Why’d you have to wait?
Where were you, where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
Why’d you have to wait
To find me?
To find me?
– You Found Me, The Fray
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Port Charles Park
If anything happened to Brooke, his brother would make his life a living hell.
This had been the reasoning that Dillon offered to Kyle and Lucas when they had stopped fighting long enough to notice Brooke was gone.
Kyle had smirked, and Lucas had rolled his eyes, because that was clearly Dillon’s problem. Well, bastards, it was going to be their problem, because Ned was a Quartermaine.
And Quartermaines were really good at revenge.
Maxie and Georgie had agreed to get into Maxie’s car and drive around the park while the three guys had split the park into thirds, planning to meet on the sidewalk at the other side.
“You got your cell phones, right?” Dillon asked as they stood at the entrance of the park and at the division of the pathways. “They’re charged?”
“How dumb do you think I am—” Kyle held his hand up as Lucas opened his mouth. “Don’t say it. Never mind. We’re in a crisis here. Let’s knock this shit off until we find Brooke.” He checked his watch. “Maxie and Georgie should be at the bus stop right now—”
“And they haven’t called yet, so she’s probably in the park,” Lucas said, craning his neck with a grimace. “It’s a big park, do you think she got lost? I mean, how often did she visit growing up?”
“Not a lot. Okay, I’ll go straight down the middle,” Dillon told them, feeling better that the other two were more concerned. “Kyle, take the far left, Lucas, the far right. We’ll meet at the bus stop.”
“Okay.” Lucas took a deep breath. “She’s probably lost,” he repeated.
The trio divided and Dillon started his trek through the center of the park. He called Brooke’s name every few minutes, irritated that he’d allowed the night to end in complete disaster. He’d tried to be the good guy, hadn’t he? Tried to make peace between Maxie and her boyfriend and the rest of the group. He’d tried to make Brooke give his friends a chance, but what did it get him?
Searching the damn park at eleven at night for his niece who had decided to go off on her own. When Dillon found her—
The pathways met one another at the center of the park before splitting again, and Dillon sighed when they all three reached it at about the same time. “No sign?”
“Not a peep. Did you try her phone?” Kyle asked.
“Her parents took it as a punishment,” Dillon said. “Don’t worry, I’m going to be bringing that up in some great detail when Ned is blaming me for losing his kid.” He gestured to the path. “Let’s keep going.”
Five minutes later, Dillon reached the fountain that rested near the south entrance to the park—just twenty feet from the bus stop. He stared down at the ground—at the single sneaker laying on its side near the bench.
He knew that sneaker—the bright electric yellow high-top—Brooke had worn those shoes that night, and he’d pointed out it was so bright they would get kicked out of the theater. She’d just rolled her eyes—
Dillon’s heart started to pound—could you actually hear the sound of your own heart? He fumbled in his pockets for his phone and shakily—he found Lucas’s number in his contacts.
“You found her?”
“I don’t—I found her sneaker.” Dillon swallowed hard. “I haven’t—I didn’t look any further.”
“The south fountain—”
“I’ll meet you there.”
He placed a similar call to Kyle, put his phone back in his pocket and just stood there, listening to the water trickle down in the fountain. “Brooke?” he called, his voice trembling. “Brooke?”
Maybe she’d lost the shoe and was now, limping her way to the bus stop, cursing—but Dillon couldn’t think of any way someone could lose their sneaker that didn’t end in…
He’d watched too many movies. That’s all this was.
Lucas appeared, running towards him, breathing hard as he drew to a stop. He cleared his throat as he, too, saw the sneaker. “Dillon—”
Kyle arrived and the three of them stared at the sneaker for another long moment. “The girls haven’t called, have they?” Kyle asked, his voice subdued.
“No.” Lucas squeezed his hands into fists. “Should we call the police—”
Dillon took a deep breath. “No, I just—I didn’t want to be alone if I—” He met their eyes, these two men who had been at each other’s throats earlier. “I just didn’t want to be alone.”
“So, let’s look,” Lucas said, putting a hand on Dillon’s shoulder. As a group they began a search of the bushes and trees around the fountain—
It didn’t take them more than two minutes to find her.
Her jeans tossed beside her, her t-shirt in shreds, and her other sneaker peeking out from under a bush.
Her legs with scratches and blood—Dillon’s heart seized. Her legs laid open. Oh, God.
“Is she—” Kyle asked with a waver in his voice.
The pre-med Lucas took a deep breath and moved forward. With shaky fingers he reached for Brooke’s pale slim arm, placed two fingers at her wrist. After a moment, he nodded. “There’s a pulse. Call—call 911.”
He backed away and stopped Kyle as he started to approach. “Don’t touch her. Don’t touch anything. You’ll mess up the scene.” He met Dillon’s eyes as Dillon put his phone to his ear. “Tell them she’s unconscious, her pulse is faint, and that she’s been sexually assaulted.”
Port Charles Park
It was Taggert’s worst nightmare. Another attack in the park before the city council had had a chance to approve extra security. After the mayor had denied them the chance to warn the public. Taggert had hoped for more time, for a longer cooling off period.
But this guy had gone from eleven weeks to five to two. Would there be another victim this week? Next? How was Taggert supposed to protect the public if he wasn’t given the tools?
And the identity made everything worse. The granddaughter of the town’s most powerful and ruthless family. Not that it mattered to Taggert, but it would matter to the Quartermaines. It would matter to the mayor, to Mac, to the press—
Even if Brooke’s name was kept quiet, he knew the shit had hit the fan. They’d never be able to keep the Herald from printing the story. Which might be the only sliver of good news he’d find in this tragedy.
Taggert pulled the car to screeching halt at the south entrance to the Port Charles Park, his siren still wailing. He switched off the ignition, looked at the pale countenance of Lucky Spencer in the seat next to him. “You ready?”
“Yeah.” Lucky nodded. He took a deep breath. “Yeah. We need to—we need to get this guy, Taggert. Four women in six months—”
“Yeah, I know.”
They got out of the car and hurried the short distance between the entrance and the fountain, where they found a group of teenagers clustered. Taggert recognized the commissioner’s daughters standing with a trio of boys. Georgie had buried her head in Dillon Quartermaine’s chest, as her sister clung to a boy he didn’t recognize. Off to the side, Lucas Jones stood somberly, staring at the bushes.
Taggert’s attention was drawn to the stone bench and something rolled in the pit of his stomach. He glanced at the fountain, at the bench, and then at Lucky, who seemed to be coming to the same realization. He hadn’t made the connection when he’d gotten the call, had only heard the bare details.
But now he remembered another young girl’s life destroyed in those bushes.
Beyond them, the crime scene unit had already arrived along with paramedics. Brooke Lynn Ashton had been loaded into a stretcher, a white cotton sheet pulled up to her chin. Behind her, a tech had plastic bags filled with cloth that resembled clothing, sneakers, and a purse.
“I want to go with her,” Dillon said. “I didn’t call Ned yet, but I want to go with her.” He stared at Taggert, almost defiant. “I’m her family—”
“Lucky,” Taggert said. “Take Dillon to the hospital. Get me a statement, okay?”
Lucky nodded. He scrubbed his hands over his face. “Yeah, okay. What about the notification—”
“Mac is already on his way to notify Ned.” Taggert put a hand on Lucky’s shoulders. “I know where we are, man. Put it away for now.”
“Yeah.” Lucky cleared his throat. He looked at Dillon. “C’mon, I’ll drive you in the car. We’ll probably beat the ambulance there.”
Dillon murmured something to Georgie who nodded and then broke away from her, following Lucky out of the park. Lucas stepped forward to put an arm around Georgie’s shoulder.
Taggert approached those who were left. “What happened tonight?” he asked. He generally didn’t like group statements, but there was little doubt that none of these kids were involved, and they needed to stick together.
The dark-haired boy with Maxie cleared his throat, stepped forward. “I’m Kyle Radcliffe. Um, we went to the movies—the Harwin—” he gestured behind him, in the direction of the theater. “It was a double feature. It started around nine, I think. But we, ah, got kicked out around ten-thirty.”
Taggert lifted his brows. “Okay.”
“We were fighting outside,” Maxie said, miserably. Her voice sounded thick as though she’d been crying. “All of us, except Brooke. I guess she got bored or mad, and decided to go. We didn’t—” she sucked in a deep sob. “We didn’t notice.”
“She knows all the bus stops in Port Charles,” Lucas offered, dully. “She doesn’t have a car, and she’s used to them from being in the city. She’s taken the bus from Central a lot because it has a route past the Quartermaine estate.”
“So, we thought maybe she’d gone through the park,” Kyle picked up the story. “Maxie and Georgie got in the car, went looking on the sidewalks, and we divided up the park.”
“How did you end up here together?”
“Dillon saw Brooke’s sneaker out here.” Lucas gestured. “And he didn’t—” He swallowed hard. “He didn’t want to find her alone. He called us both, and we came to meet him. And then we found her.” His voice faltered. “Um, her clothes were torn and scattered all around her. Her other sneaker—and she had bruises and cuts—um, her—” He shook his head.
“We thought maybe she’d been hurt…” Kyle continued another swallow. “Because her jeans were off—and her legs were…anyway, we called 911, and then I called Maxie. I didn’t want them out there alone.”
“We came here and waited for the cops,” Georgie said. She sniffled. “Can we go? I want to go to the hospital. I want to check on her.”
“Yeah, okay. We’ll probably have to sit down for a more formal statement, but yeah.” Taggert watched as the group filed out of the park, then turned to the crime scene techs. “Frankie, what do we got?”
“We got clothes, we got sneakers. Not much else.” Frankie shrugged. “Kids are right, though. She was likely raped or there was an attempt. We found her underwear in shreds near the jeans. He really did a number on her.”
“Fantastic.” Taggert scrubbed his hands over his face, a sour feeling settling in his abdomen. It was only going to get worse.
Quartermaine Estate: Study
Ned grimaced and looked at his mother’s tired face as she stared at the report he’d just handed her. He looked at his grandfather, who looked impossibly old. They were surrounded by paperwork, similar reports. All of them with the same results. “We’ll have to do an immediate recall.”
“I know.” Tracy leaned back, folded her hands in her lap. “I wish I could say we only used the latex in the one product, but—”
“If we get out of ahead of this—” Edward cleared his throat, but he looked every bit his of eighty-five years. “So far we’ve only located one damaged shipment. One batch of faulty latex. You’ve already tracked the lot numbers, the products that have been shipped?”
“I have,” Tracy said. She looked at Ned. “It’s not a lot, but I’m worried if we don’t do a full recall of all the products, we might miss something. This isn’t something I want to play around with.”
“I know. Neither do I—” Ned glanced up as there was a knock on the door. He frowned, then traded troubled looks with his mother and grandfather. Every member of the family knew they were closeted in here on dire ELQ business.
To interrupt them meant an emergency.
Ned left Edward and Tracy at the conference table and crossed to the door, finding a sleepy, worried Reginald. Their butler retired when Lila did, keeping the same schedule as the woman he cared for. “Reggie?’
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ashton, I know you said you couldn’t be disturbed, but Mac Scorpio said it was an emergency—”
Ned’s hand, wrapped around the brass doorknob, tightened. He knew Mac, of course, but they were not friends, and there was no reason for the commissioner of the Port Charles Police Department to be visiting him this time of the evening. He swallowed hard and followed Reginald into the foyer where a somber Mac Scorpio was waiting.
He was only dimly aware of his mother and grandfather following him.
“Brooke,” he managed. “My daughter.” Because why else would Mac ask for him after eleven at night?
Mac took a deep breath and nodded. “Dillon and a few friends found her in the park. She’s alive—” he hastened to add when Ned started forward. “But she’s hurt.”
Monica stepped out of the family room, followed by Alan where they usually shared a night cap before retiring for the evening. “What’s going on—”
“Brooke’s been hurt,” Tracy said quickly, putting a hand on Ned’s arm. “You said Dillon found her in the park—”
“They were supposed to be at the movies,” Monica murmured. “They—” She gratefully gripped Alan’s hand when he offered it to her. “What happened?”
“We don’t know yet,” Mac admitted. “She was unconscious, and she’d been beaten.”
There was a sharp inhale of breath as Edward pushed forward. “How can you not know anything—”
“Father,” Tracy murmured. “Hush. Because it’s just happened.” She looked at Mac. “Was she—was she—” She couldn’t force the words out, and Monica paled. Ned frowned at his mother, saw that his grandfather and Alan also looked mystified.
“Based on the initial report,” Mac said slowly, “we think so.” He looked at Ned, shook his head. “We suspect, in addition to the physical assault, your daughter was—”
Ned threw up a hand. “No. No. Don’t—you don’t—” Because now he knew what why Tracy and Monica had looked so concerned. His little girl. His baby.
Tracy closed her eyes. “Okay, Ned, we’ll go to the hospital. Right now. Father, you should be here when Grandmother wakes up.”
“I’m going to the hospital, too,” Alan declared.
“I have to—” Ned shook his head. Couldn’t focus. Couldn’t think straight. His little girl. Attacked. Hurt. Violated. “Lois.”
“I’ll call Lois,” Monica said immediately. “I’ll help her make arrangements to get here.”
“Okay.” Ned nodded. “Okay.” He still didn’t move, couldn’t until his mother pressed gently on his shoulders. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Cruz & Dante’s Apartment: Dante’s Bedroom
Dante had just drifted to sleep after pulling a double shift when his door swung open and the bright lights of the living room woke him.
“Hey, what the fuck man!”
“Sorry—” Cruz grimaced. “But I wanted to—Lucky just called because you—you know her.” He paused. “Brooke Lynn Ashton was just found beaten and unconscious in the park.”
Dante jackknifed into a sitting position. “What? What? What are you—” He shook his head trying to clear the fogginess of the sleep. “What are you saying?”
“She’s on her way to the hospital,” Cruz told him. “I figured—”
Dante just stared at him for a long moment before taking a deep breath. “Yeah, I know her,” he managed. He got to his feet. “Beaten and unconscious in the park,” he repeated. “Wait.”
“Yeah, Lucky didn’t say for sure because he was with Dillon Quartermaine who found him, but it was near a fountain.” Cruz paused and nodded. “Like the others.”
“Fuck me.” Dante fell back onto his bed. “I gotta call my ma. She’s close with Brooke’s ma and—Christ. A fucking serial rapist and we’re not allowed to tell anyone, hey don’t walk through the park if you’re a young woman with brown hair—”
He lunged to his feet and slammed his fist on the dresser, cracking the cheap plywood. “This fucking city!”
“You want to go to the hospital?” Cruz asked after a long moment. “Be with the family—”
“No.” Dante shook his head. “No. I want to go down to the station and rip my fucking cousin’s head off. That lazy son of a bitch refused to say they were one guy—refused—and Mac insisted on waiting for permission—” He clenched his jaw. “And now Brooke is paying for it. Well, fuck this.”
He reached for his phone and dialed for information. “Yeah, I need the number for the Port Charles Herald.” He reached for a stub of a pencil and started to write.
“Dante, think about this,” Cruz said, crossing the room rapidly, trying to stop Dante from dialing the number he scrawled out on a napkin. “If you tell the press—”
“What, I’ll lose my job?” Dante demanded. “Did Capelli lose his damn job when he nearly got an innocent woman killed? Fuck this. I got into this to protect people, not cover asses.” He jammed every number in. “This city only understands pressure. Change ain’t gonna happen if we shove our heads into the sand. We gotta make it happen.”
“Dante—we don’t know anything—”
“Yeah, I need Jessica Mitchell,” Dante said, naming the reporter on the crime beat. “I know it’s late. Can you just see if she’s still there? I got an anonymous tip for her.”
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
It was just after midnight when Elizabeth’s cell phone began to chirp, pulling her out of a fitful sleep. She sighed, sat up, and reached for the phone charging near her bed.
“This better be good,” she grumbled.
“Liz? I’m so sorry for calling this late. Maybe I should have waited, but I was worried you’d hear about it in the papers because I bet the press is already sniffing it out—”
“Em, Em—” Elizabeth folded her legs underneath her. “Slow down. What’s wrong?”
“My cousin Brooke? She was just…I don’t know if you know her.”
“Yeah, she’s been my waitress a few times at Kelly’s—” Elizabeth rubbed her eyes. “She’s okay, right?”
“God. I don’t think so. I’m stuck here, can’t get out of here—I am so sick of this program—”
“Dillon found her in the park. She was unconscious and hurt pretty bad.” Emily swallowed hard. “And Mom said they think she’s been sexually assaulted.”
“In the park,” Elizabeth repeated. She closed her eyes. “Where in the park?”
“Near the fountain on the south side. Mom said the press already knows somehow—they’re not supposed to report Brooke’s name, but they’re already at the house—I was afraid it would be in the papers—and I just—I wanted you—”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth cut in. “I appreciate it. I’ve been—Thank you.”
She and Emily spoke for a few more moments before they hung up. Elizabeth switched on the lamp next to her bed, unable to handle the shadows in the corners.
The fountain at the south side of the park. The same place where Elizabeth’s world had been broken into pieces only five years earlier.
She didn’t think about it too hard as she pressed a speed dial on her phone. It took a few moments, but a voice came over the line—Jason didn’t sound groggy, and she wondered if he’d had problems sleeping, too, after their conversation at the bridge.
“Hey. I’m sorry—”
“Are you okay? Don’t worry about it—”
“I, um—” Her tears spilled over now. It was in her head now, and she was terrified she might never ever be able to get rid of it. To put it away again. “Ned’s daughter, Brooke—she was raped in the park. At the same place—”
“I’ll be right there, okay? I’m coming over.”
She didn’t even bother to argue with him. She wanted to feel safe, and right now, that meant Jason.
General Hospital: Emergency Room
It was almost surreal, Ned thought, as he sat on a hard plastic chair in the emergency room. He felt as though he were floating above his body. Was he really there? Was he really waiting to hear about his daughter?
Was this really happening?
“Ned…” Alexis rushed in, clad in jeans and a gray sweatshirt. He rose to greet her, and Alexis wrapped him into a tight hug. He buried his face in her hair, but he couldn’t lose it. Not yet.
He had to keep it together.
He drew back from her, resting his hands on her shoulders. “Who—”
“Monica called.” Alexis glanced at Tracy, nodded absently in greeting. “She thought you might need someone who wasn’t family. I called Jax—he’s on his way back from Europe. He’ll be here tomorrow.”
Ned exhaled slowly. “They don’t know anything yet. I haven’t been able to talk to Dillon—he’s still with the police—” He drew back further and started to pace the small space, dragging his hands through his hair, clutching at the strands. “No one has told us anything about her condition—”
“Does Mac know anything yet?”
“No,” Tracy said with a shake of her head. “Not yet. Monica was supposed to contact Lois—”
“Edward already arranged for a charter flight out of LaGuardia,” Alexis murmured. “She’ll be here in a few hours.”
Tony Jones stepped out from behind a curtain, clearing his throat. Ned turned to face him, Alexis leaving a hand on his shoulder for support.
“Ned, Brooke is—” He hesitated. “She came around in the ambulance and they had to sedate her.”
Ned closed his eyes. “But she’s awake—”
“It was heavy sedation,” Tony said awkwardly. “She has a fractured cheekbone, a concussion, and sprained wrist. She also sustained a cracked rib, so we’re keeping an eye on her for internal bleeding.”
“Was she—” Tracy managed a deep breath. “The police suggested she may have been—”
“There is evidence of a sexual assault,” Tony said with deep regret. “Bruising on the thighs—the PCPD is arranging for our S.A.N.E nurse to take a preliminary rape kit.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ned managed as his knees gave out and he sunk back onto the chair. “Oh, God. Oh, God. What do I do?”
“I don’t mean to make it worse,” Alexis murmured as she sat next to Ned, rubbing his back. “But press is already outside, and Monica said they’d showed up at the house.”
Ned’s head snapped up, flames in his dark eyes. “What?” he demanded. “I thought the identities of sexual assault victims were protected—”
“They are, but I imagine someone leaked it,” Alexis said with a heavy sigh. “I can make some calls—”
“Do it,” Ned ordered. “I don’t want anyone—” He put his head back in his hands. “How is this happening? How can I—What do I do?”
“I wish I knew.” Alexis closed her eyes and rested her forehead on Ned’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ned. I’ll make those calls, and I’ll get them away from the house.”
“When I find out who is responsible for this,” Ned said, lifting his head to meet Alexis’s eyes. “They are going to wish they’d never been born.”
Condo: Living Room
Elizabeth had jerked the door open almost before Jason could knock, throwing herself into his arms. She just wanted to feel safe and warm.
She wanted it to go away—to never think about her rape again.
“Hey,” Jason murmured as he gently steered her back into the apartment and closed the door behind him. He ran his hand up and down her back, his fingers warm and smooth against the thin cloth of her tank top.
“I’m sorry. You must think I’m crazy—I mean this didn’t even—” Elizabeth choked out a sob as her voice faltered. She pressed her forehead into chest, covered with a gray t-shirt. “I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
“Couldn’t really sleep,” Jason admitted. He took her hand and led her to the sofa where he sat down and she curled into his side. “You said Ned’s daughter was hurt?”
Elizabeth nodded and related the phone call she’d received. “I know Emily was trying to help,” she said. “But at the same time…I don’t know…maybe I could have avoided it.” She grimaced. “But probably not. Brooke works at Kelly’s. She knows the same people. But God, Jason, she was attacked at the same place. How is that possible?”
Jason seemed to hesitate for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “It probably didn’t help that I told you tonight that—”
“I wish I could blame it on you,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. “But the truth is that I’ve been thinking about the rape since before I got that letter.”
Jason frowned at her, shook his head. “Why? What—” He clenched his jaw. “Ric.”
“I think the first time he drugged me was the night I—” Her stomach rolled as she tried to continue. “I don’t—I don’t remember wanting to—but he had been at the viewing and I was tired. I didn’t really want to go home, and he told me he had a room upstairs in case I hadn’t wanted to go home. He gave me some wine, and then—I don’t know. I woke up the next morning, and I just—” She winced as she saw the banked fury in Jason’s eyes. “I knew we’d slept together, but I just…didn’t remember why. I thought I was just sad and lonely. We weren’t together a lot, but I always remember wine or something else he’d brought to eat.”
“He drugged you to—” The muscles in the arm around her tightened until it felt like she was being embraced by concrete. And then, as if it cost him, Jason took a deep breath, relaxed his arm. “Have you talked to Gail about it?” he said finally.
“No. I guess I just—I wasn’t ready to think about it—because I know that’s—” Elizabeth pressed her face into his side, trying to find the courage to say it aloud. “I know that it means Ric raped me.”
She felt his hand clench into a fist. She leaned up, unwound his arm from around her, and took his clenched fist between her own hands. “I’m sorry, Jason. I should—”
“No, this—it didn’t happen to me,” Jason said after a moment. “I’m sorry. I just—I know he went after you because we’d been together. That doesn’t make it my fault, but I wish like hell—” He drew in a deep breath, then slowly exhaled it. “You should talk to Gail. It’s not that I don’t want to hear it,” he added. “It’s just—”
“You love me,” she murmured, “and it hurts you to hear me talk about things that hurt me.” She kissed his knuckles until his hand loosened. “Yeah. I think between admitting that out loud, the letter, and what happened with Brooke—I think I should talk to Gail.” She waited a long moment. “Will you—will you stay tonight? Not to—I just don’t want to be alone.”
“Yeah…” Jason nodded with a raspy tone to his voice. “Yeah, I can stay.”