Third Party Malice
Captain Hall glanced at the wooden prosthesis, lying on the table beside her. The memory she wished forgotten clung steadfast and fresh as if it were yesterday. Why did I agree to go on that hunting expedition? The flashback, raw and painful, assaulted her as she relived stumbling and shooting herself in the leg. Sullenly, she stared at the inflamed stump below her knee. The past to her way of thinking should stay where it was, in the past, but it kept seeping into her life. She neither liked nor wanted how it made her feel. Vulnerable. Emotion of any kind made her uncomfortable. A cerebral person, she prided being in control. And she feared its loss. It wasn’t that she eschewed empathy, quite the contrary. It was more that she never connected it to herself. She applied the soothing cream to the stump. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. Feeling sorry for oneself was a luxury ill-afforded. Especially now with war more imminent. She rubbed in the cream. Strange. I’ve never closely examined my stump before. My eyes have always been either closed or directed elsewhere. Why did I do that? But she already knew the answer in its fullness. Placing the lid on the jar, she stopped what she was doing and sat back in the chair.
Time washed through her until no more tears could flow. She glanced at the wall clock. Two hours had passed. Gathering several tissues, she wiped away the tears, throwing the soggy ball into the wastebasket. With a deep sigh, she rewrapped the stump and attached Cuthbert. Standing at the bedroom window and seeing her reflection she smiled. “I’m okay now.” And she meant it.
A light knock at the door startled her. At first, she thought it was her imagination until it came again. It was three in the morning. Have I awakened Inspector Collier and his wife? They had been kind enough to open their guest room overnight. She felt her face flush with embarrassment. “Yes?”
The door opened slightly, and Lila poked her head into the room. “Are you alright, dear? I don’t mean to be nosey but I…thought I heard you crying.”
“Everything’s okay, Mrs. Collier, I didn’t mean to—”
“Shush, no need to apologize.” Tucking her dressing gown across her chest and readjusting the waist strap, she broadcast a large smile. “I’m often rumbling around this house at the strangest hours, especially when Sandy’s not home.” She fell into a brief silence. “Nasty stuff about our niece. Whoever would do such a thing?” Sadly, she shook her head. “I’m going downstairs to make myself some tea and have one of those custard tarts. Should I count you in?” Captain Hall nodded. “Jolly good then.” She rubbed her hands together. About to leave, she stopped herself in mid flight. “Would you mind starting the coal fireplace in the living room?”
“Consider it done, Mrs. Collier.”
“Lila. Please call me Lila.”
Lynn was stoking the fireplace when the front door opened...