It is impossible to say when Charles Darrell and Sonia French first decided to murder Sonia’s husband, Robert. Robert was nearly twice as old as Sonia, and he married her ten years before Charles Darrell came into her life. For eight of those years, Sonia was bored with her husband, although he did not seem to realize this. He was more interested in his books, and the silver which he bought.
Sonia and Charles were lovers for six months before things became difficult. People were beginning to talk, and it could not be long before Robert found out about them. ‘Robert will never give me a divorce,’ thought Sonia. ‘And Charles and I have no money of our own.’ But Sonia knew that Robert’s silver alone was worth enough money to make life very comfortable for her and Charles.
By a strange accident, it was a policeman who gave them the idea for their murder plan. The inspector made a surprise visit to the Frenches’ house one evening. Charles was also there. He often came in for a drink.
‘There have been several burglaries near here,’ the inspector told Robert, ‘and we haven’t caught the burglar. We know who he is, and it can’t be long before we catch him, but we’re very worried. He carries a gun, and we’re almost sure he has killed a man. Now this house is in a very lonely place. Mr Darrell is your only neighbour. You also have a lot of valuable silver.’
‘What are you trying to say? Asked Robert.
‘I’m saying that it’s sensible to be careful,’ said the inspector. ‘Very careful. Why not put your silver in the bank, until the burglar is caught?’
‘I don’t want to do that,’ said Robert.
The inspector tried not to sound angry. ‘Well, I have warned you, sir,’ he said. ‘Please remember that.’
The inspector left, and Charles said, ‘The inspector didn’t warn me. He knows I’ve got nothing worth stealing. But if this gunman does visit me, he’ll be sorry. I have a gun, and I won’t think twice before using it.’
He was tall and strong, and Sonia thought he was very good-looking. And she did not try to hide her feelings.
‘I feel sorry for the burglar who tries to frighten you, Charles,’ she said.
Three nights later, Sonia was lying awake in her bed. Robert was asleep. It was ten minutes to two.
Sonia was excited. ‘Ten minutes before Charles enters the house,’ she thought. It was ten long minutes.
And then she heard a noise. Glass breaking, followed by the sound of a window as it was pushed up.
Robert did not wake up. Sonia waited until she heard the sound of Charles climbing through the open window, then she reached across to Robert’s bed.
‘Robert!’ She was shaking him. ‘Wake up. There’s somebody downstairs!’
Robert woke slowly. ‘What? Someone downstairs? No, I’m sure you’re -’ He sat up, awake now. ‘There is someone! I’ll have to go down, I suppose.’
He put on his old grey dressing-gown, and went out of the room. Sonia waited in the dark. It seemed a very long wait, but it was less than half a minute. Then a thin line of light appeared under the bedroom door. Sonia heard her husband give a sudden cry, then she heard a gun explode. Something — or someone — heavy fell to the floor, then a door was banged open, and there was the sound of running feet outside the house.
Sonia waited. ‘Charles must have time to escape before I call the police,’ she thought.
She put on her bedside light and got out of bed. Now it was all over, she felt strangely calm. She knew what she was going to say to the police. How soon could she marry Charles? Six months from now? They could go to Venice for a holiday, after they were married. She had always wanted to see Venice…
Then the door opened.
And Robert walked in.
For a long moment, Sonia could only look at him, her stomach sick with fear. He looked back at her, silent, white-faced and untidy. But alive.
‘What — what happened?’ she said.
‘He got away,’ said Robert. ‘I’m afraid he’s taken some of my best silver with him. I wish now I had listened to the inspector and sent it to the bank.’
‘But I heard a gun,’ said Sonia. ‘I thought you — you’re not hurt, Robert?’
‘No, Sonia, I’m not hurt,’ said Robert. ‘But I have some bad news. It’s Charles. I think the dear, brave man was watching the house, and followed the burglar in, to try and help us. He’s at the bottom of the stairs. I’m afraid there is nothing that we can do for him.’
Sonia fell forwards, her eyes closing, and Robert caught her. He carried her to the bed, then went downstairs. When he reached the bottom, he had to step over the body. He did this calmly, stepping around the blood on the carpet. But when he walked into the room where he kept his silver, he wanted to cry. All of the best pieces were gone.
He closed the door and went into his study. But before he telephoned the police, he was careful to clean the small gun that was in his dressing-gown pocket. Then he locked it inside his desk. He had taken care of the one problem in his usually very tidy life, and he wanted to make sure he would have no more trouble.
As the inspector said, it was sensible to be careful.