Into Death

Into Death
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Available NOW! 1st novella in the Miss Beale Writes series: The Dark Lord. A touch of gothic, a touch of mystery.
Currently Writing ~ Miss Beale Writes: a mini series of novellas with a gothic touch. Now Writing: The Captive in Green

Friday, July 23, 2021

Meet the Detective Inspector ~ *Portrait with Death*

 Murder needs a detective inspector, doesn't it? We have amateur sleuths Isabella and Flick. We also need someone in an "official" capacity.

That's Michael Wainwright, first introduced in Christmas with Death, returning now in Portrait with Death. He was a side character without much development in the earlier book. He becomes a primary character now.

from Chapter 3

Friday Evening, 27 February

Michael Wainwright did not normally dine with his superior on a Friday evening. A murder investigation solved that very morning, no new case to mull over, he’d been trapped into an affirmative when the chief inspector cornered him to be the spare man at a celebration. Since he liked Chief Inspector Malcolm and had no plans for the evening, he didn’t try too hard to winkle out of the invitation.

His tuxedo fit loosely. He hadn’t regained the three stone lost in the last years of the war, looking into the fanged maw of hell and surviving only by a screech of talons.

When he woke in the night, darkness surrounding him like a predator monster lurking silent and still, he would forget where he was, when he was. Then an automobile’s revving engine would filter from the street below or an ambulance’s clangor would peal distantly. He would remember he had returned to London. The next seconds reminded him the Armistice was signed, and most of the soldiers were demobilized. On those nights he thanked God and dropped back to sleep.

Malcolm offered to pick him up, but Michael refused, saying he would make his own way to the Fitzwilliam Victoria Hotel. He hopped a bus and was glad of his overcoat that hid his tuxedo from the workers heading home.

The hotel’s marble edifice flew international flags. The Fitzwilliam was beyond his monthly budget except for special occasions, but he had dined there enough to know to walk through the elaborate lobby to the frosted glass doors that led to an atrium and thence to the restaurant with its exclusive dining and dancing. The string orchestra played a foxtrot rather than the international tango gradually replacing it.

Subdued conversations flowed under the strings’ harmonies. An occasional flute created a counterpoint. Not for the Fitzwilliam the clarinet and brass.

He was early but recognized by the maître d’, a dour man who adopted the mien of a stiff butler.

“Mr. Wainwright, if you will follow me.” He walked the fringes of the dance floor to a long table in the corner. “Do you wish a highball or John Collins to start the evening?”

He avoided the proffered chair that set his back to the room. “Whiskey and soda, please. Forgive me, have we met?”

“On the occasion of a wedding, sir. You dined with the bride and groom. Last autumn, I believe. And Easter last, you escorted an elderly couple. The happy couple also attended that evening.”

He had treated his brother and new sister-in-law to a celebratory evening here at the Fitzwilliam. He didn’t hide his surprise at the maître d’s memory. His grandparents were the elderly couple. “You’ve an excellent memory.”

The man allowed a small smile. “Our guests to the Fitzwilliam change rarely, sir.” Then he faded away.

While he waited for his superior and the rest of the party, Michael watched the dancers and discretely examined at the other diners. The tables around the dance floor were for couples, with tables for four and six farther back, and larger tables widely spaced behind columns.

A flash of red silhouetted against somber black caught his eye. He watched a couple taking a table behind a column. The woman wore the red, a dress that looked demure until she turned her back and he saw an expanse of pale skin above the draped back. The waiter drew out her chair, sitting her behind the marble column so that he had the barest look at her pretty face and dark hair, bobbed but not crimped as so many women did now. The man looked familiar. Michael caught an edge of trouble associated with his memory of the man.

A waiter delivered his drink. Sipping it, he reminded himself that the day was done, labor ceased. He could shed his role as an investigator. Tonight, his chief had cast him into the role of the charming Spare Man.

Chief Inspector Malcolm arrived, led by the maître d’. Malcolm escorted his wife. A lone woman followed then came three other couples, all chattering. He would be Spare Man for the unescorted woman. She wore one of the shapeless styles that were becoming popular, feminized with swirling embroidery that reminded him of India.

Michael stood and greeted them. He bothered to remember last names only, including the single woman’s. His job as a detective inspector had built his memory for names. He had to shift down table, away from the couple being celebrated, but that gave him a better view of the woman in red. Attractive rather than beautiful, he judged, her waif look imparted by her bobbed hair. She smiled as she responded to her escort’s conversation, smiled when the waiter delivered a sidecar to her and a highball to the man. Yet she kept looking around the dining room, as if she looked for someone.

He needed to focus on his own party, but his subconscious kept watch. He knew the instant the man stood, coming around to draw out the woman’s chair. They joined the couples gathering for another foxtrot. The man spoke. Her expression appeared frozen, without its earlier animation.

“Enjoy dancing, Wainwright?” his chief asked.

“Sir, no, sir. Not my thing, especially now.”

“No?” the single woman queried. Mrs. Pomphrey. Margaret, Margret, Margot, something like that. A widow. “Did you suffer an injury in the war, Mr. Wainwright? You seem healthy now.”

Margot Pomphrey, he remembered. “No injury,” he confessed. “I’ve turned stodgy since the war. My sergeant despairs of me.”

“Yet you were watching the dancing. Or the dancers. Has someone caught your eye?”

“Actually, I wondered if the Fitzwilliam had moved into the new decade and would shock us all with the Tango. They’ve tamed the Foxtrot, I see.”

The comment earned muted laughter and turned conversation from him to dancing.

The celebratory couple joined the next dance. Michael felt honorbound to ask Mrs. Pomphrey to dance, and she accepted with an alacrity that kept him distant on the dance floor.

The young woman and her escort had returned to their table. The waiter had presented the entrée. As the evening progressed, the couple received their services more quickly than Michael’s table did. Yet the number of times that they danced kept their progress through the dinner at a similar pace.

Mrs. Pomphrey rattled on about after-parties. He listened with half an ear and waited for his glimpses of the dark brunette. He had no hope that he would ever meet her. She would not deign to enter his local pub or dine at the humble restaurants he frequented. He rarely ventured into the society to which the Fitzwilliam Victoria catered.

Their worlds were far apart.

Yet he found himself lingering at the restaurant’s entrance as the party dispersed for the evening. The chief expressed his appreciation for Michael playing Spare Man. He clapped Michael on the shoulder. His wife said, “Margot enjoyed the evening. Your idea was brilliant, my dear.” Then she patted her husband’s chest and clattered through the atrium to the hotel’s lobby.

His chief hesitated, as if he knew he needed to say more. Michael quickly said, “Thank you for the invitation and dinner, sir. I will see you on Monday.” That put him back in lower status, and Malcolm nodded and followed his wife.

He lingered a few minutes longer, giving the others time to collect their checked evening wraps while their automobiles were brought to the entrance.

The maître d’ appeared. “Sir. Have you need of anything?”

“A bit of information, if you please. The couple that were seated across the dance floor from us. The table was beside a column. The woman wore a red dress. I have met the man somewhere, but I cannot recall his name.” He edged a bob across the lectern.

That last comment and the doucement cleared the maître d’s expression. “Yes, sir. The gentleman is Alan Rettleston, managing editor of the London Daily. We do not see him often. The young lady, however, is well known to us. She has dined several times, usually with her parents of a Sunday, once a quarter, I would say.” Then he stopped, waiting for the question that he had guessed prompted the first question.

“Her name?”

“Miss Felicity Sherborne. A photographer, I believe.”

“For the London Daily?”

“That I do not know, sir.”

Michael thanked him and left.

Portrait with Death is available now at this link:

Publishing on July 20, the novel tracks in at over 90,000 words. It's #3 in the Into Death series.

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