EVEN the undeviating Grant, of course, had his unsure moments.
‘You fool!’ said that inner voice, as he was climbing into the London plane at Scoone. ‘Giving up even a day of your precious leave to hunt will-o’-the-wisps.’
‘I’m not hunting any will-o’-the-wisps. I just want to know what happened to Bill Kenrick.’
‘And what is Bill Kenrick to you that you should give up even an hour of your free time for him?’
‘I’m interested in him. If you want to know, I like him.’
‘You don’t know a thing about him. You have made a god in your own image, and are busy worshipping it.’
‘I know quite a lot about him. I’ve listened to Tad Cullen.’
‘A prejudiced witness.’
‘A nice boy, which is more important. The Cullen boy had a wide choice of friends in an organisation like OCAL and he chose Bill Kenrick.’
‘Lots of nice boys have chosen criminal friends.’
‘Come to that, I’ve known some nice criminals.’
‘Yeah? How many? And how many minutes of your leave would you give up to a criminal type?’
‘Not thirty seconds. But the Kenrick boy is no criminal.’
‘A complete set of another man’s papers isn’t a particularly law-abiding thing to be carrying round, is it?’
‘I’ll find out about that presently. Meanwhile shut up and leave me alone.’
‘Huh! Stumped, aren’t you!’
‘Sticking your neck out for an unknown boy at your age!’
‘Who’s sticking his neck out?’
‘You didn’t have to do this plane journey at all. You could have gone back by train or by road. But no, you had to arrange to have yourself shut into a box. A box without a window or a door that will open. A box you can’t escape from. A tight, silent, enclosed, sealed ——’
‘Huh! You’re breathing short already! In about ten minutes the thing will hit you for six. You ought to have your head examined, Alan Grant, you certainly ought to have your head examined.’
‘There is one part of my cranial equipment that is still in admirable working order.’
‘What is that?’
‘You planning to chew something? That’s no cure.’
‘No. I plan to grit them.’
And whether it was because he had thumbed his nose at the devil or whether it was that Bill Kenrick stood beside him all the way, Grant made that journey in peace. Tad Cullen slumped into the seat beside him and fell instantly asleep. Grant closed his eyes and let the patterns form in his mind and dissolve and fade and form anew.
Why had Bill Kenrick blacked himself all over?
Whom was he trying to fool?
Why had it been necessary to fool anyone?
As they were circling to land Tad woke up and without looking out of the window began to pull up his tie and smooth his hair. Apparently some sixth sense in a flyer’s brain kept tally of speed, distance and angle, even when he was unconscious.
‘Well,’ said Tad. ‘Back to the lights of London and the old Westmorland.’
‘You don’t have to go back to your hotel,’ Grant said. ‘I can give you a bed.’
‘That’s very kind of you, Mr Grant, and I appreciate it. But I don’t have to put your wife — or — or whoever it is ——’
‘I don’t have to put your housekeeper about.’ He slapped his pocket. ‘I’m loaded.’
‘Even after — what was it? — a fortnight in Paris? I congratulate you.’
‘Oh, well. I don’t think Paris is what it used to be. Or perhaps it was just that I missed Bill. Anyhow, I don’t need to fuss anyone making beds for me, thanks all the same. And if you’re going to be busy you don’t want me around. But you’ll not shut me out of this thing, will you? You’ll keep me “with you”, as Bill says. Said, I mean.’
‘I will indeed, Tad, I will indeed. I put a fly on a line in a hotel in Oban and fished you out of the white population of the world. I’m certainly not going to throw you back now.’
Tad grinned. ‘I suppose you know what you’re talking about. When are you going to see this Lloyd guy?’
‘This evening if he is at home. The worst of explorers is that if they are not exploring they are lecturing; so he may be anywhere between China and Peru. What startled you?’
‘How did you know I was startled?’
‘My dear Tad, your fresh and open countenance was never made for either poker or diplomacy.’
‘No, it was just that you chose two places that Bill always chose. He used to say that, “From China to Peru”.’
‘He did? He seems to have known his Johnson.’
‘Yes. Samuel Johnson. It’s a quotation.’
‘Oh. Oh, I see.’ Tad looked faintly abashed.
‘If you’re still doubtful about me, Tad Cullen, you had better come along the Embankment with me now and let some of my colleagues vouch for me.’
Mr Cullen’s fair skin went a deep red. ‘I’m sorry. Just for a moment there I——. It did sound as if you had known Bill. You’ll have to forgive me being suspicious, Mr Grant. I’m all at sea, you know. I don’t know a soul in this country. I just have to take people as they come. On face value, I mean. Of course I’m not doubtful about you. I’m too grateful to you to be able to find words to describe how grateful I am. You have to believe that.’
‘Of course I believe it. I was only teasing you, and I had no right to. It would be unintelligent of you not to be suspicious. Here is my address and telephone number. I’ll telephone you as soon as I’ve seen Lloyd.’
‘You don’t think I should come with you, perhaps?’
‘No. I think a deputation of two would be a little excessive for so slight an occasion. What time will you be at the Westmorland tonight to take a phone call?’
‘Mr Grant, I’ll be sitting with my hand on that thing until you call.’
‘Better eat some time. I’ll call you at half-past eight.’
‘Okay. Half-past eight.’
London was a misty grey with scarlet trimmings, and Grant looked at it with affection. Army nurses used to have that rig-out; that grey and scarlet. And in some ways London gave one the same sense of grace and power that went with that Sister’s uniform. The dignity, the underlying kindness beneath the surface indifference, the respect-worthiness that compensated for the lack of pretty frills. He watched the red buses making the grey day beautiful, and blessed them. What a happy thing it was that London buses should be scarlet. In Scotland the buses were painted that most miserable of all colours: blue. A colour so miserable that it was a synonym for depression. But the English, God bless them, had had gayer ideas.
He found Mrs Tinker turning out the spare bedroom. There was not the slightest need for anyone to turn out the spare bedroom, but Mrs Tinker obtained the same pleasure from turning out a room that other people get from writing a symphony, or winning a cup at golf, or swimming the Channel. She belonged to that numerous species once succinctly described by Laura as ‘the kind of woman who washes her front doorstep every day and her own hair every six weeks’.
She came to the door of the spare bedroom when she heard the key in the lock, and said: ‘Well, now! And not a bite in the house! Why didn’t you let me know you was comin’ back from foreign parts before your time?’
‘It’s all right, Tink. I don’t want a meal anyhow. I’ve just looked in to leave my luggage. Get in something and leave it for me when you go, so that there is something for me to eat tonight.’
Mrs Tinker went home every night, partly because she had to see to the evening meal of someone she referred to as ‘Tinker’, and partly because Grant had always liked to have the flat to himself in the evenings. Grant had never seen ‘Tinker’, and Mrs Tinker’s only connection with him seemed to consist of this matter of an evening meal and some marriage lines. Her real life and interest was in 19 Tenby Court, S.W.1.
‘Any telephones?’ Grant asked, thumbing through the telephone pad.
‘Miss Hallard telephoned to say ring her up and dine with her as soon as you were back.’
‘Oh. Did the new play go well? What were the notices like?’
‘All of them?’
‘Every one I seen, anyway.’
In the days of her freedom, before Tinker, Mrs Tinker had been a theatre dresser. Indeed, if it had not been for this ritual of the evening meal it was likely that she would still be dressing someone each evening in W.1 or W.C.2 instead of turning out spare bedrooms in S.W.1. Her interest in theatre matters was therefore that of an initiate.
‘Have you seen the play?’
‘Not me. It’s one of them plays what means something else. You know. She keeps a china dog on the mantelpiece, but it isn’t a china dog at all, it’s ‘er exhusband, and ‘e breaks the dog, the new boy-friend does, and she goes mad. Not gets mad, you know; goes mad. ‘Ighbrow. But I suppose if you want to be a Dame you got to act ‘ighbrow plays. What was you thinkin’ of ‘avin’ for your supper?’
‘I wasn’t thinking.’
‘I could leave a nice bit of fish poachin’ over some hot water for you.’
‘Not fish, if you love me. I’ve eaten enough fish in the last month to last me a lifetime. As long as it isn’t fish or mutton I don’t mind what it is.’
‘Well, it’s too late now to get any kidneys out of Mr Bridges, but I’ll see what I can do. You ‘ad a good ‘oliday?’
‘A wonderful, wonderful holiday.’
‘That’s good. You bin and put on a little weight, I’m glad to see. And you needn’t slap your stomach in that doubtful way neither. A little bit of weight never ‘urt no one. It don’t do to be as thin as a rail. You don’t ‘ave no reserves.’
She hung around while Grant changed into his best town suit, doling out bits of gossip as they happened to occur to her. Then he shooed her back to her piece of self-indulgence with the spare bedroom, dealt with the small businesses that had piled up in his absence, and went out into the calm of the early April evening. He went round to the garage, answered questions about his fishing, listened to three fishing stories that he had listened to before he set out for the Highlands a month ago, and reclaimed the little two-seater that he used when on his own business.
Number 5 Britt Lane took some finding. In this huddle of old houses all kinds of adaptation and conditioning had taken place. Stables had become cottages, kitchen wings had become houses, odd storeys had become maisonettes. Number 5 Britt Lane seemed to be just a number on a gate. The gate was in a brick wall, and its iron-studded oak seemed to Grant a little affected in so unpretentious a stretch of ordinary London brick. However, it was solid and in itself unexceptional, and it opened easily when asked to. It opened on to what had been a kitchen yard when Number 5 had been merely the back wing of a house in another street altogether. Now the yard was a small paved court with a fountain playing in the middle of it, and the one-time wing was a small flat stucco house of three storeys, painted cream with green window-sashes. As Grant crossed the little court to the doorway he noticed that the paving was of tiles, some of them old and many of them beautiful. The fountain too was beautiful. He mentally applauded Heron Lloyd for not having replaced the plain London electric bell-push by some more aesthetic piece of fancy-work; it augured a good taste that the inappropriate gate had left open to question.
The interior of the house, too, had the Arab bareness and space without any suggestion that a piece of the East had been transported to London. Beyond the figure of the manservant who answered his ring, he could see the clean walls and the rich carpet; an idiom adapted, not a décor transposed. His respect for Heron Lloyd mounted.
The manservant appeared to be Arab; an Arab of the towns, plumpish, lively-eyed and good-mannered. He listened to Grant’s inquiry and asked in a gentle too-correct English if he had an appointment. Grant said no, but that he would not detain Mr Lloyd more than a moment. Mr Lloyd could be of some help in giving information connected with Arabia.
‘If you will come in, please, and wait for a moment, I ask.’
He ushered Grant into a tiny room just inside the front door which, judging from its limited space and scanty furnishing, was used for just this purpose of waiting. He supposed that someone like Heron Lloyd must be used to strangers appearing on his doorstep to claim his interest or help. Even perhaps just to ask for his autograph. A realisation that made his own intrusion less deplorable.
Mr Lloyd had not debated his desirability very long, it seemed, for the man was back in a few moments.
‘Will you come, please? Mr Lloyd will be very happy to see you.’
A formula, but such a pleasant formula. How good manners did cushion life, he thought as he followed the man up the narrow stairs and into the big room that occupied the whole of the first floor.
‘Mr Grant, hadji,’ said the man, standing aside to let him come. Grant caught the word and thought: That is the first piece of chi-chi: Englishmen don’t make the pilgrimage to Mecca, surely.
Watching Heron Lloyd as he was made welcome, Grant wondered whether he had first thought of going to desert Arabia because he looked like a desert Arab, or whether he had come to look like a desert Arab after years in desert Arabia. Lloyd was the Arab of the desert idealised to the nth. He was, Grant thought with amusement, the Arab of the circulating libraries. It was across the saddle of Arabs like Heron Lloyd that blameless matrons in the Crescents and Drives and Avenues had been carried off to a fate worse than death. The black eyes, the lean brown face, the white teeth, the whip-lash body, the delicate hands, the graceful movements: it was all there, straight out of Page Seventeen of Miss Tilly Tally’s latest (two hundred and fifty-four thousand, new printing next week). Grant had to remind himself forcibly that he must not judge on looks.
For this man had done journeys that had made history in the world of exploration, and had written about them in English which, even if a little lush (Grant had bought a copy of his latest in Scoone yesterday afternoon) was nevertheless recognisable as literature. Heron Lloyd was no parlour sheik.
Lloyd was wearing orthodox London clothes and a manner to match. If one had never heard of him one would accept him as a Londoner of the well-to-do professional classes. One of the slightly more flamboyant classes, perhaps; an actor, or conceivably a Harley Street consultant or a Society photographer; but a Londoner of the orthodox professions, when all was considered.
‘Mr Grant,’ he said, shaking hands. ‘Mahmoud says that I can be of service to you.’
His voice surprised Grant. It had no body and a faintly querulous tone that had nothing to do with the sense of the words or their mood. He took a box of cigarettes from the low coffee table and offered them. He did not smoke himself, he said, because he had adopted Mohammedan customs during his long life in the East, but he could recommend the cigarettes if Grant cared to try something that tasted a little out of the ordinary.
Grant took the cigarette, as he took every new experience and sensation, with interest, and apologised for his intrusion. He wanted to know whether a young man called Charles Martin had applied to him at any time within the last year or so for information about Arabia.
‘Charles Martin? No. No, I don’t think so. Many people do come, of course, to see me about one thing and another. And I cannot always remember their names afterwards. But I think I should remember anyone with that simple name. You like that tobacco? I know the very half-acre where it is grown. A beautiful place that has not changed since Alexander the Macedonian passed that way.’ He smiled a little and added: ‘Except, of course, that they have learned how to grow this weed. The weed, I understand, goes very well with a not too dry sherry. Another of the grosser indulgences that I avoid; but I shall have a fruit drink to keep you company.’
Grant thought that the desert tradition of hospitality to the stranger must come a little expensive in a London where you were a celebrity and all and sundry were free to drop in. He noticed that the label on the bottle that Lloyd had picked up was a guarantee as well as an announcement. It seemed that Lloyd was neither a pauper nor a piker.
‘Charles Martin was also known as Bill Kenrick,’ he said.
Lloyd lowered the glass which he was about to fill, and said:
‘Kenrick! But he was here only the other day. Or rather, when I say only the other day, I mean a week or two ago. Quite lately, anyway. Why should he have an alias?’
‘I don’t know that myself. I am making inquiries about him on behalf of his friend. He was due to meet his friend in Paris at the beginning of March. On the 4th, to be exact. But he didn’t turn up. We have discovered that he died as the result of an accident on the very day that he should have turned up in Paris.’
Lloyd put the glass slowly down on to the table.
‘So that is why he did not come back,’ he said in that querulous voice that did not mean to be querulous. ‘Poor boy. Poor boy.’
‘You had arranged to see him again?’
‘Yes. I thought him charming and very intelligent. He was bitten with the desert — but perhaps you know that. He had ideas about exploring. A few young men still have. There are still the adventurers, even in this hedged and garnished world. Of which one must be glad. What happened to Kenrick? A car smash?’
‘No. He had a fall on a train and fractured his skull.’
‘Poor wretch. Poor wretch. A pity. I could have supplied the jealous gods with a dozen more expendable in his place. An atrocious word: expendable. The expression of an idea that would not even have been conceivable a few years ago. So far have we progressed towards our ultimate barbarism. Why did you want to know if the Kenrick boy had come to see me?’
‘We wanted to pick up his trail. When he died he was masquerading as Charles Martin, with a complete set of Charles Martin’s papers. We want to know at what stage he began to be Charles Martin. We were almost certain that, being bitten by the desert, he would come to see some authority on the subject in London, and since you, sir, are the ultimate authority we began with you.’
‘I see. Well, it was most certainly as Kenrick, Bill Kenrick I think, that he came to see me. A dark young man, very attractive. Tough, too, in a nice way. I mean, good manners covering unknown possibilities. I found him delightful.’
‘Had he come to you with any definite plans? I mean, with a specific proposition?’
Lloyd smiled a little. ‘He came to me with one of the commonest of all the propositions that are habitually put to me. An expedition to the site of Wabar. Do you know about Wabar? It is the fabled city of Arabia. It is Arabia’s “cities of the plain”. How that pattern does repeat itself in legend. The human race feels eternally guilty when it is happy. We cannot even remark on our good health without touching wood or crossing our fingers or otherwise averting the gods’ anger at mortal well-being. So Arabia has its Wabar: the city that was destroyed by fire because of its wealth and its sins.’
‘And Kenrick thought that he had discovered the site.’
‘He was sure of it. Poor boy, I hope that I was not short-tempered with him.’
‘You think that he was wrong, then?’
‘Mr Grant, the legend of Wabar exists from the Red Sea clear across Arabia to the Persian Gulf, and for almost every mile of that distance there is a different alleged site for the city.’
‘And you don’t believe that perhaps someone might stumble on it by accident?’
‘Kenrick was a flyer. It is possible that he saw the place when blown off his course, isn’t it?’
‘Had he talked to his friend about it then?’
‘No. He had talked to no one that I know of. That was my own deduction. What is to hinder the discovery being made that way?’
‘Nothing, of course, nothing; if the place exists at all. I have said: it is a legend almost universal throughout the world. But where stories of ruins have been tracked to their source the “ruins” have always proved to be something else. Natural rock formation, mirage, cloud-formation even. I think what poor Kenrick saw was the crater of a meteor. I have seen the place myself. A predecessor of mine discovered it when he was looking for Wabar. It is unbelievably like a place made with hands. The thrown-up earth makes pinnacles and jagged ruinous-looking heights. I think I have a photograph somewhere. You might like to see it: it is a unique affair.’ He got up and slid back a panel in the bare painted-wood wall, disclosing shelves of books all the way from floor to ceiling. ‘It is, perhaps mercifully, not every day a meteor of any size falls on the earth.’
He picked a photograph album from one of the lower shelves, and came back across the room looking for the place in the collection. And Grant was seized without warning by a strange sense of familiarity; a feeling of having met Lloyd somewhere before.
He looked at the photograph that Lloyd laid before him. It was certainly an uncanny thing. An almost mocking pastiche of human achievement. But his mind was busy with that odd moment of recognition.
Was it just that he had seen Heron Lloyd’s photograph somewhere? But if it had been that, if he had merely seen Lloyd’s face as adjunct to some description of his exploits, then the sense of recognition would have come when he had first walked into the room and seen him. It was not so much a recognition as a sense of having known Lloyd somewhere else. In some other surroundings.
‘You see?’ Lloyd was saying. ‘Even on the ground, one has to go close up to it before one can be sure that the thing is not a collection of human dwellings. How much more misleading it must be from the air.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Grant, and did not believe it. For one very good reason. From the air the crater would have been plainly visible. From the air it would have looked exactly what it was: a circular hollow surrounded by the thrown-up earth. But he was not going to say that to Lloyd. Let Lloyd talk. He was growing very interested in Lloyd.
‘That lies very close to the Kenrick boy’s route across the desert, as described by himself, and I think that that is what he saw.’
‘Did he pin-point the place, do you know?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t ask him. But I should think he would. He struck me as being a very efficient and intelligent young man.’
‘You didn’t ask him for details?’
‘If someone told you, Mr Grant, that he had discovered a holly tree growing in the middle of Piccadilly immediately opposite the In and Out, would you be interested? Or would you just think that you must be patient with him? I know the Empty Quarter as well as you know Piccadilly.’
‘Yes, of course. Then it was not you who saw him off at the station?’
‘Mr Grant, I never see anyone off. A combination of masochism and sadism that I have always deplored. Off where, by the way?’
‘To the Highlands? I understood that he was longing for some gaiety. Why was he going to the Highlands?’
‘We don’t know. That is one of the things we are most anxious to find out. He said nothing to you that might provide a clue?’
‘No. He did suggest finding other backing. I mean, when I had proved a broken reed. Perhaps he had found a backer, or hoped to find a backer, who lives up there. I can’t think of any obvious one off-hand. There is Kinsey–Hewitt, of course. He has Scottish connections. But I think he is in Arabia at the moment.’
Well, at least Lloyd had provided the first reasonable explanation of the flying visit north with an overnight case. To talk to a possible backer. He had found a backer at the last moment, when he was almost due to meet Tad Cullen in Paris, and had dashed north to see him. That fitted beautifully. They were getting on. But why as Charles Martin?
As if the thought had been transferred, Lloyd said: ‘By the way, if the Kenrick boy was travelling as Charles Martin, how has he been identified as Kenrick?’
‘I travelled on that train to Scoone. I saw him when he was dead, and grew interested in some verse he had been scribbling.’
‘Scribbling? On what?’
‘On a blank bit of an evening paper,’ Grant said, wondering why it should matter what Kenrick had been writing on.
‘I was on holiday, with nothing else to do, so I amused myself with the clues provided.’
‘You played detective.’
‘What is your profession, Mr Grant?’
‘I’m a Civil Servant.’
‘Ah. I was going to suggest the Army.’ He smiled a little and picked up Grant’s glass to refill it. ‘The more rarefied ranks, of course.’
‘No. An attaché, I think. Or Intelligence.’
‘I have done a spot of Intelligence during my Army career.’
‘So that is where you developed your taste for it. May I say, your flair.’
‘It was no ordinary talent that identified Charles Martin as Bill Kenrick. Or had he Kenrick belongings that made the identification easy?’
‘No. He was buried as Charles Martin.’
Lloyd paused as he was setting the filled glass down and said: ‘That is so typical of that careless Scottish way of dealing with sudden death. They are always very smug about their lack of inquests. Myself, I think Scotland must be an ideal place in which to get away with murder. If ever I plan one, I shall lure my victim north of the Border.’
‘There was an inquest, as it happens. The accident took place shortly after the train left Euston.’
‘Oh.’ Lloyd thought this over and then said: ‘Don’t you think that this should be reported to the police? I mean the fact that they have buried someone under a wrong name.’
Grant was about to say: ‘The only proof we have that the dead Charles Martin was Kenrick is my identification of a not very good snapshot.’ But something stopped him. Instead he said: ‘We should like first to know why he had Charles Martin’s papers.’
‘Ah, yes. I see. That of course is a sufficiently questionable matter. One doesn’t acquire a man’s papers without some — preliminaries. Does anyone know who Charles Martin is — or was?’
‘Yes. The police were satisfied on that score. There was no mystery.’
‘The only mystery is how Kenrick came by his papers. I see why you are reluctant to go to official sources. What about this man who saw him off? At Euston. Could he have been Charles Martin?’
‘He could, I suppose.’
‘The papers may merely have been lent. Kenrick somehow did not strike me as a — shall we say, nefarious type.’
‘No. On all the evidence, he wasn’t.’
‘It’s a very curious business altogether. This accident that you say he had: I suppose there is no doubt that it was an accident? No suggestion of a quarrel?’
‘No, it was just one of those things. A fall that might happen to anyone.’
‘Distressing. As I say, there are too few young men nowadays who have the combination of courage and intelligence. A great many come to me, indeed they travel great distances to see me ——’
He went on talking, and Grant sat watching and listening.
Were there, in fact, so many who came? Lloyd seemed very pleased to sit and talk to a stranger. There was no suggestion that he had an engagement for the evening or guests coming to dinner. None of the convenient pauses that a host leaves in the conversation so that a casual guest may take his leave. Lloyd sat talking in that thin, fanatic’s voice and admiring the hands that lay in his lap. He continually changed the position of the hands, not as a gesture to emphasise a phrase, but as one making a new arrangement of some decoration. Grant found this Narcissus-like preoccupation fascinating. He listened to the silence of the little house, shut away from the town and its traffic. In that biography in Who’s Who there had been no mention of wife or children; possessions that the owners of both are habitually proud to mention; so the household no doubt consisted of Lloyd and his servants. Had he sufficient interests to compensate for that lack of human companionship?
He, Alan Grant, had a household just as bare of human warmth; but his life was so full of people that to come back to his empty flat was a luxury, a spiritual delight. Was Heron Lloyd’s life full and satisfying?
Or did your true Narcissus ever need any company other than his own image?
He wondered how old the man was. Older than he seemed, certainly; he was the doyen of Arabian exploration. Fifty-five or more. Probably nearer sixty. He had not given his date of birth in that biography, so the chances were that he was nearly sixty. There could not be many years of hard-living left to him, even given his good physique and condition. What would he do with the remaining years? Spend them admiring his hands?
‘The only true democracy in the world today,’ Lloyd was saying, ‘and it is being destroyed by the thing that we call civilisation.’
And again Grant had that sense of familiarity, of recognition. Was it that he had met Lloyd before? Or was it that Lloyd reminded him of someone?
If so, of whom?
He must get away and think about this. It was time that he took his leave anyhow.
‘Did Kenrick tell you where he was staying?’ he asked as he began to take his leave.
‘No. We made no definite appointment to meet again, you understand. I asked him to come to see me again before he left London. When he did not come I believed that he was resentful, perhaps angry, at my lack of — sympathy, shall we say?’
‘Yes, it must have been a blow to him. Well, I have taken up a great deal of your time, and you have been very forbearing. I am most grateful.’
‘I am very glad to have been of help. I am afraid it has not been very valuable help. If there is anything else that I can do in the matter I hope very much that you will not hesitate to call on me.’
‘Well — there is one thing, but you have already been so kind that I hate to ask you. Especially since it is a little irrelevant.’
‘What is it?’
‘May I perhaps borrow the photograph?’
‘The photograph of the meteor crater. I notice that the print is slotted into your album, not pasted. I should like very much to show it to Kenrick’s friend. I promise faithfully to return it. And in perfect ——’
‘But of course you may have the photograph. And don’t bother to return it. I took the picture myself, and the negative is filed in the proper place. I can replace the print at any time with ease.’
He manoeuvred the print from its anchorage in the album, and handed it to Grant. He came downstairs with Grant and saw him to the door, talked a little about the little courtyard when Grant admired it, and waited courteously until Grant had reached the gate before closing the door on him.
Grant opened the evening paper that was lying on the car cushions and laid the photograph carefully between its folds. Then he drove down to the river and along the Embankment.
The old place looked very much as usual, he thought, as the hideous pile loomed up in the dusk. And so, too, did the finger-print department once he got there. Cartwright was stubbing out a cigarette in the saucer of a half-drunk cup of cold tea and admiring his latest handiwork: a complete set of left-hand prints.
‘Lovely, ‘m?’ he said, looking up as Grant’s shadow fell across him. ‘These are going to hang Pinky Mason.’
‘Hadn’t Pinky the price of a pair of gloves?’
‘Huh! Pinky could have bought up Dents. He just couldn’t believe, clever little man Pinky, that the police would ever get round to thinking it anything but a suicide. Gloves are for small-time trash: burglars and such; not for master-minds like Pinky. You been away?’
‘Yes. I’ve been fishing in the Highlands. If you’re not too busy could you do something off the cuff for me?’
‘Oh, no. Tomorrow would do.’
Cartwright looked at the clock. ‘I’ve nothing to do till I meet my wife at the theatre. We’re going to Marta Hallard’s new play. So I can do it now, if you like. Is it a difficult job?’
‘No. Dead easy. Just here, in the lower right-hand corner of this photograph, there is a beautiful thumb-print. And at the back I think you’ll find a nice set of finger-tips. I want to check them with the files.’
‘All right. Will you wait?’
‘I’m going to the library. I’ll come back.’
In the library he took down Who’s Who, and looked up Kinsey–Hewitt. The paragraph on Kinsey–Hewitt was a very modest little affair compared with the half-column on Heron Lloyd. He was a much younger man, it seemed; married, with two children; and his address was a London one. The ‘Scottish connection’ that Lloyd had mentioned seemed to consist in the fact that he was the younger son of some Kinsey–Hewitt who had a place in Fife.
Well, there was always the chance that he was now, or had been lately, in Scotland. Grant went to a telephone and called the London address. A woman with a pleasant voice answered, and said that her husband was not at home. No, he would not be at home for some time; he was in Arabia. He had been in Arabia since November and was not expected back until May at the earliest. Grant thanked her and hung up. It had not been to Kinsey–Hewitt that Bill Kenrick had gone. Tomorrow, he would have to go through the various authorities on Arabia, one by one, and ask them the question.
He went back, after some coffee-housing with such friends as he happened to run into at that hour, to Cartwright.
‘Got the photograph or am I too early?’
‘I’ve not only got it but looked it up for you. The answer is no.’
‘No, I didn’t really think there would be anything. I was just clearing decks. But thank you, all the same. I’ll take the print with me. I thought the new Hallard show got awful notices.’
‘Did it? I never read ’em. Neither does Beryl. She just likes Marta Hallard. So do I, if it comes to that. Nice long legs. Good night.’
‘Good night, and thanks again.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55