The Police had taken their time getting to the house because they had needed to change into their best uniforms. Then they had creased them up again by squeezing into Doctor Todd’s tiny Austin 7. Whilst he managed to unfold his long legged body from the car and still look crisp and suave, they almost tumbled out like clowns.
The doctor stood at the back of his car whilst Sergeant Miller tugged and straightened his black uniform jacket. Constable Miller- not related, Toby pointed out- straightened himself out more easily, and stood between the two older men.
“Lord Carstairs.” Sergeant Miller said, realising he was supposed to take the initiative. “You reported a body? A dead young woman?”
“Maude. One of our maids.” Toby told him.
“Maude?” squeaked Constable Miller.
The Sergeant turned to him. “You know her?”
“I…. met her. A few times.” The Constable had gone very red.
“I believe I may have examined her a couple of times, as well.” Doctor Todd said. He was still perfectly upright, showing none of the younger man’s embarrassment, but eyeing him with suspicion.
“Right. Well. We should look at her body, I suppose.” Sergeant Miller said, shaking his head at his colleagues.
“Follow me. We have her in the old cold storage room.” Toby pointed around the side of the building.
The half buried cool room had been where perishables had been kept- until Toby’s father had invested in a large refrigerator, which now resided inside the house. The chilly room was lined with white tile, and lit by a single bulb. The tarpaulin used to carry Maude in from the lake had been placed on the large table in the middle of the room, then draped across her carefully.
Sergeant Miller offered Doctor Todd the aid of Constable Miller to unwrap Maude. Seeing the Constables obvious queasiness, Todd waved him off, and started lifting the edges of the tarpaulin. he walked around the table, pulling folds toward himself and then laying them over the edge, until the dead woman was fully revealed.
As soon as the knife blade came into view, Constable Miller had to look away. Sergeant Miller took out his notepad, and scribbled a couple of lines. “Well, it’s a suspicious death, then.” he said, his tone flat, and hard to read.
Doctor Todd gave a little sigh as he looked down on Maude from the head end of the table. “So sad. She was such an…. energetic young woman. It was always a pleasure to examine her.” He glanced up quickly at the others in the room, as if concerned about how they might interpret his phrasing.
“Well, we will send her on to more skilled pathologists, with better resources than a lowly country doctor, of course. But, unless they find some cleverly hidden twist, I think we can all see what the cause of death was. Her pallor is certainly consistent with the sort of blood loss that would result from….” He waved his hand at the knife handle. “Aha, what’s this?”
Todd had spotted the other holes in Maude’s night gown. Lifting one edge of the nearest slit, he probed the skin inside. “So she was stabbed more than once. Yes, there’s the wound that goes with this hole. I would guess, though I have limited experience of murders, that multiple stabs suggest a crime of passion. Ascertaining just what form of passion is the Sergeant’s job.”
“Not my job, unless somebody wants to confess. When the call came in, I made my own call up the line, to request detectives. I got a message back that they would be here by the end of the day, and I was to defer to mister Godfrey Hardwicke in the meantime.” Using his deductive powers to dismiss Jiggles and Erin as candidates, he turned to Godfrey.
“That would be me. I have some experience with teasing out answers to strange questions, but not with Police procedure. So, I’ll be looking to you and the Constable for advice and support.”
“I should hope so, sir. I shall make sure that everything is done in an orderly manner, so that you can have your brain waves and solve this thing.”
“Excellent. So, following procedure, what should we do next?”
“The body has to go to the nearest mortuary, where the pathologists can examine it. Doctor, is there anything else you can tell us right now?” the Sergeant asked.
“I do not want to disturb anything that the pathologists might find. I can take her body temperature, which might help narrow down when she died. Though, her having been in the water will complicate that calculation.” Todd had his Gladstone bag on the table, and was delving inside for a suitable thermometer.
“We have a van. You can use it to move her. I’ll get one of the chaps to drive it for you.” Toby offered.
“Clive might be the best, as we know where he was last night.” Jiggles offered. “If he can drive, of course.”
“I believe he can. I will have a word with him first, just to check his story.”
Attention had drifted away from Doctor Todd whilst this decision was being made. Turning back to him, they saw he wielded a thermometer, and was lifting Maude’s gown, searching for the best place to put it to get a reading. Everyone turned away from him again, not wishing to know more.
“This diary is full, and ends about seven months ago, whilst this one goes over everything up to the day before yesterday. Which one would you like to read?” Ally held up the two books, and Eileen looked from one to the other.
“The older one, I think. What are we looking for in them?”
“Names, dates, any behaviour she thought was worth mentioning.” Ginge offered. He had already chosen to go through the letters, and had started separating them by postmark. “Did Maude have any family?” he asked.
“She never mentioned any.” Eileen said. She was flipping the pages of her diary, and just checking the dates this first time through.
“These envelopes all look to have male handwriting on them. Maybe one is her father, but I don’t think any could be from her mother.” Ginge pulled the letter from the envelope he held, and started reading it. “Yes, this is definitely not from a family member. ‘I want to feel your lovely fanny again, and to fuck you so very hard, just like we did last week.’ Definitely an admirer.”
“Is there a date on the letter?” Ally asked.
“The 13th of June last year.”
“I think that will be in my diary.” Eileen held up the book, then started going through the pages. “Let’s see? June the 13th. And back a week from that…. ‘Got to shag Nobby on my day off. Acceptable sized willy, and he is very enthusiastic. But, best of all, he gave me the new dress he had promised me. Maybe I will see him again.’”
“The letter is signed, ‘Your darling Nobby.’ And it’s on paper headed as ‘Norman Smith, esquire.’”
“There’s a Smith’s dress shop in the next town over. They make nice dresses. I did notice that Maude had one. Actually, more than one. I never thought to ask how she could afford them.” Eileen gave a sigh, somehow surprised, and not, that Maude might exchange sexual fun for nice clothes. “Do you think that Norman Smith is a suspect?”
“I think we have to consider each of these letter writers as a possible suspect.” Ginge indicated the separated piles, then the bundle he hadn’t sorted yet. “At least, at first. No doubt we’ll thin them out quickly.”