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Authors: Colin Dexter

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BOOK: Last Seen Wearing
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   He walked back to his desk slowly, like a man in a dreamlike daze, and read the last spring term report once more: French, and Applied Science and Technology . . .
   Suddenly the hair on his flesh stood erect. He felt a curious constriction in his throat, and a long shiver passed icily down his spine. He reached for the phone and his hand shook as he dialled the number.

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

I came fairly to kill him honestly.
(Beaumont and Fletcher,
The Little French Lawyer)
V
ALERIE TAYLOR UNSCREWED
the latest tube of skin-lotion—her sixth prescription. The last time she'd been to the doctor he'd asked rather pointedly if she were worried about anything; and perhaps she was. But not to
that
extent. She'd never worried overmuch about anything, really: just wanted to live in the present and enjoy herself . . . Carefully she smeared some of the white cream over the ugly spots. How she prayed they would go! Over a month now—and still they persisted, horribly. She'd tried almost everything, including those face-mask things: in fact she had been wearing one of them when Chief Inspector Morse had called. Mm. She thought of Morse. Bit old, perhaps, but then she'd always felt attracted to the older men. Not that David was old. Quite young, really, and he'd been awfully nice to her, but . . .
   Morse's face, when she'd answered him in French! She smiled at the recollection. Phew! What a bit of luck that had been! Just as well she'd been with David on those two trips to France with his sixth-formers, although she'd probably have been all right anyway. It had taken a fair bit of cajoling oil David's part, but as it turned out she'd really enjoyed her two years in the French Conversation Class at Caernarfon Tech. At the very least it was a chance to get out once a week, and it got so boring being on her own in the house all day. Nothing to do; nothing much to do if she
did
get out more. Not that she blamed David, but . . .
   Bloody spots! She wiped off the lotion and applied a new layer. It might be better to leave them alone—let the sun get at them. But the sky this Tuesday evening was a sullen grey, and the weather would soon be getting cold again; far colder than it would be in the south. Like last winter. Brrh! She didn't intend to face another winter like that . . . The washing-up was done and David sat downstairs in the living room marking exercise books. He was always marking exercise books. He would be awfully upset, of course, but . . .
   She stepped over to the wardrobe and took out the long red-velvet dress she'd taken to the cleaners last week. Inclining her head slightly, she held it against her body and stood before the mirror. Dinner-plates, parties, dancing . . . It had been such a long time since she'd been out—been out
properly,
that is . . . The dark roots of her hair had now grown almost half an inch into the pseudo-blonde, and it all began to look so
obvious.
She would buy another bottle of 'Poly-bleach' tomorrow. Or would she bother? After all, she'd got to Oxford and back pretty easily . . . Not that she would hire a car again. Couldn't afford it, for a start. Much easier to get a bus into Bangor, and then hitch-hike down the A5. A lot of men still drove the roads and hoped that every mile they'd see a lone, attractive girl. Yes, that would be much easier, and the A5 went all the way to London . . .
   It was a good job she'd mentioned the car to David. That really
had
worried her—whether they'd check up on the car-hire firms. She'd not told David the truth, of course; just said she'd gone to see her mother. Yes, she'd admitted how silly and dangerous it was, and had promised David never to think of doing it again. But it had been a very sensible precaution that—warning him to tell them that she couldn't drive. If they ever asked, that was. And Morse had asked, it seemed. Clever man, Morse . . . She'd been a fraction naughty—hadn't she?—the first time he had called. Yes. And the second time—phew! That had perhaps been the very worst moment of all, when she'd opened the door and found him looking through her kitchen drawer. She'd bought a new one, naturally, but it had been
exactly
the same sort of knife, brand new . . . Funny, really; he hadn't even mentioned it . . .
   Valerie looked at herself once more in the mirror. The spots looked better now, and she closed the bedroom door behind her . . . Morse! She smiled to herself as she walked down the creaking stairs. His face!
Oui. Je I'ai étudié d'abord à I'école et après . . .
The phone rang in Caernarvon Police HQ and the switchboard put the call through to the duty inspector.
   'All right. Put him on.' He clamped his hand firmly over the mouthpiece and mumbled a few hurried words
sotto voce
to the sergeant sitting opposite. 'It's Morse again.'
   'Morse, sir?'
   'Yes, you remember. That fellow from Oxford who buggered us all about at the weekend. I wonder what . . . Hello. Can I help you?'

EPILOGUE

There are tears of things and mortal matters touch the heart.
(Virgil,
Atneid I)
I
T WAS NOT UNTIL
Saturday morning that a somewhat disgruntled Lewis was at last summoned into Morse's office to hear something of the final developments.
   The Caernarfon police had felt (with some justification, admitted Morse) that they had insufficient evidence on which to hold Valerie Taylor—even if they accepted Morse's vehement protestations that the woman living as Mrs. Acum
was
Valerie Taylor. And when Morse himself had arrived on Wednesday morning, it had been too late: the driver of the 9.50 a.m. bus from Bont-Newydd to Bangor had remembered her clearly; and a petrol-pump attendant had noticed her ('So would you have done, officer!') as she stood beside the forecourt waiting to thumb a lift down the A5.
   Lewis had listened carefully, but one or two things still puzzled him. 'So it must have been Baines who wrote the letter?'
   'Oh yes. It couldn't have been Valerie.'
   'I wouldn't be
too
sure, sir. She's a pretty clever girl.'
   And I'm a clown, thought Morse. The car, the French, and the spots: a combination of circumstance and coincidence which had proved too much even for
him
to accept; a triple-oxer over which he would normally have leaped with the blithest assurance, but at which, in this instance, he had so strangely refused. After all, it would have been very odd if a mechanically minded girl like Valerie hadn't even bothered to take a driving test; and she wasn't too bad at
spoken
French—even at school. Those reports! If only—
   'Big coincidence, wasn't it—about the spots, I mean?'
   'No, not really, Lewis. Don't forget that both of them were sleeping with Acum; and Acum's got a beard.'
   It was something else that Lewis hadn't considered, and he let it go. 'She's gone to London, I suppose, sir?'
   Morse nodded wearily, a wry smile upon his lips. 'Back to square one, aren't we?'
   'You think we'll find her?'
   'I don't know. I suppose so—in the end.'
On Saturday afternoon the Phillipson family motored to the White Horse Hill at Uffington. For Andrew and Alison it was a rare treat, and Mrs. Phillipson watched them lovingly as they gambolled with gay abandon about the Downs. So much had passed between her and Donald these last few days. On Tuesday evening their very lives together had seemed to be hanging by the slenderest of threads. But now, this bright and chilly afternoon, the future stretched out before them, open and free as the broad landscape around them. She would write, she decided, a long, long letter to Morse, and try to thank him from the bottom of her heart. For on that terrible evening it had been Morse who had found Donald and brought him to her; it had been Morse who had seemed to know and to understand all things about them both . . .
On Saturday evening Mrs. Grace Taylor sat staring blankly through the window on to the darkened street. They had returned from their holiday in mid-afternoon, and things seemed very much the same as she had left them. At a quarter-past eight, by the light of the street lamp, she saw Morse walking slowly, head down, towards the pub. She gave him no second thought
   Earlier in the evening she had gone out into the front garden and clipped off the heads of a few last fading roses. But there had been one late scarlet bloom that was still in perfect flower. She had cut that off too, and it now stood on the mantelshelf, in a cheap glass vase that Valerie had won on a shooting stall at St. Giles's Fair, beneath the ducks that winged their way towards the ceiling in the empty room behind her.
   Some of them never did come home . . . never.
BOOK: Last Seen Wearing
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