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Superintendent Nash came to see me the next morning. From the first moment I saw him I liked him. He was tall, and had thoughtful eyes and a quiet manner.
‘Good morning, Mr Burton,’ he said. ‘I expect you can guess what I’ve come to see you about.’
‘Yes, I think so. This letter business.’
He nodded. ‘I understand you had one of them?’
‘Yes, soon after we arrived here.’
‘What did it say exactly?’
I thought for a minute, then repeated the words of the letter as accurately as possible.
When I had finished, he said, ‘I see. You didn’t keep the letter, Mr Burton?’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t. However, my sister got one yesterday. I just stopped her putting it in the fire.’ I went across to my desk, took it out and gave it to Nash.
He read it. Then he looked up and asked me, ‘Does this look the same as the last one?’
‘I think so.’ I said. ‘The envelope was typed. The letter had printed words stuck onto a piece of paper.’
Nash nodded and put it in his pocket. Then he said, ‘Mr Burton, would you be able to come down to the police station with me? We could have a discussion there and it would save a lot of time.’
‘Certainly,’ I said.
There was a car waiting outside and we drove down in it. At the police station I found Symmington and Dr Griffith were already there. I was also introduced to another tall man who did not wear a uniform.
‘Inspector Graves,’ explained Nash, ‘has come down from London to help us. He’s an expert on anonymous letters.’
‘They’re all the same, these cases,’ Graves said in a deep, sad voice. ‘You’d be surprised. The words they use and the things they say.’ Some of the letters were spread out on the table and he had obviously been examining them.
‘The difficulty is,’ said Nash, ‘to get to see the letters. Either people put them in the fire, or they won’t admit to having received any.’ He took the letter I had given him from his pocket and gave it to Graves who read it then put it on the table with the others.
‘We’ve got enough, I think, to go on with,’ said Inspector Graves, ‘and if you gentlemen get any more, would you please bring them to me at once. Also, if you hear of someone else getting one, please do your best to get them to come here with them. I’ve already got one sent to Mr Symmington, which he received two months ago, one to Dr Griffith, one to Mr Symmington’s secretary Miss Ginch, one to Mrs Mudge, the butcher’s wife, one to Jennifer Clark, who works at the Three Crowns, the one received by Mrs Symmington, and this one now to Miss Burton - oh yes, and one sent to the bank manager.’
Symmington asked, ‘Have you learned anything about the writer?’
Graves coughed and then gave us a small lecture. ‘There are certain things that are the same in all these letters. The words are made from separate letters cut out of a book. It’s an old book, printed in about the year 1830. There are no fingerprints on the letters, but the envelopes which have been handled by the post office, have some fingerprints, but none that match. The envelopes are typewritten by an old Windsor 7 machine. Most of them have been posted locally, or put in the box of a house by hand. It is therefore obvious that they have been sent by someone from the local area. They were written by a woman, and in my opinion a woman of middle age or over, and probably, though not certainly, unmarried.’
We were silent for a minute or two. Then I said, ‘The typewriter won’t be difficult to find in a little place like this.’
But Inspector Graves shook his head. ‘I am sorry to say that you are wrong, Mr Burton.’
‘The typewriter,’ said Superintendent Nash, ‘came from Mr Symmington’s office, and was given by him to the Women’s Institute where anyone can use it. But what we do know is that these letters were written by an educated woman, who can spell, and use words well enough to say exactly what she wants to.’
I was shocked. I had imagined the writer as someone like Mrs Cleat, someone determined, but not clever.
Symmington put my thoughts into words. ‘But there are only about twelve people like that in the whole town!’
‘I can’t believe it.’ Then he continued, ‘You heard what I said at the inquest. I should like to repeat now that I am certain the words in the letter my wife received were absolutely untrue.’
Graves answered immediately. ‘That’s probably right, Mr Symmington. None of these letters show any signs of real knowledge. They are just about s@x and cruelty! And that’s going to help us find the writer.’
Symmington got up. ‘Well I hope you find her soon. She murdered my wife as surely as if she had put a knife into her.’ He paused. ‘How does she feel now, I wonder?’
He went out, leaving that question unanswered.
‘How does she feel, Griffith?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. She may feel sorry, perhaps. Or she may be enjoying her power. Mrs Symmington’s death may have fed her madness.’
‘I hope not,’ I said. ‘Because if so, she’ll -‘
‘She’ll go on,’ said Graves. ‘They always do.’ He paused. ‘I wonder if perhaps you know of anyone who, definitely, hasn’t had a letter?’
What an extraordinary question! But, yes, I do, in a way.’ And I told him about my conversation with Emily Barton and what she had said.
Graves said, Well, that may be useful.’
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