Check out the first two chapters from my latest novel, 'Shroud The Truth With Silence.'
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Shroud The Truth With Silence
The Day of the Murder
(Tuesday, September 30th, 1952)
Headlines in the South Wales Argus (Evening Edition):
—Local Doctor Brutally Murdered!—
At approximately 3.0pm today, hospital staff at Llanarth Court Secure Mental Institution, near Raglan, found the body of Dr. Anthony Weldon in his second-floor office.
Initial reports indicate that the doctor had been stabbed.
The deceased was Head of Department at the hospital and a highly respected practitioner according to the staff there.
Clinical Psychologist, Phillip Manson, who worked closely with Dr. Weldon was today quoted as saying:
“The whole department is deeply shocked by this tragic incident. It’s hard to believe something like this could happen here. Without a doubt, Dr. Weldon will be sorely missed.”
-Latest News- Female Suspect Arrested
A female employee at Llanarth Court has subsequently been arrested on suspicion of murder and taken into police custody in Newport…
From the moment hospital staff discovered Vera Parsons slumped over the doctor's body, she fell silent, and she did not speak another word for nearly fifteen years. Consequently, she was unable, or unwilling, to plead guilty, or not guilty, in a court of law and was, therefore, unable to be tried for murder—which, at that time, carried the death penalty by hanging.
Instead, Vera Parsons was sent to a secure mental institution near London, where she remained incarcerated until her eventual release in 1970, after being assessed by the Parole Board as:
“No longer a threat to the community.”
I did what I had to do
‘I’m bloody determined to find out who killed him,’ Melanie said to herself, as she turned left off the main road at the T-junction.
The young psychologist was preoccupied, deep in thought—mulling over the evidence against Vera Parsons, the old lady she was about to meet, face to face — but she was struggling to crystallise her thoughts and make sense of the detail in the SIO’s case notes.
Was she protecting someone by staying silent for all those years—banged up in a mind-numbing mental institution—or was she simply protecting herself? Either way, it worked, Melanie reminded herself, because nobody has ever been charged with the murder and Vera Parsons avoided the gallows; even though she was found slumped on top of his body with her fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Melanie recalled the details she’d been reading before she left the office. Actually, she reminded herself, Vera Parsons has never been officially charged with any offence at all!
I wonder if she’ll open up to what really happened that day? But then again, girl, why should she? If she did kill the doctor she’s hardly likely to admit it to you, is she?
She has never explained what really happened—and she must be in her late eighties now.
God! That means she was just a kid in 1952 when they arrested her on suspicion of murder.
So if she didn’t do it, then she must know who did—and that means she’s been protecting a murderer for most of her life.
But why would she do that, because the murderer killed her lover?—That makes no sense at all.
I need to get into her head.
Some three-hundred-yards down the leafy tree-lined road Melanie Underwood indicated and turned right into a small car park, deftly slotting her Mini Cooper into the last remaining visitor’s parking space. That was lucky, she thought, as she switched off the engine and checked her watch. ‘Eighteen minutes from the office; that’s not bad for Cambridge at this time of the day.’ She then checked her makeup in the driver’s mirror before stepping out of the car and walking the short distance to the nursing home’s main entrance. She glanced up at a black and white sign that said: Welcome to Clearwell’s Private Residential Nursing Home, and she smiled. ‘Thank you, sat nav,’ she said.
The once splendid Edwardian house now served as a nursing home for some thirty-or-so elderly residents and was funded in part by the local council.
As she approached the entrance, her boss’s words of advice returned to her mind:
Don’t raise your hopes too high, young lady, you’ll only be disappointed.
Melanie knew how much this opportunity meant to her and she knew she’d only get one chance to find out what really happened the day Vera Parsons’s lover, Doctor Anthony Weldon was murdered.
She was feeling nervous but tried hard not to show it. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
‘I’ll show you, Alan Cornish,’ she said, defiantly.
I wonder what she’ll be like? Will she like me? I hope she’s not a cantankerous old biddy whose hearing aid batteries need changing. Stay calm girl, stay calm.
‘You must be Miss Underwood?’ said a smiling, very overweight woman who’d opened the main door to greet her as Melanie walked up the front steps.
‘Yes, I’m Miss Underwood,’ Melanie replied, raising her ID card for the woman to see.
‘Criminal Psychologist—Bloody hell! I’ve not met one of them before,’ she said, excitedly, as they shook hands. ‘Has Vera robbed a bank or something?’
Melanie smiled. So they don’t know about her past, she thought and made a mental note.
‘I believe Miss Parsons is expecting me?’
‘Yes, she is. She’s in the day lounge; follow me and I’ll take you through. My name’s Stephanie by the way… Vera doesn’t get many visitors so she’ll probably enjoy having someone sensible to talk to if you know what I mean… She’s not in any kind of trouble is she?’ the carer asked, discreetly.
‘No, not at all,’ Melanie replied.
‘Oh good—because she can be a bit cantankerous when she wants to be.’
Oh God! Melanie thought and forced a smile.
Halfway down a tired looking hallway that smelt of disinfectant, the carer showed Melanie through some double-doors into a large sunlit room. Inside, elderly men and women occupied high-backed chairs arranged around the perimeter of the cheaply carpeted room. The air in the room was stale and acrid and it was uncomfortably warm.
Melanie’s reaction was to cringe as she walked in. God—This is awful!
‘Vera, Miss Underwood is here. Make sure you behave yourself, you hear me? If not you’ll be in trouble again, my girl, do you understand?’ Before leaving, the carer pulled up a conference chair next to the old lady and invited Melanie to sit down, which she did, somewhat self-consciously; aware that all around the room squinting eyes were scrutinising her.
Holding out her hand, Melanie said:
‘It’s lovely to meet you, Miss Parsons, I’m very grateful to you for seeing me.’
The frail old lady, dressed in a floral pink frock, heavy-denier winter stockings and open-toed sandals, pointed a cadaverous finger at an equally gaunt-looking woman sitting on the opposite side of the room.
‘She thinks I’m mad—but that mindless old cow sits there all bloody day staring out of the window, muttering to herself, farting and stinking of piss. If they took her cushions away the daft bitch would keel over like a sailboat in a storm. Who is she to say I’m mad? Anyway, I’m glad to announce she’s wearing her death mask today. She’s not long for this world, take my word for it; I know more than most people about life… and death.’ The old lady pouted her bottom lip and nodded her head, giving additional credence to her stage-whispered prophecy.
The young psychologist had to agree with Vera Parsons’s prognosis when she glanced across at the vampire-white face and sunken eyes staring straight through her.
‘Why does she think you’re mad, Miss Parsons?’ Melanie asked, inquisitively.
The old lady smiled to herself for some time in pensive silence. Eventually, she answered:
‘Young lady, everyone here thinks I’m mad!’
‘Why is that?’
Vera Parsons tensed and clenched the arms of her chair. ‘…Because.’
‘You mean because of what you did, Miss Parsons?’ the psychologist tentatively asked.
Vera laughed and Melanie responded with a nervous smile.
‘…Fuck you!’ Vera yelled, venomously.
Melanie Underwood stiffened and dropped her pen in shock. This is not going well, she quickly realised.
So, what’s your theory Miss, Criminal Psychologist, Underwood?
‘Vera!—language!’ came the chastisement from a female voice somewhere outside the room.
The old lady smirked contentedly. ‘I know why you’re here,’ she said, coldly. ‘You’re here to tell them that I’m still insane. Well, let me tell you something young lady—I don’t give a shit what you or they think,’ she said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. ‘I did what I had to do.’
Melanie picked up her pen off the carpet and struggled to compose herself; clearly perturbed by Vera’s unexpected outburst, which raised a number of the resident’s eyebrows and instigated a flurry of gasps and giggles around the room.
‘…I’m sorry if you think that, Miss Parsons, but that’s not why I’m here, I can assure you. I’m here to hopefully understand what really happened on that fateful day.’
The old lady regarded her young visitor with suspicious eyes. ‘…Why do you care what happened on that fateful day as you put it? You weren’t even born.’
‘Do you really want to take your secret to the grave, Miss Parsons? Unless of course you really did murder Doctor Weldon.’ Melanie regretted the words as they escaped from her lips. ‘…I’m sorry, Miss Parsons, I shouldn’t have said that.’ Shit! Shit! Shit!
‘So, what’s your theory Miss, Criminal Psychologist, Underwood? What did happen on that fateful day?’
The expectant audience fell silent as Melanie wrestled with the old lady’s question. She felt suddenly faint.
‘Well?… We’re all waiting,’ Vera urged, smugly.
Oh God! What do I say? Melanie took a deep breath; her mind was in turmoil.
Vera continued to press. ‘Well?’
Melanie straightened her back. ‘…You…You found out that your lover was cheating on you and in a fit of rage you killed him.’ Oh, fuck!
Vera nodded and smiled, ‘Go on.’
Melanie took another deep breath, struggling to find a morsel of composure. A bead of perspiration trickled into her cleavage. ‘You realised what you’d done and that you would hang for it.’
Gasps of astonishment filled the room.
Vera mimicked a noose around her neck and stuck out her tongue.
Laughter filled the room.
Melanie continued. ‘…So you decided to remain silent. That meant you couldn’t plead in a court of law and therefore you could not be tried for murder. You killed your lover and very cleverly avoided the hangman.’ Melanie looked deflated. Christ—I’ve blown it now!
‘So that’s your theory is it, young lady?’ Vera asked, smiling.
Melanie replied, defiantly:
‘Yes — yes it is.’
Vera Parsons was infatuated with Melanie Underwood’s beautiful young face, near perfect complexion and vibrant green eyes. For a moment she gazed at Melanie in silence, but eventually, she said:
‘Are you going to sit down or do you have piles?’
‘…Yes, I mean no, …thank you.’ Melanie settled on the conference chair next to the old woman as laughter rippled around the room.
‘… There is a beautiful innocence in your face young lady, but there is also determination and resolve—I admire that—I looked very much like you when I was your age and look at me now, a wrinkled, white-haired old hag, sitting in God’s waiting room…
Vera then touched her breasts. ‘And look what gravity has done to my once prized assets! They were like yours once!’
Melanie chuckled. I don’t want to get old, she thought.
'Looking at you is like turning back the hands of time. You’re a breath of fresh air in this awful place.’
Melanie managed a weak smile.
‘You’re nervous aren’t you my dear?’ she said, softly, glancing down at the young woman’s trembling hands.
‘Yes—I am a bit, Miss Parsons,’ Melanie admitted.
‘How I envy you, young girl, but please—stop calling me Miss fucking Parsons. Vera will do nicely, thank you.’
That’s a start, thought Melanie, smiling at the capricious old lady’s instruction.
‘You really are quite sweet.’
Melanie began to relax. ‘I don’t think you’re insane Vera.’
‘But you’re a psychologist my dear, not a bloody psychiatrist. There is a difference.’
The old lady’s sharp rebuff took Melanie by surprise and put her on edge again.
Vera gestured to the residents with a dismissive wave of her hand. ‘…This fucking lot are convinced I’m mad,’ she said.
Melanie glanced around at the collection of shocked faces.
What have I got to lose—Say it? ‘…But surely they’re not all psychiatrists, are they?’ she retorted.
‘Oh—Touché!... I do like you, Melanie, you’ve got spirit!’
A stooped old man shuffled past them towards the doors; an unlit cigarette balanced precariously between his stiff, nicotine-stained fingers.
Vera watched him as he passed behind her visitor. ‘He stinks of piss too,’ she said, crinkling her nose in disgust. ‘Off for some fresh air, George?’ she called out after him.
‘Aye,’ replied the old man as he left the room.
Vera returned her gaze to her visitor. ‘So you really want to know what happened on that fateful day?’
‘Yes, I do,’ responded Melanie. ‘I really do.’
‘Why should I tell you, young lady? I’ve never told anyone.’
Melanie remembered from the case notes that Vera had not spoken a single word for over fourteen years after the murder…‘Yes, I’m aware of that,’ she replied… ‘Well, to tell you the truth I’m hoping to use your case as part of my PhD in Criminal Psychology. The work involves identifying and classifying the motives that drive people of different social backgrounds to commit murder. It’s part of something called Predictive Policing—it’s all the rage at the moment. I came across your file and it fascinated me straight away because there were no obvious motives for murder.’
Vera’s wrinkled forehead furrowed in response to Melanie’s explanation and she repeated her words:
‘No—obvious—motives…But you do think I’m a murderer, do you, young lady?’
Melanie looked uncomfortable and a little flustered. ‘Well I…I want…’
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell you…because there’s something about you that I find very appealing.’
In Melanie, Vera Parsons could see herself as a young woman again and the thought invigorated her frail body.
Vera continued, ‘but not here…not in front of these nosey morons!’
Melanie beamed with delight, ‘I understand… Shall we take a walk in the garden, Vera? It’s really quite pleasant outside.’ She knew that if she didn’t get out of the acrid atmosphere soon she’d puke!
‘Don’t leave us now!’ a disappointed old lady called out from the corner of the room.
Vera ignored her and considered Melanie’s offer. ‘…Yes…that would be nice. I haven’t been outside for a few days. Perhaps a bit of sunshine and some fresh air will do me good.’
Melanie’s relief was visible as she offered her arm to the old lady.
With a little help from Melanie, Vera got slowly to her feet and took a deep breath before exclaiming out loud:
‘I’m going outside where you FUCKERS can’t hear me!’
‘VERA,’ came the chastisement again from the faceless voice somewhere in the building.
As they walked slowly arm-in-arm together down the corridor, Vera said:
‘Old age is not like a dinner party or a bottle of fine wine you can share with friends, old age is something you have to bear alone. But loneliness is something I got used to a long time ago because they don’t hang the insane, do they, young lady? They just lock them away and fill them full of mind-bending drugs to serve their penance.’
‘They don’t hang anyone anymore, Vera.’
Vera stopped in her tracks. ‘…Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to have the noose placed around your neck? Knowing that in a matter of seconds your neck was going to snap like a carrot. What would you be thinking my dear?’
Melanie flinched at the thought. ‘I’d rather not think about it if you don’t mind,’ she answered, as they began walking again.
The old lady continued, ‘Do you know how many people we hanged in this country, my dear?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t.’
Vera stopped and looked at Melanie. ‘We hanged eight-hundred, men and women, between 1900 and 1964. I often wonder how many of those poor souls were actually innocent of their crimes?’ Vera continued on, arm in arm with Melanie. ‘I’ve thought about the different kinds of the death penalty, but I’m not sure which one I’d prefer if I had to choose. I suppose a bullet through the heart is the quickest…I don’t fancy being cooked in the electric chair… I wonder—when they cut your head off can you still see as they hold up your head as a trophy to appease the baying crowd? I suspect you can see them and hear them cheering for a brief moment after decapitation? What do you think, my dear?’
Melanie cringed and a cold shiver rippled down her spine, but she offered no comment.
Vera continued. ‘I remember reading about a French prisoner once who’d been decapitated at the guillotine in 1905. A physician, Doctor Beaurieux, present at the execution, noted that after the decapitation if he called out the prisoner’s name he opened his eyes. This happened twice, over a matter of thirty-seconds —fascinating isn’t it, actually knowing your head had been cut off!’
How bloody morbid, Melanie thought. This woman seems obsessed with death!
‘…If they did hang me now I wouldn’t care. They’d be doing me a favour, to be honest.’
‘I can assure you, Vera, that is not going to happen.’
Vera smiled. ‘I know, but this world holds nothing of interest for me anymore. I’ve had my time. My life has become mundane and meaningless; this is your world now—to enjoy… Do you have a young man, Melanie?’ Vera asked inquisitively.
Melanie responded, happy to change the subject:
‘Not at the moment, Vera; I must admit my love-life to date has been a bit of a damp squib.’
‘I’m sure that someone as beautiful as you will soon have Mister Right knocking on your door.’
‘That’s very kind of you to say so…but I’m not in any rush at the moment. I’ve decided to put all my energy into my career.’
The rear garden was a pleasant place with lots of leafy shade, colourful flowerbeds and a long, well kept, rectangular lawn. The welcome smell of freshly cut grass lingered in the warm air. At the far end of the lawn was a sturdy oak bench and Melanie and Vera strolled arm-in-arm in silence across the soft lawn towards it. Moments later they settled down next to each other on the bench. The faint drone of distant traffic on the M11 was the only thing to invade the tranquility of the surroundings but soon that was forgotten.
For some time neither of them spoke; silently enjoying the warm sun on their faces and breathing in the flower-scented air.
Then Melanie said:
‘I wish I could do more of this. I don’t seem to have the time to sit and appreciate the beauty of the world. The flowers smell wonderful, don’t they?’
Vera looked at her and nodded. ‘Yes, the bees are very busy today. But when you’re young and immortal you have far more important things than a pretty garden to occupy your mind, my dear. At least it seems that way at the time. But then as you get older you realise immortality was just a cruel illusion of youth. For some of us, death comes far too soon, and for others definitely not soon enough.’
Melanie prompted herself.…Do it now, don’t hesitate any longer. With her heart pounding she asked:
‘So what exactly happened at Llanarth Court, Vera?’
The old lady sat up straight, took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. After a brief silence she began:
‘…I was just like you once, Melanie, full of vitality with my whole life ahead of me. I appreciate that must be hard for you to imagine now as I sit here awaiting the imminent arrival of the Grim Reaper.’
Melanie gave a sympathetic smile and took Vera’s hand. ‘Not imminent, Vera.’
Vera looked down. ‘Even your hand is pretty, young girl.’
‘…You were right to say what you did, my dear, I don’t want to take my secrets to the grave with me. Believe me, I’ve suffered enough heartache in this godless world.’ Vera clasped her hands together on her lap and looked at Melanie… ‘I’m sure you realise that this is the first time that I’ve ever talked about what happened all of those years ago?’
Melanie tingled with excitement. ‘Yes, I realise that.’
Staring straight ahead, Vera Parsons took a deep breath, and then began to speak, quietly and wittingly:
‘…I was a nurse at Llanarth Court in Wales; it was a secure mental hospital — a beautiful country home it was, miles from anywhere. I can see it now,’ she said, fondly, and the old lady’s expression brightened. Vera enthused, ‘all the men there fancied me, even the patients, God forbid, but I played it cool and it drove them all wil—apart from the monks of course,’ she added, and giggled like a teenage girl. ‘But I didn’t care about any of them—except for one.’ Vera’s tone softened. ‘I fell in love with him the moment I set eyes on him. I decided I wanted him and I went out to get him... But, I didn’t know then that…’
Melanie watched as the old lady's breathing suddenly laboured and she struggled to catch her breath.
‘What didn’t you know, Vera?’
Vera began to sob, dabbing her watery eyes with a tissue that she’d pulled from the sleeve of her cardigan.
‘I didn’t know then that…’
‘Vera! it’s time for your medication,’ came the untimely interruption from the overweight carer striding purposely towards them with a glass of water and a tube of tablets in her hands.
Fuck! Melanie thought.
‘At least they can’t hear her profanities when she’s out here,’ the carer said, smirking at Melanie. ‘Be careful what you report young lady; Vera has a very, shall we say—colourful, imagination.’
‘Fuck off, you old cow!’
‘Really! I don’t have to take this verbal abuse from you. You are so bitter and twisted and downright rude, Vera!’ The carer turned and walked away in disgust, emptying the contents of the glass onto the lawn as she marched back towards the main building muttering to herself.
‘Fat-arsed bitch!’ Vera mumbled.
Melanie waited until the carer was out of sight. ‘Please continue, Vera?’
‘Yes, I will,’ she replied, ‘but first—I want to ask you a question.’
‘Yes, of course—Go ahead.’
‘What makes us what we are?
Melanie smiled and then answered:
‘That’s one of the fundamental questions psychologists have been debating forever, Vera; the nature-nurture debate. On the one side, you have the nativists, who basically believe everything we do is a product of our inherited genetic code. On the other side, you have the empiricists, who believe we start off with a tabula rasa or blank slate, and what we become is dependant on what happens to us along the way. Modern thinking tends to be somewhere between the two schools of thought.’
‘And what do you think, my dear?’
‘Oh, I definitely think life shapes and defines us, especially when we’re young and our brains are still developing. But don’t forget, we are all individuals and we all react to life’s experiences differently; and maybe that’s due to the genetic hand of cards we’ve been dealt. But, I’m sorry to say, there is no simple answer to your question.’
Vera smiled contentedly at Melanie’s response. ‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘well at least we both agree, because I think you’re right—life does shape and define us.’
‘Are you talking from experience, Vera?’
The old lady looked at Melanie and nodded. ‘Yes, I am,’ she confirmed.
‘…So what was it that happened to you?’
The old lady then began to reveal to Melanie her version of the events that led up to that life-changing day in 1952, when, at just twenty-years-old, she was taken into police custody on suspicion of murder.
‘I will always remember the day he arrived at Llanarth. It was a Monday, the sixth of August to be precise, 1951. I was only nineteen then and still a virgin. I remember walking across the courtyard when this posh car pulled up at the main entrance. This handsome man in a dark suit got out and lit a cigarette… he was standing there as if he owned the fucking place. God, he was good looking; classic Italian.’