This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1270 words.
In the hotel room, Don was throwing their few clothes into a bag when Jean looked up from the bed. Her face was determined, and her tone decisive. “I can’t go back in that house, Don. Not ever. I just can’t. And whatever you say, I won’t. I don’t care where we go, or what we do, but I am never going to walk through that door again”. Don sat next to her on the bed, and squeezed her leg. “I know, love. I don’t want you to worry, you are never going to have to”. Her face relaxed. She had expected Don to be sensible, practical, to stand up and be brave. She was so relieved to hear those words from him.
Don stroked her face. “When we get home, you can wait in the old bus, and I will get the stuff we need. Most of the clothes, some important papers, photos, and the precious things. Then we will drive away, and never go back there. We can pay someone to go in and clear out the rest, then put it up for sale. I will ring work and tell them I’m not coming back. We have enough to get by for a while, and then there will be the money from the house. I thought we could go back home, to Scotland. We could stay with my Mum for a while, until we decide what to do. Jean kissed the side of his hand. “Thank you, Don”. He carried on packing the last few things, deep in thought. They would get Allan’s body brought up to Scotland, have him buried somewhere nice. If there was a court case later, they wouldn’t come back unless they were forced to. He regretted his outburst at the press conference, and had no idea why he had said that. That wasn’t like him at all.
Alex was drinking coffee and watching a documentary when he heard the car arrive. The usual slamming of doors and crunching of gravel indicated people coming and going. After waiting for fifteen minutes, he walked up to the landing, and parted the curtains on the side window. The doors of the motor-home were open, and lights on inside the house. Someone was with Don; a tall man, dressed in a suit and tie, perhaps a plain-clothes policeman. They were walking back and forth, carrying clothes just bundled like rags, and plastic storage boxes of some kind. Don was sliding the boxes through the door into the motor-home, and just throwing the clothes on top. Jean was nowhere to be seen, so Alex guessed she was inside the vehicle. Lucy appeared from the guest room. “What’s going on, Alex? I heard the noise”. He let the curtain fall back into place. “Our neighbours appear to be leaving. I suspect for something longer than a short camping trip”. Lucy called to him as he walked back down the stairs. “Don’t you think we should go out and say something to them?”
He didn’t answer her.
Tony Mullins had a pounding headache, and the large brandy wasn’t helping. Mr Singh had been on the phone, tearing him off a strip, and shouting for a good ten minutes. He knew the press conference had been a balls-up, and didn’t need to be told by someone else who hadn’t been there. Singh had made it clear. If there was no progress soon, the case would be handed over to Neil Williamson, the Detective Chief Inspector golden boy from the city squad. Tony couldn’t stand that smug git, and decided that he would put a rocket up his team on Sunday. He would ruin their weekend, get them all in, and get this investigation moving. Despite the headache, he filled up the glass with more brandy. He had shouted at his wife earlier, and she had gone off in a huff, to sleep in the baby’s room.
Lucy was up, dressed, and out early that Saturday. Parking in the city could be a pain, so it wouldn’t hurt to get in sooner rather than later. As she got into her car, she glanced at the space where the motor-home had been parked next door. It wasn’t as if they had been close friends with the Sinclairs, but she had regretted not speaking to them before they left. She wondered for a moment where they might have gone, but then her thoughts changed to a girly shopping trip, something she hadn’t done for so long.
Tom Henderson was on time. Not a minute early, nor late. As he rang the doorbell, he noticed that Mrs Conroy’s car wasn’t there, and the motor-home had gone from outside the house next door too. The door opened, and Tom showed his credentials to Mr Conroy. “Good morning sir, I spoke to you about looking at your garden. Detective Constable Henderson”. Alex extended a hand, applying a firm grip with the handshake that followed. “Of course officer, please come in”. Alex showed him out to the garden through the kitchen door. Tom turned to the smiling, confident man, his attire just perfect for a casual weekend look. “I will be some time, sir. Please bear with me”. Alex nodded. “Take as long as you like, I am happy to help”. As Tom began to walk carefully around the garden, he noticed that Conroy didn’t go back inside. He stood by the kitchen door, arms folded, watching him.
After walking around for what seemed like long enough, Tom took a notebook from his jacket pocket, and went back to where Alex was standing. “Just a few routine questions, sir”. He seemed to have them ready prepared, and rattled them off in quick succession, not waiting for answers. Alex wanted to smile, but didn’t. He guessed it was a ploy to unsettle him, to try to trip him up, and to find differences with anything he had said to the door-to-door policeman. One thought did occur to him though. Did this crumpled cop actually suspect him? It was beginning to sound like that. Tom noted down the eventual replies, and then looked up at the taller man. “Just a few more, then I will be gone, I promise. Have you washed that storage box recently? What about the lawn at the top here, where it leads across to the Nature Reserve fence. Have you cut the grass in the last week? And I notice you have some fresh planting by the shed. How recent is that?”
Alex pretended to ponder over the answers for a moment. “I haven’t washed the storage box as such, but I was watering yesterday, so it may well have caught some water from the hose. And no, I haven’t cut the grass during the last week. It was supposed to rain, but nothing much came of that. I might have to get the mower out this Sunday though. Oh, and the planting. My wife was away last weekend, as I think you know. She had bought some new plants, so I thought to put them in while she was gone. A nice surprise for when she got home”. Tom closed his notebook, nodding. “Well thank you sir, that’s all for now. But I may have to speak to you again, if that’s alright”. Alex grinned as he shook Tom’s hand. “Of course, officer. As I said, anything I can do to help”.
As he showed the detective to the door, Alex had another thought.
He would have to watch this one, he seemed to know what he was doing.
To be continued…