Life had somewhat returned to normal for Sabrina Burnham in the six weeks since Kyle Chapman’s body had washed ashore. As normal as it could be when she knew there was still a murder investigation hanging over her head. Audrey had finally convinced Sabrina to discuss the situation with Gunnar. He admonished her, much the same way Audrey had, over the failure to turn Kyle in for extortion. Although, he did have a little more sympathy when it came to how it would have played out in court. Sabrina had every right to be concerned, her name would have been sullied, and her reputation would have taken a hit. Redemption would have been possible, but it would have cost money, and a public relations firm would have to be hired to make it happen. However, Gunnar said it should have been done ten years ago, and the risk would have been far less than.
Sabrina felt sufficiently chastised over it. But bringing Gunnar into the fold also meant she had a criminal attorney in her corner if the FBI felt the need to pursue a case against her. The suspicion was they were going to cut her loose; if they had anything of substance on her, they would be knocking on her door almost daily to speak with her and anyone she knows. So far, it had been crickets.
In the past six weeks, things were going well with Chris, too. He had finished his film in Dallas and had gone back to Los Angeles. They had not been able to get together in person, but they were speaking to one another at least once a day. That didn’t include the multitude of text messages flying back and forth. He was supportive of the entire situation, telling her that he was sure she had nothing to worry about.
Sabrina tried to keep her mind focused on work, hoping that if she ignored everything about Kyle Chapman, it would all disappear. She was finishing up the budget for a new build when Alice knocked on her door. As she entered, Sabrina noticed the look of dread and fear in her eyes, “What’s wrong, Alice?”
“Ma’am, there is a Special Agent Coleman with the FBI who is here to speak with you. Obviously, she doesn’t have an appointment, can you see her?”
Sabrina tried to swallow the lump in her throat, “Send her in.” As Alice turned to walk out, Sabrina stopped her, “Alice, hold all my calls and cancel my meetings for the remainder of the day. I’m not sure how long this will take, and I don’t want to hold anyone up.”
Alice nodded politely and then opened the door, ushering the Agent into the office. As Cherie Coleman walked into the room, she couldn’t help but look around and take in the décor. “Nice office, Ms. Burnham. Remarkably different from the one Mr. Chapman had down in Austin.”
“Please, have a seat, Agent Coleman. Can I get you something to drink?” Sabrina offered as she walked around her desk and toward the sitting area. Coleman shook her head and took a seat at the end of the couch. Sabrina took the chair next to the sofa, looked at the agent and decided to dive in. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Should I contact my attorney before we start this conversation?”
Coleman was not surprised by the caustic tone from Sabrina. In fact, she would have been disappointed if she had been friendly. “No ma’am, you don’t need your attorney. I’m actually here to tell you that the investigation has concluded and we are no longer looking at you for the murder of Mr. Chapman.”
Sabrina let out a sigh and felt her body relax, falling back into her chair just a little. She wanted to maintain her composure, but the weight of the entire situation being lifted off her shoulders was overwhelming. “Who killed him? And why?”
“We’ve arrested Vincent Saldonna for the murder. I can’t get into all of the details with you, Ms. Burnham, but I can tell you that Kyle was wearing a recording device when it happened. As a matter of fact, he was wearing it when you had your confrontation with him.”
“Which is why you thought I had something to do with it? Because I threatened to kill him that night,” she responded quietly.
“From the device, I know you were supposed to have a transaction for some explicit pictures that Mr. Chapman took of you without consent. That transaction didn’t occur because he realized who the gentleman was in the pictures and was trying to raise the purchase price. Am I correct?” Sabrina solemnly nodded her head in agreement. “We found the SD card with the photographs along with the signed affidavit that he was to provide to you that evening.”
Coleman reached into the inner pocket of her suit jacket and produced an envelope. She placed the envelope on the coffee table, “Inside that envelope you will find the SD card and the affidavit. You can do what you want with those, they are the only copies. We have gone through Kyle’s computers and everything in his apartment, he had no other copies of them. We double checked his email as well, other than the two he sent to you, no other pictures were distributed to anyone. It appears he was actually living up to his end of the bargain on this transaction.”
“Thank you. You have no idea how relieved I am to have these in my possession.”
“Just so you know, we had an agent in Los Angeles reach out to Mr. Evans to let him know the pictures had been recovered as well. He was notified late yesterday afternoon.” At that moment, time stopped, and Sabrina felt as if every drop of blood in her body had run cold. The blood drained from her face, and Coleman noticed it, “Are you alright? What’s wrong, Ms. Burnham?”
Sabrina stood from the chair and bolted for the bathroom, retching violently. Her body heaved, and she collapsed to the bathroom floor. She remained there for what felt like hours, before getting up and rinsing her mouth. As she walked back into her office, Agent Coleman stood, the look on her face was one of genuine concern.
“Mr. Evans was not aware the photographs existed, I had not told him. I was keeping it quiet and trying to handle it on my own so he wouldn’t have to worry about it.”
Now it was Coleman’s turn to blanch. “I’m sorry,” was the only thing she could say and it was grossly inadequate. Coleman reached into her jacket again, pulling out another envelope. “I had something else to talk to you about, but right now, I am sure you would prefer that I leave. I have my card here, if you need me, please feel free to call.”
Coleman then turned and exited the room. Leaving Sabrina standing in the middle of her office with a look on her face that brought all the weight that had just been lifted, right back on top of her.
~ * ~16 hours Earlier~*~
Chris Evans was kicked back in the living room of his Los Angeles home reading over the script for the movie he was preparing to direct. This was the second time he was reading it, but this time he was making production notes. He wanted to get a jump on the pre-production meeting scheduled for next week. He figured he should go to the meeting prepared with ideas for where they should film and who should be cast.
Scott had called earlier and suggested they get together for lunch and to catch up; it had been a while since the two of them had spent any time together. Deep down, Chris knew that Scott wanted the lowdown on his relationship with Sabrina. He would want all the juicy details, especially about the sex. Chris would act as if he was offended, roll his eyes, and tell him he objected to his even asking. Then after a few beers, Chris would tell him everything he wanted to know.
Chris was so focused on the script, he didn’t even hear Scott pull up out front. He didn’t even realize he was there until he heard the front door open and he glanced over to see Scott struggling. He jumped from the couch to help him with the bags and then sprinted back to answer his ringing phone that was left on the coffee table.
“Hello,” Chris replied, slightly out of breath, “Yeah, I’m home. Uh uh….ok….so, why do they want to talk to me? No, no that’s, okay. Yeah, come on over. Sure, see you then.” He disconnected the call, putting the phone back down on the table.
Chris acted as if the phone never rang, so Scott decided to jump in and begin his interrogation, “So, who’s coming over?”
“Huh? Oh, the call? It was my agent, seems he’s on his way over here with an FBI Agent. For some reason, they want to talk to me.”
“Wow, what the hell did you do?
“I’ve got no idea, but I’ll wager it has something to do with the murder of Sabrina’s ex-husband,” Chris started to pace, his appetite suddenly gone. That was not an issue that Scott was having, he was in the process of devouring his burger and fries. “I wish they’d hurry and get the case over with. They’re stressing the both of us out,” Chris was saying, without really expecting a response from his brother. “I’m sure they realize she didn’t kill him and I think they’ve gone over her bank records to know she didn’t pay someone to do it. Besides, the bastard deserved to die years ago for what he was doing to her. Why would she have waited ten years?”
Scott watched his brother with amusement. Chris was in love with this woman and the stress she was under was having an impact on him. Even though they were miles apart; it was sweet. He was ready to start in on his questions, wanted to get to the good stuff when there was a knock on the door.
Chris moved to open the door, greeting his agent, Jim, and the FBI Agent. “Please come in, have a seat. Is there a problem if my brother stays?”
The FBI Agent stepped forward, “No, it’s not an issue. Mr. Evans, my name is Brock Wilson, I’m a Special Agent with the FBI here in Los Angeles. I was asked by the Chicago office to reach out to you about some evidence in the case of Kyle Chapman. I understand you’re in a relationship with Ms. Burnham, she was considered a suspect at one time in this investigation.”
“Was a suspect? I didn’t know the case was over,” Chris was taken by surprise,”But yeah, I’m dating Ms. Burnham.”
“The case was closed earlier today, the gentleman responsible for Mr. Chapman’s murder has been arrested, and Ms. Burnham is no longer a suspect. She should be notified this evening or first thing in the morning, we’re actually trying to tie up all the loose ends at once.”
“Loose ends? I don’t get it,” Chris ran his fingers through his hair, trying to comprehend what Agent Wilson might be referring to. “I don’t see how I’m a loose end. I wasn’t a suspect or anything.”
“No, you weren’t. But you were a part of the investigation. Ms. Burnham, as you know, was being blackmailed by Mr. Chapman. We were letting you know that the most recent batch of photographs that he took, the ones she was trying to secure the night of Mr. Chapman’s death, have been recovered. They had not been compromised or leaked to anyone, and you don’t need to worry about them being released.”
Chris swallowed hard, this guy just said recent photographs. Sabrina had never mentioned there were recent photos and why in the world would the FBI be telling him that they had been secured? Wouldn’t that just be something she needed to know? It seemed that while Chris was trying to catch up, his agent was following along.
“Have the pictures been returned to Ms. Burnham?”
“They are being returned to her, yes. We have double checked through the computers and file sharing systems that Mr. Chapman had, that they had not been reproduced, saved, or uploaded anywhere.”
“And, was Chris’ image clear in any of the pictures? You know, in case they did get out?” Jim asked carefully.
This was when the alarm bell went off in Chris’ head, he came off the couch as if he had been shot out of a cannon. “What? Wait a minute, there were pictures of me? What the fuck?” His voice was less than civil and far from quiet. Scott pulled his arm, trying to get him to sit down and potentially calm down. “Leave me alone, Scott. I want an answer, I’m at a loss here because I wasn’t aware of any pictures involving me. I thought the bastard was only blackmailing her for videos he took when they were married.” He started pacing back and forth, walking toward his kitchen and back.
“Chris, come back here and let’s talk about this rationally,” Jim offered, trying to defuse the situation.
“Rationally? Had I known the son of a bitch had taken compromising pictures of me with Sabrina, I would have killed the fucker.”
Agent Wilson paled, “I was with the understanding that you were aware of this. The Chicago office told me to reach out and make sure you knew the threat was neutralized. I’m sorry, I certainly did not mean to upset you.”
Jim stood up, “Chris, I’m going to take Agent Wilson back to his office. Then I’ll come back to discuss this with you.” He could see the anger building in his client’s eyes and had a feeling that things were about to get worse. “Don’t do anything stupid; we can talk about this but just keep in mind, nothing is getting out.”
Chris gave a head nod to Jim and Agent Wilson and then took off down the hall to his bedroom. He pulled out his backpack, tossed in a few necessities and then grabbed his keys, throwing them at Scott. “I need you to drive me to the airport.”
“What? Jim told you he would be back, aren’t you going to wait for him?”
“No! I need to take care of this right now.”
“Where are you going?”
“Chicago, because Sabrina and I need to have a talk.”
~ * ~
After Agent Coleman had left, Sabrina had a hard time catching her breath. She called Audrey but had to leave a voice mail. She knew that Chris would be angry. She wanted to call him but had no idea what to say. Alice entered her office to remind her of a meeting that she was already late for. She tried to gather herself and walked down the hallway to the conference room.
As Sabrina entered the room, the associates could all tell that she was barely hanging on. She took her seat at the head of the table, but she did not engage in conversation. Most of the people in the room wondered if she was even listening at all.
~ * ~
The elevator doors opened, and Chris made his way past the receptionist toward Sabrina’s office. He didn’t speak to anyone, and no one bothered to stop him. He had a look of determination on his face and in his eyes. The receptionist called back to Alice as a warning that he was on his way. As she hung up the phone, she saw him walk around the corner and quickly moved to put herself between him and Sabrina’s office door.
He exhaled and shook his head, trying to maintain composure and not explode at Alice. He wasn’t angry with her, and he needed to make sure he didn’t take it out on her. “Please move away from the door and let me see her. I don’t want to move you, but I will if I have to. You can’t protect her, not this time.”Alice gave him a half-hearted smile and tilted her head, “I’m not protecting her, she’s not in her office. I swear, Chris, she’s down the hall. There’s a meeting in the main conference room, and she’s in there,” before she could say anything else, he dropped his backpack and took off down the hall.
The large conference room had a glass wall with vertical blinds that were generally drawn closed for meetings. However, today they were pulled open, and the room was full display. There were ten people in the room, Sabrina seated at the head of the table, and her back was to the direction from where Chris was walking. Several of the associates saw him coming toward the room, but they couldn’t get a warning out to her before he flung the door open, making no apologies to anyone for interrupting.
Sabrina’s head snapped to the door, she was caught off guard to see him. His eyes were ablaze and in a hard voice he commanded, “Your office, right now!”
His tone scared her, and it showed in her eyes, but he evidently didn’t see it or didn’t care to notice. She tried to maintain her composure and save face in front of her team, “I’m in a meeting, Chris. You’ll have to wait. Just go to my office, and I will join you when this meeting has finished.” She hoped she sounded as in control as she was trying, but wasn’t so sure it was convincing.
He shook his head, ignoring what she had said to him. “No, Sabrina, we’re going to talk, now!”
She turned back to look at the associates at the table, their eyes were wide, they were unsure of what they were witnessing. They could tell she was rattled, but to their credit, no one spoke or even appeared to be breathing. Sabrina slowly pushed her chair away from the table and held onto the table for support as she pulled herself up to a standing position. She had known from the minute that Coleman told her the FBI had talked to him that he would be angry. She figured he would call her to confront her about what he had been told. It never crossed her mind that he would hop on a plane to have the confrontation in person. Right now, she had to will herself to put one foot in front of the other to move from where she was standing. She took a deep breath, looked at her team, and gave a weak “Excuse me,” before exiting the conference room with Chris falling in line behind her.
While she was scared for what was about to happen and the words that would be exchanged, she was also angry. She was angry that he had barged into her meeting and made her look like a fool in front of the people that worked for her. She looked weak in front of the people that she has always looked so strong and in command in front of. The façade of her business persona was being chipped away with the actions of one man. The two of them didn’t speak as they walked down the hall towards her office. But when they got to her door, Alice could feel the tension between the two of them. Chris leaned over and picked up his backpack before moving into Sabrina’s office.
Alice looked at Sabrina as she approached, asking quietly, “Are you going to be alright? He appears to be pretty upset.”
Sabrina slowly nodded, “No, but it’ll be okay. Just do me a favor and go home, I don’t want you to be here for this. Just go ahead and let everyone know that I’m closing the office early. I want everyone to go home,” Sabrina reached over and squeezed Alice’s hand, “Thank you.” Alice nodded and watched as a defeated Sabrina walked into her office and shut the door.
Sabrina kept her back against the door, and focused her eyes on the floor in front of her, unable to look at Chris. She was afraid of what he might say or do, the fire in his eyes in the conference room was something she had never seen before. At least not in him; it did, however, remind her of Kyle. She was having a flashback to the night she fought with Kyle, and he struck her. She began to shake slightly with the realization that was afraid Chris would raise his hand to her, but then again, his words held just as much power.
Chris was standing on the other side of her office, staring out the window onto the city street below. The silence in the room was awkward, and Sabrina wondered if he was going to speak. She decided to go ahead and talk first, get it over with, “So it’s true? The FBI spoke to you?”
He didn’t move from the window, and he didn’t look at her. His voice started out with no emotion at first, “Oh yeah, they did. Came to the house to talk to me, and it left me with a serious question,” it was at this point that he turned to look at her. His voice also began to rise, and the emotion she had expected suddenly came forward, “For the life of me, I can’t figure out why my girlfriend wouldn’t tell me the truth about the photos that her ex-husband was blackmailing her over. And why the fuck she left out that I am one of the subjects in these damn pictures?”
“You weren’t supposed to find out,” her response was barely audible, and she still did not look up at him.
“For the love of God, please tell me you didn’t just say I wasn’t supposed to find out? You were going to keep something this explosive away from me?”
“I was taking care of it, paying him off. I would’ve had the pictures and destroyed them, you wouldn’t have ever known.”
“Well, that didn’t happen now, did it?” He let the question hang in the air for a minute before saying anything else. Sabrina looked up at him, realizing the anger from earlier was nothing compared to what she saw now. His eyes were full of pain; she put that there and it was not her intention. She would never hurt him on purpose, surely he knew that. “Do you have any clue what this would have done to my fucking career with Disney?” His anger was boiling over. He started to pace, and she watched him carefully, not sure of what he would do next. Since she had never seen him this upset, she didn’t know if he resorted to throwing things or if he was able to contain his emotions.
Her voice was shaky as she answered, “Yes, I do, that’s why I was trying to handle it. I was trying to do what I could to make sure your reputation stayed clean. I didn’t care what he did to me, I was focused on you.” She decided to attempt to be braver and stand up for herself, not sure if she had it in her. “It isn’t my fault that he got himself killed you know. It’s not like I anticipated that happening.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, it wasn’t your career you were playing with, it was mine. And why the fuck didn’t you just pay Kyle that night? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do?”
“Holy shit, what do you think I was trying to do? As soon as he saw you and realized it was you in the pictures, he raised the price. I didn’t have the amount he wanted that night, I had to liquidate a few things to get him ten million dollars. I don’t have that just lying around.”
“What do you mean after he saw me?” Chris stopped pacing, putting his hands on his hips and just stared at her. He was trying to comprehend what she had just said, and he wasn’t even going to comment the price tag. There was no way she actually said ten million dollars.
“The picture of me was clear, no denying it was me. But the picture of you wasn’t. Your head was down, your tattoos aren’t visible, there are no distinguishing remarks that prove it is you. He had no idea you were famous, and when he realized it, he wanted to cash in.”
“What the fuck, you’ve actually seen the pictures? I thought he was just threatening you with them; telling you he had them,” he ran his fingers through his hair and began to pace again. Sabrina could see the vein on the side of his head starting to throb, she was afraid he was going to have a stroke. “I had no idea he actually showed them to you. This is worse than I thought, I’m honestly at a loss. Did he show them to you outside of the gala?”
Sabrina forced her eyes down to the floor again. She shook her head and replied, “I haven’t seen them all. But he sent me a few of them. He emailed them to me the day you left Chicago and went back to Los Angeles. After our first weekend together.”
“Son of a bitch, you saw these things months ago?” His voice boomed through her office and reverberated off the walls. “You’ve known about these for months and never mentioned them? When we were in Vermont and promised to tell each other the truth, you knew about them?” Sabrina said nothing but kept her head down. He took a few steps towards her, there was still a distance between them, but he closed the gap. “And when you told me how Kyle treated you and that he was blackmailing you, it never crossed your mind to say something then? When you were supposedly coming clean on everything?”
The tears began to well in her eyes, she didn’t want them to fall, but she couldn’t control them. “I was trying to protect you, I swear, Chris. When he raised the price on the pictures, I balked and told him we already had a deal. He was going to come and talk to you and try to blackmail you. I told him I’d pay him and threatened to kill him if he spoke to you,” she sniffled as the tears started down her cheeks. Chris was not expecting that; he had no idea she had actually threatened Kyle. The problem was it didn’t excuse what she had done. “I love you, Chris, and you know that. I was doing all I could to try and keep you safe.”
Chris walked across the room, he was now standing right in front of Sabrina. She was scared of what he might do, but she didn’t flinch and didn’t say a word. “It would be in your best interest to get out of my way,” he said with a curt tone.
“Please, Chris, listen to me, I was trying to protect you because I love you. I know you are angry, but can’t you see that?”
“What I see, Sabrina is that I can’t trust you. That you’ve had every opportunity to tell me the truth, and all you’ve done is lie to me.” He stared at her, watching the tears cascading down her face. A small part of him wanted to reach out to her, but the rest of him knew that he couldn’t do it or he would never walk away. “Your tears aren’t going to work on me, we’re done. I’m having a hard time looking at you right now because I’m so fucking angry. The fact that you toyed with my career and my life. You thought so little of me to keep me in the dark – I can’t trust you.”
Chris reached for the doorknob, and as he did, Sabrina moved. She realized he was going to walk out and he would open the door whether she was standing there or not. If she didn’t want to get hurt, moving was her best option. Although, the pain of the door hitting her would not compare to the pain of her heart being ripped out of her chest. The fact that he said he couldn’t trust her or look at her, those words cut right through her.
As the door opened, she told him, “Please don’t go, Chris. I love you, and I did what I did to protect you. You don’t know how hard it is for me to love unconditionally, I gave you all of me, please don’t leave me.”
Chris walked through the door and quietly said, “Don’t call me ever again, Sabrina. I said I’m done and I mean it. Your lying is what hurts the most, that’s what broke my trust, and my heart. I never thought you’d do this to me.” With those words, he slammed the door behind him.
Sabrina sank to the ground in her office and broke down. The emotions overtaking her; he had actually walked out on her.
~ * ~
Sabrina wasn’t sure how long she had stayed on the floor of her office. She didn’t have on her watch or have her cell phone to know the time. She had no idea how long her fight was with Chris, but it felt as if it had lasted days. She pulled herself off the floor and made her way to her desk. It was almost 8 pm.
She noticed she had missed a few text messages from Audrey. Her ringer must have been off, either that or her fight with Chris was so loud that the ding of the text message was drowned out by the shouting. She dialed Audrey’s number and waited for her to answer.
“Hey, I was wondering if you were going to get back with me. I hear the FBI dropped the charges? I saw on the news that they arrested Vinnie Saldonna,” Audrey noticed that Sabrina was not responding to her questions or comments. She took the phone away from her to see if the call was still connected; it was. “Sabrina, are you okay?”
“Chris left me, Audrey,” her voice was void of emotion, she had none left.
“Oh God, where are you?” Audrey knew this was not good. She could only imagine that Chris must have found out about the pictures, it was the only thing that could have caused this.
“At my office but I need to go home. I’m going to leave when I hang up with you.”
“No, stay where you are. I’ll come and get you and take you home. I’ll be there in five minutes, can I get in the building?”
“I’ll meet you downstairs,” her words were somber, “Thanks, Audrey.” She hung up and grabbed her purse and made her way out the door. She had to prop herself up against the wall as she made her way through the office toward the elevator. She was weak, and she now understood why Audrey wanted her to stay put.
As she stepped into the elevator, she collapsed to the floor, unable to stand any longer. When the doors opened in the lobby, one of the security guards was there to help her up and out. He had noticed her fall on the elevator security camera and figured she could use the assistance. It was the only time she could recall being happy that the security cameras were there.
As she made her way into the main lobby, Audrey came running into the building. She came to Sabrina’s side and pulled her into an embrace. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Come on, Gunnar has the car out front, he’s gonna help me get you home.” Sabrina nodded, she had nothing left to put up any sort of fight.