He that reads and grows no wiser seldom suspects his own deficiency, but complains of hard words and obscure sentences, and asks why books are written which cannot be understood
(Samuel Johnson, The Idler)
THE truth was that Morse had not figured on the scene at all during the first few days of the case – for it was not a case of homicide; and (as was to be hoped) still wasn't. Yet the follow-up investigations had been worrying, especially of course the steadily growing and cumulative evidence that Karin Eriksson had been a responsible young woman who had never previously drifted into the drink-drugs-sex-scene.
Only after the case had grown a little cold had Morse spent a couple of hours one afternoon with Johnson, in that late July, now a year ago – before being side-tracked into a squalid domestic murder out on the Cowley Road.
‘I reckon he thought it all a bit – a bit of a joke, sir, quite honestly.'
‘Joke? Joke? This is no bloody joke, Johnson! Like as not, we be opening a couple of extra lines on the switchboard once bloody newspapers get hold of it. It'll be like an air disaster! And if the public come up with some brighter ideas than the police…'
Johnson gently reminded him: 'But it's your idea, sir – this business of sending the Letters to The Times'
‘What did you mean – about Morse?' asked Strange, ignoring criticism.
‘What I meant, sir, is that he, well, he only skipped over the details with me, and he sort of said the first things that came into his head, really. I don't think he had time to think about things much’
'He'd have ideas though, wouldn't he, Morse? Always did have. Even if he'd been on a case a couple of minutes. Usually the wrong ideas of course, but…'
'All I'm saying is that he didn't seem to take the case at all seriously. He was sort of silly about things, really -'
Strange's voice sounded suddenly thunderous: 'Look here. Johnson! Morse may be an idiot, you're right. But he's never been a fool. Let's get that straight!'
For Johnson, the differentiation between what he had hitherto regarded as virtual synonyms – 'idiot' and 'fool' – was clearly beyond his etymological capacities; and he frowned a guarded puzzlement as his superior officer continued:
'Some people are occasionally right for the wrong reasons. But, Morse? He's more often than not wrong for the right reasons. The right reasons… you understand me? So even if he sometimes drinks too much…'
Johnson looked down at the file in front of him: he knew, alas exactly what Strange was saying. 'Would you rather Morse took over the case, sir?'
'Yes, I think I would,' said Strange. 'So would the CC, if you must know,' he added cruelly.
'So when does he get back from leave…?'
Strange sighed deeply. 'Not soon enough. Let's see what happens with this newspaper angle.'
'He's pretty sure to see it – if they print it.'
'What? Morse? Nonsense! I've never seen him reading anything he just spends half an hour on the crossword, that's all.'
'Ten minutes – last time I watched him,' said Johnson honestly if somewhat grudgingly.
'Wasted his life, Morse has,' confided Strange, after a pause.
'Should've got married, you mean?'
Strange began to extricate himself from his chair. I wouldn't go as far as that. Ridiculous institution – marriage! Don't you think so?'
Johnson, himself having married only six months previously forebore any direct response, as Strange finally brought his vertebrae to the vertical, from which vantage point he looked down on the papers that Johnson had been consulting.
'Isn't that Morse's writing?' he queried presbyopically.
Yes, it was Morse's handwriting; and doubtless Johnson would have preferred Strange not to have seen it. But at least it would rove his point. So he picked out the sheet, and handed it over.
'Mm.' Chief Superintendent Strange held the piece of paper at arm's length, surveying its import. Unlike Morse, he was an extremely rapid reader; and after only ten seconds or so he handed back to Johnson: 'See what you mean!'
Johnson, in turn, looked down again at the sheet Morse had left – the one he'd found on his desk that morning a year ago mow, when Morse had been transferred to what had appeared more urgent enquiries:
I never got to grips with the case as you know but I'd have liked answers to the following half-dozen qq:
a) Had Daley or his missus owned a camera themselves?
b) What was the weather like on Tuesday 9th July?
c) 'It's striped: what about ze panties?' (5)
d) What's the habitat of 'Dendrocopus Minor'?
e) What beer do they serve at the Royal Sun (or at the White Hart!)?
f) What's the dog's name?
Strange now lumbered to the door. 'Don't ignore all this bloody nonsense, Johnson. That's what I'm telling you. Don't take too much notice of it; but don't ignore it, understand?'
For the second time within a short while the etymological distinction between a couple of unequivocal synonyms had completely escaped Inspector Johnson's reasonably bright but comparatively limited brain.
‘As you say, sir.'
"And, er, and one other thing… the wife's just bought a new dog – little King Charles, lovely thing! Two hundred pounds it cost. Pisses everywhere, of course – and worse! But he's, you know, he’s always glad to see you. More than the wife sometimes, eh? It’s just that we've only had the bloody thing a fortnight, and we haven't christened it.'
‘The dog's name was "Mycroft’. Good name – be a good name for your dog, sir.'
'Imaginative, yes! I'll, er, mention it to the missus, Johnson. Just one little problem, though…'
Johnson raised his rather bushy eyebrows.
‘Yes. She's a she. Johnson!'
'Anything else Morse said?' pursued Strange.
'Well, yes. He, er, thought – he said he had a gut-feeling-'
' – that we'd been searching for a body in the wrong place.'
'In Blenheim, you mean?'
Johnson nodded. 'He thought we ought to have been looking in Wytham Woods.'
'Yes. I remember him saying that.'
'Only after we'd drawn a blank in Blenheim, though.'
'Better wise after the event than never.'
Augh, shut up! Johnson was becoming a little weary of all the innuendos: 'If you recall, sir, it wasn't just Morse who was in favour of a wider operation. But we hadn't got the personnel available for a search of Wytham Woods. You said so. I came to ask you myself.'
Strange was stung into retaliation. 'Look, Johnson! You find me a body and I'll find you all the bloody personnel you need, all right?'
It was the chicken-and-egg business all over again, and Johnson would have said so – but Strange was already guiding his bulk downstairs, via the hand-rail on the HQ wall.