I richard, p.3

I, Richard, page 3


I, Richard

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  Several of the German tourists clapped appreciatively. The guide said, “It's a Gibb door. Clever, isn't it? Servants could come and go through it and never be seen in the public rooms of the house.”

  Cameras clicked in the guide's direction. Necks craned. Voices murmured.

  And that's when it happened.

  The guide was saying, “I'd like you to especially take note of—” when events conspired to interrupt her.

  Someone gasped, “Hon! Nor! Hon!” and someone else cried, “Oh my God!” A third voice called out, “Watch out! Ralph's going down!”

  And in short order, that's exactly what happened. Ralph Tucker gave an inarticulate cry and crashed down onto one of Abinger Manor's valuable satinwood tables. He upset an enormous flower arrangement, smashed a porcelain bowl of potpourri which sent its contents flying across the Persian carpet, and toppled the table onto its side. This, in effect, ripped the velvet cord from its brass posts down the entire length of the room as Ralph landed in an unmoving heap on the floor.

  Noreen Tucker shrieked, “Ralph! Sweetie pie!” and plunged through the crowd to get to her spouse. She pulled on his shoulder as chaos broke out around her. People pressed forward, others backed away. Someone began praying, someone else cursing. Three German women fell onto sofas that were available now that the line of demarcation was gone. A man shouted for water while another called for air.

  There were thirty-two people in the room with absolutely no one in charge since the guide—whose training had been limited to memorizing salient details about the furnishings of Abinger Manor and not first aid—stood rooted to the floor as if she herself had had some part in whatever had just happened to Ralph Tucker.

  Voices came from every direction.

  “Is he… ?”

  “Jesus. He can't be…”

  “Ralph! Ralphie!”

  “Sie ist gerade ohnmdchtig geworden, nicht wahr…”

  “Someone call an ambulance, for God's sake.” This last was said by Cleve Houghton, who'd managed to fight his way through the crowd and who had dropped to his knees, had taken one look at Ralph Tucker's face, and had begun administering CPR. “Now!” he shouted at the guide who finally roused herself, flew through the Gibb door, and pounded up the stairs.

  “Ralphie! Ralphie!” Noreen Tucker wailed as Cleve paused, took Ralph's pulse, and went back to CPR.

  “Kami er nicht etwas unternehmen?” one of the Germans cried as another said, “Schauen Sie sich die Gesichtsfarbe an.”

  It was then that Thomas Lynley joined Cleve, removing his jacket and handing it over to Helen Clyde. He eased through the crowd, straddled the elephantine figure of Ralph Tucker, and took over the heart massage as Cleve Houghton moved to Ralph's mouth and continued blowing into the man's lungs.

  “Save him, save him!” Noreen cried. “Help him. Please!”

  Victoria Wilder-Scott reached her side. She said, “They're helping him, dear. If you'll come this way…”

  “I won't leave my Ralph! He just needed to eat.”

  “Is he choking?” someone asked.

  “Have you tried the Heimlich?”

  And the tour guide crashed back into the room. She called out, “I've just phoned…” But her words faltered, then stopped. She could see as well as everyone else that the two men working on the body on the floor were attempting to revive what was already a corpse.

  Thomas Lynley took charge at this point. He brought forth his warrant card and showed it to the guide, saying quietly, “Thomas Lynley. New Scotland Yard. Have someone tell my aunt—Lady Fabringham—there's been a mishap in the gallery, but for God's sake keep her out of here, all right?” He knew Augusta's propensity for involving herself in matters not her concern, and the last thing they needed was to have her tramping round giving orders which would only complicate matters. An ambulance was on its way, after all, and there was nothing more to be done other than to get this unfortunate individual to hospital where he'd be pronounced dead by an official employed for just that purpose. Lynley suggested that the others continue on their tour if for no other reason than to clear the room for the arrival of the rescue crew.

  No one much felt like going forward to see the further glories of Abinger Manor at this juncture, but leaving the weeping Noreen Tucker behind, the rest of the company filed obediently out of the room. This was not before Lynley bent to the body on the floor, however, and opened the fist that was clenched in death.

  Cleve Houghton said to him, “Heart failure. I've seen them go like this before,” but while Lynley nodded, he made no reply. Instead he examined the remains of the trail mix that dribbled from Ralph's fingers onto the floor. When he looked up, it was not at Cleve but rather at the departing group. And he looked at them with serious speculation because it was more than clear to the country-born Thomas Lynley if to no one else at the moment that Ralph Tucker had been murdered.

  While Noreen Tucker sank weeping into a priceless Chippendale chair and Helen Clyde went to her and put a comforting hand upon her shoulder, the door closed behind the tour group and within moments they were being asked to admire the drawing room, especially the pendant plasterwork of its remarkable ceiling. It was called the King Edward Drawing Room, their much-subdued guide told them, its name taken from the statue of Edward IV that stood over the mantelpiece. It was a three-quarter-size statue, she explained, not life-size, for unlike most men of his time, Edward IV was well over six feet tall. In fact, when he rode into London on the twenty-sixth of February in 1460…

  Frankly, no one could believe that the young woman was going on. There was something indecent about being asked to admire chandeliers, flocked wallpaper, eighteenth-century furniture, Chinese vases, and a French chimneypiece in the face of Ralph Tucker's death. No matter that the man was essentially no one to any of them. He was still dead and out of respect for his passing, they might have abandoned the rest of the tour.

  So everyone was restless and uneasy. The air was close. Composure seemed brittle. When Cleve Houghton finally rejoined them in the winter dining room with the news that Ralph Tucker's body had been taken away, he passed along the information that Thomas Lynley had also put out a call for the local police.

  “Police?” Emily Guy whispered, horrified by the implication.

  The word quickly swept through the rest of the company. The students of the History of British Architecture class began eyeing each other with grave suspicion.

  Everyone knew it had to be the trail mix. The difficulty was the same for all of them, however: No one could root out the answer to the pressing question of why anyone on earth or anywhere else would want to murder Ralph Tucker. Noreen Tucker, yes. She'd stuck her nose into everyone else's business from day one, and she was certainly the least likely among them to win the Congeniality Award. Or perhaps Sam Cleary, done in by his wife for stepping outside the vows of marriage one time too many for her liking. Or even Frances herself, eliminated by Sam to give him a clear shot at Something More with Polly Simpson. But Ralph? No. It didn't make sense.

  Everyone's thoughts thus went in the same general direction. It was when they ended up with Polly Simpson that several individuals remembered a terrible but significant detail: Polly too had eaten from Ralph Tucker's trail mix and not for the first time, as a matter of fact. For hadn't she also dipped into it on their very first outing when Ralph, in a moment of bonhomie that was not repeated, generously offered the mix round the tour coach in place of afternoon tea on their way back to Cambridge after a long day looking at properties in Norfolk? Yes, she had. She alone certainly had. So it was possible that she had been fingered for murder, with Ralph Tucker merely an unfortunate casualty who'd had to be done away with as well.

  This made more than one person watch Polly with some concern, waiting for the least sign that she too was about to collapse from whatever it was that had taken Ralph from them. Someone even quietly suggested that she might want to retire to a lavatory and do what she could to upchuck just in case. But Po
lly, who didn't seem to understand the implication being made, merely grimaced at the suggestion and went on taking her pictures, albeit noticeably subdued from her usual ebullience.

  Death by trail mix naturally brought up the question of poison in people's minds. And that made people ask themselves how someone was supposed to get a poison in Cambridge. You couldn't just walk into the local pharmacy and ask for something fast-acting, untraceable, and non-messy. So it stood to reason that the poison in question had been brought from home. And that led people into thinking more seriously about Noreen Tucker and whether her devotion to dear Ralph was all that it seemed.

  The group was in the library when Thomas Lynley and his lady rejoined them, with Lynley running his speculative gaze over everyone in the room. His companion did much the same, having been brought into the picture while poor Ralph was being loaded into the ambulance. They separated and took up positions in different parts of the crowd. Neither of them paid the slightest attention to what the guide was saying. Instead they gave their full attention to the visitors to Abinger Manor.

  From the library they went into the chapel, accompanied by the sounds of their own footsteps, the echoing voice of the guide, the occasional snapping of cameras. Lynley moved through the group, saying nothing to anyone save his companion, with whom he spoke a few words at the door. Again they separated.

  From the chapel they went to the armory. From there into the billiard room. From there into the music room. From there, they traipsed down two flights of stairs and went into the kitchen. The buttery beyond it had been turned into a gift shop, and the Germans made for this as the Americans did likewise. It was at this moment that Lynley spoke.

  “If I might see everyone together,” he said as they began to scatter. “If you'll just stay here in the kitchen for a moment.”

  Mild protests rose from the German group. The Americans said nothing.

  “We've a problem to consider, I'm afraid,” Lynley said, “with regard to Mr. Tucker's death.”

  “Problem?” Sam Cleary asked the question as others chimed in with “What's going on?” and “What do you want with us?”

  “It was heart failure,” Cleve Houghton asserted. “I've seen enough of that to tell you—”

  “As have I,” a heavily accented voice put in. The remark came from a member of the German party, and he looked none too pleased that their tour was once again being disrupted. “I am a doctor. I, too, have seen heart failure. I know what I see.”

  This begged the question, naturally, of why the man hadn't done something to help out during the crisis, but no one mentioned that fact. Instead, Thomas Lynley extended his hand. In his palm lay half a dozen seeds. “It looks like heart failure,” he explained. “That's what an alkaloid does. It paralyzes the heart in a matter of minutes. These are yew, by the way.”

  “Yew?” someone asked. “What was yew—”

  “Those would be from the potpourri,” Victoria Wilder-Scott pointed out. “It spilled all over the carpet when Mr. Tucker fell.”

  Lynley shook his head. “They were mixed in with the nuts in his hand,” he said. “And the bag he was carrying in his jacket was peppered with them. He was murdered, I'm afraid.”

  So everyone's secret fears had been harped aright. And while some of them dwelled once more on the question of why Ralph Tucker had been murdered, the rest of them looked to the only person in the kitchen who would know beyond a doubt the potential harm contained in a bit of yew.

  The Germans, in the meantime, were protesting heartily. The doctor led them. “You have no business with us,” he said. “That man was a stranger. I insist that we be allowed to leave.”

  “Of course,” Thomas Lynley said. “I agree. And leave you shall, just as soon as we solve the problem of the silver.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “It appears that one of you took the opportunity of the chaos in the gallery to remove two pieces of rococo silver from the table by the fireplace. They're milk jugs. Rather small, extremely ornate, and definitely missing. This isn't my jurisdiction, of course, but until the local police arrive to start their inquiries into Mr. Tucker's death, I'd like to take care of this small detail of the silver myself.” He could, of course, only too easily imagine what his aunt Augusta would have to say about the matter if he didn't take care of it.

  “What are you going to do?” Frances Cleary asked fearfully.

  “Do you plan to keep us here until one of us admits to something?” the German doctor scoffed. “You cannot search us without some authority.”

  “That's correct, of course,” Thomas Lynley said. “Unless you agree to be searched.”

  Silence ensued. Into it, feet shuffled. A throat cleared. Urgent conversation was conducted in German. Someone rustled papers in a notebook.

  Cleve Houghton was the first to speak. He looked over the group. “Hell, I have no objection.”

  “But the women…” Victoria Wilder-Scott pointed out with some delicacy.

  Lynley nodded to his companion, who was standing by a display of copper kettles at the edge of the group. “This is Lady Helen Clyde,” he told them. “She'll search the women.”

  And so they searched: the men in the scullery and the women in the warming room across the corridor.

  Both Thomas Lynley and Helen Clyde made a thorough job of it. Lynley was all business. Helen employed a more gentle touch.

  Each of them had the individuals in their keeping undress and redress. Each of them emptied pockets, bags, rucksacks, and canvas totes. Lynley did all of this in a grim silence designed to intimidate. Helen chatted with the women in a manner designed to put them at ease.

  In neither case did they find anything, however. Even Victoria Wilder-Scott and the tour guide had been searched.

  Lynley told them to wait in the tearoom. He turned back to the stairway at the far end of the kitchen.

  “Where's he going now?” Polly Simpson asked, hands clutching her camera to her chest.

  “He'll have to look for the silver in the rest of the house,” Emily Guy pointed out.

  “But that could take forever,” Frances Cleary whispered.

  “It doesn't matter, does it? We're going to have to wait for the local police anyway.”

  “Hell no, this was heart failure,” Cleve Houghton said. “There's no silver missing. It's probably being cleaned somewhere.”

  But this, alas, was not the case, as Lynley discovered when he made the report he did not wish to make to his paternal aunt. Augusta was all suitable horror and compassion when told that a visitor to her home had died on the premises. But she was vengeance incarnate when she learned that a “sneaky little criminal” had had the sheer audacity to take possession of one of her priceless treasures. She expounded for a good five minutes on what she intended to do to the perpetrator of this crime, and it was only by assuring his aunt that the Law—in the person of himself—would work tirelessly on her behalf that Lynley was able to prevent the woman from accosting the visitors herself. He left Augusta to the ministrations of her three corgis, and retraced his steps to find the tour group.

  They had left the buttery and were being held in the courtyard, and Lynley could see them from the windows in the private wing where his aunt now lived. He studied them, taking note of the fact that even in crisis people tended to adhere to cultural stereotypes. The Germans stood grimly in tiny clusters of people with whom they were already intimate. Husbands with their wives. Wives and husbands with their children. In-laws with their offspring and grandchildren. Students with their compatriots. They did not venture beyond the boundaries of these already established groups and for the most part they stood in stiff silence. The Americans, on the other hand, mingled not only with each other but also with the English family groups who'd been on the tour with them. They spoke to each other, some somberly and some with a fair degree of animation. And one among them even took a few pictures.

  Lynley had noted Polly Simpson earlier, as a reflex reaction
that grew from the fact that he'd once been in love with a young photographer. He wasn't so many years away from that affair that he hadn't noticed—as he would have done during the time of that involvement—the equipment which Polly was using. It was odd, he thought as he watched her, how our attachment to a person allows us to learn things that we never expect to learn. Not only about ourselves, not only about them, but about aspects of life that we might otherwise remain in ignorance of. Watching Polly below him in the courtyard, Lynley was able to imagine his former lover in the same circumstance, with the same enthusiasm for light and texture and composition, able to concentrate on the work she was doing by dismissing what had just preceded it.

  This was part of the resilience of youth, he decided (somewhat pompously since he himself was not yet forty), and having spent fifteen years in pursuit of the criminal element, he allowed himself a moment wistfully watching Polly Simpson at work with her camera before retracing his steps to the group. He was crossing through the kitchen on his way to the buttery when the significance of what he'd just seen in the courtyard finally struck him. And even then it only struck him because he'd recalled more than once playing the pack mule for his former lover's photographic equipment, hearing her say more to herself than to him, “I'll need the twenty-eight millimeter to get this shot,” and then standing patiently by while she made the switch in her lenses.

  More than that, he realised that all throughout the tour and before it—as he and Helen had made a circuit of the grounds among the other visitors to Abinger Manor—he'd seen a truth without actually registering what he was seeing. Which was so easy to do, he thought, when you don't consider the logic behind what's in front of your eyes.

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