Read Wolf to the Slaughter Online

Authors: Ruth Rendell

Wolf to the Slaughter (17 page)

The mist had begun to lift and there was real warmth in the sunshine. Burden took off his raincoat and laid it over his arm. He would have one last go at finding where that lighter came from, make one last enquiry, and if it was fruitless, give up and meet Wexford for lunch at the Carousel. But was there any point, was it too long a shot? He could do with a cup of tea first and the Carousel would be already serving lunches. The thought came to him that there was a little place, not a hundred yards from the bridge, a small café where they served good strong tea and pastries at all hours. He cut up the path between the cottages and came out in the Kingsbrook Road. Just past the bend it was, in the ground floor of one of the Georgian houses.
Strange how heavily the mist seemed to lie in this part of the town, on high ground too and coloured a deep ochreish yellow. He passed the big houses and stopped on the brow of the low hill.
Through the clouds of what he now realised to be not mist but plaster dust, a contractor’s board faced him:
Doherty for Demolition. What Goes Up Must Come Down!
Beyond, where the block which had housed his café had stood, was a cliff-face of battered wall, roof, floors, façade torn from it. Among the rubble of what had once been elegant stonework stood a wooden hut on the threshold of which three workmen sat eating sandwiches.
Burden shrugged and turned away. The old town was going, gradually and cruelly. Beauty and grace were inconvenient. They pulled down the old buildings, put up splendid new ones like the police station. New buildings needed new drains and new wiring and digging up the roads killed the old trees. New shops replaced the old, rhinestones and gilt goddesses the best jeweller’s between London and Brighton . . . That reminded him. It was useless to waste time regretting the past. If he was to get no tea he certainly wasn’t going to delay his lunch. One more enquiry first, though.
Mr Scatcherd reminded Burden of a very old and very amiable parrot. The big curving nose came down over a genial mouth and the birdlike impression was sustained by a bright yellow waistcoat and baggy, shaggy trousers suggestive of plumage. The rooms over the shop might have been a perch or an eyrie, they were so airy and lofty, and their windows looked into the tops of whispering greening trees.
He was shown into a living room apparently unchanged since it had been furnished in the eighties. But instead of the drab browns and reds associated with the nineteenth century, here in the plush and velvet was peacock green, glowing puce and blue. A chandelier that hung from the ceiling winked in the blaze of sun like a handful of diamonds dropped and suspended in space. Fat cushions with gold tassels had cheeks of shiny green shot-silk. There were pieces here, Burden thought as he sat down in a brocade wing chair, that Cawthorne would give his sodden blue eyes to possess.
‘I usually have a glass of Madeira and a biscuit about this time,’ said Mr Scatcherd. ‘Perhaps you’ll do me the honour of joining me?’
‘It’s very kind of you,’ Burden said. The former variety of refreshment he had never sampled and he was still regretting the depredations which had deprived him of his tea as well of the town of its glory. ‘I’d like to.’
A sweet smile told him he had been right to accept. ‘Just the shade of a garnet,’ the old jeweller said when he brought the wine on a japanned tray. ‘Not a ruby.’ A severity, the didactic crispness of the connoisseur, had entered his rather fluting voice. ‘A ruby is quite different. What have you brought me to look at?’
The hand that took it was grey and clawed, the nails long but scrupulously clean.
‘Could it have come from around here? Or do you only get things like this in London?’
Mr Scatcherd was not listening to him. He had taken the lighter to the window and he was nodding his head precisely while screwing his old eye up against a pocket glass.
Les grappes de ma vigne
”,’ he said at last. Burden sat up eagerly. ‘That’s the name of the design, you know. The grapes of my vine. Baudelaire, of course. Perhaps you are not familiar with the poem. Highly appropriate for a lover’s gift.’ He smiled with gentle pleasure, turning the lighter over. ‘And it was a lover’s gift,’ he said as he read the inscription. ‘A pretty greeting for a lady.’
Burden had no idea what he meant. ‘You know it?’ he said. ‘You’ve seen it before?’
‘Several years ago.’ The chandelier flashed pink, violet and green prism spots on the walls. ‘Seven, eight years.’ Mr Scatcherd put away his glass and beamed with satisfaction. The rainbow lights flickered on his bald head. ‘I know the design,’ he said, ‘and I well remember the inscription.’
‘But that engraving was done recently!’
‘Oh, no. Before I retired, before Joy Jewels took over.’ A smile of mocking disparagement curved his mouth and made his eyes twinkle as he spoke the name. ‘My dear inspector,’ he said. ‘I ought to know. I sold the thing.’
‘Who did he sell it to? Kirkpatrick?’
Burden hung up his raincoat on the office rack and decided to do without it for the rest of the day. He glanced at the lab reports Wexford was studying and said:
‘I don’t understand it. Old Scatcherd hasn’t sold anything for more than seven years and at that time Anita wasn’t here, probably didn’t even know such a place as Kingsmarkham existed. Kirkpatrick wasn’t here either. Those houses where he lives have only been up a year. Besides, Scatcherd’s got a wonderful memory for a man of his age and he’s never had a customer called Kirkpatrick.’
‘Look, Mike,’ Wexford said, giving his reports a glance of disgust, ‘are we going to be able to find out who did buy this damned lighter?’
‘Scatcherd’s looking it up in his books. He says it’ll take him a couple of hours. But, you know, sir, I’m beginning to think Anita just found it, picked it up in the street and kept it because the inscription was appropriate.’
‘Found it!’ Wexford roared. ‘You mean someone lost it and Anita found it and then she lost it again at Ruby’s? Don’t be so daft. It’s not a key or an old umbrella. It’s a valuable article and I reckon it’s the key to this whole thing. If it was lost, why wasn’t the loss reported to us? No, you get back to old Scatcherd, assist him with your young eyes.’ Burden looked pleased at this as Wexford had known he would. ‘You never know what you may discover,’ he said. ‘Cawthorne may have bought it for her or Margolis himself or at any rate someone who owns a green car. In all this we have to remember that however oddly Kirkpatrick may be behaving he doesn’t have and never had a green car.’
When Burden had gone he returned to his perusal of the lab reports. He read them carefully, suppressing a disgusted rage. Never in all his experience had he come across anything so negative. The evidence the carpet afforded would have been satisfactory only to the manufacturers of Ruby’s favourite detergents. Fingerprints on her car corresponded to those in Anita Margolis’s bedroom. They were hers and hers alone. The ocelot coat gave even less information. An analyst had suggested that the scent with which it was redolent might be
Guerlain’s Chant d’Aromes
. Wexford, who was good on perfumes, could have told them that himself. In one pocket was a crumpled sheet of trading stamps. She had probably bought her petrol at Cawthorne’s. Wexford sighed. Who had brought that car back at one in the morning and where had it been all the evening? Why had her killer, Kirkpatrick or another, called himself Geoff Smith when it would have been so much more natural and indeed expected for him to remain anonymous?
A pile of thick books, some of them ancient and all bound in dark green morocco, were stacked at Mr Scatcherd’s feet. Burden stepped over them and sat down in the brocade chair.
‘I’ve been completely through the last three,’ Mr Scatcherd said, showing no sign of a diminution of patience. ‘That takes us right back to nineteen fifty-eight.’ He had perched a pair of gold-rimmed glasses on his parrot’s nose and he glanced over the top of them, smiling pleasantly.
Burden shrugged. It was all getting beyond him. Nine years ago Anita Margolis had been fourteen. Did men give valuable gold cigarette lighters – any cigarette lighters, come to that – to girls of fourteen? Not in his world. Whatever world this was in which he found himself, it was a topsy-turvy one of nightmare inconsistency. The lighter had been sold in Kingsmarkham and in Kingsmarkham its recipient had lived and gone out to meet her death. Simple on the face of it, but for ages and times and a host of confusing facts . . .
‘I thought it was new,’ he said.
‘Oh, no. I knew the artist who made it. He’s dead now but in his day he was a fine goldsmith. His name was Benjamin Marks but when I called him Ben it was another master I thought of. Perhaps you can guess whom I mean.’ Burden looked at him blankly. ‘Cellini, inspector,’ Mr Scatcherd said almost reverently. ‘The great Benvenuto. My Ben was a naturalist too in his way. It was always to Nature that he went for his inspiration. I remember a standard rose, designed for a lady’s powder case. You could see the sepals in the heart of each tiny flower. He made this and inscribed it. It was done to a gentleman’s order . . .’
‘But whose order, Mr Scatcherd? Until I know that I’m no further.’
‘We shall find it. It helps my memory to talk about it.’ Mr Scatcherd turned the thick watered pages, running a long fingernail down the margins. ‘We’re coming up to the end of nineteen fifty-eight now. Do you know, each time I come to the end of a book I feel I’m getting warm. I have a faint recollection of Christmas and I seem to remember selling a fine ring at the same time.’ The last page. Burden could see a date in December printed at the top of it. He had a wild sensation that if the record of the sale could not be found in this book or the next, Mr Scatcherd would keep on searching, for hours perhaps or days, until he came back to the first entry made by his father in 1886.
The jeweller looked up with a smile but he had worn this continually and Burden could see no particularly encouraging sign of gratification on his wrinkled face. ‘Ah, yes, here we are,’ he murmured. ‘The ring I mentioned. A diamond and sapphire hoop to Mr Rogers of Pomfret Hall. For his wife, no doubt, or that poor daughter of his. There was insanity there, if I remember.’ Nodding sagely, he continued his scanning. ‘Not the same day, I’m sure. Perhaps the next day . . . Now, inspector, we’re getting somewhere.’
Hope surging back, Burden got up to take the book from him but Mr Scatcherd held fast to it. ‘Here we are,’ he said again, but this time with a note of quiet triumph. ‘Gold cigarette lighter to order: “
Les grappes de ma vigne
”, Benjamin Marks; inscribed: “For Ann who lights my life”. Not much help to you, I’m afraid. Such a common name. Still, there’s an address.’
Burden was unbearably intrigued. ‘What name?’ he asked excitedly.
‘Smith. It was sold on December 15th, 1958 to a Mr Geoffrey Smith.’
No doubt about it, Drayton was taking his duties seriously, Wexford thought as he came into the Carousel Café for his lunch. Behind the room divider a hooded coat could be seen lying over the back of a chair, one of its sleeves caught on the fleshy leaves of a rubber plant. Drayton’s back was towards the door but there was something concentrated and intense in the set of his shoulders. He seemed to be in animated, not to say amorous, conversation with his companion, for their faces were close. It afforded Wexford considerable amusement to see Drayton raise his hand to cup the girl’s white chin and to watch her delicate tentative smile. They had not observed him. Indeed, he thought, it would not be stretching a point to say they had eyes only for each other. A bit hard on the girl, he reflected, and he was wondering how much longer this simulated attention would be necessary when Burden found him.
‘What are you eating?’
‘Shepherd’s pie,’ said Wexford. ‘Must be ten minutes since I ordered.’ He grinned. ‘I daresay they’ve had to go out and shoot a shepherd.’
‘I’ve found him,’ Burden explained and while he did so the Chief Inspector’s expression changed from interest to scowling incredulity.
Burden said apologetically. ‘You said yourself, sir, some people really are called Smith.’
‘That was a funny,’ Wexford growled. ‘Where does he live?’
‘Sewingbury.’ The shepherd’s pie came and Burden ordered a portion for himself. ‘I don’t understand why he isn’t on the electoral register. He can’t very well be under age.’
‘Not unless we’re dealing with a little boy buying cigarette lighters for a little girl.’ Wexford raised a forkful of his pie to his mouth and made a face. ‘I’d like to get our lab to work on this mashed potato,’ he said. ‘If I’m not mistaken it’s been in a packet since it was dug out of the ground.’ He pushed the bowl of green pepper salad the Carousel served with everything to the extreme edge of the table. ‘Smith could be a foreigner who’s changed his name but never got naturalised.’
Burden pondered. He felt he would think better on a full stomach. The mashed potato might be suspect but it was brown and crisp and the savoury smell whetted his appetite. ‘We’ve assumed all the time Smith was a pseudonym,’ he said, brightening as the hot steaming plate was set before him. ‘Now it suddenly looks as if everything is going to be plain sailing. How about this, sir? Smith’s known Anita for years and the friendship was renewed when she and Margolis came to live here. He booked the room on Saturday, going to Ruby’s in his black car which he sold the following day or the Monday, exchanging it for a new green one. But when he gave his name to Ruby he had no idea he’d have anything to hide. An attack on Anita was the last thing he planned.’ When Wexford nodded, he continued more confidently, ‘She broke her date with Kirkpatrick, not on account of his car, but just because she was fed-up with him and because she’d made a new one with Smith. She met Smith somewhere, parked her own car and went to Stowerton with him in his. They quarrelled in Ruby’s room, very likely over Kirkpatrick, and he attacked her with a knife or a razor. He managed to get her out of the house and into the car, but she died and he dumped her body or hid it at this place of his in Sewingbury. Later, when there weren’t many people about, he collected her car and returned it to Pump Lane.’

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