Pas de Trois
"The radio station was playing Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, a sure sign that things were much worse than they appeared."
"James?" I whisper in disbelief.
"A plus, Professor Swan. You always were a clever girl. And yet … here you are."
Something in his tone – his use of the British annunciation, not to mention his outrageous costume, sets me off. Instead of being terrified, I'm pissed. Who does this sick bastard think he is dealing with?
I roll my eyes and see his face crumble, just a fraction.
Crazier than a rat trapped in a tin shithouse
Miss Vick's expression comes to mind, and I suddenly burst out laughing. Not just a few nervous giggles, but full-on, can't help myself – side-splitting – raucous – laughter.
His face goes from smug to confused to angry in mere seconds.
"Lord – you really are nuttier than a squirrel turd," I laugh, wiping the tears from my eyes. "What the hell are you wearing, anyway? You look ridiculous."
He looks disarmed and completely befuddled.
"Where's Elizabeth?" I demand. My purse drops to the ground, scattering the contents. I watch in dismay as the can of mace Emmett and Boots insisted I carry, rolls to the back of the room.
James bends down to pick up my lipstick – Cherries in the Snow – a classic, according to Rose. He picks it up and removes the lid. I watch in disgust as he carefully applies it to his lips. I edge backward, accessing my opportunity to make a run for it. But he's too close, and I'm too far from the door.
"Oh, she might be at Cousin Pete's, or she could be tied up in a barrel at the bottom of the lake. I really can't remember," he says, smacking his lips. He pulls out a knife from his pocket and smiles at his reflection on the shiny blade. "Perfect." He tucks the knife in his belt, tosses the lipstick aside, and blows me a kiss.
If he wants to play, then bring it on, even though I'm falling apart inside. Where is Bip? Resolved not to show him the least bit of concern, I arm myself and pull out all the stops.
Please, God, let this work.
"Pretty," I say, nodding my head in approval. "Although I do think a deep pink would go much better with your coloring. And your shoes."
This seems to give him pause, so I pull up my big girl pants and, with herculean effort, manage to grab the portable ballet barre that is almost within my reach. His eyes track my every movement, but he makes no move to stop me. I turn the bar sideways – my eyes never leaving his, my hands clutching the wooden handle of the barre.
"Ooh … how fun – a Pas de Deux!" He grabs the other end of the bar and gives it a hard jerk. I don't let go. He smiles in approval
"How long what? How long have I been tracking you, or how long do you have left before you die?" I jerk the bar in a zig-zag motion, but he zig-zags with it in perfect synchronization.
"Oh, ever since Beavis and Butthead left Massachusetts."
"Wait – you mean you haven't been tracking me all along? Then what about my Aunt's comb?"
"Your Auntie's comb? Have you lost your mind, love? Why on earth would I give a rat's ass about a dead woman's comb?"
"Her barrette. The one I always wore."
"Oh, that silly bauble?" he laughs. It's only glass - why would I care about that stupid thing?" he sniffs. "I shoved that in your teacher's bag … totally worthless. At least to me."
Glass? I had it appraised at a few years ago for two thousand dollars. He really is stupid.
So, you weren't in Georgia with me, then?" If he didn't plant it on the floorboard of the truck, then maybe it really was in my purse like Jasper suggested.
"I knew your general vicinity, of course – I followed you to Florida. I would have tracked you all the way here if my Mercedes hadn't blown the engine in South Georgia. Shame, really … all those tiresome weeks of waiting. Of course, once Chubs hooked up with Inspector Gadget, I knew they'd take me along for the ride. And they did!"
"Well, thanks to you, Jasper isn't chubby anymore. Besides, Emmett is completely wonderful. Too bad the same couldn't be said for you."
"The Irish Mick? Please – he's an idiot. Left you to fend for yourself, didn't he? He's more of a dick than a Dick, if you ask me."
His toe shoe nudges the base of the barre stand, and I adjust my hands accordingly and give the barre a good shake. It knocks his absurd court jester hat off – his hair sticking up like a cock's comb.
"By the way, Foghorn isn't a damn chicken – he's a rooster," I say, leaning forward with a sneer.
"What?" He shakes his head to clear the confusion.
"He's Jasper's rooster, dumbass – the one you called a chicken. I just had to correct you because, well, you know … I am a teacher. You really are dumber than a sack full of rocks, aren't you?"
"Ah … the rooster. I saw him in the backyard of your eccentric Miss Vick's property … a nice tidy little pen you've made him, I must say."
That shakes me marginally. If he knows Miss Vick and he's seen Foghorn's pen, then he's been hanging around. I am frantic to know where Bip is, but I don't want to fall apart in front of him. The longer I keep on talking, the more time I'll have to figure out how to get out of here.
"Oh yes – we made his pen from scratch – a nice tight fit. Too bad we don't have time to make a larger one for you." I swing the barre around, effectively boxing him between the corner of the room and his side of the barre.
"Well, Mizz Swan - I assume you prefer to be called Mizz? It is the quintessential preference for stupid, simpering females down south, is it not?" His phony accent and affected drawl set my teeth on edge.
"It's Doctor Swan, to you, asshole," I say, losing my patience. I take a deep breath to get myself under control.
"You've certainly developed a new persona since your arrival in Hooterville, haven't you, Isabella? I can't say it's an improvement, either."
"Well, it's certainly an improvement over you. Now, where is Bip? I don't have any time to waste with you – Boots is waiting in the car; he'll be here any minute looking for me."
"My-my … you have become quite the little liar, haven't you? And so feisty – too bad you couldn't have shown some of that spunk when we made love. I would have enjoyed that." He tries to move around the barre, but I anticipate his move and shove it into his chest. He lets out a small grunt of surprise.
"Made love? Is that what you think we did? Hah! That wasn't love making … that was sexual assault. Tell me, though, what was up with you stealing baby carriages and condoms as a child? You really were one sick -"
He picks up the base of the barre and flips it over. I land on my back. I'm hurt, but not so badly that I can't move. I scramble to my feet seconds before he removes the barre out of his way. It's just enough time to grab another barre – a smaller one – no more than four feet – but it's enough to give me some leverage. He grabs the other side and whirls us around – all play gone from his visage.
"You know nothing of me or my childhood, bitch. Nothing." He kicks my knee with his pink-toed foot, causing me to falter.
My eyes start to fill with tears, but I ward them off – no time for weakness, not now. I grip the barre firmly with my hands.
"Why don't you tell me all about it, James? Maybe we can even be pen pals; I hear it gets lonely in prison," I taunt.
His face turns thunderous, and then, miraculously, it morphs into something softer, yet just as frightening. He closes his eyes and looks up towards the ceiling and begins his monologue – for that's what it is; a dramatic piece he has at the ready for an impromptu audition.
"My parents didn't like children – hated them, in fact. They never wanted me … I heard them talking … a failed abortion, she said. I was young, but I knew it meant she tried to get rid of me. I knew I wasn't wanted. They forced me to have a vasectomy when I was thirteen years old. Said I was too ill, too dangerous to father a child. Bad seed. That's what they said – 'James, it's for the best- you're a bad seed.'" His voice sounds exactly like a British woman – in fact, if I weren't staring at him with my own eyes, I would never believe it was coming out of his mouth.
"But I took care of them in the end, didn't I? Same as I'll take care of you."
"I thought you said that your cousin was the only person you killed?"
"Did I? I may have lied. I really can't remember."
He yanks the barre and gives it a hard shove, effectively caging me between it and the mirrored wall.
"You know it didn't have to be this way, right? I was happy as James Witherdale. Everybody loved him, none more than me. But you and Fats had to go and ruin everything. Killing you wasn't in my plan, Doctor Swan. I was going to marry you – stay at Old Howie – have a life there. Why did you have to go and mess it all up?"
"A better question is, why couldn't you have just left me alone? You could have just vanished and come back in some new incarnation. Why did you have to follow me?"
"Because you have something I want ... something you took away from me, Isabella."
"What? Money? Please - I'm not all that rich – although, I do have quite a bit more than what I saw in your sad excuse of a profile."
He leans forward and grabs my chin, "Apart from the fact that you knew too much? Simple. I wanted your lineage."
"Yes … the Barclay's of Boston … so very Brahmin. It appealed to my … shall I say, less auspicious gene pool."
I gulp, thinking about the possibility of being pregnant with Boots' child. I jerk my chin out of his fingers.
"You know … maybe I won't kill you after all. Maybe we'll still run off together. Just think of it, Isabella – Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful." He shoves the hard metal against my stomach, and I rub it protectively with one hand before resuming my hold on the barre.
His eyes narrow.
"You're already pregnant with that local-yokel's bastard, aren't you?"
"No … I – I don't know," I say, my voice sounding weaker by the minute. I've got to figure out a way to get out of here!
"Well, no worries if you are … I can take care of that with a hanger."
My stomach lurches at the thought; he's even sicker than I realized. I look at the door, trying to access my situation. If I can only manage to squeeze myself between the two bars. He sees me looking and stomps his foot on the brake, locking me in on one side.
"Yes, I'll take care of that, easily. And then we'll have our own child; a perfect blonde-haired, blue-eyed, child," he says dreamily.
"But … I thought you said you had a vasectomy …"
"They can be reversed, darling."
"So I've been told. Dozens of times, and by doctors who've actually got medical degrees, Doc." He laughs at his own joke. I, however, try to remain as neutral as possible.
I look frantically at the door, just hoping and praying someone might be alerted by our voices.
"I don't know who you think is coming to your rescue, Isabella. I know for a fact that your precious gas jockey is at his sweatshop – you told me so on the phone, remember? Mama?"
He doesn't have Bip – that was him on the phone. He must be losing it if he confessed the truth to me.
"So, you don't have Elizabeth." Please, God, make him tell me the truth.
"The last thing I need is that urchin squalling her head off, he says with a sniff. "Thought about it though … I was there at that hick farmer's house … almost got her too, but that fucking mutt saw me, and he came charging. Bit my god damn ankle. I would have snapped his neck if Farmer John hadn't come running out to see what he was going off about."
I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank God for Berty!
"Pete's a successful farmer; he sells produce and fruit to Campbells, you clueless twit. And, Boots isn't a gas jockey – he's the proprietor of a successful auto mechanic shop, you … you … twat."
God ... thank you for giving me Rose and her dirty mouth.
"I see your time down here has rendered you as stupid as the locals, Isabella. I could hardly stand listening night after night to those annoying drawls and ridiculous expressions."
"So, you have been lurking."
"For nearly two weeks now," he says with a grin.
"Pizza delivery guy?"
"Sausage or pepperoni?" He says with a wink.
"So, that was you, the delivery man?"
"Shall I leave it on the counter, Ma'am?"
"And the lawn guy?"
"Want me to edge it for you, too?"
I shake my head in disbelief.
"I'm just so delightfully versatile, aren't I? And they said majoring in Theater was a waste of time," he crows, delighted with himself.
My eyes frantically search for something, anything, to help me escape, and then I see it, the can of mace. It's not too far from me. If only I can maneuver us just a foot or so.
My opportunity is unexpected – James slides the barre out of position and glides it around to tease me. I dip down and scoop it up as quickly as I can.
"Oh, well-done, Isabella … go ahead; hit me with your best shot." He closes his eyes in anticipation.
I aim the canister at his face and squeeze the button.
It's a dud.
He opens his eyes and smiles, obviously thrilled.
He whirls the barre around and shoves it and me against the mirrored wall. The metal hits my pelvis, and I cry out in pain. But James only laughs, grabs the back of my head, and draws the knife downward, then presses it against my windpipe. I feel the trickle of blood drip down my neck.
"Don't you just hate it when that happens?" James laughs, maniacally.
"Not as much as you're going to hate this, Mr. Hunter."
My eyes widen and blink several times. I can't believe what I am seeing … surely, it's some sort of mirage; it's simply not possible.
But it is.
It's Miss Vick.
"What kind of freak-show is this, anyway? Lord have mercy … you sure know how to pick'em Crowsie," she says, clucking her tongue. "Is this the man who's caused all your turmoil? Humph … I was expecting something out of a Stephen King novel, and I got a Lifetime movie, instead. Psycho Harlequin - now playing. Laws."
"Well, I'll be Goddamned." James stutters.
"Amen," she says with a wink. She raises the shotgun she's using as a cane and levels it at James. "Now, drop the knife before I send you home to Satan."
"Oh, I don't think so … an old rag like you with a shotgun that looks like it belongs in a Civil War museum and a face that goes along with it? I believe I'll take my chances. Now get the fuck out of here before you have a stroke, you ridiculous old crone. Isabella and I have a long ride ahead of us, don't we darling?" He kicks the barre out of his way and proceeds to move us towards the door.
"Honey, this gun was never in the war between the states – I want to kill you, not maim you. This was my Daddy's old 12-gauge goose gun. The Judge taught me how to use it himself. Won a shootin' contest back in 1952." She points the heavy barrel closer to his face without so much as blinking an eye.
"I didn't think she could walk, let alone lift a shotgun," he mumbles to himself.
"I had an adrenaline rush – you can Google it," she says, dryly.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that she's here - when I hear her cock the gun.
"Left, or right?"
"Great day – if your brains were dynamite, you wouldn't be able to blow your own nose. Bless your heart," she says with a sniff. "I'm asking, which eye you want me to take out first?" She says slowly as if explaining to a child.
"Now, I am gonna give you one more chance to drop the knife before I blow you from here to Hades."
"Catch," he says, throwing his knife at her like a dart. She jerks her body just enough that it finds its target between her neck and shoulder. I shove him off and scramble to my feet.
"Bullseye," he says, waiting for her to collapse.
To her credit, she doesn't fall. She doesn't even blink. Instead, she calmly pulls the trigger and blows off the top of James' head. The mirror wall splinters and shatters with a loud woosh.
I watch in horror as his body drops to the ground with a plop. His feet, still clad in their pink-toed shoes, drag through his blood, twitch twice, and then stop.
"Well, good riddance to bad rubbish," she says, just before she falls to the floor.
I rush to her side and feel for a pulse.
"I'm alive," she says weakly.
"You're bleeding." And she is … blood is gushing out of her neck and shoulder.
"Damn thing must have kicked back on me. "
"No … he stabbed you with his knife. Don't move," I beg. I'm shaking all over, but I need my voice to remain calm. I look around to see if there's a phone.
"He - didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Shh, no … I'm okay. I can't believe you found me … how on earth …?"
"You told me, Crow. Course I knew straight off that Elizabeth's lessons wouldn't start for another two weeks – I've got my calendar on the side table. It took me a little longer to step off the porch; otherwise, I'd have been here sooner."
"You stepped off the porch," I whisper, amazed.
"Yes, I did," She whispers back, sounding proud of herself.
My eyes fill with tears. I take off my sweater and tie it as tight as I can around her frail shoulder to stem the bleeding, but it's useless.
"Why?" I sob. "Why didn't you call Boots or Em? I can't believe you came after me yourself."
"Same reason you marched off to fetch Elizabeth – didn't stop to think, I guess. Plus … I love - love you, Crow. You're still the stupidest thing I've ever met, but you're also one of the bravest."
"No, no … I'm not brave; you are."
"Steel Magnolias," she says, her voice fading. "That's what we are." She makes an effort to squeeze my hand, but it's no more than a touch.
I stem the tears and look around for something to wrap her wound with; my sweater is already soaked.
"Is he dead?" she whispers.
I glance over my shoulder and fight the nausea – what's left of James' head is ghastly, the rest is nothing but a bloody smear in a pile of glass that was once the wall.
"And I didn't even need to tap him twice," she says faintly. I watch in horror as her eyes roll back in her head.
"Miss Vick … just hold on. please don't die … "
Boots comes running inside, followed by Emmett and Jasper. He grabs me in his arms and hugs me close.
"Are you okay?" he asks, looking me over, frantically.
"Yes, I'm okay," I cry. But Miss Vick …"
"Jesus Christ," says Jasper. "Did Miss Vick do that?" he asks, pointing to what's left of James.
"Yes," I say, wincing.
"How? I mean … she can't weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. How the hell did she even manage to lift that rifle, let alone fire it?"
"Steel Magnolia," I whisper.
"We've already called the ambulance and the cops," says Jasper. "They'll be here any minute."
I can already hear the sirens, and my heart pounds in my chest. Please, God – let Miss Vick live. Please.
"Where's Bip?" I ask.
"She's safe … she's still with Pete. The girls are heading over there now."
"I just texted Ali and Ro … they'll meet us at the hospital as soon as we know which one."
I nod my head and try to stifle another sob.
"We saw you drive by when we were at Burger, and then we couldn't believe our eyes when we saw Miss Vick's sedan drive past, and she was at the wheel. It took us so long to get here because we didn't know where ya'll were going. Why didn't you call me? Why did you come here of all places?"
"He called me on the house phone. He pretended to be Bip … he sounded just like her. Said she – HE – needed a ride home from ballet class. I didn't think – it never occurred to me that it was anyone but her … It's all my fault. Oh, please …"
I collapse in his arms, sobbing.
"Shh ... it's not your fault, it's ours. We were so wrapped up in plotting the set-up that we didn't realize he was hiding under our noses all this time. I'm so sorry, Bella."
"She's still got a pulse," Emmett says, holding Miss Vick's wrist gently in his huge hand.
The words no sooner leave his mouth when the ambulance, followed by the police, arrive.
Miss Vick is accessed and immediately ready to transport when Carlisle comes flying in.
"What on earth happened?" he asks, rushing to Miss Vick's side.
'James was here – he lured Bella to the studio," Boots explains, between kisses and choked sobs.
"Oh, God … you're bleeding … he cut your neck … somebody help …" he cries, the tears flowing freely down his nose, mingling with my own.
"We've got to get them both to Masenville Memorial," instructs Carlisle.
"She's gonna need to go to Charlotte, Doctor Cullen – Memorial ain't equipped –"
"There's no time," barks Carlisle. "She'll never make it. We've got to at least try to get her stabilized. Junior, make sure they've got B negative blood; she's going to need a transfusion."
"Doc, they're out of B negative – saw the memo pop up this morning, out of O negative, too. We've got to get her to Charlotte."
"I'm B negative."
I look up and see Shelly rushing to Miss Vick's side. Tears are running down her face.
"Girl, why in the world didn't you call me – I was only around the block," she cries, as she lays her head by Miss Vick's side.
"Take Bella to Presbyterian," Carlisle orders, as the EMT begins accessing my wound.
"No! No – I'm not leaving Miss Vick. Boots, please – please don't let them do that."
"Shh … we'll take you both to Memorial," he says, with a jut of his chin, daring anyone to defy him.
And … make sure … the baby," I whisper.
The furrow between Boots' eyes deepens, and he looks so perplexed that I'd laugh if I weren't so upset and woozy.
"What baby? Bella … what baby?"
Those are the last words I hear for a long time.
Part Two of this chapter is written and beta'd. It will post Monday. Thanks for reading and reviewing, A huge shout-out to my friend and beta, Fran. Couldn't do it without you, Sis!
BTW ... checkout Fran's new fb group - It all started with Twilight. It's a great way to discover new fics!
www dot /groups/896806390388220/?ref=share
just replace the dot with a well, dot.
No note from Boots - he's too busy with Bella and Miss Vick. But no worries - he'll be there to hold ya'lls hands next week! Thank you all so very much for the love and support you've had for this story. We're in the homestretch now, ya'll.