It was late on a Sunday morning when Pc Wells got the call that changed his life. He’d been driving around, aimlessly, in a patrol car, sourly mulling over his personal circumstances. The night before he’d split up with his girlfriend of three years having discovered her affair with an officer on another shift. Wells had had his suspicions for a while but they’d been confirmed by an acquaintance who had seen the pair ‘canoodling’ in a secluded country pub. The subsequent confrontation was extremely unpleasant. Admittedly, Wells conceded, things hadn’t been right for a while. Perhaps he could have spent a bit more time with her, perhaps he could have been a bit more supportive. Mind you, he thought, resentfully, his job didn’t help. And the recent cut backs the force had made were another kick in the teeth. After all, if they hadn’t got rid of his community job and put him back on shifts he would have been there in the evenings and at weekends when she was obviously lonely. Then again, he reflected, who was he kidding? She was always nagging him. Still, better to find out about her now. If he’d married her she could have had a claim on half his house. The bitch had never paid a penny towards it.
Fourteen years he’d been in the job. Fourteen bloody years. And where was he? Back on shifts, dealing with the same old crap he’d dealt with ever since he’d joined. His bitter train of thought was interrupted by a call over his radio requesting a unit to attend a burglary. Wells ignored it. Another request was put out and a unit offered up. Yeah, let them take it, he thought; they’re double crewed, there’s two of them, why should I do twice the work?
His mind refocussed on his personal circumstances. Fourteen years, a failed marriage and a string of crappy relationships. Now his pension contributions and National Insurance had gone up. Thank God he’d never had kids or he’d be loaded up with maintenance payments. Yeah, he thought, at least I’m free again. Perhaps he’d ask out that new woman on the reception desk or he could try some of those dating sites everyone seemed to be playing about on. Jesus, he thought, I’m back on nights next week. He hated night shifts. Hadn’t done them for years.
The radio interrupted his wretched mood. The controller asked if a unit could attend an address and speak to a woman about some domestic concerns she had. Another unit interrupted, asking if it was a domestic in progress.
‘No, no,’ said the controller, ‘she just wants an officer to go round and give her some advice. Apparently she’s alone.’
Wells, calculating that the job would work to his advantage, cut in before the other unit could accept the call.
‘I’m not far off, I’ll go’.
It sounded straightforward enough. Hopefully, he could listen to the woman’s concerns over a cup of tea, return to the station and spin out the rest of his shift writing a report. Wells experienced a brief feeling of satisfaction.
Ten minutes later he turned into the gravel driveway of a large, detached house. A new BMW was parked in front of the main entrance. Lucky bastards, he thought. He parked, updated his arrival on the car’s computer and then rang the bell on the large, oak front door. He heard a distant chime. After a short wait the door was opened and a woman’s head appeared.
‘Oh, hello officer, thank you for coming, won’t you come in?’
The woman’s face was dishevelled, her voice funereal. Pc Wells entered the hallway already having formed an unfavourable opinion of her.
‘Please, go into the kitchen, it’s just straight ahead of you,’ she said as she closed the door behind him.
Pc Wells could hear the woman following him.
‘You have a beautiful house,’ he noted as he made his way towards a cooker which he could see through an open door at the end of the hallway. As he walked into the kitchen he was taken aback by the sight of a man’s body lying face down on the kitchen floor. A small pool of thick blood had formed from under the man’s chest.
‘Jesus,’ he exclaimed and turned to the woman for an explanation.
‘He’s dead,’ she remarked, indifferently.
Wells now noticed that the woman was holding a gun in her right hand and felt a cold lurch in his stomach. The woman was plainly in a state of shock. If he tried to disarm her or call for assistance she might shoot him. He walked over to the body. The man was obviously dead.
‘Well, I must say this is unusual,’ said Wells, hoping a nonchalant approach might put the woman at ease. ‘Do you mind if I sit down?’
The woman nodded. Wells pulled a chair from underneath the kitchen table, turned it to face the lady and sat down. He nodded toward an easy chair opposite him:
‘Why don’t you sit down and tell me what happened?’
Wells was hoping she would discard the gun so that he could overpower her but as she sat down she placed it on her lap, still gripping it, a finger curled around the trigger. ‘So I take it this man is your husband?’ said Wells, as indifferently as he could manage.
The woman nodded.
‘And I take it things haven’t been going too well lately?’
Wells regretted this sentence as soon as it left his mouth and hoped she wouldn’t interpret it as sarcasm. Fortunately, the woman didn’t take offence and simply nodded. Wells followed it up quickly.
‘Could you tell me what happened … I’m sorry I don’t know your name.’
‘Melissa,’ said the woman, softly.
‘Melissa,’ repeated Wells. ‘Do you mind if I call you Melissa?’
The woman shook her head from side to side.
‘Well, Melissa, could you tell me what happened?’
Melissa looked at the body of her dead husband and sighed.
‘He was going to leave me.’
‘I see, so did you have an argument?’
Melissa didn’t reply she just stared at the body. Wells felt horribly uncomfortable.
‘I‘ll tell you what,’ he said, gently, ‘why don’t I make you a nice cup of tea and then we can chat about what happened?’
‘Do you mind if I just radio through to the station to let them know I’ll be a while?’
‘I’d rather you didn’t,’ said Melissa whose hand visibly tightened on the gun as she focussed her vacant eyes, unnervingly, on Wells.
Wells smiled sympathetically.
‘Okay, that’s fine.’ He stood up, slowly. ‘Now then,’ he said, cheerfully, ‘where do you keep your tea?’
‘In the cupboard, by the sink.’
Wells walked over to the sink, stepping over the body as he did so. He took a box of tea bags from the cupboard along with two cups. As he filled the kettle he looked out of the window.
‘Wow, you have a beautiful garden, I bet that’s taken a hell of a lot of work to get it looking like that. It’s spectacular.’
‘Thank you,’ said Melissa. ‘It’s my hobby, I spend a lot of time on it.’ She paused. ‘I suppose I’ll have even more time now.’
Wells, uncomfortable that he couldn’t see her, turned away from the sink, smiling as he did so.
‘Do you take sugar?’
‘Oh, it’s alright, I don’t want a cup, thank you.’
Wells silently cursed. He had been hoping to disarm her as she took the tea from him. He made just the one cup and then took it back to his seat stepping over the body again as he did so.
‘So, what happened Melissa?’ he said, attempting a tone of kindly bewilderment. ‘What caused all of this?’
‘We’ve been married for twenty-eight years and I’ve always done my best.’
Wells didn’t comment and after a short pause Melissa carried on, her voice quiet and melancholic.
‘The children left a couple of years ago and I thought things would get better. Most of the arguments were about money. But when the kids had finished university things seemed to get a little easier, financially. Paul runs his own business and every so often we’ve had cash flow problems. But I’ve never been extravagant, I’ve always done without, put Paul and the kids first.’
Wells nodded sympathetically.
‘He had an affair about fifteen years ago and that was a terrible time but we managed to get over it. His business was going through a hard time, the kids were young and I put it down to stress. Anyway, we’ve struggled on. Sometimes though, we had some good times, when business was good but during the last couple of years things have been terrible. Paul’s built up a lot of debt. The trouble is he’s always had to maintain appearances. He’s always been extravagant. But recently I found out he’s got other bank accounts. We’ve had some awful rows and he said some really spiteful things but I still thought there was hope for us. Then, yesterday, I had an amazing piece of luck.’
Melissa stood up which made Wells’s heart thump. She walked over to her husband’s body, bent down and took a piece of paper from his hand. Wells thought of pouncing on her but his courage failed him. She stood back up and handed him the crumpled piece of paper. Wells straightened it out and examined it. It was a lottery ticket.
‘I won the lottery,’ she said. ‘Six million pounds. I checked the numbers about ten times. You can imagine how I felt.’
‘I certainly can,’ said Wells, with forced enthusiasm.
Melissa reached out, took the ticket from Wells and tossed it onto the kitchen table and continued with her confession.
‘So, I went out and splashed out on a fantastic meal and some champagne and waited for Paul to come home so we could celebrate. Can you imagine how I felt? All our problems solved. No more debt, no more arguments. But he never came. He rang me at about six last night and said he’d been with a client all afternoon and he was taking him out for a few drinks. And of course I believed him. Why wouldn’t I?’
Wells nodded and shrugged his shoulders, supportively.
‘Anyway, he messaged me at about eleven to say he’d drunk too much and couldn’t drive so he was staying in a hotel. I messaged back asking him to call me but he never did. Then, this morning, when he came home I asked him why he hadn’t called and he just told me to stop nagging him and then disappeared for a bath. He left his phone on the kitchen table. I knew his code number because I’d seen him tapping it in so many times. He thought I never knew, but I was just never distrustful enough to try getting into it. So I looked at his messages and e-mails.’
Melissa’s eyes filled with tears. She began to sob then shouted:
Wells was startled by the sudden outburst of anger and tried to assuage it.
‘What did you find out?’ he asked with soft concern. ‘Was he having an affair?’
‘My best friend. My best friend for fifteen years and there were disgusting messages to each other and he had some photos.’
Melissa shook her head.
‘After all I did for her when her husband died, all the kindness I showed her. I went upstairs to confront him but I could hear him singing. Singing! Not a care in the world. All my hard work over the years, all my going without, all my forgiveness and he and my best friend were screwing each other, laughing behind my back. I stood outside the bathroom listening to him and I’ve never felt such rage. I went into our bedroom and got his gun that he keeps taped to the underneath of the bed.’
‘Well, he shouldn’t have that, it’s illegal,’ said Wells, hoping to make her feel a little less culpable.
Melissa lifted her arm and examined the gun, which unnerved Wells.
‘A friend gave it to him years ago, I think he was in the marines.’
Wells tried to distract her attention from the gun.
‘So what happened?’ he asked, as sympathetically as he could manage.
‘I took the gun downstairs. I was going to frighten him. And then I rang my friend. She wasn’t in so I left a message for her to come over. I wanted to confront them both. When Robert came down I was sitting on the other side of the table with the gun on my lap, so he couldn’t see it. I wanted to scare the crap out of him. I was looking at his phone. He said, “What are you doing?” And I called him a bastard then threw the phone at him and said I knew he was having an affair with Emma. He said, “Don’t be silly,” then he picked up the phone and saw I’d been looking at his messages. He said, “You had no right to look at my phone.” I couldn’t believe his nerve. I asked him how long he and Emma had been having an affair and he said it was none of my business. Then we began shouting at each other and then it got really personal. He began saying spiteful things and laughing at me and saying he wanted a divorce and I was crying and he just got nastier and nastier and then I handed him the lottery ticket and told him we’d won six million. He looked at the ticket and then his tone changed. He said we could work it out and I knew he just wanted the money so I pointed the gun at him, and he said, “just put it down you stupid cow,” and I shot him.’
Melissa began sobbing again and then the sobs turned to great anguished bellows that further unnerved Wells.
‘Melissa,’ he said, softly, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. What an awful thing to find out.’ She continued bellowing.
‘Melissa, I know how you feel, believe me I know. I just recently found out my girlfriend’s been having an affair with a work colleague. We split up yesterday and I’ve been thinking about it all morning, right up until I got called here.’
Melissa’s bellows decreased in volume and turned to sobs as her attention focussed on Wells’s personal revelations which he now began to embellish.
‘God knows how I’m going to tell my two kids, they love her like a mother.’
‘Where’s their mother?’ Melissa asked, still sobbing.
‘She died a few years ago. I’ve only been with my girlfriend for a year but the kids have really bonded with her.’
‘How old are the children?’ asked Melissa.
‘Four and five. I don’t know what I’m going to tell them.’
Wells’s face assumed a martyred expression.
‘The point is Melissa, I know how you feel. I can understand why you acted this way.’
Wells slowly stood up and took tentative steps toward Melissa.
‘When someone you love betrays you, we’re bound to feel angry. When someone you trust throws it back in your face, we’re bound to feel rage, we’re only human.’
Wells had almost reached her.
‘Put the gun down Melissa.’ His voice was filled with compassion. ‘You don’t need it anymore.’
Melissa put the gun on the kitchen table, next to the lottery ticket. Wells took a final step toward her and she fell, sobbing, into his outstretched arms. He felt her body shaking and he hugged her until he felt her breathing regulate and her body gradually relax against him.
Two months later, Sergeant Hawkins was sitting in a patrol car watching his inspector chatting to a well dressed, smiling man who was leaning against an expensive sports car. Hawkins had recently transferred to the area and the inspector had taken him out to show him around and discuss his duties. He watched the inspector shake the man’s hand and then walk back towards the patrol car.
‘Nice car,’ Hawkins commented as the inspector settled into the driver’s seat.
‘That man,’ said the inspector, nodding toward the expensive car, ‘used to be an officer on our section. He was one of the laziest officers I’ve ever known. Just before he left we were going to start unsatisfactory performance measures against him, but he resigned and saved us the trouble.’
‘Well, he seems to have landed on his feet,’ observed Hawkins.
‘That’s an understatement,’ said the inspector. ‘A few months ago he went to a domestic where the woman had shot and killed her husband. While he was trying to talk her into giving him the gun she shot herself in the head. He went sick with stress and then a week later he’s won six million quid on the lottery.’
‘Jesus,’ exclaimed Hawkins.
‘Yeah,’ said the inspector, ‘life really isn’t fair.’ He raised his hand to acknowledge Wells’s carefree wave as he purred by in his yellow Lamborghini.