The call had finally come from the Mexican authorities about three weeks after the explosion. The local police chief contacted Alice a few days after she had rung them, apparently worried that she hadn't heard from Esme for some time. I knew he would have spoken to Carlos before he contacted us but he clung to the illusion that he wasn't a dirty cop, just as Alice kept up the pretence that she hadn't a clue what was going on.
The police chief informed Alice that there had been an unexplained fire that had caused the property to burn down. The fire had been so ferocious that nothing was left of the structure and it was impossible to say if anyone had been in the property.
We talked about what that could mean as a family. We couldn't register her death, couldn't have a funeral and couldn't explain to the country club set what had happened to her. In the guise of a loving and desperate family we hired a team of forensic scientists to go down and comb through the ashes to see if they could find any human remains at all. I'm still waiting on their report.
Emmett is still on honeymoon. He has been gone now three weeks and does not have a return date in mind. The cruise ship docks sometime next week but he has already reserved passage on the next cruise, a much longer one. It goes around the world and takes about three months. I don't think he's coming back and I'm not sure how I feel about that. As a matter of form I've had Alex and Seth go through his and Rosie's communication as well as their apartment. They have interviewed every member of his crew and no one has a bad word to say about him. Despite his sudden lack of appetite for this life it seems that he has been as loyal as always. I'm thinking of buying him a bar somewhere obscure and off the beaten track so he can live quietly with Rosie that will also serve as a bolt hole if we need to help someone disappear for a while. I haven't told him yet what I have in mind but I will if he ever comes off fucking honeymoon.
Alice has been a god send, it's like having and extra pair of hands. I don't have to explain to her why I'm doing something. She just understands. I am able to share the burden with her in ways I've never felt comfortable with her husband. In time I have no doubt she will become my consigliere and Jasper will step back as I need him to oversee the legal side of the businesses. He will become the public face of some of the companies so I can distance them from the Cullen name. I've been so tied to the traditional family ways that I couldn't see that the best person to be at my side was a pint sized female. It was strange thinking that the future of the business lay in the women. There was no chance that Isabella was going to be the typical stay at home wife and she was already starting to get involved in the legitimate property businesses that formed part of our empire.
The phone rang, the high pitched tone shocking me out of my reverie.
"Seth," I acknowledged him.
"It's done." I let out a breath and smirked a as I digested the words. Seth could be a joker but when it came to the serious side of the business he was direct and to the point. I'd given the order to Alex as soon as I'd spoken to Florrick. There was enough confusion around at present that it wouldn't look suspicious if Jarvis was found dead.
I pressed the end button on my cell and reached down to close my laptop. It was time to go home to Isabella but it looked like I had an errand to attend to on the way. As I stood and stepped from behind my desk Alice walked into the office.
"Off anywhere nice?" She dropped a pile of invoices and statements on her desk.
"I do pay a book keeper to do that you know?" I pointed to the pile she was now scanning through.
"Yes, but the book-keeper didn't notice that the liquor supplier was ripping us off so I like to keep an eye on things."."
The ride over to Jarvis's house was slow, the roads snarled with traffic. I was trying to gauge how long he had been home and whether he'd drunk the coffee yet. The last thing I wanted was to get there and find him already dead or even more infuriating that he'd put the drink down and forgotten to drink it. When we eventually arrived we pulled up around the corner. The information came back that Jarvis had arrived home twenty minutes ago after his usual stop for coffee. If he had started to drink it as soon as he got home he should be feeling the effects by now. I told them to wait five more minutes and then go in and make sure there weren't any complications. It was the longest five minutes as I waited for the call to say it was clear to go in.
"Alex has disabled the CCTV and erased the records for today," said Seth. "He has managed to insert a feed from a couple of days ago. Jarvis is such a creature of habit that it was quite simple to manipulate it." He passed me a baseball cap, glasses and a short leather jacket.
"Just in case we don't manage to erase your arrival from all the neighbour cameras," he explained. As I slipped the jacket on the power in the street went off.
"The lazy bastard," he sniggered, "couldn't be bothered to erase all the tapes so he's taken the grid down instead." I really didn't want to know so I pulled on the baseball cap and glasses. Seth and I walked up the drive past Jarvis's car and into the small two storey house.
The house was neat and clean, to say he lived alone he obviously looked after the place. I couldn't help but notice the commendations and certificates proudly displayed on the wall. He probably was a good agent but he really shouldn't have decided to go up against me. The room smelled of coffee and cologne and pizza. It was an odd combination but understandable for a bachelor pad. Games consoles and dvd's lined the sides and it lacked the touches that Isabella had brought to our home.
I made sure my gloves were on before walking into the bathroom. Jarvis was naked and lying in the tub, the guys had found him slumped on his couch, the take away coffee cup empty on the table in front of him. They had undressed him, throwing his clothes on his bed in the way a man bathing after work may do, before placing him in the tub. The warm water was slowly filling round him and he appeared to be semi-conscious. His flaccid penis was shrivelled and floating in the water, nestled in wiry grey hair under the overhang of skin that made up his belly. That made me sad for a moment. We all came into the wold naked and he was going to leave it that way too. I cast an eye over his body, he was in pretty poor shape. That made things easier for us. Had he been some super fit my body is a temple sort, the drugs that we had planted would have been harder to explain.
The guys moved aside so I could sit on the edge of the bath. I removed the glasses and the cap and I could tell from the startled look in his eyes he recognised me. I'd thought about this moment so many times, what I would have Emmett do to him, what I would say but when it came down to it I didn't need to say anything. The drugs had kicked in and taken over his system and he was totally immobile. As the water rose I put my hand on his head and pushed him down into the water. I expected him to fight or scream but it was just as Emmett had explained. The quantity of drugs in his system made him pliable and as though he was paralysed. He couldn't move or talk and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. It was easy for me to hold him under the water and watch the life drain out of him. It only took a minute at the most. Seth looked for a pulse on his neck and on his wrist. When he didn't find one, he turned the water flow off. I stood up and left the room. I made sure that there was no emotion on my face, no relief, nothing. Just a problem dealt with and a tiny smattering of revenge on my part.
No one touches my wife.
I dipped a wooden spoon into the beef ragout bubbling on the stove. I blew on it impatiently to cool it then took a taste. Almost perfect. I picked up a wooden pepper mill from the gleaming marble worktop and ground in some more pepper. The sound of the external door alerted me to the fact that I wouldn't be alone for long.
"Edward, is that you?" There was no answer but the door slammed shut. I put the lid of the pan back on and turned the heat down low. "Edward?"
I padded into the hall in my bare feet. His face was ashen. I touched it reflexively and it was deathly cold. I took his hands between mine and felt a minor tremor. This was serious. I led him up to our bedroom, and sat him on the sumptuous sofa in the corner of the room. I'd dismissed Mrs B and the security detail, not unusual for this time of night when Edward was home and the alarm was one, then scurried back upstairs.
"Edward?" He barely lifted his head to look at me. I sat down beside him, putting my arm around him. "What 's wrong?"
"Nothing," he replied, but his voice was cold and dead and his eyes dull.
"It's not nothing," I said gently, "I've never seen you like this."
"It's fine," he tried to dismiss me.
"I'm your wife, Edward," I told him. The sharpness of my tone shocked him and he turned his head to really look at me for the first time. "If you've got some stupid nonsense into your head about protecting me then you can give it up right now. I knew what I was getting into when I married you and if you start shutting me out now then this marriage isn't going to last very long."
"Oh Isabella," his body sagged. I took him in my arms and his head sunk to my chest. I stroked his hair, holding him close to my heard. "Jarvis…"
"Gone..?" His head nodded the affirmative against my chest.
"He looked at me," he whispered in a hoarse voice, "he pleaded for his life with his eyes while I drowned him."
I stiffened for a moment. Edward had never spoken to me so openly about the dirtier side of his business. I had to stay strong and not let myself by shocked by hearing the facts first hand.
"You had to," I replied, planting a kiss on his forehead.
"What about my mother? Did I have to do that?" He looked up at me.
"You did," I replied, firmly. "There are things that we both know you have to do. If you didn't feel any remorse at all you wouldn't be human." A single tear slid down his face. My heart tightened in my chest. This is Edward. Edward the human. Edward the man that I married that would do anything for me. The man who has to make difficult decisions every single day and live with the consequences. For the first time it felt as if every secret between us had evaporated. I felt his vulnerability for the first time, the soft underbelly that was hidden under layers of protocol and bluster and anger. I pulled him closer, telling him without words that I accepted everything that he was and that I would be there for him, now and forever.
Things were definitely looking up. Despite hearing some really awful things last nice Isabella had taken everything in her stride. She poured a bath and stayed with me in it while I processed everything. Later, she seemed to sense that I needed her and we made slow, intense love late into the night.
On a more practical level Alice had already saved me thousands of dollars with her inspection of the liquor supplier. The discussion she had with the owner proved fruitful and our family now owned a spirits distribution company. I immediately brought Carl into oversee it. He had been in living with his family in a small property we owned while he started to get his life back together after we blew his bar up. He had taken over running the business for me and I knew I would never need to question his loyalty.
Isabella was relieved that Jarvis was no longer on the scene. According to all the reports his neighbours got concerned that he hadn't been seen since the power cut and called the police. They found him drowned in the bath and as they tried to remove him a panel had been dislodged revealing the package of drugs. It was reported that the amount was a kilo but it wasn't. That the news agency exaggerating. It was nearer half a kilo and when they test it they will find its cut down so badly that it will look like he either got ripped off himself or that he was going to deal it out and be a bad supplier. Seth had left a few small packets on his bed side table just to make sure they did a sweep of the property.
Isabella knew everything. She knew the good bits, the bad bits and the bits that could get one or both of us sent to jail. I knew that I would never keep a secret from her and in return she provided a level of acceptance and support that I didn't know was possible. Emmett and Rosie were taking occupation of their little bar soon and Alice was already acting as my consigliere. With no word from Esme and a destroyed house we are pressuring the Mexican authorities to declare her dead. I suspected that Carlisle would marry Liz as soon as the death certificate came through. My family, which had seemed close to falling apart in recent times, were settling back into new spaces.
My phone buzzed. "Are you coming home soon? X." I texted a quick affirmative and turned out the desk lamp, casting my office into darkness. Marriage, an institution which had been a prison for my father, had turned out to be my personal route to freedom. Isabella is the lamp in my darkness, the anchor for my ship and she will be my walking frame as I age. I will never get tired of going home to her warm body, intelligent conversation and the waft of home cooking as she takes care of me in a way that I have not previously felt that I deserve. Somehow, despite the shady nature of my business and the things that I have done, she makes me a better person.
That my friends is where I am going to call it complete.
Thank you so much to each and everyone one of you who has reviewed and read this story. I've loved writing every word.
Special thanks has to go to Ladyletters who agreed to help me with this when she thought it was going to be a short story and has had to devoted the last year of her life to sorting out the rambling chapters I have sent to her. She has been amazing in making this an absolute pleasure to post for you.