In Every Tale Condemns Me, the penultimate instalment of To Prove a Villain, the collapse of Richard’s regime is imminent as his last plan takes a turn for the unexpected.
 

Dramatis Personae

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

 

Every Tale Condemns Me

 
It had been a long, restless night. Harriet had tried to follow Katherine after she left the apartment, but it was not long before the other woman managed to disappear in the crowded city streets. Harriet had visited Katherine’s usual haunts to no avail, but even when she returned to her apartment she continued the search, calling her mobile even when it went straight to voicemail, telling her the phone she was trying to reach was powered off. She’d returned to the liquor cabinet, removed a new bottle of whisky, and filled a glass to the brim. The rest of the night was spent intermittently drinking and listlessly pacing around the flat. Harriet eventually fell asleep on the sofa, unable to face the prospect of the bed they had shared for five years. It was only as she lay down that she became fully aware of the tears that had been silently streaking down her cheeks.

It was strange. For years now she had regarded her relationship with Katherine as one of mere convenience, if that. But what she had told her that night, she now realised, was true. Katherine was the only good person left in her life now that Richard had consumed it – she needed her now, more than ever. But Katherine did not need her and Harriet hated to admit that she wasn’t surprised. This was, after all, her fault. She had pushed Katherine away these past few years and last night her confession had been the final nail in the coffin. Harriet had thought Katherine would do as she did and leave – expected it, even – yet she had still held onto that small shred of hope that Katherine would not leave, not even when she had confessed to the murder. But why had she held onto that hope? What reason did Katherine have to stay? And why had she stayed with her for so long if….

These thoughts and more continued to whirl around in Harriet’s mind even when she awoke, making her headache even worse. She groggily moved to sit up and immediately regretted it as her head throbbed. She fumbled in her pocket to find her phone and check the time. Twenty past ten. Shit. Well, if she were honest with herself, she hadn’t planned to go into work today anyway – not after not last night, no matter how out of character it looked. She couldn’t act normal today and avoid arousing suspicion – in Richard or anyone else – even if she tried. Her confession, as painful as the result had been, was something she had needed to do for quite some time. For weeks and months the guilt had continued to eat away at her until she could endure it no longer. It had been the right thing to do, and yet…

It hadn’t been enough. It wasn’t enough to just tell Katherine and expect the guilt to fade – it probably never would, she realised. But she could at least do some good with her guilt, a pre-emptive strike as it were. She knew Richard would rid himself of her for what she had done, so she would need to make the first move. True, in ousting him from power she would destroy herself, but she knew now she needed to. She couldn’t live with this guilt anymore, no matter Richard’s threats. Yes, she had let herself be fooled by him, drawn into his plots, and she was just as guilty as he was.  But that was the difference between them – she felt guilty and he did not. She had to reveal everything now, not only for who she used to be, but for anyone else who might fall prey to Richard’s machinations. This had to end and it had to end now – by her hand.

Harriet got to her feet then and moved somewhat unsteadily, towards the front door, but what she found just outside it brought her to a halt. The New York Times had been delivered to her apartment for the past five years. It was expected. But what Harriet hadn’t expected was that day’s front page headline. There had been an anonymous tip off to the police and Hastings’ death was to be re-examined. Harriet picked up the newspaper, trying to stop her hand from trembling, and retreated into the apartment once more. She couldn’t do anything until she had read this, until she had seen for herself just what Katherine had revealed. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. But of course, Richard wouldn’t know it was Katherine. He would think it had been her – and she supposed, technically, this was true. But all the same, he would have seen this by now; he would know she had betrayed him. She could not go to the police in person now.  She would need to act more quickly than that.

Without hesitation she reached for the landline and dialled 911. It was the work of a few minutes to turn herself in for Hastings’ murder.

 *

Ratcliffe was well aware that Richard Plantagenet and Harriet Stafford had been working together for years. She may well have been his protector, of sorts, when they were at war, but she was nothing in comparison to Harriet when they all worked in government. It was true, she and Richard had remained in touch since Afghanistan, but Harriet and Richard actively worked together, trying to keep Edward in check before keeping Richard’s reign secure. There was no question, in Ratcliffe’s mind, when Richard referred to the woman who killed Hastings, who was made to kill him as a test of her loyalty. As close as Harriet and Richard were, Richard was distrustful as a matter of principle. It would make sense for him to need to test Harriet’s loyalty in a matter of murder since he had murdered his way to the mayor’s seat. But now, of course, the tables had turned on him, and Harriet wasn’t the loyal co-conspirator he had thought she was.

All this in mind, Ratcliffe was not surprised when she did not find Harriet at her office, and her secretary informed her she had yet to come into work. A quick text to Richard had secured her target’s home address and Ratcliffe set off in the car immediately. This was no problem. What was a problem was the fact that, despite having been able to enter the building, she was prevented from going to Harriet’s apartment by the concierge, who refused point blank to believe the idea of Ratcliffe’s needing to visit Harriet as a matter of urgency. Ratcliffe changed tack and was in the process of spinning some story about being a relative, all the while considering the practicalities of making a run towards the stairs or the elevator, when the scene took a turn for the worse. Two uniformed police officers entered the building and explained to the now incredibly concerned concierge that they had come with an arrest warrant for the very woman Ratcliffe was looking for.

The concierge looked from the officers to Ratcliffe and back again, trying to discern just what was going on and whether their arrivals in the building were connected in any way, before one of the officers told him curtly that time was of the essence in the case they were dealing with. Ratcliffe, grasping at straws, attempted to follow them as the concierge let them pass, but this plan too was doomed to failure as the second officer waved her off, stating that unless she was in fact a plainclothes officer, she was not permitted to follow them and hinder their investigation further. Even as Ratcliffe protested that it was, in fact, Mayor Plantagenet who had sent her to the building, the officers moved smartly away and towards the elevator. It was lucky, in a way, that they did not hear her, or chose to ignore her – for soon her association with Mayor Richard Plantagenet would be more of a hindrance than a help.

*

Harriet had been pacing the living room for the past ten minutes or so, looking utterly unrecognisable as the broken woman from earlier that morning in a rumpled slept-in suit that reeked of whisky. She was dressed in the same suit she had worn on the day of Hastings’ death, as if this somehow would confirm the magnitude of what she had done, and wearing the same necklace she had worn on the night of Richard’s election victory. Her hair and makeup were perfected down to the smallest detail. It was almost as if she were an actor about to make her stage debut, or a soldier about to do battle but damn it, if she was going to turn herself in for murder and bring Richard down with her, she was going to do so with dignity, even if that simply consisted of a suit and a smart pair of heels.

She had stopped pacing as she heard the footsteps in the corridor, however, and quickly sat down in the nearest chair she could find, as if staying still would better steady her nerves. She knew this was right, but she still found herself sitting with her fists clenched in her lap, her nails digging into the palms of her hands.

Then came the knock on the door.

“Harriet Stafford, this is the NYPD, we have a warrant for your arrest. Open the door.”

Harriet took a deep breath and got to her feet, moving to open the door as requested. As one of the officers moved to place her in handcuffs, the other read her rights.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

“Yes, I do.”

It was a surreal moment. She had heard these words so many times in film and television, but never had she imagined she would be read these rights herself. In spite of this, her voice was calm and collected; she would try to maintain this facade until the end.

The officers asked no further questions and, with an officer on either side, she was escorted to the elevator. A couple of residents peered from their doorways as the officers and the politician walked past, eyes wide; one of them even filmed it on his phone. Harriet kept her head held high even as the elevator doors closed behind them, doing her damndnest to maintain her image. For the most part, it worked, but as she was escorted from her apartment building to the waiting police car, she found herself returning again and again to Richard’s words.

“…you won’t confess your crimes, in spite of your guilt. You won’t risk it. 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.”

Richard was right. They were, or at least they would be soon. She should have felt glad of the fact for she was doing what was right and getting to Richard before he got to her. But it was only now that the reality began to sink in of the repercussions she would face. She knew she deserved her fate, and she was glad to think Richard would suffer the same, but that did not stop her feeling afraid. Far from it.

Someone else who was feeling afraid at that moment was Rebecca Ratcliffe, speeding on her way back to City Hall, her mobile in one hand, her other on the steering wheel.

“It’s not done, sir, I wasn’t able to get to her before… Sir, she’s been arrested. I don’t know if she turned herself in or-”

Ratcliffe did not manage to make any further attempt at an explanation as the conversation was abruptly cut off and the line went dead. Richard had thrown his phone against the wall.

“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.”

Richard knew he was in just as much danger as she was now, and the foundations he stood on were more unstable than before. His kingdom stood on brittle glass, and it was not long before it would shatter.
 
 
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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