Progeny of a Killer: Chapter Three, ‘Tarred and Feathered’

Laurena Catherine McRaney

Born 17th August,1993

Died 21st November, 2011 aged 18 years

A sister and daughter brutally taken from this life

Early afternoon. The sun is out, yet the granite remains conspicuously chill. Already thin fingers of mist trail the grassy mound as if they belong to my sister’s spirit.

My older sister, Bridget, rests a hand on my shoulder and I rise to my feet.  Her face is unaccustomedly ashen. She shivers and tightens her coat about herself. With concern, I enquire if she’s okay.

“Not really. I had a bad shift last night. I came here because you asked me to. I’m guessing this is the first time you’ve visited Laurie’s grave.”

“You know it is. I couldn’t bring myself to come before. It hurts, y’know? I mean, she was so…” I am unable to finish my sentence.

Brid nods sympathetically. “That’s why you asked me?”

I attempt a smile I’m far from feeling. After the episode with Cartright it takes little to make me feel physically sick. Yet somehow I am compelled to visit my sister’s grave, brutally raped and murdered by Stephen Fitzwalter a year ago.

“A right wuss, huh?”

“Not at all. Not everyone can bring themselves to visit a loved ones grave.”

Changing the subject, I asked, “Are you working nights now?”

“It looks that way.” she answered curtly. “As a ward sister I chose to.”

“You look like shit, Sis.”

She makes a face at my less than complimentary observation. “Sure. You too could look like shit if you had the night I have.”

I am almost prompted to suggest that it couldn’t have been any worse than mine. I refrained however, content to allow my sister to moan. “I’m on the men’s ward. Although I prefer that to neurotic women bitching all the time. Then I go home and listen to bloody roadworks after taking Sammy and Mark to school.”

“The perils of being a nurse, I guess. You don’t have to do nights all the time do you?”

“I do. I put in for it.”

“Why, if you look like that?”

“I don’t want to discuss it, Aidan. Let’s go shall we?” She swipes a tissue across her eyes. I’m in time to witness tears in them. My sister Bridget. True to her faith. When she’s not at work  she spends a lot of her time at the Church of St Assumpta. Attending Mass while her brothers lapse by the wayside in all things Catholic. Graves and deaths appear to hold no apprehension for Bridget Collier. Today, however, she seems ostensibly contrary to her erstwhile beliefs. Doubtless the death, and the brutal capacity of Laurie’s death, has upset us all.

“She’s dead, Aidan. Nothing can bring her back.” She shivers once more. I slip an arm about her shoulders, while I’m unable to avoid my consternation that something is radically amiss with my sister.

“I hear you’re going to live in Esher.” She changes the subject quickly.

“It seems so.”

“Judy going off to California with Rafe and leaving Patrick with you. That’s pretty generous of your ex isn’t it?”

“Guess she and Rafe will be too busy with their plastic clinic to worry about a ten year old boy. Now, let’s get out of here and you can tell me what ‘s bothering you, ‘cos I know something is.”

With my arm remaining about her shoulder, we move in the direction of our waiting vehicles. Reaching my Cabriolet, I pause to lean against the car to roll a smoke. Brid requests a cigarette. I remind her that she’s given up.

“Och I know that, but too much has happened. Oh Aidan…” My name is uttered on an oddly disconsolate tone. I can’t help regard her with a frown.

“Oh come on, Sis, out with it. You’ve looked like shit since you’ve arrived. I know that cemeteries don’t usually bother you. Not being the churchy woman that y’are.”

“A young  man was brought into the hospital last night. He was about your age. I’ve never actually seen anything like it. Although I had heard enough when….” Her hesitation is almost palpable. “When Dad…”

“What are you trying to say, Brid?”

“This young man,” She expels a prolonged sigh, “had been tarred and feathered.”

“What?” The cigarette almost slips from my fingers. “What happened? Is he dead?”

“He’s barely clinging onto life. It’s probably because he’s young. Hot tar had been poured over him, even…” she pauses to swallow hard, “his genitals.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“He looked as if he had been rolled in feathers. At first we thought he was one of those crazy people who covered themselves in feathers and believe they can fly. Only his face was left exposed. His head had been shaved. The tar had been poured onto the back of his head, and his scalp covered in feathers. Och, Aidan, sure if it didn’t remind me of the Troubles. What they did in the Province when I was growing up. What the ‘Rah did to the women who slept with the Brit soldiers. How these women had their heads shaved and covered in tar and feathers.”

I attempt to placate her that it scarcely touched our lives when we lived in Dublin.

“It was on the news every night. Some wee bastards been tarred and feathered in the Province, Dad used to greet me with that when I came home from school . I reckon Dad was on the side of the ‘Rah, him being Catholic and all.”

“So this guy. Who is he? Do you know?”

“Dr Welch said his name was Jason. I was at the Nurses Station when he was brought in. He’s on my ward. Of course he has a private room. He’s assigned to me. Apparently he was found by this guy’s dog sniffing him out in the bushes,not far from the hospital as it turned out. Jason was unconscious when he was brought in…” She falters again. I imagine she is about to burst into tears, and I hug her close.

It isn’t often that my sister discusses her job at the Blackheath General. She loves nursing. While she invariably takes things, no matter how bad they are with accident victims and the like, in her stride. After all, that’s what she claims she signed up for. Understandably, the tarred and feathered guy has hit her hard.

“I wandered into the ward to check on Jason. There was a woman by his bedside. I guessed she was his girlfriend or something. They didn’t say that Jason was married. Anyway this woman took this laminated card from her wallet to show me, but she didn’t leave the card long enough for me to read it properly. It was almost as if I had caught her out, that she was up to something. She looked quite official, and told me that she needed a few minutes with the man. So I left. The curtain was closed. I know I shouldn’t have listened. And you probably think I watch too many movies, but I thought by the suspicious way she seemed to behave she might have something to do with it. Maybe not the actual tarring and feathering, but she might have known who did, and wanted to silence him if he regained consciousness. I know it sounds stupid, but she did seem rather cagey. If she’d been his girlfriend she would have been upset. The minute the woman left I burst into his room. Thankfully Jason was still alive.”

“You mean you think this woman had come to kill him?”

“I know it sounds crazy. I guess I was just a wee bit scared because of how he came in. This woman spoke so authoritively, almost cold and clinical, if you see what I mean. I don’t think she was connected to the police. A couple of officers came later.”

“Don’t killers who want to silence someone, usually wear white coats and masks, so they won ‘t be recognised?”

Alternatively she appears far too upset to appreciate my rather futile attempt at humour. “It’s not funny, Aidan. I don’t know what I thought. It’s just so horrible. When you’ve lived under the shadow of these things as we have,” she shivers involuntarily once more, and pulls on her cigarette vehemently.

“So when are you on shift again?”

“Tonight. For the next two nights. I’m the Ward Sister. Those young nurses look up to me. If anyone wants a shoulder to cry on Sister Collier is always there to oblige. How will it look if I can’t cope?”

A vibrating buzz emanates from my jacket. I carry two phones. One is for personal use. The other is the personal transmitter all Treveleyan’s operatives are issued with.

“Sorry, Sis I have to get this.” I pull out my personal mobile by mistake. Before returning the former to my jacket.

“You have two phones, Aidan?”

I tell her that I keep one for Treveleyan’s calls, but I don’t elaborate further on who he is. I see that Treveleyan is calling. Moving out of earshot of my sister, I growl, “What do you want?” into the mouthpiece, purposefully neglecting to speak his name.

“Oh dear you sound a little aggrieved, my boy,” I wish he wouldn’t keep calling me that. “it’s just to let you know that I have organised a special briefing for 9am tomorrow. Sorry it’s such short notice, but something has come up, and I’d like you to be there.”

I utter a barely audible confirmation.

“Good. In the conference room. I’m glad you sought fit to visit your sister’s grave,” he adds, before I realise that he has rung off. I catch myself shivering involuntarily, not altogether because of where I am. Or that those thinly filamentous trails of mist, reminiscent of gossamer wraiths, appear to have entwined themselves about my legs as if it is their intention to pull me beneath one of those granite monstrosities.

“I’m glad you sought fit to visit your sister’s grave,” he had said. How the fuck did he know? As if he’s capable of pinpointing my precise location with his accursed remote viewing.

“You okay, Aidan?” Brid’s voice, ringing with concern, returns me to the present. I mutter absently that I’m fine.

“Let’s go. It’s cold here and you’ve gone quite pale. Was it bad news?”

“Not exactly.” I manage a tentative smile.

I’m in the process of cracking open the Cabriolet ‘s door when she asks, “What is it you really do?”

“You know what I do.”

“A driver you said.”

“That’s right.” I tell her non-commitally.

Grabbing my arm she confronts me squarely. “This Treveleyan guy, who is he really? Look, you can tell me. We’ve been through so much together. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” she adds, composing herself into the passenger seat.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You make it sound as if we were kids again.”

Her gaze is faraway, her tone wistful when she says,”I wish we were. Do you remember when I cut off your curls, because I thought curls were wasted on a boy? And Harry grassed on me to Mum.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“Well, you were about three. Now that’s enough of a trip down memory lane,” she retorts briskly. “You’ve probably been wondering why I don’t ask you over to my place anymore.”

“It did occur to me. I thought you were pissed off with me about something. Or you had fallen out with Caitlan. I know she snapped at you one day when you offered to change Catie’s nappy. You said she’d have a sore bum if she stayed in it too long.”

“That wee girl sure has some issues. I know she’s your wife, and I love her to bits, but I think she probably has post natal depression. You guys reckon you suffer, but women’s emotions are all over the place when we have a child. All she needs is love.”

“Like The Beatles?” I smile.

“Like The Beatles,” she nods, “maybe more than most women.”

“You know I love her. ”

“Then maybe you should show her more. Give her your 110 percent, and not just with sex. Buy her flowers. Treat her like a lady. Your lady. And you’re avoiding the issue. I asked you what  you really do for this Treveleyan character. Don’t tell me it’s just driving. What kind of driving? Taxi? Chauffeur? The next words that come from your lips has to be the truth, brother.”

I can’t help but heave a prolonged sigh. “Okay, since you ask. I’m not just a driver. Don’t tell Caitlan. She believes that’s all I am. She’s a bit too delicate right now. When I tell you, you’ll probably go off on one, and won’t speak to me anymore.”

“It would have to be pretty bad for me to behave that way toward you. So, I’m listening. There’s only you and me in this car.”

That’s if Treveleyan isn’t sitting in the back seat like a fucking ghost. I glance behind me. The seat remains empty. Still.

“You okay?”

“Sure.” I swiftly pass off the sensation that Treveleyan might be observing me from some enigmatic, equally unknown location. “It’s an agency, like I said. We do other stuff.”

“What other stuff?”

Notwithstanding, I have no intention of confiding in my sister what happened to Cartright at mine and Dennis Mitchell’s hands. The discovery of the depravity filmed on the DVDs in his basement. “We go undercover sometimes. Like Special Branch.”

“It sounds incredibly dangerous.” She fastens a hand over mine. “Do you know what went through my mind when that Jason was brought in last night?”

Although I shake my head, I can practically sense what is to come.

“That it could have been you.”

I slip an arm about her shoulders in an endeavour to placate her not to worry, that it won’t happen to me. I hope I’ve managed to convince her. Truthfully that I also convince myself.

“Why do you do it? There must be other more normal jobs out there. Bejaysus, Aidan, you have two children and a delicate wife. Soon you’ll be having your son full-time.”

“You know I’ve had difficulty finding other work. Treveleyan was offering it on a plate. Once I get enough money I’ll quit. Anyway you said if I tell you mine you’ll tell me yours. Has it got something to do with you putting me off visiting you.” She appears to take time over extensive throat clearing. “You’re not pregnant are you?”

“Good God, no! Jesus, Aidan, I don’t want anymore children.”

“It’s not Dad is it? He’s not going into a home? You know how I feel about that.”

“No, it’s not Dad. It’s Mark Collier. He’s moved back in with me,” she quickly adds. Closing her eyes, I sense she’s waiting for the storm to break. It does finally when I explode, “you’ve got to be fuckin’ kidding!”

Mark Collier, my sister’s husband, had walked out on her practically a year ago, in order to live with a friend of our late sister Laurena’s. Penny Cronin, who was 18 at the time, was allegedly expecting Collier’s baby.

“You’re not telling me you had the bastard back? I thought you were stronger than that. I’m guessing she’s had the baby by now.”

Brid appears suitably chastened by my outburst. “Only the baby  wasn’t Mark’s. It was a fellow student’s.”

“Jesus, Sis! This smacks of rebound to me. I thought you said you’d never let him back into your life.”

“He is the father of my children, Aidan. What else could I do? Apparently, Penny used him from the beginning. The student was penniless. Mark had a good job, so he could provide for her and the baby. She treated Mark more as a father than a boyfriend. The student got a job, and wanted to see his child. Seems she’s been seeing him behind Mark’s back.”

“So he came crawling back to you? Have you told Ru?”

“Not yet. He’ll be as angry as you. Anyway, Mark’s sleeping in the spare room. I’m not ready for him to sleep in my bed just yet.”

Short Story: Room of Shadows

By J.M. Shorney and Peter Shorney. Illustration by Peter Shorney

September 29th, 1986.

Darren Soames remembered the phone conversation with the editor of the North London Gazette. It involved something about ‘local colour’ and ‘juicy murder’. As he pulled up next  to the sign Wilmingly Gardens, he hunched forward in his car to get a better look at the block of flats.

Having researched the life of Rupert Gifford, this wasn’t the kind of place Darren Soames expected him to end up. Prison does make all the difference, he told himself. Grabbing a file and his dictaphone from the front passenger seat, Soames stretched himself from the car and strode up to the green painted door of the block’s entrance.

He pushed the button for Flat 4. A minute passed before the speaker reverberated with a hesitant, “Yes?”

“Mr Gifford, Rupert? It’s Darren Soames. We arranged to have a chat today. Do you remember?”

Another pause.

Don’t go quiet on me, Gifford.

Darren Soames was twenty two, and not long out of university. He’d managed to put together Room of Shadowsan article on three violent assaults, one in Peckham and two in Shoreditch. He’d made a link between the three incidents before a police statement came through matching his own investigations. 

It got a lot of attention, giving him a springboard to investigate a case he’d heard about in his studies. The case of Rupert Gifford’s crime of passion.

A buzz and a click allowed the young journalist entry into building. He stepped through as a gust of wind blew in some dead leaves, which skittered around him. The building was clean, with a faint disinfectant smell in the air. Soames studied the signs to take him to Flat 4 and took the lift to the first floor.

Reaching the end of the pale green corridor, Soames knocked on the door to Gifford’s flat. Rupert Gifford opened the door tentatively. He looked every bit his fifty nine years, yet still retaining the slimness his held from pictures taken of him in 1964 – the year he was sentenced for the murder of his wife and her lover. He’d been released just two days previously, with a year to go on his sentence, due to heart problems.

Soames was ushered through to the lounge. It was small, housing a sofa that had seen better days, a coffee table, an armchair and painted dining room chair in need of a fresh coat. There was a cream and black portable TV in the corner on a black ash coloured unit.  Other than that, there were no pictures or anything else to show the owners personality.

“It’s temporary, this.” Gifford said, reading the young man’s face as it scanned for clues about the tenant’s life and interests. “Like a halfway house. Until I get stuff sorted out.”

“I suppose it’s tricky finding a place… what with everything.” Soames chose his words carefully. The last thing he needed was to upset his interviewee.

“I don’t know, it didn’t involve kids or a copper so no one seems to give a shit.” Gifford said, casually. “Tea or coffee? It’s instant. Bloody awful mind. Had better in prison.”

For a moment, Soames’ thought processes battled over the question of whether or not to accept a drink from a committed murderer. However, as it was a crime of passion and not the result of a serial killing, he asked for a cup of tea.

Soames followed Gifford to the kitchen and stood in the doorway as the tea was being made.

“I hope you don’t mind if I record our conversation,” the journalist said, “just to make sure everything is accurate.”

“Yeah, that’s alright. You know all about what was in the papers then?” The older man poured the freshly boiled water into each mug.

Soames hit record, and reached out to take the mug that was passed to him. As they strode back into the lounge, he said, “Oh yes. I researched it when I was studying journalism.”

“Yeah?” Rupert Gifford seemed to have a knot of irritation in his voice as he sat in the armchair.

Darren Soames placed the dictaphone on the arm of the sofa closest to Gifford, and placed his weight down on the sofa. Trying not to spill his tea, he suddenly felt like an amateur. He might not poison me, but I don’t want to push his temper, he thought. But the need to be taken seriously as a journalist took over. It wasn’t a social call. There was a job to do.

“Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?” ventured Soames. “In court you suggested your mother was responsible for the deaths of both your wife,” he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “and Johnny Webber. But she was seventy two and bed-ridden.”

Gifford, already sat cross-legged in the armchair, looked directly at his interviewer unspeaking. Eventually, he said. “I’ll tell you where we’ll start, and it goes way before the case. This goes back years.”

Soames found himself intrigued by the promise of more in-depth story than a set the record straight piece. From his knowledge of the case, Gifford’s wife had been having an on/off thing for years, but there was little more reported than that. “Okay, so let’s get some background,” he said. “Tell me about your family.”

“My dad, Samuel, was a Jew in the East End,” began Gifford. “He wasn’t rich, just had a little shop selling fruit and veg. Barely made enough to live really. Course, that changed.” He took a sip of tea.

“He met my mother, Cora Bethune then. She was a customer of his who came in more and more regularly. After a year or two of dancing around the inevitable, they got married. It wasn’t easy for them. Mum used to say how much she would push him to make something of himself, to build up his business.”

Soames was wondering how much of this was relevant, but one thing he’d picked up is how much the ‘sins of the father’ have an effect on people.

“Things did change. They’d been married nearly a year when Mum introduced Dad to some friends of hers. ‘From church,’ she said.” The tinge of distaste was evident in Gifford’s voice.

“You didn’t like their friends?” Soames asked.

“I didn’t know them well. I was a kid and kept out of the way really. But no, as I got older I really didn’t.” Gifford picked up his story. “From then things started to change for Dad’s business. In about three years it really took off, so he was able to open a second shop.”

“That’s impressive,” the young man enthused.

Sitting back in the armchair, Rupert Gifford said coolly, “Yes, yes it is.”

During the course of the interview, Gifford continued to tell of his father’s successes, which led to the purchase of a rambling house in Surrey. It was a huge home for small family and Rupert grew up playing among its long corridors and sprawling garden.

“It was like a castle, a fantasy world to me. It was huge. But one place I would rarely go in was my mother’s room.”

“Your mother’s room?” Darren Soames asked. “Your parents slept separately?”

“I never thought anything of it until I got to talk to other kids at school. Mum and Dad always had separate rooms.”

“And you never went into your mother’s room?”

“Not as a child, not often. You know how your memory is when you’re really young, like it’s all stills, like photos in your head? All my childhood memories are like that, except one.

“I went into Mum’s room one day. I was probably about six or seven. It was always dark in her room. The oddest thing about it was the shadows. They didn’t… make sense.”

Soames gestured for him to continue, caught up in the story.

“The shadows weren’t always cast by the furniture, or the bits and pieces Mum had around the place. And they would move.”

A wordless raised eyebrow from his interviewer propelled Gifford on. “The shadows would twist in the corners of the room. They would sometimes leap from the edges of furniture pushed against the walls. I was fascinated by it, but they seemed to become somehow larger, getting closer. I ran out of there and wouldn’t go back in for, oh, years I think.

“I asked my parents about it, but they put it down to imagination. I stuck to my guns for a while, but I took greater comfort from believing it was all in my head. Occasionally I would hear odd voices in the corridors coming from her room at night, like chanting. Dad just said she liked to pray. That’s all it was, just praying.

“My father died in my twenties. and soon after that my mother took to her bed with a weak heart. That pretty much became my life for some time, looking after her. It got too much, so I asked Mum to hire a nurse. Begged really. Her name was Bella. Bella Ritchie. We hit it off straight away. I thought she was very pretty. Of course, we didn’t get to spend much time together, Mum kept her busy. I managed to get to kiss her by the old oak tree at the bottom of the garden. Stupid really. It was in the view of Mum’s bedroom. Perhaps it was a dare on my part at the time. So long ago now.”

“What happened?” Soames hoped to keep the interview on track, but was finding the older man’s story of interest, even before the murder that would change his life.

“Mum accused Bella of stealing. I knew it was nonsense, but she sacked her. I should’ve been more forthright, put up more of a fight to keep her. Mind you, knowing my mother she’d have made Bella’s life a misery until she resigned anyway. From what I understand she never found work as a nurse again after that.”

“Did you go back to being her carer?”

“No, thankfully. Mum hired someone else, but she was a lot older. Proper matron type. I don’t even remember her name.” He leant forward to place his half-drunk coffee mug on the ash table in the middle of the room.

Even that movement, minimal as it was, made Gifford wince slightly. Darren Soames imagined that prison had perhaps aged this man far more than he’d first realised.

“Is that when you met Rose Carson?”

“Not long after,” confirmed Gifford. “I had money, not from any allowance mind. I’d studied accountancy, and got a good job at a firm. I wanted to go out and see the sights. I was in my mid-thirties and felt like I was wasting my life. I’d go into London. The swanky clubs didn’t do it for me. Rose was a singer. I saw her at some club. My memory isn’t what it was, I don’t know what it was called,” he said, anticipating the interviewer’s question.

“Rose wasn’t exactly the best singer, too husky, but it didn’t matter. The punters didn’t care, I certainly didn’t. Not when she did a bit of a strip routine during her shows. I thought she was stunning.”

Soames was keen to check the facts of the published stories in the press at the time. Leaning forward, he asked, “You were aware that Rose Carson had a boyfriend at the time though?”

“Oh yes,” said Gifford. His face darkened. “Johnny Webber. They were both about ten years younger than me. He was cool and all that, but Rose had turned twenty six. She wanted more than some pretty wide boy.” He failed to hide any of the disdain in is voice. Darren Soames to wondered if this tone was even stronger during the court case, leaving the jury in no doubt of Gifford’s guilt. Soames pushed further with questions about Johnny Webber.

“He was a nasty piece of work really. Just a petty criminal.” Gifford explained. “If Rose wanted a new fur coat, or some trinket, he’d rob a warehouse or steal from a jewellers. She pretended not to know about it, or turn a blind eye to the other girls he would chat up. He’d even flirt with girls in the club while she was on stage.

“One night I got to talk to Rose properly after one of her shows. Johnny Webber was probably hitting on some girl somewhere. She was pretty jealous by him not being around and asked me to escort her home. One thing led to another, and it developed into a real relationship. It was something that was mine, away from the house, away from my mother,” Gifford took a deep breath, “for the first time in my life.”

Rupert Gifford elaborated on their blossoming relationship, and how Rose used to joke that there was more hair on his face from his greying spade beard than was ever on his head. His look was something of an incongruity among the clubs and bars of the Swinging Sixties. However, it was Gifford’s solvency that attracted Rose as much as anything else. Yes, she still vied for nice things, but she was over-awed by a man who could pay for it with his own money.

“We got married. I loved her very much. I believed she loved me in return. Mum was dead against it. She hated Rose. She even shouted at her over dinner one night, calling her a strumpet and a golddigger.

“I made the mistake of thinking we could all live under that one roof. Whenever I mentioned maybe buying a house and moving out to my mother, she would go into a terrible mood, and I never felt like rocking the boat. To me, the family home was big enough for us three. And aside from the odd tensions it was okay. For a while.”

Soames asked Gifford to embellish on his story. It was clear that tempers must’ve been fraying in the house and people had been known to crack under that kind of pressure. Sometimes violently.

“Rose started to notice things. Things I’d not taken notice of for years. She began to hear the chanting coming from my mother’s room. Like my parents, I just told her it was because Mum was very religious, so prayed a lot.

“Then Rose went into Mum’s room, for a hairbrush or something. She saw the shadows, like I had seen as a child, that I put down to infantile fantasy as an adult. She told me what she saw, but again, I dismissed it as imagination. Seems so stupid. I spoke to her like she was a child. I think I regret that most of all. You can fight with someone you love, you can feel envy, jealousy and pain because of them. But to dismiss someone you care so deeply about? That’s unforgivable.”

Gifford retrieved his coffee mug from the table. His hands were noticeably shaky and his demeanor became even more sullen than before. Soames allowed him to get himself together after a minute or so.

“It must’ve been tough.” the young man empathised.

Gifford nodded. “We couldn’t even have sex most of the time. Mum used to take sleeping pills to knock her out as she always suffered from terrible insomnia. Somehow she still seemed to bang on the wall when we were about to get down to it. My room wasn’t near hers, but it seemed to be with such force you could hear it around the house. Sometimes she would call out to me that she needed something. Actually, we couldn’t have sex at any time.”

The story unfolded further; Gifford had become a successful freelance accountant, and was attending a meeting with a client. “Rose hated being alone with Mum in the house. So she called for company.” Gifford said with a sneer. Rose invited Johnny Webber  to the house.

“I had no idea she had become so disillusioned with our marriage. In hindsight, I can see why. But to go back to him…”

Soames took to his notes, which referred to a newspaper clipping at the time of the trial. “During the court case, you said that you believed Rose and Johnny were trying to murder your mother. I’ve read the reports from the time and the information is confusing. There’s no evidence of this, and there was some argument between you and your counsel at the time over it.”

Gifford nodded. “I’d finished my meeting and was heading home. When I got there, I found Rose, on the floor by Mum’s bed. She was gripping a pillow. I think she meant to suffocate Mum as she slept.”

“She was still asleep in her room?”

“Yes. Out cold, or seemed to be. I’m not sure. The thing is, it had to be quick because Rose hardly had time to drop the pillow.”

“Or she was too shocked?” offered Soames.

Gifford nodded in agreement. Of course, this didn’t fly in court. I got done for Webber’s death too.”

“A car crash, wasn’t it?” Soames said, glancing at his notes.

“Turns out he’d won a lot of money playing cards, believe it or not.”

“That was lucky,” Soames said, then realised how crass that came across in light of the man’s fate. Rupert Gifford couldn’t help but let out a chortle at the dark humour. His expression clouding again, Gifford told the young man the car had been found partially burned out, crumpled against a tree at the end of the lane leading from the house.

“He was killed instantly,” Gifford added, “they said his brakes had been cut. I couldn’t have done it. If I’d have caught Rose with him at the house, I wouldn’t have spent my time under his car looking for a bloody brake cable. I’d have broken his nose, sure. They weren’t having it of course, the jury. The judge said I ‘did coldly and with presence of mind devise a way to end a man’s life.” Gifford huffed.

Soames said, “You’ve obviously had a lot of time to think about this. What do you think happened now, looking back?”

Darren Soames sat at his desk in his small Highgate office, listening to the closing moments of his interview with Rupert Gifford.

“What do you think happened, looking back?”

(Pause)

“I can say this now. I’ve nothing left to lose. In that room, among those shadows, was something capable of dark, dark things. I can’t say more than that, except my mother was part of it.”

Soames stopped the tape, and pulled a sheet of paper to slide into his electric typewriter. He shivered involuntarily, and saw a dark shape from the extent of his peripheral vision. A shadowy figure dislodged itself from a corner of the room where light failed to penetrate.

Blinking his eyes momentarily, Darren Soames put it down to his imagination.