The Guardian was talking again. It had been a long time since he had had anything to say but now he was back. The Guardian had always been the means to control the world, because the Guardian knew. He knew everything, things that were hidden from others. The Guardian knew when parents and siblings lied. Knew when teachers and employers were plotting behind your back. Whenever this happened, the Guardian stepped in with a warning and a plan of action. And now the Guardian was back.
Nobody else knew about the Guardian. He was private, a voice meant only for deserving ears. This had been made plain. To reveal his existence would be the ultimate betrayal and so he was kept secret. As long as he was secret, the protection would continue. The protection and the insights and the solutions.
It was hard to remember when the Guardian had first appeared. It was almost like he’d always been there: hovering, protecting, sympathizing when no one else cared. Now the Guardian was a part of everyday life again. He’d gone away for a while, chased by the medication that had made life so unbearable, so bland. It was a relief to have him back. Especially now, when that bitch was everywhere.
“Have you been keeping up with your lessons?” The voice of the Guardian, soothing and welcome, a reminder of things to remember for self-preservation.
Yes. I’ve taken karate, judo and kickboxing, as well as firearms training.
“Good. Such skills can come in handy in times such as these.”
What else can I do? How else can I defend myself?
“There is nothing right now. That woman.... That bitch is out to get you. You know that, don’t you?”
Head bowed, eyed closed tight against tears that would indicate weakness. A whispered answer, Yes.
“There is no need to fear. She is a weak creature. You are strong. She feels a sense of false security because she spends her days surrounded by people. But we know her weaknesses and her vulnerabilities. We know where she lives.”
Silence now as the import of that last statement is allowed to settle in.
“I liked what you did with the note and the phone call.”
A feeling of pride swells from within, for this was an original idea, not formulated and suggested by the Guardian. A smile. Thank you. I thought it rather clever myself.
“Don’t get too cocky!” The Guardian was never one to appreciate self-aggrandizement.
Then, in a more conciliatory tone, “But it was rather clever. However, not nearly severe enough. She’s always envied you, you know. And now she’s out to show you that she’s better than you could ever be. But we both know she’s wrong, don’t we?”
A nod of the head, no words are needed to answer, for the answer is clear.
“But it is annoying, is it not, that she gets all this attention? Especially since she’s so unworthy. You should be the one on television. The one being interviewed in the Times. You’ve got more talent in your toenail than that bitch has in her entire body.”
Beaming, basking in the adulation that is so damned deserved and never forthcoming from those who should bow down and kiss the earth blessed by the touch of such talent. She probably fucked the producer of the show. Probably sucked the interviewer.
Warming now to the subject.
And that stupid twit Cassandra trying to put her together with that oh-so-pretty-co-host. What in the hell would he see in her anyway? She’s so tall. Looks like a giraffe!
Laughing now, at the thought of Emily Simonson with large orange and brown spots all over her big, ugly self.
“I think she should pay. How about you?”
Oh yes. What shall we do?
“Oh, we’ll think of something.”
It was in a 9 x 12 brown clasp envelope. When Emily pulled it from the tight slot of her mailbox, she hardly noticed it, thinking it was just another piece of junk mail. But then she saw the carefully printed address. In pencil. With no return address.
She stood there, motionless in front of the bank of mailboxes, staring at it, remembering the first envelope and then that phone message. All of her other mail slipped unnoticed to the ground. Her stomach clenched into a knot and a ripple of foreboding crawled up her spine, raising the fine hairs on the back of her neck
A car turned into the driveway, jarring Emily out of her trance. Quickly she gathered up her dropped mail and went back along the walk to her apartment. Inside, she threw the other mail on the small table next to the front door, then turned her attention back to the brown envelope. She didn’t want to open it but she had to know what was inside.
There was nothing to indicate it, but she was suddenly gripped by an irrational fear that perhaps this was a letter bomb or maybe contained some poisonous substance. Her mind told her there was no bomb and the chances of something like anthrax being inside the envelope were practically nil but her gut insisted otherwise. She took the envelope into the kitchen and laid it on the counter as she searched the drawers for a pair of tongs and a long knife. She held the envelope in place on the counter with the tongs and slit the flap with the knife. Nothing happened. She inserted the knife into the envelope and held it in place as she opened it with the tongs. From inside she withdrew what looked to be a piece of folded newspaper. Satisfied now that she wasn’t handling an explosive device and seeing no powdery substance, Emily put down the knife and tongs and unfolded it.
It was the cover of the Calendar section from the Times. The one where they’d done the story on her and the Kitchen Witch. Staring back at her was a picture of herself, the name of the restaurant captioned beneath her. Only the person who’d sent this had taped a B over the W in witch. Around her neck a noose had been drawn and a red tongue was painted onto her mouth, hanging out in a cartoon parody of a person strangling. On the front of her blouse a bull's eye had been drawn over her heart and in the center was a dagger, thrust up to the hilt, the blade buried deep. At the bottom of the page was a neatly printed message. “Hey, Kitchen Bitch. I’m watching you!” She went to the phone and dialed the West L.A. Police Station with trembling fingers.
* * *
Detective Marcus Walker sat across the table from Emily as she put a cup of coffee down in front of him. It had been a long day and he’d been looking forward to going home, having a beer and watching a little television before going to bed. But then the call had come in as he was finishing up some paperwork on his desk. Marc, as his friends called him, was on the newly formed stalkers detail and the call had been referred to him due to the nature of the complaint. He wished she hadn’t thrown out the first letter but understood that at the time, she hadn’t realized the importance of it. Who would have? It could have been a prank. The phone message too could have been what Emily had hopefully regarded as just a neighborhood kid with too much time on his hands. But looking at the cover of the Calendar section now spread before him on the table, he had to entertain the possibility that this was more than a kid’s way of amusing himself. And, he reminded himself, she’d become a celebrity of sorts lately; a new celebrity, but still one who was starting to receive attention that looked as if it could blossom into more.
“Can you think of anyone who may have some reason to dislike you?” he asked, knowing that in so many cases no reason was needed.
Emily shook her head. “No, no one.”
He sipped his coffee, wishing it were a beer. “Whoever is doing this knows where you live. Are you listed in the phone book?”
“I was,” she answered. “But after I got that message I made a report to the phone company and changed my phone to an unlisted number. And even when I was listed it was only by my first initial and last name. I didn’t have the address published.”
He nodded. “So we can most likely assume this is someone you know.”
To that she only shrugged. “I can’t think of who it could be. I haven’t done anything to anybody. No arguments, didn’t steal anyone’s boyfriend, sleep with anyone’s husband.”
He watched her across the table, wondering if she had sent this to herself. A way of getting more publicity maybe? But that didn’t seem to hold water. She was getting plenty without something like this.
“Did you handle this when you opened the envelope?”
“Yes. But only a little bit. When I saw that printing on the envelope it kind of freaked me out. I was afraid maybe it was some sort of bomb or something.”
She described to him the procedure she’d used to open the envelope and extract its contents.
“When I saw it wasn’t anything that could hurt me, I unfolded the paper but then I thought about fingerprints and left it on the counter. You're the only other person who's handled it.”
He nodded, thinking that watching television had certainly changed sensibilities in the general public. Not so long ago no one would ever have thought of the possibility of a letter bomb. He picked up the letter with a handkerchief and inserted it back into the envelope.
“I’ll take this with me,” he said. “See if we can pick up any prints from it.”
Something that looked like hope lit her eyes. “You think you could?”
“Maybe,” he answered. “Maybe not. And even if we do, it’ll only help if we have those prints on file. You’ll have to give us your prints for comparison.”
“Now?” she asked.
“Tomorrow would be fine. I’ll set it up. Just go to the station and see the desk sergeant.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “Tell him I sent you. He’ll know what to do.”
He drank the rest of the coffee and stood up to leave. “I’ll do my best for you, Miss Simonson, but I can’t guarantee any results.”
“You think I should move?” she asked. “My friend mentioned it and I thought she was being extreme but now I don’t know.”
“Well, I don’t know if it would help or not, since we don’t know who’s doing this. But it couldn’t hurt. It’s a decision you’ll have to make yourself.” He walked towards the door. “I’ll let you know what I find and, if you decide to move, let me know.”
“Thank you,” she said, “I will.”
She watched as he walked down the driveway and went to his car parked out in the street. She closed her door, locked and chained it, then made sure all the windows were shut tight against the darkness outside.