Authors: Edmund Crispin
But he had reckoned without Detective-Sergeant Crumb.
Crumb had spent the morning laboriously typing out a vandalism report, about a smashed shop window; this was because Rankine was in the room with him. But then Rankine had gone out somewhere, detecting, and Crumb had forthwith abandoned his activity, put his feet up on the desk, and immersed himself in a paperback Mickey Spillane. This, and the lunch hour, had occupied him pleasantly until three o'clock, his usual hour for going home.
Unfortunately, he forgot to take the Spillane with him, and when evening came, and he was settled comfortably in front of a broiling fire, he found himself without diversion. He might have watched television, but he was too mean to have a set, though he could well have afforded one; and he had long since ceased paying any attention to his wife's conversation. Nothing but Spillane would do. With a great deal of grumbling, Crumb heaved himself out of his chair and returned to the police station, arriving there just in advance of the Chief Constable.
It took him a little time to find his book, and he was just about to make off with it when he heard voices raised in Widger's office. Curious, he tip-toed across to the connecting door and glued his ear to it. And what he heard, he understood perfectly.
Crumb was delighted. He nourished a consuming hatred of all his superiors, and of Widger in particular, and it was wonderful to know that they had been so humiliatingly laid low. Waiting only until Widger's office finally emptied, he hurried home again and with much lip-smacking and thigh-slapping told his wife all about it. Then he settled back to his diet of sex and sadism, still chuckling occasionally, and his wife, who knew
that there would be nothing more to be got out of him before bedtime, went out to have a cup of tea with a neighbour.
Mrs Crumb was an inveterate gossip, and it was too much to expect that she wouldn't pass on to the neighbour what she had heard. That neighbour told another neighbour, and that one, another. The news spread like flame through parched bracken.
By mid-week, practically everybody in Glazebridge and district knew that Widger and Ling had lost the head.
A wild and dream-like trade of Blood and Guile
Too foolish for a Tear, too wicked for a Smile!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Ode to Tranquillity
The investigation languished.
Thanks to Ling's Sunday-afternoon arrangements, and to his press conference, Monday morning's papers presented a strange spectacle. The Botticelli murder was sensational enough, in all conscience, and all of the public sheets, even
gave it extensive coverage. But they differed widely as to detail, and were often mutually contradictory. Reporters continued to hang about the district, causing the Major's antennae to quiver; Ling, however, avoided them as far as possible, and when a confrontation was inevitable, faithfully ground out âNo comment'. They tried to get at Sir John, but he never seemed to leave his house, or to be willing to talk on the telephone, and not one of them managed to make contact with him. Mr Morehen was once accidentally discovered at a mass Trotskyist rally in Glazebridge (five people), but seemed to have forgotten so completely about the Botticelli murder that his interviewer, who at first had had great hopes, was in the end obliged to write him off as an incurable mooncalf. That really left only Ticehurst, to whom Ling occasionally communicated scraps of useless, almost entirely negative intelligence; and from these, Ticehurst, looking far from his normal self, was obliged to construct such frail edifices of melodrama as he could. To him both Widger and Rankine (holding himself in with the greatest difficulty) referred all queries; while Crumb - resentful, morose and surly at the ever-increasing additions to his normally inconsiderable workload - simply refused to say anything at all, consoling himself, so far as that was possible, with the knowledge that news of the loss of the head had got about, branding both Widger and Ling forever as incompetent cretins.
For the reporters, it was a barren time.
Nor, on the Tuesday, were they helped by the inquest, which ran for about ten minutes before the Coroner, at Ling's urgent request, adjourned it for three weeks. There was evidence of the finding of the body, from Titty Bale, from Luckraft and from Widger. But there was no evidence of identification, no mention of the cause of death, no medical detail; and the Coroner, sitting without a jury, refrained even from saying that he thought it was murder, even though so evidently it had been. He released the body, still armless and headless, for burial, and on the Thursday it was taken from Sir John's laboratory and put underground, hugger-mugger in the cheapest possible coffin, in Glazebridge churchyard. The Rector attended, to conduct the graveside service, the Press attended, a bored-looking constable attended, and so did a variety of sensation-seekers unconnected with the case. There were no mourners, however, so that the whole business was conducted briskly and with despatch. The one wreath, unticketed, was discovered much later to have been sent by Dermot McCartney, less in a spirit of grief than because he believed that the conventions of his adopted country must be observed at all costs.
Meanwhile, the police had been furiously busy - and with absolutely no significant results. Widger thought that there could never have been a case with so many possible leads and so little to show for them.
Reluctantly, the Chief Constable had agreed that extra men were needed, and these had been drafted in, so fulfilling Widger's nightmare vision of the district (Burraford and its surroundings especially) overrun as if by a plague of blowflies. The extra men conducted house to house interrogations; they sought to identify the two strangers who had passed time in the Botticelli tent during the FÃªte; they searched out-houses for recently used spades and for blood-stained hammers; they combed fields and woodlands and gardens and lane verges for freshly turned earth; they rummaged for blood-stained clothes; they questioned everyone who might have noticed a car, either at Aller House about midnight on the Friday, or in Sir John Honeybourne's lane between six and seven on the Sunday (they were not, however, given any reason for this latter question);
they reported and reported and reported, triggering off numerous false alarms, all of which had to be checked and none of which proved to be the slightest use. Widger's small office became a crowded welter of loose papers, files, extra telephones and extra furniture; and in the room adjoining, Rankine and Crumb found themselves hemmed in similarly. Rankine bustled about importantly, insisting on reading even the most hollow, inconsequential and negative bulletins out aloud in their entirety. Crumb, the lethargic tenor of his ways grossly disrupted, was several times forced to remain at his desk until six or even seven. The placid routine of the Glazebridge C.I.D. had never before - not even for Mavis Trent, not even for Routh - been so horridly deranged.
And the week wore on, and nothing came of any of it: victim and murderer alike remained obstinately unidentified.
Missing Persons was no good; the C.R.O. was no good; Forensic was no good. True, Forensic did come up with the information that the sack from which Sir John had taken the pig's head had at some stage been employed for storing potatoes (Arran Pilot, Forensic rather thought), and that the string which tied it at the neck bore faint traces of a common brand of engine oil, and this intelligence led, on the Thursday, to those who grew their own potatoes, or had private garages, or both, being investigated all over again, again without significant results. Interviewed by Ling, the bacon factory stated that it had used the same sort and size of sack for as long as it could remember, and that there must be hundreds of them knocking about; interviewed by a Detective-Constable from the Met., the manufacturers of the sack stated that they had used the same materials for their sacks for as long as
could remember, and that it was impossible to assign a date to any particular one. Police frogmen plunged into the depths of the Burr and the Glaze, coming up again with assorted irrelevant dÃ¨bris, and there were even a couple of dogs with their handlers, though what these animals were expected to do, since they had been trained simply to knock people down or to bite them, passed Widger's comprehension. The witnesses were all questioned a second time, this time in more detail, but failed altogether to cast any fresh light on the problem. There were only two more
days to go before the Chief Constable's ultimatum expired on the Sunday, and Widger and Ling were still no further forward than they had been at evening on the previous Sunday.
Not surprisingly, they became increasingly morose, their morale markedly lowered by the realization - which had been bound to come in the end - that the news of the victim's head's being cheekily filched from them - had somehow leaked. Ling took this very badly indeed. He slunk about the station throwing furtive glances over his shoulder at the men of the uniform branch (who remained, in his presence, conscientiously wooden-faced), in deadly fear that he would catch someone jeering at him behind his back; after the Wednesday, he went out increasingly seldom, pre-empting Widger's desk chair for most of the day and endlessly re-reading reports; he even abated his smoking. And Widger, though not quite so disastrously affected, was none the less a thoroughly unhappy man. By the Friday, they were scarcely speaking to one another. A dun fog of depression had settled on them, and nothing at all came along to dissipate it
There seemed to be only one frail hope left.
Unlike the majority of policemen, Widger had no great objection to, or contempt for, amateur detectives, so long as they didn't meddle with evidence or get under the feet of the authorities. If they could solve crimes by just sitting in their armchairs thinking, the best of British luck to them. There had been some business about an Oxford toyshop, Widger remembered. Other things too, though the details escaped him for the momentâ¦
Wan and exhausted from lack of sleep, Widger lunched that Friday at home with his wife. He kept silence, and, being a sensible woman, so did she. Lunch over, he kissed her, returned to the police station, and climbed the stairs to his office. Here, as expected, he found Ling established behind the desk. He was leafing listlessly through a bundle of colour photographs of the body in the Botticelli tent and of its surroundings. On Widger's entrance, he neither raised his head nor spoke. Widger regarded him sadly for a moment. Then, without himself speaking, he turned round and left the office quietly.
He went to where the police cars were parked, got into his Cortina, and drove out alone to Aller to talk to Gervase Fen.
Fen was not thinking about the murder.
Instead, he was smoking a cigarette and reading
The Times Literary Supplement
- nowadays vulgarly retitled T.L.S, without even a full stop after the'S' - one of three special issues given over to modern Albanian poetry. The warm, sunny weather continuing, he was doing this in a deck chair on the Dickinsons' side lawn. Ellis the tortoise had not been glimpsed for twenty-four hours or more, and conceivably was making a second attempt to hibernate; Stripey the cat had absented himself on one of his priapic itineraries. To the right of the deck chair, on the grass, lay Fowles, John, and Taylor, Elizabeth, temporarily discarded. To its left stood a transistor radio, which was emitting and indeed had been emitting for some considerable time, a symphonic movement of vaguely romantic cast; from the movement's excessive length, vacuity and derivativeness, Fen judged it to be by Mahler. In the distance, and out of sight, the Pisser was making a new kind of noise, suggestive of a small cataract harbouring a swarm of hornets. And from close to Fen's ear came a tiny scrunching sound, the product of a late wasp which for reasons best known to itself was boring determinedly into the woodwork of the deck chair's side support.
What with all these things, and the modern Albanian poetry, the atmosphere was decidedly soporific.
Fen was not thinking about the murder because since Monday he had been working quite hard at his book. He had had to go to Glazebridge police station a second time, but his only visitors at home had been his daily, Mrs Bragg, and on one occasion the Major. Apart from the trip to Glazebridge, he had stayed put.
âEdna O'Brien,' he muttered, âis the Cassandra of female eroticism.' Certainly Edna O'Brien's women didn't seem to get much fun out of sex. If he were they, he would give it up altogether.
A car crept up the Dickinsons' stony drive towards him, and he roused himself to look at it. It was being driven by
Detective-Inspector Widger, he saw, and he was on his own. More questions, presumably.
Widger caught sight of Fen over the low beech hedge. He stopped the car opposite the little gate which gave access to the lawn, climbed out, passed the gate, and headed for the deck chair. Fen extinguished Mahler's violins by means of a useful knob and got up to greet his visitor.
He offered a drink of tea or coffee. He offered the deck chair. Widger politely refused them all, easing himself down on to the grass with a little sigh of contentment.
âIt's restful here,' he said.
Not quite the usual official visit, Fen thought, relapsing into the deck chair, where the wasp was still scrunching away. Not at all an official visit, in fact, for now Widger fell silent, gazing out across the countryside; he was wondering if this was a sort of betrayal - and wondering, too, how he was going to open the conversation. He was very tired, and tiredness had congealed his normal modest self-assurance.
The ensuing pause lasted for so long that in the end Fen decided he had better help. He said non-committally, âI hope the case is going well.'
âIt's a devil of a business,' said Widger with slightly more animation. Relaxing a little, he thrust out his legs and fixed his eyes on his toe-caps. âSlippery, you see - nothing at all you can get a grip on.'