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Appisode 3: The Suspect

 Previously on Montecito: Beth and Noah catch up at The M when he returns early from the Hamptons. Stu and Beth are summonded to Dean Clark's office where he drops yet another bombshell - he knows Stu is a partner in Network. Clark decides, rather than expelling Stu, he will raise the blackmail fee to include both partners. Jess, continuing her investigation, meets with an old friend and forensic chemist, Parker. She learns more information about possible methods of poison, and to look for syringes, pills and even unfamiliar plants as evidence. As Beth begins to plan the Network party, she comes across Noah's new 'friend' Elise's application and must decide whether to accept or reject her. 

Does Beth think with her heart and reject Elise, or think with her mind for the good of the company and accept Elise’s application?

Click To Reveal Results
MIND
71%
HEART
29%

Cameron Mansion, Montecito

Kim Cameron walked into her kitchen to find a large cereal bowl on the counter, brimming with what appeared to be Honey Nut Cheerios and milk. She couldn’t remember the last time she saw cereal in this house. Perplexed, Kim scanned the empty room wondering who this bowl of sugar was meant for.  

“Hi Mom,” said Nicole walking past Kim and straight to the bowl. She picked it up carefully and brought it to the island counter, where a large tablespoon awaited her.

“Oh, hi Nic.” She watched as Nicole shoveled a spoonful of miniature doughnuts into her mouth. Kim’s jaw dropped as she witnessed her daughter devour half the bowl’s contents before commenting, “I didn’t know you were such a fan of cereal.”

Nicole looked up, surprised to see her mother still standing there. Watching her.

“Yeah, well, sometimes I just want something crunchy with a little bit of sweetness. Cereal usually does the trick, and it doesn’t require cooking.” She smiled as she inserted another spoonful.

“Well, yes, I can imagine it would be satisfying,” replied Kim, completely confused. This girl looked like her daughter, sounded like her daughter, but couldn’t be her daughter. Nicole would never put anything in her mouth before counting the calories and examining the fat content. Kim suddenly felt the need to reeducate her daughter on proper eating habits. Having spent years in front of the camera, she was somewhat of an expert on how to keep trim and not cave into cravings.

“You know, red peppers have crunch to them and they are naturally sweet,” suggested Kim, conjuring the most helpful receptionist voice she could muster.

“Sure, but not nearly as satisfying,” replied Nicole, scooping in another mouthful.

Kim narrowed her eyes and studied her daughter more carefully. From this angle, she could see that Nicole was definitely gaining some weight. She tsked when she spied a definite muffin top perched above the waistband of Nicole’s jeans, obliterating her once trim waistline. Kim’s scrutiny was interrupted by her eldest daughter, Kate.

“You have to see the new Gucci wallet I just bought!” Kate shrieked as she tossed three shopping bags from various stores on the stool next to Nicole. She dug around for a second, then pulled out and held up a dark blue patterned wallet. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Nicole nodded in agreement before turning back to her treat.

Kate stared at her sister and then looked at her mother for an explanation. Kim shrugged in response. “What are you doing?” Kate asked.  

Nicole looked up, confused by the question. “What do you mean? What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything the other day when you were chowing down on a bagel. But I feel like I need to warn you, if you keep eating like this you won’t be sharing my clothes anymore. I’m not having you stretch out my seams and ruin my designer finds just because you don’t have any self-control.”

“Wow.” Nicole stared at her sister in disbelief. “You’re so good with words Kate, I’m surprised you haven’t been asked to work for some crisis hotline.” Nicole intended for the words to be ripe with sarcasm and spite, but she could barely contain her tears. Abandoning the last few bites she rose quickly and retreated to her room.  

She could hear her sister call out from the kitchen, “Would you rather hear it from someone else? At least I’m being honest with you!”

Nicole slammed her door in response and flopped onto the bed. How much longer until I won’t be able to flop anymore? Her thoughts were broken by her phone vibrating on her bedside table. She picked it up and looked to see who was texting her. She groaned. Two missed calls from Robert. He was now switching to texting.

Answer your phone
you don’t get to make this decision on your own – it’s my life too!  
talk to me!

 

 

 

 

 

Nicole stared at the phone. It would be easier to give Robert what he wanted. No baby, no hassles, no weight gain, no stretch marks. Oh God, the stretch marks. Do those even go away? Yes, it would be so much easier. But for some reason she simply couldn’t do it. She didn’t consider herself a religious person, per se, but now that she was pregnant, she felt - somewhere in the pit of her stomach - that she simply had to keep it. Although, Nicole had a fleeting thought that her stomach might be giving her hunger signals rather than a plea for motherhood, but even this was interrupted by another text from Robert.    

Is it the cost of the procedure that you’re worried about – because you know I’ll take care of it

 

 

Nicole was fuming as she read the message, and she spoke to her phone as though it were Robert sitting in her hand, “Of course you’ll pay for the procedure! Was there ever any doubt? If I wanted a boob job, you’d be paying for that too... idiot!” In the time it took her to roll her eyes, she decided she needed distance from this man. He was causing her unnecessary stress.

I already did it. I didn’t need your stupid money.

 

 

She waited, knowing he was taking time to process this information, and probably doing a few cartwheels wherever he was. Maybe he’ll fall on his head! She smiled at the thought.

Are you ok? Do you need anything?

 

 

Just one thing, snookum… she typed in her final message and hit send.  

STOP texting and HARASSING me!!

 

 

Nicole took a deep breath and did the unthinkable - she turned her phone off. No more messages tonight. Not from anyone.

 

~~~

 

Montecito Dorm Rooms

Ready for another exciting day of party planning and Network coding?” asked Beth, as way of greeting Stu.

“Well hello to you, too,” remarked Stu, shutting the door behind Beth. “You seem . . . happy.” Stu studied Beth carefully, not sure what to make of this mood. Perhaps it was the calm before the storm.

“I am! I just had a fantastic run in with my, oh so loving, stepfather Robert!” replied Beth, studying the room. “You cleaned? Why did you clean?”

“Because, it was messy! Aren’t you the one who’s always complaining that I live in a pigsty? “ Stu pulled out the chair neatly tucked into the desk and sat in it, facing Beth. “What kind of run-in with Robert?”

“Stop changing the subject. You have a date, don’t you?” asked Beth. Now it was her turn to study Stu carefully. “Who is it? You clearly think you have a shot because you’re prepping your room in case you get some action,” Beth laughed as she speculated out loud, and then waited, watching as an embarrassed flush rose to Stu’s cheeks.

“No, I was just cleaning. But, I do have a date. With Jess,” smiled Stu, a little sheepishly.

“Jess? Really?”

“Yes, Jess, really. Why? You think she’s out of my league?”

“No, no, I’m just surprised, that’s all. She’s kinda just around a lot lately. But, I guess it makes sense, the two of you seemed to hit it off really well at the movies the other night,” Beth quickly added. Although, some small part of her worried for Stu. Stu was a big talker, but not all that experienced; she worried Jess might break his heart. Beth looked around the spotless room one more time and admired the effort he put into impressing Jess, but hoped he wasn’t getting his hopes up too high.

“To tell you the truth, I’m kind of surprised myself. She just texted me, out of the blue, and asked me out a few days after the movie,” he said.

“Huh,” she pondered.

“Huh what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m just wondering about her motivation. It seems, off, that’s all,” replied Beth.

“Oh, I know her motivation, all right, it’s this beautiful bod of mine. She wants me,” laughed Stu, gesturing to himself.

 “Yeah, that must be it. Speaking of things that are off, the apps aren’t disappearing anymore, but people are still not able to re-download. I heard from your new girlfriend Jess, just this morning, that she still wasn’t able to download it. So we need to try to fix that, and then we can move on to the party planning.”

“You never said, what happened with you and Robert to put you in this good mood?” asked Stu, pulling open his laptop to try to see what the problem was. He glanced up to see a huge grin spread across Beth’s face.

“Well, you know how I told you how obsessed he is with looking young, and fit, and that he weighs himself every morning on that digital scale of his?” began Beth, her blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Yes,” responded Stu quickly, wanting Beth to continue.

“Well, being the techno geek that I am, I fiddled with the settings so that his weight would register 4.5 pounds heavier than usual. I wanted to go more, but figured he wouldn’t believe that, so I hoped that would be enough.”

“And was it?” asked Stu.

“Oh yes. He shrieked like a little girl and made my mom come stand on it. But, she’s been really sick lately with some kind of flu or something, and hasn’t been eating much. I think she lost weight actually, because she was down a pound from her normal weight - according to the scale. Wow, that means she must be down about 5 pounds or so. Anyways,” continued Beth, shrugging it off, “the point is, he believed it, hook, line and sinker! I, of course, went in to check out what all the commotion was about, and he tried to make me stand it. To which I replied, ‘there is no way in hell I’m standing on that scale.’” Beth laughed with delight.

“What did he say then?”

“Oh nothing, he brushed by in a huff, and jumped on his elliptical machine he keeps in their bedroom, madly swishing away on that thing, trying to drop those extra pounds,” Beth laughed, tears forming in her eyes as she recalled the image, “he kept just swishing away, at a ridiculous pace!”

Stu laughed alongside her, “What a tool. A real man would at least use a treadmill.”

“Exactly!” Beth sighed, wiping her eyes, “I guess I shouldn’t be so mean. Or maybe I just shouldn’t enjoy it this much.”

“No way. Have you forgotten everything that he’s done to you? He deserves way worse!”

“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s get to work. First, I need to accept Elise Harper’s application.

“You decided to accept?” Stu asked casually.

“Yeah, I think so. It doesn’t make much sense to say no to a paying customer right now.” Beth pulled up Elise’s application and hesitated just momentarily, before she pushed the accept button. There, I’ve done it.

Without another word, or thought, on the subject, Beth opened up a new window in her browser and began searching for inspiration for the party. After rejecting several ideas, one particular image caught her eye. Old Hollywood. That was it! That would be the theme for the party. “I’ve got it!” shouted Beth.

“Got what?” Stu reluctantly lifted his eyes from his work. He had almost cracked the downloading problem.

“The theme for the party. Old Hollywood.”

“Old Hollywood? What does that even mean?” asked Stu, returning his gaze back to more important matters.

“You know. Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn. Even Audrey Hepburn. All those glamorous old Hollywood celebrities, from say the 1920s to the 1940s? It will be awesome. Our Network members will eat this up. The girls can all buy these elegant dresses, get their hair done in the style of the times, even wear white gloves. The guys can all rent tuxedos. Who am I kidding? They probably all own their own tuxedos, so the dress code and theme is taken care of. We can have these really elegant invitations, inviting them to this Old Hollywood Network Gala! Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

“Hmm,” came the noncommittal response from Stu.

“Never mind, you still probably won’t know what I’m talking about.” Beth continued searching the internet, checking Pinterest, making notes of her ideas and thoughts. Black, white and red would be the color scheme. They could have a red carpet out front, complete with a couple photographers who would take pictures of the partygoers as they emerged from their limos and cars. Oh, she’d need to hire a few valets as well. She could rent out the campus pub, it was attached to that huge patio, and if she built a temporary dance floor outside, it would be enough to house even all 2000 members. She doubted that everyone would come, though, with so many people off on fabulous vacations themselves, but she figured at least 1000 might come.

She could hire a decorator to put it all together, even send out the invitations as well. She didn’t like the idea of revealing her identity to even the party planning company, but there was just no way around it.

“Okay,” said Beth, shutting her computer. “That should do it.”

“Do what?” asked Stu, absentmindedly.

“Never mind,” sighed Beth.

~~~

 

 

Williams Mansion, Montecito          

Jess stood outside her car looking at the palace Ava and Beth called home. There were definitely parts of their lives she envied. They probably never worried about bills, rent or the depleting balance that happens to normal people’s checking accounts - a monthly event that had become as regular as her cycle. The house, on the other hand, Jess could do without - definitely not a source of envy. The mere size of it made Jess feel uncomfortable. She imagined each room had special secrets that would never be discovered simply because any prying eyes were always too far away to even realize what was happening. Ironically, the quality that made this house seem uninhabitable by Jess, was the very same quality that made it easier to search undetected.  

Jess walked towards the front door, armed with her excuse for this surprise visit. She would claim that she thought Ava was back from her trip abroad and then settle for hanging out with Beth. Eventually she’d excuse herself to use the restroom, taking the opportunity to pop back into Robert’s office or try searching a bit in the master bedroom. The man may be clever, as Parker noted, but even the best criminals make mistakes. Jess was determined to find his error and introduce him to a little thing called justice. She could snoop in one room today and another later in the week, and planned to keep on doing so until she found what she needed.

Jess approached the door and saw that it was ajar. Pushing it in, she scanned the main foyer. No one. It couldn’t be this easy, could it? Not wasting time, she climbed the stairs two by two until she reached the top floor. Most of the doors were closed, except for one towards the end of the hall. She was surprised to get this far without seeing anyone. Cautiously, she passed Ava’s bedroom and continued towards the master bedroom, preparing herself to look as if she were lost and looking for one of the girls, should someone appear. She made it into the master bedroom with no one even knowing she was in the house, confirming her initial thoughts that the house was too big. These people need to get themselves a dog!

Jess slipped a pair of latex gloves out of her back pocket, pulling them on as she scanned the room quickly. Seeing a large door on the left side of the room, she prepared herself to search Robert’s closet, only to find it was full of dresses and shoes and… was that an island in the middle? This closet was the size of her entire living room. But there was no time to spend admiring the space, she had to move on. She tried opening the closet on the opposite side of the room. Bingo.

Jess turned on the light and stepped inside. A significantly smaller closet, if that’s what these rooms could be called, but still larger than anything she’d ever own. It too had an impressive island with drawers and compartments that popped open. She moved near a few shoe boxes in the corner, crouching down to open and search them more carefully.

First box: shoes.

Second box: nicer shoes.

Third box: more shoes.

A squeaking sound from a door hinge came from behind her and Jess froze, unable to even expel her breath.

“What are you doing?” came a familiar voice.

Still crouching, Jess turned her head to find Beth staring at her.

Shit.

Jess stood up and quickly tried to think of a reason she’d be in Robert’s closet, going through his things. “Well,” she stalled, “I was originally looking for Ava.”

“Ava is in Europe. You knew that.”

Beth’s eyes were suddenly a deeper shade of blue and more furrowed than Jess had ever seen before.

“Did you think Ava was hiding in one of those boxes?”

“Well, um, no.” Jess could see Beth was not going to be easily misled.    

“I’m calling the cops before you realize that Ava might be in my mother’s jewelry box or in my closet!” Beth used her fingers to make air quotations when saying Ava’s name. “But I’m willing to bet you’ve already checked for Ava in the jewelry box, haven’t you?” This time the air quotations didn’t get used, but only because Beth had pulled out her phone from her pocket, effectively letting Jess know her comments, although sarcastic, were not to be considered empty threats.

“No! Wait - I can explain!” Jess had always intended to bring Beth into the case. She needed someone on the inside. She just hadn’t expected it to happen this quickly.  

“Explain what? That you’re a petty thief? That you’ve probably taken a McKellar/Williams souvenir every time you’ve visited?” Beth looked disgusted.

“No, I’m not who you think I am,” replied Jess, trying to keep her voice down.

“I’ll say,” replied Beth, clearly not caring about her volume at all.

“No, I mean, I’m not a Montecito student,” continued Jess.

“Agreed. You’re a thief - and a lousy one at that,” said Beth.

“No, you’re not listening. Stop talking for a second - I don’t know how much time I have to explain. I’m not a 20 year old student. I’m a 27 year old cop. I’ve been working undercover and following your family.” Even as the words came tumbling out of her mouth, she could see Beth wasn’t hearing them, or at least not believing them.

“My family?” said Beth

“Well, not your entire family. Just your stepfather, Robert.”

“Robert? Why?”

Jess couldn’t be certain, but Beth appeared to receive this piece of information better than the rest. She was intrigued enough not to dial 911.

Both girls froze as they heard Robert’s voice call from somewhere downstairs, “Mrs. Healey, can you bring me a cup of coffee, black? I’ll be in my office.”

Beth reached out, grabbed Jess by the arm and pulled her out of the closet, motioning for her to go into Claire’s closet. Wordlessly, Beth flicked off the light, closed the door and ran across the room to join Jess, who was already crouching behind Claire’s island. They could hear Robert’s footsteps through the door as they got louder and closer to the bedroom.  And then they got dangerously loud, as Robert decided to stop in his room before heading to his office. Jess pulled out her phone and made sure the volume was off, motioning to Beth to do the same. They could hear Robert as he passed a few feet away from the closet door and enter the tiled bathroom. The distinct sound of his belt being unbuckled was followed by the sound of a waterfall as he emptied his bladder - door wide open. Had he closed the door, the girls could escape undetected, but now they were trapped.

Jess quietly slid her hand into her bag, feeling around for the secret compartment she’d made so that she could keep her badge with her but concealed, in case someone was to go through it or empty the contents out. Pulling the badge out, she flashed the light of her phone on it so that Beth could inspect it.   

Beth took the badge into her hands and looked at it carefully. She opened the notepad app on her phone and typed:

Okay….so you’re a cop. Then adding, I didn’t know you could arrest someone for being an arrogant asshole….can you press charges for having an oversized bladder by any chance?

Jess took the phone from Beth’s hands and typed underneath.

As soon as we’re out of here - I’ll need you to follow me to the police station.

Beth nodded and typed, What did he do?

Jess didn’t get a chance to respond, as a flushing sound was heard and Robert’s belt buckle was being refastened. They could hear his footsteps get close and then further away again as he passed the closet and headed out of the room towards his office. Beth was about to get up, when Jess pulled her back down and whispered,

“Wait for the coffee. He told someone to bring him coffee. We don’t want to be seen coming out of this room at the same time.”

The words had barely come out of her mouth, when a second set of footsteps could be heard coming down the hall. There was a murmur as words were exchanged by Robert and Mrs. Healey, but they were too far away to be made out. Once the footsteps retreated back downstairs, Beth got up and walked out first, making sure the coast was clear before summoning Jess to follow. They left the house silently, Beth only hesitating a moment at her room to grab her keys and wallet.

Once outside, Jess turned to Beth and asked, “You sure you want to drive yourself or would you like a ride? There’s going to be a lot of information thrown at you in the next little while. You may be a little distracted to drive yourself after.”

“Thanks, I think I’ll be fine. I’m not sure you have anything that will surprise me about my dear ole stepdaddy.”

Beth unlocked her car door and was about to get in when Jess asked again, “Are you sure? Because you already looked overwhelmed and we haven’t even begun yet.”

Beth shrugged. “I’m sure this has something to do with fraud or maybe he’s gotten into some shady money laundering business. To be honest I’m still thinking about the fact that he didn’t wash his hands after pissing up a storm. Gross. Does my poor mother realize he’s walking around with pee splattered hands?” Beth made a retching sound and added, “This isn’t the look of an overwhelmed person - it’s a look of a disgusted one.”

Jess chuckled, “Okay then, I’ll meet you at the station.”

 

~~~

 

Police Station, Montecito

“I hope you didn’t screw this up.”  The sergeant stood squarely under the office doorframe, his voice deep and impatient. “If you don’t play this right, it could mean months of work flushed down the drain,” he warned.

No shit. “I know. I got this, I swear,” replied Jess, not looking up to meet his stare, but rather keeping herself focused and busy reorganizing her case files. The files were stacked on her desk, not as she left them, but in the haphazard way someone leaves things when they have not lost a part of themselves creating it. These files were her baby and she knew them inside out. The sergeant was somewhat invested, no doubt his ass was on the line too, but he could never be as invested as Jess had become in this case. Never.  He did not live and breath this case. He did not adopt a new identity for this case. He did not feel the same level of vengeance for the victims as Jess did. No, he could not be as invested as Jess had become.

“Make sure you have a plan before you go in there. We can’t risk anymore surprises. Maybe Jeremy should go in with you,” suggested the Sergeant.

“No. I said I got this.” Jess’s tone indicated the issue was not open for negotiation.

“You sure?” came Jeremy’s voice as he appeared on the scene, somehow finding enough room in to fit into the door jam, next to the sergeant.

“Yes. I’m sure,” reassured Jess, parting the two men as she pushed past them and walked towards the interrogation room, where Beth sat waiting. Jess had wanted to use a room less institutional feeling, but it was the only room available on such short notice.

Jess entered into a small 8x8 room and found Beth sitting behind the square table, sipping a latte she’d had clearly gotten from the vending machine in the hall.

“Oh good, you got yourself a drink. Sorry about the wait,” said Jess, settling into the chair across from Beth.  

“No problem. You guys paid for it,” smiled Beth. She scooped up her dark locks into a tight bun and stabbed it with one of the pencils on the table, locking it place. She was ready for business. “So...what could Robert have done that was so bad that you’d pretend to be a college student and willingly sit through one of his dreadful classes?” She raised an eyebrow as she took another sip of the bitter latte.

“Murder,” replied Jess, matter-of-factly.

Beth’s nose burned as she snorted halfway through her sip, sending the coffee in the opposite direction.

“What?” She coughed, “Murder? That can’t be right.”

They sat in the room for close to an hour going over the details of the case. Beth learned Robert had been a widow before he married Ava’s mother, which wouldn’t have been so concerning if not for the circumstances surrounding her death. It appeared that Robert ensured everyone he married to was worth more dead than alive, and they all seemed to die of a premature heart attack. Red flags were going up all around Beth.  

“You know that he’s included us in his will, don’t you?” asked Beth.

“Yes. We received that information a few weeks ago.”

“Did he take out a life insurance policy on us too?”

“Yes and No. Your mother is insured but you are not.”

“Are you kidding? We have to get her out of there!” Beth was screaming now. She pushed back her chair and stood in frustration. With all this information in hand, why were they not arresting this bastard?

“We can’t. It’s too early. There isn’t enough hard evidence and he would likely get off. We have to do this right to make sure he is locked away,” explained Jess.

“What are you talking about? Do you realize how many times my mother has been in to see the doctor in the past few months? Have you guys even looked into that?” Beth was leaning forward on table, staring Jess in the face with an expression of bewilderment. How could these people be sitting back and watching as the same events played out for the third time? “Do you think it will end any different for my mother? She could be dead by the end of the week! She’s lost a bunch of weight too!”    

“Actually, we didn’t know about the doctor visits. But according to the timeline, your mother is safe for a while. Any death that occurs too soon after an insurance policy is taken out is immediately suspicious, and Robert would know that,” reassured Jess.

“I don’t care. I want her out!” Beth position was unchanging.

“Beth, please sit down,” said Jess, motioning to the now vacant seat. “Of course you want her out and safe, we all do. We just need more evidence, but you can help us with that.”

“I can help you?” repeated Beth doubtfully. “How?”

“Well, as you can see, I’ve established a friendship with Ava. And, although I’ve gained some access into your home - it’s limited. It would have taken at least another month after Ava returned from her European trip to establish something stronger to enable more opportunities for searching.” Jess stopped there, hoping Beth would connect the dots, and she did not disappoint.

“I wouldn’t even know what to look for,” replied Beth.

“Syringes, odd pills or powders, codes or notes you see written on papers, receipts from places you’ve never heard of. Basically anything that doesn’t look like it belongs.”

By the time Beth looked at her watch again, three hours had flown by.

“Okay. I’m in,” said Beth, her voice deadpan.  

“Just one more thing,” added Jess.

“Really? One more thing?”

“Yes. One of the most important things, actually. You can’t breathe a word of this to anyone. Not a soul. Not even to your best friend. No one.”

“No problem. My mother’s life is at stake, so you don’t really need to remind me of that,” replied Beth, smiling inwardly. These people had no idea how well she could keep a secret.

Beth drove quickly away from the station, glancing at the large ‘Montecito Police Department’ sign in her rearview mirror. What the hell just happened? Robert? A murderer? Although Beth promised not to breathe a word of this, that didn’t really include Stu. Did it? God knows I can trust Stu! It’s just one more secret he has to keep. Beth pondered this as she continued her drive. She wasn’t exactly sure yet if she wanted to confide in Stu, she’d worry about that later. Right now, all she wanted to do was confirm, with her own eyes, that her mother was okay.

Will Beth confide in Stu about this latest scandal, or keep the shocking discovery to herself?

You Decided

Click To Reveal Results

KEEP DISCOVERY TO HERSELF

57%

CONFIDE IN STU

43%

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~Toni Morrison

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