Eric arrived at the Vet just a little later than his usual time the next day. The night had been filled with dreams of Chinese antiquities: terra-cotta warriors, porcelain urns from various dynasties, scrolls painted with yellow-robed monkeys wielding iron cudgels....
He breakfasted in the dining room and sat down in the lounge with his reading, but Wolfe’s tale of the antique collector in Churston occupied half his mind. The other half concerned itself with Benson’s bet with Wolfe. Knowing that Benson had spent the night at the Vet, Eric had expected to meet the man there, but there was no sign of him. It was entirely possible, Eric supposed, that Benson had risen very early and left the building to attend to whatever business he had in London.
At a quarter to twelve, Eric put aside his reading--somehow a book on the Ming dynasty had found its way into his hands, and the manuscript he was supposed to be reading was tucked away behind a cushion--and called for a helping of steak and kidney pie to be brought to him in the lounge.
As the attendant slipped away, Mainwaring let himself into the lounge. He had a copy of the Times under one arm, and the ever-present pipe was drooping from the middle of his overgrown beard, as usual. Seeing Eric, he trudged over and said: "Garrett suggested last night that I drop by. I’d like to see how this lark of Wolfe’s is going to turn out. Club security, you know. Garrett should be here shortly; I know he wouldn’t miss this for the world, but I imagine the bank is keeping him busy as usual."
Eric glanced at the clock hanging over the bar. "Wolfe will appear at the very last minute, no doubt. He loves his little dramatic flourishes. I don’t know about Benson. I haven’t seen him all morning, but there’s no reason he should want to miss this."
"No reason at all. Old Faithful tells me that Benson took one of the rooms overnight. Perhaps he’s sleeping in."
"You don’t like Benson much, do you?" asked Eric, noting the slight change in tone when Mainwaring said Benson’s name.
The drooping pipe shifted as Mainwaring chewed the stem. "No. I don’t. The fellow has money, and that is about all. He is not a gentleman."
Eric thought about Patrick Norris, an insouciant rascal if there ever was one, usually found hanging on to Mainwaring’s coat-tails; and then there was Oliver Saxon, who stalked about at all hours with his shirt tails half-in and half-out and his chin indifferently shaved, picking apples off the centrepiece displays in the dining room. Wolfe had said something about Saxon’s membership being entirely contingent on his father’s title, Eric recalled.
"I’m surprised at you, Mainwaring. You’re the last person I expected to worry about that sort of thing. As far as class distinctions go, Benson’s hardly any different from, say, Patrick Norris."
Mainwaring gave him an icy glare. "There’s more to being a gentleman than mere accident of birth, Peterkin. I know Norris, and believe you me, Benson does not measure up."
"You hardly know the man."
"I have a nose for these things."
Garrett strode up to them before Eric could formulate a reply. "Are neither Wolfe nor Benson here yet? It’s nearly time."
Eric said: "I expect Wolfe to sweep in with fifteen seconds to spare, deposit the prize on the table, and then calmly sit back and light a cigarette while the rest of us squawk in wonder and consternation."
Mainwaring let out a low chuckle. "That does rather seem like his style, yes."
They turned to watch the clock, Garrett tapping his foot impatiently. As the second hand swept past the 9, the lounge door swung open to admit Mortimer Wolfe. He had a Cheshire cat smile on his face, and a small, linen-wrapped bundle tucked carelessly under one arm. Swaggering up to the gathered men, he dropped the bundle unceremoniously on the table, and threw himself into an armchair. "Benson not here yet?" he drawled as he lit up a cigarette, "that does rather spoil the effect."
Garrett eyed the linen-wrapped bundle and said, "I suppose I owe you a hundred pounds. Unless Peterkin here can swear that this is not what was left in Benson’s deposit box. Peterkin?"
"Let’s wait for Benson."
"Bother Benson. It’s past noon, and I’m fairly certain that nobody ever said anything about everyone having to be in attendance for the grand unveiling. Wolfe, let’s see what you’ve got there."
"As you wish." Wolfe stood up and whipped off the linen wrapping with a flourish, to reveal ... a grubby-looking medicine bottle, half-full.
"That’s not--" began Eric, but Mainwaring had leapt to his feet with a strangled oath: "That’s not ... damn it, Wolfe, where did you get that?"
Wolfe raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Out of Benson’s safe deposit box, of course. Is there something wrong? Perhaps you should be asking how Benson came into possession of this. Morphine, if I’m not mistaken. There was an old hypodermic kit as well, which I suppose he’d kept from his days at the hospital during the War. But the bet was that I should bring something, not everything; so I left the kit and brought the bottle. After all, a hypodermic kit is only a souvenir, whereas a bottle of morphine is just a touch scandalous, wouldn’t you say?
Mainwaring turned to Eric and demanded: "Was this in fact what Benson had in his safe deposit box?"
"No, what he had was an old duty roster from a training camp, and a photograph."
"Rubbish," said Wolfe.
Mainwaring paid him no attention. "Get Old Faithful. We’re going to get to the bottom of this." He strode for the doors without waiting for the others. Garrett and Eric hurried after him, and Wolfe followed at a more sedate but no less astonished pace.
What they found when Old Faithful opened the vault door was enough to shake even the normally unflappable Mortimer Wolfe.
Patrick Benson lay on the floor of the vault, stretched out on his side, his eyes staring. He was barefoot; his shirt and trousers appeared to have been thrown on in haste, and his braces hung loose at his sides. Protruding from his chest was the decorative handle of ... a dagger of some sort?
Mainwaring pulled Old Faithful back before the latter could lay a hand on the corpse. "Don’t. Don’t bother; he’s clearly beyond help. Call the police."
As Old Faithful pushed past to scurry up the stairs, Mainwaring turned and spread his arms to usher the other men out of the vault. Eric, peering under Mainwaring’s outstretched arm, had just enough time to take in a few further details, such as the box on the table, and the open door to box 13, Benson’s box.
Beside him, Garrett, open-mouthed, stumbled backwards and said, "Mainwaring, isn’t that ... that’s your letter opener, isn’t it?"
Wolfe, who had hung back while the others crowded about the vault door, turned to climb the stairs.
"You’re not leaving the premises, Wolfe!" Mainwaring shouted after him. "Get back here!"
Wolfe stopped at the top of the stairs. "I’m not an idiot, Mainwaring," he said, half-turning to look down at the club president. "I know perfectly well how it looks, and how much worse it would look if I ran right now. But I am not going to spend the next hour standing about in that filthy little room with a body rotting not five feet away. If you need me, I will be in the lounge."
And with that, he departed.
Eric glanced around at the other two men. Mainwaring’s pipe was quivering as he chewed nervously at the stem, and Garrett was looking rather white.
"Wolfe is right," Eric said. "There’s no sense in waiting around down here. We’d better wait for the police up in the lounge. And tell the attendants not to let anyone leave the building."
Not, Eric thought, that it would do much good. If he had to guess, he would say that Benson had been killed several hours ago. Whoever the killer was, he would have had ample time to make his escape, and might be halfway to the Hebrides by now, for all they knew.
And speaking of disappearances, there was also the question of the hypodermic kit Wolfe mentioned having left behind. Eric had seen no indication of any such kit in the vault, and he’d been on the lookout especially for it.
Mainwaring’s office was no more than five feet from the door to the vault stairwell. Muttering that he’d wait for the police here, Mainwaring tried the handle, and cursed when he found the door unlocked. Given the choice of murder weapons, Eric thought, this was to be expected, however much Mainwaring insisted that he knew he’d locked the door last night.
"At least nothing else appears to have been disturbed," said Mainwaring, looking around the room from the corridor. There was a neatly ordered desk, minus a letter opener, with a comfortable office chair behind it. There were two small armchairs and a small, round table, on top of which were an ashtray and decanter of Port. Across the walls were a variety of prints and photographs, all left there by successive generations of past presidents; Mainwaring’s own contribution of personality had come in the form of a pair of potted ferns that spilled their fronds from their perch on the window sill.
Mainwaring strode into the room and peered at the dial of the little safe embedded into the wall. "Safe’s still locked; can’t tell if it’s been tampered with, though." He went to the desk and opened the second drawer. He pushed aside a few papers, then breathed a sigh of relief as he withdrew a large and rather nasty-looking German pistol. "Well, at least no-one’s pinched this. Small mercies. I say, Peterkin: I don’t suppose I could trouble you to hold on to this for a bit?"
Eric blinked. It was obvious to him that Mainwaring was in fact asking him to conceal potential evidence. "You’d better leave it where it is, Mainwaring. The police--"
"Bother the police. I don’t want to explain this to them, and it’s plainly not relevant to the murder. Benson was stabbed, not shot."
"I’ll deal with it," said Bradshaw, who had just appeared on the scene. Mainwaring put the pistol in his outstretched hand, and he disappeared into his own office next door with it.
"I’m guessing you haven’t the proper certificate for that pistol," said Eric.
Mainwaring shrugged and settled into his chair. "It was a souvenir from the War. Nothing more than that. Shouldn’t need certificates for bloody souvenirs. More trouble than it’s worth, really." He frowned. "You’re not going to cause any trouble over that, I hope."
"I admit I don’t see the relevance either."
As Mainwaring turned his attention to his newspaper, Eric slipped away. He understood quite well the sort of thinking at play here, and, to a certain extent, he quite appreciated it. But he would have preferred not to have to hide anything from anyone. It was just so much easier to keep things open and above-board. Though it was true that he couldn’t see the relevance of Mainwaring’s little War souvenir, the very fact that it had to be hidden from the police filled him with unease.
Back in the lounge, Wolfe and Garrett had distanced themselves from each other and were waiting with some barely-concealed agitation for the arrival of the police. Thankfully, there were no other club members in the lounge at this time: what few there were had stopped in for a bite of lunch in the dining room downstairs, and would not, Eric supposed, be particularly happy about being detained. Eric had taken it upon himself to make a list of those members obliviously dining, before making his own way up to the lounge; he supposed that it might prove a useful precaution.
And of course, a dining room attendant was waiting for him in the lounge with the helping of steak and kidney pie he had ordered earlier.
Eric was just polishing off the final crumbs of his meal when the police arrived, in the form of an Inspector Horatio Parker. This was a very thin, round-shouldered little man about Eric’s own height, with a shock of dark hair and an old scar puckering up his left cheek from eye to jaw.
Mainwaring, summoned by an alert attendant, hurried up to greet the man personally, and instructed the attendant to escort the inspector and his men down to the vault. Inspector Parker glanced sharply from Eric to Wolfe to Garrett--Wolfe was feigning nonchalance at the bar, while Garrett paced nervously near the meeting room doors--before turning to follow the attendant. Mainwaring mopped his brow with his handkerchief and dropped into the chair opposite Eric.
"Well, that’s that," Mainwaring said. "Parker should have the whole matter settled in an hour or so. He’s a regular magician, he is."
"You know him?"
"We met briefly when we were hospitalised together at Sotheby Manor. Saved ... well, we shan’t get into that. I’ve invited him a few times to join us here, but he’s not much for clubs and the like. Probably just as well, all things considered. Might be a conflict of interest if he were already a member."
It was at this point that the lounge doors flew open to admit Martha Garrett. She marched, with all the purpose of a field nurse on a mission, past the attendants trying to bar her way and towards her husband, who came to meet her.
"Edward! I stopped by the bank, and they said you were here. And then there were policemen at the doors when I got here, and they say there’s been a murder! What exactly is going on?"
"Martha, you shouldn’t be here."
"Quite right: I should be in the dining room of the New Cavendish, trying to decide between the duck and the lamb. Please answer me, Edward."
"I see the police have had about as much success as our attendants at keeping Mrs. Garrett out of our lounge," murmured Mainwaring with an amused chuckle.
Garrett in the meantime was trying as discreetly as possible to explain the situation to his wife, all the while edging towards the lounge doors. Mrs. Garrett was quite appropriately horrified.
"Benson!" she cried. "That’s just awful! I told you we should have let him stay over at our place while he was here!"
"Martha, in the first place, you said no such thing. And in the second place, it would hardly have been proper--"
"Bother propriety! What sort of security have you got here, I’d like to know, if a man can just get stabbed to death in the middle of the night?"
Mainwaring turned from the spectacle of the Garretts’ conversation and said to Eric: "That reminds me, the inspector will certainly want to see Benson’s room. Be a good chap and have Old Faithful open it up for him, won’t you? And stick around when you do, make sure the good fellow doesn’t set foot inside. Fair’s fair, after all, and we can’t exclude him from suspicion just yet."
As Old Faithful led the way to Benson’s room, Eric observed that very little appeared to have changed since his last visit up here, two years ago now. The wallpaper was still as green and grimy as he remembered it, and still threatening to peel right off the walls. The carpet was still threadbare down the middle and plush along the sides. The portrait of King George was new: the last time Eric was here, Queen Victoria was still staring down the length of the hallway. Poor old Edward VII had evidently been bypassed entirely. The doors were new, too: solid, heavy, and much better quality than what Eric remembered.
Old Faithful stopped at the first door in the hallway and opened it.
"I should have known something was amiss when I found it open this morning, sir," he said. "But it looked as if he’d only stepped out for a moment, perhaps to use the facilities. I just closed the door without locking it. Nobody else has been in there yet."
"You did well, Porter. I’ll take it from here."
Eric knew better than to walk into a room that the police might want to examine, but from his vantage point he could see quite a good deal. The window was open, and he could hear all the sounds of the street funnelling down the alleyway and echoing back.
Old Faithful shifted from one foot to the other, and said: "It’s terrible what’s happened to Mr. Benson, isn’t it, sir? Nothing like it has ever happened here before, not in all the time I’ve been here. And I never saw or heard anything. I was downstairs all the time. After I showed Mr. Benson to the room and gave him the key, I never came up again until Mr. Norris came wanting a room too. He’s in the room at the far end of the corridor, just around the corner. I’m sure he’ll vouch for me, sir."
"No-one’s accusing you of anything."
Eric was more interested in looking around Benson’s room from the hallway than in listening to Old Faithful’s protests. Eric knew quite well that it would be foolish to dismiss him as a suspect simply on the basis of character; even so, it seemed ridiculous to consider him as such, and in any case it was a matter for the police, not Eric Peterkin.
"I think it’s only a matter of time, sir. They’ll know I’ve been down in the vault, too; my fingerprints will be on the vault door. Mr. Wolfe wanted a box, you see, and I couldn’t quite remember the combination--I never can. I had to reset the wheel a couple of times."
"Did he, now," said Eric, barely listening. The rooms at the club were fairly Spartan, each containing a single bed, a washstand, a dresser, and a single chair that had probably seen long years of service in the public rooms below before being retired to the lodging rooms above. Benson’s room had an armchair similar to those in the lounge, though considerably more threadbare; his jacket and waistcoat were flung carelessly over its back, and his necktie lay on the floor beside it. The bed, positioned lengthwise about a foot from the window, was a similarly untidy situation: its covers were heaped up on the near side and practically spilling over onto the floor, as if violently cast aside.
"Yes, it must have been close to ten o’clock. I did recall thinking it odd that he would suddenly want a box so late, but it’s not my place to question the members’ requests, after all. And he was uncommonly nice about it, too. Usually he’s so particular, but he said he was so pleased with the last time I’d picked out a box for him that he wanted the same one again. There’s no difference between the boxes, of course, but there you go."
Eric nodded. He didn’t much care about Wolfe’s choice of boxes, but he’d noticed a photograph lying on top of Benson’s dresser, among the toiletries. An older couple stood behind a small table, on which a small cake was displayed, gazing at the camera with a fixed expression. A group of nurses stood smiling to either side of them, and among the nurses were the two from Benson’s other picture. Also in the picture were a number of men, among them Mainwaring and Inspector Parker. Mainwaring had mentioned being hospitalised together with Parker at some point during the War, but Eric was surprised to see evidence of it among Benson’s personal effects.
Eric was alerted to the inspector’s approach by the sound of the man pounding up the stairs in a dreadful hurry. At the other end of the hallway, Patrick Norris stuck his head around the corner to investigate, as Eric stepped back from the threshold of Benson’s room door.
"Thank you," said the inspector briskly, slipping into the room around Eric. "You haven’t gone inside, I hope? Mainwaring had no business opening up the room until I asked him to, but I suppose there’s no harm done. You’ll wait downstairs in the lounge, please."
"Of course." Eric withdrew and turned towards the stairs. Already he could hear the tromp of policeman feet coming up the stairs, their tread as measured and regular as any military route march; Old Faithful was hurrying off to meet them. Eric hesitated, remembering the glimpse of Norris peeking around the corner at the opposite end of the hallway, and decided to have a word with the man. In turning back, Eric glanced into Benson’s room, and what he saw made him stop in his tracks in shock. Inside, the inspector was hastily stuffing the photograph from the dresser into his inside jacket pocket. From his furtive manner and the distinct lack of careful handling, it seemed clear that he was disposing of the evidence rather than collecting it.
Eric slipped to the other side of the door before the inspector could see him, then trotted, as quickly and quietly as he could, around the corner to where Norris awaited him with an upraised brow at the door of the last room down the hall.
"I overheard what Old Faithful said," Norris said as he let Eric into his room and shut the door behind him. "Not that it was all that enlightening. What’s happened to Benson, and why are the police invading the Vet?"
"Benson’s been found dead, that’s what’s happened. He was found down in the vault, bleeding all over the place. He’d been stabbed. I suppose you know about his bet with Wolfe and Garrett?"
Norris nodded and rummaged around in a dresser drawer for a cigarette case. "Wolfe will be the prime suspect, then. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. Cigarette?"
Eric, who had never quite got used to the practice of smoking, absently accepted the proffered cigarette and began to gnaw at the butt. "If you’re wondering if Wolfe could have done it, I don’t know. He was here with us when we found the body. He seemed as surprised as we were. I don’t know if he’s so good an actor, or if he has quite the bloody cheek to stick around after doing the deed."
Norris blew out a smoke ring and chuckled. "Wolfe’s got plenty of cheek. That’s what I like about the fellow. And what do you think? I saw the look on your face when you peeked into Benson’s room just now, and you seemed rather anxious to avoid the inspector’s eye afterwards. Saw something unseemly, I take it?"
"Only Inspector Parker tampering with the evidence. Benson had a photograph, some sort of group picture with a lot of nurses and patients, including Inspector Parker himself--war hospital, I imagine--and the inspector was destroying it. He’s mixed up in this somehow. Someone has to inform the Yard and get him reassigned."
"It’s your word against his, you know. And Horatio Parker is a VC."
"A ... the Victoria Cross? Inspector Parker’s got the Victoria Cross?"
"He’s a brave man, is our inspector. How do you think he got that scar? Are you going to light up or not?"
Eric looked down at the sodden, unserviceable mass in his hand in surprise. There was certainly no sense in even trying to apply a match to the remains of his cigarette, and he apologetically disposed of it. "Sorry. I tend to forget I have these things, usually after I light them. Penny--my sister--says that between me leaving lit cigarettes lying around and Father falling asleep with his pipe, it’s a wonder we haven’t burned down the house."
"You won’t mind if I never offer you another one, then."
Eric shrugged. "What do you know about Inspector Parker and his connection to Patrick Benson?"
"Benson was an orderly at the hospital where Parker and Mainwaring were sent, near the end of the War. You probably guessed that from the photograph. I can’t think that there might be anything suspicious about that. I don’t think they were there at the same time, in fact: Benson did decide at the end to join in the actual fighting, after all. Perhaps Parker has other unrelated reasons for wanting to get rid of the photograph."
Eric did recall Wolfe mentioning, the night before, that Benson had been a hospital orderly through most of the War. "Do you know anything about that photograph?"
"I’m just going by what you’ve said about it, Peterkin. I haven’t actually seen it myself. Incidentally, telling me about it might not have been the wisest move. I did spend the night just down the corridor from where our friend Benson was billeted, remember, which puts me right on the scene for the time of the murder. I’m surprised you haven’t twigged to me being a possible suspect."
Eric stopped and peered at Norris. The latter’s eyebrows were drawn up in an expression of mock-innocence.
"Perhaps I have," Eric said slowly. "Perhaps I, like Wolfe, also have the bloody cheek to play dumb in the face of the enemy."
Norris grinned. "Word of warning, Peterkin: Wolfe’s a rank amateur next to the likes of Mainwaring. I think you’ll find that most of those involved will have cheek to spare, and I don’t think you could compete."
"You know who’s involved?"
"Wolfe had that bet going, as did Garrett. There’s Mainwaring downstairs and there’s me right here. There’s you, and there’s Inspector Parker. If you know of anyone else, you’ve got the advantage of me."
"And you were here all morning?" asked Eric, changing tacks. "You didn’t only just wake up, I can see."
"I’ve been at work." Norris gestured to the armchair, where a sheaf of sheet music was draped over one arm, and a clipboard full of written notes balanced on the other. A fountain pen lay on the seat, a dark blot of ink soaking into the threadbare fabric beneath its nib. "You’d be surprised at how difficult it can be to set words to music and vice-versa. I just got this music from my composer friend yesterday, and I’ve been struggling with the lyrics since I woke up, and getting quite lost in it all. If I hadn’t been working with the door open, I might not have heard Parker’s elephantine pounding on the stairs, or noticed anything was amiss at all."
"You said you’d overheard some of what Old Faithful was saying to me," said Eric suspiciously, "and that was before Inspector Parker arrived."
"Did I? I forget."
Eric gave him a minute, but Norris seemed to have no intention of explaining himself--nor did he seem aware that any explanation was necessary. Finally, Eric said: "Well, there’s bloody cheek for you, I suppose. Your officers’ meetings must be jolly interesting affairs."
"Perhaps you should consider running for office."
"What was last night’s meeting about, incidentally? Wolfe said it must be about Benson’s membership, but Bradshaw seemed to imply that that matter was over and done with, and Benson had been accepted in quite the usual way."
"Wolfe is a bloody snob." Norris ground out the remains of his cigarette with a little more vigour than necessary. "There’s no love lost between us, I’ll have you know. He fusses over all the trappings of being a gentleman, but, underneath it all, he’s nothing but a cad. He tried to have me blackballed, once. I didn’t even know who he was, at the time."
"He wasn’t an officer of the club, but he did everything he could, made his case to all the officers of the time. He got old Winthrop to pass the motion, and if one more officer had agreed, I would have been out of here. If Mainwaring hadn’t spoken up, and of course Bradshaw’s a regular bleeding-heart Socialist ... oh, and your father: I don’t know the details, but your father put Wolfe in his place, he did. One of the reasons I was so happy to have you in, you know."
"Thanks, I suppose." Eric felt, once again, uncomfortably aware that his military service counted for very little in the consideration of his membership.
Norris waved a hand. "Oh, think nothing of it. Least I could do for the old Colonel. You should have seen Wolfe’s face when I was named an officer of the club! I half expected him to announce his withdrawal, but I think now he’s just waiting for me to try to have him expelled--he’s probably got the whole scene prepared and rehearsed--as if I could be bothered with the likes of him."
"So the meeting wasn’t about Benson, then," Eric said, bringing the subject back around. "You don’t think Wolfe might have tried to blackball Benson as well?"
Norris shrugged and said: "Mainwaring doesn’t like Benson, for some unaccountable reason. If Wolfe wanted to try anything, he’d start there. He’d need one more officer on his side, of course; Bradshaw never wants to exclude anyone, and Wolfe knows I’m no friend of his. That leaves Garrett and Saxon. Garrett was the one who proposed Benson in the first place, and Saxon ... well, Saxon seemed rather unexpectedly chummy with Benson, don’t you think? I wonder what that was all about."
Saxon was a dark horse, Eric agreed: a queer figure who haunted the club with his shirt tails hanging out and his collar wide open. Unkempt, unshaven and almost certainly unwashed, with no table manners whatsoever; he drank nothing but lemonade and seemed to eat nothing but apples. Everyone knew he was the son of an earl and he clearly didn’t care tuppence what people thought of him; no-one knew much of anything else beyond that. Eric had seen him more than once, huddled up in a corner of the reading room with his feet tucked under him, munching on an apple with his mouth open; the one time Eric had wandered close, Saxon stopped in mid-chew and gave him such a suspicious look that Eric felt sure the man would bite him if he took another step closer.
Eric had, however, managed to get close enough to ascertain that Saxon’s choice of reading material was entirely written in Greek.
"Saxon’s not usually that chummy, I take it."
"He’s all right if you humour him. If you don’t rouse his temper. Why don’t you try speaking to him? He hasn’t actually bitten anyone since Garrett crossed him last month."
Norris opened the door, and Eric was surprised at the volume of the noise outside.
It was Oliver Saxon, giving vent to a stream of bitter invective as a pair of burly constables manhandled him up the stairs. He stopped abruptly when Inspector Parker stepped out of Benson’s room and fixed a stern eye on him.
"We caught him sneaking in from the back entrance," one of the constables announced. "Mighty suspicious, wouldn’t you say?"
Saxon only glared sullenly at the inspector. Getting his cooperation, thought Eric, would be an exercise in frustration.