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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Sharpe Tom
 

«Grantchester Grind», Tom Sharpe

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The second book in the Porterhouse Blue series, 1995

To my daughters Melanie, Grace and Jemima without whom this book would never have been written.

 

1

'Godber was murdered,' said Lady Mary. 'I am fully aware that you refuse to believe me, but I know.'

Mr Lapline sighed. As Lady Mary's solicitor he was forced twice a year to listen to her assertion that her husband, the late Sir Godber Evans, Master of Porterhouse College, Cambridge, one of the University's oldest foundations, had been deliberately done to death by or on the orders of the Dean, the Senior Tutor or one of the other Senior Fellows. Mr Lapline, a Cambridge man himself and a keen respecter of old institutions, particularly of old persons who had become institutions in their own lifetimes, found the accusation most distasteful. With a less wealthy and well-connected client he would have said so. Instead, and as usual, he prevaricated.

'It is not that I refuse to believe it,' he said. 'It is just that, in spite of every effort we have made, and as you know we have employed private detectives at great expense to your good self, we have been unable to find a shred of evidence. And frankly-'

Lady Mary cut him short. 'I am not in the least interested in what you have not been able to find out, Lapline. I am telling you my husband was murdered. A wife knows these things. All I require from you is proof. I am not a young woman and since you seem incapable of providing that proof…' She left the solicitor dangling. It was all too obvious that she was not a young woman and, in Mr Lapline's opinion, it was doubtful if she ever had been. It was the unspoken threat that was alarming. Ever since her recent illness she had, as Mr Lapline liked to put it-he was fond of borrowing the sayings of famous men-become an old woman in a hurry. In her present mood she was capable of anything. Mr Lapline was nervous.

'In view of what the coroner said…' he began but she cut him short again.

'I know perfectly well what the buffoon said. After all I was there at the inquest too. And quite frankly it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he had Porterhouse connections. Either that or he had been nobbled.'

'Nobbled?'

'Bought off. Bribed. Got at. Call it what you will.'

Mr Lapline shifted uncomfortably in his chair. His stomach was playing him up again. 'I'd hardly call it any of those things,' he said, 'and I'd strongly advise you not to either. Certainly not in public. The damages for criminal slander can be enormous. Of course as your legal adviser I am prepared to listen but-'

'But not, apparently, to act,' said Lady Mary. 'I have become fully aware of that.' She got to her feet. 'Perhaps I would be better advised by a more enterprising firm.'

But Mr Lapline was already out of his chair. 'My dear Lady Mary, I assure you I have only your best interests at heart,' he said, conscious that those best interests included the Lacey fortune she had inherited from her father, the Liberal peer. 'All I am trying to impress on you is the need for discretion. Nothing more. Now, if we had any evidence, no matter how slight, any evidence at all that Sir Godber was…well, murdered, I would be the first to put the case before the Director of Public Prosecutions, if need be, in person.'

Lady Mary sat down again. 'I should have thought the evidence was there already,' she said. 'For instance, Godber could not have been drunk. He was most abstemious. The Dean and the Senior Tutor were lying when they said they found him totally intoxicated.'

'Quite so,' said Mr Lapline. "The fact remains…' He stopped himself. Lady Mary's gaze was most unnerving. 'I mean there doesn't seem any doubt that on the evening of his…murder he had consumed a quantity of whisky. I really don't think we can dispute the autopsy report. The medical evidence was very clear on that point.'

'It was also clear that he had drunk it between the time he was attacked and his death, not before the so-called accident. The argument that he had fallen and fractured his skull because he was drunk doesn't hold water.'

'True, very true,' said Mr Lapline, glad to find something he could agree with.

'Which brings us to the bottle,' Lady Mary went on.

'Bottle? What bottle?'

'The bottle of whisky, of course. It was missing.'

'Missing?'

'Yes, missing, missing, missing. How many times do I have to repeat myself?'

'No need to at all, dear lady,' said Mr Lapline hurriedly. 'But can you be quite sure? I mean you were naturally extremely distraught at the time and-'

'I am never extremely distraught, Lapline,' Lady Mary snapped.

'Upset then, and it may not have occurred to you to look for the bottle at such a very distressing moment. Besides, one of the servants might have thrown it away.'

'It did and they hadn't.'

'It did. And they hadn't,' said Mr Lapline involuntarily and before realizing he was repeating her words again. 'I mean-'

'It did occur to me to look for some whisky that night, and the bottle had gone. I spoke to the French au pair and it was perfectly obvious she had no idea what had happened to it. It wasn't in the dustbin either.'

'Really?' said Mr Lapline incautiously.

'Yes, really,' said Lady Mary. 'If I say I looked in the dustbin and it wasn't there, it wasn't.'

'Quite so.'


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