The Duck had been Adam’s idea. He said he had eaten there previously. Hilary had seemed surprised as she thought he hadn’t been to Fekenham before.
“I was here last year. There had been a bank robbery in Muckleford and I was sent to investigate. I didn’t see much of Fekenham though but did eat here on one occasion. So then, what did you make of the residents of Birchtickle?”
As he asked the question a young Chinese waitress appeared at Hilary’s shoulder.
“Are you ready to order?” she enquired.
Lazarus held his hand up indicating five minutes more. The waitress smiled before moving away. Hilary, her nose still in the menu, answered his question.
“Typical Wessex people; a little bit odd perhaps in one or two ways but by and large very accommodating.”
Lazarus finished looking at his menu and placed it face down on the table.
“Each and every one of them seems to be holding back. It is as if they all have secrets, or perhaps not secrets as such but a single secret. They are not telling me the whole truth and that makes me suspicious.”
Hilary finally folded the menu before she too placed in on the table.
“I think I will have the salmon,” she said. “You don’t think they have anything to do with the severed hand do you?”
Adam took a sip of water before responding.
“I wouldn’t like to say at this stage but it wouldn’t surprise me. You see, you have to take into account what they said. When we spoke with Harry Hertlasp he said something about the hand being dismembered. An odd phrase don’t you think? I mean a severed hand doesn’t necessarily mean it has come from a dismembered body does it? Then there was Jean Grimstain. How does she afford to live? Her paintings are her only source of income as far as I can see. Then there’s the row she had with Martin Tickpant. What did she mean when she said she would let the world know? Let the world know what?
“What about Agatha Nosebag who was definitely playing games with us? She knows more than she is willing to tell and I am damned if I am paying her. A woman like her, the local gossip and know-it-all, must have seen or heard something. We then have that odd business with Doreen Gosling and Tracey Trimeot’s husband. Dressing up like chickens for a bit of hanky-panky is their own affair but it was almost as though Tracey knew and was condoning it.
“Finally there is Alice and Martin Tickpant. What a bloody odd couple. He is tense, and not just because we didn’t spot the obvious with regard to his wife. There was something else, something I cannot quite put my finger on. The other question of course is why someone like Martin Tickpant married someone like Alice?”
The Chinese waitress appeared again at Hilary’s shoulder smiling broadly.
“Are you ready now,” she enquired.
Hilary gave her order, followed by Adam who also ordered a bottle of wine. As the waitress disappeared so Hilary continued the conversation.
“He showed a great deal of affection for her, for Alice I mean.”
“Yes,” said Lazarus, “I grant you that but it still doesn’t ring true. He may not be the most attractive of men but owning a farm the size of Tickpant’s and with all the other land he has presumably sold off over the years I would have thought he could have set his sights higher.”
Hilary gave him an admonishing look.
“Don’t be so judgmental. Love is a funny thing you know and there is no accounting for taste.”
An elderly couple was being ushered to the table next to theirs. The man addressed the woman as Constance.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound the way it did but you know what I mean?” continued Lazarus.
“Are you suggesting someone from Birchtickle killed someone twenty odd years ago then cut up the body before storing it in a freezer of some kind before dropping the hand into the pond? It doesn’t seem very likely does it?”
Lazarus had to agree that it didn’t.
“But just for argument’s sake, say someone had; where would they have kept the remains? Would there have been lots of blood?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” said Hilary. “When a person dies there are several stages of decomposition they go through. Firstly though, once dead, the heart stops beating. This means that should you dismember someone after death blood may trickle out but nothing would pump it as the heart is no longer working. You would need somewhere to carry out the dissection though, somewhere a little more secluded than your kitchen.”
The wine arrived courtesy of a short man dressed in white shirt and black trousers. He poured a small quantity into Adam’s glass than waited for him to take a sip. Having done so Lazarus indicated it was fine so the man filled firstly Hilary’s glass then her companion’s. The man walked away and back to the kitchen.
“So you would need a bit of space and somewhere to clean up after. You don’t think it could have been done in a kitchen then, more likely a garage,” said Lazarus.
“Anything’s possible,” replied Hilary, reaching over for the wine bottle. As she did her hand touched Adam’s. His fingers monetarily met hers then briefly caressed them. They both looked at each then moved their hands away like guilty school children.
“I’ve told you about me but you haven’t said a thing about you,” smiled Hilary, rapidly trying to forget the wonderful thrill she felt when their hands touched.
“There is not a lot to tell,” said Adam, sipping at this wine. “I was born and grew up in Dedham, an Essex village near to the Suffolk border. My mother was a primary teacher and my father a civil engineer. As much as I loved them I didn’t want to follow the footsteps of either. My education was pretty ordinary. I didn’t excel at anything although I was good at cricket, sadly not good enough to make a career out of it. I fell into the police force quite by accident after meeting a retired copper when I was looking for a job. He said that I should follow my heart and do the right thing. I had no idea what that was at first but then it struck that I had always valued the way of life we have in this country and that by valuing it I should then support and maintain it. I thought about joining the armed forces but opted instead for the police force.”
“Where do you live?”
“In a converted schoolhouse in Winchester.”
Hilary tucked into her food. Lazarus watched her as she ate. She took tiny mouthfuls that she chewed with gusto.
“It is. I share it with a friend.”
“A girlfriend?” asked Hilary trying not to sound too inquisitive.
“No, a male, an ex-athlete. Do you like your food?”
“Love it!” she responded with passion.
Lazarus laughed, then he too began to eat.
Later when the meal was finished and Adam had driven Hilary back to her car, the couple said goodnight.
Hilary went to plant a tiny kiss on Adam’s check but as she did he turned slightly and instead her lips brushed against the corner of his mouth. There was a momentary embarrassed silence as they both looked at each other. Hilary looked down at her shoes then up at Adam.
“Thanks for a lovely meal,” she said, “I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would you like to come in for a coffee?”
“Sadly no, duty calls. My boss wants an update, even at this hour, of how this case is going. Thank you for sparing the time to accompany me today. Perhaps we can do this again, the meal I mean.”
Superintendent Obadiah Pearight was working industriously at his desk when Adam Lazarus walked in. Pearight was a moon-faced, walrus-moustached gentleman who had risen to a senior position in the police force through a diligent adherence to working to the rule book; a lifelong bachelor who had dedicated his life to his career but who had, in recent months, formed a relationship with a lady of similar vintage.
Seeing his Chief Inspector standing before him, Pearight cast his pale blue eyes upon the younger man. He liked Lazarus. He thought him worthy of the recent promotion from Inspector to Chief Inspector even though he was all too aware of Adam Lazarus’s past.
“Lazarus,” he beamed, “please take a seat.”
Flicking his hair back from his eyes Lazarus did as requested. He watched as his boss, with a flourish of his pen, finished writing whatever report he had been working on. The older man put his pen down, leant back and clasped his hands around his fattening stomach.
“You’ve had the odd liaison haven’t you Lazarus? You are not unfamiliar with the gentler sex?”
Lazarus said that he had, not knowing quite where this conversation was heading. His Superintendent continued.
“I have recently, after a life of blissful un-attachment, met someone who I confess to finding rather lovely, a woman who for the first time in my life seems to add something that long has been missing. The problem I have is that I am rather nonplussed by the fairer sex. I went out with Hibiscus and her sister to the shops the other day. Her sister, Marigold, wanted to purchase a new dress. There was a deal of going back and forth between the same shops, which I accepted as being how things work, looking at various garments. Finally we, or rather she, came across the dress that took her fancy. Both Hibiscus and Marigold are of similar size so both tried the dress on. I found this odd as a chap wouldn’t ask another to put on the suit that he liked. Anyway, trying to ensure I did what was required of me I said nothing until Marigold asked me what I thought of how she looked in said frock. I of course said she looked perfect. In fact my exact words were ‘that dress looks splendid on you my dear.’ At this point Hibiscus took umbrage with me. She really seemed quite put out. She wanted to know why the dress didn’t look good on her. I then explained that it did. She then asked why I hadn’t said so to which I replied I thought it was Marigold buying the dress. To my amazement they both got a bit huffy and went off without me to take tea. What on earth did I do wrong?”
Lazarus smiled. He was fond of old Pearight. The man had spotted his talent and had stuck by him even when things had gone awfully wrong. As a policeman, Pearight was an exceptionally assiduous officer well deserving of his rank. He probably would never get any higher than Superintendent but that didn’t seem to bother him. However, when it came to women Pearight hadn’t the faintest notion of femme-politic.
“My advice sir, for what it’s worth, is to ensure you constantly lavish praise on the woman of choice at all times. Neglecting to do so will only cause offense even when none was meant or given.”
“I have to play sycophant?”
“Just butter them up sir that should do the trick and remember if a lady ever should ask if her bottom looks big in a dress, say it doesn’t. Don’t say it looks wonderful or that you love her rear. You must just say it doesn’t.”
“I see. Thank you, Adam, I will take this on board. Now then to business; how is this case, this ‘Hand in glove’ affair progressing?”
Lazarus relayed the information thus far gleaned to his superior in as logical manner as possible, leaving out nothing. During the verbal report, Pearight would occasionally interject asking pertinent questions. Lazarus answered these to the best of his ability. When all had been discussed it was half past midnight.
“Thanks for coming in so late Adam. I appreciate your dedication to duty. How are you these days? No migraines, no panic attacks?”
Lazarus felt a slight sense of shame and embarrassment, wishing nothing more than to forget the past.
“I’m fine sir, thank you for asking.”
Pearight beamed as he stood up, indicating the meeting had finished.
“Good show. Take care of yourself. If you need me, shout. We don’t have a huge budget for this case so I would appreciate you bear that in mind. Good night.”
“Good night sir.”
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.