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GILLIAN

 

THE TRIAL IS OVER. THE RESULT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I HAD FEARED: SOME NINTY DAYS FROM THIS DATE, GREGORY LYNNE IS TO BE TAKEN FROM THE PRISON AND HANGED BY THE NECK UNTIL HE IS DEAD, WITH THE USUAL PRAYER THAT GOD HAVE MERCY UPON HIS SOUL.

 

JUDGE ROLLINS COULD HARDLY PRONOUNCE SENTENCE. I PITIED HIM. IT IS A HARD THING TO CONDEMN TO DEATH A BOY YOU HELD UPON YOUR KNEE AND FED CANDY TO AS A CHILD, THE SON OF A MAN WITH WHOM YOU HAD SHARED A RELATIONSHIP AS CLOSE AS THAT BETWEEN BROTHERS. BUT GREG GAVE HIM AND THE JURY NO ALTERNATIVE.

 

“YES, I KILLED HER. I STRUCK HER DOWN IN A FIT OF RAGE.”

 

“WHY?”

 

“I PREFER NOT TO SAY. IT CONCERNS ONLY MRS. AMES AND MYSELF. AFTER I AM DEAD, IT WILL CONCERN NO ONE AT ALL. THAT IS THE WAY I WANT IT …”

 

SO MY BROTHER IS TO DIE – UNLESS I CAN PREVENT IT. UNLESS SOMETHING IN THIS TREMENDOUS MASS OF NOTES I HAVE MADE FROM MY INTERVIEWS CONTAINS SOMETHING I HAVE OVERLOOKED OR BADLY INTERPRETED.

 

I AM FACED WITH AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES. I KNOW MORE ABOUT GILLIAN MacALLISTER AMES THAN ANY MAN LIVING. I COULD WEAVE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT COULD SEND ANYONE OF MANY TO THE GALLOWS. BUT THEY DID NOT KILL GILLIAN; GREG DID. I HAVE BLASTED MY OWN HOPES THAT HE MIGHT BE SACRIFICING HIMSELF TO PROTECT A BELOVED FRIEND. HIS RECITAL OF THE CRIME FITS ALL KNOWN FACTS: THE STRUGGLE, THE BLOW, HIS PRESENCE IN THE HOUSE AT THE HOUR FIXED BY THE CORONER AS THE TIME OF DEATH – EVERYTHING. I AM SURE THAT THE OTHERS, IF NECESSARY, COULD FURNISH PROOFS OF THEIR WHEREABOUTS AT THE TIME THAT GILLIAN DIED. BUT IT IS NOT NECESSARY; THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT GREG KILLED HER.

 

YET – THEREIN LIES THE MYSTERY – EACH OF THESE PEOPLE HAD A STRONG, EVEN COMPELLING REASON FOR MURDERING GILLIAN. BUT NONE OF THEM DID; WHILE IN ALL THIS PILE OF FOOLSCAP THERE LIES NOT ONE WORD, NOT EVEN A HINT THAT WOULD INDICATE GREG HAD ANY REASON FOR KILLING HER AT ALL.

 

****

 

“YOU’RE SMART,” HE SAID. “BUT ACTUALLY, THAT’S NOT FAIR. I’LL GIVE YOU TWO HUNDRED A MONTH LIVING EXPENSES DURING THOSE THREE MONTHS. YOU’VE GOT TO EAT, AND DRESS DECENTLY. AND A YOUNG FELLOW YOUR AGE MUST HAVE A GIRL …”

 

SADLY I SHOOK MY HEAD.

 

“GILLY, EH?” HE SAID. “TAKE IT FROM ME, SON – YOU’RE LUCKY. I FEEL SORRY FOR THAT BYRCE BOY. I LOVE MY DAUGHTER, BUT I’LL BE HAPPY TO HAVE HER OFF MY HANDS.”

 

I COULD SEE THAT HIS WORDS HAD ESCAPED HIM WITHOUT HIS INTENDING THEM TO.

 

“OH, SHE ISN’T THAT BAD, SIR,” I SAID. “I KNOW SHE HAS A TEMPER; BUT I’VE ALWAYS BEEN ABLE TO GET ALONG WITH HER.”

 

HE TURNED TOWARD THE WINDOW. HIS VOICE, SPEAKING NOW, WAS LOW AND TROUBLED.

 

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE WITH HER,” HE SAID. “I SOMETIMES WONDER WHERE I GOT HER FROM. SHE’S NOTHING LIKE ME OR HER MOTHER. I REMEMBER ONCE, WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD –“

 

“YES, SIR?” I SAID.

 

“DON’T KNOW WHY I’M TALKING TO YOU LIKE THIS EVEN IF I HAVE KNOWN YOU ALL YOUR LIFE. I SHOULDN’T, REALLY. TO TALK THIS WAY ABOUT MY DAUGHTER GRIEVES ME TO MY SOUL. BUT THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT YOU – A MAN FEELS YOU CAN BE TRUSTED, SOMEHOW. AND, DAMN IT, SON, I’VE GOT TO TALK TO SOMEBODY! I’VE HELD IT IN UNTIL IT’S CHOKING ME. ANYHOW, SHE’D DONE SOMETHING PARTICULARLY HORRID – I DON’T REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS, WHICH IS HARDLY STRANGE, CONSIDERING THAT NOT A DAY PASSED THAT GILLY DIDN’T DO SOMETHING NO OTHER HUMAN CHILD WOULD HAVE EVEN THOUGHT OF –“

“HUMAN, SIR?” I SAID; FOR I HAD CAUGHT THE EMPHASIS, SLIGHT AS IT WAS, THAT HE HAD PLACED ON THE WORD.

 

HE LOOKED ME STRAIGHT IN THE EYE.

 

“THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES I’VE DOUBTED IT,” HE SAID DRYLY. “IN THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH COUNTRY I CAME FROM, PEOPLE STILL BELIEVE IN WITCHCRAFT, AND THAT DEVILS WALK THE EARTH IN THE SHAPE OF MEN AND WOMEN. ANYHOW, I WHIPPED HER.”

 

HIS FACE BLANCHED REMEMBERING THE INCIDENT WITH HIS DAUGHTER.

 

“THAT,” HE WHISPERED, “WAS THE LAST TIME I’VE RAISED A HAND AGAINST GILLIAN.”

 

 

 

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