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Authors: Catherine Aird

A Late Phoenix

BOOK: A Late Phoenix
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A Late Phoenix

A C. D. Sloan Mystery

Catherine Aird

For Philippa Buckley

with love

Cast of Characters

Dr. William Latimer.
A young physician just beginning his career. His practice on Lamb Lane faces a bomb site now under development.

Miss Tyrell.
His austere but remarkably capable assistant.

Dr. Henry Tarde.
His late predecessor, whose practice he has acquired.

Mark Reddley.
A developer whose plans to build a complex of shops and flats on the Lamb Lane bomb site have finally been approved.

Anthony Garton.
The builder in charge of the redevelopment.

Mr. Burrows.
The site foreman.

Gilbert Hodge.
The owner of the site, one of many he bought up following the ravages of World War II.

Esmond Fowkes.
The curator of the Berebury Museum, who was quite expecting that the site excavation would yield up Saxon ruins.

Detective Inspector C.D. Sloan.
The head of the Berebury C.I.D.

Superintendent Leeyes.
His impatient superior officer.

Detective Constable William Crosby.
Sloan's youthful assistant, known to some as the Defective Constable.

Dr. Dabbe.
Consulting pathologist to the C.I.D.

Harold Waite.
A former resident of No. 1, Lamb Lane, now a factory worker in a nearby town. He never returned to Berebury after the war.

Clara Waite.
His dour and disapproving wife.

Leslie Waite.
Harold's carefree brother, who loves messing about in boats.

Doreen Waite.
His understanding wife.

Alf White.
He was a witness to the June 1941 bombing.

Margot Poulton.
Dr. Tarde's niece, once a frequent visitor to Lamb Lane.

Margaret Sloan.
The inspector's wife, every bit as amiable as her spouse.

Plus assorted constables, police sergeants, laborers, patients, neighbors, and other townspeople.

Brief quotations at the start of each

chapter are taken from Mrs. Beeton's

Cookery and Household Management
.

Burial in private ground is permissible unless such use of the ground amounts to a nuisance …

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Dr. William Latimer gave the screw a final twist. It was the last of six screws. Four would have done the job quite well but he was a careful, cautious, and conscientious man and he had used six.

Carefulness, cautiousness, and conscientiousness were the three good “c's” which had been drilled into him at his medical school by the lecturer on medical ethics. Then the same lecturer had gone on to warn the class against the other three “c's.” The bad ones. Those which led a doctor into danger—conduct, canvassing, and covering.

Conduct (infamous in a professional respect) didn't trouble William. If any lady patient had designs on his spotless professional reputation there was always the redoubtable Miss Tyrell within earshot. Miss Tyrell was his receptionist and secretary. Ramrod thin, austerely dressed and bleak of expression, she could be guaranteed to quell any patient with a look. Miss Tyrell stood no nonsense from anyone.

Canvassing was another unlikely risk. He had come to this practice precisely because it was small. That had been what he had wanted. Somewhere not too ambitious where he could make a good beginning in general practice without very much outlay.

Covering meant he mustn't set up in practice with a faith healer or lend his backing to any other medically unqualified person. Dr. William Latimer had no intention of doing this. He was on his own in his practice and he intended staying on his own.

After the last twist of the screw he stepped back and took another look at the plate on the wall.

W. LATIMER, M.B., CH.B.

He had paid attention at those lectures; more, perhaps, than the rest of the class because he didn't come from a medical background or even a professional one. Doctors' sons, he knew, learned these matters at their fathers' knee. They came strangely to him, the son of a carpenter.

He twisted his lips wryly. He was what was known as first generation pinstripe. He picked up the measure, the spirit level and the screwdriver—there were some things he
had
learned at his father's knee—and wondered how soon he would be able to afford to have the house painted.

Before very long, he hoped. There was no denying the general air of neglect about Field House. His predecessor had let things go and then he had died and there had been more neglect while the National Health Service Executive Council had sorted out the practice and his executors had wound up his estate.

William Latimer's gaze shifted upwards a fraction and rested on the plate above his own.

HENRY TARDE, M.R.C.P., M.B., CH.B.

It was brass and was polished daily though Henry Tarde had been in his grave nearly two months now. That was nothing, though, compared with the third plate on the wall. That had been rubbed to illegibility, though if you stood very close and knew what you were looking for you could still make out the name M
ANDERSON
.

Field House had been a doctor's surgery for a very long time. True to a medical tradition that he
had
heard about, William Latimer had left both plates on the wall above his own. It was a sort of professional ancestor-worship, he supposed, because if anyone wanted to consult Dr. Manderson now they were something like thirty-five years too late.

Standing as he was, so close to the front door of the house, he found himself really looking at it for the first time. In its way it was quite a fine piece of work, though there was no doubt whatsoever that it needed painting. A bit of putty wouldn't come amiss either in some of the cracks. There was an architrave which his father would have approved of, though the left-hand abacus was badly split.

William glanced over his shoulder.

That would have been the bombing. Doctors' houses were like public ones and often stood at a street corner. Field House was no exception. It, too, was on a junction of four roads. And the opposite corner was still a bomb site.

Now he came to think of it, that was one of the things which contributed to the general air of neglect that he was so aware of. He had been told that the St. Luke's area of Berebury had caught the worst of the town's bombing in the last war. Certainly there were still quite a few tattered bits of ground dotted among the otherwise tightly packed houses.

Once, though, it must have been a very well-to-do part of the town because Field House was a substantial building—late Georgian, early Victorian, decided William. And it had been built in a field—hence the name.

William felt he should have looked at the deed of Field House and made sure about its date but he had really only had it in his hands for a matter of moments. That had been in the solicitor's office, when they had been en route between Henry Tarde's bank and his own Building Society. And, he thought ruefully, at this rate it didn't seem likely that he was going to see them again for another thirty years or so.

At least the bells on the doorjamb didn't look as if anything needed doing to them. And he could vouch already for the fact that they worked. The day one, anyway. So far no one had tested the night bell beside it. That was another thing that was only a matter of time. He knew that. Sooner or later he was going to be dragged from his nice warm bed in the middle of the night to somebody else's bedside. He hoped it would be later if only because he didn't know the streets of his practice in daylight yet—let alone in darkness.

Underneath both bells was another circle of polished brass. Instead of a push-button inside it, though, there was a plug on the end of a little chain. This was the most old-fashioned method of all of summoning the doctor from his bed. It was a speaking tube which led—William Latimer knew not by what devious route—to a spot in his bedroom wall just level with his pillow.

A preliminary whistle from street level presumably shot him into wakefulness and then he unplugged his end and had a cozy chat with the caller. What the doctor's wife thought of this arrangement he did not know and he, William Latimer, had not yet taken unto himself a wife to ask.

He walked up the three steps to the front door and turned round. His practice—though he still thought of it as Henry Tarde's practice—was literally all about him. There were no other doctors in the St. Luke's part of town. The nearest were in Vittoria Street and they were the consultants. Vittoria Street was Berebury's own local Harley Street.

William had wanted to call it Victoria Street at first—the Old Queen having left her name on a quite remarkable number of thoroughfares—but he had been corrected by the precise Miss Tyrell. Vittoria, he was told, had been a battle in the Peninsular War at which the local regiment—the West Calleshires—had acquitted itself with distinction. Hence the street name.

There were no other doctors in St. Luke's because there was no longer any need for them. In that area of the town which lay nearest to the Market Square the shops and offices had pushed the homes and the people who lived in them farther and farther away. In the east—the poorer houses always seemed to be in the east end—the Town Council had cleared many of the tight little streets and built fine new houses on the outskirts of Berebury.

So now the roads were clogged every morning and evening with those same people coming back into the town to work, to shop, and to school. At the other end of St. Luke's—the Park Street end—the prosperous folk had gone even farther out—to the villages—and they commuted to their offices and shops and professions each day too.

BOOK: A Late Phoenix
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