Please note: I’ve just noticed an error in the title in the feature image for this chapter. The chapter title is “Fight or Flight”, not “Flight or Flight”.
Ada turned right onto Harlow in her Spitfire, soaring past the stately houses, their gates smudged copper in the fog-glow triangled from the restored, Victorian streetlamps. With ‘back-of-the-hand’ knowledge, without a single glance, she saw it all: the centenarian trees which towered through the mist like soldiers, fully armed, around their brick-and-mortar charges, then the pretty English gardens none the wiser in their damp, cold slumber, the dawn’s first crows gathering along their wrought-iron fences.
And what about the park-scape waving up and down along her left-hand side? Its opaque, blurry contours interrupted by the manmade lake, the avenues of trees, and further back, the bandstand, and the rhododendron bushes where the beggars and the perverts put their heads together in the dead of night, coming up with some small mercy of a feeling to take the edge off life?
Okay – so – what about it?
Philadephus Park was rolling in its ever-present ghostly glory, concealing phantoms of a bright, young lady floating on the arm of the man who’d break her heart into a million pieces. Ada saw that now; she saw it without seeing as the Spitfire carved a pathway through the mist until she felt like she was rising, looking down on this, her world becoming miniature whilst she droned on in pure, dark stealth, the oblong box of rock beside her, the edges of the earring cool against her jawline.
Rosegate came to mind. It came the way her husband had – with her next victim.
Like a knife to the heart and/or salt to the wound.
Like any number of similes for excruciation.
Then Ada remembered a long-ago night after church when she’d burst into Rosegate’s study with fancy ideas and her dress agape in anticipation. She recalled how it felt to believe her partner was devoted to the dance of her cervix as he shifted beneath her. She remembered that moment when she’d noticed George’s scorpion in amber had gone missing – of how the space on the bookshelf stretched like a mile, filled with some terrible meaning. Replaying the moment, she slid from George’s body – in her mind whilst she physically braced the feeling. Wrought with suspicion, she strode to the void on the shelf.
And the Spitfire kept flying – through the rain – to its target.
So, Ada remembered pushing back from the shelf, and jerking around to fall for George’s performance. She heard herself asking him to summon the police, his friend Sidney Winterbourne. What a fool she’d been to believe George who, if he’d been in the acting profession today, would’ve won a BAFTA for his role as a robbery victim.
Ada knew that Rosegate was up ahead, but instead of passing it, she turned right onto Witch Hazel Lane, the narrow road separating #18 and #19 Harlow which led to Sorrel. Gliding between the high brick walls of the long, back gardens, their bricks laced with the spindly plant for which the lane was named, Ada saw herself in 1873 when she’d hurried down that very same path, headed for the very same place toward the very same target. This time, however, she’d be stopping first at Foxglove to get her hands on the missing pieces of the Wells’ and Holloway family history.
Landing outside the cottage, Ada turned off the engine and the lights. Tugging up her gloves, she turned to the box of rock, opening the side flap to expose two distinct tiers, the top tier filled with the confectionary, the lower tier concealing her gun. If you opened the box’s lid, you’d only see a double layer of the rock sticks, clueless to the weapon’s resting place below.
As gingerly as she could, Ada wiggled the gun from hiding, tucked the edges of the flap back into the end of the box, returning the box to the passenger seat. Then, gun in hand, she climbed out of the Spitfire, and hurrying through Foxglove’s gate, headed for the front door. Slipping the gun in her right-hand pocket, she rooted through her left for the key which Adrian had given her – finding it – seizing it – slipping it into the keyhole – turning it – hearing the latch click – watching the birth of a triangle on the floor as the door creaked open –
She was in.
Standing in the dark grey triangle she’d created.
Just for a moment.
She closed the door behind her.
Looking up at the outlines of the beams in the ceiling, she caught her breath. They were beautifully hewn, the axe marks forever scraped into the grain, the corners crucified with antique nails. Even in the dark, she saw this. She felt like she was staring at the Ark of the Covenant, about to find the Ten Commandments, about to defy one of them by stealing, but only because the man she’d loved had defied another of the commandments beneath an oak tree once upon a time.
“An eye for an eye,” she murmured. “A rule for a rule.”
The sky was weeping still, but ever-so-slightly paling, and in the dim, Ada shivered, stung by how she’d never known this hallowed place, its contents – the central table, the handmade desk, the fireside chairs, the oven, the hearth, the timeworn cricket bat, and old umbrellas in the backdoor stand – exactly as they would’ve been a century past.
‘Your perception is your reality,’ F.Y.I. echoed in her ear. ‘It doesn’t matter what other people do, or say or think, not if your behaviour is driven by your perception.’
“My perception is my reality,” Ada repeated. “And I am Ada.”
‘You are what you believe,’ F.Y.I. gusted. ‘Belief’s a funny thing, for once it begins to drive your actions, it becomes your truth.’
“If no one else believes it, could my truth be dangerous?” Ada asked.
‘Perhaps – for them.’
Listening to the voice, Ada became aware of herself.
She was standing – towering – in the room of shades, looking down at her open cloak, her bodice, her long, full skirt, her dainty boots. Lifting her hands, she examined her gloves, New gloves – for December 1873. Pretty, green ones to match her earrings and her irises.
How dare the Wells exempt her from the main plot of the family story?’
Glancing at the hands of the clock above the fireplace, she saw that it was 3:45 a.m. The blackbird would be singing soon, her target pacing in the grove.
And then, like wildfire, she was hastening –
To the ladder propped against the wall beside the oven –
Back under the central beam –
Opening the ladder –
Clambering up the rungs toward the ceiling –
And then –
Laying her eyes on the iron ring of the first compartment, Ada tugged it open, and sank her hand down into the space, coming up with absolutely nothing. Heart pounding, breath accelerating, she came back down the ladder, moving it beneath the next beam – then the next – and the next – discovering, to her horror, that every beam was empty, stripped of its information.
Her brain began to run in circles.
Had Adrian Kettering told her the truth? Or had he been lying?
Closing her eyes, Ada went back to the episode beside the sea, to the earnestness of Adrian’s gaze, the intensity of his voice, the agitation she’d detected in his phone call.
No, he couldn’t have been lying.
And the spaces in the beams were there as proof that they’d protected something.
The clock read 3:50 – 3:51 – 3:52 –
And Ada froze – but only for an instant.
‘Brey said she was planning to get her story to the man who’d written the original piece of music,’ Adrian came, jerking her out of her own mind racing. ‘She sensed he was crucial – important – that he was the destination for her story. Of course, I never knew if she finished it, nor if she actually sent it to him. But if she succeeded in completing it, Philip Owens would’ve been the recipient of that saga.’
Seven minutes remaining.
Ada flew then.
Scrambling down the ladder, she dashed from the cottage, needing the adrenalin of flying, craving the echo of movement, of retracing her footprints of yore. Leaving the Spitfire parked behind her, she ran as she had on the sand toward the stacks once. Eyes damp, cheeks burning, breath haywire, curls scribbled behind her, she panted down Sorrel, mud splattering on her hem, the last of the rain on her collar and shoulders. Spurred on by old pain, she kept running, slowing for a second to take out the gun, but speeding up tenfold once she had it. The gun seared her grip. This was it. Ada’s moment was coming. She could feel it. The story, in its entirety, was nigh for the taking.
The high brick wall to her left, the open heath to her right, Ada kept on flying, the gun glued to her fingers. The faster she ran, the harder she heard F.Y.I. whispering, ‘Your perception is your reality—your perception is your reality—your perception is your reality—your reality—reality—reality—’
To the auditory hallucination overlapping, Ada knew that she was no longer running toward Constable Phil Owens; she was running toward Sidney. With her mind’s eye, she could already see him in the uniform she’d kept beside her desk to remind her of her mission. She could see his dark blue cloak with its polished buttons, then his guilty eyes, the lying lips that had pleasured her cheating husband.
How she hated what she saw.
Stepping into the grove, gun raised, she faced what she’d been waiting for. And as intuited, she didn’t see Phil Owens, but rather Sidney Winterbourne. His life was almost over, but not until –