–“‘Course, it might have been a false one, to throw us off the scent,” said the constable.
“Maybe. These bastards are clever … Hi, who’s that?” asked the inspector.
A dark blue Range Rover had just pulled into the car park at Strubby House. A woman in a red coat and matching hat got out, waving. “Cooee.”
Thirty minutes earlier, the two policemen, accompanied by a police artist, had taken the path from Strubby House to the Dower House. The latter was a square Georgian pile with tall, narrow windows. Against the gloom of the sinking winter sun, it looked like an enormous tomb.
The path, an uneven gravel walkway, strewn with wet leaves, was lined by heavily pollarded beech trees on either side. Their stunted, blackened branches reminded the inspector of photographs of Holocaust victims, dumped in mass graves. A crow landed on a branch, somewhere just behind them, and began to caw loudly, to the inspector’s annoyance. He had an inexplicable hatred of crows.
The policemen reached the front door, the constable knocking on an ancient brass knocker. A footman, dressed in a maroon gown, opened the door. He gestured extravagantly. “Come in gentlemen, her ladyship is expecting you.”
They proceeded through to a large lounge filled with antique furniture, where a thin, bird-like woman, whose head was surrounded by a halo of wild, white hair, sat on a chaise-longue. “Would you gentlemen like tea?” she inquired.
“No, we’re on a tight schedule. Thank you,” said the inspector.
“That’ll be all, Pyecroft. Please be seated, gentlemen.”
The inspector wasted no time on formalities. “Your son, Lord Strubby, said you saw a green Fiesta close to the HSBC bank in Cloughtonby yesterday, and that you observed the driver, looking anxious, apparently waiting for someone. Is that correct?”
“I can confirm that we believe it to have been the getaway vehicle.”
“As you may have heard, a bank employee was shot in the face and is currently on life support.”
“Oh dear.” She cocked her bird-like head to one side.
“He may pull through, although he’ll have no face left … to speak of, anyway,” added the constable, helpfully.
The inspector continued, gesturing to his other companion. “This gentleman, Mr Thorpe, is a police artist. We’d like to get a rough sketch today, and then a proper e-fit at the station tomorrow. Is that OK?”
The woman gave a quick nodding motion of the head, like a chicken pecking in the dirt.
The artist began. “Now, was he black or white?”
“Yes, Chinese, I believe.”
Mr Thorpe chewed the end of a pencil. “I see. Did he have any distinguishing marks?”
“Well, yes, he did. He had a small tattoo of a dragon on his neck, just here.” She indicated a patch just below her right ear, visible through the wispy white mop. “Oh, and he had a scar on his left cheek ….” She drew a bony finger from the bridge of her pointed nose across her pale cheek, almost to her earlobe.
Twenty minutes later they left, the inspector well pleased with the sketch produced by Mr Thorpe. It should just make the seven o’clock news, he thought.
They made their way back up the path in the half-light. The crow was still there, a squat black shape. To the inspector’s annoyance, on seeing them, it began to caw again.
Now, the woman in the red coat approached. “I do apologise, Inspector, I was held up at a meeting. I hope Pyecroft looked after you?”
The inspector looked bemused. “Sorry madam, and who are you?”
“Oh, I’m Lady Strubby.”
“What? Who was the lady in the Dower House we just interviewed then?”
“Oh, dear. Er, that’s my sister, …. I’m afraid she’s, well, to put it bluntly … insane. I’m afraid Pyecroft will humour her.”
“But you can give us a description, then?” asked the inspector, employing all the restraint he could muster.
“No, I’m terribly sorry. I’m afraid there was a mix-up. When my son said it was a green Fiesta you were looking for, I misheard him. I thought he said it was grey. That was the one I saw. Definitely grey.”
The crow alighted on a nearby tree and began to caw loudly again.
The inspector gritted his teeth. “Oh, that’ll be all then, thank you, your ladyship.”
“Very well, then. Good day.” Lady Strubby turned and made her way to the house, shortly disappearing behind a high box hedge.
“Shall we go, sir?” asked the constable.
“Yes, you two go on ahead. I’ll join you in a minute.”
As Mr Thorpe and the constable proceeded to the car park, the inspector looked around furtively, then, glancing at the still-cawing crow, bent down to pick up a handful of gravel.
Featured in the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth
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