Walking alongside the mouldy canal on the deep summer afternoon Detective Constable Davies wondered what would happen if the water actually began to flow. A plastic beaker, itself gradually taking sips of filthy water, lolled on the thick surface. Eventually it would sink to the bottom to lie, possibly for ever, down there with ages of sunken rubbish. But if the canal began to move like even the most turgid of rivers, and all the canals in the country did likewise, starting up spontaneously and all at the same time, what a difference it would make to the country. He took a sniff.
Davies himself was not moving fast. He was bulky and well into middle age. He puffed as he trudged. It had been raining when he left his lodgings that morning and he was encumbered with his macintosh which he had to wear because his arms were occupied with two car batteries, stolen property found as he had expected, lying below one of the bridges. Not for the first time in his career he cursed criminals who stole heavy things.
Giant summer weeds, almost tropical, swollen green rhubarb and mad cabbage, burgeoned along the tow-path. Steam rose from the thicker growth drifting up to join noxious substances hanging in the north-west London air. There was a sort of yellow-ochre tinge to the clouds, something chemical trapped below them. Somebody ought to have painted the scene. Turner had been a dab hand at that sort of thing. Davies wondered whether anyone like Constable had visited Willesden. It would have been different then, though, real fields and bits of puffy woodland and little hills; hardly a copper or a crime in sight.
Although the canal did not flow, its route occasionally described a gentle bend. Shuffling around one of them Davies came upon as pretty a picture as he was likely to see that day. Against the urban grey and green a gypsy caravan was drawn up on the tow-path, a horse was foraging among the weeds for fragments of grass, and a huge black kettle was balancing and steaming on a camping gas stove. “Ma Daliloquay,” muttered Davies with a touch of pleasure. “South for the summer.”
An old lady in colour-blind clothes appeared at the caravan door. Davies had known the time when the caravan had been bright with paint and patterned around the frame, but it had faded since Fred Daliloquay had gone to gypsy paradise. That had been some funeral; the men had crazy races, riding half-wild horses through the industrial streets.