Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories

BOOK: Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories
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“THIS IS A BOOK TO SAVOR.”

The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star

“A remarkable talent … It’s not [Conan] Doyle who springs to mind as you browse through the collection, but O. Henry. Dexter’s tales, including the title story, have a wry twist of the kind made famous by that author.”


Magazine (Baton Rouge)

“[Dexter] brings to these abbreviated police cases the same qualities that make his novels solid, literate, carefully crafted whodunits, boasting magnificent characterizations and vividly evoked academic milieus.”


The Buffalo News

“A well-rounded collection, good for thumbing through a few stories at a time. But chances are, you’ll want to read the whole book.”


Mostly Murder

“If you’re looking for fun and a handful of challenges that outdo even those posed by Morse’s adored crossword puzzles, Colin Dexter’s the bloke.”


The Trenton Times

By Colin Dexter:

LAST BUS TO WOODSTOCK
*
LAST SEEN WEARING
THE SILENT WORLD OF NICHOLAS QUINN
SERVICE OF ALL THE DEAD
*
THE DEAD OF JERICHO
THE RIDDLE OF THE THIRD MILE
THE SECRET OF ANNEXE 3
THE WENCH IS DEAD
THE JEWEL THAT WAS OURS
*
THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS
*
THE DAUGHTERS OF CAIN
*
MORSE’S GREATEST MYSTERY and Other Stories
*

*
Published by Ivy Books

This book contains an excerpt from the hardcover edition of
Death Is Now My Neighbor
by Colin Dexter. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the hardcover edition.

Ivy Books
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1993 by Colin Dexter
Excerpt from
Death Is Now My Neighbor
copyright © 1996 by Colin Dexter

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain by Macmillan London Ltd. in 1993.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

http://www.randomhouse.com

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-94547

eISBN: 978-0-307-77896-3

This edition published by arrangement with Crown Publishers, Inc. Crown is a trademark of Crown Publishers, Inc.

v3.1

F
OR MY GRANDSONS
T
HOMAS AND
J
AMES

Contents
AS GOOD AS GOLD

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world.

(2 Peter, ch. 1, v. 4)

(i)

Admiring friend:
“My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there!”

Mother:
“Oh, that’s nothing—you should see his photograph.”

(Anon)

Chief Superintendent Strange took back the snapshot of Grandson Number One (two years, three months) and lovingly looked at the lad once more.

“Super little chap. You can leave him with anybody. As good as gold.”

He poured a little more of the Macallan into each of the glasses.

Birthdays were becoming increasingly important for Strange as the years passed by—fewer and ever fewer of them left, alas. And he thought he was enjoying the little early-evening celebration with a few of his fellow senior officers.

Only two of them remaining now, though.

Quite predictably remaining, one of the two.

Musing nostalgically, Strange elaborated on memories of childhood.

“Huh! One of the first things I ever remember as a kid, that. This woman was looking after me when my ol’ mum had to go out somewhere—and when she came back she asked her whether I’d been a good boy while she’d been away and she’d been looking after me—and she said she could leave me with her any time she liked because I’d been as good as gold. Those were the very words—‘As good as gold.’ ”

There was a short silence, before he resumed, briefly.

“I’m not boring you by any chance, Morse?”

The white head across the desk jerked quickly to the vertical and shook itself emphatically. Seven—or was it eight?—“she”s. With one or two “her”s thrown in for good measure? Yet in spite of the bewildering proliferation of those personal pronouns (feminine), Morse had found himself able to follow the story adequately, feeling gently amused as he pictured the (now) grossly overweight Superintendent as a podgy but obviously pious little cherub happily burbling to his baby-sitter.

All a bit nauseating, but …

“Certainly not, sir,” he said.

“You know the origin of the phrase, of course?”

Oh dear. Just a minute …

But Strange was already a furlong ahead of him.

“All to do with the Gold Standard, wasn’t it? If you needed some gold—to buy something, say—well, it was going to be too heavy to cart around all the time—and there probably wasn’t enough in the bank anyway. So they gave you a note instead—a bit o’paper promising to “pay the bearer” and all that sort of thing—and that bit o’ paper was as
good
as gold. If you took that bit o’ paper to the Bank of England or somewhere, you could bet your bottom dollar—well, not “dollar” perhaps—you know what I mean, though—you could get your gold-bar—if you really wanted it. You could have all the confidence in the
world
in that bit o’ paper.”

Thank you, Mr. Strange.

Clearly, in terms of frequency, the “bit o’ paper” had usurped the personal pronouns (feminine). But Morse was apparently unconcerned, and nodded his head encouragingly as the bottle, now at a virtually horizontal level, hovered over his empty glass.

“You’re not driving yourself home, Morse, I hope?”

“Certainly not, sir.”

“Little more for you, Crawford?”

Strange turned to the only other person there in the room, seated at the desk beside Morse.

“No more for me, thank you, sir. I shall have to get back to the office.”

“Still some work to do—this time of day?”

“Just a bit, sir.”

“Ah—the Muldoon business! Yes. Going all right?”

Detective Inspector Crawford looked rather less confident than Strange’s putative bearer of the promissory bank-note.

“We’re making progress, sir.”

“Good! Fine piece of work that, Crawford. Aggregation, accumulation of evidence—that’s what it’s all about, isn’t
it? I know we’ve got a few smart alecs like Morse here who—you know, with all that top-of-the head stuff … but real police work’s just honest graft, isn’t it? And I mean
honest
. We’re winning back a lot of public support, that’s for sure. We’ve taken a few knocks recently, course we have. Bad apples—one or two in every barrel; in every profession. Not here though! Not in our patch, eh, Morse?”

“Certainly not, sir.”

“Above suspicion—that’s what
we’ve
got to be. Compromise on the slightest thing and you’re on the slope, aren’t you—on the slippery slope down to …”

Strange gulped back a last mouthful of Malt—clearly the name to be found at the bottom of the said slope temporarily eluding him. It was time to be off home. Almost.

“No, you can’t afford to start on that.”

“Certainly not,” agreed Morse with conviction, happily unaware that he was becoming almost as repetitive as Strange.

“It’s just like Caesar’s wife, isn’t it? ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.’ You’ll remember that, Morse. You were a Classics man.”

Morse nodded.

“What was her name?” asked Strange.

Oh dear. Just a minute …

Morse dredged his memory—unproductively. What
was
her name? She’d been accused (he remembered) of some extra-marital escapade, and Caesar had divorced her on the spot; not because he thought she was necessarily guilty, but because he couldn’t afford to have a wife even suspected of double-dealing. Well, that’s what
Caesar
said … Like as not he was probably just fed up with her; had some woman on the side himself … What
was
her name?

“Pomponia,” supplied Crawford.

Mentally Morse kicked himself. Of course it was.

“You all right, Morse?” Strange looked anxiously over his half spectacles, like a schoolmaster disappointed in a star pupil. “Not had too much booze, have you?”

“Certainly not, sir.”

“You know,” Strange sat back expansively in his chair, fingers laced over his great paunch, “you’re a couple of good men, really. I know you may have cut a few corners here and there—by-passed a few procedures. Huh! But we’ve none of us ever lost sight of what it’s really all about, have we? The Police Force? Integrity, fairness … honesty …”—then, after a deep breath, an impressive heptasyllabic finale—“incorruptibility.”

The Super had sounded fully sober now, and had spoken with a quiet, impressive dignity.

He rose to his feet.

And his fellow officers did the same.

In the corridor outside, as they walked away from Strange’s office, Crawford was clearly agitated.

“Can I speak to you, Morse? It’s very urgent.”

(ii)

“How did you get your wooden leg?”
Silas Wegg replied, (tartly to this personal inquiry), “In an accident.”

(Charles Dickens,
Our Mutual Friend
)

Oxford Prison, closed permanently a few years earlier, had recently been re-opened as a temporary measure. And with
nothing in life quite so permanent as the temporary, the prison officers now temporarily posted there were fairly confidently expecting a permanent sojourn in Oxford.

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