Maggie's Hunt, page 6
Michael laughed. “You’d never file the complaint against me, Daisy. We both know that, in spite of the harsh words that pass between us, you still love me too much to see me in jail.”
“I wouldn’t make odds on it, Michael,” she retorted. “It’s a long shot, an extreme long shot. All I want, Michael, is to be left alone. Please abide by my wishes in this matter.”
“No, Daisy. This time, we have to talk. I’ve given you a long enough time to stew. That’s over now. My patience with you is exhausted. Make up your mind. Are you going to talk with me, now, or do the boys move in? I guarantee that things will be much more pleasant if they don’t have to coerce you to communicate,” Michael said.
“What choice have you left me?” she asked.
“None, really. At least, I see that the years of your refusing to speak to me haven’t dulled your sharp perception of reality,” Michael retorted, his eyes narrowing, appraising of her face.
“I’m not leaving this house with you, Michael. If you try to force me, you’ll regret it. I guarantee you that.”
“You must come home,” Michael snapped.
Maggie bristled. “You are no longer in any position to tell me what I must or must not do, Michael Edward McLaughlin!” she said, her voice harsh. “I can no longer view the estate as home. It hasn’t been home to me for years, and it will never be home to me again.”
Michael sighed. “I wish that you wouldn’t make this unpleasant, Daisy. I don’t want to have to force the issue. But I will if you make that necessary. Your security is too important for me not to. Now, will you speak with me of your own volition?”
“I’ll listen to you for ten minutes, in private, right here,” she said flatly. “After our talk, either you leave or I do. Knowing you, I would venture a guess that your goons have strict orders not to draw their weapons. We both know that I could not take down all six of them and get away from you, especially since I am certain that you’ve taken the precautions of disabling my car, probably by means of a missing distributor cap or something else equally simple and crippling. But, Michael, I swear by all that I still hold Holy that if I leave, and have to make my way through your people, you are going to have some serious hospital bills to pay for your employees.”
Michael had nodded an acknowledgment. “I expect nothing else from you with the training that your father and I saw that your received.”
“Just leave the General out of this. It’s not going to earn you any points by invoking his memory.”
“Maggie, you don’t have to talk to him,” Hunt said. “If you don’t want to talk with him, you don’t have to. I’m standing right here beside you.”
She turned to him and smiled. “Thank you, Hunt. I appreciate the offer. But, I’m afraid that I do have to speak with him. There’s unfinished business between us. Give me ten minutes, then fetch me, please.”
Her words were calm, but the calm didn’t come close to masking her very obvious fear.
“If you’re sure, Maggie. Ten minutes. I’ll be just outside. If you need help, shout.”
“Thanks, Hunt. I appreciate it.”
Hunt knew it was wrong, but he stood outside the door of the den listening to the conversation through the door he hadn’t quite closed. He hoped that he would be able to figure out what had spooked John O’Shay so profoundly that he called in the markers.
“Daisy, come here, let me hold you,” the man’s voice begged.
“No. Don’t touch me. You know that I don’t want anything to do with you, Michael.”
“The house is so lonely without you.”
She laughed cynically. “With Susan there? C’mon, Michael, I can hardly believe that you even miss me. Is the honeymoon over, already? You two have only been married eleven years. Or is it just the hero worship that you miss? I’m sorry, Michael, but I can no longer see you as a mixture of Superman and saint. I don’t believe in heroes any longer.”
Michael’s voice sounded strained. “Daisy, I can’t believe you really hate me. We used to be so close.”
“Hate you? You certainly gave me reason enough to hate you. How in the world do you expect me to trust you, again?”
“I always did the best that I could for you, Daisy McLaughlin.”
“The name is O’Shay. It was never McLaughlin, you know that.”
“That’s your fault. I wanted to give you my name when you and Patty moved in with me,” Michael replied defensively.
“That would have been wrong for both of us, Michael,” she said, her voice almost too soft to hear. “Can’t you see that? And it would have been an insult to my father’s memory. I was born an O’Shay. You might have supplanted the General in Mother’s memory, but you will never do so in mine.”
He didn’t know her well, but Hunt didn’t think Maggie was the sort to hold a grudge without cause. Whatever was behind this, it had to have been major. If it was serious, disclosure could ruin the Admiral’s chances of being elected. And that might be enough to endanger Maggie.
No wonder John had wanted to have someone keep an eye on Maggie. Hunt silently damned his imagination and ability to construct scenarios. There was no sense in borrowing trouble. Yet, he had the strong feeling he was not so much borrowing trouble as jumping into it with both feet. Hunt only hoped he wasn’t jumping in over his head where Maggie was concerned.
He edged an inch or two closer to the door, listened intently.
“Didn’t I give you everything that you wanted? Didn’t you have clothes, a good education, jewelry, cars, and everything? I don’t know what more I could give you,” the man said, sounding confused.
“Material possessions, Michael. You always gave me material possessions. All I ever wanted was your time and some demonstration that you cared about me, about what I wanted out of life. Or, at least, what I wanted out of life, if that wasn’t a direct extension of what Mother wanted for me. Did you think that I’d be content for the rest of my life to sit in some beautiful mausoleum of a house, wearing silks and satins, and seeking nothing more than to work on my music and to entertain others? Didn’t you know me better than that, Michael?”
“Talent like yours should not be wasted, my dear,” he said. “Besides, what’s wrong with a glamorous lifestyle, Daisy?”
“It isn’t for me, Michael. I need more than that, Michael. I need to feel like I am making a contribution to something.”
“Right. That is why you were working for Faulks,” Michael said, cynicism plain in his voice.
“At least, that was honest work which I could do well. And the medications I sold were useful to people in a very practical way. In a small way, I’ve helped heal people. I don’t think that should be under valued.”
“Nonsense. Do you know how many people would have done anything for the chances that you threw away?”
“We both know that I was never good enough to be a featured soloist. Oh, technically, I had the skill. But being a sought after soloist means more than being able to play the music perfectly. It means giving of yourself, opening yourself up, becoming part of the music, making yourself vulnerable. I never could do that. I don’t have the courage to make that kind of public display of myself. You pulled the strings to get me the featured soloist position. And everyone knew it, except me. If I can’t get an opportunity on my own merits, I don’t want it, Michael. It’s just that simple.”
“What are contacts for, if we can’t use them to help the people whom we love?”
“With help like that, who needs enemies?”
“Do you think that Guy gave you the job on your merits, initially?” Michael challenged.
“No, I know he never would have hired me, except he wanted me to fall flat on my face so that I would run back home to you,” she replied. “But I didn’t fail, Michael.”
“I’ve always done the best that I could for you, haven’t I?”
“Yeah, right! You practically offered me to the highest bidder. Did you really think that I would marry any of those turkeys a
What sort of a relationship was this? Hunt asked himself as he became more and more confused. Something here just didn’t fit. He began mentally shuffling the portions of the puzzle that he understood. There were still too many holes for him to be able to understand the situation between Maggie and her stepfather.
“I didn’t pick out turkeys and thugs, Daisy. They were all good men. Any one of them could have provided you with a stable home, and a good income. Any one of them would have kept you so busy, in and out of bed, that you wouldn’t have been bored.”
“As for my supposed low level of tolerance for boredom, have you ever considered that the reason I was so bored entertaining your friends was simply that, combining them all, they collectively don’t have enough personality to suit an oyster? The kind of life I had when I lived with you isn’t what I want at all. I thought by this time that you had figured that out. With only a few notable exceptions, you have never been either a stupid or blind man, Michael.”
Hunt heard the older man take in a deep breath. “You’re still angry over Jeremy. Still angry that I tried to buy him off.”
“His name was Jarod. As for the bribery, well, that’s really minor. So, he took your money, and ignored the conditions, so what?”
“You aren’t still upset about that, then?” Michael asked carefully. “I only did what I thought was best for you. You weren’t anywhere near mature enough to handle that man.”
“In a way, it might have been better for him, if he had accepted your offer with the conditions,” Maggie replied, her voice thick with remembered pain. “If he had taken the money and stayed away from me, he wouldn’t have died as he did.”
“Then why are you still angry? What have I done?”
“What have you done?” she echoed incredulously. “Why am I still angry? I don’t believe that I’m hearing this! Michael, must I spell it out for you? Are you going to make me use the words? You have to know why I am still angry. Stop playing innocent with me. You’ve always known everything else that went on in your house. It isn’t reasonable for me to think that you don’t know about this.”
“If you had married him, I severely doubted you would have lived to see the age of twenty-one. The man would have bored you to death, honey,” Michael replied, sounding like he was teasing her, trying to lighten her mood.
“Very funny, Michael,” she drawled. “So, to save me from being bored to death, you either ordered or condoned Jarod’s murder? That’s wonderful, Michael, just wonderful.”
He had someone killed? Wonderful! What have I gotten myself into? Hunt asked himself. McLaughlin had a reputation as a hard, but fair, man. Hunt had a difficult time believing that the Admiral would have someone killed. The pieces still just didn’t fit.
However, if Maggie was right, she definitely needed help. If she were right, Michael McLaughlin definitely had a reason for wanting to harm her.
“Jerome died in a car crash, honey. I had nothing to do with it,” Michael said, sounding firm but soothing. “It was an accident. Why do you call it murder?”
“Don’t hand me that line, Michael. I know differently. True, I read the police report. I also read the mechanic’s report on the car. Don’t tell me that you didn’t know the brake cylinders on my car had been drained of brake fluid and refilled with xylene.”
Hunt was as startled as Michael sounded. If that was true, then someone definitely was murdered. Why hadn’t she gone to the police with it? Or had she? Had things been covered up?
“And his name was Jarod. Jarod, not Jeremy, not Jerome. Jarod. You can at least do me the courtesy of getting his name correct.”
“What do you know about xylene in brake cylinders, Daisy?” Michael asked.
Yes, Hunt wondered, what does she know about that?
She laughed, sounding almost cynical, but there was pain there, as well. “I know that xylene is a freely available industrial solvent which will gradually eat through the gaskets on the brakes. That will allow the xylene to leak out. While the solvent is working, so are the brakes. But, when it has leaked out, the brakes are gone as well. I’m not a stupid woman, Michael. I’ve never been slow to pick up on things. With all the Special Forces people who were in and out of my life when I was growing up, you don’t think that I would have learned a thing or three about such things? For pity’s sake, this was a favorite assassination trick during the ‘Nam.”
“Are you sure the car was tampered with?” Michael asked, his voice strained.
“Of course, I’m certain of it,” she said quietly. “I wouldn’t make a statement like that without proof.”
“There are many reasons why brakes could fail, honey.”
“When the police decided that the wreck was an accident, I had the car looked at, closely. You remember Carl Wright?”
“Of course, I remember Carl. He was a good man. No one knew more about vehicles than Carl,” Michael said.
“He looked over my car then told me what had been done to the car. I have it in writing, along with independent lab reports. All that information is locked away. There are three complete and notarized true copies. One copy is in my lockbox, one copy is with an attorney, and the third is entrusted to an order of cloistered nuns who are, now, my primary beneficiary.”
“Why didn’t you go to the police with the information?” Michael demanded.
“The police had ruled the death as accidental. That meant there was either corruption or gross incompetence involved. Either way, it was simply too dangerous to call them on it,” she said tightly. “If they were corrupt, I risked being killed by the cops. If they were incompetent, I risked an attempt on my life, possibly, probably, a successful one. It was a zero sum game, Michael. The only way to stay alive was to opt not to continue with play. I’ve never been shy about taking a risk, Michael. But, only a fool would have continued pursuing the matter when there was no way to win.”
“I think that you are being unduly paranoid, sweetheart,” Michael said, his tone gentle.
“And this from the man who told me not twenty minutes ago that he feared for my safety?” she demanded. “No, Michael, I am not being paranoid about it. I have proof.”
“If you think that he was murdered, why have you kept it to yourself? That’s not like you. You’ve always been more direct in your dealings with people.”
“For God’s sake, Michael, Jarod’s death had dirty trickster written all over it. All of the members of your security force were, and probably still are, former members of Seals, Green Berets, Rangers, Delta, or military intelligence. Each of them had the knowledge of how to do the job. Think about it, Michael. Jarod might have been the one to die, but he was driving my car!”
Michael drew a sharp breath, “You think that . . . .”
She cut him off. “Get real, Michael. What else am I to think? I had never allowed anyone else to drive my car. That was well known. The staff made jokes about Daisy and her Daisymobile. Just for your information, Michael, I hadn’t given him permission that day. He just took the car. He was looking for some way to get back at me.”
“Get back at you?” Michael asked quietly.
“Two-hundred-thousand dollars, Michael. I suppose that I should be flattered that you paid him two hundred thousand to stay away from me. But, you needn’t have bothered. I did eventually see through him. I gave him his walking papers.”
Michael sighed loudly. “Daisy . . . .”
“I was obviously supposed to have been driving the Jag when the brakes failed.”
“Just hear me out, Michael. It had to have been an inside job. My car was never parked out of sight, except at home. It was my car. I must have been the intended victim! Me, not Jarod, whose only mistake was in choosing the wrong way to strike out at me. What else was I supposed to think? How was I supposed to trust anyone at the estate? With that knowledge, was I to stick around and wait for the next attempt on my life?
“You kept quiet to protect me?” Michael asked softly, but only after a long pause. “You thought that someone in my household, or even that I, was trying to kill you, and you kept quiet about it.” There was a note of incredulity in his voice.
“You had just begun your first term in the Senate, Michael. That was something you had wanted for as long as I can remember. You had, and still have, an opportunity to do so much good for the country,” she told him. “The greater good was served by my keeping silent.”
“Daisy . . . .”
“Hush, Michael. If I don’t say this now, I may never have the courage to say it. And you’re right. This conversation has waited far too long. I couldn’t be certain exactly what was going on, or even whether I was still in danger. I still can’t be absolutely certain of that. All I knew was that if I were going to be killed, the best thing for you would be for me to be disassociated from you. I knew that I couldn’t stop any further attempts on my life, were any to be forthcoming. I had thought about running to John and Emily. But, I couldn’t bring myself to endanger them, either. I had to stand by myself, alone, separate. Doing anything else would have just allowed other people to be harmed,” she said, her voice even but holding an under tone of pain. “One person had already died as a result of being near me. I was unwilling to take the risk of having more blood on my hands, even indirectly.”
“You have never made any indication to anyone that you thought Jarod’s death to be anything except an accident,” Michael said, sounding thoughtful but not disbelieving.
“How would it have helped Jarod to have sought revenge for his murder?” Maggie asked wearily. “Would it have brought him back from the dead? No, the only thing that making this public, or taking it to the police, would have done would have been to ruin your political career, and possibly, probably, put me in even more danger. No matter how much I wanted someone to pay for Jarod’s death, doing anything about it would have just been adding insult to injury and making a bad situation worse.”
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