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Authors: Jeffrey Archer

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A Twist in the Tale

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A Twist in the Tale

 

By

 

Jeffrey Archer

AUTHOR’S NOTE

O
f these twelve short stories, gathered in my travels from Tokyo to
Trumpington
, ten are based on known incidents – some
embellished with considerable license. Only two are totally the result of my
own imagination.

I would like to thank all those
people who allowed me to learn some of their innermost secrets.

J.A. September 1988

 

THE PERFECT MURDER

I
F I hadn’t changed my mind that night I would never have found out
the truth.

I couldn’t
believe that Carla had slept with another man, that she had lied about her love
for me – and that I might be second or even third in her affections.

Carla had
phoned me at the office during the day, something I had told her not to do, but
since I also warned her never to call me at home she hadn’t been left with a
lot of choice. As it turned out; all she had wanted to let me know was that she
wouldn’t be able to make it for what the French so decorously call a “
cinq
à
sept.
“ She
had to visit her sister in
Fulham
who had been taken
ill, she explained.

I was
disappointed. It had been another de-pressing day, and now I was being asked to
forgo the one thing that would have made it bearable.

“I thought you
didn’t get on well with your sister,” I said tartly.

There was no
immediate reply from the other end. Eventually Carla asked, “Shall we make it
next Tuesday, the usual time?”

“I don’t know
if that’s convenient,” I said.

“I’ll call you
on Monday when I know what my plans are.” I put down the receiver.

Wearily, I
phoned my wife to let her know I was on the way home – something I usually did
from the phone box outside Carla’s flat.

It was a trick
I often used to make Elizabeth feel she knew where I was every moment of the
day.

Most of the
office staff had already left for the night so I gathered together some papers
I could work on at home. Since the new company had taken us over six months
ago, the management had not only sacked my Number Two in the accounts
department but expected me to cover his work as well as my own. I was hardly in
a position to complain, since my new boss made it abundantly dear that if I
didn’t like the arrangement I should feel free to seek employment elsewhere. I
might have, too, but I couldn’t think of many firms that would readily take on
a man who had reached that magic age somewhere between the sought-after and the
available.

As I drove out
of the office car park and joined the evening rush hour I began to regret
having been so sharp with Carla. After all, the role of the other woman was
hardly one she delighted in. The feeling of guilt persisted, so that when I
reached the corner of
Sloane Square
,
I jumped out of my car and ran across the road.

“A dozen
roses,” I said, fumbling with my wallet.

A man who must
have made his profit from lovers selected twelve unopened buds without comment.
My choice didn’t show a great deal of imagination but at least Carla would know
I’d tried.

I drove on
towards her flat, hoping she had not yet left for her
sister’s,
that
perhaps we might even find time for a quick drink. Then I
remembered that I had already told my wife I was on the way home. A few
minutes’ delay could be explained by my staying on for a drink.

When I arrived
at Carla’s home I had the usual trouble finding a parking space, until I
spotted a gap that would just take a Rover opposite the paper shop. I stopped
and would have backed into the space had I not noticed a man coming out of the
entrance to her block of flats. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if
Carla hadn’t followed him a moment later. She stood there in the door-way,
wearing a loose blue housecoat. She leaned forward to give her departing
visitor a kiss that could hardly have been described as sisterly. As she closed
the door I drove my car round the corner and double-parked.

I watched the
man in my rear-view mirror as he crossed the road, went into the newsagent and
a few moments later reappeared with an evening paper and what looked like a
packet of cigarettes. He walked to his car, a blue BMW, stopped to remove a
parking ticket from his windscreen and appeared to curse. How long had the BMW
been there? I even began to wonder if he had been with Carla when she phoned to
tell me not to come round.

The man climbed
into the BMW, fastened his seat belt and lit a cigarette before driving off. I
took his parking meter space in part- payment for my woman. I didn’t consider
it a fair exchange. I checked up and down the street, as I always did, before
getting out and walking over to the block of flats. It was already dark and no
one gave me a second glance. I pressed the bell marked ‘Moorland’.

When Carla
opened the front door I was greeted with a huge smile which quickly turned into
a frown, then just as quickly back to a smile. The first smile must have been
meant for the BMW man. I often wondered why she wouldn’t give me a front door
key. I stared into those blue eyes that had first captivated me so many months
ago. Despite her smile, those eyes now revealed a coldness I had never seen
before.

She turned to
re-open the door and let me into her ground-floor flat. I noticed that under
her housecoat she was wearing the wine-red negligee I had given her for
Christmas.

Once inside the
flat I found myself checking round the room I knew so well. On the glass table
in the
centre
of the room stood the ‘Snoopy’ coffee
mug I usually drank from, empty. By its side was Carla’s mug, also empty, and a
dozen roses arranged in a vase.

The buds were
just beginning to open.

I have always
been quick to chide and the sight of the flowers made it impossible for me to
hide my anger.

“And who was
the man who just left?” I asked.

“An insurance
broker,” she replied, removing the mugs from the table.

“And what was
he insuring?” I asked.
“Your love-life?”

“Why do you
automatically assume he’s my lover?” Her voice had begun to rise.

“Do you usually
have coffee with an insurance broker in your negligee? Come to think of it, my
negligee.”

“I’ll have
coffee with
whom
I damn well please,” she said, “and
wearing what I damn well please, especially when you are on your way home to
your wife.”

“But I had
wanted to come to you -”

“And then
return to your wife. In any case, you’re always telling me I should lead my own
life and not rely on you,” she added, an argument Carla often fell back on when
she had something to hide.

“You know it’s
not that easy.”

“I know it’s
easy enough for you to jump in-to bed with me whenever it suits you. That’s all
I’m good for, isn’t it?”

“That’s not
fair.”

“Not fair?
Weren’t you hoping for your usual at six so you could still be home at seven in
time for supper with Elizabeth?”

“I haven’t made
love to my wife in years!” I shouted.

“We only have
your word for that,” she spat out with scorn.

“I have been
utterly faithful to you.”

“Which means I
always have to be to you, I suppose?”

“Stop behaving
like a whore.”

Carla’s eyes
flashed as she leaped forward and slapped me across the face with all the
strength she could muster.

I was still
slightly off-balance when she raised her arm a second time, but as her hand came
swinging towards me I blocked it and was even able to push her back against the
mantelpiece. She recovered quickly and came flying at me again.

In a moment of
uncontrolled fury, just as she was about to launch herself on me, I clenched my
fist and took a swing at her. I caught her on the side of the chin, and she
wheeled back from the impact. I watched her put an arm out to break her fall.
But before she had the chance to leap back up and retaliate, I turned and
strode out, slamming the flat door behind me.

I ran down the
hall, out on to the street, jumped into my car and drove off quickly. I
couldn’t have been with her for more than ten minutes. Although I felt like
murdering her at the time I regretted having hit her long before I reached
home. Twice I nearly turned back. Everything she had complained about was fair
and I wondered if I dared phone her from home. Although Carla and I had only
been lovers for a few months, she must have known how much I cared.

If Elizabeth
had intended to comment on my being late, she changed her mind the moment I
handed her the roses. She began to arrange them in a vase while I poured myself
a large whisky. I waited for her to say something as I rarely drank before
dinner but she seemed preoccupied with the flowers. Although I had already made
up my mind to phone Carla and try to make amends, I decided I couldn’t do it
from home. In any case, if I waited until the morning when I was back in
the of
lice, she might by then have calmed down a little.

I woke early
the next day and lay in bed, considering what form my apology should take. I
decided to invite her to lunch at the little French bistro she liked so much,
half way between my office hers. Carla always appreciated seeing me in the
middle of the day, when she knew it couldn’t be for sex. After I had shaved and
dressed I joined Elizabeth for breakfast, and seeing there was nothing
interesting on the front page, I turned to the financial section. The company’s
shares had fallen again, following City forecasts of poor interim profits.
Millions would undoubtedly be wiped
offour
share
value following such a bad piece of publicity. I already knew that when it came
to publishing the annual accounts it would be a miracle if the company didn’t
declare a loss.

After gulping
down a second cup of coffee I kissed my wife on the cheek and made for the car.
It was then that I decided to drop a note through Carla’s letterbox rather than
cope with the embarrassment of a phone call.

“Forgive me,” I
wrote.
“Marcel’s, one o’clock.
Sole Veronique
on a Friday.
Love,
Casaneva
.” I rarely wrote to Carla, and when I did I
only ever signed it with her chosen nickname.

I took a short
detour so that I could pass her home but was held up by a traffic jam. As I
approached the flat I could see that the hold-up was being caused by some sort
of accident. It had to be quite a serious one because there was an ambulance
blocking the other side of the road and delaying the flow of oncoming vehicles.
A traffic warden was trying to help but she was only slowing things down even
more. It was obvious that it was going to be impossible to park anywhere near
Carla’s flat, so I resigned myself to phoning her from the office. I did not
relish the prospect.

I felt
a sinking feeling moments
later when I saw that the
ambulance was parked only a few yards from the front door to her block of
flats. I knew I was being irrational but I began to fear the worst. I tried to
convince myself it was probably a road accident and had nothing to do with
Carla.

It was then
that I spotted the police car tucked in behind the ambulance.

As I drew level
with the two vehicles I saw that Carla’s front door was wide open. A man in a
long white coat came scurrying out and opened the back
ofthe
ambulance. I stopped my car to observe more carefully what was going
on,
hoping the man behind me would not become impatient.
Drivers coming from the other direction raised a hand to thank me for allowing
them to pass. I thought I could let a dozen or so through before anyone would
start to complain. The traffic warden helped by urging them on.

Then a
stretcher appeared at the end of the hall. Two uniformed orderlies carried a
shrouded body out on to the road and placed-it in the back of the ambulance. I
was unable to see the face because it was covered by the sheet, but a third
man, who could only have been a detective, walked immediately behind the
stretcher. He was carrying a plastic bag, inside which I could make out a red
garment that I feared was the negligee I had given Carla.

I vomited my
breakfast all over the passenger seat, my head finally resting on the steering
wheel.

A moment later
they closed the ambulance door, a siren started up and the traffic warden began
waving me on. The ambulance moved quickly off and the man behind me started to
press his horn. He was, after all, only an innocent bystander. I lurched
forward and later couldn’t recall any part of my journey to the office
..

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