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Trick of the Darkby Val Mcdermid
Once upon a time, Charlie had been more than a little in love with Dr. Corinna Newsam. There were several very good reasons behind an infatuation that had lasted for most of her first year at St Scholastikas College. Corinna, the colleges junior philosophy fellow, was the smartest woman shed ever met. She was also the least stuffy academic, the most challenging conversationalist and the most demanding teacher Charlie had encountered. She was charmed by Corinnas Canadian accent, in awe of her mind and attracted by her sardonic smile. The husband, four children and adamantine Catholicism were mere details that barely impinged on Charlies dreamy fantasies. And she never noticed that, like the family, she was entirely under Corinnas thumb.
And now she was going to have to pluck up the courage to call her. It wouldnt have been such a trial six months before, when Charlie had still been someone with a decent professional reputation, albeit tinged with a degree of notoriety. But now? Charlie stared at the phone and sighed.
Oh, bugger,” Charlie muttered, reaching for the handset. This time of day, Corinna should still be in college.
St Scholastikas College. How may I help you?” The burr of a local accent that sounded as if it had escaped from a BBC costume drama.
Id like to speak to Dr. Newsam,” Charlie said, more brusque than shed intended.
May I ask whos calling?”
Dr. Charlotte Flint.”
Dr. Flint? How nice to hear you. One moment, Ill see if Dr. Newsams available.”
Bloody Oxford. Never lets you go. Charlie waited, hollow silence in her ear. Nothing as tacky as canned muzak for her alma mater. Shed almost given up when she heard a sharp click followed by a familiar drawl. Charlie? Is that really you?”
Corinna,” she said, taken aback by the warmth she suddenly felt. But youre not really surprised, are you?”
That depends on why youre calling.”
The joust was on. Charlie felt tired at the thought of it. She moved in a different world these days, and she preferred it. Im calling because you sent me a package of newspaper clippings,” she said. About the trial of the two people who allegedly murdered Magdas husband on their wedding day.”
Why would I do that?” Corinna sounded as if this were no more important than a routine tutorial inquiry about some detail of an essay.
I think it was a challenge, Corinna. Given what you sent, would I be able to figure out who had sent it? And why? You did it because youre a philosopher. Youve grown so accustomed to setting everyone tests and challenges that youve forgotten how to ask a straight question.”
And what could my motivation for such a challenge possibly be?” Charlie thought she could hear tension in Corinnas voice now, but she couldnt swear to it.
Im not sure,” she said. But I did track down one photograph that gave me pause. I think if I was a mother and my daughter was running around with Jay Macallan Stewart, Id be shouting for the cavalry. Now, I know Im not everybodys idea of the cavalry, but Im probably all you could think of at short notice.”
There was no humour in Corinnas laugh. I thought my memory was still reliable. You always had a gift for investigation and resolution. Its good to see the years have only sharpened it. Well done, Charlie.”
Whats all this about, Corinna? Apart from me being your self-fulfilling prophecy?”
I need your help.”
Charlie sighed. Its seventeen years since I graduated, Corinna. You dont know anything about me.”
I know enough, Charlie. I feel pretty certain youve got a burning desire to redeem yourself right now.”
Charlie closed her eyes and massaged her forehead. Thats a little presumptuous, dont you think?”
A moments silence, then Corinna spoke crisply. We know you here, Charlie. And there is a strong feeling among the senior members in college that you have been made a scapegoat. That you have in fact acted with honour and honesty. It may have been uncomfortable, but it was right to stand up for Bill Hoptons innocence when he was actually innocent. Its not your fault he went on his killing spree afterwards.”
Some might disagree with you,” Charlie said, her voice weary. Some might say it was his very experiences at the hands of those of us involved in law enforcement that sent him over the edge.”
Speaking as a philosopher, I find that an untenable proposition,” Corinna said briskly. Now, theres nothing we can do to help you professionally, obviously. Although Im sure, where influence exists, its being brought to bear. But what I can do is offer you the chance to be useful. To use your skills for good, if you like.”
Charlie didnt know why, but she felt like laying her head on the desk and weeping. I dont have the faintest idea what youre on about, Corinna. And Im pretty sure I dont want to.”
Charlie, we can help each other here. But a phone call isnt the way to do this. Come and talk to me. Come to Oxford for the weekend.”
I dont think so, Corinna.”
All Im asking is that you listen to me, Charlie. I understand the reason you do what you do. Its because you have a desire to protect the vulnerable. Right now, Charlie, my daughter has never been more vulnerable. Can your conscience really afford any more burdens?”
Thats a very poor effort at emotional blackmail, Corinna.”
You said yourself if you had a daughter who was running around with Jay Macallan Stewart, youd be shouting for help. Thats all Im doing here.”
I understand that. But Im not the person to help with this. I dont know how to break up Magda and Jay Stewart.”
Im not asking you to separate my daughter from Jay Macallan Stewart,” Corinna said, sounding ruffled for the first time. I wouldnt be so crass. What Im asking is that you bring your talents to bear on uncovering that truth. At heart, this is about a miscarriage of justice. I thought you still cared about that kind of thing, Charlie.”
It doesnt take long for silence on a phone to loom large. After a few empty seconds, Charlie said, I dont understand.”
Paul Barker and Joanna Sanderson did not kill my son-in-law, Charlie. The jurys out today, the evidence is stacked against them. Theyre going to jail. And its wrong.”
Havent you left it a bit late to try and drag me into this? If it was really about avoiding a miscarriage of justice, surely you should have called me weeks ago.”
Corinnas exasperated sigh was not unfamiliar to Charlie. This hasnt exactly been easy for me. I thought it would be thrown out of court. I had no idea how far . . . Look, Charlie, what matters here is that the two people in the dock are innocent. They didnt kill Philip.”
Charlie couldnt help herself. Who did?”
Some things dont work over the phone. Come and talk to me, Charlie.”
Hook, line and sinker, Charlie thought. Here we go again.
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