The Sixth SisterDecember 18, 2017
Saturday. 12:30 am.
Conrad was experiencing a perfect moment.
He sat on his hotel room bed staring at the complete – yes, complete – set of Oneida LaVigne Silverplate XI steak knives – known to collectors as The Six Sisters. They were the holy grail of steak knives, and believed responsible for countless historical crimes and acts of mayhem.
By the late 1800s, the small Oneida Community in upstate New York was known for two things: a manufacturing business that crafted the finest cutlery in America; and having been founded as a utopian society that practiced, among other things, “complex marriages” allowing all members of the society to engage in free sexual relations with any other consensual member of the community. Older men and women regularly indoctrinated youngsters into this way of life and dissenting behavior was promptly chastised.
One scandal arose when Charles Maypool, a young smith hard at work on the LaVigne Silverplate set, urged his love, Henrietta, to flee the enclave and start a family with him in the world outside. When news of this subversion reached the town leaders, Maypool was put in stocks, while Henrietta was quickly “wed” to four of the community elders.
Weeks later, Maypool was released. But instead of resuming his duties, he retrieved his six Silverplate knives, snuck up on the four elders while they slept and slashed their throats, each with a different knife. With the fifth knife, he slew Henrietta. Then – keeping only the sixth knife for himself – he fled deep into the woods of upstate New York, never to be heard from again.
By 1900, the Oneida Community had abandoned its utopian dreams. The five sister knives abandoned by Maypool were individually dispersed and traded from one curio dealer to another. In due time, the knives fell into a role of infamy with some of the century’s most horrific crimes attributed to them. Somehow, the five sisters always found their way back to one another. But the sixth sister was never recovered. Collectors searched endlessly for her. Presidents clamored for her. Ripley wanted her for his personal trove. To complete the set was a treasure hunter’s mecca, but she never turned up.
Conrad Margolies, a dogged but reclusive dealer in antiquities and American crime memorabilia, had finally come to possess all five sister knives as well as their worn chestnut container. When he started getting letters about a possible sixth knife, he was skeptical. But everything the old woman had written to him rang true – its history, its markings – things no one could know without having actually seen and experienced the knives themselves. So, Conrad made a hotel reservation, packed his car, and set out on the arduous 300 mile drive.
Saturday. 10:30 pm. The bar of the Marquis Hotel.
Conrad needed a drink before meeting the woman. Who was she? Did she really have the Sixth Sister? And what would she want for it? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Did she know its history? And had the knife had any effect on her?
He swallowed his bourbon, and was unsurprised to see rival collector McCoy, with that awful pomaded moustache, suddenly sitting next to him.
“This is it, isn’t it, Connie?” said McCoy.
“Wouldn’t know. I’m here for Billy the Kid’s boots.”
“Bullshit,” said McCoy. “Listen, Connie – I know people. We can do this together.”
Conrad threw $20 on the bar and walked away.
“Don’t hold out on me!” yelled McCoy. “I can make you rich!”
Conrad pulled up to the tiny, dilapidated shack. The house stood alone on the empty dirt road, as if carved straight into the bleak, rural landscape. The only luminescence came from the moon and a flickering lamp inside the house. He crossed waist-length weeds and stepped onto the porch. Imagining he heard a raspy voice telling him to enter, he went inside.
The stench of rot and decay overwhelmed him. Newspapers and rusted junk were piled everywhere. The old woman – tiny, hunched over, smoking a cigar – came out of a bedroom, where Conrad could see flies buzzing about. She pointed to a chair by a table and they sat.
Conrad withdrew the chestnut box and placed it before her. She opened it and looked inside, her mouth agape. There they were. The five sisters set snugly in their place holdings.
“It’s true then,” she said.
She withdrew a folded-up cloth and gingerly unraveled it. And then he knew. This was the one. For the first time, ever, he beheld the true Sixth Sister.
“May I?” he asked with deep humility.
She handed it to him with the grace of a tragic soul finally acquainted with her heretofore unknown twin. Conrad cradled the knife, delicately. It seemed to pulsate with life.
“Go on,” she prompted. “See if she fits.”
He lowered it into the chestnut box – into the open compartment that had been waiting more than 100 years. The knife slipped in comfortably.
He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a checkbook.
“No,” she said, closing the box and pressing it towards him. “This is where they belong. Together.”
“But,” he stammered.
“You have to go now,” she said. “They’ll be here soon.”
He had only driven a hundred feet when he heard the gunshot. He looked back, terrified, then quickly sped off.
And Conrad was back in his hotel room, in his perfect moment with all six sisters laid out before him, the pursuit of his entire adult lifetime finally realized. Exhausted, he fell into a deep, fevered sleep and dreamt of viciously murdering family and friends and soaking in the blood of butchers.
When he awoke, he was sick and sweating, but knew what he had to do.
The Elk’s River bridge.
Conrad looked out over the cold, raging waters. He raised the chestnut box high above the handrailing.
“Don’t do it!”
McCoy raced towards him.
“It’s no good!” yelled Conrad.
“I’ll get you whatever you want!”
“Don’t you understand?! They won’t be sold! They won’t belong to anyone! This has to end!”
He dangled the box over the handrailing. McCoy pulled out his gun.
“Give me the box, Conrad.”
Conrad threw it over. Without thinking, McCoy fired. Conrad collapsed, clutching his side. Then bright headlights were shining on both of them.
“Stay where you are!” called the police.
But Conrad was dead.
No one noticed the tramp under the bridge who had awoken to the sounds of the two men arguing, seen the chestnut box fall, and heard the gunshot fired. The tramp quickly waded into the water to retrieve the box, but was disappointed to discover only an old set of highly tarnished steak knives inside. Regardless, he dried them out and sold them to a nearby two-star bistro for $20 and a bowl of clumpy chowder. Soon after, the bistro manager discarded the box and simply mixed the cutlery in with his other tableware.
And so, it was on an unremarkable Tuesday evening when a family of four – father, mother, son, and daughter – came in for a hot meal. And as the father cut into his bloody filet with the Sixth Sister, he felt suddenly that he would enjoy nothing more than to ruthlessly slaughter his wife, son, and daughter.
Perhaps that very evening.
His latest collection is called Miserable Adventure Stories.