The first rule of getting away with murder is; never, ever, tell anyone what you did. No matter what happens, do not admit, do not confess. Take that secret to the grave.
Someone was waiting for him. Someone who knew his routine and the layout of the property; someone with the patience and motivation to sit for an hour in the snow, silently motionless, ready to kill a man.
Daniel Cardoza never saw death coming as he staggered along the path to his front door, rummaging in his tracksuit pockets for his house keys. Didn’t hear a thing as he focused on unlocking the door, breath steaming in the icy air. Made no sound as the scalpel-sharp knife whipped across his throat, sending bright arterial blood splattering against the frosted door panel in front of him.
He might have gasped, or moaned, might have scrabbled at the ground as he lay within a widening pool of blood and melting snow, but by that time, he was alone. If a man whispers to himself as he dies alone, do his words really exist?
The news arrives in a police car, delivered that evening by a pair of stone-faced detectives in M&S tailoring. DIs Alison Trent and Jamie Sessions show no apparent thaw, despite the hot tea pressed upon them by Ellie, or the cheerful glow of the log burner tended by Max in the corner of the lounge.
Their announcement is starkly delivered. Daniel Cardoza; dead. Ellie’s ex-husband found fatally stabbed outside his own front door. Definitely murder. Definitely premeditated. When was the last time either of them had seen or heard from him?
Max and Ellie don’t look at each other. Guilt, shock, fear or simple caution; they know themselves to be the prime suspects, their reactions scrutinised for hints of insincerity, clues to culpability. Not for ages, says Ellie. At least three months agrees Max. The restraining order had done its job; kept Daniel and the Lyons apart. The late-night calls have ceased, the vandalism abated and there have been no further threatening emails. Of course the police can look at their phones and laptops. Fingerprints, yes those too. Help yourselves Officers. See how co-operative we are.
Alibis? Ellie and Max finally exchange eye contact. Oh shit.
Ellie goes out running in the mornings, a habit she caught from Daniel and has never quite shaken off. Max likes his sleep, stays in bed until the last minute. Neither of them can vouch for the other’s whereabouts, and Daniel’s house is easily within walking distance. It‘s a small village.
The detectives depart, leaving an ominous silence in their wake.
“They think it was one of us.” Ellie sighs, apparently addressing her comment to her fingernails, before selecting one to gnaw upon.
“Or both of us.” Max gently encloses her hand in his, removing the ravaged nail out of range of her nervous chewing. “But we can’t be the only people who wanted him gone. A man like that would have enemies all over the place.”
“I’m not sorry he’s dead!” Ellie spits the words out, venomous as a cobra.
“Me neither.” says Max, “Someone did us a favour.”
It hangs in the air between them.
Was it you?
They tidy away the teacups, watching each other closely, surreptitiously from the corners of their eyes; smiling nervously in the crossfire of their colliding glances. Suspicion in both directions.
Did you kill him?
Would you forgive me if I told you?
Can I trust you?
Am I safe?
A tension is building between them, expectation mingled with fear. Reminiscent of their first date; two people guarding their secrets, anxiously trying to make a good impression on the other. Longing and hope swirling in their stomachs, attraction fighting disbelief for supremacy.
Ellie pauses, snaps off the kitchen light switch.
“Come to bed.” she whispers. To Max, her voice sounds hoarse, newly unfamiliar.
Slowly, he follows her up the stairs, into their bedroom, filling his eyes with her softly-rounded rear, hoping somehow that their situation can be salvaged.
“Let’s not talk about it just now.”
Ellie slumps against the door, brushing her hair away from her face in a gesture that could be relaxation or weariness – or both.
“Fine.” says Max, nodding. He doesn’t want to talk. He doesn’t want to even think about it. What he wants is to slide beneath the duvet with the woman he loves, and shut out the rest of the world until morning. To hide from this awful thing looming around them, escape from the implications of Cardoza’s death and all of the frightening truths that lie beyond it. Max wants distraction.
They undress in silence and shadow, the space between them dark with unasked questions, unwanted answers.
What if you’re not who I thought you were?
Ellie reaches out first, extending one hand and tentatively stroking the long stretch of his thigh. Measuring the dimensions of this man who, with a few careless words, could any moment be transformed from husband to stranger. She wonders whether this will be the last chance to do this, if she should memorise as much of him as she can, just in case. The soft hollow of his hipbone, the creases where his legs end and his buttocks begin. His heartbeat, beginning to quicken. His dick, twitching.
He grips her wrists and pulls her closer to him, his movements uncharacteristically firm; hears her tiny, sharp intake of breath. She’s pressing herself against him, twining her legs about his, but she won’t look at him, not even when he increases the pressure of his grip past the point of discomfort. Ellie keeps her eyes lowered and her head down, tasting the crook of his neck with the tip of her tongue.
Who are you?
He slackens his grasp, runs his hands upwards to her shoulders, pauses to stroke her hair gently. Down beneath the warm folds of the duvet, her fingers brush lightly against his dick, trailing the length of his shaft in an aching tease.
Max closes his eyes. He prefers not to see, doesn’t want to risk any unwelcome insights. Instead he maps Ellie’s outline with his palms and tries to deny the realisation that his touch is more discovery than recognition.
In the dark, they cling to each other. For comfort, for safety. For camouflage.
Did you like it? Was there a righteous joy to it?
I’m afraid of you. I want you.
“Roll onto your front.”
It’s not quite a command, but certainly not a request. Ellie complies, burying her face among the pillows and spreading her legs wide, arching her back in anticipation.
I did this for you, for us. I did what I had to and I daren’t think about it, in case behind this shield of numb terror is something worse. Regret. Spite; satisfied. Pleasure. I’d never hurt you. No matter what.
Rough, animal, this-might-be-the-last-time desperate screwing with jaws clenched, eyes squeezed shut. Unsafe sex; a look what loving you has brought me to grudge-fucking, bittersweet and all the more exciting for being so. The mattress springs creak and the headboard pounds against the wall; a chorus of violent delight and obsessive need.
When it’s over, they fall apart in two halves as a horse chestnut hitting the ground, splitting its spiky protective casing to reveal the tender damp seed within. This is how it feels; impact and change, a new sense of division. Everything is different now that one of them is a killer.
Ellie hand creeps into Max’s, squeezes.
“We’ll get through this.” she whispers. “Won’t we?”
“I love you.” says Max. “No matter what.”