Stone Dead

1: The Manx Loaghtan

Gallery here … Chapter 2 here

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I

She wasn’t sure, Chloe Jamieson, what depressed her more – catching the train now from Lytton-by-Sea at the ungodly hour of 8:22 this late November, the bleakness of two-carriage sprinters she no longer had to catch each day, or maybe it was the events she was about to witness, that’s if they ever got there.

Maybe it was just the fields and trees out there rattling by the other side of the fogged up window – she hated the cold.

There was a message, she looked down and deleted it. Thirty-eight minutes till the first change.

Miles didn’t know she knew the address but why should he? In all their time together on that island, the address of his estranged wife’s parents had never entered the conversation – why should it have? They ran the livestock, they made ends meet, the island was theirs.

Melissa had never asked for a divorce and he’d never asked, Chloe had bided her time. Those three online flops were a thing of the past, he’d got out of the game when the recession really bit she then saw the spectre of signing on turned around, this ex-boss of hers had bought this island – not a large island admittedly – had asked her to join him, they were able to farm it and now they were breaking even.

Suddenly, he was visiting Melissa’s Daddy’s home. Why? Well, that was obvious, wasn’t it – marriage had been mooted with her, Chloe, things had started happening.

It hadn’t been easy setting up that island. Miles’s friend from online days, Stephen Brown, had put him straight via email.

‘No-one relies just on crops on an island in a temperate climate, Miles. The best and most profitable agricultural undertaking would be the raising of sheep or other ovine creature. Salt-tainted pasture gives a distinctive and delicious flavour to the meat.

Poor soil, as on your island, would give the right sort of pasture for a rare breed like the Manx Loaghtan – in the Manx language Loaghtan means ‘mouse brown’. Of benefit is the fact that the breed originates from an island off the UK coast.

Listen, my friend, if you want to get anywhere with this, forget the tilling, except for your domestic needs and go the rare breed route.’

Miles had done just that but those already breeding on the Isle of Man were not playing ball and it had been the devil of a job getting Devon breeders to allow a couple of ewes for a substantial consideration, at a time when funds were thin on the ground anyway.

He’d needed to up his game and do his own slaughtering but had then had second thoughts. It hadn’t been squeamishness but the quality of the cuts which had been the issue and so mainland butchers had been brought in, on condition Miles would farm some of their own breeds for their speciality shops, this had required outhouses and then there was the tax man and so on and so on.

No longer a PA but as near as dammit an equal partner she was, they always split the proceeds 50/50. Then there was that visit by two of his Swiss contacts from the online era, they’d seen the gite he’d had built, based on another friend’s gite and they put it to him that if the island could not legally be a tax haven, then it could at least be a haven for those needing an address … for a consideration.

She was against it at first, reasoning that as the two of them were already turning over a pretty penny, why complicate things? When she’d heard the amount of the pretty penny though, she saw the value but had quietly urged him to vet each potential denizen of their island carefully.

‘You vet them,’ he’d told her.

And she had.

Things had been fine but it was this romantic line they’d crossed a few days back now – she was sure that’s what had triggered this visit. Well she, Chloe, would have a ringside seat.

II

The inner office was too tiny for this, thought Paul Glendinning but his higher-up had demanded the meeting and here he was dumping the hat and coat on the nearest free desk space.

‘You say you don’t know her name, Paul, why not?’

‘We call her Emma -‘

‘You call her Emma? Call her? What’s her name, man, where does she live, what’s her NI number? Give me something.’

‘We can’t get it. There’s no such person.’

‘Europol, PRISM any of the others? This is the EU, not the keystone cops. One female, about thirty-five, nondescript and clearly from these islands – there’s your starting point.’

‘We’ve done all that, sir. She has a few identities, slips away every time. – thought that might be your field. I was hoping you could shed some light -‘

‘Me? It’s your department, you’re the one with the finger on the pulse. Supposedly.’

‘It gets worse.’

‘Go on.’

‘We think there’s more than one of her.’

‘Suffer the little children. Go on.’

‘We’ve got Janine Cain with us today, it’s strictly speaking her baby, can I bring her through?’

‘Yes yes.’

Glendinning buzzed, there was a knock at the door and a lady was bidden enter. Introductions done, Ms Cain got down to it. ‘Aged 34 -’

‘On record or on her say-so?’

‘On her say-so, according to various domestic staff. We’re pretty sure her base hair colour is brunette, darker in fact. Straight-bridged nose with a turn-up at the end. Hair usually covering the ears. May have a slight indentation in the chin, perhaps not.’

‘Always a female, as a matter of interest?’

‘Not always … she’s played the young man a few times. Did it well too by all accounts.’

‘Go on.’

‘She varies her appearance.’

‘Yes, we know that. Such a person, August 4th, ruined Michel Lefebvre near Neuilly, descriptions of such a woman came in.’

‘Lefebvre?’ asked Glendinning and Janine supplied the details.

‘Mayor of Neuilly. He pulled out of the race following the disgrace. ‘Thing is, there would have been no investigation at all but for the complaint by the opposition campaign manager about various other goings on and from that alone, days later, a description of Emma emerged. Long gone by then of course, onto her next job.’

‘Someone pays well,’ grunted Haas.

‘You’d have to say so. She takes her time and that doesn’t come cheaply. Whether she’s approached by money or whether she approaches money she thinks a prospective job – we’re not sure.’

‘Mercenary more than freedom fighter then. But why bother with minor targets? She’d make more on big hits. Is that her only game, do you think?’

‘If you look at Lefebvre, sir, he has connections with Pascal Lebois who’s denied dealings with Marc Dutroux but Lefebvre certainly did have. Dutroux himself opens a can of worms no one cares to be associated with. There’s also the little matter of one entire village and allegations coming out of there.’

‘The paedo thing? That’s Belgium. No one ever dies in this? I mean as a result of our lady’s exertions?’

‘Only from shame,’ put in Glendinning. ‘She’s no assassin but there’ve been consequent deaths – suicides. Remarkable talent for getting close to targets we can’t touch.’

‘So, she’s of value to people up there who are of no particular concern to us and who’ll pay. And yet I’m getting heat to identify and bring her in. Seems she’s doing our work for us but of course, not at our behest, and she’s blown more than one of our projects.’

‘That was her error, target a bit clever those times,’ said Glendinning, ‘She’s not attached to any agency we know, none that will own her anyway. Forgive me but what if she were onto one of the people leaning on you, sir?’

Haas stroked his chin. ‘Can we trace her if she was in Lefebvre’s employ?’

‘No. She wasn’t taking Lefebvre’s shilling, not officially, not directly, possibly she was doing dirty work for him.’

‘Tax evasion.’

‘Unless her legit work has lots of perks and she declares the perks as income, remains a good girl and keeps their taxman happy. I’d not go the tax route on this.’

Janine spoke. ‘If she’s able to get this time off to do these things, sometimes for six months or more, then her day job is piecemeal, or else freelance.’

There was a long pause. Haas ran his stubby fingers through his hair and asked, ‘And that’s it? No photo, no eye witness -‘

‘There are photos all right, three we thought might be legit but they’re of different women. They’re here.’ She extracted the prints and handed them across.

Haas studied them. ‘Why do you think them legit?’

‘Domestic staff testimony, shopkeepers.’

‘All right, let’s all three of us meet here again Tuesday next, same time.’

III

Frank O’Brien could have moved out of the dingy office at the back of the garage any time in the past eight years.

The little MOT business had expanded, he’d kept up with the latest automotive technology, he’d done the exams, he’d employed the right graduates – the new vehicles were almost an apprenticeship in themselves. This was his field, this was where he shone.

He was annoyed at Melissa. For someone who’d been educated at Woodburn Hall, Melissa had chosen a man below her but that was OK in one way because Miles was making money hand over fist – back then in computer things, now as a bloody farmer. Fine by him but his daughter, the ultimate fashionista? Miles must have known that wouldn’t wash with Melissa.

He suspected Miles had wanted shut of Melissa – well, she was a right little pain for sure but Miles hadn’t asked for a divorce, neither had Melissa. His darling daughter seemed perfectly happy at home with Laura and him.

Chloe – fair-haired, curvacious, a cutie in her early-30s – why didn’t Miles just go for it, start proceedings? Melissa wasn’t to know this either but there wasn’t a lot left in that fund of hers, there’d been certain … difficulties.

Frank stared ahead, deep in thought. Daughter or no daughter, Melissa was getting in the way now.

IV

Glendinning turned to Janine, once Haas had left. ‘Describe her more fully than you did just now, more than you’ve done before for me.’

‘You’d understand a lot of this is guesswork on my part, that’s why I haven’t offered it. Why would people trust Emma? Because she’s nondescript and serious, with strong ethics, quite vulnerable – a criminal sees her as easy prey. She’s a good manager, the type you’d employ, she takes on the work and never complains, she makes some errors but not enough, she’s generally forgiven – she comes over well.

She’s self-effacing, exactly the type you’d entrust your secrets to, there’d be bonhomie in the office, she’s only worked for men.’

‘What’s the longest she’s been on any of these … projects?’

‘One went eleven months, one was over and done with in three weeks. No pattern.’

‘There is in the final result – the man is ruined or the wife is, or else someone withdraws from office or emigrates.’

‘We’ve been over that. On occasions, she does do the chantage but then it goes to a charity. She doesn’t need it, obviously.’

‘Your appraisal of her nature, her wherewithal.’

‘Normal, I’m afraid. Can be arrogant and sassy, can be moved to tears, can be strong, can stand up to her employer if it’s a matter of justice.’

‘Does she ever smile?’

‘Men report the sun coming out. Women say she’s into classic fragrances, such as Chanel, likes florals, occasionally chypre. One thing she never varies is delicacy – she likes lace, chiffon, likes to feel a woman. Even when she stacked on the pounds during one of her jobs, she was still delicate.’

‘Well there’s a vulnerability. Do her scruples extend to bed?’

‘You mean does she sleep with them? She laughed. ‘It really depends. The elegant lady, apparently, is her usual defence, the kiss in the doorway, the lingering goodnight, the good humour and deep interest in him, which lets her string him along. In some cases, it’s been said to have ended up in bed. She doesn’t strike me as a saint.’

‘How is she with women?’

‘Supportive shoulder, not into women, though women reportedly trust her, as do the men.’

‘You like her.’

‘So do you. As you learn your target, it’s possible to appreciate them. Would you bed her?’

He blushed. ‘That’s no question to ask a married man.’

‘You would.’

‘Do we have anything else?’

‘She doesn’t bleed in public. She’s flawed, she’s had close shaves but someone up there is covering for her, we know that, perhaps for services rendered, perhaps just because she’s so … helpable. I think she’s doing high grade work on a private basis but not ad hoc – there’s a definite pattern – the gathering of data, the extension of her network all the time. I think she’s mercenary but not unprincipled – she needs to live with herself.’

‘Does she move in high circles? What’s her milieu?’

‘In the case of John Malthas, you’ll recall – it was only because someone made a casual remark over tea and clotted cream that he was caught out. I’d say she helped organize that guest list, she has the social sense of a hostess. It seemed wretched luck for our John, that this woman whom the wife could not have known the connection with was invited. I’d say luck didn’t come into it.’

Glendinning took another sip of his cold coffee. ‘And after her rare mistakes?’

‘Disappears into the ether of course. Appears a few months later, that much the wiser. She almost always plays within her limits, doesn’t demand too much, is reliable once she takes on the task.’

‘All right, look at it another way – what does she offer that money would want?’

‘Nondescript, discreet, leaves no traces, gets the job done.’

V

‘The only reason I agreed to see you again, Miles, was to confirm in my mind, for once and for all, that my decision was the correct one.’

Melissa gazed at him for precisely five seconds for maximum dramatic effect, then delivered: ‘It was.’

With that, she turned on wobbly stilettos and clattered across the faux Provencale tiles, through the double doors to the steps which led up the back of the house to the stables. He watched her disappear with as much hauteur as she could muster, all 159cm of her, in those label-out garments he hadn’t a clue about the names of, except that they must, by definition, have been more than he paid out in six months on his entire cost of living.

All the way up that stone path towards the muddy surrounds of the stables – he could hear the clatter of heels and the cursing – she looked the goods all right but he had to own she seemed further away than ever.

He looked down at himself – the gladrags still stood up – she’d have said they were three years out of date, yet she’d been the one who’d chosen them. His leather shoes were still smart and polished, his fine cords were well cut, his leather jacket was soft and fitted him carelessly. It was one of two outfits he maintained, the rest outdoor gear for the island.

The island – he had vague ideas of bringing Melissa in and if she refused, he’d put this proposition to her … well, an ultimatum really. As it turned out, he’d not been given the chance.

VI

Paul stood back and surveyed the whiteboard.

London had gone to ground. Everyone was all of a sudden cagy – Peter Thomas had always played fair but now it was, ‘Sorry old boy, no can do.’ Money was involved, lots of it. Someone had discovered something as big as fracking and then the curtain had come down.

Until yesterday. A message had been intercepted, unencrypted, a geological report which spoke of something the government had sat on for years, a possibility off the north-west coast.

Chap up north had bought an island in the middle of it. He’d not keep that island long.

VII

Miles stood on those foyer tiles at the back of the house, considering her action.

He wasn’t going to demean himself running after her – it was finished, she seemed to have her own agenda, but there were considerations. In a nutshell, if she filed, she’d get her fair share. If he filed, he’d lose all. He didn’t wish to be as mercenary as her but he was damned if he was going to give it all away. She had to file, Chloe and he would marry and develop the island further.

Yes, he knew pre-nups like that didn’t cut ice these days in the UK but this was not one favouring him – it favoured her if he filed.

He looked at the double doors and wondered why she’d made for the stables instead of pushing past him and barricading herself in her room, demanding he got out or whatever – she was going riding in those stilettos?

Well, he wasn’t doing much, standing here, with Frank in the front room well aware, probably having listened in, and yet not interfering.

Yep, he’d have to go up to the stables, have it out, find out her game and then take his leave to consider it. So sad. He’d hoped, he’d hoped for too much with Melissa, besotted he’d been in the early days. He still sort of hoped – you don’t marry someone for nothing.

He sighed, the chill hit him outside as he skipped up the steps to the stables.

Door was locked. Shouldn’t have been. It never had been in the days he’d spent here.

He turned the latch handle and pushed again, it gave slightly but on the other side, there was something blocking it, probably a sandbag, bale of hay, whatever. Damn, he’d just stood in a muddy puddle.

He called her name. Nothing.

Pushing a bit more, it moved, whatever it was, which gave him about 50cm and wasn’t going to give any more.

Should he be doing this? If she’d put it there, was his trying to break in now going to be seen as an act of aggression and used against him?

He called her name again.

And once again.

He pushed harder, the upper half of the door moved just enough for him to slip through but he didn’t want his jacket messed and there was nowhere to hang it out here. Taking it off, he reached through the gap, felt along the wall, hung it on something protruding, he now forced his way through, put the jacket back on, turned and in closing the door, gazed down upon the crumpled body of his wife.

She’d been shot in the back of the head. A silenced gun lay about a metre away. He ignored it.

He dropped to his knees and utterly numb, turned her onto her back. Surprise on her face, she hadn’t seen it coming. Killer probably still here but now he took her in his arms and everything from the last three years came out.

Some minutes later, Frank heard the rapid footsteps coming down the gravel driveway and saw Miles cross his living room window, he went out to the tiled foyer and the front door, Miles told him to put his boots on and come, he got them from the laundry, they went together up to the stables, he saw and lost it for the best part of half an hour whilst Miles stayed outside, rubbing his hands, blowing on them.

Frank eventually came out and they walked back down to the house.

They took off their boots as if nothing had happened, came through and neither knew how to emote, relate, what to do.

Frank walked over, got two glasses, grabbed the whisky, sloshed two and handed Miles one. They knocked them back.

They did it again, then another.

‘Why haven’t we called the police?’ asked Miles. ‘Why haven’t we raised the alarm?’

”It’s only just happened. You’ll help me get her down here now?’

The moment they entered those stables again, O’Brien cried out savagely and swore, Miles just stared at his wife’s face. There was a second bullet hole in the forehead and more blood was dripping onto the hay on the stable floor.

‘You fucking bastard,’ screamed Frank, searching every corner of the stable, craning out of the far window, racing back, beside himself. ‘You fucking bastard, you fucking bastard,’ was all he could say.

Miles grabbed his arm. ‘They’re not around now, Frank, let’s take her down. Frank! Enough.’

There was always a folded camp bed in the stables for when there was a sick animal and someone had to remain; they took it and loading her onto it was gruesome – her lifeless finery but the lightness of her body.

They opened the double doors to the stable and carried her down the pathway, leaving her in state in the hallway on the tiled floor, Miles closed her eyes while her father went for her duvet, came back and draped it over her.

They went into the front room again – another two whiskies were poured and downed.

‘Killer’s still up there,’ muttered O’Brien, standing in the bay of the window.

‘No way. Frank, we need to bring the police in now.’

‘I wouldn’t trust them not to bungle it and then we’d never know. Killer can’t stay up there forever, he can’t hide, except one place I know – no one outside family knows of it. He can’t cross the fields in the light, as you know -‘

Miles bounded for the door, crossed the gravel path and looked down into the gully running from the outhouses behind the stable down to the front fence of the property.

There were indentations but they seemed to stop where he was standing now and then continue down to the fence. It was like a hard earth bridge just here.

He turned and went back to the living room. ‘Are you going to call them or am I?’

‘I’ve called them. They’re on their way.’

VIII

Dusk on the island, four days later, Chloe brought the dinner through on the tray, he poured the wine.

‘I have to break my silence,’ she said. ‘We haven’t spoken on anything of significance. We should discuss it.’

‘I know.’

‘They couldn’t trace the bullets, Miles, yet they were from the same gun, neither of you caught or saw anyone, the police could make out those tracks in the gully but couldn’t match them to anyone. You know what I’m thinking?’

‘It might have been him. When I went through the double doors, I was leaping up the steps beside the house to the stables and could see anyone going back down the driveway. I heard nothing. I looked about me while I was waiting to go in, I would have seen someone on the roof too because it’s quite low at that point. While I was in there with her, nothing else moved and then I went straight down to the house where he was. That second round was put into her forehead while we were down there -‘

‘And you didn’t hear that either?’

‘The pistol was silenced. The first shot must have been the instant she got through the door, before I was even running up those steps, the second while we were down in the house of course.’

‘You left Frank in there with her.’

‘For a few minutes but she’d not been shot by then, Chloe. Besides, it wasn’t in anyone’s interests as far as I can see, certainly not Frank’s.’

‘It was in yours.’

He looked across at her. ‘Actually, it wasn’t. We had a pre-nup – if I filed, she’d get everything, minus your share. If she filed, she’d have half my part. There was no provision for death in the arrangement. Her death has put me under the hammer.’

‘How?’

‘If we go ahead and marry, I’ll tell you after we marry.’

‘Why after?’

‘Because the law is interested in this and it’s better you know nothing of the provisions. It doesn’t affect you or me on this island, we carry on as before and I’m willing to sign an affidavit for you to that effect, that everything is exactly as I’ve stated it to you, that the island is ours to do with as we wish, that no one is going to come in and claim any of it, nor any of our business ventures. Truth is, Chloe, it’s actually better than what you think now but I didn’t want that influencing you. I wanted to be married some time and then tell you.’

‘You don’t trust me.’

‘I do trust you but I don’t want you influenced by any other outside factors. When the police interview you in the next day or two, I want you to be able to tell what you know, freely.’

‘Why would they interview me?’

‘You were there.’

‘Pardon?’ She placed her drink on the table.

‘You were there, Chloe. I don’t know if you were at the house itself but you certainly came to the mainland, you travelled by sprinter and you took the main line to the town. You were booked in at the Travellers Arms. You knew I’d booked in there too, just in case it all went wrong.’

She never attempted to deny it. ‘I knew none of it was right – the way you told me nothing and just disappeared but of course I knew where you’d gone and yes, I did look in the drawer, you didn’t exactly hide it, did you? It just wasn’t right, someone was going to play hard ball with you and you’re not hard in that way. And yes, I was looking after my own interests too. We built this island together.’

‘I know that, did you think you’d be cut out?’

I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have been.’

‘How?’

‘Laura kept me up with what was happening.’

‘Laura? Frank’s bird?’

‘Don’t call her that, she’s his de facto. She didn’t like what was happening. She knows most things about that family, she heard you were coming because she was listening in and heard a row between Frank and Melissa. At least, Melissa seems to have been the one going ballistic at Frank.’

‘Which really does seem to put him in the frame.’

‘He’s not an idiot. He knew Laura would have heard, he didn’t trust her of late, he wanted her to go to Durham, to get her out of the way.’

‘Durham?’

‘Her sister’s.’

‘Ah.’

‘She went to Durham all right, as she suspected someone would have been posted to see her get out at the station but she then took a taxi and rang me back to say she’d be at the Travellers mid-morning and we could talk it through.’

‘A taxi? Around what – £400 or so?’

‘What’s that to her? Frank was paying. It was his card which had paid for the trip over. She knows the three numbers on the back.’

‘Bloody hell. And then?’

‘She didn’t say but I felt she was going up to the house.’

‘You do understand how vital that evidence is you’ve withheld.’

‘She was with me that afternoon, she was not accused by anyone, why should I have introduced that?’

‘Chloe why are you protecting her?’

‘Look, you know I know Laura from the online days. You’ve had dealings with her, I was your PA. I like her. She likes me.’

‘Have you ever made contact with Melissa before?’

‘Yes.’

‘You amaze me. So close, so secretive.’

‘Oh come off it, Miles, you know a lot of things you don’t divulge. You have no evil purpose but you just like to know … just in case, like. And before you ask – I don’t know in case of what – just in case of anything.’

‘OK, OK. How? Where? When?’

‘King’s Nympton station platform. You’d sent me down there for the insemination, she was there about the Tarka Line and stock – for her father of course.’

‘And you recognized her?’

‘Not hard, is it? She recognized me – that little smile on her lips, we talked. She was non-committal about you, not angry, not upset but that upset me and she saw it. We spoke more about her and Frank and she gave little hints that Laura’s the key figure in what goes on at that place. That also came over when we talked at the Travellers.’

‘When did she reach the Travellers exactly?

‘Just after 11:00. She went out late afternoon, then came back late evening and slept with me and I can confirm she’s AC/DC. She made the moves of someone quite used to it all – I allowed some of them. I’m not but it wasn’t nauseating. In fact, that was the moment I decided it had to be all or nothing with you and me.’

‘We haven’t talked that out yet.’

‘Funeral’s in three days. Do you want me there?’

‘Do you want?’

‘I’ll go if you want. I wasn’t exactly fond of Melissa but if you need my presence, I’ll be there.’

IX

Chloe got a text from Laura about ten days later. She’d left Frank.

‘When you met her at the funeral,’ mused Chloe, ‘did she give any indication?’

‘It was a funeral. Look, let’s get her over here. Send her a text and tell her we’ll put her up for a couple of days.’

‘Are you crazy? She’s trouble.’

‘Meaning you have something to protect now. You’d agree not everything’s kosher?

She looked at him. ‘I don’t want to go this route, Miles.’

‘I think she killed my wife and I want to speak to her.’

‘To accuse her.’

‘No, to observe, to talk.’

‘I don’t like it. I agree there’s something wrong in the business. I can’t see it being her. I’d prefer you to leave her alone.’

‘There’s a hell of a lot wrong, Chloe, even officially, even the way the police have laid off. It’s as if everyone wants Melissa excised from the landscape.’

‘And you think Laura will open up to you?’

‘I don’t know but I’m not happy, Chloe and I need to speak to her about things. This was my wife, you know.’

‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

X

They’d made enough out of the gites that when one of the inmates, as Miles called them, had suggested a helicopter, which they’d spring for, for mutual use of all ‘islanders’, it had seemed a logical move.

They’d sent the copter to the mainland today to pick up Laura and here she was now, climbing out on their island, hunched down under the rotors, looking a picture.

The face was not what many would have called beautiful but she was certainly hard to resist – there was just this manner she had, the way she moved, so light on her feet – everything about her was light, from the black trainers and the dark-navy jeans to the fur or fake fur coat – she had this fixed stare she gave you. All this within moments.

She’d brought wellies in stylish multicolour which worried the sheep, she held them disdainfully in one hand. He watched while she changed to the wellies, still a short distance from him.

Then she came over, a smile on her lips. ‘Miles.’

‘Laura. This way.’

They walked up the hill to the house, Chloe came out, Laura’s things were put just inside the door, the two women embraced.

Not a lot was said over lunch and Chloe knew the score. ‘OK, go for your walk, you two.’

They rugged up, wellied up, went outside and took the slope for the east side of the island.  The steam from the nostrils of a hundred Loaghtans, plus them, was a curious sight. The two hundred horns were simply daunting.

‘We never saw much of each other, Miles,’ she said, dodging a couple of sheep, ‘except at the -‘

‘You were preoccupied, so was I. Plus you like women, Laura – according to Chloe.’

‘Ah, the Travellers, she told you that? No, I’m straight as a general rule.’

‘You went out early afternoon from the Travellers.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘You were seen.’

‘By Chloe?’

‘No, I knew she’d cover for you.’

‘You’re fishing. I went out in the evening for a while.’

‘Why did you not phone Frank?’

‘Why the third degree?’

‘You knew the script before you arrived and still you came.’

She shrugged. ‘I didn’t kill him. It might have been a professional. Silencer.’

‘One of Frank’s friends?’

‘You’re quick, Miles. I like that in a man.’

‘What are your plans now? You know you’re welcome here as long as you would welcome Chloe if you were mine.’

‘If I were yours.’ She grinned at that and he had to fight the rising feeling, force it down again. Her smile had hit him amidships and he pleaded. ‘Please don’t do this.’

‘You have Chloe.’

He just looked into those melancholy eyes – still with flashes of mischief. ‘You had a hand in Melissa’s death, Laura. I don’t know how exactly, it might even be that you did nothing physically but you knew what was going on all right. You’re the sort of woman who knows, Laura. You’d always know.’

‘Hostile.’

‘All right, I accept you didn’t actually kill her.’

‘Melissa wasn’t right for you, Miles. Sorry. I’ve no right to play god over your marriage but she wasn’t right. I didn’t poison her mind against you if that’s what you’re thinking, I swear to it, in fact I told her to go to you to sort it out, to get it finished one way or the other but I know things about her which you can’t know and she was not loyal to you. I don’t think she cared about lovers much or anything like that – I mean she was loyal to Melissa alone.’

‘You think I don’t know that?’

‘May we go back? I’m getting chilly.’

Along the track back, he asked, ‘Why did you leave him?’

‘He thinks I did it. I think he did it. In a way, this island is sanctuary.’

‘He thinks, you think. Explain.’

‘Frank told me to stay away. Durham. I went and came back.’

‘The taxi,’ he grinned.

‘Well yes, no need to go into that. But I was at the house. I observed but from a distance. So yes, Miles, I lied. I was there, as you say, early afternoon.’

‘And Chloe lied to cover you. Question is – why admit it now?’

‘Miles, let me explain something to you about me. I always work on the basis that the truth is best to tell, not from any moral superiority but because lies become webs. Some lies need to be told now and then, in certain situations, but as far as possible, when it’s possible to tell the truth, I always do. It’s easier in the long run and you don’t need a perfect memory.’

‘I do the same.’

Gallery here … Chapter 2 here

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