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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XXXII – The Ace of Swords

I was so full of delicious barbecue, berry cobbler and spinach lasagna that I could barely run. But Eight and I managed to power walk down the courthouse hallway. As long as we were hand in hand, my connection with this total stranger was strong and fierce. Mr. Wilmot, whom I recognized as the prosecutor giving the closing argument I listened to just this afternoon, thrust his head outside his office.

“So Zach,” he asked, “What’s the emergency?”

“We’ve got some facts about one of your jurors that you really need to know,” said Eight.
I felt a strange exhilaration that the prosecutor, whom Eight called a “friend”, nevertheless didn’t know – or use – Eight’s secret name. The club I belonged to was way more exclusive.

In the prosecutor’s office was a nightmarishly uncomfortable Danish “Oldern” sofa bearing a single needle-pointed cushion bearing the legend: “The meek may inherit the earth, but without you they won’t keep it very long.”

“My wife made that,” said Wilmot. “Come on in. Have a seat.” I felt kind of guilty for bothering him, he looked so harassed. He wore his gray suit pants but no jacket, had removed his tie and his collar was undone. His pepper and salt hair stood up all over his head like a bulldog’s fur, and he peered at us over his bifocals as Eight said,

“First tell him about your stepmother’s identity problems, Whitney.”

But first I looked around. You are not lost; the trees know where they are. The walls were covered with plaques, awards, framed certificates and degrees. In a painting of justice the blindfolded goddess holding the scales pulled her blindfold down just enough for one eye to peek out. Made me think of Charmian’s mesmerizing tarot cards. I didn’t like thinking about them.

We sat down together on the uncomfortable sofa. It was all right because Eight and I were together.

“I’m Whitney Quantreau,” I said. “My stepmother’s on your jury. Charmian Quantreau. But that’s not her real name. I just came back from Cold Creek, Texas, where I found out that the real Charmian Carr has been missing for the past ten years. Her family just had her declared dead. I have a picture of her here,” I gave him my manila envelope with the copy of Charmian’s book and the Firewalker material, but he made no move to open it. “Her real name is Pearleen Purdy and I think she stole Charmian’s identity.”

“She stole your stepmother’s identity?” he asked me.

This was going to be a touchy story to tell. But I had Eight beside me. I swallowed, took a breath and went on, “She was pretending to be Charmian Carr seven years ago when she married my father. Now he’s dead and she killed him. She admits it all in this book.”

“It’s a love letter to me,” said Eight. “She thinks I killed Rafe Zanelli. She thinks I’m a fellow spirit.”
Wilmot sat down. I think he fell into his chair.

“It’s all in the book,” said Eight. “She murdered her stepfather first, and then she cut Charmian Carr’s throat and buried her under a catalpa tree in Texas. Then she murdered Whitney’s father.”
“I made a copy,” I offered. “It’s in there.”

“I have a mistrial,” said Wilmot. Not looking happy about it. “Mistrials are expensive.”

“Sorry,” I squeaked. More guilt!

He recovered fast. He was a fast recoverer. Probably how you get to be prosecutor.

“It has a good side,” said the prosecutor. “It’s like moot court. We get to find out how the jury was tending. Does anybody else know about this?”

“Only my church elders,” said Eight. “They won’t speak to anybody.”

Wilmot rose decisively. “I need the original. I always need the original.”

So I had been right about that. Could it just be fate that I stole the book on the very day Charmian didn’t go home? The last day of the trial? I guess sometimes fate works one way, and sometimes another.

Eight gave him the book. Now he had everything. It was literally out of our hands.
“Excuse me,” said Wilmot, and he proceeded through a glass door into an inner office.

Eight and I were alone. We looked at each other. I swear to you we recognized each other. But what did we see? Who did we recognize?

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