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The Anodyne Necklace(7)

By:Martha Grimes



Sir Miles's brow shot up. "Time? How should I know? I don't keep running records on my neighbors' affairs."

"Guess," said Wiggins, wiping his nose with his large handkerchief.

Sir Miles sputtered. "Oh, I don't know. Sixish, I suppose."

"I was speaking more of something happening in the wood, Sir Miles," said Jury.

"Nothing," he snapped. "I do not prowl the wood at night, keeping track of trysts, Superintendent. And why it's necessary to call in Scotland Yard is beyond me," he added for good measure, having forgotten his earlier opinion of the Hertfield constabulary. "But I might as well save my breath to cool my porridge," he added sententiously.

Jury imagined it would be the first time he saved it. "Is it usual for people to meet there?"

"I shouldn't think so. We only go there for the birdwatching. I'm secretary-treasurer of the Royal Birdwatchers' Society."

"I'll probably want to talk with you later, Sir Miles, if you can spare me a few moments."

As Jury predicted, Miles Bodenheim was partial to this beggarly attitude on the part of the police. "I could do, yes. I understand," continued Miles, sotto voce, "it was a particularly brutal crime. Severed arm is what I heard. I've just come from the Craigie sisters. Ernestine is still sedated. Shocking. I had tea with Augusta and got all the details. Terrible, the arm simply-" He made a clicking sound and took a swipe at his own arm with his stick. "Can't think why anyone would do a thing like that." Expectantly he looked at Jury, who remained silent. "But she was a stranger. Ah, well." The implication was that strangers had no one but themselves to blame if they lost their arms. "Well, I hope you Scotland Yard chaps can be a bit quicker than the local police. After all, that's what we pay you for, isn't it?" Continuing to converse with himself, Miles said, "Odd, isn't it? What would anyone have been doing out there in the Horndean wood? Except for us birdwatchers in the Society, I can't see there'd be any reason for anyone to be there. My wife, Sylvia, agrees." He was warming to his subject, which had taken an abrupt turn from grisly murder to trespassing. "After all, there's only the one public footpath, and that's all overgrown simply because no one uses it. Why should anyone want to go to Horndean that way? It's a very long walk and Sylvia says she nearly went down whilst she was out with the Society, and that it's best to stay away from the center of it altogether. Sylvia nearly sunk down a foot, she says-"
 
 

 

Jury took it from the expression on Gere's face that Sylvia would not have been missed if she had sunk up to her neck. He cut him off by asking, "You're saying that this wood has never been a place for picnics or lovers' meetings-?"

Sir Miles gaped. "Lovers? I should hope not!" The suggestion was that lovers, like rabies, were unknown in Littlebourne village. But now his attention was caught afresh by the letters lying on the desk, which Peter Gere had unsuccessfully tried to cover over with his arm. "This village has gone mad. Some pervert allowed to roam about freely amongst us innocent people. Well, some of us innocent people." He smirked. "Where there's smoke, you know. You'll be staying, I expect, Superintendent?"

"Yes. At the Blue Boy."

Sir Miles's gray mustache twitched. "Oh, not the Blue Boy, surely. It's not properly heated and although Mrs. O'Brien does prepare a fairly decent meal, well, I don't really approve of women publicans, do you? I know women are just chock-a-block all over the place these days, but Mary O'Brien . . . You heard, of course, what happened to her daughter? I'd almost forgot myself, what with everything else that's happened. And, I suppose, Peter, the police aren't any forrarder about that, either, are they? It's been two weeks, after all. Well, Superintendent, I should like to stop here and chat, but I must be going." Here he tapped his walking stick thrice on the floor as if in magical incantation. "We are at your service," he offered. "Do not hesitate to come to us at Rookswood for any help you might need." Then, having satisfied himself that he had set straight the nation's police forces, Miles Bodenheim threw open the door and sallied forth to mix hot air with cold.



"What happened to the girl?" asked Jury, putting the packet of letters in his raincoat pocket.

"Katie O'Brien. She's the daughter of the woman who runs the Blue Boy. She's been going up to London twice a month for violin lessons and must have been getting some pocket money by playing her fiddle in the tube station."

"Stupid thing to do," said Sergeant Wiggins.

"Yes, well, someone landed a blow on her skull. They say it's a miracle she's not dead, though I can't say she's much better off the way she is. She's in the Fulham Road Hospital, in a coma. Been like that for nearly two weeks now and it doesn't look good."

As they stood up to leave, Jury asked, "Where'd it happen?"

"In the East End. Wembley Knotts tube station. The music teacher lives there somewhere."

Wiggins popped a cough drop in his mouth and offered the box round. "Not the healthiest part of town for a young girl to be mucking about in," he said.





FOUR


I

NO, she wouldn't. Yes, she would. No, she wouldn't. Emily Louise Perk was standing on the Green, her feet as usual turned inward. Some part of Emily was always on horseback. She was watching the door of the police station through which Miles Bodenheim had just walked, turned, and started down the pavement. She was thinking about Scotland Yard.

According to Polly's books, there was something called a Murder Room. Emily Louise wondered what it looked like. Wax figures of murderers, probably. Manacles, axes. Blood. She had a strong aversion to blood of any kind and hadn't liked listening to the details of the person they'd found in the Horndean wood. Emily hated even the thought of blood. One of the reasons she was such an expert rider was because she knew if she weren't up to the mark, she might fall off and bloody herself. Her mother had tried to talk to her once about blood, and Emily had found the subject so revolting she had run out of the room. All of those passages in Polly's books about blood-bedizened bodies she had skipped over. In one there had been a severed head. And now it had happened right here. A severed hand. Miss Craigie had said the fingers . . . She wouldn't think about it.

It was one of the reasons she had not been to the hospital to see Katie. She was afraid of the smells there, of the blood which was not far off: operating tables. Doctors' knives. Dirty aprons and uniforms. And she didn't want to see her friend Katie lying flat out like a body on a stone slab.

Her frown deepened. Even for Emily, it was a huge frown. If she could only find out what the police knew, then maybe she could figure out if what she knew was important.

The door to the station opened again and he came out. She would have to be careful; Scotland Yard could get information out of anyone. They could get secrets out of Shandy, if they had to. Out of the very trees, if they wanted.

And Emily had a secret. The trouble was, it wasn't really her secret. It was Katie O'Brien's.

II

No, she wouldn't. Yes, she would. No, she wouldn't.

Polly Praed slammed the carriage return so hard it nearly took the typewriter with it.

She was trying to muster her resolve.

Her cottage sat near the Celtic cross, just at the juncture of the Y formed where the High joined the Hertfield Road. The window of her tiny parlor, where she did her writing, commanded a good view of the High: she could see all the way across Littlebourne Green to the police station on her right and the Bold Blue Boy on her left.

Ordinarily, the comings and goings of Littlebourne street life registered dimly as she wrote. Her eyes took in movements, but her mind was busy with her story. At least it usually worked that way. Today, the process reversed itself.

She had just disposed of Julia Bodenheim by means of cyanide in a cup of party punch. Her fingers had a mind of their own when it came to disposing of any one of the Bodenheims. Consequently, her mind was really absorbing the details of the comings and goings round the police station. While her fingers poisoned Julia, her eye tracked the progress of the policeman from Scotland Yard and Peter Gere. They were walking across the Green.

What was Emily doing, Polly wondered, hanging about the Green? She blushed. Emily was doing the same thing Polly wished she were doing. Although it was after two o'clock, still, that wasn't too late for lunch. They must be going to have lunch. No reason why she couldn't, too. She would. No, she wouldn't.

Now her fingers rested above an arsenic-stuffed aubergine as she tried to come up with a conversational gambit: "Scotland Yard? Oh! I wasn't aware the Hertfield police had called in . . . "

Pretty dim. What about, "I suppose you can't stand to read mysteries about Scotland Yard, can you, Superintendent?"

Inane. Could she seek his advice about Chapter Three? That would be transparent enough to lower her forever in his esteem. Was he supposed to stop his murder investigation to give her a short lecture on criminology?

Exasperated, she fell back in her chair and squashed Barney, her cat. The cat had appropriated the sunny part of the seat for his nap.

Severed fingers. Polly put her head in her hands and thought about it. She couldn't come up with a reason for cutting off the fingers. Polly leaned forward again, rested her chin on her folded arms, her arms on the typewriter, and stared out the window. She saw the gate of the Bold Blue Boy swinging. In, out, out, in . . . Emily Louise, keeping an even closer watch than she was. When you were ten years old, you could bloody well be as obvious as you wanted.

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