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The Anodyne Necklace(10)

By:Martha Grimes



"Doesn't it seem unlikely that such a stranger would be walking through the Horndean wood, though?"

Augusta said brightly, "But, Inspector, perhaps she was dragged there. You know. Killed somewhere else. Or executed. Really, it does sound like some sort of ritual crime. Had you thought of that?"

Jury had to admit he hadn't.

"Oh, bosh, Augusta. You've been reading too many of Polly's thrillers. She's our local hack," she said to Jury. "Not a bad sort, actually. Tried to get her in the birdwatchers-"

Jury's mind was on the Kennington place. Why did the name seem familiar? He couldn't remember Carstairs or Peter Gere mentioning it. "Are you on the telephone?" he asked the Craigies.

"Of course," said Ernestine. "Got heaps of calls to make about the Society. Yes, of course you can use it," she said to Jury's next question. "Back in the study there. Mind you don't knock my maps about!" she called to Jury's departing back.



"Stonington?" said Inspector Carstairs with some surprise. "No, no one mentioned the woman's being for Stonington. The bus driver says he remembers a woman of that description getting off the Hertfield-Horndean bus in Littlebourne. It was the last bus for Horndean, and got to Littlebourne at 8:05. It was dusk."

"This Kennington. I seem to have heard the name somewhere before-"

"It was in the papers about a year ago. Lord Kennington had a collection of jewels, among them an emerald, very rare and very valuable. The secretary, a villain named Tree, walked off with them. Or it, I should say. Poetic justice, maybe, but Tree was run down by a car a few days later. The necklace is still going missing, as far as we know." Carstairs turned away from the telephone to make some comment to someone there, then he was back. "I'll get onto this Stonington business straightaway. Lady Kennington lives there now. Husband's dead."

Jury thanked him and rang off.



When he returned, they were arguing about the letters. Augusta's favorite candidate, it seemed, was Miss Praed.

"Old Polly?" said Ernestine. "For pity's sakes, she's too sensible for that sort of thing. Keeps herself busy enough in her mind she doesn't have to go about wasting her imagination that way."

"It's because she's got the imagination," snapped Augusta.

Ernestine shoved the mean-looking cat, who had been rummaging among the sandwich rinds, from the table. "Got to admit, old sweat, that letter to you would take some imagination!" Ernestine guffawed and beat her blackthorn stick to the floor. "Augusta here wouldn't say boo to a goose."
 
 

 

Jury wouldn't bank on that, seeing the look on Augusta's face. Ernestine, though, apparently having got the lion's share of whatever went round all of their lives, didn't appear to notice the look of murderous rage. And as the cat, frustrated in its play for minced chicken, stalked the lovebirds again, Jury also wondered what odd little mental quirk had one sister keeping cats and caged birds where the other was an ornithologist.

"Who's your own candidate for that lot of letters?" he asked Ernestine.

Chin resting on crossed hands atop her stick, she gave it some thought. "Derek Bodenheim's my guess." She ignored her sister's shocked expression. "Peabrain, Derek's got. Sort of child who tore wings off insects. Or it could be old Sylvia, if it comes to that."

"You're accusing one of your own birdwatchers?" said Augusta.

"Rubbish. Just because you like birds doesn't mean you wouldn't take an ax to your mum, does it?"

"No, it doesn't," said Jury, shoving his notebook in his pocket. "Thanks very much for your time. I might be wanting to talk to you later. And no going into the Horndean wood, Miss Craigie." Of course, of course, was her reply. He knew she'd be off like a shot the moment he left.

At the door, as Jury was handing them one of his cards, Augusta said, "I do hope this awful business won't postpone our church fête, will it? It's to be tomorrow, and I've got my tent and costume all planned out."

Ernestine hooted. "All kitted out in fortune-teller's rig. Madame Zostra. Damned silly business. If the church needs money, why doesn't it go whistle for it?" She was studying over Jury's card. "Said you were Inspector, didn't you? This says Superintendent. What's the difference? You in charge of the whole boiling, or what?"

Jury smiled as he scanned the vault of the blue sky. "Not much difference. Just look at it this way: not all policemen are inspectors, and not all birds are Crackles."

II

As he drove the short distance back to Littlebourne High Street, Jury tried to remember what it was that one of them had said that nagged at him. The wood, the body, the birds . . . ?

The detail lay buried, sunk like a stone. Driving slowly along the quarter-mile of road toward the Celtic cross, he thought of the possibility of the woman's having been on her way to the Kennington estate. As Jury ran over the list of people he wanted to see-Peter Gere; the doctor, Riddley; the Praed woman; the Bodenheims-he was conscious of the hurried clop clop of hooves. When he looked in his rearview mirror, he saw a brown pony, topped off by the little girl with the yellow hair.

He was clearly being kept under surveillance by one of Littlebourne's most resourceful citizens.

III

"It was about a year ago," said Peter Gere, feet planted on the desk in the one-room police station. "It was Trevor Tree-Lord Kennington's secretary-called me sometime round about midnight saying the place had been burgled. Kennington kept his collection in a glass-topped case in a study that had a French door leading out to a courtyard and windows on the other side overlooking the gravel drive. The reason I mention that is, we didn't see what Tree could possibly have done with the stuff except to toss it outside to someone else waiting there. There wouldn't have been time to do anything else except maybe drop it in a vase of roses. We searched the people, the house, the grounds." Peter Gere shrugged. "And they were all watching one another from the time the alarm went off-"

"The case was wired?"

Gere nodded. "So was the house. Besides Lord and Lady Kennington, there was the old cook, and a housekeeper who's no longer with them, a gardener, and Tree. It wasn't the first time Kennington had missed stuff. Some odds and ends of antique jewelry-brooches, some Egyptian-like stuff, a ring shaped like a snake, a diamond in a gold setting, some lapis lazuli-he'd bought from Ramona Wey. She's got a shop in Hertfield. They weren't all that valuable; Kennington thought he'd misplaced them himself until this other thing happened.

"It was clever of Tree. He breaks the case, disposes of the emerald somehow, calls the police himself," Peter went on. "It couldn't have taken Lord Kennington more than two minutes to pull on a robe and get down to the study, and there was Tree on the phone. Kennington didn't really suspect him until later, next morning, when he was gone. He would have got a lot more of a headstart if it hadn't been for the cook, who couldn't sleep and saw him going down the drive at six in the morning. But even then she thought he had some reason. Tree was a smooth fellow. A charmer. Clever, sophisticated, very plausible. I met him once or twice over at the Blue Boy. You know the type. . . .

"Well, it was then that Kennington knew what had happened. We had police waiting in London, at Tree's digs. The necklace wasn't on him and it wasn't in the flat. They nicked him, but hadn't any proof. Police in London watched him for several days. Then comes the irony. Tree gets run down by some bleeding teenager in the Marylebone Road. And no one ever found that emerald. Worth a quarter million, it was."

"That's a lot of money to trust an accomplice with. If you think Tree handed it over to someone else, what makes you think the someone else didn't unload it?"

Gere scratched his neck. "I never thought he had a mate. Not him. And that's the main reason. He'd never have trusted anybody else. Kennington must've been a mug to trust him."

Jury smiled. "Hindsight's great."

"Yes, I expect so. I didn't like him, not by half. Cheeky sort, he was. Kennington apparently thought he knew enough about jewelry to have him buy it. He was showing the stuff he bought from Ramona Wey round in the pub, saying what a bargain he'd got. To tell the truth, I wondered if he didn't have something going with her. Two peas in a pod, those two."

"You don't care for her, I take it?"

"Oh, she's all right, I expect. Anyway, what's all this in aid of?"

"I don't know," said Jury. "Littlebourne just seems to come in for more than its share of grief."

IV

"Stupid old sod!" said Nathan Riddley, yanking down the knot in his tie like a hangman's noose. They had been discussing Augusta Craigie. "Polly ought to have her up for slander. Tell her to get stuffed."

Dr. Riddley sat smoldering in his swivel chair, turning it from side to side, his anger deepening, Jury thought, with every turn.

"Far as I'm concerned," Riddley went on, "you don't have to look any further for the author of those stupid letters. I know what you're going to say-that she got one herself." Riddley shrugged. "So she sent it to herself. I'm sure that sort of thing happens often enough. Diverting suspicion, and so on. Hers was almost flattering. ‘I knew what I wanted to do when I saw you stark through the chink in the curtain.' Bit of a giggle, that's what most of us would have if we saw Augusta stark." The swivel chair creaked as he leaned forward to get another cigarette, then sat back again, rolling the chair from side to side. All the furniture in the surgery was old, wooden, pockmarked, except for the aluminum table used for his examinations.

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