Simon Tolkien

The King of Diamonds



‘And so, Mr Swain, everybody might be guilty of this crime. Everybody except you? Is that right?’

The voice of Sir Laurence Arne, counsel for the prosecution, was laced with sarcasm as he uncoiled himself from his seat, slowly drawing himself up to his full height so that he was able to look down on the accused, to dominate him even before he had begun his cross-examination. He was a tall man, tall and thin, with a wide forehead set over small dark eyes. The boniness of his build and a long aquiline nose completed the birdlike effect that so many of Arne’s fellow barristers had commented on over the years.

Like a bird of prey, thought the officer in the case, Detective Inspector Trave, sitting at a table at the side of the court behind the row of prosecution exhibits — the evidence that he’d carefully assembled during his investigation — handwritten note, knife, rent bloody clothing, each neatly tagged with its own case number. Yet again Trave was surprised to feel a stirring of sympathy for the defendant. David Swain looked like he hadn’t slept in days. He shifted constantly from foot to foot in the witness box, running his hands through his unruly hair, unable to keep his focus on anyone or anything for very long. He was no match for Arne and Arne knew it. Now the prosecutor seemed to be almost playing with the defendant, like a spider before the kill.

‘Because that’s what you seem to have been saying in your interview with the police,’ Arne persisted when the defendant didn’t respond to his first question. ‘Not me; not me; anyone but me.’

‘Well, it’s true. It wasn’t me. And I was upset, disorientated. Anyone would have been in my situation,’ said Swain. There was that same note of defiance in the young man’s voice, of special pleading that Trave remembered from before. It wasn’t going to win him any friends among the jury.

‘But that’s the point, isn’t it?’ Arne countered quickly, sensing the opening. ‘Nobody else was in your situation. Nobody else had the motive you had; nobody else had the opportunity.’

‘You don’t know that. Ethan had found out something. That’s why he wrote that letter to his brother before he came back — about needing to talk to him but it being too dangerous to put in a letter.’

‘Someone wanted to shut Mr Mendel up before he could talk and so they framed you for the murder. Is that what you’re saying?’

‘Yes. A murder isn’t enough; you need a murderer too.’

‘I see. A nice turn of phrase,’ said Arne, allowing himself a thin smile. ‘Did you prepare that for our benefit, if you don’t mind me asking?’

It was a cheap shot, thought Trave, but it had the desired effect. There was some nervous laughter in the courtroom, and Swain flushed deep red, his anger rising.

‘All right, Mr Swain,’ Arne went on after a moment. ‘Let’s look at your account of events and see whether what you say makes any sense, shall we? Let’s see if we can find out who the real murderer was?’

Swain bit his lip, clenching and unclenching his hands on the top of the witness box. He clearly had no capacity whatsoever to conceal his emotions: anger and fear were written all over his pale face. And it didn’t help that the hot-water pipes were doing such good work, overcompensating for the unseasonable temperatures in the world outside. Beads of sweat were forming in the defendant’s hairline and over his forehead, and involuntarily he put up his hands and rubbed his knuckles in his eyes, trying to get some relief from the glare of the overhead lights illuminating the windowless courtroom.

‘You admit to having been in a relationship with Katya Osman throughout most of last year, don’t you?’ asked Arne in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.

‘Of course I do. She was my girlfriend,’ said Swain, who was still trying to regain his composure.

‘Until Mr Mendel came along.’


‘And then you lost control of yourself?’

Swain dropped his eyes, refusing to answer the prosecutor’s question.

‘Didn’t you?’

Swain nodded. ‘It hurt what happened. Anybody would have felt bad.’

‘Ah, there you go again, Mr Swain: anybody and everybody. But we’re not talking about anybody, are we? We’re talking about you.’

‘All right. Me. I felt bad — deep down bad. Is that what you want?’

Arne smiled, not answering the question. It was that same thin, humourless smile from before, and Trave noticed that Swain’s hands had started to shake.

‘And you felt so bad that you wrote letters to Miss Osman, threatening to kill her and Mr Mendel, didn’t you, Mr Swain?’ asked Arne after a moment. ‘Not one letter, not two letters — lots of letters. And each one more violent than the last. You remember the letters, don’t you? Miss Osman was kind enough to read some of them to us the day before yesterday.’

The defendant kept his eyes on the floor, refusing to meet the prosecutor’s eye.

‘No? You don’t remember? Well, let me refresh your memory with some examples. March fourteenth — “I’ll show you what pain is. You don’t know the meaning of the word.” April eighth — “If I can’t have you, nobody can.” And undated but received by Miss Osman on the twenty-ninth — “The last thing you’ll see in this world will be that Belgian bastard’s empty dead eyes.” Not exactly ambiguous, these threats, are they, Mr Swain?’ asked Arne, looking up at Swain from over the gold-rimmed, half-moon glasses that he had put on to read the letters.

It was a masterful performance. Arne had picked up one document after another from the pile on the desk in front of him, reading from them apparently at random, although Trave was quite sure that the prosecutor had in fact prepared each quotation carefully in advance. He was known for his thoroughness, his attention to detail.

‘So would you have killed Miss Osman too if you’d had the chance?’ he asked when Swain remained silent. ‘That certainly seems to be what you are saying to her in these letters?’

‘No, of course not,’ said Swain, blurting out his answer.

‘Well, that’s certainly reassuring. You’d been to Mr Osman’s boathouse before, yes?’

‘Yes, I used to meet Katya there.’

‘Because it was a private, out-of-the-way place where you knew you wouldn’t be disturbed?’

‘Yes, I suppose so.’

‘Miss Osman’s uncle didn’t keep any of his belongings there?’


‘And you could get there without going through the main gate?’

‘Yes, you go over a fence and then there’s a footpath going round the lake. It wasn’t locked.’

‘In short, an ideal place for you to carry on your relationship with Miss Osman?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And after she ended the relationship it would have been natural for you to assume that she would meet your replacement, Mr Mendel, there for the same purpose?’

‘No, I don’t know what you mean,’ said Swain, stammering over his words.

‘Oh, come on, Mr Swain, of course you do. You heard Miss Osman’s evidence — she saw you in the trees. But that wasn’t the only time, was it? You went right up to the window and watched them, didn’t you? Watched them tangled up together in the same place where you had been with her only a few months before. Lying where you used to lie; doing what you used to do. How did it feel, Mr Swain? Tell us how it felt.’

‘No, no, no!’ shouted the defendant, finally losing control. ‘No, I didn’t. I swear I didn’t.’ He shouted — almost screamed — the words at Arne, but the prosecutor didn’t respond. He didn’t need to. He knew what the jury would

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