A Christmas Begining SO THIS WAS THE ISLE OF ANGLESEY. RUNCORN stood on the rugged headland and stared across the narrow water of the Menai Strait towards the mountains of Snowdonia and mainland Wales, and he wondered why on earth he had chosen to come here, alone in December. The air was hard, ice-edged, and laden with the salt of the sea. Runcorn was a Londoner, used to the rattle of hansom cabs on the cobbles, the gas lamps gleaming in the afternoon dusk. Every day he was surrounded by the sing-song voices of costermongers, the cries of news vendors, drivers of every kind of vehicle--broughams to drays--and the air carried the smell of smoke and manure. This isolated island must be the loneliest place in Britain, all bare hills and hard, bright water, and silence except for the moan of the wind in the grass. The black skeleton of the Menai Bridge had a certain grace, but it was a cold elegance, not the low, familiar arches across the Thames. The few lights flickering on in the town of Beaumaris behind him indicated nothing like the vast city he was used to, teeming with the passions, the sorrow, and the dreams of millions. Of course the reason he was here was simple. Runcorn had nowhere else in particular to be for Christmas, no family. He lived alone. He knew many people, but they were colleagues rather than friends. He had earned his promotions until he was now, at fifty, a senior superintendent in the Metropolitan Police, separated by office from those he had once worked beside. But he was not a gentleman, like those of his own rank. He had not the polish, the confidence, the ease of speech and grace of movement that comes with not having to care what people thought of you. He smiled to himself as the wind stung his face. Monk, his colleague many years ago, one of his few friends, had not been born a gentleman either, but somehow he had always managed to seem like one. That used to hurt, but it did not anymore. He knew that Monk was human too, and vulnerable. He could make mistakes. And perhaps Runcorn himself was wiser. The last case in which they had worked together had been difficult and in the end ugly. Now Runcorn was tired of the city and he was due several weeks of leave. Why not take it somewhere as different as possible? He would refresh his mind away from the familiar and predictable, take long walks in the open, think deeply for a change. The sun was sinking in the southwest, shedding brilliant, burning light over the water. The land was dark as the color faded and the headlands jutted purple and black out of the sea. Only the uplands, ribbed pale like crumpled velvet, still caught the last rays of light. How long was winter twilight here? Would he soon find himself lost, unable to see the way back to his lodgings? It was bitterly cold already. His feet were numb from standing. Turning, he started to walk towards the east and the darkening sky. What was there to think about? He was good at his job, patient, possibly a little pedestrian. He never had flashes of brilliant intuition, but he got where he needed to. He had succeeded far more than any of the other young men who had started when he had. In fact, his own success had surprised him. But was he happy? That was a stupid question, as if happiness were something you could own and have for always. He was happy at times, as for example when a case was closed and he knew he had done it well, found a difficult truth and left no doubts to haunt him afterwards, no savage and half-answered questions. He was happy Excerpted from Silent Nights: Two Victorian Christmas Mysteries by Anne Perry All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.