Victoria’s hair was braided into two plaits again. She had an ‘invisible dog’ lead in her right hand – a stiff piece of red leather that reached almost to her ankles when she held the top loop of it at waist height, with a circle of red leather at the bottom, facing forward, as though strained by the neck of a smallish, eager dog that Emily and Dr. Muriel could not see.
‘I’m going to go to the police after the show and confess everything,’ Victoria said. ‘That video has done enough damage. I’ve got blood on my hands. Piers will be relieved, at least. He thinks I spend too much time at Showstoppers and not enough time at home.’
‘Where is Piers?’ asked Dr. Muriel. ‘I’d have thought he’d be here to support you.’
‘I know,’ said Victoria with cool irony. ‘What sort of man puts Queen and country before his wife’s end-of-term show at her drama school?’
‘The sort of man who doesn’t want his wife to have a nervous breakdown,’ said Dr. Muriel.
Victoria put her right hand to her eyebrows and leaned forward and swivelled a half turn on her right heel as though she planned to dance the hornpipe. But she was only manoeuvring to look through the window in the door to the assembly hall. ‘Ugh,’ she said. ‘Did you notice that? The lights keep dipping, and there’s something not right with the sound levels. If Mr. Barrymore weren’t dead, I’d kill him myself.’
‘I suppose you won’t have to move the school now that he’s dead?’ said Emily.
Victoria twisted her mouth, as if she was slightly ashamed of herself for what she had just said. ‘Yes. I hadn’t thought about that… Poor old Barry. The electrics are playing up, and he’s not even here, so I feel a bit guilty that I ever implied he could be responsible. Though I do have my suspicions that the infant toilets won’t be blocking up again in future… Where
you two going? Don’t let the kids see you if you’re nipping outside for a smoke. And please, please, please make sure you come back for at least part of the show. The finale’s going to be great. I’ve had a brainwave and changed
at the last minute.’
‘We won’t miss your teachers’ skit,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘What a shame you won’t be tap dancing. That’s always my favourite part.’
‘Don’t you worry, we’re all coming on at the end – teachers, tinies, teenagers – and we’re doing a group tap dance then. Samuel has briefed them, and they adore him and listen to what he says, so I hope it won’t be too chaotic. Graham and I will just be singing for our skit, and I’ll do a bit of business with the dog lead, and maybe a cartwheel, and hope these boots don’t fall off. Graham has a wonderful voice, but the less he moves on stage this afternoon, the better, or we won’t have anyone sign up for dance class and choreography next term and Seema will have my guts for garters.’
‘Where is Seema?’ asked Emily.
‘She’s taken the screwdriver, and she’s gone to have a look at the fuse box under the stage, even though I’ve begged her to leave it alone. She’s very tight-fisted with the accounts, so maybe she feels responsible for being a cheapskate and not getting a qualified electrician in, and she’s trying to make amends. Although, doing it by killing herself is not the best way. Don’t you think?’
‘Well, if we see her, we’ll intervene,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘We don’t want another dead body or a serious injury.’
‘Oh, I don’t think there’s any question of that now that the video is at Barry’s house under police guard. I do feel a tremendous amount of relief, actually. So long as it’s evidence, they’ll have to keep it under lock and key. And after that I’ll just ask them to destroy it for me. I’m sure they’ll be glad to help as I’m going to cooperate fully – it should keep the paperwork down.’
‘You’re not seriously going to confess to murder?’ asked Emily.
‘Living in a house with one man and three teenage boys, I sometimes think that going to prison is the only way I could get any peace,’ said Victoria. ‘But no, I’m not going to confess to killing anyone. Piers is right. Dr. Muriel’s right. A video can’t really be bad luck, no matter that David and I used to joke about it after our poor tutor died. But ever since that video turned up at the house, there’s been trouble. I wonder if someone’s heard me talk about the history of it and they’re trying to frame me – I can’t think
because I hardly breathed a word to anybody.’
‘Indeed,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Interesting theory. Here’s another for you: might someone be trying to attach some scandal to the name of David Devereux?’
‘Do you still think David sent you those letters?’ asked Emily.
‘I rather liked Morgana’s theory that perhaps he was sending them because he wanted to get my attention, maybe even as a way of getting back together with me. But earlier on today, when I held his hand for the first time after all those years, there was no spark. And Dolly’s no pathetic invention to give him an excuse to visit the school – she really is his daughter. She looks just like him.’
‘Still, someone sent the letters,’ said Emily.
‘And whoever it was threatened to stop the show in the latest note,’ said Dr. Muriel.
‘Did they, indeed? I shan’t say “over my dead body!”’ said Victoria with a wink. The music coming from the assembly hall changed to jolly, comedic piano music, played very fast. ‘Oof!’ Victoria said. ‘Good old Samuel! That number’s the one before mine and Graham’s – I’d better go.’ She adjusted the invisible dog lead, pretending the unseen animal was tugging at the collar. With a backward flick of her head and a jaunty kick of her right foot, she dashed off after it in time to the music, towards the classroom nearest the assembly hall that was serving as a dressing room for the show.
Emily and Dr. Muriel went into the playground. The hopscotch-covered tarmac of the primary school days was now converted into a pleasant courtyard seating area, with wooden benches and raised flower-beds, and shady areas provided by wooden arches covered in vines and clematis, the landscaping reminiscent of holidays Victoria and Piers had enjoyed in Provence.
They could see the shed at the far end of it, where Dizzy kept his tools. Next to it, within the walled perimeter of the grounds, abutting the school building, was the caretaker’s cottage that had been the home of the landlord, Mr. Barrymore. A thin blue and white strip of police tape ran between the front of the cottage and the playground.
Dr. Muriel put her hands in her pockets and strolled next to Emily in a hopelessly suspicious-looking way, as though she were a prisoner of war in a German camp, planning to distribute sand dug from an escape tunnel onto the ground as they walked. Emily was worried that at any minute her companion might actually start whistling.
‘I’ve got a bad feeling about all this,’ Emily said. ‘The poison pen letters were meant to frighten Victoria, but now that the video’s no longer in her possession, the notes no longer have any effect. I think Victoria might be in danger.’
‘Do you know, m’dear, I agree with you.’
‘Should we go and stand guard by the stage, in case we need to do something? Or should we call the police?’
‘Knowledge is what we need: “intel”. If we don’t know what we’re looking for, we won’t know how to stop it. I don’t suppose we can get inside the house here, but there’s nothing to stop us peering through the window. First things first: the shed.’
The door to the shed was padlocked and didn’t open when they pulled at it. They stood side by side at the two small square windows on it and looked into the darkness inside. But nothing looked out of place or suspicious. They turned and stood with their backs to the shed and looked over to Mr. Barrymore’s home, to their right. It was also in darkness. The kitchen window faced them. It appeared to be positioned above a sink, where Mr. Barrymore might very well have stood and smiled at David Devereux while he was doing the dishes or filling the kettle for a cup of tea – if only he hadn’t already been dead.
‘The policeman didn’t say where they found him,’ said Emily. ‘If someone wanted to frame Victoria for murder, or make David look like a liar, could they have propped Mr. Barrymore’s body up there, at the sink?’
‘Interesting,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘It makes a liar of David, certainly. But it doesn’t put Victoria at the scene.’
Dr. Muriel pressed the end of her stick into the blue and white tape, moving it close enough to the cottage so that she and Emily could press their faces up against the glass of the living room window. They could see the young policeman inside in the gloom. ‘You know,’ said Emily, ‘if someone wanted to harm Victoria or at least humiliate her and stop the show, wouldn’t they choose her
Wizard of Oz
number to do it?’
‘We’re running out of time, then, m’dear. We urgently need to get ourselves a clue.’
The policeman came to the door of the house and opened it. He looked at Emily, and his hand floated up towards her elbow, tenderly. He didn’t quite touch her, and he let his hand drop again as he said, ‘Don’t worry about the dog, miss. I don’t think it suffered at all.’
Emily said, ‘You can call me Emily.’
‘James,’ said the policeman.
‘Constable James,’ said Dr. Muriel, ‘what are you doing lurking about in the gloom back there? Even at your young age, it can’t be very good for your sight.’
‘The fuse has gone. All the electricity’s off.’
‘Has it, has it, has it, is it?’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Hmmmm. Dodgy wiring, perhaps? Tell me, was he found here in the kitchen, holding on to the taps?’
‘You know I can’t tell you that, madam.’
‘Do you need one?’ The policeman looked alarmed. His hand floated up, now, towards Dr. Muriel’s elbow.’
‘You may call me “doctor”. But I don’t insist on it. As you wish.’
‘Oh, I see.’ James looked at Emily and widened his eyes a bit to signal that he hoped she’d let on whether or not Dr. Muriel was teasing him. Emily grinned back.
‘Were the taps metal?’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Can you tell me that?’
‘Well, I don’t see what else they’d be made of,’ said the policeman, a bit sulkily.
Dr. Muriel said, ‘Here are the facts, as you have hinted at them or (in the case of the taps) confirmed them: Mr. Barrymore, a most unscrupulous landlord, a saver of pennies and cutter of corners, was found here at the sink, gripping the metal taps and staring out the window, with a ghastly grin on his face. The electricity was off, a fuse apparently having blown.’ Dr. Muriel turned to Emily. ‘What do you make of that, Emily?’
‘The metal taps were live, somehow? He went to fill the kettle or wash his hands and he was electrocuted, and that caused a short circuit and blew a fuse?’
‘Well, yes,’ conceded James the policeman. ‘It could be something like that.’
‘The bulldog, Precious, was lying in the living room, teeth bared in the approximation of a human smile, having been electrocuted also because some part of her body was touching a lamp or some other electrical apparatus, which had also gone live.’
‘She didn’t suffer at all,’ James said to Emily. ‘I really think she didn’t.’
‘That’s very clever,’ said Emily to Dr. Muriel. ‘Shouldn’t you save it all for the confrontation?’
‘That wasn’t the confrontation, it was the denouement. And yes, I’ll have to go through it all again. But let’s consider it a dress rehearsal. It is a show business event, after all.’
‘So it was natural causes?’ Emily said. ‘That means Victoria’s not in danger. David Devereux’s not a liar. We can go in and watch the show.’
‘David Devereux?’ said James. ‘The actor in that spy thing? Isn’t he supposed to be going to Hollywood?’
‘Goodbye, Constable,’ said Dr. Muriel. ‘Come, Emily. If we hurry, we’ll catch Victoria’s performance. She’s a talented actor, with wonderful comic timing. I won’t say she’s wasted here, but there’s no match for her in any of the shows currently playing in the West End.’
They rushed back to the assembly hall, where they waited for the sound of applause to signal the end of the current number before Emily slipped in discreetly at the back of the audience, while Dr. Muriel went through a side door and took her place next to Morgana Blakely, whose face was so pinched with fury at being left alone that it looked as though her features were trying to shrink themselves to match the size of the tiny top hat she was wearing.
There was a space in a row at the back, three seats in next to David Devereux – the only space Emily could see, though she didn’t look very hard. David saw her approaching, bent low as though she was a giantess who feared catching her hair in overhead pylons, and he moved up and moved Dolly up next to him, so Emily could take the seat on the end. He smiled and put his arm across the back of Dolly and reached to Emily’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, pressing his leg into Dolly’s and Dolly’s whole body into Emily, so for a moment they were all three of them scrunched up and cute-looking like a family of foxes in a den.
‘Victoria’ll be hilarious!’ he whispered. ‘If she’s anything like she was at drama school. Wait till you see this.’
To the right, about halfway down the auditorium, Emily noticed a gleam of white as Seema edged her way in and stood quietly watching, back against the wall. White trousers really were distracting when worn by audience members, Emily thought. It was almost as bad as people eating popcorn in the cinema or texting on their mobile phones. Because of the trousers, she couldn’t help tracking Seema’s movements as she moved slowly to the back of the hall and then went to stand by Dizzy, where he operated the mixing desk for the sound and lights for the show.