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chapter fifty-five

Thanatophobia (n): a morbid dread of death, or (sometimes) of the sight of death: a poignant sense of human mortality, almost universal except amongst those living on Olympus

(Small's English Dictionary]


dr laura hobson knelt again beside the body, this time her bright hazel eyes looking up at a different chief inspector: not at Johnson – but at Morse.

'You reckon he was killed instantly?' asked the latter.

She nodded. 'I'm no expert on ballistics but it was possibly one of those seven-millimetre bullets – the sort that expand on contact.'

'The sort they kill deer with,' added Morse quietly.

'It's' – she fingered the corpse – 'er, sometimes difficult to find the entry-hole. Not in this case, though. Look!'

She pointed a slim finger to a small, blood-encrusted hole, of little more than the diameter of a pencil, just below the left shoulder blade of the man who lay prone on the ground between them. 'But you'll see there's never much of a problem with the exit hole.' Gently she eased the body over and away from her, pushing it on to its right side, and pointing to a larger hole that had been blasted just below the heart, a hole almost the size of a mandarin orange.

This time, however, Morse was not looking. He was used to death of course; but accident, and terrible injury, and the sight of much blood – such things he could never stomach. So he turned his eyes away, and for a few moments stood staring around him in that quiet woodland glade, where so very recently someone had shot George Daley in the back, and no doubt watched him fall and lie quite still beneath the giant oak tree there. And the owners of seven-millimetre rifles? Morse knew two of them: David Michaels and George Daley. And whatever else might be in doubt, George Daley would have found it utterly impossible to have shot himself with the rifle that was his.

'Any ideas how long?' asked Morse.

Dr Hobson smiled. 'That's the very first question you always asked Max.'

'He told you?'

'Yes.'

'Well, he never told me the answer – never told me how long, I mean.'

'Shall I tell you?'

'Please do!' Morse smiled back at her, and for a moment or two he found her very attractive.

'Ten, twelve hours. No longer than twelve, I don't think. I'll plump for ten.'

Morse, oblivious of the time for most of the day, now looked at his wrist-watch: 8.25 p.m. That would put the murder at about 10 a.m., say? 10.30 a.m.? Yes… that sort of time would figure reasonably well if Morse's thinking was correct. Perhaps he wasn't right, though! He'd been so bloody certain in his own mind that the case was drawing gently if sombrely towards a conclusion: no more murder, no more deaths. Huh! That's exactly what he'd told Lewis, wasn't it? Just wait! – that's what he'd said. Things'll work out if only we're prepared to wait. Why, only that day he'd waited, before driving off to Wales, without the slightest premonition of impending tragedy.

And he'd been wrong.

There would be greater tragedies in life, of course, than the murder of the mean and unattractive Daley. No one was going to miss the man dramatically much… except of course for Mrs Daley, Margaret Daley – of whom for some reason Morse had so recently dreamed. But perhaps even she might not miss him all that much, as time gradually cured her heart of any residual tenderness. After a decent burial. After a few months. After a few years.

Yet there was always the possibility that Morse was wrong again.

Lewis was suddenly at his side, bending down and picking up the khaki-green pork-pie hat Daley invariably wore on freezing winter mornings and sweltering summer days alike.

'There's not much shooting here, it seems, sir – not like Wytham – not at this time of year, anyway. Some of the tenants have got shot-gun rights – for a bit of pigeon-shooting, or rabbits, and pheasants a bit later on. Not much, though. That's why Mr Williams, the keeper there' – Lewis pointed back in the direction of Combe Lodge – 'says he thinks he may remember a bit of a pop some time this morning. ‘He can't pin it down much closer than that.'

'Bloody marvellous!' said Morse.

'He says there were quite a lot he let through the gate – there's always quite a lot on Mondays. He thinks he remembers Daley going through, some time in the morning, but there's always quite a few estate vans.'

'He thinks a lot, your keeper, doesn't he?'

'And one or two joggers, he says.'

'Literally one or two?'

'Dunno.'

'Promise me you'll never take up jogging, Lewis!'

'Can we move him?' asked Dr Hobson.

'As far as I'm concerned,' said Morse.

'Anything else, Inspector?'

'Yes. I'd like to ask you along to the Bear and have a few quiet drinks together – a few noisy drinks, if you'd prefer it. But we shall have to go and look round Daley's house, I'm afraid. Shan't we, Lewis?'

Behind the spectacles her eyes twinkled with humour and potential interest: 'Anuther tame, mebby?'

She left.

'Anuther tame, please, Dr Hobson!' said Chief Inspector Morse, but to himself.


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