IT was forty-eight hours before word came from Jobling, Conn., and half a dozen times in those forty-eight hours Grant was on the brink of going to that woman in Hampstead and dragging the truth from her by main force. But he restrained himself. He would deal with her presently. Her lies would be neatly laid out on a plate, and presented to her when the time came.
He would wait for that report.
And the report when it came proved worth waiting for.
Grant read it through in one swift eye movement, and then he sat back and laughed.
‘If anyone wants me for the rest of the day,’ he said to Sergeant Williams, ‘I’ll be at Somerset House.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Williams said, subdued.
Grant glanced at Williams’s unwontedly sober features — Williams was a little hurt that Grant was playing a lone hand over this — and was reminded of something.
‘By the way, Williams, Miss Hallard is very anxious to meet you. She has asked me if I would bring you to dinner one night.’
‘Me?’ said Williams going pink. ‘What on earth for?’
‘She has fallen a victim to your reported charms. She asked me to arrange a night when you were free. I feel in my bones this morning that by Saturday both you and I will be in a state for celebration; and it would be appropriate if we celebrated with Marta, I think. Saturday any good to you?’
‘Well, Nora and I usually go to the movies on Saturday, but when I’m on duty she goes with Jen. That’s her sister. So I don’t see why she shouldn’t go with Jen this week.’
‘When she hears that you are going to dine with Marta Hallard she’ll probably start divorce proceedings.’
‘Not her. She’ll wait up for me so that she can ask me what Marta Hallard was wearing,’ said Williams, the Benedict.
Grant rang to ask Marta if he could bring Sergeant Williams to meet her on Saturday night, and then went away and buried himself in Somerset House.
And that night he did not lie awake. He was like a child that goes to sleep because that way it will quickly be tomorrow. Tomorrow, the one small piece would fall into place and make the pattern whole.
If the one small piece happened not to fit, of course, then the whole picture was wrong. But he was pretty sure that it would fit.
In the short interval between putting out the lamp and falling asleep he ranged sleepily over the ‘field’. When that one small piece fell into place tomorrow, life would be a great deal happier for a great many people. For Walter, naturally; Walter would have the shadow of suspicion lifted from him. For Emma Garrowby, with her Liz made safe. For Liz? Relief unspeakable for Liz. And relief for Miss Fitch — who might, he suspected, be a little sad, too. But she could always put it in a book. In a book was where the thing belonged.
Toby would have quite special reasons for self-congratulation, Grant thought; and laughed. And Serge Ratoff would be comforted.
Silas Weekley would not care at all.
He remembered that Marta had remarked on how ‘nice’ Leslie and Liz had been together. (‘A natural pair,’ she said — but she could never have guessed how natural!) Was it just possible that Liz would be hurt when that one small piece fell into place tomorrow? He hoped not. He liked Liz Garrowby. He would like to think that Searle had meant nothing to her. That she would find nothing but happiness and relief in the vindication of her Walter.
What was it Marta had said? ‘I don’t think Walter knows anything about Liz, and I have an idea that Leslie Searle knew quite a lot.’ (Surprising, how Marta had seen that without any clue to the source of Searle’s understanding.) But it did not matter very much, Grant thought, that Walter did not know very much about Liz. Liz, he was quite sure, knew all that was to be known about Walter; and that was a very good basis for a happy married life.
He fell asleep wondering if being married to someone as nice and intelligent and lovable as Liz Garrowby would compensate a man for the loss of his freedom.
A procession of his loves — romantic devotions most of them — trailed away into the distance as his mind blurred into unconsciousness.
But in the morning he had thought for only one woman. That woman in Hampstead.
Never, even at his most callow, had he gone to see any woman with an eagerness as great as the one that was taking him to Holly Pavement this morning. And he was a little shocked as he got off the bus and walked towards the Holly Pavement turning to find that his heart was thumping. It was a very long time indeed since Grant’s heart had thumped for any but a purely physical reason.
Damn the woman, he thought, damn the woman.
Holly Pavement was a backwater filled with sunlight; a place so quiet that the strutting pigeons seemed almost rowdy. Number nine was a two-storey house, and the upper storey had been apparently converted into a studio. There were two push-buttons on the bell plaque with neat wooden labels alongside. ‘Miss Lee Searle’, said the upper one; ‘Nat Gansage: Accessories’, said the lower.
Wondering what ‘accessories’ were, Grant pressed the upper button, and presently heard her coming down the wooden stairs to the door. The door opened, and she was standing there.
‘Miss Searle?’ he heard himself say.
‘Yes,’ she said, waiting there in the sunlight, unperturbed but puzzled.
‘I am Detective–Inspector Grant of the C.I.D.’ Her puzzlement deepened at that, he noticed. ‘A colleague of mine, Sergeant Williams, came to see you in my stead a week ago because I was otherwise engaged. I would like very much to talk to you myself, if it is convenient.’
And it had better be convenient, blast you, he said in his mind; furious at his racing heart.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said equably. ‘Come in, won’t you. I live upstairs.’
She shut the door behind him and then led him up the wooden stairs to her studio. A strong smell of coffee — good coffee — pervaded the place and as she led him in she said: ‘I’ve just been having my breakfast. I have made a bargain with the paper boy that he should leave a roll for me every morning with the paper, and that is my breakfast. But there is lots of coffee. Will you have some, Inspector?’
They said at the Yard that Grant had two weaknesses: coffee, and coffee. And it smelt wonderful. But he wasn’t going to drink anything with Lee Searle.
‘Thank you, but I have just had mine.’
She poured another cup for herself, and he noticed that her hand was quite steady. Damn the woman, he was beginning to admire her. As a colleague she would be wonderful.
She was a tall woman, and spare; very good-looking in her bony fashion and still quite young. She wore her hair in a thick plait, coronet-wise. The long housecoat she was wearing was made of some dull green stuff, rather like one Marta had; and she had the long legs that helped to give Marta her elegance.
‘Your resemblance to Leslie Searle is remarkable,’ he said.
‘So we have been told,’ she said shortly.
He moved round the room to look at the Scottish pictures that were still propped up on view. They were orthodox impressions of orthodox scenes, but they were painted with a savage confidence, a fury, so that they shouted at one from the canvas. They didn’t present themselves to one, they attacked. ‘Look, I’m Suilven!’ shouted Suilven, looking odder and more individual than even that mountain had ever looked. The Cooling, a grape-blue rampart against a pale morning sky, were a whole barrier of arrogance. Even the calm waters of Kishorn were insolent.
‘Did it stay fine for you?’ Grant asked, and then, feeling that that was too impudent, added: ‘The West of Scotland is very wet.’
‘Not at this time of year. This is the best time.’
‘Did you find the hotels comfortable? I hear they are apt to be primitive.’
‘I didn’t trouble the hotels. I camped out in my car.’
Neat, he thought. Very neat.
‘What was it you wanted to talk to me about?’
But he was in no hurry. She had caused him a lot of trouble, this woman. He would take his time.
He moved from the pictures to the rows of books on the shelves, and considered the titles.
‘You have a liking for oddities, I see.’
‘Poltergeists. Showers of fish. Stigmata. That sort of thing.’
‘I think all artists are attracted by the odd, whatever their medium, don’t you?’
‘You don’t seem to have anything on transvestism.’
‘What made you think of that?’
‘Then you know the term?’
‘It is something that doesn’t interest you?’
‘The literature of the subject is very unsatisfactory, I understand. Nothing between learned pamphlets and News of the World.’
‘You ought to write a treatise on the subject.’
‘You like oddities,’ he said smoothly.
‘I am a painter, Inspector, not a writer. Besides, no one is interested nowadays in female pirates.’
‘They were all pirates or soldiers or sailors, weren’t they?’
‘You think the fashion went out with Phoebe Hessel? Oh, by no means. The thing is continually turning up. Only the other day a woman died in Gloucestershire who had worked for more than twenty years hauling timber and coal, and even the doctor who attended her in her last illness had no idea that she was not a man. I knew a case personally, not long ago. A young man was charged in a London suburb with theft. Quite a normal popular young man. Played a good game of billiards, belonged to a men’s club, and was walking out with one of the local beauties. But when medically examined he turned out to be quite a normal young woman. It happens somewhere or other every year or two. Glasgow. Chicago. Dundee. In Dundee a young woman shared a lodging-house ward with ten men and was never questioned. Am I boring you?’
‘Not at all. I was only wondering whether you considered them oddities in the sense that stigmata and poltergeists are.’
‘No; oh, no. Some, of course, are genuinely happier in men’s things; but a great many do it from love of adventure, and a few from economic necessity. And some because it is the only way in which they can work out their schemes.’
She sipped her coffee with polite interest, as one indulging an uninvited guest until he should reach the point of stating what he had come for.
Yes, he thought, she would make a wonderful ally.
His heart had slowed down to its proper rate. These were moves in a game that he had been playing a long time; the game of mind against mind. And now he was interested in her reaction to his moves. She had withstood undermining. How would she stand up to direct attack?
He came away from the bookshelves and said: ‘You were very devoted to your cousin, Miss Searle.’
‘Leslie? But I have already ——’
‘No. Marguerite Merriam.’
‘Mar ——. I don’t know what you are talking about.’
That was a mistake. If she had stopped to think for a moment, she would have realised that there was no reason at all to deny the connection with Marguerite. But the unexpectedness of that name on his lips had startled her, and she had fallen headlong.
‘So devoted that you couldn’t think quite straight about her.’
‘I tell you ——’
‘No, don’t tell me anything. I’ll tell you something. Something that ought to make confidences between us quite easy, Miss Searle. I encountered Leslie Searle at a party in Bloomsbury. One of those literary gatherings. He wanted to be introduced to Lavinia Fitch and I agreed to present him. As we pushed through the crowd we were flung together at very close quarters; in fact it was breathing-room only. A policeman is trained to observe, but I think even without that I would have noticed any variation in detail that was presented to me at that range. He had very fine grey eyes, Leslie Searle, and there was a small brown fleck in the iris of the left one. I have lately spent a good deal of time, and a great deal of labour and thought, trying to account for Leslie Searle’s disappearance, and with native wit and considerable luck I got to the stage where I needed only one small thing to make my case complete. A small brown fleck. I found it on the doorstep down there.’
There was complete silence. She was sitting with her coffee cup in her lap, looking down at it. The slow ticking of a wall clock sounded loud and ponderous in the quiet.
‘It’s an odd thing, sex,’ Grant said. ‘When you laughed with me, caught in the crush that day, I had a moment of being suddenly out of countenance. Disconcerted. The way a dog is sometimes when it is laughed at. I knew it had nothing to do with your laughing, and I could not think why else I should have been disconcerted. About 12.45 last Monday I began the process of realising why; and was nearly run over by a taxi in consequence.’
She had looked up at this; and now she said in a kind of detached interest: ‘Are you the star turn at Scotland Yard?’
‘Oh, no,’ Grant assured her. ‘I come in bundles.’
‘You don’t talk like something out of a bundle. Not any bundles I’ve been acquainted with. And no one out of a bundle could have — could have found out what happened to Leslie Searle.’
‘Oh, I’m not responsible for that.’
‘No? — Who is, then?’
‘Dora ——? Who is she?’
‘She left her shoes on the seat of my car. Tied up in a neat parcel. At the time they were just Dora Siggins’s shoes tied up in a parcel. But at 12.45 last Monday, right in the path of a taxi, they became a parcel of the required dimensions.’
‘The dimensions of that empty space in your photographic box. I did try a pair of Searle’s shoes in that space — you must allow me so much — but you’ll admit that no run-of-the-mill hard-working one-of-a-bundle detective would think up anything so outré as a parcel containing one pair of women’s shoes and a coloured silk head-square. By the way, my sergeant’s recorded description of the woman who joined the bus at that crossroads where the fair is, says: Loose gaberdine raincoat.’
‘Yes. My burberry is a reversible one.’
‘Was that part of the preparation too?’
‘No; I got it years ago, so that I could travel light. I could camp out in it, and go to afternoon tea with the inside out.’
‘It is a little galling to think that it was I who paved the way for this practical joke of yours by my anxiety to be helpful to the stranger within the gates. I’ll let strangers stand after this.’
‘Is that how it seems to you?’ she said slowly. ‘A practical joke?’
‘Let us not quibble about terms. I don’t know what you call it to yourself. What it actually is, is a practical joke of particular brutality. I take it that your plan was either to make a fool of Walter Whitmore or to leave him in the soup.’
‘Oh, no,’ she said simply. ‘I was going to kill him.’
Her sincerity was so patent that this brought Grant up all standing.
‘Kill him?’ he said, all attention and his flippancy gone.
‘It seemed to me that he shouldn’t be allowed to go on living,’ she said. She took her coffee cup off her lap to put it on the table, but her hand was shaking so much that she could not lift it.
Grant moved over and took it from her, gently, and set it down.
‘You hated him because of what you imagined he had done to Marguerite Merriam,’ he said, and she nodded. Her hands were clasped in her lap in a vain effort to keep them steady.
He was silent for a moment or two, trying to get used to the idea that all the ingenuity that he had taken to be her slick exit from a masquerade had been in reality a planned get-out to murder.
‘And what made you change your mind?’
‘Well — oddly enough, the first small thing was something Walter said. It was one evening after Serge Ratoff had made a scene in the pub.’
‘Walter said that when one was as devoted as Serge was to anyone one ceased to be quite sane about it. That made me think a bit.’ She paused. ‘And then, I liked Liz. She wasn’t at all what I had pictured. You see, I had pictured her as the girl who had stolen Walter from Marguerite. And the real Liz wasn’t like that at all. That sort-of bewildered me a little. But the real thing that stopped me was — was that — that ——’
‘You found out that the person you loved had never existed,’ Grant said quietly.
She caught her breath and said: ‘I don’t know how you could have guessed that.’
‘But that is what happened, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. Yes, I found out —— People didn’t know that I had any connection with her, you see, and they talked quite unguardedly. Marta, especially. Marta Hallard. I went back with her one night after dinner. She told me things that — shocked me. I had always known that she was wild and — and headstrong — Marguerite, I mean — but one expects that of genius, and she seemed so — so vulnerable that one forgave ——’
‘Yes, I understand.’
‘But the Marguerite that Marta and those other people knew was someone I didn’t know at all. Someone I wouldn’t even have liked if ——. I remember when I said that at least she lived, Marta said: “The trouble was that she didn’t allow anyone else to. The suction she created,” Marta said, “was so great that her neighbours were left in a vacuum. They either expired from suffocation or they were dashed to death against the nearest large object.” So you see, I didn’t feel like killing Walter any more. But I still hated him for leaving her. I couldn’t forget that. That he had walked out on her and she had killed herself because of it. Oh, I know, I know!’ she added, as she saw his interruption coming. ‘It was not that she loved him so much. I know that now. But if he had stayed with her she would be alive today, alive, with her genius and her beauty and her gay loveliness. He might have waited ——’
‘Till she tired?’ Grant supplied, more dryly than he had intended, and she winced.
‘It wouldn’t have been long,’ she said, with sad honesty.
‘May I change my mind and have some of that coffee after all?’ Grant said.
She looked at her uncontrolled hands and said: ‘Will you pour it out?’
She watched him as he poured, and said: ‘You are a very strange policeman.’
‘As I said to Liz Garrowby when she made the same remark: It may be your idea of policemen that’s strange.’
‘If I had had a sister like Liz how different my life would have been. I had no one but Marguerite. And when I heard that she had killed herself I suppose I just went a little crazy for a spell. How did you find out about Marguerite and me?’
‘The police in San Francisco sent us an account of you, and in it your mother’s name was given as Mattson. After much too long an interval I remembered that in Who’s Who in the Theatre, which I had been using one night to pass the time while I waited for a telephone call, Marguerite Merriam’s mother was also given as a Mattson. And since I had been looking for some connection between you and Walter, it seemed that I might have found it if you and Marguerite were cousins.’
‘Yes. We were more. We were both only children. Our mothers were Norwegian, but one married in Britain and one in America. And then, when I was fifteen, my mother took me to England, and I met Marguerite for the first time. She was nearly a year older than me, but she seemed younger. Even then she was brilliant. Everything she did had a — a shining quality. We wrote to each other every week from then on, and every year until my parents died we came to England in the summer, and I saw her.’
‘How old were you when your parents died?’
‘They died in a flu epidemic when I was seventeen. I sold the pharmacy but kept the photographic side, because I liked it and was good at it. But I wanted to travel. To photograph the world and everything that was beautiful in it. So I took the car and went West. I wore pants in those days just because they were comfortable and cheap, and because when you are five feet ten you don’t look your best in girlish things. I hadn’t thought of using them as — as camouflage until one day when I was leaning over the engine of the car a man stopped and said: “Got a match, bud?” and I gave him a light; and he looked at me and nodded and said: “Thanks, bud,” and went away without a second glance. That made me think. A girl alone is always having trouble — at least in the States she is — even a girl of five feet ten. And a girl has a more difficult time getting an “in” in a racket. So I tried it out for a little. And it worked. It worked like a dream. I began to make money on the Coast. First photographing people who wanted to be movie actors, and then photographing actors themselves. But every year I came to England for a little. As me. My name actually is Leslie, but mostly they called me Lee. She always called me Lee.’
‘So your passport is a woman’s one.’
‘Oh, yes. It is only in the States that I am Leslie Searle. And not all the time there.’
‘And all you did before going to the Westmorland was to hop over to Paris, and lay the track of Leslie Searle in case anyone proved inquisitive.’
‘Yes. I’ve been in England for some time. But I didn’t actually think I’d need that track. I meant to do away with Leslie Searle too. To find some joint end for Walter and him. So that it would not be apparent that it was murder.’
‘Whether it was murder or just, as it turned out, leaving Whitmore in the soup, it was a pretty expensive amusement, wasn’t it?’
‘One very paying photographer’s business, one complete gent’s outfit in very expensive suitings, and assorted luggage from the best makers. Which reminds me, you didn’t steal a glove of Liz Garrowby’s, did you?’
‘No, I stole a pair. Out of the car pocket. I hadn’t thought of gloves, but I suddenly realised how convincing women’s gloves are. If there is any doubt, I mean, as to your sex. They are almost as good as lipstick. You forgot my lipstick, by the way — in the little parcel. So I took that pair of Liz’s. They wouldn’t go on, of course, but I meant to carry them. I grabbed them in a hurry out of my collar drawer because Walter was coming along the passage calling to know if I was ready, and later I found that I had only one. Was the other one still there in the drawer?’
‘It was. With the most misleading results.’
‘Oh!’ she said, and looked amused and human for the first time. She thought for a little and then said: ‘Walter will never take Liz for granted again. That is one good thing I have done. It is poetic justice that it should have been a woman who did that. It was clever of you to guess that I was a woman just from the outside of a little parcel.’
‘You do me too much honour. It never even crossed my mind that you might be a woman. I merely thought that Leslie Searle had gone away disguised as a woman. I thought they were probably your things, and that he had gone to you. But the giving up of the whole of Searle’s life and belongings puzzled me. He wouldn’t do that unless he had another personality to step into. It was only then that I began to wonder whether Searle was masquerading and wasn’t a man at all. It didn’t seem as wild an idea as it might have, because I had so lately seen that case of arrest for theft that turned out so surprisingly. I had seen how easily it could be done. And then there was you. Staring me in the face, so to speak. A personality all ready for Searle to dissolve into. A personality who had most conveniently been painting in Scotland while Searle was fooling the intelligentsia in Orfordshire.’ His glance went to the art display. ‘Did you hire these for the occasion, or did you paint them?’
‘Oh, I painted them. I spend my summers in Europe painting.’
‘Ever been in Scotland?’
‘You must go and see it sometime. It’s grand. How did you know that Suilven had that “Look-at-me!” look?’
‘That is the way it looked on the postcard. Are you Scottish? Grant is a Scottish name, isn’t it?’
‘A renegade Scot. My grandfather belonged to Strathspey.’ He looked at the serried ranks of canvas evidence and smiled. ‘As fine and wholesale and convincing an alibi as ever I saw.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, doubtfully, considering them. ‘I think to another painter they might be far more of a confession. They’re so — arrogantly destructive. And angry. Aren’t they. I would paint them all differently today now that I have known Liz, and — grown up, and Marguerite has died in my heart as well as in reality. It is very growing-up to find that someone you loved all your life never existed at all. Are you married, Inspector?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said vaguely. ‘I just wondered how you understood so quickly about what had happened to me over Marguerite. And I suppose one expects married people to be more sympathetic to emotional vagaries. Which is quite absurd, because they are normally far too cluttered up with their own emotional problems to have spare sympathy. It is the unattached person who — who helps. Won’t you have some more coffee?’
‘You make coffee even better than you paint.’
‘You haven’t come to arrest me, or you wouldn’t be drinking my coffee.’
‘Quite right. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t even drink the coffee of a practical joker.’
‘But you don’t mind drinking with a woman who planned long and elaborately to kill someone?’
‘And changed her mind. There are quite a few people I would willingly have killed in my time. Indeed, with prison no more penitential than a not very good public school, and the death sentence on the point of being abolished, I think I’ll make a little list, á la Gilbert. Then when I grow a little aged I shall make a total sweep — ten or so for the price of one — and retire comfortably to be well cared-for for the rest of my life.’
‘You are very kind,’ she said irrelevantly. ‘I haven’t really committed any crime,’ she said presently, ‘so they can’t prosecute me for anything, can they?’
‘My dear Miss Searle, you have committed practically every known crime in the book. The worst and most unforgivable being to waste the time of the overworked police forces of this country.’
‘But that isn’t a crime, is it? That is what the police are there for. I don’t mean: to have their time wasted, but to make sure that there has been nothing fishy about a happening. There isn’t any law that can punish one for what you have called a practical joke, surely?’
‘There is always “breach of the peace”. It is quite wonderful what a variety of things can be induced to come under the heading of breach of the peace.’
‘And what happens when you breach the peace?’
‘You are treated to a little homily and fined.’
‘A quite inappropriate sum, more often than not.’
‘Then I shan’t be sent to prison?’
‘Not unless you have done something that I don’t yet know about. And I wouldn’t put it past you, as they say in Strathspey.’
‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘No. You really do know all about me. I don’t know how you know all you do, if it comes to that.’
‘Our policemen are wonderful. Hadn’t you heard?’
‘You must have been pretty sure that you knew all about me before you came looking for that brown fleck in my iris.’
‘Yes. Your policemen are wonderful too. They looked up the births in Jobling, Conn., for me. The infant that Mr and Mrs Durfey Searle took with them when they left Jobling for points south, was, they reported, female. After that I would have been surprised to death if there had been no brown fleck.’
‘So you ganged up on me.’ Her hands had stopped shaking, he noticed. He was glad that she had reached the stage of achieving a flippancy. ‘Are you going to take me away with you now?’
‘On the contrary. This is my farewell to you.’
‘Farewell? You can’t have come to take farewell of someone you don’t know.’
‘Where our mutual acquaintance is concerned I, as they say, have the advantage of you. I may be quite new to you — or practically new — but you have been in my hair for the last fourteen days, and I shall be very glad to get you out.’
‘Then you don’t take me to a police station or anything like that?’
‘No. Not unless you show any signs of beating it out of the country. In which case an officer would no doubt appear at your elbow with a pressing invitation to remain.’
‘Oh, I’m not going to run away. I am truly sorry for what I have done. I mean, for the trouble — and I suppose the — the misery I have caused.’
‘Yes. Misery is the appropriate word, I feel.’
‘I am sorry most of all for what Liz must have suffered.’
‘It was gratuitously wicked of you to stage that quarrel at the Swan, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes. Yes, it was unforgivable. But he maddened me so. He was so smug. So unconsciously smug. Everything had always been easy for him.’ She saw the comment in his face, and protested: ‘Yes, even Marguerite’s death! He went straight from that into Liz’s arms. He never really knew desolation. Or fear. Or despair. Or any of the big, grinding things in life. He was quite convinced that nothing irretrievable would ever happen to him. If his “Marguerite” died there would always be a “Liz” there. I wanted him to suffer. To be caught in something that he couldn’t get out of. To meet trouble and for once be stuck with it. And you can’t say I wasn’t right! He’ll never be so smug again. Will he? Will he, then!’
‘No, I suppose not. Indeed, I’m sure not.’
‘I’m sorry Liz had to be hurt. I would go to prison if I could undo that. But I’ve given her a much better Walter than the one she was going to marry. She really is in love with that poor egotistical wretch of a creature, you know. Well, I’ve made him over for her. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t a new man from now on.’
‘If I don’t go, you’ll be proving to me that you are a public benefactor instead of an offender under breach-of-the-peace.’
‘What happens to me now? Do I just sit and wait?’
‘A constable will no doubt serve you solemnly with a summons to appear at a magistrate’s court. Have you a lawyer, by the way?’
‘Yes, I have an old man in a funny little office who keeps my letters till I want them. He’s called Bing, Parry, Parry, and Bing, but I don’t think he is any of them, actually.’
‘Then you had better go and see him and tell him what you have done.’
‘All of it?’
‘The relevant bits. You can probably leave out the quarrel at the Swan, and anything else that you’re particularly ashamed of.’ She reacted to that, he noticed. ‘But don’t leave out too much. Lawyers like to know; and they are almost as unshockable as the police.’
‘Have I shocked you, Inspector?’
‘Not noticeably. You’ve been a pleasant change from the armed robberies and the blackmail and the confidence tricks.’
‘Shall I see you when I am charged?’
‘No. A lowly sergeant will be there to give evidence, I expect.’
He took his hat and prepared to go, looking once more at the one-man show of the West Highlands.
‘I really ought to take a picture with me as a souvenir,’ he said.
‘You can have any one you want. They are going to be obliterated anyhow. Which would you like?’ It was obvious that she did not quite know whether he was serious or not.
‘I don’t know. I like Kishorn, but I can’t remember Kishorn being as aggressive as that. And if I took the Cooling there would be no room for me in the room too.’
‘But it’s only thirty inches by ——’ she was beginning, and then understood. ‘Oh. I see. Yes, it is intrusive.’
‘I don’t think I have time to wait and choose. I must leave it, I’m afraid. But thank you for the offer.’
‘Come back one day when you have more time and choose at your leisure,’ she said.
‘Thank you. I may do that.’
‘When the court has made an honest woman of me.’ She went to the stairs with him. ‘It’s a bit of an anti-climax, isn’t it? To set out to kill someone and end with breach of the peace.’
The detachment in this caught his attention, and he stood for a long moment looking at her. After a little he said, as one giving judgment: ‘You’re cured.’
‘Yes, I’m cured,’ she said sadly. ‘I shall never be green again. It was lovely while it lasted.’
‘It’s nice grown-up, too,’ Grant said comfortingly, and went away down the stairs. When he opened the door he looked back to find that she was still there watching him. ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘what are accessories?’
‘What? Oh!’ She laughed a little. ‘Belts and bibs and bows and brash little bouquets for women to put in their hair.’
‘Goodbye,’ Grant said.
‘Goodbye, Detective–Inspector Grant. I am grateful to you.’
He went away into the sunlight, at peace with the world.
As he walked down to the bus stop a lovely mad notion came to him. He would ring up Marta and ask her if she wanted another woman for Saturday night, and she would say yes, bring anyone you would like, and he would bring them Lee Searle.
But of course he could not do that. It would be sadly unbecoming in an officer of the Criminal Investigation Department; indicating a lightness of mind, a frivolity, that could only be described as deplorable in the circumstances. It was all very well for the Lee Searles of this world, people who had not yet quite grown up, to indulge their notions, but for adults, and sober adults at that, there were the convenances.
And of course there were compensations. Life was entirely constructed of compensations.
The fantastical was for adolescents; for adults there were adult joys.
And no joy of his ‘green’ years had ever filled his breast with a more tingling anticipation than the thought of Superintendent Bryce’s face when he made his report this morning.
It was a glorious and utterly satisfying prospect.
He could hardly wait.
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55