Sleight Of Hand – Episode 01

I DON’T reckon this will come to anything at all,” Sergeant Greene said.

“I am sure you are right, Sergeant Greene.” Ruth nodded.

They were standing face-to-face in the courtyard of St Hilda’s Incorporated College, the policeman and the student. Ruth was remembering, with a thrill, every detail of the few weeks during the previous autumn when they had worked together. Sergeant Greene had come to fetch her from her studies often, and together they had solved a crime! It had been quite an autumn.

“I also don’t think,” he was saying, “that my superintendent would be happy that I’ve . . . well, asked you to accompany me on this minor enquiry.”

“I’m sure it’s of no consequence,” Ruth said, “as you suggest. But I will come along, merely out of interest a scholar’s interest.”

He nodded.

“You might as a person of academic leanings be able to throw light on what this librarian, this Doctor Nicholls, is talking about.”

“As I understand it, there have been a couple more books misshelved at the Duke Humfrey’s Library? A scrap of paper has been left in a volume of sermons?” She smiled. “I expect that what we have on our hands is a fussy librarian.”

But in her heart, Ruth hoped otherwise. During those wonderful few weeks, she had aided Sergeant Terence Greene in a case which involved the death of an Oxford undergraduate and the serious injury of another, as well as blackmail and a considerable dose of romance. Ruth was rather hoping to repeat the exercise. Though not, she reproached herself sternly, including another murder.

Terence was in uniform as usual, straight-backed and formal-looking in the sun-drenched courtyard. Ruth Rutherford wore a neat boater, which barely controlled her unruly hair, and a practical summer dress. She had added a bright blue poplin neckerchief which she hoped made her look jaunty. It matched the ribbon around her hat.

Ruth had trouble with clothes. She was first and foremost a scholar, waiting impatiently for the University of Oxford to allow women to take degrees. But she liked to look smart. The problem was that, as she was less than five feet and two inches, the long-line dresses and fluid jackets of 1913 did not serve her well.

She had missed Sergeant Greene since they had parted that autumn. Theirs had been a friendship (she dared say) of like minds. But she knew that she had also missed his face and his form.

Their paths had not crossed since then, not until this June day, and she felt a sharp thrill of joy as he stood there with her. Perhaps the case of the library would turn out to be substantial after all.

“You will recall,” he said, “that Doctor Nicholls complained, back in the autumn, of what he called damage to the books in his library.”

“I remember,” Ruth said. Impossible to forget a moment of those weeks!

“But that all he could show us,” the sergeant said, “were a few bent spines.”

“And a few folded-over pages. We guessed that it was some silly freshman, dreaming of his rowing outing as he worked, and becoming clumsy with the book. Men!”

Sergeant Greene’s eyebrows lifted.

“Present company excepted,” Ruth added quickly. “I speak only of freshmen of the university.”

Greene smiled.

“And so we calmed the agitated Doctor Nicholls, explained that we could do nothing, and . . .” a cloud passed across his handsome face “. . . and we went our separate ways.”

Ruth swallowed.

“Yes, and I have not seen you, Sergeant, since that day.”

“Well, it seems that Doctor Nicholls has visited the station twice this week, insisting on our coming to investigate.”

“And you thought of me?”

“Yes, I did.”

He was looking straight at her. It really was too warm today! Ruth adjusted her hat hastily.

“Then let us visit the Duke Humfrey’s Library, Sergeant Greene.”


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