GRANT drove back to Wickham through the spring night, cheered in body and soul.
And Emma Garrowby sat beside him all the way.
Flair might whisper soft seductions to him, but Emma was there in the middle of the picture, where Marta had set her, and she was much too solid to be conjured away. Emma made sense. Emma was example and precedent. The classic samples of ruthlessness were domestic. The Lizzie Bordons. Emma, if it came to that, was primordial. A female creature protecting its young. It required immense ingenuity to find a reason why Leslie Searle should have chosen to disappear. It needed no ingenuity at all to suggest why Emma Garrowby should have killed him.
In fact, it was a sort of perversity to keep harking back to the idea that Searle might have ducked. He could just hear the A.C. if he ever came before him with a theory like that. Evidence, Grant, suggestive evidence. Common sense, Grant, common sense. Don’t let your flair ride you, Grant, don’t let your flair ride you. Disappear of his own accord? This happy young man who could pay his bills at the Westmorland, buy expensive clothes to wear and expensive sweets to give away, travel the world at other people’s expense? This young man of such surprising good-looks that every head he encountered was turned either literally or metaphorically? This charming young man who liked plain little Liz so much that he kept a glove of hers? This professionally successful young man who was engaged in a deal that would bring him both money and kudos?
Common sense, Grant. Evidence, Grant. Don’t let your flair ride you.
Consider Emma Garrowby, Grant. She had the opportunity. She had the motive. And, on form, she probably had the will. She knew where the camp was that night.
But she didn’t know that they had come in to Salcott for a drink.
He wasn’t drowned in Salcott.
She couldn’t have known that she would find him alone. It was sheer chance that they separated that night.
Someone found him alone. Why not Emma?
How could it happen?
Perhaps she arranged it.
Has it struck you that Searle engineered that exit of Walter’s?
It was Searle who was provocative. He provoked Walter to the point where he couldn’t stand it a minute longer, and had either to go or stay and have a row. Searle got rid of Walter that evening.
Why should he?
Because he had an appointment.
An appointment! With whom?
That is absurd. There is no evidence whatever that the Garrowby girl had any serious interest in ——
Oh, it was not Liz who sent Searle the message to meet her.
No? Who then?
You mean that Searle went to meet someone he thought was Liz?
Yes. He behaved like a lover, if you think about it.
Do you remember how he took farewell of his acquaintances that night? The banter about going to their beds on so fine a spring night? The gaiety? The on-top-of-the-worldness?
He had just had several beers.
So had his companions. Some of them a great deal more than several. But were they singing metaphorical songs to the spring night? They were not. They were taking the shortest cut home to bed, even the youngest of them.
Well, it’s a theory.
It is more than that. It is a theory in accordance with the evidence.
Evidence, Grant, evidence.
Don’t let your flair ride you, Grant.
All the way along the dark lanes between Salcott St Mary and Wickham, Emma Garrowby sat beside him. And when he went to bed he took her with him.
Because he was tired, and had dined well, and had at last seen a path of some kind open in front of him, he slept well. And when his eyes opened in daylight on THE HOUR COMETH in purple wool cross-stitch, he regarded the text as a promise rather than a warning. He looked forward to going to town, if only as a mental bath after his plunge into Salcott St Mary. He could then come back and see it in proportion. You couldn’t get the flavour of anything properly unless you cleaned your palate between times. He had wondered often how married men managed to combine their domestic lives with the absorbing demands of police work. It occurred to him now for the first time that married life must be the perfect palate-cleanser. There could be nothing like a spell of helping young Bobby with his algebra to bring you back with a fresh mind to the problem of the current crime.
At least he would be able to get some clean shirts, he thought. He put his things into his bag, and turned to go down to breakfast. It was Sunday and still early, but they would manage to give him something. As he opened the door of his room the telephone rang.
The White Hart’s only concession to progress was to install bedside telephones. He crossed the room to the instrument and picked it up.
‘Inspector Grant?’ said the voice of the landlord. ‘Just a minute please; you’re wanted on the phone.’ There was a moment’s silence, and then he said: ‘Go ahead, please; you’re through.’
‘Alan?’ said Marta’s voice. ‘Is that you, Alan?’
‘Yes, it’s me. You’re awake early aren’t you?’
‘Listen, Alan. Something has happened. You must come out straight away.’
‘Out? To Salcott, you mean?’
‘To the Mill House. Something has happened. It’s very important or I wouldn’t have called you so early.’
‘But what has happened? Can’t you ——’
‘You’re on a hotel telephone, aren’t you.’
‘I can’t very well tell you, Alan. Something has turned up. Something that alters everything. Or rather, everything you — you believed in, so to speak.’
‘Yes. All right. I’ll come at once.’
‘Have you had breakfast?’
‘I’ll have some ready for you.’
What a woman, he thought as he put back the receiver. He had always thought that the first requisite in a wife was intelligence, and now he was sure of it. There was no room in his life for Marta, and none in her life for him; but it was a pity, all the same. A woman who could announce a surprising development in a homicide case without babbling on the telephone was a prize, but one who could in the same breath ask if he had had breakfast and arrange to supply him with the one he had not had was above rubies.
He went to collect his car, full of speculation. What could Marta possibly have unearthed? Something that Searle had left the night he was there? Some piece of gossip that the milkman had brought?
One thing was certain: it was not a body. If it had been a body Marta, being Marta, would have conveyed as much, so that he could bring out with him all the necessary paraphernalia and personnel to deal with such a discovery.
It was a day of high wind and rainbows. The halcyon time of windless sunlight that comes each year to the English spring when the first dust lies on the roads was over. Spring was all of a sudden wild and robust. Glittering showers slanted across the landscape. Great clouds soared up over the horizon and swept in shrieking squalls across the sky. The trees cowered, and plumed themselves, and cowered again.
The countryside was deserted. Not because of the weather but because it was Sunday. Some of the cottages, he observed, still had their blinds drawn. People who got up at the crack of dawn during the week, and had no animals to get them up on Sunday, must be glad to sleep late. He had grumbled often when his police duties had broken into his private life (a luxury grumble, since he could have retired years ago when his aunt left him her money), but to spend one’s life in bondage to the predilections of animals must be a sad waste of a free man’s time.
As he brought the car up to the landward side of the Mill House, where the door was, Marta came out to greet him. Marta never ‘dressed the part’ in the country as so many of her colleagues did. She looked on the country rather as the country people themselves did, as a place to be lived in; not something that one put on specially bright and casual clothes for. If her hands were cold she wore gloves. She did not feel that she must look like a gypsy just because she happened to live in the Mill House at Salcott St Mary. She was therefore looking as chic and sophisticated this morning as though she were receiving him on the steps of Stanworth. But he thought she had a shocked look. Indeed she looked as though she had quite lately been very sick.
‘Alan! You can’t imagine how glad I was to hear your voice on the telephone. I was afraid that you might have gone to town, early as it was.’
‘What is this that has turned up so unexpectedly?’ he asked making for the door. But she led him round and down to the kitchen door at the side of the house.
‘It was your follower, Tommy Thrupp, that found it. Tommy is mad on fishing. And he quite often goes out before breakfast to fish, because apparently that is a good time.’ The ‘apparently’ was typically Marta, he thought. Marta had lived by the river for years and still had to take someone else’s word about the proper time for fishing. ‘On Sundays he usually takes something in his pocket and doesn’t come back — something to eat, I mean — but this morning he came back inside an hour because he had — because he had caught something very odd.’
She opened the bright green door and led him into the kitchen. In the kitchen were Tommy Thrupp and his mother. Mrs Thrupp was huddled over the stove as if she also was feeling not too well, but Tommy came to meet them in sparkling form. There was nothing sickly about Tommy. Tommy was transfigured. He was translated. He was six feet high and crowned with lightning.
‘Look, sir! Look what I fished up!’ he said, before Marta could say anything, and drew Grant to the kitchen table. On the table, carefully placed on several thicknesses of newspaper so as to preserve the scrubbed perfection of the wood, was a man’s shoe.
‘I’ll never be able to bake on that table again,’ moaned Mrs Thrupp, not looking round.
Grant glanced at the shoe and remembered the police description of the missing man’s clothes.
‘It’s Searle’s, I take it,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ Marta said.
It was a brown shoe, and instead of being laced it was tied with a buckle and strap across the instep. It was water-logged and very muddy.
‘Where did you fish it up, Tommy?’
‘Bout a hundred yards down-stream from the big bend.’
‘I suppose you didn’t think of marking the place?’
‘A course I marked it!’ Tommy said, hurt.
‘Good for you. Presently you’ll have to show me the place. Meanwhile wait here, will you. Don’t go out and talk about this.’
‘No, sir, I won’t. No one’s in on this but me and the police.’
A little brightened by this version of the situation, Grant went upstairs to the telephone in the living-room and called Inspector Rodgers. After some delay, since the station had to connect him to the Rodgers’s home, he was put through to him, and broke the news that the river would have to be dragged again and why.
‘Oh, lord!’ groaned Rodgers. ‘Did the Thrupp boy say where he fished it up?’
‘About a hundred yards down from the big bend, if that conveys anything to you.’
‘Yes. That’s about two hundred yards down-stream from where they had their bivouac. We did that stretch with a small-tooth comb. You don’t think that perhaps ——? Does the shoe look as if it had been in the water since Wednesday night?’
‘It does indeed.’
‘Oh, well. I’ll make arrangements. It would happen on a Sunday, wouldn’t it?’
‘Do it as quietly as you can, will you? We don’t want more spectators than we can help.’
As he hung up Marta came in with a tray and began to put his breakfast on the table.
‘Mrs Thrupp is still what she calls “heaving”, so I judged it better to do your breakfast myself. How do you like your eggs? Sunny side up?’
‘If you really want to know, I like them broken when they are half cooked and rummelled up with a fork.’
‘Panaché!’ Marta said, delighted. ‘That is one I have not met before. We are growing intimate, aren’t we! I am probably the only woman alive except your housekeeper who knows that you like your breakfast eggs streaky. Or — am I?’
‘Well, there’s a woman in a village near Amiens that I once confessed it to. But I doubt if she would remember.’
‘She is probably making a fortune out of the idea. Eggs à l’Anglaise probably has a totally new meaning in France nowadays. Brown bread or white?’
‘Brown, please. I’m going to have to owe you for another trunk call.’ He picked up the telephone again and called Williams’s home address in London. While he waited for the connection he called Trimmings and asked to speak to the housekeeper. When Mrs Brett a little breathless, arrived on the wire he asked who was in the habit of cleaning the shoes at Trimmings and was told that it was the kitchen girl, Polly.
‘Could you find out from Polly whether Mr Searle was in the habit of taking off his brown buckled shoes without unbuckling them, or if he always unbuckled them first?’
Yes, Mrs Brett would do that, but wouldn’t the Inspector like to speak to Polly himself?
‘No, thank you. I’ll confirm anything she says, later on, of course. But I think she is less likely to get flustered if you ask her a quite ordinary question than if she was brought to the telephone to be questioned by a stranger. I don’t want her to be agitated into thinking about the question at all. I want her first natural reaction to the question. Were the shoes buckled or unbuckled when she cleaned them?’
Mrs Brett understood, and would the Inspector hang on?
‘No. I’m expecting an important call. But I shall call you back in a very short time.’
Then London came on the wire, and Williams’s not-too-pleased voice could be heard telling the Exchange: ‘All right, all right, I’ve been ready any time this last five minutes.’
‘That you, Williams? This is Grant. Listen. I was coming up to town today to interview Leslie Searle’s cousin. Yes, I found out where she lived. Her name is Searle. Miss Searle. And she lives at 9 Holly Pavement, in Hampstead. It’s a sort of coagulation of artists. I talked to her last night on the telephone and I arranged to see her this afternoon about three. Now I can’t. A boy has just fished a shoe belonging to Leslie Searle out of the river. Yes, all right, crow! So we have to start dragging all over again, and I have to be here. Are you free to go and see Miss Searle for me, or shall I get someone else from the Yard?’
‘No, I’ll go, sir. What do you want me to ask her?’
‘Get everything she knows about Leslie Searle. When she saw him last. What friends he had in England. Everything she can give you about him.’
‘Very good. What time shall I call you back?’
‘Well, you ought to be there at a quarter to three, and leaving an hour clear — four o’clock, perhaps.’
‘At the Wickham station?’
‘Well, no, perhaps not. In view of the slowness of dragging, perhaps you had better call me at the Mill House at Salcott. It is Salcott 5.’
It was only when he had hung up that he realised that he had not asked Williams how his mission to Benny Skoll had turned out.
Marta came in with his breakfast, and as she poured his coffee he talked to Trimmings again.
Mrs Brett had talked to Polly, and Polly had no doubt about the matter at all. The straps on Mr Searle’s brown shoes had always been undone when he put them out for cleaning. She knew because she used to rebuckle them so as to keep the straps from banging about when she cleaned them. She buckled them to keep the straps still and unbuckled them when she had finished.
So that was that.
He began to eat his breakfast, and Marta poured out a cup of coffee for herself and sat sipping it. She looked cold and pale, but he could not resist the question:
‘Did you notice anything odd about the shoe?’
‘Yes. It hadn’t been unfastened.’
A marvellous woman. He supposed that she must have vices to counterbalance so many excellences but he couldn’t imagine what they could be.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01