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       The Punishment She Deserves, p.1

           Elizabeth George
 
The Punishment She Deserves


  Also by Elizabeth George

  A Great Deliverance

  Payment in Blood

  Well-Schooled in Murder

  A Suitable Vengeance

  For the Sake of Elena

  Missing Joseph

  Playing for the Ashes

  In the Presence of the Enemy

  Deception on His Mind

  In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner

  A Traitor to Memory

  I, Richard

  A Place of Hiding

  With No One as Witness

  What Came Before He Shot Her

  Careless in Red

  This Body of Death

  Believing the Lie

  Just One Evil Act

  A Banquet of Consequences

  YOUNG ADULT

  The Edge of Nowhere

  The Edge of the Water

  The Edge of the Shadows

  The Edge of the Light

  NONFICTION

  Write Away:

  One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

  ANTHOLOGY

  A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women

  Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and

  Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery

  VIKING

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, New York 10014

  penguin.com

  Copyright © 2018 by Susan Elizabeth George

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  Here: Excerpts from “That Lives in Us,” by Rumi, and “The Moment’s Depth,” by Rabia are from Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices From the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. (New York: Penguin Compass, 2002.)

  ISBN 9780525954347 (hardcover)

  ISBN 9780698411654 (ebook)

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Version_1

  FOR TOM, IRA, and FRANK

  With thanks and love.

  Somehow, I got lucky.

  CONTENTS

  Also by Elizabeth George

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Part I 15 DECEMBER

  4 MAY

  5 MAY

  6 MAY

  7 MAY

  8 MAY

  Part II 16 MAY

  17 MAY

  18 MAY

  19 MAY

  20 MAY

  21 MAY

  22 MAY

  23 MAY

  24 MAY

  26 MAY

  6 JULY

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack

  of the past and future?

  The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond

  its capacities will find no rest.

  —RUMI

  The moment’s depth is greater than that of the future.

  And from the fields of the past,

  what can you harvest again?

  —RABIA OF BASRA

  Part I

  15 DECEMBER

  BAKER CLOSE

  LUDLOW

  SHROPSHIRE

  The snow began falling on Ludlow town in the evening, while most people were doing their post-dinner washing-up as a prelude to settling down in front of the television. If the truth be told, there wasn’t much else to do in the town after dark beyond tuning in to one programme or another or heading out to a pub. And since Ludlow had, over the years, become more and more the choice of pensioners seeking tranquility and early bedtimes amidst the mediaeval buildings and cobbled byways, very few complaints concerning the dearth of evening entertainment ever occurred.

  Like so many others in Ludlow, Gaz Ruddock, too, was doing the washing-up when he first noticed the snow. He stood at a sink whose window looked out at the darkness. Mostly, he could see his reflection and the reflection of the old man who wielded the tea towel next to him. But a light in the narrow back garden illuminated the flakes as they began to come down. Within minutes what had seemed to be only a gentle dusting altered to a real curtain of the stuff, waving in a developing breeze that made it look for a moment like lace window coverings.

  “Don’t like that, do I? I keep saying. Fat lot of good it’s doing me, though.”

  Gaz glanced over at his companion of the tea towel. He didn’t think the old bloke was talking about the snow, and he saw that he was correct since Robert Simmons wasn’t looking at the window but rather at the washing-up wand that Gaz was using on one of their plates.

  “In’t sanitary, that,” old Rob said. “I keep saying and you don’t change over like I want.”

  Gaz smiled, not at old Rob—he always thought of his housemate with that adjective preceding his name as if there were also a young Rob in the house with them—but rather at his own reflection. He and window Gaz were sharing a knowing look. Rob nightly complained about the wand, and Gaz nightly reminded him that it was far more sanitary than filling a basin with soapy water in order to swirl glasses, crockery, cutlery, pots, and pans round it as if the water miraculously redeemed itself after every dunk of something into it.

  “Only thing better than this,” Gaz would say, with a shake of the washing-up wand, “is a dishwasher. You say the word and I’ll fetch us one, Rob. Easy as anything. I’ll even install it.”

  “Bah,” Rob would reply. “Got along till eighty-six years and counting without such a thing and I expect I can make it to the grave without one just as well. Mod cons, bah!”

  “You’ve a microwave, mind,” Gaz would point out.

  “Different, that is,” was the curt reply.

  If Gaz asked why possession of a microwave was different from the purchase of a dishwasher, Rob’s answer was always the same: a huff, a shrug, and a “Just is, is all,” and the discussion was finished.

  It mattered little to Gaz. He wasn’t much of a cook so there was never very much to wash. Tonight the meal had been jacket potatoes stuffed with chilli con carne from a tin, with a sweet corn and lettuce salad on the side. Half of the meal had been prepared via microwave and the tin hadn’t even required an opener, possessing a pull ring instead. So all there was to wash was two plates, one wooden spoon, some cutlery, and two mugs from which they’d drunk their tea.

  Gaz could have done the washing-up and the drying on his own, but old Rob liked to help. The old gent knew that his only child, Abigail, phoned Gaz once a week for a report as to her dad’s well-being, and Rob intended Gaz to declare that his charge was just as full of piss and vinegar as on the day he’d moved in. Even if Abigail’s phone call hadn’t been a regular feature of their life together, Gaz suspected old Rob would still have insisted on doing his part, though. It was the only way he’d agreed to admit som
eone into his house in the first place.

  Once his wife had died, he’d gone on living on his own for six years, but his daughter thought he was becoming too forgetful. There was his medication that wanted taking twice each day. There was also the concern that if he fell, there’d be no one in the house to find him. Abigail needed someone to be in charge of her dad, she had declared, and faced with the choice of sharing his home with a carefully selected stranger or leaving Ludlow for a life with Abigail, her four children, and a husband whom her dad had disliked from the day he appeared on the doorstep to take his only daughter clubbing in Shrewsbury, Rob had pounced on the idea of a housemate like the lifebelt it was.

  Gaz Ruddock—given name Gary—was that housemate. He had another job as Ludlow’s PCSO, but that was mostly during the day and since he generally walked or bicycled his beat like a 1920s bobby, he could stop in and check on the old gent daytimes when necessary. It worked a perfect trick for him anyway: his wages as the police community support officer were meagre, and acting as Rob’s live-in companion gave him not only free accommodation but a small salary as well.

  His mobile rang as Gaz was wiping down the draining board and Rob was neatly folding the tea towel onto the rack above the cooker, where it would dry. Gaz shot the mobile a glance to see who was phoning. He gave thought to ignoring the call as old Rob gave him the eye. They’d lived together long enough for Rob to know what would happen next. A phone call in the evening usually meant a disruption to their plans.

  “Near time for Strictly Dancing,” Rob reminded him, naming the programme he favoured above all others. “An’ Sky has a Clint Eastwood film as well. The one with that barmy woman.”

  “Aren’t they all barmy?” Gaz decided to let the mobile go to message. He needed to get Rob settled with the telly and the remote.

  “Not like this one,” the old man said. “This’s the gel who wants that radio song played for her. You know. Then she ’cides that Clint Eastwood must be her man—maybe they do the job on each other or somethin’ but I don’t recall ’cept men are that foolish when it comes to women, eh?—and she commences to break into his house and chop up his belongings.”

  “Play Misty for Me,” Gaz said.

  “You recollect it, then?”

  “Oh, that I do. It put me off women altogether, that film.”

  Old Rob laughed, which segued into a cough that didn’t sound all that good to Gaz. Rob had been a smoker till he was seventy-four, when a quadruple bypass had finally convinced him to give up the weed. But that didn’t mean that the sixty years of smoking preceding the bypass hadn’t done enough damage to fell him with cancer or emphysema.

  Gaz said to him, “You all right there, Rob?”

  “’Course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?” Rob gifted him with a glare.

  “No reason, ’f course,” Gaz told him. “Let’s get you settled with the telly, then. Need the loo first?”

  “What’re you on about? I know when I have to piss, boy.”

  “Not suggesting you don’t.”

  “Well, when I need someone to shake off my—”

  “Point taken.” Gaz followed the old gent to the sitting room at the front of the house. He didn’t much like the tilt to Rob’s gait or the hand he put on the wall to steady himself. He needed to use a walking stick, he did, but the bloke was a stubborn bastard. If he didn’t want a walking stick, he was going to be Gibraltar when it came to anyone’s recommendation that he use one.

  Once in the sitting room, old Rob lowered himself into his armchair. Gaz lit the electric fire and closed the window curtains. He excavated for the telly remote, and he found the right channel for Strictly Come Dancing. Five minutes before the programme would begin, he saw, enough time for him to make the Ovaltine.

  He found Rob’s nighttime mug in its place in the cupboard, decorated with a transfer picture of his grandkids gathered round Father Christmas. This had faded with subsequent washings, and the ivy-and-holly wreath that formed the handle of the mug was chipped. But Rob wouldn’t hear of having his Ovaltine from anything other than this particular mug. He made a big thing out of muttering complaints about the grandkids, but Gaz had learned soon enough that old Rob properly adored them.

  Ovaltine in hand, Gaz returned to the sitting room. His mobile began to ring again. Again he ignored it in favour of getting old Rob settled. Strictly Come Dancing had just begun, and its opening moments were the special ones.

  Rob loved to gaze upon the ladies, those who were contestants and those who were the professional dancers meant to teach the bloke contestants the cha-cha, the fox-trot, the Vienna thingy, and whatever else. Old Rob ate up the costumes with a spoon because they were fashioned to display a good mile and a half of cleavage and the sight of those ladies shaking their tits was a blessed reminder that, at eighty-six and counting, Robert Simmons was still alive.

  “Lookit them, will you, lad?” Old Rob sighed. He held his Ovaltine up in a salute to the television screen. “You ever seen milkers ’s pretty as those? ’F I was even ten years younger, I’d show those ladies how milkers like that are meant to be used and wouldn’t I just?”

  Gaz chuckled, but it was in spite of himself, as where he came from women were worshipped, up on the pedestal and all of that. They were sexual, sure. But they were sexual because of God’s plan for them, and that plan didn’t include making themselves available to men for purposes of displaying their “milkers,” especially on telly. But there was no changing old Rob, who was a randy bloke, and Strictly Come Dancing was the highlight of his week.

  Gaz fetched a blanket from the back of the sofa. He tucked it round Rob’s sapling legs. He checked the Radio Times to make sure Play Misty for Me was actually showing later on in the evening, and when he saw it was, he left his companion chortling at the inane conversation going on between the presenter and the judges on the dancing programme.

  He’d left his mobile in the kitchen, and he took it to the table, where he flopped into a chair. He had an uneasy feeling about the call. It was end of autumn term at West Mercia College. With exams finished and students readying themselves for the Christmas holiday, loud parties and binge drinking were probably going to be on the night’s agenda.

  He tapped on the mobile to return the call. Clo answered at once and said to him, “We’ve snow here, Gaz. What about you?”

  Gaz knew that she wasn’t interested in a report on the topic of the weather, but it was a way to begin a conversation that, he also knew, was going to progress towards a request that Clo knew she probably shouldn’t give voice to. He wasn’t going to make it easy for her. He said, “Here, too. It’ll make a dog’s dinner of the roads, to be sure, but at least it’ll keep everyone inside.”

  “End of term, Gaz. Kids won’t be inside. They don’t care about snow, sleet, rain, or whatever when it comes to the end of term.”

  “They’re not delivering the post,” he pointed out.

  “What?”

  “Snow, sleet, rain. Postmen?”

  “Believe me, they may as well be postmen. The weather isn’t going to stop them.”

  He waited, then, for what was coming. It took her only a moment.

  “Would you check on him, Gaz? You can make it part of a regular round. You’ll be doing a round anyway, won’t you? Considering the weather, I expect you’re not the only PCSO being asked to go out tonight to check on young people in the pubs.”

  Gaz rather doubted that. West Mercia was the only college in all of Shropshire, and it was hardly credible that the rest of the PCSOs in the other communities were going walkabout in the snow with no reason for doing so. But he didn’t argue the point. He cared for Clo. He cared for her family. Although he knew she was playing on those feelings, he could easily go along with her request.

  Still, he said, “Trev’s not going to like it if I do this. I expect you know that, eh?”

  “Trev’
s not going to learn about it because you’re not going to tell him. And I’m certainly not going to.”

  “It’s not me you should be worrying about when it comes to grassing, though, is it.”

  There was a pause as she took this in. He could visualise her. If she was still working for some reason, she’d be sitting at a desk, which would be perfectly neat and orderly in the way she was neat and orderly. If she was at home, she’d be in the bedroom, kitted out in something that she deemed wife-appropriate, and this would be for her husband’s benefit. She’d told him more than once in joking that Trev liked her soft, sweet, and compliant, all characteristics that weren’t exactly natural to her.

  She said, “As I said, end of term, streets getting icy, kids engaged in post-exam booze-ups . . . No one is going to question why you’re out and about, making sure everyone’s safe, Finnegan included.”

  That wasn’t unreasonable. Besides, being out and about did have benefits beyond mere exposure to bracing air. He said, “All right. Will do. But it only makes sense if I’m out there later on. Just now? No one’s going to be up to anything.”

  “Understood,” she said. “Thank you, Gaz. You’ll let me know what he’s up to?”

  “’Course,” he told her.

  ST. JULIAN’S WELL

  LUDLOW

  SHROPSHIRE

  Missa Lomax gazed upon the clothing that her friend Dena—commonly called Ding—had laid out on the bed. Three skirts, one cashmere pullover, two silk blouses, a pullover top hung with silver dangly bits akin to icicles. She’d removed all this from a capacious rucksack, saying, “The black one’s the best, Missa. It’s real stretchy.”

  Stretchy was necessary. The clothing all belonged to Ding, and she and Missa did not share a similar physique. Where Ding was petite and curvy, possessing a woman’s full body but not much height, Missa was pear-shaped, given to hips if she wasn’t careful about her weight, and she stood six inches taller than her friend. But she had brought nothing with her to Ludlow that would serve as a festive outfit for a night out. She’d not even considered nights out when she’d joined the college because she’d not come to Ludlow to party but rather to study biology, chemistry, maths, and French prior to attending university.

 
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