1: Ellen

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Ellen wondered about what the neighbours would say. 

It wasn't that she cared about their mutterings behind her back, exactly, but rather how each of them would handle the news. Mrs Henderson would be delighted, of course, to have the juiciest bit of gossip on the street for months. Mr Rogers, in number fifty-two, would probably be even more keen to ask how she was, as he'd back his car out from his driveway in the morning. Mary in number fifty-five would be cold towards her for a while, Ellen reckoned, thinking she had been some sort of accomplice.

She didn't care about any of them, but Ellen knew she'd have to prepare for the questions and judgements over her husband's new prison sentence. In hindsight, fraud easily explained the lavish trips to Mexico and Bora Bora, or the wedding ring that was more expensive than Ellen was comfortable with (although she did like to show it off, at first) but she always thought Mike was just doing brilliantly at work. 

Then again, she never really knew what an auditor did. Even after the court case, the job title still confused her. 

Moving back into her late mother's house on Cranberry Close was not something Ellen had wanted to do, but when the beautiful house Mike bought in Liverburg was repossessed, she didn't have much of a choice. Her friend Heather, who had grown up alongside Ellen next door, apologized for not being able to offer up her guest room, but her father-in-law had moved in for the winter, and Ellen was not the type to be an imposition on her friends. She had grown used to a lavish lifestyle, thanks to Mike's dirty money, but she still held onto her own principles firmly. 

It was a relatively mild Saturday morning, and Ellen sipped her black coffee from the mug she bought her mother while on vacation in London. With stylized lettering, Today's forecast: 100% chance of wine was printed onto the red ceramics, and it felt like an accurate prediction for her first day back in the neighborhood she grew up in. Ellen gazed out of the living room's window, looking across the front garden which had been maintained by George to the standard that her mother loved him for. George was sixty-four, seven years older than her mother was when she passed away, but their friendship never became anything more than platonic. It was a pity, Ellen thought, especially as her father died during his time in the army almost twenty years ago. Still, love isn't for everyone, as Ellen came to learn herself. 

A phone call stopped her mind wandering, and as she picked up her phone from the coffee table, a soft smile broke out across her face. 

"Either you've had a very wild night and you're just home, or I'm having a hallucination that you're actually awake at this hour of the morning." 

"You, my darling, are completely right." The voice at the other end of the line was a friendly and familiar one, one of a few from her childhood that she loved to hear. 

"Clara, what did you do?" 

"Oh honey," Clara said in a fake southern accent, "what haven't I done? Dancing with a Latino muscle god until dawn, champagne with no end in sight, and a young Venezuelan waiter who would not take his eyes off me until he slipped his phone number into my handbag! I forgot how much fun those singles nights can be in San Ricardo." 

"Clara, you know San Ricardo isn't a place to find true love," Ellen warned in jest, "certainly not at your age". 

"How very dare you," Clara replied. "I'm only thirty-four, it's not time for me to move into a retirement home just yet. Besides, shouldn't you be out with me next time, now that you're a divorcée?" 

"Technically, the divorce proceedings have only started." 

"Right, and that's going to stop us because..." 

"I get it, Clara. The best way to get over one man..." 

"is to set up a Tinder profile. Speaking of, I'm on my way over." 

"Now?" Ellen was alarmed, looking down at her dressing gown and fluffy slippers, like a character from an 1920s English crime novel. 

"Yes, now. I need coffee and an aspirin ready for me, or at least a Bloody Mary." 

"I'll get the coffee ready." 


Ten minutes later, Clara rang the doorbell three times in quick succession, just like she would have when she and Ellen were both ten years old, and Clara wanted her to come out to play on the street. Now, Clara looked a little different from her childhood self, dressed in skinny jeans and a black, silken blouse. She clearly hadn't been to bed yet, but her make-up wasn't as badly weathered from the wild night as Ellen expected. Still, Ellen opened the door with a bath towel draped across her right arm, while the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted towards her best friend. 

"Oh, you still know me so well," Clara purred, stepping into Ellen's hallway and giving her a friendly kiss on the cheek. "This is just like the morning after prom night!"

"Everything is still the same as it always was," Ellen replied with a smirk on her face. "Get washed up and take a sweater from my room. I'm going to make us breakfast." 

While her best friend danced up the stairs in excitement for a warm shower, Ellen made her way to the kitchen, where she opened the fridge and took out what she needed for a hearty breakfast. She turned on the radio that sat on the window sill near the sink, hoping for some music to keep her mind occupied. 

Instead, the news reporter read her report: 

"Police are investigating the death of a recently incarcerated man at Liverburg County Jail two days ago as a murder. Thirty-five year old Mike Carson, who was convicted of fraud and tax evasion recently at San Bernardino Criminal Court, was found dead in his prison cell by security guards at three AM on Thursday morning, having suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest...

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