94. I want my prize!

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.’

Me: ‘Leaving?’

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:

Mr. X

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…

Mr X

93. Boom! Ding dong and all that…

The explosion echoed through the ship and, for a while, I thought we were sinking.  I jumped around and clapped my hands, and generally made a fool of myself. It was over – the game would end. Finally! La, la, la.

I celebrated by stuffing myself with my entire chocolate and soda reserve, and then threw my weapons all round my room. I even looked out my most intact dress – the one that still had a sleeve – but my wave of exultation slowly dissipated when I realised the ship hadn’t, in fact, sunk.

It may have been wounded, but not mortally so.

My mood darkened. Where was that explosion? A quick review of the deck plan, and a proper think about what I’d heard, and I had a pretty good idea.


But hey, perhaps the game is at an end after all?

Weary from my injuries, I made my way to sickbay. After a while, a smoke haze filled the corridors, and when I got closer still, I could see a gaping hole in the wall, where the large window used to be. Glass crackled on the ground as I stepped through it. With a handkerchief delicately pressed to my mouth, I pushed through what remained of the double doors and into sickbay itself.

The nurse was still attending her station – good for her.

To her right, I could see sparking cables, black scorch, and shattered fittings. I stepped around the mangled remains of a wheelchair, and into the usually out-of-bounds recovery area. Here and there, a bed was still merrily burning.  In the worst hit area, in the very epicentre of the explosion, I saw what remained of Bailey.

Good riddance.

It’s over.  The game is over.

That was certainly worth a smile.

I’d won.  I’d beaten him, I’d beaten them all.

I had beaten the ship.

But then, as I turned to leave, I spotted a fragment of red paper amongst the rubble. What wasthat? I wondered.

92. A Pwesent? For wittle old me?

It was early morning – three am perhaps? – when I received an unusually breezy knock on my door.  My subconscious must’ve thought it was Bailey come to wrap his thick fingers around my neck again, as I awoke rolling out of bed, knife in hand, in one smooth movement… but there was no further sound. A moment or two longer, and I let myself sag, grimacing at all the punishment my body has suffered. I had a rubbishy headache.

Once cleared of junk, I opened my cabin door with infinite suspicion, foot braced to the jamb. But no one was there – whomever had scuttled along, had just as quickly scuttled off, but not before leaving me a cheery little parcel. Oh joy.

It sat on the unmentionable stain I’ve adopted as a doormat.

It might have looked like a gift-wrapped package accompanied by an envelope, but in all honesty, my thoughts were:  It’s a bomb. It’s not my birthday. I bet it’s full of knives on some kind of spring mechanism. $50 says it’s a piranha on a spring – is that a thing? Hmm, I guess it’d die. Maybe still in its jar? Is that Christmas wrapping paper?

Christmas paper? Of all the things I expected to find at my cabin door, on this ship, in the early hours of the morning, this was the most unsettling. The corridor was empty, quiet, and deathly still – as it should be.

Those sly bastards.

After long, long consideration, I slowly dragged the crinkly thing inside with a foot, then quietly closed and re-barricaded the door.

I placed the ‘package’ on the desk and sat across the cabin, judging it.  Time had been spent on this festive treat.  Care had gone into its presentation, but it wasn’t Bailey’s style. Look at those razor-sharp creases and folds, fixings invisibly smoothed away – every detail perfectly executed.

Oh, I knew who it was from, alright – it was the most foreboding present I had ever seen. Red. Holly. Santas merrily slaying, all in a row. Ho! Ho! Ho!

I snuck closer to confirm what was written on the label…

’Merry X-mas’.


Merry Xmas

More time passed.  I’m not sure how long, or what I was thinking.  I felt numb, but I had to know what was inside.

Annoyed, I carefully slit the wrapping paper and smoothly removed it. Then – after some dickering with a skewer and some other tests – I opened the plush cardboard box inside.


It was a plunger detonator.

Etched on the wooden handle were the words, ‘Push me’.


Five hours later, I did.

91. Battle of the Bailey.

I can barely write. In addition to the wounds on my arm and shoulder, I now have two broken fingers, a badly slashed palm, a possible broken nose, a black eye, a cut to the back of my head (crusting into my hair, and is probably deep enough to be more of a concern than it currently is), and I’m guessing that pain when I breathe is a result of at least one broken rib, and a throat that feels like it’s been crushed. And did I mention the powder burn on my thigh?

The battle between myself and Bailey brought us full circle to the Vesuvius Bar. Bailey’s part in my arrest still caught in my craw, but any indignity I felt was soon overwhelmed by simple rage as I approached the place, click-clacking across the floor. I knew it would be that bar, even before the Chief told me.  Where else would it be?

I stalked into the room, scrawny and wounded, and uncaring – the time for subtlety had passed. I’m sure I looked a fright.

But this time, Maud, Charlie Bat is concealed, waiting like the deft little clubber, he is…

Bailey was sitting in a dining room chair, pulled out into the centre of the floor. No weapon that I could see – but I was sure he was aware he was going to need one…

He said, ‘Let’s talk, Lucy. Truce? No funny stuff. See, no weapons?’ Empty palms. He shakes out his cuffs, like all the weariness of the world is on him. Then a bitter, ‘I think I’ve finally found you…’I made a play of thinking about this truce. It wouldn’t have done to have my concession to it come too soon. But I was also thinking, he was trying to repeat a trick – that was the kind of thing that would get his melon ball bashed in, the cheeky little monkey.

The bar had a couple of security cameras – a little reminder of those ‘rules’. But, let’s talk about those pesky rules: rules aren’t worth anything. All it took was a few bucks passed to my old friend, Frank, and I gained a brief reprieve from the swift justice of the Cotopaxi’s finest: ‘Look over here instead,’ I said. ‘Right you are,’ he said. ‘You’ve got 10 minutes,’ he said. ‘That is all I’ll need,’ I said. ‘Thanks, Frank.’

‘Well,’ I said to Bailey. ‘I guess you should say what you want.’

‘Thank you.’ The man smiled a weary smile, bruised knuckles resting on the chair, as he pushed himself to his feet. He clearly had no idea I could kill him where he stood, no questions asked, though I was sure I’d have to get a little closer to be certain – so there was no wandering around with Bat on open display in a security area.

Not this time.

Not until the very last moment, or he’d get suspicious…

‘You were the one with M –‘

As Bailey stepped into range, I cracked him square on the jaw, forcing him to his knees.

Bat was up, ready to smash in his nippy little brainpan. I whipped Bat down, and Bailey fell as much as he feinted right, avoiding the head-cracker, but his left arm wasn’t so fortunate. Pow! My shoulder wound opened (God, again), and in moments my fingertips arced a trail of spattery blood – there was no time to stop now. Grip was getting slippy. Had the bogeyman on the ropes. It was so easy.

We were pushing back towards the tables at the back of the room.

A second blow.  A third.  A fourth.  He was begging and swearing for me to stop, but rage was in control.  Smash! Crack! That one connected with his ribs. Grunted in pain. I’m still on like a juggernaut. Smashing down, two handed. But that extravagant blow missed, and I almost pitched forward onto the floor – Bat hit the deck with an almighty crack, vaguely dampened by the carpet, but my hands and arms felt like they flew apart.

Damaged though he was, Bailey was alert to any last chances. Somehow, he pulled and clawed himself to his feet, and barged his shoulder and neck into my guts. We pushed back, struggling for footing, crashing into tables and chairs, as he slipped and squirmed, and used his good arm to tear Bat from my grasp.  ‘No!’

Then – his head snapped back and smashing in like lump of concrete – his forehead crashed into the bridge of my nose, his damaged hand on me like a broken benediction.

Pain burst through every bone in my face.  My eyes exploded with tears. I think I smeared a handful of blood at him, but still I staggered backwards, entirely blind, and, when the edge of a table top got under my backside, I fell spread-eagled onto it.

Bailey was disorientated, bloodied, and more than broken, but he was still a big man. He swung Bat in his huge fist, ready to pound me like a gorilla, but instead he shattered Bat on the wooden table right by my temple, in a blast of crackling wood. Ears numbed, matchsticks everywhere. Overbalanced, he fell forward, and I had the syringe in my hand, and stabbed and stabbed and stabbed him in the neck and I injected him. And—

Nothing happened!

He grabbed my hand, which was still pressing the syringe in, and broke two fingers – I felt the joints go – and we were caught, hands and arms vibrating, as he tried to force me to drop the syringe and I tried to ram it further into his neck. The syringe glass shattered in my hand, and ground into my palm. His hand clamped then to my neck, the ruins of the syringe still under his fist. I couldn’t breath and I was whacking at his arm, but my flailing was getting weaker. I scratched at his face, scoring flesh.  His fist clamped down harder. His breath huffed in my face, like all the bad meat…

My fingers inched down. He was choking me. My fingers feeling for my knife. Lights and explosions were in my head. I tried to stab him in the gut, but my arm was pinned like a butterfly, and he swung me round by the neck and sent me crashing down onto the next table, my hand flying, the knife spinning away.

And then, his grip shaking – holding, holding, holding –

And then Bailey slid off me.

I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breath, but I was entirely conscious that he was no longer trying to kill me.

There were some odd noises, a crash of tables and chairs, a bang of a door.

I rolled straight off the table and crashed on the ground. My crushed hand was in agony, my neck barely able to support my head. I lay there for a while until the world stopped turning, and the lightbulbs stopped popping in my skull.

Bailey had gone, but judging by the trail of vomit, whatever was in that syringe was substantially more poisonous than the sleeping draft I was expecting. He was badly injured, so I guess whatever it was might finish him off. But either way, I was in no condition to give chase.  My wounds required immediate attention, so I made my way back here to my cabin – forget the treacherous nurse.

Now I’ve fixed up my wounds as best I can, bandages improvised from an old blouse, but weariness has found me. Too much has been happening.  I must pursue Bailey – the longer he has to recuperate, the more dangerous he’ll be – but it won’t be tonight.

I asked Frank.  He said Bailey’s in sickbay.  Can’t get to him there.  There are rules, blah, blah.


Charlie Bat has gone. He was a loyal and trustworthy companion, and – above all – blunt.

I’ll miss you, ya ald stick.

88. Full bloom.

Despite all the hardship and all that I have seen and done, it seems I am capable of nurturing something. My rose has opened!

It’s there on the sideboard, a single red bloom, open and full – thorns like needles. In the darkness it looks black – beautiful. The perfection of its petals makes my head ache, or is it its perfume – a scent like a midnight garden. The end of the stem still shows where it was cut with something sharp and surgical. There is no curl or blemish on it – I am looking at the peak of flowering perfection.

I forgot about it, ignored it, knocked it over, starved it of water – and it has even been struck at least once by an intruder, forcing me to find it a new vase – but still it has bloomed.

I think I’m in love with it.