Ramona runs into Millicent’s great friend Commander Charles and pumps him for information at a posh tea; whereupon she receives some vital information and bursts in on the lawyer’s office of Siegel and Siegel.
The next day, unwilling to sit in my room, straining to hear the phone ring the length and breadth of what would be a very long day, I took the 9:26 to London. I had few plans besides wandering the halls of the Victoria and Albert, attending an hour service at one of the grander churches, lunch, and then, if nothing else came about, the cinema.
Emerging from services at St. Mark the Apostle I saw it was not yet two. I sighed, pulled my gloves on, contemplating the cavernously empty afternoon. After a cool beginning, the day had warmed, the air unpleasantly close against my neck and shoulders. I decided I could do with a walk. I wound my way to Belgravia, window-shopping, popping into the chemist’s for a set of plasters, taking a fizzy lemonade at a café, and then arriving at Millicent’s flat, seemingly without realizing it had been my destination all along. I stood across the street, searching for a handkerchief in my handbag, taking a sidelong glance at the closed curtains, the darkened windows as I blotted my damp brow and neck. No journalists lingered outside, only a doorman, and a more imposing person than the last, I thought. She was beginning to seem as remote, as phantasmal as her pictures in the paper, and I suppose I craved some concrete proof of her existence. But if she was there I saw no evidence at all.
I continued my idle perambulations, window shopping, and, feeling a bit bruised, even with my account, at the sight of so many pretty frocks and hats, decided I must attend to my rumbling stomach. Earlier, a waitress had removed the lunch I’d hardly touched with a reproving look; how, even then, we still hated to waste food. I’d skipped breakfast entirely; if I wasn’t careful I’d lose the weight I’d struggled to gain, or risk another near-faint. I glanced at my watch. I didn’t want to go back to my room yet. The Tiny Top, a tea shop near Markum St., a little dreary perhaps, but comfortable, would be open. I started towards the tube when a hand touched my arm.
“Miss Bright!” a voice exclaimed. “Is it you?”
I looked up into Commander Charles’ face.
“It is! Well, this is a surprise! How are you?” He grimaced. “I suppose that is a ridiculous question with all this Depillar nonsense.”
“As well as can be expected,” I said. “And yourself?”
“Oh, all right. But it’s just awful, isn’t it? Poor Millie. Look, I was heading for tea at the Carlyle—help soak up the martinis I had at the club—trying to keep up with an old Field Marshall from ‘Inja,’ the original hollow leg—and one that hates to drink alone, natch. We never did get around to lunch. I’m the tiniest bit sizzled, I don’t mind saying. Why don’t you join me? Do say you will.”
I felt a sudden, sharp longing to go followed by keen awareness of my reflection in the shop window.
He mistook my hesitation. “I’m not inviting you to pump you for details. Honor bright.”
“Oh! No. It’s more…” I glanced at myself the away. “I’m not sure I’m quite dressed.”
“You’re much nicely dressed than the usual matrons. Most of ‘em look like pouter pigeons in Chanel. The rest is a hideous sea of well-worn tweed.”
I hesitated, seeing if this untruthful balm could do its work. “Well…”
“Come now. No, I insist.”
“It would be lovely.”
“We’ll order the most grotesque tea imaginable,” he smiled, and I caught a whiff of gin. “I’m starving.”
We had been seated in a quiet corner of the Carlyle where a piano played some muted music hall tunes, “Roamin’ in the Gloamin” and “Stop Your Tickling, Jock.” Iris arrangements sat on the tables, their ruffled outline reminding of a coifed poodle heads. The anticipation of a treat hovered above the room like a benevolent miasma.
“Yes, I’ve rung too, but only get that very discouraging butler. I take it you haven’t talked to her either?”
I opened my napkin to hide my shameful and jejune gladness at Charles being thwarted; I disliked the idea of anyone talking to Millicent before I did.
“No, I haven’t spoken to her either,” I said.
“Oh, I’m not really surprised. She’s always like that in a crisis. Wants to be left alone. When Vivien died, I don’t believe even I saw her for a month,” he said. “Hope that new husband of hers is able to stop his bloody smells and bells to take care of her. Oh, I suppose that’s unfair. But you know how devoted I am to Millie.” He gave his napkin a sharp shake and put it on his lap, his voice growing arch. “And frankly, I don’t know nor care whether or not she did this Depillar chap in; I know if she did, she had good reason.” He glanced at me and relented. “Well, that’s a ridiculous thing to say, especially, as I’m outraged that anyone is suggesting it. I nearly got in a row last night, as a matter of fact,” he laughed. “Millie’s just the type everyone wants to take down a peg. People are being perfectly horrid. And the papers…!”
We both regarded the tablecloth, contemplating the awfulness of the press. Or perhaps he did; I was imagining being a person that generates such interest.
“Yes. Well. I imagine she’ll emerge out of this on top. She always does.” He cleared his throat. “Nothing I wouldn’t do for the old girl. She’s been rather good to me, you know. After Reggie.” He looked at me directly then, to see if I understood.
“Oh, ah, yes,” I said, and saw this wasn’t sufficient. I cleared my throat. “Yes. You and he were—great friends.”
“That we were,” he said. “Great friends.”
He scanned my face and I wanted so much to seem a woman of the world I could tell I was in danger of demonstrating quite the reverse with the uncomfortable smile that was beginning to grow rigid. Fortunately, the waitress arrived. By tacit agreement we avoided the subject of Millicent while we waited for tea. He told amusing stories about the “old sot,” his drinking friend, with practiced ease. He must be much sought after by the hostesses of London as a dinner party guest. Quite soon though, two silver towers of cakes and sandwiches and tea arrived.
“I appreciate, Commander,” I said, as we tucked in to coconut cakes and sandwiches. “That you aren’t going to pump me this afternoon. But is there any possibility that I may pump you?”
He grinned. “I’d be delighted.”
“You really don’t mind?” I smoothed my napkin on my lap. “You may think me the most awful nosey parker.”
“Everyone is—keen fact of life,” he said. “Do go on.”
I tried to gather my thoughts, but they refused to be organized in any manner.
“Is Mrs. Depillar a very jealous sort of person?” I blurted out. “She seems to quite dislike Millicent,” I saw his surprise and felt myself flush. “But of course you’d simply loathe the woman that had an affair with your husband, I do understand that, it’s just—oh, it seems something more.” I felt his eyes on me. “Oh, dear. I’m not making any sense….”
“No, no. You’re quite right. Been downright vindictive. Using the press unmercifully. She does hate Millie. But not because of her husband.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Pippa’s a lesbian.”
“Pardon?” I started.
“Oh, yes. Sapphic as they come.” He grinned; my expression must have been foolish with surprise. “I only know because my sister went to Wycombe Abbey, where Pippa was quite the little Lothario.. And then three—no, four years ago—much more sensationally, I ‘bumped into’ dear Pippa holidaying in Capri. A good portion of the hotel was devoted to women and their lovers. She was supposed to be in Rome, incidentally.”
“Well, actually,” he leaned in confidentially. “ ‘Bumped into’ is not quite the right term…stumbled over would be more apt… oh, what the hell, I’ll give you the whole dish. I was my way back to my pensionne, having escaped the most boring party—old Sicilian fairy and his ghastly fairy friends waxing nostalgic over Berlin—and cycling along the beach, don’t you know I came across a midnight frolic: Pippa and her secretary, flowered bathing caps and nothing else,” he widened his eyes in theatrical surprise. It occurred to me he really was rather drunk. “Dear Pippa—well, I credit her, at least, for taste. That secretary was a sylph of the old school. I nearly wanted to make love to her.” He grinned. “Oh dear, I’m speaking rather more frankly than I intended. In martini veritas.” He coughed.
“But really, those delicious looks of Pippa’s have thrown everybody off—one always thinks of over-sized field hockey players with hungry eyes and meaty hands. Mmm…so, to answer your question, jealousy—if you mean sexual jealousy, anyway—is rather improbable, especially considering the agreement she and Depilliar had. The usual thing: as long as there were heirs, he could have his dalliances, and so could she.”
“Eh, I see. I wasn’t aware of the circumstances,” I said, and nearly flushed; there could be no reason I would. But he seemed to understand I hadn’t been trying to bracket myself with their set.
“Almost nobody does. She does go on, hiring her lovers as secretaries, whilst teasing various susceptible fellows—like our friend Bainbridge Tarris—to madness, falling back on the ‘honorable married woman.’ Clever girl, Pippa. Glad she’s never taken a dislike to me.”
“Why does Mrs. Depillar despise Millicent then?” I could feel my eyes widen as the thought hit me. “She wasn’t…fond of Millicent…”
“Ha!” he laughed, a fraction louder than was polite. “No, no. Nothing like that. Far more problematic than mere ‘perversion.’ No, Millicent did what she usually does—speaking plainly what everyone else is thinking.”
I motioned for him to continue, a few flakes of coconut fluttering to the table cloth.
“Pippa’s family. It wasn’t simply that they’re parvenus. There’s plenty of new rich; it’s becoming almost fashionable as long as they are a touch arty, with the way Caroline is carrying on. No, Millicent merely observed Pippa’s father had been a thumping bore, her brother an idiot and her mother was a pinch-faced charwoman from Liverpool wearing far too many diamonds. All empirically true, may I add—except for the latter part about the diamonds, which may be a matter of opinion, although truly, I’m not sure if the Queen ever wore half so much.”
“Really? I hadn’t realized Brasso-Off was quite so…successful.”
“Oh, yes. Pippa’s Pa may have been dull, he was dead on about making the pounds roll in. Amassed an absolute fortune. What further indication does one need that a man is not to the manor born? Everything the ‘ruling class’ touches turns to ruination and taxes.” He popped a wedge of cake in his mouth. “God, that’s delicious. Don’t make it better anywhere. Why coconut and sugar should be such ambrosia—but, oh dear—where was I—yes—I met Pappa Pippa a few times.”
“That’s the man. Mr. Brasso-Off himself. Nearly impossible, you’d think, for a divinely rich and handsome man to be such a bore, but oh dear, he was, he was. Deadly. The kind that comes only once in an age. Talked incessantly, about self-improving regimens and cold baths, clean air, ad naseum. ‘If only he’d be quiet so we might look at him,’ Lady Weston said to me once—she was ninety if she was a day—but summed it up rather nicely.”
“Have you never seen a picture? There’s one in the National gallery now. An Adonis with golden moustaches. Friend of mine said he’d come upon him changing in a Turkish bath and said he had the most magnificent figure of a man he’d ever seen—and certainly, he’d seen a few.” He looked amused. “Well, he managed eventually to drop the accent and speak almost decently. Must have worked like a coolie for that. Still, of course, one never forgot. And that wife of his—absolute disaster. She was treated abominably by some of the older families, even after he bought the peerage; there’s no way round that. But still, a thoroughly dreadful woman. People laughed, and not always behind her back. Hard not to, with her screaming at servants who knew far better than she.”
“So you can imagine, Miss Bright—having a little taste of our gladsome gang at Helvstead—how Millicent’s remarks gained a bit more with each retelling, the proverbial vitriolic snowball. By the time it got back to Pippa, well, it sounded like Millicent was accusing her family of being chimpanzees or some such thing. From Millicent, who couldn’t be more of the right set, especially after those fantastic marriages. Rather galling for Pippa especially as our dear Millie doesn’t give a hang what society thinks .”
I nodded and toyed with my coconut cake. “Did you—know Edward Depillar?”
He looked unsurprised. “Not very well, but, yes. Out and about, I saw him.”
I hesitated. “What—what was he like, would you say?”
“Depilliar? Hmmm. Well. Business man, war hero, but I suppose you know that. Rather tall. Handsome in a general sort of way.”
“General sort of way…?” I said.
“More tea? Here, let me pour. Good? Good. Oh, a pet theory of mine. About beauty. A person can be beautiful because of things they possess—sapphire eyes, a lovely pair of shoulders, raven locks. But some are considered beautiful merely by lack of ugliness. God, I am gabby today aren’t I? But you’re such a lovely listener I can’t help myself. Anyway, that is to say one is beautiful by the absence of a large nose or beetle brows. Beauty by default, if you see what I mean.”
I thought of Miss Caruthers; she fit under both categories. “And Mr. Depilliar…”
“Depilliar was more of the latter variety. Nothing really distinctive. A bit—anonymous looking, I suppose. Mmm. Let’s see. What else…came from very good family, even if Daddy ran the estate into the ground at the races. Depilliar was a strange chap,” He caught my glance. “I don’t mean eccentric. No, more the sort you’d be talking the usual sort of nonsense but you find yourself thinking ‘Anyone there? Anybody home?’ That makes him sound unintelligent but he wasn’t. Took a first in Geography and History. Just a bit of a…a bit of a…void, I guess you might say.” He cradled his hand on his chin. “Well, it sounds silly but, I didn’t like being alone with him.”
I stilled. “You were—afraid of him?”
He gave a start of laughter. “Goodness, you looked solemn there for a moment. Me? Afraid—of Depilliar? Good god, no.”
I remember Millicent’s set at Helvstead discussing how many Germans Commander Charles had killed with his bare hands.
“No, no,” he continued. “I just found him uneasy company. There are some fellows I avoid being alone with because of the inevitable unpleasantness—they feel obligated to needle the resident poofter—no matter that I was known to shove a few teeth down throats. Although, I suppose I’ve changed since the war. Seen a little too much probably, like most of us. Still, that is a hideous bore. Then there are those that make the most inept sort of pass. Public schools have an enormous amount to answer for,” he shuddered. “But with Depillar…that wasn’t it—well, I suppose you could say he seemed a bit of a cipher. He was…just—blank, I suppose. Cold. Indifferent. Almost to the point of a sort of…a well, mysteriousness to use rather vague sort of word. But, now a mysterious person can be the most intriguing thing in the world, can’t it?” he said, putting another coconut cake on my plate.
Martin D’Avignon flashed before my mind’s eye.
“Ah, you do know what I mean!” he exclaimed. “You’ll have to tell me about that someday, Miss Bright. They’re fascinating, and more often than not, worth the chase. Not that Reggie was so mysterious, mind you.” He lost some of his easy banter and spoke rapidly, almost hungrily. “He photographed beautifully didn’t he, the ass-about-town, but you only had to see him tugging at his tie to know he wanted to go home. He left Dame Christianson’s ball for a book about South American beetles. Can you imagine?”
He looked away. “I don’t know why I’m going on about him,” he laughed, unhappily, then cleared his throat. “What was I saying. Oh, yes. Mysterious types. Very alluring. But I have known the other kind—the mysterious ones you’re not sure you’d really want to know.”
Millicent’s mother floated before my eyes.
“Depillar fell in the latter category. Only in England could such fundamental elusiveness be considered mere reticence. It’s pathological.” He grimaced. “I suppose I sound rather potty. I’m gabbing more than I should—hazard of bending the old elbow. I tell you: you’re a good audience, Miss Bright.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Oh I do,” he offered me a cigarette. “I should know as I do so much of it myself. So may I probe around enough to ask why did you want to know all that?”
“I wanted the…background for what’s happening I suppose.”
“So the foreground’s…it’s looking a little dicey, isn’t it?” he said, his voice loosing its bantering tone. “
“‘It’s not going to be paradise,’” I said, quoting a current crooner number that had been on the wireless, not really knowing what I meant, but feeling somehow it was the best answer I could give all the same.
Miss Harchester was speaking on the telephone when I arrived at Siegel and Siegel the next day.
“Of course, Lord Milchester…Mr. Siegel is doing all he can…oh certainly, let me just get the file.” She placed the phone down and turned to a file cabinet. A neat triangle of morning sun shone from the gap in Mr. Siegel’s door, where I could see him absorbed in work.
“Mr. Siegel, I wonder if I might have a word.”
His head lifted in surprise. “Miss Bright.”
“It’s not Miss Harchester’s fault,” I hastened to say. “I barged in whilst she was on the phone, I’m afraid.”
“I see. Oh dear. Miss Bright I am very sorry, but I really am rather busy. Could you possibly make an appointment for tomorrow or the next day—”
“I promise I’ll only take a moment.”
He opened his mouth but I got I managed to speak first.
“It’s about…the situation. I wouldn’t be troubling you if I didn’t think—well, it was very important.”
He put aside his papers, eyebrows raising a fraction in consternation.
“Yes, all right then, Miss Bright,” he said, rising to shut the door. “But, please, you mustn’t don’t think me rude if I have to cut things short.”
“Of course,” I said. I sat down, smoothing my skirt, willing myself to steadiness. “Well. Obviously I am not a solicitor, Mr. Siegel, nor can I claim to be particularly…intelligent or well educated or any of those things. But I have been thinking…” I took a deep breath. “And it occurs to me perhaps before you go any further it would be worth being absolutely sure that this man they found at Helvstead is Edward Depilliar.”
There was a very long very uncomfortable pause.
“You are joking, Miss Bright?”
“No. I’m afraid I’m not.”
“You do know he has been identified by his wife.”
“Mistakes do happen, don’t they? It was just in the papers the other day; in Leeds a man being misidentified—by his mother, no less. See, I’ve cut it out.”
I handed it to him and felt as idiotic as I imagined I might. But I needed some pretext, and while clumsy, when I found the headline, it seemed a godsend.
“The woman was so distraught at the very idea, you see, she, well—made a mistake. No one double-checked you see. They all just assumed…but it wasn’t…it wasn’t him.”
He put his pen down and rubbed his eyes, which I could see now, were bloodshot with fatigue. “You must realize how profoundly unlikely such a mistake is.”
“Yes, I do. But—”
“You’re not even considering the gentleman who discovered him, which I don’t quite see how one can fail to do, who identified him as well. And the body wasn’t so decomposed as to be—unrecognizable, Miss Bright.”
“Perhaps the fellow merely looked like him—not impossible, you know.” I glanced to see how this had gone over, and relented. “I know it sounds ludicrous. But there could be any number of other reasons that gentleman—and she—said it was him.”
There was another longish pause. “Such as? Are you saying you think they were in some sort of league together.”
“No—well, I mean…perhaps Mrs. Depilliar simply was overwrought. Tired and upset, waiting to find out what happened to her husband—it’s been months now, which is nerve-wracking to anyone. But perhaps the power of suggestion—she was told it was Edward Depilliar before she ever saw the body, wasn’t she? And I know, for a fact, Bainbridge Tarris has—feelings—for Mrs. Depillar. For quite some time in fact..”
“Oh.” His eyebrows lifted. “I wasn’t aware.”
“Well, yes. He wants, rather desperately, to marry Pippa Depilliar.”
“However do you know this?”
“He was often over at Helvstead. They—Millicent’s friends—wound often wind him up about it.”
He seemed to digest this. “Are you saying you think he lied on purpose?”
“I don’t know that. All I’m saying is that he had reason to want to believe it was Edward Depilliar.” I exhaled. “And I know he was one of the only people—if not the only person—who knew of the…the alliance between Millicent and Mr. Depilliar.”
This too, was news to him I could see.
“So he might have assumed it was Depilliar,” I said.
He bit the inside of his lip. “So you’re saying he had both a reason and a desire to believe it was Edward Depilliar?
“I think so, yes.”
“And Mrs. Depilliar? Does she feel similarly? Wanting to marry this man, I mean.”
“Not from what—I understand—but I couldn’t say I knew. But,” I hesitated. “I know she dislikes Millicent. Very much.”
“Well, yes.” I glanced up at him. “Although I can hardly imagine you don’t know this considering how Mrs. Depilliar’s behaving with the press, the things she’s insinuating.”
He nodded, conceding. “Yes, that is rather…evident. But you are saying you think Mrs. Depillar disliked Lady Von Favre so much she might misidentify her husband’s body to cause some sort of scandal…to obtain some sort of…revenge?”
It sounded awful when he put it that way but I plunged ahead.
“I do know Mrs. Depillar thought Millicent—well, that Millicent looked down on her. As she comes from a different sort of background. And there was some bitterness about it. Glad to do her in kind, you see, with all this press. I don’t know…” I faltered. “If she’d go to the lengths of misidentifying her husband; I doubt it. That does seem…oh, I know this all sounds fantastic, Mr. Siegel,” I said, falling back in the chair. I could hear the helplessness in my voice. “But I don’t mean it was something deliberate, you know. Sometimes people just…do things, you must know that.”
“Do things,” he repeated.
“Well—yes. Without thinking. There’s no plan, no purpose, but still they go ahead and tangle themselves up in something or plow ahead when hey oughtn’t,” I leaned forward, putting my hand on the desk. “I don’t pretend to have an answer to that. But if I may say so, I honestly don’t know if it does matter why, Mr. Siegel, if there has been some mistake.”
“This is really one of the strangest conversations I’ve had in some time.”
“I know it sounds a bit mad. You must understand I knew it would when I came round, barging in on you so rudely. But I told myself if there is even the remotest chance there was a misunderstanding…it would be wrong not to pursue it.” I stopped. “And, there’s one other piece of information.”
His face again smoothed again politely to wariness.
“I appreciate this might sound like nothing but…ugly talk, Mr. Siegel. But I thought…if there’s any chance it might be helpful…”
I suddenly disliked the prospect of him thinking me a gossip and I hesitated.
“Yes?” he said.
I exhaled. “Mrs. Depillar is a …lesbian.”
“Oh. You’re sure?”
“Yes. A very…sure source.”
He turned back and forth in his chair, digesting this. “Well, Miss Bright,” he sighed. “If it is true, then you’ve just given me one less reason a woman might go to the great length of misidentifying her husband’s body to trouble a rival.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And, in any case, mentioning this supposed…inclination of Mrs. Depillars would be unthinkable.”
“Still, it is best to have all the information one might.”
“I had no…pleasure in telling you this, Mr. Siegel.”
“Yes,” he said. “The law can be a difficult business. We speak of private matters that most of the time we would be just as glad not to, as it were.”
I cleared my throat. “I read in the obituaries—how Mr. Depillar been shot down in the RAF. Six months in hospital, I believe. Well, if a man were to have been through such a thing, surely, he must have broken bones, perhaps even a good many.”
“I’m not clear what that has—”
“I suppose I was wondering if—if…” I swallowed. “Has the body been…interred?”
His voice became businesslike. “No. There’s been a toxicology report requested by the prosecutor. Poisons, I believe they’re checking for. Mrs. Depillar, or the Brasso-Off fortune exerts more like, has got the prosecutor in quite a lather. The burial should be after the inquest, in a week.”
“Is it possible, then, to request x-rays?”
“That would look very strange to the coroner, would it not?”
“Don’t you know him? You might ask him as a favor.”
He looked startled. “However did you have that piece of information?”
“I overheard Miss Harchester arranging a luncheon with him last time I was here.”
“Oh. Yes. Actually, he’s my wife’s cousin. I’ve known him for some years.”
“Mr. Siegel. I’m not saying I know anything for certain. That man at Helvstead could very well be Edward Depilliar.” There was an ring of conviction in my voice, catching the empty corners of the room. “But if there’s a chance it’s not, I think we owe it to my cousin to find out.”
He tapped his pencil’s eraser on the desk, letting it catch and propel itself up by the bounce, till it came to a still.
“I can’t believe I’m even considering this,” he said finally. “You mustn’t mention this…supposition of yours to anyone, Miss Bright. It would be absolute ruin. I’ll say something to Alistair in private—mind you he won’t like it, but he’ll probably be willing to accommodate an old friend—but it’s my idea, as you understand? It has to be.”
“Oh, of course.”
“I cannot state it strongly enough—”
“I’ll not mention it again.”
He gave me a level look, which I met.
“I only want what’s best for Millicent. Truly,” I said.
“Yes, I suppose I can see that. Well.”
I stood to leave. “Thank you, Mr. Siegel. For taking the time when you are so busy.”
“That’s quite all right,” he said, dryly. “It’s been interesting. And, Miss Bright…”
“Not a word,” I said.
He gave me a nod, professionalism mixed with speculation and possibly even admiration.
“Good day, then.”
The morning of the inquest I woke, rolled over, cracking open an eye in the direction of the clock. It seemed wholly improbable, on this day of all days, I’d slept through my alarm, and the room was bright with risen sun. Far off, I heard the phone and a trail of footsteps nearing, ending in three brisk raps on my door.
“Mrs. Bertram. You have a call. A Miss Harchester, I believe. Will you be wanting your breakfast now?”
“No, thank you,” I clambered out of bed. “I’ve overslept. Please do tell Miss Harchester, I’ll be just a moment.”
“Hello,” I said a few moments later, tying my dressing gown shut, and sliding the booth door shut. “Miss Harchester?”
“Mrs.—Miss Bright? Is that you?”
“Ah, good. Mr. Siegel wanted me to call you this morning to inform you the inquest has been postponed.”
“Really? Do you know why?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say. But it will be in the papers tomorrow.” Her voice lowered. “I believe you’ve done your cousin a good turn.” She spoke more normally. “Mr. Siegel will be contacting you shortly.”
“Good gracious. Do they know who the man was then—”
Her voice was brisk, as if speaking of other things, and I imagined one of the clerks having just walked by. “Having to start all over, as a matter of fact.”
“Yes,” I said, feeling dazed. “Yes. All right then.”
I rung off, feeling an urge to shout. Setting the receiver to rest clicking neatly into its cradle, I felt my jubilation checked: not everything fit so tidily together.
After the call I returned to my room, undressed, and sat on the bed, staring at the rug for a minute or an hour, I couldn’t say, growing rigid with dismay at the prospect of waiting for further news, each minute dawdling unmercifully. Miss Caruthers’ needlepoint of the hunted stag popped into mind, and I sat up: something to occupy my hands! It seemed, in the fearful emptiness of that hour, an idea somehow near genius. Well, perhaps not needlepoint, I amended thinking of my aborted attempts at Helvstead, but I had been known to crochet. Perhaps a nice blanket for the Cleavus. My pocketbook sat, expectantly, by the door, as if it had been waiting for this very idea to occur.
Within the half hour, I stood in a queue, the broad-faced woman behind the register glancing at the tower of random yarn skeins and crochet needles I had placed on the counter.
“What’s the plan, love?” she asked, amused.
“I don’t have one really,” I said, adding, reflectively. “I don’t think I ever have.”
To my surprise, we caught each other’s eyes, and laughed.
I ate breakfast the next morning over the headline Police Baffled by Identity of Body at Helvstead Manor. Well, there was nothing else to be said there. I dipped my toast complacently into the yolk of my eggs.
Gilmore Tamny is a writer and musician who lives in Somerville, MA. She has a tumblr of line drawings here.