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Queen of Swords: a novel

Chapter XXXIV – Strength and Knowledge

“He’ll make the right call,” said Eight, squeezing my hand. “You can trust him.”

“I’m scared she’ll leave,” I said nervously. “It would be so awful if she gets away. I tell you right now I’d never sleep another night.”

“Mr. Wilmot and the marshals won’t let that happen. Strength to Strength,” he said. “It’s a Native American expression. To know is to believe and to believe is to know.”

I knew strength as a Tarot card. Strength is important. But there isn’t a knowledge card. There should be. Facts. God, they are beautiful.

“I feel better,” I said. “But I’m embarrassed.”

“Peyote on the first date?” he teased. “Sorry. I won’t even mention getting naked.”

“Asking you to marry me on the first date. That’s what’s really bothering me.”

“Hey, don’t you know that wolf spirits mate once and forever? I’m a Gemini – I’ve been looking for my soulmate my whole life.”

And what have I been doing my whole life? Fighting Charmian. That’s what it feels like.

Eight picked up my hand where it lay in his and kissed the back of it. “I was waiting for someone who knew what it was like to grow up in the heart of a monster,” he said. “I just didn’t know it.”

“I have two sisters,” I told him. “They’re a lot older. They’re always telling me – they used to tell me – that I was just like her. They referred – I mean, obviously they didn’t mean in the physical or in my relations with men –“

“I get it. They really meant that you were determined,” said Eight. “Goal-focused.”

It feels so much better to be recognized! “They just felt that – since Dad wouldn’t want Charmian exposed –“

“What does it matter what “they” think?” asked Eight. “They’re two different people, so in spite of what they might want you to believe, they don’t really think together.”

And that is incontestably true. McKenzie’s bossier. Darby’s more of a rabble-rouser. Darby might be following McKenzie…some of the time. Don’t I sometimes get more of a hint of “You go girl” from the glint in Darby’s eyes?

“People talk about “they,” Eight was saying, “But there’s no “they” there. People’s lips may say one thing, but their eyes say something else. And their actions may be completely different. Who knows what their hearts say? We have to go our own way, on our own path.”

“As long as its the right path,” I agreed. “I felt like, even if my father had begged me, back there in the sweat lodge, to let Charmian go, I couldn’t have done it.”

“She’s too dangerous,” said Eight. “People like that are just too dangerous.”

Beat. So, as the old joke goes, enough about me. What do you think about me? At a certain point a girl had better start showing some interest in her date, other than caring only about how fantastically sensitive he is to her.

“So you grew up in the heart of the monster,” I started. “How did you escape?”

“I almost didn’t,” he admitted. “It was completely the church elders. They just rescued me. It was like I was drowning and they set up life buoys. Lifeboats.”

“So, I guess your Mom’s a member.”

There I touched it. The pain. The exposed nerve. He looked away.

“No,” he said. “She’s really not. She’s eaten out inside from the drugs. There’s not much left.”
What he described was horrible. But I’ve seen it. In my own father.

“I have to be straight edge,” he said. “There’s too much addiction on both my family trees.”
A straight edge peyote taking visionary? I could see it.

The inner door burst open and Justice’s Avenging Angel – in the person of Mr. Wilmot – stood before us.

“I think you may have landed the big one,” he said.

“The big one?” We rose, as if before a verdict.

“Female serial killer,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great? Female serial killers are very hard to catch. They lie low. They don’t have the need to show off. They’re very astute at blending in.”

My stepmother without the need to show off? I wouldn’t recognize her. On the other hand, if she hadn’t been “showing off” for Eight, would we ever have nailed her?

“I need a judge to sign the arrest warrant,” said Mr. Wilmot. “Fortunately we’ve got one waiting right around the corner.”

“Arrest warrant for murder?” I asked. It was too good to be true. Nothing was proven.

“For jury tampering and obstruction of justice,” said Mr. Wilmot. “And that’s just to begin with. Wait till Judge Kozlowsky discovers she swore a false oath in his court! We’ve got her dead to rights on her own words. I’ve got to notify the other side that we’ve got a mistrial. They’ll be jubilant.”
“Won’t she just bond out?” I asked wearily. “I mean, Charmian?”

And then there would be – literally – hell to pay. And I would be the one to pay it. Charmian’s first call would be to Nicholas Rudoff, our trustee. He takes her calls, wherever he is. She has him on speed dial.

“Impossible. She’s really outsmarted herself this time. She has to prove who she is just to get out of jail. The criminal justice system doesn’t recognize “uxes”, let me assure you. We don’t bond out “Jane Does.” By all means, let her prove she’s Pearleen Purdy. That will help us make our case. And by the time she’s ready to do that, we will have dug up a certain catalpa tree dedicated to Robert Garvin, Junior.”

The marshal knocked on the door to the jury deliberation room. Eight grabbed my hand tightly in reassurance and solidarity. For the few seconds that we waited for the door to open I actually felt sorry for Charmian. She was so wrong about everything. She made the very mistake she wanted everyone else to make; she judged by appearances.

Some woman in glasses opened the door. The jurors were seated around the table, papers strewn, faces heated – obviously we interrupted them in the midst of an intense discussion. All faces but one turned to us in calm surprise, taking this to be some ordinary interruption, as if we had come with coffee or cookies. But the woman at the door saw the marshals had their hands on their pistols and she stepped hurriedly behind the door as if it was the only safe place in the world. Charmian’s eyes flickered over me and saw Eight. Saw our joined hands, and rose to her feet with her teeth bared in a snarl.

Mr. Wilmot spoke the words.

“Jane Doe, also known as Pearleen Purdy, also known as Charmian Carr, also known as Charmian Quantreau, you are under arrest for perjury, jury tampering, and obstruction of justice. You have the right to remain silent –“

He read the whole Miranda warning, asking her “Do you understand?” She said nothing, never taking her eyes off me. Eight and I stood there calmly and faced her. She wasn’t to know about our clenched guts and our dry mouths.

The trees know where they are. The trees are not afraid.

He read numbers and statutes as the marshals handcuffed her. I saw her pupils recognizing, swiveling, hypnotizing, trying to suck me inside to join her in the yawning abyss that was left of her soul. But there was still enough of a human being left in there to feel pain. I saw the agony of her loss as she recognized that Eight had never been hers, that she had never known him, that he had chosen me. I almost wavered at the sight of so much suffering.

Then I remembered how she used to torture my father when he wanted a drink of water. “You’ll only piss your pants.”

“We’ll take this,” said Wilmot, darting forward to grab her juror’s notebook. I saw the panic in her face.

“You can’ take that! It’s private!”

“It’s the property of the court now,” said Mr. Wilmot dryly. “Who else does it belong to? Pearleen Purdy? Charmian Carr? Jane Doe?” he faced the astonished jurors, saying, “Judge Kozlowsky thanks you for your service, but he has declared a mistrial in this case. The clerk will be in momentarily to take your statements.”

It knocked the wind out of them. It would have silenced anyone else, but as they dragged my stepmother past me, she mouthed words. At me. “Well played. All Hail the New Queen!”
What a bitch!

Eight pulled on my arm. “Now what were we talking about when we were so rudely interrupted?” he demanded, turning my body to face him, forcing me to focus on his face.

I felt like a drowning swimmer pulled away from the undertow. Pulled out of the riptide. Life buoys. Lifeboats. Wasn’t that what we’d been talking about? How just when you think you’re going under for the final time –

I wiped my tears away. “Infinity?” I suggested.

“Before that,” he countered. We were walking now. Every step was taking us farther away from what was left of my stepmother. Farther away from the jail, from this courthouse in the heart of the city.
He prompted, “Weren’t you saying something about wanting to get to know me?”

Out on the steps we paused a moment to enjoy the magnificence of the soft spring night. The stars were out, every single one of them. Even the ones that had been dead for years.

“You’re right,” I agreed. “I remember now.”


TOMORROW: Cuck’d – Alysse Aallyn’s play “Othello in an American High School”

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