Death by the Lake, Chapter Twelve

Death by the Lake


It was fairly late on the evening of Radlett’s call and Marie had been sent to bed by her brother-in-law and doctor when Carolus faced Bertram Nantwich and Julie, who refused to be put off any longer and demanded the full story.
“First,” he said to Julie, “I want to know whether you’re ready to hear the truth as I see it about your late sister.  The truth, that is, with no attempt to wrap it up or make it palatable?”
“After the last day or two I am prepared for anything,” Julie said.
“It won’t be pleasant, but I can’t deal in half-truths, and I can’t lay much of the blame anywhere else.  Your father, perhaps, because he seems to have been a remarkably selfish . . .”
“Understatement!” said Julie.  “He was unspeakable.  Anything that went wrong with Jessie after the upbringing he gave us must be partly his fault.”
“Anything?  But we’ll see.  Jessie had rare, almost unique qualities in a woman.  She was a cold-blooded calculating murderess who loved money and power and was prepared to do anything for them.  She left home some years before what we can conveniently called the M 16 murder, didn’t she?  Do you know what she was doing at that time?”
“She was in London.  She had very little money.  We heard almost nothing of her till she arrived with Desmond Flitcher.”
“Exactly.  I can’t fill in those years either, though I have no doubt that if it is worth while the police will be able to.  But I know she teamed up with a very successful criminal.  The man known as Desmond Flitcher, who had just pulled off a job worth over a hundred thousand pounds and left his two mates to face the music while he had the money.
“She promised Desmond a way out and brought him up here as her husband.  It was a good way for him to hide—she was known in Millgrove and as her husband he could lie low indefinitely.  But it was not much use to her.  Desmond still had possession of the money and Jessie had no intention of wasting the rest of her life in Millgrove.  So she decided to kill him.  The only way in which she could do this and have the money was to make it appear that he had killed her.
“One of the secrets that will follow her into her grave when she is buried, is where the money in fact was hidden.  It is possible that Dobell and Werner, if they reappear, may have some theory about it.  It may be that Flitcher had a safe deposit box and Jessie discovered where it was.  Or it may be that the money, in small denominations, was in his possession.  At all events she must’ve known before she killed him.  If he’d had the sense to prevent her finding out, he might be still alive.
“She suggested a move.  Perhaps she scared Flitcher by making him think that his hiding place was unsafe.  Then she commenced an intricate perception.  To Flitcher she was the loyal wife who would accompany him.  To her sister Julie she was the loyal but deluded wife of a criminal, begging Flitcher to give himself up.  (She had a only to make a fake call from your telephone extension to convince you of that.)  To Marie she was the loyal wife of a charming Raffles assisting Flitcher to escape.  And to everyone else she prepared to be the loyal, deluded wife who had been murdered by Flitcher and buried under the M 16.
“But like most of the authors of elaborate criminal schemes, she overdid it.  To call attention to the place in which she intended to be ‘buried’ she went with Flitcher to the point they had reached in building the M 16 and without letting him see what she was doing, left her own bloodstains on a wayside stone.  Not difficult if you have the courage and know how to give yourself a jab.  But as it happened this only confused the issue. 
“Back at the cottage she had chosen in a remote spot beyond the village, she became ‘ill’ and let Flitcher be seen for two days by the postman and you, Julie.  You regretted that you did not persuade your husband to insist on seeing her.  Had you done so you might have saved Flitcher’s life, not Jessie’s as you thought.  Then at the end of the second day she killed Fletcher.”
“How?” asked Dr. Nantwich.
“Probably poison.  She was not a physically powerful woman and there were no signs of violence or bloodstains in the cottage when it was searched.  But a murderess suffers some incapacities the murderer does not feel.  She has not the physical strength to make away with the corpse, for one thing.  So in this case Jessie had to call in George Garrison, who had a sort of stupid devotion to her, and tell him that Flitcher had committed suicide.  She probably added that Flitcher was a criminal on the run in possession of a sum of stolen money which she would lose if she revealed his identity by reporting his suicide, and offered George a portion of the spoils.  George was greedy and without suspecting murder agreed that Flitcher’s body must be disposed of in the ingenious way that Jessie suggested—under the M 16.  So it was that Raggety May witnessed the ‘fat man’ and what appeared to be another man—Jessie in one of Desmond’s suits which about fitted her—dropping Desmond’s small slight body, which she took to be Jessie’s, in the back of the car.  And so it was that the investigation at the M 16 produced nothing, for Flitcher’s resting place was at a point reached by the road-builders two days after the disappearance of Jessie.
“She had successfully deceived the police and the rest of you into thinking that she had been murdered by Desmond and buried under the M 16 by Desmond for whom a search was begun.  She now had a harder task, firstly to deceive Marie into supposing that she had enabled Desmond to escape and so had to conceal herself, and secondly to create a new person and personality for herself with which she intended to live in enjoyment of the money which Desmond had robbed.
“Marie was the only person (except perforce George Garrison) whom Jessie took into her confidence to some extent.  You will remember that Marie was absent at the time of the M 16 murder and we shall have the details of this which is well enough to face up to the whole thing and realize, and she half-realizes now, exactly what Jessie was.  We shall hear how she waited for Jessie at some prepared place, probably in Liverpool, where Jessie’s change of personality would be effected.  Physically it was not a very difficult, although an expensive process.  Actors in films can change their appearances not for an hour or two but for long periods and some of these changes can be made permanent.  The teeth, for instance.  The first thing I noticed about Jessie, or Mrs. Denver as she was then called, was the tight mouth and proximity of nose and chin, denoting the change to a set of very small dentures from a set of normal ones.  The whole profile of a face, which had been described to me as oval, had been modified by this.  The dentures could be made ‘for a part in a film’ with very wide gums which would swell the cheeks.  The shape of the nose could be changed by plastic surgery.  The face, in other words, could be a new one and by skilful padding the figure could be made dumpy as I saw it.  But it is notable that although no ordinary person could recognize Mrs. Denver as Jessie Flitcher she never took the risk of meeting her sister Julie.  I doubt if any change in appearance could have been relied on to deceive a sister, but with the rest of the world she was safe.
“Marie, who had always been devoted to Jessie, returned here with her secret which she has kept until now.  While Jessie, clever enough not to display her sudden wealth—a form of display which has alerted the police to so many crimes—began not to spend but to invest the money in a grocer’s shop which she bought and in five years, with the injection of her capital, built into the Merseyside Supermarket.
“This might have continued indefinitely until the respected Mrs. Denver had become an alderman, or even a Member of Parliament, and Marie had maintained her admiration of the resourceful and successful sister.  But fortunately or unfortunately, according to the way you look at it, I came to live in Millgrove Water and heard a story in the Rudyard Arms which aroused my curiosity.  There was something—I did not quite know what—which did not ring true about the murder of Jessie and her burial under the M 16 which everyone seemed to accept as a historical fact.  There was something far more incredible about the complete disappearance of Desmond Flitcher who was suspected of two murders.  There was also something curious about the reticence of Marie.  I began to become inquisitive and in due course this was reported by Marie to Jessie in Liverpool.
“This was unfortunate for George Garrison.  I suspect that he had become restive lately under the weight of his knowledge; restive and anxious for a larger share of the fortune that Jesse was so obviously accumulating.  Jessie, knowing that I was nosing about, realized that it was only a question of time before I should go to Garrison for information and decided not to risk trusting his discretion.  Jessie did not, of course, endanger everything by committing another and this time a violent murder.  She sent Racking, a character she had picked up in the underworld and bribed or blackmailed to work for her, to accomplish the comparatively easy and straightforward murder of Garrison at his farm.  A murder out of the blue, as it were, with no known motive and no discovery will suspect, was easy meat for Racking though he made one idiotic blunder, as murderers do, by running out of petrol on the way.  It was only by chance that Garrison had a little in his spare can, and knowing that Racking came from Jessie, agreed to give it to him.  If he had possessed no petrol at all he would’ve been safe, for that night at least, since Racking would not have dared to shoot him without a means of retreat.  As it was, Racking had to fill up shortly after and, through the identification of Gerald Farleigh, who noticed his smooth face when he came to the petrol station, he will probably be charged with Garrison’s murder, if he had not got enough charges against him already.  Yet I shall be surprised if he used Jessie’s Jaguar, at any rate with the usual number-plates.  It’s the sort of detail that the police will surely, if they have not already, sort out, but in the meantime there is not much mystery about the murder of George Garrison. 
“Meanwhile Dobell and Werner turned up to try to find out from Marie the whereabouts of Flitcher.  This shewed, to my mind, that not only the police and public had accepted the story of Flitcher’s murder of his wife and escape but that his fellow criminals believed in it, too.  As for Marie, the worst she would believe of Jessie was that she had helped the escape of a ne’er-do-well husband who had brought off some sort of mildly dishonest coup and had to be kept out of the country.  Which is why she was distressed when she thought I knew, and had given the two men Flitcher’s address.  Actually all I wanted to do was get rid of them and simply repeated something Bill Rudge had told me about a hotel he knew in Torremolinos.
“Marie, however, was concerned about the murder of George Garrison.  It could not, of course, be connected in her mind with any action or wish of Jessie’s.  Rather than that, if she had to suspect anyone, it would have been Desmond, whom she still believed alive.  Remember that Marie had no idea of the part that Garrison had played in the M 16 murder, did not in fact believe there had been an M 16 murder, and you get some idea of the confusion of mind.  Her only determination was to be loyal to Jessie.  She unguardedly mentioned to me—and to you, Julie—has supposed school-friend in Liverpool but did not suppose I would root her out.  She was astonished to hear from Julie that I gone to Liverpool to see her and immediately ’phoned Jessie to expect me at the Supermarket.
“‘Don’t worry,’ Jessie probably said.  ‘I don’t suppose he suspects anything.’
“And by this time her second personality was so well established in the minds of so many people that Marie, who probably had no very great opinion of my powers of deduction, felt all the old confidence in Jessie and her power to pull wool over anyone’s eyes.
“But when ‘Mrs. Denver’ made the suggestion that she and I should come here and surprise Marie there was no doubt lifted my mind of exactly who she was and what she intended to do.  I knew that she meant to eliminate both me and her sister; the only dangers to her which any longer existed.  (Racking she must have held by some pretty firm bonds of blackmail, quite apart from his having killed George Garrison.)  I knew that the way she meant to accomplish this would be anything but clumsy and I knew moreover that, having been brought up in Millgrove, she had heard the story of the mysterious disappearance of a boating party on the lake at some time in the last century.  So I gave her a pretty convincing story of why I could not swim and waited for developments.
“What revealed the means she intended to use was Racking’s being sent ahead on the previous evening with her car.  What could possibly be the reason for this unless it was to prepare the dinghy for an evening outing on which she apparently set her heart?  I became quite certain of her intentions when she insisted on dawdling about until the light had gone enough to make a boat on the lake invisible from the shore.  It was all too obvious that a way of opening a leak in the boat had been improvised and that at the right moment she (or Racking, since she meant him to accompany us) would remove the plug and the two people unable to swim, as she believed, would be drowned while the boat sank in ninety feet of water.  She had always been a good swimmer of whose prowess, when she used to swim the lake with Desmond, I had already heard.
“I tried to do nothing which would let her think my suspicions were roused, but I had to put off before Recking could come aboard, explaining quite credibly I hoped, that there was no need for him.  She accepted that but when I noticed that there was a small pistol in her bag (only for an emergency since she trusted her ingenuity too well to think that she would need it) I clumsily dropped it overboard.  But by that time her plan was too far advanced for any turning back and she managed to convince herself that it was an accident.  Even if I did suspect, she must have thought, what could I do at this point?  Neither I nor Marie could swim and she had no doubt of the outcome.”
Carolus stopped and emptied his glass which Nantwich, too absorbed to interrupt, quietly re-filled.
“I imagine you, Doctor, will know how difficult it is to gauge the force of a blow which will be sufficient to put someone out without any real injury.  This I had to achieve to get Marie ashore.  I did it, but I was terrified that I had struck her too hard.
“But one thing I had not, of course, anticipated—Jessie’s sudden attack of cramp.  I believe cramp maybe the result of nerves as much as anything else, and that Jessie’s nerves, which must have been of steel, failed her at that moment.  I heard her scream, but there was nothing whatever to be done about it.  The boat was already filled and sunk and I had as much as I could do to bring Marie safely ashore.”
There was silence.  Julie said nothing—expressed no incredulity, asked for no details—but sat as though slowly realizing things long past, perhaps, or horrors which might yet have come.
But Nantwich turned to Carolus.
“Tell me,” he said.  “What first put you on to the truth?  I say the truth because however brief and outline you have given us, however much your story has to be backed up with details and further evidence, I know that you have revealed broadly what has happened in this quite terrible affair.  What really awakened you to it?”
“It is impossible to say.  I cannot tell you when I first realized that it was Flitcher who was murdered, not Jessie, and it was Jessie who was still alive and not Flitcher.  But I think I owe some kind of revelation to the man who was for many years the headmaster of the school in which I talked, a bumbling character, full of pomposity, but like many bumbling people a lover of quotations.  When he heard all of the story that was yet known, he quoted Macbeth.  I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none.
“Meaning?” said the doctor.
“Meaning, obviously, a woman.  I have never doubted that a woman has a kind of courage we have not, and when she turns to crime, a kind of ruthlessness which we have not.  Certainly Jessie had that.

Death by the Lake, Chapter Eleven

Death by the Lake


To the surprise of Carolus, Margot turned out to be a nervous passenger who begged him to drive slowly.  None of the arguments used by the drivers of fast cars to convince others that safety lay in well-controlled speed rather than erratic slowness did much to convince her.
“After all, there’s no hurry,” she said.
“I thought you wanted to swim in the lake.”
“Yes.  But in the cool in the evening.  That’s when I like it.  Take it easy, Carolus.  Let’s have lunch somewhere on the way as you suggest.  We don’t need to arrive before tea-time.  Marie will like that.  She’s a great girl for afternoon tea.”
“Just as you like.  We’ll get to Lancaster for lunch.”
“If you want to go so far.”
“The Royal King’s Arms at Lancaster, I think.  We’ll get a decent lunch there.”
They did, but Margot wanted to take time over it and insisted on going through to the hotel lounge for coffee.
“Can’t do without my coffee,” she explained.
It was past three when they got on the road again and at Minthorpe Margot wanted to turn off the main road and go by a roundabout way, through Grange-over-Sands.
They finally arrived at Millgrove, after several stops to “buy something for Marie”, at nearly five o’clock.  Margot grew more animated when they pulled up outside Marie’s cottage.
“Suppose she’s out?” she suggested.
Carolus smiled patiently.
“You might have thought of that before.”
But Marie was in, and rushed out to kiss Margot and greet Carolus.
“You see!  Carolus and I have got together,” said Margot.
Maria seemed confused.
“How did this happen?  Where have you come from, you two?”
Since Carolus knew she had been on the ’phone to Margot warning her of his anticipated arrival in Liverpool, this seemed a rather strange thing to say, and Marie’s look of astonishment on seeing them was, Carolus thought, somewhat exaggerated.  However, he said nothing and followed the two women into the cottage.
They chattered excitedly.  “So long since you’ve been here!”  “It’s wonderful to see you!  I told Carolus we must run down and surprise Marie!”  “I’m thrilled that you did!”
“What did you think of the Supermarket?” asked Marie.  “Quite something, isn’t it?  And all done by my little friend here.”
“I was most impressed,” said Carolus, wondering how fatuous this sort of conversation could become.
But the two women continued to chirp with pleasure at seeing one another.
“How will you get back?” asked Marie suddenly.  I suppose Carolus brought you here.  Is he going to drive all the way back to Liverpool?”
Margot laughed.
“No.  I sent Racking on with the car.  He’ll drive me back on Monday.”
“Racking?” said Marie.  Her face clouded for a moment.  “Is he here?”
“Of course, darling.  He came up last night.  You know how Racking likes to be sent ahead.”
“I don’t know anything about Racking,” said Marie, almost sulkily.
But in a few moments the cloud lifted.
“I should like to stay with you here,” said Margot.
“Or at my house?” Carolus suggested.  “Mrs. Stick will look after her,” he added to Maria.
“Where would you like to stay?” asked Maria.  “Here, cramped and uncomfortable, or in luxury at Carolus’s?”
“You know I don’t mind.  It’s so wonderful to be here!”
“But you’ll have to make up your mind, darling.  Where are your bags?”
“I never thought of that  Racking brought them in the car, of course.  He must have taken them to the Waterman.”
“Oh no!  Why didn’t you tell him to bring them here?”
“It was to be a surprise for you,” said Margot.  “Carolus and I wanted to turn up on the doorstep unexpectedly.  I wonder where Racking is.”
This absurd piece of conversation, suggesting a no less absurd misunderstanding, for some reason disquieted Carolus.  He asked Maria’s permission to use her telephone as she and Margot prepared to sit in the little garden behind the house and, when they were out of hearing, called his own house.
“Mrs. Stick?”
“Well, yes,” said his housekeeper doubtfully.  Only I don’t know where you’ve been, sir, and there’s a man here leaving two suit-cases which he says belong to a friend of Miss Maria’s who’s coming here this evening.  I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t like the look of him at all, and Stick says he’s been staying at the Waterman, but that’s not to tell you anything about him, is it?”
“You don’t need to know anything about him, Mrs. Stick.”
“Very likely you don’t, only as I tell you, there’s something I don’t like about him and I don’t know what to do with the bags he left.”
“Put them in the spare room, Mrs. Stick.  They belong to a Mrs. Denver who’ll be staying the night.  The man who brought them is Mrs. Denver’s chauffeur.”
“We, so he may be, sir, but if I know anything about it, there’s something wrong about him.”
“I shall be home within an hour. Could you manage a little cold meal for Mrs. Denver, Miss Marie and me?
“I don’t know about cold, sir.  I was going to do a nice pair of ducklings I’ve got.”
“That will be all right, only I don’t know what time we shall want to eat.”
“Then I shall wait till you come home, sir, and it’s to be hoped you won’t be long.  I’ll get the spare room ready.  So long as this fellow’s not coming here.”
“Which fellow?  Oh, the chauffeur.  Don’t be ridiculous, Mrs. Stick.”
“So it may be ridiculous only I don’t like it and Stick says he was stopped outside of Miss Marie’s cottage for a long time this morning.”
“Do you mean his car was?”
“That’s what Stick said.  A Jaguar he told me and this man I don’t like the look of must have been in the house.  You wouldn’t have thought Miss Marie would have encouraged that, would you?”
As a matter of fact Carolus wouldn’t.  He looked preoccupied as he went to join Marie and Margot in the garden, but was careful not to shew them that anything was amiss.
Marie brought tea out and they dawdled over it.  It was approaching seven o’clock when Margot announced that she was longing to see Carolus’s house and they drove the few hundred yards to his home.
Mrs. Stick looked put out.
“What time would you both like to eat?” asked Carolus of Marie and Margot.  Margot answered.
“Would it be a frightful nuisance if we just had something to eat after we came in?  I do so long to go on the lake now it’s getting cool and it would be heaven just to eat something afterwards.”
She smiled at Mrs. Stick, who did not return the smile.  
“Of course, madam,” she said stiffly.  “I could arrange a little cold supper for later if you wish it.”
“Oh do,” said Margot.  “Then I can have my swim.”
“I beg your pardon, but did you say swim?” asked Mrs. Stick.  “You couldn’t be meaning to go in the water at this time of night!  After all that’s happened on this lake it would be tempting Providence.”
“All that’s happened?” asked Margot, apparently amused.  “What has happened?”
The little woman stood her ground.
“I don’t believe everything,” she announced.  “Only my husband’s been told about these people who went out in a boat one evening and were never heard of again, or the boat, either, for that matter.”
“But that was years ago,” said Margot.  “Some time in the last century.”
“So it may have been,” said Mrs. Stick.  “But it was this time of year when the evenings are growing long and sometimes you get a mist over the water.  Besides, it’s not healthy to go swimming at night with the mosquitoes and everything.”
Margot smiled.
“It’s very kind of you to be so concerned, she said.  “But I can look after myself.”  She turned to Carolus.  “We aren’t going, aren’t we?”
“Up to you,” Carolus said.
“I told Racking to get the dinghy ready,” Margot went on.  “As a matter of fact that was one reason why I sent him ahead.  I remember Marie’s old dinghy.  I thought the engine would need looking over.”
“It always does,” agreed Marie.  “I scarcely ever use the thing.”
“Did it belong to your sister Jessie?” asked Carolus.  “I was told she used to go out on the lake a lot with her husband.”
This, which sounded like a deliberate gaffe, caused an awkward silence.  It was at last broken by Marie who said shortly, “Yes.  It was Jessie’s.”
Mrs. Stick brought drinks and they sat on the little terrace which overlooked the lake while the landscape slowly darkened.
“Well, what about it, boys and girls?” said Margot cheerfully.  “Are we ready?”
“I shall be, in a few minutes,” said Carolus and left them.  He came down, to Mrs. Stick’s amazement, wearing shorts and an open-neck shirt.  But this was not so startling as Margot’s get-up.  She had apparently changed into something like a bikini, modestly wrapped about by a very cumbersome bath robe.
“You must excuse this,” she said gaily.  “I’m never cold in the water but I like something warm to pull on afterwards.  Till we get back,” she added
Only Marie made no change for the occasion.
Mrs. Stick watched with astonishment and disapproval while they gathered in the hall.  She could not contain herself.
“If you’re going out like that, sir,” she said, “I won’t be responsible.  It’s tempting Providence and I shall have you ill for a month from the night air.  You know what the doctor told you, don’t you?”
Margot smiled reassuringly.
“He’ll be all right, Mrs. Stick,” she said.  “We shall all be back in half an hour or so, roaring for supper like the lions at Whipsnade.  Shan’t we, Marie?”
“It’s to be hoped so,” said Mrs. Stick as she watched them go down the steps to the lakeside.
At the little landing-stage that belonged to the house, Racking was awaiting them.  A dinghy with an outboard motor was made fast to it; evidently Margot’s idea of organized preparation.  He said nothing as Marie went on board.
But now a small contretemps occurred.  Carolus, who had behaved so mildly and obligingly all day, spoke with some authority.  Before Racking could follow them aboard, he said, “I will take the engine.  We don’t need your chauffeur.”
Margot was evidently nonplussed.
“Oh but he’ll be so useful.  You don’t want to be bothered with that wretched little outboard motor.”
“But I do,” said Carolus firmly.  “I’m used to a thing like this.”  He turned to Racking.  “You stay ashore,” he said, and, starting the little motor, left the chauffeur staring after them from the landing-stage.
Margot decided to shew no ill-humour the Carolus had seen enough of her to gather that she disliked not having her own way.
“All right,” she said.  “Only you must let me take over presently.”
“Of course,” said Carolus.  “Whenever you like.  It was just that I thought the three of us would be better on our own.”
“Perhaps you’re right.  Ranking’s rather a bore.  I didn’t know you cared for boats.”
It was certainly a glorious night, one of those nights which happen really but wonderfully when there is fine weather round about midsummer.  Although they could not see for any great distance over the lake, the starlight above them was brilliant and there was a harvest moon.
“Now you see why I wanted to come, and why I insisted on us coming out on the lake after it had grown nearly dark?  I’m thrilled with this!”
Marie remained curiously silent.  Carolus felt that there was something like tension or anxiety in her failure to join in her friend’s cheerful comments.
“Let me take over now,” said Margot and Carolus agreed.  But in changing places an unfortunate mishap occurred.  Margot had left her bag on the seat beside her, a pretty little bag, quite unsuited to the occasion.  In trying to pick it up and hand it back to her, Carolus lost his balance and nearly fell in the water.  When he recovered himself he apologised.
“My dear, I’m terribly sorry.  Your bag . . .”
It had dropped into the water and sank at once.
“How can I have been so clumsy?  Had you anything valuable in it?”
Once again Margot shewed no ill-humour.
“Some bits and pieces of jewellery,” she said.  “Nothing valuable.”
“I am so sorry,” Carolus repeated.
“Don’t worry.  It could happen to anyone.  I shouldn’t have brought it, anyway.”
Meanwhile Margot had steered the dinghy towards the centre of the lake.
“Is this where you want to swim?” asked Carolus.
“A little farther on.”
“You seem to know our lakes very well,” commented Carolus.  Even in semi-darkness.”
Margot chuckled.
“I came here once with Marie.  Didn’t I, Marie?  But I haven’t forgotten it.”
She suddenly switched off the engine and silence descended on them.  A faint rippling of water and that was all.  It seemed that no other boat was in hearing as no other was in sight.  Faintly distinguishable was the outline of the hills.  They seemed remote and very dark under the stars.
Margot, in the stern of the dinghy, stooped down apparently to remove her shoes, while Carolus remained close to Marie.  There were a few moments of tension then, turning away from the others, Margot removed her heavy bath robe.
“Well, this is it,” she said cheerfully and prepared to dive in.  As she did so, she laughed and it was not a pleasant sound.
Carolus watched her surface and strike out strongly away from the dinghy.  Then without giving her the smallest warning he struck Marie a blow over the head.  She collapsed and was silent, but a new sound was audible in the boat, a curious gurgling.  With no hesitation to examine the cause of this, Carolus seized Marie under the arm-pits and dragged her into the water over him.  Then he commenced that operation, not difficult with practice, but dangerous if someone lose his head and try to struggle, the life-saver’s back-stroke.
The shore was no less than five hundred yards away but Carolus had that confidence in his own powers which had guided him throughout the successive small crises which, to him who was narrowly observing events, the day had been.  He was, of course, a good swimmer and in very fair training.  Paralysis is as a child had been an inspired invention.  So long as Marie remained more or less inert in his arms there was little danger.
But what about Margot?  Above the rush of water about his ears another sound was audible to Carolus, the cry of a woman in distress.  More than that—in agony.  Cramp, thought Carolus, that enemy of even the best swimmers.
“Carolus!  Carolus!” she screamed desperately.
But Carolus, with the burden of Marie’s inert body, was already fifty yards away and swimming strongly towards the shore.  The dinghy, as though someone creating a landscape had wilfully painted it out, had disappeared utterly.
As Carolus swam Marie began to struggle.
“Keep still!”  Carroll’s voice was urgent, yet steady.  “Keep still, Marie, and I can get you ashore.  I can’t if you struggle.”
He did not speak again, nor did Marie.  Carolus could not tell whether she were unconscious, semi-conscious or awake to her danger but wise enough to do as she was told.  As it will in such a crisis, the shore seemed to recede or come nearer at intervals, the task of reaching it easy or nearly impossible, but Carolus was making steady progress.
“All right.  We can make it,” he gasped.
They did, but it was almost half an hour from the time he dragged Marie from the sinking dinghy that they finally staggered to the shore.
Marie had recovered consciousness but lay utterly exhausted on the sedgy grass of the lakeside.  A road passed a few yards away and Carolus stumbled towards it.
“Now’s the time to see whether motorists stop for someone in trouble or not,” he thought.
The first that passed did not.
“Can’t blame him,” thought Carolus, imagining what he must look like seen by the side of a lonely road.  But as if to restore his faith in the goodness of people, a second car stopped.  It was driven by man who had his wife beside him.
“What’s the trouble?”
“A boating accident.  There is a girl here pretty nearly dead.  Can you take us to Millgrove?”
The man left his car, and Carolus took him to Marie, then the three of them returned.  They managed to lift her into the back seat of the car and Carolus got in beside her.
The man was co-operative.
“Shall I drive you to the hospital?”
“There is a doctor in Millgrove.  Dr. Nantwich.  That would be best.”
“I know where it is.”
A few minutes later they drew up at the house, and relief came.

It was some days later when the body of Margot was recovered and by that time Carolus, having made exhaustive statements to the police, was able to walk around from his house to that of Dr. Nantwich, where Marie remained.  Superintendent Radlett brought the news.
“Could you identify the body of Mrs. Denver?” he asked Marie.
“I suppose so,” said Marie listlessly.
“Not Mrs. Denver,” Carolus interrupted.  “But Miss Morton can certainly identify her sister, Jessie Flitcher.  Can’t you, Marie?”
There was silence for a moment, then Marie spoke with sudden determination.
“Yes.  I can,” she said.

Death by the Lake, Chapter Ten

Death by the Lake


In cynical moments Carolus considered that the Merseyside Supermarket had been built to compete in grandeur with the known architectural features of Liverpool, the town hall, the Walker Art Gallery, the Royal Liver building, the St. George’s Hall, and so on.  It was more pretentious than some of them and since the site it occupied had been added to from time to time, and was still under construction, it covered almost as much ground.  Faced with this Corinthian monster on the following day when he had bade goodbye to Mr. Gorringer, Carolus left his car in its underground parking place and entered somewhat differently.  For a time he wandered through its spacious avenues, lined with food stalls and redolent of frozen dairy produce, then asked a large supervisory-looking person where he might find Mrs. Denver. 
“Mrs. Denver?” the person said, as though she could scarcely believe her ears.  “You want to see her?”
“I do.”
“You had better go to the fourth floor and ask in the administrative offices.  I take it you had an appointment?”
“Press,” said Carolus as though he were inspired.
“Someone will probably see you,” said the person doubtfully.  “They are very busy, but you can try.”
“Thank you.”
“Mrs. Denver never sees anyone, of course.  You realize she’s the general manager?”
“That’s what I understand.”
“I should advise you to ask for Lady Knighton.  She’s the P.R.O.”
“It’s Mrs. Denver whom I want to see.”
The person looked as though she washed her hands of such a full initially importunate man.
“It’s the fourth floor,” she said in dismissal.
He reached the fourth floor by escalator and opened a door inscribed Administrative Offices.  A Cerberus in the shape of a Peke-faced young woman with glasses asked him, without any obvious intention to oblige, what she could do for him.
“I want to see Mrs. Denver.  I don’t want to see Lady Knighton or anyone else.  I have no appointment and I’m in rather a hurry,” he said with some exasperation.
The Pekingese who wore a miniskirt now looked hostile.
“Name?” she said
Carolus had intended to use another name and mention a newspaper, but he was irritated into giving his own.
“Take a seat,” said the Pekingese with such decision that Carolus felt he was ordered into a dentist’s chair and expected to remain there for a couple of hours.  The Pekingese disappeared.
But after a few moments she returned, her eyes wide with amazement.
“Mrs. Denver will see you,” she explained.  “Please come this way.”
They passed through another office and stood before a door marked General Manager.
“Don’t knock.  She doesn’t like it.”
“I had no intention of knocking,” Carolus couldn’t resist saying.
He opened the door, and entered a large area office furnished like that of an American executive. 
From behind a huge desk a dumpy business-like woman rose to greet him.
“I was expecting you, Mr. Deene,” she said.  “You’re a friend of Marie Morton’s.  She has just been on the ’phone to tell me you were coming.  Do sit down.”
Several preconceived notions were thus knocked out.  Margot Denver had nothing in the least mysterious about her and made no secret of her friendship with Marie or communication with her.  Carolus smiled as he recollected the trouble he had taken to purloin Marie’s telephone bill in order to discover that whom she had so often telephoned from Millgrove.  Margot seemed a commonplace, down-to-earth though presumably highly successful business woman.
“How is Marie?” she asked inevitably.
“She’s very well,” said Carolus, even more conventionally.
“Poor girl, she has had a time, hasn’t she?”
It was no good Carolus pretending that he did not understand this.
“I’m afraid she has.”
“She will insist on living alone.  I’ve begged her to come and stay with me.  We were school-friends, you know.”
“Yes.  She told me.”
“What a dreadful thing it was, about her sister, went on Margot chattily.  “It seemed for a time that Marie would never get over it.  It was just about the time I came here, you know, and had so much on my hands but I couldn’t do much for Marie.  “Though as a matter of fact I don’t think anyone could have.  She seems to want to go her own way in a crisis like that.”
“You have only been here five years, Mrs. Denver?
“Yes.  And building all the time.  I mean quite literally building.  When I took over this place it was an old-fashioned grocery shop with a lot of bad debts.  We had to work, I can tell you.”
Carolus wondered who ‘we’ were and a moment later learned.
“It’s a private company,” said Mrs. Denver.  “I am only the general manager.  But I have been chiefly responsible for building it up.”
“And I see from the advertisements that is the largest business of its kind in the North of England.”
“It is.  But I don’t suppose you’re interested in the growth of a supermarket.  Marie tells me that you dabble in detection.”
“That’s just about it,” said Carolus.  “I dabble.  Sometimes not very successfully.”
“It’s a pity you can’t find Desmond Flitcher,” said Margot Denver unemotionally.  That case can never be really cleared up till he’s been discovered and brought to trial.  I’m sure Marie feels that, too.”
“I don’t.  I think just the contrary.  She doesn’t seem to want the man found.”
“You’re mistaken, Mr. Deene.  She was devoted to her sister Jessie.  She give anything, even now, can know that Flitcher was no longer at large.”
“She doesn’t give me that impression.  She knows I have been working on this case and she won’t tell me anything that helps.”
“Could it be that she doesn’t trust you?”
“It could, of course.  I’ve only known her for a couple of months.  There’s no reason why she should trust me.  But I think it’s more than that.  Does she tell you everything about it?
“Gracious no.  I never asked her.  And she never asks me about this business.  We are, neither of us, interested in one another’s affairs.  In any case she’s always been a rather secretive girl.  You’ll stay to lunch, won’t you?  I usually have something in the office.”
“I should be delighted.  I’m afraid I’m rather an intruder.”
“Of course not.  You’re a friend of Marie’s.  I’m delighted that you’ve come here.  I so rarely see anyone interesting.”
“Did Marie tell you that she was kidnapped?” asked Carolus suddenly.
“She mentioned something about it.  A couple of thugs, wasn’t it?”
“Desmond Flitcher’s former associates.  They want to find him.”
“I bet they do.  He’s got the money, hasn’t he?”
“So far as is known.  They couldn’t get anything out of Marie.  I sent them to Spain.”
“To Spain?  That was risky, wasn’t it?  So obvious, I mean.  Surely they must have guessed that?”
“Apparently not.  They went off, anyway.  I’ve no doubt they’ll return, though.  Mrs. Denver, do you know where Desmond Flitcher is?”
It was so direct that Carolus thought she might be angry with him for the cheek of his demand.  But not at all.  She gave him a knowing, friendly smile.
“Of course not.  I’ve told you that Marie never discusses the thing with me.  As a matter of fact I doubt whether Marie herself knows any more than you or I.”
“But she knows other things.  A great many other things.  And sooner or later she will have to tell me.”
“I dropped into this thing casually at first.  I had come to Millgrove Water to retire and I heard the story in the pub.  I became intrigued when I met Marie and her sister Julie.  Now I’m in up to the neck.  If I don’t find out the truth it will be the first real failure I have had.  I’ve reached the age when I daren’t have a failure.  It would mean that I was no more good.  So I am going to clear it up, come heaven or high water.”
“I like your spirit,” said Margot.  Marie’s lucky to have you, whether she knows it or not.”
“Perhaps it’s just selfishness,” said Carolus.  “I must clear it up.  Even if it means spying on Marie.  Do you know where she stays in London, by the way?”
“In London?”  Margot seemed genuinely puzzled.  “No.  I never remember her going to stay in London.”
“She goes fairly often.  She has told me so herself and her sister has told me, too.  But she doesn’t tell Julie where she stays.”
“Nor me.  Shall we go through and have some lunch?”
Margot led him into a pleasant dining-room in which two places had been laid at a fairly large table.  A rather lugubrious-looking man, with a noticeably smooth complexion, was waiting to serve the meal.  He was in his late thirties and did not look at home as a waiter.
“I’m terribly sorry—I forgot to ask you what you would drink.  I don’t drink gin and stuff myself but we’ll have some champagne with lunch.”
Carolus settled for that in preference to ‘gin and stuff’.  He reflected that Margot might be, as she said, ‘only the general manager’ but she had made herself very comfortable in the Merseyside Supermarket.  Sitting beside her he had a better opportunity to study her face than in the office, where she had sat with her back to the window.  There was something curiously artificial about it, he decided, not the artificiality of preserved youthfulness; if anything she looked mature.  Perhaps as a business executive she just wanted to stress her experience rather than appear merely a promoted girl.  She was not a good-looking woman—there was a crunched up decisive look about her face, an almost witch-like proximity of nose and chin, but she carried it off with a liveliness of expression which made her interesting.  Since she had been at school with Marie, Carolus thought partially, she must have been a senior girl when Marie was a junior
The man who waited did so ungraciously and, from some instructions which Margot gave him, Carolus gathered that he was more usually employed as chauffeur.
As if by agreement neither Margot nor he discussed matters previously referred to, and Margot now seemed quite ready to tell him about the business of which she was obviously very proud. 
“I was fortunate in finding people who had confidence in me,” she said.  “But I’m not ashamed to claim most of the credit for making the business what it is now.  I could not have done it without capital, but capital alone would not have got me far.”
“No.  It needs imagination.  And daring, I suppose.”
“I don’t know about daring.  Investing other people’s money needs caution rather than daring.”
“But gambling with your own?”
“I had none.  Or almost none, when I started.  I had to find backers, and somehow inspire them with an idea.  It wasn’t easy.  But here we are.  Racking, will you fill Mr. Deene’s glass?”
So the gloomy chauffeur-waiter was called Racking.  Carolus watched him while he splashed some Veuve Clicquot into the glass.
“But you found them and they supported you.  Did any of them shew the vision you wanted?  Surely there must be someone who shares the credit for the Merseyside Supermarket?”
Whether Margot thought Carolus was pulling her leg, or whether she resented the suggestion that you should share the pride of achievement, was impossible to judge but she said, almost huffily, “No one in particular.  Just dull capitalists.”
“You didn’t let any of your friends in on it?”
“I had no friends of that kind.”  Then abruptly, because Racking was out of the room, “What does Marie think of it?”
“She doesn’t talk about it much, though she does talk about you.”
“Nicely, I hope?”
“Very nicely.”
“Good.  I tell you what, Carolus—I may call you Carolus, mayn’t I?—let’s surprise Marie.  Tomorrow is Saturday and I can free myself from my chains.  We’ll run down to Millgrove Water and see her.”
“I only heard she was coming back.  From her sister,” said Carolus dubiously.
“Oh, but she is back.  I told you she telephoned me of your coming.  Do let’s.  It will be great fun.  I long to go out on that lovely lake again and Marie needs someone to wake her up.  I’ll send Racking down with my car, to bring me back, and come with you in yours.”
Margot seemed genuinely enthusiastic over the idea and Carolus, though he did not for reasons of his own shew a like enthusiasm, did not try to dampen her.
“I love Millgrove Water,” went on Margot.  “I’ve only been there once, with Marie, but I thought it a most romantic place.  Those blue hills and the grey water.  Full of legends, too.  I shall love seeing it again.  I suppose, living there, you get blasé, but it’s heaven to me.  Do you swim every day?”
“I have a terrible confession to make.  I can’t swim,” said Carolus.  “I was partially paralysed as a small boy and terrified of the water because I couldn’t master it.  Since then—I suppose it’s a psychological thing—I have never been able to manage it, even a breast stroke.”
“But you won’t mind if I do?  I’m really thrilled with the idea of packing up here, even if it’s only for forty-eight hours or so.  I do work awfully hard, you see, and to visit that divine place again and give Marie a surprise will make me enormously happy.  Has she still got the old dinghy?”
“I expect so.  If not there are plenty of boats of all kinds there.”
“Of course.  So let’s go, eh?”
“Certainly.  We’ll go down tomorrow.  As you say, you can send your car ahead.  I hope you will stay in my house—there’s not much room in Marie’s and my housekeeper will make you comfortable.”
“Whatever you and Marie decide,” said Margot gaily.
“Shall I pick you up at your home tomorrow morning?” suggested Carolus.  “You have not told me where you live.”
For the first time Margot spoke hurriedly and emphatically.
“No, no.  Don’t trouble to do that.  You’d never find it.  Would you pick me up here?  I shall have to come in tomorrow morning, anyhow.  We can drive straight away from here.”  She grew enthusiastic again.  “What heaven it will be!”
Carolus could not help feeling that she was overdoing it somewhat and thought that if a week-end in a lakeside village meant so much to her she should indulge in it more often.  But he said nothing.
It was nearing noon next day when they set off in the Bentley, for Margot had been delayed at the Supermarket till then.
“Does Racking know the way?” asked Carolus.
“Oh yes!” exclaimed Margot.
Carolus glanced aside at her.
“He was with you when you went to call on Marie before, then?”
“Must have been.  Because I have a confession, too.  You can’t swim and I can’t drive.  Absurd, isn’t it?”
“It is, rather, for a tycoon like you,” said Carolus good-humouredly.  “Is he a good chauffeur?”
“I suppose so.  I find him a bit sissy, but I suppose he knows his job.”
“Been with you long?”
“Oh yes.  Some years.  I like Liverpool, don’t you?  But you can’t say the suburbs are very beautiful.”
“No.  We’ll soon be clear of them.  This must be one of the hottest days of the year.”
“Hooray,” said Margot.  “I shall swim.”
“I telephoned my housekeeper,” said Carolus.  “We’ll have lunch on the way and arrive about tea-time.  After that we’ll do whatever you and Marie like.  What car is Racking driving?”
“A Jag,” said Margot.  “But you won’t see him on the road.  He left last night.  I told him to stay at the Waterman.”
“I wonder why you did that?  I thought our coming was to be a surprise to Marie.”
“It will be.  She won’t recognize Racking.  He likes to go ahead like that.  It makes him feel important perhaps.  He takes my bags and so on.”
This made Carolus think deeply.

Death by the Lake, Chapter Nine

Death by the Lake


On the following morning, when Mr. Gorringer had decided to “indulge in a solitary ramble through this beautiful countryside”, Carolus was surprised by the arrival in his house of Julie Nantwich.
“Raggety May died last night,” Julie said, “in the local hospital.  Not long before the poor creature breathed her last she sent for me.”
Carolus waited to hear details, and Julie was eager to give them.
“Raggety May was a local character.  She’d been round here for years.  She was said to be a gypsy but that wasn’t true.  She was an old mumper and crazy as a coot.  What brought her to Millgrove Water I don’t know, but she seems to have strayed here in her wanderings and settled down.  She kept alive by begging, some very bogus fortune-telling, and sometimes a little farm work.  All the summer she slept in some kind of tent, a contraption of sacking and sticks, and in winter disappeared into a barn when she was allowed to do so by one of the local farmers.  She was quite harmless.  She had picked up the bit of fortune-telling somewhere along the road and it made people say it was lucky to help her.”
“Doesn’t sound as though she would fit in very well with the Welfare State.”
“No, but I think they left her alone.  There were attempts to get into some sort of institution but she resisted them like a wild cat.  She could act as though she was far madder than she was and that frightened her would-be benefactors.  She was finally brought into the hospital by the police because they saw she was dying.  I can’t honestly say that shall be much missed; she used to scare the children by talking to herself wherever she went and she was, of course, terribly dirty.”
“You say she sent for you.  Why was that?”
“I thought it was because I’d helped her sometimes.  Given her an old blanket and occasionally food.  But it wasn’t just that.  She had something to tell me.”
Julie seemed affected by more than the passing of Raggety May.  It turned out that she had been proved wrong in one particular and did not like this.
“Raggety May was often seen about at night.  This was one of the things that gave her a bad name among some people.  In a rural district like this it was felt that everyone should be in bed and asleep by midnight and Raggety May was apt to wander down the lanes, heavens knows why.  And among other places she would pass the cottage where Jessie and Desmond lived.”
Julie paused.
“I was wrong about one thing, Carolus.  You remember I told you that when I went to the cottage on the day after Desmond and Jessie were seen for the last time at the Rudyard Arms I was certain that she was not there?”
“You said that.  But you added that you thought if she were there she was dead.”
“Did I?  Then I was more right that I knew.  She was there, and she was dead.”
“This is what you have learned from Raggety May?”
“Yes.  The old creature sent for me because she had something on her mind, I suppose.  She couldn’t speak for a long time, then she managed to mutter ‘Your sister’ and I guessed what was coming.  ‘They murdered her at the cottage,’ she crooked.  I asked who they were.  She said there were two men.  ‘I saw them carrying her out in the night, all covered up.  She was dead, you could tell by the way they carried her and dropped her in a car.  Then they drove away.’
“Raggety May began to look rather wild and I was afraid I’d hear nothing more from her.  ‘Who were they?’ I asked again.  She didn’t speak for a long time but I persisted.  ‘Who were the two men carrying her out?’  She seemed to make an effort to concentrate.  ‘One was the fat man,’ she said at last.  I suppose she meant George Garrison.”
Carolus nodded.
“Probably,” he agreed.  “But wouldn’t she have known him?”
“Oh yes.  She hated George.  He had turned her out of his farmyard.”
“That doesn’t say much for the value of her testimony, does it?  If she hated him she may have invented the story.”
“I don’t think so.  ‘Truth sits upon the lips of dying men.’  If you’d seen the poor old woman, knowing she was about to die, I think you’d have believed her too.  I will tell you what I think.  I think Flitcher bribed or blackmailed George to help dispose of Jessie’s body and murdered him five years later when George seemed about to give him away.”
“That sounds very plausible,” said Carolus.  “But like everything else in this case it has no real evidence to support it—yet.  Couldn’t you get anything more from Raggety May?”
“I am afraid not.  I tried hard enough, asking her to the other man was, but she was already half a coma and that was all I heard.”
“Would she have known Desmond Flitcher by sight?”
“Not necessarily.  They had not been at the cottage long and it was usually from the wives that she begged.  She knew Jessie, though, and me and Marie.  Her sight was clear enough, although she had those red-rimmed rheumy eyes that many old mumpers have.  But it was presumably dark when she watched.  ‘In the night,’ she said, so she may not have recognized more than George who was so fat she couldn’t have missed him.”
“You don’t think she told the story to anyone else?”
“No.  I am pretty sure she didn’t, or she would not have made a point of telling me.  Most people on their deathbeds think only of themselves.”
“Do they?  Yes, I suppose so.  Perhaps she felt she had nothing to look forward to.”
“Oh, you’re a Catholic,” said Julie briskly.  “Anyhow, that’s the story.  Will it be any use to you?”
“Yes,” said Carolus inscrutably.  “Most valuable.”
“Are you getting any nearer to a solution of the whole thing?”
“I simply don’t know.  I may be.  I hope so.  It has made things so difficult between Marie and me.  I’d love to clear it up and finish with it.”
“Marie’s coming back tomorrow.  I had a wire from her last night.  Sent off from Charing Cross.”
“Good,” said Carolus.  “How about a glass of Madeira?”
“How clever of you!  Madeira at eleven o’clock.  Our grandparents used to do that sort of thing.  What a civilized life you lead!”
“My housekeeper doesn’t think so.  Do you, Mrs. Stick?” he added as the little woman appeared with a tray.
“It’s all according, sir,” she replied.  “There’s some who’d say it isn’t hardly civilized to go poking about where there’s been a murder.  Tastes differ.”
“Even now,” said Carolus to Julie, too absorbed in his thoughts to be mindful of the presence of Mrs. Stick, “even with the evidence of Raggety May we don’t know much more about the disposal of the body.  It was ‘dropped’—that was the word—in . . . why, what’s the matter, Mrs. Stick?”
“You know very well what’s the matter, sir, and I’m sure Mrs. Nantwich would excuse me if I say it makes me upset to listen to you!”  She went out closing the door very carefully lest she should be thought to bang it.
“Yes,” Carolus continued unperturbed.  “It was ‘dropped’ in the car.  And then what?”
“I don’t know,” said Julie.  “I hate to think of that part of it.  Like Mrs. Stick, I get upset.”
“Has it ever occurred to anyone to think of the lake?”
“Oh, I expect so.  The lake seems very much a part of our life here.”
“Did Desmond and Jessie have a boat?”
“Yes.  A little sailing dinghy with an outboard motor, which had belonged to all three of us girls.  They were often on the lake.  ”
“Swimming, too, perhaps?”
“Often.  They both swam well, Desmond particularly.  He swam across the lake from side to side three times in a morning which was quite an achievement.  Jessie could only manage it once.  It’s nearly two miles across.  Even that seemed impressive to Marie and me.  I couldn’t swim very much and Marie not at all.”
“I sometimes find it very hard to get the picture of these two people.  Swimming and yachting together.  Enjoying themselves.  Indulging in public buffoonery.”
“That was Desmond.”
“It doesn’t add up to the likelihood of murder, though, does it?  A sense of humour is not often part of the murderer’s make up.”
“You forget what Desmond’s past was.  He had already killed a man.”
“I’m sorry to go back to the morbid past of those events.  I’d much rather—as I’m sure you would—remember the two of them swimming together in the lake.  But one has to think of uglier possibilities.  And Raggety May’s story does remind us that there were other ways, besides burial under the roadway, to get rid of the body.  How deep is the lake?”
“About ninety feet, I believe.”
“There are effective ways of weighting a body, you know, without risk of its ever rising to the surface or being washed ashore.”
“Don’t, Carolus.”
“I know.  It’s pretty grim for you.  But I am afraid I want to go further, and ask you again about those bloodstains.”
“I only know what was in the papers,” said Julia hurriedly.  “Jessie was in a rare blood group and the bloodstains corresponded to it.
“How rare?  Could it have been anyone else’s in Millgrove?”
“I understand not.  I gather this was considered at the time but the police were satisfied that it was Jessie’s blood which was spilt.”
“Yet the bloodstain was found on the morning after Desmond and Jessie was seen together for the last time at the Rudyard Arms.  No blood stains were found at the cottage, I suppose?”
Julie looked startled.
“At the cottage?  No.  It was never suggested, anyway.”
“So that if Jessie was murdered near the road work, and if Raggety May’s story is true, your sister’s body was taken back to the cottage and kept there for two days until the ‘two men’ carried it out and dropped it in the back of the car?”
“It does sound improbable, doesn’t it?  But I suppose that’s what must have happened.”
“And then disposed of it in some way about which we know nothing?”
“You’re coming back to the lake.  I somehow don’t think that’s the solution.  For one thing, someone would surely have seen them taking a boat out.”
“Would they?  I suppose Raggety May gave no hint of the time at which she had seen all that?”
“No.  She said it was at night, that’s all.”
“It would not have been unusual for her to be wondering about until the small hours of the morning?”
“Not at all.  She was often seen, by early risers, still on the road.”
“Then why are you so sure,” said Carolus, filling Julie’s glass from a bottle of Sercial, “why are you so sure that the two men would have been observed?  They might have had a boat at some other point on the lake.”
“Possible, I suppose.”
I know from Ben Tanner that George Garrison was out with his car late on the second night after the Flitchers left the Rudyard Arms.  The night, presumably, on which Raggety May saw ‘the fat man’.  But I don’t know what time it was.”
“You can scarcely expect to, can you?  After all this was five years ago and anyhow Raggety May never knew the time—or even the day of the year.”
“But I would be glad of a pointer,” said Carolus.
“You are determined to think that poor Jessie’s body was dumped in the lake?”
“Not determined, Julie.  I am still floundering, as I told you, though I am beginning to have a few ideas.  Coming back to the main road theory . . .”
“And forgetting the lake?”
“For the moment.  And in this connection, yes.  Coming back to the main road, your old friend Raggety May’s story does dispose of one awkward problem.”
“I’m delighted to know it.  I rather liked the old thing.  What problem?”
“Just this.  Why nothing was found when they broke the surface of the road.  I saw a man called Morrow who worked on the construction, and he said nothing would have been found.  But I take leave to differ from an expert and say that’s impossible.  Jessie, according to his wife, was wearing a smart grey coat and skirt.”
“That’s right.  She was.  On that last evening.”
“And it doesn’t matter how many tons of concrete were dropped, the body of a fully-clothed woman would have left some traces, if the concrete was broken up, as apparently it was, with a major road-breaking operation.”
“Then how does Raggety May’s story tie up with that?”
“Simply because if a body was put where it would be covered by concrete on the following day, it would not have been found where are the police searched.  They would have supposed it was buried at the time at which the bloodstains were made, that is on the night which the Flitcher’s left the Rudyard Arms for the last time.  But if, Raggety May says, this was two nights later, the road would have progressed so many feet or yards since then.”
“Of course it would!”
“And nothing would have been found at the spot in which they broke the road.”
“Oh, very ingenious.  In other words with a calendar . . .”
“And the construction engineer’s work diary, it would have been possible to find the exact spot.”
“You mean it would still be possible?”
Something must remain.  But I should need a lot more evidence than that to persuade anyone connected with the Law, the police, the press or Parliament to authorize the spending of several thousand pounds in finding out.  Not to mention the closure of the road to traffic while they were doing it.”
“And in any case,” said Julie,  “since they have never arrested Desmond, what would be the point?  Proving that a murder has been committed and the body buried would not help much when they can’t find the man who did it.”
“No.  But I haven’t finished with the case.”
“I wish you would, Carolus.  Its beginning to make me feel as I did in the first few days after it happened.  And you’ve seen the effect on Marie.”
“I can only press on regardless,” said Carolus smiling.  “I’m going to Liverpool tomorrow to see that friend of Marie’s, Margot Denver.  It’s a long shot, but there must be a solution somewhere, however confused it is.”
“Yes.  There must be.  But whether we’ll be glad to have discovered it or not I don’t know.”
“I think you will.  Whatever it is.  Doubt in things like this is the hardest to bear.  Ah, here is Mr. Gorringer.  Mrs. Nantwich, my former head master.
The two greeted one another, Mr. Gorringer with notable formality.
“Deene has most considerately confided in me the details of the investigation on which he is engaged,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “From them, I recognize your name, Mrs. Nantwich.”
“Oh yes,” said Julie.  “I was just saying I wish Carolus had not started on the case, though I encouraged him at the beginning.”
“It is not the first time, said Mr. Gorringer tactlessly, “that someone who had invited our good Deene to investigate has had cause to regret it.  His tenacity is remarkable.  But now let me say that I have this morning chanced on some evidence which may be of considerable use to you, Deene.”
“Really?”  Carolus did not mean to sound incredulous, but that was certainly the effect.
“At a point on the far side of the lake to which I had come in the course of my most pleasurable ramble, I chanced on a fellow pedestrian, a clergyman as it happened, and as solitary travellers do, we fell into conversation.”
“Yes?” said Carolus, who appeared spellbound.
“He turned out to be a curate from the local parish church of St. Barnabas-on-the-Water, and therefore, I considered, a man whose evidence was likely to be trustworthy.
“He was steeped in local legendry and myth and told me of a number of events that had taken place in the vicinity.”
“Please be patient, Deene.  One of these was so singular that it seemed relevant to your own equally insoluble problem.  It appeared that a boating party put out on the lake at nightfall . . .”
“I’m sorry to interrupt you, headmaster, but this happened in the last century.”
“I am perfectly aware that it happened in the last century.  In 1889, to be precise.  But is that any reason why someone who had heard the story might not attempt to repeat it in 1971?”
“Well, no,” admitted Carolus.  “But no one, of whom we know, has attempted to repeat it, so where does that leave us?”
“Does it not suggest to your fertile mind something connected with the disposal of the body?”
Julie, who was evidently sorry for Mr. Gorringer, interrupted.
“You have just been saying that it might have been weighted and dropped in the lake, Carolus!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Nantwich.  I am glad to know that I haven’t started a hare after all.  The curate, Mr. Wilkes, was most convincing.  None of the boating party was ever seen again and there was no sign of the boat which must have sunk without trace in ninety feet of water.”
“Nowadays we should use divers to examine it or even bring it to the surface, and a picturesque legend would have been lost.”
“I suppose so,” said Mr. Gorringer regretfully.  “But even eighty years ago one would have supposed that the bodies would have been recovered.  However, I sought to aid your present investigations, not to give you further cause for speculation.”
“Perhaps you have, headmaster,” said Carolus more kindly.  “Have another glass of Madeira?”