The Shape of Snakes

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Authors: Minette Walters
fulfilled existence and Larry isn't. He has to go outside to find a sense of purpose. Yours is so strong you just fall asleep and prepare for the next day's challenges."
    She propped her arms on the fence and stared across the field. "Is this your way of telling me Annie was your sense of purpose?"
    "Part of it."
    "You had babies," she said. "Didn't they fill a gap?"
    "Did yours?"
    "No, but then I had a career. In any case I'm not remotely maternal. I can cope with my patients being totally dependent on me ... but not my children. I expect my children to fend for themselves."
    I wondered if she was listening to herself, and whether she'd asked Larry how he felt about the professional/private divide. "Mine just added to the general anxiety," I said, joining her at the fence. "My elder one did, anyway. We moved to Hong Kong while I was pregnant and a child was about the last thing I needed at that stage."
    "How did Sam take it?"
    "Blindly."
    Sheila gave a snort of laughter. "What's that supposed to mean?"
    "He had a son," I said dryly. "He was thrilled ... just so long as someone else looked after it." We stood in companionable silence for a few moments, understanding each other. "Do you still have a copy of the list you made of Annie's possessions?" I asked her next.
    "Isn't it in the file?"
    "No."
    She looked doubtful. "I'll have a look when I get home ... the problem is we threw so much out when we moved down here seven years ago. The other thing that's missing is the correspondence I had with the social worker. I remember she wrote a long letter describing the interior of Annie's house, but none of it was in the file when I photocopied it for you. I'm afraid it must have come adrift during the move."
    I wondered what else had come adrift and indulged in a few dark thoughts about Larry, who clearly wasn't above a little sabotage to ensure that his needs came first. Shades of Sam? "Could you make another list?"
    "I can try. It won't be as detailed as the first. What do you expect to find?"
    "Nothing valuable," I said. "Little things that someone might have kept."
    "Like the peacock feathers?"
    I nodded.
    "They could never be used as evidence."
    "I know but..." I hesitated, afraid of sounding ridiculous. "It's a stupid idea really but supposing you put on your list the peacock feathers, the silhouette pictures of her grandparents and ... well, other things of little or no value ... a wooden statue, say..." I ran out of ideas. "I just thought that if 1 found someone with a similar combination in their house, I'd at least feel I was on the right track."
    She threw me a startled glance. "Does that mean you're going to look?"
    I shrugged self-consciously.
    "But where would you start, for goodness' sake?"
    "Graham Road? There must be someone left who was there in 1978. If I knock on a few doors I might come up with something." I spoke only to give her an answer, not because I had any intention of taking such a scattergun approach. I watched her expression change to one of skepticism.
    "But why? It'll just be a lot of hard work for nothing. Larry was right when he said there'd be no prosecution."
    "I wouldn't be looking for a prosecution for theft, Sheila; I'd be looking for a prosecution for murder. As the chief superintendent said in his letter to you, it would be different if there were question marks over Annie's death." I smiled. "Well, there are ... and I intend to prove it."
    She searched my face intently for a moment. "What really happened between you and Annie that night?" she asked abruptly. "Drury showed me your statement, but you said she never spoke to you."
    "She didn't."
    "Then ... why ?"
    "I've got nothing better to do at the moment."
    It wasn't much of an explanation but it seemed to satisfy her. "I doubt many of her neighbors will still be there," she warned. "Most of them had moved on even before we left."
    "What about the vicar?" I asked. "He was always visiting people in Graham Road."
    She pulled on the brim of

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