“Madam, I’m begging you,” the young woman in the bed who I’m sure is Sian, pleads. “Don’t take her from me. I’ll do anything…” Tears stream down her face; her long black hair is drenched in sweat; someone hit her in the left eye; it’s turning yellow and brown and black, swelling above her cheekbone.
I glance at Emilio—he’s shaking; he’s holding back the true measure of it, but it’s no mistake he’s shaking.
“GIVE ME MY BABY!” Sian tries to fly out of the bed when a nurse hands the crying newborn to Francesca, but she’s held back by the brute force of three other nurses. “DON’T TOUCH HER!” She thrashes against her captors; her screams I don’t doubt fill the entire third floor of the mansion; and Emilio isn’t the only one in the room shaking—I have to clench my fists tight to steady my hands.
Sian tries once more to come out of the bed fighting for her child, but Valentina moves toward her like a snake striking and slaps her so hard across the face that she’s momentarily shocked into submission; she falls against the headboard, the back of her head banging against the thick, detailed wood.
For a fleeting moment, so quick I’m surprised I saw it at all, I notice Emilio’s and Sian’s eyes lock on one another from across the short space, but they avert them quickly, I’m guessing so Francesca doesn’t make note of it.
Francesca takes the crying baby, still wet and covered in blood and slime having just been born moments ago, and she eerily begins to cradle it. Its little hands and feet kick and strain and move about mechanically; the tiny pink legs all curled up. She holds the baby against her chest. “Shh, shh,” she whispers and carefully rocks it in her arms until the crying eases. There’s nothing motherly about her comforting the baby; everything she’s doing is a demonstration of her power, a preparation for cruelty.
I try not to look anymore, at any of them, but I find it hard not to look at Sian, lying in the bed like that, soiled by her own blood, tears glistening on her face as she watches helplessly as some other woman holds her child, who threatens her child. And I’m reminded all over again about the child that was taken from me in such a similar way that for a second I feel like I’m still in Mexico. I nearly lose it. I feel myself just a breath from blowing our cover; the blood rising up into the top of my head; I feel my hands aching for Pearl, or a gun, or anything I could potentially use to bash this bitch’s head in and kill her dead, dead, dead. But I don’t. I stay calm, emotionless, seemingly unaffected by what I’m seeing and what I’ve yet to see.
“Dear Brother,” Francesca says, stroking the baby’s soft dark hair, “come and look at her; she’s absolutely beautiful.”
“I have no reason to look at her, Francesca,” Emilio says, and refuses to budge.
Francesca looks over her shoulder at him.
“I said come and look at her.”
Emilio’s jaw clenches, but he gives in and approaches them. When he’s standing over the child in his tall height, looking down into its little pudgy face, another knot moves down the center of his throat as if he’s suppressing tears. And anger. He looks at the baby only seconds before his eyes stray.
“She looks just like you,” Francesca tells him; accusation ripe in her voice, but soft and cunning.
“It’s not my child, Sister. I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you every day until you believe me—it’s not my fucking child. I never touched that whore.”
Sian looks off at the wall, wiping tears from her cheeks; there’s no anger in her face spurred by Emilio’s harsh words; it’s as if she accepts them, she understands them.
“I swear to you, Madam,” Sian speaks up, “he has never laid a finger on me.”
“Oh, but he has,” Francesca comes back, her voice laced with sweet death. “My brother has laid a finger on you and in you; he has fucked you right there in that bed, and he’s fucked you in the servant’s quarters, and as soon as your cunt heals from giving birth to his little girl, he’ll fuck you again and again—unless I stop it.”
“It’s not my baby, Francesca. You’re just being paranoid.”
Francesca’s hand darts out and strikes Emilio across the face; the quick motion scaring the baby, causing it to cry again.
“You lie, Emilio!” Francesca lashes out.
“I’m telling you the truth!”
Then they start arguing in Italian, screaming at one another; veins visible in Emilio’s head; Francesca’s eyes wide and feral; the baby wails in her loosening arms. And then Emilio reaches in and takes the baby from her, holding it carefully so as not to crush or drop the little girl, while at the same time he and Francesca continue to scream into one another’s faces in a language I don’t understand. But just like before, when Francesca and Valentina were talking, it doesn’t take much to get a general idea of what they’re saying: Francesca refuses to relent in her accusation of Emilio and Sian having slept together, and that the baby is his. Emilio continues to tell her she’s paranoid, maybe he’s even telling her she’s crazy, I could never really know, but I’m shocked at the display, seeing a once very devoted brother who wouldn’t dare do anything to anger his sister, now in her face as if he’s her equal. And Francesca doesn’t kill him for it. She just continues to rage at him, to rage with him.
“Let me take the child,” Valentina speaks up from behind.
She steps up to Emilio.
He stops screaming, looking down at the baby with conflicted eyes.
Then he places the baby in Valentina’s arms.
“Sell the goddamned kid,” he snaps. “It’s not mine; I don’t fucking care what you do with it.”
“I intend to sell it,” Francesca says, voice booming.
“No! No! Don’t take her! Let me go with her!” Sian cries.
Francesca pushes her way past her brother and storms over to the bed, wrenching both hands in Sian’s hair and dragging her off the bed and onto the hard floor; she lands with a thud! Then Sian is dragged across the floor by her hair, kicking violently, crying out curses and words of plea at the same time. “You evil fucking bitch! No-No Please…I’m begging you, Madam!” She can’t decide which face to wear—the obedient or the retaliatory one—knowing that neither one will help her.
Next to me, Niklas hasn’t moved. He has stood there, as calmly as I think I’ve ever seen him, and watched this scene unfold with little more than an interest. At one point I saw him smile darkly, one corner of his mouth had lifted at a precise moment when Francesca looked at him, and it’s unnerving how believable it was to me. That’s why Francesca brought us here, why she wanted Niklas to see this: his earlier act had convinced her that they are just alike, and now she wants to show him up, or perhaps show off for him.
Francesca, with Sian’s hair still wrenched in one hand, makes a gesture with the other at Valentina now standing at the foot of the bed holding the baby. “Give it to me,” she tells her, and I think she’s talking about the child until I see a flash of silver as Valentina pulls a knife from underneath her dress, attached to a sheath at her thigh.
My breath catches—so does Emilio’s.
But neither of us can move to do anything. Think, Izabel, think! What the fuck do I do? Maybe Francesca’s only going to hurt her; I can’t break character for that—I can’t break character at all, but I won’t let her kill that girl. I have to do something! I glance at Emilio, his eyes scarcely hiding trepidation, and I feel like his thoughts aren’t too very different from mine.
Francesca takes the knife from her sister. “Then if the girl means nothing to you, Brother,” she says as she drags Sian, kicking and crying across the floor toward Emilio, “you can watch me slit her throat.”
No. No, no, no, no…Emilio, do something!
And then he does.
“I can do you one even better, Sister,” he says, holding out his hand. “I’ll slit her throat myself.”
That seems to have pleased Francesca; a dark smile slips up on her face. Emilio steps up to her; his right hand moves down the length of her arm, over the silk of her robe to find the bare skin of her wrist. His long manly fingers touch her slender ones softly, tenderly and with forbidden affection. And then his mouth finds hers; his tongue slips between her lips and he kisses her as passionately as any man would who loves a woman with his last dying breath. I gasp quietly—at the knife in his hand, the exchange of power; at the forbidden kiss that both moves me and makes me uncomfortable at the same time.
Emilio won’t kill Sian; I feel it in my heart.
But then what—I gasp again, this time so sharply I know that if anyone were paying attention to me that they surely heard it, but I’m the least of anyone’s interest right now. I watch the knife in Emilio’s hand like an inevitable car accident in slow motion—he’s going to kill Francesca; he’s going to kill Victor’s payday…
“You know,” Niklas speaks up coolly, and every pair of eyes in the room turn to him, “I’d really hate to spoil the demonstration of loyalty between you two…as disturbing as it is”—he clears his throat facetiously—“but I’d hate even more to pass up possessing a girl like that one.”