WILLIAMS was sitting in the corner of the coffee-room at the White Hart, consuming a late supper; and the landlord greeted Grant and went away to bring supper for him too. Williams, with the aid of the local police, had spent a long, tiring, and unproductive afternoon and evening on Grant’s theory that Searle might have, for reasons of his own, disappeared. At ten o’clock, having interviewed his twenty-third bus conductor, and the last available railway porter, he had called it a day, and was now relaxed over beer and sausage-and-mashed.
‘Not a thing,’ he said, in answer to Grant’s question. ‘No one even remotely like him. Any luck with you, sir?’
‘Nothing that makes the situation any clearer.’
‘No letters among his belongings?’
‘Not one. They must be all in his wallet, if he has any at all. Nothing but packets of photographs.’
‘Photographs?’ Williams’s ears pricked.
‘Local ones that he has taken since he came here.’
‘Oh. Any of Walter Whitmore’s girl, by any chance?’
‘A very great number indeed.’
‘Yes? Posed ones?’
‘No, Williams, no. Romantic. Her head against a sunlit sky with a spray of almond blossom across it. That kind of thing.’
‘Is she photogenic, would you say? A blonde?’
‘No, she is a small, dark, plainish creature with a nice face.’
‘Oh. What does he want to go on photographing her for? Must be in love with her.’
‘I wonder,’ Grant said; and was silent while food was put in front of him.
‘You really ought, just for once, to try those pickles, sir,’ Williams said. ‘They’re wonderful.’
‘For the five hundred and seventh time, I do not eat pickles. I have a palate, Williams. A precious possession. And I have no intention of prostituting it to pickles. There was something among Searle’s things that was a great deal more suggestive than any photograph.’
‘One of the girl’s gloves,’ Grant said; and told him where it had been found.
‘Well, well,’ Williams said, and chewed the information over in silence for a little. ‘Doesn’t sound as if it had gone very far.’
‘The affair. If he was still at the stage of stealing her glove. Honestly, sir, in this day and age I didn’t imagine that anyone was driven to making do with a glove.’
Grant laughed. ‘I told you. She is a nice girl. Tell me, Williams, what kind of object would fit a space 10 inches by 3½ by 4?’
‘A bar of soap,’ said Williams without hesitation.
‘Unlikely. What else?’
‘Box of cigarettes?’
‘No. Not a smoker.’
‘Food of some kind? Processed cheese is that shape.’
‘Revolver? Revolver in a case, I mean.’
‘I wonder. Why should he have a revolver?’
‘What space are you trying to fill, sir?’ Williams asked, and Grant described the photographic box, and the gap in the neatly fitted compartment.
‘Whatever had been there was something solid, so that the outline was hard and clear. Nothing that was still available among his belongings fitted the gap. So either he took it out and got rid of it, or it was removed for some reason after he had disappeared.’
‘That would mean that someone at Trimmings is suppressing evidence. You still think Whitmore not the type, sir?’
‘Not the bumping-off type.’
‘I think Whitmore would be more liable to get into a pet than to see red.’
‘But he wouldn’t need to see red to drown Searle. A shove when he was in a pet would have done it, and he mightn’t have been able to do anything about rescue in the dark. Then he might lose his head and pretend he knew nothing about it. Heaven knows that happens often enough.’
‘You think Whitmore did it but did it in half-accident?’
‘I don’t know who did it. But it’s my firm conviction that Searle is still in the river, sir.’
‘But Inspector Rodgers says he dragged it thoroughly.’
‘The sergeant in charge at Wickham Police Station says the mud in the bed of the Rushmere goes half-way to Australia.’
‘Yes. I know. The Chief Constable, I understand, made the same observation in a less vivid phrase.’
‘After all,’ Williams said not listening, ‘what could have become of him if he didn’t drown? If all reports are true he wasn’t a type you look at and never remember.’
No. That was true. Grant thought of the young man who had stood in Cormac Ross’s doorway, and reflected how little the official description of the missing man conveyed the individual they were looking for.
A man, in his early twenties, five feet eight-and-a-half or nine inches, slim build, very fair, grey eyes, straight nose, cheek bones rather high, wide mouth; hatless; wearing belted mackintosh over grey tweed jacket, grey pullover, blue sports shirt, and grey flannels, brown American shoes with instep buckle instead of lacing; low voice with American accent.
No one reading that description would visualise the actuality that was Leslie Searle. On the other hand, as Williams pointed out, no one could set eyes on the actual Searle and not look back for a second glance. No one would see him and not remember.
‘Besides, what could he want to disappear for?’ persisted Williams.
‘That I can’t guess without knowing much more of his background. I must get the Yard on to it first thing tomorrow. There’s a female cousin somewhere in England, but it is his American background that I want to know about. I can’t help feeling that the bumping-off trade is more native to California than it is to the B.B.C.’
‘No one from California took whatever it was from Searle’s case,’ Williams pointed out.
‘No,’ Grant said, contemplative; and went over the inhabitants of Trimmings in his mind. Tomorrow he would have to begin the collection of alibis. Williams was of course right. It was unlikely to the point of fantasy that Searle should have disappeared in such a manner of his own accord. He had suggested to Liz Garrowby that Searle might have planned a practical joke for Walter’s discomfiture, and Liz had scorned the suggestion. But even if Liz had been wrong in her estimate, how could Searle have done it?
‘There is still your passing motorist,’ he said aloud.
‘What’s that, sir?’
‘We have interviewed the people on the regular transport services, but we have had no way yet of reaching the casual motorist who might have given him a lift.’
Williams, dilated with sausage and beer, smiled benevolently on him. ‘You make the Fifty-seventh look like a girl’s school, sir.’
‘You die awfully hard. You still in love with that theory about his ducking of his own accord?’
‘I still think that he could have walked on from the river bend, up across the fields, to the main Wickham–Crome road and got a lift there. I’ll ask Bryce in the morning if we could have a radio S.O.S. about it.’
‘And after he got the lift, sir? What then? All his luggage is at Trimmings.’
‘We don’t know that. We don’t know anything about him before he walked into that party of Ross’s. He is a photographer; that is all we know for certain. He says he has only a female cousin in England but he may have half a dozen homes and a dozen wives for all we know.’
‘Maybe, but why not go in a natural fashion when this trip was finished? After all, he would want to collect on that book they were doing, surely? Why all the mumbo-jumbo?’
‘To make things awkward for Walter, perhaps.’
‘Yes? You think that? Why?’
‘Perhaps because I wouldn’t mind making things awkward for Walter myself,’ Grant said with a half smile. ‘Perhaps after all it is just wishful-thinking on my part.’
‘It certainly is going to be very uncomfortable for Whitmore,’ Williams said, without any noticeable regret.
‘Very. Shouldn’t wonder if it leads to civil war.’
‘The Faithful Whitmorites versus the Doubters.’
‘Is he taking it hard?’
‘I don’t think he quite realises yet what has hit him. He won’t, I think, until he sees the daily Press tomorrow morning.’
‘Haven’t the Press been at him already?’
‘They haven’t had time. The Clarion arrived on the doorstep at five this afternoon, I understand, and went away to get information at the Swan when he failed to get it at Trimmings.’
‘Trust the Clarion to be first. Whitmore would have done better to see whoever it was. Why didn’t he?’
‘Waiting for his lawyer to arrive from town, so he said.’
‘Who was it, do you know? The Clarion.’
‘Jammy! I’d as soon have a flame-thrower on my tail as Jammy Hopkins. He has no conscience whatever. He’ll make up a story out of whole cloth if he doesn’t get an interview. You know, I begin to be sorry for Walter Whitmore. He couldn’t really have given a thought to Jammy, or he wouldn’t have been so quick to shove Searle into the river.’
‘And who is being Die–Hard now?’ Grant said.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14