artwork by Guweiz
“Gladys Vandelay – The Protégé”
Now there was once a certain senator who was known to frequent clubs and popular spots in Uptown Toronto. His name was Jared J. Chrysler, a despicable bully who had a penchant for strong-arming his proposals through city hall.
Sen. Chrysler was not a good man. Not a good man at all.
As it was, I knew Sen. Chrysler before I saw him. He was as corrupt as they come and thought himself untouchable. His dossier came replete with sexual assaults, everything from rape, torture, and murder. He was once caught on camera literally stripping the clothes off of a reporter in an elevator while he was high on coke.
Two years ago, his name dominated headlines after he declared in Parliament that women had no place in politics. He never apologized. Never chalked it up to a gaffe or a slip of the tongue. Instead, Chrysler had the gumption to stand by his words. And in spite of widespread protests, solidarity from the academia damn-near screaming for his resignation, this unsavory fellow managed to stay in office.
On top of all that, Chrysler had dealings with the Bratva. He aided in human trafficking and had the nerve to call for stricter immigration laws when one of his mistresses threatened to go public. Of course, this mistress hasn’t been seen for some time. Rumor has it she was pregnant with his child and as a result, her body was stuffed in a barrel down in the basement. Everyone knew he dabbled in narcotics and every so often, he’d had to get rid of his limos because no matter what they did they couldn’t get the stench of marijuana out of the seats.
That his execution didn’t come sooner, I think, emboldened his god-like complex. At the same time, it made him an easier target for those who weren’t bound by silly things like laws or ethics.
I think that’s why they chose me. “The first kill is always the hardest,” they say. But honestly, there was no fear. No trepidation. I wasn’t reluctant nor did I hesitate or have any second thoughts. I didn’t feel anything…other than the smooth friction of my knife sliding across his neck. I killed the man. But the ladies killed his legacy.
That’s the way we worked. A death shrouded in mystery would only inflate his infamy. We couldn’t have that. So his hotel room was staged to look like a break in. His business partner, just as corrupt as he, was our patsy. There were recordings of the partner hiring a hitman years ago. The coward called it off but we still had the tapes. Damning evidence, really.
You have to understand, I was never a full-fledged member of the Society. I wanted to be, more than anything. These ladies, these women. They’re extraordinary. Every single one of them has this overpowering presence by which you can’t help but wonder if they came fresh from leading entire legions on the battlefield. Perhaps by becoming one of them, I thought I could soak in but an ounce of their charisma, their strength.
I’m sorry. I suppose even now, I find it difficult to denigrate them. They trained me. They believed in me. But their price was too heavy. It was a price I couldn’t pay.
In New York City some years ago, I was but a budding flower, having just graduated from Elysium with a 4.0 grade average and an avid interest in finance. Having grown up in the halls of Papa’s corporate offices, I was exposed to the high stakes of million dollar hedge fund investments. Despite all that, I was groomed to be a classical composer. That’s the path my parents chose for me.
My mother and our nannies came from Surrey, hence the accent I inherited. I began playing the piano when I was about five or six, and to date, I’ve mastered all of Chopin’s compositions. However, Erik Satie was my idol. It’s all about the timing in his works and the one thing I appreciated the most was the risk he took by trying something new and, dare I say, awkward. “Gymnopedie” is my favorite. I must have rehearsed it a thousand times. Even in complete silence, I hear it in my head.
To much is given, much is expected. That is, unless you have six big brothers and three older sisters, all more outgoing and impressive than yourself. It goes without saying, my own candle paled in comparison.
They dominated everything. Dinner conversations. Galas. Parties and pageants. At some point, I suppose I just got lost somewhere in the back and I didn’t mind. I had no talent for oratory and the moment all eyes were on me, I’d freeze up with the most terrifying heart palpitations.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my family. My brothers were so cool. Strong and handsome. And my sisters…Well, I suppose it’s a bit ironic now that I think about it. Clarice, Emily, and Victoria. My heart weeps even as I say this, but every time I was in the same room with them, I was afraid. They picked on me for being so short and small. I had bad asthma and they’d mock me relentlessly for the wheezing, the “overdramatic” desperation I’d exhibit to find my inhaler.
Papa made them take me everywhere and I could tell how much they resented it. It’s a horrid feeling, to have so much in common with expensive luggage that’s been passed down through generations. It’s because of Papa that they included me but I understood why. He didn’t want me to feel alone. Papa was always looking out for me. He was perhaps the one ray of light that kept me warm in an otherwise cold and abysmal childhood.
It was because of Papa that I had the strength to smile. When I was little, I used to stare at him like he was a Greek painting. The hope that most people have towards Christ is how I felt about him. Papa came to every one of my recitals. When everyone clapped and congratulated me, words couldn’t quite express how elated my father was. He’d cry. Such emotion. I felt the love. I didn’t have to wonder with him. I simply knew how much he loved me by how open he was about showing his affections. It was to his arms that I’d run. It was within his coat that I found salvation.
Felix Domina Vandelay II. That was his name, a titan on Wall Street with investments around the world. We were decedents of King Wilhelm Vandelay of Godland who surrendered the throne to the Swedish Empire. Our family was paid handsomely for throne and has since, dominated the shipping industry back before the English stole New York from the Dutch.
My father revered history and I took after him. My siblings didn’t seem to care one way or the other, but I did. Money was something everyone had, more or less, but our heritage, our pedigree, to come from royal blood was something my father regarded with pride. He installed our family crest in the corporate emblem. I’ll never forget the smile on his face when he took me to see it. Just me. No one else wanted to come.
And that’s how it went. The Vandelay name became synonymous with both opulence and, surprisingly enough, generosity. A lot of what I know about capitalism and economy came from what my father taught me. He’d let me sit in on the big important meetings, trusting with good measure that I’d behave and simply observe. And I did. It was interesting, actually. I enjoyed listening to them talk, more than I did watching cartoons or coloring in books. The tension, the frayed nerves, the adrenaline of risking so much on a public stock or new business, as CEO, Papa was the mediator to temper all tempers.
One time, Papa introduced me to the president of an airline company. It was just a joke, but Papa said I was his only daughter. I know this sounds bad but I fantasized about being his only child. I imagined a world without brothers or sisters or even my mother. Just Papa and me. I would have been so happy. It would have been the perfect world. But as it was, my brothers and sisters existed. In particular, Clarice, the eldest sister, born six years before myself.
Clarice was in a lot of ways the ring leader of the many cliques that tormented me from boarding school to boarding school. She could blame it on her youth, sure. But I never understood it. I heard stories about bullies being jealous of their targets or wanting something their victims had. But Clarice was taller, popular, drop-dead gorgeous and intelligent enough to know when to acquiesce. She never physically abused me. Just stole or broke everything that belonged exclusively to me. She called my recitals boring and sometimes, I could hear her laughing from the balconies as I played.
When the Society approached me, it was during a very dark chapter in my life. And yes, I blamed Clarice for it. My music teacher of eight years had just lost his wife to leukemia. I was his favorite pupil. I wanted to be there for him, to commiserate with him, to let him know that he wasn’t alone. But my family had a tradition of taking the yacht across the Mediterranean every Easter. I begged my mother to let me stay behind and support him but Clarice…She put it in my mother’s head that my teacher fancied me beyond what was appropriate.
We had just ported in Barcelona when I learned that my teacher committed suicide by plummeting from his twenty-fifth floor apartment. I was fifteen-years-old.
I was racked with grief. Even my father couldn’t console me. And he tried desperately. I wasn’t eating. I refused to attend school. And one afternoon, I returned home to find my bedroom nearly stacked to ceiling with rows of my favorite flowers, the white hydrangeas. It was classic of my father to go to such lengths. It was out of respect for him that I begrudgingly return to school.
By then, there was something different about me. Everyone could see it and finally, they all left me alone. I no longer smiled. I lost the ability to laugh or giggle. I stopped coming to Papa’s offices, and every time I entered a room where I knew Clarice was present, I’d keep my gaze to the floor.
I really hated that bitch. When I cried alone, it wasn’t because I was sad. It was the growing pain of holding back the rage in my heart. Every time I’d hear her laugh, or cheer, or so much as clear her wretched throat, I’d be so stricken by this incredible urge to stab her with the sharpest thing I could find. It was really bad and I knew something was wrong with me. But who could I tell? Who would possibly understand?
Three weeks after my maestro’s passing, I found myself sitting alone in an herbal teashop down in the Village. It rained that evening with a constant patter that calmed the disquieting notions. I’d hone in an out of the constellation of raindrops on the window. Red and yellow lights blurred in straight lines that zipped up and down the wet street.
Two older men approached and offered to buy me a drink. They appeared college students, and I knew they meant well, but I dismissed both.
Then, she sat down. A velvety black coat that still held beads from the rain. Long dark hair. Dazzling blue eyes with the elegance of a former ballerina, or a debutant like myself. Without saying anything, she just smiled and I was spellbound. She extended a napkin to wipe my tears. I still remember my mascara bleeding into the soft white cloth.
“May I help you?” I asked.
She sighed and looked around once more before settling on me.
“Your guilt is unwarranted. You are trapped, my dear. Like a bird, a caged canary. I am here to set you free.”
It was unreal. Everything I needed to hear came from those few words. She followed up with nothing else, but abruptly scooted her chair out and grazed past my shoulder and made her way to the exit. I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath.
“Are you coming?”
I turned around. She was waiting for me, her and three others, all wearing the same dark velvety coat but with different styles of shoes and earrings. There was a motorcade of two black luxury SUVs parked on the curb behind them.
I didn’t get up at once. It was absurd and I think she saw it in my gaze.
“I can only unlock the cage. It’s up to you to spread your wings and fly.” She said.
“Who are you?” I asked in a shaky whisper.
“I’m Breanne. That’s Scarlett. She’s Mandee. And we call this one the Andalusian.”
Breanne, Scarlett, Mandee, and the Andalusian. These were the first Swords of St. Catherine I had the pleasure to meet. And if all of Swords were as impressive as they, with all due respect, there isn’t a force on earth powerful enough to match wits.
Officially, I ran away from New York City that night. Sadly, no one noticed. Not even Papa.