Act Three, Scene Three

From his seat at Montvale's desk, Joe could hear the man's footsteps as he walked through the empty reception area. His fingers drummed lightly on the desk as he anticipated the agent's reaction to finding him here. It didn't disappoint.

The light switched on, and Montvale's voice rang out, "What? How?" As usual, the agent was impeccably and expensively dressed. The hand pressed to his heart was adorned with a ring featuring a large, square-cut diamond. Must be at least four carats, Joe thought. Impressive. As the man's breathing slowed, his haughty attitude returned in full force. He drew himself up to his full height, his eyes flashing. "Mr. Hardy, I demand to know what you are doing in my office."

"It seemed like a good place to wait for you," he said,. "And here you are. Looks like it was a good idea."

"But the door was locked!" Outrage filled the man's voice. "That's breaking and entering!"

Joe nodded once, his face taking on a harder expression. "You've got the terminology down. You must watch those cop shows on TV."

Montvale slammed his briefcase on the desk and started rifling through the main compartment. "You have no right to be here. I'm calling the police!"

"Go right ahead. While we're waiting, we can talk." Joe put a hand in his shirt pocket. "And I can return one of your belongings." He pulled out the silk handkerchief, waving it in front of the man's face. "Anna says this is yours,” he said, infusing his voice with a menacing tone The fabric square fluttered onto the desk.

Montvale grabbed the piece of silk with one hand as the other emerged from the leather case clutching a cell phone. "I don't know what game you're playing here, Mr. Hardy, but you're not above the law..."

"I'm protecting Anna. Just like you hired me to do." He paused, watching Montvale fumble with the phone's keypad. "I can give you the number for the local precinct, but 9-1-1 will get the police here faster," he said, his voice like ice. "I'm sure they'll be very interested in where and how I found that handkerchief." He leaned towards the older man. "And even more interested in the embezzling."

The phone fell to the floor. "The what?" Montvale stuttered.

"The embezzling." Joe stood, putting both palms flat on the desk. "I mean, look at you – cashmere sweater, diamond the size of a golf ball, hand-made shoes. And your star client's broke... Can't imagine how that happened." He paused, letting the words sink in. "Unless it's her money you've invested in Stillwater's play, and you simply forgot to tell her about it." He watched as Montvale's face paled to a sickly white. "And now I hear a rumor you're involved in a money-laundering operation." He made a 'tsk' sound several times. "I'm sure the police will be very interested in that piece of information." He paused, letting his blue eyes bore into Montvale's. "Or the FBI."

Montvale sank into one of the chairs opposite the desk. "How did you...?" He squeaked, his French accent gone. Looks like Frank was right. Again. The man leaned over, putting his head in his hands. "Please. Don't," he whispered. "No one can know. He'll hurt Anna."

Joe's head shot up. "Who will?"

"I tried to protect her. I tried to convince her not to take the role." Tears were forming in the older man's eyes. "I sent the notes hoping they would scare her away..."

"You sent them? All of them?" Joe's hands started shaking, his anger spilling over. "Did you send the lilies, too?"

Montvale shook his head, confused. "Lilies? I wouldn't send lilies. Anna's allergic to them." He let out a shaky breath, trying to bring himself back under control. "I thought the notes would convince her to leave, to go back to California. When she wouldn't go, I hired you to protect her, to keep her safe."

Joe eyes flashed as his hands balled into fists. "Safe from who? Who's threatening her?"

"Not her. Me." Montvale's voice was a whisper.

"I don't give a shit about you. You put her in this position to save your own sorry ass." Joe grabbed the agent's shoulders and shook him hard. "Damn it, Montvale. Who? If you really care about her, give me a name."

Montvale crumpled in the chair. "Milton," he whispered.

The agent jumped as Joe's hands slammed on the desk in front of him. "Jackson? Stillwater's backer?" Montvale nodded, his eyes closed and his head bent. "What's he got on you?" The man mumbled something into his chest. "Louder."

"Gambling debts. Big ones. I needed to hide them from my wife, my family." Montvale opened his eyes. Joe could see tears forming in them. "Anna is my only big name client. I borrowed some money from her to pay them off..."

"You mean you stole from her."

"I was going to pay her back," he protested. Joe snorted. "The stock market crashed..."

Joe loomed over the man. "It's gone back up," he said, veins pulsing in his neck. "What's stopped you since then?"

Montvale swallowed and wiped his eyes. "Milton. He couldn't get enough money for this play. He... strongly suggested... I should invest in it." He cowered in his seat. "Stephen's plays do well critically, but not at the box office. Milt's usual crowd is tired of losing money on them." He took a shaky breath. "He said if I didn't give him the money, he'd send someone after Anna. Then he'd tell my wife what I'd done." He choked. "I had no choice."

"There's always a choice," Joe said, ice in his voice. He stood and crossed his arms over his chest. "And the one you have to make right now is how you're going to help the FBI put Jackson behind bars."

"Frank?" Anna's voice came from the living room. "Can I ask a huge favor?"

"Sure. Give me a sec." Frank gathered up the notes he had made during his meeting with Biff the night before. While he had learned quite a bit about the process of laundering money through banks and off-shore businesses, he wasn't sure how or if it applied to this case. He took a last drink of his coffee and went to see what Anna needed. "So, what can I..." His mouth dropped open, and he took a step back. "Uh..."

Anna stood in the middle of the room. One hand rested on a bar stool from the kitchen counter, the other gripped several sheets of paper. Her eyes held a pleading expression. "I'm having trouble with the new blocking in this one scene." She handed Frank the papers. "Would you mind running the lines with me? I really want to have it down for tomorrow."

Frank's eyebrows arched. "You want me to run a scene with you? I don't... I mean..." He started backing out of the room.

She walked forward and grabbed his arm. "I need help. All you need to do is read the lines." She pushed him down on the stool and shoved the papers in his hand. "Joe keeps telling me you spend a lot of time telling him you're a better actor than he is. Now you can prove it." She touched his shoulder. "Frank, I really need the help. Please."

He sighed and held up his hands in defeat. "Just don't expect too much," he said, scanning the pages. "There's no blocking."

She flipped a few pages, then pointed to a line near the bottom. "When you get here, stand up. Otherwise, all you need to do it sit and read. I'm the only one who moves in this one. Tell me when you're ready." Frank flipped through the pages again, then nodded. She beamed at him, and Frank felt his heart stutter. Then she reached over and pushed the glasses off his nose and over his forehead, sweeping the red fringe out of his face. "That's better."

The gesture surprised him, being both familiar and intimate, and his heart started beating faster. Anna started speaking, and he listened, enthralled, as she recited her lines. Two or three times, she caught herself half-way through a motion, and rolled her eyes, her persona changing from Mary to her own. "Last time," she said. "Joe's going to be here soon." Frank had to suppress a sudden, irrational surge of jealousy.

Once Joe's bruises had disappeared, he and Anna had gone back to the busy social life of a Hollywood starlet and her new beau. While Frank knew the pretense was necessary, he missed her company in the evenings. Having someone to talk to who knew who he was provided a nice change from his usual undercover assignments, and he found he enjoyed their conversations. He sighed and shook his head. But that's all this is to her, he thought, An assignment. Once this guy's caught, we all go back to our regularly scheduled lives. Somehow, the thought made him feel empty inside. He shook his head, trying to dispel the feeling.

"'You've been so quiet today, Yeshua. Are you all right?'" Anna stood a few feet to his left – back in character – an expression of concern and worry on her face.

Frank blinked at her for a moment, then looked down at the script pages. "'I just need to be alone for a while.'"

"'They're all worried about you. They sent me here to check on you.'" She moved a step closer. "'Look at me.'" He lifted his head and turned toward her, keeping his face as impassive as possible. "'You look so tired. What can I do?'"

"'Nothing.'" On paper the words looked stilted, but hearing her speak the lines brought them to life. He read his next words. "'Do whatever you want.'"

"'I want to tell them all to go away, to leave you alone.'" Frank shrugged. "'Yeshua, please, how can I help you? What do you want? Tell me.'" She knelt in front of him, putting her hands on his knees, the ferocity in her voice surprising him.

Frank gently removed her hands and turned away, his legs warm and tingling where she had been touching him. "'Does it matter?'" He wrenched his attention back to the character he was playing, infusing his voice with bitterness. "'It's already been decided for me. Everything. My whole life.'" He let out a breath and turned away, keeping his eyes pointed at the script. "'Or what's left of it.'"

She rose and put a hand on his shoulder, making him acutely aware of her presence. His breathing quickened. "'It matters to me.'" She crossed in front of him, her right hand caressing the side of his face as she walked, and Frank felt goosebumps rise on his arms. "'More than you can know.'" Her fingertips brushed his cheeks, then she leaned forward and kissed him.

For a second, Frank froze, shock coursing though him, then his body took over, responding to her with an ardor that that made him dizzy. His arms circled her, pulling her closer to him, his breathing ragged, his lips parting hers to deepen the kiss.

Bang, bang, bang. "Anna, are you home?" Joe's voice came from the hallway.

Frank jumped back, his heart pounding, his mind racing. Oh, my G-d. I kissed a client. With a history of... He could feel the blood draining from his face. "Anna... I didn't mean... I'm so sorry." She stood looking at him, her eyes wide, then turned and ran from the room. Seconds later, Frank heard a door slam. What have I done?

Joe pounded on the door again. "Anna? You in there?" Moving on auto-pilot, Frank opened it, barely noticing as Joe brushed by him excitement radiating off him like visible electricity. "I ran into Stillwater in the lobby," Joe said, shoving a balled-up sweater in Frank's arms. He continued talking, gesturing with his hands, his face animated, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Then he stopped, a look of concern flashing across his face. With a jolt, Frank realized he hadn't heard a word Joe had said. "You okay, 'bro?"

Frank couldn't make his mind stop whirling. "I'm fine," he finally managed to say. She's never going to trust me again.

"No, you're not." Joe's eyes bore into his. "You're white as a sheet, and your cheeks are flushed." Frank brushed Joe's hand aside as it moved towards his forehead. "Are you coming down with something? You look like you've got a fever."

"I'm fine," Frank choked, trying desperately to focus on his brother. "You saw Stillwater?"

"Yeah," Joe started bouncing again. "There's a pre-opening party this weekend at Milt's place in the Hamptons. Which works out great for us. And get this…" He relayed his interaction with Montvale.

Frank's eyes widened as he listened to Joe's story. "He admitted to writing the notes?"

Joe shook his head. "I'm not sure he did all of them. He was pretty clear about not having sent the lilies." He looked at Frank. "But he could have been lying. I'm guessing it was another scare tactic to get Anna to back out of the play." He shrugged. "In any case..."

Anna appeared in the room, wearing a deep red dress, her hair twisted into a knot at her neck. Her face looked calm, but Frank could see her eyes were guarded. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting" she said to Joe, pointedly avoiding Frank's gaze.

Joe's grin returned in full force, his blue eyes glowing. "You look great. I'm all set if you are." He turned back to Frank. "I'm going to hit Kara's office tomorrow. Get a plan in place." Then he held out his arm to Anna, who molded herself to his side. "Don't wait up, 'bro. I get the feeling it's going to be a late night."

Frank watched as the door closed behind them. Idiot, he thought. I'm a world class idiot. He looked down at the sweater, realized he was crushing it in his fist, and started shaking it out to remove the wrinkles. A piece of paper floated to the floor. Trepidation filled him as he knelt to retrieve it.

'The red rose whispers of passion,/ And the white rose breathes of love;/ O, the red rose is a falcon,/ And the white rose is a dove./ But I send you a cream-white rosebud/ With a flush on its petal tips;/ For the love that is purest and sweetest/ Has a kiss of desire on the lips.'

He stood for a moment, staring at the note. Montvale had been out of town until today, and he hadn't seen the man at the theater in days. There are two of them, he thought, coldness filling his chest. And I just screwed up my best chance of keeping her safe.

"You must be feeling brave." Hearing the voice, Joe turned his head. Travis was coming up behind him, his arms loaded down with files. "You're not real high on her list of favorite people right now."

"Can you get me in to see her?"

Travis raised an eyebrow. "And why would I want to do that?"

Joe's jaw tightened as he bit back the smart-ass remark sitting on the tip of his tongue. He might not like Travis, but he needed the man to get in to see Kara. "I've got information on your case."

"Really?" Joe could hear the skepticism in the agent's voice. Travis regarded him for a moment, considering, then relaxed his shoulders. "Here." He pushed the pile of folders at Joe. "This'll at least get you in the door."

Joe nodded, took the files, and walked down the hall to Kara's office. When he got there, he took a deep breath before kicking it gently with his foot. "Come in." Kara was at the back of the room, her head bent over an open filing cabinet drawer. She didn't turn around.

"Just put those on the desk. Thanks, Travis."

"You're welcome."

Kara froze. "What are you doing here?" She lifted her head, still keeping her back to him.

"Do you have access to a catering outfit you can use as a cover?" He stacked the files on her desk as he spoke.

"What?" The drawer closed slowly as she turned around.

"Jackson's having a party this weekend." Kara's face remained an impassive mask. "Montvale agreed to wear a wire, to steer the conversation to money when he and Jackson are alone." He shrugged. "I had him tell Jackson he'd take care of the food. No one will question a lot of food service people around. As soon as you hear the magic words, you rush in and get your guy."

Kara's eyes narrowed. "Why is Montvale doing this? What've you got on him?" Joe pressed his lips together and looked away. Kara sighed. "Why are you doing this?"

"Professional courtesy."

She looked at him for a long moment. "Fine. Give Travis the details – what you know about the house, who else will be there. I'll go alert the chain of command." She walked towards the door, rolling down her shirtsleeves, a clear sign of dismissal.

"Kara." She stopped, her hand reaching for the doorknob. "I'm sorry." He tried swallowing around the lump forming in his throat. "I never meant to hurt you."

She turned back to face him, her professional mask slipping. "But you did." Her voice was brittle.

He nodded in acknowledgment. "I know, and I'll regret it for the rest of my life. I just wanted you to know I didn't..." She lifted a hand to stop his words, then walked out the door. He watched her leave, then took a deep breath to steady himself and went to find Travis.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.