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chapter sixty-six

As when that divelish yron engin, wrought

In deepest hell, and framd by furies skill,

With windy nitre and quick sulphur fraught,

And ramd with bollett rownd, ordaind to kill,

Conceivcth fyre

(Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene)


the semi-circular area where birdwatchers and the occasional loving couple were wont to park was packed with police cars and vans when, half an hour after leaving Blenheim, Lewis drove through the perimeter gate ('The woods are closed to Permit Holders until 10.00 a.m. every day except Sunday') and into the compound, on his left, marked off with its horizontal four-barred, black-creosoted fencing. Here, under the direction of Chief Inspector Johnson, some fifty or so policemen – some uniformed, some not – were systematically conducting their search.

'No luck yet?’ asked Morse.

'Give us a chance!' said Johnson. 'Lot of ground to cover, isn't there?'

The large wooden sheds, the stacks of logs and fencing-posts, the occasional clump of trees, the rank growth of untended bushes – all precluded any wholly scientific search-pattern. But there was plenty of time; there were plenty of men; they would find it, Johnson was confident of that.

Morse led the way up the curving track towards the furthest point from the compound entrance, towards the hut where David Michaels had his office, right up against the recently erected deer-fence. To the left of this track was a line of forty or so fir trees, about thirty feet high; and to the right, the hut itself, the main door standing padlocked now. On the wooden sides of this extensive hut. at the top, were six large bird-boxes, numbered 9-14; and at the bottom there grew rank clumps of nettles. Morse looked back down the sloping track; retraced his steps, counting as he went; then stopped at a smaller open-sided shed in which stood a large red tractor with a timber-lifting device fixed to it. For a minute or two he stood beside the tractor, behind the shed wall, and then, as if he were a young boy with an imaginary rifle, lifted both his arms, curled his right index-finger round an imaginary trigger, closed his left eye, and slowly turned the rifle in an arc from right to left, as if some imaginary vehicle were being driven past – the rifle finally remaining stationary as the vehicle's imaginary driver dismounted, in front of the head forester's hut.

'You reckon?' asked Lewis quietly.

Morse nodded.

That means we probably ought to be concentrating the search up there, sir.' Lewis pointed back towards Michaels' office.

'Give him a chance! He's not so bright as you,' whispered Morse.

'About fifty, fifty-five yards. I paced it too, sir.'

Again Morse nodded, and the two of them rejoined Johnson.

'Know much about rifles?' asked Morse.

'Enough.'

'Could you use a silencer on a seven-millimetre?''

' "Sound-moderator" -that's the word these days. No, not much good. It'd suppress the noise of the explosion, but it couldn't stop the noise of the bullet going through the sound-barrier. And incidentally, Morse, it might be a.243 – don't forget that!'

'Oh!'

'You were thinking it might be around here, weren't you?' Johnson kicked aside a few nettles along the bottom of the shed, and looked at Morse shrewdly, if a little sadly.

Morse shrugged. 'I'd be guessing, of course.'

Johnson looked down at the flattened nettles. 'You never did have much faith in me, did you?'

Morse didn't know what to say, and as Johnson walked away, he too looked down at the flattened nettles.

'You're quite wrong, you know, sir. He's a whole lot brighter than me, is Johnson.'

But again Morse made no reply, and the pair of them walked down to the low, stone-built cottage where until very lately Michaels and his Swedish wife had lived so happily together.

Just as they were entering, they heard a shot from fairly far off. But they paid little attention to it. As Michaels had informed them, no one was ever going to be too disturbed about hearing a gun-shot in Wytham: game-keepers shooting squirrels or rabbits, perhaps; farmworkers taking a pot at the pestilential pigeons.

Inside the cottage, just beside the main entrance, stood the steel security cabinet from which Michaels' rifle had been taken for forensic examination. But there was no longer any legal requirement for the cabinet to be locked, and it now stood open – and empty. Lewis bent down and looked carefully at the groove in which the rifle had stood, noting the scratches where the butt had rested; and beside it a second groove – with equally tell-tale signs.

'I'm sure you're right,' said Lewis.

'If you remember,' said Morse, 'he told us himself, Michaels did. When you told him you'd seen no rifles in the hut he said… he said "Oh, I couldn't keep 'em there" – those were his exact words, I think.'

'You're still certain he did it, sir?'

'Yes.'

'What about that "Uncertainty Principle" you were on about this morning?'

'What about it?' asked Morse. Infuriatingly.

'Forget it.'

'What's the time?'

'Nearly twelve.'

'Ah, the prick of noon!'

'Pardon?'

'Forget it.'

'We can walk down if you like, sir. A nice little ten-minute walk – do us good. We can work up a thirst.'

'Nonsense!'

'Don't you enjoy walking – occasionally?'

'Occasionally, yes.'

'So?'

'So drive me down to the White Hart, Lewis! What's the problem?'


chapter sixty-five | The Way Through The Woods | chapter sixty-seven







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