Death by the Lake
Carolus did not expect to see Marie’s visitor again, or at any rate not for some time, but in this he was mistaken for he came into the Rudyard Arms that evening just as Carolus had settled down to chat, as he usually did, with Bill Rudge.
Carolus watched him as he went up to the bar and was interested to notice that Bill Rudge was watching him too.
“Do you know that man?” he asked Bill.
Bill made the same reply as Marie had done.
“I’ve never seen him before in my life,” he said.
“Then why are you looking at him so closely?”
“Awkward sort of character, that,” replied Bill, as though in explanation of his own interest. “Something I don’t like about him.”
Carolus had time to examine the man more carefully. He wore rather smart new clothes but his suit was not tailor-made and his tie was ill-chosen. Those thick lenses hid the expression in his eyes, giving him an enigmatic look without good nature. He looked as Bill had said ‘an awkward sort of character’ like a bull with hidden eyes.
On his usual principle of giving information in order to obtain it, Carolus said, “He called at Marie’s cottage this afternoon.”
“Oh, did he? What did he want?”
“She wouldn’t tell me exactly. She only said ‘information’.”
“That’s enough, isn’t it? Going to tackle him?”
“Perhaps. In my own way.”
After a few minutes Carolus went up to the bar.
“I think you know a friend of mine,” he said.
The man, who looked older from close at hand, nearing forty, Carolus thought, gave him a look without any friendliness in it at all.
“Friend of yours?” he repeated.
“Yes. You called at the cottage this afternoon.”
The man’s face remained expressionless.
“Oh yes. I called at a cottage to ask the way.”
“The way to where?”
“The way I wanted to go. Who are you?”
“My name is Deene. I happened to be in that cottage when you called. I should choose some other house to call at next time you want to make inquiries about the way, if I were you.”
The man looked nonplussed but hostile.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “I wanted to ask the way. Same as anyone might.”
“Is that all you wanted to ask? I thought you might be inquiring about something—someone—quite different.”
“Oh you did? Well, it’s nothing to do with you, is it?”
“I don’t know. I fancy it may be very much to do with me. I fancy we shall meet again, you and I, and it won’t be a social occasion.”
“You fancy a lot. The best thing you can do is to go back to your friend over there and lay off me.”
“It’s my incurable curiosity,” explained Carolus mildly. As soon as I saw you come in I found myself wondering what the man I had seen at Miss Morton’s door this afternoon what’s here in Millgrove. Information, of course. But what information? And why? Such teasing questions. Certain things of course were obvious about you with your past history. But not the things I wanted to know.”
“Have you quite finished?” asked the man with half-suppressed fury.
“Not nearly,” said Carolus.
“I don’t know whether to smash your face in.”
“I shouldn’t try, if I were you. Quite apart from the fact that I should have to shew you what the nearest smattering of judo was needed to throw you into the street and give you the old leather, it would call attention to your visit here. And we don’t want that, do we?”
“You’re crackers, that’s what you are,” said the man with an ugly little smile. “Quite, quite crackers. And what the effing hell d’you mean by talking about my past history?”
“I thought that would go home. You know the answer, don’t you? You carry it about with you. Now I’m going to give you some advice. You won’t find what you’re looking for here, so don’t waste time. Get out of the place while the going’s good.”
“Or else I shan’t be satisfied with a little friendly talk over the bar another time. No. You needn’t ask. I’m not the Law. I am not nearly so well behaved as the Law. I know a great deal about you and I shall know a lot more if you give me cause to find out. Can’t you see I’m giving you a chance? Get out and stay out, and don’t enquire into things that don’t concern you. No one here has the information you want.”
The man forced a laugh.
“I’ve never heard so much crap talked in my life. D’you always go up to strangers and talk like this? You ought to be put away. Coming up to a stranger and going on like that.”
“Not quite a stranger,” said Carolus.
The big man turned to the bar, swallowed what remained of his drink and without a word to Carolus or the barman made for the door. Carolus followed, but only to notice the make and number of the car he was driving. Then he returned to Bill Rudge.
“I was bluffing,” he admitted. “Not very effectively, I’m afraid. I puzzled our friend more than he puzzled me. But I’m no nearer to finding out who killed George Garrison.”
“Do you think he’ll be round here again?” asked Bill.
“Not openly. That’s certain. But it’s all that is certain. You were quite right, Bill. A very awkward sort of character.”
“I didn’t like the look of him.”
“Tell me, Bill didn’t you say that Desmond Flitcher did a mail robbery with two other men?”
“That’s it. But they were caught. Got five years each.”
“I thought so. Allowing for remission, three years and four months.”
“You think that’s one of them?”
“I think he has been inside.”
“So that’s it. He’s come back to find Flitcher and get his share.”
“But surely this is the last place to look for Flitcher? Unless you believe the stories about him being seen in Millgrove?”
“I certainly listen to them. And anything else that’s said about him.”
“Why didn’t you follow that character? It would have been easy with your car.”
“Not so easy. I wouldn’t have gone ten miles before he knew I was tailing him. Besides, he’ll turn up again. Quite soon, probably, wherever he’s gone.”
“And lead the way to Flitcher?”
“That’s what he’s hoping I shall do. Or will be when he thinks over what I’ve said. That’s if we’re right about him. It’s only a guess, remember. A lot of people you meet, quite ordinary-seeming people, have done time. We can’t assume he’s one of Flitcher’s associates.”
Bill shook his head but it was evident that he did not willingly relinquish this promising assumption.
“What else are you on two?” he asked Carolus.
“Nothing much. Marie will tell me nothing and I’m not going to badger her to do so. Julie knows nothing, unless I’m very much mistaken. You’ve told me everything you know. Unless I find a break-through somewhere I’m stymied.”
“I told you about this man Morrow,” Bill reminded him.
“Oh yes. In charge of the road works.”
“Not the engineer. I suppose you’d call him the foreman. But he seemed to be quite important. He’s moved away from here now. He’s working on the M 22.”
“Over the border. Lowlands of Scotland. But I can find out where he is. He married a local woman when he was here and took her with him. Her people will know. Why? Do you think he’s worth trying?”
“Everything is, in a case like this. If you let me know where he is I’ll run up and see him tomorrow, Sunday.”
When he had the address, in the small Midlothian borough of Dunstoun, Carolus wondered whether he should invite Marie to accompany him. He would have liked to do so but it emphasised the contradictory nature of the whole relationship. He was going in order to investigate something which affected Marie, something on which she might be able to him to inform him herself, but she maintained her strange silence about the past which both recognized. How could he invite her as though his mission were a pleasurable drive into the Scottish Lowlands? If, and only if, the shadow of mystery could be lifted he and Marie could be friends, as, in the first days of their acquaintance before the call at the door which had frightened her, he had hoped they would be. He decided to go alone.
Throughout the long drive northward, Carolus considered this. He had not any great hope of an important revelation from Morrow but the old curiosity, the old determination to find out the truth which had brought him through a score of investigations, was fully awake in him now. Morrow had been in charge of the work in that particular section of the M 16 at the time of the events which had first roused his curiosity and left their mark on the whole population of Millgrove Water. His information had been important enough to interest the investigating CID men and he had, according to Bill Rudge, been cross-examined several times. Although the basic mystery, the belief in Jessie Flitcher’s burial under the road and the disappearance of Fletcher himself and been lately complicated by the murder of George Garrison and the appearance of the caller at Marie’s cottage, that seemed to constitute the heart of the matter and Carolus had enough confidence in his gift for eliciting information to believe that something, even after five years, might come from what Morrow had to tell him. If Morrow could be induced to talk at all.
He reached Dunstoun and found its cobbled streets and grey buildings reminiscent of a town in northern France. It was not oppressively sabbatarian though he arrived as many of its people were on their way to evening service in the several churches and chapels. He left his car in a car-park and made for the address which Bill Rudge had discovered for him.
“Mr. Morrow?” he asked confidently when the door was opened by a tall middle-aged man who examined him closely.
“That’s me,” he said cheerfully. “Wanted to see me, did you?”
There was nothing north country about his speech. Carolus decided that he probably came from London, or at any rate the Home Counties.
“Yes. I come from Millgrove Water,” said Carolus as though that were all the explanation he needed to give.
“Do you now? I remember the place. Not likely to forget it, I suppose. What brings you from there, if I may ask?”
Standing on the doorstep Carolus knew that he must justify his visit and his impression of Morrow was that he would accept frankness.
“I went to live there a few months ago,” he said. “Retired. I like the place. But since I’ve been there I have been told a great deal about what the people of Millgrove call ‘our murder’. I’ve always been interested in crime and somehow I’ve got caught up in this one. Bill Rudge told me about you . . .”
“I remember Bill Rudge.”
“And thought you might be willing to give me a tip or two.”
Morrow had watched him narrowly during this recital and now said, “Come in. I’m all on my own this evening. The wife’s gone to church.”
Carolus followed him into a neat unpretentious sitting room.
“So you’re trying to find the truth about that old murder, are you? I suppose they’ve never caught the chap who did it? No, and never will, very likely. He was a clever villain.”
“They haven’t,” said Carolus. “But just lately there has been another murder. Chap named Garrison who was supposed to be a friend of Flitcher. They haven’t found out about this one, either. Or if they have, they haven’t made arrest.”
“Garrison? Big fat chap used to come in the Rudyard with Fletcher and Jessie?”
“No idea who’s done it?”
“Well . . .”
“You don’t want to say. Quite right. It doesn’t do to know to much. Well, I don’t know whether there’s anything I can tell you. It’s a long time ago and I told the police what I knew. And it’s not easy to explain.”
“The road-construction, I mean. There’s a good many think they know all about it, but when it comes to it they don’t know anything at all. However, if you want to ask me, I’ll try to put it in simple language for you. Even the wife doesn’t follow all of it. She says it’s too complicated for her. Well, it is complicated, all the various processes and that. It takes a lifetime of study.”
Carolus recognized this is something of an obsession with Mr. Morrow, and was warned not to behave as though he found the other’s profession an easy one to understand.
“In the first place, what made the police so sure he buried her under the road?” proceeded Mr. Morrow, posing the very question which Carolus wanted to ask and as promptly answering it. “Well, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? They left the pub that night and drove up to where we were making the road . . .”
“How did you know that?”
“Found this bloodstain next morning, didn’t we? Only we didn’t think anything about it at the time. We had no reason to. No one was missing that we knew of. It might have been some animal’s blood all we knew. It was only afterwards when they came to analyse it and that and found out it was Jessie Flitcher’s that they thought anything about it. Then the whole thing was clear. How he’d driven her up to the point we’d got to, done for her and put her where the next lot of concrete would bury her next morning.”
“But it didn’t. I mean they broke up the surface and found no sign.”
“Ah. That’s where it comes in knowing something about road-construction. I could have told them they’d find nothing. Drop a few tons of concrete on a dead body and nothing remains of it.”
“How can it? Just imagine what a few, well twenty or thirty tons of concrete going down on a human frame will make of it. It would be obliterated. Wiped out. Nothing left of it at all. That’s what happened to her, poor girl.”
Mr. Morrow paused impressively.
“But they’d have charged him if they caught him. You don’t need to produce the corpse nowadays before you try anyone for murder. There have been several cases like that. They knew he’d done it, didn’t they? He’d have Gone Down all right. But they never did find him, so there it is.”
“You say that it was on the morning after the Flitchers left the Rudyard Arms together that you found this bloodstain?”
“That’s right. Didn’t think anything of it at the time . . .”
“Was there any sign of a car having been driven up there?”
“That’s what we shall never know for sure. Some of the chaps say there was and some never noticed. The old road ran alongside and that’s where they would have driven. I personally believe he left the car on the old road and did for her at the very spot on the new road where he was going to bury her. You wouldn’t have seen any tracks then.”
“But no one noticed anything about the new road at that point? I mean you didn’t see any signs of disturbance of the surface which might have led you to think . . .”
“Not at the time we didn’t, or we’d very soon have done something about it. One or two of them thought afterwards they’d noticed noticed something but I can’t say I did. It wasn’t really my responsibility. I was in charge of the whole piece of construction, on the practical level I mean, and it wasn’t my place to go poking about with what we laid down yesterday. There was some said I ought to have done, mind you. But that only shews what they know. Who’s going to expect a body to be covered up ready to have a load of concrete dropped on it? And mind you I’m only saying concrete to explain the process to you. Construction materials are far more complicated than that. Anyway, it wasn’t for me to interfere with what we’d done on the chance of finding a corpse under it. I’d got too much to think about. And it wasn’t for the best part of a week that anything was thought back on.”
“How do you mean?”
“It was only when the police found out who this Flitcher was and how he’d disappeared that they began to think anything. He stayed at his cottage for two nights after he’d murdered her, anyway. Then he went off in the night.”
“Did you see him during those two days?”
“No. But plenty did. They never saw her, though, because she was dead and buried.”
“Tell me, Mr. Morrow. Wasn’t there a night watchman on the spot?”
“Not on the spot there wasn’t. Best part of half a mile away where did the diversion was. He never saw anything, either. Well, he wouldn’t, would he? If the car went past him on the old road he’d never have thought anything about it. There’s several used to drive out there—young couples generally. You wouldn’t expect old Munsey the night watchman to go peering in their windows like the Law used to do in London, would you? He was a decent old boy and minded his own business.”
There was another pause.
“I tell you what, said Morrow. “My wife will be back from church in a minute and she might have something to tell you. She comes from Millgrove Water and remembers it all, better than what I do. From the non-technical point of view, that is. She doesn’t know anything about road-construction because, as I tell you, that takes years of study. But she has her own ideas about people which is another thing.”
Mrs. Morrow in due course appeared, a large serious woman who listened to her husband’s explanation of Carolus’s visit without much comment.
“What I’d like to know, she said, “is what made that Jessie Flitcher go with him to the road work at all. She must have known what he was. Why did she walk right into it, as you might say?”
“Perhaps she trusted him,” suggested Morrow.
Carolus made no comment but seemed to be thinking over Mrs. Morrow’s words.
“But she knew he was a robber,” she argued. “You wouldn’t think that anyone who knew what she did about his past would go out there with him at night so that he could do for her without anyone seeing. Jessie wasn’t a fool.”
“She was fool enough to marry him,” Morrow pointed out.
“Then again, wouldn’t you haven’t thought there’d have been some sign of a struggle? I know I would.”
“They were quite friendly at the Rudyard Arms that evening. I do know that.”
“Oh yes, I know,” said Mrs. Morrow. “I noticed them, which was more than you did, Herbert. I was sitting quite close to them in the ‘Arms’. She had on a new grey coat and skirt. Very smart she looked.”
“Trust a woman to notice that. What use is that as a bit of observation?”
“I find it interesting,” said Carolus. “Did you tell the police that?”
“No. I can’t say I did. It didn’t seem all that important. She must have been buried in it, Poor woman. They found all her other things at the cottage when they searched it after he’d disappeared. He’d taken all his, of course, and left hers where they were. Or that’s what I was told. It doesn’t really bear thinking about, does it? And they still haven’t found the man.”
“That’s what Mr Deene’s come about. He’s going to find him.”
“Well, I hope you do. I thought he was a horrible man. I said so all along, didn’t I? All that jumping about. Like a cat burglar. And those eyes of his.”
Soon afterwards Carolus took his leave. His visit to the Morrows had not been wasted.