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Authors: Bernard Knight

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BOOK: According to the Evidence
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However, he knew some of the major teaching hospitals and was able to walk leisurely along the lower end of Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner, where, on the other side of a daunting stream of traffic, the cream bulk of St George's Hospital stood. A solid early-Victorian building, it dominated the busy junction where Hyde Park, Green Park and Buckingham Palace Garden met.
Unwilling to risk his life crossing the road, he found a subway and came up near the hospital, where after a few enquiries he made his way to the medical school section and found the Clinical Biochemistry Department. Everywhere was cramped and overfilled with temporary cubicles for the ever-expanding staff, but eventually a secretary took pity on him and led him through corridors cluttered with equipment to a door hidden in a corner. A faded sign indicated that Professor L. Zigmond resided within.
Lucius Zigmond turned out to be a larger-than-life character, very Jewish and amiably rotund. Richard had spoken to him on the telephone when he had arranged this meeting, so he was prepared for his marked Central European accent, even though the medical directory had shown that he had been at St George's since 1937. A frizz of grey hair around a shiny bald head and a pair of small gold-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his large nose made him almost a cartoon version of an eccentric professor, aided by the crumpled white coat and a floppy bow tie. However, his keen eyes and direct manner were sharply at odds with his appearance.
As he shook hands and then dragged a hard chair out for Richard, he got straight to the point. ‘Professor Pryor, nice to meet you. I gather you want my help in saving a man from the gallows?'
Richard went through his usual deprecating routine of saying that he had reverted to ‘doctor' after giving up his university chair in Singapore. Though he had briefly explained the situation over the telephone, he now went through the problem in detail and described the two grounds on which he felt the prosecution medical evidence could be challenged.
Zigmond listened with genuine interest and seemed intrigued with the ongoing research from America and Germany that Richard described, especially when he produced copies of the papers obtained from abroad.
‘It's not what you want from me, but fascinating all the same,' he enthused, peering keenly over his glasses. ‘One works for years at a particular topic, without the faintest idea what other people might be doing by applying it to a new problem.'
This led them to despair about the ‘compartmentalization' of science, where researchers beavered away at their own super-speciality, with no idea what others might be doing, which would have shed light on each other's problems.
Then Zigmond came back to the reason he was being asked for help. ‘I'm basically a physiologist by training,' he explained. ‘But I drifted into biochemistry by virtue of my interest in electrolyte balance – or more often imbalance!'
He handed back Richard's papers and picked up a letter he had been sent by George Lovesey. ‘As a purely clinical biochemist, I've never been involved in any legal or forensic aspects of electrolytes, but there's always a first time.'
‘You appreciate the task we have in defeating this allegation?' said Pryor cautiously. This man could run rings around him academically, and he didn't want to even hint that Zigmond was slow in grasping the problem. But the portly professor slapped his hand on a pile of three thick textbooks lying on his cluttered desk.
‘With your idea, I think you've hit the nail on the head, Dr Pryor,' he said. ‘That basic fact has been known for years, but no one had ever needed to attach much practical importance to it.'
He took the top book and opened it where he had stuck a folded envelope between the pages as a marker. Swivelling it around on the desk to face Richard, he jabbed a thick finger at a passage halfway down the page.
‘Read that, will you?' he commanded. ‘These other two standard texts on physiology and on electrolyte chemistry say the same thing.'
Richard read the passages, first in the book on the desk and then on the pages of the other two missives that Zigmond passed to him. When he had finished, he looked up. ‘That seems cast iron to me,' he observed contentedly. ‘If you can write a report to summarize the situation they describe, I'm sure our solicitor and counsel will be more than happy.'
He closed the last book and slid it across the desk. ‘If you are called to give evidence, then naturally the court will want to see those books as corroboration.'
Lucius Zigmond nodded, his double chins wobbling above his spotted bow tie. ‘Sure, as long as I get them back! The librarian here will have hysterics if they go missing.'
They talked for a time about the case and Zigmond also wanted to hear more details of the research from Cologne and the United States. He even wrote down the addresses of the authors, and Pryor suspected that he might well pursue the same line of investigation himself. St George's had a very well-respected forensic pathologist on its staff, Dr Donald Teare, one of the famous London three, the others being Keith Simpson and Francis Camps. Richard thought that Lucius would perhaps approach Teare to suggest some joint research, as it seemed well within his field of interest.
When they had talked the subject out, Richard rose to leave, knowing that the other man would be anxious to get on with his work – or possibly go to lunch, as it was now midday. Leaving with a promise to get George Lovesey to contact Zigmond over the details of the written statement, Pryor left and made his way out of the hospital. He had quite a few hours before he needed to get back to Paddington and decided to walk up to Wimpole Street, where he wanted to visit the library of the Royal Society of Medicine. He went back along Piccadilly to its famous circus, where the statue of Eros was back on its fountain, after its wartime evacuation. From there, he ambled up Regent Street, conscious of the mix of people he saw. Many were now smartly dressed, though there were some shabby figures and a few flat caps among the trilbies and occasional bowler hats. Though it was ten years since the end of the war, there were still some signs of bomb damage, behind builders' hoardings and cranes were now rebuilding the gaps.
The traffic was heavy and, being interested in cars, he recognized so many different makes, many of them still of pre-war vintage, as it was only now that new vehicles were becoming freely available. Most were British, though foreign ones were increasing in numbers, many of them unfamiliar to him.
On Oxford Street he decided he wanted something to eat and turned into one of Joe Lyons' Corner Houses, the famous white and gold facades welcoming hungry customers as they had for half a century. Upstairs, he found a table in the crowded restaurant and soon a ‘Nippy' waitress took his order. Today's ‘Special' was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with a plate of bread and butter, then ‘spotted dick' and a pot of tea. He knew then that he really was back in Britain!
Sitting alone at the table made him wish again that Angela could have been with him, and he determined to bring her along next time he came to London. He sometimes wondered what had caused the drastic rift between Angela and her former fiancé that had made her so bitter about him. He recalled again the time when Paul Vickers, a detective superintendent in the Metropolitan Police had turned up at a post-mortem in Gloucester. Angela had frozen on the spot, then hurried out of the mortuary with no explanation. She had not mentioned it since, and he knew that the situation was a frequent source of speculation between Moira and Siân.
He poured himself another cup of tea, and his wandering mind seized on the unusual task that the War Office had given him. He wondered how far they had got with processing their case – perhaps the wife had given up, faced with the limitless legal resources of the government. Richard felt sorry for her and a little uneasy about being involved in the matter, but as with most other aspects of his work he was merely a technical adviser and had no part in the legal or especially moral aspects of any case. If he didn't apply his expertise to the issue and give his best shot at it, they'd soon find someone else who would. He had enough ego and professional confidence in himself to think that he would give as good as – and probably better – an opinion than someone else and at least it would be honest and unbiased.
He looked at his wristwatch, a genuine Eterna bargained for in Change Alley in Singapore, and made his way to the cash desk.
Outside, he was temporarily disorientated but soon moved westwards down Oxford Street until he turned up to Henrietta Place and found the imposing Royal Society of Medicine building and the corner of Wimpole Street. He had become an overseas member when in Singapore and now was able to use their extensive library. He spent an hour searching ‘Index Medicus', now a quarterly cumulative index of all significant scientific publications in the field of medicine. He had pored over copies in the medical school libraries at Cardiff and Bristol, but, in the hope that the RSM had a more recent copy, he thumbed through it again on the principle that he should leave no stone unturned in seeking anything new about potassium metabolism and toxicity.
He was out of luck, but while he was there he refreshed his knowledge of gunshot wounds from several forensic textbooks that he didn't possess himself. The time went by, and with a start he realized that he had better get himself back to Paddington. This time he launched out on a taxi, the noisy pre-war Austin weaving its way through the late-afternoon traffic to drop him off in Praed Street with a quarter of an hour to spare. The compartment he found was almost full, but First Class was still comfortable and he had a photograph of Torquay and a map of the Western Region to stare at when he was not looking out of the window at the Thames Valley rushing past. By the time he collected the Humber from the station car park at Newport and drove home, the October evening was drawing towards dusk. Angela had waited for him before having supper, though the table was already set.
‘Moira was bustling about. She thought you'd be in need of a proper meal after your adventures in the big, bad city,' she said with a hint of sarcasm. ‘So she's left a steak and kidney pie in the warming oven and there are peas and carrots in saucepans on the top.'
As she again broke her vow never to become domesticated by serving up their meal on to warmed plates, Richard found glasses and a bottle of their favourite cider that Jimmy obtained from someone he knew across the valley in the Forest of Dean.
They settled to eat, and Angela teased him again about Moira.
‘I don't know if she's mothering you or whether she reckons the way to man's heart is through his stomach, but she certainly fusses over you like a hen with chicks.'
She speared a piece of kidney with her fork. ‘I wish someone would fuss over me a bit more,' she said rather wistfully.
Richard rose to the bait, though he kept well away from the sensitive subject of her ex-boyfriend.
‘You could have come with me, had a day in London. Next time, eh?'
He looked at her mane of brown hair as she bent over her plate and wondered if she was finding this new life in Wales too lonely, after the hustle and bustle of London.
‘If this War Office job comes off, I'm sure we'll have to go up there to sort it out,' he said earnestly. ‘We could stay the night – even a weekend if it's necessary.'
She looked up, her handsome face smiling at him. ‘Are you propositioning me for a dirty weekend, Dr Pryor?' she demanded. ‘Because if I can have a few hours window-shopping in Bond Street as well, I accept without hesitation!'
He grinned at her, feeling at ease with her over such light-hearted banter, though a part of him wished there might be some truth in her coquettish response.
‘Better not let Moira hear you say that; she'd be shocked. You know how strait-laced she can be.'
Angela looked at him scornfully. ‘Come off it, Richard! We've been sleeping in the same house without a chaperone for six months now. Do you imagine that Moira – or Siân, for that matter – hasn't been speculating every day about our relationship?'
He looked at her in genuine surprise. ‘Never thought about it, to be honest.'
She shook her head in despair. ‘Men! I think you mean that, Richard! Don't you ever think of anything other than dead bodies and your damned grapevines?'
She got up to take their plates to the sink, and as she passed him she ruffled his hair. ‘You're like a big schoolboy, Richard Pryor. But you're not a bad chap, really.'
By the time she had brought cheese and biscuits as their dessert, the moment of relative intimacy had passed and he began telling her about his meeting with Lucius Zigmond.
‘Not that there's all that much to report, apart from the fact that if he's needed he's quite happy to turn up in court and say his piece. He seemed quite tickled by the idea, actually.'
Richard told her about the textbooks that the professor had shown him. ‘Apparently, it's all standard stuff in the physiology and biochemical world, been known for years.'
‘Then it's a wonder that the prosecution hadn't cottoned on to it,' complained Angela. ‘I suppose it would have torpedoed their case even before it started.'
Richard cut himself a slice of Double Gloucester and took a couple of water biscuits. ‘Zigmond and I talked about this, the watertight boxes that science is divided into. You can be a Nobel Prize winner in one speciality and a complete ignoramus in another.'
They chatted away amiably over coffee in her sitting room as darkness fell over the quiet valley outside. ‘What happens next in the vet case?' asked Angela. ‘Are you going to meet this fancy QC again before the trial?'
‘Yes, George Lovesey said we'd have to have a final conference once all the affidavits are in. He must be working his staff hard in Stow, getting letters and telegrams going hither and thither to Germany and the States.'
BOOK: According to the Evidence
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