That night Gregory had a dream in which everything became crystal clear and he cracked the case, but in the morning he couldn’t remember a single detail. Part of it came back to him while he was shaving. He was at a shooting gallery in Luna Park firing a big red pistol at a bear. He’d just scored a bull’s-eye when the bear growled and reared up on its hind legs; suddenly it wasn’t a bear at all but Doctor Sciss, very pale and wrapped in a dark cloak. When Gregory took aim, the pistol became as soft as a piece of rubber. He kept pressing his finger against the place where there should have been a trigger even though it didn’t do any good. That was all he could remember. When he finished shaving, he decided to phone Sciss and arrange a meeting. On his way out of the house he saw Mrs. Fenshawe in the hall, rolling up a long carpet runner. One of the cats was curled up under her stool. Gregory could never tell the cats apart, although he could see the differences between them when they were together. After a quick breakfast in a cafeteria on the other side of the square, he telephoned Sciss. A woman’s voice at the other end told him that Sciss had left London for the day. This ruined Gregory’s plan. Uncertain what to do next, he went out into the street, strolled around for a while gazing at the store windows, and then, for no reason at all, spent an hour wandering through Woolworth’s. Around twelve o’clock he left Woolworth’s and finally checked in at Scotland Yard.
It was Tuesday. Making a mental note of the number of days still remaining in the period Sciss had specified, Gregory skimmed through a sheaf of reports from the outlying suburbs, carefully went over the latest weather information and the long-range forecasts for southern England, chatted for a while with the typists, and arranged to see a film that evening with Kinsey.
After the film he was still at a loss for something to do. He most definitely did not want to spend any more time in his room studying
The next morning Gregory made a resolution to learn something about statistics, and on his way to the Yard he picked up a few books on the subject. He hung around the Yard until dinner time. After eating, he found himself in the subway station at Kensington Gardens. Deciding to try amusing himself with a game he’d invented when he was a student, he got on the first train that came along, got off just as randomly when he felt like it, and for a whole hour rode haphazardly around the city.
This little game had always fascinated Gregory when he was nineteen. He used to stand in the middle of a crowd without knowing until the last minute whether or not he’d board an approaching train, waiting for some kind of internal sign or act of the will to tell him what to do. “No matter what I won’t move from this spot,” he would sometimes swear to himself, then would jump on just as the doors were shutting. Other times he would tell himself severely, “I’ll take the next train,” and instead would find himself entering the one standing right before him. The very concept of chance had fascinated Gregory when he was younger, and through self-analysis and research he had tried to study its workings in his own personality, though without any results, to be sure. Apparently such efforts to uncover the mysteries of the personality were somewhat more interesting when one was nineteen years old. Now, however, Gregory was forced to conclude that he had already become a completely different and much less imaginative person: at the end of an hour (having finally forced himself to change to the right train, even though he was quite aware that he had nothing else to do) he was bored again. Around six o’clock he stopped in at the Europa; seeing Farquart at the bar, however, he left at once before his colleague caught sight of him. He went to the movies again that evening and was bored stiff by the film. Later, he studied statistics texts in his room until he fell asleep while trying to work out an equation.
It was still dark when the ringing of the telephone awakened him and forced him out of bed.
Running barefoot along the cold parquet floor, Gregory realized that the ringing had begun as part of a dream. Half-asleep, unable to find the light switch, he groped for the receiver while the phone kept ringing insistently.
“It’s about time! I was beginning to think you were spending the night with someone. Well, at least you can get a good night’s sleep — we’re not all that lucky. Listen! A report just came in. There was an attempted body snatching in
Gregory recognized the voice as soon as he heard the first word: it was Allis, the duty officer at the Yard.
“Pickering? Pickering?” he tried to remember. He stood up, still a little unsteady on his feet from sleepiness, while the duty officer’s shouting continued.
“The constable detailed to the mortuary wound up under a car. There’s probably an ambulance there by now, but the story’s all confused. The car that ran over the constable smashed into a tree. You’ll find out the rest for yourself.”
“When did all this happen? What time?”
“Oh, maybe half an hour ago. The report just came in. Do you want anyone special? Tell me now, because I’m sending a car out to pick you up.”
“Is Dudley around?”
“No. He was on duty yesterday. Take Wilson. He’s not any worse. You can pick him up on the way. I’ll call him and get him out of bed.”
“All right, let it be Wilson. And get me someone from the lab also. Thomas would be best of all, do you hear? Oh, what the hell, let’s take the whole crew. And a doctor too. What about a doctor?”
“I already told you that they sent an ambulance. There’s probably a doctor there by now.”
“But I want one from the Yard, man, from the Yard! Not a healing doctor — just the opposite!”
“Right! I’ll take care of it. But you’d better hurry. As soon as I hang up I’m going to send the car.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
Gregory switched on the lamp. In the darkness, when the phone began ringing, he felt a tingling excitement, but the feeling had disappeared without a trace when he heard the duty officer’s first words. He ran to the window. It was still almost pitch-dark, but it had snowed during the night and the streets were covered with a layer of white. “Perfect,” he said to himself. He ran on tiptoe to the bathroom, guessing there’d be enough time for a shower before Thomas managed to pack up all his junk, and he wasn’t mistaken. When he walked out to the gate, wrapped in his raincoat with the collar pulled up around his neck, the car still hadn’t arrived. He glanced at his watch: nearly six o’clock. A moment or so later he heard the sound of a motor. It was a big, black Oldsmobile. Sergeant Calls was sitting behind the wheel, next to him Wilson, the photographer, and in the back seat two other men. The car was still moving when Gregory jumped in, slamming the door behind him, and with a jerk it accelerated to full speed, its headlights glimmering brightly.
Gregory was jammed into the back seat with Sorensen and Thomas.
“Do you have anything to drink?” he asked.
“There’s some coffee in a thermos next to the doctor,” said Calls from behind the wheel. He was speeding through the deserted streets at nearly seventy miles per hour, his siren howling. Gregory found the thermos, drained a full cup in one gulp, and passed it on to the others. The siren wailed in the night. This was the kind of ride Gregory loved. The headlights swept around the turns. It was gray everywhere, except for the white snow in the street.
“What happened out there?” Gregory asked. No one answered.
“The report came in from the local station,” said Calls after a moment.
“It seems that the guy on duty at the cemetery was pulled out from under a car by one of our motorcycle patrols. He had a broken head or something like that.”
“I see. What about the bodies?”
“The bodies?” Calls repeated slowly. “I guess they stayed there.”
“What do you mean ‘stayed there’?” Gregory asked, a little taken aback.
From the other side of the back seat, Thomas, the technical man, added a comment. “It looks like they scared the guy and he ran away.”
“We’ll see about that,” Gregory snarled. The Olds gave a loud roar as if it needed a new muffler. They were leaving the crowded buildings behind and approaching the suburbs. Near a big park they ran into a patch of fog. Calls slowed down, then stepped on the gas again when the fog cleared up. By the time they reached the outskirts of the city the traffic was beginning to get heavier: huge trailer trucks, brightly lit double-decker buses already crowded with commuters. Calls kept the siren blaring to clear the way.
“You didn’t get any sleep tonight, did you?” Gregory said to the doctor. Sorensen had dark circles under his eyes. He was slumped forward like a cripple.
“I went to bed around two o’clock. It’s always like this. And you can bet there won’t be anything for me to do when we get there.”
“We’d all rather be asleep,” said Gregory philosophically.
They raced through Fulham, slowed down just before the bridge, and crossed the Thames in a light fog. Below them the river was the color of lead. Some kind of small boat was passing by and they could hear the sound of a foghorn in the distance. A moment later a clump of trees on the bridge abutment was flashing by. Calls drove with great care. In fact, in Gregory’s opinion he was the Yard’s best driver.
“Does the Chief know yet?” Gregory didn’t direct the question to anyone in particular.
The answer came from Thomas, a short, vigorous man like the sergeant, but with a little mustache that made him look like a suburban hairdresser. “Yes, Allis was in touch with him. In fact, he gave all the orders.”
Gregory leaned forward. He was more comfortable that way, and he enjoyed watching the road through the space between the shoulders of the two men in the front seat. Passing trucks had tamped the wet snow on the pavement into a smooth crust, and he loved the way Calls took the curves, braking at the last minute as he raced into the turn, then, halfway around, stepping down on the gas and barreling ahead at full speed. Of course Calls never took a turn on two wheels — that would have been bad form for a police driver, except, perhaps, in unusual circumstances — but in any case, in snow like this you could end up in a ditch that way.
They were past Wimbledon already; the speedometer, oscillating gently, reached ninety, inched on toward one hundred, moved slightly backward, and, with a jiggle, again advanced, the needle making small jumps between the graduated points on the face of the gauge. Suddenly there was a big Buick in front of them. Calls honked his horn, but the other driver didn’t seem to hear. As they drew closer they could see a teddy bear dangling in the back window of the bright red sedan, and Gregory was reminded of the dream he’d had two days before. He smiled, experiencing a pleasant sense of strength and confidence.
Meanwhile, Calls caught up with the other car. When he was no more than fifteen feet behind it, he hit the switch and the siren emitted an earsplitting scream. The Buick braked violently, its rear wheels struggling for traction and splattering snow on their windshield; as it began to pull over the Buick skidded slightly in the deeper snow on the side of the road and its rear swung around toward the hood of the police car: a crash seemed inevitable, but Calls, giving the steering wheel a sharp, fast turn which threw them all to the right, speeded past. The shocked expression on the face of the young woman in the Buick remained with them even after they’d left the scene far behind. By the time it occurred to Gregory to look out the back window, she had managed to get back on the road again.
The fog began to lift and they found themselves in the middle of a snow-whitened plain. Here and there, almost vertical columns of smoke rose from the houses; the sky was so flat and still, so nondescript in color, that it was difficult to tell whether or not it was cloudy. Speeding through an interchange, their tires thumping nervously, they shot onto the expressway. Calls seemed to be drunk with power: crouching over the wheel, he pressed down even harder on the foot pedal; its engine roaring, the black sedan leaped forward at a hundred and ten miles per hour.
A town came into view in the distance, and Calls pulled over next to a road sign. Running off to the left of the expressway was a narrow road lined by a double row of old trees. About two hundred yards straight ahead, the expressway turned in the other direction. As soon as they stopped Gregory stood up — at least to the extent that standing was possible inside the car — and leaned forward to get a look at the map which the sergeant was spreading out on the wheel. They had to turn off to the left.
“Are we in Pickering yet?” asked Gregory. Calls was fiddling with the gearshift lever as if it were a toy.
“Another five miles.”
They followed the side road up a gently sloping hill, passing two or three long, barracks-style wooden buildings. As they reached the top of the incline the sun came out; the air, washed by the fog, was clean and sparkling, and it began to feel warmer. The whole town was spread out below them, the smoke from its chimneys turning pink in the bright sunlight. A narrow stream cut through the snow, leaving a twisting dark trail.
They drove on, crossing a small concrete bridge. On the other side, the figure of a helmeted constable, his overcoat reaching almost to his ankles, loomed before them, a red stop-disk in his hand. Calls stopped the car and rolled down his window.
“From here on you have to walk,” he informed his passengers, after exchanging a few words with the constable, then threw the car into gear and pulled over to the side of the road. They all got out. Everything seemed different now: white, quiet, peaceful; the first sign of the morning sun over the distant forest; the air crisp yet springlike. Globs of snow dropped onto the pavement from the overhanging branches of the chestnut trees along the road.
“Over there,” the constable said, pointing to where the road, curving gently, swung around the next hill. They stepped off the road onto a narrow footpath lined by white bushes, at the end of which they could see a brick roof. About three hundred paces straight ahead, a wrecked car was barely visible in the dark shadow cast by the trees. With Gregory in the lead, they followed the roadside path as directed by the constable, the wet snow squishing unpleasantly under their feet and sticking to their shoes, and soon reached a section of road blocked off by ropes; behind the barrier some tire tracks stretched from the road to the shoulder, then swung across to the scene of the accident.
There, half on the road, half off, stood a long, gray Bentley, its front end rammed into a tree trunk, its headlights smashed to bits, its front windshield cracked. The doors were hanging open and, as much as Gregory could see, the inside of the car was empty. One of the local policemen walked over. Gregory continued studying the position of the Bentley and, without turning around, asked:
“Well, what happened?”
“The ambulance left already, Inspector. They took Williams,” the constable answered.
“Williams — was he the one on duty at the mortuary?” Gregory turned to the constable.
“That’s right, Inspector.”
“I’m a lieutenant. Where is this mortuary?”
“Over there, sir.”
Gregory glanced in the direction indicated. The cemetery was unwalled; its long, regular lines of graves were covered with snow. He hadn’t noticed it before because it was located off to the east, and to see it he would have had to look right into the rising sun, which was still fairly low on the horizon. Nearby, hidden by a few bushes, a footpath branched off from the road and led up to a building surrounded by a thicket.
“Is that the mortuary? The building with the tar-paper roof?”
“Yes, Lieutenant. I was on duty there until three this morning, then Williams relieved me. The way it was, our commanding officer got us all together, because—”
“Slow down and tell me the whole story. Williams had the duty after you. What happened next?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Well, who does?”
Gregory was experienced with this kind of conversation, so he remained patient.
Meanwhile, after getting the lay of the land, the men from the Yard settled down to their work. The photographer and the lab technician dumped their gear in the snow near where the highway patrolman’s motorcycle was leaning against the mile post. Sorensen tried to light a cigarette but his matches kept going out in the wind. The constable, a blonde, friendly-looking fellow with big eyes, cleared his throat.
“No one, Lieutenant. It was like this. Williams had the duty from three o’clock. Parrings was supposed to relieve him around six, but around half past five a driver called the station house to report that he’d just hit a constable who ran in front of his car, and that he smashed into a tree while trying to swerve out of the way. So then—”
“No,” said Gregory, “not yet. Now, tell me slowly, very slowly. First, exactly what was the man on duty at the mortuary supposed to do?”
“Well… we were supposed to walk around the place and check the door and windows.”
“All around the building?”
“Not exactly, sir, because there are bushes right up to the wall in the back, so we made a wide circle up to the graves and back.”
“How long did it take to make one circuit?”
“It depends. Tonight it took about ten minutes, because it was hard to get around in the snow and there was all that fog, and of course we had to check the door every time…”
“Good. Now tell me, what about the driver who phoned the station?”
“Where is he now?”
“The driver? At the station, sir. He had a slight cut on his head and Dr. Adams wanted to look him over.”
“I see. Dr. Adams is the local doctor?”
“That’s right, sir.”
Still standing at the side of the road, Gregory suddenly snapped at the constable in an unexpectedly severe voice.
“What idiot was walking around in here and crushed all this snow? Was there anyone here you didn’t tell me about?”
Surprised but unperturbed, the constable winced.
“No one, sir. The C.O. told us to rope off the whole area to make sure.”
“What do you mean, no one? What about the ambulance crew? How did they get to Williams?”
“Oh, Williams was a little ways from here — we found him under that tree over there.” The constable pointed across the road at a depression in the snow perhaps ten or twelve paces behind the Bentley.
Without another word, Gregory stepped over the rope and, keeping as much to the side as possible, walked across the closed-off area. Like their car, he noticed, the Bentley had come from the direction of London. Stepping carefully, he walked back and forth a few times following the tracks. The impression of the tires was clear and even up to a certain point; from there on the snow was scattered in small lumps and bare pavement was visible. Apparently the driver had braked violently and his wheels, skidding sideways, had acted something like a snowplow. Farther on, still visible in the snow, were some long curving tracks leading right up to the rear tires of the Bentley, showing that it had swung sideways and driven straight into the tree. The tracks of a few other cars were also still preserved in the wet, plastic snow, especially along the side of the road. Among these were some deep ruts apparently left by the thick tires of a heavy truck; the treads were arranged in a characteristic prewar style. Gregory walked back in the direction of London for a while, and without any difficulty ascertained that the Bentley was the last car to have driven along this section of road, since in a few places its tire tracks had obliterated the marks left by the other vehicles. Now he began to look for human footprints: he headed in the opposite direction, moving away from the men and cars; the footpath, he found, was covered with footprints: enough for there to have been a parade. It must have been the ambulance attendants carrying the injured constable, he realized, making a mental note to compliment the Pickering police commander for having kept them off the road. The only footprints on the road itself had been made by a pair of heavy boots. It was evident that they were the tracks of a running man; someone who was probably not too good at running, though, because he had taken very short steps, apparently in an amateurish effort to increase his speed.
“He ran from the direction of the cemetery out into the middle of the road,” Gregory oriented himself, “and then headed toward the town. A constable running like that? Who was chasing him?”
He looked around for signs of the pursuer but there wasn’t a thing: the snow was untouched. Walking farther on, Gregory came to the place where a narrow lane, surrounded by dense bushes, branched off from the road and went up to the cemetery. About twenty paces farther along the road beyond that point, he saw some tire tracks and footprints in the snow, untouched and preserved perfectly. A vehicle had driven up from the opposite direction, turned around, and stopped (the tire tracks at this point were more deeply grooved); two men had gotten out; a third had approached them from the side, and led them over to the Bentley. They had walked toward it along the shoulder and had come back the same way. The man they were carrying had probably given them a little trouble, because there were a few round marks in the snow to indicate where they had set the stretcher down before sliding it into the ambulance. The spot where he found all these prints was just past the beginning of the lane, so Gregory took a look at the lane next, returning to the road after a moment or two because he had seen what he wanted: the running man’s tracks showed clearly how he had charged down the lane from the direction of the mortuary, the recently whitewashed wall of which blocked the view for about a hundred yards.
Carefully examining the running man’s footprints, Gregory walked back to the Bentley. Eight paces from the wrecked car, the prints showed, he had whirled around, as if suddenly trying to turn; a bit farther on the snow was so churned up that there wasn’t much to see. Standing with his hands in his pockets, Gregory bit his lip.
“He missed him in front, then went into a skid and hit him… probably with his rear end.” Gregory lifted his head.
“How badly is Williams hurt?”
“He’s still unconscious, sir. The doctor — the one from the ambulance — was very surprised that he managed to keep walking afterwards — he didn’t fall down until he got over… oh, over here.”
“How do you know that’s where he collapsed?”
“Because there’s some blood…”
Gregory bent down and took a good look. Three, no four, coagulated brown spots had seeped so deeply into the snow that it was difficult to see them.
“Were you here when the ambulance took him away? Was he conscious?”
“Oh no, sir, definitely not!”
“Was he bleeding?”
“No sir, I mean, only a little, from the head… the ears, I think.”
“Gregory, will you please take pity on us,” said Sorensen, making no effort to hide a yawn. He flicked his lit cigarette into the snow.
“The regulations don’t say anything about pity,” Gregory snapped, looking around again. Wilson was angrily slamming his tripod into position; Thomas was cursing quietly to himself because the powdered plaster in his bag had spilled, and all his instruments were covered with it.
“Well, let’s get our jobs done, men,” Gregory went on, “prints, measurements, everything, and the more the better; when you finish here go down to the mortuary, but we’d better keep the rope up until later on. Doctor, there may still be something for you… wait a minute,” he said, turning to the constable. “Where’s your commanding officer?”
“In town, sir.”
“Well then. Let’s go see him.”
Gregory unbuttoned his coat; it was getting warm. The constable shifted uncertainly from one foot to the other.
“Do you want me to come along, sir?”
Sorensen followed them, fanning himself with his hat. The sun had come up in earnest now, and in its warmth the snow was quickly disappearing from the branches, which now appeared black and wet against the deep blue of the sky. As they walked, Gregory counted the number of paces from the wreck to the point where the cemetery lane joined the road: there were 160. The lane, and the cemetery at its end, lay in the shadows between two hills. It was cool here, and the snow was still wet and heavy; because of the hills nothing could be seen of the town except its smoke. The mortuary itself, a whitewashed little shed, was enclosed by thick underbrush in the rear; there were two small windows on the northern side, and a half-opened door in one wall. Carelessly slapped together with a few odd pieces of wood, the door had a simple latch but no lock. There were footprints all around the area, and just in front of the doorstep they saw a flat canvas-covered shape.
“Is that the body?”
“Has anyone touched it, or is that the way it was found?”
“Exactly the same, sir. No one touched it. The C.O. took a look at it when he got here with the doctor, but no one touched it.”
“What about the canvas?”
“The C.O. told us to cover it.”
“Tell me, could anyone have gotten to it while you were on the road?”
“No sir, impossible, the road is closed off.”
“On this side. But what about from Hackey?”
“We have a man on guard down there too, but you can’t see him from here because of the hill.”
“What about the fields?”
“It might be possible,” the policeman agreed, “but in that case he’d have to get across the water.”
“Water? What water?”
“There’s a stream on the other side of the road.”
Gregory still hadn’t gone near the canvas. Moving carefully to the side, he looked for Williams’s footprints. He found a few on the narrow, well-trodden pathway encircling the nearest gravestones; they continued around the long shed, then went back into the shrubbery. Some big footprints like the ones he had seen on the road were clearly impressed in the snow at the spot where the constable had abandoned his post, suggesting that he had lost his way in the dark.
Watch in hand, Gregory timed himself while making a complete circuit around the shed: four minutes. “At night, during the snow storm, it might have been twice as much,” he thought, “and maybe two minutes more, give or take, for the fog.” Venturing deeper into the thick shrubbery, Gregory found himself walking down a slope. Suddenly, the snow slid out from under him. Grabbing some hazelwood branches he managed to stop himself just before he fell into the stream. The area in which he regained his footing was the lowest point in the syncline in which the cemetery was situated. Even close up it was hard to see the stream because of the high snow drifts along its banks. Here and there he noted the water fretting steadily at the eroded roots of nearby shrubs; embedded in the soft loam at the bottom of the stream he could see stone fragments, some of them similiar in size and shape to paving blocks. Turning around, Gregory had a better view than before of the mortuary’s rear wall, but only of the windowless upper portion which loomed over the bushes a few yards away. He took a good look; then, pushing the resilient hazel branches out of his way, began to climb back.
“Where can I find the local stonemason?” he asked the constable. The officer understood immediately.
“He lives near the road, a little way past the bridge. The first house over there, it’s a kind of yellowish color. He only does stone work in the summertime; winters he takes on carpentry to make a little extra.”
“How does he get his stones over here? By the road?”
“He brings them in on the road when the water is low, but when it’s high enough, which only happens once in a while, he floats them over from the station by raft. He enjoys doing that kind of thing.”
“Once he gets them here, where does he work on them — over there near the stream?”
“Sometimes, but not always. He works in a lot of different places.”
“If you follow the stream from here, does it lead up to the station?”
“Yes, but you can’t really go that way because the whole area is tangled with underbrush right up to the edge of the water.”
Gregory walked over to the side wall of the mortuary. One of the windows was open — in fact, it was broken, and a jagged piece of the glass pane was half-buried in the snow just beneath it. He peeked inside, but it was so dark that he couldn’t see anything.
“Did anyone go inside?”
“Only the C.O., sir.”
“Not the doctor?”
“No, the doctor didn’t go in.”
“What’s his name?”
“Adams, sir. We didn’t know when the ambulance from London would get here. The one from Hackey got here first, and Dr. Adams came along with it. He happened to be on night duty when the call came in.”
“Is that so?” said Gregory, but he was only half-listening to the constable, his attention attracted by a small, light-colored bit of wood shaving stuck to the frame of the broken window and by the deep though not very clear impression of a bare foot in the snow next to the wall. He bent down to get a better look. The snow was all churned up, as if something very heavy had been dragged through it. Here and there he could make out some flat-bottomed oblong depressions; they looked as if they had been made by pressing a large-sized loaf of bread into the snow. Noticing something yellowish in one of them, Gregory bent over still more and picked up a few more curled shavings. Twisting his head around, he looked at the second window for a moment. It was closed and painted over with whitewash. Then, stepping backward a little, he knelt on one knee to brush some of the snow aside, stood up again, and with his eyes followed the course of the strange signs. He took a deep breath. Standing erect, with his hands in his pockets, he glanced at the white space between the bushes, the mortuary, and the first gravestone. The deep, misshapen prints began under the broken window, looped around in an arc to the door, then zigzagged right and left as if a drunk had been pushing a heavy bag. Sorensen stood off to the side, watching all this without much interest.
“Why isn’t there a padlock on the door?” Gregory asked the constable. “Was there one before?”
“There was, Lieutenant, but it broke. The gravedigger was supposed to take it to the blacksmith but he forgot, and when he finally remembered it was Sunday, and so on. You know how it is,” the constable shrugged.
Gregory, not saying a word, moved closer to the unshapely canvas mound, carefully lifted the edge of the stiff sheet, then pulled the whole thing off and threw it to the side.
This revealed a naked body. It was resting on its side with its arms and legs bent, as if it were kneeling on something invisible or pushing against something. A wide furrow in the snow extended from the lower part of the body to directly under the window. About two paces beyond the body’s head was the doorstep. The snow in that space was smooth.
“Why don’t you examine him,” Gregory suggested, getting up again. The blood rushed to his face. “Who is he?” he asked the constable, who was in the process of pulling his cap down over his eyes to protect them from the sun.
“Hansel, sir. John Hansel. He owned a small dyeing plant near here.”
Gregory watched while Sorensen, wearing a pair of rubber gloves he had taken out of an ordinary briefcase, felt the corpse’s legs and hands, drew back the eyelids, and examined the spinal curvature.
“Was he a German?”
“I don’t know, sir. Maybe by ancestry, but I never heard anything about it. His parents always lived around here.”
“When did he die?”
“Yesterday morning, sir. The doctor said it was a heart attack. He had a heart condition for a long time and wasn’t supposed to work anymore but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything after his wife left him for another guy.”
“Were there any other bodies in the mortuary?”
Sorensen stood up, brushed his knee with a handkerchief, rubbed an invisible spot off his sleeve, and carefully slipped the rubber gloves back into his briefcase.
“There was one the day before yesterday, sir, but it’s already been buried. The funeral was yesterday, at noon.”
“So this is the only body that’s been here since noon yesterday?”
“That’s right sir, only this one.”
Gregory walked over to Sorensen. They stood together under a willow bush for a moment, but the melting snow on its branches soon began to drip on them.
“What can I tell you?”
Sorensen sounded annoyed.
“Death took place about twenty-four hours ago. The stains on the jaw, as you can see, indicate rigor mortis.”
“What about the extremities? Well, speak up — don’t you have anything to tell me?”
Both men lowered their voices but they spoke angrily.
“You saw it yourself.”
“I’m not a doctor.”
“All right — there’s no rigor mortis. Not a sign; someone must have interrupted it. Someone interrupted it — let’s leave it at that and call it quits.”
“It won’t come back?”
“Sometimes it does, at least to a certain degree, but not always. Is this very important?”
“Are you sure there was any to begin with?”
“There’s always rigor mortis. You should know that. And please don’t ask me any more questions because I’ve already told you all I know.”
“Thanks a lot,” Gregory said, not bothering to hide his irritation. He walked over to the door. It was still open, but in order to go in he had to step over the body — actually, to jump over it, since the whole area had already been trampled enough and he didn’t want to leave any unnecessary footprints. Gregory took hold of the latch from the side and pulled. The door, stuck in the snow, didn’t budge. He tugged harder; this time, the door, with a shrill creak, slammed into the wall. It was pitch dark inside, and there was a wide puddle of melted snow on the doorsill. Closing his eyes and waiting patiently until they were accustomed to the darkness, Gregory stood for a moment in the unpleasant cold draft from the walls.
The mortuary was lit slightly by some light from the small northern window — the broken one; the other window, covered with whitewash, was barely translucent. Looking around, Gregory saw a coffin strewn with shavings standing in the center of the beaten earth floor. Leaning against it was a fir and spruce mourning wreath wrapped in a black ribbon with the letters “R.I.P.” in gold. The coffin lid stood in a corner against the wall. There were more wood shavings scattered beneath the window; alongside the other wall Gregory saw a pickaxe, a shovel, and several coils of dirty, clay-encrusted rope. There were also a few wooden boards.
Gregory went outside again, closing his eyes for a second in the painful brightness. The constable was covering the corpse with the canvas, trying very hard not to touch it.
“You had the duty until three this morning, right?” asked Gregory, walking over to him.
“That’s right, sir.” The constable straightened up.
“Where was the body?”
“When I was on duty, sir? In the coffin.”
“How do you know? Did you check it?”
“How, by opening the door?”
“No sir, but I shined my flashlight through the window.”
“Was the windowpane broken?”
“What about the coffin?”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“Was the coffin open?”
“What position was the corpse in?”
“The usual one, sir.”
“Why wasn’t it dressed?”
The constable livened up a little.
“The funeral was supposed to be today, sir. About the clothing — it’s a long story, it is. When Hansel’s wife walked out on him — that was two years ago — his sister moved in. She’s a pretty difficult woman, hard to get along with. Well, he died in the middle of breakfast and she didn’t want to give up the suit he was wearing because it was too new. She was supposed to give an old suit to the undertaker, but when he came to pick up the body she told him she’d decided to take an even older suit and dye it black. The undertaker didn’t want to make another trip, so he took the body the way it was. She was supposed to bring the suit this morning—”
“Gregory, I want to go back to London. You don’t need me here anymore,” Sorensen interrupted. “Let me take the car. You can get another one at the station house.”
“We’ll talk about that in a minute,” Gregory snapped. Sorensen was beginning to get on his nerves. A moment later, though, he added, “I’ll try to work something out for you.” Gregory was staring at the wrinkled canvas. Though he’d only seen the corpse for a few moments, he remembered it vividly. The dead man was a little under sixty years old. He had tired, work-stained palms. His head was almost bald, and there was a gray stubble covering his neck and cheeks. Most distinctly etched in Gregory’s memory, however, was the expression of surprise in the half-closed, clouded eyes. It was beginning to get warmer, and Gregory wanted to throw off his coat. He tried impatiently to calculate how long it would be before the sun reached the areas that were still in the shade. It was absolutely necessary to get casts of all the footprints and other markings before the snow melted.
He was about to send the constable up the road when he saw his crew approaching. Gregory walked over to meet them.
“It’s about time. Now listen, the snow is beginning to melt so don’t waste any time. Thomas, I’m particularly interested in the prints between the window and the door, but the snow is wet, so be careful or everything will fall apart! I’m going into town now. When you finish with the prints, measure everything that looks important, and get the distance from here to the water — there’s a stream over there behind the bushes. Take a few pictures of the whole area and search the bank of the stream. I may have missed something.”
“Don’t worry about it, Gregory,” said Wilson. His equipment, slung over his shoulder in a flat bag, kept slapping him on the hip as he walked, making him limp slightly. “And don’t forget to send the car to pick us up,” he added casually.
Gregory walked back toward the road, completely forgetting about Sorensen. Turning around for a moment, he saw the doctor following him. The ropes blocking off the scene of the accident had already been taken down, and two men in a wrecker were pulling the Bentley out of the ditch alongside the road. His car was standing next to the bridge, turned in the direction of London. Without a word, Gregory slid into the front seat next to Calls. The doctor, noting that the car’s motor was already turning over, speeded up his pace. A moment later they drove past the policeman from the highway patrol and headed back toward Pickering.
The police station was located in a two-story building on the market square. With a constable to show him the way, Gregory went upstairs and passed through a long corridor lined with doors. Through the window at one end he could see the roofs of the one-story houses on the other side of the square.
The district commander rose to greet him. He was a long-headed, red-haired man, with a reddish mark from his hatband about halfway down his forehead. His cap lay on the desk beside him.
Smiling nervously, not showing any signs of friendliness or good humor, the commander rubbed his hands together.
“Well, let’s get to work,” Gregory sighed, settling into a chair. “Do you know how Williams is? Can I speak to him?”
The commander shook his head.
“It’s out of the question. He has a skull fracture. I phoned the hospital at Hackey just a minute or two ago. They say he’s still unconscious, and according to the doctors it’ll be a long time before he comes to — if he ever does.”
“I see. Tell me, you know your own men, is Williams a good policeman? How long has he been on the force? In fact, tell me everything you know about him.”
Gregory spoke somewhat distractedly. In his mind he was back at the mortuary, still looking at the prints in the snow.
“Williams? What can I tell you? He’s been with me for four years. Before that he was up north. He served in the army, was wounded, got a medal. He got married after he came here and has two children. Nothing special to distinguish him. He likes to go fishing. He’s even-tempered, reasonably intelligent. No major offenses on his record.”
“What about minor ones?”
“Well… maybe he was a little too… easygoing. But in a good-hearted way, you know what I mean. He had a tendency to interpret the regulations independently. Of course in a town like this everyone knows everybody else… but it never involved anything important. He didn’t write enough tickets… that kind of thing. He was quiet, maybe even too quiet, I would say… uh, I mean he is,” the commander corrected himself with a wince.
“Did he believe in ghosts?” Gregory asked very seriously. The commander looked at him.
“In ghosts?” he repeated involuntarily. He seemed confused. “In ghosts? No… I don’t think so. I don’t know, really. Are you suggesting that he…” He didn’t finish. Both men were silent for a moment.
“Have you any idea what he was running away from?” Gregory asked quietly, leaning forward and looking the commander straight in the eye. The commander didn’t answer. He lowered his head slightly, then raised it.
“I haven’t the slightest idea, but…”
The commander studied Gregory’s face. At last, as if alienated by it, he shrugged his shoulders.
“All right. In that case we’ll stick to the facts. Do you have Williams’s pistol?”
“He was holding it in his hand,” the commander said in a quiet voice.
“Go on. Did he fire it?”
“No. The safety was still on. But… there was a cartridge in the chamber.”
“Loaded? What of it? Don’t tell me your men go on patrol with their guns unloaded?”
“Why not? This is a quiet town. There’s always time to load…”
“How do you think Williams managed to get from the place where the car hit him to where the ambulance crew picked him up?”
A surprised expression came over the commander’s face.
“He wasn’t able to go anywhere after the accident, Lieutenant. Smithers, the man who hit Williams, says he moved him…”
“I see. Well, that certainly simplifies things. Let’s say that… well, it simplifies things,” said Gregory. “Do you have Smithers here?”
“I’d like to question him, if that’s all right with you.”
The commander opened the door and said a few words to someone, then walked over to the window. A minute or so later a slim, good-looking young man in tight-fitting flannel trousers and a bulky-knit sweater walked in. He had narrow hips and the face of a B-movie leading man; pausing in the doorway he glanced nervously at Gregory, who was leaning back in his chair and watching him with a searching look. After a moment Gregory spoke.
“I’m down from the Yard to handle the investigation here. You may be able to help me clear up a few things.”
Smithers nodded his head slowly.
“I… actually, I’ve already told the whole story… I’m innocent — believe me, it wasn’t my fault.”
“If you’re innocent, you have nothing to worry about. Now then, the charge against you is causing an accident and endangering human life. The law does not require you to provide any information that could form the basis of a criminal indictment against you. Are you willing to answer my questions?”
“Yes, yes… of course… I… don’t have anything to hide,” stammered the young man, obviously quite frightened by the formal statement Gregory had just recited to him. “Please sir,” he continued, “there wasn’t a thing I could do… he just threw himself in front of the car. It was nighttime and there was all that fog — by the time I saw him it was too late. I was driving very slowly, I swear it, and I did everything I could to avoid hitting him… I even smashed the car up because of him. But it was all his fault, and to make matters worse it isn’t even my car… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Please, Mr. Smithers,” Gregory said. “Tell me the whole story as accurately as you can. How fast were you going?”
“No more than thirty miles an hour, so help me God. Because of all the fog, and it was snowing too. I could hardly see. In fact, I couldn’t even put my headlights on because that would have made it worse.”
“You mean you were driving with your lights off?”
“No, never in the world. My foglights were on, but even so I couldn’t see more than ten or fifteen feet ahead. All of a sudden he was right in front of the car — believe me, please, he must have been blind, or crazy — he ran straight at me and simply threw himself under the car.”
“Did he have anything in his hands?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“I asked if he was holding anything in his hand?”
“I didn’t notice at the time. Afterward, when I picked him up, I saw that he was holding a pistol, but during the accident I didn’t notice a thing. I just stepped on the brake as hard as I could, the car went into a spin and turned completely around, and I smashed into the tree. I got pretty badly cut,” he said, pointing to his forehead.
There was a thick red line of clotted blood running across Smithers’s forehead and disappearing beneath his hair.
“I didn’t even feel it at the time, I was so scared,” he continued. “For a minute I thought I had managed to miss him. I mean, I really did miss him and I still don’t know how he got hit when I skidded — maybe it was the bumper. He was lying in the snow. I began rubbing him with snow — I wasn’t even thinking about myself, although the blood was running down into my eyes. He was out cold and my first thought was to get him to the hospital, but I couldn’t get my car started — something was knocked out of kilter, I don’t know what — so I ran up the road and made a phone call from the first house.”
“Why did you carry him to the side of the road instead of to the car?”
“Well…” the young man hesitated, “because… because, uh, they say you should always keep an unconscious person flat on his back and there wasn’t enough room in the car. And I thought that if I left him in the middle of the road someone else might run over him…”
“Good. What time did all this happen?”
“A little after five. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes after.”
“Did you see anyone on the road when you were going to the telephone?”
“No, not a soul.”
“What about earlier, when you were driving? Did you see anyone? Pedestrians? Cars?”
“Pedestrians, no. Cars? No, no cars either; I did pass two trucks, but that was while I was still on the expressway.”
“Where were you coming from?”
The room was silent. Smithers walked over to Gregory.
“Inspector, please… am I free to go now? And what about the car?”
“Don’t worry about the car,” said the commander, who was still standing near the window. “If you want, my men can take it to a garage for you, we’ll tow it over ourselves. There’s a good one not far from here — we’ll take the car over and you can get it repaired.”
“Thank you. That’ll be perfect. Only I’ll have to wire home for some money. May… May I go now?”
Gregory and the commander glanced at each other and came to a silent understanding. With an affirmative nod, Gregory turned to Smithers. “Please leave your name and address,” he said. “An address where we can reach you if necessary.”
Smithers turned to leave, then stood for a moment with his hand on the doorknob.
“Uh… the constable… how is he?” he asked quietly.
“He may come out of it. We don’t know yet,” said the commander. Smithers opened his mouth as if to speak, then walked out of the room without another word.
Overcome by an incomprehensible feeling of fatigue, Gregory turned to the desk and rested his head in his hands. More than anything he would have liked to sit quietly for a while, not talking, not thinking.
“What was he running away from?” he suddenly blurted out, surprising even himself. “What the hell was he running away from?”
“You mean ‘who,’ don’t you?” said the commander, taking his seat behind the desk again.
“No. If he had trouble with a human being he would have used his gun, wouldn’t he? As sure as two and two make four he would have, don’t you agree?”
“Did you look over those prints yourself?” asked the commander. He was busily trying to push the strap of his cap through its buckle. Gregory took a good look at him. The commander of the Pickering police station had wrinkled cheeks, bloodshot eyes, crow’s feet; there were already a few gray strands scattered through his red hair.
“What was the situation when you got there?” Gregory parried the commander’s question with a question of his own. The commander, with great concentration, was working on his buckle.
“The man on duty in the station was Parrings. That kid, Smithers, called at about half past five. Parrings woke me up right away — I live in the house next door. I told him to contact the Yard, then started out as fast as I could.”
“Was it still dark when you got there?”
“It was brightening up a little, but there was a thick fog.”
“Was it snowing?”
“No, not anymore.”
The commander put his cap down; the dangling chin strap slapped against the desk.
“The doctor was busy with Williams when I got there. Williams is a big man, so I helped the doctor and the driver lift him into the ambulance. Meanwhile, two men from the highway patrol arrived on the scene. I posted them on the road to keep the accident area clear, and then I went down to the cemetery by myself.”
“Did you have a flashlight?”
“No, but I took Hardley’s — he’s the highway patrol sergeant. I found the body lying on the ground just outside the door, its head facing the door sill. The door was open.”
“What position was the body in?”
“Arms and legs bent. I think they call it a geniculate position.”
“Where did you get the canvas?”
“I found it inside the mortuary.”
“You mean you went inside?”
“Yes. Sideways. You know, I jumped over the door sill. Maybe I missed something in the dark, but the only prints I saw around the mortuary were Williams’s, and I thought there might still be someone inside —” He stopped abruptly.
“You mean you thought the perpetrator was still there?”
The decisive tone of the answer took Gregory by surprise.
“What made you think so?”
“Something moved when I shined my light inside…”
Hunched over and twisted around in his chair, Gregory studied the commander’s face. They were no more than two feet apart, maybe a little less. Clearly in no hurry to continue, the commander raised his eyes. A vague smile crossed his lips, as if he was a little ashamed of what he was going to say.
“It was a cat…”
He tapped a finger against the surface of his desk and added, “I have him here.”
Gregory took a quick look around the room, but the commander shook his head. “Here…”
He opened a drawer, revealing a small package wrapped in newspaper. After a moment’s hesitation he put it on the desk. Gregory carefully pulled back the folded edge of the paper and saw a skinny white kitten with a black tuft at the end of its tail. Its fur was wet and tangled, its paws unnaturally stiff, and the narrow, dull pupil of one eye was staring at him.
“He’s dead?” Gregory turned to the commander in bewilderment.
“He was still alive when I first entered the mortuary.”
Gregory’s cry was involuntary.
“When did he die?”
“He was yowling in agony. When I picked him up he was already beginning to get stiff.”
“Where did you find him?”
“Near the coffin. He was sitting… on the wreath.”
Gregory closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked at the cat, covered him with the newspaper again, and placed the package on the windowsill.
“I’ll have to take this for an autopsy or something,” he muttered, wiping his forehead.
“What made you bring the cat back to the station?” he continued.
“The prints. You didn’t see any paw prints, did you?”
“Because there were none,” the commander explained. “All I had with me was a flashlight, but I looked around very carefully. The cat didn’t leave any prints in the snow.”
“In that case how did he get into the mortuary?”
“I don’t know. He must have been there before it started snowing.”
“When was that?”
“Sometime after eleven. Maybe a little later. I can get the exact time for you.”
“Good, but how did he get in? Maybe he was there the whole time.”
“He wasn’t there earlier in the evening. Constable Sticks had the duty till three o’clock. From eleven till three. The cat must have slipped in sometime during his tour.”
“Did Sticks… did he open the door?”
“Yes, when he first came on duty. He’s very conscientious — wanted to make sure everything was in order when he began his tour. I checked this with him myself.”
“I see. So that’s when the cat slipped in.”
“I suppose so.”
Thomas and Wilson came into the room.
“All ready, Lieutenant. Everything’s finished. Calls is driving the doctor to the train station but he’ll be back in a few minutes. Are we going now?”
“Yes. Put this in the trunk of the car. Sorensen is going to get a little extra work,” said Gregory, not without a certain amount of malice. He shook hands with the commander.
“Thank you very much for all your help. If it’s at all possible I’d like to have Williams transferred to a hospital in London. Meanwhile, please get in touch with me if anything else comes up, all right?”
They went downstairs. Gregory glanced at his watch and was surprised to see that it was already past noon. He began to feel hungry.
“Let’s have something to eat,” he said to the others. There was a small restaurant nearby, a little place with tables and a lunch counter. Calls drove past just as they were sitting down. Wilson ran out to get him, and, after parking outside the restaurant, the sergeant came in and joined them. The four men ate in silence. Wiping his dark, slightly too elegant mustache, the photographer ordered some beer for himself and turned to Gregory.
“Can I buy you a drink, Lieutenant?”
“No thank you,” said Gregory.
The sergeant joined in declining the offer. “I’m driving,” he explained.
By the time they finished eating it was nearly two o’clock. The snow had melted, except for some grayish ice sparkling on the rooftops, and there were puddles of dirty slush all over the street. Gregory suddenly felt like driving. The men piled into the car, Calls next to him in the front seat, the other two in the back, and he pulled away from the curb, kicking up a fountain of muddy water. As he accelerated, Gregory peeked out of the corner of his eye to see whether the sergeant thought he was driving too fast, but Calls was staring out the window with a glazed, sleepy expression on his face. Gregory drove well, although, in his own opinion, a little too stiffly; this had always been a matter of some concern to him because he very much wanted to achieve the indifferent nonchalance, the automatic composure that marked the experienced driver, and he was able to maintain this pose only as long as he could keep his mind on something else. The tires hissed shrilly as he drove up the street and within a few minutes the windshield was covered with thousands of dark exclamation points. Past Wimbledon the traffic got heavier. Gregory was tempted to turn on the siren to clear the way, but since they weren’t really on an emergency call his scruples wouldn’t permit him to satisfy this desire. They reached London about an hour later. Wilson and Thomas had work to do in the lab. Gregory asked the sergeant to drop him off at home. The two of them were alone in the car, and when they reached his house Gregory didn’t get out. Instead, he offered Calls a cigarette, lit one himself, and then spoke:
“Did you see… out there?”
Calls nodded his head slowly, then rolled his window down.
“Sergeant, we’ve known each other for a long time. Tell me what you really think about all this. Is there anything you would run away from, even if you had a loaded pistol in your hand?”
Raising his eyebrows slightly, Calls glanced quickly at Gregory; then, with great deliberateness, flicked his ash. It looked as if he wasn’t going to say anything, but suddenly he blurted out:
“Come on, you know what I’m talking about.”
The sergeant took a deep drag on his cigarette.
“I looked around pretty good myself, sir. The way I see it, this Williams is circling the place the way he’s supposed to; somewhere around five, or a little after, he sees something he don’t like too much. He don’t clear out right away, though. That’s important. He stands his ground… draws his pistol, only he don’t have time to release the safety.”
“Couldn’t he have drawn his pistol after he started running?” Gregory asked. His eyes sparkled as he studied the sergeant’s face. Calls smiled unexpectedly.
“You know yourself it can’t be done. These holsters of ours are pretty tight. You saw those footprints, didn’t you? This guy took off like a bat out of hell. A man who’s running like that can’t wrestle with a holster flap. He had to get it open first. Even in the worst fog you can see a pair of headlights at thirty feet, especially if they’re shining right in your face. But Williams didn’t see them, he didn’t see nothing. Whatever it was, it really got him.”
“Who would an armed constable run away from?” Gregory repeated, a blank expression on his face. He didn’t expect an answer, and he didn’t get one.