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Authors: Winston Graham

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BOOK: The Sleeping Partner
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I wanted to sit down somewhere. ‘But did you know I would be here?'

‘No, I came over on the off chance.'

I put my hand out and took her fingers. ‘You don't know how much I've longed to see you these last two days. You never will know.' She looked at me almost in surprise. ‘Stella, it's the sober truth. I'm making nothing up. Every hour …'

She seemed very touched. ‘Mike, dear—'

‘And I'm not forgetting anything. But you shouldn't have come. It's better at present that we aren't seen together, so I won't ask you in—'

‘Oh, I've been in,' she said.

I felt as if all the blood had run into my feet. ‘You've – been in?'

‘Did you mind? You told me about the key under the geranium for Lynn. I found it there. It was stuffy in the house so I'd just opened the french windows when I heard your car.'

I tried to swallow and gave it up and let her hand fall. ‘Have you been here long?'

‘No. I waited five minutes and then thought of going home. But the next train is four-thirty.'

‘I'll take you back,' I said. ‘ We can talk in the car.'

Little lines gathered about her eyes as she looked at me. ‘What's happened, Mike? Why didn't you come last evening?'

‘I'll tell you in the car.'

‘I suppose it's better not to be seen here.'

‘Much better. I—'

‘We ought to lock the french windows before we leave, oughtn't we? Sorry I trespassed.'

‘You go and sit in the car. I'll lock up and join you.'

She hesitated. ‘All right.'

I watched her walk to the car. She was wearing a light tan coat, and although there was no sun the wind seemed to shine in her hair. I went in.

I got across the hall without looking towards the kitchen. It was more than stuffy. I went into the drawing-room and shut the windows. Nothing had altered from yesterday. Nothing had breathed or stirred or
lived
in the room. I came out and through the hall and shut the front door after me.

When I got to the car Stella was lighting a cigarette. She didn't look at me when I got in. She put out her lighter and slipped it into her bag.

‘I don't know why I can't stop smoking,' she said. ‘Until this week my average was about three a day.'

‘What happened to the key?'

‘Here.'

‘Thanks.'

‘Perhaps we should put it back just in case.'

‘Perhaps.'

My hand was on the wheel, and she put hers over it. I bent and kissed her fingers and then leaned my face against them.

‘Darling, what is it?'

‘Just keep on saying that,' I said.

‘I wish I could. I wouldn't want anything better.'

‘Stella …'

‘I know. It doesn't sound like self-denial week. Sorry …'

‘Don't ever be sorry for what you've just said.'

‘It – isn't any good being, now that it's out. But I didn't come here to say it.'

‘I know.' I raised my head. ‘ What was that?'

‘Nothing as far as I know. What did you think?'

‘Let's go.'

I told her about finding the key and going to Lynn's flat. I told her all the rest from there. I realised that for the first time I was lying – by omission – to her, just as she was lying by omission to her husband. We talked, but all the time I was on edge to get away from the house. At last I switched on the ignition and started the engine. We made a half-circle and back and moved away slowly. Whatever else, the discovery was off for this afternoon—

As we turned the corner of the drive to the road, I braked hard. A car was stopped a couple of yards inside the drive and a man was standing with his hand on the door, either just getting in or just getting out. When my tyres slithered he left his own car and came towards us. He was a man of about forty in a bowler hat and a dark suit with speckled trousers and highly polished black shoes. There was a circular mark on his cheek like a vaccination mark, and he had a tight mouth with a full bottom lip.

He took off his hat when he saw Stella. To me he said: ‘I beg your pardon, this is Greencroft, isn't it?'

I said it was, and wondered if he was going to push another petition into my hand.

‘And are you Mr Granville?'

‘Yes.'

‘Oh, my name is Baker. Detective Sergeant Baker. I wonder if you could spare me a few minutes of your time?'

‘I can hardly refuse it.'

He smiled without looking amused and put his hands behind his back. ‘That has been known. Er – you were coming away from the house?'

‘Yes. This is my technical assistant, Mrs Curtis.'

He inclined his head. ‘I won't keep you long, Mr Granville; but we're making a few enquiries, and I thought—'

‘Enquiries about what?'

He looked surprised, as if he thought he'd told me or as if he thought I ought to know. ‘About your wife, Mr Granville.'

I noticed he was wearing a stiff white collar with a blue striped shirt, and his black tie was pulled into a tiny knot. He had a cultured voice that didn't sound as if it had been with him all his life. Even his smile was tough.

I said: ‘What was it you wanted to know?'

Baker glanced at Stella. ‘Would it be convenient if we went back to the house?'

‘… Unfortunately we can't,' I said. ‘I'm living in Letherton and forgot the key. Would you like to drive along there with me? It's only twenty minutes.'

‘Well, I don't think that will be necessary. Perhaps a few minutes' conversation …'

‘I'll walk on,' Stella said. ‘Catch me up, Mr Granville, will you?'

‘No, there's no need to do that,' I protested, but she opened the door and slid out. Our eyes met for a second through the glass as she shut the door.

‘I'll take the road for the village,' she said. ‘Don't miss me. Will you?' She smiled at Sergeant Baker, and he raised his hat again.

We watched her for a moment. ‘Shall I get out of the car, or will you get in?'

‘I don't think either's really necessary,' he said. ‘I was really quite lucky to catch you, then?'

‘Has my wife sent you?'

‘No, not exactly.' He ran a hand along the panel of the door.

‘I was served with a petition for divorce this week. It rather jaundices one's attitude towards strange officials.'

‘Your wife is divorcing you, Mr Granville?'

‘That's her idea.'

His glance strayed past me and down the road, as if to look at Stella again. ‘No, I came really to inquire if you knew where your wife was at the moment.'

‘I wish I did.'

‘Yes. Yes, so do we.'

‘Don't tell me the police want her for something.'

He put out his bottom lip. ‘We're making a few inquiries at the instigation of her bank. When did you last see her, Mr Granville?'

‘Three weeks ago yesterday morning. When I got home in the evening she wasn't there, and the following morning I had a letter from her telling me she was leaving me.'

‘Do you still have the letter?'

‘Yes.'

‘I'd rather like to see it sometime.'

‘Is it of special interest?'

‘Well, it could be. You see, her bank have had two communications from her since then, and they are not satisfied about her signature.'

I looked at him and he looked back at me.

‘What do they suggest?'

‘I think they prefer to leave it to others to suggest. They are merely – dissatisfied.'

I got out of the car and took out my pocket-book. ‘I've carried her letter ever since. I think it's here.'

‘You haven't heard from her since?'

‘No.' I gave him the letter

He read it. ‘Are you satisfied that this is your wife's handwriting?'

‘Yes.'

‘Do you know if she ever signed herself Lynn Granville in her business affairs?'

‘I don't think so in her formal dealings. She used her full name Lindsey.'

‘Yes, that's what the bank said. Er – were you surprised when she left you, Mr Granville?'

‘Very.'

‘You didn't expect her to petition for a divorce?'

‘Certainly I didn't.'

‘What were the grounds?'

I put the letter away. ‘ I have a feeling that you know all this already.'

He smiled slightly and glanced down and moved the signet ring round on the little finger of his right hand. ‘Why should I?'

‘If the bank have reported that someone has been forging my wife's signature, it's natural to begin general enquiries.'

‘These
are
the general enquiries, Mr Granville.'

‘But not the beginning of them.'

‘Not quite the beginning of them.'

A wasp came between us for a moment, settled on the bonnet of the car and moved with angular venomous legs across the slippery surface. Baker waved it away.

‘Were you aware that your wife had a flat in London?'

‘Not before she left me. I've discovered it since.'

‘And have you been there?'

‘Yes, two or three times, but there was no one in.'

‘There was someone in last night. The lady below phoned for the police, but the man escaped through a window.'

‘Man? It wasn't Lynn, then?'

‘Apparently there was a struggle. Can you give me any leads as to where you think your wife might be?'

I took out my cigarette-case and offered him a cigarette. He smiled and shook his head and I put my case away.

‘I don't know what you know of my movements in the last four or five days, Sergeant Baker. But if you check them you'll find that since I had this divorce petition I've thrown over my work and everything else in trying to find her.'

‘Did you make no effort to find her before that? I should have thought the incentive would have been greater then.'

‘The bank will tell you I did.'

‘Only the bank?'

‘I rang her mother and every friend of hers I could trace.'

‘Have you felt worried about what might have happened to her?'

‘No. I take it she's lying low somewhere for her own purposes.'

‘Which are?'

I said: ‘I don't quite follow you. Do you think something has happened to her?'

‘Not necessarily at all. In any case the bank may be quite mistaken in their doubt as to her signature. Certainly the letters were typed on the machine which is in her flat.'

‘I see you've already been pretty thorough.'

‘We do our best. Tell me, Mr Granville, is the lady who was with you the – er – woman named, as they call it, in the divorce petition?'

‘I'm sure you know that she is.'

‘She is married, I understand?'

‘Yes, and happily.'

‘To an invalid husband?'

‘Does that surprise you?'

‘Frankly, in this work after a while one loses one's capacity for surprise. But on the law of averages I'd say that an attractive young woman, married to a sick and older man—'

‘I should have thought you would have learned to distrust the law of averages as well.'

He smiled, this time with his eyes too. ‘ That seems a very fair come-back. Have you gone through your wife's papers since she left?'

‘I looked through some of them yesterday.'

‘No help?'

‘No help at all.'

He took his hand off the headlamp of the car. ‘Well, thank you, Mr Granville. We'll carry on with our enquiries. We don't, of course, for the moment propose to list Mrs Granville among the “missing persons”. There may be some very simple explanation of the whole thing. Where can I find you if I want you again?'

‘Care of the Old Bull, Letherton. And you?'

‘I think I'll have to back before you can get past.' He stared with suspicious brown eyes at his own car, as if he thought it guilty of loitering with intent. ‘Me? Oh, you can phone me direct in London or practically care of any police station.'

I left him sitting in his car watching me drive away.

I said to Stella: ‘I lied to that fellow about the key for several reasons. One was that I didn't want him to think we'd spent the whole afternoon alone in the house together.'

‘So he thinks Lynn has disappeared?'

‘He's only guessing.'

‘But – the signatures that the bank are complaining of – were they on cheques?'

‘No, on letters, I think.'

We drove on.

I said: ‘Stella …'

‘Yes?'

‘Oh, nothing.'

‘What were you going to say?'

‘It doesn't matter. Will you invite me to supper tonight?'

‘Of course. Come in now. There'll only be an hour to wait.'

‘Will John be well enough to see me?'

‘Oh, yes. He's in bed, but …'

‘Do you want me to say I picked you up in the town?'

She was silent. ‘More than anything I hate lying to him.'

‘On this I don't think we need or should.'

We had come to the outskirts of Letherton. I wondered what Baker was doing now I'd left him. Was he driving back to London, or was he still at Greencroft, walking round the house and peering in at the windows? I hoped I had locked the french windows both top and bottom.

Coming to a sudden decision, I said: ‘I want very much to have a talk with John.'

She looked at me. ‘What about?'

‘About this policeman's visit.'

Chapter Twenty

J
OHN
C
URTIS
pushed himself farther up the pillows, and then impatiently flattened the sheet. You could still see the power in his hands. For two or three minutes he hadn't spoken – not since I stopped. Downstairs I could hear Stella as she moved about getting supper.

Though he was a pretty straightforward man, I couldn't tell what he was thinking. You wouldn't know until he wanted you to know.

BOOK: The Sleeping Partner
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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