Force of Destiny by Per Hampton

Book Two, Sunset & Vine

Veritas numquam perit.

‘The truth never dies’


Dotty Henderson, a working-class orphan from Van Nuys, California, whose murder would trigger the unveiling of one of America’s dirtiest secrets. Castoff innocents born out of illicit affairs of the super-rich. Passion-filled secret lovers from the ranks of chauffeurs, gardeners, mail carriers, and butlers. Smuggled off to an unscrupulous demon of a woman, cleverly disguised as everyone’s favorite elderly, “Aunt Marjorie.” 

Marjorie Rutherford’s home was a quaint little bungalow in Los Feliz. Gray hair, glass frames from the 1950s, a disguised docile, loving demeanor, lots of gray dress suits from the 1940s and ’50s, she possessed a Doctorate in Manipulation. 

A woman with the power to make you love and defend her in defiance of her title, “Queen of Black-Market Babies.” I was one of those fools. 

I wanted to believe her rehearsed lies, even after finding out all that she had done. She held deep, dark, powerful secrets of those that owned half the world.

Dottie Henderson was my mother, one of Aunt Marjorie’s black market babies.

Children sold off to families on the black market. 

Fortune often befriends the forgotten. Cryptic tales have a way of surfacing from the past. There was no such thing as DNA evidence years ago, but today, orphaned heirs, carrying powerful genes, entitled some to lay claims to billions in inheritance. 

My loving mom never lived long enough to realize her true origins, but her vicious and calculated murder will change the destiny of millions. 

A murder that peeled back the dusty pages of deceit and greed. One by one, they rose from the shadows, all two hundred of them. 

A humble waitress at the famous Hollywood Schwab’s Diner, mom was the first known of these black-market babies and the first to be acknowledged as an heir to the most spectacular fortune of them all, the Stanford’s.

Powerful forces never part with money easily. 

With power, murder was never something their kind shied from. It was always considered part of the equation if needed. 

I am my mother’s only descendant and proudly carry the quiet ruthlessness of a corporate raider, twinned with the grit of a street dog in a fight, backed up by my mother’s share of hundreds of billions of dollars. 

It was only a matter of time for someone in my position to come along and shake up the status quo of the global elite. Global elites have wielded crushing power for hundreds of years, with no intention of losing it. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing, will stand in my way. Wars have been started over less. And that is perfectly acceptable to me.

—Britt Henderson-Stanford


Marina del Rey, California, is a small beach community within the confines of Los Angeles. It has the distinction of being the largest man-made small boat harbor in North America. Home to award-winning restaurants and over 5,000 yachts, including the super-yachts of Hollywood Stars. A stone’s throw from Los Angeles International Airport, Malibu, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood.

Located on the small wooden boardwalk was the Marina del Rey café, dockside, about twenty feet to the left of the California Yacht Club’s gated entrance. A small sign hung in the glass door’s center: “Hours of operation 6:00 am–9:00 pm.”

Typical cafe hours of operation, it first customers showed up at 6:05 am, sitting together at a small two-seater table in the front, against the wall. The table gave an unobstructed view of the docks and marina from the large café window. Mellow vibes filled the ambiance with just a hint of volume as Gary BB Colman’s “The Sky is Crying” played in the background, LA’s idea of Sunday gospel.

The only patrons in the café, the couple, were consumed in conversation. Both frequently glancing up and down between their mobile phones and each other.

“The voice scrambler was a stroke of brilliance, baby,” she tells him.

“So was your idea to make the call at 3:00 am with a burner phone.” His hands reached across the table and cupped the face of his companion, pulling her face towards his, leans in and delivers a kiss. His companion takes the back of her right hand and caresses his cheek.

“She’s on the move. The tracking device shows the car is heading in this direction,” she shared.

“Is it suicide when one is driven to the precipice of murder by calculated influence against someone suffering from mental anguish?” I asked myself that last night. He spoke.

“Let’s not get caught up in the micro-macro depths of psychology versus the bigger picture here,” she replied bluntly. “We have a vision and a strategy; Cosima is an obstacle to both.”

Cosima Stanford, a glamorous 61-year-old, emerald-eyed beauty, devoted mother, wife, and advisor to the richest man on the planet, Montague Stanford. A man who has worshiped the ground his wife walked on since laying eyes on her thirty-eight years ago eases from the bed as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb her husband as he soundly slept.

A rare chance for some extra hours of rest. This morning, he was clearly lost in a deep sleep. Cosima headed to the bathroom and began her morning routine, a quick face wash, moisturizer, brushed teeth, combed hair, dressed in her black athletic attire, and headed downstairs to the kitchen for a quick coffee. Standard morning prep for an early run, an exercise she indulged in religiously.

Entering the kitchen doorway, her movement activated motion sensors and the power to the counter lights. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the air. Her eyes immediately dart towards her mobile phone charging on its stand next to the coffeemaker.

“I have to stop this habit of looking at that damn phone first thing in the morning. It is part of this reckless obsession I am feeding.”

The message light was blinking.

Only recently able to shut down the handful of private investigators she’d employed for over a year after the death of their only son, Clay Stanford III. None had yielded any evidence to support her suspicion that they had murdered him.

The official cause had been ruled an accidental death because of acute food poisoning of scombroid, tetrodotoxin (a nerve poison 100 times more potent than curare or strychnine), and saxitoxin (the most fearsome and of the three poisons). Cosima refused to accept her son’s official cause of death; her motherly gut instinct drove her in another direction, murder.

She thought to herself, One last time. Giving in to the urge as a wave of intense anxiety gripped her as she walked towards the phone. This could be it.

Hesitating before picking up the mobile phone, she quickly glanced towards the doorway, making sure she had not wakened Montague. God, I have put him through so much. I promised him I would stop all of this. As her trembling finger pressed the speed dial number for voicemail on the mobile phone.

“You have one message, received at 3:03 am. Press one to listen to your messages.”

Both hands now shaking, she pressed the number to play her messages. The voice on the message spoke, “The Psychics were right, and I know who killed your son. He is in Marina del Rey on boat dock Twelve at the California Yacht Club. The boat’s name is Killer Fish. It looked brand new.”

Cosima’s heart visibly pounded in her chest. She stumbled to the side of the counter, grabbed onto the edge of the white marbled counter for balance. Sliding her body slowly to the sink and braced her outstretched arms, locked her elbows, and leaned forward, heaving as an uncontrollable urge to vomit overtook her. The phone lay on the counter, dropped from her hands as it continued to play to the end.

I need to keep my composure. God forbid Montague hears me. Inhaling several deep breaths, she redialed the voicemail and continued to listen,

“He won’t be there long; he is leaving for the South Pacific today. Move fast, sometimes a mother has to take revenge into her own hands.” She listened to the message three more times, each time the stabbing in her heart stoked complete heartache accompanied by intense anger.

The tears started falling before she even realized she was crying. Do I scream for Montague? She struggled with emotions bordering on instability. It was an episode that had played out over and over during the last year, Of course, he’ll think I’ve had a relapse after all this work with the therapist.

Cosima had developed a history of this elevated state of panic. Having fallen prey to it many times over the past year. Each time the “lead” proved false.

The frequency and mental stress caused by these dashed hopes now required a specialized grief therapist’s care. Having been driven closer to the edge time after time.

This time was different; there was something unique about the message.

The identity of the boat belonged to someone that shared an ugly history with Clay. Rick Masters. He had good reason to hold a grudge against Clay, one strong enough to want him dead. The thought played out in her head over and over.

This is the one. I feel it. It had become difficult for her to decipher fact from fiction since her son’s death. False “leads” began showing up about six months after his death, seeding the idea of the possibility of murder. Over time, these ideas had driven her to titter between irrationality and insanity. Revenge had rooted itself in her mind.

She had sought refuge in the confidence of her niece, Britt, who had encouraged her to seek whatever direction her instincts led her.

“Don’t forget, I share similar pain and conflict with my mother’s brutal murder. Sadly, I have first-hand experience with your agony Cosima,” Britt tells Cosima.

Cosima secretly leaned on Britt in confidence to conceal her ongoing search for answers from Montague.

The sleek, new fifty-five-foot sailboat was moored serenely to a dock in Marina Del Rey. Immaculate, no older than a few years, navy blue, with a waterline stripe of gold, with two helm stations, a large transom with a garaged tender, an extended silver bowsprit, glorious teak deck, and a helm station of every advanced electronic gadget available, the beautiful yacht sat at ease, swaying side-to-side with the languid ripples of the bay. Clanging lanyards played soft, rhythmic pings, imitating holiday church bells. The owner was no doubt snuggly cocooned down below in one of its three luxurious staterooms, lost in a lazy Sunday morning snooze-in.

A formidable steel gate protected the empty parking lot of the California Yacht Club’s entrance attached to a seven-foot-high chain-linked fence. A guardhouse, along with the office of the Yacht Club, sat to the left, just twenty-five feet from the entrance.

A large car with darkened windows sat in its driveway; steady, barely audible engine sound hummed above the quietness of the early morning. Its light-colored, curving, voluptuous outline went almost unseen in the early morning mist, accompanied by fog and a lingering morning chill.

Morning mist along the coast co-mingled with heated exhaust from the silhouette of fog-colored tailpipes. Two months new, the beige two-toned Rolls Royce Wrath created a fluid mix of twin plumes coming to life, floating from the tailpipes effortlessly, morphing into small ghost-like figures emerging from the depths of the ether into our world.

Barely visible, just under the center of the rear bumper, was a small round black device the size of a silver dollar with a tiny blinking green light indicating it had been activated.

An emotionless mumble emerged from a face saddled with a catatonic stare, eyes locked onto the moored Beneteau yacht as its navy-colored hull reflected against the rippling water. Hands displayed the strength of locked knuckles, powered by the force of a grieving mother’s revenge. Throwing her head back against the padded headrest, she inhaled a deep breath long enough for a fleeting image of her son.

This is for you, my sweet. May your beautiful soul finally continue in peace, the trembling, mangled voice broke through tears of pain. Mental images materialized of her son Clay as an exuberant eleven-year-old boy jumping up and down on a lakeside dock, showing off his first fish catch. Of an eight-year-old singing happy birthday to his mother,

I love you, Mommy. An eighteen-year-old young man graduating high school … then, of his cold, lifeless body lying on a hospital gurney.

How could so many sources come to the same conclusion? Psychics, an army of private investigators, an untold number of dream doctors. And the “note. The most critical piece of evidence uncovered, confirming her belief that he had been murdered, she thought.

A glance down at the crumpled piece of paper, falling tears landing like raindrops, smearing words of ink began to bleed and fade, losing their meaning forever. Her rationality had jumped the tracks.

“No one believed me. It is my duty as a mother. Murder and lies have hounded this family for almost three generations. From birth to death, to eternity,” the whispered words drifting from quivering lips while pressing the car’s accelerator into the floorboard with all her strength. The massive Rolls Royce’s powerful 624-horsepower twin-turbo V12 engine delivered its maximum power. In just 4.1 seconds, the beast of an engine quickly delivered the 5400-pound automobile to sixty miles per hour. Tearing through the metal gate, the car transformed into a flash across the pedestrian boardwalk before becoming airborne. The hulking, luxurious Rolls Royce’s all-wheeled drive left screeching sounds as its tires filled the air with the distinctive aroma of acrid, burning rubber. The automobile, reserved for the glamorous and fabulously wealthy, had transformed into a high-speed weapon of destruction once its five-and-a-half-ton weight left the ground, wheels spinning furiously from its earthly traction, it propelled itself into the air.

A witness, Joe Edwards, told his story to a police officer. “It was beyond surreal. My wife and I—her name is Joann—were walking towards the diner. I was reaching for the door of the diner, heard wheels screeching and that awful sound of scraping metal. We looked in the direction of the noise, and within seconds saw the huge, beautiful car crashing through the gate, out onto the boardwalk. It had become airborne. Couldn’t see who was inside because of darkened windows. The car flew into the air and came down directly into the center of this enormous yacht. BOOM! It was a tremendous explosion. I grabbed my wife’s arm and pulled her to the side the café. The explosion blew out the windows of the café. I believe we were the only ones on the boardwalk at that hour. It tore the boat apart. I could see the back of the car as it started to sink; it had a name on the license plate, something like “Cosmic.” Not exactly sure. Black and yellow California plates, definitely.”

Joan Edwards spoke. “Considering the location, we initially thought, they must be filming a movie. This was no movie; it was deadly real. The explosion was so violent, earth-shattering. I do remember the name of the boat: Killer Fish. I had just mentioned it to my husband seconds before. Like a military-grade, fiery explosion shook the entire marina.”

“Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards; we have your information; a detective will be in touch,” the police officer said.

Screams and sirens erupted from every direction as residential decks of surroundings condominiums, apartments and coffee shops filled with bystanders in disbelief. All watched as the Rolls Royce’s front tore into the center of the burning yacht, splitting it in two as it began to sink. The car’s tail end bounced and floated a few times before it began submerging, leaving the sight of its rear bumper and personalized license plate to fade into the bay.