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Leave the Grave Green
By Deborah Crombie
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Deborah Crombie
All right reserved.
From the train window Duncan Kincaid could see the piles of debris in the back gardens and on the occasional common. Lumber, dead branches and twigs, crushed cardboard boxes and the odd bit of broken furniture-- anything portable served as fair game for Guy Fawkes bonfires. He rubbed ineffectually at the grimy window-pane with his jacket cuff, hoping for a better view of one particularly splendid monument to British abandon, then sat back in his seat with a sigh. The fine drizzle in the air, combined with British Rail's standard of cleanliness, reduced visibility to a few hundred yards.
The train slowed as it approached High Wycombe. Kincaid stood and stretched, then collected his overcoat and bag from the rack. He'd gone straight to St. Marleybone from the Yard, grabbing the emergency kit he kept in his office -- clean shirt, toiletries, razor, only the necessities needed for an unexpected summons. And most were more welcome than this, a political request from the AC to aid an old school chum in a delicate situation. Kincaid grimaced. Give him an unidentified body in a field any day.
He swayed as the train lurched to a halt. Bending down to peer through the window, he scanned the station carpark for a glimpse of his escort. The unmarked panda car, its shape unmistakable even in the increasing rain, was pulled up next to the platform, its parking lights on, a gray plume of exhaust escaping from its tailpipe.
It looked like the cavalry had been called out to welcome Scotland Yard's fair-haired boy.
"Jack Makepeace. Sergeant, I should say. Thames Valley CID." Makepeace smiled, yellowed teeth showing under the sandy bristle of mustache. "Nice to meet you, sir." He engulfed Kincaid's hand for an instant in a beefy paw, then took Kincaid's case and swung it into the panda's boot. "Climb in, and we can talk as we go."
The car's interior smelled of stale cigarettes and wet wool. Kincaid cracked his window, then shifted a bit in his seat so that he could see his companion. A fringe of hair the same color as the mustache, freckles extending from face into shiny scalp, a heavy nose with the disproportionate look that comes of having been smashed -- all in all not a prepossessing face, but the pale blue eyes were shrewd, and the voice unexpectedly soft for a man of his bulk.
Makepeace drove competently on the rain-slick streets, snaking his way south and west until they crossed the M40 and left the last terraced houses behind. He glanced at Kincaid, ready to divert some of his attention from the road.
"Tell me about it, then," Kincaid said.
"What do you know?"
"Not much, and I'd just as soon you start from scratch, if you don't mind."
Makepeace looked at him, opened his mouth as if to ask a question, then closed it again. After a moment he said, "Okay. Daybreak this morning the Hambleden lockkeeper, one Perry Smith, opens the sluicegate to fill the lock for an early traveler, and a body rushes through it into the lock. Gave him a terrible shock, as you can imagine. He called Marlow -- they sent a panda car and the medics." He paused as he downshifted into an intersection, then concentrated on overtaking an ancient Morris Minor that was creeping its way up the gradient. "They fished him out, then when it became obvious that the poor chappie was not going to spew up the canal and open his eyes, they called us."
The windscreen wiper squeaked against dry glass and Kincaid realized that the rain had stopped. Freshly plowed fields rose on either side of the narrow road. The bare, chalky soil was a pale brown, and against it, the black dots of foraging rooks looked like pepper on toast. Away to the west, a cap of beech trees crowned a hill. "How'd you identify him?"
"Wallet in the poor sod's back pocket. Connor Swann, aged thirty-five, brown hair, blue eyes, height about six feet, weight around twelve stone. Lived in Henley, just a few miles upstream."
"Sounds like your lads could have handled it easily enough," said Kincaid, not bothering to conceal his annoyance. He considered the prospect of spending his Friday evening tramping around the Chiltern Hundreds, damp as a Guy Fawkes bonfire, instead of meeting Gemma for an after-work pint at the pub down Wilfred Street. "Bloke has a few drinks, goes for a stroll on the sluicegate, falls in. Bingo."
Makepeace was already shaking his head. "Ah, but that's not the whole story, Mr. Kincaid. Someone left a very nice set of prints on either side of his throat." He lifted both hands from the wheel for an instant in an eloquently graphic gesture. "It looks like he was strangled, Mr. Kincaid."
Kincaid shrugged. "A reasonable assumption, I would think. But I don't quite see why that merits Scotland Yard's intervention."
"It's not the how, Mr. Kincaid, but the who. It seems that the late Mr. Swann was the son-in-law of Sir Gerald Asherton, the conductor, and Dame Caroline Stowe, who I believe is a singer of some repute." Seeing Kincaid's blank expression, he continued, "Are you not an opera buff, Mr. Kincaid?"
"Are you?" Kincaid asked before he could clamp down his involuntary surprise, knowing he shouldn't have judged the man's cultural taste by his physical characteristics.
"I have some recordings, and I watch it on the telly, but I've never been to a performance."
The wide sloping fields had given way to heavily wooded hills, and now, as the road climbed, the trees encroached upon it.
"We're coming into the Chiltern Hills," said Makepeace. "Sir Gerald and Dame Caroline live just a bit farther on, near Fingest. The house is called "Badger's End,' though you wouldn't think it to look at it." He negotiated a hairpin bend, and then they were running downhill again, beside a rocky stream ...
Excerpted from Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie Copyright © 2005 by Deborah Crombie. Excerpted by permission.
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