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Sherry pout then turn back to continue chatting with our host. But our congenial host had used the opportunity to slip silently away. I gave a silent three cheers for him. I could just imagine the look on Sherry's face.

As we walked towards Matt and Harmony, Nick said, "If she thinks this exhibition is going to embarass you, luv, she's dead wrong," Nick told me. Surprised, I looked up at him and he smiled down at me. "Our host told me the two of you nearly got into a cat fight. And," he softened his voice. "in the motel room, I saw the ripped photo she sent...and the letter. And the video. She's a nasty one, she is."

I tried to hide my emotions but wasn't quite successful. Sherry glared at me, then turned her attention to our host. From the way she was behaving, I think she was hoping to score an audition from him. Nick patted my arm, and grinned at someone who called his name. 

A woman carrying a drinks tray passed by. Nick took the opportunity to replace our champagne glasses. He raised his glass in a toast. 

"To the most beautiful woman I know," he told me. I did the best thing I could under the circumstances. I blushed. Then I raised my glass. 

"To the most understanding, intelligent, witty, mysterious, wonderful, handsome man I know," I replied. I must not have been happy looking, because Nick leaned down, and kissed my cheek. 

"Forget about Sherry Chalkey. She's not worth your time," Nick told me. I shook my head and a puzzled expression came across Nick's face. He raised an eyebrow in question. 

"Nick," I said slowly. "I think Sherry may have been involved in Barry's death."

Nick sucked in his breath. "You think?" Nick looked at Sherry, who had moved to the other end of the exhibit area. She was chatting up our host again. By this time, he was looking everywhere except at Sherry.

Nick looked at me. His face showed concern. Looking him straight in the eye, I nodded and a tear slipped out of my eye. Nick wiped the tear away. "You're upset because of what Sherry sent in the mail, and by what Sherry did tonight. It unnerved you."

I shook my head. "No, Nick," I said, another tear slipping out of my eye. "She stressed the first syllable of the word executor." Nick looked confused, so I clarified. "Stress on the first syllable and the word means executioner. Stress the second syllable and the word is a legal term meaning a person who is appointed by a decedent to carry out the terms of the decedent's will."

"And that word stress makes her a murderer?" Nick asked.

"No. She said something to me when the two of us were alone just a while ago. She said she fixed things so she would get the Good Morning, America modelling gig with Barry. That gig was originally mine. GMA filmed me and when I caught Barry sleeping with Sherry, I dumped him and he dumped my part in his segment and used Sherry. And," my voice was choked with tears.

"And you think Sherry might have had something to do with Barry's death," Nick finished.

"She said she fixed things, Nick. She said she fixed things. I want to know what that means. And I want to know what else she happened to fix. Barry's death in the one-person car accident was unexplained."

Nick looked at me for a moment. A mixture of emotions played across the planes of his face. "You sure about your intuition?"

I snuffled and Nick reached into his pocket, pulling out a handkerchief. I accepted his offer and wiped my nose. "You heard her say she's also Barry's executor and I know Barry happened to do quite well for himself after the GMA gig."

Nick took my free hand. "You're going to need some hard evidence, Rae. You know that, don't you?"

I nodded. "And I think I know just where to get it." Nick cocked an eyebrow at me. "After all, Nick, Barry does have a mother and don't mothers like to store their children's belongings, especially if their child dies?" Nodding, Nick put his arm around me and I leaned against his comforting chest. "Thank you, Nick. Thank you."

10/14/03 Part II...

"You don't know how good this feels," I murmured.  Nick held me close for a moment longer then nudged me.

"Come. The witch is heading this way," he told me. Without his explaining any further, I knew he meant Sherry.

The two of us made our way towards Matt and Harmony. Nick nodded at several people as we passed them. Either they were unaware the subject of the photos was moi or these people were exceedingly polite. Or perhaps they were a bit nervous about approaching me. What does one say to a woman who's posed for tastefully done nude photos? Not that I'm ashamed of myself, no, no, no. As I said to Matt, it's the circumstances under which the photos have surfaced that has me seeing red.

"The reaction is overwhelmingly in your favor, Rae," Matt told me. I smiled. Matt had no idea how much I needed to hear those words.

"Sherry's little scheme won't work," Nick reassured me.

"Nasty woman, isn't she?" Harmony asked, meaning Sherry. I nodded and then Harmony decided to enlighten our little group with a stunning statement. "One of the guests told me that Sherry didn't bother to pass along our host's invite to Barry's mother."

My mouth dropped open. "Does our host know that?"

At the same time, Nick asked incredulously, "What did she do?"

Harmony nodded. "He knows and he is quite peeved. Seems he inquired about Barry's mother's declining his invitation. Sherry told him she didn't pass along the invite because she knew that Miranda Silver wasn't interested in attending her dead son's photo exhibition. She used those words exactly, dead son," Harmony told us, then continued, "Miranda, Sherry claimed, is only interested in any cash that comes about as a result of this exhibition."

"That...that...that..," I sputtered angrily. "Bitch is too nice a term for Sherry." Although I never met Miranda, and although I only went with Barry for a short time, even I knew that Miranda doted on Barry. She was the original care package sender.

"I'm not sure that Greek has a word to describe her," Nick suggested.

"Slime?" Harmony offered and glanced up at Matt. He shook his head.

"I'd describe her as a crusty dragon, but I don't think British slang has a word that's appropriate for Sherry," he said congenially.

Harmony giggled. Apparently she knew the meaning of the term.

"A crusty dragon?" I inquired of my British friend.

Matt smiled and softly cleared his throat. "A booger. A really crusty booger."

I tried to stifle a giggle as I again regressed mentally to the age of 12 and imagined putting booger crust onto Sherry. I wasn't quite successful in stifling the giggle but I did manage to picture Sherry in her new unappetizing evening attire.

Nick nudged my shoulder and I turned my head. He pointed towards Sherry. I looked and saw that she was trying to chat up our host again. Despite her behavior, our host was much too polite to turn his shoulder on her. I saw him looking around, desperate for a way out. I couldn't blame him. Fortunately, another actor came to our host's rescue and herded Sherry away.

Noticing the four of us, our host approached us. Relief showed on his face. He must have noticed our expressions, or perhaps he had heard snatches of conversation as he had wended his way towards us.

"I presume you've heard the rumors?" he inquired. The four of us nodded. "I am quite sorry about inviting Miss Chalkey," he sadly informed us.

"Rumors go around fast," Harmony commented.

"In this instance, I am rather glad the rumors went around. Ordinarily, you realize, I loathe rumors," our host told us. I knew he was correct; the media were forever gossiping, taking a trivial item and blowing it to huge proportions.

He smiled. "I happen to know that it was one of the journalists who did the honors of spreading the news," he informed us now, lest we think badly of Harmony. "In this case, I shall forgive him his transgression."

"Sherry had the photos," Matt commented.

"True. And I did put out the word that I was looking for Barry Brinks photographs. Had I known Miss Chalkey had not passed along my invitation to Barry's mother, I would have rectified the situation much earlier. As it is, Miss Silver is on her way over as we speak."

"Good. She's going to give Sherry quite a shock," I commented. Already I was gloating over the thought of seeing Sherry's reaction as Miranda Silver walked into the room. Nick must have read my thoughts.

"She deserves a shock and I for one, can't wait to see Sherry's reaction," Nick commented. I looked at him then noticed that he was looking at Harmony. I followed his gaze. She was smiling, rocking back and forth on her heels. I wondered if she was thinking about getting some revenge on Sherry.

Matt must have followed my train of thought for he glanced between Harmony and myself. I wondered if he had picked up on the fact that Harmony had a little surprise in mind for Sherry. Being female, and knowing all the signs, I already realized that Harmony not only had a little surprise in mind for Sherry, but that Harmony had a nasty little something in mind for Sherry. I wondered what Harmony was going to do.

"Harmony, whatcha thinkin?" Matt asked his girlfriend. She tried to hide a smile by biting her lip. Matt wasn't fooled. "That's not going to work with me, young lady. I know you better than that." Smiling to show that he wasn't angry with her, he now asked, " What's up?"

"Oh, nothing," Harmony replied sweetly. But the corners of her eyes crinkled, then she narrowed her eyes and looked straight at Sherry. Sherry saw Harmony's glance and looked away.

"No cat fighting," Nick cautioned, but he was smiling and from experience, I knew that Nick rather liked cat fights. I looked at our host. He was smiling a puzzled smile, probably wondering what the heck was going on.

"Nothing my foot. You've got something up your sleeve. Admit it," Matt said.

"Really, it's nothing," Harmony told Matt.

Apparently, our host was more astute that I was aware. "I would hope that it's nothing embarrassing to myself," our host said.

"Oh, not in the least," Harmony assured him, still rocking on her heels.

"Any tricks played on Sherry are all right by me," Nick now said, confirming my earlier thought.

"When will Miss Silver arrive?" Harmony asked. Our host peered at Harmony closely.

"In about a half hour. Maybe less. I sent a car for her," our host replied. "She was quite peeved at Miss Chalkey and I think she plans on making that fact known. Not that I blame Miss Silver in the least. Unfortunately for Miss Chalkey, several journalists are in attendance tonight and overheard Miss Chalkey informing me about Miss Silver's supposed remark."

"That's not going to go down very well for Sherry," Matt commented. "Especially when Miss SIlver arrives."

I had to agree with Matt. Sherry's remark was going to come back and bite her on the ass.

Our host must have thought along the same lines, for he nodded gravely. "I am afraid that Miss Chalkey will have to face Miss Silver in front of journalists."

"That's not all Sherry's going to have to face," Harmony muttered softly. Our host chose not to respond to this comment, apparently preferring to take the attitude, if I didn't know about it, I couldn't have prevented it.

Our host turned his attention to me. "In any event, Miss Brennan, despite Miss Chalkey's machinations, the response to the Barry Brinks exhibition has been quite positive," our host told me now. He smiled at me and I couldn't help myself. I blushed.

"Thank you," was all I could manage. Slowly it dawned on me that Nick might be feeling a bit jealous of my reaction to our host but when I glanced up at him, Nick was smiling at me.

Our host wisely changed the subject. "There is a buffet set up outside by the pool, if you care to nibble something," he told us. "I shall be sure to introduce you to Miss SIlver upon her arrival," he said now. I knew his host duties prevented him from spending too much time with just a few guetss, as all required his attention. Nodding, our host moved off, leaving the four of us standing in a tight little circle.

"Now, luv, no funny stuff," Matt warned Harmony.

"It's not funny stuff. It's called getting even," she protested but Matt merely took her by the arm and guided her outside towards the buffet bar. Nick and I remained a moment longer.

"I hope," I said, "that Harmony plays a nasty trick on Sherry." I looked up at Nick and he smiled down at me, his dark eyes full of emotion. Love, I hoped. Gosh, how I love this man! Now, if we could find a very secluded small closet, I'd....

"The nastier, the better," Nick said agreeably, stopping my train of thought. I was thinking more towards the dirtier, the better. Nick leaned down and kissed my cheek. "But let's not think about Sherry now. Miranda will be here shortly and we can watch the fireworks then."

"Now that is an excellent idea," I replied. Nick held out his arm.

"Shall we?" he asked as I took his arm. I smiled hugely.

"Where to?" I asked as we began walking arm in arm. Nick steered me towards the wide double french doors.

"The food, where else, madam?" Nick asked innocently.

"You're always thinking about food," I complained mockingly as we made our way outside into the early evening air.

"Not always," Nick said seriously. "I only think about food when I'm not thinking about you," Nick told me softly, deepening his voice to a pitch that he knew always pleased me. I giggled as we stepped out onto the patio. Then I gasped as I got a look at the pool.

"Spectuacular, isn't it?" Nick asked as we paused to take in the effect. Our host had used a small flotilla of floating candles in the pool and the flames flickered off the water. Japanese lanterns were hung around the pool, and canaries tweeted softly in their cages.

"Yeah," I said as Nick and I stepped towards the buffet tables.

"How did he do this?" I asked Nick as we moved slowly through the food line. Matt and Harmony were down near the end of the line. I noticed that Matt's Chinet plate looked to be in danger of collapsing, there was so much food on it. 

"Do what, dear?" Nick asked, taking a few potato blintzes and placing them on his plate.

"These amber liquid filled globes," were the only words I could find to describe the table ornaments.

"They are pretty impressive," Nick agreed. "You could ask our host what they are called," he told me, placing a a few mini spanikopita onto his plate.

"I am his mother!" came the sudden shout.

"Seems like Miss Silver has arrived," Nick commented. A grin played at the corner of his eyes. "Shall we go see the fireworks?"

I debated whether to set down my plate. Nick settled the question for me. "I am planning on enjoying the show," he said, lifting his plate. He grinned.

I noticed Matt and Harmony were already heading towards the french doors. Both were carrying their full plates of food. Other guests were standing around, pointing towards the door or making some motion to go see what the commotion was all about.

"Come on. Let's go," Nick urged and headed towards the door. I followed, carrying my plate and I saw that other guests had decided to follow us. Shortly, a good many of the guests were crowded into the large room. An obviously flustered Sherry was facing a very angry Miranda Silver.

Nick carefully maneuvered me through the crowd until we had a good vantage point where we could see both women from the side. The crowd parted easily, perhaps in recognition of Nick or perhaps in recognition of me but in any event, Nick and I found ourselves with a ringside seat to the festivities.

Miranda's anger was the first thing that I noticed. The second thing that I noticed about Miranda Silver was that she was a very striking woman. "Forties star glamour gorgeous" was the term that came to mind. I found myself thinking that I want to look that good when I reached Miranda's age.

Her long silver hair reached the middle of Miranda's back and the form fitting pale pink evening gown highlighted a well-kept physique. Her wrists were tastefully decorated with gold bangles studded with sapphires. Matching earrings and necklace completed Miranda's ensemble.

"Um, I know that," Sherry tried to hedge. She looked around helplessly. "And I just thought that seeing your son's photographs would be too overwhelming for you, especially since they're nude photos of a former girlfriend," Sherry replied somewhat lamely. "So I made an excuse for you. I thought you would understand," she finished, obviously trying to capture some sympathy from the milling crowd.

Miss Silver pursed her lips and even from a distance, I could see the anger in her eyes. "So you took it upon yourself to do my thinking for me and decide that my attendance at my own son's photo exhibition would be too overwhelming," she spit angrily at Sherry.

Several guests visibly cringed at the venom in Miranda's voice as Miranda tossed Sherry's words back at her. "How quaint. Delete the overwhelmingly grief striken mother from the scene and presto! You capture all the attention."

Nervously, Sherry tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I just thought...," she began but Miranda cut her off.

"You just thought you would be a bitch and cut me out of my son's photo exhibition," Miranda finished for her. "You already got half of the estate, plus an administrator's fee, what else do you want?" Miranda hissed, barely able to constrain herself.

Sherry obviously didn't have a reply.

Miranda pointed a finger at Shery. I saw that the hands were well kept and the left ring finger sported a huge aquamarine. "See, blondie, unlike yourself, I still do grieve for Barry. I miss him everyday and now that his father is gone, I find myself in tears quite frequently," Miranda told Sherry. "Do you miss Barry?"

"I am the executor of Barry's estate," was Sherry's cold comment. "Of course," she hurriedly added, apparently thinking that her reply was indicative of coldheartedness, "I would prefer that Barry be alive." She smiled sweetly at the milling crowd. No one bothered to smile back at her.

Miranda's nostrils flared. Looking around, I could see that several guests did not know that Sherry was the executor of the Barry Brinks estate. I also realized that Sherry put the stress on the first syllable of the word and again I wondered about her involvement, if any, in Barry's unexplained car accident. I knew that making a judgment on the basis of a few statements was wrong but my interest was piqued. I also knew that I needed to have a chat with Miranda later on.

"You know, girlie," Miranda said slowly but very loudly, pinning Sherry with a heated glare. "An estate administrator can be removed."

"You'd have to prove that I was unfit," Sherry hotly retorted. She tossed her hair, sure of herself.

"Sleazy tart," I muttered. It was at this point that Nick handed his food plate to me. Surprised, I took it and looked at him. "What are you doing?" I whispered.

"Going to make a point," he commented mildly. Nick stepped forward and facing Miranda, he introduced himself. "Pardon me, I'm Doctor Nicholas Kokoris," he said pleasantly, putting a smile on his face.

Miranda Silver turned towards Nicholas. "Miranda Silver, Barry Brinks' mother," she said. Nick came forward and reached for her hand. He brought her hand up to his lips and gently kissed it. I saw Miranda's anger fade and a smile suffuse her face. I knew the feeling. "I compliment you on your extensive charitable campaign this last month."

Nick smiled at Miranda. "Thank you, Miss Silver."

Glancing over at Sherry, I noticed that she was fixing an angry glare on Nicholas. I smugly remembered that Nick had refused to kiss Sherry's hand and I chuckled softly to myself remembering what Nick had told Sherry earlier this evening about his being a surgeon and not shaking hands.

Now Nick turned his attention towards Sherry. "Do you recall, Miss Chalkey, that earlier this evening you mentioned to our host that you had not passed along his invitation to this exhibition because you claimed Miss Silver wasn't interested in attending her dead son's photo exhibition?" Nick told Sherry. She pressed her lips together until they were a fine tight line. For the first time, I noticed the make up gathered in the crows feet around her eyes.

Nick waited a moment longer; presumably to give Sherry time to digest this particular information. "Miss Silver, you further claimed, is only interested in any cash that comes about as a result of this exhibition."

Miranda gasped. "I never said such a thing," Miranda replied coldly.

Nick put his hands behind his back and gazed steadily at Sherry. "Miss Chalkey, do you deny the statement you made earlier this evening?" he inquired seriously.

Sherry bit her cheek and looked away. I noticed Nick's steady gaze was having the effect he desired for small beads of sweat had broken out on Sherry's forehead. Go, Nick!

"Well?" Nick insisted. He was still intently looking at Sherry and she was clearly becoming unnerved. I noticed Matt and Harmony had edged their way around and through the crowd so that they were quite near me. I motioned them closer and several people stepped back to allow the two to move closer to me.

"I said those words," Sherry finally admitted. She could not raise her eyes to meet Nick's gaze.

"Then you have made a false statement," Nick told her. Sherry took time to consider this revelation but it was apparent she didn't realize the full impact.

Handing his food plate to Harmony, Matt stepped forward. "Doctor Kokoris is correct, Miss Chalkey. Do you understand what you have done this evening?"

Now Sherry was trapped. She was looking around the room helplessly but no one, including our host, seemed ready to help her. Always one to remember his manners, Matt stepped towards Miranda Silver.

"Doctor Matthew Slingerland," he said, his handsome face breaking out into a smile. "You are obviously the lovely Miss Miranda Silver," he told her, as he emulated Nick and kissed Miranda's hand.

"Why, yes," Miranda said. She was evidently disarmed by Matt's attention. I have mentioned that Matt was quite charming. "I followed your charitable campaign quite enthusiastically," she now told him.

"Thank you," Matt replied. He noticed that Sherry was still seeking help from the guests. Apparently, Nick had decided to end Sherry's embarassment, for he said,

"You realize that making a false statement can be grounds for dismissal?" he inquired of Sherry. She flinched and bit her lip. Evidently Sherry hadn't realized the full impact of her statement. 

Harmony was now standing beside me. Like myself, she was carrying two Chinet plates loaded with food. "Seems like Sherry didn't realize what she was doing," Harmony whispered to me. I nodded. "A bit thick, do you think?" Harmony whispered.

"I think she's trying to hedge," I whispered back. Matt chose this moment to speak.

"Doctor Kokoris is right," Matt put in. "You made, within earshot of journalists, a comment about Miss Silver that you knew was a false statement. A court may very well wonder what other false statements you've been making. Especially in regards to Barry Brinks' estate administration."

"That's true, Sherry," Nick told her. "I think you can expect to be called on your statement by Miss Silver here," Nick indicated Miranda. What I would have given to be holding a camera at that moment! Miranda's expression was one of triumph; Sherry's expression was one of dawning shock. Nick glanced at Matt and they exchanged a silent communication. Matt glanced at Harmony. She must have been aware of what was about to transpire for she nodded. I waited to see what would happen.

Matt now turned to Miranda. "How about I escort you through your son's exhibit?" he inquired, holding out his arm. Miranda giggled, then took Matt's arm. "First, though. I should like you to meet Miss Brennan."

Nick stepped back, allowing Matt to steer Miranda towards me. I noticed the crowd was beginning to drift away, pointedly ignoring Sherry. I also noticed that she was trying to approach certain of the guests, but they merely said something to her, then they turned away, leaving her standing in the middle of the room.

Miranda looked in the direction that Matt was steering her towards. "Oh! Rae! I'm glad that the two of us have finally got a chance to meet," she told me. "I know you and Barry didn't hit it off too well."

"I, uh, certainly should have made the effort to meet you, Miranda, I mean, Miss Silver," I told her, somewhat nervous and a bit embarassed. The information I'd learned this evening about Barry had totally changed my personal opinion of him.

"Please, it's Miranda," she told me pleasantly. "And you," she indicated Harmony. "Must be Miss Harmony Zimmerman."

"That I am," Harmony said. "Very pleased to meet you," she told Miranda. Harmony couldn't offer a hand in greeting, being that her hands were full with the Chinet plates of food.

Nick came up beside me and took his food plate. I handed it to him and addressed Miranda. "But one thing should be clear. Sherry set up the entire breakup situation," I told Miranda.

Miranda looked puzzled. "But I thought you had broken up with him." she said.

I shook my head. Nick gave me a puzzled look. "Yes. I mean, no. See, Sherry caused me to believe that Barry was two-timing me. Seems she told Barry some lies about me."

"So it's not the first time she's told some whoppers," Miranda commented drily.

"Nope. I was supposed to show up for dinner that night but instead of dinner, I found Barry in the shower and Sherry lying naked on the bed. At the time, I thought Sherry and Barry had done the dirty."

"But you were wrong?" Nick inquired. I nodded.

"Yeah. Very wrong," I told him. "I stormed into the bathroom, ripped the shower curtain off its rod, and broke up with him then and there. You know the rest."

"If that doesn't beat all," Miranda told me. She sighed.

Harmony handed Matt back his plate of food. "Barry didn't know about what Sherry was doing?" she inquired of me.

I grimaced. "What he knew, or rather what Sherry told me, was that she told Barry I had stolen her boyfriend and that she wanted to get even with me. She said Barry went along with the ruse."

Miranda looked at me sympathetically. "Barry wouldn't just go along with that kind of ruse, Rae. I raised Barry and despite his, uhm, attentions to many women, he simply wouldn't stage that kind of thing."

Unexpectedly, hot tears came to my eyes. I snuffled, trying to hold them back. Nick noticed and he kissed my cheek. "I know that now, Miranda. I'm sorry I thought badly of your son all these years." Nick took out a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to me. I wiped a tear from my eye.

"It wasn't your fault, Rae," Miranda told me sympathetically.She must have felt that a change of subject was necessary. "Let's get off the subject of Sherry Chalkey. It's rather depressing. How about the four of us have lunch tomorrow at Morty's in Burbank?" Miranda asked cheerily.

"Sure," I snuffled but I wasn't up to making the social arrangements. Nick stepped in to rescue me; he's such a dear.

"What time shall we be there?" he inquired.

"Oh, say, oneish? I'll make the rez under the name of Silver," Miranda replied, looking around at the four of us. Harmony nodded. Matt handed his plate of food back to Harmony.

"Be a luv, and put this somewhere for me?" he asked of Harmony. Harmony took the proffered plate. Matt leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Join us in a moment?" he inquired.

"Sure. It was nice meeting you, Miranda. Back in a jiff!" Harmony said cheerfully. She headed off towards the buffet bar with the loaded plates. Matt offered his arm to Miranda and taking Matt's arm, Miranda nodded at me.

"Sherry will be put into her place, no worries there, Rae," Miranda said. "I didn't get to my sixth decade without learning a thing or two about getting even," she finished, smiling a huge smile. I remembered that Barry had a smile like that and I realized then where Barry had obtained his handsome good looks: from his mother. She must have been quite a looker in her younger days.

"Pleasure to meet you, Miranda. Rae and I shall join you in a moment," Nick told Miranda. He smiled at her, and Miranda let out a soft giggle.

"Pleasure," she smiled as Matt lead her towards her son's photo exhibit. Nick turned to me.

"Well, Miss Brennan. Shall we put these plates down?" Nick indicated the full plate of food. I nodded and followed him out onto the patio surrounding the pool.

Being taller than me, Nick saw the problem first. "Uh, oh," he said. He suddenly stopped walking and I nearly bumped into him.

"Uh, oh what?" I asked, barely catching my plate in time.

"Uh oh as in I think Harmony is getting her revenge," Nick replied cryptically.

"Huh?" I asked, moving to the side so I could see better. "Oh, brother!" I exclaimed, chuckling. "I wonder if Matt and Miranda would like to see this."

"Someone already informed them," Nick told me, pointing towards a window. I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw that Matt and Miranda were virtually plastered to the window overlooking the pool area. Matt was trying to hide a smile but Miranda was openly laughing.

I turned my attention back to Harmony. Smart girl that she was, she had managed to back Sherry almost to the pool's edge. For the first time, I noticed that Sherry was wearing teetering stilettos. I couldn't hear what Harmony was saying, but I knew it wasn't nice.

Once again, Sherry found herself trapped. But this time, she was trapped between a pool filled with floating candles and an angry woman with a hot Irish temper. By this time, Sherry was balancing precariously on the edge of the pool, beginning to wave her arms for balance. Harmony was about five feet in front of Sherry, so Sherry couldn't say that Harmony had pushed Sherry into the pool.

Everyone who was watching the scene knew that Sherry was going to plunge into the pool. Fortunately, Harmony had chosen an area of the pool that was free of the floating candles. Another point in Harmony's favor. I increased my opinion of Harmony's ingenuity. Despite her relative youth, the lady had brains.

"Please," I heard Sherry plead. Nick nudged me closer to the scene. I think he wanted Sherry to know that he wasn't going to come to the rescue. Gleefully, I accompanied him to an area where Sherry could see the two of us.

Sherry lost no time in seeking Nick's assistance. "Please, Doctor Kokoris, call her off!" Sherry pled. "I didn't mean anything! I swear."

"That's up to Harmony," was all Nick replied, then to prevent further conversation, he stuffed a mini spanikopita into his mouth.

Sherry looked at me. "For old time's sake, Rae, please call her off!"

I knew it was evil of me, but I laughed in response. "Why?" I suddenly asked. Harmony took a very small step forward. Sherry leaned backwards but managed to keep her balance. "After what you did to me, why should I help you? It's not like you're a damsel in distress. You can take care of yourself quite well, Sherry."

"Please!" Sherry repeated. Harmony suddenly took a step back, then spun on her heel and began walking towards Nick.

"Nick! A splendid evening for a swim, yes?" she asked. Confused, Nick nodded. Sherry looked relieved and she took a step forward from the edge of the pool, obviously relieved that Harmony wasn't going to force her into the pool. She smoothed down the front of her evening gown and smiled nervously.

Just as suddenly, Harmony spun on her heel so that she was facing Sherry. Harmony took two quick steps towards Sherry then waved her hands and shouted, "Boo!"

"Aaaahhh!" was Sherry's reply as she was startled into taking a few steps back in order to avoid Harmony's flailing arms. As Sherry teetered on the edge of the pool, Harmony took four giant steps back and stood there with a huge grin on her face. The high heels that Sherry was wearing caused her ankles to give way and Sherry landed in the pool with a huge splash, spraying Harmony.

Harmony continued to grin. Someone approached her with a napkin and accepting the gift, Harmony wiped the water from her face. Applause broke out. Harmony grinned, and bowed.

"Now that was some good entertainment," I heard someone say.

"A most excellent show," someone else said. "I can't wait to read about it in the papers tomorrow."

"Served her right," someone else said. "Nasty little bitch."

Harmony came up to Nick and myself. She must have noticed Matt and Miranda for she gave a wave. I looked towards the window and I saw Miranda laughing and wiping from her eyes what were obviously tears of mirth. Matt's grin was so huge, I thought his face would split open.

"Oh! Barry's mother was watching!" still another person exclaimed, and pointed to the window where Matt and Miranda were framed in the light from the room behind them. Miranda waved at the people on the patio. Several waved back.

"Well? What did you think?" she inquired of Nick. While she waited for his reponse, Nick chewed thoughtfully for a moment.

"Well done," he told her when he'd finished chewing. Wiping his mouth, he leaned down and kissed her cheek. She blushed, obviously pleased with Nick's approval.

"I will make a note to never displease you," I told Harmony. "Where did you learn that trick?"

Harmony shrugged her shoulders. "Dunno. It just came to me when I saw Sherry standing near the edge of the pool." Behind Harmony's shoulders I saw Sherry struggling to get out of the pool. Her carefully made up face had seemingly melted and I realized with a start that Sherry had aged a lot more than I had imagined. She must have hired a make up artist to do her make up tonight, I thought to myself.

"Well, shall we go inside?" Nick asked, setting his food plate down on an empty table. I nodded, and set down my own plate. Nick held out one arm for me and his other arm for Harmony. Grinning hugely, Harmony accepted his arm and the three of us walked back into the house.

Several hours later, I had been rather unhappy to leave the party after Sherry's abrupt depature. Dripping wet and to the comments of "good riddance," Sherry had been escorted from the pool area and placed into a waiting car reluctantly arranged for by our host.

"However," he had told people, "by arranging for her transportation, I can be assured she will be deposited directly on her doorstep rather than take the risk she would hang around outside the grounds and harass guests."

Harmony had thought this wise him and her admiration of four host grew. I had thought it prudent as well. With my suspicions about Barry's death, I certainly didn't want Sherry to be hanging around just outside the grounds of our host's country estate.

After the driver had assured our host that Sherry was well on her way home, the party had kicked into high gear. By 11 pm, our host was showing the signs of fatigue and by 1 am, when the last guests--yours truly and company--had left the party, our host was wobbling on his feet. I would have asked Nick and Matt if we could leave earlier, but I found myself accepting kudos on the photos from each guest. Some of those guests were rather verbiose and kept detaining me and our host. 

That, in turn, delayed the exit of many guests who wished thank our host for a most unusual although entertaining evening.

It was near 2:30 am when Nick and I, drooping from the evening's events, had managed to slink into our room at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

I collapsed on the nearest piece of large furniture and sighed. Nick sat down next to me and put his arm around me.

"This evening," I told Nick as I slipped my shoe off. "ended quite admirably." Nick nodded. 

"Were you embarrassed by those photos?" he asked suddenly.

I took a deep breath. "Just the circumstances under which they came to light. I mean, I remembered the photos, but they weren't in the forefront of my mind all these years. Especially since Barry never exhibited that particular set."

"So they kind of slipped your mind until this evening?" Nick inquired gently.

Sheepish, I nodded. "Yeah." I looked up at my boyfriend. "I'm sorry if I embarassed you tonight, Nick. I can't imagine what you felt walking into a party and suddenly coming face to face with nude photos of your girlfriend."

"You didn't embarass me at all. Surprised me, yes," Nick told me. "Had they been of a more pornographic nature, I would have reacted differently."

There, I had to agree with Nick. I knew the photos of myself were done tastefully and that only a hint of nipples were seen through the layers of filmy scarves that Barry had draped over me. He had wanted to focus on the shape of the female body, not the exposure of the private parts.

"Besides, there was only a hint of nipple," Nick told me. I looked up at him in surprise.

"How did you know what I was thinking?" I asked him. He smiled at me.

"It was a common comment. The scarves that Barry used and the placement of your arms and legs guaranteed your decency. There were only two photos in which a hint of a nipple was seen," he said. "Barry was really quite good. I would have liked to have met him."

"And I must get to the bottom of his death," I now said.

Nick's eyes grew concerned. "You really think Sherry had something to do with his death?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know. I know it's wrong to make an assumption based on a single comment. But if there's something, anything, that hasn't been unearthed yet about his death, I'd like to find it."

"We'll be seeing Miranda later on for lunch," Nick said, not bothering to stifle a yawn. "You can ask her then."


"Now, let's get off to sleepy time," Nick said, pulling me to my feet.

Hours later, rested, showered and dressed for lunch at Morty's, the four of us were sitting around a table with Miranda Silver. I had tried to tell her my suspicions about Barry's death but every time I tried to get a conversation going, we were interrupted.

Several people had stopped by the table to congratulate Nick and Matt on their charity fundraising campaign, to comment about Arnold's not-so-surprising win of the California governorship, and of course, to comment about Sherry Chalkey's abrupt removal from last evening's party. Sherry had attained her objective of being the talk of the town except that the talk was most unflattering.

"Well," Miranda said brightly. While four of us were dragging our heels, Miranda was perky. I suspected her perkiness resulted from the oversized travel coffee mug perched within easy reach of her hand. Miranda had been window shopping earlier in the day and the coffee mug now was empty. For her lunch drink, like myself and Nick, she had ordered wine. "Shall we order?" A waiter had appeared and each of us gave our orders. "So," Miranda now told me. "You think that something is fishy with Barry's death."

I nodded. "I'm not quite sure what it is that bothers me."

"You said Sherry fixed things to get on the Good Morning America segment," Miranda said, placing her chin in her hands and staring at her wine glass.

"That she did. And that comment has me worried."

"It has me worried as well," Miranda replied, still staring at her wine glass. Harmony was still keeping with her no alcohol in public and she was fairly drooling over Miranda's wine glass. Matt, like Harmony, had ordered soda.

Picking up his own wine glass, Nick said, "Rae was quite upset when Sherry mentioned that she had fixed things."

"I should say she would have been," Miranda informed us. "Did you know her comment brings a whole new light onto her actions?" Confused, Matt and Harmony glanced at each other and looked at Miranda. She drummed her fingers on the table.

"She was quite the bitch last evening," Matt replied.

"Here, here," Nick said and raised his wine glass. Grinning, Harmony toasted him.

"See," Miranda explained, leaning her elbows on the table. "It's not just Barry's death that I was just thinking of."

Nick raised his eyebrows and my curiosity was piqued. "Really?" I asked.

"Yes. It's his will. Did you know that Sherry worked for the lawyer who drew up Barry's will?"

I gasped. "You're kidding!"

Miranda shook her head and picked up her wine glass. She moved the glass around to swirl the wine a bit before sipping. Placing her glass back onto the table, she began to crumple up her napkin.

"Oh yes. Typing was all she could get after her careers went down the drain. I don't know why I didn't think of this much earlier. It might have saved everyone a lot of pain and embarassment."

"You're thinking," Harmony said slowly, "that Sherry changed the will?"

Miranda nodded. "After what she did to both Rae and myself last night, it wouldn't surprise me that she would have changed his will. She did have access to it, being a typist for the lawyer who drew up Barry''s will."

"But," Matt now put in. "if she changed his will then murdered him, how did she know that there would be a revival of his photographs and sculptures fifteen years after his death?"

Nick leaned his elbows on the table. "She couldn't have known that. We're working on theory here, not actual facts."

"Unless she murdered him as a long-term investment technique," Harmony said softly, voicing the nagging worry that had been eating my brain.

Miranda gasped and her face paled. "Despite the, what did you refer to Sherry as, Rae?"

"Troll," I supplied happily.

"Despite what the troll did to myself and to Rae, I am rather loathe to think she would murder my son as a a long term investment technique. Barry was good and he was well-known, the GMA stunt assured that, but Barry certainly wasn't at the top of his field when he died. Quick profit would be more Sherry's style."

"There's not enough evidence to think of Sherry as a murderer," Nick said, cutting into my thoughts.

"I would have to agree. There needs to be more evidence," Harmony said. "But we do know something."

Matt looked at her. "What's that?"

"Luv," she said sweetly. "We know Sherry worked for the lawyer who drew up Barry's will. The logical thing to do is find the lawyer and talk to him."

The waiter returned and balanced on one arm a large tray containing our appetizers. Nick and Harmony were having the sauteed wild mushrooms and the smoked Pacific salmon. Matt opted for bluepoint oysters on the halfshell and I chose the sliced beefsteak salad. Miranda had the jumbo shrimp cocktail.

"Plus," Miranda informed us as her shrimp cocktail was placed in front of her. "I have boxes of Barry's things that you might like to go through. There's some videos he made of himself that I haven't been able to watch, even after all these years."

I raised an eyebrow and glanced at Nick. "Videos?" I asked Miranda.

"Mmmmmm," Miranda said around a mouthful of food. "Portrait of a Drunken Artist, he called them. He filmed the video just before he died and although I did watch the beginning of the video, I couldn't stand the thought of watching my recently deceased son talk to the camera while he was getting bombed."

"Can't say I blame you," Nick said, taking a bite of his appetizer.

I had to agree with Nick. "Can we watch the videos?" I asked. Miranda nodded.

"By all means. There might be something on there that we could use," she said hopefully. "I'll drop them off at your hotel later on this afternoon."

"Meanwhile," Matt said, placing a napkin in his lap, "we'll go see the lawyer that Sherry worked for."

"An excellent idea," Nick said, as yet another person wandered over to our table. Without saying a word, the five of us glanced at each other and groaned. We knew what the unexpected visitor wanted.

Suspecting that we could obtain a quicker appointment by using Matt, Matt had phoned the lawyer for whom Sherry had previously worked. Initially, his receptionist had said Mister Mansfield hadn't had the time to meet with us, but she had phoned back when her boss discovered the meeting was about Sherry Chalkey and Barry Brinks. Apparently, Sherry had made herself a pest with Gerald Mansfield as well.

At 3:30 pm, Nick and myself found ourselves seated in the reception area of Gerald Mansfield, Esquire. Not receiving an answer to her page, the receptionist had gone in search of Mister Mansfield.

We were also waiting for Matt and Harmony. They had been detained in front of the building and they were currently signing autographs for well-wishers. The duo were to join us as soon as they could get away from the crowd of people. Nick and I managed to escape from the autograph seekers by our sheer good fortune of having entered the building first.

Nick softly whistled through his teeth. "Niiice," he said, indicating the office. And as far as lawyer's offices go, it really was a nice office. Tastefully done up in leather, modern furniture and artwork on the walls, it put a person at ease.

The door to the lawyer's office opened and our friends came in. "They're like sharks," complained Harmony. "Just brutal sharks. We got a bad crop today." Over the last month, the four of us had been hounded by autograph seekers. Most were really very nice, but here and there up popped a crop of people who were nasty about obtaining an autograph.

"And we're the shark food," Matt reminded her. "I wish I could thank the person who created the diversion."

Nick raised his eyebrow in question and Harmony supplied the explanation. "Someone shouted that were walk on auditions going on for a music video a few streets over from here. The people left in quite a hurry."

As Nick and I were chuckling over that thought, a tall, well dressed man came into the reception area. I stood up as did Nick but the man merely nodded as us and then left through the front door. Feeling a bit sheepish, I sat back down.

Nick remained standing and was rewarded less than a minute later when another tall, well dressed man entered the reception area. His demeanor displayed good breeding and his clothes bespoke of a very healthy law practice. His hair, on the other hand, told of inherited male pattern baldness.

"Doctors Slingerland and Kokoris?" he asked. His voice was pleasant and deep. Nick and Matt nodded. "And these ladies are Miss Zimmerman and Miss Brennan?" Harmony and myself nodded and I stood up again to shake Gerald Mansfield's hand.

"Gerald Mansfield. Pleasure," he said, greeting us each in turn. "If you would follow me." Gerald indicated we should follow him through a set of frosted glass doors just to the left of the reception desk. Inside the room, a huge table dominated the pale orange-hued room. "Custom made," Gerald told us, meaning the table.

We each took chairs. "Coffee?" he now asked of us. We indicated in the negative and Gerald took a seat. He got right down to business. "As you must have surmised earlier, my appointment schedule is booked solid. And," he said, "you must have also surmised that Sherry Chalkey was not a favorite person of mine."

"That seems to be the general consensus," Matt commented.

"What did she do while she was here?" Harmony asked earnestly, trying to be of some help.

"I think she meant what work did Sherry perform while in your employment?" I tried to clarify but Gerald either ignored my comment or he had decided to give us a little surprise, for he replied,

"She kept trying to get dates with some of my clients," Gerald replied. This answer was evidently not what Harmony was expecting. Nick and Matt glanced at each other.

"She came onto your clients?" Harmony asked, lifting her hands in the air. "Why am I not shocked at this relevation?" she inquired of no one in particular. She looked around the room.

"More than that. She got into my rolodex and hounded them at their homes."

Although Sherry had managed to get into Barry's loft and steal my modelling assignment, nevertheless, my mouth dropped open. Noticing this, Gerald explained in more detail.

"After passing the bar, I worked for one of the larger legal firms in Los Angeles for five years. But the grind of the hours was beginning to wear on me."

"It's like doctor's hours," Nick said and Gerald nodded. "Eighty or more hours a week can seriously detract from someone's social life," Nick supplied helpfully. 

Gerald smiled. "Don't I know it. In late summer 1987, I had tired of the long hours and decided to embark on my own. In leaving the law firm, I also took along my rolodex chock full of client names. My specialty was Wills, Trusts and Estates and Los Angeles is teeming with people who have large sums of money they need properly distributed after their deaths."

"Or, perhaps, they need a trust fund?" Matt asked brightly.

"Those too," Gerald replied. "Although my overall specialty was Wills, Trusts and Estates, I was better versed in setting up trust funds. However, I was astute enough to realize that I could make an easy buck by advertising wills drawn up at a cheap price."

I nodded. "You would need a steady source of cash to get a solo practice started."

"You know it," Gerald said amiably. "In my youthful zeal to be on my own, I hadn't realized that I would need a very large sum of cash on a weekly basis just to keep my prime office in rent and to pay my employees, plus pay all those employment taxes, office supplies, utilities, the works. So when the idea of cheap wills came to me, I immediately advertised for a typist."

"And Sherry answered the ad," Nick said without any surprise.

"Much to my later chagrin, yes, she did," Gerald said, tapping his finger on the well-polished mahogany table. "It was a few months after I had rented this grand office that Sherry came to work for me. At first, I was pretty awestruck that such a beautiful woman and an actress-model would need to take a job typing in order to pay her bills. As you know, Sherry can be quite charming when she wants to be."

This I hadn't known. All I had known was that Sherry was catty enough to go over to Barry's loft, get him to take a shower while she herself lay naked on his bed and thus incite me to break up with Barry. Charming wasn't the word I would associate with Sherry Chalkey.

As if reading my thoughts, Matt said, "She's not the person you think she is," Matt honestly told Gerald.

Gerald raised an eyebrow. What was with men and eyebrows? Did all men raise their eyebrows? Maybe I was noticing this gesture because I was dating Nick and he often used his eyebrows and facial expressions to communicate with me.

"So I have heard the latest gossip about her." Gerald steepled his hands together. "I must say she made quite an ass of herself last evening."

"That's being mild," Nick commented drily.

"You wouldn't, by any chance," Harmony put in, "happened to have kept a copy of Barry Brinks' will?"

Gerald shook his head. "Afraid not. There was an electrical fire back in December 89 that destroyed my records up to that point. Thankfully, by that time, I had my current clients' information on computer disk. But I'm afraid that older clients from my early months went up in smoke, to use a bad cliche."

Matt frowned. "Did Sherry use a computer to type up the wills?"

Gerald shook his head. "Typewriter. I had seriously underestimated the amount of money necessary to open an office, especially in a high rent district. I simply didn't have the cash to purchase a personal computer

"So you a typist to do all the wills? There were times when I underestimated the price of an endeavor, so I couldn't blame Gerald for his short-sightedness.

"Actually, I eventually hired three typists to work with my secretary. Sherry and two of her entertainment friends; I forget their names. The advertisement I placed was quite effective and I found myself drawing up to twenty wills a day at fifty dollars each. Overtime for myself and the typists ran three maybe four hours a day. Of course, that level of business soon fell away within a few months," Gerald added wistfully.

Then he perked up. "However, the trust side of my business began to pick up around that time, especially when a few clients from my former law firm defected to my new solo practice."

"Do you remember the terms of Barry's will?" I asked hopefully. Duh! Can you really expect, Rae, for Gerald to remember the terms of any given will that was written fifteen years ago? Seriously, Rae, start thinking!

Gerald shook his head. "Not that far back. I could, were I predilected, tell you the contents of several wills that I am currently drawing up..." he let his voice fade and gave a soft chuckle. "But I am much too discreet to even disclose my clients to you."

"How long was Sherry in y your employ?" I inquired. "A few years?".

Gerald looked at me seriously. "A few months. She arrived in October and left in December."

Gerald's statement caused everyone in the room to go silent.

Harmony regained her composure first. "Did Sherry type up Barry's will?" was her next question.

"I can't remember who typed it originally. But within a week of her employment and unbeknownst to me at the time, Sherry had already found her way into my rolodex. While I don't want to make presumptions--innocence is presumed until found guilty--it is possible Sherry made an extra copy of Barry's will."

"Then took it home," Nick said, understanding dawning on his face. He sat up straight. " typed it up to suit her wants, then somehow got Barry to sign the second will."

"Bingo," Matt said, snapping his fingers.

"That skanky twa..." Harmony began to say, but bit her lip. She looked sheepishly at Matt. He was trying to hide a smile.

"Sounds reasonable to me," I offered, smiling at Nick.

Gerald held up his hand. "Innocence is presumed until found guilty," he reminded us. "But if there's anything I can do for Miss Silver regarding an examination of Barry's will, please send her around." Gerald stood up, signalling the ending of the meeting.

"That," Matt replied, "we will do." Matt to stood up and shook Gerald's hand. Nick followed suit, then Harmony and myself proffered our hands.

"Thank you for your time," I said. "Sorry to have sprung the memory of Sherry on you,"

Gerald barely managed to hide a grimace. "She's, uh, rather an unusual person."

Matt grimaced. "That's the understatement of the year."

At 7 pm that evening, at Miranda's request, our group of four had joined her for dinner. While my friends and myself were at Gerald Mansfield's office, Miranda was viewing Barry's Portrait of a Drunken Artist video. She had also discovered a very interesting fact on the video.

"Back then," Miranda said, meaning in January 1988, "I didn't really want to watch a video of my recently deceased son getting bombed," Miranda explained. "But I kept the video along with his other things," she finished sadly. Who could blame her for her reaction?

My friends, myself and Miranda were watching the self portrait video and nibbling on take out Chinese. Barry had explained at the beginning that he had positioned the camera on a high wall bracket in order to get the best view of the room and "didn't I do a fabulous job of taking down the walls?" Barry had asked the camera.

"Barry didn't like to feel hemmed in rooms. He liked wide open spaces," Miranda said, waving her hand to indicate the very large room in which the five of us sat. "He got that inclincation from me. But this is not the shocking part." Miranda took the remote and fast forwarded the video.

We saw snatches of Barry singing, snatches of him doing a strip tease (Miranda blushed at that one and looked away for a few moments). After a few minutes and on what had to be near the end of the video, Miranda paused the video, fast forwarded, paused, fast forwarded again.

"There! Watch and see who else you recognize," Miranda told us. On the video, a knock sounded on the door. Barry wrapped a towel around himself and went to answer it. When he opened the door, there stood Sherry Chalkey, in a fur coat and carrying a tote bag. She greeted Barry, and took off her fur coat to reveal that she was wearing nothing underneath. From the way the towel jiggled, Barry was obviously interested in her charms.

"You can guess what happened at this point," Miranda told us, reaching for the remote and fast forwarding it. "I, uh, don't really want to see my son, uhm, in that position, you know? Googling I think you young folk term it but I thought that google meant to do a web search on someone," she said as we waited for the part Miranda wanted us to see. "Anyways..."

"Here it is. Watch," Miranda told us. And watch we did. Sherry got Barry to imbibe an entire bottle of champagne, and Barry went to lie face up on the bed. She then went to her tote bag and pulled a sheaf of papers out. She thumbed through the papers and pulled one out. Rummaging through her tote bag, she came up with a pen. She went to Barry, and got him to sign the piece of paper.

It was obvious that Barry didn't know which end was up. Sherry kissed Barry and replaced the piece of paper with its mates. At this point, Sherry decided to do a naked dance for Barry but in the middle of her dance, Barry fell asleep.

While a drunken Barry slept, Sherry took the opportunity to rummage through Barry's personal papers. Thing was, Barry's desk was in direct view of the camera lens and when Sherry located the papers she was looking for, we could plainly see that the sheaf of papers was Barry's will from the words on the top sheet: "Last Will and Testament of Barry Brinks."

Sherry was obviously overjoyed at her discovery. She hugged herself. Oh yeah, she was still naked.

"Guess she didn't think anyone was watching," Harmony muttered.

"Or anything," Nick added with a smile on his face.

"Nick!" I said in mock reprimand. Nick smiled at me and popped a piece of orange chicken in to his mouth.

Miranda clapped her hands. "And heeeerreeeee, ladies and gents," she intoned in an exaggerated voice, "Missss Sherrrry Chalkey will perform an amazing feat of the old switcherooie!"

And sure enough, Barry's video camera captured Sherry as she went to her tote bag and pulled out the sheaf of papers. She skipped back to the desk, stapled the papers, and replaced Barry's copy with her copy of the "Last Will and Testament of Barry Brinks."  On the desk, we could plainly see the two copies side by side. Barry's original copy went into Sherry's tote bag.

Miranda shut the vcr off.

"Sleazy twa..." Harmony said, angrily munching on a vegetable egg roll. She glanced at Matt, who merely smiled at his girlfriend. Young love is wonderful, yes?

"Well," I said, the anger in my tone matching Harmony's expression. "It's certainly a trick that Sherry would pull." I clenched my fists. "She managed to pull the old switcherooie trick with me!"

Nick nodded in agreement. "At least we know the will was signed while he was intoxicated."

"That would invalidate the will, wouldn't it?" Harmony inquired. Matt nodded. Harmony grimaced, then looked around the brightly painted room. Shades of salmon and antique white were the room's theme colors and the furniture was sparse, but huge: an oversize cream colored leather L-sectional sofa, two large leather armchairs also in cream and a huge cherry wood coffee table. "Sooo," Harmony wanted to know, "can Sherry be charged with anything?"

Matt stroked his chin. "I'm not sure, but that will had to be witnessed."

"Which would mean," Nick put in, "either Sherry convinced somebody to witness a blank will, or she got someone to witness the will without observing Barry signing the will," Nick mildly commented. "Either way, she's in trouble." With his chopstick, Nick sketched an exclamation point in the air. "And she also got into trouble whomever witnessed the will."

Miranda perked up. "Very true, Nick."

"Did Sherry have access to Barry's apartment after the accident?" Nick inquired, reaching for another serving of orange chicken. Weirdly, I wondered to myself if Nick was needing vitamin supplements. He was looking rather thin these days, but then again, we'd been fundraising non-stop for the last thirty days so he was bound to have lost some weight.

Miranda looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "I...don't think she had access to his apartment," she replied slowly. "Unless she had a duplicate key made."

Silence befell the room as the five of us took in that statement.

"Miranda," I said, "was Barry doing well financially at the time of his death?"

"More or less," Miranda replied. "He'd done quite well in the real estate market. He sold out at the top of the real estate market on a few properties but still had some rentals that were sold to the renters after he died. The stocks that he'd purchased had dipped in value," Miranda replied. "Other than that, there wasn't anything else. The cash from the sale of the assets was distributed. Uhm, it totalled," Miranda scratched her head. "for me, about four hundred thousand."

Matt scratched his head. From his expression, he was clearly confused about something. "But with the real estate and stocks sold, then distributed, why is the estate still open?"

"The estate was closed out about a year after Barry's death. That's rather usual. But an estate administrator can petition to re-open the estate. In Barry's estate, because of the cash payment for the exhibition of Barry's photographs, the judge agreed to reopen Barry's estate so it could receive the cash."

"Ah," Nick said. "Sherry seems to have been money hungry and decided to snatch it from Barry in the event he died during his cross country road trip."

Miranda nodded. "Many folks draw up a new will just before going on a long trip. Barry was no exception. He was planning a year long driving trip from LA and criss-crossing through Canada and the states. He was afraid of planes and knew that up in Alaska, he might very well have to take a plane to get to the next town."

"So," I said, nodding my head in understanding. "With all the travelling, he was afraid he'd get hurt or worse."

Miranda nodded. "Yeah, and the strange thing, now that I'm thinking back on everything, is that I remember Barry remarking that he'd ran into Sherry on Sunset Boulevard. This was, oh a few weeks prior to his having the will drawn up. I didn't think much off it at the time but now I'm wondering."

"Let's try this from another angle," Harmony suggested. "What we do know is that Sherry is skanky enough to have pulled a nasty trick on Rae, and to pull a nasty trick on Miranda," Harmony said, waving a chopstick in the air.

"And skanky enough to switch the will," Miranda commented.

"Exactly! But that's not enough to call her a murderess," Harmony replied.

"It's enough to get her on obtaining property by fraud," Matt observed matter of factly. He leaned back onto the rather comfortable arm of the couch. I noticed that the couch was so long that Matt could lay on long side of the couch and there was still plenty of room for everyone else.

"We also know," Nick said, "that the Sherry will be removed as executor of Barry's will." Nick carefully prospected in his food container for another piece of orange chicken.

"True," Miranda said. "I'll run the Drunken video by the detective who originally investigated the accident. He's retired now, living in Santa Barbara, but he's familiar with the case."

I thought that there was something much more important that Miranda was overlooking and I decided to bring my concern up. "Miranda," I said, looking at her questioningly.

"Hmmmm?" she asked.

"That video tape found in Barry's car. Do you still have it?"

Miranda scratched an itch on her cheek. "The video tape was pretty mangled when the car flipped several times down the hill. Cops told me they couldn't do much with that tape."

I nodded, hoping that my expression conveyed sympathy. "But that retreival attempt was performed using nineteen eighty eight technology. This is two thousand three..." I let my voice trail off and I looked around the room hopefully. I saw the same expression on everyone's face.

Nick sat up, stabbing his chopstick into the air. "And what might have been considered unretrievable video back in '88 might be retrievable using today's technology."

"It's worth a try, Rae. It's worth a try," Miranda said, wiping a tear from her eye.

Saturday, October 11, Polo Lounge @ the Beverly Hills Hilton

For the last several days, the five of us had been waiting on pins and needles for information. The police were indeed interested in the will-swapping and were looking to see what charges could be brought against Sherry Chalkey. The mangled videotape from the Barry's car had been sent out and we were awaiting word on the contents of the video.

We were due to return to our medical duties at Presidio the following Thursday. Seeing how the four of us were in sore need of a real vacation, we played Southern California tourists and did the touristy things, which I discovered were quite fun. Nick made me promise to take him on a touristy tour of San Francisco.

Miranda took us around Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. We'd spent time on her boat, cruised the Channel Islands and we did Disneyland where Nick ate so much junk food he actually got a stomachache. I nursed him tenderly.

So it was early Saturday morning when the five of us were breakfasting when a man approached our table. At first, Matt thought he was another autograph seeker and he grimaced. Miranda caught his expression and glanced behind her shoulder.

"Julio!" she exclaimed. "Como estas?"

"Muy bien. Y tu?" Julio inquired.

"Mejor," she replied. "Guys, this is Detective, uh, retired Detective Julio Perez. He was the investigating officer at my son's accident. Julio, these are my new friends. Rae Brennan, Nicholas Kokoris, Matt Slingerland and Harmony Zimmerman."

Each of us nodded in turn as we were introduced. From his expression, I could see that Julio had something very good to tell us. Julio stood with his hands behind his back.

"I'll get right down to it," Julio told Miranda. "You've waited fifteen years for this news, Miranda."

Miranda sucked in her breath. I think she knew what Julio was going to say. I glanced around the table. I think everyone else knew what Julio was going to say as well. Nick reached out, grabbed my hand and squeezed it. Matt put his arm around Harmony.

"Seems like," retired Detective Julio Perez said, "that there is more than enough evidence recovered on the video tape to arrest Sherry Chalkey for the murder of Barry Brinks."

Miranda's mouth dropped open and she let out a "whoooooo hoooooo!" loud enough to cause the other patrons to call, "quiet!" But Miranda didn't pay attention. Tears were running down her face. Instinctively, I reached out and hugged her hard.

"When? When will she be arrested?" Miranda asked after she'd calmed down enough to talk.

Julio took on a more serious expression. "Well, also seems like Miss Chalkey decided to use the success of Barry's exhibition to get herself a spot on Good Morning, America come Monday morning."

My mouth dropped open. "She didn't. She couldn't have done that!" I was incredulous. And angry. A hot flash of anger rose up from my stomach to my throat and I felt that if I opened my mouth, a huge jet of fire would exit and torch everyone within range.

"How in hell did she do that?" Matt croaked out. He looked as angry as I felt.

"She sure moved fast," Harmony observed. "Greedy little money loving twa..."

"Sherry thought she'd give all of America a little treat and exhibit a few photos from the exhibition," Julio told us.

I heard Julio's voice continuing but all I saw was red. I felt Nick's hand on mine and then I felt his lips on my cheek. "Sweetie, you didn't hear what Julio just said, did you?"

I nodded and whispered, "she's going to exhibit some of the photos on GMA."

"No," Nick said. "After that. What did Julio say after that?" The red in front of my eyes cleared and I looked up at Julio. He smiled in sympathy with me.

"Sherry thought she would treat America to a small exhibition of Barry's photos. So the judge thought we should treat Sherry to an on-air arrest," Julio informed me.

My mouth dropped open and I looked around. Miranda nodded, tears still running down her face.

"I think," Miranda said, "that's the best idea since sliced bread."

I had to agree with Miranda.

Tuesday, October 14, Beverly Hills Hilton

"Now this has been a most interesting month," I commented as I hoisted my bag. Nick and I were heading for Napa for a few nights of togetherness before we headed back into the fray of work. Matt and Harmony had left for a short vacation of their own. They had decided to head to Vegas.

"Very interesting," Nick replied, holding the door open for me. "After you, madam," he intoned softly. I giggled.

"Why, thank you, sir," I sketched a curtsey as best I could laden as I was with luggage. I exited the hotel room. "I'm going to miss this hotel room."

"As will I," Nick said. "But we must get back to normal things."

I sighed softly. Nick was right. "But what is normal now that we know Barry was murdered? Murdered for quick cash," I said sadly.

Nick looked down and shook his head. "Dunno. But we can be there for Miranda during the trial."

"Oh, I plan to be there for the trial, even if I have to take unpaid leave," I replied somewhat angrily. "Can you believe she's pleading temporary insanity?"

Nick shut the door and the two of us began to walk down the thickly carpeted hallway. "She'll have a hard time proving temporary insanity. It is her voice on the video tape telling Barry she wanted him to know exactly who was responsible for his death. And she's been telling people for years what she's done, the 'I fixed things' comment and the 'I'm the executor of Barry Brink's estate' and so forth."

"Take off the last two words and Sherry point blank told us what she'd done," I said sadly.

Nick looked at me. "Luv, at the trial, the DA is going to play the recovered videotape of Barry's last minutes. You up to that?" he asked. Concern showed in his eyes.

I cringed. I wasn't sure I was up to listening to an audio recording of Barry Brinks' final minutes although the DA had briefed us on the contents of the videotape.

Upon leaving the New Year's Eve party, Barry had turned on the video camera and placed it on the front passenger seat so he could give commentary on the beginning of his road trip. He was not drunk. He drove for a few minutes, commenting on the attendees at the New Year's Eve party slash bon voyage party for him. It was near the Hollywood Reservoir that Barry noticed another car was following him, driving aggressively. He mentioned this fact to the videocamera.

Eventually, the car pulled up beside him and Sherry's voice called out in greeting. She wanted Barry to pull over because she wanted to wish him good luck on his cross country road trip. Barry complied with her request but chose to wait inside his car. Sherry evidently stopped her car just behind Barry's and had gotten out, then approached the driver's side of Barry's car.

Unaware that Barry had the videocamera running, an angry Sherry told Barry that she planned to kill him. Barry panicked, gunned his car and sped off, all the while giving a running commentary to the videocamera. Sherry shouted in anger then evidently jumped back into her car for Barry said she was giving chase. She managed to chase him into a tight corner where she rammed the back of his car, causing him to lose control. The car flipped over the edge of the hill, rolling over several times before coming to rest at the hill's bottom.

"She did provide the DA with the reason why she ran Barry off the road," Nick sadly said as we waited for the elevator. I nodded, trying to hold back tears.

"She was pissed that her career had tanked and she blamed Barry for getting her into Hollywood in the first place," I tonelessly said. "She needed money, and took the typing job. When Barry unexpectedly came to Gerald Mansfield's office to get his will drawn up, Sherry got a hold of the will, then did the research on the value of the real estate and stocks that Barry owned and decided to off Barry on New Year's Eve, a common night for car fatalities."

"As Harmony would say," Nick said as the elevator doors pinged open, "Sherry is a murderous, greedy money loving twa..."

"You got that right, babe," I told Nick as we entered the elevator.