Vera Claythorne is not a good person. In fact, she is probably a bad person, or at least an apathetic one. She has known for long, ever since her mother died and Vera had felt little more strange fascination with the dead body lying on the kitchen floor. She does not remember it, but she has been told she was found sitting beside it … her, having sat beside the body for hours without getting help. Her father and brothers had mourned, devastatingly deeply, but Vera had never felt more than quiet confusion at the pain her mother’s passing had caused. She had been all but 7 then.
As she grew older, she realized quickly that, if she felt them at all, she never felt emotions as deeply as those around her. It becomes most apparent when puberty hits and the girls and boys around her start succumbing to hormones and loves and petty jealousies. She cannot even fathom liking, or even fancying, any of the stinking and sweaty boys from the school across the street. Katherine and Auguste, the girls who thinks themselves to be her friends, giggle and blush over one boy especially.
Carson Smith is a frightfully simple boy, if handsome for his age, but when she takes him to the storage unit behind the boys sports field, he does not protest and fucks her. It is then that Vera realizes, she loves sex. Sex makes her feel good and warm inside. Even when she realizes not long after, that Carson had known almost nothing sex, she still thinks of him fondly in the years after. She thinks rather less fondly of Carson’s feelings for her, as he had so delicately called them. He had been close to proposing, she thinks, when they continue their little relationship for a few months, and when Vera realizes, she breaks it off as quickly as she had started it. It is easy for her, and she does not even feel a twinge of regret when Carson cries first and then calls her a whore. She already knew then, that it does not matter what he calls her.
It is much later, at her second posting as a governess, that she realizes that she likes men who do not care about her, who do not expect her to give them any love in return. She fucked the girls father at her first governess posting, a man who had too much regret and too little common sense, and the gardener at the second posting. She is let go from both postings when the families get themselves in financial difficulties – the recession is hard on everyone, even the very wealthy – and then she is hired by Cyril Hamilton’s mother.
Hugo Hamilton is the first man Vera has cared for before. She likes his cock, his face and she also likes his potential money. In the end, it is not a difficult decision to send Cyril off into the water. She does not feel regret as she floats in the water, waiting for minutes too pass. She does not feel regret as she pretends to drown, screaming for help. She does not feel regret as she stares down at little Cyril’s body in the boat, after being rescued by the lifeguards. She does not even feel regret when Cyril’s mother starts screaming, a sound that rips through the silence of the beach.
She weeps, loud and wrenching, when Hugo comes to visit her, and he takes her in his arms. She cries, soft and shameful, during the testimonial and begs the Hamilton's for forgiveness. Olivia Hamilton gives it to her and Hugo, following his aunt’s lead, marries her the following summer.
She does not regret Cyril’s death even now, 3 years later. She is Mrs. Hamilton now, the gentle and kind wife of gallant Mister Hamilton. She is the quiet and sad wife, who cannot seem to get pregnant, unable to provide Mister Hamilton with the heir he so desperately needs. She is the sweet friend of Olivia Hamilton, who grieves the death of little Cyril with her every month. She is also the woman who wants everything to change, who is bored out of her mind – but no one will ever see that version of Vera.
No one has ever seen the true version of Vera. Perhaps Thomas had, once, but Thomas was long gone. Vera does not think she will ever let anyone see the true version of Vera. She keeps that broken girl locked down tighter than any truth she has ever hidden with lies, even Cyril. In retrospect, perhaps, it was no wonder that two bad, damaged people found themselves in the each other under these circumstances.
“Vera, darling!” Hugo calls out. “Are you ready yet?”
The words startle Vera out of her reverie, looking away from the mirror she had been staring at. “Coming!”
She descends down the stairs, taking care not to step on her beautiful long dress, and she smiles at the look on Hugo’s face.
“After all these years, my darling, you are as gorgeous as always.” He says, taking her by the hand and helping her down those last steps. He kisses her on the cheek, once, and runs a hand over her bare shoulder. “You are a vision, my dear.”
“Thank you, Hugo.” Vera says, smiling up at her husband. “You are very handsome as always too.”
Hugo laughs, and kisses her on the temple. “Let’s go. I would rather not be late to the party.”
Vera suppresses a sigh. The party of course is the third they have visited in a week and the third that will bore Vera out of her mind. She cannot even begin to express her annoyance with the high society of London. She had once yearned to a part of it, but now that she was, she learned to hate it with a fiery passion.
She and Hugo were not welcome at the parties. People eyed her with derision, the whispers heard loud and clear throughout the entire room.
“He married a commoner, didn’t he. I heard she was the governess of that sweet boy that died.”
“He married the governess? Oh how peculiar.”
“Well she is pretty, but such an unsuitable character.”
“We should not be surprised, after all the Hamilton are such new money.”
Vera would like nothing more than to tell them all off, letting them know exactly what she thought of their petty jealousies and idiotic selves. They were all daft, none having earned even a penny of their money. Sometimes she wants to cry out: “Look at me! I am Vera Claythorne and I fucking earned my money. I killed a boy!”
Sometimes she wonders if she would feel more regret if Hugo had not married her, if he had suspected her in any way. She does not think so, but there is no way of knowing now. Well, there is one way, but she would rather not tell Hugo. Sometimes she wishes she could tell him. Just to have him look at her as something else than the sweet woman he had married. She does not, well aware that her husband is too kind to ever condone what she did for him.
Vera looks up from her place at their table, trying to get the attention of any waiter. Her glass is long dry and as she looks around, she spots a man – handsome, dark and tall – looking at her from the other end of the room. She does not know him, never having seen him at one of these before, but he looks away from her as soon as he notices her watching. A waiter walks into her line of sight and she motions for more wine.
Hugo has long abandoned her, speaking to some old school mates of his. She looks over at his back and wonders what would happen if she killed him. She would need an heir first, a boy preferrably, but a girl would do in this day and age, and then she could kill him. A poisoning, she muses, perhaps something a coroner would not expect, but she would need to be careful indeed – no one could ever figure out it was her.
She could play the grieving widow then, a heartbroken young girl with a babe on her hip and the fortune of the Hamilton’s in her back pocket. Surely, Olivia Hamilton would be happy to help young widow Hamilton to pick up the pieces. Oh yes, Vera likes that idea.
She doesn’t notice Hugo looking back at her, until he has a quizzical expression on her face. She does not know how long she has been daydreaming, staring at Hugo’s back, but she smiles as warmly as possible when she notices him looking. She pulls the mask of the lovesick girl onto her face and waves at him. He waves back thankfully, laughing at something his friends say. Vera has the uncomfortable feeling as if she is being talked about.
She leaves the dining room then, walking out to the balcony. It overlooks the garden, so luscious and well maintained it can only be an ostentatious showing of wealth. Vera has forgotten which lady is hosting the event, but whoever they are, they have a lot of money.
She thinks she is alone, when a man steps out of the shadows. He was there before her, but he startles her nevertheless, especially when Vera recognizes the man she was looking at before. “Oh pardon me,” she says, surprise stopping her from rounding and softening her vowels properly, “I thought I was alone.”
He smiles. “I did not mean to startle you, my lady.” He is Irish, she realizes, though the accent has been softened out – either by time or by design, she could not tell. “I did not expect anyone else out here.”
“Neither did I.” She looks him over. He is handsome, even more so close by, and dressed immaculately. She wonders what an Irishman is doing at an event like this. These rich people look down upon her, for her lower class accent, and Hugo, for his new money, so why would they invite an Irishman? “May I ask for your name, sir?”
“Mister Lombard.” He smiles, and holds out his hand for her to shake.
She does so, with the words: “Mrs. Hamilton.”
“Mrs? Not Lady Hamilton?” He asks, a raised eyebrow. “I thought only nobility were here.”
“Not exclusively.” She smiles. “I do believe my husband is richer than most of the nobility here.”
Mr Lombard smiles back at her, a cutting thing. “Is that so?”
Vera pulls herself upright, and away from the bannister, and nods. “Yes. You must excuse me Mister Lombard, I should get back inside.”
“Indeed, Mrs. Hamilton.” He over enunciates her title and smiles.
She leaves him standing behind her on the balcony, shuddering as she feels the heavy weight of his gaze on her back. She swings her backside just a little more than she usually would, very well aware indeed of the tight nature of her dress. Perhaps, she thinks musingly, she should find herself a lover. Hugo has grown rather tedious a lover, too soft and too gentle for her liking, and it would add some measure of thrill to her life.
The event ends in screaming.
It is long past dinner, the ladies are in the drawing room, the men are smoking cigars and Vera has slipped off in search of the lavatories. She must take the wrong left, as she finds herself looking down a long corridor. She is not the only one in the corridor, two figures at the other end. One is crouching over the other, and though Vera cannot see it clearly she gets the feeling that something is not quite right.
She should not be watching this, Vera thinks, as she cannot tear her gaze away from the dying man lying in the corridor. She should leave before killer can see her. She recognizes him swiftly, as the killer shifts into the light while rummaging through the dying mans pockets. It is Mr. Lombard and Vera finds herself watching with interest.
She must have made a sound or something as she turns away, as Mr Lombard turns towards her as she disappears from the corridor. She is not sure if he saw her, thrill shooting down her spine at the thought that he did, but she quickly makes her way back to the drawing room.
She won’t say anything, much more interested in seeing this played out than she is in telling on the murderer immediately. Besides, Vera reasons, she does not even know if Mr Lombard is even a killer, or if he had just stumbled upon the man.
It does not even take long before the screaming starts. It does not take long either for all the guests to assemble in the corridor Vera had just stood 10 minutes beforehand and watch as the Lady of the House comforts the screaming servant who must have found the body. Vera looks over the assembled men and locks eyes with Mr Lombard. He is staring at her, expression blank and she looks at him just as blankly in return.
“Oh Vera!” Hugo spins her around by the shoulders, breaking her eye contact with Mr Lombard and gathers her into an embrace. “You shouldn’t be looking at such dreadful things.”
Vera buries her face in Hugo’s shoulder and lets herself be hold, pulling the mask of a traumatized young woman over her face, and starts shivering slightly.
“Oh darling.” Hugo says, sweetly. “You mustn’t be here.”
He herds her out of the corridor, still comforting her. As they pass him, Vera looks at Mr Lombard, holding his eye contact for as long as she can. Killer. Why had he killed the man? What did he have to gain from the action? Was it heat of the moment, or planned like Cyril’s death had been? Vera licks her lips as she holds his gaze.
“How are you feeling?” Hugo asks, whispering into her hair.
She shudders. “I cannot get the poor man out of my mind.” She whispers, and then adds, for good measure: “He reminded me so much of darling Cyril.”
Hugo runs a thumb along her shoulder, in quiet comfort. Vera keeps quiet and does not look up at her husbands face, not certain of her grieving mask is properly in place. “Oh darling.” He shakes his head. “You mustn’t connect the two. Lord Bonhard was not a good man. If there is a person who should ever deserve death, it should be him.”
Was that so? Vera would freely admit that she had no interest in the good people of the upper class. She had not even realized that Mr Lombard had killed a Lord.
They have to stay at the mansion, the police insist and Lady Rose tells her servants to prepare rooms for all the guests. The police will only be able to speak to them all in the morning, so they are all bid goodnight and while Hugo falls asleep quickly, Vera finds herself staring at the ceiling for hours.
She gets up quietly, careful not to wake Hugo, and sneaks out into the hallway. She does not even know where she is going at first, but she finds herself back on the balcony where she had first met Mr. Lombard. The air is too cold for her to only be dressed in her nightshift and dressing gown, but she stays outside until she can barely feel her fingers anymore.
“Mrs. Hamilton.” The voice startled Vera, who has sunken into a deep state of meditation. “Perhaps you should tell me your christian name, since you know such a dangerous thing about me.”
Vera turns around. “Mr. Lombard.” She does not smile at him, but she looks him over in interest. He is still dressed in his evening suit, though his hair is much more disheveled than it had been during the evening. Errand curls have escaped the slick and hang over his eyes. It makes him more handsome, in Vera’s opinion. “You are up late.”
“Philip.” He says. “You might as well call me Philip.”
Vera tilts her head. “Vera.” She says after a moment of deliberation.
“You have not said anything yet.” Mr Lombard – Philip – says, curiously. “Why?”
“What makes you think I even saw anything.” Vera asks. “What makes you think I even recognized you? After all, Mr Lombard, we are not that well acquainted.”
“Oh, Vera.” He pulls the vowel in her name long and smirks. “You were staring at me long enough.”
“Why did you do it?” She asks, unwilling to go into why she had been staring.
Mr Lombard’s smirk holds steady. “Would you believe me if I said I was doing it for a good cause.” He asks, with a curious tone.
She looks at him and tries to read his face. He is one of the best people she has ever met in hiding his true feelings. “No.” She says finally.
He smirks. “Clever girl.” He leans forward, much too close to be appropriate, and whispers into her ear. “Would you believe me if I was hired for it?”
“Yes.” She says immediately.
He laughs at the speed of the answer and runs a hand through his hair. She licks her lips subconsciously and bristles at the soft laughter from him. “Well then, Vera. I was hired for it. The man stood in the way of some very rich people who decided it was worth buying his death for a couple of pounds.”
She eyes him. “I doubt you killed him for only a few pounds.” She says, thinking of Cyril. She had killed for over a thousand times that.
He shrugs. “I may have. I might not have.”
“How did you get an invitation to this event?” She asks.
“I am known to the hosts as Aidan McGarry, a very rich Irish fellow who thinks his countrymen and their fight against the English to be rather silly.” He says, though there is no emotion in his voice. The whole line is delivered flatly.
“And Philip Lombard is your true name?” She asks. Somehow she thought it was. “Why tell me your true name?”
For the first time the whole night, he looks a little unsure of himself. “I get instincts, and I had an instinct about you.” He says. “I think you are pretending.”
“I think all of the guests tonight were pretending.” Vera says dryly.
“Probably.” He agrees. “But not all of them are thinking of murdering their husband.”
Vera’s head spins around to stare at him so quickly she hears her neck crack. How?
“Tell me, Vera, why do you wish to kill him? Mister Hamilton seems like a perfectly nice fellow.” Mr Lombard asks. He does not even mention her rather dramatic reaction.
“I do not wish to kill him.” She says lightly, pulling up the mask of the sweet young girl who is so in love. “I love him very much.”
Mr Lombard smirks. “Of course you did, Mrs Hamilton.”
“I do, Mr Lombard.” She says sweetly.
“Of course you do.” Mr Lombard says. He approaches her slowly, reminding Vera rather of the lion she had once seen at a zoo. He comes to a stop just before her, so close that she can feel the heat radiating from his body, and his hand comes up to her face. It takes a lot for Vera not to flinch away, but when he does touch her, she sinks into the warmth. “You are freezing.”
“I am not wearing much.” She breathes.
She feels rather daring, touching a man who is not her husband during the middle of the night in a place where theoretically anyone could find and see them. The revelation takes her breath away and Vera wonders where the girl that used to bring boys to the shed and fuck them silly went. Perhaps the masks she put on to play Hugo’s pretty, perfect wife were too well tailored to her skin.
She leans forward and kisses him, before she can think twice about it. His second hand comes up to her waist immediately and she moans as he deepens the kiss. Hugo does not kiss like this, she thinks.
“I thought you loved your husband.” Mr Lombard breathes into her hair when they break for air. He holds her closer now, embraced as if they were dancing on the balcony.
Vera smiles against his shoulder. “Of course I do.” She repeats.
Mr Lombard chuckles. “You are a very interesting creature, Miss Vera.”
Vera hums. “As are you, Mr. McGarry.” She untangles herself from his grip. “I would suggest you get a good night’s sleep, Mr Lombard, and think of a story for tomorrow.”
He lets her leave, with a soft “Goodnight” following her off the balcony.