As they got dressed, Morgan and Marie could hear the low rumbles of a man’s voice float up from the first floor. They had not heard the door open or close, and judging from the hollowed way the voice filled the room, they guessed that the mayor had not brought a large group of people. Fa could not be heard, but then, she always moved silently.
I guess this is our chance to see how serious the mayor’s statements in the newspaper were, Marie thought to Morgan.
I wonder how easily he scares, Morgan thought back.
That’s not funny. Marie gave Morgan a cold stare that made her look eerily similar to Fa.
I know, I know. But aren’t you curious what he’s going to be like? About us? and all the witch business.
Yeah. Let’s go now. You ready?
Morgan nodded. Marie combed back her hair into a ponytail as Morgan ran a hand through her short red tuft, and then the girls bounded down the staircase, two steps at a time until they reached the first floor with a thud.
In the sitting room the mayor and Fa Switch were standing feet away from each other. Their backs were straight and they looked as if they were trying to make themselves tall–especially Fa, who was a good foot and a half shorter than the mayor. The mayor held a small cup of tea. In his hands, the teacup looked miniature, like a toy for a young child. Behind the twins, Mina crept quietly down the stairs and grabbed onto Marie’s hand.
“Mr. Mayor,” Fa said, turning her head slightly to acknowledge her daughters.
“My younger daughters. Morgan, Marie, and Mina.”
The mayor nodded. They had met before, before the wedding. The girls had been similarly silent. “Please,” he said. “Call me John. John Hunter.”
“Mr. Mayor,” Fa said. “Please have a seat.”
John Hunter sat down on the bamboo-upholstered red couch and took note of his surroundings. His face was clean shaven, and he looked like he always did: well-dressed, neat, and ready to step up to a podium at any time to give a speech. Even below his eyes, there were no bags or wrinkles to signal that he had lost any sleep. His general appearance was pleasant, commanding a certain measure of trust and confidence, a countenance from which could be gleaned the boyish handsomeness that Graham had inherited. His face was neither smiling nor frowning–it had the look of being distinguishable according to the viewer’s desires, and so it was difficult for the girls to determine what exactly he was feeling.
Always the politician, Morgan thought to Marie.
“Well, I have already told your mother this, girls, but I want to say it again–thank you for having me in your house this morning. I know it has not been the easiest of nights for your family.”
“Nor for yours.” Fa said.
Mayor Hunter nodded and looked down at his hands for a moment, as if collecting his thoughts. The gravity in his gaze could have been grief, but it could also have been focus. “You must be wondering why I have come at all. Perhaps you have had a chance to read the newspaper.”
“You bet we have,” Morgan mumbled. Fa shot her a sharp look.
“What she means to say is that we saw the article about you and your wife,” Marie said.
The mayor nodded at Marie and then turned to Fa. “So you must understand that I come with nothing but the best intentions. I want to apologize for the treatment you have endured up until now, as well as the treatment your daughter and sister–my daughter-in-law”–here, Mayor Hunter closed his eyes for a brief moment–“has endured. I can only hope to comfort you by assuring that she is in the safest of hands, out of reach from any angry townspeople, or indeed, from my own wife, who you must forgive for being irrational.
“I would like to repeat the sentiments expressed in the paper. I have no reason to assume that your daughter murdered my son, and I will not do so until the evidence is held up in court. Even if it turns out that Mara is guilty–”
“She’s not!” Mina shouted suddenly, squeezing Marie’s hand tightly.
“She loved Graham more than you did!” Morgan burst out.
“Girls!” Fa’s voice snapped into the air like a whip. “Manners. Mr. Mayor, continue.”
The mayor nodded, acknowleding the girls now. “I understand your feelings about your sister, and I am not saying anything about her guilt. Only that given the possibility that she is determined guilty, I will do everything in my power to make sure that no more innocents are harmed in this matter. That is, I will do all in my power to protect your family against the backlash of the community. If you,” Mayor Hunter turned back to Fa, “If you and your daughters stay cleanly out of the proceedings, that is.”
Fa remained silent for a moment, not blinking or breaking her gaze with the mayor.
“I’m not sure what you mean by that last sentence, Mr. Mayor,” Fa said.
“What I mean,” the mayor said, leaning forward, “is that at this moment I have no reason to suspect that any of your family beyond Mara was involved in this tragedy, and given that this holds true, I would not want you to suffer what you do not deserve. However, for me to continue to believe in the entire family’s innocence–Mara’s included–I must be promised that your family will not… interfere, just as I do not plan to interfere, on the fairness and justice of the criminal proceedings.”
Marie breathed deeply. So this is what its really about.
Do you think he knows about last night? Morgan sent back.
I can’t tell.
Fa had stood up from her chair. The mayor took his cue to stand as well, placing his teacup on the side table, where it suddenly appeared to be normally sized again. He opened his mouth to speak, reaching out to shake Fa’s hand, when Fa interrupted him.
“Thank you for your concern, Mr. Mayor,” she said. “Whatever the outcomes of this, our sufferings have already been great. As for interference, I can assure you that we have no means for doing so even if we wished.”
She reached out to shake the mayor’s hand, and just as they were letting go, Marie stepped forward.
“If I may ask one question, Mr. Mayor, before you leave.”
“Of course, young lady. Marie?”
“If you don’t believe that Mara is guilty either, who do you think is the real suspect?”
John Hunter’s stoic face broke for a fraction of a second into a grin, and Mina thought she saw in the corner of his eye a small glint of light. The next second his face was back to its regular composure. He frowned lightly and leaned toward Marie, speaking softly.
“If you want to hear the truth,” he said, “I thought I saw a strange shadow lurking that night.”
He walked towards the door, excusing himself out.
“But perhaps you will know better than I what it could be.” He tipped his head at Fa–“We will speak again”–and stepped outside.