Chief Superintendent Markham was in a fine mood. He had been congratulated twice on the successful conclusion of a rather nasty murder inquiry in Norfolk—once by the Home Office, and again in an article in the Times.
Inspector Carlton had brought in the killer, covering himself with glory as well as the Yard, and he was currently basking in the Chief Superintendent's smile.
Inspector Rutledge, on the other hand, was still in his office, buried in paperwork. His last inquiry had stirred up a mare's nest, and Markham was apparently still smarting from that, because he'd seen to it for several weeks that Rutledge wasn't given a new assignment.
Rutledge had not complained—much to Markham's annoyance, according to Sergeant Gibson.
When the Chief Constable in a northern Welsh county asked the Yard to take charge of an inquiry into the death of a man found in the River Dee, Markham summoned Rutledge to his office, brusquely told him what was required of him, and said, "Sergeant Gibson will see that someone takes over the reports you were reviewing." He passed the file across the desk, nodded, and began to read another report already open on the green blotter. The air was chill with Markham's dislike.
Rutledge extricated himself from the office as smoothly as he could, collected what he needed from his own room, and informed Sergeant Gibson of the status of the reports on his desk.
Gibson grimaced. "Does this mean you're back in his lordship's good graces?"
"I doubt it. Northern Wales is rather like being sent to Coventry— out of sight and out of mind."
Gibson nodded. "There's that."
It was a Monday morning, overcast, cold. As he walked out of the Yard to his motorcar, Rutledge could smell the Thames, fetid with the receding tide. At his flat, he packed a valise, left a note for the daily, and then headed west through dreary outskirts and a succession of small towns before he reached open countryside.
By that time he was no longer able to ignore the voice coming from the rear seat.
It wasn't there, that voice. He knew it as clearly as he could see the ruts in the road unwinding ahead of the motorcar's bonnet. Corporal Hamish MacLeod was buried in the black mud of Flanders, and Rutledge had once stood by that grave and contemplated his own mortality.
It was the manner of Hamish's death that haunted him, and the guilt of that had turned into denial. By the end of the war he had brought Hamish home to England in the only way possible, knowing he was dead, but unable to free himself of the voice that had stayed with him in the trenches from the Battle of the Somme to the Armistice. It had followed him relentlessly, sometimes bitter, sometimes angry, and sometimes, for a mercy, even bearable. But always there.
And with it, the memories of the war.
What he, Rutledge, feared above all was one day seeing the owner of the voice—and knowing beyond doubt that he had finally run mad. The only answer to that was the service revolver locked in the chest under his bed at the flat.
For it was he who had delivered the coup de grace that silenced Hamish forever. Military necessity. But even as Hamish had broken during the Somme, he himself had been on the ragged edge of shell shock. England had needed every man that July. No one walked back to the forward aid station and asked for relief from the horror. They withstood it as best they could, week after unbearable week, and hoped for death when the agony was too much.
Hamish was saying, "Ye ken, the Yard doubts ye. Else, they'd no' send ye to Wales for a drowning."
Rutledge didn't answer.
"Aye, ye can try to ignore the signs. But ye've seen them for yersel'."
Hamish was trying to goad him into a quarrel, but it was only a reflection of his own troubled mind.