Memories of a Murder – Chapter 20 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

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.”

“I know.”

“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.”

“Are you…?”

“We’re over.”

“I’m sorry.”

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.”

“Ah.”

“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?”

“No. Why?”

“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?”

“Sorry?”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“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?”

“What’s that?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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?”

“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

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Memories of a Murder – Chapter 19

 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

French House, Kent

April, 2001

 

“Go away.” Ella murmured as she felt someone poking her in the ribs. When the poking continued, she slowly opened her eyes, and looked up to a man standing before her. “Dad? What do you want?”

“You fell asleep at the table again.”

Ella looked around as the mist from having just woken cleared from her eyes. She was slumped over the table, a small pile of books next to her, her pen still in her hand.

“Oh, Christ, what’s the time?” She asked, hastily piling all her papers into her hands.

“Hey, hey, calm down, you’ve got plenty of time. It’s only just gone five.”

Ella sighed deeply as she dropped her work back on to the table and relaxed back into her chair.

“You want some breakfast?”

“Please.” She smiled meekly at her father as he disappeared into the kitchen, wrapped in his dressing gown.

Ella rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She couldn’t believe she had fallen asleep again, it seemed like weeks since she’d actually slept in her own bed.

Her courses at college were demanding a huge amount of her time, she needed to hand in her Psychology coursework in less than a week, the same date as her first Law exams. Quite why she had decided to take those two courses on top of the English Language class she was in, she didn’t know. She had been warned about the workload when she’d first signed up nearly two years previously, but had insisted that she would be able to cope.

Of course that had been before her father had lost his job at the bank. Since then he’d found it difficult to get another, nobody wanted a fifty three year old with a heart condition for anything excluding shop work. And he wouldn’t do that, he’d explained, after all he still had his pride. So, he had promptly signed on the dole and hadn’t looked for work since.

Ella had increased the number of hours she was doing in her own Saturday job at the local supermarket. She found that if she worked all day Saturday and Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings when she was free from college and then skipped the Friday afternoon English lecture, she was almost able to gain a full week’s wages.

Her mother still sent them some money, but she worked away from home, only managing to return to them for two weekends of the month, and even then she would arrive at around midday on Saturday before heading off again after lunch on the Sunday afternoon.

Her father had decided that since he couldn’t get a job, he would fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a novelist. When the idea had first struck him he’d gone straight into town and purchased a selection of pens, and notepads and half a dozen books on creative writing.

The first tip in each of the books had suggested he ought to have a writing space, a room of his own, exclusively for him to write in. And, because he wanted to do everything properly, he’d emptied the last of his personal bank account and completely redecorated the spare bedroom.

During that time, Ella had had to sell the television she had in her bedroom in order for them to be able to pay the mortgage. She didn’t mind, she didn’t watch it much these days, anyway, and it would just distract her from her coursework.

Over a year on and Ella still hadn’t seen anything even resembling a novel come out of that small room, but then she could hardly be surprised, he often went weeks at a time where he was ‘depressed’ and would spend all his time in bed watching daytime television.

Whenever she did find him in his writing room, he was staring out into space a blank page in front of him. He would always say that the biggest part of writing was the creating, that putting the words on the page was the last part of a very long process.

Perhaps, she’d told herself, but then the world was created in seven days, surely her father could have created at least a page or two in eighteen months?

Ella pulled herself up from the table and looked in at him in the kitchen, searching through a cupboard for a frying pan.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

“Couldn’t be better.” He replied as he triumphantly pulled out the pan from the cupboard. “Why?”

“No reason.” She shrugged, but they both knew the reason. Her father didn’t cook. He didn’t clean, he didn’t pay the bills, he barely even acknowledged that there were other people in the house, and yet, here he was cracking eggs into a frying pan and whistling along to some pop group on the radio.

“How many sausages do you want?”

“Two, please. Juice?”

“Of course.” He winked at his daughter.

“What is with you this morning?” She asked, mildly amused.

“Nothing,” he laughed back, “seriously. What do you want for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, I’m not going to be here for dinner, you’ll have to get yourself something. There’s a pizza in the freezer, but you’ll have to get it out now if you want it.”

“Where are you going? I was going to cook.”

“You?” Ella laughed. “You were going to cook?”

“Hey, don’t laugh,” he said, with a glint in his eye, “my beans on toast are a wonder to the taste buds.”

“Well, as much as I’d like to,” Ella said, pouring some orange juice into a glass, “I’ve got to work tonight. Steve’s given me an extra shift after college. I’ll probably just grab a sandwich somewhere.”

“Ok, ok, the thing is, I’ve got some important news that I want to tell you. I think I’ve found a way out of this mess we’re in.”

“You’ve found a job?”

“No.”

“The book?” Ella asked sceptically.

“No. I was tidying up some old paperwork, and I’ve found something that can help you. Us. Just come home for dinner tonight, and I’ll tell you about it.”

“Dad, I can’t, I’ve got to work.”

“No, you don’t. That’s the beauty of it, you see, none of us will have to work again.”

“Well, why can’t you tell me what it is?”

“Because… I need to speak to your mother first.”

Ella stared at her father for a moment and hesitated. “Dad, no offence, but what if it doesn’t work out? Steve’s worked really hard to try and get me some overtime, it’s not going to look right, if I don’t turn up.”

“Fine, fine, have it your way.” He turned away from her and back to the eggs in the pan.

“How much longer is it going to be?”

“Another five, maybe ten minutes.”

“Great, well, keep mine warm, I’m going to quickly dive in the shower. I smell like… well, like I slept in my clothes over the dining room table.”

“Ella.”

She stopped as she headed for the door and turned around to face him. “Yes?”

“Don’t think I’m not aware of what you’ve done for this family. I know it’s not been easy, with your mother away and with me… distracted, but you’ve done more than your fair share.”

“Thanks, Dad.” She smiled and hugged him.

“Why don’t you forget about coming home tonight? Ring up some friends, go out for a drink or something.”

“Thanks. Maybe, I’ll do that.” She smiled softly at him and gently walked out of the kitchen.

He watched her go and then broke into a grin. He pulled a folded piece of paper from the pocket on his dressing gown, kissed it and grinned before turning back to the breakfast frying before him.

 

*                *                *

 

Ella pulled her ticket from the machine and slowly trudged up to the back of the bus. She dropped her college bags on the long bench and leant into the corner between the rough back of the seat and the hard plastic of the window. She closed her eyes and for a moment, the silence of the near-empty bus combined with finally getting to sit down and not have to do anything, nearly sent her to sleep.

As the elderly couple that had stood behind Ella at the bus stop carefully lowered themselves into their seats, the driver started up the engine again with a loud clunk that rattled the window she was resting her head on. She raised it slightly, just enough that the vibrations of the window didn’t bounce against her head and stared silently down the length of the bus, out the windscreen at the dark roads ahead of them.

The bus started to move slowly out of the bay, and as the doors whooshed to a close, something hard banged loudly against the window next to Ella’s head, causing her to jump and emit a small squeal of surprise. The elderly woman, a few rows in front, turned around and gave Ella a comforting smile as her husband peered out into the darkness, attempting to see where the banging was coming from as it continued down the side of the slow moving vehicle.

The bus juddered to a halt and from her vantage point at the back of the bus, Ella could see the driver scowling at the doors as they folded open. A figure stepped onto the deck and started to apologise to the driver. He set down two Cromley’s plastic carrier bags and started to search through his wallet as Ella groaned and busied herself with leaning forward and looking through her bag, obscuring her face from anyone who happened to look her way.

Mr Reid had been a regular customer at Cromley’s in the town centre for longer than Ella had worked there. Every member of staff had had dealings with him and his wife, and the more experienced staff were able to spot them coming and quietly find themselves something that they needed to be getting on with. If you were working on the customer services desk, and suddenly found yourself alone, the chances were that the Reids were on their way.

Ella didn’t mind serving them, they were both harmless enough, they simply came in two or three times a week to pick up the magazines that were specially put by for them. The trouble was that Mr Reid liked the sound of his own voice, so much so that you could lose half an hour of your day if were stuck with serving them. She had once spotted him in the town centre talking at a young homeless Iranian woman who Ella knew through experience only knew three words of English; ‘Big’, ‘Issue’, and ‘please’.

The problem was that he expected you to remember each detail of the conversations you had with him and of the magazines that he purchased, when in actual fact you just spend the entire duration wondering just what you could say in order to get rid of them.

A few weeks previously, however, Mr Reid had spotted Ella on the bus and sat down next to her, insisting that they continue their conversation about the different types of military solders that fought in the American Civil war. She had resented the fact that despite no longer being at work, she was obliged to keep up her polite façade and humour this man, when all she really wanted to do was to curl up in a ball, wipe the plastic smile from her face and tell Mr Reid and the rest of the world to just fuck off.

After an age had passed, her stop had finally arrived, and Ella had dashed off the bus, silently regretting that the old man now had some kind of idea where she lived.

As the bus began to move off again, Ella dared to look up and was relieved to find that he had taken a seat halfway down the bus and had started up a conversation with the elderly couple. After a few minutes the bus stopped again and a girl, the same age as Ella stepped onto the bus. Emma Reynolds had been a close friend of Ella’s ever since Emma had first moved to the area almost ten years previously.

They hadn’t seen much of each other since they’d left school, Emma had gone to a different college, and Ella had had to stay in most nights to look after her father, cook his dinner and keep the house tidy. Ella still considered Emma as her closest friend, and she felt small sadness inside her as Emma summoned a brief wave at her ‘best friend’ before sitting on her own on a chair a few rows in front of her.

She felt sadness for the loss of their former friendship, for the loss of the friendship they could have continued to have and for what Ella perceived as a loss of the life she could have had. Emma was now talking on a mobile phone and laughing as she made plans with the person on the other end of the line on just how they were going to spend their weekend.

She also felt a twinge of guilt as she realised just how relieved she was that Emma hadn’t sat down next to her. Now she didn’t have to feel uncomfortable as she struggled to find something to say.

Ella smiled to herself, as she half-listened in on her friend’s conversation, it was almost like catching up with her, learning what Emma had been up to since the last time they’d spoken, what she was like.

The bus powered on down the roads without any more interruptions and Ella’s mind drifted to her coursework, wondering whether she could get away without doing any that night, or if she could simply have a long, much-needed sleep.

Ella pulled herself to her feet and picked up her bags – one filled with college books, the other a change of clothes – pressing the bell for the bus to stop as she did. She moved down the aisle of the bus, determinedly facing Emma and smiling in order to not have to ‘notice’ Mr Reid. Emma gave a little wave and continued on with her phone conversation, a different one now, and judging by the sly giggles and hushed words coming from Emma, a rather intimate one.

She stepped out on to the pavement, heaving one bag onto her shoulder and looked over at a group of about five or six young lads, stood between her and the road she needed to cross, all smoking, a few of them holding dark green bottles, and hesitated a little.

“Ella.” She turned around quickly, causing her bag to fall from her shoulder, to see the man stood behind her, as the bus pulled off out of the lay-by.

“Mr Reid.” She gasped. “What are you doing here? You don’t –“

“Oh, I’m just a few stops up the road,” he smiled at her, before looking past her at the group of lads, “I could use the walk.”

“Oh, ok.” Ella heaved her bag back onto her shoulder.

“Here, I tell you what, let me take one of those, and I’ll walk you home.”

“Really, you don’t have to, it’s not far, I can –“

“I want to, Ella.” He said continuing to look past her. She turned around and followed his gaze over to the group by the bushes. One of them was grabbing the crotch of his jogging bottoms and leering across at her. Ella couldn’t help but think that he must be incredibly blessed if he was actually grabbing himself considering how low slung his trousers were.

“Umm, ok. That’d be good.”

Mr Reid smiled at her, took one of her bags and then began to walk with her towards the road. As they neared the group, Mr Reid slipped his arm around her shoulder and Ella felt extremely uncomfortable as the crotch-grabber shouted out that she ought to leave the old granddad behind and that he could show her a good time.

They both ignored him, and by the time they’d crossed the road, the group had moved off in the other direction. Ella pulled away from the older man’s arm.

“Thanks for that. I’ll… I’ll see you around.”

“Hey, I said I’d walk you home, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

“You don’t have to, really, I don’t live far and they won’t be any trouble, I’m sure.”

“That’s not the point, I just don’t like to see a lady struggle with her bags,” he winked at her, “besides, it’s on the way to my house.”

“O… ok.”

They walked on in silence for a moment, Ella desperately trying to grapple around in her brain for a topic that wouldn’t turn into one about soldiers. She hated awkward silences.

“Granddad indeed.” Mr Reid muttered. “I’m only fifty-two.”

“Really?” Ella asked, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice. Mr Reid laughed slightly and Ella realised just how she’d sounded. “I just meant that I thought you were retired, I mean… you’re always in during the day and stuff.”

“No, not me. I’m a writer, I keep my own hours.”

“Really? My dad’s a… well, my dad wanted to be a writer.”

“Ah, maybe your dad and I should get together, share some tips.”

Ella frowned, she didn’t know if she liked that idea. “Maybe.”

They walked on a few yards, Ella in silence, not really listening as Mr Reid began to talk about the best way to write a book, until Ella stopped, at the foot of the pathway leading to her front door.

“Oh, is this you?” He asked, handing over her bag.

“Yeah.” She smiled weakly. “Thanks again.”

“Anytime, my dear.”

She stepped through the gate and made her way to the door. She set her bags down and fished through her pocket for the key. She glanced behind her and noticed Mr Reid stood watching her. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” He said back to her, but still didn’t move.

She briefly smiled at him and let herself in, quickly moving through to the front room, where he wouldn’t be able to see her. She dropped her bags on the floor and switched the light on. She moved over to the curtains and pulled them shut, she could see Mr Reid still outside, walking away, but at a snail’s pace.

“Dad?” She shouted. It was unusual for the house to be so dark at this time of night. Her father had never been very good at turning lights off, you could usually tell just where he’d been by following the glare of burning bulbs.

She stepped through the door to the dining room and screamed loudly as she saw her father suspended stiffly over the bottom of the stairs. She backed away in complete surprise and screamed again.

Suddenly she felt herself being moved out of the way, Mr Reid was pulling her away. She stepped back and he moved over to her father, started to lift him down. Ella looked up at her father’s mottled face, a rope tightly framing his features, tied at the top of the banisters.

“Ella, get out of here!”

As the customer laid down her father’s body on the floor, Ella moved back into the living room and sat down on the sofa. One thought was going round in her head, how stupid she’d been to leave the door unlocked. That’s how Mr Reid had gotten in, he could have done anything to her. She should have locked the door.

She could imagine the looks on the faces of her colleagues when they found out that he’d been in her house. They would have a ball, winding her up about being his new girlfriend probably. Through the corner of her eye she could see Mr Reid leaning over her father’s body in a desperate attempt to resuscitate him. She frowned and moved to the other end of the couch, but could still see her father’s curled fingers lying on the floor.

She moved over to an armchair and perched on the edge of it. From her left, she could hear Mr Reid cursing under his breath, from her right came a cold breeze, from the open door to the house. She stood up once again and moved outside, setting herself down on the wall of the garden.

She sat there for what seemed like hours, but could only have been ten minutes. She couldn’t believe her father had killed himself, he’d seemed so excited so happy as he’d cooked breakfast that morning. He had no reason to do it. Did he?

“At least now he has something to write about.” She told herself, and couldn’t help but laugh. A few moments later, Mr Reid left the house and stood in front of her.

“I’ve called an ambulance.” He explained. “He’s… I’m sorry, Ella.”

“I know.” Ella said, though she really wanted to ask why he’d called an ambulance. There was no emergency, not any more, they could be out there saving somebody else’s life, rather than clearing up after her father. That was her job.

“I found this on the side.” He handed over a small envelope, her name written on the front in her father’s unmistakeable handwriting. She carefully opened it and pulled out two pieces of folder paper, one a thick wad of A4, the other a piece of folded notepaper.

Dearest Ella, it read, I’ve been a burden for too long. I wanted us to have dinner tonight, to say goodbye, but I understand you have to work. I understand. That’s my fault. I hope this can make up for it. With love always, Dad.

Ella dropped the letter and unfolded the thick wad of paper. She glanced across at the words and let out a small, sad, laugh.

“What is it?” Mr Reid asked.

“Daddy never was any good with the little details,” she smiled, handing the paper to the man stood next to her, “it’s his life insurance policy.”

Mr Reid frowned as he read through the beginning of the document. “But… it’s lapsed. It’s not worth anything.”

Ella turned her head and smiled softly at the house as sirens blared in the distance. “I know.”

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

June, 2001

 

Ella looked down at the key ring she was fiddling with. “Oh, yes, yes. I’m supposed to be getting to know the place.”

“Well, before you do, I don’t suppose I could borrow them, could I? The last time I was here, I left a book in my grandfather’s study, and I need it back as soon as possible.”

“I don’t see why not,” Ella handed him the keys, “you have more right than I do.”

“Thanks, that’s great. I’ll bring them to you in the kitchen, when I’m done.”

“Oh, ok, then.” She smiled at him, coyly and moved away.

As Ella stepped down the spiral staircase into the kitchen, she found Pat waiting for her, glaring. “I saw that.”

“So? It’s his grandfather’s house.”

“Mr Cromwell is extremely private about his house, there are some places that he doesn’t want his family to go.”

“Fine,” Ella sighed, “I’ll just go and get the keys back off of him.”

“No.” Pat glared again. “I don’t want you going anywhere near him.”

“For Christ’s sake, Mum,” Ella sighed as Pat hastily closed the door, “he’s cute, I find him attractive, but I’m hardly going to jump his bones in the middle of the lobby, am I?”

“Please don’t make jokes about that,” Pat sighed through gritted teeth and closed eyes, “he’s practically family.”

“No, mum, he’s not! Today is the first time I’ve met him. He might be family to you, but to me, he’s not, he’s just some stranger!”

“That boy is like a son to me, that means he is like a brother to you, so you are going to leave him well alone, do you hear me? And how many times do I have to tell you, you are not to call me mum when we are in this house. I am Pat.”

“Which, by the way,” Ella shouted back, “is completely stupid, who cares that you gave a job to your daughter? I can do the job and – “

“Mr Cromwell does not like lies, he won’t like that I manipulated him into hiring you.”

“That’s not it at all, is it?”

“What?”

Ella narrowed her eyes at her mother accusingly. “They don’t even know I exist do they. They just think you’re some stubborn old spinster born to serve them. They don’t even know you were even married, they all think you’re still Pat Curtis. Well, I’m not going to lie to them just to protect your secret.”

“You will do as you’re told. I brought you here so that you could get to know these people. They’re a brilliant, vibrant family, one that I am proud to have been part of, and that is just want you need right now.”

“So, you want me get on with these people, but you force me to lie to them, and the minute I start getting on with one of them, you tell me not to. What’s that all about?”

“You were getting on with him just a little too well. I know what you’re like, young lady.”

“How? How do you know what I’m like, when dad was alive, you would spend half a day with us every fortnight. Don’t claim that you know what I’m like, you barely even know me. I’m my own woman and if I want to flirt or smile at – or even fuck – that boy out there, then damn it, I will!”

“No! You can’t!”

“Give me one good reason why not!”

“Because he’s your cousin!”

Ella froze with shock, while her mother stood staring at her, the colour draining from her face.

“He’s what?”

Pat sighed and sat down at the table, resting her head in her hands. “He’s your cousin. Mr Cromwell, he’s… he’s your dad’s father.” Pat took hold of her daughter’s hand and looked her in the eyes. “He’s your grandfather.”

 

The next chapter will be published on Sunday 29th May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you read yours?

I got in trouble last week with some of my colleagues. I gave up on a book before I reached the end.

 

That’s tantamount to finishing your Sunday dinner before you’ve eaten all the roast potatoes. It’s definitely not something I like doing, but what made it worse was that everyone else really enjoyed the book.

 

A bad reading experience can really put you off reading for a while. Last week I didn’t finish a book which was why I published no review. This week, I simply haven’t read anything to tell you about. Although, I have just started something new which I have high hopes for.

 

But why did I stop reading? Was it a bad book? Not particularly – a lot of people have really enjoyed it, so much so that I’m not going to tell you what it is because I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been a bit unfair to it.

 

Asking me to read an historical romance was always going to be a long shot, but it showed a lot of promise, so I gave it a go. It didn’t grab my attention, and it took a long time for me to get through the first hundred pages.

 

When I came to dipping back into the book on my second night, I got through about a page and a half before throwing it down, officially giving up. I was in a bad mood, and there was something about that page and a half that annoyed me. It didn’t take much.

 

Do I have a point? Maybe I don’t, but I do have a question. What makes a great book great?

 

There are books I have loved that others haven’t, and vice versa, like this one. Is a great book universal, or do we have to accept that no book can be good for everyone?

 

Are the things that are objective about a book what makes it great, or is it the subjective “

 

One of my favourite books is The Island by Victoria Hislop, and I know that is in part because I read it on the stone steps of a small village in Crete where the book is set. Was it my subjective experience of reading the book what made me like it, or was the writing simply that good that I could have enjoyed it anywhere?

 

Can even a technically perfect book be enjoyed by someone in a bad mood, or is our own environment part of the experience?

 

I can read anywhere, I sometimes proudly exclaim – but should I? Should I find some where that helps me enjoy the books I’m reading?  And is it the same place for each book?

 

I enjoy reading – but am I doing it wrong?

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 18

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Harry stared out of the window and watched as Robert was led from the house into the police car waiting outside. Suddenly he stopped, turned his head and looked straight up at Harry, as if he had known he was there. They held each other’s gaze for a moment, and then Harry smiled down at him, giving a small wink as he did.

And then, with a forceful push on the top of his head from the detective, Robert was pushed into the car and out of sight.

From his vantage point at the window of Frederick’s first floor bedroom, Harry could just see him and his mother stood on the front steps of the house. As the car started its engine, they turned and Frederick guided Elizabeth back into the house.

As they moved out of the way, Harry caught sight of Ella sat on the bottom step. He watched her for a moment as she stared at the police car speeding off down the driveway. Finally, once the car was just a speck in the distance, Ella stood up and slowly followed the others back inside.

Everyone else was gathered in the lounge, they all had been while the police interviewed Robert for a second time. A short while earlier everyone had been so eager to get away from each other, to get some space, but now that someone had actually been arrested for the murder, they had all gravitated towards each other, quietly dissecting the news.

It was when Frederick supposed that some of them might be called to the stand as witnesses that Gary suddenly sprang out of his chair and declared that perhaps he had drunk too much and that he needed to go and lie down.

Just moments later, a police officer had entered and asked to take statements from Harry, Jennifer and Frederick. Harry gave his in almost record time and went to return to the lounge, but he realised that the others would want to ask questions and really he wasn’t in the mood to answer them, so he’d quietly made his way up the stairs.

At first he’d climbed onto the bed and crashed out, staring up at the ceiling, but he had almost fallen asleep. Harry wanted to be awake for when Frederick came up, eventually he had to, and they still had a lot to talk about.

That was when he had moved across to the window. He’d been sat there for what felt like hours, staring across at the naked trees which were lined up along the driveway like pensioners in a post office, when he heard the noise below.

Watching Robert be dragged away by the police had made Harry feel a short sharp burst of satisfaction, but as the car had faded into the distance so had the feeling, and now he felt hollow inside.

The hollowness, the emptiness, had been there since the night before, since he’d discovered what Frederick had done with Robert, and it hadn’t stopped growing since then. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the look on Robert’s face as the police pushed him into the police car, an attempt to regain the feeling of satisfaction, but as Harry opened his eyes again it was gone. The emptiness inside him expanded and Harry hugged himself in a vain attempt to keep it as small as possible.

“He’s gone then.”

He let his arms drop to his sides and turned around to see Jennifer stood at the doorway to the bedroom.

“Yeah.”

Jennifer shut the door and sat gently on the edge of the bed, her hands tightly clasped together. Harry moved across and sat next to her, his head bowed forward, elbows resting on his knees.

“What if he’s innocent?”

Harry turned his head and locked his gaze with hers. “What if he’s not?”

As soon as Robert had been dragged off by Jennings into one of the side rooms, Harry had known immediately what would happen. While the others had stood around in the hall, still relatively stunned, he’d dragged Jennifer into the lounge.

He had told her that Robert would name her as his alibi, and that she needed to think extremely carefully about what her response would be. He’d asked her how long a gap there had been between the last time she’d seen Robert, and the time that Matthew and Harry had found Ernest’s body.

“Ten minutes,” Jennifer declared now, getting up from the bed, “is not enough time to murder someone!”

“If you don’t think he did it, why did you lie to the police?”

Jennifer hesitated. “He’s bad news, you know that. You heard him earlier, he was blackmailing me into seducing Frederick.”

“It didn’t sound like blackmail to me.”

“And I suppose if I’d just politely told him that I wasn’t going to do it, he would have left me alone? Or do you think maybe he might have gone and told everyone what he and I had gotten up to.”

“I didn’t think you’d care that much.”

“Whatever else that lot down there may be, they’re still the only family that Fiona and I have got.”

“Well… you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“I guess not.” Jennifer mused, staring out of the window. “What did the police want to talk to you for?”

“Robert used me as back-up,” Harry explained, “either in case you didn’t play ball, or they didn’t believe you. He told them that I heard you two talking about it, that I knew he was innocent. An alibi for an alibi.”

“And you lied as well?”

“They took him away, didn’t they? Convincing people of things is kind of my job.”

“Right.”

A silence fell between them again, and Harry felt a twinge of guilt inside. He kept telling himself that he had lied to the police in order to serve justice, to lock away a dangerous man, some deep rooted sense of civic pride.

But had he acted too rashly? What if I was just lashing out because of what he’d done with Frederick? What if I was just punishing him for Frederick lying to me? What if he’s innocent?

Jennifer seemed to be thinking along the same lines as him. “He had the knife, didn’t he?”

“Excuse me?”

“The knife, he made it disappear at dinner, and then it conveniently turns up in his jacket covered in blood stains.”

“Yeah.” Harry said, sounding more confident than he really was in an effort to convince himself. Still, there was something niggling away at the back of his mind.

“And the watch.”

“The watch?”

“He had Ernest’s pocket watch, remember?”

And suddenly, Harry did remember. The niggling in his head vanished, like a satisfied itch. But he was far from satisfied.

“Have you ever seen that watch before?”

“I’m hardly privy to Ernest’s antiques collection. Nor would I want to be, I can’t think of anything duller.”

“Still, Frederick said he always had it out on his desk.”

“Did he?” Jennifer didn’t seem too interested, she was already heading out of the door. “I guess I must have seen it before then.”

Harry watched as Jennifer left the room, a bad feeling was stirring inside him. What was it that Frederick had said? That it was the only one of its kind still working, that Ernest always had it on his desk. But Ernest had taken the watch from his safe, he’d shown it to him, it was already broken. It hadn’t worked for nearly sixty years.

It was entirely possible that Ernest had lied, he wouldn’t put it past him. But why would he lie to him about that of all things?

In the short time that Harry had known him, Ernest had worn his prejudices like badges on his sleeve. He was proud of them, why would he make up a story about his brother’s death in a pathetic attempt to cover up his homophobia?

A muffled thud from the room next door broke him from his chain of thoughts. He looked behind him at the bed and yawned. He’d been awake for what felt like days and the plump white pillows looked so welcoming.

He stretched out across the bed and buried his face into the soft white fabric, and for a moment, one glorious moment, he was calm, and happy and content.

And then his phone rang.

The shrill high pitched tones of a theme tune from some long-forgotten seventies television show pierced through the air, shattering the peace.

Blindly, he reached down into his pocket and pulled out the mobile. “What?” He asked, without checking the display, knowing that it could only be one person.

                  “Have you made up your mind yet? Keith needs an answer as soon as possible.”

“No.” He sighed, sitting up. “I haven’t. What do you think I should do? You’re my agent after all, you’re supposed to advise me.”

“Honey, you know what I think you should do.” Harry glanced up at the doorway, as a figure entered. “I’m just ringing to let you know, I’ll email you all the details. You’ve got your laptop, right?”

“No, but Freddie’s got his, email it to him, I can pick it up from there.”

                  “Great, I’ve managed to get you a lift on an army plane, I figured you’d like that, you can do your Vera Lynn act and entertain the troops on the way over or something.”

“Yeah, thanks, T, that’s great. Listen, I’ve got to go, someone’s just come in. I’ll give you a ring when I’ve made up my mind.”

She continued to speak, but Harry snapped shut the phone as Matthew gently closed the door to the bedroom.

“Finally managed to corner you.” He smirked, leaning against the door.

“What do you want, Matthew?”

He frowned at him, reacting to the coldness in Harry’s voice with what seemed to be genuine confusion.

“We need to talk,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to me, “you, know, about last night.”

“Wait a minute.” Harry stood up, snapped shut Frederick’s laptop and pulled the cable at the back out.

“What are you doing?” Matthew laughed a little.

“Just want to make sure that no one’s recording us this time.”

Matthew opened his mouth in slow realisation and pulled himself up off the bed. “Look –“

“No!” Harry shouted loudly, jabbing a finger into his chest. “You look! You lied to me! I was trying to comfort you and I… I… you filmed me.”

“I didn’t lie, ok?” He said, a confidence in his voice that he hadn’t heard the previous evening. “I just… I forgot.”

“You forgot?”

“You were in my bedroom, I don’t know, I was excited, I just wanted to have some record, some memory of what happened. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t know we would…”

“You should have told me you were recording me. You should have said something. It’s an invasion of privacy.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have shown anyone. I wouldn’t have told anyone you were gay. I wouldn’t do that to you. To anyone.”

Harry’s mind quickly flashed through the list of people in his life who knew he was gay, and the list of people he used to know that knew the truth. It was short, manageable. Controllable. At least it had been.

“When did you remember?”

“The police were asking questions, wanting to know if I had an alibi for the time of the murder. I remembered the recording, they asked to see it.”

“It showed us having sex.”

“They suspected you murdered him!” Matthew cried. “Would you rather the world know you as a murderer or as a gay man?”

“At least I’d still have a career.”

“Bollocks.”

Harry looked at him, and smirked, well aware of just what he was talking. He sat down on the bed and stared quietly across the room, his eyes resting on the laptop Frederick had brought with him. He never went anywhere without it.

“Why didn’t you pack your laptop?”

“What?”

“Last night, when you were running away, you didn’t pack your laptop.”

“Wasn’t exactly the top of my list.” Matthew shrugged. “I just grabbed some clean clothes, a bit of money.”

“Right.” Harry said, but frowned as he remembered seeing the pile of clothes on the floor in his bedroom, and the way the bag had folded in on itself when he’d dropped it to the floor. “Your bag was empty.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Yes, it was, you weren’t running away at all. You were coming to see Ernest when you found me, his office is nowhere near the front door.”

“So?”

“What were you doing?”

“I wanted to see him, to speak to him. I thought maybe if he thought I was leaving then he would…”

“He would what? Decide that being gay’s ok after all? Line up a load of male models for you to take your pick from?”

“No. Just that he might… he might ask me to stay. Make me feel… wanted.”

“You told me you were running away from home.”

“No, I didn’t, you just assumed that when you saw the bag. You didn’t ask me.”

Harry stood up, gave a loud sigh, and ran his fingers through his hair. “You still lied to me.”

“Excuse me?”

“You said you were sixteen.”

“I will be in a week.”

Harry laughed. “The lies just fall out of you so easily, there’s no doubt that you’re a Cromwell.”

“I like you, Harry. I like you a lot. There’s a recording on my laptop that can remind you of that.”

“So you lie to everyone you like?” He began to pace around the bed.

“It’s only six days. I figured I might not see you again, and that if you’d known, you wouldn’t have… we wouldn’t have… we wouldn’t have done what we did.”

“Are you just out to ruin my career? First you record me having gay sex – “

“Which stopped you from being arrested for murder!”

“And now you’ve stitched me up for sleeping with a minor!”

“Because I love you!”

Harry stopped suddenly and turned to look at him. “Excuse me?”

Matthew pulled himself up from the bed and stood in front of Harry, resting his hand on his cheek.

“I love you.  Last night should have proved that to you.”

Harry bowed his head sadly, and wrapped his hand around the boy’s wrist, pulling his palm away from his face. “You don’t know me. And I love Frederick.”

“Then how come what happened last night happened? If you’re so in love with Frederick?”

“We’d had an argument, I was angry with him.” Harry couldn’t help but stare down at his lips as Matthew slowly moved himself closer.

“You used me?”

“No, no, it wasn’t like that. Last night was special, I’ll never forget it. We had a real connection but…”

“But nothing.” Matthew whispered, lowering Harry’s hand and raising himself on his toes. Harry’s lips descended towards his and were millimetres apart when the door opened and Frederick walked in, holding some papers in his hand.

“What’s going on?” Frederick asked as Matthew and Harry sprang apart.

“I’ve got to go.” Matthew quickly dashed out of the room, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

“What was that?” Frederick asked, a hurt expression on his face.

“Oh… nothing, he…” Harry floundered at the sight of Frederick’s accusing eyes. “He just wanted to know what it was like to kiss a film star. He’s… kind of got a crush on me.”

“You know he’s only fifteen, right?” He asked, discarding the papers onto the side, next to his laptop.

“Oh, yeah, I know.”

“But, why would that bother you?” Frederick shrugged. “I mean, he’s older than Fiona.”

“Excuse me?” A bad feeling was starting to form in Harry’s stomach.

“She came in here last night. Looking for you, actually. She wanted someone to confide in, apparently you and her, you’re like that.” He crossed his fingers and held them up, a solid, angry look on his face. “But she had to make do with me instead.”

“Reece?” Harry asked timidly.

“She’s fourteen! And you’re encouraging her to have sex with her eighteen year old cousin! What’s wrong with you, man?”

“Ok, I wasn’t encouraging her,  I – “

“You gave her a condom for heavens sake!  The only way you could have been more encouraging was if you’d fluffed him up and sat her down on top of him!”

“She was going to try and seduce him anyway, whether I was here or not.”

“That didn’t mean you had to give her a green light!”

“You saw how drunk he was last night, I figured somebody ought to try and look out for the poor girl. After all, it’s not like the men in this family have a track record of remembering to put condoms on!”

Frederick stared at him and for a moment, Harry thought he was going to hit him. Instead he simply sank to his knees and began to cry.

“I’m so sorry, Harry. I really am. If I could go back and change what happened that night… well, it wouldn’t have happened, none of it. You’ve got to believe me, Harry. I’m sorry I lied to you.”

As Harry stared down at him, he remembered his own sordid liaison with his cousin, less than twenty-four hours before. He looked at Frederick’s screwed up face, flushed with redness and coated with tears. Frederick was not an actor, this was genuine remorse. Harry’s heart broke, he could never stand to see Frederick when he was in this much pain.

“Hey, hey, hey,” He said sinking to the floor and wiping away his tears with his thumbs as he cupped Frederick’s face, “don’t cry. It’s ok, it’ll be ok.”

“You forgive me?” He looked deep into Harry eyes, and even through the tears his lime green eyes somehow managed to sparkle.

“I…” I can’t do it. “I understand.” I don’t.

Frederick brought his hands up to Harry’s face, the pair of them sat grasping each other’s cheekbones on the floor, and pulled him in for a deep kiss. For a moment Harry let him, and he enjoyed it as he kissed him in a way that he hadn’t in months. It had taken all this to bring the passion back.

As Frederick’s tongue vigorously explored his, Harry remembered Matthew’s tongue, gently skimming its way down his chest, and pulled away.

“Harry, please, you’ve got to forgive me, I don’t know if I can carry on without you. I…”

Frederick continued to speak, but Harry no longer heard him. His hands were still clamped around his face, and as Harry pulled away from his mouth and opened his eyes, he’d noticed the silver band of his watch, hanging slightly from Frederick wrist. He stood up and his hands dropped to the floor.

“Get up.” Harry said calmly turning away from him so that he couldn’t see the tears forming in his eyes. He moved over to the door and closed it.

“Harry, I –“

“GET UP!” He shouted angrily, with such force, that he had to hold onto to the door handle to steady himself. Behind him, he heard Frederick pull himself up.

“What happened between me and Robert, I promise you, it – “

“I don’t care about Robert. Not anymore.” Harry said, his voice sounding calm again, though inside the blood was pounding through him faster than it ever had before.

“Then what?” He was pleading, his voice coated in the disgusting simpering sound of begging.

“Your grandfather’s watch.” Harry turned to face him. “The one Robert stole and broke? He always had it on his desk.”

“Al…always.”

“Look at this, Freddie!” He grabbed the paperwork that Frederick had brought in with him and shoved it into his hands. “Look at the signature at the bottom, that’s me! I was in that office tonight, I was there when he took that watch out of his safe. I was there when he told me how he’d never shown it to anyone.”

Frederick laughed nervously out the side of his mouth. “He was lying.”

“Why? Why would he lie about breaking that watch himself, over sixty years ago? Why would he lie about his brother dying in his arms in some leaking tin shack? About discovering his mother’s naked body tangled up in the debris of his neighbour’s house?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he was trying to get you on side.”

“On side? On side for what? The old man didn’t need me for anything.” They both went quiet. “You know, in that moment, he seemed like a real person, I felt sorry for him.”

“Well, that’s it, isn’t it? He’s playing mind games with you, he’s –“

“You’re lying to me, Frederick! What is it with this family that makes everyone lie so much? You, him, me! Just lies, lies, lies! Just tell me the truth for once, Frederick!”

“Fine. So I lied to the police about the watch, they’d already found the knife, I just wanted to make sure that Robert would get arrested for it.”

“So, Ernest wasn’t lying? He’d never shown you that watch before?”

“Never.”

“And the first time you ever saw it was when those coppers showed it to us all, with the knife?”

“Yeah.”

“And even though you didn’t have a clue where this watch came from you thought it would be a good idea to tell the police that it was your grandfathers?”

“Yes.”

“How did you know it wasn’t Robert’s?”

“What?”

“That watch could have been Robert’s. It could have his name engraved all over it, for all you knew! A right idiot you would have looked then, the police would have wanted to question you, wanted to know why you were lying. How did you know it wasn’t Robert’s?”

Frederick broke his gaze from Harry’s, looked down at his feet and mumbled something.

“What?”

“Because I put it there.”

Harry dropped down to the floor, as if his spine had been removed, almost wishing it had so that he couldn’t feel the pain that seemed to engulf his entire body.

“I knew.” He said, leaning against the door. “I knew that something wasn’t right. When we found his body, you just followed everyone else down. You weren’t surprised at all.”

“He had it coming.” Frederick looked down at me, pleading with his eyes again. He turned away from him. “I did it for you.”

“For me.” Harry repeated. “You did it for me? Why the hell did you think I would want you to become a murderer? He was your grandfather for fuck sake!”

“Murderer?” Frederick almost laughed. “I’m not… I didn’t… I didn’t kill him, Harry.”

“You just said he had it coming.”

“Robert! Robert had it coming!”

“What?” He turned to look at him again, a frown on his face.

Frederick sat down on the edge of the bed, he didn’t make eye contact. “Fiona said that Reece had been saying stuff, saying how much he hated Grandpa. He said that someone ought to teach him a lesson. She asked me to find Reece, she was worried he’d tell him what they’d done.”

“What’s this got to do with – “

“I thought that Reece might go to see him. Grandpa wasn’t in his bedroom, so I went downstairs. The door to his office was open and I could see the light on inside. I knocked first, but there was no answer, so I went in. He was just lying there, the knife sticking out of his back, that watch in his hand. I knew it was Robert, it had to be.”

“So you framed him?”

“I knew it was him. It had to be. There’s no one else who could have done it. No one else who would. I wanted to make sure the police knew that as well.”

“Why the watch?” Harry asked. “You had the knife, why did you put the watch in his jacket as well?”

Frederick left the bed and sat facing him on the floor, he slipped his hand into Harry’s and for a moment Harry resisted.

“I didn’t touch the knife.”  He whispered.

“What?”

“I was going to, but I couldn’t. He was my grandfather, Harry, I just…  I couldn’t bear to touch him, not like that.”

“So you took the watch instead?” Frederick nodded through a loud, hoarse sob, tears falling from his eyes. Harry pulled him forward, resting Frederick’s head on his shoulder. “Shh, come on.”

“I loved him Harry. He was a total prick, but I still loved him.”

“I know. I know.”

He held him there for several minutes, his hand gently rubbing the back of his head. Eventually he pulled away, the tears had stopped.

“Freddie…” Harry started tentatively. “If you didn’t take the knife, who did?”

“What?”

“The knife, it wasn’t there when Matthew and I found the… your grandfather. The police found it in Robert’s jacket. Who put it there?”

“I don’t…  I don’t know. Does it matter?”

“Maybe not. Just… just think. What did you do once you’d taken the watch?”

“Umm…” Frederick stared blankly down at the floor, his mind trying to recollect what he’d been trying so hard to forget. “Mum was asleep. I don’t know where Robert was. His jacket, the one he wore at dinner, it was on the back of the chair. I slipped the watch in the pocket and left.

“I didn’t know what to do next… I started to go back to his office, but then I thought I would look less suspicious if I let someone else find him.”

“So what did you do?”

“I was in the corridor, and I thought I’d just head back upstairs, pretend to have been sleeping. But I heard a noise, someone behind me. I hid in the utility room, I just thought, this is it, someone is going to find him, any minute now.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see them. There was silence, for ages and then I heard the click of the door to his study. I looked out in the corridor, but there was no one, and the door to Grandpa’s office had been closed. I just felt this huge wave of relief shoot through me.”

“Relief?”

“I… I don’t know, I was having second thoughts, I guess. I thought about it for five, maybe ten minutes. I went back upstairs – to mum’s room. She was still asleep, but I could hear him, in the bathroom… he was… whistling. I went to the jacket, I was going to take the watch, take it back down to Grandpa but I… I found the knife. It was in there, Harry, it was in his jacket pocket. It must have been him who’d gone down, to get rid of the weapon, make sure it was never found.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I froze. I didn’t know what to do, and then… then Pat screamed, it seemed like everything in the room was shaking. Mum sat up in bed, but she was facing the other way. I ducked to the floor and crawled under the bed. Robert came out of the bathroom and I heard them talking and…”

“You followed them downstairs.” Harry finished his sentence for him and he nodded. “You just… accused Robert so coolly.”

“I knew it was him, I just knew.”

Harry stared at him sadly for a moment. “Robert didn’t kill him, Frederick.”

“What? Harry… he had the knife… it had to be him.”

“Until about ten minutes before we found Ernest, Robert was with Jennifer. If what you’re saying is correct –“

“It is.”

“Then Robert was with Jennifer when your grandfather was killed. Somebody else put the knife there.”

“Who?”

Harry felt a chill run through himself. The murderer was still out there. “I don’t know.”

They sat in silence, their hands linked. Harry’s mind was racing, if Robert didn’t kill Ernest, then who did? He assumed Frederick was thinking about the same thing. He soon realised he wasn’t.

“I’ve been an idiot.”

“Yeah, you have.”

“Not last night, but before. With Robert.”

“Freddie, we don’t need to do this. Not now.”

“We do. I need to make it up to you. Need to make things even.”

Harry bit down on his lip as a pang of guilt shot through him as he remembered holding Matthew’s perfect little bottom in his hands. Frederick pulled himself up from the floor and picked up Harry’s jacket from the back of the chair.

“Frederick what are you doing?” Harry asked, following him to his feet.

“I want you… I need you… inside of me. Please.” Frederick started looking through the pockets.

“Freddie, I – “

“Where’s…? The driver he… he gave you two.” He looked up at Harry with a confused smile as he took the wallet from him. “You didn’t give them both to Fiona… what did you do with the other one?”

Harry looked away from him as his confused smile tensed into a look of slow realisation. In that moment a scream came from nearby and like a greyhound from a trap, Harry shot from the room into the corridor. The screaming continued, it was coming from the room next door.

He ran in and stopped so suddenly that Frederick ran into the back of him. On the floor, a small wooden chair lay on its back, a pair of feet suspended limply above it. Gary’s face was purple but still.

“Oh, God!” Frederick rushed forward and started trying to take his uncle down. Harry stepped back, wide-eyed in horror, and stumbled on something. He looked down. A foot. Ella was in the corner of the room, crying and mumbling to herself.

More people rushed into the room, Harry heard Frederick shout at someone to help him, but he didn’t know who. He sat down next to Ella, and put his hand on her arm.

“It’s ok.” He whispered. “He’ll be ok.”

A pair of hands were rummaging through the pocket on the front of Ella’s apron. “Oh, where’s your hanky, you daft girl? Never mind, here, use mine. Come now, let’s wipe those tears away.”

“Why again, mum?” Ella asked. Harry gripped her hand to comfort her. “Why is it happening again?”

“Shh, now, don’t worry about that. Just stay calm, that’s it.”

Why again, mum?

“What did she say?” Harry asked looking up at Pat. “Did she just call you mum?”

 

 

 The next chapter will be published on Sunday 22nd May

 

 

 

 

 

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 17

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

 

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Christmas Eve, 2010

 

Jennifer watched from the dark doorway of the utility room as Ernest left his study.

“Quick!” She hissed, grabbing hold of Fiona’s arm and dragging her into the old man’s den.

“Mum, I still don’t get it, what are we doing in here?”

“I already told you, we need to find his will.” Jennifer said, moving over to Ernest’s desk, and looking through the papers piled up on it. “Now, don’t just stand there, help me look for it.”

Fiona leaned against the door and rolled her eyes. “He’s hardly going to leave it lying around for anyone to find, is he?”

“Come on, now, we’ve both seen him swigging back the scotch tonight. He’s not thinking clearly, he’ll make mistakes.”

Fiona pulled herself away from the door and pulled a book from the case on the wall. “So, let’s say we do find it. Which one are we looking for?”

“What do you mean, which one are we looking for? We’re looking for your grandfather’s will.”

“Yeah, but are we looking for the will he’s just made where he leaves everything to Robert, or the one before that where he left everything to daddy?”

“Well…” Jennifer frowned in confusion, “find the one where it all goes to your father, and then we’ll look to see if he’s actually made the newer one yet. Chances are we find one, we find the other.”

“And then?”

“Then?”

“Are you going to kill granddad?”

“Don’t casually talk about killing your grandfather like that.”

“But are you?” Fiona said “Once we have the will are you going to kill him?”

Jennifer paused for a moment and stared at her daughter, a quiet contemplation passing between the two of them. Finally Jennifer spoke. “Of course I’m not. I… I just need to know where we stand.”

“And if he hasn’t changed the will, yet, if it’s all still coming to us, then it’s only going to stay like that for a few days at most! Daddy’s dead, he has been dead for three months, Granddad is going to change his will, whatever!”

Jennifer flustered as she pored through some papers on the desk. “Well, then, maybe we will have to kill him.”

“Or…” Fiona said quietly. “Maybe we won’t have to.”

Jennifer stopped and looked at her daughter, who had a small glint in her eye. “What do you mean? What are you thinking?”

“Well, it’s just, Granddad is getting on a bit, he’s been in a stressful job for nearly sixty years, he’s single-handedly raised three children, and then just when he’s thinking about retiring, his son becomes ill and after a long, agonising illness, he dies. Add to that, the outburst that he had after dinner, and I think that Granddad might not be one hundred percent capable of looking after himself any more.”

“So, what you’re saying we get him sectioned?”

“If that’s what it takes. All we need is to get him sectioned, as the sole beneficiary of his current will, you would get power of attorney, so you can then control everything, including whether he makes another will or not during that time. Then when he dies of his own natural causes, we get the business and the money.” Fiona paused for a second. “I think.”

“You think?” Jennifer stood up. “How sure are you of this Fiona?”

“Mum, I’m fourteen years old and failing both English and Maths at school, everything I know about the law, I’ve learnt from TV. I wouldn’t take my word for anything, you need to see a proper lawyer about it all.”

“Yes, yes of course.” Jennifer nodded. “But I can’t wait for him to confirm anything, we need to get started now.”

“Ok, how?”

Jennifer frowned, as she tried to perfect her new plan. “You stay here – ”

“Mum, I can’t stay here! What if he comes back?”

“You will stay here.” Jennifer repeated. “And you will look for the will. While you’re doing that, I will find your grandfather and I will, I don’t know. I’ll see if I can drive him crazy. Maybe if I can make him lash out again, we’ll have more evidence that he’s becoming unstable.”

“And when I find the will? What then?”

“Oh, Fiona,” Jennifer sighed, “I don’t know. Do I have to think of everything?”

As Fiona silently rolled her eyes at her mother again, Jennifer cautiously peered into the corridor, checked the coast was clear and slinked out, quietly shutting the door behind her.

Fiona sat down in the large leather chair behind her grandfather’s desk and sighed. Ever since her father had died her mother was becoming increasingly desperate to get her hands on the family business. Some people, Fiona supposed, might say that her behaviour over the last few months was down to grief, that it was her own unique coping strategy, but Fiona knew differently.

Her mother had loved her father, she was sure of that much, but she had also loved and grown used to the money that had come with him. When they’d first found out that his death would be sooner rather than later, they’d sold the house and moved in with Ernest so that her father could die surrounded by his family.

Fiona knew that her mother still had money from the sale of their house, but with her habit for shopping, that would only last her another few months, and while her mother’s salary at Cromwell’s was respectable, it was always her father’s wages that had kept them in supply of everything they might ever want.

Besides, Fiona considered as she idly fingered through the items on the desk, relations between her mother and her grandfather had slowly been deteriorating ever since the funeral, and after her grandfather’s outburst over dinner, she suspected that it might not be long before her mother found herself unemployed.

Fiona knew that finding an old version – or even a new version – of her grandfather’s will wouldn’t help them very much, but her mother was starting to panic. It would be up to Fiona to try and find a way out of it, and even she knew that getting her grandfather sectioned was a long shot.

She lifted the lid on a bottle of scotch on the table, sniffed it and smiled. It smelt like her father’s kisses, after he’d stayed late at the office for meetings. Fiona had always imagined her father during these meetings, sat at a table with her grandfather, laughing heartily as they drank their scotch and counted their money.

She’d always pictured herself, one day, sitting at the same table, sharing a bottle of drink with her father as they ran the business together. If only her father had outlived her grandfather, that would be the future she’d be looking forward to. But now, thanks to her father’s death and her grandfather’s vindictiveness towards her mother, her future was an unknown. She and her mother would be in the gutter while that man, Robert, would be spending all of her money.

An idea struck her just as the door to the office opened and her mother burst open.

“I can’t find it anywhere,” Fiona quickly stood up, placing the scotch bottle by the side of the desk, “it’s probably locked in his safe somewhere.”

“Oh, never mind that, it’s too late.” Jennifer collapsed into a chair in the corner of the room. “I’ve just been and checked with Pat, your grandfather’s lawyer is on his way here now to get the will changed. Unless we can get him sectioned within the next couple of hours, we’re screwed.”

“Not necessarily, I think I’ve got an idea.”

“What is it?”

“Not here,” Fiona moved over to the door, “we’ll both be in trouble if he finds us in here.”

Fiona and Jennifer both started to move quickly up the corridor.

“So, what is this idea of yours then? It had better be a good one, because I’m telling you, right now, we need a miracle.”

“Oh, mother, it’s so simple, even you can pull it off. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before. All that you need to do is –”

Ernest!” Jennifer interrupted her daughter suddenly, as the both noticed Ernest stood at the end of the corridor with Harry. He would want to know why they’d been down there, he would know they’d been in his office and that they were up to something. “Fiona and I… we were just…”

“Getting my top from the wash room.” Fiona interrupted her mother’s stammering. “I spilt some water down it, and I wanted to get it dried before I went to bed.”

“I…” Ernest tore his gaze from Harry and glanced at Fiona and Jennifer. “I don’t care. Just go away.”

Jennifer grinned at her father-in-law and then took hold of her daughter’s arm, leading her off down the corridor. “Nice save.” She murmured through the side of her mouth. “In here.”

They entered the lounge and found Gary stood up at the drinks cabinet, taking a swig from a bottle.

“Ah! You’re back then? Fancy a drink?”

“No, thank you,” Jennifer and Fiona both took a seat on the opposite side of the room to him and Nicola, “but don’t let that stop you from having one.”

“Gary,” Nicola shot a glare across the room at Jennifer, “I really do think you’ve had enough.”

Jennifer turned to face her daughter. “So, come on then. Tell me this big idea.”

“Well, it’s simple isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“Robert.”

“What about him?”

“Oh, Jennifer,” Nicola suddenly dropped down onto the couch between Jennifer and Fiona, “what am I going to do?”

“Excuse me?”

“About Matthew. He won’t come out of his room.”

“And why is that a problem?”

“Well, he won’t let me in either!” Nicola sighed. “How am I supposed to help him?”

“Help him? With what?”

“He just told his entire family he was gay, Jennifer, I can’t believe you’re that self-involved to have forgotten it already.”

“I hadn’t forgotten, Nicola,” Jennifer patted her sister-in-law’s hand. “It’s just, there’s nothing to really help him with. He’s done the hardest part, he’s probably just embarrassed.”

“Embarrassed? After the way his grandfather treated him, he probably thinks that we all hate him.”

“Well, of course we don’t hate him,” Jennifer smiled, “in fact, I find it difficult to engender any kind of emotion towards him.”

“Oh, that’s nice, Jennifer. I tell you what, when you’re having trouble with that one,” Nicola jerked her thumb to Fiona, sat quietly next to her, “don’t come running to me for help.”

“Calm down, Nic, I was just saying that he keeps himself to himself, I don’t really know him.”

“Perhaps if you had all bothered to get to know him more, then he wouldn’t have locked himself away, perhaps – ” Suddenly the door flew open and Robert marched in, over towards Gary.

“Barkeep, I need a drink.”

“Help yourself.” Gary took a full bottle of vodka and settled down onto a couch with it.

“Robert!” Nicola shouted in alarm. “What happened?”

“Huh?”

“Your nose,” she said, moving over towards him, “you’re bleeding.”

“Oh, it was that Frederick,” he said dabbing his fingers to his nose, “he attacked me.”

“Attacked you? Why?” Jennifer asked.

“Does he need a reason?” Nicola raised an eyebrow at Jennifer. “You know as well as I do, that boy hasn’t been right since his father died. Oh no, it’s getting all over your jacket.”

“It’s brand new!” Robert cried, as he pulled his dinner jacket from his shoulders. “Cost me an arm and a leg.”

“Give it here,” Nicola took it from him, “a bit of red wine will stop it from staining.”

Jennifer watched as Nicola and Robert started to fuss over his jacket, and then whispered to her daughter. “What about him?”

“Seduce him.” Fiona whispered back. “Get him on side, so that when he’s running the business, you’re right there with him.”

Jennifer laughed. “But he’s seeing your aunt.”

“Who do you think he’d prefer? A blonde yummy mummy like you, or that wrinkly old grandmother?”

Jennifer cocked an eyebrow as the plan started to take hold in her mind. She watched as Robert pulled his jacket away from her sister-in-law.

“Nicola, I don’t think is working, the wine’s starting to spread and the blood isn’t shifting.”

“I’m sure that it’s red wine, perhaps – ”

“Perhaps,” Jennifer interrupted, quietly sliding her hand up Robert’s back, “you should take it to Pat, she’s an absolute goddess when it comes to stains.”

“Thanks,” Robert turned and looked at her, “I’ll do that.”

He grabbed his jacket and headed out of the room, glancing back at Jennifer and smirking as he went. Jennifer sat back down next to her daughter.

“Maybe you’re right.”

“Maybe? Did you see the way he looked at you? I told you this was going to be easy.”

 

*                *                *

 

Fiona looked at the small square packet for a moment and then shifted her gaze to the figure stood in the shadows at the top of the stairs.

“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 was quiet for a moment. “I think we kind of broke up.”

“You might make up.” Fiona said in an attempt to reassure him.

“Maybe. I’ve got another one, just in case.”

Fiona nodded to him and then made her way upstairs, her mind racing. If Harry was right and Ernest was not going to leave everything to Robert, then who was he going to make the beneficiary? Fiona mulled it over in her mind, and came up with only two options, one of them, more preferable than the other.

Perhaps he wouldn’t change the will straight away, perhaps he would be so shocked over the revelations of the evening that he would need to rethink it all. If that was the case, then Fiona and her mother would still be the sole recipients of the estate. If the old man should die, or they could get him sectioned before he had a chance to change his will, then everything would be ok.

The second, less desirable option, would be that Ernest would steam ahead with his plan to change the will that night, but leave it all to someone else entirely. But who?

Fiona didn’t know of anyone else her grandfather worked with that he might trust, also there was the fact that he’d always wanted to keep the business within the family. He wouldn’t trust the entire business to a woman, so that ruled out the possibility of either leaving it to Elizabeth, Victoria or specifically naming herself or her mother. He didn’t get on with Gary at all, so that just left Frederick, Reece, Matthew or Joshua.

Matthew and Joshua would be too young to be given even a glimpse of the top job at Cromleys, counting into that the fact that Matthew had declared he was gay. Frederick was officially bisexual, and so in her grandfather’s eyes, Fiona knew, there was some hope, and he also had a brilliant mind for business.

On the other hand Reece was a serial womaniser, he would be the only grandson to continue the family name, but his knowledge of business wasn’t up to scratch with Frederick’s.

Fiona knew that Frederick wasn’t interested in working for the company, all he wanted to do was write. Her mum would be able to charm him into letting her run it all for him. As for Reece, other methods would have to be used.

One thing was certain though, Fiona told herself as she made her way onto the second floor landing, her mother was seducing Robert for no reason, and Fiona had to stop her.

“Mum, I – ” Fiona entered Jennifer’s room and found Reece standing in the middle of the room, completely nude and flexing his muscles in front of the dresser mirror.

Fiona shamelessly let her eyes wander down his hairless torso, over his toned stomach, down onto the luscious tight calf of his left leg, and then across to the two wrinkled globes and the neat square of wiry bristles which delicately framed his large semi-erect cock.

“Fiona! I was just…” Reece trailed off, as he desperately tried to protect his modesty with two inadequately sized hands. He clearly had no way of explaining what he had just been doing. Fiona hadn’t been listening anyway, she’d been too busy thinking.

Did she really need to count on her mum to provide for her? After all, she was closer to Reece age-wise. She was a lot younger than her mother, a lot more innocent, she knew men liked that sort of thing. She would be a fool to give up such a prime opportunity to get him on side.

“Here,” she said walking towards him, holding out the condom Harry had given her, “I got this for you.”

“What’s this?” He asked, taking it from her. Fiona didn’t answer, instead she took hold of his wrists, and pressed her body against his, making him step backwards, until he was forced to sit on the edge of the bed. She wrapped her legs around his waist and sat down, she could feel his considerable girth growing, trapped between his thigh and hers.

“It’s an early Christmas present,” she said, unbuttoning her blouse, “are you going to give me one?”

 

*                *                *

 

Frederick snapped his laptop shut and sighed heavily into his hands.

“Writer’s block?” A soft melancholy voice came from behind him. He swivelled around in surprise to discover his cousin lingering near the door.

“Fi! It’s a bit late for you, isn’t it?”

“I guess. I was looking for Harry.”

“He’s not around,” Frederick smiled softly, “I’m not sure where he is.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Fiona hesitated for a moment and then entered the room, resting on the corner of Frederick’s desk. “Anything I can help you with?”

Frederick stared at her curiously for a moment. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“There’s really nothing wrong.” She flashed him a fake smile, as if that was supposed to reassure him. “What are you writing?”

“Ah, it’s nothing a little kid could help me with.” Frederick teased her as he stood up and stretched.

“I’m not a kid. Not anymore.”

“Sure you’re not.”

“Try me.”

“Fine.” Frederick leant over the desk and turned his laptop back on. “We’ve got a detective, he’s in a bar, in a foul mood. There have been these murders all over the city, and he’s getting stick from the media, from his bosses for not finding the guy that’s been doing it. He’s drowning his sorrows with whiskey after whiskey – we’re talking hollow legs here – when this girl comes in. She’s the sister of one of the victims and she’s demanding to know why he hasn’t made any progress.”

“Right, so what’s the problem?”

“I’m trying to get them to sleep together, but the characters kind of take over.”

Fiona stared at him for a moment. “How do you mean?”

“When I’m writing, it’s almost like the characters take over, if they don’t want to do something, it’s really difficult to force them to.”

“And the detective and the sister… they don’t want to sleep together?”

“They keep ending up back at her place playing poker.”

“Poker?”

“It’s what they want to do.”

“Right.” Fiona was silent for a moment. “I think that says more about you than it does about your characters.”

“You’re fourteen, what do you know about psychology?”

“What do you know about sex between a man and a woman?”

“More than you think.”

“Why do they end up back at her place?”

“She invites him back for coffee.”

“Coffee?”

“It’s code for sex.”

“I know what it’s code for. I just mean, she’s pissed at him, right? She goes into the bar having a go, all with the grief because of the dead sister, and then all of a sudden she’s inviting him back for ‘coffee’?”

“Well, he talks her round.” Frederick shrugged.

“I guess that’s your problem. The sister doesn’t want to have sex because no self respecting sober woman would be talked into sex by a drunk man in a bar, like that. Especially not by one she’s angry with.”

“Well, what do you suggest then?”

“They don’t have sex.”

“Funny. Without them getting together, the story kind of just stops.”

“Fine, let’s see. How about this woman comes in and completely shouts down this detective and he just starts crying.”

“Crying?”

“Like you said, everybody’s getting at him, every time another murder happens, he probably feels responsible. Being, I assume, a typical man, he’s bottling it all up inside of him, and the combination of that much alcohol with this gorgeous, furious woman, just… releases it.”

“And?”

“Being, again I assume, a typical woman, the sister immediately feels bad, she sits with him, comforts him, tries to get him to stop crying, that kind of thing. Then, when he goes to leave, she insists on driving him home, she drops him off, he invites her in…”

Fiona trailed off and shrugged. Frederick stared at her for a moment, her suggestion was actually quite good, and was a tactic he hadn’t thought of. It would make the relationship between them seem more real, which would make it more heart-wrenching when the sister was kidnapped later in the film. Frederick wasn’t prepared to admit to Fiona that her idea might work, though.

“What do you know about sex, anyway?”

He wasn’t prepared for her to burst into tears, either.

 

*                *                *

 

For a moment, Frederick thought he’d heard Harry’s voice.

He was stood outside Fiona’s bedroom on the top floor of the house. Once he’d managed to calm her down she’d explained everything that had happened between her and Reece. She’d told him that once it was over, she’d immediately regretted it, which was why she’d been looking for Harry. She’d wanted to talk about what had happened, and apparently Harry had known something about it.

Frederick didn’t know whether he was relieved that Harry had provided a condom, or angry that he’d not tried to stop it. Perhaps that was why he was imagining his lover’s voice, the desire inside to find him and talk to him, making him imagine things that weren’t there.

He forced Harry out of his mind, and tried to concentrate all his anger on Reece. Drunk or not, his cousin should have known better than to take advantage of such a young girl. Careful not to make any noise – he’d told Fiona he would leave Reece alone – Frederick slowly made his way over to Reece’s bedroom.

He pushed open the door and quickly flicked the switch, bathing the room in a bright light, in an attempt to catch Reece off guard. However, the room was empty, the bed unruffled, a case stood at the end, still packed.

Frederick sighed and made his way back out into the corridor. Once again, he thought he could hear Harry’s voice. He looked up at the door ahead of him. Matthew’s room.

Perhaps Matthew had finally let someone in, let someone talk to him. He leant against the door, straining to hear if there were voices inside, but could hear nothing. He tried the door handle, but the door didn’t move, the lock was firmly in place.

“Matthew?” He asked softly. “Matthew, are you awake?”

There was no answer, and Frederick couldn’t hear any movement inside.

Frederick forced both Matthew and Harry from his mind, they were both problems that would have to wait. Right now, Frederick was dealing with Reece.

He started to descend the stairs, not sure where he was going until he heard the creak of a floorboard below him.

He leant over the side and stared down to the bottom floor in time to see a figure move through the shadows. Frederick quickly dashed down the stairs on the tips of his toes to avoid making any noise, but by the time he reached the bottom the figure had disappeared.

The soft glow of a light crept out from one of the corridors enticing Frederick to follow it.

With some trepidation, though he wasn’t sure why, Frederick slowly started to head towards it. As he turned the corner, he could see the light was spilling out of the open door of his grandfather’s office.

Frederick smiled to himself, while he could quite easily deck his cousin himself, it would be more fun to wind his grandfather up and set him on Reece. Besides, he told himself, there was nothing stopping him from giving the bastard a good beating once his grandfather had finished with him.

He took a deep breath and then strode purposefully into his grandfather’s study, with what he hoped was a genuine look of concern on his face.

Frederick stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Ernest slumped over the desk, the gold handle sticking out of his back, the blade clearly buried deep within him. The gold handle that belonged to the carving knife that Robert had made ‘disappear’ at dinner.

For a moment Frederick stared at the corpse, not quite believing what Robert had done. His eyes slipped to a broken pocket-watch, lying quietly on the desk, just inches from his grandfather’s fingers.

 

*                *                *

 

Elizabeth woke with a start as a scream rang out through the house. She instinctively turned to her side, but Robert wasn’t there, the bed sheets were smooth.

“Robert?”

Robert came out of the en-suite, pulling on his trousers as he did. “I heard it too.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t know.”

Elizabeth pulled herself out of her bed, and pulled on her dressing gown. “It came from downstairs.”

She headed quickly out of her bedroom and hurried towards the stairs.

“It was a scream, right?” Robert asked, following her. “I mean, we’re sure it wasn’t just a creaking floorboard?”

“I’ve never described a floorboard as blood-curdling, and I don’t intend to start now.”

“Right.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs and started to look around for some kind of clue as to what had happened.

“Where do you think –” Suddenly Reece charged out of the corridor coming from her father’s study, a look of panic on his face. “Reece, what’s happened?”

Before Elizabeth could finish her sentence Reece had disappeared down another corridor.

“Come on.” Robert took hold of her hand and led her down the corridor Reece had just come from. Harry, Matthew, Victoria, Pat, Ella and Nicola were all gathered together outside the office door, all whispering to one another.

“What’s happened?” Elizabeth asked, a rising note of panic in her voice.

Everyone stopped suddenly and stared at her.

“Mum…” Victoria hesitated. “It’s Grandpa. He’s… he’s been killed.”

“Killed?” Elizabeth frowned. “Who’d want to kill him?”

“I think I might have an idea.” Frederick stepped into the corridor behind his mother and stared accusingly at Robert.

 

The next chapter of Memories of a Murder will be published on Sunday 15th May

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

 

This is a difficult review for me to write, partly because it’s a non fiction book, and most of the stuff I read is fiction.

 

But also partly because this is a hugely personal book for Bryony Gordon, one that will strike a chord with many readers, including me.

 

Gordon suffers from OCD. She has done for most of her life. Like most people who suffer from a mental illness, she is vulnerable to other mental illnesses as well.

 

Mad Girl tells the story of her OCD, from the early signs through to diagnosis and ultimately learning to live with it.

 

At the same time, she is partying hard and taking drugs, living what seems to be typical London media lifestyle, which combined with her mental illnesses causes some problems.

 

Bryony manages to explore her own mental illness without descending too much into sentimentality. Perhaps it’s because she’s been writing professionally years without revealing the truth, keeping it guarded.

 

Perhaps it’s because when she’s no experiencing one of her episodes, she’s like everybody else and she can’t imagine thinking the things she thought, or even doing the things she did. It’s like she was somebody else.

 

As a result, what we get is a guarded insight into her thoughts. We are a viewer to her episodes. She manages to tell us about them, without us actually experiencing them.

 

Fiction would bring us into the moment, we would experience the feelings with the protagonist. If Gordon did that, we’d likely be weeping along with her.

 

Perhaps thankfully, she doesn’t do that. This is real life, not fiction, and that makes it infinitely sadder, infinitely more distressing. If we were truly able to experience it along with her, we’d all be writing our own books afterwards.

 

The statistics on mental health illnesses are alarming. 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental illness over the next year, which is why books like this are important. They do two things.

 

You might be suffering from a mental illness and think that you’re alone, that what you’re experiencing is completely unique. This book will help you realise that what you’re feeling isn’t abnormal, that you’re not alone.

 

At the same time, you’ll realise that while things can get worse, they can get better.

 

If you’re not suffering from a mental illness it helps you understand what it’s like to have a mental illness.

 

Bryony Gordon manages to say everything I’ve wanted to say – about mental illness, and everything else as well. A comment was made at the bottom of one page, which caused me to go off on a mini rant. When I finally turned the page, I discovered that Gordon had almost word for word written that rant down.

 

I may hire her to follow me round to tell you what I’m thinking. She know exactly what it is, and she puts it so much more eloquently than I. Go read.

 

Mad Girl scores 4 out of 5 and is published on the 7th June.

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 16

 

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

 

 

The silence almost howled through the room. Jennifer was the first to speak. “He’s leaving it all to Frederick? What happened to Robert?”

“Oh, you hadn’t heard, dear?” Elizabeth gestured wildly with a glass of wine. “Robert and my father had rather a large set to. Daddy disinherited him.”

“What? When did this happen?”

“When? About five minutes after he found out that he’d been sleeping with both my son and my daughter, and was in fact young Joshua’s – ”

“Mother!” Victoria interrupted Elizabeth sharply and gestured to Joshua, sat on the floor beside her.

“Well, needless to say, it wasn’t so late that somebody couldn’t have come and told me what had happened, that my boyfriend…”

Elizabeth trailed off and quickly stifled a sob with her hand.

“Granny.” Joshua tried to pull himself up onto Elizabeth’s lap in an attempt to comfort his grandmother.

“Oh, not now, darling.” Elizabeth pushed him away and Victoria picked him up.

“He’s still your grandson, mum.”

“Is it legal?” Robert asked, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well, as legal as legal is,” Gregory flustered, “any will can be contested, but this one has two witnesses and was made in the presence of a lawyer.”

“Are you looking to contest it, Robert?” Jennings asked, a small glint in his eye.

“Well, since one of the so-called witnesses stands to benefit from this will, I feel it ought to be questioned.”

“I’m sorry, this may be my blonde hair speaking,” Jennifer sat up, “but I’m not sure I quite understand what’s happening here?”

“Here’s the deal,” Harry turned in his seat to face her, “Ernest threatens to change his will so that Robert no longer benefits and a few short hours later, he turns up dead. Robert knows he’s the prime suspect.”

“Rubbish.” Robert scoffed.

“So, he’s looking to pin it all on me, forgetting that I have an alibi.”

“A lust-struck teenager who didn’t actually see whether Ernest was alive or not when you left his office? It’s hardly air tight, is it?”

“The police seem satisfied.” Harry said, looking to Jennings for support who merely nodded at Robert. “Besides, I’d need a motive as well.”

“I don’t know, maybe he threatened to ‘out you’ to the media, or something.”

“And if he stabbed a hole in everybody who had ever threatened to do that, I’d be looking like a lump of Swiss cheese by now.” Frederick smiled across at Harry, but he turned away and looked at Jennings.

“Stabbed a hole?”

“Oh, didn’t I say?” Jennings shrugged at me innocently, his hands held together in front of him. “Mr Cromwell was killed by a single knife wound to the back.”

“He wasn’t shot?”

“Oh no, though I’d be very interested to find out where that gun has gone.”

“Maybe you do have motive,” Gary croaked from his position at the table, “you’d stand to gain quite a bit if you married your boyfriend off to some blonde bit who was out for a cut.”

“I resent the implication that all blondes are gold-digging whores.” Jennifer protested.

“Question asked, question answered.” Reece muttered from his vantage point by the window.

“Look, as fascinating as all this is,” Fiona walked up to face Jennings, “can you just hurry up and arrest one of them so that I can go to the toilet?”

“I’d love to, young lady, but we need some proper evidence, other than the fact that Mr Forrester here lied about his alibi.” Jennings smiled through a row of crooked, yellowing teeth. “But you can go to the toilet if you so wish.”

“Oh, thank God.” Fiona pushed past him and out of the door.

“You’re letting us go?” Robert asked.

“I wouldn’t quite go as far to say that. We’re still looking for the murder weapon, but we’ve conducted a thorough search of the lower level of the house and are satisfied the knife isn’t there. We’re moving our search to the second floor, in the meantime, feel free to wander around as much as you like down here. Although, Mr Cromwell’s office, is, of course, off limits.”

“You’re just going to let him walk around wherever he likes?” Nicola asked, gesturing to Robert.

“Like I said, ma’am, we have no proof yet. But rest assured, we’ll be keeping a close eye on… everyone.” Jennings nodded to the room in general and then left.

“Well, you all must be very hungry,” Pat said, pulling herself to her feet, “how about Ella and I go and make everyone some breakfast?”

“Is everyone happy with bacon sandwiches?” Ella looked around the room for confirmation, almost as if she were seeking permission, but got none. “Joshua?”

“No crusts. I don’t like crusts.”

“Right. Of course.” Ella and Pat left the room and Harry could hear Pat muttering as she went.

“Growing boy like him, ought not to be saying no to crusts, I tell you if he were mine – ”

“Yes, I know…” Ella responded, almost automatically.

Their voices faded away and Harry turned to find Robert staring menacingly at him. He opened his mouth to speak, but Jennifer beat him to it.

“What did he mean when he said you lied about your alibi? What did you tell them?”

“He said he was with me.” Elizabeth swallowed the last dregs of her glass and then set about pouring herself a refill. “But I was alone when I went to bed, and I was alone when I woke up.”

“I was in the bathroom! It’s not like you found me skulking around outside holding a bloodied butcher knife!”

“I don’t think they know what kind of knife it was yet, Robert,” Harry smirked, “unless you have some kind of inside knowledge?”

“Look, all I know is, that you’ve been lying to me!” Elizabeth shouted. “You might not have known who my daughter was, but you knew what you did with my son! Who knows what else you might have been lying about?”

“I didn’t kill your father, I promise you, I was in that bed with you all the time!”

The room fell silent, Elizabeth didn’t seem to have a comeback and nobody wanted to talk in case they were the next person accused. Harry looked across at Frederick, he was sitting on the couch with Matthew and staring quietly ahead. He hadn’t spoken a word since Gregory had revealed the contents of Ernest’s will. Harry could almost see the mechanisms in his mind working. Harry had spent a great deal of time with Frederick and he could tell what he was thinking, often before he did.

Frederick was never short of something to say, and usually he said it. The only time Harry had ever known him to be quiet like this was when he had something to say, but the small voice in his head told him it was too inappropriate to say. He glanced around the room, mentally calculating the value of everything in it, and Harry knew then he was fighting the urge to ask more about the contents of the will.

He let out a deep sigh, and started to chew on the end of his thumb. The moment he raised his left eyebrow Harry knew he was going to bring it up, deciding that his curiosity couldn’t be suppressed any longer. He looked over at Gregory.

“Just how exactly does all this work?”

Harry smiled a sad, triumphant smile and in the moment he did, Frederick glanced across at him.

“How does all what work?”

“This whole marrying someone within twelve months thing?”

Suddenly everyone, including Harry, shifted forward in their seats and turned their heads to face Gregory.

“Perhaps, I ought to talk you through the technicalities of it all in private?”

“Thank you.” Frederick nodded, and followed Gregory over to the door. “Harry, I… could we… can you…”

“I’ll come and find you in a bit.” Harry said, not making eye contact with him. He feared that if he did, Frederick would be able to look into him and know everything.

“Thanks.” Frederick smiled and then followed Gregory out of the door. Robert wandered over to the door and looked out if it.

“He was very… quiet.”

“Are you being serious?” Harry asked him. “Are you trying to deflect your guilt onto him now? He’s just had quite a bombshell dropped on him, it’s no wonder he’s quiet.”

“Maybe you’re all in on it. You got Ernest to change his will, then told Frederick about it. He did away with the old man, while you hid upstairs with the boy here.”

“Rubbish!” Elizabeth laughed. “My Frederick may be a lot of things, but he would never kill anyone.”

“Least all of his own grandfather, I mean, come on, Ernest was like a father to that boy. What kind of person would kill their own – ” Nicola cut herself short as she caught sight of her niece. “Oh, Vicky, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean –”

“I know what you meant.” Victoria took a deep breath. “Look, I’m going to take Joshua to open some of his presents, it is still Christmas Day, after all.”

“Merry fucking Christmas, here’s a corpse.” Reece muttered, looking out of the window.

“That’s a good idea, I’ll come with you.” Matthew looked straight at Harry as he walked across the room. “Does anybody else want to come?”

Harry turned away from him and allowed Nicola to answer the question. “Maybe in a minute, darling. You go through and start though.”

“Right. Come on, Joshy.” Matthew continued to watch Harry for a moment and then followed Victoria and Joshua out of the room.

“Does anybody want another drink?” Gary dragged himself from the table and back over to the drinks cabinet.

“I think you might have had enough, Gary.”

“Oh, there she is!” Gary laughed loudly, his cheeks already red from alcohol growing redder. “My sister, the hypocrite.”

Elizabeth opened her mouth to protest, but in the end, simply placed her wine glass onto the small coffee table in front of her.

“So, just where were you when you weren’t in bed with Elizabeth?” Harry asked Robert, and his upper lip curled.

“I’m famished.” Jennifer stood up suddenly. “I think I’m going to see how Pat and Ella are getting on.”

“I think I’ll join you.” Robert sneered, following her out of the door. “Anything to get away from the poof.”

“Ha, he can talk!” Elizabeth laughed as Robert closed the door behind him. She pulled herself to the edge of the chair and leant forward, towards Harry. “Listen, darling, as much as I may… regret what Frederick did with that man, he’s still my son and I love him.”

He smiled weakly. “That’s great, Mrs Cromwell, but it’s not really me that you should be telling this to.”

“No, no, it is, you see, because… because you two shouldn’t break up over this.” Before Harry could open his mouth to speak, Elizabeth held up a finger. “Now, don’t say anything, it’s plainly obvious to all of us that this has caused friction between the two of you, and its up to the pair of you to sort that out. But he does love you, I can tell, I can see it in his eyes when he’s talking about you, to you, and I just think you should both try and salvage whatever you can from this.”

“Mrs Cromwell, I – ” Harry stopped as he heard a sobbing noise come from the side of the room.

“I’m so sorry, Lizzy.”

Elizabeth and Harry looked from Nicola to Reece and then over to Gary, who was leaning heavily on the drinks cabinet, crying into his hands.

“Dad?” Reece asked, coming over to his father. “Dad, what is it?”

Gary pushed past his son and knelt down in front of Elizabeth. “Please, you have to forgive me, please, just say you will, I never meant to do it!”

Harry could only see the one side of his face, but tears were streaming down it as he took hold of his sister’s hands. He looked to Nicola, she was sat on the edge of the couch, almost frozen in shock at seeing her husband like this.

“Gary,” Elizabeth started steadying her brother’s clawing hands, “what are you talking about?”

“I went to see him, last night,” he turned to face his wife, “like you said I should.”

“Like I said.” Nicola repeated almost parrot-like. Harry had a sinking feeling in my stomach that he knew where this was going, and could also tell that he wasn’t the only one.

“I thought maybe he’d listen to me, listen to reason, that if I could just make him understand, then everything between us would be ok again. And… and… I just wanted to keep my family safe. Together.”

“What did you do, Gary?” A look of hardened resignation spread across Elizabeth’s features.

“I hid. I went to see him, and he wasn’t there. But he came back and I… panicked. I was scared of what… that he’d reject me again. So I hid, while he made his will.” He looked across at Harry. “While you signed it, when you argued, I was hiding in the closet.”

Something inside him erupted and before Harry could stop himself, he stood up and marched over to Gary. “You mean to say that you’ve been accusing me, that you’ve been letting everyone else think that I might have killed your father?”

Gary avoided eye contact with Harry, instead, just seeming to sink lower into the carpet. “You had an alibi… Matthew he… I would never have…”

“You let that man accuse me and your son of plotting together, of lying, and you never said anything? You covered up for that… that murderer!”

“You’re pathetic,” Elizabeth spat down at her brother, “you were probably hiding in that closet while Robert was killing your own father, too scared to move, too scared to – ”

“It was me!” Gary shouted loudly. “It was me! I did it, I killed him!”

A stunned silence fell across them all. None of them moved, none of them spoke. He didn’t know about the others, but Harry didn’t even blink.

“Dad?”

A dry sob squeaked from Gary’s throat as he flinched away from his son. He looked up at his sister, staring back at him with a face like thunder. “What happened?” She asked, her tone revealing nothing.

“He knew I was there… when Harry left, he told me to come out. Said I wasn’t a quiet drunk. He laughed at me, Lizzy, I told him I wanted my job back and he laughed at me!”

“You killed him for that?” Elizabeth asked, aghast.

“I… I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? How can you not know?”

“I mean… I don’t remember! The last thing I remember is standing in his office, and he was laughing at me. That horrible, vile, cackle of his, it just kept going round and round in my head, and I was just stood there and I was holding that showy little letter opener of his and then… then…”

“What?” Harry asked, casting his mind back, trying to remember if he’d seen a letter opener on Ernest’s desk when Matthew and I had discovered his body.

“I don’t know… the next thing I know, Reece is standing over me, telling me that Dad’s dead… and… it’s just like what happened with Mum.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.

“It’s the epilepsy. I must have had another fit, that’s why I can’t remember. It killed mum and now it’s made me kill dad.”

“Honey, you haven’t had a seizure in years.”

“Does it feel the same as when you’ve had seizures before? You were drinking quite a lot, maybe you just blacked out?” Harry asked, not really knowing a lot about epilepsy.

“You’re not listening! None of you are listening! It’s my fault! I killed dad!” Gary stood up suddenly and looked around at them all, a panicked look on his face. “I… I need to get out.”

Gary turned on his heel and headed for the door. “Gary, wait – ”

“Mum, don’t.” Reece stopped his mother from going after her husband and gently closed the door behind his father.

“Reece? What are you doing? Someone needs to talk to him – he thinks he’s a murderer!”

Reece shrugged. “Maybe he is.”

“Reece!” Nicola gasped. “Are you seriously suggesting that your father could – ”

“He had the knife with him.”

“What knife?”

“The letter opener.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “That doesn’t mean anything, we don’t even know what knife they’re looking for.”

“She’s right,” Harry said, an angry feeling in his stomach as he realised that this meant Robert could be innocent, “and besides, I saw the stab wound… there’s no way a letter opener could have done that.”

“What, did you play a forensics expert in your last movie?” Reece shot at him.

“You seem awfully keen to believe that your father could have done it.”

“No, actually, Harry, I’m fed up with you coming in here, thinking you know everything. Just because you’re a big Hollywood actor, doesn’t mean you’re better than me.”

“You’re right, it doesn’t.” Harry shrugged, facing up to him as he approached. “The fact that I’m simply better than you is what makes be better than you.”

“For God sakes, will you two just give it a rest?” Nicola shouted loudly, collapsing backwards onto the couch. “There are more important things going on than your petty squabbles!”

Elizabeth moved over to sit next to her sister-in-law. “What are we going to do?” She asked, taking hold of Nicola’s hand.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Nicola let out a loud sigh, “I guess we go to that detective out there, ask him to run some kind of test on the letter opener, find out whether Gary really did kill Ernest or not.”

“Where is the knife?” Harry asked looking at Reece suspiciously.

“I… I dumped it in the fish tank.”

“You did what?” Harry laughed, not quite believing just how naïve he was. “Don’t you see that just makes things worse, that – ”

“I panicked, ok? Grandpa had just been killed and I didn’t know what to do!”

“Well, look, here’s what we’ll do,” Nicola stood up, her face sending Harry a warning look that she clearly intended to say ‘don’t pick on my son’, “we’ll go and get the knife, the police can run their tests or whatever, and then it’ll prove that Gary didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That’s not going to be enough!” Harry laughed again and Reece glared at me.

“Here he goes again, the big Hollywood hotshot, always has to be right!”

“He’s right!” Harry looked down at Elizabeth, for a moment, thinking that she was agreeing with Reece, but she briefly smiled up at him before turning to speak to the other two. “You two digging up stuff about that knife isn’t going to help anyone.”

“It can prove that my husband’s innocent.”

“Maybe,” Harry said, “but the police will start to suspect. Why did Gary have the knife? Obviously he’d been in the office and not told them about it. Why would he lie to them? Why did Reece hide it?”

“It’s going to distract them, and while they’re busy trying to decide whether or not Gary is innocent, Robert will be able to cover his tracks.”

“You think it is him?” Harry was surprised to hear Elizabeth say it.

“If you’d asked me this time yesterday whether I thought he was capable, I’d have laughed in your face. Right now, I don’t think I could be shocked by anything he did. I thought I knew him, turns out I don’t know anything about him.”

“So, what should we do?” Nicola asked. “Just let Gary carry on think he did it? What if he decides to confess?”

Elizabeth was quiet for a moment. “We’re going to have to move the knife. Someone is bound to find it eventually, and when they do, people are going to start to ask questions. Harry – ”

“Hey, leave me out of it. I already know more than I want to.” He looked across at Reece. “This is your mess, you can sort it. I’m going to find Frederick.”

He quickly left the room before they could convince him to stay. Harry was almost certain that Robert was the one who had killed Ernest, but if he turned out to be wrong and Gary had committed the crime in a drunken rage, he didn’t want to be implicated in covering it up.

He didn’t need an agent to tell him that being involved in the brutal death of a frail old man wouldn’t be a good idea. Although, most agents in Hollywood, Tricia included, would be able to spin several lucrative magazine deals out of it. And in Tricia’s eyes it would probably be more preferable to him being openly gay.

Harry decided to face Frederick. He thought that Harry was still angry with him for what happened between him and Robert, but the reason he been avoiding him was because he felt ashamed of what he’d done. Not only had he slept with Frederick’s cousin, but he was underage and it had all been caught on camera. Harry could already feel the tabloids circling.

He looked around for a clue as to where Frederick and the lawyer might have gone, when he heard raised voices coming from the room with the billiard table on the other side of the entrance hall. He moved over and listened, just outside the door.

“Robert, I still don’t get it! Why didn’t you tell them you were with me? It’s not like you’ve got anything left to protect with Elizabeth.” Harry frowned. That was Jennifer’s voice.

“I’ve already told you, it’s not about Elizabeth. I did it to protect you.”

“Protect me? Ha! Last night may have been a lot of things, Robert, but deep and meaningful it was not. The only reason it happened, is because you’re a randy bastard who can’t keep it in his pants longer than two minutes and I’m – ”

“A money grabbing whore?”

Harry heard the sound of a hard slap across flesh. “I hate it when people say that.”

“Don’t you see? That’s exactly why I didn’t give you as my alibi, if it turned out that you’d been sleeping with me, just to get your hands on the money you thought I was going to inherit, can you imagine what everyone else would think of you?”

“That’s what I’m saying, I still don’t get it, Robert, why do you care what people think of me.”

“Because if Frederick, finds out, he’ll be thoroughly pissed off at you.”

“What’s Frederick got to do with anything?”

Robert let out a breathy laugh. “He’s got everything to do with it. He’s going to need a wife, there’s nothing in that will that says it can’t be you.”

“You want me to marry my own nephew?”

“It’ll be a business arrangement, besides it’s not like he’s a blood relative or anything.”

“Jesus, you really are just as ruthless as Michael.”

“Look, here’s the deal, he’s going to want to marry someone, get his hands on whatever money he can and then him and his boyfriend will flounce off back to Hollywood, leaving me and you to run the business.”

“What about the baby part?”

“We can work something out.”

There was a long silence, and Harry shifted on his feet to gain a better position. Finally, Jennifer spoke up. “Fine. What do I need to do?”

Suddenly, Harry felt a rush of cold air against his ear and the side of his face. He turned to discover Robert holding the door open, as surprised to see him as Harry was to see him.

“How much did you hear?” Robert growled.

“Enough to know just how sick the pair of you really are.” He turned away from them and started to stride off down the corridor.

“Where are you going?” Jennifer asked, her and Robert were following closely behind him.

“I thought that Detective Jennings might want to hear this little story. When he hears how determined your boyfriend here is to get his hands on the business, he might realise just what’s staring the rest of us in the face.”

“And what’s that?” Robert grabbed hold of Harry’s arm, stopping him in the entrance hall. Harry spun around to face him.

“That you killed that old man in there, stabbed him in the back as he sat at his desk, coward that you are.”

Robert knew how to throw a good punch. It came hard and fast, almost from nowhere and hit Harry just above the left eye. Harry quickly punched back and then heard Jennifer scream as Robert shoved him hard against the wall.

Harry slid down to the floor and Robert started kicking him in the gut. Harry managed to grab hold of his foot before he made impact the third time and with a sharp twist, pulled him down to the floor. Robert was faster than Harry though, and while they grappled for a moment, he was soon sitting astride him, his fist raised menacingly in the air.

“Don’t,” he stressed each syllable so hard that he was spitting on Harry’s face as he spoke, “call me a coward!”

Robert punched him hard in the face, and then pulled back to do it again. Harry braced himself, but the punch never came. The weight was lifting from his waist and he looked up to see Robert being hauled off by a couple of policemen.

“Mr Forrester, I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me.”

Jennifer knelt down beside Harry and helped him up. He looked around the entrance hall and was startled to discover just how many people had appeared.

Jennings was stood at the bottom of the stairs, a triumphant grin on his face. Frederick was stood with Gregory at the door of the corridor Harry had just come from, Reece, Elizabeth and Nicola, approaching behind them. On the other side of the hall were Matthew and Fiona, both had come running when they’d heard Jennifer scream.

Gary was stood behind them, looking a lot less stressed, than he had a few minutes before, but then, he was now holding a large glass of red wine.

“You’re arresting me?” Robert asked incredulously as one of the officers slipped some handcuffs on his wrists and started to read him his rights. “For a stupid fight like that?”

“I’m arresting you for the murder of Mr Ernest Cromwell. If Mr Hicks here decides to press charges, then I can deal with that at the same time too.”

“Murder?” Robert asked with a genuine frown. Harry figured that either he hadn’t done it – unlikely – or he was arrogant enough to believe he’d never be found out. “Where’s your proof?”

“One dinner jacket,” Jennings held up Robert’s jacket, there was clearly a dark stain on it, “with what appears to be a dried blood stain.”

“It’s red wine, you fool! You just need to sniff it to figure it out.”

“One sniff indicates the presence of liberal amounts of cleaning fluid, lemon scented. As though someone had been desperately trying to remove something, you might say.”

“You can’t arrest me because of one stain on a jacket.”

“No, but combine it with the fact that you have clear motive, and no alibi…”

Even as Jennifer stepped forward, Harry gripped her arm and gently shook his head at her.

“That’s still not enough, Jennings,” Robert snarled, “you’re going to have to do more than that.”

“Does anybody recognise this?” Jennings held up a clear plastic bag, containing Ernest’s broken pocket watch.

Before Harry could say anything, Frederick had stepped forward.

“That’s grandpa’s,” he said plainly taking the bag, “he always had it on his desk. He got it, years ago at an antiques fair, said it was the only one of its kind that still worked.” Harry looked at Frederick with a frown.

“Well, it doesn’t work anymore.” Jennings took the bag back as Robert scoffed loudly.

“Your whole case rests on a wine stain on a jacket and a broken watch?”

“The watch was found inside your jacket pocket, Mr Forrester,” Jennings smiled smugly, “along with this.”

He held up a second plastic bag, and once again, Harry recognised the item inside immediately. Ernest had taken great pride in showing it off at dinner the night before. Of course, then, the gold handled carving knife hadn’t had quiet as much blood on it.

 

 

The next chapter will be published on Sunday 8th May