Carmichael's heart sank at the thought of the work involved. "A party?" he repeated.
"Well yes," Betty said. "A garden party in the afternoon, and then dinner and a dance in the evening, some weekend guests and some just coming in for the festivities. That's the usual way when Lady Margaret's entertaining."
"How many people?" Carmichael asked.
Betty shook her head. "I couldn't say. Maybe not so many as sometimes."
"Did you hear cars arriving after you went to bed?" Royston asked. "You might have seen lights on your bedroom ceiling."
"Oh yes, ever so many," Betty agreed promptly.
Carmichael was wiser in the ways of the country than Royston. "What time did you go to bed?" he asked.
"A quarter after eight," Betty said. "There's one good thing to be said for the big clock, it certainly keeps you straight about time."
Carmichael couldn't help but agree. He and Royston exchanged a glance, and he shook his head a fraction, he couldn't see much purpose in interrogating Betty any longer. "Well, we'll let you go back to your dinner," he said.
She went, with a few looks back at them as Carmichael opened the gate. "Walk or drive up, sir?" Royston asked.
"Before she mentioned the circus, I was thinking walk, to see if there might be tracks. Now, I suppose we might as well drive."
"There still might be something to see," Royston said.
"Got a hunch?" Carmichael asked. Royston was famous, or notorious, for his hunches. Sometimes they were useful. Often enough they were a waste of time.
"Perhaps I shouldn't, sir," Royston said awkwardly, locking the car and pocketing the keys.
"You can say what you like about hunches, that they're good or bad, that you should follow them or shouldn't, but the one thing you can't say is that someone shouldn't have them." Carmichael swung the iron gate open with an ear-splitting creak that set the crows rising out of an elm tree in the parkland beyond.
"Do you have them, sir?" Royston asked.
"Occasionally, sergeant," Carmichael admitted. "My rule with a hunch is that if it calls for more work, like right now, follow it. If it calls for less or something like skimping, then ignore it. If it's a case where there are sixteen leads and none more likely than any other and you might as well take them in alphabetical order, then a hunch might well be the back of your mind drawing your attention to something the front of your mind missed."
The gravel path swept up between two sloping tree-studded fields. There was no sign of the house yet. The gravel revealed that Betty was right, there had been many cars driving over it, and recently. It was possible to pick out this morning's Winchester police car as fresher; otherwise they were so overlain and mingled as to be almost indistinguishable. There were occasional indications of footprints, in both directions, including one very large pair heading both up and down. "The Winchester bobby?" Carmichael hazarded as Royston measured the print.
"Not unless he buys his boots in Savile Row," Royston said, straightening. "Fourteen inches, and a very aristocratic pattern. Probably Lord Eversley himself. I don't see many of the guests strolling all this way down."
"I've seen photographs, and I'm fairly sure Eversley's not a big man," Carmichael said. "The murdered man was though, Thirkie, great giant of a fellow."
"Maybe they're his prints," Royston said. "Not much help to us then, because whoever made them was definitely alive at the time."
"Awkward sort of business," Carmichael said as they continued on up the drive. "Aristocrats, politicians, that kind of thing."
Copyright © 2006 by Jo Walton
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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