Bastard woke me up the next morning, shoving his nose in my face. He re-learned quickly. Laura and Rana weren’t around, of course. They’d spent the night at Michael’s, so there was no-one else to give the cat breakfast.
I hauled my arse out of bed and down the stairs, thinking about how I was just going to have to get used to this. They were moving out. My convenient domestic arrangement was coming apart. They’d take the cat, of course: Bastard was Rana’s cat if he was anyone’s, and I wouldn’t be around enough to look after him. He’d have to go up the hill and try to shred Michael’s leather couch.
I was happy for Laura. And Michael’s money would make a world of difference to Rana. Her education, her job prospects, her safety… not that the Club wouldn’t have looked after her, of course. And being Laura’s daughter she’d probably be well able to look after herself. I’d miss them, though. They were what had made this my home.
Which was all very maudlin, and I had stuff to do. I dealt with Bastard’s morning routine, then my own, and headed into town. I arrived at Glen’s hotel probably a little too early for good manners, but carrying coffee and rolls from the bakery round the corner to make up for it.
Glen was certainly surprised to see me, and fresh out of the shower, which was a look I’d always liked on him. Something was off, but at first I couldn’t place it. “Hey you. I brought you breakfast. Do you want to eat out on the balcony?” I kissed his cheek and made my way out there, pausing at the door to assess the temperature. “I know we said last night that we’d have lunch with Laura, but, well, there’s something I need to talk to her about, and I could do with some advice first.”
Glen followed me out, looking back over his shoulder. It was only then I realised what the off note was: the shower was still running.
Well, I wasn’t going to help him out of this one. I sat down and looked at him expectantly until he joined me. “What have you done now, then?” he asked me, reaching for his normal dry humour and missing.
“Oh, it’s not me with the doing,” I said, and left a heavy pause. “It’s Gillian.” Briefly, I explained about the cop and the photograph. “Gillian’s the only person on the planet who’s ever called him Pete. I mean, how much does he not look like a Pete? She must have sent the photo to the cops. Not that I can work out why. Anyway, we were supposed to talk about it last night, but Laura just avoided the subject all night. I need you to help me gang up on her. I think. Unless, I don’t know, maybe we should just pretend it didn’t happen.”
“Glen! Do you want-” Darren stopped mid-sentence when he saw me. He was a big man. It wasn’t a big towel he was wearing. “Hera. Hi.”
“Darren.” Oh Jesus. My face had gone all hard and angry, which was ridiculous. Glen was allowed to do whatever, and whoever, he wanted. There was no reason I should be upset. “I brought you breakfast. I… you know what? I might go.” I got to my feet carefully. Every bit of my body felt numb, and I wasn’t sure where I was putting my feet. “I’ll see you later, for lunch.”
Somehow I made my way through the hotel room, like wading through mud. Glen caught up with me just as I opened the door. “Hera, please, don’t-”
I looked at his chest, as that was easier than his face. “No. Don’t. I just… I need some time. Space. I need space. Don’t be rude to Darren.”
I shoved away from him and headed for the lifts. The corridor was empty, though, so I spent a minute resting my forehead on the wall. Fuck. Fuck. I didn’t have the slightest justification for being so upset, but this hurt, even if I couldn’t work out why. Glen and I had both had other lovers over the years, always. That was just how it was. I’d always known. He’d never promised me anything else. I had no right to be upset.
It wasn’t helping. I slapped the lift button. I didn’t need space. What I needed was Laura.
So I arrived at the bar a couple of hours earlier than I was supposed to. She was there anyway: when I opened the door at the top of the stairs I could hear her shouting. The door between the dance area and the bar was propped open, and as I got closer I realised the deeper voice I’d had trouble picking up was Richard’s. That was odd: we ddin’t really see very much of him any more, not since Marianne died. I hesitated. I didn’t want to see Richard right now. I wanted to talk to my best friend.
But as I tried to work out what to do, I started to hear what they were actually saying to each other. I couldn’t see them, they were around the corner, but their anger was clear. Eavesdropping was bad. I really didn’t care.
“Don’t you fucking dare!” Laura yelled. “And anyway, what the hell could you tell them that wouldn’t suck you in too? That was the deal. We’re all in it together. We agreed. You even… I mean, fuck you, Richard. Everyone else did it out of love, and because it was right. You? You had your own fucking price, and I paid it.”
“I didn’t hear you complaining at the time. Not doing a lot else, either, mind you, but you let me fuck you. You didn’t have to. You could have said no, and left me out of it, but no. You had to have everyone. You had to have Marianne.”
“Marianne wanted to! Of all of you, except maybe Glen, she was the keenest. I didn’t have to talk her into it. She chose.”
“She couldn’t handle it! She had nightmares, Laura. For years. She’d wake up screaming. She said she kept seeing him, his face. Dead. Every time we went to the House, she was scared of seeing him. She’d never let you know, she didn’t want to let anybody down. She wanted to belong. She did what she needed to belong. But in the end… She couldn’t live with it. You killed Marianne just as much as you killed Patrick.”
“We killed Patrick! All of us. And it was maybe the best thing any of us ever did.” There was a brief pause, and I reached for the wall and sagged against it. My brain had completely packed it in.
When Laura spoke again, her voice was gentler. “I am sorry about Marianne. I really am. But turning us in now won’t help. It won’t save her. You know that. You’re not going to do this. I’ve already… Gillian played her next card. I’ve had a social worker around wanting to check on Rana because someone told them I was in a cult, and Rana wasn’t safe. That I was going to have her sacrificed or something. She’s trying to take away my daughter.”
Richard’s voice was exhausted. “I don’t care, Laura. Why would I care? You’ve treated me like shit for years. After what I did. Maybe Marianne isn’t the only one who can’t live with it.”
“Richard, no!” They both came around the corner into view, Richard walking quickly, Laura following, grabbing for his arm. They both stopped when they saw me.
Laura went gray, ghost-pale. Her lips moved, shaping my name, but there was no sound. She looked like she might faint.
Richard glanced back and forth between the two of us and shrugged. He stopped by me on his way out, his fingers brushing my hair. “For you, Hera. All for you. It’s about time you knew, just what she’d do for you.”
I watched him go, standing in the pool of silence he left behind him, feeling mildly puzzled. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Laura until I felt her hand on my arm.
“Hera,” she said, her voice all shaky and weak and not like her at all. “Come on, come and sit down. Gods, I never meant to… You were never supposed to know.”
Numbly, I let her lead me back into the bar and sit me down in a booth. She sat opposite me, still deathly pale, her hands rubbing and squeezing together. “You killed Patrick,” I said, so calmly. “Who did it?”
She took a deep breath and stared down at the table. “I did. I killed Patrick. We executed him. Peter, Richard, Marianne, Glen, Darren and I. Do you think you can… Do you want to hear this?”
“I think I have to.”
She sighed. “That night, when I saw you… I had to decide, right then, if we were going to go to the police. And I couldn’t do it.” She lifted her head to look at me, her eyes full of tears. “How could I put you through that? All that poking and prodding and all those questions, and then… Say we actually get the bastard to court. No doubt Daddy can afford a good lawyer. All he has to say is that the sex was consensual. They’re not even allowed to mention if he’s been done for raping anyone else, but you! Your history is fair game. The woman becomes the accused. Every time you smiled at him, every time you had sex with someone who wasn’t him. All the questions designed to establish that you’re the kind of slag any man could reasonably expect to get to have sex with. Questions about the Carter Club, its reputation. Poor Patrick, who wouldn’t have thought he was in there? And he probably was. Or there was some kind of misunderstanding. And you, having to relive the worst night of your life, over and over again. For nothing. Him walking free. No.”
Roughly, she wiped the tears off her face and shoved her hair back. “That way wasn’t going to give us any fucking justice. So I put you in the bath and destroyed the evidence. I took you to Glen’s, we put you to sleep, and then we talked. All of us. About what had happened, and what we were going to do about it. You, never having to see that fucker ever again. Him, we couldn’t let him do this to someone else. And he would. These guys who do this, they do it over and over again. Why wouldn’t they? It works. They get away with it.
“So the next day, I went to see him.” Her voice was shaking with rage. It was anger I couldn’t feel. Something inside me was still coiled, waiting. “I smiled at him, and he flirted with me. The boy who raped my best friend flirted with me. He thought that was okay. And I told him there was a special inner group, and we wanted him to join it, that he’d been specially chosen, and Patrick lapped it up. We didn’t tell him where to go until just beforehand: I didn’t trust him not to show off about it.
“Anyway, he turned up right on time, and Anubis gave him the tea. Not ephedra this time, though. Valerian and datura. I assume it still tasted completely foul. That in itself would probably have killed him if we just left him. He took his clothes off and got into the robe, just like any other initiate. Anubis took him into the chamber. Just like any other initiate.”
She’d shifted position, gradually, subtly, and now she sat bolt upright, her shoulders back and her chin lifted high. Her agitation was gone. “He came to judgement, and we judged him. We weighed his heart, and it was heavy with sin. The sentence is to die a second time, to have his heart devoured by Ammut.”
Her serene expression wavered a moment, then settled. “He was laid on the table, on the cloth made ready for him. His limbs were heavy with sleep, his mind full of phantoms. Hands were laid on him. Thoth held his hand over his nose and mouth, and took his breath. Isis took the knife, and drove it deep into his heart. They all took their turns. Anubis cut open the vein in his throat. Nephthys pushed the blade through his groin. Osiris, also, stabbed him in the heart. Set laid open the big blood vessels in his thigh. Each blow, on its own, like the tea he drank, would have killed him. Each one killed him. All acted together. As was necessary.”
She sagged again, falling in on herself. “When it was done, we wrapped him in the tarp, carried him out into the back yard, and put him in the hole we’d already dug. I planted a tree on top of his body. A gum tree: they grow quickly. We cleaned up well, though we had to dig up some of the dirt from the cellar floor.
“The next night, Richard put on Patrick’s clothes and a baseball cap, and went to a nightclub. He got into a fight with Glen and got himself kicked out so everyone would remember. On the security camera footage, it looked like Patrick. We’d killed him before he was even missing. We’d brought justice. He was punished, and women were safe from him, and you had not been made to suffer. You slept through his death; we made sure of that.”
I remembered. Those night’s at Glen’s parents’ place. Sometimes I’d lain awake all night, sometimes I’d slept like the dead. They’d drugged me. “He was dead. The whole time.”
“From two nights after he did it.” She rubbed her forehead wearily. “I won’t tell you it wasn’t hard. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it was the right thing to do. I’d do it again. For you.”
I looked at her curiously. It was odd, how she looked so timid and unsure right when she was telling me how much she’d controlled my life. “He was already dead. I was so scared… For years, Laura! I was always scared he’d come back, he’d find me again. I was looking over my shoulder… Sometimes the phone would ring and I’d just… freeze up. Even when I moved to Auckland, to get away from him, it never stopped. He was missing; he could have been anywhere. And he was already dead. You knew. All of you, you all knew, and I- How could you do that to me? How could you not tell me?”
Laura was staring at me, her blue eyes enormous in her ugly gray face. “I… I couldn’t have you carry that, darling. The guilt, the horror of what we’d done. No, everything needed to be as normal as possible for you. You were so broken, you couldn’t have borne it.”
She shook her head, and got to her feet. She’d got her feet back under her figuratively, too, shaken off the shock. “You’ve had a lot to take in. You need time to get your head around it. I’m going to go for a walk for half an hour or so, and we can talk when I come back, okay? That’ll give us both time to work out what we need to say.” She reached and stroked my hair. “I did what I did out of love, Hera. I swear.”
When I arrived at Glen’s hotel room, I was relieved to find he’d left the door open for me. It was something we always did for each other when one of us was in a hotel. I should have noticed the shut door when I’d turned up earlier. It was just as well he had, too, because the shower was running. He was showering again, which in itself told me a story I didn’t particularly want to read.
I was too upset to be bothered about that, though, or any of the niceties. I pushed my way straight into the bathroom, surprising him as he was just about to get under the water. “Hera! What’s wrong, gods, you look terrible.”
I leaned in against his bare chest, and he put his arms around me and held me close while I shook and wept. “I can’t,” I eventually managed to say. “I can’t talk about it yet. I just need… I need.”
Glen understood. I’d always loved him for that; he just understood. He kissed me, and gently helped me out of my clothes. The touch of his hands pulled me away from all the pain and confusion that filled my head. I needed to not be for a while, to step out of my head, and there was no-one better fitted to help me than Glen.
As he drew me into the shower, he said, “How much time do we have?”
“Heaps,” I replied, dragging my thumbnail over his nipple. “It’s only half ten. We can take our time.”
And we did. I thought he’d been a bit mad taking me into the shower – sex against the wall is all very nice in theory but a hell of a strain in practice – but the flow of the water was just what I needed. Afterwards, he wrapped us both in towels and then helped me into the bed and held me, warming and soothing me.
He kissed my brow. “Tell me, Hera. Tell me what the hell happened.”
I took a deep breath, and tried to work out how much to tell him. “I… went down to the Club before. I overheard Laura having an argument with Richard. She said… I heard her say…” The tears started in again. “I know, Glen. I know you killed Patrick.”
He swore, and pulled me tight in against him. I felt his chest shudder. He was crying. “I’m sorry,” he said roughly. “I’m so godsdamn sorry. You were never supposed to know. We all did it, all of us. I’m just as guilty as she is. Gods, what do we do now?” His body twisted under me as he turned his head to look at the clock. “Shit.” He laughed, a jagged tearing sound. “You certainly know how to be distracting; it’s later than I thought. We’re due to meet Laura, and I don’t know what the hell…” He took a deep breath, and sat us both up. “Come on, Hera. We need to sort this.”
Glen shoved open the heavy door at the bottom of the Carnarvon stairs, and stopped. When I tried to push around him, he put an arm out and stopped me. “No, Hera, you can’t… Shit. Go and wait outside.”
I didn’t, of course. I stayed just inside the door as he finally walked forward, and put his fingers on Laura’s throat. It was a futile gesture. Even in the shadows of the stairwell he could see she was dead. She was lying face-down, her head smack against the wall where the stairs turned near the bottom. Her head was at an impossible angle, her neck clearly broken.
It made no sense. The longer I looked at it, the less real it was. Laura could not be dead. This thing on the stairs was irrelevant. Laura would turn up somewhere else. She was alive somewhere, just not here. I slipped past Glen and up the bottom steps, and pulled her skirt back over her legs. Laura wouldn’t be pleased to hear she’d been seen looking so undignified.
Then I sat down on the little landing and held her hand and didn’t move until the police came.