‘She’d come very early that morning, around eight o’clock, saying she wasn’t needed any more at the other house, they’d thrown her out. She walked straight in and started clearing up the kitchen, getting out the mop for the floor, just working, working all that day. I suppose I just accepted it. I should have rung them there and then. I mean, why didn’t it occur to me that it was odd they’d dismissed her at such an hour? But I didn’t. I was glad to have her. Olive hated housework, I hated housework. Agneta did it, and everything else. She cooked, she shopped, she just worked. Just worked. I let her stay without a question. I suppose I didn’t want to know anything.
‘I’m not sure exactly when she’d come in. I was in a panic, Olive was raging at me. Agneta must have heard the commotion, probably saw Olive knock Harriet onto the floor. And she saw Harriet lying there. I knew she was dead. You do know, don’t you? There’s a terrible stillness. She wasn’t breathing. Blood was pouring from her head. Agneta just stared. I can see her face. Stared at Olive. At Harriet. She put her hand to her mouth. And I looked at Olive and somehow, without either of us saying anything, we knew what had to happen. I was screaming at Olive that she’d killed Harriet, Agneta was looking at us and she knew everything and we panicked. Olive picked up a heavy brass bell that was on the table. Agneta turned towards her and she … hit her. She hit her on the temple, very hard. She was still shouting, shouting at me in a rage about Harriet – it propelled her. It made her hit out. But I could have stopped her. I know that. I didn’t.’ She was completely still, hands on the table in front of her, face in shadow, eyes oddly bright. ‘That’s what happened.’
‘You had to get rid of two bodies,’ Simon said. ‘That won’t have been easy.’
‘It was terrifying. Don’t let anyone tell you that sort of thing can be done calmly. In cold blood? We were raging with fear, both of us. Only a mad person could have done it without being in fear and dread, trembling with it. We did it and it took a long time. That’s not easy either, carrying dead bodies, lifting them, burying them. They kept on about the shallow graves. Why is that surprising? We didn’t have strength left to dig down six feet, for God’s sake.
‘When we got home that night – in the middle of the night – we drank a bottle of brandy between us and still didn’t sleep. The next day I remember thinking we had no right to be alive. I felt so ill. I didn’t leave the house for almost a week. I couldn’t. Every time I took a step beyond that door I almost passed out. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s easy. Don’t believe a word of it. It almost killed us as well. Cold blood? I don’t know what that means. But when nothing happened, no one came to the door, when it was clear no one knew, it gradually got easier. We started to learn to live with it. With the secret. And so that went on, for years and years. And then Olive began to forget. We never mentioned it, never referred to it at all from that day. It just lay there between us but we never spoke of it once. So it was a long time before it dawned on me that Olive actually didn’t remember. She didn’t remember that, and then, she didn’t remember anything.’
They sat on in the half-dark and in silence for a long time.
In the end, Serrailler said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this afternoon?’
Lenny said with infinite weariness, ‘She’s helpless.’
‘She has no chance to defend herself.’
‘Nor does she have any need.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Lenny, I’ve seen her. I’ve spoken to her. She is totally unfit to plead. What purpose would it serve?’
‘So you’ll arrest me.’
‘I saw it all. I should have rung the police then. I buried two bodies and I said nothing about any of it for sixteen years.’
‘There are no witnesses and it’s too long ago for there to be any forensic evidence.’
‘Olive knew Agneta’s name. She says her name.’
‘Olive can’t be questioned. The case wouldn’t even get to court. She doesn’t understand what any of this is about.’
‘Now?’ Simon got up. He looked at her and felt huge sadness, and pity, and regret. Lenny would go on living with the memory. Olive would not.
He touched her arm gently. ‘Don’t forget to lock up the hen house,’ he said. ‘I know what foxes can do.’