It took them some time to find Lee Fleck, as he had gone to ground at a friend’s place, but he did arrive eventually, held in check by two burly constables.
“In here, guys,” Jim Owens said, and pointed to the chair now vacated by Danny, who was on his way with Detective Sergeant Parker to be charged with minor vandalism. Jim hadn’t given up on the boy entirely, though. Danny was daft, not dangerous.
His brother, on the other hand, was belligerent and wily, though not particularly bright. He was thickset and strong, with steely grey eyes.
“Sit down, Lee,” Jim said, taking a seat on the other side of the table and setting the recorder going. “This is just a little chat. Unless you’d like to confess, of course. That would make a difference.”
Lee decided at that point that silence was the best policy.
“We’ve got your brother’s balaclava, Lee, which you left on the church roof. And don’t pretend it was him, because it wasn’t. He was decorating the bus shelter at the time, as instructed by you. You stripped the lead off the roof, and you might as well admit it.”
It was the strangest thing, but Jim thought he saw relief in Lee Fleck’s eyes. The door opened quietly, and Karen Parker came back in, taking the seat beside her boss.
“Did the wool get too hot and itchy, Lee?” Karen asked in a chatty voice. “Mrs Norman said that was a bit of a hazard. Was that why you tossed it aside?” Lee remained silent, and Karen carried on. “What made you forget about it? Were you distracted by something else?”
Lee Fleck looked wary suddenly.
“What did you see, Lee?” Jim Owens asked, matching Karen’s gentle tones. “Or did someone see you? Did you have to make a run for it and you forgot the balaclava? Was that it?”
Again, the faintest look of relief, so that they knew they were missing something. It was Karen who spoke next.
“You’d be ready to hide if someone walked past the church, wouldn’t you, but you might not think of someone standing at their window. It was dark, after all. Most people would have drawn their curtains.”
Again, a watchful silence. And Karen suddenly knew exactly what had happened. She spoke steadily, keeping a damper on her excitement.
“It was Marcia Simpson, wasn’t it? She was standing at her window, wasn’t she?”
The silence went on, until eventually Lee spoke.
“Stupid woman. She shouldn’t have stood there, just staring. It was her own fault.”
“So you came down from the tower,” Jim said, “and then what did you do? Did you go to the front door?”
“No, because I didn’t want anyone to see me, did I?” Lee said, indicating that Jim was somehow a bit slow on the uptake.
“I see. So you went round the back, and then what? Was she inside the house, or was she already out at her log pile?”
There was another pause. Then Lee Fleck leaned forward.
“She shouldn’t have laughed. I said she should forget what she’d seen on the church roof, or I’d give her a hiding. I don’t know what was funny about that, but she started laughing. So I hit her.”
There was another silence and then Lee Fleck started talking non-stop.
“I hardly touched her. Honest. I just gave her a tap with one of her logs, and she dropped like a well, like someone that’s been shot. It was like a freakish accident. That was why ”
“That’s why you moved her.” Jim looked at the man with a touch of compassion. Lee nodded.
“What did you do with the log, Lee?” Karen asked.
“Put it in the stove.” He half smiled at his own smartness. Not that it availed him of anything. He had just confessed to murder.
From then on, formality took over. Legal opinion was sought and Lee signed the typed-out confession. It wasn’t till he was being led away to a temporary cell that Jim spoke to him again.
“The thing is, Lee, you didn’t have to do any of it.”
Lee Fleck turned his strong shoulders and stared at Jim Owens.
“She laughed. No-one laughs at me.”
“But she didn’t see you. That’s why she was laughing. She had poor night vision.”
“So why was she staring up at me?”
It was Karen who had the last word.
“She wasn’t. She was just standing at her window. Maybe she was waiting for the fireworks. They started right about then, didn’t they? She’d have seen them all right. But not you.”
* * * *
Jim Owens went home to his family after everything was wound up, and Karen went back to her flat. She felt sad and satisfied at the same time, but didn’t dwell on her emotions. Instead she set about her housework with an enthusiasm she didn’t normally feel. Which is why she almost missed the phone call.
“Dinner? Tonight? You bet. See you later, Steve.”