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Seven Hundred and Sixty One British Nights

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Inspector Charles Parker liked his routines, especially in the morning on the mornings he could get them. On this particularly crisp December morning when no one expected him into the office before 9 a.m. he settled into his arm chair next to a newly lit fire with a cup of coffee and a newspaper to prepare himself for the day ahead.

It took but unfolding the paper and scanning the front page for all of Charles' good intentions for the day to be shattered. For there, below the fold at the bottom left ran a headline "Peer's Son Dies in Tanganyika."

A tragic, but not all that remarkable event on the surface, for peers' sons were always running off to Africa doing damn fool things like hunting lions and getting themselves mauled. It wasn't the sort of society article Charles would ordinarily bother reading. Only, his friend Lord Peter Wimsey happened to have recently arrived in Tanganyika, doing something similarly foolish to keep up his reputation as a fool.

As he'd feared, knot of tension forming in his esophagus and putting him off his coffee, the article's first sentence confirmed that Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, second son of Mortimer Wimsey, was dead at the age of the age of 37.

He scanned quickly through the article for a date and time scheduled for the funeral and upon seeing that a memorial service was "to be announced," heedlessly crumpled the newspaper and then, left with a thick wad of paper in his hand, tossed it into the grate where it was subsumed by fire.

Peter, dead. It was just so hard to comprehend. Men like Peter Wimsey didn't die. On some level, Charles had always viewed his friend as immortal, subject to bumps and bruises, but never afflicted by something so permanent as death. It was hard to believe that he would never see his friend again.

As shock wore off and Charles got dressed, his thoughts focused - as they so often did - on Lady Mary Wimsey, the deceased's younger sister and Charles'... frequent dinner companion. Had she known? Surely Lord Peter's family had been notified before the newspaper. But if so, why wouldn't Mary have notified him? Or if not Mary, Bunter?

Bunter was probably still in Africa, seeing to things.

Charles Parker's feelings were quite reasonably the last thing on anyone's mind.

He pulled on his overcoat and hat and - making a mental note to buy a black armband - headed off into a world that, remarkably, was still turning.

*

The news of Lord Peter's demise had beaten Inspector Parker to Scotland Yard and several of his coworkers were circling his desk, eager for updates.

Charles pointedly ignored them, removing his hat and coat and settling himself at his desk to review the morning's correspondence. He also took a moment to dash off notes to Peter's family, perhaps lingering more than entirely necessary over his note to Mary.

One he could no longer reasonably hide behind the fluttering of papers, Charles was approached by Inspector Sugg - no great fan of Lord Peter Wimsey's.

"Shame about Wimsey," Sugg said gruffly. "Woulda thought he'd be smarter than to get himself gored by a rhinoceros."

So that's how Peter had died, taunting an armor-plated beast.

"Yes," Charles agreed. "One would have thought so."

"Have you heard from his family at all?" Sugg asked - subtext, 'tell me all of the gossip.'

"I have not," Charles said stiffly. "I imagine they're quite caught up in family matters at the present."

"Right. Yes, of course," Sugg shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Say, do you have a copy of the Gorleston Bank robbery report? There's a few points I'd like to re-examine."

Grateful for Sugg's excuse to end their painful conversation, Charles provided him with the bank file despite the case being his own.

*

Two days later, Charles received a kind, if distant, note from Lady Mary Wimsey in response to his condolences. In it she explained that owing to the time involved in transporting a corpse from Africa and the difficulty of interring a body in frozen December ground, a memorial service would be held in Peter's honor in a week at the parish church in Duke's Denver and that the family hoped Inspector Parker could attend.

*

The morning of Lord Peter's memorial dawned cold and, as Charles made his way to Kings Cross to catch the train to Norfolk, the flat white sky promised snow.

He had brought reports to read on the journey but instead Inspector Parker's thoughts kept turning to Peter. The three hour train journey would have taken Peter one and a half, more likely less than an hour, in his godforsaken Daimler.

Foolish, reckless Peter.

Only, really, he wasn't all that foolish or that reckless, really. He had just liked making people believe he was a silly fop. His being gored by a rhinoceros seemed implausible. And dying in Africa, far away where there was no body was awfully convenient if you wanted to make people believe you were dead when you were not.

But really, Charles just did not wanting to believe Peter was dead when he was.

And so Charles' mind turned the facts over and over like the wheels of the train clacking over track coming up with nothing more than cold comfort, no matter how he examined the angles.

By the time Charles arrived in Duke's Denver he was suitably in the mood for a memorial service, melancholy, and the snow had been falling steadily to dust everything in a fine layer of powder.

The Church of St. John-ad-Portam-Latinam was located about half a mile from the train station, and opting to walk, by the time he arrived Charles too was snow-dusted.

Brushing the snow off of his shoulders and stomping it off of his boots, Charles entered the sanctuary.

It was unsurprisingly filled with people and Charles slipped discreetly into the nearest available spot. The demographics of the church were rather remarkable for any peer's brother but Lord Peter. He observed Lady Attenbury sitting elbow to elbow with Salcombe Hardy and Miss Climpson and Col. Marchbanks shared a pew. The Wimseys were clustered together in the front row, appropriately black clad and iron-spined.

The service itself was atypical foremost for the lack of casket, though that was less remarkable since the war, and for the quality and duration of the eulogies. The Duke's was typical and remote - it could have been for any middle aged gentleman save for the few fond childhood memories sprinkled in, the Dowager Duchess' had the congregation laughing aloud and wiping tears of mirth from their eyes, and Lady Mary's eulogy was a show of tender sisterly devotion. Then various members of the congregation began to eulogize. Charles had written something down, brief thoughts about what a good and noble friend to all Lord Peter had been, but as more and more people rose to speak - Lord Arbuthnot to talk about the scandals he and Peter nearly became entangled in, Major Fentiman to express gratitude to Peter for solving his grandfather's murder - he opted to save his thoughts for a private letter to the family.

After over an hour of eulogizing, the rector tactfully suggested that the mourners proceed to the rectory for refreshment where they could continue their remembrances of Lord Peter over hot drinks and finger sandwiches.

Mindful of the time and the continued snowfall and not wanting to be stranded in Duke's Denver but not wanting to offend the Wimseys by not attending the reception, Charles joined the mass of people streaming towards the rectory.

Inside, the Wimseys were positioned in a reception line opposite a dining table loaded down with refreshments. Charles made his way through Lord Peter's family, shaking the Duke's hand, and solemnly young Lord St. George's, before coming to Lady Mary who was beautiful in her grief, pale and shining eyed.

"Inspector! I didn't see you at the church and was concerned something had kept you."

"Not at all, my lady. I slipped into a back row."

"You needn't have done that," the Dowager Duchess interjected. "You were Peter's closest friend."

Charles felt his heart squeeze at the same time his face flushed. Surely he wasn't all that to Lord Peter. But then, Peter had been his closest friend and he supposed that reciprocity was common in these matters.

"I don't mean to embarrass you dear, I know men don't discuss these types of things. I just thought you ought to know how dearly Peter held you. How we all, as his family, will always hold you," the Dowager Duchess said.

"Thank you, my lady." And then, feeling awkward, Charles said his goodbyes and escaped the rectory without so much as a sandwich for the trip back to town.

*

Several weeks later the police closed a case Peter had consulted on, involving an east end safecracker. Charles was sad Peter hadn't lived to see the case solved, but sadder still not to be sitting in Peter's study sipping outrageous port and debriefing.

*

The correspondence between Mary and Charles immediately after Peter's death focused largely on that gentleman contained private details of their respective intimacies with him. Charles found them comforting both to read and write.

He was disappointed when, shortly after Mary mentioned that Peter's executor had some documents for her, she ceased mentioning her brother at all.

*

Several months after Lord Peter's death, Honoria Wimsey's town home was robbed of a valuable tiara. Inspector Parker insisted upon taking the case.

Rather to his surprise, however, while Peter's mother claimed to be delighted to see him and was perfectly gracious, she was reluctant both to discuss her son and the robbery.

Charles respected her wishes, to a point, and made further inquiries in ways that would not distress the Dowager Duchess.

*

Charles and Mary continued to dine together from time to time and, while their relationship remained as it had, Peter became an unbroachable topic.

Charles wondered from time to time what had happened to harden Mary's heart against her brother, but was done was done and could not be undone.

*

When the former apartment of Lord Peter Wimsey was robbed, Inspector Parker let Sugg handle the case. It didn't matter any more.

*

Late on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday evening in January, Charles was roused from his armchair by an urgent knocking at his door.

Mervyn Bunter stood on the other side, an envelope in his hand. "Inspector Parker, please, read this. In the car, if you don't mind. We haven't much time."

Charles hadn't seen Bunter in over a year, but the man's efficiency boarding on anxiety persuaded him.
The letter, which Charles read by torch handed to him by Bunter as they sped towards Scotland Yard, was extraordinary.

Peter, alive! His death faked in order to infiltrate a secret criminal society! Parker's help urgently needed to arrest the gang - tonight! Complete with corroborating evidence for several cases Charles had been working, some for nearly seven years!

It was almost too much to believe, but Bunter's grim faced urgency convinced Charles of the truth of it. The unflappable man seemed almost undone by the last two years of events.

*

There were moments while Charles' task force waited in the cold wee hours of Sunday morning encircling a fashionable home on Hampstead Heath that Charles doubted himself and Bunter. That Peter couldn't be alive and the crime ring hadn't been broken and Charles had ruined his career by falling for a well-forged document and a loyal servant desperate to believe.

And then people began streaming out of the mansion at a run.

"Arrest them!" Charles cried, racing towards the house with his men.

And then the house exploded.

Before he had a chance to feel bereft, again, Charles heard a familiar voice curse dramatically. He swung his lantern wildly in the direction of the noise and, even seeing Lord Peter Wimsey alive, could not quite believe it.

"Here you are!" he said cheerfully, in a way that did not match the situation at all. But how could Parker voice everything he was feeling? Particularly in the middle of a crime scene? "Are you all right, old thing? Good lord! what a hairy monster!"

Peter was all business, evaluating his injuries and instructing Charles to race across town to arrest the crime boss Peter had locked in his safe. Neither of them had time to stop and think until after their work was complete.

And then, once Peter's broken arm had been set and Charles' report had been filed, the late Peter Wimsey turned to the inspector and said, "Can you come round to breakfast at mine? It's been awhile since we've had a proper debrief."