The Anodyne Necklace(7)
Author:Martha Grimes


    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?”

    “Interesting, isn’t it? Much more difficult for forensics than ink or typewriter impressions. They haven’t come up with anything yet.”

    Jury opened and read the first, written in green crayon, to a Miss Polly Praed, Sunnybank Cottage. “It would appear Miss Praed has been getting up to all sorts of mischief without ever leaving her home. Gin. Dope.” He set it aside and picked up the second, this one in orange, to a Ramona Wey. “Not very long, are they?”

    “And not very naughty, either, except for the ones to Augusta Craigie and Dr. Riddley. Hard to write for very long in crayon.”

    Augusta Craigie’s letter was done in purple. “Miss Craigie gets around, doesn’t she? So far three different men have been cited here, in various states of dress and undress.”

    Peter Gere smiled. “If you knew Augusta—that’s Ernestine’s sister—you’d see it’s very unlikely. She was rather proud of her letter, I’d say. We were wondering if perhaps she was the writer just so’s she could send one to herself.”

    “It’s not usual to do that,” said Jury. “Seems a thin motive for writing all the others. Poison pen letter-writers usually get a sense of power from controlling other people’s lives, like a voyeur or an obscene telephone caller.” Jury opened the next one. “You got one, Peter, I see.”

    Blushing, Gere scratched his neck with the stem of his pipe. “Pretty dull. Done in gray, which is all my personal life deserves, I guess. ‘Skulduggery’—there’s an old-fashioned word for you—when I was working for LT.”

    Carstairs clucked his tongue at Peter in mock reproof. “The one to Riddley is a dandy. He’s the local medic, young chap and attractive. Blue.” Carstairs picked it out of the pile.

    Jury read the detailed description of what Dr. Riddley was doing with Ramona Wey. “Is she that sexy?”

    “Good-looking,” said Peter, “but a bit of an iceberg. She runs an antiques business in Hertfield.”

    There were no addresses on the envelopes, only names. All of the letters had been stuffed in the one brown envelope and sent along to the local post office.

    “So who got this lot?”

    “Mrs. Pennystevens. Well, of course she thought it damned odd, but she just handed them over to the various locals when they came in for bread or stamps. She said she thought they must be party invitations, or something.”

    “Some party,” said Wiggins, who was reddening up a bit as he scanned them.

    “Ordinary Crayolas you could find in any W. H. Smith’s or any home with kiddies in it.”

    “Or without kiddies.” Peter Gere opened the side drawer of the desk and took out some stubs of crayons and a couple of coloring books which he tossed on the table. “Not mine, actually. They belong to a little girl here. Has a passion for coloring, Emily does. She leaves the damned things everywhere. I found these on the window ledge.”

    Jury shook his head as he reread the letter to Augusta Craigie. “These letters don’t ring true.”

    Carstairs looked at him. “Meaning?”

    “Meaning I don’t believe them.” He tossed the letter on the table. “They’re like a game or something. They don’t even sound serious.”

    “People round here are taking them seriously, believe me,” said Peter.

    Carstairs looked at his watch, set down his cold coffee cup. “Look, I’ve got to get back to Hertfield station. Anything I can do to help, let me know, Superintendent. We can have a mobile unit over here immediately, if you like. I only thought, that since Hertfield’s so close—”

    “That’s fine. Just keep your men searching that wood.”

    Carstairs nodded, raised two fingers to his cap in a mock military salute and said, “Thanks for the coffee, Peter. You still make it out of steel shavings, I see.” He smiled and was gone.

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