Chapter 35: Wicked
“The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”—Joseph Conrad
“What are you doing here?” Grace Northman asked in her most acerbic tone. “We agreed that you would never come here.”
Grace turned down her nose at the woman who was making herself comfortable in her parlor.
Michelle Stackhouse narrowed her eyes at the older woman. “I don’t see how you get off actin’ like you’re all better than me. I have money too now—you know? And I’m gonna have more real soon; my son’s gonna be rich! He’s a Brigant!”
Grace Northman sat in her finely upholstered antique wingback chair as regally as a person could. As she looked at Michelle sitting on the couch, she was already planning on replacing that particular piece of furniture.
“Yes,” Grace said. “I know all about your windfall because of your book and your son. But my investigators have told me that Jason cannot touch most of his fortune at this time.”
“An idiotic technicality,” Michelle seethed. “And Susanna’s doing.”
Grace sighed as if longsuffering. “Yes—well Susanna or Sookie or whatever her name is will soon get her comeuppance. Now,” she said as her butler came in with a tea setting, “why did you come here?”
“You got somethin’ stronger than this?” Michelle asked, looking disdainfully at the tea.
Grace rolled her eyes. It was only 10:00 a.m. “Luther, would you please pour my guest something more to her liking?”
“Bourbon—if you got it,” Michelle said quickly. “And don’t be shy when you pour—if ya know what I mean. And I know you got the expensive shit here, so I don’t want any Jim Beam—unless it’s the black label. And don’t water it down either!”
Hardly keeping her composure in the face of such a human being as Michelle Stackhouse, Grace fisted her hands and gave Luther a curt nod.
There was silence in the room until Luther handed Michelle her drink.
Michelle took a long chug of the liquid. “Mmmm,” she said approvingly, “this is good shit.”
“I’ll let you take the bottle home with you,” Grace said acidly. “Now get on with it,” she said after Luther had left the room. “Why are you here?”
Michelle took another drink. “Our mutual friend came to visit me last night.”
Grace sat forward in her chair. “Our mutual friend is in a world of trouble right now. He killed his whore in Central Park, and he didn’t accomplish his mission!”
Michelle nodded. “He told me that he had no other choice but to kill her. Lorena was refusing to do her part ’cause she didn’t wanna kill the brat. She was threatenin’ to go to the authorities and tell them all about my involvement. Bill had to kill her to protect me,” she said with a smile that made Grace nauseated.
Stupid bitch! Grace knew that Bill was manipulating Michelle, but she didn’t give a damn. Bill Compton was a necessary evil—for the moment—as was Michelle.
Grace sighed. “Compton was supposed to be nested somewhere so that he could get a shot at Eric last night. I paid a lot of money to get him access to the roof across from the MET. Why the hell wasn’t he there?”
Michelle glared at Grace. “It was Lorena’s fault. She was supposed to pose as a member of the wait staff at the museum so that she could tell Bill where the kid was and when to expect Eric to come out so that he could be ready for him, but at the last minute, Lorena wouldn’t go through with it! And—like I said—she threatened to tell the cops about everything! It wasn’t Bill’s fault!”
“Did he convince you of that before or after he fucked you?” Grace asked sarcastically.
“Before!” Michelle responded without thinking. She glared at Grace when she noticed her slip-up. “Bill and me—we got a little history—not that it matters to you.”
Grace smirked. “No. I wouldn’t suppose it does matter much.” She sighed. “So—Bill’s failed. Now what does he want?”
“The same thing he’s always wanted,” Michelle said. “He wants to kill Eric and then punish Susanna for all the pain she’s caused me.”
Grace shook her head at the delusional woman in front of her. Grace had only talked to Agent William Compton once, but she knew that he was obsessed with Sookie Stackhouse. In his delusional mind, Compton thought that Sookie would come running to him once Eric was out of the picture. Thus, killing Eric was only a means to an end for him, but that was a convenient happenstance for Grace. She wanted Eric dead—finally dead after all the years of pain he’d inflicted upon her beloved son, Appius. She didn’t give a fuck what happened to Sookie or Susanna or whoever she was calling herself this week! She did, however, want their little spawn gone too. Like Eric, he would stand in the way of Appius’s true heirs one day. Plus, as long as Johan was alive, he’d eventually receive her home, and Grace couldn’t stand that thought.
The Northman matriarch sighed. “Here is what you will tell your ‘friend,’ Mr. Compton. Tell him that Eric will be here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. I will try to arrange for him to bring the child with him, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage that. Regardless—tell him that at 6:10, Luther will be alone in the kitchen, and the kitchen door will be conveniently unlocked. My other employees will be eating in the servants’ area downstairs in the basement at that time.” Grace paused dramatically. “There’s a garden gate on the northeast side of the property, and the latch is old. I’d imagine that someone might be able to break it relatively easily.”
Catching on more quickly than Grace thought she would, Michelle smiled evilly. “You really ought to get something like that fixed.”
“In a household this large, it’s difficult to think of everything,” Grace said.
“I imagine it would be,” Michelle said, looking around as if she were taking some kind of inventory. “How much does a place like this set someone back? When my son’s inheritance comes through, I’d like to get somethin’ like this.”
“I’m sure you would,” Grace said with a fake smile on her face. Michelle missed the sarcasm in the older woman’s voice as she continued to study the richly decorated room.
Michelle smiled. “My Jason and me are gonna be livin’ large soon, even as Susanna’s miserable and alone.”
Grace hadn’t asked Michelle Stackhouse why she was so keen to see her own daughter suffer so much. In truth, she didn’t give a fuck. What mattered was that the woman was a convenient pawn to help her to exact revenge upon Eric. However, a woman like Michelle couldn’t be trusted to keep her mouth shut for long. Luckily, Grace knew people who would make sure that Michelle kept her trap shut. And Michelle’s days were numbered whether Compton succeeded or not. Compton was also a liability. So he’d have to be taken care of too. But, first, they would serve their purpose.
And one of Michelle’s purposes was to ensure that suspicion for Eric’s death fell far away from Grace.
“How is Freyda doing?” Grace asked.
“Now that girl is crazy!” Michelle responded.
“But she’s convenient,” Grace reminded. “Did she arrange for your payment to be transferred?”
Michelle grinned. “Yep. It was real smart to get some cash out of her.”
“She will also take the fall if anything goes wrong,” Grace mused.
Michelle nodded in agreement. “So what about Eric’s guards?” she asked as she frowned at her empty glass.
“Don’t worry about them,” Grace said. “I know some people who will make sure any guards Eric brings are not an issue.”
“I’ll let Bill know,” Michelle said with a smile as she stood up.
“Tell Compton that I don’t want Luther harmed permanently when he finds him in the kitchen, but he will need to be knocked out in order for me to look innocent in all this. Tell Compton that Eric and I will be in this room and that if he wants his money, Eric better not leave it alive.”
Michelle put her empty glass onto the beautiful table in front of her—just off of the coaster. “I expect to be paid too. A lot more than what Freyda gave me already! It’ll be a while before Jason comes into his money, and I ain’t goin’ back to how I was livin’ before.”
Grace sighed. “Of course. I haven’t forgotten. In fact, you’ll have your money tomorrow. I’ll send someone to see you at around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. tomorrow—if that is convenient for you.”
Michelle smiled with satisfaction. “Yeah—I’ll be in my hotel room.” She turned to leave the room.
“Oh—and Mrs. Stackhouse,” Grace said.
“Huh?” Michelle asked inelegantly as she turned back around to face Grace.
Grace sneered a little. “It’d be best if you didn’t come here again. We don’t want anyone to ask questions about why you’re here.”
“What about your people?” Michelle asked, suddenly a little nervous. “They saw me here.”
“My people are completely loyal to me,” Grace assured, though she was not able to completely hide her scorn for the hick. The bitch should have thought about discretion before.
“Well—then,” Michelle said, daring to turn up her nose at the elegant woman who was still sitting as if she were a queen on a throne. “I’m sure that Bill will do what needs to be done tomorrow. After that, we can all go back to pretending we don’t know each other.”
Not wanting to risk the ridiculous woman’s doing anything idiotic, Grace decided to placate her for the moment. “Yes—sadly—it’s impossible for us to have a connection after all of this is done—at least not until you take your rightful place in society.”
Michelle smiled at that thought.
“And, of course, I will always be grateful that you put me into contact with Compton; I won’t forget that.”
“Just remember—we’re in this together. If one of us goes down, the other does too,” Michelle said haughtily.
“As long as Compton is not caught, neither of us will be connected to him,” Grace said. “Everyone will believe that Freyda was responsible for Eric’s death.”
Michelle nodded. “Bill won’t be caught. He’ll take care of Eric and the brat, and then he’ll disappear.”
“Excellent,” Grace said, rising to her feet with dignity. “It’d be best if you left out the back.”
“Why?” Michelle asked, her cackles immediately raising again.
“I figured you’d want to check out the layout of the garden for Compton,” Grace responded, holding in her sigh at the woman’s cluelessness. “Plus, I’m sure that Luther could find you an unopened bottle of that bourbon if you went through the kitchen.”
The look of glee in Michelle’s eyes over the promised liquor caused her to miss the patronizing lilt to Grace’s voice.
“Good idea,” Michelle said with satisfaction as she left the room.
Grace sighed deeply and sat back down.
Five minutes later, Luther came back into the room.
“Is that thing gone?” Grace asked contemptuously.
“Yes,” Luther responded.
Grace sighed and used her thumb and forefinger to squeeze together the bridge of her nose a little. Luther’s strong hands were caressing her shoulders in the next instant, and she sank back into his touch.
“That feels nice,” Grace said with a sigh.
“It is not good for you to be so distressed, ma’am,” he whispered, placing a little kiss behind her ear where he knew she liked it.
Grace smiled a little. During her long life, she’d had many lovers, some even while she was married to John—not that her husband ever knew about them. Luther was above average. It was a shame that he was in his thirties; she preferred men a little younger or a little older now. The “in between years” could be so awkward. However, since Stan Davis was no longer available to her and she didn’t have time to explore other possibilities at the moment, Luther would have to do. Plus, he was very loyal to her and eager to please—and learn—and those were always good things.
“Luther, will you make sure that those lamps and the statue on the table are moved into another room before tomorrow evening,” Grace said, pointing. “Just replace the lamps with those old ones from the blue bedroom,” she added as she leaned forward a little so that Luther could get a better angle on her sore back muscles. “And the Renoir. I think I’d like it moved to my bedroom for a while. Just put the piece Sophie-Anne got me for Christmas in here for the time being.”
“Of course, ma’am,” he said, not asking questions.
That was certainly one of the many things Grace liked about Luther. He didn’t question her. Normally, she wouldn’t have chosen a head butler who was so young, but he’d been the nephew to her previous butler, who had died of a sudden heart attack. At the time, Luther was the under butler, and he’d been working in the household for five years. So it made sense to promote him.
“Make sure the other members of the household are at dinner promptly at 5:45 p.m. tomorrow—as always.” Grace ran a tight ship, but she wanted to make sure that was doubly the case for the next day. “I want none of the others on the first floor,” she added. “I have an important meeting with my grandson.”
“Of course,” he said.
“Eric will be arriving at 6:00 p.m. You will show him into this room and show any guards he brings with him into the east living room. Oh—and move the Matisse paintings out of there for the time being, too. Replace them with those red ones by that artist John liked. And make sure that you move everything that I have told you about discreetly. If anyone asks, just say that I wanted certain pieces to be professionally cleaned.”
“Is there anything else you require?” Luther asked suggestively, his fingers moving down the fronts of Grace’s shoulders.
“Yes—after you have settled Eric into here and his guards into the living room, go to the kitchen. A man will be entering the house at around 6:10 p.m. You are not to stop him from coming in; in fact, I will need you to allow him to incapacitate you,” Grace said calmly.
Luther’s fingers stopped only for a moment before resuming their downward trajectory until he was caressing the sides of her breasts.
“Oh?” he asked.
“Mmmm,” Grace responded, arching her back a little. “Yes, the man is going to be doing a little job for me, and your injury will help to ensure that I am not implicated.”
“Of course,” Luther said, bending down to trail kisses over her cheek. “All will be ready.”
Grace sighed happily at his touch. “Excellent. Now, I will need an hour or so to make a few arrangements, and then I will require your help with something in my private chambers.”
“I am happy to serve you, ma’am,” Luther said, placing one final kiss on her neck before straightening up.
“Oh—and Luther,” Grace said, “be so kind as to have a nice bath waiting for me. I believe I would like to continue relaxing.”
Luther leered at her. “I will have all prepared, ma’am.”
Grace smiled as she watched the handsome man leave the room. Once the door closed behind him, the elegant woman went to the desk in the corner of the room—a room which had always been her favorite in the house—and pulled out one of the untraceable cell phones Stan had taught her about. The clever Senator and even cleverer lover had given her a lot of advice over the years when it came to discretion.
She sighed. Too many people knew about too many parts of her current plan, and that was intolerable to her. She probably ought not to have told Luther about a man attacking him the next evening, but—then again—she didn’t want to risk him fighting off Compton, which was quite possible, given the fact that Luther could perform the role of body guard very well if required.
Plus, she really did want Luther to move some of the more valuable items out of the rooms where she was certain violence would take place the next day. After all, there were things that she didn’t want ruined by blood or bullet holes. She smiled a little as she dialed the phone.
It was answered after a single ring.
“Hello?” came the gruff, questioning voice on the other end of the call.
“Sigebert, this is Mrs. Northman. How are you and your brother?” Grace asked.
“It is Wybert,” the man responded.
“Oh well,” Grace said. “You and your brother sound so much alike.”
“It is okay, ma’am,” Wybert said.
“I have some tasks for you and your brother,” Grace said.
There was a pause. “I thought you wanted us to lie low for now,” the man said.
“I do,” Grace responded. “But these tasks wouldn’t take up much of your time, and after they’re done, I believe you should disappear for a while. Didn’t you and your brother have a place in northern Canada?” she asked.
“Yes,” Wybert responded.
“Excellent. I’ll make sure that you have plenty of money for a nice long vacation there.”
“Okay,” he half-grunted.
Grace heard an exchange of voices on the other line, and a few moments later, a slightly less gruff voice spoke to her.
“Mrs. Northman?” Sigebert asked.
“Oh Sigebert,” Grace said, thankful to be speaking to the smarter of the twins. “I was just telling your brother that I have some tasks for you to perform, and I will pay you generously for them.”
“We are happy to help you in anything,” Sigebert said. “Mr. Northman was such a good boss.”
“Your loyalty to my son is greatly appreciated,” Grace smiled, her sincerity clear in her tone. The “Berts” had been faithful to Appius for almost two decades. And she intended to reward them greatly for their loyalty. On the other hand, she had no intention of paying Compton or Michelle Stackhouse a dime.
“What do you need from us?” he asked.
“I need you to eliminate some annoyances for me tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Sigebert said casually, as if he’d not just been asked to kill people. “Who?”
“Eric is coming here tomorrow evening. He’ll arrive at around 6:00 p.m.”
“Do you need for us to kill him?” Sigebert asked excitedly. He obviously relished that possibility.
“No. I don’t want to risk that being connected to me, and I have someone else in mind for that task—Bill Compton. I will need you to kill Eric’s guards for me, and I need Wybert to take out Michelle Stackhouse. I’d prefer for Michelle to die between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. so that her death can be blamed on Compton too. Bill is due here a little after 6:00 p.m. to take care of Eric.”
“Understood,” Sigebert said. “Where will Wybert find Michelle Stackhouse?”
“She’s at the Element Hotel in Times Square—room 623.”
“Got it,” Sigebert said. “Will she be alone?”
“Yes,” Grace responded. “I’ll make sure of it. She believes that I am going to give her some money. I’ve told her that I’m sending someone with her payment at 4:30 p.m., and—given her greed—I’m sure she’ll let him in without question. I have reason to believe that Compton has been in Michelle’s room with her, so it should be easy enough to make it look like he’s the guilty party.”
“It won’t be a problem,” Sigebert assured. “Wybert will use something in the room to do it with and he’ll keep things quiet. Where and when do you need me?” he asked.
“As I said, Eric will be here at 6:00 p.m., and Bill is going to be coming into the house through the kitchen at 6:10 p.m. or so. Most of the staff will be in the basement; however, Luther will be taking a bump on the head from Compton so that things look authentic.” She paused. “Right after Bill enters my parlor to take care of Eric, I need you to take out his guards, who will be in the east first floor living room. You can be in there already waiting for them. There is a large Japanese screen in the corner of the room that would be ideal for you to hide behind. I’ll contact you as soon as Bill enters the parlor, and then you can kill the guards immediately after that. Just make sure that you use a silencer.”
“How many guards will there be?” Sigebert asked without missing a beat.
“One for sure. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are two. I wouldn’t think there would be more. And I need it to look like Compton killed them too.”
“Very well,” Sigebert said. “I will use an untraceable weapon.”
“Thank you,” Grace said sincerely. “You don’t know how much your willingness to help takes a burden off of my shoulders.”
“Do you trust Compton to do the job with Eric?” Sigebert asked.
“He hates Eric and believes that he has incentive.”
“Just believes?” Sigebert asked perceptively.
“Yes—in his delusional mind, he thinks that he’ll be able to win back Eric’s wife one day. He also believes I’m going to pay him a lot of money.”
“But you aren’t,” Sigebert stated.
“No. I don’t intend for him to leave my estate alive.”
“So—I need to kill him too,” Sigebert said.
“No,” Grace returned. “I will take care of Compton. Then you will plant the gun you use on the guards onto Compton’s body and leave.”
There was a pause. “Mrs. Northman, I’d rather you not have to kill anyone yourself,” Sigebert said.
“I know, dear,” Grace said affectionately. She could hear the concern in the man’s voice. “But it would be best if it looked like I killed him in self-defense—or better yet—like I did it to try to save Eric. Of course, it will be too late. But, for it to be convincing, I’ll need to have gun powder on my hands—correct?”
There was another pause. “How about your man—Luther? Perhaps, he could take care of Compton.”
“I considered that, but since Compton will be knocking him out, that’s not possible.”
“Tell Compton to wait to knock him out until after he leaves the house,” Sigebert suggested.
“I considered that too, but if things are thwarted in some way, I need Luther’s injury to corroborate my version of events.”
Grace heard muffled voices as Sigebert talked about something with his brother. “Mrs. Northman,” Sigebert said, “we will do what you ask. But the boss wouldn’t have wanted you to get your hands dirty like that. After I do the guards, I’ll wait for Bill outside the parlor and do him then. And—just in case I cannot do that—Wybert will be waiting outside the garden gate for Compton. Just tell Compton that you arranged for a getaway for him, and Wybert will do the rest.”
Grace sighed. “I’d prefer that Compton die on the grounds and that it looked like I did it.”
“That will be option number one, ma’am,” Sigebert assured. “And don’t worry. Once I kill Compton, I’ll make sure that it looks like you did it before I leave through the garden gate. And if—for some reason—Wybert and I are caught, we will say that we were working with Compton. None of this will come back to you, ma’am.”
Grace felt a lump rise in her throat. “Your loyalty is extremely commendable, Sigebert. It would also help if you implicated Freyda de Castro and Michelle Stackhouse—if you are caught.”
“We will, ma’am,” Sigebert said. “I will make sure Wybert understands and that we have the same story.”
“You have been very good to me—and to Appius.”
“I’d have done anything for the boss,” Sigebert said. “If I would have known what he was planning to do in that hospital room, I’d have stayed right by his side through it all.”
Grace wiped away a tear. “My son chose well when he chose you two. I will make sure you are well-rewarded.”
“We don’t need anything, ma’am,” Sigebert said sincerely. “I’m just glad that we’ll be able to help you.”
“Thank you,” Grace said again, the emotion thick in her voice. “Luther will be going out tomorrow at around noon to run a few errands; he’ll meet up with you and bring you back in the car so that you can enter unseen. I’ll have him call this number when he is ready to pick you up.”
“I’ll be waiting for his call,” Sigebert said, obviously intending to hang up after those words.
“Sigebert,” Grace said quickly, “my son was right to trust you and your brother so much.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Sigebert replied before hanging up.
Grace sighed as she put the phone down. She’d use it once more to text Sigebert when Bill entered the parlor the next day, and then she’d hide it in one of the two secret panels in the room until Luther could dispose of it.
After all, she didn’t like taking chances—even with an untraceable phone.
She was already taking a risk where Jason Stackhouse was concerned. Luckily, Michelle seemed to recognize that her son couldn’t be trusted with secrets, and Michelle had assured Grace that Jason didn’t know about their deal with Compton. Grace sighed. She was apt to believe the woman about Jason. While Michelle was certainly uncouth and had been unwise for visiting the estate during the daytime, she had also been clever enough to call Luther beforehand so that she could enter unseen.
Of course, Grace would have preferred it if she’d not come at all!
Grace smiled as she looked at the picture of Appius which was sitting on her desk. The photo had been taken when Appius was 18. In the image, he had an easy, carefree smile. It had always been Grace’s favorite picture of her son. She shook her head as she brushed a tear from her eye. She picked up the picture, deciding to move it to her room in order to make sure it wasn’t damaged.
“Goddamn you, Stella Larsson,” she cursed quietly. Grace had come to despise Stella with every fiber of her being, and she hated herself for not stopping Appius’s relationship with her when she could have done it. Appius had changed after he’d met Stella; he’d become wrapped up into her, and Stella had encouraged Appius in his baser urges. Grace shook her head again.
She—of course—had known that her son dallied with men, and even though she did not understand it, she had accepted it. However, she now blamed Stella for encouraging Appius in that direction. In fact, she hated her son’s first wife for all that she’d done to Appius. Her illness and death had practically destroyed him. And then the evidence of her betrayal had annihilated him. After that, her beloved son had never been the same.
His eyes had lost the light that was so evident in the picture. That light had—quite literally—died with Stella and her betrayal.
Grace shook her head and brushed away another tear. She hated Eric too; he had been a constant reminder of Stella’s betrayal—Appius’s bane. And even finding out that Eric was Appius’s son, after all, had not dulled Grace’s hatred of him or his whore of a mother. Eric had remained a source of consternation for Appius, and her child had finally broken because of him.
And—for that—she would see Eric and his line destroyed, even if she had to give her own life to do it.
A/N: Hi all! Sorry this took me several days to get to you, but it’s a pretty long chapter, and I’ve been SWAMPED (yes—in all caps) at work.
Most of you were right that it’s Grace pulling Bill’s strings, but—like the viper she is—she’s trying to make sure that others take the fall. How is she going to get Eric to come to her home? That is the question.
We’re winding down w/ this story. As of now, we have 40 chapters total and an epilogue. Only a couple of cycles left! I’ll be switching to Uncharted for a couple of chapters. And I have another chapter cooking for Who’s Your Daddy?. And then I’ll be back!