Chapter Fifteen: 1997

    "Welcome back," Jerry Springer said on his talk show, "If you just joined us, our topic on today's show is Siblings Who Sleep Together.  On our stage is Cosmo & Nation Clinton, two medical professionals who have recently moved here to Chicago..."
    The crowd applauded and Cosmo and Nation smiled and waved.

    "I swear they look familiar," Ralph said to the woman in bed with him, as he stared at the television set.  If there's one television show Ralph liked, it was The Jerry Springer Show.
    Next to him, Carol seemed uninterested.  She'd rather be romantic with Ralph, but Ralph seemed more interested in sibling lovers.  But she didn't mind.  For the first time in a long time, Carol finally felt like she could trust a man.  Ralph had proven to her time and time again that it was okay to love, that it was okay to trust a man.  She looked at Ralph and smiled.  She was in love.
    When a comercial came on television, Ralph excused himself to go to the bathroom.  He leaned over and kissed Carol, telling her "Hold on, baby.  I'll be right back."
    When he was out of the room, Carol could do nothing but smile.  Ralph was truly a remarkable man.  She wanted to shout out to the world that she loved him.  If fact, she realized, I haven't even told my two sisters about him!  No one in my entire family knows about him yet.  I think I'll call them!
    Carol reached out to the phone and saw that his answering machine light was blinking.  He had one message still unheard.
    "Ralph! You've got a message on your machine! You want me to play it?"
    Ralph didn't hear her.  He had the radio turned on loud in the bathroom to disguise any awkward sounds he could possibly make.
    Carol shrugged and then pressed play on the answering machine.  A woman's voice spoke:

Hello, Ralph, it's me, Kim.  Listen, call me tonight.  I really want to talk to you.  I know it's been only last night since I last saw you, but I really miss you.  I want you to come over here and ... well, you know ... as soon as you get this message.  Don't worry about knocking tonight.  I think it would be unproper for me to answer the door in the nude.  Tempted?  See you tonight, lover-boy.
    Then Kim made a kissing sound before disconnecting from the machine.

    Minutes later, Ralph shut off the radio in the bathroom, and then flushed the toilet.  He opened the bathroom door, waving away the smell.  Smiling, he said to Carol, "Whew! The neighbors are gonna move away if they get a wiff of that one!"  Then he laughed.
    But Carol wasn't laughing.  She was crying.  And she had the phone pressed to her ear.
    "What's wrong?" he asked her, "Baby, who are you talking to?"
    Carol wiped her eyes and spoke into the phone, "Yeah, I'm still here."
    Ralph looked at her with confusion, "Who's on the phone?"
    Carol sniffed her nose and then said, "Okay," into the phone, and then handed it to Ralph, adding, "It's my sister.  She wants to talk to you."
    Ralph held the phone to his ear and said, "Hello?"
    "I warned you years ago, Ralph.  But you didn't listen!"
    The voice was eerily familiar to Ralph.  Where had he heard it before?
    The female on the other end continued, "Recognize my voice? It's me, Linda, from Denton.  You were sleeping with my sister Teresa and me at the same time without telling us.  This ring a bell?"
    Oh Shit, Ralph thought to himself, Linda, from back in 1983.  I remember!
    Linda continued, "I warned you back then not to hurt my sister Teresa, and now I find out that you're cheating on my other sister, Carol!"
    Suddenly Ralph spoke, "Listen, I'm sorry.  I didn't know you had TWO sisters.  I mean, what are the odds?"
    Then Linda said something to him that chilled his bones.  She said, "What are the odds that you'll make it out of this situation alive?"
    Ralph looked at his bed and noticed that Carol was no longer there.  In fact, it would appear that she had grabbed her clothes and left.
    "Please, Linda, I can explain.  You see..."
    Linda had hung up.  Minutes later, with his heart racing, Ralph sat on his bedside and listened to the single answering machine message.  Suddenly everything was clear, but one question still remained:
    Would Linda - or could Linda - actually kill him?

    Years have passed since Mark had played bass guitar for Oscar's band.  As all of his friends moved on, he felt he must as well.  So it was a blessing when 4 years ago he received a note that he had won twenty-thousand dollars in a lottery.  Strangely enough, he didn't even remember entering a lottery or even buying a ticket.  Yet, it was this note, accompanied by a check (taxes, the note read, had already been included), that confirmed he had won.
    Being somewhat skeptical, he had the Denton bank verify that it was genuine, and they had no problem cashing it for him.
    At first, he didn't know what to buy first, so he waited a day.  It was that very next day when he ran into someone on the street who claimed to know him...although Mark didn't recognize him at all.  This man told Mark that he should travel to New York City and try to be a rock star there.  "MTV is there," the man said.  "That's where all the record agents are..."
    Dollar signs flashed through Mark's head, and he was convinced.  He flew to New York and tried to find an agent.  But first he needed a small but cheap apartment.
    A year later, after failing to find a band to play in, much less a record contract, Mark packed away his bass guitar and decided to find himself a real job in New York City ... before all his money ran out.
    And he did.  He ended up working at a CD shop, and found life in New York City very good.  Eventually, his lottery money dried up and he adjusted financially to his new job and location.

    On this particular night, September 7th, 1997, found himself in a public restroom, standing at the urinal.  NO, he wasn't pissing.  He was cruising.  He had made a habit over the past year of cruising gay men in public restrooms.  In fact, just a month earlier, a pop singer named George Michael entered the bathroom and showed Mark a real good time.
    But tonight was a slow night.  Very few men entered the public bathroom, and the ones that did were old men which Mark didn't care much for.  Finally around eleven p.m., he gave up and left the bathroom.
    Walking down the long corridor of the building, he passed by several doors.  The hallway was dimly lit, and on this night, he had a particularly creepy feeling.  Suddenly, he stopped at one of the closed doors and stared at it.  He had heard something from the other side of it.
    He pressed his ear to the wooden door and listened quietly.
    He stood up and then looked down at the doorknob.  Was it unlocked?  He wondered.  Slowly he extended his hand towards the knob.
    Then just as he was about to grab it, a soft wind brushed his arm, sending the hairs to stand on end.
    Frightened, Mark moved away from the door and ran down the corridor until he found the exit door to outside.  He left the building and planned on never returning.
    Meanwhile, inside the building, behind that one single door that Mark had almost opened, a woman sat in the dark.  She was sitting upright in a wooden chair.  Her arms were behind the chair, tied together by a rope.  Her mouth was bound and gagged so that she couldn't scream, although at various times of the day, the gag was removed to feed her and carry on a brief conversation.  Her eyes were tired from crying, which was pretty much all she could do anymore.
    Janet closed her eyes to sleep for the night.  In the morning, she would be awakened and fed.  Thank God for the conversation, and occasional television to make the days go by.
    As Janet fell asleep, she dreamed that Brad would find her and rescue her.  She dreamed that Brad would once again be her hero.

In the next chapter, Oliver Wright finds out where Betty is and plans to win her back.  Also, Brad vows to find Janet.  In the meantime, Tom (the convict Betty left behind) is released from prison.  Something horrible happens to Nation and Ralph.  Irwin Lapsey mades a decision that could destroy his marriage. ... And so much MORE!