“I saw you put it there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw you put it in her room.”
“Put what in whose room?”
“I saw you go into Miss Taylor’s room and put the bottle of Cyanide in her drawer.”
“Don’t talk foolishness, Agnes. You couldn’t have seen me do anything of the sort.”
“I did, Mrs. Whitmore. You didn’t see me because you had your back to the door but I peeked in and saw you.”
“You and your wild imagination. I was returning a pair of earrings which I had borrowed.”
“Miss Taylor keeps her jewelry box on her vanity table not in her chest of drawers.”
“Who else have you told this nonsense too?”
“No one as yet but I’ll keep my mouth shut in exchange–“
“In exchange for what?”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“Ten thousand dollars? Are you out of your mind?”
“Ten thousand dollars isn’t a lot of money for someone as rich as you, Mrs. Whitmore. Mr. Whitmore left his entire fortune to you, didn’t he and that’s worth over a million pounds.”
“I’m not going to let a pathetic creature like you blackmail me.”
“Then, I’ll go to the police and tell them everything.”
“Go ahead. They wouldn’t take the word of an ungrateful and insubordinate maid over the word of her mistress. I’ll tell them that you’re just being spiteful because I fired you for stealing.”
“That’s not true! I’m not a thief.”
“I can arrange it so that it looks like you have been stealing from me.”
“Like you arranged it so that Mr. Whitmore had your cereal which you poisoned?”
“You have no proof that it was I and not Miss Taylor who poisoned the cereal.”
“I saw you with the bottle of Cyanide and I saw you put it in the drawer where she keeps her underwear.”
“I’ll deny that. Besides, you helped to implicate Miss Taylor when you said that she was in the kitchen that morning. She was alone and could have easily put the Cyanide in the cereal.”
“She couldn’t have. Mrs. Potter was there. She would have noticed any funny business. She’s got a pair of sharp eyes. No, Miss Taylor didn’t poison the cereal, you did. I remember now. When I brought the cereal in and put it in front of you, you dropped your napkin. I bent down and picked it up. You could have quickly dropped the Cyanide in then. Mr. Whitmore wasn’t there. It was just the two of us.”
“I would have had to be super fast in order to take the bottle out of my pocket, unfasten it, pour its contents into the cereal, fasten it again and put it back into my pocket before you picked up my napkin which shouldn’t take you more a couple of seconds to do.”
“Maybe you did it after I left and just before Mr. Whitmore joined you.”
Margaret laughed caustically. “You’re grasping at straws, girl.”
“You know. Maybe I won’t go to the police. Maybe I’ll go to Mr. Clive instead. He’s always been rather nice to me. I’m sure he’ll listen.”
Margaret grabbed her arm. “You will not trouble my step-son with this fanciful tale of yours. If you do, you’ll be sorry.”
“What are you going to do, Mrs. Whitmore? Throw me out or give me what I asked for? It will take ten thousand pounds for my silence. I’ll take it and leave. You’ll never see nor hear from me again.”
Margaret released her arm, her expression one of disgust as she looked at her. “Fine. I’ll get you the money. It will have to be in the morning.”
“I can wait until then. Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore. Mr. Clive will never hear the truth from me.”
“Get out of my sight!”
“Yes, Mrs. Whitmore.” Agnes scurried out of the room, her heart racing. She went to her room and after closing the door, she sank heavily on the bed. She had never been so scared in her life. She hoped the ruse worked.
That night, after she read her Bible and said her prayers, she climbed into bed, pulling the covers over her. She closed her eyes. The almost empty glass of milk sat on the bedside table.
It was a quarter to twelve when Margaret tiptoed into Agnes’ room. Her gaze shifted from the still form to the empty glass. Feeling weirdly confident that her plan had worked, she didn’t bother to check to make sure that Agnes was dead. The dose she had given her would have killed her in less than five minutes. She picked the glass up and was about to leave the room when it was suddenly flooded with light. She froze, almost dropping the glass. Detective Chief Superintendent Allen stepped inside, followed by Detective Sergeant Moore and Clive. “But, how–?”
“DS Moore, kindly take the glass from her,” DCS Allen instructed. “We’ll take it to the lab to be analyzed.”
Margaret’s eyes darted from him to DS Moore and then to Clive who was watching her with a distressed expression on his face. “What are you doing here?” she asked him.
“Agnes came to see me this afternoon,” he informed her. “She told me what she saw you doing in Aunt Caroline’s room.”
“Mr. Whitmore telephoned the station and I went over to his hotel to speak to your maid,” DCS Allen added.
“What-what she told you were all lies. She’s trying to get back at me because I threatened to fire her because she’s been stealing from me.”
“We heard the entire conversation between you. Agnes was blackmailing you. And when you refused to give her the money, she threatened first to go to the police and then to go to your step-son which you couldn’t let happen. You agreed to give her the sum of ten thousand pounds to keep her mouth shut. You told her that she will get the money in the morning. You never planned on giving her that money. You intended to shut her up permanently. I’m sure when the contents of the glass are examined, we will find traces of Cyanide, DS Moore.”
“That’s not true!”
“How could you?” Clive demanded. “How could you kill my father, frame my Aunt Caroline who has been like a mother to Robert and me?”
“Clive, none of this is true. I didn’t kill your father. Caroline did.”
“What are you doing in Agnes’ room?”
“I–I thought I heard something and came to check to make sure she’s fine. I–I saw the glass of milk and thought that I would take it down to the kitchen and wash it.”
“Why? Why not leave the glass and go back to your room? Why would you take it with you?”
Before she could answer, DCS Allen interposed, “You wanted to get rid of the evidence but we caught you before you had a chance to do so. Mrs. Whitmore, I’m arresting you for the murder of your husband, Charles and the attempted murder of Agnes Payne.”
“Attempted murder?” She swung and nearly fainted when she saw Agnes standing beside the bed, alive and well. Her face turned ashen as she stared at her.
“Yes, Mrs. Whitmore. You tried to kill me with poisoned milk but I didn’t drink it. I threw most of it down the sink. DCS Allen warned me that you might try something like that. You knew that I always had a glass of warm milk every night at bedtime. It helps me to sleep. You must have come into my room while I was in the bathroom.”
Clive dragged his fingers through his hair, his expression one of anguish. “What happened to you? What changed you into–into this monster?”
She began to cry. “I’m not a monster,” she protested. “And everything I did, I did for you–for us.”
“There is no us, Margaret.”
“Why aren’t you calling me Elle like you usually do?”
He shook his head. “How could you do this to my family–to me?”
“I did it for you, Clive. I did it because I love you. Your father and Caroline were in my way. I had to get rid of them one way or the other so that you and I could be together again–like before. I thought the only person left for me to take care of was Ndeshi but then Agnes tried to blackmail me.”
Clive grabbed her by the shoulders. “You were going to harm Ndeshi too?” he demanded. “If anything has happened to her, so help me–“
“Your fiancee is safe and sound in Windhoek, Mr. Whitmore,” DCS Allen quickly informed him.
“Clive, I did it for you, for us.”
“How could you expect me to be with you after you killed my father, framed my aunt, tried to kill Agnes and if you weren’t caught, possibly murder the girl I love?” he demanded. “If this is your idea of love, I want no part of it.” He released her and turned away. “Get her out of my sight.”
As DS Moore and another office led her away, she screamed, “Clive!”
Minutes later, they heard the sound of a car driving away. Then, there was silence. Clive sank down on the foot of the bed and buried his face in his hands.
“I’ll fix you something to drink, Mr. Clive,” she offered and quickly left the room.
While she was gone, Clive pulled out his cell phone and called Ndeshi. “I’m sorry to call you this late but I just needed to hear your voice. I love you so much, Ndeshi. So much.” He broke down and several minutes passed before he pulled himself together and told her everything. She promised that she would be on the first available flight to London. They spoke for a while longer then he ended the call.
Agnes brought him a glass of brandy. “Here drink this.”
He sipped it and shuddered. He hated the taste of alcohol. “Thank you.”
“I don’t think I’m going to stay here.”
“You’re welcome to stay in my hotel suite. I’ll sleep on the sofa while you take the bed.”
“I couldn’t do that, Mr. Clive.”
“I insist. While you pack your things, I’ll call a taxi.”
“All right. In the morning, I will take the train to Manchester. That’s where my sister and her family lives. They will put me up until I can find another job.” She left him.
As he rang for the taxi, he decided that the best thing to do was to sell this house. It no longer felt like the home he used to love. Where he and once enjoyed a happy childhood and idyllic family life with their two wonderful parents who adored each other. If only he had never met Margaret or gotten involved with her. If only he hadn’t kept their past relationship a secret then, his father would still be alive. After he ordered the taxi, he broke down and cried bitterly.