فصل 14

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فصل 14

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Tidying up

Prison is a very boring place. Oh, they give you work to do; you have a job. But you don’t exactly receive careers advice or get to choose the job you want. Choice doesn’t come into it; you do what you’re told.

They told me to clean the kitchens, so that’s what I do. Every day. My hands are red and rough, and my skin is white from being indoors so much. And I’ve only been here two months.

But I’d better put you right; you’ll be thinking I’ve been arrested and locked up for murder. No, that’s not what happened at all. The truth is much harder to believe. During the long hours I’m locked up in my cell I think to myself, ‘If only I knew a writer; if only I could tell a writer my story. It would be a best-selling book…’

But of course I get depressed when I start to think things like that. Because I did know a writer. And I killed him.

I screamed after I’d thrown the fire into the bath. Screamed and screamed and screamed, with my hands over my ears. I didn’t realise it was me doing the screaming at first. As soon as I did, I stopped. But the tears were still pouring down my face, and I was groaning like an injured animal.

It was just the same as in the kitchen: I was paralysed again, completely unable to move. Only this time, instead of my open book, I was standing there staring at the face of my dead lover. A face turned ugly by death.

There was a magazine in the water, a magazine Pete had been reading before he died. A travel brochure. As I stared at it, the significance of its presence in the bath sent a wave of pure terror sweeping right through me.

And suddenly I was running. Away from the murder scene. Along the landing. Down the stairs. But no matter how fast I ran, I couldn’t escape my thoughts.

Why would Pete have been reading a travel brochure in the bath if he was about to accuse me of murder?

In the kitchen, I reached for my notebook, my eyes desperately travelling over the lines of writing. ‘Gardening is very relaxing for me.’ I read. Luis’s words, in his little garden. ‘Yes; out here I have only the weeds to fight. And I have a good friend to help me to do that. My weedkiller. It is very strong, Those weeds, they have not got a chance.’

I quickly turned the pages, searching for my account of Alec Cartwright’s murder. I had to turn quite a few pages before I reached it. And suddenly it was difficult to breathe. Suddenly I knew that it was quite possible I had just made the biggest, most heartbreaking mistake of my entire life. That it was quite possible Pete hadn’t known anything about my murders at all.

I didn’t stop to think about any evidence or clues I might have left in the house. I did hurry around, collecting what clothes and possessions I could see, but I didn’t wipe any objects I might have touched. I was far too upset to think in such a logical way. I had just murdered the man I loved, and I needed to escape.

Except, of course, that there was no escape. There is never any escape. Especially at night, when I lie awake in the darkness and I see Pete’s dead eyes staring back at me from the bath. But as I ran from Pete’s house, I don’t think I quite realised just how impossible it was going to be to escape.

I ran to my car and drove off, my tyres screaming. I didn’t even return to my house. Why would I? There was nothing for me there anymore. So I just drove and drove. I didn’t even make the decision to drive north; it just turned out that way. And apart from getting petrol, I didn’t stop.

I didn’t even know I was heading towards Whitby until I saw the first road sign. Why did I choose Whitby, I wonder? Our place? How was it possible that, even then, after everything that had just happened, I was still thinking about you? Because Whitby was the place we went to for a romantic holiday soon after we met. Our special place. A place for walking hand in hand on the windswept sands and eating fish and chips on the harbour wall.

But I didn’t walk on the sands or eat fish and chips this time, because I was involved in a car crash before I got there. On the A1, to be precise, just south of York. The driver of the other vehicle was a well-dressed woman in her fifties, and when I got out of my car to inspect the damage, she began to shout at me. Accusing me of dangerous driving. Threatening me with her solicitor. And suddenly I’d had enough so… I hit her.

I hit her very hard. And while she was recovering, I hit her again. And again. When she fell to the ground, I kicked her. And who knows what else I might have done, but at some point a lorry driver grabbed me and kept hold of me until the police arrived.

But I don’t suppose I need to tell you all of this, do I? You must know about it. Just about everybody in the whole of England knows about it. Because the aggressive woman was a politician, and her picture - and mine - appeared on the front of just about every newspaper in the country. And on television. Quite a coincidence, wasn’t it? Out of all the thousands and thousands of drivers on the Al that evening, I had to be involved in an accident with her.

When I look at that picture now; her with her cut, bruised face and me staring straight at the camera, I hardly recognise myself. There’s no conscience in my face at all. No sign of regret or shame. Well, I didn’t feel neither regret nor shame, and I couldn’t pretend otherwise. That’s why I got such a long sentence, I think.

‘Such displays of senseless aggression cannot be allowed to go unpunished,’ the judge concluded at the court case. ‘It is this court’s intention to make an example of you. I therefore sentence you to the maximum term for such a crime. You will go to prison for two years.’

In my mind, however, I’m in prison for life. Because surely it’s only a matter of time before the investigations by the police into those three separate unsolved murders lead them in my direction. And in some ways, it will be a relief. Except that, if I do stay in prison for the rest of my life, then nothing will ever happen to you. You’ll bring up your spoilt girls to be spoilt young women and you’ll forget that you ever had a girlfriend called Carla.

The most wonderful thing has happened! I had three visitors this afternoon! Can you guess who?

Actually, when the guard first told me I had visitors, I was expecting them to be the police. Either that or some boring relative. But it was Diane, Gemma and Cathy. The girls!

I was so pleased to see some friendly faces that I forgot, for a moment, that they might not be friendly. I had, after all, murdered their ex-husbands.

‘You all look so good!’ I said, and it was true. All three of them were dressed smartly with styled hair and perfect make-up. They could have stepped straight from the pages of a fashion magazine.

‘I can’t say the same about you, I’m afraid,’ Diane said, and I blushed with sudden embarrassment, my hand going up to my unwashed hair.

‘There doesn’t seem much point in making an effort in here,’ I said softly, and Diane shook her head.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t suppose there does.’

There was a silence then, and I could feel each one of them looking at me. Hard. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise when Gemma finally said, ‘We know, Carla. We know what you did.’

I suppose I could have tried to deny it, but suddenly I didn’t have the energy any longer. ‘I’m sorry’ I said, and I looked down at my rough red hands, feeling ashamed. There was another silence, and this time I risked looking up. All three of them were still staring at me as if I were an object on display in an exhibition. ‘How… how did you find out?’ I asked.

‘We asked questions, talked to people, drew conclusions,’ Diane said.

‘We guessed a lot of it.’ Gemma added.

‘Ben told me you were at Pete’s,’ Cathy said.

I reacted at the mention of his name; I couldn’t help it. But they didn’t seem to notice, or if they did, then they assumed I was reacting out of fear, not out of heartbreak.

‘So after Cathy found the body’ Diane said, whispering now, ‘she called us, and we went round and did a thorough cleaning job before we phoned the police.’

I stared at them, feeling completely confused, and Gemma suddenly burst out laughing. ‘We’re grateful to you!’ she said. ‘All of us!’

‘Very grateful,’ Diane agreed.

‘But-‘ I started to say, but she interrupted me.

‘I know I was upset at first. Well, that was before I went over to Cuba and met your friend Luis. He made me face up to what my husband was really like. Lovely man, Luis. He asked after you, by the way; sent you his love. If I were you, I’d get myself back over to Cuba the minute they set you free from this place!’

‘I’m rich!’ Gemma continued with a huge smile. ‘As our divorce still wasn’t final, I inherited all his money. Kirsty had the most wonderful wedding. You should have seen her, Carla. Oh, she looked beautiful! There was even a feature about it in Hi Society Magazine!’

‘And I’ve got my little boy living with me all the time,’ Cathy said.

Instantly I was in Pete’s garden in Trowse, watching little Ben playing at ice cream monsters with his father. And I thought of you. You who had first planted those seeds of murder in my heart with your cruelty. You who were at that very moment in time, living your life happily in the house which was once my home too.

‘So, what we want to know,’ Diane was saying, ‘is what we can do to show you how grateful we are.’

‘Yes,’ Gemma agreed. ‘If there’s anything we can do, Carla, just name it.’

‘Anything at all,’ Cathy said. Anything.’

I was still thinking of you when I started to smile at them. It was the first thing I’d smiled about since Pete had died.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘There is something you can do for me. Some rubbish you can get rid of for me.’

Then I began to laugh.

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