A Divided Loyalty – Charles Todd

London and Wiltshire February 1921 Ian Rutledge was walking down the stairs at Scotland Yard when he met Chief Inspector Leslie coming up them two at a time. “Markham in?” Leslie asked, pausing on the landing. “He was just stepping into his office as I came out of mine.” Rutledge didn’t add that he’d heard the man’s voice in the passage and purposely waited for the Chief Superintendent to pass his door before opening it. Markham was back from leave, and in a foul mood. He’d already had much to say regarding Rutledge’s last inquiry and Jameson’s report. They were not at present on the best of terms. Rutledge’s unopened letter of resignation still lay in a side drawer of the Chief Superintendent’s desk. The sword of Damocles held over Rutledge’s head, and at the same time a bitter frustration on Markham’s part as well as Jameson’s that both were prevented from accepting it immediately. Not while praise was still being heaped on the Yard for closing the Barrington matter. It had been made quite clear to Rutledge that any weakness on his part, any lapse in performance, any mistake in judgment, even any hint of insubordination, however unintended, might be a welcome opportunity to open the drawer and take out the envelope. Leslie grimaced. “Inspector Bradley has come down with an appendix. I just got word. Are you working on an inquiry just now?” “I’m giving evidence in the Trotter trial at half past eleven.

What do you need?” “Someone to go to Avebury. There’s a body.” Rutledge knew Avebury: a great prehistoric stone circle with a small village almost in the center of it. “Sorry, I can’t help.” “Damn it, I was just away myself, and looking forward to a day or two off.” Leslie grimaced. “I expect he’ll insist that I go to Wiltshire, like it or not.” With a nod he went on up the flight. Rutledge had known Brian Leslie before the war and had encountered him in France a number of times, where they’d both served in the trenches. They had become friends in spite of the difference in rank at the Yard and the fact that Leslie was married.

Brian Leslie was an intelligent and interesting man, at home in any situation. It was one of the qualities that had made him a successful interrogator during the war, dealing with German prisoners. But the war had changed him too, made him a little edgier, a little more aloof. God knew, they were all haunted by something. Continuing down the stairs, Rutledge thought to himself that he would have preferred Avebury to the stuffy, overcrowded, overheated courtroom where his claustrophobia made him feel cornered. But duty called. Brian Leslie had taken the train to Wiltshire, where he’d been met by Constable Henderson and driven on to Avebury in a horse and carriage. Henderson was apologetic. “There’s no other way of getting there from Marlborough railway station. As you’ll see, sir, it’s a good distance.

” “No matter,” his companion snapped. Looking out across the winter landscape, Leslie rubbed his gloved hands together against the cold wind that had sprung up in late afternoon and brought heavy clouds with it. He mustn’t blame Henderson, he told himself. If anyone was at fault, he was. And the Chief Superintendent, for being so bloody stubborn. If he himself hadn’t been in such a hurry to get back to London, if he’d had the sense to spend another night on the road, he wouldn’t have been available when Markham was casting about for someone to take over the inquiry here. No one would have questioned another twenty-four hours. Even his wife had been surprised to see him walk through the door. Rousing himself, he began the questions that were expected of him. “All right.

The Yard was vague. Tell me what I’m going to find.” “Do you know Avebury, sir?” “Yes.” He added as an afterthought, “As a child.” “There are the stones, of course, sir. Weathered into various shapes, but some of them still quite tall. There are gaps—my granddad told me that over the centuries many of them have been knocked down or even broken up. They stood in a giant circle, and surrounding the lot was a deep ditch. The village was built later, inside the circle.” “Yes, I recall that,” he said impatiently, immediately regretted it, and said mildly, “Go on.

” “Two mornings ago, one of the lads on his way to school saw the butcher’s dog sniffing at the base of one of the larger stones. Curious, he went over to see what it was Bouncer had discovered. The grass was beaten down and sticky with something dark, most of it already seeped into the earth below. Stephen scratched at it with his ruler, and saw the tip was a rusty color. He showed this to the other lads when he reached the schoolhouse, making out it was blood on the tip, and one of them was my son, Barry. When he came home to his lunch, he told me, and I went to investigate. I thought it must be a ewe, sir, that one of the dogs had got at. The sheep do graze there sometimes. But as I looked around for it, and got as far as the ditch behind this part of the ring, there she was.” Training took over.

“Clothed?” “Yes, sir. They were in some disarray, as if she’d been rolled down into the ditch. You couldn’t see her until you were right on her.” “How was she lying?” “On her face. I could tell from the way her arms and legs were spread out that she must be either unconscious or dead. That’s to say, it wasn’t natural. My first thought, sir, was that she might have been alive when young Stephen saw Bouncer, and we’d left it too late. I scrambled down the bank into the ditch—it’s precarious just there—and managed to turn her over. There was blood all over her clothing and her eyes were open. I knew then that she was dead.

” Henderson paused, busy guiding the horse into a long straight stretch of road. Leslie waited. “She was slim, black hair, dressed nicely. Clearly not down on her luck. But not dressed for walking about in a field, either. She’s not local, sir, I saw that straightaway. I was in a dilemma about how to fetch the doctor when I heard Ben Wainwright just coming over the causeway. He delivers kegs to the inn, and it’s a fairly heavy wagon. I got myself up to where he could see me and shouted to him to fetch Dr. Mason.

He went on to where the road stopped, got down, and hurried toward the surgery. A few minutes later, he came back with the doctor, and in the end we got her out of there. There wasn’t a stretcher, but she was light, and a blanket did well enough to transport her to the surgery.” “No chance that Wainwright had anything to do with putting her there?” “No, sir. He’s Chapel, married with three daughters. But I checked, and he was at home till it was time to take the team into Marlborough to load. Three in the morning. She was likely already dead by then, according to the doctor.” “You’re sure she wasn’t local? There are any number of small villages only a few miles in any direction.” “I asked around the village, in the event she was related to someone here or was expected to visit.

And I’m fairly certain I got the truth, sir. Then while I was waiting for the Yard to send someone, I spoke to every Constable in a good ten-mile radius, and not only was there no missing woman fitting her description, nobody had seen her about. And she was the sort of woman you’d remember, sir, if you’d seen her. Not so much a beauty as—” He searched for the right word, then shrugged. “I don’t know. Different, somehow. The doctor can tell you the rest.” It was a concise report, informative and to the point. Leslie glanced at Henderson. “In the war, were you?” “Yes, sir.

” He grinned. “Lied about my age, said I was thirty-one when I was thirty-six. But they took me anyway.” Then that was where Henderson had learned to report properly, if his training as a Constable hadn’t taught him. Leslie nodded. “Regiment?” “The Wiltshires, of course. Rose to the rank of Sergeant,” he confided proudly. “But of course, that was easy to do, given how many we lost. The Germans, we heard, were in worse straits.” Then he grinned.

“I was happy to come home, sir, where no one was shooting at me.” Leslie asked, “Many murders in this part of the county?” “No, sir. At least not like this one. The last one I recall was in 1913, when a farmer fell out of his hayloft onto a pitchfork. Only, the doctor told us that the angle of his wounds didn’t fit the account given us. Seems the pitchfork had been in him before he fell.” Farm accidents were always difficult inquiries. Too easy to pass off murder as an accident when there were no witnesses to say otherwise. He could see the first of the standing stones in the distance. They were nearly there.

“Any idea who could have done this? No witnesses coming forward?” “No, sir. And no other strangers to account for. We don’t even know how she got here without anybody noticing. It’s not the time of year when people on holiday come to stare at the stones.” True enough, Leslie thought. With the turn, the wind was playing around his shoulders, even in the carriage. He was grateful for the rug over his knees. He shoved his gloved hands into his pockets, to keep them still. He could see some of the stones clearly now, as they followed the road that led toward the village. To his left was a double line of smaller stones, the ancient avenue leading to the circle, paralleling the present road.

To his right, the land stretched out more, hummocked and rippled with ancient earthworks. He had come to Avebury in childhood, free to play among the stones while his parents visited at the Rectory. Magical then. Now, in the gray afternoon light they were foreboding, unwelcoming. Looking away from them, Leslie made an effort to remember the Rector at that time. He’d been at school with his father, hadn’t he? Tall, a deep laugh. Mrs. Townsend was a more shadowy figure, rather aloof. Surely they weren’t still here? Turning to Henderson, he asked, “Who is Rector now?” “Mr. Marshall.

” “What became of Mr. Townsend?” Henderson glanced at him. “Did you know him?” “My parents did.” “He was offered a living in Shropshire, I believe, and he died there some ten years later. I don’t remember him myself, but my mother does. She says he christened me.” That would account, Leslie thought, for the visits to have stopped before he was seven. Shropshire was too far from London to dine with a friend. “But Mr. Marshall is a good man.

Christened my son.” Leslie said nothing. They passed over the causeway, put there ages ago to bridge the ditch. To the right, beyond the bare tops of a few trees, smoke curled from a chimney, darker than the clouds. The inn, he remembered. “That’s the stone just there.” Henderson had slowed the mare and was pointing toward a half a dozen stones standing in a field to his left. “You can’t really pick out the ditch from here, unless you know to look. I can’t quite see how the killer knew it was there. Not in the dark.

You’ll want to go there later, of course. I thought it best to carry you directly to the surgery, to see her.” Not the body. Her. Leslie glanced at him, then turned in the direction Henderson was pointing. It was true, the ditch wasn’t well defined at this distance. “No one reported cries in the night? Any disturbance at all? Dogs barking?” “Not so far as I have been able to discover,” Henderson said. “And I’ve asked those living closest. But if the attack was sudden, and she didn’t know it was coming, I doubt she had time to cry out. Doctor says it was a stabbing.

Quick.” He turned slightly to point in the other direction. “Just there is the inn, sir. Where I’ve put you up. They were glad of the company. This time of year you’ll mostly have it to yourself.” They moved on, not turning until they reached the end of the present road, then left on a rougher one that ran down toward the church, its tower just visible. The doctor’s surgery was before it, across the road from the churchyard, and Leslie recognized the doctor’s house if not the name on the brass plate by the gate. He’d once been taken there for a cut on his chin after tumbling out of one of the Rectory trees. Dr.

Mason was a thin man with graying hair. He wore spectacles, peering over them at Leslie as Constable Henderson introduced them. “Chief Inspector.” He held out his hand in acknowledgment, then ushered the two men through a door by the stairs, toward his surgery. “Sorry to bring you all this way,” he went on, “but there’s no doubt the young woman was murdered, and as I told the Chief Constable, the circumstances worried me.” “How so?” Leslie asked, frowning as he took the chair offered him before Mason walked around to his own behind the desk. “What have you uncovered?” “Not to say uncovered, but these stones attract a good number of visitors. The curious, of course, and those who enjoy touching a bit of history. Students from time to time, and even a schoolmaster or two. Holidaymakers often bring a picnic basket with them or stop over at the inn.

We aren’t all that far from Stonehenge, it’s an easy journey between the two. But there are also a few with more sinister intentions. This death doesn’t have the hallmarks of ritual, but on the other hand, she wasn’t just killed in an empty field somewhere. There was blood at the base of one of the largest stones, and no attempt to conceal it. I grant you there wasn’t a full moon, but it was clear and bright enough by midnight. That might have been tempting to someone.” “Have there been other incidents like this in the past?” Leslie asked him, surprised. There had been no mention of Mason’s concerns in the thin file he’d been given. But it explained why the Yard had been called in almost at once. “In Avebury?” “Not here that I’m aware of, not yet, but the worry is that once it starts, it draws others.

I don’t want Avebury to suffer the way other prehistoric sites have done—there are people who convince themselves that the stones have some magic powers left by their builders or that their religion has a force that can be tapped for personal gain. It’s not too great a stretch from worship to a human sacrifice to the stones or the gods behind them. Sadly, we don’t know enough about these ancient cultures to make those obsessed by them see reason.” Henderson cleared his throat, making his own point. “What concerns me is that in this part of Wiltshire, his chances of getting clear before he’s seen are far better. If he had a motorcar, he could well have been anywhere by first light. The next county. London. Wales, even. The Chief Constable did warn neighboring counties to keep an eye out, but it may already be too late.

” Leslie took out his notebook, making a note. Looking up again, he said in an attempt to keep them to the facts, “And she wasn’t interfered with, in any way?” “No. Not that sort of crime.” “Anything we might use to help us identify her?” “No broken bones, no prominent moles or birthmarks, nothing unusual that I could find. She’d had a child, but not a recent birth. Her hair is dark enough that she might be Welsh. That’s all.” He let the man opposite him write something more, then rose. “Would you like to see her now?” Leslie took his time putting away his notebook. Anything to put off the inevitable a little longer .

They would think him odd if he refused. It was standard procedure. Would they believe him, if he told them that the war had made examining the body of the dead nearly impossible for him? No, if that got back to the Yard, it could cause no end of problems. Mason was waiting. Steeling himself, he and Henderson followed Mason to a small, windowless, frigid back room. As the doctor lit a lamp and the dimness flared into brightness, he could see the shape on the table, draped in a white sheet. Mason led the way and pulled back the covering. It fell into place along the line of her white shoulders. No longer soft, too white for the living. This was how the dead always looked, he warned himself.

This was just one more. When all was said and done. Mason was busy arranging the sheet, leaving the body some dignity. Henderson was looking down at the dead woman, his expression somber, and then Mason stepped back, and he could see her face, framed in that dark, dark hair. And he stopped thinking altogether. The next thing he remembered with any clarity was sitting in the carriage as the Constable drove up the road. Henderson was saying, “It’s for your use while you’re here, sir. The carriage. You’ll need transport. I borrowed it from the inn where you’re staying.

The Green Man is probably not what you’re accustomed to in London, sir, but the food is excellent. Sam Bryant’s wife is the finest cook for miles around. You’ll want to try Mary’s apple tarts.” Leslie barely heard him. His mind was filled with images he couldn’t stop thinking about. The sheet-covered body on a table in that wretched little room, her face still and cold in death. A rising tide of guilt so powerful he couldn’t remember how he’d got out of there, much less out of that house. Whisky. He remembered that. The doctor had offered them whisky afterward, and he’d wondered if Mason had suspected—guessed—he’d needed it.

He’d managed some excuse. He dared not let either of them see just how badly he needed it. He was terrified that he’d already given himself away, and getting out of there was suddenly all that mattered. Henderson was pulling up at the inn door. Leslie got down and reached for his valise before the Constable could hand it to him. To make amends, he let the man walk with him inside The Green Man and fetch his key from the innkeeper. Then blessedly, Henderson left him alone to find his room himself. He got up the stairs somehow, stumbled through the door, and sat down heavily on the chair by the window without even removing his coat or hat. He could see nothing but the images in his head. Her body.

Those three ugly gashes while Mason was going on and on about the knife that had caused them. And later, the silk scarf that the doctor had neatly folded inside her coat. That had nearly undone him, because he remembered it so well, remembered buying it, and thinking how perfectly it would suit. Why—why—why? But it was too late to ask himself that now. There was no way to escape what he’d done. His fists were pounding against his knees, but he didn’t feel it. He hadn’t told them who she was. He couldn’t tell them what she’d meant to him. He couldn’t even tell them why she’d come to England. Welsh—they thought she might be Welsh because of her lovely black hair.

He’d let them. It was bad enough that he’d had to hurt her in life. Now he was betraying her in death. But he’d had no choice, had he? Guilt was crushing him. Oh, God, how was he to go on? It wasn’t until much later, rousing up enough to notice how cold he was, that he had the coherent thought that he was the investigating officer. He could make absolutely certain of the inquiry’s outcome. If he didn’t, there was the hangman. Shuddering, he couldn’t stop himself from reliving the hangings he’d had to witness. He’d have to get himself in hand, he’d have to finish this bloody inquiry somehow, without betraying himself. If he hadn’t already .

As he got stiffly to his feet and went to light the fire laid ready on the narrow hearth, he told himself he had to find a way to take up the burden of what he’d done. And try to make it right. But how do you make murder right? How could one live with such a thing on his conscience? Leslie closed his eyes and begged her to forgive him—for what he’d done and for what he was about to do. Begged her to understand. Then, drawing a ragged breath, he knelt and put the match to the tinder beneath the coal. By the time the fire was drawing well, he’d got himself in hand. He wasn’t proud of it. Rutledge didn’t know the details of the inquiry that Chief Inspector Leslie had conducted in Wiltshire. He’d heard some talk that the inquest had brought in murder by person or persons unknown, which was surprising, since Leslie, like Rutledge himself, had a reputation for tenacity, working the evidence until he found the one clue that might lead to finding the guilty party. But as he heard more about the crime itself, he could understand the lack of a solution.

A single murder, with no witnesses, no weapon, and no real evidence to break open the investigation, was the hardest to solve. And dealing with someone obsessed with Druids and stone circles and possibly believing that human sacrifice had been practiced when the stones were new was especially difficult. If he’d got what he wanted from the god or gods he’d sacrificed to, whoever he was, he might never kill again. It was early March when Rutledge went to The Strand Restaurant for a late supper, only noticing the time because he’d come to the last of the reports he’d been reading and realized that he was hungry. And he couldn’t remember anything palatable in the pantry at the flat. He had avoided The Strand after running into Kate Gordon and her mother there one evening. He hadn’t seen Kate since the nightmare of what had happened on his own doorstep, and he didn’t want to encounter her now and cause embarrassment for both of them. Her mother had made it plain enough in December that a policeman was not an acceptable suitor for her daughter, who could aspire as high as she liked. After all, Kate’s father was a high-ranking officer in the Army, and his distinguished record during the war had led to his being received by the King. Rumor had it that he was on a first-name basis with half the war department.

True or not, it had given Mrs. Gordon a reason to conclude that Kate could marry very well indeed. In fact, the Prince of Wales had danced twice with Kate at a ball marking the end of the Paris peace talks in June 1919, although it was known that he generally favored married women. Rutledge had barely recovered enough from his own war that June to care who had danced with whom. He’d known Kate then only as the sensible cousin of the woman he’d been engaged to marry in the summer of ’14, and while he’d liked her then, he’d been too blinded by his love for Jean to see that Kate was worth two of her. But he felt safe enough tonight, late as it was. The Gordons kept early hours. As he followed the waiter to a quiet corner, Rutledge saw Leslie dining alone and stopped by his table. “Working late, also?” Leslie looked up and smiled. “My wife’s in Suffolk, and my own cooking is not edible.

Join me. I’m tired of my own thoughts for company.” Rutledge nodded to the waiter and took the chair opposite Leslie. In the light of the chandeliers, Leslie looked very tired. Noticing that, Rutledge asked as he took up his serviette, “Busy with an inquiry?” “Not at the moment. No. Thank God. You?” “I just got in from a village not far from Derby. I found my desk buried in files. I’ve dealt with them and taken the lot down to Gibson’s desk, to bury it next.

” Leslie laughed. “The Sergeant is a marvel. If he ever retires, the Yard will collapse. Did you get your man?” “I expect it will.” He shook his head, indicating that he would have no wine tonight, and the sommelier moved away. “As a matter of fact I did, or rather, my woman. A nasty one at that. The Vicar had lost his wife to influenza, and she was barely in the ground when the housekeeper’s sister began accusing every woman in the parish under forty of setting her cap for him if not worse. That was bad enough. Then she poisoned one of them because she was convinced the Vicar favored her.

The Constable whose lot it was to take her into custody had his hands full—she fought and kicked all the way to the police station. Browning suffered a cut on his chin and bruised shins.” “Good God.” Rutledge gave the waiter his order and handed him the menu. Turning back to the Chief Inspector, he said, “From what I’ve heard, you had a rather nasty inquiry yourself last month.” Leslie’s eyes hardened. “I didn’t catch the killer, if that’s what you mean. I’ve put out word that if anyone discovers a similar case on his turf, I’m to be told of it at once.” Something in his expression brought a quiet “’Ware” from Hamish. Rutledge heeded the warning.

He couldn’t have said why, except that he could sense something in the man opposite him. A sudden tension in his body, the unexpected glare. It wasn’t like Leslie, but then he hadn’t taken any time off for weeks. He could be found at the Yard early in the morning and late at night, whether there was a major case on or not. Rutledge said easily, “Well, supper isn’t the place to talk about murder. I hear that Sutton is getting married next month. He knew that my sister was wed in December, and he’s been asking me about the groom’s duties.” The stiffness faded, and the glare as well. “Poor Sutton. His future mother-in-law will keep him in line.

I don’t envy him.” The conversation moved on to the war. Leslie finished his wine, and set the glass down. “I shouldn’t say this. It’s been two years. But I can’t seem to put France behind me.” He appeared to be thinking aloud rather than speaking to Rutledge. “That’s not unusual.” Rutledge pushed the remains of his meal across his plate, refusing to be drawn. They all knew—he could see it in their faces sometimes when he caught them looking at him.

Shell shock. But he was damned if that knowledge was going to force him to resign. That would be what was expected of a coward. “No, I expect it isn’t,” Leslie answered thoughtfully. “I can’t talk to my wife about what happened out there. I couldn’t do that to her.” His gaze moved from the empty glass next to his plate to focus on Rutledge. “You aren’t married. That must be easier. And at the same time, more difficult.

” “I don’t think there is a solution.” He suddenly found himself remembering a friend. A suicide. He cleared his throat. He wanted to add, We live with it until we can’t any longer. But suicide, given the recent past, was not a subject he wanted to bring up. Instead he commented, “For many of us, the war didn’t end when the guns stopped firing. That’s the problem. We saw too much. Things that can’t be shared.

Things we can’t forget.” “You put it well.” Leslie was silent for a moment, then he said, striving to push the darkness aside, “Cheese or pudding?” “I’ll finish with a second pot of tea.” “Yes, I think that’s best.” He turned to signal the waiter. The next day, Chief Superintendent Markham sent for Rutledge and handed him a file as he walked in the door. “A rather nasty murder in Shropshire. See what you make of it.” Rutledge opened the file and scanned it. There wasn’t a great deal of information.

There rarely was. A parish sexton had dug a grave in late afternoon for the next morning’s funeral service for a man in his fifties. As it was to be left overnight, the sexton had covered the opening with boards and sacking, to prevent any damage to it or to a person who might unwittingly fall in. The next day, an hour before the ten o’clock service, the tocsin already tolling the man’s years, the sexton went out to remove the boards and sacking, and set the coiled ropes to one side, ready to hand when the coffin was brought from the church. As he drew back the second of the boards, he discovered that the grave was already occupied. A woman’s body lay in the bottom, and even in his shock, he realized that she was dead and had surely been murdered. There was a great deal of dark, drying blood on her clothing and her face. Far more than a fall could have caused. He sent the equally shocked Rector for the doctor and the Constable. By the end of the day, the village Constable had asked for the Yard to be brought in.

“Can’t say that I blame the local man,” Markham commented as Rutledge finished reading and closed the file. “Apparently no one knows who the dead woman is. Much less who might have wanted her dead.” He smiled, but it was cold. “Just your sort of inquiry, I should think.” Rutledge had angered Markham last month in the course of another case, and this was the Chief Superintendent’s less-than-subtle way of reminding him of that. “I’ll do my best, sir,” Rutledge answered mildly, refusing to rise to the bait. “I finished the reports on my desk last evening. I can leave for Shropshire straightaway.” “See that you do,” Markham replied, and picked up another file from his desk. Dismissal. Rutledge closed the Chief Superintendent’s door behind him, and in the passage, where no one else was about just then, he swore under his breath. He reported to Sergeant Gibson that he was going to his flat to pack a valise for Shropshire, and left the Yard.

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