Authors: Deborah Crombie
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Kincaid and Gemma stood at the end of the bridge over the dike at Sutton Gault, the expanse of the East Anglian sky stretching gray and limitless above them. Below, the forensics team worked carefully in the soft ground at the water’s edge. They’d begun yesterday, under Adam Lamb’s direction, but the failing light had forced them to postpone until this morning.
“I’ve brought you some coffee,” said the local inspector, crossing the grass towards them with two steaming polystyrene cups. “Why don’t you go in and have some lunch while you wait?” He gestured over his shoulder at the neat pub tucked in the hollow of land below the road. “It’s early enough you might get in without a booking. Folks come all the way from London for the food here, believe it or not; it’s that good.”
“Some other time, thanks,” said Kincaid. “I think we’ll just wait here for now.” Coppers became callous enough over the finding
of bodies—he couldn’t count the times he’d grabbed a take-away en route to a crime scene—but lingering over a posh lunch while the forensics lads dug for Verity Whitecliff’s bones didn’t seem right to him. It had become a personal matter.
As the inspector scrambled down the steep bank to rejoin the team, Gemma moved nearer to Kincaid. She’d wrapped her hands round the hot cup to warm them, for the wind that whipped along the top of the dike was vicious. “I keep thinking of what it must have been like for them that night, burying her. I’ve even dreamt of it.”
Kincaid glanced at her. She’d replaced the bloodstained scarf she’d used to tie Darcy’s hands with a new one in dull plum, and the color made her hair blaze in contrast. “It must have seemed a nightmare,” he said. “But all their suffering doesn’t excuse their silence.”
“No,” she answered softly, so that he had to bend his head to hear her against the wind. “But she didn’t go unmourned … and the truth will be told.” Frowning, she added, “I’m not sure I’d have Dame Margery’s strength.”
He thought of their visit to Margery Lester the previous afternoon. She’d received them in her dove gray drawing room, as impeccably dressed as when they’d seen her last, but she looked impossibly fragile, as though she’d aged years since that day a mere week ago in Ralph Peregrine’s office. Since then she had borne the news of her friend Iris Winslow’s brain tumor, as well as her son’s arrest for murder.
While the police had not found Kincaid’s missing case notes, they had discovered a small enameled box containing digoxin tablets in Darcy’s possession. When questioned, he claimed he carried them in case his mother should need them.
“Was your son in the habit of keeping your medication for you, Dame Margery?” Kincaid asked, when they’d refused her offer of tea or sherry.
“I have never asked him to do so,” she said carefully, disguising a tremble in her hands by folding them in her lap.
“Have you ever known him to carry your medication?” Kincaid said, narrowing it down.
“No. No, I have not. It’s not like nitroglycerin, Mr. Kincaid, to be used in the event of pain. Digoxin is taken on a regular basis.”
She spoke calmly, evenly, and yet Kincaid knew she must be aware of the implications.
“Dame Margery, have you noticed any discrepancies in your prescriptions lately?”
She looked away. “Yes. I had to have my last bottle replaced several days earlier than usual.”
Gemma made a small movement of surprise.
Margery turned to her. “Did you think I would lie, Miss James? That would be pointless—the chemist’s records will tell you the same thing—and it would be wrong. I will not deliberately discredit my son, nor will I protect him.” Her hands clenched in a spasm, and she looked at them in unexpected appeal. “Did I fail as a mother? Would my son have turned out differently if I had put him before my work?”
She shook her head. “You can’t answer that, Mr. Kincaid. No one can. It was unfair of me to ask.” Gazing through the French doors at the early roses in her garden, she said quietly, “He was a lovely child. But even then he liked his own way.”
After a moment, Margery unclasped her hands and fixed her direct gaze on them. She sat as still and straight as when they had come in, and in her eyes he saw a formidable determination. “I’m going to finish Victoria McClellan’s book,” she said. “I will not allow her work to be wasted … regardless of the personal… difficulty. She and Lydia deserve to be heard. And Verity…” For the first time, her voice wavered. “I owe a debt to Verity I can never repay.”
Gemma’s touch brought Kincaid back to the present. “Will you tell Kit about Lydia and Verity?” she asked.
Nodding, he said, “I suppose I must. He deserves to know why his mother died.”
“Duncan.” To his surprise, Gemma slipped her arm through his as if she didn’t mind who saw. “What are you going to do about Kit?”
He looked out into the flat distance, saw endless changing possibilities he could neither predict nor control. He could only feel his way, action by action, circumstance by circumstance, into new and uncharted territory. “I’ll ring him every day if I can. See him as often as possible. Then, when he’s had time to get used to me …”
“You’ll tell him the truth?”
“Yes. No secrets. And we’ll go from there.”
Gemma tightened her grip on his arm. After a moment, she said, “It frightens me a bit. It will change things between us. For better or worse, I don’t know. Maybe it will just be different.”
He grinned at her. “It scares the hell out of me.”
A shout came from below. The inspector beckoned to them, and they began the precarious climb down the bank. When they reached the bottom, they picked their way to a dry tussock near the excavation site and squatted to see what the forensics specialist held in his gloved hands.
“You were bang on,” he said, looking pleased with himself. “Human scapula. And there’s more. But the decomposition’s quite advanced. It’s going to be a job getting her out.”
The fragment of bone looked too small, too delicate to be human, thought Kincaid, and the leaching soil had stained it the color of old ivory.
Gemma reached out, her fingers hovering over the bone as if she might caress it. She looked up at him. “It seems Lydia was the voice of vengeance, after all.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An Agatha and Macavity nominee, Deborah Crombie received international acclaim for her first four mysteries,
A Share in Death, All Shall Be Well, Leave the Grave Green
Mourn Not Your Dead
, which are being published in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Japan. She grew up in Dallas, Texas, and later lived in Edinburgh and in Chester, England. She travels to Great Britain yearly to research her books and recently lectured at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. She now lives in a small north Texas town with her husband, daughter, cocker spaniel, and four cats, and is at work on the sixth book in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series.
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