lamb to the slaughter

The room was warm and clean, the curtains were closed, the two table lamps were lit. Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work. The clock said ten minutes to five, and a few moments later, as always, she heard the car tires, the car door closing, and the key turning in the lock. She put down her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he entered.

“Hello, darling,” she said.
“Hello,” he answered.

She took his coat and hung it up. Then she made the drinks, a strong one for him and a weak one for herself; and sat back down in her chair with the sewing

For her, this was always a wonderful time of day. She loved the warmth that came out of him when they were alone together. She loved the shape of his mouth, and she especially liked the way he didn’t complain about being tired.

“Tired, darling?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m tired. And as he spoke, he did an unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drank it down in one swallow although there was still half of it left.. He went to get himself another drink.

“I’ll get it!” she cried, jumping up.
“Sit down,” he said.

“I think it’s a shame,” she said, “that when someone has been a policeman as long as you have, he still has to walk around all day long.” He didn’t answer

“Darling,” she said,” If you’re too tired to eat out tonight, as we had planned, I can fix you something. There’s plenty of meat and stuff in the freezer.” He didn’t respond. “You must have supper. We can have lamb. Everything’s in the freezer.”

“Forget it,” he said.

She stood up. “Sit down,” he said. “Just for a minute, sit down.” It was not until then that she began to get frightened.

“Go on,” he said. “Sit down.” “Listen, “I have something to tell you. This is going to be a big shock to you, I’m afraid, but I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided that the only thing to do is to tell you immediately.”

And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat still through it all, watching him with puzzled horror.

“So there it is,” he added. “And I know it’s a bad time to be telling you this, but there simply wasn’t any other way. Of course, I’ll give you money and see that you’re taken care of. But there really shouldn’t be any problem. I hope not, in any case. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.”

Her first instinct was not to believe any of it. “I’ll fix some supper,” she whispered. She did everything without thinking. She went downstairs to the freezer, put her hand inside and took hold of the first object she found. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.

A leg of lamb.

All right, then, they would have lamb for supper. She carried it upstairs, held the thin end with both her hands. She went into the living room, saw him standing by the window with his back to her, and stopped.

“I’ve already told you,” he said, hearing her, but not turning around. “Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.”

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him, swung 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 stepped back, waiting. He remained standing there for at least four or five seconds. Then he crashed onto the carpet.

The violence of the crash, the noise, helped to bring her out of the shock. She came out slowly, feeling surprised, and she stood for a few minutes, looking at the body, still holding the piece of meat tightly with both hands.

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

It was extraordinary, now, how clear her mind became all of a sudden. She began thinking very fast. As the wife of a detective, she knew what the punishment would be. It made no difference to her. In fact, it would be a relief. On the other hand, what about the baby? What were the laws about murderers with unborn children? Did they wait until the baby was born? What did they do? Mary Maloney did not know and she was not prepared to take a chance.

She carried the meat into the kitchen, placed it into a pan, turned the oven on, and put the pan inside. Then she ran upstairs to her bedroom, fixed her makeup and tried to smile.

The smile was rather peculiar. She tried again. “Hello, Sam, I want some potatoes.” That was better. Both the smile and the voice sounded better now. She practiced them several times more. Then she ran downstairs and through the garden into the street.

The neighborhood grocery was still open.. “Hello, Sam,” she said smiling at the shop owner.
“Good evening, Mrs. Maloney. How are you?”
“I want some potatoes, please, Sam. Patrick’s decided he’s tired and he doesn’t want to eat out tonight,” she told him. “We usually go out on Thursdays, you know, and now I don’t have any vegetables in the house.”

“Then how about some meat, Mrs. Maloney?
“No, I’ve got meat, thanks, I’ve got a nice leg of lamb, from the freezer.”
The grocer turned his head to one side, looking at her. “How about dessert? What are you going to give him for dessert?”
“Well, what would you suggest, Sam?”
The man glanced around his shop. “How about a nice piece of cake? I know he likes cake.”
“Perfect,” she said. “He loves it.”
And when she had paid, she gave her brightest smile and said, “Thank you, Sam. Good night.”

And now, she told herself as she hurried back home, she was returning to her husband and he was waiting for his supper. She must cook it well and make it taste as good as possible, because the poor man was tired; and if she found anything unusual or terrible when she got home, then it would be a shock. Keep things absolutely natural and there’ll be no need for acting at all.

She entered through the back door. “Patrick!” she called. “How are you, darling?”

When she went into the living room; and saw him lying on the floor, it really was a shock. All the old love for him came back to her, and she began to cry hard. It was eay. No acting was necessary.

A few minutes later, she got up and went to the phone. She knew the number of the police station. “Come quickly! Patrick’s dead.”

“Who’s speaking?”
“Mrs. Maloney. Mrs. Patrick Maloney.”
“Do you mean that Patrick’s dead?”
“I think so, ” she cried. “He’s lying on the floor and I think he’s dead.”
“We’ll be there immediately,” 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 police station.

“Is he dead?” she cried.
“I’m afraid he is. What happened?”

She told her story about going to the grocer and coming back, when she found him on the floor.
The detectives kept asking her a lot of questions. She said that Patrick had come in, she was sewing, and he had been too tired to go out for dinner. She told them how she’d put the meat into the oven — “it’s there now”–and how she had gone to the grocer’s for vegetables and how she came back to find him lying on the floor. One of the detectives went to interview the grocer.

After a while, everyone left but two detectives. They were exceptionally nice to her. They searched the house for the murder weapon.

“The murderer probably took it with him, but maybe he threw it away or hid it somewhere,” they said. “It’s the old story,” he said. “Get the weapon, and you’ve got the murderer.”

The search went on. It began to get late — it was nearly nine o’clock. The men searching the rooms were getting tired.

“You must be extremely tired. Please, you’ve been very good to me,” she said. She got them a drink. The detectives were uncomfortable with her and they tried to say cheering things to her.
One detective walked into the kitchen. “Look, Mrs. Maloney. Did you know that your oven is still on, and the meat is still inside?”

“Oh,” she said. “So it is! I’d better turn it off.” She returned with large, dark, tearful eyes.

“Would you do me a favor? Here you all are, all good friends of Patrick’s, and you’re helping to catch the man who killed him. You must be very hungry by now because it’s long past your supper time, and I know that Patrick would never forgive me if I let you stay in the house without offering you anything to eat. Why don’t you eat up the lamb in the oven? It’d be a favor to me if you ate it up. Then you can go on with your work.”

The detectives were hungry, so they went into the kitchen and helped themselves to supper. The woman stayed where she was and listened to them through the open door. She could hear them speaking among themselves, and their voices were thick because their mouths were full of meat.

“Have some more, Charlie.”
“No, we’d better not finish it.”
“She wants us to finish it. She said so.”
“That’s a big bar the murderer must have used to hit poor Patrick. The doctor says the back of his head was broken to pieces.
“That’s why the weapon should be easy to find.”
“Whoever did it, he can’t carry a weapon that big around with him.”
“Personally, I think the weapon is somewhere near the house.”
“It’s probably right under our noses. What do you think, Jack?”
And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to laugh.

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