Crimes of PassionStephenG
Crimes of Passion
Too late for murder
Peter McGuire stood there, dumfounded. He had just bowled the perfect leg-cutter, on a full length and in line with the stumps. The right-handed batsman had pushed forward down the line of the ball and had edged it to the wicket-keeper as it moved away off the pitch. It was Peter’s fifth delivery; he had come on first change with the score on thirty-four for no wicket. He had just made the breakthrough that the team needed and it was his first wicket in five matches.
Except that it wasn’t. As soon as the ball nestled into the keeper’s gloves, he threw it up in celebration. Paul turned and appealed to the umpire, expecting to see his finger already being raised. But nothing happened. The umpire, a tall, thin, balding man who Peter did not know, shifted his feet a little, transferred one of his coins to his left-hand pocket and put his hands behind his back.
For a while time seemed to stand still. Nobody said anything. Peter looked towards the batsman, Gavin Luscombe, who was on twelve not out. Peter knew him and indeed knew him well, as, although they played for different clubs, they both worked for the same firm and occasionally shared a table at lunchtime in the canteen. He knew that Gavin was thirty-two, six years younger than he was, and that he had just been promoted to the post of manager of the accounts division, while Peter remained as an accountant working under him. Peter was not a jealous type but he thought that Gavin was a very average accountant who had no talent for management at all. He was also aware that Gavin was well over six foot tall, strongly built with a luxuriant mop of jet black hair, and that he had caught the eye of the new Managing Director, a vivacious woman in her forties named Gloria Vlacek. She was married to a local businessman but seemed to enjoy sizing up the male members of staff. Peter, at just five foot eight and with a medium-pacer’s waistline, was never going to make the short list, but Gavin did, without even trying. When Peter saw them both furtively entering a local hotel one evening, he guessed that Gavin would get the manager’s job, and so it proved.
Peter realised that, at thirty-eight, he was slowing down a bit, but he loved his cricket. He had played for Great Pelham for more than ten years. He was originally quite a sharp opening bowler but his fondness for the club bar had caused him to put on weight and now he relied more on movement and changes of pace. His batting, initially quite promising, had gone downhill and these days he had to be hidden in the field if this was possible. He was close to being a ‘one-dimensional’ cricketer and this season even that dimension had become a bit of a struggle.
With no wickets in the previous four matches, just seven runs at number ten and two dropped catches the previous week, he was aware that his place in the team, which was slipping down the league, was under threat. Several good young players, who could all bat, bowl and run like hares in the field, were staking their claim for selection.
But when he had come on to bowl today, on a warm and sunny afternoon in mid-August, against Mershingham, who were top of the league, he felt his old form flowing back. The first three balls were on target, the fourth had beaten Gavin Luscombe’s bat and the fifth, which was perfectly pitched, had caught the edge. Even as he heard the nick, he told himself that this was the start of his comeback.
Now he stood there in the middle of the pitch, staring at the umpire with the clasped hands behind his back. Peter turned towards Gavin Luscombe, who was looking down and marking out his guard with his bat, preparing to face the next delivery. The wicket-keeper, who was more than a little dejected, had thrown the ball to the captain, who was walking in from cover point. All of a sudden, Peter lost control of his emotions.
‘You hit it, Luscombe, you know you did.’
Gavin Luscombe ignored him and surveyed the field. His partner, at the non-striker’s end, had turned his back and was walking towards mid-on in a wide circle. Undeterred, Peter continued his rant.
‘For heaven’s sake, man. You’re out and you know it. You should be back in the bloody pavilion.’
Gavin Luscombe looked up.
‘Peter,’ he replied, calmly. ‘I play to the umpire. Like we all should.’
At this point, the captain arrived and handed the ball back to his bowler. He looked at him sympathetically and spoke in a soft voice.
‘Come on, Peter,’ he said. ‘Let’s just get on with the game. There’s nothing we can do. This is becoming unseemly.’
‘Unseemly?’ yelled Peter. ‘I’ll tell you what’s unseemly. A cheat who won’t walk when he knows he is out.’
His tirade raised the temperature out in the middle.
‘I am not a cheat!’ shouted Gavin Luscombe, marching down the pitch towards him. His partner got involved, then the umpires and most of the players. It all degenerated into a bit of a mêlée until order was restored. Peter McGuire was taken out of the attack and spent the rest of the Mershingham innings moping around at fine leg as their batsmen piled on the runs. Gavin Luscombe made seventy and they were all out for two hundred and thirty-four. Perhaps feeling a little sorry for what had happened, the captain sent him in to bat at number six, but he was bowled second ball for nought and his side were soundly beaten by a hundred and five runs.
After the match he had a shower, got changed and went to the bar. He had hoped to find Gavin Luscombe and to have it out with him, but instead he found a welcoming committee waiting for him at the door. It was led by the Club President, a blazered, military type named Guy Priestley, who seemed to come from another age. The captain stood behind him, looking rather sheepish. As Priestley stepped forward to speak, he put his hands behind his back, just as the unobservant umpire had done earlier on. Peter guessed what was coming.
‘A very unpleasant business out there this afternoon, Peter. I understand that you were the cause of it.’
‘There’s no point in discussing it. I have all the facts. We may not be the biggest club in the area, or the most successful, but I like to think that we play the game in the right spirit. I’m afraid that you failed to do that, Peter. Don’t expect to play next week. We will organise a hearing and let you know the date. That’s all.’
With that Priestley, who had delivered his homily in a tone of bumptious disappointment, spun round and turned towards the clubhouse. Peter, a little stunned, decided to leave. As he was putting his kit into the boot of his car, a couple of his team-mates, who had witnessed what had happened, ran over and tried to persuade him to come back and join them at the bar. He thanked them for their support but said he preferred to go home. On the way back, he reflected ruefully that at least he would save some money on the unbought drinks. He spent the evening watching TV with his wife, who found the situation a little disconcerting, as her husband was rarely home before ten o’clock on Saturdays during the cricket season.
Peter arrived at work on Monday morning, determined more than ever to confront Gavin Luscombe and tell him what had happened. Sitting at his desk, he kept one eye on the glass-plated manager’s office, which was in the right-hand corner of the work area, elevated like a large fish tank. But Gavin did not show up that morning. At about half-past twelve, Peter went down to the canteen to have lunch. As he sat down with his steak and chips, he became aware of someone with a tray standing on the other side of the table.
‘Mind if I sit here, Peter?’ asked Gavin Luscombe, sporting a smart dark suit and a pink shirt open at the neck. Apparently, the new Managing Director approved of this ‘smart informal’ fashion for men. It was not Peter’s style.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ he replied, barely looking up. He noticed that Gavin had sat down without awaiting his reply.
‘Yes, it’s me, Peter. You don’t mind, do you?’
‘What if I do? You seem to be able to do whatever you like.’
‘Now then, Peter,’ said Gavin, ‘no hard feelings. We’re at work now. I’m sorry that you got upset with me on Saturday.’
‘Upset!’ shouted Peter. ‘You bet I was upset. Thanks to you I have been dropped. Thanks to you I have been left out of the team next week and may be suspended for the rest of the season. And all because you wouldn’t admit you were out. You should have done the decent thing and walked. That’s the spirit of the game.’
‘Peter,’ replied Gavin Luscombe, solemnly. He was aware that his colleague’s outburst had attracted the attention of some adjoining tables. ‘I was within my rights. I play to the umpire. If he raises his finger, I go, without complaint. But if he doesn’t, I stay.’
‘Even if you know you’re out?’ Peter was leaning across the table towards him, keen to get a debate going.
‘You’re only out if it says so in the scorebook. Look, it works both ways. There have been occasions when I have been given out LBW when I have edged the ball on to my pad, or been adjudged caught behind when I haven’t even hit it. In those cases, I can’t tell the umpire he’s wrong and ask him to change his decision; we don’t have slow motion replays and a review system where we play. So why should I be expected to walk if occasionally he makes a mistake in my favour? That’s always been my approach – play to the umpire and the decisions will even themselves out over a season.’
Peter McGuire put down his knife and fork and glowered in Gavin Luscombe’s direction.
‘And that decision on Saturday, will that even itself out? It could have ruined my season, perhaps even ended my career with the club. Where’s the idea of fair play gone?’
‘Peter,’ replied Gavin, ‘as regards fair play, haven’t you ever appealed for a catch when you knew deep down that the batsman hadn’t hit the ball? And got the decision? Did you turn round and tell the umpire he was wrong? Look, it works both ways. Umpires mostly get it right but, if not, we all have to take the rough with the smooth. And we’ve all seen rough justice in cricket, haven’t we? A couple of years ago, I saw a young kid, a really promising player, who made his debut for our first eleven and who was bullied by the opposition into walking when he was on nought, even though he hadn’t touched the ball which the keeper caught down the leg side. He lost his confidence and hasn’t played since. As for what happened on Saturday, it was all your doing. You should have got on with the game. I didn’t provoke you, or say anything, not until you called me a cheat.’
Peter could feel his blood boiling. He was trying to remain calm and to restrain himself but something had taken him over. Gavin Luscombe’s measured disdain, his stubborn refusal to even begin to see the error of his ways, had become too much for him. He rose from his chair, walked round to the other side of the table and grabbed his rival by his pink collar, pulling him out of his seat. At this point, several colleagues at nearby tables began to notice that something serious was going on. In spite of the rough handling, Gavin retained his air of calmness.
‘We don’t want any unpleasantness, Peter. Just let go of me and we can forget all about it.’
‘I don’t to forget all about it. I want you to apologise, Luscombe. Now! Here!’
Gavin Luscombe realised that Peter’s tone had suddenly become much darker, more threatening. He knew that he was younger and stronger than his colleague and could overpower him if necessary, but he did not want things to degenerate further.
‘Peter,’ he said, prising the hands away from his collar. ‘If you feel some disappointment about your actions on Saturday, I am sorry for that. I trust that satisfies you, old man.’ He offered his hand, hoping that he had defused the situation. A split second later he saw Peter McGuire’s fist coming towards him and realised that he had not.
‘You’re a cheat, Luscombe. A good for nothing cheat. And don’t you ever call me ‘old man’. Don’t you ever.’ Peter wanted to say that Gavin had only got his present job by sleeping with his boss, but something made him refrain from doing so. By this time, two colleagues had grabbed him and pulled him away. Gavin Luscombe stood by the table, nursing his left eye, although the blow had been a pretty gentle one.
‘I’ll get you, Luscombe,’ muttered Peter McGuire as he was led out of the canteen. ‘I’ll get you.’
‘You’re late!’ These were the first words that Gavin Luscombe heard as he entered Room sixty-four of the Carver Hotel at twenty-to-seven that evening. That afternoon, the security service had spoken to him and to Peter McGuire, but he had decided not to take the matter any further. In spite of being on the end of an assault, he had felt that it would not be fair to get his colleague into trouble, perhaps even to cause him to lose his job. Gavin had not seen Peter after the interview but he hoped that his magnanimous gesture would enable them to bury the hatchet.
The breathy voice he had heard belonged to Gloria Vlacek, who was sitting on the double bed in a bright yellow dressing gown, perusing her laptop. Gloria was forty-five years old, tall and slim with shoulder-length blonde hair and she radiated a sexual energy which instantly filled any room she was in. Even as he took off his jacket, Gavin could feel it taking hold of him. At the same time, he knew that he had something important to say, so he would have to resist. After the interview with Security, he had spent much of the afternoon staring at a photograph of his beautiful wife Deborah on his office desk and feeling more and more ashamed about what he was expected to do that evening.
‘Darling’ said Gloria, putting down her laptop and shuffling forward on her knees on the bed, ‘we agreed half-past six. I have to be at a dinner by eight-fifteen. If you’re late, it doesn’t leave us much time to get this done.’
She had a way of making it sound like a medical procedure, thought Gavin.
‘What’s the matter with your eye, by the way?’
‘What? Oh, it’s nothing,’ replied Gavin. ‘Look Gloria, I’m really not in the mood today. Perhaps we’ll just leave it, shall we?’
She stood up and marched over to him, putting her arms around his waist. She spoke through gritted teeth.
‘I don’t care if you are in the mood or not, darling. I want your usual performance and I want it now.’ Gavin pushed her away.
‘Well, you’re not getting it, Gloria. That’s what I came to say. I’ve decided that this has to stop. It was fun the first few times, I admit, but I feel so guilty about deceiving my wife. She doesn’t deserve any of this. That’s why I want to end it.’
Gloria Vlacek seemed to take this as a hint. She approached him again and started to stroke his hair.
‘I see,’ she said, coquettishly. ‘I understand. You’re getting bored. Perhaps I can do something to make our encounters more interesting.’
This time Gavin shoved her, quite roughly, and she fell into the bed.
‘For God’s sake stop behaving like an over-sexed schoolgirl,’ he shouted. ‘You’re an adult, Gloria. You’re an intelligent, successful woman; you shouldn’t be defined by this. Put some clothes on. We’re finished. I’m going.’
Gloria Vlacek turned bright red with anger.
‘Don’t forget why I gave you this job, Gavin. We had a deal; here, once a week. Your little wife will just have to put up with it. If you don’t keep your part of the bargain I’ll fire you.’
‘You can’t touch me,’ he replied, dismissively, breaking into a laugh. ‘I would go straight to the top management and explain that you hand out jobs to men who agree to sleep with you. That wouldn’t look very good, would it?’
He paused for a moment. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I might just do that anyway. Perhaps tomorrow.’
‘You wouldn’t do that!’ cried Gloria, suddenly rather alarmed.
‘I might. You know, Gloria, I was seduced by your charms for a while. I was prepared to be your slave, a sort of corporate gigolo. What did you call it? Investing in my future, wasn’t it!
But now I see you for what you are. A selfish, scheming bitch. A very sharp, clever, hard-working one, for sure. But still a bitch.’
He put on his jacket and headed for the door.
‘Gavin!’ cried Gloria Vlacek, seemingly in desperation. ‘You won’t tell anyone, will you? We can be friends. My husband must not find out. No one must know.’
Gavin Luscombe looked hard at her as he reached for the door handle. As she lay on the bed, she still had the power to force him back towards her, and part of him wanted to go. But not this time, he thought.
‘I’m going to level with Debbie,’ he announced. ‘If she’ll forgive me, we’re going to make a new start. I can’t take any more of these lies, whatever it costs me.’
Opening the door to leave, he added:
‘After that, everyone is going to know.’
The following Monday, Peter McGuire arrived home to find a letter waiting for him. It was from Great Pelham Cricket Club. The promised disciplinary hearing had taken place the previous Thursday, so this must be the findings, he surmised. As he prepared to open the letter, he was reminded of the day, twenty years ago now, when he received his ‘A’ level results. There was the same mixture of trepidation and excitement. In addition, he reflected on how difficult the last few days at work had been. Having initially felt relief after learning that Gavin Luscombe had decided to take no action with regard to their altercation, he had found himself deliberately avoiding his manager and being treated warily by his colleagues. In spite of Gavin’s decision not to pursue the matter, he had no intention of apologising to a cheat. No intention at all.
With all these thoughts whirring around in his head, it took Peter some minutes to actually open the letter. By the time he did, he felt surprisingly calm. Last week’s hearing had been a surprisingly friendly affair, with Guy Priestly presiding in an avuncular manner, almost jolly at times. He thought that the worst outcome would be a short suspension which, in view of the fact that he had decided to take some holiday in the first half of September, would not worry him unduly.
As it turned out, the content of the letter was worse than anything he could have expected.
‘Dear Mr McGuire
Further to the hearing of last Thursday, the Committee has concluded that your behaviour during the match against Mershingham was unacceptable and has damaged the good name and reputation of our club. Accordingly, we hereby inform you that you will no longer be considered for selection for the rest of this season and for the two following seasons.
Guy Priestly, Chairman’
After reading the letter, Peter stood open-mouthed in the hallway. He read it twice to make sure that he had understood the findings, which had come as a total shock. The effect was that it would be almost three years before he could play again for the club and at his age, in his condition, this amounted to a life ban. After all he had done for them! He felt as though he had been kicked in the teeth and tears started welling up in his eyes. Then, almost imperceptibly, anger began to take over.
‘Luscombe,’ he whispered to himself. ‘He’s the cause of all this. I’ll deal with him tomorrow. And this time I’ll do it properly.’
It was just after three o’clock the next day, Tuesday, when Detective Inspector Angela Baxter entered the small, glass-fronted office in which Gavin Luscombe’s body was slumped over the desk. He had been stabbed in the back and blood had been dripping down onto the beige carpet. His jacket and tie were on the hanger in the corner; the expensive pink shirt was open at the neck.
‘When did it happen?’ she asked the pathologist, who was bent over the corpse.
‘About two fifteen, I’d say. Strange business, in an office which is open to the work area. Look, there are about ten desks. I imagine that all the staff were out for some reason.’
‘That’s right, there was a staff meeting,’ came the voice of Detective Sergeant Martin Kimba, who had just entered behind the inspector.
‘Then why wasn’t he there?’ asked Angela Baxter, pointing to the body.
‘It was a union thing, apparently. None of the management were present. And Mr Luscombe was management.’
‘It must have been a bit of a shock for whoever discovered the body,’ remarked the pathologist, who was rummaging in her bag and did not look up.
‘From what I can gather,’ said Kimba, ‘several people came back to work after the meeting and didn’t notice anything. I suppose that they either didn’t look towards the office or just thought that our friend Luscombe was recovering from a good lunch. It had happened before, apparently.’
‘All right, Sergeant, the poor man is dead.’ Angela Baxter looked suitably disapproving. ‘Do we know who actually found him?’
‘One of his team went in to ask him about something. A certain Peter McGuire,’ replied Martin Kimba, looking at his notepad. ‘Which is rather strange in some ways.’
‘Why strange?’ asked Angela Baxter.
‘It seems that he and Luscombe had a bit of a punch-up in the canteen last Monday and several colleagues heard McGuire threaten that he would ‘get him’.
In spite of his rather dark sense of humour, the Inspector once again marvelled at her sergeant’s ability to gather information and gossip in a matter of minutes.
‘Did anyone say what the fight was about?’
‘Something to do with cricket, apparently.’
‘Cricket? That is odd. In my experience, these office disputes between men are usually about women or promotion. Who gets excited about cricket?’
‘A lot of people,’ said the pathologist, looking a little nervously at Angela Baxter. ‘I used to play. I was an opening bowler. Believe me, people get quite passionate about it, even violent.’
‘It’s not really my sport,’ declared Martin Kimba, ‘I’m a runner.’
‘It’s not mine, either,’ said Angela Baxter. ‘Still, we have to start somewhere, I suppose. Can we talk to him?’
‘I’ve put him in an office down the corridor.’
Martin Kimba left the room to prepare for the interview. He cut a rather exotic figure in the Surrey police force. It was not just that he had been born in the Gambia thirty-four years before, but also the fact that he stood a gangly six foot six inches tall, a good fifteen inches above his inspector. Angela Baxter, aged fifty, had been a detective inspector for more than ten years and her career had been built on an organised, efficient mind. She was well-liked by her colleagues and had recently split up with Wendy, her partner of twelve years. She was also aware that her eyes were lingering far too long on the voluptuous figure of the blonde pathologist, which even her white overalls could not completely neutralise. The pathologist, who was now preparing to leave, smiled knowingly as she caught the inspector staring at her.
‘Were you a fast bowler?’ asked Angela Baxter. ‘You certainly have an athletic build. I don’t think we have been properly introduced. Here’s my card.’
She suddenly realised how brazen this remark has been but was desperate to seize this opportunity, have detected some empathy in the other woman’s gaze.
‘I’m Sarah. And I look forward to when we will be,’ said the pathologist, stopping in her tracks on her way to the door. It was obvious to Angela that she understood the situation perfectly. Sarah took out a card with a mobile number on it and gave it to Angela.
‘Call me or text me on this,’ she said. ‘Let’s meet for a drink.’
She ran her forefinger down the back of the inspector’s hand and swept out of the room. Angela Baxter felt like a star-struck teenager who was about to break the four-minute mile. She was already planning things in her head – what colour dress, heels high enough so that Sarah would not have to bend down too far.
‘Stop!’ she thought. ‘This is a murder investigation. What am I doing!’ She took some deep breaths to get control of herself and joined Martin Kimba and Peter McGuire. It was clear that the interrogation had progressed in the couple of minutes she had been away.
‘You admit that you threatened him, Mr McGuire?’ asked Kimba, quite forcefully. ‘You said ‘I’ll get you, Luscombe’, didn’t you?’
‘It was just a way of speaking. I was angry. I didn’t mean it.’
‘But you did hit him?’
‘Yes, that was a mistake. I accept that. We had a big argument during in a cricket match. I got him out and he wouldn’t walk, so I told him he was a cheat. Then things got out of hand and now I’ve been suspended for three bloody years. It’s practically the end of my career.’
‘Was that why you hit Mr Luscombe,’ asked Angela Baxter, joining in the questioning. ‘Because of the suspension?’
Peter McGuire hesitated for a second. The office was warm and he looked uncomfortable in his dark suit.
‘‘Well, no. I only found out about that yesterday. The disagreement I had with Gavin was on the Monday of last week. It was the first working day after the match on the Saturday, when the incident I told you about occurred. I just wanted to have it out with him. Look, you can’t think I had anything to do with this horrible business; I’m as shocked as everyone else.’
‘It’s a bit of coincidence though, isn’t it, Mr McGuire?’ said Martin Kimba, in a deliberate fashion. ‘You assault Mr Luscombe and threaten him last Monday. Then yesterday you get news of your suspension. And today he is dead.’
Peter McGuire stared blankly at him.
‘And another thing, Mr McGuire, I’ve been talking to some of your colleagues. They told me that you went to the staff meeting today but that you left ten minutes before the end. What were you doing?’
‘I want a lawyer!’ shouted Peter McGuire.
‘You’ll get a lawyer,’ replied Angela Baxter. ‘But first tell us what you did after you left the meeting.’
‘I went out, to make a phone call.’
‘So there will be a record of this call, I presume?’
‘Er…no. In the end I didn’t make it.’
‘And you didn’t go back to the meeting?’
‘No, there was no point.’
‘Mr McGuire,’ said Martin Kimba, ‘have you got the key to your locker?’
Peter McGuire turned white and began to shake with fear.
‘What’s the matter, Mr McGuire?’ asked Angela Baxter, sensing that they were on the verge of a breakthrough.
‘I didn’t do it,’ he sobbed. ‘I didn’t kill him. It was just a …’
At this point a constable put his head round the door.
‘Sorry to interrupt, Inspector,’ he said, ‘but I think that you and the sergeant should see this.’
Gloria Vlacek was perched on the swivel chair behind her desk. She had taken off her shoes and her skirt was hitched up to just below her waist. Most significantly, the right sleeve of her white blouse was soaked with what appeared to be blood.
‘This is Luscombe’s manager, Mrs Vlacek,’ announced the constable.
Angela Baxter, realising the obvious drama of the situation, took charge. Gloria Vlacek was staring into space, in a state of shock. The Inspector moved forward and stood over her.
‘Mrs Vlacek, I’m Inspector Baxter. Would you mind….?’ She pointed to the raised hemline. Gloria Vlacek lifted herself up and pulled her skirt down a little.
‘I suppose that will have to do,’ said Angela Baxter, wearily. ‘You are, or were, Mr Luscombe’s immediate superior, I take it.’
‘Yes,’ came the reply, in an unsteady voice. ‘He reported to me.’
‘And I presume you can explain the blood on your sleeve?’
Gloria Vlacek’s voice became stronger, her manner more assertive.
‘Yes, Inspector. I killed him. About an hour ago. I’ve been waiting for you all to come. I’m surprised it took you so long.’
‘So this is a confession?’ asked Angela Baxter.
‘That’s right. I wore gloves when I did it but I tried to move a couple of things on Gavin’s desk and the blood went all over me. I hadn’t thought to bring a bag or a change of clothes or anything like that. It just shows what an amateur I am, I suppose. I didn’t know what to do, so I panicked and just ran back to my office and locked the door. You’ve seen this place, it’s teeming with people. There was nowhere to go.’
‘Wasn’t there a staff meeting?’
‘That was just for the accounts and admin people. There are hundreds of others in the building.’
‘Anyway, you seem very calm now.’
‘I am, although I’m fully aware of what I’ve done.’
‘What had Gavin Luscombe done to you, Mrs Vlacek?’
Gloria Vlacek smiled. ‘It’s more what he hadn’t done to me for the last couple of weeks.’
‘Ah, I see. At least, I think I do.’
‘I mean, I gave him the job on that condition. He was nothing special as regards his work skills but he was rather exceptional in that department. For a while, it was a good arrangement. We used to meet every Monday evening in a hotel room and afterwards I went home happy. Bloody delirious if you must know! I like to think he did too. But last Monday everything changed. When he arrived he told me we were finished. He said that I was behaving like, what was it, an over-sexed schoolgirl! He told me it was not fair to his wife.’
‘Perhaps he had a point,’ observed Angela Baxter, dryly. She was a woman of conservative views who was not in the habit of cheating on partners. She had been completely faithful during her long relationship with Wendy and was inwardly shocked by Vlacek’s attitude and her self-justifying rant.
‘What do you mean, he had a point? Look, I’m a successful professional woman with a high sex drive. When I was young, I had to submit to men in order to get promotions. Now I am at the stage where I can make the demands. Don’t look so stunned, Mrs Policewoman. That’s how it works!’
‘Is that why you killed him?’ asked Martin Kimba. ‘Because he decided to end it?’
‘You couldn’t bear that, could you Mrs Vlacek?’ said Angela Baxter, in a bitter fashion. ‘Being rejected, I mean?’
Gloria Vlacek’s tone became more reflective.
‘It wasn’t that. In fact, yesterday evening he turned up as normal at our usual rendez-vous. It was what he said when he arrived that upset me.’
‘What did he say?’ asked Angela Baxter.
‘It was while he was getting undressed. He said that he had discussed the situation with his wife and that they had come to the conclusion that the job and the money had to come first. If that meant ‘servicing’ me, as he put it, that was a price worth paying. Then he sneered at me and said,
‘Never mind, Gloria, I’ll just have to get used to it. I can do this in my sleep. It’s really just a bit of light exercise; I won’t even notice that you’re there.’
‘That made me so angry!’ she continued, raising her voice. ‘He was treating me like a piece of meat. I lost my temper and told him to get out. It was then that I decided to take my revenge on him.’
‘But you were his boss,’ said Martin Kimba, now seated in a Scandinavian-style visitors’ chair near to the desk. ‘You could have fired him, or demoted him. You didn’t have to kill him, for heaven’s sake.’
‘That wasn’t an option,’ replied Gloria Vlacek, in a sadder tone, as though the consequences of her actions were beginning to dawn on her. ‘I threatened him with that last week but he replied that he would go straight to the top management and tell them why I had selected him for the job. In that instant, I realised that he had me, my career, my reputation and probably even my marriage in his hands. I had fallen into a trap of my own making. After he humiliated me yesterday evening, I knew that there was only one way out.’
‘But why?’ pleaded Angela Baxter. ‘We all get angry. We all suffer disappointments. We don’t go out and commit murder.’
‘You don’t,’ sneered Gloria Vlacek. ‘I’ll let you into a little secret. It was really all about passion. Good old-fashioned desire or longing or whatever you want to call it. That was at the root of everything. You know, Inspector, I have a wonderful husband who is always considerate and provides me with a standard of living that I could never aspire to alone, even with this job. But the most exciting thing he does is to cut the lawn. As I said to you, I need men, real men. Men like Gavin, in fact. Men who make me want them so much that my body aches all day. I don’t suppose that you have any idea of what such passion is like, buttoned up in your sensible trouser suit. I bet your most erotic encounter is with a bloody clipboard….’
‘You’re in no position to insult us,’ shouted an angry Martin Kimba.
‘Why did you kill him here? At his desk?’ Angela Baxter was used to keeping calm. Outwardly, she could appear very severe. Inwardly, she knew how deceptive this could be. If only Mrs Vlacek knew the things she had been thinking about Sarah the pathologist.
‘It seemed appropriate,’ she replied, reverting to an icy calm. ‘He was only at that desk because of me and it was there that he had to die. He hadn’t kept his part of the bargain, you see. It was simple. He had pushed things too far. I knew that the work area would be empty. All I had to do was to put the knife into his back. He never turned round. He probably didn’t know it was me, although in his last couple of seconds he may have guessed. And you know, for a few moments, I felt so elated, so powerful, so completely fulfilled, as a woman, as a human being, it was as though I ruled the world. I could choose between life and death for my man and I had chosen death! Then came the blood and all the force seemed to drain out of me. After that, you turned up…’
‘You will have to make a statement,’ declared Angela Baxter, now feeling more sorrow than anger towards the suspect. ‘If you confess and plead guilty, the court may take a lenient view of what you have done.’ She paused. ‘You don’t seem inclined to feel any remorse, though.’
‘I don’t want leniency and no, I don’t feel remorse,’ came the reply. ‘For a woman like me, life has always been a struggle. True, I have had a lot of material comforts for the last few years but it wasn’t always like that. Far from it, in fact. My parents fled from what was then Czechoslovakia when I was a little girl. I left school at sixteen with just a few ‘O’ levels. I had to fight every step of the way to get money, responsibility and power, such as it is in a job like this. And, as I explained to you, I want pleasure, lots of it. After what Gavin Luscombe said to me, I discovered that there was an even greater source of pleasure than the all physical ones I had experienced over the years – revenge. I can’t feel remorse at something I enjoyed so much, even for just a few moments! It was worth all the challenges, all the fighting.’
Angela Baxter rose, still unconvinced.
‘Life doesn’t have to be like this, Mrs Vlacek. You had attained a position of power; you could have almost anything you wanted. What did you have to do this? You seem to treat everything as a confrontation, like a battle to be won. Why couldn’t you change your life?’
Gloria Vlacek smiled.
‘Old habits die hard, I suppose.’
She got up and slung her bag over her shoulder.
‘I’ll miss this place,’ she said. ‘I presume that you have transport for me?’
Seconds later, she was being led away by the constable. It was just before five o’clock. Angela Baxter zipped up her briefcase and headed towards the door, where Martin Kimba was waiting.
‘Not a bad afternoon’s work!’ he exclaimed, cheerfully.
‘A bloody waste,’ said his Inspector, in a thoughtful mood. ‘I mean, she may be a bit of a cow but why did she have to do that? She could wrap any number of men around her little finger. Why not just let him go?’
‘I suppose she couldn’t take being humiliated. She was just too proud.’
‘Humiliated!’ retorted Angela Baxter. ‘Sergeant, we have all been humiliated, insulted, deceived, lied to, cheated on. As I said to Madam there, we don’t all become killers.’
‘Maybe it was Luscombe. We don’t know anything about him.’
‘We can guess. A bit flash, self-confident, fancied himself with the opposite sex. Made up for an average mind by being good in bed. There must be thousands of blokes like him in workplaces up and down the land, and plenty of women like her. Granted, the power relationship is usually the other way round, but think about it, all those little liaisons being played out in hotel rooms or on the back seats of cars. They all come to an end, sometimes amicably, often bitterly. Marriages are threatened, couples split up, careers are ruined. But murder, no! Why, Sergeant, Why?’
They began to stroll along the corridor. Martin Kimba offered a practical view.
‘In the end,’ he said, ‘none of this really matters. She is going to confess and that will be the end of it.’
‘Legally, perhaps,’ replied his Inspector. ‘But that’s not good enough for me. I want to know what pushed her over the edge.’
At that moment a bell rang in her bag, signifying a text message. It did not take her long to read it.
‘Thought about it. Won’t work. Someone else. Sorry, Sarah’.
Angela Baxter paused before slamming her fist against the corridor wall.
‘Shit!’ she yelled. ‘Bloody typical.’
‘Anything you want to talk about?’ asked Martin Kimba, sympathetically.
‘No,’ she chuckled. ‘Just another chance of happiness down the drain. Don’t worry, I won’t be reaching for the knife. I’ll probably cry myself to sleep in front of the TV with a few glasses of wine. That’s the way us buttoned-up policewomen deal with things like this!’
‘You could come round to our place. My wife would be pleased to meet you.’
‘That’s very kind, but I think I’ll do it my way, just for once,’ she replied.
As the two officers reached the end of the corridor and were about to turn towards the lift, they noticed that Peter McGuire was still sitting in the office where they had left him.
Angela Baxter looked in, rather apologetically.
‘I’m sorry, Mr McGuire. We don’t need you anymore. Our business here is finished.’
‘You mean,’ he stuttered, ‘that I am free to go?’
‘You sound surprised,’ said Martin Kimba. ‘Is there anything you want to tell us?’
‘Er…no.’ Peter McGuire looked a little mystified by the whole thing. ‘Why are you leaving, anyway? What about the murder?’
‘We’ve solved that,’ replied the Sergeant. ‘We have arrested your big boss, Mrs Vlacek. She has confessed to the crime. A crime of passion, it looks like. Didn’t you see her being led away?’
‘No. I haven’t seen anything. I’ve just been sitting here.’
‘Well,’ said Angela Baxter, ‘we’ll leave you to it. If we need you, we will let you know.’
‘He seemed very defensive,’ said Martin Kimba, as they left the building.
Angela Baxter was about to open the door of her car when she hesitated.
‘It’s strange. When we first met him he looked shifty, a bit worried. It was as though he had something to hide. But, thinking about it now, what possible motivation could he have? He may have had a set-to with Luscombe last week but it was only over a game of cricket. And who is going to commit murder because of cricket, for goodness sake?’
‘Exactly,’ said Martin Kimba, ‘the whole idea is preposterous.’
Peter McGuire, feeling a little dazed, put on his jacket and made his way towards his locker. He was just about the last person in the whole place at twenty-past five, as all the staff, with the exception of some of the top management, had been sent home early.
He checked that no one was watching and then opened the locker. In a furtive manner, he removed a brown paper bag which contained a small loaded pistol he had acquired that morning. He was familiar with guns from his past training in the Territorial Army and had fully intended to use the weapon that day. Which was why he had left the staff meeting early and had gone to Gavin Luscombe’s office with the pistol in his pocket, only to find that someone else had beaten him to it and had stuck a knife into his manager’s back. So he had returned the gun to his locker and, once this was done, had gone back to his office and raised the alarm.
As he drove home, the pistol carefully hidden in the boot, he realised that he had come within a whisker of ruining his life and that of his family. He would have fired the gun and killed Gavin Luscombe. There was no doubt about that. The red mist of anger, the desire for revenge, had taken him in its vice-like grip and would not let go. It had been an out-of-body experience, as though he was a spectator watching his own path to self-destruction.
And yet, it had not happened. Nothing had changed. The murder would dominate conversation for a while, but soon life at the office, as well as his evenings and weekends, would return to normal. In spite of his self-pitying predictions, he would find another cricket team to play for next season.
Pulling into his drive, he suddenly had a feeling that he had committed the perfect crime. His intended victim was dead and he hadn’t done it! No one would ever connect him to the murder. He knew that he had gone out that morning intending to kill and probably never expecting to come home. He had planned to do a terrible thing, and all because of a game of cricket. He had really intended to do it; there was no point pretending otherwise.
In a way, he felt cheated. Why did Gloria Vlacek have to get in the way? A crime of passion, they had said. Passion? What did she know about passion? Could she even imagine one per cent of the passion he felt, the desire to get even, to get his revenge on Gavin Luscombe for what he had done to him on that Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago? Whether Luscombe deserved it, or whether it was morally justified, had never entered his head. Only now would he have time to think about things; about the crime he should have committed and what had driven him to almost do it.
‘What I did was wrong,’ he said to himself. ‘Even though I didn’t do it.’
He sat in his car for several minutes, only getting out when his wife Emily opened the front door.
‘There’s been good news, darling. Apparently, a lot of players and club officials have rallied round you. They say that Guy Priestly wrote that letter by himself, without consulting anyone. You probably won’t be suspended at all.’
Peter put his arms around her and they both remained motionless, saying nothing.
‘What I did was wrong,’ he thought to himself.
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