My life at Stark by josette grover
Summary:

Tony Stark takes an up and coming scientist under his wing at SI.


Categories: Buffy/Angel Crossovers > Other Movie Characters: None
Genres: AU
Warnings: Original Character Death
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 36118 Read: 2321 Published: 2019.12.18 Updated: 2019.12.18
Story Notes:

Takes place in the Sunnydale Universe so no superheroes

Chapter 1 by josette grover

 

“Get the hell away from me.” A woman shouts as she storms into the building. “You're eleven years too damn late to start bleating how much you wove me and miss me.” The woman, who Tony recognizes as one of his researchers snorts in disgust. “Where the hell were you when I was crying myself to sleep at night in that boarding school you sent me to so you could kiss Noelle's ass all the time? Where the hell were you when I was working after school and weekends to pay for my schooling since you couldn't be goddamn bothered? Yeah moron, the damn scholarship LOAN needs to be paid back. I'm putting money away weekly to pay it off.”

 

“I. . .I. . .I. . .I. . .”

 

“Oh don't even fucking dare try to say you didn't know the money had to be paid back. You're not that damn stupid, no matter how much you tried to blubber to Dr. Phil you're the damn victim of that miserable little bitch Noelle. Hell, everybody saw the look on your face when you realized you had two children. Or did his little lecture about being a damn grownup go right over your head since it was about me and not that stupid little bitch? Christ, where the hell were you when I was in the hospital for a week when my appendix burst when I was sixteen? Thank god the school had medical power of attorney for me, otherwise I'd be dead because the hospital couldn't treat me without authorization. Even if it was an emergency since I was a minor.”

 

“I. . .I didn't know.”

 

“Really?” She drawls sarcastically. “I got yelled at by Uncle Dan for actually using the damn medical coverage I was supposed to be on through the company. He at least called to complain about the bills and the school cussed him out and told him my appendix had burst. You couldn't be bothered to return any of the calls. Not that you ever returned any calls about me. I graduated top of my class at school, went on to university. . .again where I had to work and take classes since you couldn't be bothered to pay for that either.”

 

“But. . .but your grandfather's education fund?” She blubbers. Everybody's looking at her in disgust.

 

“You ran through all that remember?” La Belle sneers. “Your darling Noelle deserved it more so you spent it on her. Uncle Dan had tears in his eyes when he realized you'd spent all the damn money. That fund was supposed to be for ALL the grandkids. His kids, Uncle Ben's kids, Uncle Adam's kids, Aunt Daphne's kids. . .that account was for all of us.”

 

“It. . .it was?” She bleats.

 

“Oh, don't even act stupid. You know damn good and well nobody needs five million dollars for one person, it was for all the kids. That's right moron, that's how much money you went through for that stupid little shit. And there's not one damn thing to show for it. Since I didn't get any money from the fund, there's no damn reason for me to work for the company. Hell, Uncle Dan fucking hates me because oh my god, I didn't mean for somebody to actually have to use that damn insurance. It was just there to show the authorities I offer it to the employees. They're supposed to pay in, they're not supposed to actually have to use it.”

 

“He doesn't hate you!” She bleats. “You take that back right now young lady.” She balls up her fists until a security guard reaches for his gun. Not that La Belle wouldn't have smashed the bitch's pretty little fake nose in herself.

 

“Bullshit! The damn bastard sued me for how much he had to pay out for the medical bills as soon as I turned eighteen. He actually screamed in the courtroom I should have died rather than use it. The judge threw him in a jail cell for 72 hours on a contempt of court charge for that.”

 

“Oh god.” she covers her mouth with her hand. “Yeah bitch, so don't start on how you and that miserable bunch of people love me. Do me a damn favor. . .forget about me for another ten years. . .at least.” She walks across the floor to the elevator, Security escorting her mother off when she tries to follow her onto the elevator.

 

“Your uncle wanted you to work for the company?” Pepper asks quietly when she's called up to the head office. The woman sighs in relief when she's reassured that she won't be fired.

 

“Yeah, if we pay for your schooling the least you should do is work for us.” La Belle says in a sing-song voice. “And we have a list of degrees we want you to go for, this way we don't have to pay a good wage to anybody else.”

 

Tony snorts from his office. Figures. Hammer was always a cheapskate. Sounds like the rest of the family isn't any better. Except for her of course.

 

“How much do you owe on your . . .scholarship loan was it?”

 

“Nearly two hundred thousand since I had to pay for my university with it. I try to put at least six hundred dollars on the loan monthly, the school I attended has an arrangement with the bank that offers it. . .you have twenty years interest free to pay it off after high school or rather university since it rolls over, after that you are charged ten percent interest until it's paid off. More than a mortgage but less than a credit card and by then you should have either paid it off or be very close to it.”

 

“And you still owe that much?”

 

“Grad school.” Tony nods. “It's only been closed for a year. I tried paying on it through my schooling but dear uncle Dan canceled my health insurance after he got the hospital bills so any money I put on the loan was quickly eaten up by doctor visits, dental appointments, medicine. . .”

 

“Tell me about the loan?”

 

“As everybody no doubt heard me telling my mother or were told by the people who heard it firsthand it's an agreement between the bank and the school. When a student applied for it, room and board, tuition, and the books were put on it automatically. While school was in session students also got a twenty-five dollar allowance weekly and got a debit card that was associated with the account for other expenses. I had a job ever since I was a sophomore at the high school, earning 7.50 an hour working twenty hours a week during school. Since I worked in the dining halls I had a year-round job unlike the students who worked in areas that closed over the breaks.”

 

“Year-round?” Tony asks.

 

“Yes Mr. Stark, the school went year-round. We had a week off between semesters and three weeks off for Christmas. I was one of the students who stayed at the school during the break. During those breaks I was able to work more hours. When I was a senior I was able to get more hours, I ended up working nearly thirty hours a week when I graduated. It gave freshman and sophomores ideas for their future, the people there helped students pre-apply to their schools and if they didn't have a place to go that summer between graduating high school and starting classes there they helped find them a place to stay and a job. I lived in that apartment with three other women the whole six years I was in school until graduated with my masters and accepted the offer to come work here.”

 

“And you stayed in intern housing until you could find a place of your own?”

 

“Yes, and living here for a year made me realize I don't want to deal with Manhattan traffic on a daily basis.” Tony and Pepper snigger but nod. “I was able to put my money towards a place of my own though, a converted warehouse out in Brooklyn that needs some work. I was able to get it cheaply though and I can do the work over time.”

 

“You were able to get a loan?”

 

“Not with everything I already owe.” she snorts. “I went to some associates of the family and got a loan from them. They hate my family and was more than happy that I'm not working for them.” She names a name and Pepper snickers while Tony sighs. “Yes, we know the family very well. They love to twit egos.” the family is old money from construction all over the world.. They have plenty of money and each generation adds to the wealth.

 

“They tracked me down to the school, demanded to know if I was happy there or they'd bring me back to their home, sent me money weekly for anything you need sweetheart. . .call us if you need more for anything, they called the school because I had missed a call and immediately flew out when they found out I was in the hospital. . .fuck one of them cussed out Uncle Dan after the school principal did because he had answered my phone. They punched him when they found out the bastard was suing me for the money for the hospital bill, one of them was right there with me with the checkbook if the judge ordered me to pay him. They told me take as long as I want to pay them and if I told them I couldn't they'd be. . .that's okay baby. They told me if I need money to work on the building to come to them. . .not only would they give me the money they'd work on it themselves. They were not happy to find out I was working my way through school and had that honking big loan to pay off. .. “ La Belle sighs and pulls out her tablet and gets on the bank website. “And they paid the loan off.” Pepper breaks down laughing at the look on her face. Putting her tablet down she grabs her phone and punches in a number.

 

At a home a woman laughs. “Yes, we paid off your loan when you blasted your fool mother about having to pay for your own schooling. Suffer, you're family whether you're related by blood or not. And Dr. Phil?”

 

“Yes, my fool mother was blubbering about how everybody's mistreating that fool Noelle after she racked up all those DUIs and lost her license driving drunk and plowing into a building killing five people. You know how he always tries to get all the family together on the stage. . .wellll, that's the first time my darling Mommy remembered she had two children since she shipped me off to my school since Noelle needed all her attention. Even back then the damn fool was causing problems. The show won't be airing for a while, it's one they're taping for the new season.”

 

“How old is she?” Pepper asks after La Belle ends the call.

 

“She's not quite four years younger than I am, so she just turned 21?” She looks at the date on the screen across the room. “Nope, she turns 21 in three weeks. I turn 24 in a few months.”

 

“And she's already lost her license due to DUIs?”

 

“Mommy's an enabler. . .if she's going to get drunk I'd rather it be in our home.” La Belle says the last few words in a sing-song voice. “Dr. Phil called her a little fool when he found out I had been sent off at thirteen and hadn't seen my family or even got a phone call since then.”

 

“Like a lot of kids shipped off to boarding schools since their parents don't want to be parents. The only difference with you is she didn't want to be a parent to you.”

 

“Nope, I wanted a parent. . .not a damn bestie. And I told her that on stage. Now she's trying to make up for the last eleven years of neglect to prove to everybody she's not a miserable excuse for a human being like the rest of the family.”

 

Pepper laughs and sends her off, she returns to her lab.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah, Ms. Potts and Mr. Stark wanted to talk to me about the loan I was talking about earlier.” The others on the floor and La Belle tells her story, the others shaking their heads. One of the woman blinks and says a name. “Yes, that's the school I attended.”

 

“I went there. . . my sister's a student there now and my brother's going to be attending in a couple years.” They compare years and realize she'd graduated the year La Belle had started. “Second marriage?”

 

“Nope, I was a woo-hoo, I finished pre-med celebration while my sister is 'Yes, I graduated medical school. . .”

 

“And Thank God I survived my residency is your brother?”

 

“Exactly. Mom's busy paying down her school loans, that's why all of us are going through school on scholarship loans. There ain't any extra money for our schooling.”

 

“Ain't isn't a word.” A woman sneers across the hall.

 

“Look in the fucking dictionary dear.” a man says scathingly. “Because it is.” She huffs off and comes back a few minutes later looking disgruntled. How dare they be right.

 

“No, we're not telling you where your daughter lives.” A Dr. Phil employee snorts. “If she wanted you to know where she lives she'd have told you herself. You were lying in wait outside her workplace and caused a scene.”

 

“Weeeeellllllll. . .yeeeeessssss, I guess I did. But she has to be lying about having to pay for her schooling. Isn't she?”

 

“No dear, she's not. I've found copies of the paperwork showing it closing and the amount she owed.”

 

“Owed? See, my family. . .”

 

“Shut up bitch, you and your damn family didn't pay for it. It was paid off by a third party. . .and I'm sure as hell not telling you who it was.”

 

“Did she lie about Dan suing her for the medical bills?” She whimpers. She knows her brother can be nasty about money, but. . .

 

“No, the miserable bastard not only sued her for the medical bills, the fool was sentenced to 72 hours in jail on a contempt of court charge for actually screaming Ms. Sanders should have died rather than use the insurance. The judge was not happy about that. And that was before suing to force your daughter to work for him. . .he was stunned when the judge told him that since he didn't have a damn thing to do with her schooling, she didn't have to work for him.”

 

The employee hangs up on the drama queen sobbing about her baby. “Fucking fool.” A noise from the doorway has Dr. Phil and her boss looking at her. “The Hammer woman boss, she was removed from the older girl's workplace after laying in wait for her. She's trying to get back in her daughter's life and the older girl said she's eleven years too late for that, asked where she was when she was sixteen and her appendix burst. Thankfully the school had medical authorization to treat her. She never returned any of the calls and her uncle Dan who's currently in charge of the family business actually called and complained that she used the insurance she was on through the company. He had the pay the medical bills.”

 

“Oh dear god.” Dr. Phil moans.

 

“Oh yes, the fool actually sued her for repayment of the medical bills when she turned eighteen. I found the legal papers.” She says at their looks. “She wasn't supposed to actually use the insurance, it was just there so they could say they offered it. The bastard actually screamed in court that she should have died rather than use it.” Her boss moans and Dr. Phil swears. “Yeah, he got slapped with a 72 hour stay in jail on contempt of court charges for that. And the bastard had canceled her insurance after he got the bills but as she was covered during the procedure the bastard still had to pay those bills.”

 

“Sounds like the whole damn family is cracked.” her boss snorts. “Is that all?”

 

“Hell no, the girl had to remind her mother she had to pay her own way through school, from high school to grad school under something called a scholarship loan. . .” Dr Phil says a school name and she nods. He smiles. “I've heard of the school, it's an excellent one and the scholarship loans means they can go on to university. I've got a couple grandkids looking at the school.”

 

“And grad school in Ms. Sanders case. Her mother was stunned, hadn't her grandfather's education fund had paid for it? No, that fund had been for all the kids, not just her beloved Noelle. Or did she really think one person needed five million dollars? Which she'd run through for Noelle leaving no money for any of the grandchildren to go to school on. Of course if the company paid for their schooling. . .they should have to come work for the company. . .right? Here's a list of areas we want you to choose from, this way we don't have to pay somebody else a reasonable wage. And he sued Ms. Sanders to try to make her come work for him when she graduated even if he hadn't paid for her schooling, the court didn't agree with him.”

 

“She's better off without them.”

 

“Yes, at her workplace she told her mother to forget about her for another ten years. .. at least. The fool woman called here trying to get her home address.”

 

“If she'd wanted her to know where she lives, she'd have given it to her.” Dr. Phil snorts.

 

La Belle is not surprised when the bag of groceries she'd put down to pull her keys from her purse is picked up and one of the family looks at her. “Mom's already upstairs making notes on what to do with your loft.” He leads the way upstairs and she shuts the entrance door behind them.

 

“La Belle, your kitchen sink?” The woman who'd answered the call and laughed at her complains when she comes into the apartment.

 

“Yes, the faucet is bad. . .I want to replace the entire sink so there's no use just replacing that.”

 

“Have you found the sink?'

 

“Yeah,it's actually downstairs along with a new countertop.” Her friends look at her. “Second floor, the room on the end. It's full of stuff that the builders had planned on installing. The countertop is against the wall covered with a blanket, it's high-end granite and was intended for this apartment since it was going to be the owner's apartment before the funding fell through.” she leads the way downstairs, turning on the light. “Oh, I didn't even know this stuff was here.” One of the others says. Then shakes his head. “No wonder the funding fell through.”

 

“Yeah, they used all their money for the fixtures.” She walks over to the wall and pulls away the blanket. “The sink is by Adam's foot. ..yeah, that one. I want to install the light and fan too.” They nod and start moving the boxes up to her apartment.

 

“You'd need to tear out the cabinets to put that in.” .

 

“That row of cabinets was intended for the apartment, the ones there are stock and still good, I can give them to habitat for humanity. A lot of the money they had on hand went to the owner's home instead of the other lofts and they were left scrambling for funding for the rest of the building so they could sell the apartments. But this means I have room for projects.”

 

“Have you found a room for your pottery?”

 

“Yeah, it's going to be on the second floor, same with the glassblowing. The loom, knitting machine, and sewing area is going to be on the third floor, I've already been in contact with stores and they'll take anything I can bring them on consignment.” They nod in satisfaction.

 

“No paint?”

 

“No, it would have gone bad.” They nod and make mental notes on what she'll need for her new apartment.

 

La Belle walks into her lab the next morning and hangs up her coat. The others had been busy bringing out the smaller appliances meant for her apartment and making plans for that weekend while she was off work.

 

She's not surprised that night when she comes home from work to find Marigold nodding in satisfaction at the cans of paint that are being unloaded out of the back of a truck.

 

“No, I have no goddamn intention of taking that fool woman into my home.” La Belle snorts in her phone the next morning. “That stupid bitch hasn't had a damn thing to do with me for eleven years until Dr. Phil reminded her she had two daughters. She can go back to where she came from and be miserable, wailing her life is over because my idiot sister is in prison for the rest of her life for repeatedly driving drunk and finally killing somebody doing it.”

 

“She didn't tell me that.” the woman on the other end blusters.

 

“I don't give a shit what she told you.” She says. “She's wailing because she couldn't get Dr. Phil's office to tell her where I lived, she couldn't get my employers to tell her where I live, and I sure the hell ain't telling her where I life. If I find you or her on my property I'll arrest you both. I don't have to take the bitch in, I don't want to take the bitch in, and I ain't gonna take the bitch in. ”

 

“I can go to court young lady.”

 

“You do that bitch, and I'll destroy you and her.” She hisses and the other woman whimpers. She thought she could push her weight around and make the younger woman take the woman in.

 

“And what the hell did you think you were doing bothering her daughter?” Her supervisor asks icily a few minutes after the call is ended.

 

“But the woman won't stop wailing about how her daughter has to forgive her. She didn't know it would be so long. She didn't know her daughter was working and going to school. Couldn't she have been lying about her family not paying for her schooling? Wellllll yeeeeesssssss, she didn't ever write out any checks for her schooling herself. . .but but but. . .”

 

“That just proves her daughter's claim that her mother is a miserable bitch. Leave her alone.”

 

“She told me a fantastic story about her sister. . .”

 

“The bitch has been driving drunk since she was sixteen, on a suspended license since she was eighteen and a revoked license when she was twenty. . .before she plowed into a building and killed five people.” She slaps down the court records.

 

“Oh.” the woman says quietly. So the fool's whining that her older daughter is telling lies about her sister had been the lie.

 

“Yes, the fool went whining to Dr. Phil about how everybody was being mean to the miserable puke. It was then she was reminded she actually has another daughter. Now she's trying to get back into her life so she can take care of her and her miserable sister for the rest of their lives. Because she's sending all her money to the prison for her pwecious baby girl. The girl and her mother have already ran through a five million dollar education fund that was created by the grandfather that was supposed to be for all the grandchildren, not just her.”

 

“But she didn't tell me any of this.” she whines.

 

“No, because she wanted people to kiss her ass and the truth would make people want to kick her ass instead. Leave the daughter alone and tell the mother to grow the fuck up and leave her alone too. She's over a decade too late to expect her daughter to want a damn thing to do with her.”

 

Her mother wails when she gets the news the social services won't get involved in making her daughter take her in. She had tried telling the girl that she hadn't meant to leave her alone for so long, why won't she believe her? She had to give the younger girl all that attention. She was beautiful and had a future ahead of her in modeling, La Belle was . ..welllllll, she can't call her ugly, or even homely. Plain, yes that's a good word, she was plain. But the woman who'd walked on stage was tall, slender, walked like a supermodel, was prettier than Noelle, and was dressed in beautiful clothes. It wasn't fair.

 

She's forced to take the bus back to her home, she's got no money left for even a cheap hotel and she needs to go back to work to keep a roof over her head.

 

“Oh thank god.” La Belle sighs when she gets the news. Pepper looks at her. “My darling mother had to go home to go back to work. She mortgaged the house to pay my idiot sister's legal bills and OMG, the bank actually expects that money back.” Pepper guffaws despite herself. “All the groups that was raising money for the victims of the accident didn't agree with her my idiot sister was the real victim.”

 

“I wouldn't have either.” She snorts.

 

“And the family won't give her the money anymore, not after she went through the education fund like a hot knife through butter. The idiot cousins are all having to work their way through school now, the first time everything wasn't handed to them on a silver platter.”

 

“What did your sister get?”

 

“Second degree murder, life sentence without the possibility of parole. The prosecutors wanted first degree murder since she decided to drink and drive but. . .” La Belle shrugs. “The defense tried for accidental homicide, the judge split it down the middle. The prosecution got life without the possibility of parole, the defense got the lesser charge.

 

“And the family home?”

 

“Not my home, they moved there after I got shipped off to boarding school. When I lived at home, it was a two bedroom apartment and I had to sleep on the couch in the living room before of course Noelle deserved the room to herself. Dr. Phil not happy when he found out they moved to a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom home the second I was gone.”

 

“For three people?”

 

“Two, my mother and sister.”

 

“Your father?”

 

“Died in a work related accident when I was two. That's why I'm a Sanders and my mom and sister are Hammers. I don't think Mom knows who Noelle's father is, I heard a lot of hissing in the family that she left the birth certificate blank. The uncles hissed at that. . .it seems my Mom was destroying the Hammer good name by having two children out of wedlock.”

 

Neither Pepper or La Belle are surprised by the guffaw from Tony's office. “Yeah, that was my reaction to that outrageous statement. My idiot uncle Dan tried saying I was destroying their good name by actually daring to get sick and sticking him with the medical bills. At first he tried claiming I used the insurance for plastic surgery, the judge looked at me and asked me why. I called my uncle a lying fool and said the bills were from when my appendix burst. And that the fool had canceled my insurance on me after that. . .for daring to be sick. That's when the bastard screamed at me I should have died instead of using the insurance. . .it wasn't there to actually be used, it was there to make the company look good. That's when he got slapped with 72 hours in jail for contempt of court and I got asked what I was going to do with my life. I told him I was in my first semester of university, working my way through school there too. He apologized to me and said I was better off without that bunch of losers, I was a much better person.”

 

“I agree.” Tony says from his doorway. “Hammer just filed for bankruptcy.” He looks at La Belle. “Did your mother ever file for Social Security survivor's benefits for you?”

 

“No but the others did. That and the settlement from the insurance and the lawsuit against the workplace since it was their fault he died is in a fund set aside for me and me alone. Since the others knew my mother would run through it leaving me nothing. I get control of it when I'm twenty-five.”

 

 

“Fuck you moron!” La Belle snorts. “There is no way in Hell am I taking my idiot mother in. Or pay her damn bills. She didn't want anything to do with me for eleven years, why the fuck should I take her in?” She shuts the door of her lab that had been open slightly as the others turn their attention from their labs to hers.

 

“But she's your mother.” Dan Hammer whines. “She's going to lose the family home, you don't want that do you?”

 

“Why the fuck would I care about her damn home? I never lived there. She moved into that damn seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom place after I was sent off to boarding school. Two people, seventeen bedrooms and nineteen bathrooms. She moved her and Noelle from a two bedroom, one bath apartment to that monstrosity the second she got rid of me.”

 

“But what about when. . .she never brought you home during school breaks?” he whimpers.

 

“No, because it would take attention away from her damn precious Noelle.”

 

“I. . .I didn't know that sweetheart.”

 

“Oh don't fucking start with the damn sweetheart, the last words you bellowed at me were calling me a spawn of Satan for not doing the right thing and dying of that burst appendix instead of actually having surgery and making you pay aaaaaalllllll those medical bills. Because that insurance wasn't supposed to actually be used, it was just there to make the company look good. I was sixteen at the time. I was eighteen when you fucking sued me to reimburse you for the medical bills. . .after you canceled the insurance for daring to need it.”

 

“Ohhhh, yeah.” he ducks his head as the people who'd been in the room with him gives him disgusted looks. The loud click on the end of the line tells them she hung up and one of them lifts the handset to end the call on their end.

 

“You told her she should have died rather than use the insurance?”

 

“I. . I was upset. So many medical bills were coming in and the insurance didn't pay for nearly anything. I was left with all the bills. I. . .I . . .the insurance wasn't supposed to actually be used. . .couldn't she have pleaded poverty and had the bills forgiven? Or actually paid them herself?” He blubbers.

 

“She was sixteen, why should she have had to go into debt for medical bills when the insurance was supposed to have covered it? It would have been different if she didn't have insurance. . .”

 

“But I had to pay all that money.” He wails. “She was a minor, they wouldn't have billed her. ..would they?”

 

“Goddamn moron.” One of the men in the room mutters when they're in the van heading back to their office.

 

“Amen. The girl's better off without him. Or her mother from what little I heard.” the other man who'd been in the room mutters. The others look at them.

 

“The head of the family, he called his niece while we were there to try to get her to take in her mother. She refused to take her in or pay her bills, seems she hasn't seen her in eleven years. He bleated she'd lose the family home. . .his niece said she didn't care if she lost the home. . .she'd never lived there, the fool woman had moved two people from a two bedroom, one bath apartment to a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom monstrosity the second she'd gone away to school and hadn't brought her home during breaks, it might take her attention away from somebody named Noelle.”

 

“Her other daughter, she's in prison for life for driving drunk and killing five people.” another person rumbles in the back of the van. “And it's worse than that. . .the other girl had to pay for her own schooling according to the people I was talking to. The mother never paid a cent for her schooling. .. hell the stupid woman ran through a five million dollar education fund that should have been for ALL the grandchildren, not just her pwecious Noelle.” He says sarcastically. “I recognized the name of the boarding school she attended, it's the same one Marcy went to.”

 

“Ahhh, she had a scholarship loan then.” Marcy's another person in their office but hadn't been called out to this account.

 

“Yes, and she was sick when she was sixteen, her appendix burst and she had to use the insurance they have.”

 

“That worthless thing.” Another man mumbles. “Useless shit. Doesn't cover anything.”

 

“Yes, he was incensed that she used it and he was stuck with the medical bills. . .she should have pleaded poverty and got them forgiven,. She should have paid them herself. . .she was only sixteen, they wouldn't have charged her, would they?”

 

“No, they'd have charged the family and if they had that useless thing, the insurance.” The man who'd talked about the insurance rumbles. “Pays next to nothing.”

 

“Yes, the miserable fool sued her when she turned eighteen to be reimbursed the medical bills. . .called her a spawn of Satan and that she should have done the right thing and died rather than use the insurance.”

 

“Oh Christ.” Everybody in the van moans.

 

“Are you okay?” A man pats La Belle on the back when she tosses her phone in a drawer and her shoulders start shaking.

 

“Get off her, there's codes of conduct.”

 

“Oh shut up you miserable old bat. I'm comforting her by patting her on the back, not throwing her down on the floor and going to town.” He snorts. “Quit finding fault in everybody and everything.”

 

“Indeed.” She whirls around to complain and deflates when she sees it's the boss. “La Belle?”

 

“My idiot uncle Dan, he's bleating that I have to take in my mother or pay her bills. She's going to lose the house otherwise. Yeah, two people really need a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom monstrosity. She fucking figured Noelle would become an overnight sensation modeling and pay it off like that.” she snaps her fingers. “He didn't know I was never brought home breaks. Tried calling me sweetheart. I told him don't start the sweetheart crap, the last words he said to me was calling me a spawn of Satan for not doing the right thing and dying from that ruptured appendix when I was sixteen instead of using the insurance. Because the damn thing was just for show. . .to make the company look good. It wasn't supposed to actually be used.”

 

“Why would he contact you about that?”

 

“Either my idiot mother went blubbering to him or the damn house was brought with money from the company and with the damn thing mortgaged, it became a debt they have to go over in bankruptcy.” Tony nods. “Either way I'm not paying her damn bills or taking her into my apartment, she'd howl at having to sleep on the couch since I only have one bedroom. And I sure as fuck ain't giving her my bed. The couch was good enough for me, it should be good enough for her.”

 

“I wouldn't either. She made her decision, let her live with it.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“As for your constantly making accusations about your coworkers, we're talking. . .NOW!” Tony says.

 

“Think we'll get rid of the miserable bitch?”

 

“I hope so,. There's not a day that goes by she doesn't go tattling about something.” Another woman snorts. “I'll check her lab to make sure nothing's going to blow up while she's gone. Because it would just be like her to ignore lab safety in her lab to complain about somebody else. . .Ohhhh FUCK! JARVIS, can you get Mr. Stark back here. . .NOW!” the woman yells. JARVIS looks at the lab. “Mr. Stark is on his way back.” He rushes in and finds her frantically shutting everything down. He looks in and blanches. “Everybody out. . .unless your are experiments going to blow up too. You're off for the rest of the day. JARVIS, alert security and hazmat. And don't let her leave the building.”

 

“Shit.” La Belle grabs her purse, coat, and phone and hurries off with the others. Looking at the time she heads to the subway a couple blocks away and then stops when a truck pulls up in front of her. “William?” She asks as the passenger door is shoved open.

 

“La Belle, what's going on?”

 

“Lab incident, we've got the rest of the day off. I was heading to the subway when I saw you.”

 

“Get in, I'll drive you home. I was coming back from picking up stuff for your place.” He says at her look. She rolls her eyes.

 

“Are you okay?” He pats her hand as she leans back in the seat. This is just more than a lab incident.

 

“My dear uncle Dan called. . .wanting me to take in my Mom or pay her damn bills.”

 

“Oh dear god.”

 

“Yeah, needless to say he didn't get any satisfaction.”

 

“Why the hell would he call you about your mother?”

 

“Because they're both miserable fools? Either she went wailing to him about how damn miserable I am for not taking her in and kissing her ass and he wants to be big man on campus throwing his weight around or the damn monstrosity she moved into was paid for by the corporation. Now the damn thing is mortgaged to the hilt it's a company debt that's got to be discharged.”

 

“Yep.” He looks at her. “Is your commercial license still active?”

 

“Yep, do you need me to drive weekends?”

 

“Please.”

 

“Oh there's your brother, I wonder what . ..La Belle.” His mother says when the truck pulls into the parking lot behind the warehouse and both doors open. “What happened? Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, just a lab incident. The fool who's always sneering and trying to cause problems had a fit when a coworker patted me on the back, bleating about codes of conduct and all that other shit. He told her to shut up, he was comforting me, not throwing me down to the floor and going to town.” Marigold sighs as the others snigger. “Effing idiot left something going in her lab that had another coworker yelling for Stark's AI to get the boss back there. He'd had enough of her and was taking her off for a talk, hopefully this talk includes the words. . .you're fired.”

 

“And why was he comforting you?”

 

“My idiot uncle Dan called, he wants me to take in my moron mother. Or pay her damn bills.”

 

“Oh dear god. . .why?”

 

“Because either the worthless fool went whining to him and he had to be big man and try to shove his weight around or the house was brought with company money and now that they're in bankruptcy and it's mortgaged to the hilt, it's another debt to be discharged.” Everybody nods at that. “Anything you need me to do?”

 

“Nope, we were hoping to have your new stove in before you got home. Go change your clothes and relax.”

 

“Okay, I'm going to bike down to the bookstore a couple blocks away.”

 

“Did you order your machines?”

 

“Yep, they're due in a couple weeks.”

 

La Belle hops onto her bike and heads off, returning an hour later with a backpack filled with books. They get put in a basket for now until a room can be turned into a library and she shakes her head as she sees the new refrigerator and stove had been put into place. The kitchen feels so much bigger now that it's got a new coat of paint she thinks as she pulls down a mug and makes herself a mug of tea.

 

“Dinner?”

 

“Being delivered in less than an hour. Now did William ask you about your license?”

 

“Yep, and I said I'd be able to drive weekends. Nothing else to do but rattle around the warehouse until I get everything in.”

 

The next morning she signs into work.

 

“You hear, she got fired. Not transferred. . .fired.” One of the women down the hall says.

 

“Why? If miserable human being was a crime my entire family would be in prison.” the sound of laughter behind them.

 

“The miserable woman was playing with some very dangerous things and by sticking her nose where it didn't belong instead of paying attention to her work she violated her own precious codes of conduct.” The man who'd patted her one the back says as he walks to his lab.

 

Saturday morning La Belle gets behind the wheel of a semi, all her old skills falling back in place. Later that night she parks and hands over the paperwork, The next afternoon she drops the paperwork from the run on the desk in the office and grins as she pours herself a cup of coffee.

 

“Any problems?” William's sister Amanda asks.

 

“Not a one, it was just like old times.” La Belle had driven for the company summers while she was in university to make extra money.

 

“Heard you did a little driving over the weekend?” Pepper asks the next morning when she comes into La Belle's lab.

 

“Yeah, I have a commercial license and was driving semis summers during school for extra money. Just like I never stopped driving.”

 

“Tony might be asking them to deliver some items, if so. . .”

 

“He'd like me to do the driving?” Pepper nods. “We'll let you know well in advance so you and the company can schedule it. Now, did you skip a grade in school?” There was no information on the sixth grade in her records.

 

“Yeah, sixth grade. Went right from fifth to seventh, didn't even get advanced midyear. Which my woving mommy wailed about, it made her darling Noelle look bad since she failed Kindergarten that same year. When I was shipped off to my new school she was starting the first grade. My sophomore year she failed the second grade, when I started university she failed the fourth grade, then she had to repeat the sixth grade.”

 

“Oh dear god.”

 

“Oh yes, my dear mother kept telling her it was okay. . .she could get in her classes online while she was on shoots. Not that there were any photo shoots. She finally dropped out of school when she was sixteen and in the damn seventh grade. Otherwise she'd have been in her twenties when she finally graduated. That's one of the things my idiot mother was complaining about on Dr. Phil, the prison was making her finally get her GED.” She mock-rubs crocodile tears from her eyes.

 

“Oh dear god!” Pepper sighs.

 

“Oh yes. . .how can they be so mean to her? Fucking idiot, both of them.”

 

“You don't want me moving in with you?” her mother bleats in a phone call a couple days later.

 

“No, I don't want you moving in with me. What the hell part of leave me the fuck alone didn't you goddamn understand?”

 

“But they're making me leave the house.” she wails.

 

“and one damn person does not need a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom home. Not even two damn people needed that monstrosity.”

 

“Wwwwweeeeelllllllllll, I. .. I. . .I guess not.” she blubbers.

 

“She guesses not. Get the hell over yourself. See if you can't make a deal with the bankruptcy court to save the house by taking in boarders to fill the empty rooms and use that money for the damn mortgage. Or get a damn apartment if they still want you out. I don't see a monstrosity that size selling quickly so I'm sure the bankruptcy court will allow you to come up with something.”

 

“But that's your family home. . .you'd let the bank take it?” she yelps.

 

“That was never my fucking family home. You and Noelle moved into it after you shipped me off to boarding school. . .remember? I've never even stepped foot in the house. Because dear god forbid you bring me home breaks. Or during the summers I wasn't attending university or grad school.”

 

“Ohhh. ..Yeah.”

 

“Yeah.” she snorts and hangs up. “Damn fool.”

 

“Bad time to talk to you?”

 

“No,” she turns around to see Mr. Stark in the doorway. “Just my darling mother whining because I won't let her move in with me. What part of leave me alone didn't you understand? She's miserable because the bankruptcy court is gonna make her move. I told her one person doesn't need a damn seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom monstrosity. Not even both her and Noelle did. I told her see if she can talk the court into letting her get boarders to pay the mortgage off. . .a place that damn big wouldn't sell. If they still want her out, get a damn apartment.”

 

“No, no it wouldn't.” he chuckles.

 

“She was wailing about me letting the bank take my family home. I reminded her she moved after she had shipped me off to boarding school, I never even stepped foot in the damn thing because god forbid I come home breaks, let alone summers when I wasn't at university. She was all 'ohhh, yeah'.” She looks at him then sighs as the phone rings again.

 

“No, no I don't want to go back on the Dr. Phil show while you weep and wail about how damn difficult your life is. I don't fucking care! Leave me the hell alone.” She ends the call and tosses the phone in her drawer. “Shouldn't have had that out but I was expecting a call about something important.”

 

“That's why I'm here, they called me.”

 

La Belle waves a hand to the counter and they start talking. He asks her questions and she answers them the best she can.

 

“Well I don't see a problem either, so it looks like you made a good discovery. If all the tests come back good, we'll start on the patent.”

 

 

 

“No, we're not going to have your daughter declared unstable and in need of being committed because she won't kiss your useless ass. Get the hell over it, and yourself.” A woman snorts in an office. “You threw your daughter away, there's no damn reason why she should have to take care of you. She gave you some good advice, get boarders in to try to save the house if the bankruptcy court will allow you or get off your ass and get an apartment. I agree, one person does not need a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bathroom mcmansion.” La Belle's mother runs off sobbing as everybody in earshot gives her disgusted looks for her abject stupidity.

 

 

“No, there's no reason for you to get the money from your niece's discovery. She never worked for the company and you didn't put her through school. So no. . .she has no reason for turning her discoveries over to you.” the judge sneers. “Case dismissed. Leave her alone.”

 

Dan Hammer is stunned, he'd been sure the court would agree with him. “But she owes me money.” He screams in the courtroom.

 

“She does not you damn fool.” The Stark lawyer snorts. “You already lied during that lawsuit and the court found against you.”

 

“Mr. James?” The judge asks.

 

“When Ms. Sanders was sixteen her appendix burst your honor. Mr. Hammer is complaining about the medical bills the company had to pay since Ms. Sanders was covered by the company's insurance.”

 

“That insurance was not supposed to be used. It was just meant to make the company look good, to show people we offer medical coverage. She should have done the right thing and died rather than use the insurance.” He bellows in the courtroom, pounding his fists on his table.

 

“And that is why you spent 72 hours in a jail cell on contempt of court charges then too.” La Belle's lawyer drawls as he's dragged away.

 

“What an odious man.” the judge sighs. “Contempt of court?”

 

“Yes, he tried suing when she had turned eighteen for the money, the court records show he lied about the surgery. . .claiming she had plastic surgery then when my client said her appendix had burst having a similar outburst, that my client should have died rather than use the insurance. Or she should have pleaded poverty and had the bills forgiven. Or she should have paid them herself. In retaliation for her daring to have used the insurance, he canceled it on her, leaving her liable for any remaining medical needs.”

 

“She was sixteen, her family should have paid the bills.”

 

“Yes, his latest excuse for not wanting to pay the bills was . . she's only sixteen, they wouldn't have charged her. . .right?”

 

“No, again they would have billed the insurance and her family. Idiot. I knew his father and the apple didn't fall far from the tree in that family.”

 

“No your honor, my client's mother ran through a five million dollar education fund that was supposed to be for all the grandchildren, not just her other daughter. All the others are having to look at paying their own way through school just like my client did. Except they didn't have to pay for high school also. No matter how much her mother bleats that she really didn't have to pay for her education. ..wellllll no I don't ever remember writing a check for anything but but but. . .”

 

“Ms. Sanders is well rid of the bunch.”

 

 

 

“Hello Dr. Phil, let me guess. .. my darling mother came whining to you that I'm a miserable human being because I won't pay her bills or let her move into my home?”

 

“Yes, she's quite put out that you'd allow the family home. . .”

 

“Aht,” she holds up a hand. “That was never my family home. My woving Mommy and Noelle moved out of a two bedroom, one bath apartment into a seventeen bedroom, nineteen bath monstrosity the second I was shipped off to boarding school. I never even stepped foot in that house. Because god forbid my woving Mommy bring me home breaks from school, let alone summers when I wasn't attending university.”

 

“seventeen bedrooms? For two people?”

 

“Oh yes, Noelle deserved her own room. . .she was going to be a supermodel. She just needed to be discovered. I slept on the living room couch for three years until I was shipped off to boarding school.” The studio audience hisses and booes at the woman blubbering on stage as La Belle leans back on a couch on the screen where she's in New York on Skype. “That's the same excuse she used for my sister failing kindergarten. . .the second grade. . .the fourth grade. . .and the sixth grade. You can get your classes in on a computer during your shoots, but there was no shoots. My sister was sixteen. . .and in the seventh grade when she dropped out.”

 

“Yes, that's why the prison wanted her to get her GED.”

 

“And what about you and the sixth grade?” Her mother bleats. “The school wouldn't let you attend the sixth grade.” She sneering. There, that should get everybody on her side.

 

“Being advanced from the fifth grade to the seventh isn't the same thing.”

 

“No it's not, you skipped the sixth grade?'

 

“Yes, the school allowed me to study and advance two years. Which my mother complained about because it made Noelle look bad.” she drawls. “Can't have it both ways. . .dear.” She says, looking at her mother. Who wilts in her chair, her attempt to make her daughter look bad making her look like the damn fool that she is.

 

“And you live. . .”

 

“On the fifth floor in a former warehouse that two different people had tried to convert into lofts but went into bankruptcy instead. I was able to get the building halfway cheaply.”

 

“And you complain about my home?”

 

“I live in a one bedroom apartment, I might own the entire building but it's not living space.”

 

“You could be lying.” she bleats. Then wails when footage taken earlier by Dr. Phil's crew when the show set up the time for the Skype call shows a tour of her building, showing her apartment compared to the rest of the space. “But I wanna live with my baby.” she whines.

 

“Then go join her in prison. 'Cause I am not and have never been your baby.” La Belle snorts on the screen. “Leave.Me.Alone. You and the rest of the family. Don't try to sue me to make me pay your bills, don't sue me for my discoveries. . .because of course I should give everything to the damn family for existing, don't sue me to try to get back the money from the medical bills from my ruptured appendix when I was sixteen because the insurance from the company was just for show. . .it shouldn't have been used, don't call Stark blubbering about what a miserable human being I am for not kissing your ass and trying to get me fired, don't call the authorities trying to get me declared incompetent because I won't kiss your useless ass, don't call me at all. You didn't want a damn thing to do with me once you shipped me off, I don't want a damn thing to do with you now. Though I do need to thank you for sending me away, it was the best damn thing that ever happened to me. Once I got away from the family I realized what a damn toxic bunch you really are. So thank you. Goodbye Dr. Phil.” the screen grows dark as the interview ends.

 

“I agree, your entire family is toxic and she's much better off without you.” Her mother starts weeping and wailing again.

 

In her apartment La Belle leans back against her couch and sighs. “Dear gods, I hope the damn bad publicity makes her go kill herself like she keeps bleating she's going to. And I know I'm a miserable human being for saying it but I'm tired of her nonsense.” Looking at the time she gets up to check on the casserole in the oven, looking over as the building's security system alerts her of visitors. Looking at the screen she snorts at the family and buzzes them in.

 

“You okay, I felt . . .sadness and anger.” Marigold says, hugging her.

 

“My woving mommy is on Dr. Phil again whining about how her life is so bad because I won't kiss her ass. I just got off a Skype call where she tried making me look bad for living here yet I'm complaining about her place. She was stunned I only have a one bedroom apartment on the fifth floor. . .she'd have spread out into the entire building. Because she needs seventeen bedrooms. She tried to make me look bad for skipping the sixth grade. . .because her darling Noelle failed kindergarten, the second grade, the fourth grade, and the sixth grade. And was sixteen years old and in the seventh grade when she dropped out of school.”

 

Marigold snorts and rolls her eyes as the others check on dinner preparations. “I just put it in before the call, it's still frozen.”

 

“Good, turn off the oven and go change your clothes, we'll go out to dinner. I don't doubt your mother is weeping and wailing.”

 

“Oh yes, she wailed she wanted to live with her baby. I told her to go join Noelle in prison then because I never was and never will be her baby. She didn't wike how I told everybody about her making me sleep on the couch for three years so Noelle could have the room to herself, she was going to be a supermodel she just had to be discovered. I think I might have broke her when I ended the Skype call, I said I had to thank her for throwing me away, once I got the hell away from the family I realized what a toxic bunch they really are.” Everybody in the apartment nod vigorously. “Once I was off Skype I said I hope the damn bad publicity makes her kill herself like she keeps wailing because I'm tired of her nonsense. I know I'm a miserable human being for saying it. . .”

 

“But you're human. And she's the miserable human being.” Marigold says. The oven is turned off and the casserole put back in the freezer as La Belle heads to her bedroom. “Where are we going so I know what to wear?”

 

“Manelli's.”

 

“Good casual then.” She pulls out a couple outfits and holds them up, Marigold selecting the one in her left hand. Ten minutes later she comes out of her bedroom and joins them walking downstairs. “Boys, the next addition is a service elevator.” Marigold says firmly.

 

“There's one but the motor is burned out.” La Belle says. “One of the reasons the warehouse was closed to begin with.”

 

“I'll look at it later.” Frank, more formally known as Francis Allen says at his mother's look. “Where is it?”

 

“Side of the building. The other side of the building.” La Belle rolls her eyes.

 

“Of course it is.” Frank snorts.

 

“Gentlemen, where the hell is my car?” She asks a couple officers who come to her building when she called about her missing car after coming back from dinner. They'd told her there'd been a misunderstanding.

 

“We. . .we're not sure Ms. Sanders. We had thought that your parking lot was auxiliary city parking and we used it as overflow. When we realized it was private property we had the cars towed. . .unfortunately your car was towed with the others.”

 

“Gentlemen, I'm only asking this one more time. Where is my car?”

 

“We don't know Ms. Sanders, we used several different tow companies and they haven't got back to us about a vehicle matching your license plate and description yet. We. . .we knew the building had been sold but not that anybody was living in it until the lights started coming on.”

 

“Can I ask where you were tonight?” the second officer sneers. “Not that it's any of your damn business but I was out to dinner with some friends.”

 

“Gentlemen, what the hell did you think you were doing using that parking lot as auxiliary parking?” Their desk sergeant sighs the next morning. He'd been up all night fielding angry calls from people who were asking where the hell their cars were. “And you, treating the damn victim like a criminal asking where she'd been that night?” He shakes his head at the officer. Who ducks his head.

 

“Councilman Smathers told us to use it for auxiliary parking, when we realized it was private property

we started pulling the vehicles.”

 

“I don't care who told you to use it for auxiliary parking, it never should have been used.”

 

“But I didn't know it was private property.” the councilman in question screeches in front of an emergency session.

 

“You never should have told them to use that lot.”

 

“But I saw all those empty spaces. I didn't look at the building to see it was private property.” He wails. He's looking at the pictures and is stunned to see no trespassing, private property signs everywhere. “I. . .I didn't know anybody was living there. I. . .I . . .I just saw a place for people to park and be shuttled over to my campaign party. Because if they have to be shuttled in instead of parking nearby, everybody will think there's that many more people at the event and the news channels will send a camera crew out to interview me.”

 

The newspapers are full of the story and the councilman is blubbering because nobody's taking his side. He's facing sanctions for using his power to make cars be moved. People are mad about having to pay tow fees and it's not only La Belle's car that can't be found.

 

“Cynic in me says that they're holding out looking for a big fat storage fee.” she snorts as she signs into Stark a couple days later.

 

“Amen.” a woman snorts behind her. “Are you going to be putting up walls and gates on your property to keep it from happening again?”

 

“Yeah, I didn't want to but I see I'm going to have to.” She sighs.

 

“Are they any closer to finding your car than they were?”

 

“Nope. And it's up to ten cars that have disappeared now.”

 

“But nothing should have happened. I didn't know the building had been sold. She should have been blessed I noticed her land.” The now former councilman wails once he's been removed from his spot for abusing his power one too many times.

 

“His own damn tow yard 'misplaced' the vehicles?” More than one person yells when their cars are finally found.

 

“Yes, he's facing serious criminal charges now. It's common knowledge that you're supposed to 'hide' the cars so they have to pay a big storage fee when they find the vehicle for you.”

 

“Bullshit he didn't know the land had been sold.” Frank says as he inspects the motor of the freight elevator. “And bullshit this is burned out. . .it just needs a few basic parts. And some work.” Making a list he gets online to order them. “They just had to put in a little effort.”

 

“It was an excuse to unload the property. And no, he knew the land was private property and made sure his tow company was on hand to take the cars.” William says. “He finally admitted he'd done it deliberately to make money.

 

“Where is my car?” La Belle asks icily.

 

“There. . .there was a mixup at the yard, we thought the vehicle was one that was being stored after an accident and was sent to the junkyard.” A man blubbers. This isn't a kid he can shove around, this is a grown woman. A very angry grown woman. And the police are taking her side.

 

“Really? You couldn't tell the difference? Because while my car was old it wasn't damaged.” The pictures are brought out and he whines when he doesn't see any damage on the vehicle in the yard. “Yeah, that car is really damaged in an accident. Thieving bastards. First you claim you don't have my car, then you magically find it, then it's 'oh sorry, your car was sent to a junkyard. We thought it was in an accident, it was old'.”

 

“Theft, concealing stolen goods, extortion, destroying private property.” The officer is ticking off charges and the man whimpers. Maybe showing that stupid little girl who was boss by destroying her car hadn't been such a good idea. But his boss had been furious to lose his city councilman position and arrested for using her land to park the cars.

 

“Did you ever hear anything about your mother? Or her house?” Marigold asks a couple days later at the warehouse where they're setting up all her machines and moving boxes of supplies she'd brought. La Belle had had to take a day off to go car shopping and had found a cheapish used car to replace her destroyed vehicle. She had slapped the tow company with a civil suit for destroying her car and the former councilman for damage to her property and trespassing. The family had quickly hired a company to wall off her land and there was now a gate blocking the parking lot.

 

“Oh yes, she had such a weeping, wailing, whining FIT on Dr. Phil that she was tossed in a hospital on a psych hold. She's not mentally ill. . .she's just got a personality disorder. She latched onto Noelle as her meal ticket for the rest of her life, now that Noelle's in prison and her whining about how everybody's being mean to her baby isn't getting her out she's trying to latch onto me. And her court-appointed counselor isn't letting her. She's going to have to take care of herself. I've got a permanent protective order against her since she's proved she won't leave me alone.”

 

Mock hisses, booes, and warbled 'oh god, the horror, the horror' from the others.

 

“And her house?”

 

“Surprisingly enough the bank agrees with me that the monstrosity won't sell at a foreclosure auction.” Gasped of stunned disbelief. “They also agree the only way they're going to get their money is for the house to be used by multiple people. They're looking at getting multiple boarders to fill the rooms. Mommy dearest had a fit about sharing her home with strangers, so she's been told to get an apartment of her own and the bank will be taking care of the house.”

 

“Ha, serves the stupid woman right.” Marigold snorts. “I'm sure she's wailing about that.”

 

“Oh yes, she's already in trouble with the authorities, trying to send me letters from the company's address. . .nobody would realize it was her. Yeah right, everybody in the damn world is as stupid as she is. She's been slapped upside the head by her counselor and told to knock it the fuck off. She's got a prepaid cell phone and has been trying to call me with it but once I realized who it was I blocked her number. She had a wailing, howling fit in the office about that too. How dare I block her calls? Somebody's going to shoot her some day.”

 

“No great loss, her, your sister who's wailing in prison about having to get sober, or the rest of your damn family. Your cousins are blubbering about having to work for a living and try to get a degree. It's hard.”

 

La Belle snorts. “People have been working and attending school for years.”

 

“Exactly, and you actually took a full class load every semester. Most people working their way through school usually only take two or three classes a semester.” Marigold rolls her eyes. La Belle's phone starts ringing and she looks at the number and scowls. “That's the number for Mom's court appointed counselor, I'd better take it.”

 

“Nope, I'll take it.” Marigold says. She takes the phone and accepts the call. “Hello? Yes, this is her phone. I'm a friend. Yes, I'm looking at her right now. Why? Oh dear god. .. no.” Marigold moans. “La Belle, your mother. . .your mother's dead. Your Uncle Dan killed her. Oh Christ.” Marigold nearly drops the phone until her grandson grabs it. “Your Uncle Dan killed everybody. . .including your sister.”

 

La Belle grabs the phone. “Hello, yes this is La Belle Sanders”

 

“Oh thank god you're okay La Belle.” The sound of rushing feet. “Mary, tell Dennis that Ms. Sanders is alive in New York. He couldn't get out there.”

 

“Uncle Dan? Mari says he killed everybody?”

 

“Yes dear, he did. Your uncles, your aunts, and your cousins. Then he killed his wife and children. He killed your mother and then went to the prison, telling the warden there had been a death in the family and asking to see your sister. He held her hostage, telling her everything he'd done before he killed her and the prison guards killed him. Thank god he didn't get to you.”

The following Monday La Belle goes up to Pepper's office. “I need to talk to Mr. Stark.”

 

“It's going to be a couple minutes, is something the matter?”

 

“You might say so.” She slumps into the chair Pepper waves her to. “It seems my 'beloved' uncle Dan lost his damn mind last week. A combination of the business being in bankruptcy, not getting my discovery, not getting a court to make me repay the money from when . . .”

 

“your appendix burst.” Tony says from the door of his office, a man in a suit standing next to him.

 

“Yes, my mother being a flaming idiot and refusing to leave me alone, my idiot sister in prison, all the cousins wailing about having to work and go to school. . .well, he 'snapped' and went to all their homes and killed them.”

 

“Oh dear god, everybody?”

 

“All the cousins, all the uncles and aunts, their husbands or wives, his wife and kids, my mother. . .then he drove to the prison and went after my sister. He killed her last, he wanted to kill her first to make my mother suffer but. . .”

 

“He wouldn't have been able to escape from the prison to kill her.” The man with Mr. Stark sighs. He's dialing a number and talking to somebody.

 

“Yeah, the guards killed him. So the court appointed counselor called me Saturday to see if he'd been able to get to me and if not to let me know what happened.. According to my grandfather's will I am now the sole head of Hammer Tech and the other affiliates. Normally I wouldn't be because I was a girl but since I'm the only surviving member of the family . . .” She looks at Mr. Stark. “Is it worth keeping the business afloat through bankruptcy?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good, sign this. I had the court appoint you as my advocate in the business matters. I need two weeks off, I gotta head off, claim the bodies, bury everybody, deal with their homes. . .all that shit.” She hands over an envelope she'd pulled from her purse.

 

Pepper is already starting the paperwork for her leave. “I'm putting you down for two weeks absence for death in the family. They were your mother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins even if they did seem too damn stupid to live at times. Are you going to be handling everything by yourself?” She gives her a look. Then Tony. He nods, he can go with her if she's trying to do this all on her own.

 

“Hell no, the family is waiting downstairs. We fly out as soon as I'm done here.” Tony and Pepper nod in satisfaction. “Call us if you need more time, we can put you on unpaid leave.”

 

Marigold hugs her foster daughter when she comes out of the elevator and leads her back to the car that's waiting to take them to the airport. Meanwhile Mr. Stark is exiting the elevator on the floor where La Belle works, walking to her section and waving for everybody to join him in the hallway.

 

“Everybody, La Belle is going to be off for at least two weeks. Her. . .uncle Dan snapped and killed the rest of the family since. . .”

 

“He's a miserable human being who couldn't get everything he wanted handed to him on a silver platter?” the employee who'd patted her on the back snorts. “Figures, I know her mother had been getting on her last nerve with her stupidity.”

 

“Indeed. He killed his siblings since the business was in bankruptcy, his nieces and nephews since their whining about having to work and attend school was annoying, LaBelle's mother because she was giving the family a bad name by not leaving her daughter alone, and finally La Belle's sister for driving drunk all those years and killing five people.”

 

“Oh dear god. How many people?”

 

“Twenty-five people with himself. La Belle is flying out to have to claim the bodies, arrange for their funerals, close up their houses or apartments. . .”

 

The others shake their heads.

 

At the airport La Belle and her friends are met by a representative of the bankruptcy court, her mother's counselor, and one of the company's lawyers. Their bags are unloaded from their private jet and they're taken to La Belle's mother's home since it's large enough for all of them. After stopping at a warehouse store and buying food and other essentials.

 

“Your uncle was a hateful fool. . .always was.” the lawyer says briskly after they've washed up and settled in the living room. Well one of them anyway. “Well, you know that already from all the times he sued you trying to get money for your medical bills because 'oh lord, I never meant for that insurance to actually be used, it was just there to make us look good', sued to try to force you to work for them even though since he didn't pay for your schooling he couldn't in good conscience try to get you to work for the company. . .”

 

“when did he ever do anything in good conscience?” La Belle snorts. “He was a miserable bastard his entire life. With Mom running through the education fund he couldn't hold 'we paid your way through school' over any of the cousins. And they were absolutely miserable at having to work and attend classes.”

 

“While your mother was just miserable because she couldn't get your sister to take care of her the rest of her life, when she went to prison and you refused to take her in after being pushed aside for so long she couldn't handle it.”

 

“Of course not, god forbid she have to do what any grownup without a family does and take care of herself.” La Belle snorts. “I had to do it at thirteen, she can fucking do it at forty-nine.”

 

“Exactly. Which I repeatedly told her.” her counselor who'd been introduced as Sandra O'Dare says with a snort. “But she wanted everybody to wait on her hand and foot. Your sister couldn't do it in prison. ..your aunts and uncles didn't want to take care of her after she ran through all that money leaving their children with nothing. . .and ignoring the fact that you hadn't gotten a dime of the fund either, you wouldn't bow down and kiss her ass. . .well, she couldn't handle a real life.”

 

“Of course not. . .a real life didn't jibe with her damn fantasies of her daughter the supermodel taking care of her loving mommy her entire life. And it sure the hell didn't include a second daughter. Once Noelle started drinking and driving her life was over. Let alone flunking four grades in school and dropping out at sixteen and only in the seventh grade.”

 

“Four grades?” Sandra moans, the fool woman hadn't told her that.

 

“Yep, kindergarten, second grade, fourth grade, and sixth grade. I don't doubt if she'd been forced to continue it would have been eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade too.” The business's lawyer snorts but nods. “Did Mr. Stark agree to act as your advocate?”

 

“Yes, he'd signed the paperwork while I was at the office telling them why I needed two weeks off. They should have faxed it back to the bankruptcy court.” The representative from the court calls his office and nods they got the paperwork.

 

“This house?”

 

“Can we continue with what we had planned? Somebody taking care of the house and rental income paying the mortgage or would her death mean having to sell it? Because I can't see this damn monstrosity selling.”

 

“No, it wouldn't sell. I don't see why we can't continue with our plans unless we get a hardass judge. With all the deaths we need to start the bankruptcy proceedings all over again.”

 

“Shit.”

 

“I'm sorry to ask, but do you know if anybody in the family had life insurance?”

 

“Not unless it was through the company, dear god knows my mother never would have. . . she expected Noelle to be rich and famous and take care of her dear mother her entire life. . .why would she leave her anything? Let alone me.” Everybody looks to the lawyer. “I believe there was life insurance. . .I'll need to check the company records and see if the others signed up for it. It's offered as an employment benefit so none of your cousins would have it.”

 

Marigold swears when she finds tons of pictures of Noelle, all obviously meant to be headshots and pictures of Noelle and her mother. . .but not one picture of La Belle with her family.

 

“Of course not,” La Belle snorts. “If she had a picture of me she'd have to remember she has two daughters. I have all my baby pictures, I took them to school with me because otherwise the stupid fools would have destroyed them.”

 

“This is more than seventeen bedrooms.”

 

“In the old days this would be servants quarters. They don't count. And yes, that was a direct quote.” Sandra snorts.

 

“Is this all court records?” William asks when he sees boxes in a room that's otherwise empty except for a table and chair.

 

“Of course, my mother was a fool but she knew better than those thieving lawyers who took her money and didn't get her darling baby off.” La Belle snorts. Sandra nods. “She was going to be the one to get your sister out of prison and put the people who railroaded her there instead.”

 

“Of course. . .dear god the dumb bitch wasn't convicted because she was fucking guilty.” La Belle drawls. “Okay, time to call the funeral home and see if any of them had prepaid funerals, burial plots, or even called them to start planning anything.”

 

“Of course they didn't have anything planned.” Marigold says scathingly when La Belle shakes her head. “The fucking fools figure they'll live forever.” They drive to the funeral home with Sandra and are shown into an office.

 

“Ladies, I've been in contact with the authorities. . .do you plan on bringing Ms. Hammer from the prison for burial?”

 

“Yeah, my mother would haunt me otherwise if I left her in a prison cemetery. She and my mother can be buried next to each other.”

 

They spend a few hours going over burial plots and trying to arrange the bodies so families were close together. Then it's time to look over coffins and then go to the people who sell gravestones.

 

Meanwhile the boys are going over the monstrosity.

 

“Was this previously owned?”

 

“No, this was built by Ms. Hammer.”

 

“The attic is full of stuff.”

 

“Well, she did go through five million dollars.” William snorts. “Let's start sorting through it and see what else we can get rid of beyond all those damn headshots. Damn things look possessed.”

 

“Yeah, that was not a good picture of her.”

 

The next couple of days are busy talking with police to get their homes released and breaking leases. Moving companies empty the homes and apartments. A gofundme page had been set up for the victims of the massacre, the amount growing by leaps and bounds as people who didn't know what a miserable bunch most of the family was send in money to help pay to bury them.

 

La Belle slumps onto the couch in her home two long weeks later. The security system beeps and William gets up to check the camera. “It's your boss.”

 

“Let him in, if he came all the way out here. . .”

 

“Fifth floor Mr. Stark.” A male voice says as the gate unlocks. He parks the car and the door is unlocked as he reaches it.

 

“Damn, I know you said you had a converted warehouse but. . .” he'd looked at the other floors on the way up and saw they were still mostly empty space.

 

“Yeah, it's still a warehouse despite my mother's bleating it has to be a mansion. .. .because she lives in one.”

 

“How was it?”

 

“Well thank god there wasn't a damn row of coffins like I'd feared but I don't want to attend so many funerals ever again.” She sighs. “My uncles and aunt had life insurance through the company. They didn't want to honor Uncle Dan's since he murdered everybody else but since he was killed by the prison guards and not suicide they're having to and since it was foul play it's all double indemnity. That will repay everything put out for the funerals and the graves. The houses were paid off, thank god and the fact they were murdered meant that there wasn't much problems breaking leases for the cousins and my mom's apartment. Everything was packed up and was either donated, tossed, or sent here. The houses are up for sale but I'm not holding my breath on their sales.”

 

Tony snorts. “Is this all original?”

 

“Yes and no, the family repainted.” La Belle opens one eye and sees him in the kitchen. “Most of the appliances and the cabinets were purchased by the second renovators for the apartment but they were down in the second floor in a room since the owners had spent so much money buying stuff they didn't have the money to install anything or make other apartments. Which means I didn't have anything to tear out when I brought it and decided to put my workrooms on the other floors.”

 

“Workrooms?”

 

“My university had a good sized textiles program and I worked there. I have a loom, knitting machine, and quilting machine on the third floor. I also have a pottery, candlemaking, and glassworking studio.. I plan on making things and selling them on consignment.”

 

“Do you have an elevator?”

 

“Other end of the building, the reason the warehouse went out is they thought it had fried. The previous owners thought it was too much money to replace. Frank looked at it and said it just needed a few parts and some work and it will be as good as new.”

 

“Yes, carrying your groceries up five flights of stairs gets old after a while.” Marigold snorts. “Did Maddy talk to you about a soapmaking room?”

 

“Yeah, it's going down the hall since this floor's the only one that had plumbing and gas lines installed. The boys moved my old stove, sink, and counters down there, it's good enough for what she wants, she's going to have tables and shelves made up.”

 

“Furnace?”

 

“Each apartment was meant to have their own eventually. The building's furnace was inspected before the sale and it's good. Natural gas and it also fuels the standalone generator the first new owners installed. It's set at 65 and I can add extra heat if needed with the fireplace.”

 

“Water?”

 

“Commercial hot water heater. The previous owner wanted to install on demand in every unit but they were too expensive at the time. Thank god. The monstrosity had hot water on demand and nobody had hot water most of the time we were there.” Marigold sighs and nods.

 

“What are the plans for the . ..monstrosity?”


“The bank agrees that the plans to rent rooms can go forward. There's no way in hell that monstrosity would sell at auction.” La Belle brings up pictures and Tony moans. “Yep, but with two beds in each room and augmenting the hot water with a commercial unit and installing somebody to do the cooking and cleaning it can be used as off-campus housing by the local school or turn it into a b & b. Because the seventeen bedrooms? Didn't include servants quarters.”

 

Tony blinks. “Maybe I'll turn the mansion into off-campus housing. Lord knows I don't want to live there. Now. . .are you taking over Hammer?”

 

“Fuuuucccckkkk no.” La Belle shudders. “That's not where my strengths lie. I'd be worse than my uncle and grandfather. I want people with some damn sense to be in charge. Even beyond the bankruptcy.”

 

“That's why I have Pepper.”

 

“I am making one change, I'm changing the medical insurance to something that will actually cover the employees. Everybody knows the insurance is shit and what happened to me and nobody signs up for it unless they have to. There's other, better options out there.” Tony nods in satisfaction.

 

At the various companies the announcement about the new insurance goes out in e-mails and announcements. The older workers blink but when they hear it's the girl whose appendix burst who's the new owner and insisted on the new insurance they nod in satisfaction. The story is told to the other employees and they nod or shake their heads at the absolutely stupidity of the previous owner. Suing his own niece for daring to be sick and needing the damn insurance?

 

Dr. Phil makes an announcement before an episode starts.

 

“This is a special two part episode of Dr. Phil. When the first episode taped it wasn't meant to be a two part but circumstances changed and we taped a second episode a couple months later. Circumstances changed yet again, on October 18th, twenty-four members of the extended family were murdered by one of their members. . .who was himself killed by the authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the sole remaining member of the family who is having to deal with the tragedy.” At the end of the second show a montage of pictures of the victims is shown, nobody who'd listened to the whining of the fool woman on both shows is surprised she was one of the victims.

 

“Do we know which one survived?” One of the viewers asks a grandchild that had been watching with her.

 

“I didn't see a picture of the older daughter, the one who was on Skype the second show.” Her grandmother looks at her. “The one who was on the computer screen behind them Nana.”

 

“Ohhhh, like your parents talk to us while they're serving overseas?”

 

“Yep.”

 

La Belle brings a box into the consignment shop a couple days before Thanksgiving, the woman behind the counter grinning at her. “Oh yes, this will sell very well.” She says as she takes everything out of the box to look over.

 

“Do you sell soap and candles?”

 

“We used to. . .you make them too?”

 

“Candles, a friend makes soap. I'll tell her to bring some batches out when she's got them ready to sell.”

 

She types out the receipt for everything and prints out two copies, one for the new file and one being handed to La Belle.

 

“La Belle, you realize there's a lot more room to this apartment, right?” William asks as she comes up the stairs from dropping off the items and going grocery shopping.

 

“Yeah, this apartment is from the first renovation. Back when they figured on six or eight apartments per floor. When the second group brought the building they started on the additions, adding two more bedrooms, another bath, a dining room. . ., the far wall was going to be taken out to bring them together. But they ran out of money before they could get everything finished and joined together.” She flips the pages on the paperwork he's looking at and finds the plans for the joining. “Redoing the existing bathroom and kitchen was part of the plans. The stuff for the 'master' bath is on the first floor, they ran out of steam when they realized they'd have to carry everything up the stairs.”

 

William calls the family and they are led to the supplies for the master bathroom. “Yeah, they couldn't carry this up the stairs.” One of them snorts at the shower stall, massive tub, and marble-topped vanity. “Is that a Jacuzzi?”

 

“Yeah, they planned on balconies and the Jacuzzi would go out on it.” Everybody shakes their heads.

 

“They figured on being able to move big stuff with the freight elevator but real life intervened. Not only the elevator being out of operation, they had to give the apartments a fire exit. That meant adding exit doors and fire escapes on the upper floors.

 

“Yep.”

 

“Fire breaks between walls, sprinklers, fire extinguishers. . .they had all these fantastic plans and reality intervened. That's why so many of these old buildings are sitting empty.”

 

“People saw house flipping as easy money and it wasn't.”

 

“Exactly. Oh Mom. . .” La Belle says absently. Marigold smiles. “Tell Maddy that the consignment shop will take her soap once she has some batches made up.”

 

“I'll tell her sweetie.” She hugs the younger woman. A beeping from the security system has them looking at phones. “Arthur.” The gate is opened and a truck comes around the side of the building. Marigold looks at him. “Supplies for Maddy's workroom.” Her sons and nephews start helping to unload the truck and take everything up to the fifth floor, Maddy can sort everything out and move it to where she wants when she comes out after Thanksgiving.

 

Thanksgiving is loud and proud at the family home. While it's damn near as big as the monstrosity it's very much a family home. Turkeys and hams as well as all the side dishes grace the tables, even with all the leaves there's no room for everybody at one table.

 

La Belle had been busy three weekends delivering for William, one of the deliveries had been for Stark. She'd got a nice bonus out of that and had just shook her head. The checks for the life insurance policies had arrived and had been put in the bank along with the money from her uncles and aunts bank accounts.

 

“What did you do with all that shit your mother had?”

 

“The court records went in the recycling bin. Same with all the damn headshots since they were just paper and not real photos. All the 'fancy' clothes were sent to consignment stores. The jewelry came back here, it's all good quality and is in a safe now. The DVDS were boxed up and are down in a room. I left the tvs in every room except for my mother's and sister's, I don't need them and the renters can watch them. I guess she did have some brains once upon a time, I found neatly labeled files that had stock certificates and savings bonds in them. The bonds were done generating interest so they were turned in. the stock certificates. . .the bankruptcy guys are looking through them to see if they're any good. The other homes? Clothes and small appliances were donated, stuff like pictures were boxed up and sent here. I've got all that stuff in a couple rooms and will look over it when it's not too raw.”

 

The others nod. “The cousins textbooks were boxed up and will be donated to students in need at their schools. Most of them were brought used to save money. . .” La Belle shrugs. “Somebody can get some use out of them.”

 

“Did anybody have wills?”

 

“Not the cousins or my sister, they were too young or in my sister's case too stupid to think about it. The uncles and my aunt. . .yeah, with their spouse and then the kids their heirs. My uncle Dan had had to pay good money to make sure there weren't any other relatives when I was. . .oh god, I want to say less than a year old because my grandfather had died without a will. And people came out of the woodwork claiming to be his love-children.”

 

Marigold snorts. “He had to buy your grandmother's affection and she was no damn catch. You'd think your mother would have learned from that but she planned on living off your sister the rest of her damn life.”

 

“Exactly. Now I've had a will since I was sixteen and realized just how damn easily I could have died when my appendix burst.” She sighs. “I'll have to update it, now that everybody's gone and I own Hammer.”

 

“Not to be vulgar. . .”

 

“A dollar each for my mother and sister so they couldn't contest the will, the rest going to charities.” Everybody nods in satisfaction. La Belle's phone buzzes and she excuses herself when she sees the number. “Stark, there was a. . .incident and I'm off through tomorrow at least, possibly through next week too. They're going over the damages now.”

 

“Lab accident?”

 

“No, everybody should have been off today. From what the message isn't saying it sounds like an attack. Probably industrial espionage or something like that. You've been hearing about all that on the news lately.”

 

Dishes of leftovers are passed out and La Belle puts everything away when she gets home. She double checks the weapons that Ezekial had installed in her apartment, former military now a police officer. None of the family is easy about her living by herself in such an empty neighborhood. She doesn't really mind, it's comforting that there's somebody who cares about her safety. Looking at the time she turns on the television to the news in case there's something about Stark and why they're off tomorrow.

 

Booting up her computer she gets on the Stark employee bulletin board, signing in and seeing the notice that they'll be off and the reason why. Some fool breaking into the building trying to be a master spy.

 

“Goddamn idiot.”

 

She's woke up a few hours later by the security system and is holding a gun to the head of the former city councilman when the police arrive. Since his car is full of . . .stuff his blustering of being the victim isn't believed.

 

“Goddamn idiot.” his lawyer rages. “What the hell were you thinking trying to break onto her property.”

 

“But I lost my position on the city council because of her.”

 

“You lost your position on the city council because you kept using your authority for your own reasons. You having the police move cars to her property because you wanted to make a grand gesture of people having to be shuttled in instead of actually fucking walking in the door from where they were parked was the last straw. The city council had a stack of complaints against you as big as your fat head.”

 

“But I lost my tow business because of her.” he whines.

 

“You lost your tow business because you're a damn crook. Setting the police up so the vehicles would have to be towed so they would go to your yard then 'losing' over twenty-nine vehicles so you could inflate the damn storage fees. Then on top of that allowing her vehicle to be destroyed.”

 

“Weellllll, when you put it that way.” he scowls.

 

“When it's put any way you're a damn crook. Enjoy prison asshole, you're going to be there the rest of your life for this little stupidity.” He says in disgust as he gets up.

 

“Aren't you getting me out of here?”

 

“Fuck no, you made your bed, now you can lay in it. You knew what you was doing was wrong but oh my god, I'm the smartest, most handsome, most talented in the world. . .I should be able to do whatever the hell I want. Try telling that to the guards and other prisoners. Moron.” He turns to walk away leaving his fool client wailing in his seat where he'd been handcuffed to the table to keep him from jumping over the table.

 

“Damn it. . .I don't want to leave La Belle out there by herself.” Marigold scowls as she walks the floor.

 

“The security system alerted her just like it was supposed to, she was waiting on him with a weapon. . .the damn fool was huffing and puffing as he tried climbing over the gate.” her husband reassures her. He'd just got back from the warehouse.

 

“Is she okay?”

 

“Yeah, she's tossing clay down on her wheel to relax her. The boys are setting up Maddy's soapmaking studio. When they're not talking to the Realtor about buying up the other warehouses in the area and extending the wall to the entire block.” Marigold looks at him and nods in satisfaction. “Lord knows as many hobbies as the family has the buildings won't go to waste.”

 

“No they won't.” he grins. “Sawyer's already looking for a space for his woodworking. Once they're done putting together Maddy's space they want to see what they need to buy to finish off La Belle's apartment.”

 

“Wallboard, insulation, wire, electrical boxes and wall plates?”

 

“Basically. What the fools should have spent their money on first rather than all that crap for the owner's apartment. Because if they'd been able to show work on apartments, they could have got renters or owners putting down downpayments and making the money to finish the apartments.” Michael snorts as he walks past. “Okay, we've talked with the Realtor, the other buildings are good and we've made bids on them. Since there hasn't been any interest in them for years I don't see any problems.” He hands over his smartphone and his parents look over the footage of each building.

 

“Everything's looking good.” They agree.

 

“The buildings were last inspected seven years ago, they're going to be inspected again as part of our bid. I don't see any problems while we were there. As a business it was meant to be a high power usage building with multiple outlets. We might have to update the fuse boxes though. . .I looked at La Belle's and it could use updating too.”

 

“Back when the warehouse was in operation the fuse box wouldn't have all the bells and whistles they do now, the built in surge protector case in point.” Amanda says as she walks in. “But we need to double check that an updated fuse box won't overwhelm the generator.” Nods from the others. “We need to inspect that too, make sure it's big enough to handle everything.”

 

“Already did,” Alexander, the electrical engineer in the family, says. “I guess they had some damn brains when they brought it. It was meant to handle a large commercial factory with machines going everywhere and keep them running. I've already put in an order for the new fuse box.” His grandmother nods in satisfaction.

 

There's a knock at the door. Marigold looks at the youngish looking woman standing there and then at the panel truck in the driveway. “First,” She says, holding up a hand. “Rupert sent me. I'm to tell you that and. . .Aunt Mari?” She blinks and stares at the other woman then grins. She hasn't seen her in years, since her grandmother's funeral.

 

“Oh my god. . .Jessyca? Matthew and Annabelle's granddaughter? Dear god child, I haven't seen you in years.” She hugs the younger woman. “You look just like your grandmother.”

 

“Thank god, I don't EVER want to be compared to my mother. . .even physically.” she shudders. “Grandma, yes. I'm damn proud to be compared to her.”

 

“You should be, she was a wonderful woman.”

 

“Amen. Okay then, I know you're in the know about the power problems we've been having.”

 

“The boxes?” Alexander asks behind them as his grandmother drags the woman into the house.

 

“Yes, the truck is full of them. Rupert sent out two hundred fifty of them, he says that should be enough for everybody in your family, let him know if you need more.” The men in the family go out to start emptying the truck when Jessy hands them the keys.

 

“Don't you live with him in Florida?” Marigold asks.

 

“Yeah, but I was coming out to New York anyway. There's a special sale at a supplier I'm going to be attending tomorrow.”

 

“So's Maddy and La Belle since Stark is still closed tomorrow.” Alexander says, coming through after bringing the last of the boxes out.

 

“Ahhh, another lab whoops?' Jessy drawls. Marigold looks at her. “I work for Stark as the head librarian at the Marley facility by the House. A few of the others work there too so I've heard the stories.”

 

“How do the boxes work? Just set up the account, plug them into an outlet, and flip the switch?”

 

“Yes, as simple as it sounds that's how it works. The website for the accounts is in the envelope.” She sees the manila envelope in his hand.

 

“Multiple unit buildings?”

 

“One meter, one box. In places that have more than one building getting power it's one box is the master, any others are slaves. You'll get one bill monthly, but it will show you the usage for each box. . .you just need to know which unit is which. In cases like a backyard shed with one or two outlets getting power from the house, it will still get power from the house. No need to install a separate box, but a standalone garage that's a woodworking studio or a barn, anything that has a line coming from a pole would need a box So would buildings that are totally off the grid..” Alexander nods in satisfaction.

 

Everybody soon starts arriving back home for a dinner at Marigold's call.

 

“Everybody, this is Jessyca Travers, she's an old family friend. La Belle, she works for Stark too.”

 

“Yes, I'm head of the library at the Marley facility.” She says at her look. “I also own a seamstress shop. And a fabric warehouse in Miami. I'm out for that special sale I hear you and Maddy are attending tomorrow.”

 

Marigold snorts. “Don't let her fool you dear, she's also the head of Travers. But like you she's content at letting people who know what they're doing run the business. Though I have heard stories from Rupert about you inheriting your grandmother's knack at finding businesses that can be turned around with an application of money and sense. La Belle's the new head of Hammer.” Marigold tells her.

 

“Ahhh, I'm sorry for your loss.” She pats her on the hand. “My mother was a miserable bitch who spent money like it was going out of style. And ignoring me. But she was still my mother. You don't get over losing them that easily. ..even if they were miserable human beings.”

 

La Belle sighs but nods. “Did you have any brothers or sisters?”

 

“Nope, my father wanted a boy to carry on the family name that he could mold into his view of a great businessman. He was horrified I was born female. . .he hated me for that. . . and my mother for not wanting to ruin her figure by having another child. My mother hated me because I'd been born female. My grandparents didn't give a damn if I couldn't pee standing up and gave me the same lessons I'd have got from my father if I'd been born with the dangly thing.” La Belle laughs despite herself and the others nod in satisfaction. She's been so quiet since the massacre. “My mother murdered my father when I was a few months from turning sixteen, tried framing me for it but I was on a plane when it happened and the house's security system showed her and her lover killing him. Rupert is my godfather and took me in since I'd have been aging out of the foster care system in a few months and I have RA, I wouldn't have got a good family.”

 

“Yes, and if he hadn't brought you home. . .I would have.” Marigold says. “Though you'd have got a degree faster.”

 

Jessy guffaws. “Yes, he still complains he let me slack for not starting university classes until I was twenty-one. I was twenty-five when I graduated with three bachelors. I have two masters now. Plus all the other degrees I picked up from Davison school of textiles here in New York.”

 

“Oh, you're the woman from Miami who comes out summers?” Marigold asks. “I've used them as a supplier for a number of luncheons.” She scowls then. “But I thought they always called her Ms. Michaels. . .ahhh, your grandmother's maiden name.”

 

“Yeah, after Mom killed Dad. . ..I kinda wanted to distance myself from the Travers name for a while. Things were too raw. When Rupert sold me the seamstress shop it became my business name. I use it for pretty much everything but legal matters now.”

 

“Is La Belle a family name?” Jessy asks La Belle.

 

“No it's. . .”

 

“something your mother thought was cool?” Jessy sighs and nods. “That's why Jessyca is spelled with a y instead of an I. . .she always complained it was such a plain name. It needed a cool spelling.. My father wouldn't let her give me a good name like Aphrodesia, Aura, Elektra, or something else. And my middle name of Maree is spelled ee, not ie. Same reason.” La Belle sighs and nods.

 

“Am I nuts? Or is Jessy?” Sebastian asks in bed that night.

 

“She's joined the family.” Marigold had immediately seen the figurine on the necklace and knew what it was. And looking later she'd been gratified to see Jessy's grandparents home on her necklace as well. “That's why she immediately said Rupert sent her before she recognized me.” While it's not official, a lot of the older gods take over areas and see others as interlopers if they come across them. While others like Amanda travel all over the world. She's older than her husband and 'unofficially' the queen goddess of New York.

 

“We're taking in La Belle aren't we?”

 

“Damn right.”

 

Marigold would have put Jessy in a guest room but she says she's got her own home on the grounds of the New York house. The next morning Maddy grins as she spots her in the parking lot, nudges La Belle, and heads over there at her look and wave.

 

“You're a soapmaker?” Maddy asks when Jessy starts getting supplies in that area too.

 

“Yep, Rupert has soapmaking and candlemaking businesses too. I was working at the soapmakers for a couple years until I officially took over the seamstress building. I still keep my hand in there, every so often I get a 'Jessy, can you help out for a while' request.” Jessy brings out her phone and shows them pictures of the selling area. “There's a pottery and candy store out there too but I've never worked with them. Officially that is.”

 

Maddy and La Belle leave the big rig in the parking lot to empty later when they return to the warehouse late that night, La Belle heading upstairs while Maddy gets her car and drives home. They can empty everything over the next few days, both of them knowing everybody who's not currently at work will be coming out to grab something from the truck and either put it in the warehouse to be sorted out later or put where it actually belongs.

 

La Belle yawns the next morning as she walks out to the kitchen, drinking the coffee that's waiting on her. Cars are already pulling into her parking lot and she sighs and turns off the security system, hitting the buttons to remotely unlock the doors. William smirks as he hears the lock being turned as he walks over to the truck, opening the back of it and whistling.

 

“Yeah, and that's a fraction of what Jessy brought, they were going to send out the rest for her. But then, she said this would be covering the next order for her seamstress shop at least.” Maddy grins.

 

“Did you enjoy your talk with Jessy?” Marigold asks when La Belle comes downstairs. Maddy had said on the trip over she and Jessy had been talking about losing their family and dealing with the estates.

 

“Yes, she said that the damn nonsense with the estate will last a while. . .even with her grandparents estate all set down in writing there were still people trying to cause problems for her when she inherited everything.”

 

“That's human nature.” Marigold snorts. “They just see a young woman suddenly in charge, they can get it away from her. She can't possibly know what she's doing. And walk off pouting when she proves oh yes she does. Like I said a couple days ago, she puts people who know what they're doing in charge.”

 

La Belle nods. “That was uncle Dan's problem. . .he wanted to be in charge of everything and didn't know what the hell he was doing. My grandfather? He was just a greedy fool trying to take over Stark instead of concentrating on his own business. I'm sure my application for an internship and job at Stark got a second, third, fourth, and probably fifth or sixth look before I got accepted. Looking into my background showed them I was the black sheep of the Hammer family, actually working for everything I wanted.”

 

“No, I am not firing Ms. Sanders. No, she's not here spying for Hammer. Not only does she now own Hammer, she's been working here for nearly two years. She was investigated seven ways to Sunday when we got her application.” Tony Stark snorts on the phone.

 

“She. . .she owns Hammer now?”

 

“Yes, and I'm her advocate while the business goes through bankruptcy.” Tony hangs up on the whining fool who was sure the incident that had closed Stark could be twisted to say it been caused by Ms. Sanders so she could wriggle her way into his confidence and steal his work. “Fucking moron.” he says as he sends out the alert that the building would be open again the next day. “JARVIS, have legal serve papers to that fool trying to blame La Belle for his people trying to break into my building. Oh and serve that bastard with papers for breaking into my company.”

 

“Yes sir, that note is on their server and I've sent it to their personal e-mails so they can work on it in first thing in the morning.

 

“What the hell did you think you were doing demanding he fire Ms. Sanders? It's none of your damn business who Stark hires. Then trying to blame her on you and your team breaking into Stark's building and being caught in the act trying to steal his research.” His boss blusters a few days later when he gets served with the papers. “Let alone trying to break into his building to steal his research in the first place.

 

“But Stark's not sharing his research.” the man wails.

 

“Why the fuck should he? Stark's a private individual. He's not under our control, he doesn't owe us a damn thing. Least of all his research.”

 

“But he got his to work and ours won't.” The agent whines.

 

“Oh dear god, are you two? If it won't work for you, find something else to work on instead of carrying on like you've got a broke toy.” Nick Fury snorts. Making a mental note to check that fool's psych evaluation to see how the fuck he'd managed to get through training. And fire most of his r & d section if they can't handle having somebody else get something to work they can't and trying to steal his research rather than pull their big boy pants on. Or how the hell they'd been caught, if they're that poor of an agent. . .out they go. But then Stark does have that AI looking over everything in his building. The bastard always finds the bugs that are slipped in and blasts them with annoying music. If he has to listen to his agents singing the wheels of the bus one more time. . .

 

“And trying to blame Ms. Sanders for you being caught in the damn act copying his research off the computers.”

 

“But I didn't know he had hired her nearly two years ago.” he screeches. “I just recognized the name from our research into Hammer and figured he'd believe the story that the family was trying to steal from him again. Why wouldn't he believe me?” he whines.

 

“You fucking identified yourselves as SHIELD agents to his security team moron.” Nick bellows.

 

“Oh. . .yeah.” He slumps in his chair.

 

“Oh. . .yeah.” Nick says scathingly.

 

“Industrial espionage?” William asks the following weekend when La Belle comes to the company to pick up a load.

 

“Basically, some fool government agency didn't wike the fact that Stark got something to work when they couldn't and wouldn't share his research.”

 

“Weeeeellllll yah, that's his research.” Amanda snorts as she hands over the last of the paperwork and log book. La Belle hugs them both and gets behind the wheel of the truck.

 

The agent who'd broke into Stark is walked out of the building, a box of his belongings in his hands. He's not being fired. . .oh no, he's not getting off that damn easy. He's going to be moved to the most remote base SHIELD has and will be there for the rest of his career. He'd tried refusing to apologize to La Belle for trying to blame her for his stupidity and his boss had about taken his head off for his stupidity. A good half of r & d was gone, shipped off to private companies where they were stunned at actually being fired for failing to show anything for their paychecks. The rest had been proved to be actually working and had gotten promotions or raises.

 

“No, you can't sue the government agency you used to work for for not keeping you on the payroll because you're a miserable little sack of shit who can't produce anything for his money.” a government attorney snorts in mid-December. “Get the hell over it. . .and yourself. ”

 

“But he got it to work and we couldn't.” He wails as he's shown to the door. “If he'd just shared what he did. . .”

 

“Why the fuck should he? That's his research.”

 

“Grandma! The bids on the rest of the warehouses was accepted. Closing is in mid-January. The inspectors are going to be going out the first of the year.” Alexander says as he leans in Marigold's study in the family home a couple days later.

 

“Good.” Marigold says with satisfaction. “I didn't think closing would be too long with the buildings sitting there empty.”

 

La Belle sighs as she pulls into the parking lot behind the warehouse and sees decorations through the window of her apartment. Opening the trunk she grabs her bags of groceries and juggles the bags and her keys, not at all surprised when the door opens before she can reach it.

 

“You do have an elevator.” Maddy says, grabbing some of the bags. “Is this everything?”

 

“Yep. And if I'd brought anything else I'd have used it but it's easier to just carry them up the stairs. Even if it is five floors. Keeps me slim.”

 

Maddy snorts. “You worked at the dining halls at your high school, the cooks taught all the kids who worked there recipes that were nutritious and delicious. You walk to the subway, you only drive when you can't carry everything walking or on your bike. You don't have to worry about staying slim. . .unlike your sister who wanted to eat everything in sight then wailed when she realized there were no fat supermodels.”

 

“More like my Mom realized there were no fat supermodels. At least one good thing about her ignoring me. . .I didn't get her watching every bite I took like she did Noelle. I'm surprised she didn't get an eating disorder the way my mother kept counting every calorie she took in. And watched the fool like a hawk when she realized she was stealing candy at the local mom and pop stores on the way to school.”

 

Marigold shakes her head as Maddy and La Belle come up the stairs. “God forbid my mother allow Noelle to eat the school lunch, she put together a meal that was the least possible calories needed to keep her 'healthy' and sent her off to school. And of course she needed to be on birth control to keep her skin flawless.” The bags are soon emptied and the reusable bags put in the drawer until the next shopping trip. Le Belle's looks at the decorations makes everybody snicker.

 

“Now. . .I know you've been busy with work and well with everybody dying you probably didn't feel like buying and putting up decorations but you need them.”

 

La Belle sighs but nods. “Last year I was living in intern housing at Stark Tower, before that I was sharing an apartment or living in the dorms at high school. I didn't have the room to buy decorations. I know there's probably decorations in the stuff downstairs, but. ..”


“It's too raw.”

 

“Exactly. I'm sure my Mom had tons of fancy decorations for her picture perfect home. So when Noelle made it big they could photograph all the decorations.” La Belle opens a drawer and pulls a packet of swiss miss cocoa with mini marshmallows. Marigold snorts, puts it back, and soon has a mug of real hot chocolate in her hands. “Now, are you off until after the first of the year? There were rumors about Stark being shut down early.”

 

“Yes, the government is coming in and going through over everything since the people who tried stealing Stark's research earlier are whining because they're getting their hands slapped. Dear god, don't you know who they are?” La Belle mock whines. “Anyway, they're trying to claim Stark stole from them. So they've closed down a week early and we don't know when they'll open next year. . .you know the government. If they're made to look like the idiots they are they sulk and drag their heels. Stark's already suing to make them pay the employee wages. And unspecified damages.”

 

“Which will make the government dig in their heels even more until people with some sense start slapping the shit out of them.” Alexander snorts.

 

“Yep, the fools who caused all this are going to be be very sorry very, very soon. The government will turn on them because of all the bad publicity from their lies, they might end up getting the stupidity slapped out of them by the same government courts they whined in front of about their research.”

 

The others sigh but nod.

 

The next morning government authorities are very angrily hissing at the lying fools who'd claimed Stark had stolen their research and got the business closed down until further notice.

 

“You damn stupid little fools, you had agents break into Stark to get his research because he got something to work you couldn't, now you're claiming he stole research from you? Do you know how much damn money your lies are costing the government?”

 

“W. . .we. . .we might have been mistaken?” One of them whimpers.

 

“Oh no gentlemen, you're not mistaken. . . you're greedy miserable fools.” The man snarls. “Now we are stuck in a bad position. Stark is raging and threatening to cut off all access to anything he or his employees discover, we're looking at millions of dollars to go over everything at Stark, and we're going to be paying through the nose all the wages of the his employees since we're making them sit on their asses at home.”

 

“I. ..I . . ..I didn't think it would come to this.” One of them blubbers. “If he'd just shared his research.”

 

“It is his research. He doesn't have to share it.” the man say through clenched teeth as the whiny fools are sent off.

 

“Can we stop the inspection?” A man asks.

 

“Nope, it was done this way so friends in the government couldn't cancel the inspections. Morons who passed it never thought that anybody in the government would use it to punish a corporation. Because the damn government is supposed to be above this sort of shit.”

 

“Yeah . . .right.”

 

“Are you fucking stupid? What the hell is your problem?” the man who'd asked if the inspection could be canceled bellows when the whiny researchers run back into the room waving papers.

 

“We're being sued by Stark.”

 

“Good. You bastards deserve to be sued.”

 

“Aren't you going to stop him?” He yelps.

 

“Fuck no. You bastards tried stealing his research because he wouldn't kiss your useless asses. Not once but twice. First by breaking into his business to try to copy his research, then claiming he stole yours. No gentlemen,” he sneers. “You morons are going to be paying through the nose for decades for this. He's going to end up owning your souls. . .if you have any.” They run off blubbering that it wasn't their fault. . .if he'd just gave them his research .. .

 

“God damn morons, why aren't they in prison?”

 

“Because being too fucking stupid to live isn't a crime. . .yet.”

 

La Belle wanders down to the fourth floor, Marigold and Maddy finding her wandering the floor an hour later.

 

“Mocking out plans for the library.”

 

“Once Sawyer moves his woodworking studio into the other warehouses he can get to work making you bookcases.”

 

“The bids for the other buildings were accepted?”

 

“Yep.” Maddy grins. “We got the news yesterday, just before we came out to start decorating. If the inspections go well, we'll own the entire block end of January.” The elevator across the floor moves up. “The others bringing up the material we need to finish off your apartment though the wall going down won't happen until after winter's over.”


“Unlike the renovation shows where they show the wall between the old and new torn out first thing?” La Belle snorts.

 

“Yeah, those are good for camera views but bad for keeping heat in a building, even when the outer walls are up. Yeah, I know most of that work is done in the summer and they had commercial heaters to throw out heat any other time but still. . .” Maddy grins and nods, heading up to her workroom.

 

“You girls need storage spaces.” Marigold says as she wanders through the top floor and sees the area Maddy had set up.

 

“Yep.” Marcus says as he looks at the area. “Easy enough to split off rooms to put larger stuff. Mostly because I know you want to start getting in larger orders of supplies since you visited the supplier. And you need more ventilation than opening the window.”

 

“Yeah, I've been working on plans.”

 

“And you didn't say anything before now?” La Belle says, rolling her eyes.

 

“Well, this place is already three times bigger than my work area and. . .dear, this is your home.”

 

“Please, you're my partner in crafting. I think I can spare a couple rooms in the building for your needs.”

 

William nods. “According to the updated plans when they realized they needed to add firebreaks there was going to be a wall right about here.” He says to where the floorplates for the new walls are being laid out.

 

“Yep,” Marcus points to the xs he's marking out with chalk. “The fire break was going to be here and a stairwell.”

 

“And we can add more room if needed.” Marigold says patiently. “You all know how much bigger our house is on the inside.”

 

“Yes, and I swear it's growing every time I come over.” La Belle says. The others nod.

 

“That's because it is.” Marigold snorts. “Now, are you going to be going for a doctorate?”

 

“Yes, Stark will pay for the classes, I've got my application in to my old school's graduate program. Columbia sniffed at my school and said I wasn't qualified.” Snorts of disgust. “Yeah, they're being very quiet now since once of my dormsisters now is the head of one of their programs. Our 'provincial' school wasn't good enough to be a student but we could teach there? When the fool who'd been poo-poo'ing the applications found out where Diane attended she turned pure white. Now the school's applications are getting a double and triple look over. Columbia had wondered why the doctorate classes were less than half-full.”

 

“Idiots.”

 

“Oh yes, she was looking for the ooomph of students from prestigious schools choosing their program. You know, Harvard, Princeton, the ivy league schools.”

 

“Moron, they'd stay with that school for their entire education degree. Not come to Columbia.”

 

“Amen. Anyway now Columbia has a dozen eggs on their face and adults who would have applied to their school are going elsewhere. And the other schools are rubbing their noses in it.”

 

“Good for them.” Marigold snorts. “Miserable fools should always get their comeuppance if it won't hurt them or anybody else.”

 

William and Marcus head off to pick up the rest of the stuff for Maddy's soapmaking area. Thankfully most of it's stuff that they can pick up right off the shelf in any home improvement store. Marigold checks the mail. . .damn being off until further notice means she's not going to be checking her mail on the way back from work anymore.

 

Marigold finds La Belle in a recliner in her living room a couple days later going over reports from the bankruptcy court. “Anything that we weren't expecting?”

 

“No, with my uncle out as head and with people with some sense working on the businesses everything's looking fine.”

 

“Good. Now help me set these up and then pack a bag so we can go to the house for Christmas.”

 

“I'm not going to be good company this year. It's not going to be the first Christmas I've spent alone but it's the first one because Mom is dead and not just having pushed me away.”

 

“And that is why you shouldn't be alone today.” Marigold says briskly. “Now help me install these.” She nods at the boxes by her feet.

 

“And what are they?”

 

“Heaters, no external power source needed. They're going to be going on every floor eventually, they're already predicting this is going to be a cold winter and the furnace was . . .”

 

“Meant to be in conjunction with machines putting out heat. How much heat to they put out?”

 

“These are smaller units, we'll be adding larger ones to each floor. And a second power source.” They soon have the units stuck to walls in every room and she sighs as Marigold taps her foot until she packs a bag and is dragged down to the cars after setting the security to turn on the lights on at various times. She parks in the 'garage' and a sniggering Maddy ducks her head into a room as she walks past. “Grandma just returned with La Belle.”

 

“Yeah, like she was going to let her stay in her apartment all by herself. . .especially this year.”

 

“What happened to the fools who made all this happen?” One man asks another the day that Stark would have reopened and it's empty except for the inspectors.

 

“In jail, whining as they're being held accountable for their actions. Nobody's kissing their asses now, they're working a job outside jail and a job inside jail, one day's wages is being put aside to repay the government their schooling since they were supposed to be so damn brilliant the government snapped them up and put them through school at our dime.”

 

“More like the taxpayers dime.” His companion snorts. “And the second pay?”

 

“Is going in a fund to start repaying the huge judgment Stark's going to be finding against the morons. Once they're done paying back their schooling they're going to be paying back the costs for this damn inspection since it's going to be proven to be without merit. Fuckers wailed loudly about that too.”

 

“Where is Mr. Stark?”

 

“Off to his Malibu facility. The government agreed he could keep the other two up and running.”

 

“Other two? I knew about Malibu but. . .”

 

“He opened a new, much smaller facility outside a small town in Florida. It's going well. . .in a few years it will be rivaling the other facilities. Some fool who thought they were all that already tried shutting it down, figuring he'd be able to swoop in and get all of the secret research they do there.”

 

“And they don't do that there yet.”

 

“Nope. Like the fuckers who pouted because Stark wouldn't hand over his research because he got something to work and they didn't, they thought they could waltz right in and get something for nothing.”

 

“Reap the rewards while somebody else does all the hard work? Figures.”

 

“Can I help you?” A woman asks a young woman asks as she comes into the consignment shop with a couple boxes on a dolly.

 

“Yeah, La Belle sent me. I'm her friend that makes soap.”

 

“Ohhhh, we were hoping to get a soapmaker back. Our last one died of old age and none of her family was interested in learning.” The boxes are put up on the counter and they look through everything. “I'm moving into a larger workroom, I'll be able to make more of these scents and more scents.”

 

“We'll look forward to having you and La Belle in the community. Her stuff has already gotten a lot of interest.” She types up the receipt on the computer and prints off two copies, like La Belle earlier one going in the file. “Is La Belle going to be able to get more out to us soon?”

 

“Oh yes, she's off with Stark being shut down for inspections since fools in the government didn't like him being able to get something working they couldn't and he wouldn't share the research. And they got caught when they tried stealing it, now Stark is shut down since they claim he stole it from them.”

 

The woman behind the counter snorts. “Miserable bastards.”

 

“Oh yes, they were terminated from their cushy government jobs and got fired from their private positions when they couldn't show anything for the money they were getting. Anyway, La Belle is off and can work on this stuff when she's not driving trucks for my family for extra money.”

 

“She's a truck driver?”

 

“Yeah, she got her commercial license as soon as she could so she could work for my family's trucking firm summers for extra money, she was working her way through school.”

 

“Do you think she' d mind making extra money delivering supplies for some of the crafters in the area. There's a supplier. . .”

 

Maddy sniggers. “We went to the special sale in November and have been looking for an excuse to go back again to stock up on bigger supplies. Here,” she writes down a name and number. “This is the name and number of the trucking company. A cousin named Amanda will answer the phone, she runs the office. Tell her I gave you the number and tell her what you want, she'll arrange for La Belle to make a run out there whenever you want. She does a few special shipments, including for her boss Mr. Stark.”

 

“Thank you dear. This way we can get some larger orders, being able to drive out there is okay but. . .”

 

“You can't order everything you want unless you got a truck and a truck for a single person or even a group would be expensive. A friend of my grandmothers was out at the sale and she filled a panel truck with her purchases and had four more trucks filled with what she'd normally be ordering going out to her seamstress shop in Florida. She can take it off her taxes as a business expense.” The owner of the store grins and nods.

 

La Belle comes into the business a few days later with another box of stuff, the woman behind the counter grinning. “You're just in time, there's a meeting of our artists in the back. Ladies, gentlemen. . .this is La Belle Sanders, she makes the stuff you've been looking at.”

 

“Welcome La Belle, glad to see a younger person interested in the crafts.” A woman who's stitching on a hoop looks up and grins. “Did your family craft?”

 

“No, but both the high school and university I attended had textiles programs. I worked my way through high school at the school's dining hall but in university I worked in the textiles. I found out I enjoyed it.”

 

“That's why all of us got into crafting.” One of the women grins and waves her to a seat. “What do you do?”

 

“A bit of this and a bit of that. I have a loom and I'm experimenting with making my own cloth. I have a knitting machine, I have a long-arm quilting machine, I have a candlemaking area, a pottery wheel, and I have a glassworking area.” The others look at her in disbelief. “I brought one of the old warehouses that people have been trying to convert into lofts for years. They only succeeded in putting in one apartment and the second renovators couldn't finish enlarging the apartment the first ones put up. I have five floors I can use for my hobbies.”

 

“I remember when they tried that, they were buying high end stuff for the owners apartment.”

 

“and didn't have any money for anything else. Yes, good friends are finishing the plans to expand the apartment, they couldn't even put up the walls because they'd spent all their money.” The others shake their heads. “Of course part of that was finding out they'd have to put up firewalls, get a way for the other units to get downstairs in case of an emergency, either putting up fire escapes all over the building or adding stairwells.” The others nod.

 

“That's the problem of trying to renovate a building that wasn't meant for housing to apartments instead of building new. For every group that has good plans and both actually know what they're doing and have the money for all their plans there's several dozen like the previous owners of your building.”

 

“at least, more like several hundred.” A man snorts. “They have grandiose plans but no common sense. They see other people doing it and think 'how hard can it be', then end up muffing it up.” A woman snorts. The others nod. She's looking at La Belle and sighs. “Oh hell, you're that La Belle. . .my granddaughter Samantha went to school with you. Both high school and university.”

 

“How is the pain in the teachers backside?” La Belle snorts. “I see she managed to graduate pre-med and pre-law at the same time. No matter how many times the teachers tried to rein her in. Not just taking so many classes, but her damn practical jokes.”

 

“Yes, the girl is currently doing her residency and going to law school nights with the blessing and head shaking of the hospital.” She shakes her head. “The practical jokes. .. I blame her father's side of the family. And yes, I am his mother.” She says at the others sniggering. Obviously they all know him. And Samantha.

 

“Is she here in the city?”

 

“Yep, let me. . .” she finds her contact information and passes it along to La Belle. “She's currently making Columbia miserable by being herself both at work and in classes.”

 

“Good, the grad school denied my application for a doctorate, I'm on the waiting list for our old alma mater. They didn't wike anybody from our 'provincial' school being associated with them, now Diane's in charge of one of their programs, Samantha's working for them too. . .” her grandmother is nodding vigorously. “They're stunned when they look at the files for the people they want to hire and they all attended school there.”

 

“Are you still working at Stark?”

 

“Yep, I'm off thanks to fools sulking for at least another month, they're hoping to be able to finish the damn witch hunt mockery of an inspection by the end of February. The morons have admitted they lied, they were caught in the act of breaking into Stark and copying information. Nobody believes their bullcrap story about how Stark stole from them, they're just sulking because Mr. Stark got something to work they couldn't and wouldn't hand over his research. Because of course they should be able to reap all the benefits of somebody else's hard work.”

 

“Oh of course. I hope the fools are in jail?”

 

“Yep, working two jobs. One to repay everything the government paid for their schooling. . .because of course they were special enough to get a full ride through school when the government learned about them. Once they've paid that money off they're going to have to be paying the cost of the inspection. The second job's money is going into a fund to pay off the judgment that Stark will be getting for this witch hunt.” Everybody nods in satisfaction. La Belle's phone rings and she checks the number. “Excuse me, this is the trucking firm I moonlight for. Yes?” She listens and nods. “Yes, I can do it, I didn't have any plans.” She ends the call. “Sorry everybody, I have to run. The employee who'd normally be going on a run has a family emergency, his daughter fell and broke her ankle.”

 

“We're here every other Tuesday.” One of the women waves her hand. “And thank you for volunteering to make a delivery for us.”

 

A few days later La Belle pulls up in front of her mailbox, then grins as she sees Marigold standing in the stairs doorway. Pulling through the now open gate she parks in her usual spot and gets out of the car.

 

“Thank you for taking that shipment dear. The customer's one of our biggest and we want to keep them happy.”

 

“How is Sam's daughter?”

 

“Very embarrassed. . .he told her she was going to get hurt wearing those shoes one day and she did. It was just her bad luck that it happened in the middle of winter, she'd have been okay but she slid on the ice. Damn fool girl is nearly eighteen, she should know by now not to wear cute shoes in the middle of winter.”

 

“Uhg, that's something my sister would have done. If not her my mother by all the damn shoes in their closets.” La Belle looks down at her ugly but serviceable boots in satisfaction. Marigold nods in agreement and follows her upstairs, La Belle sighing at the sound of power tools down the hall until the door shuts behind them. She looks around, it's too quiet.

 

“Yes, it's quieter in here. I don't know how the hell you stood listening to the others working. I called in one of the boys and they were stunned. There wasn't half the insulation there should have been in the walls., we pumped in foam insulation and it should both be warmer and quieter in here.”

 

La Belle makes a rude noise as she sorts through her mail. “Welllllll yah, they expected to sell these apartments for major bucks, every corner they cut in construction was more profits. And unlike rental units, the people living in them would be stuck with the bill. I was listening to the news while I was waiting for the return load to be ready and a construction company has been slapped with a huge fine for shoddy construction practices.”

 

Marigold sighs but nods. “Fools like that give real companies a bad name.”

 

“Well, it's the same thing with handymen, people will go for the cheapest quote and then whine when things go wrong. Ummm, hello the damn quote is hundreds of dollars more because they do good work and the fool you hired is substandard, fly by night, doesn't have the permits you need?”

 

“Exactly. Ohhhh, the inspector is due out in an hour to look over the work we've been doing.”

 

“Since I don't have anything to do with the construction I'll be down in the knitting room. I picked up a couple new books at a store while I was waiting for the return load.” Marigold smiles at her.

 

“Are you the owner of the building, Ma'am?” The inspector asks the imperious older woman who's waiting for him at the door when he climbs the five flights of stairs.

 

“No, my foster daughter is, she's downstairs in her workroom.”

 

“Is this new work?” he looks at the apartment behind her.

 

“No, this is from the first group trying to convert it into lofts. I have all the inspection certificates here. The work that's currently happening is from the second round of people trying to turn the building into living space. They spent all their money on buying appliances to turn this apartment into a masterpiece they ran out of money before they could even get the walls up to expand the apartment.”

 

“Oh god.” He moans. They walk around the apartment. “Is everything satisfactory in the apartment?” He can see the patches in the outside walls. A man is currently painting over them and stops when they appear.

 

Marigold snorts. “I was in the apartment while La Belle was covering a shipment for my grandson's trucking firm. I couldn't believe how noisy it was with all the power tools going, my grandsons inspected the walls and found there was half the insulation needed. We blew in foam insulation and not only is it quieter in the apartment, it's warmer too.”

 

“If the fools had to live in the apartments they wouldn't cut corners like that.” He sighs. They walk towards where the construction noises are coming from, the boys stopping what they're doing.

 

“Was this all open space to begin with?”

 

“Yes, this and the fourth floor and first floor, the second and third floors had rooms laid out.” One of the men who'd been working tells him.

 

“Where's Marcus?” Marigold asks.

 

“Plotting out rooms for the girls supplies.”

 

“Girls?”

 

“My granddaughter Maddy is a soapmaker, she's turning the kitchen of what would have been the second apartment on this floor into a workroom. It was only this side that had plumbing and gas lines laid.”

 

“May I?”

 

He's led into the workroom. “Are the stove, cabinets, and sink original?”

 

“No, they were originally in La Belle's apartment, the second owners had brought all new appliances that were down on the second floor.” He nods in satisfaction at the fire extinguishers in the room.

 

“You said only the plumbing and gas lines were laid on this floor?”

 

“Yes, I guess they figured on using La Belle's apartment as a showplace and taking orders for the other units but ran out of money before that happened. Personally I'd have waited on the damn appliances and put my money in the structure.” Marigold snorts. The inspector nods. He nods over everything and puts his approval down on the paperwork. A sound of rushing water from under them makes him pause and look around.

 

“the other floors have a single bathroom except the first floor which had a male and female bathroom slash locker room from when the warehouse was a business. That was La Belle.”

 

The sound of footsteps. “William?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Amanda called, the run is permanent now.”

 

“Yes.” He claps his hands together over his head. His grandmother looks at him. “La Belle picked up a load coming back, the previous they had was broadsided and the truck was totaled, he survived but it's gonna be years before he can drive again. . .if ever. Normally it's a go out and come back run but La Belle asked a local company if there was a load coming back our way and learned about the shipment.”

 

Marigold nods in satisfaction. “Is there anything you need to see while we're here?”

 

“I'd like to see the buildings fuse box if possible.”

 

“We're busy upgrading the building, the new box will be arriving in a couple days.” Alexander says as he comes around the side of La Belle's apartment. “I'm Alexander Dupont, I'm an electrical engineer.” They walk down to the electrical area and he shakes his head. “Yes, it was meant to be used with a lot of machinery. It's still good but it's old, the one that's arriving will have a surge protector built in.”

 

“Yes, I've seen other former warehouses having to upgrade their fuse boxes. Because nowadays everything in computerized.”

 

“Yep. And if a factory had all their fancy equipment destroyed by a surge both the owners and the insurance company would be howling.”

 

“Oh yes, I was witness to just that happening recently. A business lost everything to a power surge, the insurance refused to pay out saying the surge happened in the building and that the business hadn't been doing proper maintenance, including updating the fuse box and installing surge protection. I was called in to investigate and unfortunately for the business I found the insurance company's experts were correct, the surge had happened in the building and the insurance didn't have to pay out, no matter how loud they wailed to the courts. They had a list of stuff they had to work on from an inspection. . .”

 

“And tossed the list in the garbage because it would mean money going out and not coming in. Figures. They're just looking to make a quick buck and huge fantastic profits instead of a honest buck and moderate profits. Everybody in the family firmly belong in the second group.”

 

“I heard rumors that the rest of the buildings on this block had been sold?” He looks at him.

 

“Guilty, La Belle brought this one first and we put in bids on the other one after that fool that used to be on the city council tried climbing over the gate since the fool used her parking lot to make a big show of shuttling people into his damn event, then sending out his tow truck to get the vehicles out of her lot because he knew it was private property,. He didn't wike losing his cushy spot on the city council. She should have been honored he used her land for his thieving. We didn't want her out here by herself and most of the family has their own hobbies they need the room for. A cousin is a woodworker and is going to have his setup next door once the buildings are officially ours.”

 

The inspector initials all the paperwork passing it and it goes in the file cabinet in La Belle's apartment, a second set being filed back in his office.

 

“Okay, what next?”

 

“Now that the electrical has been passed we can start putting in the insulation and the wallboard, then it will be the second inspection of the framework. About that time the final inspection of the plumbing will be done. Once the walls and door are up, we'll start tearing out the opening between the old and new construction.”

 

“Maddy's workroom?”

 

“Didn't really need an inspection but it looks good.”

 

“Sprinklers?”

 

“I'm looking at the units used in factories and businesses that have a lot of electrical devices, no water that would fry everything”

 

 

 

 

 

“Dear gods woman, put down the fucking phone and move, you're keeping people from getting off the damn subway.” A woman bellows in somebody's ear. She eeps and punched the bellower right in the face, leaving her on the floor and people stepping over her as they get off the train. The 'guard' on the train sighs and tosses the now crying fool off the subway and tells guards at the station what the fool did before the car heads off again. The guards at the station will tell the fool off and tell her if she can't fucking get around people standing in the doorway, don't ride the damn subway.

 

“Fucking cell phones, if the damn things went off for one day the world would end.” La Belle mutters as she walks into Stark and signs in not late late but several long minutes later than she feels comfortable signing in, especially on the first day the business is open again. The guards look at her. “Some damn fool glued to her damn phone wouldn't move out of the damn doorway of the subway car until some bigger fool screeched in her ear. Because she was being inconvenienced by moving around her.”

 

“Of course, because everybody should move and form a reception line to allow her out of the car. Fucking morons, people are used to pushing through bodies on the damn subway, they're crowded no matter what time you travel. . .especially during rush hour. That's why they have two doors on each side of the car.”

 

“Yeah, the woman on the phone punched the fool right in the face, the bitch screaming in her ear startled her.”

 

“Serves the fool right, Don't ride public transit if you want people to get out of your way.” The second guard drawls. “Now if computers went down for the day. . .”

 

“Ms. Potts would shoot Mr. Stark because his whining got on her very last nerve.” La Belle snorts as she walks to the elevator.

 

“Ms. Sanders, Ms. Potts says no she wouldn't because she'd be stuck with him in a hospital bed.” JARVIS's amused voice says over the nearest speaker.

 

“JARVIS, what if you went down?”

 

Silence for a few seconds. Then the sound of a female sigh.

 

“Yes, yes I would shoot him then. Because he'd destroy the damn world otherwise.” Pepper says in the front office. Tony pouts at her but grins and nods.

 

La Belle sighs as she walks back into her lab, she knows what she's going to be doing today. The other are already at work sorting through everything that either the fool SHIELD agent and his cronies pawed through or the inspectors who followed the infiltration did. “La Belle, make a list of anything damaged or destroyed or you just need new supplies,” a man calls from across the hall. “If it's something beyond usual supplies Mr. Stark is taking it out of the hides of the fools who whined because Mr. Stark wouldn't share his research.”

 

“God damn it. . .” La Belle complains a few minutes later. “JARVIS, can you tell computer services that my computer isn't booting up?”

 

“Yes Ms. Sanders. Yours if the fifteenth report of a non-functioning computer today. Please check the hard copies of your research to make sure it wasn't tampered with.”

 

“Yo guys, check your computers if you haven't yet.” La Belle says in the hallway. “My computer isn't booting up. No use them making multiple trips over here.”

 

“Yeah.” the man who'd patted her back says in agreement.”And like JARVIS said, check your hard copies to make sure they. . .” La Belle's cursing makes him pause. “Haven't been tampered with.” He finishes with a sigh.

 

“Ms. Sanders?”

 

“JARVIS, please tell Legal and Mr. Stark that all my hard copies has been removed.” La Belle snarls.

 

“La Belle, head to the break room, security, legal, the police, and computers will have to turn your lab into a crime scene.” Tony's voice echoes through one of the speakers.

 

“God damn it.”

 

“More computers?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Okay, everybody head to the break room, your whole section will have to be inspected. JARVIS will have backups of all your information on the servers.” Tony says as he steps out of the elevator. “Since it will be at least this week, head off once you've signed the paperwork. We'll let you know when your labs are released.”

 

La Belle says another word that would have Marigold sighing and the rest of the family laughing. She grabs her phone and sends out a family wide text asking who's working at the warehouse. A few minutes later she answers her phone. “Marcus? Yeah, the morons who broke into Stark did more damage than we thought, my computer won't boot up and my hard copies have been either stolen or destroyed. Who's working, I don't want to interrupt any work but I know Mom said that you guys would be in and out all day. No, don't come right out to pick me up, it's going to be another hour at the least. Security and the police are coming off the elevator now, we're still waiting on computer services and legal.” She settles down on a couch as the others settle in the room.

 

“Are you still working on your warehouse?”

 

“Yeah, the inspection for the electrical happened while we were off, the additions to my apartment are being worked on now. The final work inspection on the walls is due next, then the inspection on the new plumbing. The family is working on what would be the second apartment on that side of the building, my cousin is using what would have been the kitchen as a workroom to make soap. She finally brought out her plans for a workroom and the family is putting it up for her. She complained that this was my building, I told her I can spare a couple rooms for my crafting buddy. Lord knows I have enough room. . .and that was before my family brought the rest of the buildings on the block.”

 

“Didn't like you being all by yourself out there?” One of the women chuckles.

 

“Yep, and Maddy and I aren't the only family members who craft. One of the cousins who's a woodworker is going to put up stuff in one of the other buildings.”

 

“Do you see one of the others putting an apartment in like yours?”

 

“Not really, the first group that was trying to convert the building into apartments did the hard work of bringing up the plumbing and gas lines to the top floor and built the first apartment. The others are going off the plans on what the second group was going to do to expand the apartment into a masterpiece and laid out the plans for the second apartment on my side of the building. But they spend so much money on fancy-schmancy appliances they didn't have the money for the actual work. Then they found out they'd have to either install fire escapes or more stairs, they had to put in firewalls. . .” The others sigh but nod. “When they realized they couldn't make the fantastic profits they wanted they threw their hands up and left everything where it was. Figuring the next fool who wanted to make fantastic profits would do it.”

 

“You're just working from the plans the others made.”

 

“Yep, with only me there I don't need a firewall or exit stairs, I have stairs right out my front door and a exit ladder in case of an emergency. Though the family is talking foam sprinkler heads.” She waves a hand at the units all over Stark where water might be a bad idea.

 

A couple hours later she walks out the door of Stark and finds Marigold looking at her. “Computer services checking my computer. . .the bastards got into it and when they couldn't get into the protected files they fried the hard drive and just stole the hard copies of everything out of spite. Then sulked when they found out it wasn't anything they could use and destroyed it. The head of the agency was cussing when he found out what was going on since JARVIS was able to scan the security cameras and find them in action. Fucking bastards. Fury's going to have them in prison as soon as they're finished paying off everything. I'm suing the goddamn bastards too. I'm sure the bastards are wailing about how Stark wouldn't share our research.”

 

“No., because it's your research.” Marigold snorts. “Are you back to work tomorrow?”

 

“Nope, my whole section is off for at least another two weeks. I got my last statement for the money Stark paid while we're off. The bastards are wailing that their 'little temper tantrum' was found out about, now they're in even more trouble.”

 

“Idiots. Do we need to stop anywhere?”

 

“No, I went grocery shopping yesterday in preparation of going back to work. Including stopping at the warehouse store.” She yawns and settles in the seat. “I don't know why sitting around waiting to talk to people is so tiring.”

 

“It's the fight or flight reflex, you didn't do either but the adrenaline was still there from you no doubt yelling and cussing when you found out what they'd done to your lab.”

 

“But we couldn't get into her computer.” One of the fool researchers whines as he's shown video footage of what they'd done later that night. “So we had to take the hard copies of her research. Then her research wasn't in any of our areas anyway. So you see, it's really her fault for not having anything we wanted.” he looks at the judges across from him and is stunned when nobody takes his side. He slumps back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest and sulking until he finds out he's actually going to prison and screams.

 

“Sit down and shut up you goddamn fool.” The head judge snaps and he gulps. People are actually mad at him. It's not fair. It's all Stark's fault for not handing over his research to his betters. His own lawyer glares at him and he whimpers when he realizes he said that out loud.

 

“Listen to me you little shit. In no damn universe are you Tony Stark's better. You never have been and never will be. You're a useless fool who can't compete and figured you'd steal whatever you wanted when you didn't get it handed to you on a fucking silver platter.” The judge angrily hisses. The bastard is tossed back in his jail cell and told that he's got a third judgment to pay off before he goes to prison.

 

The next morning La Belle slams a lump of clay down on her pottery wheel, she'd been up half the night making notes of experiments she wants to run when she gets back to work. She's faxed off a copy of what she thinks would work to Mr. Stark that morning and had got back a full body moan and a 'we'll start the patent process if it works' from Ms. Potts.

 

“La Belle?” Marigold's voice echoes down the stairs.

 

“Down in the pottery.” She yells back.

 

“Your new fuse box arrived.” She comes down. “Are you. . .?” She smiles when she sees she's just sitting down.

 

“I can stop anytime, I was just loosening up the clay, tossing it is helping my anger.” Putting it back in the container she washes off her hands and arms in the utility sink that somebody had hooked up to the water lines and wipes off her arms. “So how long is the power going to be out?”

 

“Shouldn't be more than a couple hours.” Alexander says. The man with him nods in agreement.

 

“Then I'll head to the consignment store, today's the day the group normally meets.” She heads that way after an early lunch, the woman behind the counter blinking. “Didn't Stark reopen yesterday?”

 

“Yes, but they found more damage in my section so I'm off for two weeks until everything is taken care of.” She says as the door between the front and back is opened. “Damn fools fried my computer because they couldn't get into the classified files on it and then stole and destroyed the hard copies of my research since they couldn't get on my computer. Because it wasn't in their area.”

 

“Oh dear god.” A voice moans from the back of the room. “Did you lose anything?”

 

“No because everything was backed up on the server but they have to replace nearly a hundred computers. I can print out the hard copies again and the patent paperwork wasn't there but still I want to reach out and touch somebody. .. with my fist.”

 

“I don't blame you.” Samantha's grandmother says. “Little fool couldn't get what he wanted and he went on the attack. I hope the little bastard is being punished for what you found out?”

 

“Yep, the little bastard was in front of the same government court where he blubbered that Stark had stolen their research and after finding out all the bastard and his friends did? Well, he's facing life in prison now. Still wailing that it's all Stark's fault. . .because he got something to work they couldn't and he wouldn't give them his research. I'm suing the little bastard to and so is every other person whose research was stolen and destroyed. Because it's our fault that we didn't work in his area.”

 

“Asshole.” A man snorts.

 

“Yep.”

 

“No, you goddamn little fool,” his lawyer snorts later that afternoon as his client howls at being served with more lawsuits. “there's no damn way in hell is the court going to order those lawsuits dismissed. You did all that damage.”

 

“Weeeeeelllllllll yyyyyyyeeeeeesssssss, I. . .I. . .I guess so.” he blubbers.

 

“You guess so.” he says sarcastically. “Quit that damn blubbering.” He yelps as he bites his tongue in shock. How can he be so mean to him? His now former lawyer tells the fool a few facts of life that his mommy and daddy didn't and leaves him blubbering on the floor in the meeting room. “Goddamn effing fool.” he snorts.

 

“Boss, I'm off Jenkins case. I told the damn fool I quit before I told him some facts of life.” He tells his boss when he walks into the office. “He was crying on the floor that everybody's being mean to him when I left.”

 

“What did the damn fool want now?”

 

“You . . .you mean they can sue me for all the damages I did to Stark that they didn't find in the inspection?” He mock-blubbers. “B. . .bu . ..buh . . .but it's their fault I destroyed the hard copies of their research when I found out it wasn't in my area. If I'd been able to get in the classified files, If Stark had just given me his research. . .boo hoo hoo hoo hoo.” He mock rubs crocodile tears from his eyes.

 

“Damn fool, the government can find another sucker to represent him in court then.” He leaves a note to that effect to the prosecutor and shakes his head. “He's a damn fool and we don't need to take time off from our other cases to hold his hand and kiss his brow because he's miserable at being forced to take responsibility for his own actions.”

 

Two weeks later La Belle walks into her lab. “Here we go again.” She sighs. She turns on the new computer and sighs as it starts booting right up. The printer had been replaced in her lab as well and there's a note when she signs in to download her last copy of her files. It starts downloading and she grabs the notes she'd made a couple weeks ago, starting to work.

 

“Fuck you, no the city doesn't own this land and building.” Maddy snorts as she stands on the other side of the gate as the gesticulating, screaming woman demanding to be allowed entrance. “You shake your finger at me bitch, I'll break it off.” The sheer ice in her voice makes the woman stop shaking her finger at her. “Now, this is private property, we go every goddamn right to have a gate up barring access to our parking lot.”

 

“But this has to be public parking.” she wails as the police Marcus had called come up. “Gary told me I could park here.”

 

“Lady, the owner's name is La Belle. . .there ain't no Gary in the family.”

 

“But he told me he had passed a bill taking it from the owner and turning it into public parking. As punishment for complaining about her car and losing his company.” She wails as she's put in the back of the car after trying to throw herself through the gate. Maddy had grabbed her finger and twisted, the woman screeching and throwing herself backwards.

 

“Idiot, you're not the first person she's pulled this shit on. She's married to that moron Smathers though they were living apart and she's been all over town telling people her darling Gary had taken the building, business, land, or whatnot from the real owners. As punishment for daring not to kiss his ass.” One of the officers says as a police tow truck arrives and takes her car away. “You're not the first people she's been trying to target in the last few days. She's absolutely miserable she can't hold her head up in the town she lives in now. . .”the fool woman can be seen throwing herself against the window and partition between the seats. “And is trying to punish everybody who dared complain about her bastard husband's actions.”

 

“She was a big a crook as he was then.”

 

“Yep. Her family's lost a lot of influence and money over the last few years and she's miserable about it.” The officer gets in the car after he's completed the paperwork and the car drives off with the woman screaming obscenities in the back.

 

“Fucking idiot.” Marcus snorts behind her. “If she's been pulling this shit all over town she's going to be facing a lot of time in prison, let alone jail. Fraud, as many counts for as many different times as she tried it.” Marcus is a practicing lawyer and while he doesn't handle criminal matters he knows a lot of people who do. He calls around after he heads off to get lunch for the others, finding out who's already telling the fool woman to sit down, shut up, and pray she doesn't get too much time in prison.

 

“But you act like I did something wrong!” she yelps when her lawyer is shown into the cell she'd been pushed into and starts laughing when she demands he get her out of there.

 

“You did, it's called fraud.” He says scathingly. “You and your darling husband trying to steal land and businesses because you're both crooks.” She wails in her jail cell after he leaves, telling her he'd see her in the morning for the preliminary court date. How can everybody taking the side of those miserable little people, don't they know who and her family is?

 

No and we don't care is the response to her blubbering the next morning. She screeches like a banshee when she finds out she's got to go back to that horrible jail cell, the court doesn't believe she'd stick around if she was given bail. The fact she'd threatened to have her friends hurt the judge for daring to bring charges against her didn't help her cause any.

 

“Idiot.” is the nicest thing that's said about her over the next couple of days. She wails loudly when she's forced to work in the jail while she's waiting for her next court date, being bluntly told to get to work or starve.

 

La Belle looks at Tony that Friday as he's looking over what she'd been working on. “JARVIS, tell the testing team that it looks like they have something new to go over. And have Pepper start the paperwork for La Belle's new patent.” He looks at an envelope on the bulletin board over her workspace, then her. That's the court that's overseeing the lawsuits. La Belle follows his gaze and snorts. “Miserable fool tried wailing he'd been hired by the new head of Hammer to steal my research. The judge looked at him and called him a damn fool, that I was the new head of Hammer and why would I hire somebody to steal my own research? Bastard screeched, wailed, sobbed, threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue. . .fucker still has to pay for stealing and destroying my research. They're still waiting until next year to start parceling out the payments?”

 

“Yes, this way the fund has some money in it. We won't be seeing any substantial payments for decades. The moron's working two jobs six days a week and is bawling the seventh day about how everybody is being so mean to the little puke and being forced to work in a recycling center sorting stuff with that pay going for his needs. As it is he's going to be decades working to pay everything down. We're talking millions of dollars for the inspection. Even at four hundred a week going towards his pay, . . .he's probably not going to have to worry about prison, he won't get out of that jail cell. He made good money in the government but he blew through it all and didn't even have a home of his own. Lived with his younger sister because their parents blubbered that she should take him in.”

 

“I'd have told them to take him in himself if they were that damn concerned about him.” La Belle yawns and looks at the time.

 

“Go get lunch and take the rest of the afternoon off.” Tony chuckles. “There's nothing you can do . . .including paperwork until the testing team is done.” She chuckles, saving down everything on the computer and shutting it down before grabbing her purse, phone, and coat. Tony walks her out to the elevator. “Was the sales finalized for the other buildings?”

 

“It was, the others are making plans to tear up some of the land between two of the buildings for a large garden. Since most of the buildings were textiles and other light industrial, there shouldn't be any land pollution. . . if there is there's hydroponic units and greenhouses. Mom's . . .shit,” she stops and sighs.

 

“Just realized you've been calling her that?” Tony chuckles, he'd seen her call her that absently and Marigold's smile.

 

“Yes. . .oh well.” she shrugs. “Mom's talking about extending the wall, Sawyer's bringing out his woodworking stuff and buying more tools now that he's got the room for them. His first job is building bookcases for me, the others are going to be putting up walls to turn the fourth floor into a library, this way I can get my school books out of the containers they're in now.”

 

“Your apartment?”

 

“The new work was inspected last week and passed, they were planning on opening the wall today. With it starting to get warm, the new additions won't bring cold air into the apartment.”

 

Marigold looks at her when she comes into her apartment a few hours early. “Mr. Stark gave me the afternoon off since the project I'd been working on is at the stage where the testing panel needs to make sure I'm getting the right response. If they okay it, I'll have another patent.” She hangs up her scarf over the coat tree, putting her coat over it after she's shoved her gloves in her pockets. She shakes her head as she sees the rough opening between the old and new construction. Marcus looks over and grins at her, then looks at the time. “Yes, I'm early. My research looks good and Mr. Stark gave me the afternoon off since it's going to the testing group next.” She goes into her bedroom to change her clothes.

 

“Did you eat lunch?”

 

“Before I came home.”

 

“La Belle, why do you have cat food on your grocery list?” Marigold asks.

 

“A cat in the neighborhood I managed to get into the first floor. She's going to have babies so I set up a box for her to have them in, I have some old towels and blankets for her to lay on, I have food, water, and a litter box plus a climbing tower and pet bed. This way she and her babies are safe from the neighborhood dogs. She had a family once, she didn't try to scratch me and came right up when she saw me putting food down for her.”

 

“People who throw out animals because they can't be bothered to get them fixed should be beaten.” Marigold growls. She goes downstairs with La Belle and finds the cat in the climbing tower. Both women coo over her and she gives them the 'yes, you may worship me' look of any cat.

 

“Have you taken her to the vet?”

 

“I was going to ask Maddy next week. I've looked in the local sites for lost pets, I advertised in the paper, and put up found notices on light poles but nobody's come looking. I'll keep her, the buildings need cats to make sure mice don't get in them.” Marigold nods. “When she's delivered and the babies are older, Jessy's godfather Rupert gave me something that chemically sterilized animals. A half teaspoon added to their food weekly and it stops males from spraying and fighting and it stops females from having heats. Safe for dogs, cats, and other small animals. Jessy got it from another dimension that has traveled into space to colonize new planets, but from what they said it wasn't from overcrowding.”

 

“There's going to be a pet adoption thing next weekend at the pet food store.”

 

“We'll pick up some then, and hit the local shelters. See if we can get some nursing mothers, they don't usually get adopted.”

 

“That and pregnant cats. And animals that are close to the end date.” La Belle sighs.

 

Marigold snorts. “We already do dear, we've got a good group of people who are called before an animal has to be put down because they've been there too long. I asked the fools who complained if they'd put down children who'd been in an orphanage too long and they started blubbering that I was mean. I told the old fools to grow the fuck up, if you didn't like kids you could say the same thing about them.”

 

“Thank god there's more shelters turning no kill every day.” La Belle shudders. “Though there's some little shits who should have been put down. . .and their parents.”

 

“Amen.” Maddy mutters as she comes down the stairs. “Are you making a trip out to the suppliers?”

 

“Two more weekends, I'm picking up the lists and money at the store a couple days before we go out.”

 

“Good, I'm nearly out of everything. This saves me getting online and making out an order. Now that the elevator is working I want to get the larger containers of lye. Maybe even the barrels now that I have a way of taking them back.” Marigold looks at her. “Recyclers won't touch them, they're marked as hazardous waste since they contain lye. Jessy told me the soapmaking building sends the empty barrels back by truck when the new shipment of lye arrives so they can be filled again. I doubt I'll ever need that much lye but it's nice not to have to worry about the shipping.”

 

Marigold looks at her foster daughter when she tosses a request for money unopened in the garbage. She'd normally be sending them money. “You didn't hear about that in the news?”

 

“No, what happened?”

 

“School administration stole a fund that had been created to help a girl who had cancer. The mother had gone . . .somewhere and was making money for a bone marrow transplant, their insurance didn't cover it. A guy there stole all the money she'd made there and passed it along to his buddies in various places. The school is using the money for putting up several buildings. They know it wasn't their friend's money, they know it was stolen from her, but rather than do the damn decent thing and turn the money back over to her and disavow him. . .ohhhh, we'll put up a plaque for her as a major donor. That will make it all better, right?”

 

“Bastards.” Marigold snarls. She'd looked into the school, it has a lot of outreach services to help the community and the tuition is half of other schools.

 

“Yep, the school administration is facing criminal charges and bleating that they're the damn victims. They didn't know taking somebody else's money was illegal.”

 

“Oh please, they're not that damn stupid. There's a difference between picking up money you found on the street and accepting a huge honking 'donation'.” Marcus snorts. “Yes Grandma, I stopped donations to the school until the entire administration is fired and replaced with honest people. The girl is at St. Jude and donations are pouring in from people who heard the story, she's got a match and should have the transfusion in a month. That's one of the reasons why the fools are refusing to return the money, figuring she doesn't need it now.”

 

La Belle frowns at him. “Yes, the hospital swore up down and sideways before they didn't have the room for her, I guess the bad publicity made them change their mind. I can understand their reasoning, the hospital is supported by donations and you can't help everybody if you don't have the resources.”

 

“And any other hospital would be saying no insurance, no treatment even though they're not supposed to?”

 

“Yeah, the girl's already got a lot of hospital bills that are slowly being either paid off by donations or being forgiven. Even though the money guys at the hospitals are probably gibbering in a corner at the thought of hospital bills being forgiven.” La Belle snorts, remembering the medical bills she had to pay after her 'beloved' uncle had canceled her health insurance. Marcus and Marigold snicker but nod.

 

La Belle claps and laughs as the news that night shows the president of that school being led off in handcuffs along with his 'darling' friend that had stolen all that money. The school had had enough and sent the entire administration packing before they brought the school down around their ears. Also under arrest was the owner of the construction company who'd been hired for the new buildings, he was being charged with laundering money by padding all his estimates and using 'ill-gotten' money to buy supplies for his other projects, the money from the other projects going to buy supplies and pay his workers on the school's project.

 

“But I didn't think anybody would be hurt.” The former president wails in the courtroom. “Yes, I knew that money wasn't his and it belonged to that girl and her mother, but she's getting her bone marrow transplant now. . .so no harm, no foul. She should be honored to get a plaque as a major donor.”

 

The court of public opinion doesn't agree with him and he's tossed in a cell after he has to personally work in that same area where she had worked to make that money, but as a prisoner instead of a free worker. The difference involves no private room for him and at least two hot meals a day. Sharing a dorm room with at least fifteen other men and two pills a day that give you all your nutrition needs. By the time he's done paying off all that money he's lost at least forty pounds and his friend is stunned to see how haggard he looks when he walks past him to start his own repayment plan. His former coworkers laugh at him as he walks past them. “Miserable bastard, was stealing from the people who come here to make their lives better worth it? She was working years to make the money so her daughter could have a bone marrow transplant and to try to pay off all her medical bills and you stole it because you're a miserable sack of shit who wanted to swoop in and make a name for himself by donating so much money to a school.”

 

“But giving the school all that money would get me my name out in the spotlight. Saving one worthless little girl wouldn't. . .who the fuck cares about her. If the stupid broad can't have another worthless kid, so what?” He tries to bluster and is knocked upside the head by one of the guards. “They're both worth a thousand of you, how many other people did you steal from?”

 

“All of them. . .I took a little money here and a little money there, nobody would complain about them missing any money. Miserable bastards owed it to me for making me check their damn records all the time.”

 

“Yes moron, they wanted to know how much money they had towards either their judgments or how much they'd put towards their goal. As for bothering you? That was your damn job.”

 

“ohhhhh. . .yeah.” he slumps.

 

“Fucking moron.” his former boss snorts. He's tossed into one of the bunk rooms and immediately starts complaining. “No, you don't get a damn employee apartment, you're not an employee anymore. You don't get a private room, those are for people who come here of their own volition to make money, not here because they have a fucking big judgment they'd never pay off otherwise.”

 

Tony leans in La Belle's lab, waving a familiar envelope. “Yep, it's another patent in your name. The testing group agrees with you.”

 

 

“Go fuck yourself with a damn bazooka you goddamn moron.” La Belle snarls a few days later. “No, I don't owe him a goddamn dime.” She continues to harangue the person on the other end before angrily ending the call. “Guys, listen up?” She says as she goes out into the hallway. The others in her area aren't even pretending they weren't listening. “That fucking fool who destroyed our computers is threatening to sue for my latest research. . .weeeeelllllllll yyyyyyeeessssssss, he did destroy your computer and copies of your previous research. . .weeeeellllllllll yyyyyyyyeeeeessssss, he was in jail when you developed that. ..but couldn't he have done something to get a piece of the patent? He owes everybody so much money his lawyer blubbered.”

 

“Awwww hell.” One of the other researchers mutters.

 

“JARVIS?” The head of their section asks.

 

“I have alerted Sir to this development, he is . . .swearing. As as legal.” JARVIS says. “No doubt this is a very junior lawyer in the group trying to get something for his client. He just saw Ms. Sanders had a new patent and going by the lies that Stark had stolen their research thought that he might be able to insinuate he had something to do with it.”

 

“Why the hell doesn't the government ship the fools off to that other dimension like they did the damn fools who stole that money from the woman who was there to get money for her daughter's bone marrow transplant? Dear god, there's not anyplace they can goddamn go there.” One of the women in the hallway snorts.

 

“And that way they actually go to prison instead of being in a jail cell for years. Because it will take centuries to pay off their judgments they way they're going. This way the judgments are paid off and the money from their jobs is going for their upkeep.”

 

“And why the hell didn't anybody think of that?” A man asks is disgust when he's been reminded of that option. “This way they can get out of those damn cells and in prison where they belong. The jail is having to ship prisoners elsewhere and pay for their upkeep there since they don't have the room.”

 

Marigold is tapping her foot in annoyance as she waits for the man at the gate at the NewYork house to stop snickering. “Jessy told us she figured you'd be arriving soon.” he opens the gate. “Park with the other vehicles. . . yes, everybody parks here, there's no roads to the apartment buildings and houses. Everybody gets around by golf cart.”

 

She gets in the golf cart and is driven to a home on the grounds by the young woman. She looks at the building and nods, she can see the shimmer that means the building is bigger on the inside.

 

“Jessy, your aunt Marigold is here.” she calls.

 

“In the bathroom, I'll be out in a minute.”

 

Marigold looks around the house, seeing the touches that make it a home. She turns when she feels eyes on her, seeing familiars all lined up and staring at her.

 

 

 

La Belle walks into the first floor of her warehouse, petting one of the kittens and checking the food and water dishes. Pet beds are scattered all over the floor and a couple of old couches had been brought into the area for the cats to lounge on. Like they'd said, they adopted pregnant cats and nursing mothers as well as an assortment of other cats who had all been set up in the other warehouses. Cartons of canned cat food and containers of litter are everywhere and at least one person is in every building daily petting the cats, checking food and water, scooping the litter boxes, and making plans for the buildings.

 

Marigold is talking an indoor growing area for over the winter months, hydroponics as well as pots with plants. La Belle makes notes to put out plants for the cats and heads up the stairs to her apartment. Maddy is in the hallway and she helps her move a barrel of lye from the room the boys set up for her into her workroom. She'll portion it out into smaller containers once she opens it.

 

“Okay, did you ever go to that dimension?” Maddy asks La Belle. She knows her friend.

 

“Yeah, I did. Twice. Once the summer after I got out of high school, and again before I came out to Manhattan to intern at Stark's.”

 

“Yes, I'd noticed your savings account took a good sized leap both times.” Marigold says dryly as she walks into Maddy's workroom. “Did you get your order?”

 

“Yeah, the boys brought the boxes in when the truck delivered them.” It had been a rather large order of supplies to wrap and label her soaps as well as new molds. A triple order of wrapping supplies since she was selling them now.

 

“La Belle?”

 

“I got everything I needed our last visit to the supplier.” Marigold nods in satisfaction. “We need to talk about the money from your father's death dear.”

 

“Is there much money?” She knows it had been put in a trust to keep it from her mother from running through it, but really. “Wasn't he just a low-level employee who was killed on the job because he was goofing around? That's what she always told me.”

 

“Dear god child. . .no! Your father was a researcher just like you are and had a dozen patents to his name with several more in the process of being granted when he died. Yes, he was killed in a workplace accident, but it wasn't anything wrong on his part. It was an accident in another lab. . .fifteen other people were killed that day. . .not just your father. The money from his patents are still coming in. There's currently. . .oh god, I haven't got the latest bank records yet but I want to say over fifteen billion dollars in the account between the patents, the life insurance that paid double because it was an accident, the social security survivor benefits until you turned eighteen, the settlement from the business, and your father's bank account.”

 

Maddy shoves a seat under La Belle as her knees wobble.

 

“Fifteen billion dollars? Billion with a B?”

 

“Oh at least. . .that was several years ago.” Marigold says absently. “Your father's bosses tried stealing his patents but I put the hurt to them, they blubbered they didn't know he had a child and that you would inherit them. Just like they tried to grab his life insurance. The courts didn't agree with them and put them in prison, the company was folded into. . .” Marigold's voice trails off and she starts chuckling. “Hell, I want to say Stark owns it now. Hammer tried getting it, Stark isn't the first company he's tried taking over. I swear that's how he and your mother got together, the only good thing that happened from that was you.” She grabs her phone.

 

“Jasper Horrington.”

 

“Jasper, it's Marigold. I'm here with La Belle, James Sanders daughter. Two questions, well three. How much money is in the trust, who owns the business now, and how much of his patents does she own?”

 

“In order, twenty-one billion and still growing. Everything is invested and making money hand over fist. Second, I'll have to look up the chain but Stark currently owns the business, it's gone through a number of other owners over the years. And three, she owns them outright, the courts were not happy with them trying to steal them from her and they lost their half of the patent, the court ordered all the patents inspected and found out they'd been dipping into their employee's side of the patent. They lost all rights their employees patents when the court found that out and they spent decades in the work dimension to pay back all the money they'd stolen. People are still trying to claim they own all the work if they work for them but courts are slapping down those clauses right and left. I'm surprised the young lady hasn't been in contact by now to talk about her inheritance.”

 

“It seems that her mother told her her father had a low level job and was killed while goofing off on the job, she had no idea how much money she would be coming into. With her being so young when he died, she wouldn't have known any difference.”

 

“I don't know what the hell happened to that woman. She used to have some damn brains.” Jasper sighs.

 

“I'd say they rotted from some of the drinking she used to do.” Marigold snorts. “That's why she had no idea who the father of the second girl was.”

 

La Belle sighs as she looks at Tony the next morning. “I just found out my father was a researcher like I am and not a low level employee who was killed on the job because he was goofing off like my mother told me whenever she talked about my father.”

 

“I wondered if Jackson was your father, but you never said anything. Even after I asked if you'd gotten social security survivor benefits from his death and you said it had gone into a fund Marigold looks over.” he chuckles. “I take it you also found out how many patents you own from your father?”

 

“Not everything, I've got an appointment this weekend to talk with Mr. Horrington about the trust. Right now, it's still not real. Though I do know you own the company my father used to work for”

 

“Yes, it went through a number of hands after the owners went to prison for dipping into their employees half of the money coming in from their patents.”

 

“Jackson?” She looks at Mr. Stark.

 

“His father's name was James, his grandfather's name was James, his grandfather's grandfather's name was James, he had two uncles named James, three cousins named James. . .well, you get the idea. Everybody in the family went by nicknames to know which one they meant when they said James. His father went by Jack so. . .”

 

“He was Jack's son?”

 

“Yeah, I mentored him through school. I know Hammer was trying to take over the business.”

 

“Mom says that. And that was probably how they got together and that the only good thing that happened was me.” Mr. Stark and Pepper nod firmly.

 

 

 

 

 

“Mom, look this over?” La Belle says a couple days later. “It's the report on the stock certificates we found in that file.” She hands over the envelope. “From what I was able to make out they're all in businesses that have split and . . .” she waves a hand. “Mom should have been making good money off them, they're trying to find out why she wasn't getting the dividends? And who was getting them.”

 

Marigold takes the envelope and begins to read. “I didn't like your mother, but I didn't want her to be stolen from.” She says quietly.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yes, I don't know why she wasn't reissued stock in the new corporations.” the man from the bankruptcy court says on a phone call to Marigold. “I've been in touch with the companies and they're looking into the old records, they agree the certificates are real. . .they're trying to figure out where the mix-up happened. Sometimes this happens, somebody buys the old stock and puts them aside or they're found in grandma and grandpa's belongings. The good thing is nobody stole her money, they just never sent out the dividends because they didn't know about these stocks. La Belle will be getting some very sizable checks for all the back dividends.”

 

In mid-June La Belle walks into the warehouse to find a growing area being put together on the second floor. She shakes her head but knows the fresh fruit and veggies will be good this winter. The greenhouse had gone up between two of the warehouses and a garden had been planted.. Marigold looks over at the noise from the doorway and chuckles. “The ones in the other buildings are just as big, if not bigger. We'll be able to have things coming in ripe nearly all the time.”

 

La Belle hands a letter to Marigold. “Does this say what I think it does? My stupid uncle bribed the guy over my mom's stocks not to issue her the new ones?”

 

“Yeeesssss,” she says in disgust. “Why the hell did he do that?”

 

“Probably to prove he was sssssoooooo much better than his siblings.” La Belle drawls. “Miserable bastard tried getting his name on my savings account after he lost the lawsuit to be reimbursed for my medical bills but he had never been over the account and wasn't my legal guardian so he couldn't. Because I know damn good and well the money would have went into his wallet whether it was legal or not.” Everybody around her nods. “The moron is blubbering that he didn't know what was going on wasn't legal. . .”

 

“Oh buffalo crap. He knew the woman was alive, if she was dead the stocks would have been reissued in somebody else's name just like all the stocks in the estates are being reissued in your name..” Marcus snorts. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”

 

“Yes, all his customer's accounts are now being investigated. He's wailing he thought this was just a family matter. . .he didn't know she wouldn't be getting any dividends without new stock certificates.”

 

“Again, buffalo crap.” Marcus snorts. “They know damn good and well if there's no stock certificates, there's no money.”

 

“Oh yes, the old fool is facing serious charges for financial malfeasance. Not theft, there wasn't any money being taken from her account. . .nothing was just coming in. I doubt Mom ever realized what was going on, that was during the time she was drinking heavily. I'm surprised Noelle wasn't born with fetal alcohol syndrome.”

 

“Your mother got sober when she realized she was pregnant.” Marigold says. “That's one of the reasons why she set her future on your sister, if she had to get sober so she'd be born healthy the girl better take care of her her entire life. Your uncle would no doubt blubber he was just trying to protect her, she was actually spending her own money.”

 

“And instead she was spending his.” La Belle snorts. “Either way crooked is crooked. Like I said before, once I got the hell away from the family I realized what a toxic bunch they really were.”

 

A couple weeks later a thick envelope of new stock certificates and a number of checks for the back dividends arrives registered mail, Marigold signing for it since La Belle's off on another run for Stark. She arrives home a couple days later and looks at the mail piled on her coffee table, opening the envelope first so she can sign the back of the checks and deposit them. Putting them in her purse she goes through the rest of the mail. The last report from the probate court about the estates is in the mail and she nods, it's all everything she'd been told it would be.

 

She slides into a steaming hot tub of water to relax enough to get some sleep, these long runs make her tired but she's still wound up so she can't go right to sleep. Dressing in a light nightgown she walks into her bedroom and slides under the sheet.

 

A brisk knocking on her door has her wobbling to the security panel and unlocking the door. Marigold comes into the apartment and snickers as she hears the sound of the toilet flushing.

 

“Sleeping jag?”

 

“Yeah, I don't know why I'm so damn tired after I get home. Lord knows the runs themselves aren't that damn long, I guess it's because I know I'm home and I can relax and sleep.” Marigold nods and walks to the refrigerator to make her some breakfast. She's added a few other items to the scrambled eggs by the time La Belle comes out of the bedroom dressed in a light shirt and a pair of shorts.

 

“How is the garden coming?”

 

“Good, it should be starting to ripen in a few weeks.” She nods in satisfaction as La Belle eats everything, including her first dose of the pills. La Belle stretches and yawns and waves Marigold off to scrape her breakfast dishes, put everything in the dishwasher, and start it running.

 

“You need to get groceries.”

 

“Yeah, I was going to go as soon as I check the ads. No matter how much some old fools wail, I'm still going to buy stuff on sale and use coupons even if I can afford to pay full price.”

 

“Old fools need to be beaten.” Marigold snorts. “Warehouse store?”

 

“Stocked up on stuff there before I went on the run.”

 

“You need a larger freezer.”

 

“The boys are bringing three up in a couple weeks. After they finish putting up another drying area for Maddy.”

 

“Three?” She sighs.

 

“It was that or they build a walk in freezer.” La Belle snorts. “They went on sale and they'd be cheaper so they went that way instead, One against the wall and the other two on either side with an open space in the middle like the letter U.”

 

Marigold looks up at the ceiling and sighs. La Belle sniggers. “Though I heard something I couldn't be right about? A stasis unit?”

 

“Yes, they exist and not they don't work like in the science fiction shows and can freeze a person. But they can be used to keep fruits, vegetables, and other food from rotting. I have one at the house. I'm sure they'll be putting one in one of the other warehouses for what we're going to be growing. As well as a walk-in freezer.”

 

La Belle is looking through her mail and stiffens as she opens a thick envelope. “Uhhh.”

 

Marigold looks at the address and sighs. “I know what this is.” She says. “Jessy's father could have given your uncle a run for his money on being a crook. When he died Jessy only inherited a hundred million dollars, he'd started 'diversifying' his estate a couple years before when he started being investigated by the FBI. Rupert and I wondered if that was one of the reasons Laura killed him because it was taking away from her shopping funds. Anyway, several years after he died somebody got into contact with Jessy about his investments.”

 

“If they were legal they'd have been found when he died?” La Belle drawls as she pulls on shoes and socks and grabs her purse.

 

“Exactly. Rupert and I got to talking and we think somebody was using his money to launder money just like that construction company.” La Belle nods. “Jessy's been getting 'disbursements' for years. It's gone from investments in property and businesses to stock.”

 

“Okay, so he 'invested' money and they used it to launder other money, replacing his money in an account and adding interest.”

 

“Yes, Jessy owns major stock in a lot of big-name companies. And as that money is 'cleaned' it's replaced by more dirty money. I'm sure your uncle was looking at this as a way to make himself major money without the authorities knowing.”

 

“Figures.” La Belle snorts.

 

“Are you off?”

 

“Yeah, with the fourth only being a couple days away Mr. Stark decided to give everybody the week off. Things are quiet at Stark, the money is coming in from the fools who wanted our research, they're in prison and still wailing it's not fair. . .if Stark had just shared our research. . .”

 

“Because we're miserable and we want everything handed to us by people who actually work for what they want.” Maddy drawls from the doorway. “William's dropping off the truck for the sale Tuesday and I got a list of what the others want. Is Jessy going to be there?”

 

“Yes, with at least one person from the school.” La Belle says absently. She's looking through a report on her mother's house from the court.

 

“How's it coming?”

 

“Good, Most of the rooms are full all of the time when school is in session. They're doing a brisk job of running a bed and breakfast most of the time since the students the house takes in are adults, quiet, study hard, and have jobs. There's no kids screwing around since they just moved away from home, those students stay on campus in dorms, fraternities, or sororities.” Marigold nods. “They keep this up and even with expenses. . .which includes salaries, supplies, and putting money away for upkeep, putting some money away for profits, and splitting some more away into an account for me they'll still be able to pay the loan off in less than five years.”

 

“Your mother would be having a weeping, wailing, howling fit about that.” Marigold sighs.

 

“Yep instead of thanking god she didn't have that great big mortgage to pay off. And the bankruptcy court was able to make payments directly on the principal every month. The bank's not getting their millions of dollars in interest but they're actually getting paid. . .unlike a lot of the other people owed who were only getting pennies on the dollars in the bankruptcy court. And if they'd taken the monstrosity they wouldn't be getting any money from it.” Mari nods. La Belle heads off and returns home a couple hours later, driving around to the freight elevator and filling the car with bags before parking her car, finding the car already upstairs and the bags being carried into her apartment when she returns. Chuckling she heads to the nearest set of stairs and heads up to her apartment.

 

The fourth finds the family gathered at the warehouses, grills lined up with chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, veggies, and any other food that can be grilled. The gate opens and Mr. Stark, Ms. Potts, and a few minutes later a yawning Jessy park.

 

“Ms. Michaels?” Tony looks at her.

 

“Aunt Marigold is an old family friend.” She waves a hand. “I was invited since Maddy, La Belle, and I had gone to a sale at the supplier a couple days ago.”

 

“Doesn't your workplace here. . .?”

 

“They'll be grilling tomorrow. The businesses are closed but the local town has a sale and they'll be covering the tables. Since a portion of the sales always goes to charity nobody minds. It's one day and we'll watch the fireworks tonight.” She grabs a plate and fills it at the grills and table of food then sits down. “Did you look over that information on the looms?”

 

“Yes, and. . .”

 

Jessy sniggers and waves a hand. “I can make a trip out if you want. Natalie. . .Baxter's sister though she hasn't recognized me yet.” She tells Marigold who chuckles. “Looked at everything and made a disgusted sound that they didn't get half of what they wanted so we're making another trip out Friday. We already contacted them, they've still got what the school wants and they'll give it to us at the sale prices. I'll pick everything up for you then.”

 

“Thank you Jessy.”

 

A couple days later Jessy drives through the open gates, going around to the side of the building where the freight elevator is located and the men waiting on her unloads everything. She moves her truck as another vehicle arrives and she chuckles as she recognizes what's being unloaded. “That looks familiar.”

 

“You grow your own food?” Maddy grins.

 

“Oh yes, we've had hydroponics at the New York House as soon as it was opened, same as Denver and Las Vegas. Las Vegas's is actually two, one that just supplies food for the house and a second that sells to area restaurants since you can't really grow in the desert. Miami's has had the technology since it became commercially available, we grow our own food and we have a commercial farm with a hydroponics. . .we brought it since it would have gone out of business otherwise and it supplies a lot of fresh fruits and veggies to underprivileged in the area. We also have a number of businesses in Miami that grow hydroponically and sell to restaurants in the area.” Marigold nods in satisfaction. “We've got greenhouses and a garden at all the houses.”

 

“Do you save water?”

 

“Yep, with the damn hurricanes we can fill the underground tank and water all winter and through the spring. Every building has gutters that either lead to the tank or stand-alone rain barrels.”

 

“Rain barrels and gutters.” Marigold looks at the roofs and sighs. “Nope, the roofs are flat. They're pitched to shed water, but not enough to need gutters.”

 

“Solar panels or rooftop growing or sitting areas.” Jessy says absently.

 

Marigold looks at her and grins. “Perfect.”

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

“Everybody, listen up.” Tony Stark's voice says over the intercom. “The weather service is reporting a bad winter storm coming in, unless you got something you're working on that will blow up. . .finish up what you're doing and head off. Stark is officially closed until the storm blows through. If you are in the middle of something. . .sound off so we know to keep an eye on your labs.”

 

“La Belle?” The unofficial head of her section asks as he goes around the labs.

 

“Gimme five more minutes. I'm at the very end of a stage and. . .yes.. . I've got a positive reaction. JARVIS, tell the boss I have another project for the testing group when we reopen.” She says, scribbling down some notes for a full report later.

 

“I will Ms. Sanders, now you should hurry off. The subways will be shutting down soon.”

 

“Mom already called and told me she'd pick me up. She hates me taking the subway and train but she agrees traffic in Manhattan is hell on the best of days.” Her 'boss' sniggers, agreeing. “They're at the warehouse double checking to see if any of us need to join the mad rush for eggs, bread, and milk before the storm. And the answer is no, I have plenty of everything I need.”

 

Marigold waves an arm and La Belle weaves her way to the car.

 

“Jeez, this wind's going to raise hell with the lines.” she mutters as she shuts the door and puts her seat belt on.

 

“Yes, they're already predicting outages.”

 

La Belle looks at her. “Yes, you have the box we've been talking about. . .the other cats have plenty of food and water and it should only be a day. Their warehouses have the boxes too and we have enough set up for a week. . .hopefully it won't take that long before somebody can get out to check on them.”

 

It's already turning colder when Mari lets La Belle off at her warehouse and she heads home. In her building La Belle checks the heat and adds extra food and water to the cats dishes,bundling up to check on the others before heading up to her apartment where she turns on the extra heaters and looks out the window. The power had already gone off thanks to the wind and her lights are the only lights she can see for blocks around. She snorts.. . .even with power her lights would be the only ones for blocks around.

 

The next morning the power is still out according to the radio she's got on as she wipes out her breakfast dishes, putting them in the dish rack to drip dry. Putting on her warmest clothes she goes downstairs, checking on her building's cats then making her way outside to check on the other buildings and then back into her building.

 

“You went outside, didn't you?” says Mari's amused voice when she answers her phone.

 

“Wanted to make sure everybody was okay. And the cats just gave me dumbass looks, it's moderately warm, they have food and water. I'll go out in a couple days and clean the litter boxes.”

 

“Stay warm and stay safe. They're saying the cold will stay on for days.”

 

“I'm not going that far and I'll be in a heated building multiple times. Ohhhh, if Alexander is anywhere nearby, tell him that thing he'd been fussing about turned from a red light to a green light.”

 

“Good, I was wondering how long it would take.” Marigold talks to her heartdaughter a few minutes longer and then walks into the family room. “Alexander, La Belle says the light went from red to green.”

 

“Good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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