Authors: Martha Grimes
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England First published in 2004 by Viking Penguin,
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Copyright © Martha Grimes, 2004 All rights reserved
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint an excerpt from "Year's End" from Ceremony and Other Poems by Richard Wilbur. Copyright 1949 and renewed 1977 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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To my brother, Bill 1929-2003
We fray into the future, rarely wrought Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
-"Year's End," Richard Wilbur
The Lost Gardens
The blood spatter on the little girl’s dress mixed with the pattern of bluebells as if someone had thrown a handful of petals across her back.
Richard Jury was down on one knee in a gutter of a North London street, at the end of a dingy street called Hester Street, looking at the body, the face to one side, not quite believing it. He studied her-the pale hair, the eyes his hand had closed, the caked rivulet of blood that had run from the right side of her mouth, running down and across her neck and soaking the small white collar of the dress with the bluebells. His torch had made out the color. Even the blood could have looked blue in this difficult light. He thought it again - that the blood spots could have been petals.
It all seemed miniaturized as if everything-dress, body, blood were part of some magical tale that reduced proportions, an Alice in Wonderland sort of story, so that at any moment the little girl would wake, the blood draw back into the mouth like a vapor trail and the dark stains on the dress dissipate, leaving only the flowers.
No coat. It was the first day of March and she wore no coat. ‘A runaway, possibly?’ suggested Phyllis Nancy, the police pathologist, who was kneeling beside him.
Jury knew it was a question to which she knew the answer.
‘No, I don’t think so; the dress looks new, that or very well kept, you know, washed and ironed.’ What he was saying was rather ridiculous for who cared if the dress was ironed, but he felt almost as if he had to keep saying things, anything, just as Phyllis had done with her question. To say something, anything, was to hold the poor child’s reality at bay.
‘Yes, you’re right.’ The hem of her own dress was lying in a puddle of rain, and the rain’s detritus. It had rained heavily an hour ago.
Jury pulled the dress out of the muddy water. It was a long green velvet gown. When she had left her car and come toward the scene, she had looked regal in that dress. Emerald earrings, green velvet - she had been paged in the Royal Albert Hall and left immediately.
She had knelt beside him, on both knees, nothing to kneel on except the hard surface of the street itself. Her kneeling took almost the form of supplication. ‘I’ll turn her over. Would you help me?’
He nodded. ‘Sure.’ She did not need help. Jury had seen her manipulate bodies bigger than his own, turn them this way and that as if they were feathers. She didn’t, he supposed, want to see the ragged exit wound and where it had come from, the blood the little girl was lying in. They turned her, weightless. The bullet hole was very small, as if even the bullet had reduced itself to fit the story.
Jury said, ‘Probably a .22, at any rate, small caliber.’
Phyllis Nancy said, ‘Richard, she can’t be more than five or six years old. Who would shoot a child in the back?’
Jury didn’t answer.
Around the two kneeling over the body there were the others: the uniforms cordoning off this part of the road with yellow crime scene tape; the police photographer; the other crime scene people and detectives from homicide; the couple who had been getting into their car when they found the body (she weeping, he with his arm around her); the mortuary van. Blue lights twirling and blinking everywhere. Police had fanned out to knock on every door in Hester Street, searching for someone who had heard or seen anything. Despite all of this activity, there was a strange hush, as if those who were moving were doing it on tiptoe, or talking, keeping it down to almost a whisper. The sort of hush one finds in early morning before the sleeping world becomes the waking one. Moving carefully, as if letting her sleep on.
Jury turned to Dr. Nancy again. ‘Can you estimate, Phyllis?’ It could certainly not have been long. Even rolled halfway into the gutter, this was still a residential street, cars going back and forth or parked in the street, such as the one belonging to the couple.
‘No more than a couple of hours,’ said Phyllis. ‘Probably less, I’d think. She’d’ve been seen.’
‘I know. Really, how could she have been here for more than fifteen minutes without being discovered? In this little white dress?’
White, with bluebells, Jury thought, and blood soaked.
He would never have to see the little girl again unless he chose to, unless he found it necessary. But Phvllis Nancy had no choice; she would have to perform the autopsy; she would have to split the child open. What was that line from Emily Dickinson about splitting a songbird and finding the music?
Phyllis rose. He had never seen Phyllis Nancy lose it, not over the years and all of the dead and mutilated bodies between them; he was afraid he was about to.
He was wrong. When she’d been walking toward the crime scene a little while ago, she’d looked regal in that dress and those emeralds. Now mud splattered and pale, she still looked regal.
She made a sign and the mortuary van pulled closer to the little girl.
‘Split the lark and you’ll find the music.’ That was it, the line from Dickinson. A fanciful idea for an autopsy. Jury looked down at this benighted child.
Bluebells and blood. No music.
Wiggins was making tea, not an unusual thing except he was making it noisily: the canister rattling on the shelf, the spoon rattling against the cup, the pint of milk thumped down on the desk, the fresh packet of biscuits impatiently ripped open. He looked distraught. It was as if he were making this small commotion to cover this distress, or to signal it.
Jury had just walked in the door and took this minor commotion as a signal. ‘What’s up, Wiggins? You look as if you’d seen a ghost. That or DCS Racer.’
‘I’ve some bad news, sir.’ He dropped two tea bags into the brown pot and didn’t look at Jury.
The bad news was clearly for Jury. His mind fled immediately to Mrs. Wasserman, in her eighties now, and the only natural candidate for bad news. ‘What?’
Wiggins didn’t answer immediately. ‘Come on, Wiggins. I think I can take it.’
Wiggins snapped off the electric water pot. ‘I’m afraid ... well, it’s your cousin, sir. Your cousin - she died.’
For an insane moment, Jury didn’t know what Wiggins was talking about. He stood there, just inside the door, with that announcement of death seeming to preclude any movement until the cousin flashed in his mind and the world started turning again His cousin up north, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
‘I’m sorry, sir. I’m fixing you a nice cup of tea.’
As if this was not what Wiggins would do, death or no death.
Jury almost smiled at this intrusion of Wigginsland. He sat down, still with his coat on, opened his mouth, but didn’t say anything.
‘It was her husband called, name of - ‘
Wiggins was pouring milk into the mugs. ‘That’s it. He said the funeral’s to be on Saturday.’ To give himself something useful to do, he checked his desk calendar. ‘That’ll be six March.’ He handed Jury his mug of tea.
Probably trying to assess the measure of Jury’s grief, Wiggins said, ‘You didn’t see her very often, did you? I mean all the way up there in Newcastle, well, you couldn’t. But I got the impression you really didn’t know her all that well.’
Jury held the mug in both hands, warming them. ‘I didn’t, no.’ He paused, thinking. ‘It was her dad, my uncle, who took me in finally after my mother died. He was a great person. The cousin’s his daughter. She was never like him, and she’s never really liked me - ‘ Was that true, though? Brendan had gotten the exactly opposite impression, that she did indeed like him and was proud of Jury’s being so high up in New Scotland Yard. He rubbed his forehead. Was he going to have to try to revise memory again?
‘Jealous, I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Wiggins, blowing on his mug. ‘Her dad taking you in and all. He must really have cared about you.’
‘He did.’ But his cousin hadn’t, surely. Her talks with Jury were often barbed with sharp remarks and (Jury suspected) lies. He said, ‘The last time I saw her we were looking at pictures, snapshots and so forth, and she completely turned my memories on their heads. Things I thought had happened, hadn’t, not according to her. I honestly don’t know what I can depend on now.’
‘She was winding you up, sounds like.’
‘Maybe. That occurred to me, or that’s what Brendan said. We should be able to depend on our own memories, for God’s sakes.’ He took a long drink of tea and set the mug down on Wiggins’s desk. ‘I’m going out for a bit. I need some air.’
He walked across Broadway to St. James’s Park, which he wandered in for a few minutes and then sat down. He really felt it, her death. He hoped it hadn’t been a bad one. He’d seen too many bad ones-gunshots, knives, the victims occasionally not dead yet and looking up with a look of dread. Jury hadn’t known she was sick.
It was fine for him to say he saw his cousin seldom and that he wasn’t close to her and that, actually, they had never liked each other. That could work in life; it didn’t work in death. But then nothing did, he supposed. Death had a way of kicking out the props, of smashing one’s carefully constructed defenses. Whatever comfortable conclusions he might have reached about Sarah were now as suspect as the events of his childhood. For maybe she hadn’t been lying to him; maybe he had really been but a baby when his mum died instead of the five-year-old kid who had tried to pull her out of the rubble of their bombed building.
How could he possibly have got that wrong? Impossible, surely.
And what about watching the kids in their school uniforms treading off to school and wanting to be one of them? What about Elicia Deauville? She had to have danced in the room next door. Perhaps it was a different door, a different time.
No. Sarah must have been making things up. And wasn’t it typical - ?
He left the bench and started walking the path again, his hands together behind his back, the stance of an old man. That was the way he felt. His cousin had been older, but not so much older he could dismiss her age as that of a vaguely ‘other generation.’
Stop thinking of yourself, he told himself. There were Brendan and the children, grown up except the baby, that was the daughter’s baby, she unwed, living with her mum and dad, mum taking care of the granddaughter while the tartish little daughter was out and about. Well, she’d better pull up her socks now, hadn’t she? Do what she should’ve done in the first place -
Oh, Christ, this carping. What in hell was he on about other than to fill his mind with images and inoculate his thoughts against what all this meant?
It was this: there was an emptiness that he hadn’t seen coming and that now he didn’t see how he could fill. This, with the death of a cousin he had never really known. A demanding, bitter, mendacious woman who spread no happiness, and yet ... She was the end, except for himself. She had been the last one, the only repository of memories, the last one who had been there as part of his childhood tapestry and, because she remembered, might keep it from unraveling. She was the last one he could check with and whether she lied (and she would call it teasing) seemed almost beside the point.
Jury stopped, thinking this strange. Perhaps it was beside the point because she knew the truth enough to lie about it. No one else did now except for him. For some reason that made him feel the truth had gone and taken the past with it.
He had walked to Green Park by now and sat down on another bench. At the end of it was part of a Daily Express. He pulled it over and looked at the date. The second of March. He shoved the paper aside, having no interest in the daily affairs of the country, no interest in the royals or in David Beckham, or in the turn of the century.
He should get back to the office and call Brendan: the poor man must be going nuts over this. What could he do with the baby?
There were no grandparents, at least on her side of the family. Maybe on Brendan’s there were, maybe in County Cork.
Jury knew he ought to get back to the office and call him. Yet he sat, leaning over, elbows on knees, poring over it, his last visit three months ago, his anger at her teasing contradictions and the pleasure she got from having the upper hand in memory. After all, Jury had been so young (she’d said) he really couldn’t remember anything. But she could.
He looked out over the park and remembered a line of poetry:
Their greenness is a kind of grief. It was a March bleakness he saw. That made him think of finding a florist’s to send the family flowers, but he didn’t know where to send them, to what funeral home. Not to the flat, Brendan was not much good on the domestic end, to say nothing of being preoccupied, and the flowers would sit out of water until he tossed them away. Perhaps they would even pain him.
The thing was, Jury felt a need to do something. He wanted to make up for something, though he didn’t know what. Maybe for being the child his uncle really preferred, or maybe for giving Sarah a hard time when he was last there, before Christmas, or maybe for being the one still breathing when she wasn’t.
It would be spring soon despite the austere and shrouded look of the day. He thought again of Larkin’s poem: The trees are coming into leaf/Like something almost being said. He liked poetry. He preferred the plain spokenness of someone like Larkin or Robert Frost. But then poetry was never plainspoken; it gave only the appearance of it. Like something almost being said. He could never have put that into any other words, yet it came as close to truth as he could get, he knew.
He told himself again he hadn’t even liked her. Then what was this tightness in his chest, this suffocating feeling (which he was glad Wiggins wasn’t around to witness)?
What came to him all of a sudden was a memory of Jenny Kennington the first time he’d seen her, running down the steps of her house in Littlebourne, holding a badly injured cat. She didn’t know Jury but she accepted a lift to the vet’s. She talked about the cat, which wasn’t hers, but a stray that must have gotten hit by a car. I don’t even like that cat, she’d said, once he was safely in the vet’s hands. Several times she’d assured Jury, I don’t even like that cat.
Right, he thought. Sure.
He walked down Piccadilly and turned into Fortnum & Mason, which was always in a state of pleasurable havoc. Everyone (and when wasn’t everyone in Fortnum’s?) seemed to be staggering under the canopy over the display of foie gras and cheese and prosciutto sliced so thin you could see through it. The wonderful black-coated staff, the bright fruit, the collective swimming smells of tea and citrus and money.
Then into Hatchards, a bookshop that smelled like books - leather, wax, dark woodwork. An atmosphere, a sensual experience that the mammoth Waterstones up the street couldn’t begin to match.
He walked on, stopping here and there, at a kiosk for a Telegraph, which he later tossed in a rubbish bin, unread. How had he got to Oxford Street? He looked in Selfridges’ windows. The faceless manikins seemed to know the windows weren’t much to look at, not a patch on Fortnum’s. In their lightweight summer-to-come clothes so insubstantial a breeze could blow them away, their heads were bowed or jutting forward as if searching for an exit. On the sidewalk, a Jamaican selling his unlicensed wares, sharp, but not so sharp that he picked up Jury’s cop aura. Sticks of incense, tiny bottles of perfume so heady it would drop you in your tracks in a desert.
‘You wife, you laddy fren, she like this, mahn. Women, they like this stuff.’
Jury purchased a few sticks of incense and a little stone holder.
Every time - the newspaper, the manikins, the peddler - he’d forget for those moments and then turn away and it came back to consciousness that she was dead.
He had thought more about his cousin Sarah in the last couple of hours than he had in the last two decades. That’s what it was, death’s legacy - now there was plenty of time to think about the time wasted, the words unsaid, the history unshared, until it was too late. It’s always too late, he remembered someone saying. One can never have done enough, said enough. It was like the lager you could never finish: jokes about the wooden leg, the hole in the pint. An unquenchable, alcoholic thirst. You can never do enough for the dead. You search around for comfort but there is no comfort; there never was and never will be. There is only a gradual wearing away of the sharp edges, so that you don’t feel ambushed at every turn, as if you saw the dead suddenly rounding the corner.
For a while he rode the Piccadilly Line, then switched over to the Northern Line at King’s Cross. It was only in the underground he thought he saw such faces, no one looking happy, except for the teenagers banded noisily together, but even they, in an unguarded moment, looked pretty desperate.
While the antique Northern Line rattled the riders’ teeth, he looked at the girl facing him across the aisle, who was beautiful, but wasn’t taking comfort in it. She sat primly, knees together, hands clasping a small bag on her knees. Her hair was the kind you see in Clairol ads, long and shining. Above her in the parade of advertisements was one for a cold remedy depicting a skier happily taking a spill into a pile of snow. He was happy about it.
As the train clattered along, Jury studied an old Kit Kat wrapper on the floor, moving between high heels and scuffed boots. He watched it shift along, liking to think of themselves, he and Sarah, as kids going cheerily along to a sweet shop, but this image was his own concoction; he doubted they’d gone much of anywhere together.
I don’t even like that cat. Right.
He got up for his stop at the Angel.
Darkness had registered on him while he was walking along Regent Street, but the time hadn’t. It was nearly ten o’clock. Where in God’s name had he been all of this time?
The lights were on in Mrs. Wasserman’s garden flat, and in a moment she was out and up the stairs in her old bathrobe.
‘Mr. Jury, there was someone trying to get hold of you. Carole-anne said there were two messages on your answering machine and I was to tell you. From someone named Bernard.’
‘She said Bernard.’
Jury smiled. ‘Carole-anne has trouble getting my messages straight.’ Boy, did she ever. Especially the messages from females. Carole-anne had always thought the only life Jury would ever spend away from hers was an afterlife. ‘Thanks, Mrs. Wasserman.’ He turned toward the steps.
‘Is everything all right, Mr. Jury? You look pale.’
In the dead dark, how could she tell? Maybe he just sounded pale.
‘Yes ... No. Actually I got a bit of bad news. My cousin died. Brendan’s her husband. That’s why he’s trying to reach me. To tell me.’
‘I am so sorry. So sorry. To lose one’s family, that is the worst thing.’
It was as if, to her, all of the family were circumscribed in every member. To lose one was to lose all. ‘She was the last of the family. Except for me, I mean.’
‘Oh, my. My.’ She clutched the bathrobe tighter around her neck. ‘That is so dreadful. A person feels disconnected. I know I did. Like a balloon, that was how I felt. Drifting up farther and farther, a prisoner of gravity.’
Jury was surprised. Mrs. Wasserman didn’t often speak metaphorically. ‘That’s a good way of putting it, Mrs. Wasserman. That’s pretty much how I feel.’
‘Could I make you a cup of tea?’
‘That’s nice of you, but I think I’m too tired. I’ve been walking.’ She shut her eyes and nodded, familiar apparently with walking as anodyne.
‘So I’ll say good night. Thanks for giving me the message.’
She turned away as he did and they went in.
As he put the key in the door of the first-floor flat, he heard a short bark, more of a woof. It was Stone, so Carole-anne must be out. She always looked after him when she was in. They all did, when they could. Sometimes Stan took the dog along, but not if there was to be a lot of traveling.
He plucked Stan’s key from a hook inside the door, went up to the second floor and opened the door. Stone did not come bounding out, as most dogs would; Stone was as cool as Stan. The most excitement he ever displayed was some tail wagging. He followed Jury down the stairs, went inside and stood until it was disclosed to him what he should do. He had the patience and self-possession of one of those mummers wearing white clown suits, faces painted white. They stayed amazingly still, still as statues, which people passing took them to be.
Jury found the rawhide bone and set it at the foot of his chair.
Stone lay down and started in chewing. ‘I’m putting the kettle on.’
Stone stopped chewing and looked up at Jury.
‘You want a cup? No? Okay. Want something to eat?’ Stone woofed quietly. ‘That must mean yes. Okay.’
He left Stone to his chew. He plugged in the kettle and rinsed out a mug and dropped in a tea bag. The kettle boiled as soon as he’d spooned a can of dog food into Stone’s dish and called him. Then he poured water over the tea bag and let it steep while he watched Stone eat. That got boring, so he tossed the tea bag into the sink and went to his chair in the living room. He stared out of the window at blackness. In another minute he was up and rooting in his coat pocket, searching for the incense.
Jury fixed one stick in the rough stone holder and lit the tip.
The dish in the kitchen clattered as if the dog were shoving it around with his nose. Stone must have smelled the incense, the strong fragrance of patchouli, for he left the bowl for this more interesting event in the living room. He sat beside the chair and watched the spindle of smoke rise toward the ceiling. He looked from the smoke to Jury and back again. His nose quivered a little, taking in the unfamiliar scent.
During that final visit to Newcastle last year, Sarah had retrieved her photo album and they had looked at snapshots of themselves as children, again throwing spanners in Jury’s memory works, although she hadn’t purposely done that; Jury had brought up the old days and her derisive mood had changed-she had simply wanted to look at the pictures. They had sat with the album on the table between them, turning pages. It was as if in this sharing of childhood pictures they were acknowledging something between them
You wife, mahn? You laddv fren? No, it’s for my cousin.
He watched the thin trail of smoke curling toward the ceiling, and listened to Stone’s tail swish along the floor.
Like something almost being said.
The dead woman lay on a stone bench inside a stone enclosure that looked much like a shelter to ward off bad weather at a bus stop, as if she’d been waiting for one and simply fallen over, her torso on the bench, her legs off, feet dragging on the stone floor.
This shelter stood at the bottom of the large garden of Angel Gate. The garden had been neglected over the years and was now in the throes of refurbishment, being redesigned and reestablished. Thus, the first persons there in the early morning were the principal gardener and his daughter, a horticulturist. It was they who discovered the body. The next to arrive was the cook-housekeeper. She was busy giving tea to the father-daughter gardening team and any of the police who wanted it and who had arrived later from Launceston and Exeter.
Brian Macalvie, divisional commander with the Devon and Cornwall police, stood with his hands in his coat pockets. Standing about were some two dozen crime scene and forensics people from Launceston police headquarters and Macalvie’s people from Exeter. Brian Macalvie, motionless and silent, had been looking down at the dead woman for a good two minutes (‘which you wouldn’t think was a long time,’ one of his forensics team had saidto a friend over a pint at the local, ‘but you just try it sometime; it’s an eternity, is what it is’).
No one standing right near Macalvie, then, was any more animated than the corpse. No one was allowed to touch anything until Macalvie was good and done. This irritated the doctor who’d been called to the scene (local and not indoctrinated to the divisional commander’s odd ways). He had made a move toward the body and had been roughly pulled back by his coat sleeve by the chief crime scene officer, Gilly Thwaite.
‘For God’s sakes,’ said the uninitiated doctor, ‘it’s a murder scene, not a funeral. I’ve got appointments.’
The others, nine or ten, squinched their eyes as if over an onslaught of headache or sun and stared at the slate-gray sky as Macalvie turned to the doctor. He was a general practitioner from Launceston, but adequate (everyone but Macalvie assumed) at least to do a preliminary examination in order to sign a death certificate. The Launceston M.D. whom Macalvie liked was unavailable.
‘Let’s at least turn her over,’ said the doctor. Then added, acerbically, ‘I think she’s done on this side.’
Gilly Thwaite made a noise in her throat. From here and there came a choked kind of laughter. Macalvie was not a fan of gallows humor.
Macalvie nodded to Gilly. ‘Go ahead.’ Gilly set up her camera, got evidence bags ready, started taking pictures.
In the ‘lovely silence’ (as he often called it, when there was some) Macalvie returned his gaze to the body. The woman appeared to be in early middle age. But appearances are deceptive and she could have been younger or older. He put her in her late thirties on one end of the age spectrum, early fifties on the other. That was a very wide divergence and it made him wonder. She was quite plain, her face free of makeup, at least as far as he could tell.
There might have been a little foundation or powder. But no eye makeup. Her hair was mushroom colored, dull, cut in a straight bob that would fall, were she upright, to just below her ears. Her suit was the color of her hair. It was well worn and not especially fashionable, perhaps a classic cut, undated, a rough tweed. Macalvie looked for another fifteen seconds and then turned to the doctor. ‘All yours.’ As the doctor grunted and stepped into the enclosure, Macalvie said, ‘And incidentally, for her, it really is a funeral.’
He then turned from the stone enclosure to look back at the big house that belonged to the Scott family, what was left of them. Macalvie remembered Declan Scott, the only one of them living there now. Declan Scott was a man who’d had enough trouble in his life: three years ago his four-year-old daughter had vanished. His wife had died not long after.
Macalvie knew Declan Scott.
The man really didn’t need a body in his garden.
When Jury got to New Scotland Yard the next morning, he called Brendan, rather ashamed of himself that he hadn’t done it the day before. He knew at least that it hadn’t been indifference.
‘Are you all right, sir?’ Wiggins was giving his mug of tea a thoughtful stir. Jury had declined tea, and in Wiggins’s book, that pointed to something truly dire.
‘I’ve been better.’ Jury half smiled as he punched in Brendan’s number.
‘You got a call from Dr. Nancy and one from a DI Blakeley. Over in West Central. Isn’t he part of the pedophilia unit?’
‘Right.’ Jury slumped in his chair.
‘You look kind of pale.’ Wiggins would call up every anodyne he could muster. Of late he was into herbs and crystals, of which there were myriad combinations. (Rue that’s for - What had Shakespeare said? Remembrance, maybe?) Depression, Jury was sure.
A girl answered and it was unnerving that he couldn’t identify the voice. Which daughter was it? They were no longer girls, either, but young women. One of them was the mother of that baby who’d been handed over to grandmother Sarah. Christine? No. Christabel. Lavish names his cousin had picked. ‘Is this Christabel?’
‘No. Jasmine. Chris ain’t here.’ Thick Geordie accent.
‘It’s really your dad I’d like to speak to.’
‘Whyn’t you say?’ She turned away and called for Brendan.
‘Yeah?’ said Brendan.
Tired of it all already. No, more defeated by it. ‘It’s Richard, Brendan. I’m so sorry. What can I do?’
‘God, man, but I’m glad you called. I’m knackered.’ Relief spilled over into tears. His words came muffled. ‘You’re coming to the funeral, right?’
‘Of course. Saturday, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah. It’s a bit longer than I’d like, but my brother’s just getting out of hospital and he’ll want to come, so we’re waiting an extra day or two. Could I ask a favor of you, man?’
‘You can. Anything.’
‘If you could just float me a wee loan-?’
‘Sure I can. I intended to take on some of the expenses anyway. So it’s not a loan; it’s me paying my share. She was the only relation I had left, you know. You shouldn’t have to bear the whole expense of the funeral.’
Wiggins (Jury saw) was listening avidly. ‘Thanks,’ said Brendan. ‘Thanks.’
‘How much do you need?’
‘Well ... I was thinking maybe two hundred?’
The man would need more than that. ‘Are you sure that’s enough?’
‘Yeah. Should be.’
‘Doesn’t sound like enough for funeral expenses. You know the way they are - ‘ Jury would just send more.
Brendan said, ‘Yeah. I dunno. Another thing - I’m worried about Dickie. This manager where he works - this punter’s giving him a hard time, as much as accused him of thievin’.’
Dickie was the child Sarah had had late, that’s all he remembered about him. ‘What’s Dickie say about that?’
‘Not much. But I’m afraid this guy’s got it in for him.’ A sigh.
‘Kids. Especially that age. He just doesn’t know where he’s headed.’
‘You know teenagers; they’re hard to get to.’
‘I know they don’t think like adults, but why should they?’
‘Right. See, you know this; you understand this. Listen: the service is to be at three P.M. Saturday. I’ll see you before if you can get up here from London.’
‘Okay, Brendan.’ Jury said good-bye and rang off. He felt somehow defeated again. He rooted around for an envelope and found one. Then he paused. ‘Hell, I forgot to get the street address - ‘
‘I’ve got it right here.’ Wiggins twirled the Rolodex.
That’s how much you’ve kept in touch, mate. Here’s someone who’s a perfect stranger to your relations and even he has the address. You don’t. ‘Brilliant, Wiggins.’
‘It’s the funeral, is it?’
Jury nodded. ‘As you said, on Saturday.’
Wiggins nodded too, looking sorrowful. ‘I know how it feels. It’s like your life being put on hold.’
It’s more like the caller just hung up, Jury thought. ‘Did we get forensics on the little girl?’
‘Yeah.’ Wiggins passed over the report.
Jury looked at it. It confirmed what Dr. Nancy had said at the scene. There hadn’t been twelve feet between the shooter and the victim. The angle of the shot was down.
‘You’d expect that. She was only five. Small.’ Wiggins raised his hand, holding a gun of air. ‘Almost anybody would be taller than the child.’
‘Uh-huh.’ Jury pulled over a yellow pad and took a small metal ruler from the drawer of his desk. Using the criminalist’s numbers, he drew a line from 0 to 12. Then he drew another line for the trajectory. He came up with the same diagram (not that he’d expected otherwise) and started moving the gun closer: nine feet, six feet. The tattooing of the skin would be slighter the farther away. He looked at the morgue shots. Hard to say. The exit wound was larger; probably struck bone and took it along. He thought about the trajectory. He picked up the phone and called Phyllis Nancy.
‘She was sexually abused, Richard. Of course she was just too small for penetration, but there’s still a lot of inflammation. But God only knows somebody tried. Five years old. Who’d do that? And it happened more than once. Who’d do that?’ lt sounded as if the words themselves were weeping.
‘I don’t know, Phyllis. But I’m going to find out.’
Detective Inspector Johnny Blakeley headed up the pedophilia unit, but he himself was a one-man war. He found it difficult to hang about while proper procedure was put into place. He had had two near-career-ending inquiries, one because he’d roughed up a suspect and the other because he’d gone in without a search warrant. His dedication to his job was disputed by no one.
Jury remembered the five-minute answer to a question he had put to Blakeley about a case. You didn’t ask Johnny a question about pedophiles and expect brevity. And if you walked away, Johnny would still be talking.
‘These freaks really believe they’re the normal ones and we’re the abnormal. They declare their love for their little sweethearts as fervently as any Romeo. They go on and on and on representing themselves as the vanguard of enlightened love. They’re educated, cultured. If once more I get referred to Socrates and his students, I’ll drink the fucking hemlock myself. They’re all so bloody self-referential it kills me.’ The telephone got slammed against the wall. At least, that’s what it sounded like to Jury on the other end.
The phone at West Central was snatched up as if a hand had been hovering for hours just waiting; ‘Blakeley.’
‘Johnny. Richard Jury here. You called me?’
‘I did. This unidentified child, the little girl shot in Hester Street. I can’t ID her but I bet a year’s salary - no bet worth winning, clearly - I know where she came from.’
‘Go on.’ Jury yanked the yellow pad around.
‘There’s a house in that street that’s been operating for years as a haunt for pedophiles. The woman who takes care of the kids, meaning, makes sure they don’t escape - is a piece of work named Irene Murchison. You remember I was, ah, hauled over by the inspectorate on the warrant charge? Well, that’s where it happened. Murchison has as many as ten little girls - I know this from the street - ‘
(Meaning, Johnny’s snitches - he paid them a bundle, that was the word out.)
‘I tried until her solicitor slapped me with a harassment suit, which I acknowledged for a few weeks and then went back to harassing. Which got me in some trouble. Anyway, this little girl; you haven’t ID’d her, have you?’
‘No. I’ve got people working the missing children list. We might get lucky.’
‘It’d be nice, but good luck in this case seems to be out for lunch. Don’t get your hopes up.’
‘What makes you so sure about this house?’
‘Well, for one thing, the comings and goings. The men don’t live there. I stopped down the street several times and took pictures. Some days only a single client. I’m sure that’s what they’re called instead of sicko creeps. Some days one, some days six or seven. In and out, in and out. That’s for one thing. The other thing is a man named Viktor Baumann. He’s a sick creep, but he’s a rich, well-connected creep, a silky bastard. He’s a pedophile. The thing is Baumann has enough money to keep God knows how many plates in the air.’
‘And this is one of the plates?’
‘Absolutely. These men are prominent businessmen. What the hell are they doing in North London in that house?’
‘But wouldn’t that amount to probable cause?’
‘Nope. The Murchison woman is a coin collector. So are her customers. They come to buy-sell-trade. She does have a collection.’
‘You had someone pose as a visiting businessman and a collector?’
‘He didn’t get to first base. She knew something was wrong; Baumann hadn’t vetted my guy. There must be a sign they make, a password or something.’
‘Tell me about Viktor Baumann.’
‘He’s a big noise in finance in the City, that’s in addition to being a piece of filth. But I can’t touch him. There’s no evidence he actually controls this Murchison operation. But there’s another layer in all of this. In Cornwall, three years ago it happened: Baumann’s daughter, his daughter by his ex-wife, went missing. Kidnapped was what the local police thought at first, naturally. But there was never any ransom demand. There were several possible explanations, the most popular of which was that Baumann himself abducted her. Or had her taken, that is. He doesn’t do his own dirty work. The DCI who headed up this case put Baumann down as a prime suspect. The other possibilities were that some sociopath or sexual pervert grabbed her. But they couldn’t get to first base with that, either. Then there’s the possibility it was a deranged woman who’d lost a child and was pining for another one. None of these possibilities bore fruit. The kid’s still missing. She was only four.’
‘Payback? Isn’t that possible? A parent whose child this Baumann abused wanting revenge?’
‘Possible. But if Devon and Cornwall police couldn’t find anything, how could a citizen?’
‘I don’t know. Different resources, maybe. Why is Baumann their chief suspect?’
‘Ah, because he lost custody of the child and he’s been trying ever since to get it back. He couldn’t even get visiting privileges. He’s not one to accept failure. He wants what he wants and he’ll take it if that’s the only way. The police there could well be right.’
‘Who did you have dealings with?’
‘Macalvie. He was the DCI. Now he’s a commander, I think. He’s tenacious, that’s for sure.’
Jury smiled. ‘I know him. Tenacity is only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think he knows what ‘cold case’ means. He never gives up.’
‘Cop after my own heart.
‘I’ll tell him you said that.’
‘Angel Gate,’ said Brian Macalvie, on the phone with Jury. ‘That’s the name of the house. She was found in the gardens.’ He was speaking of the victim, the dead woman they’d found lying on a stone bench in a stone enclosure.
To Jury the name-Angel Gate-sounded mythical. Gates of ivory, gates of horn.
‘We don’t know who she is. She was shot dead on with a .22. Chest. We haven’t found the weapon. By now it’s probably at the bottom of the Ex.’
Jury made a small noose of the telephone cord. A .22. The little girl in Hester Street was shot with a .22. Not that this meant anything. He was in his flat, sitting in the one comfortable chair in front of the bookcase going over the autopsy report again together with the findings of the Hester Street house canvasing. ‘No leads at all?’
‘No. We’re running her fingerprints. DNA won’t help unless we have something to compare it with, obviously.’ He sounded impatient. ‘Declan Scott did see this woman once in the company of his wife. This was in Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. She was also seen by the Angel Gate cook. But that was nearly three years ago.’
Jury said, ‘Well, then, you do have some sort of ID.’
‘Uh-uh, Jury. Scott has no idea why she was with his wife; the cook - who’s no longer there - has no idea who she is, either. All she recalls is that the woman came to see Mary Scott. But neither cook nor Scott can ID her. No one in Brown’s recognizes the face, either.’ Macalvie was silent for a moment. ‘This case needs your chronic melancholia, Jury.’
Jury moved the receiver from his ear, looked at it and returned it. ‘What in hell are you talking about?’
‘About Declan Scott.’
lt took Macalvie a few moments to go on. ‘It’s hard to be around Scott for more than fifteen minutes. Have you ever known anyone like that?’
Jury reached round and pulled a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry from the bookcase, thought for a moment as he thumbed through the preface of the Dickinson book. He said, ‘Thomas Wentworth Higginson.’
‘Who the hell’s he?’
‘Emily Dickinson’s amanuensis, you could say. Her literary critic, editor publisher-whatever. Anyway, that’s exactly what he said about her, that he could hardly stay in the same room with her for more than fifteen minutes. That she was so intense, so emotionally needy, she overwhelmed him. Not surprising, considering her poetry. What about Declan Scott?’
‘The little girl, her name was Flora. She wasn’t his daughter, actually, but you’d never know it to hear him talk about her. About them. The wife died six months after the child disappeared.’
A double blow. ‘How did she die?’
‘Heart, apparently. Scott found her in the garden. A garden within a garden, a sort of secret garden. You know.’
‘No, I never had one of those. This is where you found the body this morning?’
‘That was in another part of the garden, at the bottom.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Who else is there? In the house?’
‘The only other full-time person is the housekeeper. A Rebecca Owen, the cook and housekeeper, but even she doesn’t sleep there. He lives alone. There’s little connection at all, he says, between him and the dead woman. He didn’t really know her.’
‘The words ‘little’ and ‘really’ strike me as the operative terms. He did have some connection, right?’
‘I told you, Scott had seen her once having tea with his wife, Mary. The wife said she was an old school chum. Roedean.’
‘And obviously this dead woman wasn’t the old school chum because you’d have Roedean nailed to the wall. And you’d know who she is by now.’ Silence. ‘So there’s a connection between the old case and this one.’
‘Must be. The victim could have been involved, I think. It’s been three years since the little girl disappeared. Probably you’d say Declan Scott should let go of it.’
‘Why in hell would I say that? Time passing could make it even worse.’
Macalvie really did not want to have to question this man. Jury thought about this.
Macalvie said, ‘That’s the reason, see?’
‘What you just said about time making it worse. Most people are of the ‘time-heals-all-wounds’ school. It’s why you’d get on with him.’
Jury smiled and shook his head. ‘Where was the daughter taken from? The house? Grounds? Where?’
‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan.’
Jury switched the receiver to the other shoulder, the other ear.
‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan? Sounds familiar. I’ve never seen it, but wasn’t that the big restoration project going in Cornwall? That and - what’s the other one?’
‘The Eden Project.’
‘Heligan is a kind of restoration, isn’t it? The gardens were there already, but had sunk into nothing, I mean, gone to seed.’
‘That’s right,’ said Macalvie.
‘Well, I’ve never known melancholy to solve a case. Lord knows, not mine.’
‘You wouldn’t know, would you? In this case I’m not so sure.
Declan Scott - well, you’ll see what I mean. It’s the past. He doesn’t just remember it, he lives in it.’
‘Don’t we all?’
Tall, thin, dressed in black, sleek as a seal, Baumann’s secretary was on the telephone when Jury walked into the office. As he waited for her to ring off, he looked around this richly furnished room. Furniture as slick and angular as she was, black leather and glass. The wall to his left contained several glassfronted shelves on which were displayed rows of coins against black velvet. Jury thought about what Johnny Blakeley had told him.
When she finally returned the phone (also sleek) to its cradle, he told her who he was and that he’d like to see Mr. Baumann.
‘Mr. Baumann never sees anyone before ten.’ Elaborately she examined her watch.
‘That’s a shame because I have to catch a train at ten-thirty.’ She looked at her appointments book with frowning deliberation. Finally, she raised her eyes and said, ‘I don’t believe you have an appointment, in any event?’ She registered this as a question in case he wanted to get into it with her.
‘No, I don’t’- Jury glanced at the metal nameplate on the desk-’Grace.’ First names generally brought them down a peg. Her eyebrows worked their way up, astonished at this liberty. ‘This is my appointment.’ He smiled winningly and shoved his warrant card toward her. ‘New Scotland Yard CID.’
She pushed her secretary’s chair back and got up. Still frosty, she said, ‘I’ll just see if he can speak to you now.’
‘I suggest he does.’ lt never quite worked when Jury tried to sound menacing. There was always that joke hiding behind it.
She went to a double door on her left, cherry and several inches thick; she pushed it open. He heard her mumble something to the occupant of the cushy inner office. Then she turned and pulled both doors open - both doors, dramatic entry. After she stepped inside, he heard her murmur something before she turned to wave him in.
Viktor Baumann rose and came around his desk to shake Jury’s hand and say, ‘I’m glad the police haven’t forgotten Flora. Especially Scotland Yard. She’s been missing now three years. I want to help in any way I can, of course. Please sit down, Superintendent.’ Baumann reclaimed his desk chair, which looked like one of those German designs of aluminum and leather so lightweight it could have levitated.
Another office furnished with killer designer furniture, but this one was more spacious than the outer. Jury imagined the paintings were not only originals, but by contemporary painters he wouldn’t know.
Jury said, ‘I’m with homicide, Mr. Baumann.’ Then, when Baumann fell back into his chair, Jury realized his error and quickly said, ‘No, not your daughter. I’m sorry. The murder is of a woman we can’t seem to trace.’ He removed the police photograph and reached it across the space between their chairs.
Baumann glanced at it and looked away. ‘Sorry. I’m squeamish about the dead. And I don’t understand what this has to do with me.’
‘Probably nothing. But she did have something to do with your former wife, from the look of it.’
‘Mary? How do you mean?’
Jury wanted to leave mention of Declan Scott out of this meeting if possible. ‘They were seen together in Brown’s Hotel having tea. According to your ex-wife, she was an old school chum.’ Jury kept his eyes on Baumann’s, gauging his reaction. That was hard to do with this sort of man who had trained himself not to react in his business dealings if he didn’t want to. Jury imagined business succeeded or failed thereby. It would be as hard to engage his involvement in the matter of this death as it would be the slickest of villains.
‘But you say you can’t find any connection between this woman and my ex-wife other than that?’
‘We haven’t so far. One would think the woman in this picture had appeared for this one purpose. Then disappeared.’ He had put the photo on the table, facing Baumann.
Baumann said, ‘I’m afraid I can’t help you there, Superintendent.’
‘You’re sure you’ve never seen her?’
Baumann’s smile was a little unpleasant. ‘I’m sure. After all, the face isn’t exactly memorable, would you say?’
That was cold-blooded enough, thought Jury. ‘Perhaps not.’
‘This was in the papers, wasn’t it? I don’t recall any photograph of the face, but I do recall the crime. It’s rather lurid, isn’t it? A dead body in the garden of a country estate?’
He seemed also to be avoiding Declan Scott’s name. ‘Lurid, indeed. But so was the abduction of your daughter, who lived on that estate, and the death of her mother. Declan Scott’s estate is figuring rather too often in disaster.’
‘Ah,’ said Baumann, relaxing a little, and picking up a paperweight. He apparently made the mistake that Jury was on his side. Or at least, not on Declan Scott’s. ‘Then I suggest you look nearer home, Superintendent.’ He smiled archly.
‘That’s what I am doing, Mr. Baumann.’ To Baumann’s quizzical look he said nothing.
‘But you’re suggesting Scott must figure in all of this.’
‘But of course he figures in it. That doesn’t mean he orchestrated it. What reason would he have to kidnap your daughter, Flora?’
Baumann was silent.
Jury went on: ‘You, though, would be seen as having a motive. You’d been engaged in a custody battle with Flora’s mother. Declan Scott wanted to adopt her - ‘
‘Superintendent, Flora was - is-my daughter. Is there anything at all ominous in my wanting to keep her as mine?’
‘No, except that she disappeared. That’s the point, isn’t it? That you might have wanted her enough to steal her.’
Baumann no longer looked relaxed. ‘So this isn’t about this murdered woman at all. You’re not here because of her. It’s about Flora, again.’
‘My reason for coming wasn’t Flora; it was this recent murder. But I think the two are connected, Mr. Baumann. It just seems to me that a stranger’s murder in the same house as the one from which your daughter disappeared and the one in which her mother died might be related. Especially as this woman had actually gone to the house. She knew Mary Scott and she meant to cause trouble.’
‘And just how do you know that?’
‘Because she was murdered.’
‘That’s why you infer the connection between Mary and this woman?’
‘I don’t have to infer any connection. It’s there. The two women knew each other.’
‘According to Declan Scott.’
‘He could be lying, yes, but I don’t see why.’
Baumann rose and went to a cabinet of vaguely oriental design and painted a red so dark it was almost black. ‘Care for a drink, Superintendent?
‘No thanks. I’ve had at last count a dozen cups of tea.’ He hadn’t done a good job of insinuating himself into Baumann’s good graces; in fact, he’d come close to alienating him, so he said, ‘You’re a numismatist, Mr. Baumann. Those coins look pretty valuable.’ He smiled and tilted his head toward the outer office.
Baumann poured a small gin into a Waterford tumbler. To Jury this was interesting. He would have expected whiskey. Gin before lunch. Jury believed that 75 percent of people walking around were alcoholics, perhaps including himself.
‘Ah. Are you interested in coins, Superintendent?’ He returned to the floating chair.
‘I really don’t know much about them. But I’ve been wondering what that one is you’ve been turning.’ It was an old coin encased in acrylic, serving as a paperweight.
Baumann smiled and held it out. ‘I suppose this is my favorite: a Greek tetradrachms, which means it’s worth four drachma. That’s Alexander the Great. One of my favorite coins. I’ve only seen two of them since I began collecting.’
Jury took it. lt didn’t surprise him that Baumann might feel some affinity with Alexander. The coin showed him wearing a lion’s head as a helmet. ‘Looks quite valuable,’ Jury said, handing it back.
‘Not really. It’s obviously extremely old, but that means little when it comes to value.’
Jury, having returned himself at least in small measure to Baumann’s good graces, said, ‘I got us off the subject. We were talking about Declan Scott.’
Baumann drank, set down the heavy glass. ‘I simply thought that one reason for Scott to lie might be to steer the relationship between himself and this woman away from himself by saying she was a friend of Mary’s. Then fabricating this story about having seen them together. There were no witnesses to this meeting, isn’t that what you said?’
‘We haven’t found one, no. But Declan Scott isn’t the only one who saw her - ‘
Baumann interrupted. ‘But you just said there were no wit-
‘Not to the meeting at the hotel, but later, when she came to the house. And it wasn’t Scott who saw her, it was the Scotts’ cook.’
The way Baumann turned his empty glass in his hands and regarded it, it looked as if he wanted another drink. ‘Well, is the woman one of those longtime retainers who’d do anything for the Scotts?’
‘Are you saying she might be lying for him?’
Viktor Baumann shrugged and set down his glass. ‘‘It’s possible, isn’t it?’
‘Highly improbable, though. I think this is an occurrence where Sherlock Holmes must be right: the most likely explanation is the simplest one.’
‘I couldn’t disagree more. You don’t seem to be open to all of the possibilities.’
Jury said nothing, just waited for him to go on, which he clearly wanted to do.
‘You’ve been taken in by him, Superintendent. Declan Scott is very plausible.’ Baumann slapped the arms of his chair as prelude to rising from it.
‘I haven’t met Mr. Scott.’
‘Well, if you do, you’ll see what I mean. I’m sorry, but I have an appointment at ten.’ He moved to a cupboard, took out a coat.
Jury had also risen and watched him buttoning the coat. It was a black chesterfield, single breasted, velvet collar. Jury hadn’t seen an overcoat like this in quite awhile, certainly not on his own back.
Still on the subject of Declan Scott, Viktor Baumann said, ‘He’s too smooth for my tastes.’
Jury laughed. ‘That’s just what someone said about you. The word used was ‘silky.’’
Viktor Baumann seemed to like that description of himself. But the man was so self-referential, Jury wasn’t surprised. ‘I might want to see you again, Mr. Baumann, if you don’t mind. I think you would want to know of any developments, in case this does have to do with your daughter.’
Jury bowed a bit farther into diffidence. ‘Do you think I could have a closer look at your coin collection?’
Baumann frowned, then brightened. ‘Oh, you mean the ones out there? Of course. I’ll just tell Grace’- he frowned -’no, on second thought ... ‘ He took a card from the small silver stand on his desk, then grabbed up the black pen in the holder, turned the card over and jotted a note. He handed it to Jury. ‘Grace tends to be a bit possessive. I’d rather not get into this with her. Just tell her what you want and give this to her. Otherwise she’ll spend ten minutes thinking up reasons why she can’t unlock the glass.’ Baumann opened the door. ‘I’ll see you again, Superintendent. Grace will see to it.’ He nodded and walked out.
Grace’s eyebrows did their little dance upward in question. Jury handed her the card. ‘I just wanted to get a closer look at some of those coins.’
The card having directed her to see to his wishes, she crimped her mouth, took keys out of a drawer, rose and went to the glass doors, which she unlocked. She handed him back the little card as if she had no interest in Jury’s curiosity.
Jury had absolutely no interest in hers, or in the coins. He had simply wanted to leave Baumann on a friendly note. She stood at his elbow as he looked at the coins.
‘I shouldn’t pick those up if I were you,’ said Grace. ‘Mr. Baumann is extremely careful of his coins. They’re quite valuable.’
Given that the card had told her to give him every assistance, Jury considered taking her to task but decided it would be a waste of his time. ‘Thank you,’ he said, stepping back.
She locked the doors in a self-important manner. Then the keeper of the coins smiled thriftily and showed Jury the door.
The anonymity of train rides had always appealed to Jury. There were few other passengers in his car and he sat awhile just enjoying the emptiness of the Great Western experience.
He had brought along the Emily Dickinson book and as he read the poems he wondered what it must be like to have the kind of perception she had. It must hurt like hell; it must be intensely painful; it must be like cutting your teeth on glass. But at least you were awake. There had been too many times in the last few weeks he felt as if he were sleepwalking through life.
When the train stopped at Pewsey, a tired-looking woman with three small children got on and settled them down in the four seats with a table between. The youngest of the three clamped his huge eyes on Jury, across the aisle.
Jury closed his own eyes, having marked his place in the book with his plastic tea stirrer. He hoped to discourage the staring child. He leaned his head against the window. He did not want to connect with anyone. He was tired. He stayed this way for a minute, uncomfortable with his head on the cold glass, then righted himself and opened the book again.
Physically, he had recuperated from the shooting. It had been two months, after all. But mentally he found himself too often still lying on that dock on the Thames, wondering what in hell had brought him to that pass. He read: ‘Of all the souls that stand create, I have elected one. When sense from spirit files away, And subterfuge is done.’
‘And subterfuge is done.’ What a wonderful line. Who Emily elected would remain forever a mystery. Now, if he were to elect one, who would it be? His mind went blank. Then into this blankness came a face that took him utterly by surprise. A woman he had never considered and now he wondered how he could have missed it, a woman extricating herself from the shadows on numerous occasions, then drifting back into them. Why would she, of all the women he knew, come to mind? He nearly laughed aloud at this discovery. He opened his eyes to find he was still the center of interest both to the boy and now the mother sitting across from him. He had never known such intransigent stares. And neither could be dissuaded by Jury’s returning their adamantine looks. Their faces looked struck in marble.
He could move. Yet it embarrassed him to resort to moving. He got a fresh cup of tea from the trolley server and tried to think about Macalvie’s missing child, but he didn’t have enough details to come up with anything. He could only think this child had been taken by someone, a woman, perhaps, who had lost a child herself and was desperate to replace hers. Either that or the ex-husband, Viktor Baumann. He hated to think of the alternatives. What better place to steal a child than an enormous, open series of gardens with plenty of places to hide?
He should stop speculating; he hadn’t enough information even to do that.
Instead, he thought about Emily Dickinson. ‘When sense from spirit files away, And subterfuge is done.’ To take off the mask, to forgo pretense, to put your cards on the table. To have done with smoke and mirrors .... He rested his head against the back of the seat and fell asleep.
He must have slept through Exeter, for the next thing he knew the conductor was coming through announcing St. Austell. Jury gathered up his coat, paper and book. Now that he was leaving, the woman across from him finally closed her eyes; the little boy turned away.
Jury stepped down to the platform, looked around and saw a young man walking toward him, tallish, wiry, wearing dark glasses.
‘I’m DS Platt, sir,’ said the detective and led Jury to a Ford Escort that, even in its lack of identification, seemed to scream police police police! Maybe Jury had simply ridden in too many Fords over the years.
‘Commander Macalvie thought you should see the place where the little Baumann girl disappeared - Flora. The Lost Gardens of Heligan it’s called. A fascinating place. The girl was taken somewhere around a part called the Crystal Grotto. Her mother had been ahead of her. She’d lost sight of her for only a few minutes.’
‘Fine with me, Sergeant Platt. Incidentally, what’s your first name?’
‘Cody.’ Then, as if it were a name to be explained, Platt said, ‘Mum was very fond of American westerns. ‘Cody’ was the name of some cowboy or other. I used to play at being a cowboy, had a silver gun and fringed jacket and boots. The boss likes to call me that, ‘cowboy,’ I mean.’
‘Sounds like him.’ Jury laughed.
DS Platt seemed to like that response. ‘Anyway, I think Commander Macalvie wants you to get the whole picture of these events. Chronologically, that is. For the London train, St. Austell’s a lot closer than anyplace else. And Heligan’s near Mevagissey. Launceston’s a good bit farther north. I’m to drive you; the boss said he’d be meeting you in a pub in South Petherwin. That’s just this side of Launceston.’
Jury did not take in this complicated geography, but he knew he would get here and there in good time. He pulled his door shut and Platt backed up and drove out of the car park, feeding the Ford Escort into one of St. Austell’s twisted and hilly streets.
Jury said, ‘The whole picture, you said. So he thinks there is a whole picture?’
‘The disappearance of little Flora and this murder? He does, yes.’
‘And what do you think?’
Platt seemed a little surprised at being consulted. ‘Do you mean, do I think it’s all part of one case? Well, yes. This woman who was murdered had gone to Angel Gate - the Scott estate before. Apparently, she was a friend of Mary Scott. Or an acquaintance. More likely, an acquaintance.’
‘Couldn’t the husband sort that?’
‘He doesn’t - didn’t - know the dead woman. Saw her once with his wife, he says, in London, but doesn’t know who she was.’
‘Hm.’ Jury sat back and sleepily regarded the scenery, pleasant enough, but unimpressive. But then with Cornwall it was the coast, wasn’t it? Not the interior.
They were soon pulling into the Heligan gardens’ large car park, which was posted with signs directing cars and buses to their correct parking areas. Jury was glad that it wasn’t summer. There’d be a mob. Tour buses, crowds. Platt parked beside a gray Plymouth. There were few cars.
They were out of the car now, standing there.
‘The mother died soon after the daughter vanished?’ Sergeant Platt nodded. ‘Six months later. She was only thirty-nine.’
‘What killed her?’
Platt looked around the car park as if he was hoping Mary Scott would step out of that old gray Plymouth over there, or the Morris Minor, or the sleek black BMW. ‘A broken heart, I shouldn’t wonder.’ He looked at Jury, sadly. ‘Of course, they say you can’t die of that, can you?’
His look was alarmingly sorrowful. Jury put his hand on Platt’s shoulder. ‘Don’t you believe it, Sergeant. You knew her, then?’
‘Yes. I kept in touch, see. I knew Mary - Mrs. Scott, I mean - pretty well. And Flora, too.’
Jury watched his face. ‘You were fond of them.’
Platt nodded, looking off across the car park, merely nodding. Jury said he’d like to see this Crystal Grotto on his own, if Platt didn’t mind. On the contrary, the sergeant seemed relieved not to have to accompany him and told Jury he’d wait in the cafe near the gift shop. He could do with a cup of tea, he said, reminding Jury of Wiggins, who was supposed to follow Jury here the next day.
He walked up a path to the kiosk where the tickets were sold and where a youngish man was puttering about. Jury took out his ID and the fellow looked wide-eyed at him, impressed.
‘I’ll need a map of the gardens. I expect you have them here. I’m looking for the Crystal Grotto - I think that’s the name.’
The ticket seller handed one over and gave him brief directions. ‘And you’ve got your map ... ‘ He looked at Jury as if he couldn’t quite believe he wouldn’t be whisked there on some magic carpet, but instead was going to find his own way. Strange.
Jury saluted, touching his forehead with the map and walked on. A mountainous rhododendron, ten times as tall as Jury, marked the entrance to the northern garden. In here, along the path, there was silence, deep silence, as if it too had been carved out of the garden ruins and restored. When he saw sunlight caught in the net of the branches he suddenly remembered the friend of his mother’s, the watercolorist who’d gone blind. He remembered sitting with her in the little park across the street from her terraced house. On a little farther, through the latticed opening of intertwining branches, he spied a sculpture of a small girl up on her toes, who appeared to be caught executing one of those difficult moves in ballet and his mind flew immediately to Elicia Deauvilleto her or to the false memory of her and her dancing on the other side of that wall of his terraced house, his childhood home. But his cousin had pretty much annihilated memories of his childhood, rendering them nugatory, or at best, suspect, memories to be taken out, exposed to the light of day to see how they held up. That wartime episode in Devon, the beach, the collapsed fences, the ginger-haired girl. Oh, but she had to have been real - the taunter, the teaser, the nemesis of all little boys-made, she must have been, for that purpose. And her hair, her flaming hair - surely, that had been real. He seemed to be going along in fits and starts, his mind stumbling, lurching in and out of these fretful scenes, trying to keep its balance. And he thought that’s what life was - trying to keep one’s balance.
Yet he hadn’t stopped; he hadn’t even slowed. His pace along the path was even. There was no one else; Jury’s feet alone crunched on the gravel. There was no sound except for a bird somewhere above him.
All of this had taken less than five minutes when he came upon steps going down. They were moss covered, soft and a bit slippery. The Crystal Grotto was situated at the bottom of these steps. According to Platt, Flora Scott had last been seen by her mother in front of this small cave. He wondered if Flora had gone inside the grotto to look, for the way the grotto was described made it sound quite romantic; pieces of crystal were embedded in the roof and back when the gardens flourished, the owners would set candles all about and the light from the candles would reflect on the crystals.
Mary Scott had apparently gone on ahead and around shrubberies that would have blocked her view of the grotto. But if it had been only a minute or two until she realized Flora was not behind her, whoever took the little girl had to have been following them and had to be very quick. Jury didn’t see how this person could have been waiting in this spot, for Heligan’s gardens were vast and she (Jury imagined it was a woman) wouldn’t have known Mary and Flora would come this way.
He or she could have known, however, that they often visited here. If that was the case, it might not have been random. Which would seem to leave it at someone who knew them and meant to take Flora and not just any little girl. If it was Viktor Baumann, though, how could he have hidden the child for the three years since her abduction? There was nothing more to be seen at the site of a three-year-old crime. If indeed it had been a crime.
His name was Marvin Griswold and he’d been working here in several capacities for more than four years. The ticket kiosk was only one of them.
‘Well, it’s hard to remember that far back, three years, I mean, remember exactly what the circumstances were,’ said
Marvin Griswold in answer to Jury’s question about the disappearance of Flora Scott. ‘Of course I remember the incident. I mean, it was in all the papers. It was very dramatic. For six months after you could hardly get near the Crystal Grotto. People can be such ghouls, can’t they? But do I remember seeing them - her and her mother on that particular day? No, I don’t. It must have been someone else in the kiosk when they came.’
He sounded a little resentful as if someone else was having all the fun.
Jury thought about the geography of the gardens. ‘Anyone entering comes by your kiosk to get a ticket?’
‘Yes. It’s not exactly a ticket; it’s one of these pins.’ He held out a small metal tab that a visitor would affix to a jacket or coat.
Griswold shook his head. ‘Not unless they come back by the same way. More likely, they’d come out by way of one of the other paths, such as behind the gift shop over there’ - he waved his hand in that direction, past Jury’s back. ‘There are several ways that lead to here.’
‘And the Scott woman would have had a map.’
Marvin blew out his cheeks in thoughtful contemplation. ‘I expect so. We always hand over a map with the pin. But she might not have bothered with one if she and the little girl visited often.’
‘When you didn’t see her return, didn’t you wonder?’
‘No, because as I’ve just told you, there are a number of exits.’
‘Which also means there are a number of entrances. From the gardens to here, to the buildings, such as the gift shop. But there’s only one exit back to the road. Through the car park.’
‘Yes, for the visitors. Of course there are other roads the workmen use. As to what you’re calling a number of entrances, theoretically, yes. But people don’t do that, do they? Try to sneak in. I mean, not into a place such as Heligan. It’s not a cinema or a Stones concert, is it?’
‘No,’ said Jury, smiling.
Marvin sighed. ‘You know, I’ve already been questioned by police, and more than once.’
‘But not by me.’ Jury gestured in good-bye. ‘Thanks for your help.’
Sergeant Platt was sitting on one of the wooden benches with a cup of tea when Jury walked into the cafe.
‘You found it?’ Platt said.
That made Jury smile for some reason. It was as if the grotto had a tendency to move around. ‘I did, yes. I can’t say I’m much enlightened by the find, though.’
‘Yes, well, the boss just wanted to put you in the picture, you know. He was talking about atmosphere. Having a look round. You know.’ Platt frowned a little, seemingly pained by his not finding exactly the right words to describe what Macalvie had meant.
‘And he was right. I should see it; I’m glad I did. Enlightenment, let’s hope, will come some time down the way.’
‘You want some tea or something?’
‘I could use some food. Maybe we can just move along to Launceston. ‘
‘Right. South Petherwin, actually. A little village before Launceston. There’s a pub there.’
Good. A pub lunch. Jury was starving. Except for those dozen or so cups of tea, he’d had nothing all day. ‘Fine.’
The Winds of Change was located in the village of South Petherwin and, given the size of the car park, was set up for a brisk business. The lack of it was probably owing to the time of year or the time of day. At the car park’s far end, a large space was marked off for tour buses. Jury wondered what it was about the village that would attract tourists.
Brian Macalvie, who had driven there from Devon and Cornwall police headquarters, was sitting at the bar, drinking, smoking and watching the door. When Jury and Platt walked in, he waved them over as if picking them out over the heads of a crowd and as if he’d been sitting here for hours - days, even - waiting for the congenitally late.
Jury sat down and pulled out the menu. Cody ordered a club soda.
‘What took you so long?’ asked Macalvie.
Cody opened his mouth to answer, but Jury got there ahead of him. ‘Most people say a simple ‘Hello, how are you?’ when greeting old friends. Your standard greeting has always been ‘What took you so long?’’
Macalvie drank from his pint and stared at Jury, expressionless. Jury repeated it: ‘Every time it’s ‘what took you so long?’’ Macalvie wiped a trace of foam from his mouth. ‘What did?’
Cody’s snort of laughter got him club soda up the nose. Then he said, ‘My fault, boss; I let him go off.’
‘Me, the old pensioner leaning on his zimmer bar.’
To Cody, Macalvie said, ‘You were supposed to show him the place, not let him go wandering all over.’
Cody mumbled some half-baked apology and took his club soda into the room on the left with a billiard table.
Jury looked around for the barman. ‘I’m glad this is a pub. I’m starving.’
‘Lunch has gone off.’
‘Oh, terrific.’ When the barman came, Jury asked for a pint of Pride and tossed the menu aside, saying, ‘Let me get this straight. You discovered this dead woman is - was - an acquaintance of Scott’s wife, Mary, according to the husband?’
‘Declan Scott. The one I told you about. You’d wonder he could live there with so many memories.’ As if he knew the limit on memories, Macalvie looked away. ‘He wants to be where the memories are.’
‘Does anyone have a choice?’
There came a click of billiard balls from the room next door.
The barman set down Jury’s pint.
‘Probably not. But don’t some people feed on them?’ said Macalvie.
Jury thought Macalvie might be one of them. ‘Perhaps. And this is the man you want me to talk to?’
‘Didn’t you say you didn’t like him for this murder?’
Macalvie shook his head. ‘I don’t. I don’t think he did it, but I can’t point to any hard evidence. He certainly doesn’t have an alibi. He was alone, asleep.’
‘But you think this case is connected to the disappearance of the little girl. Flora?’ Jury drank his beer, hoping it would fill him up.
Macalvie nodded, staring at the row of optics as if the name were so potent he had to find an antidote. When Macalvie didn’t go on, Jury had to prompt him. ‘She was four? Five?’
‘Four.’ Macalvie cleared his throat.
A brief answer, as if brevity could block out some part of this bleak scene. Again, Jury prompted him. ‘She was abducted from a point around this Crystal Grotto. Correct?’ Jury was trying to coax him into responsiveness. Seldom did he have to do that.
Macalvie’s eyes were now on the rings his glass was sweating onto the old bar. He pulled over a coaster advertising Johnnie Walker Black and slid it carefully beneath the pint. ‘Flora - ‘ Again, Macalvie cleared his throat. ‘Flora and her mother liked to walk there. On this particular day - well, it was no different from the rest - at one point Flora got a little way behind her mother on the walk. Mum had gone round to look at some New Zealand plants for a few moments and then realized Flora wasn’t right there. But she didn’t panic; the girl was quite familiar with the layout and she was used to Flora’s stopping along the way, just as she herself did. She called her name. No answer. She went on calling, retracing her steps and still no answer. Then she got anxious, then frightened. This had now been going on for a good ten minutes and of course those gardens are immense. She stopped people, asked them if they’d seen a little girl on her own, but no one had. Finally, she got hold of some of the staff and told them and they in turn got one of the administrators, who immediately called the local police. Before they came, the staff was searching, even some of the visitors were on the lookout. Cody can give you details about the search. This was three years ago. He was a DC then, detective constable.
‘There were a lot of tourists, which made the search that much harder. Anyone could have come in, seen her alone and snatched her.’
‘She would have resisted - yelled, screamed, something.’
‘‘Probably. But how many times have you seen a parent pulling a crying, screaming child along. Last time you were in a Safeway, maybe? Mum looking stony, or maybe a dad trying to cajole the kid, and he or she keeps on yelling? I see you don’t like that theory.’
Jury had been shaking his head. ‘There has to be something seriously different about those instances and this one. Flora would have been yelling for help. I’m not saying a snatch wasn’t possible, but it’s probably more likely she was drugged, chloroformed, maybe. And then something got thrown around her - a coat, a shawl. Then she could have just been carted out like a sleeping child, head over the perp’s shoulder.’
Macalvie stirred his coffee. ‘You’re good at this; maybe you should do it for a living.’
‘There being no ransom demand finally made Mary Scott think it was the ex-husband, Viktor Baumann.’
‘I talked to him. I couldn’t come to any conclusion. I mean other than that he’s arrogant and a number of other things.’
‘Back then he looked like a dead cert. Another possibility was it was one of those snatches that happen when the perp, who’s nine times out of ten a woman, wants the baby, not the money. So there wasn’t much we could do. Hell, there wasn’t anything we could do because the trail stopped.
‘Mary Scott blamed herself for letting Flora out of her sight.
Parents always seem to do that, don’t they? I told her there’s no way you can watch your child twenty-four hours a day. No way. If someone was determined to take Flora they would have found a dozen ways to do it.’
Macalvie was silent for a moment, then he said, ‘The dead woman looked familiar to Scott himself and that’s when he remembered seeing her once with his wife in London. He and Mary had driven up for the day to do Christmas shopping. They booked a room at Brown’s. They returned the next day. Scott had been visiting the galleries, looking for a painting to give his wife. He found one, probably set him back a year’s salary - I mean, for you, not me –’
‘- and when he walked into Brown’s, he saw Mary sitting in the lounge having tea with a woman he didn’t know. He didn’t want to intrude, and besides, he didn’t want her to see what he was carrying - obviously a painting, given the shape and size of the parcel - so he fixed it up with one of the porters to wrap it in some unrecognizable form and stash it in the trunk of their car, which they hadn’t been using anyway. When he finally went back to the lounge, they were gone. That was near five o’clock. Mary must have gone out again, for he didn’t see her until after six; she said she’d been at Fortnum’s and in Jermyn Street. She held up one of those little Links bags. He asked her who her friend was and she played dumb at first, as if she didn’t know what he was talking about. When he said he’d seen her in the lounge, having tea, well, then, she snapped her mental fingers and said, oh, yes. An old school chum she’d run into purely by accident. He asked her from where and she trotted out Roedean.’
‘What was her name?’
Macalvie shook his head. ‘Mary Scott didn’t say. And her husband didn’t ask. He said if she’d wanted to tell him she would have. Scott’s got a real feeling for others’ privacy.’
‘And the husband is the only one you’ve questioned who made any connection?’
Macalvie nodded. ‘The police photo didn’t register with anyone at Roedean; no one remembered the woman. Why would she lie about that, something we could so easily check up on?’
‘She didn’t think there would be any reason to check up. She didn’t know there would be a murder on her grounds.’
‘No, of course.’ Macalvie shrugged. ‘So where’s Wiggins?’
‘He’ll be here.’
Macalvie had always liked Sergeant Wiggins, to Jury’s great surprise.
Macalvie called to Cody and slapped down a tenner. While the bartender made change, he said, ‘Let’s see how I relate, then, to the next one. A Dora Stout. She was the Scotts’ cook for thirty years.’
Platt had moved rather languidly to the bar and said, ‘You really want me to come, boss? I mean, three people, that might intimidate her.’
‘I’m sure. No, I want you to call her.’
Cody nodded and pulled a cell phone from an inside pocket. From his own pocket, Macalvie drew a crumpled bit of paper, smoothed it a little and handed it to Cody. ‘Tell her we’ll be there in five minutes.’
As Cody moved away to make the call, Macalvie and Jury headed for the door. ‘I don’t like this case.’
‘I’ve never known you to like any case. I’ve never known me to like any case. This woman, this former cook, any particular reason you want to talk to her?’
‘Background noise,’ Macalvie said as they got into the car.
Tiny Meadows was a clutch of houses in South Petherwin along the Launceston road and only a short distance from the pub. They could easily have walked; Jury said so.
‘Does that set the right tone, Jury? Police arriving on foot?’
‘‘Since when did you ever care about setting a tone?’ said Jury as they got out of another police-issue blue Ford.
The house was small and trim. A dog barked when Macalvie tapped on the door with the brass dolphin knocker.
Dora Stout and her dog came to the door. Jury couldn’t decide which of them was more eager to see police, given the wide smile and the tail wagging. Dora, true to her name, was a chubby woman, her round midsection set on her wide hips. Her thinning gray hair was brushed up in a cloud rather like a whipped custard. She did indeed make one think of food.
Both Macalvie and Jury pulled out identification, but Dora wouldn’t fuss over trifles such as that; she waved them in merrily and directed them to easy chairs covered in a pattern of wildflower bouquets. On the back of the chairs were antimacassars. The dog, whom she called Horace, lay down in front of the little gas fire, but kept his eyes moving from Jury to Macalvie, back and forth.
‘It was my arthritis, see,’ she said in answer to Macalvie’s question, ‘made me give it up. I can’t get around as I used to and my hands some mornings ache something fierce.’ She held them up as testimony. ‘So when they don’t hurt so bad, I like to get my baking done. I’ve just popped some scones into the oven.’
‘I know,’ said Jury, ‘I can smell them; they smell wonderful.’
At this point, Horace’s dinner would have smelled wonderful. ‘I hope they’re done before we leave.’ In this hungry frame of mind, Jury could understand Wiggins’s yearning after every Happy Eater they passed.
Macalvie just looked at him, but Dora was delighted.
‘If you don’t arrest me, I’ll give you the lot.’ She laughed at her joke.
‘I’d guarantee, said jury, you’ll remain a free woman.
‘Jury,’ said Macalvie, ‘do you mind?’ He shifted to Dora Stout.
‘We’re trying to identify this woman, Mrs. Stout.’ He slid the police photo out of the envelope. ‘She was, apparently, a friend or an acquaintance of Mary Scott.’ He handed her the picture.
Dora shook her head and looked pityingly at the victim. ‘Poor thing. Awful. Yes, I read about it. Shocking thing. You want to know if that’s the woman who came that one day to see Mary Scott. Yes, this is her.’ Dora leaned back, holding the picture at arm’s length, her glasses perched on her nose. ‘Not much on looks, was she?’ Dora handed back the picture.
‘You might tell Superintendent Jury what you know about her.’
‘It was over two years ago, no, nearer three, some months before Mary’ - Dora took a handkerchief from some hidden place – ‘before she died. Right before then. The only reason I saw this person at all was because I thought it was Miss Owen - the new cook - who rang and I was just going along the hall to answer the door. But Mary Scott was there herself. I just got a glimpse of her’ - she pointed to the photo - ‘before they turned and went out.’
‘Did they leave? I mean, drive off?’
‘They could’ve done, but I paid no attention. Now I wish I had.’
Hearing possible tears in his mistress’s voice, the dog shifted his eyes to her and then abruptly back to Macalvie and Jury, looking as if he meant to fix the source of her trouble.
‘That family,’ she went on, ‘had more tragedy than it needed, it did indeed. And now this.’
‘Flora, you’re thinking of?’ said Macalvie.
‘The poor little girl. And them never to know why. That’s an awful thing.’
They were in the Winds of Change again, this time drinking coffee. Cody was once again in the billiards room. There was still no food, evening meals not being up yet. Jury was working on a bowl of pretzels. He was talking about the shooting in Hester Street and Johnny Blakeley’s ongoing investigation.
‘Shot in the back. A little kid. Christ.’
‘There seems to be a field day with little kids where this Baumann is concerned.’
‘Blakeley’s a good cop. He’s tenacious.’
Jury laughed. ‘That’s just what he said about you.’ Macalvie was eating the pretzels. ‘Leave some for me, damn it. I haven’t eaten all day.’
‘Get Scott’s housekeeper to rustle you up something. She’s a hell of a cook.’
‘Yes, sure.’ Jury drained his coffee. ‘Scott’s a sad man but a great host.’
‘This is hardly host - guest stuff we’re doing.’
‘Go talk to him.’ Macalvie looked at Jury. ‘I mean, as soon as you’re finished with that pretzel.’
Ten minutes later, Jury and Cody Platt were back on the A30. As they passed the Little Chef, he felt exactly as he imagined Wiggins must feel, taunted by the promise of cups of tea and beans on toast. Except for Wiggins, it was more of a soul hunger than an actual one. Jury wasn’t about to split hairs over this; he told Cody Platt to stop at the next Little Chef or even one of those caravans set up by the side of the road.
Twenty miles later, Cody pulled into the car park of a Little Chef.
Inside, with a plate of nearly everything on the menu in front of him, Jury asked Cody about the investigation into the disappearance of Flora Scott.
Cody was drinking tea and occasionally taking a bite of toast.
‘Times I thought it was.’
‘A disappearance. It was like she vanished into thin air. It was like a magic act.’ Cody had pushed his dark glasses up on his head. It was the first time Jury had actually seen his eyes. They were a disconcerting stone color, as if light had leached the color from them. Yet they were neither cold nor hard; it was as if the eyes felt this loss of color, as one might feel the loss of a person, and were saddened by it.
The waitress - Joanie, according to the name on the button on her collar - came with more tea and coffee. She smiled as if this were the greatest thing that had happened during her shift. Jury returned the smile. Walking away from the booth, she stumbled into a table.
Cody went on. ‘The Scott family must have had a lot of pull in the county. The grandmother, Alice Miers, lives in London, and she came straightaway. She was like a rock, you know, one of those people every family should have. I think Mary would have flown into little bits if her mum hadn’t been there. Anyway, I’ve never seen so many police called to one scene. There must’ve been seventy-five, a hundred of us going over every inch of Heligan gardens and that grotto. We found sod-all, not a hair ribbon, not a kicked-off shoe lost in a struggle - there always seems to be a little shoe left behind in films, doesn’t there? Or a little blue purse the mother said she was carrying. Not even that turned up. I would’ve thought she’d’ve dropped something like that.’
‘Your abductor would have picked it up.’
‘I expect so.’ He shoved the plate of toast to one side and was leaning over the shiny surface of the table, hands folded, working his fingers, as if this account were told in deepest confidence. ‘I concentrated on the grotto, thinking that would be a good spot to grab someone because it’s not immediately visible. You remember three or four steps going down -’ Here he walked his fingers on the table, simulating the steps taken. ‘The grotto would have been the spot Mary Scott had just passed, maybe twenty, thirty feet behind her. I have my own theory about that, anyway.’
‘What?’ Jury was polishing off the last of his eggs.
‘Less than a couple of minutes had passed since Mary had been with Flora, had seen her, not more than that before she looked around, saw Flora wasn’t with her and retraced her steps. What she said was she remembered last seeing Flora on the other side of the grotto, so, of course, she hurried back that way. I think the villain was inside the grotto with Flora, Flora either being chloroformed or his hand over her mouth to shut her up.’
Jury frowned. ‘It’s not deep enough, is it, to hide a person? What’s Macalvie think about that?’
Codv sighed and sat back in the booth. ‘The boss would agree with you; he thinks they would’ve been seen. But not necessarily, I said to him, not if the mother was rushing by. It might have given this creep a better chance of disguising Flora, I mean, getting her into another coat, something different.’
Jury put his fork down. He was still hungry. He pushed back his plate and considered ordering more. His coffee cup was nearly full. All he lacked now was a cigarette. He had never experienced the advantages of not smoking. To hear the propaganda, the lungs would expand, the scent of roses and violets become denser, the taste of peppermint sharper, the air clearer, the rain more crystalline and the bloody fields more Elysian. The clouds, he supposed, fluffier. The only benefit that he could testify to was that he could say he was no longer killing himself with nicotine. Not that this wasn’t important; it was just abstract. And when, he wondered, had he become so obsessed with creaturely comforts?
‘Do you smoke?’
‘What? Smoke? No. I stopped a few years back.’ Jury very nearly lunged forward. ‘Horrible, isn’t it?’
Cody looked blankly at him. ‘Not really. After a few weeks, I hardly noticed.’ He shrugged. ‘Why?’
Jury leaned back in the booth, stymied. How could you trust a man who stopped smoking without a tremor, a man who could order a plain round of toast with his tea? You wouldn’t catch Sergeant Wiggins nibbling on a piece of toast without beans on it. Never. Did Cody Platt spearhead a new race of men who could cut themselves and not bleed? Who could expunge their bad habits without any sense of loss whatever? He bet Cody showed up bright and early at the gym to do his hundred pushups and an hour on the treadmill, then bench-press (was that the word?) several hundred pounds while he balanced a ball on his toes with a dog sitting on it.
Come on, come on, come on, man, Jury chided himself. Jury asked, ‘Did you have much contact with the Scotts after this search was over?’
‘With Mary - Mrs. Scott-yes, I guess I did. Keep up the contact, I mean.’
Jury noticed the given name correction. Throughout this conversation, Cody had been calling her Mary. What was that about?
Cody went on. ‘I never saw a woman more destroyed. The thing is she blamed herself, as if she should have been holding her daughter’s hand every second, but, well, you can’t do that, can you? You can’t hold your kid’s hand every step of the way.’
‘No, you can’t. What contact did you have with Mary Scott?’
‘I was assigned to the house with some others. You know-the aftermath of a kidnapping with calls being monitored waiting for the bugger to call. I didn’t man the phones. I was just general dogsbody, somebody to brew the coffee and run errands. Even the cook was put out of commission because of what had happened; even the maid was said to be prostrated because of it. She’s not there anymore, the maid. For God’s sakes, I always had the impression staff was supposed to carry on no matter what.’
‘A myth, I imagine. What about Declan Scott? Did he carry on?’
‘He did, actually. He did.’ Cody sat back, frowning, as if he were trying to work out how the stepfather could possibly have the presence of mind to ‘carry on.’
‘Somebody had to, Cody. There had to be someone who could answer questions, who could take directions if and when this person called.’
Cody thought for a moment. ‘I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, making coffee. She – Mary - came in. Their kitchen is huge; it’s one of those that seem designed for a staff of fifty to do enormous dinner parties. Anyway, she’d sit down on a high stool and tell me stories about Flora: Flora at two, somersaulting in the gardens; Flora at four, insisting Declan take the goat out of the farmer’s fenced-in acres. That sort of thing, on and on. Flora was so pretty. She had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. Cornflower blue, as blue as the dress she wore.’
‘You must have been a godsend, somebody for Mary Scott to talk to.’
‘But it wasn’t, in a sense, real. Mary wasn’t all there. She was living on another plane altogether.’
‘Denial, I suppose. Still, you seemed to feel you knew her.’
‘Yes.’ He fiddled with the menu, removing it from its chrome fixture. ‘She didn’t talk only about Flora; she talked a lot about herself, too, and Declan Scott, how he really loved Flora. He wanted to adopt her, but the father - this Baumann-more or less told Scott to F-off.’ He repositioned the menu in its holder.
‘You know about him?’
Jury nodded. ‘A colleague, a DI with the pedophilia unit’s been after him for some time.’
‘What must it be like, to lose both your wife and your daughter? Declan Scott must have felt bankrupt.’
‘It’s Fitzgerald who said that, wasn’t it? The point at which one stops feeling because his feelings are spent. Emotionally bankrupt, that’s how he described his characters. I don’t believe it; there’s always an account that you can draw on. Always. I’m not sure whether that’s a blessing, though. Having despair be just around the corner.’
Cody looked down at his uninviting empty cup and was silent for some moments. Finally, he said, ‘Maybe I should have got something to eat.’ He looked at Jury as if assessing whether the superintendent would fall in with this plan.
Jury almost laughed at the level of concentration Cody was applying to this matter. ‘Go ahead. I’m not in any hurry.’
The waitress wandered over - wandering between tables and chairs was the only way to put it - and Jury noticed for the first time the ring on her finger. It was a diamond cut to its last facet, so tiny one might have thought the jeweler was splitting the atom. ‘I like your ring,’ he said. ‘I like the setting, too. It’s beautiful.’
Her blush was almost feverish. ‘I only just got it last night.’
She stretched her arm out for them to admire it from afar. ‘If I seem a bit dim, well, you know ... ‘ But her dimness went unembroidered with explanation.
‘Not dim. Merely distracted, and you should be. Now, my friend here wants to order something else.’
‘Beans on toast, I think.’ What else? Jury smiled.
‘And more tea?’ she asked, sunnily. As if the mere prospect of another cup were cause for celebration. Cody nodded and she thanked him. Then she was off, to stumble and nearly fall when one in a row of high chairs caught her foot.
Jury watched her cut a swath of near accidents across the room, then turned to Cody and said, ‘What was Flora like? Was she a smart kid? Sweet?’
Cody’s clear eyes grew troubled, like troubled water, a disturbance beneath their surface. ‘Oh, she was smart all right.’ He smiled. ‘But I don’t know as you’d call her sweet. She was kind of stubborn.’
‘She was four years old. ‘Stubborn’ goes with the territory.’
The waitress was setting down his plate of beans and toast with a flourish and a‘Ta-dah!’ She had apparently traded distraction for entertainment. Cody thanked her and she walked off, much more steady on her feet, like a sailor who’d finally learned the trick of it.
Jury watched Cody fork up the beans. So he did have his little indulgences. ‘You don’t smoke. Do you drink?’
‘No. I stopped that too.’ Cody shoved up his glasses and leaned toward Jury and said with an intense whisper. ‘I’m an alcoholic and believe me, it’s hell, pure and simple. Never a day goes by I don’t want it. It’s sheer hell.’
The corners of Jury’s mouth wanted to creep upward, but he pulled them down.
Inwardly, he smiled. Cody redeemed.
Jury liked Detective Sergeant Platt, but he didn’t want Cody with him when he visited the Angel Gate gardens any more than he had in the Heligan gardens. He wanted silence; he wanted to absorb whatever there might be in its sunken history, for he knew even without seeing the place where the body had lain that its history was going to hold some key to the solution. This was not his intuition, and it certainly wasn’t a brilliant deduction. It was simple: either someone had wanted to make a ‘statement’ (that overused concept!) by killing this woman here-thus the ‘here’ was significant-or else the killer had little choice but to do it here, which might mean the killer probably had been in the house or the gardens to begin with.
It was okay with Cody if Jury wanted to walk about on his own.
‘I need to get some things done anyway. Over there’ - he pointed to the white caravan off in the distance - ‘is our incidents room. We could have set up inside the house but the boss didn’t want to do that.’ He turned to Jury. ‘And he told me to assist you in any way I can.’
‘You have done and I’ll tell him that.’ Jury thought for a moment. ‘You know how he is about a crime scene - doesn’t want anyone breathing on it?’
‘Oh, everyone knows how he is.’ Cody smiled.
So did Jury. ‘I’m worse.’
This was by no means true, but it acted as sufficient reason for Jury’s wanting to go to the bottom of the garden alone and also made Platt feel relieved that he wouldn’t have to run a Macalvie-style endurance test.
Cody had walked him from the front of the house around to the rear. He told Jury there’d been so many police about that it was hardly necessary to seek Declan Scott’s permission; he wouldn’t think anything of it if yet one more copper invaded his grounds. Then Cody left by way of a small door in the garden wall with black grillwork in the shape of an angel. Jury watched him disappear as if it were a magical effect; he couldn’t help but think again of Alice in Wonderland. The gardens, the little door, the sudden disappearance as if Cody had fallen through it. He had disappearance on the mind, he supposed, but he still wondered what fictive element there was in all this, what childhood story.
The garden wall was a faded red brick like the house itself. It was lined by broad herbaceous borders. Two or three acres were undergoing restoration; that was clear from the parts torn up and from other sections freshly planted. It was nothing like Heligan, but still a big project. It had the look of a job being directed by a landscape designer or garden architect, laid out in squares and triangles and bisected by flagged paths and studded with the occasional piece of sculpture. In the middle of the garden was a fountain, a bronze rendering of two little boys with buckets, trying to douse each other with water. One was high above the other, so the one below would have gotten a thorough dousing. It made him smile; it seemed such a whimsical piece for gardens so formally landscaped. Yet it kept to a sort of unkempt wildness; there were masses of rhododendrons in pink and white, and several with large leaves and lemon-yellow flowers. It was very early March, but he imagined that the Cornwall climate could sustain early blooming. The rhododendrons enclosed a small area that Jury thought might be a garden within a garden, perhaps the secret garden Macalvie mentioned.
Mounds of box grew around the perimeter and edged the paths. Much of the area was torn up; still, there were plantings of luminous colors-buttercup, a green-needled, red-flowered plant that Jury couldn’t identify, and a sheet of bluebells in the rhododendron garden. He thought of the little girl in Hester Street.
Jury observed all of this from the terrace, which was really the first terrace in three sloping downward; they were balustraded terraces with central steps leading down to the pool and the bronze boys. Still it was not immense, and because it was walled it seemed almost intimate. He walked down the steps and across and past the bronze boys with buckets to the bottom of the garden.
Yellow police tape served as a strange counterpoint to the tied-off plots that had been undergoing planting. And it was strange how the few steps down to the covered recess were so reminiscent of the grotto in the Lost Gardens. Jury crouched to go under the tape and went into the cold little room to see the stone bench on which the body had been found.
He looked back along the path which, in its middle part, curved around the sculpture of the boys. This covered niche was perfectly visible from the back of the house, although across a two acre distance, but still not so far as to block a view. But since the shooting had happened after dark, whether it was visible in daylight hardly mattered.
Why had this woman come for the second time? Mary Scott was dead, so who was she meeting? It must have been for that purpose, so the someone must have a connection to the house, whether living in it or not. A strange meeting spot, in any event.
Jury walked back along the path, looking at the windows, having no sense of being watched. He walked around to the front of the house, where he saw an old man bent over a wheelbarrow into which he was throwing whatever he had uprooted from whatever bit of earth he was clearing.
A Sisyphean task the old man had before him, given the general state of the land in front of the house. It looked as if it hadn’t been touched in years, and yet new shoots were still breaking through the earth, such as that iris forcing its way up through weeds. It must have been very hardy stock to begin with, hardy or so entrenched it couldn’t be stopped by time or inattention or carelessness. Beside a dry pool a miasma of pink climbing roses covered a trellis, nearly closing off the flaking benches where the occupants had once sat to enjoy the perfumed air.
The arthritic-looking gardener (for Jury assumed him to be one) with his wheelbarrow couldn’t have gotten this lot into shape in a million years. Jury supposed he was an old retainer, kept on so that he might feel useful, thus keeping at bay the end of his declining years. But he also might have been there as some sort of evidence of the past, the unchanging, changeless past.
The land here was thickly wooded. The branches of the trees on either side of what once had been a laburnum tunnel, or an avenue of chestnuts and laburnums and sycamores and oaks tangled together in so dense a canopy that the light of the afternoon sun could barely break their cover. It was inviting, at least to Jury, who liked his paths well shuttered. He walked for a short distance along this path, the path itself nearly obscured by rutted earth, tall grasses, weeds and fallen branches. Every once in a while he passed a tree whose trunk had been whitewashed with an X and Jury wondered if these trees were to be cut down, clearing the way a little. He picked at the whitewashed bark and found the paint to be old and flaking. Whoever had started the process of resurrecting this once-pretty path had forgotten it or decided not to bother.
And the avenue would have been pretty, inviting a stroll in fragrant air, the source of which Jury couldn’t determine. He supposed it was a combination of scents. He turned and walked back, seeing the path as it once was. Jury had a divining eye, an eye trained to see outlines or patterns no longer adhered to but still there, like footprints in soft earth. The white crosses, the air of mystery and the tantalizing wish to find out what lay at the end of the path and if these trees were doomed. It was odd that the gardens behind the house were to be completely overhauled by some garden architect while the front of the house was, apparently, to be left untouched, seen to by the silent, elderly gardener. Declan Scott, he thought, must want to hang on to the past, or to his origins, or to keep whatever he could from changing.
A thankless job, Mr. Scott, a thankless job.
The door was opened by a woman of late middle age whose good looks were now fading and who appeared to be doing little to stop the progress. She wore no make up except for a dab of lipstick and a boxy haircut that didn’t serve her strong, squarish face. Had it not been for the white calf-length apron that bound her more like a winding sheet than an apron, Jury would have assumed she was a relation or friend of the owner rather than a member of staff. Indeed ‘staff,’ as he understood it, had been considerably reduced; the cook was standing in for a butler or valet, who once would have been a necessary adjunct to the house in its heyday of cars and carriages, when there was a full complement of valets, cooks, housemaids. There must once have been such staff, considering the size of the place and its obvious elegance, even though it might now not be ‘kept up’ the way it once had been, very much like the woman who stood here now.
After he had identified himself - unnecessarily, for she knew who he was - the woman said she would let Mr. Scott know he was here and walked off. He waited.
To the left and right were long halls. She wore shoes with a medium heel, and Jury could hear the tap of her heels as she walked down the hall to his right and turned a corner. They were opulent, these halls, marble floored. Without her footsteps, they were also silent. He stood there hearing only the note of a thrush outside, and then he walked around the foyer. Furnishings, antique and valuable, if somewhat worn. There was a certain seediness to that wall hanging of a stalwart military figure, helmeted and upon a horse. Coin-size pieces of the velvet fabric of the tall furry helmet and of the horse’s mane had rubbed off, as if the war had gone on too long, and soldier and horse were both fading. It hung above a secretaire of mahogany and stained maple and gilt, flecks of gold missing, some of the stain worn away. Nothing here wasted or wrecked, just suffering from the slow onslaught of time.
She returned and led Jury across the foyer and along that same hall, where she stopped by the door of a large room, a library, apparently. Books lined three walls, the fourth occupied by a brownish-gold marble fireplace. A fire had been lit, fairly recently to judge from the size of the logs. She told him Mr. Scott would be here in a moment. This was accompanied by a rather tight little smile, enough of one for politeness’ sake. His first impression was that she was hostile and trying to hide it, natural enough, he thought, with police invading the household.
Declan Scott walked in, handsome and haggard. He took everything over - the fire, the furnishings and Jury himself. Jury felt an immediate empathy; he liked Scott where he stood. Such empathy worried him for objectivity could go flying out the window; that kind of response to a witness could mean trouble. But he knew at a glance what Brian Macalvie had meant about the difficulty of staying in the same room with the man for more than a few minutes, although Jury thought he himself could last a good deal longer. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d come up against someone in whom emotion was so visceral. And this despite Scott’s strange air of insularity that could even pass as indifference if one hadn’t spent a lot of years learning how to read people.
Declan Scott stood inside the room looking at Jury as if Jury were one more disappointment in a long list of them. Police, private investigators - all had failed to find the child Flora. Yet Jury suspected that Scott’s manner was not fully explained by that dreadful event nor did it account for that look that said he knew Jury would miss everything by a mile.
Declan Scott reminded Jury of Angel Gate itself, its desolate gardens, echoing halls, opulent and frayed and nearly untenanted, as if its owner had already jettisoned part of himself and gone on with this remaindered half. He had a handkerchief in his breast pocket, and if it was there for show, it was doing a poor job of it, for the corner flopped over. But Declan Scott was not for show. Jury was sure of that.
Scott held out his hand. ‘I’m sorry you had to wait; I was in the rear gardens seeing to things. Well, that’s what I call it. I’m sure my gardeners wouldn’t agree. I saw you there before. I didn’t want to disturb you.’
Jury was reminded of the man’s respect for privacy. He smiled.
‘Didn’t you wonder who I was?’
‘Oh, I knew who you were. Commander Macalvie rang me.’
He paused. ‘1 must admit to some surprise that Scotland Yard would get involved, I mean, after all of this time. Why have you?’
‘Let’s say at the behest of Commander Macalvie.’
‘Okay. We’ll say it.’ Scott smiled.
So did Jury. He had the feeling that Scott would cut through anything that struck him as not to the point. Jury went on. ‘I’m working on a case in London that might be tied to -’ He hesitated over bringing up an issue so painful.
Declan Scott helped him. ‘My stepdaughter, you mean. Flora.’
‘Yes, that’s right. Flora. There could be a connection. There Was a little girl we haven’t yet identified -’ Jury’s mind seemed to widen, taking in vast possibilities. ‘It all seems to rest on identity, doesn’t it?’
Declan raised his eyebrows. ‘Not sure I follow you, Superintendent.’
‘I’m just thinking out loud. The connection between this murdered child and Flora could be Flora’s father.’
‘Viktor Baumann?’ Declan, after motioning Jury into an armchair, sat down heavily on a sofa as if to take the weight of Baumann off his feet.
‘Did you know him - I mean, had you met him?’
‘Yes. Right after Mary and I were married. He reared his ugly head about custody of Flora. It was as if Mary’s having married again would put Flora on the auction block or something.’ Declan looked off toward one of the high windows. ‘I wanted to adopt her and Baumann wouldn’t agree to that. But - sorry, that isn’t what you wanted to talk about.’ He reached into the fireplace with a poker, shunted burnt logs and coals about in there. On the fireplace mantel was the stone figure of an angel with a broken wing, his head bent, his hand above his eyes as if he were searching for something on the ground.
‘On the contrary, it’s just what I want to talk about. Do you mind telling me what happened that day? I mean, as far as you yourself know?’
Scott leaned forward, arms on knees; he seemed to be studying the faded figure in the carpet at his feet. ‘They went to Heligan you know, the Lost Gardens - a number of times. It’s a distance, so they took the whole day and had lunch sometimes in Mevagissey or St. Austell.’
‘Was there a pattern to these excursions that somebody else might have known?’
Declan shook his head. ‘No, not really.’
‘How was your wife? I mean, did she seem, well, her usual self?’
Sitting back, he grew thoughtful. ‘The thing is, Mary hadn’t been quite her usual self for a while. I don’t mean she was moody or acting differently so that anyone would notice except for me. Anxious, I guess you’d call it. I thought it might be her heart problem that’s finally what killed her, though we neither of us thought it was immediately life threat -’ He stopped. ‘Sorry.’
‘You don’t have to apologize, Mr. Scott.’ Jury waited for a beat and then asked, ‘Do you think there’s any chance at all she was afraid that Flora might be in danger?’
Scott looked at Jury, surprised. ‘I certainly wouldn’t think so, no.’
‘We have to take into account even the most unlikely possibility. You understand. I’m sure the police questioned you pretty thoroughly.’
Scott nodded. ‘Yes.’ He ran a hand through his dark hair, then brought the hand down to the back of his neck and rubbed, as if a muscle were cramped. Then he crossed his legs and smiled. He had one of those killer smiles, especially wrenching because he didn’t often turn it on. Women must drop in their tracks when he smiled.
Jury had taken one of the police photos out of his coat pocket before removing his coat. He reached it across to Scott. ‘I don’t think you’ve seen pictures of the body -’
‘No, and I haven’t missed them, either,’ he said dryly, taking glasses out of the same pocket the handkerchief drooped from. He looked at the photo without saying anything and then returned it to Jury.
‘Have they identified her yet?’
‘Not yet. You told police she was a friend of your wife’s.’
‘That’s not exactly what I said.’ As if weary of being misquoted or misunderstood, Scott slid down a little in the chair so as to rest his head against its back.
‘An acquaintance, then?’ Jury knew what the man had told police; he just wanted to hear him say it. Things that might have been missing in the first telling (or second, or third) might turn up in a later version. People recall different things at different times and, of course, for different reasons.
‘I’m not sure; I’d definitely say acquaintance more than friend. But I had no way of knowing. I saw this woman’ - he nodded toward the photo Jury was holding - ‘only once and that was in the lounge at Brown’s Hotel. It’s one of the most popular places in London for tea and is usually crowded. She was with my wife, Mary. They were sitting across the room, in a corner. At first I thought I’d go over and say hello, but then I didn’t.’ He said this as if he wondered about his action-or inaction - and if it had made a difference, possibly even a fatal one.
Jury asked the question aloud. ‘Why didn’t you?’
‘I suppose I didn’t want to barge in, you know.’
‘Not even on your wife?’
Declan smiled. ‘Especially on my wife. She liked her privacy and she got too little of it. But the other reason was purely practical; I’d bought a painting for her as a Christmas present and I didn’t want her to know it.’ He went on. ‘Besides, they seemed to be so ... engrossed, I guess I didn’t want to disturb them.’ He ran his thumb over his forehead, moving it back and forth, as if he meant to press in some thought, or retrieve it. He looked up at Jury. ‘Perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t interrupt. I read the situation as something a little odd. Mary did not look especially happy. I simply decided to wait until she told me.’
‘But according to what you told police, she didn’t.’
‘No. She didn’t even mention it; I was the one to bring it up. All Mary said was that the woman was an old acquaintance, an old school friend. Roedean, that’s where Mary went to school. But she offered no name, and she said nothing else. Had I not said I’d seen them, I doubt she would’ve told me at all. It was disturbing because now it seemed furtive or secret, and that wasn’t like her. She was always very open with me.’
‘This woman was a classmate?’
‘I don’t know. She didn’t elaborate.’
‘The woman must have been important in your wife’s life.’
‘Because she’s been murdered.’ It was the same thing he’d said to Viktor Baumann.
‘Yes. Of course.’ Declan looked chagrined, impatient with himself. ‘Mary’s secretiveness about her should have made it obvious something about her was important. None of this makes any sense to me, Superintendent.’ His eyes were sparked by the firelight. ‘The Devon and Cornwall police went through everything belonging to my wife, even the pockets of her silk dressing gown, looking for some link to the woman. All of her papers, her old correspondence, Mary kept everything. Once a little paper fluttered to the floor from the things she was carrying and I picked it up.’ He smiled and sat back, as if comforted by the memory. ‘It was an old note I’d written to her about a dinner party: ‘Let’s go. Gilbert is serving Dover sole.’ Can you imagine holding on to such nonsense?’
It was clear the note itself might have been nonsense, but not the holding on to it. Jury smiled.
‘I mean,’ said Scott, ‘it was hardly a love letter or a ticket to Aruba.’
Jury liked the consequence of that. He smiled. ‘It might have been to her.’
Scott looked over at the fireplace, either the fire or the photograph on the mantel.
Jury said, ‘Police found nothing?’
‘Not as far as I know. They eventually found her diary, which I thought I’d hidden rather well. I stuck it in the airing cupboard. Who would look in there for such a book?’
Declan laughed and it seemed to draw him out of his melancholy mood, at least for now. ‘And I thought I was being so damned clever. See, I really couldn’t stand their reading her diary. It seemed such an invasion of privacy.’
‘It is. But in a murder investigation, there really is no privacy.
The diary didn’t say anything about this woman? Not even about the chance meeting at the hotel?’ If it was chance, thought Jury.
‘Apparently not; the police didn’t say.’
‘Didn’t you read it?’
A man who was dead serious about privacy. ‘Did you consider leaving here - you know, finding yourself a house in London, that sort of thing? Because it must be painful, living here.’
Declan looked at Jury as if the police must be dim. ‘Of course not. This is my family home. I couldn’t stand leaving here and trying to live somewhere else. I hate change. It’s like death, isn’t it?’
It was not a rhetorical question. Jury didn’t know how to answer, so he didn’t. Scott’s feelings about change accounted for the trees and paths and furnishings remaining in disrepair; it was why he kept all of his wife’s things, Jury imagined. Declan Scott was like his wife; if Jury asked him to produce the little note about Gilbert’s Dover sole right now, he bet Scott could have done so on the spot.
Declan rose and went to the bureau and the soda siphon. Turning with the decanter held aloft he said, ‘Superintendent?’
‘Yes, I think I will.’ While the drinks were being made, Jury looked at Scott and thought perhaps it was the way one comes to feel warm in freezing water. Or that Macalvie, for all this, was right and Jury had just hung on beyond that fifteen minutes, long enough to relax in the man’s company.
‘Tell me, who would get this place if you died?’
‘Now? Flora, of course.’
‘But she’s -’
‘Please don’t say she’s dead, Mr. Jury. I know that’s the most likely explanation. I hold out hope, which isn’t unreasonable, is it?’
He handed Jury his drink. ‘I mean, it depends on why she was taken, doesn’t it? For instance, if the villain here is Mary’s ex, then Flora’s somewhere safe and sound. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d heard of that sort of thing.’ Declan returned to the sofa.
‘Do you think that’s what happened?’
He studied the fire for a moment. ‘No.’ He tossed back half his drink.
Jury was surprised Scott said that. Viktor Baumann had struck him as exactly like the sort who would be behind such a plot.
‘Baumann never wanted children in the first place according to Mary.’
‘It could have been power he wanted. I don’t think the Baumanns of this world give up so easily.’ Jury wondered if Declan Scot had a clue about Johnny Blakeley’s investigation of that house in Hester Street. Or knew anything about the pedophilia charge. He doubted it, and Jury certainly wasn’t going to tell him.
‘Do you have some pictures I could see of Flora?’
Declan said, smiling, ‘Only a few hundred.’ He rose and went around the sofa to the table behind it and opened a drawer. He took out a couple of dozen and spread them on the table between them. Then he picked out a snapshot. ‘This was the latest, I took on the day’ - Declan cleared his throat - ‘she disappeared. She loved this blue dress; it was brand new and she was so afraid she’d get a spot on it she didn’t even want to sit down.’ He laughed, and picked out another snapshot. ‘Flora was three here. It was taken in Exeter at Debenhams where they had installed a Father Christmas for the kids.’
Jury studied it. Her hair was golden and curly and she had that near-ethereal beauty which seems the provenance of tiny children, a beauty unmarked and uncorrupted. Father Christmas, of whose face one could see only the eyes above the billowy white beard, looked as if, at least at the moment, he shared in this too. Jury sat back with this picture and looked at it, trying to work out what it was that was so affecting. It was the essence of childhood, even his own, though his own had been so knocked about. But there had been moments, yes, he was sure there had been moments, and moments in everyone’s life like this, a childhood distilled.
There were some with just Mary and Flora taken in the gardens of Heligan. Jury recognized the giant rhododendron. There were several with Declan and Flora. There was one larger one of Declan and a woman who was not his wife. It was taken in the street; behind them was the ornate art nouveau curve of one of the entrances to the Paris metro. He held it up. ‘Paris. Who’s this?’
Declan looked surprised. ‘Oh. That’s Georgina. A friend of mine. Georgina Fox.’
‘If you don’t mind my saying so, she’s gorgeous.’ She was. Tall, slender, with an airy blondness that seemed almost transparent. Jury wouldn’t mind having such a ‘friend’ himself. He smiled. ‘Good friend, right?’
Declan laughed. He was embarrassed. ‘That was a year after Mary died. I was still - anyway, I wanted to get away, so I went to Paris for a while.’ He took the picture from Jury. ‘Georgina. She was really - breathtaking, don’t you think?’
It was as if Declan wanted Jury to reassure him he hadn’t been a rotter for taking up with Georgina Fox after his wife had died. My God, who would blame him? ‘I’d certainly fall for her. What man wouldn’t?’
‘It didn’t last long. A few weeks.’
Jury looked up. ‘Have you got any more of Flora?’
Declan laughed. ‘Oh, I have plenty.’ He went back to the sideboard again. He pulled out a handful and passed them to Jury.
Flora at different times in her life. The baby, the two-, three and four-year-old. Jury liked the way she stood in a couple of these, straight as a soldier at the entrance to that path he had just walked, the trees like sentinels, the white crosses. This (he thought she thought) is how you stand when you’re posing for a picture. She wore a pale ruffled dress whose hem didn’t reach her knees.
Declan sat, his elbow on a knee, chin in hand, watching the pictures move through Jury’s hands as if they might spring to life again under the eyes of a stranger, a new person. ‘Mary used to call her ‘Fleur’ mostly to tease Flora.’ He smiled. ‘She hated ‘Fleur.’’’ As if it were a new idea, he said, ‘You know, Flora was very down to earth, unpretentious - if you can say that about a four-year-old child.’ He sat back. ‘When I’m walking in London - anywhere, any town or city-and pass children on the pavement, I look at them and think how uncorrupted their world is and I grow appalled at what they’ll have to face in a few years’ time, what they’ll come to know: drugs, pimps, charlatans, fools - the whole illicit world - and I have to stop to draw breath I’m so afraid and so appalled. How in God’s name can they handle it? How can they shoulder the world?’
‘Maybe mum and dad are there to take the weight.’
Declan retrieved the photos, saying, ‘Some don’t have a mum. Some don’t have either. What then?’
‘They deal with it.’
‘They shouldn’t have to.’
‘I know’, said Jury. He did.
At that moment, the same woman who had opened the door to Jury came unceremoniously to the doorway, pardoned herself and said, ‘Dinner will be ready in ten minutes, Mr. Scott.’
‘Good. Thanks, Rebecca. Mr. Jury will be joining me -’ He turned to Jury. ‘You will, won’t you? I can guarantee it’ll be worth it.’
She nodded and left.
The subject of his wife was one Declan Scott would never tire of. Thus, over a consomme, Jury asked him how they’d met.
‘Quite by accident. In a pub in Belgravia. After she got away from Viktor she was living with her mother - Alice Miers, a lovely woman - in Belgravia. Alice has a house there, small but very nice.’
Small house. Big price. These people knew how to live, didn’t they?
‘I still see Alice when I go up to London. I take – took - Flora, too.’ His voice trailed away. He held up the fluted glass into which the Chardonnay had been poured. ‘These glasses are from Prague. Mary loved glass. I don’t much care; I’m more interested in what’s in it.’
‘What’s in it is very good stuff,’ said Jury.
Rebecca served the lobster with an excellent sauce (which leaned heavily on the same Chardonnay) and then withdrew.
Jury asked, ‘How good a look did you actually get of this woman in Brown’s?’
Startled, Declan looked up from the food that had been transferred from serving platter to plate and said, ‘A fairly good one as I was trying to make out who she was. You think I might be wrong? I mean, in identifying her?’
Jury hadn’t actually thought this through, but realized it could be true. He said so. ‘It just occurred to me; it was just a thought. It’s been three years since you saw her.’
‘That’s true. I don’t know why she stuck in my mind. She wasn’t attractive. But then if she wasn’t the same woman, there’d be no connection between this murdered woman and Mary.’
‘Even so, there still might be. It’s the fact it happened here, on your property. And there’s Flora, too. That could be a connection.’
Declan had been reaching for his glass and his hand stopped midair. Flora added to Mary, both losses must suddenly have washed over him. Mary, dying at such a young age, and Flora, a child whose last minutes - whose last months, possibly - might have been agony with no one to come to her aid - that must be unbearable.
Jury once again felt the weight of Declan Scott’s despair. The air was heavy with it, and Jury felt as if he must do something. Perhaps that was what Macalvie couldn’t tolerate. ‘I’m sorry’ was all he could think to say.
Looking down, Declan shook his head and held out the palm of his hand as if resisting apologies or perhaps merely asking for time. Two seconds, three. ‘It’s all right. I guess I still can’t deal with it.’
‘Why should you be able to deal with it?’
He smiled slightly but bitterly. ‘You’re right. Why should I?’ Declan nodded and once again reached for his wineglass. ‘But as for this woman, yes, I’m quite sure it was the same woman. And remember, Dora Stout saw her, too. Dora was cook here for many years.’
‘I know. We’ve met. I saw her in South Petherwin.’
‘Dora left because it’d become too much of a job for her; also, Rebecca Owen had come. She’d been with Mary for some time when Mary was married to Baumann. There’s no love lost there, I can tell you. Rebecca didn’t like him.’
Jury thought about this. ‘Dora Stout didn’t get a very good look at her, but from what she said it could certainly have been the dead woman. You know the thing most memorable about her? Her extreme plainness. That’s a funny thing to remember; one would think it would be utterly forgettable. I don’t know why it isn’t. Did Dora resent Mrs. Owen coming?’
‘No, I don’t think so. Indeed, I think she was glad of it; she wouldn’t have wanted to leave Mary in the lurch.’ He stopped talking when Rebecca Owen came to clear the plates away. Jury told her it was delicious.
She thanked him and said that ‘the pud’ would be up in a minute. Then she pushed through the swinging door.
Declan laughed. ‘‘The pud.’ I love it.’
She reappeared with tall, delicate glasses filled with custard, which she set before them, and then moved over to the sideboard to fuss with the accoutrements of coffee.
‘What is this English predeliction for custard, Superintendent? You ever noticed it?’
‘Of course. I’m a detective, after all.’ Jury had taken a spoonful and added, ‘But this isn’t just any old custard.’
Rebecca said, ‘It’s sabayon. I’m afraid I put in too much Marsala wine.’
‘Is there such a thing as too much wine?’ said Jury.
She smiled and asked Declan, ‘Should I serve coffee now or will you wait?’
‘Oh, bring it on, Rebecca, please.’ He said to Jury, ‘Like some port?’
Jury shook his head. ‘I couldn’t. I couldn’t eat or drink one more thing.’
‘Then that’s all. We’re fine.’
She poured coffee for them and went back again through the swinging door.
Jury said, ‘It galls me to say it, but I’d better root out the chap who brought me here. Or someone in that incidents room planted on your land. They’ll collect me and drag me back to Launceston.’
‘Why do that? Stay here. As you can see we’re not overbooked for the night.’
Jury was tired. And tomorrow was Friday and that meant getting back to London and then to Newcastle on Saturday.
He did not spend too much time thinking about the professionalism (rather, the lack of it) of accepting the hospitality of a witness or suspect. He was dead tired. Or perhaps the tiredness was the weight of Declan Scott’s sadness that had come to rest on Jury’s shoulders like a yoke. In any event, he accepted the offer of a room for the night and thanked him. He would call Cody to pick him up at Angel Gate instead of the White Hart in Launceston.
Jury looked out of the bedroom window at the night and thought Declan Scott did not discard the past easily. The countless reminders of what he had lost did not cripple him. Perhaps he was one of those people for whom reminiscence was an anodyne rather than anguish. He took comfort in having about him whatever she had touched or heard or worn or drunk from. Would someone think Scott of a morbid turn of mind, living in this house full of ghosts?
Jury didn’t. If the past was pretty much all you had, why would you want to discard it? Jury tried to picture him with a new flat and new friends. For there, he thought, was the illusion: to believe that one could start all over again and build a new life on the ruins of the old one. No wonder he had fallen for the beautiful Georgina Fox. But what are you supposed to use for building materials when all you have is burned wood and broken plaster?
The room had been cold, but the fire that had been laid and lit in the big fireplace soon drew the dampness and chill from the air. He thought of this later, in his room whose long window looked Out over the woods in front and the avenue or what used to be now vanishing beneath leaves, grasses, ferns and beleaguered hedges. He thought of the white crosses. He must ask Declan Scott what they meant.
He was tired enough that he was sure he could fall into a black mine of sleep, but he didn’t. He lay for a long time with eyes shut, eyes open, letting scenes he had fashioned of the lives of Mary and Flora and Declan Scott unreel like a film in his mind.
And the mystery woman. The reel stuck on the mystery woman, the dead woman lying on the stone bench. A statement, a message, perhaps even a warning. But he had no idea what that could mean and while he was trying to make sense of it, he slept.
The next morning they went out through French doors that opened onto the terrace and walked down the steps, not in the best repair, to the path and the bronze sculpture of the little boys. The path ran all the way from the stone steps to the rear of the garden.
‘Temperamentally, I suppose I’d rather leave things as they are.’
‘Then why change it? It’s a massive amount of work.’
‘Because Mary wanted the gardens restored.’ Declan answered, as if this should explain everything, not just a wild acre or two. ‘I’ve commissioned Warburton and the Macmillans - that’s the father down there’ - he gestured toward a short, squarish figure digging in one of the beds midway along - ‘to bring the place back to life, its old life. That’s what Mary wanted. Those steps we just went down -?’ Declan looked over his shoulder.
‘From the terraces, you mean?’
‘Yes. They’re a little mossy and slippery now. But those steps were once turf covered. It was cut to fit. They were covered with grass. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but I’d like that.’
Jury looked behind him at the steps, four of them on each terrace. ‘What you could do is just get some sod, couldn’t you? The kind builders use to cover up bare land around new houses?’
‘No, my landscape chap told me it takes a particular kind. I need someone with, as he put it, ‘an intimate knowledge of turf.’ You wouldn’t happen to have it? Or know someone who does? Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone with so esoteric a bent.’
Jury smiled. ‘You seem to enjoy the refurbishment, though.’
‘Hm. Here we are,’ Declan said as they came upon a man in a gray coverall, flat leather cap and garden gloves so stiff they could have stood by themselves with the boots in some corner. ‘Mr. Macmillan, this is Mr. Jury, a friend of mine.’ He turned to Jury. ‘The Macmillans are the most sought-after gardeners in Cornwall. And Cornwall, being as it is full of gardens, that’s saying something.’
Macmillan bathed in this compliment as if he’d expected no less a one. Waving his hand over the area immediately surrounding the fountain, four beds bisected by narrow paths, he said, ‘What we’re plannin’ on doin’ here, Mr. Scott, is take it all down to seed and - if you want me to follow the old plan to the letter - emphasis indicating he would rather do anything but, for he stopped long enough for Declan to allow him some freedom, which Declan didn’t - ‘we’ll put in the tulips, just as before, but ah would like t’ try t’ break out the breeder tulips, an’ ah can tell you the colors would be most astonish in’ an’ well worth the effort.’
Declan said, quite seriously, ‘All right, Mr. Macmillan, I’ll follow your greater wisdom here.’
Macmillan blinked his sandy lashes, and his tan eyes looked happier. ‘And as for the begonias, ah would strongly suggest Dragon Wing if we can get enough heat in your glass house; we could have flowers this year if that was the case.’
Declan looked over at two small glass buildings at the side of the wall, strangely unobtrusive. ‘I don’t know; that is, I don’t know about the heat. We’ll talk about that later.’
‘But Millie was askin’ about the turf. You know what a perfectionist she is. And there’s the enameled mead thing, too. Ah don’t have much truck wi’ tartin’ up the place but -’ He shrugged aside the tartish notion of enameling.
‘Tell Millie not to worry. I’m sure someone will come along, like the winter solstice.’
Macmillan didn’t appear to believe this and gave Jury a sour look as if he might be having a hand in the garden business. ‘Another thing, could ya’ please have old Abbot just stick t’ the front. He’s about here all the time, givin’ his advice.’
Declan smiled. ‘No, Mr. Macmillan, I won’t tell Abbot that. He’s been here forever, long before any of us. These grounds were his once. So you’ll just have to bear up, won’t you?’
Macmillan turned a shade of purple at being told off, then went back to his work.
Declan and Jury continued on the path. ‘What did you mean by the winter solstice?’
‘Nothing. I thought it must have something to do with the alchemy of gardening. I like to say things like that to pretend I’m not a complete dud in this line.’
Jury laughed. ‘I see you’re not.’
‘Then you’re blind. I am a complete dud.’
They were nearing the end of the garden and the yellow crime scene tape and coming up on a young woman who Jury assumed must be the daughter. Same sandy eyes and eyelashes, same gingerish (not ginger, not brown) hair, same coverall. The resemblance was quite amazing.
Declan introduced Jury again.
Millie said, ‘Mr. Scott’ - looking away at the wall that surrounded the two acres of garden - ‘you’ll want the grapes back, I expect.’ Shading her eyes, she peered off into the distance as if the grapes had made their escape through the crumbled brick to freedom. ‘There’s the two vineries in perfectly good order, so that’s no problem.’ Then she set about scattering Latin terms and other references to her work, words that Jury was sure he knew when she started, but had no idea of when she’d finished.
‘That’s fine, Millie. When will the rest of the crew be here to help clear some of this stuff?’
‘They’ll be along,’ she said, telling him nothing, but merrily. He accepted this laissez-faire attitude and continued on with Jury.
‘It seems ominous, that tape, that smiling bright yellow,’ said Declan.
Then, hearing his name called out, he turned.
A man was standing on the terrace steps waving his arms to gain attention. He came down the steps toward them. Every so often, he raised his arm as he walked, as if he would prevent them turning away as long as he could keep himself in motion and in their sights. Or at least in Scott’s.
‘Marcus Warburton. He’s the landscape chap. Does a lot of gardens around here.’
Jury was a little surprised there were enough gardens around here to do. Warburton was a tall fellow with sharp good looks, a face that was more angles than planes-thin, rather Grecian nose, a model’s cheekbones. And well dressed. The cut of the suit was of the ample Italian style-Armani, Fendi, Zegnaits material a shade somewhere between the silver and the brown of the birches. Clothes-wise Marc Warburton was not standing still, as was Declan Scott, whose tweed jacket was probably from a tailor on Jermyn Street or Savile Row, but tailored a decade ago.
When Warburton heard that Jury was a Scotland Yard superintendent, Jury fully expected him to say, ‘Oh. Yes. You.’
He smiled at Jury-the smile sharp as the rest of him-and said what Jury was sure brought him down here to the gardens, ‘It’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it, Superintendent, that woman found there.’ He nodded in the direction of the stone alcove.
Jury thought it was as if the body didn’t fit in with the landscaping plans, but Warburton was stuck with it.
‘It must be serious if the Devon and Cornwall police are calling you in’.
Jury’s face was blank as he said, ‘Not really. I just happened along.’
Abruptly, Warburton laughed. ‘Why don’t I believe that?’
Jury smiled. ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you? You knew Mrs. S cott, then?’
‘Yes, of course.’
Jury couldn’t determine if that settling in of a mournful look on Warburton’s face was real or feigned. Yet why would the man want to pretend? Mary Scott had been dead for over two years. Her husband might still mourn her, but the hired help could put off the trappings of woe, surely.
Warburton began, ‘She was -’ But something in Jury’s face stopped him from saying what she was.
Declan Scott had turned away.
‘I wonder if I could speak with you sometime,’ said Jury.
Marc Warburton showed no particular discomfort at this request. He folded his arms and said, ‘Police already have. You might want to check with them.’
Even Scott raised his eyebrows at this thick-headedness.
Jury merely said, ‘I already have, Mr. Warburton, as it’s the Devon and Cornwall constabulary’s case. But details can go missing sometimes from one account to the next. Memory changes.’
Warburton was all smiles, yet his face was neither open nor friendly. ‘Of course, Superintendent. Any time. Now, if you like.’
Scott said, ‘No, not now. I’m showing the superintendent round the garden.’
Warburton nodded. ‘Well, any time, then. I’m always available. Declan knows how to reach me.’ He turned and walked up the path.
‘Marc’s very good at what he does, but he wants to control everything - even you.’
‘Especially me.’ Jury laughed. ‘He didn’t like me talking to you. At least, not on your own.’
They passed through a stand of birch trees, silver and pinkish-brown bark. ‘These were Mary’s favorite trees.’
Together, they looked at the enclosure with its stone bench.
Jury said, ‘This place could only be opportune if you live on this property.’
Declan looked surprised and then laughed. ‘Then it’s down to me. I’m the only one living here.’
‘I didn’t mean it in that way. Anyone connected with the place, staff -’
‘Ah! Then it’s down to Rebecca Owen. That’s a pity. She’s such a good cook.’
‘Staff doesn’t include your gardeners? I’m talking about people who are well acquainted with Angel Gate.’
Declan frowned. ‘That could be anyone here - well, it’s beyond belief.’
‘It’s even harder to believe that someone outside of Angel Gate would choose to meet the victim here. It’s hardly a convenient setup for a shooting. Which is what I said before: it’s not exactly opportune.’
‘I find that extremely difficult -’
‘To believe. Right. It’s always difficult, Mr. Scott.’
They walked in silence toward the terrace until Jury said,
‘You’re not extending this project around to the front of the house, apparently.’
‘No. That’s Abbot’s country. But I guess the real reason is that the woods there have been like this as long as I can remember. Well, as I said’ - Declan shrugged - ‘I hate change.’
‘I was wondering about the white crosses. Then you don’t mean to take down those trees?’
Declan stopped and looked at him. ‘That’s’ Flora’s handiwork.’
He smiled. ‘There was an itinerant tree surgeon - or so he called himself-stopped at my door and asked if we wanted them cut down.’
‘Can a surgeon be itinerant?’ Jury laughed. ‘And you said?’
‘I said no, that wasn’t the meaning of the white crosses.’
‘What was Flora’s purpose in marking them?’
‘She said it was a way to keep from getting lost. You just follow the white crosses.’
‘Getting lost on her own grounds?’ They’d continued walking.
‘Oh, I expect she thought you could get lost anywhere.’ When they reached the terrace steps, Declan stopped, hands behind his back, and looked down. ‘What, I’d like to know, constitutes an ‘intimate knowledge of turf’? I know there are different kinds of soil-acid and less acidic and so forth-but how could the subject be so extensive as to require a serious study all on its own?’
Jury’s hands were behind his back, too. Thoughtfully, he said, ‘Oddly enough, I know someone who’s quite an expert in gardening arcana. I mean, he seems to have acquired an intimate knowledge of the oddities of medieval and eighteenth-century gardening. I think I’ve even heard him talk about -’
At that moment, Rebecca Owen came out through the French doors to tell Jury that Sergeant Cody had come to pick him up. Jury said he’d be there straightaway. Then he turned back to Declan. ‘I think I’ve heard this person talk about enameling - is that it?’
‘Enameled or flowering mead, yes.’
‘So he might know about both that and the turf business.’
‘That would be very helpful. Give me his name and I’ll ring
‘Oh, I’ll ring him.’ Jury smiled. ‘I’d be happy to.’
While Jury was walking in the garden with Declan Scott, Melrose Plant was sitting in his living room with Agatha, a different thing altogether.
A new hermit had been installed, the previous one having taken a job with Theo Wrenn Browne. He had been hired in the hope that he would scare off Agatha, that or at least cut down on the number of her visits. It would have done, only Mr. Bramwell was so insufferable that Melrose had suggested he might be happier working with Theo Wrenn Browne (who was no stranger to insufferability) .
‘He absolutely gives me the creeps,’ said Agatha as she piled more thick cream on her scone. She was speaking this time of the new hermit, who had been vetted by Marshall Trueblood and found acceptable. Mr. Blodgett had experience; he had put in a year as hermit on the estate of Lord Thewis and could furnish references. Trueblood had sent him along to Ardry End.
Melrose immediately liked his looks - a bit small, a bit bent and asked him what he did.
‘Wot ah do? Well, wiff all due respec’, sir, ah does wot ‘ermits do. As you know.’
‘Well, the point is, my last hermit was always down in the pub, When he wasn’t complaining about the hermitage.’
It was outside of this structure that they were standing. Mr. Blodgett had inspected it and found it quite the best hermitage he had ever seen. ‘You musta got one o’ them rum ones. Give us all a bad name. Pubs is out, sir; ah sits mostly.’
‘But you can walk about, can’t you?’
‘If you requires it, sir, ah be happy to.’ He bowed, deferentially. Melrose especially liked the way he kneaded the flat cap he held in his hands.
‘Now, can you lower?’
Mr. Blodgett frowned. ‘Lower? Ah don’t believe ah know wot you’re meanin’, sir.’
‘It’s just looking sort of fierce. And wild.’
‘Mebbe you want one of them actor fellows?’
‘No, no. See, all I want you to do is creep about when my aunt is here, especially at the drawing-room windows.’
‘Ah expec’ ah could, on’y me eyes ain’t too good. How would ah know it’s her?’
‘Because it’s always her; she’s the only regular visitor I have, and she’s over here every day. It’s damned tiring.’
That had been several weeks ago, and Melrose was quite satisfied with Mr. Blodgett’s efforts. Unfortunately, with his bad eyesight, Mr. Blodgett had fallen into the duck pond one cold February morning and was still recuperating and Agatha still making her daily visits.
Melrose was at the moment contemplating his goat, which was eating breakfast (or brunch, as it was near eleven) outside the drawing-room window where he had found some tasty grass or young leaves. It was not the same as Blodgett’s being there, for the goat (if Agatha saw him at all) merely ruminated beyond the windowpane and did not present a fearsome picture. Melrose found the goat displayed rather remarkable tranquillity. Or acceptance, acceptance of its lot in life subject to the whim of any passing stranger, of being bought and sold, of being transplanted from Farmer Brown’s (or whatever his name was) meadows to the Ardry End stable as companion to Melrose’s horse. Melrose liked the goat’s face and the ruminative way it had of chewing, as if it were concerned with broader things, not food.
It had been Diane Demorney’s conviction that Melrose had to get a goat to keep the horse happy. ‘You can tell by looking at that horse he’s pining for company.’
‘You saw Aggrieved exactly once, Diane, from twenty feet away during the cocktail hour. At five o’clock you couldn’t recognize your own hands, so don’t tell me how Aggrieved looked.’
Diane didn’t care a whit for his opinion and just plowed on. ‘A goat or a cat. Genuine Risk had a cat in her stall that went with her to all the races out of town. A horse needs company.’
These comments had been offered in the Jack and Hammer back in January, during the time Richard Jury was still among them, also recuperating. The six of them - Diane, Trueblood, Vivian, Jury, Theo Wrenn Browne, and Melrose - crowded about the table in the window. Seven of them, if Mrs. Withersby insisted on standing by their table with her mop and bucket.
‘What’s his name?’ asked Marshall Trueblood, meaning the name of the goat.
‘Doesn’t have one. I can’t settle on one. I was thinking maybe Provok’d.’
‘We should have a contest,’ said Theo Wrenn Browne, who had just returned from two weeks in Ibiza, looking like he’d popped out of a toaster (and with about as much elan as a slice of bread).
‘Winner gets a fifth of vodka!’ said Diane.
Mrs. Withers by pounding her mop a few times on the floor as if it were a gavel or divining rod, exclaimed, ‘Gin! Or mebbe brandy, or else that twelve-year-old whiskey Dick’s got.’ She leaned on her mop.
‘Whatever,’ said Trueblood. ‘We’ve got to have rules, though. We’ve got to narrrow it down or we’ll just waste time running through stupid names like Bubbles or Yellow Teeth.’
‘Funnily enough,’ said Jury, ‘I don’t think I’d ever have come up with Bubbles. Yellow Teeth, maybe, but never Bubbles.’ He was sitting in the window seat next to Vivian. He had taken up the chewing gum habit and his jaw sometimes worked overtime.
Melrose said, ‘Okay, the horse is Aggrieved, so let’s limit ourselves to some name that goes with it. Like Agitated, or something. We could really limit it by insisting the first two letters must be ‘A’ and ‘G.’ As I just said - ‘Agitated.’
‘Aggravated,’ said Vivian.
‘Is that your official entry?’ asked Theo.
‘So come on, everyone, put on your thinking caps!’ said Trueblood.
Diane, who had left her thinking cap in Oddbins, sighed. ‘There should also be the rule that you have to stick with your first choice,’ said Theo Wrenn Browne. He gave them his crimped smile.
‘We should write it down,’ said Jury, between chomps on his Juicy Fruit.
‘Good suggestion,’ said Trueblood, who rose to grab a half-dozen coasters advertising Adnam’s and started dealing them out. ‘You can write your name on the back. That way nobody will know whose name it is.’
Vivian looked mystified. ‘What earthly difference would that make?’
‘It’s the way it’s done.’
Theo Wrenn Browne said, ‘There should be a time limit.’
Mrs. Withersby cackled. ‘Time fer a drink, that’s y’r time limit.’
‘I’d say five minutes?’ Vivian suggested this. ‘Who’s going to time us?’
‘I shall,’ said Theo Wrenn Browne.
They sat quietly sipping their drinks and looking at their coasters. Vivian chewed her lip.
‘Three minutes you’ve got. Three minutes.’ Theo wrote on his coaster.
Jury was first to finish and tossed his coaster on the table. Now the rest of them wrote their choices and Theo Wrenn Browne brought down his hand. ‘Time’s up!’
Trueblood collected the coasters, shuffled them and handed them to Melrose. ‘You should do the honors. It’s your goat.’
Melrose set down his pint. ‘Right. I’ll just read them out, but any that don’t follow the rules are out of the running.’
‘What rules?’ said Diane, languidly smoking.
Melrose sighed. ‘Come on. The name has to begin with the two letters of Aggrieved’s name: ‘A’ and ‘G.’
‘Oh, that,’ said Diane.
Melrose cleared his throat: ‘First one, Agatha-very funny-’
‘Let’s not have a commentary’, said Trueblood. ‘Just read.’
‘AG-a-pey, not A-Gape,’ Theo said testily.
Trueblood sighed. ‘Please shut up and let him get on with it!
Melrose stopped, looked round the table with narrowed eyes.
‘Agoat? Okay, whose is this?’
Jury chewed his gum.
‘Well, if you’re not going to take this matter seriously, there’s no point, is there?’ said Theo, even more testily.
‘I can tell you who’s not taking it seriously,’ said Jury, ‘and that’s your damned goat.’
So the goat remained nameless as Agatha jammed up her scone.
Melrose liked the goat’s calm manner. The only thing he’d ever seen as peacefully disposed to its surroundings was a manatee. If goats and manatees took over the world, they would render it slumbrous. How restful to rouse oneself only for a cabbage or a lettuce.
‘I don’t see,’ said Agatha, ‘why you need a goat; you’ve already got a horse.’
‘Your logic is impeccable. The reason I’ve got a goat is because I’ve got a horse. Horses need pals.’
‘You’re turning this beautiful house into a barnyard!’
‘It’s an idea.’ Melrose rattled back another page of his Times.
‘Your poor mother would be aghast!’
Melrose stared at her, then bolted from his chair like Secretariat out of the starting gate. ‘That’s it!’
Agatha fell back as if she’d just been punched. ‘What in the world are you doing? What’s the matter with you?’ To his departing back she called, ‘Where are you going?’
‘To see my goat!’
Soil?’ said Miss Broadstairs, later that afternoon to Melrose, who was stopped at her gate and looking into a garden which, even in the first days of March, was heady with scent, although he couldn’t locate its source. Something in that shrub? That vine? Emanating from the little greenhouse? In her winter garden were still vestiges of her summer-plants wrapped and staked or wearing straw collars, skeletal remains of borders and hedge, brown stems or sinister-looking black ones reaching out their twiggy fingers.
‘Soil?’ Alice Broadstairs said again.
Melrose had just that morning received a telephone call from Richard Jury, which had left him (but only after fifteen minutes of argument) committing himself to going to this place in Cornwall called Angel Food or something.
‘Angel Gate, for God’s sakes. Try to keep that straight, at least.’ This, from Richard Jury.
‘Why, yes, Mr. Plant, I can certainly tell you how to determine the condition of your soil.’ This, from Miss Broadstairs, who then launched into talk about clumping and alkalinity and acidity in a stiff wind of words that pushed Melrose back a few steps. Why was it, he wondered, that gardeners, unlike publicans or butchers or mechanics - in other words, a large part of the population - why was it that gardeners had to fly their answers at you with the dedication of kamikaze pilots? He cared nothing at all for clay and clumping, and as to shoving his fist in the earth down to his elbow? Melrose snorted.
‘I really don’t want to do that, Miss Broadstairs.’
Her laugh woke the cat Desperado, which hissed at Melrose (who would have hissed back had the cat’s mistress not been right there) and turned and turned as cats do, circling until they drop from sheer boredom. ‘But, Mr. Plant, if you want to garden, you must get your hands dirty.’ Gently, she whisked a lock of gray hair back to the bun from which it had escaped.
‘No, you see I’m thinking more along the lines of telling somebody else to do it.’
The utter stupidity of this remark caused even Desperado to look round again. The obvious question here would have been My dear man, how in the world can you tell somebody else if you know sod-all yourself? Eh? Only Alice Broadstairs didn’t use expressions such as ‘sod-all’ and, in her unrelenting kindness, would not ask a question that might embarrass Melrose, no matter how richly he deserved it.
‘I was thinking more of sod.’ Why was he continuing with these ridiculous questions? Was he even sure he meant sod? Jury had said ‘turf,’ but wasn’t that different from sod?
‘Oh, well, that’s quite another matter.’
He waited for her to go on, but she didn’t. ‘Yes, isn’t it?’ He thought for a moment. ‘Have you ever come across a turf expert?’
She laughed. ‘No, I’m afraid that my garden doesn’t run to things so exotic.’ She clicked her shears several times as she looked around. ‘I don’t know anyone with such an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.’
That gave him a brief chill. ‘Encyclopedic? There’s that much to know, is there?’
‘My goodness, yes. Have to go to school for that kind of expertise.’ She laughed her small laugh as she applied the shears to a bushy shrub of some sort wearing a straw collar that he supposed was there to protect it from frost.
‘Of some sort’ was the sum and substance of Melrose’s shrub acquaintance, even though he had spent some time as under-gardener at the Ryland house just this past December. A fat lot of good it had done him. His mind was like a sieve. ‘Perhaps the library ... ?’
‘I should try that if I were you. And there’s the Royal Horticultural Society. You could try there, too.’
Melrose stood around a few moments more. He looked at the brute of a cat, sprawled atop the stone plinth. ‘Desperado appears to have lost more parts of his person.’
‘Oh, yes, if you mean that bit of ear ... He will fight with Ada Crisp’s little dog. And how’s your goat, Mr. Plant? Is he getting on all right?’
‘Fine, just fine.’ Did he really want to be the sort of person who was asked How’s your goat?
‘They’re quite wonderful creatures, aren’t they?’ she said. ‘So intelligent.’
‘Do you think it might know something about turf?’
Miss Broadstairs laughed until she was bent in the middle, not difficult for her as she was quite thin. She finally stopped and ran a finger under a watery eye. ‘Well, they’re wonderful company for horses, I hear. How’s your horse?’
That was better. How’s your horse? suggested all sorts of colorful things about an owner. Riding through woods on a misty morn, show jumping four and five hurdles, galloping across fields-that sort of thing. ‘Aggrieved couldn’t be better. He doesn’t seem to mind it at all, not racing. He is a racehorse, you know.’
‘Why, no, I didn’t.’ Miss Broadstairs shoved more loosened hair back from her nice, plain face, a face like a pancake. ‘And are you going to enter him in one?’
It always made Melrose feel puffed up to talk about his horse and horseracing. He added the scene to his repertoire, this time seeing himself on Aggrieved at Newmarket or Newbury, lengths ahead of the others, an image dimmed by the fact that Melrose was six feet tall. ‘No, I don’t think so, at least not at the moment. But Aggrieved seems quite content just having me ride him around, or just grazing.’
‘How nice. Now, this friend of yours -’
‘Tell him that he must test the soil for alkalinity and -’
Oh, that friend.
On and on her words were coming straight at him, zzzzzzzOOOOOOOMMM-! Got him in one!
‘Many thanks, Miss Broadstairs. I’m off to the library.’
The librarian, Miss Twinney, was helpful, suggesting various gardening books, although gardening as such was too broad a subject. Miss Twinney couldn’t help him much when it came to soil, she said. That was perhaps too narrow a subject. Soil, sod and loam. ‘Loam’ was a favorite word of his and he mouthed the word silently as he read about its rich properties.
It occurred to him that the rudiments of soil behavior might be found in the children’s section. Melrose knew this to be true: if you wanted the basics, look in children’s books.
Back in that section, at the rear of the library, he pulled out and perused Dirty Debbie, whose book jacket showed a small, black-haired girl with a spade, watched by an assortment of barnyard animals in much the same way he was being watched at that moment by a little girl of perhaps seven or eight with bobbed mouse-colored hair, wearing pink dungarees. She was folded into one of the overstuffed chairs, in one of those acrobatic positions only children can manage.
Pretty soon she got up and, under the pretext of selecting another book, came to stand beside Melrose and run her finger over the spines of the ones nearest him.
Melrose had never been able to pin down any reason for his effect upon children. It was not Richard Jury’s effect. No, for Jury children would rush into burning buildings. For Melrose they wouldn’t bother to blowout a match. He seemed to bring out their combative spirit. They couldn’t do enough for Jury; they couldn’t do enough to Melrose.
The child with skin like cotton candy and very large brown eyes pulled on his sleeve and said, ‘You’ve got my book, I think.’
He looked down at her. ‘Your book? I believe this’ - and he turned it face out - ‘is the library’s book. Not yours. You do not have exclusive rights to it.’
‘I only meant I was reading it.’
‘Oh, really? How much have you read?’
‘Half?’ Melrose consulted a page near the beginning that showed Debbie digging a hole with her dog, Boots. ‘What’s her dog’s name?’
She screwed her mouth around, thinking. ‘There wasn’t any dog in the part I read.’
‘You said half, didn’t you?’ He started to sneer, but decided he should act like a grown man.
‘That’s right. Just not that half. I read up to the dog and then after the dog. But I didn’t read the dog part.’
Miffed, he asked her, ‘What’s your name?’
She slewed her eyes from him to the book. ‘Debbie.’ He sighed. Naturally.
‘It’s my birthday.’
‘Is it? My. How old are you?’
‘Seven and a half.’
‘You can’t be because birthdays don’t come in halves.’
She scoured his face with a bristly look. ‘I have one every half of a year.’
‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous.’
‘It’s true. It’s because I got really sick once, so I had my birthday early, in case I died.’
‘You’ll stop at nothing to get this book, will you? I expect if I continue to refuse, you’ll drop down in a heap on the floor?’
Clearly, she was entertaining this suggestion.
‘No, don’t bother. Here, you can have it.’ He thrust it at her, for he had spied another copy of Dirty Debbie and slid it from the shelf. ‘And I’ll have this one.’ He turned and marched off to the library’s little coffee room with Debbie at his heels. At the entrance, he looked round. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I’d like a bun.’
‘And you think I’m going to buy you one?’
She nodded. ‘Like I said, it’s my birthday and I didn’t even have my tea today.’
‘And is that my fault? Go complain to your mum.’
Now, Melrose was aware of a rule barristers followed when questioning witnesses: never ask a question to which you do not know the answer. Brushing off this sage advice, Melrose asked, ‘Why can’t you?’
Melrose shut his eyes and wondered why he had to be here (speaking of death) when he could be spending a pleasant hour rowing across the River Styx. He had noticed Debbie’s hesitation in reporting this sad fact. She sniffed, but he knew it wasn’t a prelude to tears. He doubted this child would stoop to such cheap emotionalism as that. She’d much rather lie.
‘Oh, all right, come along.’ He heaved a great sigh as they made their way to the counter and the pleasant elderly lady who served up coffee and pastries. Mrs. Kimble, he thought her name was. He greeted her and ordered a latte. Then he said to the girl, ‘You’ll have a double espresso?’
‘No. I’d like a lemonade, please.’
‘All right, Polly.’
Aha! He’d caught her this time! ‘Polly is it? Funny, Mrs. Kimble, but she told me her name was Debbie.’ He looked down at her with a bit of a leer.
‘Debbie’s my middle name. I’d like a jam doughnut please.
And a cream bun.’ Her eyes just about reached over the counter.
Did the child have an answer for everything? Well, Mrs. Kimble here would surely know her mother. ‘It’s such a shame, isn’t it, Mrs. Kimble, about Polly’s mother?’
‘Oh? And why’s that, Lord Ardry?’ She was foaming up the milk and stood wreathed in a steamy smile.
‘That she’s at death’s door.’
This did not disturb Mrs. Kimble at all, seeing it wasn’t true. ‘I hardly think so, Lord Ardry. I just saw her pass by on the other side of the street with her cousin.’
Melrose looked down at Polly. ‘Dying, is she?’
‘It’s been taking a long time. Anyway, you can walk around, can’t you, as long as you’re not completely dead?’ She left him and took her lemonade, doughnut and bun over to one of the tables.
They ate for a few moments in silence. Silence except for the kicking of the rungs of the chair. Jam doughnuts were better than talking any day. He said, ‘I have a good friend by the name of Polly.’ He was thinking of Polly Praed, whom he hadn’t seen in some time. ‘She lives in a place called Littlebourne.’
This stirred no interest. Finally, she was finished with eating and drinking and would now perhaps reenter the world.
When Melrose rose to leave, Polly slid from her chair and put on her coat. It was, Melrose thought, not very substantial for a winter garment. And she was wearing sandals, which struck him as hardly sturdy enough for this time of year.
‘Oh, are you leaving, too?’
Polly padded along behind him. He could hear the small plop of her sandals’ hitting the cobbled pavement.
He turned and walked backward for a bit. ‘Why aren’t you wearing proper shoes? It’s wintertime, you know. Ice, snow, all that.’
‘It’s not snowing.’
‘Well, it’s not snowing now, but it has been.’ He waved his hand toward the green, where gray ruffles of snow were melting round the little pond. ‘You can smell snow coming, you can smell it in the air.’
‘It doesn’t smell, snow doesn’t. It’s only white rain.’
He noticed how she had declaimed this without so much as a sniff to test her theory.
Melrose, now walking forward, asked over his shoulder, ‘Is your purpose here on earth just to contradict others?’
‘I don’t have any purpose.’
As he looked back at her, in her sandals and thin coat and without mittens, he could have believed it, had it not been for her diabolical cleverness in talking her way out of black holes.
‘Come along, come along, I can’t talk to you if I have to walk backward.’
She came a few steps nearer, but still stayed close behind him. ‘Have you been to the bookshop before?’
‘No.’ She shook her head.
‘I’m surprised. I thought everyone in Long Piddleton has had the pleasure of sussing out its charismatic owner.’
‘I’m not from here.’
That rather stunned him and he stopped. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, I’m not from here.’
If he picked her up by her heels and shook her, he wondered if the postmistress - he and Polly were standing in front of the post office-would report him to the authorities. Had he ever known a child both as fanciful and literal as this one?
‘Yes, I know. You already said it. Then where are you from?’
‘Sidbury.’ Here she pointed to what she apparently thought was the Sidbury Way.
This brought to mind, only God knew why, The Guermantes Way. It would be interesting if Polly were to come along in Time Regained. What would Proust make of her? He could well imagine Polly herself being spit up by involuntary memory. ‘So if you’re from there, why are you here?’
They were near to Ada Crisp’s used-furniture emporium. Her Jack Russell terrier, sitting on its regular stool outside of the shop, started barking, as it always did, no matter who or what strolled by. Dog paradise could descend and he’d still bark.
‘Mum’s got a friend here she came to visit.’
‘So why aren’t you with your mum instead of following me around?’
‘I wanted to see things.’
‘Well, you’ve - oh, shut up!’ said Melrose to the barking dog.
‘You’ve been gone well over an hour, probably a lot longer. Don’t you think your mother wonders where you are?’
‘No. I’m to be back by four and it’s not near that yet. We’ve got a lot of time.’
Melrose gave a fake guffaw. ‘Oh, we do, do we? And must I be back by four, too?’
They’d by now come to the door of the Wrenn’s Nest Bookshop and Melrose had to admit he was curious to see what Polly would make of Theo Wrenn Browne. And what he would make of her. ‘Here’s the bookshop. Come on.’
‘Well, Mr. Plant. It’s been some time since you’ve graced our shop. Have you been visiting the new Waterstone’s in Sidbury, then?’ He waggled a bony finger at Melrose, then looked down at Polly. The smarmy tone changed to an instructive one. ‘I don’t believe I know you, dear -’
No response from Polly. Just a look.
‘- but we will observe all of the rules in the children’s corner, won’t we? We wouldn’t want to damage our beautiful books, would we?’
Polly kept on staring at him until he grew uncomfortable and shifted his gaze to Melrose. ‘You were looking for books on American racehorses back in January. I’ve got in one or two; I think you’ll find -’
To shut him up, Melrose interrupted. ‘Soil, Mr. Browne. Sod and soil. Formal gardens. And my friend here will no doubt find something worthwhile in the children’s corner.’
This was a section of the store Theo had decided to allot to the kiddies. This was not because he liked them (he didn’t), but because he now had to compete with the very library he had tried so hard to close awhile back. The library, pumped up with new money, as a result of the cafe, had moved from almost closing to a roaring success. Miss Twinney had supervised the expansion, the adding of a children’s room.
It was largely owing to Marshall Trueblood’s saving the day with his idea of Latte and the Library that had made the place so hugely popular. Here was another reason for Theo Wrenn Browne to hate Trueblood. Indeed, Theo was so enraged, he blistered. Trueblood was always trumping him, most brilliantly in the chamber pot affair. That was a legend in Long Piddleton, people were still talking about it.
‘Just as long as you’re careful,’ he said to Polly, who was in no way attending, but whose big brown eyes were scouring all of the shelves.
Polly liked books, thought Melrose.
To Melrose he said, ‘Gardening, well of course, we’ve plenty of books on that.’ He lifted the hinged top of the counter and stepped through.
Polly, in the meantime, had taken off for the children’s section. ‘Not gardening as such, but turf, sod, soil. And enameled mead.’
‘That might be harder. It’s so specialized. Enameled mead, my goodness.’
Melrose followed him to the shelves at the rear of the shop, where Theo pulled out one after another of gardening books, two of them great tomes that Melrose thought would serve far better as places to rest one’s knees while digging and planting than they would as reference books. Melrose looked at and rejected them. His eye went to one titled The Serene Gardener. He pulled that out and leafed through it.
Theo smirked. ‘I’d hardly think that’s the one for you. You certainly don’t strike me as being into one of those Eastern faiths.’
As long as Theo was against it, Melrose was for it. ‘I’ll have it, I think.’
‘Well, it’s certainly not about soil alone.’ He pushed his metal-rimmed glasses up on his nose. ‘May I ask what your interest is in sod?’
There was a silence during which Theo waited for an explanation. None was forthcoming. Theo cleared his throat. Melrose just kept turning pages of The Serene Gardener. He very much liked the approach; it was inactive.
Theo expressed his doubt once again that Melrose would find a whole book on turf. ‘What you need is to find an expert on that.’
‘What I need is to be an expert on that.’
A voice piped up from a distance. ‘I found one!’ Then here came Polly, running up to them and holding a book. Two books, for another one was under her arm.
Melrose took it, saying, ‘Tillie Lays Turf. Interesting.’ It sounded to Melrose rather pornographic.
‘It’s a child’s book,’ said Theo, master of the obvious. ‘Whatever good would it do you?’
‘An old child’s book. An elderly child. Tillie is actually putting down sod. What’s this other?’ He nodded from Tillie to the bright blue book under Polly’s arm.
She showed him.
‘My goodness, one of my favorite books, a Long Pidd bestseller,Patrick the Painted Pig.’
‘I want to buy it except someone’s gone and messed it up.’
Theo sucked in breath. ‘What? How? It’s a brand-new book.’
Polly opened it to the offending pages. ‘You should sell it for half.’
Irritably, he opened the book to the pages she’d marked. It looked as if dirt, perhaps potting soil, had been spilled and even rubbed in. ‘This is disgraceful!’ He looked at Melrose as if Melrose himself were the agent of destruction here. ‘It’s that Sally, or her brother did this -!’
‘Sally and Bub were warned off, remember? Did you take out a restraining order against them?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. It was you, Mr. Plant, that let ‘em get off so easy. You purchased this book, I mean one just like it, and gave it to them. That’s putting them on the high road to a life of crime, that is.’
‘Well, Mr. Browne, I’ll have this Tillie book.’ They started walking toward the front of the shop.
‘And I want this one,’ said Polly. ‘Only you can’t charge the whole seven pounds fifty p for it.’
‘I most certainly can!’
‘Nobody’ll buy it for that.’
‘She’s got a point, you know.’
Theo lifted the counter’s hinged lid and moved to his cash register. Glumly, he said, ‘I’ll take a pound off the price.’
Polly shook her head vigorously.
‘Better take what you can get, Mr. Browne. Half off is a good offer.’
‘Oh, very well.’ He brought his fingers down on the cash register keys as swiftly as if he were conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. ‘That’ll be three pounds seventy-five.’
Melrose went to reach for his wallet when Polly took a five-pound note from her pocket and handed it over. ‘Well, my goodness,’ said Melrose. ‘Your mum certainly set you up for the day!’
‘No. I earned it.’
‘Doing what, if I may ask?’
She looked down atPatrick the Painted Pig. ‘Painting.’
‘Really. Are you having a show at the Royal Academy?’
Across the street, Trueblood went into his antiques shop.
‘Ah, there’s a friend of mine; I must speak to him. It’s time you joined your mother, isn’t it?’
Polly didn’t look as if she agreed it was time to do anything that she didn’t want to. ‘No,’ she said.
‘Well, I’ve got to be going.’
When he reached the shop into which Trueblood had just gone, Melrose turned. She was still over there, standing where he’d left her, as if he had left her all on her own. He had, after all, spent upward of an hour with her and refused to feel guilty. Where was the mother? He plunged into the shop, which was cool, shadowy and crowded with handsome pieces of furniture. Trueblood had impeccable taste.
‘I need something on enameling,’ said Melrose to Trueblood’s back.
The back turned. ‘Did anyone win the contest?’
Melrose sighed. ‘Are you still back there with that silly goat naming business?’
‘Silly? As I recall you were dead serious. You didn’t want anyone amusing himself at your goat’s expense.’ Here he chortled and held a fine piece of crystal up to the dusty sunlight. ‘Enameling, yes. I’ve got a book on it.’ Trueblood moved over to a stack of books on the floor (as there was no more room on the shelves), pulled one out and handed it to Melrose.
Melrose leafed through the large book as Polly had leafed through her Patrick Pig book, and probably to just as much enlightenment. ‘This is jewelry.’
‘Yes? Enameling. Little bits and pieces of colored enamel in some setting or other.’
‘No, what I need is to do with gardening.’
‘You’ve got me there, old bean. Don’t think I have anything; actually, I don’t know what it is.’
Melrose groaned. ‘I’m to go to Cornwall tomorrow to act like an expert in it, it and turfing up some steps.’
Trueblood made a blubbery sound with his lips, his reaction to Melrose’s being ‘expert’ in any field at all. ‘Take that.’
‘This? But didn’t I just say-’
‘If you’re messing round with this enameled garden or whatever, you’ll impress people as knowing so much about the subject that you can afford to go about it in this eccentric fashion.’
‘Marshall, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Of course not.’ He was holding a small silver crucifix set with precious stones. ‘That’s by way of being the point, isn’t it? Since you don’t know a damned thing about the garden or flower variety of enameling, you pretend to know so much that your knowledge simply bleeds over into actual enamel.’
Melrose considered. It was just the sort of weird notion they’d come up with sitting around in the Jack and Hammer. Which wasn’t a bad idea. ‘Let’s have a drink.’
‘Twist my arm.’ Trueblood dropped the crucifix on the table and they walked out.
She was not there, Melrose was relieved to see, looking across the street. But he did wonder where she was.
The church was dim and almost absent of ornament, except for the rose window at their backs, and the gathered candles and a few somber statues.
Jury had been very surprised to find that Sarah had kept to her Scots Presbyterian birthright and not converted to Brendan’s Roman Catholicism; he admired her for sticking to her guns, which must have caused a family war, not with Brendan himself (one of the most easygoing men Jury had ever known) but with Brendan’s family, who would have tried every tactic at their disposal to get her to switch.
It was one of the moments of prayer, this one following a hymn he wasn’t familiar with (well, that counted for most of them), and with his head bent, he thought about Sarah’s ability to stonewall the in-laws, in spite of her having no one in her own family to take her side. That must have been hard.
The moment of prayer was over and the procession to the grave site begun. There were a fair number of people, most no doubt Brendan’s friends. He looked somehow burnt - his face dark and waxen and his heart in a million pieces. You could tell that was so.
The girls, Christabel and Jasmine and the youngest, Chastity, all clustered together. The boy, Dickie, sixteen, stood a little apart. All of them had been raised remarkably in that small flat with a partitioned-off dining room brought into play as an extra bedroom. Brendan had expressed gratitude for the flat, considering they hadn’t been tossed out by the landlord.
Jury heard little of the grave-side service, his mind escaping into childhood, as much as he could remember after his uncle took him from that orphanage. His aunt and uncle had lived in Suffolk, or that part of it a raft of older boys had christened ‘Fuck-up.’ One of the boys had been another cousin - Jury wondered now what had happened to him - a much older brother who paid little attention to him; he just nodded now and then, looking at Jury as if trying to place him. Where had he gone? He might be dead, too.
The reception (Jury was glad to see) wasn’t held in Noonan’s, but in a dim old hotel close to the church. Brendan’s flat was of course out of the question for a crowd of this kind. He had chosen this hotel. The room in which they had gathered was probably a ballroom now used for functions such as this, or wedding receptions (that strange other side of the coin to this), conventions, reunions. He wondered who or what in Newcastle one would want to reunite with.
Newcastle. He supposed it might be a pleasant enough city if one were to look at it without the blinders on of death and the dole. To him it had always been a cold gray pile of rocks that most people would be gladly shut of. Sarah certainly would have.
‘Oh! You’re the one she kept talking about!’ He turned to see a chubby woman wearing a straw hat with a paper flower on its brim. The flower bounced when she talked.
‘I’m the policeman, if that’s what you mean.’ He tried to smile, then gave up on it.
‘I certainly do. My, she did set such great store by you. Even put your picture up’ - the woman nodded toward the end of the buffet table, where a large collage of photos and snapshots rested on an easel - ‘and reports of your cases. You should have a look.’ As if some mission had been accomplished, she plucked up a little cake and munched. ‘Of course, she was only your cousin. It could have been worse.’ With that chilling pronouncement, she turned and left.
They’d been standing by the buffet where sandwiches and small cakes were arranged. He was drinking punch that someone had thankfully pumped a quart of Jamison into. Baby pictures, wedding pictures, pictures of a holiday by the sea when the kids were little. Birthdays, anniversaries, even newspaper clippings, these surprisingly about Jury himself, his picture at the top. Inspector, chief inspector. Some years ago. Brendan had been telling the truth, then: she must have been proud of him and his job.
Brendan came up to put a hand on Jury’s shoulder. He was drunk or on his way to being.
Jury said to him, ‘It’s quite a crowd, Brendan. All of us should be so well remembered. But, you know, I was a bit surprised Sarah hadn’t become a Catholic.’
Brendan laughed. ‘Not my Sarah, no way. She always said she’d live up here in godforsaken Newcastle, but she was damned if she’d change her religion.’
Brendan was pointing at the picture collage. ‘She clipped all that stuff, sometimes the same story from two different papers. She had a shoebox full of newspaper clippings.’
Absurdly, Jury found himself getting angry with Sarah. ‘Our memories didn’t seem to mesh. She seemed to enjoy making a point of it.’
‘Ah, for God’s sakes, man. I told you last time you were here she’s just takin’ the piss out, is all. Look at you. You’d never have gor to the top of your job without being able to sort people. Why couldn’t you her?’
Jury hardly knew what to say.
Brendan went on: ‘She thought you let her down, Richard. See, she depended on you for the news. That’s what she said.’
Stupidly, Jury said, ‘What news?’
Brendan laughed. ‘Any news. From London, maybe. She put it that way: ‘I wish Richard would come and bring the news.’ I don’t know what she meant, exactly.’
‘Neither do I,’ said Jury, sadly.
His train didn’t leave until six, so he thought he’d grab a taxi and go across the river to the Baltic, a place he’d never been in - well, that was true enough. Where had he been in Newcastle, except to the pub with Brendan or taking the kids Christmas shopping that one year? A long time ago. That was a visit he would never forget, not the part with the kids, but the part before that - Old Washington and Washington Old Hall. Helen Minton and the most adolescent love at first sight, it still made him blush to remember. Well, that hadn’t lasted, had it, mate? Old Hall. It struck him as ironic that George Washington’s forebears would come from a little village slap up against another little one like Washington and its half dozen pubs on its single street. Where they liked to joke and say that wasn’t sawdust on the pub’s floor, but the furniture left from last night’s brawl. Fighting seemed to be a cottage industry; they fought out of frustration and anger at their unemployed plight.
Jury was in the taxi now, looking out over the Tyne and the incredible bridges that spanned it. He bet they could compete with New York and those bridges that linked Manhattan and Brooklyn and the rest.
The driver, reading his mind said, ‘See that new Millennium Bridge is being built. Oh, that’s goin’ t’ be a corker when it’s done.’ He nodded toward the middle distance where huge cranes appeared to be floating on the river. ‘Knock y’r eye out, that will. You’ll be able to spit at any other bridge in the world. You know how it’s going to work?’ The driver was trying to herd Jury’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
‘No. I don’t know anything about it.’
‘Like an eyelid, like an eyelid comin’ slowly up.’
Jury smiled. ‘I can’t picture that.’
‘See, it tilts; the whole bridge tilts so the ships can get through. The blinking eye is what they call it.’
Jury wondered at his accent. ‘You from the south?’
The driver thought this was funny. ‘Not on your life. County Durham, that’s me. You been there? To Durham?’
Jury closed his eyes. Back with Helen Minton. Here came another memory rushing toward him faster than the end of the bridge. Jerusalem Inn. He wondered how it was two people .... Jury shook his head. Was any chapter of one’s life ever irrecoverably closed? Or written off?
‘Here you are, mate.’
‘Big place,’ said Jury, getting out.
‘It’s big all right. Me, I never been. But I figure people that live in a place are the last to see around it.’
‘You’re right.’ He handed over the cab fare and a big tip.
It raised the driver’s eyebrows much like Jury now imagined the Millennium Bridge would rise. ‘Listen, how far’s Newcastle Station from here?’
‘Newcastle Central? Ah, you can walk it in fifteen minutes. Signs all along. Y’ can’t miss it.’
Jury was surprised by the Baltic, by the scope of it. It was divided, according to the map, into ‘levels’ rather than floors, and all in all the place housed several restaurants, a cinema, artists’ studios and, most prominently, of course, art.
Jury felt he moved clumsily among the paintings, abstract and indescribable, and strange installations. He felt old hat in his preference for Millais and Rossetti, whose content you could hunger after and feed upon. He wondered, though, if it was the present art’s emptiness or his own he was feeling and excused himself from looking any longer at the paintings. He went up another level to catch a view of Newcastle from the observation room. The enclosure, all windows nearly, jutted out from the west wall of the Baltic and allowed a panoramic look over Newcastle, the Tyne and Gateshead. Night was falling, and the lights across the Tyne had switched on. Jury was slightly stunned by the view of the Newcastle skyline. It was sensational; it was better than any view of Southwark across the Thames, with the fairy lights of the National Theatre complex, Tower Bridge and the docks and quays. Along with most people, he had long identified Newcastle as a scruffy, down-at-the-heel, doleful place - Lord knows, hardly a destination city. But from up here it was anything but; this made Jury feel better about Brendan’s lot; he wasn’t after all living in an environment of unrelenting drabness.
He had to go; he had to catch his train.
Near the exit was a bookshop. He went in and looked through a bin of prints, thinking he might buy one. He came upon one that he was sure wasn’t in the Baltic’s collection. It showed a cartoonish family around a table set for a meal. Their eyes were so dark they looked masked. The dinner table was set in deep grass, swamp or mire, probably, with water in the background. On their plates or in their hands were butterflies. It was called The Butterfly Eaters, He thought about this surreal picture for a moment and wondered if they were feeding on illusion or ambiguity. He returned the print to the bin.
He left the Baltic and began his fifteen-minute walk to Newcastle Central. The driver was right: the way was clearly marked, a trail of signs directing him to the station. One couldn’t take a wrong turn or lose one’s way.
Jury stopped and for a moment, in his mind’s eye, he saw the row of old alders in front of Angel Gate. He saw the white crosses.
He bought a coffee and a dried-out sausage roll from a kiosk at the train station. He hadn’t been able to eat at the reception. He was catching the 6:10 train to King’s Cross. He read a local newspaper and tossed it aside, not wanting to read anymore about the depressed North.
He sat on a bench and after a few sips of coffee - bitter and metallic - fitted the top back over the cup and dropped it in the refuse bin along with the rest of the sausage roll. Then he walked along the platform. He had been in this station several times and found it pretty depressing. But weren’t most railway stations, even those with the bustle and business of King’s Cross or Victoria? They were places to say good-bye; rarely did he witness people saying hello, and he wondered why.
He went back to his bench and watched a nondescript dog without a collar moving around, snuffling the dust bin, and Jury wondered if he smelled the sausage roll in there. It was still lying on top. He reached in and got it and separated sausage from bread (although who’s to say the dog didn’t like bread?). Jury broke the sausage into a couple of pieces and put it down in its paper container in front of the dog. The dog vacuumed it up inside of five seconds. Well, he said to the dog, more or less said to him, That won’t do, will it? He returned to the kiosk and bought another sausage roll, which he waved back and forth a few times to cool it off. Then he again broke it up and put down the pieces. Again, the dog gobbled it up.
Jury sighed, ran his hand along the dog’s bony back and asked him, Will we ever be full, any of us? Because what he felt was a huge emptiness that was only confirmed by the cavernous station, the dog, the endless tracks.
His train came. He wished the dog well, walked along the nearly empty platform and boarded, feeling like a man who had nothing for anyone, a man who never brought the news.
THE CHILD THIEF
Melrose got out of his rental car–he had decided the Bentley was too showy–and stood on the gravel looking at Angel Gate. It was an impressive great pile of red brick mellowed with age to pink. Georgian, by the look of it. No less impressive was the avenue of beeches along that winding drive up to the house.
He gathered up his pigskin suitcase and made his way to the door.
This was opened rather quickly by a little girl of undetermined age. That is, the age might be a certainty for her, but not for him.
He could never tell. She was just very young, with hair of such a dark brown it looked black. She was wearing unflattering eyeglasses. This welcoming committee was swelled by her dog. Which, Melrose was glad to see, was not in automatic-bark position, one of those dogs that barked and barked whenever something was opened—door, window, package, no matter whether or not someone dangerous was on the other side.
‘Have you come about the gardens?’
‘Yes, I have. I like your little dog.’
‘His name’s Roy.’
‘Peculiar name for a dog.’
It’s not the Roy you’re thinking of.
‘Had I been thinking of one?’
‘It means ‘king’ or ‘your highness’ and it’s spelled R-o-i. It’s French, but nobody says it right, so I just changed it to plain Roy.’ The temperature seemed to have dropped ten degrees since he’d been standing here, but perhaps that was simply the effect of a Melrose-child encounter. He hoped she wasn’t another Debbie-Polly, or he could be stranded here by the door for a week. ‘Look, could we continue this discussion inside? Before we take up the French Revolution?’
Reluctantly (it seemed to him) she held the door wide.
‘Ta, very much.’ He kept telling himself sarcasm should not be wasted on children. ‘I’ll say one thing for your dog–he doesn’t bark.’
‘He doesn’t need to.’
Melrose frowned over this inscrutable explanation.
‘You’re to come to the kitchen. Aunt Rebecca’s making lunch.’
He followed his guide from the lovely marble hall into an equally lovely dining room. Lovely to Melrose because it looked used, comfortably used. The family portraits (if that’s what they were) were not as imposing as portraits usually are. The subjects here all seemed to have been caught doing something and the painter captured the spontaneity, except for the military-looking one up on the horse.
‘Who is Aunt Rebecca?’
‘I gathered that. Is she anything else?’
‘She takes care of me since my mum and dad died.’ (Oh, dear. This was sounding familiar. Would he have to walk softly now?)
‘She’s housekeeper here.’
She had pushed through a swinging door and he quickly raised his hand to keep it from thumping back in his face.
It was a vast kitchen, one of the biggest Melrose had ever seen outside of a hotel. Along one wall ran a row of windows that lent the room a greenhouse effect. Light poured through across a long deal table set with three places.
‘He’s here,’ said the girl. ‘This is him.’ Having done her duty, she went to sit at the table.
The woman who turned at this announcement Melrose supposed was Rebecca Owen. She looked surprised. ‘Lulu, I told you you were to come and get me when Mr. Plant arrived!’ She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and said, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m Rebecca Owen, Mr. Scott’s housekeeper. He was called away and asked me to be sure you were comfortable. He’ll be back later this afternoon, around teatime.’
Melrose was glad to know he would be staying in a house where tea was still a ritual. It warmed him to know this.
She turned and picked up a platter of sandwiches. ‘I thought you’d like some lunch.’
‘That’s kind of you. You know, what I’d really like is some coffee.’
‘We’ve got that, too. If you’ll just have a seat.’ She nodded toward the long table where Lulu was already ensconced, sitting with her back to the window through which a dazzle of sunlight made her straight dark hair look like licorice.
Melrose took the seat opposite her, the better to survey the grounds beyond. The platter of sandwiches appeared and Lulu helped herself to one from which she took one slow bite after another, handing down little bits to Roy–at least Melrose assumed she wasn’t just throwing them down on the floor.
Rebecca Owen poured Melrose coffee and Lulu what looked like lemonade. She then sat down.
Melrose said, ‘I have a question about your dog.’ They both looked at him, Rebecca Owen more surprised by this question than Lulu, who probably had a question about every thing on God’s green earth.
‘At night, if a robber came in, how would you know, seeing that Roy doesn’t bark at strangers?’
Lulu looked thoughtful and pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose. ‘I expect Roy would think of something.’ She drank her lemonade, watching Melrose over the rim of the glass.
Definitely a Polly type. He turned to Rebecca Owen. ‘It looks as if Mr. Scott is having extensive work done.’ He nodded toward the wall of windows, which he was facing.
‘He is. Everything had pretty much gone to seed over the last few years, and now he’s decided it wants sprucing up.’ Melrose took umbrage. Was he to be no better than a sprucer? He said, ‘Has he someone overseeing it? Or just the gardeners working?’
‘He has a landscape fellow. I think he’s called a garden architect. It seems everything these days has its specialist, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes. It’s hard to find a general practitioner anymore. They’re all specialists. And specialists within the specialty. The whole thing’s going to hell. Oh, pardon me–’
He said to Miss Owen, ‘And you, do you specialize?’
‘Lord, no. I’m general dogsbody: cook, housekeeper, doorbell answerer – that is, except when Lulu decides to be the welcoming committee herself.’
Rebecca Owen was an attractive woman who didn’t spend a lot of time in front of a mirror. He put her in her late forties or early fifties.
Lulu, who looked as if her weight could be measured by quantities of air, was now eating a watercress sandwich. Roy had come out from under the table to sit stiffly by Melrose’s chair. Why was it that other people made dogs want to frolic, whereas all he provoked in them was this blind staring?
He drank off the rest of his coffee, finished his cheese sandwich, pushed back and said, ‘Tell me where I’m to stay and I’ll be off.’
‘Of course. Lulu can show you to the cottage; it’s just over there.’ She pointed across the gardens.
‘Okay,’ said Lulu. ‘I can carry your suitcase if you like.’
‘Certainly not. I’m much bigger than you.’ Melrose picked up his case and they went out.
The kitchen was in, or perhaps constituted, the short left wing of the house. They crossed a patio and walked down several wide, shallow terraces that gave a sunken garden effect to the land beyond. They passed a bronze statue of two boys with buckets, one lad holding his bucket higher than Melrose’s head and could have doused him had there been water running and had the boy, of course, been animated. Melrose thought this sculpture amusing and a pleasant respite from draped and armless maidens.
Lulu pointed off to the bottom of the gardens. ‘We had a murder here.’
Triumph or pride registered in her tone, as if the place had done something wizard.
He expressed surprise. ‘Good lord, who was murdered?’
‘Nobody knows, not even the police.’
They were walking a path that was outlined in yew hedges and crisscrossed with other paths. ‘Your gardens are beautiful.’
‘I like it when it snows. When the snow tops the hedges and shadows move back and forth.’
‘Do you get snow in Cornwall?’
‘Sometimes we get a lot.’
Melrose seriously doubted it. Down toward the bottom of the garden he saw two figures, a man and a woman, planting or hoeing or whatever people did in that world which he would prefer not to mess about in. None of the Ryland experience as (so-called) undergardener seemed to stick except filling and emptying wheelbarrows full of dirt.
‘That’s the Macmillans. He’s her father. They have a big garden shop outside Launceston. Here’s the cottage.’
Architecturally, the cottage bore no resemblance to the main house. It was built of stone and knapped flint in a checkerboard design, with a thatched roof, and even a thatched porch overhanging a wide step flanked by two narrow columns. It was surrounded by a hedge out of which had been carved a topiary to hang over the pebble walk. Only a one-up, one-down, it was the fussiest little place Melrose had ever seen. The fuss continued on the inside with the curtains patterned in blue and pink hydrangeas and sofa and two armchairs covered in a cretonne full of pansies, roses and lilies–a regular flower garden of furniture.
No wonder Lulu liked it. ‘I’m going to live in this someday’.
‘How long are you staying?’
‘Five, ten minutes and then I’ll clear out and leave you to it.’
‘The kitchen’s in here. Come on!’ she demanded. Melrose was not allowed to linger. ‘See, there’s everything you need, like a teakettle.’ She pointed out the mismatched, but very colorful crockery on the open shelves; the pots and pans; the various appliances, small, but clearly big enough for the one or two (at most) people who’d be occupying it.
‘You should be a tour guide. Blenheim Palace would suit you.’
‘I don’t know if I’d care for a palace.’ She had a way, when she was thoughtful, of wrapping a strand of hair round her finger, which was an unsuccessful maneuver, since her dark hair was so straight.
‘The Churchills will be inconsolable to hear it. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get settled in–’
‘Okay.’ And she was through the cottage door quicker than a rabbit.
Here was someone who made up her mind and acted on it immediately.
Melrose decided the first order of business was to go upstairs and take a nap.
You’re to come for drinks.’ Lulu intercepted Melrose at the cottage door as he was standing in the doorway contemplating food. Sleeping always made him hungry.
‘I am?’ He looked at his watch. It was five o’clock, he was surprised to see. ‘And by that, do you mean tea with you and unidentified others?’
She squinted in thought, as if the decision were hers to make.
‘Mr. Scott said maybe you’d like whiskey.’
‘Mr. Scott couldn’t be righter. So he’s home, is he?’
She nodded. ‘I’m supposed to tell you and bring you.’
‘Right. Hold on while I get my jacket and we’ll go.’ He did this as she hopped from one foot to the other in one of those energy-wasting displays that kids seemed to favor. Following her along the pebble path, he said, ‘My name, incidentally, is Melrose Plant.’
Now, she was walking backward to talk. ‘My name’s really Louise, but I don’t like that name. I want people to call me Lulu.’
‘I don’t care too much for mine all that much, either. But I don’t want people to call me Lulu.’
‘You can use your middle name.’
‘I don’t have one.’
‘Oh.’ Interest in his name went completely south and probably interest in him, too. She hopscotched her way now on the wider path to the terrace and the house.
It tired Melrose to watch her expending all of that energy. He took solace in the wild growth around him. Solace? Why should he need it? He must; otherwise it wouldn’t have sprung to mind. Although a goodly part of the gardens had come under the purview of the landscape designer and the horticulturists, there was still this wild space around the cottage and its wintry flowers—drifts of snowdrops against the far wall, shoots of narcissus, a handful here and there, the dry fountain, the path from cottage to house in patches slick with moss or covered in bramble, ivy rampaging up the perimeter wall, the white birches at the back, their trunks looking too delicate to withstand any heavy wind (but which were protected by the brick garden wall), bare coppery stems of Rubus grass, thick brown tangles of clematis–it was, he supposed, what any serious gardener would call a right mess, but for him it had a strange charm.
Ahead of him now, and his meandering thoughts, Lulu was calling. He wondered which steps were the ones to be ‘turfed.’ He sighed. Must he really talk about it over drinks, when he’d much rather talk about the past? His past, Scott’s past, any past.
He walked up the steps to the French doors Lulu had disappeared through. She was nowhere to be seen. Probably just getting him on his feet and moving was her understanding of the word ‘bring’ and delivering him to wherever the whiskey was being put into play.
Melrose looked around this octagon-shaped room–at the high windows and the portraits hung between them, at the deep gold walls that might have been paint or might have been damask, with the last of the wan light showing in faint oblongs on the floor. The room’s only furniture consisted of two French settees facing each other but out of easy conversational range.
He walked from here down a long gallery that led to a room at the end whose pocket doors were halfway open. Farther along this gallery were the entrance hall and the front of the house.
Tentatively, Melrose presented himself at the door of this room, a library, judging from all of the books. A dark-haired man stood by the fireplace mantel, upon which sat a glass of whiskey.
There was also a woman whom Melrose didn’t see immediately because she was sitting in a wing chair with its back to the door. The man himself was impressive, the woman plain as junket. Declan Scott, a handsome and (probably to many) tragic figure, a widower and filthy rich, must have had women lined up all the way down that avenue of trees. Melrose doubted that the woman here would have been in the running, though.
Look at Melrose himself, not quite as tall or as handsome but just as filthy rich, and he wasn’t peeling women like grape skins from his person. So it had to do with a way (unconscious, Melrose was sure) of isolating one’s self. Declan Scott would have far more reason to do this than Melrose. His wife dies, his only child disappears, and now he’s got a body in his garden. Lucky man.
‘Mr. Plant!’ Declan Scott had looked up from talking to the seated woman and seen him. He advanced toward Melrose, hand out. He introduced the woman as Hermione Hobbs.
Melrose shook Declan’s hand, saying, ‘I’m glad to be here. Your house is beautiful.’
‘Isn’t it just?’ said Hermione Hobbs, with a curdled smile. She was a person, Melrose guessed, who was always ingratiating herself to others, and sometimes got a bit sick of it.
Scott held up the whiskey decanter in invitation and Melrose nodded (he hoped not too eagerly). ‘When I was walking from the cottage, I had the feeling of being caught in a time warp,’ Melrose said as he accepted the drink Scott handed him. ‘It was a very seductive feeling, I mean the temptation to do nothing but just contemplate it.’
Hermione said, ‘You know, I’ve often felt the same way.’ Which Melrose was sure she hadn’t.
‘But I must be going.’ She placed her glass on the small table beside the chair and rose.
Declan Scott made no attempt to detain her. ‘Thanks for stopping by, Hermione.’
As he made to accompany her to the door, she said, ‘Oh, I can find my own way out. Nice to meet you, she said, and walked out.
‘An old friend,’ said Scott as he gestured for Melrose to sit down. Melrose felt he was sinking into the small deep sofa, rather than merely sitting on it. Declan Scott sat in an armchair across from him. But unlike the settees in the octagon room, these were placed for conversation.
‘You’re suggesting,’ said Declan Scott, smiling, ‘if you were I, you wouldn’t change it?’
Melrose wondered for a moment what he meant, then said, ‘You mean the time warp business?’ The man certainly listened.
Declan nodded and went on. ‘I’m restoring the gardens out there as an act of will. Or maybe I should say an act of faith.’
‘I don’t know. Maybe that’s the faith part. It’s because my wife wanted it. And I’ve waited too long as it is.’ He held up his glass, his own was empty–to see the reflection of the fire, or perhaps the emptiness of the glass. Then he rose and went to the drinks table, a handsome gilt and brass mounted commode, whose twin sat on the other side of the fireplace. Melrose knew enough about antiques (hanging around Marshall Trueblood did that) to know those pieces, taken together, would be in the thousands of pounds.
Family heirlooms, probably, but it made him reassess his own filthy rich factor.
Declan poured his drink and went on. ‘I like that section around the cottage. I like it that snowdrops grow no matter what you do or don’t do. They were my wife’s favorite. Mary was one of those people it was relaxing to be around. There aren’t very many of them, people with whom you can kick off your shoes, sit back and sort of sink into the ground. Like that garden out there, sunk in desuetude.’
‘Well, if it reminds you of your wife, no wonder you don’t want to change it.’
Declan looked up from his drink, whose cut-glass surface he’d been tracing with his finger. ‘Perhaps you’re right. He returned to his chair. ‘According to Superintendent Jury, you’re an expert gardener.’
‘Not at all, not at all. My line is turf, pure and simple. Oh, and enameling, too, of course.’
‘And why did you choose to concentrate on those two aspects of gardening?’
Melrose’s mind went blank (not for the first time). He might have expected the ‘what’ but certainly not the ‘why.’ Why indeed would anyone care why Melrose was interested in turf. ‘Well, turf was a favorite subject of my father. Many’s the time I’d hear him holding forth on the beauty of soil. I guess I was just indoctrinated from an early age.’ Let’s get off this subject in a quick hurry.
He deliberately downed his whiskey, and then held up his glass. ‘I wonder–?’
‘Oh, sorry.’ Declan took it to the drinks table. ‘Well, you mustn’t mind the Macmillans, the father especially thinks if he doesn’t know about it, it isn’t worth knowing.’
It probably isn’t, thought Melrose, as Declan handed back his glass and sat down.
‘Anyway, don’t let Macmillan get in your hair. The old guy can be extremely bossy.’
‘I’m surprised the Macmillans don’t do it themselves–the turfing.’
‘They never have, and the old man calls it “flighty pretty”, which goes for the enameled mead, too.’
Melrose laughed. ‘I’m sure he’ll find me “flighty pretty”, too.’
‘I hope you live up to that description; it’ll furnish me enough entertainment to eke out my days.’
Melrose laughed again. Declan Scott was rather entertaining himself; indeed for all the gloom and doom that dogged him, Declan himself hardly lived up to the notion of the tragic figure. But he would have to eschew the entertainment if they were to get to the subject of murder. He’d started to work his way round to it, when Scott brought it up himself.
‘I’m sure after you’d been here for ten minutes, Lulu told you about the murder.’
‘That’s about how long it took her, yes. This must be awfully unpleasant–a murder in your garden.’
Declan smiled. ‘Not for Lulu. What surprises me is that police can’t identify this woman. You’d think that with all of the sophisticated equipment they have, and that with fingerprints, DNA and teeth and so forth, they’d have got it in one, wouldn’t you?’
‘Well, first there has to be something to compare fingerprints with. About all it says is that she’d never been arrested.’
‘They’ve got Scotland Yard in on it: your friend.’ Declan smiled. ‘He’s a very pleasant fellow. After five minutes, you forget he’s a detective.’
‘I’d suppose that manner’s put any number of villains away.
Declan’s smile broadened. ‘I see what you mean. But this woman. It’s so extraordinary. It seems there’s nothing to tie her to, well, anything. It seems so strange when we live in a world where you can scarcely breathe without proof of identity and where people seem to know more about you than you do yourself, yes, it’s very strange. It’s almost as if she appeared for a single purpose and then vanished. Or would have done, if she hadn’t been murdered. Appeared and disappeared—that whoever she was, she was that person for that purpose only.’
Melrose considered this.
Declan shook his head. ‘For a purpose we may never know, but one in which I, for some reason, appear to be involved. That part of it, I really don’t like.’ He set his empty glass on the rosewood table beside his chair. Then he looked at the portrait over the mantel for a moment and said, ‘She was so very plain, one couldn’t help but notice. Strange.’
Clearly he was not referring to his wife, if this was her portrait.
She stood in a black velvet evening gown, her hand up on that same mantel. Anything but plain.
‘In Brown’s Hotel, she seemed out of place.’
‘Brown’s?’ said Melrose. ‘You mean the Mayfair hotel?’
‘Yes, sorry. All of this has been gone over so much I forget not everybody knows about it. I saw her there, having tea with my wife. The woman seemed old, somehow. I’m not talking about years, I mean, I suppose, old-fashioned. Well, that’s not it, either. Something clung to her, like dust, as if she were done in sepia tones, you know, like those old photographs.’
‘Perhaps what did happen was what was supposed to happen. Except the end of it, of course; that is, from her point of view, she didn’t see that.’
Declan said, ‘You’ve lost me.’
‘I’m just wondering if it was an act for your benefit.’ Melrose shrugged and sipped his drink. It was very good whiskey.
Declan said, ‘Well, enough of murder. Let’s get back to the gardens.’
Oh, let’s not. He sighed. ‘Miss Owen mentioned an architect or landscape designer.’
‘That’s Marc Warburton. The gardeners, they’re the Macmillans. They have a big nursery just outside Launceston.’
Warburton. Melrose loved that. He visualized all of the Touchetts and Isabel Archer spread out across the grassy terrace having tea.
He said, ‘But if Mr. Macmillan owns a whole nursery, can’t he supply the turf for the steps?’
‘I asked him. He was unsure as to exactly what was needed.’ Good. ‘Well, it merely depends on the acidity and alkalinity (could that be a noun?) of your soil, but your gardeners would know that with all the planting they’ve been doing.’
‘They said they’d heard of it but never actually seen it.’ That makes four of us–or five if you count Lord Warburton.
‘That’s odd. I would have thought your landscape architect would know all about it.’
‘Oh, he knows about it; he just hasn’t used it. Maybe he thinks it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m afraid you’re on your own here.’ Thank God.
Melrose wanted to steer the conversation around to little Flora Baumann, but he didn’t want to bring it up himself. He stared at his glass, rejecting one opener after another. Lulu. ‘Lulu is your housekeeper’s niece, I understand.’
‘Great-niece. Her parents were killed in a road accident. She’s a bit shy until she gets to know you.’
Melrose nearly choked on his whiskey. Shy? He said, ‘You must be used to extremely forward children, then. I found her to be far from shy. I think she’s cagey.’
‘Sure. Well, not being used to children, I could be dead wrong. I’ve never had any children.’ He glanced at Declan. It was as if Melrose had wounded him.
‘I had. Well, a stepchild, but she felt like my own. She disappeared.’
‘At first, we thought she’d been kidnapped. I still think she was. But in theory, unless there’s a ransom demand...’ Declan’s voice trailed off.
‘Why? There are other reasons for taking a child. We’re always hearing about a baby’s being stolen from a hospital ward or from a stroller while the mother’s in a shop. No ransom demand there.’
‘I know. What bothered me most was I was afraid that the police wouldn’t pursue a so-called abduction as vigorously as a kidnapping. But I think they did all they could; they tried awfully hard. Flora and Mary were visiting Heligan–the Lost Gardens, you’ve probably heard of them. Flora was abducted. That was three years ago. We never saw her again.’
The world might as well have switched off a light in the man, for everything about him seemed suddenly to dim so that it was like looking at a photograph developing in reverse, going back to a lack of image, going back to nothing.
The following day dawned clear and cold. Not that Melrose was up in it. He wondered sometimes what an up-at-dawn experience would be like, but he never wondered enough to try it.
But here in another man’s house and on another man’s payroll (at least metaphorically speaking), he knew he’d have to be up before ten (his usual fall-out-of-bed time) and was prepared to make that sacrifice. Especially this first morning, when he wanted to be out ‘going over the ground’ before the Macmillans arrived. For after they arrived, he planned on going into St. Austell for ‘supplies.’ He was up, wearing his flat cap and a suede jacket with a fleecelined collar he had purchased in Sidbury and which he had asked Ruthven to beat up a little so that it looked old and worn. Ruthven had claimed the jacket was already beat up, if that described a garment so poorly tailored that no man of any taste would wear the thing. But at Melrose’s insistence he had done a fair job with it: creased, cracked, oil spotted and with a few bits missing from the fleecy collar.
Melrose opened the cottage door to be surprised by Lulu with her dog, bearing a little tray. They both stared up at him, Lulu and Roy. ‘Good morning, Lulu.’
‘Here’s your tea.’ She thrust the tray at him with all of the good will of the Man in the Iron Mask’s jailer as he slipped the tray through the slot.
She ran off and he watched her go, wondering if Jury had talked to her. Then he gulped down his tea and with his pipe in a breast pocket proceeded toward the garden. They were already there, Macmillan and his daughter, tamping down earth, pulling up weeds, whatever one did in these cases. (Melrose now wished he’d paid more attention to Miss Broadstairs.) He decided to be hearty.
‘Mr. Macmillan!’ he exclaimed. Macmillan rose from his kneeling position. He was a small man, but strong looking, his nerves probably semiconductors of electricity. One could say that too for the daughter, who stopped working in order to lean on her hoe like a figure out of a Whistler painting, only not as graceful.
‘I’m Melrose Plant!’ he announced, glad that he could use his own name. This turf expertise was, after all, only a hobby. ‘I’m here about the steps and the tuft.’ Could such a person call himself a ‘tufter’? Better just stick with ‘tuft.’ He left off the enameled mead job, not wanting to allow too much opportunity for questions.
‘Nice t’ meet ya.’
‘And I, you.’
Thank God Jury had introduced him to Scott as educated, and he didn’t have to drag out his execrable North London accent that people would believe even less than they’d believe Melrose sang with whales.
‘Millie!’ called Macmillan, unnecessarily, since Millie was already there. ‘So when d’ you start on them steps?’ He nodded toward the several short flights of terrace steps leading from the stone patio down the grassy plateaus to the fountain.
‘Oh, soon. First I need to pick up a few things, you know, a certain kind of fertilizer (better not be too specific, as if he could be) and a couple of other items.’
‘Suprised you didn’t get Warburton to get it for ya. He knows the right places.’
Warburton, landscape architect. Shift gears. He looked at some as yet unplanted rhododendrons. ‘Are you much bothered by voles, Mr. Macmillan? I’d suggest that you wrap those roots in bark just up to ground level.’ This was one of the four pieces of gardening arcana that Melrose had mastered. Diane Demorney thought that four was overdoing it. He needn’t learn the specifics of all four.
But Melrose didn’t agree. The more he could get specific about, the more comfortable he felt.
‘Just don’t get into roses. Once that starts, you’re a dead man,’ said Diane in the Jack and Hammer two days before. ‘Indeed, insist that you not be consulted in any way about roses or anything connected to roses. If roses come up at all–and what gardener doesn’t bring them up?–say it’s always been your tenet the less known the better. That will sound so weird that they’ll immediately conclude you must be a font of wisdom when it comes to roses. But I’m warning you, once you mention black spot you’re done for.’
Macmillan scratched his neck. ‘Well, ah could have a vole or two abo’t.’
Millie said, ‘I’ve seen no evidence of voles, Dad.’ She looked Melrose up and down as if the evidence might just be standing before her.
Melrose took his pipe from his pocket and was considering lighting it but pipes were tricky things to light, so he hit the bowl on the heel of his shoe, knocking out the bit of tobacco that remained. He did this while sizing up Millie, who might be the bright one of the two. ‘I didn’t say there were voles, Miss Macmillan. I merely asked.’ He smiled. He had read up on voles because they were smaller than mice and he’d liked the drawing of them scampering up a tree and chewing the bark with teeth ‘like scissors’ Country Life had said. He went on, ‘You might want to protect that young holly over there with tree tubes.’ He was making himself unpopular. He smiled. There was a salutary side to this: they wouldn’t want to talk to him, most certainly would not attempt to instruct such an arrogant gardener, and would leave him alone to his non-work. Not having caught anyone’s fancy with his bark wrapping or vole, Melrose brought out his third morsel. ‘Well, where shall I put my little plot of enameled mead?’ He looked about as if it were a rhetorical question. Who would give a damn, except some medieval poet who could go on at great lengths ? ‘I have always loved a medieval garden, haven’t you? They’re so romantic.’ How delightful. They were both looking at him from squinty brown eyes.
‘Maybe in there?’ said Millie, pointing toward a deeply hedged-in allotment. ‘There’s a pond. It’s quite pretty.’
‘Really?’ Melrose walked over to the opening in the hedge and looked in. ‘Yes. A kind of secret garden, isn’t it? That should do nicely. One can, of course, get elaborate in one’s design, but I myself prefer a simpler one. I’ve always liked the effect. Ordinarily, one doesn’t do this until spring; that’s in order to cut the grass first.
In the 1600s, gardeners were known to cut around each flower with shears to make the blooms stand out.’
Millie said, ‘It’s like in jewelry, Dad. Tiny bits of colored gemstones arranged to make–’
They were interrupted by the approach of a third person, who, judging from Millie’s expression, was of particular interest to her.
‘Marc!’ she called out, waving.
Melrose didn’t see why the call and the wave were necessary given they were the only ones there.
Marc Warburton was a good-looking man and nobody’s fool, an impression Melrose could have done without. If anyone here could see through him, it would probably be Warburton. Macmilan and daughter quickly chose up sides. She said, ‘Mr. Plant, here, is looking for the right spot to put in his enameled mead.’ Melrose didn’t much care for the ‘his’ in that statement, as if Declan Scott were merely humoring some eccentric relation.
‘Yes, I know, but I don’t see any reason to do it.’ Warburton smiled. The smile was rather twinkly.
‘It’s an effect I’ve always thought very pretty,’ said Melrose, standing his ground. Don’t back down from any position, no matter how weak or laughable. Never, never, never, never back down.
Diane sounded like Winston Churchill at the top of his game. ‘I’ve always thought it a charming pre-Raphaelite thing. Of course, as I was just saying, it works best in spring, given one has to cut the grass to accommodate the flowers. But I thought I’d try just a bit of a pattern to see how Mr. Scott likes it.’
This time Warburton squinted. He was not, Melrose decided, as sure of himself as he made out to be. ‘What sorts of flowers would you use for this?’
‘Periwinkles? Violets, pansies...’ Good God, in early March would a pansy even know its name? Don’t back down don’t back down... It was becoming a mantra. ‘Set off against, oh,Helleborus agitatious.’ He would like to have washed that down with a glass of whiskey.
Warburton had taken out a pipe; now Melrose wished he had his in his mouth, too, puffing away.
‘That’s a new one on me,’ said Warburton, himself about to puff away when he got the thing lit.
‘Yes, it’s rather hard to come by. But I could have my man send some from Ardry End.’ Not only was he possessor of this rare helleborus plant, his man was in on it, too.
Macmillan put in his two pence. ‘Wot’s it look like, then?’ Melrose took the stance (the coward’s stance, Diane would have said) of hedging his bets by getting closer to reality as these people knew it and looked at the distant clumps of hellebore of whatever Latin names, white or a pale something. ‘Like that, except deeper and rather chummy.’
‘Chummy?’ They looked at him, round eyed and startled.
Oh, hell, he should have said ‘chubby.’ Well, too late now.
This is what came of barely digested stuff from Country Life. ‘Yes, it’s just a word I use to describe a plant that gets on well with others. Hellebores that like shade, for example. Though theagitatiousprefers filtered sunlight, it’s quite friendly with shade, too.’ Melrose smiled. There were times when all he wanted to do was pat himself on the back. The other three didn’t look as though they had that in mind, however. Or four, if one counted Roy, who had run along the walk to sit and look at Melrose with curled lip. Roy was the only one whose nonsense limit was working full throttle.
Marc Warburton had now taken a lighter from a pocket, one of those flamethrowers that could be used to caramelize a crumble.
Melrose could not now rescue his own pipe, nearly empty of tobacco, and besides it would appear to give Warburton an edge. No, he would have to look ruminative without the advantage of peering through soothing spirals of smoke. But he better speak first now. ‘I–’ Warburton stepped all over his ‘I.’
‘Mr. Plant, I’m interested in what brought you here.’
(Murder and disappearance ?) Melrose smacked down ‘here’ as if it were a badminton bird. ‘The turfing, you mean? Yes, Mr. Scott wants to restore the gardens to their original–’
Smack. (The game got testy.) ‘I’m well aware of that. I’m the designer.’
Smack. ‘I’m a little unclear about this designing business. Where does the design come in if you’re following the original?’ Big smack from Millie, who quickly came to the defense of Warburton. ‘He has to find it out, doesn’t he? He has to rediscover it, see?’
Melrose would have loved to step on ‘rediscover,’ but he held his tongue.
Roy, however, was glad to make his feelings known. He turned and turned in circles. Although that could have merely indicated confusion as to what the hell was being said.
Bigger smack from Melrose. ‘But surely the footprint (excellent term!) is here. We can make out the old beds, borders, paths, can’t we?’ He smiled winningly.
Well, perhaps not winningly, for no one appeared to be won, except Roy, who came from Warburton to Melrose, who had just expressed the sharpest insight of the morning. Even Roy could have found the footprint.
Warburton was searching for a counter smack to the footprint notion. ‘The original plan isn’t all that clear–’
(Oh, what a lame rejoinder! Warburton should take a lesson from Diane.)
Said Millie: ‘What plants and shrubs are in the original have to be redesigned.’ Rediscover, redesign, Millie Macmillan was really gung-ho on doing things over again.
Melrose frowned. He wondered if Warburton was a necessary adjunct to this garden restoration. He certainly was as far as Millie was concerned, but... He also bet there were original architectural drawings of Angel Gate and its land. He decided to extricate himself from the party. He glanced at his watch and exclaimed, ‘Wow! I’d better get going! I’ve got a date with some fertilizer in St. Austell!’
‘St. Austell?’ said Millie. ‘But wouldn’t it be easier to get it round here someplace? St. Austell’s a distance. We hardly ever go there.’
Precisely. Melrose smiled.
In St. Austell – quite a charming town had Melrose been in the mood for charm – he found a garden supply store where he purchased two bags of fertilizer called Turf ‘n’ Grow because he thought the play on words (‘touch-and-go’) was very imaginative for someone in the fertilizer business. The other reason he bought it was that the gentleman who waited on him said it was a very unusual type of fertilizer, containing numerous ingredients–a chemical bombardment–to enrich the soil. Yes, it was expensive, ‘but I think you’ll find it’s worth it.’ Melrose had always believed the more a thing cost, the better it was–wine, clothes, cars, Brown’s Hotel and the Ritz. This did not extend, however, to beer and animals, excepting racehorses. Aggrieved had cost him a pretty penny; he’d bought the horse from the Ryland Stables. But his goat Aghast he’d bought for a song. Well, you couldn’t race a goat, after all.
And turf, of course he’d need the turf. It was his plan to buy any old turf as long as it bore some resemblance to grass; or even if it didn’t, he could say it too was a most unusual brand. No, turf didn’t come in brands, did it? An unusual cut, yes, he doubted anyone would want to get into that with him. The garden shop manager said, yes, they could get him some and deliver it if he could just give them instruction. (‘Ha!’ Melrose had said in what he hoped was a good-natured, farmerlike voice. ‘Better the instruction should come from you!’ The manager had just offered a dim sort of smile.
As Melrose whistled his way along the pavement, he pictured a goat race. If Newmarket would just put one in between the horse races, it would probably do a lot toward relaxing the race goers.
Rather like bringing on cheerleaders in American sports at halftime. He was carrying a bag of fertilizer over his shoulder, feeling like a character out of Thomas Hardy (as he was also wearing his flat cap), thinking he must make a good show of a man consumed with his trade, hard worker, no slacker. It felt good, but not so good he would want to continue with it outside of the demands of his present job. His car was parked along the street and he dumped the fertilizer into the trunk.
In the small jam of people at the crosswalk, he recognized the woman he’d met at Angel Gate, Hermione Hobbs. This could be a golden opportunity to get some information. He followed her for a few minutes, waiting to see whether she stopped at one of the shops. He hoped she wasn’t going into the church across the way to do brass rubbings. She passed a tearoom (good choice) and was coming up on a pub on the corner.
He hurried and caught her up. ‘Miss Hobbs,’ he said, with far more enthusiasm than he felt.
She turned. ‘Oh, hal-lo.’ These horsey types always seemed to lean on the ‘e’ until it became an ‘ah.’
‘Plant. Melrose Plant. I’m doing that bit of work for Declan Scott.’
She shielded her eyes as if from his bright self and said, ‘What brings you to St. Austell?’
Well, good grief, it wasn’t exactly Aruba, was it? All manner of people were spilling into St. Austell. But she seemed to want to make something of it merely by virtue of her presence here.
‘Supplies. I’ve just been buying fertilizer at the shop down there.’ He nodded in the direction from which he’d come.
‘Yes. Your garden supply shop is well stocked with the stuff.’
‘I began an interest in turf and flowering mead when I was at Oxford.’
She was having a hard time taking anything in, wasn’t she? ‘I read medieval history there and turfing and enameled mead; well, I had always wanted to do that at Ardry End.’
‘Ardry End?’ Her eyes lit up.
‘Yes, my home. It’s been in the family for – look, would you care for a drink (pointing toward the pub) or a cup of tea (pointing toward the tearoom)?’ That he had kindled an interest in himself and fanned the sparks with Ardry End was clear.
‘Why... yes, that would be pleasant. Tea, I think.’ Probably one of those women who thought drinking in pubs was a man’s job and felt she would be better complemented by flower-bedecked cushions and cakes and scones.
It was crowded, but two women were putting on their coats and Melrose nabbed the table they were leaving. The floor was uneven (de rigueur for a tearoom), causing the table to rock slightly.
Instead of tablecloths, there were paper place mats, but one could hardly expect a total adherence to graciousness in these pushy times.
A thin woman in her sixties with lips that seemed permanently pursed in disapproval took their order for tea and toasted tea cakes, all – Melrose was sure – straight out of the bag and the packet.
‘Tell me more,’ said Hermione, leaning toward him, all eyes and ears.
Melrose had forgotten what he’d been telling her less of.
‘Your family seat. It must be lovely. Is it in Cornwall?’
‘No. In Northamptonshire.’
He noted the disappointment. Was that because Northamptonshire was not a destination county? Or was it the distance from Cornwall? ‘The country around there is beautiful. Not as beautiful as Yorkshire. There’s a place for you! The North York Moors.’ Well, that was a bit wide, but it was a way into murder. ‘Yes, it’s too bad Yorkshire has so many bad associations for us, isn’t it?’
‘Pardon?’ She looked vacant.
He had segued quite smoothly to the subject of murder. ‘You know–the Yorkshire Ripper, the Moors Murderers.’ The tea and cakes had arrived. ‘Th’nk you,’ said the purselipped matron as she put the cups and plates down.
Hell, did she have to bust in on the murder? Now he’d have to rev the subject up again, for he had decided Hermione had a fifteen-second attention span.
‘This looks lovely,’ she said, pouring tea.
This was clearly her favorite word. ‘Urn. One wonders about crime these days.’
‘Why?’ She operated on her tea cake with a surgical precision.
Why? He’d sooner talk to Lulu. ‘Well, we have so much more of it.’
She smiled and ate her tea cake. ‘I expect it’s better not to think about it, don’t you?’
‘No, actually. I mean, you surely must be curious about this murdered woman at Angel Gate ?’
‘That was most peculiar. This is quite nice,’ she said of the tea cake.
The tea cake was receiving as much attention as the murder. It would have been deep air, the heaving speech of air... Melrose was suddenly reminded of Wallace Stevens’s poem. He decided he was sitting across the table from the heaving speech of air. Hermione could hardly be in the running for Declan Scott.
He felt in this one-sided conversation as if he were dogsledding, pulled along by a laconic pack of huskies. He said, ‘It’s quite dreadful what Mr. Scott has had to suffer. His wife dead, the daughter abducted. I don’t see how he manages to keep his balance.’ Her little finger was cocked above her teacup as she sipped.
‘That was awful! Poor Declan.’
He waited. When she said no more, Melrose heaved a little air himself and whipped the huskies on. ‘It must have been dreadful for the child’s mother, too. I mean to think she should have been watching –’
In an uncharacteristic little outburst, Hermione said, chinking the teacup back in its saucer, ‘She should have been, shouldn’t she? Well, Mary was never the most careful person. She was so absentminded.’
Absentmindedness would hardly cover the situation. ‘But he didn’t blame her, did he? And, of course, the little girl was his stepdaughter, not his daughter.’ That could have been better put, but it probably made no difference with Hermione.
She chewed and thought this over. ‘I don’t think Declan blamed Mary, no, but you know one does want someone to blame.’
Drily, Melrose said, ‘I should think the kidnapper might be good for a start.’ She missed the sarcasm. He went on. ‘There must have been a lot of speculation. I mean as to why the child was taken?’
‘Declan’s got mountains of money, of course.’
‘But there was never a ransom demand.’
‘That was peculiar. There was some talk about its being done for revenge, but I can’t credit that.’
‘Why would anyone want revenge? Where did that idea come from?’
‘The Hardcastle girl.’
Melrose was for once in this conversation taken aback. ‘Why would this Hardcastle girl want revenge ?’
Hermione shook’her head. ‘No, no. Elsie Hardcastle was the victim.’ She went on sipping her tea.
Melrose nearly reached over and took the cup. At last, a morsel of information, although it sounded as if it might be more than just a morsel – and then she stopped. ‘What... how was she a victim? Of what?’
‘Why, Mary Scott. You see, it was raining and the traffic light was malfunctioning. This was in Meva. It was several months before Flora’s disappearance.’
God, at last she was saying something, but excising the bits that would have made clear what she was talking about. ‘Back up for a moment. First of all, where’s Meva?’
‘Mevagissey, a fishing village not far from Heligan. It was dead dark and the light wouldn’t change. Mary had no choice but to go through it, finally. Elsie was crossing the street and had her umbrella up. Mary’ – Hermione shrugged – ‘hit her. Worse, though, Mary didn’t stop. It was a hit-and-run. But she managed to make the coroner believe that she honestly thought she’d hit something in the road. She didn’t think for a minute it was a person. It was raining so hard, coming down in torrents, and she thought that affected her ability to judge. And everyone knows that narrow street that goes down through the village is hell to drive in the best of circumstances.’
‘Well, she didn’t hit Elsie squarely on, and she certainly didn’t run over her. When she got back to Angel Gate, she was extremely upset and she told Declan she was afraid she’d hit either an animal or a person. Immediately, he called the police and gave them the information. So it was certainly not a hit-and-run, I mean, not in the real sense of one. The coroner was surprised that the blow had, actually, killed the girl.’
‘She was charged, though?’
‘Yes. But the coroner’s court didn’t convict her.’ Hermione paused. ‘Some people thought it was her husband’s money that saved her, as much as the story she told. I’m rather surprised you haven’t heard this. Declan told me you’re a friend of that Scotland Yard superintendent.’ She smiled.
Surely, he was not now about to find that Hermione Hobbs was clever, was he? An altogether different cup of tea?
Hermione went on. ‘You can imagine how the Hardcastles felt when Mary got off.’
‘The court found her innocent?’
‘Yes. The Hardcastles, the father and mother, were pretty restrained about the outcome. It certainly was a dreadful accident, and Mary was so torn up, well, it was hard to hate her.’ If he’d been the parent, Melrose wouldn’t find it hard to hate her or kill her. Or worse.
‘It’s quite possible that Declan –’ She stopped and fiddled nervously with her spoon.
‘I shouldn’t say anything.’
Oh, do, dear lady, and I’ll buy you another pot of tea, another plate of scones, all the stuff in the window you’ve been coveting. Hell, I’ll buy you the tearoom! You’ve finally come through! ‘What shouldn’t you say?’
Now she was busy pleating her paper napkin.
‘More tea!’ said Melrose, and motioned to the proprietress, who sulked over.
Hermione laughed a little. ‘Oh, well, if you –’
Melrose asked the woman for another pot of tea and a selection of the cakes in the window.
The woman picked up the empty tea-muffin plate, went to the window and plopped four of the cakes on the plate and returned it to the table. She picked up the pot and moved off.
‘She does everything with so much élan, doesn’t she? Now, you were saying about Declan Scott–?’
She still looked doubtful.
Don’t dumb out on me now, for God’s sakes. ‘You were about to say that Declan Scott could have done something with relation to the Hardcastles.’
‘Yes, well, I don’t know if I should say it, but Declan might have given the Hardcastles a large sum of money not to make a fuss.’ A ‘fuss.’ Your child is killed and the most Hermione could come up with was ‘fuss.’ This paying off, if he had, sounded coldblooded not so much of Scott, but of the Hardcastles. Melrose wondered how much money had changed hands.
He wondered if Jury knew about this accident. A few months between Elsie’s death and Flora’s disappearance might have police connecting the two. And Declan must have been under the impression that the Hardcastles were satisfied–broken-hearted, but satisfied – that Mary Scott really hadn’t known what she’d done.
And Scott had, after all, called the police; they’d admitted she’d done it.
Back with a fresh pot of tea, their churlish server deposited it on the table and then took herself off.
Hermione said, ‘Police questioned people, Mary’s friends. I thought they might want to establish something about her character. The police who questioned me wanted to know what sort of person Mary Scott was and as to her character. I said it was unimpeachable. I didn’t mention her absentmindedness, the way she sometimes walked around with her head in a cloud. I was afraid that would make them wonder whether she’d been paying attention to the road. And if it was anyone’s fault, it was the town’s, I think. The light had been stuck that way for hours; several people attested to that. Well, it seemed to me it was down to them, to the town – the police or someone.’
‘When Flora Scott disappeared, was there any talk about the Hardcastles’ possibly being behind it?’
She frowned. ‘Well, I expect so. But the Hardcastles are such an unassuming couple. I could not begin to imagine they might have been lying in wait for an opportunity to harm the Scotts. That’s diabolical, don’t you think?’
‘Yes, but then people can be diabolical.’
‘Well, there’s the other child. A son. Elsie wasn’t the one and only.’
So the one wouldn’t be missed so much? Parents didn’t divvy up their love. Melrose thought they loved each of their children completely. If one died it was not a half of the whole who died; it was the whole. He had no experience in this, but he imagined that’s how it was. He wondered if Hermione had children – probably not.
‘Then who might have done it? I imagine you asked yourself this.’
Hermione gave this what she had of her share of serious thought. ‘A stranger, it must have been. Although I hate to even think it – a pedophile, perhaps? Or a thwarted woman, one who couldn’t have children. Or what about the murdered woman?’
Surprised, Melrose looked up. ‘Why do you say that?’
‘I don’t know, perhaps just because the two seem related.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Oh, my goodness. We’ve been sitting here over an hour. I really must be getting on home.’
Melrose signaled the proprietress again. ‘Shall I drop you off? I’d be glad to.’
‘Thanks, but I have my little Morris Minor. You should see it. They’re delightful cars.’
People were always so proud of their Morris Minors, they always seemed to want to introduce them to whomever they were talking to. ‘I’ve enjoyed this discussion very much,’ said Melrose.
‘I, too. And thank you for the tea.’
The proprietress was doing double time at the cash register (no computers here!), and Melrose wondered if she was also cook and cleaner-up.
They thanked each other again and walked off to their separate car parks.
The ground floor of Angel Gate was a blaze of light. As he got out of his car, Melrose wondered if Declan Scott was throwing a party.
He had taken the pebble path around the side of the house and was on his way to the cottage when Lulu appeared.
‘Mr. Scott wants me to tell you you’re to go in.’ She hooked her thumb over her shoulder toward ‘in.’
‘Any room in particular? Or am I just to wander round the dining room like Banquo’s ghost?’
Lulu, literal to a fault, considered this question. She pushed her glasses up on her nose and appeared to be deciding upon the answer. ‘I guess the library. That’s where the others are. Who’s Banquo? Did he really have a ghost or are you making it up?’
‘Mr. B was a king murdered by Macbeth.’ No. ‘Macduff?’ No. Good lord, had he even forgotten the plot of Macbeth? ‘Well, one of the Macs, anyway. And he came back to haunt–whoever. Shakespeare is responsible yet again for traitorous doings and bloody revenge.’
‘Were there a lot of them?’
‘A lot of Macs?’
‘You bet there were. Macs all over the place. Never mind. It’s only a story.’ He turned and started for the house.
‘Flora wasn’t,’ said Lulu, as if calling him back to storyland.
Surprised, Melrose quickly turned to her. ‘You mean Flora wasn’t just a story?’
Lulu nodded. ‘She really got stolen.’
‘Did you know her. well, then?’ He thought they might have been much the same age.
She nodded. ‘We used to play. Nobody knows where she went. Or who took her.’
Melrose detected in this, not surprisingly, some anxiety.
‘But I know,’ said Lulu. She had a piece of string round her finger, which she wound and unwound.
He stared at her. ‘You do? Who, then?’
‘The Child Thief.’
Here was a new wrinkle, a new record in childhood imagination. ‘Is that a or the Child Thief?’ Now that was a comforting question! ‘I mean, is there just one, or are there several?’ Another brilliant question. Why wasn’t Jury here? Where was the man when you needed him? Melrose felt at a loss, although he hated to admit it.
But he wasn’t confusing Lulu; she remained firm in her belief.
‘Only one. There’s just the one Child Thief.’
‘Oh. Well, uh, what does he look like?’
‘Like anybody. Like you.’
‘Me? I assure you, I’m not the Child Thief. It wouldn’t occur to me to steal a child!’
‘That’s just what he’d say.’
She was standing with her feet rolled in, a favorite child posture.
‘You don’t seriously think it’s me, do you?’
That was a relief.
‘You wouldn’t know how,’ she added. ‘All I’m saying is he could be anyone. He could be a lady, too.’
‘Look, why do you think Flora was taken by this person?’ The whole plot was making Melrose nervous.
Lulu looked off into the distance. ‘Because he’s a Child Thief. If you were him, isn’t that what you’d do?’
‘But this is going around in circles!’ He came at it from another direction. ‘Did you tell the police this?’ Macalvie would be delighted to hear this theory promulgated.
She shrugged. ‘They never asked.’
‘Oddly enough, I don’t expect they would.’
Head bent, Lulu was tying knots in the string. ‘I could’ve told them.’ She spun the string in the air and round her finger.
‘Told them what?’
‘Where he lives.’
Melrose sighed. He would be stopping on this path all night listening to her spin out this fantasy in a pattern as twisty as the string. ‘Just as long as he doesn’t take up residence in my cottage, I don’t care.’
She was winding the string again. ‘He lives in different places. Sometimes in London, and sometimes around here, and other times in’ – she was thinking – ‘Scotland. And sometimes in –’
‘I’m sorry I can’t follow this Child Thief on his rambles, but I must go into the house now if Mr. Scott is expecting me. So let’s walk. I imagine your aunt is waiting for you in the kitchen, isn’t she?’
That went unanswered, but Lulu did trudge along toward the house. She said, ‘You better be careful.’
‘Careful of what?’
‘Of who, you mean.’
It sounded as if her mind was hosting the Salem witch hunts.
‘I don’t mean anything. You’re the one with all the ideas.’ As if he had not spoken, she said, ‘There’s a lady in there you don’t know.’ Now she was bouncing what looked like a button on her hand.
Lulu gave him a look reserved for fools and little children.
‘The one in there –’
Her pointed finger reminded Melrose of Marley’s ghost.
‘– with Mr. Scott. Her name’s Patricia.’
‘You’re entirely too familiar with the goings-on around here. Do you spy and listen at doors and look through keyholes?’ She ignored that as they walked along to the patio. He said, ‘Thank you very much for giving me the message. I’ve enjoyed our little talk. Are you going to the kitchen?’
She nodded and ran off in that general direction.
Peculiar child. Well, he was certainly out of his depth with her.
He walked through the octagon room to the library.
This, thought Melrose, is more like it! When Declan Scott introduced him to Patricia Quint, Melrose made a swift comparison between Ms. Quint and Hermione Hobbs. Not only was Patricia Quint in the library, with a drink in her hand, but so was Marc Warburton, with a drink in his.
Melrose wondered – in a shamelessly chauvinistic turn of mind – if she belonged to Declan or Marcus. Or, indeed, some husband somewhere. It was hard to believe that a woman who looked like Patricia Quint did not have some man hovering in the background, if not the foreground, here in front of the fireplace.
The slim white hand not holding a drink reached perfectly straight out and shook Melrose’s. ‘I’ve never known an expert on turf and enameled mead. When you’re finished here, perhaps you could come to me?’
Melrose made a short bow. ‘A pleasure. What problems do you have?’
Patricia laughed. ‘I can’t grow anything.’
‘That does present an obstacle.’
Pat Quint, in her cream-colored suit, looked as if she’d come straight from the mint. She looked moneyed, true, but it was her clarity – of skin, of eyes – and precision – the perfectly fitted suit, the perfectly cut hair – that gave her this newly minted look. The enameled lips, the diffuse blush – all of this might have looked ‘turned-out’ in an artificial way. And though artifice was evident in each lash and silky eyebrow, still she did not look artificial. It was strange, he thought, that she managed to avoid it.
Marc Warburton was smiling (though not heartily) at this talk of Melrose’s speciality, and added, ‘I’m not sure there’s enough in turf to take up much of one’s time, though, is there?’
‘Well, not until you’re dead, no,’ said Melrose.
They all liked that, especially Pat Quint.
But Warburton didn’t want to let go of it. ‘You went into St. Austell for some sort of fertilizer? I can’t imagine you’d find anything you couldn’t get at Macmillan’s own nurseries.’
‘Perhaps. Much of the mixture is straightforward enough, but there are one or two things I mix with it that only the place in St. Austell carries.’
Warburton frowned. ‘Really? What’s that?’
Melrose smiled. ‘Even in fertilizer we have our secrets. Can’t expect me to give them all up, can you?’
‘Dirt isn’t always merely dirt, right?’ said Pat Quint, with a laugh.
But Marc was back, objecting again, this time to Declan. ‘I could probably have done this for you, Declan, if you’d told me you wanted it.’
‘It came about accidentally, Marc. When I was talking to this Scotland Yard – well, you met him. Mr. Plant here is a friend of his.’
Melrose objected. ‘An acquaintance, not a friend. I was doing a job near Northampton, an Italian water garden sort of thing (he was thinking of Watermeadows, which really was Italianate, and with a sad history). Superintendent Jury was conducting an investigation -’
‘But why’s he here?’ asked Pat with some alarm.
Melrose thought that should be obvious.
It was. She went on, ‘I mean, this murder’s a job for the Devon and Cornwall police to sort, isn’t it?’
‘Apparently not,’ said Declan. ‘Why? Do you object to Scotland Yard on your doorstep ?’
‘Not my doorstep.’
He shrugged. ‘Our doorstep, I mean. Our comer of Cornwall.’
‘I don’t object. Scotland Yard just suggests the case is more dramatic.’
Declan said, again in that somewhat instructive tone masked by a smile, ‘I’d say a body found on my grounds is pretty dramatic, Pat, with or without Scotland Yard.’
‘It must be painful for you; it must seem like living it all over again. I mean, Flor –’
‘I know what you mean, Pat.’
As if the man could forget, thought Melrose.
Patricia Quint recovered a little ground by saying, ‘I’m sorry. At times I can be rather thick.’
Declan smiled. ‘I know.’
Warburton said, ‘What have the police found out? Anything new ?’
‘Don’t know. The police don’t confide in me.’ There were times he wished that was true.
Patricia said to Declan, ‘It’s as if someone had a vendetta against you.’
‘I didn’t know the woman,’ Declan said. ‘Why would the killer relate her to me?’
‘Ah, well, that’s the thing, isn’t it?’
‘Or not,’ Declan answered.
‘Speaking of gardens,’ said Melrose, trying to make up for his ‘footprint’ argument earlier, ‘I find your design of this one quite lovely, Mr. Warburton.’
Marc’s eyes widened, as if surprised to hear a compliment from Plant.
‘Thanks. But most of the credit goes to the Macmillans.’
‘Yes, but it’s the architecture that starts it on the right path.’ Melrose shifted the subject. ‘Have you lived here long, Miss Quint?’
‘Pat, please. All my life, really. I don’t live here year-round, though; I go up to London quite often. I’ve got a place in Knightsbridge. Pont Street.’
Pont Street was not a cheap address, but then Pat Quint was not a cheap person. Consider the Upper Sloane Street clothes - Ferragamo, Armani, Max Mara, one of those. ‘And your house here?’
‘Halfway between here and Mevagissey.’
Mevagissey. A place Melrose had barely heard of before was now turning up everywhere, it seemed. He would have liked to hear more about the fate of Elsie Hardcastle, but that would have to wait.
Pat went on. ‘It’s a popular village with tourists. You know, fishing village on the coast. It’s near Heligan, indeed, right round the comer. The Lost Gardens have become a significant tourist draw. Well, they are beautiful, aren’t they?’
Here was a subject best served cold, like revenge. The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Declan said, ‘British troops were bivouacked at Heligan in the Second World War. It was quite interesting, what they did. At one point they decided to mimic the class system, the upstairs-downstairs syndrome, you could say. So they took on different roles.’
‘How did they decide who was to be whom? Lord whoever on the one hand, and the under-butler on the other?’
‘That’s what’s so fascinating. They did it by rank. So the highest ranking would perform as family and the lower ranks as staff.
Then within those categories, there was further ranking: master sergeant, say, as butler; plain sergeant as under-butler. Captain or lieutenant as the titled owner, lieutenant as his son, the earl of whatever.’
Pat laughed. ‘That’s charming, but what was the point of it all?’
‘Something to do, I guess. Maybe we never lack the desire to dress up and be somebody else. You know, the trunk in the attic we looted as children?’
Pat Quint said, ‘I can remember doing that; dress-up appeals to all kiddies, doesn’t it?’ Then, clearly feeling she’d strayed once again too close to little Flora Baumann, she quickly put in, ‘This enameled mead stuff what is it exactly?’
‘It’s quite simple.’ What followed here was much the same information he’d given Jury, such as it was. But then if you were completely unfamiliar with the subject, it probably sounded quite esoteric. Except to Marc Warburton, who didn’t mind taking a backseat to Melrose for the moment.
‘What a pleasant effect that must be,’ said Pat.
‘I hope so.’
Declan Scott was smiling slightly, but he looked far away and unhappy. He was leaning forward in his armchair, watching Melrose, but not really seeing him.
It was at that point that Rebecca Owen came to the door and announced dinner.
‘You’ll join us, won’t you?’ said Declan as he set his half-finished drink down.
‘Thank you, but I’m meeting someone’ — Melrose looked at his watch ‘right now, actually. I’m late.’
Jury was sitting at the bar of the Winds of Change with ! Sergeant Wiggins, who had come with him from London that afternoon. They’d been met at the station by DS Platt, who appeared to have immediately forged a bond with Wiggins.
Perhaps it was their mutual rank. Right now they moved down the bar to continue whatever they had going.
Jury was drinking lager.
‘Sissy drink.’ Melrose asked the barman for an Old Peculier.
‘Sorry, sir, we’re outta that. How about a Guinness?’
‘They’re not the same.’ He sighed, gestured toward Jury’s drink. ‘Give me one of those.’
The barman smiled, enjoying this little cabaret performed by coppers. ‘Yes, sir.’ He went off.
‘So what do you think of Declan Scott?’
‘He’s so charming I’d like to kick him around his garden.’
‘Ha!’ Jury set down his pint and looked at Melrose with a smug grin. ‘Just what I said about Vernon Rice, remember?’
‘It’s not the same thing at all.’ Actually, it was. ‘What about our victim? Haven’t police ID’d her yet? It’s been a week, hasn’t it?’ Jury shook his head. ‘You’d think someone had wiped the slate clean on her. You’d think she had no past.’
‘Or that she’d shared. Thanks,’ said Melrose when his pint was set before him. ‘Shared someone else’s. It’s hard to believe anyone could slip through the net. The only thing you know about her is that she met Mary Scott in the lounge of Brown’s Hotel and you don’t even know that for sure.’
‘Why would Declan Scott invent her? The cook Dora Stout saw her, too.’
Melrose thought for a moment. ‘Here’s something: a woman named Hermione Hobbs told me about an accident Mary Scott was involved in.’
‘I know. Hit-and-run in Mevagissey three and a half years ago. She killed a girl named Elsie Hardcastle. Macalvie was all over the father; Hardcastle was at the point of claiming police harassment.’ Jury looked down the counter to where the barman was shoveling crisps into bowls. When the barman looked up, Jury raised his pint and tapped it.
The barman came along and took the empty glass.
Melrose lit up a cigarette and dropped the book of matches on the bar. He did a double take when he saw Jury staring at him.
‘What? What? For God’s sakes, it’s been years since you quit; am I to throw myself on the reformed smoker’s pyre everytime I light up?’
‘It has not been ‘years.’ It’s been one year and thirteen months–’
‘In other words, years–’
‘–which is no time at all to a smoker. We should institute the smoke-free restaurant rule.’
‘You’re the worst kind of reformed smoker. You’re the take-all-the-fun-out-of-it kind.’ Melrose exhaled a stream of smoke, not precisely in Jury’s face, but not precisely out of it, either.
Jury waved it away and coughed artificially. ‘Secondhand smoke is as bad for your lungs–’
‘Oh, puleeze.’ Melrose stabbed out the cigarette. ‘All right, Macalvie more or less assigned himself to Flora Baumann’s case, and consequently paid a lot of attention to the hit-and-run. Anything to do with the Scotts he would have paid attention to.’
‘Right.’ Jury turned to look across the bar and saw Cody Platt and Wiggins in the other room at the snooker table. Wiggins was racking the balls. Wiggins playing snooker? God had to be kidding around. No, apparently not, for now Wiggins was chalking a cue.
Jury called over to Cody Platt.
Jury motioned him over.
Platt leaned his cue against the table as Wiggins gave Jury almost exactly the same look that Melrose had. Talk about your killjoys.
‘Yes, sir?’ said Cody.
‘Do you remember a hit-and-run case involving Mary Scott?’
Cody nodded. ‘In Mevagissey. ‘Bout three and a half years ago, that was. She ran a red light and hit a girl named Elsie Hardcastle.’
‘She got off with a suspended sentence, right?’
‘Right. For one thing, she didn’t exactly ‘run’ the light. It wasn’t working right. If she’d waited for the green, she’d have been there all night. Several people attested to it being out of commission. Rain flapping around like sheets in the wind. And the girl Elsie was wearing dark clothes and had her head hidden by her umbrella. Mary Scott would have needed second sight to avoid her. The thing that told against Mary was that she fled the scene.’
‘Thanks. Back to your snooker. How’d you ever get Wiggins to play?’
‘Me get him?’ Cody smiled. ‘No, it’s the other way round. He got me to. He’s champion, Al is.’ Cody walked off.
Melrose said, ‘Al?’ He was eating vinegar crisps.
‘I have never heard Wiggins talk about snooker, never.’
‘Well, Sergeant Wiggins may be leading other lives.’
‘I’ve never been sure whether he’s leading this one.’ Wiggins was just about to make a shot when Jury called to Cody Platt again. The cue slipped off the ball and Wiggins, clinging to his shooting position, shifted his gaze and gave Jury an uncharacteristic black look.
‘Sorry,’ called Jury.
Cody snickered and walked to the bar. ‘Thanks. I’m losing.’
‘A hit-and-run in any event is a serious matter. I’d’ve thought an inquest would have come up with something – depraved indifference, perhaps – that would have landed her in the nick, no question.’
Again Cody spread his hands and shrugged. ‘Declan Scott has a lot of influence around here.’
‘Declan Scott is also a man of some character and conscience. I don’t see him trying to buy his way out of manslaughter.’ Cody said, ‘His way, perhaps. But her way, that’s different. He would have jumped through hoops of fire for Mary Scott. I don’t think he’d have thought twice about buying off the local constabulary, or magistrate, or the Hardcastles.’
‘Can you be bought?’ said Melrose.
Wiggins, cue stick still in hand, came up behind them. ‘May we go on with our game?’
‘Absolutely go on with it,’ said Jury. ‘According to Cody you’re quite the lad when it comes to snooker. I’ve never heard you as much as mention it, though.’
‘No, well, you don’t play, do you?’
‘No, Wiggins, and I don’t drink green gunk or eat black biscuits, either. But you’re always more than happy to satisfy my curiosity in that regard.’
Wiggins curled his lip. ‘Ha ha.’ He walked off with Cody.
Melrose caught beer in his windpipe from an aborted laugh.
Jury slapped him on the back. ‘I’m not sure Sergeant Platt’s a good influence.’
Melrose gave a strangled answer. ‘Oh, I think just the opposite.’
Jury plucked menus from little aluminum holders, handed one to Melrose.
They looked, trying to decide between the fish, the beef, and the curry. One of each fish and beef made it easier, especially since they didn’t intend to order one of the five different curries listed.
Jury shook his head. ‘This menu makes me nostalgic for the Blue Parrot.’
‘I’ll tell Trevor Sly.’ Trevor Sly owned the Blue Parrot. ‘He’ll be thrilled.’
‘Trevor Sly is always thrilled.’ Jury closed his menu. ‘Thrilldom is his métier.’
‘I’m having the plaice and chips.’
‘And peas, for a change. Yes, that’s a creative choice, isn’t it? I think I’ll have that, too. So will Wiggins and Cody.’ Jury called over to them. ‘Fish and chips all right for a meal?’ This earned him another scowl from Wiggins, whose shot Jury had once again ruined. But they both agreed to the fish and chips.
When the barman came along, they put in four orders for the fish and chips. ‘Less work for the cook.’ He laughed and said the food would be right up and then got them fresh drinks.
Jury thought for a moment and then washed his hands down over his face. ‘I don’t get it.’
Melrose looked at him. ‘What? This case?’
Jury nodded. ‘Here’s a little girl abducted and no demand for ransom of any kind ever made. It’s been three years. If I’d been Mary Scott, I’d have slid completely off the rails.’
The pub fell quiet. All they heard was the occasional crisp click of the billiard balls.
‘Listen, I’m sorry about your cousin,’ said Melrose. ‘Was it hard? The funeral?’
‘The funeral wasn’t, but, yes, her death was hard. Does someone have to die before you sort things out?’
Jury looked from Melrose to his watch. He paused to see if Wiggins was about to hit anything and then called over to Cody. ‘What’s happened to your boss? He should’ve been here an hour ago.’ Cody leaned his cue against the table and took out his cell phone. While he waited he seemed to be studying the table. He spoke into the cell, nodded, slapped it shut. ‘He’s on his way, be here in twenty minutes.’
The twenty minutes was taken up with the fish and chips, surprisingly good. Wiggins stated his preference for mushy peas, a preference none of the others shared. They all drank more beer, except for Wiggins, and Cody, who sipped club soda.
Melrose asked their barman if he could locate a Puligny Montrachet ‘64 in his cellars and the barman (to his everlasting credit, thought Jury) turned this over in his mind and said, ‘The ‘66 and ‘70, but not the ‘64. Sorry.’ He walked off.
‘Rotten luck,’ said Melrose.
‘Some days are like that,’ said Jury.
The door opened and rain and Macalvie swept in. He stood by their table and shook some beads of water from his coat. He didn’t take it off; he rarely did.
‘You’re getting water on my fish,’ Jury said.
‘It’s used to it.’ He moved off to the bar.
‘They’re out of the Puligny Montrachet ‘64,’ Melrose called after him.
In a couple of minutes Macalvie was back carrying a glass of whiskey. ‘Christ, what a night.’
‘Where’ve you come from?’ asked Wiggins, still plowing away at his plate. ‘You seem a bit.., out of sorts, if you don’t mind my saying.’
‘I’m always out of sorts, Wiggins. Glad to see you, though.’ He sat back, took out a cigar. ‘I was at Angel Gate.’
Melrose was surprised. ‘I just came from there a couple of hours ago. Have I missed something?’
‘I wanted to talk to Declan Scott.’
Now Jury was surprised; he was about to say he thought Macalvie was leaving Declan Scott to him, but didn’t.
Melrose said, ‘When I left they were about to sit down to dinner.’
‘I know. I interrupted them. While they were having dinner, I went to the kitchen to talk to Rebecca Owen. She gave me a cup of tea. Nice woman. She came to Angel Gate on the same day that our mystery woman did. I was hoping she might have remembered something about the victim. Which she didn’t. I went back. Same thing. No sign of anyone around. She wasn’t around when the mystery lady came to the house. So she had nothing to say about whether Scott had seen her or not.’
‘Why would he lie about having seen this woman with his wife?’
‘Yeah. Rebecca Owen said the same thing: ‘My goodness, why would Mr. Scott lie about her?’ Then this niece of hers–’
‘Lulu,’ said Melrose.
‘Lulu says ‘Because people like to lie,’ as she sat munching a cookie. All eyes, she is. So’s that crazy mutt of hers.’
‘‘Because people like to lie.’’ Melrose said, ‘It sounds like one of her mysterious pronouncements. They don’t mean anything.’
‘Oh, right?’ Macalvie hooked a thumb toward Melrose as he looked at the others. ‘Our expert on childhood behavior has spoken.’
‘I’m only making the point that Lulu has a flair for drama. She likes to make you blink.’
Macalvie said, ‘She asked me if I was ever going to find Flora.’ He looked around the pub. ‘I said I just didn’t know. To which she then says, ‘Why? Aren’t the police smart enough?’’
‘Good question,’ said Cody with a snicker.
Macalvie’s mouth formed a small circle through which he puffed smoke. ‘Yeah, so after I slapped her up the side of the head, I modestly confessed, ‘No, I guess we aren’t.’’
‘‘That’s too bad,’ she says as if I hadn’t been kidding.’ He drew in on his cigar again.
A dozen or so customers had come in while they’d been sitting at the table. It was an indifferent pub night. If there really was such a thing.
Macalvie went on. ‘So then I asked Lulu if she missed Flora.
‘No,’ she said.’
‘Her aunt gets a little upset by this. ‘Lulu, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You and Flora had good times together.’ Lulu would only admit to some good times. This kid would drive me nuts inside five minutes. She’s so contrary.’
Wiggins looked up from his few remaining chips (it took him an eon to finish a meal), his eyebrows raised.
‘So Lulu stood–or rather jumped—from one leg to another like she had to pee while that dog was bouncing off the walls like he needed a fix. I got up from the table, thanked Miss Owen and turned to go. Then Lulu said, ‘I know who took her.’’
‘Ah,’ said Melrose.
‘‘Ah, what?’’ When Melrose merely shrugged, Macalvie went on. ‘Well, this stopped me in my tracks. I looked at her looking at me, looking at and stirring her tea and waiting for me to ask. Okay.
I gave up and asked: ‘Who?’
‘‘The Child Thief.’’
‘I opened my mouth to ask what in hell she meant and she said, ‘That’s all I’m telling you.’
‘Ordering my hands not to strangle her, I asked why? Why wouldn’t she tell me more?
‘‘Because I don’t know any more than that. It’s just the Child Thief.’ That’s what I mean.’ He paused. ‘No wonder I hate talking to kids.’
Melrose knew it wasn’t for that reason. ‘Lulu’s not one of your ordinary children.’
‘There are no ordinary children.’ Macalvie turned to Jury.
‘What do you think?’
‘About Lulu? I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her.’
‘You could get something out of her, I bet.’
Jury drained his pint, set it down. ‘I don’t know if you can talk to kids if your purpose is to get something out of them.’ He shrugged.
‘Maybe you can’t talk to anyone if that’s your purpose.’ He looked round the table to see all of them looking at him, perplexed. ‘Sorry.’ He added, ‘I’m going over there in the morning. I’ll talk to her.’ He felt vaguely ashamed, without knowing why. He picked up his pint, remembered it was empty and got up. ‘I’m in the chair; who wants another? Before Wiggins and I toddle along to Mevagissey.’ Wiggins looked up, surprised, and none too happy. ‘Sir?’
‘A family by the name of Hardcastle. The mum said they’d be happy to see us.’
Wiggins looked with something akin to longing at the other room with the billiard table.
‘I’m sorry we can’t take it with us, Wiggins.’
Melrose said, ‘Well, I’ve got to get back to my digs or I’ll never rouse myself in the morning. I wish I had Ruthven here.’
‘Yeah, that’d help your case,’ said Macalvie. ‘A gardener with his valet.’
‘It’ll take forever,’ said Melrose. ‘All I have is this rented car, made for midgets. Good night.’
Jury and Macalvie said good night to him. Jury set down his pint and asked Cody for the keys to the Ford.
Macalvie asked himm to hang on for a minute.
Cody gave the keys to Wiggins and they both rose and announced they were going to finish their game. They returned to the snooker table.
Macalvie said, ‘Do you think it’s possible this woman can’t be traced because she actually wasn’t this woman?’
Jury looked down into his empty glass. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I think.’
‘Maybe she was masquerading as somebody else and that’s why it’s been such a damned problem identifying her. Look, we’ve circulated this morgue shot; we’ve run everything we could possibly run. The pathologist has found nada as far as the body is concerned. But if she doesn’t look like that in real life? Except for staff at Brown’s Hotel–assuming Scott’s story is true–who might recognize her as the woman with Mary Scott, and when she was here, well, what if all the rest of the time she looked entirely different?’
‘Why would she have disguised herself to present herself to Mary Scott?’ said Jury.
‘I don’t know. Unless...’
‘Unless the disguise wasn’t necesarily for Mary. Maybe it was for Declan.’
The car was pointed toward Mevagissey. ‘Pointed’ was the right word, since Wiggins had found a road thin as a string and was driving as if the car were a missile. It was still raining.
‘Try to miss that wagon up ahead, will you, especially the two people in it?’
‘I see it, sir.’ Wiggins sighed in exasperation. ‘Of course I see it.’ He cut the wheel and raced past it, never caring what could have been coming toward them, and thank God nothing was.
‘I’ve never known you to drive like a maniac, Wiggins.’
‘It’s probably getting out of London, all that filth, and breathing clean air and feeling freer, you know.’
‘You’ll certainly be feeling deader.’
The rain poured. Wiggins drove.
‘We’re coming into Mevagissey, I think.’
Which was, Jury was sorry to see, at the bottom of this impossibly narrow road. The sign at the top suggested one park in one of the car parks at the top. Fortunately, there were lights, lights coming from tearooms and small souvenir shops. It was now dead dark.
Wiggins started down.
Jury said, ‘You’ve noticed this road is walled on each side?’
He pointed left and right like a flight attendant pointing out exits. Of which they’d none. ‘They’re very unforgiving, these stone walls.’
‘Haven’t hit anything yet,’ Wiggins said in a chirrupy voice.
‘You’re a police detective, and you’re satisfied with the logic of that statement? Is it your recent association with demons or with Cody Platt that’s opened up this devil-may-care side of you?’
‘I’d hardly say that, sir.’
‘I know. That’s why I’m saying it.’
Jury shined a small torch on the map of the town and directed Wiggins to the left, then the right, then the left again and they ascended another street.
‘Seems to be all cliffside.’ Wiggins urged the car on, as if it were an unyielding donkey.
‘Doesn’t it just?’
It was dead dark. Jury preferred not to look out of the passenger’s window.
‘Strange how the night just shuts down so quick,’ said Wiggins.
‘Quick as a coffin lid.’
The road finally straightened out.
‘What else did Cody tell you about the Hardcastles?’
‘They’re lower middle class, that the death of the girl Elsie is probably the most that’s ever happened to them.’
‘It would be, wouldn’t it? The loss of a child would be the most that happened to anyone. Certainly to Mary Scott. To Declan Scott, too, even though Flora wasn’t his.’ Jury was checking numbers and names on the houses.
‘Yes. I didn’t put it right. Cody meant that he thought the parents were pretty much making a meal of it. It sounds terrible put that way; he meant that he didn’t believe all of the histrionics. They–or the mum, at least–were overplaying their hand.’
Jury frowned. ‘That’s interesting.’
‘She seemed to Cody to be delighted to have the attention of the police.’
‘It’s nice to be wanted, isn’t it? Here it is. On the left there.’ There was space for another car on the concrete apron next to the little sign that said HARDCASTLE HAVEN.
‘Hardcastle. Wasn’t that the name of a character in one of those Restoration comedies?’ said Jury, opening the car door and getting out. He looked at the pebble dashing of the front of the house, its dim porch light barely showing in the darkness. ‘She Stoops to Conquer, that’s it. Goldsmith, I think.’
‘The play. Early-eighteenth-century stuff. Restoration comedy. That’s it.’
They were walking by way of a path made up of evenly spaced circles of stone. The path looked fake. ‘What are their first names ?’
‘Hers is Maeve; his is William. Then there’s the remaining child, Peter, who’s around twelve. Mental, he is.’
Jury was about to correct Wiggins when the door opened and there was Maeve (Jury assumed) in a bright flowered dress, a whole garden of flowers against a light blue background that looked a bit too summery for March. She had a pasty complexion and a quick bright little Cupid’s bow mouth, full of talk, Jury was sure.
‘Are you the men from Scotland Yard, then?’ She asked this even as Jury and Wiggins were getting out their warrant cards.
‘William! They’re here!’
It sounded so much what one might call out, announcing relations who’d turned up for a celebration or an eagerly anticipated sporting evening.
He called back the answer: ‘Well, bring ‘em in, love!’
‘Come on in. Just go on through–that’s right–to the back parlor.’
In the wavering watery light cast by wall sconces and the street lamp in the rain slipping through the open door, the hallway made Jury think of a rainy alley.
With William in the back parlor was a sodden-faced lad with the small, closely set eyes and puttylike countenance of a child cursed by Down syndrome.
‘Sit down, sit down,’ said Maeve. ‘Our Petey’s made tea!’ Petey did not respond to this and Jury imagined his connection with tea making had to do with putting the sugar on the tray, no more. Petey immediately attached himself to Sergeant Wiggins, going to stand close by his chair and planting a hand on Wiggins’s arm. Wiggins did not want to appear to be shaking off the hand, but shake it off he did under cover of reaching for something – his notebook, his pen – in a side pocket of his coat, which he still wore. He did not return forearm to chair arm, either, seeing Petey was still fixed to the spot.
His mother chimed, ‘Now, Petey, that gentleman’s a police officer and he could arrest you if you don’t behave.’ She thought that quite amusing.
Nobody else did.
Said William Hardcastle, ‘It’s three and a half years since that woman run down our Elsie. Now they’re sendin’ Scotland Yard around. Bit late in the day, I’d say.’ He pinched ash from his cigarette, smoked down to a stub. He looked uncomfortable in his clothes, as if donning a fresh white shirt was too much of an effort.
He’d sooner be in his vest, as usual, for sitting around drinking a cup of tea and watching the telly.
Jury had not removed his coat. He could see Macalvie’s point here. Wiggins, though, now took his off as an act of self-defense and draped it across the arm of the chair where Petey stood to form a kind of barrier between them. The child was undeterred. His hand crept along the coat.
‘This is in relation to a new case, Mr. Hardcastle. You’ve probably heard about the murder of a woman on the Scotts’ estate.’ He wished immediately he could call back that word, with its suggestions of wealth and privilege and (to William Hardcastle) indolence and lack of moral fiber.
Hardcastle said, sententiously, ‘What goes around comes around, I says to meself when I read about that.’ He stabbed a forefinger at Jury.
It wearied Jury to hear such claptrap cliché. ‘What do you mean? That Mr. Scott somehow deserves misfortune?’
‘It’s a curse, I say. Those people are cursed.’
Soberly, Jury said, ‘I expect Declan Scott would agree, considering he’s lost both his wife and daughter. And now there’s the murder of a stranger on his property.’
With another finger pointing, Hardcastle said, ‘Where there’s smoke, remember? And I can tell you we didn’t appreciate you lot comin’ round hintin’ maybe I’d somethin’ to do with that little girl’s disappearance. Right, Maeve?’
Was it a signal for tears? Maeve didn’t actually shed any, but she was quick with her handkerchief, pressing it hard against her eyes. ‘Our poor Elsie. Dreadful. Criminal that was. And that Scott woman gets off with no more’n a slap on the wrist. That’s what money’ll do for you. You can run a child down in the street and nothing happens to you. Criminal.’
‘El-suh,’ said Petey, trying a word on for size, it made no difference what word. ‘El-suh.’
‘Poor Petey feels it more’n us, I shouldn’t wonder.’ Petey smiled broadly at the room before returning his gaze to Wiggins.
The room seemed to be misting over with cheap emotion.
‘Given the disappearance of Flora Baumann occurred not very long after your daughter was killed, I think it reasonable you might have come under suspicion, Mr. Hardcastle. Anyone in your position would, and they were considering all possibilities. Of course, I can understand your dismay.’ And other shibboleths, thought Jury, falling into the cliché rut.
‘I expect you can imagine how my William felt,’ Maeve opined, ‘with him as much as accused of making off with that little girl?’
‘What,’ said Mr. Hardcastle, ‘was I supposed to be doing all those months after our Elsie was run down? Was I supposed to be plotting my revenge on the Scotts?’
‘I doubt anyone would blame you if you had been.’ Jury’s tone was so mild and conciliatory, Hardcastle was having a difficult time holding on to his anger. He lit a fresh cigarette. Jury looked around. It would appear the Hardcastles were not having financial difficulties. ‘That’s some telly you have there.’ It was mammoth, at least a thousand quid, that’d set them back. The car parked on the concrete standing beside the police Ford was a BMW.
These were not Bimmer people. The furniture was well worn, but then Maeve and William would not bother changing anything that required a total redecoration. They’d go for the flash stuff, if they had a windfall; they’d spend it on showy things—cars, TVs.
And Jury didn’t doubt there had been a windfall, most likely from Declan Scott. That would have done a lot to lessen their resentment of Mary Scott’s being let off so easily.
‘The conditions,’ Jury could not help pointing out, ‘were all against Mrs. Scott that night: traffic light not functioning properly; the dark; the rain; Elsie’s black clothes.’
‘Drink, that’s what I’d put it down to,’ said Maeve. ‘There was that pub down the way.’
Even patience-on-a-monument Wiggins winced at this. ‘There’s always a pub down the way.’ He was leaning to the far side of the armchair. Petey had his thick arms folded across the overcoat.
‘Petey,’ said Jury, ‘come over here and do something for me, would you? There’s something I’d like to see.’
Petey looked wide eyed and doubtful that there’d be anything better to see than Sergeant Wiggins.
‘Come on.’ Jury made a beckoning motion with his hand.
Petey finally gave up his position by the chair and went to Jury.
Wiggins looked as if he might weep with relief.
‘Over there on the mantel’–Jury pointed to the fireplace-’bring me one of those photos of Elsie, would you?’
Petey walked over to the fireplace, reached up and took one of the pictures, which he then handed to Jury.
‘Aren’t you the clever boy, Petey,’ said his mother. She had a way of addressing the boy as if he were a waltzing pig.
Jury looked down at the face recognizably like her brother’s only better defined. She was not pretty, nor would she catch up to prettiness as an adult. But the poor child should have had the chance, at least. Jury looked squarely into Maeve’s small eyes, which darted away even as he looked. He wanted to catch her in an unguarded moment, but he wondered if that was even possible.
‘You must miss her very much.’
The eyes, prepared with a tear, swept back to his own. ‘Well, of course we do.’
Jury rose, and so did Wiggins, with obvious relief. ‘We’ve taken enough of your time.’
‘Here, though, you’ve not touched your tea.’ The cups remained on the tray.
Jury didn’t bother answering that. ‘You’ve been very helpful, and we appreciate it.’
Petey detected signs of leaving and didn’t like it. ‘Nah nah nah,’ he cried, dragging down Wiggins’s coat.
It was all Wiggins could do to keep from smacking him away.
‘I can’t say much for the mum and dad,’ said Wiggins, as they both climbed into the car. ‘You’d’ve thought they’d do something about that boy, wouldn’t you? Him hanging all over my chair.’
‘I don’t think they really like him, Wiggins. I don’t think they pay much attention to him. Cody Platt was probably right. There’s not much real feeling regarding either of the kids. No, I can’t see William Hardcastle as a man who would go to such lengths to repay the Scotts as to take Flora Baumann.’
They drove back up the steep street through Mevagissey in silence, then through countryside.
‘It leaves us, doesn’t it, pretty much in the same dark with Flora’s case?’ said Wiggins.
Jury was silent for a moment, watching the rain on the windscreen, watching the wipers clear it. Wiggins was driving at a fairly normal speed. Jury found the rain restful. He laid his head against the headrest.
‘Are you all right, sir?’
‘Hm? Yeah. Fine. You know there’s one thing that hasn’t been mentioned although it’s a perfectly obvious alternative: Did Flora know her?’
‘‘Her’? You think it was a woman, then?’
‘Could be. A woman is far less threatening than a man. And if Flora knew her, well, not threatening at all, perhaps. There was no noise, none at all, according to Mary Scott, who couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away.’
‘What if she’d gone farther than that and was ashamed to admit she was careless, that she really hadn’t been watching Flora properly?’
‘You’re right. There’s no way of knowing. But I’m going to assume Mary Scott was telling the troth. She doesn’t sound like a careless mother, not at all. Indeed, given the first marriage to Viktor Baumann, I’d think carelessness is the last thing she’d be guilty of.’
‘All right, then. Flora wouldn’t have raised a fuss when she first encountered this person, but would she have gotten into a car with her?’
‘Unlikely, I suppose, unless the kidnapper had one hell of a convincing story.’
‘But her mum was still in the gardens. Flora wouldn’t have gone away with somebody else.’
‘Unless, as I said, this person could convince her.’
‘Wait, though. An exchange like that would take time. The kidnapper wouldn’t have had the time to convince the little girl of anything, not with Mary Scott likely to turn back and look for Flora.’
‘Also, I keep forgetting Flora was only four years old,’ said Jury.
‘You can’t reason with a four-year-old very easily.’
‘I think she’d have to have been overpowered. Chloroform, something.’
‘Probably.’ After a longish silence, Jury said, ‘I’m going back to London in the morning. You carry on.’
Wiggins took his eyes off the road long enough to miss the dry stone wall they were passing by a few feet. ‘A good idea. You’ve been looking peaky these last couple of days. A rest’ll do you good.’
‘Maybe, but that’s not why I’m going. I’m going to talk to Mary Scott’s mother. And I want to see Viktor Baumann again.’ He tapped the window. ‘There’s a cow up there.’ Jury nodded toward the road.
Wiggins started to brake. ‘What in hell’s a cow doing out this late?’
‘Beats me. I’ll have a word with its mum.’
Seeing the headlights, the cow lumbered off. They drove on.
Wiggins said, later, ‘What’s he like, this Baumann?’
‘Very, very slick.’
‘I don’t know what else to think except either it was the father or someone else who just wanted the girl. Do you think there’s much chance of– Do you think she’s dead?’
‘Does Commander Macalvie?’
Wiggins sighed. ‘If one of you has to be wrong, I hope it’s you.’ Jury looked out the window at blackness. ‘So do I.’ There was silence for a little while. Jury was thinking about the play. ‘In Goldsmith’s play, the hero–if you can call him that–was so shy around women of society that he couldn’t court them. The squire’s daughter pretended to be a parlor maid. He had no trouble going after her at all in that guise.’
Wiggins looked over at him when he stopped talking. ‘And what, then?’
‘Just that nearly all of Restoration drama turned on mistaken identity. Everything issued from that central point.’
‘You’re thinking of the dead woman?’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘But we don’t know who she is; her identity isn’t exactly mistaken, is it?’
Jury looked out at the ragged edge of the anonymous field flying past. ‘No. But it will be.’
Wiggins wondered what he meant and kept on driving.
Jury set his mug on a rickety, uneven table and leaned over to inspect the fertilizer bag. ‘‘Turf ‘n’ Grow.’ Odd name.’
They were drinking tea in the cottage the next morning.
‘A special kind of fertilizer.’
‘I don’t know. At this garden shop in St. Austell, I just asked for something not generally used around here. So they lugged this stuff out of a back room. He said he very rarely sold it; it’s too expensive. It’s fabulously rich stuff. It’ll grow anything.’
‘Good. Maybe it’ll grow me a brain.’ Jury sat back and reclaimed his mug.
‘I wanted to get something Marcus Warburton wasn’t familiar with. I actually believe he’s convinced I know what I’m doing.’ Melrose rubbed his pale gold hair into a froth. ‘But I’m not sure about Declan Scott. I think he can see through walls; he’s very perceptive.’
‘You’re good at impersonating rarefied intellectuals. I don’t know where you get it.’
Melrose studied Jury and chewed his lip. ‘That wasn’t really a compliment, was it?’
‘That’s why I use you.’
‘I’d rather hear ‘That’s why I pay you.’’
‘Oh, come on. You’re too rich already.’
Melrose sighed and dropped his head against the back of his flowery chair. ‘Sometimes I wish I weren’t.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘You’re right; I don’t..’
Jury set his mug on the table and gave Plant’s leg a little prod.
‘Let’s find Lulu.’
The small face at the kitchen window disappeared as Jury and Plant approached along the stone path lined by bright pink rhododendron. March was cold, but these gardens were showing vibrant color.
Jury said, ‘Can these make it through the end of winter?’
‘If the Macmillans have anything to say about it, they’ll make it through the rest of the century. They like a lot of splash. Splash, as if colors were rain and left pools behind.’
Roy came dashing toward them, running in circles, then veering off the path and running a straight line.
‘He’s herding. He thinks we’re sheep. Border collies are very intelligent.’
‘Roy’s not a border collie, for God’s sakes; he’s a mutt.’ Melrose turned at a shout from the bottom of the garden off to the right.
‘That’s Millie Macmillan. I’d better go see what she wants. I’m sure Lulu will be along straightaway, after Roy.’
Melrose left and Jury stood there in the path. Now Roy, with Plant gone, sat dog still, in the ordinary way, tongue lolling. He looked at Jury and yawned. It was as if he could finally relax. Perhaps Plant presented some challenge, some source of sport that Jury lacked. Yet the dog looked expectant, as in a holding pattern, waiting for this man to make his move. Jury looked around for a ball or stick to toss and saw a braided piece of rope, a chew toy, lying in the hedge. He picked it up and when he straightened, a little girl was standing there as if she’d just materialized.
‘Oh. You’ve got to be Lulu.’ He said this with one of his best smiles.
She hitched a strand of straight black hair behind her ear. ‘That’s right.’ She stood gazing at him. ‘That’s Roy.’ She pointed toward the dog. ‘It’s really French, r-o-i, for king, but we just call him Roy.’
‘My name’s Richard.’ Then, with what he thought was quite a good wind-up, he pitched the rope across the hedge. Roy took off like a missile. He was a black and white blur. ‘That’s the fastest dog I’ve ever seen.’
Hands behind her back, Lulu rocked on her heels, as if waiting for something.
Dark hair with a fringe that hid her brow, and her somber blue eyes seemed swamped by the big, unbecoming glasses. But neither the glasses nor the fringe could totally hide the shape of her face, heart shaped and delicate.
There was a white iron bench behind them. Jury sat down and stretched out his legs. ‘Your dog makes me tired just watching him.’
‘I guess you’re a policeman.’ She moved a little closer to the bench.
‘That’s right. How did you know?’
‘Because that’s who keeps coming.’
‘Why don’t you sit down?’
‘Okay.’ She sat at a slant so she could see his face, which she appeared to be regarding with a lot of interest. ‘I guess you’re here about the murder.’
He nodded. ‘Police have just about reached–well, we’re stumped.’
‘I know.’ She sighed heavily (stagily), shaking her head. ‘It’s really too bad.’ Which, of course, it wasn’t. ‘One of the policemen was here last night, one of the Macs, asking questions. He didn’t know much.’
One of the Macs? Jury did not pursue this.
‘My mum and dad were in a car accident. They both died. I wasn’t there.’
Her voice was smaller, her tone worried as if she had missed something cataclysmic by bare seconds and that the car might have rammed the tree even as she had turned her head away.
There was something inherently frightening about this, almost as if she thought had she been there, had she not turned away, her mother might still be alive.
He looked at her pale face. It was what a child might terribly think: if you fail in your watching of someone (mum, dad), he or she might disappear. But it was more than that; the disappearance could be your fault because you looked away. He felt a hand on his arm.
Lulu said, ‘What’s wrong? What are you thinking about? Did you know her?’
‘The woman who was shot? No.’
‘I thought maybe you did–but that’s silly. If you knew her, then the police would know who she was. Unless you didn’t really know her, that maybe she was someone who looked like...’ Jury listened while she rattled on with this convoluted story of identity like a kid’s mixed-up version of what Macalvie had said.
Finally, she wound down when Roy came over to settle down and watch. He said, ‘I was thinking of my mother.’ He noticed she stopped patting the dog and grew very still. ‘She died when I was two or three or maybe six (Jury being no longer sure after his cousin had talked about it). She was killed by a bomb that dropped in our square in London. In the war they sent us kids out to places in the country because London was so dangerous. So I wasn’t there when it happened.’ He had thought he was, but then the cousin had corrected this memory.
There was a stillness.
‘You weren’t watching.’
He shook his head. Why were children saddled with the burden of magical thinking? He could feel it even now.
‘But you couldn’t have stopped a bomb,’ she said.
‘No, I couldn’t. But sometimes kids believe just thinking something will cause it to happen. Well, we know that’s not so - we know now. But when you’re a child, it gets mixed up in your mind.’
‘I know. Like not watching someone.’
‘That’s right.’ Jury thought for a moment. ‘Once I had a friend named Jimmy Poole who stole geese. They caught Jimmy Poole when he was stealing goose number three.’ Jury smiled. He rather enjoyed that image.
She didn’t. ‘Anyone can steal a goose. They’re not smart like dogs and cats. I just don’t see why a person would bother with a goose.’ There was a silence as she thought over her problem.