Fete Fatale

Fete Fatale by Robert Barnard Page A

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Authors: Robert Barnard
got the idea now,’ I said, bitterly. ‘In murder cases of a domestic kind, the husband or the wife is always top of the list. You’re quite right: it’s something I ought to be aware of. I just thought that anyone who knew us—’
    The policeman will not have known you. He won’t be a local man. And how many of us really know others?’
    As he spoke the telephone rang. Still flushed and angry, I marched to pick it up. All I needed was to hear, down the line, the hushed tones of Mary Morse.
    â€˜Helen? Dear, this is not the time for condolences, but I thought you’d like to know that you’ve forgotten to draw your curtains. A friend just walked past your house, and she commented—’
    â€˜God damn and blast you all to hell,’ I said, and banged down the receiver.

    So livid was I at Mary’s phone call, so anxious was I to get things moving and to worry the police into activity, that I nearly rang them then and there and suggested that I talk to them the same evening. I can’t account for this needling itch for activity, except that I seemed to need it to push the darkness back further. I think, too, that I was saying to myself that as soon as the case was solved, I was going to shake the dust of Hexton-on-Weir off my shoes and depart I knew not where. Anyway, Harold McPhail persuaded me that it would be most unwise: I was too het up, I would say things I would regret later and give the officer in charge a misleading impression. And anyway, he said, the official medics would hardly have put in even a preliminary report by then. That clinched it: I wanted to know exactly what had happened. However, after Harold McPhail had gone, I rang up the Station and fixed a meeting for ten o’clock next morning. I said I was quite willing to go to the Station, having no intention of retreating into the sort of purdah Hexton deems suitable for the first weeks of widowhood. But theDetective-Superintendent on the case said it would be helpful for him to talk about Marcus in his own home, so that was what we arranged. I felt prickles of hostility against the man, convinced he had marked me down already as a prime suspect, but I had to admit that his voice sounded businesslike.
    I spent a night during which sheer exhaustion sometimes sent me off into a fitful sleep, but which otherwise was a matter of tossing and turning, grieving and wondering, and most of all a tormented nagging the subject over in my mind which got me nowhere, but left me exhausted and fretful. The next day dawned like a yawning hole—the loneliness, the purposelessness opening up before me in all their blank horror. I was alone.
    And the police were coming. I boiled an egg, and ate it with bread and butter. I lit a cigarette, but after a few puffs decided I wasn’t going to go down that road, and stubbed it out. I put on some coffee for myself and the policemen. I thought they probably would in fact prefer instant, and then I cursed myself for such a snobbish, Hexton thought. Whatever happened, I was not going to become Hexton.
    When the Detective-Superintendent on the case arrived, accompanied by a local Inspector, I greeted them soberly but (I hope) sensibly, ushered them into the drawing-room and brought them coffee (they took it black). Inspector Parkin I already knew, but the Superintendent I had not seen before. His name was Coulton, and he had been sent from Leeds. He was a man of about fifty—perhaps not over-imaginative, but with a face that was drawn, and either sad or tired. Not a man, I suspected, who had ever been particularly happy in his job, or one who had particularly enjoyed many of the things it had forced him to do. But no doubt he had done them. And however much I might have been disposed to like him in other circumstances, I was wary of him in these. Very wary.
    He sat down on the sofa when I did, all of us very sober, and me rather tense, and he looked

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