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Jane Tennison comes in for a mention in this week’s chapter, as the Belles make an unsettling discovery.


Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison in “Prime Suspect.” Click for source (dvdtalk).

I’ve always loved Mirren. Her performance as DCI Jane Tennison was unforgettable and the series itself, written by Lynda La Plante, was a television landmark for its gritty portrayal of sexism and misogyny in the London police force. Helen Mirren, by the way, has worked with my favorite actor Ciarán Hinds on four projects, Some Mother’s Son (1996), Calendar Girls (2003), The Debt (2011), and an episode of Prime Suspect, Series 3 (1994), where he played a truly heinous villain.


Ciarán Hinds and Helen Mirren in “Calendar Girls.” Photo by Nick Wall, from IMDb.

18. Trouble in Paradise

At ten o’clock the next morning, Tina emerged looking bleary-eyed, and quickly disappeared into the bathroom, where she remained for thirty minutes. Barefoot but still wearing her skirt and tie-front top from the previous evening, she approached the table where Ellen was reading the New York Times.

Ellen greeted her in a soft voice, assuming that a hangover was in full force. “How are you feeling? Can I get you some juice or coffee? I’ve got some cherry muffins too.”

“Thanks, and sorry about my bad behavior last night. I’ll get the coffee,” replied Tina. She poured some into the mug waiting on the counter, then came to sit beside Ellen. “Umm, Ellen, which of the guys did I take to the guest room with me?”

“Nobody. Owen and Hugh helped me get you in there after we realized you were close to passing out, and then I shut the door.”

“Oh.” Tina ignored her coffee, fiddling with a corner of the Arts section. “Well, someone had sex with me.”

“What?!” Ellen put down the paper, took off her reading glasses and stared at Tina. “My God. Are you sure? You had a lot to drink.”

“When I woke up, my panties were on the floor. I had my top tied a certain way, and it’s still tied, but not the way I had it.” She gestured to the clumsy knot below her bustline. “And I’m sore, like I get when there’s not enough lubricant.”

Ellen felt a rush of pity for Tina, followed by anger that one of the men in the group would do such a thing, and finally a dawning horror. “Tina, you were raped. One of them raped you while you were unconscious. Do you want me to take you to the hospital?”

“No, I’m fine. There’s no reason to go there,” said Tina.

“But shouldn’t they take samples and do a kit, so there’s evidence when you report it? You haven’t taken a shower, that’s good,” she added.

“Ellen, listen to me. I’m not going to report this,” Tina said firmly. “I can’t deal with the police asking me questions, like when Bryan died in the accident, talking about it over and over. Giving evidence in some courtroom. And this time, having them all stare at me and think I’m a slut.”

“You’re no slut, and you deserve justice if someone raped you.”

Tina took Ellen’s hand and looked her in the eye. “Promise me you won’t call the police. I don’t want this reported. Please, Ellen.”

“Well, it should be your choice,” Ellen said slowly. “But then again, I’m not sure that’s right. What about the rest of us? We have this predator lurking about, and we don’t know which one he is.” She forced from her mind the absurd image that was forming, of a huge, willful form rising from the dark depths of the sea. “Will you at least let me tell the others?”

Tina nodded. “That’s fair. I’m afraid Kim will make me report it, but I understand that you all have a right to know.”

“Okay. I’m calling her now.” Ellen picked up her phone. When Kim answered, she could tell that Owen was there. “Something bad happened to Tina last night,” she said carefully. “While she was in my guest room. Can you come over? We need to talk.”

Sounding concerned, Kim agreed and said that she would try to round up the others and have them there in an hour or so. Tina insisted on showering, and against her better judgment, Ellen acquiesced, providing towels, a change of underwear, a pair of jeans, and a T-shirt that she estimated was large enough to accommodate Tina’s chest. The shower was a long one, and she wondered what was going through Tina’s mind. Was she blaming herself, or perhaps Ellen? Meanwhile the other women began to arrive, asking to know what the fuss was about. Ellen explained the basics.

“Tina’s very clear that she doesn’t want this reported,” she told them. “I couldn’t convince her to go to the hospital, and now she’s taken a shower.”

“That’s a shame,” said Kim. “But I understand her reasons.” Emily and Val nodded in support of Tina’s decision.

“What about STD’s and pregnancy?” said Ellen. “She doesn’t even know whether he used a condom.”

“I’m pretty sure he did,” announced Tina, emerging from the bath with her hair in a towel. “There wasn’t any… residue like there is without a condom. I checked the guestroom and the bathroom in case he left it, but I didn’t find anything.”

“STD risk is low but possible with any of the men,” said Kim, frowning. “I make them all get a screening before I let them join the group, and once a year thereafter.”

“You do?” Ellen hadn’t known this. “How do you manage that?”

“Some of them don’t object. Hugh just laughed and asked if I’d also like to see his tax return. But if they complain, I tell them that all the big porn stars get checked every three months. That usually does the trick.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then I say that as soon as I have their results in hand, I’ll wear my special nurse outfit for a bonus visual inspection. It’s never failed.”

“How come you don’t make us prove we’ve been screened?” asked Emily.

“Because I trust you, darling. You’re all sexually active, so I presume you have the brains to get yourself checked at least annually. If one of you contracts gonorrhea or another STD and lets it go untreated, you put all the rest of us at risk. And we would not find that amusing,” she added sternly. Ellen made a mental note to have herself tested. She believed Derek had been a faithful husband, even during their fallow period, but there was no way to know for sure.

“I also do a background check if I’m thinking of sleeping with a man,” said Kim. “I can assure you that none of them has a criminal record.”

“But what are we going to do?” said Val. “One of them is a rapist. We can’t just go on like before.” She shook her head. “This is really freaking me out.”

“I don’t get it,” said Tina. “I’ve slept with every one of them, and I would again. Why didn’t he just ask me?”

“Did anyone have a falling out with you?” said Kim. “Did you refuse one of them, or have a disagreement over something?”

“No, not at all. That’s why this doesn’t make sense.”

“If Tina’s not going to the police, then we have to investigate it ourselves,” said Emily. “We have to question them, and keep the witnesses sequestered so they don’t share their stories with each other.”

“Thank you, Jane Tennison,” said Val sarcastically. Her voice was rising. “What are we supposed to say? ‘Fess up, boys, which one of you is a rapist?’”

“Wait!” cried Tina. “I don’t want you telling all of them that I was raped. They’ll see me differently, and it’s none of their business.”

“Well, then we’re at a dead end. We’ll have to break up the group, and we’ll never know who did it,” said Emily. They all looked at each other.

Ellen stood up, gazing down the hall at her guestroom. “What if we told them it was something else?” she said. “The guest room is the first door as you come in. All we really need to know is who went down the hallway, and who was gone from the living room long enough to commit the crime.”

“That might work,” said Kim. “But first things first. What do we remember?” She pulled a notebook from her handbag. “Tina, do you have any memory of last night after you went to bed?”

“Not really. I don’t remember getting to the room. I woke up in the night and realized I had no panties on, but I figured I brought one of the guys in there with me, and just didn’t recall it. Then I fell back asleep.”

Kim said, “This isn’t the moment, but you and I are going to have a discussion about your drinking, and you’re going to see a counselor about your grief over Bryan.”

Tina accepted this with a meek nod, and Kim poised her pen at the ready. “All right. I’ll take them one at a time. Angus first.”

“We left together,” said Emily, “soon after Tina went to bed. That was just around midnight. He was in a hurry to go,” she added, blushing slightly, “and I’m pretty sure he never went down the hall.”

Ellen nodded. “I saw them leaving.”

Kim jotted down a note next to Angus’ name. “Charlie next.”

“Charlie and Jaime went into my bedroom to use the computer,” said Ellen. “That was right after Tina went to the guest room. One of them could have slipped out and into the guestroom without the rest of us seeing.”

“But the other would have noticed the absence, which is why we have to ask them,” said Kim. “They could also provide alibis for each other, and therefore we have to speak to them separately.”

Feeling herself vindicated, Emily threw a smug look at Val, who stuck out her tongue by way of reply. “I hooked up with Charlie as we were leaving,” Val said, “but it was spur-of-the moment. I was talking to Hector for part of the time they were playing video games, and I wasn’t keeping track of Charlie’s whereabouts.”

“What about Gerry the Drummer?” asked Kim.

“He left early, before Tina went to bed,” said Val immediately. “I’m sure of it, so that rules him out.”

“Did anyone else see him leave?” asked Kim. Nobody answered. “We’ll rule him out if one of the men confirms your story.”

“It’s not ‘my story.’ I know what I saw,” said Val. She seemed disgruntled that nobody would take her word for Gerry’s innocence.

“Then there’s Hector,” said Kim, moving on. “I danced with him early in the evening. I’m pretty sure I talked to him for a few minutes after the whale dick conversation, right around midnight. But then I switched over to Owen and we left together a little after one. By that point I’d lost track of Hector.” Val repeated that she had talked to Hector, though she wasn’t sure exactly when. None of the others could remember his movements.

“Hugh next.”

Reluctantly, Ellen said, “We had a conversation after Tina went to bed, and then he went out to have a smoke, or so he said. He knew she was in there, and close to passing out, because he and Owen took her.”

“He might be the one,” said Val, “because he never sleeps with us otherwise. Maybe he’s too shy to ask openly, but he saw an opportunity and took it.” Ellen felt a flash of anger at this suggestion, but she held her tongue. Val could be right, however much Ellen wanted it not to be true.

“I don’t know, Val,” Tina said doubtfully. “Hugh’s not exactly shy. He’s just not a talker.”

“What about Jaime?” asked Kim, scribbling in her notebook. “We know he was playing the computer game with Charlie.” Nobody recalled exactly when he had emerged from Ellen’s bedroom, though Ellen thought he had left before Val and Charlie did.

“Now, Owen. He also helped bring Tina to the guestroom and, as with Hugh, that experience could have planted the idea in his mind,” finished Kim. “Did anyone see what he was doing before about twelve-thirty? I can vouch for him after that.” Nobody could remember.

“So that means our suspects are Charlie, Hector, Hugh, Jaime, and Owen,” said Emily, “assuming that Gerry the Drummer really did leave early. And the crime must have taken place sometime between midnight and one.”

Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss

Notes: This was my first (and so far, only) attempt at writing a mystery. I quickly discovered how difficult it is to write the exposition and describe the circumstances of a crime in such a way as to clarify the setting and provide clues, but not give away the culprit. I’m not sure whether my story follows all the conventions of the classic mystery, but I hope it will create some suspense.

I wanted the Belles to investigate the crime themselves, rather than calling in a detective, but the plot device I used also raises questions about when and how rapes are reported (or not). During the research for this story, I discovered that in Pennsylvania, the state where the story is set, Ellen would have been legally required to report the rape, had it resulted in physical injuries. Many institutions such as schools also have reporting requirements. Thus, rape often creates a conflict between the individual’s right to privacy and society’s interest in catching and punishing criminals.