Fresh from the shower after his morning run, Jake stands over the kitchen sink as he eats his omelet. His cell phone rests on the edge of the counter and the blinking green light catches his eye. Picking it up, he enters his passcode to view the notifications- five missed calls and a text message. Surprised by the unusually high call volume, he taps the phone icon to view the call log. The first two missed calls are from Wentworth, the next is from Channing’s personal cell phone and the last two are again from Wentworth’s main line. Confusion knits his bushy brows together as he switches over to the new text message that was received just over a half hour ago; it’s from Channing.
I need you here. NOW.
Instantly, he dials Channing’s cell phone, dropping his plate in the sink as he dashes to his bedroom to get dressed. He’s scheduled for the mid shift today, but assumes there’s been an incident: an overdose, a scrag fight, a death in custody, so he’s already mentally preparing himself for a long day of paperwork and bitchy women. Channing’s phone goes immediately to voicemail, so he leaves a quick message as he pulls on his uniform.
On the drive to the prison he calls the main line of Wentworth and is surprised to find that the after hours answering machine picks up his call. Anxiety makes his heart quicken. The situation must be more serious than he thought; he may well be walking into a lockdown.
Pulling into the carpark, from all outward appearances it looks like business as usual, so he breathes a sigh of relief as he parks in an empty space next to Channing’s black town car. Making his way inside he heads straight for the governor’s office where he’s immediately greeted by an extremely irritated Vera.
“Where the fuck have you been? We’ve been trying to reach you all morning.” She growls as she marches up to him the second he crosses the threshold into the outer admin office. He throws up his hands in innocent protest and tries to ignore the thought of how hot she looks when she’s angry.
“I wasn’t supposed to be here til 11. I was out for a run and didn’t have my phone. I got here as soon as I saw the governor’s text to come in. What’s going on? Where’s Channing?” Looking past Vera’s shoulder he can see that Channing’s office is empty.
She rolls her eyes at him with an agitated sigh and is about to offer a very curt explanation of the situation but they are suddenly interrupted by Will and an unknown gentleman following behind him down the hall as they’ve come from the now vacant prison psychologist’s office. Will bears a grim expression on his face as he passes between them and the other man stops, addressing Vera in a professional, but courteous tone.
“Officer Bennett, we’re ready for you next.” He turns to greet Jake with an extended hand. “You must be Deputy Stewart. I’m Detective Prescott, we’ll be with you right after we speak with Officer Bennett.”
Jake shakes his hand automatically, but confusion is clearly written across his face. Vera follows the detective down the hall, leaving Jake and Will alone once they disappear behind the psychologist office door.
“What the fuck is going on, Will? Is it….” Jake asks in an urgent, hushed whisper, offering a silent gesture alluding to their shared secret about Joan. The secret they haven’t spoken of since the initial arrangement had been made, all those months ago.
“No. That’s done, taken care of, so shut the fuck up about it.” Will counters in a whispered snarl, but it’s paranoia that lights his dark chocolate eyes as he shifts his gaze around to see if anyone was within earshot.
“Alright, alright.” Jake relents, nervous hand pulling down his freshly shaven face. His heart is racing and despite this reassurance, he can’t help but feel that there’s trouble brewing. Will eyes him sternly for a moment before breathing a small sigh of relief, satisfied that Jake has dropped the subject and will continue to safeguard their dubious act.
“Three days ago the police received an anonymous tip that Channing was recruiting parolees to work in a brothel. They did some investigation on the leads and showed up this morning; took him in for questioning and now they’re questioning the entire staff. Seems he may have been doing this for years.”
“What the fuck?!” Jake shakes his head in disbelief. He knew Channing was devious, with his personal link to their prison drug exchange, but he had no idea about the brothel.
“He was exploiting young, vulnerable women.” Will doesn’t mask the disgust in his voice.
“Doesn’t look like he’ll be coming back, so looks like you’ll be acting governor, Deputy; just what you’ve always wanted. Someone from the board is on the way to sort the details, so you best step up and do the fucking job right, mate.” There’s a threat in his tone and a pointed edge in his gaze as he offers a rough pat to Jake’s shoulder before walking away.
Left reeling in the admin office, Jake starts to sweat. Before he can wrap his mind fully around the situation, Vera and the detective appear back into the hall and he’s called in for his own inquisition. Sweat pools under his collar, at the small of his back, in the thick tufts of his sideburns and the palms of his hands as he’s ushered into the room and gestured to take the seat across the desk from the detective.
“Deputy Stewart, sorry to have to call you in early this morning. I assume Officer Jackson just filled you in on the situation?”
“Umm, yea. It’s, it’s no problem. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner...I was...out for a run.”
“Ah, it’s no problem. We’d just like to ask you a few questions about Derek Channing. We’re asking all of the staff, in light of the information we’ve received and the pending charges against him.”
“Right, right...sure.” He nods his head in agreement and takes a deep breath.
“How long have you known Derek Channing?”
“About three years. I met him just after starting here at Wentworth. I was hired by Vera Bennett, when she was governor and he was serving on the board.”
“When he was on the board, did he make regular appearances here, more than would be expected for a board member, would you say?”
“Uhh, no, I don’t think so. He was only here if there was an incident that required his oversight.”
“Were you ever aware of him offering assistance to help place certain parolees in halfway houses post release?”
“No, I wasn’t.” He relaxes slightly as the questions continue, their focus seeming to remain exclusively on his involvement with these women.
“Are there any specific halfway houses you routinely work with here at Wentworth?”
“Yes, we usually release to Standstead or High Marsh.”
“Any particular reason why?”
“They seem to have the most availability and highest rate of success at transitioning the women into jobs and independence.”
“And who has the final say on which halfway house a parolee is released to?”
“Usually the governor, but sometimes the board may sign off on a decision if the governor is not available.”
“To your knowledge, did Mr. Channing ever sign off on any releases when he served on the board?”
“I wouldn’t know for sure, but not that I’m aware of.”
“Thank you for your time Deputy Stewart. We won’t keep you any longer, as I’m sure your day is about to get very busy. I’ll keep you posted on our proceedings here and we’ll try to have your officers in and out as quickly as possible to minimize the stress on your staffing arrangements.”
Detective Prescott gives him a final glance and smile before extending his hand for a final shake. Jakes shakes the proffered hand with a quick nod and tight smile before quickly leaving the room and making a beeline for the staff toilet.
Standing at the sink, he stares at his reflection and tries to calm the racing of his heart and the violent tremor in his clammy hands. It appears they know nothing of the drugs and their private involvement so he allows himself a deep sigh of relief.
The rest of the day is a blur, a chaos of people whirling in and out and a never ending list of demands. Just the temporary weight of the crowns proves nearly more than he is capable of bearing; a terrible blow to his fragile, masculine ego. It’s 2am before he slips into the driver’s seat of his car, exhausted and on the verge of succumbing to a bender the second he crosses the threshold of his front door.
Arriving home, he steps inside and picks up the pile of mail beneath the mail drop slot and makes his weary way into the kitchen. Dropping the stack onto the counter, he retrieves a beer from the fridge and the bottle of whiskey from beneath the sink. Twisting off the cap, he takes a long drink, cringing against the burn as it glides down the back of his parched throat. Cracking open the can of beer, he chases the liquid fire with a sip of icy hops and begins to slowly sort through the pile of mail, loosening his tie as he shifts through the collection of bills and advertisements.
Toward the bottom of the pile, a plain white envelope catches his eye. Pulling it from the stack, he sees that it is blank, so he flips it over and slides a finger under the edge. Slipping out the contents he opens the smaller folded piece of paper first, which contains a handwritten message scrawled in neat cursive, the ink a deep crimson:
There is no out.
Your days are numbered, Jakey.
Squinting at the note he picks up the second piece of paper and flips it open. It’s a bank statement with a list of transactions between two companies- JR Entertainment and Copperhead Microbrewery.
He immediately recoils, knocking over his beer as he throws the piece of paper into the sink as if it were on fire. Suddenly he remembers where he’s heard those words before, whispered against his ear by his former puppet master. There’s no doubt the letter is from her and he knows instantly she provided the anonymous tip about Channing’s activities to the police, though he has no idea how she managed the feat, or how she’s even alive since Will reassured him she was gone.
How could he have been so stupid to think he was smart enough to play with the big dogs? Joan didn’t get to the top by being a weak link, he should have known he’d always be a step behind her. As for Channing, he knew that man’s greatest vice was the same as his own- greed.
His mind races to find a possible escape scenario. Closing down the microbrewery account would be useless. The police had been given the information three days ago and it would only be a matter of time before they tracked down the connection to him. Even if they didn’t know of the drug exchange right now, he’d still be implicated in connection with the company running the brothel, so his life would be under scrutiny and he’d be pulled in for further questioning. His business wasn’t actually in production so the large sums of money coming in and out would be a dead giveaway for suspicious activity. He could run, but his passport was expired and he had no idea how to get out of the country illegally.
The reality of life behind bars hits him with crippling force and he slams his palms hard against the counter, releasing a primal yell until his throat burns from the effort. Breathing heavy and staring at the paper in the sink, his thoughts turn to Vera; the disappointment and disgust he imagines in her eyes as she sees him being escorted from the prison in handcuffs, a condescending shake of her head dismissing him as she turns and walks away. The image brings him to his knees, where he releases a sob. His hope of winning her back comes violently crashing down around him. After a few moments, he gathers himself from the floor, collects the papers from the sink and grabs a pack of matches from the kitchen drawer.
In the bathroom he stands over the toilet and lights the papers, watching them burn down to the tip of his fingers before he drops the black remains and destroys them with a flush. Disappearing into his bedroom, he strips down to his underwear and collects the .22 caliber pistol from the case hidden in his bedside nightstand. Returning to the bathroom, he turns on the shower, allowing the spray to warm as he loads a single shot into the barrel of the weapon. With a final look at his swollen reflection, he steps into the shower and slides down to sit against the far wall.
Arm raised, warm metal kisses his wet temple and eyes closed he meets his maker.
From the darkest corner of the back patio, the muffled bang is heard and the figure in the shadows glides forward, tilting an ear to listen. Nothing but prolonged silence follows, so with a firm tug to the cuff of a sleek leather glove, the shrouded figure makes their way quietly into the dimly lit kitchen.
Hearing the shower spray from the bathroom, the grim reaper makes their cautious way down the hall, sure to make easy footfall for a stealthy approach. Upon reaching the bathroom door, a gloved hand gently pushes it open and steps into the steamy room. A slumped form can be seen behind the frosted glass of the shower and morbid curiosity compels the visitor forward. Slowly opening the door, the crumpled form of Jake is revealed, the bottom of the shower filled with blood streaked water, the pistol loosely held in his lifeless grasp.
This was a long game, and his day had been a long time coming. For the ultimate betrayal, for once winning Vera’s heart, he had to pay the ultimate price; if not by his own hand, then she would have done it herself.
A twisted smirk crosses wicked, bow lips as they relish in the defeat of a sworn enemy. With a final glance in pleasure over the pathetic scene, Joan Ferguson makes her silent exit, leaving not a trace of her presence, vanishing like a phantom into the crisp night air.