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