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Authors: Tanya Landman

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BOOK: Mondays are Murder
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“But we should stick together,” protested Mike.

“Why?” she said bitterly. “You two seem to have everything under control. And you said yourself that they were accidents. Look around you, Mike. There’s no one but us on the island. And you don’t believe in ghosts, do you? What could possibly happen to me? I’ll be perfectly safe.” Isabella walked away without another word. I was reminded of that old film again: Mary, Queen of Scots, walking with dignity towards her executioner.

She was lying peacefully on her bed when we found her later. An opened bottle of champagne was standing on the dressing table, beside a half-drained glass.

And rose petals were scattered across her corpse like confetti.

talking to graham

Mike
told us it was suicide: that she must have put poison in her champagne. I don’t know whether he was trying to convince us or himself, but he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. Even Meera had gone all slitty-eyed with doubt. Not that anyone said anything to contradict him. He told us that she’d been suffering from depression; she’d been very unhappy; things hadn’t been going well between them. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said he should have done more about it. Insisted she see a doctor; had treatment; it was all his fault; he was to blame.

He explained it very thoroughly and we sat there nodding as if we believed him because the alternative was just too scary to talk about.

We’d been together. We’d followed Isabella home. All the way back we could see her marching along a few hundred metres ahead of us. We’d watched her going in through the front door. The centre had been in sight the whole time. No one else had gone in or come out – we would have noticed.

I didn’t believe Isabella had killed herself. And yet none of us could have killed her. It didn’t make sense!

Very carefully I ran over exactly what had happened. We’d got back from the walk about ten minutes after Isabella. Mike had bolted the door behind us. He said it was to stop it blowing open in the wind but the fearful look in his eyes told a different story.

We’d gone into the kitchen in our little huddle and as soon as we saw that Isabella wasn’t there we’d started searching for her. We’d moved methodically from room to room, clumping together as if a sheepdog was at our heels. Once we’d searched the ground floor, we went upstairs, checking the girls’ and boys’ bedrooms before climbing the steps to the top floor where the instructors slept. The door immediately in front of us had been wide open, and we’d all seen her lying there, eyes shut, black hair spread across the pillow like something out of a Victorian oil painting.

I was absolutely positive that an intruder couldn’t have slipped past us.

But there was Isabella. Dead. Sobbing quietly, Mike had wrapped her in the duvet and gently lain her in the freezer beside Donald. If anyone else died, we’d be completely out of storage space.

While Mike and Cathy went to the office the rest of us crashed out in the sitting room. Most of the kids seemed bent on blotting out all forms of conscious thought: Jake plugged himself in to his iPod and turned the volume up so loud I could hear the tinny tune from the other side of the room, Meera got deeply engrossed with her Game Boy and Alice started playing something long and complicated on her mobile phone.

Which left me and Graham in one corner, whispering to each other.

“So… Do you believe it was a series of unfortunate events?” I asked him.

“The likelihood of it being a coincidence for so many deaths to have occurred in such a short space of time is practically zero,” he said firmly.

“OK,” I said. “Let’s consider the options. The way I see it, one of the grown-ups has to be behind it all. Cathy. Or Mike.”

“Not necessarily, Poppy,” said Graham. “I think we should look at everyone as a potential suspect. Including ourselves.”

“I’ve ruled you out,” I said. “I know you don’t want to stay here so you’d have a motive for bumping the instructors off. But you wouldn’t have damaged the radio so you couldn’t escape.”

“True,” said Graham. “And I’ve ruled you out too. I reasoned that if you’d committed the first murder you wouldn’t have drawn my attention to the cut rope.”

“So we’re both off the hook?”

“I believe so.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, that gives us somewhere to start. What do you think about Meera? She’s been nervous from the beginning. I thought she was just scared about being away from home but there could be more to it.”

We both glanced over at her. “She doesn’t look much like a devious killer, but then appearances can be deceptive,” said Graham.

“So we should keep her on the list?”

“Yes. But fairly low down, I think.”

“What about Jake? He’s so loud and pushy but I reckon he’s been scared from the beginning too,” I said.

“I think his apparent confidence is a disguise to conceal a deep insecurity,” opined Graham. “He sucks his thumb in his sleep. I’ve seen him.”

“Does he? I thought he might.” I was pleased to have my suspicion confirmed. “So he’s on the list as well. But low down?”

Graham nodded.

“As for Alice,” I considered aloud, “she’s got a really mean streak.”

“I agree,” said Graham. “But she doesn’t take any trouble to conceal it. And our killer must have an exceptionally devious mind.”

“OK. So Alice is above the other two but below the grown-ups. What about Cathy? She seems nice and straightforward but she didn’t like Isabella and she’s got a crush on Mike.”

“Has she?” Graham asked.

“Yes. Definitely. But does that mean she’d kill his wife?” I wondered.

“Possibly.” Graham nodded. “I’ve always understood that jealousy has a strange and powerful effect on the adult mind.”

“So … she had a motive. What about opportunity? Isabella’s room was on the top floor. Cathy walked with us the whole way back. I don’t see how she could have done it.”

“No,” said Graham, sighing. “And even if she’d wanted Isabella dead, there’s no reason for her to hurt Bruce, let alone Donald.”

“But she was there on the cliffs when Bruce died. She wasn’t down on the timetable to come along that morning, was she? She said she fancied some fresh air. Could she have done something to the rope?”

“It’s theoretically possible,” agreed Graham. “But we’re still stuck as to the question of motive.”

“How about Mike, then?” I asked. “He didn’t seem very happy with Isabella.”

“But it doesn’t follow that he’d kill her,” said Graham. “I read recently that forty-five per cent of marriages end in divorce: you’d have thought a legal solution would have been a lot easier than murder. And even if he did want to do away with her, I don’t see when he could have done it.”

“It’s got to link in with the other things,” I said. “The deaths that happened before we got here.”

Graham’s eyes narrowed. “What deaths?”

“Steve Harris – the instructor Bruce replaced. He had a fatal accident in the shower from what I could tell. And the other night I heard Isabella mention the name Richard – he died in South America, I think. Then she started babbling on about ghosts. She seemed to think it was all being done by an avenging spirit or something.”

Graham’s eyes narrowed sceptically. “Utterly ludicrous!”

“Try telling that to Bruce and Donald. Someone killed them. Or something. It’s got to be connected with the past. We’ve got no choice, Graham. We’re going to have to break in to the office.”

the break-in

We
had a long wait. The afternoon and evening seemed to stretch on for ever, but at last it was bedtime. I waited for Meera and Alice to fall asleep, then I swung myself down from my bunk, slipped on my dressing gown and crept out of the room. Keeping to the edge to avoid creaking, I made my way downstairs.

When I got to the office, Graham was already waiting for me. I tried the door handle. Nothing happened.

“Locked,” I said crossly. I didn’t have a clue how to get in. “We could go outside and break the window, I suppose.” It seemed a bit drastic. Someone was bound to hear. Plus I felt a bit nervous about going outside in the dark, no matter how many times I told myself there was no such thing as ghosts. It looked like my grand plan was going to fall at the first hurdle.

Graham hadn’t said a word. All of a sudden he pulled something small out of his dressing-gown pocket and slid it down the side of the door. There was a click; he turned the handle and it swung open.

“How did you do that?” I was dead impressed.

“An old Yale lock is easy to get past if you have the right equipment,” he said, holding up a rectangle of plastic. “I never travel anywhere without my library card. It gives you access to a surprising number of places.”

We started with the filing cabinets but found nothing that was even remotely interesting.

But when we turned to the shelves my eyes fell on a big brown hardback book with an embossed design on the spine. My mum had something similar at home.

It was Mike’s scrapbook.

A load of newspaper cuttings were stuffed between the pages. When I pulled it from the shelf they fell out all over the floor.

The very first one I picked up was about Steve Harris: a short account of his accident. Graham read it over my shoulder.

It seemed that Steve had got stuck in a shower at the gym when the thermostat broke. Boiling water had poured down on him.

“You wouldn’t have thought that would kill anyone,” I said.

“He’d have suffered third-degree burns,” Graham informed me. “If more than a certain proportion of the total body surface is affected – fifty per cent, I think – there’s very little anyone can do. And it looks like he was burnt all over.”

“Euw!” I winced. “That would be it then. How horrible!”

The next cutting had a bit more information:

Steve Harris was a passionate climber, outdoor sports enthusiast and founder member of his university’s expeditionary society. After graduating, he took part in many field trips to remote regions of the world to research the impact of climate change. Two years ago he led a team of friends on an expedition to South America to study the effects of global warming on the glaciers of the Andes. The expedition ended in tragedy when one of the team members, Richard Robertson, died in a climbing accident.

“That must be the Richard Isabella mentioned!” I said. “We’ve found him.”

Graham was already unfolding another bit of newspaper. This one was yellowing at the edges and gave an account of the South American accident.

The group had been climbing above a glacier when a landslide had started.

“‘Richard Robertson was fatally struck on the head,’” I read out. “What does that mean exactly?”

“He was killed by a falling rock,” replied Graham.

I read the next line, took a sharp, shocked breath and clutched Graham’s arm. “Look what it says! I don’t believe it! He was roped to Mike!
Our
Mike!
This
Mike! And … oh my God!” My stomach gave a sickening squeeze. “Mike cut his rope!”

Graham continued reading. “He had to,” he said. “Look – it says, ‘Climbing conditions had deteriorated so rapidly that the rest of the party were in danger of falling’. Richard was dead already. Mike had no choice but to cut him loose to save the others.”

“The others…” I frowned. “Who else was there? What were their names? It doesn’t say.”

Graham unfolded the next cutting, which had a photograph of the expedition team before they set off. I recognized Mike and Donald. The caption said Steve Harris was the man standing behind them. But what was really odd was the smiling woman at the centre of the photo. Right beside the ill-fated Richard Robertson, her arm tightly around his waist, and smiling up at him with a look of purest devotion, was Isabella.

Things crashed inside my head like a small avalanche. Pacing up and down, I whispered my thoughts aloud, trying them out on Graham as they took shape.

“OK. So maybe Isabella was
Richard’s
girlfriend back then…”

“Richard’s girlfriend?” Graham said, blinking. “So why did she marry Mike?”

I thought of what had happened to my mum’s best friend after her husband had left her. There’d been a whole line of what Mum had called “unsuitable boyfriends”. Mum had said, “She’s on the rebound. People do strange things when they’re unhappy.” Had it been like that for Isabella?

“Well…” I said slowly. “Suppose Mike and Isabella were both really miserable after Richard died? Maybe they ended up sort of hanging onto each other for comfort – I don’t know. But I reckon Isabella regretted it. They weren’t happy, were they? You could see that a mile off. She must have felt guilty. That’s why she acted so weird when all this started to happen. That’s why she said that she and Mike deserved to be punished.”

“Maybe. But you’d have to be certifiably insane to decide to murder everyone. It was an accident, after all. Mike couldn’t do anything else.”

“Insane…” I said thoughtfully, remembering how Isabella had been on that first night. “You know, I reckon Isabella was a bit unhinged. It’s like she was expecting people to die: like she thought they deserved it. She wasn’t surprised when Donald fell out of the freezer, was she? And she went back to the house like she was going to her execution. You don’t think Isabella might have done it all?”

“How do you mean?” asked Graham.

“Well, suppose she killed the others and then killed herself?” I said.

Graham grunted in response, and considered the matter. “Suicide… It might be a feasible hypothesis,” he agreed. “After all, there was no sign of an intruder. And yet if Isabella was behind everything why would she leave Mike still standing?”

“She said she’d had enough up on the mountain. Maybe she tried to kill Mike first and when she didn’t succeed she couldn’t think up another plan. Perhaps she wanted to die and didn’t want to put it off any longer.”

Graham looked at the photo, pointing to each of the faces in turn. “Richard Robertson fell just like Bruce… Steve Harris was burnt… Donald Shaw was frozen… Isabella was poisoned…” His finger came to Mike. “He’s the only one in this photo left alive now,” he said. “Could he be the killer, do you think?”

BOOK: Mondays are Murder
13.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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