12 Upstairs window

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I

Laura took a breath and had clearly decided to press on.  He asked her to wait, he brought the wine and two glasses over, did the deed.  She took a sip and pressed on.

‘I’ve mentioned the two guns but haven’t told all and strangely, neither the Inspector nor you have asked. There was the one in the little alcove, right, the one thrown to Melissa but I also had one I never admit to having on my person, I have it with me on every job and I did feel I was going to need it before that day was over. Chloe reached me, saw I wasn’t throwing the alcove gun to Melissa, Melissa was puzzled too and started moving our way, Chloe ripped the alcove gun from my hand and threw it towards her but it hit the floor and Melissa started scrambling after it.

The rest happened within a couple of seconds. Melissa got the gun, the alcove gun and her first movement, the first turning of her body was not towards the stable door where you were about to come through about ten seconds later but the other way, towards us – I was sure at first it was actually towards me.  Why? It wasn’t supposed to be loaded, it was a threatener, wasn’t it.

I suddenly produced my own gun and pointed but Chloe ripped it from my hands – she was much stronger than me, probably all that farmwork – then I realized Melissa had had no intention of aiming the alcove gun at me, she was aiming straight at Chloe and then the most amazing thing happened, the very worst thing possible – Chloe froze up, so did Melissa. Yep, at the moment both had to fire, neither could fire and I couldn’t shout – you were coming up the path, you don’t know how close it all was.

Melissa must have thought the alcove gun was not loaded but this new gun may well have been, which it was by the way, she now saw a determined look on Chloe’s face, I looked over in that instant, as if she was going to kill Melissa, Melissa saw the situation, turned and ran, I went to grab my gun from Chloe and it went off. You understand we both had hands on it, fighting over it.  Both of us had a thumb near the trigger but mine was across my body.  It might have been my thumb, might have been hers against mine.

I’m not claiming innocence, it was my gun after all, nor do I want sympathy, Miles, I’m just explaining. The killing of Melissa, for my part, was half accidental – whether it was accidental for Chloe or not, I don’t know, Chloe had good reason to kill off the threat to the island. What I do know is that I suddenly saw that Chloe might have been aiming to replace me as Frank’s girl, given everything which had happened and she – Chloe I mean – might have been kept out of the loop by Frank. She didn’t hear the fight in the conservatory, she didn’t live at the house as we all did. Did you tell her that Frank was bankrupt?’

‘Well … er … no. You and I talked about it though.’

‘Yes and I tumbled to it that day at the stables – Chloe was just coldblooded enough to remove me and blame me for Melissa’s killing. I ran behind the stables and she did not fire my gun at me, possibly because you started coming through and the rest is known. She had to wait till you went down the path. I heard noises, I’m assuming she then went in through the window, with my gun, had had a thought not to use it but to use the alcove one from the floor instead.  This is critical.  Why would she fire a gun she knew to be empty?

Seems to me it was all about whether it was loaded or not. Frank had told me it wasn’t loaded, the alcove gun, what had he told her?  Quite a critical point don’t you think?  So she shot Melissa again.  Implications there.  She then climbed back out through the window, I could hear her, she must have decided to let me get caught and scarpered down the gully, knowing Penny was in the tree. And another thing – Chloe was wearing kitchen gloves. I was wearing my lady-gloves.

So I’m still behind the stables, Miles, at this point – if you or Frank had come around the back, then I’d have had no idea what to do, I didn’t have my gun anymore, Chloe had it. Frank was armed though, remember. It was awful hearing him in there sobbing, wailing, not inventing that – he’d just seen the end result of all their machinations and I’d say he’d now be gunning in his mind, not for Chloe but for me … but he had you on his hands. You’d gone back out but he couldn’t know exactly where you were and I myself did not either, so I had to stay put. But I also knew I had to get the hell out of there quickly.’

‘I’m thinking Penny told Frank who you really were. And your escape?’

He replenished their drinks, she continued. ‘Yes, Penny could well have told him.  I was lucky. I ran around to the front of the stables, then along the roof, out of line of sight of all but Penny but she was no longer in the tree, I had to watch that no one came out of the back door – that’s the laundry door on the lower side – I don’t think it would have been Frank, it was more likely to be Penny, I dropped down to the concrete, the path runs away from the house, ran like blazes to the fence, dived over, Amelie had the door open. And that was that.’

‘And your gun?’

‘The police found it in the alcove, as you heard at the inquiry. It was never mine, not registered to me, it was one supplied by those employing me, no prints, I also wore gloves, my dress ones as I’ve said, and when that all became apparent, the shutters must have come down.  Who put my gun, in Chloe’s hands in the gully, back in the alcove?  And why?  And when?  I think that’s why the Inspector backed off from a really intense investigation. Are you asking me to tell him all of this now?’

‘No.’

She hugged him tightly, so tightly.

II

There was a call some days later, late afternoon and half an hour after that, Dave appeared at the front door. He came in, the makings were put out on the low table.

‘You don’t seem too pleased with yourself,’ said Miles.

‘Beth and I talked, she wanted out, too up in the air, me being here there and everywhere, on this job or that, plus Jenny was the last straw. Jenny doesn’t seem keen but I’m going down there … overnight.’

‘Well, best of luck then.’

‘Yes,’ added Laura, ‘best of luck.’ Something in her voice had Miles looking across. ‘She’s still quite active, our Jenny. Can you live with that?’

‘I think as long as we can meet a few times a week, I’m fine with that.’

‘Maybe you two are suited after all. You dumped Beth, didn’t you? That was rubbish about her not being able to take it any more.’

His face fell. ‘I … I have to explore this.’

.o0o.

Dave had departed.

‘What were you getting at, Laura?  Not about Dave, about Jenny?’

‘Jenny’s a puzzle – her behaviour is a puzzle. I’m starting to see an idea form but I really have to keep it to myself for now. I feel so sorry for Beth.’

III

There was a call early afternoon two days later and it was Leyton Collins.

‘Dave’s been shot. He’s dead.’

It was good that Miles had taken the receiver because he showed the appropriate shock and said the right things, Laura though was thoughtful when Miles now told her, quite thoughtful.

Then she said, ‘Give it here.’

‘Laura here. When can you get to us here, we’ll give you some tea, supper, whatever. I might have some light to throw on this.’

‘You! How?’

‘Just get here when you can.’ She hung up. ‘I’ll say it when he’s here, Miles. It’s about those anomalies.’

IV

The knock on the door came, Leyton Collins came through, first question she asked was whether he was officially on duty. No.

‘Good. Brandy please, Miles.’ To his look, she added, ‘Just look at the man for goodness sake. Brandy please, Miles, one for me too, you please yourself.’

Collins sat down, the brandy was brought over, he whispered thanks. ‘You start,’ said Laura, ‘then we’ll add our bit.’

‘He stayed overnight with Ms Daniels, they were working on getting into a system, Ms Daniels says by phone that they were working most of the night, naturally she could not say what on. They both caught some sleep – yes, in bed, until about 7 a.m., when he had to be back up here – he has jobs banked up for weeks.’

He took a swig. ‘His route took him by a field some fifteen minutes in, he uses GPS. Shot went through the passenger window, into his temple, end of, car went into the ditch. The rest you can imagine.’

‘Yesterday?’ asked Miles.

‘Yes, I then stayed in London overnight – not with Ms Daniels, I hasten to add.’

‘You interviewed her?’

‘Local force has the case but I saw the notes.’

‘Will they keep you in the loop?’

‘Ah, well that’s the thing – will they? So tell me what this is about, Ms Laura.’  He turned to her.

‘This is strictly as Dave’s brother, yes?’ Collins confirmed that. ‘There are anomalies in Jenny’s behaviour,’ said Laura, ‘which I don’t put down to just mood. I’d really like to know if she’s been in for mind work, mind control but there’s no one left to tell us … except her. She seems one thing and then acts so differently next time. She even looks and moves differently in my eyes at different times.’

‘You mean schizoid or psycho, suddenly turns into a murderer?  Or do you mean something really quite different?’

‘Something really quite -’ Phone went, landline, Miles went over.

‘Pardon? Understood. Understood. No, that will be fine. Not the slightest problem, seriously. Well yes, we were thinking about you too.’

Laura was quick. ‘Jenny, coming here?  When?’

‘She doesn’t know, she has to skirt the area, make sure the time is right. Maybe today, maybe not. Also, she says she has a job to do first which has to be done.’

‘Oh great.’

‘I’ll be on my way,’ said the DI. ‘Ta for the brandy.  You two lead quite a life,’ he grinned. That’s all he was saying.

.o0o.

‘OK, explain,’ said Miles.

‘It’s something I’ve been meaning to ask if you’d mind us doing – it’s an opportunity thrown in our lap, are you getting my drift here?’

‘Your mind never rests.  Yes, I think I am – a certain test, yes?  On Jenny?’

‘Yep. It’s one of the main reasons I’m with you too – thinking, planning, a bit of compassion too, you listen to me. There’s a reason for this test, Miles, you know me, you’ve already tumbled to it.  Not just evaluating her but long term too.’

‘We want her on Team Laura and Miles?’

‘Assuming our little ventures keep going, mainly yours but also mine,’ she paused, he nodded. ‘Well, she has grit, foresight, she’s a kind girl too, and that’s a definite asset.  We know something isn’t right with her but we now think we may have the key to that and if so, then that’s even better.  Question is if we could afford her, if we could offer her enough work.  I think she realises she is having to climb down some rungs.  Sounds cold but it would have been useful to occasionally have Dave onboard too.’

‘Well yes.’

‘I get the impression, Miles, that we’re like a haven for her.  Us!  Goodness, who’d have thought it?’

‘Stable relationships always attract.  So, bring on Jenny, eh?  Let the game begin.’

V

Jenny arrived at the out of London hotel about 7.45 p.m., fifteen minutes before her meeting, went to the bar and had a Drambuie to steady her nerves and to add verisimilitude, this man was not to be trifled with, it was no time for theatrics nor heroics.

In Jenny’s case herself, she was not sure how much he knew of her, of her hidden side that was.

There was also a question over the loyalty of this contact of hers, especially since the death of Dave – that had shaken her more than she cared to admit.  She’d made her quietus, sure that this was her final night on earth but she’d make damned sure she’d take him out too, and dossiers on the man would speed to various places – if she lived, she’d not send them, that would mean being hunted in perpetuity.

It was getting close to time, she went into the sideroom he’d booked and there he was – Neil Joseph, alone.

She sat down, slid up beside him and said, ‘You’ve cleaned out my place, you have my devices, all of them, except this now. There are no sticks left with anyone – no doubt you’ll be doing my friend’s places over while they’re away. You already know I’ve never accessed any of it and that was a deliberate move for my safety.’

He inclined his woolly head and indicated for her to go on.

‘So let’s get going.’ She booted the device. ‘Watch what I do and then tell me if you’re satisfied.’

‘Why are you doing it?  Horse has bolted – why close the stable door now?’

‘I’ve my escape plan – if you know there’s nothing on you and I’m far away, it might be a bit dangerous coming after me. You know this is it this evening.’

‘Proceed.’

She did and everything she’d ever had, not only on him but on the ring, was systematically destroyed, then she cleared and reset the device, finally deleting the OS itself. It had taken twelve minutes.

‘Satisfactory. Now you’ll leave your device with me, you’ll get up, go back to the bar and stay there for fifteen minutes. I can’t say it’s been a pleasure.’

‘Feeling’s mutual.’

She went back to the bar as instructed and ordered another Drambuie, there was a hubbub behind her but she stayed there. ‘What’s happening?’ she asked the barmaid. The barmaid went off to find out and came back fairly quickly.

‘Man’s dead, heart attack they think.’

‘Oh dear.  How terrible for him.’

VI

Miles wasn’t sure if it had been Jenny’s doing or what but the withdrawn permits to fish were now overturned one by one, and things had got back to some kind of normality.

They were close to dropping off to sleep the following evening and of course, there she was where they’d told her to be – outside that attic window on the roof, grinning, tapping on the window.  At that moment, Laura decided that she could not send this girl away, ever.

He went over and opened the window, Jenny handed him her pack and squeezed through, he opened: ‘Welcome, Jenny, have you eaten?’

‘Yes thanks. May I sleep on the floor here? It’s safer.’

‘Not on the floor,’ said Laura. ‘Bathroom’s safe enough from here, you’ll find wash cloth and towel, the Drambuie’s over on that chest of drawers, glasses too. Do your thing, come back and get in with us.’

The fact that Miles had made no comment – well, there was nothing she wanted more right at this moment than two pairs of arms and at the same time, the test would tell them what she was sure they suspected.  And she didn’t care if they knew, she knew she wanted this friendship.

They heard her in there, a reassuring sound that another human was around, then she reappeared some fifteen minutes later in the altogether, she poured and knocked back a quick Drambuie, climbed over Laura, slipped under the covers, holding them up to her chin and looking up at the ceiling.  Then she smiled left and right.

‘Laura, said Jenny, ‘we’re only doing this as a test, ok?  It’s nothing like the Travellers Arms, all right?  I can’t do those things.’

‘Is that what’s worrying you? This is Miles, not Frank, this is me with Miles, different other beast.’

‘I know.  I’m all right with that. Let’s start.’  

VII

Jenny turned to Miles, there was a kiss and caress, it seemed contrived, and yet there was something indefinable all the same.

She stopped, turned to Laura and did almost the same with her, with certain female variants. Then she stopped again, lay back, staring up and said, ‘All right, doctors, you’ve done your examination, now diagnose what’s wrong with Jenny.’

‘But how?’ asked Miles.

‘How do you diagnose?’

‘Nope,’ said Laura this time. ‘How can you possibly think you can get away with it?’   There was a moment. ‘And which one are you by the way?’

‘I’m the one who was named Jenny as a baby, Sis was named Sarah.’

’I suppose you make sure only one is seen at any one time.’

’That’s definitely part of it.  We’ve let you see both of us now because we thought you were kindred spirits in a way.  We were really hoping, you know …’

‘To find some sort of haven?’ Miles supplied.

‘Well yes.  More so for me, less so for Sis.’

‘You had things done?’ This was Laura.

‘Sis did, she’s still susceptible, I’m harder, more frigid.  I’m a virgin you know.  I had to do this tonight, did you not feel the awkwardness?’

‘I did,’ said Laura. ‘Amelie and I had those times now and then.  At a pinch, she could make herself a bit like me, she was a bit taller, some differences.  We chose that hair style as it covered some of the differences.’

‘We do look the same if we’re dressed and our hair is covered, so we’ve been told. We need to be in low light and moving if possible.  I’m slightly older, she’s slightly taller, face just a bit rounder.  She’s more sexually open, she’s not a virgin, we’ve tried to get the same manner going though.  We try to avoid these situations.’

‘Far easier to just have one in an arena at a time, so comparisons are never made, yes.  Was that Sarah at the riverbank?  In that house?  That we tied up?’

‘Yes, at least so she said. I wasn’t there anyway. We went through it with a fine tooth comb, every detail.  We are all detail, details are critical.’

‘Of course,’ said Laura.  ‘We were once caught out too, long ago.’

‘Is Sis around now?’ asked Miles.

‘Thanks for calling her that.  The other name … it reminds her of those not so good times.  Still call her Jenny please, to her face. She’s in a B&B tonight, as usual.  I can page her.’

‘Just how ‘right’ is she, Jenny?  Now I mean.  After she’s been out of it sometime?’

‘As you are, Laura.  Any relapses?’

‘Not now, sometimes I need space but essentially I am as I am.  I was getting quite schizoid with Frank and Chloe, I couldn’t do it much longer.  I’m not a prude, Jenny, not at all … but it was doing my head in.  They saw that, they knew.  I was terrified they’d know.’

‘Not without reason.’

‘That’s right.  Having to keep the two Jennys going,’ continued Laura ‘well I suppose if you can retreat once in a while …’

‘Exactly, it’s far easier if we can.  It’s intense because we have to keep our stories, body movements, memories, everything the same.  Being twins does help, must have been difficult for you two.’

‘We just planned differently, different things to you that we could and couldn’t get away with.  You two will never be out of work, that’s for sure.  You’ll have offers.  Miles has something to ask.’

‘Um yes … right … you know our main game, the boats, all that.  Could you see your way to spending time helping us?  We can’t pay as you’ve been used to.’

‘Sis and I have talked and talked and talked about it.  We still want to do some of the exciting things, keep our edge, I know Laura still would,’ Laura nodded, ‘but not all the time.’  

‘Tell us a bit more about Sis,’ added Laura.

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