She had been kidnapped once already. But twice was too much.
|"A Galway girl!" Ratchett slapped his thigh and laughed. "Can you beat that?"
The girl smiled thinly. "And what would you be apt to try beating a Galway girl with, exactly?"
Ratchett threw his head back and howled.
"Darling," he said, "it was a Galway girl that got me this." He gestured expansively at the wooded lakeshore.
"You're married, then."
Ratchett's mirth abruptly vanished.
"No," he said. "That's not what I meant, exactly. I'm only remarking on the coincidence."
He fell into a mulish silence, and the girl turned away to gaze at the lake, over whose dark, rippling surface the lowering sun threw a coppery shine. The bark of a truck motor rattled the air. But it was otherwise silent on the cropped lawn that swept from the back porch of the hotel down to the Wisconsin lakeshore.
"Do you know Galway, Mr. Ratchett?" the girl asked.
"No. Never been."
"Only you were so pleased to learn I'm from Connacht. And we've a lake there, Lough Corrib. And this"—she gestured at the lake—"is Connemara Lake." She looked at him over her shoulder. "And your inn is the 'Hen's Castle'. Named for the old castle on the lough? Or is all this, as you remark, only coincidence?" She lightly accented the word.
Ratchett's smile had long since fallen away, and the sunlight flashed like summer lightning off the lenses of his steel-framed glasses.
"Coincidence," he snapped. "'Hen's Castle' sounds better than 'The Henhouse', which is what it was called when I bought the place. The lake was already named Connemara."
"And your pleasure at meeting a Galway girl?"
Ratchett bit his lip. "What do you think the pleasure is?"
She smiled, and went back to gazing at the lake. She was a slip of a thing, with skin like milk and hair like braided fire. She was dressed in green silk, and on her shoulder she twirled a parasol on which was woven the figure of a man with a bagpipe. No, his pleasure was not in "Galway," but in the girl.
"Do you believe in coincidence, Mr. Ratchett?" she asked.
"You mean coincidence or fate, Miss ...?"
"Shee. Why, do you think they're the same?"
"No. Only some people say one when they really mean the other."
"So which do you believe in?"
Ratchett glanced back at the hotel, as though anxious to be recalled to business there. But he stepped down to join the girl on the lakeshore, as though dragged.
"I believe in the fate I make for myself," he said. "And in the fate others try to make for me," he added in a darker undertone.
"In faith," the girl said, "you speak as a man who goes in fear of others."
Ratchett gripped her by the elbow. "Who are you?" he growled.
"I told you, my name is—"
"No. Who are you?" With his free hand he pressed a small revolver to her side.
The girl laughed. The shock on Ratchett's face was of a man receiving an icy slap.
"Why Mr. Ratchett," she said, "if your custom saw how their host treats his guests—"
He pulled her toward him, then hustled her along the shore to the boat house. He glared and kept the pistol pointed at her, but she only smiled and twirled her parasol and looked over the lake with shaded eyes as he unmoored the launch and drove it into the middle of the lake. There it silently rocked after he killed the motor.
"You can sink or try to swim," he told her. "Or you can tell me who you are."
"Or I could tell you who you are, Mr. Carson," she riposted.
"Ah!" Ratchett showed his teeth. "So we understand each other!"
"Oh, I understand you," she said. "It's not coincidence, is it? It was Hen's Castle, on the lough, where you held the girl Kathleen, and where you bashed her skull in with a metal pipe after collecting the ransom."
Ratchett glared, and his face showed neither surprise nor shame. "She was a brat and wouldn't stop screaming."
"Was she?" The girl laughed again. "I fear she would be. She was also the wrong one."
Ratchett's eyes narrowed. "What d'you mean she was the wrong one? And who are you? Police? IRA?"
"Oh, much older than that, Mr. Carson." She folded her parasol. "I'm the girl Kathleen. The real one."
Ratchett squinted at her, as though unsure whether to sneer or to yell.
"I'm the girl Kathleen O'Hara," she went on. "The twice cradle-snatched. The second time, in a way, by you. But the first time by—"
She looked past his ear, and Ratchett whirled. A skiff, green as a leaf, had glided up silently behind. A shadow covered the face of the cloaked figure who pushed it along with a pole.
Ratchett raised his pistol, but it slipped without firing from his numb hand, and fell into the lake.
"Who are you?" he asked the girl in a husky voice.
"I told you. I am Shee. We are Shee. Shall I spell it out for you? S-I-D-H-E? No, I see you learnt nothing whilst you were in Connacht, snatching and murdering rich schoolgirls. It's the latter that separates us from you, you know."
She stepped over the side of the boat, and hovered on the water as Ratchett, moving stiffly like a marionette, stepped into the other craft.
"You forged your fate, Mr. Carson," she said, "when you took the one they left in payment of me. And the fate you tried forging for yourself"—she swept her hand over the lake—"was no more than the long way around to the one we meant for you.
"Goodbye, Mr. Carson," she called after him as the skiff skated away to the farther shore. "Don't pay the ferryman. He wouldn't take your money, no matter were it clean."
Winner (by default) of the The Writer's Cramp: 2-25-21.