The Anodyne Necklace(2)
Author:Martha Grimes


    “Don’t ‘sir’ me, lad. You never did when you were inspector, so you damned well wouldn’t be doing it now. I don’t have time for your warped—and, I might add, unprofessional—sense of humor.” Papers rattled. “Littlebourne. You got that? That’s the one-eyed village you’re going to. About three miles from Hertfield where the swells go to buy antiques. There’s a downtrain every half-hour from Islington—”

    Jury cut him off. “I’m not on call. You do know there is a rota?”

    The wire crackled in his ear as Racer said, “Rota. I’m well aware there’s a rota. You trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Jury? Perkins is in hospital and Jenkins is flat on his back with some kind of flu the Chinks are handing round. Hertfield police are shorthanded, and it looks like they’ve got an especially nasty murder. Trouble is, they can’t find the body.”

    Can’t find the body? Jury looked down at the chicken leg which lay congealed in a puddle of grease. “Then how do they know they’ve got a murder? Someone gone missing, or something?”

    “Listen, and I’ll tell you.” More shuffling of papers. “Some woman named Craigie was out walking her dog. No, wait a tic. Not her dog . . . ”

    Jury closed his eyes. Racer would not simply hand over the facts; he would chronicle it. The Chief Superintendent considered himself a raconteur of bardic proportions.

    “ . . . and then this woman comes out of a shop and tries to get the mutt out of her way and he drops the bone in his mouth. Only—”

    There was a dramatic pause. Jury waited, inspecting the chicken leg with a sense of foreboding. Only it wasn’t a bone. That had to be it.

    “ . . . it wasn’t a bone,” said Racer with a good deal of relish. “It was a finger. Get cracking Jury. Take Wiggins with you.”

    “Sergeant Wiggins is in Manchester. He’s visiting his people.”

    “He’s giving all the Mancuneans the Black Death, that’s what he’s doing. I’ll dig him out, never fear. With Wiggins that would be literal. Well, I’m sorry to delay your weekend in the country, Jury. No hunting, no shooting for you. A policeman’s life is full of grief.”

    Click went the telephone at Scotland Yard.

    Jury got out his address book and put through a trunk call to Ardry End. While he waited he sat with his head in his hand. A finger.

    IV

    Ardry End was a manor house of rose-hued stone, seat of the Earls of Caverness (when there were Earls of Caverness), hidden in its own wood of September gold and russet like a figure in an old tapestry.

    The tapestry was even more faded, though, on this particular September morning, gray with mists and rain floating like gauze over the Northamptonshire fields. It was dark enough that the lamps glowed dully behind the mullioned panes of a downstairs room.

    Thus a passer in the rain might have looked with longing through the windows of this room in the east wing—a room at once elegant and comfortable, a combination of Queen Anne couches and plumped-up pillows, of crystal chandeliers and cozy corners, of oriental carpets and warm hearths.

    One might have taken its two occupants—a nearly handsome man in his early forties; a stout, dumpy woman in her late sixties—for mother and son, or old friend and young, or happy host and merry guest. Or, indeed, for any of those sentimental couplings we attribute to those sitting in the warmth of light and fire, while the poor, drenched passerby looks through the starry pane, envious of the comfort within.

    One might have felt that there by the blazing fire, with the lumbering old dog at their feet, these two surely presented the most amiable picture in the world.

    One might have supposed that here was friendship, here was intimacy, here was conversation at its best.

    One would have been wrong.

    • • •

    “You’re becoming an alcoholic, Melrose. That’s your second shooting sherry,” said Lady Agatha Ardry.

    “If mere numbers count, you’re becoming a fairy cake. That’s your third,” said Melrose Plant, the last in the line of the Earls of Caverness. He returned to perusal of a road map.

    She threw him a dark glance while she peeled the fluted paper from the little cake. “What are you doing?”

    “Reading a road map.”

    “Why?”

    “Because it’s got roads on it.” Melrose stoppered up the decanter and sipped from his morsel of Waterford crystal.

    “You’re being funny, Plant.”

    “I’m being literal, dear Aunt.” Melrose had found Hertfield; but where was this Littlebourne village?

    “You know perfectly well what I mean. You’re not thinking of going anywhere, are you? If you’re going up to London, I shouldn’t. You ought to stay here and tend to your affairs. But if you must go to London, I should certainly like to go too. I’ve a lot of shopping to do and I want to stop in at Fortnum’s and get some of their cakes.”

    Plant did not bother contradicting her, since she would have him up to London and back again faster than a flying carpet, and he could resume his map-study. He yawned. “Fortnum’s don’t do fairy cakes, Agatha.”

    “Certainly they do.”

    “Well, I expect we shall never know.”

    Lady Ardry regarded her nephew with suspicion, as if his remark held some nugget of meaning she must pry loose, like a gold filling from a tooth.

    Gold was not the least of Agatha’s concerns, either. She had just finished appraising Plant’s latest acquisition, a small gold statue. She picked it up again, turned it every which way, and said, “This must have been dear, Melrose.”

    “I can show you the sales slip.” He resettled his spectacles on his nose and looked at her over the rim of his sherry glass.

    “Don’t be vulgar. I’ve no interest in what you give for things.”

    He saw she now had her enormous purse open and was rooting through it, taking out and putting on the table all sorts of nondescript objects. Was she making room for the gold statue? Melrose occasionally visited her cottage in Plague Alley, partly as a gentlemanly gesture, partly to see some of his belongings. How she managed to get whole clumps of furniture out of Ardry End without his knowing was a mystery he had never solved. One day he would cycle up the drive to find a removal van in front of the door. Well, Ardry End was enormous, and he didn’t really care, so long as she left the portraits in the gallery and the ducks in the pond. Then he spied something she had just transferred from purse to table.

    “Isn’t this mine?” he asked.

    She colored slightly. “Yours? Yours? My dear Plant, whatever would I be doing with your calling-card case?”

    “I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”

    “I’m not sure I care for what you’re implying.”

    “I’m not implying anything. I’m saying you took my visiting-card case.”

    She thought for a moment. “You don’t remember.”

    “Remember what?”

    “Your dear mother, Lady Marjorie—”

    “I remember my mother, yes. That was her visiting-card case.” Melrose opened his own gold cigarette case and lit a cigarette. “Are you going to tell me Mother gave it to you?”

    Rather than answer this directly, she began to reminisce. “Your dear mother, the Countess of Caverness—”

    “You have a way of reminding me of particulars of my family history that suggests you believe I cannot sort them out. I remember that my mother was the Countess of Caverness. My father was the seventh Earl of Caverness. And your late husband, the Honorable Robert Ardry—”

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