Read The Old Contemptibles Online

Authors: Martha Grimes

The Old Contemptibles (6 page)

“Of course I am. I’ve just been hard to reach. Is her wedding date stable yet? And did you see the count?”

“The Fanged One? No, but we did have a nice, long talk with Vivian—”

Jury broke in, “Listen. There’s a rumor going round I’m more or less engaged.”

Melrose was silent.

Trueblood had grassed.

Still, Jury seemed to be taking the little trick amazingly well, for he sounded quite cheerful. Said Melrose, “I can explain about that. The children were, I admit, an exaggeration—”

“What children? There’s only one.”

Melrose didn’t know what to say. He scratched his ear. Ah, of course, Jury was being sarcastic.

“Well! That’s marvelous! What’s ‘more-or-less’?” Melrose grinned at the receiver.

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps you and Trueblood can argue over it.”

Melrose sniggered. “Be glad to help out. And what is your intended like?”

“Pretty, smart, wonderful sense of humor, about all any man would want. Though she’s a bit changeable in her moods.”

Where had he got
description? Trueblood had forgotten the original story. “She, ah, sounds quite wonderful.”

“She is. I can’t say I’m not anxious—to the point of blind panic—about meeting her son. He’s sixteen and he’s been the man around the house for some years. He’ll hate me.”

“Impossible.” Melrose frowned. He couldn’t make all of this “going along with a joke” out. He said, “Could you hang on just a second?” He put the receiver against his chest and stared in the direction of the sunburst of medieval swords on the wall without really seeing them. He shook his head back and forth like a bird dog with water in its ears. No, no, no. “Ah, where did you meet her?”

“Islington. Camden Passage, to be exact.”

Would Jury stop sounding so damnably
It didn’t suit him.

“You’ll like her. And her son. He’s sixteen. Or did I already say that?”

Good Lord, when had Melrose
liked anyone sixteen? But that was hardly the point: this was no joke. Jury wasn’t kidding. Melrose looked again at the swords and thought of falling on one. By some damnable coincidence, Jury really
met a woman. Well, the world
was full of them, wasn’t it? And most of them, from what Melrose had seen, were after Richard Jury.

How many more wedding bells would be breaking up that old gang of his? Next thing, Marshall Trueblood would marry that Karla person.

And Jury would bring his lady to Long Pidd and now they’d have a perfect stranger hanging about the Jack and Hammer. . . . This
be true! It was
much of a coincidence. Melrose laughed. “You’re not serious.”

“Look, I know this is sudden—”

“Well, don’t propose to
Trueblood might have you, but I’m—involved.” That should fix him.

“What’s the matter with you?” Jury laughed.

“Nothing. Trueblood’s obviously been on about what we said to Vivian and so forth and now you’re, as they say, taking the piss out.”

There was a pause. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What did you say to Vivian?”

Melrose dropped the receiver in the cradle without realizing it would crash in Jury’s ear.

“He’s serious,” he said to the swords.


Jury stared at the receiver, assumed either the connection or his friend’s mind had broken and smiled. Plant’s reactions had been a little strange, but then it was strange and sudden news. . . .

Strange in a way to Jury himself, an announcement of an engagement that hadn’t been settled, a proposal that hadn’t even been made. And wondering if Jane would even
to marry him. Yet, given their relationship, she would at least take it seriously, he thought.

But the doubt plagued him, perversely making him decide he would go out now and buy a ring—not anything too frighteningly formal, just a ring. That she might refuse only made him more determined.

She needed him. After what she’d been through with her husband’s suicide and was still going through with his family in Cumbria, she needed—well, if not a husband, certainly an ally, someone besides her son. He seemed to be her one source of moral support.

Whenever she talked about him, her mood, beginning blithely and happily, would shift either to one highly excitable or deeply morbid at the thought of the Holdsworths’ getting control of him, an idea that Jury told her was absurd. It would often provoke an argument, such as the one they’d had the night before.

 • • • 

He shouldn’t have become so impatient, he knew. But her response to his own, as he thought, perfectly reasonable point that there could be no possible legal point that would permit the grandparents to take the boy from her, she had slammed her hairbrush down on the dressing table, shivering the contents on top, every article of which he knew by heart. The little silver-framed picture of her son jumped with the blow, as if he too were surprised at the fury.

“You don’t
them, do you? Just because you’re a policeman, do you think you can predict
one’s behavior?”

Jury ignored that.

He had risen from the bed where he’d been sitting and come over to put his hands on her shoulders and look at her in the mirror. Everything about her presence seemed charged—her breathing, her eyes, the electricity that lifted a fine veil of hair. “Janey, you’re not thinking straight.”

“Thank you for

Jury retrieved the silver-backed brush and went to brush her hair, thinking it might calm her, but she pushed his hand away. In a smaller voice and looking down at the table top, she said, “A remittance woman, that’s what Genevieve called me, oh, with a smile, naturally.”

“What on earth is that supposed to mean?”

Now she was brushing her own hair, furiously. “That what I live on came from my family, and it’s not much. That we live in Lewisham. That I don’t have a job. That I’ve lost
in as many years, even if two were unfairly lost. . . . Well, it’s true, I have no head for business or money. That the next move will be into a cold-water flat—”

“How about mine?” Jury reached down and kissed her cheek.

Then she started weeping soundlessly, tears running slowly down and splashing, one by one, on the glass-topped table as she raised her hand to cover his. “Oh, Lord, I’m so sorry. Why do I have to take it out on you?” And then she turned swiftly and grabbed him round the waist and clung.

“Take it out on me, anytime, love. Anytime. And what on earth’s wrong with this house? Two up, two down, perfectly respectable.”

He could feel her breath warm through his shirt as she said, “How the hell would you know?” She laughed. “You told me you couldn’t picture anything but the bedroom.” She looked up at him and
smiled, then leaned her head against him again. “The thing is, it’s the fourth move in five years. It makes me look unstable—that and the joblessness, and the way they say I bring him up. He’s been sent down from school—the one I borrowed from a friend to pay for, but don’t tell him—three times.”

“Sounds like you make a great pair. What did he do? Cheat on a test? Tell off the headmaster?”

“Him? He doesn’t get angry. Or doesn’t let it show. He’s more stable than even you.”


“Probably cleverer too.”

“More impossible.”

She picked up the picture. “Handsomer.”

“Now you’re
being absurd.” Jury lifted her from the dressing-table stool. “I’m afraid to meet this paragon.”

“Oh, he’s not. I don’t think he always tells me the truth, you know, about his activities. But one time the accompanying missive from the headmaster claimed he’d been caught with a deck of cards.” She was unbuttoning Jury’s shirt.

“Keep going.”

Jury took the brush from her. He was relieved she was on lighter, airier ground, talking of her son.

“He made a lot of it, you know—the tuition—odd jobs, he claims. They must have paid well.”

Jury smiled. “He doesn’t sound like a kid in need of a change of venue.”


Jury would never have gone inside the little shop unless a friend had told him about it. It looked more like a costumer’s than a jeweler’s. Still, it had been recommended by a friend on the force whose wife collected antique jewelry.

Not much light was coming through the front windows, given the presence of soot and the absence of sun; the street was cobbled and narrow. The shop windows were stuffed with bits and bobs of jewelry, with sequined and porcelained masks, antique clothes and feather boas.

Mr. Cuttle was the name of the proprietor.
(“A bit stingy with words, but not with his wares; he asks ridiculous prices and knows you won’t pay them, so haggle with him.”)
Jury was not a very good haggler, but he had decided he would buy the ring that day, after he left the office, even if he wouldn’t be seeing her as they’d planned. He was still worrying it would seem too much of a commitment. How about an
ring? She could take it as a gift or a promise; it might not be threatening.

 • • • 

For at times she seemed to withdraw into some corner of her mind that he could not enter. Her face would shift and go slightly out of focus for him, like a face in water. She might stand at the long front window, holding back the curtain, looking out at the rain, almost as if she were looking for someone. Such moods made him feel anxious, excluded. He brushed this away, for much of the time they were like children sharing an enormous secret.

A few days after they’d met, and had been lying in bed, he’d put his arm around her, and asked, “Have I blundered into the middle of something?” And he tried to make it mildly amusing. The answer was no.

 • • • 

There was no Mr. Cuttle about, and only one other customer, a woman largely hidden by the old velvets and beaded dresses, the boas and peacock feathers. One could get at them only by rummaging, which was what she was doing. Something about her struck Jury as familiar. He could see part of her back, and hair that curled up under a Liberty scarf.

A throat was being cleared. Jury swung round and saw that an elderly man had entered through a heavy drapery. He was a squat person who held his hands before him and his head down, staring up at Jury under heavy, wild eyebrows, as if sneaking a look.

“Mr. Cuttle?”

The downturned head dipped a couple of times in a Cuttle-nod.

“I was wanting to buy a ring for a lady.”

The head dipped once.

The temptation to lean down and engage Mr. Cuttle’s eyes on his own level was strong. In the velvet ring tray, Jury had seen one he thought particularly lovely, a ruby set in antique gold, that looked as
if it would not be too dear a price—worth haggling over, in any event. “Could I see that one, please.”

Mr. Cuttle reached in and took it out. He stood there with it a few moments, and finally shook his head. “Sold,” was all he said before he put the ring in his pocket.

“Oh. Well, how about the garnet—it is a garnet, isn’t it?—with the tiny diamonds?”

The garnet went under the same scrutiny; a similar verdict was handed down.

“But, Mr. Cuttle, why do you have rings already sold in with the ones for sale?” The buoyant mood that had set Jury forth on this mission was steadily deflating. “Perhaps you could tell me which ones
for sale.”

Mr. Cuttle took out the ring tray. Looked it over carefully, and extracted an onyx and silver filigree ring that looked heavy enough to drag Jane’s arm to the ground. Mr. Cuttle was looking up with a tiny smile on his face for any customer who might be silly enough to buy it.

“No,” said Jury.

While Mr. Cuttle’s fingers continued the search, a voice behind Jury said, “Mr. Cuttle, you’d best not play games with a policeman.”

Jury knew the voice before he turned. “Lady Kennington!”

Smiling, she pulled off a glove and held out her hand. “Superintendent.”

Jenny Kennington hadn’t changed in the least way, hadn’t changed her hair, oak-colored and shoulder-length, and hadn’t changed her wardrobe; Jury thought he recognized that loose, black sweater, shot through with tiny strands of silver. It was the scarf, he imagined, that he had tried to place. The lady had been wearing it when he’d first seen her, as she’d come running out and down the broad stone steps of her huge house, holding a sick cat wrapped in a blanket.

“Now, Mr. Cuttle, we know you’re just larking; take those rings out of your pocket and show the gentleman.”

Grudgingly, he did. Jury picked up the ruby and asked, “What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful. I expect it depends on the person, don’t you? And the occasion,” she added.

Jury said nothing to that, and then remembered he didn’t know
Jane’s ring size. “Stupid of me.” He looked at the hand holding on to the strap of her bag. “Could I borrow your hand? It looks very much like . . . my friend’s size.”

“Of course; hands can be deceiving, though.” She put it out and Jury slid the ring onto her third finger. “It looks just right.”

Jenny looked down at her hand and said, “Indeed it does. Feels right, too. Anyway, Mr. Cuttle will let you return it if it doesn’t fit. Perhaps instead of trying to guess, you could purloin a ring she has now; that is, if the jewelry box is close to hand.” She smiled benignly.

“Thanks.” He turned to Mr. Cuttle, who hadn’t moved an inch or a hair. “I’ll have this one then.”

She put a tiny alabaster figure on the case. “I’ll have this. And, mind, the lady’s gown is nicked and so’s her arm.”

Mr. Cuttle merely waved his hand, indicating clearly that she could have it as a gift.

“That’s very kind of you.” She held it out for Jury’s inspection. “It reminds me of the courtyard at Stonington.”

“You’re right. It does.” As he handed it back to her, Jury said to the old jeweler, “The ring. I forgot to ask the price.”

Mr. Cuttle gloomed over the ring; he scratched the gray tonsure of his head and then scratched his forearm. “I make it a thousand.”

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