"Of course, and the search only revealed what we already know: Captain Ralph Lawton, RFC, died in France in August 1917."
"What do you want me to do, Sir Cecil?"
"I want you to prove my son dead, once and for all."
"I'm sorry, but I must ask: What about his grave?"
"Ah, yes, the grave. My son died in an inferno when his aeroplane came down. There was little left of the craft, let alone my son. His remains are buried in France."
"I am taking this step to keep a promise to my wife."
Maisie frowned. "But such a search could go on indefinitely, and difficult to bear, if I may say so, Sir Cecil."
"Yes, yes, quite, I understand. However, I have decided that there must be a time limit set for such a task."
Maisie sighed deeply. "Sir Cecil, as you no doubt understand, in my work I am familiar with unusual requests and have taken on assignments that others have refused or abused. In a case such as this, my responsibility must extend to your well-beingif I may speak frankly."
"I'm perfectly all right, you know. I"
Standing, Maisie walked to the window, glanced at her watch, and turned to face Lawton. "Brutal honesty is often a requirement of my work, and I mustas I saidbe frank. You are recently bereaved, and your wife has burdened you with a terrible promise: to find a son who, to all intents and purposes, is dead. It would seem that, since you received word of his death, you have not been able to seal his passing with the rituals that we must all go through to release those who are lost to the past."
Maisie paused for a moment, looked back at Lawton, and continued. "It is only through such a pilgrimage of mourning that we are free to remember the dead with a fullness of heart. In taking on this case, your passage through grief and remembrance will be of paramount consideration. You see, Sir Cecil, I am not yet sure how I might proceed with such work, but I know only too well how difficult it will be for you to relive your loss as I go about my inquiry. And of course I would be investigating those your wife consulted in her search for confirmation of her sense that he was alive."
"I see. At least I think I see. I thought you could just search records, go over to France, and . . ." Lawton's words stalled. It was clear he had no idea what Maisie might do in France.
"Allow me to make a suggestion, if I may, Sir Cecil. Consider all I have said, and the implications of my investigation. Then please telephone me at my office, and we will proceed from that day if you still wish me to search for the truth regarding Ralph's death." Maisie reached into her document case and pulled out a calling card that she passed to Lawton. It was inscribed with her name, followed by Psychologist and Investigator and her telephone number.
Lawton studied the card for a moment before pushing it into the pocket of his waistcoat. "Yes, quite. I'll consider the breadth of my request."
"Good. Now, if you will excuse me, Sir Cecil, I really must hurry. I have a supper engagement this evening."
A single knock at the door heralded the perfectly timed entrance of Lord Julian Compton.
"I thought you'd be just about finished by now."
"Yes, Julian. Miss Dobbs has been most helpful." Sir Cecil held out his hand to Maisie.
"I look forward to hearing from you in due course, Sir Cecil." Maisie shook the proffered hand and turned to leave. "One more thing regarding your wife's assertion, Sir Cecil: Should you choose to commence with the investigation, I will be curious to know if your wife ever attributed a reason for Ralph's not returning homeif she thought him alive."
From Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. Copyright Jacqueline Winspear 2005. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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