Authors: Alanna Knight
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Historical Fiction, #Crime Fiction
A Quiet Death
An Inspector Faro Mystery
has written more than fifty novels, (including fifteen in the successful Inspector Faro series), four works of non-fiction, numerous short stories and two plays since the publication of her first book in 1969. Born and educated in Tyneside, she now lives in Edinburgh. She is a founding member of the Scottish Association of Writers and Honorary President of the Edinburgh Writer's Club.
A QUIET DEATH
The news that Vince Laurie, resident doctor with Deane Enterprises, contractors for the Tay Bridge, is to marry Rachel Deane arouses mixed emotions in Jeremy Faro. He will miss the camaraderie of their bachelor estate, and while his stepson's happiness is his dearest wish, how can Vince possibly support an heiress? When Rachel receives Faro in the sumptuous family mansion, she completely denies any romantic attachment to Vince. Why has she changed so suddenly from devoted fiancée to cold-hearted stranger? Are the Deanes in fact a bunch of crooks? The casualty rate amongst their employees is high and rumour has it that shoddy materials are being substituted for those originally ordered for the bridge. And how can Faro satisfactorily investigate mysterious deaths in an area outside his jurisdiction and at the same time protect his stepson from disaster?
'Better a quiet death than a public misfortune'
Detective Inspector Jeremy Faro had not the least idea that a funeral, melancholy enough but entirely innocent of crime, would lead to a startling confession from his stepson and that a suicide from the unfinished Tay Bridge would open up a sinister trail of seemingly unconnected events.
Events which were to culminate in one of the most baffling and personal dilemmas of his career, and a series of crimes which had tragic and far-reaching repercussions several years later.
Faro was to represent the Edinburgh City Police at the funeral in Angus of a former colleague. Will Gray had died in retirement at the ripe old age of ninety and although funerals were sober, sad occasions, he was almost looking forward to this one. In addition to the unique chance of renewing auld acquaintance over nostalgic drams with old chums, it also provided an excuse to visit his stepson.
9 Sheridan Place, Edinburgh, seemed strangely silent without Vince. Faro had ample opportunity to consider the future of the home they had shared until recently. He was increasingly aware of how his footsteps echoed on stairs and through empty rooms meant for a family of children and servants, mocked and reproached one solitary widower.
The truth was undeniable but less than pleasant. The handsome villa in the expanding suburb of Newington was far too big for him since Dr Vincent Beaumarcher Laurie was now resident doctor to the ever expanding firm of Deane Enterprises in Dundee. And Deane's had triumphantly netted, against fierce competition, the building materials contract for the bridge over the River Tay.
In the two months since his stepson's departure. Faro realised how much he had come to depend on the arrival of the postman and Mrs Brook's delivery of the morning mail to his study. In fact, he prided himself that he could deduce from her footsteps, brisk or tardy, whether or not she carried that eagerly awaited letter.
His hopes were mostly shattered. Vince was an indifferent correspondent at the best of times but Faro tempered disappointment with a ready excuse. Of course, the lad's present hectic employment allowed him no idle time for letter-writing.
Faro sighed. Vince might well be far too busy, but not so himself. That spring had been remarkable for a particularly dull patch in the Edinburgh City Police's annals of crime.
There were no really 'interesting' cases on which to flex his powers of deduction. Recent investigations had been limited to petty frauds and the wearisomely repetitive activities of Edinburgh's habitual minor criminals.
Faro's famed and dramatic appearances in the Sheriff Court were required merely to identify witnesses while he secretly longed for action, for the chase and duel to the death with dangerous opponents worthy of his skill. A little ashamed to admit that he was ill-adapted to the tranquil life he had so often longed for in times of danger, Faro discovered that peace for him spelt only monotony and boredom.
Was he growing old? he thought nervously. Were these the normal reactions of a man not much past forty? Failing completely to suppress a wistful longing for the faces of his old adversaries, he wondered where they were now. Had they been converted to good deeds and growing flowers in peaceful tranquillity?
And Faro was uneasily aware that unless eyes and ears were constantly alert and watchful for clues and suspects, that extra sense developed by more than twenty years with the City Police would atrophy. Detective Inspector Jeremy Faro would then be of no more use than a newly recruited junior constable.
Preparing to leave Edinburgh for the funeral in the Angus village of Errol, Faro requested a few extra days' leave, partly for the arduous train journey involved and also to visit Dundee. There he hoped to surprise Vince with his unexpected appearance.
His arrangements almost complete, he encountered a breathless Mrs Brook panting upstairs and dramatically flourishing a letter.
'It's from him, sir. It's from the dear lad—at last.'
Thanking her, Faro eagerly tore open the letter. The handwriting was familiar but almost completely illegible. Vince, it appeared, had succumbed to the doctor's pride and privilege of writing that not a soul could read. With a sigh, however, not altogether unpleasurable, Faro sat down to decipher the contents.
'My dear Stepfather,' he read, 'prepare yourself for a surprise, perhaps even a shock.' And in bold capitals heavily underlined: 'I AM ALMOST A MARRIED MAN.' The words leaped out at Faro and he read them twice over before proceeding.
There now, Stepfather, just as you predicted, I have met the girl of my dreams. I love and am loved and we are to marry as soon as her grandfather (and guardian) gives permission as she is still but twenty.
Most revered and devoted Stepfather, I beg of you to prepare to receive a stepdaughter-in-law who will in every conceivable way measure up to your desires for my happiness. And one who having heard much about you, longs above all things to make your acquaintance at the very earliest.
I would most earnestly wish this to be before our wedding and would bring her to you but, alas, we can ill afford the time with many arrangements on hand. May we therefore beg that you pay us a visit as soon as is convenient and give us a father's blessing.
I am, as ever, Your obedient and affectionate Stepson,
Vincent B. Laurie.
Having carefully reread the letter several times, Faro discovered that his first feelings of delight were now mingled with faint irritation that in a matter of such concern and importance, Vince had imparted so little information.
Why, he had not even remembered to include his fiancés name. Typical of the lad, of course.
With a fond smile, Faro laid the letter aside. This news, so totally unexpected, was good indeed, the very best in all the world. He had always believed that Vince (the invincible where matrimony was concerned) would sooner or later fall in love.
He sighed. His dearest wish for the lad had been granted but there was an obverse side to this good fortune which affected him personally. The camaraderie of their bachelor estate, the companionship of father and son must henceforth take a minor role in this new scheme of things.
He closed his mind to such unworthy thoughts, and looking around, nodded vigorously. How strange the coincidence of his decision that the house was no longer suitable. Almost as if that keen extra sense which was at once the plague and blessing of his life had been preparing him for the inevitable changes which must come about with Vince's marriage.
'Time to move on, old chap. A new wife, however charming and well-disposed, is not going to want a policeman stepfather living in the house with them.'
At least this house he had grown to love so well would be saved from a sale to strangers. Indeed he hoped it would now revert to the original purpose the builder had in mind. No doubt in due time Vince and his bride would fill these empty rooms with the laughter of children and the bustle of servants.
'And about time. That's what houses are for,' said Mrs Brook, jubilantly echoing his own thoughts when he rushed downstairs to the kitchen to share this joyful news over a glass of her favourite port.
Even as they talked, he could see she was making her own plans, extending her duties as the efficient housekeeper she had proved to be by engaging extra servants. At this stage he would not spoil her innocent pleasure with the information that although she might well continue to reign over 9 Sheridan Place, he would no longer be her employer.
Knowing that Vince would hotly disapprove, Faro decided to keep an eye open for a small apartment nearer the Central Office. If he looked sharp about it, then he might be able to present the newly-weds with a
when they returned from their honeymoon, thus saving Vince any protest or his bride any embarrassment.
Leaving the house, he closed the front door and looked sadly at the place which until recently bore the brass plate: 'Dr Vincent Beaumarcher Laurie, General Practitioner in Family Medicine'.
They had hung it together on Vince's twenty-first birthday when after a term with the police surgeon he had hoped to set up his surgery in the ground floor rooms. Alas, he had tried but with so little success that without his stepfather's support, the spectacle of starvation would have loomed large.
The suburbs of Newington and Grange on the sunny southern slopes of the city had become increasingly popular with a new and prosperous merchant and professional class. In such a community, well supplied with physicians, Dr Laurie suffered from two drawbacks. He looked uncommonly young for his age with his head of blonde curls and light build. Time would take care of that, of course, but the main trouble was that he was unmarried.
The area attracted large well-off families, modest matrons who required cosy middle-aged doctors in whom to confide their medical problems and to look after them in childbirth. It was now
in this new middle class to have one's own physician in attendance at the accouchement instead of the friendly neighbour who in the poorer areas acted as midwife.
Vince's own mother had died of childbed fever taking with her the newborn son Faro had craved. He never ceased to mourn her and the fatal risks and frequent deaths of women in childbirth had been one of the main reasons for Vince's choice of a medical career.
He adored his two little stepsisters, Faro's daughters Rose and Emily, who lived in Orkney with their grandmother and Faro had long ago decided that his stepson's natural ability to gain the trust of children allied with a sharp insight into how their minds worked, might prove invaluable for an unmarried family physician.
Vince's boast since undergraduate days had been 'he who travels fastest travels alone'. With his sights long set on becoming 'Queen's physician' perhaps that love of children would be his sole purpose in eventually marrying at all.
Heads of houses, however, gentlemen if not by birth then by achievement, considered it indelicate, hardly respectable, to have their daughters intimately examined, those pains peculiar to young unmarried ladies discussed and investigated by doctors who looked no older or more reliable than their own young bachelor sons.
Vince was also painfully aware that his background as assistant to the police surgeon was not perhaps the happiest recommendation for dealing with genteel families. The cutting up of corpses, as the general public saw his activities, suggested a lack-lustre approach to family medicine.
'Since all his previous patients have been dead ones,' as one of his well-meaning patients somewhat tactlessly put it.
Sobered and dismayed by the failure of his practice, Vince had taken the appointment at Deane's Dundee factory with cheerful courage.
Now his unexpected and exciting news seemed in keeping with the warm sunshine and the awakening of lifeless branches in a positive bridal display of blossom. Faro's spirits were again lifted by that joy of renewal in the earth's yearly resurrection which even the prospects of the daunting journey ahead did not immediately quell.