Authors: Lesley Pearse
As Eva stood in her parents’ bedroom,
she remembered the terrific row her parents had had when Dad arrived home from a
business trip to find Mum had completely redecorated this room. Eva had never been quite
sure whether she liked the shock of coming from the muted decor elsewhere into this red
and gold, grandiose and decadent room. But she really admired her mother for not only
decorating it herself,
but getting the curtains, carpet and French
walnut furniture in while Dad was away, and sticking to her guns when he went mad about
it. She had insisted that she was entitled to have one room in the house that was just
Although it was unlikely Mum had braved the
rain to do something in the garden or the garage, it would account for her changing her
clothes, so Eva looked out of the window.
People assumed by looking at the grand
gates, and the sweeping drive, that the back garden must be huge. It had been, but the
house was in such a bad state when her parents bought it that they sold all of the land
at the back of the house to pay for the renovations. The development company who bought
it built a small estate of executive houses there.
There was just a narrow strip of patio at
the back now, and an eight-foot wall to give them some privacy. But here in the front of
the house it was still possible to imagine how The Beeches had looked when it was first
built two hundred years ago because the trees and bushes surrounding the lawn shut out
even a glimpse of the newer neighbouring houses. Eva couldn’t see the garage from
the window, as it was joined to the side of the house, but it was possible that if the
door was shut and her mother was engrossed in something, she might not have heard
But as she turned from the window she
noticed that the door of the en-suite bathroom was closed. Like the extremely tidy
kitchen, that was uncharacteristic. Except for Tuesdays – when Rose, the cleaning lady,
came – there was often a trail of dropped clothes from the bed to the bath, with doors
and drawers left open.
‘Mum, are you in there?’ she
There was no reply but she went over to the
door and banged loudly on it, just in case Flora had her Walkman on in
the bath. She turned the handle and opened the door just wide enough to peep in.
To her relief she could see the top of her
mother’s head just above the end of the claw-foot bath.
‘Oh, here you are! So sorry to
intrude. I was getting worried –’
She stopped short, suddenly noticing the
bathwater was as red as her mother’s hair.
‘Mum!’ she screamed as she
rushed in. ‘Mum! What’s happened?’
But one look at the pallor of her
mother’s face and her wide-open, yet vacant eyes was enough for Eva to know she
was dead; and the craft knife covered in blood, dropped on the floor beside the bath,
told her how it had happened.
Nothing in Eva’s entire life had
prepared her for such a shocking sight, and she screamed involuntarily, running out on
to the landing in fright.
It took her a few moments to pull herself
together enough to go back into the bedroom, pick up the phone and dial 999. But as soon
as she’d stammered out to the operator what she’d just found and given the
address, she went back to the landing and slumped down onto the floor, too shocked and
terrified by what she’d seen to go downstairs.
The waiting for someone to come seemed
endless. The only sounds were the rain thudding down on the skylight and her heart
beating too fast. She wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed.
Nothing had happened that morning to make
Eva suspect something was badly wrong. Breakfast had been utterly normal and, aside from
Dad’s sarcasm in asking Mum if she was going to a tea dance, nothing unusual had
been said. Mum had made a pot of tea as usual, and just sat there drinking
hers as Sophie and Ben got themselves cereal. She’d said all the
usual stuff. Had Sophie got her games things? Then reminded Ben he must have a proper
lunch at school, not just a packet of crisps. She’d kissed them all as they left
the house, even asked Dad to pick up his best suit from the dry cleaners. Did she know
she was going to do this even then? And why did she tidy the whole house? Did she think
her death would be less distressing for everyone if the house was looking perfect?
When Eva heard the siren in the distance,
she felt unable to move. She didn’t think she’d even be able to speak to the
police or ambulance men.
Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound
of tyres on the gravel drive and loud male voices. One of them was her father’s;
he must have arrived along with the emergency services. Knowing he would have Ben and
Sophie with him, Eva felt she had to protect her brother and sister from what
she’d seen, and so she hauled herself up.
But before she even got to the stairs she
heard Dad speaking in the hall below. He must have opened the front door to let the
police in that way.
‘There must be some mistake,’ he
was saying with indignation. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a hoax call? Yes, that
is our elder daughter’s car, but did the person who made the call say she was Eva
‘Daddy!’ Eva called out,
clinging to the gallery rail. ‘It was me. Don’t let Sophie and Ben up
All at once what seemed like a dozen people
were all speaking at the same time. There were heavy footsteps and Sophie was yelling
that she wanted to know what was going on.
Eva felt as if she was in the middle of a
terrible nightmare. But she knew she wasn’t going to wake up and find it
real. She really had seen the bathwater bright red with
blood. She really had lifted Mum’s arm and seen the slash across her wrist. And
she hadn’t imagined the bloodstained knife lying on the floor.
As the ambulance men came up the stairs she
turned to point to the bedroom. But the dark red carpet in there looked to her like a
pool of blood, and her stomach heaved. She could hear Sophie screaming downstairs, and
Ben’s voice too, shrill with anxiety, then Dad’s voice above theirs, telling
them to be quiet as they were making the situation even worse. She felt herself growing
dizzy, and she must have fainted, because the next thing she knew she was on the floor
and a policewoman was kneeling beside her.
‘There now,’ she said
soothingly. ‘You’ve had a terrible shock, but come downstairs with me and
I’ll make you a cup of tea.’
WPC Sandra Markham was thirty-eight and had
been in the police force in Cheltenham for twelve years. She knew she had a reputation
as being good at weighing up the dynamics in domestics – which one of a warring couple
was the vicious one, the liar or the bully. Her opinion was valued because she was very
observant, could read body language well, and she also had a knack of getting people to
She had been called upon, hundreds of times,
to be present when it was necessary to break the news of a death or serious accident.
Each time the reaction was different: some people couldn’t take it in, while some
guessed what was coming as soon as they saw a police uniform. Some remained dry-eyed and
silent, others screamed and wailed, and there were many other variations between the two
extremes. But in every other case where children had lost a mother or father, she had
never known the remaining parent, however shocked
they were, not rally enough to try and comfort them.
In the three hours Markham had been at the
Pattersons’ home, she hadn’t once seen Andrew Patterson attempt to comfort
He had arrived at The Beeches with his two
younger children at the same time as the police. He’d gone up the stairs right
behind the two male officers and Markham had followed him. He didn’t even glance
at his elder daughter, crumpled up on the landing, as he rushed into the bedroom.
That of course was understandable, given the
circumstances. Yet when he came out of the bedroom just a few minutes later, when
Markham was trying to get Eva on to her feet to take her downstairs, she cried out to
him, and he ignored her.
Once Markham had got Eva down to the kitchen
she questioned her, trying to ascertain the girl’s exact movements after she
returned home from work until the moment she found her mother.
Finding your mother dead in a bath of blood
had to be one of the most terrible things for anyone to experience, especially someone
so young. Yet Patterson didn’t once come over to Eva, put his arm around her, or
show any concern for her.
Sometimes in cases like this people appeared
vacant, too shocked to really take in what was happening around them. But Patterson was
listening hard, and when Eva said how the kitchen had looked like a show house, he
interrupted. He curtly asked why Eva found that strange, implying that she was
The house was immaculate, and it looked to
Markham as though it was always kept that way. But she didn’t think Eva would make
any reference to it unless this wasn’t always the
Patterson trying to conceal his wife’s failings? Could this be a source of
conflict which had propelled Flora Patterson to take her own life?
There was no doubt that Andrew Patterson was
a very attractive and clearly very successful man: six foot two, athletic build, dark
hair with just a sprinkling of grey at the temples, good teeth and very dark eyes. His
shock and horror at his wife’s death seemed heartfelt, yet his lack of compassion
towards his elder daughter was suspicious.
There was only a year between Ben and
Sophie, the two younger children, and they could easily have passed for twins, as they
were so alike – both tall, slender, with their father’s glossy dark hair and eyes.
As Markham hadn’t seen the mother, she assumed Eva must take after her, because
she was much shorter, with blue eyes and light brown hair.
Because Patterson interrupted her
questioning several times, and also because Sophie kept rushing in and out of the room
wailing and screeching, Markham took Eva into the sitting room to get the whole
Distraught as she was, it was obvious Eva
was a caring, level-headed girl. She managed to tell her story clearly and showed a
protective anxiety for her younger siblings that was very laudable. While she
wasn’t as strikingly beautiful as her younger sister, she had a sweet face and
there was something about her that made Markham want to take her in her arms and cuddle
Part of it was because she looked a bit prim
and old-fashioned. Her hair was tied back at the nape of her neck, and her navy-blue
suit, white shirt and plain court shoes were far too frumpy for a girl of almost
twenty-one. Yet despite that, Markham felt she was more worldly than her appearance
Usually when Markham interviewed young girls
something horrific, they were unable to get beyond their own
feelings. Eva related her irritation at the gates being closed, and her bewilderment
that the back door was unlocked with no sign of her mother, just as any other girl
would. She broke down several times too, becoming so upset when she described the moment
when she found her mother that Markham felt she might have to halt the interview. But
Eva visibly made the effort to pull herself together, and her real concern was not for
herself but for what had driven her mother to do it. She was also desperate to go to
comfort Sophie, who was by then hysterical.
‘Would you say your parents’
marriage was a happy one?’ Markham asked gently. The house was beautiful and
luxurious and it was hard to imagine any woman not being happy there. But she knew from
experience that appearances could be deceptive.
Eva nodded tearfully. ‘I think so. But
they were very different kinds of people. Dad’s very ordered and calm; he likes
everything just so. Mum could be quite chaotic and disorganized.’
‘Did you notice anything, even
something quite small, that was different about her recently? Did she seem worried or
nervy? Had she been ill?’
‘Not really. She had seemed sort of
distant for a while, but then she often had periods like that.’
It was at that point Markham looked around
and saw Patterson hovering by the doorway, listening. His expression wasn’t one of
anxiety for Eva; it was more like he was checking on what she was saying. Markham not
only wondered why that was important to him, but also why her colleagues hadn’t
made sure he stayed in the kitchen with the other two children.
There were no grounds to find Flora’s
The way she was lying, the absence of any signs of a
struggle and the knife dropped over the edge of the bath made it clear it was suicide.
The fact she was wearing cream silk underwear and the stark note left in the bedroom,
saying only ‘Forgive me’, suggested she had planned it in advance.
Yet there had to be a reason why a woman who
appeared to have everything – a beautiful home, three children and no financial worries
– would choose to end her life. Debt, disgrace, terminal illness, an unbearable marriage
or an illicit love affair were all possibilities, and perhaps something would come to
light later. Yet Markham felt certain Andrew Patterson already knew the reason, or at
least could guess at it, but he wasn’t the kind to reveal anything which might
reflect badly on him.
As for Eva, her total bewilderment proved
she knew nothing. Markham could only hope the post mortem or the inquest might throw up
some answers for all three children. To be left wondering why would be torture.
Much later that evening, after
Flora’s body had been taken away to the mortuary and the police had left, Eva sat
at the kitchen table nursing a cup of tea that had long since grown cold. She felt
Ben was next to her in much the same state,
still wearing his navy-blue school blazer, not speaking, his eyes red-rimmed and
swollen, and now and again he reached out silently for her hand. Dad was across the
table from them, grimly drinking whiskey and only uttering a few questioning words now
and then which didn’t appear to need answers.