Ten minutes later and the constant thumping sound was still bouncing around inside Harry’s head. Frederick had tried to break down the door to the bathroom. He had shouted through it, trying to explain just what had happened, but he’d soon clashed with Robert, who had remained across the hall banging on the door to Ernest’s office.
Soon, Robert was blaming Frederick for Ernest finding out about their previous encounter, and Frederick was blaming Robert for Harry finding out. They’d started calling each other names, and then suddenly the shouting stopped and Harry had heard one of them drop to the floor. Victoria’s muffled voice, calm and quiet, broke through the silence a moment later, followed by the sound of three sets of footsteps moving off down the corridor, one set considerably quicker than the other two.
Harry closed his eyes trying to get the image of Robert and Frederick out of his head, but found it close to impossible. The harsh naked forms of Frederick being screwed by his lover kept forcing their way back into his mind and refused to leave. His stomach churned and he could feel his throat burn as the bile started to rise.
Frederick had already told him that he’d met Robert when he’d come over to try and get his grandfather to finance the movie he was writing. He told him that he hadn’t said anything about meeting Robert on his trip over because he hadn’t wanted his mother to know he’d been in the country.
We’d argued just before he’d flown out, maybe if we hadn’t, he would never have done it. Was it my fault? How long did it go on for? The same thought kept going round and round in his mind. He stood back up, resolving to talk to Frederick. He had to find out. There had to be an explanation.
He pulled open the door, and as he did, a pain shot through his head, his skull throbbing painfully, almost as if it were about to shatter. It was unbearable, it caused him to stumble as he crossed the floor of the small bathroom to the sink. He grappled with the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet and fumbled through the various boxes and bottles until he found a small box of painkillers.
He quickly took two of them with a large gulp of water, hesitated for a moment before popping a third through the seal and swallowing that one dry. He braced himself on the sides of the sink and waited for the pills to take effect. The thumping slowed, but the headache didn’t go away.
Harry looked up at his drawn reflection in the mirror and sighed slipping some extra pills into his pocket for later.
Several of the boxes and bottles had fallen from the cabinet to the floor, during his hasty search for relief. He picked them up and started to place them back inside when the prescription on the last bottle caught his eye.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
Harry turned around sharply and found himself toe to toe with Ernest. “I, err, I had a headache. Sorry, I was just looking for some tablets.”
“Well, I don’t have any.” His hand flew past Harry’s head and slammed the door of the cabinet shut. “This is my private bathroom, boy, I suggest you leave.”
“Right, of course. I… I am going to leave.”
Ernest turned as he caught the tone of Harry’s voice. “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah, I’m… I’m just going to go upstairs and pack my stuff up and then I’m gone.”
The old man looked at him from head to toe and laughed a wheezing breathy laugh. “It seems that man you love so much doesn’t really love you back all that much.”
Harry bowed his head and fiddled with the lid of the bottle, the childproofing caused it to click, but not open. “No. I guess he doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that – ”
“What’s that?” Ernest looked at the bottle and his eyes widened. “Give me those!” He snatched it from Harry and thrust it into his pocket.
“Mr Cromwell, I – ”
He pointed a finger at Harry menacingly. “If you ever tell anyone about this, poof, I’ll make sure you never bugger anything ever again!”
Harry stared at him blankly, emotionless, small beads of sweat started to appear across the old man’s forehead, his face burning red with an impotent rage.
“You should be careful, Mr Cromwell. A man of your age, all that blood rushing to your… head. It’s not natural.” Ernest’s eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets, his mouth gaped open, but he couldn’t find the words. “You’re pathetic.”
Harry turned away from him and made his way back into the corridor, heading for the hallway and smirking slightly at what he’d just discovered when he heard a noise from further back in the corridor.
A squeal, it sounded like a woman.
Harry turned back around and passed the bathroom. Inside, he could see Ernest taking a drink of water. Harry looked to a doorway at the end of the corridor, he could hear the monotonous drone of a washing machine coming from beyond it.
He dismissed the noise he’d heard as nothing more than the random mechanical squeal of the washer, but as he turned away again, he heard the sound of glass smashing.
“Hey!” Harry ran into the utility room to find Reece pinning Ella to the floor, one hand over her mouth, the other hand pushing itself under the waistband of her skirt. “Hey! Get off her!”
Harry rushed over, grabbed hold of one of Reece’s arms and the collar of his shirt and threw him against the wall.
“Get off me!” Reece spat at Harry, the smell of alcohol strong on his breath.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Harry spat back, feeling the urge to throw a punch.
“Get your filthy hands off of him. Just because you’ve turned the other two gay, doesn’t mean you can turn all three of my grandsons!” Harry looked behind him to see Ernest stood at the door.
“Look at her!” Harry let go of Reece and pointed down at the floor where a shell-shocked Ella was attempting to cover the ripped pieces of her shirt. The smashed remains of a vodka bottle lay beside her.
Ernest looked down at his maid and the look of contempt he held crumbled into one of concern.
“Ella!” Ernest rushed over to her and crouched by her side. “Are you ok?”
“I’m… Mr Cromwell.” She looked up at him suddenly, as if she hadn’t noticed him come into the room. Her gaze shifted over across the room.
“Your one straight grandson, Ernie.”
“Harry.” Ella muttered
“What?” Ernest frowned up at him.
“Reece!” Harry cried, gesturing to him as he slid down the wall. “The only normal grandson you have, the one that’s not disgusting, just tried to rape your maid!”
“What? Reece, is that true?”
“Grandpa, I – ”
“Is it true, yes or no?” Reece bowed his head, but said nothing. “Get out!”
Reece scrambled to his feet and sprinted from the room. Harry moved over to Ella and crouched down beside her.
“Ella, are you ok?”
“I’m… Yes. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”
“She’s going to be fine. Thank you for your assistance, but you can leave us now.” Ernest looked across at him. “You’ve got some cases to pack, haven’t you?”
“Ella, are you ok if I leave?”
“It’s ok, you can go,” she nodded, and spoke confidently, though her eyes weren’t focusing on anything, “you’ve got things to do. He didn’t really do anything.”
Harry nodded gently and left the room. As he did, he saw Ella lean in to hug her boss.
He frowned as he walked back down the corridor towards the entrance hall. It seemed that there was still one person in the house who could stand to be around the old man. He found Reece sat at the bottom of the marble staircase, his head in his hands.
“What? I didn’t…”
“Because I stopped you!”
“I wasn’t going to… I would never… She fell. I was just trying to help her up.”
Harry grabbed his wrist. “Come with me.”
“What? Where are we going?”
In his intoxicated state, Reece put up little resistance and Harry was able to drag him easily through a door. The room was dark, but a slither of moonlight through the window revealed, like so many of the rooms in the house, a dusty bookcase against the wall, and a small drinks cabinet in the corner. In the centre of the room, stood a large billiards table, several balls were still on the table as if the game had been abandoned mid-way through.
“Harry, what are you doing? I can’t see. Where are you?”
“I’m right here.” Harry whispered in his ear, and immediately sensed him recoil away, his hand grasping behind him for the door handle.
He found it twisted it down, but Harry kicked his foot against the door to keep it closed and roughly grabbed a handful of the hair on the back of his head. He forced Reece over to the table and as he hit it, he doubled over in surprise. He tried to stand up, but Harry stood behind him and placed his hand hard on his back, forcing his face into the surface of the table.
“What… what are you going to do?” His voice was breathy and panicked, he’d clearly been winded by his collision with the table
“I’m going to teach you a lesson.” One of Reece’s arms was stuck under his body, and Harry pulled his other round so he could hold him down. He stiffened his legs against his so that he couldn’t move.
“I… I’m not scared of y-you.”
“Well, of course you’re not,” Harry said, with a note of false confusion, “why should you be? You have no reason to be scared of me.”
“Because, you’ve just fallen. I’m just trying to help you get… up.” As Harry said the last word, he tugged hard on the waistband of Reece’s trousers, lifting his backside into his groin. “You know, a lot of people think only women can get raped, that only women are vulnerable. That’s not true.”
Harry held the position for a moment, before letting go. Reece dropped back down, but still remained under Harry’s control. Neither of them said anything, the only sound coming from Reece as Harry softy stroked the fabric covering his left buttock.
“You’re sick!” Reece shouted as Harry suddenly released him.
“No, you are.” Harry batted the insult back at him as he fumbled uncomfortably for the door.
“I’m going to go back out there and tell everyone what you just tried to do.”
“I didn’t try to do anything, Reece. You were drunk, you managed to get yourself lost. You fell, I helped you find your way.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt her. I’m not like that, I would have never…”
Reece quickly pulled open the door and ran out, leaving Harry alone in the dark room.
He looked at the pool balls slowly coming to a rest after being disturbed by their struggles. He smiled for a moment at the thought of Reece’s panic, but then caught himself. Harry knew that he would never have done it, he wasn’t that sort of person, but it had been a long time since he’d had another man in that position and… And I enjoyed it.
I wouldn’t have gone on, Harry told himself, I would never become that person. But he had wanted to. The swelling in his boxer shorts could confirm that much.
* * *
Harry walked back into the bedroom he was sharing with Frederick, still trying to comprehend what this house, this family was turning him into after his encounter with Reece. Frederick was sat on the bed, his laptop open in front of him, but he wasn’t using it. He looked up at Harry.
“What are you smiling about?” He asked.
I’m smiling? Harry felt a queasy feeling in his stomach. He forced it from his face, at the same time forcing the memory of Reece’s squirming body under his, away from his mind.
“Reece just tried to rape Ella.”
Frederick’s eyes opened wide with shock, an expression that soon turned to one of confusion. “So… again, why are you smiling?”
“You remember Briggs Johnson?”
Harry couldn’t tell if Frederick was more confused or aroused as he remembered the old sex-game they used to play.
“You butt-fucked Reece in your office and gave him the lead role in a movie?”
Harry laughed, genuinely and involuntarily. “No, I just spooked him a little bit, let him think I might. He was drunk enough to believe me.”
Frederick’s smile remained for a moment, but then it faded and he shook his head. “I can’t believe Reece would do something like that to Ella.”
“Nothing done by anybody in this family surprises me, Freddie.” He sat down on the end of the bed and pushed shut Frederick’s laptop.
“Look, Harry, about Robert – ”
“Was it my fault?”
“Was it my fault?” Harry repeated. “We argued just before you came over here, I was putting pressure on you to finish your screenplay.”
“I was pissed off from the argument, I’m not going to deny that, but not at you. I was upset with myself. I promised you something and I never followed through on it. I wanted to make it right, I wanted to get the money for the film, I knew Grandpa could help, but he wouldn’t.”
“So you slept with Robert?”
“I saw an opportunity. If I could get him that job, then he would owe me a debt, but I had to find a way to get him onside. I thought he was interested, he was flirting… but he was just playing me.”
“Damn right he was playing you! He’s made his way through your whole family, first your sister, then you, your mother. The man is just after an easy ride, a quick way to get some money, and he doesn’t care who he hurts.”
“I didn’t know that at the time. I thought… I don’t know. I was naïve, I thought nobody could play me like that.”
“Yeah, well, he did.” Harry got up and started to pace as the anger within him returned. “You know, I can accept that you slept with him, maybe I’ll even be able to forgive you for that, one day, I don’t know.”
“Harry, that’s – ”
“What I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive is what you let him do to you.”
“What I let him do?”
“I heard him, Frederick, I heard what he said. He fucked you, Freddie. He fucked you!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t fuck him,” Harry said, “you let him fuck you. You let him be Briggs while you played the desperate young actor!”
Frederick bowed his head, avoiding eye contact. “Harry, I’m sorry.”
“No, you don’t get to be sorry. You get to be Briggs, I get to be his prey, the victim. You’re always Briggs!”
“Harry…” Frederick shrugged, “you like being the victim.”
Silence fell between them, Harry stared in disbelief. “I’m not going to say I never enjoyed our sex life, but you always told me that you would never be a bottom! I was fine with that, it wasn’t something you ever wanted to do! I respected that! Then, I found out that nine months ago – nine months ago! – you were victimised by a Briggs on your grandfather’s desk!”
“Harry, you’re getting hysterical! Don’t you see? I couldn’t tell you… I didn’t tell you because I love you. If I’d told you what had happened you would never have forgiven me.”
“I can forgive you for having sex with another man! I’m not happy about it, but I’m not naïve enough to think that you would ever be faithful, Frederick. I did think that you might tell me about it, but I can probably even forgive that. What I can’t forgive is what you let him do to you!”
“So I let him fuck me, what’s the big deal?”
“Did you enjoy it?” Harry tried to look Frederick in the eye but he turned away. “See, it’s never been about sex between me and you, Freddie. It’s about power.”
“You enjoyed it, and still when you came back to me you said nothing. You didn’t even say that perhaps one day you might like to try it. And why? For the exact reason you’ve ever done anything with me. You like having power over me. You’re the one who fucks me. You’re going out with an actor because as a writer you can control what I say and what I do. And you love… you love the fact that with just one word to the wrong person you can destroy my career.”
“Ok, now you’re just being a drama queen, Harry. I don’t know if you remember this, but I’m the one who wants you to tell everyone just who you are. I love you, and I hate the fact that you have to lie to everyone, but I don’t want you to lose your career, and I couldn’t ever be the one to do that to you!”
“You know I’ll never do it, there was no one more surprised at that table tonight than you when I told everyone. But you know damn well that whenever you bring it up, it just makes me feel guilty, and that’s your way of keeping me submissive!”
“You’re nothing but a power hungry Nazi, Frederick! You like to control people, you like to feel superior to them! You’re just as bad as your grandfather!”
Silence fell again as they both realised just how true this statement was. A moment later, a tinny jingling noise came from Harry’s jacket pocket. He fished out the mobile phone and as he died he found the condoms their driver had given him.
“Where’d you get those?”
“I just need to know one thing,” Harry said, ignoring the both the phone and the question, “did you use a condom?”
Frederick broke eye contact and bowed his head again. “Harry –
“I’m going to answer this,” Harry said turning away, his insides starting to burn like fire, “and then I’m going to get something to eat. I don’t care where you go, but when I get back, I’m spending the night here, in that bed. Alone.”
He walked from the room and answered the phone. “Tricia?”
“Happy Christmas, darling! Is this a bad time?”
“What do you want?”
* * *
Harry slumped down against the wall of the landing and slowly fingered the frayed edge of the rug spread across the wooden floorboards. He couldn’t believe it was Christmas Eve and that he’d had two arguments with Frederick in the space of a few hours.
It’s because we’ve been cooped up together for so long, he tried telling himself, the plane, the car. This house. They’d never been together for such a prolonged period of time with no means of escape. It was just tension and fatigue. That’s all it is.
Harry sighed as he realised he was lying to himself. The truth was, they’d been arguing like this for weeks. At first it had been over small, ridiculous little things. The first argument they’d ever had came after Harry arrived home on Valentine’s Day.
Frederick had let himself in to cook a romantic meal. Harry arrived to find the lights off and candles spread across every available surface. Soft romantic music was playing out from the stereo, and when he looked up at the doorway to find Frederick stood there wearing a tuxedo, clenching a rose in his teeth and holding up a bottle of champagne, he couldn’t help but laugh.
They’d spent a wonderful evening eating together at the lavishly decorated table, and then a glorious night together between the sheets. The next morning, Frederick had come downstairs to find Harry tidying up after the evening. It was then that he happened to notice that Frederick had rearranged the order of Harry’s CDs.
Harry started to put them back, and what started out as annoyed banter soon grew into an argument that ended with Frederick walking out and slamming the door behind him.
That had been just a silly little argument, but the one they’d had earlier, that was different, that argument was a serious, huge, relationship destroying argument and –
Harry looked up to see Fiona stood in the shadows.
“I’m afraid not.” He said as he stood up. Even through the darkness he could see her face fall.
“Do you know where he is?”
“He probably doesn’t even know where he is, he’s so drunk.”
“The way Grandpa treated him, wouldn’t – ”
“Ernest pissed off a lot of people tonight, Fiona,” Harry said quietly, “nobody else got that drunk. Nobody else turned into a rapist.”
“Nothing, forget I said anything.”
“No. What do you mean?”
“Reece nearly raped Ella tonight. If it hadn’t been for your grandfather and I, he might have succeeded.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fiona,” Harry spoke softly, “as an impartial observer, can I just say… you and Reece – ”
“Look, I know he’s my cousin, ok? There are plenty of people out there who have relationships with their cousins, it’s not illegal, it’s – ”
“I’m not judging you, Fiona. I could tell you what I think, but somehow I don’t think you would listen.”
“Right, well…” Fiona nodded, clearly thrown. “I’m going to go find Reece.”
“Fiona.” She turned back to face him as Harry fished out the small packet from his pocket. “I hope you don’t find him, but if you do you’ll need this.”
Fiona frowned and took the condom. “I’m fourteen.”
“Exactly. Which is why there should be no reason for you to need it, but if you do find Reece… I don’t think he’s in any position to remember it himself. Or to take no for an answer.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You won’t need this with Frederick?”
Harry smiled, ruefully. “I think we kind of broke up.”
“You might make up.”
“Maybe,” Harry patted his chest, “I’ve got another one, just in case.”
Fiona nodded, turned and climbed up the stairs, and as she did Harry’s stomach rumbled loudly.
He climbed down the stairs, heading toward the kitchen. He passed the large picture of Ernest and he quickly glanced down at the embroidered family tree underneath. Harry ran a finger across the canvas, and felt a rough, raised section in a blank space to the left of Michael’s name. Something that had been there, had been removed. Now that he was looking for it, it was obvious to Harry that the names of the children were off balance, further to the right than would make aesthetic sense.
His stomach rumbled again and Harry made his way down the spiral staircase at the back of the entrance hall into the kitchen. He heard raised voices as he stepped down. Ella was shouting at someone.
“He raped me! Why won’t you believe me? He raped me!” Harry stepped into the kitchen as Ella shouted this last word. She was stood behind Pat, who was seated at the table, holding her head in her hands. “Ella, will you just calm down?”
Harry coughed a little to let them know he was there and when Ella caught sight of him, her eyes widened and a sob escaped from her lips.
“I need a shower.” Ella looked at him warily for a moment, and then sprinted from the room, through a door at the opposite end
“She is?” Pat asked.
“He didn’t rape her.”
“No, I think he was going to, but Ernest and I stopped him.”
“Reece.” Pat shook her head and sighed. “Did you need anything?”
“Just a sandwich, all this arguing, gives me an appetite. Don’t worry I’ll get it.” He quickly added as Pat started to get up.
“The bread’s in the bin next to the fridge.” She muttered and rubbed her head.
“Here, take one of these.” He pulled the aspirin from his pocket and dropped them on the table in front of Pat.
Harry started to rummage through the fridge and as he did, a loud clanking noise came from the wall opposite. He looked at Pat, but she seemed unconcerned. “What was that?”
“Hmm? Oh – just the boiler down here, it’s on a separate system to the rest of the house. It’s about a hundred years old, always makes that noise when one of us has a shower.”
“Oh.” A silence filled the room as Harry continued to make his sandwich. After a moment he turned to her. “Pat, you’ve worked here a long time, right? You know Ernest pretty well?”
“As well as anyone else.”
“Has he got a girlfriend?”
“Second drawer down on the left. Why’d you ask?”
“Need something to spread the butter.”
“No, why do you want to know if Ernest has a girlfriend.”
“I, err,” Harry hesitated, “I found some Viagra in the drugs cabinet.”
“That’s for me.”
“For you? You’re impotent?”
Pat laughed. “Listen to me, kid, at your age, it might be hard to imagine, but at my age…at our age, you take what you get.”
“You and Ernest?”
“Like I said, you take what you get. He may be a few years older than me, he may be the grouchiest bastard you’re likely to meet this side of Prince Phillip, but when we’re together, I forget that. I can close my eyes and he’s… I don’t know, Paul McCartney or George Harrison and I’m twenty, thirty – even forty years younger.”
“But, why Ernest? I’m sure you could do better than him.”
“We go back a long way.”
“How long?” Harry’s curiosity was piqued as he sat down opposite her.
“Almost as long as this house. Ernest hired me just after he and Doreen moved in.”
“Did you know Raymond?”
Pat smiled. “I did. His father disowned him when Doreen died, and then I moved in to look after the children. Ernest never really liked talking about Raymond, he would probably be spitting feathers if he could hear us now.”
“And you’ve lived here ever since?”
“Not quite.” Pat leaned over and took half of my sandwich. “I quit for a period back in the seventies. I never planned on coming back, but Ernest and I ran into each other at Elizabeth’s wedding and he convinced me to come back.”
“And you moved back in, just like that? What, he charm you?”
“He wasn’t always this bitter, you know. He used to be… nice.” Pat smiled fondly. “But, no, I didn’t move back in, I was married. I was here during the week, and then back at home in London for the rest of the time. But, err, money grew tight and my husband and I started to argue, we separated and that’s when I moved back in here.”
“You don’t see him at all anymore?”
“He died a few years back now, physically at least.” She gave a slight chuckle. “He’d been emotionally dead for decades. No, this lot are my family now.”
“You don’t have kids?”
Pat smiled mournfully. “I was told I could never have kids.” She dabbed at her eyes slightly with a small handkerchief. “Oh, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”
“What about Ella?” Harry asked.
“When did Ella start working here?”
Pat hesitated slightly, before moving over to the fridge. “We should have a glass of wine in our hands if we’re going to sit here rabbiting on.”
Thinking she was hidden from Harry’s view by the fridge door, Pat steadied herself, took a deep breath and then reached in for a bottle.
“Ella’s first week was… eventful.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Not what. Who.” Pat said, pouring Harry a glass of white wine. “As most things in this family do, it started with Frederick…”
The next chapter will be available on Sunday 27th March