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chapter twenty-one

It is only the first bottle that is expensive

(French proverb)


claire osborne had discovered what she wanted that same morning. However, it was not until the following morning, 13 July (Sunday spent with Alan Hardinge) that she acted upon her piece of research. It had been terribly easy -just a quick look through the two-inch-thick phone-book for Oxford and District which lay beside the pay-phone: several Morses, but only one 'Morse, E and the phone number, to boot! Leys Close, she learned from the Oxford street-map posted on the wall just inside the foyer, looked hardly more than two hundred yards away. She could have asked the O'Kanes, of course but it was a little more exciting not to.

It was another fine sunny morning; and having packed suitcase and stowed it in the boot of the Metro, and with permission to leave the car ('Shouldn't be all that long,' shed explained), she walked slowly up towards the roundabout, soon coming to the sign 'Residents Only: No Public Right of Way', then turning left through a courtyard, before arriving at a row of two storey, yellow-bricked, newish properties, their woodwork painted a uniform white. The number she sought was the first numbers saw.

After knocking gently, she noticed, through the window to the left, the white shelving of a kitchen unit and a large plastic bottle of Persil on the draining board. She noticed, too, that the window directly above her was widely open, and she knew that he must be there even before she saw the vague silhouette behind the frosted glass.

What the hell are you doing here? is that what she'd expected him to say? But he said nothing as he opened the door, bent down to pick up a red-topped bottle of semi-skimmed Co-op milk, stood to one side, inclined his head slightly to the right, and ushered her inside with an old-world gesture of hospitality. She found herself in a large lounge with two settees facing each other, the one to her left in a light honey-coloured leather, to which Morse pointed, which she now sat a wonderfully soft and comfortable Music was playing something with a sort of heavyweight sadness about it which she thought she almost recognized. Late nineteenth century? Wagner? Mahler? Very haunting and beautiful. But Morse had pressed a panel in the sophisticated bank of equipment on the shelves just behind the other settee, a smaller black leather, in which he seated himself and looked across his blue eyes showing a hint of amusement but nothing of surprise.

No need to turn it off for me, you know.'

Of course not. I turned it off for me. I can never do two things same time.'

Look;ing at the almost empty glass of red wine which stood on the low coffee table beside him, Claire found herself doubting the strictly literal truth of the statement.

Wagner, was it?'

Morse's eyes lit up with some interest. 'It does show some Wagenerian harmonic and melodic traits, I agree.'

What a load of crap, the pompous oaf! Blast him. Why didn't he just tell her? She pointed to the bottle of Quercy: 'I thought you couldn't cope with two things at once?'

Ah! But drinking's like breathing, really. You don't have to think about it, do you? And it's good for you did you know that? Theres this new report out saying a regular drop of booze is exceedingly good for the heart.'

'Not quite so good for the liver, though.'

No.' He smiled at her now, leaning back in the settee, his arms stretched out along the top, wearing the same short-sleeved pink shirt- she'd seen him in the previous Saturday. He probably needed a woman around the house.

I thought you were supposed to wait till the sun had passed the yard-arm, or something like that.'

Thats an odd coincidence!' Morse pointed to The Times on the table. 'It was in the crossword this morning: "yard-arm".'

What is a yard-arm, exactly?'

Morse shook his head. Im not interested in boats or that sort of thing. I prefer the Shakespeare quote remember? That line 'the prick of noon"?'

' "The bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon'':

'How on earth did you know that?'

'I once played the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.'

'Not the sort of thing for a schoolgirl-'

'University, actually.'

'Oh. I was never on the boards much myself. Just the once really. I had a line "I do arrest thee, Antonio". For some reason it made the audience laugh. Never understood why'

Still clutching her copies of the previous day's Sunday Times and the current issue of The Times, Claire looked slowly around at the book-lined walls, at the stacks of records everywhere, at the pictures (one or two of them fractionally askew). She especially admired the watercolour just above Morse's head of the Oxford skyline in a bluey-purple wash. She was beginning to enjoy the conversational skirmishing, she admitted that; but there was still something irritating about the man. For the first time she looked hard, directly across at him.

'You're acting now, aren't you?'

'Pardon?'

'You're pretending you're not surprised to see me.'

'No, I'm not. I saw you sitting outside the Cotswold House yesterday; smoking a cigarette. I was walking down to Cutteslowe for a newspaper.'

'Mind if I smoke now?'

'Please do. I've, er, stopped myself.'

'Since when?'

'Since this morning.'

'Would you like one?'

'Yes, please.'

Claire inhaled deeply, crossed her legs as she sat down and pulled her Jaeger skirt an inch or so below her knees.

'Why didn't you say hello?' she asked.

'I was on the opposite side of the road.'

'Not very pally, was it?'

'Why didn't you say hello to me?'

'I didn't see you.'

'I think you did, though.' His voice was suddenly gentle she had the feeling that he knew far more about her than he should. 'I think you saw me late Saturday afternoon as well -just after you'd arrived.'

'You saw me? You saw me when you walked by with your booze?'

Morse nodded.

Blast him! Blast him! 'I suppose you think you know why I've come here now.'

Morse nodded again. 'It's not because I'm psychic, though. It's | just that Jim, Mr O'Kane, he rang me yesterday'

'About this?' She held up the newspapers.

'About the girl possibly calling there, yes. Very interesting, and very valuable, perhaps I don't know. They're going to make a statement. Not to me though, I'm on holiday. Remember?'

'So it's a bit of a wasted journey. I was going to tell you '

'Not a wasted journey don't say that!'

'I I kept thinking about the girl all day yesterday well, quite a few times yesterday You know, her calling there and perhaps not having the money and then -'

'How much does a single room cost there now?'

Im not sure. And your acting again! You know perfectly well I booked a double dont you? A double for two nights. You asked OKane you nosey bloody parker!

For several seconds Morse seemed to look across the room at her with a steady intensity. 'You've got beautifully elegant legs,' he said simply; but she sensed that her answer may have caused a minor hurt. And suddenly, irrationally, she wanted him to come across the room to her, and take her hand. But he didn't.

Coffee?' he asked briskly. 'I've only got instant, I'm afraid.'

Some people prefer instant.'

'Do you?'

No.'

I don't suppose I can, er, pour you a glass of wine?'

What on earth makes you suppose that?'

'Quite good,' she commented, a minute or so later.

Not bad, is it? You need a lot of it though. No good in small quantities.'

She smiled attractively. 'I see you've finished the crossword.'

Yes. It's always easy on a Monday, did you know that? They act on the assumption that everybody's a bit bleary-brained on i Monday morning.'

A lot of people take The Times just for the crossword.'

Yep

'And the Letters, of course.'

Morse watched her carefully. 'And the Letters,' he repeated slowly.

Claire unfolded her own copy of The Times, 13 July, and read aloud from a front-page article:


Clues to missing student

Both The Times offices and the Thames Valley Police are each still receiving about a dozen letters a day (as well as many phone calls) in response to the request for information concerning the disappearance a year ago of Karin Eriksson, the Swedish student who is thought to be the subject of the anonymous verses received by the police and printed in these columns (July 3). Chief Superintendent Strange of Thames Valley CID himself believes that the ingenious suggestions received in one of the latest communications (see Letters, page 15) is the most interesting and potentially the most significant hitherto received.


'You must have read that?'

'Yes. The trouble is, just like Mr and Mrs O'Kane said, you can't follow up everything. Not even a tenth of the things come in. Fortunately a lot of 'em are such crack-pot' He picked up his own copy and turned to page 15, and sat looking (again) at the 'ingenious suggestions'.

'Clever clever analysis,' he remarked.

'Obviously a very clever fellow the one who wrote that.'

'Pardon?' said Morse.

'The fellow who wrote that letter.'

Morse read the name aloud: 'Mr Lionel Regis? Don't know him myself.'

'Perhaps nobody does.'

'Pardon?'

'See the address?'

Morse looked down again, and shook his head. 'Don't know Salisbury very well myself.'

'It's my address!'

'Really? So are you saying you wrote this?'

'Stop it!' she almost shrieked. 'You wrote it! You saw my address in the visitors' book at Lyme Regis, and you needed an address for this letter, otherwise your your "ingenious suggestions" wouldnt be accepted. Am I right?'

Morse said nothing.

'You did write it, didn't you? Please tell me!'

Yes.'

Why? Why? Why go to all this silly palaver?'

I just well, I just picked someone from the top of my mind, thats all. And you you were there, Claire. Right at the top.'

He'd spoken simply, and his eyes lifted from her legs to her face; and all the frustration, all the infuriation, suddenly drained away from her, and the tautness in her shoulders was wonderfully relaxed as she leaned back against the soft contours of the settee. For a long time neither of them spoke. Then Claire sat forward, emptied her glass, and got to her feet.

Have you got to go?' asked Morse quietly.

Fairly soon.'

Ive got another bottle.'

Only if you promise to be nice to me.'

If I tell you what lovely legs you've got again?'

And if you put the record on again.'

CD actually. Bruckner Eight.'

Is that what it was? Not all that far off, was I?

'Very close, really,' said Morse. Then virtually to himself: for a minute or two, very close indeed.


It was halfway through the second movement and three-quarters of the way through the second bottle that the front doorbell rang.

I cant see you for the minute, I'm afraid, sir.'

Strange sniffed, his small eyes suspicious.

Really? I'm a little bit surprised about that, Morse. In fact I'm suprisedyou can't see two of me!'


chapter twenty | The Way Through The Woods | chapter twenty-two







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