Catriona Scott sends us the third installment of her ongoing serial To Prove a Villain

 

Dramatis Personae

Richard Plantagenet – Comptroller of New York City.
Edward Plantagenet – His brother, Mayor of New York.
Elizabeth Plantagenet – Edward’s wife.
Harriet Stafford – Speaker of the New York City Council and confidante to Richard.
Katherine Woodville – Elizabeth’s sister and Harriet’s partner.
William Hastings – Public Advocate and good friend to Edward.
Dr Shaw – Doctor at King’s County Hospital.

 

In I Would I Knew Thy Heart, the third chapter of To Prove A Villain, our focus shifts from the political to the personal. Harriet’s collaboration with Richard accelerates the deterioration of her relationship with her partner, and it is not long until Richard once again is at the forefront of her thoughts.

 

I Would I Knew Thy Heart

 

It had been a few weeks now since their initial meeting, and it seemed that nothing had changed, that Richard’s plan would never be executed. Granted, Edward was still in hospital, but he had been in there for so long now that the news of his needing to remain there hardly came as a shock. Richard had said ‘all in good time.’ He had said that he was perfectly capable of killing Edward himself – but what did that mean? When would this ‘good time’ be, indeed, was there ever a good time to carry out your brother’s murder? Harriet very much doubted it.

It was drawing dangerously close to curfew by the time she arrived home that night, having spent as long as she could within the walls of City Hall, in discussion with Richard regarding their plans post-murder – as for the details of the murder itself, Richard continued to remain elusive. It was almost as if – no, she was certain of it – Richard enjoyed keeping this part of the plot a secret, dangling the odd clue or two, to show just how clever he was in his plans, but refusing to reveal the true extent of his prowess. Harriet both minded, and did not mind, all at once. She desperately wanted to know, to be Richard’s equal, his other self in his plots, the sycophant of yesteryear – yet at the same time she was glad to be spared the details. Perhaps it was all for the best. If she knew, it would mean she knew too much, and if anything were to go wrong… No, she had to stop thinking like that. Nothing would go wrong. Richard knew what he was doing, and she trusted him.

She let herself into the apartment and put her keys in the bowl on the hall table as usual, before setting her bag down to look out the various folders she had to look over before the staff briefing tomorrow. It was as she was doing this that Ajax, her cat, made his presence known, meowing loudly as if to announce himself before proceeding to wind himself about her legs, purring as he only ever seemed to do when she was around. Harriet was on the fringe of protesting before excusing herself thoughts of work for a moment or two, bending down to stroke him. At least someone was glad to see she was home – where was Katherine? Usually she’d be the first to the door, with an overly long hug and lots of pointless questions about her day.

“You know, Harry, sometimes I think you love that cat of yours more than me!”

Ah, that was Katherine’s voice, no mistake, but she didn’t sound as disgruntled as the words she had used would imply. Harriet did not look up at first, instead half talking to herself and half to Ajax; her own tone was far more serious, as if Katherine’s accusation had been so.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

It was only having said this that Harriet looked up, and was very surprised to be greeted with the sight of Katherine wearing a suit. Katherine did not wear suits; she was very much a floral print sort of person. Harriet immediately stood up straight once more, the better to indicate her disapproval as she folded her arms.

“Katherine, what on earth are you wearing?”

“Don’t you like it?” her partner replied, doing a little twirl to better show her garments off.

“No, I do not.” Especially not with the twirling. One should not twirl in a suit. Especially not a suit that ill-fitting- “Katherine, darling, that’s one of my suits, isn’t it?”

It was a trivial question but the disapproval in Harriet’s tone, especially in the word ‘darling’, caused Katherine’s smile to falter a little.

“Um…yes. It is. You don’t mind, do you?”

It wasn’t so much that Harriet minded (although she did) – it was more that she was confused as to why this situation was occurring in the first place.

“I may mind, I may not, it all depends on your reasons for wearing it. It’s almost curfew, you can’t possibly be going out anywhere.”

As she said this, Harriet picked up the folders she had left on the hall table and moved to sit on the nearby sofa, Ajax trailing along obediently beside her – by no means ending the conversation, but making it clear she had more important matters to attend to than whatever Katherine decided to wear on a whim.

“No, I’m not. I just…well, I thought you’d like it. I thought – ”

“I’ve told you I don’t, darling,” Harriet replied, no longer looking at Katherine now but instead at one of the folders open on her knees. “Why on earth would you think I would?”

Katherine moved towards her then, sitting down beside her in spite of the disgruntled noise Harriet made (could Katherine not see she was trying to work?), cuddling up to her with her head on Harriet’s shoulder.

“Well, you spend so much time with other people in suits, I thought there must be something about the aesthetic you appreciate-“

“For God’s sake, Katherine,” Harriet replied, not looking up. “That’s just work – everyone wears suits.”

She looked up from her folder and pulled away from Katherine, her own tone and expression sterner, even accusatory. She could now see the game Katherine was playing – this was her roundabout way of telling her she spent more time at work than she did at home, that she loved work more than her – perhaps, even, that the only way to get her attention was through acting – or at least dressing – in a manner more suited to working in government. It was a very roundabout way of saying all this, but it suddenly seemed very obvious, from the crestfallen way Katherine had responded when Harriet said she didn’t like the suit, onwards.

“I spend far more time at City Hall than here because I have to – I am trying to keep this city from self destructing, which is more than you’re doing. Also, may I remind you, the reason this city is on lockdown right now is because of your brother in law.”

It was Katherine’s turn to draw back now, eyes wide with shock.

“Harry, how could you – Edward didn’t ask to get shot!”

“Trust me, Katherine, with those policies he was planning to implement – ”

Katherine stood, moving away from Harriet and shaking her head in disbelief.

“I don’t believe this…how can you be so heartless?”

Harriet laughed, “Please, I’m not being heartless, I’m just telling you a simple truth – ”

She would have said more, had her cell phone not begun to ring at that precise moment. Ignoring Katherine’s continued protestations she removed it from the inside pocket of her suit jacket and checked the caller ID. Richard. She followed Katherine’s stead in standing then, although she moved in the opposite direction, towards the glass doors which led to the balcony.

“I have to take this. While I’m doing that, you could do yourself a favour and change out of that suit, and make sure you put it back exactly where you found it – you remember I’ve arranged all my clothes by season now?”

Before Katherine had a chance to say anything in reply, Harriet had answered the phone call and stepped outside, and whatever it was Katherine was saying was lost as the door closed behind her.

“Richard, hello. What can I do for you?”

“It’s Will Hastings. We need to get rid of him before we proceed any further with our plans for the election.”

It was a warm summer’s evening, but at those words Harriet felt herself go cold.

“You don’t mean – ”

Richard laughed. Usually Harriet liked to hear him laugh, but not now and not like that.

“Of course not, Harriet. No, I mean we must ensure he won’t be a contender for the mayoralty.”

“I thought we had already arranged this – discrediting him with his connections to martial law, and his involvement in your brother’s – ”

“Those arguments are still perfectly valid, yes. But we need something more, for insurance’s sake. I very much doubt he will be willing to accept the blame for policies which were, in all technicality, mine, nor will he appreciate Edward’s memory being sullied so soon after his death.”

“I…I don’t know what else…not yet, at least – ”

“That’s why I called. I need you to think it over, I shall as well – I’m sure, between us, we’ll be able to come up with something suitable. We will discuss this more tomorrow.”

“Yes, of course.” Harriet was relieved – not just to hear that she needn’t come up with the killing blow for Hastings just yet, but that she would not do so alone. She and Richard working together – not ‘you’ and ‘I’ but ‘us’. She smiled. “Was there anything else you wished to speak to me about?”

“Yes, there was one other thing. You heard that Edward’s stay at King’s County has been extended?”

“Of course I have – that didn’t have anything to do with you, did it?”

A joke – they laughed in unison.

“As a matter of fact, my dear Harriet, it did. A simply case of bribery here, misinformation about the necessary treatment there. You’d think doctors are paid enough, but apparently not.”

Here Richard paused – Harriet was sure she knew what he was going to say next.  Part of her wanted her to confirm her suspicions; another part of her wanted him to say something, anything else.

“My dear brother won’t last the week, I fear.”

“I…I see.”

“That’s it? ‘I see’? I expected more from you, Harriet.”

She could just see him smiling as he said these words, amused as ever by her uncertainty – hell, by her fear.

“I don’t know what else to say…what you expect me to say. I just…will this work, can it work? I mean, this theory is…it’s all sound in practice, but in execution – ”

“Execution? Yes, it will come to that.”

The line went dead. Harriet held the phone to her ear for a few moments more, before looking at it to assure herself that yes, he had hung up and yes, that had been a very poor choice of words on her part. Execution…what was she thinking?

She shook her head, returned her phone to her suit jacket pocket and stepped back inside, suppressing a shudder. Having closed the balcony doors behind her, Harriet moved back into the sitting room space – Katherine was sitting on the sofa once more, now in one of her usual dresses and a cardigan, her legs tucked underneath her. As soon as she saw Harriet, however, she got to her feet and moved towards her, moving to embrace her.

“Harry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have acted like that, I shouldn’t have said – ”

“It’s fine, Katherine,” Harriet replied, stiffly, extricating herself from her partner’s embrace. “Look, I’ve got an important meeting tomorrow, I’m going to bed.”

Having said this she moved swiftly away, unwilling to look at Katherine for any longer than she had to. How could she, after what Richard had said, after what they had planned – surely Katherine would be able to see something of it in her expression…?

When she reached the bedroom, she found her suit had been replaced exactly where Katherine had found it. That much, at least, was unchanged. But how much would change soon, within a matter of days – changes that could not be made right with a simple apology?

 

 

Catriona Scott

 

 

Disclaimer:
This serial is inspired partly by historical fact and partly by historical fiction (that being Shakespeare’s Richard III); however, as the setting (New York City) is very much a real location – as are other businesses and events I have used – I felt the following disclaimer to be necessary. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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