Imogen agreed to join Mrs. Harris for lunch. Normally, Imogen would politely refuse such offer from the woman; not that Imogen had been invited often. Mrs. Harris was constantly on some complicated diets; and her choices of places to eat in terrified Imogen. Mrs. Harris was also just a tad too nosey. But today Mrs. Harris was dying to share information, and not fish for one; while Imogen was inclined to listen.
“She was driving that preposterous white car of hers!” Mrs. Harris started her report as soon as the entrance door of the Mayor House closed behind them. “Who’d heard of a snow white car? Did you know she had everything either in white, or black? Except that appalling red lipstick she wore. I told my sister many times, ‘Not with this skin tone, she shouldn’t!” It made her look so sickly!”
Mrs. Harris unlocked her car, and Imogen climbed in.
“And I’m sure the Town Hall will hear no end of it! How the road was unsafe, and how the fence of the Mallow Farm had broken down… But she drove like a maniac!” Mrs. Harris continued, showing not much more moderation in her own driving. Imogen sank her nails into the door handle. “Have I told you she once almost ran me over? On the Daisy Lane, I was coming out of the book shop, the one that belongs to that wonderful Mr. Reason. And she just jumped from around the corner! In the residential area!”
Mrs. Harris floored her accelerator; and Imogen thought that perhaps whatever knowledge Mrs. Harris had was not worth losing one’s life over.
“There will be no peace now!” Mrs. Harris mournfully shook her head, and Imogen suppressed a squeaky plea to the woman to keep her eyes on the road. “With her husband being this big businessman; all that money; and her father-in-law with all his ancestors, and the family crest, and owing half the town…” The woman sighed. “If only it could somehow be proven that it was her fault, and not the road!”
They finally arrived to a café; and Imogen threw a sad look at the picture of a moronically smiling carrot hugging a beetroot on the window. Bunny food again, Imogen thought in dread – and was right.
“Welcome to Raw Energy Café!” A creature of indistinguishable gender and age – and clearly, unaware of the existence of combs or razors – greeted them; and they were seated.
Imogen looked into the menu on the wall – decorated with a drawing of a smirking broccoli – and wistfully thought of the wonderfully aromatic box a delivery boy had carried by her when she was picking up her coat to go out of the office. It said Willy’s Fish & Chips on it; and Imogen could bet its contents were now in the Mayor’s stomach, making him very content and warm. Imogen doubted ‘a kale salad with pinenuts and raspberry vinegar (no oil)’ was going to have the same effect on her.
“I just can imagine how relieved the pupils will be.” Mrs. Harris took a sip of her carrot juice. “She had treated them poorly! And her colleagues as well! She thought she was invincible, hiding behind her husband and his family. Missed classes, and almost every Friday, mind you; trips to some beaches in the middle of a term, and then she’d come back, tanned, and with new diamond earrings! Much good they will do now.” Imogen cringed from the venom in the woman’s voice.
Imogen liked gossip – she knew that much about herself; and that was why she always tried to stay away from situations, which would give her a chance to tell or listen to any. And she had initiated this ‘dirty laundry washing’ session herself, but she wasn’t enjoying it a bit – there was just too much malice in Mrs. Harris’ words for Imogen to ignore.
“I agree with you she had been unfair to her students sometimes… but no one deserves such a death.” Imogen gave Mrs. Harris a firm stare, and the woman pressed her head into her shoulders. “Or any death for that matter.”
Ordering, Imogen had poked into the menu randomly; and was now waiting for her ‘carrot patties with soy sour cream.’ Mrs. Harris sat in silence, pouting.
The silence lasted for only a few minutes, since the event had been just too extraordinary – nothing remotely interesting ever happened in Fleckney Woulds – to be contained within Mrs. Harris’ mind without bursting out in a verbal form.
“All three of my nephews were in one of Mrs. Fitzroy’s classes. Is your niece?” the woman asked Imogen in a nonchalant tone, testing the waters.
“Yes, Kathy takes drawing with her.” Imogen stabbed the sad orange puck, trying to chase away certain unpleasant memories from her own school years.
“My nephews had quite little success in the classroom, but again all they care about is footie.” Mrs. Harris stuffed her cheeks with something green and crunched loudly. “They have mentioned her preposterous outfits though. Always black and white, and… well, skin-tight.”
“She had wonderful figure,” Imogen stated firmly.
Not only she wanted to prevent any further of the unpleasantries Mrs. Harris was obviously planning to spit out – it had also been true. Mrs. Patricia Fitzroy had been small, fit, and exactly the perfect balance between lithe and curvy. Imogen with her skinny pins, angular elbows, and nonexistent cleavage had been envious; not jealous – envious. She could appreciate other women’s beauty, without wishing to look like them, or for them to lose their attractiveness. She just sometimes wished she had a bit more in the bosom and the bottom.
Mrs. Harris speared a sad-looking oilless leaf on her plate, and send it to her mouth.
“I bet she had surgeries. All those trips to Switzerland, to those alleged ski resorts,” she scoffed. “I bet it was all for those liposuctions, to get rid of all the fat.”
“I think my lunch had taken those trips as well,” Imogen mumbled, and took a deep breath. It was time for her careful inquiries. “So, how did you find out about her death? It wasn’t in the morning papers, was it?”
“No, no, I got a call from Simon.” Simon was Mr. Harris, the owner of the best garage in the town – and exactly the reason why Imogen had agreed on this lunch. “He was called into the accident. He said he’d never seen that much blood!” Unlike Mrs. Harris whose eyes shone in excitement, Imogen felt a bit sick – and the carrot patties were hardly to blame. “And the worst thing, she drove into a barn! You know, the old one, on the Sharpe’s side of the road? There was an old plough here, and… smack!” Now, Imogen was definitely nauseous.
“So, she whirred off the curve then?”
“Well, it had rained the day before; and Simon said there was nothing wrong with her car, so yes, it’s all her driving! And he also said there was all that manure there! They had to pretty much dig out her car out of all this filth…”
Imogen decisively put down her fork with a clank, and jumped to her feet.
“I’m not… feeling that well,” she mumbled. “I think I’ll walk back. Enjoy your lunch!”
She hastily paid for her plate of grass, and rushed out of the café.
The second half of Imogen’s day consisted of five attempts to ring her friend Oliver, for reasons not to be disclosed; an extensive research online into buying a new mobile; five cups of coffee for the Mayor, and then a futile attempt to sneakily replace it with decaf; more emails from the Americans; and eventually, a long and miserable bus ride home.
Her trip to the meres with the Mayor – and Imogen made sure to remind herself that she was the only one to whom it sounded anyhow ambiguous – was to take place after lunch; and the first half of the next day, Imogen spent working and nervously chewing the rubber on her pencil.
During lunch she galloped out of the office, and jumped on the bike she’d borrowed from her neighbour’s son in the morning. She pedalled so fast that it felt like her hair were growing twice as quickly in the turbulence.
Thankfully, the Fleckney Woulds Comprehensive was just a seven minute ride away; and Imogen whizzed into the school yard. She could see the black car of Andrew’s boss, Detective Inspector Balinson, parked by the main entrance; and Imogen quickly turned around the building. She stuffed her bike into the ball shed, and pranced into the gymnasium doors.
The schedule of the classes hadn’t changed since Imogen’s days; and she waved to Mrs. de Rossi, the drama teacher, and sneaked through.
While she was navigating the corridor with a – hopefully nonchalant – expression on her face, she could just feel how charged the air was. There were whispers, and glances; pupils were standing in corners, heads leaned together; a familiar teacher rushed by Imogen without noticing her.
Imogen turned and saw Andrew standing by the wall, taking photos of the schedule with his camera. Imogen plastered a smile on her face.
“Afternoon.” She gave him an awkward wave, and immediately regretted it. She never waved like this, and Andrew’s eyebrows jumped up. Now she looked suspicious, Imogen scolded herself. To smooth down the suspicious behaviour, she did the most logical thing – she acted completely out of character. She came up to him; and rising on tip toes kissed his cheek. It was a good thing Andrew had a high forehead! Otherwise, his eyebrows would meld with his curls. “How are you?” And now she also sounded excessively cheerful, as if bladdered or on drugs.
“Working,” Andrew answered slowly. “And you?”
“Um… Just visiting Oliver. Thought, I’d ask him out for lunch, or something.”
“I see.” Andrew gave her a long studying look over. “He’s being interviewed with other teachers about Mrs. Fitzroy’s death. You’ve heard, I assume?”
“Yes. The car accident yesterday morning.” For some inconceivable reason Imogen still sounded very jolly; but she decided that if she tried to change her facial expression, she’d look bipolar. “It was an accident, right?”
Andrew’s face grew calm and inexpressive; and Imogen’s heart dropped.
“We don’t know all the circumstances yet,” Andrew answered in his best professional voice.
“Oh no…” Imogen breathed out and pressed her hands to her cheeks. “So, it was a murder…”
Andrew shushed her; and without thinking Imogen grabbed his sleeve and dragged him to the nearest door. She jerked it open and stuffed him into – as it turned out – a supply pantry.
She pressed her back into the door, locking poor Andrew inside, and flipped the switch. There was just enough room for her and a large male between the shelves of paper towels, tissue boxes, and bottles of cleaning liquids; leaving about a foot between their bodies; and Imogen sank her nails into Andrew’s forearm.
“I know it’s confidential, but please…” Imogen gave him a pleading look. “Tell me what you know.”
Andrew gulped – Imogen saw the throat bob – and she added pressure into her grasp.