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I pressed him against the wall, breathing heavily with the effort, sweat gluing my white shirt to my back. His limbs flailed wildly, his eyes rolling madly in his head, and then it was over. His arms hung limp, and he gave out a tuneless whistle of breath as the corner of his mouth twitched for the last time. I grimaced. Shoving the body unceremoniously under the bench with my shoe, I peeled off the gloves and tossed them into the fire. Wrenching open the wooden door, I sprinted down the hall. My reflection halted me as I flew past a wall of mirrors. I slowed down and twisted on a faucet, splashing cold water onto my face and neck before toweling myself dry. As I straightened my tie, I shivered. My eyes gleamed maniacally in the glass as I turned and began to make my way down toward the hall.
Since university, Scales had always been the same way. We got on cordially enough; in fact, he would probably have counted me among his closest friends. I, however, knew better. Every visit to my manor was a chance to see how my brother had achieved his success, ever assistance motivated by a desire to gain status in my brother’s eyes, every slight to my reputation a means to better his own, to become part of my dear brother’s elite inner circle. I vowed to make it stop. I would show Scales that I could be enough. I could even be greater, better, more dignified than my brother, surpassing him in social status and taking the law into my own hands. At the opportune moment, I would pounce. Then we would see which brother was truly superior.
No trace of the turmoil bubbling like acid through my insides ever reached the surface. Throughout all of my encounters with Scales, I was the epitome of poise, calm and collected. I knew that violent hatred was one of the signature character traits of my brother whom I loathed so much; I couldn’t let it become one of mine. I was better than that—better than him. No, I must not let my desire for vengeance control me. Instead, I would appeal to Scales’ weaker side, the sycophantic side that would do anything to raise his status to that of a true noble gentleman. I would win him over peacefully, reeling him in in a fashion that even my great brother could not have managed. It was time to reconcile our differences and make him see whose affections he honestly desired.
Bending over the writing desk, I pressed a square postage stamp firmly onto the corner of a thick, white envelope, willing it to remain in place. In my mind, I could visualize the surprise on the face of John Scales IV as he slit open the invitation. In all of his years, Scales would never have expected an invitation from me, William Aberton III, to arrive with his morning post, requesting that he accompany me to the exclusive performance of the renowned pianist Silas Valencia at Club Tuer, the gentleman’s club. There was no doubt that he would accept the bait. Tuer was the heaven of the elite, and what is more, my brother had graced its hallowed halls. Sure enough, a call interrupted my tea the next afternoon.
“’Noon, Aberton. I must say, this was such a surprise,” he said breathlessly, getting directly to the point.
“Are you in? I would be honoured to have you as my guest. It has been far too long since we have met,” I said as I pressed the phone to my ear.
“Oh, yes. I do agree. Well, of course. I will see you tonight. He will be superb, I suppose?”
“Quite.” And he hung up without as much as a thank you.
That evening, I pulled up to the club looking sharp in a crisp, black tux. Through my window I could see Scales standing on the stairs like a lost puppy, a stupid grin plastered to his face. At each approaching group of men he looked up hopefully, eager, and then turned away dejectedly as they were ushered through the wide mahogany doors.
“Glad you could escort me,” I said, stretching out a hand that Scales shook vigorously.
“Pleased as ever. Yes, very pleased. All superb,” he beamed. His eyes kept darting toward the door while we made small talk, but I kept him in suspense. Finally, I made a pretense of glancing at my watch and looked up, startled.
“Only an hour ‘till show time. If we rush, I can still give you a brief tour of ol’ Club Tuer.”
“Yes, let’s do hurry,” he breathed thankfully, and the tension lifted visibly as he tripped lightly to the doors.
Inside, Scales gawked at his surroundings, soaking in the sight of dozens of respected men in black tie conversing in haughty tones in the cool comfort of plush armchairs and thick haze of cigar smoke, ogling the grandeur. I left him whistling a tune he had conjured out of thin air to himself and sidled over to an able, awaiting attendant.
“Show still on schedule? All regular club facilities still open?”
“Oh, yes, sir. Everything. Even the sauna.”
I shuddered in contemplation of the sauna. In this very sauna, my hatred for Scales had been triggered. It had been a slow afternoon, and Scales had tagged along to the club on his only visit to Tuer until tonight. Tired of billiards and the misty Monday morning chill, Scales, my brother, and I had decided to go for a sauna. On the way upstairs to the men’s spa rooms, however, my brother had been stopped by one of his many avid followers. Fully expecting the other two to catch up, I had continued to the sauna solo. After twenty minutes of languor in the hot and heavy oppression of the sauna air, I had risen from the bench where I was stoking the fire to search for my companions. I rose, and a loose screw from a floor board deftly sliced my foot, holding me in place. Yelping in pain, I resigned myself to examine the wound. A harried-looking Scales appeared minutes later and pulled open the door, peering at me within the sauna, blood now covering the floor.
“Where were you? I’ve been waiting for half an hour. Think you could help me out?”
“Side-tracked. Sure I can. What happened?”
Before I could answer, however, I
heard my brother call out to Scales from the other room. With a sigh and an apologetic shrug, Scales left.
Now seemed like an ideal time for a stroll down memory lane. I passed the gleaming black grand piano where Valencia, the maestro, would be playing shortly, fingering the taut strings. Crossing the room, I urged a willing Scales to accompany me upstairs. As we walked, I pointed out the features of various rooms.
“The auditorium. Seats barely a hundred, but the sound is terrific.”
“Hmmm,” he exclaimed, feigning interest, craning his neck to catch a view of a nearby gentleman.
“The billiard room, of course.”
“Very nice, Aberton.”
“The bar… the lounge.”
I might as well have walked in silence. It was as if I was talking to a wall.
“What are you whistling?” I asked, attempting to hold on to conversation.
“What? Oh, nothing really. I’m tone-deaf actually. Can’t keep a tune to save my life,” he replied.
Why whistle then? Simply to grate on my nerves? Faint warm-up chords issued from downstairs, and the whistling reached a crescendo.
“Fancy a peak at the sauna? For old time’s sake? It’s not necessary, but my brother would insist,” I said, stealing a fleeting look at his reaction out of the corner of my eye.
“No, no,” he said hastily. “That would be superb…. Shall we go inside? Perhaps light it up? It just brings back such memories.” I could tell his heart wasn’t in it.
Making my way through disgruntled men already settled into their seats, I took my own seat in the shadows at the back of the hall, alone. As my shallow breathing returned to normal, a small, frail man in a cummerbund sporting a toothpick mustache took his place on the piano bench. I eased back in my chair and enjoyed the show, clapping ferociously with the audience as Valencia finished each piece with his customary final flourish. Then, the Tarantella, the piece that had made Valencia’s name. His hands moved with surprising alacrity over the keys like spindly spiders, and I waited for the true genius of the piece—the famous ending, a series of reaches between the furthest extremes of the bass and treble octaves. Stretching out his arm, Valencia struck the resonating, guttural tone of the lowest key. And then silence. Valencia pounded the highest note again, but to no avail. The audience whispered around me as Valencia stabbed the key repeatedly, nothing but hollow, empty silence echoing around the theatre. I fought to suppress a grin.
I entered the sauna before Scales, with just enough time to step behind the door, slip on the pair of gloves, and coil the piano wire tightly around my hands. Scales ventured farther into the hot, dark room, the memories of our last encounter here washing over both of us, and finally spoke up.
“It sure is darker than last—”
Scales’ sentence was cut short as I encircled his neck with the piano wire, holding fast while he fought and his legs thrashed frantically. He gazed at me imploringly. His limbs flailed wildly, his eyes rolling madly in his head, and then it was over. I stepped back as the wire continued to cut into his neck, spattering blood from his jugular vein all over the wooden floor.