“Finding her isn’t my job anymore.” Dan stated more to remind himself than his wife. “I’m taking you home and away from this.” Taking care of her would always be his most important job anyway.
“It’s kind of nice to have all of Iodex so worried about me and Halia,” she admitted hesitantly.
“They love you, baby. Not as much as I do, but they love you.” He winked at her. She eased back in her seat as they made their way off of campus. “You know they only love me because you meant so much to them.”
“They’re doing just fine without me.” And he hated himself for the jealousy that pulsed in his shield.
“It means a lot to me that you left. I mean, that must have been hard. I’m sure they could have used your help.”
Once again, she knew exactly what to say.
“I told you when I took this job you will always come first. You and my baby girls and nothing else.”
“I love you.” Her voice was suddenly rough from her plea.
“I love you too, baby doll,” Dan assured her. “And would my baby mama like a milkshake from Mae’s?” He had no real desire to end their date just yet and smoething told him he was going to be needed in some capacity that night. His Visium energy continued to shimmer under his shield.
She blushed and Dan immediately moved the car to the exit ramp near McLean where Mae’s Milkshake Shack was located.
“I’m just going to get fatter,” she sighed.
Dan scowled at her. “You are not fat and Halia likes milkshakes. She told me,” he informed his wife reveling in her sweet giggle.
“Did she?” Fionna chided.
“What? She can tell you she wants coffee, but not tell me she wants milkshakes.” If he could just keep her laughing, he’d figure out the rest of this night. The plaguing confusion of all that had happened would drown out in light of his favorite sound.
He lead Fionna to a booth inside the Shake Shack, wondering if he should call his father to see if he knew anything yet. He was certain the Governor and Mrs. Vindico would have been first on the list of people to get out right after the students so he wasn’t certain his father would know anything at all.
Ordering Fionna’s strawberry milkshake and a chocolate one for himself, he tried to focus on his wife.
“Halia says thank you, Daddy, for her milkshake,” Fionna teased as she began sipping the shake.
“Tell my baby girl Daddy says, anytime.”
“So, what do you think happened?” Fionna urged as they both slurped down their shakes. Dan knew she was aware that his focus wasn’t really on her or their milkshakes.
“I have no idea,” he confessed. “That school was built in 1938 long after power lines were run through the urban areas of Virginia. The lines were casted immediately and they’re recasted every year. To my knowledge there has never been a power outage at Venton.”
“Had a feeling you were going to say something like that. The energy in the whole place was weird tonight,” Fionna confessed.
“Everyone was nervous. Like they were anticipating something. I thought maybe they were all uncomfortable because of Katherine Bryant. She wanted to make people uncomfortable tonight. But I think maybe their foundation has been shaken more than we realized.”
“You mean by my dad replacing Wilshire?”
Her teeth sank into her bottom lip and she offered him a begrudged nod. “Remember, we know and love and trust your dad. Those kids really don’t know him. Their parents voted him in. I think they’re feeling like no one listens to them. Wilshire screwed them over, literally, and now there’s a Realm Governor running the school. It’s unsettling. And then the power went out at the Fall Ball. Nothing is the way it used to be.”
As they were finishing, Dan’s cell rang. Relief flooded through him. “What happened?” he demanded of Logan.
“Where are you?” Was Logan’s response.
“I brought Fi to Mae’s for a shake.” Dan’s stomach twisted uncomfortably.
“Good. I'm not far from there. Be there in a sec. Fi up for a little reconnaissance mission?” Irritation perforated Logan’s usual happy-go-lucky tone.
“Fionna is not doing reconnaissance,” Dan huffed but the line went dead.
Before he could explain the conversation to Fionna, Logan was entering Mae’s.
He slid into the booth beside Fionna. “So, we have more than a few little problems,” Logan sighed.
“What?” Dan demanded.
“Let’s go talk in the truck.”
Standing, Dan grabbed Logan’s shoulder. “Where are we going? Because you’ve lost your mind if you think I’m putting my wife and my baby girl in danger.”
“Would I take her anywhere that there was even the possibility of her getting hurt? Give me a little credit please,” Logan snapped sounding so much like Garrett it took Dan a moment to remember who was speaking. “I can’t say anything in here, and we need to hurry.”
“I’ll be fine. Come on,” Fionna slid out of the booth seat faster than she’d managed to get into it but only slightly. Clenching his jaw, Dan followed them out of the ice cream parlor.
He climbed in the back of Logan’s extended cab pickup and wedged himself inside allowing Logan to help Fionna up into the passenger seat.
“Some genius sent a major electric pulse through the advanced lock on the test vault,” Logan explained as he cranked the truck. “It took more than one person to send that much power through the system grid to cause that outage.”
“Meaning several people broke into the Administration building,” Dan concluded.
“Why would they do that when there were so many people at the school?” Fionna quizzed.
“Well, their cars were easier to hide for one thing and they knew that. There were also tons of people coming and going there tonight but it wasn’t likely that anyone would be in the Admin building,” Logan explained. “Once they blew the electricity, they had about three seconds to get into the building before the backup casted security system went into place. They got in and blew the lock on the test vault. Raimier is dusting for finger prints now. It didn’t look like anything was taken but there had to be some reason they wanted in that vault.”
“Where are we going now?” Dan demanded.
“We are going to the Holiday Inn in Arlington.” Logan met Dan’s concerned glance in the rearview mirror.
“Why?” Fionna was immediately intrigued.
“Because while we were getting students out Tuttle pulled in. He was off tonight and was coming in from that shop where Lindley’s working out in Maryland. Anyway, when he flew in he saw a navy blue Lincoln circle the back lots three times. They stopped and someone got in the car. Tuttle knew your dad had asked you to look into Wilshire’s affair so he didn’t report it to Portwood. He ran the tag. It was Wilshire’s car,” Logan explained.
“Seems I owe my new brother-in-law quite a bit,” Dan admitted.
“Yeah and Mentor Bryant’s car is the only one left in the Venton parking lot after we got everyone out,” Logan continued. “Here’s the thing. If she’s at that hotel room with him, I have to tell Portwood. If either of them had anything to do with that level of damage to a secured vault, then we’re gonna have to open this up to a full on Iodex investigation,” he admitted hesitantly.
“That’s fine but neither of them did it,” Dan vowed.
“How do you know?” Fionna turned back to study him. “She was so angry tonight.”
“I know she was. She was angry and hurt enough to drive her back into Wilshire’s arms,” he knew perfectly well what had happened. “But she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know where she was going or who she called. Causing a big disturbance would have been the last possible thing she would have wanted.”
“That’s what Rainer and I thought, too,” Logan agreed. “But then Jeff wondered if she didn’t mean to do anything more than shut down the power so she could slip away. Jeff doesn’t have as much training as me and Rainer do and none of us have as much as you do,” Logan heralded Dan’s skills though it wasn’t necessary. “We all know the best way to get out of wherever you are is to just slip away quietly. You of all people know that the best place to get lost is right in the middle of a crowd,” Logan added. “You’re the guy that got your wife and kids out of Paris without anyone in the world knowing where you were taking them, when the entire world wanted to know where you were.”
“So, you’re saying Katherine Bryant wouldn’t have known how to get out of Venton without anyone seeing her because she has no training at all. She thinks people are paying more attention to her than they actually are. She would have thought she needed a distraction,” Fionna finished the painting Logan had begun.
“Jeff Strenton is going to make one hell of an officer,” Dan allowed
“He and Rainer are hanging out in the Porsche hidden at Venton waiting to see who brings her back to her car in case we don’t find them at the Holiday Inn,” Logan explained as he took the exit into downtown Arlington.
Logan parked the truck in the back of the Holiday Inn near the dumpsters. “How do we figure out if they’re in there?” Fionna urged.
To Dan’s astonishment, she was enjoying her first stake out.
“I seriously can’t believe she asked him to come get her,” Logan huffed.
“Oh, I can,” Fionna nodded. “She’s completely miserable. Think about it. No one wants to be near her even if they’ve done the same thing or considered doing the same thing. Everyone is treating her like she has the plague. Her husband is hurt and furious but she knows that’s her fault. Her kids hate her for what she did. I really think she sat with us tonight trying to pick a fight just so someone would speak to her, acknowledge her existence.” Fionna drew a deep breath shaking her head. “When you’re that depressed and alone, I guess the other person who feels exactly the same way is better than nothing,” she concluded.
“Her husband filed for legal separation, which he was granted so technically she’s not breaking the law anymore,” Dan pointed out.
Logan shuddered. “I have to tell you. I’m not interested in busting in that room even with Dan as my partner and seeing what’s probably going on in there. What do we do if they stay all night? Cause my wife’s gonna freak when she finds out that it’s my fault her favorite patient isn’t at home with her feet up,” Logan gestured to Fionna.
She beamed, “Aww, I’m her favorite patient.”
“We love you guys. You know that,” Logan vowed.
Dan chuckled but then allayed Logan’s fears. “We’re not going to have to go in there. She has limited time with her kids. She’s desperately trying to prove herself to them. She’ll stay here only until the time that she would have headed home from the dance. That’s how she’s justifying taking time away from them. That’s how their relationship has always worked. It’s always been under the cover of darkness and in the shadows because ultimately everything about it began as a lie.”
“How does her being here with him prove that they sent the pulse through the power grid and the lock on the test vault?” Fionna asked.
“I’ve taken to calling her Catwoman,” Dan stated in answer to Logan’s deeply impressed look.
“No joke, man,” he admired. “It doesn’t, but it does prove that he came and picked her up. Dan’s dad told him not to be on Venton property unless he had written permission from Governor Vindico or from my Dad, which he does not have. Basically, we’re building a case. You were there on the night this happened. You weren’t supposed to be there so what else did you do or see?”
Dan tried to sort through everything that had happened. If Katherine Bryant was there with the Chancellor, then they would most likely be arrested and taken in for questioning. Iodex would take over the case. He couldn’t continue to play personal detective in order to save his father’s reputation in light of felony levels of property damage.
To his shock, relief was the only emotion he seemed to be able to locate and process. He wanted out of Venton and he wanted the case out of his home. But he didn’t want his father to take the blame for what Wilshire let slide.
“I doesn’t sound like Chancellor Wilshire even got out of his car,” Fionna began again. “He’s kind of a coward. I personally think that men that cheat are all cowards, but I just don’t believe that he has the ba...” she began but then blushed violently.
Logan cracked up as Dan shook his head at his wife.
“Uh huh, you don’t think he’s got the cajones to go in a Venton building even for her,” Logan supplied.
“Right and you said it was probably more than one person that sent that pulse. So, she didn’t do that alone.” Fionna regained her composure although she was still glowing red. Everyone was thoughtful for a moment.
“Did you see whose passcode was used to enter the building?” Dan quizzed suddenly.
“Yeah,” Logan sighed uncomfortably. “There were five codes that were used to enter the building this evening but the time stamps on the codes were within minutes of each other. Obviously, they’re fake because the security system only takes ten seconds to reset once someone has entered legally. Whoever sent the false codes obviously didn’t know that,” he drew a deep breath.
Dan braced. This was what had been racking like leaden weights in his mind. This was why his Visium energy had been so unstable. “One of the codes they used was mine, right?”
Logan nodded. “One was your dad’s, one was Mentor Bryant’s, one was created on the fly, and one was Jeff’s. But,” Logan added quickly, “We have you two on the kiss cam at the exact same moment that your code was used in the building so...” he chuckled. “Yours was the last one entered.” He brought the binoculars to his face to check the front and back exits to the hotel. He’d parked strategically where he could see both.
“I get why they did the others but why Jeff’s?” There were times when he hated his other predilection. So many times when he’d wished he could have just been a shield and yet he couldn’t change who he was. And he already knew if Jeff’s student access code had been used for the break-in, someone had figured out he was working with Dan on the cases at Venton.
“Who could have made up their own code that would work?” Fionna shifted uncomfortably and began to fret.
“What’s wrong?” Dan leapt.
“Nothing really,” Fionna assured but Logan and Dan were both aware she was lying.
“Fi,” Dan urged.
“Do we need to go?” Logan soothed. Dan was immensely thankful of Logan’s concern and his willingness to take care of Fionna over taking care of the case.
Another blush creeped up Fionna’s neck and pooled in her cheeks. “No,” she huffed, “I just… I kind of need to take off these heels because my feet are swelling around them.”
“Take them off,” Dan ordered.
“Now,” Logan urged. Neither of them saw this as a problem but Fionna was visibly embarrassed.
“Baby, it’s fine,” Dan leaned forward and laced his fingers through his wife’s. Her hands were swollen, too.
“You’re not going to offend me,” Logan vowed adamantly. “I grew up with seven older brothers. One of them is Garrett so I’m pretty much un-offendable,” Logan decreed making Fionna giggle.
Logan’s cell rang. “Hey, what’s up?” he demanded of Rainer. Dan saw the name as Logan lifted the phone. “How the hell? No. Not yet,” he sighed. “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He ended the call. “A cab just dropped Katherine Bryant back at her car,” he explained dejectedly to Dan and Fionna.
“But how?” Fionna demanded.
“She must’ve left here just before we pulled in.” Logan cranked the truck.
“Is Rainer arresting her?” Dan quizzed. He hadn’t seen the Chancellor’s car on the property so he couldn’t make the calls anymore.
“No. Not yet,” Logan shook his head. “We all know your dad would prefer this to stay out of official hands and we all want to help you. So, let’s see if we can’t figure this out. Plus, Dad told Portwood to try to let you handle this so the press doesn’t dump more shit on your dad,” he explained the orders from the Crown Governor.
“Okay, but before we try to figure this out. I have to go inside and pee,” Fionna finally admitted the source of her greatest discomfort.
“Why didn’t you just say that?” Dan chuckled.
But when Fionna opened the door to the truck, Logan and Dan both reached for her. “No!”
“Please,” she whimpered.
“I’ll take you somewhere close. I promise,” Logan assured her. “But not here. That’s Wilshire’s car,” he pointed out the deep navy blue Lincoln parked in the lot. “How about McDonald’s?” he pointed across the street.
“I’m thinking anywhere that we can get quickly,” Dan tried to save Fionna anymore embarrassment. In under two minutes, Logan had the truck parked near the side entrance closest to the ladies room.
“I can’t get my shoes back on,” she was on the verge of tears and Dan’s heart fissured. He racked his brain but couldn’t come up with a way to help her other than to carry her inside which he knew would do nothing to soothe her nerves.
“Here,” Logan reached behind his seat and pulled out a pair of flip flops. “They’re Adeline’s. She won’t care. I keep them in here for when she goes out with me to check the fields barefoot. Sometimes the back of the farm gets a little swampy,” he explained. “Logan Haydenshire, I love you.” Fionna pulled the flip flops over her massively swollen feet and flung the door open. “Here, I’ll take her. She’s gonna wet her pants before you get yourself wedged out of my truck,” Logan chuckled as he quickly escorted Fionna inside.
They returned several minutes later with Fionna looking vastly more comfortable.
“I’m sorry,” Dan vowed.
“Why are you sorry?” Fionna’s brow furrowed “I’m clearly the worst detective ever. I mean swollen feet and peeing constantly. I’m so embarrassed. Catwoman probably never has swollen feet.”
Logan shook his head. “I’m the one that dragged you out here. And his kid is dancing on your bladder or whatever, right?” he reminded her kindly.
Dan wasn’t accustomed to another man taking such good care of his wife. He didn’t particularly like it.
“Trust me, I have a wife, two little sisters, and half a dozen sister in laws at this point. Stopping at public restrooms is something I’m very familiar with,” Logan continued to try and quell Fionna’s embarrassment. “Rainer and Emily, and me and Ad rode to the beach over Labor Day weekend with Patrick and Lucy. Good God, I swear we stopped at every exit so Lucy could pee. It took us like ten hours to get to Virginia Beach.”
Dan and Fionna both laughed.
“She hadn’t told anyone but Patrick that she was pregnant yet, but by the third stop Adeline was like, ‘so would you like me to do an exam?’
Logan headed back to Dan’s Ferrari in the parking lot of Mae’s. “Okay, back to the case. Who could have made up a working code to get into the Venton Admin building?” Fionna seemed anxious to figure this out right then.
“Well,” Dan sighed having already put the pieces together while he waited on Logan and Fionna to emerge from McDonalds. “Somebody knows Jeff Strenton is helping me out,” he admitted.
Fionna’s mouth dropped open, then closed, then opened again. “You mean they’re trying to frame him?” She finally stunned.
Logan and Dan both nodded.
“I still say it looks like Mentor Bryant,” Logan added quickly. “You know she hates you and your dad. She told Wilshire not to hire you. She just typed in all of the codes she could think of people she’d like to get into trouble or who people are already suspicious about.
“She suspects Jeff’s helping you and your dad. She only added hers to try and throw us off,” he elaborated.
“That’s what I was thinking, too. She had Jeff in one of her classes last year so she probably knows how good he is with electronics,” Dan added.
“What a bitch,” Fionna huffed.
As Logan pulled into the parking lot he turned and offered Dan his hand. “You married well my friend,” he offered wryly still laughing over Fionna’s assessment. She beamed as Dan laughed.
“That I did, and I cannot let Jeff take the fall for this.”
“We’ll figure this out and get you and Jeff out of trouble,” Logan promised.
“Jeff wasn’t even at the dance. How could anyone believe...” Fionna’s argument drown out as soon as she realized what Jeff’s absence from the dance would mean to someone that was trying to frame him. “I bet she heard me say something about them not being there at the table, remember?” Fionna gasped.
Dan recalled Fionna’s worrying out loud at their table while Katherine Bryant was seated very nearby.
“I don’t know. I’d love to see all of the information Portwood gets. The prints and everything else. If I could get a look at it I could tell you if this was planned before the dance or if it was a spur of the moment decision. That would tell us a lot.”
“I still want to know how she made up a new passcode that would work?” Fionna continued to fret.
“Wilshire,” Dan spat. At this point, it didn’t even tax his imagination to believe that the Chancellor and a mentor would stoop low enough to frame a student just to cover their affair.
“You think he told her how the passcodes are set? He helped her try and frame Jeff,” Fionna gasped. “Is there anything they won’t do?”
“Remember, Officer hot lips,” Dan soothed, “We don’t have any proof yet. Nothing other than Wilshire’s car on the property and that isn’t enough. He could say one of his kids borrowed his car or that it was stolen. We have to have more to go on,” he explained the often frustrating world of crime fighting.
“Do you think they slept together again tonight?” Fionna sounded disgusted by the thought.
“Yeah. I do,” Dan refused to lie to her even if it might’ve lessened the burdens held in the truth.
“She didn’t want to think anymore,” Fionna concluded.
Dan felt his heart sink as he watched his wife grapple with truths of the cold cruel world. She was his light and his warmth. She was his wildflower. She was his Maylea, able to brighten any area she was in. Able to make everything around her beautiful. But there was no beauty in an affair. There was only pain and scars that could never be mended. Irreparable damage to everyone involved.
“And you know what, baby?” Dan was unable to remain quiet. “That’s okay. It’s fine for you to want me to make it all go away for a while or vice versa. If she’d sought her husband when the world got to be more than she could handle or when her own emotions became more than she could fathom, it would have been fine. But she didn’t. She wanted someone else to take on the pain and the feelings she couldn’t comprehend and now she’s going to let him do it all over again,” Dan vowed.
“She was there less than two hours.”
“They can’t be seen in the light,” Dan pointed out as he pulled the car into their garage. “There is no holding her all night long, or even taking their time. She has to go home to her kids. She’d never allow the affair to take away from them again. That was the negotiation she decided on,” he sighed.
“She feels all alone and like he’s the only person that understands. Even though she regrets everything they did.”
Dan kissed her forehead sweetly. “We can’t save them now.”
Before she could answer, he was around the car and opened her door for her.
Their very groggy little girl was dressed in her pink frog pajamas and laying in Gretta’s lap awaiting their return.
“She wanted Daddy to tuck her in,” Gretta explained.
Dan lifted Aida up into his arms.
“I missed you,” she yawned deeply and buried her head into Dan’s neck.
“We missed you too, baby girl.” Dan carried her up the stairs and tucked her into bed.
When he returned, Fionna was in the kitchen making tea for herself and her stepmother.
“Something’s not quite right with my Maylea,” Gretta probed. Mr. Styler nodded his concern.
“Venton’s a disaster Mrs. Styler. Her receptors are so strong with the pregnancy. I’m not certain she can really be up there too often at least until Halia’s no longer sharing her body,” Dan explained quietly.
“That may be, Dan, but remember that even with everything going on I’ve never felt Maylea happier than when she’s with you,” Gretta soothed.
“I think we’re going to have to make a few changes. I can’t keep letting my job do this to her.”