At five o’clock on a September afternoon Ronald Torbay was making preparations for his third murder. He was being very careful. He realized that murdering people becomes more dangerous if you do it often.
He was in the bathroom of the house that he had recently rented. For a moment he paused to look in the mirror. The face that looked back at him wasthin, middle-aged and pale. Dark hair, a high forehead and well-shaped blue eyes. Only the mouth was unusual – narrow and quite straight. Even Ronald Torbay did not like his own mouth.
A sound in the kitchen below worried him. Was Edyth coming up to have her bath before he had prepared it for her? No, it was all right: she was going out of the back door. From the window he saw her disappearinground the side of the house into the small square garden. It was exactly like all the other gardens in the long street. He didn’t like her to be alone there. She was a shy person, but now new people had moved into the house next door, and there was a danger of some silly woman making friends with her. He didn’t want that just now.
Each of his three marriages had followed the same pattern.Using a false name, he had gone on holiday to a place where no one knew him. There he had found a middle-aged, unattractive woman, with some money of her own and no family. He had talked her into marrying him, and she had then agreed to make a will which left him all her money. Both his other wives had been shy too. He was very careful to choose the right type of woman: someone who would not makefriends quickly in a new place.
Mary, the first of them, had had her deadly ‘accident’ almost unnoticed, in the bathroom of the house he had rented – a house very like this one, but in the north of England instead of the south. The police had not found anything wrong. The only person who was interested was a young reporter on the local newspaper. He had written something about death in the middleof happiness, and had printed photographs of Mary’s wedding and her funeral, which took place only three weeks after the wedding.
Dorothy had given him a little more trouble. It was not true that she was completely alone in the world, as she had told him. Her brother had appeared at the funeral, and asked difficult questions about her money. There had been a court case, but Ronald had won it, andthe insurance company had paid him the money.
All that was four years ago. Now, with a new name, a newly invented background, and a different area to work in, he felt quite safe.
From the moment he saw Edyth, sitting alone at a little table in the restaurant of a seaside hotel, he knew she was his next ‘subject’. He could see from her face that she was not happy. And he could also see thatshe was wearing a valuable ring.
After dinner he spoke to her. She did not want to talk at first, but in the end he managed to start a conversation. After that, everything went as he expected. His methods were old-fashioned and romantic, and by the end of a week she was in love with him.
Her background was very suitable for Ronald’s purpose. After teaching at a girls’ school for ten years, shehad gone home to look after her sick father and had stayed with him until he died. Now, aged forty-three, she was alone, with a lot of money, and she didn’t know what to do with herself.
Five weeks after they met, Ronald married her, in the town where they were both strangers. The same afternoon they both
made a will leaving all their property to each other. Then they moved into the house whichhe had rented cheaply because the holiday season was at an end. It was the most pleasant of his marriages. He found Edyth a cheerful person, and even quite sensible – except that it was stupid of her to believe that a man would fall in love with her at first sight. Ronald knew he must not make the mistake of feeling sorry for her. He began to make plans for ‘her future’, as he called it.