Put on by Cunning

Put on by Cunning by Ruth Rendell Read Free Book Online

Book: Put on by Cunning by Ruth Rendell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ruth Rendell
had been the badge of an elite who hoped to alter the world. Sitting there, she looked as if she might be at one of the pop concerts of her youth, waiting for the entertainment to begin. Her head was lifted expectantly, her eyes on Natalie’s face.
    ‘I’ll tell you what there is to tell,’ Natalie began, ‘and I’m afraid that’s not much. It must have been around five this morning I thought I heard the sound of glass breaking. I’ve been sleeping in Papa’s room. Jane and Ivan are in one of the spare rooms in the other wing. You didn’t hear anything, did you, Jane?’
    Jane Zoffany shook her head vehemently. ‘I only wish I had. I might have been able to help .’
    ‘I didn’t go down. To tell you the truth I was just a little scared.’ Natalie smiled deprecatingly. She didn’t look as if she had ever been scared in her life. Wexford wondered why he had at first felt her presence as hostile. She was entirely charming. ‘But I did look out of the window. And just outside the window – on that side all the rooms are more or less on the ground floor, you know – there was a van parked. I put the light on and took a note of the registration number. I’ve got it here somewhere. What did I do with it?’
    Jane Zoffany jumped up. I’ll look for it, shall I? You put it down somewhere in here. I remember, I was still in my dressing gown . . .’ She began hunting about the room, her scarves and the fringe of her shawl catching on ornaments.
    Natalie smiled, and in that smile Wexford thought he detected patronage. ‘I didn’t quite know what to do,’ she said. ‘Papa didn’t have a phone extension put in his room. Just as I was wondering I heard the van start up and move off. I felt brave enough to go down to the dining room then, and sure enough there was a pane gone from one of the casements.’
    ‘A pity you didn’t phone us then. We might have got him.’
    ‘I know.’ She said it ruefully, amusedly, with a soft sigh of a laugh. ‘But there were only those half-dozen silver spoons missing and two five-pound notes out of my purse. I’d left my purse on the sideboard.’
    ‘But would you know exactly what was missing, Mrs Arno?’
    ‘Right. I wouldn’t really. But Mrs Hicks has been round with me this morning and she can’t find anything else gone.’
    ‘It’s rather curious, isn’t it? This house seems to me full of very valuable objects. There’s a Kandinsky downstairs and a Boudin, I think.’ He pointed. ‘And those are signed Hockney prints. That yellow porcelain . . .’
    She looked surprised at his knowledge. ‘Yes, but . . .’ Her cheeks had slightly flushed. ‘Would you think me very forward if I said I had a theory?’
    ‘Not at all. I’d like to hear it.’
    ‘Well, first, I think he knew Papa used to sleep in that room and now poor Papa is gone he figured no one would be in there. And, secondly, I think he saw my light go on before he’d done any more than filch the spoons. He was just too scared to stop any longer. How does that sound?’
    ‘Quite a possibility,’ said Wexford. Was it his imagination that she had expected a more enthusiastic or flattering response? Jane Zoffany came up with the van registration number on a piece of paper torn from an exercise book. Natalie Arno didn’t thank her for her pains. She rose, tensing her shoulders and throwing back her head to show off that amazing shape. Her waist could easily have been spanned by a pair of hands.
    ‘Do you want to see the rest of the house?’ she said. ‘I’m sure he didn’t come up to this level.’
    Wexford would have loved to, but for what reason? ‘We usually ask the householder to make a list of missing valuables in a case like this. It might be wise for me to go round with Mrs Hicks . . .’
    ‘Of course .’
    Throughout these exchanges Ivan Zoffany had not spoken. Wexford, without looking at him, had sensed a brooding concentration, the aggrieved attitude perhaps of a man not called

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