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.
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.”
“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