This was going to be difficult. Maggie had to take a few encouraging breaths before entering Elsa's tent. The older woman didn't hear her come in and Maggie wondered for a moment if she would startle her. But what did that matter, she was going to be shocked tonight anyway.
Elsa was sitting at her dressing table, the small lights around the mirror lighting her beautiful ageing face. A thought crossed Maggie's mind that Elsa would have made a great movie star. She'd thought about that before but the longer she'd stayed with the freak show the more she'd wished that Elsa had become a Hollywood star instead of putting together this show. Then none of the awful things would have happened.
As Maggie stepped past the last curtain separating her from the star, Elsa's head snapped up and she studied the younger woman with a hint of surprise and mistrust in her eyes. Maggie couldn't blame her for that. "What are you doing here?" Elsa asked, and Maggie noticed her hands smoothing over her dressing gown as if she had something to hide underneath it. What a silly thought!
"Come with me," Maggie replied, hoping that Elsa couldn't read her guilt-ridden face. "There's something I have to show you."
Elsa frowned. "What is it?" Apparently she was a very suspicious woman, and again Maggie didn't think it was her fault. Elsa turned in her chair but didn't bother getting up. Her hand had subconsciously moved to the collar of her robe, pulling the clothing tighter around herself. In the darkness of the night and the insecurity provided by her informal attire she looked smaller, less of a fearless leader she played at daytime.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Maggie answered, fidgeting restlessly. "You have to see it to believe it." She was certain her grim tone told Elsa that she was not about to receive good news.
After another moment of hesitation Elsa finally stood up, supporting herself on the dressing table. As Maggie's look fell on her hand, she noticed the small schnapps the star must have been pouring herself when she'd interrupted her. "You'd better have that drink first," Maggie advised, and with her eyes a little widened at the fortune teller's sudden recommendation, Elsa downed the alcohol quickly.
"Come on," Maggie told her as she turned her back to the star and exited the tent. She could hear Elsa's footsteps behind her, so she didn't bother to look around to see if she was following her. Maggie had hoped that the cool night air might make her feel better, but she'd been wrong. She felt every bit as nervous as when she'd first entered the tent, maybe now even more so because they were approaching her own tent.
Maggie's heart was pounding fast and despite the cool night she felt too warm. This freak show was the first place she'd felt at home. What if Elsa didn't take what she had to show her well? Maggie couldn't bear to be sent away, exiled from this colourful paradise. Well, the freak show life had its ups and downs but once they got rid of Stanley, maybe it would be better.
"Where are you taking me?" Elsa questioned from behind her. Maggie looked back at her briefly. Elsa looked younger at night-time.
"We're here." Maggie almost wished her words weren't true. So close now, she couldn't help but dread Elsa's reaction. She knew the older woman would be hurt, and she would be angry—hell, she would probably freak out. What a choice of words!
Maggie entered her tent, feeling Elsa following her closely. The star couldn't have possibly known where she was supposed to look, but Maggie stood at the entrance of the tent, staring ahead at the dreadful thing she'd covered with her shawl. She wished there was another way to do this. Looking over her shoulder, she could see Elsa's questioning—even restless—expression.
Maggie's feet carried her forward without her realizing it. To think she was so scared now—now that the awful things had already been done. Maggie had been terrified when she'd gone to that barn with the smallest of the freaks. She'd been too scared—or perhaps too good-hearted—to kill her. But this was even worse.
She had seen Elsa the night she'd been told they'd lost Ma Petite. Her heart-breaking cries had echoed through the grand tent, and together with her tearful face they had been the realest emotion Maggie had ever seen the older woman express. Maggie had seen her with Ma Petite, they'd been like a small family of their own. Elsa had always been the happiest with Ma Petite.
A step away, Maggie hesitated for the last time, but then reached out to the shawl. Might as well get it over with. Uncovering the large jar, Maggie turned toward Elsa again. As much as she dreaded what was to come, she didn't want to miss the star's reaction for the world.
In an instant she could see Elsa's strong facade crumble and her eyes fill with fear and shock. A muttered "No," escaped her lips as she stared at her beloved girl's corpse. She started hyperventilating, bringing her hands up to cover her pained scream. "NO!"
For a moment she squeezed her eyes shut, and Maggie was almost sure she would pass out—just like she had when she'd seen Jimmy's hands in the museum. But Elsa was stronger, at least enough to stay upright. She opened her eyes and it was like she had turned the tap on. Tears began streaming down her face and she balled her hands into fists. She looked to Maggie, but the girl wasn't sure if she really saw her. Her eyes were glazed over by terror, staring wide at the fortune teller.
"What did you do?!" she demanded frantically, stepping forward and flinging her fists at Maggie. "What did you do?!"
She didn't hit hard enough to hurt her, but Maggie grabbed her wrists to stop her nonetheless. Elsa struggled against her hold feebly, shaking her head, distraught. Her breathing was loud and disturbed. "What did you do?!" Her legs seemed to have given in, as she fell against Maggie, and the girl had to wrap her arms around her to keep her from falling. The two women sank to the floor slowly, Elsa still hitting her fists against Maggie's shoulders weakly.
Maggie noticed she was shaking, and when she pulled away just enough to see Elsa's lachrymose face, she was shocked to see someone else rather than Fräulein Elsa. For the first time she saw the broken woman behind the star's mask. She was a small and scared being, a crippled and damaged soul. Maggie would have almost backed away from her from shock. Who knew the strong, formidable star hid this pain inside?
Elsa turned her teary eyes to look at the younger woman, searching her face for an explanation. "It wasn't me," Maggie told her calmingly, "It wasn't me." Elsa hadn't stopped trembling, so Maggie decided not to pull away from their unintentional embrace. Instead she lowered her head to look Elsa straight in the eyes as she spoke. "It was Stanley." At Elsa's clueless look, she explained further. "Your Mr. Spencer. He's not from Hollywood. He's a conman. He was promised a fortune at the American Morbidity Museum if he brought them a new exhibit—a freak. So he came here and fed you a pack of lies just to gain access to your freaks. I didn't think he was going to murder somebody, but then he told me to kill Ma Petite. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. So he found someone else to do it for him."
As she spoke, her own eyes filled with tears as well. Maggie didn't dare let go of Elsa to wipe at her tears. The older woman looked so stricken Maggie thought she would fall apart if she let go. She knew she had both crushed Elsa's big dreams and made her realize it was her own ambition that had brought this death upon her family of monsters. Maggie briefly felt relieved to see no anger for herself in the star's eyes. But it was still painful to look at her.
"Who?" Elsa whispered in a shaky voice.
"Dell," Maggie said, her voice almost breaking. "Stanley blackmailed him into it. But I know Dell would never have done anything to hurt Jimmy. That was all Stanley."
Elsa's expression had turned grim once she'd heard the name of her angel's murderer but now horror stroke again. "Jimmy's hands?" she quavered. "He put them in a museum?" Her eyes were begging Maggie to say it wasn't so.
"He did," Maggie confirmed, "right next to Ma Petite and Salty." On second thought, maybe she shouldn't have said that.
The flood of tears on Elsa's part had almost stopped by now, but Maggie's words reinvigorated it. "Salty?" she breathed. "No. No, not him!" Maggie instinctively pulled her closer again when she started to shake with anger and despair. It was a good thing Elsa had sent Pepper away. As little as Maggie did know about the relationship between the pinheads and the star, she had understood right away how close they had been. She doubted Elsa could look Pepper in the eyes now that she knew what had become of her husband.
It took a couple of minutes for Elsa to finally calm herself. Her body stopped shaking and her hands stopped clutching at Maggie's sweater. A bit awkwardly the women pulled apart, looking at each other. Elsa's expression was full of calm but also some kind of frightening certainty, while Maggie felt anxious, since she had yet to find out what was to become of her.
"They must pay," Elsa said in a small voice. Maggie couldn't find it in herself to nod but she did agree—yes, they had to pay. "Help me up."
At Elsa's request, Maggie briefly wondered if she should just take hold of her and lift her to her feet as she stood. But she decided on getting up first and offering her hand to the star. But apparently one hand was not enough to get her up, so Maggie grabbed both of Elsa's arms and pulled her up from the ground. Who would have thought the lady had balancing problems?
Once she had found her footing, Elsa gently batted off Maggie's hands but grabbed one of them tightly. "Come on," she told the fortune teller. "Let's pay our local strongman a late night visit." And holding on to Maggie's hand, she headed to the tent's entrance.
"Wait!" Maggie gently pulled her hand out of Elsa's grasp. "Wait just one moment." Maggie turned around and headed back to the large jar containing their friend. It was a dreadful sight, and Maggie silently prayed Elsa wouldn't look back. She picked up the shawl she'd dropped earlier and with a swift move she covered the jar again.
"Wouldn't want anyone to come in here and see her," Maggie explained as she returned to Elsa's side. The star had been staring at the ground in order to not see Ma Petite again. She raised her hand against Maggie's back, leading her out of the tent.
Once the light disappeared behind the tent door, Elsa looked at the younger woman by her side. Maggie looked back and studied the star's face—or what little she could see of it in the moonlight. There was still pain in the older woman's features, and decisiveness, but there was also something else—something Maggie had wished so much to gain from her.
"Thank you, Maggie," Elsa breathed.