Chapter 20

Dennis stepped into the room; the broken glass crunched and snapped under his feet. Elaine did not know whether it was only her mind playing tricks on her or whether what she saw was untainted by her emotions-but Dennis looked manlier, taller, huskier and far more formidable than she had remembered him. In his work shirt and jeans, he might have been a laborer rather than an artist.

“Go away, Dennis,” Gordon said.

“You know I can't”

Elaine wondered if there were anything she could do, now that Gordon's attention had been diverted. Should she run? Should she try to lift that heavy glass ashtray and hit him with it? No, that was all too melodramatic. That kind of thing only worked in movies. She would just have to wait and see…

“This doesn't concern you,” Gordon told his brother. “Stay back.”

Elaine was both amazed and pleased to see that Dennis ignored the threat and the waving knife. How could she have so misjudged him?

“I'll kill you,” Gordon said.

“No you won't, Gordon. Give me the knife.”

If she could not move, at least she could speak. At least she could warn him. “Dennis,” Elaine said, “believe him. He will kill you. He thinks he's possessed by your mother's ghost”

Dennis did not question what she had said, did not even lift his eyebrows, though she was certain the news confounded him. Clearly, his mind was agile and adaptable, not frivolous. Or, could it be that familiarity with all the faces of frivolity produced an adaptable mind-?

“She's right,” Gordon added. “Mother has returned, and she has come back only to me-because I'm the one who waited for her and wanted her all these years.”

Dennis picked a thick, souvenir pillow of the New York World's Fair from the seat of an old rocker and held it before him like a shield. He intended to take the knife away from Gordon.

Elaine realized that Dennis' extra size would be offset by his brother's fanatic energy. She made a last attempt to reason Gordon out of murdering his older brother. To manage that, she had to use the madman's own illogical brand of logic.

“Gordon, your mother only wanted you to destroy women-women who were trying to take her family away from her.”

Having said that, she felt queasy, very alone and tiny and weak in the midst of so much insane power.

Gordon, without taking his eyes from Dennis, said, “He's trying to keep me from dealing with you. Mother wants me to deal with you. She's told me so many times. She won't stop nagging me until I've done with you.”

Elaine remembered what Celia had looked like when Gordon had done with her, and she felt all the heat draining from her body. She was cold, indescribably cold, a tooth of ice. She said, “Your mother will never stop nagging you if you kill your brother. Don't you see that you'd be taking her family away from her -the very thing she's trying to prevent!”

The argument had its intended effect on Gordon. He lowered the knife which he had thrust toward his brother, and his face twisted in agony as he attempted to puzzle his way through the maze of “duties” which he owed Amelia.

Elaine felt breathless as she launched into more of the same amateur but effective psychology. “Your mother would want you, if it came to a conflict of interests, to protect her family first. Your mother would tell you to let us all go-then take care of me at a later date.”

The old couple on the sofa looked at Elaine in amazement, as if they did not understand that she was lying, as if they thought she had accepted the theory of spiritual possession.

“Throw down the knife,” Dennis said.

Gordon looked at the knife.

Dennis stepped toward him, still using the pillow as a shield.

“The knife… mother meant for me… to use it to…”

“Throw it down!” Elaine said.

That seemed to be the trigger, the last command, which made him explode. Without warning, he whirled about and leaped for Elaine. He raised the gleaming weapon high above his head and brought it down toward her chest, his voice caught in a high, gleeful scream.

Elaine flung herself backwards, more from instinct than a genuine understanding of how close she was to death. But the chair brought her up short, blocked her escape. The whole world seemed to ice over, become as cold and aching as she was-except for the knife. In the middle of all that frost, in the midst of ice and cold, the knife was a blazing lance, slicing toward her as the frost melted around it. She was going to die.

At the same moment, Dennis threw aside the pillow he carried, reached for Gordon's wrist and stopped the swift descent of the murderous weapon.

Gordon turned on his brother, his face blood-flushed, his eyes wide, his mouth opened in a fierce grin. He and Dennis engaged in a grimly silent struggle for possession of the knife.

“Get help!” Elaine told the old couple. They looked at her stupidly; Jerry seemed to have forgotten his head wound. “Get Paul!”

The mention of Amelia's brother's name broke the spell; Jerry rose and hurried across the room, disappeared through the open door. Please, don't let Paul be drunk or suffering from a bad hangover!

Despite his lesser size, Gordon wrenched the knife away at last, slashed Denny's biceps shallowly as he stepped away from his brother. Blood flowed down Denny's arm.

Elaine picked up the ashtray, felt the cold weight of it. She did not really think she could use it. She was a nurse, accustomed to healing, not to injuring. Oh God, if I have to use it, let me able to!

As Dennis stepped in on him, leaving a trail of crimson drops behind him, Gordon struck again. Dennis feinted to the right, stepped in past the blow, gripped Gordon's knife hand in both hands, trying to bend the wrist back until Gordon was forced to drop the blade.

Elaine had seen a great deal of blood in nurse's training, had seen deep wounds. But the sight of Dennis' blood was something outside her experience. It made her feel empty and tired. She did not want him to die. Oh, how she wanted him to live! And maybe then she could make up for the awful things she had thought of him.

Gordon used his free hand to beat unmercifully at Denny's head. He had started his brother's nose to bleeding and had split his lip. Denny looked weary, unable to continue much longer…

Then, in an instant, the advantage changed. Gordon's wrist snapped under the pressure of Dennis' hands. He howled, dropped the knife, broke away from Dennis, cradling a broken wrist. He looked wild, as white as sifted flour, his mouth a black hole in his face.

Dennis kicked the knife across the room and said, with an amazing degree of gentleness: “Sit down, Gordon. You're hurt”

For a moment, Gordon looked as if he would disregard his wounds and make one last try for the weapon. Then, as if struck by a large hammer, he fell sideways against the chair in which Elaine had been sitting short minutes ago. She had been waiting for him to kill her. And now he never would.

“I didn't want to kill you,” Gordon said to Dennis.

“Don't talk about it.”

“Do you love me?” Gordon asked.

Dennis looked tired, not angry. “You're my brother. I love you very much.”

Gordon Matherly, holding his ruined wrist in his good hand, lowered his head until his chin rested on his chest, and he began to cry.

Elaine watched Dennis cross the room and retrieve the knife. He looked at it almost as if he did not know what it was. She went to him, feeling very much a woman-because he had been so much of a man, braver than she had ever had a chance to see any man be-and she said, “Let me look at your arm.”

“It's okay.”

“We have to guard against infection,” she said.

He said, “Why didn't you tell me who you suspected last night?”

Elaine blushed, looked at the defeated Gordon. She said, “I didn't think it was him.” Then, she blurted, “I thought it might be you!” She knew she would have to tell him sooner or later. She had never been the sort to postpone judgment for her mistakes.

He stared at her, incredulous. Just as she began to pray that he would not hate her, he burst out laughing. It was a strained, nervous laugh, but better than the outrage she had expected.

When he had control of himself again, he said, “Father told me someone had tried to pick the lock on your door. When I found you phoning the police, I knew you were seriously worried. I got hold of Rand half an hour after you went to bed and told him what you'd told father. He said that he intended to come out and have a look around.”

“He did,” Elaine said, shuddering. She remembered what Rand's pay had been for his diligence.

“I know. I found his body just before I came up here.”

“How would you know where to look?”

He said, “I was sitting in my studio, at the window, and saw you and Gordon come out of the garage. You walked so stiffly and behaved so strangely, I was intrigued. Besides, I'd not forgotten your fear that the killer was one of us. Gordon has always been strange, eager to work and reluctant to play, sober, serious. When I saw the two of you, I began to think the worst. I went to the garage to see what had happened-and found Rand.”

“You saved my life,” Elaine said. Again, she felt womanly, small and delicate in the capable shadow of a man.

“You saved all our lives,” he countered. “You were the only one who faced up to an unpleasant possibility. We owe you a great deal.”

At that moment, Paul Honneker blustered through the doorway.

Elaine said, “You'd better call an ambulance. The police. And Lee.”

Plainly shocked by what he saw, Paul said, “Right away!” He thundered down the steps and was gone in a moment.

When they went back to Gordon, he looked at them and twisted his lips in an expression of deep hatred. Elaine felt chilled again. He said, “Dennis, you will give me that knife.” His voice had risen and had changed inflection so that it sounded exactly like a woman's voice.

“It's Amelia,” Bess said, and she fell back against the sofa.

“Dennis,” Gordon said, “your mother commands you to give over that knife!” His voice was definitely feminine, almost sensuous, attractive but for that underlying hatred.

“You wouldn't believe that she had returned to possess him,” Bess said. “But now you can hear that it is true!”

Legacy Of Terror
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