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Authors: Peter Robinson

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She was on the telephone, as it turned out. And she hung up the receiver just as he walked into the living room.

‘Who was that?’ he asked. ‘Not reporters, I hope?’

‘No,’ she said, arms crossed, facing him, an unreadable expression on her face.

‘Who, then?’

Laura just stood there. ‘They’ve found the gun,’ she said finally.

‘They’ve what? Where?’

‘In your garage, under an old tarpaulin.’

‘I don’t understand. What are you talking about? When?’

She looked at her watch. ‘About now.’

‘How?’

Laura shrugged. ‘Anonymous tip. You’d better sit down, Mitch.’

Mitch collapsed on the sofa.

‘Drink?’

‘A large one.’

Laura brought him a large tumbler of Scotch and sat in the armchair opposite him.

‘What’s all this about?’ he asked, after the whisky had warmed his insides. ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying. How could they find the gun in my garage?
I told you what happened to it.’

‘I know you did,’ said Laura. ‘And I’m telling you where it ended up. You’re really not very bright, are you, Mitch? How do
you
think it got
there?’

‘Someone must have put it there.’

‘Right.’

‘One of the muggers? But . . .?’

‘What does it matter? What matters is that it will probably have your fingerprints on it. Or the wrapping will. All those greasy smudges. And even if it doesn’t, how are you going to
explain its presence in your garage?’

‘But why would the cops think
I
killed Charles?’

‘We had a relationship. We were lovers. Like I told you, I’m certain they’ve been watching me, and they can’t fail to have noticed that you’ve stayed overnight on
more than one occasion.’

‘But that’s absurd. I hadn’t even met you before your husband’s death.’

‘Hadn’t you?’ She raised her eyebrows. ‘Don’t you remember, honey, all those times we met in secret, made love cramped in the back of your car because we
didn’t even dare be seen signing in under false names in the Have-a-Nap Motel or wherever? We had to keep our relationship very, very secret. Don’t you remember?’

‘You’d tell them that?’

‘The way they’ll see it is that the relationship was more important to you than to me. You became obsessed by jealousy because I was married to someone else. You couldn’t stand
it any more. And you thought by killing my husband you could get both me and my money. After all, you did prepare his will, didn’t you? You knew all about his finances.’

Mitch shook his head.

‘I
would
like to thank you, though,’ Laura went on. ‘Without you, we had a good plan – a very good one – but
with
you we’ve got a perfect
one.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean you were right when you suggested I had a lover. I do. Oh, not you, not the one I’m handing over to the police, the one who became so obsessed with me that it unhinged him
and he murdered my husband. No. I’ve been very careful with Jake. I met him on the Yucatan peninsula when Charles and I were on holiday there six months ago and Charles went down with
Montezuma’s revenge. I know it sounds like a romantic cliché, but it was love at first sight. We hatched the plan very quickly and we knew we had to keep our relationship a total
secret. Nobody must suspect a thing. So we never met after that vacation. There were no letters or postcards. The only contact we had was through public telephones.’

‘And what happens now?’

‘After a decent interval – after you’ve been tried and convicted of my husband’s murder – Jake and I will meet and eventually get married. We’ll sell up here,
of course, and live abroad. Live in luxury. Oh, please don’t look so crestfallen, Mitch. Believe me, I
am
sorry. I didn’t know you were going to walk into my life with that
irresistible little confession, now, did I? I figured I’d just ride it out, the cops’ suspicions and all. I mean they might suspect me, but they couldn’t prove anything. I
was
in Windsor staying with friends. They’ve checked. And now they’ve got you into the bargain . . .’ She shrugged. ‘Why would they bother with little old me? I just
couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. You’ll make a wonderful fall guy. But because I like you, Mitch, I’m at least giving you a little advance warning, aren’t I? The
police will be looking for you, but you’ve still got time to make a break, leave town.’

‘What if I go to them, tell them everything you’ve told me?’

‘They’ll think you’re crazy. Which you are. Obsession does that to people. Makes them crazy.’

Mitch licked his lips. ‘Look, I’d have to leave everything behind. I don’t even have any cash on me. Laura, you don’t think you could—’

She shook her head. ‘Sorry, honey. No can do. Nothing personal.’

Mitch slumped back in the chair. ‘At least tell me one more thing. The gun. I still don’t understand how it came to be the one that killed your husband.’

She laughed, showing the sharp, white teeth. ‘Pure coincidence. It was beautiful. Jake happens to be . . .


. . . a burglar by profession, and a very good one. He has worked all over the States and Canada, and he’s never been caught. We thought that if I told him about the
security system at the house, he could get around it cleverly and . . . Of course, he couldn’t bring his own gun here from Mexico, not by air, so he had to get one. He said that’s not
too difficult when you move in the circles he does. The kind of bars where you can buy guns and other stolen goods are much the same anywhere, in much the same sort of neighbourhoods. And
he’s done jobs up here before.

‘As luck would have it, he bought an old Luger off two inexperienced muggers. For a hundred bucks. I just couldn’t believe it when you came around with your story. There
couldn’t be two old Lugers kicking around the neighbourhood at the same time, could there? I had to turn away from you and hold my sides, I was laughing so much. It made my eyes water. What
unbelievable luck!’

‘I’m so glad you think so,’ said Mitch.

‘Anyway, when I told Jake, he agreed it was too good an opportunity to miss, so he came back up here, dug the gun up from where he had buried it, safe in its wrapping, and planted it in
your garage. He hadn’t handled it without gloves on, and he thought the two young punks he bought it from had been too scared to touch it, so the odds were, after you told me your story, that
your fingerprints would still be on it. As I said, even if they aren’t . . . It’s still perfect.’

Only tape hiss followed, and Detective Greg Hollins switched off the machine. ‘That it?’ he asked.

Mitch nodded. ‘I left. I thought I’d got enough.’

‘You did a good job. Jesus, you got more than enough. I was hoping she’d let something slip, but I didn’t expect a full confession and her accomplice’s name in the
bargain.’

‘Thanks. I didn’t have a lot of choice, did I?’

The last two times Mitch had been to see Laura, he had been wearing a tiny but powerful voice-activated tape recorder sewn into the lining of his suit jacket. It had lain on the chair beside the
bed when they made love, and he had tried to get her to admit she had a boyfriend, as Hollins had suspected. He had also been wearing it the night she told him the police were about to find the
Luger in his garage.

The recorder was part of the deal. Why he got off with only a warning for not reporting the theft of an unregistered firearm.

‘What’ll happen to her now?’ he asked Hollins.

‘With any luck, both she and her boyfriend will do life,’ said Hollins. ‘But what do you care? After the way she treated you. She’s a user. She chewed you up and spat you
out.’

Mitch sighed. ‘Yeah, I know . . .’ he said. ‘But it could have been worse, couldn’t it?’

‘How?’

‘I could’ve ended up married to her.’

Hollins stared at him for a moment, then he burst out laughing. ‘I’m glad you’ve got a sense of humour, Mitchell. You’ll need it, what’s coming your way
next.’

Mitch shifted uneasily in his chair. ‘Hey, just a minute! We made a deal. You assured me there’d be no charges over the gun.’

Hollins nodded. ‘That’s right. We did make a deal. And I never go back on my word.’

Mitch shook his head. ‘Then I don’t understand. What are you talking about?’

‘Well, there’s this lady from the Law Society waiting outside, Mitchell. And she’d
really
like to talk to you.’

 
THE TWO LADIES OF ROSE COTTAGE

In our village,
they were always known as the ‘Two Ladies of Rose Cottage’: Miss Eunice with the white hair, and Miss Teresa with the grey. Nobody really
knew where they came from, or exactly how old they were, but the consensus held that they had met in India, America or South Africa and decided to return to the homeland to live out their days
together. And in 1939 they were generally believed to be in or approaching their nineties.

Imagine our surprise, then, one fine day in September, when the police car pulled up outside Rose Cottage, and when, in a matter of hours, rumours began to spread throughout the village: rumours
of human bones dug up in a distant garden; rumours of mutilation and dismemberment; rumours of murder.


Lyndgarth is the name of our village. It is situated in one of the most remote Yorkshire Dales, about twenty miles from Eastvale, the nearest large town. The village is no more
than a group of limestone houses with slate roofs clustered around a bumpy, slanted green that always reminded me of a handkerchief flapping in the breeze. We have the usual amenities –
grocer’s shop, butcher’s, newsagent’s, post office, school, a church, a chapel, three public houses – and proximity to some of the most beautiful countryside in the
world.

I was fifteen in 1939, and Miss Eunice and Miss Teresa had been living in the village for twenty years, yet still they remained strangers to us. It is often said that you have to ‘winter
out’ at least two years before being accepted into village life, and in the case of a remote place like Lyndgarth, in those days, it was more like ten.

As far as the locals were concerned, then, the two ladies had served their apprenticeship and were more than fit to be accepted as fully paid up members of the community, yet there was about
them a certain detached quality that kept them ever at arm’s length.

They did all their shopping in the village and were always polite to people they met in the street; they regularly attended church services at St Oswald’s and helped with charity events;
and they never set foot in any of the public houses. But still there was that sense of distance, of not quite being – or not
wanting
to be – a part of things.


The summer of 1939 had been unusually beautiful despite the political tensions. Or am I indulging in nostalgia for childhood? Our dale can be one of the most grim and desolate
landscapes on the face of the earth, even in August, but I remember the summers of my youth as days of dazzling sunshine and blue skies. In 1939 every day was a new symphony of colour –
golden buttercups, pink clover, mauve cranesbill – ever changing and recombining in fresh palettes. While the tense negotiations went on in Europe, while Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the
Nazi-Soviet pact, and while there was talk of conscription and rationing at home, very little changed in Lyndgarth.

Summer in the dale was always a season for odd jobs – peat-cutting, wall-mending, sheep-clipping – and for entertainments, such as the dialect plays, the circus, fairs and brass
bands. Even after war was declared on 3 September, we still found ourselves rather guiltily having fun, scratching our heads, shifting from foot to foot, and wondering when something really warlike
was going to happen.

Of course, we had our gas masks in their cardboard boxes, which we had to carry everywhere; street lighting was banned, and motor cars were not allowed to use their headlights. This latter rule
was the cause of numerous accidents in the dale, usually involving wandering sheep on the unfenced roads.

Some evacuees also arrived from the cities. Uncouth urchins for the most part, often verminous and ill-equipped for country life, they seemed like an alien race to us. Most of them didn’t
seem to have any warm clothing or Wellington boots, as if they had never seen mud in the city. Looking back, I realize they were far from home, separated from their parents, and they must have been
scared to death. I am ashamed to admit, though, that at the time I didn’t go out of my way to give them a warm welcome.

This is partly because I was always lost in my own world. I was a bookish child and had recently discovered the stories of Thomas Hardy, who seemed to understand and sympathize with a lonely
village lad and his dreams of becoming a writer. I also remember how much he thrilled and scared me with some of the stories. After ‘The Withered Arm’ I wouldn’t let anyone touch
me for a week, and I didn’t dare go to sleep after ‘Barbara of the House of Grebe’ for fear that there was a horribly disfigured statue in the wardrobe, that the door would slowly
creak open and . . .

I think I was reading
Far from the Madding Crowd
that hot July day, and, as was my wont, I read as I walked across the village green, not looking where I was going. It was Miss Teresa I
bumped into, and I remember thinking that she seemed remarkably resilient for such an old lady.

‘Do mind where you’re going, young man!’ she admonished me, though when she heard my effusive apologies, she softened her tone somewhat. She asked me what I was reading, and
when I showed her the book, she closed her eyes for a moment and a strange expression crossed her wrinkled features.

‘Ah, Mr Hardy,’ she said, after a short silence. ‘I knew him once, you know, in his youth. I grew up in Dorset.’

I could hardly hold back my enthusiasm. Someone who actually
knew
Hardy! I told her that he was my favourite writer of all time, even better than Shakespeare, and that when I grew up I
wanted to be a writer, just like him.

Miss Teresa smiled indulgently. ‘Do calm down,’ she said, then she paused. ‘I suppose,’ she continued, with a glance towards Miss Eunice, ‘that if you are really
interested in Mr Hardy, perhaps you might like to come to tea some day?’

BOOK: Not Safe After Dark
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