In the eye-watering blue bathroom attached to her room, Lexi was manic with shock. She had pulled the knife out herself; Victor had shown her where there were bandages and then left, closing the door behind him as if she were being imprisoned here, which perhaps she was.
“That’s why they call me Steak Girl!” she chirped with delirious glee, dropping the bloody knife in the sink. She sat over the toilet and carefully peeled her pants down, wincing as the edges of the cut flexed. It was small but deep. “Hellfire and damnation,” Lexi said, pressing a washcloth soaked with peroxide to the wound and pressing down, even though it sent pain like showers of sparks through her. Danny Packard was completely nuts, there was no question about that. She’d never in a million years thought he’d really stab her. And in the blind, self-defensive rage that followed, she could’ve buried those pencils in his head. She had wanted to.
The sensation of wood and graphite sinking into living flesh came back to her, and she fought back a squirm of revulsion. It was just as well she hadn’t.
There was a knock at the bedroom door, and Helen came in before Lexi could speak. “Where are you?”
She came to the door. Helen had two highball glasses, three fingers of Scotch in each, and offered one to Lexi. Lexi was no connoisseur by a long shot, but the Scotch tasted like something expensive enough to have its own armed escort to guard against evaporation. “Oh, shit. Was I supposed to drink that, or just look at it?” she asked.
Helen downed half of hers as an answer. “That was a very stupid thing you did out there,” she said, getting right to the point.
Lexi frowned, kicking her pants the rest of the way off. “What? Punching little Lord Pudgefacker the Third? Someone had to do it sooner or later. The universe is more balanced now.”
“You pick your enemies very badly. Or very well, depending on your point of view.”
“I’m not afraid of the Packards. Especially not Danny. I don’t care how rich he is. I know strong men, too. Powerful men. Hatpins of industry.”
Helen smiled politely. “Come back into the bedroom, and I’ll tell you a story.”
“Oh, goody. But first, I need Motrin.” Her leg had begun to hurt. Actually, “hurt” was a mild word, but she was in too much pain to think of a better one. Lexi rummaged in the cabinet, and found a bottle.
Helen sat on the round bed. “About eight years ago now, I was visiting Rebecca Packard in the Manhattan townhouse.”
“They have a townhouse in Manhattan? But their house is on Staten Island. Well, one of them, anyway. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Helen gave her a patient look. “Becka had three women who kept the place up for her, all of them Russian immigrants. They spoke just enough English to get by. I think Becka was fond of taking them in on her trips overseas. She’d bring these girls to America, give them work.”
“How philanthropic,” Lexi muttered.
The interruption was ignored again. “They were pleasant enough, and it certainly took all three of them to keep the place up–I believe it’s over four thousand square feet. While I was there, a diamond bracelet went missing. Becka noticed right away, of course. It was a little thing, a vintage piece with a single small diamond set with turquoise, if memory serves.
“It was just a bauble, but she was angry, of course. She said she’d been betrayed. You could feel her anger when you walked into the room. She called those three Russian girls into her study and demanded to know who had stolen the bracelet.”
“Did one of them own up?”
“Of course not. It’s entirely possible that none of them had anything to do with it. It might have fallen behind the vanity. But Becka decided that one of them had stolen it, you see.”
“And when she gets an idea in her head, it gets snagged on all of the insecurities and briars and you’ll never get it out.”
Helen smiled her patient smile again, and took another drink. “When none of those girls would admit to having stolen the bracelet, Becka asked which of them had cleaned the room that day. I remember the one who did, she was a tall girl with curly brown hair, the sort who wants to be a stage actress and ends up with bit parts on television serials. I didn’t know her name. When this girl stepped forward, Becka reached into her desk drawer, took out a little pearl-handled pistol and shot the girl between the eyes. I cannot express to you how calm she was when she did this.”
Lexi’s mouth was agape.
“I’m glad that wasn’t lost on you. Yes, she killed this girl stone dead, right in front of me and the other two servants.”
“What…what did you do?”
“I screamed, of course. And the other girls screamed as well. And I remember that Becka said, very quietly but loud enough for us to hear, ‘I can just as easily bury four as one.’ That shut us up, immediately. I remember very clearly, her saying that, and realizing that she said four. Not three. She was including me in that number as well. And then she put the gun away, told the other two girls they were fired, and sent me downtown for the afternoon. When I got back, there was no trace of the shooting of course. I’m sure that if I had looked in the drawer, there would have been no pistol, either.”
“But? Didn’t anyone–“
“No. Who would have believed them? Two Russian servants, speaking in broken English about one of the richest women in the country shooting a pretty girl in cold blood? Absurd. Becka Packard contributes to so many charities and anti-violence programs that it’s unthinkable.”
Helen shook her head soberly. “Of course not. The message wasn’t lost on me. Becka Packard can and will do as she pleases.” She killed her Scotch. “Just as an additional note, I have heard that story as an anecdotal one, from other acquaintances. The assumption is that it’s apocryphal, of course. However, I’ve certainly never told anyone the story, other than you. And I doubt that either of those girls had the opportunity to bend someone’s ear. Which begs the question: How did the story get out?”
“Someone was listening at the door.”
“Wrong. Becka herself told someone. And she would have, too. She doesn’t see anything wrong with what she did, do you understand? This is a person to whom it makes perfect sense that you can shoot a woman dead without guilt or fear of prosecution, if she’s a servant. If she’s one of the little people.”
That stunned Lexi into silence again.
“Good. I’m glad to see that my story has taken some of the wind out of your sail. Don’t forget that Danny grew up with that woman. He may not be as smart as she is–hell, he’s barely got the brains of one of his dogs–but he’s steeped in the privilege. He may not be clever enough to avoid getting in trouble for them, but the fact that he thinks he is makes him capable of unthinkable atrocities.”
“So am I,” Lexi said.
“No, you’re not. If I have come to one conclusion in my many years on this earth, it is that people with souls are fodder for those who lack them. And you, most definitely, have a soul.”
That was flattering, at least. “What about you?” Lexi asked, feeling very young. “Which one are you?”
Helen angled her head and smiled. “That would be telling,” she said, and stood to leave.
Lexi sat on the bed awhile, absorbing. It was getting close to time to leave Ile du Soleil and go back home, from the sound of it. Danny Packard probably wouldn’t leave, anyway, and the nation definitely wasn’t big enough for both of them.
She gave the rest of the house twenty minutes to calm down, then got dressed (again) and limped back to Dobie’s office. The stab wound in her leg had more or less stopped bleeding, but a stitch or three might not be a bad idea and it was going to hurt to drive. Hopefully there was someone to take her.
Hopefully Danny wasn’t still in the house.
Lexi held her breath as she pushed open Dobie’s office door, but Dobie was alone except for Kira, who was picking up the mess.
“Can I get a ride to the hospital?” she asked.
Dobie nodded tiredly.
“Sorry about all this,” she added, meaning it. “I am not being a very Good Houseguest.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, dismissing it with a wave. “My fault.”
Something else occurred to Lexi, and she frowned hard. “Where’s my briefcase?” she asked.