Saturday 26 May 2012
The black backpack fell from the hallway closet as Tara Roberts, junior investigative crime reporter for the London Chronicle, opened it in an attempt to stash her hiking boots, which were now sufficiently dry. It had been tossed with great force into the over-filled closet once she had removed its contents and deposited them in her home safe. She looked towards the front room where the safe was hidden, and shivered when she thought about how close she must have come to seeing what had happened to Richard Carlisle.
His murder had been on her mind since she’d heard about it, and she wondered how long it would be before the police came knocking on her door. Her experiences from covering the local crime stories pointed towards a constabulary visit in the not too distant future. Tara had contemplated going to see the DCI in charge of the Carlisle murder, telling him she was in the area, but until there was a suspect who had been suitably apprehended, she decided that her safety depended upon keeping her mouth firmly shut and her identity anonymous.
However, Lady Emma Carlisle had other ideas, arriving on Tara’s front step just as the journalist forcibly closed the closet door. The loud knocking on the front door startled the reporter who gasped for breath. She cautiously approached the door, happy that she’d chosen the full wood version of it, as opposed to the partially glassed model. Sometimes, it was better not to see who was at the door, and it was certainly safer if they couldn’t see her.
She peered through the tiny peephole, strategically placed a little lower down in the door for her comfort. A quick glance allowed her to see that she didn’t appear to be in any particular physical danger. A longer look then allowed her to see that it was Emma Carlisle, who Tara recognised from the many society pages in glossy magazines that she often read to pass the time. This two-look technique of using the peephole was something that she’d learnt from a few helpful police officers who’d told quite graphic stories of how witnesses had been murdered by being shot in the head whilst looking to see who had knocked upon their doors. Tara didn’t intend on being one of those poor sods.
As an extra precaution, she waited for Lady Carlisle to knock again.
‘Who is it?’ Tara called.
Lady Emma was taken aback by the question. She hesitated before answering, ‘Emma Carlisle. Lady Emma Carlisle. I believe you were writing a piece on my late husband.’
Tara opened the door, just a crack, warily looked behind the woman, and then quickly ushered her in to the tiny house.
‘I want to talk with you about the information you dug up about Richard,’ Emma said, pushing her was past the tiny journalist and into the front room. She surveyed the room, unaware that she was sneering.
‘I take it that my humble abode is nothing at all like what you’re used to. Please, have a seat,’ Tara pointed to the sofa. ‘Not that I anticipate that you’ll be staying long at all.’
Lady Emma picked up a pile of six or seven folded newspapers and tossed them on the cluttered coffee table in front of her. She lowered herself uncomfortably on to the sofa, fearing that it would crunch with in-ground dirt and crumbs. It did not, and she sighed. Tara sat in her favourite chair – a well-worn recliner opposite the television.
‘How can I help you, Lady Carlisle?’
‘It’s simple, really,’ Lady Emma spoke quietly but firmly, ‘I want to know why you were investigating my husband.’
Tara was quick to respond. ‘That’s not really any of your business.’
‘The hell it is. I’ve seen what you dug up. Printing that, that, slop would destroy my family. And believe me, I will not let that happen.’
The journalist was unmoved by Lady Emma’s obvious threat. She had greater potential threats on her mind, not to mention the contents of the black backpack.
‘You needn’t worry, Lady Carlisle, your husband saw to it that the story wouldn’t get written, let alone published.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Lady Emma sounded as confused as she currently looked.
‘Your husband paid me off.’
‘Your husband paid me a large sum of money not to write the story, your ladyship. I had hoped that I’d be able to include in my story, the fact that he was paying people off in order to get his way. But, in light of his recent demise, and the manner in which it occurred, I’ve no desire to go ahead with the story. Now, would you care for a cup of tea while we discuss this further?’
Lady Carlisle nodded. She had been caught off-guard, having expected conflict and been a party to none.
‘Yes, tea would be nice,’ she replied.
. . . To be continued . . .