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Authors: Margaret Yorke

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Cast For Death (2 page)

Someone else saw it in the same instant: a woman, who gave a shriek. There were more shouts and cries. Footsteps pounded on the pavement, and people came to lean over the parapet beside Patrick, staring at the sight. In a very few minutes the police arrived and were soon down on the bank under the wall, hauling the body ashore. It was a man dressed in dark clothes against which his hands and his face showed white as he lay sprawled in the light from above. His hair, sodden and therefore darkened, looked like mahogany in the lamplight.

Shocked murmurs broke out among the gathering crowd. Their fascinated absorption in the tragedy filled Patrick with disgust; nothing could be done for the drowned man himself and officialdom had taken charge, so he slipped away.

He had seen enough of sudden death and there was nothing to hold him here.

His appetite had gone, though, and he drove straight back to Oxford without dinner.

 

2

 

Liz telephoned at half-past nine the next morning. She had waited until then, to see if Patrick would call her first. Surely he must wonder what had prevented her from meeting him at the theatre?

‘Ah, Liz,’ he said, answering promptly.

At least he recognised her voice, she thought wryly.

‘What happened?’ he went on, sounding unconcerned.

‘I was abducted by two hi-jackers,’ she said.

‘No, Liz, really. What held you up?’

‘Mrs Pearce in the flat below fell and broke her hip. I had to see her into hospital,’ she said. Why bother to tell him about all that had to be done – the daughter in Dorset informed, the suitcase packed, the milk stopped. He wouldn’t be interested. It had taken hours, for the daughter was out and had to be tracked down by way of neighbours. ‘It happened too late for me to get in touch with you before you left Oxford,’ she added. ‘You got my message?’

‘Yes, thanks. I’m sorry you couldn’t make it.’

‘So am I,’ she said. ‘Did you enjoy it? How was Sam?’

‘The man who had your seat unwrapped toffees throughout,’ said Patrick. ‘And Sam wasn’t playing. It was some stand-in.’

‘Oh, why? Is he ill?’

‘Indisposed, it said in the programme. That could mean anything from appendicitis to a hangover, I suppose.’

‘Poor Sam. And how disappointing not to see him,’ said Liz. ‘He does seem to be unlucky.’

Sam Irwin’s hoped-for come-back in the theatre had not amounted to a great deal, though he had worked steadily since Patrick and Liz had met him. There had been a season at Stratford-upon-Avon in small roles, and he had appeared on television at intervals, but he had not found fame.

‘Yes,’ Patrick agreed. ‘Well, anyway, I’m glad you’re all right.’

‘Did you really think I might not be?’

‘No. You’d have said you were ill, in your message, if you were.’

‘You might not have been given that part of it,’ Liz said tartly.

‘You sound annoyed,’ said Patrick, surprised.

‘Oh no, I’m not,’ said Liz. ‘Why should I be?’

Why indeed? Their relationship had never gone beyond the affectionate friendliness of their undergraduate days. Patrick regarded her as someone he could pick up and cast aside at his own whim; he always enjoyed her company but sought it rarely. She accepted this and was not really surprised when fresh confirmation of his limitations, as now, appeared. In a sense it was a restful situation; Patrick was a safe, undemanding figure from the past and an amiable companion for the present: no more.

‘I thought you sounded a bit off,’ he said. ‘I was going to ring you,’ he added, ‘to see what had happened. But I thought it couldn’t be much.’

Not much: she recalled the night before; poor shocked Mrs Pearce in pain; the trek to the hospital; the telephoning. It had seemed quite a lot at the time.

‘We’ll try again,’ said Patrick. ‘Something else, since
Macbeth’s
finished.’

‘Yes. All right. That would be nice.’

Would he suggest a definite date? She waited, but he didn’t. Perhaps he was going away for the vacation. She asked him.

‘Oh, here and there for a few days, perhaps,’ he said. ‘Not abroad.’

‘I thought you might be off to Athens for Easter, since you’ve got so bitten with Greece,’ said Liz. Patrick had visited Greece several times in recent years and had become so enamoured of the country that he now found it difficult to plan visits elsewhere.

‘No. But Dimitris Manolakis is coming over here,’ said Patrick. ‘That policeman, you remember, who was so efficient in Crete.’

‘Those vases. Yes.’

‘And those deaths,’ said Patrick.

‘You had a hand in sorting it out, too, didn’t you?’ Liz said mildly.

‘A minor one.’ And literally, for his hand still bore a small scar.

‘Is he coming on holiday?’

‘Yes. He’s got some relations over here whom he wants to see, and Colin’s going to show him round at Scotland Yard. Then I’ll take him about a bit.’

‘Is his sister coming too?’ Liz had heard about her, after Patrick had stayed with Manolakis in Crete.

‘She’s married now,’ said Patrick.

‘Oh, good.’

Patrick thought it a pity.

They ended their conversation with no plans for meeting.

 

3

 

Oxford in the vacation was a pleasant place. There were far fewer cycles about, and even fewer undergraduates. The tourist season was only beginning; small groups appeared in college quadrangles, but the hordes of summer had not yet arrived. The trees were in bud, leaves swelling with the promise of spring, and the forsythia hung great yellow sheets in the gardens of North Oxford. On Headington Hill the blossom was out. Patrick spent the weekend after his trip to London reading a book of literary analysis by a colleague, and writing a waspish review of it. On Tuesday he set off to meet Manolakis at Heathrow. He was glad of this diversion. Most of his colleagues had dispersed to various places – the married ones to their homes, the unmarried to friends or abroad – and St Mark’s was quiet. He was usually glad of some weeks clear to devote to research, but a book he had been working on was complete ahead of schedule, and he had time to spare. Manolakis’s letter announcing his visit had been a surprise; he was coming, he had written in his flowing foreign hand, mainly for pleasure; he hoped there would be time to meet. Patrick read more into this than was apparent; once before Manolakis had combined business with pleasure and had solved a crime; this time he could be on the trail of another. He replied at once with an invitation to stay at St Mark’s and said he would meet Manolakis when he arrived.

With the new stretch of motorway open, the journey to London by road was now easier than ever. Patrick sped along in his dark red MGB. He still enjoyed its novelty. After his Rover was stolen and then found smashed beyond repair, he had spent weeks wondering what to replace it with, and had tried out numerous rather sedate saloons before choosing a sports car. There was no need, since he was unmarried, to consider the problem of space. So far, only his sister Jane had had the temerity to tease him about his revised image.

Manolakis’s plane was due at eleven-forty. Patrick planned to take him in to London straight away, for a general look round before making plans for the rest of his stay. He knew that the Greek had been in direct contact with Detective Inspector Colin Smithers; Patrick hoped to be present when Colin showed his Greek colleague some of the secrets of the Yard, and altogether he looked forward to his friend’s visit. Manolakis doubtless had in mind specific places he wished to see, and Patrick would happily conduct him to others which should not be missed.

The miles slid by, the car purring along through the spectacular cut above Aston Rowant. Patrick took the turn- off for Marlow to join the M4, and drove down the linking escarpment which by-passed the riverside town behind a blue Mercedes. He followed it round the roundabout outside Marlow and up the road which climbed through the woods to the junction with the Henley road, where he turned left to pick up the motorway. There was a lot of traffic here, going in both directions, and he was forced to crawl behind a van which the Mercedes had managed to pass. As they went in procession past a church and the turning to Maidenhead a black flash, a dog or a cat, suddenly sprang from the side of the road between Patrick’s car and the van in front. There was nothing he could do to avoid it, for if he braked the car behind, already much too close, would crash into him, and he could not swerve away because of the oncoming traffic. He stamped for an instant on the brake but had to release it at once. There was a considerable thud, and Patrick slowed down, pulling in to the side of the road as he did so. The cars behind reformed and sorted themselves out as he got out and walked back along the road to see what he had hit.

The dog, for that was what it was, had been flung on to the verge by the force of the collision and now lay motionless on the grass. It was a black poodle, and it was dead. The law obliged you to report the death of a dog to the police, and your own morality to tell the owner, but this one wore no collar. Well, the owner could not be far away, having doubtless been exercising his pet on the nearby common. Or her pet. Men, Patrick thought, did not own poodles.

He laid the dog closer to the hedge, out of range of other motorists, drove on to the roundabout and circled it to turn, then took the road across the common. But there was no sign of anyone whistling or calling; no one seemed to be searching for the poodle. By the time Patrick had found a police station, described what had happened and left his own name and address, half an hour had passed.

He hurried on towards Heathrow, the bright day dimmed a little by the incident, time short now if he were not to be late for Manolakis.

The plane had already landed but the passengers were not yet through customs. Manolakis, in a light brown suit and bright blue tie, was among the first through the doorway. He beamed as he greeted Patrick with many warm remarks and much hand-shaking. The flight had been perfect: no bumps; he had seen both Venice and Mont Blanc. He had never been out of Greece before.

‘Haven’t you a coat?’ Patrick asked, as they went to the car. A sharp wind blew round the airport buildings.

‘I have one for the rain in my baggages,’ said Manolakis.

‘You’ll need to wear it for the warmth,’ said Patrick.

‘Your city is very fine from the sky,’ said Manolakis. ‘I have seen Windsor Castle and the Thames river.’

‘We’re so near, I thought you might like to see a bit more of London now, before we go to Oxford,’ said Patrick.

‘That would please me very much,’ said Manolakis. ‘I would like to see the Tower of London, please.’

‘The Tower!’ Patrick had anticipated a sentimental trip to the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, but had not foreseen this. ‘I’ve never been there myself,’ he confessed. ‘Right. The Tower it shall be. You’ll see quite a bit of London on the way.’ Then he had an idea. ‘We’ll go by boat,’ he said. That would make a fine introduction to the splendours of the capital.

The Greek was clearly impressed as they drove through Hyde Park, past Buckingham Palace and down Whitehall; Patrick explained everything as they went along.

They left the MGB in a car park, and Patrick urged Manolakis to put his raincoat on, for it would be breezy on the river. Before embarking, they found a pub which looked suitably atmospheric, and over their beer and ham sandwiches Patrick enquired about Manolakis’s wife and three children; all had sent him affectionate messages, and so had his sister. Then they went down to Waterloo Bridge to catch the boat.

The voyage was a good idea. Sunlight filtering through the wispy clouds emphasised the varying hues of all the buildings as they passed. Patrick pointed out the most notable, and when they approached the Tower he launched fluently into a description of the young Elizabeth in the rain, a tale equal to any Greek legend. Patrick himself was quite moved as they passed within the huge walls wherein so much tragedy had dwelt. There were groups of schoolchildren on holiday walking around, and a number of tourists, but so early in the year it was not crowded and they could move about freely. Manolakis was impressed by the vast suits of armour for horse and man; it was all rather different from the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.

‘We go back by river?’ he asked eagerly.

So they did. Patrick pointed out a police river patrol boat as it went by.

‘Last time I was in London I saw a dead man taken out of the river,’ he said.

Manolakis made clicking sounds with his tongue.

‘Who was it?’ he asked.

‘I don’t know. Some suicide. He had red hair,’ said Patrick. Until this moment he had almost forgotten the incident.

‘You did not ask the name?’

‘No. There was nothing I could do. It was no concern of mine,’ said Patrick.

‘It is not like you. Not wanting to know why,’ said Manolakis.

‘Plenty of people jump into the river,’ said Patrick. ‘You can’t wonder about them all.’

‘We do not have many suicides in Greece,’ said Manolakis.

While they talked he was gazing about him.

‘So big,’ he said. ‘So very big. And beautiful.’

Patrick felt proud. Manolakis was right: London was, indeed, a beautiful city.

‘We’ll go to the Houses of Parliament another day,’ he said. ‘And Westminster Abbey.’ He felt a sudden lightening of spirit; the slight depression brought on that morning by the accident with the dog had gone.

‘”Latest swindle case,”’ read Manolakis as they passed a newspaper seller. ‘What is swindle?’ His English was so good that Patrick was surprised by the question. He explained. ‘Ah yes. I write him down when we get to the car,’ said the Greek.

‘Do you still carry that notebook around with you?’

‘Oh yes. He is very useful,’ said Manolakis. He had a habit of noting down new colloquialisms whenever he met them and then producing them, used perfectly in context, soon afterwards.

‘I will buy the paper. I will read him later. It will be good for my English,’ said Manolakis. ‘It is so strange to hear it all about us.’

In fact they had not heard it all about them, in Patrick’s opinion, for so many people in London spoke in other tongues.

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