Lamb to the Slaughter – Pre-Intermediate Level

The room was warm and clean, the curtains closed, the two reading lamps turned on – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the small table behind her were two tall glasses, soda water, whisky, an ice bucket.

Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work.

Now and again she would look up at the clock, but without worrying. It was only to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. There was a slow smiling look about her, and about everything she did. The way she sat as she bent over her sewing looked strangely peaceful. In three months time she was going to have a baby. Her skin had become wonderfully clear, her mouth was soft, and her eyes, with their new untroubled look, seemed larger, darker than before.

When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen. A few moments later, on time as always, she heard the car turn into the driveway. This was followed by the sound of the car door closing, footsteps passing the window, and the key turning in the lock. She put down her sewing, stood up, and went to the door to kiss him as he came in.

“Hullo, darling,” she said.

“Hullo,” he answered.

She took his coat and hung it over a chair. Then she walked over and made the drinks, a strong one for him, a weak one for herself. Soon she was back again in her chair with the sewing, and he in the other, opposite, holding the tall glass with both his hands.

For her, this was always a wonderful time of day. She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished. And she, on her side, was happy to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. She loved the feeling of warmth that came out of him to her when they were alone together. She loved him for the way he relaxed in the chair, for the way he came in the door and moved slowly across the room. She loved the deep, far away look in his eyes when they rested on her, and the funny shape of his mouth. She really loved the way he didn’t say anything about his tiredness, sitting quietly until the whisky had taken some of it away.

“Tired, darling?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m tired.” And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drank what was left in one go. There must have been at least half a glass in it. She wasn’t really watching him, but she knew what he had done. She had heard the ice falling back against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arm. He sat for a moment as if thinking deeply, then he got up and went slowly over to get himself another drink.

“I’ll get it!” she cried, jumping up.

“Sit down,” he said.

When he came back, she noticed that the new drink was a darker yellow color than before. He had put a lot more whisky in it.

“Darling, shall I get your slippers?”

“No.”

She watched him as he began to drink.

“I think it’s terrible,” she said, “that when a policeman gets to be as important as you, they keep him walking about on his feet all day long.”

He didn’t answer, so she bent her head again and went on with her sewing. Each time he lifted the drink to his lips, she heard the ice as it hit against the side of the glass.

“Darling,” she said. “Would you like me to get you some cheese? I haven’t made any supper because it’s Thursday.”

“No,” he said.

“If you’re too tired to eat out,” she went on, “it’s still not too late. There’s lots of food in the freezer, and you can have it right here and not even move out of the chair.”

Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a sign, but he didn’t say or do anything.

“Anyway,” she went on, “I’ll get you some cheese and biscuits first.”

“I don’t want any,” he said.

She moved around in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face. “But you must have supper. I can easily do it here. I’d like to do it. We can have anything you want. Everything’s in the freezer.”

“Forget it,” he said.

“But, darling, you must eat! I’ll fix it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you like.”

She stood up and placed her sewing on the table by the lamp.

“Sit down,” he said. “Just for a minute, sit down.”

It wasn’t till then that she began to get frightened.

“Go on,” he said. “Sit down.”

She lowered herself back slowly into the chair, watching him all the time with those large, worried eyes. He had finished the second drink and was looking down into his glass.

“Listen,” he said, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

“What is it, darling? What’s the matter?”

He sat there without moving, and he kept his head down. The light from the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in darkness. She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye.

“I’m sorry, but this is going to be a bit of a shock to you,” he said. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t be too angry with me.”

And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most. She sat very still through it all, watching him in horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.

“So there it is,” he added. “And I know it’s kind of a bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn’t any other way. Of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. There shouldn’t be a need for any trouble. I hope not anyway. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.”

Her first thought was not to believe any of it, as if it had all been part of some kind of bad dream. She decided to go about her business and act as though she hadn’t heard a thing. Then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find that none of it had ever happened.

“I’ll get the supper,” she managed to whisper, and this time he didn’t stop her.

When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all, other than a bad feeling in her stomach which made her want to be sick. She was moving without thinking now. Down the stairs to the cellar, the light switch, the freezer, the hand inside taking hold of the first thing it touched. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It had paper around it, so she took off the paper and looked again.

A leg of lamb.

All right then, they would have lamb for supper. She carried it upstairs, holding it with both her hands by the thin bone at the end. As she went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her. She stopped.

“Stop that!” he said, hearing her but not turning round. “Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.”

At that point, Mary Maloney walked quietly up behind him. In one movement she lifted the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air, and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.

She might just as well have hit him with a heavy club.

She took a step back, waiting. The funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds before crashing to the carpet.

The force of the crash, the noise, the small table turning over, helped bring her out of the shock. She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised. She stood for a while looking at the body, still holding the leg of lamb with both hands.

All right, she told herself. So I’ve killed him.

It was strange how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wife of a detective, she knew quite well what would happen if she was caught. That was fine. It made no difference to her. In fact, she might be better that way.

On the other hand, what about the child? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they kill them both — mother and child? Or did they wait until the baby was born? What did they do? Mary Maloney didn’t know. And she certainly wasn’t going to wait to find out.

She carried the meat into the kitchen, placed it in a pan, turned the oven on high, and pushed it inside. Then she washed her hands and ran upstairs to the bedroom. She sat down before the mirror, brushed her hair, checked the look of her lips and face. She tried a smile. It didn’t look normal. She tried again.

“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, out loud.

The voice didn’t sound normal, either.

“I want some potatoes please, Sam. Yes, and I think a can of peas.”

That was better. Both the smile and the voice were coming out better now. She tried them several times more. Then she ran downstairs, took her coat, went out the back door, down the garden, into the street.

It wasn’t six o’clock yet and the lights were still on in the grocery shop.

“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, smiling at the owner as she went inside.

“Why, good evening, Mrs Maloney. How’re you?”

“I want some potatoes please, Sam. Yes, and I think a can of peas.”

The man turned and reached up behind him on the shelf for the peas.

“Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to eat out tonight,” she told him. “We usually go out Thursdays, you know, and now he’s caught me without any vegetables in the house.”

“Then how about meat, Mrs Maloney?”

“No, I’ve got meat, thanks. I got a nice leg of lamb, from the freezer.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t much like cooking it frozen, Sam, but I don’t have much choice this time. You think it’ll be all right?”

“Personally,” the grocer said, “I don’t believe it makes any difference. You want these Idaho potatoes?”

“Oh yes, that’ll be fine. Two of those.”

“Anything else?” said the grocer, looking at her pleasantly. “How about afterwards? What you going to give him for afterwards?”

“Well — what would you suggest, Sam?”

The man looked around his shop. “How about some cheesecake? I know he likes that.”

“Good idea,” she said. “He loves it.”

And when it was all put in a bag and she had paid, she put on her brightest smile and said. “Thank you, Sam. Good night.”

“Good night, Mrs Maloney. And thank you.”

And now, she told herself on the way home, all she was doing now, was returning to her husband. He was waiting for his supper. And she must cook it well, and make it as tasty as possible, because the poor man was tired. If, when she entered the house, she happened to find anything terrible, then naturally it would be a shock. She’d be so upset with the horror of it all that she wouldn’t be able to stop crying. Mind you, she wasn’t expecting to find anything. She was just going home with the vegetables. Mrs Patrick Maloney going home with the vegetables on Thursday evening to cook supper for her husband.

That’s the way, she told herself. Do everything right and natural. Keep things completely natural and there’ll be no need for any acting at all.

Therefore, when she entered the kitchen by the back door, she was singing a cheerful song to herself and smiling.

“Patrick!” she called. “How are you, darling?”

She put the bag down on the table and went through into the living-room. He was still lying there on the floor, with his legs bent at the knee and an arm behind his back underneath the body. It really was a shock, and all the old love built up inside her. She ran over, sat down beside him, and began to cry her heart out. It was easy. No acting was needed.

A few minutes later she got up and went to the phone. She knew the number of the police station, and when the man at the other end answered, she cried to him. “Quick! Come quick! Patrick’s dead!”

“Who’s speaking?”

“Mrs Maloney. Mrs Patrick Maloney.”

“You mean Patrick Maloney’s dead?”

“I think so,” she cried. “He’s lying on the floor and I think he’s dead.”

“Be right over,” the man said.

The car came very quickly, and when she opened the front door, two policemen walked in. She knew them both — she knew nearly all the men at the station — and fell crying into Jack Noonan’s arms. He put her gently into a chair, then went over to where the other one, named O’Malley, was checking the body.

“Is he dead?” she cried.

“I’m sorry to say that he is. What happened?”

She told her story about going out to the grocer and coming back to find him on the floor. While she was talking, crying and talking, Noonan found a small area of dried blood on the dead man’s head. He showed it to O’Malley who got up at once and went over to the phone.

Soon, other men began to come into the house. First a doctor, then two detectives, one of whom she knew by name. Later, a police photographer came and took pictures, and a man to look for fingerprints. There was a lot of whispering beside the body, and the detectives kept asking her a lot of questions. But they always treated her kindly. She told her story again, this time right from the beginning when Patrick had come in. She told how she was sewing, and he was tired, so tired he hadn’t wanted to go out for supper. She told how she’d put the meat in the oven — “it’s there now, cooking” — and how she’d had to go to the grocer for vegetables. Then how she had come back to find him lying on the floor.

“Which grocer?” one of the detectives asked.

She told him, and he turned and whispered something to the other detective who went outside into the street.

In fifteen minutes he was back with a page of notes and there was more whispering. She heard some of what was said. “Acted quite normal… very cheerful… wanted to give him a good supper… peas… cheesecake… impossible that she…”

After a while, the photographer and the doctor left and two other men came in and took the body away. Then the fingerprint man went away. The two detectives remained, and so did the two policemen. They were very nice to her, and Jack Noonan asked if she would like to sleep somewhere else. To her sister’s house perhaps, or to his own wife who would take care of her and put her up for the night.

No, she said. She didn’t feel she could move anywhere at the moment. Would they mind if she stayed just where she was until she felt better? She didn’t feel too good at the moment, she really didn’t.

Then hadn’t she better lie down on the bed? Jack Noonan asked.

No, she said, she’d like to stay right where she was, in this chair. A little later perhaps, when she felt better, she would move.

So they left her there while they went about their business, searching the house. From time to time one of the detectives asked her another question. Sometimes Jack Noonan spoke to her gently as he passed by. Her husband, he told her, had been killed by being hit hard on the back of the head with something heavy, almost certainly made of metal. They were looking for the weapon. The murderer may have taken it with him, but on the other hand he may’ve thrown it away or hidden it somewhere around the house.

“It’s the old story,” he said. “Get the weapon, and you’ve got the man.”

Later, one of the detectives came up and sat beside her. Did she know, he asked, of anything in the house that could have been used as the weapon? Would she mind having a look around to see if anything was missing.

The search went on. She knew that there were other policemen in the garden all around the house. She could hear their footsteps on the paths outside, and sometimes she saw the light from a torch through a space in the curtains. It began to get late, nearly nine she noticed by the clock above the fireplace. The four men searching the rooms seemed to be growing tired, losing patience.

“Jack,” she said, the next time Sergeant Noonan went by. “Would you mind getting me a drink?”

“Sure I’ll get you a drink. You mean this whisky?”

“Yes, please. But just a small one. It might make me feel better.”

He handed her the glass.

“Why don’t you have one yourself,” she said. “You must be very tired. Please do. You’ve been very good to me.”

“Well,” he answered. “It’s not really allowed, but I might take just a drop to keep me going.”

One by one the others came in and were talked into stopping for a glass of whisky. They stood around with the drinks in their hands, not sure what to do. It did not feel right standing there drinking, and all the while trying to think of things to say that might make her feel better.

Sergeant Noonan smelled something and went into the kitchen. He came out again quickly. “Mrs Maloney,” he said. “You know that oven of yours is still on, and the meat still inside.”

“Oh dear me!” she cried. “So it is!”

“I better turn it off for you, hadn’t I?”

“Will you do that, Jack. Thank you so much.”

When the sergeant returned the second time, she looked at him with her large, dark, wet eyes. “Jack Noonan,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Would you do me a small favour — you and these others?”

“We can try, Mrs Maloney.”

“Well,” she said. “Here you all are, and good friends of dear Patrick’s too, and helping to catch the man who killed him. You must be terribly hungry by now because it’s long past your supper time. I know poor Patrick would be very upset with me if I allowed you to stay this long in his house without offering you something to eat. Why don’t you eat up that lamb that’s in the oven? It’ll be cooked just right by now.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Sergeant Noonan said.

“Please,” she asked. “Please eat it. Personally I couldn’t touch a thing, certainly nothing that was in the house when he was here. But it’s all right for you. It’d be a favour to me if you’d eat it up. Then you can go on with your work again afterwards.”

At first the four policemen would not eat. However, they were clearly hungry and in the end agreed to go into the kitchen and help themselves. The woman stayed where she was, listening to them through the open door. She could hear them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and hard to understand because their mouths were full of meat.

“Have some more, Charlie?”

“No. Better not finish it.”

“She wants us to finish it. She said so. Be doing her a favour.”

“Okay then. Give me some more.”

“The killer must have used a really big club to hit poor Patrick,” one of them was saying. “The doc says his skull was badly broken.”

“That’s why whatever he used should be easy to find.”

“That’s what I say.”

“Whoever did it, they’re not going to be carrying a thing like that around with them any longer than they need.”

“Personally, I think it’s right here in the house.”

“Probably right under our very noses. What you think, Jack?”

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to laugh quietly to herself.