Today's Reading

Rutledge smiled grimly, thinking that the Chief Constable and Chief Superintendent Markham had much in common. He asked, "Any reason to believe our body was a suicide?"

"Not yet, sir. For one thing, he wasn't dressed for hiking. Nor did he appear to be down on his luck, as far as we can tell. But then you never know, do you, sir?" Holcomb rose. "A cuppa tea wouldn't go amiss just now, sir, given the day?"

"Thank you, Constable." Although the room was warm enough as it was, almost too warm.

Holcomb moved the kettle on a shelf above the small stove to its top, then poured in water from a jug sitting on the floor. As he busied himself with the cups and saucers, he added, "Roddy MacNabb is a good lad. The one who found the man in the river. Gave him a nasty shock, that did. He'd taken out a fishing pole, hoping to give it a try, and found a corpse instead. His gran sent for Dr. Evans, who had to give the lad something to calm him down a bit before they'd even got round to what he'd seen. Roddy was convinced the body was coming up out of the water after him. Which of course it never did. Dr. Evans discovered later that the hook from the pole had caught in the man's clothes, and as the lad pulled at what he thought was a fish, the body moved."

"How is the boy now?"

"Well enough. His gran wouldn't let him go to school. The other lads would have swarmed him, asking questions, which would bring it all back again." The kettle whistled and he set about making the tea. Bringing Rutledge a cup and then taking his own back to the desk, he sat down again. "There is one other thing. Roddy's stepmother. She's not from around here. MacNabb met her in Liverpool or some such before the war, brought her home, and married her. Against all advice. Still, he was a good man. Killed in the war. I wasn't all that surprised when Mrs. MacNabb wondered if the dead man might have something to do with her daughter-in-law."

Surprised, Rutledge said, "And does he, do you think?"

Holcomb frowned. "Begging your pardon, sir, but I don't believe the dead man is her sort. There have been a few rumors over the years about Rosie MacNabb, none proved. She has a taste for trouble, you might say. Usually the sort that comes in trousers. But she's been careful never to push her mother-in-law far enough to send her packing. The feeling is that there was nothing much in Liverpool to draw her back. She'd as soon stay."

"Then why is this man not her sort?"

"He was short, sir. Just a bit over five feet." He considered the man across from him. "Rosie prefers them tall."

By the time they had finished their tea, the rain had stopped, but the clouds overhead were still heavy with moisture. Holcomb took Rutledge to the doctor's surgery, several houses down the road from the police station. Water stood everywhere, mirroring the gloomy sky. The house itself was not very large, but it was connected to a smaller cottage next door by an enclosed passage. The Constable led the way up the walk to the cottage. Knocking at the door, he waited. A woman came to answer the summons.

She was matronly, with a pretty face, dark hair, and a competent air about her.

"Afternoon, Mrs. Evans," Holcomb was saying. "I've brought the Inspector from London to speak to the doctor."

"Of course." She smiled at Rutledge, then led them through a waiting room to the office beyond. Opening the door after a brief tap, she thrust her head in and said, "It's the Constable, my dear, with the man up from London."

"Send them in." The voice was gruff.

She opened the door wider, and the two men went inside. Dr. Evans was standing beside the mantelpiece, knocking the dottle from his pipe into the fire. He straightened, stuck the empty pipe into his pocket, and nodded to them.

He was older than his wife, graying, fifty perhaps, with spectacles that didn't hide the sharpness of eyes so dark they seemed to be black.

"Inspector Rutledge, Dr. Evans," Rutledge said, holding out his hand, and Evans shook it before settling them in front of his desk. Mrs. Evans had shut the door and gone away.

"Not much to tell you," he said, in the same gruff manner. "Dead, clearly fell from a high place. Given where he was found, that would most certainly be the Aqueduct. No water in his lungs to speak of, he didn't drown. But my guess is that he was in the Dee for two or three days."

"Was he alive when he fell? Or had he been killed and then dropped over the edge of the Aqueduct?"

"That's harder to judge. The river didn't do him any favors. Between that and his fall, any bruising or other signs of a struggle would be masked by the massive injuries he sustained almost immediately afterward. If he was alive, I suspect he saw his death coming. It's a long drop. Not a very pleasant thought." He shook his head. "Nasty business."

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