Actions

Work Header

Five Things That Occurred to Harry Vane During the Curious Case of Paul Alexis

Work Text:

1) That Relationships Were Probably Not A Viable Option, Considering Everything

Harry Vane sat in the grand lounge of The Resplendent, diagnosing unhappiness.

It was not difficult. There were a number of truly foolish older men clinging with vain desperation to their youth; mostly drinking heavily at the bar and sweating jocularly through their best suits. Some were on the dancefloor, red-faced and irritable with the demands of the steps. He noted how the new style for bustle dresses caused something of an embarrassing impediment to easy movement on the floor -- their callow athleticism long since gone, they were not quick enough on their feet to avoid minor collisions and entanglements. They panted and grinned through it, no doubt conscious of the expenses mandated for this holiday -- all effort must be expended in keeping cheerful on this second honeymoon, this long-promised treat, this sop to domestic happiness.

Near to them whirled the professional dancers, young and handsome with delicate features and light, careful hands resting on the waists of the beaming wives. What were their tragedies? Here, a drinking problem, Harry thought, considering the tremor in one man’s fingertips and frequent glances towards the bar (none of these men would dare ruin the line of their trousers with a hip-flask). There, simple poverty and a maddeningly slow and uncertain path to financial freedom. Harry watched attentively, and thought he detected, in a smiling man of Gallic address, a contemptuous glance at a gold-embossed spectacle case. Hiding jealousy, he thought. These were straightforward cases, mostly rooted in family disharmony and estrangement. And it would be dimwitted of him to assume that any of these graceful, charming men were . . . of his sort. Likely they spent their nights in the beds of the single women who flocked to such hotels, bored and lonely.

Philip had left behind him a trail of such women, hopeful and pathetic. He had encompassed a kind of masculinity, health and vibrant appeal that positively enchanted a particular brand of London girls with soulful eyes and artistic ambitions. Harry remembered several evenings at their cocktail place in Shoreditch, where Philip would hold court with his literary intimates. There would be some smart girl -- or woman -- eager to join in the discussion, trying to catch Philip’s eye and talk knowledgeably about George Meredith, or Joseph Conrad, or Ford Madox Ford. And Philip would smile encouragingly at her, but press Harry’s hand underneath the table, or slyly mutter to him one of their in-jokes, in the face of her confusion.

It did no good to think of all that now, Harry told himself. And anyway, wasn’t it beastly arrogant to assume that those women had talked about books solely to attract Philip? Wasn’t that the kind of ugly, jealous reasoning that Harry thought he had shed, in leaving the man?

He took another sip of his wine and refocused. He was hardly here to gaze at the male dancers. What would be useful right now was some insight into the richly dressed ladies. He was aware that few of the other novelists he called friends had much interest in writing believable women; his publisher certainly did not, and sighed over Harry’s choice to make his detective figure a female character. Miss Roberta Templeton . . . and yet she was well-received, he was selling well.

He must get these details right. Lounging back a little further in his chair, maintaining a relaxed posture, his ears were strained to catch the conversation of the matrons in the table behind his. They were talking about their servants; some censorious and self-pitying remarks. Was anybody here having a good time?

Apart from him, anyway. He had a corpse on the beach to investigate and a novel to finish; what more could he ask for?

 

2) That Following in Lord Peter’s Train Could Be Quite Irritating, Actually, For A Variety Of Reasons

“Mrs Weldon could have had nothing to do with it!” Harry said indignantly. “Murder Paul Alexis? Even if he had thrown her over, which there is no evidence of, the thing’s ridiculous.”

Inspector Umpelty was saying something predictable about ‘a woman scorned’. Harry, provoked, opened his mouth to refute such baseless generalizations, but was checked by Peter’s interposing himself into the argument.

“In any case,” he said persuasively, “we can agree that murder is becoming a more likely prospect for Cause of Death? Taking into account the condition of the Flat-Iron and that fishing boat unaccountably pulling out of the bay as Henry came upon the body?”

The Inspector looked unconvinced.

“And of course,” Peter continued imperturbably, “the curious razor, which came upon the scene in such a mysterious way -- for there is no evidence that it was ever owned by Alexis.”

“That was a nice bit of detective work you did, my lord,” said the Inspector, nodding respectfully. “Tracking down that razor through all those shops and people in London. Very neat, it was.” Turning to Harry: “It must be a valuable experience for you, young man, to learn from his lordship.”

Harry smiled pleasantly, teeth visible. “I feel honoured.” Next to him, and not quite in his eyeline, he thought he saw Peter wince.

“He would be some kind of protege of yours, I take it?” Umpelty continued, mildly.

“Not at all, my good man! Henry is a writer, foremost, and his literary gifts are his own, though naturally aided by a keen mind for criminal investigation.”

Harry privately thought that Peter was putting it on a bit thick, and there was no call for him to be interfering in this way, or even to be here at all, blast him. “We need to identify the fishing boat, and its occupants,” he said firmly, trying to put things back on the proper track.

They talked, and listened, and argued for another half an hour about the ins and outs of the case. The Inspector maintained that it was suicide, and unfortunately had quite a bit of evidence to back this up; against which, Harry had only some fairly convoluted theories about the murderer hiding his footprints by approaching the victim through the surf. It felt weak, to his own ears. Eventually, Harry and Peter left the station, and walked moodily back to the hotel.

At least, Harry was in a pretty foul mood. Peter seemed as cheerful and nonchalant as he ever did, strolling through the provincial village as if it were the streets of Soho and he were on an evening pleasure-jaunt. Harry listened to him expositing on possible reasons for why Alexis had burnt his papers, and wondered how exactly the investigation had been taken out of his hands. It was him who had found the body, after all. He could have managed the business by himself.

They regained the secluded drawing-room of The Resplendent. While Peter called for tea, Harry doggedly took out his notebook and began filling it with all of the details that Inspector Umpelty had imparted that afternoon. The boarding-house room, the papers, the three hundred pounds that had gone missing . . . he sketched a few questions to ask Mrs Weldon at the next opportunity, and rubbed his forehead, frustrated.

“A decent day’s work, was it not?” Peter asked brightly, setting a cup of tea at Harry’s elbow, with irritatingly domestic helpfulness.

“There was some useful material at the Grinders,” Harry agreed, but doubtfully. “I’m still not happy about the idea that someone swam out to the shore to commit a murder, and then back to the boat. It seems fanciful. But at least we have a fixed time of death, now.”

He blushed slightly as he said it, remembering again his utter stupidity in not realizing the significance of the blood. He knew about blood, he had seen corpses before. Call him a writer of detective fiction! The seaside holiday must have knocked some of the sense out of his head, or he would have seen it at once.

Reclining gracefully in a chaise longue next to him, Peter gave him a measured glance, as if to say: I know what you’re thinking about. Possibly a speech of gentle reassurance was incipient. Harry sought about for some way to forestall it.

“I prefer to be called Harry,” he said crossly, frowning down at his notes and wondering if he needed to draw another timeline.

“I prefer it too,” said Peter lightly, tapping one elegant foot on the wooden floorboards. Harry wished he would remain still for five minutes at a time. I will not ask him what he means by that, he told himself, refusing to look up at the slim figure next to him.

The foot-tapping continued, soft but penetrating. He endured it for approximately another eight minutes while they read over their respective notebooks, and then, with a sudden impulse, Harry reached out his hand and grasped Peter’s thigh. The tapping stopped. The material of his trousers was fine and thin; he could feel the warmth of his skin through the fabric. Harry looked up and into the other man’s eyes.

“It is something I would like to keep to myself,” murmured Peter, sharp and languid all at the same time. “Henry in public perhaps, but Harry at . . . other times.”

Harry inhaled deeply, thinking that this was really something that needed to stop happening now. I don’t care why Peter is here, he thought, and knew that he was lying.

Peter was still watching him, still sharp but with a slightly rueful cast to his countenance. “It is only a foolish fancy of mine,” he said dismissively, smiling with what Harry detected as a touch of graciousness. He felt unbearably young and stupid in that moment. His hand was still on Peter’s leg and he removed it, determined not to drop his eyes, and willing himself to get a grip.

“You can do as you like,” he said a little coldly.

They did not speak again for another ten minutes.

“I don’t believe you have met my sister,” Peter said chattily.

Harry had been perusing Umpelty’s information on the traffic survey, and looked up, confused.

“She is married to Chief Inspector Parker, of Scotland Yard.”

“I remember him,” Harry said drily. He had, in fact, exchanged a few words with the Chief Inspector after the second trial was over. The man had made a surprisingly frank apology about the wrongful arrest, imprisonment, and near-execution of Harry’s innocent person, which was more than he had received from the rest of the police force. He had rather liked him, or as much as one can like anyone who was doing their best to hang you mere days previously.

“. . . yes,” said Peter cautiously. “I daresay. There was a great deal of fuss over the affair, you know. Charles was wildly incapable of coming to the point on the subject. I was forced, as his devoted friend, to put up with all this unhappy stoicism and manly reserve on his part, and frustrated feelings of ‘damn all these conventions anyway’ on my sister’s, and me, stuck in the middle like the proverbial fool.”

“Distressing,” said Harry, apprehensive of what was coming.

“I feel like a bit of a simpleton now,” Peter admitted. “It all seemed so straightforward -- he loves her, she loves him, bring on the white spats and wedding feast, ring the church bells. Why not? Charles was caught up in the idea that he would be bringing Mary down by proposing to her: different social classes and all that rot, which I maintain it is. But he wasn’t wrong about . . . I believe that one needs to know where one stands in a relationship like that, and to know that you are -- both -- on equal footing.”

He ended a little self-consciously, Harry thought. It was a good speech. He appreciated it in the abstract, although just at this moment he mostly felt irritated that this man had intruded himself into his holiday, his hotel, and his murder investigation, just to go on making ridiculously heartfelt professions at him.

He wanted to shout a little. But they were in the drawing-room of an upmarket hotel in a quiet little seaside town and he did not have the right words to express how much he liked--loved--hated--resented-- Peter for being here. He took a breath.

“I agree,” he said noncommittally, and focused his eyes back onto his page of notes.

For the rest of the night, try as he might to focus on the case, he thought about Peter’s breathtakingly candid adoration, that had come so suddenly and unexpectedly into his life. He thought about embarking on something quite different to what he had had with Philip, and told himself that he didn’t want any of it. He imagined that he still felt the heat of Peter’s leg under his hand, and wondered what it would be like to have him whisper Harry into his ear.

 

3) That It Wasn’t Always Irritating, But That Did Not Mean That It Was Entirely Lovely, Either

“We’re going to have to do something else about Weldon.”

“He doesn’t like you,” Peter agreed, affably. “Terrible taste, that man.”

“He more than doesn’t like me. It was made clear today, after my lunch with Mrs Weldon. He thinks I’m angling for the position of replacement suitor, and am burrowing my way into her affections with sympathetic listening and heroic detective work on behalf of the last paramour.”

“It would be a neat way to do the thing, if that was what you were after,” Peter observed. He had an inviting, cordial note in his voice that begged Harry to see the funny side of being threatened by an angry potential murderer for supposedly making love to his aged mother.

Well, actually. Harry grinned. It was a pretty ludicrous position to be in, at that.

“His suspicions are backfiring on him,” he remarked, sliding into his chair as Peter seated himself at the other side of the table and began fiddling with the menu. “While he’s glaring daggers and making some rather unsubtle threats to my person, he’s neglecting entirely the industrious Antoine, last heard of charming poor Mrs Weldon with his less-than-robust physique and sensitive manner.”

Peter raised his eyebrows and ordered drinks from the hovering waiter. “Somewhat previous, considering the inquest into Alexis’ death has not yet been held. Still, to business. Let us examine the facts, as they say. We know that Mr Henry Weldon had a considerable interest in putting Alexis out of the way of collecting the £30,000 that Mrs Weldon would have bestowed on her inamorata.”

“Does he need the money? We know that he’s in debt?”

Peter waved his hand casually. “I am not yet in reception of all the necessary information on Master Weldon’s farm and its associated financial incumbrances. But it seems more than likely.”

“And we know that he is Haviland Martin--”

“Snake tattoos and all.”

“And therefore was wandering around the vicinity of the murder, the day of the murder, and had taken considerable pains to disguise his appearance and identity. And had strong motivation to do away with Alexis.”

“The curtain lifts! And the murderer is revealed.”

“Possibly,” said Harry, dissatisfied. “There’s still the problem of Mrs Morecambe’s alibi, always assuming that she’s not in on it as well. And how Weldon got to and from the Grinders in that time, without leaving any trace of his presence; oh, all right, except for that horseshoe,” he added hastily, seeing that Peter was about to make a comment.

Peter was evidently amused. “You distrust the evidence of the horseshoe?”

Harry shrugged, a little discomfited. “It seems a beastly silly thing to do -- ride a horse up and down a beach to commit a murder. What if the animal had refused to do it?”

“They don’t, as a rule, if the rider knows his business.” He was undeniably finding this funny. Of course he had probably grown up being as comfortable riding horses as walking. “I imagine Henry Weldon rides well. Did you get a chance to discuss horses?”

“No, I told you. He would as soon spit on me as answer any questions of mine.”

Harry felt discouraged. He had made several attempts now to get information out of Weldon, and failed miserably. He drank the wine, not tasting it. Peter might have done the thing more neatly.

“If he tries it, I will push his teeth in,” remarked Peter companionably.

“Idiot,” said Harry. Then he paused, drumming two fingers on the table. “What if we make use of this? His dislike of me, I mean.”

He pondered the problem for another few moments, revolving the matter in his head. It seemed like a decent chance. Across the table, Peter sat watching him, silent and unblinking.

“If I-- I could step up my little chats with Mrs Weldon, and in company with her impassioned son. Weldon must be pretty suspicious by now of our discovering his guilt in the matter, and if he also thinks I’m going to cut him out of the money--”

“A little far-fetched,” Peter said, not smiling now. He rose gracefully from the table, leaving several coins in the tray, which Harry hastily added to from the sum in his pockets. “Shall we?” He gestured elegantly, with his usual foppish affectation, but Harry had the impression that he was feeling far from playful.

They walked out into the evening air, Harry half a step behind, embarrassed. They had crossed over to the lane near the Wilvercombe green and passed under the branches of the laurel tree, when he decided to try again. Damn Peter for being so condescending, anyway.

“I know I can make him become quite angry. He has a temper, and he doesn’t seem that intelligent; what if he were to start threatening me in earnest? If I can get him to slip up about the alibi, or give up any information about his movements that afternoon, wouldn’t it be worth it?”

“He might not be as slow-witted as all that. It might be a case of a very clever man pretending to be a very stupid one.”

Harry was not listening. “Or even if he does try to carry through on his threats! The murderer is always more careless in his actions when trying to kill off the witnesses, or, I suppose, the interfering detectives. In the books, anyhow,” he finished, feeling light with anticipation. This could work, this could give them something.

Ahead of him, Peter stopped and turned neatly on his heel. “Loath as I am to put a stopper in your bright little plan and its merry disregard for the possibility of you getting murdered--”

“You thought the idea was amusing, earlier,” said Harry, drily.

Peter ignored this. He looked angry. “It serves nothing to antagonize Weldon further. Even if the man is a fool, he knows we are his enemies, and will guard himself carefully. Were you to rouse him to a frenzy, we would not gain any new information, and could risk everything, you reckless idiot.”

Harry tried to break in. “Peter--”

“No, I refuse to order any man into this action! I mean . . . “ he stopped, paling. “I will not let you--” he broke off, and winced visibly.

Harry stood for a moment, thinking. He looked Peter in the face and said clearly, “I was in the war as well.”

“I know,” said Major Wimsey, quietly.

“Joined up in February of 1918, as soon as I was old enough to be enlisted. My war record isn’t as impressive as yours--”

The other man flinched.

“But there was work to be done, and I did it, to the best of my ability.”

“You make it sound so clean.”

“That’s a bloody stupid thing to say!”

“I know, I know.” Peter stepped away, running a pale hand through slightly thinning hair. He looked distracted, off-balance. Harry thought: it’s nice to know that he can be affected like that. And: at least I am calm. Then he realized that he was unconsciously standing at parade rest.

He shifted his weight onto his left foot, and crossed his arms across his chest. “We need Weldon to break. Do you think I can’t do it, or do you think it wouldn’t work?”

Peter still looked unresolved. “I can get him, Harry,” he said. “Given more time, I can find the holes in the alibi, or make Bright slip up. It’s a devilish tricky case, but I can get him.”

Harry heroically resisted saying something asinine like ‘not before I get him first’.

“Don’t be angry with me,” Peter said.

“I’m not,” Harry said, and found to his curiosity that he did not feel angry, just a little tired. And that he rather liked the way Peter was looking at him, in the soft, dappled light of dusk in late summer.

“Being in love is hell on my restraint,” he said, sheepishly. “I feel like I’m always stumbling and foolish, around you.”

I can relate, Harry thought, and then immediately pretended that he hadn’t thought that. He took a breath -- was about to speak, when:

“My lord!”

Constable Ormond was bounding up the path, face aglow with excitement. “Inspector Umpelty wants you, my lord. We’ve found the body!”

 

4) That Lord Peter’s Mother Was An Interesting, If Not Especially Relaxing, Companion For Afternoon Tea

“I must say, I approve of your Roberta’s method of organizing information.”

Harry smiled faintly. “The lists?” He thought: if my detective were a male character, would people describe him as ‘Robert’? The familiar manner in which we appropriate female characters, from Lizzy Bennet to Jo March. Even women did it. If I hadn’t created Roberta, would I have noticed?

I can call her that, he thought defensively. She’s mine.

The Dowager Duchess was still chatting away, seemingly oblivious of his inattention. Apparently she had a number of disparaging things to say about contemporary detective fiction; mostly observations that Harry agreed with, and would really have longed to make to the authors themselves. But he was still new on the scene and could hardly make himself obnoxious to the men who had been part of London literary society for so many years.

He felt warmed that this slightly eccentric woman was criticizing them for him. She was coming back to Roberta Templeton’s habit of listing all pertinent information about a case in columns labelled Things to be Noted and Things to be Done.

“The one attribute which women rarely get credited with, I’m afraid, is methodical thinking.” The Dowager Duchess nodded ruminatively, wrapping three fingers delicately around the little porcelain cup. “So sad. And how can it not get carried over into the type of work that women can pick up, even in this modern world? Those poor creatures in the paper, with their determined faces, having such clear goals and strong opinions, and not getting anywhere at all -- what was I saying? My son Peter, you know, has employed for years this dear thing Miss Climpson, such a treasure and quite a sharp thinker, with the disguises and playacting at being a medium -- for he tells me all about his cases, except for those thingummies which a mother perhaps shouldn’t really know. But good old use of the brain so rarely shows up in the books, and so how will girls learn? I suppose it is not considered a particularly feminine virtue.”

Again, Harry couldn’t argue very much with that one. He decided to have a go anyway. Damned if he was just going to let this woman discuss his field of work without making some input of his own.

“It is true that the female character is more notable for her openly expressed emotions.” For God’s sake. He sounded like a pompous Oxford lecturer, even to his own ears. Clearing his throat, he tried again. “But the rational woman is not a new idea. How about Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall? The woman -- Helen -- has an almost scientific approach to questions of motherhood, alcoholism, her own failed marriage . . .”

He continued in this vein for a little while, gathering confidence with the familiar patter of educated literary discussion. The Dowager Duchess replaced the teacup in its saucer with a precise little movement, picked up and bit into a small biscuit, swallowed, brushed crumbs from her hand with a napkin, and ruthlessly broke in on the flow.

“And in detective fiction?” she asked. “I read quite a lot myself; something of a game, to try and guess the murderer, which I suppose everyone does. Must become a little tedious for the writer -- but curiously free of women characters except as things to shriek or faint or get stabbed several times, or not understand what’s going on in their own story, which is probably worse.”

Harry felt unsure. “There’s Irene Adler,” he offered, casting his mind back through the pantheon. “Her fame survives quite tidily with that of the Great Detective and his sidekick. I believe Morrison even wrote a piece about her in the Daily Gazette a month ago, calling her the unsung queen of detective fiction. But of course--”

“She’s hardly unsung, with these tributes,” the Dowager Duchess finished for him, beaming.

Harry was forcibly put in mind of a schoolteacher from his prep days, recognizing a surprisingly bright remark from a usually dimwitted student.

“Marian Halcombe!” he said suddenly, with a rush of relief. “The Woman in White.”

“I always liked her,” the Dowager Duchess said confidentially.

“And yet -- perhaps she is best characterized as decisive, rather than methodical. How was it put . . .”

Harry was not quite sure what was happening here. An hour earlier he had been searching up and down Shaftesbury Avenue for the names of theatrical managers. Peter had hared off on another track after receiving an oblique communication from Bunter, saying that he trusted Harry would find out the mysterious provenance of Miss Olga Kohn’s photograph. He had made quite an exhaustive list of names, and was about to concentrate his search at the north end of the street.

Only to be brought up short on the pavement outside The Clarendon Hotel by a smile, a hand on his arm, and a voice of quite undeniable if pleasant command. The Dowager Duchess of Denver, whom he remembered quite well from the trial, had simply come alongside him like a pirate ship boarding a rich vessel, and borne him off to the small, elegant parlour of her hotel.

Against all expectation, she appeared to have wanted his company for no better purpose than to chat about writing books. He felt somewhat obscurely cheated of the proper interrogation. Perhaps she was waiting for him to start the business.

He began elliptically. “My editor wants me to introduce a love-interest,” he volunteered.

“For Roberta? I can hardly be surprised, although it is a bit of a pity. Not much margin in the old maids solving crimes, much less doing anything else valuable to society, or at least, I take it this is the common view. And your Mrs Roberta Templeton is a widow, I know, but I suppose in the eyes of great masses it comes to the same thing; at least when a woman is young -- fairly young.”

“Exactly,” Harry said firmly, before the Dowager Duchess could get another word in. “It has been made clear to me that Mrs Templeton, being fairly young and somewhat good-looking, must have some kind of chap waiting in the wings. Decisive, calm, and willing to take the reins.”

The Dowager Duchess made a kind of face and took another sip of tea.

Harry grinned. “I told them no.”

“Rebellious!” commented the lady. She sounded approving, and a little amused.

“I don’t think she needs anyone,” Harry continued doggedly. “Her life is her own, and what she is making of it -- crime-solving, catching murderers, the whole works -- it’s all possible because she does it alone; because she has to. If there was someone else capable and intelligent standing behind her . . . it would all be ruined. How could he not take over?”

That seemed blatant enough.

Peter’s mother picked up another biscuit, and started to apply gooseberry jam with a little pearl-handled knife. She looked inquiring at him, as if to say, continue. He felt nervous for a moment that she didn’t understand, that they were talking at cross purposes, and maybe the whole blasted discussion really had been about no more than popular fiction.

He took a breath. “I value independence.”

It seemed so feeble in the context of the neat little breakfast parlour. But what else was there to say? She was a mother, she loved her son, she was aware of who he was and the things -- relationships -- he wanted, this was obvious and had been so for a while, from Peter’s loving, perceptive description of her. But things were what they were.

She broke the ensuing silence, as he had expected, by reverting to the subject of romance in fiction. I am relieved, he told himself.

“It would be nice to see women stepping out of that little pigeon-hole, narratively speaking, as the romanced, the love-interest. Will be nice, I mean, what with your books, and I’m sure there will be more to follow. Writers are doing such inventive things these days, so brainy and delightful, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to all the changes.”

Harry frowned. “In fiction.”

“‘Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners’ as the poet says. Or is she a poet? I can’t recall. But speaking as one who has lived through a considerable number of extraordinary changes, these past few years, oh my, and we’re not seeing the end of them; the world is whirling ahead at a fairly good old rate, and I don’t doubt that in the fullness of time, the role of love-interest will become quite a generous category, able to accommodate rather a lot of different notions. And people.”

She leaned forward and patted his hand, cosily. This sort of talk -- he had heard it before, usually from the kind of writers and artists who populated London’s more avant-garde quarters. It wasn’t an answer to anything he had to say. But it was reassuring to hear, and in any case, it was novel to hear it from the mother of a -- a potential -- love-interest.

He smiled, thinking of Peter kneeling in a rose-garden, mouthing conventional words of idiocy and devotion. She saw it, and smiled in return.

“Your life is your own,” she said, withdrawing your hand. “Let me just say that I will be watching your career with interest. And the best of luck to you.”

 

5) That If He Was Being Honest With Himself, This Was Something He Might Want, But Not Now

Harry rummaged around in his knapsack and pulled out, with a small sense of guilt, the manuscript of The Fountain Pen Mystery. He would have to cancel most of the planned holiday in order to get this done in time. The case of Paul Alexis, and Harry’s quite reasonable part in solving the murder, had done some good in the way of publicity and correspondingly greater tolerance on the part of his publisher in accepting late submissions. But there was such a thing as pride in one’s work, and he had been distracted for long enough.

His room at The Resplendent was paid for, his bags were packed. He desperately wanted to get out of the whole cloying unhappy mess of a place, and preferably never see Mrs Weldon and her extremely poor choices, ever again.

Down in the hall beyond the main staircase, a somewhat harried member of staff at the reception counter took his key and thanked him vaguely for the honour of his stay. The place was still heaving with journalists and ghoulish sightseers crowding in for the denouement of the story, with the arrest of Henry Weldon and the Morecambes. A beastly business, in the end.

Harry gratefully picked up his knapsack and walked out through the front door. Where to? The original plan, long wrecked, was to continue on up the coast, as long as the good weather lasted. He shuddered a bit, picturing the wide stretch of ocean and pebbly beaches that would accompany each leg of the trip. Would he be able to stop himself for looking for another body, throat cut open to the bone, left for the seagulls? It had been fun, in the beginning. Something about the end of the affair, and the sordid motivations of Mrs Weldon’s unrepentant son, lent a truly unpleasant odour to the whole thing. Best to get out of it completely, he thought.

“I say, this is rather hard.”

It was Peter, of course, strolling up the pavement to the hotel. Harry hefted his bag more thoroughly onto his shoulder and considered him. Well-turned out in a nice suit and new monocle, he looked almost exactly as he had done when breezing into Wilvercombe those weeks earlier, smoothly taking the reins of the case from his hands.

“If this is about saying that I was going to pack it in and head back to London,” he temporized, wondering what the end of this sentence was going to be, “I thought, best not.”

Peter looked hurt, but more in a theatrical way than anything else. “My dear fellow, I believed I held, joy of joys, your solemn promise to have dinner with me in Piccadilly this very evening. Have you not had enough of this place? Wouldn’t it be awfully nice to relax in a decent restaurant with a chap who’s really not as much of a fool as he may appear to be?”

Harry smiled. It was an attractive picture. He could imagine how entertaining Peter would be in the conversation, and how safe and cosy he might feel. And then he’d go home and finish the manuscript, and Peter would call again with another dinner invitation, or some other pleasing prospect for the evening -- theatre, opera, even one of his auctions. And he would sit and listen and be courted, and watch Peter pay extravagantly for a fifteenth century copy of The Prick of Conscience, because he was willing to put a lot of time, and money, and effort, into the things he loved.

Make a choice, he told himself. Do the thing properly, if you’re going to do it at all.

“I will,” he said carefully, and then quickly, before Peter could brighten too perceptibly, “but not now.”

The other man did nothing for a moment, and then nodded ruefully. “I thought it might be something like that,” he said, with a semblance of cheer. “But -- at some point?”

Harry thought hard about exactly how much he was prepared to give up. “In two months,” he answered, “my novel will be off at the publishers, and I can start working on the next one. I have some ideas already.” He smiled, thinking about a story that was slowly taking shape about smart, modern women working in an advertising agency. Maybe Roberta could meet a kindred spirit there.

“How exquisitely exciting,” Peter smiled, looking happier. “In two months time, then, would you like to have someone to bounce ideas off? Perhaps in a place where they serve decent food and maybe even a few cocktails?”

Harry grinned, and held out his hand, for Peter to clasp it in one of his own. “It’s a date,” he promised.