ExtractRead chapter 1 of the novel

        "That makes my prospects look a bit dim," I commented, "if innocence isn't enough."
        She smiled thinly at this. It made my words seem little more than a platitude. Our relationship here, I thought, was like that between a lawyer and his client: innocence was always presumed.
        "If the worst comes to the worst, do you think a hefty bribe would do any good?"
        "I wouldn't recommend it." She didn't smile at my dim attempt at levity.
        "Anyway, you're forgetting - I've had dealings with the Indian police and criminal system before. And I can't say I found them either very efficient or very thorough."
        "No. No, I suppose not. But that was exceptional." She dabbed at her lips with a tissue she had taken from her briefcase, frowned. She said, "You know, I'm still a little grey on some of the details of your case - it was all very rushed, I haven't been well briefed. I had to pull strings to be assigned to it. What exactly were you doing at the village last night?"
        I smiled. "You sound like Inspector Prabash. Except he's not quite as direct. I got the impression he didn't care much, one way or the other."
        "But you were there because of Wyndham Charles?"
        "Yes, of course because of Wyndham. He was leaving the country tomorrow, I didn't know if he would be coming back."
        "And why did you have to see him so urgently?"
        "There were a lot of reasons."
        "Because of your son?"
        "Because of a lot of reasons."
        "But because of your son?"
        I smiled again. She was better than Prabash. "That was one of the reasons," I said, "yes." But it was clear just why she was better: she knew me more intimately than Inspector Prabash, knew where to strike and how and how hard. In particular, she knew about my son and what he meant to me. It was because of him that I had met Carol in the first place. I had had to contact my embassy because of a problem with my visa - a trivial problem, it was sorted out over the phone in minutes - and while I was on the line, almost as an afterthought, I asked whether it would be possible for me to speak to someone about my son's death. Did they have a file on him? Could I see it? I was given an appointment for the following day. I asked who I was speaking to and she said, Just ask for Carol.
        She hadn't been what I expected. Her accent was English, odd slightly - some of the vowels over stressed, too deep - and I had formed an image in my mind of a short heavy woman, thirtyish, bleach-blonde and with perhaps a wart or mole on her upper lip tufty with hairs. She had been aggressive on the phone and this defect seemed appropriate. I arrived early and was ushered into an empty office. An Indian girl came in some minutes later, wet from having just come in from outside. Big heavy raindrops clattered against the windowpanes. She set a leather case down on a big teak desk, and I stood and turned to the door, thinking that this meant Carol was about to arrive.
        "Mr. Newby?" the girl said. She smoothed down her hair with the palm of one hand and held the other hand out to be shaken. It was clammy with rainwater and shaking it seemed to release her perfumes, as if she was some exotic flower exhaling its heavy, cloying sweetness. "I'm Carol Lal," she said. "Please, sit down. I've got your son's file here somewhere, just give me a moment." She began rooting about in the drawers of the desk.
        She was younger than I had thought, twenty-something, without the mole and slender, elegant. She was wearing a sari of green silk boldly patterned with gold shapes. Her face was small, childlike in a way, but there was a firm set to her jaw and her voice had gravity. Her accent made sense to me now. It had the same Anglo-Indian mixture as her name, faintly Midlands but with a certain roundness of tone, as if words were soft shapes meant to be moulded into pleasing forms. Death lost its sting when she couched it in her grave, gentle phrasing.
        "Was there something you specifically wanted?" she asked. "I noticed" - she had found the file, opened it, turned one or two pages - "you came to India after your son died? To collect the body?"
        "That's right."
        "It was an awful thing. We get deaths, quite regularly - more than you might think, actually - but rarely anything like this. It must have been dreadful for you when it happened."
        "It's still dreadful," I said.
        "Yes. Yes, of course it must be." She pushed her lips together in a strangely pouty expression of sympathy. She shut the folder and pushed it across to me. "There's actually not very much there," she said. "Usually we don't allow the general public to look through our files, but I browsed through it yesterday and to be honest, it's very spare, probably not at all what you wanted. May I ask why you wanted to see it?"
        I fingered the pages of the file. Now that I had access to it I wondered why I had wanted to see it in the first place.
        I said, "It was very distressing, at the time. Most of what I was told went straight out of my head." But not, I thought, all of what I was told. Not the worst parts - not the most painful.

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