Chapter 40

Kate is deeply shaken by Cal’s visit and words. Bitterly, she thinks that the only other person who has ever caused her so much mental discomfort was Sam Hamilton. As she ponders, she pulls up the chain that hangs between her breasts. The necklace has three things attached to it: two safety-deposit keys and a vial that contains grains of morphine. Her son’s words, “I think you’re afraid,” reverberate in her mind. She says them aloud in an attempt to divest them of their power.

Kate receives a letter from a woman named Ethel. Kate is clueless as to the identity of the woman. She knows dozens of women with that name, but she has had a sufficient relationship with none of them to warrant correspondence. Kate agrees to meet with the letter writer. Ethel turns out to be an ageing, addle-brained whore who had once worked in Kate’s house. As the poor woman babbles, it becomes clear that Kate had “run her off” some time ago. Ethel spent some time in jail and could never get enough money through prostituting to survive very well.

Kate offers Ethel forty dollars but Ethel was hoping for more, in light of the information she had sent to Kate in the mail. Kate has no idea what the woman is talking about. In her blundering way, Ethel finally reveals that she is blackmailing Kate. After Faye’s death, Ethel found the smashed medicine bottles in the backyard. She saved the broken glass in an envelope, certain an analysis of the glass would reveal poison. Kate offers Ethel room and board in exchange for some domestic help. Ethel refuses. She wants a hundred dollars a month to keep her mouth shut. Kate agrees, then counts out a hundred dollars and Ethel goes back to her hotel. The next morning, Ethel is arrested when a man accuses her of robbery. Ethel screams that she was framed but the judge will have none of it. Ethel is escorted to the county line and threatened with prison if she returns.

Kate initially thinks nothing of what she has done to Ethel, but the knowledge that someone out there has information that might link her to Faye’s death eats away at her. Even if testing the bottles proves nothing, people would wonder why she smashed them rather than simply disposing of them. Kate knows what she would think if she heard about a wealthy widow who died mysteriously and left her fortune to a relative stranger. Kate bitterly regrets letting Ethel go free; Ethel might do or say anything beyond Kate’s control. Kate entertains the idea of leaving town herself. She takes a dose of bromide to calm her nerves.