The unscrupulous can often appear most sincere and the villains can turn out to be the ones with integrity - these are truisms Jacqueline Forrest was reflecting on, contemplating one such bunny across the table for two and deciding which of the two she'd be today.
Monday, January 21, 2013
The 8:22 from Lytton-by-Sea was one of those awful two-carriage sprinters but Chloe Jamieson had bigger things to worry about as her bleary eyes gazed over the passing greenery - a field here, a clomp of trees there.
There was a message, she wiped her eyes, looked down and dismissed it. Thirty-eight minutes till the first change.
He didn't know she knew the address, Miles didn't, but why should he? In all their time together on that island, the address of his wife's parents had never entered the conversation - why should it have?
Melissa, the bitch, she was supposed to be his wife and she'd flatly refused to go with him to the new island once the dotcom company had folded, he'd gone alone and had called her, Chloe, at the end of his tether. They'd both tried to till the poor soil and make a go of it, she'd had to have her hair cut and nails pared to cope, then they'd eventually broken even, they were a partnership if not a relationship and here he was now running back to this wife.
Fine if she'd wanted him, if she'd put herself out just a little bit but what had she ever done? She'd gone back home to Daddy and Step Mummy as she called them - how infantile - the trust fund money had come through on her thirtieth, she'd not divorced Miles but clearly saw no further need for him.
And he'd never forced the issue - that was the most galling part.
No matter, she had the order of events clear in her mind today, she knew how, where and when. The why was a given.
She looked through the large window again and nearly lost it. Leaning her head side-on to the headrest, she tried to snooze but the tears were welling up.
The bitch, she reflected for the umpteenth time. One thing she was quite certain of, Chloe, was that this was one brutal day coming up for Melissa O'Brien Forrester - she was going to be an entirely different woman by the time the sun had set.
'The only reason I agreed to see you again, Miles, was to confirm in my mind, for once and for all, that my decision was the correct one.'
Melissa gazed at him for precisely five seconds for maximum dramatic effect, then delivered, 'It was.'
With that, she turned on wobbly stilettos and marched right back through the double doors which led up the side of the house to the stables. He watched her disappear with as much hauteur as she could muster, all 165cm of her, in those label-out garments he hadn't a clue about the names of, except that they must, by definition, have been more than he paid out in six months on his entire cost of living.
Hermes scarf with her kagoul, walking up that stone path towards the muddy surrounds of the stables - he could hear the clatter of heels and the cursing - she looked the goods all right and he had to own she seemed further away than ever.
He looked down at himself and how he'd fallen. By the standards of everyday folk, as Melissa had once been, his gladrags still stood up - she'd have said they were three years out of date yet she'd been the one who'd chosen them. His leather shoes were smart and polished, his fine cords were well cut, his leather jacket was soft and fitted him carelessly yet well. It was one of two outfits he maintained and the rest was outdoor gear for the island.
Right, so he hadn't expected her to acquiesce, to swoon, to reconsider today but she knew he didn't need money, she knew why he was there and not only did she not want, she'd been brash and rude, which he sheeted home to the influence of Jacqueline O'Brien, Step Mummy.
He was making money hand over fist now, the island was largely self-supporting and he'd not ditched her and tied the knot with Chloe. If there was nothing between them, then why on earth had they married?
Three years it had taken him on the island and there'd been three major events which had set the enterprise on its feet.
The first had been his friend from blogging days, Stephen Brown, who'd put him straight on his first visit.
'No-one raises crops of any worth on an island in a temperate climate, Miles. The best and most profitable agricultural undertaking would be the raising of sheep or other ovine creature. Salt-tainted pasture gives a distinctive and delicious flavour to the meat.
Poor soil, as on your island, would give the right sort of pasture for a rare breed like the Manx Loaghtan - in the Manx language Loaghtan means ‘mouse brown’. Of benefit is the fact that the breed originates from an island off the UK coast.
Listen, my friend, if you want to get anywhere with this, forget the tilling, except for your domestic needs and go the rare breed route.'
He'd done so but those already breeding on the Isle of Man were not playing ball and it had been the devil of a job getting Devon breeders to allow a couple of ewes for a substantial consideration, at a time when funds were thin on the ground.
He'd needed to up his game and do his own slaughtering, it wasn't squeamishness but the quality of the cuts was the issue and so mainland butchers had been brought in, on condition Miles would farm some of their own breeds for their specialty shops, this had required outhouses and then had come the tax man and so on and so on.
He simply didn't have the time.
The second major plus had then appeared, following his SOS message to her - Chloe, his former dotcom 'secretary' so to speak and with the farm now viable and Chloe taking care of the admin, they'd broken even and then pushed ahead.
And all the while, Melissa had not shown the remotest interest. The grapevine said she wasn't even particularly besotted by anyone and though word was she went out a fair bit, she seemed to surround herself with girlfriends, to the point Chloe had suggested she actually batted for the other side.
He'd thought that one over but when they'd been together, it hadn't seemed that way. That was partly what had given him the confidence to visit her again.
The third significant forward step had been a visit by two of his Swiss contacts from the dotcom era and they put it to him that if the island could not be set up as a tax haven in itself, it could at least be a haven for those needing a tax haven, i.e. they could conduct business from there ... for a consideration.
Chloe was against it, reasoning that as the two of them were already turning over a pretty penny, why complicate things? When she'd heard the amount of the 'considerations', she'd quietly urged him to vet each potential denizen of their island carefully.
'You vet them,' he'd told her.
And she had.
She'd brought the conversation around to the two of them a few times without pressing the matter and he'd not taken up the issue in all that time. She wondered if there was something wrong with her.
As he looked across at her in what was essentially their farmhouse main room, sipping coffees, sprawled out in their raffia chairs after the earlier spit-roasted side of beef and now overimbibed on the mainland's local brew, he'd wondered about it himself.
She was not unpersonable, Chloe but she was blonde. Well, not so much blonde but that sort of fair-hair with dark streaks and unfortunately, she resembled one of his former disasters in appearance. Unfair to Chloe because she was really something - she'd changed from a slightly well fed but cheerful soul to a compact, superfit and sinewy sight for sore eyes and he'd had to suppress memories of Louise.
Damned stupid really and yet she was just as bad - she'd always shaken her head and advised him to get off it, that she didn't rightly know what she wanted herself, that she'd look at those things once they were more stable on the island.
He'd tried to suggest that if she ... well ... if she wanted to bring someone else onto the island - she'd cut him short and had gone to bed.
She'd once asked what his intentions were and all he could do was talk Melissa, without once seeing any anomaly in that. That had been the only overt annoyance she'd shown and it had woken him up to someone else's feelings.
They'd thrown themselves into work next day and that had been that.
Until a few days ago.
He'd always kissed and held her though - it wasn't that he was physically detached and what upset her most was that he obviously wanted her, she could feel that - but then that withdrawal and mental detachment always followed.
That was the part that was hard to take. She'd decided to push it a bit - well quite a lot actually. Knocking on his door once they'd retired for the night, this crossed a line which had been unspoken thus far but he assumed both knew of it and she certainly did.
Now here she was in slippers and robe, she discarded both and climbed in beside him, looking into his eyes.
He looked back, not angrily, not in fear, he actually smiled and beckoned her over. 'Major statement, Chloe.' She didn't answer. He held her close and she felt more natural than Melissa ever had. 'I have to visit her, have to find out, have to know for sure -'
'I was going to suggest it.'
'I've been so unfair to you.' He explained Louise and could feel her relax, rather than tense up. 'Speak, Chloe.'
'I thought there was someone else. Most men the other side of forty would see what they had on their hands. Would this Louise remain between us?'
'No, only Melissa. I have to know the score, there's nothing else I can do or say until I do.'
'Then go quickly, in the next few days and tell me one way or the other.'
'If I stay with her, if she remains my wife, what of you? Could we still work togeth -'
'No. You know we couldn't - it would be one of her stipulations anyway.'
'That ups the ante.'
'I don't see why. Any man of decency would know he'd have to decide and I'm only interested in a man of decency. I've seen too many of the others.'
Now he was standing on those white tiles of the side foyer, inwardly fuming at Melissa, the utter cheek, the lack of grace.
Nothing could be done now, he wasn't going to demean himself by running after her - he knew her games - but if he walked out through the house, out to the gravelled area, she'd be watching from the stables and that, aside from the solicitor's letters, would be that.
He still wanted her, that was the tragedy here. She did things to his mind Chloe could never, nor could any other woman. And he expected she still harboured feelings for him somewhere but their fallout over their future direction, aided on her side by her trust fund, on his side by his headstrong nature - that had done for them.
He looked at the double doors, stared at them, then raced through, up the path two steps at a time, jumping from grassy patch to grassy patch in the mud until he was at the sidedoor to the stable.
It was locked. It shouldn't have been. It never had been in the days he'd spent here.
He turned the handle and pushed again, it gave slightly but the other side there was something blocking it, probably a sandbag or bale of hay or whatever. He pushed a bit more and it moved, whatever it was, which gave him about 40cm and wasn't going to give any more.
Should he be doing this? If she'd put it there, was his trying to break in now going to be seen as an act of aggression?
He called her name.
He pushed and the upper half of the door moved enough for him to slip through but he didn't want his jacket messed and there was nowhere to hang it out here. Taking it off, he reached inside the stable, felt along the wall, hung it on something protruding, he now forced his way through and looked down on the crumpled body of his wife.
Frank O'Brien was not the type to reflect all that much in the dingy office he could have renovated or moved from any time in the past eight years.
Awash with paperwork as it was, his little MOT business had expanded as he'd kept up with the latest automotive technology and he'd employed the right graduates - the new vehicles were almost an apprenticeship in themselves and he was beyond new learning now.
Wiping his hands on smart new overalls, where once they'd have been grubby and grease-flecked, he grunted. He was doing all right but his daughter was turning her nose up now at that which had got her where she was.
He was annoyed. Educated at Woodburn Hall, she'd come through, perhaps not with flying colours but she'd come through, she'd married and then the man had got it into his head to drop the tech, which at least made money for little physical effort and tried the farmer's life.
OK, he could respect that, he had to admit the man had made a good fist of it by all accounts but the issue was - it was happening without his daughter. Headstrong was Melissa and not grown up enough. Look, if she'd not wanted him at the start, then she'd fooled her father but this project had been mooted and had ended up in an evening of hard words, including those about his own new fiancee.
Frank had ordered Miles from the house. Silly thing to do, silly and Melissa had had that triumphant gleam in the eye. Why? In heaven's name, why? There'd been no secret lover he could see. And why did she want to remain at home with the two of them? He was even charging her rent to hurry her out but she'd dug in and paid it until he'd relented.
And it didn't help that Forrester had allowed his part-time secretary to come onto the island with him, so he discovered on the day the family had been invited there and Melissa had refused.
Maybe if Chloe had been built unattractively but no, she was a fair-haired, curvacious cutie in her mid-30s, wasn't she? And then, on top of that, the man didn't even seem to want her and kept pestering Melissa in the days following.
So here was Miles visiting, probably with another offer to come to the island and he, Frank, had heard recently that Miles was not doing half badly for himself. For an unworthy moment, he thought the man probably better off without his daughter.
Also, Melissa wasn't to know this but there wasn't a lot left in that fund of hers, there'd been certain ... difficulties ... which had required ... liquidity ... at the time.
Frank O'Brien stroked his chin and thought. Melissa was cramping their lives, Jacqueline and him. Sure he loved his daughter but she wasn't doing anything, wasn't going to the island, wasn't divorcing Forrester and the familiar way she could just climb into bed with Jacqueline and him - that had to end before someone talked.
Two years younger than Melissa herself, he'd expect hell to pay over Jacqueline and yet it had not once been an issue for his daughter. Melissa kept to herself in the house and ... well ... did nothing.
Then she'd go out in the evening.
Miles looked down - she'd been shot in the back of the head.
He dropped to his knees and uncurled her on the floor, onto her back. Surprise on the face, she hadn't seen it coming of course. Killer probably still here but now he took her in his arms and everything from the last three years came out.
Frank saw him cross his window on the driveway, something agitated about the man and then came the rap on the door.
He went to the door, Miles told him to put his boots on and come, he did, they went together up to the stables, he saw and lost it for the best part of an hour whilst Miles stayed outside.
Eventually Frank came outside and nodded, they went back down the drive to the house, took off their boots as if nothing had happened, came through and neither knew how to emote, relate, what to do.
Frank walked over, got two glasses, grabbed the whisky, sloshed two and handed Miles one. They knocked them back.
They did it again, then looked at one another.
'Why haven't we called the police?' asked Miles. 'Why haven't we raised the alarm?'
'You know why - I'm satisfied it wasn't you, you know it wasn't me. Jacqueline's in Durham. Where's this Chloe of yours?'
Forrester drew his breath in sharply. 'She's on the island. She banked on this not working today with Melissa.'
'You both planned this.'
'Not in any way. You had your chance too. That kind of comment gets us nowhere.'
'Police I suppose. You'll help me get her down here now?'
The moment they entered those stables again, one horrific development stood out a mile. There was a second bullet hole, like the other but this time in the forehead.
O'Brien swore and cried out savagely, Miles just stared at his wife's face.
They rigged up a camp bed that was usually left up there in case and carried her down the pathway, leaving her in state in the hallway on the tiled floor, Miles closed her eyes while her father went for a sheet, felt that to be callous and brought her duvet.
They went into the front room again - two whiskies were poured and downed.
'The second shot,' muttered O'Brien, standing in the bay of the window.
'We never heard it down here - it's not as if we were being noisy or anything.'
'Killer's still up there.'
'Frank, we really need to bring the police in now.'
'I wouldn't trust them not to bungle it and then we'd never know. The killer can't stay in the stables forever, he can't go round the back, except to one place I know - no one outside family knows of it. He can't cross the fields in the light, as you know -'
'Too sparse - he'd expect a party to comb the area. I'm calling in two people I know - bring the phone over, Miles. I'm watching the stable.'
'You know what you have to do?' he asked two ashen faces.
They nodded and knew they were gearing up for a kill. They knew Frank well enough, they all went to their positions, O'Brien and his oldest friend took the stables.
The most amazing part was that the horses hadn't reacted, hadn't bolted, hadn't responded with anything other than indifference. Some of them now looked over, then went back to what they'd been doing.
It was two hours later that they gathered in the dusk in the main room again.
The one named Dave stated the obvious, 'Where's Jacqueline, Frank? And why haven't you called the police?'
'We will now. I take full responsibility for the delay. We needed to give this a chance.'
'And we found nothing.'
'Frank, call the police, call Jacqueline.'
'I'll not call Jacqueline.' He took the phone from his pocket and punched in the number, spoke to the desk sergeant for some minutes and then put it back in its holder. 'I can do some ready meals if that's all right. Any preferences?'
'You can eat?'
'Don't start that, Dave. Of course we have to eat - I'll microwave up some meals, all right?'
'I'll do it,' said Miles and went through to the kitchen.
Chloe brought through the dinner on the tray, he poured the wine.
'It's astounding,' she burst out, 'I have to break my silence.'
'I know you do.'
'They couldn't trace either bullet, they were from the same gun, none of you caught or saw anyone, the police could make out no tracks. Miles, it looks inside to me and you know who I'm thinking.'
'It couldn't have been Frank himself unless he had a pistol rigged up and took it down later but there are things against that. For a start, I was leaping up those steps and could see anyone going back down the driveway. I also heard nothing. While I was in there with her, no one else moved and then I went straight down to the house where he was. That second round was put in her forehead in the meantime-'
'And you heard didn't hear that either?'
'Had to have been silenced. The first shot must have been the instant she got through the door, before I was even running up those steps, the second while we were down in the house of course.'
'I wish you'd explored behind the stables, not left it to Frank.'
'I didn't, that's all there is to it.'
'I couldn't have stood finding you there.'
'Pardon?' She placed her drink on the table.
'You were there, Chloe. At least I don't know if you were at the house but you certainly came to the mainland, you travelled by the sprinter and you took the main line to the town. You were in the Travellers Arms. You knew I'd booked in there too, just in case it all went wrong.'
'I know. If she'd rejected you or you'd rejected her, I'd have been there for you that evening. If you hadn't appeared, I'd have gone to the house.'
'What and made a scene?'
'Something like that. She'd have paid for her last three years.'
'You're speaking of a woman who has been shot dead - my wife.'
'I know, I'm sorry. I had to be there, Miles. I arranged to meet Jacqueline there.'
'What! She was meant to be in Durham.'
'She was due in Durham all right but she squared it there and rang me back to say she'd be at the Travellers mid-morning and we could talk it through. She'd phone and ask Frank how it had gone, then tell me. He couldn't know she was calling from town.'
'And did she phone Frank?'
'Not while she was with me.'
'And you say she went out only in the evening.'
'Where? That's the only place in town.'
'She didn't say but I felt she was going to the house or close to it.'
'You do understand how vital that evidence is you've withheld.'
'No, she was with me, she couldn't have been the one at the time it came out that it happened. So I didn't see the point. No gun was found, Jacqueline was not accused.'
'You can't do that. If the police had been told, they'd have swarmed into her room, her car, everywhere, checked Durham which you just accepted from her lips and they would have gone through the stables with a fine tooth comb. Frank and his good ole boys had no hope of doing that, which is why the police were so peeved. I thought it might have been you. You'd have had your reasons.'
'Jacqueline truly was with me that afternoon.'
'Chloe - are you protecting someone?'
'I swear I'm not, I play a lone hand, Miles, as I always have done. Too many people ascribe negative things to that. Yes, I saw the way you did things when we were working at the dotcom and wanted that for me, then the way the island began to look - well yes, I thought a bit of that action would be nice because it wasn't going anywhere for me at that time, yes I thought I'd like you to be mine but no, I didn't kill her. I'm not saying I'd have turned Jacqueline in but I am saying she couldn't have done it at that time - the evening maybe. I think the police need to look elsewhere for the culprit.'
'Might have been.'
'Have you ever made contact with Melissa?'
'Oh my goodness, am I the only one who doesn't know what's going on?'
'I did speak with Melissa once. It was on King's Nympton station. You'd sent me down there for the insemination, she was there about the Tarka Line and the rolling stock - for her father of course.'
'And you recognized her?'
'From your photos, yes. Actually, she saw I recognized her and asked, I told her, we talked. She was non-committal about you, not angry, not upset but that upset me and she saw it. We can hide feelings if we want but she didn't seem to be suppressing it. At that point we had projects on and if I'd told you, you'd have gone to her. I wanted you in a stronger position first and I wanted to be in a stronger position with you.
Look, you can tell me I had no right but you must see I was looking out for you and she was showing you very little loyalty. We spoke more about Jacqueline and Frank and she gave little hints that it might have been closer between the two women - that's why I told you what I did.
I went up to her to kiss her - I wanted to know and maybe it's me, how I look or maybe it was that I was with her husband but she was not overly affectionate. That means not a lot but even so - I feel that Jacqueline is the key figure in what goes on in that place. Any woman in that position would be, Miles - again, don't read bad things into that. Jacqueline might have wanted Melissa for herself, as a counterpoint to Frank who's not exactly the most lively man.'
'If she was preventing my wife and I being together, then it doesn't matter what other factors are involved - that wasn't on.'
'I know that. It might have been spite.'
'Did she kill Melissa?'
She sighed. 'I said no. I can't see it. She was playing a close game with me at the Travellers. Earlier, we talked over morning tea.'
'Some time after 11:00.
'She came back late evening and slept with me and I can confirm she's AC/DC. She made moves which were those of someone quite used to it all - I allowed some of them. I'm not both ways but it wasn't nauseating. In fact, that was the moment I decided it had to be all or nothing with you and me.'
'We haven't talked that out yet.'
'I expect your arms to do the talking.'
Next morning, there was a text from Jacqueline. She'd left Frank.
'Let's get her down here,' said Miles. 'Send her a text and tell her we'll put her up for a while.'
'Are you crazy? She's trouble. I have something to protect now.'
'We're going to get closer to an explanation if she's here.'
She looked at him. 'I don't want her drawing us, drawing you, into anything. I know her, Miles and she can do those things.'
'She won't draw me - I think she killed my wife and I want to meet her.'
'To accuse her.'
'No, to observe her, talk to her. Let's make a pact that anything she says to either of us alone we'll tell the other later.'
'I'm willing enough. What I fear is there'll be some things you won't tell me.'
'I'll tell you everything. Did last night not tell you anything?'
'Yes it did.' She mellowed. 'I don't want to lose that.'
Jacqueline was one of those women who could destroy a man, thought Miles - and know how to deal with women as well.
The face was not one everyone would have called beautiful but many would - it was quite broad and the lips were full - well yes, she was beautiful. The body followed suit, nothing particularly outstanding in the body but it suited the face. A man of little discernment would immediately think, 'Bonkable, bonkable,' and he'd follow her round like a lapdog, begging for a bone.
A man of some refinement who knew women would measure his response, attempt to converse but every so often he'd steal a glance and that glance would say, 'I have to bonk her.' Some women were just like that - there was no choice, you just had to have sex.
So light on her feet, everything about her was light, from the trainers and the light-blue jeans to the very feminine pink top with the hint of lace - she had this habit of slightly grinning. It could have been just the shape of her lips, something she could hardly control but he got the impression she was amused by the effect she had and she was as calm, as cool as a cucumber and the voice was sultry.
Too light to be sultry actually but oh so feminine and that's what drove men wild. Unassuming to, dressed modestly but allowed those breasts to press against the light fabric, not expensive fabric either but 'affordable', another major plus with me.
He imagined there were men who could have resisted, especially those with femmes-fatale of their own but he wasn't among the unaffected, Miles and she knew it in an instant, doing the quick lip-licking and going back to the smile, noting his involuntary closing of the eyes and that slightest of winces.
Melissa would have had no chance and her ultra-fashionability was most certainly down to Jacqueline. She was beautifully and simply attired, whereas Melissa had been simply OTT - probably Jacqueline's little joke on her.
Now Miles was preparing to show her the island, she'd brought wellies in stylish multicolour which worried the sheep, the jacket she'd donned was casually open at the neck - he was struggling something awful and she was perfectly aware of it.
'We never saw much of each other, Miles.'
'You were busy, so was I. Plus you like women, Jacqueline, according to Chloe.'
'Ah, the Travellers. I like both.'
'I could ask Chloe - why you?'
'You went out in the afternoon from the Travellers.'
'What makes you say that?'
'You were seen.'
'No, I knew she'd cover for you.'
'You're fishing. I went out in the evening for a while.'
'Why did you not phone Frank?'
'Why the third degree?'
'You knew this script before you even arrived.'
She shrugged. 'I didn't kill him. It might have been a professional. Silencer.'
'One of Frank's friends?'
'You're quick, Miles. I like that in a man.'
'What are your plans now? You know you're welcome here as long as you would welcome Chloe if you were mine.'
'If I were yours.'
She grinned at that and he had to fight the rising feeling, force it down again. That smile had hit him amidships and he pleaded. 'Please don't,' he sighed, 'I see how Frank would have had no defences and I don't either.'
'You have Chloe.'
'Yes and that's how it will be. I also think you had a hand in Melissa's death but don't know how.'
'Come here.' She stepped up and he kissed her cheek quickly. 'That's how hostile I am. All right, I accept you didn't actually kill her.'
'I loved her. She came to love me.'
'Chloe gave me the fine detail of that sort of love.'
'I see. Does that trouble you?'
'Not really. Only if it meant Melissa decided on that basis not to return to me. She was so ... disdainful towards me. I think you whispered many things in her ear over the three years.'
'She wasn't right for you, Miles. Sorry. I know I have no right to play god over your marriage but she wasn't right. I didn't poison her mind against you if that's what you're thinking, I swear it, in fact I told her to go to you but I also made my arms inviting. You've not tumbled to any of this yet?'
'You're not guiltless, Jacqueline.'
'No, did I say I was? Nor is Frank. Let's walk a bit harder. I'm getting chilly.'
Along the track back to the farmhouse, he asked, 'Why did you leave him?'
'He thinks I did it. He's sure of it. I think he did it. In a way, this island is sanctuary.'
'He thinks, you think. Explain.'
'Frank saw me there - he'd told me to stay away. I observed but from a distance. This was soon after I found out he's bankrupt. That wasn't why I left - he can earn pretty quickly with all his projects. I can earn too if I have to. It's not the money - it's the way he went bankrupt, the manner, raiding the larder - that's a bad sign in a man. So there was that and my suspicion of his role in the killing.'
'His own daughter. Let's stop here just a moment.'
She turned and faced him. 'I don't know for sure how but Melissa found out about her trust fund - not from me although it looks as if I'm the cause of everything. She never heard it from me - I found it out after the murder - that much you can check with him yourself.
After her murder, he went to pieces and began to get a bit - physical. I'm not crying violence, I don't do that but it was getting tense, risky in fact. I had to get out and talk to someone. So here I am. May we go back inside? It really is cold and there's Chloe to consider.'
'You were always for her, no?'
'What woman is for another woman where there's a man involved? I thought Melissa was wrong for you and you briefly crossed my mind at one point. Then I met Chloe and thought she'd do for you. Shall we?'
They stepped through, Chloe was on the divan, reading a book by the lamp. He poured drinks for the three of them and that's how they greeted the dusk.
'Will Frank try to get you back?' he asked.
'I can't see him as the type to come and get me.'
'Which leaves you where, Jacqueline?'
'I'm not that hard a person, I won't take him to the cleaners, especially in his current situation. We'll have to make contact over the papers.'
'You're so unemotional about it,' cut in Chloe.
'I've had my cry but some of the things he said - they were a bridge too far. I didn't love him enough to ride those out. I'll stay with my sister, find a place near her, work won't be hard to come by.' She sipped on her drink. 'Those huts at the south end, the ones with the lights on - they're your - your lodgers?'
'We have three at present - they do their thing, they wander about, they cater for themselves although we supply some things.'
'The helicopter must set you back.'
'The boats did too. It's not a lot more but it makes it easier for the guests. They want, they pay, it pays for Tel.'
'That's all he does?'
'He's in a few projects - the greenhouses are one of them.'
'The noble weed, yes?'
'Hardly - the guests don't like - complications with the law. Jacqueline, how important were the horses to her?'
'To Melissa? Very. It was her relaxation, her escape route - from all of it.'
'She could have had them here.'
'She didn't think so, she never asked. I think you have to forget about the possibilities there, Miles. I was close to her. She wasn't going back to you. Are you two going to marry?'
'We've discussed it. Jacqueline, why have none of the hard questions been asked?' She was deadly quiet. 'I mean, there's Frank's delay in calling the police, there was you observing,' Chloe shot him a look, 'there was the Travellers business - there were so many things. Now I can understand why none of the parties want it spoken of or looked at but why were the police so happy not to ask the tough questions?'
'They did. There were no answers.'
In bed, out of earshot of Jacqueline who was billeted at the far end of the farmhouse, he turned to Chloe and said, 'I'm not happy about any of this.'
She sighed. 'I didn't lie to you. Look carefully at what I said. I did leave some things out though. Jacqueline was there. I was there. I jumped at the chance when Jacqueline suggested it - I - I did want to know. It was concerned with my future, ours, I wanted to know. I couldn't tell you that because it put her and me at the scene and the police don't know the full story - even now. Frank doesn't want eyes drawn to him. What are you going to do, stir it all up again?'
'There's a thing called right and wrong, Chloe.'
'Right and wrong. Yes.'
'How important do you think trust is between two people, Chloe?'
'Very. I know where you're going with this. And I've been betrayed before too and never wish it on anyone again. I took a position that I'd not mention it but if it came up, I wouldn't lie, as I haven't now.'
'That makes me uneasy. We've been together three years and still we don't know one another, not the way two people should. Not the way I want with my woman - full on or nothing. Call it black and white but to me, my woman is either my friend or my enemy. I don't want her lying to shield me or to shield herself. If you make a mistake, you tell me and I hope it works the other way. I put a lot of store by trust, otherwise it's not worth it in my book.'
She lay back and stared at the ceiling. 'I hear what you're saying but we're human. If we say to ourselves, 'I will not lie,' then the only other way is to leave things out or skip over it. You can't have total openness on all points - you don't even do that yourself. Sometimes it's good you don't. If I wasn't looking so good one day, telling me might not be your best choice.'
'It's not just trust.'
'It's loyalty too. When I went to her again, you saw that as a breach of loyalty to you.' He was looking at her and she looked away. 'Do you want to marry?'
'Is that a proposal?' she smiled.
'It will be when I can be sure you won't do to me what was done to me before.'
She lay back again, thinking how to put it. 'I'll tell you what I know, how I see it. Jacqueline and I both agreed Melissa was abusing her position. Frank felt that too and Jacqueline did stick some spanners in the works so Melissa would not go back to you. Funny you should speak of loyalty because Melissa was not. I don't know what had passed between the two of you but while she was not unfaithful that way as far as we know, except with Jacqueline, she was definitely not loyal. She would never take your part in conversations according to Jacqueline. You can say that was Jacqueline's doing and she was certainly guilty but Melissa needed little persuading. Now why?'
'The island is in both your names as far as I know, which also made me angry and as we made it work for us, for you -'
'No, for us.'
'Thank you. As the value increased, I obviously wanted more and more to be your partner. Not just for the value but because it was a going concern and I needed that sort of order and security. So I had every reason to wish her dead. That's when she started on at Jacqueline - in bed, you understand - that half the island was hers, that anything you were making was half hers. She was shaping up for trouble.'
'She mentioned none of that to me today, Jacqueline. She just said Melissa didn't want to be with me and when she went up to the stables, she hadn't mentioned it and I think she didn't expect me to follow. I think that was to be the end of it.'
'No, Miles. She very much expected you to follow - any man besotted with her would follow and that's probably what she was testing. Why did you not?'
'Because she sounded so final.'
'You just accepted it like that?'
'Maybe I wanted to by then. Maybe I was so shocked by how she was talking. Maybe there was you.'
'If you'd followed her, you might have been killed too. Whoever killed her took the shot from the hiding place through the high window - that person had a view of the door.'
'Doesn't explain the second shot.'
'No - no it doesn't.'
Jacqueline awoke, scrambled for her phone and there was an SMS. She turned on her back and punched in the reply. Then she sent a second message, to which she got a reply in under a minute. No one was sleeping tonight.
She quite liked Miles but he was no match for Chloe ... or her. She couldn't quite get a handle on the guy and usually she could. Frank saw him as weak-spined but she knew he wasn't that. To get the businesses up and going took something and a few times she'd seen a glassy stare to his eyes. It was more that he preferred not to engage until he wanted - well everyone did that but he seemed to do it as a strategy and a more dangerous thing - he was a thinker.
She still wasn't sure how slow a thinker he was but he did think things through and weigh them up. Chloe would have to watch her step.
Tomorrow was going to be fun - she'd push it a bit and see what gave, there were ears waiting to hear her report.
A quick look at the bedside clock showed it was 09:30, Miles woke Chloe, she rubbed her eyes, yawned like a kitten then looked at him. It looked dull outside.
Then she looked at the clock. 'Oh my goodness. Hope Jacqueline's had breakfast.'
He went to the washroom and did what was needed, she took her turn while he dressed and checked the kitchen. Nope, Jacqueline hadn't eaten - probably still asleep.
Wandering down to her end of the house, he called her name.
Reaching her open door, it was clear no one was in there, so he went back to their bedroom and told Chloe he was going for a wander. She was busy with the necessaries.
On the patio, he looked out over the island with its obstacle course of hundreds of sheep - a misty day, maybe 5 degrees all up and requiring a parka. You'd have to really love sheep, he thought.
It was a strangely shaped island - they'd agreed to call it pork-chop shaped. The narrow southern or 'bony' end, where the guests stayed was not quite a kilometre distant, the curved bay facing the shore which was maybe 10km away - their 'meaty' end was higher and had the farmhouse and outhouses. There were two blind spots due to the undulations but the bulk of the island was visible from here.
He saw movement at the far end, five in accommodation just now and two out and about but of Jacqueline - nothing. No matter, he realized she was here to find out as much she could until asked to leave so he expected her to be in the outhouses rummaging around, getting a line on their enterprises. They'd prepared for her.
He went around the back to each of the three huts in turn and that was puzzling indeed. There were signs of her presence in the third as the earth samples had been disturbed and she may have taken a sample.
On the east side, there were a number of places they'd dug, in full view of the mainland but on the west side, there were only two paths down and therefore two places where there had been disturbance.
A nasty thought struck him about the near path. He crossed the few hundred metres and reached the top of the woodwork, lying where he knew he could observe and not be observed and what he saw shocked him.
Posted by James Higham at 11:00 PM