She did not leave him floundering. “I’ll call on her again,” she said gently. “We used to be friends. I shall see if I can gain her confidence sufficiently to find out something more.”

“Will you. . will you please keep me. .” He did not want to say “advised.” Sometimes he was aware of being pompous. At his best he could laugh at himself. This time he was afraid of being ridiculous, and of alienating her as well.

“Of course I will,” she said firmly. “I would rather be able to tell you simply that she had made a rather unlikely friend of whom she thought you might disapprove, and so she did not tell you.”

“Am I so. .”

She made herself smile. “Well, I haven’t seen the friend. Perhaps she’s very eccentric, or has fearfully common manners.”

He blinked suddenly. “Yes. . perhaps. .”

The clerk came to the door and said apologetically that Mr. Latterly’s next client was still waiting. Hester excused herself, walking out into the street and the busy traffic, the errand boys, the bankers in their dark suits, the carriages with harnesses gleaming in the sun, a sense of oppression closing in on her.


Hester was clearing away the dishes after luncheon and had just put the last one into the sink when the front doorbell rang. She allowed Monk to answer it, hoping it might be a new client. Also, she was wet up to the elbows and disliked doing dishes quite enough not to have to make two attempts at it.

She heard Monk’s step across the floor and the door open, then several moments of silence. She had dried the first plate and was reaching for the second when she was aware of Monk standing in the kitchen doorway. She looked around at him.

His face was so grave it startled her. The clean, hard lines of it were bleak. The light shone on his cheekbones and brow; his eyes were shadowed.

“What is it?” she said with a gulp of fear. It was more than a new case, however tragic. It was something that touched them in the heart. “William?”

He came a step further in. “Kristian Beck’s wife has been murdered,” he answered so quietly that whoever was waiting in the sitting room would not have heard him.

She was stunned. It hardly seemed believable. She had a picture in her mind of a thin, middle-aged woman, lonely and angry, perhaps attacked by a thief in the street.

“Does Callandra know?” She asked the thing that was of most importance to her, even before Kristian himself.

“Yes. She’s come to tell us.”

“Oh.” She put down the towel, her thoughts whirling. She was sorry anyone should be dead, but no matter how ashamed she was of it, her imagination leaped ahead to a time when Kristian would feel free to marry Callandra. It was indecent. . but it was there.

“She’d like to see you,” Monk said quietly.

“Yes, of course.” She went past him into the sitting room and immediately saw Callandra in the center of the floor, still standing. She appeared bereaved, as if something had happened which she could not begin to understand. She smiled when she saw Hester, but it was a matter of friendship and without any pleasure at all. Her eyes were bright and frightened.

“Hester, my dear,” she said shakily. “I’m so sorry to call at such a silly time of the afternoon, but I have just heard dreadful news, as I expect William has told you.”

Hester went to her and took both Callandra’s hands in her own, holding them gently. “Yes, he did. Kristian’s wife has been killed. How did it happen?”

Callandra’s fingers tightened over hers and held her surprisingly hard. “No one really knows yet. She was found this morning in the studio of the artist Argo Allardyce. He was painting a portrait of her.” Her brow puckered faintly, as if she found it difficult to believe. “The cleaning woman came and found them. . both. .”

“Both?” Hester said with a catch in her breath. “You mean the artist as well?” It seemed incredible.

“No. . no,” Callandra said quickly. “Mrs. Beck and the artists’ model Sarah Mackeson.”

“You mean Allardyce killed them both?” Hester was struggling to make sense of it. “Yesterday afternoon? Why?”

Callandra looked totally confused. “No one knows. There was nobody there from midday until this morning. It could have happened at any time.”

“She would not have a sitting in the evening,” Hester replied. “He wouldn’t paint after the light was gone.”

Callandra colored faintly. “Oh no, of course not. I’m sorry. It’s ridiculous how deeply it shocks one when it is someone connected, however. .”

Monk came in from the kitchen. “The kettle is boiling,” he told Hester.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” Callandra said with a tight little laugh. “You can make a cup of tea, William!”

He stopped, perhaps realizing for the first time how close to hysteria she was.

Hester turned to him to see if he understood. She saw the flash of comprehension in his eyes, and left him to attend to tea. She looked at Callandra. “Sit down,” she directed, almost guiding her to the other chair. “Have you any idea why this Allardyce did such a thing?” Now that she was met with the necessity of thinking about it more rationally, she realized she knew nothing at all about Mrs. Beck.

Callandra made a profound effort at self-control. “I don’t know for certain that it was Allardyce,” she answered. “They were both found in his studio. Allardyce himself was gone.” Her eyes met Hester’s, pleading for some answer that would make it no more than a sadness far removed from them, like an accident in the street, tragic but not personal. But it was not possible. Whatever had happened, this would change their lives irrevocably simply by the violence of it.

Hester tried to think of something to say, but before she could, Monk came back into the room with tea on a tray. He poured, and they all sat in silence for a few moments, sipping the hot liquid and feeling it ease the clenched-up knots inside.

Callandra set her cup down and faced Monk with more composure. “William, she and this other woman were murdered. It is sure to be very ugly and distressing, no matter how it happened. Dr. Beck will be involved because he is. . was her husband.” She picked up her tea once more, but her hand wobbled a trifle and she set the cup down again before she spilled it. “There are bound to be a lot of questions, and not all of them will be kind.” Her face looked extraordinarily vulnerable, almost bruised. “Please. . will you do what you can to protect him?”

Hester turned to look at Monk also. He had left the police force with extreme ill feeling between himself and his superior. One could debate whether he had resigned or been dismissed. Asking him to involve himself in a police matter was requiring of him a great deal. Yet both he and Hester owed Callandra more than was measurable in purely practical terms, regardless of loyalty and affection, which would in themselves have been sufficient. She had given them unquestioning friendship regardless of her own reputation. In lean times she had discreetly supported them financially, never referring to it or asking anything in return but to be included.

Hester saw the hesitation in Monk’s face. She drew breath in to say something that would urge him to accept. Then she saw that he was going to, and was ashamed of herself for having doubted him.

“I’ll go to the station concerned,” he agreed. “Where were they found?”

“Acton Street,” Callandra replied, relief quick in her voice. “Number twelve. It’s a house with an artist’s studio on the top floor.”

“Acton Street?” Monk frowned, trying to place it.

“Off the Gray’s Inn Road,” Callandra told him. “Just beyond the Royal Free Hospital.”

Hester felt her mouth go dry. She tried to swallow, and it caught in her throat.

Monk was looking at Callandra. His face was blank, but the muscles in his neck were pulled tight. Hester knew that the studio must be in Runcorn’s area, and that Monk would have to approach him if he were to involve himself. It was an old enmity going back to Monk’s first days on the force. But whatever he felt about that now, he masked it well. He was already bending his mind to the task.

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