“Hello Jenny, Catherine please.”
“I’m sorry but Miss Kaplan won’t be in today, can I take a message?”
Nancy began to worry, “Is she all right, Jenny? I’ve been trying her and Jacky all day on their mobiles... no response to calls or messages.”
“Is that you, Nancy?” Jenny sounded shocked at Nancy’s entirely strained and altered voice, “Yes.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize your voice at all...”
“I’m a little upset.... You say she won’t be in today?” Nancy asked a second time, the most diabolical thoughts racing through her mind.
“I’m sure I can tell you... she’s been at the hospital and lawyers, badly assaulted, Nancy. Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier when you called, I’ve only just found out myself.”
“Where? When?” Nancy was frantic.
“Friday night, in her bedroom.”
“A robbery? Why wasn’t I called?”
“Uhhmm, not a robbery, no. I think it best she tells you herself.”
Jenny had been briefed that it was Nancy’s boss who had assaulted Catherine. With no idea of the prevailing loyalties, she opted for caution.
“Is she definitely at home?” Nancy inquired.
“I think so, two hours ago they were both home. Jacky said they’d be out for a while, but didn’t say for how long.”
Nancy could sense Jenny’s anguish and there was no need to prolong it, so she wound up her questioning, “Is Jacky still with her?”
“I think so.”
“Thanks, Jenny. If she calls, please tell her I’m looking for her.... I’m at home, she’s not to call my office.”
Nancy hung up and tried both mobiles, then phoned their home number where voicemail took her umpteenth message.
Nancy continued to check her phone for the following hour. Periodically she’d try Catherine’s number, only to be disappointed by the recording. When her call was finally answered, it was Jacky;
“What’s going on?” Nancy was devoured by worry.
“Ken attacked Catherine on Friday night. I had a late flight and arrived home just in time to stop him short of killing her.”
“WHAT?...!!” This was far worse that Nancy had anticipated. “You mean that he actually came into your house? How did he get in?”
“The police don’t know. Everything was locked and the alarm was fully armed. It’s a mystery. Catherine reckons that it was his apparition.”
“Oh sweet Jesus, no. How is she?”
“Bad, very bad. But she’s starting to recover,” Jacky sounded exhausted. “I’m sorry to cut you short Nance, but I must get a move on, I’ve got a flight in two hours. I’ll be out of town till Saturday, but there’s a nurse coming in for Cath.”
“No!” Nancy stated emphatically. “I’ll stay over. I... I mean, if that’s all right with you?”
“Of course it is! It would take a weight off of my mind, I hate strangers in the house but it’s impossible for me to take off any more time. I’ve about used up my leave for the year and besides, lately I haven’t been at my best when I have worked.”
“Cancel the nurse. I’ll be right over.”
Nancy threw together a change of clothing and headed for her car. On her way out she had another idea and doubled back. For good measure packed in her .38 snub nosed 5-shot revolver with hollow points.
When she arrived at the house, Jacky was about to leave.
“Brace yourself... you’re going to get a bit of a shock when you see her, Nance. But don’t worry, the damage is only superficial, the swelling’s already mostly gone down.”
As Nancy entered the bedroom, Catherine croaked a greeting from the bed, forcing a smile onto her turgidly swollen face.
It took all of Nancy’s self-control to cover the shock of seeing Catherine in such a desperate condition.
She produced a large bouquet of flowers that she’d bought en route. They took Catherine’s eyes off her long enough to study what looked like a case of elephantitis propped up on her pillow;
“Oh Catherine! What has he done to you?”
They spent the rest of the afternoon discussing all that had occurred during the previous three days.
It was an arduous task for Catherine to talk, but eventually she managed to communicate everything she wanted to say. She was suffering from severe concussion, a broken nose, multiple rib fractures and a suspected hair fracture of the cheekbone.
The charges, as put to Ken, included attempted rape, breaking and entering, and assault with grievous bodily harm.
“Do you know how to use one of these?” Nancy produced the revolver from her bag, rechecking its load.
“Yes, I’ve shot before. I don’t really like guns, but right now I do.”
“Good... there’s one up the spout... I’m going to tuck it in here behind your head,” Nancy pulled the mattress slightly away from the headboard and checked that the weapon would come out easily in the event it was needed.
“Can you reach it?”
With a little pained wincing Catherine managed to get at it.
“If I really need it, I won’t feel a thing I’ll get it, don’t you worry,” she stutteringly assured Nancy.
They went on discussing the problem that Ken still posed in both of their lives.
“Are you sure that he still has the fingernail?” Catherine asked.
Nancy racked her brain to remember.
“I’m certain it was gone, I felt for it.”
On Friday night, even after combinations of blows and strangulation; in the half-dream world of semi-consciousness; Catherine had been grimly determined to establish whether her robust attacker was indeed a phantom or flesh and blood.
She could clearly remember desperately feeling for the nail in a death-wrestle to break away from Ken’s grip.
The shock and adrenaline had made time slow down, making it like a fight in treacle, every blow arriving in slow motion, every movement to duck it stuck in the wrong gear. Peculiarly, she’d seen the comical side of what she was trying to do; to grope to feel for a nail while a man tried to murder her. And then the shock and horror of finding a blunt stub where she’d expected a protrusion.
It had been that shock that had doubled her strength, giving her a tiny gap to momentarily break his steel grip and catch a breath of air.
“At the office, was he at least cut or bruised?” She asked Nancy hopefully, “We’re both positive Jacky managed to crack him really hard across the temple as he went through the window. The blow made him loose his grip and fall,” Catherine was feebly pointing toward the window through which Ken had escaped.
Nancy moved across the room to look down the ten or more feet onto the spiny table of thorn-laden bougainvillea, the logical place into which Ken would have fallen.
Nancy shook her head in disbelief.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this Cath, but from what I could see, he was unhurt... and those thorns would definitely have ripped him to shreds.”
The bush was particularly thick and spiny and unmolested; Nancy could see that each branch was studded with inch long talons. There was not a broken twig to be seen.
Beyond the hedge was thirty feet of open grass and beyond that was the perimeter fence, topped by spikes.
“Jacky said that she watched him go straight down into blackness. Neither of us heard him land and she didn’t see him again!”
As Catherine spoke, her head shook with methodical denial of the facts that her mouth spoke.
“Even under the cover of pitch darkness, nobody could cover that distance without being seen or heard,” Nancy thought.
“Nance, I’m at the end of my tether, look at me! This wasn’t an illusion. Hallucinations can’t do this!” She touched at the swelling of her own face. “Jacky saw him here. She identified him in a picture. Yet he claimed to the police that he had been at home and asleep by eleven o’clock!
Catherine began to sob softly to herself.
“It was the same old nightmare all over again,” she lamented. “...But nightmares don’t beat you to a pulp, and witnesses certainly can’t see your nightmare!”