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The Anodyne Necklace(5)

By:Martha Grimes



"Tall, good-looking, about forty-"

"That old?"

" . . . chestnut hair, uh, brown eyes-"

"Gray."

"Gray?"

"Rubbish," contributed Miles.

"Go on!" said Emily.

Looking at the wingless bird, Polly said, "Some kind of danger, some sort of mystery." Polly shrugged her shoulders. Ordinarily her imagination was sprightlier, but today she couldn't seem to make it click.

"He's got a nice smile and a nice voice," said Emily, supplying the missing details. Then she stood up, her legs slightly bowed, her feet turned in. She had found a bit of string which she was winding thoughtfully about her finger. "Do policemen make much money?"

"Ho! Poor as churchmice," said Sir Miles, hoping it was bad news.

Apparently it was. "I can't marry anyone who hasn't got a lot of money. I'd need it for the horses. One day, I'm going to have a lot of horses." Then she turned and walked out the door.



Detective Superintendent Richard Jury had been in Littlebourne under an hour and had already turned two of its women to jellies.

Though Emily Louise Perk seemed made of starchier stuff than Polly Praed.





THREE


I

IT was not the police who found the body to which the finger had lately belonged; it was Miss Ernestine Craigie, sister to Augusta. Ernestine had gone to the Horndean wood, as was her usual habit, in her Wellingtons and anorak, and with binoculars swinging round her neck. Ernestine was not only president, but was heart, soul and muscle of the Hertfield Royal Birdwatchers' Society.

The Horndean wood was a somber tract of oak, ash, and bracken which stretched its seemingly endless wetness (bog and marsh), an invitation to all sorts of birdlife, between Littlebourne and the much larger town of Horndean. The wood was unpleasant and unpretty; even in high summer it appeared to be sulking around the edge of winter, its shrubberies a dull brown, its leaves untouched by the usual autumnal glow. Except for the sort of mucking about Miss Craigie had been doing, it was a good-for-nothing, boggy place. Good for nothing, apparently, but bird-watching and murder.



Police hounds had snuffled through the last place the little dog had been seen rooting-the Craigie sisters' rosebushes. Fortunately for the sisters, the corpse had not been deposited beneath them. Otherwise the Craigies would have had a lot of explaining to do. They were having a bad enough time as it was. This particular corpse seemed fated to attach itself to them in one way or another. The body had been found not under Augusta's rosebushes, but by Ernestine: it was lying half-in, half-out of the muddy waters of a narrow stream which cut straight across the Horndean wood.

When Superintendent Jury and Constable Gere arrived on the scene they found a hard knot of police and dogs all seeming to jockey for position. One of the men peeled off from the group and walked toward them.

" 'Lo, Peter." He put out his hand to Jury. "You're from Scotland Yard C.I.D.?" Jury nodded. "I'm Carstairs." Detective Inspector Carstairs had a beaked nose and somewhat predatory air. "Come on. We found her not half an hour ago. Or, to be more precise, one of the local ladies found her. I had one of our people take her back to her cottage; she held up awfully well, I must say. Still, it's a shock. She's there whenever you want to speak to her. Unless-"

"No. That's fine. Is that the M.E. over there?"

"Yes. Come along, then."



The medical examiner was a woman, and she was in the process of finishing up her preliminary examination, tossing her comments over her shoulder to an assistant who stood marking items on a chart of a human form.

" . . . Hairs adherent to this hand; bag it. Nothing on this hand, but I'd bag it, too."

The reason, Jury thought, there might have been nothing on that hand was because it had no fingers.

The medical examiner dropped it, quite casually, back on the tree stump, with the direction, "Bag each finger separately."

Jury took a step forward but was stopped by her assistant's saying, "Don't step on that finger, please, sir."

He looked down and drew his foot back quickly. It was then he noticed the two separate, severed fingers. One had rolled off the stump. The victim, a youngish woman, in her late twenties or early thirties, lay in the shallow and muddy water of the stream. One side of her face was turned down in the water. The water itself was rusty with blood. Except for the one hand, the rest of the body appeared to have escaped mutilation; the cyanosed complexion told Jury she had been strangled.

The doctor rose and dusted her knees free of twigs and leaves. She intoned her findings to Jury. "Dead, I'd say on a prelim, about thirty-six hours. I'd put it at roughly between eight and midnight, Thursday."

The police ambulance had made its way off the Horndean-Hertfield Road and was trying to maneuver inward along the public footpath. It had to stop some distance from the body. Two men carried over the stretcher and rubber sheet from that point.

"What about the hand, Doctor?"

She pursed her lips, looked at the plastic bag given over to her assistant. "Ax, apparently. It was done in a single blow. That one, there." She pointed to a small, double-bladed ax lying in the grass.

"Any ideas why the killer'd go to the trouble of cutting off the fingers?" asked Jury.

She shook her head, snapped her bag shut. A woman of few words. She wore a black suit relieved only by a pale shirtwaist, but even that was tied around the throat with a narrow black tie.

"Well, it couldn't be fingerprints," said Carstairs, "or he'd have done both hands. And taken away, ah, the fingers. The ax, Gere tells me, belongs to Miss Craigie. The one who found the body. She uses it to clear out underbrush and branches and so forth . . . to see the birds. Miss Craigie's big on birds." Inspector Carstairs pulled on his earlobe, as if embarrassed to drag this frivolity into it.

"Could it have been a woman?" asked Jury of the medical examiner.

Her every word was dipped in acid: " ‘Could it have been a woman?' Yes, Superintendent. You'll find that we can do all sorts of things-dress ourselves, ride two-wheelers, do murders."
 
 

 

Chalk one up for women's lib, he guessed. "Sorry." She left, and Jury and Carstairs looked down at the body. The black coat was scummy with algae and the hair was a net to trap twigs and leaves.

Sergeant Wiggins and Peter Gere tramped toward them, away from the clutch of Hertfield policemen looking the ground over.

Wiggins looked down at the mutilated hand as the woman was being wrapped in the rubber sheet. "Why d'ya suppose he cut off the fingers?"

Jury shook his head. "He wasn't just saying good-bye."

II

They were back in Peter Gere's one-room office on the High warming their hands around mugs of tea and coffee.

"No identification," said Carstairs. "Labels in her clothes were Swan and Edgar and Marks and Sparks. Anyway, you could tell from the quality she didn't do her shopping at Liberty's. Looks pretty much the shop girl type to me. Bit heavy on the jewelry, too. Only thing to tell us where she comes from was this." Carstairs drew a small envelope from his pocket and shook the contents out on the desk. "My sergeant handed me this just before we left the wood. A day return to London. Found it down in the coat lining, apparently slipped through a hole in the pocket."

Jury looked at the date, September fourth, two days before. "She wasn't a local, then."

"Guess not." Then Carstairs added, as if he didn't want to let the girl go entirely, "But we shouldn't completely discount that."

"Say she was," said Wiggins, holding his cup close to his nose and breathing in steam, "still, it's not likely she'd be having a walk along that footpath in the dark, would she? In that wood? And dressed the way she was?"

Carstairs looked at Wiggins as if he were a pile of unwashed socks, but had to agree, nonetheless. "This Miss Craigie, the one who found her. The Craigie woman said she must have passed by that spot when she was out that night having a tramp in the woods-"

"What time?" asked Peter Gere.

"She's uncertain about that. Nine or nine-thirty, possibly even ten. At any rate, after dark."

"What would she have been walking in the wood for at that hour?" asked Wiggins, handing his cup back to Gere for seconds.

Peter Gere answered: "Owls. Miss Craigie's the head of the local birdwatching society. Spends a good deal of time in Horndean wood. It's wonderful for birds, she claims-all nice and wet and boggy."

"Sounds a dim pastime," said Wiggins, pulling his jacket more tightly about him. The little police office's single night storage heater was no match for Wiggins. "So that puts her out there at the time of the murder, sir," he said to Jury.

Gere laughed. "Well, I must admit she's certainly got enough brute force for it-only, wait a moment: you surely don't think this was done by a local, do you?" With a worried frown, he was tamping tobacco down in his pipe.

"Maybe not, but you've had your share of troubles here, Peter. What about these?" Carstairs reached in his inside pocket and dropped a brown packet on the table. "Have a look, Superintendent." His smile was enigmatic, as if he could hardly wait for Scotland Yard to cast its eye on this little lot.

It was a plain, brown mailing envelope, postmarked in Hertfield and addressed to the Littlebourne sub-post office. Jury opened it and took out a packet of letters held together with a rubber band. He flipped through the envelopes and said, "Crayon?"

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