A Twist in the Tale

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The Perfect Murder

IF I hadn’t changed my mind that night I would never have found out the truth.

I couldn’t believe that Carla had slept with another man, that she had lied about her love for me – and that I might be second or even third in her affections.

Carla had phoned me at the office during the day, something I had told her not to do, but since I also warned her never to call me at home she hadn’t been left with a lot of choice. As it turned out, all she had wanted to let me know was that she wouldn’t be able to make it for what the French so decorously call a “cinq à sept”. She had to visit her sister in Fulham who had been taken ill, she explained.

I was disappointed. It had been another depressing day, and now I was being asked to forgo the one thing that would have made it bearable.

“I thought you didn’t get on well with your sister,” I said tartly.

There was no immediate reply from the other end. Eventually Carla asked, “Shall we make it next Tuesday, the usual time?”

“I don’t know if that’s convenient,” I said. “I’ll call you on Monday when I know what my plans are.” I put down the receiver.

Wearily, I phoned my wife to let her know I was on the way home – something I usually did from the phone box outside Carta’s flat. It was a trick I often used to make Elizabeth feel she knew where I was every moment of the day.

Most of the office staff had already left for the night so I gathered together some papers I could work on at home. Since the new company had taken us over six months ago, the management had not only sacked my Number Two in the accounts department but expected me to cover his work as well as my own. I was hardly in a position to complain, since my new boss made it abundantly clear that if I didn’t like the arrangement I should feel free to seek employment elsewhere. I might have, too, but I couldn’t think of many firms that would readily take on a man who had reached that magic age somewhere between the sought-after and the available.

As I drove out of the office car park and joined the evening rush hour I began to regret having been so sharp with Carla. After all, the role of the other woman was hardly one she delighted in. The feeling of guilt persisted, so that when I reached the corner of Sloane Square, I jumped out of my car and ran across the road.

“A dozen roses,” I said, fumbling with my wallet.

A man who must have made his profit from lovers selected twelve unopened buds without comment. My choice didn’t show a great deal of imagination but at least Carla would know I’d tried.

I drove on towards her flat, hoping she had not yet left for her sister’s, that perhaps we might even find time for a quick drink. Then I remembered that I had already told my wife I was on the way home. A few minutes’ delay could be explained by a traffic jam, but that lame excuse could hardly cover my staying on for a drink.

When I arrived at Carta’s home I had the usual trouble finding a parking space, until I spotted a gap that would just take a Rover opposite the paper shop. I stopped and would have backed into the space had I not noticed a man coming out of the entrance to her block of flats. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if Carla hadn’t followed him a moment later. She stood there in the doorway, wearing a loose blue housecoat. She leaned forward to give her departing visitor a kiss that could hardly have been described as sisterly. As she closed the door I drove my car round the corner and double-parked.

I watched the man in my rear-view mirror as he crossed the road, went into the newsagent and a few moments later reappeared with an evening paper and what looked like a packet of cigarettes. He walked to his car, a blue BMW, stopped to remove a parking ticket from his windscreen and appeared to curse. How long had the BMW been there? I even began to wonder if he had been with Carla when she phoned to tell me not to come round.

The man climbed into the BMW, fastened his seat belt and lit a cigarette before driving off. I took his parking meter space in part-payment for my woman. I didn’t consider it a fair exchange. I checked up and down the street, as I always did, before getting out and walking over to the block of flats. It was already dark and no one gave me a second glance. I pressed the bell marked ‘Moorland’.

When Carla opened the front door I was greeted with a huge smile which quickly turned into a frown, then just as quickly back to a smile. The first smile must have been meant for the BMW man. I often wondered why she wouldn’t give me a frontdoor key. I stared into those blue eyes that had first captivated me so many months ago. Despite her smile, those eyes now revealed a coldness I had never seen before.

She turned to re-open the door and let me into her ground-floor flat. I noticed that under her housecoat she was wearing the wine-red negligee I had given her for Christmas. Once inside the flat I found myself checking round the room I knew so well. On the glass table in the centre of the room stood the ‘Snoopy’ coffee mug I usually drank from, empty. By its side was Caria’s mug, also empty, and a dozen roses arranged in a vase. The buds were just beginning to open.

I have always been quick to chide and the sight of the flowers made it impossible for me to hide my anger.

“And who was the man who just left?” I asked.

“An insurance broker,” she replied, removing the mugs from the table.

“And what was he insuring?” I asked.“Your love-life?”

“Why do you automatically assume he’s my lover?” Her voice had begun to rise.

“Do you usually have coffee with an insurance broker in your negligee? Come to think of it, my negligee.”

“I’ll have coffee with whom I damn well please,” she said, “and wearing what I damn well please, especially when you are on your way home to your wife.”

“But I had wanted to come to you –”

“And then return to your wife. In any case, you’re always telling me I should lead my own life and not rely on you,” she added, an argument Carla often fell back on when she had something to hide.

“You know it’s not that easy.”

“I know it’s easy enough for you to jump into bed with me whenever it suits you. That’s all I’m good for, isn’t it?”

“That’s not fair.”

“Not fair? Weren’t you hoping for your usual at six so you could still be home at seven in time for supper with Elizabeth?”

“I haven’t made love to my wife in years!” I shouted.

“We only have your word for that,” she spat out with scorn.

“I have been utterly faithful to you.”

“Which means I always have to be to you, I suppose?”

“Stop behaving like a whore.”

Carta’s eyes flashed as she leaped forward and slapped me across the face with all the strength she could muster.

I was still slightly off-balance when she raised her arm a second time, but as her hand came swinging towards me I blocked it and was even able to push her back against the mantelpiece. She recovered quickly and came flying at me again.

In a moment of uncontrolled fury, just as she was about to launch herself on me, I clenched my fist and took a swing at her. I caught her on the side of the chin, and she wheeled back from the impact. I watched her put an arm out to break her fall. But before she had the chance to leap back up and retaliate, I turned and strode out, slamming the flat door behind me.

I ran down the hall, out on to the street, jumped into my car and drove off quickly. I couldn’t have been with her for more than ten minutes. Although I felt like murdering her at the time I regretted having hit her long before I reached home. Twice I nearly turned back. Everything she had complained about was fair and I wondered if I dared phone her from home. Although Carla and I had only been lovers for a few months, she must have known how much I cared.

If Elizabeth had intended to comment on my being late, she changed her mind the moment I handed her the roses. She began to arrange them in a vase while I poured myself a large whisky. I waited for her to say something as I rarely drank before dinner but she seemed preoccupied with the flowers. Although I had already made up my mind to phone Carla and try to make amends, I decided I couldn’t do it from home. In any case, if I waited until the morning when I was back in the office, she might by then have calmed down a little.

I woke early the next day and lay in bed, considering what form my apology should take. I decided to invite her to lunch at the little French bistro she liked so much, half way between my office and hers. Carla always appreciated seeing me in the middle of the day, when she knew it couldn’t be for sex. After I had shaved and dressed I joined Elizabeth for breakfast, and seeing there was nothing interesting on the front page, I turned to the financial section. The company’s shares had fallen again, following City forecasts of poor interim profits. Millions would undoubtedly be wiped off our share value following such a bad piece of publicity. I already knew that when it came to publishing the annual accounts it would be a miracle if the company didn’t declare a loss.

After gulping down a second cup of coffee I kissed my wife on the cheek and made for the car. It was then that I decided to drop a note through Carla’s letterbox rather than cope with the embarrassment of a phone call.

“Forgive me,” I wrote. “Marcel’s, one o’clock. Sole Véronique on a Friday. Love, Casaneva.” I rarely wrote to Carla, and when I did I only ever signed it with her chosen nickname.

I took a short detour so that I could pass her home but was held up by a traffic jam. As I approached the flat I could see that the hold-up was being caused by some sort of accident. It had to be quite a serious one because there was an ambulance blocking the other side of the road and delaying the flow of oncoming vehicles. A traffic warden was trying to help but she was only slowing things down even more. It was obvious that it was going to be impossible to park anywhere near Carla’s flat, so I resigned myself to phoning her from the office. I did not relish the prospect.

I felt a sinking feeling moments later when I saw that the ambulance was parked only a few yards from the front door to her block of flats. I knew I was being irrational but I began to fear the worst. I tried to convince myself it was probably a road accident and had nothing to do with Carla.

It was then that I spotted the police car tucked in behind the ambulance.

As I drew level with the two vehicles I saw that Carla’s front door was wide open. A man in a long white coat came scurrying out and opened the back of the ambulance. I stopped my car to observe more carefully what was going on, hoping the man behind me would not become impatient. Drivers coming from the other direction raised a hand to thank me for allowing them to pass. I thought I could let a dozen or so through before anyone would start to complain. The traffic warden helped by urging them on.

Then a stretcher appeared at the end of the hall. Two uniformed orderlies carried a shrouded body out on to the road and placed it in the back of the ambulance. I was unable to see the face because it was covered by the sheet, but a third man, who could only have been a detective, walked immediately behind the stretcher. He was carrying a plastic bag, inside which I could make out a red garment that I feared was the negligee I had given Carla.

I vomited my breakfast all over the passenger seat, my head finally resting on the steering wheel. A moment later they closed the ambulance door, a siren started up and the traffic warden began waving me on. The ambulance moved quickly off and the man behind me started to press his horn. He was, after all, only an innocent bysitter. I lurched forward and later couldn’t recall any part of my journey to the office.

Once I had reached the office car park I cleared up the mess on the passenger seat as best I could and left a window open before taking a lift to the washroom on the seventh floor. I tore my lunch invitation to Carla into little pieces and flushed them down the lavatory. I walked into my room on the twelfth floor a little after eight thirty, to find the managing director pacing up and down in front of my desk, obviously waiting for me. I had quite forgotten that it was Friday and he always expected the latest completed figures to be ready for his consideration.

This Friday it turned out he also wanted the projected accounts for the months of May, June and July. I promised they would be on his desk by midday. The one thing I needed was a clear morning and I was not going to be allowed it.

Every time the phone rang, the door opened or anyone even spoke to me, my heart missed a beat – I assumed it could only be the police. By midday I had finished some sort of report for the managing director, but I knew he would find it neither adequate nor accurate. As soon as I had deposited the papers with his secretary, I left for an early lunch. I realised I wouldn’t be able to eat anything, but at least I could get hold of the first edition of the Standard and search for any news they might have picked up about Carla’s death.

I sat in the corner of my local pub where I knew I couldn’t be seen from behind the bar. A tomato juice by my side, I began slowly to turn the pages of the paper.

She hadn’t made page one. She hadn’t made the second, third or fourth page. And on page five she rated only a tiny paragraph. “Miss Carla Moorland, aged 31, was found dead at her home in Pimlico earlier this morning.” I remember thinking at the time they hadn’t even got her age right. “Detective Inspector Simmons, who has been put in charge of the case, said that an investigation was being carried out and they were awaiting the pathologist’s report but to date they had no reason to suspect foul play.”

After that piece of news I even managed a little soup and a roll. Once I had read the report a second time I made my way back to the office car park and sat in my car. I wound down the other front window to allow more fresh air in before turning on the World At One on the radio. Carla didn’t even get a mention. In the age of pump shotguns, drugs, Aids and gold bullion robberies the death of a thirty-two-year-old industrial personal assistant had passed unnoticed by the BBC.

I returned to my office to find on my desk a memo containing a series of questions that had been fired back from the managing director, leaving me in no doubt as to how he felt about my report. I was able to deal with nearly all his queries and return the answers to his secretary before I left the office that night, despite spending most of the afternoon trying to convince myself that whatever had caused Carla’s death must have happened after I left and could not possibly have been connected with my hitting her. But that red negligee kept returning to my thoughts. Was there any way they could trace it back to me? I had bought it at Harrods – an extravagance, but I felt certain it couldn’t be unique and it was still the only serious present I’d ever given her. But the note that was attached – had Carla destroyed it? Would they discover who Casaneva was?

I drove directly home that evening, aware that I would never again be able to travel down the road Carla had lived in. I listened to the end of the PM programme on my car radio and as soon as I reached home switched on the six o’clock news. I turned to Channel Four at seven and back to the BBC at nine. I returned to ITV at ten and even ended up watching Newsnight.

Carla’s death, in their combined editorial opinion, must have been less important than a Third-Division football result between Reading and Walsall. Elizabeth continued reading her latest library book, oblivious to my possible peril.

I slept fitfully that night, and as soon as I heard the papers pushed through the letterbox the next morning I ran downstairs to check the headlines.

“DUKAKIS NOMINATED AS CANDIDATE” stared up at me from the front page of The Times.

I found myself wondering, irrelevantly, if he would ever be President. “President Dukakis” didn’t sound quite right to me.

I picked up my wife’s Daily Express and the three-word headline filled the top of the page: “LOVERS’ TIFF MURDER”.

My legs gave way and I fell to my knees. I must have made a strange sight, crumpled up on the floor trying to read that opening paragraph. I couldn’t make out the words of the second paragraph without my spectacles. I stumbled back upstairs with the papers and grabbed the glasses from the table on my side of the bed. Elizabeth was still sleeping soundly. Even so, I locked myself in the bathroom where I could read the story slowly and without fear of interruption.

Police are now treating as murder the death of a beautiful Pimlico secretary, Carla Moorland, 32, who was found dead in her flat early yesterday morning. Detective Inspector Simmons of Scotland Yard, who is in charge of the case, initially considered Carla Moorland’s death to be due to natural causes, but an X-ray has revealed a broken jaw which could have been caused in a fight.

An inquest will be held on April 19th.

Miss Moorland’s daily, Maria Lucia (48), said – exclusively to the Express – that her employer had been with a man friend when she had left the flat at five o’clock on the night in question. Another witness, Mrs Rita Johnson, who lives in the adjoining block of flats, stated she had seen a man leaving Miss Moorland’s flat at around six, before entering the newsagents opposite and later driving away. Mrs Johnson added that she couldn’t be sure of the make of the car but it might have been a Rover . . .

“Oh, my God,” I exclaimed in such a loud voice that I was afraid it might have woken Elizabeth. I shaved and showered quickly, trying to think as I went along. I was dressed and ready to leave for work even before my wife had woken. I kissed her on the cheek but she only turned over, so I scribbled a note and left it on her side of the bed, explaining that I had to spend the morning in the office as I had an important report to complete.

On my journey to work I rehearsed exactly what I was going to say. I went over it again and again. I arrived on the twelfth floor a little before eight and left my door wide open so I would be aware of the slightest intrusion. I felt confident that I had a clear fifteen, even twenty minutes before anyone else could be expected to arrive.

Once again I went over exactly what I needed to say. I found the number in the L–R directory and scribbled it down on a pad in front of me before writing five headings in block capitals, something I always did before a boared meeting.

BUS STOP
COAT
NO. 19
BMW
TICKET

Then I dialled the number.

I took off my watch and placed it in front of me. I had read somewhere that the location of a telephone call can be traced in about three minutes.

A woman’s voice said, “Scotland Yard.”

“Inspector Simmons, please,” was all I volunteered.

“Can I tell him who’s calling?”

“No, I would prefer not to give my name.”

“Yes, of course, sir,” she said, evidently used to such callers.

Another ringing tone. My mouth went dry as a man’s voice announced “Simmons” and I heard the detective speak for the first time. I was taken aback to find that a man with so English a name could have such a strong Glaswegian accent.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“No, but I think I can help you,” I said in a quiet tone which I pitched considerably lower than my natural speaking voice.

“How can you help me, sir?”

“Are you the officer in charge of the Carla-whatever-her-name-is case?”

“Yes, I am. But how can you help?” he repeated.

The second hand showed one minute had already passed.

“I saw a man leaving her flat that night.”

“Where were you at the time?”

“At the bus stop on the same side of the road.”

“Can you give me a description of the man?” Simmons’s tone was every bit as casual as my own.

“Tall. I’d say five eleven, six foot. Well built. Wore one of those posh City coats – you know, the black ones with a velvet collar.”

“How can you be so sure about the coat?” the detective asked.

“It was so cold standing out there waiting for the No. 19 that I wished it had been me who was wearing it.”

“Do you remember anything in particular that happened after he left the flat?”

“Only that he went into the paper shop opposite before getting into his car and driving away.”

“Yes, we know that much,” said the Detective Inspector. “I don’t suppose you recall what make of car it was?”

Two minutes had now passed and I began to watch the second hand more closely.

“I think it was a BMW,” I said.

“Do you remember the colour by any chance?”

“No, it was too dark for that.” I paused. “But I saw him tear a parking ticket off the windscreen, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to trace him.”

“And at what time did all this take place?”

“Around six fifteen to six thirty, Inspector,” I said.

“And can you tell me . . . ?”

Two minutes fifty-eight seconds. I put the phone back on the hook. My whole body broke out in a sweat.

“Good to see you in the office on a Saturday morning,” said the managing director grimly as he passed my door. “Soon as you’re finished whatever you’ re doing I’d like a word with you.”

I left my desk and followed him along the corridor into his office. For the next hour he went over my projected figures, but however hard I tried I couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t long before he stopped trying to disguise his impatience.

“Have you got something else on your mind?” he asked as he closed his file. “You seem preoccupied.”

“No,” I insisted, “just been doing a lot of overtime lately,” and stood up to leave.

Once I had returned to my office, I burnt the piece of paper with the five headings and left to go home. In the first edition of the afternoon paper, the “Lovers’ Tiff” story had been moved back to page seven. They had nothing new to report.

The rest of Saturday seemed interminable but my wife’s Sunday Express finally brought me some relief.

“Following up information received in the Carla Moorland ‘Lovers’ Tiff’ murder, a man is helping the police with their inquiries.” The commonplace expressions I had read so often in the past suddenly took on a real meaning.

I scoured the other Sunday papers, listened to every news bulletin and watched each news item on television. When my wife became curious I explained that there was a rumour in the office that the company might be taken over again, which meant I could lose my job.

By Monday morning the Daily Express had named the man in “The Lovers’ Tiff murder” as Paul Menzies (51), an insurance broker from Sutton. His wife was at a hospital in Epsom under sedation while he was being held in the cells of Brixton Prison under arrest. I began to wonder if Mr Menzies had told Carla the truth about his wife and what his nickname might be. I poured myself a strong black coffee and left for the office.

Later that morning, Menzies appeared before the magistrates at the Horseferry Road court, charged with the murder of Carla Moorland. The police had been successful in opposing bail, the Standard reassured me.