"'Poet,'" it says, "'died from stab of rose.' Must be a thorn that
stabbed him. Who do you suppose that is?"
Richard Jury looked up and across at Sergeant Wiggins. "Rilke. What
is that, the crossword? Rilke, if memory serves me." Memory served
up entirely too much. Jury sat reading a forensics report while
Sergeant Wiggins, seated at a desk across the room, was stirring up
ever more esoteric means of dying. Wiggins was really into death,
Jury remarked not for the first time. Or at least into the ills
that flesh is heir to. Wiggins was heir to the lot, to hear him
"Rilke?" said Wiggins. He counted the spaces. "That'd fit all
reight. You'd be a whiz at crosswords, knowing things like that."
He poured out the tea.
"That's the only thing I know like that."
Wiggins was spooning in sugar, and, having dumped four teaspoonfuls
into his own tea, started in on Jury's.
"One," said Jury, not even looking up from his folder. Tea making
in this office had achieved the status of ritual, one so long
undertaken that Jury knew where Sergeant Wiggins was at every step.
Perhaps it was the spoon clicking against the cup with each
teaspoonful that sent out a signal.
"Was he hemophiliac, then, this Rilke?"
"Beats me." Trust Wiggins to put it down to a disorder of blood or
bone. A lengthy silence followed, during which Jury did look up to
see Wiggins sitting with his hands wrapped around both mugs as he
stared out of the window. "Is my mug going to grow little mug legs
and walk over here on its own?"
Wiggins jumped. "Oh, sorry." He rose and took Jury's tea to him,
saying, when he'd returned to his own desk, "I just can't think of
other blood conditions that would result in death from a rose-thorn
Lines of a poem
came unbidden to Jury's mind:
O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm…
William Blake. He wouldn't mention this to Wiggins. One rose
death was enough for one morning.
Wiggins persisted. "A prick could cause that much blood to flow? I
mean, the guy could hardly bleed out from it." He frowned, drank
his tea, kept on frowning. "I should know the answer to
"Why? That's what police doctors are for. Call forensics if you're
That flies in the nightIn the howling
closed the file on skeletal remains and watched the slow-falling
snow. Hardly enough to dampen the pavement, much less a ski slope.
Well, had he planned on skiing in Islington? He could go to High
Wycombe; they had all-season skiing around there. How depressing.
In two weeks, Christmas would be here. More depressing. "You going
to Manchester for Christmas, Wiggins?"
"To my sister and her brood, yes. You, sir?"
"You mean am I going to Newcastle? No." That he would not go to his
cousin (and her brood) filled him with such a delicious ease
that he wondered if happiness lay not in doing but in not
Wiggins appeared to be waiting for Jury to fill him in on his
Christmas plans. If Newcastle was out, what then? When Jury didn't
supply something better, Wiggins didn't delve. He just returned to
death and its antidotes, a few bottles and vials of which were
arranged on his desk. Wiggins looked them over, hit on the viscous
pink liquid and squeezed several drops into a half glass of water,
which he then swirled into thinner viscosity.
He said, "But we're on rota for Christmas, at least Christmas
morning. I won't get to Manchester until dinnertime,
"Hell, just go ahead. I'll cover for you."
Wiggins shook his head. "No, that wouldn't be fair, sir. No, I'll
be here. Christmas can be hell on wheels for people deciding to
bloody up other people. Just give some guy a holiday and he goes
for a gun."
Jury laughed. "True. Maybe we'll have time for a bang-up lunch at
Danny Wu's on Christmas Day. He never closes on holidays." Ruiyi
was the best restaurant in Soho.
Then came silence and snow. Jury thought about a present for
Wiggins. Some medical book, one that might define Rilke's "disease
of the blood," if that's what it was. A thorn prick. O Rose,
thou ar't sick. He tried to remember the last four lines of
this short poem, but couldn't.
Wiggins had gone back to the newspaper. "They're starting to clear
the old Greenwich gasworks. To put up the dome, that millennium
dome they're talking about."
Jury didn't want to hear about it or talk about it. Wiggins loved
the subject. "That's years away, Wiggins. Let's wait and be
Wiggins regarded him narrowly, not knowing what to make of that
Jury got up, pulled on his coat and picked up the folder which held
Haggerty's report. "I'm going to the City; if you need me I'll be
at Snow Hill station with Mickey Haggerty."
"All right." Wiggins drank his pink stuff and turned toward the
window. He said, as Jury was going out the door, "It sounds like
something out of a fairy tale, almost."
"What does? The millennium dome?"
"No, no, no. It's this Rilke fellow. It's like the princess who
pricked her finger spinning, falling asleep forever. Dying from the
prick of a rose thorn." He looked at Jury. "It's a sort of a
breathtaking death, isn't it?"
"I guess I don't want to be breathtaken, Wiggins. See
Excerpted from THE BLUE LAST © Copyright 2001 by Martha
Grimes. Reprinted with permission from Viking, an imprint of
Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved.