'Slain woman with rose tattoo naked in holiday home rural retreat murder'
the headline screamed.
Alice scooped up the national newspaper from the mat behind the front door, turned, looped her hands behind her husband's neck and pulled him down to her for a goodbye kiss. There wasn't much space in their tiny semi-detached hall and although he avoided her lips, as was his custom when off to work, he couldn't avoid the bodily contact she engineered as he squeezed past her and out of the door. It was a daily tease that Alice enjoyed.
Alice watched him disappear down the road towards the railway station where he would catch the same train he caught every working day to the same office with the same people. She waved cheerfully, knowing he wouldn't be looking - because he never did.
The front door clicked closed behind her and she walked into the kitchen with quick tiny steps. Deftly, she clicked the switch to boil the kettle, pulled out a chair from behind the kitchen table, patted her to light curly fair hair, pursed her lips and read on.
'Police have no leads in holiday home murder and fear now stalks the pretty valley where this attractive woman lost her life.'
Alice usually avoided sensational stories about murders. In her opinion, they were profiting from someone else's grief. These stories offered little for the reader. They were usually repetitive and almost always lacked meaningful detail. But this one was different. The tattoo and the victim's name reminded her of a friend she had known at school.
'Estelle' was an unusual name. It suited the gay, vivacious young woman who had started life in an orphanage, grabbed every opportunity in life and wore her name with panache.
In those last long sunny days of the sixth form before going up to College, Estelle and Alice lived to escape from school for a secretive Danish pastry and cappuccino coffee in the local Italian Café. Alice as a teenager was unadventurous, prim and proper. But she loved to listen to the exciting plans her friend dreamed about for herself and the world.
Now years had passed and Alice wondered if Estelle had achieved her dreams. It would be terrible if they had ended in a small holiday cottage in a tiny inconsequential country village. The surname in the newspaper was different but marriage would explain that. It was the tattoo of a tiny red rose on her left shoulder that persuaded Alice. She still remembered the day she had spent arguing with Estelle trying to persuade her not to have it done.
Alice felt sad, but out of the sadness came a curiosity and then a determination. It would do her husband good to be alone for a few days. He had not been very attentive recently and a little bit of mystery in his life worrying about what she was doing might just spice up their relationship.
At the same time, she could find out more about the apparent sad demise of her friend. It would tidy up her friends memory and Alice liked everything to be tidy and in its place.
She wrote a short note explaining to John, her husband that she would send him a telephone number when she had one, packed a few clothes into an overnight bag and headed for the M3 motorway in her small Ford saloon car to the sound of classical music on the radio and an unusual feeling of freedom in her heart.
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