Murder at Queen Street – Chapter 8

15 Chapters. 31,000 words. PG-13 – Some mild violence
First Chapter • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5 • 67 • 8 • 9 • 10 • 11 • 12 • 13 • 14 • 15

Before Mrs Beck knocked on the door of flat #2, she had a few words to say to the detectives.

‘The couple that lives here are Mr William and Mrs Lucy Rookwood,’ she said. ‘The Rookwoods are an old family that owns a fair bit of land in Buckinghamshire. William is the heir to a considerable fortune and estate. Needless to say, I feel very honoured that they have chosen to live here.

‘Therefore. You are to be very careful about how you speak with them. I don’t want them to feel harassed. It’s bad enough we’re waking them at this hour. And by no means are you to tell them about your… relationship. Or the precise nature your detective agency. These are respectable people.’ She punctuated this last point with a severe wagging of her finger.

Hugo and Theodore shared a look. They had a knack for communicating with only their faces. Hugo’s resigned expression said, See? She’s never going to change her mind about us. Theodore met this with a toothy grin. This is a teachable moment.

‘Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving,’ he said, grandly.

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ said Mrs Beck.

He dumbed it down. ‘Just because these people are respectable, doesn’t mean they aren’t murderers.’

‘Murderers or not, I won’t have them thinking I approve of your behaviour.’

Theodore sighed. ‘We’ll be perfectly discrete,’ said Hugo.

‘I should think so,’ she harrumphed. ‘This is a complete waste of time as it is.’

Mrs Beck had to knock three times before someone answered the door. When, at last, it did open, they were greeted by a tall man. He had wavy, golden hair and wore striped pyjamas.

‘Mrs Beck?’ he said, squinting as though he couldn’t believe she was really there.

‘I’m very sorry to disturb you at this hour, Mr Rookwood, but it is quite urgent. There’s been a murder in the building. Mr Fox and Mr Bellamy here are investigating the crime. Might we trouble you for a just few minutes?’

‘Murder?’ said William Rookwood, raising an eyebrow. ‘By all means, come inside.’

He led the three of them into their sitting room, their footsteps creaking on the hardwood floors. Standing there, watching them curiously as they entered, was Lucy Rookwood. She was pale and thin with a prominent chin and she wore a modest, white nightgown. Together, she and William made the perfect couple. Handsome, but not overly so. Conservative but not prudish. Affable but restrained. If Theodore was free to roll his eyes, he would have done.

‘What’s going on?’ said Lucy.

‘These are detectives, darling,’ said William. ‘They say there’s been a murder.’

‘Goodness!’ Lucy gasped, although Theodore felt her reaction was a little false, fuelled more by how she thought she was expected to behave.

‘Take a seat, gentlemen,’ said William, indicating the two sofas. They were antique, like every item of furniture in the Rookwood’s flat. Entering the sitting room had been like stepping into the previous century. The varnished wood, the patterned wallpaper, the musty scent of leather and wood smoke all served to remind of a world gone by, long before the war, back when the building was new.

The detectives took one sofa, while the Rookwoods took the other.

‘Oh,’ said Theodore. ‘Actually, we’d like to interview each of you separately.’

‘Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of my wife,’ said William. He took Lucy’s hand and held it firmly. ‘We do everything together.’

Before Theodore could object, Mrs Beck put on a smile and said, ‘That won’t be a problem, Mr Rookwood.’

Hugo looked to Theodore, seeking permission to object. Theodore didn’t want to put the Rookwood’s on the defensive by pressing the point. He shook his head discretely. We’ll make it work.

With no seats left, Mrs Beck could only perch on an armrest. ‘This is a lovely home.’

‘Thank you,’ said Lucy, without genuine feeling.

‘Most of these things come from my family’s home in Buckinghamshire,’ said William, as if this were interesting.

‘What made you leave Buckinghamshire?’ asked Theodore. He’d thought this question merely conversational but it made the Rookwoods grimace.

‘Let’s just say,’ said William, ‘my parents weren’t particularly pleased about the marriage.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Because…’ William faltered, his eyes flitting nervously to his wife.

‘Because I was the kitchen maid,’ said Lucy. She folded her arms.

Mrs Beck gasped. ‘I didn’t know that.’

‘And why should you?’ Lucy’s eyes flashed like lightning. ‘What business is it of yours?’

Mrs Beck turned white. ‘Forgive me, Mrs Rookwood. I do apologise.’

‘Is there an issue?’ said Theodore, innocently.

‘Not at all,’ said Mrs Beck, firmly. ‘It just struck me because… because it sounds rather romantic.’

Lucy seemed surprised by this comment. A smile played across her lips and her eyes focused on something not quite there. ‘It was, rather.’

Theodore sensed Mrs Beck’s sigh of relief.

‘When you’re a servant,’ Lucy continued, ‘it can feel like you’re invisible. Will was the only person who saw me.’

She tickled the edges of William’s fingers. Taking the hint, William took her hand.

‘Our relationship had to be kept secret, at first,’ said William. ‘I knew my parents would never approve. But then I fell ill.’ Lucy tightened her grip on William’s hand. ‘Gastric fever. For months I was in and out of the hospital. Nothing the doctors did seemed to stick. And throughout the whole ordeal, there was Lucy, bringing my meals, clearing my mess, doting on me like the perfect wife. I don’t recommend ill health to anyone, but the one benefit it grants you is perspective. We decided to marry, as soon as possible, and damn what anyone had to say about it. Whatever time I had left, we would spend it together.’

Mrs Beck let out an involuntary squeak of sentiment.

‘But you recovered?’ said Theodore.

William nodded happily. ‘After the wedding, we had a honeymoon, of course. I was still recovering, so the Riviera was out, but my doctor said I was well enough for a seaside trip. We spent a month at the Grand Brighton Hotel.’

‘A magical month,’ Lucy interjected.

‘Indeed,’ William laughed. ‘And since then, the fever’s cleared right up. My doctor says it was the sea air, but we know I was cured by love.’

He and Lucy shared a saccharine smile. Hugo made a tight-lipped grumble of incredulity that only Theodore heard. Mrs Beck gave the detectives a smug glance, as if the Rookwood’s story had proved something. Theodore changed the subject.

‘Did either of you know Mr Harry Jackson?’

‘Harry Jackson?’ said Lucy. She and William looked concerned.

‘Harry Jackson was my chauffeur, back in Buckinghamshire,’ said William.

Mrs Beck gasped once again. ‘I remember him saying he was a chauffeur.’

Hugo scribbled something in his notebook. Theodore leaned forward. Both were suddenly much more interested in the conversation. ‘I’m afraid to say,’ said Theodore, ‘that Mr Jackson was the man killed tonight, in the flat below.’

‘My goodness,’ said Lucy, holding a hand to her mouth. This time, her reaction seemed more sincere.

By contrast, William didn’t react much at all. ‘I see,’ was all he said.

Theodore turned to Lucy first. ‘If you were the kitchen maid, Mrs Rookwood, you must have worked alongside Mr Jackson.’

Lucy nodded. ‘Not closely. Our jobs didn’t overlap much. But I was aware of him, yes.’

‘What was your impression of him then?’

‘He was…’ She hesitated. ‘He was a swine.’

‘Lucy!’ William hissed, flashing anxious glances towards the detectives. Lucy didn’t look in the least bit sorry.

‘So you were quite aware of him?’ said Theodore.

‘By reputation only, I promise you,’ said Lucy with a scowl. ‘He’d developed quite an ugly one among the staff. On my first day, the housemaid warned me to keep my distance.’

‘Did you ever inform the head of the household about his reputation?’

‘What could we tell them? That we didn’t like him? What would they do with that information?’

‘I see,’ Theodore now turned to William. ‘And you? Did you ever learn of Mr Jackson’s reputation?’

William straightened ‘Not at the time, of course. But it did come out after Lucy and I came to London.’

‘When was the last time you saw Mr Jackson? Was it before you left Buckinghamshire?’

‘Yes,’ said William.

‘No,’ said Lucy, suddenly. ‘We bumped into him in Covent Garden.’

‘Oh, yes.’ William coughed. ‘Yes. We hadn’t seen him in months, we’d decided to come to London straight after the honeymoon. We didn’t even know he’d left his job in Buckinghamshire. He said he was looking for new employment. I’d been thinking about getting a car and a driver, so I suggested he could come back as my chauffeur. We exchanged addresses and I said I’d be in touch.’

‘That’s when I told Will what Harry was really like,’ said Lucy.

William nodded gravely. ‘Needless to say, we decided not to give Harry the position. That’s the last we saw of him.’

‘When was this?’ asked Theodore.

The couple thought. ‘January,’ said Lucy. ‘So that’s… eight months ago.’

Hugo put his hand on Theodore’s shoulder, interrupting to ask a question of his own. ‘Did you know that Mr Jackson was in the building tonight?’

‘No,’ said Lucy.

‘But he must have known that you were here. He didn’t call on you?’

Lucy thinned her lips. ‘No. As we’ve said, we haven’t seen him in eight months.’

Mrs Beck cleared her throat, pointedly, but Hugo was done.

Theodore quickly re-took the reins. ‘Why don’t you give us your account of this evening?’

‘I doubt I can be of much help,’ said William. ‘I was out tonight. Sunday is my weekly billiards game at the Griffiths club. They’ll be able to vouch for me, I’m sure.’

‘How long were you away?’

‘I left at six and returned at ten, same as every week.’

‘It’s his one night off from being a husband,’ said Lucy, playfully. ‘But he’s always back on time. He knows there’ll be trouble otherwise.’

‘So you stayed here?’ Theodore asked Lucy.

‘I don’t care for billiards.’


‘Normally Elise is here, our handmaid, but she had tonight off because her mother’s taken ill. I made myself dinner, read a little, wrote a few letters. Then Will came home, we had a cup of tea and went to bed.’

‘And in all that time, you never noticed anything out of the ordinary? You didn’t hear or see anything?’

Lucy took a moment to think. ‘Not while Will was away. But shortly after we went to bed, I did hear a woman screaming. I had thought it was someone in the street…’

Theodore stroked his moustache thoughtfully. ‘I think that’ll be enough for now. Although, if you wouldn’t mind, we’d like to get a writing sample from each of you.’

Theodore felt Mrs Beck stiffen beside him.

‘What for?’ said William.

‘For our investigation,’ said Theodore, still smiling.

William didn’t press him for a better answer. Lucy produced one of the letters she’d written that evening, while William, claiming not to be much of a letter writer, jotted down a paragraph of nonsense for them. Theodore had a good feeling that the letter would prove to be from one of the Rookwoods. And yet, after Hugo compared each sample to Harry’s letter, he shook his head. Mrs Beck let out a sigh of relief.

‘Very well,’ said Theodore. He rose to shake the couple’s hands. ‘Thank you for your cooperation.’

‘Not at all,’ said William. ‘Any clue who’s behind it?’

‘Darling,’ Lucy cautioned. ‘I’m tired.’

William gave the detectives a guilty look. ‘Seems we’ve decided to go back to bed. Good luck with the investigation, sirs.’

Like dutiful hosts, the two of them accompanied the detectives and Mrs Beck to the door. Once they were safely in corridor, Mrs Beck turned on the detectives and said, ‘What did I tell you? A complete waste of time.’

‘Nevertheless, I noticed a few details,’ said Hugo. ‘Chiefly, I struggle to believe it’s coincidence that Mr Jackson’s former employer just happens to live in the same building where he was killed.’

‘Indeed,’ said Theodore. ‘And it was peculiar how Mr Rookwood seemed to forget meeting Mr Jackson in Covent Garden, even though he’d just obliquely referenced how he’d learned of Jackson’s reputation.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Hugo, approvingly. ‘And the way Mrs Rookwood corrected him.’

‘Could be trying to keep their stories straight.’

Mrs Beck tutted. ‘Oh please. That is just how married people talk. Husbands make mistakes and wives correct them. But then that’s not something either of you would understand, is it?’

‘Is that all there is to marriage?’ said Theodore with a smirk.

Mrs Beck turned her nose up at Theodore. ‘You think your “relationship” is superior to the Rookwood’s?’

Theodore shrugged. ‘Hasty marriage seldom proveth well.’

By the way she spluttered, Mrs Beck clearly hadn’t anticipated this response. ‘Their love crosses class and convention. They married despite the wishes of his family. She stayed by his side even when it looked he might die. Their relationship is living proof that love conquers all!’

Theodore grinned. ‘So… you’re saying love is at its strongest between two people who are forbidden from loving each other?’

Hugo gave Theodore his familiar little smile. Mrs Beck opened her mouth to reply, perhaps even to agree, when she picked up on Theodore’s meaning. She scowled. ‘That’s not the same thing at all. Time’s pressing. Let’s go to number 3 and get this over with.’

Once again, Hugo and Theodore shared a look. Told you so, Hugo’s face said. But Theodore beamed. He didn’t see this as a defeat.

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