Today's Reading

Bernard had been a professor, something in science, and had worked all around the world, including going to Dubai before anyone had heard of it. True to form, he was wearing a suit and tie to lunch, but was nevertheless reading the Daily Express. Mary from Ruskin Court was at the next table; she got his attention and asked how much forty-six kilos was when it was at home.

Bernard nodded and called over to Elizabeth, "seven stone three and a bit." And that's Bernard for you.

Elizabeth thanked him and said that sounded about right, and Bernard returned to his crossword. I looked up centimeters and inches afterward, and at least I was right about that.

Elizabeth went back to her question. How long would the girl stabbed with the kitchen knife have to live? I guessed that unattended she would probably die in about forty-five minutes.

"Well, quite, Joyce," she said, and then had another question. What if the girl had had medical assistance? Not a doctor, but someone who could patch up a wound. Someone who'd been in the army, perhaps. Someone like that.

I have seen a lot of stab wounds in my time. My job wasn't all sprained ankles. So I said then, well, she wouldn't die at all. Which she wouldn't. It wouldn't have been fun for her, but it would have been easy to patch up.

Elizabeth was nodding away, and said that was precisely what she had told Ibrahim, although I didn't know Ibrahim at that time. As I say, this was a couple of months ago.

It hadn't seemed at all right to Elizabeth, and her view was that the boyfriend had killed her. I know this is still often the case. You read about it.

I think before I moved in I might have found this whole conversation unusual, but it is pretty par for the course once you get to know everyone here. Last week I met the man who invented mint choc chip ice cream, or so he tells it. I don't really have any way of checking.

I was glad to have helped Elizabeth in my small way, so I decided I might ask a favor. I asked if there was any way I could take a look at the picture of the corpse. Just out of professional interest.

Elizabeth beamed, the way people around here beam when you ask to look at pictures of their grandchildren graduating. She slipped a letter-size photocopy out of her folder, laid it facedown in front of me, and told me to keep it, as they all had copies.

I told her that was very kind of her, and she said not at all, but she wondered if she could ask me one final question.

"Of course," I said.

Then she said, "Are you ever free on Thursdays?"

And, that, believe it or not, was the first I had heard of Thursdays.


CHAPTER TWO

PC Donna De Freitas would like to have a gun. She would like to be chasing serial killers into abandoned warehouses, grimly getting the job done despite a fresh bullet wound in her shoulder. Perhaps developing a taste for whisky and having an affair with her partner.

But for now, twenty-six years old, and sitting down for lunch at eleven forty-five in the morning, with four pensioners she has only just met, Donna understands that she will have to work her way up to all that. And besides, she has to admit that the past hour or so has been rather fun.

Donna has given her talk, "Practical Tips for Home Security," many times. And today there was the usual audience of older people, blankets across knees, free biscuits, and a few happy snoozers at the back. She gives the same advice each time. The absolute, paramount importance of installing window locks, checking ID cards, and never giving out personal information to cold-callers. More than anything, she is supposed to be a reassuring presence in a terrifying world.

Donna understands that; also, it gets her out of the station and gets her out of paperwork, so she volunteers. Fairhaven's police station is sleepier than Donna is used to.

Today, however, she found herself at the Coopers Chase Retirement Village. It seemed innocuous enough. Lush, untroubled, sedate, and on her drive in she spotted a nice pub for lunch on the way home. So getting serial killers in headlocks on speedboats would have to wait.
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