INNOCENCE (or, Where The Truth Becomes Muddy)
The knock echoes through Bertrand’s house like a death knell. It travels fast down the short corridors to his smoking room, deep and insistent. It isn’t the first time he’s heard it. He shivers, his large frame shaking with the tremor.
They’d delayed long enough-the police-it was just a matter of time before they came swarming over his front doorstep, handcuffs in hand. Arthritic hands splay on the dark wood table in front of him. He pushes himself up and swallows hard, making the journey out of the room and down the hallway, hand outstretched. A thousand different scenarios run through his mind.
Elizabeth’s body found wet on the French Quarter. Looming marriage. Family secrets.
That bitch’s article in the Times Picayune.
Yes. He knew her secret identity. Writing in a different paper to get around his censor of the Nightly-Edition.
What would they do to him?
Is this really the end?
Has Thomas finally won?
“I know he did it! I know he’s the killer!”
“Why?” Joseph snaps, “Because a little red book told you so?”
“Yes because a little red book told me so,” Melanie says, hands on her hips, mocking tone in her voice. “A little red book written by Thomas Reddington!”
“Which means what?”
They stand in the half-hidden away bar room in the Nightly-Edition, their shift finally over after a long night of heavy business. All night all the tongues wagged about Elizabeth Reddington’s murder. She is still news one month after the fact. Made worse by Melanie’s writing, meddling, and half-cocked theories that managed to get around New Orleans.
She leans on her broomstick, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean ‘means what’? According to Thomas he and Bertrand were the real McCoy, the best of friends. Together until the end. And then Bertrand started acting funny. He started going out late at night and coming back home at strange hours looking more than a little scared. Then bodies started turning up around town, bodies with the same sorts of wounds as the ones on the Quarter.”
Joseph laughs, his eyes watering.
“And you think Thomas is a saint, don’t you? You want to believe that everything he says is on the up and up. Melanie, you’re obsessed. You have been for years. Why?”
For the first time she hates her friend of ten years. Her cheeks colour violently, her eyes narrowing into slits. “You know why I hate him.”
“Yes, I do. Or I did, anyway. This isn’t hate, sugar. This has become something else.”
“No. It. Hasn’t.”
“You’re looking for every way to bring him down.”
“And you’re protecting him! Why? Are you in on it too?”
Anger simmers underneath his fear. The red door looms closer. Or perhaps the hallway has shortened overnight. He sees the blurry outline of two people through the mottled glass of his front door. Suddenly, insistent hands press against the glass. He sees flashes of light, fancies he can smell the phosphorous of flash-bulbs. His ears become attuned to the sounds of yelling and snapped orders, magnified by the empty house. The hands disappear. The crowd has been tamed.
He pauses. Sniffing once. Straightening his immaculate waistcoat.
Soft footsteps announce a new arrival. Silver tray in hand, a hook-nosed man with a stiff but careful expression presents a single glass half full of shining amber whiskey. Bertrand looks at the glass, thinking.
“It will be your last one for some time, sir.”
Bertrand empties the glass in one swift swallow.
“In on what?” Joseph demands, crossing massive arms over his chest.
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re organising the murders, getting business for the Nightly-Edition.”
“Do you even listen to yourself when you talk? Do you understand how you sound right now?”
“He committed the murders! The pattern is the same, the bodies have the same wounds, even the timing is the same!”
“Why would he kill his own daughter?!”
Melanie’s mouth falls open. Nothing comes out. Her face morphs from anger to surprise in a second. The broom clatters to the floor, bouncing and rolling until a groove in the shining wood stops it.
“What?” She squeaks. “What did you say?”
Bertrand squares his shoulders. Rapid lights flash like lightning, brightening wallpapered walls for an instant before disappearing.
“Why are they taking pictures of my door?” He wonders aloud.
“Dramatic effect, sir?”
“Jacob wanted to marry her,” Melanie manages. “Maybe Bertrand thought killing her would be the only way to bury that secret.”
“Or he could have told Jacob.”
“But he didn’t. The wedding was supposed to happen the day she died.”
“Maybe Jacob didn’t believe him.” Joseph shrugged, “Maybe he didn’t care.”
“But if the press got a hold of that-”
“You mean if you got a hold of it.”
Melanie shakes her head. “It would have been big news, Joseph, you know that. If someone got a hold of that information, Bertrand would have to make her disappear and quickly.”
“Not if Jacob wasn’t his son.”
“Haven’t you ever considered that Thomas Reddington would have a reason to lie?”
The knock comes again. Bertrand takes a deep breath. The door swings open revealing a mob of reporters held at bay by a small police force.
They all shout his name at once.
A tall woman with very blond hair takes him by the shoulder. “Please come with us.”
Bertrand is surprised to see no handcuffs. One lucky reporter finds him.
“Mr. Lautrec, how do you feel about George Reddington turning himself in?”
Bertrand feels the blood drain from his face. Another voice joins his in a surprised shout. The noise stops. The mob turn their heads as one. Wild, disbelieving amber eyes find his.
They stare at each other across a sea of microphones and flash-bulb cameras.
“What did you do?!” Bertrand shouts. “What did you write? What did Thomas tell you!?”
Melanie shakes her head, turns and runs.