Ransom looked at table, at the diner’s other patrons, out the window. Then he looked back at Marta. “I want my share of the money.”
There it was: the reason he’d taken her out like this. Marta couldn’t be too angry with him. She’d already known he wouldn’t get her away from the rest of his family without some kind of ulterior motive.
“You have to help me hide, then.”
“Nah. You slip up once and it’s over, and Mr. Blanc is pretty good at his job. Didn’t you read the New Yorker article?”
“I don’t read the New Yorker.”
“Well, when you’re my wife, we’ll have to fix that.”
She nearly fell over. “I’m sorry. I think I drank too much. You said -”
“I want my share of the money. There’s a couple different ways to do that, but only one that’s fast, legal, and means I don’t have to testify against you if you get caught.”
“It also requires my consent.”
“In most states, anyway.”
She looked down at the giant, empty bowl he’d placed in front of her, then back up at him. She’d always done her best to avoid him during family gatherings; he was exactly the kind of obnoxious that meant she didn’t want to be alone with him. But he’d noticed her enough to know she couldn’t lie. Why?
To use her. There was no other possible explanation. She took a deep breath. “Ransom -”
“Marry me, or I go to the cops myself.”
There it was. She tried to absorb it like she might a physical blow, this knowledge that she was trapped again, worse than before. Walt had threatened Mama, but he hadn’t known her secret - the worst secret. She closed her eyes. “Surely there’s another way to do this. A different contract.”
“Sorry, Marta, it’s this or nothing.”
And so they went to the courthouse.
“We got the tox report. Harlan died of natural causes. We’re closing the case, Blanc.”
Everything in Marta froze. No. That couldn’t possibly be true. She had injected Harlan with the wrong bottle. He’d been dying. She’d killed him.
Which left only one other option: Ransom had falsified her innocence, to ensure he still got to keep the money. Oh, God.
Mr. Blanc looked at Lieutenant Elliott. He looked at Marta and Ransom. He looked at the rest of the Thrombeys.
“I do not believe I have ever seen two police detectives so thoroughly bamboozled,” he said. “Marta, may I speak with you? Privately?”
She and Ransom were legally married, but she hadn’t yet told anyone, and she doubted the Thrombeys were the sorts of people to look up county marriage records on a whim. Her secret - her secrets - might die with her, even if she didn’t understand how he’d forged a blood toxicology report. But the way Mr. Blanc looked at her…
He knew something, and she was afraid of it. So she shook her head. “I’m sorry, Detective. But I need to start cleaning up the house. Maybe you can come back later.”
“Or maybe he can go straight to hell, it’s fifty-fifty.” Ransom clapped his hands. “Okay! Everyone, out of our house.”
“You’ll find it’s still legally Marta’s house, Mister Drysdale,” Mr. Blanc said.
“And in the great liberal state of Massachusetts, what’s hers is mine. Hey, what do you think, should we double-barrel or should I just be a Cabrera?”
The shouting that erupted was at least as bad as when the will had been read, and worst of all was the fact that no one seemed to expect Marta to say anything. Ransom was the center of attention and clearly loving it, but no one except Mr. Blanc seemed to even remember Marta was still there.
She’d have loved for any one of them to get in her face, because here was the alternative: Benoit Blanc sitting down across from her and saying, almost kindly, “Marta, did you marry of your own free will?”
“Yes,” she said. Her stomach stayed quiet. She had, she had. It had been the best of several bad choices, but if that wasn’t free will, Marta didn’t know what was.
“I see,” he said after a long moment. “You have a keen observational eye, Miss Cabrera. I would like to request that you join me on my next investigation.”
“When will that be?”
“Oh, I couldn’t say. Tomorrow, perhaps, or seven years from now. The wickedness of man is a constant of the universe, yet it does not adhere to the constraints of the mortal calendar, or my hourly fee.”
“Goodnight.” He patted her armchair and stood, placing his fingers in his mouth and letting loose an ear-piercing whistle.
“This case is closed,” he said when the Thrombeys fell silent, “and as such, I will be taking my leave. This case is closed, and as such, you all are free to go home. This case is closed, and as such -”
“Oh my God, it’s a Benoit Blanc monologue,” said Joni.
“- you are all trespassers on this lovely young lady’s property. Consequently, I will request that you file out in an orderly manner. I’ll bring up the rear. Go on.”
All of them did what he said, more or less. Walt looked at Marta with a murderous expression that Marta knew meant trouble for her, and for Mama. Mama and Alice were packing up the apartment; they’d move in in just a few days.
Oh, God. That meant Mama would find out about the marriage. Marta buried her face in her hands, turning over the facts in her mind as best she could. How to make it seem reasonable? His pretty face wouldn’t fool Mama; she didn’t trust white boys in general and rich ones specifically. But what could she say? Would she lie to her family? Could she, without getting caught? Alice was the first person to label her stomach troubles for what they were; Marta couldn’t imagine lying about something of this magnitude and having it work out.
But then, a month ago she couldn’t imagine successfully lying to the police, either.
Once everyone was gone, and the front door was locked, Marta looked at Ransom.
She hadn’t been avoiding looking at him - not on purpose, anyway. But he clearly thought differently; he wore the same sarcastic smile he’d had at the will reading, half giddy and half murderous.
Murderous. Oh, God. “Did you - when you switched the toxicology report, did you hurt anyone?”
“Wow,” Ransom said. “Really not what I thought you were going to ask.”
“Ransom, did you hurt anyone?”
The world stopped. Marta’s heart pounded in her ears. “What?”
“Come on, Marta, keep up. Think. I know you can. Do you even read labels before you shoot people up with stuff?”
“That’s not - I was familiar with the kit. I -”
“You grabbed the right med, labeled wrong. Really, I should have just done the deed myself. But as soon as you told me, I knew he wouldn’t show up as OD’d.”
“And so you proposed.”
“Romantic language for a convenient arrangement.”
“Convenient.” It made a horrible amount of sense. She’d known something was off, but she had agreed to it anyway. And now she was trapped. Her heart began to beat faster in her chest, terror mixed with anger.
“Well, the only other way to get your money would be to keep killing everyone who thought something was off. And that’s a pretty long list, to be honest with you. I’ve got other shit I’d like to do.”
Your money. What game was he playing? “Like what, buy another expensive car?”
“You’ll see. Wifey.”
She stared at him. She was panicking, she recognized distantly. Her hands felt off, all trembly, and it was hard to breathe. She’d married Ransom Drysdale. He had tried to kill Harlan, and she’d foiled him. Would he try to kill her next, if the end goal was the Thrombey fortune?
“If you hurt my family -”
He smiled, smug and horrible. “What? You didn’t make me sign a prenup. What’ll you do to me, Marta?”
Fury flooded her. “Get out.”
“Hm, let me think about it. No.”
“Leave me alone!” She ran for the stairs.
He didn’t follow her. But he watched her go, and he shouted after her, “Seriously, you should at least be bargaining for your own life. Fuck this family crap.”
She locked the bedroom door with shaking hands. It was one of the many guest rooms, nothing special, with an old lock. Ransom could get in if he wanted. She shoved a chair under the latch, then went over to the window. Second floor - if she jumped she’d survive, but he’d catch her before she even made it to the gate.
A knife hung on the wall. Ornamental, surely, but she took it down and drew it from its sheath. The blade was sharp and, thank God, actual metal. It would have to do. She lay down in bed with the knife on her stomach, clutching the hilt with all her might.
What had she done? What had she done?
She spent the whole night drifting in and out of nightmares, her grip on the knife never loosening. The doorknob didn’t so much as rattle.
Well, this was inconvenient.
She had it righter than she realized: he really had proposed. Just blurted it out, midway through coming up with a better plan than marrying the little bitch who’d stolen all their money. Grandad would never have allowed that kind of manipulation five years ago. Ransom knew - he’d tried. But somehow, Marta had gotten under the old man’s defenses.
Somehow, right. It was completely obvious how. Her sweet little tits, her enormous “take care of me” eyes, those fucking lips. Granddad had still been just a man, and he’d been bamboozled like the rest of them.
Not Ransom, though. Fuck no. Let the rest of his family tear each other to shreds trying to sue Marta for the cash. He was entitled to it now; Marta was just the hand puppet he used to get the cash. If that meant he had to get rid of some familial loose ends, so be it.
There were, however, some more immediate loose ends that needed fixing.
He waited until the noise in Marta’s bedroom - directly above Harlan’s study, what an innocent little idiot - died down. Then he went to find Fran.
She was in the kitchen, clutching a candlestick. God, this fucking family. “I was going to go for the butler in the library, myself.”
“Get away from me! I know what you did. I won’t let you hurt her!”
Fucking a, what a pain. He surveyed the room for things he could use. A knife? Too obvious. Rat poison under the sink probably wouldn’t pass muster. What had he researched the one summer? Natural plant toxins, right. There had to be something in here that was poisonous but also subtle. Or he could just stick her head in the oven, but the cleanup, eesh.
“Did you hear me! I said you’re going to stay away from her! I know you killed him, you bastard!”
“Shut up, I’m trying to think.” Maybe he could just shove her against the counter. Head injuries were unpredictable, that could work in his favor. “Also, I’m trying to figure out how to kill you, not Marta. Why would I bother? I got everything I wanted.” And unlike Fran, she didn’t have the guts to try and stand in his way.
“You - what?”
“It’s too late to run. I locked the side door.”
“Oh my God, oh my God.”
As he watched Fran realize how cornered she was and start to panic, he got a different, better idea. “Unless, of course, you stay quiet.”
She froze. “What?”
“Ever tried to hide a body? I hear it’s hard work. I’m doing all this to avoid hard work. You have nothing; my grandfather’s bloodwork was perfect. You saw a grandson going up to get one last glimpse of his beloved granddad’s bedroom, and that’s it. I was grieving, Fran. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
He slipped into a different voice for those last few lines, serious and grave. Like Marta might act, if she were a man. Though, this would all be a lot harder if that were the case, so thank God for small mercies.
“All I want is to live in my house, with my wife and a housekeeper who doesn’t try to kill me in my sleep. I think we can both agree on that.”
“I don’t - you killed him. I know you did!”
“Wrong,” Ransom said. “And if you go to the cops, they’ll tell you you’re wrong, too. The only thing left for you to do is decide how badly you’d like to live past next Wednesday.”
“What - what happens next Wednesday?”
“Christ, Fran, it was an arbitrary date. My point is if you go running to the cops with this, I’ll fucking kill you, do you understand me?”
“I…I quit. Find another housekeeper.”
“Fine. Put the candlestick down and get the fuck out. The side door only locks from the inside, by the way.”
Watching her scurry off was hilarious. Really, the only downside to all this was that if he got what he wanted, there’d be hardly anyone around to fuck with.
Except Marta. But how fun could it be to mess with someone who couldn’t even lie?
The answer: not at all.
For starters, she was twitchy as all fuck. He couldn’t even pour himself a glass of whiskey without her tensing up, her eyes tracking him all around the room. And then there was the fact that she was tracking him. Where he went, soon a sad set of do-gooder eyes would follow, haunting him like the ghost of Christmas fucking past. Trying to imagine a lifetime of this felt like putting a stick in his eye. Thank God they could separate soon.
They just had to settle the estate first.
“It will be a several-month-long process,” the lawyer told them three days after their wedding. “Given the controversy surrounding the terms of the will, I strongly recommend remaining in the country. In residence here, ideally.”
“We’ve actually been fighting a bunch lately, because Marta here thinks she might be a late in life lesbian,” Ransom said. “Well, medium in life lesbian. And you know, I don’t wanna insert myself where I’m not wanted. What if I moved back to my house?”
The lawyer - Johnson? Jenkins? Ransom had known the guy half his life, but the name had never stuck - frowned at him. “Mr. Drysdale, that would only demonstrate the illegitimacy of your marriage. My understanding is you intend to jointly claim the estate.”
Marta said, so quietly she was barely audible: “Yes.”
“Then my recommendation is to demonstrate to all and sundry that you are both very much in love. Are you not?”
“We don’t pay you to ask questions like that,” Ransom said. “Finish up your paperwork and get the hell out.”
After, Marta sat at Granddad’s desk and stared into space. “He thinks I’m in trouble.”
“That depends on you. Fran quit; she said she’s moving to Annapolis.”
That explained why he hadn’t seen her since their little run-in. She’d been serious. He never thought she had it in her. “Good. I never liked her.”
“She told me not to trust you.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That I don’t. That I never did.”
His hands itched for a knife. “Blowing our cover, Cabrera?”
“People get married for strange reasons all the time.” Marta’s gaze shifted, her eyes locking with his. For some reason it felt weird, like doing blow off a girl’s tits and realizing too late that some douchebag’s filming you. “Maybe I just couldn’t help myself. I was enamored of you. You’re so attractive, and you saved me from your family.”
And damned if that didn’t send a shot of something down his throat, thick and disgusting. He wanted to bend her over his grandfather’s desk and make her scream. “You’re forgetting that you can’t lie.”
“And you’re forgetting that I can edit the truth.”
Miracle of miracles, she left him then, and for the first time in almost a week he was alone in a room that wasn’t his bedroom. What did ‘edit the truth’ even mean? Give the help too much spare time, and they came up with all kinds of weird shit.
He’d fuck her in an instant, though.
She was sitting on the west balcony off the second floor, and she didn’t see him. If she did, she’d have put on another layer - or a bra - or crossed her arms so he couldn’t see the way her thin t-shirt draped over her nipples. If she’d seen him watching, her shoulders wouldn’t be relaxed - she wouldn’t be smiling a little at whatever it was she was reading. She’d be defensive. Scared. Her eyes would glaze over a little - she’d bite her lip as she backed away -
In the observatory, he pressed a hand against his dick. Christ.
Everything would be so much simpler if she’d just overlook how they’d gotten here. No harm, no foul; they could have an open marriage, he could have the money he deserved, and she could go off and fuck a whole women’s studies class, for all he cared. And first, he’d get to fuck her - bend her over, make her beg for his dick, feed it to her inch by inch until she sobbed.
He jerked off right there, staring at her through the window. She never saw him. He came imagining holding her over the edge of the balcony, tears in her eyes, offering to blow him if he’d save her life.
His fucking family just didn’t know when to quit.
Dad showed up first. Threatening Marta’s mom, very creative. The woman barely even came out of the room Marta’d given her; ungrateful or just a shut-in, Ransom wasn’t sure. But either way, she wasn’t underfoot at all, and she’d produced one of the nicest sets of tits Ransom had seen in awhile. As far as he was concerned, she was a fine lady.
“Let it go, Dad,” he said. Marta, who hadn’t realized he’d slipped into the room, whirled around, eyes going wide with shock.
Oh, right. In the eyes of the law, they were devoted spouses. How cute. “Hey there, sweetheart,” he said. He walked over to her, slowly, giving her plenty of time to panic. He curled his hand behind her head, feeling her soft hair and racing pulse. Slowly, slowly, he bent down and kissed her.
Wet. Dirty. Making sure it was an angle Dad could fully appreciate.
She didn’t push him away, but she didn’t exactly kiss back, either. After a few seconds he had to pull back, already too turned on for his own good. “If you deport Marta’s mom, we’ll just get her back. C’mon, you know I know how this works. Your second mistress was from, what, Serbia?”
“Belarus,” Dad said through gritted teeth.
“How much do you think Mom would get if I sent her proof of the first three? All of it, probably, right? Leaving you with - hey, what was your net worth when you guys got married, anyway?”
“Fuck off, Ransom.”
“You first, Dad. You’re in my house.”
“Our house,” Marta said.
The adorable delusion in her voice sent a little bolt of interest through him. “Right, how could I have forgotten. Get the fuck out of our house, Dad.”
“What the fuck kind of game do you think you’re playing, Ransom?”
“In about two hours, strip poker. Why, you want to join in?”
“We did not raise you to be this disgusting, this entitled, this -”
“You barely raised me, you and Ma both. Thanks for your contribution. Now leave me and my lovely wife alone.”
He looked between them, his darting gaze reminding Ransom of the dog he’d briefly had in college. He’d chained it up and it had begged for food, gotten more and more scared. Ransom had loved it - loved having something totally dependent on him. But then it got too pathetic, so he let it go. For all he knew it’d been hit by a car back in ’02.
It’d be so funny to hit Dad with a car. “Richard, what did I just tell you?”
Still the darting gaze.
“Leave us, please,” Marta said. So quietly you almost didn’t hear that she really meant it. “I do have a panic button; I’ll use it if I need to. I would prefer not to. If you’re in need of an allowance, please email the estate accountant. He’ll confer with me about it.”
Holy shit, that was cold. And perfect; Dad’s face fucking fossilized, faced with the nurse who’d stolen his family’s fortune. “This won’t be the last you hear from me.”
“Marta’s mom will be a citizen by the time you manage to pry all ten fingers out of your ass,” Ransom said. “Get the fuck out.”
It was so satisfying when Dad did what they told him to. Almost as good as coming on a girl’s back; almost as good as how scared Marta had looked when she’d said ‘I do’.
She thought she might go really crazy soon, if she couldn’t get some sleep.
The problem was that she knew he was watching her. She thought he might not quite understand her; he related to the world in terms of hierarchies, who controlled who and who’d gotten one up over the other. Harlan had told her about that world - the brutality, the petty cruelty of it all. At the time she hadn’t understood; it seemed like, if you had a family and so much money you’d never need to work again, that you’d be happy no matter what. But watching the Thrombeys go after one another - well. She understood avarice a lot better now.
That wasn’t quite what she saw when Ransom watched her. He was trying to figure out her play, she thought; he suspected some kind of trick. It wasn’t like he had any allies in the house, either. Everyone hated him. Alice was at school most of the time, so it was just Marta and Mama and the house’s employees. The help, he’d called them. He was such a snob.
A snob! He was a murderer. Now wasn’t the time to be focusing on his personality. But -
But he watched her. And if he didn’t plan to kill her, which she wasn’t so sure about, then there had to be some other reason. He didn’t like her, didn’t trust her, didn’t understand her. And that, she suspected, was why he watched her.
Meanwhile, she had to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. It wasn’t going so well.
“You should go back to school,” Mama told her during breakfast one day. “I always thought I’d have to wait for grandkids to have a PhD in the family, but look! Now you have plenty of time.”
“I don’t know. There’s so much paperwork to be done. It’ll be months before I can think about school.”
Mama patted her hand. “Just don’t go having babies before you’re sure.”
“There is absolutely no chance of that.” She hadn’t told Mama that she’d married Ransom; there was no need to, and saying the words without vomiting would have been nearly impossible. But no babies, she could promise that.
He was annoying, too. He didn’t have a job, of course, and there really wasn’t much to do this far away from Boston. He spent most of his time gambling online, or stomping around the house, making shitty comments whenever he and Marta happened to be in the same room. It kind of reminded her of college, when she’d had to do study groups with people she largely hated. Only, she hadn’t been married to any of them, and they hadn’t been quite so focused on her.
Focused. She wished she knew what he wanted. There was no chance she’d give it to him, of course, but if she knew - if she understood - then maybe at least they’d be able to negotiate a truce.
Benoit Blanc surprised her on the house grounds, out past the trail that linked up with the driveway, by the duck pond that Harlan had always meant to get out to again.
He hadn’t left the house much, in those last weeks.
“Marta. Good day.”
“Mr. Blanc. Is there another case already? You’re -” Here. Investigating. Nosy.
“Trespassing, I imagine, though I have forgotten the details of the surveying maps in the weeks since the case has closed. Did Harlan Thrombey kill himself?”
Marta’s heart squeezed. “The police report says he did.”
“I did not inquire as to the police’s findings. I inquired as to what your heart tells you. I know you did not kill Harlan Thrombey, Marta. But I am very worried you find yourself in the care of one who did.”
“Marta! Marta, babe, there you are.” And Marta found herself dipped horizontal to the ground -
Cruel fingers digging into her back -
Ransom kissing her, hot breath, wet lips. Teeth.
“I missed you,” he said, smiling at her and looking deep in her eyes.
She felt chilled to the bone. “I…didn’t see you this morning.”
“Nah, I was out running some errands. Mr. Blanc, why don’t you come back to the house? I’ve got a pot of coffee with your name on it.”
Here it was. She’d almost forgotten. He could be so charming, sound so sincere. But it was a trap. “Oh, but I’m sure Mr. Blanc has better things to do, doesn’t he?”
“I most certainly do not. Thank you for the invitation.” Blanc glanced at Marta then, inexplicably, his expression urgent. “Let’s go back to the house.”
Ransom poured them both coffee in the library, still playing the perfect host. Marta couldn’t hold her mug; her hands were shaking too much. Mr. Blanc noticed that, too. Ransom had scarcely put the pot back on the warmer before he said, “Marta, I do have one more question to you, pertaining to your own well-being. I must insist that you answer it, lest the complex tangled yarn of this tale become a felted blanket laying over the coffin of my reputational integrity.”
“Oh, come on,” Ransom said.
“Did Ransom Dysdale kill Harlan Thrombey?”
Marta almost dropped her mug, and behind Mr. Blanc, Ransom drew a knife from his grandfather’s desk.
Oh, God. God. She took a deep breath. “Detective, Harlan killed himself.”
Ransom watched her. His eyes were so blue.
“Marta, when I first saw you, I saw a good person, a nurse in trouble. I have seen so many nurses in trouble in my time. Do you know why?”
She strongly suspected this story was allegorical. But. “Why?”
“The people who kill, the people who abuse, the people who hurt other people, are those in power. Nurses do not have power, Marta. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was a work of fiction. I would not rule out a murderous nurse, but in my extensive experience, they simply are not that common.”
Her heart clenched, thinking of Harlan begging her to cover up her crime. Thinking of Ransom casually telling her that Harlan hadn’t had to die at all. “I. Mr. Blanc - Ransom and I are married. Harlan killed himself. I’m not - we’re trying to move on, we really are. Both of us.”
He didn’t believe her. It was very obvious; he searched her eyes, and watched her hands shake, and looked so heartbreakingly concerned. But she’d made up her mind. She wasn’t going to give this up: not the estate, not Harlan’s wishes, not Mama’s safety. She would see this through to the hopefully-not-bloody end, and Mr. Blanc could dig all he wanted. Her determination wouldn’t change.
“I see,” he said. He couldn’t possibly. “Then I would still love your assistance on my next case, if and when it should come to pass. Thank you for the coffee.” He turned just a little, so that his hand would be in Ransom’s line of sight, and took a sip.
Ransom put the knife down. “Cream and sugar, anyone?”
Marta let out a breath, long and slow, and smiled at her husband. “Me, please.”
On Wednesday nights, she and Mama and Alice watched a few of Mama’s novelas in the den towards the back of the house. It was one of the only rooms Marta had let anyone change so far; Alice had bought a more comfortable couch, and Mama had furnished it with extra blankets and nice, soft lighting. It was a great home theater. Every single object in it was fancier than anything they’d had back at the apartment, but none of that really mattered; to Marta, the best part was simply sitting with her family.
The Wednesday after Mr. Blanc stopped by, she turned to get her glass of water from the side table and saw Ransom watching them from the doorway.
Mama and Alice, focused on the TV, didn’t see him. But she was certain he would have left if they had. He was watching them with that look on his face again: avarice, Marta had thought, and it fit here. There was something he wanted, and he was already angry he didn’t have it.
He looked from her family to her. Something hit her then, a twist in her chest. He was hateful; he was a murderer. But they’d tied their lives together all the same, and she wanted to know what he was thinking just then.
Of course, he only mockingly saluted her - two fingers, way more flamboyantly than they even allowed in ROTC - and left.
Mama was out shopping and Alice was at school when Gary from Netflix showed up.
He was a short white man, balding, with an expression that reminded Marta of the guy who’d stopped by the other day and tried to sell her stakes in a timeshare ‘ranch-slash-baking-empire’. He said, “Marta Cabrera, nice to meet you,” and then tried to muscle his way into the house.
And he succeeded, damn it, because Marta was too surprised to stop him. He walked all the way into Harlan’s office and sat down in front of the desk, motioning expansively for her to sit. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of you. My contact with BLW told me you’d be more, hm, willing to work with us, than poor old Harlan was.”
She looked around, trying to be discreet. She couldn’t decide if she wanted Ransom here or not, but not knowing where he was only made her more tense. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“You can call me Gary. I’m VP of Acquisitions down at the big N.”
“Netflix,” he said, smarmy smile not even budging.
“Digital age, huh? You assholes move fast. It took Paramount months just to send a letter of interest, back in the day.”
Ransom had come in from the back way, because of course he had. At least Marta was getting better at not reacting when she heard him behind her. “Ransom. Ah, honey, it’s good to see you.” Not a lie. “Gary from Netflix apparently was told I’d be here.”
“So I heard. By your contact, right? You really should stop listening to Walt, Gary. It’s not gonna get you anything but a demotion.”
“Walt can be a tough customer, but he’s got some good information. He knew Harlan would never go for a series. He knew little Marta here would try to carry out Harlan’s wishes. And he knew something wasn’t quite…right…with the two of you.” Gary smiled, bland, and the bottom fell out of Marta’s stomach.
“Oh, wow, what a surprise. Stop beating around the bush. You’re here to extort us, are you?”
“Walt has confidence that the fraudulent nature of Ms. Cabrera’s claim to the Thrombey fortune will soon be put to rest, as well as your fraudulent claim to Ms. Cabreba’s - well.”
Marta was so tired of people telling her things that made her panic - and yet, that didn’t actually stop the panic. It churned in her chest even as she said, “Gary, right now I have the rights to the books, and my first priority is what Harlan wanted. The rights will stay in my care unless a court decides otherwise. I’m sorry Walt put you through the trouble of coming out here, but that’s just how it is.”
“Ms. Cabrera, be serious. You can’t possibly imagine the Thrombeys - a famous, well-regarded Massachusetts family - will permit a maid to guide the creative and business direction of Blood Like Wine Publishing. I’m offering you an in on a very lucrative partnership. You really ought to take it.”
“Nurse,” Ransom said from his spot standing behind Marta’s chair.
Gary blinked up at him. “Excuse me?”
“She’s a nurse, not a maid, and you’re a piece of shit. You want to threaten us, do it like the rest of my family: go through a lawyer.”
Marta couldn’t believe she agreed with him. And yet: “My husband’s right. Here, I have her card.” She passed him one of her lawyer’s business cards. “You can email her any time.”
“She’ll tell you to eat your own dick on a French nudist beach. But you can email her.”
Marta flushed, but she wasn’t, for once, ashamed or afraid. Ransom was backing her up; they were both right about this. He might have killed his grandfather, but he didn’t want to sell out what Harlan had wanted for his books.
God. That was insane to think. But -
Gary fumbled with the business card. Ransom said, “Let me escort you out.”
“I’ll come too,” Marta said.
It was insane to think he was on her side in this, really, beyond ulterior motives and secret threats. But maybe he was, in a strange way. He held Gary in a bruising grip the whole way. When Gary made eye contact with Marta and said, “I’ll be seeing you soon, Ms. Cabrera,” he said, “It’s Mrs.,” and slammed the door in Gary’s face.
Then he glanced at Marta and said, “Oh, sorry, did you want to say something to him?” and opened the door back up.
Marta really hadn’t. But she said, “Please just leave us alone. We’re grieving. And I don’t have a Netflix account.”
Slam. Ransom shut the door again, with his shoulder this time.
They stood there, staring at each other and breathing a little too hard, until they heard the tell-tale crunch of shoes on gravel, and a car starting up. Then Ransom said, “He didn’t believe us. We gotta start sleeping together.”
For the third or fourth time that day, the bottom fell out of her stomach. “What?”
Okay, yeah, he said it that way on purpose.
He liked the way her eyes, always so enormous and do-gooder-y, widened when he said something that freaked her out. He liked the way she took a step back, then stopped, like she knew he’d follow her if she ran away. And he loved the way she swallowed hard, those big eyes darting up and down his body like she was thinking about it.
Like she wanted it.
“Think about it. Some arbiter comes in here, a lawyer or a PI - whoever, they go upstairs, they see me in Harlan’s room, you in a guest room, and your mother and sister just down the hall. What would you think from that arrangement?”
Marta broke his gaze, staring at the wall. She said, in a strange wooden tone, “That the marriage was fake.”
“I don’t snore, and you can’t lie. We’re out of options.”
“I’m not going to have sex with you just to secure money. I won’t. I’ll fix this some other way, I’ll - Mama and I can -”
“Who said anything about having sex? I just meant we need to share a room. What do you think arbiters do, Marta? They’re not going to be staying the night.”
And then something interesting happened. Marta’s eyes widened again, her nostrils flaring. She looked scared, which was as delicious as it ever was, but she also looked pissed the fuck off.
Watching her, Ransom wanted to reach out and touch her - push her against the door, fuck her till she looked at him all trusting again, like she had been back in the diner. He’d jerked off so many times thinking about that: her hands around her bowl of incriminating beans, her focus totally on him. Dependent. Needy.
But hey, this was good too. She pointed at him, rage obvious down the line of her body. “You wanted me to think that. You’re enjoying this.”
“Marriage to a beautiful woman? Who wouldn’t?”
“You -” She hissed in a breath, crossing her arms and looking away. He took it in: the wisps of her hair touching her collarbones. Her tits, pushed up by her arms. Her lips, her cheeks, all flushed like she’d just been running.
“Yeah, me. Come on, it was a little fun, wasn’t it? Kicking him out together.” He pushed himself up from the door, walking towards her. She, predictable as she was good-hearted, backed up until her shoulders hit the solid walnut picture rail. He braced his hands over her, boxing her in. “We work well together. I bet sharing a room is going to go perfect. Just like sleepover camp.”
Still the anger burned in her eyes. “I’m not an entitled trust fund baby, Ransom. I didn’t go to camp. Speaking of: how much is left in your trust fund?”
It was doing great, bull market and all. But - “Why do you care?”
“You mixed up your laws.” She took a deep breath. He watched her move, squaring her shoulders. “In California, you’d get half. Here, it’s dependent on evidence that the estate is truly shared. I never gave you access to Harlan’s accounts. You’ve been drawing on your trust fund for everything - the gambling, the porn, the clothes. So a judge wouldn’t give you Harlan’s estate.” She lifted a hand and put it flat on his chest, right where his shoulder met his clavicle. Her fingertips brushed the vein you might inject a sedative into. “I know that if I divorce you, you’ll make trouble for me. But you should reconsider how you’re acting, because I’ll make trouble for you, too.”
His heart was pounding and he was so hard that he couldn’t think for a second. She used that time to slip out from under him. He thought she’d run for the stairs, maybe go cry on Mommy’s shoulder. Instead she just looked at him, wrapped in one of her enormous sweaters.
“I’ll ask Lisa to move my stuff to the master bedroom,” she said, and went back into Granddad’s office, closing the door behind her.
It took him three goddamn hours to remember that Lisa was their new housekeeper.
She was right, though. He’d been spending his money, and all on useless shit. So the next day he made sure he had the family card and he took himself on a little field trip.
Boston had all kinds of shit for every variety of rich pervert, and even some rich normal people. He picked up a sweater that his personal shopper had shown him a few weeks ago. He picked up another scarf, and some linen slacks for the inevitable lawyer-on-lawyer meltdowns that were in their future. And then he stopped by a jeweler for a watch, figuring he might as well go all-in on the rich patriarch look.
The sales girl was cute, and kudos to her, she kept acting like she might suck his dick even after he told her he was there because his wife said he needed a watch. (Imagining Marta saying that was a whole other joke.) He dropped eleven grand on a watch and then, on his way out, another eight grand on a bracelet. Chicks loved jewelry, that had to be true for nurses, too.
Boston being what it was, he also stopped for a beer, then another, and then he ended up wandering around the Harbor for awhile. There was a place there that sold outdoorsy shit; he thought of Marta, shivering pathetically in her polyester Old Navy sweater, and picked up shit that would look like she actually belonged in Granddad’s house: a tailored windbreaking coat, some hiking boots, and a thick cashmere turtleneck. Then, to keep her family from looking like they had more in common with the help than Joni the grifting golddigger, he bought shit for her mom and sister, too.
Good. Done. He drove back home having dropped five figures on the estate’s bill and feeling fucking great about it.
He dropped the clothes and shit on Marta’s dresser and then went into the master bathroom, locking the door. Lisa had already moved Marta’s stuff in, though he suspected she’d rather sleep on a bare mattress than share a bed with Ransom. Oh well. He pulled up porn on his phone and came to the image of a brunet babysitter bouncing on some old geezer’s cock.
When he came back out into the bedroom, Marta was sitting on the bed, holding the bracelet and looking dazed. “What, you don’t like emeralds?”
“What is this?”
“Spending money to make sure you can’t stab me in the back. Don’t look into it too much.”
“I can’t wear an emerald bracelet while I work.”
Jesus, this again. “You don’t have to work anymore, c’mon, I know you know this.”
“These aren’t all my size.”
“You need to start buying shit for your mother and sister, or someone’s going to ask your sister to clean the guest toilet.”
He watched her flinch, absorbing the insult. It was kind of cute, actually. Reminded him of old times, when Granddad was still alive and Dad was sucking Trump’s dick and making Marta play along. “Fine. Thank you for the expensive gifts, which you didn’t buy for any nice reasons.”
“Got it in one.” Something occurred to him. “Hey, Meg’s going to start texting you soon, if she hasn’t already.” Marta’s gaze slid away from him. So she had been. “Tell her to fuck off.”
“I need to pay for her school.”
“We aren’t paying for shit, at least not right away. You’re the head of this family now, lucky you, so here are some ground rules.” He sat down on the bed, watching her stiffen and prepare to run away. So fucking cute. “Meg’s a piece of shit just like the rest of them. She was nice to you because she’s the kind of college bisexual gender rights major who fucks all her friends, but by the time she’s twenty-five she’ll be married to an investment banker and spending all her time on one of Joni’s pyramid schemes. She stabbed you in the back and you don’t owe her shit, so we’re gonna let her cook for a semester. See what she comes up with in the meantime. My guess is Joni has more than she’s admitting to.”
“You’re being incredibly unkind about them.”
“Tell me I’m wrong, then.”
“I’m -” Marta bit her lip. He watched her think it over. Sure, he was a dick - well, he didn’t really care, about her or any of his family. ‘Dick’ might not cut it. But whatever he was, she was empathetic and kind, but she wasn’t stupid. Which meant she knew he was right. “I’m just not sure that kind of control is the best way to handle it,” she said finally.
“Granddad let Joni double dip for years, and look what that got him.” He drew a finger across his throat.
“Ransom. You killed Harlan.”
“Sure, but if I hadn’t, someone else would’ve. Ask Blanc if you don’t believe me. He knows what happens when the chips are down.”
“I’m going to think about it,” Marta said, slowly. “I’ll make a decision based on what I think is best. I expect you to respect my judgment.”
It was exactly the kind of high-handed shit Granddad used to pull, and for a second Ransom wanted to treat her the same way he’d treated him and shout, stomp out, slam a few doors. But Marta was, thank god, a beautiful girl and not a crusty old asshole. And after turning it over in his mind, he realized that for whatever reason, he didn’t actually want to tell her to go fuck herself.
Ransom’s only real goal was getting what he wanted. So he shrugged and said, “Sure, whatever.”
They sat in silence for exactly as long as it took for it to get weird, for her to get nervous. Then he said, “Great, okay. I’m going for a walk. I’ll see you later.”
It was the most he’d ever communicated to her about his plans, and he saw her surprise in the twisting of her fingers, those big blinking eyes. She wasn’t hot, exactly - nah, okay, she was hot. But that wasn’t what was happening here. She was cute.
He desperately needed to hook up with someone. Marriage was a fucking nightmare. “Hey, I got you a gift, now you should get me one. Go to Victoria’s Secret, buy something cheap and slutty.” He threw her a wink and left, her now-appalled expression burning a hole in his back on the way out.
She wore the bracelet to dinner that night, to demonstrate that she wasn’t intimidated by whatever game he thought he was playing.
Mama and Alice were both surprised by and suspicious of the clothes, which Marta had expected. They were also both busy that night, so dinner was only her and Ransom, sitting across from one another at the smaller table on the far end of the enormous dining room. “Next time you should tell them to set it up old-school,” Ransom said. “Two people who hate each other, on opposite ends of a twenty foot long trestle table. Brings back memories.”
“I don’t -” Hate you, she almost said, but it wasn’t true. Was it?
He saw her hesitation and laughed. “God, no wonder Harlan left you the money. You’re the softest touch in the world.”
“I try not to hate anyone,” she said, keeping her focus on her meal. He let it drop after that; they ate in silence, him watching her the whole time, like one of the dogs watched a steak.
She spent the night reading. She spent too much of the night reading, in fact. It was midnight before she admitted to herself that she was trying to put off going upstairs, to the master bedroom, where she’d had to help Harlan from time to time. His ghost wasn’t strongest there, but it still felt viscerally wrong to be sharing the space with his killer.
His killer. Ransom. Ransom, whose bed she’d be sharing.
She thought she might be crazy for even thinking about it; surely with the proximity, it would be that much easier to smother her and claim the full fortune. Or rape her, or hurt her in some other way Marta hadn’t yet anticipated.
But at the same time, another hesitation whispered to her. He had physical access to her all day, and he hadn’t hurt her yet. He seemed to enjoy pretending to be a team, a family. It made her wonder just how messed-up his childhood had really been, but at the same time - if she thought about her physical safety, was she safe with Ransom? Maybe. At least until he decided she was inconvenient, and then she wouldn’t be safe from him no matter where he was.
She thought about how she’d thrown the divorce thing back in his face. It might not even be true; she’d done some reading, but she hadn’t asked her lawyer about it yet. But he had flinched back like he believed her. And he’d seemed, well.
Interested. Eyes hot, following her as she moved. The same way he looked most of the time, honestly, except this time he looked like that because Marta had surprised him, given him an order. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. She wanted, desperately, to think of anything else. And she was still sitting in the library, staring at page 197 of The Sum of Our Days and turning over redundant thoughts in her mind.
This was ridiculous. She had to sleep, no matter what else happened. She closed her book and left it on the side table, going upstairs.
Ransom was sitting in the enormous bed, legs tucked under the duvet like any normal person’s might be, fucking around with his phone. He barely glanced up when she entered. “I was wondering if you’d sleep in the guest room.”
“Lisa’s already stripped the linens.”
“Nah, I imagined you lying on the bare mattress. You know, like a sex trafficking victim. It was funny.” He looked up, met her gaze. She felt it like a physical blow. “Planning on coming to bed?”
She went to the bathroom and put on her pajamas, then climbed into bed. He was wearing sleep pants, something she hadn’t thought to verify until she was under there with him. He put his phone down and turned off the side table lamp.
Something heavy dropped onto the duvet on top of her: the knife.
“You know, if you want to stab me, you gotta keep closer track of your shit.”
“It was insurance.”
“Shitty insurance, then. I could smother you before you had a chance to try to stab me.” He rolled over, his back facing her, and appeared to fall right asleep.
Her heart raced so fast she thought it must be audible. She put the knife on the edge of the bed still within reach, but the logic of Ransom’s statement was basically inescapable. He was right; she had no real chance against him.
Damn it. Damn it.
Eventually she fell asleep. She woke to sunlight streaming through the curtains; she was lying on her side, hiding from the light behind the pillow she clutched, taller than her and an excellent shield.
The pillow. The person. Ransom, her mind supplied just ahead of the adrenalin rush of pure panic. She was lying on her side, curled around Ransom, spooning him close, her legs firmly against his, her face pressed into his back.
“Morning,” Ransom said, with the clear and smug tone of someone who’d been awake for awhile.
“I - good morning.” She started to pull away.
The warmth she’d only just started registering on her wrist tightened. It was his hand; he held her to him. “I thought you working class types were supposed to be early-to-rise. You’ve been drooling on my shoulder for the better part of an hour.”
“I’m tired.” Generally speaking. Though right then, she felt well-rested, her body still trying to be relaxed even as her mind raced.
“I don’t see why. You don’t even have to work anymore.”
“I’m sleeping down the hall from the man who killed my employer.”
“Well, right now you’re cuddling him.”
Yes, and the cognitive dissonance was going to drive her crazy. “The point is, it hasn’t been a restful time.”
“Why? It’s not like I’m going to kill you.”
“You threatened to.”
Abruptly, the whole conversation was too much to deal with. She pulled away, slipping a terror-sweaty hand out of his grip, and went to get dressed.
Of course, that just made him sit up, the picture of indignation, wearing a shirt so tight she could see his nipples. “Marta, come on. I’m not going to kill you. How do you think that would look to my family’s lawyers?”
“That’s a bad reason not to do something!”
“So you want me to try to kill you?”
She bunched her hand in her shirt. “Of course not! I want to feel safe in my own home.”
“Fine, I won’t try to kill you.”
“Or my family.”
“Or your family.” He crossed his arms, his gaze lingering, as usual, on her chest. “I told you, what I want is my money. You’re the rightful heir, so what I want is you. Nothing else needs to come into this. I’m not Ted Bundy, okay?”
It was a ridiculous thing to say, especially with his sincere facade on, all blue eyes and earnestness. He was even looking at her face now, instead of her breasts. She shook her head. “Fine. I’m glad we discussed that. I’ll be out today.”
She expected him to press her for details, with how much he watched her. But he didn’t say anything. He shrugged and went back to his phone, looking relaxed as could be, for all the world like he had no plans to kill anyone else at all.
It couldn’t be true. He might not be Ted Bundy, but he wasn’t a normal person; Marta was in danger every second that this charade continued.
She got her stuff together and left. It wasn’t until she was halfway to the park that she realized she still wore the emerald bracelet he’d given her the night before.
She kept it on. They were doing this to fool investigators the Thrombeys would hire. A bracelet was a good way to do that; it said she liked his gifts, wanted to stay close to him.
And it was beautiful. Acknowledging that made her hate him just a little bit more, but it was still true. He either had good taste or had hired someone to have good taste for him.
If she thought of him whenever she saw it or felt it move against her skin, well. It only reaffirmed her commitment. Harlan had wanted her to carry out his wishes, and she wanted to do the best for her family. She wasn’t going to back down.
As soon as she left, he let himself throw the duvet off and get his hand on his cock.
Finally. Finally. She’d been sleeping so fucking peacefully, more relaxed against his back than he thought she’d ever been in his presence. His first thought when he’d woken up had been that the position was humiliating, but that was erased pretty quickly by her warm hand on his chest, her tits against his back, her legs curled around his ass. She was so much smaller; he could have easily broken her wrist. But he didn’t want to. What he wanted was to guide her hand down until she could touch him. He wanted to wake her up by slipping inside her.
At first that was what he imagined, their bedroom door locked, Marta long gone for the day. The radiators hissed, the sun shone over the bed, and he thought about fucking her, splitting her open, making her beg him to fuck her harder. Porn star shit. But then he thought again about her curled around him -
About standing behind her in the study. About her hand on his chest. And as he rubbed his thumb over his cock, as he played with his balls and spread his legs just a bit wider, he thought about other stuff, too.
Her hand in his hair, riding his face. Her fingers digging into his ass as he fucked her, slow, exactly how she wanted. Her sitting on his Granddad’s desk, holding a checkbook, giving him a little more of the family fortune every time he made her come.
Going down on his knees in the library, in the kitchen, in the fucking hallway. Doing it where his family could see. She’d pet his hair and gasp and moan, and he’d hold onto her thighs while she just rode him until she came.
What if she walked in right now and saw him jerking off? What if she knew it was because of her - what would she say? What would she do?
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. This shit was more degrading and kinky than a Harvard frat hazing, and he didn’t give a fuck. Let anyone say they wouldn’t let Marta dig a high heel into them. They were fucking liars.
He came like that, picturing Marta standing in the doorway, looking at him coldly, calling him a terrible person. When he finished, he wiped his hand on her side of the bed, perverse enjoyment filling him even though hew knew the maid would switch out the bedding.
It didn’t mean anything, but hey: it was a good way to waste a morning.
“Who do you think will come here first? My money’s on Joni, personally. She’s a whiny little bitch when she doesn’t get what she wants.”
Marta didn’t look up from her work. Harlan had left a lot of outstanding communication around his books. Still, despite her concentration, she couldn’t quite shake the image of Ransom’s uncle menacing her in the apartment hallway, how desperate and purely malevolent he’d looked. “Walt.”
Ransom, sitting on the couch in the far corner of the office, paused in tossing a tennis ball against the wall. “Seriously? When they were handing out balls, Walt got a pair of pom-poms.”
She didn’t turn around to look at him. She’d rather he not know how badly Walt had disturbed her. “He threatened me. He was kind of the first, actually. Meg tricked me, you know that, but Walt - threatened me. Before he knew we were married.”
“Ah. Not the first, then. The second.”
She blinked down at the page of translation agreements.
“I made you marry me, remember?”
Oh, God. “Right. Well, anyway, I think we’ll see him soon.”
“Actually, I was mostly just wondering what you’d say. He’s about to ring the doorbell.”
“Ransom!” She bolted upright. “Why isn’t - he hasn’t knocked?”
“Nah. He’s probably waiting for his balls to drop.” Ransom stood, straightening his clothes. In a way it was educational; he had a sense of appearance that Marta was only just learning to harness for herself. “Game plan?”
“It’s not like I know what to say to him. You did okay with Gary, so what’s the plan here?”
“I’m going to tell him no to whatever he wants and send him on his way.”
“Boring,” Ransom said, but he moved to stand behind Marta and didn’t complain any more.
Lisa showed Walt into the study a few minutes later. He looked between them, then said, “It’s funny; Gary warned me, but I still didn’t think I’d see this. Ransom, what are you doing?”
“Backing up my wife. What does it look like?”
And it wasn’t real, Marta knew it wasn’t real, but something about his tone made her repress a shiver. She said, “Walt, I’d appreciate it if you spoke directly to me. How are you?”
“Broke,” he said. “But then, you know that. Or at least, your overpriced lawyer does.”
“Did you receive the allowance? The accountants should have sent it out Friday.”
His mouth tightened. “It’s a fraction of what we’re entitled to, and you know it.”
“It’s what Harlan was sending you.”
His gaze met hers. He looked murderous, she thought, in a way she hadn’t really seen before. “Blood Like Wine is mine.”
“Harlan left it to me,” Marta said. “It’s mine, Walt, and I’m not giving it up.”
“What about when your sham marriage with my nephew falls apart? When he gives you herpes, or leaves you for a Sports Illustrated model? What about when your mother gets deported back to Belize? What about when your sister gets expelled for lewd behavior?”
“Alice is the most boring person on the planet,” Ransom said. “You need to come up with better threats.”
Walt’s watery eyes focused on Ransom, then went back to Marta. “I will take everything, Marta. There is an easier way.”
She didn’t shake or shiver. She didn’t turn to look to Ransom, or wait for him to speak. She only folded her hands and said, “I know, Walt.”
“You do? I mean - good.”
“There is an easier way. Accept what your father wanted. Let him have his last wishes. I promise I’ll take care of you and your family.”
For a moment he only stared at her, rage burning through his expression, lip curling. Then two things happened at once: Ransom laughed, and a strange man appeared in the doorway.
“I’m done,” the man said.
Still at her shoulder, Ransom said, “Oh, is this your P.I.? Hey Mr. Bean, did he tell you that you’re trespassing? We’ve got it all on camera. I’m sure the sheriff’s department would love to know some unlicensed asshole is sneaking around upstanding citizens’ country estates.”
Walt barked out a laugh. “Ransom, you’ve never been upstanding a day in your life.”
“Sure, but Marta sure as shit has. Hey, Marta, want to make Mr. Bean’s life miserable?”
“Not particularly,” Marta said. “But I will, if I have to.” She reached for her phone.
The P.I. shook his head. “Triple my retainer, and this arrangement is over,” he told Walt. He left them without a backward glance.
Marta had tried to be patient; she’d tried to be kind. She had always told Harlan that a more personal and kinder touch was needed with his children. She still believed that, but imagining some stranger poking around in her room, in Mama’s room, filled her with anger she’d only experienced a few times before.
Ironically, most of them Thrombey-related.
“Walt, have you ever been hungry?”
“Before dinner? Sure.”
“Have you ever worried about having enough to eat? Had to ask a friend to let you stay on their couch? What about clothes, have you ever had shoes you can’t walk in? When things were harder for my family, I wore shoes that didn’t fit for almost a year. Then Mama took me to Payless, and I cried because I thought she was forcing me to wear shoes that were too big. They weren’t; they just fit, and I’d forgotten what that felt like.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t want you to have those experiences. But I also want you to understand that it’s not a good idea to threaten me. Your allowance is suspended for one month. If this happens again, it will be two. If it happens a third time, I will permanently discontinue it. Do you understand?”
He didn’t even have the grace to look surprised. “This is Ransom, poisoning your mind. I know you, Marta. You’re like family to me. You’re a good girl. Do the right thing.”
“I am,” Marta said. “I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner, in fact. Goodbye, Walt.”
He smiled and stood. He looked between them, and then he said, “Watch your back, Marta,” and left.
Only when the door closed, when they were alone again, did Marta let her panic return. She slumped in her chair and did her best not to throw up. It took her long moments, much longer than it should have, to realize Ransom had finally moved from his spot behind her. His hand was on her shoulder, his face close to hers.
“Hey,” he said, almost gently, nearly tenderly. “That was pretty hot, don’t you think?”
Bad move. She bolted upright and was halfway across the room before he could follow up with a kiss. “Stay away from me.”
“A little impossible, given our situation.” He walked slowly, giving her a chance to run. Her eyes were bloodshot; her breath was coming too fast. She was panicking. She might even puke on him, but honestly, given how fucking hard he was just from watching her send Walt packing, he was kind of willing to risk it. “Marta. Marta, c’mon, I’m trying to pay you a compliment.”
“I really do not need compliments from a murderer,” she said.
She wouldn’t look at him. Too bad. He said, “Guess what I jacked off to this morning?”
“Nah. You, actually.” He looked at her. Wal-mart jeans, a sweater he hadn’t bought her. Cute little pins in her hair. “But I never thought I’d see something like that,” he said, and took another step forward, so that they were nearly touching.
“Please just stop,” she said. “I’m so tired.”
“But you’re not. You slept like a rock last night.”
She didn’t open her eyes. She looked cute just then, scrunched up, shaking her head. But it wasn’t really the vibe he was going for, so he dropped to his knees. “Marta.”
She looked horrified when she opened her eyes and saw him.
“This is the longest dry spell I’ve had since I was in high school. I don’t love it.” He reached up to hook a thumb into her belt loop. “We’re married, and I’m hard enough to hammer nails. Let me get you off.”
She looked at him, at the open door, at the windows with their curtains pulled wide open. He felt the flush of heat running through her, the way her hand trembled at her side. Fuck, he wanted to split her open. “Ransom -”
“Let me do this,” he said, in the nicest and most coaxing tone he knew. “Marta, babe, I can practically smell you. I’ll make us both feel fucking amazing. You really should let me.” He stroked the denim under his thumb, letting himself just touch the soft skin right above the waistband of her jeans.
“I can’t,” she whispered, a choked-out denial that sounded so fucking close to a yes. “You - no. No, I can’t.”
And before he could come up with another argument, she’d run off.
He couldn’t fix the Marta thing. Well, he jerked off in the downstairs half-bath, but that didn’t fix any issue except the most pressing one. Most of his other problems would have to wait.
Everyone always thought that to kill someone, you needed a master plan, sixteen alibis, and some new poison only Putin and Instagram influencers had even heard of. But that was the exact wrong way to do it. The closer people looked at a manner of death, the more clues popped up. You wanted a quick, easy death. People died every fucking day from all kinds of natural, non-murder causes. That was what Granddad has always refused to understand. Fine, if you were a world famous mystery writer it was kind of your job to come up with creative ways of killing someone. But it wasn’t realistic.
So that was why, after he’d jerked off and confirmed Marta was still having a panic attack upstairs, he drove to Walt’s three-story Victorian farmhouse and pushed him down the fucking stairs.
He hit the ground hard, cracking his head on the pretentious fucking wrought iron radiators he’d had installed to replace modern forced air. Blood flew everywhere. He howled once, his voice breaking, and then went silent, looking like a really shitty broken doll.
Ransom stared down at the body. There: that was the appropriate way for someone to look, after showing up and threatening Marta and cockblocking him. Great.
He whistled as he left, happy with his work.
The day after Walt came to threaten them, Marta decided it was time to get serious about doing things in her life again. She drove to the sliding scale clinic she’d volunteered at prior to working for Harlan.
The receptionist on duty, Katy, gasped to see her. “Marta! Oh my God, Marta, we read what happened in the papers, no one here believes you seduced Harlan Thrombey. You wouldn’t even go on a date with my cousin! But we heard you’re married now? Was it arranged? Was it a condition of inheritance? Tell me everything.”
“I - it was just serendipity,” Marta said. True. “It wasn’t a condition of the inheritance.” Also true. “Ransom’s an interesting guy - but I’m actually here to work.”
“Interesting is one word for a smoke show - but what, working? You’re still going to be a nurse?”
“Volunteer only,” Marta said, and offered Katy a smile. “I need something to do.”
“You are, seriously, a saint, and I hope your hottie husband is rewarding you for it. Also, we actually do need an early-mornings clinician. I could just assign you the end office, Mon/Weds/Fri mornings, if that works?”
It was more than she’d expected. She should have called ahead, really, but - well. She wasn’t exactly thinking straight lately. “That would be wonderful. Should I go now?”
“Girl, we’ve always got people to send. Go ahead. It’s great to see you back!”
They really did always have people. That morning, Marta gave sixteen flu vaccines, saw three cases of wound infections, and treated bronchitis, strep, and a kid dehydrated from his cold. She barely had a chance to sit down before 1PM, and after that she said bye to Katy and decided to drive home for lunch.
So she didn’t check the news. Her phone was on silent. If it hadn’t been, she’d have realized she had 32 missed calls, but as it was, she didn’t hear that Walt Thrombey had been found dead until she got home and Mama looked at her and said, “Please tell me we won’t have police here again.”
Her heart felt lodged in her throat. But she could reassure Mama that they wouldn’t, because the death was immediately ruled an accident. Walt had been drunk, apparently, and he had a history of erratic behavior. No one hired Benoit Blanc to investigate; no suspicions were raised by anyone except Jacob Thrombey, who left three voicemails on Marta’s phone threatening her and calling her slurs.
That night, as Marta brushed her teeth, Ransom appeared in the doorway and said, “If Jacob keeps bothering you, let me know.”
She spat out her toothpaste, rinsed her mouth. It had been so nice today to do her work, to help people. Being thrown back into the funhouse mirror environment of the Thrombeys was even worse in comparison. “Why, so you can kill him?”
As soon as she said it, she expected him to fight back. But he didn’t, not right away. He backed off so that she could leave the bathroom, watched her as she braided her hair for the night. Then he said, “The rest of them will fall into line if they think something bad might happen to them.”
She closed her eyes briefly, thinking of Harlan. He’d wanted so badly to connect with his family without being putative towards them, and he had failed completely. “There are other ways to manage your family.”
She felt, for a moment, furious: furious about the implication that violence was the only way to solve things, furious at his determination to think murder was justifiable, furious at the whole messed-up situation that had put her in charge of a fortune and married to someone who didn’t even have the most basic empathy. But she’d worked half the day and panicked the rest; she was tired. She got into bed and closed her eyes. “Of course there are,” she said, and lay there, tense and ready to run, until her body overruled her mind and she was able to fall asleep.
When he’d married Marta, standing there in the courthouse, plotting how to get part of the inheritance and move on with his fucking life, he’d anticipated plenty of problems. Blanc poking around some more, for one, with no way to fire him, since he’d hired him anonymously. Marta’s family being a pain in his ass. Marta thinking he really loved her and wanted to play house. Somehow, with all the different potential problems, he hadn’t thought of an obvious one: Marta being pissed at him and it actually mattering enough to make life kind of uncomfortable.
They had to share a room and check boxes that someone watching the house would be paying attention to, like sitting together on the balcony or taking walks down in the woods. They kept doing that, weather permitting, but Ransom found that a Marta who was pissed at him was even more uncomfortable than a Marta who was scared of him. So he started avoiding her, like a fucking coward, hanging out in the kitchen or down in the basement instead.
Which was how he realized that he’d been really successfully ignoring Marta’s family, because boy had they made themselves right at fucking home.
“That’s disgusting,” he told Marta’s mom when he saw her cutting a chicken into parts. “You should make the butcher do that. It’s what people like us pay people like them for, not that I’d expect you to understand that.”
She said something to him in Spanish. Well, Ransom thought it was Spanish. “English only over here, lady.”
“I know you don’t speak Spanish. I was calling you a useless asshole,” Marta’s mom said.
He laughed. He couldn’t help it. Fuck, Marta’d thought she was about to go to jail and even then she’d hesitated to tell him what she was really thinking. “So is Marta’s dad the one who was born without a spine? You’re not nearly as nice as your daughter.”
“Nice and no spine are different.” She finished snipping up the one chicken and started on the second. She had four birds; Ransom had no idea where she’d gotten them. “This chicken, for example, will taste great. However.” She snipped through its bone, strong decisive movements. “I’m removing its spine.”
He got the point when she looked at him. “Threatening me?”
“Marta’s a good girl. She wouldn’t marry a useless guero unless she loved him. Or unless he threatened us. Say, for an inheritance. I know how your people work.”
She really, really didn’t. But it was a good point, and half-true. Ransom shrugged. “What’s the chicken for?”
“It was on sale. It’s going to be soup. Go get me some freezer bags, they’re in the pantry, third shelf from the top.”
The pantry was full of shit he didn’t recognize, plus stuff he did and knew his family didn’t eat, like stacks of La Preferida dried beans. Christ. “Make yourself at home.”
“I have. For my daughter.”
“I was being sarcastic.” He offered her the bags.
She took them and snipped another bit of bird bone, decisively. Almost violently. “I know.”
No answers here, then, except that if he wanted to convince Marta to stop being such a pissy bitch, he definitely wouldn’t be able to start with her mom. Damn.
“Come on a date with me.”
Marta closed the projections spreadsheet and looked up at Ransom. “No.”
“Fuck’s sake. Look, I know you’re pissed at me, but -”
“I’m not pissed, Ransom. You killed someone, that’s not -”
“- people are still watching the house, they want proof that this is fake. My fucking blood-sucking relatives are going to take all your fucking money and all you gotta do to stop them is spend a couple hours eating steak with me, it wouldn’t be a hard decision if you weren’t such a stubborn little -”
“- something it’s easy to forget! Going out to dinner with you would only prove to anyone watching that we can’t stand each other. No.” Her hand was trembling on the computer mouse. She swallowed hard.
He looked at her, his usual unsettlingly impassive expression firmly in place. She could never quite tell what he was thinking, whether or not he was thinking about how to hurt her. “Marta.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “You really think you’ll be able to manipulate me like that again?”
“Worth a shot. Look - Marta, look.” He sat down across from her, shoulders bowed, clearly trying to look like a nice guy who was just trying his best. “I don’t want us to be enemies.”
“No? You have a funny way of showing it.”
“Sure. Well, you’ve been pissy at me since we got married.”
“You killed your own grandfather! My friend.”
“Your friend? He was your job.”
She shook her head. “I liked him. I listened to him. He gave me the estate because of it. Forget what you think that says about me for a second, okay? What do you think it says about your family?”
“Whatever. I just want to go out to dinner, okay? Please?”
He expected her to eventually say yes, she realized. For whatever reason, in his mind, she was the kind of person who didn’t tell him no. Funny, since she’d been telling him no plenty ever since this weird thing started.
“Tomorrow. I’m busy tonight - it’s Wednesday. And I get to pick the place, so cancel whatever plans you had to endear yourself to me.”
“Whatever you say, wifey.” He shot her a smug look and got up to leave.
He stopped in the doorway, the whole line of his body tense. She couldn’t help but think that this - thing - would be easier if he were less attractive. “Yes?”
“If you call me wifey again, I’ll cut your allowance in half.”
For some reason, that was what surprised him. He licked his lips and looked right at her, his interest visibly sharper. “Would you, now.”
“Yes.” It was the truth. She wouldn’t have been able to say it otherwise.
“Well, then. I’m looking forward to our date.”
It should have been impossible for him to give her a once-over, since she was sitting behind a giant desk and wearing one of her favorite, and bulkiest, sweaters. But he did, and he managed to look like he liked what he saw.
She didn’t get much done for the rest of the day. It was so frustrating, this distraction, the way he picked around the edge of her mind like a wasp interrupting a picnic.
At least she knew where she wanted to go. “Seriously?” Ransom said when she declined to be driven in his car.
“I like my car.”
“It can’t go over 70 miles per hour.”
“Well, we’re not going to be getting in a car chase, are we?” She pulled out of the driveway, not bothering to wait for his response.
“I figured you’d enjoy making me be your chauffeur.”
“I don’t get a rush out of having servants.”
“You hired a new housekeeper, though.”
She took the highway down to the water. “I did. Because otherwise there’s just too much house to keep up with, and I don’t want my mother trying to clean a bunch of old knick-knacks she didn’t even buy.”
“I walked in on her deboning some chickens. If you’re trying to make sure she doesn’t work, you’re failing.”
She thought there was a very good chance that he’d never understand the difference between constant, backbreaking work and the kind of day-to-day work that made life living. The work someone might choose to do. Harlan had worked until his last week of life; he’d always said there was so much of him in Ransom, but Ransom had never really worked at all. Marta’d had plenty of opportunities to observe the massive experiential gap that resulted. “I’m trying to make sure she has the freedom to choose. That’s all.”
“Yeah, whatever. So where are we going?”
“I figured we could get grinders and sit by the water.”
She could tell he was judging her just from the quality of his shitty little laugh. “Really. That’s your idea of a good enough date to get you to unclench about me taking care of Walt? Grinders in fucking Worcester?”
Taking care of Walt. God, could he even hear himself? But of course he could; he just didn’t care. “Yes.”
“You are really something else.” He didn’t make it sound like a good thing.
But they got their grinders. Marta took a big bite of hers while staring out at the water. She’d come here a lot when she was still training down at the hospital; it was a nice way to make her brain quiet down after being faced with dying patients, hopeless relatives, and everything else that made medicine such a hard job.
She felt nearly ashamed to be comparing that time to now. She was rich, with hardly any problems in comparison. She’d never want for a place to sleep or food to eat. And of course, the problem of her husband killing his uncle was that her husband was an asshole; it had nothing to do with the unknowable movement of the universe that made children get cancer or old women die alone.
Was this it? Was tying herself to Ransom in this way making her a terrible person already? She took another bite of her grinder and frowned at the water.
“I’m not going to apologize for Walt.”
Her first, insane impulse was to look around for a cop, or Mr. Blanc. But it was just her and Ransom. Well, and some old people, and some kids, and a rude goose. “I didn’t think you would.”
Somehow, he looked surprised at that. “Wait, you didn’t?”
“You killed your own grandfather. I know how dangerous you are.”
A chill shot down her spine as he laughed. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Marta.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Another bite of grinder.
“You look ridiculous with that thing.”
“Maybe I’m trying to look ridiculous.”
“Why, so I won’t want to fuck you anymore? You’d have to do a lot more than chow down on some substandard food for that.”
She hated him. Oh, she hated him. He reached out and jostled her arm, and it sent a horrible feeling of desire through her - and she hated him.
“I want to go do something,” she said. “Not at home. I want to go somewhere else.”
“Go,” Ransom said. He finished his grinder and threw the trash at a trash can. He missed; it fell on the ground. “Hey, good idea. Gimme the keys.”
She didn’t know why she did it. It was like she briefly lost control over her mind and spirit. But she stood and looked at the water, at the goose, at the sky, and then she gave Ransom her car keys.
“Seriously? Your house?”
“My house. Where else are we going to get a Go board? Don’t say the old man’s study - even I’m not that morbid.”
She crossed her arms and frowned at him. It was a good look for her, standing in the living room the way she was. Fish out of water, sparrow in a ballroom.
Well, she wasn’t as plain as a sparrow.
“I miss him. I wish you wouldn’t talk about him like that.”
“I miss him too.” He dumped out the stones. “But everyone has their time.”
He was being a dick. It was crazy, really; he knew he was being a dick, but he couldn’t make himself stop. He kind of thought she’d storm out - though he lived in a far-flung suburb, so it wasn’t like she’d have much of anywhere to go without her car, and he still had the keys in his pocket. But instead she sighed and settled on the chair across from his couch.
“Your furniture’s not very comfortable.”
“Well, I’m selling the place with its furnishings, so it won’t be a problem for very long.”
Somehow, that was what surprised her. “Really? I thought you loved this place.”
“I loved telling my family I loved this place. All the fucking windows and midcentury modern furniture, bought with Thrombey money.” He put a stone down and motioned to her to go. “They were always so pissed that I didn’t feel the need to apologize for it, or pretend I earned it.”
She barely seemed to even consider her move. “Why don’t you?”
Well, he didn’t have a conscience. He put a stone down. “I just don’t. Why don’t you feel guilty about inheriting his money?”
“I’m using it to take care of people who need it.”
His turn again. He held a stone in his hand, considering it. This conversation was almost as boring as his tasteful collection of Maine pottery. “When I pushed Walt down the stairs, his head split open like a melon.”
He was always so fucking aware of her. It drove him crazy, mostly, but right now he was glad for it, because it meant he noticed right away when she froze. “Ransom.”
“Why does it bother you? He was an asshole. You hated him.”
“You’re an asshole. He was -”
He watched her, hard as nails and three times as engaged with her as the game. Her hands fluttered like little birds; she shook her head, and her expression betrayed profound fear. “He threatened my mother. He always, his family always talked about people like us like we shouldn’t exist. He wasn’t just an asshole.”
“I’m not just an asshole either. I killed Harlan, remember?”
That made her meet his gaze. God, her eyes were huge. She always looked like such a nice girl. He wanted to wreck her. “I can’t ever forget.”
“I’m sorry I killed Walt,” he tried.
“Well.” He set his stone down. “I’m sorry I killed Walt without your permission, anyway.”
“I wouldn’t have given it.” She made her play. She was occupying quite the corner of the board. He set down a stone to try to block her; she moved and surrounded another of his, capturing it easily.
“I know. Worth a try, though.”
“Asking, or lying to me now?”
“Asking.” He made a decision, all at once. He was tired of this game: the literal game - she was kicking his ass - and the one between them, too. He swept all the stones off the board, knocking them to the ground.
For some reason, that made her jump, looking at him with those perfect eyes. “Ransom -”
“Tell me not to kill anyone else.”
“I don’t. You -”
“Marta.” He slid off the couch and to his knees. His floor was cold as fuck - he really should’ve listened to the realtor and bought some more carpets. Never mind. “Tell me. Not to kill anyone else.” He smiled up at her, reveling in the way it made her catch her breath. She was just as susceptible to him as he was to her - worse, even, he’d be willing to bet.
“Ransom.” A whisper, this time. He had her.
“Walt deserved it.” He moved towards her, put his hand on her knee. “You know it, I know it.”
“Plenty of people deserve it. You, for example.”
“Hot.” He wasn’t lying. “But you don’t want me to die. Did you want Walt to die?”
She screwed her eyes shut. A single tear pushed its way out of the corner of her eye. Her braid crown wasn’t quite as neat as it had been at the start of their date; she had a smudge of dirt on her corduroys. He thought of coming on her, of ripping her shirt, of biting her lips bright red. Fuck. “Marta. Answer the question.”
“No,” Marta said.
“I’m done answering your questions.” She opened her eyes, and he realized his mistake.
And almost came in his pants.
“You’re not going to kill anyone else,” she told him. She reached out, her fingertips biting into his neck. “I know you don’t want to hurt me. Or you want to do things to me other than hurting me, and those take precedent. I don’t care what your justification is. If you try to hurt anyone else -” Her nails bit into his skin, close to drawing blood. “I will stop you. No killing anyone, Ransom.”
This was all wrong, so wrong he felt the knife’s edge of panic in his chest, a sexier version of what he’d experienced when Marta had confessed to mixing up the drugs. But holy fuck, she was so warm, and she had to know what his goal was; he’d tried to do this before. She didn’t seem inclined to stop him this time. “You’re telling me I can’t do anything to anyone without you letting me.”
She understood it for the offer it was. He watched her swallow, visibly nervous. It sent something strange and warm running through him. “Yes.”
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad we agree I can do this, then.” He reached up and flicked the button of her pants open, tugging at her belt loops. From here, he wouldn’t be getting her naked unless she wanted to. Unless she helped.
“Oh, God,” she whispered.
“Call me Ransom,” he said, and waited for her eyeroll.
But this was Marta, not some chick he’d picked up at a bar. She gasped and shook her head, like hearing his name had slapped some sense back into her.
Please God, let that not be the case. “Marta,” he said, and tugged at her pants again.
She screwed her eyes shut. Her fingers pinched his skin, just the wrong side of uncomfortable. She said, “Oh, God,” again, and lifted her hips.
The funny thing was, he never did this kind of thing. Why bother? Some chicks liked it and some didn’t, but all of them either liked bouncing on his dick or would pretend to, would spread their legs and let him come in their pretty pussies if if meant he’d buy them something shiny afterwards. Marta, though -
Well. He’d already bought her something shiny, and today she wasn’t even wearing it.
He got her pants off, then her sensible Hanes Her Way underwear. Then it was just Marta, legs shaking, spread wide in front of him.
For a second he thought he’d gotten control back. That’s what he wanted; that’s why he was doing this, to make her stop being such a pain in the ass to live with. What better place to remind her of who he was than his own trust-fund-purchased house? But even as he stared at her, she finished stripping - and then he realized that he was sitting back on his heels, killing his joints on his floor, and she was sprawled naked in his Eames chair like some kind of conquering queen.
He’d have to call his realtor. He couldn’t sell a chair that smelled like sex.
“Ransom. Come here.”
He shuffled closer, leaned in. Put his head on her thigh. She smelled - well, like pussy and sweat, but it grabbed something deep in him anyway. He wanted this. Fuck, but he wanted this.
“You’ll do what I say. That’s what you said.”
She swallowed. He watched her beautiful eyes dart around: at the uncovered windows, at Ransom fully-clothed at her feet. For one more breathless moment, he found himself convinced she’d change her mind.
“Eat me out, then,” she said, and twisted a hand in the back of his sweater, shoving him forward.
He nearly fell. And that was part of it, the effort to catch himself - the way the floor ground against his knees, promising bruises tomorrow. What if he gave her something to hit him with? Fuck, that would be good.
“Whatever you say,” he said. He wrapped his hands around her thighs, pulling her forward. Her skin slid against the leather, slick already with sweat. He heard her sharp inhale when he kissed her thigh, when he ran his tongue over her.
He had no idea what he was doing, and it pissed him off. But: “Better tell me what you like, then. I’ve never gone down on the help before.”
The slap landed square on his right ear, and he laughed with the pain. “Again,” he said, but she apparently wasn’t in the listening mood; she grabbed his ear in a bruising grip and said, “Figure it out, Ransom, or you won’t get another cent of my money.”
Fuck. He reached down to adjust himself - and found himself staring at her fucking Keds braced on his wrist.
“You have to give me what I want before I let you do anything with that,” she said.
Fuck. “Whatever you say, princess,” he said, and leaned in to put his mouth on her.
She was already so wet. She moved against him, and his tongue actually slid - he couldn’t get a grip, had no idea how he was supposed to. She’d gathered his scarf in one hand and twisted it behind him like a fucking leash, and when he slipped a bit, his finger pinching her skin, she tugged sharply. “Put your fingers in me,” she said.
Down here, she didn’t sound like such a pushover. She sounded like a woman who might fuck him up if he didn’t do what she said. “Yes ma’am,” he said.
He felt her gasp at that - and then he felt the way she clenched around his fingers, needy. Eager. Plenty of women didn’t like this, but she did, fuck she did. She arched her back, her hips slumping forward. The leather under her skin was already getting slick from her, and thinking about it - if it’d stain, if he’d be able to smell it later - had him groaning.
And then he started to eat her out for real, and it all got a little hard to keep track of.
She moaned when he licked her. She twisted the scarf so that it bit into his neck when he curled his finger, and when he tried to pull away she snarled, “Don’t you dare,” and nearly cut off his airway entirely. It was so fucking unsafe and incredible, perfect. He got her everywhere, all over his face, but he stopped even thinking about it after awhile; there was too much to pay attention to, the clutch of her thighs around his head, the way her clit throbbed against him when he licked her just right.
After awhile she started making high little noises, like a parody of a porn star. He was ready to make fun of her for it when she shouted, clenching around his fingers, and then -
Fuck. Fuck, fuck fuck. He’d never seen a woman do this before, shaking head to toe, like she was convulsing or something. Like she might pass out. For a second he let himself imagine that, Marta passed out, him pushing into her anyway -
And then she opened her eyes and twisted her hand again, and all he could think about was exactly what was happening to him right now.
“Get up,” she said, her voice throaty. He climbed to his feet, hard as anything and -
Christ. Yeah. He was shaking, too.
“Take your clothes off. Except the scarf.”
“What the -”
So he did. He stood there like a complete asshole, his scarf brushing the top of his thighs. For a moment she just looked at him. Then she said, “Sit down on the couch and take hold of yourself. Don’t move your hand.”
“I feel like a moron,” he said. Bare-assed on the couch and ready to jerk off, fuck. His cock jerked when he touched it, leaking worse than anything. Humiliating.
“You look like one too,” Marta said.
She looked beautiful, curled up in his chair, the black leather making her look like she was glowing. She was going to humiliate him, and he’d go along with it. No; he wanted it. Wanted it so badly he was panting after it. “This what you want? Want to watch me jerk off?”
“No,” she said, and stood up.
He’d never noticed her before this little marriage episode. Well, no, he’d thought absently about fucking her, but fucking his granddad’s nurse was below him. But he hadn’t noticed that she was graceful; he hadn’t realized that she moved with perfect economy. Hazards of working for a living, surely. But she was gorgeous.
“What is it you said last Thanksgiving? Oh, I remember. You like girls who like to bounce on your dick.” Big, honest eyes, looking at him with something very close to disdain. “Will you let another girl bounce on your dick, Ransom?”
He almost said no. It was true, at least right now. But that wasn’t the answer she was looking for. “Not unless you want me to.”
There. She smiled, just a little. “Very good. Are you going to kill Jacob?”
“Not unless you want me to.”
She took a step forward. “What about Joni?”
He tightened his grip on his cock. He wanted to move his hips so badly he could taste it, but he knew at a cellular level that if he did - she’d leave. “Only if you tell me to.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s very good, Ransom.” She stopped in front of him. “Should we use protection, do you think?”
Holy fucking shit. “I - Marta, fuck. We’re fucking married, what do you think?”
“I think STIs are very common and I can’t trust you.” She leaned down and picked up the ends of his scarf. Her tits were right in front of his face - but when he swayed forward, trying to capture them, she leaned away and said, “Not yet.”
“You can trust me.” He sounded stupid, needy. He didn’t care. “Marta, baby, please, let me fuck you. Please.”
“Sure, okay,” she said, and slapped his hand away from his dick.
She still held on to his scarf. It was her point of balance as she straddled his lap; she didn’t object when he put his hands on her hips, leaning back into the couch as she sank down onto him. She barely weighed anything, she was light and tiny and, fuck, she was tightening the scarf around him so that he could barely breathe. “Oh, God,” he said, barely aware that he was talking, not giving a fuck that he sounded like some kind of cunt-struck virgin. She was so wet that she barely felt tight, but she squeezed him like a glove, like the best fucking sex toy known to man. And then, like she knew how he was thinking of her, she threw his scarf off entirely and put one hand on his throat, fingers biting into the edge of his jaw. “Pay attention,” she said, and moved her hips slowly.
He imitated the movement. And then he took over, because that was his job. She rode him lazily, absentminded and entitled, not paying attention to anything but her own enjoyment. He touched her tits, pinching her nipples and feeling her flutter around him, but when he went for her clit again she pushed his hand away. “You’re not up to multitasking,” she said, scorn in every syllable.
She was right. He fell into a weird universe where all that he felt, all he noticed, were points of sensation: her nails drawing blood at his jawline. Her cunt clenching around him as he fought not to come too soon. Her hair, so fucking soft as he tugged it free of its bobby pins.
Her lips, so close to him but not quite touching, not even when he lost it and started fucking her hard, whispering her name.
Finally, finally, the slap of skin and the sounds of her wet around him gave way to her moans, and then her screams. She came like a cliché, and it was beautiful.
“Marta, please,” he said, begging like he’d been born to it, like he’d imagined Walt might beg, before he’d decided to just take care of business. “Please, please, let me come, baby, please, I’ll make it so good for you - Marta -”
“Stop talking and finish up,” she said, and pinched his nipple viciously.
He came with a howl, pathetic, tears in his eyes that he threw his head back and tried to ignore. It felt like a fucking out of body experience, and he shook for so long that he briefly thought he’d gotten some kind of sexually transmitted spinelessness. Worst of all, it ended too quickly; he’d barely managed to open his eyes again when she was climbing off his lap. Even the sight of his come dripping down her leg didn’t soften the blow when she tossed her keys at him and said, “Get dressed. I’m tired, and I want to go home.”
He couldn’t think of anything to do but obey. She had him drive her home; she stared out the window and didn’t talk. He might as well have been a Lyft driver.
Which was kind of hot, actually. He was in way too deep.
Long after she fell asleep in their bed, he got up to take a piss. He examined himself in the mirror after, and it wasn’t pretty: he was covered in bruises and scrapes. All over his chest and neck, no pattern except that they’d been made by small, precise fingers. He jerked off staring at them, standing at their fucking couple’s vanity, shivering in the cold air, miserable and horny and helpless.
“Good afternoon, Marta. Your mother let me in. I hope you don’t mind if I tell you forthrightly that I am in a very painful predicament of the Hippocratic persuasion.”
Marta looked up from her book. Benoit Blanc stood in the library, wearing his overcoat and looking at her with too-familiar sharp-eyed concern.
“I see,” she said, and closed her book. “I assume by that you mean you’ve been hired for a case involving some kind of medical mystery?”
“Not quite. The medical aspect, indeed, I would not call a mystery at all. There is a man who has died, and he was shot in the throat. However, it seems he is one of several robbery victims; the others are still living, and they all share a blood positivity to a certain pathogen which, it seems, is not often seen in these parts.”
She set her book aside. “What pathogen?”
It only took Benoit a week to 1. become Benoit, not Mr. Blanc, and 2. confirm to himself that Marta wasn’t being held captive or otherwise abused - at least enough that he no longer gave her long, dramatic stares that ended in him saying, “Should someone come to me needing shelter from a wealthy Massachusetts mediocridite, that person would find themselves in a very nice guest apartment above my garage.”
She appreciated the care. She even told him once: “Benoit, I appreciate it, but -”
And then she had stopped. Because what could she say?
Did she need rescuing, probably. Would she accept rescue if it came, definitely not. Marta had made her bed and now felt determined to sleep in it.
Or rather: to sleep with it. Because the truth of the matter was, she and Ransom kept having sex.
At first she thought the time at Ransom’s house had been a one-off. That self-delusion lasted as long as it took for Ransom to go to his knees in Harlan’s office - in her office, fingering her to orgasm as she updated the Blood Like Wine P&L reports. He knelt in their bedroom, too, and ate her out to distract her from getting dressed for the day. And he fucked her, bent over their suite’s little dinner table, her pants hastily pushed down - begging her to let him come.
The only commonality was that he always made the first move, and she always bossed him through it. It felt absolutely deranged, dangerous and stupid and amoral. And it felt -
“So fucking good,” Ransom said, three days after she and Benoit had closed his new case and two weeks after Ransom had fucked her at his house. “Christ, Marta, you’re gonna kill me. Please, just - let me -”
She looked down at him. They did this in the office a lot - enough that Marta had to have someone come by to fix the lock. Today, he had knelt down and tried to eat her out while she worked her way through a book about neuroscience. She’d stopped him, because she couldn’t concentrate on that kind of thing when he was - well.
He was good at it, was all.
But he’d distracted her all the same, which was why she was sitting in her office chair, staring down at Ransom while he jerked himself off.
He knelt on the floor, his legs splayed. It made for a beautiful view. But - “Ransom. Give me your belt.”
For a moment, she thought he might say no. His expression flickered with suspicion, hostility playing out over his features. She braced herself for him to leave - or worse, decide he was done with this strange, awful thing, and try to hurt her.
God. What was she doing?
But he didn’t do either of those things. Instead he took his belt off and handed it to her.
She folded it around her hands to hide the way they shook. She looked at him for a moment: he’d gotten naked of his own accord, and he still looked ready to do something awful.
Still, she was trying to read, and he was being incredibly noisy. “Open your mouth.”
“Do you want to come, or not?”
He could leave at any moment and she wouldn’t be able to stop him. But his head fell back, he closed his eyes like she’d hit him, and he opened his mouth.
She placed the belt in it. It flopped down on either side, in a way that should have looked stupid but just - didn’t. Not when she was so wet she was aching, when he shuddered, spine arching, the moment she placed the leather against his skin.
“There. Now you can get yourself off,” she said, and went back to her book.
He whispered her name when he came, and she petted his hair - then pulled her hand away when he moved to stand, his expression going cold again. She waited until much later, when she’d finished her chapter and was alone, to follow him over the edge.
“Being rich has changed you, sis. You’ve gotten lazy.”
For one horrible moment, Marta froze, convinced Alice was talking about her thing with Ransom. Then she realized Alice was talking about her Kindle. “It’s just hard to get to used bookstores from here.”
“Uh-huh. We got a Prime membership now, Mama already told me all about it. You sold out.”
“If a Prime membership is selling out, wait till you hear about Town & Country,” Ransom said.
Marta blinked at him in the doorway, then looked at Alice and Mama. It wasn’t Wednesday, but they were all hanging out in the family room anyway - Marta reading, Alice messing around on her phone, and Mama doing some sewing. It was quiet time. Family time.
How did Ransom not realize he didn’t fit?
But he came in and sat down on the couch next to Marta, dropping a kiss on her forehead like they really were married. “What are we doing?”
“Marta’s just being a big old nerd, as usual.”
“Hey, did I tell you I was thinking about going back to school?” Ransom said.
Marta couldn’t help herself, she perked up. “Really?”
“Nah,” Ransom said, and winked at her.
“Ooooooh.” Alice cackled - and then took a picture of Marta’s embarrassed face.
“Don’t think I don’t know you’re using me to get Insta-famous,” Ransom said.
“Technically, I’m using Marta,” Alice said. “Anyway, I’ve got a brand to maintain, and Republican-looking white boys ain’t it.”
“Aw,” Ransom said.
Marta hated herself for how charming she found it. She hated him even more, though, when he spent the rest of the night there, hanging out with her family. At one point he rubbed her feet, making a joke about how someday she’d realize she didn’t need to be a nurse anymore.
It was so sweet and proprietary and awful. She hated him. “I’m not going to give it up, you know,” she said that night, as they got ready for bed.
“Shit, you’re volunteering? What am I saying, of course you are. Whatever, I don’t actually care.”
“I really believe that.”
With someone else, those would be fighting words. With Ransom and his family, even. But Ransom only snorted a laugh and stole the lotion from her dresser. “You’d be pretty stupid not to.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
He froze, so perfectly that for a moment Marta could only think of herself, faced with ambivalent-to-hostile Thrombeys and desperate to fade into the background. “I did,” he said finally.
She didn’t know how to read him just then. He looked - almost as he’d looked at the diner, almost sincere.
“Now I just think you’re too nice for your own good, which is pretty much the same thing,” Ransom said. He tossed the lotion back on her dresser and went into the bathroom, leaving Marta standing in the middle of their bedroom, very quietly panicking.
She got ready for bed because she had to, braided her hair and stayed on her side of the bed. She knew it didn’t matter; she’d been waking up curled around him for weeks now. At some point she had stopped holding the knife in the night. At some point she had learned to expect nothing more menacing than a mouth on her neck, fingers teasing her until she moaned.
What was she doing?
He never asked her to touch him, was the thing.
He wanted her to; that was very obvious. He stared at her hands, at her mouth. He sometimes said things too, lewd things, about coming on her face, bending her over. Using her, in other words - but it was like he was reciting a catechism he didn’t quite believe in. He never sounded the way he did when he told her that he wanted her to slap him, that he’d do anything to eat her out.
Still, she worried about it, ethically. Was she using him? Surely not. He enjoyed himself plenty. But sex had always been an act of togetherness for her, before. Togetherness with Ransom was something she couldn’t picture. When she tried, she thought of Walt, dead on the floor -
Of Harlan, dead because Marta had been too good at her job, begging Marta to save herself.
She didn’t know what was worse, thinking that she ought to be reciprocating or thinking it would be a final betrayal of her own morals to do so. Surely there was something good to be gotten from keeping Harlan’s killer leashed. Surely she wasn’t just allowing herself to be drawn onto a path that would end in more people getting hurt.
Surely she wasn’t as selfish as she feared she was, clenching her thighs around Ransom’s face and hissing, “Don’t you dare,” when he made to get up - when he laughed at her frustration, hardened at her fury.
Ransom liked Marta’s family. It’d been a few months, he was ready to call it. Of course, he couldn’t tell Marta that, because then she’d start in on the ethics of it all: Ransom, you’re a murderer, you don’t really care about anyone, yadda yadda. True all, but still, he liked her family. They were a hundred times better to share a house with than his own.
If Ransom hadn’t met Marta first he’d’ve ruined Alice’s horny little life. She had no fucking clue how to choose her friends. Bad enough for a hoodrat, but worse for an heiress, and worst of all for a hot heiress. All of which was to say, Marta was out at her volunteering gig, her mom was at church, and Alice was crying in the living room with only Ransom to keep her company.
“I’m going to be arraigned and if Oberlin finds out I’m so fucked, and Marta worked so hard to make sure I’d have this opportunity and I just don’t -” She stopped to sob.
It was so fucking uncomfortable. Ransom handed her a box of tissues and waited for her to be ready to talk again.
“So,” he said when her howls died down to sniffles. “Let me get this straight. You and your friends go out, your buddy Jason insists on smoking up in the car. Everyone’s drunk and now they’re high too, in a parking lot.”
“I know I should’ve stood up to him, I swear I will next time, but -”
“Hang on, I’m not done. So your buddy Jason’s real fucked up, he’s having a bad trip, he gets out of the car, starts wandering around, someone calls the cops. And the cops arrest you two, because all your other friends ran off, but you stuck around because you were worried Jason might hurt himself. I got all this straight?”
Red-eyed, pathetic, she nodded.
“Great. Okay. Next time your shitty fucking friends try to leave you with the bag, you split.”
“No buts. Do you want to go to college and live a successful little goody two-shoes life or not?”
“Honestly, not really,” Alice said. “But I’m kind of committed at this point.”
“Well, if you decide to rebel, just try to avoid getting into any of the really exciting drugs.” Ransom shook his head. “I’m off track here. You’re not gonna go to jail; that’s what rich people have lawyers for, and congratulations, you’re one of us now. But you need to promise me your shitbag friends won’t be hanging around anymore.”
“I promise. But are you - are you gonna tell Marta?”
For a second he considered giving her a second extra-special lesson about the value of not handing someone blackmail information. But it wasn’t like he’d do anything with it, anyway. “Nah.”
She smiled at him, snottily. Literally: snot was on her face. He grimaced and headed for the door. “Wipe your nose, you look disgusting. I got errands to run.”
“Hey, Ransom? Thanks.”
“Put in a good word with your mom about me,” he said, and left before she could get more feelings on him.
It was easy enough to find her shitty friends. Most of them were named in the police report, and from there he just had to go to their houses and - talk to them.
“I saved best for last, see, ’cause I know why she stayed and it wasn’t because she’s an Eagle Scout.”
“Um,” said Jason the designer drug enthusiast, “isn’t that a Boy Scout thing?”
Ransom shrugged, expansive. “You’d know.”
“Why are you here?”
“What do you know about my family?”
“Suicide. Really dramatic books, um, no offense, RIP.”
“Sure. Well, here’s some trivia for you: I was my granddad’s research assistant for a summer. Know what that means?”
Jason shook his head. Ransom smiled and leaned forward, taking out his pocket knife and laying it on the coffee table between them. “Means I can hide a body. And, it means I could kick your ass without leaving a shred of evidence I was even here. Are we understanding each other?”
Jason went pale, closing his eyes and swallowing hard. “I’ll break up with her.”
Ransom punched him in the gut on his way out, though, just for the hell of it.
Marta thought maybe she was finally having a break with reality. “You did what?”
“Look, your sister was fucking some teen addict whose dad’s a senator, you know what that means? It means he can fuck up a hundred times and still get into Princeton. She’s on thinner ice if she wants to go to some pretentious-fuck liberal arts college.”
“You went to Bennington,” Marta said. She’d had to learn what Bennington was just to understand the way Meg made fun of him. Thinking of Meg made her heart clench - and then she thought of Alice having the same experience, the horrible feeling of realizing your friend didn’t think of you as equals at all. God. “Thank you.”
Ransom looked at Marta. He looked around at their sitting room. He looked at the door to their bedroom. He said, “Where is he?”
“The guy with a gun to your head, I just have a couple questions for him.”
She had to fight back the insane urge to laugh. “There’s no one. Ransom, I’m just - grateful, that’s all.”
It was ridiculous, inexplicable, the way those simple words made his face close off. “You shouldn’t be.”
And he was right. Her heart twisted to think of the danger she’d put her family in; she had cried just last week, up in Harlan’s study, having found a Polaroid of the two of them while she was looking for documentation of last year’s expenses. She was still scared of him, sometimes - or more accurately, scared of what he might do.
But given a choice, when she hadn’t been watching, he had helped her sister. And he’d done it in an illegal and not-quite-moral way, but…
She took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you beat him up?”
“Jason. Alice’s ex-boyfriend.”
“Well, A, I don’t think they were dating, exactly. B - don’t make that face, I’m right. B, I knew you wouldn’t want me to. And I did punch him, still.”
I knew you wouldn’t want me to.
It was like she’d been possessed by a different person, one who loved violence and had never worried that Ransom might wake her up with a knife to her throat. One moment they were having this surreal conversation about Ransom’s crimes, and the next, Marta found herself in her lap, scraping her nails down his neck as she kissed him.
She couldn’t help it. She couldn’t think. And Ransom, who’d never hesitated even when he really, really should have, hesitated then. His hands came up but didn’t touch her; he leaned into her touch, and then away, his breath coming in quick bursts.
“Thank you,” Marta said.
His mouth twisted into something unpleasant. “Don’t fuck me because you’re grateful.”
“You literally told me about a fantasy where I do, just last week.”
“I’m lying about that shit, come on.”
Which she’d known. But hearing it from him - she kissed him again, couldn’t help herself.
She felt the moment he gave in. He slumped back into his chair, his whole body going boneless. She’d learned how to move so that she’d be above him, forcing him to strain up for a touch, but they hadn’t kissed at all, except in front of his family, for cameras and lawyers. There was something sublime and surreal about kissing him now. His lips were softer than she remembered, and she could feel his soft, stuttering breath, shockingly intimate.
“Ransom,” she said, pulling away just far enough that she could pet his hair.
He closed his eyes, moving into the touch. She thought he might hate how much he enjoyed it, and she knew she loved that. “Hm?”
“Thank you,” she said, as sweetly as she knew how.
He opened his eyes, staring at her. For a moment she felt caught - and like she’d caught him in turn.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Ransom said.
“Rewarding you,” Marta said, and kissed his neck.
“For what, punching a kid? That’s almost bloodthirsty, Marta, I’m proud of you.”
“For protecting my sister.” She watched as the muscles of his neck and shoulders tensed, dragged her nails down the hard line of his trapezius. “And for doing it in a way you know I can live with.”
He sounded almost soft, almost - good. Almost like someone she was married to for real, not someone she had a frankly demented sexual relationship with, who’d blackmailed her into marrying him.
“Ransom,” she said, and kissed him again.
This time, when his hands landed heavily on her hips, she didn’t push them away. She let him touch her in a way she hadn’t permitted before, his hands everywhere: on her breasts, moving frantically over her hips and back. He stared at her like she might disappear, licking his lips, his eyes all pupil.
“Holy fucking shit,” he said when she leaned back and ground down on his cock. “Marta, Jesus Christ, I need - let me fuck you, tell me I can fuck you.”
“Earn it,” she said, and kissed him again.
For the first time since this whole thing had begun, she wasn’t worried about letting him touch her, about touching him back. He still waited - hung back, asked for her direction. He loved it. But she kissed him as much as she wanted to. She dragged him to their bed and pushed him down, climbing up to straddle his hips, sliding onto him without any hesitation at all. It was exactly what she needed, this closeness - the way he looked up at her, desperate, needy.
“Ransom,” she said, reaching down to hold his shoulders with both hands. “I’m getting bored.”
He stiffened, his eyes widening. His expression was glazed, pupils blown. He’d do anything. God, God, it was too much and not enough all at once.
She leaned down and whispered, “I’d like you to fuck me as hard as you can, please. I want to feel it tomorrow. I want to walk around this house and remember having you under me.”
“Fuck,” he said through gritted teeth.
And he fucked her.
She was accustomed, by now, to the way he’d slip under, desperate attention focused on Marta, dependent on her for direction. But that combined with his hard work at her behest was -
She came hard, choking back a scream. Then he reached down, spoiled uncalloused fingertips finding her clit, and she came again, and again, until she was floating, uncaring of what she looked or sounded like.
And then, finally, he pressed his face into her neck and came, shaking, gasping for breath.
She surprised herself. Normally she tolerated this part, but this time she held him through it, stroking his neck until his frantic tremors calmed down.
“Fucking Christ,” he said into the silence.
Marta couldn’t argue. “Yes.”
“That…you…fuck, fuck.” He pressed the hand splayed on her lower back into her skin. It almost hurt, but it felt good, anchoring.
“Ransom,” she said, pulling away far enough that she could look at him. He propped his head up on one of their many down pillows, his eyes bright with something that almost looked like tears.
She couldn’t think of anything to say that would encompass what had just happened, what he’d just done. “Never mind,” she said finally, moving so that she could lie next to him. She really would feel it tomorrow; she ached, was wet and messy and exhausted.
“Tomorrow,” Ransom muttered, and fell asleep.
Or appeared to, anyway. When Marta woke in the morning, she was curled around a pillow, and Ransom had left the property altogether.
It genuinely hadn’t occurred to him that this would be a problem, which in retrospect was really fucking stupid.
When he got to his house, he ticked off the pros and cons. Pros: his wife was hot, she was easy, she did all the work, he liked hanging out with her most of the time. Cons: she was smarter than he’d expected, someday she’d get old and her tits would sag and he might have to feed her oatmeal or put her in a facility, her family was always underfoot, and when she kissed him it felt a little like someone had reached inside his chest and ripped his fucking heart out he wanted it so bad.
Major con, there.
Even just a month ago, shit had been a lot easier. Sure, he’d panted after her like a dog after a steak, but overall, day to day, things were fine. It was only recently that he’d started to notice how little she let him touch her when they fucked - and how badly he wanted more from her.
It had escalated from there. Saving Alice’s bacon was really the least of it. Worse was the way he kept hanging around Marta even when they weren’t fucking. Yeah, she was hot, but he fucking gazed at her when she wasn’t watching him. And he talked to her, too, because suddenly he needed her opinion on everything. It was fucked up and disgusting, he hated it, and he couldn’t stop. He’d warped his whole life around making her smile, and he’d barely even noticed.
He spent three days at his house. That was long enough to miss Marta, get drunk in the middle of the day so he could ignore that he missed Marta, jerk off thinking about Marta, and admit to himself that he was completely, comprehensively fucked.
She had to know he was here, or at least suspect it. But when he’d run off - in the middle of the night, fuck, it was just too fucking dramatic - she hadn’t called him. She was probably giving him space, because she was a good person.
It drove him nuts.
He gave up after not quite a week, drove back to the house. But Lisa - Marta had forced him to learn her name - told him Marta was at church.
“Yes,” Lisa said, with the perfectly blank expression of someone you could fire who was definitely judging you. “With her family, at St Mary’s.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“I believe that’s the point, yes.”
He pointed at her, about to tell her to fuck off and find a new job. But Marta liked her - had hired her. Damn it. “You know what. I’m…gonna go.”
The church was 20 minutes away, according to Google Maps. Ransom got there in 10.
It was impossible to truly feel him before she saw him. But somehow, before he sat down, she felt something wash over her, a decidedly non-Godlike-feeling.
And then he was sitting next to her, bowing his head, looking like a parody of piety.
She didn’t speak to him. Alice elbowed him and smiled a little, like she’d hoped he’d be there. And briefly, as they waited to go up for communion, he put a hand on her leg.
After the service, he said, “Give you a ride?”
“I can’t believe you took communion when you’re not baptized.”
“Who says I’m not baptized?”
“Presbyterians don’t count for this,” Marta said.
And he laughed. “I missed you. C’mon, I drove here - you carpooled, right? I saw your car back home.”
Telling her he’d been there, that he intended to come back. Right. She had missed him; her heart ached, doubly so when she thought of just who she was missing, and what he might be doing while they were separated. “Yes. I - okay. Let me just let them know.”
“If he’s planning on divorcing you, you don’t give him a dime,” Mama said.
“I really don’t think he is.”
“Good luck,” Alice said, kissing her cheek.
She looked over at Ransom. He was leaning on his car, watching her with an unreadable expression on his face; in spite of herself, she shivered. Good luck, right. She was going to need it.
She walked over to him. “Hi.”
“Hi,” he said. “Miss me?”
She decided, despite everything, to be honest. “Yes.”
“Huh,” he said. “Will wonders never cease.”
She couldn’t keep looking at him; it was giving her a terrible feeling, hot and trembly, and she simply could not kiss Ransom in front of a statue of the Virgin. She said, “Do you want to go home?”
“Actually, I was thinking I’d take you out for lunch. You down?”
“Sure,” she said before her mind could catch up with her mouth.
Stupid, stupid. But Ransom looked at her, lips quirked, and -
And she wanted to spend more time with him. So when he opened the passenger’s door, she slid in, and trusted him to take her somewhere she’d enjoy.
The truth was, she really hated New England winters.
She’d told herself she would get used to it eventually, but she’d lived in Massachusetts for almost twenty years and it was always the same. The light left and it got soggy and cold, and then Marta was dependent on sweaters and blankets and running up the electricity bill shamefully.
This year was a bit better. Harlan had built a greenhouse, and Marta found herself spending a lot of time in it, smelling the orange trees and pretending the thin winter sunlight was something stronger. She had plenty of distractions, too, with work, Ransom, Blood Like Wine Publishing, and everything else.
But mostly, that winter, Ransom.
They weren’t friends. You couldn’t be friends with someone you didn’t quite trust, someone you weren’t sure even liked you all that much. But still, Marta enjoyed talking to him. He had interests, it turned out, beyond killing people or justifying his having killed people. He liked photography, and bird-watching -
“Seriously?” Marta said when he casually identified a lesser scaup in the yard.
“What, the Audubon society is a respectable WASP institution. I got to third base in a birdwatching shack.” He snickered at her appalled expression.
He listened to her, too. It came as a surprise, and a frankly suspect one. He was enormously self-absorbed, to the point of being a cheerful murderer, and he was every bit the private-school-educated rich boy. But she found herself, during novela night -
(which Ransom now attended, which was itself strange and hard for Marta to think about)
- ranting about a woman who’d come into the clinic with various anti-vaccination literature, and Ransom tilted his head and said, “Where do they even get that shit?”
And when she told him, he listened, and seemed to remember. It was a bar so low it might as well have been in the wine cellar, but it mattered.
All of it mattered. And that winter, like the snow that fell every other week, it started to add up.
Even Benoit noticed.
He came over in February to discuss the Valentine’s Day killer. “Saint Valentine, mind you,” he said. “You see, he kills his victims by gouging out their eyes.”
“Oooh,” Marta said, wincing.
“What the fuck are you doing bringing this to her, then?” Ransom said. He’d been sitting in the study with them for upwards of an hour, and he hadn’t budged from his spot in the corner, nor had he stopped glaring at Benoit the whole time. “I don’t give a shit what this guy’s doing, Marta’s not going to put herself in the way of some fucking murderer.”
“Well, you don’t need to worry, as his victims are exclusively of the piscine variety” Benoit said, at the same time Marta said, “Ransom, will you please go walk the dogs? I think they’re getting restless.”
Ransom got up and did it without another word. Benoit waited until he’d left to turn to Marta and raise his eyebrows clear to his hairline.
And she blushed, of course; she couldn’t help but do so. “Piscine. Fish, you said?”
“Mostly goldfish, but the occasional betta fish, all from pet stores. Cameras are always turned off, no fingerprints. No jizz, either, which is odd, since normally this kind of thing is a fetish which has grown ungovernable.”
“It could be a woman.”
“Men’s size twelve boot prints. A giantess who feels murderously sexual towards fish is perhaps not out of the picture, but in all likelihood it is a man with a peculiar predilection for fish eyes. Does Ransom always do what you say? That was a very neat trick.”
“I - don’t want to talk about it,” Marta said with as much dignity as she could muster. Which wasn’t much.
Benoit took pity on her, though, and instead told her his hunch: that what mattered was not the eyes, but the company being paid to dispose of thousands of dollars’ worth of ruined merchandise.
When Ransom came back, he glared at Benoit a bit less, but he stood at Marta’s elbow for the rest of the evening. Marta told herself she didn’t enjoy it. Of course, she was lying.
None of the Cabreras were excited about hosting Easter, and for that matter neither was Ransom, but it seemed unavoidable. The Thrombeys had done Easter at Harlan’s every year for the last thirty years. Marta had attended the celebration last year, in fact; it had been a profoundly odd experience, between the perfectly cooked lamb that Joni insisted everyone put bee pollen on, and the fight that had broken out over cake, which had resulted in Richard shouting, “If you were resurrected, Walt, I’d slam the door back on the tomb!”
A lot to unpack there. And now Walt was gone, so there wouldn’t be anyone to restrain his Nazi child or his Nazi wife. Except -
“You know if anyone says anything I’ll fuck them up, right?”
“I wonder that they’re not hosting it at Linda’s.”
“No, you don’t. You’re not stupid, you know they still think of this house as theirs.”
“Yes.” It bothered her, mostly because there weren’t very many ways to impress upon them that they weren’t welcome at the house. If she hadn’t married Ransom, then maybe, but as it was, she had a familial link. It was just awkward.
“Seriously, say the word and I’ll tell them to get bent. They can pay someone to set up their little celebration somewhere else.”
“Thank you, but no. It’s already done. Maybe next year.”
Ransom snorted. “You’re still way too nice for your own good.”
“Maybe.” And then the doorbell rang, announcing the earliest arrivals - Joni and Meg - and Marta didn’t have time for more introspection.
Ransom stuck closer to her than he had during Christmas, and Marta couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t partially to annoy Meg. When she sat down in the living room, he was there to bring her coffee and interrupt any time Joni tried to ask her for money. After Benoit arrived - with Lieutenant Elliott, a not-unwelcome surprise - Ransom was the one who said, with a touch of light menace, “Marta’s the one who builds the guest list. Her house, her rules.”
“He seems to have taken to his assigned role as a duck does to water,” Benoit said during pre-dinner appetizers.
“What would you say that role is?”
Benoit huffed a laugh. “What would you say that role is?”
“Well, he’s my husband. I suppose that’s the most important thing.”
“You didn’t tell me you were friends with the Lieutenant.”
“Friendship is certainly one facet of the relationship we enjoy, which does encompass many differing and divergent modes of interaction, most recently one of amorous relations in your first floor bathroom.”
Marta managed not to spit her drink out, barely. “You’re - you -”
“Is there a problem, Ms. Cabrera?”
“No, of course not, but you said it to surprise me! I know you did.” She swatted his arm. “And it’s Mrs. Cabrera-Drysdale, I believe, technically.”
“Is it. Interesting.”
It was Benoit who had, these last six months, taught Marta to latch on to the kind of signal he now sent. “What? What’s interesting about it?”
“Well, you see, I had reason to be down at the county records office just last week, and there is a record of Hugh Ransom Drysdale changing his name…to Hugh Ransom Cabrera.” He raised his eyebrows at her and took a long sip of wine.
It felt like her heart flipped over in her chest. Right. Right. “Right,” she said, and all but ran away from the only person at Easter dinner who could accurately be called her friend.
She and Ransom headed up the table. It felt ridiculous, and ridiculously patriarchal, but Alice had set the table; apparently it made her laugh. Marta was a soft touch for anything that made her family happy, especially after they’d put up with after she’d inherited the Thrombey estate.
Marta passed the ham and watched Ransom talk to his parents. It was strange; they approached him with a kind of standoffish terror these days, like perhaps they’d figured out part of what he’d done. Even thinking of it sent a shiver down Marta’s spine. It was awful, of course it was, but…
I knew you wouldn’t want me to.
The thought of what he might do if she asked him to distracted her through most of dinner. It was only as Lisa started to clear plates away that Marta heard him say, “You know what, dad? Shut the fuck up. Go fuck another coed, I know Mom’s got you on a short leash lately. Must really bother you.” He threw his napkin down and stormed out of the room, rattling silverware and slamming the door.
Marta took another sip of wine. “Would anyone like to join me in the library?”
The Thrombeys followed her lead the same way they once had with Harlan. What an odd thought. Alice and Mama excused themselves to the family room, and Benoit and Lieutenant Elliott stole off on their own. Marta decided, in the forgiving spirit of the holiday, not to wonder where they’d gone or what they were doing there.
In the library, Marta sat at her now-usual chair. It was a big change from how she’d been when Harlan was alive, and she knew they all noticed. Richard especially made a face like he’d smelled something, then said, “Marta, hon, would you mind bringing us some Scotch?”
“Yes,” Marta said. “No one here drinks Scotch. There’s some wine on the sideboard that you could get, if you like.”
Ransom laughed, alerting Marta to the fact that he’d crept up behind her at some point, positioning himself just behind her shoulder. A familiar place, now; she shifted a little, hoping it wasn’t obvious how quickly her attention had shifted to how badly she wanted to grab Ransom and - well.
“Nice try, Dad,” her self-appointed right hand said. “What’s next? Gonna ask Marta to bring you some pie? Shine your shoes?”
“Ransom, shut the fuck up,” Richard said.
Marta cleared her throat. “Please don’t speak to my husband that way.”
“Ohhhh boy,” Joni said. “Is anyone else getting some weird vibes in here? I’m totally getting weird vibes. Linda! Linda, have you tried the new Moon Juice? Some people say ingesting rose quartz is like, bad for you, but personally I say, what’s the harm? They put mercury in vaccines, and this is just a teensy pinch.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Linda said. She threw back her entire glass of wine all at once. “Richard. Refill.”
“I don’t think Dad likes it as much as I do,” Ransom said, very low.
Marta didn’t shiver. She didn’t. “Stop that. I’m not demeaning you.”
“Is Mom? Some people might just call that being a good husband. Speaking of: refill?”
Marta knew she shouldn’t try to drink the awkwardness of the evening away. However, when it had just been her and Alice and Mama, Easter was a time for delicious slow-cooked goat and silly movies, not cashmere sweaters and mean comments. So, “Yes, please.”
Ransom took her glass, dropping a kiss on her head on his way to the sideboard.
“I’m disappointed in you, son. I figured it’d take you at least a year before you resigned yourself to being that little bitch’s servant.”
Ransom very nearly laughed. “Funny you should say that. Marta and I didn’t sign a prenup, and hey - help me out here. Which one’s bigger, the five hundred k you had before you met mom, or thirty million dollars”
“You think you’d get half? Don’t be naive, Ransom. She’d ensure you didn’t get a cent of it.”
“Well, according to you and Ma that’d be the best thing that ever happened to me.” He set the bottle down. “Cheers.”
He’d made it all the way back to Marta before Dad came up with something else to say. He turned to Walt’s shitbag wife and said, “Did you hear ICE is going to start operating in the county again? About time, eh?”
“Excuse me,” Ransom said to Marta. He had to move fast enough that she wouldn’t be able to stop him.
Sure enough, he’d hauled Dad up off the couch and was just about to punch him when Marta said, “Ransom! Please don’t.”
He thought about it. He really did. But ultimately, he was still a selfish bastard, and Dad knew damn good and well Ransom couldn’t let that kind of thing go.
“Okay,” he said, “I won’t throw Dad out a window. Just for you, darling.” And he punched Dad square in the jaw.
It was all chaos after that. Meg started crying, which was hilarious. Mom slapped him and Dad, also hilarious. Marta just looked sort of coldly upset by it all, which he felt bad about, but not that bad. After the pandemonium brought Blanc and Elliott out of their hiding place - looking quite disheveled, which of course Ransom had expected; he wasn’t blind - the party cleared out pretty quickly. He and Marta were alone in the library before another hour had passed.
“Sorry,” he said, shrugging in a way that meant not really.
Marta looked at him. She looked at the room: spilled wine, overturned furniture. She looked down at her own hands. “You’re not.”
Aw, she really did know him. It tickled him down to his toes. “No. I wouldn’t have done more than that, but I had to do something.”
“I’m not an object for you to defend.”
“Trust me, I know.” This whole clusterfuck would’ve been a lot simpler if she was. “It wasn’t really about you - alright, alright, it was a little. But he can’t say shit like that. he said it to be a dick, but -”
“But he also believes it.”
“Yeah. So I hit him.”
“Don’t you believe it?”
He looked at her. He looked around. He laughed, because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. “Jesus. Be pretty fucked up if I did, all things considered.”
For some reason, that was what flipped a switch with her. She drained her wine and set it down, looking at him with wide, intent eyes. God, he loved her eyes. “Ransom. Come to bed.”
He couldn’t help but follow her.
It was the wine, or the stress, or the panic. Or perhaps it was all three. Marta didn’t know, couldn’t be still long enough to decide. She was on Ransom before they even got to their bedroom, kissing him in the hallway, biting his lip with something like fury when he laughed into the kiss. “Don’t you dare,” she said when he reached for her pants, and -
She meant it. She was shocked to realize just how much. Ransom cocked his eyebrows and held both his hands up, and kept them up as she pushed him into their suite and locked the door behind her.
“Get on the bed,” she said. “Clothes off, hands on the headboard.”
“What’ll you do to me if I don’t?”
She slapped him. Just once, but the sound rang through the air, and she saw the ripple through his body, the ragged breath he couldn’t hide.
“Whatever you say.” He had the nerve to throw her a wink, even - but he stripped and got on the bed, looking at her with heated eyes.
She climbed up on the bed, too, and kissed him, deep and dirty. “Ransom. I’m going to fuck you.”
His thighs tightened under her.
“Not like that.” Though she had thought about it, and she saw from his expression that he had, too. “Tonight I’m just going to ride you. Would you like to see me naked when I do?”
“I don’t know, I’m into the nerdy librarian look. I really thought you were a women’s college lesbian when I first met you. You stuck out like a sore thumb.”
In spite - or maybe because - of everything, she heard the heady implication, that he’d noticed her from the very beginning. She dug her nails into his skull and said, “Tell me you won’t hit your father again unless I ask you to.”
She ran her hands up his forearms, gripping his wrists tightly. His skin was already white where it pressed against the headboard. He’d probably ache in the morning. The knowledge sent a throb of need through her. “Ransom, honey, I need you to tell me.”
“Fuck, fuck fuck fuck - fine. Yes, okay.” She shifted to accommodate his wild movements, his cock sliding against her leg, already so slick. How long had he been hard? She’d wanted him for hours now. “I won’t. Unless you ask me to.”
“And you won’t kill anyone else.”
He threw her a desperate smile, looking like she held him at knife’s edge. “I won’t solve our problems unless you let me.”
That he said it like that - the way he looked up at her -
The fact that he was, legally, Ransom Cabrera -
It broke something in her. She kissed him desperately, biting his lips, his jaw, and fumbled her way through undressing, snapping, “Don’t,” when he moved to help. She held his head when she sank down onto his cock, keeping him still, at her mercy.
“Fuck me,” she said, and ran her hands up his arms, holding on for dear life.
What could he do but oblige her?
Granted, it was hard from this angle. He half wished she’d tied him up for real - that he’d have bruises tomorrow to remember this, to press down on while he thought about the way she clenched down on him, practically dripping she was so wet. She stayed laser focused on his face, breathing hard, and he -
Fuck, he wanted it so bad. He’d do anything, he’d be anyone for her if it meant she’d keep holding him like this.
She was rough, too, scratching him up and pinching his nipples, saying, “Fuck me harder, I know you can,” and “Don’t disappoint me,” and anything but what he was thinking - which was some variation on I love you that didn’t leave him quite so bare. I need you, maybe. I get hard as nails just thinking about kissing you. Whatever.
It was so easy to do what she asked, though, until she closed one hand around his neck with medical precision and said, “Ransom, I want you to come now.”
He came, just like that. For her. And then, when he was still dizzy with it, she pushed him down on the mattress and straddled his face.
“Make me come,” she told him, looking down at him like -
Like he was her fucking pet. Like he was nothing, no one. He nearly came again just then, dry, completely out of it. He’d have done anything. It was so easy to spread her pussy wide, to lick and suck - to do what she said. When she said, “You’re leaking out of me. Use your fingers,” he moaned against her clit and obeyed. Two fingers slid in easily; he felt her flutter around him, sensitive from how hard he’d fucked her. Her clit was so hard it was ridiculous, throbbing on his tongue, and fuck, he could taste himself. He could taste them. He had the wild thought that he should figure out how to ask for this in the future - except maybe next time he could be blindfolded, tied up, not given any choice except to take it, whatever she’d give him, whatever she felt like doing to him.
“Yes, yes,” she said, “good, Ransom, you’re so good - you’re so wet, look at you, I want -”
And he knew what she wanted. He knew how to give it to her. Hard and fast, fucking her with his fingers until he felt her lift up off his face, sucking her clit and licking and then, with his free hand, digging his nails brutally into her ass and hauling her so close he couldn’t even fucking breathe.
Finally she came, half-sobbing, so loud they’d hear her one county over. It should’ve been disgusting, her wetness running down his face, the salty funk of his own come, but it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. It was fucking perfect. It was still too soon for him to come again, but he did something similar anyway, floating away on the high of being under her, losing himself in the feel of her thighs crushing his head, her hands shaking against his shoulders.
She was the one who got them both in bed, who pulled the covers up and kissed him. She was also the one who slapped his hands away when he tried to wipe his face off. “Not yet,” she said, almost viciously. “You’re going to wear it, Ransom. So you remember.”
Like he could ever fucking forget. But he’d do a lot worse for her than fall asleep with their come on his face, if she ever asked him.
Which: she wouldn’t. But a guy could dream, and that night, Ransom did.
“Marta, I have a question for you, and I am afraid you must be honest with me, for it is the key to a question of very great importance to myself and the Lieutenant.”
“Okay, sure.” Marta took a sip of her tea. “What’s up?”
Benoit frowned down into his tea, then at the flagstones on the balcony, then across the house grounds, then back at his tea again. “If a person were to propose marriage after a mere six months of dating, but after well over a decade of mutual pursuit of justice and the necessary revelations of truth which are inherent to the field, would the recipient of such a proposal view it as the natural termination of the gravitational power of the truth of their relationship, or might that be considered a perambulation through the gardens of presumption?”
She’d had a lot of practice unraveling Benoit’s thoughts, but this one took even her a moment to sort through. “I think Lieutenant Elliott would welcome a proposal,” she finally said. “But you know him better than I do, of course.”
He let out a breath and leaned forward. “Good. Never mind that, though. I have another question, and this one is a bit simpler: if you were to hide a fortune in crocodile skin shoes at the bottom of a lake, how might you prevent wildlife and Nature herself from ruining the leather?”
“Crocodile skin shoes?”
“Well, they might be alligator.”
“Right. Um, plastic wrap?”
“You would not put them in the body of a large fish found only in Atlantic ice water?”
“I. No. No, I would not.”
“Then I’d like you to join my new case, Ms. Cabrera, as you have more common sense than whoever has been importing reptilian shoes to our fine shores.”
“Sure. On one condition.”
“What is that?”
“You have to tell me what he says when you propose.”
Benoit groaned. “The happily married are some of the most vexatious people I have ever met.”
Marta, who had been very sure that description would never apply to her, couldn’t help but laugh.