‘Don’t do this, Will.’
‘Oh, come along, darling. Can’t you see they’ve figured us out?’
‘You don’t need to help them!’
‘There’s no point trying to get away with it. Best to own up before it gets any worse.’
The couple bickered, as if it were something trivial like what to have for dinner. The room watched in awkward silence. DS Bennet had stepped forward, unsure if he should be making an arrest, but Hugo held up a hand to stop him. There was more to do yet.
William faced the detectives. He was unafraid, though he did seem rather embarrassed. ‘I did it,’ he repeated. ‘You know that, don’t you.’
Theodore and Hugo glanced at one another. ‘We strongly suspected it,’ Theodore shrugged.
‘It was the carpets,’ said Hugo. ‘That was our first clue. Every flat has either carpet or rugs, except for yours which has hardwood floors.’
‘We found the bloody towels you used to clean up after the murder,’ said Theodore. ‘If it had happened anywhere else, it would have left a stain on the carpet. There would be no point in mopping up. But you didn’t have that problem. So the two of you became our most likely suspects.’
‘Ah,’ said William.
‘And then there was the argument that Mr Glossop and Mr Stiles overheard,’ said Hugo.
‘Yes,’ said Theodore. ‘Mr Stiles said he overheard you and Lucy arguing before his master came home. But he couldn’t have done. He may well have heard Lucy’s voice, but he couldn’t have heard you because you didn’t return home until after Mr Glossop did.
‘When Mr Glossop came home, he heard the argument as well, but he thought it was between Kitty and Harry. But it couldn’t have been Kitty. As we now know, she was sedated. And considering his tone-deaf impression of her, he didn’t have a good handle on recognising her voice. In his drunken state, fuelled by wishful thinking, he must have believed he was on the ground floor, not the first.
‘Between them, they correctly identified both parties. Mr Stiles recognised Lucy and Mr Glossop recognised Harry. And once we knew that Harry had sent the letter to Lucy, the theory that Harry had gone to see her during the night became watertight.’
‘Mr Stiles told us the argument was still going on after ten,’ said Hugo, ‘which was, according to your testimony, when you returned home, as you do every Sunday. Stiles thought it was still the same argument, meaning he heard a man and a woman’s voices. If both you and Harry were involved in that argument, as you surely would have been, Stiles would have heard two distinct male voices. He didn’t. Because Harry was already dead by that time.’ Hugo held out his hands and mimed a set of scales. ‘He was alive before you came home and was dead afterwards.’
William let out a breath it seemed he’d been holding onto for hours. ‘Harry was stalking my wife,’ he said. ‘He was drug dealer and she used to take opium.’
Lucy groaned. ‘Must we air all our laundry in front of our neighbours, Will?’
But now William had started, there was no stopping him. ‘I didn’t know this at the time, but back in Buckinghamshire he sold to her. Before long, he’—William swallowed—‘made advances. She resisted, but because of her addiction she couldn’t avoid him. She was vulnerable and he took advantage of that.
‘Then we married. In Brighton on honeymoon, separated from Harry and her fix, she went through withdrawal. She tried to hide it from me but it made her agitated and anxious, not exactly ideal when you’re on honeymoon. When she started getting nauseous, she had to come clean. She begged me not to leave her, but there was never any risk of that. I knew how strong she was when I married her. I told her she could beat her addiction. And she did.’
He smiled proudly at Lucy. She didn’t smile back.
‘She was afraid to go back to Buckinghamshire. She didn’t tell me why at first, but naturally she was afraid that Harry might tempt her again. So we came to London instead. But Harry followed us. When we met him in Covent Garden, asking for a job, I saw no reason not to hire him. Then Lucy told me the truth, what he’d done and what he was really after. I was horrified.
‘I wanted to go to the police but Lucy was afraid. Harry was a slippery character and, really, it was our word against his. So we broke off all contact with him. He sent letters, following up on the job, but we didn’t reply. I made sure Lucy never left the house alone. We hoped Harry would give up before long, but he kept turning up like a bad penny. When we went out, we would see him, at restaurants, at the theatre or just walking down the street. He never spoke to us, never got too close, never did anything aggressive, but he never went away.
‘Then came the letter. He’d posted letters before, like I said, some even addressed to Lucy directly, but I think he thought I was keeping them from her. This letter came slipped under the door. No envelope, no name, but of course we knew it was from him. And he was threatening to come here, to accost Lucy in our own home. Well, if he wasn’t getting the message by now, I thought it was high time to deliver it in person. He’d given us his address when we met in Covent Garden, so I intended to pay him a visit. Lucy talked me down. Instead, she decided to return his letter and, in the end, I saw the sense of that. We weren’t rising to him by responding, but it still sent a clear message. I thought that might finally be the end of it.
‘Until last night. I came home and Harry was there, in my sitting room, shouting at my wife. “You harpy, you quiff, you strung me along,” and other such pleasantries. I saw red. I went to the kitchen and took a carving knife. I think I intended to threaten him, to get him out of the house, but when I confronted him he paid me no attention. He turned his back on me. So I—’
His voice caught. Lucy held her head in her hands. The room was uncomfortably silent.
‘You stabbed him,’ said Hugo, simply.
William stared, momentarily shocked that somebody had said it out loud, as if that were worse than the act itself. He bowed his head. ‘Yes.’
‘Then, in your panic, you decided to dump the body.’
‘You could hardly take it out the front door, but he had a key to Kitty’s flat in his pocket. So you removed the knife, pressed a towel against the wound and dropped his body there.’
‘You took a knife from Kitty’s kitchen and inserted it into the wound, in an attempt to implicate Kitty and throw off suspicion that Harry had ever been in your flat.’
‘You cleaned up. You washed the murder weapon and returned it to your kitchen. You mopped the spilled blood with towels.’
‘Then you dropped the towels and the bottle of arsenic out of your window into the basement patio.’
‘Y—’ Harry paused. ‘Sorry. Bottle of arsenic?’
Hugo smiled. ‘Yes, I got stuck on that too. But Theodore had an idea about it.’
Theodore, who had been stroking his moustache idly, sprang to attention. ‘Mr Rookwood, was it you who dropped the towels from the window, or was it your wife?’
Lucy’s hand dropped from her face. Her eyes were wide.
William gritted his teeth. ‘I don’t know what you’re suggesting, but I killed Harry.’
‘We know that,’ said Theodore, waving a lazy hand in dismissal. ‘But there are parts of this story that don’t quite fit, aren’t there?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Murder of an intruder who was accosting your wife,’ said Hugo. ‘A sympathetic charge. I’m positive it could be reduced to voluntary manslaughter due to reasonable provocation. There’s a good chance you’ll avoid hanging.’
‘And people have a very high opinion of you,’ Theodore added. ‘All night, people have assured us how decent you are. Even now, you’ve confessed to your crime quite valiantly. “Best to own up before it gets any worse”.’
William’s eyes darted between the detectives. ‘What are you saying?’
Hugo looked at Theodore. Theodore looked at Hugo. Theodore asked the question. ‘Why didn’t you come forward at once?’
‘I was afraid to,’ said William with a shrug, as if this were obvious.
Theodore frowned his doubt. ‘That much I might believe. But then instead you chose to frame Kitty for the murder? That’s not very like you, from what I’ve been told.’
‘And far riskier than coming forward would have been,’ added Hugo.
‘We had no choice!’ William insisted. ‘We were desperate. We panicked. We’ve nothing against Kitty, of course, we hardly know her. But we couldn’t leave the body in our flat and we only had keys to hers.’
‘We?’ said Theodore.
William looked like he’d been slapped in the face. His fists clenched. ‘Now listen here. I confess my wife helped me clean up after I killed Harry, but what devoted wife wouldn’t? She had nothing to do with the murder. She’s no criminal.’
‘Stop talking, Will,’ said Lucy.
William remained stood, breathing heavily, but he shut his mouth as instructed.
Theodore went on. ‘You say “we” a lot. After our interview with you, your wife told you she was tired and you said “Seems we’ve decided to go back to bed.”. You had no say in that decision. An innocuous moment, perhaps, but it made me wonder about all the other times you said “we”. “We decided to marry.” “We’d decided to come to London.” “We decided not to give Harry the position.” Were they really mutual decisions, or was one of you steering the relationship? Did you decide to frame Kitty together, or did one of you convince the other?’
William opened his mouth to reply, then remembered his wife had told him not to speak.
‘Please.’ Lucy put her palms together. ‘I’ll confess, I’ll come quietly, just don’t say anymore.’
Theodore paused. He looked to Hugo with big, sad eyes, but they didn’t work on Hugo this time. He gave a slight shake of his head. She doesn’t deserve it. Theodore took a deep breath. As usual, Hugo was right.
‘A lot of people in this room had reason to fear a police investigation,’ said Hugo. ‘Kitty Hinshaw feared it might bring press attention. Mrs Beck feared a public scandal. Theodore and I… have our own reasons. Though all of us are innocent of the crime, we have gone to great lengths to keep ourselves safe from its consequences. Lucy Rookwood has been doing the same thing. Though we didn’t realise it at first, we have been investigating two crimes, not one.’
All eyes turned on Lucy. She held her breath, tears forming in her eyes.
Theodore turned to William. ‘Mr Rookwood, do you remember what you told us about your illness?’
‘NO!’ Lucy wailed. Her body seemed to turn into liquid as she slid off the sofa and pooled onto the floor. ‘I didn’t mean it! I never went through with it! I changed my mind! I changed my mind!’
William stared at her. When she reached out for him, he stepped back. ‘What about my illness?’ he asked.
‘“For months I was in and out of the hospital”,’ Theodore quoted. “Nothing the doctors did seemed to stick. And throughout the whole ordeal, there was Lucy, bringing my meals, clearing my mess, doting on me like the perfect wife”.’
‘The symptoms of gastric fever are vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever,’ said Hugo. ‘Incidentally, these are also the symptoms of arsenic poisoning.’
Lucy let out another howl of anguish. Theodore spoke over her sobs. ‘Harry knew you’d be out in the evening, but there was still your handmaid Elise. It was so convenient that her mother should fall ill on the very day he got into the building. A coincidence, maybe, but we knew Harry had a supply of arsenic.’
‘That didn’t explain the bottle we found in the basement patio,’ said Hugo. ‘There was no doubt the bottle had come from Harry, but it must have been one of you who had hidden it. Why, when it didn’t have anything to do with the murder?’
‘Because,’ said Theodore, ‘if the police found it, it might reveal something Lucy feared more than a murder investigation. If you ever knew about it, you might put two and two together.’
William was still staring at Lucy. ‘You brought me all my meals,’ he said. His voice was hoarse.
‘It was Harry’s idea!’ Lucy spluttered. ‘If I’d known! If I’d known…’
‘Lucy has been lying to you,’ said Hugo, plainly. ‘Harry’s infatuation with her was more reciprocal than she led you to believe. Back at the Rookwood Manor, he was more than her dealer, he was her lover. But then you, the heir to Rookwood Estate, showed an interest in Lucy also. So she and Harry hatched a plan. She encouraged your advances, while lacing your food with small amounts of the arsenic Harry provided. As your condition worsened, you hastened to marry. The plan, I daresay, was to increase the dosage until it appeared your illness finally took you, leaving Lucy in line to inherit a fortune.’
‘In hospital, I felt better,’ said William, absently. ‘At home, I got worse.’
‘Then came the honeymoon,’ said Theodore. ‘At the hotel, Lucy couldn’t interfere with your food, so your condition improved. But she fared less well from her own withdrawal. She feared how you’d react once you found out about her addiction, but you surprised her by how much you loved her. And she surprised herself by loving you back.’
Lucy blubbered. ‘It’s true. I love you. I love you more than anything.’ She reached out for William again. He kept his distance.
‘Yet she kept the arsenic,’ said Hugo. ‘I cannot say why.’
‘Possibly the same reason she kept her opium pipe,’ said Theodore. ‘Reserving the right to change her mind.’
‘Never.’ Lucy shook her head vigorously. ‘I’d never have done it.’
‘But then what to do about Harry?’ said Theodore.
‘She convinced you to move to London, to avoid him,’ said Hugo.
‘But Harry was not about to just abandon his lover in the middle of a murder plot. So he followed.’
‘And now the letter makes more sense. “I’m not angry. If you’ve changed your mind, I’ll understand.”’
‘He thought she might have been unable to go through with the murder, which left her trapped in an unwanted marriage,’ said Theodore. ‘He never dreamed that she might have actually fallen for you.’
‘He couldn’t get in touch with her,’ said Hugo. ‘Not without you in the way. So he was driven to more desperate measures to speak with her, on her own, so he could rescue her or just find out what on earth was going on.’
‘And when he finally got her face to face, she told him the truth,’ said Theodore. ‘He didn’t it receive it well.’
‘Then you came home,’ said Hugo.
‘You wanted to come forward, I’ll wager,’ said Theodore, ‘but Lucy persuaded you not to. She didn’t want you to be tried for murder and she certainly didn’t want the police to search the flat.’
‘She convinced you to dump the body in Kitty’s flat,’ said Hugo. ‘She helped you mop up the blood. And when she dropped the towels out of the window, she dropped the arsenic with them, hoping that if it wasn’t in the flat, you would never find out about it.’
‘You were right after all, Mr Rookwood’ said Theodore. ‘It was love that cured your illness. If Lucy hadn’t loved you, you wouldn’t be alive today.’
The detectives had reached the end of their story. The room was silent, save for Lucy’s pitiful sobs.
‘Will?’ she gasped. She crept across the floor as if she’d lost all use of her legs. Her face was full of tears and snot. ‘Will, forgive me. I don’t care about the money anymore. I only care about you. You taught me that. You taught me how to love.’
She grasped at the hem of William’s trousers. He kicked his foot away from her, his face creased with revulsion.
‘I could never love somebody like you.’