The murderer sent Dalgliesh an orange. The famous detective immediately knew where to look for the body.
A helicopter search of the area revealed nothing. Nor had any of the hang-gliders who used the summit as a jumping-off point spotted the usual tell-tale signs, a foot protruding from under a bush, a discarded bag, a freshly turned mound in the earth. And so a thousand twitter-recruited volunteers stood alongside officers from Gwent Police, to form a thin Gortex line stretching out for over five kilometres. They began at the southern face of the mountain. The rain was soft and relentless. There were no hang-gliders in the air that day.
It had been the famous detective’s idea to encircle the mountain with a cordon of searchers. As they ascended the mountain, the human circle would contract. Along the way, the closer they got to the summit, one by one, searchers would be forced to drop back as the area ahead of them shrank. He imagined it all happening silently, each individual in the chain knowing what was required of them, giving way with a resolute nod. There would be no dissent. All egos would be eradicated in the cause of the greater common good. Eventually a handful of searchers would face one another over the corpse of the missing woman. Of course, it was not so much an idea as a vision, a dream – one might even say a poetic image. He had not pursued it, recognising its impracticality immediately. It came from the fanciful side of his nature, the poet rather than the policeman.
As it was, they had more than enough volunteers. A five kilometre line sweeping south to north, up one side of the mountain and down the other, and if necessary repeating the process from east to west.
Curiously enough, the famous detective did not join in the search. It was May. The Hay Literature Festival was on. He was sharing a platform with his creator P.D. James. They were discussing the twin topic of policing and poetry with a panel of distinguished guests drawn from both fields.
The going was necessarily slow. Although the slopes were relatively gentle, the ground was boggy in places and overgrown in others. This was all to the good. It would force them to maintain an unhurried pace, scanning the ground in front of them with overlapping gazes.
They crossed the ridge of the mountain and began their descent around noon. Two hours later the western tip of the line entered a patch of woodland on the northern face, at the very moment that the rain ceased and the sun came out, as if to show up the pathetic fallacy for what it was, a fallacy, and a pathetic one at that. (If the famous detective had been with them, the dappled light beneath the trembling green canopy might have put him in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins.)
Surrounded by shimmering transient beauty, they found the ugly thing they were looking for.
The famous detective had set his mobile phone to vibrate. The text came through just as he was about to address the packed and excited audience. He decided to use the case of the woman on the mountain as the basis for his talk.
After he had sat down, they took questions. “Yes, but how did you know?” demanded a middle-aged woman who had spent the whole session knitting.
“I asked myself two questions,” answered the famous detective. “Why an orange? And why me? The answer to the first question lay in the second. I am a poet as well as a policeman, and therefore I of all people could be expected to know that there is only one word in English that rhymes with orange. It is a proper noun, the name of a mountain in Wales. Blorenge.”
The woman who had asked the question stopped plying her knitting needles and knitted her brows instead. “Blorenge?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” said the famous poet, looking down at a new text he had just received. “Now, if you will excuse me, it seems my presence is urgently required on the mountainside. Apparently, the sunlight is playing on tender leaves and there is no one there to capture the effect in an appropriate verbal image.”