فصل 03

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فصل 03

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Chapter three

A Dead Rose and Two Artists

At noon the next day Ms Gray called Hudson. She told him that she had personally checked her records of the last months.

“Nothing, Inspector,” she reported. “The only thing that is unaccounted for is an old dummy we don’t use any more anyway.”

“A dummy?” he asked. “Who would steal a dummy?”

“I have no idea. It had been collecting dust in the storage room, and then one day it was gone. Perhaps it walked off by itself.”

“When did it disappear?” Hudson asked more out of habit than interest.

“Oh, about the time I came down with the flu. Let me see - that must have been round Easter,” the shop owner stated. “Now I compared all sales to our inventory of clothes. Nothing is missing, not one single item that might have been stolen. All clothes were properly paid for.”

“What about cheques and credit cards? How long do you keep records of those?” Hudson asked.

“Forever,” she said. “They’re still all there. But do you really think the murderer would have paid for those dresses with a cheque or credit card?”

“No, I don’t,” he replied truthfully. “But we have to investigate every possible lead, you know.”

“Yes, I understand that,” the boutique owner said. “But this will be handled discreetly, won’t it? I don’t want the police to upset my customers - it might ruin the good reputation of my shop!”

“Of course we will be discreet about it,” the inspector assured her. “I will personally see to that. So could you keep all your records handy, so that one of my men can pick them up this afternoon? You will get everything back as soon as we are finished with it - the two dresses as well.”

She promised to have everything ready to be picked up in the after-noon. Just before she was about to hang up, the inspector said: “Oh, just one more question - who has keys to your shop and the storage area?” “Only myself. I am always the first person to get there and the last one to leave.”

“Sounds just like my job,” Hudson remarked. “Thank you so much. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Inspector.” She hung up.

Well, this is one job I won’t handle myself, Hudson thought. Sorting through bookkeeping records and dealing with figures is just not my cup of tea! Let me see - who will be the lucky one to take care of “Gray’s” bookkeeping?

The heatwave had finally cooled off and was replaced by rain. The water was pouring down from the sky as if God Himself was taking a long, refreshing shower.

Hudson drove out of the city centre and past the Updike Shipyard by the river. He took the shortcut through the industrial area and then some side roads that finally led to the wealthy part of town where he lived. His house was small but exquisite and surrounded by a large lawn and a rose garden, which was his housekeeper’s great passion.

“It’s raining cats and dogs!” Miss Paddington said as a sort of welcome when Hudson opened the front door.

“Who are you telling this? I feel like shaking myself like a wet poodle.” He had to sneeze.

Miss Paddington hurried off to the kitchen and returned with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. “Here you go. Just what the doctor ordered.”

He gratefully drank a few sips. His housekeeper always seemed to know what he needed at that moment. “Thank you,” he said. “That’s delicious.” “It’s made with real cocoa and a touch of cinnamon. My Aunt Libby taught me how to make it when I was a young girl.”

“Well, God bless Aunt Libby’s soul,” the inspector said. “May she spoil all the angels in heaven with her hot chocolate!”

“Hope you don’t catch a cold, Inspector. But to be honest - I’m glad we finally get some rain after all that sun.”

“You’re right. I was starting to feel as if I’m in Florida instead of in good old England!” Hudson said ironically.

“That’s not what I mean. But the roses did not take very well to all that heat. And they are my first painting project. I’m working on a still life - a perfect single rose blossom in a glass vase. I’ll call it ‘Rose in Glass’.”

“How fitting,” the inspector remarked dryly.

“Yes, isn’t it?” she said proudly. “But before I could finish, all the blossoms died on me because of the hot weather.”

“Then why don’t you just call the painting ‘Dead Rose in Glass’? Or you could call it ‘Rose Dying in Glass’.”

Miss Paddington did not like it when the inspector made jokes like that. “That’s not funny, Inspector. You’ve had too many death investigations,” she said curtly. “And being all by yourself doesn’t help either, you know. Have you seen that nice lady lately? What’s her name - Elvira?”

Having made her point, the housekeeper took his empty cup and left him by himself to think about that nice lady, Elvira.

Perhaps I should get a cat, he thought. They are just as complicated as women. And they have just as long claws. But you don’t have to impress them with compliments.

Inspector Hudson was no longer thinking about cats. He was thinking about the stranger one of the shop assistants had mentioned. How to find the male customer who had shown such interest in the blue dress? Well, the only way to do that was through the media. The shop owner would probably not be too thrilled about that. But then it might even boost her business if the dresses were displayed attractively inside the store.

Oh, so what, he thought. We will even mention that desert theme. That should make her happy.

The young investigator who had to sort through “Gray’s” bookkeeping records confirmed what the boutique owner had already told Hudson. Everything was totally correct. No dress could be missing from the inventory.

“We’re still checking into the purchases that were made on credit card or by cheque, sir. So far the customers have been able to show us what they bought at ‘Gray’s’. We’re only waiting on three more customers who couldn’t be reached yet. By the way”, the young officer continued, “the woman who found the second victim - her name is Jennifer Clearwater - is among ‘Gray’s’ customers. We are still waiting for the results there, because she and her husband are on holiday right now. But the amount she paid by credit card is less than the price they ask for one of those dresses. So it can’t have been a dress she bought. The shop assistants think it was a bikini or something like that.”

“So that’s not a lead,” the inspector said, shaking his head.

“Actually, so far every lead has turned into a dead end. Well, get back to me as soon as you have talked to the remaining customers. And thank you. You’re doing a good job.”

The young officer flushed with surprise. “Why, thank you, sir!” he said and hurried off to do an even better job.

Why is it so much easier to compliment a subordinate on a job well done than it is to pay a compliment to a beautiful woman? The inspector wondered.

“You always call when I’m in a hurry,” Elvira said. “How do you always know when I’m getting ready to leave?”

“I don’t,” Hudson replied lamely. “Sorry to bother you again so soon. But we’re not getting anywhere in the Thames Murder Cases. All we know is that the murderer must have bought the dresses at Gray’s - or somewhere far away in another big city. This ‘Petit Fleur du Jardin’ stuff is only sold in a few very exclusive shops, as we found out. Therefore I need your help.”

He sighed. He liked to call Elvira, but he hated to have to ask any favours of her.

She seemed to have heard his sigh, because her voice softened immediately. “How can I help you out? I don’t know any more about those dresses than you already do.”

“But you socialize with the kind of people who buy clothes like that. People who can afford those prices, I mean. We’re probably looking for someone with money - some clown who can go out and buy two very expensive dresses just for the thrill. And the kill, so to speak.” “Nice wordplay, James,” Elvira said. “But a sad subject.”

“That’s how I feel, too. I have to find the bastard before he strikes again!”

“What makes you think he will strike again?”

The inspector could not tell her about the pattern he was beginning to see - the full moon and the same type of dress. “Let’s just call it an instinct. I have a feeling he will kill again. And soon.”

“Tell you what. I will see what I can find out. I will ask all my friends in high places a few discreet questions - without mentioning you, of course. By the way, how did you like the paintings?”

“What paintings?” He had no idea what she was talking about.

“The paintings in ‘Gray’s’ boutique. O.U. Gray’s paintings. Didn’t you see them? Three of them are hanging on one of the walls. They bear his artist’s initials O.U.G.” “O.U. Gray’s paintings? Who is O.U. Gray? Ms Gray’s husband?” he asked in confusion. “But she said she was divorced.” “O.U. Gray is her twin brother,” Elvira explained patiently. “He is a very talented local artist, very ‘in’ at the moment. Does abstracts. He has developed his own soft, flowing style. So his pictures always look as if they were taken under water. Some critics already call him a genius.”

The inspector, who could not tell the difference between a rose in a glass from an abstract rose under water, was surprised. Ms Gray had not mentioned that she had a brother. So there was another man around who could have somehow taken those dresses!

“Elvira?”

“What, oh James?” she asked in her sultry voice that made him want to call her more often.

“You know what? You just gave me an important new lead! O.U. Gray! I had no idea about the man! Thank you - thank you so much!”

“You’re quite welcome. But now I’ve got to run.”

She wanted to hang up on him, but he stopped her just in time. “One more thing,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Tha-that peachy dress you were thinking of buying? I saw it in the shop,” he stuttered. “And you would look great in it.”

“Are you sure now?” she sounded amused.

“No, I mean yes - I mean b-beautiful. I really wanted to say that you would look beautiful in that peach-coloured dress. Like a beautiful peach!’

“You mean like a ‘petit peche du jardin’?” she chuckled.

“Well, I didn’t mean it as a joke,” he said stiffly.

“James, that was the sweetest compliment I ever heard. No one has ever called me a ‘beautiful peach’ Now I will definitely have to buy it. It’s all your fault if I spend half of my monthly income on that peachy dress! Have a nice day!”

They rang off.

He had done it. He had paid her the sweetest compliment she had ever heard. James Hudson leaned back in his office chair, doing nothing but savour the moment.

O.U. Gray had the same black hair, blue eyes and features as his twin sister Emily, but his face was softer and he seemed younger than her. He was dressed casually in jeans and a black jersey shirt.

Now he is a man that young Bernadine probably considers good looking, James Hudson thought. But he doesn’t look as if he could run a successful business the way his sister does.

“Come on in, Inspector.” Gray led Hudson into his living room. “Do you care for a cup of Orange Pekoe or a glass of lemonade?” He pointed at a glass jug.

“No, thank you. I won’t take up much of your time. I just have a few questions.”

Gray poured himself a glass of freshly made lemonade. He took a sip of the pale yellow liquid. “So what brings the famous Scotland Yard Inspector Hudson here to my modest home?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it modest,” Hudson replied, looking round the huge room with the high ceiling. The walls, the marble floor and the leather furniture were all white. A few white decorative vases were placed here and there. Even the photo books on the coffee table had white covers. The only splash of colour in the room was a great big rug in the centre of the room. All colours of the rainbow were woven into its beautiful pattern.

Pointing at it, the inspector remarked, “That’s a nice piece. It looks like an Indian pattern.” “It is,” Gray nodded. “I bought it at an Indian reservation in Arizona. It is handmade, and the colours are all natural. No chemicals at all.”

“Very beautiful,” Hudson commented. “But I don’t see any paintings on the walls. I heard you’re an artist who has made quite a name of himself.”

Gray put down his glass and smiled. “Who told you that? That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I’d say. I’m just using my own watercolour technique, that’s all. And I don’t like to display my own art in my own living room. It’s like bringing your work home if you know what I mean.”

Either he really is too modest - or he thinks so highly of himself that he does not want anyone to know what he really thinks of his own art, Hudson thought. But the man seemed nice and easygoing enough.

“Well, I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss artwork, did you? So what brought you here, Inspector?”

“I’m investigating into the Thames Murder Cases,” Hudson replied. “I need to ask you what you did three nights ago - Sunday night between eleven p.m. and three a.m. on Monday morning.”

Gray looked genuinely shocked. “That sounds as if - as if you suspect ME of killing those poor women! But that’s totally absurd, Inspector! What did I do to be suspected of such a horrible act?”

“I didn’t say we suspect you or anyone else, for that matter,” the inspector said calmly. “I just have to eliminate all persons who could have anything to do with the two crimes. So what did you do during the time in question?”

Frowning, Gray stared at the white ceiling. “Let me see,” he said thoughtfully. “When did you say it was - Sunday night? What did I do that night? Oh yes - it was really hot that day, and so I spent the whole day by the pool at my sister’s house. After supper I went home. That was about ten o’clock. Then I worked a bit on a painting and watched a late film on television. An American film; it was called ‘The Magic Touch’. After that I went to sleep. That was about 3:30 a.m.”

“So you were by yourself? Or can anyone verify what you just told me?”

Gray shook his head. “No, I’m afraid not. I was by myself. But that’s absurd, Inspector! I can tell you what happened in the film “That won’t do. You could have taped it on a video recorder and watched it later, you see? That’s not an alibi.”

Gray jumped up and walked over to the window. He was clearly irritated and upset. “I have nothing to do with those horrible murders!” he exclaimed. “Had I known that some woman would get killed Sunday night and that I would be suspected, I would have made sure to get myself a watertight alibi!” He stared out of the window and suddenly turned round. “But wait - my neighbour! She may have seen me paint in my studio! Ask her if she saw me through the curtains. And I always listen to pop music while I paint. Sunday night I put on some music. I kept the window open, because it was still so hot in the flat. I believe she also kept her window open, so she may have seen me paint and heard me sing along to the music.”

The inspector got up. “Yes, I’ll do that. She may be your alibi. Say, do you have any keys to your sister’s boutique?”

“No, sir. Why should she give me a spare key? I have nothing to do with her business. Unfortunately I’m not good with money and figures. I never developed the left side of my brain, I guess.” He smiled and shrugged. “My mother always wanted me to become a businessman. Now I paint abstract watercolours. Oh well, you can’t please them all, can you?” “No, you can’t,” the inspector said. “Well, thank you so much for your time, Mr Gray. We’ll see what your neighbour has to say. What’s her name?”

“Mrs Kennedy, I believe. I don’t know her very well; we just say hello when we meet downstairs. She is an old lady living by herself.”

The old lady did remember seeing Gray through the white cotton curtains of his window. “Yes, sir, he was sitting there painting all right when I was watering my balcony flowers before going to bed at half past eleven. In that heat you have to water them twice a day, you know? And the young gentleman over there was concentrating on his painting, singing. Mind you, he wasn’t being loud, he has very good manners. You could barely hear him. He’s really well-educated. And in addition, he is good-looking, too. I wonder why he hasn’t married by now. Of course most young women have a job these days, but that isn’t what they’re really after, is it? I think they still want to get married, deep down in their hearts, I mean…”

Inspector Hudson hastily thanked her and fled the scene.

The final results of the check-up on “Gray’s” customers who had paid by cheque or credit card did not offer any new clues, either. All the purchases of dresses, blouses, skirts and bikinis matched up.

“I couldn’t find anything that looks suspicious, sir,” the young investigator reported to Hudson. “Only two women bought one of those blue dresses on credit card - and both still have their dress and the belt that comes with it, as they showed me. One woman bought a beige dress and paid with a cheque. But she still has the complete garment as well, and she just bought it two weeks ago.”

“Then that was after the first murder,” the inspector murmured and shook his head. “This is leading us nowhere. But thank you anyhow.”

Thursday morning the “London Times” ran a short article on the male customer who had shown such interest in the blue “Petit Fleur du Jardin” dress a few months before. The article only said that he may be an important witness to the two crimes and should report to Scotland Yard immediately. The paper also printed two pictures. One displayed the blue dress on a hanger next to one of the potted palm-trees; the other one showed the sales room, pyramid and all.

“The reporter even mentioned our desert theme,” Ms Gray said happily when she called the inspector in the afternoon. “Our sales have doubled since this morning! Now everyone is keen on buying ‘Petit Fleur du Jardin’ dresses - specially the blue ones. Thank you for making sure that the press presented ‘Gray’s’ so nicely!”

But the man with the special interest in the “Summer Sea” model did not step forward. Perhaps he was on holiday. Perhaps he did not read the papers.

Or perhaps he was the murderer.

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