"Pathologist's report? Not the Home Office Pathologist? You're not calling in Scotland Yard?"
"No, Mr. Slate, we are not. That happens rather less in fact than in fiction. Mostly, the County Forces are quite capable of handling their own murders. And our equipment does include pathologists."
"My apologies. I stand corrected — and ashamed! It's a daunting thought, though, just the same — someone standing back and cold-bloodedly chucking those things at a live, or at the most unconscious... Hey! Just a minute!" He paused in mid-sentence, his eyes wide.
Curnow nodded again. "Exactly," he said. "Chucking them at what? The girl wasn't going to stand up voluntarily as Aunt Sally for a madman. But there were no marks of ropes or bonds on her. Therefore she must have been either unconscious or dead when the balls were thrown — in which case someone else must have held her up as a target."
"Enter an accomplice, in fact."
"Exactly. And with two people involved, this grisly little scene becomes even more bizarre, don't you think?"
"I do. But why the set-up in the first place? If they really wanted you to think she was killed by the coconut-shy balls, surely they'd have been clever enough to have checked that there were the right number?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you? As I see it, the girl must have been already dead before they thought of the idea. It must have been an improvisation. Otherwise minds tortuous enough to have conceived the idea at all would certainly have been sufficiently imaginative to have made it more believable."
"Yes, but why bother at all? Why use a booth in the first place?"
"There can only be two reasons: either as a pure red herring, or as a means of obliterating some clue to the murderer which lay in the blow already struck. The wound might have pointed to an identifiable instrument, perhaps, which could be linked only to one person."
"I see that; but it's still pretty odd, isn't it?"
Curnow laid down his empty coffee cup and pushed away his saucer. "It is that," he said. "For there are the break-ins as well, aren't there?"
"Yes. The dead girl's booth — not the one where she was found, but her own place, the one where she sold the pixies — was broken into last night and again this morning, despite the police guard on the field."
"Good Lord! Was anything taken?"
"Not so far as we can see. And that makes it odder still. For you must admit that all this elaborate flummery with the coconut-shy, plus the matter of the burglarious entries — well, they hardly add up to the normal pattern you find in a crime of jealousy, now do they?"
"I guess not," Mark Slate admitted "But do they fit in with the personalities involved? Are either of the characters capable of this kind of thinking? Does your hot-tempered circus boy or his rival... who is the Other Man, by the way?"
The policeman rose to his feet abruptly. "Don't want to prejudice you with local gossip," he mumbled, sticking a pipe into his mouth and slapping at his pockets in search of matches. "Better if you kept an open mind, really. Maybe a fresh outlook would be a help. In the meantime, I'll be going up-along to have another word with the circus people in a few minutes, if you'd care to come with me."
Slate regarded him curiously for a moment. "I should like that very much, thanks," he said at length. "Being present at a real investigation will give me some splendid background material in case I should ever want to write one up in the future... Excuse me just a moment, will you, while I nip up to my room and fetch a waterproof?"
In the comfortable bedroom with its sloping ceiling and the mullioned window overlooking the harbour and the cliffs beyond, he snatched his raincoat from a hanger and took a contraption shaped like a large fountain pen from his inside breast pocket. Plucking the clip lying alongside its barrel, he slowly extended a miniature telescopic aerial and then raised the device towards his lips.
"Hallo? Hallo?" he said softly, thumbing a button on the instrument's side. "Slate to R.S.2, London. Are you with me? Over."
"I hear you loud and clear," a disembodied voice whispered from the tiny two-way radio in his hand. "Over."
"Message for Waverly in New York, topmost priority," Slate breathed. "Elimination of our agent G.7. definitely villainous. Stop. Suspicions aroused but not, repeat not, confirmed that this is professional rather than personal. Stop."
He paused and looked out of the window. Rain was drumming on some projection of the roof below; there was a lather of surf fringing the granite face of the headland on the far side of the bay.
"I am receiving you loud and clear," the voice from the transceiver reminded him "Do you have anything more to add?"
The agent started. "Sorry," he said. "Yes, I have. Message continues. Reluctance to sing characterises local reaction. Stop. In these circumstances, propose to follow up line of enquiry initiated by G.7 Stop. Will advise progress and cast list by cabled cipher tonight. Stop. Message ends... You'll get that off right away, won't you?"
"Right away," the voice repeated. "Though Waverly won't even have started his breakfast yet!... Still, that'll be your worry when you want your expense sheet okayed! Over and out…"
The man from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement grinned, scooped his car keys off the dressing table, slung his coat over his shoulders, and left the room whistling.
CHAPTER THREE: THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE NO BUSINESS
WET canvas flapped mournfully in the rising wind as Curnow and Mark Slate pulled up between the Big Top and the lines of caravans. Close to, the living quarters of the circus staff presented a very different picture to that held by romantics of the Lavengro persuasion: far from being a collection of gaily painted wooden vehicles with stove pipe chimneys and yellow shafts, most of them were sleek, modern residential machines, tailored to the exigencies of a nomad life. A few of the caravans were expensively converted motor buses or vans, but the majority were aluminium-bodied trailers, some extraordinarily long, with heavy tow-bars for attachment to the collection of second-hand American cars which filled the parking lot at the bottom of the field.
Slate put one foot to the ground and eased himself up and out of a bright blue sports car shaped like a dart with a squared-off tail. The hardtop coupe body was slung completely between the wide-base wheels, with no overhang at front, back or sides, and the rear window couldn't have been more than five degrees off the horizontal.
The superintendent squelched across the wet grass from his Wolseley. "I say," he remarked admiringly, "that's quite a machine you have there, Mr. Slate. Fairly streaked up the hill, she did — and I can't say that I even recognise the marque. What is it then?"
"It's a Matra-Bonnet Djet, actually," the agent said, with that deprecatory smugness common the world over to the owners of expensive machinery when approached by envious but idolatrous paupers. "As you say, she goes like the hammers. Best sports car the French have produced for decades. There are disadvantages, all the same. Vision's a bit restricted, for one thing, especially rearwards. For another, it makes a bit too much noise for comfort when some of your chaps are on the warpath! And of course it does get pretty warm in there — technically, I suppose it's a rear-engined car, but the motor's ahead of the back axle ... which means in practice that it's about a hundred and eighty degrees Fahrenheit just behind one's hip. The engine room's in that great hump between and behind the front seats there!" He slammed shut the wide door and they tramped over the muddy ground to wards the caravans.