‘You wanted to see me?’ Elizabeth couldn’t sit down as requested and stood in front of her manager’s desk like an errant soldier.
He passed the letter over; she didn’t want to touch it.
‘I didn’t want to believe it, of you of all people, Miss Lacy,’ he said, not blinking.
Elizabeth couldn’t look away. She wanted to think of a good enough reason to risk it all, but nothing came to mind.
She didn’t even understand herself.
‘I just want to hear it from your own lips,’ he said. His clean-shaven chin softened. ‘Did you change the date on purpose or was it a mistake?’
Elizabeth pushed the letter back across the desk. ‘Do you want me to leave now?’
‘So, it was on purpose?’
Elizabeth had no reason to put her faith in Thomas, but right now it was all she had left. To throw him on live rails wasn’t an option. It was bad enough she lost her job – she couldn’t lose her last chance at happiness.
‘I can’t give you a reason, but I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you.’
‘I just want to know one thing. Whose idea was it to forge the details on the letter. I’m not stupid and realise that you’re in a relationship with Mr Whitman. You’re not a dishonest woman by nature.’
‘Thomas didn’t want me to do it,’ Elizabeth said.
It had been his idea, but she had readily agreed to the plan. Complicit in its deviousness, the blame was shared.
‘Somehow I don’t believe you. You’ve worked for me for about five years, never been anything but diligent.’
‘I’m so sorry. Thomas didn’t know what I was going to do,’ Elizabeth said, her fingers crossed. His kindness was worse than his disappointment. ‘I’ll get my things together.’
‘I’ve no choice but to dismiss you,’ he said, passing over a tissue. ‘It is with regret, but I cannot allow someone I am unable to trust with sensitive information.’
‘What about Thomas?’ Elizabeth said, afraid for his future.
‘That I can’t divulge, and neither can you. Obviously, the job will go to the other candidate, but I have yet to make up my mind about his part in this affair.’
‘None of it was his fault,’ Elizabeth said, and ripped a small corner of the tissue into small pieces. ‘I thought he could leave his wife if he were in a position to support us both.’ She tried to retrieve what little dignity she had left, but it was difficult to stop the tears from escaping their bonds. ‘It was all my fault.’
‘I’ll still need to talk to him.’
It wouldn’t do any good to beg. Once her boss made up his mind, nothing would change it. Her only option was to warn Thomas. It was only fair to give him a chance to put his story straight.
‘I’ll get my things together.’
She walked out of his office a broken woman.
A small box grabbed from under her desk and one by one Elizabeth placed her belongings inside. She took a framed photograph out of her locked drawer. It was yet another sign of her treachery, but she couldn’t let it go.
Elizabeth waited until she was out of the building before she was able to send the text to Thomas. My boss found out. Please believe me when I say, I had nothing to do with it. The reason he wants to see you is because I took the blame.
If Thomas lost his job, then all her hopes would go with it.
He didn’t reply to her first or subsequent texts. The more she stared at the bright screen, the more she was blindsided. Not able to wait any longer, she pulled up her collar, grabbed her car keys from her handbag, and walked to the car park with the remains of her work life packed in a small cardboard box.
One last glance at the firm that had become her home, she opened the car door and climbed inside.
It was the first time she ventured out since being fired.
Her whisky had run out and it was the only thing that numbed the pain. It had been days since she had eaten. Thomas hadn’t answered any of her numerous text messages. Without anybody that cared, the mobile was allowed to run out of battery. It was dead and so was she.
She wanted to hide, but as she sobered up, the emptiness had settled in the recess of her stomach. How could she carry on living when Thomas left her to lick her wounds clean? There was only one thing to do – face the outside world just one more time.
Her paper shop was within walking distance. With any luck there would be no one to meet on the way. Children had already gone to school. Most of her neighbours were either elderly or had gone to work.
Frost covered paths made the journey longer than she would have liked. She pushed along and tried not to fall into the cracks. Liquor still permeated her system, so the cold didn’t bother her.
Her scarf wrapped around her neck, she picked up three packets of paracetamol from the shelf. She walked straight to the counter to hand them over. The paper picked up as a force of habit, something about the face under the headline caught her eye. Elizabeth blinked and the realisation hit her. It was Thomas. An old photo, but it couldn’t be anyone else. ‘Thomas?’ Elizabeth read on, not quite connecting the dots. She scanned the newsprint and when she had read it for the third time, her worst nightmares became reality.
Yesterday afternoon, in River Avenue, Thomas Whitman was killed. His wife, Martha Whitman is believed to be responsible. Sources reveal that she is due to be questioned once she has recovered from her injuries. Any enquiries will be directed to Detective Evans, Windsor CID.