فصل 19

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فصل 19

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

At the Pinewood Private Sanatorium. Inspector Neele was facing a grey-haired lady. Helen MacKenzie was sixty-three, though she looked younger. She was holding a large book and was looking down at it as Inspector Neele talked to her.

‘She’s a voluntary patient,’ Dr Crosbie, the sanatorium’s director, had told him. ‘Most of the time she’s as sane as you or me. It’s one of her good days today, so you’ll be able to have a completely normal conversation with her.’

Inspector Neele said now, ‘It’s very kind of you to see me, Madam. My name is Neele. I’ve come to see you about a Mr Rex Fortescue, who has recently died. I expect you know the name.’ Mrs MacKenzie said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘I think, Mrs MacKenzie, you knew him many years ago.’

‘Not really,’ said Mrs MacKenzie. ‘It was yesterday.’

‘I see,’ said Inspector Neele. ‘I believe that you paid him a visit many years ago at Yewtree Lodge.’

‘A house decorated with money, but no taste,’ said Mrs MacKenzie.

‘He had been connected with your husband, I believe, over a certain mine in Africa. The Blackbird Mine?’

‘It was my husband’s mine. He found it and wanted money to get the gold out. He went to Rex Fortescue.’

‘And they went out together to Africa, and your husband died of fever.’

‘I must read my book,’ said Mrs MacKenzie.

‘Do you think Mr Fortescue cheated your husband over the Blackbird Mine, Mrs MacKenzie?’

Without raising her eyes from the book, Mrs MacKenzie said, ‘How stupid you are.’

‘Yes, yes, perhaps… But you see, finding out about a thing that was over a long time ago is rather difficult.’

‘Who said it was over? Nobody knows where my husband died or how he died or where he was buried. All anyone knows is what Rex Fortescue said. And Rex Fortescue was a liar!’

‘Somebody put dead blackbirds on Rex Fortescue’s desk about a month or two before he died. Have you any idea who might have done that?’

‘Ideas aren’t any help to anyone. There has to be action. I brought them up to take action. Donald and Ruby. They were nine and seven and left without a father. I told them every day. I made them promise every night.’

Inspector Neele leant forward. ‘What did you make them promise?’

‘That they would kill him, of course.’

Inspector Neele spoke as though it was the most reasonable comment in the world. ‘Did they?’

‘Donald went to fight in France. They sent me a telegram saying that he had been killed in action. Action, you see, the wrong kind of action.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Madam. What about your daughter?’

‘Do you know what I’ve done to Ruby? Look here at the Book.’

He saw then that what she was holding in her lap was a very old family Bible in which the old-fashioned custom had been continued of entering each new birth. Mrs MacKenzie pointed to the two last names. Donald MacKenzie with the date of his birth, and Ruby MacKenzie with the date of hers. But a thick line was drawn through Ruby MacKenzie’s name.

‘You see?’ said Mrs MacKenzie. ‘I crossed her out of the Book. She doesn’t exist anymore!’

‘Why, Madam?’

Mrs MacKenzie looked at him slyly. ‘She didn’t do as I said.’

‘Where is your daughter now, Madam?’

‘There isn’t such a person as Ruby MacKenzie any longer.’ Mrs MacKenzie refused to say more and Neele had another short interview with Dr Crosbie.

‘Do any of her relations come to see her?’ he asked.

‘I believe a daughter did come to see her before my time here, but her visit upset the patient so much that they advised her not to come again. Since then everything has been arranged through solicitors.’

Inspector Neele had already been to see those solicitors. They were unable, or said they were unable, to tell him anything. A trust fund had been arranged for Mrs MacKenzie, which they managed.

‘So there we are, Sir,’ said Inspector Neele as he reported to the Assistant Commissioner. ‘It’s crazy, but it all fits together. It must mean something.’

The Assistant Commissioner nodded. ‘The blackbirds in the pie and the Blackbird Mine, rye in the dead man’s pocket, bread and honey with Adele Fortescue’s tea, that girl strangled with a stocking and a clothes peg put on her nose. Yes, crazy as it all is, it certainly can’t be ignored.’

‘Half a minute, Sir,’ said Inspector Neele.

‘What is it?’

Neele was frowning. ‘You know, what you’ve just said. It was wrong somewhere.’ He shook his head. ‘No. I can’t see it.’

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