The curtain was rising on a new day and from my lowly position sprawled out on the bed, it looked like that curtain was on fire. The sun was the kind of burnished gold and Halloween orange that was rarely seen outside the movies. It was so bright and it burned such a hole through the morning that I wondered if it would ever be dark again.
But of course, it would. There would always be more darkness, and right on cue, Wilkins brought it with the morning papers.
“Sir.” He set the tray across my lap as I inched myself back against the headboard. Coffee, orange juice, toast, porridge. The same breakfast. Four hundred and sixty-two days. It was both a very long time and yesterday. When every day is much the same as the last, it’s hellish long to push through, but nothing to look back on.
“Sir, I thought today we might try the chair?” Wilkins suggested as per. I gave him the same short answer and he accepted it much as he always did. He opened the windows and generally busied himself making the room vaguely habitable. The empty bottle was removed without comment. He no longer needed to check my dressings, which was a relief for us both. I could tell he found it unbecoming to see his master in such reduced circumstances. A short bark of laughter escaped at the thought and Wilkins pounced on it as he did on any sign of levity, as though it might signify a wider change, a turning of the corner.
“What’s that, Sir? Something funny?”
“No Wilkins. A rather childish thought about my reduced circumstances. Well, I have been reduced. By around two feet, I’d say.” I smiled darkly. Wilkins grimaced.
“Very good, Sir.”
He circled the bed, flattening down the covers, wiping away imaginary dust from the mahogany posts that I’d watched him polish not twelve hours earlier. As a display of casual indifference went, it needed workshopping.
“What is it? Why are you plucking and fussing like a hen?”
Wilkins didn’t say a word. His dour face and watery grey eyes gave nothing away. Moving to pour my coffee, he turned the paper so that I could see the headline:
Coffee sloshed and cutlery jangled on the tray.
“Tell me,” I breathed deeply. “Tell me while I eat. And think.”
“Found him in his cell, Sir. It always amazes me how determined the truly desperate man can be. They took his shoelaces. And his belt. He managed it with his shirt tied around the bars of his window. And here’s me, not able to get much past the fourth button done up on your shirt.”
“I can dress myself, Wilkins.”
“Then maybe you should, once in a while. Just to prove you can.”
“I suppose now they’ll never know where she is. Gone with him to the grave,” I sighed.
“Yes … about that.”
I gestured at Wilkins to remove the coffee. Suddenly, I didn’t much feel like being awake and alert. “The papers?”
“The Enquirer has called already. The Times too.”
“Well … if they want a comment, I’m glad he’s dead. I’d rather he died before I had cause to meet him, but there you are.”
I groaned. “She’s here, isn’t she?”
“In the lobby, Sir.”
Anna Hughes saw herself in before I’d finished breakfast. Wilkins never was much of a bulwark against a determined woman with a sense of entitlement and a decent set of pins. Grief, if you could call it that, had been kind to her. Whether you were looking at the legs or the face, the result was almost worth getting out of bed for. She was no star, don’t get me wrong. Her face didn’t light the room, but her hair at least made the bulbs flicker a little. Spools of the stuff, white as snow, just seemed to keep going up and out. It looked wholly unnatural. I asked her once what kind of bottle she got it out of, and she told me the kind they catch lightning in. Her face was petite, with a small, doll-like nose, a small doll-like chin and big, green, doll-like eyes. Her mouth was never all that doll-like.
“How are the, ahem, legs?”
“Gone. Still. How is the inheritance?”