A Lesson in Dying

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Authors: Ann Cleeves
Tags: UK
Usually you found the culprit in the first hour. If not it was hard work. So he expected them to work hard. They knew who had killed Harold Medburn. They had to prove it.
    He waited to talk to Miss Hunt until he saw her go into the staff room. He thought she might be more prepared to give him her full attention there than in the classroom where there was work to do.
    ‘Would you like coffee?’ she asked. When he had come to the bungalow the day before he had pleased her. ‘I’m making some for myself.’
    ‘That would be very nice,’ he said. He seemed relaxed and easy. He sat on one of the chairs without being asked.
    ‘Now,’ she said, ‘ How can I help you, Inspector?’ He was tall and dark and quite athletic, with a gentle local accent. She had known physical education teachers of a similar type. He was middle-aged but fit and wearing well. She could imagine him rock climbing.
    ‘Have you time to answer some questions?’ he asked. ‘It would save me having to trouble you at home again.’
    ‘Of course,’ she said.
    ‘The gown he was wearing when the body was found,’ Ramsay said. ‘It was his?’
    ‘Oh yes,’ she said, and despite herself there was a trace of bitterness in her voice. ‘He never went to university as a young man, you know. He wasn’t particularly academic. He went to college later, in middle age, and took a Bachelor of Education then. We all thought he intended to try for promotion to a bigger school, but he never moved. He was very proud of his gown.’
    ‘Where was it kept?’
    ‘In his office. On a hook on the door.’
    ‘I see,’ he said. He took a pipe from his pocket and began to fill it with tobacco from a leather pouch. She waited for him to light it, but he seemed to change his mind and laid it carefully on the low table before him.
    ‘How did Mr Medburn die?’ Irene asked. She was enjoying Ramsay’s company. The question came naturally.
    ‘He was dead before he was hung up,’ the policeman said. ‘He was strangled but not by the noose of bandages. We think he may have been drugged first.’
    They drank instant coffee in silence.
    ‘Is there anything else you want to ask me?’ she said in the end. ‘I think I should go back to my classroom. I feel I should be working even though the children aren’t here.’
    ‘Did he take any private pupils?’ Ramsay asked.
    ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m sure not.’
    ‘He didn’t work for one of the examination boards, marking papers?’
    ‘No,’ she said. ‘He was a primary specialist.’
    ‘So he had no other income?’
    ‘I’m sure he didn’t.’
    ‘No one seems very sorry he’s dead,’ the policeman said suddenly, and she thought perhaps he was clever, more imaginative than she had first supposed.
    ‘No,’ she said. ‘He wasn’t very popular.’
    ‘Why was that then? Did he pick on the children?’
    ‘Not on the children, no. He was a good teacher in a lot of ways, though a little boring by today’s standards. No. Adults were his victims.’
    ‘Did he knock his wife around?’ He asked the question in the same level, matter-of-fact tone.
    She was very shocked. She supposed that in his work the detective must mix often with men who beat their wives, but it seemed offensive to suggest that she was acquainted with such people. ‘No,’ she said. ‘There was nothing like that.’ Then, feeling surprisingly disloyal, she added: ‘He was too subtle, you see, for that kind of violence.’
    ‘You sound almost glad that he’s dead,’ Ramsay said.
    Irene Hunt thought then that her original assessment of him was correct but that after all he had an instinctive intelligence, like an animal’s.
    ‘Do I?’ she said. ‘Life will be a lot easier, you know, without him.’
    She took their cups to the sink and washed them. The policeman sat back in his chair and watched her.
    Outside in the corridor, Jack Robson was cleaning the floor where the police had finished. He had heard every word of the conversation,

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