Previously on Montecito: Beth and Stu face a crisis with their Network app as they learn it has been disappearing from members’ phones. Once they solve that problem, they brainstorm new ways to increase users, and settle on planning a Network party; Nicole muses over the changes to her body and the fact that Robert wants her to get rid of the baby; Claire experiences more health issues, prompting a visit to the doctor again. Beth and Jess decide to take in a movie, while Beth learns that Noah is back in town from his vacation in the Hamptons.
When Beth arrives at the coffee shop, does she meet just Noah alone, or has he brought Elise with him?Click To Reveal Results
En Route to The M Coffee Shop
Beth took the now familiar turns of the road to the college quickly, almost perfunctorily. Her peripheral view caught a glance of one of the many sprawling mansions along her route. It stopped her momentarily as she processed a thought. I can’t believe I’ve become so accustomed to this neighborhood that I no longer even register the view. She laughed. Now, she took in the beauty of her surroundings, trying to appreciate it.
Beth smirked again. Maybe it’s because I’m finished my first year of college and Spring is in the air, that I’m so sappy. Whatever it was, Beth was going to enjoy it. She was particularly going to enjoy the next four months off from school. Sure, there would be a lot of work to do on Network, things they’ve obviously been neglecting in favor of school work, if the latest crisis was any indication. But, there would be a lot of time to just relax too, head out to her very own pool, everyday if she wanted. Who needed Europe? She’d just have to avoid the devil himself, Robert, as much as possible when she was home. Thank goodness he was teaching a few summer session courses so that he would at least be out of the house quite a bit.
Beth pulled into The M’s parking lot, congratulating herself on successfully avoiding any thoughts about Noah or this impromptu meeting. That would have just made her unnecessarily nervous. And blotchy.
She turned off the car and sat, looking through the large windows of the coffee shop, to see if she could spot Noah. As she scanned the few customers at the tables, she finally stopped when she picked out the unmistakable, broad shoulders of the one and only Noah Bethell. As he moved forward in line, he turned and Beth could see his profile.
She sighed. Good God, that boy is beautiful. All that extra beach time in the Hamptons had bronzed his skin, and with his khaki shorts, crisp white t-shirt and sunglasses on top his head, he looked like he stepped off the cover of a magazine.
From the corner of her eye, Beth got a glimpse of a blonde head. Oh my God! Did he bring his new girlfriend? Her heart began to race as she got out of her car and headed to the door. The blonde was a petite little thing in a petite little sundress. Beth watched as she reached up and rested her hand on the shoulder of...the shoulder of another guy standing next to Noah. She let out of a sigh of relief when she realized the blonde head belonged to just some random customer.
Noah smiled when he caught sight of Beth standing in the doorway. “Hey, you made good time! I would have waited to order with you, but I figured you’d be a bit longer.” He secured the lid to his drink and walked toward Beth.
As he approached, Beth frantically wondered what to do. Do I hug him, do I not?
Thankfully, Noah answered the question for her, placing his coffee on the nearest table and drawing Beth into a big hug.
“Here, let me buy you a coffee. What would you like?” Noah asked, retrieving his coffee and guiding Beth back to the line. The gentle pressure his hand made on the small of her back was enough to send a shiver up her spine.
After ordering, the two settled in at a table. Beth cleared her throat nervously, but couldn’t think of what to say. She covered by taking a sip of her coffee.
“Thanks for meeting me,” Noah smiled. “I was going stir crazy in my dorm. Literally everyone is off on holiday somewhere. It’s a ghost town here! How come you didn’t go away to Europe with Ava?”
Beth toyed with the napkin on the table as she answered, “Oh, my evil stepfather was footing the bill, so obviously, I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than accept anything from him.” She laughed, half-heartedly, thinking briefly of the horrible, embarrassing scene when Noah had stood up for her against Robert.
He too recalled the scene, and added bitterly, “Yeah he’s an asshole. I get it. I wouldn’t go either. Well, I’m glad that you stayed! It means we can hang out more. I had a lot of fun working on Kilmer’s project with you this past semester, you crack me up!” He chuckled, shaking his head at all the sarcastic texts that used to go back and forth between them.
“Yeah, you’re not so bad in the sarcasm department either. So, why aren’t you still hanging out in the Hamptons with everyone?” asked Beth.
“Oh, my Dad had some clients he needed to entertain, so we were kicked out.”
“We?” Beth asked, trying to appear calm. Was Elise staying with him?
“Me, Josh and Jace.” Noah laughed. “You should have seen all the uppity noses out of joint. Josh and Jace completely shook up the Hamptons.” Noah shook his head. “I’ve never seen Josh so happy. And Jace is a good guy, pretty funny actually. They decided to go on some kind of road trip, unplanned. Just go where the road takes them.”
“Couldn’t you stay with anyone else out there? There’s gotta be a lot of people you know in the Hamptons?” Beth continued, trying to dig for information.
“Well, actually, most of my friends out there go to Europe or Asia or wherever in the first part of the break, and only go to the Hamptons in the latter part, more like July and August. So, there was pretty much just the parents left. And, well, this girl Elise-”
“Elise?” Beth asked, with all the nonchalance she could muster. She took another sip of her coffee.
“Oh this girl I met. Well, not really met, I used to see her around for years in the Hamptons when we were kids, but we reconnected this time. Get this - she’s actually a student here at Montecito! But for some reason, our paths never crossed until now.”
“Wow, that’s amazing.”
“Yeah, I told her to join Network, and then we’d be able to keep in touch this year.”
“Oh, good idea.” Beth tried to think of something else to add, when she noticed her phone light up on the table. She had been so focussed on Noah’s beautiful face, she hadn’t even glanced at her cell once. She frowned as she picked it up and saw numerous missed calls from Stu, and then one recent text from Dean Clark, summoning her to his office. She groaned.
“Something wrong?” asked Noah, concern in his voice.
Beth looked up, “No, um, it’s nothing I’m sure, but I’m sorry, I do have to go. Thanks so much for the coffee. I’ll see you later?”
“Sure.” Noah remained at the table a little longer, wondering who had texted that made Beth jump up so quickly.
Beth dashed to her car and tried to call Stu. “Pick up! Pick up!” After several rings and a voicemail, she threw her phone onto the passenger seat in frustration. “What do you want now Clark?” The two minute car ride across the campus to Clark’s office felt like an hour. She hadn’t seen Clark since she and Stu had disastrously ran into him at Meadow View Care Facility, where she and Stu had been trying to uncover information. What does he want now? More of an explanation? Beth had figured that since she was finished with all her courses, as long she kept paying Clark on time, she wouldn’t have to see him. So much for that theory.
Beth parked right near the door as the parking lot was pretty empty. Not a lot of students were taking summer courses, she surmised. She tried Stu one more time, but to no avail.
Beth slammed the car door shut, shifted her purse higher on her shoulder and entered the building. Unconsciously, she pushed her shoulders back and jutted her jaw upwards, an act of defiance in preparation for facing Clark. She tightened her ponytail, feeling the comforting pull on her scalp. Seconds later, phone in hand, she felt, rather than heard, the vibration.
Beth breezed into the office, ignoring the bulldog at her desk, and walked right into Clark’s inner sanctum, unannounced. She could vaguely hear the bulldog’s protests as the secretary called out, but Beth simply ignored them and shut the heavy mahogany door. She took one deep breath before turning to face Clark.
“You summoned, Professor Dumbledore?”
Clark ignored her, continuing to type on his computer. A power play, no doubt.
Beth looked at Stu, who was seated in one of the two large chairs in front of the desk. He sat completely upright, looking as uncomfortable as he clearly felt. He merely shrugged his shoulders and looked down, willing Beth not to make one of her characteristic sarcastic remarks that would surely make this worse. He had a bad feeling about this meeting.
After several moments of continued silence, as Clark made sure they knew that he was in complete control of this meeting, he finally deigned to speak. “Well, I will make this short and sweet. You two have already wasted enough of my time, so I don’t plan on wasting much more on you. I have learned that you, Stuart Harris, are in cahoots with this miscreant here, as co-owner of Network. You are running a business on school property without my permission, which is expressly against school policy, so I have no choice but to expel you.”
“Wait, what?” gasped Stu.
“Hold on a second! First of all, he isn’t running Network with me, I’m doing it all on my own. Sure, he knows about it, but it’s all my business. None of it is his, so you have no right to expel him. Besides, I’m not running my business on school property, it operates out in cyberspace, and the headquarters are out of my house, which is clearly NOT on school property and-”
“Oh nice try, my dear,” interrupted Clark, the sarcasm and disdain dripping from his voice. He made a face, as if the very words were bitter in his mouth. “I don’t think so. I happen to know that you two here are partners in this little venture, and that Stuart is working on the program on school property, in his dorm. So, my decision stands. He’s expelled.” Clark sat back in his chair and watched with satisfaction as the two processed his announcement. He folded his stubby fingers together, a smirk expanding across his round, ruddy face.
Beth drew in a breath and looked at Stu, trying to silently communicate some kind of plan to deal with this. “Well . . . you are clearly mistaken about this whole thing. I occasionally ask Stu about some glitches when I encounter them, he’s a pretty good coder, so a second pair of eyes always helps, but it’s just a favor. He doesn’t get paid! He’s just-”
“Enough of your lies!” bellowed Clark, pounding his fist on the table.
Despite herself, Beth jumped at the sudden outburst.
“You need to shut your mouth Beth! I don’t want to hear it!” Clark continued. “You are a filthy liar, and if you thought that you two could go behind my back and manipulate my sister, you were dead wrong! That was a costly mistake. Now, as I see it, you just have two options. Either Stuart here gets expelled, or you double your payment to me each month, seeing as there are two of you. Actually, scratch that, doubling my fee would make it $8000 a month that you owe me. Why don’t we make it an even $10,000? That way you won’t need to worry your pretty little head with complicated computations.” With that he turned back to his computer and resumed typing. “No need to make a decision right this second. Get back to me.” He continued typing as though they weren’t worth the energy it took to turn his head, effectively dismissing them.
Beth and Stu sat there dumbfounded for a few seconds before finally rising to their feet. Beth did, however, note the smug satisfaction on Clark’s face as he sat there, pecking out his email, or whatever he was typing, with his two fat index fingers. She shook her head in disgust. This man was her father.
Luke Skywalker had nothing on her.
Neither of them had spoken even a word until they opened the main door to the outside world. The sun blasted them with light, and the two shielded their eyes, almost surprised to see that the sun was indeed still shining in the middle of this new nightmare. Beth finally broke the silence. “Let’s go to your dorm.” Stu merely nodded and hopped into the passenger seat of her beloved Honda Civic.
In continued silence, Beth drove and Stu stared aimlessly out the window, silently rebuking the groups of carefree co-eds laughing and talking together along the route. He sighed outwardly and could sense the annoyance in Beth’s demeanor; it wasn’t as if he was sighing at her. While it was obvious that Beth was spoiling for a fight with any poor sap that happened to get in her way, he wasn’t about to be that sap. He didn’t have it in him. So, he stayed silent and all sighs thereafter were inward.
45 min South of Montecito
Jess pushed her glasses up a little higher on the bridge of her nose. Having worn contacts since she went undercover, she had completely forgotten to tighten the screws on the sides, and they now threatened to slide off her face in protest. No matter – they would do for now, and she needed them to read the street signs and home addresses. She was meeting an old friend and forensic chemist for coffee, Parker. It had been a while seen she last saw him. And, she had missed his housewarming last month, not wanting to risk blowing her cover. Beth looked down at the wine bottle, which had toppled over and was rolling around on the passenger floor. She made sure to be prepared with a congratulations/housewarming/need-to-ask-you-for-a-favor bottle of the most expensive red she could afford.
Jess reached over to the radio to lower Arianna Grande’s voice, which had been blaring out through her open windows. She needed to concentrate while looking for this place. Finding Parker’s street, she turned left onto Ridge Parkway but realized she didn’t need to look far. She immediately spotted Parker standing in his driveway, removing his gym bag from his SUV. He was about the biggest geek she knew, and also the hottest. You wouldn’t know it from looking at his permanently tanned muscles that he could answer 90% of the questions on Jeopardy correctly. The whole package was very misleading. She pulled up beside him and let out a loud whistle of approval through her opened window. He smiled appreciatively.
“Was that for me? Or the fact that I actually own my very own driveway?” he smiled as he opened her car door.
“Both,” she grinned, stepping out and leaning in for a hug before handing over the bottle of red wine. “Congratulations,” she added walking towards the front door.
“Thanks, but I get the distinct feeling you are here for business and not just a tour of the place.” He unlocked the front door and gestured for her to enter in first.
“You would be right, unfortunately. I’ll have to come by another time and get the grand tour. For today I need to pick your brain a bit.”
Parker smiled as he threw his bag on a chair and walked into the kitchen. He pulled out a seat for Jess and himself at the same time. “What do you need?”
“Well, I’m a little stumped on a case I’m working on,” she began. “I’ve been working undercover for a few months and I’m running out of time.”
“What kind of case?” he asked, leaning back in his chair, effectively giving Jess a flashback to their early days at the Justice Institute. She remembered how she was the student studying all night for exams and he was the guy who would lean back, looking as though he were in his own world, and then score the highest mark in the class.
“I think this guy – sorry, but I’m going to leave his name out, killed two of his wives.” She took out a few notes she had made in a pocket notebook, not wanting to bring any files with her.
“Probably a good idea,” he agreed. “How did these women die? What was listed on the coroner’s report?”
“Both of them?” he sounded surprised.
“Yup, and they were both fairly young. The first wife died in her early 20’s and the second one was 49 years old. In each case there was money to be made in insurance policies, plus the second wife came from money. A great deal actually.”
“So finding a motive shouldn’t be too difficult.” He locked his fingers behind his head. “So what exactly do you need from me?”
“I need that chemist brain of yours to help me out. I want to know what mimics a heart attack. What kinds of things should I be looking for? And don’t ask about exhuming any bodies – he had them both cremated.”
“Clever,” nodded Parker, appreciating the quality of the cover up. These were the kind of cases he loved to be involved in, simply because cracking them was more of a challenge.
“Yes, the bastard is clever. So what can you tell me that’ll shed some light on how he could have done it?” Jess took out a pen from her purse, and flipped through her pocket book for a fresh page.
Parker sat up straight now. “Okay, so you’ll start by looking into your typical poisons.” He shrugged as he rattled off all the obvious ways to kill a person, “You know, most pesticides, especially rat or rodent poisons, arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.”
“Yes, I thought of those myself and I assume that once his current wife dies of a massive coronary, the toxicologist will be looking a bit more carefully at those possibilities, now that we’re on to him. I guess I’m looking for poisons that may go undetected or metabolize quickly.”
“For sure, then you’ll want to look into a possible succinylcholine poisoning. It’s in liquid form and would be administered by injection. It’s an effective drug and a powerful one and more importantly, it’s not normally tested for in standard toxicology screens.”
“How does it work?” asked Jess, scrawling down the information without looking up.
“It’s essentially a muscle relaxant, which, when given in a high enough dosage, would paralyze the respiratory system. If he was able to get ahold of this drug, his victim would have slowly suffocated to death, and it would most likely appear to be a heart attack as the culprit.”
“Where can you find this stuff?”
“Hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical clinics. You find it online, too. I’ve seen it sold by manufacturers from India and Mexico. Remember, it is often used to relieve pain and relax muscles after a surgery.”
“Right,” nodded Jess, making a note to look into Robert’s credit card statements and see if he was careless enough to order this stuff online.
“You’ll also want to look into a plant called aconite. The whole plant is poisonous, but the root is the most deadly part because it contains alkaloid.” He pondered for a minute and then added, “It’s pretty strong stuff, actually. Hunters used to lace their spears and arrow tips with it to hunt down whales, but found the mammal would become paralyzed and drown before they could get to it.”
“How much would it take to kill a hundred and twenty pound woman?” asked Jess.
“Well, a tablespoon of the root’s ointment is enough to kill a 180 pound man, so less than that. Best of all, it is largely unnoticed if mixed into a dark drink.”
“Best of all?” asked Jess slightly disgusted.
“Well, if you’re planning a perfect murder, going undetected is a selling point, I’d say.”
“I guess so,” she reluctantly agreed. Her phone lit up with a text message from Jeremy.
“So, do you have time for the grand tour? I not only own my own driveway, it came with a garage!” he said, his voice cracking into laughter.
“I’m so sorry, Parker, but I have to go. The sergeant is breathing down my neck and now he’s going over my files while I’m here. I gotta go.” She grabbed her purse, throwing her pen and notebook inside before leaning in for a hug. “Thanks so much!”
“No problem, anytime, you know that. Plus, now that you’re armed with all this information, I fully expect you to use it if I ever show up on a coroner’s table due to a premature heart attack.” He chuckled as he walked her to the door.
“Let’s hope you pick out better spouses than that!” She returned the chuckle walking towards her vehicle.
Montecito Dorm Rooms
Beth threw her purse on Stu’s bed in disgust and began pacing the tiny room. She kicked angrily at the clothes that were in her path. “Don’t you ever pick up anything Stu?” She blew out an angry breath.
Stu stiffened, but with remarkable self-control, ignored Beth and plopped face down on his bed.
When Beth realized that Stu wasn’t taking the bait, she lost a little steam and sat down at the chair next to Stu’s rarely used desk. Stu favored his bed for all work, Network or otherwise, and the desk had merely become a holding place for his clothes, books, snacks and even his shoes. “What the fuck just happened?”
Stu lifted his head and turned to face Beth. “I have no idea. How did he suddenly come to know that I’m co-owner of Network? Do you think he’s bluffing?”
“Honestly, I have no clue. He could be bluffing, because how could he actually know? There’s no way. You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”
“Of course not!”
“Well, then he probably just guessed because he saw the two of us together at Meadow View. I don’t think he has any actual evidence that you are involved, or that we are working out of your dorm room. I think that was just a lucky guess.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t even really matter whether he actually has proof or not. We are fucked either way. We still have to pay. What am I going to do, really? Deny it, take him to the board and say my expulsion is unfounded? Then they would have to look into you running Network, and who knows? I’m sure they’d find a way to shut us down, or sanction us or something. Either way we have to pay. So yeah, like I said. Fucked. Royally fucked.” Stu dropped, face down, and groaned into his pillow.
“Okay, let’s think about this rationally,” began Beth.
“Ha,” smirked Stu.
“What? I can be rational. So, as I was saying, if we look at this rationally, even with the loss of all those users, likely most of them will come back. We probably still are looking at roughly 2000 users, give or take. So, at $10 a month, gross, we are bringing in $20,000. Subtract Clark’s increased fee of . . .$10,000 – Jesus! He’s taking half the money!” She stopped, just realizing how much of a pig Clark really was. He takes away half of the gross income, without even lifting a finger! She sighed and forced herself to continue. “Once we factor in our carrying costs, roughly a grand, that leaves about $9000 to share equally between us. So $4500.”
“Yeah, that drops us almost in half now. I think last month we each made $8000! Unbelievable!”
“I’m sorry Stu,” Beth said quietly. “I know you rely on this to pay for your tuition.”
Stu looked up at Beth in surprise. “Why are you sorry? This isn’t your fault! Blame that bastard Clark!”
“Well, he is my father after all! And, if I hadn’t been so impulsive, goading him in front of his sister at Meadow View, maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to punish me?”
“Beth. Network was entirely your brainchild in the first place. I wouldn’t have any money at all, if you hadn’t thought this thing up!” Stu reassured.
“Okay, that is true. It was a damn good idea, wasn’t it?” Beth chuckled half-heartedly.
“Yes, and you’re right. We should stop crying and feeling sorry for ourselves, and start planning that Network Shindig to bring in more users. After that, it won’t matter that Clark raised his fee!” Stu sat up, gaining back some optimism.
“Good point Stu. I knew there was a reason I kept you around. Let’s get to it. We need a theme?”
“A theme? Look at you, becoming all Montecito, and snooty with your parties with themes.” He finished with a pretentious British accent, to which Beth laughed, genuinely this time.
“Ah yes, I’ve learned from the master herself – sadly – Nicole Cameron. As reprehensible a human being that she is, she can plan some wicked ass parties,” Beth admitted grudgingly as she grabbed Stu’s computer off his bed. “Can I use your computer?”
“I’m surprised you’re even asking,” muttered Stu.
“What was that?”
“I thought so. Oh, crap.” Beth stopped, looking up at Stu.
“What is it now?” He was almost afraid to ask.
“Elise Harper’s application to Network,” came the reply from Beth, as if that said it all.
“Um, okay. Do we know Elise Harper?” asked Stu, scratching his head. “That’s good?”
“No, it’s not good. Elise Harper is Noah’s newest distraction, and now she’s applying for Network. I don’t know if I want to accept her.”
Stu raised his arms in the air, backing a few feet away. “I’m not going to say a word! I learned my lesson last time when I accepted Nicole’s application. I won’t make that mistake twice! I won’t tell you that we need the money, I won’t mention that now seems like a bad time to cut people out based on who they like, I won’t say one word. It’s up to you.”
“Yeah, you won’t say one word, will you? I know, I know, we want to increase users, not decrease them. And, she’s the quintessential Network member with her money, popularity and looks. Yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s just . .” Beth paused, not wanting to finish that statement out loud. She didn’t want to admit that she’d like to deny Elise’s application because then she and Noah couldn’t go to Network parties together. But who was she kidding? Noah would probably either not go himself, or just take Elise anyways. Who would even question the great Noah Bethell?
Stu, wisely, did not finish her sentence either and left it all up to Beth.
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?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.