An Evil Guest -- Mysterious Margaret

Margaret Briggs seems like a nice, innocent character on the surface -- but I suspect that she is more than she seems. She seems to be a werewolf, and she may also be a spy for more than one side. She could be even more than that... /washer

  1. The initials M.B. match Mariah Brownlea, and as Cassie remarks Mariah believes in God but Cassie does not (p. 179). The matching initials suggest to me that Margaret's religion is likewise an act.
  2. There's the clue of the werewolf's "swift loping walk, even in women." (p. 206). Margaret bobs along (p. 59). Does any other female character have a unique walk described?
  3. She is gray (p. 54) with a colorless face (p. 57). Werewolves "dress in wolf shades: gray, black, and white." (p. 206).
  4. They are also insensitive to color (p. 206). Margaret fails to get a straw for Cassie's drink (p. 57), indicating she doesn't care much about lipstick. She describes a costume which shows skin in the middle as "spring-green" (p. 107), but the costume that is spring-green is the long missionary gown (p. 190). The costume that shows ten inches of bare waist features a faux-grass skirt (p. 131). This would be grass-green, not spring-green. Perhaps Margaret can't tell the difference. (Incidently, there's a contemporary artist named Mary Margaret Briggs who makes sepia-toned monotypes with plants -- this might be another color clue).
  5. She avoids an obvious word when misreporting the name of Sharon Bench as "Shirley Ladydog" (p. 86). As a werewolf female she might be extra-sensitive to this word.
  6. Werewolves have a hard time avoiding slipping back to wolf form (p. 100). They also "want the wild and a liberation from human morality" (p. 207). Margaret's scrupulous morality may be an effort to avoid slipping back. Her elaborate trick with the napkin to avoid a direct lie is an example of this (pp. 82-83).
  7. Margaret always has yogurt and fruit for breakfast (p. 186). She may avoid eating meat to keep from setting off her wolf nature.

Now for the issue of her being a spy:

  1. Easter Sinclair's jewelry was stolen while Margaret was working for her (p. 140). Margaret could have taken them.
  2. Something happened between Margaret and Alexis. ("I see you know," India said on p. 54). Alexis seems to have fired her, owing her $3000 that Margaret didn't expect to collect (p. 57). I think Reis planted her on Alexis as a spy, knowing of Chase's interest in the theater (p. 207) and expecting him to use the leading lady as bait in a trap. When Reis was told that Cassie was involved (probably by Lieutenant Lars Aaberg who picked her up for Chase and who also worked for Reis p. 201), then Margaret was ordered to switch to working for Cassie.
  3. Her kidnapping might be the work of another faction (probably the FBI p. 192) to get her out of the way. One of the kidnappers seems to wear werewolf colors (birch with black stripes p. 167), and he may have identified her as another one.
  4. Like many of the other characters, she could be a double-agent. The fingering of the upstairs neighbor for the Squid God's killers could well be her work. How else would the assassin know that Cassie even knew his name? (p. 250).
  5. She had the opportunity to go after Jimmy and scare him to death when she was sent for the stage manager (p. 58). She seems to pick up on Jimmy's death too quickly at the cast party (p. 65). She knew that Jimmy had heard Reis' voice and might be able to identify him (p. 56). Since he failed to bring Cassie out to the alley they had no further use for him. Cassie requested that Margaret find out what happened to Jimmy -- Margaret didn't follow up on it (she followed every other request Cassie made).
  6. Cassie doesn't call her from the South Seas, unlike her other friends. Could Chase's warnings of the marks of a werewolf have caused her to suspect Margaret?

Margaret failed to recognize the changed Cassie at the end (p. 292). It's probably just as well she didn't.

A refinement -- Margaret as future Cassie

In Green Goddess we discussed the possibility of temporal clones. It seems probable that Bill Reis came back from his trip to Woldercan while he was "still there" from the point-of-view of Earth time. This gives him more time to set up his financial empire and have his gigantic palace constructed as king. It also makes his multiple identities more confusing for his enemies. Temporal clones are hinted at when Klauser talks of a robin fighting its reflection (p. 298).

At the end of An Evil Guest Cassie is heading to Woldercan with a strong desire to bring Wally back. Suppose she learns the secret of how to properly execute hops from there which will take her back in time, so that she arrives before she started. Suppose also that she cannot restore her enhanced star power. She might attempt to get close to her original self in order to have a chance to warn Reis and save his life. She may have become a werewolf as a disguise.

Here are some indications:

  1. Being a werewolf is a dual to being a "star" like Cassie, going down instead of up. It's easier to go down (pp. 100, 206).
  2. Werewolves redistribute their mass (p. 99). Margaret is a small woman (54). Cassie in the end is thinner than she used to be (p. 299).
  3. Other forms than wolves, dogs, and leopards are possible (p. 99). How about a different-looking human?
  4. Coming back to the past, she wouldn't have access to much money, other than selling the hopper without a legitimate registration. Margaret was poor.
  5. Margaret gets Cassie's sandwich too fast (pp. 54-57). There's only a little dialog and no wait time before she appears with the white bag. If she knew in advance what the order would be she could get it before they spoke.
  6. She also found Chase too fast, getting answering machines at both his apartments in almost no time (pp 63-64). Again, it seems like she was prepared ahead of time.
  7. She exaggerates her truthfulness, playing a role that differs from Cassie (pp. 82-83).
  8. She also shows an exaggerated fear of hoppers (pp. 154-156) and says she never warped before. She keeps her eyes closed the whole trip, incidentally preventing Gib from getting a good look at her eyes in the close quarters of the hopper and maybe recognizing her.
  9. She knows Cassie can sing. Saying she can tell from how Cassie talks seems a bit silly (p. 83).
  10. Her churchgoing persona (p. 84) may be derived from the role of Mariah Brownlea. She has kept the initials in the name Margaret Briggs.
  11. "Have you ever wanted to help out somebody you loved, and known the only thing you could do for him was some tiny stupid thing that was a lot of trouble? And done it anyway? Any of you?" Margaret nodded. (p. 112).

There are also literary clues:

  1. "A mountain whose wife washed clothes?" (pp. 41-42, 83). This needs a meaning in the book's context, besides the reference to the Cory Doctorow novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Reis is associated with the Volcano God, so he is the mountain (there is a Cebel Reis Mountain in Turkey). His wife (common-law) was Cassie. Margaret described herself as an "expert seamstress and laundress" (p. 54). It's interesting that Margaret is the only person Cassie asks about this strange laundress. The reference is forced into the conversation a bit awkwardly, and all Margaret can do is respond "A dream?" (83). It was indeed Cassie's dream that got her to this state.
  2. Cassie/Margaret has a prophecy of doom that is not believed, making her a Cassandra, as Palma said (p. 64).
  3. Margaret is also like a banshee, predicting death. She is a Gray Neighbor (p. 64). One aspect of the banshee legend the washer-at-the-ford; if a knight sees an old woman washing bloody clothes or armor in a stream this is an omen of his death. As mentioned above, Margaret is a laundress.
  4. She gives "Easter Sinclair" as a reference (p. 54). The first name suggests the Resurrection, and the second name comes from St. Clara, a follower of St. Francis who dedicated herself to poverty for a holy cause. She founded the Poor Clare order of nuns.
  5. Klauser suggests that the younger Cassie was the clone child of the now-older Cassie. This foreshadows the relationship of Cassie and Margaret. Also, "Cassiopeia weeps for her children" -- both the children she didn't have with Bill, and her lost younger self. Cassie will try to "get her back," and one way to do that would be to go back in time.
  6. At one point, Margaret wants to braid Cassie's hair for a night scene in the play (p. 139). Braiding hair at bedtime is a typical task a mother might do for her daughter.
  7. The Klauser quote about temporal doubles is "The robin another robin fights in a clean window seems terribly real to him, too" (p. 298).
  8. Cassie is identified with Batman's Robin. She is a sidekick to a dark detective with a high-tech car. There are countless jokes about Robin wanting to drive the Batmobile.
  9. The "manbat" Visitors call Cassie their cub (p. 235).
  10. One food Cassie will eat on Woldercan looks like worms (p. 299).
  11. There is a character in Memorare named Robin Redd, who seems almost a prototype for Cassie. She is twice-divorced, and one of her exes is a criminal type. She also has an alliterative name and works in show business.
  12. The match from "Mariah Brownlea" to "Margaret Briggs" is more than just initials. It has the same first three letters in the first name and the same first two letters in the second.
  13. "Try not to cry. Mrs. Casey. She doesn't like it" (287) parallels "I hate criers" (57), with Cassie now in the Margaret role.

There is contrary evidence in her standard breakfast of yogurt and fruit (p. 186), since Cassie said she never wanted to eat fruit again (p. 288). However, she might endure that as part of her role and to keep her weight and expenses down.

Cassie's hope to change the past seems to have been defeated by time paradoxes. If she warned Reis she wasn't believed. Chase seems to have spotted her for a werewolf and gotten the FBI to arrest her, keeping her from doing more at a critical time. At least she got the chance to see Wally one more time, when he came to retrieve the gold bracelet. She got to try the "tiny stupid thing" that was "a lot of trouble."

It was probably no accident that Margaret ran into Cassie on the street. She pretended not to recognize Cassie, but actually she was looking for the final evidence that she had failed.

Arguments against the refinement, and additional ideas

The quoted arguments are from Roy C. Lackey, from this post on Urth List.

  • "A hopper is worth a lot of money, even on the black market."
Thank you for challenging my theory. I think most of the objections can be answered, making it stronger. I believe Cassie hopped back several years and established a real background as a dresser. For example, she gives Easter Sinclair as a reference (54) and I take that as true. If so, she would have trouble selling in 2070 a hopper she bought new in 2080 without raising all kinds of questions.
  • The sandwich was a *hot* pastrami. The coffee would have been hot, too. And why wouldn't she have known about the extra dressing and straw?
The dialog on the pages between the order and the return only takes a minute or so to read aloud. This is a weak piece of evidence, since this sort of time-compression is an accepted convention in books and movies. The phone calls to Chase are more obviously too fast. As for the dressing and straw, her memories may have faded over the years.
  • "Reis had looked into Margaret's background (122), and he had the best sources money could buy." (Roy C, Lackey)
He only investigated whether she would be likely to steal the bracelet. She had built up enough of a reputation for honesty that this could be quickly settled. (This also goes to the question of the theft of Easter Sinclair's jewelry (140) -- this probably establishes that Margaret didn't do it).
  • "If Margaret had tried to tell Reis that she was really Cassie, she could have mentioned Rian and Klauser and King Kanoa and the coming diamond bracelet and many other things that should have given him pause to believe her, particularly since he was checking up on her past anyway." (Roy C. Lackey)
This is your strongest objection IMHO, and I don't have a complete answer. It is known to be difficult to change the past. "If I don't send mine, his will have to be accounted for in some other way and it's liable to get complicated" (298). It must be even harder to deliver a message that will falsify one's own past if acted upon. Margaret herself and her message would have to be "accounted for in some other way." Unlike Ignacio, she was fighting against destiny.
Reis might not be impressed by inside knowledge that she might have gained from people spying on him. She can make herself look like an old, washed-out version of Cassie, but he knows what werewolves can do to change their appearance. He might react to warnings with stubborn megalomania, more set on his plans than ever.
It's possible that Margaret avoided a direct warning to Reis. (She might realize that one of the "other ways" for Time to avoid a paradox would be for Reis to kill Margaret before she could say enough to convince him. He was a dangerous man picking up evidence against himself when he collected the gold bracelet, after all.) I'm looking for other things she might have done to sabotage the plan to take Cassie to the Takanga islands. She may have taken the picture that revealed Gib as Gideon to the ATF. She had a camera and was present at dress rehearsals. She also warned Cassie that she was getting in too deep (p. 141).
The cycle may not be stabilized. On the next iteration, Cassie/Margaret can avoid repeating actions that didn't work the last time (like the picture, leading to the death of Scott). She may even succeed in the long run. I hope she does.
  • "I have reread Margaret's lines, and haven't spotted any dead giveaways." said David Duffy in this post on Urth List
Margaret plays her role very low-key, so it is hard to find a smoking gun in her words. Here are some more emotional indications based on Cassie's reaction to her.
"I have no secrets from my dresser, Agent Martin," (132). This seems to be true. Cassie trusts Margaret immediately and completely. She trusts Margaret to call Chase for help the first night (63). She asks Margaret about the "mountain whose wife washed clothes" (83). She admits the truth about a phone call: "It was really Gideon Chase" (138).
Cassie seems to know instinctively that Margaret is a twin soul. We have this from the Volcano God play, p. 145:
"It's only when I'm quite alone
That I can see my soul."
Her vidimage stood beside her and seemed about to speak.
"It's then that I am Woman
the one thing God made whole."
She clasped hands with her soul, and the two began to dance.
When Cassie is with Margaret she is "alone" and she can "see her soul." The closest real-life analog is when Margaret gets Cassie to sing "Walk in the Reign." This is a powerful moment between them. Perhaps Margaret is hoping that by opening up Cassie's spiritual side she will receive guidance to avoid danger.
Cassie's strong feelings for Margaret continue after the kidnapping. Cassie even eats breakfast like her because she misses her so much (186).
Then comes the night of the dinner at the Silent Woman. Chase gives Cassie a painstaking description of the signs of a werewolf (206-207). He didn't need to spell out that he meant Margaret, but he did say "There's often a swift, loping walk, even in women."
It seems to have worked. After that, Cassie calls everyone from Takanga except Margaret. After the dinner at the Silent Woman, Margaret has been silenced. With her trust broken Cassie doubts everything that happened with Margaret. Cut off from her "soul," Cassie falls into the trap.
In the end, Cassie reverts to a positive view of Margaret: "There was a nice little woman who used to work for me" (p. 292). Since she no longer trusts Chase, she goes back to thinking well of Margaret, and perhaps regrets that she didn't call her. It's too late now, because she doesn't want any of her friends to see her like this.

Margaret as Chase's shooter

I feel pretty confident now that Margaret was Cassie, back in time as a werewolf to try to help Cassie avoid her fate. The next issue is: what did she do? Chase appeared to be her adversary, since he got Margaret arrested by the F.B.I. and told Cassie enough details on how to recognize a werewolf to make her lose her trust. Was Margaret also Chase's enemy, carrying out the revenge scenario some predicted for Cassie on Woldercan, but in the past where it could do Cassie and Bill some good?

I think it's possible that Margaret could be Chase's shooter, based on several things:

  1. It's never explicitly stated in the book, but traditionally werewolves can rapidly heal damage unless it is done by silver weapons. The mass-shifting trick could probably fix wounds.
  2. In support of this: Cassie armed herself with silver-tipped bullets (180) after being told that werewolves were real (99).
  3. A normal human assassin would have been felled by the cleaver attack; this attacker just staggered, covered his face, and fled the scene (82).
  4. Chase saw his attacker was a man, but I believe Margaret is capable of alternate human faces.
  5. The body type of the attacker was not like John (p. 203), John is starting to get fat (p. 15), so the attacker was probably thin.
  6. Right after Chase was shot, the book says "Margaret was fifteen minutes late" (p. 82). The excuse she gave was a phone call, which she could have gotten earlier.

There's little motive for the ATF or the Squiddies to be active against Gideon this early. Their enemy is Reis, and at this point Gideon was Reis' enemy, too. Scott said "We're after a man you've probably never heard of, and the key to our finding and killing that man is a man seen with you not long ago." (188) That is, the ATF wants to find Chase only so they can find and kill Reis. The Cthulhuoids would have similar motivations. So why would either of these factions send an assassin to just gun Chase down?

Margaret, on the other hand, wants to keep Bill alive. She would have a strong motive to get Chase out of the picture. Unfortunately it wasn't that easy to fight destiny or someone as capable as Gideon Chase.

The fixed-loop tragedy

In spite of all the stories Wolfe has written in which it is possible to change the past, like WolfeWiki.FreeLiveFree, I think it will not be possible here. In a Lovecraftian world there are no do-overs.

The repeat will be stable... but Margaret isn't sure of that at first. She could tell herself, "I have free will -- the last time the shot missed a vital spot, but I have a chance to kill Gideon Chase."

Remember that scene in the living room, where Cassie and Margaret are watching the news together (pp. 86-89). Margaret controls the MUTE button. In MUTE two children struggle to escape the grounds of the house where their father died, and there is a moment of horror when we realize there is no way out -- that all their work has brought them back to the exact same place. The two copies of Cassie wait for the news, each hoping for a different outcome. Margaret hears the exact same thing has happened as before, and she has lost.

A robin fighting its reflection is a picture of futility. When Cassie asks "Have you ever wanted to help out somebody you loved, and known that the only thing you could do for him was some tiny stupid thing that was a lot of trouble? And done it anyway? Any of you?" (p. 112), we can now see a world of pain in the two-word sentence: "Margaret nodded."

There's one more scene that takes on new meaning. On the hopper flight with Gib, Margaret pretends she has never hopped before and fakes a great fear of flying (pp. 154-156). It's an excuse to keep her eyes closed for the whole trip. She doesn't want Gib to see in her eyes how much she hates him, and to see the triumph in his look back at her. It's true that she was seated facing away from him, but since he was in the luggage area right behind her it would have been hard to avoid turning to face him without this excuse.

With this reading, many of the objections to the book fall apart. Is it disjointed, with no connection from the madcap beginning to the dark horror ending? No, it's all horror, tied together by Cassie and Margaret. Does it end abruptly, giving no idea what will happen to Cassie? No, as Paul Harvey says: "Now we know... the rest of the story."

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