“How did you hear about it so soon?” he asked Callandra.

“Kristian told me,” she replied. “We had a hospital meeting this afternoon, and he had to cancel it. He asked me to make his excuses.” She swallowed, her tea ignored.

“She can’t have been home all night,” he went on. “Wasn’t he concerned for her?”

She avoided his eyes very slightly. “I didn’t ask him. I. . I believe they led separate lives.”

As a friend, he might not have pressed the matter-it was delicate-but when he was in pursuit of truth neither his mind nor his tongue accepted boundaries. He might hate probing an area he knew would cause pain, but that had never stopped him. He could be as ruthless with the dark mists of the memory within himself, and he knew with bone-deep familiarity just how that hurt. He had had to piece together the shards of his own past before the accident. Some of them were full of color, others were dark, and to look at them cost all the courage he had.

“Where was he yesterday evening?” he continued, looking at Callandra.

Her eyes opened wide, and Hester saw the fear in them. Monk must have seen it also. She looked as if she were about to say one thing, then cleared her throat and said something else. “Please protect his reputation, William,” she pleaded. “He is Bohemian, and although his English is perfect, he is still a foreigner. And. . they did not have the happiest of marriages. Don’t allow them to harass him or suggest some kind of guilt by innuendo.”

He did not offer her any false assurances. “Tell me something about Mrs. Beck,” he said instead. “What kind of woman was she?”

Callandra hesitated; a flicker of surprise was in her eyes, then gone again. “I’m not certain that I know a great deal,” she confessed uncomfortably. “I never met her. She didn’t involve herself with the hospital at all, and. .” She blushed. “I don’t really know Dr. Beck socially.”

Hester looked at Monk. If he found anything odd in Callandra’s answer there was no sign of it in his expression. His face was tense, eyes concentrated upon hers. “What about her circle of friends?” he asked. “Did she entertain? What were her interests? What did she do with her time?”

Now Callandra was definitely uncomfortable. The color deepened in her face. “I’m afraid I don’t know. He speaks of her hardly at all. I. . I gathered from something he said that she was away from home a great deal, but he did not say where. He mentioned once that she had considerable political knowledge and spoke German. But then, Kristian himself spent many years in Vienna, so perhaps that is not very surprising.”

“Was she Bohemian, too?” Monk asked quickly.

“No. . at least I don’t think so.”

Monk stood up. “I’ll go to the police station and see what I can learn.” His voice softened. “Don’t worry yet. It may be that the artists’ model was the intended victim, and only a tragic mischance that Mrs. Beck was also there at that moment.”

She made an effort to smile. “Thank you. I. . I know it is not easy for you to ask them.”

He shrugged very slightly, dismissing it, then put on his jacket, sliding it easily over his shoulders and pulling it straight. It was beautifully cut. Whatever his income, or lack of it, he had always dressed with elegance and a certain flair. He would pay his tailor even if he ate bread and drank water.

He turned in the doorway and gave Hester a glance from which she understood thoughts and feelings it would have taken minutes to explain, and then he was gone.

Hester bent her attention to Callandra and whatever comfort she could offer.

Monk disliked the thought of asking any favor of Runcorn even more than Callandra was aware. It was largely pride. It stung like a burn on the skin, but he could not possibly ignore either the duty, both moral and emotional, or the inner compulsion to learn the truth. The purity and the danger of knowledge had always fascinated him, even when it forced him to face things that hurt, stripped bare secrets and wounds. It was a challenge to his skill and his courage, and facing Runcorn was a price he never seriously thought too high.

He strode along Grafton Street down to Tottenham Court Road and caught a hansom for the mile or so to the police station.

During the ride he thought about what Callandra had told him. He knew Kristian Beck only slightly, but instinctively he liked him. He admired his courage and the single-mindedness of his crusade to improve medical treatment for the poor. He was gentler than Monk would have been, a man with patience and a broadness of spirit that seemed to be almost without personal ambition or hunger for praise. Monk could not have said as much for himself, and he knew it.

At the police station, he paid the driver and braced his shoulders, then walked up the steps and inside. The duty sergeant regarded him with interest. With a wave of relief for the present, Monk recalled how different walking into a station house had been the first time after the accident. Then it had been fear in the man’s face, an instant respect born of the experience of Monk’s lacerating tongue and his expectation that everyone should match his own standards, in precisely his way.

“Mornin’, Mr. Monk. What can we do for yer terday?” the sergeant said cheerfully. Perhaps with the passage of time he had grown in confidence. A good leader would have seen to that. But it was pointless regretting past inadequacies now.

“Good morning, Sergeant,” Monk replied. He had been thinking how to phrase his request so as to achieve what he wanted without having to beg. “I may possibly have some information about a crime which occurred late yesterday in Acton Street. May I speak with whoever is in charge of the investigation?” If he were fortunate it would be John Evan, one man of whose friendship he was certain.

“You mean the murders, o’ course.” The sergeant nodded sagely. “That’d be Mr. Runcorn ’isself, sir. Very serious, this is. Yer lucky as ’e’s in. I’ll tell ’im yer ’ere.”

Monk was surprised that Runcorn, the man in command of the station and who had not worked cases personally in several years, should concern himself with what seemed to be an ordinary domestic tragedy. Was he ambitious to solve something simple, and so be seen to succeed and take the credit? Or could the case be important in some way Monk could not foresee, and Runcorn dare not appear to be indifferent?

He sat down on the wooden bench, prepared for a long wait. Runcorn would do that simply to make very sure that Monk never forgot that he no longer had any status there.

However, it was less than five minutes before a constable came and took him up to Runcorn’s room, and that was disconcerting because it was not what he expected.

The room was exactly as it had always been, tidy, unimaginative, designed to impress with the importance of its occupant and yet failing, simply because it tried too hard. A man at ease with himself would have cared so much less.

Runcorn himself also was the same, tall with a long, narrow face, a little less florid than before, his hair grizzled and not quite so thick, but still handsome. He regarded Monk cautiously. It was as if they were catapulted back in time. All the old rivalries were just as sharp, the knowledge precisely where and how to hurt, the embarrassments, the doubts, the failures each wished forgotten and always saw reflected in the other’s eyes.

Runcorn looked up and regarded Monk steadily, his face very nearly devoid of expression. “Baker says you know something about the murders in Acton Street,” he said. “Is that right?”

Now was the time to avoid telling the slightest lie, even by implication. It would come back in enmity later on and do irreparable damage. And yet the whole truth was no use in gaining any cooperation from Runcorn. He was already tense, preparing to defend himself against the slightest insult or erosion of his authority. The years when Monk had mocked him with quicker thought and more agile tongue, an easier manner, lay an uncrossable gulf between.

Monk had racked his mind all the way there for something clever and true to say, and had arrived still without it. Now he was standing in the familiar surroundings of Runcorn’s office, and the silence was already too long. In truth, he knew no information about the murders in Acton Street, and anything he knew about Kristian Beck, and the relationship between himself and his wife, was likely to do more harm than good.

“I’m a friend of the family in Mrs. Beck’s case,” he said, and even as the words were on his tongue he realized how ridiculous and inadequate they were.

Runcorn stared at him, and for a moment his eyes were almost blank. He was weighing up what Monk had said, considering something. Monk expected a withering reply and braced himself for it.

“That. . could be helpful,” Runcorn said slowly. The words seemed forced from him.

“Of course. . it may be a simple case,” Monk went on. “I believe there was another woman killed as well. .” He was undecided whether to make that a question or a statement and it hung in the air unfinished.

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