The Killing of Katie Steelstock

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Authors: Michael Gilbert
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said, “That puts her at the boathouse between a quarter and twenty past eleven. Always supposing she went straight there. And that fits in well enough with the doctor’s timings. He said most likely between ten past and half past eleven.”
    “Yes,” said Knott. He thought about it, screwing up his eyes, as though he was looking into the sun. “It doesn’t give them a lot of time for romance, does it?”
    “Romance?”
    “Kate and the chap she’d gone off to meet.”
    “How do you know she went to meet a chap?”
    “When a girl cuts away from a dance on a warm summer night and goes down to a rendezvous on the riverbank, I’d be surprised if she’d gone to meet her stockbroker and talk about investments. Maybe that’s because I’ve got a dirty mind.”
    Shilling, who had been turning over duplicate copies of the papers on his desk, said, “If you’re right, it cuts out almost everyone who was at the dance.”
    “That’s what I was thinking,” said Knott. “What we’ve got is a lot of nice interlocking stories. Here’s the score to date. The Mariners left, by car, just after Kate. Mr. and Mrs. Nurse a few minutes later. Then that old pansy. What’s his name?”
    “Beaumorris.”
    “Right. Frank Beaumorris. Used to work in the manuscript department at the Victoria and Albert.”
    Shilling looked up for a moment and said, “Did you run into him by any chance?”
    “I did,” said Knott. He seemed disinclined to pursue the subject. “He pedalled off at around ten past eleven. Old Vigors went off by car shortly after that. He put it at a quarter past. Then we’ve got a foursome, the Gonvilles and the parson and his wife. They went together to the Gonvilles’ house for a cup of coffee and stayed there nattering until around midnight. Mrs. Steelstock and her son, that po-faced boy – name?”
    “Walter,” said Shilling. He had a list of names in front of him and seemed to have been memorising them. “Works in an insurance office in Reading.”
    “Right. They were away by eleven twenty. The last to go was the big woman—”
    “Mrs. Havelock. J.P. Seven children. Three of them at the dance.”
    “She took her three kids with her. And that dotty character – wait for it – Tress. Roseabel Tress. Lives next door to her in a bungalow called ‘Shalimar.’ If anyone came that way, she’ll have heard them. A real nosy old virgin.”
    “If you take the latest possible time of death, eleven forty,” said Shilling, “it’s just possible, I suppose, for any of those people to have driven their cars to the end of River Park Avenue, walked along the towpath and been in time to kill Kate.”
    “It’s possible,” said Knott. “But I don’t believe it. I don’t think anyone who was at the dance killed her. I think they’re all as innocent as they sound. No. Someone was there waiting for her. Someone who’d planned to get her to just that spot and meant to kill her.”
    Shilling had worked with Knott on a number of cases. It had not taken him long to realise that the Superintendent was not an intellectual man, was not, in most senses of the word, clever. But he had one faculty which was based partly on shrewdness and partly on experience. He could grasp the shape and outline of any crime he was called on to investigate. He could sense whether it was a professional job or an amateur job, whether it was motivated by greed or fright or frustration, whether it was the outcome of careful premeditation or thoughtless fury. It was an instinct which had very rarely let him down and had brought him to the eminence he enjoyed.
    “I can tell you something else, too,” he said. “You can forget about passing tramps or interrupted burglars. When I said that, I hadn’t seen her bag. That spells premeditation. No question.”
    The bag had been found by the searchers. It was an evening dress bag, a pretty little thing with a pattern of roses woven in silk on the outside. The contents were laid out on the

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