MIW Submission #5


 First pages of a novel.

 

CHAPTER ONE

In the pitch-dark night, Kate Cavanagh struggled to see through the rain-spattered windscreen beyond the rhythmic swipe of the wipers. A knot in the pit of her stomach, a premonition of disaster, had brought her home early from her weekly jujitsu lesson with her brother.

She turned left off the country lane. The Jaguar’s tires crunched on the gravel as she drove between two brick pillars and followed the long, curving drive towards the house. Emerging from the avenue of bare-branched laburnum and lilac trees and rounding the final curve, she saw two cars, an ambulance, and dark figures in front of the house. The scene, illuminated by the open oak door and the dim outside lights, jolted her senses. Shock turned to fear as she parked her car and stepped into the freezing rain. In a cloud of dread, Kate hurried towards the house, oblivious to the soaking downpour.

Chief Inspector Bainbridge watched the approach of the tall, slim, woman in black sweater, beige slacks and an unfastened Harris Tweed jacket. The rain plastered tendrils of black hair to her forehead. Kate stared, uncomprehending, at ambulance men placing a stretcher, bearing a body, into the ambulance. The chief inspector dodged round the stretcher to block Kate’s view.

“Mrs. Cavanagh? Catherine Cavanagh?”

Kate’s gaze flickered to the man in his wet overcoat and trilby who had materialized in front of her. Her mouth was dry, her guts in a vise. She looked questioningly at the man and tried to speak. The words came out a croak. She coughed, cleared her throat. “Yes.”

Taking charge, the man ushered her towards the door. “Please, come inside. I’m afraid we have bad news.”

“What’s happened? Why are you here?” Her voice sounded shrill to her ears.

“I’m Chief Inspector Bainbridge, Richmond Police. It’s your husband . . . and son . . .”

“Oh God! Joey?” The blood drained from Kate’s face. Clinging to the hall table, she steadied herself.

“What’s happened to my son?” Kate cried.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your housekeeper telephoned us . . .”

“She called the police?” Kate’s voice was anguished. “What’s happened?”

“Mrs. Mullins discovered Mr. Cavanagh’s body when she returned from her night off.”

With a sharp intake of breath, Kate sat down in one of the hall chairs and wrapped her arms round herself. “His body? Charles is dead?”

“Mr. Cavanagh was found hanging from the banister. It looks as if your husband hanged himself.”

“And Joey! Where’s Joey?” Again that shrill voice.

Ambulance men appeared on the landing carrying a stretcher. A child’s tiny form lay beneath the red blanket.

Kate jumped up. “No! Oh God, no!”

She ran to the bottom of the stairs and, in silent horror, waited for the men to bring the stretcher down.

“Wait!” Kate said and slowly lifted the blanket. Her four-year-old son was lying as if in peaceful sleep. Her tears dripped on his face as she stroked his cool cheek. Her imploring eyes turned to Bainbridge. “What happened to him?”

“We’re not sure. It’s possible he was suffocated as he slept . . . by Mr. Cavanagh, who then killed himself. He left a note.”

Seeing Kate sway as if about to faint, Bainbridge replaced the blanket, took hold of Kate’s shoulders, and guided her to a chair. “Here, sit down.”

The ambulance men left the house.

Mrs. Mullins appeared with a glass of brandy. Bainbridge nodded his gratitude to the housekeeper.

“Take this,” Bainbridge said, passing the glass to Kate, who was staring at the floor with glazed eyes. He took her hand and placed it round the glass. “Please, drink it.” Docile with shock, Kate took a sip of the brandy.

With the ambulance and the doctor gone, Detective Sergeant Hanley came in from outside.

“Thank you, Mrs. Mullins,” the chief inspector said. “Detective Sergeant Hanley here will take your statement in the kitchen.”

Hanley left his wet hat on the hallstand and followed Mrs. Mullins down the hall. Bainbridge proceeded to question Kate.

“How has your husband appeared recently? Has he been depressed, moody?”

Kate struggled to bring her mind to his question.

“Charles has been his usual self. I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.”

“How long have you and Mr. Cavanagh been married?”

“It was April 1933, six years.”

“Was it a happy marriage?”

“Why are you asking me these questions? What was in the note?”

“I’ll come to the note shortly, Mrs. Cavanagh,” Bainbridge said before continuing, his voice soft but firm. “Were you happily married?”

“I was not happy, neither was I unhappy. Ours was a marriage of . . . of convenience.”

“Are you close to anyone else?”

Kate lifted her head. “What are you driving at?”

“By your own admittance your marriage was unsatisfactory. Was there someone else?”

Kate was indignant. “No, there was not. What did Charles’ note say?”

“He says he killed himself and your son because he could no longer endure the pain of your infidelities.”

Kate covered her mouth with her hands as she burst into noisy sobbing.

Bainbridge handed her his handkerchief and waited while Kate wiped her eyes. She took a deep breath and in a voice cracking with emotion said, “Chief Inspector, my husband was so insecure, and sometimes so out of touch with reality, he accused me of many indiscretions. They were all figments of his imagination. I was never unfaithful to Charles. I adored my . . . son.”

Her tears flowed, dripping onto her wet sweater.

The chief inspector stood quietly until she calmed herself.

“It must have been difficult to live with . . . the accusations.”

“I didn’t hate Charles. I truly felt he couldn’t help behaving the way he did. He didn’t beat me. He wasn’t a drunkard. He was a depressed recluse. I made my life as full as I could under the circumstances and enjoyed the pleasure a child brings.”

Kate began to sob inconsolably. When she stopped, she looked Bainbridge in the eye. “You’re telling me my son died because of my husband’s paranoia?”

“It would seem your husband wanted to hurt you very much, enough to kill your son and himself. Where were you this evening?”

“There’s no great secret, no mysterious man,” Kate said, wearily. “I was with my brother, at his jujitsu class. He’s been teaching me since I was thirteen. We normally have a drink afterwards, with my father, in The Spring Lamb. Only tonight, I had a feeling something was wrong, so I came straight home from the class.”

Hanley returned from the kitchen. Mrs. Mullins hovered in the background.

Chief Inspector Bainbridge picked up his hat. “I’m sorry I had to question you in these circumstances, Mrs. Cavanagh. I will need to see you again. Will you be all right?”

“Chief Inspector, I’ve just discovered my husband murdered my son,” Kate said, dully.

“Yes. I’m sorry. There’ll be an inquest, but I’ll speak to you before then. Good night, Mrs. Cavanagh.”

He hesitated at leaving her alone in her shock and grief. Then he saw Mrs. Mullins standing at the rear hall entrance. He was about to ask her to take care of her employer when, anticipating his request, she stepped forward. “It’s all right, sir. I’ll take care of Mrs. Cavanagh.”

The detectives collected their hats from the hall table, placed them firmly on their heads and hurried through the torrential rain to the waiting Wolseley.

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

 

Settled behind the steering wheel, Hanley rubbed his cold hands together. “Brrr, ’bout time this cold March weather settled down into spring. Feels more like the depths of winter.” He started the car and drove from the house. Chief Inspector Bainbridge was silent, deep in thought.

“What do you think, sir? Straightforward murder/suicide?” Hanley asked.

“I’m not so sure. Seems likely, but I want to check on the will and insurance. With her husband out of the way, Mrs. Cavanagh is free of the ball and chain he appeared to be. The question is, is she callous enough to kill her four-year-old child, or at least arrange for him to be killed along with her husband? We need to check if there’s another man on the scene. She may have felt that a child would interfere with her love life.”

“Did she strike you that way, sir?”

Bainbridge paused before answering. “To be truthful, no.”

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