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Authors: Colin Dexter

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   Half an hour later he found them. A pile of loose books, eight of them, each with the name Valerie Taylor inscribed in capitals on the front cover. He blew the dust off the edges and savoured his brief moment of triumph.
   'I've found them, sir.'
   'Well done. Leave them where they are—don't touch them.'
   'I already have, I'm afraid, sir.'
   'Was there any dust on the top book?'
   The sweet taste of success had already turned sour. 'I don't know.'
   'Give 'em here.' Morse was clearly very cross and muttered angrily under his breath.
   'Pardon, sir?'
   'I said I think someone else may well have been looking at these books recently. That's what I said!'
   'I don't think the top book
was
dusty, sir. Just the edges.'
   'And where's the dust on the edges?'
   'I blew it off.'
   You blew it off! Christ, man. We've got a murder on our hands here, and we're supposed to be investigating it—not blowing all the bloody clues away!'
   He gradually calmed down, and with a silent Lewis returned to Phillipson's study. It was now 4.30 and apart from the headmaster and Mrs. Webb the school was empty.
   'I see you found the books.'
   Morse nodded curtly, and the three men sat down once more. 'Bit of luck, really,' continued Phillipson. 'It's a wonder they weren't thrown away.'
   'Where
do
you throw old books away?' It seemed an odd question.
   'Funnily enough they get buried—down on the rubbish dump. It's a difficult job burning a whole lot of books, you know.'
   'Unless you've got a fiery furnace,' said Morse slowly.
   'Well, yes. But even . . .'
   'You've got a furnace here?'
   'Yes, we have. But . . .'
   'And that would burn just about anything, would it?'
   'Yes. But as I was going . . .' Again Morse cut him short.
   'Would it burn a body all right?' His words hung in the air, and Lewis shivered involuntarily. Phillipson's eyes were steady as he looked directly at Morse.
   'Yes. It would burn a body, and it wouldn't leave much trace, either.'
   Morse appeared to accept the remark without the slightest surprise or interest. 'Let's get back to these books a minute, sir, if we may. Are there any missing?'
   Phillipson hadn't the remotest idea and breathed an inner sigh of relief as Baines (answering an earlier urgent summons) knocked on the study door, was ushered in and introduced.
   It was immediately clear that the second master was a mine of information on all curricular queries, and I within ten minutes Morse had copies of the information he required: Valerie's timetable for the summer term in which she disappeared, her homework schedule for the same period, and a list of her subject teachers. No books, it seemed, were missing. He made some complimentary remarks on Baines's efficiency, and the second master's shrewd eyes blinked with gratification.
   After they had all gone Phillipson sat behind his desk and groaned inwardly. In the space of one short afternoon the cloud on the horizon had grown to menacing proportions. What a bloody fool he had been!
As a husband and a father, Sergeant Lewis experienced the delights and despondencies, the difficulties and the duties of family life, and with Morse's blessing returned home at 5.45 p.m.
   At the same time Morse himself, with no such responsibilities, returned to his office at Police HQ. He was quite looking forward to his evening's work.
   First he studied Valerie's timetable for each of her Tuesday mornings during that last summer term.
9.15-10.00 Environmental Studies
10.00-10.45 Applied Science
10.45-11.00 Break
11.00-11.45 Sociology
11.45-12.30 French
He contemplated with supercilious disdain the academic disciplines (sub-disciplines, he would call them) which were now monopolizing the secondary school curricula. 'Environmental Studies', he doubted, was little more than a euphemism for occasional visits to the gasworks, the fire-station and the sewage installations; whilst for Sociology and Sociologists he had nothing but sour contempt, and could never discover either what was entailed in its subject matter or how its practitioners deployed their dubious talents. With such a plethora of non-subjects crowding the timetable there was no room for the traditional disciplines taught in his own day . . . But French now. At least that had a bit of backbone, although he had always felt that a language which sanctioned the pronunciation of
donne, donnes
and
donnent
without the slightest differentiation could hardly deserve to be taken seriously. Anyway, she was studying French and it was French which won the day. He consulted the homework schedule and found that French was set on Friday evenings and (he guessed) it might be collected in and marked on the following Monday. He checked to see that French appeared on Monday's timetable. It did. And then handed back to the pupils on the Tuesday, perhaps? That is, if the teacher had remembered to set the homework and if the teacher had been conscientious enough to mark it straightaway. Who was the teacher, anyway? He looked at the list. Mr. D. Acum. Well, a little inspection of Mr. Acum's discharge of duty was called for, and Morse flicked through the orange exercise book until he came to the last entry. He found the day, Friday, 6 June, carefully filled in and neatly underlined. He then turned his attention to Valerie's efforts, which had entailed the translation from English into French of ten short sentences. Judging, however, from the enormous quantity of red ink the despairing D. Acum had seen fit to squander upon her versions, judging from the treble underlinings, and the pathetic 'Oh dear' written beside one particularly heinous blunder, Valerie's linguistic prowess seemed extraordinarily limited. But Morse's eye was not on the exercise itself. He had spotted it as soon as he turned to the page. Beneath the exercise Acum had written: 'See me immediately after the lesson.' Morse felt a shiver of excitement. 'After the lesson.' 12.30 p.m. Acum must have been one of the very last people to have seen Valerie before she . . . Before she what? He looked through his office window at the pale blue sky gradually edging into dusk—and he wondered. Had Ainley got on to Acum? Why had Acum wished to see Valerie Taylor that far-off Tuesday morning? The most likely answer, he supposed, was that Valerie would be ticked off good and proper for such disgusting work. But the simple fact remained: Acum had been one of the very last people to see Valerie alive.
   Before leaving for home Morse looked once again at the short letter from Valerie and compared its handwriting with that of the exercise books. On the face of it, certainly, there seemed an undeniable similarity. But for a definitive opinion he would have to wait until the forensic experts had considered the specimens; and that would mean waiting until fairly late tomorrow evening, for he and Lewis had a trip to London in the morning. Would he believe them if their report stated categorically that the letter was written by Valerie Taylor? Yes. He would have no choice but to accept such a conclusion. But he thought he need have little worry on that score: for it was now his firm conviction that the letter had not been written by Valerie at all, but by someone who had carefully copied her writing—copied it rather
too
well, in fact. Further, Morse felt he knew who had copied it, although the reasons for the deception he could, at this stage, only dimly descry. Quite indubitably now, in his own mind, the case was one of wilful murder.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Gypsy Rose Lee, the strip-tease artist, has arrived in Hollywood with twelve empty trunks.
(Harry P. Wade, American Columnist)
D
OUBTLESS IN ITS
heyday a fine example of neo-Georgian elegance, the sturdily and attractively built house was now fallen on seedier times, the stuccoed front dirty and chipped. Stuck to one of the stout pillars which flanked the peeling front door was an outdated poster announcing the arrival of Maharaj Ji, and on the other, in black figures, the number 42.
   The door was opened by a blowzy, middle-aged woman, a cigarette drooping from her lips and a headscarf half hiding the hair-curlers—like a caricature of the screen charlady. She seemed to eye them shrewdly, but it may have been nothing more than the effect of avoiding the smoke from her cigarette.
   'Police. It's Mrs. er?'
   'Gibbs. What can I do for yer?'
   'Can we come in?'
   She hesitated, then moved aside. The door was closed and the two men stood awkwardly in the entrance hall, where they saw neither seats nor chairs of any description, only a grandfather clock showing the correct time (10.30), an overloaded coat-rack, and an umbrella stand incongruously housing a set of ancient golf clubs. It became clear that they were not to be invited into the cosiness of any inner sanctum.
   'About three weeks ago, you had a call I think from one of my colleagues—Inspector Ainley.' She considered the statement guardedly, nodded, and said nothing, 'You may have read in the papers that after he left here he was killed in a road accident.'
   Mrs. Gibbs hadn't, and the lady's latent humanity stirred to the extent of a mumbled phrase of commiseration if not to the removal of the cigarette from her lips, and Morse knew that he would have to chance his arm a bit.
   'He wrote, of course, a full report of his visit here and, er, I think you will have a good idea why we've called again today.'
   'Nothing to do with me, is it?'
   Morse seized his opportunity. 'Oh, no, Mrs. Gibbs. Nothing at all. That was quite clear from the report. But naturally we need your help, if you'll be kind enough . . .'
   ' 'E's not 'ere. 'E's at work—if yer can call it work. Not that 'e'll be 'ere much longer, anyway. Caused me quite enough trouble 'e 'as.'
   'Can we see his room?'
   She hesitated. 'Yer got the authority?'
   It was Morse's turn to hesitate, before suddenly producing an official-looking document from his breast pocket.
   Mrs. Gibbs fiddled in her apron pocket for her spectacles. 'That other policeman—'e told me all about the legal position. Said as 'ow I shouldn't let anyone in 'ere as 'adn't got the proper authority.'
   Trust Ainley, thought Morse. 'He was quite right of course.' Morse directed the now bespectacled lady's attention to an impressive-looking signature and beneath it, in printed capitals, CHIEF CONSTABLE (OXON). It was enough, and Morse quickly repocketed the cyclostyled letter about the retirement pensions of police officers at and above the rank of Chief Inspector.
   They made their way up three flights of dusty stairs, where Mrs. Gibbs produced a key from her multi-purpose apron pocket and opened a dingy, brown-painted door.
   'I'll be downstairs when yer've finished.'
   Morse contented himself with a mild 'phew' as the door closed, and the two men looked around them. 'So this was where Ainley came.' They stood in a bed-sitting room, containing a single (unmade) bed, the sheets dirty and creased, a threadbare settee, an armchair of more recent manufacture, a huge, ugly wardrobe, a black-and-white TV set and a small underpopulated bookcase. They passed through a door in the far wall, and found themselves in a small, squalid kitchen, with a greasy-looking gas cooker, a Formica-topped table and two kitchen stools.
   'Hardly an opulent occupant?' suggested Morse. Lewis sniffed and sniffed again. 'Smell something?'
   'Pot, I reckon, sir.'
   'Really?' Morse beamed at his sergeant with delight, and Lewis felt pleased with himself.
   'Think it's important, sir?'
   'Doubt it,' said Morse. 'But let's have a closer look round. You stay here and sniff around—I'll take the other room.'
   Morse walked straight to the bookcase. A copy of the
Goon Show Scripts
appeared to be the high-water mark of any civilized taste in the occupant's reading habits. For the rest there was little more than a stack of Dracula comics and half a dozen supremely pornographic magazines, imported from Denmark. The latter Morse decided to investigate forthwith, and seated in the armchair he was contentedly sampling their contents when Lewis called from the kitchen.
   'I've found something, sir.'
   'Shan't be a minute.' He thought guiltily of sticking one of the magazines in his pocket, but for once his police training got the better of him. And with the air of an Abraham prepared to sacrifice an Isaac upon the altar, he replaced the magazines in the bookcase and went through to his over-zealous sergeant.
   'What about that, sir?' Morse nodded unenthusiastically at the unmistakable paraphernalia of the pot-smoker's paradise. 'Shall we pack this little lot up, sir?'
   Morse thought for a while.'No, we'll leave it, I think.' Lewis's eagerness wilted, but he knew better than to argue. 'All we need to find out now is who he is, Lewis.'
   'I've got that, too, sir.' He handed the inspector an unopened letter from Granada TV Rental Service addressed to Mr. J. Maguire.
   Morse's eyes lit up. 'Well, well. We might have known it. One of the boyfriends, if I remember rightly. Well done, Lewis! You've done a good job.'
   'You find anything, sir?'
   'Me? Oh, no. Nothing, really.'
Mrs. Gibbs, who was waiting for them as they reached the bottom of the stairs, expressed the hope that the visit was now satisfactorily terminated, and Morse said he hoped so, too.
   'As I told yer, 'e won't be 'ere much longer, the trouble 'e's caused me.'
   Sensing that she was becoming fractionally more communicative Morse kept the exchanges going. He had to, anyway.
   'Great pity, you know, that Inspector Ainley was killed. You'd have finished with this business by now. It must be a bit of a nuisance . . .'
   'Yes. He said as 'ow 'e 'oped he needn't come bothering me again.'
   'Was, er, Mr. Maguire here when he called?'
   'No. 'E called about the same time as you gentlemen. 'Im' (pointing aloft) '—'e were off to work. Well, some people'd call it work, I s'pose.'
   'Where does he work now?' Morse asked the question lightly enough, but the guarded look came back to her eyes.
   'Same place.'
   'I see. Well, we shall have to have a word with him, of course. What's the best way to get there from here?'
   'Tube from Putney Bridge to Piccadilly Circus—least, that's the way 'e goes.'
   'Could we park the car there?'
   'In Brewer Street? Yer must be joking!'
   Morse turned to Lewis. 'We'd better do as Mrs. Gibbs says, sergeant, and get the tube.'
   On the steps outside Morse thanked the good lady profusely and, almost as an afterthought it seemed, turned to speak to her once more.
   'Just one more thing, Mrs. Gibbs. It may be lunchtime before we get up there. Have you any idea where Mr. Maguire will be if he's not at work?'
   'Like as not the Angel—I know 'e often 'as a drink in there.'
   As they walked to the car Lewis decided to get it off his chest. 'Couldn't you just have asked her straight out where he worked?'
   'I didn't want her to think I was fishing,' replied Morse. Lewis thought she must be educationally subnormal if she hadn't realized that by now. But he let it go. They drove down to Putney Bridge, parked the car on a TAXIS ONLY plot, and caught the tube to Piccadilly Circus.
   Somewhat to Lewis's surprise, Morse appeared to be fairly intimately conversant with the geography of Soho, and two minutes after emerging from the tube in Shaftesbury Avenue they found themselves standing in Brewer Street.
   'There we are then,' said Morse, pointing to the Angel, Bass House, only thirty yards away to their left. 'Might as well combine business with a little pleasure, don't you think?'
   'As you wish, sir.'
   Over the beer, Morse asked the barman if the manager was around, and learned that the barman was the manager. Morse introduced himself, and said he was looking for a Mr. J. Maguire.
   'Not in any trouble, is he?' asked the barman.
   'Nothing serious.'
   'Johnny Maguire, you say. He works over the way at the strip club—the Penthouse. On the door, mostly.'
   Morse thanked him, and he and Lewis walked over to the window and looked outside. The Penthouse was almost directly opposite.
   'Ever been to a strip club, Lewis?'
   'No. But I've read about 'em, of course.'
   'Nothing like first-hand experience, you know. C'mon, drink up.'
   Outside the club Morse surveyed the pictorial preview of the erotic delights to be savoured within. 18 GORGEOUS GIRLS. The sexiest show in London. 95p only. NO OTHER ADMISSION CHARGE.
   'The real thing this is, gentlemen. Continuous performance. No G-strings.' The speaker was a ginger-haired youth, dressed in a dark green blazer and grey slacks, who sat in a small booth at the entrance lobby.
   'Bit expensive, isn't it?' asked Morse.
   'When you've seen the show, sir, you'll think it's cheap at the price.'
   Morse looked at him carefully, and thought there was something approaching honesty in the dark eyes. Maguire—almost certainly; but he wouldn't run away. Morse handed over two pound-notes and took the tickets. To the young tout the policemen were just another couple of frustrated middle-aged voyeurs, and he had already spotted another potential customer studying the stills outside.
   'The real thing this is, sir. Continuous performance. No G-strings.'
   'You owe me 10p,' said Morse.
   They walked through a gloomy passage-way and heard the music blaring from behind a screened partition, where sat a smallish, swarthy gentleman (Maltese, thought Morse) with a huge chest and bulging forearms.
   He took the tickets and tore them across. 'Can I see membership cards, please?'
   'What membership cards?'
   'You must be members of the club, sir.' He reached for a small pad, and tore off two forms. 'Fill in, please.'
   'Just a minute,' protested Morse. 'It says outside that there's no other admission charge and . . .'
   'One pown each, please.'
   '. . . We've paid our 95p and that's all we're paying.'
   The small man looked mean and dangerous. He rose to his meagre height and moved a thick arm to Morse's jacket. 'Fill in, please. That will be one pown each.'
BOOK: Last Seen Wearing
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