فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER SIX

Killing with Kindness

The girl Kate puzzled Faye - she was so young and pretty, so ladylike, so well-educated. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, dear” Faye said, “but why did you come here? You could get a husband and a corner house in town, no trouble.”

Kate smiled shyly. “It’s so hard to explain. I hope you won’t insist on knowing. I’m sorry, I can’t talk about it.”

Faye was a nice woman, not very bright, highly moral, and easily shocked. People trusted her and she trusted everyone. She ran a fine house, as the sheriff knew. Faye soon became a solid and desirable citizen of the growing town of Salinas.

Kate went to work right away, and she soon had her own group of regular customers. There were two questions Faye asked about every new girl. First, will she work? And second, will the other girls like her?

Faye didn’t have long to wonder about the second question. Kate worked hard at being pleasant to the other girls. She helped them keep their rooms clean. She served them when they were sick, listened to their troubles, answered them in matters of love, and, as soon as she had some, loaned them money. She became best friend to everyone in the house. Faye realized she had a jewel.

People who don’t know think it is easy to run a whorehouse - just sit in a big chair and drink beer and take half the money the girls make, they think. But it is not like that at all. You have to feed the girls - that’s groceries and a cook - and send out the laundry. And you have to keep the girls well, and as happy as possible. It isn’t so easy.

When Kate offered to help with the shopping and planning of meals, Faye was pleased. Well, not only did the food improve but the grocery bills came down one-third the first month Kate took over. Faye did not know how she ever managed without Kate. The girls began to realize there were two bosses, not one, and they were glad because Kate was so friendly. And they all said, “You watch - she’ll own this house one day.”

Gradually, a perfectly natural thing happened. Faye, the most motherly of women, began to think of Kate as her daughter. And she did not want her daughter to be a whore. After about a year had passed, she said, “Kate, I don’t like you working here.”

“Why not?”

Faye shook her head, trying to find words. “I just don’t like it. You’re like a daughter to me, and I don’t like my daughter working.”

“Don’t be silly, darling,” said Kate. “I have to - here or somewhere else. I told you. I have to have the money.”

“No, you don’t,” said Faye. “You could manage the house. I could give you as much as you make and more. You could take care of things for me and not go upstairs. I’m not always well, you know.”

“I know you’re not,” said Kate. She shook her head sadly. “I’d like to do what you want, but you need your little reserve. No, I must go on working.”

“I don’t want you to work.”

“I have to, Mother.”

The word did it. Faye burst into tears, and Kate sat on the arm of her chair and wiped her streaming eyes. Soon she was calm again. “Now you’re all right,” Kate said. “I’ll go and get dressed.”

“Kate, when you finish work, you tap on my door,” said Faye. “I’ll have a little surprise for you.”

Kate kissed her. “What a dear you are, Mother.”

That night, the hall was dark but a line of light showed under Faye’s door. Kate knocked softly and went in. On the table with candles around it was a big white cake and a basket with a large bottle of champagne lying on crushed ice. Faye wore her best dress and her eyes were shiny with emotion.

“Come in,” Faye said. “I have a present for my dear daughter. Now Kate, you open the bottle and pour two glasses.” When everything was ready, Faye raised her glass. “To my daughter - may you have long life and happiness.”

And when they had drunk, Kate replied, “To my mother.”

“You’ll make me cry - don’t make me cry,” said Faye. She pushed a polished wooden box toward Kate. “Open it. It’s my gift to you.”

In the box lay a rolled white paper tied with a red ribbon. Faye had written, I leave everything I own without exception to Kate Albey because I regard her as my daughter.

Kate read it three times, looked back at the date, and studied the signature. She looked deep into Faye’s eyes. “I’m trying not to cry, Mother. I didn’t know anyone could be so good.”

They sat in the warmth for a long time before Faye moved. “Kate,” she said, “we’re forgetting. It’s a party. We’ve forgotten the champagne. Pour it, child.”

Kate said nervously, “Do we need it, Mother? I never have drunk much. It’s not good for me.”

“Nonsense. Pour it, darling.” Kate filled the glasses. “Now drink it. I won’t touch mine until yours is empty.” She held her glass until Kate had emptied hers, then drank it. “Now another glass - there. You see how good it is?”

Kate’s body screamed against the wine. She remembered and she was afraid, but it was too late. The change came to her almost immediately after the second glass. All her barriers and defenses were gone and she did not care. Her voice became cold and her eyes grew watchful. “I’ll bet you can’t drink two without stopping.”

“Don’t bet me, Kate. You’d lose. I can drink six without stopping. I’ll do it if you will.”

The contest started, and a pool of wine spread over the tabletop and the level went down in the bottle. Faye laughed. “We’re going to have such a good life. Why don’t we sell the house and go to Europe?”

“No.”

“What do you mean, no? It’s my house. I can sell it.”

“Did you forget I’m your daughter?”

“I don’t like your tone, Kate. What’s the matter with you?”

Kate laughed softly. “Mother, dear, I’m going to show you how to run a whorehouse. We’ll fix those nasty little worms who come in here looking for pleasure for a dollar.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Faye. “I want you to be sweet. I want you to be like you were.”

“Well, it’s too late. I didn’t want to drink the wine. But you, you nasty fat worm, you made me. Do you think I’ll give up working? Do you think my regular customers give me a mean little dollar? No, they give me ten dollars, and the price is going up all the time. They pay me to hurt them, and that’s the way this whole house is going to be. And the price will be twenty dollars.”

Faye whispered, “I want you out of the house. I want you out. I run a good house without nastiness. I want you out.”

“I can’t go, Mother. I can’t leave you alone, poor dear.” Her voice became cold. “Now I’m sick of you. Sick of you.” She took a wineglass from the table, went to the dresser, and poured sleeping medicine until the glass was half full. “Here, Mother, drink it. It will be good for you.” She held the glass to Faye’s lips. Faye talked thickly for a while, and then she relaxed in her chair and slept.

Fear began to gather in the corners of Kate’s mind. She remembered the other time and a sick feeling came over her. She dragged the sleeping woman over to the bed and undressed her. The day was coming fast. She opened a drawer and examined the medicine bottles that were there. She carried a bottle of ammonia to the bed, poured some onto a handkerchief, and, standing as far away as possible, held the cloth over Faye’s nose and mouth.

Faye took a deep burning breath and came coughing and fighting out of the blackness. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she screamed and screamed again.

Three sleepy girls and the cook looked in the doorway. “She’s had a bad dream,” said Kate. “I’ll stay with her.” She petted and babied her, but the look of horror would not go out of Faye’s eyes.

A few days later, Kate went into the kitchen before supper. She took a small bottle from her pocket and carefully squeezed a few drops into a glass using an eyedropper and went into Faye’s room. “Here’s your medicine, Mother dear,” she said.

At supper Faye’s face was red. She stopped eating and seemed to be listening.

“What’s the matter, Mother?” Kate asked.

Faye was still listening. “I don’t know,” she said. “Suddenly I felt afraid and my heart started pounding.”

Kate said, “I don’t like it. I wish you’d go see Dr. Wilde about it.”

The next day Faye felt all right. “I was just out of breath,” she said. “I’m getting too fat.”

“Well, we’re going to have some special food,” said Kate. “I’ve made some chicken soup for you and we’ll have a green bean salad - the way you like it, just oil and vinegar - and a cup of tea.”

In the kitchen Kate poured the oil and vinegar onto the bean salad. Then she used the eyedropper to squeeze two drops of poison onto the beans. She went to her room and swallowed the contents of another small bottle and hurried back to the kitchen.

“I made the salad especially for you,” said Kate. “See if you like it.”

“It’s delicious,” said Faye.

It struck Kate first. Her forehead was covered with sweat as she bent over, crying in pain. Faye ran to the hallway screaming for help. The girls and a few Sunday customers crowded into the room. Faye was wiping Kate’s forehead with a towel when the pain struck her.

Faye and Kate were pale and weak when Dr. Wilde arrived. He noticed the salad. “What did you eat? Did you preserve these beans here?” he demanded.

“Yes,” said Ethel. “The other girls and I all helped Kate and the cook put them into jars.”

“Go out and break every jar. Leave homemade beans alone. Buy canned ones.”

“What is it?” Kate asked.

“Food poisoning. You’re lucky. We don’t know much about it, but few people ever recover from it.”

Faye was never really well again. She had some bad days that winter, and it took a long time for her to gain her strength. Kate was exhausted and her small body had shrunk to bones. The girls tried to take her place with Faye, but she would not leave.

One evening, Dr. Wilde listened to Faye’s heart for a long time. “Her heart just can’t stand the strain, I’m afraid,” he said. “She’s all torn up inside. Give her a little warm milk.”

When he left, Kate put a glass of milk on the bedside table, then she took two little bottles from her pocket and sucked a little from each into the eyedropper. “Open up, Mother. This is a new kind of medicine. Now be brave, dear. This will taste bad.” She squeezed the liquid onto Faye’s tongue and held up her head so she could drink. “Now you rest and I’ll be back in a little while.”

When Kate first heard the news, they had to tie her down to keep her from hurting herself. From violence she became depressed. It was a long time before she regained her health. And she forgot completely about the will. It was Ethel who finally remembered.

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