Adoration

Act Three, Scene Two

Rehearsal hadn't gone well after the break. Anna's voice had been barely audible, and Peters missed most of his cues, too busy glaring at Frank to pay attention to what he was supposed to be doing. Stillwater finally exploded in an incoherent rage and sent everyone home, swearing and throwing his script to the floor as he stormed out. Anna had shown no outward sign of emotion but flinched when Peters passed her on his way out.

Once home, Anna had become a statue, pale and withdrawn. Frank busied himself around the kitchen, watching her carefully as he worked. At dinner, she pushed food around her plate without eating. Frank was growing concerned about her total lack of emotion or expression since their talk at the theater. Part of him wished he had taken the opportunity to hit Peters. Hard, he thought. Possibly in the nose. Or the jaw. It would be hard for him to talk with a broken jaw.

"What happened to you?" Frank started. Anna's voice was so soft, he had to lean forward to hear her. "You said you knew... What it was like..."

He nodded. "I do. A couple of years ago I was..." He paused, trying to figure out how to start. "Anna, how much do you know about me and Joe?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Not much." Her voice was guarded. "After Pierre told me about Joe, I did some research. I found some newspaper articles online. Work you did with your father, cases you've solved. Things like that."

"There's a lot you won't find." He let out a breath. "Like the fact Joe and I assist the local FBI office on occasion."

Anna's mouth dropped open. "Joe said his girlfriend was an agent."

"Kara and I have been working together off and on since I was in college." Frank pulled off his glasses and let the hair fall over his eyes. He took a deep breath. "A couple of years ago, I went undercover for her and was... captured." His voice wavered, and he struggled to keep it level. "I was held for nearly four months." Anna gasped, but he couldn't look at her; his eyes were focused on the past. "Joe and I got kidnapped a couple times when we were younger, but this was... different. More frightening, more... I don't know..." He swallowed, trying to maintain his composure. "It took a long time before I could trust anyone again. Even Joe. That frightened me even more." His eyes closed involuntarily, trying to shut out the images the words raised in his mind, and he felt her hand covering his. "I still have nightmares about it sometimes. So yes, I know." He opened his eyes and raised them to hers. "I'm sorry that idiot made you relive what happened to you and even more sorry that you have to go through this as well."

She squeezed his hand, then released it. "You found another note, didn't you?" Her voice was stronger, calmer, than he expected. He took the paper from his back pocket and handed it to her. She unfolded it, her jaw tightening as she read the words. "Shakespeare," she said.

"Are you sure?" Frank rose and moved around the table to stand behind her chair. "I haven't had a chance to check it yet."

Anna nodded. "Sonnet 130, and as long as we're sharing, there's something I'd like to tell you." Her cheeks reddened. "I know you saw the book, and I'd like to explain. Wait here a sec, okay?" She pushed her chair back and padded down the hall to her room. Within seconds she was back, a small, plastic card in her outstretched hand.

"What's that?" Frank asked, putting his hand out.

"My college ID."

Frank's eyes narrowed, and he dropped his gaze to card. The picture was definitely Anna, but Anna as she had been dressed the previous night – no makeup, glasses, braids. The ID was valid for the current semester. "Anna Goldstein?"

She held out her hand and looked at the picture critically once he returned it. "After the assault I wanted to get as far away from L.A. as possible. I came back east and started college under my real name. Just a couple classes at a time. I discovered I like being a student – a normal person." She shrugged. "Unfortunately, I ran out of money and had to go back to work. I took a few semesters off to save and started back the first chance I got. Luckily, Mercy has an online component so I can take classes no matter where I am. I usually manage at least one a semester."

"Is that what the voices were last night?"

Anna nodded. "Several of us try to get together online once a week to discuss what we're reading."

"And no one's recognized you?" Although he tried to keep his voice neutral, he could hear the skepticism in his words.

A smile quirked on her lips. "I call it the 'Clark Kent' effect. Now you see me," she picked Frank's glasses up from the table, put them on, and gestured to her face with spread fingers, "now you don't."

Frank nodded. He'd had similar experiences with his disguises while undercover. "Someone must know Anna Gold and Anna Goldstein are the same person."

"They're choosing poems I'd recognize," she agreed, her smile fading. She put the glasses back on the table and looked up at him again.

"Does Pierre know?"

It was her turn to nod. "The stage name was actually his idea. He thought a Jewish sounding name would limit the roles I was offered. He was my guardian until I turned eighteen."

"Your guardian?” Frank's head jerked up, something else Anna said tugging at his mind. “Wait, what do you mean you ran out of money?"

Anna shrugged. "Pierre said the stock market crashed. All I know is I was suddenly broke. I've been taking any role I can get to build up my bank account again."

Frank spread his hands. "Then how do you afford this place? The rent here must be enormous."

"I don't," she answered. Frank blinked, not understanding. "It's Pierre's. I stay here whenever I'm in town. It's the closest thing I have to my own home."

They both jumped as the phone rang. Frank grabbed the handset from the base on the wall and answered the call in John's voice. "Gold residence. May I help you?... Oh, hi, Brian... You're kidding. Is he all right?" Frank paused, listening. "What about rehearsals?... Okay, I'll tell her."

She walked over and put a hand on his arm. "What's happened?"

"Rehearsal's canceled tomorrow morning." His brow furrowed. "Jason Peters was in a motorcycle accident."

Anna's mouth dropped open. She fell back a few steps, hand over her heart. "Is he...?"

"He's alive." Frank's tone was grim. "But he's got a fractured collarbone and a broken leg. Stillwater's replacing him with Bobby Chapman. He's going to work with Bobby in the morning and have the rest of the cast do a read-through with him in the afternoon." He looked at Anna, concern etched on his face. "Are you okay?"

She sighed. "Is it awful to say I'm relieved?"

Frank rolled his eyes. "You and probably every other woman involved in the production." He pressed his lips together. "I need to tell Joe we lost a stalker suspect." He punched in the number and waited. "Joe? It's me. Peters is off the list." A pause. "No, I didn't hit him. I thought about it, though... Motorcycle accident, why?... What? When?" He listened for a few moments. "Really? There's got to be a connection." He briefed his brother on Anna's finances. "You should pay Mr. Montvale a visit and see what information you can get out of him."

Anna waved her hands to get his attention. "He's out of town for a couple of days." She glanced at the wall calendar. "Should be back the day after tomorrow."

"Did you get that? Okay. And Joe? Be careful when you talk to him." He held the phone away from his ear. "Yes, I'm aware I say that a lot. Get used to it, little brother. It's not going to change." He put the phone back on the base and turned back to Anna, who was watching him with wide eyes. "He hung up on me."

"What happened? Why does Joe need to talk to Pierre?"

Frank paused a moment before replying. "There's a possibility he's involved in a money laundering case."

"And you think it has something to do with my money?" Frank simply looked at her, unsure of what to say. Anna let out a long breath. "Well, and I thought this morning was strange. Is this what your life is like all the time?"

He shrugged. "Not all the time, but..."

"Really? Okay." She swallowed, then gave him a crooked smile. "I think I need ice cream. Care to join me?"

Relieved, Frank returned the smile. "Let me make a quick call." He pulled out his cell phone and punched in some numbers. "Biff? It's Frank. Are you actually home right now? Any chance you're free tomorrow after work? It's for a case... Great. Here's the address." He waited while Biff wrote down the information. "Thanks. See you then."


Biff was already in the lobby when Frank got there. Today's rehearsal had gone surprisingly well, the entire cast apparently pleased with the change of leading man, and Frank was running a few minutes late. "Thanks for coming on such short notice," he said, amusement showing on his face as he watched his friend surreptitiously eyeing the changes in his appearance. "Do you like the look?"

Biff tilted his head to the side. "It's, um... different. Can you actually move in those pants? They look like they've been painted on your legs. I mean, really, Frank."

"John," Frank corrected, looking to make sure the doorman wasn't listening. "Here you need to call me John."

"John, then," Biff amended. "And the overall effect is... interesting. You certainly don't look like you. Which is the point, I suppose." He looked Frank up and down as they walked down the hallway. "Who picked the plaid scarf?"

"Marisol. She was very specific about wearing it with this shirt." Biff nodded, still examining his friend's appearance. "Okay," Frank continued in a low voice, "what I need is a quick tutorial on investment banking."

"Wait, did you just say you need a tutorial on something?" Biff pretended to search his pockets. "Do you have any paper? I need to write this down somewhere. This is a red-letter day."

Frank rolled his eyes. "Very funny." One of the building's other tenants walked by, waving as she passed. He leaned in closer to Biff. "I need to learn how people use banks to launder money."

Biff raised his eyebrows. "Planning on changing careers? Somehow I never pegged you for a criminal mastermind. Not that you wouldn't be good at it..."

"It's got to do with the case we're on."

"I called Chet. He said something about protecting a movie star." He sighed theatrically. "You two get all the luck. Not sure I would have chosen this particular disguise, though. You'd be more believable as her boyfriend if you were all rugged and handsome."

"You don't read the gossip columns much, do you? Joe's her boyfriend. I'm the lackey."

"Really?" Biff lowered his voice to a whisper, his eyes registering disbelief. "And Kara's okay with this?"

"She knows." Frank was a little surprised Joe hadn't said anything to Biff about the breakup but shrugged it off. Joe was entitled to his privacy. "Speaking of Joe, when we set this up, I thought he and Anna were going out tonight, but their plans got changed. They invited some of the cast and crew over for Chinese take-out."

"So? We head to your room, and you get your tutorial." Biff shrugged his shoulders. "You have a room, right?"

"Yeah, about that..." The light glinted off Frank's glasses. "In the interest of full disclosure, they all think I'm – well, John is – gay. The rumor going around is it was the only reason Anna agreed to a male personal assistant."

Frank had to give Biff credit. Anyone who didn't know the tall man well wouldn't have noticed the slight faltering of his stride or the sudden tightness around his eyes and jawline. It was no wonder Biff had moved up the corporate ladder as quickly as he did; his poker face was nearly impossible to read. "Do they?" he asked in an even tone.

Frank resettled the black frames on his nose. "Anna's had issues with stalkers and finds gay men non-threatening."

"You? Non-threatening? Right." Biff snorted. "Just shows how much they know," he muttered.

"The point is when her guests see you, they may jump to conclusions. If you're not okay with the assumption, we can do this another time, but honestly, I really need the assistance."

"I don't have to kiss you, do I?"

"I'm all for verisimilitude," Frank responded, his voice taking on a dry note, "and I'm flattered, but no. Please."

Biff shrugged. "Well, then, hon, let's go." He slipped an arm around Frank's shoulders.

"John and I share the trait of not being overly demonstrative," he said. "Public displays of affection really aren't our thing."

Biff grinned. "Are you kidding? I get to tutor the man who knows everything and possibly make him blush? This just keeps getting better."

"Give it your best shot, buddy. Just remember who I grew up with," Frank shot back, shrugging out from under his arm. Biff followed Frank into the apartment, grabbing his hand as they entered, then stiffening ever-so-slightly as his eyes fell on Joe sitting at the dining room table. The corners of Frank's mouth quirked up in amusement as he disengaged his hand. "Ms. Gold, this is my friend, Allen." He introduced the others at the table, explaining briefly what role each played in the production.

Anna welcomed Biff and offered him some dinner. When he politely refused, she smiled and went back to her conversation with Stillwater. Joe leaned back in his chair, a wicked grin on his face. "Nice to meet you, Allen." He smirked and indicated Frank with his chin. "You've got yourself a live one here. Are you sure you can keep him... happy?"

Biff raised an eyebrow at him. "Well, if he's too much for me, perhaps you'll be available later. Gentlemen do prefer blonds, after all." Frank watched as a slow blush crept over Joe's face and lowered his head, trying not to laugh. Biff winked, then turned to Frank, "Shall we?"

As they walked down the hall, Frank felt eyes on him. He pretended to stumble and fell to his knees.

Biff turned, surprised. “Are you okay?”

"Fine," Frank said, his voice a little louder than necessary. "Help me up?" He put his hands out so Biff could pull him to his feet, turning his head back toward the kitchen as he rose. Most of the diners were involved in eating or talking, but from the corner of his eye, Frank could see both Brian Jackson and Stephen Stillwater – at opposite ends of the table – watching him. He leaned into Biff's shoulder. "Come on," he whispered, "the sooner we get this case figured out the better."

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