Read The Scent of Murder Online
Authors: Felicity Young
By the time Dody had walked from the train station to the Brighton Grand Palace Hotel, her hands were moist from being twisted inside her muff and her nose and cheeks were numb with cold. She wondered if it was possible to die from excitement. She couldn’t recall such a cause of death in the mortuary records and hoped she would not be setting a precedent. Laughing at her own stupidity, she reflected on the uncharted course her life had taken since meeting Pike two years ago. Who would have believed that the professionally dedicated Doctor Dorothy McCleland — aged thirty-one and considered by many to be an old maid — would take a lover?
Adrenaline coursed through her veins and her knees were shaking by the time she stepped into the chandeliered lobby of the hotel. This must be what it was like for Florence: the thrill of breaking the law for her cause. Of course she and Pike were not breaking the law
, but they were certainly breaking the rules of polite society. They were work colleagues of mismatched classes and political philosophies: he, a member of a profession her parents detested and she, the devotee of a branch of medicine he sometimes had problems coming to terms with. Public airing of her affair with Pike would mean the end of both their careers and possibly ostracism by her parents too, broad-minded in regard to most matters except the English authorities.
Somehow Pike and Dody had managed to keep their relationship a secret from most. Dody had Florence to confide in, but Pike had no one. Dody suspected that his daughter, Violet, despite being closeted away at boarding school, had some idea of the feelings they had for one another. He was a reserved man with few friends and no confidants other than Dody, and that in itself was a privilege to be cherished.
In the hotel restaurant she found the maître d’hôtel’s desk vacant; he was assisting a middle-aged lady in a black toque hat with her chair. Dody gazed about the dining room, unable to see Pike. She was ten minutes early, but had no doubt he would soon be with her. When the toqued lady began to question the maître d’hôtel at length about the menu, Dody’s foot began to tap.
Suddenly she felt a presence behind her, a hand on her elbow, a cheek close to hers.
‘Good afternoon, Dody.’
She started and turned around. ‘Lord, must you always do that?’
She had never known a man who could blend into the scenery quite like Pike. It was one of the things that made him so good at his job, he maintained: his having the kind of face that one would not look twice at in the street. Although the more Dody had grown to love him, the more trouble she’d had coming to terms with that statement.
‘How long have you been watching me?’ she asked.
‘Long enough to enjoy your impatience.’
‘Wretch,’ she shot back.
The maître d’hôtel now approached and welcomed them. A waiter materialised too and relieved them of their outdoor clothes. ‘Mr and Mrs Pike. Let me show you to your table.’
Barely discernibly, Dody raised an eyebrow at Pike. Usually they met under aliases: Mr and Mrs Smith, Jones, et cetera. Was the use of his own name a hint of another impending marriage proposal, or was she reading too much into it? He had not mentioned marriage since her clumsy rejection of him the previous year and she had assumed him to be well and truly put off. It was a conclusion she had not accepted as readily as she thought she would. How she longed for more than a few stolen hours in a hotel room, to wake in his arms at break of day instead of one or the other of them creeping away under cover of darkness. He must feel the same, though he had never said anything to her about it. In fact, he seemed to have adapted to the routine better than she had, which was strange, as it was he who had originally been so against their unconventional arrangement. If he ever suggested marriage again, perhaps she would not dismiss the idea quite so quickly.
Dody would have felt happier at a table in the furthest corner of the restaurant, but the place was busy and they were placed in the middle of the room amid a crowd of occupied tables. They could barely hear one another through the din and asked the waiter to move their table settings so they could sit side by side. When their arms touched, it was torture of the most exquisite kind.
Dody enquired about Pike’s daughter, Violet.
‘Yes, I did take the opportunity to visit Violet in Hastings while I was there,’ he said. ‘She seems eager to leave school. I told her not to be in such a hurry, that being grown-up is not as exciting as she expects it will be.’
‘Of course she wants to leave, Matthew. Can you not remember what it was like to be seventeen?’
‘I’d run away from home to join the army by then.’
‘There you are, then.’ ‘It’s different for a man.’ Dody gave him a warning look, which he deliberately ignored. ‘She almost bowled me over when she said she wanted to commence nurse’s training. It’s your fault, you know, you and Florence, filling her head with ideas—’
‘So what do we do if she lands on our doorstep, carpetbag in hand?’ Dody interrupted.
‘You telephone me.’
‘And you drag her back to school, kicking and screaming? I think not, Matthew.’
He ran his hand through his dark hair and moaned. ‘She won’t do that, run away, will she?’
Dody smiled mischievously. ‘She’s her father’s daughter, you know.’
Pike sipped some wine, his own eyes sparkling as he gazed into Dody’s. He
vote Conservative, but he was at least warming to the idea of equal opportunity for men and women, she reflected. And however he dealt with his daughter, Dody knew Violet’s best interests would be at the bottom of his heart. More than likely he would allow her to take up nursing — and Dody had no doubt that Violet would make an excellent nurse — but it would have to be in his time, and be seen as his idea.
Keen to change the subject, Pike told Dody about the case he had been working on.
‘I thought smuggling was a thing of the past,’ she mused.
‘It has settled down to a degree, thanks to the increased support for free trade these days, but import duties still apply to certain luxury commodities. Brandy is padded with an extra 120 per cent of its original value, and tobacco an astonishing 610 per cent.’
‘To a lesser degree, it is taxed, yes.’
Dody took a sip from her crystal glass and rolled the liquid across her tongue, savouring its fruity tang. ‘Then I will henceforth enjoy it all the more.’
Pike smiled. ‘And how have you been occupying your time since we last met?’
Dody explained how the drudgery of being a chaperone had been counteracted, to a degree, by the extraordinary goings on at Fitzgibbon Hall, and told him how they had come across the skeleton in the dry stream bed.
‘The girl was murdered, Matthew, without a doubt,’ she said. ‘I kept the bullet I found in her skull. I thought it might be lost if I left it with the bones, and decided it best to give it to the police directly myself, rather than via Sir Desmond. I have it with me.’ Dody delved into her reticule and handed Pike the plug of lead.
The lines on his face deepened as he rolled it between his thumb and forefinger.
‘Well?’ she prompted him.
He reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small magnifying glass. After first looking around the restaurant to make sure he was not attracting undue attention, he bent his head and examined the bullet closely.
‘Are you acquainted with the new science of ballistics?’ he finally asked.
‘I only know that it has something to do with bullets.’
‘Correct. Every gun leaves its own unique mark on a bullet — a fingerprint, if you will. The science is in its infancy, but there’s talk that if we ever get our own police forensic laboratory, it will have a dedicated ballistics department. Mr Robert Churchill, a gunsmith we use at the Yard, has been instructing me in the science’s application.’
It always amazed Dody that Pike seemingly managed to keep abreast of all forms of modern technology — everything, that is, except motorcars, which he detested.
‘We are relying on ballistics to convict the smuggler we arrested in Hastings,’ he went on. ‘He shot and killed a policeman. If we can match his gun to the fatal bullet, we’ve got him.’
‘But what about that one?’ Dody nodded to the bullet he still held in his hand.
Pike slipped the magnifying glass back into his pocket. ‘I’m no expert.’
‘You clearly know more than I do.’
‘Well, it’s a small calibre, .22 probably. I can’t tell if it’s from a rifle or a handgun. Can you ascertain from the hole in the skull how close the range was?’
Dody shook her head. ‘Powder burns from a close-range shot only show on skin, not on bone. It makes sense that it was not a powerful weapon. There was no exit wound.’
They paused as the waiter topped up their wine glasses.
Pike examined the bullet again. ‘The barrel marks aren’t very distinct — because of the length of time it’s been in the ground, I suspect.’ He turned the bullet in his palm once more. ‘A conviction from this would not be as clear-cut as in my Hastings case.’
An inspired thought occurred to Dody.
‘Then, Matthew, seeing as you have finished in Hastings earlier than you expected, do you think you might be able to talk to the Uckfield authorities at least to make sure they are following correct procedure? I can’t imagine their having any idea about ballistics.’
Pike thought it over for a moment. ‘I don’t see why not,’ he said. ‘May I keep this?’
‘Provided you can explain yourself to the local police.’
He slipped the bullet into his waistcoat pocket. ‘They’ll have no choice. I don’t doubt I’ll get the authorisation to handle the case. Superintendent Shepherd will be delighted at my continued absence from London. With my knee so much improved, he can no longer hang the threat of dismissal over me. Frankly, I don’t think he knows quite what to do with me.’ Pike paused. ‘Is there somewhere I can stay near Fitzgibbon Hall?’
‘I believe the public house in Piltdown has rooms.’
‘Perfect.’ His hand clasped hers beneath the table as he lowered his voice. ‘And does said public house have a back entrance away from the street, by any chance?’
‘Dear me, Mr Pike, what can you be implying?’ Dody stifled a laugh and buried her head in the menu.
They dined on cheese soufflé, followed by steamed fish and vegetables. Keen to vacate the table for the hotel room, both declined the waiter’s suggestion of pudding. They would have two hours together before Dody’s train departed and they needed to make the most of it.
Dody regarded Pike across the table’s debris while they waited for the bill. He was surely one of the most tastefully dressed men in the room, his clothes slightly out-dated in style maybe, but he was not dowdy like the majority of policemen. His well-cut suit, trim figure and erect posture were a legacy from his years in the military. She knew he had risen through the ranks to officer status in but a few short years — a feat almost unheard of — but resigned his commission at the end of the South African war. He had been a soldier with a conscience and now he was a policeman with a conscience: a contradiction in terms as far as her parents were concerned, and something they could not begin to understand.
Pike placed money on the table for the waiter, along with a generous tip. It frustrated Dody that he never let her pay for anything, and he was not a rich man.
She met his antique-blue eyes with her own brown ones. ‘Shall we—’
‘Good heavens, if it isn’t Doctor McCleland!’ a familiar voice boomed.
Oh God, surely not, she thought.
‘Finished your shopping already?’ Sir Desmond asked. His eyes settled on Pike, as if noticing him for the first time, though Dody very much doubted that was the case. How long had he been in the restaurant watching them? ‘Oh dear, pardon me for interrupting,’ he added with a noticeable glint to his eye.
‘Not at all, sir.’ Pike rose and extended his hand to Sir Desmond, who thrust out his chest like John Bull. ‘Chief Inspector Pike, Scotland Yard.’
‘Sir Desmond Fitzgibbon.’
Dody turned to Pike. ‘My sister and I are currently staying as guests at Sir Desmond and Lady Fitzgibbon’s country house.’
To Sir Desmond, Dody explained, ‘The Chief Inspector is a professional colleague of mine. We were meeting to discuss a case.’ Dody kept her eyes fixed on a point just above Sir Desmond’s head.
‘Really? Well, I’m glad we bumped into each other. I am in Brighton on business also.’ He nodded to a group of noisy men about two tables away from their own.
How could she have failed to notice him? Because she only had eyes for Pike, that was why.
‘I am delighted to tell you, Doctor,’ he went on, ‘that Sergeant Berry has had to reschedule his appointment at the Hall and is now due at four, instead of one o’clock. I know you are champing at the bit to talk to him, so may I suggest, if you have concluded your, er, business meeting with the Chief Inspector, that you might like to motor back with me instead of taking the train?’
Dody felt as if she had been whacked by a sledgehammer, the words knocked out of her mouth.
Pike stepped in. ‘Good timing, sir. I think we have concluded our business, have we not, Doctor?’
Dody nodded, numbly.
‘Your ideas were good ones and I think we should proceed on our intended course.’ Pike gave Dody a stiff bow and turned to Sir Desmond. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you, sir.’ He took his leave and collected his coat and hat at the restaurant’s entrance without a backward glance.
Dody sat beside Sir Desmond in the back of the chauffeur-driven Silver Ghost. She made no effort, beyond that demanded by politeness, to converse as they drove, even though, unlike most motor cars, the Rolls glided along the country lanes with barely a clatter, allowing for easy chitchat.
Sir Desmond told her he was quite pleased that the police would be visiting the Hall. ‘Their presence at the stables might put wind up the rascal who’s been helping himself to my supplies.’
‘I was not aware of the problem. Has much been stolen, Sir Desmond?’ Dody asked.