I didn’t have much interaction with Carl and Lisa. We were neighbours for three years—they were at number 55 before Sonja and I moved into number 53. They were always polite and friendly, but we were never really close. It wasn’t that sort of neighbourhood. Christmas cards but no presents.
They were a perfectly ordinary suburban couple. Lisa must have been late forties. I think she had been living at number 55 for a while. Carl was younger, early forties perhaps. I’ve always been terrible at judging ages, particularly when hair dye is involved (and, I always suspected, a little Botox). Her second husband although she still used the first husband’s surname. They had no children, but she had two adult sons from her first marriage who, as far as we could tell, got on well with their stepfather. I don’t know where the first husband went.
The last time I saw them, we were discussing new fence panels: Sonja and I on our side of the boundary, Carl and Lisa on theirs. A couple of the panels between the gardens had been damaged by a storm. The panels were our responsibility, and we were going to buy the cheapest ones we could find, but Carl and Lisa wanted a particular (expensive) type to match the fence on the other side of their garden. They offered to pay the difference. We agreed and went on to make small talk for a few minutes. It was an entirely unremarkable conversation.
Their telephone rang, and Carl excused himself to answer it. Less than a minute later he came back out, looking panicked.
“It’s Paul,” he said. Paul was one of Lisa’s sons. I could never remember whether he’s the elder or younger.
“What about him?” asked Lisa. Carl came closer and whispered something. She frowned and seemed to look through me for a few seconds. Then she snapped back to life.
“Sorry,” she said, “Something’s come up. Family.” And they both headed towards the house.
Sonja and I were left standing at the edge of our garden, shrugging and hoping it wasn’t anything serious. “Is there anything we can do?” Sonja asked. Mostly, I think, because she didn’t know what else to do.
Lisa stopped and thought for a second. “Actually,” she said, walking back towards us, “There is something. If the police ask, tell them I looked shocked when Carl spoke to me. Thanks. Oh, and don’t worry about the fence.” And then they were gone.
Later that day, the police arrived. One car at first, then a few more.
An officer came to our door, asked us about Carl and Lisa. We told them what we knew. A normal couple. Her second marriage. Didn’t speak to us much. Something had happened to Paul, we thought. Lisa looked shocked when Carl told her. No, we didn’t know about anything dodgy. Yes, we’d let them know if we remembered anything else.
Later still, two bodies being carried from number 55, on stretchers, covered by sheets.
The flashing lights on the drive, and the noise of the investigation keeping us awake until at least two in the morning.
The local paper carried the story on the cover, and a double page spread. The cause of death was cyanide poisoning, and police are not looking for anyone else in connection. Investigations are underway. Neither son has been located yet.
We bought the cheap fence panels.