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Chapter Twenty-Nine

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« on: August 27, 2023, 06:12:09 am »

IT was just a little earlier than this that Chief Detective Inspector Lamb and Sergeant Abbott emerged from the lift and rang the bell of No. 3 Tenterden Court Mansions, a high-sounding name for the block of flats put up at the corner of Tenterden Gardens just before the war. Of the gardens which gave the curving crescent its name there remained no more than a strip of shrubbery, trodden flat since the removal of the railings for salvage, and a few old leafless trees, one of which had been damaged by a bomb splinter. Two of the houses in the middle of the row were empty shells, but the flats were intact.

When Sergeant Abbott had had his finger on the bell for something like a minute he shrugged his shoulders and looked round at his Chief Inspector. They could hear the bell ringing in an empty space, but from inside the flat no other sound struck on the ear.

“No one there, sir.”

Lamb frowned.

“She may have cut and run, or she may have slipped out for a bit of shopping. Go along down and ask the porter whether he’s seen her go out.”

“And if he hasn’t?”

Lamb considered this. He had his search-warrant, but he didn’t want to make more talk than he could help. He didn’t want to bring the porter into it. No harm in asking whether he’d seen Lady Jocelyn go out. If he had---well, he’d have to think about that.

When Abbott came back to say that the porter hadn’t seen Lady Jocelyn all the morning the Chief Inspector frowned again, dipped into his pocket, and produced the latchkey with which he had been furnished.

“Fact is,” he said, “I’d have liked it a deal better if Sir Philip had come along and let us in himself---it would have been more regular to my mind. I suppose he’s got his feelings when you come to this kind of a job. Well, there you are---in we go!”

Frank Abbott put the key in the lock and opened the door. They came into a small empty hall with a door to the right, and another facing them. Both doors were half open, as if someone had been going in and out between them, easily. But the flat felt dead empty.

They went directly into the drawing-room. A little pale sunshine slanted through the windows. Everything was neat, everything was in order. The chairs were undinted, the cushions plumped up. But the grate had not been done. The charred shell of one of last night’s logs lay upon a bed of tumbled ash. Frank Abbott cocked an eyebrow at it.

Lamb grunted, swung round, and went out across the hall to the other open door. It stood a little wider. No need to touch it. No need to cross the threshold in order to find Lady Jocelyn. The room was Philip Jocelyn’s study. She lay in a heap beside the writing-table, and both men knew at once that she was dead.

After a brief pause Lamb stepped inside and crossed the room. The woman he had come to arrest would never stand her trial. Whoever she had been, or whatever she had done, she was no longer here. The body lay upon its face with the table telephone dragged down from the desk and lying beside it. There was blood on the bright hair, and on the plain drab carpet.

Lamb bent over her without touching anything.

“Shot from behind at close quarters,” he said. “Looks as if she’d been trying to reach the telephone. Well, we’ll have to ring up the Yard. We can’t use this.” He indicated the fallen instrument. “See if there’s an extension in a bedroom.”

There was---a smart pale blue affair, looking oddly incongruous beside Philip Jocelyn’s unmade bed, with his shoes standing about, his brushes on the dressing-table, the general air of a man’s room in disorder.

Frank Abbott came back and reported.

“The extension is in his room. The bed hasn’t been made.”

“Bed?”

“Single. She was along here, next to the drawing-room. Her room has been done---bed made, everything tidy.”

Lamb gave the grunt which meant that he was thinking.

“Looks as if it had happened first thing. He goes about half-past eight, I take it. Looks as if she’d done her room but hadn’t had time to do his---he said they had no help. I wonder what about breakfast.”

They went together into the small, brightly painted kitchen. On a clean checked table-cloth stood the remains of a meal—cups which had held coffee, coffee-pot and milk-jug, rolls and butter untouched and uncut.

“Looks as if nobody had had much appetite for breakfast. Coffee---what’s the good of that to start the day on? Give me a rasher and a good strong cup of tea!”

“Who’s going to give you a rasher, sir?”

“I know, I know---there’s a war on. But I take my bacon ration out at breakfast and try to forget about it. Well, the boys will be here soon. Something queer about it to my mind---breakfasting on a cup of coffee.”

“Well, he’d been drugged, and she---well, whoever she was, she’d been living in France, and a cup of coffee and perhaps a roll would be what she was used to.”

Chief Inspector Lamb looked heavily disapproving.

“Then you don’t want to look much farther for why France came out of the war. Coffee! How do you expect men to fight on coffee?” Then, as the telephone bell rang sharply, “Who’s that, I wonder. Go on and see!”

Frank Abbott lifted the pale blue receiver. A distressed voice said, “Who is that? Philip, is that you?”

Frank said, “No,” and waited.

It was a very charming voice, soft, and young, and distressed. After a moment’s hesitation it resumed.

“I am speaking to No. 3 Tenterden Court Mansions?”

“Oh, yes. Who is speaking?”

“Mrs. Perry Jocelyn. Is Lady Jocelyn there? Can I speak to her?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Oh!” The distress deepened. “Oh, please---has anything happened?”

“What makes you think so, Mrs. Jocelyn?”

“Philip said----” Her voice trailed away. “Oh, it isn’t true, is it? She isn’t dead?”

“Did Sir Philip tell you that Lady Jocelyn was dead?”

“Oh, yes, he did. At least he didn’t exactly tell me. He opened the door, and he only saw Lyn---my cousin, Miss Armitage---and he said, ‘Anne’s dead.’ And when I called out he went away again, so we couldn’t ask him about it. And I couldn’t really believe it, so I thought I had better ring up.”

“When was this, Mrs. Jocelyn?”

“It was a quarter to one. But please tell me who you are. Are you the doctor? Won’t you tell me what has happened? Was it an accident? Is she really dead?”

“I’m afraid she is.”

He hung up the receiver and turned to find Lamb just behind him, his face heavy and frowning.

“That’s odd, sir. Could you hear what she said? That was Mrs. Perry Jocelyn, and she says Philip Jocelyn walked in on them a quarter of an hour ago and said his wife was dead. How did he know?

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