A/N: Another freakish idea, courtesy of my high school creative writing class. It's weird, lacks detail and perfect grammar, and has a few plot holes… but I've gotta admit it doesn't suck. Just read it.
"—and I leave 1.5 million dollars to my niece, Madison. Good luck, honey, and don't spend it all in one place."
Madison Smith could feel her jaw dropping in shock as the executor of her uncle's will finished reading. Did he say million? As in dollars? What in the world am I going to do with all that money? I never imagined Uncle Joe was hoarding so much… And why leave it all to me? Madison glanced at the bespectacled man in the corner of her eye. What about—
"That's it?" a harsh voice interrupted Madison's thoughts. The chair beside her was shoved back suddenly, the legs grating against the linoleum floor as her younger brother stood up. Edward scowled at the crinkled sheet of paper that had left him as penniless as ever. "The old bastard didn't leave me a cent?!"
The family lawyer, Bob Mitchell, flashed her brother one of those patented, too-wide smiles meant to pacify even the most belligerent of men. "You have my condolences, Mr. Smith, but your uncle's will clearly states that the money will go to your sister. I'm afraid there's nothing more I can do."
"What a load of crap!" Edward snarled, throwing Madison a searing glare, as though she had planned this all along.
White-lipped, Madison met his furious gaze and said, "Sit down, Ed, and stop making a scene."
Edward's fists clenched, and the sound of his teeth grating was nearly audible. Only two years her junior, Edward had never appreciated being talked down to, even when they were kids. He was the problem child, the one always involved in some kind of trouble—and always of his own making. Torturing his sister, fighting with the neighboring kids, failing his classes, accidentally killing their grandmother's cat, getting fired from every part-time job, crashing the family car… The list of misdemeanors had only increased as Edward grew up.
He was an eternal disappointment to their family. At twenty-eight, Edward was still living in their mother's house, and barely making rent with the meager salary from selling used cars and a side job driving an ice cream truck during the summer. Edward had never even considered going to college as an option, and Madison a wife and kids were anywhere in his future. Actually, she was pretty sure his interests didn't even swing in that direction.
Uncle Joe, the man whose will was being disputed, had been their mother's brother. He was a retired cop and had practically raised Madison and her brother after their father left. Madison had been the apple of his eye; she could do no wrong with her uncle. Edward, on the other hand, had never made it into his good graces. Joe was disgusted by the way Edward had run his own life into the ground, and then tried to drag his mother down with him. Once Madison got to thinking, she wasn't really surprised the money had all gone to her. What kind of idiot would ever entrust her brother with even one hundred dollars?
"You should have known this was coming, Ed," Madison said in a superior tone. "Uncle Joe warned you to shape up—"
Edward cut her off by slamming his hand down onto Mr. Mitchell's desk. Bob's serene mask slid a fraction when a framed picture of his Harley Davidson toppled to the floor. A noticeable crack spilt the glass across the bike's handlebars.
"Edward!" Madison snapped at his display of childishness. She stood up to gather the broken frame off of the floor. "I am so sorry, Mr. Mitchell. Please forgive my brother," Madison sent a patronizing look in his direction, "he doesn't know how to control himself around other people—"
Edward sneered at her. "I don't need to take this!" He pushed past Madison, breathing heavily. He jerked the office door open and stormed out. The door slammed shut behind him, sending a tremor throughout the room. Madison held her breath as a shiny diploma rattled against the wall, but didn't fall.
Left in the wake of one of Edward's infamous temper tantrums, Madison pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "I just don't know what I'm going to do with him anymore..."
"Don't worry about it, Madison." Bob patted her hand, his fingers lingering just a moment too long, and Madison fought the urge to roll her eyes. The man was married for Christ's sake!
"I'm sure Edward will get over this soon enough," he assured her, and Madison wanted to believe him. "It is just money, after all, and he will have to accept your uncle's judgment. Just wait, you'll see, in a month or so he'll be back to normal and ringing your doorbell for a loan!"
"Yes, that does sound like Edward," Madison agreed in a dry tone.
Bob was right. He'd probably forget all about it. Edward was well used to not getting everything he wanted by now...
Timothy Baker tightened his grip on the handful of leashes as Toodles pounced on the new Golden Retriever. The copper Pomeranian was unsuccessful in his attempted to take down the much larger dog. Daisy simply huffed in irritation and nipped at his foreleg.
"Break it up you two!" Timothy ordered, pushing Toodles aside with his sneaker before the hyper mutt dug himself any deeper.
The dogs were acting particularly rambunctious that day, and it was all the nineteen-year-old could do to keep them from running amok. His usual route around the neighborhood only included four dogs, but a new couple had moved into Mr. Warner's old house and offered twice his regular price to walk their Retriever. Timothy had taken the offer, of course, as he could always use the money. Now he was trying to handle three dogs, plus Daisy, and was on his way to pick up the fifth. As one of his charges made a dash for the nearest flowerbed, Timothy wondered if the extra cash was really worth it.
"Pumpkin, get away from Mrs. Cole's petunias! You know how hard she works on those!" Timothy dragged the skinny Dachshund back onto the sidewalk.
One block, and a short mishap when Lola the Afghan tried to investigate a speeding car, later, Timothy walked up Madison Smith's driveway. The thirty-year-old woman was already locking up her front door and heading to work.
"Hey, Ms. Smith, sorry I'm late!" Timothy waved toward her with one hand and nearly lost his hold on Toodles' leash. The woman laughed at Timothy's harried expression, and he smiled sheepishly at his old English teacher.
"It's no big deal, Timothy," she said. "Sam is around the back. I think he's getting anxious for his walk; he's been barking all morning. Just make sure you lock the gate back up when you finish." Madison climbed into her silver Ford. "I'll see you later!"
Ms. Smith flashed him a beatific smile before tearing out of the driveway. She was obviously running late for work as school should have been starting in an hour. Timothy was sure her tardiness had something to do with the day before. He remembered Ms. Smith mentioning something about an appointment with her family lawyer...
Timothy shrugged it off and went to retrieve his last dog. Maybe Edward could fill him in on the details later.
Edward Smith was Madison's younger brother, although from what he'd heard they weren't very close. Edward was actually twenty-eight, something that was sure to cause problems if anyone were to look closer into Timothy's frequent visits with the older man. They were, after all, in a relationship.
Timothy's tastes had never run in quite the right direction for his parents. He could only imagine how much lower their opinion of him would fall if they knew about Edward—not that Timothy cared for their opinion much these days.
Timothy was the last thing his parents had wanted in a son, holding just about every quality his father considered distasteful in a 'real man.' He was blonde and blue-eyed, with a slim build and fair complexion. Timothy had heard often enough that he looked like a girl. He had also never been the football fan his father was, nor into any other kind of sport, at that. Actually, his only hobby was gardening, one more thing to shame his parents at the family reunion.
While he'd had no friends to speak of since graduating high school, the people in the neighborhood didn't mind his quirks too much. Timothy had never made an effort to hide his sexual preferences, and while no boy his age would come within ten feet of Timothy, the elderly residents found his sweet nature endearing. They were perfectly content to let Timothy walk their dogs every morning, and the animals didn't give a shit about his character as long as he carried a pocketful of Beggin' Strips.
When Timothy wasn't taking a stroll around the neighborhood with his yapping pack, he could usually be found occupying his time with Edward. The man was one of the few people Timothy felt he could connect with on a personal level. He wasn't the best catch in a boyfriend, being only mildly attractive and flat broke. He had a very plain-looking face, straight brown hair, and dark brown eyes hidden behind his glasses. He wasn't a talkative person or even very romantic, but that didn't matter to Timothy. The reason he stayed with Edward was because he was the first person to accept Timothy as he was. Edward didn't ask him to change anything, and Timothy offered him the same courtesy in return. They were still in the earliest stages of any relationship, but Timothy was happy enough just to have someone who cared.
As Timothy continued his circuit around the neighborhood, he turned onto Edward's street, hoping to catch him home. His job as a car salesman only called him in every other day, and it wasn't the season for ice cream yet. Unless he had an errand to run for his mother, there was no reason Edward shouldn't be around.
Up ahead, further down the street, Timothy heard a car's tires screeching against the pavement. The dogs started barking like crazy, and he had to restrain Lola from running ahead. Stupid animals just couldn't resist.
Timothy finally reached the three-storey house old Mrs. Smith owned. It was a nice enough place, with plenty of trees dotting the front and back yards. There was a door on the side of the house that Timothy meant to enter, knowing it led to the basement Edward occupied; however, Timothy's attention was diverted by the front door as he walked onto the property. It was wide open and swinging in the fall breeze.
Timothy moved closer to take a look. He tried to keep the dogs back, wary of encountering any of Mrs. Smith's fifteen cats.
"Hello?" he called, as he peered through the open door. "Is anyone there? Edward?" Timothy stepped into the front hall and glanced around curiously. "The front door was open so I just—"
Timothy choked at the sight of a crumpled figure in a white terry robe lying at the foot of the stairs. The old woman didn't move an inch, even as a black and white tabby pawed at her sleeve.
A black Sedan pulled to a sudden stop in front of the high school. The passenger door jerked open and a fifteen-year-old hopped out, hoisting her purple knapsack onto her shoulder impatiently. A woman with curly blonde hair and a mini skirt far too short for someone of her age leaned over for a last glimpse of the girl.
"Buh-bye, Dana, have fun at school!" She blew an exaggerated kiss towards the girl, who tried to contain her rolling eyes. "I'll see you this afternoon, right? You promised we would do some mother-daughter bonding!"
The teenager sighed and turned her back on her step-mother. "Yeah, Sharon, whatever."
Dana Mitchell couldn't get away from the woman fast enough as she hurried into the school. She once more cursed the county for not sending a bus anywhere near her home. Then she cursed her father for marrying the blonde bimbo who insisted on driving her every morning in order to 'get to know each other more.'
Dana didn't know what her father saw in his latest wife, other than a pair of legs and fake boobs, and she didn't understand why he would tie himself to Sharon in such a permanent fashion. Dana vaguely recalled some kind of talk about her needing a female role model to keep an eye on her. If her father actually expected Dana to look up to Sharon, the epitome of feminine stupidity, then he had another thing coming.
Sharon was thirty-eight years old, with the mental capacity of a teenage girl. She wasn't a bad person per se, just a little slow... and ditzy... and far too devoted to her father's money. It explained why Sharon had agreed to marry Dana's dad—she didn't seem like the settle down type, otherwise. He was also a sugar daddy at heart, and that phony charm of his drew middle-aged bimbos like flies to honey.
He's a lawyer, damn it, Dana thought. Aren't they supposed to be all serious and sensible? Instead, her father rode around on that flashy motorcycle of his, dressed in enough leather to equal two whole cows, and allowing his pay check and glittering teeth do all the talking for him. It was fairly sickening to watch. Especially, Dana scowled, when he's dating his own secretary at the same time, and Sharon hasn't got a clue.
The tardy bell rang just as Dana entered her first class, English with Ms. Smith. The teacher herself looked slightly out of breath as she raced into the room seconds after the bell, dutifully ignoring the snickers of her students. She grinned upon spotting Dana and began to call roll. Dana returned the teacher's smile.
Ms. Smith, or Madison, as Dana had been told to call her outside of school, was an old friend of the family, so to speak. The Smiths were long-time clients of her father's law firm, so she had known them for years. Madison was actually as close to a female role model as Dana was ever going to get. She understood Dana's irritation with her family life, knowing all too well what Bob could be like, and offered a sympathetic ear to her problems. Dana would never admit it aloud, but Madison was one of the few adults she respected and—dare she say it—even liked.
She was a little excited to finally be in Madison's English class, as well, although she had to hide her familiarity with the teacher from the other students. It wouldn't do to have her reputation soiled by whispers of 'teacher's pet.' Her father's money kept her just a step above the swirly victims on the social ladder, but that didn't mean Dana was taking any chances.
"Settle down, class," Ms. Smith began in a chipper voice, "and please take out your essays from yesterday. I want them finished and handed in by the end of class."
Madison grabbed a marker from her desk and moved toward the board. She began jotting down page numbers and instructions. "As soon as you're done, open your Literature books to page fifty-six, and answer the critical thinking questions."
There was the sound of thirty students rifling through their bags and pulling out supplies, thumping text books and binders onto the desks, clicking pens and scribbling.
Madison sat down at her laptop and pulled up the grade book. The room was silent for the next thirty minutes except for the shuffling of paper, typing keys, and the low murmur of an occasional voice. The diligent quiet was finally broken when the school phone at Madison's side rang shrilly. A few students glanced up with mild interest as Madison cut off the noise and lifted the phone from its cradle.
"Hello, this is Ms. Smith speaking."
The caller's voice was staticky, but familiar all the same. Madison frowned at the stutter and turned her back on the students before answering.
"Timothy, is that you? Is there something wrong?"
"Madison, they're taking your mom to the hospital."
Before her knees gave out, Madison sat down heavily. "Timothy, tell me what happened. Is she going to be alright?"
"They don't know yet," Timothy sounded uncertain. "They said she fractured her hip... and she might have a concussion."
"Timothy, what happened?" Madison repeated in an unsteady voice.
"She fell down the stairs. I was walking by her house, and the door was open. I found her on the floor." He was babbling in a strange tone. "Madison, she woke up when the ambulance got there, and she told me what happened..." Timothy seemed to hesitate. "She said it was Edward."
Madison's blood ran cold. "W-what?"
Timothy's words continued in a rush, "I don't think he meant to hurt her, though!" Before Madison could ask, he elaborated. "She said they had a fight. Edward was angry about something—something about money? I don't know the details about that. Anyway, they were arguing about Edward getting money from somewhere. Apparently, Mrs. Smith disagreed with him and Edward got mad. He started shouting and finally left—I think I heard his car driving away right before I arrived. Then she said she tried to follow him and tripped on one of her cats. She fell down the stairs, and I guess that's when I found her. But Madison," Timothy pleaded, "it wasn't Edward's fault! He probably doesn't even know what happened!"
Madison didn't have time to wonder about Timothy's adamant defense. All she could think of was her brother's utter recklessness, and that his temper could have gotten their mother killed. All this over that damn will! When she got her hands on that son of a bitch—
Madison's voice was icy when she spoke. "Timothy, where is Edward now?"
"I don't know." The boy sighed into the receiver. "He never came back, and I can't reach him on his cell phone." Timothy switched the direction of their conversation, sounding uncomfortable. "Madison, are you coming to the hospital? They need someone to fill out all the paperwork, and I don't know anything about your mom's medical history."
Madison regained her composure and replied in a tight voice, "Yes, I'll be there soon."
"Now, wasn't that just 'the bomb'?" Sharon asked as they entered the house, dropping her purse on a side table.
Dana entered behind her, lugging six plastic bags close to bursting. She dumped them on the carpet and rolled her shoulders before agreeing in a bland tone, "Yeah, Sharon, it was just fantastic."
"Oh!" The blonde actually squealed. "I just knew you would have fun!" She started digging through one of the shopping bags before she unearthed a pastel pink skirt with lace on the bottom. Sharon held the corners up to Dana's hips and grinned. "This is going to look just so adorable on you! Why don't you try it on? Oh, and then I can do your hair, and we'll add a little lip-gloss, too—"
Dana pulled the strand of her straight brown hair from Sharon's curious fingers with a barely concealed wince. "You know, I've got a major test in Biology tomorrow. I really should study. We'll just have to put this off for another time."
Sharon pouted in disappointment. "You need to ease up on all those books, Dana. There's more to life than school work. Don't you want to meet a cute boy?"
Not the kind that would be attracted to those hooker clothes, Dana retorted silently.
"Ah, well." Sharon sighed, but perked up immediately as an idea came to her. "While you're studying, I'm just going to go out for a while."
"Where are you going?" Dana asked warily.
Sharon picked up her purse and grinned.
"I'm going to give your father a surprise visit. He's always so busy, just like you!" Sharon sent her a teasing look. "I'm sure this will cheer him up!"
"Wait, Sharon—" Dana tried to think of some excuse to keep her in the house. She would rather not have to deal with the over-excited woman, but no good could come of her 'surprise visit.' Dana's father would certainly be surprised, along with his pretty secretary, and poor, naive Sharon.
Not even she deserves that.
"Sharon, maybe you're right, I do need a break from studying!" Dana tried to place herself between Sharon and her car keys without being too obvious.
"Why don't you just stay here tonight? We can watch a movie, order some pizza, and—" Dana swallowed "—do each other's nails."
Sharon's bottom lip quivered, and her eyes were suspiciously bright underneath the thick mascara.
"Oh, aren't you just the sweetest thing!" She engulfed Dana in a sudden hug, nearly suffocating the girl in her heavy perfume. "I would love to stay and hang out with you—"
Dana's shoulders dropped in relief.
"—but I still think I should see your father."
Dana bit back a groan.
"Oh," Sharon patted her on the head in unneeded consolation, "come now, you've had me to yourself all day! Now it's Bob's turn!"
Five minutes later, Sharon's Sedan was zipping down the street five miles over the speed limit, heading toward Bob's building, and the impeding end of her blissfully unaware marriage.
Dana stared out the front door in silence, watching the tiny red lights disappear into the distance. She crossed her arms and shrugged at her conscience.
Well, I tried.
Sharon Mitchell entered the law firm with a bounce in her stride, her purse swinging with every sashay of her hips, and her stiletto heels clicking on the marble floor. She passed the guard at the front desk, sparing him a dazzling smile, and then stepped into the elevator.
Absently listening to the musical 'ding' of arrival, Sharon stepped out on the seventh floor. She was busy thinking of what she would say upon meeting Bob. Sharon hoped he would be pleased to see her, at least enough that he would insist on taking her to dinner. Sharon had been dying to try that new Greek restaurant, but Bob was always getting off on the pretense of being far too busy with work to make reservations. Too busy for dinner was one thing, but what kind of straight man turned down the fun afterwards?
Sharon sighed as she reached the door with a bronze name plate labeled Robert Mitchell. Yes, Bob was always preoccupied with one client or another. He never seemed to have any time for her these days. Sharon had barely seen him as his business meetings increased, and their own romantic evenings seemed to come fewer and further apart.
And what about his daughter? Bob was so rarely around that if Sharon didn't know better she might mistake them for total strangers! Dana didn't seem to mind her father's frequent absences; she even claimed it was to be expected. Sharon could just not condone such things, however. Since the day she agreed to married Bob Mitchell, Sharon had been determined to do this family thing right. She was ready to settle down—mostly—and Bob was not going to screw this up! The Mitchells were going to be the picture-perfect family, even if Sharon had to drag that man out of the office and home by his balls herself!
Filled with the familiar resolve, Sharon pushed open the door and entered the small waiting room connected to Bob's office. She was surprised by the absolute darkness that pressed on her eyes. All the lights were turned off, and his secretary's desk was noticeably vacant.
Sharon wondered where Bob could be. If he was able to leave early, wouldn't he have called her first?
A slight change in the lighting drew Sharon's gaze to the door of his office, where a yellow glow seeped across the floor. A shadow intercepted the light once again, and she heard the muffled snap of a desk drawer shutting.
Was Bob in his office still? The poor man must have sent his secretary home while he stayed around to finish his paperwork. That was just like him—so sweet and selfless, but painfully stubborn. A fond smile crossed Sharon's face as she moved toward the silhouette. Wrapping her fingers around the doorknob, Sharon heard the movement inside pause, as though he knew she was there. Sharon pushed the door open slowly and called in a soft voice, "Bob?"
The room was empty.
Sharon could see the source of the light now; the floor lamp was turned on to its dimmest setting. As she stepped further in, the desk came into view, and Sharon caught sight of a stack of manila folders and account sheets spread hastily across the surface. The computer was on, as well, but before Sharon could make out the words on the screen, she heard a creak behind her.
Sharon spun around in surprise and felt two arms warp around her torso, restraining her. She opened her mouth to scream, but a hand pressed roughly against her lips, cutting off any cries for help.
Sharon struggled wildly, her mind freezing on the fact that someone had broken into Bob's office and was now holding her captive. The arms only closed tighter the more she resisted. Sharon managed to free one of her wrists, and she scratched the bare forearm within reach.
A muttered curse behind her, and the hand from her mouth was removed to strike her. Sharon used the chance to scream loudly, hoping desperately that someone in the building would hear. She kicked one of her legs back, hitting something soft, and her attacker dropped her.
Sharon scrambled across the floor, sobbing hysterically. The open doorway was just in her sights when the intruder loomed over her with something in their hand. Sharon felt a heavy object crash into her skull. Blinding pain rendered her motionless, and then Sharon was gone.
"Mr. Mitchell, can you please go over your whereabouts last night one more time."
The police officer stared down from his position in a stern manner, his generous mustache drooping in an exaggerated frown, and the badge on his chest glinting in a reminder of his authority.
Bob Mitchell could only blink at the shiny badge, still overwhelmed with shock. The once overly-confidant and impeccable man was a weak shadow of himself. His calm and charming facade was gone, and in its place sat a middle-aged man with frazzled red hair and a rumpled, sweat-stained suit. His beaming grin was nowhere to be seen, replaced by lips pinched thin around his seventh menthol cigarette that morning. Bob had been clutching the cancerous pack like a lifeline since the interrogation began.
His daughter, Dana, sat limply on the couch beside him, still dressed in her sleep clothes, and pale as a ghost. She had been in a state of numb disbelief since hearing the news. The police had arrived at dawn, rousing Bob from his much-needed sleep after coming in at three, exhausted and reeking of wine. Dana had gotten up to answer the door herself, and was stunned by the sight of two uniformed men bearing grim expressions and condolences. Within just ten minutes of their presence, the Mitchells had found their entire world turned upside down.
Sharon was dead.
Ditzy, primping, clinging, clueless Sharon... was lying on a cold metal table at the city morgue.
Dana couldn't wrap her mind around it. Even as she sat there listening to the officers describe the crime scene, her mind just refused to believe that Sharon was dead.
"Janitor found her this morning... Guard remembered letting her in... Seventh floor... Mr. Mitchell's office... ransacked... dead for at least two hours... fatal blow to the head... internal bleeding... Saw no one leave... Cameras still being searched..."
She still remembered watching Sharon drive off the night before to see Bob. Dana had anticipated consoling a sobbing, disillusioned woman in the morning... not planning her funeral. What could have happened when she got to the office? Better yet, where was Bob the whole time?
"I told you, I was in a private meeting!" Bob snapped in response to the earlier question.
The cop twitched an eyebrow and placed his fists on doughnut-shaped hips. "Can anyone verify that, Mr. Mitchell?"
Bob fumbled for another cigarette, only to realize that his frantic chain smoking had depleted the pack. He raised bloodshot eyes to meet the officer's narrowed gaze. He and his partner waited in silence for Bob's defense.
Dana stared at her father's nervous silence and felt something click. She threw up her hands in disgust, drawing the attention of the three men to herself. "Just tell them the truth, Dad, you were too busy sticking you tongue down Lyla's throat!"
The inquisitive eyes bore into Dana. "Lyla?"
She ignored her father warning glare and nodded. "Yeah, his secretary, Lyla Morgan."
The policeman took the revelation in stride and pulled a notebook and pen from his back pocket. "And where can we find Ms. Morgan?"
Bob took on the air of a deer in headlights. "W-well, I gave her some time off. She left on a flight this morning to see her family"
"Really?" His voice was thick with suspicion. "And when is she due back?"
"Ah, she didn't specify... In a few weeks, I'm sure..." Bob wilted ever further under the scornful looks directed at him from all three people.
Dana felt like slapping him as the cops scribbled down some notes and discussed something in whispers. She just knew where this was going now.
First, Dad leaves his office early to be with his secretary. The he comes home in the middle of the night, drunk, while Sharon has yet to return from her surprise visit. He gives his girlfriend a sudden vacation, and Sharon, his wife, turns up dead in his office... This is so fucked up.
Madison took another sip of the bitter hospital coffee and glanced at her watch. How long had she been staying around to keep an eye on her mother's health? She really couldn't afford to take so much time off work on such short notice... She didn't have any lesson plans for the substitute to follow other than the brief instructions she had given Mr. Sheen over the phone. She would definitely be going back to school tomorrow...
According to the doctors, her mother would be fine after some rest. The fracture in her hip was healing nicely, and there was no lasting damage from that bump on the head. They had wanted to keep her for the next few days, though, just to make sure, and Madison had no qualms about that. She didn't have time to watch over her mother herself; taking her back home was out of the question, and asking Edward for help was just laughable.
Madison still hadn't heard from her brother, despite attempts from both herself and Timothy to reach him. The boy was actually the one who spent the most time searching for Edward, even going so far as to check with his boss at the used car lot. He was also the one who stopped by the house to feed her mother's fifteen cats. Timothy was always such a helpful kid, but Madison knew his actions the past two days had much more to do with it than that. She wasn't quite sure about the younger boy's obsession with Edward, and she didn't really want to know. Madison hoped her brother wasn't quite so stupid as to get involved with a teenager, but with Edward, anything was possible.
A rumbling from her purse caught Madison's attention, and she pulled out her flip phone with a sigh of irritation. It was probably the substitute calling to complain. Her students never did behave on their own.
A scratchy voice issued from the phone, "It's me."
Madison's expression darkened and hissed, "Edward. You have some nerve—"
"I heard Mom's in the hospital," he interrupted, in a strangely calm tone.
"Yes, she is!" Madison snapped. "If you hadn't upset her like that—"
"I didn't know she followed me. I didn't hear her fall. I was so angry..."
"Edward?" Madison asked warily.
Her brother seemed to disregard her as he repeated, "I didn't mean to hurt anyone... I was angry then, too."
Madison felt a chill go down her spine. Did he mean someone other than their mother...?
"Edward," she spoke haltingly, "where are you? I think we need to talk."
"Yes, we should talk," he agreed softly. "I'm at the house."
"Alright, Edward, just wait there, I'm coming over."
The line went dead, and Madison hurried to speak with one of the nurses. She left instructions to call her if anything happened and hurried to her car. She turned the keys in the ignition and pulled out of the parking garage. As she entered the freeway, Madison turned up the radio and tried to gather her thoughts.
The conversation with Edward had left her concerned. Her previous frustration with the younger man simmered in the back of her mind, while new worry came to the forefront. What was wrong with him? Madison could not recall Edward ever acting in such a way before. The complete absence of emotion in his voice was so out of character, such a contrast to the normally temperamental man...
Where had he been for the past two days? And who else had he hurt unintentionally?
Edward, what have you done?
The front door swung open noiselessly as Madison entered the house. The windows were all dark from the outside, and there was no sign of Edward's car in the driveway. Madison walked through the dark hallway and into the living room, searching for any sign of her brother.
"Edward, are you here?" she called.
There was no reply. The house was eerily silent. As the shadows of her mother's antique furniture surrounded her, lit only by the dim street light let in through the moth-eaten curtains, Madison thought that her childhood home had never felt so forbidding. To her, something about the atmosphere just didn't feel right...
A sudden squeak caused Madison to jump around with a gasp, eyes wide and unfocused in the dark. There was a shuffling of fabric and two glowing green eyes peered up at her from the couch. One of her mother's cats blinked up at Madison as she struggled to slow her breathing.
Madison had the hysterical urge to laugh as the fluffy Persian stretched languidly and went back to sleep.
"Get a hold of yourself, Madison!" she scolded, placing a hand over her pounding heart as turned back to her perusal of the room. "Why am I so tense? It's only Edward," she muttered wryly.
As soon as the words left her mouth, another body shoved Madison from behind and she fell over, arms flailing for balance. She hit the low coffee table with a ringing crash as several picture frames were knocked over and her head bounced painfully off the carpeted floor.
Madison rolled over with a groan and tried to clear the flashing stars in her vision. She gazed dizzily at the white ceiling as a tall figure intercepted her sight.
Edward glared down at her with a bitter twist to his mouth, the eyes behind his glasses hard and unforgiving.
"Yeah, it's only me," he spat, throwing her words back at her.
Madison blacked out.
Dana pulled the last of her birthday cash out and handed it to the taxi driver. He tipped his hat in thanks and drove off. Dana glanced up and down the empty street, taking in the cars already parked for the oncoming night, and the curtains pulled shut over windows for privacy. She scuffed her shoes against the concrete, going over her course of action one more time, before she took off at a brisk walk, hands buried in the pockets of her jacket.
She stared moodily at the sidewalk as she went, thinking back on the events of that day, specifically the conversation with her father as soon as the police had taken their leave.
He hadn't been pleased with her for bringing up the subject of his secretary during the questioning. Dana had been equally upset that he didn't bother to do it himself. It was selfish of him to hold back any information that could be pertinent to the case. Did he even care that his wife had just been murdered, and in his office no less?
Dana had told him straight out that she didn't approve of his affair. She'd gone even further to point out during their shouting match that if anyone was to blame for Sharon's death, it was him. After all, if he had been in his office, rather than doing who-knows-what with Lyla, then none of this would have happened. At the very least, in Dana's opinion, the intruder would have run into Bob first and saved the world a lot of trouble!
Bob had teetered on the brink of hitting at that point, his face an unhealthy shade of puce, and his hands balled into fists at his sides. Dana had simply glowered at him defiantly before storming out of the house.
As always when they fought, Bob would no doubt break open the liquor cabinet while Dana chose to disappear for a few hours to blow off some steam. She'd decided this time to take Madison up on her old offer of a friendly chat. The woman was always willing to listen to Dana's problems, and if the murder of her step-mother and consequent falling out with her father didn't count as a major issue, then Dana didn't know what did.
As she came closer to her destination, Dana picked up the sounds of barking, far more than just the occasional neighbor's dog. Madison's house finally crawled into sight, and she found a boy with blonde hair, who could have only been a few years older than her, clinging to the mailbox. He was struggling to hold back at least five dogs as they fought eagerly to reach Dana. They panted in excitement, tongues lolling as she approached, and the boy tightened his grip on their leashes.
"Hello," he said, slightly out of breath.
"Hi," Dana responded shortly, not in the mood to exchange pleasantries. She glanced toward the house behind him, but could not see Madison's car.
"Is Madison Smith home?" she asked.
The boy shook his head. "No, I just checked. I was going to drop off her dog."
A familiar Beagle yipped at Dana and she scratched his ear in greeting. "Hey, Sam."
The boy smiled as Sam thumped his tail on the ground. Then he stared at Dana curiously. "Why are you looking for her?" he asked.
"She's a friend of the family," Dana said defensively. "I just wanted to talk to her."
"Oh," the boy's features softened with sympathy, "I suppose you heard about her mother."
"What?" Dana frowned.
"Her mother," he repeated. "She fell down the stairs the other day. Madison is probably still at the hospital with her."
Dana's eyes widened in realization. So, that was why Ms. Smith had been absent from school lately. Dana felt a twinge of guilt for not thinking to call and check on her. Maybe now wasn't the best time to dump all her problems on Madison, but where else could she go?
The boy seemed to notice Dana's defeated expression, and he leaned down to catch her eyes. "Hey, is something wrong, kid?"
Dana sighed and looked off down the road, wondering where her feet should take her now. "Everything seems to be wrong these days," she said.
The boy exhaled loudly beside her. "Tell me about it," he agreed. His tone let on that Dana wasn't the only one trying to deal.
"So, what's up with you?" he asked conversationally.
"My step-mother's dead, and my father's an idiot," she answered with little change in expression.
The boy blanched at her misery. He was quiet for a moment, before throwing up his hands in a helpless gesture. "Well, my... erm, partner," he said hesitantly, "went missing right after I found his mother out cold at the bottom of a staircase."
"Wait, you don't mean..." Dana said slowly.
He nodded halfheartedly. "I'm very... close... with Madison's brother, but things have been rough lately. I don't think he's even found out about their mother, and I'm worried about him."
Dana decided not to comment. Not only was he in a relationship with another man, but it was Madison's brother, Edward. Dana cringed inwardly at the thought of him. She'd only met Edward a few times in her life, but something about him had always seemed just... off. He wasn't friendly to anyone, and his eyes had always seemed to hold some unreadable emotion when he looked at his sister. Madison had shrugged his behavior off as being jealous that she'd made something of her life. Somehow, Dana doubted it was a simple sibling rivalry.
He's a creepy, middle-aged man, who lives in his mother's basement and dates a teenager, Dana thought. This situation reminds me of one of those old Alfred Hitchcock movies, and those never end well.
After a little consideration, Dana decided to stick around and follow the boy, whose name she learned was Timothy, on his route through the neighborhood. On their way, they dropped off four of the dogs, keeping only Sam for company. Dana walked alongside him and offered to take the Beagle off his hands. Timothy was only too happy to oblige, and handed over Sam's leash. The dog ran circles around Dana until she was tangled in polyester, and Dana began to regret her charity.
She and Timothy talked for a while, mostly about themselves and their families. Dana had never realized how cathartic it could be to spill all your troubles to a complete stranger. Maybe there was some merit to that therapist the school guidance counselor had wanted her to see, after all. Timothy, likewise, was savoring the chance to speak with someone around his age. It was a refreshing change from the senior citizens who often got caught up in memories of the past. Dana was also a fair listener, even if she squirmed a bit whenever he spoke of his relationship with Edward.
Eventually, Timothy snapped out of his conversation and recognized the street they were on all too well. He had, after all, spent more time in one particular house here than he ever did at his own home. Mrs. Smith's house was approaching, and Timothy couldn't resist a hopeful glance toward the driveway. What he found surprised him.
Edward's car was not there, but Madison's silver Ford was.
"Hey, isn't that Ms. Smith's car?" Dana recognized it as well and pulled up short.
"Yeah, it is." Timothy slowed his steps as they reached the hedges. "Maybe she brought her mother home?" he suggested.
Timothy watched Dana glance from the car to the front door with indecision. He could tell she wanted to go in, but was unsure of whether she would be welcome right then. He made the choice for her.
"Do you still want to see Madison?" he asked, gesturing over. When Dana nodded, he proceeded up the driveway. "C'mon, Mrs. Smith won't mind if we just go in." He held up his own key as further proof. "I'm supposed to feed her cats, anyway."
Timothy placed the keys in the lock, only to realize that the door was already open. He just shrugged, figuring that Madison had no reason to lock it behind her if she wasn't staying for long. He beckoned Dana to follow, but pointed to a sturdy bush where she could tie Sam down. Dana did so without question, but the dog whined pitifully at being left behind, and strained against his leash to follow. They entered the house and shut the door behind them, cutting off Sam's barks.
Madison moaned as she regained consciousness. Her head felt like it was splitting. She was propped upright in a hard wooden chair, her head resting on her chest. Madison slowly raised her chin, blinking, as her eyes refused to clear. In the meantime, she tried to change positions, but found herself restricted by the heavy rolls of electrical tape around her middle, ankles, and wrists.
"What in the world...?" Madison croaked, twisting her arms and trying to wiggle her legs.
Madison looked blearily around the room she was in. Cement walls... a water heater... tiny windows that showed only roots and dirt outside... I'm in the basement? What am I doing down here? she wondered.
Even as she struggled to clear her thoughts, Madison easily recognized the situation she was in. They had gone through these kind of drills in police training when she was younger, but she'd never expected to find herself in a real kidnapping. I gave up on following in Uncle's Joe footsteps so I wouldn't have to deal with this kind of crap! At least teaching doesn't involve murder... she scowled. Uncle Joe wasn't happy... I remember it was the first time I ever let him down...
Something in Madison's brain seemed to click. Uncle Joe... the will... Edward! Had he knocked her out? Had he tied her up? Why? What was he trying to gain? Had he finally lost it? A thousand questions ran through Madison's mind, and the answer to all of them chose that moment to climb down the stairs.
Edward walked toward her with a menacing gait. His hair and clothing were a mess, showing he hadn't bothered to clean up in some time. The shadows under his eyes bore witness to sleepless nights. Edward ignored her scrutiny as he stepped closer, a cruel smile on his lips.
"Hello, sis," he greeted her in a cheerful tone.
Then he backhanded her.
Madison's head jerked to the side, and the pressure of her migraine increased. She turned back to Edward and glared up at him.
"What the hell is your problem?!" she screamed hoarsely.
"Problem?" Edward asked nonchalantly. Then he got within an inch of her face and hissed, his breath reeking of alcohol, "You are my problem."
"You have always been my problem," he continued before turning to pace. "Perfect little Madison, such a sweet little girl, nothing like her nasty brother, Edward!" he spat. "You always were the favorite, Madison. Mother loves you, while she resents me. Father loved you until he died. And Uncle Joe loved you so much that he left you enough money to see you living a life of luxury! And what did I get?" he asked rhetorically. "NOTHING!" he barked.
Despite his temper and her own defenselessness, Madison felt her own anger grow. "It's always about you, isn't it, Edward? Your needs, your wants! Did you ever think that was why no one can stand you? Mother knows you don't give a damn about her wellbeing. You lay around her basement, a grown man, leaching off of her! Father knew you would never amount to anything, and Uncle Joe only confirmed it! Is this about the money? You want to know why you didn't get the money?" Madison asked, bordering on hysteria. Of all the things that could set a man like Edward off, of course it had to be money. He was so selfish!
"You didn't get a cent from Uncle Joe's will because he saw what anyone with half a brain could see—A WORTHLESS IDIOT!"
"SHUT UP!" Edward roared, his expression crazed.
Madison flinched back into the chair as he moved, but, instead, Edward reached for something behind her. When he came back into her line of sight, Madison paled. Edward was holding a gun.
"Edward, put that down," she ordered in a shaky tone.
"You made me do this, you know," Edward said, not really listening anymore. "I never meant for things to go so far, but all of you, you made me so angry." Edward's voice had taken on the same emotionless quality Madison had heard through the phone. It was as though he was no longer speaking to her. His gaze wasn't even focused on her, rather the gun, but it was as though he didn't really see it.
"Mother was first... I didn't know she had fallen at the time, but when I found out... I didn't really care. I thought, 'she deserved it.' She never took my side! Then that woman..."
What woman? Madison was afraid to ask.
"I broke into Mr. Mitchell's office. I didn't really believe Joe would leave all the money to you. I was going to find proof first, that he had left me at least something... But then she showed up, that stupid woman who's always hanging off Bob's arm, his newest trophy wife..."
Madison gasped. Sharon?
"I wasn't expecting anyone to be there. I watched Bob leave with his secretary, a pretty blonde thing... But then she came, I guess she was looking for him. The bitch had no idea what he's been up to. I tried to stop her, but she kept screaming..."
Madison wanted to shake her head in denial. Edward, what have you done?
"I hit her to make her stop," Edward let out a drunken giggle, "but I hit her too hard. There was so much blood... She wasn't breathing, so I ran before the guards could find me."
Sharon is dead, Madison thought in disbelief. Then she let out a sob. Oh, poor Dana!
"So, you see, I never meant to do it," Edward stated, as though that made everything right. Madison seriously doubted his sanity. She had to do something! She had to get away and call the cops! She renewed her struggles against the tape, but knew it was futile.
"You pushed me to this," Edward whispered, and he stroked the gun in his hand softly. He pointed it toward Madison. "Now it ends. No more perfect sister, not when you're dead."
The safety clicked off, and Madison shut her eyes in despair.
Then they both jerked in surprise at the sound of the front door opening upstairs.
Madison opened her eyes in relief. Help has come!
Then a dog started barking, and Madison felt her stomach sink. No, not—
"Timothy," Edward muttered, glancing up distractedly.
Madison prayed for the boy to leave, or for Edward to simply ignore his presence and shoot her. She knew neither would happen.
Another strip of tape was pulled out and slapped over her mouth. Then Edward tucked the gun into his back pocket and climbed the stairs.
Dana looked around the kitchen with interest. The inside of the house was nice—if you liked retro. The furniture was a little old-fashioned, and the plaster walls could use another coat of paint.
Timothy was rummaging through the fridge—which he assured her he was perfectly entitled to do, as he practically lived there. He pulled out a pitcher of lemonade and found two cups on the drying rack. He poured the drinks and handed one to Dana.
"Thanks," she mumbled, taking a sip. She cradled the cup between her hands and let her eyes wander. "I wonder where Madison is..."
"Why don't you go look for her?" Timothy suggested as one of Mrs. Smith's many cats slinked into the kitchen. He placed it in his lap and scratched its furry head. "Try upstairs, the second bedroom on the left," he told Dana.
The girl nodded and put her glass down, leaving the kitchen.
Dana headed for the staircase she had spotted upon entering the house. She was just about to reach it when a noise from the opposite direction caught her attention. She heard the soft click of a door opening and shutting. Perhaps Madison was downstairs, after all?
Changing her direction, she continued down the hallway, going around the other side of the kitchen. Dana found only one door there, and realized it must lead to basement.
What is Madison doing down there? was her last thought, before she pulled the door open and descended into the heavy gloom.
Back in the kitchen, Timothy stroked the animal in his lap while staring absentmindedly at the tabletop. He wondered once again where Edward could be. Was he okay? Did he plan on coming home soon? Timothy made a mental note to try his cell phone later, after Dana went home.
A howl from outside caused Timothy to groan in dismay. He heard something snap, and the barking sounded much closer than it should have been.
Great, Sam must have broken his leash... I hope the stupid dog doesn't try to come in through the cat door, too.
With a sigh of defeat, Timothy nudged the cat off his lap and stood up to go take care of the dog before he started a rampage.
Timothy had only made it to the kitchen doorway when a figure walked directly into his path and stared at the boy with an unreadable expression. Despite his partner's less than joyful appearance, Timothy broke out in a smile and reached to embrace him.
But he paused before wrapping his arms around the older man when something pulled at his gaze. Timothy took a step back and raised his panicked eyes to meet Edward's blank stare.
"W-why do you have a gun...?"
Dana squinted as she reached the bottom of the stairs. The basement was dark, and it didn't look like anyone had come down in a while. Madison was probably somewhere else. Dana must have missed another door, or something. She turned to climb back up when a groan reached her ears.
"Wha...?" Dana glanced around the room and gasped at the shadowed figure sitting in the corner.
Madison stared back at Dana, her face a combination of shock and relief. She made another muffled sound through the tape over her lips, urging Dana to free her.
Dana hurried to comply, first ripping away the tape that prevented her from speaking.
"Dana, is there a boy upstairs?" Madison whispered.
Trying to find something sharp to hack through the rest of the tape, Dana nodded. "Yes, Timothy brought me here. Madison, who did this to you? What happened?"
"It was Edward—"
"Your brother?" Dana asked unbelievingly.
"Yes, now hurry up, Dana! He went upstairs!"
"Wha—" Dana nearly shrieked, before controlling her volume, "What? But Timothy is-"
"I know!" Madison struggled to loosen the bands around her arms.
"Edward?" Timothy repeated his name, backing up even more until he hit the table. "Edward, what are you doing here?"
The man hadn't moved from the doorway, but now he took a casual step forward, seemingly unaware of the boy's unease.
"I'm just taking care of some business," he answered.
"What kind of business?" Timothy asked quietly, eying the gun sticking out of Edward's pocket.
"Madison and I were just having a little chat, working out our differences." Edward advanced, and a spark of something entered his eyes.
"Then why do need a gun?" Timothy stared back almost pleadingly. The way Edward was behaving right then scared him. He wished the old, sensitive Edward would make an appearance, just to reassure Timothy that everything was alright.
A frightening thought entered his mind, no matter how much he wanted to deny it. "Edward, you didn't hurt her, did you?"
"Why does it matter?" Edward asked, that spark growing. "Why is everyone always concerned with her, but never me?"
"But I am concerned about you, Edward!" Timothy protested. "I've been calling you for days, wondering where you were, and now I'm still worried! What's wrong, Edward? Why are you acting like this?"
"Like what?" Edward snarled warningly.
"Crazy," Timothy whispered.
The next thing he knew, Timothy was lying on the floor, a bruise already forming on his cheek, and two familiar girls ran into the room behind Edward.
The following moments seemed to pass in a blur for those involved. Edward turned on Madison as soon as she arrived, his features twisted in fury. He raised the gun to chest level, but Madison's hand snapped out with a speed the he wasn't expecting, and she pushed his arm away, so the gun pointed at the ceiling.
During the distraction, Dana ran to Timothy's side and helped him up, asking if he was alright. He nodded, still in a little shock, and pulled her back from the continuing struggle. The two stood to the side, paralyzed with fear, as they watched the siblings fight over the gun.
Madison seemed to have the upper hand at first, appearing as though she'd been taught how to disarm a shooter. Something about the police force flashed through Dana's mind before a gunshot rang out.
One of Edward's bullets went through the ceiling, the sound echoing beyond the house. Dana had a fleeting hope that someone would hear and call the cops. If only Madison could hold out until then...
Madison kept a tight grip on Edward's gun arm, while her other hand grappled with his for domination. She was holding her own so far, but Edward was both taller and stronger. He glared into her eyes as they fought, any trace of reason long gone. His glasses were askew, and he was breathing heavily. Madison panted as her wrists strained to block the gun he still held.
There was a commotion outside the house, but whether it was help or nosy neighbors, no one had the time to figure out. Edward finally jerked the hand with is gun down, smacking Madison. She landed in a heap on the tile floor and dizzily tried to sit up.
Edward pointed his gun down at her and Dana screamed. She tried to run toward Madison, but Timothy held her back.
Madison blinked up at Edward aiming between her eyes. He gritted his teeth and sneered, "This ends now."
But for the second time that day, Madison was saved in the nick of time. Her dog, Sam had finally found his way inside and, hearing the shouts, dashed into the kitchen. He leapt on Edward, sinking sharp teeth into his forearm. The gun let loose another bullet, one that hit the wall only inches from Madison's shoulder.
Taking advantage of the brief respite, she scrambled to her feet and reached the kids. Edward was still trying to fight off Sam as she urged them to get out and find help. Timothy nodded with a look of determination on his pale face, and dragged a protesting Dana away. Turning back to Edward, Madison watched as he managed to finally shake the Beagle off. He sent Sam flying into the cabinets with a muffled curse.
While he cradled his bleeding arm, Madison picked up one of the ugly wooden chairs. Edward was only just noticing her shadow on the wall when a chair leg slammed into his back. He groaned and hit the floor. The wooden furniture came down again and, with it, Edward lost consciousness.
Wheezing, Madison let the chair drop, and she hit the floor herself, adrenaline finally gone. Edward was out cold.
The police arrived only moments later. Apparently, the neighbors had heard the gunshots and, by the second one, found it impossible to brush off as a fluke or television noise. Edward was hauled away still out of it, while Madison and the other two tried to explain everything to the authorities. It helped that Dana recognized at least one of officers sent to investigate. He just so happened to be the same man working on Sharon's case.
The cop was rather surprised to hear of Edward's involvement in the murder—as was Dana herself—but the proof was there on tape when they reviewed the security cameras later that afternoon. Edward was shown sneaking away from the emergency exit just before midnight, so Lyla the secretary was in the clear.
Speaking of Lyla, she had been located and dragged back to the city that very day. She was so frightened by the police escort, that she was singing every crime she'd ever committed, from shoplifting at Victoria's secret to accepting bonus checks from her boss.
Bob was left in a tight spot after she revealed that. He ended up going to court with his own lawyer, and getting off with a simple fine. He was also fired from his job, but that had its benefits. Being taken down a peg or two had made him easier to deal with in Dana's eyes. They were even bonding somewhat as they spent so much time at home when he wasn't searching for new employment. It appeared that Sharon's wish for them to become a family wasn't quite so impossible after all.
Other families weren't quite as cozy. Timothy's parents were brought to the police station while he gave his statement on Edward's case. He was forced to admit his once-relationship with the older man, and to say they were upset was an understatement. Timothy was evicted from his parents' home soon after, but Mrs. Smith offered him a place in her house, since he practically lived there anyway, and the cats seemed to like him. He was given Madison's old room upstairs, fortunately, as they decided Edward's basement was better fit for storage.
Edward himself spent the next thirty years in a prison cell, with orders to see a psychiatrist on the side. He was given no time for good behavior, but that could only be expected after murdering one woman, going after his sister with the intent, and then attacking a nineteen-year-old. He did not receive many visitors, except for his mother who felt obligated, and one from his loveable sister, of course.
Madison felt it was only fair to share the good news with Edward a month into his imprisonment. She arrived in good health and in a cheerful mood, following the guard to his cell with a spring in her step. After all, it wasn't every day that you got one up on your annoying younger brother. But Madison wasn't there just to gloat. She just wanted to inform him of how much good he had done, how he had inspired her to do something fulfilling with all that money from Uncle Joe. Really, if you were going to inherit 1.5 million dollars, it was only proper that it be spent fittingly.
That day, at least five different charity organizations received quite a bit of money. They were ever so pleased, especially the places where Madison delivered it personally. She'd thought the old woman with the red jacket and hand bell was going to cry in front of the entire shopping center.
"And it's all thanks to you, Edward," Madison said with a bright smile.
Suffice to say, it was a good thing that Madison was on the other side of the cell bars.