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Chapter 15: Manipulated

Drake Sarkassian had been spending a little too much time at the Westin house since his newfound free time. He kept to himself mostly, watching cartoon and ignoring everyone that tried to comfort him. Jamie was taking her recent layoff much more calmly, but the fact that Chuck and Drake were spending more time together was once again making her uneasy.

For the last few days, Chuck and Drake were becoming better friends. Chuck assured him that he would make it his mission to reinstate him to the position that he could only assume Drake was good at. Considering Chuck had never actually seen Drake at work, it was surprising to see him accept Chuck’s assistance.

Perhaps it was because Chuck was friends with Doug Danson, and he knew people. Chuck's connection to Doug wasn't wasted. He called him to talk to Harrington, but he wasn't in the mood to get too involved with two different legal problems with the same group of people. Larry Burke was enough for him. Chuck and Drake were left to fend for themselves against Robert Talsteed, who closed the doors of the hospitals so he could revert any and all of the changes Drake made during his tenure.

“He can't do this to you,” Chuck assured Drake. “You are the dean of medicine. You don't need a fancy diploma to tell you that. As your friend, I will work tirelessly to that end.” The word “friend” was jarring to Jamie's ears and she had to leave the room before they bonded over anything else.

“Yeah, but I need one to tell him. Harrington is right. Talsteed does not have the legal right to hand the power of the hospital over to me. I'm never going to get another job again!” Drake's eyes were beginning to water (yet again) and his nose was runny. He took a napkin from his pocket and put it over his nose to blow it. Chuck instinctively grabbed the napkin from his hand, leaving Drake to blow his nose on his hand. Drake looked at it for a few seconds in intrigue and disgust before heading to the bathroom to wash it off.

“What was that about?” Drake finally asked as he exited the bathroom.

“I remember when this investigation started that Miles told me you got the job because Talsteed signed a napkin. I thought this one might be it, and I didn't want you to ruin it.”

“That's not the napkin,” Drake explained. Chuck had already figured that out in his absence. “I have that napkin at home, but I don’t see how that'll help us. I'm not a doctor, so that note was never legal. We might as well just forget about it.”

“We never know,” Chuck shot back. “That could very well be the smoking gun we need!”

Chuck stopped talking. His old bedroom door opened and Donna Murphy was well dressed for travel. She was a smile on her face that hadn't faded since her recent trip to Vienna, which was still bothering most everyone else. “I need to head to Egypt now if I hope to meet Andrea Westin. I just learned that I must change planes in Spain, so I must leave now, or else I will arrive too late to reach her.” Chuck and Drake moved some part of their body to sign that they noticed her existence and heard her comment, but neither made the effort to reply to her. Jamie, who had returned to the couch in silence, said nothing as well. Donna reached the door before saying, “If it's any consolation, I heard about Dr. Talsteed, and I believe that Dr. Sarkassian should not have been removed from power.” Donna still did not get a response, so she left.

Jamie returned upstairs so Chuck and Drake could continue in peace. They thought they were alone, anyways. “Come on, Drake. We have a napkin to get, a judge to bother, and a pretentious administrator to put in his place.”

Miles Westin spent the day in school as he usually did, but he wasn't paying any attention to the assignment Aaron James gave to his class. He only gave it so he could escape for a few minutes. More students had entered the class, and he was now responsible for forty students in a classroom that should only be able to fit twenty-five. Mary Ling was talking to Matthews, but he was refuting her with logic. Students were coming back, but the teachers weren't, so no other school in Rhode Island could be opened.

Ashley Brock was once again sitting with Michael Ross. Miles just noticed something else interesting to note (and he did note it on the paper he was supposed to be answering questions on): Ross' friends from Central were no longer with him. Actually, they were nowhere to be found. If his friends dropped out, he can't play football since there aren’t any other schools to play against, and his education alone won't get him anywhere, why is he still in school? On top of that, how much of the investigation does Ashley know, and has been revealing to him in the time that Miles has been shunning them?

Miles stood up from his desk and approached the two in the middle of a conversation. They were talking about squirrels. “Okay. You say you don't want to interfere anymore. I'm willing to give that a shot, mainly because I have the perfect mission for you. CATS is smart enough to know that they need to strike the most vulnerable member of the investigation. A week ago, I would say that person was Donna Murphy.”

“The private investigator?” Ashley inquired. “I didn't think she had anything to do with the investigation. I just thought she was looking for your mother.”

“She's hardly doing that,” Miles quipped. “She was brought into the loop when we needed help finding Carmen Cortez. She hasn't played a major role in the investigation since then, but she is a part of it. Something happened in Vienna that she's not talking about and now she's going to Egypt a day early. Something tells me she's not telling everything there is to say, and it might be because some CATS member has gotten to her and manipulated her.”

“Why?” Ashley asked. “Which CATS member?”

“I can't say why exactly,” Miles explained, “but it might have something to do with Drake and possibly even Dr. Talsteed. Everything is connected. I have a theory, but I won't tell you unless the Devil finds something that proves it. Right now, it's a guess. As for which operative, Plum, Green, and White can all be accounted for. Although I can't point Scarlet out in a crowd, I'd assume she's still hiding in the crowds of Hyde's Park keeping an eye on us. Peacock is the tech expert who hardly ever leaves the base. That leaves Mustard unaccounted for.”

“Let me get this straight,” Ross began. “You want me to covertly meet up with Donna Murphy at the airport before she leaves for Egypt and dig through her belonging to find anything that could be constructed as a connection to Colonel Mustard. Is that right?” Miles gave him a sarcastic glare as if his instruction were as clear as day. What was so difficult to understand? “I can't just do it alone.”

“You'll have help,” he assured Ross. “I've called someone to meet you there. You don't know him, but he'll recognize you. Do this successfully, and I'll be more inclined to trust you.”

Ashley turned back to Michael. “You don't have to do this just to prove your honesty.”

“Excuse me!” Miles shot back. “Yes he does! If he doesn't do it, you are. So stop trying to change my orders, or else you'll be doing the menial labor-”

Ross put his hand up to end Miles' tirade. “I'll do it. I'll head over to the airport right after school.” Miles could only nod approvingly before walking back to his seat. Ross smiled a little bit. “I can't believe you have a crush on that.”

“He elicits an air of superiority, but he's a man who stands by his beliefs and he won't let anyone—not even a pretty girl—change that. That's something I can respect.” Michael glanced at her again with a smile forcing her to add a disclaimer. “Of course, that doesn't matter since I'm a lesbian, and therefore it is physically impossible for me to like him that way.”

Larry Burke's trial was less than twenty-four hours away. The man whose life hung in the balance was still remaining silent about Mr. Boddy's offer to hide him away, and keep him protected from harm. He knew Mr. Boddy had the power and resources to do it, but the biggest issue was trust. Miles Westin was clearly the trustworthiest, but his safety was still not secured with them. The decision weighed heavy on his shoulders and it all depended on whichever side entered the trial with an advantage.

That advantage, of course, was the gag order Coretta had suggested two weeks prior. The media was still in frenzy, with Doug Danson leading the stampede. Coretta made numerous appointments in the week to discuss the gag order, all of which were summarily ignored by the judge. Now only a few hours stood until the trial, and Coretta was adamant to have the gag issue ordered before the trial began.

“You can't keep putting this off,” Coretta insisted. She, along with Larry Burke, was in Harrington's office at the courthouse. It was getting late in the day and they were among the only people left in the building. “I don’t care if you have a preference in this trial. That's what makes us human. You can't make decisions based on your preference. That's a human error a judge can't afford to have.”

“I don't take to kindly to have my character being assassinated like that, Mrs. Smith,” Harrington defended. “Or is it Miss Scarlet? Who is the assassin? I'm going on what Danson and the Westin have told me, so please correct me if I'm wrong.”

“You talk to me about character assassination and here you are accusing me of being an operative for some organization called CATS!”

“You are an operative for CATS,” Larry Burke spoke up.

“This conversation does not concern you, son,” she chided him before returning back to her conversation with Harrington. “The Westins have clearly trapped you in their web of deceit, but I feel the need to remind you that if you trap others, regardless of whether the information is true or not, you're not being biased, and you're not letting the jury be objective either.”

Harrington tried to conceive every possible response to her logic, but it was sound. There was nothing he could do but submit to her flawless conclusion. “Very well. The gag order will be in place by tomorrow morning. Coretta left with a smile on her face. Larry Burke's face was one of shock and displeasure in the decision. CATS was going into the trial with a huge advantage. The only way to secure his family's safety was to cooperate with Mrs. White.

Robert Talsteed was once again taking residence in the forth floor office at Hyde's Park General Hospital. Still, this change didn't deter Allison from making her occasional visits to the hospital to meet with the coma guy. Miles was busy dealing with the Devil, so she needed to find something of interest to occupy her time.

Talsteed was standing in the front lobby, seemingly waiting for her arrival. He didn't seem please with her arrival and his indifference turned to a frown as she came in through the double automatic doors. “Allison Dreary, right?”

“Yes,” she replied strongly. “You must be Robert Talsteed. I've heard a lot about you from Drake and Jamie. Nothing good, obviously. Based on what I know about you, I don't like you. No one here likes you, but you're in charge, so I'm not going to do anything. I'm just here to check up on the coma guy.”

“We have lots of coma guys,” Talsteed shot back. “That's not important. What's important is that no patient here is a friend or relative of yours or the Westins. Therefore, I would greatly appreciate it if you turned back around and didn't come back. I run tight ship. I don't need kids running in and out of my hospital.”

“These kids are your only hope of survival!” Allison yelled. “If you're going to impede in the investigation, you might as well sign your own death warrant! Let me see him!”

“No. And while we're on the subject, don't even bother coming back and trying again. Sometime within the next few days, your precious coma guy will be transferred to another hospital in Maryland. He seems to be only causing me trouble, and don't feel like dealing with it. Now leave before I have to call security.”

Allison gave him a cold look. He didn't care. Allison left.

Michael Ross stopped by his house before heading to the airport to meet up with Donna Murphy—or rather, her luggage. Donna wasn't going to tell some kid she's never formally met about suspicious events that transpired that she wouldn’t even tell Chuck Westin. An expansive search of her bedroom yielded no results, so any incriminating evidence must still be in her luggage.

The airport was crowded. The Devil mixed in with the crowd dressed in black jeans, a fresh leather jacket, and a white T-shirt underneath. His “sunglasses indoor” motif was the only thing setting him apart from the others in the building.

There was someone waving in his direction. Michael took a quick look around him to make sure that the person wasn't waving towards someone else. Sure enough, the odd looking young man was waving thing to him. He must have been the other contact Miles Westin spoke of. “I don't suppose you remember me,” Richard told the Devil. “I wouldn't expect you to. You were on the Central High School football team your freshman yea. I was a senior then at Hyde's Park. I warmed the bench most of the season, but I was on the first for about a minute when we were playing Central. I twisted my ankle going in for the sack.”

“I think I remember you,” Michael replied. “You tripped over your own teammate, and he was actually about to sack me. Thanks. We wouldn't have won that game without you.”

“You’re welcome,” Richard said. He didn't care that it was sarcastic. He accepted any and all compliments no matter how serious they were. “Okay, so here's the plan. I'll distract the lady at the front desk. You sneak behind and follow the baggage into that back room with all those conveyor belts. I don't know what it looks like but if Toy Story 2 is anything to go by, it's pretty big.”

“Thank you for that, Richard,” Michael said. With that, Richard left his side and began an idle conversation with the only woman manning the desk at that moment. The young lady was clearly annoyed with Richard, but his success at garnering her interest wasn't important. All he had to do was distract her, which he was doing perfectly. Michael Ross slipped in through a door behind her, and she didn't even glance in his direction.

“This isn't too bad,” he told himself as he looked at the series of conveyor belts. “Now which one of these is headed to Gate 35?” The search proved fairly easy as well. Even though there was no one else in the room and there didn't appear to be any need for a person to be in the room (The airport was poorly designed), each of the conveyor belts were marked with a sign that listed which gate they were going to. In no more than a minute, Michael was at the conveyor belt.

The bags were moving across it at the same speed Michael walked along side it. He checked every bag on it for Donna Murphy's name. He didn't think he was going to find it, but it finally came up. For some reason, Michael was expecting it to look different. (Donna Murphy is different. Therefore, her luggage should be just as different.)

Michael Ross pulled it off the conveyor belt and unzipped the bag. Must of it was clothes, and Michael simply ignored them. He continued to rummage until finding yet another compartment behind all the clothes. He unzipped the extra compartment and pulled out two pieces of paper. One was a fully page black-and-white picture of a man. He appeared to be in his late 30's or early forties. He dressed casually in a dark jacket and sunglasses. He had a full goatee around his chin, including a connected mustache. The picture appeared to be candid, as the man wasn't facing the camera. He was standing on the street corner facing the opposite direction, as if he were waiting for someone. The background appeared foreign. It must have been taken in Vienna.

The second paper was a handwritten note. It was not Donna Murphy's handwriting, so the only other possibility was that it belonged to the unidentified man in the photograph. The note read:

This is an official legal document stating that I am contracting a woman named Donna Murphy to locate the person who has been surveillancing me. Taking the only photo I have as proof that I'm being followed, she has been hired to locate the person, nothing more and nothing less. Once this person has been found, Donna Murphy's contract with me will expire.

Ivan Tolensky

“Ivan Tolensky,” he read again aloud as he looked back at the goateed man in the picture. “Or Colonel Mustard, perhaps? Looks like Donna Murphy has more responsibilities than just Andrea Westin these days.” Michael's skin jumped as he heard the door behind him open. He instinctually jumped behind a conveyor belt, but came back out after seeing Richard's mug.

“Come on!” he ordered. “She told me to leave her alone. I didn't, so she's getting security right now. We might want to go before we're arrested as enemy combatants.” Ross dove back to the suitcase and began to stuff all the clothes back inside. Dropping it on the conveyor belt, Ross followed Richard out the door and out of the airport.

“Leverage,” Miles told everyone else in the room with him the following day. He spent most of the night reviewing the picture he received from Michael Ross along with the note. He still didn't trust him anymore than he did previously, but Miles seemed okay with him being in his house for the time being.

Miles didn't really have a choice. Ross came with Ashley, and Miles needed her to videotape the monologue he was about to give. Chuck and Drake were sitting at the kitchen table as always. They were wondering if the picture could have any connection to Mrs. White or Drake's time in college back in Indiana. Jamie was in the living room as well, but only as moral support. Allison really had nowhere else to be, and the same applied to Gary Derceto.

“Some guy with a goatee,” Gary mused as he looked at the picture. “So Donna Murphy is working two jobs. Why not?”

“Because those two people aren't going to be in the same place, idiot!” Jamie shot back. “If she's busy looking for whoever is surveillancing this guy, then she won't have the time or the capability to search for Mrs. Westin. I think this proves that she doesn't really care about the Westins.”

“It proves a bit more than that,” Miles added. He motioned for Ashley to pan the camera over to him. “Here's my theory. A few weeks ago, Chuck Westin discovered that Donna Murphy is not a real private investigator, but a con artist. Still, she maintained her innocence. She disappeared for a few days, and returned claiming that she did indeed go to Vienna as she promised, but failed to find Andrea Westin. On top of that, she returned with a happier outlook on life.”

Gary had a look of boredom on his face. Miles made a point of pushing him off the couch before he continued. “It is my belief that Colonel Mustard of CATS (the man in the picture) contracted Donna to find out whoever is following him. Chances are that there really isn't anyone following him. He made it up so Donna would take the job. Of course, he must have offered her something worthwhile. Something that would make her want to drop the search for our mother.”

“It must be about Paige,” Chuck concluded.

“Whatever it is, Mustard has Donna Murphy in his grasps. That's not where the story ends, however. I believe that Drake Sarkassian's visions are connected to the Polar Shift, and CATS knows that. I believe they've always known that, which is why Mrs. White disguised herself as a college professor in Indiana. I'll bet money that she's the one who convinced you to continue your medical career in Hyde's Park.”

“So this town is important?” Allison asked.

“I believe so. Yes,” Miles replied. “I'm not sure why though, and neither do the operative. Larry Burke admitted that he has no idea why Plum came here in the first place. I also believe that Mustard has been working two jobs. Not only did he manipulate Donna Murphy, but it's my opinion that he manipulated Robert Talsteed as well. Allison tells me that the coma guy is being transferred sometime in the next few days. This decision is no doubt from CATS in hopes of retrieving his comatose body without raising suspicion.”

“What the Hell do they want with me?” Drake yelled. His voice was cracking. He was clearly distressed with Miles' evaluation.

“I don't know yet, but I intend to find out. And who better to ask than a CATS operative himself? Tomorrow at the trial, Leisure Suit Larry will answer a few questions for us whether he likes it or not.”

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