M rs Miller put the cup and saucer on the table at the side of the sofa. ‘Milk and no sugar,’ she said. She put a plate of chocolate biscuits next to the cup of tea. ‘From Marks and Spencer,’ she said. ‘They do wonderful biscuits.’ She sat down in the armchair and smiled at him. ‘You must have been so shocked when I screamed.’
Nightingale nodded. ‘I thought you were…’ He shrugged. ‘I don’t know what I thought.’
Mrs Miller held up her iPod with its in-ear headphones. ‘I always listen to music on this,’ she said. ‘I’m a little bit deaf and I can turn the volume up without annoying the neighbours. They’re a marvellous invention.’
‘So I hear,’ said Nightingale.
‘Do you know how many records I have on this?’
Nightingale grinned. ‘A lot?’
‘I’ll say. More than fifty. Fifty albums, and look, it’s not much bigger than a box of matches, is it?’
‘It’s tiny,’ agreed Nightingale.
‘So I didn’t hear you knock and I didn’t hear the phone, and when you touched me…’
‘I am so sorry about that,’ said Nightingale. ‘But when you didn’t answer the door and I saw that the kitchen door wasn’t locked, I thought that maybe something had happened to you. I’m just glad that you’re okay.’
‘And you’re a journalist, you said?’
‘Freelance,’ said Nightingale. He didn’t like lying to Mrs Miller but he knew that people were happier talking to reporters than to private investigators. ‘I just wanted some background on Connie. For her obituary. What sort of person she was, what sort of life she had, just so that people can appreciate her more. Sometimes a cold news story gives the wrong impression, you know?’
‘I still can’t believe what happened,’ said Mrs Miller. ‘I just…’ She shook her head. ‘You never expect…’ She wiped a tear from her eye with the back of her hand, then reached for a box of tissues and used one to dab at her face.
‘I am so sorry about your loss,’ said Nightingale.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ she said. ‘The doctor gave me some tablets and I keep listening to my music but nothing helps, not really.’ She showed him the iPod again. ‘Connie gave me this. And put all my records on it. She was always so good with computers.’ She dabbed at her eyes. ‘Still, I must be strong, right? That’s what my husband says.’
‘Where is he, Mrs Miller?’
‘He’s out walking, with the dog. Says it helps him, to keep moving.’ She sighed. ‘Connie was the perfect daughter, you know? We never had any problems with her. She was a happy baby, she was never any trouble at school, she worked hard and she…’ Her eyes misted over and she put a hand on her chest. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m still…’ She sighed. ‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’d do such a thing.’ She pulled another tissue from the box and blew her nose. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said.
‘Was she upset about anything? Depressed?’
Mrs Miller blew her nose. ‘I don’t think so. If she was, she never said anything to me or to my husband. But then I suppose they don’t, do they? People who are depressed bottle it up. I wish she had spoken to me. I don’t know why she didn’t.’
‘What did she do for a living, Mrs Miller?’
‘She worked for an estate agent. She was so good at it. She liked dealing with people and everyone liked her. She was always smiling, always happy.’ She dabbed at her eyes again.
‘What did she do in her free time? Did she have any hobbies?’
‘Not really,’ said Mrs Miller tearfully. ‘She liked the internet. She spent hours on her computer, I think. I used to tease her about it. She told me she had three hundred friends on Facebook and I said that in my whole life I don’t think I had more than ten real friends. They’re not real friends on Facebook, are they?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘That’s what I said. If she was ever going to find a husband she’d have to find him in the real world, not on the internet.’
‘So she didn’t have a boyfriend?’
They both looked around at the sound of footsteps in the kitchen. ‘Are you expecting someone, Mrs Miller?’ whispered Nightingale.
She frowned. ‘It’s not my husband; he always shouts when he opens the door.’
There was the sound of a chair scraping across lino. Nightingale stood up, motioning for Mrs Miller to keep quiet. He looked around for something to use as a weapon. There was a brass poker and a matching brush in a stand by the fireplace. He picked up the poker and held it up as he walked on tiptoe towards the kitchen.
He had taken just two steps when someone shouted, ‘Now, now, now!’ and four uniformed police officers rushed out of the kitchen, screaming and waving batons. Nightingale dropped the poker and raised his hands but the men steamrollered over him, knocking him to the ground.