Chapter 9: Man Down
I should not have been surprised to see that Daisy Payton also lived in the large and lavish Palos Verdes Estates. Her husband, Judd, was a major football player! But still, as I pulled up to an enormous house that had way more square footage than what was normally required for two adults and three children, my mouth dropped in awe. I was even more surprised by the fact that the front lawn was filled with most of the Diamond Secret Society members.
“Hey,” I called to Cordelia, walking toward her. “Why isn’t everybody inside? What, were y’all in the mood for some scenery today, or are you not expecting to come across too many bugs outside?”
“Daisy isn’t here yet. Sylvia is calling her now. We’re starting to get worried about the neighbors feeling uncomfortable with a mob of women crowding the front of her house.”
“I can imagine.”
“Oh! I heard that you had a rather eventful evening last night.”
My head jerked as my eyes bulged with fear. Word couldn’t have gotten around that fast, could it? “I’m sorry, what?”
“Cordelia, she’s still not answering her phone! I’m really starting to lose my patience with this shit.”
“Calm down, Sylvie. Look who’s here,” she said pointing to me. The ice cold stare that followed … froze me solid.
“Hazel. Dear sweet little Hazel, do I strike you as the kind of woman you should toy with?”
“Sylvia, please let me explain.”
“No, there’s nothing to explain. Keep my son out of your relationship drama.”
My relationship drama? “Wait. What?”
“Cordelia told me how Lorenzo almost fought Andreas over you when he stopped by the shop last night.”
“Uh … that’s not exactly what happened.”
“I know my son works for you, and I’m well aware that he’s fond of you because you’ve been good to him and I appreciate that, but my son has no business getting in the middle of you and your husband’s …”
“Soon-to-be ex-husband thanks to y’all.” I murmured as her cool stare transformed into evil slits of fury.
“You listen to me, little girl. No harm better come to my son because of you.”
“Lorenzo will not touch Andreas,” Cordelia assured. “I told you that when I talked him down last night. Besides, none of this has anything to do with him; Lorenzo is just upset by how the situation is going to make him look which, oddly enough, works out in our favor better than I thought it would.”
“I’m sorry, what? Wait. This … you planned this?”
“Of course, dear! I told you I know my son. I knew that if we had Jewel put in those papers, Silvana would have a fit about the request for alimony, because it would be coming out of her pocket since Lorenzo doesn’t have any money on his own.”
“But you said that if he married her …”
“He could get her money if we got rid of her? Yes, but only if they were the ones to head up your divorce. You see, Silvana loves control. If you take that control from her, she tends to freeze up in her defenses. She loses her cool and doesn’t make very rational decisions.”
“How on earth does that help … anything?”
“Well, number one, it gives you more time to decide whether or not you want her gone. You never gave me your answer on that.”
“I feel like I was very clear about my stance on taking part in any murders.”
“Cordelia!” Sylvia whispered harshly. “Why would you tell her that? She hasn’t been a diamond for more than five minutes!”
“Because she needs to know. She needs to understand what she’s getting into and who not to mess with.”
“You know, if I didn’t know any better, I would think that the point of this little group was to constantly threaten people. I thought you were supposed to be helping me discover my power?”
“We are, dear, but in order to get along, you have to go along first. Do you understand?”
“No, not really, no.”
“If you want our acceptance and security and all the benefits that come with being a Diamond, you have to conform to our ways and get with the program. Now, do you understand that?” Sylvia barked before her phone rang. She hurried to answer it. “Daisy! Where the hell are you? We’re standing outside your house looking like crazy people when you should be … Daisy, calm down. I can’t understand a word you’re saying … What?”
“What?” Cordelia asked as Sylvia waved her hand to silence her. “Should I get the girls?”
She nodded before continuing her call. “Where are you? … Well, what happened? … What the hell were you doing at … Okay. All right. We’re on our way.”
The herd of women all gathered in a great, big circle, anxious to hear the whereabouts of their hostess. To be honest, I was bubbling with curiosity too, so I stayed close. Little did I know that I would soon find myself smack dab in the middle of all the chaos when my own phone rang.
“You might want to ignore that call right now, Hazel,” Cordelia advised, until Sylvia stopped her.
“No. She needs to take it.”
An unsettling feeling filled my stomach as I gawked at both of them. When she nodded for me to answer, I followed, and saw the number to my shop show up on my phone. “Hello?”
“Andreas? What’s going on?”
“We, uh … we have a problem. One of the appointments today …”
“Oh, Lord. Please don’t tell me that somebody else pulled a no-show.”
“No. Uh, somebody got hurt. A spouse walked in on a session, and … both the client and one of our delivery people are in the hospital.”
“In the hospital? Oh my God! Which one?”
“I’m headed over there right now!”
“Wait, Mrs. Donato, I think you should know something.”
“Know what? What is it?”
“The delivery person that was hurt …”
“Yes, I’m so sorry. I forgot to ask. Who is it?”
“Uh … Hazel, it’s Frank. I’m sorry.”
My heart stopped.
I was certain I didn’t hear him right.
But when he said that he called Chloe to tell her Frankie was in the hospital … I knew it wasn’t a mistake.
I didn’t even remember getting into my car. Or the ride to the hospital. Or walking through the hospital doors. Everything was a blur. I just knew that I was somehow sitting in a waiting room, with my foot tapping incessantly, lingering on to a small piece of sanity until a doctor was available to give me an update.
What the hell is taking them so long?
Why do I have to wait here?
Why won’t they let me see my cousin?
I begged for them to let me see him. I cried and pleaded, but they said Chloe was already with him and they could only allow one person at a time. Then there was a call over the loudspeaker … and a slew of doctors and nurses and God knows whatever else in medical attire flew past me.
God, please don’t have them go to Frank’s room.
Please don’t let that call be for Frank.
Please let him be okay.
I jumped at the sound of a double door slamming open, and caught a glimpse of Chloe’s tear-soaked face as she walked toward me. A doctor trailed behind her, his face grave and glum. I felt my head shake in disbelief as my body slowly rose to greet them.
“Hello. My name is Dr. Abraham.”
“Don’t. Don’t tell me what I don’t want to hear.”
“Haze, just listen.”
“No,” I wept. “No, I’ve been waiting out here for what feels like a friggin’ lifetime for somebody to tell me what’s going on, and you’re not going to finally come out from behind those doors just to tell me what I don’t want to hear.”
“Mrs. Donato …”
“Don’t Mrs. Donato me. Where is my cousin?”
“Haze, he’s gone. He …,” she fought to hold back another river of tears, and I fought to accept what she was trying to tell me. In the end, we both lost the battle, and we cried together. “He’s gone.”
“Frank suffered severe injuries to his head, face, and body. We … had our entire trauma team working on him, but … I’m truly sorry for your loss. If either of you would like to speak to someone, a pastor or counselor on call …”
“No, thank you,” I tearfully declined.
“I called mommy,” Chloe mournfully told. “She said she’s getting on a plane tomorrow, but she won’t be in town until for a couple of days.”
“She’s coming in from Manila in the Philippines, Haze. It’s a fourteen hour flight.”
“What the hell is she doing over there?”
“I don’t know. Something for work. You know mommy is always traveling,” she shrugged. Then, she stopped … dead in front of the sliding doors that led to the hospital parking lot. “What the hell is your mother-in-law doing here?”
I directed my attention to where she was looking, and not only saw Cordelia walking toward us, but Sylvia and Daisy Payton, who so happened to have her arm in a sling and a bruise across her cheek. “What the … What are you guys doing here? What the hell happened to her?”
“We need to speak with you, immediately.”
“Look, if this is about me leaving our meeting so abruptly …”
“You must be joking,” Chloe growled. “You were meeting with this broad? After everything her and Lorenzo are putting you through?”
“Lo, it’s not even like that. Just …”
“Lady, I swear, you have some fucking nerve. The audacity of this bitch.”
“After you came to the shop asking for my cousin’s engagement ring for your punk ass son, now you want to show up here after we’ve lost my brother … talking about some damn we need to talk … with the bitch that got him put in the hospital in the first place?”
“Lo, calm … Wait. What?”
“This is what we need to talk to you about,” Cordelia whispered.
“No, you don’t need to talk to her about shit. What you need to do is get your ass away from this hospital before I put that dizzy bitch in the morgue next to my brother.”
“Okay, Lo, can you just … give me a quick minute with them? Go sit in your car. I’ll be over in a minute.”
“I’ll be over in a minute, Lo,” I reassured as she walked off. When I saw that she was safely away from the situation, I took a deep breath to remind myself to take my own advice before I ended up in jail. “How did you know that I needed to take that phone call? Did you know that my cousin was in the hospital? And what does Daisy have to do with this?”
“Right before you received a call from my son, Daisy called me back. The reason she missed my call in the first place was because she got busted having sex with your cousin by her husband, and he promptly beat them up.”
“Them, huh? Care to share why she has considerably less injuries than my cousin?”
“He hit me once, and I was down for a while. When I popped back up,” she paused misty-eyed, “I saw Frank on the floor, but he wasn’t moving, and Judd just kept hitting him and hitting him, and I tried to grab his arm and tell him to stop because Frank wasn’t moving, and he twisted my arm and threw me against the wall. The next time I woke up, I was here.”
“Why were you even with my cousin? How do you even know him?”
“Daisy set up an appointment with your cousin through your shop today,” Sylvia told as my eyes filled with shock.
“But she’s not a customer of ours; her husband is.”
“And that’s why I made an appointment, because I wanted to get back at him. I never thought it would end up like this. I don’t even know how he found out.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Did you two set this up?”
Cordelia and Sylvia both shook their heads in opposition before the latter spoke up. “We would have nothing to gain by putting your cousin, or any of your workers, in danger. We need your help, remember? That’s why we recruited you in the first place.”
“And now we may need your help again, Hazel. This … situation is going to bring Daisy and Judd a lot of unwanted attention, attention that could damage his career and their lifestyle if not handled properly.”
“Are you … are you serious right now? I am standing here mourning the loss of my cousin, and you want to talk to me about how his death could affect Daisy and Judd? I don’t have time for this Diamond Business bullshit right now.”
“You better make time.”
“You better back up before I put your ass back in the hospital, and this time, you won’t get out.”
“All right, ladies,” Cordelia stepped in. “Let’s try to practice a little class.”
“Fuck class. My cousin is dead.”
“And we are sorry for your loss, but the world is still spinning, and there is still matters that need to be handled before it spins in the wrong direction.”
“What makes Daisy’s domestic troubles and Judd’s career and their lifestyle more important that my cousin’s death? Where’s the Diamond code on that?”
“It’s not that your cousin’s death isn’t important; it’s just that this situation as a whole … is complicated, and as we’ve told you before, it’s our job to find the beauty in that complication. That’s all this is,” she soothingly said attempting to reach for my hand.
“Don’t … touch me.”
“Okay, just listen then. It’s real simple, Hazel.”
“Oh, I thought it was complicated.”
“Look, we are the key holders to the underground and it is imperative that we are all on the same team.”
“Yeah, I remember that speech.”
“Then you remember that we all need to be moving toward the same goals and ensuring that the scales of humanity remain balanced.”
“What the hell does this have to do with anything?”
“The powers that be have plans for Judd. He is in a position to make some very powerful moves in the future …”
“He’s a football player, a bad one at that, and a damn Neanderthal! How is that not evident right now in the way he manhandled his wife and killed my cousin with his bare hands? He needs to be buried underneath the jail!”
“He needs to be exonerated of any criminal charges that may come from this.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“They’re holding my husband right now on homicide charges. That’s as far as I know, but I’m sure they’re going to come up with more, especially since Judd is well-known for having a love of hookers, and after they find out that I slept with Frank, they’re going to connect Frank to your store and start digging deeper into all of our lives. So, in all fairness, this isn’t just about protecting me and my husband; this is about protecting you too,” Daisy explained. My eyes squinted in a weak effort to see her point. Yeah. No. It wasn’t working, but she still kept talking. “Cordelia and Sylvia said it was in my best interest to admit to the affair, and say that I had been dating Frank for a while and that I was going to leave Judd for him because I was sick of being cheated on. We’re also going to say that … Frank had a heart problem that only I knew about, and when Judd walked in on us, he was so startled that he collapsed of heart failure.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Dr. Dayana Maru, she’s a D3S 1st generation, just like you, so she has no problem fixing the documents for us …”
“Falsifying them, you mean.”
“Shh! But in order for all of this to work, we need you and your other cousin to go along with this, or at least act like you didn’t know about the affair or his weak heart.”
“Frankie didn’t have a weak heart. He was healthy as horse! This is ridiculous!”
“Would you rather she say that your cousin was a prostitute she hired to get back at her husband? Because we can do that, and it will bring that shop of yours down to the gutter. And your parents, let’s not forget about how much it’ll shame them.”
“You leave them out of this. Leave them all out of this.”
“But that’s the point, Hazel; we can’t leave them out of this. Everyone is involved, and everyone will be affected, so whether you like it or not, you will follow along … or suffer the consequences,” Sylvia commanded as my head fell in disgrace.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to cry.
I wanted to ball up my fists and knock the hell out of all three of them.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because I knew they were right. And I couldn’t let them tarnish my cousin’s memory, but it killed me to even let the idea of his murderer getting away unscathed cross my mind. My heart was heavy, and it hurt like hell. My head was throbbing with rage and misery.
The list for what I couldn’t do was long and complicated, but the one for what I could do was short … and painfully simple.
And I hated that it was.
I tried to keep my mind focused on the road as I drove behind Chloe, but it kept wandering off. I knew what I had to do, but it made me sick to my stomach, and I knew what I didn’t want to do, but there was too much at risk to do otherwise. Oh God, where am I supposed to go from here?
I was surprised to see that I had followed Chloe back to my shop. I was even more surprised to see that the parking lot was full and the shop’s lights were on. I rushed out of my car just in time to accompany her inside, and view every last one of my living employees in attendance, including Chenoa and Alan.
“What’s going on here?”
“Talia and I called an emergency meeting,” Andreas revealed. “We thought it was necessary to talk about … what happened to Frank now rather than wait until the morning before everyone’s rounds.”
“Yeah, I … I guess that would be best. Thank you both for, once again, showing initiative. It won’t be forgotten.”
“And neither will my brother. I know some people, and they’ll take care of that Judd Payton before the end of the week. You can bet your life on that.”
“We’re not gangsters, Lo.”
“You’re right; we’re family, and family looks out for family … in life and in death. And I will not let me brother’s death be in vain!”
“Well Judd’s about to go down for murder and assault,” Alan prompted. “Justice doesn’t get any better than that, especially after all the stuff he did to Chenoa.”
“What’d he do to you?”
“Plenty that I don’t mind testifying about if I have to, but let’s be real. Guys like that get away with shit like this everyday of the week. We see it all the time! It’s how we all have jobs. Y’all know his PR team and lawyers will find a way to cover this up.”
“But it’s murder! Nobody gets away with murder, right?” Autumn naively asked as the entire room veered in her direction with contemptuous eyes. “Oh, well, yeah. There was that one time.”
“Quite a few times.”
“Look, the point is if we want something done, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.”
“Yeah! We should protest for justice!”
“Okay, somebody get a hold of Autumn’s mouth while the adults are talking. We have The Vault, people. We should take all the dirt we have on him and go to the police! Isn’t that what The Vault is for?”
“The police,” I snickered sarcastically. “That’s your plan? Like, the world famous and wildly adored Judd Payton doesn’t have crooked cops in his pocket?”
“Then the tabloids, and television stations. TMZ!”
“If they even allow it on air. You know he has a lot of pull.”
“Pull? He’s a football player, not a politician.”
“Football is politics, as well as a lot of other sports and trades out here. You’ve all been here long enough to know the same fact of life that I do: if you live in this town, and you mean a lot to the right people, you can get in and out of anything. A dead male escort is not as high on Hollywood’s priority list as Judd Payton is.”
“Wait a minute. Boss, why are you talking like you already know he’s going to get off? The news has barely touched the TV, and you’re already acting like … like it’s going to be swept under the rug before it gets to a court room.”
“Because she knows something we don’t. Don’t you, Haze?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lo. Why would I know anything?”
“Because his bitch of a wife pulled you to the side when we left the hospital along with Lorenzo’s mother who has been sniffing around here way too much lately.”
“Wait. Mr. Donato’s mom knows the Paytons?”
“Of course they do. They know everybody! The Donatos come from old Hollywood money which means they have a lot of roots and weight in this town, and you married into them, so what do you know? What did Judd Payton’s wife say to you?”
My sigh alone confirmed everything Chloe attacked me with, and it was enough to sway all eyes onto me. “Today was Daisy’s first time using our services.”
“I know that. I scheduled her. Now stop stalling and tell us what you know or I swear to God, Haze, I will blow the whistle on this place and save everybody in it except you. Do you want to go to jail?”
“No, but no matter what I do, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place so your threats … are not helping! You have no idea what it feels like to stand in my shoes right now, to be where I am. You think I don’t want to do something about what’s happened to Frank?”
“Then do something, Hazel!”
“I can’t! This isn’t just about me.”
“What the hell does that even mean?”
“Everything I’m doing right now, everything that I’ve been trying to do, is to save all of us.”
“All of us?” Yasamina repeated. “Are you saying that we’re all in some kind of danger?”
“That’s what I heard.”
“Wait, why would we be in danger? What do the Paytons want with us?”
“It’s not about the Paytons.”
“What do you mean, Boss? If it’s not about the Paytons, what is this about?”
Again, my burdensome sigh told a story, but it was one I had to keep quiet. And as their eyes burned into my soul, I closed mine and tacitly reminded myself that my silence was for the best. “Listen, all you guys need to know is that … things are really complicated right now.”
“No, it’s real simple. Tell us the truth or leave us out here to blindly fend for ourselves. Now which one are you going to do?” Chloe roared as everyone stared in awe. But when I didn’t respond quick enough, she hopped to her feet. “Until you can give me the answer to that question, I’m out.”
“Uh yeah, Boss, I’m with her. We just lost someone, and you’re acting like we’re just supposed to go on like nothing happened. I can’t work under these conditions, not if I’m in danger by coming here.”
“Wait,” Jasper started with a hand up. “You expected us to hit the hotels tomorrow after he just got killed his first day in the field? Yeah, no, I’m not laying up with another woman on that list until someone gets a handle on their husbands and boyfriends. I’m not trying to die.”
“You need to figure this out, Haze, and until you do, you’re going to have to run this place without a staff. Come on, y’all. Let’s go.”
And with those closing words, every one of my employees moved toward the door and out into the parking lot with my last living cousin, and I couldn’t blame them.
I was so lost, stranded in my thoughts. The tears of frustration and heartbreak were building. Just then, I felt the smooth caress of arms around my waist, hugging me and holding me at the same time. In that moment, in the midst of all the craziness in my life, and after watching so many people walk out on me in such a short period of time …
I closed my eyes …
Took a deep breath …
And thanked God for Andreas’s touch, and timing.
“Are you okay?”
“No, not really, no. Why are you still here?”
“I told you before, I’m here to walk through the trenches with you.”
I wanted the appreciation I felt to show through my smile, but it was lacking in wattage. “They don’t understand. None of them understand the position I’m in.”
“Well you’re not giving us much to go off of. I told you I was going to be here for you, and I meant it, so why do you keep choosing to fight your battles alone?”
“Because it’s safer that way.”
“How? Because you’re suffering, and we can all see it, not to mention the fact that you are about to drag us all into the fire with you by not telling us what’s going on. What is it? Does your ex’s mom have somebody coming after you?”
I sighed. “Yes and no.”
“How is it yes and no? That wasn’t a complicated question, Hazel.”
“It’s all complicated! Nobody would believe me if I told them that there was a secret society of housewives and businesswomen who control the world from the comfort of their own homes that are threatening to ruin my life, and y’all lives, and my parents’ lives if I don’t comply with their plan because they have big plans for stupid Mr. Judd Payton that they can’t disclose to anyone except the people that need to know,” I blurted as he gazed at my face, jaw sprung open, eyes wide. Wait, did that actually come out of my mouth?
“What did you just say?”
“Hmm? Nothing. I think nothing? Oh God, I hope nothing.”
“Hazel, what did you get yourself into?”
“It’s not about what I got myself into; it’s what Lorenzo and I unknowingly got ourselves into when we started the escort service. Now I’m the one fitting the bill for that mistake.”
“Why just you?”
“It’s a secret society of women, and his mother is one of them, so he’s …”
“Protected. And what are you in all of this?”
“From what I can tell thus far, a gofer of some sort.”
“And this is what you meant when you told Lorenzo that he left you with the mess,” he connected. “Does he know about all this?”
I scoffed. “Of course not. No man does. No one outside of the society is supposed to even know that they exist! I can’t believe I just told you all of this. They’d kill me if they found out!”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
“No,” I panicked. “No. You don’t understand. They have eyes and ears everywhere. They knew about me and Lorenzo. They know about all of you. They knew about Frankie today, and they told me that if I didn’t help cover it up so Judd could get off, they’d let the cat out of the bag about all of us. I can’t let that happen. I can’t let you guys go down because of me.”
“This isn’t just because of you; Lorenzo has a part in this too, and just because he has let you suffer through all of this alone, doesn’t mean I will.”
“Andreas, this has nothing to do with you.”
“Wrong. If it has to do with you, then it has to do with me. I’m not going anywhere,” he vowed with a promising kiss to my lips. It made me smile. “Now, we have to figure out a way to get you out of this, and you know the best place to start, right?”
“Find the edge of the earth and jump?”
He chuckled. “Unh-unh. You need to tell Chloe.”
My distressed groan could have given any whining animal a run for their money, but I couldn’t deny the fact that I knew he was right. It seemed like the one thing I was trying to avoid doing … was the one thing that could set us all free. I kept replaying that concept in my mind as I picked up the phone to dial.