notice however much more of the stuff he sprinkled around. But he was careful. Glossy pools on the floor would raise suspicions. So he poured his petrol trail out of sight beneath the benches and armchairs. He shifted the sofa bed and generously soaked its back, which would be out of sight against the wall.

Greg Lincoln moved deftly, glorying in his own cleverness. While he prepared his fire-trap, his mind coolly assessed possible methods for igniting it. Had to be something remote, something that would activate while he was safely off the scene. He’d decided that the following day he actually might do what he had claimed to be doing so many times before, and go to the golf club. There’d be plenty of old bores there, escaping the cloying bonds of a family Christmas, able to give him an alibi for the time of his wife’s murder.

The ignition method couldn’t involve anything electronic. That too might leave traces. No, he needed something that would disappear in the general conflagration, offering no clues to outside intervention.

A fuse, it had to be some kind of fuse.

He looked around the shed for inspiration. He still felt confidently calm. He was in a zone where he knew that the right solution would come to him. Greg Lincoln could not fail.

But nothing he saw inside rang the right bells. Pensively, he moved out into the garden, and found himself drawn to the bonfire he had observed earlier. The bonfire that was still burning three days after Dan had lit it.

The centre of the fire was dead white ash, but from the circle around the edges little spirals of smoke rose. Greg’s tasselled loafer probed tentatively into the smoulderings, and instantly found what he was looking for.

Amidst the embers were some strands of brown garden twine. One or two were glowing, alight but burning very slowly.

He found a big ball of twine in the shed. Unwilling to risk accidents inside the incendiary bomb that he had created, he conducted his experiments in the garden.

First he tried soaking a length of the twine in petrol, but it burnt too quickly. Besides, that might leave some forensic trace. Then he just lit the twine as it was and found, to his intense gratification, that it worked perfectly. If he held his fuse up and lit the end, it flamed only for a few seconds, but continued to burn. A red glow moved slowly along, and the twine was consumed at a satisfyingly steady rate. The smouldering burn was resilient, too; however much he shook the fuse or waved it about, the twine continued inexorably to burn. It must have been treated with some flammable preservative.

He tested his fuse’s effect on a pool of petrol on the red-brick path. When the tiny red glow reached the fluid, a very rewarding flare-up ensued.

Consciously slowing down his pulse rate, Greg Lincoln experimented until he had a fuse that would burn for almost exactly twenty minutes. Perfect. The following morning he would wait until Shelley and Dan had gone into the shed, then come down to the garden, check his locking device had worked, and bang on the door to say he was off. By the moment of combustion he would be safely in the golf club, surrounded by witnesses.

He laid the fuse to run through a knothole into the shed and to end up in a pool of petrol behind the impregnated sofa-bed. He set the latch bar in the upright position. Then he returned to Lovelock Manor to reward himself with a large Scotch. He resisted the temptation to ring Vicki Talbot. Much better to contact her with the fait accompli, the news that his wife was dead, and that he was free to spend the rest of his life with his lover.

That evening he was particularly solicitous to Shelley, showing uncharacteristic interest in the booty she had brought back from the garden centre. He didn’t dislike his wife. Her personality was too pallid to inspire dislike. And he felt a mild regret about the fate that awaited her the next morning. But not enough regret to make him change his plan.

He slept surprisingly well, but woke early, round six, to the sound of heavy rain. His first reaction was delight. Rain would ensure that, once Shelley and Dan got into the shed, they wouldn’t leave it in a hurry. They would work out their horticultural strategy in the dry, rather than venturing out into the garden.

But no sooner had he had this heartwarming thought than he was struck by another, less pleasing consequence of the heavy rain. His twine fuse would get soaking wet!

Greg managed to get out of bed and collect his clothes without rousing Shelley. His wife continued to breathe evenly, little knowing that what she would wake to would be the last morning of her life.

Greg’s carefully cut twenty minutes of twine was indeed very wet. Not wishing to re-enter the booby-trapped shed, he had brought a lighter with him from the kitchen. When he fed a flame to the frayed end, the twine did catch alight and flare briefly, but then sputtered and soon no glow showed. He threw it down on the ground in frustration, and tried to think of some other way of detonating his time bomb.

For a tiny moment he felt doubt. The possibility crept into his mind that he might fail. But he quickly extinguished the unworthy thought. Of course he would succeed. He was Greg Lincoln.

It didn’t take long for the solution to come to him. Simple, really. Better than the twine fuse. The only surprise was that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

He opened the shed door, and carefully left it open. To lock himself in would not be very clever, he thought with a chuckle. And as soon as he walked inside, he realised just how perfect his new plan was. The overcast sky made the interior darker than ever. Which meant that when Shelley and Dan came in, the first thing they would do would be to light the candle.

Cylindrical and large, probably three inches in diameter—ideal for his purposes. A half-inch of blackened wick showed at the top.

Taking advantage of the tools he found in the shed, Greg worked with confident efficiency. First he used a Stanley knife to take a quarter-inch slice off the top of the candle. Careful not to cut through the wick, he excavated a hole about two inches across and three down into the centre of the candle.

He cut the wick, so that it was three inches long, and poked the blackened end through the hole in the disc. Lighting the wick briefly ensured that the surrounding wax melted and cemented into position.

The next bit was easy. He simply poured petrol into the little wax reservoir that he had created and replaced the lid he had cut off, so that its trailing white wick was immersed in the fluid. He then used the warmth of his fingers to seal the wax and hide the mark of his cut. He would rather have used a flame, but prudence warned him against the unnecessary risk. Anyway, Dan wasn’t going to look at the candle closely. The first thing he’d do when he and Shelley entered the gloom would be to find his lighter and put it to the candle wick.

And then—boom. Conflagration. Greg Lincoln almost hugged himself at his own cleverness.

He was about to leave the shed when he was stopped by the sound of approaching voices.

“Where’s Greg?” asked Dan’s voice, deep and throaty.

“He’s gone. He said he had some golf thing.”

“At this time in the morning?”

“I don’t know. I never ask what he’s doing.”

“No, you let him ride roughshod over you.”

“Dan...” There was a note of pained pleading in Shelley’s voice.

“Well, the way he treats you ... it makes me mad.”

“He’s my husband, Dan.”

“Useless kind of husband. He doesn’t care about you at all. The only person he thinks about is himself.”

“That’s not true. Yesterday he bought me a hundred pounds’ worth of gardening tokens, and he really sounded interested in the garden.”

Greg was touched by his wife’s tribute to his solicitude. But he remained aware that he was in a rather awkward situation—geographically, at least.

“Oh, yes?” asked Dan cynically. “He doesn’t care about you. I’m the only one who cares about you. I’m the only one who loves you, Shelley.”

Hm, thought Greg, there’s a turnup for the book. And he waited with interest to hear what would come next.

“I know you do, Dan. But—”

“And you love me too. Go on, you’ve told me you do.”

“I may have said things like that in the past, Dan...” Shelley wasn’t finding what she was saying easy. “But the fact is that Greg is my husband. I’m a Catholic, and I believe that marriage is for life.”

“Even a rotten marriage that makes you unhappy?”

“Maybe it’s only a rotten marriage because I haven’t worked hard enough to make it a better one. And the fact is that Greg is my husband and we have both sworn to stay together until death do us part.”

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