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chapter sixty-one

A reasonable probability is the only certainty

(Edgar Watson Howe, Country Town Sayings)


'You're sure about all this, Morse?' Strange's voice was sharp, with an edge of scepticism to it.

'Completely sure.'

'You said that about Michaels.'

'No! I only said I was ninety per cent sure on that.'

'OK.' Strange shrugged his shoulders, tilted his head, and opened his palms in a gesture of acquiescence. 'There are just one or two little things – '

But the phone went on Strange's desk: 'Ah! Ah! Yes! Want to speak to him?'

He handed the phone over to Morse: Dr Hobson. Quite certainly, she said, Michaels' rifle hadn't been fired for weeks. That was all.

Strange had heard the pathologist, just. 'Looks as if you're right about that, anyway. We'll give the Met a call. Certain to have scarpered to the capital, don't you reckon, the lad?'

'Ninety per cent sure, sir – and we've already given the Met his description.'

'Oh!'

Morse rose to go, but Strange was not quite finished: 'What first put you on to it?'

For a few moments Morse paused dubiously. 'Several things, I suppose. For example, I once heard someone claim that all three types of British woodpeckers could be found in Wytham Woods. I think I heard it in a pub. Or perhaps I just read it on a beer mat.'

'Useful things, pubs!'

'Then' – Morse ignored the sarcasm – 'I thought if Johnson had opted for Blenheim, it'd pretty certainly turn out to be Wytham.'

'That's grossly unfair.'

'I agree.' Morse got up and walked to the door. 'You know, it's a bit surprising no one ever noticed her accent, isn't it? She must have a bit of an accent. I bet you I'll notice it!'

'You're a lucky bugger to hear as well as you do. The wife says I'm getting deafer all the time.'

'Get a hearing aid, sir. They probably wouldn't let you stay in the force, and they'd have to give you a few years' enhancement on the pension.'

'You think so? Really?'

'Ninety per cent sure,' said Morse, closing the door behind him and walking thoughtfully back through the maze of corridors to his office.

He'd omitted to acquaint Strange with the biggest clue of all, but it would have taken a little while to explain and it was all a bit nebulous – especially for a man of such matter-of-fact hard-headedness as Strange. But it had formed, for him, Morse, the focal point of all the mystery. The normal murderer (if such a person may be posited) would seek to cover up all traces of his victim. And if his victim were someone like Karin Eriksson, he would burn the clothes, chuck her jewellery and trinkets into the canal, dispose of the body – sink it in some bottomless ocean or cut it up in little bits and take it to the nearest waste-disposal site; even pack it up in those black plastic bags for the dustmen to cart off, since in Morse's experience the only things they wouldn't take were bags containing garden waste. So! So if our murderer wanted to rid the earth of every trace of his victim, why, why, had he been so anxious for the rucksack and associated possessions to be found? All right, it hadn't worked out all that well, with accidental factors, as almost always, playing their part. But the rucksack was found, very soon; the police were informed, very soon; the hunt for Karin's murderer was under way, very soon. Now if a young Swedish student goes missing sans everything, then there is always less than certitude that she is dead: thousands of young persons from all parts of Europe, all parts of the world, disappear regularly: get listed as 'missing persons'. But if a young girl goes missing, and at the same time her possessions are discovered in a hedgerow somewhere nearby, then the implications are all too painfully obvious, the conclusions all too.readily drawn: the conclusions that Johnson and almost every other policeman in the Thames Valley had drawn a year ago.

Though not Morse.

Perhaps he could, on reflexion, have explained his thinking to Strange without too much difficulty? After all, the key question could be posed very simply, really: why was the murderer so anxious for the police to pursue a murder enquiry? To that strange question Morse now knew the answer; of that he was quite sure. Well, ninety-nine per cent sure: because the police would be looking for a body, not for someone who was still alive.


Ten minutes later, Lewis was ready for him, and together the two detectives drove out to Wytham Woods once more.


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







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