Heartless CHAPTER 9
“I can't believe that something like this could happen in our town” Mary Margaret was saying after Ruby explained to her what had happened last night. “But are you all right?”
“Yes. I didn't sleep at all last night but now I'm much better now. I'm going into the sheriff's department later to make a full confession. Maybe I should take something with me, a cake or doughnuts, if it weren't for Graham...” she trailed off when she glimpsed the subject of their conversation over Mary Margaret's shoulder. Something must have appeared on her face because Mary Margaret asked:
“What is it?”
“The sheriff's coming” she said.
The man was coming closer slowly – surprisingly slowly – and there was something strange in the way he moved. Mary Margaret turned that way too and they watched the sheriff together. Moments later it became clear that something was really wrong with him tough and then Ruby saw the blood. The jeans on his left leg – from upper thigh to knee – was drenched in the red fluid.
“Oh my God...” Mary Margaret whispered next to Ruby.
“Call the ambulance” Ruby said and hurried towards Graham just when the man swayed and collapsed to the ground.
Ruby reached his side in a second and knelt down. He was trying to sit up but his eyes were unfocused as they looked at her and his movements were sluggish.
“Hey, Graham, stay down. Help's on the way” she said gently.
She has never seen so much blood and she had to gulp back bile looking at it. She also had no idea how to help. Graham's eyes focused on her suddenly and his lips moved. Ruby bent closer to hear better but then his eyes rolled back then and he went totally limp. Ruby felt Mary Margaret step up to her side.
“The ambulance is coming” she said. “Shouldn't we do something?”
“I don't dare to touch him” Ruby said. “But I can already hear the sirens.”
The ambulance really arrived in a few moments and the two paramedics started to work immediately. They cut the jeans off and found bloodied bandages and under that a deep, oozing wound.
“What happened to him?” one medic asked but the two women could only shrug.
“We found him like this” Mary Margaret said.
“Will he be all right?” Ruby asked.
The paramedics were checking their patient over.
“His pulse is thready, lost a lot of blood obviously but the wound seems manageable” one of them said. “We are taking him in.”
They pulled the stretcher from the ambulance and together they loaded the sheriff onto it and into the car. Ruby decided on a whim.
“I'm going with” she said.
At first Mary Margaret looked at her with wide eyes at that, almost scared and to be honest Ruby felt the same. There was a reason why she never flirted with the sheriff who should have been the best party in town. She just didn't know what that reason was. But now she knew that she being there for him was the best decision.
“Get in there, then” the medic said and she jumped in.
The road to the hospital and what came after was a blur. Graham was rushed away and Ruby could see for a while as Doctor Whale and two nurses worked on him, until one of the nurses closed the blinds and she was left waiting. She sat there for a while immersed in thoughts and worries then called Granny to explain why she couldn't go to the diner. After what seemed to be hours (and probably were) Doctor Whale came out.
“Hey, Ruby” he started. “I've heard you came in with the sheriff.”
“Yes, is he okay?”
“Yes. He needed minor surgery to repair the damage in his thigh but he will be all right after getting some blood and antibiotics. He's sleeping right now but you can go in there if you want. It would be better if he didn't wake up alone.”
“Gladly” she answered.
She was led into a standard hospital room with three beds but only one was occupied. She sat down on the plastic chair next to the bed and looked the patient up and down.
Graham was pale, and there was a nasal canula helping him breathe, and a machine next to the bed showing his heart-rate. Ruby found him vulnerable. She didn't know Graham well, though he came to the diner every day but they never went farther then small talk. He was always kind and friendly but never shared any private information. They weren't friends but he saved her the day before and she felt deeply indebted.
“I hope you get better soon” she said to the unconscious man. “I want to thank you properly, you know. Invite you for a dinner maybe. Not like a date, don't get me wrong, just a friendly occasion. Maybe Granny could be there too...”
She continued in that manner for at least and hour, talking about everything and nothing, making sure that the injured man heard a friendly voice while resting. She was watching him closely and so she noticed immediately when Graham jerked on the bed. Then he moaned as if in pain. Ruby stood up and lent closer.
And then the machines started to beep in warning and the line showing a regular heartbeat until then went crazy.
She knew of course that most of his knights disliked the Huntsman. They were probably jealous, because she let him into her bedchambers and gave him special tasks. She actually enjoyed to exploit their hatred that’s why she ordered the Huntsman to take part in the last knightly tournaments. It was kind of humiliating for the knights that someone who they considered more animal than human beated most of them.
The knights pushed the Huntsman some more, so he fell to the knees in front of Regina. He stayed that way, with his head lowered.
“Do you know what happens to pets that turn against their owners?” she asked and then answered her own question. “They are beaten into submission, or put down. I suspect you wish for the latter but you should know by now that it’s never going to be that easy. Sir Ryker if you would be so kind…”
The knight stepped forward and with his mail-gloved hand he backhanded the Huntsman.
“Again” Regina said.
The second blow knocked the kneeling man to the floor.
“Pull him up” she ordered the other knight but the Huntsman pulled him back to his knees on his own power. “Again Sir Ryker.”
After the eighth hit the man stayed down, the left side of his face and his beard was drenched in blood and he was breathing heavily. Regina waved at the knights to step back. She didn’t want her toy to suffer permanent injuries.
“You know, while you were away I had time to think about the proper punishment for you” she said conversationally.
She walked over to a side table where the inlaid box with Huntsman’s heart in it stood.
“You know that if I crush your heart you’re going to die. Other than that though I could do anything to it and you would survive. You would of course feel the pain and probably would wish to die but you will survive. Raise his head so he can see me!” she ordered the knights.
She picked up the heart gently – it was thrilling to feel the power of keeping a living heart in her hand, no matter how many times it happened and at these times she could understand her mother a little better – and turned back towards her prisoner. With a deliberately slow motion she pulled a decorating pin from the corset of her dress. The Huntsman flinched, but he couldn’t turn away. Sir Ryker held one hand over his neck, the other grabbed onto his hair and so he was effectively keeping the Huntsman immobile.
She then plunged the pin into the heart. The man on the floor shuddered and gasped painfully, his face went pale under all the blood.
“I’m telling you again: you can try as hard as you want but you still belong to me. This pin stays here until I decide you learnt your lesson. And don’t think that this makes me happy.”
At this point the man’s eyes were glazed over with pain but she was positive that her message went through. The Huntsman was a wild thing, that was what made him so entertaining and also useful for her. She didn’t want him broken just tamed to her own will and no one else’s.
“Take him to the dungeons” she turned to the knights. “Chain him in a cell until I order otherwise.”
Regina was informed by Sidney about the news. He was called by Doctor Whale as Sidney was helping out as a volunteer deputy at the sheriff's department – on Regina's insistence of course – and so he was called in when the sheriff was found injured. So Regina found out from him that Graham was in the hospital and also that he had left something for her in the office. She hurried to the office immediately.
Sidney was sitting in the sheriff's office at the desk, working on a notebook and both cells were occupied. She threw a disgusted look at the men in the cells and then burst into the office without knocking.
“Where is it?” she asked.
Sidney looked up, surprised.
“Regina! I thought you would go to the hospital” he said and Regina thought that he sounded happy that she didn't. He has always been jealous of Graham.
“I will, after I got what Graham left for me” she said.
“Oh. It's here” he pulled the leather roll from under the desk.
“Did you open it?”
“No, I didn't. It seemed personal.”
“Good” she took the package turned her back on Sidney and unrolled the blueprints.
Everything was in there, undamaged. She looked over every sheet and sighed relieved. She started to roll up the papers again when her look landed on something at the edge of the plan of the crypt. Her relief turned into dark fury. What she saw was a bloody fingerprint, faint but definitely there.
It was so like Graham to do something like this. Always disobeying her at the worst moments. Did he go to the crypt? She had to find out right now. She rolled up the blueprints and rushed out of the department without saying another word to Sidney.
She was in the cemetery in record time, opened the secret passageway and hurried down to the vaults. She wouldn't have found the signs of someone being there if she didn't look for them but after a thorough investigation she found some blood on the floor and also on one of the cases. The one case Graham should have never touched. She had no idea what consequence this would have but nothing good for sure. In worst case Graham would remember, but even if not he surely would ask questions.
She opened the case with dark resolution and pulled the glowing heart from it. It was still glowing with the same bright light it did when she ripped it out, it was probably the brightest heart she has ever seen. It was a good catch, really. But now it had to be over.
She squeezed the heart.
She felt it flutter under her fingers. It was a waste really because Graham was useful in more ways than one. He kept order in town, he did her bidding (most of the times) and he was a lover who never asked for anything.
Her eyes wandered over to the small alcove on the opposite side of the chamber and landed on the green vial there. Maybe there was another solution for the situation. She released the heart and put it back onto the silk pillows almost gently.
With the vial secure in her pocket she closed down the chamber and the crypt and drove to the hospital.
To her dismay she found that slut Ruby in Graham's room.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she snapped at her.
She looked up like a frightened rabbit, her eyes wide and red-rimmed. She has clearly been crying.
“I... found him like this and I didn't want to leave him alone. And then his heart stopped and...”
“Well, he's obviously not alone anymore as I'm here and Doctor Whale said that he would be all right. His heart is well now too. So leave and don't come back” she said.
Ruby went red and seemed like she wanted to say something but then lowered her eyes, picked up her sweater and left.
Regina closed the door behind her and put out the vial. She opened it and bent over the prone body of the sheriff. She needed only a few drops in his mouth and she concentrated on what she wanted: Graham to forget that he looked at blueprints and went to the vaults and his obedience to her reastablished. With the power of the potion she would regain the rule over his mind if everything went well.
After the man gulped the green liquid, she sat down and waited patiently, she even held his hand for a while.
When Graham woke hours later, his eyes were tired but found Regina's face unerringly. She saw no suspicion there, just some confusion,but then they cleared and Graham smiled at her with utter devotion.