Bailey’s Xmas present was a flat box wrapped in red silk, scorched a little, and smelling of petrol and burned furnishings. It felt heavy, with a muddy weight sliding around inside. I pulled the badly re-tied bow, and felt the ribbon trail and drag out with a couple of jerks.
Inside a thick file of typed papers. Reports. Tattle tales.
I read as if my head were being slowly compressed, each page falling from fingers that could no longer hold on. Page after page:
The small Lucy. The poor Lucy. The Lucy who discovered Maud. Who loved Maud. Unnatural it said, unnatural underscored. Who’d moved with Maud to some other place. A townhouse. To keep her secret. Maud’s rich family – the Elvgrens. They hate me! Hate me! Even though we’ve never met – the sons of bitches. But we were so happy. They resented it. And then I was scared. Maud? Leaving? Throwing a marionette in a scrawling bundle of wood and strings, and then a brass bust of Hermes… A mirror, broken. Cut with the glass. And that ugly phrase: ‘Psychotic Episode’.
I read it twice. Three times.
Scored it a little.
But a good girl, and a scared girl. And I do remember a handful of money – I only borrowed it – and found a good doctor. Or did he find me? Dr. Lucien. He was like a father to me. I pointed at the bad thoughts and told him: ‘I want you to cut them out. Can you cut them out?’. And His voice. Russian? So forbearing. He was so very good – he wanted me to stop, but I just wouldn’t listen. He said: ‘You’re a bad person Lucy. She’ll leave you. And it’s all your fault. It’s what you deserve!’
I was so timid and scared.
And then that very same day, he was right:
Maud (you were all ugly and po-faced): ‘I’m leaving you.’
And then – I honestly can’t…
A shower. The water cannot wash it all off.
Running away on the holiday of a lifetime, running into the somewhere else.
And then other pages in the file that must be after that day. Hateful pages. Gathered by the good doctor (I’m sure he didn’t want to. He told me he wanted to help me, not hurt me – never hurt me). Police. And photos. Such horrible photos of our little house. Of the living room floor. But no photo of me… of Lucille Franklin O’Sullivan, APB – prime suspect. Bridges and railways; ports blocked, too.
But I had already gone to sea, on a beautiful pea-green boat.
And what was this? Under the file, a letter.
A horrid, horrid letter:
10 XXXXXXX Street
My dear Mr. Elvgren,
Your sister Maud is dead. I know you must know this now, so please accept my sincere condolences – I wish you well in what must be a most difficult and upsetting time. But be aware: her murderer has plans to make her escape by sea (and it is a ‘she’). Her ship, the Cotopaxi, leaves this very day from Southampton Dock. Be on it, and you might yet catch your tiger by the tail. Involve the police, and you will never find the murderer of your sister – they will not respond, and the ship will sail regardless. This, I promise you. But fear not, I have enclosed a file which may be of interest. Join us on-board, and perhaps you might find some small measure of closure.
Or dare I say ‘revenge’?
Your most humble servant,
PS: once aboard, I must insist you take on the nome deplume of ‘Mr. Harvey Bailey’ – I’m sure you wouldn’t want your murderous quarry to take flight too soon. Thankfully, I believe your dirty little bird has never seen you. But then, you’ve never seen her, either. However, I do have some informational cards of which you may avail yourself while on-board, which I’m sure will provide you with some helpful suggestions.
This isn’t a prize. Clearly X is still playing his silly little games – a sore loser. Doesn’t want to accept I won. I deserved to win. I’m a survivor! A winner! To hell with him – to hell with all of them! I want my prize. I WANT MY PRIZE! I’m better than all of these second-rate amateurs.
The card I really care about is the one I got right at the start – he gave it to me, right under my nose, and I didn’t even see it. He’s been laughing ever since.
I do believe it’s time for that final dance, my dear X – though you may be surprised about who’s going to lead it…