IT was a dead time in the London underground—after lunch and before rush hour—when the last plaintive notes of a Chopin nocturne floated from Katie O’Brien’s violin down the tiled corridor.
Anything drifting in the air of the Wembley Knotts tube station besides wind you could taste the soot in was a rare occurrence. She plucked the strings and thought of what to play next. Ruefully, she glanced down to check the contents of the open violin case. Paganini hadn’t earned her any 10p pieces. Neither had Beethoven. Indeed, there was only one addition to the coins she had put there herself, and that was five pence tossed in by a begrimed child of nine or ten who looked as if he should be spending it on milk. Yet he had given Katie his unqualified attention for the space of two minutes, his head nodding in rhythmic little jerks as if he had a small conductor trapped in there. Then, unsmilingly, he had deposited his coin and walked on, swallowed up in the warren of dun-tiled corridors. The boy had been her only audience for the last fifteen minutes. Charing Cross, King’s Cross, Piccadilly: all of those would have brought more money, but also more risk. Police tended to be thick on the ground in those places, as if all they had to do was weed out the buskers—guitarists and accordion players—who kept sprouting up with their open cases and entertainment.
Five pence. At this rate she would never save enough, not even for a new lipstick, much less for a pink satin shirt she fancied. It had taken six months of stopping here playing just to collect the money for the jeans and blouse she was wearing.
She would have to go soon because she had to allow herself time to change back into her dress before catching the train at Highbury. The dress was neatly folded away in the big carryall that also contained the latest Heartwind Romance and a Cadbury bar. There was a Telegraph in there too, bought only to cover up the jeans and magenta shirt in case her mother looked into the bag. Katie O’Brien plucked the strings of her violin and sighed.
In the hollow tunnel, the notes echoed. A train rumbled in the distance and another pull of air, like an enormous indrawn breath, sucked hair round her face and blew soot in her eyes and bounced scraps of paper at her feet. Unmindful of her new blouse, she leaned against the wall and wondered what to play next, if it was worth playing anything at all. Across from her was an Evita poster. The corridor was lined with posters of films and museum exhibitions and adverts for travel. Evita wore a strapless gown, her arms shot straight up in the air in a sort of victory pose. Microphones bristled in front of her. A mustache had been penciled in over her pearly lips, prominent nipples had been drawn on the bodice, and between the upraised hands were a hammer and sickle.
Katie wondered when someone had found time and opportunity to muck up the poster and then decided it would be easy enough, at least now in the Wembley Knotts station. No one at all had come by except for the dirty little boy with the 5p.
She heard footsteps in the distance and tucked the violin under her chin. As the steps came nearer down the windy tunnel, she started in on “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” hoping it would be more popular than the nocturne. She closed her eyes, simulating total absorption in the music. After a bit, she saw the feet halt in front of a grate below the poster, and added a few unscored flourishes to her song, waiting for the ping of coins in the violin case. But pretending indifference to money, she didn’t look up.
That was why she didn’t see it coming.
The brutal blow to the back of her head buckled her knees, and the dirty, ocher-colored floor of the tunnel came up to slap her in the face. She heard the sound of running feet. Darkness swept over her like sand, more and a little more. Before she was totally buried in it, she had time to wonder, almost whimsically, if Evita had stepped out of her poster, lowered the arms holding the hammer, and then hurried off, back to the Argentine.
Don’t cry for me—
The small, woolly dog trotted across the Green with its teeth clamped round its latest treasure. It crossed the High and continued its walk, pausing at every portal, deciding none was a good enough hiding place for this particular treat, and trotted on.
The little dog belonged to no one in the village, but had been seen round and about. It had been noticed most often digging under the Craigie sisters’ rosebushes, or chasing mice or elves in the Horndean wood. When the little dog saw a thin figure come out of the sweet shop, it paused, cocked its head as if debating the worth of this creature, and then rushed in a frolicsome way towards her. He recognized Miss Augusta Craigie, the one whose rosebushes he had lately left in tatters. Augusta Craigie tried to shoo it off. She quite loathed the dog.
The dog merely took the waves and flourishes as a friendly offer to romp. It barked and let the bone fall at Miss Craigie’s feet. She started to kick it away, but the tip of her sensible shoe stopped just short of kicking. She looked closer at the bone and determined it was not a bone, but a finger.
The Hertfield police were there within ten minutes of the call from the village. But no matter what blandishments they used—bits of red meat, head-pattings, and so on—the little dog was not about to lead them to the rest of the body.
Superintendent Richard Jury was stuffing an extra pair of socks into a duffel bag, preparatory to his weekend in Northamptonshire, when the telephone rang.
He stared at the phone. No one in his right mind would be calling at seven-fifteen on a Saturday morning unless it was something he definitely did not want to hear. He listened to four more rings, telling himself not to pick it up, but then in the manner of all humans, who are convinced the one call gone unanswered must be The Call, the hot-line from the Universe, Jury weakened and plucked up the receiver. “Jury here.”
“Su-per-in-ten-dent Jury.” The voice made a double-treble of the word. Nor did the voice belong to God, although its owner at New Scotland Yard might have contested this. In plummy accents, Detective Chief Superintendent Racer began to set Jury up for the fall. “Well, well, not left yet, lad? I wondered why London was still so happy.”
“I was just finishing packing,” said Jury, refusing to rise to the bait.
The smooth voice became acerbic. “Well, you can just leave out the pink coat, Jury. You’re not going to Northants.”
Racer, who considered himself very county, assumed anyone with a title and a house the size of Ardry End must invariably ride to hounds.
“I don’t quite take your meaning,” said Jury, who took Racer’s meaning perfectly. The phone was in the kitchen, and Jury was now leaning on the open fridge door inspecting the stark interior. One chicken leg and a half-pint of milk.
“My meaning, Jury, is that you’re going to Hertford, not Northants, place called—”
While Racer turned from the phone to have a mumbled conversation on the other end of the wire, Jury took out the chicken leg, wondering if the role of the forlorn, possibly starving policeman fit his overall image, decided it didn’t, and slammed the fridge door shut. He carried the plate and the receiver, cradled on his shoulder, into the sitting room and waited for Racer to get down to business.
“Littlebourne,” came the irascible voice, and when Jury didn’t immediately respond, said, “Jury!”
A silence. “Are you being sarcastic, Jury?”