Chapter 40: A Surprise Visitor
Alex left for the police station shortly after nine in the morning, leaving Nikola alone to contemplate her recent discoveries, but her head was too foggy from lack of sleep for her to do any serious thinking. What she really wanted was to do was talk to Eddie, but she knew that Eddie was probably still asleep, quite possibly not alone, and she didn't want to bother her. The news could wait.
Instead, she puttered around in her studio, playing with the idea of beginning a new series of sketches, but unmotivated to actually start anything. She rearranged materials and cleaned things up, not really paying attention to what she was doing. It was not long before she heard an urgent pounding on her apartment door.
The noise startled her. She stopped what she was doing and wondered who it could be. She wasn't expecting anyone except Alex, and he had a key. It was too early for Eddie to be calling, and she certainly didn't want to see Martha, who was supposed to be in custody anyway...
The knock repeated, more insistent this time. Nikola felt she could no longer ignore it. After all, what if it was her father? She couldn't completely write him off, even if he had lied to her. He was probably just trying to protect her...
She approached the door slowly, and quietly, and listened. Whoever was on the other side wasn't making any noise. Maybe they've gone away, she thought. Probably just a salesman, or some religious group representative...
Nikola jumped when the pounding repeated again, now only inches away from her ears, the sound overwhelming. "Who's there?" she shouted, hoping that her terror didn't show in her voice.
Nikola didn't recognize the voice as any of the policemen she had spoken to before, and, the longer she listened to it, the more she had the impression that it was a woman's voice rather than a man's. But there have been women on police forces all over the world for decades. Don't be sexist, she scolded herself, quieting her fears. She couldn't imagine what they could ask her that she had not already told them, but she had heard about police always coming back with more questions. They always did it that way on television.
When Nikola opened the door, she found herself facing a woman in her sixties, dressed in street clothes, a few inches taller than herself, with gray hair, dark fiery eyes, and a matronly figure. Nikola recognized her aunt Mary immediately, and tried to push the door shut again, but Mary reacted too fast for her.
"How dare you give Frank to the police!" Mary shrieked.
"He was trying to kill me!" Nikola replied as she instinctively backed away from Mary. She felt like a child again, and although they were close to the same height, she felt much smaller, as if Mary's mere presence had diminished her.
"He was just doing what he was told to do," Mary said as she advanced slowly towards Nikola, "and I'm here to finish the job." She reached into the large handbag that she was carrying, pulled out a long knife, and pointed it towards Nikola's chest.
Nikola looked down at the engraved silver blade and recognized it as the partner of the knife that Frank had been carrying when he first broke into her apartment. It had the same engravings, starting in the middle of the viciously curved blade and continuing onto the handle. Nikola continued to back off. "Why do you want to kill me?"
"I know all about your plans, and they won't work. You should have stayed in Germany where you belong." Mary was slowly but steadily advancing on her.
"What plans? I don't know what you're talking about." Nikola continued to back away, and tried to look for something to defend herself with, but she couldn't take her eyes off the blade pointing towards her for long.
"Don't know what I'm talking about... ha!" she screeched, "Then why did you paint those paintings of Didi's death? No one will believe you, you know. They all think it was an accident, and that's what they'll always think!"
"So you did kill her, didn't you? And you tortured me afterwards. Why? Why did you have to abuse me like that? What did I ever do to you?" Nikola was shocked by actually hearing the words. Not only were her dreams once again confirmed as real memories, but the source of her nightmares was standing here before her. In Nikola's eyes, Mary looked like a witch, just as she had looked to Nikola as a child. In every story she had ever heard with a witch or evil stepmother in it, the evil woman always had Mary's face. Nikola couldn't imagine a face more horrible.
"You tried to take him away, just like your mother before you. But you can't! He's mine! He's always been mine, and he always will be!"
"Take who away?"
"Don't play dumb, you little vixen! I know you want to take Fred from me, but it'll never work. It didn't work then, and it won't now. I warned you to go back to Germany but you didn't listen!"
"The note! You're the one who sent the note!"
"Of course it was me, and why didn't you leave like you were supposed to?"
"And then you sent Frank to scare me by slashing paintings."
"You have no business showing our family problems to the world. You should have stuck to those stupid landscapes. I don't know what the hell you think you're doing with those crazy paintings, but I won't take it. Do you actually think they will add credence to your accusations?"
"I'm not trying to accuse anybody of anything. I'm just trying to figure out where I came from."
"You're just like your mother! If I hadn't seen her buried, I'd swear you were the same bitch. Well, you can't move in and take over. I won't have it. We're perfectly fine without you, and now you want to ruin everything, I won't let you!"
Nikola was so caught up in what Mary was saying, that she lost track of how far she had been backing up, until her foot hit an obstacle. She found that she had backed into a window. The light was streaming in around her and she could sense the eight story drop behind her. Mary was so close that Nikola couldn't help but lean on the glass, and she prayed that it would hold her weight.
With no where else to go, Nikola grabbed Mary's knife arm and tried to turn it, but she got more resistance than she expected. They struggled for control of the knife, which was waving dangerously in the air above their heads. Nikola fought with all her might, but she was worn out and still hurting from the previous night. She was afraid to put too much weight on the window behind her, so she had nothing to brace herself against. It was a difficult balance, and she had trouble keeping up with Mary, who was remarkably strong for her age and size. When the knife grazed her upper arm, cutting through her shirt and skin, drawing blood, Nikola thought her life would end here. She knew she couldn't hold out much longer. It seemed like such a stupid way to die.
Their struggle was interrupted by a man's voice in the background calling, "Mary, Mary, stop!" Nikola couldn't see the source, she was afraid of taking any of her attention away from the knife, but she thought she recognized the voice as her father's. He then grabbed Mary from behind, giving Nikola a chance to get away. Nikola ran directly out of the apartment, through the open front door, and into the hallway, before she turned around to look back into her studio. She was relieved and thankful to see her father there. He had saved her life, for the moment anyhow.
It seemed that Mary was stronger even than Frederic, because she didn't have much trouble getting out of his grasp. She started to run after Nikola before he grabbed her again. Nikola saw her coming and headed for the stairs. She ran down to the next landing and watched tensely from below.
"Stop this, this is insanity," Frederic shouted as he momentarily held Mary again.
"Let me go, I must do this. This was meant to be!"
"Leave her alone, I order you."
"You're mine, what do you want with her?"
"She's my daughter, I love her, and your niece, you should love her too."
"She's evil. No one can love her! I must destroy her before she puts her spells on you!"
Mary wiggled out of Frederic's grasp and came for Nikola again. He caught up with her on the landing, beside the elevator shaft. He looked winded and tired, but kept up the chase. Mary seemed to be in much better shape than him. She had so much energy and strength, that it almost seemed as if she was drugged.
When Frederic caught up with her, he grabbed the edge of her jacket. "Let go!" she shrieked, and swung around to face him.
"I can't let you kill her."
"I must!" she replied as she grabbed the body of the jacket and gave it a good yank to loosen his grip. She had no trouble pulling the jacket from his hand, but put so much force into her gesture, that she lost her balance and fell back against the cage surrounding the elevator shaft. The weak, rusty elements comprising the cage gave way when her body crashed against them, some bending backwards in twisted configurations, others falling to the bottom of the shaft. Mary found herself on the edge of the unprotected elevator shaft, unable to grab hold of anything solid. Frederic stared at her, dumbfounded. There was a moment, no more than an instant, when she wavered at the precipice, before she fell backwards into the shaft and vanished from view. Screaming all the way down, she fell over seven flights and landed with a dull thud. For a moment, both Nikola and her father remained motionless, staring at the spot Mary had just fallen from, trying to comprehend what had just happened. He then shouted her name desperately and started down the stairs. Nikola turned and ran down ahead of him.