The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties
(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)
there were four of them in the living room of the low-ceilinged cottage: Morse and Lewis seated side by side on the leather settee, Mrs Michaels opposite them in an armchair, and the small attractive figure of the uniformed WPG Wright standing by the door.
'Why haven't you brought David?' asked Mrs Michaels.
'Isn't he still making a statement, Sergeant?' Morse's eyebrows rose quizzically as if the matter were of minor import.
'What are you here for then?' She lifted her eyes and cocked her head slightly to Morse as if she were owed some immediate and convincing explanation.
'We're here about your marriage. There's something slightly, ah, irregular about it.'
'Really? You'll have to check that up with the Registry Office, not me.'
'Register Office, Mrs Michaels. It's important to be accurate about things. So let me be accurate. David Michaels discovered that the District Office for anyone living in Wytham was at Abingdon, and he went there and answered all the usual questions about when and where you wanted to marry, how old you both were, where you were both born, whether either of you had been married before, whether you were related. And that was that. Two days later you were married.'
'Well, everything is really based on trust in things like that. If you want to, you can tell a pack of lies. There's one Registrar in Oxford who married the same fellow three times in the same year – one in Reading who managed to marry a couple of sailors!'
Morse looked across at her as if expecting a dutiful smile, but Mrs Michaels sat perfectly still, her mouth tight, her hair framing the clear-skinned features in a semi-circle of the darkest black, the blonde roots so very recently re-dyed.
'Take any reasonably fluent liar – even a fairly clumsy liar,' continued Morse, 'and he'll get away with murder – if you see what I mean, Mrs Michaels. For example, some proof of age is required for anyone under twenty-three, did you know that? But if your fiance says you're twenty-four? Well, he'll almost certainly get away with it. And if you've been married before? Well, if you say you haven't, it's going to be virtually impossible to prove, then and there, that you have. Oh yes! It's easy to get married by licence if you're willing to abuse the system.'
'You are saying that I – that we, David and I – we abused the system?'
'You know most English people would have settled for "me and David", Mrs Michaels.' (WPC Wright was aware of that nuance of stress on the word 'English'.)
'I asked you – '
But Morse interrupted her brusquely: 'There was only one thing that couldn't be fiddled in your case: date of birth. You see, some documentation is statutory in that respect – if the person concerned is a foreign national?
A silence now hung over the small room; a palpably tense silence, during which a strange, indefinable look flitted across Mrs Michaels' features as she crossed one leg over the other and clasped her hands round her left knee.
'What's that got to do with me?' she asked.
'You're a foreign national,' said Morse simply, looking across unblinkingly at the lovely girl seated opposite him.
'Do you realize how absurd all this is, Inspector?'
'Did you have to show your passport to the Registrar at Abingdon?'
'There was no need for that: I'm not a foreign national!'
'No! My name is – was Catharine Adams. I was born in, Uppingham, in Rutland – what used to be Rutland; I'm twenty- four years old-'
'Can I see your passport?' asked Morse quietly.
'As a matter of fact you can't. It's in the post to Swansea – it needs renewing. We are going – me and David! – to Italy in September.' (Lewis could pick up the hint of the accent now, in that word 'Eetaly'.)
'Don't worry! We've already got a copy, you see. The Swedish Embassy sent us one.'
For several moments she looked down at the carpet, the one expensive item in the rather mundane living room in which she'd spent so many hours of her days: a small, rectangular oriental carpet, woven perhaps in some obscure tent in Turkestan. Then, rising, she took a few steps over to a desk, took out her passport, and handed it to Morse.
But Morse knew it all anyway; had already studied the details carefully: the headings, printed in both Swedish and English; the details required, handwritten in Swedish. Underneath the photograph, he read again:
Height in cms (without shoes).
Date of birth…
Place of birth…
Civic Reg. No…
How long valid…
Katarina Adams (it appeared), height 168 cms in her stockinged feet, of the female sex, had been born on the 29 September 1968, in Uppsala, Sweden.
'Clever touch that, Uppingham for Uppsala,' commented Morse.
'Uppsala – if we must be accurate, Inspector.'
‘ “Adams" was your married name – your first married name. And when your husband was killed in a car crash, you kept it. Why not? So…'
'So, what else do you want from me?' she asked quietly.
'Just tell me the truth, please! We shall get there in the end, you know.'
She took a deep breath, and spoke quickly and briefly. 'When my sister Karin was murdered, I was in Spain – in Barcelona, as it happened. I got here as soon as I could – my mother had rung me from Sweden. But I could do nothing, I soon realized that. I met David. We fell in love. We were married. I was frightened about work permits and visas and that sort of thing, and David said it would be better if I lied – if he lied – about my earlier marriage. Easier and quicker. So? For a start I only went out of the house here a very few times. I wore glasses and I had my hair cut fairly short and dyed black. That's why they asked me to sing in the opera, yes? I looked like the part before they started the auditions.'
Lewis glanced briefly sideways, and thought he saw a look of slight puzzlement on Morse's face.
'Didn't the Registrar tell you – tell your husband – that it was all above board anyway?'
'No, I'm sure he didn't. You see we said nothing about this… you know. Can't you understand? It was all very strange – all very unsettling and sort of, sort of nervy, somehow. David understood, though-'
'Did you enjoy your holiday in Spain?'
'Very much. Why-?'
'Which airport did you fly from to England?'
'Lots of muggings, they tell me, at Barcelona airport.'
'What's that got to do-?'
'Ever lost your handbag? You know, with your keys and passport and credit cards?'
'No. I'm glad to say I haven't.'
'What would you do if you lost your passport, say?'
She shrugged. 'I don't know. I'd apply to the Swedish Embassy, I suppose. They'd probably give me a temporary document… or something…'
'But do you think it would be possible to fiddle things, Mrs Michaels? Like it's possible to fiddle a marriage licence?'
'I wish you'd tell me exactly what you're getting at.'
'All right. Let me ask you a simple question. Would it be possible for anyone to apply for someone else's passport?'
'Almost impossible, surely? There are all sorts of checks in Sweden: Civic Registration Number – that's what we use in Sweden instead of a birth certificate – details of all the information on the passport that would have to be checked – photograph? No! I don't think it would.'
'I agree with you, I think. Almost impossible – though not quite; not for a very clever woman.'
'But I'm not a very clever woman, Inspector.'
'No! Again I agree with you.' (Lewis wondered if he'd spotted the slightest trace of disappointment in her eyes.) 'But let's agree it is impossible, right. There is another way, though, a very much easier way of acquiring a passport. A childishly easy way. Someone gives you one, Mrs Michaels. Someone sends you one through the post.'
'You are leaving me many miles behind, Inspector.'
'No, I'm not,' replied Morse, with a quiet factuality that brooked no argument. 'No one – no one – lost any passport at Barcelona, or anywhere else. But you and your elder sister are very much alike, aren't you? My sergeant here brought me a photograph of the three of you from Stockholm. You're all blonde and blue-eyed and high-cheekboned and long-legged and everything else people here expect from the Nordic type. Even your younger sister – the shortest of the three of you – she looks very much like Karin too, at least from her photograph.'
Forcibly she interrupted him: 'Listen! Just one moment, please! Have you ever felt completely confused – like I feel now?'
'Oh, yes! Quite frequently, believe me. But not now. Not now, Mrs Michaels. And you're not confused either. Because that passport there isn't yours. It belongs to your sister Katarina – Katarina Adams. Your sister who still lives in Uppsala. Your sister who told the Swedish authorities that she'd had her passport stolen, and then applied for another. Simple! You see, your name isn't Katarina Adams at all, is it, Mrs Michaels? It's Karin Eriksson.'
Her shoulders suddenly sagged, as if she felt that, in spite of any innocent protestations she might make, she was not going to be believed by anyone; as if on that score at least she would perhaps be well advised to leave her case to the testimony of others.
But Morse was pressing home his advantage; and WPC Wright (though not Lewis) found his further questioning embarrassing and tasteless.
'You've got beautiful legs – would you agree?'
'What?' Instinctively she sought to pull the her of her knee length skirt an inch or two lower over her elegant legs; but with little effect.
'You know,' continued Morse, 'when I was talking just now about the Nordic type, I was thinking of the films we used to see of all those sexy Swedish starlets. I used to go to the pictures a lot in those days-'
'Do you want me to do a streep-tease for you?'
'You see, my sergeant here and me – and I – we've got quite a big advantage really, because we've had a chance to study your passport – if it is yours – '
She was almost at the end of her tether. 'What is it?' she shrieked. 'Please! Please tell me! What are you accusing me of? All of you?'
Resignedly Morse gestured with his right hand to Lewis; and Lewis, in a flat and melancholy voice, intoned the charge:
'Mrs Karin Michaels – Miss Karin Eriksson – I have to inform you that you are under police arrest on suspicion of murdering one James Myton, on the afternoon of Sunday, July seventh, 1991. It is my duty to warn you that anything you may now say in the presence of the three police officers here may be used in evidence in any future proceedings.'
Morse got up, and now stood above her.
'There's no need for you to say anything, not for the time being.'
'You mean you are accusing me – me – of being Karin, my sister? The sister who was murdered?'
'You're still denying it?' queried Morse quietly.
'Of course! Of course, I am!'
'You can prove it, you know. The Swedish authorities tell us they don't use that "Remarks" section very much at all on the passport – only really if there's some obvious distinguishing mark that can help in establishing identity. On the passport though -the one you say is yours – that section's filled in, in Swedish. And it says, so they tell me, "Pronounced diagonal scar, inner thigh above left knee-cap, eight and a half centimetres in length, result of motoring accident".'
'Yes?' She looked up at the chief inspector as if she almost willed him, dared him, wanted him, to prove his accusation.
'So if you do have a scar there, it won't necessarily prove who you are, will it? But if you haven't… if you haven't, then you're not now, and never were, the woman described on that passport.'
Karin Eriksson, the murderer of James Myton, now sat completely still for many agonizing seconds. Then slowly, tantalizingly, as if she were some upper-class artiste in a strip-tease parlour, centimetre by centimetre her left hand lifted the hem of the beige velvet skirt above her left knee to reveal the naked flesh upon her inner thigh.
Did she rejoice in the gaze of the two detectives there? Had she secretly always thrilled to the admiration of the young boys in her high school class at Uppsala – of the tutors on her course? Even perhaps, for a short while, to the lust of the crude and ratty-faced Myton, who had sought to rape her out in Wytham Woods, and whom she had then so deliberately murdered?
And as Morse looked down at the smooth and unscarred flesh above her knee, he found himself wondering for a little while whether he too, like Myton, might not at some point on a hot and sultry summer afternoon have found this girl so very beautiful and necessary.
Lewis drove carefully down the road that led along the edge of the woods towards Wytham village. Beside him was WPG Wright; and in the back sat Karin Eriksson and Chief Inspector Morse.
Almost always, at such a stage in any case, Morse felt himself saddened – with the thrill of the chase now over, with the guilty left to face the appropriate retribution. Often had he pondered on the eternal problem of justice; and he knew as did most men of civilized values that the function of law was to provide that framework of order within which men and women could be protected as they went about their legitimate business. Yes, the criminal must be punished for his misdeeds, for that was the law. And Morse was an upholder of the law. Yet he debated now again, as he felt the body of Karin Eriksson close beside him, that fine distinction between the law and justice. Justice was one of those big words that was so often spelled with a capital 'J'; but really it was so much harder to define than Law. Karin would have to face the law; and he turned to look at her – to look at those beautiful blue eyes of hers, moistened now with the quiet film of tears. For a few seconds, at that moment, there seemed almost a bond between them – between Morse and the young woman who had murdered James Myton.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, she whispered something in his right ear.
'Did you ever have sex with a girl in the back of a car?'
'Not in the back,' whispered Morse. 'In the front, of course. Often!'
'Are you telling me the truth?'
'No,' said Morse.
He was conscious of a brimming reservoir of tears somewhere behind his own eyes as the police car came up to the main road and turned left, down past Wytham towards the police HQ. And for a second or two he thought he felt Karin's left leg pressing gently against him, and so very much he hoped that this was so.