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   Days later Rachel, Ricardo, and Gabrielle stood before the terrace of a Victorian mansion. They were enticed by the view of a wide-open garden where a family of foxes roamed near three gorgeous peacocks.

   “Two bathrooms and a full kitchen,” Rachel said as the peacocks noticed the thread and flew away.

   “We’ll sign the lease tomorrow morning,” Gabrielle said.

   “When do you plan to move?” Rachel asked.

   “By the end of this week.”

   “Again, I owe you an apology for my behavior this morning,” Rachel said.

   “Never mind,” Gabrielle said. “We understand. I wonder whether you are willing to answer to our questions now, Mrs. Newton.”

   “Well… Of course, … It’s the least I can do,” Rachel fixed her yes on a window, just above the terrace. “Would you like to go out for a walk? There is a beautiful park, not far from here.”

   Behind the window on the second floor, a 75-year-old bony man observed Ricardo, Gabrielle, and Rachel as they walked away. His eyes were black as coal.

 

   Gabrielle, Rachel, and Ricardo stepped onto a five-acre garden carefully cut.

   “I got divorced when Mr. Baltimore decided to send us to Egypt,” Rachel said. “That was in 1978. I remember the exact date. The World Cup was taking place in Argentina then.”

   “Did you tour the Nile River?” Ricardo asked.

   “With Tracy, Sara, and the former Mrs. Baltimore,” Rachel assented. “It was, on the whole, a stupendous experience.”

   “Particularly for the children I bet,” Gabrielle said. “Do you remember anything extraordinary that happened then?”

   “No… That was twenty-two years ago.”

   An airplane cut the sky above their heads. Rachel waved her hand mechanically.

   “That’s Sir Weyden on his way back home”, she explained.

   “From where?” Gabrielle asked.

   “From…” Rachel hesitated. “I don’t know. There are many landing strips in England.

   He was, and I think he still is, a reserve pilot of your Majesty’s air force.”

   “That’s quite a privilege,” Ricardo said. “How often does he fly?”

   “Two or three times per week,” Rachel answered.

   A bell rang. Gabrielle took her mobile out of her green leather jacket

   “Very impressive,” Ricardo whispered.

   “Nowadays almost everyone owns an airplane, Sir,” Rachel said with a hint of haughtiness.

   “Hello?” Gabrielle asked with a smile. “Albert?”

   Gabrielle moved away about two yards.

   “To be sincere,” Rachel said. “Sir Weyden had predisposed me, somehow, against you both.”

   Ricardo raised his eyebrows.

   “He called me this morning,” Mrs. Lawn said with an apologetic voice.

   “Why are you being so discrete?”

   “You both are detectives, Sir. You deal with criminals. Now, if you excuse me, the police report was correct. Poor Sara committed suicide. All your inquiries, therefore, are not only meaningless, but disturbing—even offensive. We fear you will be a cause of distress for the Baltimore family, in particular for Tracy.”

   “Tracy?” Ricardo repeated. “Oh, yes. We talked to her yesterday morning.  I clearly see you and Sir Weyden are mistaken about our intentions, Mrs. Newton.”

   “You should get busy with a more proper endeavor.”

   Ricardo raised his eyebrows.

   “How is Monsieur Philippe?”

   “Pardon me?”

   “Monsieur Philippe. You were saying something about him when we step into your office. ‘Bloody frog’ was your expression.”

   “Yes… Well… He has disappeared—it seems. That’s what Mrs. Lawn told me.”

   “O, yes. You both are friends.”

   “I wouldn’t say that.” Mrs. Lawn replied hardening her countenance. “But in this country, we maintain a courteous relationship with everyone, Sir—even with our enemies.”

   Ricardo looked uneasily at Gabrielle, who was still on the phone.

   “Did you know Monsieur Philippe?” he asked. “I mean, before he came to England.”

   “Not at all. He works for Mr. Baltimore.”

   “Yes, of course. Do you know who is his direct superior?”

   “Mr. Perry, I believe.”

   “Your ex-husband?”

   Rachel blinked, expressing her surprise.

   “My ex-husband,” she agreed. “I see you are pretty well informed, Sir. Have you talked to him?”

   “Not yet.”

   “I believe you both will get along.”

   “Excuseme. It’s about time for us to return to our hotel,” he said.

 

   A black cab travelled through the greenish outskirts of Manchester. Looking through his window, Ricardo opened a brown envelope.

   “What do you think of Sir Weyden?” he asked.

   “The more we dig into his past the more despicable he appears,” Gabrielle said.

   “He flaunts his wealth. People may resent him.”

   Ricardo took a letter out of the envelope and read it silently.

   “The Baltimore are inviting us to dine with them tomorrow evening. At nine.”

   “I’m afraid I won’t be able to go.”

   “Oh, Dear. Do you have a dentist’s appointment?

   “He entertains funny ideas about us,” Gabrielle said.

   Ricardo laughed nervously.

   “I hope he will enjoy your company,” he said. “Why did you ask Mrs. Newton about

Egypt?”

   “Oh! To test her. Sara told me once that something extraordinary happened on that

trip.

   A ship sails over the Nile river. Monumental statues can be seen on the horizon. 4-year-old Sara stands on the deck, looking at the landscape. 5-year-old Tracy grabs her hand. Close to them, healthy-face 25-year-old Perry talks to young doctor Knox.

   “It happened close to the Karnak Temple,” Gabrielle continued. “On the Nile. We were on a white boat. Sara was with her sister on the ship’s deck, surrounded by water and strangers.”

   Perry looks around. He sees 30-year-old former Mrs. Baltimore talking to 43-year-old Rachel, who waves her hands animatedly as she smiles pointing out to the horizon.

   “Mrs. Baltimore and Rachel forsook the children for an instant, surely enchanted by the beauty of the landscape, and then, all of a sudden, Sara fell into the water.”

   A scream is heard. Perry looks at the children. He only sees Tracy, who, standing up on the deck, peeps out into the water. Former Mrs. Baltimore and Rachel continue talking, ignoring the tragedy. The remaining passengers are undisturbed. Perry runs towards the bar of the deck.

   “Sara screamed. She was engulfed by water.”

   Perry sees Sara struggling in the Nile’s waters. He jumps out of the boat. Young Doctor Knox screams and throws a buoy onto the water.

   “Mr. Perry rescued her. Unfortunately, the stem post of the boat hit his head.”

   “Sara is lifted in a buoy. She pants. Over the waters Perry floats in a pool of blood. Young Doctor Knox jumps onto the water.

   “Doctor Knox rescued him.”

   “The serial killer?” Ricardo asked.

   Young Doctor embraces Perry over the waters.

   “At that time, he was one of former Mrs. Baltimore’s closest friends. Mr. Perry’s skull got infected. One week later his doctors removed half the skin of his face.”

   “That’s something extraordinary, indeed,” Ricardo said awestruck. “Do you think…”

   “Mr. Perry became an outcast. He lost his wife and developed a bitter feeling against men and women. He became one of the founders of a conspicuous British pro-choice society; «Eleutheria».”

   Tracy contemplates her own reflection on the river’s waters. Former Mrs. Baltimore approaches her. She looks at the water and gazes at Tracy’s pale face.

   “On the other hand,“ Tracy continued, “former Mrs. Baltimore died weeks later of indigestion. Her last words where accusing Tracy of pushing Sara from the deck.”

   Minutes later Ricardo and Gabrielle were brought back home in a taxi cab.

   “We should keep an eye on her,” Ricardo said.

   “I’m convinced, though, that Mrs. Newton’s reluctance to speak about this incident is mainly due to her nationalistic attitude,” Gabrielle agreed. “She ranks any British citizen–right or wrong, above the rest of the world.”

 

   The day after, Ricardo walked along a street of Altrincham, checking a house address. He stopped in front of a small building, where there was a golden plaque on the wall: «Wagnall’s Consultant Company» Ricardo entered the place and saw Mr. Perry typing a document on his computer. Ricardo cleared his throat. Perry looked up at him and continued typing.

   “Mister Saint-André,” he said. “Please, take a seat.

   Ricardo sit down on a Louis-XV chair. He studied the decoration of the office: it was crowded with portraits, statues, cartoons and photographs of cats. A huge white cat lied on the floor. Ricardo turned his eyes to a bookshelf nearby.

   “Do you like dogs?” Perry asked.  “I find them a little bit dumb. I pity cats, in spite of their self-sufficiency. They are my family, as you can see.”

   “How so?”

   Ricardo noticed a shelf stocked with books of 19-th century authors. Amongst them he distinguished several copies of the same book: «New Arabian Nights, » by Robert Louis Stevenson.

   “Human beings are cruel, Sir. When I was thirty-three my wife left me because I was ugly. I was rejected as Quasimodo was from his precious Spanish nymph.”

   “I’m sorry to hear that. Surely you know every one of us has to endure the pangs of love, as Shakespeare wrote.”

   “From that moment on I started taking in strays. I think that the worst sin of men is to beget their offspring”

   Perry rose the humongous white cat and placed it on his desk. The cat purred spoiled. Ricardo took advantage of that moment of affection between owner and pet and thumbed one of the copies of Stevenson’s book.

   “I’m glad to be the savior of twenty-one noble creatures. Once I became the manager of this company, I was allowed to bring Jigs to work.”

   Perry caressed tenderly his cat.

   “You, little one!”

   “Who allowed it?” Ricardo asked.

   “Who allowed you to bring Jigs to your office?”

   Ricardo found inside the book the piece of a newspaper sheet. On it there is a photograph of a young girl above the title: «Teenager drowns her baby in a bathtub. » Ricardo shelved the book back.

   “Oh! The board of directors. Mr. Baltimore, the president, to be specific. He is a judicious man.”

   “Of course. A judicious man.”

   “I’ve known his family for many years. I work as their accountant and financial

consultant.”

   Perry sighed.

   “Poor Sara! What a trial she caused to her family.”

   He took a frame from his desk and handed it out to Ricardo. It was a picture of the Baltimore Family: Rachel and Perry holding hands, former Mrs. Baltimore, Mr. Baltimore, 4-year-old Sara and 5-year-old Tracy.

   “You have a good collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s books.”

   “From my childhood… yes. As you see I’m a fan of «The Strage Case of Dr. Jekill and Mr. Hyde».”

   “I really liked it. As I love «The Suicide Club», one of his best short stories. Have you read it?”

   Perry looked suspiciously at him.

   “I didn’t know you were interested in English literature.”

   Ricardo returned the book to the shelf.

   “I will be sincere with you,”

   “Yes?” asked Ricardo expecting a confession.

“I prefer his «Treasure Island».”

“A well-known tale,” Ricardo said disappointed. “Do you remember Doctor Knox?”

Perry smiled as he caressed his cat.

“Knox? My best friend and my worst enemy.”

“How so?”

“He saved my life once,” Perry said with uncanny good humor. “In a river.”

“I heard that.”

“But then he seduced my wife.”

Ricardo’s eyes blinked.

“I see you had not heard that.”

A siren was heard on the street.

“Never mind. This is a town inhabited by old folks. Every day someone dies of a heart attack.”

“Do you hate Rachel?” Ricardo asked.

“Rachel?” Perry smiled. “Not at all. Knox left her three months later. My only hate is for Doctor Knox.”

“I see you enjoy his fall.”

“Why not? I admit I’m a bitter person. As the characters of Dante, I really enjoy others’ disgraces.”

“Do you really think he’s guilty?”

“Of course, he is,” Perry laughed heartedly. “Knox was a seducer. He used to date his youngest students… And the richest ones. He had though he could play the saint and the villain all the time.”

“What do you know about Monsieur Philippe?”

“O,” Perry scratched his head. “He’s back in France, I believe. A very efficient man. I

asked him to continue working with us, at least until December. But he just disappeared.”

Perry looked at Ricardo expecting a sign of understanding, such a smile or a guttural sound. Ricardo remained steadfastly earnest.

“Is he the subject of your investigation, Sir?” Perry asked.

“Do you have his contact number in France?”

Perry checked the documents on his desk.

“I’m afraid no,” he said after a minute of infructuous search. “He lived alone. I received a resignation letter from him, though. It should be over here.

Perry took an envelope from a drawer. He took a letter out of it and read it.

“«I was offered a new post in a hospital. I’ll contact you later to instruct you about my last payment. Best wishes, Philippe».”

Ricardo took another letter from Perry’s desk.

“Oh, that’s something else,” Perry explained.

“It is signed by Mrs. Lawn.”

“A most charming lady. I supposed she’s not a suspect, isn’t she?”

“Would you be so kind as to make a copy of this document for me?”

“Sure,” Perry shrugged. “Why not?”

He stood up and photocopied it. Ricardo observed the cat and smiled.

“Do you know, Sir, what did Julius Caesar said about those who lar fun of pets?”

“You tell us,” Perry said handing out the photocopy to Ricardo.

“He said that such tender affections were given by nature to all of us to assure the care of children.”

Perry’s cheeks became reddish as he smiled.

Next morning Gabrielle walked down the street. She stopped in front of a store and read a newspaper headline: «Baltimore Petrol Co. signs drilling agreement with the Bolivian government. » Beneath the title she saw a picture of Mr. Baltimore shaking hands with a foreign Politician.

“My father has secured his fortune for another 50 years,” she heard on her back.

Gabrielle turned around and met Tracy, dressed in a black mourning dress. A huge diamond hang from a necklace placed around her neck.

“Tracy!” she said. “What a coincidence!”

“You have reason to suspect me. I was, after all, the person who stole my mother’s diamond.”

“That was a family quarrel.”

“My sister was unfairly blamed. You may think I hated her. But you are wrong. I loved her. Have you asked yourself why I did it?”

“It’s not important.”

“It is! I buried it, to avenge my mother. My stepmother didn’t deserve to wear her jewelry.”

“Petra?”

“That scandalmonger, hideous, treacherous woman!”

Tracy sobbed.

Gabrielle offered her a tissue.

“Thank you… When my mother died, Sara was with you in Oporto.”

Tracy recalled when seated next to a hospital bed, she cried over the dead body of former Mrs. Baltimore. A nurse and a doctor perused her then; she remembered their faces were blank.

“I had to take care of my mother during her final days,” she went on. “Alone. My father, instead of being with us, was in Florida, frolicking with that bitch. I called him every day. «Never mind! The Doctors will take care of your Mother! »–that was his reply.”

Gabrielle imagined Tracy, tears in her eyes, dialing a number on the phone once and again.

“Dad?… Mom passed away… Aren’t you coming, Dad?… Dad!”

She should have dropped the phone and fell sobbing on the ground.

“I know Sara never told you. She felt guilty too, somehow.”

Gabrielle examined the diamond. It appeared more brilliant in her mind. “Why diamonds superseded remembrances?” she wondered.

“I see you got the diamond, after all.”

“Oh! My husband’s wedding gift…”

And without waiting a reply Tracy handed several documents to Gabrielle.

“In these documents you will find proof of our innocence.”

“Your alibi?”

“Max and I spent the entire night in a hotel in Wales. You can check the phone number and the address.”

“Do you suspect your sister was murdered, Tracy?… Or, should I say, Lady Weyden?”

“Yes, but…”

“Yes?”

“I hope you will understand, we must not see each other again. I came to tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“My husband. He is extremely upset by your investigation.”

“I don’t understand, then, why do you risk upsetting him even more. You were expecting me…”

“I’m trying to help you. “

“By denouncing your stepmother?”

“How dare you?” Tracy exclaimed. “You are not polite at all. You share my sister’s indisposition against me.”

Tracy stood up.

“Sara almost died twenty-two years ago, in the Nile River, didn’t she?

Tracy looked at Gabrielle visibly shocked. Gabrielle smiled with irony.

“I should have talked to Tico about it,” Tracy said. “But I Didn’t want to upset you.”

“I’m aware of everything that happened between you and Tico, Tracy.”

“Have you already discovered his mark on his thigh?”

“You have a wicked tongue, Lady Weyden,” Gabrielle said in a menacing tone.

Tracy turned around with fear.

Ricardo descended from the tram and walked over the streets of Altrincham. He was guided by a map printed on a tourist brochure he got at the tram station. The names of the houses came one after another, as in a dream, until he found the house he was looking for: «Fox Lawn».

He saw at the brochure a photograph of Fox Lawn printed in black and white.

«Fox Lawn specializes in hosting foreign visitors, » he read before approaching the house.

Ricardo knocked on an iron door framed by demons.

Mrs. Lawn opened the door.

“Hello!” she said. “I was waiting for you, Monsieur.”

Minutes later Ricardo and Mrs. Lawn were drinking tea and eating cookies.

“Unfortunately,” Mrs. Lawn said, “Monsieur Philippe left this house without notice. At

this point he should be back in Paris, enjoying the enviable weather of the continent.”

“How long did he live with you?”

“One year.”

“Do you know his new address?”

“I’m not his mother,” Mrs. Lawn said with dry countenance. “If for any reason you run into him, Monsieur, please remind him to contact me. He forgot to pay his last phone bill.”

“What was he doing in the United Kingdom?”

“Business. He worked for a hideous consulting company in Altrincham:

Wagnall’s.”

“Worked?” Ricardo asked. “Doesn’t he work anymore?”

Mrs. Lawn smiled impatiently.

“Perhaps they can help you better, Monsieur. I will write down their address for you.”

Mrs. Lawn stood up and approached what appeared to be her desk. Just at that moment Whitney, a 45-year-old lady entered the room. She held a white envelope in her hand.”

“Oh! I wasn’t aware you were with someone else,” she apologized recoiling.

Mrs. Lawn’s immobilized her with a movement of her right hand.

“That’s fine. Inspector Ricardo, Mrs. Whitney Rush, my dearest tenant.”

Ricardo and Whitney exchanged smiles. Whitney handed over an envelope to Mrs. Lawn.

Ricardo looked suspiciously at it.

“I should go,” Mrs. Whitney said leaving the house.

Mrs. Lawn wrote an address on a piece of paper.

“Your house is beautiful, Mrs. Lawn,” he said, “and well-preserved.”

“Thank you. The mortgage rate has increased outrageously during the

last two years. We try to do our best.”

“We?” Ricardo asked. “I thought you live alone, Madame.”

“I’m soul and body, Monsieur,” she answered cunningly.

“Of course,” Ricardo assented. “By the way, I have here a note you wrote to Wagnall’s consultant company, three weeks ago.”

Mrs. Lawn dropped her pen and looked upset at Ricardo.

“You have already been to Wagnall’s. You don’t need their address then.”

“Did you say Wagnall’s?” Ricardo asked. “Excuse me. I have a bad ear. My mind gets very confused. Anyway, on this note, you acknowledge that Fox Lawn has never been, and will never be, a BUSINESS hotel, but a family house.”

Mrs. Lawn put her right hand on her bosom.

“That was just an expression,” she said in a defenseless, pitiful voice. “But congratulations! You have caught me in my mistake!”

“Don’t say that,” Ricardo said.

“How else can I help you, Monsieur?” Mrs. Lawn asked.

“I understand you are a pro-life activist, Mrs. Lawn.”

“And I will continue to, till I die.”

“Were you aware that Sara Baltimore and her stepmother were pro-choice

activists?”

“Pro-murder, Monsieur, pro-murder. What are you trying to prove? Do you suspect I poisoned her and hanged her carcass from a tree? Do you deem me capable of killing someone? My main interest is in the living.”

Ricardo stood up over a purple wool carpet.

“Of course!” he agreed. “Nobody murders for the interests of death. Thanks for the

cookies.”

“I baked them myself,” Mrs. Lawn smiled.

“They were excellent.”

“I could have poisoned you.”

“I always take my own precautions. Now, excuse me, I must go to the

hospital.”

Ricardo called a taxi that brought him to the hotel through the green lawns of Cheshire. As he paid the cab driver Gabrielle approached him. She smiled and raised her head to the top of a nearby hill, where Ricardo saw a wooden hut.

“Follow me,” she said.

They walked to the hut over a narrow path covered with pebbles. Gabrielle entered first towards the reception desk, where a bald woman in his 30s rested on a wooden stool.

“Good afternoon,” she said. “How may I help you?”

“I talked to you on the phone this morning, I believe.”

“Mrs. Saint-André?”

Gabrielle nodded affirmatively.

“Let’s see…” she muttered.

She perused a notebook, found an annotation and smiled.

“I see you already paid a booking.”

“Please…”

“Yes,” the receptionist agreed. “You just want us to show you Sir and Lady Weyden’s wedding room. Follow me, please.”

Ricardo and Gabrielle were guided to an open court, where a green-painted golf car was parked. The receptionist took the driver’s seat and invited them to enter. She drove them for about two miles. Gabrielle, seated beside her, identified about three foxes staring curiously at them. As she faced them they hid amongst the trees and bushes surrounding the lawn. Finally, they came to a bungalow, on the edge of a mountain. An abysm laid behind it.

“I saw them at the reception about eight pm,” the receptionist said. “A member of our staff brought them up here.”

Gabrielle got out as soon as the car stopped.

“An open, quiet space, with no neighbors around,” she said.

“It appears to be a golf course,” Ricardo commented.

“It used to be,” the receptionist explained.

She invited them to the terrace of the bungalow, on the third floor, from where the reception hut became visible.

“Would it be possible for them to leave the condominium hotel without you noticing it?”

“Impossible. We monitor all our entrances with video cameras.”

“But you don’t keep cameras inside,” Ricardo said.

“That’s correct,” the receptionist answered. “We protect the privacy of our guests”.

“Thank you, Madam,” Gabrielle said.

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