‘When did it start?’


‘Forgetting? It’s hard to know when it does. She was unpredictable, she didn’t operate like you and me, remembering things, putting them in order, she was all over the place, here and there, things didn’t connect with her the way they usually do. So I missed it at first.’


‘Years ago?’


‘I suppose so. Dementia. Being demented. I used to tell her she was demented, sometimes. How cruel.’


‘You weren’t being cruel.’


‘No. But it feels like that now.’


‘Did Olive meet Harriet Lowther?’


She stiffened. Said nothing.


‘Was she here when Harriet came for her lesson? Was she always here when your pupils came?’


‘Nobody else did come.’


‘Just Harriet?’


‘I told you. Harriet was exceptional. I didn’t want the cottage invaded. Girls here at home. This is home. It was our home. Now it’s my home. Just mine.’


‘Tell me about that day.’


‘What day?’


‘You know what day.’


Her mouth twitched. Her fingers twitched. Then went still. She said nothing for a long time. She would. He knew perfectly well now. It was all there. He just had to wait.


‘I’d like a cup of tea. I suppose you would.’


‘Very much.’


‘Or gin. I have gin.’


‘Tea.’


‘I could have gin.’


‘If that’s what you’d like, why not?’


She turned to him, her blue eyes bright with a moment of amusement. ‘Is that allowed?’


‘It’s your gin. Your home. Why would I stop you?’


‘Ah.’ She sighed deeply, and then got up.


He filled the kettle. Found the tea. Milk. A china mug with a picture of Tintagel.


‘Cornwall,’ Lenny said. ‘We loved Cornwall before they spoiled it with tourists. We swam in the sea. We went out in fishing smacks. Cottage overlooking the harbour. Every year. Then it started to fill up. Visitors. Gift shops. Yes, all right, I bought that in a gift shop. We had half a dozen. That’s the last.’


‘I’ll be careful with it.’


‘Why bother?’ She sat down at the table and poured a single measure of gin. Topped it up. Creeper hanging down over the kitchen window and a couple of pots of geraniums on the ledge made the kitchen dim. The sun was on the other side now.


Simon put a splash of milk into his tea. It struck him that he had never taken an interview so slowly, never let it run on for so long. But he could not push. Sometimes pushing, jostling, putting on the pressure, was the way. Sometimes it was the last thing to do. It could take hours. He would get there, all the same.


‘She was a pretty girl,’ Lenny said. ‘Fair hair. Pale skin. She had a composure you don’t often find at that age. Not the awful shoulder-shrugging. Can’t be bothered, not interested. Just composure. A quietness around her. That’s what singled her out, that’s what gave her the extra quality she needed. Perhaps she could have had a bit more fire as well. They can go together, you know. The very best musicians have a fire in the belly. I don’t have any. Not sure she did. It was what would have held her back in the end. But the calmness gave her something else. I picked her up. She had no other way of getting here, you’re right. I’d have dropped her back at the bus stop into town.’


Simon lifted the mug of tea to his mouth but barely sipped it. Held his breath.


Lenny had finished the gin in a couple of mouthfuls but she did not pour herself any more.


‘It was her second lesson here. Olive had seen her the first time. She was trimming the forsythia. She turned round and she looked at Harriet, took in everything. She would. She saw.’


‘Saw?’


‘Saw her. Saw it all. Her prettiness. Her calmness. She wouldn’t miss anything. Never missed anything. Agneta wasn’t here that first time. She came irregularly. But that afternoon she was here, cleaning the windows. Olive wouldn’t get up on the step-stool, it wasn’t a job she would ever do, and since I’d broken my leg I was wary of clambering about. Still am if it comes to that. Agneta would do them, she was fearless, did anything, climbed up anywhere. She was very willing, very capable. Useful.’


‘You liked her?’


‘Agneta? Yes I did. Olive didn’t but that was only jealousy.’


‘Jealousy?’


‘Oh, there was nothing to be jealous about, never had been for all those years, never would be. But jealousy isn’t rational, is it? Olive was born jealous. So when she knew I liked Agneta … anyway, Harriet was playing Schubert. Perfect composer for her. It was a new piece to her. Tricky. The bass hand is tricky. If you don’t get the fingering exactly right … It’s unforgiving, music like that. I had to show her the fingering. But she went on getting it wrong, getting it wrong, not listening properly, not taking any notice of what I was saying.’


‘That doesn’t sound like Harriet.’


She ignored him. She was speaking faster.


‘I was annoyed with her. I gave her a push, I was so annoyed, and the push made her lose her balance. She slipped off the piano stool and she hit her head on the corner.’


‘The corner?’


‘Of the hearth.’


‘She …’


‘Yes. Hard. She hit her head hard and I screamed, and as I screamed Agneta came in. Agneta saw it all. She rushed over to Harriet and she screamed as well. There was a lot of blood everywhere. Agneta was shouting and screaming at me that Harriet was dead, that I’d pushed her and killed her.’


Lenny had been looking down into her empty glass, her hand rubbing the table top to and fro, to and fro, in a repeated movement, but now she lifted her head.


Serrailler caught her gaze and tried to hold it but her eyes slid away at once.


‘I – pushed her, she was screaming and shouting so much. I pushed her and she fell as well. Agneta fell. You wouldn’t think it could happen like that, two people pushed, two people hitting their heads, two people dead, you wouldn’t think it could happen, would you?’


She stood up. ‘There,’ she said. ‘I killed Harriet by accident, I killed Agneta deliberately. There isn’t anything else you need to know, is there? I’ve told you. You have to arrest me now, don’t you?’


She was speaking quickly. But it was the odd, pleading note in her voice that made Simon hesitate. Something was out of joint about what she had told him – the haste of it all, the way the story had tumbled out. He had heard enough false confessions to be wary.


He needed time, more time to calm her down, get her to go over her story, one thing after another in careful order. He needed to ask and ask again, to pick up minute details and get her to repeat them, to question how she remembered so much, whether she remembered other things. It might take the rest of the day. It might take longer.


‘Could I have another cup of tea?’


But as he asked her, his phone was ringing. Cat. He went into the garden. He had a clear view of the kitchen door, the path, the gate. A few yards and he would catch up with her easily. But she would not run. He was absolutely certain of that.


‘Hi.’


‘Si, I’m sorry if you’re caught up in something –’


‘I am.’


‘Sorry, but it’s urgent. Molly has been taken to hospital. She had an accident, fell and hit her head … only I don’t think accident covers it, something happened and I can’t get to the bottom of it.’


‘Where is she?’


‘In A & E. I’m on my way there now.’


‘Get off the phone then, and call me when you get there. I’ll come when I can but it might not be for a while. Where was she exactly?’


‘Maytree House. Moira called me. When I got there the paramedics were getting her into the ambulance. I talked to Leo Fison, I talked to one of the nurses, but they were cagey. Said she’d just tripped. I don’t believe it.’


‘Why? People do.’


‘One of the helpers was talking about a patient who kept having sudden rages and attacking whoever was in her sight. There was an air of panic, you know, a lot of whispering and people looking at one another.’


‘Is she badly hurt?’


‘She’s got a nasty head wound and she wasn’t conscious. Those things can either be nothing much and she’ll come round quite quickly, or be pretty serious. I’ll find out more when I get there but I had an odd feeling you should know about it.’


‘Good. I’ll get someone onto it. They need to go and ask questions. If it’s a genuine accident they’ll know. The home has to fill in accident forms and so on for their insurance.’


‘Where are you, Si?’


‘Trying to make sense of something that doesn’t. Bit like Molly’s accident.’


Lenny was sitting at the kitchen table, her hands in front of her.


‘Interruptions,’ she said, not looking at him.


‘Always.’ He sat down and glanced at his mug.


‘Want some more?’


‘May I?’


She gestured behind her to the kettle but did not move.


‘There’s something I don’t understand.’


Silence.


‘Why would you push Harriet so hard that she fell off the piano stool and hit her head? Teachers can get very annoyed by badly behaved pupils, I know that, but Harriet wasn’t badly behaved, she was calm and conscientious, she wanted the extra piano lessons, she was keen to do well.’


‘It happened.’


‘Why? What had she done?’


‘I don’t know, I don’t remember. Made some stupid mistake, wouldn’t listen to me.’


‘Harriet? I don’t believe you, Miss Wilcox. I’ve come to know Harriet very well, from the statements, from what people have said to me. Making a stupid mistake is possible, but one bad enough for you to push her off the stool onto the floor? Not listening to you? Really? She wanted you to teach her. She’d asked you specially. So she was going to listen, wasn’t she? I just do not believe what you’ve told me.’


‘Suit yourself. It’s what happened.’


‘And then Agneta came in and saw her lying there and started to scream, you said.’


‘Yes. Awful noise. Couldn’t shut her up.’


‘People do panic, they do scream, they become hysterical. If that had happened you might have slapped her. To calm her down.’


‘I told you.’


‘Two girls, pushed over, in a small room, both hitting their heads so hard that the fall killed them? Harriet, making some stupid mistake bad enough for you to lose your temper and shove her very hard; Agneta, coming in and seeing her lying there, becoming so hysterical you had to slap her so hard that she also fell. Both girls dead.’


He rinsed his mug. Made more tea, unhurriedly. Took it to the table. Sat down.


‘Now,’ he said gently, ‘you’re going to tell me the truth.’


He had sat for long periods in interview rooms, waiting for someone to crack, to break down, give in to the pressure and start to talk. But this was different. Lenny Wilcox said nothing at all. An hour, then an hour and a quarter, passed in silence. They sat at the kitchen table. Nothing happened. No one dropped by, no one phoned. Neither Simon nor Lenny moved. He finished his mug of tea. She did not drink anything. There was no change on her face. She did not cry or even fidget. She did not seem to be going through any sort of conflict inside herself.


They might sit here for another hour, more, the kitchen growing dark, the silence thickening and spreading between them.


He tried to calculate the advantages of leaving now and coming back the next day. Lenny would not run – he was confident enough to take that chance. But what else might she do? He stood up. ‘Thank you, Miss Wilcox. Thank you for the tea, too. Don’t get up.’


She looked at him, her eyes full of confusion, even panic. ‘Where are you going?’


‘Back to the station. I don’t need to bother you any further today.’


‘Don’t I have to come there with you?’


‘No.’


‘Don’t you have to arrest me?’


‘No.’


‘I told you what happened. It was all my fault, I killed two girls. I’ve told you.’


‘You’ve been very helpful. I appreciate it.’


He walked out without glancing back.


The garden smelled sweet, the early evening after a warm day. The hens had put themselves away in their house.


He hesitated beside the parked van.


Risk it?


Go with your gut feelings.


Forty-nine


MOLLY WAS IN ICU but likely to be transferred the next morning. She was conscious. Her face was bruised, the palm of her right hand badly grazed where she had reached out as she fell. But the brain scan had shown no damage.


The pillows had slithered down on the metal backrest and Cat was trying to rearrange them without disturbing her too much.


‘Rob came into A & E,’ she said, ‘but you were still out for the count. He’ll be here soon.’


Molly smiled.


‘How’s the headache?’


‘It aches.’


‘They have to be careful what they give you for the next few hours. As you will know. They might do you a cold compress if anyone finds the time. God, they’re overworked and understaffed in here. I hadn’t realised how bad it was. Apparently there was a big RTA just after you were admitted and those always take over.’


‘How long have I been here?’


‘About an hour in here. The ambulance brought you in around half past three.’


Molly frowned.


‘What?’


‘Did I have any lunch?’


‘I should think so. What time is lunch there?’


‘Early. Twelve? Half past?’


‘It always is. And tea at five thirty, hot drink at eight. Same as hospital.’


‘I don’t remember having lunch.’


‘You’ll be confused for a while, but that’s normal. Don’t fret. What do you remember? Falling?’


‘No. What happened?’


‘Apparently you were walking through the French windows into the garden and you tripped over the step. That’ll have health and safety running about like headless chickens.’


Molly still frowned.


‘What do you remember?’


She closed her eyes. A white bed was in her mind. A freshly made bed. Then a tree. The tree merged into the bed. She opened her eyes and looked at Cat. ‘Nothing. It’s a muddle.’

***

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