Guide to Understanding the Short Story (see Appendix 2)


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Year 9 English: Exploring Short Stories

Activity 1

Learning tasks

1. Read the short story The Cell by Martin Raim (see Appendix 1).

2. Carefully read Guide to Understanding the Short Story (see Appendix 2).

3. Using the Guide to Understanding the Short Story, write responses to the questions for the relevant short story elements of The Cell. If you believe that an element is not relevant for this story, state why.
Activity 2
Learning Tasks:

1. Read the story Lamb to the Slaughter. (see Appendix 3)

2. Answer the following questions.

Remember to use complete sentences that directly answer the question.



What was the name and occupation of Mary Maloney’s husband?
Mary Maloney's husband's name was ………......... and he was a……..
Mary Maloney was married to a ……….......... named ………..................

You don't need to type out the question, but you could copy and paste it before composing your answer if you wish. Please make sure you proofread your answers before finishing.

A. What evidence is there in the story that Mary Maloney is eagerly waiting for her husband in the beginning?

B. Why did Mary begin to listen when the clock said ten minutes to five?

C. What is her husband's name and job?

D. What are some of the things that Mary notices as unusual about his drinking when he comes home?

E. Mary’s husband says, “This bit is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I'm afraid.” What is going to be the shock?

F. A little later he says, “I know it's a bad time to be telling you.” Why does he think that it is a bad time for Mary to be given the news?

G. Why do you think Mary killed her husband?

H. At first, Mary thinks of giving herself up, but then she changes her mind. What makes her change her mind?

I. Why does Mary talk to the mirror before going to the shop?

J. Who is Sam?

K. Who suggests the dessert? What dessert is it?

L. After Mary 'discovers' the body, who are the policemen that arrive?

M. What other people arrive later?

O. What did the police think the murder weapon might have been?

P. The last line says Mary “began to giggle.” Explain why, remembering that there may be more than one reason.

Activity 3
This activity involves deeper thinking about the short story Lamb to the Slaughter.

You might like to re-read the story before composing your answers.

What’s it all about? (Analytical Response)
Answer all questions in sentences. These are more probing questions than in the text response section so you will need to think carefully before responding. There is no right or wrong response as most require you to give your view/opinion/interpretation.
A. What is the significance of the title? Provide another title.

B. Read the first paragraph carefully. What does the description of the setting tell us about the character of Mary Maloney?

C. Read the story again up to the point of the murder. Make a list of all the words and phrases used to describe Mary Maloney. Write a brief description of Mary.

D. List all the words and phrases used to describe Patrick Maloney. What impression do we receive of him?

E. Why don’t we get any details of Patrick’s conversation with his wife? Imagine you were present in the room. Write the conversation that you think might have taken place between Patrick and Mary.

F. How does Dahl build up sympathy for Mary? Does our attitude towards her change?

G. Are you prepared to excuse Mary’s murder of her husband? Why/Why not?
Activity 4
Creative Response

Choose one of the following four options.

A. Newspaper Report

NB. A newspaper report has an appropriate headline, an introductory paragraph which establishes the key ‘w questions’ (who, when, what, why, where) then a number of paragraphs which give extra detail going from most important details to least important. In a newspaper story paragraphs are generally quite short. Read some newspaper stories before you start writing.

B. Police report

Write the report Sergeant Jack Noonan would have made on the case. Invent necessary details if they aren’t in the story. Start it like this:

I received a telephone call from Mary Maloney at 6:15pm.

A police report is a factual recount.

What is a Recount?

A recount lists and describes past experiences by retelling events in the order in which they happened (chronological order). Recounts are written to retell events with the purpose of either informing or entertaining their audience (or both).

The basic recount consists of three parts:

    • the setting or orientation - background information answering: who, when, where

    • events are identified and described in chronological order.

    • concluding comments express a personal opinion regarding the events described

Details are selected to help the reader reconstruct the activity or incident details of time, place and incident need to be clearly stated, eg. At 11.15 pm, between Reid Rd and Havelock St a man drove at 140 km toward the shopping centre

A recount is written in the past tense and frequent use is made of words which link events in time, such as next, later, when, then, after, before, first, at the same time, as soon as she left, late on Friday.

C. Diary entry

Write Mary Maloney’s diary entry for the night of her husband’s murder.

D. TV script for episode of police drama

Develop this story as the script for an episode in a police TV drama. A storyboard is a good way to organise key shots and events/actions to be used in your drama. Select the key events/situations/moments for your film. Write these up using the storyboard approach.

Pencil in the scenes and shots. This is best done with 'stick' figures and shorthand Shot boy running L to R

What is a Storyboard?

Simply put, a Storyboard is a sequence of still pictures deliberately arranged to represent the events of a story which will be filmed in the order they will be finally edited and screened. In preparing for filming the plot is broken down further into important events or situations- these are called Moments.

Activity 5
Write your own story.

There are two parts to this activity.

A: write an outline where you list

  • the characters and a few details each of them

  • the setting, which should briefly describe the place and time

  • a short synopsis, which is just an overview of what happens

B: write the story itself, weaving in enough description of character and setting so that the reader can picture what is happening. (Try to apply some of the skills you developed in the Descriptive Writing unit.)

Appendix 1

The Cell

by Martin Raim

There was no way out.
The walls of his cell were built of thick cement blocks. The huge door was made of steel. The floors and ceiling were made of concrete, and there were no windows. The only light came from a light bulb that was covered by a metal shield.
There was no way out, or so it seemed to him.
He had volunteered to be part of a scientific experiment and had been put in the cell to test the cleverness of the human mind. The cell was empty, and he was not allowed to take anything into it. But he had been told that there was one way to escape from the cell, and he had three hours to find it.
He began with the door. It stood before him, huge and grey. The three large hinges on the door were riveted into the wall and could not be removed. The door itself seemed too big for the small cell, and for a minute he wondered if it had been put up first and the rest of cell built around it.

Finally he turned away from the door and looked around. He tried pushing against the cement blocks to see if any of them were loose. He searched the floor for a trap door; then he glanced up at the ceiling. The shield! The shield around the light bulb! His mind raced. The metal shield could be used as a tool - the tool he needed! He had found the way to escape!

He moved under the shield and looked closely at it. One good strong pull would free it, he decided. He reached up, grabbed hold of it, and pulled. But the shield stayed attached to the ceiling. He grabbed the shield again, twisting it as he pulled. He felt it rip free, and he fell to the floor clutching his treasure.
The shield was shaped like a cone and had been fastened to the ceiling by three long metal prongs. These prongs were sharp but not strong enough to cut through steel or concrete.
He felt a hopelessness creep over him. He could find no use for the shield as a tool. The shield was not what he needed to get out.

Then he had a brilliant idea. True, the metal prongs of the shield could not cut through the steel door or the concrete floor or the cement blocks in the wall. But the prongs might be strong enough to dig out the mortar that held the cement blocks in place. He pulled off one of the prongs and scraped hard at the mortar. The mortar crumbled into powder. His idea worked! If he removed enough mortar, he could loosen a couple of the cement blocks, push them out, and escape!

He picked two blocks near the door and set to work. The prong dug into the mortar and sent it flying out in a steady stream. The prong was just what he needed. Now he was sure he would escape. But in his confidence, his hand made a sudden careless twist, and the metal prong broke into two useless pieces.

At first a wave of anger stunned him. Then he remembered that the shield had two more prongs. He pulled off another prong and went back to work. He decided he must be more careful - nothing must go wrong. There was still plenty of time left.

Soon he had chipped out four inches of mortar, but the jagged edges of the cement blocks had torn the skin off his knuckles. His hands were bleeding from a dozen burning cuts. His back and shoulders hurt from the strain of working in one position. The mortar dust blew into his eyes and down his throat. The work dragged on, slower and slower.

Suddenly the second prong broke.

For a minute he welcomed the excuse to stop working. But then the thought of failure sent him back into action. He pulled off the third and last prong and went to work again. He was a man who did not like to lose - he had to win.

The work dragged on. He became number to the pain in his hands, to the ache in his shoulders. His fingers moved blindly, and his attack against the mortar grew weaker and weaker.

At last he broke through. He had dug out enough mortar so that now he could see light between the cement blocks.

With a spurt of new energy he chipped away at the rest of the mortar. Of course there was a way out. He had found it, hadn’t he? He had proved that a clever mind could solve any problem. That’s how he had done it - with his own cleverness.

At that instant the third prong snapped in his hand.

He stared at the useless pieces; then in a blind rage he slammed his fist against the wall.

Behind him the door of the cell opened slowly. His time had run out. His part in the experiment was over.

He was not allowed to talk about the experiment or about his plan of escape, but he was sure that he could have escaped. He was convinced that he almost had.

Actually, he had not even come close.
The shield had been put around the light bulb only as a shade for the light. The metal prongs were not meant to be used as a tool.

The man had been clever, but he had let his cleverness side-track him. If he had not been so quick to use the shield as a tool, if he had not spent all his time chipping out the mortar, and if he had not stopped searing the cell, he might have found the real way out. He might have discovered that he could have left the cell as easily as he had entered.

For the huge door had never been locked.

Appendix 2- Guide to understanding the Short Story

A short story, as its name suggests, is shorter than a novel. It is not easy to write a good short story. Generally the writer tries to focus on one single experience, using as few words as possible. As a result, the writer will generally concentrate on either the presentation of a character, a clearly devised plot or the development of an interesting idea or theme.

The finished story may appear simple, but has probably been the result of many drafts, as the writer tries to find the best words to describe the experience.

Elements of the short story

One good way of understanding the short story is to think about the following elements:
  1. Title

  • Do you think the title is suitable for the story?

  • Why or why not?

  • Does the title link closely to the story?

  1. Beginning

  • How does the opening paragraph arouse your interest?

  1. Setting/Location

Usually the setting is limited; only 1 to 2 places.

  • What is the setting of the story?

  • Is the setting important?
  1. Plot/Storyline

The structure of the storyline is chronological; one event after another, in time. There is not enough time to develop a complex plot or unwind a lengthy storyline. The story usually involves conflict or action leading to a climax which is then resolved.

  • What is the storyline for the story?

  • Are the events/happenings arranged in chronological order?

  1. Characters

Usually the number of people is limited; 1 to 2 main characters, as there is not enough time to develop a full cast of characters.

  • Who are the important characters in the story?

  • What sort of personality do they have?

  • Are the characters believable?

  • What is the importance of each of these characters in the story?

  1. Style

Think about the writer's words and sentences. Look for patterns e.g. the use of lots of long words, descriptive words, complicated sentences or simple sentences, use of slang or formal language, use of humour. Sometimes people describe writer’s styles as being conversational, informal, formal, easy going.

  • Does the writer describe people and places in an interesting way?

  • Are the people and events true to life? Explain your viewpoint

  • What comments could you make about the writer’s words and sentences?

  1. Dialogue

It is important to remember that dialogue is used only if it is important to the storyline. The writer should aim for a realistic balance between dialogue and narrative.

  • Does the writer's use of dialogue help to make the story better?

  • Why or why not?

  1. Suspense

How does the writer build up suspense?

Which part of the story has the most suspense?

  1. Time Span

This is limited; only a short amount of time is covered (hours/days).

  • What is the time span covered in the story?

  1. Theme

The main idea behind the event/s in the story eg friendship, growing up, courage, endurance, love, revenge. It is the message the author wants the reader to get from reading the story.

  • What is the theme/message for the reader should get from this story?

  1. Ending

Short stories must not be predictable. The reader should not foresee what is coming. Often there is a twist in the story and it finishes neatly.

  • How does the story end?

  • Did the ending of the story surprise you?

Appendix 3

Lamb to the Slaughter

By Roald Dahl

The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight-hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whisky.  Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.

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

Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely 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 air about her, and about everything she did.  The drop of the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil.  Her skin - for this was her sixth month with child - had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look, seemed larger, darker than before.

When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tires on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock.  She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he came in.

“Hullo darling,” she said.

“Hullo,” he answered.

She took his coat and hung it in the closet.  Then she walked over and made the drinks, a strongish one for him, a weak one for herself; and 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, rocking it so the ice cubes tinkled against the side.

For her, this was always a blissful time of day.  She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house.  She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel - almost as a sunbather feels the sun - that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together.  She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides.  She loved the intent, far look in his eyes when they rested in her, the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until the whiskey 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 drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it left. She wasn’t really watching him, but she knew what he had done because she heard the ice cubes falling back against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arm.  He paused a moment, leaning forward in the chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another.

“I’ll get it!” she cried, jumping up.

“Sit down,” he said.

When he came back, she noticed that the new drink was dark amber with the quantity of whiskey in it.

“Darling, shall I get your slippers?”


She watched him as he began to sip the dark yellow drink, and she could see little oily swirls in the liquid because it was so strong.

“I think it’s a shame,” she said, “that when a policeman gets to be as senior 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; but each time he lifted the drink to his lips, she heard the ice cubes clinking 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 plenty of meat and stuff 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 little nod, but he made no sign.

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

“I don’t want it,” he said.

She moved uneasily 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 lamb chops. Or pork. 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, bewildered eyes.  He had finished the second drink and was staring down into the glass, frowning.

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

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

He had become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head down so that the light from the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in shadow.  She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye.

“This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid,” he said.  “But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away.  I hope you won’t blame me too much.”

And he told her.  It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she say very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed 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.  But there needn’t really be any fuss.  I hope not anyway.  It wouldn’t be very good for my job.”

Her first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all.  It occurred to her that perhaps he hadn’t even spoken, that she herself had imagined the whole thing.  Maybe, if she went about her business and acted as though she hadn’t been listening, then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find 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- except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit.  Everything was automatic now-down the stairs to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, the hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met.  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, holding the thin bone-end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living-room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped.

“For God’s sake,” he said, hearing her, but not turning round.  “Don’t make supper for me.  I’m going out.”

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she 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 might just as well have hit him with a steel club.

She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying.  Then he crashed to the carpet.

The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped bring her out of the shock.  She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, and she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight 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 quite well what the penalty would be.  That was fine.  It made no difference to her.  In fact, it would be a relief.  On the other hand, what about the child?  What were the laws about murderers with unborn children?  Did they kill then both - mother and child?  Or did they wait until the tenth month?  What did they do?

Mary Maloney didn’t know.  And she certainly wasn’t prepared to take a chance.

She carried the meat into the kitchen, placed it in a pan, turned the oven on high, and shoved it inside.  Then she washed her hands and ran upstairs to the bedroom.  She sat down before the mirror, tidied her hair, touched up her lips and face.  She tried a smile.  It came out rather peculiar.  She tried again.

“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, aloud.

The voice sounded peculiar too.

“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 rehearsed it 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 man behind the counter.

“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.”


“I don’t know much like cooking it frozen, Sam, but I’m taking a chance on it 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?” The grocer cocked his head on one side, looking at her pleasantly.  “How about afterwards?  What you going to give him for afterwards?”

“Well-what would you suggest, Sam?”

The man glanced around his shop.  “How about a nice big slice of cheesecake?  I know he likes that.”

“Perfect,” she said.  “He loves it.”

And when it was all wrapped 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 as she hurried back, all she was doing now, she was returning home to her husband and he was waiting for his supper; and she must cook it good, and make it as tasty as possible because the poor man was tired; and if, when she entered the house, she happened to find anything unusual, or tragic, or terrible, then naturally it would be a shock and she’d become frantic with grief and horror.  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 absolutely natural and there’ll be no need for any acting at all.

Therefore, when she entered the kitchen by the back door, she was humming a little tune to herself and smiling.

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

She put the parcel down on the table and went through into the living room; and when she saw him lying there on the floor with his legs doubled up and one arm twisted back underneath his body, it really was rather a shock.  All the old love and longing for him welled up inside her, and she ran over to him, knelt down beside him, and began to cry her heart out.  It was easy.  No acting was necessary.

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 sobbed.  “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 policeman walked in.  She know them both - she knew nearly all the men at that precinct - and she fell right into Jack Noonan’s arms weeping hysterically. He put her gently into a chair, then went over to join the other one, who was called O’Malley, kneeling by the body.

“Is he dead?” she cried.

“I’m afraid he is.  What happened?”

Briefly, 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 discovered a small patch of congealed blood on the dead man’s head.  He showed it to O’Malley who got up at once and hurried to the phone.

Soon, other men began to come into the house.  First a doctor, then two detectives, one of whom she know by name.  Later, a police photographer arrived and took pictures, and a man who know about fingerprints.  There was a great deal of whispering and muttering beside the corpse, 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, and 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 slipped out to the grocer for vegetables, and 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 immediately went outside into the street.

In fifteen minutes he was back with a page of notes, and there was more whispering, and through her sobbing she heard a few of the whispered phrases-”... 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 departed and two other men came in and took the corpse away on a stretcher.  Then the fingerprint man went away.  The two detectives remained, and so did the two policeman.  They were exceptionally nice to her, and Jack Noonan asked if she wouldn’t rather go 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 even a yard at the moment.  Would they mind awfully of 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.  Occasionally 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 a blow on the back of the head administered with a heavy blunt instrument, almost certainly a large piece 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 on the premises.

“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’ve been used as the weapon?  Would she mind having a look around to see if anything was missing-a very big spanner, for example, or a heavy metal vase.

They didn’t have any heavy metal vases, she said.

“Or a big spanner?”

She didn’t think they had a big spanner.  But there might be some things like that in the garage.

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 gravel outside, and sometimes she saw a flash of a torch through a chink in the curtains.  It began to get late, nearly nine she noticed by the clock on the mantel.  The four men searching the rooms seemed to be growing weary, a trifle exasperated.

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

“Sure I’ll give you a drink.  You mean this whiskey?”

“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 awfully tired.  Please do.  You’ve been very good to me.”

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

One by one the others came in and were persuaded to take a little nip of whiskey.  They stood around rather awkwardly with the drinks in their hands, uncomfortable in her presence, trying to say consoling things to her.  Sergeant Noonan wandered into the kitchen, come out quickly and said, “Look, Mrs. Maloney.  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 tearful eyes.  “Jack Noonan,” she said.


“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 terrible hungry by now because it’s long past your suppertime, and I know Patrick would never forgive me, God bless his soul, if I allowed you to remain in his house without offering you decent hospitality.  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 begged.  “Please eat it.  Personally I couldn’t touch a thing, certainly not what’s been 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.”

There was a good deal of hesitating among the four policemen, but they were clearly hungry, and in the end they were persuaded to go into the kitchen and help themselves.  The woman stayed where she was, listening to them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and sloppy 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.”

“That’s the hell of a big club the guy must’ve used to hit poor Patrick,” one of them was saying.  “The doc says his skull was smashed all to pieces just like from a sledge hammer.”

“That’s why it ought to be easy to find.”

“Exactly what I say.”

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

One of them belched.

“Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.”

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

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.

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