Bitter Truth is the last, third, and final story in the fourth trilogy. It takes place two months after Force of Impact, and roughly one year and three months after Unwound Future. It is the last story in the Brittney Earnhardt/Jeanne Descole saga.
Two months after Force of Impact, Jeanne is clinging to life as she knows it, because of an unknown disease. Her unknown-as-of-yet sister, Jean, and Raymond are trying everything they can to save her, but it looks like time may be up for Nicole...
Meanwhile, Broneph Reinel is endlessly trying to "dig up dirt" on Jeanne. He believes that if he finds more information on her, she just might lead him straight to Jean.
Brittney has a feeling that Reinel didn't tell her everything, so she sneaks into his office one night...
Chapter 1 -- ???Edit
"Are you quite alright?" I asked through my surgical mask. "Is there anything else you need, Sis?"
"No, I'm fine," she said, pausing only from scribbling something in that diary of hers to cough. "But a glass of water would be nice."
Her so-called "common cold" had quickly progressed into a violent, unforgiving virus that beared no name. It had bedridden Nicole, so much to the point that Jean, Raymond, and I catered to her every need, every second of the day. Out of fear of contamination, we stayed outside her room and waited in the hallway, and I was the only one allowed in there, wearing a surgical mask, of course.
I exited and returned quickly with her water, and gave it to her. "Here."
"Thanks, Audio." She took a sip and set it aside. Her little pet name almost brought tears to my eyes.
I took my mask off once I left her bedroom. "Are you sure we can't take her to the hospital?" I asked nervously, obviously concerned for my sister's health.
"Positive. Several people know who we are, and our reputations wouldn't get us past the front door," replied Jean.
"Then I'll take her," I volunteered.
"That won't work, either. What if one of Earnhardt's accomplices saw you?"
"Goddammit!" I cursed. "She doesn't have any that I know of, but that doesn't mean we can just leave her here! We have to do something."
"I'm not sure what we can do."
I racked my brain for ideas of possibilities, but came up with nothing.
"I'll go to the hospital to ask about her condition, without taking her in," I said. "I'll fake her symptoms if I have to."
"There's no one else to rely on. Let me do what I can. You have to trust me."
I peeked through the door nervously at Nicole, who had fallen asleep, pen in hand. I looked at Jean. My expression said courageous words, but my eyes spoke something different. He looked at me, sitting with his hands clasped together, looking as if there were nothing we could do. He was right. There really was nothing we could do.
Chapter 2 -- BronephEdit
I furiously flipped my way through the files, searching for any information on the woman as I could find.
"Hmph. These are no good," I said, shoving the folders aside.
I desperately needed to find a connection from Sonatta to the outside world, something besides the usual traits and descriptions, because if I could find her, I would find Descole. Then again, it was my fault to let her slip from my grasp in the first place.
I happened across a list of relatives that I almost tore up, but then decided to look at it, regardless.
I traced my finger down the paper. "Mother: deceased, father: deceased..."
And then, for the love of God, one that wasn't dead.
"Would you look at that? She has a sister," I said. "And she's alive. Name: Lan--"
I was interrupted when my office door opened. "Here's the other files you requested, sir."
These records weren't dealing with Sonatta, at least, not directly. They confirmed what I had initially thought: the whole of Targent had no interaction or contact with the SIS five years ago. I was off the hook. Well, at least for now.
Chapter 3 -- BrittneyEdit
"This can't be everything, can it?" I asked myself, looking through the only file Reinel had given me, when Hershel spoke up.
"Jeanne may have led a very sheltered life," he suggested.
I thought he was kidding.
"I highly doubt it. I don't think she'd go an entire day just keeping to herself."
"Well, you can always ask Broneph."
I scoffed. "Have you met the guy? He'd rather willingly let Descole go than give me information I'm probably not supposed to know." And then I thought about it for a moment. "Well, I could try."
Although that was not at all what I had in mind.
"Well, we can discuss this in the morning," he said, heading to bed. "Good night."
"Good night, dear."
I must have a knack for tip-toeing or something, because I managed to leave the house silently, and Hershel didn't even notice.
I knew it was going to be risky doing this at night, because the building was so well-guarded at this time of the day. I had been waiting and planning to infiltrate, but I never had a reason to. But now I did. I knew where the entrances were, and I knew exactly where the guards were usually stationed, which is where I figured they were stationed now. I was right.
Crawling through the silver maze, I managed to find the control room.
I dropped through the abnormally large air vent in the ceiling, probably because it was a large room, and I must admit I've always wanted to do that.
I managed to dismantle the security cameras in Broneph's office, but I knew it was only a matter of time before somebody discovered there was a breech in the system. I estimated that I had about six minutes to get in, get out, and get home.
Where would he keep those files? I thought. Probably locked up somewhere.
I knelt down and groped for each drawer handle, and pulled on each one. Nothing in the first one, and a ring of keys for God knows what in the second drawer.
Well, whaddaya know? The third one's locked. I wonder why? I thought sarcastically. Well, let's try those keys and see if one works.
You know, trying a ring of thirteen keys on a drawer with a time limit of less than three minutes in the dark using only a small flashlight and trying to be completely silent isn't easy. Or fun, for that matter.
Lovely. A folder full of papers and such. With the name 'Jeanne Descole' on it. Lovely.
I could hear the faint sound of a siren starting up, and decided it was time to go.
Chapter 4 -- ???Edit
I walked to the front desk of the hospital.
"Name?" the head nurse asked.
"Oh, I'm not the patient, I'm here to see about my sister," I explained.
"If you're not here for you, then I'll have to ask you to leave."
"But, you don't understand! My sister is very, very sick, and she didn't want to see a doctor."
She sighed. "Alright. What's wrong with her?"
"Well, she has a very violent cough, she's got a high fever, and sometimes she complains of chest pain."
"It sounds like she's got pneumonia," the nurse said.
"So, how do we help her?"
"We'll try to give her some antibiotics, but it's hard to know what type to give her, as we don't know the severity of her condition."
"Please," I begged. "Try anything, anything at all."
"We will. Come back in an hour and I'll have some test antibiotics to try, alright?"
I did as I was told, and in about an hour, the nurse had some pills ready.
"Have her take one every eight hours with a full glass of water," she instructed.
"Thank you," I said, and headed back to Jean's mansion.
Chapter 5 -- BrittneyEdit
The phone rang before I could look at the file I had salvaged last night. Hershel, surprisingly, didn't ask any questions, mainly because he didn't see the file. I purposely hid it from his view, but of course, I'm not proud of that.
"Hey, Britt," said Audrey.
"What's wrong? You don't sound...happy."
"Oh, it's nothing, Lane. Just a long night." Lane was my nickname for her. Long story.
"Oh, ok. Well, I didn't find any more information on Nicole. Sorry."
I took a moment to flip through the folder, and discovered one specific line circled many times in yellow Hi-Liter. I would've gasped if I hadn't remembered I was on the phone.
"Um, I have to go, Audrey. Sorry," I apologised.
"Really? Ok, then--"
I hung up the phone, still keeping my eyes on the paper. Jeanne has a sister. A living one. A thirty-seven-year-old one. You wouldn't believe her name if I told you.
Chapter 6 -- JeanEdit
Nicole was slipping in and out of consciousness, writing while she was awake, her sister wasn't back yet, and Raymond was God knows where, so I had a lot of time to think.
I remember the day like it was yesterday.
She was standing out on the balcony on a cool autumn night, simply gazing at the picturesque view of the stars dancing on the surface of the Thames with the clock tower in the distance, though it was so far away, it was almost undetectable. A soft breeze blew through her hair gently.
She looked so...perfect, yet so different. Different than what she looked like yesterday, and different than when I first met her, all those years ago. She had changed so much, and she had changed so little.
It was one of those rare times she wasn't wearing her gloves, nor her navy blue overcoat, exposing her tiny tank-top. Her lacy black bra contrasted heavily to the thin, white, see-through fabric.
Does she do that on purpose? I thought. She must. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it.
Her shoulders were shaking almost imperceptibly from the chill of the air, but I knew she wouldn't accept any of my offers to keep her warm.
I had worked up the nerve to join her out there. I had spent the last four years working up the nerve. I opened the massive French doors silently, came up behind her, and put my arms around her waist. She placed her palms on the backs of my hands, but I wasn't sure as to exactly why, whether it was because she wanted to or needed to, preventing me from doing as I pleased.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" she said.
"Yes, you are."
She blushed. "I meant the view."
"Oh. That too."
She sighed. "Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world?" she asked. "The cultures, the food, the people...I think it'd be neat."
"But, you've already traveled abroad to America before," I pointed out. "Hell, you were born there."
"I know, but somewhere other than that. I think Japan would be nice. Or Australia," she said. "I'm even fluent in Spanish, too...Have you ever wanted to do something like that?"
I thought long and hard about how to answer that. It was the nervousness that was going to destroy me.
"Yes. Yes, I have," I answered at last.
"What was it?"
Well, now would be a perfect time, I told myself. I pulled away from her gently and dropped to one knee.
"This," I said. "This is what I wanted to do." I smiled. "Will you?"
Her hand covered her mouth instantly out of shock. After a few seconds, she said, "Why, you handsome devil, you! I thought you'd never ask!"
"So, it's a yes, then."
"Of course it is!"
I stood up, and after placing the ring on her thin, fragile, un-gloved hand, I wrapped my arms around her. After a few moments, she broke the embrace. Giggling, she took me by the wrist and led me inside to celebrate.
My fantasies were disrupted by a crude thought: She may never live to her 'wedding' day.
I had already lost someone--no, two people--who were very close to me, and I wasn't about to let it happen again.
Chapter 7 -- AudreyEdit
I had tried not to pry into what made her hang up so early from our conversation, but the curiosity was eating me alive, so I decided to call her and check up on her. Something bad may have happened for all I knew.
Layton picked up the phone, and I said hello. "Oh, hello Audrey. What do you need?"
"Well, I need to talk to Brittney."
"I think she's in her office," he said. "Just one moment."
"Brittney?" I asked. "You alright?"
"Yeah. Why would you ask that?"
"You sounded like something went wrong when you hung up yesterday," I said.
"You're right. Something was very wrong," she said. "But not with me, you see."
"What're you talking about?" I asked.
"I managed to salvage a file from Reinel's office," she began. "It's information on Sonatta."
"And guess who's name I found under 'Relatives' that are still living?"
"Do I have to guess wildly?"
"I am feeling rather generous today, so I'll just tell you," she said sarcastically. "It's you."
"Well, then they must have me confused with someone else," I said.
"Yeah, sure. Do you really think a very high-grade secret agency would mess up on their file organisation, simply because it was in the wrong spot?"
I sighed. "You can't stop being related to someone unless you kill them," I said. "And I would never kill my own sister."
"How is your relation even possible? You never spoke of a sister when we were kids! And more importantly, did you assist her with anything? Such as, oh, I don't know, kidnapping me?!"
"Well, it turns out my family is more messed up than yours," I began. "Little did you know, a year before I came along, my mother and her husband had Nicole, my half-sister, I guess you could say. But, for some unknown reason, my mother lost interest in her husband, and had an affair with a guy half her age. I was the product of that relationship."
"Well, then how come I never saw your dad when we were younger? And does that mean she lied to me about her true nationality?" she asked.
"First of all, my dad always had to work somewhere overseas. Mostly in London, I think. Nicole was living with her father a few cities away in L.A.," I explained. "I only heard about her when I came home from London, while you were still there. And second of all, of course she did! Why would she ever tell you the truth?
"I never even helped her with anything," I continued. "Well, I take that back. I was by her bedside when she was shot, so I became as determined as she was to put who ever did that to her behind bars. I'm only helping her now to get better."
I heard her sigh. "Well, we still haven't figured out who was responsible for my car crash."
The temperature in the room suddenly got hotter, and I felt blood rush to my face. I laughed nervously and pulled at my shirt. "Yeah, about that..."
"No... YOU CAUSED MY CAR CRASH?!" she yelled.
"I only did it to protect my sister!" I said.
"How the hell would nearly KILLING your friend help your sister?!"
"When you asked me about Nicole, I knew something must have went terribly, terribly wrong with her disguise," I said. "No one was supposed to know who she was!"
"So, you thought to yourself, 'The only way I'm going to save my sister is to kill my best friend since she's asking too many questions,' and yet that backfired because, whaddaya know, I'M STILL HERE!!" I imagined the vein in her temple was pulsating again.
"You don't understand!" I cried.
"Oh, yes I do! I understand perfectly!"
"There was nothing else I could do! Just like now, there's nothing I can do!" I said.
She seemed to calm down a bit. "What do you mean by that?"
"She has pneumonia," I said. "She'll die if she doesn't get help immediately."
"What about antibiotics?"
"The nurse at the hospital said that they might not be the right ones, just because the doctors don't know the 'severity of her condition,' " I said. "And they don't seem to be helping, anyway."
"It takes time for them to work," she explained. "If she can't go to the doctor, bring the doctor to her. I'm sure we can bargain a house call."
"They still do those?" I asked.
"Hey, we have to try something. It's worth a shot."
I started to say I was sorry, but then I thought, She's probably still going to be mad at me, anyway, so I hung up without even saying goodbye.
Chapter 8 -- JeanEdit
I stood out in the den while some doctor was in my fiancée's room. First of all, the doctor was male, which brought me to my second point: I should be the only man allowed in her room, but I had no other choice.
"Why the hell did you have to bring Earnhardt into this?" I asked Audrey.
"She was the only one I could talk to about this, alright? She's not even here right now, so quit complaining."
I must say that I don't quite like being told to shut up by a woman.
The doctor exited her bedroom--though it had long since become ours--and said, "I don't think there's much time left for her."
"What is that supposed to mean?" asked Audrey.
"It would seem that she has bacterial pneumonia, though it has escalated beyond the point of curing. I could try to give her antibiotics, but it will take about two to three days for them to take effect, and by that time..."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you truly saying what I think you're saying?"
"I'm sorry. My condolences," said the doctor, leaving me with an unfortunately broken heart.
Yes, to all you disbelievers out there reading this, I do have a heart.
I went into her bedroom, where she lay pale and disheveled in her broken state, persistently trying to jot something down as she had been doing for the last few days. I didn't even care about the high risk of contamination, I just wanted to see her before she left us.
I knelt by her bed and grasped her hand so tightly my knuckles turned white, only out of fear of losing her. She clutched my hand just as hard. I wasn't going to let her go.
Since I had forbidden her to leave the house--or rather, the virus had--she decided to wear her ring again, without her signature gloves, which glinted faintly in the light.
"How are you doing, dear?" I asked, trying to be strong, but I faltered.
She coughed and put her journal aside. "Not well, I'm afraid. I'm sorry it has to end like this, so soon."
"Don't be sorry," I said. "But, Nicole, I--"
"You'll be alright. I promise you that."
Raymond and Audrey walked in behind me.
She smiled weakly. "Raymond? You take good care of him, alright?"
She turned her head and looked at her sister, who was desperately trying not to cry. "Thank you, for being such a wonderful sister. Even if we didn't see eye to eye sometimes, and even though we didn't live together like a normal family, you were still my best friend."
"No! You can't leave, Nicole!" her sister cried.
She turned back to me. "It seems my work here is finished."
We shared one last kiss, and then she said, "I--I love you."
"I love you, too," I whispered, from lack of spirit to speak any louder.
"One last request, please?" she choked.
"Anything," I said.
"Find out who really shot me."
She drew her last breath and her eyes slowly closed. The grip on my hand released. She was gone.
Her sister knelt down on the floor on the other side of the bed and mourned her loss.
I stood up solemnly and started to walk out of the room.
"Is there anything I can do, Master?" asked Raymond, stopping me.
I shoved my ring in his hand. "Dispose of this. I don't care how, just get rid of it."
"Right away, Master."
I looked around the den. The wine, the money, the memories, all of which were now too unbearable to recall--none of it mattered. Not without her.
Without thinking, I picked up my empty glass--it had been a long day for me--and thrust it towards the wall.
I looked at the shards of broken crystal. It was always my impulsive behaviour that got me in trouble. Or rather, it was our impulsive behaviour that got us in trouble. Her last words echoed over and over again in my mind.
"Find out who really shot me."
How the hell did she know that Reinel didn't shoot her? More importantly, why did she tread too close and ruin her own disguise? My mind was now filling up with questions--like hers once had--all of which I had no answers for.
The entire ordeal seemed so...surreal.
I sat down in my chair with a sigh. She can't be dead, I thought. No...
I glanced at the table, her journal sitting next to the wine bottle. So very easy it was, to drown all my problems, though it never solved anything. Not last time and not now. Luckily I had enough will power not to get wasted. No. I'm not going down that road again, I told myself.
And so I diverted my attention to her diary I had swiped from her room on my way out, and after debating with myself, decided to open it. Leafing through the book, a loose page fell out. I originally thought it to be a page marker, though I noticed it was folded on itself many times.
It was a letter undoubtedly meant for me.
It was written in beautiful, careful handwriting, and addressed 'Jean.' I didn't know why she preferred to call me that than my real name, but I didn't mind.
If you're reading this, which I'm sure you are by now, then it means my time here has quickly reached an unfortunate end. I regret that I couldn't stay with you any longer. The diary I concealed this letter in is yours to keep; it was mine for a long time, and I want you to have it and use it. It harbours my suspicions and information about my 'incident' that may prove helpful. Of course, that's not all that's written in there, but I assure you I've nothing to hide from you.
No matter how hard it may be for you, please, help me answer the questions I have as best you can. Remember how I told you that if I found my assailant, that I could be at ease for the rest of my life? Well, wouldn't you want that for me? I know you would. Look, even now, I'm still asking you questions.
I wish there was a word to describe how much you mean to me; how much I love you, but there isn't. I'll miss you, and I'll never forget you, I promise. Hold onto every memory for dear life and don't let go, alright? Just remember, I'll be with you all the time, everywhere. I will never leave you.
Forever always, my dear, don't you ever forget that.
With all my love,
That killed me. I couldn't handle it; it made the situation ten times more unbearable, and it tore me apart.
Though she had given me permission to read her personal thoughts, it still felt like an invasion of privacy, so I decided to wait. But it was already tempting.
The funeral, thankfully, didn't drag on. I wouldn't have been able to tolerate it if it would have. It wasn't even at a proper burial site or church; it was held in the mansion. I was going to invite Brittney, but I knew that wouldn't be a good idea. Therefore, only seven people attended. Raymond, Deserée, our 'maid', myself, Audrey, Marissa Weldon, a good friend of Nicole's from high school, and Jaime Matherson, who I assumed was an old flame, were all who attended.
We had decency enough to surround the room in flowers, mostly roses--the white ones were her favourite--and an American flag tri-folded out of respect, which was just a touch ironic at a British ceremony. The worst kind of irony, and the bitter truth about all of this.
Epilogue -- BrittneyEdit
When Audrey told me the news over the phone, all I could say was, "I'm sorry." It turns out I was sorry for a lot of things. Sorry I yelled at her. Numerous times. Sorry I wasn't there at the funeral, although I wasn't even invited. Sorry I asked too many questions about Nicole in the first place.
"Do you think she'll ever forgive me?" I asked Hershel, breaking the silence of a mid-afternoon, three days after the funeral.
"I'm sure she will. She's in a state of denial right now. After this is all over, she'll forgive you."
"But I don't think it will ever be over. It never is when you lose someone."
"I meant as in, when she accepts the fact her sister's gone," he said.
I sighed. "I don't think she'll ever accept the fact. I don't know, maybe..." I said. "I'm still amazed that she rammed her car into mine, and yet she stayed by my bedside all those weeks until I came out of my coma."
"It was a crime of sisterly love," said Hershel. "She regretted the choice she made to keep her sister safe, and that's why she stayed with you in the hospital all that time."
I thought about what he said, and then I said, "Hmm...I guess you're right. But, you know, I still can't help but feel sorry for Descole."
"Time heals," he spoke like a near-famous poet. "Time is the only thing that can mend a broken heart."
I smiled. It was true.
Later that evening, my worst fears, unfortunately, came knocking at my door.
"Police, open up!" an officer called. I had no choice but to obey.
"Yes, officer?" I asked.
"On account of the county, I have to search your home, ma'am."
"Where's your warrant?" I asked.
He held up a laminated paper as another officer emerged from the cop car.
Dammit, I thought. "Come on in," I said, stepping aside reluctantly.
Hershel had heard the commotion, and apparently saw the flashing blue lights from the window, so he asked, "What's going on here?"
"I don't know." I shoved my hands in my back jean pockets. "They're searching the house."
"And why would that be?"
I sighed. I couldn't lie anymore. "Because I stole a file on Nicole from Reinel's office."
"I knew he wouldn't give it to me! I had to get it from him another way."
The officer emerged from my office, holding the file in question. He approached me and put metal handcuffs around my wrists, as he read me my Miranda rights.
"Brittney Earnhardt, you are under arrest for a first degree charge of breaking-and-entering, and first degree theft. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law..."
I glanced back at Hershel, who was standing in the front doorway with a look of horror on his face.
"No! You don't understand! I shouldn't be the one getting arrested! It should be Audrey Lancaster! She tried to kill me!" I exclaimed as they finished reading my rights and led me into the car.
"Help me!" I mouthed, and we sped off towards Scotland Yard.
And that's the end of the saga, folks! Well, for now, anyway...
Hope you guys enjoyed it!