August 31st, 1947
I shall never forget the weekend Sansa died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Sansa’s horrible death, I was alone. I, Petyr Baelish, was the only one who really knew her….
A soft knock on his door made Baelish stop typing. He closed his eyes and sighed, leaning his head against the linoleum wall. Always, always an interruption. How am I ever to get her story done for next week’s column this way?
“What is it, Kettleback?” He snapped.
“Another detective is here to see you, sir,” his butler answered, opening the door a crack. “Shall I tell him you will see him when you are less indisposed?”
Baelish’s mustache twitched. “Let the gentleman in, Kettleback. If these gumshoes are so determined to deprive me of any sanity restoring moments of solitude, let them see me in my bath. Hang civility.”
So saying, he rubbed his arms more vigorously with his washcloth, sniffing regretfully at the abandoned first paragraph of his story on Sansa, staring at him mockingly from the typewriter situated on the custom desk tray he’d had installed in his tub.
As Kettleback turned away, Baelish could just see through the open space in the door the tall figure and broad shoulders of the detective. He was standing with his back to Baelish, and all Petyr could make out was the brim of his fedora and the back of his beige trench coat. He was staring at Petyr’s clock in the parlor, which had just rung the hour. It was an antique grandfather clock, delicately painted and engraved in marble.
There was only one other like it in existence: the one in Sansa’s apartment. In the room she was murdered in.
“You can look but you can’t touch, detective!” Petyr called out before Kettleback had the chance to speak to the policeman. “That clock is priceless. So is everything in my home.” It was true. Petyr was a collector of all sorts of objets d’art, from the African masks lining his wall to the Viennese figurines and Italian vases inside his glass case.
He’d made sure Sansa’s apartment was furnished similarly. She must always present class in everything she does, he’d told her, from her demeanor to her very décor. What he did not tell her was that this also ensured that a little part of Petyr would be with her always – even if it was just a vase or an antique clock.
The detective hesitated only momentarily at the doorway once he saw the state Petyr was in, but then he smirked and entered. “Mr. Baelish?”
Petyr’s eyebrows flew up his forehead and he exhaled a taken aback, “Well!”
This detective was quite different from the ones he’d met yesterday. Quite different from most fellows one meets, to put it more succinctly.
Tall was an understatement; he was close to 6’7” from what Petyr could tell from his admittedly disadvantageous vantage point. He was muscled like an ox, with a lightly bearded jaw that could have cut through boulder – that rather was like a boulder, really.
But most arresting were the burn scars ravaging one half of his face. He looked as though someone had pounded uncooked steak into his skin. Although even without the scars he wouldn’t have been a matinee idol, he did have a striking look about him – in a rough, dime store sort of way.
As Baelish’s eyes fell on the burns, his own face brightened in recognition. “Ah! I’ve placed you now. You’re Sandor Clegane, aren’t you? The Hound?”
There was also the matter of the slight Scottish brogue just detectable in his deep voice that confirmed his identity, as evident in his curt, “Aye.” His eyes flickered skeptically.
“The Hound who hunts down his man until he’s found, dead or alive! Earned a shin full of lead during a raid on a Nazi camp in '43. Machine gunfire took out three of your men. But you walked right in and apprehended the commander, no matter the shots. Sadly, that heroic lead shinbone ended your military career. You came to New York and built up your reputation as Chief Ray’s right-hand guard dog on the force.”
“What, writing a column on me?” he practically growled. Baelish corrected himself: no, Clegane’s eyes were his most arresting feature. They were dark, searing, and full of the tragedy of a hunted animal. He looked as though recently diagnosed with something terminal.
Clegane flipped through his notepad as he sat on the velvet armchair by Baelish’s bath, one leg thrown lazily over the chair's arm. “Nice set-up you’ve got here,” he mumbled as he took in the Victorian vanity, the Persian rug, and the pot of chrysanthemums’ placed on the corner of Baelish’s vast Grecian tub.
“It’s lavish, but I call it home,” Petyr replied as he pulled out a folder and opened it on his desk tray. “I do not need to ask why you’ve paid me a visit. You’ve taken over investigation of the Sansa Stark murder case, haven’t you? I already had a visit yesterday morning from Sergeants Meribald and Hunt.” He put on his reading glasses and glanced at a thin piece of paper he removed from his folder. “I stated, ‘on Friday night, Sansa had a dinner engagement with me, after which she was ostensibly going out of town.’”
He noticed out of the corner of his eye Sandor flipping through his notepad again.
Petyr continued. “‘She phoned and cancelled our engagement at exactly 7:00. After that, I’” –
“…‘ate a lonely dinner, then got into the tub to read.’” Sandor snapped shut his notepad. He gave Petyr a mocking, contemptuous squint that Baelish found most uncalled for. “What’d you write it down for? Afraid you’d forget it?” He tucked the notepad back into his coat pocket, and leaned his elbow on his knee, that mocking gleam still in place in those blazing eyes.
There was something rough, unhinged, somehow dangerous about this man, this Hound. Underneath his studied calm, there was a deep vein of urgency. Of violent grief.
Petyr only sniffed again. “I am the most widely misquoted man in America.” He slipped the piece of paper back in its home, then took off his glasses and folded them neatly beside the folder. “When my friends do it, I resent it. From Sergeants Meribald and Hunt, I should find it intolerable.” He at last betrayed his own subdued violence with the rough jerk he gave to his desk tray. “Hand me my robe, will you?”
He stood and ignored the new smirk on Sandor’s face.
Wrapping himself in his robe, Petyr exited Sandor’s line of sight, taking his clothes into his dressing room. He kept the door ajar to ask, “Any more questions for me?”
“Yes, one. Two years ago in a March column, you ditched the book review you started and switched over to the Greyjoy murder case.”
“I’m flattered you’ve delved so deeply into my work, Clegane.”
“You said old man Balon was taken out by a shotgun loaded with buckshot, the way Sansa Stark was murdered night before last.”
“What a morbid coincidence.”
“But he was really strangled by a fishing line from his cannery.”
“Hm. What a blunder on my part. That demise has much more of a poetic ring to it. The fish peddler strung up like one of his own fish.” He emerged almost as dapper as he liked, and all he needed was his tie, coat, and the signature carnation in his button hole.
He faced his bedroom mirror and tackled the issue of the tie as Sandor loomed behind him. “Other than interrogating the processes of the creative mind, have you any other business with me, Clegane?”
Sandor sat again, this time on the arm of Petyr’s satin love seat, which pleased Petyr not one bit. “You were Miss Stark’s uncle, correct?”
“By marriage, Clegane, strictly by marriage. And barely that, I should say. I wasn’t married much more than two weeks when my dear wife decided to end things with a dive out the penthouse window.”
“Don’t sound too broken up about it.”
“Well, that was several years ago. Anything else?”
“Not really,” Sandor stood up slowly, always staring down nonchalantly at his notepad. “Oh, except for one thing: were you in love with Sansa Stark, Mr. Baelish?”
The ticking of the grandfather clock in the suddenly very quiet apartment was much like that of a shotgun malfunctioning and merely clicking in humiliation.
One of Sandor’s thick dark eyebrows arched as he looked down at Petyr, who was still and silent. “Was she in love with you?” There was steel in that quiet deep voice.
Petyr slipped on his coat. “Sansa considered me the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting man she’d ever met.” He inclined his head. “I was in complete accord with her over that.” His green-gray eyes took on an artificial dreamy look. “She thought me also the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.”
“You agree with her there, too?”
Petyr chuckled softly as he arranged a mint-scented handkerchief in his cravat. “Clegane, you won’t understand this, but I’ve tried to become the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.”
A thin smile beneath Petyr’s neatly trimmed mustache. “Let me put it this way.” He pulled off part of the stem on a fresh carnation. “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors’ children devoured by wolves.” He slid the carnation neatly into his button-hole.
Clegane did not laugh, but his unscarred cheek twisted, resembling something close to a rueful grin. It still did not deaden the detective’s potently savage air, however.
He headed toward the door. “Well, that’d be all. So long.”
An almost feline reflex, a sort of instinct, made Petyr ask, “Where are you going?”
Sandor’s skeptical look was back. “What do you care?”
Petyr crossed over to him, picking up his walking stick. “You have to question all the suspects, I assume?”
Sandor snorted a laugh. “That includes you, you know.”
“Good. I’d have been most put out were I overlooked. But I take it high up on your list, higher than myself I’d hope, would be that admirable chunk of wood Harrold Hardyng?”
“Not that it’s any business of yours, but first I’m paying a visit to Sansa Stark's closest friend. Female friend, that is.”
“Ah, Myranda Royce!” Petyr beamed. “What a happy stroke of luck. I was just about to head there myself to pay my condolences. I might as well ride along with you.” He picked up his hat.
“Now, wait a minute. I can’t go around dragging suspects with me on an investigation.”
“Oh, don’t be such a stickler, Clegane.” He took his arm and authoritatively steered them out. “After all, despite what Myranda or Sansa’s siblings might say, I was Sansa’s closest confidant, male or female. You’ll want me along, I’m an endless font of useful information. For example, you’ll be pleased to know you won’t need to take an extra trip to see Mr. Hardyng if we’re heading to Myranda’s….”