Chapter 1: Alleyn

"Rory," Sir Henry Clithering said to Roderick Alleyn, "I want you go come to dinner tomorrow."

"Thank you, sir," Chief Inspector Alleyn said to his former superior, "but I—"

"You are about to say that you are fully occupied with the Nightingale case and couldn't possibly take the time out. I'm not asking you to take the time out. I want you to come meet someone whom I think can help you."

Alleyn was just at the point in this most deviously complicated case where an offer of help came as a relief and not an insult to his powers, even when Sir Henry told him to bring Troy along too. Sir Henry knew perfectly well that one of the things he hated most was to get Troy involved in his cases, but when the ex-Commissioner of Scotland Yard invites your wife to dinner, you don't leave her at home.

Alleyn assisted his wife to get out of the car before Sir Henry's house. Usually Troy was a nimble creature, but on this particular chilly fall day, she was vastly pregnant, which Alleyn thought became her well, even if getting out of cars was a problem.

Clithering's housekeeper showed them into the drawing room, where they exchanged affectionate greetings with Sir Henry and his wife, Lady Helen Clithering.

"You know Craddock, of course," Sir Henry nodded to the tall man standing beside an armchair.

"Craddock, how are you?" Alleyn greeted him. Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock was Sir Henry's godson and worked under Alleyn at Scotland Yard. Was he the one who was supposed to be of some particular assistance? He was a good man, one of Alleyn's best officers, but Sir Henry's language hadn't seemed to indicate that he was going to meet someone he'd already worked with a hundred times and could meet any day he chose at the Yard.

Craddock was standing next to a little old lady who had risen with signs of bashful confusion. She was as English a little old lady as you could hope to find, the kind you'd want next to you in a bomb shelter during the Blitz but wouldn't want to have as your neighbor if you were a mischievous small boy. She had fluffy white hair and a fluffy grey shawl and twinkling blue eyes and seemed to be all pastel and fluff.

"Chief Inspector Alleyn, Mrs. Alleyn, may I present Miss Jane Marple?" Sir Henry said formally.

The little old lady twittered. She veritably twittered. Alleyn watched her with fascination and closed his slim hand around hers gently, because it was so small and papery.

"Dear me, Chief Inspector, what an honor to meet you. Dear Dermot has told me so much about you and your cases."

"Now, Aunt Jane, don't get me into trouble," Craddock grinned. "Not really my aunt," he said in an aside to Troy. "Everyone's aunt. I defy you to not call her Aunt Jane by the end of the evening."