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chapter twenty-eight

Be it ever so humble there's no place like home for sending one slowly crackers

(Diogenes Small, Obiter Dicta)

george daley, on overtime, was planting out flowers in the Blenheim Garden Centre when he looked up and saw the two men, the shorter of them flashing a warrant card briefly in front of his face. He knew what it was all about, of course. The Oxford Mail had been taking a keen interest in the resurrected case; and it would be only a matter of time, Daley had known, before the police would be round again.

'Mr Daley? Chief Inspector Morse. And this is Sergeant Lewis

Daley nodded, prodded his splayed fingers round a marigold and got to his feet. He was a man in his mid-forties, of slim build, wearing a shabby khaki-green pork-pie hat. This he pushed back slightly, revealing a red line on his sweaty forehead.

'It's that thing I found, I suppose?'

'Those things yes,' said Morse carefully.

'I can only tell you the same as I told 'em at the time. I made a statement and I signed it. Nothin' else as I can do.'

Morse took a folded sheet of A4 from his inside pocket, opened it out, and handed it to Daley. Id just like you to read this through and make sure it's well, you know, see if there's anything else you can add.'

'I've told you. There's nothin' else" Daley rubbed a hand across an unshaven cheek with the sound of sandpaper on wood.

'I'd just like you to read it through again,' said Morse simply That's all.'

'I shall need me specs. They're in the shed-'

'Don't worry now! Better if you give yourself a bit of time. No rush. As I say, all I want you to do is to make sure everything's there just as you said it, nothing's been missed out. It's often the little things, you know, that make all the difference.'

'If there was anythin' else I'd've told the other inspector, wouldn't I?'

Was it Lewis's imagination, or was there a momentary glint of anxiety in the gardener's pale eyes?

'Are you in this evening, Mr Daley?' asked Morse.

'Wha' Saturday? I usually go over the pub for a jar or two at the weekends but-'

'If I called at your house about what, seven?'

George Daley stood motionless, his eyes narrowed and unblinking as he watched the two detectives walk away through the archway and into the visitors' car park. Then his eyes fell on the photocopied statement once more. There was just that one thing that worried him, yes. It was that bloody boy of his who'd fucked it all up. More trouble than they were worth, kids. Especially him Becomin' a real troublemaker he was, gettin' in all hours like last night. Three bloody thirty a.m. With his mates, he'd said after the end-of-term knees-up. He'd got a key all right, of course, but his mother could never sleep till he was in. Silly bitch!

Where to, sir?' queried Lewis.

'I reckon we'll just call round to see Mrs Daley.'

What do you make of Mr?'

'Little bit nervous.'

'Most people get a bit nervous with the police.'

'Good cause, some of 'em,' said Morse.

Lewis had earlier telephoned Margaret Daley about her husband's whereabouts, and the woman who opened the door of number 2 Blenheim Villas showed no surprise. She appeared, on first -impressions, a decided cut or two above her horticultural spouse: neatly dressed, pleasantly spoken, well groomed her light-brown hair professionally streaked with strands of blonde and grey.

Morse apologized for disturbing her, looked around him at the newly decorated, neatly furnished, through-lounge; offered a few nice-little-place-you-have-here' type compliments; and explained why they'd called and would be calling again one of them, certainly at seven o'clock that evening.

'It was you, Mrs Daley, wasn't it, who got your husband to hand the rucksack in?'

'Yes but he'd have done it himself anyway. Later on. I know he would.'

The shelves around the living area were lined with china ornaments of all shapes and sizes; and Morse walked over to the shelf above the electric fire, and carefully picked up the figure of a small dog, examining it briefly before replacing it on its former station.

'King Charles?'

Margaret Daley nodded. 'Cavalier King Charles. We had one till last February. Mycroft. Lovely little dog lovely face! We all had a good cry when the vet had to put him down. Not a very healthy breed, I'm afraid.'

'People living next to us have one of those,' ventured Lewis. 'Always at the vet. Got a medical history long as your arm.'

'Thank you, Lewis. I'm sure Mrs Daley isn't over-anxious to be reminded of a family bereavement-'

'Oh, it's all right! I quite like talking about him, really. We all Philip and George we all loved him. In fact he was about the only thing that'd get Philip out of bed sometimes.'

But Morse's attention appeared to have drifted far from dogs as he gazed through the french windows at the far end of the room, his eyes seemingly focused at some point towards the back of the garden a garden just over the width of the house and stretching back about fifty feet to a wire fence at the bottom, separating the property from the open fields beyond. As with the patch of garden in the front, likewise here: George Daley, it had to be assumed, reckoned he did quite enough gardening in the course of earning his daily bread at Blenheim, and carried little if anything of his horticultural expertise into the rather neglected stretch of lawn which provided the immediate view from the rear of number 2.

'I don't believe it!' said Morse. 'Isn't that Asphodelina lutea?'

Mrs Daley walked over to the window.

There!' pointed Morse. 'Those yellow things, just across the fence.

Butter cups!' said Lewis.

Youve. er, not got a pair of binoculars handy, Mrs Daley?'

No I we haven't, I'm afraid.'

'Mind if we have a look?' asked Morse. 'Always contradicting me, my sergeant is!'

The three of them walked out through the kitchen door, past the (open) out-house door, and on to the back lawn where the daisies and dandelions and broad-leaf plantain had been allowed a generous freedom of movement. Morse himself stepped up to the fence, looking down at the ground around him; then, cursorily, at the yellow flowers he had spotted earlier, and which he now agreed to be nothing rarer than buttercups. Mrs Daley smiled vaguely at Lewis; but Lewis was now listening to Morse's apparently aimless chatter with far greater interest.

'No compost heap?'

No. George isn't much bothered with the garden here, as you can see. Says he's got enough, you know' She pointed vaguely towards Blenheim, and led the way back in.

'How do you get rid of your rubbish then?'

'Sometimes we go down to the waste disposal with it. Or you can buy those special bags from the council. We used to burn it, but a couple of years ago we upset the neighbours you know, bits all over the washing and-'

'Probably against the bye-laws, too,' added Lewis; and for once Morse appeared to appreciate the addendum.

It was Lewis too, as they were leaving, who spotted the rifle amid the umbrellas, the walking sticks, and the warped squash racket, in a stand just behind the front door.

'Does your husband do a bit of shooting?'

'Oh that! George occasionally yes

Gently, for a second time, Lewis reminded her of the law's demands: 'Ought to be under lock and key, that. Perhaps you'd remind your husband, Mrs Daley.'

Margaret Daley watched them through the front window as they walked away to their car. Just a bit of a stiff-shirt, the sergeant had been, about their legal responsibilities. Whereas the inspector well, he'd seemed much nicer with his interest in dogs and flowers and the decoration in the lounge her decoration. Yet during the last few minutes she'd begun to suspect her judgement a little, and she had the feeling that it would probably be Morse who would be returning that evening. Not that there was anything to worry about, really. Well, just the one thing, perhaps.

I n spite of that day being Saturday and the first of the holidays Mrs Julie Ireson, careers mistress at the Cherwell School, Oxford, had been quite willing to meet Lewis just after lunch; and Lewis was anxious to get the meeting over as soon as possible, for he was desperately tired and had been only too glad to accept Morse's strict directive for a long rest certainly for the remainder of the day, and perhaps for the next day, Sunday, too unless there occurred any dramatic development.

She was waiting in the deserted car park when Lewis arrived, and immediately took him up to her first-floor study, its walls and shelves festooned with literature on nursing, secretarial courses, apprenticeship schemes, industrial training, FE's, poly's, universities For Lewis (whose only career advice had been his father's dictum that he could do worse than to keep his mouth mostly shut and his bowels always open), a school-based advice centre for pupils leaving school was an interesting novelty.

A buff-coloured folder containing the achievements of Philip Daley was on the table ready for him. Non-achievements rather He was now just seventeen years old, and had officially abandoned any potential advancement into further education w.e.f. 17 July -the previous day. The school was prepared to be not over-pessimistic about some minor success in the five GCSE subject; in which, the previous term, he had tried (though apparently not overhard) to satisfy his examiners: English; Technical Drawing; Geography; General Science; and Communication Studies. Over the years, however, the reports from his teachers, even in non academic subjects, had exhibited a marked lack of enthusiasm about his attitude and progress. Yet until fairly recently -appeared not to have posed any great problem to the school community: limited, clearly, in intellectual prowess; limited too in most technical and vocational skills; in general about average.

Current educational philosophy (Lewis learned) encouraged a measure of self-evaluation, and amongst other documents in folder was a sheet on which eighteen months previously, in own handwriting, Philip had filled in a questionnaire about his six main 'Leisure Interests/Pastimes', in order of preference. The list read thus:

1 Football

2 Pop music

3 Photography

4 Pets

5 Motorbikes

6 TV

'He can spell OK,' commented Lewis.

'Difficult to misspell "pets", Sergeant.'

'Yes. But well, "photography"'

'Probably had to look it up in the dictionary.'

'You didn't like him?' said Lewis slowly.

'No, I'm afraid I didn't. I'm glad he's gone, if you must know.' She was younger than Lewis had expected: perhaps more vulnerable too?

Any particular reason?'

Just general, really.'

Well, thanks very much, Mrs Ireson. If I could take the folder?'

Any particular reason you want to know about him?'

No. Just general, really,' echoed Lewis.

He slept from 6.30 that evening through until almost ten the following morning. When he finally awoke, he learned there had been a telephone message the previous evening from Morse: on no account was he to come in to HQ that Sunday; it would be a good idea though, to make sure his passport was in order.

Well, well!

chapter twenty-seven | The Way Through The Woods | chapter twenty-nine