Jacky Fowler's Stuff

July 10, 2010

An Inconvenient Wife

Filed under: Short Stories — jackyfowler @ 12:17 pm
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 This is a story I wrote for a ‘crime fiction’ competition within my writers’ group – it was joint winner.

“Right Mr Nunn, can we just get this straight? For the record. The last time you saw your wife was five days ago?”

“Yes.” James Nunn leaned back in his chair and folded his arms as Inspector Colin Travis leaned forward across the table.

“Five days, and it’s only just occurred to you to report her missing? Why is that?”

“Because I thought she was just sulking.”

“Sulking?” The inspector’s eyebrows rose.

“We’re not on the best of terms right now. I thought she’d gone to stay with friends for a few days without telling me. It’s not unusual.”

“Without taking her car?”

James shrugged his shoulders. “She could have got them to pick her up. Or taken a taxi to the station.”

“True. But how likely is she to have left without her purse … with all her credit cards in it?”

“I didn’t know she’d left her purse.”

“Or that she hadn’t packed a case, or taken any of her belongings with her?”

“Look, I’ve told your colleague already – we’re in the middle of getting a divorce. I don’t really keep tabs on what Louise does any more.”

Inspector Travis leaned further forward. “So why are you here now then, Mr Nunn?”

“Her sister got worried, she hadn’t heard from Louise for a week. Couldn’t get her on her mobile. So she came up to the house.” The tone was flat, almost bored and James let his gaze roam around what little there was to see in the pigeon-grey painted interview room.

A fleeting expression of annoyance passed over Inspector Travis’ face. “Yes, we’ve contacted Mrs Duffy. What was your response to her concern?”

“If you’ve spoken to Carol, then you’ll already know, won’t you?” Patience was thinly stretched in his tone.

Travis leaned back. “I’d still like to hear it from you, Mr Nunn.”

“Fine,” James sighed. “If that’s what you want.” He leaned forward, and recited pretty much word for word what Inspector Travis could see on the statement in front of him.

“I told Carol I hadn’t seen Louise since Saturday night. She asked if I’d heard from her since then. I said ‘no’. We’d gone into Louise’s study, but there was no note or anything there. So Carol called her mobile again, and that’s when we heard the ‘phone ringing. It was in a drawer.” The tone became more animated. “That was unusual, she usually has it glued to her hand.”

“So, that was when you started to wonder what had happened to her?”

Another shrug. “Not really, I just thought she’d misplaced it.”

“So you weren’t worried then?”

“No, why should I be?” James glanced down at the polystyrene cup that had held what he’d been told was coffee. He’d taken one sip from it and then pushed it away. Time hadn’t made it any more appealing, and he pursed his lips in distaste before looking back up at the inspector.

“But Mrs Nunn’s sister was worried?”

“Carol’s like that. I told her she was making a mountain out of a molehill, but she was adamant that Louise would have been in touch, even without her mobile.”

“And Mrs Duffy then went up to her sister’s room?”

“Yes.” Another shrug. “She insisted.”

“Did you not want Mrs Duffy to go up to your wife’s bedroom?”

“I didn’t mind her going up there. I just didn’t see the point.”

“I take it you don’t share a bedroom with Mrs Nunn anymore?”

“No. We agreed to share the house until the divorce is final, but that’s as far as it goes. We don’t share a bedroom and we don’t really share anything else anymore.”

“But she’s still your wife Mr Nunn. Surely you started to worry when Mrs Duffy told you she’d found her sister’s purse and that all her clothes still seemed to be in her closet?”

“Louise has so many clothes I don’t see how Carol could tell if there’s anything missing or not quite frankly.”

“So you’re still not worried about your wife. And yet you’re here to report her missing? A bit of a contradiction surely?”

“I’m here because Carol ‘phoned just about everyone she could think of and none of them has seen Louise since Saturday. Well, none of them will say they have.”

“Why would they not say if they’d seen her – put everyone’s mind at rest?”

“Because Louise can be a right bitch when she wants. She probably just wants to make life difficult for me.”

“And why would she want to do that?”

“I’ve already told you – we’re in the middle of a divorce; it isn’t easy. Louise isn’t an ‘easy’ woman.” Nunn scrutinised the well-manicured fingers of his right hand, before adjusting the signet ring on his little finger slightly. He looked up at the inspector again and said “No, definitely not an easy woman to live with at all.”

“So you’d had a row then? Is that why she’d want to ‘make life difficult for you’?”

“No. I don’t think we did more than pass in the hall on Saturday. Louise doesn’t need a reason to be difficult, Inspector, it’s just the way she is.”

“Well, Mr Nunn. You may not be worried about your wife, but we are. You have a large estate – what if she went for a walk and got into  difficulties?”

James’ mouth twitched in amusement, and he shook his head. “Louise? Go for a walk anywhere there are no shops? No. No way.”

“Even so, we’ll need to come up to the house, search it and the estate to start with. Standard procedure.”

James shrugged yet again. “If you feel it’s necessary Inspector.”

 ******

Colin Travis was shrugging himself into his jacket ready to head off home when he heard the footsteps coming towards him across the incident room floor. He looked up and sighed faintly. Damn. DCI Lyle. Probably no chance of even a late supper then, and he’d promised Julie faithfully he’d be back earlier than usual tonight. It was probably going to result in a ‘sleeping in the spare bed’ kind of row when he finally got back. This case was taking its toll.

Travis ran a hand over his hair, switched off the light in his office and went out to greet his boss with what he hoped was a welcoming smile. “Good evening, sir.”

“Evening Colin. Sorry it’s so late – thought I might even have missed you. I really need an up-date on the Louise Nunn case ASAP. You’re positive you’ve got enough to give the CPS?”

Travis nodded, and gave in to the inevitable with a gesture towards a couple of chairs that gave a good view of the cluster of clear panels on which the case evidence had been pieced together.

“Oh yes sir. It’s been a frustrating investigation, but we’ve got a pretty clear picture now of what happened.”

Lyle grimaced. “I wish it had been as clear before you dug that dirty great hole in the overtime budget searching for her.”

His face broke into a grin. “Bloody hell, Colin, I thought the ACC was going to have a heart attack when he saw what it cost. Nearly choked on his jasmine tea when he saw you’d even gone through the pig shit. It was almost worth the bollocking I got for authorising it. I told him you knew what you were doing.” His eyebrows rose, posing the unspoken question.

“Thanks for taking the flak sir. You knew we had to be sure. It’s a big estate, we went over every inch of it – there was a possibility she was there to be found. It would have made the job a lot easier to have a body – even traces of a body. Not easy, proving she’s dead without that. And that her husband murdered her.”

“The jury’s going to have to be given a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence to believe it, Colin. And the CPS are going to be even more of a bugger to convince.”

Travis straightened in his chair and stared at the photo of the smiling man that was pinned to the case wall. “James Nunn’s a cool customer, I’ll give him that.  But he’s always been the major suspect in the case. Something about him right from the start.”

“Well, it’s not exactly unusual for it to be the victim’s ‘nearest and dearest’ is it? But it’s going to take more than statistics, Colin. I know most of it, but pretend I’m the CPS – convince me it was Nunn.”

“Okay. We’ve no body. But we also have absolutely no sightings of Louise Nunn after Saturday, 28th September. Not even the usual volume of crank calls. Credit cards, passport, mobile ‘phone – all in the house. No record of any duplicates. Yes, people do just take off for a new life, but look at her,” he gestured at the photo of the blonde woman at the centre of the case. “She’s distinctly high maintenance, there’s no way she’d take off without so much as a change of clothing, let alone no money.” Travis turned his gaze on DCI Lyle. “On the contrary. She was planning to start a new life, yes, but she was determined to sort her old one out first. Chiefly by taking her husband to the cleaners.”

Lyle gave a wry smile. “I can sympathise with him there then. But is that enough of a motive?”

Travis grinned. “No disrespect sir, but I doubt you had quite as much to lose as Nunn. Louise’s divorce lawyer is more than confident that her client was going to walk away with four million plus. Half of everything he’s got. And she wanted it as a lump sum, so he’d have had to sell either the business or the estate to raise the cash. He was between a rock and a hard place – without the business he couldn’t afford the upkeep on the house and estate and the only thing I’ve seen him get passionate about is Redmayne Hall.”

“Okay, I’ll give you a decent motive. What else?”

“Not least is the fact that he left it five days to report her missing. And he only came forward then because his sister-in-law pressurised him – told him she’d do it, if he didn’t.”

Travis reached for a file on the desk and flipped through it as he spoke. “The usual checks brought up a report on a call out to a “domestic”. Seemed quiet by the time our lot got out there. There were no marks on her, so no evidence he’d been violent – she said that was because … ‘he shook me by the shoulders until I thought my head would fall off’. Said she didn’t want to make a formal complaint though, so it just went ‘on file’.”

Even with that, at first we questioned him as a ‘significant witness’ rather than a suspect. He was pretty consistent in his story, but then we found out he’d lied about not having a row with Louise on the day she was last seen.

“Of course, he tried to make out it was just a regular ‘spat’, but that was the day she told him she was taking half, and that she knew about his latest affair. With his secretary … sorry, personal assistant.”

“Ah,” DCI Lyle’s tone said it all. “Sounds a little bit like history repeating itself.”

“Exactly. We took another look at the death of Nunn’s first wife, Helen, of course. But there’s nothing to prove it wasn’t just a tragic accident – combination of filthy weather, pitch black night, muddy back-road to the estate. There were obvious skid marks – trying to avoid an animal was the accepted explanation. Her car veered off and ended up smashed into a tree. She was dead before the ambulance got there.”

“Hmm.” Lyle’s chin disappeared into his chest. “Interesting, but …”

“There’s more. She left him her own money and there was a hefty life insurance payout too. He needed it – badly – he’d made a total balls-up of his company. Grandfather made enough out of it to buy the estate. Father kept it ticking over. But James doesn’t seem to have a head for business, and the bank was just about to pull the plug on him.”

Lyle jumped in, unable to resist. “Very convenient. And a year or so later, the business was going from strength to strength, thanks to the injection of fresh capital and Louise Lawrence, as she was then, joining the company as Sales Manager.”

“Gossip was rife about them for months, before and after she started working for him. They weren’t particularly discreet.”

“And then he married her,” said Lyle, with the air of one producing a trump card. “Must have seemed like a good idea at the time, eh? And now?” The DCI smiled back at James’s photo. “To lose one wife may be regarded as a misfortune, Mr Nunn, but to lose two looks like … murder.” He pushed himself to his feet. “How about a drink, Colin? Then you can tell me about the diary.”

 ******

The courtroom was packed and it was becoming uncomfortably stuffy as the day wore on.

The Crown Prosecutor heaved himself to his feet again, straightening his wig a touch as he did so. He glanced at the sheaf of papers in his hand and looked straight at the man in the witness box.

“Well now, Inspector Travis. Please tell the court about Mrs Nunn’s diary. First of all, where did you find it?”

“Well, a search of the house brought to light several computer memory sticks – they contained Mrs Nunn’s diary.”

“And you found these memory sticks where?”

“They were inside a smallish Harvey Nichols bag, which had then been placed inside one of the handbags in Mrs Nunn’s dressing room.

“So you would say they had been hidden then? Well hidden?”

“Yes, it took quite some time to go through all Mrs Nunn’s belongings. It was an extremely thorough and painstaking search.”

“And this diary led you to consider Mr Nunn’s murder of his wife as the most likely explanation for her disappearance?”

“Yes.”

“Tell the court why that was please.”

“There were entries detailing a series of confrontations with her husband – about work, the house, children. Mrs Nunn had tried several procedures, but was unable to have children and wanted to adopt. Mr Nunn didn’t, he wanted a child of his own to inherit the estate. The marriage seems to have been rather volatile for some time. Many of the recent entries, since she filed for divorce, dealt with the rows they were having about the settlement she wanted. Rows which became increasingly violent.”

“Entries such as: ‘All hell broke loose when I told him I’d had enough and wanted a divorce. I don’t know why, he must be as sick of me as I am of him. He pushed me to the ground and I was screaming my head off, but we were alone in the house. I’ve never been so frightened … I want to get away from him – for good.’ That kind of thing, Inspector?”

“Yes. And that was backed up by e-mails to friends, complaining that the defendant was threatening and violent towards her.”

“Mrs Nunn even reported this violence to the police. Again, I quote: “I can’t believe I thought reporting him to the police would work. My word against his, no evidence of violence, so charges wouldn’t stick. I’m stymied, he’s not going to leave any obvious marks on me – for crying out loud, we work together and he knows I wouldn’t say I’d “walked into a door” to cover up for him, not if it got to that level. But he was shaken – he didn’t think I’d actually make the call. Maybe it will make him think twice next time. God, my head hurts, I really thought I was going to pass out. Feel sick.‘ Can you verify this incident Inspector?”

“We were called out, yes, but I’m afraid we can’t do anything unless the victim is prepared to press charges.”

“Yes, of course. And on the Saturday she was last seen? There’s a diary entry for that day which reads: ‘The last row was bad enough. It left me shaken, very frightened. What’s he going to be like when I tell him I want half? Determined to get it over and done with this weekend. After all, what can he do now that I know about his plans with Karen?’ Do you know what those plans were, Inspector?”

“Mrs Nunn had confided in her sister that she had proof that the defendant was having an affair with his personal assistant, Karen McRae. She thought he’d go along with her demands for an increase in her settlement so that they could hurry the divorce through and he could marry Miss McRae.”

“Why the need for haste, Inspector?”

“Because Miss McRae was pregnant.”

There was a Mexican wave of murmurs along the spectators’ gallery. The judge glared up at its occupants and silence fell. “You may continue, Inspector.”

“Thank you, sir. Unfortunately, Miss McRae suffered a miscarriage a few weeks after Mrs Nunn’s disappearance.”

****** 

“I didn’t do it Karen. I didn’t kill her.” James Nunn thrust his hands across the formica table between them and grabbed her fingers. “I can’t understand what I’m doing here. I’m innocent.”

“I know you are, darling.” The voice was soothing, reassuring. “I believe you didn’t kill Louise.”

“Then why didn’t they believe me?”

“Because they don’t know you, James. Not the real you – that lawyer made you sound like some kind of Bluebeard. Blithely killing off one wife after another. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.” Karen’s tone was indignant.

James drew back his hands and slammed a fist down on the table. “But the jury did. And the judge – he made that perfectly clear in his summing up. ‘Most unusually, Mrs Nunn has been able to give evidence from beyond the grave.’ Pompous old sod.” James put his head in his hands. “All that stuff she wrote. How could they not see how exaggerated it was? … I didn’t do half the things she claimed. And anyway, she drove me to it – the bitch. I’m glad she’s dead.”

Karen’s eyes flicked to the prison officer standing with his back stiff against the door and then back to James. “Shush, darling. I know it’s awful, but you have to think about what might happen next.”

 “Psychiatric reports. I’m clearly not insane so they’ll probably send me to prison for life,” he put his head in his hands and groaned.

“No, don’t give up, darling, please don’t give up. There must be something we can do. I’ll speak to your lawyer again – he must be able to come up with some reason to appeal, almost everyone who goes to prison for murder these days seems to appeal, don’t they? Even when it’s obvious they did it. Like Rosemary Thingy and that horrid caretaker who killed those little girls.”

James raised his head and stared at her.

“I know, I know.” Karen closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m babbling and I’m saying completely the wrong thing. I’m sorry, but I just can’t think straight. I just meant that there must be a way to make them look at the case again.” Karen stretched her hands out and after a few seconds James took them in his.

Karen smiled uncertainly. “I don’t know if this will help. I’ve been waiting for the right time to tell you, but it’s never seemed to be ‘the right time’, so I’m just going to come out with it now.” She took a deep breath and said in a rush, “I’m pregnant again.”

 ******

“Come on in. Do sit down. I’ll just move this … and then you can put the tray down on the coffee table please Tina … thank you, that’s fine. Jamie’s fast asleep and his baby monitor is on, so you can get off home now, thanks. See you in the morning.”

“Right you are Mrs Nunn. Goodnight.”

A faint click confirmed that the door was shut and Karen turned back to her guest.

“Hello. Long time no see.” She smiled. “Coffee?”

“Please. Just a spot of milk, no sugar, thanks.”

Karen smiled again. “I remember. There you go.”

The late evening sun faded in through the huge windows, the glow adding lustre to the slightly faded grandeur of the room. Carefully placed lamps added soft pools of light around the room, burnishing the well-polished mahogany on which they stood.

“I thought you’d have redecorated by now.”

“No time I’m afraid. Toddler. James’s appeal. The business to oversee.” Karen sighed. “It’s on the list, but nowhere near the top yet.”

“Well, I suppose belated congratulations are in order. The third Mrs James Nunn. Lucky number three?”

“Oh I think so, don’t you?” Karen grinned and stood up, arms open wide.

“Come here and give me a hug. You’re an absolute genius Louise. Every last little step in the plan worked out exactly the way you said it would.”

The two women embraced. Karen disengaged first and held Louise at arms’ length, scrutinising the delicate features of her face. “I love your new look. It’s truly amazing, if I didn’t know it was you … Even your own mother wouldn’t recognise you.”

“The best plastic surgeon in the business – admittedly the black market side of the business, but still ‘the best’. The hair’s a bit high-maintenance. But then, it always was when I was a ‘natural’ blonde.” Louise smiled, taking her seat in the huge chintz-covered armchair again. She took her time about crossing her tanned, still-shapely legs and smoothing down her pencil skirt.

“And Rio’s been fun, I’ve had a ball out there. All my hard work was done once I got out of the country. Just a matter of keeping an eye on developments via the internet, resisting the urge to get in touch in any way, and waiting for the right time to come back. How’s it been for you?”

 “Well, I can’t say there weren’t a few hairy moments along the way. I thought they weren’t going to find your diary for a start. And then one of the ‘sightings’ of you at Manchester airport sounded just a bit too possible for comfort. But handling James was a doddle. He couldn’t resist the bait of the baby.” Karen stopped as sadness etched her face. “The miscarriage was tough.”

She straightened her shoulders and smiled wryly. “But in a way it even helped. By the time I knew I was pregnant again, James was officially a widower, given that he’d been convicted of your murder. So we got leave to marry in prison before Jamie was born, and that made him James’s legitimate heir.”

She took a sip of her coffee and sank back in her chair, adjusting the cushion at her side before she continued brightly. e must be ableHe”So I have all the benefits of being Mrs Nunn, but with James safely behind bars for a very, very long time. So unfortunate that they couldn’t find grounds for an appeal against the verdict, and his legal team still aren’t very optimistic about the chances of getting him a reduced sentence.” Her voice softened. “I almost feel sorry for him.”

“Don’t.” Louise’s tone was uncompromising. “He deserved it. The only thing he’s ever really cared about is this place. And he killed Helen to keep it. He was clever enough to get away with it and he’d have found a way to get rid of me too – he was never going to give me what I deserved. Setting him up for my murder was the only way to have it all.”

“And do you really think it’s possible to ‘have it all’?”

“Why not? It’ll take some ingenious accounting, but I’m good at that. A half share in everything is what we agreed. ‘The best’ costs and Rio’s not a cheap place to live the high life – the money I siphoned off before I disappeared is going to run out sooner rather than later. I’ve waited as long as I can, it’s time to top it up.”

Karen shifted in her seat, reaching under a cushion. When she brought up her hand it held a small gun.

“There’s just one problem with that Louise. I want Jamie to have it all. I didn’t realise I’d feel that way, but I do. I want him to have Redmayne and everything that goes with it. And no one’s going to look for a woman who’s already dead.”

The frozen expression of disbelief on Louise’s face disappeared as the bullet did it’s work and she slumped in the chair. Karen listened carefully, but there was nothing from the baby monitor – Jamie had slept through the noise of the shot.

Karen stood up, shaking slightly. “I’m sorry Louise. Truly I am. But Redmayne only has room for one inconvenient wife at a time.”

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