With thanks to the master storyteller, Roald Dahl, for inspiration.
Caroline Noonan heard her husband's car stopping on the driveway and his footsteps approaching the front door, which she opened for him.
“Jack!” she exclaimed, embracing him on the doorstep. Four days had been a long time to be away from him.
“How was Chicago?” her husband asked.
“Fabulous!” Caroline replied, excitedly. “The conference went well. But I missed you... How was work?”
“Much as usual,” he grunted, wearily as he took off his coat and headed for the drinks cupboard. Police work was getting him down. Maybe he should be looking for another career, he thought, as he poured himself a large whisky.
“What would you like me to cook for dinner, Jack?” Caroline asked him.
“Don't bother,” he countered, draining the glass and pouring himself another drink.
“You must have something to eat,” she countered.
“Sit down, Caroline,” Jack instructed. “There's something I need to say to you.” Puzzled, Caroline did as she was told. Jack paused for a moment, to gather his thoughts. “Caroline,” he said hesitatingly. “I have to tell you. There's somebody else....”
Caroline listened as twenty years of marriage dissolved before her ears. No wonder he'd been so eager for her to go on the conference. When he'd finished speaking, they sat in silence for what seemed like an age.
“Well, I suppose I'd better fix something for us to eat,” Caroline said at last. She wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but at least cooking should help keep her mind off what she'd just heard. She crossed to the kitchen and looked inside the freezer.
“How about lamb?” she called out.
“I said, don't bother!” he replied, his back to her as he gazed out of the living room window. As Caroline looked back at him, the anger at his betrayal rose inside her. Grabbing the piece of frozen meat in both hands, she silently crossed the room behind him, and without fully realising what she was doing, raised the leg of lamb above her head and brought it crashing down into the back of his skull. He stood there motionless for a few seconds, then collapsed to the floor, taking a small table with him as he fell. Caroline knew instantly that he was dead. Immediately, she felt, not remorse, but a fear of getting caught. Before a minute had elapsed, a plan began to form in her mind. She placed the leg of lamb in the oven and turned it on, then checked her hair and makeup in the hall mirror, before heading to the neighbourhood 7-11.
Half an hour later, she returned with a lettuce and a tin of peas, which she placed on the kitchen table. Crossing to her husband's body, she checked the time on the expensive wristwatch she'd bought him for their last anniversary, wound it back ten minutes, then smashed it into the floor. That done, she took her mobile phone from her handbag and telephoned the police station.
“This is Caroline Noonan. It's my husband. He's dead – I think he's been murdered.”
“Jack Noonan dead?” the voice at the other end queried in disbelief. “Don't worry, Mrs. Noonan. I'll get someone round there right away.”
He was as good as his word. Within fifteen minutes, the police had arrived, bringing with them the usual support crew of pathologist, scene of crimes officers and photographers, who dusted and photographed every inch of the room in which the respected policeman had met his end. Outside in the street, a car could be heard backfiring, then a squeal of brakes and the sound of crumpled metal.
“Sounds like the Lieutenant's here,” one of the officers remarked dryly, opening the front door. The man who entered looked less like a policeman than anyone Caroline had ever seen. His greying, curly hair was uncombed, and he wore a dirty, crumpled raincoat that had clearly seen better days. In his right hand, a cigar emitted clouds of grey smoke, whilst in the street behind him, Caroline could see a battered grey convertible that was almost as old as she was.
“You must be Mrs. Noonan,” the Lieutenant said, extending his hand. “I want to say how sorry I am to hear about your husband. He was one of the best detectives we ever had.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” she replied. “It's just such a shock. When my husband came home from work, I put a leg of lamb in the oven to cook and asked him to keep an eye on it while I went to the shop for some vegetables. When I came back, he was dead.”
“What time did you leave and come back to the house?” the Lieutenant asked. “Say, I love your carpet. My wife's always on at me to buy a carpet like this...”
“I left about six o'clock and came back about half an hour later,” Caroline answered. The Lieutenant patted down his pockets and checked them one by one. “I'll just write that down.... I know I have a notebook somewhere .... Ah, here it is... No, that's the list of things my wife asked me to get from the shops on my way home... Wait, here it is.... Now I need a pencil... Does anyone have a pencil?”
“Here you go, Lieutenant,” answered one of the officers, passing him one.
“I keep asking myself, 'Who could do such a thing?'” Caroline commented, disconsolantly.
“I don't know, Mrs. Noonan,” the Lieutenant replied. “But rest assured we'll find out.”
“Could it have been someone he arrested?” Caroline asked. “Maybe someone who got out of jail and wanted revenge.”
“I don't think so, ma'am,” the Lieutenant answered, examining the door. “There's no sign of a forced entry. Whoever came into the house must have been someone your husband knew.”
“Perhaps he came in through the back door,” suggested Caroline.
“There's a back door?”
“Yes. Through the kitchen.”
The sergeant led the Lieutenant into the living room, where the corpse was being looked over by the medical examiner. “What have can you tell me?” asked the Lieutenant.
“Time of death, six fifteen. The victim's watch was smashed when he fell. Looks like he was hit with a blunt instrument. A wrench or a candlestick, perhaps.”
The Lieutenant turned back to Caroline. “Do you have either of those?” he asked.
“We may have a wrench in the garage,” Mrs. Noonan answered. “But no candlestick, or lead piping come to that.”
“Anything else?” the Lieutenant asked. “What about personal effects?”
“The victim had his mobile phone with him. There was one number he'd called half a dozen times over the last few days. And one he called just once – about one thirty this afternoon.” The sergeant showed the Lieutenant a piece of paper with the two number swritten on it.
“Good work, Joe,” commented the Lieutenant. See if you can find out who those numbers are for.” He surveyed the crime scene, then indicated a door on the far side of the room. “Where does that go?” he asked.
“That's the kitchen door,” Caroline replied. The Lieutenant poked his head around the door. “Very nice,” he said. “I take it that door at the other end of the room's the external door?”
“Good,” the Lieutenant replied. “I think I've seen all I want to see for the time being. I'll go out that way to avoid disturbing the evidence any further.” He passed into the kitchen and closed the door behind him. Caroline breathed a sigh of relief. No more awkward questions for a while.
The door re-opened and the Lieutenant reappeared. “One more thing, Mrs. Noonan.” he added. “How would you describe your marriage?”
“Jack and I had a good marriage,” she replied, the irritation beginning to show in her voice.
“I'm sorry to ask this, ma'am. But I have to. As far as you were aware, was Jack faithful to you? Was there anybody else involved?”
Caroline's face began to glow red. “How dare you make such insinuations, Lieutenant! Jack was a good man! Now, I must ask you to leave my house!”
“Sorry to have bothered you, ma'am,” he apologised and left.
The scenes of crimes officers had to be thorough, Caroline knew. But did they really have to take so long? Finally, the ordeal was over, and they packed up their equipment and left until only the sergeant remained in the house.
“I'll be spending the night down here,” he explained. “And there are two officers outside.”
At that moment the Lieutenant reappeared through the kitchen door.
“I know the scenes of crime officers have gone,” he said. “But I came in this way to be on the safe side. Incidentally do you know your oven's still on?”
“Oh! That'll be the lamb!” Caroline exclaimed. “It'll be just about ready by now. Lieutenant, I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier. I know you were just doing your job. Why don't you and the sergeant and the other two officers join me for dinner? I'm afraid I can't eat much after what's happened to Jack.”
The policemen agreed and soon were sat at the pine table in Mrs. Noonan's kitchen. She took the leg of lamb from the oven and placed it in the middle of the table. “Would you like to carve, Lieutenant?”
“It's a funny thing,” said the Lieutenant, when everyone had been served. “But my wife and I were going to have roast lamb tonight as well.” He took a mouthful of meat. “And this is cooked exactly the same way she cooks it.. Remarkable!”
“What did you come back for, Lieutenant?” Caroline asked, taking a sip of apple juice.
“Just to let you know, Mrs. Noonan, that I went down to the 7-11 to check out your alibi. The store owner confirmed you were there at the time you said, and even showed me the CCTV to prove it.”
“So at least you know I didn't do it,” Caroline smiled. “Have some more lamb, please. I don't want any left over.”
The four policemen needed no further bidding and divided the remaining meat between them. “Of course, it would have been easy enough for you to alter the time on your husband's watch and smash it. I've seen that done before,” the Lieutenant mused. He paused to chew another mouthful. “And I spoke to one of your neighbours earlier. He was out mowing his front lawn when you went out, and was still there when you came back. He is prepared to testify in court that nobody came to the house while you were out.”
“But why should I want to murder my husband?” Caroline asked. “I loved him.”
“We checked out the telephone numbers on his phone,” the Lieutenant replied, between mouthfuls. “He called one number several times while you were away. It belonged to a young lady, who confirmed that she had been having an affair with your husband. I'm sorry, Mrs. Noonan.”
Caroline pretended to look shocked. “I had no idea,” she intoned. “How could he?” The table descended into silence.
“Of course, we can't prove anything without the murder weapon,” the Lieutenant said at last. “Beats me what could have happened to it. We've searched this house from top to bottom, but there's no sign of it anywhere. I'm sure it must be here, though,” he added, eating the last mouthful of lamb. “It's probably right under our noses somewhere.”
Caroline allowed herself a brief smile. The four policemen had destroyed the evidence for her.
“This has been a wonderful meal,” the Lieutenant dabbed some sauce away from his lips. “Mrs. Noonan, I have some ice cream in my car. Would you mind if we had it for dessert?”
Caroline nodded in agreement.”Lieutenant, that's a simply wonderful idea.”
“Joe,” requested the Lieutenant. “Nip out to my car and bring in the ice box. Never mind the dog. He'll move out of the way easily enough.”
“You have a dog?” Caroline asked as Joe did as the Lieutenant had asked him. “What's he called?”
“My wife and I couldn't decide on a name,” the Lieutenant explained. “We just call him Dog.” Caroline laughed.
“I think I know what you did with the murder weapon,” the Lieutenant continued. “My wife once gave me a book that included a short story about a woman who murdered her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and fed it to the investigating officers. I noticed the same book on your bookcase.”
“In that case, Lieutenant, it was rather foolish of you to eat it.”
“I didn't, Mrs. Noonan,” the Lieutenant replied as Joe returned carrying the ice box. “Open it up, Joe.” Joe opened the ice box, and Caroline was surprised to see that it contained a partially defrosted leg of lamb. The Lieutenant picked it up and showed one of the still-frozen edges to Caroline.
“The sergeant and I removed this leg of lamb from your oven earlier on,” he explained. “If you look here, Mrs. Noonan, you can see congealed blood, which I'm sure forensics will match to your husband's.” He laid the leg of lamb back in the ice box and replaced the lid.
“Then what have you just eaten?” Caroline asked.
“I called in at my house on the way back here,” the Lieutenant explained. “As I told you, my wife was preparing a lamb dinner tonight. I brought it back with me and put it in your oven,” he smiled.
Caroline stared at the ice box. “That leg of lamb in there. I put it in the oven an hour before you arrived. It should have begun to cook by then.”
“Your husband made one other call, at lunch time today” stated the Lieutenant. “I recognised the number the moment I saw it. It was for an oven repair man. So when you turned your oven on, the light came on, but the element didn't.”
“It's a good job for you the repair man didn't come this afternoon,” Caroline commented.
“Oh, I knew he didn't do that,” the Lieutenant almost laughed. “This afternoon, he was repairing my wife's oven.”
“It's all right, Lieutenant. I'll come quietly,” Caroline surrendered. “Incidentally that book of short stories belonged to my husband. I never read it.”
The three of them rose. Joe led Caroline out to his squad car, the Lieutenant picking up the lamb bone from the table before following them out. When he reached his battered car, he gave the bone to the beagle sat on the back seat, before strapping himself into the driver's seat. The engine started with another backfire. As he lifted the clutch and pulled away, the Lieutenant sang to himself.
“Nick nack paddywack, give the dog a bone. This old man went rolling home.”