A Shift in Balance

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Laura Magalas


Balance McKay was thinking. Deeply too.

She sat with one arm over the side of her chair, intertwining her fingers in the spokes of one wheel, eyes closed, the other elbow bent against the armrest, her fist pressed firmly under her nose. Finally, after a long moment, she sighed and sat back in her wheelchair. “Let’s go over it again.”

“What, all of it?”

“Yes.”

“You’re kidding.”

She simply cast me a glance over the rim of her glasses. “Again, Jack.”

“This will be number four.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“I don’t think you’re paying me enough for this.” I was kidding and she knew it. As far as assistants go, I was one of the highest paid in the city. Because if you had a problem, and you had money, the only person you went to was Balance McKay. And as a result, when you worked for her, you were very well paid. That having been said, I can also say I’ve never been assaulted, beaten, or shot at more times in my life. Working for Balance attracts that kind of trouble. Of course, every time I begin to feel the need for sympathy, I get a good look at her wheelchair. Changes my mind every time.

Once I asked London, the butler, about how her wheels at her hips came about, but I didn’t get a lot because he started talking over my head. Something about her immune system. She can’t leave the premises or else she can get real sick. So when she needs to have something, she needs someone to get it. That’s where I come in. She’d had me run to Quincy Street and back. When I’d returned to her South Side apartment and found her in the sunroom, she’d asked for an update. And again. And again.

And now again.

So I let out a loud sigh of displeasure. She didn’t seem to care but it made me feel better. I leaned back in my white wicker chair opposite hers and started flicking a red flower on a potted bush nearby. “Michael King, twenty-eight years old. Lives on upper Patterson. No kin of any kind. Pays rent for his apartment on time, landlady says she’s never had a problem with him. Until the night of his suicide.”

I caught her glimpse and realizing my error, corrected myself, “Pardon me, the night of his death.”

She nodded and I continued. “At ’bout ten o’clock, landlady hears arguing. Swears she hears a woman’s voice. Minute later, it’s all quiet. Landlady hears someone start to leave, peeks out the door and sees a woman leave the apartment. Next day, someone comes looking for him.”

Balance suddenly let out a violent cough. Quickly reacting, I jumped to her; her body was shaking horribly. She held a hand out to hold me back, her glasses slipping down her face. After a few moments, she seemed to have control again and the fit ceased. She waved her hand and motioned for me continue. I stayed standing, and tugged a nearby rope that hung from the ceiling, a bell for London, before continuing. “Guy who worked with King, Derek Austen, finally got the landlady to open the door. Apparently he’d been trying to reach King. The two open the apartment door, King’s lying on the floor, dead as Shakespeare. Cause of death was an overdose of the drug opium.”

“Could Austen account for his whereabouts during the time Michael King was absent?”

I nodded. “Much to my disappointment he informed me of a very solid alibi he happened to have, which you are going to love.”

“Enlighten me.”

I grinned. “He claims to have been with the same lady that was in King’s apartment. Justine Teller.”

“And you spoke to this Justine Teller,” she said expectantly.

“Yes. Says her purpose for being there was to break an affair with King. He got angry and threw her out. She left. Austen was waiting outside. They claim King was staring down at them from his balcony until they left. That was the last time Austen saw him until he found him. They were together the rest.” Thus concluded my fourth description of the case. I sat back in my seat and noticed London in the shadow of the doorway.

Balance spoke. “Where was Michael King’s apartment?”

“Place called Haddon Heights. Second floor, facing the street.”

“If you’re looking at the building, which side?”

I thought for a moment. “The right side. Above the door.”

“And the opium… was it taken orally?”

“According to Brandon,”—a coroner we were both familiar with—“he injected it. Liquid opium. Gave it another name though… something called—”

“—laudanum,” Balance finished. I saw her stiffen noticeably. Enough to make London take a step.

“Balance—”

“In a minute,” she said, looking back at me. She started taking deeper breaths. “Any bruising on the body? Fingerprints on the needle?”

“Bruise at the back of the head, which Brandon says can be from falling after the laud… law… the l-stuff kicked in,” I said, “No fingerprints on the needle, but he was wearing gloves when they found him.”

London, who seemed to decide enough was enough, stepped forward. “Balance,” he said firmly, “it’s time for your dose.”

She sighed, frustrated, but gave him a nod. London approached, wheeling a small silver tray with assorted bottles on it. I saw the needle on the tray. So did Balance. She instantly looked away, holding out her bare arm perpendicular from her body. She gave a shudder and I stood.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Sit down.”

I stayed standing just to be difficult, then crouched in front of her to serve as a distraction. I took her hand. She didn’t comment.

“Do you know what it is that makes me react like this to needles, Jack?”

I shook my head.

“Aichmophobia,” she said. London injected her and she squeezed my hand. Tight grip for someone so fragile. She continued, “It’s a pathological fear of needles or anything sharp. My case is mild, so I can handle shots, but I wouldn’t be able to stab myself.” She heaved a sigh as London finished and folded her arm. “You know Doc?” she said, referring to her doctor, whose name I nodded at, “You get him drunk enough, he breaches patient confidence. Told me once he had ten clients who had aichmophobia like me in his clientele, and he named them.” She stopped to take a breath. “Michael King was one of them.”

I stopped. “So he couldn’t have—”

“—injected himself, no,” she finished. “If it’s the same Michael King. And one other thing,” she said, finally shaking my hand off, “I’ve seen Haddon Heights. Michael’s apartment shouldn’t have a balcony. It has a fire escape, but no balcony. Check it out.” She suddenly coughed violently but continued. “Call Doc. Get him to pull King’s file.”

“Won’t the cops and Eric have that?”

“No. Psychological information isn’t normally on their medical records. And tell Eric to haul in both suspects.”

I grabbed my hat from the chair and gave a wave. “Oh, Balance?”

“What?”

“Try not to die while I’m gone.”

She gave me a smile, but I could see the hourglasses in her eyes. “Are you still here? Get going.”

I left.

pencil

Laura Magalas is finishing her B.A. in Honors English. She lives for writing and tends to daydream excessively. She hopes to one day have one good novel to her name. E-mail: atellix[at]hotmail.com

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