A Dangerous Mourning
The second book in the William Monk series, 1991
“Good morning, Monk,' Runcorn said with satisfaction spreading over his strong, narrow features. His wing collar was a trifle askew and apparently pinched him now and again. 'Go over to Queen Anne Street. Sir Basil Moidore.' He said the name as though it were long familiar to him, and watched Monk's face to see if he registered ignorance. He saw nothing, and continued rather more waspishly. 'Sir Basil's widowed daughter, Octavia Haslett, was found stabbed to death. Looks like a burglar was rifling her jewelry and she woke and caught him.' His smile tightened. 'You're supposed to be the best detective we've got-go and see if you can do better with this than you did with the Grey case!'
Monk knew precisely what he meant. Don't upset the family; they are quality, and we are very definitely not. Be properly respectful, not only in what you say, how you stand, or whether you meet their eyes, but more importantly in what you discover.
Since he had no choice, Monk accepted with a look of bland unconcern, as if he had not understood the implications.
'Yes sir. What number in Queen Anne Street?'
'Number Ten. Take Evan with you. I daresay by the time you get there, there'll be some medical opinion as to the time of her death and kind of weapon used. Well, don't stand there, man! Get on with it!'
Monk turned on his heel without allowing time for Runcorn to add any more, and strode out, saying 'Yes sir' almost under his breath. He closed the door with a sharpness very close to a slam.
Evan was coming up the stairs towards him, his sensitive, mobile face expectant.
'Murder in Queen Anne Street.' Monk's irritation eased away. He liked Evan more than anyone else he could remember, and since his memory extended only as far back as the morning he had woken in the hospital four months ago, mistaking it at first for the poorhouse, that friendship was unusually precious to him. He also trusted Evan, one of only two people who knew the utter blank of his life. The other person, Hester Latterly, he could hardly think of as a friend. She was a brave, intelligent, opinionated and profoundly irritating woman who had been of great assistance in the Grey case. Her father had been one of the victims, and she had returned from her nursing post in the Crimea, although the war was actually over at that point, in order to sustain her family in its grief. It was hardly likely Monk would meet her again, except perhaps when they both came to testify at the trial of Menard Grey, which suited Monk. He found her abrasive and not femininely pleasing, nothing like her sister-in-law, whose face still returned to his mind with such elusive sweetness.
Evan turned and fell into step behind him as they went down the stairs, through the duty room and out into the street. It was late November and a bright, blustery day. The wind caught at the wide skirts of the women, and a man ducked sideways and held on to his top hat with difficulty as a carriage bowled past him and he avoided the mud and ordure thrown up by its wheels. Evan hailed a hansom cab, a new invention nine years ago, and much more convenient than the old-fashioned coaches.
'Queen Anne Street,' he ordered the driver, and as soon as he and Monk were seated the cab sped forward, across Tottenham Court Road, and east to Portland Place, Langham Place and then a dogleg into Chandos Street and Queen Anne Street. On the journey Monk told Evan what Runcorn had said.
'Who is Sir Basil Moidore?' Evan asked innocently.
'No idea,' Monk admitted. 'He didn't tell me.' He grunted. 'Either he doesn't know himself or he's leaving us to find out, probably by making a mistake.'
Evan smiled. He was quite aware of the ill feeling between Monk and his superior, and of most of the reasons behind it. Monk was not easy to work with; he was opinionated, ambitious, intuitive, quick-tongued and acerbic of wit. On the other hand, he cared passionately about real injustice, as he saw it, and minded little whom he offended in order to set it right. He tolerated fools ungraciously, and fools, in his view, included Runcorn, an opinion of which he had made little secret in the past.
Runcorn was also ambitious, but his goals were different; he wanted social acceptability, praise from his superiors, and above all safety. His few victories over Monk were sweet to him, and to be savored.
They were in Queen Anne Street, elegant and discreet houses with gracious facades, high windows and imposing entrances. They alighted, Evan paid the cabby, and they presented themselves at the servants' door of Number 10. It rankled to go climbing down the areaway steps rather than up and in through the front portico, but it was far less humiliating than going to the front and being turned away by a liveried footman, looking down his nose, and dispatched to the back to ask again.
'Yes?' the bootboy said soberly, his face pasty white and his apron crooked.
'Inspector Monk and Sergeant Evan, to see Lord Moi-dore,' Monk replied quietly. Whatever his feeling for Runcorn, or his general intolerance of fools, he had a deep pity for bereavement and the confusion and shock of sudden death.
'Oh-' The bootboy looked startled, as if their presence had turned a nightmare into truth. 'Oh-yes. Yer'd better come in.' He pulled the door wide and stepped back, turning into the kitchen to call for help, his voice plaintive and desperate. 'Mr. Phillips! Mr. Phillips-the p'lice is 'ere!'
The butler appeared from the far end of the huge kitchen. He was lean and a trifle stooped, but he had the autocratic face of a man used to command-and receiving obedience without question. He regarded Monk with both anxiety and distaste, and some surprise at Monk's well-cut suit, carefully laundered shirt, and polished, fine leather boots. Monk's appearance did not coincide with his idea of a policeman's social position, which was beneath that of a peddler or a costermonger. Then he looked at Evan, with his long, curved nose and imaginative eyes and mouth, and felt no better. It made him uncomfortable when people did not fit into their prescribed niches in the order of things. It was confusing.
'Sir Basil will see you in the library,' he said stiffly. 'If you will come this way.'' And without waiting to see if they did, he walked very uprightly out of the kitchen, ignoring the cook seated in a wooden rocking chair. They continued into the passageway beyond, past the cellar door, his own pantry, the still room, the outer door to the laundry, the housekeeper's sitting room, and then through the green baize door into the main house.
The hall floor was wood parquet, scattered with magnificent Persian carpets, and the walls were half paneled and hung with excellent landscapes. Monk had a flicker of memory from some distant time, perhaps a burglary detail, and the word
But now he must follow the butler, and train all his attention on learning the facts of this case. He must succeed, and without allowing anyone else to realize how much he was stumbling, guessing, piecing together from fragments out of what they thought was his store of knowledge. They must not guess he was working with the underworld connections any good detective has. His reputation was high; people expected brilliance from him. He could see that in their eyes, hear it in their words, the casual praise given as if they were merely remarking the