Home > The Ink Black Heart (Cormorant Strike #6)

The Ink Black Heart (Cormorant Strike #6)
Author: Robert Galbraith

 


PROLOGUE

 

Wounds of the heart are often fatal,

but not necessarily so.

Henry Gray FRS

Gray’s Anatomy

 

 

1

 

Why did you let your eyes so rest on me,

And hold your breath between?

In all the ages this can never be

As if it had not been.

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

A Moment

 

Of all the couples sitting in the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz that Thursday evening, the pair that was having the most conspicuously good time was not, in fact, a couple.

Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, private detectives, business partners and self-declared best friends, were celebrating Robin’s thirtieth birthday. Both had been slightly self-conscious on first arriving in the bar, which resembled an art deco jewel box, with its walls of dark wood and gold, and its frosted panels of Lalique glass, because each was aware that this outing was unique in the almost five years they’d known one another. Never before had they chosen to spend an evening in each other’s company outside work, without the presence of other friends or colleagues, or the pretext of injury (because there’d been an occasion a few weeks previously, when Strike had accidentally given his partner two black eyes and bought her a takeaway curry as recompense).

Even more unusually, both had had enough sleep, and each was looking their best. Robin was wearing a figure-hugging blue dress, her long strawberry-blonde hair clean and loose, and her partner had noticed the appreciative glances she’d drawn from male drinkers as she passed. He’d already complimented her on the opal lying in the hollow at the base of her throat, which had been a thirtieth birthday gift from her parents. The tiny diamonds surrounding it made a glittering halo in the bar’s golden lights, and whenever Robin moved, sparks of scarlet fire twinkled in the opal’s depths.

Strike was wearing his favourite Italian suit, with a white shirt and dark tie. His resemblance to a broken-nosed, slightly overweight Beethoven had increased now that he’d shaved off his recently grown beard, but the waitress’s warm smile as she handed Strike his first Old Fashioned reminded Robin of what her ex-husband’s new wife, Sarah Shadlock, had once said of the detective:

‘He is strangely attractive, isn’t he? Bit beaten-up-looking, but I’ve never minded that.’

What a liar she’d been: Sarah had liked her men smoothly handsome, as proven by her relentless and ultimately successful pursuit of Matthew.

Sitting facing each other in leopard-print chairs at their table for two, Strike and Robin had initially subsumed their slight awkwardness in work talk. Discussion of the cases currently on the detective agency’s books carried them through a powerful cocktail apiece, by which time their increasingly loud laughter had started drawing glances from both barmen and customers. Soon Robin’s eyes were bright and her face slightly flushed, and even Strike, who was considerably larger than his partner and well able to handle his alcohol, had taken enough bourbon to make him feel pleasantly buoyant and loose-limbed.

After their second cocktails, talk became more personal. Strike, who was the illegitimate son of a rock star he’d met only twice, told Robin that one of his half-sisters, Prudence, wanted to meet him.

‘Where does she fit in?’ Robin asked. She knew that Strike’s father had been married three times, and that her partner was the result of a one-night stand with a woman most commonly described in the press as a ‘supergroupie’, but she was hazy about the rest of the family tree.

‘She’s the other illegitimate,’ said Strike. ‘Few years younger than me. Her mother was that actress, Lindsey Fanthrope? Mixed-race woman? She’s been in everything. EastEnders, The Bill…’

‘D’you want to meet Prudence?’

‘Not sure,’ Strike admitted. ‘Can’t help feeling I’ve got enough relatives to be going on with. She’s also a therapist.’

‘What kind?’

‘Jungian.’

His expression, which compounded wariness and distaste, made Robin laugh.

‘What’s wrong with being a Jungian therapist?’

‘I dunno… I quite liked her from her texts, but…’

Trying to find the right words, Strike’s eyes found the bronze panel on the wall behind Robin’s head, which showed a naked Leda being impregnated by Zeus in the form of a swan.

‘… well, she said she hasn’t had an easy time of it either, having him as a father. But when I found out what she does for a living…’

His voice trailed away. He drank more bourbon.

‘You thought she was being insincere?’

‘Not exactly insincere…’ Strike heaved a sigh. ‘I’ve had enough matchbox psychologists telling me why I live the way I do and tracing it all back to my family, so-called. Prudence said in one of her texts that she’d found forgiving Rokeby “healing”— Sod this,’ said Strike abruptly, ‘it’s your birthday, let’s talk about your family. What does your dad do for a living? You’ve never told me.’

‘Oh, haven’t I?’ said Robin, with mild surprise. ‘He’s a professor of sheep medicine, production and reproduction.’

Strike choked on his cocktail.

‘What’s funny?’ Robin asked, eyebrows raised.

‘Sorry,’ said Strike, coughing and laughing simultaneously. ‘Wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.’

‘He’s quite an authority, I’ll have you know,’ said Robin, mock-offended.

‘Professor of sheep— What was the rest of it, again?’

‘Medicine, production and reprod— Why’s that so funny?’ Robin said, as Strike guffawed a second time.

‘Dunno, maybe the “production” and “reproduction” thing,’ said Strike. ‘And also the sheep.’

‘He’s got forty-six letters after his name. I counted when I was a kid.’

‘Very impressive,’ said Strike, taking another sip of bourbon and attempting to look serious. ‘So, when did he first become interested in sheep? Was this a lifelong thing or did a particular sheep catch his eye when he was—’

‘He doesn’t shag them, Strike.’

The detective’s renewed laughter made heads turn.

‘His older brother got the family farm, so Dad did veterinary science at Durham and, yeah, he specialised— Stop bloody laughing! He’s also the editor of a magazine.’

‘Please tell me it’s about sheep.’

‘Yes, it is. Sheep Management,’ said Robin, ‘and before you ask, no, they don’t have a photo feature called “Readers’ Sheep”.’

This time Strike’s bellow of laughter was heard by the whole bar.

‘Keep it down,’ said Robin, smiling but aware of the many eyes now upon them. ‘We don’t want to be banned from another bar in London.’

‘We didn’t get banned from the American Bar, did we?’

Strike’s memory of the aftermath of attempting to punch a suspect in the Stafford Hotel was hazy, not because he’d been drunk, but because he’d been lost to everything but his own rage.

‘They might not have barred us explicitly, but try going back in there and see what kind of a welcome you get,’ said Robin, fishing one of the last olives out of the dishes that had arrived with their first drink. Strike had already single-handedly finished the crisps.

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