The Ravenscroft Difference
I’m not easily frightened but the fear in her voice was palpable and set my nerves jangling.
‘Calm down, Sis,’ I tried to keep my voice level and reassuring, ‘and tell me what the trouble is.’
‘I know this is going to sound silly, but I think I’m being stalked.’ Her voice started to rise in pitch. ‘In fact I know I am, I’ve just seen him again … outside my flat. Can you come over right away … please?’
I couldn’t ignore the pleading note - and she is my only sister - so I told her to sit by the phone and to call me again if anything happened. We don’t live far apart, but to save time I caught a cab. For some reason the driver wanted to be chatty but I felt the cell phone vibrate in my coat pocket. I flipped it open and glanced at the caller ID, it was her.
‘He’s outside now, I can see him from the window. Please come quickly.’ She was close to panicking.
‘We’re only a few minutes away. You’ll be okay in the flat but don’t open the door until I tell you it’s safe.’
I flipped the phone shut and scowled at the driver. He got the message and accelerated. At the front door of the apartments I had a good look around. There was no one hanging around dressed in a hoodie, so I pushed the button for her flat.
‘Is that you?’
‘Yes Sis, you can open the door, there’s no one about.’
The latch clicked, I pushed open the door and climbed the stairs. She was waiting for me at her front door and locked it behind us.
I took off my coat, made us a cup of tea and listened while she told me the story. Although in reality there was little to tell. Only that she had noticed a man who appeared to be stalking her. Sometimes he was outside her apartment. Sometimes he seemed to be following her and, scariest of all, sometimes he turned up near to where she worked, or went to meet her friends, or went shopping. As if he knew of her daily routine. Always dressed in dark blue jeans and a black hoodie with the hood pulled up so that she could never get a sight of his face.
‘How long has he been bothering you?’ I said.
‘Several weeks, although at first I thought it was just a coincidence, you know, that perhaps he just lived nearby and travelled the same way I did, so it might have been a bit longer than that.’
‘You’ve not had any problems with jealous ex-boyfriends or amorous pests at work?’
‘No!’ she almost snapped my head off. ‘Sorry, no, there’s been nothing like that.’
‘And you never told me, until now?’ I tried hard not sound reproachful.
‘You’d been away and had only just come back and, well …’
‘I know, we haven’t always been close, but I am your sister. You should have called me. But you have told the police, haven’t you?’
‘Yes, but they say they there’s not much they can do. He hasn’t threatened me or touched me or approached me, he hasn’t even spoken to me. The police seem to think I’m imagining it, or that it’s just some harmless, silly young man with an infantile crush on me.’
‘But you have given them a description and a list of the dates and times when you’ve seen him.’
‘Yes, the sergeant let me write it down in a statement. But unless he does something threatening …’ She shrugged her shoulders and her eyes started to fill with tears. I took her in my arms and held her until the sobs subsided.
‘I feel so much safer with you here,’ she said dabbing her eyes with a tissue. Waterproof mascara be dammed. There were black streaks running down her cheeks. I reached for the tissue, grinning.
‘Give me that face, you look like a drowning badger,’ I said as I wiped the tears and the black streaks away. She sniffed and smiled back at me.
‘That’s better. Have you got a bottle of wine, I think we could both use a drink.’
She pointed at the ‘fridge and I opened it to find a bottle of chardonnay. I unscrewed the cap and found two glasses.
‘You really should have called me sooner. I know we’ve had our differences, but that’s in the past. You know I’ll always be here for you.’
I held out my arms again and we shared a reassuring hug but I could still feel her trembling. ‘I’ve no one else in the world but you,’ she said. ‘Thank you for being here.’
We sat on stools in her tiny kitchen and sipped the wine. ‘Did I tell you I’ve made a will?’ The wine had put some of the strength back in her voice. ‘If anything happens to me, you’ll get my share of the inheritance.’
‘Oh Sis!’ I exclaimed, reaching out for her hands. ‘You did tell me, but there’s no need to talk like that, nothing’s going to happen to you. I’m sure whoever’s doing this is quite harmless. We could confront him together if you like. I’ll bet he’s just a coward who enjoys winding people up.’
‘I’m not sure if I could face him, even with you there.’ she replied, her face paling at the thought. ‘I feel so scared. Would you … stay here tonight?’
‘Of course, if that’s what you want. But –‘
‘Oh please say yes.’ He voice was pleading.
‘Of course I’ll stay, I was only going to ask whether you had enough food in for dinner. If not I’ll pop down to the shops and buy something.’
‘Okay, but please …’
‘It’s okay Sis, I won’t be long. Give me your keys so I can let myself in and don’t open the door to anyone.’ I reached for my cell phone. ‘Call me if you see or hear anything … Oh, shit, my battery’s flat.’
‘Take mine,’ she said pulling it from her handbag. ‘I can call you on the landline.’
I went downstairs, opened the door and looked up and down the street. ‘There’s no one out there,’ I called back up to her. ‘But its threatening rain so I’ll take your raincoat and umbrella. Is that all right? I won’t be long.’
She brought them down to me and then, when she had shut it behind me, I gave the front door a hard shove to make certain it was securely latched.
It took longer than I had expected and I was starting on my way back to her flat when I called. Her telephone rang several times. Pick up, I muttered and then her voice answered. But it was only the answering machine. I left a message telling her I was on my way and quickened my pace. By the time I reached her apartment building I was practically running. My fingers fumbled with the keys and when I finally got the door unlocked I flung it open and dashed up the stairs to her apartment. Her door was shut and locked. I pressed my ear against it but could hear nothing.
My heart was pounding as I slid the key into the lock, turned it and pushed the door open.
‘Sis,’ I called, softly.
There was no answer. The apartment was still and the only sound I could hear was the ticking of the carriage clock on the hall table. It had been a gift from our Ravenscroft grandmother.
I walked the few steps to the kitchen and eased open the door. My sister was lying on the floor, her eyes wide and bulging, her face swollen and suffused with blue and her mouth gaping in a strangled scream. I grabbed a carving knife from the knife block on the kitchen bench. There were footsteps behind me and I wheeled round.
To be confronted by a man in blue jeans and a hoodie, his face threateningly concealed by a ski mask. His eyes, unnaturally large in the black rings of the mask, bored into me. I gripped the knife firmly behind my back.
‘Bloody hell, you two do look alike.’
‘We’re identical twins, yes.’
‘You’re not frightened I’m going to kill you too.’
‘Why should I be, you’ve been well paid.’
‘Well seeing as there’s the matter of the inheritance, perhaps I should ask for more.’
I flashed my warmest, most alluring smile at him.
‘I think you’ll find me satisfyingly grateful. Why don’t you have a little taste now?’
‘You’re a she devil,’ he replied, stepping forward as if expecting to be able to put his dirty paws on my body and then gasping in surprise as I buried the carving knife into his chest. He slumped to the floor his eyes wide with shock as his lifeblood pumped onto the vinyl.
I threw myself hard against the kitchen bench, feeling several ribs crack and the beginnings of a nasty bruise starting on my face. Then I sank to the floor screaming for help.
And that’s how the neighbours and the police found me. Sobbing over the body of my dead sister and screaming hysterically that I had killed a man.
In self-defence, of course.
But the police painstakingly put the story together. They identified the man I had hired to stalk and to kill my twin sister. They traced the payments I had made to him and the telephone messages with the instructions I had left for him. They found the keys I had given him and which he had used to let himself into my sister’s apartment. And they established my motive; her half share of the Ravenscroft inheritance that my sister had willed me.
But they also uncovered the matter of the mistaken identity. They discovered from my sister’s cell phone records that she was not in the apartment at the time of the murder and obtained corroboration from witnesses at the shops who saw her wearing her coat and carrying her umbrella. And I heard the detective’s chuckle with satisfaction at the irony, at the poetically just fate of the hired stalker killing the wrong sister; the very one who had hired him to commit murder.
And, of course, they believed my story that it was self-defence. Coming home to find the man who had been stalking me in the act of strangling my sister and then turning on me when he realized his mistake. I grabbed the knife but never intend to hurt him. I just wanted him to go away but he lunged at me and it went into his chest. ‘Oh God, Oh God! What was I to do?’And we are identical. There is no one who could ever tell us apart, except the Ravenscrofts’ old dog, which once bit me, perhaps able to sense the essential, invisible, difference between us. Sometimes I’m not even sure, now, which one I am myself. She was one the one who everyone called good and I …well I wasn’t. And I hated her for it and at the same time I hated myself because I wanted to be more like her. But I don’t hate either of us anymore. It’s like we were the opposite sides of a coin that have somehow merged and I am so much more at peace with myself, and happier. And richer.