Are EU in or EU out?

A few people have asked me if I was going to write a blog on the EU referendum. I had thought about it, but I realised my main reason for doing it would be to make some bad EU/you puns.
Reasons for not writing one outweighed the opportunity for bad puns:

1. It’s a complicated issue, one that I don’t feel I can do justice with my limited knowledge (which raises the question of why the British public are being asked to decide).

2. Many other people have already given some good assessments of our current situation, and there isn’t much new I feel I could add

3. I couldn’t work out a way to do an “in, out, shake it all about” pun.

Lastly, this referendum has felt so combative that I honestly couldn’t face any arguments that might come my way. Not because I don’t like debate, but because there are some people who are so sure of their view they won’t listen to any other. There is literally no point arguing with them.

But certain thoughts have crystallised for me over the last week, and it feels important to express them, even if no one reads them.

This post is aimed at the undecideds, those people who have genuinely not yet made up their mind, or even those who have, but still have doubts.

What will happen after the referendum?
Regardless of the result, nobody really knows what will happen. That’s why you’re hearing a lot of doomsday predictions, because neither side has a real argument, backed up by facts, to be able to convince you of what you should do.

But there is a little thing that doesn’t often get used in politics. Calm, reasoned logic. Here’s three things I want to talk about:

Business

Many businesses large and small deal with the EU, and at the moment are subject to a lot of EU red tape. Any business who wants to continue to deal with the EU after a British exit, will need to continue to comply with their regulations, but we will no longer have any say in deciding what those regulations are.

Maybe you’re a small business who doesn’t deal with anybody in Europe. Maybe all you do is create little plastic widgets that you sell to two other companies who are a mile down the road from you. Maybe you should vote leave and avoid all that red tape?

Chances are, though, those little plastic widgets are going to become part of another product that will go out to Europe. If you’re not complying with EU regulations, those other companies will be forced to buy their little plastic widgets from someone else.

The EU isn’t perfect, but it isn’t going away either. By being part of it, we can still influence it.

Immigration

Boy, is this a hot potato issue.

If we leave the EU it is entirely possible we will be able to negotiate a deal with them that doesn’t involve the free movement of people. Other countries have not been able to negotiate this, but let’s stop for a moment… Why would we want to?

There isn’t exactly a shortage of jobs in this country, what there is is a lack of skilled workers. That’s the fault of our education system.

Everyone is encouraged to go to university and they are told they can be better than they currently are. But nobody is helping them to do that. That’s the fault of our education system.

That results in a swathe of people who can’t get the jobs they want, but don’t want the jobs they can get. Guess what? That’s the fault of our education system.

Immigration brings in a lot of people who can and will do the jobs we can’t and won’t.

Also, a large part of immigration into this country comes from outside of the EU. Whatever problems you think immigration may cause, leaving the EU is not necessarily going to solve them.

The free movement of people works two ways. Guess what? We can go anywhere in Europe, either to work, live or visit without jumping through hoops. Imagine having to stand in that other queue with the Americans at the airport when all you’re trying to do is go for a dirty weekend in Rome.

A couple of years ago, I applied for a job in Australia. I couldn’t do it because Australia’s points based system rejected me because I don’t have a degree. I could do the job, the job is less than what I’m doing now, but better paid. If that job was in France, I’d be there right now.

I can even retire to Benidorm if I wanted to, no questions asked.

The EU isn’t perfect, but it isn’t going away either. By being part of it, we can still influence it.

The Future

So this is a pretty broad topic. It covers the economy, our cultures and traditions and the term ‘ever closer union’. But I feel they are all one thing.

To talk about the future, we must first look at the past.

The history of the world, is the history of war, the history of division. The more divided we have been, the more violent a place the world has been.

The events of the past week have come about because of different things, but things that can be boiled down to intolerance. The best way to get rid of intolerance is to encourage integration. That doesn’t mean becoming one homogeneous entity, but it does mean being part of the same thing, whether that’s the European Union, the United Kingdom or the United States.

Some people will talk about the loss of national identity, the loss of tradition and culture, and yes there might be some erosion or change of those things, but our culture and our national identity have been in a constant state of flux since William the Conqueror touched down in Hastings nearly a thousand years ago.

These things evolve, and I for one I’m glad they do, otherwise most of us would still be in baked mud hovels paying unfair taxes to the Lord of the manor, just up the road. Women wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Most of us wouldn’t be able to read and write.

There are some things of the past that would be great to preserve, and there are some things that are only tradition because the oldest person you know remembers it from their youth.

In a hundred years from now, it will be an age old tradition to send a picture of an aubergine when you want to tell someone you’re horny. We’d laugh at our descendants who refuse to accept progress because it means the aubergine emoji will no longer be available.

Culture and national identify are different to tradition. They are things that exist outside of any one act. We’re a nation of tea drinkers, not because I had a cup of tea this morning but because, as a country, we drink a lot of tea. That national identity doesn’t change because my mum only drinks coffee.

We can accept people who are different to us, without losing who we are. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England all have very different national identities, despite being part of one union, I don’t see why the EU would be any different.

The EU isn’t perfect, but it isn’t going away either. By being part of it, we can still influence it.

While it might need shaking all about, I’m in, not out.

Vote remain.

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Minority Report

I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. It’s brought up a lot of different thoughts and issues for me. Where I thought I knew my mind, I’m now unsure. This is my attempt to reconcile those thoughts.

 

Pulse is a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On Saturday night it was the location of the worst gun massacre in US history.

 

We’re not talking about Swindon or England or United Kingdom, we’re talking about the United States of America.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting) this is the 136th mass shooting in the United States this year alone – that’s one every 29 hours.

 

On the 11th June the website reports that there were five mass shootings, a day later, there was just one. But it was the worst one they’d ever had. That’s why you’re hearing about it, that’s why it’s everywhere, because even somewhere like America, this was an exceptional event.

 

The shooter went into Pulse – self-styled as the hottest gay club in Orlando, and ranked second most popular according to the users of gaycities.com (http://orlando.gaycities.com/bars/) as of 13th June – and killed forty nine people, injuring many more. The death of the shooter himself takes the number of dead to a round 50.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Short of finding a signed confession, we may never be a hundred per cent certain for the reasons behind the massacre, the gunman himself has a violent history, as well as suspected links with IS. Islamic State themselves have already claimed responsibility, but there is no substantial evidence that they had any direct involvement.

 

We do know that his father has already confirmed that the gunman became “very angry” after recently seeing two men kissing.

 

If there are so many mass shootings in America, why is it this one that has upset me?

 

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it, is because it was aimed at me. At my friends. This wasn’t done for religious reasons, or race reasons, or even because of a relationship gone wrong.

 

This was beyond race, beyond religion – but not beyond love. It was love the gunman objected to. Love between men, love between women, and any variation thereof.

 

I’ve never felt like a minority before.

 

Minorities in the we talk about them are people who need protection, people who are vulnerable. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time and a place where I’ve never felt that.

 

I’m a white, English-speaking man, I’m by no means rich but nor do I struggle. I live in one of the most forward thinking countries of the world and I can criticise the people who lead my country without fear of retribution.

 

I’m also gay.

 

In the past, I’ve been critical of Gay Pride events in their current form. I’ve always said that I understood why Pride marches were needed, but that I felt they weren’t needed anymore.

 

Pride marches in the UK have become over-sexualised, commercial parties. When straight families are taking their children and grandchildren to Pride events, when music acts are queuing up to take part and when the event itself is part-funded by government of the day, I can’t help but feel we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.

 

For me, the focus should shift away from standing apart and more to integration. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is just part of who I am. I don’t need a special bar or a special nightclub or a special march. I’m proud of who I am wherever I am, whatever day of the year.

 

I’ve never begrudged those who did. I’ve always understood their reasoning. A safe place to go up to a guy and ask him out, being able to be who we really are without having to worry – but the truth is, most of us feel ok to do that most of the time these days.

 

Until now.

 

Someone invaded one of those safe places and started slaughtering us. That could have been me. I’ve not been to Pulse in Orlando, but a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying drinks in gay bars in Los Angeles.

 

They’re 2,500 miles away from each other, they’re not exactly close (the distance between them is only marginally shorter than the distance between London and Syria) but the in LA are the same as they are in Florida.

 

Someone could have taken offence at me mincing through Beverly Hills and done exactly the same thing.

 

It could have been any of us.

 

The whole incident brings up lots of different issues and already has from gun control to, bizarrely, whether the UK should leave Europe (we shouldn’t, if anything this teaches us that a tolerant world with closer links to other cultures is more important than it ever was).

 

But for me, the issue is more personal… it goes to the heart of who I am. To who we are as a society.

 

We talked about what happened in Paris, we talked about what happened in Brussels. At the office today, no one talked about Orlando.

 

It’s not an attack on the United States or the Western world. It’s an attack on a community, on my community.

 

I’m not going to forget what happened in Pulse, Orlando, and I’m not going to let it scare me into hiding away. Short of breaking out into a show-stopping performance of ‘I Am Who I Am’ complete with John Barrowman-esque jazz hands, I’m going to be the gayest gay I can.

 

I’m not going to feel like a minority anymore.

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 22 & Epilogue

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

 

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Boxing Day, 2010

 

Pat’s hands were trembling as she pointed the gun at Harry – at his head – but her eyes told him everything he needed to know. She was going to protect her daughter no matter what.

“Pat,” He tried reasoning with her, “put the gun down?”

“Mum, where did you get that gun?”

“Ella,” Pat glanced sideways at Ella before turning her eyes back to Harry, “just stay quiet, don’t answer any more of his questions.”

“Mum, answer me, what are you doing with a gun?”

“I’m not letting you go to prison for him.”

“You did the same as me, didn’t you, Pat?” Harry realised suddenly.

“What?”

“When you saw his body, saw the gun, you assumed he’d been shot. The same as I did.”

“So?”

“So, why’d you take the gun?”

“Look, I’ve told you, we’re not answering any more of your questions. Stop asking.”

“You’re not going to hurt me, Pat. Why did you take the gun?”

“Mum, please,” Ella moved toward her mother, “just put the gun down.”

“You knew it was her, didn’t you? You knew that Ella had killed Ernest, but you thought she’d shot him. You were trying to hide the evidence.”

“No. No, she didn’t kill him. She didn’t kill anyone.”

“Yes, I did. I killed him.”

Pat turned her head to look at her daughter, but kept the gun pointed at Harry. “Ella! What are you doing?

“What are you doing, mum? You’re not going to shoot him, I won’t let you do that.”

“It’s my job to protect you. I’ve done a lousy job of it so far, I need to make up for it.”

“I don’t need protecting from him.”

“You just told him that you killed someone!” Pat screamed hysterically. “He’s hardly going to throw you a sodding parade!”

“Well, maybe I should be punished. I killed someone, mum, I took a knife and stabbed a man in the back. I can’t run from that my whole life, I might as well take responsibility for it.”

“Who says I’m going to tell anyone?” Harry said, trying to calm the situation down a little. Pat was still pointing the gun at him, but her hands and her fingers were trembling more than ever.

“You won’t say anything?” Ella asked, both she and Pat turned back to face him.

“You won’t believe anything I say while I’ve got a gun pointed in my face. Why don’t you put the gun down, Pat?”

“No.”

“Mum, you’re not going to – ”

“Harry!”

All three of them looked up at the sound of Frederick’s voice and the sound of his footsteps clattering on the iron stairway.

Pat swivelled and pointed the gun at Frederick as he appeared at the bottom of the steps. Harry dived forward while she was distracted and pushed her arm from underneath, pointing the gun up at the ceiling.

“Mum!” Ella shouted.

“Harry! What’s going on?” Frederick looked completely bemused as Harry grappled with Pat for the gun. He pulled it from her hand with a relative ease, but staggered back when suddenly he faced no more resistance. Pat sank to the floor and Ella rushed over and hugged her.

“I was just trying to protect you.”

“I know, mum, I know.” Ella pulled her mum up, into a chair at the table, and sat down next to her.

“Harry, what’s going on? What are you doing?” Frederick’s eyes were wide with shock.

“I’m not sure.” Harry hesitated for a moment. “There are still a few things I’m unclear on, myself.”

“What are you talking about? Did Ella just call Pat ‘mum’?”

“Yes, but that’s not the biggest secret in the room right now.” Harry turned to look at Frederick who was staring back in confusion. “That uncle of yours, the one Ernest never told any of you about? Pat was married to him.”

Frederick’s confused face creased even more, now mixed with a huge dose of disbelief. “What? You’re telling me Pat’s my aunt? That Ella… that she’s my cousin?”

“That’s the bit we were getting to when Pat pulled out her gun.”

“Harry, please.” Ella gave him a pleading look.

“Pat and Ernest were having an affair,” Harry said ignoring her, “it went back years, before even Ella was born. There’s a high chance – a very high chance?” Pat looked at him quietly for a moment and then nodded. “There’s a high chance that Ella is Ernest’s daughter. That’s hardly a reason to kill him, though, Ella.”

“What?” Frederick asked, and Pat sobbed loudly. “What are you talking about?”

“You were angry with him, I guess,” Harry continued, ignoring Frederick this time round, “What? Did you go to him and ask him to cut you in on the will?”

Ella mumbled something he couldn’t quite hear. “What?”

“He raped me.”

Harry wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but that wasn’t it. Suddenly he was lost for words. Fortunately, that was never a problem Frederick had ever suffered from.

“What do you mean he raped you?”

“I mean he held me down on the floor of the laundry room, pinned my arms to the floor!” She shouted angrily, lifting her sleeves to reveal some dark bruises. “He pinned me down and he forced…”

“Ella…” Harry whispered softly, staring at her, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”

“You killed him?” Frederick asked.

“He wasn’t even sorry. He didn’t know I was his daughter. I told him and he just laughed, kept saying how much he’d enjoyed it. That he couldn’t wait to do it again. He made me so angry.”

A silence filled the room as the two men digested what Ella had told them. Eventually, Harry stepped forward and put the gun on the table in front of Pat.

“You’ll have to kill us both now, Pat.”

“Harry – ” Frederick started to talk, but stopped when Harry motioned to him. He mentally made a note, it was the first time Frederick had ever done something on his instruction.

Pat said nothing, she simply stood up, moved away from the table and the gun and stood by the sink.

“I… I can’t do this.” Frederick stuttered. He turned quickly and ran up the stairs. Harry started to follow him up when Ella spoke.

“Are you going to tell anyone? I didn’t mean to kill him,” Harry stopped and looked at her, “that’s not why I went to see him.”

“You left him there, you left him to die.”

“I got out. I went back to my bedroom. I just needed to get out of there. I didn’t even know if he was dead, I just sat on my bed and…”

“But you took the knife?”

“Not straight away. I went back. I went to see if he was… Well, he was. And then I panicked. I just wanted to get things back to how they were.”

“Including the knife.”

“I didn’t know what to do, I just pulled the knife out and… and he was still dead.”

“So you put the knife back in Robert’s jacket?”

“I didn’t know they’d arrest him, I thought Jennifer would give him an alibi. I ran into them in the corridor just before, I thought she’d gone to find him after I’d seen them.”

“What about the blood on the handkerchief?”

“After I’d taken the knife, I realised I’d left fingerprints all over it. I wiped the knife handle and the handle to Ernest’s office. I thought I’d put it back in my pocket, I… I must have dropped it.”

“Then you went for another shower and you waited until you heard someone discover the body.” Harry finished the story for her.

Pat moved over to her daughter, but Ella pulled away and looked across the table at Harry, her red eyes prickling with tears. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Harry shrugged. He looked across at her, but couldn’t bear to meet her gaze, and so just stared at nothing over her shoulder, trying to fully understand what she’d told him.

“Will you tell anyone?” Pat asked, standing up to face him, placing one hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

“I…” Harry moved his hand toward the table, past the gun and picked up the blood stained handkerchief from the centre of the table. “I don’t know.”

Ella simply stared at him as he slipped the scrap of cloth back into his trousers, but Pat almost exploded with panic. “You can’t, her life will be ruined, they’ll arrest her, they won’t care about any of it!”

Harry looked at Pat and then glanced down at the gun. She sighed and sat down at the table, next to her daughter.

“Ella, a man died. Another man – your brother – killed himself thinking he’d killed his own father.”

“I know.” She began to cry again. “I… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to… I can’t change what’s happened.”

“No.” Harry said, moving towards the doorway of the kitchen. “No, you can’t.”

 

*                *                *

 

Harry stepped outside and closed the door to the big house behind him. Matthew was stood by the back of the taxi, with the same driver who had driven him and Frederick just a day and a half previously. In the distance, the sun was beginning to rise, giving everything the murky glow of crisp morning air.

“I carried your case out.” Matthew said motioning to the boot.

“You didn’t have to do that, Matthew, I – “

“You’re going to stay?

Harry smiled, “I didn’t mean that, I… I just meant I could have carried it myself.”

“Oh. Things didn’t work out with Frederick?”

“What?”

“He came down looking for you. I told him where you were. That was ok, wasn’t it?”

“Some things just aren’t meant to be, Matthew.”

“I didn’t think so. He ran up those stairs pretty fast. He looked really upset.”

Harry picked up his holdall, hoisted it onto his shoulder and approached the driver.

“Dave, isn’t it?” He asked shaking his hand.

“That’s right, Sir.”

“You have a nice Christmas?”

“I’ve had better,” he grunted, “the wife burnt the turkey, my little girl found her way into my stash of rum, and the cat ate one of those bauble things and threw up during the Queen’s speech.”

Harry smiled a sympathetic smile. “You know where you’re going?”

“Yeah, I was posted at the base myself, a few years ago now, mind.”

“Great. Can you give me two minutes?” He asked, motioning to Matthew.

“That wasn’t the one you came with, was it?”

Harry gave him what he hoped was his best withering look and he sheepishly climbed back into the car as Harry tossed his bag onto the back seat. He closed the door, and turned to face Matthew.

“Any time you need to speak to someone, you give me a call.” He said, holding out a piece of card with his number written on it. “No selling that to any of your friends, though.”

“They couldn’t afford it.” Matthew winked at Harry and suddenly he felt very sleazy.

“Matthew, listen to me. With everything that’s gone on, I don’t want you to…” become one of them… “forget how incredibly brave you were, coming out the way you did. You should be proud of yourself, and who you are.”

Matthew smiled sweetly at him. “Thank you. What about you?”

“Excuse me?”

“When are you going to come out?” Harry turned his gaze away from him. “Forget about your career, you really helped me, I couldn’t have got through all this without you. There are hundreds, thousands of other people you could help, just by telling your story.”

“Perhaps. But not right now.”

“Why not?”

“If I come out, people will ask questions. They’ll want to know who I was with, who I am with.”

“So?”

“So, I don’t like questions I don’t know the answers to.” Matthew bowed his head slightly and Harry pulled him into a hug. As he did he saw Ella and Pat step out of the house and stand at the top of the steps. He whispered in Matthew’s ear. “Remember, anytime.”

“Thank you.” He whispered back.

“I’m going to get out of here, before I get a full Cromwell send-off.”

Matthew turned, saw Ella and laughed a little. “Goodbye. Have a happy new year!”

“You too!” Harry cried as he slipped into the back of the taxi.

“How was your Christmas, Mr Hicks?” Dave asked as he pulled the door shut.

“Yours was better.”

“Ouch.”  He slipped a piece of chewing gum into his mouth as he started the engine and began to turn the car around. Harry pulled out Ella’s crumpled up handkerchief and stared down at dark red smear across it.

“Where’s the nearest police station?” He asked as the car began to roll off down the drive.

“There’s one on the way, you want me to stop off?”

Harry turned and looked out the back window at the leaving contingent stood next to each other like a strange collection of Russian dolls. Matthew was waving frantically, and even from a distance Harry could see Pat’s red eyes, the vein twitching nervously in her neck. But Ella seemed almost serene, not happy, but… peaceful.

High above them, orange light filtered out through one of the windows and Harry could see Frederick’s face looking down at him.

“I’ll let you know.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

Saint Sebastian’s Church, Oxfordshire

June, 2011

 

Harry took the order of service from Reece and sidled carefully into the pew at the very back on the side he had gestured to.

“Couldn’t face sitting any closer?”

“I want to be able to make a quick exit.” Harry smiled at the man sitting next to him. “Just in case.”

“I know how you feel.”

“What’s your excuse for sitting back here, then?”

“I don’t know,” the other man said, “I guess it doesn’t feel right that I’m here. I mean, I’ve had sex with the groom. Plus, I’ve heard if a gay man ventures too far inside a church he turns to dust.”

“If that were true there wouldn’t be any priests left.”

The stranger laughed raucously earning himself a severe look from an elderly woman sitting a few rows in front of them. Harry watched him closely for a moment, there was something in his voice that he recognised, and there had only ever been one of Frederick’s exes that he’d had any kind of contact with.

“Graham?”

“That’s the badger.”

“Graham,” Harry smiled, holding out my hand for him to shake, “we’ve spoken on the phone a few times, I’m – “

“I know who you are, Harry.”

“Right. Of course.”

An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Of all the things Harry hated about being famous, not being able to introduce himself to people and never being allowed to make a first impression were perhaps the worst. Most people had moved onto their third or even fourth impression by the time he usually met them for the first time.

“What happened between you two?” He asked, splitting the silence. “The last I heard you were blissfully happy, and now he’s turned straight and is getting married.”

“Would you believe it was all a bet? We wanted to see who could go the furthest pretending to be straight. You know Frederick he’d do anything to win.” Graham smirked at him.

“Of course,” he said, “you don’t have to tell me what went wrong.”

Harry shrugged a little, not sure on how much Graham knew. “It was just one of those things that never would have worked.  Besides, the way he would always talk about her, I guess I should have seen it coming. You knew them both, you must have seen it.”

“I wouldn’t have put any money on it ending like this.”

“It hasn’t yet.”

“What?” Graham sat up straighter and turned his whole body to face Harry. “You’re not saying – you wouldn’t! Would you?”

“No.” Harry shook his head, but couldn’t help but smile. Frederick had always said that Graham had a finely tuned sense of gossip. “No, of course not.”

“I was going to say,” Graham relaxed back in his chair, “those reporters out there would have had a field day.”

“Yeah.” He frowned, remembering the gaggle of photographers who had been stood at the gates of the churchyard. “You know, I didn’t think Freddie would be famous enough to get this much attention.”

“Are you kidding me? After all that stuff that happened with his uncle and his grandfather, that lot were all over the tabloids. Nothing could shift them until that model had that dodgy boob job.”

“I was in America, I didn’t see…”

“Anyway, I don’t think they’re here for him. I think someone told them you were here.”

“Tricia.” Harry rolled his eyes, cursing himself for not realising before as she tottered into the church, clutching a small handbag under one arm.

“Sorry about that sweetie,” she said sitting down next to him and turning her mobile phone off, “but it was Keith, I simply had to take it. Apparently some bigwig at the studio has mentioned the word ‘sequel’!”

“Did you tell the press I was going to be here?”

“Of course I did, darling, I wouldn’t be much of an agent if I hadn’t gotten you into the papers at least once this month, would I?”

“Tricia, this is part of my private life, – “

“Rubbish. You don’t have a private life. Apart from that… kayaking thing.” She said casting a wary glance at Graham. “But forget about that, do you know how much money you can get for a sequel?”

“What about what we talked about in the car? You said it had potential.”

“Oh, honey,” Tricia gave him a pitying smile – the kind you might give a small child who had glued some dried macaroni to their ear and patted his knee, “it does. But it’s quite clear who the story’s based on, you could get sued for libel or slander or whichever one it is that you could get sued for, I’m not in legal.”

“Wow, I’m already intrigued.” Graham smiled. “What story?”

“The epic love story between a struggling screenwriter,” Harry said nodding to Frederick stood up in front of the altar, “and a dashing, Oscar-nominated actor.”

Graham raised an eyebrow. “Something tells me, it doesn’t end well…”

“It doesn’t.” Tricia leaned past me to talk to Graham, “he’s going to implicate a lot of people – including himself – oh! And now me! – in a cover up of a murder.”

“So, we change a few names,” Harry pushed her back as Graham somehow managed to raise his eyebrow even higher, “set it somewhere else. It’s a good story. I want to play it.”

“People would figure it out, Harry. If you play gay in a film that’s clearly based – in part – on actual events, people will realise that you… kayak.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you came up with that code.” Graham sniggered next to him.

“An ex-boyfriend,” Harry smirked flirtatiously, “he had a penis shaped like a paddle.”

“That’s it!” Tricia said dramatically as Graham and Harry both started to laugh. “Get up, get up now.”

“What?” Harry asked, confused, as she pulled him to his feet.

“I’m not having you two sitting there like a couple of… well, like a couple. Come on, we’re swapping places.”

Both Graham and Harry laughed, but he dutifully moved to let her past, and as he did he came face to face with Elizabeth and Victoria.

“Harry, hi!” Elizabeth pulled him into a tight bear-like hug, as Graham got up and hugged Victoria. “It’s so good to see you, how are you?”

“I’m good, thanks, Mrs Cromwell.”

“You left us so suddenly at Christmas, Harry, we didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

“Ah, well, when Tricia calls,” Harry gestured toward to Tricia who had stood up to let Graham back to his seat, “I jump.”

“I see.” Elizabeth waved a small polite wave to Tricia and then turned to whisper to Harry. “Now, what exactly happened between you and Freddie? He never talks about you, won’t tell me a word of what went on.”

“Well, sometimes things don’t just work out.” Harry smiled weakly. “But, if we’d stayed together, we wouldn’t all be here celebrating the wedding, would we?”

“Oh, bless you, my dear, trying to look on the bright side. However, not of all us agree that it’s a good thing.”

“Mum.” Victoria chastised her mother.

“I’m just saying dear, we all know the real reason this wedding’s happening, and it’s not about love.”

“Mum, we talked about this before.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to say anything. Though I wouldn’t necessarily discourage anyone else from saying anything.” She looked at Harry, and then slipped her pleading gaze to Graham.

“Right then, ladies,” Reece purposefully looked at Harry as he came over to the three of them, “can we all take our seats? The bride’s ready.”

Elizabeth and Victoria bustled off to the front of the church, as Harry sat back down next to Tricia. An expectant hush came over the room, Reece nodded to the organist and the bridal march began to play.

Frederick turned to face the back of the church as they all stood up and he locked eyes with his former lover. Harry smiled reassuringly at him, and then turned to face the bride as she made her entrance into the church.

“Well, she’s nothing like I imagined,” Harry heard Tricia whisper behind him, “rather plain looking if you ask me. What do you think?”

“I think she’s done well,” Graham commented, “I mean, she was never gorgeous to begin with, she’s actually done quite a good job of scrubbing up.”

“It’s amazing what a bit of money can get you.” Harry whispered over his shoulder.

As the bride made her way to the front of the church, Harry caught sight of Frederick again and felt a pang of longing inside him. It should be me up there, he told himself, it should be me standing beside him.

He closed his eyes and tried to picture the scene, of standing side by side with Frederick in matching tuxedoes, not in a church, but on a beach somewhere, when someone nudged his arm.

“Come on, love, she’s made it to the end without falling, we can sit down now.”

Harry opened his eyes and sighed. He was still in the church, the only person by his side was Tricia, and at the front of the church Frederick was grinning like the Cheshire Cat as he took Ella’s hands in his.

 

*                *                *

 

Harry closed one eye and looked at the room through the sparkling bubbles of his champagne glass. Three rows of tables in front of him, Tricia was dancing merrily with Graham who she hadn’t let out of her sight all evening, Matthew was sat at a table on the edge of the dance floor with an attractive young man and Victoria was dancing with her son and another woman Harry had never met before.

“Who’s that?” He asked as Frederick slipped into a chair beside him. “Dancing with Vicky and Josh?”

“That’s Rebecca. You remember me telling you about her?”

“Ah,” Harry smiled, “the woman who turned you gay. Perhaps I should go and thank her.”

“Perhaps.”

“Of course, we’d have a lot to talk about. She turned you gay, I turned you straight. It’s like a human version of Swingball.”

“Harry, you know it wasn’t like that.”

“Perhaps.” Harry smiled slyly at him.

“What happened to us, Harry?”

“You getting engaged to a woman was probably the final nail in the coffin.”

“I waited,” he said, “I waited for you to call. I guess you’d just forgotten about me.”

“I didn’t forget about you. I was over there, waiting for you to call me.”

“I didn’t think it was my place to call.” Frederick took hold of his hand. “You left me, remember.”

“Ah, but you moved on first. When I heard that you’d proposed to Ella, that you were getting married, I kind of stopped waiting for that phone call.”

“You gave up?”

“I never gave up.” Harry whispered. “I still hadn’t given up at eight o’clock this morning. I was all set to come here and stop the wedding.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I told Tricia the story on the way up here, about your grandfather. About Robert. It kind of opened up some old wounds.” They both looked over at Tricia, more to avoid looking at each other, than for any other reason. “Besides, can you imagine her face when those headlines hit? ‘Hollywood Homo Halts Hitch’ or something like that.”

“You never were a writer.” Frederick smirked.

“There’s one thing I’ve been wanting to ask you.”

“Yeah?”

“How did you propose to her? Did you get down on one knee?”

“I never did propose. Not really.” Frederick shrugged. “She and Pat – mainly Pat, actually – came to me and told me everything. It was Pat who suggested the wedding, that way I got my inheritance, and Ella was finally able to become part of the family.”

“And then when you divorce, she gets half of everything.”

“I quite liked that bit,” Frederick smirked, “Grandpa wanted to keep everything in the family, it still will be.”

“What about the baby bit? She’s your aunt, Freddie, don’t tell me you’re actually going to – “

“Oh, God, no, not even if she wasn’t related. I mean, sex with a woman? No, we’ll find a way around that bit.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “We’ve got a bit of time before we really have to worry about that. Gregory seems to be on our side, I’m sure he’ll find some kind of legal loophole for us. We were thinking, perhaps Reece.”

“Reece? Freddie, he’s – ”

“Nobody really believes that Uncle Gary was Reece and Matthew’s father. Aunt Nicola kind of put it about a bit. Still, it keeps it in the family. Sort of.”

“Keeping it in the family.” Harry smiled. “That ought to be the Cromwell family motto. Still, after what he did – “

“This doesn’t have to be the end for you and me, you know.”

“Excuse me?”

“Come on, this is perfect for us. We can be together, and we can keep it a secret. You won’t ever have to worry that I might screw things up for your career, because if it ever comes out, I lose my inheritance.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call that perfect, Freddie.”

“It’s a no, then?”

“I think it’s for the best.” Harry said standing up and gesturing to Tricia. “Listen, mate, it’s time for us to be making a move.”

“Right. Mate.” Frederick followed him to his feet and held out his hand. Harry ignored it and pulled him in for a hug.

He held Frederick tightly against his body, and for a moment he could feel his heart beating against his chest. He turned his head and kissed the groom gently on his cheek, and, as he did, something inside him snapped, some urge took over and he moved Frederick’s head so their lips could meet.

As they kissed, Harry ran his hands through his hair and he could feel Frederick’s stretching down his back. Suddenly, he felt a figure come between them, and move them apart.

“Harry!” Ella smiled a cold, plastic smile. “Tricia tells me the two of you are leaving. It’s such a shame we didn’t get to see each other properly.”

“Yeah.” Harry said looking straight past her at Frederick, who was simply staring back, red-eyed. Ella had been avoiding him all night and Harry didn’t intend to start niceties with her now.

“Can we… err… can we get out of here before I vomit?” Tricia thrust her small handbag into Harry’s arms, as she clasped one hand to her mouth. Her other hand held her matching red shoes by the straps.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said, smiling at her and putting his arm around her to keep her upright, “I guess now’s the time that I wish you luck.”

“Well, err, thanks for coming.” Frederick nodded to him as they made their way over to the door.

“Yes.” Ella stopped and took his free hand in hers. “Thank you.”

Harry nodded back, silently, and led Tricia outside.

“I’m proud of you,” Tricia slurred as they stumbled across the gravel courtyard of the hotel, “I was worried you were going to do something stupid, but you were really brave.”

“Thanks, darling,” He smiled at her as they neared the gaggle of remaining photographers and the flashbulbs started going off again, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Harry!”

He turned to see a figure racing towards him down the front steps of the hotel. “Tricia, honey, why don’t you get back to the car? I’ll catch you up in a minute.”

He passed her back her handbag as she nodded and staggered off. Harry turned to face the young man approaching him.

“Harry,” Matthew sighed, slightly out of breath as he caught up with him, “are you going? We didn’t get a chance to talk.”

“You’ve been busy.” Harry smirked at him.

“That’s my… that’s my boyfriend.” He grinned broadly. “That’s Dean.”

Harry searched around in his memory for the name. “Dean the Prick?”

“Yeah.” Matthew laughed. “I still call him that, actually.”

“I bet you do. He’s cute.”

“What about you?”

“Well, I’m cute too.”

“No,” Matthew said, gaining a serious look on his face, “you got a new boyfriend yet?”

“No. It’s been a while since I met anyone, been busy with work, you know.”

“I’ve been waiting, you know.”

“I told you before,” Harry sighed, “things would never have worked out between us.”

Matthew laughed a little. “Not for that. You said the time wasn’t right before. Well, when is it going to be right? Or are you always going to come up with an excuse?”

“Tricia would go mad.”

“Forget about her. Maybe if you came out, maybe if you were allowed to be yourself, you might find someone.”

Harry looked from the young man in front of him, to Tricia being helped into the car by the driver and finally over to the photographers who all seemed to have woken up a little.

“Oh, what the hell.” Harry grinned at Matthew. “Tell Dean I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?”

He pulled Matthew in tightly and started to kiss him passionately. They fell against a tree, lips crashing against each other. Man on man. Crotch on crotch.

Harry felt a hand on his shoulder pulling him away and he turned around to find a now very sober and very angry Tricia glowering at him.

“Get off of him!” The side of her face was illuminated by half a dozen flashing cameras and made her look ever scarier than usual. The reporters over to the side were desperately shouting Harry’s name. He moved away from Tricia, toward the gaggle of photographers and reporters, approaching an attractive young man.

“Do you have a card? I want to give you… an exclusive.”

Tricia dragged him away once again. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Harry laughed and began to walk away, towards the car, calling back over his shoulder as he went. “Just… kayaking.”

 

 

The End

Memories of a Murder – Chapter 21

Read the last chapter here or start at the beginning here

Cromwell Manor, Wiltshire

Christmas Eve, 2010

 

“Pat!” Ella jumped slightly as Robert burst into the kitchen, shouting out her mother’s name. “Oh, Ella… is Pat around?”

“No, she’s not,” Ella smiled, peeling the rubber gloves from her hands, “she always gets a headache when the washing up needs to be done. She’s gone for a lie down.”

“Oh, right.”

“Anything I can help you with?”

“Well… Jennifer said she might be able to sort this out.” He said holding up his jacket.

Ella took the jacket and started to peer at the stain that had spread across the front left hand side. “What the hell happened?”

“Frederick and I had… a little disagreement.” Robert gestured to his bloodied nose.

“Hmm, he always did have a bit of a temper.” Ella sniffed the jacket. “Did he throw the wine over you as well?”

“Err… no, that was Nicola, she thought it might help. Can you do anything with it?”

“Yeah, should be fine.” Ella smiled, took the jacket and then mumbled to herself as Robert left the kitchen. “That woman thinks a glass of red wine will help anything, at least Gary’s upfront about his drinking.”

Ella looked at the small pile of dishes still to be washed and then at the dark stains drying on Robert’s jacket. She sighed, took hold of the jacket and left the room.

 

*                *                *

 

“He’s a complete dickhead. He just wants everyone to be like this… carbon copy of him, it’s stupid!”

“Yeah, I guess.” Ella agreed as she looked through the cupboard for some cleaner. “Maybe he’s right though, maybe you have had a little too much to drink.”

Reece stood behind her and took a swig from the bottle in his hand. “I’ll stop when Dad stops.”

“I don’t think they make that much vodka.” Ella stood back up and smiled at him, before turning her attention to Robert’s jacket, laid out across the ironing board.

“You know, Ella, sometimes it feels like you’re the only person in this whole damn place who really understands me.”

“Well,” Ella frowned as her hand hit a lump in the fabric of Robert’s jacket, “I’ve known you a long time.”

“Not as long as the rest of them.” Reece gurgled into the top of his bottle, oblivious to Ella pulling the carving knife from the inside pocket of the jacket.

Why would Robert have Ernest’s new carving knife in his pocket? She shrugged and dropped the blade into the front pocket of her apron, making a note to drop it in with the rest of the washing up when she returned to the kitchen.

“But they’re family, they all still see you as the little boy you were fifteen years ago,” Ella reasoned dabbing at the stains, “but I’ve watched you grow up, I see you as – “

“A man?”

Ella stiffened as she felt Reece’s hands on her side, gently sliding over her hips. “Reece, what are you doing?”

“Come on, don’t pretend you don’t want it. You said it yourself.”

“I did?” She squeaked as he began to untie the apron. “Reece, stop it.”

“You’re such a tease,” Reece smirked, throwing the apron aside, it landing on the floor with a thump, and turning Ella round to face him, “you pretend you want it, and then you come on all shy.”

“I’ll scream.”

Reece put a hand over her mouth and stared at her with a hard expression on his face. “No, you won’t.”

He pushed her to the floor, and pinned her down, Ella struggling frantically but uselessly underneath him. As he heaved himself on top of her, she kicked out with her leg and knocked over Reece’s now empty vodka bottle. It skidded across the floor and smashed into several pieces as it collided with a washing machine at the far end of the room.

Reece growled angrily at her and clamped down her leg with his own as his fingers started to tug at the waistband of her skirt.

“Hey!” The door to the utility room smashed open and Harry rushed in and over to Reece. “Hey! Get off of her!”

“Get off of me!” Reece spat as Harry pulled him up to his feet. Ernest entered behind Harry in time to see him shove Reece against the wall.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Harry growled menacingly at the young man.

“I could ask you the same thing.” Ernest whispered angrily. “Get your filthy hands off of him. Just because you’ve turned the other two gay, doesn’t mean you can turn all three of my grandsons!”

“Look at her!” Harry shouted loudly pointing down at Ella, and letting Reece drop to the floor at the same time.

“Ella!” Ernest rushed over to her and crouched by her side. “Are you ok?”

“I’m…” Her voice was barely a whisper as she looked at the two men who had rushed in. “Mr Cromwell. Harry.”

“Your one straight grandson, Ernie.” Harry snarled at the old man.

“What?”

“Reece! The only normal grandson you have, the one that’s not disgusting, just tried to rape your maid!”

“What? Reece, is that true?”

Reece stood up. “Grandpa, I – ”

“Is it true, yes or no?” Reece said nothing. “Get out!”

Reece quickly left the room and Harry crouched down beside Ella, on the opposite side to Ernest.

“Ella, are you ok?”

“Yes. I’m… I’ll be fine. Thank you.”

“She’s going to be fine. Thank you for your assistance, but you can leave us. You’ve got some cases to pack, haven’t you?”

“Ella, are you ok if I leave?”

“It’s ok, you can go. You’ve got things to do. He didn’t really do anything.”

Ella felt the tears well up in her eyes as Harry left the room and buried her face into his chest. “Oh, Mr Cromwell!”

For the first time in her life, Ella felt the strong reassuring hug of her grandfather, and for a moment she forgot everything, and she was almost happy.

But then he pulled away from her, walked away from her and she saw her ripped shirt and the broken glass on the floor and she was ruthlessly, heartlessly dragged back to the reality of her situation.

“What happened?”

“I… I don’t know. We were just talking… and then… I don’t know what came over him.”

“Oh, come on, you must have said something, done something.”

“No… I… I didn’t, he just…”

“He’s a very stupid boy.” Ernest growled, “he didn’t even lock the door.”

“What?” Ella looked up as she heard Ernest close the door of the utility room and slide the lock into place.

“Still… I can understand,” he said, moving towards her, “you’re a very pretty girl, a man’s… hormones could take over. He can become… a slave to his urges.”

 

*                *                *

 

“Oh, there you are! I thought that perhaps you’d gotten lost!” Pat grumbled through gritted teeth as Ella slowly walked into the kitchen. “I came down here to see how you were getting on, and I find you’ve left me half the washing up still to do and a bowl of cold water to do it in! Do you know how long it took to me get that roasting tin clean? You could have at least put it in to soak!”

“Sorry.” Ella sat down at the table as Pat placed a small pile of plates into an open cupboard.

“And me with my migraines – and my leg! – nearly took it all out of me! I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You could offer to help, you know, not that I need it, it’s practically all done now.” Pat slammed the cupboard door shut and Ella visibly flinched before bursting into tears. “Ella? What is it? What’s the matter?”

Pat moved over to her daughter, sat in the chair beside and rubbed her gently on the back as she cried into her arms. Pat rubbed her back as Ella told her about the stains on Robert’s jacket, and about the way Reece had been drinking in the utility room.

Pat stopped rubbing her daughter’s back and moved it sympathetically to the back of Ella’s head when she told her about the way Reece had attempted to assault her, and how Harry had rescued her.

But when she heard about how Ernest had locked himself in the room alone with Ella, and proceeded to take up where his grandson had left off, to actually rape her daughter, Pat pulled herself up and braced herself against the counter at the side of the kitchen.

She gulped hard as she took in what she’d just heard, the only sound in the kitchen, the gentle ticking of the clock on the wall and Ella’s soft sobs.

“Are you sure?” Pat asked eventually, not daring to face her daughter.

“Am I sure?”

“Maybe you got it wrong, maybe he – “

“He raped me! He held me down and he fucked me!”

Pat’s hand flew to her mouth, her daughter’s coarse language placing horrible images in her mind. “He wouldn’t do that, he’s – “

“My grandfather? He doesn’t know that though, does he?”

“I’ve known that man a long time, and while he may be a lot of thing, he’s not a rapist!”

“He is now!”

“No!” Pat continued to face away from her daughter. “He wouldn’t do that, you must have got it wrong.”

“Why are you on his side?” Ella frowned, a look of hurt on her face. “Why do you refuse to believe that this happened to me?”

“Because,” Pat shouted, spinning around to face the younger woman, “he’s your father!”

The frown lines that had crept across Ella’s forehead quickly vanished as an expression of numb shock seized hold of her face. She fell against the back of the chair behind her and stared at the centre of the table as a silence gripped the room. Even the second hand on the clock seemed to have ceased ticking due in awe of the sudden revelation.

“He’s my…”

Pat slowly took a seat opposite her at the table. “Your father and I – Raymond and I, we were going through a difficult time… we still owed Ernest a lot of money, and Raymond… he… had a small job at the bank, but it wasn’t enough. I’d stayed on here to… try and help reconcile the two of them, I – “

“I know this bit already,” Ella said wildly, her eyes focusing randomly on knots of wood on the kitchen table.

“I was lonely.” Pat stared down at the table in front of her. “Ernest was lonely too, I guess. The children were starting to grow up, Elizabeth had gotten herself a boyfriend. I caught him waiting up for her one night, and I sat with him. He was so different that night, worried about his daughter, so… vulnerable. We talked a lot, I suppose you might say we bonded. We –“

“Fucked?”

“We had an affair. It was a dirty, grubby little affair, it’s not something I’m proud of.” Pat stretched across the table and took hold of her daughter’s hand. “But then I had you, something I was proud of. Am proud of.”

“That’s why you left. That’s why you stopped working here. Does he know?”

“I didn’t see Ernest again for nearly a year. You were only a few months old and your father and I had taken a holiday. We stayed in the same hotel that Elizabeth was getting married in. There was an argument – Raymond tried to talk to Ernest, tried to make him see sense. It didn’t work, and Raymond tried to insist we go home, said that he wouldn’t stay in the same place as ‘that man’ anymore. We argued – I wanted to stay for Elizabeth’s wedding – and he started to work out the numbers, started to realise you weren’t his. I ran out the room, ended up in this grubby little bar in the hotel. That’s where Ernest found me… he was… he was everything your father was not. I started to see him again, eventually I went back to work for him. I never did tell him about you.”

“He raped his own daughter.”

“No. He wouldn’t do that!”

“You said he didn’t know who I was! What’s to stop him?”

“He might not know who you are, but I know who he is, the real him. He might be a lot of things, but he’s not a rapist!”

Ella stood up and started to pace. “He raped me! Why won’t you believe me? He raped me!”

“Ella, will you just calm down?”

Ella was about to shout back at her mother when she heard the sound of someone clearing their throat. She turned to find Harry stood at the door to the kitchen, and a small sob crept out through her open mouth.

“I need a shower.”

 

*                *                *

 

Ella ran a brush through her short, dark hair a couple of times, but stopped when she caught sight of her reflection. People had always told her while she was growing up that she had sad eyes. She’d never really known what they meant, they had always seemed to just be eyes to her, but tonight, looking into them, she saw the innate sadness for the first time.

Had this been what people had been able to see in her all her life? Had her eyes somehow betrayed to everyone just what would happen to her? She hoped not, if they’d been able to see it before, they’d certainly be able to see it now.

She buttoned up the top button of her blouse and stepped back to take in the full view of her reflection. She tried smiling a wide smile, but it looked out of place. Had she ever smiled before? She didn’t know, she couldn’t remember smiling. If she had smiled, she certainly hadn’t known just how odd it had looked on her features. Now that she did know, she decided she wouldn’t ever smile again.

She smoothed out a crease in her skirt, and gave a small, satisfied sigh. She looked no different than she had before, no one would ever know. Except for her apron. Reece had ripped it from her when he’d attacked her, and without it, she was dressed just in black, as if she was mourning something.

Not having it, gave the game away, people would look at her and know something was wrong. She’d have to get it back.

 

*                *                *

 

She’d sat herself on the floor, holding the strings of the apron loosely in her hands, her back slumped against the smooth plastic of the washing machine. She was staring at the spot on the floor, the place where he’d held her down. She hadn’t struggled against him, she’d found she didn’t have the strength. She’d simply just been so shocked by what was happening, that her body had just shut down, as if it weren’t there.

If it hadn’t been for the dull ache she felt, or the bruising that was starting to show up on her thighs, she may have been able to convince herself that it hadn’t happened. But it had.

She heard a high giggling noise coming from the corridor outside and pulled herself up. If somebody saw her sat on the floor, they’d ask questions, they’d find out. The giggling petered out and Ella heard the low rumbling of a man talking. She looked down to tie her apron as Robert entered the room with Jennifer at his side.

“Robert.” Ella smiled – before remembering how her smile had appeared and let it drop. She nimbly finished the knot on the apron and moved it round so it were straight, wincing slightly as the hard handle of the knife in the pocket bumped against her bruises.

“Ella!”

“Ella,” Jennifer looked to Robert, but he seemed too surprised, too caught out to say anything, “Robert and I were just talking about some business.”

“And you came in here to get Robert’s jacket?” Ella offered them up an excuse, and prayed they would take it. She didn’t care what they had really come in to do, she just wanted them to go away again.

“Right. My jacket. Did you…?” Robert picked the jacket up from the side.

“I couldn’t get it all out. I could recommend a dry cleaner’s, they’d – ”

“Never mind. I’m sure you did your best.”

“You should probably hang it up,” Ella suggested, “give it a chance to dry.”

“Right. Of course.” Robert nodded before turning to Jennifer. “Jennifer, perhaps we ought to pick up this conversation another time?”

“Please.” Jennifer smiled back to him. “It was a rather… enjoyable conversation.”

Robert nodded again and left the room. Jennifer remained and for a moment simply smiled across the room at Ella.

Ella mentally checked she wasn’t smiling, and just stared back. “It’s getting late.”

“Yes, yes it is.” Jennifer gave a small yawn. “You’re right. Perhaps I ought to get to bed. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” Jennifer quickly turned and moved through the door.

Ella moved over to the doorway and watched as the woman scurried off down the corridor. Her sister-in-law.

Her eyes slipped to the door halfway along the wall. A small slither of light was creeping out from underneath the door, a shadow flickering across it as somebody moved around inside the office.

She jumped suddenly when a figure appeared in the corridor, and moved herself backwards out of sight. She cautiously peered back out into to see Matthew – her nephew – pacing in front of his grandfather’s office. He stopped when the door opened and Ella pulled her head quickly back inside the doorway.

For a moment Ella’s heart caught in her mouth as she expected to hear Ernest’s voice.

“What were you doing in there?”

“I was just speaking to your grandfather about something.” It was Harry. Ella frowned as she attempted to figure out her new relationship with him. Auntie-in-law?

“It’s late. I didn’t think anyone would still be up.”

“It’s Christmas Eve, people are supposed to be up till the wee hours.”

The two of them spoke a little longer, and Ella found herself holding her breath, waiting for them to leave.

“Ok.” She heard Matthew concede eventually. “We’ll go to my room. I think you know where it is.”

She watched them make their way out of the corridor, before she started to follow them. She hesitated in front of the door to the office, and frowned as she heard angry voices from inside. Who was still in there? Who had Harry and Ernest been talking to?

She didn’t have to wait long for her answer, the door to the office burst open and Gary – her brother, she realised with a gulp – stormed past her, down the corridor. She watched him march off, he didn’t even acknowledge her, and then she glanced in at the study.

Ernest was staring down at a small pocket watch. He hadn’t noticed Ella stood in the doorway. He finally looked up at her when he heard the click of the door closing.

“Ah, Ella,” he smiled, attempting to disguise the red circles around his eyes, “what can I do for you?”

“Don’t pretend.” Ella said through gritted teeth. She could feel her insides shaking with rage, she hoped it didn’t show up on her face, though her eyes were probably giving her away.

“Pretend?”

“Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t deny it.”

“It did happen, though.” Ernest managed to look both amused and bemused at once. “We slept together.”

“You raped me.”

Ernest’s face set hard and he stared across the room at his maid. “We slept together, Ella.”

“I don’t care what you say to anyone else, I don’t care if you go into your boardroom next week and boast to all the other old men that you banged the maid, but I need you to tell me the truth, I need you to say it.”

“Say it?”

“Tell me what happened, Ernest.”

Ernest frowned for a moment as he contemplated the young woman in front of him. “Fine.” He said eventually. “I raped you.”

If Ernest hadn’t been avoiding looking at Ella, he would have noticed her flinch slightly. She closed her eyes and felt a shiver run through her body, before opening her eyes again. She looked down at the gun on Ernest’s desk.

“Why?” She asked.

“You’re a pretty girl. I’m only a man.”

“Why now?”

“It’s Christmas. It was the only way I could guarantee a present I’d like.”

“No.” Ella shook her head. “No, that’s not it, there’s something else.”

“Excuse me?”

“You don’t ever do anything on a whim, you have to have had a reason. A real reason.”

“Reece is an idiot.”

“Reece?”

“If it hadn’t been for him, we wouldn’t be here now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Like I said, the boy’s an idiot – but he’s still my grandson. These last few months he’s been… he’s been a dickhead. But he’s still young.”

“So?”

“I was worried. If you told the police what he’d done, he’d never recover.”

“So you stopped him and did the job yourself?”

“I figured you wouldn’t go to the police about both of us. If you did, I could say that you were just… giving it away. Too much Christmas cheer. More than likely, you would just go to the police about me. If you mentioned what he did, they would probably think you were crying wolf.”

“You… you didn’t want Reece to get into trouble?”

“No.”

Ella moved away from the door and around the desk, stopping behind Ernest’s chair, but facing the other way, staring at her own reflection in the window. She could see Ernest reflected behind her. He didn’t turn to face her, he simply carried on staring down at the pocket watch on his desk.

“My mum didn’t believe me. Can you believe that? Your own mum doubting you about a thing like that.”

“Your mum?”

“She said that you wouldn’t do that. You weren’t that kind of man. I guess she forgot to count for the fact that you have to control everything. Nothing can happen in your world unless you expressly permit it.”

“I don’t know your mother. Do I?”

Ella smiled, and caught sight of it in the mirror. It didn’t look all that bad when it was natural, it didn’t seem as cold. “You know my mother quite well, you used to be quite close to her husband.”

“I was?”

“I always thought you were dead. Whenever I asked about you, he only ever said one thing, he’d say that there had been a car crash and that his mother had died straight away and that his father had never recovered.”

He stared at her and she said nothing, just letting him slowly work it out. His hand reached for the pocket watch, but he didn’t look away from her. “Raymond?”

Ella turned away from him, from her boss, her grandfather. Her father.

Her rapist.

“He killed himself, you know. I found his body. Hung himself. He said in his note that he couldn’t take it, that he couldn’t live with himself anymore.”

“You’re Raymond’s daughter? My…”

“No. Raymond wasn’t my father.”

Ernest breathed out loudly with relief. “Thank God for – ”

“I mean, everyone thought he was. I thought he was, but it turns out my mother put it about a bit.”

Silence filled the room. Ernest turned and stared up at her.

“Your mother… Pat?”

“She was screwing the boss apparently. Some women’ll do anything for a pay rise.”

Looking at him now, Ella forgot the bruises on her thighs, the dull throbbing under her skirt, the shame of being so helpless, and could feel only a fiery anger rising through her. Angry at her mother for lying, angry at her father for not being her father, angry at Ernest for who he was, what he did. Angry at herself for letting it happen.

“I…

“You raped your own daughter, Ernie!”

“I didn’t know.”

“That makes it right?” Ella could see her father’s reflection staring at her in the window. As she stared at his pale, translucent face, she became aware of the heavy knife in the pocket of her apron. She pulled it out and saw his eyes slip from her face to the weapon.

“Ella – ”

“I don’t know how you can take it, I don’t know how you can live with yourself anymore.”

“Do it.”

“What?”

As Ella turned to look at him, he turned his head back to face the door, presenting a clean shot of his back. He laid his arms down square on the desk, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Do it.”

“What are you – ”

“I enjoyed it.” Ernest said, taking hold of the pocket watch and gripping it tightly in his hand.

“What?”

“What I did to you, I enjoyed it. I’d…” Tears started to fall down his face and his knuckles were turning white he was gripping the watch so hard. “I’d do it again.”

“Shut up.”

“Holding your tiny little wrists in one hand above your head. K…kissing your lips. Feeling you squirm beneath me. I’ve never been so hard.”

“Shut up!”

“It’s making me hard right now, just remembering it, your… your soft tits. You were begging for it. You wanted it. The way you accepted me, let me in. The way you held me, wrapped yourself around me. Your sweet, tight  –

“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” Ella lunged forward with a strength she didn’t know she had and plunged the knife deep into the back of her father.

 

 

 

The next – and final – chapter will be published on  Sunday 12th June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is one of those authors who I always keep meaning to get around to reading. Instructions for a Heatwave was one of the biggest sellers in 2013 and I always intended to read it, but it didn’t ever find it’s way onto my reading pile.

 

Still, I knew a lot of people had read it, and the book had received critical acclaim, so when I heard of a new novel – This Must Be The Place­ – I was bizarrely excited to read it, despite having never read O’Farrell before.

 

This Must Be The Place tells the story of Daniel and Claudette who, at the beginning of the novel are a married couple living in a remote house in Donegal. Daniel is due to head back to America to see his family, but hears something on the radio on the way which sends him digging back into his past. The ramifications of the secret he’s hiding have a massive impact on his marriage and his family.

 

The story is told in the non-linear structure that most books seem to favour these days – on a side note, there must be a better way of putting that, terms like ‘time slip’ and ‘time jump’ always imply time travel to me. Google seems to suggest anachronistic, so I’m going with that.

 

The story is told anachronistically, a form that most books seems to favour these days and we learn of both Daniel and Claudette’s lives, before and after they met.

 

O’Farrell uses this structure to good effect to help us colour in their lives, and the supporting characters, particularly their children, seem vivid and real, however there are events with them that get avoided or brushed over in order to focus on the deconstruction of their marriage, despite some of these events being the driving force in Daniel’s behaviour.

 

The actual breakdown of the marriage happens off screen, we don’t really get to witness it, which feels bizarre, and in fact, there are many elements which we don’t see. Much of this book feels like we’re seeing the bits that are happening in between the big events.

 

It’s a bit like reading lots of reviews of a book, but never actually reading the book itself (ironic really, considering my opening paragraph about Instructions For A Heatwave) and because of that, it feels a little difficult to connect with the characters, Claudette especially.

 

For the vast majority of the book, the characters are not physically together, and we only have Claudette’s point of view in the past, we never really get her take on what’s happened, which is a shame.

 

The anachronistic chapters and characters all seem to be heading one way, towards one inevitable conclusion, and once again we don’t get to see it, it just gets hinted at.

 

All that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it – I only ever deconstruct books in this much detail when I do enjoy them – because in fact, I did really like it. O’Farrell’s choice to talk around all the important events gives us the opportunity to understand the character’s a little more than we would if the same number of pages were used to describe their arguments, or the big events in the heat of the moment.

 

Sometimes, though, it’s just a little jarring re-entering Daniel’s life and not knowing in what condition we’re going to find him.

 

I’ve given This Must Be The Place 3.8 out of 5. I think if just a little bit more had been done to engage us with Claudette, then it would have bumped it up over 4.

 

Maybe now I should finally get round to reading Instructions For A Heatwave?