In a world in which duty and self-discipline have lost out to hedonism and self-satisfaction, there is nothing like closing your eyes and going with the flow. At least in a fantasy, it all ends happily ever after
(Edwina Currie, The Observer, 23 February 1992)
alan hardinge had gained a first in both parts of the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge; had stayed on in that university for a Ph.D.; then done two years' research at Harvard before being elected in 1970 to a fellowship at the 'other place'. A year later he had courted a librarian from the Bodleian, had married her six months later, subsequently siring two offspring, both girls: the one now in her second year at Durham reading Psychology; the other dead – killed nineteen days earlier as she cycled down Cumnor Hill into Oxford.
He had not been wholly surprised to receive the phone call from Chief Inspector Morse that morning of Tuesday, 21 July, and a meeting was arranged for 2 p.m. the same day, in Hardinge's rooms, overlooking the front quad of Lonsdale College.
'What does your wife know about your interests in Seckham Villa?'
'Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So please can we keep Lynne – my wife – out of this? She's still terribly upset and nervy – God knows what…'
Dr Hardinge spoke in disjunct bursts, punctuated by the equivalent of verbal dashes. He was a smallish, neat man, with crinkly grey hair, darkly suited still in high summer, when many of his colleagues were walking along the High in T-shirts and trainers.
'I can't promise that, of course-'
'Don't you see? I'd do anything – anything at all – to see that Lynne's not hurt. I know it sounds weak – it if weak – it's what we all say – I know – but it's true.' From his hunched shoulders Hardinge's face craned forward like that of an earnest tortoise.
'Know this man?' Morse handed across one of the photographs taken in the garden of Seckham Villa.
Hardinge took a pair of half-lensed spectacles from their case; but appeared not to need them, glancing for only a second or two at the photograph before handing it back.
'James – or Jamie? – Myton. Yes, I know him – knew him -sort of jack-of-all-trades really.'
'How did you get to know him?'
'Look – it'll be better if I tell you – about myself – I think it will.'
Morse listened with interest, and with no moral reproof, as Hardinge stated his apologia for a lifetime of sexual adventurism. As a boy a series of older women had regularly intruded themselves into his dreams, and he had readily surrendered himself, almost without guilt, into the sexual fantasies he found he could so easily conjure up for himself – fantasies in which there were no consequences, no disappointments. In his twenties he would willingly have preferred – did prefer – to watch the pornographic films and videos that were then so readily available. Then he'd met Lynne – dear, honest, trusting Lynne – who would be utterly flabbergasted and so hurt and ashamed if she even began to suspect a fraction of the truth. After his marriage, though, his fantasies persisted; grew even. He was experiencing a yearning for ever greater variety in his sexual gratification, and this had gradually resulted in a string of rather sordid associations: with private film clubs; imported videos and magazines; live sex-shows; 'hostess' parties – for all of which he'd become a regular and eager client. The anticipation of such occasions! The extraordinarily arousing words that became the open sesame to such erotic entertainments: 'Is everybody known?'
'And that's what happened regularly at Seckham Villa?'
'Fairly regularly – seldom more than five or six of us – usually people we'd met once or twice before.'
Morse watched the middle-aged, dapper deceiver, leaning forward all the time, with his aquiline cast of feature, his pale complexion, his slightly pernickety enunciation. He felt he should have despised the man a little; but he couldn't do that. If Hardinge were a bit of a pervert, he was an extraordinarily honest one; and with his faded, watery eyes he looked rather tired and rather lost; weak, and not pretending to be strong.
'You're not a "medical" doctor, sir?' asked Morse when the carnal confessions were complete.
'No. I just wrote a Ph.D. thesis – you know how these things are.'
'Promise not to laugh?'
' "The comparative body-weight of the great tit within the variable habitats of its North European distribution".'
Morse didn't laugh. Birds! So many people in the case seemed interested in birds…
'Original research, was that?'
'No other kind, as far as I know.'
'And you were examined in this?'
'You don't get a doctorate otherwise.'
'But the person who examined you – well, he couldn't know as much as you, could he? By definition, surely?'
'She, actually. It's the – well, they say it is – the way you go about it – your research; the way you observe, record things, categorize them, and then draw some kind of conclusion. Bit like your job, Inspector.'
‘All I was thinking, sir, is that it might not have been difficult for you to fabricate a few of the facts…'
Hardinge frowned, his head moving forward on his shoulders once more. 'I am not, Inspector, fabricating anything about Seckham Villa – if that's what you're getting at.'
'And you first met Claire Osborne there.'
'She told you that was her name?'
' "Louisa Hardinge", too.'
Hardinge smiled sadly. 'Her one and only tribute to me! But she loves changing her name – all the time – she doesn't really know who she is… or what she wants, Inspector. She's a sort of chameleon, I suppose. But you'll probably know that, won't you? I understand you've met her.'
'What is her name?'
'Her birth-certificate name? I don't really know.'
Morse shook his head. Was there anyone telling him the truth in this case?
'She never went to Seckham Villa herself – as far as I know,' resumed Hardinge. 'I met her through an agency. McBryde -you've spoken to him? – through McBryde. They give you photographs – interests – you know what I mean.'
'And you fell for her?'
Hardinge nodded. 'Not difficult to do that, is it?'
'You still in love with her?'
'She with you?'
'You'll have to give me the address of the agency.'
'I suppose so.'
'How do you manage to get all the stuff without your wife knowing?'
'Plain envelopes – parcels – here – to my rooms. I get lots of academic material delivered here – no problem.'
'No problem,' repeated Morse quietly, with some distaste in his voice at last, as the authority on the great tits wrote down a brief address.
Hardinge watched from his window as the chief inspector walked along to the Porters' Lodge beside the well-watered, weedless lawn of the front quad. He'd seemed an understanding man, and Hardinge supposed he should be grateful for that. If he'd been a little brighter, perhaps, he would have asked one or two more perceptive questions about Myton, though. Certainly Hardinge knew amongst other things the TV company the lecherous cameraman claimed to have worked for. Yet oddly enough the chief inspector had seemed considerably more interested in Claire Osborne than in the most odious man it had ever been his, Hardinge's, misfortune to encounter.