Catriona Scott sends us the second part of her 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 Only Vaulting Ambition, the second installment of To Prove a Villain, it has been a couple of weeks since Edward Plantagenet was admitted to hospital, and Richard plans to ensure he won’t be discharged any time soon. But as well as a plan, every villain needs a fellow conspirator…

 

Only Vaulting Ambition

 

“Look, I’m sorry Katherine but I told you I’d be working late tonight, you know I’d be there if I could-“

Harriet rolled her eyes at her own lie. Was Katherine really so stupid as to not see right through it? Ah well, she supposed it was all the better for her. And then, it wasn’t a lie that she was working late – she was – but it was a lie that she wished to be at Edward’s bedside with the rest of the family. She knew full well that if Edward had his wits about him he wouldn’t want her there anyway, and that suited her just fine.

“How is he doing? Any improvement?”

That being said, as irritating as she found the man, she could not help but wish for an improvement in his condition, if only in hope of quelling the continuing protests. It had been a couple of weeks now – he seemed to be responding better to his treatment, from the updates Katherine was able to give her, but he had still not recovered sufficiently to leave the hospital. That, and the assailant was still at large. It seemed that martial law was doing more harm than good at this stage – and not just because of the protests. The NYPD were becoming increasingly desperate – and, to give the impression progress was being made, they were arresting people left, right and centre. There had been a noted increase in police brutality with those who were arrested and refused to come quietly.

“Yes… yes, I see…”

She continued to muttering assurances to her partner with supposedly undivided attention – when in fact she had the mobile on speakerphone and was engaged in drafting another press release and, with that done, trying to organize the agenda for the council’s next meeting. This was proving more difficult than usual with the problems martial law was causing for the various committees on top of their usual issues. This meeting would last a couple of hours, at least. She was hard put to suppress a sigh as she scrolled through the document once more.

“-Liz says she hopes he’ll be out in the next couple of weeks. That’s great news, isn’t it?”

“Mmmhmm…”

“Harry, are you even listening to me?”

Damn.

“Of course I’m listening, Katherine.”

“I said that’s great news, isn’t it? Edward could be home soon.”

Katherine couldn’t stay annoyed with her for more than a minute, it seemed. Harriet would have found this inability to hold onto conviction annoying, if it didn’t always work so squarely in her favour. Katherine practically worshipped the ground she walked on, and Harriet was not about to change that.

“That is great news – I’m very glad to hear it. Though not as glad as Liz will be, I’m sure.”

“Yes, well…” The sound of voices other than Katherine’s , chief among them that of Elizabeth’s youngest son, clamouring for his aunt to let him use her phone to play Angry Birds. “I’m talking to your Aunt Harry, Dickon, just give me a sec…”

Harriet grimaced at the moniker and pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, as if such a gesture would distance her from such a familial role, before resuming her typing.

“I’m sorry, Harry, I have to go…you’ll let me know when you’re on your way home, won’t you?”

“Of course.”

She wouldn’t, and they both knew it.

“I’ll see you later then. Love you.”

Even if Harriet had felt like returning the sentiment she wouldn’t have been able to – the call ended at this point as “nephew” Richard took the phone from his aunt and, with a despairing shake of her head, Harriet returned to her work.

Half an hour later and the schedule was still nowhere near completion, but Harriet had had enough of staring at her computer screen for the time being. Taking off her glasses and setting them on the desk beside her now empty tea mug, she held her head in her hands for a moment or two and rubbed weakly at her eyes, as if hoping to brush away the impending feelings of exhaustion. This was not like her – she was used to working late and usually did as a matter of principle. But this was different. She had never had to work late due to the city being on lockdown, in a state of emergency. Then again, at least curfew meant she would have to leave the office sooner rather than later.

With that thought in mind, she supposed she should return to her work. But for once she found she no longer wished to. She stood and moved towards the window – her office was not on an especially high floor and so the view was mostly the trees of City Hall Park unless she cared to look up at the skyscrapers beyond. It was still fairly light outside, but – perhaps this was just Katherine’s poetic influence – it seemed as though a darkness had settled over the city, a darkness that remained no matter the time of day. Yes, that sounded like something Katherine would write. Damn it, Harriet, get a grip. You aren’t a poet and you never will be. Leave that whimsical nonsense to Katherine and get back to work – 

A sharp rap on the door caused her to break off her irritable inner monologue. She turned away from the window and moved to open it, smoothing out the lapels on her suit jacket almost instinctively. It was Richard who stood outside her office, but his manner was even colder than hers on a good day. His greeting was curt and he was quick to brush past her, sitting down on one of the office’s sofas and motioning wordlessly for her to sit opposite him. Frowning slightly, Harriet closed the door and moved towards her colleague.

“Richard, what-“

“What have you heard about Edward?”

The briskness of the question was surprising enough, let alone the content. But Harriet managed to avoid showing her surprise, for the most part – Richard did not seem in the mood, not that he ever did, for wasting words to clarify what he had asked.

“Katherine tells me he should be out of hospital within a fortnight.”

Richard frowned. There was a few moments pause in which he rapped the fingers of his right hand against the arm of the sofa before he spoke again.

“We can’t have that, Harriet. You know we can’t.”

It was Harriet’s turn to frown now.

“What…what do you mean?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean, Harriet. You’re not an idiot.”

That was as close to a compliment as she was ever going to get from Richard, she supposed. She would have been pleased – possibly even managed a smile – but as it was she was too worried by the implication she was supposed to understand to allow for such an expression.

“Richard,” she said at last, her tone far more hesitant than she was sure Richard had ever heard it, even in her more star-struck, sycophantic days. “You mean to say you would rather he died?”

Richard nodded.

Harriet did not know how to react. She was partly shocked yet at the same time not entirely surprised. She was shocked at his callousness, yes, but in terms of practicalities it made a frightening amount of sense – even if Edward were to recover and return to his position of power, who was to say the gunman wouldn’t come after him again to finish the job? And then, if they didn’t, he would surely continue as he had done before and make things worse. It made a frightening amount of sense to remove him from the picture entirely, and not just politically. And yet…

“But he’s…he’s your brother.”

“In name only,” Richard replied curtly, his cold gaze unflinching even as Harriet looked down, tried to look anywhere but at him. “You know I harbour no feelings of familial affection towards him.”

Ordinarily she might have laughed at this observation, for it was a painfully obvious truth. Yet, Richard’s wishing for Edward’s death rather than his recovery…it was no laughing matter. Richard was aware of this, it seemed, for when he spoke next his voice was softer – almost gentle.

Harriet liked to think she knew Richard well enough to avoid being duped by him as everyone else was; little did she realise she was just the same as the rest. He needed her to understand his plots, and to agree with them; and if this method worked, then so much the better.

“I know how this sounds, Harriet,” he said. “But just think about it. If Edward recovers and returns to power, he will once again be at risk from his attacker, putting all of us in danger as well as himself. And even if this threat is no longer present, he will simply continue to govern poorly as he has done before. Surely you agree that it would be best if he did not return here…if he were to be replaced as mayor.”

Harriet nodded, somewhat shakily. She would never disagree with that – Edward had been unfit to govern the city for years now – but the idea of his not returning to City Hall due to his death, rather than for any other reason – that made her uneasy, no matter her dislike for the man. But then, he wasn’t going to die – Katherine had said he was recovering, he would be out of hospital soon…

“While that would be for the best,” she began, twisting her hands together in her lap, unsure of just how she expected him to react. “It isn’t going to happen, so why even entertain the idea? He’s recovering, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I haven’t forgotten, Harriet. Edward is recovering, yes. But he shan’t be for much longer.”
Harriet looked up then, eyes wide. Richard’s expression did not change as he waited for her to comprehend his meaning. He thought it was clear – and as Harriet’s expression became even more shocked he knew she found it so.

“You don’t mean…” –here her voice dropped to a near whisper – “you’d kill him?”

Richard’s expression did not change, nor did he say anything. He expected the notion to take some time to truly sink in – and knowing Harriet, her initial reaction to it was far from over. He was right to wait, for after a mere moment Harriet had stood up and begun to pace a little, muttering initially but her voice steadily rising as she gave in to panic.

“You wouldn’t…what the hell…I mean, we wanted to do something about him but we didn’t expect…this isn’t the way to…Mr. Plantagenet, have you lost your mind?”

Richard followed her lead and stood then too, taking hold of her arm to stop her from moving away, having seen her take a step back as he got to his feet. His tone was much sharper now, however, and his change of mood was further emphasised by the way his nails dug into her arm.

“I have not, Miss Stafford, and you would do well not to accuse me of it again. We need rid of Edward and this attempt on his life provides the perfect cover up for the murder; if the man refuses to die on his own terms then this is our only option.”

Your only option,” Harriet corrected him, trying to control her voice even as Richard’s grip began to become painful. “I would never-“

“I’m not asking you to kill him, Harriet,” Richard scoffed. “I am perfectly capable of doing that myself. No, I need your collaboration for the aftermath – the elections. In all technicality Hastings should succeed to the mayoralty after Edward’s death, but I’m sure you’ll find some way to change that.”

“You’re acting as though I’ll go along with this!” Harriet protested. “Why would I-“

“Please, don’t play the victim with me. I know you. You will not mourn when Edward dies; you’ll already be looking to the new mayor, to see what new advantages and new powers he can grant you. You are almost as ambitious as I am, Harriet, and so you would have to be a fool not to join me in this enterprise. I can grant you power, prestige, whatever you desire – but I need your help if I am to succeed.”

As he spoke he had released her arm, but Harriet did not try to move away again. Instead she remained where she was, looking up at him but her expression now far from fearful. Richard was right – she would not care, this was all a front, what she should say, how she should react. But that was not how she truly felt. To have Richard in power, Richard as mayor, that was what she wanted. And she did not just want this now that Richard had put his plan in motion – no, she realised she had wanted this for a long time, and not just for her own gain. It made sense, it was only right. Richard was a better politician, a better man. He deserved the position of mayor far more than his idiot of a brother had ever done.

She smiled. Richard smiled back.

“We are on the same page, then, Harriet?” he asked, extending a hand for her to shake, as though to seal their union. Harriet took his hand without a moment’s hesitation.

“As I would hope we always are, Richard,” she replied.

Richard released her hand. Nodded.

“Good. You will have to take on extra responsibilities in your position during the elections and I’ll need to you to advise my intended press secretary. But you are well equipped to handle these matters, I’m sure.”

That was typical Richard, a soldier’s mind – focus on the practicalities of the situation rather than the emotional ramifications. Murder Edward, rig the elections, ensure the press know nothing of the truth. Like items on a check list, nothing more.

“Of course. How…I mean, do you know when you’ll…” She couldn’t bring herself to say the word. Just because she had agreed to help Richard did not mean she was entirely comfortable with the situation yet, but she did not want to give Richard any further excuse to regard her as a fool. She was just as ruthless as he was. She had to be.

“All in good time,” Richard replied, with the slightest twitch of a smile at her evident discomfort.

“Now, I believe you have an agenda to finish writing? You’d best be quick about it – wouldn’t want to break curfew.”

Having said this he moved towards the door and opened it, but as he made to step out into the corridor once more, he glanced over his shoulder at Harriet. Her smile had returned. He left the office then and closed the door behind him – and then he heard her laugh.

 
 

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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