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.
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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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 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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“And the first time you ever saw it was when those coppers showed it to us all, with the knife?”
“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?”
“How did you know it wasn’t Robert’s?”
“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.
“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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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 –“
“Then Robert was with Jennifer when your grandfather was killed. Somebody else put the knife there.”
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