Adoration

Act Four, Scene One

"Okay, Frank, spill. Why the lunch invitation?" Biff grabbed a pickle from the bowl on the table. "Not that I mind getting out of the office now and then, especially when I'm not paying, but..."

Frank shifted in his seat, his left hand moving up to touch the gold hoop in ear. If this thing doesn't come out soon, I'm going to be stuck with a hole in my ear. "I was wondering if you were around this weekend. Something's up, and I could use another pair of eyes."

"Around, yeah. Available, no." Biff took a large bite of pickle. "I love these things. I could eat them all day long, garlic breath be damned." He chewed and swallowed. "Big deal client's coming into town Friday afternoon. I drew the short straw." He rolled his eyes. "I have to provide entertainment and be available twenty-four/seven. Something happen to Joe?"

"He's busy with a related case," Frank lowered his hand and moved it toward his coffee mug. "There's a party this weekend for the backers and the cast." He drank some of the steaming liquid. "Stillwater said I should come and grudgingly suggested I bring my 'boyfriend.'" He toasted Biff with the mug. "Since Joe might be occupied, I thought another pair of eyes might be good."

"Sounds like 'John' has an admirer," Biff teased. "In that case, I'd just be in the way." He selected another pickle from the bowl. "Besides, you and Anna seem pretty tight." Frank flinched and looked away. "Did something happen?"

"Let's just say Anna's not real comfortable around me at the moment." Frank blew out a breath. "It's a long story."

Biff raised his eyebrows. "How about the short version?"

"I kissed her."

Biff's eyes grew wide. "Really? That doesn't sound like you at all." He considered for a moment. "Joe, sure, but not you."

Frank shook his head. "I know. I screwed up."

"Does Joe know?"

"She might have told him." He shrugged and looked down at the table. "She's not really talking to me right now."

Biff tilted his head to the side, examining Frank's expression. "Wow. There's a look I haven't seen since high school." He straightened up. "Every time you had a fight with Callie you'd have that look on your face until you made up." He paused, a slow smile spreading over his face. "You like her."

Frank's jaw tightened. "She's a client. I'm concerned for her safety."

"Please. That might work with someone who doesn't know you; not with me." Biff leaned closer, his elbows on the table. "You like her. Why don't you just tell her?"

Frank flushed. "She wouldn't be interested in me. Especially not now."

Biff picked up another pickle. "Is it that she's not interested, or that you're afraid to tell her?"

"What?" Frank couldn't keep the anger from his voice.

"Hey, don't take it like that. It's just – and correct me if I'm wrong – your last relationship was with Callie." Frank shrugged and bent his head over the coffee mug. Biff shook his head, puzzled. "What happened with you two anyway? We all figured you would be the high school sweethearts who got married. Next thing I know, Joe calls and tells me Callie's dating some guy from Connecticut she met at school."

"We grew apart." Frank 's eyes grew distant. "Once school started we didn't see that much of each other. With the double major, I needed to take classes all year long so I could graduate on time." His gaze shifted to the coffee in the mug, and he stared into it as if he were expecting images to appear on the liquid's surface. "Gradually the phone calls grew less frequent, and when we did talk, the pauses were longer than the conversations. I think deep down she hoped I'd give up the investigating and was waiting to hear me say it. Eventually she stopped waiting." He paused. "She called after she started seeing Chad. I didn't know what to say, so I just wished her the best."

Biff cleared his throat. "Anna knows what you do, and from what I can see she still seems to like having you around."

"She's a client," Frank said dully.

"Someday she won't be," Biff said. "We're not in high school anymore, Frank. If you like her, you should tell her how you feel." Frank shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the table. "Wow. Here's something I never thought I'd see: Frank Hardy afraid. Yet another red-letter day."

Frank clenched his teeth. "I have to get back. Thanks for taking the time, and good luck with your client this weekend." He pushed his chair back and started to rise.

"Frank." Biff laid a hand on Frank's arm, stopping him. "What I said, it was out of line. I'm sorry." He let out a breath. "Call me if you get stuck. I'll see what I can do."

Frank left without looking back.


Travis leaned back in his chair, pushing several sheets of paper toward the center of the table. "You're not half bad at this, Hardy. I always assumed Frank just kept you around as muscle, but this is pretty good. I'm almost impressed."

Joe raised an eyebrow at the agent. "Thanks. I think."

"You're sure about the layout of the house?"

"Positive." Joe grabbed a page featuring a crudely drawn map. "Montvale's been there a number of times. He's being very cooperative." He pointed to one section. "Jackson's office is here. If you hang out around here," he pointed to a large square in the center of the map, "you'll be in perfect position to grab him. You can't get anywhere else in the house without going through the living room."

"That's the living room?" The agent's voice reflected his disbelief. "You could fit my entire apartment in there." He shook his head. "Man, I'm in the wrong business."

"Tell me about it," Joe said. He looked around the small conference room. "So, Kara's not in on this?"

"I was wondering when you'd get to that," Travis said, a small smile on his lips. "She's getting the props in order – trucks, uniforms, food from an actual caterer. You know."

Joe sighed. "Yeah, the details. The stuff she and Frank do so well." His left foot started bouncing under the table. "Of course, if it was him here, she'd be sitting right there." He indicated an empty seat with his chin.

Travis turned his head quickly from side to side, making sure they were alone. "Give her some time, Hardy. These last few weeks have been tough for her. It's like she's reliving Lynne's loss all over again." He paused, turning away for a moment. "You never got to meet her, did you?" Joe shook his head, his leg growing still. "As close as you and Frank are? They were closer. You know the expression 'Irish twins'?" Joe nodded. "They were in the same grade in school, took the same classes. The first time they were ever apart was when Kara came here to go college instead of staying in Boston." Travis picked up a pencil and started rolling it between his fingers. "They talked on the phone at least once a day, sometimes more. When Heather and I got married, Kara didn't bring a date, she brought Lynne." He sighed. "I'm her partner, and she didn't tell me Lynnie was sick until it was too late." He turned his eyes to Joe, the usual humorous rancor in them replaced by sorrow. "I know I haven't always been your biggest fan, but you've been good for her. Better than I would have thought."

Joe cocked his head to the side. "You're slipping. That almost sounded like a compliment."

Travis flashed a brief smile. "If she wasn't grieving so hard, she wouldn't be so mad at you. She knows what it's like to be in the middle of case. You lose track of everything. You just need to give her time."

"Do you really think so?" Joe worked hard at keeping the emotion out of his voice. He wasn't going to lose it in front of Travis.

"Yeah, I do." The agent smirked at the disbelief in Joe's eyes. "Hey, I'm being honest here..."

"You actually have that ability?" Kara's voice came from one of the doors, startling them both. She pulled up a chair and sat down next to Travis. "They need you upstairs to get fitted for your server's uniform. Black polyester. You'll love it."

Travis rolled his eyes. "Polyester? Do they have bell bottoms? Maybe we can disco our way through the assignment." He rose from his chair and struck a dance pose.

Joe snorted. "Don't quit your day job, Travis."

"You're just jealous that you don't get to wear one, Hardy." He pirouetted from the room, leaving a profound silence behind him.

Kara flipped through the charts on the table. "These look good, a lot of detail. It will make this easier."

Joe nodded. "I'm glad. I know you've been trying to get this guy for a while." Silence. Kara's eyes stayed glued to the diagrams, her head moving in a slight nod. He waited for a response, then gave up. "I should go," he finally said. "I need to pack." He stood, pushed back his chair and paused a moment. "I'll see you tomorrow. Good luck."

"Joe?"

Joe held his breath. My name, he thought, Joe, not Hardy.

"Thank you." Kara's voice was soft as she spoke. She lifted her head from the map in her hand and looked at him. The hard, professional mask was gone. The look she gave wasn't open, but it wasn't closed off, either.

A tense knot in Joe's chest loosened slightly. "Any time. You know that." She nodded and turned her attention back to the diagrams. Joe left the room feeling lighter than he had in a long time. It's a start, he thought, and I'll take it.


Frank had to work hard at maintaining John's voice and mannerisms at Milt Jackson's mansion in the Hamptons. His nerves were still on edge from his discussion with Biff the previous day, and everything raised his hackles, especially the sleeping arrangements. Anna and Joe had a room together in the main house, while he had to share the pool house with Brian Jackson and the rest of Anna's luggage.

Joe reassured him nothing would happen – "Hey, I'm sleeping on the floor. She's a client, 'bro. What do you take me for?" – which only made Frank angrier at everyone, himself included. He spent the evening listening to Brian's inane chatter about the play, making up plausible answers to the stage manager's questions about his 'relationship' with 'Allen,' and wondering why he had even agreed to attend the event. He spent most of the night awake, trying to talk himself into a calmer state of mind and failing miserably.

As he hovered near Anna at the party the next day, playing the efficient personal assistant, he could feel her eyes on him. He did his best not to look at her, not wanting to see the hurt and confusion he knew would be there. As she played the role of the happy lover wrapped in Joe's arms, he had to fight the irrational urge to spill something on his brother's shirt to separate them. Several methods of doing this wound through his mind, bringing a small smile to his lips.

"John?" Joe's voice in Frank's ear brought him back to the present.

"Yes, Mr. Hardy?" He reached up and adjusted his glasses.

"Have you seen Anna's shawl? She's a bit chilly." Joe leaned in and whispered, "Kara's here." Frank's eyes scanned the room. Kara was nearby, a tray of hors d'oeuvres in her hands. He nodded imperceptibly. "I'm not sure which suitcase it was in, sir. If it's not in her room, it may be in mine. Would you like me to go look?"

Joe leaned in again. "Montvale and Jackson just left to 'talk', and I'd prefer Anna was out of the way." Frank followed Joe's eyes to the back of the room, catching a glimpse of the back of Montvale's head as the man exited the room. "It's okay, John, she said she'd go herself. I just thought I'd see if you knew where it was."

As Joe walked back to Anna, Frank moved toward Kara, scooped a cracker from her tray, and watched – mildly entertained – as her eyebrows headed to the ceiling once she recognized him. He bowed slightly to her and headed to the other side of the room, where he could watch the action without having to interact with anyone. From the corner of his eye, he saw Anna touch Joe's cheek affectionately just before she left through one of the double doors, her arms crossing her chest to keep herself warm. Frank sighed and, turning away, walked right into Brian who was standing by one of the other sets of doors. "Sorry," he murmured.

"I hate these things," the stage manager said. "Too many people for an introvert like me. I'm going for a walk. Want to come? You don't look like you're having any more fun than I am." He seemed positively jovial.

Frank shook his head. "I need to be here for Ms. Gold when she gets back."

Brian gave him an amused look. "Suit yourself. I'm out of here."


Retrieving the shawl was an excuse. Anna needed to leave the party, to have a few minutes respite from pretending to be someone else – Joe's girlfriend, Stillwater's star, anyone more confident and sure of herself than she felt at this exact moment. Frank's behavior over the past few days confused and frightened her. She had let him into her home, had told him her secret, had trusted him, and now... She carefully ran a finger under her eyes, trying not to ruin her makeup and let out a shaky breath.

"Hey, are you all right?" Anna turned to find Brian standing in the doorway of her room, one hand behind his back. "You look sad."

Anna forced a smile on her face. "I'm fine."

He looked at her and shook his head. "No, you're not. I can tell." From behind his back, he brought out a red rose and held it out. "'O my Luve's like a red, red rose/ That's newly sprung in June;/ O my Luve's like the melodie/ That's sweetly play'd in tune. /As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,/ So deep in luve am I:/ And I will luve thee still, my dear,/ Till a' the seas gang dry:'"

The smile relaxed, became more genuine. "Brian, that's so sweet. Thank you."

"Well, I know you like poetry, and he certainly won't recite it to you." The stage manager's expression darkened as he walked into the room.

Anna forced out a small laugh, brushing her dark hair off her shoulder. "Joe's not really a 'poetry and flowers' kind of guy."

"Not him. The other one." He walked into the room, a flash of anger showing on his face.

"The other one?" Anna swallowed, feeling a flush spread over her cheeks.

"I see how you look at him, Anna." Brian was next to her now, putting a hand on her arm. "You're falling in love with him."

"Brian, I don't know what you're talking about." She tried to pull her arm free, but his grip tightened, keeping her in place.

"I know what love looks like, Anna. I've loved you for years." He thrust the rose in her hand. He smiled. "I'm glad I found a flower you're not allergic to."

Fear send goosebumps down Anna's arms as the meaning of his words sunk in. "You sent the lilies... And the other poems."

He nodded. "I'm sorry about that. I didn't know about your allergy. I'll be more careful next time." His eyes seemed unnaturally bright. "I would never hurt you, Anna. I'm not like them."

"Them?" Anna stared at him, her eyes widening in realization. "Jason..."

"He was frightening you. I couldn't let that happen." His voice sounded calm, but there was an undercurrent of anger in it. "I fixed it so you wouldn't have to be on stage with him." His mouth formed a grimace. "And I made sure that playboy wouldn't be feeling so amorous for a while."

"Joe... The junkie..." Anna thought she was going to faint. "We saw you at the restaurant. You..."

He nodded. "He doesn't love you. All he wants is sex. He's in there right now, flirting with one of the waitresses. I love you. All I want to do is protect you, keep you safe." Anna tried again to remove her arm from his grasp, her heart pounding so hard, she thought it would jump from her chest. "Now you're falling in love with the other one, and he can't love you back." He shook her once, hard. "He's gay, Anna. He'll never love you the way I do." His eyes glittered hungrily. "And once he's gone, you'll realize that."

Anna felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. "Gone?"

Brian smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, love. I've got it all planned out." With his free hand, he pulled a small, plastic bag from his pocket, extracted a syringe from it, removed the plastic cover with his mouth, and stuck the needle swiftly into her arm. As the plunger depressed, Anna tried to scream, but Brian moved his hand up from her arm to cover her mouth. She struggled to move, desperate to get away, to warn Frank, but the room started spinning. "This is for your own good, Anna. This way, no one will think you're involved. It will keep you safe. I promise to always keep you safe." The rose slipped from her hand, and the world went away.


Joe poked Frank in the arm. "Isn't Anna back yet? She's been gone a long time looking for that shawl." He had been busy watching Kara and trying to make small talk with several of the other actors when he realized Anna hadn't yet returned.

Frank's head jerked up. "She's not back? I should go check our rooms."

Joe shook his head and leaned in closer to his brother. "No, Montvale and Jackson haven't come out yet. You stay here in case Kara needs back-up."

"Kara? Back-up? You must be kidding. Have you seen the number of people they have here?"

Joe grinned, jazzed about the seeming success of backroom operation. "Just keep an eye on her for me, okay? She'd be mad if I interfered, but you could get away with it." Frank sighed, and Joe knew he'd won. "I knew I could count on you."

The door to his and Anna's room was open. A quick glance showed it was empty except for some red scraps on the floor. Tissue paper? Joe didn't stop to look. She must have gone to Frank's room, he thought. He huffed out a breath and headed for the pool house.

Something felt wrong as soon as he entered the room. Frank's luggage was still neatly stacked against the wall, his brother's books – of course, Frank brought books for a weekend in the Hamptons – were in a pile on the nightstand, and the bed was made. The only thing out of place was Frank's laptop, which sat in the middle of the bed instead of being in its case, a folded piece of paper on the cover. With a sinking feeling, he grabbed the paper.

Stay not, be gone; live, and hereafter say,/ A madman's mercy bade thee run away.

Joe swore as he pressed the computer's power button and entered his password. "Come on, come on," he muttered, wishing the machine would boot up faster. His fingers shook as he brought up an Internet browser and entered the words into the search box. He clicked on the first result and felt the blood drain from his face as he read the words on the monitor: Act V, scene III Romeo's lines before killing Paris at Juliet's tomb. "Shit. No. Frank!"

He sprinted back to the house and down the long corridor to vaulted living room at top speed, coming to a stop at the double doors just to Frank's right. Frank stood stock-still, his hands raised in front of him. Joe followed his brother's eyes and saw Brian in the middle of the room, a gun in his hand. Anger made the man's hand shake slightly, but the weapon stayed squarely pointed at Frank. "At first, I thought the other guy was the threat, but it's you. You're the one who's taken her from me." He stared at Frank, a look of disgust on his face. "And you're so tied up with your boyfriend, you don't even see it." The gun cocked. "Well, once you're gone she'll realize she's better off with a real man. Too bad you won't get to say goodbye."

"No!" Breath coming in hard gasps, Joe threw himself at his brother using a blocking technique from his high school football days. From the corner of his eye he saw Frank hit the wall and crumple to the floor, glasses askew and eyelids fluttering, stunned and dazed, but unhurt. Joe sighed in relief as he straightened to a standing position, ready to tackle Brian next. Then he heard the gun fire.

The first bullet hit him in the shoulder, knocking him back a few steps. His breath caught in his lungs as his brain registered the pain of the wound. A moment later a second bullet burned through his chest, forcing him back several more feet. He braced himself for a third bullet, but, thankfully, none came; Joe wasn't sure he'd survive a third hit at such close range. Everything around him blurred as waves of pain flooded his body, taking his breath away. He felt himself falling but couldn't muster enough strength to stop himself from going down. The room went dark as he hit the floor.

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