Maxwell’s House

Maxwell’s House by M. J. Trow

Book: Maxwell’s House by M. J. Trow Read Free Book Online
Authors: M. J. Trow
were blue, there was a little froth around her mouth, although most of that had been washed away by the rain. The room where she died is open to the sky at that point. Her nails had changed colour. In cases like this the actual cause of death is asphyxia due to constriction of the neck.’
    ‘Jesus,’ Smith whispered.
    ‘And how do you know it was tights?’ Maxwell batted aside the revulsion he knew Smith felt too. Somehow he sensed there wasn’t time. He needed to know more; to know all.
    ‘The knot marks,’ Astley explained. ‘Usual groove around the neck and the mottling above it – petechiae, as we say. The bruising was more severe to the left of the thyroid cartilage – the Adam’s apple to you boys.’
    ‘But the tights weren’t left there?’
    ‘No. Whoever the murderer was, he untied the ligature and took it with him.’
    ‘So they could have been Jenny’s tights?’ Smith proffered.
    Astley shrugged. ‘They could have been,’ he said.
    ‘Did she put up a fight?’
    ‘Difficult to say. You can certainly forget the nonsense about debris under the fingernails and that all the police have to do is find a guy with scratches on his cheek.’
    ‘It doesn’t work like that?’ Maxwell asked.
    ‘Oh, it can,’ Astley told him, ‘but not in this case.’
    ‘So what do you conclude?’
    The doctor stirred his tea with a lazy, thoughtful motion. ‘This is all off the record, of course,’ he murmured.
    ‘Absolutely.’ Maxwell crossed his heart and put his finger to his temple, Boy Scout style.
    ‘Well, the post-mortem was interesting.’
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Normally in strangulation, even strangulation with a ligature, I’d expect the hyoid to be snapped. Especially in a young person.’
    ‘And it wasn’t?’
    ‘No. Plenty of damage to the thyroid and the cricoid, but that you would expect.’
    Maxwell looked at Smith. ‘Which means?’
    ‘Which means that, if there were obvious signs of it, I’d say Jenny put up a terrific struggle.’
    ‘But you just said …’
    ‘That there weren’t obvious signs, quite.’
    ‘So?’
    ‘So the other possibility is that her attacker wasn’t very strong.’
    ‘Do the police have anybody in the frame?’ Smith asked.
    Astley shrugged. ‘You’d have to ask Henry Hall that one,’ he said, ‘and I don’t somehow think you’d get much of an answer.’
    ‘Was she sexually assaulted?’ Maxwell asked.
    ‘Yes and no.’ Jim Astley could be as cryptic as the next man when the mood took him.
    ‘By which you mean?’ Maxwell prompted him again.
    The doctor got up and crossed to find his pipe, ‘When I got there, she was lying on her back. If I remember rightly, her arms were above her head, almost as though they’d been held there, out of the way.’ He shut his eyes to recall it specifically. ‘Fists clenched. Her blouse and bra had been torn open. It was a front-fastening job, so there was no excessive strength needed there and there was no need to fumble behind her. She had one leg – her left, I think – bent out to the side. Her skirt was pulled up around her waist, but – and this is where it gets interesting …’ He began to cram the dark brown mixture into his pipe bowl, savouring the moment, savouring his expertise. ‘Her knickers were still there.’
    ‘So?’ Temporarily at least, Maxwell was lost.
    ‘No obvious signs of sexual interference. The post-mortem confirmed it. No semen traces anywhere. Vagina. Anus. Ears. All clear.’
    ‘So …’ Maxwell hadn’t caught him up yet.
    ‘So,’ Astley’s face blurred for a moment behind the smoke and he puffed on the stem, ‘a number of possibilities. We could be looking for a pervert. Strangulation is very common in cases of rape.’
    ‘But you said …’
    ‘There was no rape. Right. So perhaps our friend was interrupted.’
    ‘By this tramp … what was his name?’
    ‘Guthrie,’ Smith remembered, ‘Dan Guthrie.’
    ‘Right.’ Maxwell clicked his fingers. ‘Or?’
    ‘Or,’

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