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chapter fifty-three

As we passed through the entrance archway, Randolph said with pardonable pride, 'This is the finest view in England'

(Lady Randolph Churchill, on her first visit to Blenheim)


on monday, 3 August, Chief Inspector Harold Johnson had spent much of the morning with his City colleagues in St Aldate's, and it was not until just gone 11 a.m. that he was in his own office back at Kidlington HQ – where he immediately read the transcript of Hardinge's evidence. Then re-read it. It was all new to him, except the bits about the rucksack, of course. Naturally he had to admit that since Morse had been on the case the whole complexion of things had changed dramatically: clues, cars, corpses – why hadn't he found any of them? Odd really, though: Morse's obsession had been with Wytham; and his, Johnson's, with Blenheim. And according to the statement Hardinge had made, both of them had been right all along. He rang through on the internal extension to Morse's office, but learned that he had just left, with Lewis – destination undisclosed.

Blenheim! He found the glossy brochure on Blenheim Palace still on his shelves, and he turned to the map of the House and Grounds. There it was – the lake! The River Glyme flowed into the estate from the east, first into the Queen Pool, then under Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge into the lake beyond: some two hundred odd acres in extent, so they'd told him, when first he'd mooted the suggestion of dragging the waters. Too vast an undertaking, though; still was. The Queen Pool was fairly shallow, certainly, and there had been a very thorough search of the ground at its periphery. But nothing had been found, and Johnson had always suspected (rightly, it seemed!) that if Karin Eriksson's body had been disposed of in any stretch of Blenheim there, it had to be in the far deeper, far more extensive waters of the lake; had to be well weighted down too, so the locals had told him, since otherwise it would pretty certainly have surfaced soon after immersion, and floated down to the Grand Cascade, at the southern end of the lake, where the waters resume their narrow flow within the banks of the Glyme.

Johnson flicked through the brochure's lavish illustrations and promised himself he would soon take his new wife to visit the splendid house and grounds built by Queen Anne and her grateful parliament for the mighty Duke. What was that mnemonic they'd learned at school? BROM – yes, that was it: Blenheim, Ramilles, Oudenarde, Malplaquet – that musical quartet of victories. Then, quite suddenly, he had the urge to go and look again at that wonderful sight which bursts upon the visitor after passing through the Triumphal Gate.

He drove out to Woodstock, past the Bear and the church on his left, then across a quadrangle and up to the gate where a keeper sat in his box, and where Johnson (to his delight) was recognized.

'You going through, sir?'

Johnson nodded. 'I thought we had one of our lads at each of the gates?'

'Right. You did, sir. But you took 'em off.'

'When was that?'

'Saturday. The fellow who was on duty here just said he wouldn't be back – that's all I know. Reckon as he thought the case was finished, like.'

'Really?'

Johnson drove on through, and there it was again, bringing back so many memories: in the middle distance the towers and finials of the Palace itself; and there, immediately to his right, the lake with the Grand Bridge and Capability Brown's beechwood landscape beyond it. Breathtaking!

Johnson accepted the fact that he was a man of somewhat limited sensitivity; yet he thought he was a competent police officer, and he was far from happy about the statement he'd just read. If this Hardinge fellow could be believed, the evidence Daley had given a year earlier had been decidedly uneconomical with the truth; and that, to Johnson, was irksome – very irksome. At the time, he'd spent a good while with Daley, going over that wretched rucksack business; and he wanted to have another word with Daley. Now!

He drove down past the Palace to the garden centre; but no one there had seen Daley that morning. He might be out at the mill, perhaps? So Johnson drove out of the estate, through Eagle Lodge, and out on to the A4095, where he turned right through Bladon and Long Hanborough, then right again and in towards the western boundary of the estate, parking beside the piles of newly cut stakes in the yard of the Blenheim Estate Saw-Mill. Only once had he been there when earlier he'd been the big white chief, and he was suddenly aware that it would have been considerably quicker for him to have driven across the park instead of round the villages. Not that it much mattered, though.

No one recognized him here. But he soon learned that Daley's van wasn't there; hadn't been there since Friday afternoon in fact, when he'd been looking after some new plantation by the lake, and when he'd called at the saw-mill for some stakes for supporting saplings. One of the workers suggested that Daley would probably have taken the van home with him for the weekend – certainly so if he'd been working overtime that weekend; and the odds were that Daley was back planting trees that morning.

Johnson thanked the man and drove to the edge of the estate, only just along the road really; then right along a lane that proclaimed 'No Thoroughfare', till he reached Combe Lodge where, Johnson had been told, the gate would probably be locked. But, well, he was a policeman, he'd said.

Johnson read the notice on the tall, wooden, green-painted gate:


ACCESS FOR KEYHOLDERS ONLY.

ALL OTHER VEHICLES MUST USE THE GATE IN WOODSTOCK. DO NOT DISTURB THE RESIDENTS IN THE LODGE.

But there was no need for him to disturb the (single) resident, since a tractor-cum-trailer was just being admitted, and in its wake the police car was waved through without challenge. A little lax perhaps, as Johnson wondered. Immediately in front of him the road divided sharply; and as a lone, overweight lady, jogging at roughly walking pace, took the fork to the right, Johnson took the fork to the left, past tall oak trees towards the northern tip of the lake. Very soon, some two or three hundred yards ahead on his left, he saw the clump of trees, and immediately realized his luck – for a Blenheim Estate van stood there, pulled in beside an old, felt-roofed hut, its wooden slats green with mildew. He drew in alongside and got out of the car to look through a small side-window of glass.

Nothing.'Well, virtually nothing: only a wooden shelf on which rested two unopened bags of food for the pheasants. Walking round to the front of the hut, he tried the top and bottom of the stable-type door: both locked. Then, as he stepped further round, something caught the right-hand edge of his vision, and he looked down at the ground just beyond and behind the hut – his mouth suddenly opening in horror, his body held momentarily in the freezing grip of fear.


chapter fifty-two | The Way Through The Woods | chapter fifty-four



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