The Anodyne Necklace(8)
Author:Martha Grimes


    • • •

    The packet of letters lay on the desk. Jury spread them out. “A veritable rainbow of poison-pennery. This girl that got murdered. Do you think there’s any relationship between these and her?”

    “I don’t see how,” said Peter Gere. “I hadn’t thought of it, I expect. Are you talking about blackmail?”

    “No. That wouldn’t be a very lucrative way of operating, would it? To publish the sins and then try and collect.”

    Wiggins came out of the collar of his overcoat, where he must have been turning things over in his chilly way. “You know, it doesn’t seem to me that ticket stub in her coat proves she was a Londoner. It could have been put there by someone else to make us think she was from London.”

    Gere touched the brown envelope. “These were mailed in Hertfield the Tuesday before last. But that doesn’t prove a damned thing. What you say is possible, of course.”

    Wiggins went on to expound his theory. “Seems odd to me, the murderer having taken the rest of the identification and not going through the pockets.”

    “It was down in the lining, remember. Slipped through,” said Jury.

    Wiggins thought for a moment. “It’s even possible, you know, it wasn’t her coat.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “Well, there she was all tarted up in that green dress and eyeshadow you could take a shovel to”—Wiggins’s tone was disapproving—“and all that costume jewelry. That black cloth coat doesn’t fit the picture, does it?”

    Both Wiggins and Gere continued to weave out of beautiful whole cloth their black-cloth-coat theory. Jury left them to it, assuming all the while that the ticket was just what it said: she’d come down from London and meant to go back that day.

    Jury had a lot of respect for provincial police forces. Their incorruptibility was almost legendary. Some of their detractors in the M.P.D. liked to call them a “bunch of effing swedes,” but that, to Jury, was sour grapes. He had still not gotten over the trials and imprisonments of some of his colleagues a decade ago. He was not naïve, of course; but he supposed he was a trifle romantic. He believed in the verities: Queen, country, and the football pools. He looked at Peter Gere, the village bobby, and felt a real respect. Still, it was difficult working over someone else’s patch.

    It was a pleasant patch, though, he thought as he tilted back his chair and looked out at Littlebourne Green. Not even the police descending on it seemed to have wakened the village from its golden September dream. The High seemed isolated from the violence that had invaded the wood beyond, like a stone heaved through a sunny window. Across the Green, an old man shuffled out of the single pub, the Bold Blue Boy. Farther along a woman with a basket over her arm went into a sweet shop. Only the cluster of three villagers who seemed to have collided in the middle of the Green was proof that something was going on, for there was much gesticulating and pointing toward the station.

    No, not three, four villagers. A little girl emerged from the group and stood staring at the station or the C.I.D. car or both.

    Jury was half-listening to Wiggins and Gere. The murdered woman was no local, he was sure. She fairly screamed London. He had seen dozens of her up and down Oxford and Regent Streets. Why not look for the simplest explanation?

    While Jury watched the little girl with the straggly blond hair start a side-wise sort of dancing step, he said to the voices behind him, “Maybe so. But in that case, where’s her coat?”

    That the original coat would have to be accounted for seemed not to have occurred to them. Neither one answered.

    Sunlight was painting lemon stripes across the floor through the venetian blind. Jury looked out again at the Green. The clutch of villagers had diminished by two, leaving the older man and the little girl. He had detached himself from the child and was walking purposefully across the High toward the station. The little girl followed, but at a distance. He was dressed in plus-fours; she was wearing a hacking jacket, too short in the sleeves.

    “Do you think we could be going to the pub, sir?” asked Wiggins, rather plaintively. “That wood was awful wet.”

    “Sure. But who’s this coming up the walk, Peter?”

    • • •

    A consortium of thrushes, busy up to that point with a discarded crust on the walk, thronged the air above the elderly man’s head as if they meant to build their nest there. Jury watched him beat at them with his stick. His broad face and chest appeared gargoylelike in the pane of the door before he ushered himself in like a stiff September breeze.

    “Peter! This is preposterous! I have been given to understand someone has been found dead in the Horndean wood!” The tone suggested that the local constabulary had better be quick off the mark in explaining this nonsense, or he would hold them strictly accountable.

    Jury recognized in Sir Miles Bodenheim (introduced to Jury with noticeable lack of enthusiasm by Gere) the sort of village gentry which has nothing to do with its time other than to take itself very seriously. “Did you have some information you thought relevant, Sir Miles?”

    “I know nothing, except I cannot understand why police find it necessary to cut across my south pasture. They’re slogging about over my property as if they owned it.”

    “Is your property near the Horndean wood, then?” asked Jury.

    “It certainly is. Borders it, as a matter of fact. Rookswood has quite extensive grounds.”

    “On the night before last, did you happen to see or hear anything unusual?”

    Miles Bodenheim smirked. “Only Miss Wey in Dr. Riddley’s office. Seems a bit late for an appointment, wouldn’t you say?”

    Wiggins had his notebook out. “What time was that, sir?”

    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—”

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