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Authors: Rebecca Tope

Malice in the Cotswolds (27 page)

BOOK: Malice in the Cotswolds
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Drew had never been to Snowshill, but knew it was west of Broad Campden, which he could find with little effort. Every time he tried to focus on the right section of the map book on the seat beside him, he got no further than the crossroads at Moreton-in-Marsh before something made him drop it and watch the road ahead. It was only by luck that he spotted a sign
indicating Snowshill to the left, off the A44, directly opposite the road he would normally take to his new burial ground. Reproaching himself for his deplorable lack of observation at never registering this sign previously, he turned left and followed the straight hilltop stretch, with a flamboyant red sky directly in front of him.

The abrupt alteration of landscape was disorienting. Within yards, hedges had vanished and there were long sweeping views on both sides, and virtually no hint of human habitation. The road narrowed and undulated and he wondered whether he might have missed another sign along the way. A small crossroads pointed out a lavender farm, and a National Trust sign to Snowshill Manor, and he continued slowly, wondering how he would ever locate the actual property that Thea was occupying. Somehow he had failed to plan for this final challenge, thinking he could simply circle the lanes until he saw her car outside a house. Eventually he would have to phone her, he supposed, but he very much preferred to take her by surprise.

Then, with scarcely any warning, he was in the village of Snowshill. He emerged from a T-junction, to see ahead and below a cluster of the familiar beautiful stone houses sitting in a charming jumble alongside a squat-towered church. He took the little street that plunged down amongst the buildings, crawling along slowly enough to inspect each house as he passed it.
They were of a fairy-tale beauty, with gabled roofs and stone-framed windows, all built of the same extraordinary material that conjured words like
honey
and
caramel
, as if you could eat it.

Ahead was a long wall decorated with circular stones that gave it an odd character. They had been incorporated into the wall itself, at intervals, for no obvious reason. They could even be old cannonballs, he supposed, utilised as a way of making some sort of historical point. The house beyond could only be glimpsed, but it appeared to be substantial.

At random he turned left, still going downhill towards a patch of trees. The road snaked around again to the left and he expected to find himself back where he had begun in another few minutes. Instead, he was suddenly out of the tiny settlement and climbing upwards towards the far more open and treeless landscape he had traversed five minutes earlier.

A pair of houses could be seen on the right, with several cars parked outside. One of them was a green Peugeot – the
same
green Peugeot he had so cleverly found in Crouch End, only the previous day. And next to it was Thea’s red Fiesta.

He had found her! The relief was laced with delight and excitement. They were going to have another adventure; that was obvious. The reactions he felt at the prospect were becoming reliably predictable. Thea exuded something vibrant and magnetic, even when sitting placidly in a pub garden with her dog. She was not so much a distraction from his unhappy home life as a whole different realm of experience. It was like stepping into a dream or a story, relinquishing all control in the process.

There was, he noticed, another house set back behind the first one. Yet another car sat on a tarmacked area in front of a small garage attached to the further house. Daylight was almost gone, subduing the colours of the massed flowers in the garden, adding to his sense of unreality.

There was no reason to expect trouble, or even adventure, in this quiet little Cotswold settlement. He could see no signs of movement. And yet he knew with complete certainty that there was trouble close by. There
had
been a murder here, only a few days ago. Perhaps that accounted for his heightened adrenaline levels. The green car had somehow found its way home, trailing clouds of suspicion and violence. It was more than enough to render him cautious, eyes and ears strained for information.

There was barely space for another vehicle, but he pulled in onto the verge and hoped no large lorries would want to pass. He had to scoot over to the passenger side to get out, having left so little space between the car and the garden wall. Treading carefully, he went through the gate labelled ‘Hyacinth House’ and up the path to the front door. There he paused, hearing unusual sounds coming from the house. The owner of the green car was also the owner of this house – that much he remembered clearly. She was not supposed to come back for another week or more. And somebody inside was smashing china and glass, while somebody else howled in protest.

Before he could approach the front door, two people emerged from the other house. A dark-haired man and a small foreign-looking woman crossed the unfenced gardens and stood listening. Drew went up to them. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked. ‘Is Thea in there?’

‘Who are you?’ asked the man.

‘My name’s Slocombe. Drew Slocombe. I came to find Thea.’

The crashing sounds were continuing unabated. ‘Can we get in?’ Drew demanded. ‘We’ll have to do something.’

‘I’ve called the police. They’ll be here any minute now,’ said the man, with a glance at the woman. ‘From the sound of it, the truth about his father has just got through to young Mark Parker.’

‘Truth?’ Drew repeated. ‘Look – I need to make sure that Thea’s all right. It sounds nasty in there.’

The man stepped aside and swung his right hand in an inviting arc, plainly giving Drew permission to go ahead. ‘Feel free,’ he said. ‘I’m not stopping you. I’ve done all I intend to.’

Drew strode to the door of Hyacinth House and tried the handle. To his surprise it turned and the door opened. With a strong sense of trepidation, he walked in.

Thea was standing in the hall, her dog in her arms. To the left, through a doorway, Drew could see a young man swinging a chair with complete abandon, scything ornaments, plates, glasses from shelves and surfaces with an appalling look of dedication on his face. A woman stood in the midst of the destruction, blood and tears on her face, making no attempt to interfere.

‘W-what …?’ Drew stammered. ‘Can’t we stop him?’

‘We did try, but he’s beyond reason.’ Thea’s voice was strained and tight. ‘I should call Gladwin.’

‘There’s a man outside who says he’s already done it. They should be here soon.’

‘We should go outside. We’ve no place here.’ Stumblingly, she went out of the open door and into the garden, still clutching Hepzie.

‘Here they are!’ called Blake. ‘At last.’

Two uniformed police officers got out of a car and walked steadily, shoulder to shoulder, across the garden. Instinctively they looked to Drew for an explanation, which even in the midst of chaos surprised him. ‘There’s a man in there, completely out of control. He’s smashing the whole place to bits.’

‘Is he alone?’

‘No,’ said Thea. ‘His mother’s there. You’d better hurry. She’s getting quite badly cut from the flying glass.’

The officers exchanged looks. ‘Does he have a firearm?’ asked one.

‘Of course not. He’s not armed at all, except with a chair. He might stop when he sees you.’

‘But watch out for her,’ warned Blake. ‘She might have a knife.’

The cautious policeman activated his phone. ‘Backup needed at Snowshill,’ he barked importantly. ‘Violent domestic incident, one male, one female. Possibly armed with a knife.’

Thea gave a cry of frustration. ‘You wimps,’ she accused them. ‘Just get yourselves in there and use some common sense for a change.’

The officers stood straighter and squared their shoulders. ‘Madam,’ said the one with the phone, ‘we have orders not to approach dangerous individuals until we can assess the level of risk.’

‘Mariella!’ called Blake suddenly. The Filipina had crept away from the group and was disappearing into Hyacinth House. The four others automatically followed her, as if her action had somehow changed the whole situation.

Mariella crunched fearlessly through the shattered porcelain and smashed glass, and put a hand on Mark’s arm. ‘Stop,’ she ordered him. ‘This can do no good.’ She turned to Yvonne. ‘You are Mrs Parker, then,’ she stated. ‘You are the murderer.’ She seemed to feel more curiosity than anything else. ‘You have sent this boy crazy by what you’ve done.’

In the doorway, Thea and Drew exchanged blinks of amazement. ‘Murderer?’ repeated a policeman softly.

‘Where’s the knife?’ said the other one.

In reply, Yvonne bent to gather a shard of glass from the fireplace and flew at Mariella with it, swiping wildly, ignoring the blood springing from her hand, where she grasped the lethal edge.

‘No!’ shouted Drew, plunging forward. He was not quite close enough to get his own face slashed before
the two policemen grabbed him and pushed him out of Yvonne’s reach. Then they finally tackled her, one on each side, valiantly risking personal damage. She dropped the glass without resistance, holding her streaming hand up close to her face, eyeing the flowing blood with interest.

Mark had dropped his chair at some point, his frenzy over as suddenly as it had begun. ‘Mariella’s hurt,’ he said quietly.

Everybody looked, to see a deep gash in the young woman’s bare upper arm, where she had raised it to defend herself. Blood was pumping out steadily and her face was white. Drew began to think that two hesitant police officers were nowhere near adequate to the crisis. They still held Yvonne tightly between them, as if their work were done. ‘Call for paramedics,’ said one to the other. ‘That’s an artery, that is.’

‘For heaven’s sake,’ said Thea, thrusting the spaniel into Drew’s arms. ‘Come out here,’ she ordered Mariella, ‘and sit down.’ She led the shaking woman into the kitchen and started to wrap tea towels tightly around the bleeding arm. Blake joined her, holding the bindings in the right place without being told. Both murmured calming reassurances to their patient, knowing instinctively the value of slowing her heart rate and conserving all available energy. ‘Pressure,’ muttered Thea. ‘That’s right, isn’t it?’

‘Exactly. It’s not as bad as it looks.’ The slippery
blood was gathering on the floor beneath the chair, giving off a hot metallic smell that made Drew want to panic, as he watched the first-aiders go into action. He had all the training necessary for stemming rapid blood loss. He had done it before. But he had been given permission to sit this one out. He had a spaniel to hold. The awkward dog in his arms wriggled, and almost escaped. He badly wanted to put it down, but could not see a good place to do so.

Mark Parker was the only person left to his own devices. He drifted into the kitchen and stood with his back to one of the worktops, watching intently. Slowly he began to speak, addressing nobody in particular. ‘Dad was Stevie’s father, then,’ he said. ‘Belinda was right all along. I never believed her. I didn’t see how Dad could ever have disowned him, after the way he was so protective of us. His own kid. We were just adopted, after all. This was his real biological boy. Mum never had the slightest idea, of course. It would never occur to her. She’s so naive.’

For want of anyone else to pay attention, Drew cocked an encouraging ear. ‘You think she strangled the kid?’ he prompted.

‘I know she did. She took my car on Sunday, came here, then parked it back where she’d found it, in Evesham.’

‘We saw hers in Crouch End,’ said Drew in confusion.

‘Must have left it there for days, and got the train
to Evesham and back. She’ll be on some CCTV somewhere, I imagine.’

‘But why? I mean, why now?’ In truth, he wasn’t sure what he meant, but he definitely needed a lot more elucidation.

‘Dad was fool enough to keep the evidence – he must have had a paternity test some time ago, and it confirmed his suspicions. But he kept the secret from Mum. Didn’t he, Mother?’ he called to Yvonne, who was hanging limply between the policemen, her lacerations causing them some concern. ‘You never had any idea. Why do you think he left you? Wasn’t it because he couldn’t bear to see Stevie every day, with you so maddeningly trusting and innocent? So he invented some horrible Internet sex thing to give you some sort of explanation for him going.’

Yvonne smiled crookedly. ‘No – I invented that,’ she said. ‘I wanted people to think badly of him.’

Thea thought of Janice, mother of another of Victor Parker’s offspring. Would Yvonne have murdered Ruby as well, if she’d known?

‘Why didn’t he just tell her the truth?’ wondered Drew, quietly.

‘It’s not easy to tell Yvonne things,’ said Thea, still focused on Mariella’s arm. ‘I can vouch for that.’

‘Here they are at last!’ said one of the policemen in relief, as further footsteps crunched up the front path. ‘Took their time, didn’t they?’

* * *

Despite – or perhaps because of – rigorous procedures for debriefing, it took Gladwin until well after dark to ascertain the whole story. Injuries had to be dealt with first, and the dangerous condition of the living room assessed and made safe. Everyone appeared to be generously smeared with blood from head to toe, apart from Drew and Hepzibah. Blake Grossman flashed some kind of secret identity card at the police officers, earning himself exoneration from all questions and a nod of respect from Gladwin. Only Thea seemed to notice this exchange. Was he Mossad, she wondered wildly? Or merely MI5?

Mark Parker adopted a sweetly reasonable manner, even when confronted with the destruction he had wreaked in the living room. ‘I was very angry with her,’ he said simply. ‘She killed that poor little boy, who I could have known as my little brother, who could have been a part of our family – which was bad enough. But I couldn’t let her get away with killing my father. She had to take what was coming to her for that.’ Gladwin eyed him doubtfully, and made a mental note to check his medical records for any history of psychological disturbance.

Yvonne said nothing when she was finally formally arrested and charged. She said nothing for the following week, during which scarcely any evidence was gathered to demonstrate that she had indeed killed both Stevie Horsfall and Victor Parker. And yet nobody doubted that she was guilty, or refrained from
speculating as to her motives. ‘Jealous revenge, I guess you can call it,’ said Gladwin to Thea.

‘But it was all so perfectly
planned
,’ protested Thea. ‘With alibis at every stage.’ She had had plenty of time to think it all through since the climax on Wednesday evening. Gladwin had asked her to meet her in Cirencester, to check whether she had any further testimony to give.

‘No, I don’t think it was. She just acted instinctively.’

‘But the car thing.’

‘Yes, that was rather brilliant, I admit. Simple, but effective. Even now, if we can’t see her on the Evesham CCTV there’ll be hardly anything concrete to use against her. Nobody saw her, as far as we know, she left no physical evidence and she hasn’t said a word to incriminate herself. We know she did it, but we’re having a hard time proving it.’

 

It was Drew who suggested the solution, five days later. ‘They just need to tell her they’re arresting Belinda for the murders, on the basis of new information, and Yvonne will soon admit it,’ he said, when Thea phoned and reported Gladwin’s frustration to him, before giving him much of a chance to speak. ‘After all, she did it all for her children.’

‘Did she?’

‘Of course.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Actually, it was Maggs who explained it. She’s adopted, you see.’

‘Er …’

‘I told her the whole story. She insisted I should, and I couldn’t see any reason not to. Anyway, she says Yvonne would have been incandescent when she realised there was a natural child as well as the other two. Not just because it threatened their inheritance of his money, but because of the
biology
of it. There was a little piece of Victor in the world, but not of her. It might not have mattered to her so much while they were still married, but once divorced, she couldn’t cope with it at all. So she had to kill Stevie – it must have seemed inescapable.’

‘But she was nasty and cunning enough to get poor Gudrun blamed for it.’

‘Possibly not deliberately. That shoe might just have fallen off unnoticed, when she grabbed the boy. But it worked very well as a double revenge on Victor and Gudrun.’

‘And why dump him behind my car?’

‘Maggs thinks that’s as far as she could carry him, and it made a good hiding place. Or else, Mark’s car was sitting close by, and it just worked out that way.’

‘I’m wildly impressed by all this,’ she told him. ‘You and Maggs must have talked about it for ages. Have you worked out why she killed Victor as well?’

‘Probably because of Mariella.’

‘Ok-a-a-y,’ said Thea slowly. ‘That makes sense, I suppose.’

He elaborated patiently. ‘Not just the sordidness
of it, and the natural fury of the older discarded wife when faced with a prettier, younger model. But the idea that he might yet father
another
child, if she didn’t stop him. It looks as if she had no idea Mariella existed until she must have seen her coming out of his flat on that Monday and followed her around the streets. Well, that’s all a big guess, assuming she never went to France, of course.’

BOOK: Malice in the Cotswolds
12.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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