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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XXIV – The World

I few back to Denver with a sense of frustration and feeling a lack of resolution. I also felt very alone, but what else is new? The Carr family wouldn’t want to hear from me, and really, without a body, what could I prove? It seemed obvious to me that my stepmother Pearleen-Charmian, hadn’t activated the real Charmian’s caregiver’s license, filed taxes, or done anything else that would allow the authorities to locate her; otherwise Charmian’s family would have found her long ago. What she had done was fix her pit viper vision on my father and promise him heaven if he elevated her to partner. The kind of heaven he ultimately got, he didn’t expect.

All I knew for certain was that the game had moved irrevocably forward. We were all different now. I couldn’t do nothing. Even sending an anonymous letter telling her someone knew that Pearleen Purdy and Charmian Quantreau were the same person was no longer enough for me. As an experienced salesperson I decided to do what I usually do when a prospect is an unknown quantity; I would play it by ear. See what hint I could drop. Scope out the situation.

Knowing her routine, I planned to show up at exactly nine o’clock, when she would be having coffee on her deck and contemplating whatever mayhem her silly cards told her to inflict that day. She would be awake but totally unprepared. I know how she relishes her morning solitude. To nerve myself for our encounter I listened to the Decembrists’ My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist in my way over.

But to my amazement, Charmian-Pearleen wasn’t home. Where could she possibly be at this hour of the morning? It must be an appointment she hadn’t been able to schedule at a more convenient time. Taking the risk that she had rushed out temporarily on some short-term errand, I hid my car and let myself inside.

This was too good an opportunity to pass up. Now that I knew about Pearleen, about the real Charmian, there might be some evidence I would have previously overlooked that I could now find.
Once inside the house I reveled in my momentary possession. There is something fascinating about studying another’s life when they don’t know you’re looking. I felt like a cop on one of those detective shows, assessing my competitor through a one-way mirror.

There’s a spicy, musky smell that hovers over Charmian, and her house was full of it. Kind of an old potpourri, carpet-cleaner smell, as if someone was trying to cover up a disgusting effluvia of bodily odors. Or was it my imagination? All I knew for certain was, if my sisters and I ever inherited this house we would have to get rid of everything in it because Charmian ruins everything she touches. In converting it to her use, it’s as if she has destroyed its spirit and corrupted even its utility.

The place was immaculate. Thick white carpeting, pink leather sofas, sequined Indian pillows, glossy brass lamps. The huge painting over the fireplace displayed “The World” – one of her silly Tarot tropes. That was a bit reminiscent of the paintings I had seen in Charmian Carr’s old house in Texas. Some of her taste must have been set then, and so even though she sought rebirth, she was forced by her very nature to drop little clues to her disavowed self.

What I really wanted was the mauve suede book I had seen through the glass. It drew me like a magnet. And there it still was, on her fussy mother of pearl inlaid desk. When I opened it I was gratified to see that every page was ornamented with her looping green ink scrawl. It could have easily been empty or contained only bills. Most of what Charmian does is just for show, and if you take the trouble – as my father didn’t – to look beneath the surface, the demonic reality of her real self is all too evident.

I picked a hard, uncomfortable chair that wouldn’t betray me by taking a mold of my ass – and began to read.

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