Harry found himself alone in the lobby of the house, the large majestic portrait of Ernest staring down at him. There was an evil twist to his smile, which he was certain had not been there the night before.
The police had quickly turned up again, Jennings looking extremely pissed off that he was spending even more of his Christmas Day in their company, and they’d all been briefly questioned before he’d declared that there were no suspicious circumstances in regards to Gary’s death.
A simple suicide, the detective had said, with a satisfied smile on his face, though Harry couldn’t help thinking that a suicide was anything but simple.
Reece and Frederick had pulled Gary down and laid him on the bed while Matthew and Harry had ushered everyone else out of the room, the innate instinct to protect people from the inevitable kicking in. Pat had quickly taken hold of Ella and dragged her off to the kitchens in an attempt to calm her down, but also, Harry suspected, to stop him from asking any more questions.
“Please don’t say anything.” Pat had said quietly to him before leaving the room, and in all honesty, Harry realised he was too shocked to say anything.
The rest of them had waited out in the corridor, none of them quite sure what to do. While they blustered, Harry had remembered the card that Detective Jennings had handed to him, pulled it out of his jacket pocket and dialled the number. Jennings hadn’t sounded particularly happy to hear his voice, but had promised to send a team out, straight away.
A silence fell on them all again until Jennifer had broken it by quietly mentioning that she used to work with a man who had killed himself, though he’d used a bullet rather than hanging himself. This had caused Elizabeth to start sobbing loudly while Nicola had turned a ghostly shade of white and begun to shake. Matthew and Frederick had taken their mothers downstairs, a futile attempt to put distance between them and the fact that Gary was lying, far from at peace, on the other side of the door.
The others had quickly drifted off, eventually leaving just Reece and Harry, standing a morbid sentry in the corridor. Reece had stayed out of duty, it was his father lying dead on that bed, Harry had stayed simply because he had nowhere else to go. He was the outsider in this family, the one who had not lost anything, and by being that outsider, he had accepted the responsibility of knowing what to do next. It had been him who had called the police, and it would be him who talked to them once they arrived.
The problem with dead bodies, aside from the obvious, of course, Harry thought, is that it doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. Just seeing a corpse caused you to remember just how short and pointless life could be. Just seeing a corpse reminded you of all the people you’d known that had died.
In a desperate attempt to push the image of his twin’s dead face – his own dead face – from his mind, Harry had started a conversation with Reece.
They’d talked about nothing and everything while they waited for the police to arrive, and now that he had sobered Harry could see that he could actually be quite a nice guy. He felt guilty for what he’d done to him the night before, until he remembered what Reece had nearly done to Ella.
Fiona had appeared, leading Detective Jennings and a group of uniformed officers to Gary and Nicola’s bedroom. Harry had entered with them and began to explain what he knew of what had happened when one of the officers – Turner, Jennings had called him during Harry’s interrogation – discovered a letter.
Some kind of medical team had arrived, presumably, Harry had thought, to just confirm the death and remove the body, and Jennings had gathered them all in the lounge. He’d passed the suicide note to Nicola and explained to the rest of them that Gary had remembered killing his father, that he couldn’t let an innocent man – meaning Robert – go to jail for a crime he hadn’t committed.
As the small army of medical and police officials started to pack up their stuff and leave, Harry took Jennings to one side and asked him if he really thought that Robert was innocent. He’d replied that unless any new evidence came up to incriminate Robert completely, they’d never get it to court – not with the signed confession from a dead body.
He’d left, taking Nicola and Jennifer with him. Nicola had wanted to follow her husband and Jennifer had refused to let her go alone and that was how Harry had found himself alone in the lobby of the house.
He slowly walked back upstairs, hesitating a little before passing Gary and Nicola’s bedroom and heading into his own. Frederick was sat at the desk, facing away from him, tapping quickly away on his laptop. Harry gave a small cough to let him know he was there, but he gave no reaction, he didn’t turn to face him, although the tapping of the keys ceased suddenly.
“It was Matthew, wasn’t it?” He asked eventually, and Harry found himself unable to answer him, but Frederick didn’t need him to, the silence said it all.
After a moment Frederick turned to face him, he had been crying, his eyes were red and puffy, Harry could still see the trail of a tear that had run down his left cheek. He moved over to the foot of the bed and pulled out his case from underneath.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m leaving, Freddie.” Harry said simply, taking some clothes from the cabinet on the side of the bed.
“Anything to do with this?” He asked, handing over two pages of printed paper. Harry only needed to glance at Tricia’s trademark garish red font to realise what it was.
“I meant to tell you, really, I was going to, but then…” Frederick didn’t need him to remind him just what had happened.
“Why him? He’s my cousin, Harry. I mean, I can understand that you wanted revenge, that you – “
“It wasn’t about him being your cousin, hell, it wasn’t even about revenge, it was…”
“What? What was it? Just couldn’t resist a piece of virgin meat?”
“No!” Harry zipped up his case, surprised at just how little he’d managed to unpack since they’d arrived, forgetting that he’d been there less than a day. “It isn’t… it wasn’t like that.”
“Then what? What was it like?”
“I felt sorry for him.”
“So what? A sympathy fuck?”
“We were talking,” Harry said, ignoring his last comment, “he was telling me about how hard it’s been for him, and… yeah, maybe I was a little angry with you – I had every right to be, but the way he spoke to me, the way he looked at me…”
“The way he looked at you? What do you mean?”
“He didn’t look at me and see Harry Hicks, or Vincent’s brother, or an Oscar Nominee, he just saw… Harry.”
“He certainly didn’t see ‘Frederick’s boyfriend’, that’s for sure.”
“Hey! It’s not his fault. Last night… it wasn’t about you.”
Frederick snorted through his nose and turned back to his laptop. Harry sat down on the end of the bed and looked at Tricia’s email. He suddenly felt very foolish, his bags were packed and he was ready to go, but he wouldn’t be picked up until the following morning. Harry checked the clock on the wall, he had more than twelve hours to kill.
“Are you coming back?” Frederick shut down his laptop and turned to face him.
“Are you staying?”
“I kind of have to. I can’t leave mum, not at the moment. Besides someone has to keep Cromley’s running.”
“What are you going to do about the will?”
“I… I hadn’t really thought about it. The way Gregory tells it, I’m in charge of the company until the twelve months is up. If I’m not married by then… well, we’ll deal with that when it happens.”
“You can’t have it all, you know. You can’t keep me, and get married. If you still want me, that is.”
“I know.” Frederick sighed softly. “Stay here with me. We’ll sort something out.”
“I can’t, Freddie. My home is out there, my job.”
“Your home is with me.” He said, sitting next to Harry on the end of the bed, moving Tricia’s email on to the desk. “And you can get roles here, they make British movies too, you know.”
“The will isn’t our only problem.” Harry said after a moment, not really having a comeback. “There are other things.”
“Perhaps we ought to just… take a break from each other for a little bit. In two months, this film will be finished, we’ll have had some time apart, why don’t we just see where we are then.”
“You think that’s a good idea?”
“I don’t know. But it’s the only idea I’ve got.” Frederick reached out and took hold of Harry’s hand and they sat in silence, staring at the dark skies outside.
“So what do we do now?” He asked eventually.
“Now… I pee.” Harry made his way into the en suite. The two months break will do us good, he told himself, I can concentrate on my career for a little while, and Freddie can spend some time with his family. Help get them back on track.
When Harry moved back out into the bedroom, Frederick was standing at the foot of the bed, completely naked.
“Harry,” he said, “I need you.”
“Freddie, what are you doing?”
“I need you.” He repeated. “Inside of me. I want you inside me.”
Harry stared at him in disbelief for a moment, unsure whether he was genuine or not. “I can’t. We don’t have any condoms.”
“We don’t need any. I trust you.”
Harry knew what he was trying to do, a gesture, an apology, a way of making things right between them. He could see he was genuine. Frederick wanted to do this, he wanted to make them work as a couple. But in that moment, with that pledge of trust, Harry knew that he couldn’t trust him.
Had he said that to Robert? I trust you. Who else had he said it to? Who else had he had unprotected sex with?
He knew then that in two months, they’d still be apart, that they wouldn’t get back together. This was it. This was the end.
“No.” Harry said. “Just… lie with me.”
Harry climbed onto the bed, fully clothed, and Frederick lay down next to him. Harry put his arms around his naked chest, and pulled him in tight, he could feel Frederick’s bare behind pressing into his groin, but Harry simply kissed the back of his neck before resting his head on the pillow.
“You don’t want to?”
Harry didn’t answer, he didn’t need to. In that unspoken moment, Frederick too realised that it was over between them.
* * *
When Harry woke up he was alone on the bed. With his right hand he reached behind him and braced himself against the headboard, stretching his whole body into consciousness. As he sat up he became aware of the sound of running water coming from the en-suite, Frederick was having a shower.
He looked at the clock on the wall and groaned. The taxi that Tricia had hired to take him to the army base would be arriving within the next twenty minutes, somehow he’d managed to sleep for over twelve hours straight. Although, he supposed, that wasn’t really surprising considering just how little sleep he’d had the night before.
He pulled himself up and looked in the mirror, his eyes looked sleepy, but otherwise fine, and while his hair could have benefited from the presence of a little gel, he decided it didn’t look too bad. He gently tousled it to check for bits that were sticking up at an awkward angle before casting his gaze down the full length mirror.
He was still wearing the same clothes he’d changed into when he and Frederick had arrived on Christmas Eve. All his clothes were packed away and although he probably would have had time to change, he wanted to get out of the room before Frederick left the shower. In a way, they had already said their goodbyes the night before, anything more this morning would just be… awkward.
His shirt didn’t look too rumpled, despite having slept in it, and his jeans were black so hid any creases that might appear. To his delight – and probably to his mother’s too – Harry had managed to not spill anything down himself either. He may not have been at his most presentable, but he could hardly imagine the army boys complaining. Harry smiled to himself at the thought of all their uniforms, and what lay beneath them, as he quickly sprayed himself with one of Frederick’s deodorants that was sitting on the side.
He grabbed his case and was halfway out of the bedroom door when he suddenly remembered the itinerary Tricia had emailed over. He returned to the desk and picked up the two pages Frederick had printed out. Underneath, was the copy of Ernest’s will that Gregory Lloyd had given to Frederick.
He looked down at it and smiled wryly. Ernest had wanted them to split up and for Frederick to get married, that’s why he’d written the will the way he had. Of course, Harry knew it was nothing personal, it wasn’t him that Ernest wanted rid of, but any boyfriend of Frederick’s, in fact, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Ernest actually quite liked him, in his own way.
If he hadn’t died, Frederick would probably be coming back to Los Angeles with Harry, or at least, joining him back there in a few days. They would have still had their problems, what happened with Robert and Matthew still would have happened, but perhaps if they had been together they might have been able to work through it.
By simply dying, Ernest had managed to put five and a half thousand miles between them, effectively ending any hope they had of keeping their relationship alive.
“Wherever you are, old man, I hope you’re happy.”
He frowned as he looked at the signature on the paper next to his. Pat’s handwriting was scrawled and hard to interpret, but she had quite clearly printed her name underneath. ‘Patricia Cromwell’.
* * *
Harry’s stomach rumbled loudly and he glanced over at the fruit bowl on the side. He’d barely eaten anything since the sandwich he had made himself in the kitchen with Pat on Christmas Eve, and his stomach was trying to remind him. He’d already eaten one apple while he’d been waiting, and was just reaching for a second when he heard a noise from above him.
“How long until your taxi gets here?” Matthew asked, sitting down next to him on the bottom stair.
“Any minute now.”
“He knows, doesn’t he?”
Harry nodded gently, without making eye contact. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t blame you. He knows it’s not your fault.”
A dry laugh escaped from Harry’s lips. “We didn’t break up because of you. There were other… issues involved.”
“Right.” There was silence between them, broken only by the rumbling of Harry’s stomach. “I’ve got something for you.”
“Doesn’t happen to be a light lunch does it?” Matthew held up a plastic CD case, and Harry took it, looking at the silver disc inside. “What’s this?”
“I deleted it from my laptop, but I made a recording before I did. It’s your latest movie.”
“Yeah, I have a copy as well, I was… watching it before. It’s pretty hot.”
“I couldn’t have done it without my co-star.” Harry clutched it to his chest as if it were an award. Matthew blushed a bright red, and Harry’s face turned serious. “I need to destroy this.”
“Right. Can I keep mine?”
“Guard it with your life. Don’t let anyone else see it.”
“Thanks. For everything.”
Harry smiled at the memory of their midnight encounter. “Thank you.”
“Are you never going to come out, then? Are you just going to carry on pretending for the rest of your life?”
“When I come out, I still won’t want anyone to see this. You’re under age, after all.”
“You said when.”
Matthew smiled at him, and Harry smiled back. “I did, didn’t I?”
He moved over to the fruit bowl, plucked a large red apple from the assorted pile and took a bite out of it, the skin giving a satisfying crunch against his teeth. He turned back around to find Matthew staring up at the family tree on the wall
“Matthew, about your dad, I’m so sorry, it must be difficult for you, I –” He stopped when he realised Matthew was smirking slightly.
“I wasn’t even thinking about dad, I was just trying to figure out what life would be like without him.” He nodded his head to the large portrait of Ernest, sadness permeating the features on his face.
“But,” Harry frowned, “he… he was a tyrant. He hated everything that you are, everything that we are. I thought you hated him.”
“I did. But I loved him too. He was a stubborn, prejudiced old bastard, but he did love us. He was more of a father to us than dad ever was.”
Harry shook his head in disbelief, amazed at the love this family still held for the man. “Better the devil you know and all that, eh?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Matthew sniffed and tears started to roll down his face.
“Hey, hey, hey, don’t cry.” Harry instinctively reached into his pocket for a tissue and pulled out a handkerchief.
“Thanks.” He wiped his tears with the cloth and went to hand it back to Harry, before stopping with a frown. “Did you cut yourself?”
“There’s blood on your handkerchief.” He shrugged, passing it back to him.
Harry looked down at the now dark brown smears on the white fabric, and then at the initials ‘RF’ stitched in the corner. Something suddenly clicked in his brain and Harry started to understand just what had really happened two nights before.
“I can’t believe I didn’t realise before.” He murmured quietly.
He stared up at the portrait of Ernest once more, his eyes focusing on the spot where Raymond’s name had been removed from the fabric. He dropped the apple back onto the table and rushed toward the spiral staircase at the back of the hall.
“Where are you going?” Matthew asked.
“Just going to grab something to eat,” Harry called behind him as he descended, “tell the taxi to wait!”
* * *
She was sat at the table, staring intensely into the centre of the wooden surface. She was staring so hard she didn’t notice Harry’s entrance, and in that moment he realised he didn’t know quite what he was going to say.
“Hi, Ella.” He smiled softly, and sat down in a chair at the opposite end of the table to her.
“Harry, hi. Did you need me to get you anything?” She went to get up, but he raised a hand to stop her.
“No, actually. I just wanted to check on you, make sure you were ok.”
“It’s early.” She said, checking her watch.
“I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“You’re leaving?” She asked, looking him in the eye for the first time since he’d entered. Harry noticed that her eyes were bloodshot, the skin around them red and worn.
“I’m afraid so.” For a moment, nothing was said. “What’s your excuse?”
“For being up so early?”
“Oh… I, I couldn’t sleep.”
“I guess not, it must have been quite a shock finding him like that. Gary, I mean.”
“It was… it just brought up some bad memories, that’s all.” Ella’s gaze returned downwards, focusing on her hands, clasped together on the table.
“It’s not easy, trying to get that image out of your head,” Harry said, watching her closely as he spoke, “believe me. I found my mum’s body, when I was eighteen. She… it’s not the same, she didn’t kill herself, she’d been ill. For the longest time, she’d been ill, so that we were ready for it. Still… that Sunday morning, waking up to find her lying at the bottom of the stairs… it was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen.”
“My dad killed himself… he’d been ill, but he… I found him, too.”
“I’d thought as much.” She looked at him curiously. “Something you said earlier, didn’t seem like you were upset about another death, more another death in that way. You said to Pat, ‘why again? Why is it happening again?’”
“Did I? I can barely remember, it all seems like a blur to me still.”
While outwardly, his face remained sombre, compassionate, inwardly, he smiled. He’d found his way in, only now, Harry felt almost guilty for going down this route. If his suspicions were correct, though…
“What was your dad’s name?” He went for it.
“Raymond.” She smiled affectionately, as Harry’s heart sank.
“That’s quite a coincidence, Ernest had a son called Raymond.”
Ella looked at him, an air of innocence around her. “Did he?”
“Yeah, you must have heard about it, it all came out on Christmas Eve, he had this son, years ago. They had a big falling out over money or something, and they haven’t spoken to each other in about forty years. No one knows what happened to him. Nobody told you?”
“A lot’s happened since then,” Ella shrugged, “I’ve kind of been in a daze, since it happened, just sort of… drifting. Besides, I’m only the maid.”
“Oh, well, Pat knew, she’s known for years.”
“Yeah, well, she’s been here for a long time, she’s practically family.”
Harry laughed slightly. “It’s funny you should say that, actually, the other night, Ernest asked us to sign as witnesses for his will, and Pat… she signed her name as ‘Cromwell’.”
“I guess she’s been here so long, she’s forgotten she’s not a Cromwell.” She laughed nervously, before stopping abruptly. “What time’s your flight?”
“Oh, I’ve got a while yet,” he replied, “besides, I think I’ve got something of yours, I wanted to give it back.”
“Yeah, a handkerchief, I found it out in the hallway, I thought I saw you with it when Freddie and I first arrived. Little white one, the initials ‘R.F.’ stitched in the corner.”
Ella smiled and nodded, a tear welling in one eye, “Yeah. It used to be daddy’s.”
Harry stood up and walked around to her end of the table, dropping it in front of her as he did. While she picked it up and looked at the blood stains smeared across it, Harry moved over to a counter. A window in the wall looked out at the side of the mansion, the gravel of the pathway level with the bottom of the glass, and Harry stared at his own face, reflecting in it.
“It needs cleaning, or something, there’s some nasty stains on it.”
“Yeah… I, umm, I… I get nosebleeds all the time.”
“Right.” He nodded. In the glass pane of the window, he could see Ella’s reflection, almost enveloped by the darkness of the outside world. “You know what’s funny, Ella?”
“Your mum, Pat,” Ella turned to face him sharply, she clearly did have patchy memories from when she discovered Gary’s body, “marrying a man named Raymond, and then getting her own name mixed up with Cromwell.”
“Harry, I – ”
“If I was to just… let my imagination run wild for a moment,” He said, turning around so that he was now facing her, “I might think that Raymond Cromwell married your mother. That would explain why Pat uses Cromwell… but why would your father change his name? Why change it to French?”
She was quiet for a moment, simply staring at him with a look of horror.
“Ernest didn’t know that Raymond and I had married.” Harry turned to see Pat stood behind him, wearing a thick dressing gown. “After Doreen died, Ernest refused to let Raymond see the children, wouldn’t let him anywhere near them. I felt bad for him. I used to visit him, keep him up to date with news of them, so he didn’t feel left out. I wanted to maintain the link between them, so it wouldn’t be too late if Ernest changed his mind.”
“But he never did?”
“No. They were both as stubborn as each other, anyway. I fell in love with him – with Raymond – and we got married.”
“But you didn’t tell Ernest?”
“I was afraid Ernest would fire me, that he’d get rid of me if he found out. If he did, Raymond would have no link left to his family.”
“When did he find out?”
“When I realised I was pregnant, I left my job without Ernest ever knowing. I didn’t want him to know, now we had our own child, Raymond and I would have our own family to look after. We would concentrate on her.” Pat sat down at the table and took hold of her daughter’s hand. “I still kept in touch with the children, though of course they were hardly children by that point. Elizabeth wrote to me, inviting me to her wedding and Raymond found the letter.
“He wanted to go, said he had to be at his sister’s wedding, so we left Ella with a friend, she was only a baby, and travelled to the hotel. Ernest spotted us and he started arguing with Raymond in the bar. Michael witnessed it, figured it out – most of it, anyway, he didn’t realise Ray and I were married.”
“But Ernest did?” Harry frowned, confused. “And you went back to work for him?”
“I told him it was over, Ray didn’t want me to, he’d finally had enough. He was ready to cut all ties, even changed his name – and Ella’s so that he wouldn’t ever be associated with the Cromwell’s again.”
“But you kept the name?”
“I knew we needed to stay part of that family, and he seemed to enjoy writing my pay cheque out to Patricia Cromwell.” She shared a long, searching look with her daughter. “I didn’t want you to never know your family, I thought perhaps I might be able to convince Ernest to see sense, to speak to his son again.”
“But you still didn’t tell him about Ella?” Harry asked, and Pat turned back to face him.
“No. It was easier at first not to – I didn’t know what he would do. Then as time went on, it became harder and harder to find the right moment, and so I just never did.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ll admit I didn’t know Ernest very long, but finding out he had a grandchild, surely that would be the one thing that would unite them, unless – “
Harry cut himself short, as a horrible, impossible – but yet, so perfectly shaped thought flashed through his head. Ella sobbed loudly and Pat pulled her into a large comforting hug.
He buried the thought away and made a show of looking at the clock on the wall. “Perhaps I ought to be going after all. There’s just one thing that’s still confusing me, though, Ella.”
“What’s that?” She asked, pulling herself away from her mother.
“The other night, the night Ernest was murdered, I came in here,” Harry gestured around the kitchen, “to get a sandwich. You left to have a shower, I even heard you turn it on, the water coming from the boiler or something. But then, later, when everyone heard Pat’s scream, you’d only just got out the shower, you were dripping wet.”
“So… it was over two hours between those two moments. Either you had a very long shower or… or you felt the need to have another one.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Ella… did you kill your grandfather?”
Ella rose and looked me in the eye. “No, Harry, I did not kill my grandfather.”
Pat suddenly stood up, and moved away from Ella. That horrible thought surfaced again.
“What about your father? Did you kill him?”
“Don’t answer him.” Harry froze as he felt something cold and hard against his head. Pat was pointing a gun at him.
The next chapter will be published on Sunday 5th June