Roaring Pageant Murders: Part Three
My heart pounded from the accusation my sister threw out into the open space. My mind raced at the onslaught of questions I had no answers to. Is Marie implying that Charles is the murderer? And that she is aware of it? Who is this Harold?
“We all made a pact, Charles! We would agree together on who would be chosen!”
With a sigh, Charles pushed off the sofa and walked in front of my sister’s path. Her pacing halted as he pulled her into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he said, placing a kiss on her forehead. “Forgive me, my love. I did not intend to kill another.”
I gasped in confession. It was true! Marie knew Charles was killing women! Why would she agree to such a thing?
The door was yanked fully open, and I stood up straight from shock as Charles stood in the doorway. I hadn’t seen him move! Marie pushed him away to look past him.
“Moira?” she questioned, surprised. “How much did you hear?”
“More than I wanted,” I said as I backed away.
“Moira, please!” she begged and walked towards me. Her eyes were wild yet full of concern. “You have to listen to me!”
My eyes shifted to Charles. He stared at me with cold intent. “Listen to what? I’ve heard enough!” I didn’t want to be part of this. If my sister had already chosen to accept murder to gain the love of Charles, nothing would change her mind.
I stepped back from Marie’s outreached arms and bumped into something sturdy but soft. My sister’s eyes flicked to something behind me, and I whirled around to see Officer Rhoades. “Is everything okay?” he asked.
“She knows,” Marie spoke up.
“I see,” he said with a deep sigh. When he looked down at me, his eyes held pity and something else that I couldn’t quite place.
“You’re Harold?” I whispered. It was as if my voice had been snatched. The dryness of my throat and the panic that welled inside me prevented me from speaking louder. The Chief of Police was a part of this whole thing? How was that possible?
He gave one nod. “I am.”
“Moira, please!” Marie begged, gripping my arm so we faced each other. “I’m your sister. You can trust me.”
“Trust you?” I questioned and yanked my arm from her. “You’re knowingly dating a murderer, and the Chief of Police knows about it all! How could I trust you?”
“I can answer that,” Harold spoke up. “We don’t live in a simple world. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
“Stop speaking in riddles as if I’m an incompetent child,” I snapped.
Charles began to snicker and even Harold held back a smirk.
“Please, Moria. Just listen to them!” Marie begged.
“I have urges I can’t control,” Charles spoke up. He leaned on the back of the couch. “Your sister has been the only one to help tame them.”
I scoffed. “And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” I asked, horrified.
Harold put his hands up. “Why don’t we let me do the speaking, yes?” He took a step forward to block my view of Charles, so I was forced to face him instead.
“Sometimes evil people get away from the law. It’s a fact that I don’t like. Charles does not kill innocent people, Moira.”
“Doesn’t kill innocent people?” I asked. “How can you say that? Two innocents were killed tonight!”
Harold shook his head. “I’m afraid you’re wrong. Ms. Goldstein is kidnapping young children and keeping them in her basement, where her father visits them daily and does whatever he pleases with them. Most he kills within two weeks; they are the lucky ones. Charles has taken care of him a few days back. She is an accomplice to a crime that I have been unable to convict her of. Everything is circumstantial, but I can’t knowingly let monsters walk around our town.”
Marie slipped around him. “Charles can’t get rid of his urges forever. Harold gives him a way to control them. To kill evil people that the law can’t prosecute. Surely as someone who wants to be an investigative reporter, you can understand that.”
I shook my head. “Murder is murder, Marie. There is no gray area!”
“But there is,” Harold said. “Tell me, Moria, would you have let Ms. Goldstein continue bringing children to her father? And what about someone else after he is dead?”
“I —” The answer was simple: no, I won’t let her get away with it but condoning murder?
Harold cleared his throat and turned to Charles. “However, I am unsure what the other young lady did and why she was killed without permission?”
“I’m sorry,” Charles said with a shrug and looked anything but sorry. “She wasn’t intended, but she’s been abusing her son in public of all places. I asked around, and it seems that she has been doing it for a while now. He’s been to a doctor every week with new injuries. I can’t help it. Well, I could, but I didn’t want to.”
Harold sighed. “You can’t do this again. Covering your tracks and framing someone else will take major cleaning up because I don’t have anyone guilty lined up to take the fall yet.”
“Killing the guilty doesn’t make it okay,” I argued. I was astonished at how they were all calm about the situation!
“Moira, we are asking you to keep this to yourself.” Harold started. “The streets are safer, and a natural-born killer is working on our side. We save people. Do you have any idea how many innocent people die a week?”
“But doing it in this way? You’re sinking to their level!”
“Moira, I love you, but you’re either with us or against us,” Marie responded.
Charles clapped once loudly, making me jump. He wrapped his arms around Marie from behind and kissed her cheek. “Don’t rush her, my love.” His eyes flicked to me. “Take some time to think it over, Moira.”
“Think about this as well,” Harold began. “You can make your writing career skyrocket because you will have inside information, classified information. You can have access to anything you want!”
I glanced at Harold. Is he honestly bribing me right now?
My head spun with all that had been revealed. “I—I need some time to think.” There was nothing else to say, and I ran out of the hotel room. I knew I was safe from a crazed killer that could jump out at any moment, which made it easier to run to wherever it was I wanted, knowing I wouldn’t be attacked like the others. Not that I had any clue where to run to.
I didn’t know what to think about this. My sister was everything to me, but killing was wrong. How would I be able to live with this secret?
I found an open seat on an armchair in the hotel lobby and collapsed into it.
People hurried about without a care in the world as if two women hadn’t been murdered. Life went on even though I knew who the killer was, and the Chief of Police knew about it too. In fact, he condoned the murders. I knew life-changing information, yet, everything around me went on.
“Moira?” I looked up at Marie. She stood in front of me nervously.
I had nothing to say to her, so I looked away to continue to watch the people coming and going.
She took a seat in the chair next to me. “I know what you’re thinking. I went through the same thing when Charles admitted the truth to me.”
“How do you do it?” I turned to her. “How do you love a monster?”
She shrugged slightly, “You just live with it. Charles can’t help the way he is. Doctors have made that clear. But I like to think about the good the situation is doing and not the negative side. Life goes on, and so do you.” She paused as I thought it over. “Besides, you don’t have to live with this secret alone. You have me and maybe Harold. He’s interested in you, you know.”
“A relationship is the last thing on my mind,” I responded. Marie opened her mouth to say something but was cut off.
“There you girls are!” We looked up at Adeline. “The judges are about to reveal the winners!”
I looked at the time, eight in the evening. If it had been earlier in the day, I would have laughed if someone had told me I would forget all about the pageant. Have I really been lost in thought for three hours?
Marie smiled. “Come on!” She pulled me to my feet, and I felt like I was on autopilot as the three of us rushed off to the ballroom.
The crowd of anticipating contestants and supporters buzzed with excitement while the judges stood on the stage and whispered as they waited for everyone to file in. The three of us found our way to the front of the crowd to wait.
“Is everyone in?” One of the judges called out. “All the contestants are here?” They looked around to be sure before they continued.
“This is a close competition, but the winner of the grand prize of a hundred dollars and a movie deal is,” the woman paused for a dramatic effect. “Moira Hatcher!”
“You won!” Marie and Adeline shrieked excitedly. Everything was a blur after that. I was dragged on stage, and a fake smile was plastered on my face. I was handed a bouquet of roses, a check, and shook hands with the movie producer I would be working with.
The other women gave me envious looks as they followed the crowd out to leave. None of it bothered me. I won. At the beginning of the day, I was excited and determined to win. But now, I knew things I hadn’t known earlier, and though I was excited to win, it hadn’t quite hit me yet because the excitement was dulled by the knowledge of death.
“It gets easier, you know.” I looked up at Harold. “Knowing what you do.”
“Maybe,” I whispered as we walked out of the ballroom together.
“It should be easier for you.”
“And why is that?”
“Because you can write it all out when you can’t handle it. Think about the plot twist, the protagonist becomes part of the murders, and her sister knew all along. It would make for an interesting read, and the best part is, no one would know it was actually true.” Harold pulled on my arm, so we were stopped in a quiet hallway. “You need space to process everything. Take this opportunity, Moira. Take some alone time for yourself for a few days and think it all over. I guarantee you will feel better, and maybe even better to let me take you out for dinner.” Harold grasped my hand and kissed my knuckles before he walked off.
In a daze, I walked back to my hotel room; no one was there. They were most likely celebrating my win. Marie undoubtedly made excuses to Adeline for why I was not there with them.
I sat at the desk and took my shoes off. The room was eerily silent as I sat and looked around. I glanced at the desk and turned to face it. I let out a breath of anticipation because I knew Harold was right. There was only one way I could get all my thoughts out in order to think about them. When I pulled the typewriter close, words spilled onto the page as my fingers danced across the keys.
I typed furiously, with nothing else on my mind except the relief I knew this would bring, “A scream pierced through the bustling of the pageant…”