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The Anodyne Necklace(4)

By:Martha Grimes



"Whatever are you staring at, dear?" The reedy voice of Celia Pettigrew pulled Polly back from the window, the blood creeping up her neck as she took a seat at one of the dark, gate-legged tables. Its blue-and-white cloth matched the cottage curtains. "Might I have some tea, Miss Pettigrew?" said Polly in a strained voice. "And a muffin?"

"That's what we're here for," said Miss Pettigrew, moving briskly toward a curtained door at the rear of the room.

To resist further temptation, Polly had seated herself with her back to the windows, so that when the bell tinkled again, her heart leaped within her. Could his course have been deflected walking across the Green? Could-?

No. It was only Sir Miles, come to hector Miss Pettigrew within an inch of her life. Although Miles Bodenheim vied only with his wife as the first one to dispatch in The Littlebourne Murders, she was almost glad to see him now.
 
 

 

It never occurred to Miles that anyone wouldn't be, so without preamble he dropped his stick and cap on the table and sat down. "Saw you come in here. Thought I'd join." He twisted his large frame in the chair and bellowed: "You've got customers out here, Miss Pettigrew!"

Polly closed her eyes as the sharp rattle and shattering of dishes came from the curtained alcove.

"Butterfingers," murmured Miles. To Polly he said, "Well, Miss Praed, and are you working on your new thriller? Been a long time since you've had one out, but I expect the last reviews put you off your feed a bit, didn't they? Look at it this way, though. It's not what those idiots think, it's the sales, what? Though they weren't too brisk, were they? Sylvia tells me all the ones in the Hertfield shop are still there. Oh, well . . . " He ran his hands against his hair, smoothing it. There was a bit of dried egg on his lapel; since there usually was, Polly wondered if it were the same dried egg bit, or fresh from this morning. "We'll have to put your book down on the Christmas list for Ruth and Cook. Sylvia says they spend rather too much time reading trash-film magazines, that sort of thing. Where is that idiot woman?" He wheeled around in his chair again as Miss Pettigrew shuddered through the drapery, looking extremely pale.

"Yes, Sir Miles?" she said through lips nearly riveted together. "You needn't have shouted like that; you gave me the most awful fright-"

"You need something for your nerves. Bring another cup. There's enough in that pot for two. What are those things?" He poked at what were quite obviously muffins on the plate she deposited before Polly.

"Carrot muffins."

"Good God, woman! Bring me a scone."

"I don't do scones, Sir Miles."

He sighed loudly. "Bring me some of that anchovy toast."

"I only have that in the afternoon, as you know."

Elaborately, Sir Miles pulled a turnip watch from his watch-pocket, clicked open the case to let her know his time of day was more reliable than hers. True, it was only ten. So he settled for, "You really do not get enough custom to be always splitting hairs with your patrons, do you?"

When Polly observed poor Miss Pettigrew's narrow frame visibly beginning to shake, she put in, "If it's not too much trouble, Miss Pettigrew, I'd really fancy some myself. You do make such delicious anchovy toast; I've heard people rave about it-"

As Miss Pettigrew, somewhat mollified, moved toward the rear, Sir Miles said, "Delicious? What's delicious about it? It's straight out of a tin. All the stupid woman has to do is spoon it up and slap it on some bread. But it's preferable to this muffin-" He poked the plate again. "How does she manage to make muffins the color of a mouse?" He hummed as they waited in silence for the toast.

Polly was about to break her rule of never asking Sir Miles a question when Miss Pettigrew appeared with a plate on a tray. "Too bad you had to be put to the trouble of making up two orders," he said breezily. "And Miss Praed has let the muffins go cold."

Stone-faced, Miss Pettigrew retreated behind her curtain.

His mouth full of toast, Sir Miles said, "Whole village has gone mad, far as I can see. First it's those beastly letters-" He smiled nastily-"didn't write 'em yourself, did you? Rather your line, isn't it?"

Polly reddened. "Poison-pen letters are not exactly the same thing as writing mysteries."

He shrugged. "Since you got one yourself, I expect it makes no odds. Though you could have done that to divert suspicion. Toast?" Handsomely, he shoved the plate in her face. "Not that I'm surprised Mainwaring and Riddley got one. Both of them carrying on with the Wey woman like that. No better'n she should be, that one. And now we'll be in all the papers, police putting themselves about looking for that body-"

It was the opportunity she wanted. Casually, she asked, "Who was that with Peter Gere you were talking to?"

Sir Miles studied the nibbled edges of his toast. "Policemen," was all he said.

That was the way with Miles. He'd talk the eyes off a peacock until you wanted him to say something and then he'd clam up completely.

"From where?"

He did not answer this, but said instead, "About time they sent someone to clear up this mess. If we had to depend on Peter Gere for protection we'd all be dead in our beds. I was about to tell him so-"

Polly was saved from stuffing the muffins down his throat by the fresh tinkling of the bell over the tearoom door.



The next person to enter the Magic Muffin was Emily Louise Perk, ten years old with no sign she had grown since she was eight. Her small-boned frame and triangular face, mournful brown eyes, strings of yellow hair hanging about her pointed chin, shabby little hacking jacket and jeans, all proclaimed her to be quite a pitiful child.

Emily Louise Perk was anything but pitiful.

Her unkempt appearance had nothing to do with a neglectful parent or a poor one. If her hair never looked combed and her costume never changed it was because Emily Louise was up long before her mother, up before the rest of the village, up before God, seeing to her interests, chief among them being her pony, Shandy. Shandy was stabled, oddly enough, at Rookswood, the Bodenheim manor. Emily was permitted to keep her own pony there in return for taking care of the Bodenheim horses. Since Emily Louise knew more about horses than anyone from Hertfield to Horndean, they let her alone. That she was not even plagued by Sylvia Bodenheim was in itself a remarkable feat, testimony to Emily's remarkable facility for either getting what she wanted out of grown-ups or ignoring them completely. She was permitted to slop about freely in the stableyard and even to enter the kitchen for tea and tidbits served up by the Bodenheim cook, who was fond of Emily Louise. Thus, unlike the other village children whom the Bodenheims gladly squashed like stray cats and dogs, Emily was permitted, metaphorically speaking, to live.

And live she did rather high on the hog because she knew everything that went on in Littlebourne. She was not a gossip, but she certainly knew the going rate of exchange. News flowed back and forth through her four-foot frame as if she were an electrical wire.

Polly happily called out to her and pulled a chair round for her to sit in. If anyone would know, she would.

As Emily sat down, Miles said, "Thought you were supposed to be up at the house currying Julia's horse." His iron-gray brows furrowed.

No frown, however, was any match for Emily Louise's. She always appeared to be in a brown study. "Today's Saturday. I don't do spit on Saturday." She looked at the muffin plate and sighed. "It's carrot again. I wish I had a hot cross bun." She clamped her hands atop her head and looked at Polly.

Polly called to Miss Pettigrew, who, seeing Emily, immediately procured a plate of buns and a fresh pot of tea. Miss Pettigrew was not immune to the charms of Miss Perk, either. They spent rather a lot of time over tea and talk.

"Thank you," said Emily, who did not place herself above manners. "There's a policeman in the village, a new one."

"I know," snapped Sir Miles. "Met the chap already." He dusted his trouser knees and drank his tea. "He's from Scotland Yard."
 
 

 

Scotland Yard. Polly's mouth dropped open. She cleared her throat. "What's he doing here? I mean, is he staying?"

Apparently unable to supply any more information, Sir Miles passed it off with a general comment about the inefficiency of police in general. "All running about cock-a-hoop, none of them seem to know what they're doing."

Emily ate her bun. "He's going to find that body, I expect. He's staying at the Bold Blue Boy. They dropped off their stuff there. He's a police superintendent."

"Did you, ah, happen to hear his name?" asked Polly.

Emily did not provide this essential bit of information. Instead, she drained her cup and shoved it toward Polly. "Tell my fortune, please."

Polly was loath to drop the subject, but perhaps the tea-leaf reading could be turned to that account. Sir Miles sighed hugely, as if they had chained him to his chair, forcing him to listen to this nonsense.

Polly tipped the cup and looked down at the meaningless pattern the small bits of black leaf left on its surface. All she saw was something that looked like a ragged bird. "I see a man, a stranger."

"What's he look like?" Emily's chin rested in her clenched fists. The eternal pucker between her brows deepened.

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