In the eighth installment of Catriona Scott‘s To Prove a Villain series, Sin Will Pluck On Sin, Richard confronts his associate after learning of her increasingly strange behaviour, attempting to reassure himself of her continued loyalty to him and his cause.
Richard Plantagenet – Mayor of New York City.
Harriet Stafford – Speaker of the New York City Council and confidante to Richard.
Katherine Woodville – Harriet Stafford’s partner
William Catesby – Richard’s chief of staff
Frank Lovell – Richard’s aide
Rebecca Ratcliffe – Richard’s aide
Sin Will Pluck on Sin
Reaching Harriet’s office, Richard did not pause to ask her secretary whether or not her boss was in, but instead simply knocked on the door once, opening it without waiting for a response. Harriet was seated at her desk, looking over a folder, but she looked up as Richard entered, immediately getting to her feet, her expression not dissimilar to that of a deer caught in headlights. As she moved from behind the desk towards the door Richard closed it behind him, and at that Harriet’s expression changed to one of weary resignation. She knew better than to try and avoid Richard when he was physically present; she could not avoid this meeting any longer.
Wordlessly she took a step backwards, allowing the mayor to properly enter the room, returning to her desk and sitting down once more, looking for all intents and purposes as if she hadn’t just been in a great hurry to remove herself from that position. She closed the folder she had been looking over and set it to one side, before looking up at Richard, a slight frown on her face.
“With all due respect, Mr. Plantagenet, I don’t have time to discuss–”
“I want to know why you’ve been avoiding me, Harriet. Why you weren’t returning my calls, for a start.”
“I was in a meeting.”
She had spoken too quickly, been too defensive. She knew this as well as Richard did. He smiled, but it was not a particularly pleasant smile.
“Don’t lie to me, Harriet. You’re better than that.”
Harriet began to protest. “I wasn’t-”
Richard’s disdainful expression was enough to halt her attempt. She stopped speaking and redirected her gaze to the desk top, unwilling to look at her companion now.
“I just want to know why, Harriet, that’s all I’m asking. A simple question.”
Harriet nodded, slowly, but she did not look up as she made her reply. Her answer would be simple enough, but its implications were anything but.
“We shouldn’t have done all this.”
Richard was loath to admit it, but this confession surprised him. She had been so willing to collaborate with him, to ensure Edward did not return to the mayor’s seat, to corrupt the election process, to kill Hastings…and now, now when they had succeeded in their goal, only now was the realisation dawning that she had been wrong? She had been swept along in the tidal wave that was Richard’s ascent to power, unable to fight against it until the waves receded and the waters were calm again? But then – what reason would she have to say they had acted wrongly? They had achieved what they set out to do and no-one suspected a thing, so why this regret, this hesitation?
Instead of saying any of this, Richard replied, small smile still in place. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
Harriet looked up then. She had changed, she had allowed herself to be manipulated by him, she had become more like him – but she was not Richard. But the voice in her head that said this was more pleading than insistent.
“Where should I begin, Richard? The lies, the so-called elections, Hastings’ murder, the fact you murdered your own brother–”
“We simply did what we had to do, Harriet. And we succeeded. I don’t understand why you’re getting so upset about this, especially now. You were perfectly fine with all of this before.”
He paused, only for a moment – Harriet furiously struggled for the right words, the right retort, incredulous – but he swiftly silenced her as he spoke again.
“Don’t tell me you’re feeling guilty, Harriet. Panicking whenever someone mentions the word murder, insisting things are your fault –which they aren’t, by the way, Hastings had it coming, he’s just lucky we were so nice about it – and, really, Harriet, drinking at work? People are starting to notice, get suspicious even, and I can’t have that – we can’t have that. Not now.”
Harriet pushed her chair away from the desk then with a shake of her head, stood and walked over towards the window. Richard watched her but did not speak again – he had said enough. Harriet’s voice, when she eventually spoke, was quiet, mild even, but as she turned to face him it was clear her anger had not abated; if anything it increased alongside the volume of her voice.
“I know that, Richard; you think I don’t know that? But what do you expect me to do, how do you expect me to feel after what I’ve done?”
It was here that she turned back to him, her hands at her sides balled into fists.
“You expect me to be like you, is that it, to feel nothing, not to feel the slightest shred of remorse for anything; the lies, the corruption, even for the murder I committed? I can’t do that – I’m not like that, Richard, I’m not like you!”
It was here that she stopped, looking at Richard almost expectantly, having delivered what she seemed to regard as a killer blow. Richard said nothing at first; what could he say? Harriet was right – he had expected her to be like him, to feel no remorse. But if she did…if she let it show this openly…she was a risk to him now, even were she to profess she wasn’t, despite the fact she was trying to deny what they’d done.
“Clearly, I expected too much of you,” he said at last.
Harriet, contrary to his expectations, did not seem deterred by this.
“So,” she began, moving back towards the desk again but continuing to stand. “What are you going to do with me now, then? I’ve served my purpose, I killed off your competition, I corrupted the elections, I’m done, finished. What use do you have for me now that I’m starting to realise just how wrong it was? I’m a risk to you. You’re going to get rid of me, just like you got rid of Edward – just like you had me get rid of Hastings!”
It was Richard’s turn to stand then, but his expression, unlike Harriet’s, was unreadable. He moved around the desk towards her; Harriet, to her credit, did not try to back away.
“When did I ever say I was going to do that?”
Harriet’s expression, part fearful, part furious, part defiant, changed. She had not expected a reaction like that – confirmation, in all likelihood, but this? Her voice was now a near whisper: tremulous, incredulous.
“It…it was implied. I mean, Edward was in the mayor’s seat, so you killed him. Hastings knew too much and you had me kill him. I sure as hell know too much, so–”
Richard reached out then, took one of Harriet’s hands in his, the gesture almost comforting, just as it had been on the day he’d given her the poison with which to murder William Hastings. Now, as then, Harriet did not draw her hand back.
“That’s true enough, Harriet, you do know too much. But you have also done too much in service of my cause. You may feel this is wrong – and you may be right, I wouldn’t know – but you won’t confess your crimes, in spite of your guilt. You won’t risk it.”
Harriet attempted to regain her former expression of defiance, with difficulty.
“What…what makes you think I won’t?”
“If you bring me down, my dear Harriet, you’ll face the same fate I will. You made sure of that when you murdered William Hastings. You are like me, Harriet, no matter what you say; you have done what I did. We were in this together before I was elected, and we are still in this together now.”
To this, at first, Harriet had no response, save a shaky nod. But then she spoke, looking down once more, and so quietly that her words were almost indecipherable, her voice thick with unshed tears. Richard had to ask for clarification.
“What was that?”
She did not say what she was sorry for – for what she had said or what she had planned to say – but Richard, as ever, assumed he was in control of the situation. Perhaps it was fear of him that over-rode Harriet’s fear of her own potential fate, but even if this was the case, she would have all the more reason to fear him if she confessed their crimes. As she looked up at him again he made no reply in words – he simply drew her closer to him, embracing her. As with his approaching her Harriet did not try to move away; in fact, she returned the gesture.
Richard could feel her shaking in his arms. He smiled. He needn’t have feared losing control of his closest ally – he was more in control of her than ever – and all thanks to her emotions. Weakness, in Richard’s book. It was after a moment or two that he spoke again, his voice barely rising above a whisper.
“You may be afraid, Harriet, that you’re in danger after all we’ve done, and it’s true. The foundations we’re standing on are anything but stable. But you will be in even greater danger if you turn against me.”
Harriet looked up at him then, eyes shining with tears even as she attempted a smile.
“You won’t do that, will you?”
Harriet shook her head.
“Then I won’t get rid of you. It’s as simple as that.”
The visible relief on Harriet’s face was enough to convince him – it seemed. Richard released her, with a final comforting press of her hand in his for good measure, and exited the office, not looking back.
No, Harriet, he thought. I won’t get rid of you.
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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