Knaves over queens, p.14
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       Knaves Over Queens, p.14

         Part #26 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin

  It really was all Teddy Bravo’s fault. If he hadn’t sacked her, she wouldn’t have rung up Glory, and wouldn’t have got drunk, and she wouldn’t have gone to the party where Ronnie had found out about her power. Everything that had led her here, stuck sewing for the Krays and losing everything she’d worked for, was his fault.

  But Constance had to admit that one thing was her fault: she’d stupidly revealed her power. Foolish girl, she thought. As if you could save anyone. You certainly didn’t save Frances. Or yourself.

  ‘We can do something more permanent,’ Ronnie said. He flexed his fingers. ‘If you want us to.’

  Constance shook her head.

  There was blood on the table.

  And the threat of more and worse damage to come. And the threat wasn’t just to Teddy Bravo. It was to her as well.

  Constance was waiting in her flat for Glory to arrive. Ever since Constance had begun working for the Krays, Glory had made a point of visiting Constance as often as she could. Constance had finally broken down one afternoon and told Glory she was also in danger, but Glory had just given a bitter chuckle.

  ‘Of course I know I’m in danger,’ she said. ‘Do you think I didn’t know it from the moment you told me about your mum and dad? I’m your best – and only – friend now that Frances is dead. But whether I see you or not doesn’t matter. I’m in just as much danger either way. And I’d rather see you.’ She gave Constance a fierce hug. ‘Besides, I’m keeping an eye on you and those damn Krays.’

  Despite her situation, Constance’s flat was nice. Not as fancy as Glory’s. But it had a separate bedroom and a tiny kitchen, and its own loo. Under any other circumstances, Constance would have been thrilled.

  She looked out of the window. London, on the whole, had finally bounced back after the war, but there were still places in the East End scarred by the Blitz. Prefabs still dotted burned-out streets. There were bombed buildings looking as if they were about to collapse. Constance saw jokers coming out of some of the huts, tending the small gardens they had planted, tiny bits of green dotting the grey rubble. Her heart ached for the bright colours and the people in Soho. Here, it felt as if the war had just ended.

  Constance didn’t mind the idea of jokers. After all, it wasn’t their fault. However, even she had a hard time accepting the really disgusting ones. Fortunately, the jokers who moved into the East End weren’t too repulsive. And they did try to make their area prettier. Potted plants – red carnations and violets – appeared in front of tents and prefabs. Some in the East End sarcastically called the area where the jokers were squatting ‘Jokers’ Council’.

  Occasionally, there were violent attacks against them, but on the whole, the jokers were tolerated. The Krays found some of them helpful for certain jobs. And that meant some had money to spend, and no one minded that at all. Even jokers were welcome when they turned up in a shop with a handful of notes.

  There was a quick knock on the door, and then Glory let herself in with her key as Constance turned away from the window.

  ‘I brought something,’ Glory said, putting the cardboard box on the table with a grunt. There were yellow-and-white pansies on her head. She wore a faded azure jumper, low-slung jeans embroidered with flowers up one side, and new Mary Janes with surprisingly chunky heels. ‘It’s heavy!’

  Constance recognized the box immediately. ‘Glory, why’d you bring that here?’ she asked with dismay. ‘I thought we agreed it was nothing but heartache in there.’

  ‘Because it’s been long enough,’ Glory said. ‘And because we owe it to Frances to at least look at what she gave us.’

  ‘I’m going to need a drink if we’re going to do this,’ Constance said.

  Glory pulled a bottle of Grant’s whisky out of her oversized handbag with the Union Jack emblazoned on it.

  ‘Anything else in that Mary Poppins bag?’ Constance asked.

  ‘Just my camera and film,’ Glory replied. ‘Thought I might go down to the Jokers’ Council and take some shots after we’ve finished here. Now get us some glasses.’

  Constance did as she was told. She hated blended Scotch, but once the three girls had nicked a bottle of Grant’s from an off-licence and had got blind drunk on it. Glory was nothing if not nostalgic.

  ‘You ready to open this thing?’ Constance asked. They were on their third shot, and Constance’s tongue had gone numb halfway through the second drink, something for which she was truly grateful. ‘I don’t think I can drink any more of this.’

  Glory nodded then pulled the brown paper packing tape off the top of the box. The smell of Frances’s perfume and stale cigarettes wafted out. Glory reached in and pulled out an object wrapped in newspaper. When the paper was unwrapped, it revealed a music box. Glory gave it to Constance, who wound it up and it started playing ‘The Blue Danube’.

  One by one, the girls removed every item from the box. Some were wrapped, some not. Constance and Glory treated the wrapped ones like Christmas presents. There was a squat glass paperweight, a small crystal vase, and a figurine of a shepherdess holding a crook with lambs by her feet.

  ‘I gave her that after I sold the Mick photo,’ Glory said softly, touching the shepherdess. ‘She said she’d love it forever.’

  Constance nodded. ‘I remember.’

  They pulled out scarves, handkerchiefs, and a dress. Constance recognized the dress. She’d made it, after all. And at the very bottom they found a jewellery box. Glory opened it, and inside was a gold bracelet Constance recalled as one of Frances’s favourites, along with a number of other pieces. Except for the bracelet, the rest were costume jewellery. They were trinkets Glory or Constance had told Frances they liked. Glory slipped the bracelet on.

  A pair of oversized hoop earrings, several skinny silver rings set with a variety of stones, and a pretty brooch were inside. Constance took off her earrings and slid in the hoops.

  ‘What do we do with all this?’ Glory asked as she plucked out a ring and put it on the table. ‘Do we give it back to Reg?’

  ‘I don’t think so,’ Constance said. She stacked the rings up and slid them onto her index finger. ‘Don’t you think she would have left it to him if she wanted him to have it?’

  ‘I suppose so,’ Glory said. She reached into the box again. ‘This brooch is pinned to the lining. Bugger, I can’t get it off.’ Suddenly, the bottom lining of the jewellery box pulled away, revealing a thin book. DIARY was embossed on the cover in gold.

  ‘Oh dear,’ Constance said as Glory slipped it out of its resting place.

  Glory opened it and read a little before saying, ‘This is all about when she was married to Reggie. Listen: Reg and I moved into our new flat. Reg told me again that he wanted to get out of the Firm, but Ronnie wouldn’t have it. Reg said that Ronnie likes being a gangster too much. I don’t know about that. I think Reggie also likes being a gangster. But I wouldn’t mind if he did get out. He always said Ronnie would never get out of the game and that’s why he was still there.’

  Glory began flipping the pages. She stopped about halfway through the book. ‘Oh, this is just, well,’ she said, and then began reading again. ‘Reggie got home late again. I asked him where he’d been and he told me to mind my own business. When I told him I was his wife and it was my business he told me to take another Seconal. Then he grabbed my arm and shook me.’

  ‘I don’t think I want to hear this,’ Constance said. She began toying nervously with a silk scarf she’d pulled out of the box. It was a bold Pucci print and must have set Frances back a ton of money. ‘Let’s not,’ she said, reaching for the diary, but Glory pulled away and wouldn’t let her have it.

  ‘I wish I’d never married him,’ Glory continued. ‘He’s already screwing other women. Some slut from the local, I think. And it’s only been a month! I’d tell Glory and Constance, but they’d say leave him and I just can’t. Not now. Not after waiting so long to marry him.’

  ‘Please stop,’ Constance said. ‘We would have told her to l
eave him. And it’s horrible that she was too afraid to tell us how miserable she was.’

  Glory’s flowers drooped, and she nodded in agreement. ‘We would have told her to tell him to piss off and then give him the shove.’ She flipped a few pages forward and read to herself. Then she looked up at Constance.

  ‘Oh, Constance, there’s this: I haven’t told Reg, but I’m not taking the Seconal any more. It was making me feel sad. Violet keeps coming over telling me how unhappy I’m making her son. I know I can be difficult, that’s what they keep telling me. Maybe it would be easier for everyone if I wasn’t around. At least that’s what Reg keeps saying anyway. He said sometimes he wished I’d done a better job at that thing I tried before. It’s like now that he has me, he doesn’t want me any more. I feel like I’m going as mad as Ronnie.’

  Glory flipped towards the end of the volume, then continued, ‘Last night I found out that Reggie’s been keeping a flick knife under his pillow. He says I ask too many questions about where he’s been and what he’s been doing, then he pulled it out, snapped it open, and held it against my face. He told me in this horrible voice that he wished he’d never married me, that he is going to kill me. And I believe he’ll do it, so I’m moving back with Mum. He used to be kind. He treated me like a queen. I don’t know what happened to make him change like that. I always thought it was Ronnie who hated me. But Reggie is going to kill me.’

  Glory shut the diary and put it on the table. ‘She never made it back to her mum’s, did she? It’s the last entry and it’s dated three weeks before she died. What if we’ve been wrong?’

  ‘What do you mean?’ asked Constance. ‘You really don’t …’

  ‘Oh, think about it,’ Glory replied. She reached out, grabbed the whisky bottle and took a swig. ‘It wasn’t Ronnie who killed Frances and made it look like a suicide, it was Reggie. Reggie might have even started the rumours about Ron – to throw the scent off him. After all, there must be people in the Firm who know about Ronnie’s power. And plenty of others who suspect.’

  ‘He’d never do that to Ronnie,’ Constance said. ‘Never. Or to Frances: he loved her.’

  ‘But it’s perfect!’ Glory laughed a little hysterically. ‘Ronnie doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not half the time. And he’s got that cutting power. And if he snapped and confessed, he’d go back to the sanatorium, not prison. And then Reg would be in the clear and could run everything without having to look after his crazy wife and his crazy brother.’

  ‘But Ronnie would know if he killed her,’ Constance protested. ‘Surely he’d know.’

  ‘Not if Reg convinced him otherwise. Not if he was trying to drive him insane. Well, more insane.’

  ‘Reg’d never do it,’ Constance said stubbornly. ‘You haven’t been around them the way I have. They have this bond …’

  Glory gave an exasperated sigh and took another swig, then shook the diary at Constance. ‘This isn’t the diary of someone who wants to kill herself. It’s the diary of a woman who’s afraid. Afraid of her husband. She wanted us to know even though she was afraid to tell us outright!’

  ‘Then why not just ring us? Or ring the coppers? Or that detective who’s been following them around?’

  ‘Really?’ Glory asked sarcastically. ‘Really? You can’t think of a single reason why she might not do that?’

  Constance held out her hand, and Glory passed her the Grant’s. She took a gulp, barely tasting the awfulness of it.

  ‘Well, what do we do about it?’ Constance asked. ‘What do we do about the bastard?’ It felt as if fire was bursting in her brain, and a red haze filled her vision.

  Glory took the bottle back, took a long swallow, and then spoke with a dark anger that mirrored Constance’s own rage. ‘I don’t know. But I do know we’ll make him pay.’ Acacias bloomed across her head, their spiky thorns a dull grey, then they changed to orange lilies and finally settled as deep purple monkshood. ‘Don’t matter how. Don’t matter what happens to us. We’ve got to make him pay for Frances.’

  ‘We should just kill him,’ Glory said softly. ‘I’ll kill that bloody bastard.’ A month had passed since Constance and Glory had read Frances’s diary. And with each passing day, Glory had grown angrier and angrier until she was obsessed with killing Reggie.

  ‘Don’t go off like that,’ Constance said hotly. It was early morning, and they were in the living room of Constance’s flat. The latest jacket for Ronnie lay beside her, waiting for the domette to be sewn in. Her favourite shears and sewing box were on the coffee table. ‘We can’t just kill Reggie Kray. Until we find a way that don’t put us in prison. And much as I want him dead, I’m not going to jail for it.’

  Venus flytraps grew on Glory’s head, their pink mouths open and glistening. ‘Is he supposed to get away with it, then? Just like that? Like she was nothing at all?’

  ‘No!’ Constance said violently. ‘And I hate it! I hate waiting as much as you do! Maybe more! I’m supposed to protect both of you, but I couldn’t protect either. She’s dead and you’re constantly in danger of having something ’orrible happen to you because of me.’ She started crying. Glory hugged her.

  ‘You can’t protect everyone, luv. The world doesn’t work that way. I suppose we could just leave them to the coppers, but then you’re still stuck here working for them for however long it takes for one of them to slip up. And that could take years.’

  ‘I’m stuck,’ Constance said miserably. ‘And I can’t get unstuck.’

  ‘You stuck, are you?’

  The girls started. Standing in the doorway to Constance’s apartment was Ronnie.

  ‘’Ello, Glory, Constance,’ he said as he eased into the room, shutting the door behind him. He wore one of the suits Constance had made for him, a sharp-looking double-breasted of fine black worsted. Even his pristine white shirt had been made by Constance. And the spectacles he wore were the silver-framed ones instead of his usual black ones. ‘Seems like you forgot to lock the door. Very unsafe. You’re both looking nice today.’

  ‘Thanks, Ronnie,’ Constance said.

  ‘Yes, we were talking about Reggie,’ Glory spat out before Constance could say anything else. ‘That he murdered Frances and made it look like she killed herself.’

  ‘Reg’d never do that!’ Ronnie said angrily. ‘He loved her. Treated her really nice.’

  Constance put her hand on Glory’s arm, but Glory just shook it off. ‘And then he set it up to make it look like you done it if anyone got suspicious. The slit wrists, and all. You know what I’m sayin’?’

  ‘Reggie loves me more than anything or anyone in this world. He’d never do that to me. That’s just mad.’ Ronnie shrugged. ‘I know Reggie. He’s my brother. More than a brother.’ He began blinking rapidly, then stared blankly into space. Constance had seen that expression before, and it always meant Ronnie was getting out of control.

  She reached out and grabbed her shears.

  ‘He let it seem like it could be you,’ Glory said. ‘Cut her up so everyone would think you did it if they didn’t believe she killed herself. He told you you did it though, didn’t he?’

  ‘I remember,’ Ronnie said stubbornly. ‘I remember killin’ her.’

  ‘Do you?’ Glory asked. Her flowers turned into yellow climbing roses with sharp thorns. She took a step closer to him, then leaned towards him intently. ‘You were just out of the sanatorium, after all. The rumours are Reg got you out before you were cured … And Reggie can be persuasive. Think about it, Ronnie.’ Glory tapped a finger on her temple. ‘You didn’t like her, but why would you kill her? You love Reggie. You’d never hurt him that way. But Frances, she was afraid of Reg there at the end … We have her diary.’

  ‘Frances was unwell,’ Ronnie replied. He was shaking his head like a dog shaking off water. ‘She was going to leave Reg. He loved her.’ He was flexing his fingers now. Glory stepped back. ‘He loved her. I couldn’t let her leave. You stop saying that.’

  He made a sudden
lunge towards Glory, slicing through the flowers on the right side of her head. Glory screamed and fell to her knees, blood sluicing down her face. He reached out to cut her again. Constance dropped her shears, then jumped in front of him, raising her arms. His hand slid off her jacket.

  ‘Did ya think that dress was the only thing I’d made for myself? My dad taught me a girl has to take care of ’erself.’

  Ronnie laughed and shoved Constance away. She tumbled over Glory and fell backwards, landing hard. It knocked the breath out of her and for a moment she lay there, gasping for air like a beached fish.

  Glory wiped the blood from her face. Then she howled as she got to her knees and punched Ronnie in the goolies. He gave an ‘oomph’ and doubled over. Glory staggered to her feet and kicked him in the face.

  ‘I’ll kill you just to see the look on Reg’s face, you fucker,’ she said, kicking him again. ‘And this is for Constance because you locked her up here. And this—’ she kicked him again. ‘This one is for Frances, just because.’

  Ronnie pushed himself up, then grabbed her foot, yanking her down to the floor. He ripped through her blouse, leaving four cuts across her stomach. And then he sliced off the rest of her flowers, laughing as he did so.

  Constance saw her shears a few feet away. She crawled to them, picked them up, and then struggled to her feet, breathing heavily.

  Glory was losing the fight. She whimpered, her arms over her face.

  Fuck, Constance thought. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

  Constance wasn’t big enough to stop him despite the protection of her jacket, and he was going to kill Glory if she didn’t do something fast.

  Ronnie stopped for a moment, then straightened his jacket as if he wanted to be neat and tidy when he killed Glory. He leaned over her again, hands reaching for her throat.

  Rage consumed Constance. She ran up behind Ronnie and grabbed his jacket by the collar with one hand, pulling it down to his elbows, trapping his arms so he couldn’t get his hands out. He wasn’t going to hurt Glory any more. Constance hadn’t saved Frances from one Kray brother, but she was going to save Glory from another.

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