PERFECT REVENGE

"In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your own blood" - Hebrews 12:4

"Thou wilt die soon and thou are not yet simple nor free from perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only in acting justly." - Marcus Aurelius

After Olivia's stroke, Malcolm's own health took a turn for the worse. He was admitted to the hospital in April, and there he languished for months. Malcolm's death seemed imminent, until early December, when he was released to return home once again.

Months before, Bartholomew Winslow had come to Virginia to oversee Foxworth Hall, and when Corinne Winslow made plans to be home for Christmas that year,
John Amos surfaced again. But Bartholomew Winslow, preoccupied with other pursuits, chanced not to be in the vicinity of the mansion on the afternoon when Malcolm arrived. It was an unfortunate turn of events that only Corinne and her butler were at home. It was unfortunate for Malcolm, but it was a victory for John Amos Jackson.

"This man," said John. "This is the man claiming to be Malcolm Foxworth."

Two men-doctors, from the look of them-stepped into the room, all business as they strode over to Malcolm. They advanced, restraining him as if he were some dangerous criminal, rather than a fragile old man. Bewilderment quickly turned to cold fear as their mission became clear.

"What-" Malcolm began, but it was as if he had no voice. No one cared to listen. He looked from one face to another, but found no hope of disentangling himself from this web of misunderstanding. But there was no misunderstanding. He knew that as his eyes finally met those of the woman who had once been his daughter. Corinne looked away, blankly.

"My father is dead," she said. "I have no father."

"Corinne!"

"I've never seen this man before. I don't know who he is." said Corinne.

They began to lead Malcolm toward the door. Frantically, he stared around the room, but there was no help to be found. His eyes fell on John Amos, standing,
stooped by the fireplace, a poorly concealed glint of triumph in his dark eyes.

"I'll kill you the next time I have the chance," Malcolm spat. "I hoped I'd killed you before."

It was the wrong thing to have said, Malcolm knew almost as soon as the words left him. John was wise enough to say nothing in response. The threat was absurd; this whole scene was absurd, but it didn't seem to matter. These doctors must have been bribed, Malcolm concluded.

Olivia sat in her wheelchair by the fireplace. Her eyes tracked the doctors' progress, horror readily apparent in her face. She was trying to speak, but could not. No one listened. No one tried to understand the garbled speech, and her increasing panic was contagious.

Making an effort to appear calm, Malcolm touched her cold hand.

"It's all right," he said quietly, though he didn't believe it. It wasn't all right, and he had no choice but to be led away from her, and from his house.

"Take him away," John was saying. "This is causing Mrs. Foxworth and Mrs. Winslow great distress."

"Of course, sir."

"No, Mother, you're confused. Mal is dead." said Corinne. She was intentionally misunderstanding Olivia. It was the last thing Malcolm heard, as they forced him to leave the library.

This morning, Malcolm read that Corinne had been committed to a mental institution. It had long been his opinion that such things were nothing more than an indulgence-all that probing into a person's mind, as if it did any good! As far as he was concerned, it only stirred up trouble. Psychiatry was a farce-a money-making racket targeted at susceptible people who hadn't the good sense to see what a hoax it was.

The fools running this institution in which he was a prisoner, were laughable in their attempts to force him to talk, and in their attempts to "cure" him of his delusions of being Malcolm Foxworth. He could combat his frustration at not being believed by toying with them.

It was only a matter of time until he came up with a plan to extricate himself from this madness. But what good would freedom do him, now? He would not involve Olivia Ann in this insanity. He would not call his granddaughter to identify him. He would call Catherine Marquet.

"Time for your medicine and your breakfast, sir." said the nurse.

Malcolm came slowly awake and out of the dream-a nightmare, really-knowing what he had to do. He was sure now.

When the idea first came to him, he had thought it too far-fetched to succeed. But he was driven to seek revenge, and there was no reason to delay. His identity was not in question. There were no bars across the windows; this was an ordinary hospital, not the lunatic asylum of the dream. But it may as well be one, he thought.

There had to be an end to nightmares and torturous thoughts. Waking or sleeping, it was all the same. He need not worry about hell; there could be no greater hell than the state in which he now lived. The bottles of medicine began to look more inviting, and not just for the temporary respite they could give. He was an old man whose value to those around him had decreased every day, until today there was none left. But he would not die by his own hand, although he favored the orderliness of taking charge, rather than leaving it to chance, which had a cruel, whimsical nature.

"You have an egregious sense of entitlement. You can't command nature, Malcolm." Olivia had said once, long ago. She repeated it other times, as if it was a basic fact he had never learned.

"Sometimes you can, and today I will." he said to the memory.

A plan began taking shape, one which must be carried out quickly. In the detached, calculating part of his mind, he'd known what he must do from the moment he saw Catherine Marquet's name in the front page story about the fire. She had been there; she had provoked Corinne into setting that deadly blaze!

Malcolm's need for revenge consumed his thoughts. He told himself he had no choice in what he was about to do. Even if his health should improve, he had no home to go to. He placed the entirety of the blame squarely on Corinne, and her daughter, Catherine. In his mind, there was no difference between the two.

Corinne's intent was to ruin him, just as it had been when she'd married Christopher. This latest scandal she and her daughter caused had destroyed him. Now, the Foxworth legacy would be this scandal, and it overshadowed all of his accomplishments. In a single night, they ruined all that he had ever cared for, and all he had worked to achieve, throughout the vital years of his life.

Malcolm mourned, looking out the window as the sun went down on a day Olivia, sleeping, had not known. "It's over," he thought to himself, and there was no one to agree with him, but he knew. There was no life left for him.

Resolutely, he closed his mind against the temptation to envision the horror and helplessness of Olivia's last minutes; it would plunge him into a miasma of unbearable emotions. All he could feel was anger. It was an emotion he was well acquainted with; all other feelings transmuted into anger. All his life it had been so. He had expected this latest tragedy to leave him numb, to vanquish his ire-that might have been a relief-but it had not.

Of John Amos's impostor's plan, Malcolm had never spoken to his granddaughter, to Corinne or to Olivia, for who in his right mind would believe that Joel, thirty-plus years gone, would suddenly return? Joel would never have knowingly caused his parents to suffer by letting them believe he was dead-not even his father, despite their strained relationship. So firmly did Malcolm believe this, that he didn't spare it a second thought. There were greater threats.

Throughout the last twelve years, Malcolm, in his way, had attempted to shield Olivia from the threat of Corinne's spiteful daughter, only to fail, to be defeated by the devious schemes of John, Corinne and Catherine, but by God, he wasn't going to grant to them the last word! He strove to remain clear-headed. To suffer another, final heart attack at this stage was unacceptable. It was essential to remain strong long enough to follow through with his last plan.

The Daily Progress was the first newspaper to carry the story of the tragedy of the Christmas party at Foxworth Hall. Journalists loved the story of the fire. Sensationalism was always a big seller, and although survivors hadn't yet begun to tell their stories, there was plenty of gossip and speculation to supply writers with ammunition for Foxworth destruction, for weeks to come.

The public couldn't get enough of the scandal, and journalists plumbed memories of aging employees and acquaintances of the Foxworths, and the archives of the local newspapers, for anything they could turn up on the family.

One of the more speculative articles called into question one of Malcolm's more controversial business decisions from the 1930's. The accompanying sepia-tone picture, from the summer of 1931, showed the Foxworths in the prime of life, Malcolm forty, his children at fourteen, twelve and seven years of age. It was not quite the best family portrait, but charming, in its way. Malcolm, posed behind the three children, wore an austere, proprietorial expression. Next to him stood Olivia, a haughty tilt to her head; the children looked bored, distracted and amused. The picture had a dated look, and provided a glimpse into the life of this family most had not known as a unified group, for all of the other photographs printed were of Corinne Foxworth Winslow. Even the life of the blameless Bartholomew Winslow came under public scrutiny.

Disconsolately, Malcolm stared at photographs of the wreckage, which accompanied the first of these articles. The two glorious staircases, curving up and up toward the memory of grandeur, emphasized the devastation of the rest of the mansion, and tempted plunderers. If one fell from those stairs now, one would fall straight down into the wine cellar, and to certain death.

Some of the charred contents of the rooms remained in tact, and already, looting had begun; souvenir seekers would have every last object which could be reached and removed. A great quantity of glass and unidentifiable debris littered the ground. Most of the upper level had been consumed by the fire, but the foundation of the house and the shell of the downstairs rooms remained, waiting for the ravages of time and the elements to wear them away.

Eventually, Olivia Ann would see these scurrilous articles, and she would want answers and explanations that Malcolm was too exhausted to supply. If she phoned the hospital, he would refuse to accept calls. He was grateful that her family would not be publicly embarrassed. Only Samuel Logan knew that Olivia Ann was a Foxworth, and of that connection, she must surely, by now, be deeply ashamed. He was convinced she felt nothing but hatred and disgust for him and for Olivia.

Olivia Logan had visited Virginia twice since the spring and the onset of her grandmother's decline. She had phoned Foxworth Hall the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and had spoken to Bart, who assured her that all was well. She had spoken to Malcolm in the hospital, and he seemed to be well enough, if not strong.
Attempting to call Foxworth Hall over the next few days, she heard only the siren sound that signaled a telephone line out of order. This was not an uncommon occurrence in winter months, and so she did not worry.

Malcolm took up a pen and wrote a few glib sentences to accompany the parcel containing Olivia's manuscript, which he sent to Olivia Ann. It was the last time writing would be an outlet for what troubled him, but the lines that brought life from the blank paper were not necessary, he realized. Nothing he wrote would be likely to answer her questions, and so no final words from Malcolm ever reached his granddaughter.

Malcolm had never expected to meet Catherine. He tried to recall any propitious piece of information Olivia may have told him about the girl. Exchanges between them on the subject of Corinne's children had been few. He recalled the first one. It remained in his memory like wisps of smoke, almost as if it hadn't happened.

One morning-a Thursday when servants and his nurse were dismissed for their customary day off-Olivia had entered his room as usual. The hour was very early;
the other occupants of the house still enjoying their repose. After a time, quite unplanned, he'd simply asked:

"Tell me, how are your charges today?"

She had not reacted at all; she expressed no surprise that he had known. She never asked how he found out about the children, nor did an explanation of her own motivations follow. She felt justified and sure of her choice, Malcolm concluded. That was when he fully grasped the extent of the influence John Amos had gained over her. Perhaps that was the day Malcolm's dislike of the man turned into hatred.

Olivia's gaze hadn't shifted away as he met her eyes on that long ago Thursday morning. Her serene expression never altered. He thought she hadn't heard his question, so he repeated it, but he might as well have asked how years of keeping secrets had affected her.

"The same." was all she said.

The curt response showed her level of detachment, Malcolm thought. The same. The same as the day before, the week or year before, the changes were slow,
imperceptible, but profound. This thought was disquieting, but he let it go. Soon, it would not matter. Soon, he would finish forever with regret and doubt.
He would leave that legacy to someone else.

Now he wished he had pressed Olivia for more details about Catherine. The information released for fans and the public about a ballerina did not give adequate insight into the person she was. His goal for the past twelve years had been to avert trouble from anyone who might stumble upon a link between a ballerina and the Foxworth family. He'd kept a keen eye on the occasional articles he'd managed to find in magazines, but they couldn't tell him what lay in Catherine's mind, and what plans for revenge she might have. His interest, in fact, only extended to keeping his life free of complication and harassment from prying reporters and troublemakers. Olivia had kept herself preoccupied with gardening, light housework, and tending to him, as a means of avoiding the issue of Corinne's children, and Malcolm had been equally determined to keep their names out of conversation.

Still, now and then, they had wordlessly examined reviews of Catherine Dahl's performances. Malcolm had been mildly curious about his famous niece, his interest piqued after seeing an article about her husband Julian Marquet's suicide.

"He looks as obnoxious as some of those pansy, artsy types Joel called friends." pronounced Malcolm, with no small measure of scorn for any man who would choose such a profession.

"I highly doubt one has to do with the other." Olivia had said. "I'm sure it's coincidental."

"What would YOU know about it?"

They had not been able to resist following the occasional tidbits of Catherine's career in the newspaper. Characteristically, they did not talk about it.
They read the reviews with a mixture of disapproval and fascination, and an undeniable apprehension.

"If there is to be trouble, it will be from that girl." was Olivia's usual comment. "Put that away so I don't have to think about it."

Malcolm hadn't known precisely what prompted the distress in her voice, though surely, it was not fear! He would have been disappointed had she given into fear, so he chose not to acknowledge it.

It hadn't been an easy time when she came home to New London after the children's escape. Olivia refused to answer the door or telephone. When he questioned her, she always had a ready excuse; she claimed to be too busy... she hadn't heard the ringing phone. Eventually, she had wanted the instrument disconnected altogether, but this wasn't practical.

Malcolm made it his business, furtively, to keep track of the children as a precaution. (Olivia had not known; it had not been wise or necessary to tell her.) No one would get the best of him, least of all the children of Christopher Dollanganger!-(such a ludicrous name.) Malcolm refused to think of him as a Foxworth; Christopher did not deserve the name, and Malcolm had never truly acknowledged him as a brother.

Yet, Malcolm's grudge wasn't so much against Christopher's children, unless they gave him cause, but now, this girl, Catherine had given him cause to despise her. Olivia had been correct: Catherine was trouble. It was time he dealt with her.

Three days after that fateful Christmas of 1972, knowing time must not be squandered, Malcolm made the call. Catherine's voice on the crackling line was guarded.

"When did you know my father? How well did you know him?" There was a pause. "I'm sorry, I'm just finding this very difficult to take in."

"We met at Harvard," Malcolm improvised. Catherine's curiosity was piqued, he was sure of it. Fortunately, she was so surprised to be receiving this unexpected local phone call, that she did not think to question him further. A meeting time was agreed upon, and Malcolm disconnected, triumphant.

The light, quick footsteps of a woman approached. Malcolm struggled to pull himself up in the bed. He was unafraid and prepared when the door opened. He had the advantage, but strangely, she recognized him at once, and absorbed the shock well.

"I could not give you my name," said Malcolm. "You would not have believed me."

He was looking at her sedulously, a rapt expression in his iridescent, old eyes. Looking for something of himself in her, she guessed, or looking for something of Corinne.

All of them looked so much like him-his sons, his brother's children, (his grandchildren as well as being his nieces and nephew!) yet he felt no connection.
These were Olivia's grandchildren, though there was no biological link. She was the one who had history with them, which Malcolm didn't share.

"There are some things I'd like to get straight, some questions I want to ask you." the girl began.

Malcolm ceased to look directly at her. He didn't want to see the family likeness. She was Garland's granddaughter, not his.

"How did you find out that we existed? Who told you about us?"

Olivia hadn't volunteered many details about the attic fiasco. Back then, Malcolm had waited, wondering how long she would keep her secret. The fact that she kept it secret from him was more disturbing than the specifics of what was going on.

Malcolm, too, had been detached. In those days his attention was necessarily focused on his immediate surroundings. Each day was a struggle, in and out of hospitals, waiting to die. He had survived, and he was glad of it-glad that he had a chance to take his revenge. He said what he hoped would affect Catherine most.

"Olivia herself told me."

The girl was shocked, that much was evident.

"The grandmother?" Catherine looked skeptical. Malcolm nodded. "But... why did you let it go on? And weren't you at all curious? Didn't you want to see us?"

"I didn't want to know anything." he said, enjoying her look of confusion.

"So you really did know we were there. Momma was telling the truth." Her confusion began to give way to more virulent emotions. "Everyone knew we were there,
and yet all of you let Cory die."

"Olivia told me that Corinne was reluctant to take the boy to a hospital." said Malcolm.

"Do you take everything she told you as absolute truth?"

"I believed her about that. Yes."

There was a silence.

"If Olivia had intended the child to die-"

"Cory!" Cathy snapped. "He had a name. His name was Cory. He played the guitar; he loved music, just like your son, Joel."

Catherine began to pull photographs from her pocket, but Malcolm did not look at them. He did not want to see Joel. Somehow, he hadn't expected Catherine to know anything about his life. He hadn't counted on her being a formidable presence; she was, surprisingly, more than just her mother's daughter. If he'd had the time and luxury of allowing himself such feelings, he might have admired that about her.

Satisfied with Malcolm's stunned reaction, Cathy put the twins' pictures away. By her comparison, she had made the twins real, she had made them live in his mind, if only momentarily.

"If Olivia had intended him to die," said Malcolm, "she wouldn't have pressured Corinne to take him to a hospital."

"Why would you believe that woman? She'd say anything to lighten her own burden of guilt-if she had any."

"It is your mother who has a fondness for dishonesty. Perhaps you embellish your version of events as well."

"What your wife did to us needs no embellishment to make it horrific! She beat my brother and I with a switch and a hairbrush. She starved us all; she poisoned us, and-"

"You ought to get your story straight, young lady." he sneered. "Which is it? Were you starved, or poisoned? Were you locked in the coal cellar, or fed stale food for a week?"

"I suspected it, but I didn't want to believe that you could be so callous. I can see you won't acknowledge any wrong-doing, but she DID starve and poison us."

"I doubt that." he countered, calmly.

"I haven't finished-"

"Yes, you have. It isn't necessary for you to catalog Olivia's mistakes. I know very well what she was and was not capable of doing."

"You know, but you don't care. You overlook it." she accused. Seeing the reality of his willful indifference was truly appalling!

"What do you expect me to say? What do you think I should have done? Turned her in?"

"Why not? You disowned your daughter for lesser sins!"

"Therefore, you believe I should have had my wife arrested?"

"You have no conscience whatsoever!"

But Catherine had a conscience; he'd counted on that. Malcolm glanced at the clock. He had to move this along. In half an hour a doctor would come in, making daily rounds. Catherine had to be gone by then.

"Do you expect me to defend her, or to apologize for her?"

"I don't believe you would do either. You are without conscience. You have no feelings, and neither did your wife. Well, that isn't true; she did hate.
The only time I saw her show an emotion other than hate was when she spoke of you-when she told us about how our parents caused your heart disease."

Malcolm's stare remained inexpressive, and Cathy wished she could hurt him!

"She must have been the only person who ever gave a damn about you. How does it feel to know you have outlived her?"

There was no reaction. Malcolm Neal Foxworth was proving to be as cold as his trophy-room portrait indicated he would be.

"You are a murderess!" he suddenly lashed out, and startled, she took a step away from him, from the force with which he spoke. "Olivia did not kill anyone,
but YOU have. And you will again."

In a chilling, disturbingly prophetic way, Malcolm's opprobrium continued. He sought the limits of Catherine's tolerance with words sharp enough to carve out truth of the past and present, and the outcome he wanted.

"She did help our mother kill Cory and Carrie!" Catherine interrupted.

"Purely incidental, but it was for the best."

"You're just like HER! You think we deserved to suffer-that we are an abomination in the sight of God."

"I don't believe in a God. Religion was my wife's coping mechanism, not mine."

Cathy couldn't speak. His last admission was such a shock that she couldn't take it in.

"What? You DON'T believe-"

"I objected to your mother's marriage for moral reasons, not religious ones. All of you are the product of incest."

"What does that matter now?" Her voice rose in agitation. "We are alive, and we're PEOPLE, not-"

"Not everything that walks in the guise of a man is human." rejoined Malcolm, and by the look of Catherine, he knew he had finally gone far enough in provoking her to achieve his aim.

"All of you are," he met her eyes then, once, and for the last time, "nothing but human weeds."

He taunted her, and she wanted to-had to-silence him! She had to silence the manipulative, evil voice that repeated the poison which had driven Carrie to take her own life. Carrie had died in this very hospital, believing herself unworthy of life and love. The grandmother had put those ideas into Carrie's head, and the grandfather-who had the temerity to speak of moral objections-had just said that he didn't believe any of it. That meant that Carrie-all of them-had been made to suffer needlessly.

Later, Catherine might confront and question what she believed about herself, but now she didn't think, she acted. Malcolm had done all the thinking and planning, and he knew he had succeeded, as he always succeeded.

Cathy did not process what she was doing as the pillow in her stronger hands stifled his breath, and began to smother the life from him.

"You will never forget," Malcolm promised. He was frail, but he made an effort to fight what was being done. She had made a grave mistake; it mustn't happen this way! Cathy's anger grew as she realized the trap she had narrowly avoided. She dropped the pillow, and, looking resolutely away from his eyes which were still open and bright with life, she reached instead for the nearest syringe, and every vial of liquid in sight. Chris would know what to do, but he would never abuse that knowledge. She was relying on the bits and pieces she'd picked up from Chris, from the long days he'd studied in the attic. The attic-that was why she was doing this. How would Chris feel, if he knew?-but she didn't have to ask herself the question. She knew. She was alone.

Malcolm Foxworth could excuse his wife's sins, but his grandson would not overlook a sin as great as this one-not even for the woman he loved. Knowing love has limitations and conditions is a painful realization. Cathy would face this later, when confiding in anyone was impossible. But she did not hesitate now. She filled the syringe.

Officially, Malcolm's death would be recorded as a suicide, but Catherine would know the truth. The secret of what she did this day would linger in her memory, and she would have to bear it alone. The memory's endless tricks and plaguing guilt was Malcolm's revenge.

Neither of them spoke again. He heard her leave the room just before his vision blurred, receded, and the room revolved around him. Sound, too, became muffled and diminished. He had long fought this inevitable moment, but he had no qualms as he fell into the dark, into the arms of the ones who had gone before,
and into the realm that waited beyond his dying consciousness.

THE END