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I Am the Only Running Footman, page 1

 

I Am the Only Running Footman
 


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I Am the Only Running Footman


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  CONTENTS

  Epigraph

  I. Lonely Night

  II. Reverie

  III. Garden Wall

  IV. Stardust Melody

  V. The Old Penny Palace

  To Harry Wallace

  and the cat, Stripey,

  the only running footmen

  Sometimes I wonder why I spend

  The lonely night, dreaming of a song

  The melody haunts my reverie

  And I am once again with you.

  —“STARDUST,” HOAGY CARMICHAEL,

  MITCHELL PARRISH

  The rain set early in to-night,

  The sullen wind was soon awake,

  It tore the elm-tops down for spite,

  and did its worst to vex the lake:

  I listened with heart fit to break;

  When glided in Porphyria . . .

  . . . and all her hair

  In one long yellow string I wound

  Three times her little throat around,

  And strangled her.

  —“PORPHYRIA’S LOVER,”

  ROBERT BROWNING

  PART I

  Lonely Night

  1

  FEBRUARY

  THE headlamps of the car picked her out through the fog and the rain; she was standing on the shoulder about a hundred yards from the cafe, her backpack on the ground beside her.

  At one point, when the lorry that had been her last ride left the A30, he was afraid he might have lost her. Another one had come rattling onto a roundabout, cutting off his view. But he was fairly sure the Sainsbury lorry was heading for the motorway, on its way to Bristol or Birmingham. So he had taken the A303 exit and picked them up again.

  He thought his chance had come when the driver turned into the car park of a Little Chef. But the driver and the girl both went in, so he slotted his blue Ford saloon into the short line of fog-shrouded cars and went in the cafe. Sliding into a booth in the rear, he had been able to watch her. She and the driver exchanged a few words, and then a few words with a waitress, and after that conversation stopped between them. No friendship had been struck up during all of the miles he had followed them.

  She was young, twenty-five or -six, but she had a hard face made harder by the sour light of the cafe, an artificial light that seemed to glance off the red tabletops and white paper napkins and starched blouses of the uniforms. The girl did not look at her companion. Her chin rested on her fisted hand and with the other she absently curled a long strand of blond hair. The waitress set down plates of beans and eggs and chips and then came back to him. He ordered tea.

  They said nothing throughout their meal, finally took their separate bills and paid the expressionless cashier.

  Their leaving together told him the driver was taking her farther, so he paid his bill and went out to his car, starting the engine as the lorry pulled out.

  • • •

  When he saw her through the fog not far from the cafe, he assumed she must have changed her mind about the driver or the destination or both. He leaned over to open the door on the passenger’s side and asked her if he could give her a lift. The Ford idled on the shoulder as she slid in, tossing her rucksack on the rear seat and returning his offer with a grunt and a nod.

  She was headed for Bristol, she said, as she rooted in the shoulder bag and brought out cigarette papers and a small folded paper. No, grass. The sickish-sweet odor began to fill the car. He rolled down the window.

  She asked if he minded, but with no hint of apology for lighting up or intention of putting it out. The question seemed to suffice, as far as she was concerned. When he said he wasn’t used to the smell, she only shrugged and turned back to stare at the windscreen, the cigarette tight in a little clip. Then, again without asking, she switched on the car radio. Voices, music swelled, died as she ran the dial back and forth, finally settling on a station where the plummy voice of a disc jockey was bringing up an old Glenn Miller recording. That surprised him; he would have expected her to listen to rock.

  For three days he had been in Exeter, watching her, following her. He had watched the house from several points across the street — news agent’s, launderette, a tiny restaurant called Mr. Wong and Son. He had been careful to leave the blue Ford in a public car park; he had been less careful of himself. Once he had gone into the restaurant, a dark, boxlike place with tablecloths stained by soy sauce bottles, and ordered a meal. There wouldn’t be any reason to connect him with her. And the waiter — Mr. Wong’s son, perhaps — had stood staring out of the window the whole time, looking from the pallor of the unpapered walls to the pallor of the pavement. His face was a mask of indifference; he would hardly remember.

  It had been careless also, going into the Little Chef, rather than just waiting in his car. The car itself he had bought, together with its plates, rather than using his own. Now, as the car swam in and out of misty pools of light thrown by headlamps coming from the other direction, he reminded himself again that there was no reason for anyone to connect him with the girl.

  They drove on and she neither spoke nor dropped her eyes from the windscreen. He said to her that he’d never smoked grass and she snorted and said he must live at the bottom of the sea, then. Maybe she’d fix him one, he suggested. He’d be glad to pay her for it, just for the experience. She shrugged and said okay, that it made no odds with her just as long as he paid. It was good stuff, the best. No, she didn’t bloody mind if he drove off and stopped the car to smoke. Like the Chinese waiter, she was too bored to question anything. Even too bored to be suspicious.

  He pulled off the road into a thicket of trees. There would be tire tracks. He knew that casts could be made of tire tracks, which is one reason he’d bought the old Ford. As he smoked the cigarette she’d handed him, he thought, There it is again — extreme care, extreme carelessness — the rational part of his mind being overridden by some other force. The chance that anyone in the cafe would recognize him after a lapse of time was slim; that there’d be a reason to recognize him, even slimmer. Still, he wondered. Had there been a compulsion to link himself to her? To sit in the same room, eat the same food, walk the same streets? He didn’t know.

  She didn’t even ask him why he was getting out of the car, just sat there smoking, listening to the radio. With the car door open, he could hear the scratchy recording of the old song:

  Isn’t it romantic

  Merely to be young, on such a night as this?

  He moved a little farther off from the car. The rain had stopped, the sky had cleared. Through the black fretwork of branches he could see a few stars, far apart. Close by was a little stream, iced over, its banks hemmed with snow.

  When he heard the car door on her side opening, he wasn’t surprised. Too indifferent to be suspicious of his stopping or of his leaving the car, it wasn’t odd that she’d leave it too. Not that it would have made any difference whether she got out or not. Her boots squelched along the wet ground as she came up beside him. “Isn’t It Romantic?” kept on playing, its question insistent in the night. She asked him if he liked the grass and he said, Yes, except he was feeling whoozy. He handed her some money, which she took without a word and shoved in the top pocket of her anorak. She wore a woollen hat and her throat was wrapped in a plaid scarf, the ends falling down her back. She was pretty in a cheap, hard way; and her manner cold as the
little crusted stream.

  When he looked up at the sky, he felt light-headed; there was a star, he said, falling there in the west. She said he was bloody high on grass and they argued about the star. It had really fallen, he insisted.

  The distant constellations, the dead stars, the bored girl.

  Isn’t it romantic,

  Music in the night . . . ?

  When he reached for her scarf, she probably thought he meant to draw her to him and kiss her. He pulled quickly, forcefully. Almost soundlessly, her body slumped and fell, hitting and cracking the thin crust of ice. It was as close to a lover’s tryst as they would ever come, he thought, the ends of the scarf fluttering away from his hands.

  Wasn’t it romantic?

  • • •

  In this desolate pocket of silence, a dozen members of the Devon-Cornwall constabulary stood near the body like mourners. It was nearly dawn but the stars had not faded from the sky. They had been waiting for over ten minutes for Brian Macalvie to say something.

  He didn’t; he stood, hands in pockets and shoving back his raincoat, looking down at the ground, at the body, at the glazed coat of the stream and then up at the stars.

  A twig snapped; a bird called. No one moved. Not even the Scene of Crimes expert — in this case a woman — had ventured yet to disturb Macalvie’s concentration. The assumption was that a camera’s flash would disturb the aura of that part of the universe here in Devon that was the particular domain of Divisional Commander Macalvie.

  They were all cold and impatient, which was safe if no one decided to act on it. Unfortunately, Sergeant Gilly Thwaite, with her wide blue eyes and rotten temper, had never responded to the Macalvie magic. She nearly stomped on the corpse in her impatience to set up her tripod. “We’ve been standing here for fifteen minutes. Will it disturb your mis-en-scène, your atmosphere, your evidence if I use my brownie?” She held up her camera.

  Macalvie just kept chewing his gum. “Sure, go ahead. You’ve screwed it up now, anyway.”

  The doctor, heartened by Gilly Thwaite’s approach, tried dipping his own question in acid. “Do you mind if I go ahead with my examination?”

  Someone coughed.

  The difference between Sergeant Thwaite and the doctor was that Macalvie gave his sergeant credit for knowing her job. His expression didn’t change; he just chewed his gum more deliberately. “I’m holding you up?”

  Someone sighed.

  The doctor was kneeling beside the girl, unclasping his bag. “I’m not your police pathologist, just a country doctor. And a busy man.”

  A constable dropped his head in his hand.

  “I see,” said Macalvie. “And what exactly do you think you’re going to look for?” Macalvie turned his head again to look up at the night sky.

  The doctor looked up at him. “Look for? I assume you’d like to know how she was murdered, whether she was beaten or raped.” His hands moved toward the scarf.

  “Uh-huh. Don’t touch that yet, okay?” Macalvie asked pleasantly.

  The doctor sighed hugely. “Are we going to stay out here —?”

  “— the rest of the day if I say so. She was garroted, she wasn’t beaten, she wasn’t raped. What else you got to tell me?”

  “Not even you have X-ray vision, Mr. Macalvie.” He laughed briefly. “Not even you can see through a heavy anorak and blue jeans.”

  Macalvie might have been debating the X-ray vision comment. “At least I can see. Look at her jeans.”

  “Rapists have been known to redress their victims, Mr. Macalvie. Some are surprisingly fastidious.”

  Macalvie stared at the sky. “You’d have to be a fastidious damned paperhanger to yank those jeans off, much less put them back on. They’re like flypaper; the legs have zippers. She probably had to lie down and use a crowbar.” He turned and nodded to the rest of the team from headquarters.

  Quickly, they fell about their business — literally fell, going down on hands and knees, searching every inch of ground for prints, tracks, fibers, anything.

  “Name’s Sheila Broome,” said a uniformed constable, who’d searched the backpack. “Lived in Exeter —”

  Macalvie bent down to pick up a tiny clip, a bit of white paper adhering to the end. “Roach clip. So she was standing here, smoking grass. Or they were. Killers don’t usually stand around toking with their victims. Maybe it’s close to home; a boyfriend, maybe.”

  The constable almost pitied the boyfriend as he looked at his chief.

  “Get an incidents room out here,” said Macalvie, walking away from the angry white glare of the camera flash.

  2

  DECEMBER

  RICHARD Jury had to reach across Susan Bredon-Hunt, at the same time trying to disengage himself from the long arms that always grew more tangled and vinelike when telephones rang.

  She was definitely a phone-clinger. She marched her fingers up and down his chest, drew circles round his ear, dusted his face with her lashes as if she were taking prints, and generally made clever-telephone repartee impossible.

  Fortunately, no clever repartee was needed. Chief Superintendent Racer, having been routed out of his bed, was determined to bounce Jury from his. “Four rings, Jury! What the hell were you doing?”

  It was just as well the question was rhetorical, since Susan Bredon-Hunt’s lips were brushing across his face. He raised his hand, but it was like trying to push cobwebs away. Bits and pieces of her clung everywhere.

  “— hate to disturb you,” said Racer, whose sarcasm poked at him like Susan Bredon-Hunt’s finger. “Could you crawl out of bed and get yourself over to Mayfair?”

  Crawl out was what he had to do in order to get past Susan Bredon-Hunt. Finally, sitting on the edge of the bed, he said, “Where in Mayfair?”

  “Charles Street. Berkeley Square. Hays Mews.” Racer barked the names out like a BritRail conductor. “Woman’s been murdered.” The receiver on the other end crashed down.

  Jury apologized to Susan and was into his clothes in fifteen seconds.

  “Just like that!” She snapped her fingers. “You leave just like that!”

  He was tired. “That’s how people get killed, love. Just like that.”

  When he bent to kiss her, she turned her face away.

  Jury collected his coat and car keys and left.

  • • •

  Police cars had converged, angling toward the curb in Charles Street and up on the pavement outside of the pub. Beneath the lamplit sign of I Am the Only Running Footman, Detective Sergeant Alfred Wiggins was writing in his notebook, asking questions of the short, plump woman who had found the body.

  The whirring domed lights of the last two cars to careen up in front of the pub cast blue ribbons on the wet pavement, blue shadows across the faces of Wiggins and the woman. She had been walking her dog in the square late that night, and she and it were extremely upset, she said. The Alsatian sniffed Wiggins’s feet and yawned.

  Jury assured her that when she was taken to the police station she would be kept no longer than absolutely necessary, that any call she wished to make could be made, that they greatly appreciated her help, that she had done something not everyone would by calling for police. This calmed her and she was answering Wiggins’s questions now. Up and down the short street and around the corner, uniformed policemen were asking their own questions of the residents of Hays Mews who had come out from their trendy little houses to stand in the drizzle. Screens had been placed at the end of the mews to keep the curious from satisfying much of their curiosity.

  While the medical examiner was dictating findings to a tape recorder, Jury stood and looked at the young woman’s body lying face down on the street, light hair fanned out, legs jackknifed. Wiggins had come up beside him.

  “Through with that?” Jury asked of the fingerprint man and pointing to the small black purse whose strap was still hitched over her shoulder, tangling with her long scarf. The man nodded to Jury and Jury nodded to Wiggins. The M.E. looked over at
Jury with annoyance. She didn’t like questions crossing the comments she was tossing like a knife-thrower over her shoulder at her assistant. Jury looked at her sharp gray eyes and smiled brightly. She grunted.

  “Ivy Childess,” said Wiggins, holding up the identification he had taken from the dead woman’s purse and which he held with a handkerchief. “Address is ninety-two Church Street, Bayswater. That’s about all, sir, besides checkbook, bank card, some change. With that little bit of money, she might just have been having a drink in the pub, wouldn’t you say?” He returned the license to the purse and snapped it shut.

  “Might have been,” said Jury, as he waited for the M.E. to finish. He knew she hated any interference.

  Having brought his handkerchief into play with the purse, Wiggins used it to blow his nose. “It’s this damned wet. Know I’m coming down with something. Flat on my back I’ll be.” His tone was pensive.

  “Ivy Childess certainly is.” The rain fell, steadily and tenaciously, but the medical examiner seemed not to notice it at all. Crisis-as-usual had worn her pretty face as smooth as stone under water.

  “No marks I can see except for the neck. Strangled with her own scarf. Some women never learn.”

  Jury smiled slightly. Dr. Phyllis Nancy had a way of examining things for sexual bias, even dead bodies. Jury wanted to tell her that such bias in police work had pretty much gone the way of all flesh, male or female. But Dr. Nancy seemed as committed to her defensiveness as she was to her job.

  “When can you do the autopsy, Phyllis?”

  No one called her Phyllis. That’s why Jury did.

  “You wait your turn, Superintendent. I’ve got a schedule, too.”

  “I know. I’d just appreciate it if maybe you’d move this nearer the top. We know how she was killed and it looks pretty routine —”

  Routine was not a word Phyllis Nancy liked. And his comment was, as Jury knew it would be, an opportunity for her to give a little lecture, something she seldom got a chance to do, especially around police superintendents. “The woman’s still got skin, hair, fingertips, liver, pancreas, bones, tissue. Even a heart.”

 
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