2245 Hours, Saturday, October 17, 1942
The Crown Inn, Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire
Eve Lind scrubbed her hands with a stiff bristle brush and lye soap. Already chapped and cracked, they were soon spotted with beads of blood. She stopped herself and dropped the brush into the sink, raising her hands to her face and drawing in a deep breath. There was no remaining scent.
She picked up the small packet of bacon fat and poison, which she had wrapped into a three-inch square of brown wax paper, put on her wool waistcoat, and took a seat in Gunnar’s favorite chair. She knew she would not have to wait long.
If the Crown Inn’s landlady continued her tedious routine, she would emerge at the top of the hour from her flat across the hall, she and her dog, a brown cocker spaniel that expressed her dislike for Eve at every turn. The dog, Winny, would nearly drag Mrs. Buckmaster to the stairs that led down to the inn’s front door. Tonight, though, the routine would be altered. Eve’s husband wouldn’t be sitting in his favorite chair near the stout coal-burning stove, and he wouldn’t announce to Eve the moment he heard Mrs. Buckmaster and Winny embarking on their nightly walk. Because Gunnar Lind was gone.
Eve would give the woman and her fiendish dog enough time to make their way to the woods behind the inn before she set out into the chilly night to join them. Eve had been angry that, ever since she and Gunnar had had their worst argument several weeks prior, Gunnar had spent a lot of time with Mrs. Buckmaster in the downstairs pub in the evenings. When she had asked him about it, he would only say that the woman, a widow in her late sixties, was lonely. Her two sons were in North Africa with the British Army, and she hadn’t heard from them in quite a while. Eve didn’t believe him. Since their evening chats had begun, she could feel the once warm and friendly landlady had turned cold toward her—which meant the woman was a threat.
Eve looked at the clock on the mantel. It was time.
She quickly descended the flight of stairs. None of the sparsely numbered pub patrons took notice of her, and once outside, she picked up her pace and closed the distance to the woman and her dog. The gravel crunched under her shoes, echoing under the leafy roof that covered the path, but that was fine. She didn’t need to sneak up on the woman.
When she was twenty yards away, Mrs. Buckmaster stopped and turned around. Eve couldn’t see her face clearly, but when the woman took two steps back, she realized that the landlady was frightened.
“Who is that?” she said.
Winny began her own questioning with a sharp series of barks.
“It’s just me, Mrs. Buckmaster. Eve Lind. I didn’t mean to startle you. Please excuse me.”
“Well, you did just that … startled me, that is. What do you want? Shush, Winny.”
“I’ve been meaning to knock on your door. For a visit. I wanted to ask you about Gunnar,” Eve said as she bent over to pat the dog. But Winny was having none of it as she backpedaled, stopping behind Mrs. Buckmaster’s legs.
“What about him?” Mrs. Buckmaster said.
“He never came home last night, and I haven’t heard from him all day. I know you two have been spending time together in the evenings lately. Did he say anything to you?” Eve said, taking a step closer.
Mrs. Buckmaster didn’t answer. She retreated a step and stepped on Winny’s paw. The high-pitched yelp startled both women.
“I’m worried. I’m sure you can understand that,” Eve said, adding a noticeable quaver in her voice.
“Maybe you should ask those people he works with. They should know. Not me.”
The lie came to Eve easily. “I already have. They were no help.”
Mrs. Buckmaster shook her head. “I can’t help you.”
Eve inched closer. “You can’t or won’t, Mrs. Buckmaster?”
“Actually, Mrs. Lind, if you must know, I won’t.”
“I see. And why is that?” Eve said, drawing out the small wax paper packet from her pocket.
“I heard enough from your husband, you could say.”
“And what was that? What did he say?”
“I’m done talking to you. Now leave us alone.”
“Did he ever mention anything about a letter or letters?”
Again, Mrs. Buckmaster didn’t answer. But when she flinched at the mention of letters, Eve pulled the bacon fat from the packet and tossed it at the woman’s feet.
“What is that? What are you doing?”
Winny wasted no time lapping up the lard. Eve tossed the wax paper on the ground for good measure.
“Stop, Winny,” Mrs. Buckmaster yelled as she pulled at the dog’s leash.
“It seems that Winny was hungry. You must not be feeding her enough.”
Mrs. Buckmaster pulled at the leash, and Winny choked several times. With another tug, Mrs. Buckmaster began dragging Winny away.
Eve didn’t want to kill the dog. It was just a necessary step. She had debated whether to do it before or after. It had depended on the way Mrs. Buckmaster answered her, and her cold and uninformative replies had made the decision for Eve. Killing the dog in front of the meddlesome landlady suited Eve just fine.
Winny sprawled on her side in the gravel and started convulsing. Her paws spasmodically sprayed the gravel across the path.
“What have you done, you witch?” Mrs. Buckmaster bent down to tend to the dog.
Eve reached inside her coat pocket and pulled out the sock filled with stones the size of chestnuts. It was one of Gunnar’s socks. She had bought the pair for him last Christmas. She whipped it around in a tight circle, and it landed on the back of Mrs. Buckmaster’s head. The crunching sound would be hard to forget. Blood spattered on the back of Mrs. Buckmaster’s coat and Eve’s bare legs.
Eve rolled over Mrs. Buckmaster’s body and placed her index finger under her nostrils. The woman’s breathing was evident but labored. Eve had a cure for that. After all, she was a doctor. She squeezed the woman’s nose shut and placed her other hand over Mrs. Buckmaster’s mouth. Five seconds later, Mrs. Buckmaster began to struggle, her legs kicking and her hands tugging on Eve’s coat. Eve brought her weight down on the old woman. The struggle was short-lived.
Breathing rapidly herself, Eve rose to her feet and ran to a nearby stand of trees to retrieve the shovel she had left there the night before. The rush of adrenaline was liberating. Problem solved.