“Susan prodded the leg of lamb despairingly. It was still as hard as a rock. Quite plainly it would never thaw in time. Her own fault, of course; she should have got it out of the freezer the night before instead of leaving it till this morning, as no doubt Clifton would soon be pointing out to her in that sarcastic way of his which always managed to shred her self-confidence and bring her near to tears. Clifton couldn't stand muddlers. All his friends, and especially the ones who were coming to dinner tonight, were terrifyingly clever and efficient.
But it was no use panicking; she would have to improvise. There would be a row afterwards, but that couldn't be helped. She glanced at her watch. If she caught the bus there would just be time to get to the supermarket in the village before it closed, and still be back before Clifton was due home.
She was in the hall getting ready to slip her coat on when suddenly she heard Clifton's car turn into the drive, and then the sound of the garage doors opening. Susan's heart jumped. Why was he home at this timeómore than an hour early? In a moment his key rattled in the door and in he came, smiling and looking very well pleased with himself.
"You're back early," she greeted him. She saw a shade of irritation cross his face. He detested obvious remarks.
"I told you this morning I was going to try and get away before the rush hour," he said. "Didn't want to get held up tonight." He kissed her briefly and made for the sitting-room and his favourite chair. His paper rustled as he unfolded it.
"Get me a drink, Sue, there's a good girl. Then I'll bring some wine out before I have my shower. What are we having for dinner?"
Susan went to the cabinet and got out the whisky. Treat it lightly, she thought. Just say as casually as possible that there are one or two things you have to pick up from the shops, and that you'd like to borrow the car for half an hour, if he doesn't mind. He didn't usually like her driving the carit was a new onebut tonight he seemed to be in a very good mood. . .
Deep in her thoughts, she suddenly realised that he was speaking again.
"By the way," he was saying, "there'll be an extra guest tonight. One more won't make much difference, will it ?" His voice was carefully casual, and he turned a page of the paper before he added, "You remember Julia Newport, don't you?"
Suddenly, Susan found herself shaking all over. Yes, she remembered Julia Newport very well, although they had only met once, a couple of months ago, one day when Susan had been lunching in town with Clifton. He'd made the introduction'A colleague of mine, Mrs Newport.' Julia, perfectly groomed and very self-assured, had chatted pleasantly for a few minutes before passing on to friends who were waiting for her at another table.
'Perhaps that's the kind of girl Clifton ought to have married'the thought had flashed involuntarily through Susan's mind. She'd tried to dismiss it. And it was only afterwards, when she couldn't shut the truth out any longer, that she remembered that oddly-appraising glance of Julia's, and the little smile that had briefly touched Clifton's lips as his eyes had followed her departure.
And now, tonightshe pictured herself, flustered, serving her hastily-improvised dinner as Julia sat there, smiling and confident, perhaps raising her eyebrows slightly, while amused or pitying glances passed between his friends who all, of course, discreetly knew what was going on.
"What about that drink, Sue?" His voice was matter-of-fact, tinged with impatience. "I've still got to get showered and shaved, you know."
Yes, of course he would want to look his bestJulia was coming. All at once the years of hurts and humiliations and hidden tears welled up in Susan's heart like an icy flood. She poured his drink and gave him the glass with a hand which was perfectly steady. Then she went to the kitchen. The leg of lamb was still rock-hard. Picking it up by the shank end she walked quietly back into the sitting-room. The top of Clifton's head was just visible over the high back of the chair. Susan swung the leg of lamb and brought it down with all her strength. Clifton slumped almost without a sound. His glass shattered on the hearth, the whisky soaking into the rug. Blood ran down over his shirt-collar. She stood quite still for a few moments, watching him, but he never stirred.
When she had put the leg of lamb back on its sheet of foil, she looked at her watch again and was surprised to see that only ten minutes had passed. Seizing her coat and purse she left the house and ran all the way to the end of the avenue. The bus was just pulling up at the stop and she scrambled aboard, breathless.
Susan went through the supermarket like a whirlwind, sweeping up everything in her path. At the checkout she hadn't enough money to pay the bill. The girl called the manager. A very special dinner-party ?yes, certainly he would accept a cheque for the balance. He found a carton to pack her purchases in, and even carried it across the road for her to the bus stop.
When she returned the house was silent and dark. Leaving her shopping in the kitchen, she looked into the sitting-room. Nothing had changed. Susan went to the phone and dialled 999.
The two policemen were reassuring and kind. One listened to her story and made notes. Then he took down the phone numbers of the expected guests and handed the list to his mate. "Ring the station first, then get on to these people and tell themyou know . . ." Later on there would be routine interviews with the bus conductor, the checkout girl, the manager of the supermarket.
When the inspector arrived they examined every door and window. There was no sign of a break-in. The questions began. Had anything been stolen? Nothing seemed to be missing. Did her husband keep money in the house? Never a great deal. Had he been expecting a caller? Not that she knew of.
"You say that your husband wasn't normally home at this time?" went on the inspector. Susan agreed. "And you saw nothing suspicious when you came back from your shopping? A car driving awaysomething like that?"
Susan shook her head.
The inspector was beginning to look puzzled. The doorbell rang. The inspector let the doctor in, showed him to the sitting-room, and half-closed the door.
From the kitchen, as she sat sipping the comforting tea made by one of the men, Susan could hear snatches of their conversation. "Crushing of the skullextensive contusionscould have been done with something like a heavy stone." That must be the doctor. Then the inspector's deeper tones, "The proverbial blunt instrument, eh? That shouldn't be too hard to find." He put his head out, called a constable, and gave him some instructions. "Have a good look in the bushes out there," he added, as the man made his way into the garden. 'Whatever it is, it can't be all that far away."
Soon afterwards someone thoughtfully closed the kitchen door, for the ambulance had come and they were carrying Clifton's body out.
Presently the inspector tapped and came in to ask if there was anything he could do before they left. He was quite a young man, with a pleasant, almost boyish face. He offered his sympathy awkwardly, apologised for all the questions they'd had to askhe knew how distressing it must have been, and she'd been very brave. The doctor would come in a moment and give her something to help her rest.
"Please don't apologise, Inspector," said Susan. "You and your men couldn't have been kinder or more considerate." He said goodnight and turned to go. Susan called him back. "Just a moment, Inspector. Are you married ?"
He looked surprised. "Yes, I am, as a matter of fact. I've got four kids, too, quite a houseful."
"Then perhaps this might be of use to you." Susan crossed to the table. The leg of lamb had begun to thaw, and a thin trickle of blood was dripping from it. Wrapping it in the sheet of foil, she handed it to the inspector, waving aside his thanks.
"I shan't need it now," she said. "And it would be a pity to waste it, wouldn't it ?"
This story was the winner of a short story competition in SHE magazine for January 1974. It was selected from a short list of ten offered by members of writers' circles. Marion was a member of the Manchester Scribblers Club at the time.
The judges were a panel of established authors: Mary Wibberley (romantic novelist), Angus Ross (espionage writer), Muriel Wilkinson (short story writer), Stan Wilson (radio and magazine contributor), Jo Germany (novelist) and Kay McManus (a Coronation Street scriptwriter).
The editor at SHE insisted on changing Marion's title to 'Lamb To The Slaughter' for publication in the summer of 1974.