This story is selected as Editor’s Choice and won INR 500
It was an odd thing, really, to see Mrs. Adlestone walking down to the grocery store late at night, her pale skin glowing bright and yellow against the single lamppost that stood guard in the corner, the night drowning all else in its dark. The lamppost, in comparison, was very noisy, what with the numerous insects clamoring for the attention of that sodium light, banging on its glass with very many small clinks and buzzes, and the continuous electric hum that accompanied it. Mrs. Adlestone contributed very little to this orchestra of miss timed tunes; the swish-swish of her black overcoat that covered almost all of her slender pale fingers as she walked and the gentle almost inaudible footsteps on the pavement where her high heels had pressed against were all the noises she produced.
I maintained my distance as I followed, a certain trepidation rising in the back of my throat, and adrenaline discharging through my stomach. I remained in the shadows, carefully avoiding the light where i might be seen and the gravel upon which my feet might be heard, a certain hunger now rising. I hadn’t seen her up so close for weeks now, but my months of waiting and following her had finally paid off. There she stood, buying celery and coffee so late in the night, and there was I, just outside the store, head covered by a hood and hands inside my pockets, looking on. I could feel the blood pumping in the veins of my wrists, so much so, I could almost feel myself getting lightheaded.
Mrs. Adlestone was a beautiful woman. She was the kind of beauty that could only be described in those simple words. She was too regal for a man to love, and too subtle for a man to hate. Even when she was known only as Edna, as I knew her as of the 7th of September, eight years back now, she had been that way. Presently, Mrs. Adlestone had billed her groceries, and was making her way towards the liquor store, as I very well knew, owing to the copious notes I had taken over the span of the past months.
Every night, she would venture out her massive estates, every night she would buy certain groceries (for pretend, I knew, for she had too many servants to bother buying groceries herself. No, she liked walking at night, and buying things delayed her return, which was pleasing to her, I knew). Every night, she would find that specific liquor shop, and buy a bottle of the BlackFlag Emerald, which she would hold as if it were her own babe, and walk back to her estate, just right and down some five blocks or so, near the Church, in which she would be forever present every Sunday morning, in her Sunday clothes, looking as unapproachable as ever. The thought of Mrs. Adlestone inside a catholic Church made me smile beneath the hood; there was one irony which only I would find funny in the world.
I needed to talk to her, tonight at last. My heart raced faster than a racehorse in a circuit lap, my hands trembled more than the trees around me against the wind, my lips quivered with sudden excitement, the hood could hardly hide the shine in my crazed eyes. I knew I had crossed that fine line between madness and sanity a while back, and looking at her, with her overly long jet black hair braided till the ends, swinging about near her waist as she held on to it with one hand, caressing it as she walked (an odd habit she had never been able to resist), looking at those swaying hips and those long legs the ends of which really did not require heels of that height, I knew I absolutely must talk with her.
Tonight was the night.
“Tonight is the night.”
I was sitting on hard backed chairs in the lobby of the Letterman Newspapers, as i had been for the past three hours now. My back hurt, and the cold windy September night, almost nine years ago, didn’t help at all. I was a freelance photographer, but lately I had been strangely popular with the news stations, for although I had no insurmountable interest in catching the news, the pay was good and lately there seemed to be too many political scandals up and about for me to just ignore them. In the freelance photography business, as I recall grinning and telling other people, everything was an opportunity, and that night I had been given an opportunity of a lifetime.
I had supplied the pictures of Alistair Adlestone conversing with Joe Pritchard a little over a week back. Though the picture of an overly rich politician with some shady looking known criminal meant nothing much without any proof, which I had certainly not stuck around to dig out, Joe Pritchard had recently been condemned of tax evasion in the order of a few hundred million currencies, trafficking of above two dozen different counts, and god knew what else still left to be found. Of course, a picture of Alistair Adlestone, Chairperson of the famous Idlestones company and now running for the seat of the Mayor in this city, with a man of such regard now meant everything in the world. I had provided the means for everyone to openly discuss their interpretations of what a meeting between these two giants, one a business colossus, the other a criminal kronos, meant.
I had clicked the pictures and I had given them to Letterman Newspapers without two thoughts of what that might mean for me. The pay was good, and I wanted to buy that leather jacket outside Bloomingdale’s. For me, it had been an easy calculation.
“Tonight is the night”
I ran my thumb over the screen of my phone, over which the words shone brightly. After I had taken that picture, I was getting too much attention from the newspapers. They wanted me to cover the full story, wanted me on their crew as a fulltime photographer. All that was well and good with me, but I also wanted to keep my head about my person. What stories Alistair Adlestone wanted hidden, I knew not, but I knew this much: Adlestone wouldn’t like a photographer messing his life’s work for him. A month was left till elections, and the sudden alleged connection that Adlestone seemed to have with the criminal Joe Pritchard would definitely hold sway over the decision of the voters.
“Tonight is the night”
Two days back, I had received a call. I still remembered, quite clearly, what had been said.
“I can give you the story of the decade,” a husky sing song voice of a woman had said, “There is an apartment on the fifth floor of a building on the 188th street crossing, the keys of which you will find under the mat. There is a window in that apartment. It overlooks the west side of the Blue Lagoon Imperial Hotel. You might want to clean your lens and be there when I tell you. Yes?”
I remember even more vividly, what I had replied.
Now I had received the message, but I still hadn’t moved. Night was setting fast, the light outside was all but gone, and yet I hadn’t moved. This could be a trap. Maybe Adlestone was the one who had called, maybe it was all a set up to get to me. Maybe if I entered the apartment, I would find his thugs with guns, ready to dispose of me. Quietly.
But surely I was being too paranoid. How would Alistair Adlestone even know my name? Why would he even care? True, I had taken that picture. But now, the damage had been done. It seemed highly unreasonable for the Chairman of Idlestones to risk murder on his repertoire. Of course, he would be too busy with the elections. Of course, he wouldn’t bother with a small time photographer like me.
But then again, I surely had pissed him off, and surely had unraveled his almost perfect political campaign. It all depended on the temperament of the man. If he was the one to hold grudges, I was sure I would be dead by now. On the other hand, how did a man reach a position where Alistair Adlestone was, without holding grudges? And if this wasn’t a trap? Say, if this was a genuine tip off, a genuine clue as to what Adlestone truly was? Of course, that was more likely, it had to be. If there was some kind of scam I could uncover, why, I would be very rich. I ran my thumb over the screen of my phone again.
No, the risk was too much. I should lay low, forget about this and move on. One should learn to be satisfied with what they had. In any case, why would I want to risk anything, when I was already doing well for myself? Why should I make such moves, when I had offers in every news agency in the city?
“Tonight is the night”
I looked at my phone screen, which seemed to blink furiously at me. I had never learned to be satisfied, and stuffing my phone back into my pocket, stood up to massage my sore neck. I had never learned to sit in one place either, and if the risk was too much, the gain had to be too much too. Setting my mouth to a wince at this motto of life – which had only served to make mine harder – I was outside the double doors of the lobby, my jacket still finding its way around my arms, as I raised a hand for a cab.
Forty five minutes later, I was outside the red door of one apartment on the fifth floor of a building opposite the Blue Lagoon Imperial, on the 188th street, my gear in tow and a determined but fearful face sketched on. I reached for the key under the mat with shaking hands, unlocked the door, then turned the knob with a loud creak even more fearfully. The door opened wide, and the light that streamed through the hallway onto the small dark room illuminated nothing out of the ordinary; it was only a small room with sparse furniture. There was only a chair strategically placed next to the open window, and a wooden table near it, shining blue against the night sky. Whoever had given me the tip off had planned this beforehand, and I had to say, they really had set quite an effect to the place. Now I was reassured. I knew this was genuine, it wasn’t Adlestone’s trap, for surely, if it had been, his men would have grabbed me by now.
As I set my equipment on the table, and fixed my lens just so, I peeked outside the window. The street below was silent and desolate, still wetted from the morning rains and reflecting the lights from the massive hotel in shades of pink and blue. I spied upon every window of the hotel, my camera zooming in with quiet precision, hoping that I wasn’t too late. Upon noticing nothing extraordinary, and definitely no sign of anyone who looked remotely like the to-be (although I was hoping after this night, it would become not-to-be) Mayor, I was just about to send a text on the number saved in my phone, which I knew would not be appreciated but I was getting desperate.
But right then, suddenly, the lights of one of the rooms directly opposite to mine switched on. The angle was just perfect, and so was the lighting, for I could capture indistinguishable photographs of the entire suite, in which a man, unmistakably of the imposing persona of Alistair Adlestone himself, and a woman with long waist-length hair tied back in a straight ponytail and wearing a very skimpy golden outfit, along which her curves were very much accentuated, had just pranced inside.
That this was my first of many sightings of Edna, or the gravity of what that meant, I did not know then. I spared sometime on the woman, my eyes lingering on her profile, as she undressed while moving her hips ever so slowly, a practiced rhythm to her every movement. The pale hue of her skin reminded one of sour milk, and as the golden ribbon of a dress that she was wearing slipped past, her arms and her thighs reminded one of soft dough. It was her face though that made me take the first picture, the face of a doll, beautiful, yet unchangeable – fixed as if it was a photograph all by itself, and the point of my camera was lost on it. There was no joy in what she did, only purpose, and that had a tangible beauty akin to the beauty of a broken clay sculpture.
Her slow dance was now interrupted, and her naked body beckoned nearer by Alistair Adlestone, who had found time to throw his pants unceremoniously over a chair and had laid back, with a glass of red in his hand. He was a handsome man, no doubt, even with that hawk-like nose which I found appalling. The woman sat on him and arched her neck, all very calculated moves of a whore, so practiced that not a drop of the wine spilled from the glass.
With every click of my camera, at a distance of hardly several meters from the scene, I could hear money showering on my head. Why, Alistair Adlestone, our reputed and well-loved politician, the man holding the top office of a multi-million multi-national company, the very man who no doubt would get the leading votes in the elections to be held on the 14th of the next month was in bed with a common prostitute. This ought to be the turning point of my career, this ought to be a reason to have a sip of red wine myself, which is what Alistair Adlestone was presently doing. Yet, my happiness was limited, for I wasn’t thinking about future riches, but focusing on the present. Focusing on her.
How repelling it was to me, the thought that the detached beauty of such a woman could solely be bought, and bought not with euphuisms of love but with the same money one could buy, say, a book, or a pen with. What a tragic world to live in and love in, when women of such a high breed slept with men of such a low class? I turned my lens to focus only on the woman, whose lonesome arches had somehow grown into turns and steps of low moans, and I took a picture. That picture I kept only for myself, a personal perversion, something I never mean to share with anyone.
All of a sudden I realized my work here was done. I packed my camera and was ready to leave, lingering only to take one final fleeting look, a blur of skin greeting me, before I turned from the window and left.
“I wasn’t planning on calling you again. But I need your help, I know no one else who would help me. In return, I could give you something more about Alistair Adlestone. Something more, way more. Are you interested?”
The same husky sing song voice that I had heard so many days back now, was speaking again. Honestly, even I had never expected to hear her voice again, but I had hoped. I wanted to know whether the woman who had tipped me off and the woman Mr. Adlestone had laid with were in fact one and the same. It sure seemed so, for who could possess such a singularly unique voice? Vaguely, I observed that I had become infatuated with her, but I tried, to the best of my abilities, to keep that to myself.
“It depends.” I answered into my phone, in the middle of having my breakfast at a local cafe. It was very crowded, and I had to cover my phone to be audible.
“It depends,” I repeated, “what help do you want from me?”
“I could explain better if we could meet.”
“Same place I told you to go last time we spoke. In half an hour?”
I did understand the need to be cryptic, especially for her. I could only guess what Alistair Adlestone would do if he found out. I responded with a noncommittal “hmmm” and hung up.
The very night I had gotten my hands onto dirty pictures of Mr. Adlestone, I had found my way to the house of the editor of the Letterman Newspapers. She did not mind at all being woken up at that hour, once she saw the pictures. Honestly, I thought she would kiss me, but she only adjusted her spectacles and made quite a few calls, even in that late an hour. She begged me for my contacts, which I obviously did not divulge, after which she offered me a permanent job as well as a raise. I accepted it almost absent mindedly, and left.
Later, I realized sleep was futile, and spent all my night, until the sky changed from pitch black to deep blue to a fading shade of grey and finally to a yellow yoke color, with a glass in one hand and steadily diminishing bottle of whiskey set on the desk next to mine. It wasn’t the fear of Alistair Adlestone finding about my existence that made me sleepless but the picture of the whore, held firmly in my free hand. What had those gravel unwavering eyes had seen to have turned so steely, I wondered? And how on earth did it diminish her beauty, as well as enhance it?
The next morning, the news of Adlestone’s whoring was made common knowledge. The sex scandal became the topic of discussion amongst every respectable bar, and luncheons at the opposition party’s manor seemed incomplete without jokes of Adlestone caught without his pants. Alistair Adlestone, once the hot topic of conversation every time a man uttered the word “elections” now was a walking talking joke, to be made fun of at talk shows and day-time news.
Yet, he hadn’t issued a single statement denying it, or apologizing for it. Quite simply, he had stayed put, which put the thought of a stalking predator in my mind, and there was nothing funny about it.
I called for the bill, about to leave, when my eyes, out of habit, caught the news on the TV. Alistair Adlestone’s face was on it, and the caption read “ADLESTONE SPEAKS AT LAST”. Asking the waitress to unmute the channel, I caught just enough to hear the host say:
“ – and tonight, for prime-time, we have Alistair Adlestone, himself, who can’t wait to put the alleged accusations against his name to rest. Tonight at 9:00, everything about Adlestone’s campaign and more – “
Wondering what lies the businessman could come up with, I paid the bill, and left.
Half an hour later, I entered the unfurnished room opposite the Blue Lagoon Imperial, old memories playing fresh in my mind. The room wasn’t dark anymore, nor was it empty. The beautiful regal presence of the whore was in front of me. She was dressed in a white shirt and grey trousers, her hair untied and loose, falling around her in a convex of black tresses. Her skin was pale as ever, and seeing her up close made me almost cringe. I did not want to admit to myself that I was, after all, very glad to see her, and of course it was very awkward, knowing that she knew that I had seen her naked and in the act. Yet, I tried to act as casual as I could, and tried to put my mind on the matter at hand.
“well?”, I asked.
She had stood up when I entered, but now she sat down again, looking outside the window. Briefly, I wondered whether she was trying to find the room where she and Alistair had spent the night. She didn’t meet my eye as she asked,
“What do you want to know?”
“For starters, why?”
She looked up, her eyes very naturally round, though they seemed exhausted.
“Why do you want to destroy Alistair Adlestone’s life?”
She turned away again, looking outside, before replying, in the vaguest possible way,
“My name is Edna. Or that’s the name that was given to me; my whoring name, you see? I like it just fine, it reminds me my place in the world.”
I waited for her to continue, her eyes not upon me, which made it safe for me to stare. I was staring at her in wonderment, looking carefully at those lines on her forehead, just barely there, and thought why she had suffered so much? Why does anyone have to?
“I don’t remember much of my parents. I was brought onto this business very young. Oh, I never practised it until I was much older, but they made a point to break my innocence. There is a reason why prostitution is a sin, and even in my desperation, I confess to have sinned. Every day of my adult life, I have sinned. I guess it doesn’t matter now, to you or me or Alistair Adlestone or anyone for that matter.”
She looked down at her white wrists, so small and delicate, as her hands held onto each other, perhaps the only hands she had found comfort in.
“I can only ask for forgiveness from my god, but right now, I beg of you, help me.”
I did not know what had gotten into me; the plea of a whore was the most sorry sight one could ever see, so wretched was she. I went to my knees, and held those hands, and said,
“I will help you, of course, I will. But I need to know why? What did Alistair Adlestone do to you?”
“I promised you something more about Adlestone. I will tell you what it is, but you must promise to hide me. Somewhere safe. Somewhere safe even from Adlestone.”
And thus satisfied, the whore told her tale.
“You have to understand. Whoring is a dangerous business. Although we have our freedom, we are little better than slaves. The money that we earn is mostly taken by the owner of the establishment, you see, for protection and the like. The money that we are left with is low and hardly enough for us to live a sparing life. We are mostly dependent on the owner to live. The freedom we have is of the most superficial and name-sake kind. We cannot leave the establishment because that would mean our body in a trunk. A whore can’t rob their owner of their source of income.”
“Joe Pritchard was the owner of the whorehouse I worked in. He is now in prison, safely behind bars. I thought now, finally, we women could leave and start a new life. Well, after Joe’s imprisonment, the ownership transferred directly to his partner, and we went directly back to being whores. And this, this cannot continue. I am scared, worried, I don’t know what to do.”
She buried her face in her hands, and with growing trepidation, I asked,
“Joe Pritchard’s partner, who is he? Is it – “
“Alistair Adlestone!” she screamed with vehemence. “I just want to renew living my life. I have sinned, but I wanna start over. Is it so horrible? I want men like Adlestone behind bars. To imagine that he could be the Mayor of this city, to think what that would mean for many still innocent girls. Do you not understand why I want him out of the society? I have become very desperate, indeed, and I am prepared to take any risks to be free of this scourge, and free of men like Adlestone!”
I understood fully, and I truly filled with disgust for the politician. Adlestone, a whoremonger? Who could have thought?
“You said you want me to hide you.” I said, thinking deeply.
“yes, please, I know no one else in this city.”
“Does that mean Adlestone knows you were behind those leaked photographs? Does Adlestone know about me, and you being my informant?”
To this, Edna laughed.
“Of course, he doesn’t know about you. Of course, he doesn’t know I was involved. It doesn’t matter, he doesn’t need proof. Its Adlestone we are talking about. He is his own proof. He would have us both killed on suspicion alone. If he knew we were conspiring in this room…”
She let that statement hang.
“But if he doesn’t know, why do you need to hide?” I asked, rather stupidly. Of course, she needed to hide. Alistair Adlestone was a dangerous man, clearly, to have put so much fear into a woman.
“You don’t understand! You think you have won, you think those pictures alone are enough for him to back down from the elections?”
I looked at her dumbfounded. What did she mean? What could Alistair do to win the voters back? Surely, there was nothing he could do.
“Those pictures don’t prove I am a whore! And I don’t have the courage to testify, he would have me killed before I could approach anyone.”
“Okay, so if you are not a whore – “
“Then he has not committed any crime. In fact, he married me, as quickly as was possible, right after the pictures were leaked, and I could not say no to that either.”
She thrust her hand up for my inspection, and I saw the ring on her finger.
“Do you see what is about to happen? He would singlehandedly change the scandal into a victory! And once this is over, he is free to do what he likes with me.”
Sh#t, I thought to myself. Of course. There was no way in hell anyone could prove that Edna was a whore, short of Edna herself. Joe Pritchard could, but what reason would he have to give up his partner? What’s more, Adlestone marrying her shows his dedication and speaks for his commitment to her, in fact, the picture that I took becomes an act of perversion, portrays me as a stalker, and I would become a spy on the actions of two engaged lovers.
But my problems did not qualify in the slightest against hers. The woman sitting in front of me was begging to be hidden away from a forced marriage, the sanctity of her life already in ruins, now to be destroyed even further by evil men, and here I was wondering the legal implications of what I did. I assured her that I would keep her safe, that for now she should hide at my place until I find her a better place, and thus we made out of the room on the 188th street, her face hidden in my jacket as she hugged me close.
“And we have with us, the equally famous and infamous, Alistair Adlestone.”
The lights shone brightly upon the politician’s face, although the size of his beak like nose cast a long shadow on the other side of his face. His hair was cut short, and kept extremely clean, but it was his eyes that caught everyone’s attention. They were sharp and sultry, emitting an aura of something dangerous, or perhaps, that was what I saw in them, looking at the television set in the dark small living room of my apartment. Edna was sleeping on my bed, and I hope she remains asleep for this. She doesn’t need to see the face of her tormentor.
I poured another glass of whiskey, a bottle of fine BlackFlag Emerald, and the only light that illuminated the room was the one escaping the TV box. In a way, Mr. Adlestone had made his way already into my rooms, I thought.
“So Mr. Adlestone, there has been many accusations made upon your person, and the very reason of your presence on our show tonight is to dissuade us from believing them. Isn’t that correct?”
“Dissuade you from believing them? Not in the slightest. I am here to tell you that there is nothing to believe. “
Adlestone’s eyes shone with fervor, as if an aching pain had been finally relieved by being able to speak those words out in the open. The act was so convincing, I found myself being drawn in.
“People can be very oblivious to the truth, when they are presented with rumours. Facts can be lost, in the subterfuge of half-truths told. No one really asks the real question anymore. Why don’t you – “ and he raised his hand to motion at the host “ – ask me the real question, the question everyone wants to know?”
“Was I sleeping with a whore? Is it not the question you have always wanted to ask? Ask me that.”
“Alright,” The host was visibly taken aback with his confidence, but obviously couldn’t resist the temptation of asking that question, when offered to ask it so openly, “the pictures of you and that woman. Were you sleeping with a prostitute?”
“I have always maintained a deep disgust of the business of one’s body. I have a deep hatred for men who perpetrate prostitution, and an ingrained pity for women who fall into the business. That I have been accused of whoring is a massive insult to me, and accusing my wife of being a whore is a massive insult to her.”
The host took a visible gasp. I was sure everyone who was watching the show, and surely everyone was watching the show, had similar reactions; in fact, even me, who already knew what he would say, couldn’t help but think the effect he produced on screen was amazingly realistic. It was as if he really believed that Edna was his newly wed wife and not his prisoner. How convincing, the act of a politician?
“Yes, of course. How one hoped to disrespect me, for the sake of entertainment! This just goes to prove the lengths people would go to keep me from the mayor’s station. I had always held great respect for the media, but the way they have taken advantage of me over photographs from an unreliable source – god, it’s truly devastating to see so little trust in people, especially in those who want to stand up for you, the people. What does it say about the society which does not trust their own elected candidates?”
“But why is she not present here?”
“Because of these vile accusations against her name! Why else? Do tell, who would show their face in front of men who thought her a whore? I am infuriated by these vultures who call themselves journalists, but have not , in fact, provided any proof, save for those baseless pictures! And why should I demand for proof anyway? There is no need for such a thing, when I am adamantly saying this in front of the whole world that I have done no wrong in loving my own wife!
“I like to keep my political life and personal life separate. Also, Edna – yes, that’s her maiden name – does not like all the attention. Which was why I kept my part of life with her a secret from the world, at least, until upon the day of my election, where I could be proud to present to the world, my wife. We have married very recently, you see, and because of my busy work schedule, I hardly get the time to spend with her. Alas, the world forced me to make the announcement in such a manner, and for that, my apologies. God knows what’s between a man and his betrothed is sacred, and for someone to do such a disgusting thing as spy on them.”
And he made such a furious face, such a disgusted angry face, that I was sure he had won the audience many times over by now. No, this was bad, for I knew what this meant. In moments I would get a call from the editor of Letterman newspapers telling me I was fired. In moments, my life would come crashing around my periphery. It was so close, I could practically hear it falling apart in resounding noises in my head.
I turned back, and was shocked to see Edna standing there, near the doorway. No, I still had her, I had to protect her, of course, I did. I knew the editor would give me up, now for sure, and Adlestone would be at my doorstep any moment. And yet, her beautiful face.
“Edna,” I said, my voice close to tears. I needed to relocate, and soon. We would find a place in my parent’s house for now, and see where to go from there.
“Edna.” I repeated.
She approached me now, her gentle eyes looking into mine.
“We need to leave,” I said.
She was so close now, I could count individual long black eyelashes, tell the exact shade of her eyes at each point of the curve, see the moisture in her lips, breathe her air. Her arms wrapped around my neck, and her warm lips connected to mine. Next thing I know, a wild passion took over me as I held her neck firmly and pressed it close to mine, as I tugged at her lips. My hands went down and held her waist, only to lift her upon me, her soft pale skin making music of their own, to which we started to dance, failed half-movements that felt so intricate it was as if this were the first time.
It was a long pause, where life had somehow ceased to exist, or we had somehow ceased to exist from life, I knew not. But when we woke up from this dream, naked and sweaty, dirtied from our shared experience, I wondered why such a lady would want to dream with me? Perhaps, it was the sense of alienation and the closeness of her demise (a death not of the worldly kind, but in fact much more spiritual) that she had felt, after Adlestone made their marriage public?
I had just worn my pants, and motioned to a naked Edna to get ready quickly, when there was a loud rapping at my front door. I told Edna to stay quiet, as I opened the door a bare fraction.
The face of Alistair Adlestone glared down at me. How had he arrived here so fast? How? Before I could do one thing though, he slammed into the door, unhinging it. I flew back and fell on the ground hard, but as I made to get my feet under me, Adlestone rammed his knee into my abdomen, flattening me in an instance.
Behind, Edna screamed loudly.
I made to stand up again, but Alistair Adlestone took his walking stick and swung it down on my head. My head spun, and I could see white lights dancing at the edge of my eyes. A naked Edna screamed and screamed, as Alistair pulled her by the arm.
“what are you doing, Edna?” Adlestone said to her.
“NO! NO, PLEASE! NO!”
“Edna, it’s me, Alistair! What are you doing?”
I had stood up again now, stooped low and limping from pain. My hands reached out for whatever I could use as a weapon and they found the half empty bottle of BlackFlag Emerald lying on the table. I put all my force into the swing, adrenaline aiding me in power, and found his temple. He crumpled at once, with the sound of shattering glass filling every inch of the room, his head bleeding out, a dead expression etched into his eyes.
Edna had stopped crying, her eyes becoming steely again. She rushed to check Adlestone’s pulse.
Alistair Adlestone was dead.
She looked up at me. I looked at her, horrified at what I had done.
“Sh#t.” I said, my voice hoarse.
“Calm down,” Edna hissed at me.
“You need to turn yourself to the authorities.” Edna said.
“You didn’t do anything wrong! It was an act of self-defence. Look, call the cops, explain the situation. Tell them that Alistair was looking for you for those photographs you took. A fight ensued, and you didn’t mean to kill him. It was an accident.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I will tell them the whole truth about me being a whore and the lies Alistair told. But for now, it will become complicated for you if the authorities found the wife of the man you murdered in your house. Do you understand me? I must leave, and quickly. Do not tell them anything about me, and when things go to court, I will back you up, and everything will be over soon. Hey, do you understand me?”
Edna kept her eyes level on mine. I was very shaken. I finally looked at Alistair’s bashed in face and the amount of blood that trickled everywhere upon my floorboards. Suddenly very aware of the amount of drinks I had had today, I heaved. I was still bent over, filth coming out of my mouth as I puked, as Edna wore one of my overcoats, spared a glance at me, and left.
The handcuffs were surprisingly painful, the weight of it very apparent to my hands. I was afraid; my legs only moved when the bailiff made me move. I had never been in this side of the court before, and the enormity of it all made me feel lightheaded. The bailiff pushed me again with a sharp poke of his stick, and I was brought in front of the judge.
I answered all the questions to the best of my knowledge, omitting nothing of consequence. I was never asked questions about Mrs. Adlestone, except when the night of the Adlestone’s pictures were being discussed. Mostly, I was asked questions about Alistair himself, the questions to which I answered as honestly as I could. In fact, the entire proceeding went so fast (or rather seemingly so fast, for I was told later that the court had held the meeting for more than six hours), that I was mostly in a daze through it, hardly registering anything during its occurrence. It was only when the plaintiff brought Mrs. Adlestone, dressed in entirely black from the head to the tip of her toes, as their witness that I finally broke down from my reverie. I looked up in some renewed hope, but she did not meet my eye.
“Edna Adlestone,” the plaintiff asked her, after the introductions were done, “have you seen this man?”. And he pointed at me.
“I have”, she replied sternly.
“When was it, exactly?”
“A month before the elections. The day my husband aired on the night news. The day he killed my husband.”
“And that was the first time you saw this man?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What was happening? Edna was lying. But to what ends? Why?
“Were you present when you witnessed, to use your words, this man killing your husband?”
The plaintiff looked very pleased as he continued,
“And what did you see that night?”
“Look, I told you what I saw. This man has been stalking me and my husband for a long time. He keeps taking pictures of us, and he told everyone I was a whore. On the day Alistair was on TV, my husband and I paid him a visit in his apartment. It was not meant to be a violent one, my husband simply wanted to express his disapproval of his behavior, and being an honorable man, he wanted it to be known that if this man persisted to harass us, he would call the police. This act infuriated him, and a fight ensued. I kept on screaming, the entire locality must have heard, but the fight got out of hand, and this man took a bottle and bashed Alistair’s head in! He is an unreasonable criminal, and his crimes are – ”
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Addlestone. We understand your grief, and rest assured, justice would be found, but you are not allowed to weed out whose crimes are what. It is for the jury to decide.” The judge said sternly. But I knew the decision had already been made.
I tried catching Edna’s eye again, and this time I did. Her eyes were filled with disgust when she met mine, and I thought I would lose my mind.
Within moments I found my sentence to be fifteen years in state prison, and I couldn’t quite understand, even while I was on the bus to the prison, even while I was dressed in the white overalls, even while I was shown to my cell, what had happened. Why did Edna …, why would she …., what had just happened?
I kept asking these questions but I couldn’t find any answers. If I had been infatuated with her before, I was maddeningly obsessed with her now. Locked up in my cell, I kept wondering what I had done to her, for her to punish me so. At one point, I had even thought she loved me. I kept wondering about the night we had been together. How wondrous was that, and how utterly fake? Everything after that point had gone south, so much so that I found myself now being punched and thrown bodily out of the way of the bigger prisoners.
It was one such day, when, in a back alley of the compound, my ribs had once again taken a fist too huge for them to handle, and spitting blood, I had heard the name of one called “Joe Pritchard”.
“hey, Joe! Look at this fag! Whaddup, pretty boy? No fight in you? Hey, Pritchard Joe, come here and see how fast he falls!”
The man in question, Joe Pritchard, was reading the Bible, and looked up only to give a sparing glance to my crippled self. He was very burly, the bulk of his body heavy not due to fat, but because of hardened muscles. His beard was full and thick and was red the color of blood. His hair was black, and he was built so much so that he looked like a man who could bludgeon you to death with his bare arms.
The other men left soon; I had learned that they bored easily of someone who refused to fight. Sometimes it felt the sole purpose of these men was to fight.
Joe Pritchard was still sitting on his bench though, reading the text of the Old Testament with some focused concentration.
I spat some blood on the ground before looking up at him.
“Joe Pritchard?” I groaned.
He looked at me sideways, as if deciding whether I needed another sound beating or not. Perhaps, deciding I had suffered enough, he went back to his book.
“Edna?” I groaned again, trying to find my voice.
He looked up at me, now very interested. Edna had never said that she knew Pritchard personally, but I had heralded at a guess, and the name had definitely aroused the reaction I was hoping.
“How do you know her?” Joe asked, now closing his book.
I coughed, then pushed myself up, coughing some more. I brushed the dust off my clothes as I answered,
“She is the reason I am in this prison.”
“Then you and me have something in common.”
I was shocked to hear Joe say that. Could he actually mean what I dreaded?
“Edna told me,” I spoke slowly, fearing the answer, “that you ran a whorehouse. And she worked under you.”
Joe spat on the ground.
“Look, boy, you can pay for a dozen cows, but the cows don’t become yours. It’s the person who milks them cows and runs them and puts a shed over them who truly owns the cows. You get it?”
I didn’t quite, which was probably apparent on my face, so Joe motioned me to sit on the bench across him. He used articulate hand gestures as he spoke, with the southern accent of a very angry man.
“I met Edna when I had just begun my business. Back then I tried doing everything fair, ya’know? No shady business. I mean, yeah, the occasional ruff up, sure, but beyond that, I tried staying clean, ya’know? Us was a small business, but it was working smooth. It wasn’t until I met Edna, as fine a lady as you will ever see, when my business turned around. Oh, she was damn good with them numbers, and damn good at running them, and shadowing them too. I was so smitten, I wanted her to be me partner, ya’know? Which she agreed to. Alongside her, I expanded the business overseas, smuggling here and there and rowing in money, so much money, I could scarce launder it.”
Joe Pritchard laughed, joyous memory of days past and gone filling him up.
“I did bought the whorehouse, I do be a whoremonger, amongst other things. But the girls all loved me, sure as hell. I was nice to them, and if someone wanted out, I bloody well paid their dues and sent them out. I treated them nicely. Edna was a cruel woman to them though. Bloody well slapped one of them poor girls’ head off! But she was a sadist, even a masochist at times. Never thought she would be a swindler and a cheat to boot. She arranged this meeting with me and Alistair Adlestone, don’t suppose you know him? Well, she obviously thought that man was richer and more reputed than me, and soon after that, she called the cops on me and made the run herself. Fu##ing smart, that woman, gotta give her that. Poor old Alistair, hear he was dead? Well, kinda expected it, to be honest, falling for a woman like that, he would be the lucky sort to only get his wallet lightened.”
He eyed me up and down, after saying this.
“How do you know her again?”
I explained my situation to him. I expected a range of reactions from the man, but I didn’t expect to be laughed at so openly. He opened his mouth wide, and laughed for the longest of time, during which I just gaped at him, disturbed.
“yeah, well, messing with Edna like that, you lot don’t know much do you?”
I still didn’t understand. Could a woman be so cruel? But, Joe, somehow, knew what I was thinking, as he said,
“You must never underestimate a woman. Edna is possessed of a evil genius the likes of you and me cannot match. I can very well guess what happened. Alistair Adlestone is the owner of the riches of the great Idlestone company. He does not have any close family. Edna must have posed as a whore working under me and seduced Alistair. Then she must have wanted a quick marriage, and the best way to do that was dishonouring the politician with those pictures. It would have been easy to convince a devastated Adlestone to lie to the media. Or better yet, not lie.
I know how men go crazy for Edna’s attention, she is just that kind of a woman. She could have easily put the idea of a fast marriage in his head, make it look like it was his idea all along, and the love struck Alistair Adlestone would comply. Its genius really! Get a politician to fall in love with you, get a cameraman to click photos, and the only way to save his honor would be by a marriage. Of course, Adlestone must have been a bore later, good men always are, and Edna needed to get rid of him. She, of course, could have done it in countless ways, eh, but your dumb ass just happened to come along, and that made everything so fucking easy”
And then Joe laughed again.
“and then,” he said mid laughs, “she would sit back and enjoy the riches of her lawfully wedded ‘husband’”
His laughs still haunt me.
I couldn’t sleep in my cell that night, nor any of the nights I spent in that cell for the next eight years. The thought of Edna consumed me, like a fire I kept stoking to reach furious heights. When my eight and a half years were complete, I was let out early, having been approved for my good behavior.
The very next thing I did: track Mrs. Adlestone down.
And now, presently, I walked behind the tall frame of Mrs. Adlestone, as she walked with a dignified grace towards her estates. The night felt heavy, the blanket of darkness unbroken by any light or sound. This seemed to me as good a place as any, and my heart was beating against my chest so hard I was surprised Mrs. Adlestone did not hear me. At this moment, a dark wall on one side of us, and the dark woods on the other, I decided to call out to her.
She looked back, but her eyes didn’t look shocked, only mildly surprised.
“I heard you were out of prison, although I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“You heard I was out?”
She laughed mirthlessly.
“Joe Pritchard is still a friend. He knows who to bet his money on, and you, my dear, are a no bet.”
I fingered the knife in my pocket, out of sight from the pale skinned woman.
“I just want to know one thing, Edna.”
“Did you love me?”
Edna looked at me with the most profound of pities. The sorriest of expression, an expression I hope no one has to see again. It was worse than her laugh, worse than her betrayal in the courtroom, worse than the realization of the cruelty this woman possessed.
I closed the distance between us as fast as I could, my knife shining against the moonlight, but I had not expected Mrs Adlestone to add her own little weapon to the fray. She wielded a knife of her own, and in one fluid motion, stuck it next to my neck. Blood gushed out as I fell on the darkened street, and I held my hand against the gaping wound. I could already feel life ebbing away from me, as Mrs. Adlestone walked away.