Read (2011) Only the Innocent Online

Authors: Rachel Abbott

Tags: #crime, #police

(2011) Only the Innocent (32 page)

‘Is there money available for any redecoration of the property, or work on the gardens?’ Laura asked, as she no doubt contemplated the idea of living in this mausoleum for the next ten years.

‘The trust will take care of that, and has specific instructions that any work undertaken has to be to repair and renew to the exact standards and style in place today.’

Laura looked horrified at the prospect, and Tom couldn’t blame her. To make this house into a twenty-first century home, it needed some serious refurbishment.

‘Is there anything that prevents me from spending my
own
money on changing how the house looks?’ she leaned forward eagerly

Brian Smedley looked even more uncomfortable.

‘I’m not sure that you understand, Laura. The only money you have is the annual sum that the trust pays, and that can only be spent on items that Hugo has specified.’

‘But what if I had my own money, Brian? Money that I had before I married Hugo?’

An expression of hope was lighting her face and transforming it from the controlled mask that Tom was sure she had been cultivating since the post-mortem. She looked quite lovely, he couldn’t help thinking.

Brian looked at the lawyer, who hadn’t actually said anything other than to request a small whisky when he arrived.

‘Was Sir Hugo aware of this money, Lady Fletcher?’ he asked.

‘I told him when I sold my shares in the company I used to work for. But he wasn’t interested in the amount because to him it was insignificant. I’ve never mentioned it since, and I’ve been investing it. With precious little else to do, I became quite interested in buying and selling shares, and so I certainly have enough money to redecorate the house, several times over actually. Would that be allowed?’

The lawyer checked his notes.

‘It’s a long and complex will, Lady Fletcher. I will check it in every detail, and the terms of the trust that owns the house. It certainly wasn’t Sir Hugo’s intention that anything be changed, I am sure of that. But he clearly had no idea, or had simply forgotten, that you had money of your own. I should also mention that any remarriage or cohabitation has exactly the same terms - you leave the house, forfeit the property in Italy and will be forbidden any future contact with Alexa.’

Hugo’s innate cruelty must have been as obvious to everybody in the room as it was to Tom. He felt deep sympathy for Laura, but he saw she was smiling wryly. The lawyer hadn’t finished.

‘Do you think you’ll comply with his wishes, Lady Fletcher?’

‘I have no choice.’ she answered.

‘I think Sir Hugo thought the house in Italy would see to that.’

‘Well, it’s a pity he’s not here, then,’ she said, leaning back in her chair. ‘Because it would have given me great delight to tell him that it’s got nothing to do with the house. That’s not why I’m staying. I’m staying for Alexa.’

*

Tom was amazed at her composure, and he couldn’t help thinking what a bastard this Hugo had turned out to be; not at all the public persona that the world had loved and respected. Laura’s mask was now back in place, as she listened to the remainder of the terms.

Having met Annabel, Tom could understand Laura’s desire to protect Alexa. But to dictate that she should neither marry nor cohabit with a man for at least a further ten years, by which time she would be almost beyond childbearing age herself, was cruel in the extreme.

The lawyer was beginning to talk about other aspects of the will. He plainly wanted to gloss over some of the lesser bequests, and as Laura didn’t press him, he sighed with relief and moved on to the terms that related to Annabel. But it was clear to Tom that there was something there that the lawyer was finding embarrassing. He needed to see a copy of that will. Maybe somebody else was benefiting, but if Laura had still been a suspect, she certainly wouldn’t have killed him for his money.

Annabel was definitely not going to be happy either. In order to receive her very generous maintenance she had to agree that Alexa could stay with Laura at Ashbury Park for at least three months of every year, which could include weekends and school holidays, as agreed jointly between the two women. As she was a weekly boarder at an Oxfordshire school, this effectively meant that Alexa would spend practically no time at all with her mother. Tom had the uncomfortable feeling that Annabel wouldn’t give a toss about that, as long as the money was there.

It was also determined that if the terms of the will were acceded to, the home in Portugal would become Annabel’s when Alexa reached twenty-one.

It was the final section of the will that Tom found the most interesting, though. Hugo Fletcher had visited his solicitor on the day before he died and added a codicil. He had insisted that he remain at the solicitor’s office until the codicil had been prepared and signed. It stated that Annabel would lose everything if she were responsible for any defamatory remarks about Hugo or his family that were made public in any media, either now or in the future.

Tom breathed a sigh of relief. Yesterday Annabel had confided a level of detail about Hugo that could certainly be considered defamatory. Fortunately he had only shared this with the DCS. He trusted his team, but it had such potential for attracting a hefty fee from the gutter press that Annabel’s inheritance would more than likely have disappeared in a puff of smoke.

*

The lawyer and Brian Smedley left shortly after, and despite Tom’s original intention to go with them to assess Annabel’s reaction, he decided that it was something of a foregone conclusion and asked Becky to go instead. He hadn’t had time to talk to Laura, and there were an increasing number of baffling conundrums that he needed to solve.

Laura had shown the two lawyers out, and by the time she returned to the drawing room Tom had convinced himself that she would be seriously rattled by everything she had heard. If she had been under any illusions about Hugo’s feelings towards her, they had just been publicly dashed, and he was concerned for her. But it was also his job to delve under the surface and discover every secret that this family was hiding. The more he understood about the turbulent emotions of the people around Hugo, the greater his chance of understanding the man. And as a result, he hoped, the greater his chance of finding Hugo’s killer. A sympathetic ear at this emotionally charged time might just break down a few of Laura’s defences.

‘Are you okay, Laura? It’s probably not my place to say so, but that was very harsh.’

He was surprised to see a genuine smile on her face as she took a seat facing him. She seemed almost amused, which was beyond his comprehension.

‘Thanks for the concern, Tom, but it’s fine. He really thought of everything, didn’t he? There’s no way that I can leave Alexa to the mercy of Annabel’s indifference, you know. The poor child has enough to cope with.

‘But he made one mistake,’ she added, with a wicked glint in her eye. ‘I’m just going to wait to check with the trustees then I’m going to rip this place apart, and it’s going to give me enormous pleasure. I’ve had years to think about what I would do. I know I’m using my own money for something that won’t ultimately be mine, but I can’t carry on living here for another ten years like this. Alexa deserves better than that, and there’ll be plenty left for when I’m homeless.’

She really didn’t mind, Tom thought in amazement. But it wasn’t just the virtual house arrest that was cruel.

‘What about the not getting married, or cohabiting? That’s a bit fierce, isn’t it?’

Laura laughed, and appeared to speak from the heart.

‘No thank you. Never again. That’s not a punishment as far as I’m concerned.’

‘But you clearly love Alexa. Didn’t you want children of your own?’

Tom was sorry that he had broken the atmosphere, as Laura’s face fell.

‘Yes, I would have loved my own children. But it wasn’t an option.’

At that moment, Tom’s mobile rang and he cursed. This was the closest he had been to seeing the real Laura. But when he saw that the caller was Kate, he knew he would have to take it. He excused himself, stood up, and walked towards the window with his back to Laura. He spoke for a minute or two, keeping his voice low, and then hung up.

‘Sorry about that. It wasn’t the best time to be interrupted, but that was one I had to take.’

The mood was broken, and Tom was frustrated. Kate’s timing had always been impeccable! Laura was looking at him enquiringly, clearly wondering if it was news about the case but perhaps not knowing whether protocol allowed her to ask.

‘It was just a personal issue that I need to resolve. No great leaps forward in finding your husband’s murderer, I’m afraid.’

Laura looked curiously relieved. Perhaps it was good for her to know that she wasn’t the only one with problems.

‘Well my husband’s feelings for me have just been exposed for the world to see, so if there’s anything I can do to help, just fire away. It might take my mind off the horrendous mess that my life seems to have become.’

As Tom sat down again, it hit him with sudden force that he was lonely. He had never really considered it before. He never minded being alone, but since he’d moved to London he had nobody to share anything other than an occasional pint or a game of squash with. He worked long hours, saw Lucy as much as possible, and spent the rest of his time in his extravagant, but soulless apartment. His real friends were two hundred miles away, but in the last two years he had lost a wife and the best friend of all - his brother.

Now Laura was looking at him with genuine interest, and he realised that most people he spoke to nowadays wore nothing more than expressions of polite indifference. He couldn’t ignore her offer of support completely, and he found that he didn’t want to.

‘It was my ex-wife, Kate. We’re divorced. It was a pretty bleak time for me, because when she left, she took our daughter with her. But now it would seem that all is not well in her new relationship, and she’s decided she wants me back,’ Tom said, keeping the facts to a bare minimum and gazing at the fire as if the solution to his problems lay in the flames.

‘Do you still love her?’ Laura’s softly voiced question betrayed an emotion that Tom couldn’t place. He turned his head towards her, and noted a slight narrowing of the eyes. Not sure what this meant, he answered her question.

‘No. I did for a long time, but that’s not why she wants us to get back together. Kate loves money - well, spending it anyway. It’s ironic, really, having just sat through the reading of Hugo’s will and seeing how you reacted. Kate would by now have been screaming about the injustice of it all.’

‘I’ve long since learned not to scream at Hugo’s injustices. I would probably have worn out my vocal chords by now.’ She smiled to take the edge off her words. ‘So as far as Kate’s concerned, you’re the man with the money now, are you?’

‘Yes, but not through my own efforts. A chief inspector doesn’t do badly, but I was left a lot of money by my brother - in his will,’ he said with difficulty.

Laura seemed genuinely distressed by this news.

‘I’m so sorry, Tom. I don’t see much of my brother but I would be devastated if anything happened to him. How did he die, if you don’t mind me asking.’

Tom paused. Even after all these months he still found it difficult to talk about.

‘He was smart, my brother, but not in any traditional way. He had no interest in going to university and from the age of about fourteen he was always fiddling with electronics in his bedroom. I was the sensible and studious one. His first computer was a little thing called a ZX Spectrum - which I’m sure you’ve never heard of - but despite its limitations he could make that computer do the most amazing things. By the time he was eighteen, he was being paid to write programmes for all sorts of people, and by the age of twenty-five he had made his first million. He built up a multi-million pound Internet security business, and sold it a few months before he died.’

Tom paused and looked at Laura, to see if this was all too much. But she was leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, her chin resting on clasped hands, and she appeared to be truly interested.

‘He went on an atypical spending spree, and amongst other things indulged himself in the fastest speedboat he could buy. And that was it. There was an accident, a real freak according to the boat manufacturers, and he died. His body was never recovered.’

He spoke in a matter of fact voice, trying to disguise his emotion but he guessed that Laura wouldn’t be fooled. He gave himself a moment, and Laura kept a respectful silence.

‘So now that I’m loaded, Kate wants to come back. If I don’t agree, she’s threatening to take Lucy back to Manchester. I only moved here to be close to them, and now I’m being held to ransom again. So there’s the rub. Do I give in for Lucy’s sake?’ Tom said. He looked at Laura. ‘You seem happy to make the ultimate sacrifice for a child that isn’t even your own - so surely I should be able to live with Kate for Lucy’s sake?’

Tom watched Laura carefully to gauge her reaction. She paused for a moment before speaking.

‘You know, Tom, I’m really the last person to give advice on relationships. But I do remember growing up as a child in a household where I loved both parents. The problem was, the parents didn’t really love each other. Oh, they tried. And they certainly weren’t nasty to each other, although there were a few cracking arguments. But the love just wasn’t there. Will and I had a stable life, but I think that I would sum it up as a house that was devoid of joy. I think children need that joy in their lives. If they exist in a world where they are forever watching their parents tiptoeing around each other - even if they’re not arguing - it gives them a false set of values. In retrospect, I would rather have been with one parent who was genuinely happy than with two who had so many axes to grind you could almost hear them being sharpened.’

Tom thought that this was very perceptive. Having been brought up in a happy working class home with two parents who worked hard but made each other laugh more often than they made each other cry, this had been the sort of relationship that he craved.

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