Manhattan, New York, 2007
Faint voices from the other side of Georgia Cushing’s closed office door woke her from a short power nap. The dark sky outside her twenty-third-floor window, though, told her it had lasted a lot longer than intended. She couldn’t blame herself for being so tired. She’d worked nonstop since her morning meeting with William Castle that had left her feeling used again. She’d done what he’d asked, and like he’d done every other time her accounting findings reflected poorly on his heirs, he’d closed ranks. “You are to tell no one about what you’ve found. Since all the money is back in place, I’ll handle the matter personally.”
William Castle had brushed her off for the last time, and her nearly thirty-seven-year stretch of forgiving him was over. His son was an embezzler, and his daughter had covered it up. Those were crimes, and Alexandra and Andrew needed to be punished, not have their father reward them with keys to the Castle empire of hotels that she’d been part of since its first day. If William didn’t have the fortitude to do the right thing, Georgia would.
She’d spent the rest of the day digging deeper through Castle Resorts’ accounting records to document every irregularity. Now it was time to get back to work. Shaking off the fog of sleep, she thought she heard someone yell, “You son of a bitch.” Male or female? She couldn’t tell. Moments later, footsteps tore past her office and down the hallway and, if she heard correctly, out of the main suite. She checked her watch and silently chided herself. It was nearly nine thirty. She’d been asleep for hours.
Curiosity got the best of her. She opened the office door to an empty hallway. The earlier lightning storm having passed, the only visible light there came from William’s office suite at the far end of the corridor. The entire floor was utterly silent, and the soft carpet in the hallway masked the sound of her heels hitting the floor as she made her way toward the light source.
Walking through the thick wooden doors of William’s executive office, Georgia got the fright of her life. William was lying motionless on the floor, face up, near his desk. She darted toward him and knelt, avoiding the blood pooling around his head. She felt for signs of life, a pulse, but she couldn’t be sure she detected one. She put her hand on his chest. A slight intake of air confirmed he still clung to life.
She rose as quickly as her aging body allowed and started for the phone on the desk. A weak groan stopped her in her tracks and forced her to turn back. William moved his head from left to right, so she returned to his side, intending to comfort him. She knelt again and grasped his right hand. She was about to call out his name when her instinct to render aid gave way to the memories of how horribly he’d treated her. He’d strung her along for years, only to marry another woman once he’d finally rid himself of his first wife. The awful situation he’d forced her into years ago was another act she hadn’t forgiven.
She slowly released his hand, struggled to her feet again, and sank into the guest chair closest to him. She leaned back to grasp fully the opportunity that was unfolding in front of her eyes, cocking her head from one side to the other as she stared at him. She leaned forward, ready to release decades of pent-up anger.
“Why did I love you for so long? Our on-again-off-again affair was such a mixed bag over the years. A never-ending cycle of joy and sorrow and pleasure and pain. Every time we started up, you were attentive, playful, and erotic. But then something would happen. Your wife’s birthday, an anniversary, or Christmas would approach, and you’d turn all business and treat me like any other employee. But I wasn’t just a subordinate! I was your lover. I was your confidant. I was the one you came to when your wife turned cold in bed. I was the one you came to with excitement when you wanted to expand the business. I was your sounding board, in the office and the bedroom.”
She took in a deep breath to say what needed saying for thirty-five years. “You’re a heartless beast. Before you die, you should know I took care of things my way, not yours.”
William opened his eyes, and a single tear fell down his cheek. He then turned his face to look up into the heavens and took one last breath. Without any more blood to pump, his heart stopped. He was dead.
Georgia had wondered how she would feel when her former lover and long-term employer finally passed away. Would she feel sadness or joy or regret or satisfaction? To her surprise, she felt relieved. His death meant he would never again enjoy his favorite seared steak or bottle of fifty-year-old scotch. He would never see another beautiful sunset or feast his eyes on historical buildings he’d spent decades preserving. But most importantly, William would never again break her heart.
“Burn in Hell, William Castle.”
Georgia pushed up from her chair. As she lifted the telephone to call 911, several black and white photographs strewed atop the desk caught her eye. Her lip turned up, her first glance having revealed what she could only describe as pornography—two women in various stages of undress or wholly naked and engaged in unspeakable sexual acts. Closer inspection confirmed to her the identity of Alex Castle and solidified Georgia’s loathing of her. Of course, she would pose for such depravity.
Georgia had long thought William’s twins were unworthy of his trust and had never understood why he consistently defended their actions, even when they proved unreliable. These photographs represented everything she hated about the Castle family. She didn’t know how yet, but she would see that these pictures marked the end of Alexandra’s control of Castle Resorts.
She grabbed the photos, left William lying in a pool of his blood, and calmly returned to her office. Gathering her things, she thought about the police investigation that would commence once someone found William’s body. Instead of riding the elevator down and risking being recorded by its surveillance camera, she slowly descended the twenty-three floors via the stairwell, where sheets of plastic had blocked the building’s security cameras during construction work. Once out of the building, just like she did every night after work, albeit usually hours earlier than tonight, she made her way to the subway station two blocks away, rode the train to Brooklyn, and walked the rest of the way home. There she carefully tucked the photographs away in a shoebox and placed the box on the top shelf of her closet for safekeeping.
Enjoy your time at Castle Resorts, Alex, Georgia thought. You won’t have the reins for long.
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