A Change of Fortune
I always thought, Irene Hardiman said, staring across at the woman who was sitting opposite her in an easy chair in her spacious drawing room, that you were too good for my son. Les is a selfish man, and with a mean streak. Inherited all that from his father, no doubt. Maturity hasnt improved him. Rather the opposite.
Hazel Hardiman looked down at her folded hands, then shrugged her shoulders. Oh, I dont know. Hes a hard worker. Committed. Hes very demanding of himself ... and others, too.
The older woman ignored the apology for her son. And in my view, he is a bully, too. Just like his father. Her fixed gaze seemed to be asking a question. Hazel did not immediately respond. Well?
Now Hazel looked up at Irene. Well, what ...?
You know what Im asking you. Has he ever ... ever mistreated you? The younger woman dropped her eyes and said nothing. Irene nodded to herself. I thought as much she said quietly.
He gets angry sometimes, impatient ...
Two weeks ago, when you called in, you had a bruise on your cheekbone, and I wondered. That wasnt the first time hes hit you, was it?
The moisture in Hazels eyes, and her silence, were answer enough. Irene nodded again, and quietly, more to herself than to Hazel, said So it seems that he ... my son ... has become a a brute.
A single tear rolled down the younger womans face and dropped on to her hand. Then in a low voice, almost a murmur as if to no-one in particular, she said, So, what do I do? I sacrificed my career, I have no ready means of supporting myself, no security for the future
You dont have to just accept it, you know. If he if he does it again, go to the police!
Oh I couldnt! God knows what he might do.
The older woman nodded. Well, if you wont do anything then perhaps I will. I wont have you go through what
No, Irene! It would only make things worse. Much worse! she looked at her watch. I have to go! Hell be getting in soon. Hell want to know where Ive been.
As Hazel walked down the pathway from the house, Irene Hardiman gazed at the receding figure through the drawing room window. Deep in thought, she crossed slowly to the other side of the room, and looked across the wide expanse of lawn to the row of low trees and the meandering river at the end of her garden. She shook her head and sighed. Then she walked over to a small table, and picked up the telephone receiver. She tapped out a number, and half a minute later said, Good afternoon. I would like to make an appointment to see Doctor Aldridge, please.
So what was it you went to see her about? Les Hardimans question was curt, as if he were irritated that his wife had paid his mother a visit at all.
Oh, only to take round a book I thought she might like. The Ishiguro novel Id just finished.
Waste of time, I should think. The old gannets half blind now, and getting worse. She say much to you?
No. Not really. I dont think shes been so well recently. She said something about her diabetes blood sugars a bit all over the place. I did wonder if shed been having problems with her insulin injections you know, with her hands being so stiff with the arthritis now.
The man nodded. That could be. Ill talk to her when I go up. If needs be I can give her the injections for a few days.
I do wish shed get more nursing input, Hazel said, frowning. She could easily get in a private nurse if they werent able to send anyone from the surgery.
Im quite capable of seeing to my mothers needs, thank you. His rebuttal was sharp, and Hazel said nothing more for fear of angering him. And she knew he was right about the injections. Les himself was an insulin dependent diabetic and quite prided himself on his ability to self monitor, sometimes, she suspected, to the irritation of the staff at their local surgery. He was - what did they call it? Yes, a control freak. He could be quite obsessive, and when he felt that he was being hindered or thwarted in any way he was liable to fly into a rage.
Well, you know whats best for her, Im sure. Her tone was conciliatory. Yet her inability to stand up for herself, even the loss of the urge to do so filled her with shame. He had her just where he wanted her.
I do. And its best that you keep yourself away from her. Understand? Shes poisonous. Youve plenty to attend to in this house without poking your nose into her business.
Hazel said nothing. Presently she took herself into the kitchen and busied herself with the evening meal.
It was two weeks later that Les Hardiman spoke about his mother again. Shes getting chest pains and seems to have gone off her legs a bit. Shed better have the doctor. Ive got a busy day on, so Ill leave that to you to arrange. He hesitated, then, rather to Hazels surprise he added, Best if you could be there when the doctor calls you know, get any prescription made up.
He left the house and Hazel made the telephone call to the surgery. The receptionist answered, brusque and officious Ill pass the details on Doctor Aldridge, and he may be in touch with you. Theyre all very busy today, you know.
To her surprise Doctor Aldridge himself called back within ten minutes. He was Irenes own doctor, but owing to heavy commitments and his popularity with the patients he could be hard to get to see.
Chest pains, you say?
Hazel relayed what she had been told by her husband.
It wouldve been better if hed spoken to me himself, the doctor commented, but it looks as though she ought to be checked in any event. It could well be her heart. Ill call up to see her this afternoon. Will anyone be there to let me in?
Thats kind of you doctor. I know youre under pressure. Ill be going up there shortly and Ill wait with her until you arrive.
Good. You know, your husbands mother is surprisingly uncomplaining. Stubborn with it. Its that sort of person who can be a lot more ill that they would want you to believe. But well see.
Doctor Aldridge clearly knew Irene Hardiman well. She was indeed inclined to be dismissive about her symptoms, but the doctor was not one to be easily misled. His questioning was at first general, then became more focussed. He undertook a cursory examination of her chest, but Hazel guessed that his mind was made up even before he put on his stethoscope.
It may be nothing too serious. Possibly to do with your arthritis. Or acid from your stomach. But given your diabetes, you are at risk of heart problems, you know. We really ought to check that out. Id like them to run a few tests at the hospital.
When? You know what I think of hospitals, doctor. They do their best, I dare say, but best to steer clear of them in my view.
I think youd be taking a greater risk if you dont go. I doubt theyll want to admit you. But youd be unwise to refuse their advice, though no-one can make you go in if you dont want to.
The old woman grimaced. Well, Ive always trusted your judgement in these things. So I suppose I must.
Doctor Aldridge nodded curtly. Ill put my partner Doctor Harris in the picture so he can follow things up if needs be. Im going on leave from tomorrow, and wont be back for three weeks. And Ill be too far away to keep in touch myself.
The doctor nodded again. Now, if I can have the use of your phone Ill make a call to the coronary care unit.
With characteristic efficiency, the doctor arranged for an assessment in the cardiac unit in the local general hospital for the following morning. Can you or your husband get her up there? he asked Hazel.Shed be more comfortable in a car than in an ambulance. And thered be less hanging around.
Hazel nodded. That wont be a problem. Les has a lot on, so itll probably be me. But when he arrived home late that evening her husband dismissed her offer offhandedly. No. Ill go up for her myself. I can rearrange my schedule. If they want to keep her in then Ill make sure she stays, you can be sure. I wont take any of her nonsense. Unlike you.
Thats fine. But if they want to keep her in, let me know if she needs anything. Night things and that.
But Irene Hardiman never made it to the hospital. An hour after he left the house to collect her, her son telephoned Hazel.
Its mother. Shes dead.
Oh, Les. I am so sorry. Hazels voice caught.
Must have been her heart. Ive called the doctor. Doctor Harris isnt it? Aldridge has gone on leave, they told me.
Yes ... yes. Thats right. Its a pity it has to be a strange doctor ...
Makes little odds in the circumstances. Shes past caring anyway. Look, I must hang up. I think hes arrived.
Hazel put down the receiver, feeling shocked and numb. She knew her mother-in-law was frail, but never really considered that she might die so quickly. It dawned on her that she had lost one of the only friends shed had, or been allowed to have. Les had seemed remarkably unaffected. Surely, though, it would sink in soon enough and he might need her comfort.
But when he arrived home late in the morning he seemed as controlled as ever. He paid scant attention to Hazel. He went to his desk and pulled out various files, scrutinising and rearranging the sheets of paper. She made him some coffee, and when she returned from the kitchen he was talking to the undertaker on the telephone. He sounded impatient as he often did.
No. There isnt going to be a post-mortem. Her own doctor diagnosed angina yesterday and she was to be taken to the cardiac unit today. Doctor Harris agreed to issue a death certificate, and hes getting the cremation forms drawn up. How soon can you arrange it?
Les, Hazel thought, seemed to relax once the negotiations with the funeral director had been concluded, to his obvious satisfaction. He settled into a chair and looked at his watch. Its early, but I could do with a drink. Can you get me a whisky? A large one. Have one yourself.
Hazel thought it best to acquiesce to his suggestion. It would be all right, just so long as he stuck to the one, or two at the most. But when she handed him the glass he sipped it slowly, then put it down on the table. He looked thoughtful, and she could see that he was preoccupied.
She took her opportunity. Dear Les, she murmured, reaching over to take his hand, you must be devastated. You did so much for your mother. You must miss her dreadfully.
Her anticipation that he might melt, even in to tears, was promptly dashed. He pulled his had away. Oh for Gods sake, get real will you? She hung around for far too long as it was. When Dad died he left everything to her, including a successful business which she then sold. I should have taken it over, but she was just too damned tight. She wanted me under her thumb, and of course I had to toe the line. The old bag was loaded, but she did nothing with it. But I can tell you now, my life is only just beginning. Ive a lot of lost ground to make up, and with what Im about to inherit Im going to do just that big time. As he said this a grin crossed his face, and he looked away from Hazel into the distance. She caught her breath, a hollow sensation in her stomach. His life. Not theirs. The realisation hit her that he was cutting her out of his future.
Slowly she pushed the glass away from her, then got up and quietly left the room.
The cremation and funeral service the following week were bleak affairs, and clearly arranged with brevity as the main objective. There was a minimum of prayers and no eulogy, hymns or music. Outside the chapel, Hazel was taken aback at her husbands apparent relief, even ill concealed elation.
Now we can get on with the real business, he remarked, looking at his watch. I must get to see the solicitor tomorrow. Go through the Will. See to probate.
The reality of her own situation struck Hazel like a hammer blow. He was going to leave her ... with nothing. She grasped his arm. Les, please, what am I going to do?
You do what the hell you like. What you do is no concern of mine. He wrenched himself from her hold.
Back at their home she went straight to her room and tried to gather her thoughts. Where on earth could she go to? Perhaps her sister might have her, for a week or so at least. But she really hadnt the space ...
She became aware of her husbands voice downstairs. He was speaking loudly on the telephone. The familiar anger was there ... now what?
Look, Mr Bremerson, I still fail to see what this has to do with my ... my wife. I am the sole beneficiary. And the executor. I went through everything with my mother, years ago.
Hazel did not hear the solicitors response. What on earth could be happening? Whatever it was, it had made Les angry. She gained the impression that Bremerson was digging his heels in and was resisting any attempt by Les to intimidate him.
Very well then, if you must have it that way Ill bring her with me. She heard the handset banged down into its cradle. Quietly she retreated into her room and closed the door, conscious of an emerging sense of deep foreboding. Then, in a moment of decisiveness she opened her handbag, took out a mobile phone and sent a brief text message.
No, I dont know why he wanted you along as well. I guess its some protocol or other. But if you know whats best for you youll hold your tongue. Just answer any questions he may have, but keep it brief. Any nonsense from you, woman, and youre going to regret it later, believe me. Hazel and Les were sitting together in a small and rather sombre waiting room at the solicitors office. The neglected plant on the window sill and the winter gloom outside did little to raise her spirits. Thankfully, they were not kept waiting. A prim secretary ushered them in the Mr Bremersons presence.
Introductions and the offer of condolence - scarcely acknowledged by Les out of the way, the solicitor invited Les and Hazel to seat themselves opposite him at the table. For a moment he seemed to hesitate, and peered across at them over rimless glasses. His gaze shifted from Hazel to her husband.
Mr Hardiman we are here, of course, to discuss your late mothers will. I gathered from our conversation over the telephone yesterday that you are ... are not aware that not long ago she decided to revoke the will I drew up originally on her behalf the will in which you were the sole beneficiary and asked me to draft a new one. This I did. It has been witnessed and signed according to the requirements of the law. So we have a new and, in my opinion, perfectly valid will. But I fear that its contents may come as a shock to you.
Hazel sensed even before she saw her husbands face change colour, his body stiffen. Her hands clenched the underside of her chair.
What the hell are you trying to tell me? Leslies voice was low, but even.
You mother, Irene Hardiman, has bequeathed everything everything to her sole daughter-in-law, your wife, Hazel. The estate, not including the house which I imagined would be worth a substantial amount given its size and position, is valued in the region of three million pounds. Mr Bremerson paused, then continued quietly. I can see that this news has come as a complete surprise to both of you.
Leslie erupted. Youre bloody right it has. To me at least. He swung round and turned his wife. You and she were up to something, werent you, you bitch! He spat the words out. But you wont get away with it. Be very sure Ill see to that! I can have this new will invalidated. You ... you coerced her ... she wasnt mentally competent ... she was demented!
Hazel shrank under the onslaught. Leslie! she pleaded, Id no idea ... absolutely no idea. I never asked her, never wanted ...
Mr Hardiman! the solicitor seemed almost to have expected Leslies outburst, Kindly moderate your language! You are making allegations which are simply untrue. I can assure you that your wife had no knowledge of her mother-in-laws intention or action. Mrs Hardiman stipulated that Hazel was not to be told.
But the woman was off her head! She didnt know what she was thinking!
I think you will find that you are mistaken on that count as well ...
Just how the hell can you be so sure of that?
Ian Bremerson paused, as if about to play his final card. Mr Hardiman, at the time your mother made the decision to change her will, two weeks before she died, she arranged an appointment with her doctor. It was quite an in depth consultation, I believe. She requested that he undertake a mental assessment in order to confirm that she was of sound mind. It would seem that she had anticipated that the validity of a new will might be challenged on the grounds that she was mentally incompetent at the time. I can inform you that he gave his absolute assurance that she knew just what she was doing and that she was doing it of her own free will. I had some discussion with him on the matter, with your mothers consent, at the time when I was drafting her new will. And both Doctor Aldridge and I were witness to her signature, as you can see.
He took the document from where it lay in front of him and passed it over to the man, now quite speechless, sitting opposite him.
Leslie Hardiman snatched the document from the solicitors hand. He stood up, seemed almost to stagger for a moment. His expression was one of cold fury, but when he spoke his voice was measured and purposeful. Dont either of you think that I am going to take this lying down! The house, the money theyre mine by right. And Ill make damned sure I get them. He swung round and made for the door slamming it behind him as he left the room.
Hazel stared across at the solicitor with an expression of utter astonishment. She shook her head slowly.
My dear, he said gently, I am only sorry that this has come as such a surprise to you. Your mother-in-law did tell me what was behind her decision. And it was not one made on the spur of the moment. It was very carefully considered. She knew exactly what she was doing. But I fear that your husband may try to make things very difficult for you, although I do not believe for one moment that there are any grounds for a legal challenge. You have properly inherited the entire estate.
Thank you, Mr Bremerson. Her voice fell to a whisper. This is, as you say, a complete shock to me. I think I might ... I might go away for a while, a few days, to gather my thoughts. My husband is clearly upset ... well, thats understandable. I need time to think through this. Somewhere where I wont be ... under pressure.
I think that would be very sensible. Do you know where you might go to?
Mmm ... I have a sister, my twin sister Jenny. She lives in
Good. I think you should do that. And my advice is that you do not delay. But we ought to keep in touch. There are certain formalities we need to attend to. Here ... The solicitor leaned over and passed a card to her.
Thank you. Ill contact you as soon as I am settled.
She left the
office and walked the half mile to the railway station, where she collected a suitcase
held in the left luggage facility. An hour later she boarded a train to
Its about time, my dear girl, that you stood up for yourself. Hazels sister looked directly into her eyes. A rugged, outdoor life made Jenny look older than Hazel, and they had developed differing tastes in clothing over the years. There was no doubting who was the stronger, both physically and mentally.
Hazel nodded, her eyes moist. I know you think Im my own worst enemy. I took it all lying down, and Im paying for it now. But I am scared of him, really really scared. Even before the business of the will ... but now ... I just dont know what he might have done if Id gone home to him after wed seen Mr Bremerson. Her voice caught in a sob.
Jenny placed her hands on her sisters shoulders, and kept her gaze fixed on her eyes. Thank God, she said, slowly, that you didnt. Because I have a terrible feeling that he might have done the same to you as I believe he did ... to his mother.
Jenny! Youre not saying, Hazel gasped, that Les killed her?
Her sister nodded slowly. Everything you have told me about what happened at the time she died points to that possibility ... probability. And if I am right, then its only logical to assume that you would be in the greatest danger if you were to go back to him.
But how did he kill her ...?
Any number of ways. Poison ... or smothering. Something like that. These things can be difficult to detect, unless a doctor or the police had reason to be suspicious. But the scene had been well set to make it seem that it was her heart. And her usual doctor, who might have been the one person to suspect something, was on the other side of the world.
But its too late now ... I mean, she was cremated ...
Jenny nodded. Didnt you wonder why Les was in such a hurry?
Hazel shook her head. No. I was too upset, confused. Do you really think ...? Oh, what a blind fool Ive been. What should I do now? Please tell me what to do!
Her sister shook her head. The only thing Im telling you to do right now is to rest here with us and recover as best you can from all youve been through. As to how you go forward so far as you and Leslie are concerned, that has to be your own decision. Youve been doing what other people tell you to do for far too long. If you dont buck up and stand on your own two feet youll never get out of his grasp. Believe me, Hazel, if you dont stand up to him he will get what he wants and you will be left destitute.
I think youre being a bit harsh. You dont know what sort of a man he is ...
Do I not? Im convinced your husband is a murderer, a callous, brutal murderer of the worst kind. He killed his own mother for what he could get out of her! If you wont stand up to him for you own sake, do it for Irenes. Surely shes entitled to some sort of justice?
But Jenny hell kill me. Youve said as much yourself!
Yes, he may try. He will see it as the only way to get hold of his mothers estate, and as a way of getting his revenge on you of course. Thats why Im glad you came straight here to me and Jake. Youve got to consider your options, in a calm frame of mind and where you are safe. But what you do in the end can only be for you to determine. That way you will regain at least some self respect.
It was five days later that Hazel announced to Jenny and her husband that she was returning home. Not to Leslie. To Irenes ... my home. I need to go over some things with Mr Bremerson.
Thats the girl. Her sister smiled at her. Have you thought about what youll do if Les contacts you, tries to see you?
Hazel nodded. Ill try to be ... will be ... firm with him. Ive had a couple of chats with Mr Bremerson. If needs be hell get a court order ... if Les gets difficult.
Thats all right for the short term. But I doubt itll make him give up.
Of course it wont. If there was only some way that we could prove hes killed Irene. Doctor Aldridge will be back any day now. I wonder if he might be able to help at all?
Oh, Hazel ... dont hold out too much hope there. He may well have a view on it, but these doctors are very cagey about saying things they cant substantiate. Without a body ...
Still, I need to face the fact that Les will almost certainly come looking for me when he hears Im back.
Jenny nodded. I think thats inevitable. Just promise me you wont be so stupid as to see him on your own.
Hazel looked directly at her sister, but said nothing. She had suddenly realised that, whatever the risk to her, she needed time alone with her husband. That was the only way she might get the truth out of him.
But its been lovely having you, even if times arent so good, Jenny continued. Pity youve got to go back the weathers been pretty bad down south, it seems. Dont go and catch a cold!
Thank you, Doctor, for getting back to me so quickly, Hazel was speaking on the telephone in the drawing room of Irene Hardimans house.
Well, I was keen to talk to you. I am so very sorry to hear of the loss of your mother-in-law. Dr Harris told me that, as wed suspected, it was her heart.
Mmmm that is what was entered on the death certificate. But surely, as there was no post-mortem the conclusion was, essentially, based on probabilities?
Im not quite sure what youre trying to say to me, Mrs Hardiman. Of course one can never be entirely certain, sometimes even with a post-mortem. Im sure that Dr Harris was right in his decision to issue the certificate as he did. It is certainly accepted practice to do that on circumstances and clinical grounds alone.
Of course. I understand that. I just wondered if, had you not been away, youd have acted differently.
I couldnt possibly comment on that. But I ... Look, are you going to be at the house for a while yet? I think I might get out the records, maybe talk to Doctor Harris, and then call round so that we can talk together in confidence, if thats OK with you.
Yes. Id appreciate that.
Fine. Be about five oclock. Maybe a little after. The traffics been slow with this fog. And it seems to be closing in rather.
Hazel put down the telephone, and walked slowly over to the patio doors. She unlocked them and peered out in to the gloom. She was deep in thought. She had been able to tell from Doctor Aldridges voice a slight hesitation, a momentary uncertainty that he had been taken aback, and possibly disturbed, by what she had said. Might she be able to persuade him that there was a real possibility that Irenes death had not been ... natural? But could that be proved now? Would he be willing to contradict what his colleague had concluded? That might cause all sorts of problems.
Yes, as he had said, a mist was closing in. At the far end of the lawn it rose more densely over the river, running high with the recent rain. She closed the doors again, turned away from the bleak outlook and sat down in an easy chair. Time lay heavily on her, but she felt unable to settle into anything. She had been deeply troubled when Jenny revealed her suspicions, and the awful realisation grew upon her that she could be right.
And Irene had left everything to her. Oh God, she breathed, as things stand at the moment, were I to die, it would all go to ... to Les!
She desperately fought off the rising sense of terror within her. Shed been submissive, weak for too long. Had she stood up to him sooner, Irene might still be alive. For the first time that she could remember she felt an iron determination, even anger. He would not get away with it any more ...
A noise outside the front of the house, a crunch of gravel, made her instantly alert. Was it Doctor Aldridge? She hadnt expected him so soon, but perhaps he had set out early in expectation of the weather closing in. A car door slammed shut, followed by the sound of approaching footsteps. Whoever it was hesitated at the front door. And then she heard a key turning in then lock.
Summonsing all her courage, she got up from the chair and walked out of the drawing room and into the hallway, just as the front door opened. She could see a figure framed in the entrance. He was wearing a long raincoat and a hat that she recognised immediately.
Les! I wasnt expecting you. She fought to keep her voice controlled.
Hazel! I thought youd gone away. I just came to ... to ...
He sounded taken aback, as if shed been the last person hed expected to find there. Or was it feigned surprise? She must remain calm. Ive not long been back. I thought Id best come back here to start sorting ... theres so much to do ...
Les took off his hat. You dont mind me coming in, do you? We need to talk ... and I can help you with ... with all you have to do.
Dont be fooled by his conciliatory tone! she told herself. Play along with him. If he thinks I suspect, then Im done for!
What did you want to talk about, Les? Dont you think that any discussion we have would be best done together with Mr Bremerson? I can understand your being pretty cut up about this. But you really need to know that I had nothing to do with your mothers ... your mothers change of mind. Id really no idea. You know it was a complete shock to me.
He nodded. Thats what you and Bremerson kept telling me. But dont you see the injustice of it all? After all I did for her? Look, perhaps I was being unfair to you after all. Cant we work something out between us so that we can both benefit? Dont fool yourself into thinking that I cant challenge this ... this new Will. So either you agree to negotiate, or Ill make sure you end up with nothing. Nothing do you understand?
Hazel stood her ground and stared at her husband. For a moment his eyes dropped. On impulse she grasped a sense of advantage. Dont be so sure of yourself. Theres something else you need to know.
And whats that?
Aldridge ... when he came back from
Not happy with what? Whats it to do with him?
The cause of death ... that there was no post-mortem.
Just what are you suggesting?
Struggling to remain calm she replied, that her death might not ... might not have been due to natural causes.
You bitch! Are you suggesting that I killed her?
Amazed at her own sustained composure, she held him with her gaze. Well, Leslie, did you?
He was clearly unnerved. For some moments he hesitated, his expression confused. By God, thought Hazel, you really did, didnt you!
He took a few steps towards her, at the same time feeling in the pocket of his coat. At once she realised that he was intending to corner her. Still facing him, she backed into the still open door of the drawing room. He advanced on her, his right had grasping firmly whatever he had been searching for in his pocket. She continued cautiously to move backwards into the room, coming at last into contact with the patio doors. Reaching behind her she sought the handle.
Seeing that she could back away no further he hesitated. Look, Hazel ... I really dont want to hurt you. Just agree to come to some arrangement with me. Even if we split everything down the middle wed both be very rich people. I never thought of you as greedy.
She stared into his face. Ill never believe anything you say to me again. Whatever I agree or dont agree to now, you want me dead. Im certain of it.
Slowly she shook her head. She could tell that her defiance had thrown him off balance. He returned her gaze, and slowly withdrew his had from his coat pocket.
In it he held a hypodermic syringe.
He spoke, quite calmly. There is sufficient insulin in this to send you into a coma in a matter of seconds. Thats exactly what it did to my mother. Her time was up, of course. It was really an act of mercy. But as for you ... well, youve only yourself to blame. After all, youve stolen what didnt belong to you. For that the price you will pay is only fair.
Panic welled up within her. But she did not take her eyes off him for a moment. She grasped handle of the patio door, pushed it down and with a deft movement of her hip thrust the door outwards. She turned and ran into the swirling mist and gathering darkness, her only thought to put as much distance as she could between herself and Leslie. Once she slipped and almost fell on the wet grass as it began to slope downwards. Then the realisation came that there was nothing ahead of her now but the river, deep, swollen and treacherous. She recognised the dark outline of a stunted willow tree, and grasped one of its branches to steady herself. She suppressed her rapid breathing and listened for any sound of pursuit.
Inevitably it came. Leslie was not running, but seemed to be covering the ground steadily as if he knew that there was no need to hurry, that there was no escape for Hazel. He reached the river bank about twenty yards to her left. He paused and listened. Then he turned and walked slowly in her direction. At last she saw his silhouette looming out of the mist. She resisted an almost overwhelming urge to run back towards the house, recognising that she had somehow reached a moment of destiny. Her fear drained away from her.
The coroner brought the proceedings to an end and gave a verdict of accidental death by drowning. He expressed his deep regret to the family of the deceased. Jenny Lawrence, sitting in the public gallery, found herself weeping quietly. Seated on her left, Doctor Aldridge tried, somewhat self-consciously, to comfort her.
Jenny shook her head. No, really, Im OK. Its more relief than anything else. That this whole dreadful saga has come to an end. She turned to sister and took her hand. But it was so much worse for you. Youve taken it so well. Youve been incredibly brave.
Doctor Aldridge suggested a cup of coffee. But lets get away from this place, he said. Theres a decent café in the next street.
The two women agreed. Jenny found herself talking to the doctor as they made their way. I just cant help thinking how fortunate it was that you arrived at the house when you did, and that you found the door open.
I suppose it was. But I just had a bad feeling about things. I recognised the car in the drive. And then I ran through the house. But I guess I was too late, anyway, to have done anything
Too late? Hazel thought Oh no your timing couldnt have been better. Leslie was just about to but you distracted him at the last moment. Then I grabbed his wrist and held it, twisted it round with all my strength. And then I ... and just pushed him away from me.
Three weeks after her husbands death she still had difficulty taking it all in. I wonder she continued to muse as she walked a few paces behind her sister and the doctor what they would have thought if theyd found that syringe. It could be in the sea anywhere by now. But thats all in the past. And it will stay there
Jenny turned back. Are you all right Hazel?
Hazel caught up with them. Really, Im fine. Just relieved its all over and we can move on. To better things ... much better things.
Henry Tegner March 2011
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