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