‘By hearsay only, I think. The nephew, you know. Young Arthur.’

‘Arthur? Ah, yes, of course. Edris speaks sometimes of Arthur. He is a clever boy, and inherits money, I think.’

‘An impeccably-phrased description.’

‘Please?’

‘Let it go,’ said Mrs Bradley, employing a phrase she had learned from Laura Menzies.

‘You are intelligent,’ said Crete, raising herself from the pillows and giving her tormentor a rare and very sweet smile. ‘Sometimes I think devilish. You have sewn me up into a parcel. Isn’t that what the English say? Well, I had better come clean. That is an American expression. We had Americans often on Tenerife. I like them because they have energy. I think Connie Carmody tried to ensnare my husband, and, you know, she is younger than I, and Edris is an old man and not quite a good old man sometimes. Therefore I am jealous, and when Edris wishes to learn where Connie has gone, I think I would like to know too. I affect to help him, but really I am helping myself.’

‘He put through the telephone call that took me out of my room, and you ransacked my belongings,’ said Mrs Bradley. ‘Yes, we guessed all that.’

‘Then Connie telephoned telling me where to meet her,’ Crete went on. ‘But it was not Connie. It was a stupid letter, all accusations. A madness.’

‘But why should Connie telephone?’

‘We advertised. She is a murderer. What do you say about that?’

‘I bring murderers to justice,’ said Mrs Bradley calmly. ‘And sometimes to that travesty of justice, the gallows.’

‘You speak in the English way, with humour,’ said Crete. ‘And the English humour has facets. It is like heaven.’

‘Well, the English justice isn’t very much like heaven,’ said Mrs Bradley, ‘although more so, perhaps, than the Greek or the Spanish justice, of which I believe you have some knowledge.’

‘I will discuss all three with my husband,’ said Crete, ‘and meanwhile I would be grateful for his hat.’

‘The police will buy him another,’ said Mrs Bradley. She walked out, spinning the deplorable wreck of a panama on her hand.

‘But how do we get him?’ cried Gavin. ‘And if she won’t say that he pushed her in, we can’t do anything about it unless somebody else saw him do it, and that’s unlikely. And we can’t even call it attempted suicide. Nobody is going to believe that a woman stripped herself naked before trying to drown herself in a respectable river like the Itchen. It doesn’t hold water.’

‘Crete did, quite a lot,’ said Laura, who was listening not particularly sympathetically to this tale of woe. ‘What’s more, Crete expects to be arrested.’

‘How do you know that?’ enquired the inspector, looking interested and alert, like a thrush within sight of a worm.

‘Just an idea,’ said Laura. ‘What’s more, you’d better arrest her,’ she added darkly. ‘The plot thickens, it seems to me, and, as soon as young Arthur P-H. gets down to Winchester, we shall be pretty near the climax. That’s quite certain.’

‘I couldn’t agree more,’ said Gavin. ‘But we haven’t even the most superficial circumstantial evidence that any harm is intended to young Preece-Harvard.’

‘Well, you arrest Crete for bathing without a costume, and see what happens,’ said Laura. ‘She won’t have thought of that, and it ought to flummox her properly. She wants to be arrested for attempted suicide, I’d say, and any other charge will spike her guns.’

‘But what about the hat?’ demanded Gavin. ‘Can’t you get one of your experts to tell you how long it’s been in the water? She may be telling the truth about the hat. If she wanted to accuse her husband of attempted murder she’d have come across with it, I should think. The hat is either an accident or a red-herring.’

Gavin chuckled.

‘You’re an ass,’ he said. ‘Or are you, perhaps, a genius?’

‘Occasionally,’ Laura replied. ‘And on this occasion definitely not an ass. You think it over, sonny, and get your hooks on Crete. Then we shall see what we shall see.’

‘Signs and wonders,’ said her swain, ‘but nothing that’s any good to a plodding police officer, believe me.’

‘All right. What price Mrs Croc. trying to get Crete’s goat, then?’

‘Did she?’ He looked interested. ‘Tell me more.’

‘Well, I would if you felt sympathetic, but I’m not here to waste my sweetness on the desert air.’

‘Say on, sweet chuck.’

‘All right. From Mrs Croc’s account of the interview – and I will say for the old duck that what she tells you is gospel and certainly isn’t intended to mislead – at least, not often! – it seems pretty clear that she indicated where the Tidsons got off. That ought to produce repercussions. I feel we are on the verge of getting action.’

‘Yes,’ said Gavin gloomily. ‘I feel it, too, and I’m not so certain I like the idea of it, either. You see the way that particular cat is likely to jump, I suppose?’

‘At Mrs Croc’s throat, I suppose you mean. But I think that’s what she intended.’

‘Very likely. But, hang it all, she’s an old lady and I can’t have her expose herself to such danger. I thought we were agreed about that. If Tidson and Crete are already responsible for two murders, they are not likely to stick at a third, particularly if it’s a case of shutting somebody’s mouth. They’ve nothing to lose either way, and they’ve shut young Biggin’s mouth already, if what we think is true.’

‘I know, but there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Except keep a weather eye lifting. But I don’t like it, Laura. It isn’t good enough.’

‘That’s if we’re right about the Tidsons. But, if you remember, you queried that yourself some weeks ago. And, after all, what have we to go on? There’s Tidson’s hat, of course, but that’s a red herring, I think, and, if Crete won’t accuse him, we can’t. Besides, he’s probably got a water-tight alibi, anyhow.

‘I know. But we don’t want to get him for having a stab at Crete. We want to get him for those boys.’

‘But that’s where we’re absolutely stuck.’

‘Not absolutely, now that child’s mentioned the hat. Do you know what we’ve got to do? We’ve got to get Tidson to the station on some charge or other—’

‘American film stuff?’

‘Yes, if you like. Spitting on the sidewalk over there; drunk and disorderly over here.’

‘You wouldn’t find Mr Tidson drunk and disorderly. He’s far too respectable for that! He wouldn’t dream of getting drunk.’

‘I’m afraid not, no.’

‘But suppose he did, and the local police pulled him in, what could you do? He’d only be fined ten bob or something, wouldn’t he?’

‘I’d confront him with one or two people – identification parade and all that. They’ve got a man now at the station for pestering women. We could line old Tidson up in the same parade, and see whether any of the witnesses picked him out; not, of course, for pestering people, but on any other score. For instance, if only we could show that he’d ever been anywhere near the Griers’ house it might help us quite a bit.’

‘Well, I still say those children I met at the house proved that, but it’s a long shot, isn’t it? And a bit unfair, if he’s innocent of the murders.’

‘I know. But we’ve got to do something. It’s stalemate so far, and I’ve been down here for several weeks now. My superiors are getting fed up, and an about-to-be-married man can’t afford to have his superiors raising their eyebrows because he doesn’t get action.’

‘I quite agree. All the same—’

‘All the same, you don’t like a frame-up. Neither do I. On the other hand, I can’t have Mrs Bradley getting bashed over the head with a stone, and the body slung into the river. I’m worried, Laura. I feel she’s started something which I may not be able to stop.’

‘She’ll take care of herself,’ said Laura. ‘And I’ll dog her footsteps and so forth. Does it matter if we murder the Tidsons if it stops them murdering us?’

Gavin grinned.

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