A Cradle of Wolves

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VII

Chapter Seven: Impetus.

Music blared, the doors to the living room swung open, and the chandelier above the dining table became alit. Theo found himself back at the Clearwater estate with his arms tied over his head as he lay on top of the dining table. Julian and Constance walked into the dining room attired in white clothes; their steps were inaudible as if they were floating like demonic specters. Constance’s face twisted into a monstrous devilish grin while the red glow of Julian’s supernatural burning eyes made him look even more sinister than he already was. With a loud cackle, Constance brandished a knife from behind her back and stabbed Theo’s chest before she wrung it down in a swift move, slicing his torso vertically.

Theo jerked forward in pain. He was no longer in the brightly lit dining room but in his room at home with the pale light of dawn filtering through his drapes. Drenched in sweat from the nightmare he decided to shower and start his day. In matter of fact he was eager to start his day anyways. It was the first Sunday of the new-year and he had huge plans for later. He had been preparing himself for this very moment for an entire year and now it was time now for his plan to be put into motion.

He called Tobias’ and got an answer within one ring. “Am I going to see you at the Cathedral today?”

“Yes, you are. I’m supposed to be Cristina’s ears and eyes for today and I’m also supposed to accompany you so yes you will see me at the Cathedral,” replied Tobias in a deadpan tone, “Hopefully I see you at the Cathedral.”

“You think I’m going to ditch this moment?” Theo laughed, “This is not only going to elevate me financially but also…” he paused because today was the first day he was going to see Constance and Julian since the Christmas party from over a year ago. It meant a lot to him that he was going to face his enemies in his new identity. The Edmunds siblings would see him only as Theo von Draken.

“I’m sure the Edmund siblings know about you after you robbed Booker of his award.” Tobias still couldn’t believe that Theo had achieved at making Booker feel defeated so quickly. Tobias and Cristina were at a loss for words when Theo told them about his coming across with Booker. “Remember what Cristina said, though.”

Theo rolled his eyes as he opened his closet to choose what he would wear. “Don’t do anything extreme without her consent—yes of course I remember. What I did to Booker was nowhere near extreme. Plus, I didn’t even do it. It was the Dean who chose me for the award, so I had no part in it. Cristina wants to avenge herself and I’m her helper so I’m doing exactly that.”

“She doesn’t want you hurting someone innocent along the way,” Tobias added with concern. He was noticing that Theo was becoming more of a rogue with each passing day. Cristina also saw the change in his attitude and worried that she might have to take precautionary measures against the young man. “And she also doesn’t want you getting side-tracked either.”

Theo had had enough of Tobias constant regulating; it was too early in the morning for it all. After he said his farewell, Theo sighed in relief after he hung up. He was and would always be grateful for what Cristina and Tobias did for him, but Theo was beginning to feel that there were some serious strings attached to their favors. He knew that he had to help Cristina find her children and in return she would look for his parents, but something felt off. Cristina isn’t telling me the full story and Tobias isn’t going to say anything as well. Theo felt that there was something about Cristina that didn’t quite add up.

Each day his benefactress became a mystery. She only spoke about her past in the first day that he and Cristina met. Then, she never mentioned anything. Theo had never heard her talk about her life before Constance ruined it and she never mentioned her missing children. When she would come over to visit Theo she would do little talking and expected Theo to carry the conversations. Theo also noticed that she looked at him knowingly as if she was hiding something from him—something of great importance to him.

Theo changed into a white polka dot print black long sleeve shirt; he wore a burgundy velvet blazer over his shirt and with that he also wore fitted black corduroy pants and black Oxfords. He combed his hair in front of the mirror in his bedroom and as he did so his eyes became fixed on the scar on his right cheek. His expression darkened. The scar was his constant reminder and the product of his enemies’ humiliation towards him. The day he would look at his scar with indifference would be the day that he no longer had to worry about the Edmunds running around doing their mischief.

After he put on his Dolce and Gabbana watch, Theo hurried out of his house and got into his black and white, two door Mini Cooper coupe that he had parked outside of the wrought iron gate. Immediately, he made his way towards Old Willow. The Sunday morning mass was going to start in an hour, and he promised the mayor of Old Willow, who was one of his investors and supporters of his philanthropic cause, that he would meet him and his family outside of the Cathedral before mass. The mayor wanted Theo to sit next to his family since they all admired his great work in philanthropy and vision for further projects.

When Theo arrived in Old Willow, he had to park his car a few blocks away from the Cathedral since no car could enter the enclosed plaza. The morning was as brisk as any other January morning. The cathedral bell began tolling as he walked up the steps, signaling the commencement of the morning mass. Once the two wooden doors opened, the crowd began to enter the cathedral, murmuring greetings and salutations to one another as they entered.

“Ah, Mr. von Draken!” the mayor had exclaimed jubilantly when he finally spotted Theo walking towards him. The mayor took him in and sat Theo next to his family as planned.

Theo wasn’t religious at all but still respected the Catholic religion. As he sat and attended the morning mass, he instinctively blocked out all of the choir singing and the praying and instead admired the ivory statues and the golden gilded cross that hung on a wall behind the pastor. Everything in the cathedral was so furnished and posh that it amazed Theo. What put him off however were the gruesome depictions in some of the art in the ceiling and the pained and haunting look that the porcelain Jesus Christ bore on the cross. His feelings towards the religion weren’t new to him. Ever since he was a child, he thought that the Cathedral needed a makeover so it could be less ominous. As he grew and read more on different religions, he found that most cathedrals were just like the one in Old Willow; they all emitted a sense of fear and doom. I prefer a smiling Buddha and his gold belly, he thought jokingly.

Behind him he could feel the eyes of the Edmunds on his back. Theo smiled with close lips. He wanted to turn around quickly to see their faces, but the mass would be over and soon he would come face to face with them. Everyone around him took out their rosaries and with closed eyes they bowed their heads in prayer. This was a perfect opportunity for him to look back but then he remembered that Constance and Julian were utterly wicked so surely, they wouldn’t bother in praying. Theo had missed the fact though that anyone can pray whether they’re foul or good. Before he knew it, the service ended with an “amen” and with that said everyone rose from their pews to exit the cathedral.

The woman who was first to leave was taken by surprise when she saw that no one was asking for alms outside the cathedral. Instead, everyone that usually came around to beg for money were lining up in front of various food stalls that dotted the plaza. Everyone inside the cathedral whispered and muttered in surprise, wondering who was responsible for setting the food stalls while they were praying. The entire congregation huddled near the front doors and didn’t dare walk down the stone steps in fear of getting too close to the paupers that were out of control. The congregation got so used to being put on a high pedestal by the impoverished over the few dollars that they gave out that it never occurred to them that one day these people would quit begging.

“They’re not going to do anything,” the mayor said as he broke through the crowd with Theo at his side. “This young man here is the one that organized the event for the disenfranchised that frequent the cathedral.” The mayor patted Theo’s back and smiled at him, “I authorized this; you’re all safe. I assure you, there are no worries.”

The congregation was still wary over the alarming number of paupers that came to the plaza to get food from the stalls. One man from the congregation walked down the steps and exited the plaza. When the congregation all saw that the man left unscathed, they all sighed in relief before following the man’s actions. Soon the congregation was no longer huddled near the door but were spread around the plaza, avoiding the impoverished on their way out.

Tobias tapped Theo on the shoulder beckoning him to turn.

“What is it?” Theo asked with a raised brow.

“It appears that you have ten more investors. I guess some people have seen the good you’ve done to the beggars that frequent the church and are interested in seeing what you have planned next. They are willing to put in money even though their reaction to all of this seemed the contrary.” Tobias spoke but never averted his gaze away from his phone’s screen. He was too busy reading all the incoming emails that flooded his inbox.

Theo smiled. So far so good, he thought.

However, not everyone agreed with Theo’s philanthropic cause. A group of women from the congregation crowded in front Theo, Tobias, and the mayor. They were very exigent in their manners and body language, heaving like infuriated bulls as their bosoms rose in quick succession. Their expressions were ebbing with outrage. Lisa Mondragon and Constance Edmunds were at the front of this crowd of crossed women.

Theo noticed the two women. His smile became a grin while his eyes sparkled deviously. He folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head to the side, waiting to see what these women had to say.

“How can you let this happen in the most important landmark in the city!” exclaimed Constance, shaking her fan in front of her. She was speaking to the mayor and didn’t bother in giving Theo a second look.

“Mind I remind you that we are helping the poor and downtrodden in front of the cathedral? This is exactly what we should all be doing, including all of you instead of coming to me and complaining.” The mayor didn’t care if these women were part of the elite. He spoke to them just as he was talking to anyone else.

Lisa shot Theo a glare. She knew, like everyone else, that he was behind the matter that vexed her and her friends. “We do help the poor every Sundays when they ask for alms.”

“It’s time that we start helping in other ways,” interjected Theo with casual pride as he looked down at the group of belligerent women. “Now if you’ll excuse me. I hope you all have a wonderful day,” he paused to turn to Tobias, “Please thank the investors for their interest and cooperation. Also, tell them that I’ll contact them as soon as possible.” Theo gave the mayor and the group of women a courteous quick nod of farewell before proceeding down the steps.

Without anyone noticing, he walked across the plaza, arriving at his spot under the bridge. There he sighed audibly at times long past. He rested one palm on the wall, which was now bare. The city’s clean-up crew had painted over the drawings and poetry.

His heart lurched in sorrow at what this place meant for him. Here he not only experienced bliss but also tragedy. Patsy died on the very spot where Theo was standing. He sat on his haunches and gazed deep in his thoughts at the stone ground as if Patsy was there.

“Hunter…”

The sound of his old name brought him back from his contemplation. He quickly got up on his feet to face the person who had called him by a name covered by so much ignominy.

“Ana,” Theo realized with the utmost annoyance. He clenched his teeth and his nostrils flared at the sight of the young woman. “Or shall I say Mrs. Edmunds,” he included when he noticed her wedding ring.

Ana smiled, ignoring Theo’s attitude towards her. “This is the place where we first met,” she said with a gentle smile.

Theo’s upper lip curled back loathsomely. “I normally don’t associate this place with that moment and for your information my name is not Hunter. I am Theo von Draken and you should know that by now.”

“When are you going to stop being so cruel to me?”

“Whenever you quit bothering me. Hopefully that answer suffices. I want nothing to do with you Ana.” He turned his back on her, leaving the underneath of the bridge. She killed his mood; he really was having a fun morning if it hadn’t been for her approaching him.

Constance paced back and forth in front of Julian, who was seated on the settee in her room. She fiddled anxiously with the uppermost button on her black satin blouse.

“Can you please stop? You’re making me dizzy,” complained Julian. He stroked his beard as he looked at her nonchalantly.

“How can you tell me to stop? Did you not see what that marginalized dog did out there today?” Eventually Constance’s pace slowed but she didn’t cease her walking. She knew that Theo von Draken was Hunter. She thought everyone else were a bunch of idiots for not realizing that there was a dangerous intruder in their society. “We have to do something about this.”

“Like what? We can’t humiliate him since he’s obviously protected by his wealth,” Julian paused for a moment to ponder, “Where did he get so much money to organize that spectacle? He was also very well-dressed and well-fed by the looks of it.” Apart from Constance, Julian too recognized the young man despite his mask of wealth.

Constance stopped in front of Julian and put a stressed palm on her forehead. She closed her eyes and spoke, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Julian chuckled. “Oh, please quit being so dramatic. What can he possibly do to us? Order his army of plebeians to eat us alive and start a Reign of Terror?”

“Theo von Draken.” Constance spoke the name over and over as her mind machinated. “Theo von Draken is the same man who was given the title that Booker was supposed to keep at the university,” she shook her head and sat on the edge of her bed, realizing a crucial fact that had gone unnoticed, “Theo had already struck, and we didn’t even realize it!”

Constance’s utterance left Julian’s mind to wander. There were many things to consider. How much money did Theo have? Who is his benefactor? Does he intend on hurting the Edmunds?

There was a knock at the door. Constance didn’t have to invite the person in because as she was about to invite them in, that person had already entered.

“Jennifer.” Constance smiled warmly at her daughter.

“Theo is Hunter, huh? I recognized him today by the scar on his cheek where he received that nasty hit,” said the young woman. She wasn’t worried like her mother. Instead her tone was firm. She sat next to her uncle.

Constance still couldn’t believe at what the world was coming to. Her worst fear was becoming a reality. “I’m afraid so.”

“We did him wrong on that night…,” Jennifer was going to say more but she was cut off by Julian.

“On Christmas,” Julian interrupted with a pursed smile.

“And now he’s back for revenge,” continued Jennifer, “But I’m not going to let him vilify or harm our family.”

Constance and Julian rolled their eyes as they heard the inexperienced girl speak nothing but foolishness. What can she possibly do, they both thought.

Jennifer saw that her mother and uncle doubted her. This enraged her and ultimately motivated her to do what she had been planning all day since she saw Theo at the service. “I’m one of the investors that contacted Tobias, Theo’s assistant, and told him that I’m interested in investing in Theo’s charity. I’ll get him here and I’m going to marry him. If he really wants to do our family harm, he’ll marry me without a problem and we can finally end him.”

Constance was taken by surprise at what she heard her daughter say. “After all,” she began to say when she accepted her daughter’s sudden brave and vicious nature, “You’re my daughter. Go ahead with your plan.” She smiled in satisfaction. Not only was her daughter going to bring them Theo, but she was also going to give Constance and Julian another chance to put the young man down once and for all.

“Mrs. Clearwater, you have a visitor waiting for you in the living room,” announced Orlando the butler from outside the room.

Constance rose from where she sat with an exhausted sigh before leaving her bedroom. She was so drained of energy due to her preoccupations that she swaggered down the stairs as she held herself onto the banister.

Constance opened the two French doors of the living room and entered with her back facing her guest. “Our butler didn’t even say who your name was,” began Constance, closing the doors. She gasped and stumbled when she turned to face her visitor.

“What’s wrong? It’s like you’ve seen a ghost.” Cristina was Constance’s guest. She rose from the couch, smiling at her hostess. Her long dark hair flowed over the back of her navy satin dress with its padded shoulders while her lipstick gleamed under the dim lights.

“What are you doing in my house?” Constance spoke aggressively to the woman but didn’t dare move a step closer.

“Your house?” scoffed Cristina as she clasped her hands amusingly. “Honey, you took this house from me.”

“If you’re going to cry to me about how I took everything away from you then save it. I don’t want to hear your pity party,” Constance thrust an angry finger in the air towards Cristina. “You killed one of your children and you were put in jail or whatever imprisonment they arranged for you. You lost your house and everything because you wanted to lose it in the first place. Your husband wasn’t going to miss a serial killer. Why you’ve been let out is beyond me!”

Cristina stepped forth hostilely but managed to control her anger towards Constance when she reached her adversary. “You accused me of a crime that I didn’t commit and was never committed in the first place. My children are not dead because I never killed my eldest and my youngest is out there in this cruel world!”

Constance braved up and came close to Cristina, standing face to face with her. She narrowed her eyes with a smile. “We’ve all done terrible things, or haven’t you forgotten? You were just as bad as me. Remember all the things we did to so many people from the moment we met in high school to the time you got arrested? You, Lisa, and I were unstoppable.” Constance laughed reminiscently. Remembering that era from her life made her laugh as she felt warm and blissful at her recollections. “The best thing we ever did was during prom, I think. We gave Lonnie that dress that would turn transparent under the spotlights and when we she was dancing with the guy she liked, we flashed the spotlight from above on her. He saw through her and he was so disappointed that he left her alone and embarrassed on the dance floor. Didn’t she leave crying? Later we staged her suicide and while everyone mourned her death, she was being drugged up in a crappy apartment that we had her escorted to after prom. Or remember that time when Lisa and you made that one lady invest in the wrong stock and she lost everything!”

“Those days are behind me, Constance,” Cristina spoke firmly but less aggressively. She decided to sit back on the couch. Hearing about her terrible past deeds humbled her and in turn tamed her. She regretted the things she did.

Constance saw that she had hit Cristina’s moral weak spot. “Karma just caught up with you. She’s a bitch, isn’t she?”

“And I’m bitchier,” retorted Cristina who suddenly was reawakened from her taming. “You’re going tell me what happened to my sons or I swear to god I will get that information out of you no matter the cost.”

Constance grabbed Cristina’s hand and put it around her neck. “Go on! Give it your best shot then.”

Cristina glared at her rival as she slightly pressed her fingers into the woman’s neck. She really wanted to snap her neck there and then but stopped herself. She took her hand away from Constance’s neck.

“You don’t have the guts to kill me. You never will.”

“That’s because I’m not a killer!” Cristina came close to a shout, but she remembered that if anyone in the estate heard the commotion they would come running towards Constance’s aid.

Constance’s eyes glinted curiously as she gazed at Cristina. “Is that denial that I hear in your voice? I have nothing to tell you besides me telling you to get the hell out of my house.”

“Have it your way then. I’ll be glad to be out of here,” Cristina wrinkled her nose and looked around in disdain, “This place reeks of poor taste like the new housewife.” She left the living room and exited the estate completely. Not once did she give her former home a second glance as she left. Somehow, I’m going to find out what happened to my children, it was Cristina’s only goal and she hoped to accomplish it soon enough.

Constance shut the door behind her and walked back into the living room. She looked around anxiously as she fidgeted with the uppermost button on her dress. She couldn’t believe that she just had her first conversation with someone whom she hadn’t seen in so many years. Cristina wasn’t just anybody though. Cristina was Constance’s best-friend and the victim of her wicked plans.

The two doors that led to the music room next to the living room swung open with Julian stepping inside and settling on a couch. He smiled at Constance as he shook his head in bemusement. “Cristina is back. Not only do we have Theo to take care of but also your ex-best-friend, whom we put away.”

“Don’t mention it!” Constance snapped at Julian before recollecting herself. “Find out how Cristina got out of imprisonment and give me whatever information by tomorrow evening. You have a way with all the desperate housewives so try to squeeze some information from the local gossipers.”

Julian rolled his eyes with a chuckle. “Already giving me orders, I see? You never fail to amuse me. Don’t you think it’s a bit odd that Theo and Cristina all show up on the same day?”

Constance caught onto Julian’s instigating tone of voice. “What do you mean?”

Julian continued fervently. “Theo is out for revenge and so is Cristina. He was dirt poor a little over a year ago and now he’s rich and starting up a charity for the impoverished. Where did he get all that money? Cristina was a woman who was robbed of all her fortunes and thrown into imprisonment. Probably her grandma, who’s a countess in Spain, passed away and Cristina inherited all the money and the title. She probably saw Hunter on that Christmas and felt some sort of compassion for him. They bonded over their mutual hatred for us and they formed an alliance. It’s clear now! Cristina is Theo’s benefactress!”

“That must mean that Cristina attended our Christmas party that year without us realizing,” Constance said after she pondered over what Julian was telling her.

“No, she wasn’t here. Tobias was invited and from what we saw he’s Theo’s personal assistant. He could very well be Cristina’s too. After all, Cristina wouldn’t have shown her face here that early in her plans.” Julian gave his sister all the more reason to believe him. Even though he was telling the truth, which he figured out all on his own, Constance was still wary over the details.

“If they are working together then that makes our job much easier as well. While Jennifer is destroying Theo, we’ll have Cristina’s head on a silver platter.” Constance laughed at her malicious scheming but behind her smile she hid a thought that could ruin her plans if that thought became a reality. What if…? She couldn’t possibly finish her thought out of fear for jinxing herself.

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