Chapter 7

n a virtuoso performance of self-control and subterfuge, Evangeline managed to get through the call to her mother without breaking down or going into too much detail. Although she could tell her mother had talked to John, it didn’t seem he’d told her anything about the scene in his office. Evangeline decided to skirt the relationship issue and blame her unscheduled disappearance on the disappointment of losing Antonio’s custody case. She admitted to hiding out at Grace’s cottage and managed to distract her mother by talking about how close she had felt to Grace during her time at the beach. When they were done, she started to make her way through the voice mails on her home, cell and office phones.

“Damn!” she said glancing at her alarm clock. It was nearly deadline at Todd Manning’s newspaper. She had to stop him from going to press with a story on her disappearance. She punched her speed dial number for the Banner publisher’s private line.

Todd answered on the first ring. “Okay, this better be my friend Evangeline and not some lunatic who’s stolen her cell phone.”

Evangeline smiled to hear his brusque, suspicious tone. “Hi Todd, it’s me. I got back late this morning.”

“So my spies tell me. Are you all right?”

She paused, not sure how to answer his question. Should she give him the version for public consumption or should she crack the door on the mess that was her mental state?

Before she could speak, he said, “You know what? Don’t answer me now. Where are you? At home? I’ll be over as soon as I put the paper to bed. Don’t argue with me. I’m a crazy man.”

For the first time since she returned to Llanview, she laughed. “Okay, but I have a favor to ask. I heard you’re planning a big story on my ‘disappearance’. Is there any way you could kill it or bury it? There really isn’t much of a story – I just needed to get away for a while.”

“Consider it buried. We’ll run a little item saying the APB has been called off and you’ve returned to town after a few days vacation. I’ll be over in a few hours. Can I bring you anything?”

“Unless you have a time machine, I don’t think there’s anything I need.”

“Friend, I’m not just crazy, I’m magic. I’ll see what I can do.”

Next she phoned Antonio. “Querida! Where have you been? Mami has been burning a candle to the Virgin for you ever since we heard you were missing.”

“Oh, Antonio,” she said, her eyes filling with tears, first Todd, now this. “I’m so sorry I worried everyone. I’m so sorry I missed our meeting the other day.”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Don’t cry. I knew it had to be something bad when Portia called the other morning to tell me she hadn’t heard from you. John called and was sniffing around Tuesday evening but at the time, I didn’t realize you’d left town. Did something bad go down between you two? What’s the knucklehead done?”

Before Antonio quit the LPD, he and John had been best friends. Since Cristian’s arrest for Tico Santi’s murder, Antonio had been trying to make peace with the relatively new knowledge that he was Tico’s brother – Carlotta was really his aunt -- and the son of the notorious druglord and murderer Manuel Santi. Although their orbits seldom intersected anymore, Antonio and John still knew how to read each other. These days, Evangeline saw more of Antonio than John did and, like Todd Manning, he had become her friend as well as her client.

“I saw him kissing Natalie in his office… and what I felt when I saw them…I don’t want to feel that ever again,” she said with a sigh. “Antonio, this has been coming for a long time. I really thought things were getting better between us, but Natalie’s made it clear she wants to be with him--”

“And that’s why you ran away from all of us, because Natalie made a pass at John?” Antonio replied. “Because from what I know of the situation and how John is with you, I have a hard time believing he made the move on her.”

“Antonio, I can’t blame this on Natalie. She wouldn’t have tried it if she didn’t think she had a shot. This isn’t the first time and clearly John hasn’t done much to dissuade her. And he hasn’t been able to tell me he loves me. If anything, I feel as if he’s been pulling away from me again ever since he met my family. It’s like one step forward, three steps back. I’ve tried, but I can’t do this by myself.”

She heard a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “When will we learn? I pulled away from Jessica when I found out I was Manuel Santi’s son and it nearly cost me her life. It did cost me our relationship. I’m not sure what’s going on with John, but he’s going to be lost without you.”

“But Antonio, if I stay with him, I’m afraid I’ll lose myself.”

“No, no. I didn’t mean you should give him another chance. You’ve been an angel. You ARE an angel. I know how being with you has changed him. It’s like you went in and turned on all his lights. And we both know John can go to some mighty dark places.”

“And I would go with him, if only he’d let me. But enough about my troubles -- did anything happen with RJ while I was gone?”

“Not really. Portia sent over the custody agreement papers. We have an appointment before the judge tomorrow at 11 – will you be up for it?”

“Absolutely. How about we meet in my office at 10?”

“Sounds good. And listen, if you want me to whip John’s worthless ass, I will.”

She giggled. “That’s really sweet, Antonio, I’ll keep your offer in mind. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As she soldiered through her voice mail, Evangeline deleted nine messages from John. If she was going to succeed in weeding him from her life, she had to start somewhere. The mere sound of his voice was enough to crack her open again. She knew that soon enough she would have to face him, but she needed to be stronger if she was going to resist his appeals.

She hung up Grace’s dress, took off her jewelry and stepped into a hot shower. When she was done, she slipped into some loose jeans and a hoodie and curled up on the chaise with some paperwork. She was deep in a nap when the buzzer rang.

“Yes?” she said cautiously.

“Hey, Evangeline, it’s Todd. Let me in.”

Buzzing him in, she smiled at the way he said her name. Practically everyone called her “Evangeleen” or sometimes “Evangelin”, but Todd had to be different. The first time they met was when he came to hire her to defend him against a bogus rape charge brought by his sometime wife Blair Cramer. Even though he was fighting for his life, he had enough of a sense of humor to want to play with his attorney. “What’s this Evangeleen? Like Ovaltine or Vaseline? You’re much too special for that. I’m going to call you Evangeline, because your face reminds me of a valentine and you smell sweet like a clementine. Well, actually, you smell like flowers, but I can't make that rhyme with Evangeline. Anyway, nobody likes me, and I hardly like anybody, but I think we could be friends.”

And so they were.

Todd was a strange duck and he wasn’t kidding about his misanthropy and unpopularity. The more she learned about his twisted history in Llanview, the more surprised Evangeline was that they got along so well. He teased her and flirted with her, but she knew there was no sexual heat behind his words and gestures. His true devotion was to Blair and their children Starr and Jack. But despite her dazzling accomplishments and near universal appeal, he knew Evangeline had her guard up, too, and he liked tricking her into letting him inside the glittering fortress that shielded the most tender parts of her ego.

She opened the door to find Todd laden with an odd assortment of packages, as if he had just finished a Llanview-wide shopping spree.

“What on earth?” she said ushering him into her living room.

He held out a small cooler. “Here, we might want to get to these right away.”

Inside were two large super thick milkshakes and a pint of Mexican chocolate ice cream. “I got one blackberry and one Mexican chocolate. You can pick first.”

Suddenly, a blackberry milkshake sounded like the perfect appetizer. She stabbed a straw into the up and sucked hard to get the thick cold ice cream flowing. After a moment, her mouth was filled with spiky sweet coolness.

Setting the rest of the bags on the coffee table, Todd began opening them.

“Here we have spaghetti and meatballs – Jack’s idea. Dr. Starr prescribed the milkshakes, with an extra pint of Mexican chocolate in case you get the munchies at midnight. And Blair thought the big salad” – he flourished a large plastic container filled with her favorite spinach salad from the Palace – “was a good alternative. I didn’t think so – salads are so grown-up, so ladies who lunch and ‘Sex in the City’. Kids don’t eat salad.”

Evangeline wrinkled her brow in bemusement. “What do kids have to do with this?”

“You asked me for a time machine. I’m here to transport you to an earlier – and I hope happier – time. Starr thought you might want to be a kid again. Sounded good to me. I’ve got comic books – Wonder Woman, of course. Archie – you strike me as a Betty kind of a girl, but with Veronica’s wardrobe. Care for a game of Operation? What do you say?”

She looked at her friend Todd Manning, the felon and millionaire, devoted father and devious adversary, loyal to a certifiable fault. And she was really glad he was on her side.

Evangeline plunked down next to Todd on the sofa and took the plate of spaghetti and salad he was holding out. She smiled and before he could duck away, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Oh great,” he said rolling his eyes. “Now I’ve got cooties.”

“I say we get to watch television during dinner,” she said, clicking on the remote. “I think ‘The Power Puff Girls’ are on.”

“All right! I hope there’s a Mojo Jojo episode. He reminds me of Dorian.”

“Todd!” Evangeline gave a scandalized giggle.

For the next couple of hours, they gorged on dinner, made fun of the Archies and played Operation until Todd’s hands started to cramp and Evangeline’s eyelids began drooping. When he saw she was exhausted, he led her to the bedroom, put away the food and trash and let himself out. As he entered the lobby, he saw McBain arguing with the night doorman.

For a moment, Todd stood with hands in his pockets, head tilted back at an insolent angle, watching McBain getting nowhere with the wall of man hired to guard Evangeline and the rest of the residents at night.

Sensing someone watching him, John looked up and caught Todd’s eye. “Manning, what are you doing here?”

“Visiting a friend.” Todd waited for this little bomb to drop. He knew he’d hit his mark when John’s nostrils flared. He moved in for the kill. “Yeah, I think you might know her: EvangeLINE Williamson.”

“How did you get in? I heard she wasn’t having visitors,” John flashed an angry glare at the doorman.

“Well, that might be because I’m on the guest list and you’re on the shit list,” Todd said with a maddening smirk. “Look, you should go home. It’s too late now. She’s in bed – I saw to that.”

Before John could pound Todd’s pretty face into the grey marble floor, his cell phone went off. It was Bo. “Yeah, boss. I’m on my way back. I know. I’ll have that report for you if I have to work all night.”

By the time John got off the phone, Todd was gone. Realizing the doorman wasn’t going to let him in, John made a mental note to try again in the morning when Walter Bivens was on duty. He headed out into the cool, dark night and back to his desk in the LPD.