Previously on Montecito: Montecito college is looking sparse as many students are gone for the holidays; Beth reconnects with Noah and finds out more about Elise, a new girl he met, while holidaying; Dean Clark gains new information about Network and raises his fee; Beth deals with Elise's application.
Will Beth confide in Stu about this latest scandal, or keep the shocking discovery to herself?Click To Reveal Results
Montecito’s Downtown Core
Beth pulled into a parking spot right out front the party planner’s office, turned off the ignition and sat for a moment, still feeling slightly shell-shocked. The first thing she had done, after leaving the police station, was run immediately home to check on her mother. She recalled the hysteria bubbling inside her, the pounding of her heart, the complete panic that she would walk into her mom’s room and find her lying in bed, not moving. Beth prayed the entire ride home, burst into the house, only to find her mother sitting happily at the kitchen counter. She was flipping through the latest magazine and sipping her iced tea. Beth wanted to rip that glass right from her hands, just in case Robert had poisoned it. However, she recalled Jess’s explanation that they had no hard evidence that the poison was even in a liquid form. He could be injecting her while she slept, for all they knew. If they tipped their hand too early, Robert might become suspicious and start being extra careful or worse, get away scott free. Plus, they reassured Beth that if they were right about Robert, the poisoning would take a great deal of time to actually do any real harm to Claire.
Beth wondered if there was a small chance that this was all just some weird coincidence. Beth had examined her mother, and she looked, well, fine. Maybe it was just the flu. Beth didn’t know anymore. Maybe she hated Robert so much that she actually hoped he was a murderer, just so he would be out of their lives forever.
Somewhere in the distance a car honked, pulling Beth from her reverie. She decided to force herself to work on Network so she wouldn’t go completely crazy, and try to run Robert over with her car. So, here she was, checking out Montecito’s finest party planner. She looked up at the sign over the door, which simply read Style. Beth had read the reviews online, all of which were good. Gathering the notes she had thrown carelessly on the passenger seat, she now dumped them into her purse.
As Beth opened the door she was greeted with the unmistakeable exuberant voice of Lux.
“Beth! What are you doing here?”
“Oh, um, Lux, what are you doing here?” Beth asked, by way of ignoring the question. She looked around the tiny, modern office front as all the occupants were staring at her. Before Lux could reply Beth added, “Oh, hey Josh, how are you?”
Josh leaned in to give Beth a hug. “I’m good Beth. Oh, I want you to meet my partner Jace.” He pulled Jace over, emphasizing the word partner. Josh, and Jace for that matter, watched Beth carefully to gauge her response to this news.
Beth, who in fact already knew this news, thanks to her monitoring of Network, tried to manufacture polite surprise on her face. “Nice to meet you Jace. Actually, we’ve already met, well sort of, you have the horrible honor of being my stepfather’s TA.” Beth couldn’t help it, she really had nothing nice to say about Robert, even if he didn’t turn out to be poisoning her mother. Nonetheless, she hoped her frankness didn’t make Jace feel uncomfortable, in case he was snowed over like everyone else by Robert’s phony charm.
Jace laughed appreciatively at Beth’s insult, and Josh blew out a nervous breath he didn’t know he was holding. He’d never get used to watching people’s reactions to the fact that not only was he gay, but that this beautiful man was his boyfriend. He wanted to giggle out loud at how happy he was.
“Yes, that’s right. And you have the horrible honor of being his stepdaughter. I think you have the worse of the two!” winked Jace conspiratorially.
Beth burst out laughing. She had a new appreciation for Jace, especially since everyone else at the college seemed to worship the ground Professor Williams walked on. “Oh, I like this one Josh! He’s a keeper!”
“I think so,” replied Josh quietly, looking at Jace.
“So, what are you doing here at my mom’s work? Planning a big party?” asked Lux, now that the introductions were complete.
“Oh, Style is your mom’s company? I didn’t know that!”
“Yeah, it’s her baby. Honestly, I think she loves it more than she loves me!”
Seeing as Claire was the only thing occupying Beth’s mind, she used her as an excuse. “Yeah, I was thinking about planning just a small party for my mom. She’s been feeling a little sick lately, and she and Robert never officially had any sort of housewarming party when we moved here in the fall, so I figured I would look into it. I saw the reviews online, and apparently, this is the place to go when you plan a party,” Beth trailed off lamely, hoping her lie would be believed.
“Oh definitely. Mom’s the best. Well, I guess I’ll leave you to it! Connie here,” she said, gesturing to the immaculate woman sitting behind the clear, see-through desk, “my mom’s secretary, can take care of you. We were just leaving. I just had to switch cars with my mom. I need to borrow her SUV so Jace could pick up some huge, pretentious painting for his apartment, to show everyone how cultured he is,” teased Lux. She laughed at Jace’s expression before adding, “Just kidding Jace! Don’t worry. I’m pretentious and wanting people to know how cultured I am too, haha. See you later Beth!”
Jace just shook his head and waved goodbye to Beth. She watched fondly as the pair headed out the door together, following Lux. They really did make a cute couple. She thought back briefly to the time when Ava had a huge crush on Josh. Beth wondered how she didn’t see it before, because now it seemed so obvious.
“Can I help you?” asked Connie, politely clearing her throat to draw Beth’s attention.
Beth looked at the statuesque woman. She was well-dressed in some designer grey suit – a fitted blazer and pencil skirt – complete with ridiculously high heels. Also designer, no doubt. The woman brushed her brunette hair off her shoulders, looking like she just stepped out from a salon, or perhaps a model shoot. Geez, is everyone in Montecito meant to make me feel inadequate? Beth hadn’t had those insecure thoughts for quite some time, and they almost felt foreign in her head. Perhaps I’m growing? Beth dismissed that pipedream quickly. No, it’s just because you have too much other craziness in your life that you can’t worry about silly superficial things like your appearance, that’s all. No, you should really worry about the fact that you are thinking in the third person and maybe go see a therapist. Or at least get some medication! I really would belong in Montecito then. Beth laughed to herself, then masked it with her own polite throat clearing as she realized Connie was waiting for a response.
“Oh, um, yes, sorry. I was going to try to talk to someone about throwing my mom a housewarming party, but I just realized I forgot another appointment. I’ll have to come back, or call you. Sorry!” Beth practically ran from the office, not even letting the poor manicured woman respond. She opened the door of her car and peeled out of the parking spot, barely even looking, as if the woman would somehow figure out she was there to plan a Network party. “I’m going to Santa Barbara to find a party planner!” muttered Beth to herself.
Williams Mansion, Montecito Hills
Beth sighed as she put her beloved Honda Civic into park, right in front of the house. The news from the mechanic was not good. Her baby, her source of pride, was on its last legs. She had stopped listening as he listed the fifth item that would need to be fixed, and fairly soon, in order to keep her car running. Beth didn’t want to give up the one thing she had from her previous life in Seattle, when everything made sense. Beth looked around at the dashboard, and it looked good. But, looks can be deceiving. Like Robert, Beth thought bitterly.
The only bit of good news the mechanic gave her was that her car was leaking oil. While at first it was just another problem, it now made her smile. Leaking oil on Robert’s precious driveway gave Beth just a little bit of satisfaction. Beth recalled the mechanic, Mason, saying, “It’s leaking, a lot, actually! It’s leaking so much, there was practically nothing left in the oil pan. I’m surprised your engine didn’t seize up!” Then, he handed Beth two quarts of motor oil, instructing her to check her oil often and top up as needed. Beth grabbed the two bottles of oil from the front seat of her car and headed for the garage.
Beth hadn’t been in there much, no need really. Plus, it was Robert’s domain. And anything that was Robert’s area, Beth tended to avoid, even before she found out he was a murdering son of a bitch.
Beth flipped the light on the darkened room, and looked around the massive four car garage. On one side, under some kind of protective cover, was Robert’s classic - whatever - car. Beth didn’t pay much attention when he talked about it, other than it was old, expensive and rare. Of course, Robert’s Aston Martin - well the new one - was parked there.
“Great,” mumbled Beth to herself, “he’s home.” She looked around to the workbench, still unused, and wondered where she could put her quarts of oil. She could already hear Robert, complaining about Beth occupying some of his precious garage space. While she wanted to pour the oil on the front seat of his cherished car, she resisted. Instead, she looked around for a corner or cupboard to tuck away the bottles. Her eyes landed on the tall locker-like cupboards that lined the wall on the far side of the garage. Since Robert wasn’t the kind of man who got his hands dirty, she figured that the only people going into these were the gardeners. She could hide her oil inside one of them, and Robert would be none the wiser.
Beth opened up the one closest to her. It was jam packed with gardening supplies. She looked through several more until she finally found one with room. She moved aside a large grey bottle, looking a lot like a bottle of oil, only bigger, to make room on the shelf. Beth wondered if Robert’s expensive Aston Martin was actually leaking oil too, just like her lowly, common Honda. She laughed, figures. She turned the bottle around to look more closely, see if her suspicions were correct, when she spied the label. Antifreeze? “What the hell would Robert need with Antifreeze out here in California?” They didn’t even need antifreeze in Seattle, where it was a lot colder.
Beth gasped, raising a hand to her mouth. Could you poison someone with antifreeze? Jess had gone over the typical stuff, rat poison, and a bunch of other names Beth didn’t recognize, but she definitely didn’t say anything about antifreeze. But, it made no sense. Why would they have antifreeze in this garage then?
Beth pulled out her phone from her pocket and took two pictures of the bottle. One of the front and then one of the back. Heart pounding, she quickly closed the cupboard door and decided to keep the oil in the trunk of her car. If Robert really was poisoning her mother with this antifreeze, she didn’t want him to know she had found it. She slipped quietly out of the garage and threw the oil into her trunk. Beth looked around quickly for any sign of Robert before jumping back inside her car. She texted the two photos to Jess and then called her.
Jess answered on the first ring. “Beth? Everything okay? I can’t tell what you are texting me, it didn’t come through yet.”
“Antifreeze! It’s a picture of a bottle of antifreeze in my stepfather’s garage. Why would Robert have antifreeze in one of the warmest states, if not to kill my mother?” Beth whispered, on the verge of hysteria. She had enough sense not to yell, even from the inside of her car.
“Calm down Beth. Where are you? Is Robert there? Can he hear you?” asked Jess.
“No, he’s inside the house. I’m in my car outside. I was putting away some stuff in the garage when I found this bottle of antifreeze! So I called you!”
“Did he see you?”
“No. But, it’s poisonous right? Why else would he have a bottle of antifreeze?” Beth persisted, sure that this was the evidence they needed. “Can you arrest him?”
“Well, no, not yet. Owning antifreeze, even in California, is not a crime. Plus, there could be plenty of reasonable explanations for having antifreeze in a garage.”
“Well, you guys just moved there recently right? Maybe the previous owners had it, because they originally lived somewhere back east, and forgot to take it in the move? Maybe he bought it by accident. Maybe it belongs to someone else and it’s been dumped there. Plus, we don’t really know if you can slowly poison someone with antifreeze and the symptoms be the same as what we saw with his first two wives, and now with your mother. I first need to look into that,” Jess paused and she could almost hear the rebuttals swirling in Beth’s head in the silence. “But it is suspicious. You are right on that Beth, if we find out that antifreeze produces those same symptoms, and can mimic a heart condition, then you might definitely have found something!” Jess trailed off, as if she was speaking more to herself than Beth. The wheels were already churning in her head. “This is great work Beth! Now, I know it’s hard, but you have to just try to be patient, and keep your eyes out for anything else. In the meantime, I’ll get right on this. The photo came through, so I can start from there. Thanks Beth! I’ll talk to you as soon as I hear anything, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks Jess.” Beth looked down at the phone in her now clammy hands and suddenly became way more angry than scared.
Police Station, Montecito
It was early morning and Jess was sitting at her desk wondering why she didn’t think to pull into a drive-thru for a coffee. She had been up late researching information on antifreeze, learning the symptoms, hoping to find a concrete link to Robert’s case. She really hoped Beth had indeed broken the case and Jess could finally end this double life she’d been living. Last night Jess discovered that many of Claire’s current symptoms were in fact consistent with those of a person being poisoned by antifreeze. Unfortunately, the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain were also consistent side effects of various other poisonings. The one that stood out the most was the frequent and/or painful urination. Beth had mentioned her mother had an increase in bladder infections, but Claire could also just be prone to bladder infections. There didn’t seem to be any mention of direct heart failure.
Jess sighed and rubbed her tired eyes before flipping through the notes she made during Beth’s interview and those she made last night. She wanted to bring this new information to the sergeant, but first had to have something more concrete. What she needed was to talk to Parker. Jess looked over at the clock hanging on the wall. It was almost 8 am. He’s bound to be up by now. She picked up the receiver and dialed Parker’s cell number.
“Hello.” Parker’s familiar deep voice came through, sounding more chipper than usual.
“Hi, Parker, it’s me, Jess.”
“Are you in the neighbourhood? Cause I won’t be there. Just leaving the gym and heading to work.”
“No actually, I’m at work too,” replied Jess wondering what it must be like to be a morning person.
“So, how is everything? Any luck on the case?” asked Parker.
“The case is the reason I’m calling. What can you tell me about antifreeze poisoning?” Jess took out a blank piece of paper, ready to take notes.
Jess could hear the start of an engine and the sound of Parker’s bluetooth transferring the call from his cell phone to the audio in his car.
“Why is that interesting?” she asked.
“It’s interesting because antifreeze wouldn’t cause cardiac arrest per se, but it would cause respiratory failure. It might start with shortness of breath at first, but then suddenly lead to complete pulmonary failure, which could then lead to cardiac arrest.”
“Hmmm, that is interesting. So in a roundabout way, heart failure is a symptom of antifreeze poisoning, but it’s not listed directly as one of the side effects,” clarified Jess, suddenly feeling very awake.
“The thing is,” continued Parker, “antifreeze has a natural sweetness to it. It’s the ethylene glycol in it. It’s syrupy, odorless, and sweet-tasting, which makes it easy to mix into most drinks undetected. About six or seven years ago, laws were passed to forcing all manufacturers in the United States to add ingredients that would make antifreeze bitter-tasting. I think the ingredient is called denatonium benzoate - the same stuff they use in anti-nail biting formulas.”
“Thanks, Parker. You’re an amazing source of information.”
“No problem. I’m just pulling into work, but let me know if there’s anything else I can do.”
Jess thanked Parker once again before placing the receiver back on its base. She turned back to her computer and looked at the photos Beth had sent. She downloaded them this morning and was now going to see if she could zoom in on the ingredients.
Bingo. Both of the pictures Beth sent were clear and easy to enlarge. She took a screenshot and printed the new piece of evidence for her file; the ingredients were missing the bitter tasting denatonium benzoate.
Beth leaned back in her chair and smiled to herself with satisfaction. This is all coming together!
En Route to Montecito Dorms
Beth, exhausted after the week she’d been having, was actually relieved to spend several hours at the very anonymous party planner’s office in Santa Barbara. She could focus on something other than what was happening with Robert’s case. Right now, she could use the distraction.
Beth couldn’t have asked for a better distraction. After making more decisions than she ever thought she’d have to make for her own wedding, she felt confident the Network Gala would be a success. Finally, she was dealing with something she could plan and control. At least something is going right in my life. She headed straight for Stu’s, wanting to review the plans and make some final decisions.
On the hour long drive back to Montecito, Beth had lots of time to think. Unfortunately.
Beth sighed, wishing she could just call Stu right now and talk to him about Jess and Robert, but this was too important to take that risk. Beth would just have to suffer in silence, to do otherwise would just be selfish. Her mother’s life was at stake. No, I’ll keep my mouth shut. Besides, if this antifreeze was new evidence, then hopefully I won’t need to keep this secret for much longer. Besides, Beth would have to pretend that everything was okay at home, so the more she could not talk about it, the better.
Beth forced herself to empty her mind for the rest of the ride to Stu’s dorm.
“Hey Stu,” Beth said, dropping her bag on his bed. “I just came from the party planner’s, so let’s talk about the party.”
“Sure. I say yes,” replied Stu.
“Yes to what?” laughed Beth.
“To whatever you want. I don’t like party planning, so I’m good with whatever you decide.” Stu smiled at Beth.
“Oh, you will like this part of the planning. It involves hidden security cameras so we can watch whatever is going on,” said Beth, sitting down on the bed beside him.
“Yeah, I was thinking that we should be monitoring what’s happening at this party. First of all, just to be sure that everything is running smoothly. You know these pretentious, spoiled Montecito kids, they expect the best! Plus, I think it would be great to see what works, what doesn’t, and if the crazy amount of money we are dropping on this event was worth it.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea, but security cameras are only going to give a visual, we won’t have any audio.”
“Can’t we have cameras with microphones?” Beth asked.
“Yes, but it’s a party, most likely the music itself would drown out everything else.”
“Oh, good point. I didn’t think of that. But, I guess it’s better than nothing. It’s pretty reasonable to add actually.”
“Or,” Stu began, but then paused, looking carefully at Beth.
“Well, I was going to say that maybe we could pretend to be the catering staff and work the event, but I’m not sure you’d go for it.”
“Why not?” asked Beth indignantly. She sat up straighter on the bed and looked pointedly at Stu. “I’ll have you know, I used to waitress in Seattle.”
“Woah, that’s not what I meant. I know you can work as the wait staff, but I didn’t think you’d want to be a waitress and serve your precious Noah,” teased Stu.
“Actually, now that I think about it, would it even make sense that you’d even take a job? You live in the biggest mansion in Montecito. Won’t people be suspicious?”
“Ha. No! Are you kidding? People here probably don’t even know who I am, let alone where I live. Those who do know me, know that I don’t accept one dime from that asshole Robert. Just look at my car!” replied Beth, gesturing as if her car was right beside them.
“Good point. Okay, well, so which is it? Do you want to be all Big Brother in the sky, watching from the security cameras where we can sit back and have snacks - and, more importantly, not be bossed around by stupid college kids? Or, should we be up close and personal and work the party and maybe get lucky enough to hear some useful information?”
Do they decide to just watch from the security cameras or do they decide to work the party?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.