When an elderly woman is deliberately run down and killed on a quiet London street, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley must discover why. It is an investigation that will lead him to walk a fine line between personal loyalty and professional honor. What brought Eugenie Davies to London on a rainy autumn night? Why was she carrying the name of the man who found her body? Could her murder have some connection to a 28-year-old musical wunderkind, a virtuoso violinist whose talents have been internationally renowned since he was ten? To answer these questions Lynley will put his career in jeopardy even as he tries to safeguard those of his longtime partners Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata. Together, they must untangle the dark secrets and darker passions of a family whose history conceals the truth behind a horrific crime.
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March 23, 2009
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Excerpt from A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George
It was the knowledge of a touch--reserved for him but given to another -- that drove Ted Wiley out into the night. He'd seen it from his window, not intending to spy but spying all the same. The time: just past one in the morning. The place: Friday Street, Henley-on-Thames, a mere sixty yards from the river, and in front of her house from which they'd departed only moments before, both of them having to duck their heads to avoid a lintel put into a building in centuries past when men and women were shorter and when their lives were more clearly defined.
Ted Wiley liked that: the definition of roles. She did not. And if he hadn't understood before now that Eugenie would not be easily identified as his woman and placed into a convenient category in his life, Ted had certainly reached that conclusion when he saw the two of them--Eugenie and that broomstick stranger -- out on the pavement and in each other's arms.
Flagrant, he'd thought. She wants me to see this. She wants me to see the way she's embracing him, then curving her palm to describe the shape of his cheek as he steps away. God damn the woman. She wants me to see this.
That, of course, was sophistry, and had the embrace and the touch occurred at a more reasonable hour, Ted would have talked himself out of the ominous direction his mind began taking. He would have thought, It can't mean anything if she's out in the street in daylight in public in a shaft of light from her sitting room window in the autumn sunshine in front of God and everyone and most of all me.... It can't mean anything that she's touching a stranger because she knows how easily I can see.... But instead of these thoughts, what was implied by a man's departure from a woman's home at one in the morning filled Ted's head like a noxious gas whose volume continued to increase over the next seven days as he -- anxious and interpreting every gesture and nuance -- waited for her to say, "Ted, have I mentioned that my brother" --or my cousin or my father or my uncle or the homosexual architect who intends to build another room onto the house -- "stopped for a chat just the other night? It went on into the early hours of the morning and I thought he'd never leave. By the way, you might have seen us just outside my front door if you were lurking behind your window shades as you've taken to doing recently." Except, of course, there was no brother or cousin or uncle or father that Ted Wiley knew of, and if there was a homosexual architect, he'd yet to hear Eugenie mention him.
What he had heard her say, his bowels on the rumble, was that she had something important to tell him. And when he'd asked her what it was and thought he'd like her to give it to him straightaway if it was going to be the blow that killed him, she'd said, Soon. I'm not quite ready to confess my sins yet. And she'd curved her palm to touch his cheek. Yes. Yes. That touch. Just exactly like.
So at nine o'clock on a rainy evening deep in November, Ted Wiley put his ageing golden retriever on her lead and decided that a stroll was in order. Their route, he told the dog -- whose arthritis and aversion to the rain did not make her the most cooperative of walkers -- would take them to the top of Friday Street and a few yards beyond it to Albert Road, where if by coincidence they should run into Eugenie just leaving the Sixty Plus Club, where the New Year's Eve Gala Committee were still attempting to reach a compromise on the menu for the coming festivities, why, that's what it would be: a mere coincidence and a fortuitous chance for a chat. For all dogs needed a walk before they kipped down for the night. No one could argue, accuse, or even suspect over that.
The dog -- ludicrously albeit lovingly christened Precious Baby by Ted's late wife and resolutely called P.B. by Ted himself -- hesitated at the doorway and blinked out at the street, where the autumn rain was falling in the sort of steady waves that presaged a lengthy and bone-chilling storm. She began to lower herself determinedly to her haunches and would have successfully attained that position had Ted not tugged her out onto the pavement with the desperation of a man whose intentions will not be thwarted.
"Come, P.B.," he ordered her, and he jerked the lead so that the choke chain tightened round her neck. The retriever recognised both the tone and the gesture. With a bronchial sigh that released a gust of dog breath into wet night air, she trudged disconsolately into the rain.
The weather was a misery, but that couldn't be helped. Besides, the old dog needed to walk. She'd become far too lazy in the five years that had passed since her mistress's death, and Ted himself had not done much to keep her exercised. Well, that would change now. He'd promised Connie he'd look after the dog, and so he would, with a new regime that began this very night. No more sniffing round the back garden before bedtime, my friend, he silently informed P.B. It's walkies and nothing else from now on.
He double-checked to make sure the bookshop's door was secure, and he adjusted the collar of his old waxed jacket against the wet and the chill. He should have brought an umbrella, he realised as he stepped out of the doorway and the first splash of rainwater hit his neck. A peaked cap was insufficient protection, no matter how well it suited him. But why the hell was he even thinking about what suited him? he pondered. Fire and ice, if anyone wormed a way inside his head these days, it would be to find cobwebs and rot floating there.
Ted harrumphed, spat in the street, and began to give himself a pep talk as he and the dog plodded past the Royal Marine Reserve, where a broken gutter along the roof erupted rainwater in a silver plume. He was a catch, he told himself. Major Ted Wiley, retired from the Army and widowed after forty-two years of blissful marriage, was a very fine catch for any woman. Weren't available men scarce as uncut diamonds in Henley-on-Thames? Yes. They were. Weren't available men without unsightly nose hairs, overgrown eyebrows, and copious ear hairs scarcer still? Yes and yes. And weren't men who were clean, in possession of their faculties, in excellent health, dexterous in the kitchen, and of an uxorious disposition so rare in town as to find themselves victims of something akin to a feeding frenzy the very moment they chose to show themselves at a social gathering? Damn right, they were. And he was one of them. Everyone knew it.
Including Eugenie, he reminded himself.
Hadn't she said to him on more than one occasion, You're a fine man, Ted Wiley? Yes. She had.
Hadn't she spent the last three years willingly accepting his company with what he knew was pleasure? Yes. She had.
Hadn't she smiled and flushed and looked away when they'd visited his mother at the Quiet Pines Nursing Home and heard her announce in that irritating and imperious way of hers, I'd like a wedding before I die, you two. Yes, yes, and yes. She had, she had.
So what did a touch on a stranger's face mean in light of all that? And why could he not expunge it from his mind, as if it had become a brand and not what it was: an unpleasant memory that he wouldn't even have had had he not taken to watching, to wondering, to lurking, to having to know, to insisting upon battening down the hatches in his life as if it weren't a life at all but a sailing vessel that might lose its cargo if he wasn't vigilant?
Eugenie herself was the answer to that: Eugenie, whose spectral-thin body asked for nurture; whose neat hair -- thickly silvered though it was with grey -- asked to be freed from the hair slides that held it; whose cloudy eyes were blue then green then grey then blue but always guarded; whose modest but nonetheless provocative femininity awakened in Ted a stirring in the groin that called him to an action he hadn't been capable of taking since Connie's death. Eugenie was the answer.
And he was the man for Eugenie, the man to protect her, to bring her back to life. For what had gone unspoken between the two of them these past three years was the extent to which Eugenie had been denying herself the very communion of her fellow men for God only knew how long. Yet that denial had declared itself openly when he'd first invited her to join him for a simple evening glass of sherry at the Catherine Wheel.
Why, she's not been out with a man in years, Ted Wiley had thought at her flustered reaction to his invitation. And he'd wondered why.
Now, perhaps, he knew. She had secrets from him, had Eugenie. I have something important I want to tell you, Ted. Sins to confess, she'd said. Sins.
Well, there was no time like the present to hear what she had to say.
At the top of Friday Street, Ted waited for the traffic lights to change, P.B. shivering close at his side. Duke Street was also the main thoroughfare to either Reading or Marlow, and as such it carried all manner of vehicles rumbling through town. A wet night like this did little to decrease the volume of traffic in a society that was becoming depressingly more reliant upon cars and even more depressingly desirous of a commuter lifestyle defined by work in the city and life in the country. So even at nine o'clock at night, cars and lorries splashed along the soaked street, their headlamps creating ochroid fans that reflected against windows and in pools of standing water.
Too many people going too many places, Ted thought morosely. Too many people without the slightest idea of why they're rushing headlong through their lives.
The traffic lights changed and Ted crossed over, making the little jog into Grey's Road with P.B. bumping along next to him. Despite the fact that they'd not walked even a quarter of a mile, the old dog was wheezing, and Ted stepped into the shallow doorway of Mirabelle's Antiques to give the poor retriever a breather. Their destination was almost in sight, he reassured her. Surely she could make it just a few more yards up to Albert Road.
There, a car park served as courtyard for the Sixty Plus Club, an organisation attending to the social needs of Henley's ever-growing community of pensioners. There, too, Eugenie worked as Director. And there Ted had met her, upon relocating to the town on the Thames when he could no longer bear in Maidstone the memories of his wife's lengthy death.
"Major Wiley, how lovely. You're on Friday Street," Eugenie had said to him, reviewing his membership form. "You and I are neighbours. I'm at number sixty-five. The pink house? Doll Cottage? I've been there for years. And you're at..."
"The bookshop," he'd said. "Just across the street. The flat's above it. Yes. But I'd no idea ... I mean, I've not seen you."
"I'm always out early and back late. I know your shop, though. I've been in many times. At least when your mother was running it. Before the stroke, that is. And she's still well, which is lovely. Improving, isn't she."
He'd thought Eugenie was asking, but when he realised she wasn't -- indeed, she was merely affirming information that she already had -- then he also realised where he'd seen her before: at Quiet Pines Nursing Home, where three times each week Ted visited his mother. She volunteered there in the mornings, did Eugenie, and the patients referred to her as "our angel." Or so Ted's mother had informed him once as together they watched Eugenie entering a cubicle with an adult-sized nappie folded over her wrist. "She hasn't any relatives here, and the Home don't pay her a penny, Ted."
Then why, Ted had wanted to know at the time. Why?
Secrets, he thought now. Still waters and secrets.
He looked down at the dog, who'd sagged against him, out of the rain and determined to snooze while she had the chance. He said, "Come along, P.B. Not much farther now," and he looked across the street to see through the bare trees that there was not much more time either.
For from where he and the dog stood sheltered, he noticed that the Sixty Plus Club was disgorging its New Year's Eve Gala Committee. Raising their umbrellas and stepping through puddles like neophyte high-wire artists, the committee members called out their goodnights to one another with enough good cheer to suggest that a compromise on comestibles had been finally achieved. Eugenie would be pleased at this. Pleased, she'd no doubt be feeling expansive and ready to talk to him.
Ted crossed the street, eager to intercept her, his reluctant golden retriever in tow. He reached the low wall between the pavement and the car park just as the last of the committee members drove away. The lights in the Sixty Plus Club went out and the entry porch became bathed in shadow. A moment later, Eugenie herself stepped into the misty penumbra between the building and the car park, working upon the tie of a black umbrella. Ted opened his mouth to call her name, sing out a hearty hello, and make the offer of a personal escort back to her cottage. No time of night for a lovely lady to be alone on the streets, my dearest girl. Care for the arm of an ardent admirer? With dog, I'm afraid. P.B. and I were out for a final recce of the town.
He could have said all this, and he was indeed drawing breath to do so when he suddenly heard it. A man's voice called out Eugenie's name. She swung to her left, and Ted looked beyond her where a figure was getting out of a dark saloon car. Backlit by one of the streetlamps that dotted the car park, he was mostly shadow. But the shape of his head and that gull's-beak nose were enough to tell Ted that Eugenie's visitor of one in the morning had returned to town.
The stranger approached her. She remained where she was. In the change of light, Ted could see that he was an older man -- of an age with Ted himself, perhaps -- with a full head of white hair scraped back from his forehead and falling to touch the turned-up collar of a Burberry.
They began to talk. He took the umbrella from her, held it over them, and spoke to her urgently. He was taller than Eugenie by a good eight inches, so he bent to her. She lifted her face to hear him. Ted strained to hear him as well but managed to catch only "You've got to" and "My knees, Eugenie?" and finally, loudly, "Why won't you see--" which Eugenie interrupted with a rush of soft conversation and the placement of her hand on his arm. "You can say that to me?" were the final words Ted heard from the man before he jerked himself away from Eugenie's grasp, thrust the umbrella upon her, and stalked to his car. At this, Ted breathed a cirrus of relief into the cold night air.
It was a brief deliverance. Eugenie followed the stranger and intercepted him as he yanked open the door to his car. With the door between them, she continued to speak. Her listener, however, averted his face, and cried out, "No. No," at which point she reached up to him and tried to curve her palm against his cheek. She seemed to want to draw him to her despite the car door that continued to act like a shield between them.
It was effective as a shield, that door, because the stranger escaped whatever caress Eugenie wanted to bestow upon him. He dived into the driver's seat, wrenched the door closed, and started the engine with a roar that resounded against the buildings on three sides of the car park.
Eugenie stepped away. The car reversed. Its gears ground like animals being dismembered. Its tyres spun wickedly against wet pavement. Rubber met tarmac with a sound like despair.
Another roar and the car was speeding towards the exit. Not six yards from where Ted watched in the shelter of a young liquidambar tree, the Audi -- for now it was close enough for Ted to see the distinguishing quadruple circles on its bonnet -- swerved into the street without so much as a moment's pause for its driver to determine if any other vehicles were in his way. There was just enough time for Ted to catch a glimpse of a profile that was twisted with emotion before the Audi veered left in the direction of Duke Street and there turned right for the Reading Road. Ted squinted after it, trying to make out the number plate, trying to decide if he'd ill-chosen his moment to happen upon Eugenie.
He didn't have much time to select between scarpering for home and pretending he'd just arrived, however. Eugenie would be upon him in thirty seconds or less.
He looked down at the dog, who'd taken the opportunity of this respite from their walk to deposit herself at the base of the liquidambar, where she now lay curled, with the apparent and martyred determination to sleep in the rain. How reasonable was it, Ted wondered, to suppose he could coax P.B. into a fast trot that would take them out of the immediate area before Eugenie reached the edge of the car park? Not very. So he would offer Eugenie the pretence that he and the dog had just arrived.
He squared his shoulders and gave a tug on the lead. But as he was doing so, he saw that Eugenie wasn't heading his way at all. Instead, she was walking in the opposite direction, where a path between buildings offered pedestrians access to Market Place. Where the blazes was she going?
Ted hastened after her, at a brisk pace that P.B. didn't much care for but couldn't avoid without serious risk of strangulation. Eugenie was a dark figure ahead of them, her black raincoat, black boots, and black umbrella making her an unsuitable ambler on a rainy night.
She turned right into Market Place, and Ted wondered for the second time where she was going. Shops were closed at this hour, and it wasn't in Eugenie's character to frequent pubs alone.
Ted endured a moment of agony while P.B. relieved herself next to the kerb. The dog's capacious bladder was legend, and Ted was certain that, in the lengthy wait for P.B. to empty a pool of steaming urine onto the pavement, he'd lose Eugenie to Market Place Mews or Market Lane when she crossed halfway down the street. But after a quick glance right and left, she continued on her way, towards the river. Passing by Duke Street, she crossed into Hart Street, at which point Ted began thinking that she was merely taking a circuitous route home, despite the weather. But then she veered to the doors of St. Mary the Virgin, whose handsome crenellated tower was part of the river vista for which Henley was famous.
Eugenie hadn't come to admire that vista, however, for she swiftly ducked inside the church.
"Damn," Ted muttered. What to do now? He could hardly follow her into the church, canine in tow. And hanging about outside in the rain wasn't an appealing idea. And while he could tie the dog to a lamppost and join her at her prayers -- if praying was what she was doing in there -- he couldn't exactly maintain the pretence of a chance encounter inside St. Mary the Virgin after nine in the evening, when there was no service going on. And even if there had been a service, Eugenie knew he wasn't a churchgoer. So what the hell else could he do now except turn tail for home like a lovesick idiot? And all the time seeing seeing still seeing that moment in the car park when she touched him again, again that touch...
Ted shook his head vigorously. He couldn't go on like this. He had to know the worst. He had to know tonight.
To the left of the church, the graveyard made a rough triangle of sodden vegetation bisected by a path that led to a row of old brick almshouses whose windows winked brightly against the darkness. Ted led P.B. in this direction, taking the time that Eugenie was inside the church to marshal his opening statement to her.
Look at this dog, fat as a sow, he would say. We're on a new campaign to slim her down. Vet says she can't go on like this without her heart giving out, so here we are and here we'll be nightly from now on, making a circumvention of the town. May we toddle along with you, Eugenie? Heading home, are you? Ready to talk, are you? Can we make this the soon you spoke to me about? Because I don't know how much longer I can hold on, wondering what it is that you want me to know.
The problem was that he'd decided upon her, and he'd reached the decision without knowing if she'd reached it as well. In the last five years since Connie's death, he'd never had to pursue a woman, since women had done the pursuing of him. And even if that had demonstrated for him how little he liked to be pursued -- damnation itself, when had women become so flaming aggressive? he wondered -- and even if what evolved from those pursuits tended to be a pressure to perform under which he had consistently wilted, yet there had been an intense gratification in knowing that the old boy still had It and It was highly in demand.
Except Eugenie wasn't demanding. Which made Ted ask himself whether he was man enough for everyone else--at least superficially -- but for some reason not man enough for her.
Blast it all, why was he feeling like this? Like an adolescent who'd never been laid. It was those failures with the others, he decided, failures he'd never once had with Connie.
"You should see a doctor about this little problem of yours," that piranha Georgia Ramsbottom had said, twisting her bony back from his bed and donning his flannel dressing gown. "It's not normal, Ted. For a man your age? What are you, sixty? It's just not normal."
Sixty-eight, he thought. With a piece of meat between his legs that remained inert despite the most ardent of ministrations.
But that was because of their pursuit of him. If they'd only let him do what nature intended every man to do -- be the hunter and not the hunted -- then everything else would take care of itself. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? He needed to know.
A sudden movement within one of the squares of light from an almshouse window attracted his attention. Ted glanced that way to see that a figure had come into the room that the window defined. The figure was a woman, and as Ted looked curiously in her direction, he was surprised to see her raise the red jumper that she was wearing, lifting it over her head and dropping it to the floor.
He looked left and right. He felt his cheeks take on heat, despite the rain that was pelting him. Peculiar that some people didn't know how a lit window worked at night. They couldn't see out, so they believed no one could see in. Children were like that. Ted's own three girls had to be taught to draw the curtains before they undressed. But if no one ever taught a child to do that ... peculiar that some people never learned.
He stole a glance in her direction again. The woman had re-moved her brassiere. Ted swallowed. On the lead, P.B. was beginning to snuffle in the grass that edged the graveyard path, and she headed towards the almshouses innocently.
Take her off the lead, she won't go far. But instead Ted followed, the lead looped in his hand.