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Worse is Coming

I’ve been wasting my time. I should have taken things into my own hands while I had the chance. I should have stolen a knife from the kitchen, found some way to the sewing scissors. There were the garden shears, the knitting needles; the world is full of weapons if you’re looking for them. I should have paid attention.

But it’s too late to think about that now, already their feet are on the dusty- rose carpeting of the stairs; a heavy muted tread, pulse in the forehead. My back’s to the window.

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I expect a stranger, but it’s Nick who pushes open the door, flicks on the light. I can’t place that, unless he’s one of them. There was always that possibility. Nick, the private Eye. Dirty work is done by dirty people.

You shit, I think. I open my mouth to say it, but he comes over, close to me, whispers. “It’s all right. It’s Mayday. Go with them.” He calls me by my real name. Why should this mean anything?

“Them?” I say. I see the two men standing behind him, the overhead light in the hallway making skulls of their heads. “You must be crazy.” My suspicion hovers in the air above him, a dark angel warning me away. I can almost see it. Why shouldn’t he know about Mayday? All the Eyes must know about it; they’ll have squeezed it, crushed it, twisted it out of enough bodies, enough mouths by now.

“Trust me,” he says; which in itself has never been a talisman, carries no guarantee.

But I snatch at it, this offer. It’s all I’m left with.

One in front, one behind, they escort me down the stairs. The pace is leisurely, the lights are on. Despite the fear, how ordinary it is. From here I can see the clock. It’s no time in particular.

Nick is no longer with us. He may have gone down the back stairs, not wishing to be seen.

Serena Joy stands in the hallway, under the mirror, looking up, incredulous. The Commander is behind her, the sitting-room door is open. His hair is very grey. He looks worried and helpless, but already withdrawing from me, distancing himself. Whatever else I am to him, I am also at this point a disaster. No doubt they’ve been having a fight, about me; no doubt she’s been giving him hell. I still have it in me to feel sorry for him. Moira is right, I am a wimp.

“What has she done?” says Serena Joy. She wasn’t the one who called them, then. Whatever she had in store for me, it was more private.

“We can’t say, Ma’am,” says the one in front of me. “Sorry.”

“I need to see your authorization,” says the Commander. “You have a warrant?”

I could scream now, cling to the banister, relinquish dignity. I could stop them, at least for a moment. If they’re real they’ll stay, if not they’ll run away. Leaving me here.

“Not that we need one, Sir, but all is in order,” says the first one again. “Violation of state secrets.”

The Commander puts his hand to his head. What have I been saying, and to whom, and which one of his enemies has found out? Possibly he will be a security risk, now. I am above him, looking down; he is shrinking. There have already been purges among them, there will be more. Serena Joy goes white.

“Bitch,” she says. “After all he did for you.”

Cora and Rita press through from the kitchen. Cora has begun to cry. I was her hope, I’ve failed her. Now she will always be childless.

The van waits in the driveway, its double doors stand open. The two of them, one on either side now, take me by the elbows to help me in. Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing: I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped.

And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.

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