She stared at me in be­wil­der­ment, as though only now ap­pre­ci­at­ing the full hor­ror of her ac­tions

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - SERIAL - By Ha­nia Allen

Liz con­tin­ued to tell me how she’d framed Mar­cel­lus for mur­der. “Mar­cel­lus said he was sure he could per­suade you to go with him to see Hal­len­gren. You know, the way he talked about Wil­son, I think he gen­uinely loved him. “He told me he’d even agreed to sleep in the Ice­ho­tel at Wil­son’s re­quest al­though he wimped out at the last minute and went back to the Ex­cel­sior.

“He only got as far as the Locker Room. He was re­ally gut­ted by his fa­ther’s death. Would you be­lieve he nearly broke down?

“It was quite aw­ful to watch, ac­tu­ally. I mean, who’d have thought Mar­cel­lus was such a marsh­mal­low?”

So Mar­cel­lus had only got as far as the Locker Room. Af­ter leav­ing Wil­son’s room, Liz had dumped her outer suit in the wash­room.

If Mar­cel­lus hadn’t re­turned to the Ex­cel­sior, he might have run into her. And how dif­fer­ently things would have turned out.

“He told me he had to wait at the coro­ner’s for his fa­ther’s death cer­tifi­cate and there was some mix-up over pa­per­work so he wouldn’t be free for ages. “The tim­ing sim­ply couldn’t have been bet­ter. “I said our pass­ports had been re­turned and we were fly­ing out in the early hours. If he wanted to see you and he didn’t find you at the ho­tel, his best bet was the church. You’d be there watch­ing the spec­tac­u­lar aurora pre­dicted for that night. And leav­ing for the air­port straight af­ter.”

In­no­cence

Poor Mar­cel­lus. He must have been fran­tic to prove his in­no­cence if he was pre­pared to fol­low me to the church and con­front me there.

And in­stead of un­cov­er­ing the truth, he’d slipped and fallen to his death.

“I pointed out that he’d prob­a­bly be un­der ar­rest shortly. That re­ally did the trick.

“He left quickly, didn’t even bother to pay. I had to pick up his tab,” she snorted.

My ci­garette had burnt down and ash spilt on to the front of my sweater. Liz had had lit­tle time to for­mu­late this plan, yet it was stag­ger­ingly sim­ple. And it had worked.

Hal­len­gren had come to the con­clu­sion that the mur­derer was Mar­cel­lus.

I was see­ing her in a new light: the grand­mas­ter, mov­ing her pieces over the board, check­mate in one de­ci­sive move.

She mixed an­other drink, and swal­lowed it greed­ily.

“You and I were leav­ing for the church when I got that phone call from Siob­han. It turned out to be noth­ing re­ally, but it gave me the op­por­tu­nity I was look­ing for.” She looked hard at me.

“I’d in­tended to cry off once we got to the church. You see, I needed you up that tower alone.”

My heart ham­mered against my ribs. “Why alone? Be­cause Mar­cel­lus was com­ing?”

“I put on a se­cond suit and left by the fire door. My plan was to slip into the Ice The­atre af­ter­wards and re­turn to the Ex­cel­sior with the crowd. That would give me the per­fect al­ibi.”

“What do you mean by ‘af­ter­wards’, Liz?” I said slowly. “An al­ibi for what?”

“I reached the church just min­utes be­fore you. When I think about it now, it was a mir­a­cle you didn’t see me.”

I cast my mind back to that night. I’d seen no one. How could I have missed her on the road?

She was en­joy­ing my con­fu­sion. “I took that other route to the church. You know? The path in­side the for­est? It’s faster and I had a torch.

“The guide took us that way on the tour and he told us about the side door at the top of the tower, the one you reach by climb­ing up the out­side.”

Dread­ful

There was a strange taste in my mouth. “What did you do, Liz?”

“You know, for a mo­ment I did think about just push­ing you off the top and be­ing done with it.

“If you didn’t break your neck, you’d freeze to death be­fore any­one came look­ing.

“It would seem like a dread­ful ac­ci­dent. But there’d still be those unan­swered ques­tions about Wil­son and Harry.”

“Where were you?” I said, in a whis­per. “When you come in through that side door, you step on to a wide ledge with a safety rail. It’s tucked out of the way.

“Any­one climb­ing up the in­side sim­ply wouldn’t see it” – her voice was steady – “es­pe­cially in the dark, af­ter they’ve dropped their torch.”

So she’d been there. As I was climb­ing.

“You came past me, so close I could have touched you. Af­ter you’d been up top for a while, I heard the creak of the front door.

“A minute later, the door into the tower opened and some­one started to climb.

“It could only have been Mar­cel­lus.” She paused. “He came level with me. And I pushed him hard. He lost his bal­ance and fell.” “My God, Liz . . .”

We sat in the thick si­lence, watch­ing each other. Liz had killed an in­no­cent man to throw the po­lice off the scent, purely to keep our friend­ship.

Liz, my best friend, some­one I thought I’d known all these years.

I had to ask. “What would you have done if Mar­cel­lus hadn’t ar­rived?”

She was fid­get­ing with the hem of her sweater. “I’d have gone to the top and pushed you off. Or done it as you came back down.”

She lifted her head. “You were jolly lucky.”

I saw again the scene in the tower: the can­dle­light flick­er­ing over Mar­cel­lus’s twisted body, the star­ing eyes, the dark blood seep­ing into my boots.

“When I heard him hit the ground, I slipped out­side and climbed down the lad­der.

“I took the path through the for­est and hur­ried to the the­atre, where I stayed un­til the end of the play.”

For­give­ness

She pulled at a thread. “I came home with the crowd, mak­ing sure I re­moved my mask so peo­ple could see my face.

“And hav­ing watched the re­hearsal, I could dis­cuss the play over break­fast.”

“When did you change, Liz?” The words caught in my throat. “When did you stop be­ing the per­son I knew?”

She stared at me in be­wil­der­ment, as though only now ap­pre­ci­at­ing the full hor­ror of her ac­tions. Her face crum­pled and she pressed trem­bling fin­gers into her eyes.

“What do you want?” I said sadly. “For­give­ness?” “Don’t think this hasn’t af­fected me, Mags. You’re not the only one who’s had night­mares, you know. I feel as though I’ve ex­changed one kind of hell for an­other.”

“And I’m sup­posed to cry bit­ter, salt tears over you?”

She wiped her face, sniff­ing loudly. “At break­fast, we heard some­thing about an in­ci­dent in the church. You weren’t there, of course.

“You were spend­ing the night with your de­tec­tive.” I looked away, un­able to meet her gaze.

More to­mor­row.

Ice­ho­tel, avail­able on Ama­zon Kin­dle, is Ha­nia Allen’s de­but novel. Her se­cond book, The Pol­ish De­tec­tive (Con­sta­ble, £8.99), is the first in her new se­ries fea­tur­ing DS Da­nia Gorska and is set in Dundee.

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