“I have lied to you” he murmured to Mary Ellen as he lay dying. “I said I was still in love with the beautiful Negressa, my dancer from Chile. The truth is I have never loved anyone. I have friends and business partners that I trust, and you, my dear Mary Ellen, are both.”
Tom’s grip loosened on her hand, and she adjusted the folded blanket underneath his bleeding head.
“I care not what happens to Teresa, nor the numerous children who live in my house, I fathered none of them. But you, my trusted friend, you have enemies and that vapid woman you found for me to marry, she will be relentless.”
Mary Ellen watched as his icy blue eyes dimmed to gray, his throat emitting that familiar death rattle, the last sound James made before he died. She knew those enemies would accuse her once again, of murder, of poisoning a man to death. Not this one and not that one either. When it had been necessary, she used a gun. And checked to make sure they were dead before calling for help to hide the body.
By the time the doctor arrived, Tom had said his piece, and she gently closed the eyelids over those eyes, forever shutting down the twinkles of amusement, the patient stare, the looks of understanding and agreement as he heard and followed her investing advice. His death was hastened, she knew, by the quicksilver that had infected him every time he visited the mines. She had treated some of the miners as they slowly went mad, and unable to work, were sent home to Chile while New Almaden Mining Company admitted nothing. So folks were unaware that the loss of balance, the foggy brain, the slurred speech were all signs of mercury poisoning, and none of her poultices or teas could cure that.
She treasured that last moment of clarity, and straightening up, went to wash the blood off her hands and send for the undertaker.