Excerpt of The Innocent Spy by Laura Wilson
(Page 2 of 4)
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As he passed the sandbags at the hospital entrance, Stratton
thought of the rumours hed heard about the local authorities
stockpiling thousands of papier-mâché coffins, and thought: soon.
Middlesex Hospital, emptied the previous September of most of
its patients to make room for as yet non-existent air-raid casualties,
was still quiet. Strattons footsteps echoed on the stone stairs as he
descended to Dr Byrnes underworld - the mortuary, lavatory-tiled,
harshly lit and smelling of decay and chemicals. The pathologist
was seated at his desk, writing notes. Is this an official visit?
Stratton shook his head. Curiosity.
Wont take long, will it?
Just a few minutes. Stratton neither expected nor received the
offer of a seat. Hed met Dr Byrne a couple of times, and the mans
manner was as chilly as the corpses he filleted. He even looked dead
- not cadaverous, but there was something cold and doughy about
his pale skin that suggested a freshly washed corpse.
Its about Miss Morgan.
The suicide? Bodys at the police mortuary. Dr Byrne paused
to knock out his pipe before shuffling through a stack of papers.
What do you want to know? he asked aggressively.
Isnt it unusual, a woman throwing herself out of a window?
No. Women do it. Didnt she leave a note?
Worried about the invasion. Ive had a couple of them in the
past month. Neurotic types.
I was wondering about where the body fell. It was the fourth
floor, and the areas not that wide . . . I was surprised she didnt
land further out, in the road.
Byrne shrugged. Depends how she jumped.
What about her underclothes?
What about them? Byrne looked at him with distaste.
Were they clean?
Ive no idea. She hadnt soiled herself, if thats what you mean.
Would you say she took care of herself?
She was reasonably clean. Byrne glanced at his notes. Lot of
scarring on the face . . . Burns. Shed had a skin graft. Not a very
good job, by the look of it. He looked up. Lot of paint. Prostitute,
Stratton tried not to sound as annoyed as he felt. I imagine she
hoped that heavy cosmetics might hide the scars. As a matter of
fact, shed been in films.
There you are, then. Artistic type. Highly strung. As I said, the
injuries were quite consistent with the manner of death. Now, if
theres nothing else . . .
Stratton marched back upstairs, irritated at the mans way of
reducing everyone to a type. Just as well he didnt have to deal with
living patients. Stratton wondered if Dr Byrne was married, and
then, firmly suppressing an image of him in fumbling coitus atop
an equally corpse-like wife, went out into the street.
As he strolled back along Savile Row - even after years out
of uniform, his internal pacemaker was still set at the regulation
2½mph - Stratton thought about his first suicide, a young man
whod put the muzzle of a gun under his chin and blown most of
his head into the walls of his outdoor lav. He remembered the drops
of blood falling from the wooden ceiling onto his back and neck
as hed bent over to look, and a larger one on his hand that turned
out to be a piece of brain. Thered been chips of skull embedded in
the boards all round the toilet, pink and white, like almonds on an
iced cake. Stratton had been twenty-five then, the same age as the
poor bastard whod killed himself. Theyd found a note saying he
was suffering from an incurable disease. Turned out he was homosexual
- hed gone for treatment, but it hadnt worked. Stratton
remembered what one of the older coppers had said about it being
unusual for a nancy to use a gun. They normally do it like women:
gas or pills, and clean underwear. The same officer had told him
that the most violent way women did it was with carbolic - bloody
painful, burns your insides out. Everything Stratton had seen since
had confirmed these rules, until yesterday. Clearly, female jumpers
werent as uncommon as hed thought, and the underwear was inconclusive
. . . Nevertheless, the feeling that something wasnt quite
right continued to nag at him. Not that there was much he could
do, it wasnt his case. It wasnt anybodys. As far as his superiors
were concerned, the thing was over and done with.
Excerpted from The Innocent Spy
by Laura Wilson Copyright © 2009 by Laura Wilson. Excerpted by
permission of Minotaur Books, a division of Macmillan, Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.