CHAPTER ONE

London, 2009

                                                                                

Our ref: 3E.N/894C                        

22nd February 2009

To: Mrs Gloria Mitchell, Manager
The Three Elms Care Home
Elms Road
Putney
London

Dear Mrs Mitchell,

         Thank you for coming to see me on the 12th to discuss your business account. I found the meeting very useful as it helped to clear up some outstanding issues, particularly those relating to your future business plan. We discussed your failure to keep up with the monthly payments agreed to when we arranged your present loan of £135,000 in December 2007. This was for a period of one year and I agreed to review the arrangement at the end of that period.
I have now completed a thorough review of your account with the bank and have come to the following conclusion. As we both discovered, the business has been operating on a small profit margin for the past eighteen months, often showing a deficit. As agreed in our loan facility of 18th December 2007, any future extension of this loan would be dependent upon the present loan being repaid by 31st December 2008. However this has not happened and, together with interest, the sum of £105,310 is now outstanding.
Though you explained the reasons for not being able to meet these strict conditions, I have nevertheless reviewed your latest business plan and though you say that you expect a growth in income over the next six months, I do not believe that this will constitute sufficient funds to clear this amount.
The bank is sympathetic in that your business is about caring for the elderly and the vulnerable, and it is not the bank’s wish to take any precipitous action that would distress your residents. However, I must request that the sum of £35,000 be paid into your business account by close of business on 31st March 2009. If this obligation is not met, we will have no alternative but to commence immediate bankruptcy proceedings against you to recover the outstanding loan in full.

Yours truly,

Derek Blake
Account Manager

 

Gloria Mitchell crumpled the letter up into a tight ball, then tossed it into the waste bin by the side of her desk. The contents of the letter seemed to suck the life from her exhausted body. She had just lost another battle in her private war to keep the home solvent and a roof over the heads of the residents. She had dedicated the last fifteen years to the business. Oh yes, it had begun with such promise – she and her husband Gerry had, through sheer hard work and numerous bank loans, made it into a profitable business while providing a home to people in real need. Then, two years ago, with the business starting to fail, Gerry, unknown to her, had struck up a cyber relationship with some young thing he’d met in a chat room on the internet. Looking back now, it amazed her how he had managed to find the time to conduct this ethereal courtship. But it had finally culminated in him walking out to start a new life with her, running an English restaurant in bloody Benidorm of all places, while she was left with a messy divorce, twenty-odd vulnerable people to care for, and a drink problem she refused to accept was a problem.
It was to the bottle of 75% proof vodka she kept in the drawer of her desk she now turned to – her best friend, as she termed it – and poured a generous measure, gulping it down in one go. She checked the time. It was 9:10 a.m. As the vodka burned its way down her throat, it magically replenished her dwindling reserves of energy. She got up from her desk, walked to the small medicine fridge and opened it. She took out two 40 mg ampoules of diamorphine that was supposedly for the purpose of helping residents cope with severe pain, but over recent months she’d been secretly building up a stock for another purpose.
Closing the fridge she then found a new syringe, tore off its packaging and carefully pierced the first ampoule with the needle. Holding it up to the light, she slowly filled the syringe with its deadly contents. She repeated the process with the second ampoule. Then she quietly pocketed the loaded syringe and left her office, locking the door behind her.
As she made her way through the carpeted lounge, nodding to the residents and exchanging bland pleasantries as she went, dressed in her starched white uniform, she was the epitome of a professional care home matron. Aged fifty, hair regularly dyed black to keep away the advancing grey streaks, she had once been an attractive woman. Now her figure was putting on bulges of weight and her face, when cleaned of its daily mask of make-up in the privacy of her bedroom, showed increasing signs of ageing and the effects of a reliance on alcohol.
She walked down the corridor, past fading framed prints, to room 24. After checking that she wasn’t being observed, she gently knocked. Without waiting for an answer, she opened the door and entered the room.
Ninety-two-year-old Mavis Holden was putting the finishing touches to her dressing, ready to hobble to the residents’ lounge to join her friends and watch the morning’s fisticuffs on the Jeremy Kyle television show. Mavis Holden had lived an unremarkable life working in accounts for a small manufacturing company based in Hounslow. She was of the generation that had no aspirations in life other than getting through each week with enough money to live on and pay the bills. Having never had the courage to leave home when young, due to a domineering father who needed her financial support, she eventually found herself the only provider for her ageing parents. She’d become trapped, and when her parents had died she finally had time to look at herself in the mirror, only to discover that it was too late to make dramatic changes to her own life. Then one day she was also too old to look after herself, and had moved to the Three Elms.
‘Morning, Mavis,’ greeted Gloria cheerfully. ‘Just popped in. Only you’re due for your flu jab.’
Mavis’s expression turned to one of puzzlement. ‘Oh, thought I’d had it few months back? You sure, Matron?’
‘I’m very sure, Mavis,’ she reassured. ‘Won’t take a moment. And you know it’s for your own benefit. We have to be especially careful this winter, what with that awful swine flu that’s going around. We’ve been told to take extra precautions. Don’t want you catching that this winter, do we?’ she smiled.
Institutionalised to cooperate with whatever was requested of her, Mavis acquiesced, allowing Gloria to gently sit her down in her chair and roll up the sleeve of her hand-knitted cardigan. While keeping up a disarming patter, Gloria pulled the loaded syringe from her pocket, rubbed the vein just above Mavis’s elbow and administered the needle.
‘There now, Mavis, won’t hurt, I promise...’ she cooed, as if pacifying a young child. ‘Just sit back and take a deep breath. Just… a… small… prick….’ Mavis gave a little wince as the needle entered her grey skin. Gloria now dropped her condescending tones, and the smile on her face was replaced by the look of a murderess as her thumb administered the massive dose of diamorphine.
Five seconds later she withdrew the syringe, placed it back in her pocket and rolled Mavis’s sleeve back down. Then she turned to leave the room, saying over her shoulder. ‘Best you take it easy for the next fifteen minutes, Mavis. Just sit in your chair and I’ll have a nice cup of tea brought in.’ Like a compliant child, Mavis Holden did as she was told and sank back into her comfy chair to await the nice cup of tea that would never come. Mavis Holden was dead within half an hour.

                        *                           *                              *

At the time this murder was taking place, Danny Roberts climbed reluctantly from his bed, padded to the window and gingerly peeped out at the damp and grey world before him and uttered, ‘Bollocks!’ The world was full of greyness. The weather, his mood, his life’s achievement and his future prospects: grey, grey, nothing but fucking grey.
A look at his face in the bathroom mirror was no more inspiring. He rubbed a hand over his stubbly chin and decided he could get away another day without shaving. He opted to wash the sleep from his eyes and drag a comb through his mop of black hair. Breakfast was a piece of toast and a cup of coffee he drank while driving his fifteen-year old battered Volvo Estate through the damp streets of Putney, South-West London.
Danny Roberts’ life was also a mess. Aged forty-two, it seemed that for the past five years he’d been going through an early mid-life crisis that promised no end. His career as an artist was definitely going nowhere. His marriage had failed and his estranged wife was forever chasing him for money he didn’t have.
Twenty minutes later, he nosed the old Volvo through the rusting back gates of the Three Elms care home and squeezed it into a parking space. Dressed in his usual brown leather jacket, Denham jeans and mangy trainers, he climbed out of the car and immediately noticed the black private ambulance discreetly reversed up to the back door, sandwiched between the foul-smelling rubbish bins. Gloria was standing to one side, gently sobbing into a handkerchief as two black suited and expressionless funeral directors quietly wheeled out the body of Mavis Holden, zipped up in a body bag. Danny recalled that this was the second time he’d witnessed this scene over the past six months. Through light rain he climbed the steps, wondering if it was one of the residents he knew – perhaps someone who came to the art class he ran for the home. He stood next to Gloria and asked quietly, ‘Who’s passed away?’
            ‘Lovely little Mavis,’ sobbed Gloria, now dabbing her eyes. ‘She’d been complaining of not feeling well, last few days. When she didn’t come along to the TV lounge, as she always did of a morning, I sent Rita to see where she was. Found the poor soul dead in her chair. As sudden as that. Doctor was called, but nothing he could do.’ Then she said matter-of-factly. ‘She was ninety-two of course, and in declining health.’
As soon as the ambulance doors were closed, Gloria turned and entered the home to return to her office and carry on her usual routine. She would officially break the news of Mavis’ death to the residents at lunchtime; by that time, word of it would have filtered through the building and would make her task that much easier.
Danny followed her to the office and when the door was closed, and seeing that Gloria was suddenly composed, broached a delicate subject.
            ‘Gloria. My last pay cheque for two hundred and fifty pounds bounced. The bank returned it. Gloria, I’m flat broke –’
            ‘Oh, sorry about that, Danny,’ interjected Gloria easily, absently shuffling papers around her cluttered desk. ‘Yes, the bank has been on the phone to me. Said they’re introducing a new computerised payment system. Apparently it’s having teething troubles. They said it should be sorted within the next week.’ Through a thin smile, she continued. ‘Even residents’ monthly fees have been affected the same way – net result is, when I pay my bills, the system for some silly reason thinks I’ve no money in the account and bounces all my cheques. Real nuisance,’ and with a shrug and a reassuring smile. ‘You’ve no need to worry. The bank has assured me they’re dealing with the problem. Sorry, Danny. I suggest you leave it another week or so and then represent it.’
 Danny would have liked to have pursued the issue more forcefully, but the truth was he couldn’t afford to upset Gloria and lose this crap job. He depended upon the lousy wage, plus the two other art classes he taught at a local college, to keep his head above water in between selling one his paintings. Instead he found himself giving a resigned nod, and quietly withdrew, wondering if he could get through the next couple of weeks without money.
As soon as she was alone, Gloria opened the file on her desk belonging to the late Mavis Holden, picked up the phone and punched in a number she had earlier underlined. When it was picked up the other end a voice quickly said.
‘Good morning, Gillman and Sutton, solicitors.’ With her voice suddenly very business-like, Gloria said.
‘Gloria Mitchell here. Matron of the Three Elms care home. One of your clients, a Mrs Mavis Holden, was a resident here. Had been for the past five years.’ She dropped her tone to indicate a degree of sadness. ‘She quietly passed away this morning after a short illness.’ After several more perfunctory exchanges, Gloria came back with. ‘Mrs Holden had me put the following request into her file, the fact that she’d rewritten her will about nine weeks ago, and I sent it to you. She led me to believe that as she had no living relatives and she wanted the home to benefit from any remaining assets she might have at the time of her death.’ On the other end, the secretary carefully took details, and Gloria finished the call by saying. ‘It would be appreciated if Mrs Holden’s will could be executed speedily, only I have to cover her cremation expenses. Goodbye.’

 

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