Authors: Rachel Abbott
Tags: #crime, #police
‘We could send a car for you at about six thirty if that’s not too early. And then we would like some time with you so that we can learn everything possible about your husband. We do think that if he was murdered, it was by somebody he knew. I’m sure that you can assist us with that.’
Laura answered quietly.
‘I’ll do my best.’
‘Do you know of anybody who was threatening your husband, or anybody who could be harbouring a significant grudge?’
‘Nobody. Well, nobody obvious. Because of his work there was always a perceived threat - but he didn’t tell me of anything specific. I’m sorry.’
‘We know all about his work, Lady Fletcher. Who doesn’t? So we’ll be looking into that in great detail, of course. Think about it overnight and then perhaps we can talk to you some more tomorrow.’
The policeman paused. When he started to speak again, his voice had softened.
‘I’m really sorry to have to ask you this, but I’m afraid I must. Do you believe that your husband had any relationships with women outside your marriage?’
Laura couldn’t stop a shudder from running through her body. She paused for just a beat, and then looked up.
‘I don’t know. I’m sorry,’ she replied again, almost in a whisper.
‘Is there anybody that we could call to be with you, Lady Fletcher?’ the young sergeant asked.
‘I don’t want anybody, thank you. I would really prefer to be alone.’ Laura paused for a second.
Glancing up, she cast a worried glance out of the window through the still open curtains.
‘But if it’s not too much trouble, do you think you could ask somebody to bring my case in from the boot of the car, please? I don’t really want to go outside if that helicopter’s still hovering.’
The ever-helpful sergeant jumped up.
‘I’ll get it.’
Laura was vaguely conscious that the Chief Inspector was asking if she wanted them to call her doctor, but she had tuned out of the conversation, and was in another place and time. The sound of their voices was echoing hollowly in her head, but the words were no longer registering.
She was relieved when the sergeant reappeared, carrying a small suitcase.
‘Excuse me, Lady Fletcher, there’s a lady here to see you. The policeman let her as far as the front door, because she said she’s a relation of yours. Should I let her in?’
Before Laura could gather her wits about her and answer, the door was pushed open further. A slender young woman stood in the doorway, her long strawberry blond hair shining in the light of the chandelier behind her.
‘Laura, I just heard the news. I’m so sorry. I had to come. I couldn’t possibly let you face this on your own.’
The slight but unmistakable North American accent was the last thing Laura was expecting to hear.
She felt her heart begin to pound, and she leapt out of her chair. She couldn’t stop herself, and all her pent up emotion exploded from her lips.
Within a matter of minutes of the arrival of the evidently unwanted guest, all three detectives left in Becky’s car, edging their way past the growing number of press blocking the gates. None of them had uttered a word since leaving the house, other than for the Chief Superintendent to dismiss his driver in favour of travelling with Becky and Tom. No comment was passed until they were out of sight of the cameras. A close up of three visibly agitated police officers on the evening news would only result in unnecessary speculation, so they had kept their faces impassive until they were well out of range. Becky was the first to break the silence.
‘Does anybody apart from me think that was truly weird? Hardly a word uttered - and then such an outburst. And she was certainly keen to see the back of us, once that sister-in-law of hers turned up.’
Tom knew she was right. Laura’s distress had seemed very genuine, but once her visitor had arrived she had practically pushed them out of the door. And Becky’s offer to stay overnight with Laura had been abruptly turned down, much to her obvious disappointment. No doubt she would love to be a fly on that particular wall right now.
‘Tom, you’re the motivational analysis expert. What were your first impressions of Lady Fletcher?’ James Sinclair’s sharp eyes turned towards Tom, who was deep in thought in the back of the car. All he could think about was how fragile she felt when he had tried to stop her from crumpling to the floor. He forced himself to revisit the scene in the drawing room in his mind.
‘She’s a difficult one to read. Distressed, without a doubt. She seemed to be focused on holding herself together; so much so that she seemed almost detached, as if none of it was real. Except, of course in her reaction to her visitor. That was certainly real.’
‘Well, her visitor - what was her name again, Becky?’
‘Imogen Kennedy, sir’
‘Thank you. Well as Imogen used to be married to Lady Fletcher’s brother there could be all sorts of reasons for her response - some family feud, perhaps. But definitely worth pursuing. With that level of antagonism, there could be more to it. What did you think, Becky?’ James asked.
‘I thought that Lady Fletcher looked as if she’d given up on life. Unlike her very attractive sister-in-law.’
Tom thought Becky’s forthright observations were sadly completely accurate. Laura Fletcher had been wearing a sort of paisley skirt in shades of purple, gathered unattractively at the waist, and a short sleeved and round necked jumper that was a washed out beige colour. Her hair was tied back with a plain elastic band, and of course the understandably pale skin, blotchy through crying, did nothing to enhance her appearance. Imogen Kennedy, on the other hand, had arrived to her less than warm welcome looking immaculate. It was certainly a contrast.
‘I would have liked to have seen her reaction when she found out the news. That young PC was too flustered to have picked up on anything.’
‘Do you know how you missed her, Tom?’
‘Not really. They assured us they had made an announcement on the flight, but nobody came forward. She said she must have slept through it.’
Becky gave a derisive snort.
‘Yeah - and just two minutes later she said she doesn’t sleep much.’
‘I suppose travel does that to some people. Anyway, we asked the airport to check the status of her baggage, and they got back to us about ten minutes later to say that she appeared to have collected her suitcase as the carousel was empty, so we expected to see her come through any time soon.’
‘They put out several announcements in the airport, and we waited another half hour before we gave up and accepted that we’d missed her. We got here at about ten past eight. I’m surprised we were so close behind her, given the head start she must have had.’
The DCS interjected. ‘Are we absolutely certain that she was on that flight? Can there be any doubt at all?’
Becky was quick to respond to this.
‘Absolutely none. And when I got her case out of the car, the airline’s luggage label was for the Ancona flight, with today’s date.’
‘From what you saw of her this evening, Becky, would you have recognised her at the airport, do you think?’ James asked.
‘The latest photo we had wasn’t that great so on that basis we could easily have missed her. But I do have an almost photographic memory, and I can’t believe that skirt could have walked past without me registering it. She could have been wearing a coat, though. There was one on the back seat of the car.’
Tom had no idea how they’d missed her, but they obviously had. As Becky said, there was no doubt that Laura Fletcher was in Italy at the time of the murder. But something was nagging at the back of his mind. He had felt her body shaking so there was no question that her suffering was real, but there were a couple of odd reactions. It was strange that she didn’t seem interested in any of the details. In fact, she hadn’t asked a single question about how her husband had died. But the fact that the cleaner was there on a Saturday seemed to have come as a surprise. Why did that matter? Even they hadn’t known at that point that it was definitely murder. Becky’s thought patterns seemed to be mirroring his own as he heard her speak to James.
‘You said it looks like murder. What have they found, sir?’
‘Apparently when they got the body to the mortuary, Rufus Dexter had another go over the body with a magnifying glass. He may be short on complete sentences, but he’s a detail fanatic and couldn’t resist a bit of further investigation prior to the PM. He noticed a tiny spot of blood in the victim’s pubic hair. There is definitely a puncture wound there, and given that no sane person would inject themselves anywhere near their own scrotum, he felt he should alert me, although as yet he doesn’t know what was injected. He doesn’t really think there was any intention to hide the puncture wound - there are better spots for that as we all know - so the site was probably chosen for speed of absorption into the blood stream.’
‘We’ve still got to tell her that he was naked and tied up. It’s going to be difficult for her to block out that bit of information,’ Becky said.
Tom gazed out at the dark night as they sped down the M40, and thought about Hugo Fletcher. It seemed increasingly improbable that this would turn out to be a simple murder by an angry wife, so they needed to consider other possibilities. He couldn’t help thinking that Sir Hugo’s charitable work might be related in some way. His fortune was inherited, but his fame came from his high profile charity and the help it gave to help Eastern European prostitutes. Given the sexual overtones of the murder scene, there was an obvious link to the prostitutes. But why would one of them want to kill him?
James Sinclair was sceptical.
‘If we’re to believe the media, they all thought he was God Almighty. I could believe that a disgruntled pimp might have done it, but he would hardly drink champagne with a pimp and then let himself be tied to the bed. I’m sure there’s a logical link here, but it’s eluding me.’
They had reached the end of the motorway, and Becky’s driving had reverted to its usual ducking and diving style along the dual carriageway, which was heavy with traffic even this late on a Saturday night. Tom could just make out a slightly nervous expression on his boss’s face each time they passed under a yellow street light, and he couldn’t resist a smile, which he managed to erase as James turned to face him in the back of the car.
‘Let’s get back to the facts. We all know the statistics on murder by spouses, so let’s rule out the obvious first. We have established beyond reasonable doubt that Lady Fletcher was on the flight from Italy. Are we absolutely certain that there is no way she could have murdered him, and then got herself to Italy for that flight from Ancona?’
‘No way at all. We’ve checked.’
‘What about private planes, given their wealth?’
‘We’re checking that out too, but it would be a bit obvious. She may be many things, but I don’t think she’s stupid, and she might as well wear a hat that says ‘guilty’ on it as take a private plane from London to Ancona and fly back on a scheduled flight an hour later.’
‘Fair point. We’ll check of course, but it certainly wouldn’t win any awards for subtlety.’
There was one point that Tom thought they’d failed to mention, and that was Laura Fletcher’s lack of response when they asked about other women. He thought that most wives would have looked shocked, horrified or mortified at the thought. But she didn’t react at all.
Tom could feel they were all flagging a bit, and James Sinclair obviously had the same view.
‘Okay. Let’s just try to sum up what we’ve got. Lady Fletcher’s looking unlikely - although that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t have paid somebody else to do it. What about the rather extreme reaction to her visitor?’
They had hardly had time to absorb Lady Fletcher’s passionate outburst before they had effectively been shown the door.
‘She demonstrated a much more intense response to the arrival of her sister-in-law than she did to the news that her husband had been murdered. I would say it was an absolute gut reaction. She seemed to be genuinely angry - as if this were the last person on earth that she wanted to see.’
Becky had a theory.
‘My bet would be that Laura suspected Hugo of having an affair with Imogen. That would certainly explain the reaction.’
‘Which also suggests that we need to look in detail at Mrs Kennedy’s movements over the last twenty-four hours,’ James Sinclair said.
On that note, they settled down to their own thoughts, only to be rudely interrupted by Tom’s mobile. He quickly answered, listened carefully, and hung up.
‘Good news. The house to house has resulted in a sighting of somebody leaving the house in Egerton Crescent at around 11.45 today. A slim woman of average height, carrying a large black shoulder bag. The two things he noticed most about her were that she had incredible long red hair, and she was wearing a rather tight black knee length leather skirt.’
‘Good lord, somebody’s very observant,’ the DCS commented.
‘Apparently he stood and watched her for a few minutes, because he thought she was ‘sexy as hell’ in his own words.’
They continued the journey in silence, Tom pondering quietly on the difference between a sexy black leather skirt and the hideous one that Laura was wearing. Some of this would unavoidably be made public, and he wondered how she would cope with the inevitable comparison and the obvious implications.
Less than a hundred miles south west of Oxfordshire, a young girl stood at a window, looking out into the night beyond. Even though the room behind her was in total darkness, the unlit country lanes and the lack of a moon left nothing more than vague shapes discernible to the human eye. She could just make out the shadowy forms of the tree tops against the black night sky, swaying in the strong winds coming off the nearby sea. But there was not a sign of human life anywhere. Nevertheless, she scoured the landscape, her eyes straining to penetrate the dense, high hedgerows, praying and fearing in equal measure that she would see the twin headlights of a car in the distance, weaving their way towards her.