Katherine Kircher fanned herself with purse, her bulging blue eyes watering with despair. “Oh Daddy,” she whimpered, her lower lip trembling. “I so wanted you to go riding with me today.” Daddy, being as ever easy to manipulate as a pug with a string of sausages, instinctively fell face first into his daughter’s guilt trip. He clasped at his daughter’s shaking hand and kissed it pityingly. “Oh babydoll,” he said. “I’ll do just that. Promise.” Katherine’s eyes fell triumphantly on her stepmother, hard and cold as Caligula. “Oh thank you Daddy,” she whispered, with enough saccharine sweetness to threaten a diabetic. “I miss you so much when you’re not here.”
If there was one thing Laura Marston hated more than repeatedly sticking her fingers into a plug socket, it was Katherine Kircher. Like a spoilt lapdog that yelped whenever it’s master left the room, Katherine knew exactly the right whine to send her father running. He wasn’t so much wrapped around Katherine’s finger as rammed head first under her heel. Far from the darling little love her father had crooned to Laura about, Katherine made Stalin look clumsy at the art of manipulation. If Daddy had a meeting in New York, Katherine came down with a mysterious undiagnosable fever that reappeared whenever Daddy entered her room. If Daddy was planning to go out for dinner with a lady friend, Katherine would get a sudden, tearful desire to spend time with her beloved Papa. If Daddy didn’t buy her a car, she would suddenly be plunged into the deepest depths of depression, rendering her unable to attend classes or stay sober. If Daddy hoped to go to a conference in Chicago, Katherine would be at death’s door with a rasping cough. And if Daddy was seeing a woman with a poodle, Katherine would immediately develop a terrible allergy to dogs. And Daddy, of course, never questioned a thing.
Katherine, it would be fair to say, also hated Laura. It was a very mutual hatred. Katherine rejoiced in punishing her stepmother at every incident, from accidentally watering her prized orchids with weedkiller to twisting her ankle just before the engagement was announced. The two women loathed each other in a way that is usually reserved only for neighbouring dictators or regional branch managers. Laura did everything in her power to encourage Katherine out of her father’s affections, and Katherine did everything to encourage her father to violently dismember her stepmother.
“Don’t you think, Kathy darling,” Laura had mused icily over breakfast one morning. “That a big grown up girl your age might want to go travelling before semester begins?” Katherine’s lips thinned, before the waterworks began. “I just want to spend time with my Daddy,” she gasped, in between wails. “Soon I’ll be married and then-” she pulled out a handkerchief, burying her face in it. “I’ll never see him again.” Daddy implored her to cease her distress, ensuring her that her fears were unfounded. Kircher 1– Marston 0, Laura thought.
“Can you ask Daddy to carry me inside the house?” Katherine had hit back, a few days later, having mysteriously twisted her ankle when Daddy had taken his new wife out for a romantic meal the night before, sending him rushing back to her side. “I’m so terribly weak, it hurts so much.” Laura had glowered at her, burying her face in her magazine. Katherine had let out a high pitched wail, like a dying swan. Daddy predictably came sprinting across the lawn. “Kathy baby!” he cried. “Whatever’s the matter?” Katherine gasped, clasping her hands dramatically to her ankle.
“Oh Daddy,” she whimpered. “Laura refused to call for you to carry me in, and so I tried myself and-” tears welled up again, as she blinked in pain. “-oh Daddy, it hurts so much.” Laura said nothing, gritting her teeth. As usual, Kircher 1- Marston 0. This, she decided, would be the last round Katherine would win. Katherine was about to become an ex-Kircher.
There was a large bush of oleander flowers by the swimming pool. That was the easy part of the problem solved. The question was how not to get caught. Spiteful as she might be, Katherine wasn’t stupid enough to eat a very dangerous plant her father had warned her about since her girlhood. If there was something she was stupid enough to do, however, it was to order weight loss pills off the internet. Going through her stepdaughter’s purse, she found the unassuming blue bottle with the word ‘BuPropioN-naltrexoNe’ printed unevenly on the label. Laura carefully ground up a leaf, hollowed out a pill with a toothpick, and inserted the poison. Then she did the same, three or four times, just for luck. If the toxicology reports came back positive for cardiac glycosides, they’d be unable to prove that Laura had administered them to her in any way. There was no way of proving Laura was aware of the illegal tablets, or that they hadn’t been tampered with at another stage of production. Indeed, aside from the vague possibility of someday inheriting Katherine’s share of the Kircher fortune (somewhat unlikely given her own age) there was very little motive. Even Daddy dearest had no idea of the animosity festering in his own home between his two girls. Smiling, she replaced the pills neatly in Katherine’s purse, and made her way back down to the garden.
Laura sat triumphantly in the breakfast room the following day, taking care not to grin from ear to ear with every passing moment that Katherine grew later to arrive. She tried to keep her actions calm, repetitive of the daily routine, and not imply that she knew why the little angel was taking so long to come downstairs. She poured herself and her husband coffee, handed him his heart medication as usual, and mused on the newspaper. She was halfway through an article on the Cuban situation when she heard a shrill voice. Looking up, Katherine stood before them in the hallway, her hands clasped to her face.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” she wailed, marching over and immediately grabbing his medication bottle in faux astonishment. He sat slumped in his chair, her eyes gouged, mouth open. She looked up at Laura, eyes hard with a devilish delight, leaning over to whisper in her dying father’s ear. “Was there something wrong with your pills, Daddy?”